Sunday, December 14, 2014

Giving the Gift of Wine

Are you thinking about giving the gift of wine this holiday season, but not sure where to begin? Make your holiday wine gift-giving way easier by consulting this guide to wines that are sure to make someone’s holiday more jolly and bright.
Get some Clio for yourself, lay it down for 1 - 5 years and restock annually - always a special treat.

Start first by considering the type of wine lover you are shopping for. Is your giftee a casual imbiber, an eclectic wine enthusiast or someone who is dedicated to particular brands or styles?

The casual imbiber, being less rigid about likes and dislikes, tends to look at wine enjoyment as fun and social. Women who enjoy wine casually can gravitate towards white wines, sparklers and lighter reds, perhaps rosés too. Some of these wines might have a touch of sweetness, or be overtly sweet.

Wines gifts for the casual imbiber include Chardonnay and Moscato. The 2012 vintage was outstanding for Napa and Sonoma Chardonnay. For unexpected goodness, look north to Oregon (especially for their unoaked styles) or Washington. As for Moscato, Italy’s spritzy versions are sheer drinking delight. Michele Chiarlo’s 2013 Moscato d’Asti Nivole is dreamy, and a terrific bargain at $15.

The eclectic wine enthusiast is open-minded to a variety of wine styles. Being more adventurous wine drinkers, eclectics tend to appreciate less common varietals and bottlings from smaller, less well-known producers. Good choices for whites include floral Viognier or a rich Roussanne (Andrew Rich’s Roussanne is a perennial favorite and can be ordered online). Paso Robles' Tablas Creek makes consistently good Rhône white blends - try the 2012 Patelin de Tablas Blanc, $20.

If your eclectic giftee’s taste in reds tends towards lighter styles, zero in on an Oregon Pinot Noir from the ripe 2012 vintage. For heavier reds, look to Spain for mouthfilling Mourvèdre or to Washington for sumptuous Syrah. A stunning example of Mourvèdre comes from Jumilla, the smoky 2012 Clio, about $40. For Syrah, the JM 2012 Columbia Valley is a winner at about $45. If you're watching your holiday budget, you won’t go wrong with the Charles Smith 2013 Boom Boom! at $15. And don't forget Australia for terrific Syrah/Shiraz in all price ranges. Stateside, seduce the eclectics on your list with Syrah from Paso Robles (Alta Colina’s 2011 Toasted Slope, about $40) and Santa Barbara (Jaffurs 2012, about $30).

Devotees of certain wine brands or styles can be tough cookies to please in terms of wine gifts. If your brand fans like bubblies, Champagne is an excellent, though pricey choice. Go with the Champagne house whose wines your giftee usually orders at restaurants. If that’s out of your budget, consider the Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace or Calistoga’s Schramsberg (the brut blanc de blancs and rosé are equally tasty), both around $20. 

Brand-focused wine lovers will also appreciate the Caymus 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon 40th anniversary release. The festive label makes this bottling even more coveted, despite being widely available. Find it at local grocers and wine shops for about $55.

You're in luck if your giftee is a devoted Cab or Zin drinker who isn’t as fixated on brands themselves, giving you a bit more gift-giving leeway. Besides spendy Napa, look to Paso Robles for many winners (the Daou 2011 Cabernet overdelivers for less than $30) and Australia (the 2012 Mollydooker cabs, from $25-75). Smaller wine merchants such as Dan's Wine Shop, LA Wine Company and 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro often carry knockout Zins in a range of prices and styles. Ask for their advice to find the style that matches your giftee's tastes. 

Lastly, if you know that your giftee likes dessert wines or Ports, go with the outstanding 2011 vintage for a sure-fire Port pick.

Let us know about any great gift-giving wines you've found this holiday season in the comments section. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thanksgiving Wines

Regardless of how you celebrate Thanksgiving, one thing is certain: the Thanksgiving meal is all over the place. Sweet and savory, lean and rich, spicy and neutral, soft and crunchy, even hot and cold all find a place at the Thanksgiving table.
Oregon's 2012 vintage offers ripe and delicious Pinot Noir such as this beauty from Ken Wright 

With all those flavors, it’s no surprise that hosts and wine-toting guests find themselves in a pickle when it comes to choosing the best Thanksgiving wine.

To make your wine selection easier this year, keep a few of these ideas in mind.

If you’re serving one wine, make it a rosé. For all-around food-friendliness, it’s tough to beat rosé. Pinks, whether sparkling or still, will sing with turkey, savory stuffing and many of the Thanksgiving sides – except for Grandma’s sweet potato casserole. Skip the very dry and lighter Provençal styles and look for a lustier, heftier version such as rosés made from Malbec, Pinot Noir, Montepulciano or other non-traditional red grapes.

Add some sparkle to your table. Consider starting with a bubbly that’s just slightly sweet and refreshing such as Prosecco. If many of your dishes have a fruit base, consider floral and fruity Moscato d’Asti. Red sparklers such as Lambrusco or Brachetto d’Acqui make terrific Thanksgiving wines that are practically guaranteed to make your celebration a bit more festive and special.

Cover your bases: serve two types of wine. It’s practically unfair to expect a single wine to work with all the flavors and textures of Thanksgiving. Besides, some of your guests might be full-blooded white or red wine drinkers who will want to drink their favorite color no matter what. Give your guests the choice.

These simple rules will guide you to wines that will reward your inner sommelier:

  • Lower alcohol wins. Not only will you help keep your guests from getting tipsy, but lower alcohol wines also offer better balance with the heaviness and sheer quantity of holiday foods.
  • Serve palate refreshers. Higher acids wines will keep the palate refreshed for multiple courses, especially with richer foods. 
  • Slightly sweet works. Off-dry whites or sparklers can work well with a variety of foods, from savory to spicy to somewhat sweet. With reds, look for fruitier wines or try some of the new slightly sweet reds and red blends.
  • Nix the tannin and oak. Big and oaky wines will fill your belly faster than that third helping of stuffing. Tannic wines won’t work with lean turkey and most of the holiday sides – save these for the December holiday roasts.

Here’s my list of wines or styles that have a better chance of working with all the trappings of Thanksgiving, with my favorites in bold:

Sparklers: Rosé, Prosecco, Vouvray, Lambrusco, Moscato d’Asti, Brachetto d’Acqui

Pinks: Rosé, still or sparkling

Whites: Chenin Blanc/Vouvray, Pinot Gris (Oregon or Alsace), Riesling (off-dry)

Reds: Pinot Noir (New World), Beaujolais, Valpolicella

Whichever wine you end up serving, resist the temptation to bust out that monster Cab, killer Zin or awesome Amarone. Pop those corks at next month's holiday celebration.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

New Wine Class: What's My Wine?

If you’ve ever left a blind tasting feeling totally clueless about wine, here’s your chance to fine-tune your wine savvy.

Join me at 6 pm this Thursday, October 30th at Cooking with Class for our first wine class of the season and leave cluelessness behind for good. The new series, dubbed The Tasting Room, begins with What’s My Wine?

Your guided wine adventure begins with a series of wines that you will taste blind. With each wine, as you develop a simple, logical system for tasting wine, you’ll learn how to tease out the clues to that wine’s identity.

Starting with the wine’s color, nose and body, you’ll move on to the more nuanced flavors and other taste sensations on the palate and finish. With a little practice, you’ll be ready to assemble the pieces of the puzzle.

By the time we taste the last wine, you'll be ready to surprise yourself by zeroing in on that wine’s identity.

So why bother, as Bette Midler would say? By creating a tasting routine that helps you read the grape leaves, you’ll find it easier to pick out the types of wine that you’re bound to enjoy the next time you stare down a wine list or tour the wine aisles of your favorite wine shop. What’s My Wine? also aims to help you understand the crazy world of wine styles and how to find the variations that suit your tastes – or not.

Another goal for this class is to build your confidence in choosing wines that will pair with your dishes and vice versa.

Light snacks will be served so you’ll have room for dinner afterwards, if not the opportunity to spread your new wine wings. If you haven’t experienced Chef Andie’s creations at Cork & Fork, head next door after the tasting. Reservations are strongly suggested, and are practically a necessity in the busier months: 760.777.7555

Make your way to The Tasting Room and discover a new level of pleasure, comfort and confidence with wine this season. Call Jane at 760.777.1161 to reserve your spot or book the class online. If you can’t make the October class, next month’s class with another set of wines will begin at 5:30 PM on Friday, November 21.

See you then!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Autumn Rosés Are Just Right

Walk into a wine shop this time of year and you’ll find boxes of pale rosés front and center, emblazoned by stickers enticing you with steep discounts. Their pleading shelf-talkers seem to say ‘Please, buy me now, before it’s too late!” The yearly early fall rosé giveaway can be so blatant that customers making their way to the Rombauer and Prisoner might wonder what’s up (or wrong) with all that rosé.

Nothing at all, it turns out. The kids are back in school, summer tans are starting to fade and the working world has gone back to firing on all cylinders. But must we give up on rosé, the ultimate symbol of summer indulgence and chill?

Heck no! Stretch your summer spirit into fall with satisfying rosés that are sturdy enough to make the transition into the cooler months and beyond. We’re talking dark and yes, meaty rosés. They do exist – and they are delicious. And they are most definitely dry, not sweet.

While summer rosé styles work great with lighter summer fare, even barbeque, darker rosés saddle up to savory fall dishes and even winter’s comfort foods.

So what are these darker fall rosés? One is Italy’s cerasuolo, a rosé that’s often translated as ‘cherry red’ or ‘cherry-based,’ pronounced chair-a-SWO-low.

Rosé wines labeled ‘Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo’ come from mid-southern Italy’s Adriatic coastal province of Abruzzo. Despite limited skin contact time, these cerasuolo rosés are darker than your typical rosé. They also have a different flavor profile and it’s that difference that makes cerasuolo rosés so perfect for fall fare.

Cerasuolo rosés get their more intense reddish color from skin contact of the juice of crushed grapes that give up their color (and yes, tannins) more readily than other grapes. Count among these Montepulciano (the grape, not the region) and similarly styled rosés made from Malbec, Bobal and Cabernet sauvignon, among others.

The flavors and heft of these fall rosés differ from the watermelon-red cherry-raspberry-strawberry profile you might expect from summer rosés. Instead, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo wines are brooding rosés. They’re chock-a-block with darker red fruit flavors, moderate acidity and more pronounced earthiness with a bit of a bite on the finish from the tannins you might expect from their Montepulciano or other assertive grape origins.

And, because any talk of Italian wine has to be confusing, know that Sicily’s only DOCG (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita) wine is Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Not a rosé at all, this is a red wine made from Sicily’s Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes.

So before you swear off rosés until the spring of 2015 or later, try a cerasuolo d’Abruzzo or a rosé of Cabernet before casting off the pleasures of rosé for half a year.

The Vallevò pictured is a charming Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo made from the indigenous Montepulciano grape (not to be confused with the Tuscan town of the same name and the Tuscan wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, made from Sangiovese). Medium-red in the glass and with herb-inflected, black cherry aromas, it is earthier and more rustic than your typical rosé. This is a wine that is burly enough to stand up to heartier pasta dishes and meaty fishes, not to mention Pinot-friendly meats such as pork and lighter stews and burgers.

Vegetarians and vegans will also enjoy cerasuolo and heartier rosés with more complex plant-based dishes, especially those kissed by a touch of umami such as mushroom dishes or vegetables set off by soy-based dressings.

Find the Vallevò Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo for only $6.25 (and ridiculously, even less if you are a wine club member, which we definitely recommend) at 3rd Corner WineShop and Bistro in Palm Desert and other San Diego area locations.

Dan’s Wine Shop, also in Palm Desert, often has South Africa’s Mulderbosch rosé of Cabernet sauvignon in stock, which we also offer seasonally at Cooking with Class. Check out Costco too, for Susana Balbo’s rosé of Malbec from Argentina or seek out a rosé of Bobal from Spain at budget prices at Trader Joe’s – they’re guaranteed to up-end your ideas about light and ethereal rosés. LA Wine Company offers a great selection of many types of rosés, including rosés from producers you probably know from their better-known reds and red blends.

This fall, give one of these meaty rosés a swirl. With each sip, you’ll keep your sweet summer memories alive, even as you flip on that oven to herald the arrival of autumn.