Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holiday Wines

With Thanksgiving long gone, save for the poundage left behind, it’s time to begin planning for rib roast, lamb loin, pork shoulder braises and bone-in steaks – now there’s some real holiday food.

The December celebrations provide great opportunities to open those special wine bottles you’ve been saving, whether it’s the big red you picked up on your last trip to Napa or that wine in your cabinet that just seems too massive for everyday fare. Now is the time to give those bottles a pop.

Rich, wintry dishes can stand up to the weight of bigger whites and reds, and vice versa. For whites, look to a Chardonnay that’s seen some oak or has undergone malolactic fermentation. With any luck, the bottle notes will give you a clue to both. If there’s no mention of barrel aging or what’s known as “malo” for short, the watch words in reviews and back labels include buttery, vanilla, toasty, rich and mouth-filling.

That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a leaner style of Chardonnay with your holiday meal. Unoaked or crisper styles are usually more food friendly, and might pair better with the lighter dishes on your table than a burly Chardonnay.

Other whites you might consider include Roussanne (Andrew Rich makes a great one, as do many of the Central Coast’s Rhone Rangers) and the more floral Viognier. Some vintners allow some oak with Viognier, which can add to the headiness of these wines. With its floral and apricot notes, Viognier brings its own more festivity to your holiday celebration, as will a sparkling wine. If you prefer a still wine to wow your revelers, open a Viognier and listen for the silence of satisfaction.

Red wine choices for your holiday feast cover a lot of ground. Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural choice, and aged versions with softer tannins will make great pairings for braised or slow-cooked and roasted meats. Serve a younger, tannic or fruitier (yes, Napa, we’re looking at you) with that bone-in steak or filet.

If your holiday meal includes lamb, make your red a Syrah. Not only is Syrah gorgeous with its exciting, deep color, a captivating, berry-rich nose and both finesse and weight on the palate, there are also many styles to choose from. You can go huge with Châteauneuf-du-Pape or go huge at a gentler price by choosing a winner from Washington state (Reininger and Reynvann are two favorites) or the Central Coast (Alban, Stolpman and Tablas Creek, among many others). Don’t forget South Africa and Australia too, and remember that Syrah wines from these countries are usually labeled as Shiraz.

Big-fruited Malbec from Argentina delivers a lot of value no matter what your price range. While some can be colossal, Malbec is easier to pair with food than other big reds because they’re lighter in tannins and thus, won’t put up a fight with many dishes.

Other big reds to consider include Grenache, Rhône blends, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Italian reds, which some wine lovers equate with medium-body or a Chianti style, can also be immense. These bigs make great wine partners for holiday meats and heavier pasta dishes such as lasagna. The choices are immense too, from Barolo and Barbaresco in the north to the super-Tuscans and southward for the inky Aglianico and Montepulciano of Campania and Abruzzo. Italian Primitivo tends not to be as big as American Zinfandel, so if you enjoy Zin’s flavor profile but just wish it weren’t so aggressive, try a Primitivo for a change. Tannins can be an issue with some Italian wines, with Barolo being famously tight after aging a decade or more, so opt for older vintages.

Spain is better known for its medium-bodied Tempranillo than for its bruiser reds. While Tempranillo will work beautifully with your December feasts, find complex, elegant versions from Ribera del Duero or wines made from Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and Garnacha too. You won’t go wrong with dark and luscious Clio, a Monastrell-based blend. Check the back label for Spanish imports from Jorge Ordoñez. While he’s now also partnering with others in winemaking, Ordoñez imports a variety of modern-styled head-bangers from all over Spain.

So what will we be serving for our December food and wine dinner at Cooking with Class on Sunday, December 22? Make your reservations, throw on something festive and come find out. Chef Dave and I start serving at 6 PM, so you can get home in time to wrap a few more presents.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More Thanksgiving Wines

Chef Dave Schy’s savory and delectable dishes rocked the crowd at our November food and wine dinner this past Sunday at Cooking with Class. The energy buzzed around the demonstration kitchen as guests kept Chef and I busy tossing around Thanksgiving tips, ideas and stories.

The wine picks for our holiday-themed dishes were Secateurs 2012 Chenin Blanc from South Africa, Commanderie de la Bargemone 2012 Rosé from Aix-en-Provence, California’s Block Nine 2012 Pinot Noir and Torbreck 2011 Cuvée Juveniles from Australia’s Barossa Valley, a Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro blend.

Even though the food pairings showcased the versatility of these four wines for turkey day, we’re betting some guests will still be tempted to open an oaky Chardonnay or big Cab tomorrow. Resist! Stash them away for next month’s big holiday dinner, where those wines will match up beautifully with rib roasts and sing with other wintry foods.

Since we’ll all be eating leftovers the rest of the week, consider a few more Thanksgiving wine tips as opportunities to try something a little different.

A slightly sweet and fizzy red from Emilia-Romagna, Italy that bubbles with holiday cheer. It’s easy on the wallet and sure to please. Look for “Grasparossa di Castelvetro” on the label for a sure bet.

A no-brainer white that can tie together the sweetness and spice of holiday dishes. Find great choices at 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro or pick up Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Kung Fu Girl Riesling for just under $10 at Dan’s Wine Shop.

Low in tannin and big on fruit, this French red pairs beautifully with turkey and fixin’s. Find nice selections at Dan’s Wine Shop and LA Wine Company in Palm Desert.

For a taste of Americana, look to Norton, a native American red wine grape.
We found one we like at the Palm Desert Total Wine from Virginia’s Horton Vineyards.

California and Washington vintners make deliciously soft and smooth Merlots to suit any budget. An excellent value pick from Washington is the Barnard Griffin 2011 Washington Merlot you can find at Dan’s Wine Shop: 760.674.0305.

With thanks for all your support – best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thanksgiving Wines

We took four wines on a Thanksgiving test drive at the October food and wine pairing dinner last week at Cooking with Class – an Australian white, an Italian rosé and two southern hemisphere reds. In the end, it was a photo finish as each wine held its own as a pairing contender for Thanksgiving dishes.

As with so many other aspects of wine enjoyment, Thanksgiving wine choices reflect personal tastes and preferences. Do you relish a complementary or contrasting pairing? Would you rather stick with one wine to carry the meal or do you prefer a variety of wines to pair with Thanksgiving’s schizoid sides? What about lighter wines to balance the heft of holiday dishes? Or do you crave savage reds that will wage battle with gustatory gut-busters? 

We began the face-off with the Yalumba 2012 Y Series Viognier, served with Chef Dave Schy’s warm shrimp and mango salad. This medium-bodied charmer has aromas of ginger, lychee and pear with just the right amount of lightness for turkey. On the palate, the wine offers a refreshing burst of spice and pineapple to pair with exotic side dishes, too. Winemaker Louisa Rose knows how to coax goodness from unpredictable Viognier grapes at Yalumba, Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, where she makes Viognier in a variety of styles. The Y series is stainless steel fermented but aged for a few months on its lees. Such aging gives the wine a balanced richness that won’t fatigue your palate, as with Viognier styles that are weighted down by too much oak. Make a toast to Thanksgiving’s roots with a Viognier from Virginia or try another domestic winner from California’s Central Coast tangent winery.

To pair with our next course of butternut squash soup, we served a crisp and zesty rosé made from 100% Barbera grapes grown in the Asti province of Piedmont. As I’ve described before, rosé is a favorite choice to carry a Thanksgiving meal, and this rosé was no exception. Made by an Italian family with Coachella Valley roots, the aptly named Bella Blush is as dangerously delicious as winemaker Lorenzo Lombardelli promised. If you’re stymied by Thanksgiving wine suggestions that seem all over the map, take a short-cut to holiday magic with a dry, red-fruited rosé with crisp, mineral or citrus overtones.

Red wines don’t fare as well with many Thanksgiving dishes, especially tannic reds or those with blowtorch alcohol levels. Instead, we opted for the medium-bodied Neil Ellis 2010 Sincerely Shiraz from South Africa’s Stellenbosch and Darling regions. This is a balanced, lightly oaked wine with dark berry, spice and fruitcake aromas and flavors that do justice to many holiday dishes. And it’s red, for all the whiners at your table who won’t be satisfied with a white or rosé.

We closed the meal with a plummy, full-bodied Malbec from Argentina’s Altocedro winery. The 2012 Año Cero has a captivated nose of lavender and blackberries. Bright on the palate, the wine has weight that’s balanced by a mineral streak and enough acidity to keep the palate refreshed and ready for more. Malbecs have the fruitiness to pair with many Thanksgiving fruit-accented side dishes without the heft or tannins of Cabernet or the earthiness of many old-world standard-bearers.

So there you have it: four very different wines that will bring wine pairing pleasure to your Thanksgiving meal. Join us at Cork & Fork and see how well all four match up to a variety of dishes or try a glass at the bar.

If you want to explore more Thanksgiving wine pairing options, take a look at these earlier posts:

We’ll explore a new group of holiday wine pairings at our November food and wine dinner set for Sunday, November 24 at 6 PM. Make your reservations here or by calling 760.777.1161. See you then!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Five More Things to Love About California Wine

There are plenty of reasons to love California wine. TNTC, as microbiologists might say (too numerous to count). For those lucky enough to live in California, there’s probably a winery within easy driving distance. If not, you’re still likely to find a Golden State bottle worth a pop at your neighborhood grocer, not to mention the great prices and choices that abound at wine boutiques and big-box warehouses. 

Kenneth Volk wines from Santa Barbara and Paso Robles include many rare heirloom varieties. 

With only a week left in September, designated by the Wine Institute as California Wine Month, you can still find wine events worth attending up and down the state. If you'd rather stay put, tap into your wine stash or drop by a favorite California wine seller to enjoy a more intimate taste of California wine.

No matter where you choose to sop up all that California goodness, here are five more things to love about California wine, listed in no particular order.

How green are our valleys?
California wineries and vineyards have embraced sustainability with 1,800 now participating in the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Altogether, they represent nearly three-quarters of all winegrape acreage and case production. Consumer choice is also driving greater sustainability efforts. A recent study showed that one in three wine consumers considers the environmental or sustainable impact of the wines they purchase.

We are family
The vast majority of the state’s 3,800 bonded wineries – up from 1,700 in 2002 – are family-owned businesses. They have the stories, and the drama, to prove it.
Show us the money
California winegrowing activities have a huge impact on economic metrics, whether you count dollars-and-cents, tourism, employment or all of the above. More than 330,000 California jobs and 820,000 jobs nationwide are linked to California wine production. The Wine Institute’s 2012 California wine profile reported a statewide economic impact of $61.5 billion, which soars to nearly $122 billion on a national scale. 

Variety, volume and value
California winegrapes are sourced from 116 diverse winegrowing regions or American Viticultural Areas. By next year, there may be 11 additional AVAs drawn from the Paso Robles appellation alone. Beyond regional differences, the state’s winegrowers aren’t content to stay with the top white and red varieties, Chardonnay and Cabernet. California grows more than 25 white grape varieties and another 35-plus types of red grapes. Catarratto or Negrette, anyone?

2012: Another great California vintage
Despite climate change, California wines tend to show less vintage-to-vintage
variation than those from other parts of the world, be they from Old or New World regions.  California’s 2012 vintage was marked by an ideal growing season. The result was a larger grape harvest than the low-yielding 2011 crush from that chilly and more extreme vintage. Abundant sunshine in 2012 gave grapes what they needed to achieve excellent ripeness while the benign weather allowed flavor development that drinkers will appreciate in balanced and structured wines with excellent concentration.

We can all look forward to drinking to that.

With thanks to all California wine growers, pickers, producers, bottlers, makers, scientists, tillers, testers, retailers, publicists, supporters, drinkers, sommeliers, educators, writers, tasting room staff, cellar rats and everyone in between.