Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bubbles And Bourbon Spotlighted In Trio Of New Wines

Bervini 1955 Millesimato ProseccoBourbon and bubbles? Yes, but to be clear, these are three different wines – not carbonated whiskey. We recently had a chance to taste a pair o’ Prosecco and a new Bourbon barrel aged wine. Read on.

Two Frothy Italians

Holidays are prime time for bubbly. As we wrapped up one year and plowed boldly into the new, we did it fortified with sparkling wine.

Has Italy’s sparkling Prosecco wine ever been more popular? Not that we can see. America loves Prosecco and we sampled two that are being carried by Wine Trees USA distributors.

We first uncorked the beautiful Bervini 1955 Spumante Rosé. It should be noted that the brand name is Bervini 1955. This is a non-vintage sparkler, like most are, not a 1955 vintage.

Bervini 1955 Prosecco & CaviarWe served this at a wine dinner paired with caviar on crème fraiche and brioche toast. Not too shabby! Bubbly and caviar is always a winning combination. The Bervini rosé radiated a stream of tiny bubbles adding festivity to the evening. This has nice floral aromas and raspberry flavor notes. This rosé bubbly is nice because it isn’t as austere as some sparkling wines – there’s a richer flavor palate.

Bervini 1955 offers a second sparkler, the Prosecco DOC Millesimato Extra Dry. Please note that “extra dry” is actually sweeter than “brut” in the sparkling wine sweetness scale. This is well balanced and not overly sweet. We enjoyed this with Gruyere fondue.

Millesimato is a very enjoyable Prosecco. The Bergamo family have been making wine since 1955 in the Italian province of Pordenone, which straddles the two DOC Prosecco zones of Prosecco and Friuli Grave. During the decades since, they’ve learned how to deliver flavors that are elegant and authentic. Whereas the rosé had berry notes, the Millesimato has citrus and pear tones. Its crispness and acidity makes this an excellent match with seafood – and of course, fondue. Both Prosecco are priced at $18.99.

Barrel Road Bouron barrel aged red blend

Bourbon Barrel Aged Wine Done Right

Wine Trees has a diverse portfolio of wines, and we were pleased to be able to uncork the 2015 Barrel Road red blend from California. The winery has partnered with Backbone Bourbon in Indiana and ages the wine for three months in used Bourbon barrels.

Many winemakers are jumping on the Bourbon barrel bandwagon, but not everyone gets it right. Some of the Bourbon barrel wines are harsh rather than complex. In the grocery store last week I saw a Bourbon barrel aged Chardonnay. That’s a move to exploit a trend with a rather incongruous pairing.

Barrel Road takes the high road. The Bourbon barrel aging lends delectable caramel and vanilla flavors. The alcohol level is 13.2%, and the lower level prevents it from being too “hot.”

The exact blend for Barrel Road isn’t revealed. The grapes come from California’s Central Coast and “interior winegrowing regions,” which might mean the Central Valley. We guess that Zinfandel and Merlot make up a good percentage of the wine.

Whatever the mix, this is one of the most enjoyable Bourbon barrel wines we’ve had. The winemaking isn’t heavy handed. The Bourbon factor adds a nice complexity and toasty richness to the wine. At $16.99 it’s a great value and a bottle that is certain to appeal to most wine lovers. It’s especially rewarding during the cold nights of winter!

Full Disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Chef Creations Shine At Cellar 55 Wine Pairing Event

Popcorn and movies, peanut butter and jelly, Batman and Robin, some things are just better together. A band of wine lovers gathered last week at Cellar 55 in search of the perfect wine and food pairing. The results were delicious indeed.

Wine lovers gather at Cellar 55

Hook & Cleaver Shows Culinary Chops

Chef Joseph FasyCellar 55 in Fuquay-Varina hosts a series of weekly tastings. Twice a month they have a food and wine event while the other two weeks of the month feature beer. To attend, you not only have to love wine – you have to have a pretty quick trigger finger. The tickets sell out in what seems like the blink of an eye.

The wine shop pairs up frequently with the Hook & Cleaver Market on Broad and owner/chef Joseph Fasy. For the dinner last week, Chef Joe brought his “A” game for outstanding results. To help ensure a perfect pairing with the food, Sara Doom, a certified specialist of wine, selected a lineup of appealing wine and introduced each pour as the evening progressed.

The first dish was Roast Apple and Blue Hokkaido Pumpkin Soup with Prosciutto Crisps and a Chive Crème Fraiche. This was paired with Barboursville Vineyard 2015 Viognier Reserve. Barboursville Vineyards is one of the premier wineries in Virginia. They are renowned for their Octagon Bordeaux-style red and also produce a killer Cabernet Franc.

Barboursville Viognier and Blue Hokkaido Pumpkin Soup

The soup set the mood for the evening. It was visually stunning with a swirl of Crème Fraiche artistically floating next to a beckoning mound of crispy prosciutto. I thought Hokkaido was some sort of traditional Japanese dance with kimono and face paint. Turns out I was half right. Hokkaido is a small pumpkin that is Japanese in origin – it also is wonderfully delicious.

Each spoonful of the soup was a flavor explosion. The Viognier has delicate floral notes and a brightness that was a delightful counterpoint to the soup.

Pairing Two featured Ad Lucem 2014 Elaina Red, a luscious Rhone-style red from Washington State. It paired with Shrimp and Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Garlic Kissed Baby Spinach and a Roast Piquillo Pepper Coulis. Chef Joe explained that this was an unconventional pairing, but he and Sara felt the heartiness of the dish would match well with a red.

Ad Lucem Elaina and Shrimp and Mushroom Ravioli

The pairing couldn’t have been better. We are fans of Washington State wine and would gladly drink their rich reds with just about anything. This was another symphony of flavor with each element artfully contributing its part. Elaina is a blend of 48% Syrah, 30% Counoise, 17% Mourvèdre, and 5% Grenache. This is juicy and fruit driven without harsh tannins. SRP is $24.

Rebellious Winemakers And Bubbly Red

Our tasting then travelled to Italy, with an IGT “Super Tuscan” wine, Le Volte 2015 Dell’Ornella. It was partnered with Provencal Crusted Lamb Chop with a Mint Demi-Glace, Pommes Maxim, and a Zucchini and Campari Tomato Napoleon. Super Tuscan and LambWe are lovers of lamb, and so we were looking forward to this dish. The lamb was a perfect medium rare and the mint and mustard glaze made it a robust bite. Super Tuscans were created by rebellious Italian winemakers who wanted to experiment with international grape varieties outside the rules for Italian quality wine. They ultimately prevailed and Super Tuscans frequently are on the list of the world’s top wines.

The Dell’Ornella is a blend of 67% Merlot, 13% Sangiovese, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a well balanced wine with berry flavors and a touch of spice. It is lush with drying tannins. It retails for $28.

We grabbed our forks and glasses for the final pairing, a dessert dish served with the most unique wine of the evening. Cantina Sant’Evasio 2015 Brachetto d’Acqui is a light bodied red sparkling wine. It is frizzante in style, meaning fizzy but not fully “sparkling” like Champagne or Prosecco.

Brachetto d'Aqui with Chocolate Tart

The Brachetto d’Acqui was paired with Chocolate Grand Marnier Orange Tart with Fresh Whipped Mapleview Farms Whipped Cream and Candied Citrus Zest. Chocolate, Grand Marnier, Candied Citrus Zest?! This was a winner even before we took our first bite.

The tart was tongue-enveloping with opulent chocolate. The Brachetto d’Acqui, served chilled, was an expert pairing. It’s sweetness was toned down whilst paired with the rich dessert. The bubbles, strawberry notes, and touch of sugar was the perfect sipper to cap off the evening. At $13, its an affordable luxury.

We salute all involved in this superb event. It was pairing paradise!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Fetzer Sustainable Roots Yield Wine Quality, Value

Fetzer Chard & MerlotFor 50 years Fetzer has been a pioneer in sustainable winegrowing. After half a century they show no signs of slowing down. Here we review three of their current offerings.

Trailblazing Sustainability

Fifty years ago, before California became a giant of winemaking, Barney Fetzer found Mendocino County. He knew he had discovered an extraordinary place to grow wine grapes.

In the decades since, Fetzer Wines has grown to source grapes from the top regions in the Golden State. The commitment to earth-friendly winegrowing and balanced wines has never waivered. We had a chance to explore their wines during a recent Wine Studio educational session.

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Fetzer became the first True Zero Waste certified winery in the world, with a goal of a near perfect 99.9% waste diversion by 2020. The winery uses advanced water metering technology to pinpoint leaks and water waste in real time. Their water is processed naturally, using worms and microbes, saving up to a million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. The winery has also reported their greenhouse gas emissions to the Climate Registry since 2005 – the first winery to do so.

Their commitment to doing good extends beyond the soil to the social realm as well. Fetzer is a Certified B Corporation. This assemblage of companies meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and seek to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems. In short, B Corps is a global movement of people using business as a force for good.

Wines Blending Accessibility And Style

We tasted three Fetzer wines: 2016 Shaly Loam Gewϋrztraminer, Monterey County; 2016 Sundial Chardonnay, California; and 2015 Eagle Peak Merlot, California. The Chardonnay and Merlot are $10 retail and the Gewϋrztraminer has an SRP of $11.

Fetzer GewϋrztraminerFor the Merlot and Chardonnay, Green Dragon created an Angel Hair pasta dish with grilled shrimp and a garlic pepper sauce. My wife isn’t a fan of oaky Chardonnay, but almost immediately gave her approval. The Sundial Chardonnay has bright flavors kept light by aging partly in stainless steel and partly in oak. There also is a small amount of Riesling in the Chard – a bit of a surprise.

The Riesling helps make this a crowd pleasing wine, accessible to even those who aren’t Chard fans. In the glass the wine is a green gold. On the palate there are flavors of apple and pear.

We had a split decision on the Merlot. The Green Dragon found this enjoyable, especially when she discovered my recently purchased bar of dark chocolate in the pantry. The Merlot has all the varietal aspects you’d expect, with plum and savory flavors. The tannins are soft as a cloud.

I preferred the Gewϋrztraminer over the Merlot. This is the best-selling Gewϋrz in the US and it is easy to see why.

We had it with a sausage, apple, noodle dish that paired nicely. The Gewϋrztraminer is off dry in style with a little puff of sweetness that is balanced with acidity. There are floral and spice notes on the nose. The flavors are smooth peach and pineapple. The residual sugar is 3.1%, so it isn’t overbearing. This is a very nice bottle for the price that will appeal to a wide range of palates. It also gives you a chance to say “Gewϋrztraminer” (Geh-VUHRT-strah-mee-nuhr).

Fetzer is trying to make the world a better place through their sustainable agriculture as well as corporate social responsibility. That deserves a toast with a bottle or two of their very good wine.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Sterling Vineyards Elevates Napa Winery, Premium Wine Experiences

Sterling Vineyards Platinum ExperienceSterling Vineyards is one of the the best wineries in Napa Valley. How do they earn that accolade? By producing smashing premium wines and creating an over-the-top winery experience.

Elevating Wine In Napa Valley

The Wine Bloggers Conference is usually a joyous occasion. You’re visiting beautiful wineries, seeing old friends and sipping spectacular wine. Sonoma was the site for the conference held this fall.

As the motor coach headed toward Napa, though, the mood was rather glum. Traveling from Santa Rosa and over the Mayacamas mountains that separate Sonoma from Napa, we could view the devastation left by the October wine country fires. Burnt out cars and homes reduced to only a singed chimney lined the road. Grey skies further dampened our outlook.

The good news is that wine country is resilient and rockin’. As mentioned in our recent article, wine country is California Wine Strong and optimistic about the future. Our visit to Sterling Vineyards buoyed our spirits with legendary Napa Valley hospitality and superlative wine.

Sterling Aerial TramWhat’s a great start to a winery visit? How about a ride in an aerial tram to the hilltop winery? We were physically and mentally elevated.

Sterling’s Platinum Experience

Sterling Vineyard is part of Treasury Wine Estates. It’s a group that includes other heavyweights like Beringer Vineyards, Beaulieu Vineyards, Chateau St. Jean and Stags’ Leap Winery. Treasury is the number one producer of luxury Napa Cabs.

We’ve visited more than 100 wineries, but I’ve never been to one quite like Sterling. They welcome more than 200,000 visitors each year. That’s more than the entire population of Tacoma, Washington.

The winery is set up to allow for a self-guided tour, with strategically placed tasting stations so you can sip a glass of wine while watching wine being made. With the latest in optical sorting technology and a variety of concrete vessels for aging, Sterling has all the tools at hand for crafting outstanding wine.

For us, the main attraction was not on the floor of the production area, but inside the stylishly decorated tasting room. For it was there that we were to enjoy the Platinum Experience. The experience consists of four reserve wines paired with artfully prepared amuse-buches.

The 2014 Reserve Chardonnay was served with house made ricotta cheese with Agramato olive oil and lemon zest. This was an amazing combination with the Chardonnay showing notes of lemon merengue and pear. The Chardonnay has a retail price of $65. The rest of the wine consisted of a vertical of the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Platinum Cabernet with an SRP of $75.

Sterling Platinum Tasting Amuse-BuchesThe 2011 Platinum was paired with duck confit over winter squash seasoned with cardamom and coriander. The wine offers strawberry and fig notes with delicious mellow tannins. Each of the Platinum wines was superb, but the difference was in the finish. The 2012 Platinum, served with a tasty lamb meatball with braised, leek, fennel and tomato sauce, had black currant and a bit of spice. The finish was pure velvet.

Rounding out the trio of Platinum Cabs was the 2013 vintage. It is recommended that the wine be decanted for three hours. We can see why. It is dark and decadent with deep black cherry and blue berry notes. Of course it called out for beef and the chef provided a braised short rib with a Cabernet reduction and carrot puree.

Platinum, as the name suggests, could be considered the peak of a winemaker’s craft. However, we were about to be transported to an even higher elevation!

Sterling's Harry Hansen and IridiumImpressive Iridium

Sometimes timing is everything. It was serendipity that we were at Sterling when winemaker Harry Hansen had just debuted Iridium, what he dubs as “one of the greatest wines of my career.” We tasted the first vintage (2014) and were the first tour group to do so. It is a very limited production, with only 165 cases produced.

“Iridium is seven barrels,” said Hansen. “That’s it.” He  selected the barrels from Hewitt Vineyard (Rutherford AVA), Sleeping Lady Vineyard (Yountville AVA) and the Meigs Vineyard in rugged Wooden Valley. The wine was aged for 19 months in 100% French oak and then the “all star” barrels were blended into the final wine. The wine retails for $250 and is packaged in a sleek bottle crowned with a bright silver metal collar.

The wine is truly a labor of love and Hansen had fortunate timing too. “We were glad to have 90% of the harvest in the house before the world caught fire,” he said. The Iridium is a Cloud Nine experience with sleek, intense and concentrated flavors and lusciously soft tannins.

Sterling Vineyards is a must-see for visitors to Napa Valley. For those not venturing to California, their wines are widely available and they have a robust website if you are seeking their top end wines, which may be harder to find. Elevate your game with Sterling!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Rosé From Provence: Our Antidote To The Bomb Cyclone

Patio Rosé

Yes, You Can Have Rosé In Winter!

Like many people, we have been “hunkering down” during the intense weather of the the Bomb Cyclone, which has unleashed bitter cold and swirling winds along the US east coast and the southeast. Granted, we are in North Carolina, so our “intense” weather had daytime highs in the 20s and 30s. That’s nothing compared to the wind chill on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, which was recorded at minus 90 degrees, or the bone chilling cold across the Great Lakes region.

In much warmer and giddy times, we dubbed last summer as the Summer of Rosé, due to the amazing variety and superb quality of domestic and international rosé wines. In one of my favorite photos of the last several months, I snapped a botle of J.L. Quinson 2016 Côtes de Provence rosé on our back patio. This wasn’t last week as you may have guessed, but rather an early Indian Summer evening. It’s a warming image that melts the frost that surrounds us.

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J.L. Quinson is one of France’s largest wineries. Eighty-eight percent of wine produced in Provence is rosé, and for that we are grateful.

This rosé is a blend of Grenache and Cinsault. It offers notes of orange zest and strawberry. Like a lot of very good rosé, it’s not very expensive – less than $10.

Our point? Be counterintuitive. Instead of a glass of sturdy Cabernet, uncork a memory of soft spring breezes with some rosé. Maybe positive thinking will bring back the warm weather.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Kenwood Vineyards: A Sonoma County Winery Visit

This historic barn serves as Kenwood's tasting room.Kenwood focuses on the craft, heritage and untamed spirit of Sonoma County wines. We found old favorites and new during our recent visit.

Sonoma Roots Run Deep

Rough wooden boards frame the century-old barn that houses the Kenwood Vineyards tasting room. Kenwood was a stop on our whirlwind tour of Sonoma as part of the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference. While the rustic barn exemplifies the winery’s connection to the region’s history, Kenwood’s focus on small lot wines is certainly contemporary.
Kenwood dodged any major fire damage. Kenwood's inaugural Blanc de Blanc.

Kenwood Vineyards was established in 1970 at the site of the Pagani Brothers Winery, a historic wine cellar built in 1906. Kenwood was founded by John Sheela and his brothers-in-law, Mike Lee and Marty Lee. Mike Lee, who passed away in 2011, was considered a master winemaker and helped establish Sonoma Valley as one of the first AVAs.

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As we walked from the van to the tasting room, the sign, “the love in the air is thicker than the smoke,” provided a stark reminder of the fires that ravaged Sonoma and Napa. Luckily 95% of Kenwood’s grapes had already been harvested and none of the estate property burned.

Inside the historic barn, we were greeted by hospitality coordinator Joshua Brown and a rare sight: a sparkling Kenwood wine. We sampled some fermented “love,” the first-ever Kenwood Blanc de Blanc, as we kicked off our visit. This is a delicious 100% Chardonnay sparkler.

Layers Of Quality

Kenwood is a bit of a paradox. They produce a lot of wine – more than 500,000 cases annually. You can find their entry level wines from coast to coast in the $15 to $20 range.

Kenwood's Six Ridges series draws from Sonoma's best vineyards.While this lower range is clearly geared toward mass consumption, don’t confuse them with a “beverage wine” producer. They also manage the iconic Jack London Vineyard, which produces superb Zinfandel and Cabernet. The Kenwood Artist Series has been a critical success and one of our favorites.

In an effort to make sense of the conundrum of quality, we grabbed a fresh glass and sampled the special edition 2016 San Francisco Giants Sonoma County Chardonnay. Light and crisp, it has tropical notes.

We ascended to the next quality level with a pair of Six Ridges wines. Grapes from this series are sources from some of the best vineyards in Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Coast. The Six Ridges 2016 Russian River Valley Chardonnay has bright flavors and muted oaks. It undergoes battonage (stirring) every two weeks and has a malolactic fermentation. The result is rewarding complexity. The Six Ridges 2015 Pinot Noir, also from Russian River Valley, is another winner that is aged for 13 months in small European oak barrels.

The wines from Jack London Vineyard are perhaps the best known produced by Kenwood. Since 1976, they have been the exclusive producer of wines from this historic vineyard. The vineyard is on the ranch once owned by author and adventurer Jack London. In case you forget who he is, the wolf’s head on the the bottle will remind you of “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang,” two of his most famous novels.

A burnt hilltop is seen a scant distance from Kenwood. Their outstanding wines and equipment was spared.I’ve always considered the Jack London Vineyard wines to be a great value, delivering a premium wine experience for much less than expected. The 2013 JLV Zinfandel and 2013 JLV Cabernet Sauvignon each have a splash of Syrah and are aged in a combination of 75% French and 25% American oak. They benefit from the red volcanic soils in the Jack London Vineyard. The Cab sells for $35 and is excellent.

Topping Off

After a tour of the winery, including the tank room and an impressive array of processing equipment, we wrapped up our visit on a high triple-note.

Other wineries have artist series, but the best I’ve experienced is Kenwood. There is artistry in the bottle as well as outside.

The 2013 Kenwood Artist Series sports an abstract work by Clare Rojas. The shifting shapes and colors are a good match for the wine.

Chief Winemaker Pat Henderson, who has been calling the shots since 2003, selected Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards primarily on hillsides in the Sonoma Valley AVA. To add complexity and balance, 1.5% each of Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc were added to the blend.

Josh Brown, Kenwood's hospitality coordinator.This is a wonderful wine, priced at $75 with aging potential of seven to 10 years. Earlier vintages, with different art on the label, are available at higher prices.

We then enjoyed a taste of the Lone Pine Vineyard 2013 Cabernet, which is part of the Single Vineyard series. Josh informed us that this Cab is the backbone of the Artist Series wine. This was rich with ripe berry notes and a whiff of cocoa. It has a luxuriously long finish. At $44 SRP, it was too good a deal for me to overlook.

The grand finale was a taste of a library wine, the 30th anniversary Jack London Vineyard 2006 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. While the other reds we sampled had boldness, this one had finesse that comes with age. The tannins were beautifully integrated in this smooth, elegant wine.

Yes, you can reach for Kenwood Vineyards for a dependable budget-friendly wine – but the Kenwood crew is crafting small lot wines that will delight seekers of premium vino. If you haven’t tried Kenwood in a while, consider this your invitation.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Top Wines of 2017: A Vino-Sphere Exclusive List

Vino-sphere'sHere it is – our annual listing of the best bottles of the year. Uncork a bottle and enjoy as you check out the favorites we reviewed in 2017.

It’s been a good year! As 2017 fades away like grains of sand in an hourglass, we can reflect on a wild year during which we tasted hundreds of wines and visited wineries from Napa and Sonoma to the backroads of Ohio. Of course, we do it just for one reason, to bring you the inside information on the very best wines. We also made the move from Ohio to our new home in North Carolina’s Triangle area.

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Here’s our list of top wines from  2017. We present the list in alphabetical order. An asterisk indicates exceptional quality. Dilly dilly!

Aila 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley
* Achaval-Ferrer 2013 Quimera, Mendoza
Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards 2008 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
* Argot 2014 “Bastard Tongue” Pinot Noir, Santa Rosa, Sonoma
*Hacienda de Arínzano 2012 Tinto
* Blue Rock 1999 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
Bonterra 2016 Rosé, Mendocino County
* Boschendal 2011 Cecil John Reserve Shiraz, Stellenbosch
* Burg Ravensburg 2014 Weissburgunder, Baden
* Cain 2001 Cain Five, Napa Valley
* Carmel 2012 Limited Edition, Galilee
Chamonix 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir, Franschhoek
Conn Creek Rosé of Malbec 2016 Antica Vineyard, Atlas Peak, Napa ValleyCoolshanagh 2014 Chardonnay, Naramanta Bench, Okanagan Valley
Domain Duffour 2016 Cotes de Gascogne Blanc
* Domaine Meo-Camuzet 2004 Clos Vougeot Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits
Domaine Serene 2013 Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
* Dry Creek Vineyard 2014 Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley
Dry Creek Vineyard 2016 Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg
Dry Creek Vineyard 2009 “The Mariner,” Dry Creek ValleyDry Creek Vineyard 2014 Wallace Ranch Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley
Faust 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
* Karmei Yosef Winery 2014 Bravdo Coupage, Samson, Israel* Karthäuserhof 2009 Riesling Grosses Gewächs
Left Coast 2015 Latitude 45⁰ Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
Malibran 2015 "Credamora" Rifermentato in Bottiglia, Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG
* Matthews 2011 Claret, Columbia Valley
Maxville Lake Winery 2014 Petite Sirah, Chiles ValleyMaxville Lake Winery 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Chiles Valley
Meeker 2013 Handprint Merlot, Sonoma
Montes 2014 Purple Angel Carmenère, Colchagua Valley
Montessu 2013 Isola dei Nuraghi IGT, Sardinia
Murrieta’s Well 2014 Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore ValleyMurrieta’s Well 2015 “The Whip,” Livermore Valley
* Nino Franco 2010 Grave di Stecca Brut Sparkling, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
* Ordaz 2012 Sandoval Vineyard Malbec, Sonoma Valley
Parducci 2015 85th Anniversary Wine "Limited Edition,” Mendocino County
* Pillitteri 2007 Exclamation Cellar Series Reserve Cabernet Franc, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake
San Simeon 2013 Stormwatch, Paso Robles
* Schweiger 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain DistrictSt. Francis 2014 Reserve Merlot, Sonoma County* Terra Bella 2011 Proprietary Red Blend, Sonoma County* Tomasello Winery 2013 Palmaris Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Outer Coastal Plain, NJ
Two Hands 2016 Gnarly Dudes Shiraz, Barossa Valley
V. Sattui 2016 Rosato di Sangiovese, North Coast
* Val d'Oca NV Brut Nature "Rive di Santo Stefano,” Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
* Von Winning 2015 Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad Riesling Trocken

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Honoro Vera 2015 Blanco, Rueda

HonoroOne should never buy wine based on a label design alone. Just like you should never judge a book by its cover. But hey, I’m only human.

Rueda Refreshment

My assignment was simple enough. Pick up a refreshing white wine that would pair well with seafood. Green Dragon was whipping up shrimp and grits and so I was scanning the shelves of the local wine shop looking for a bottle to chill.

My attention was captured by the Honoro Vera Blanco, a white wine from Rueda. Rueda is a Spanish wine region that produces some of the country’s best white wines. The wines are based primarily on the local Verdejo grape but Sauvignon Blanc is also used. Not only are the wines well-crafted – but the prices are a great bargain.


It’s not often you can use the word “phantasmagoria” in a wine review, so I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity. Although I was attracted by the quality of Rueda wines, the label design locked me in a tractor-beam.

It features a phantasmagoria of design with a close-up of a woman’s shadowed face that is a cross between a Greek statue and an android. Aside the face is a flow of swirling lines, flowers and colors.The combination of wine region, great label design and a bargain price of $9 caused me to purchase the bottle and meander home.

The entree was ready. The shrimp was cooked Cajun-style and the grits were nice and cheesy with crumbles of bacon. Shrimp and grits has become a favorite of ours since we first had a great chef creation at a restaurant in Cleveland. Yes, I said Cleveland.

The Honoro has a twist closure, which is just fine for wines designed to be consumed while they are young. On the nose there are floral notes. In the glass the wine glimmers greenish gold. The spiciness of the shrimp was complimented by the cool crispness of the wine.

The body is light and lively. On the palate, there is a kick of acidity and delicate flavors of white flowers.
Honoro Vera has produced a very pleasing white that is affordable enough for you to purchase multiple bottles. I’ve had some Verdejo wines that were ho-hum, not the Honoro. The blend of Verdejo with a splash of Viura and Sauvignon Blanc is aromatic and flavorful. Not only that, but the bottles look oh so stylish until you empty them.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

German Wines Shine In Festive Holiday Meals

20171123_132256Looking for the perfect bottle to pair with your holiday feast? Wines from Germany are flavorful and food-friendly.

The Art of Pairing

Pairing food and wine is an art rather than a science. There are no hard and fast rules, but instead some some broad guidelines. Even those, like reds with red meat and whites with seafood and poultry, can be ignored with delightful results.

Three things we’ve found can really benefit your food-wine pairing adventures: lower alcohol wines, higher acidity and… Riesling!

We had a chance to test our mindset with a pair of outstanding German wines: 2014 Burg Ravensburg Weissburgunder, Baden, and 2014 Kruger-Rumpf Munsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett, Nahe. To boil down the German nomenclature, we had a 2014 Pinot Blanc from Baden and a 2014 Kabinett Riesling from the Nahe region.

Holiday Feast

The pair of German wines were guests at our Thanksgiving meal – but should certainly be considered for any holiday guest list. The Kruger-Rumpf Riesling comes from the Nahne region that produces outstanding Riesling, but isn’t as well known as Mosel and Rheingau. German Riesling can be sweet, but the wine also has vibrant acidity that can counterbalance the sugar.

A good rule of thumb to help determine the sweetness of a Riesling is to look at the alcohol content. Since fermentation takes sugar and converts it to alcohol, a higher alcohol content means more sugar has been converted and it isn’t as sweet. Conversely, a lower alcohol Riesling has a greater sugar content that hasn’t been converted to alcohol. It’s sweeter. Do remember that Riesling can be finished as a sweet dessert wine or bone dry. The versatility is what makes it one of the world’s great grapes.

Riesling is a classic pairing with turkey (ham as well). The Kruger-Rumpf has an alcohol content of 9% compared to a typical wine which might have 14%. As you surmise, it has a nice ripple of sweetness. This is a light, balanced wine with delicious fruit notes and notes of minerality. It will be appreciated by occasional wine drinkers as well as wine aficionados. At only about $20, this is an outstanding value.

What’s Up With Weissburgunder?

While our guests dug into turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and a variety of side dishes – I was uncorking Weissburgunder. One of the peculiarities of wine is that one grape can have multiple names. In this case, Weiss (white) burgunder is Pinot Blanc. For trivia buffs, Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) is the most planted red variety in Germany. Grauburgunder is Pinot Gris and is also called Rulander in Germany.

The Burg Ravensburg vineyards were first mentioned 1251, making them among the oldest in the world. The Burg Ravensburg Weissburgunder is a distinctive wine, somewhat more exotic than Pinot Gris. This wine threw me a curve ball. I had been expecting a sweeter glass. This was lower in sugar and alcohol and was offbeat enough that I refilled my glass at least a couple times trying to decipher it.

It has a nice rounded texture with notes of apple and perhaps nuttiness. It paired brilliantly with everything on my plate. It can be found for $20 or less and represents another great bargain.

German wines are a great choice for holiday events. They appeal to a wide spectrum of guests, pair well with a variety of festive meals, and do so without breaking the bank.

 Full disclosure: We received these wines as marketing samples.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Uplifting Vino, Small Plates And Raclette Highlight Wine Pairing Party

Food, friends and a selection of great wine – these are the key ingredients to a pleasurable party. Here’s what went down at our first wine pairing party at our new home in North Carolina.

Caviar on creme fraiche and briocheOpening Medley

We recently hosted our first soirée at our new home in the Triangle area of North Carolina. It was a fabulous gathering of about a dozen friends, family and neighbors. Oh yes, we had some wine too!

The culinary brains behind the gathering was my wife, the Green Dragon. When we were out in

The Winemaker Cooks by Christine HannaBervini 1955 Extra Dry Rosé ProseccoSonoma last month, we visited Hanna Winery. There we met Christine Hanna, who not only is president of Hanna Winery and Vineyards, but also a food writer and cooking teacher. She gave us a copy of her book, The Winemaker Cooks: Menus, Parties and Pairings. Green Dragon used recipes from the book for our party menu.

What better way to start the party than with caviar and sparkling wine? For the appetizer we had caviar on crème fraiche and brioche toast. Wow. The saltiness of the caviar was the perfect foil for the Bervini 1955 NV Spumante Rosé. The Italian winery was founded by Antonio Bergama and his son Giuseppe in 1955.

Sparkling wine is a terrific arrival wine due to its lower alcohol level, in this case 11%, as well as the spectacle of bubbles. The effervescence adds a festive note to any occasion. The Bervini 1955 has notes of raspberry and rose and just a hint of sweetness. The Extra Dry rosé is slightly sweeter than the Brut designation. This wine is now available in the US via Wine Trees an importer with a collection that focuses on the world’s most interesting regions. It retails for $18.99.

Raclette Grill and RieslingThe Raclette Ruckus

When our friend Jon offered to bring his raclette grill, I had to admit, I didn’t know what it was. I had heard of raclette, a Swiss cheese dish eaten by shepherds in the Alps. I didn’t know raclette grills were “a thing.”

We soon found out that raclette grills may be hot – but they are oh so cool! Jon and his wife Michelle swung into action with Swiss precision. Raclette is a delicious Swiss cheese that is melted in coupelles (small metal pans that slide into the grill) and then served on top of potatoes, mushrooms, onions, pickles or charcuterie.

While the activity swirled around the raclette grill, I served our next wine, the 2015 Reichsfgraff von Kesselstaff Riesling from Mosel, Germany. The wine was finished semi-dry and the welcome sweetness paired ideally with the raclette.

Wine Pairing Party Menu Final

De Oliveira Lecestre ChablisSockeye Salmon And Sfeeha

The chef’s next dish was Wild Sockeye Salmon with leeks and mustard cream along with cream of cauliflower and fennel soup. My contribution to the dish was driving to the grocery store and hunting down a fennel. For this dish we selected the 2015 Domain De Oliveira Lecestre Chablis. French Chardonnay from Chablis has a more refined, minerally profile than Napa Chardonnay, which tends to be more buttery and oaky.

The De Oliveira Chablis is part of the wine collection at Lidl, a European grocery store chain that began opening stores in the US last summer. It can be purchased for about $13 and is a satisfying white Burgundy that might inspire multiple purchases. This had many votes from our guests as the top white.

We bid adieu to the sparkling and white wines and moved into red territory with our next dish. Green Dragon served up sfeeha, a Mediterranean meat pie made with lamb. She got a big assist from her sister Suzanne.

There was a special treat with the sfeeha, a sumptuous red blend from Israel. The 2012 Carmel Limited Edition is from Galilee and is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot, 15% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. This is a premium Bordeaux-style blend and it’s Kosher as well.

2012 Carmel Limited Edition red blend, GalileeWe decanted the Carmel Limited Editor for about an hour. This is deep purple in color with rich aromas of blackberry. In the glass this has a mellow texture enhanced by 15 months of aging in French oak. There are threads of chocolate and hints of smoke.

If you haven’t experienced the wines of Israel, we encourage you to do so. This ancient winegrowing land is producing premium wines that are meant to be enjoyed by those of any religious faith. The retail price is $80.

Bing, Bang Boom

It was time for big reds to make an appearance. The first is an uncommon grape: Carmenère. Carmenère is the signature grape of Chile and nowhere is it better expressed than in the Montes Purple Angel.

The 2014 vintage, from Marchigüe Vineyard in the Colchagua Valley, is 92% Carmenère and 7% Petite Verdot. Purple Angel is considered the “super Carmenère” wine and we are “super fans.”

Cumin-Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Salsa  Verde was the food pairing and it was served with wild rice salad that had celery root, acorn squash and leek.

The Purple Angel is rich with red and black fruit flavors. It has a different flavor profile than Cabernet Sauvignon, juicier and with smoother tannins. The wine is aged for 18 months in new oak, but the oak melds wonderfully with the Purple Angel, lending a bit of toast to the fruit flavors. It has an SRP of $65.

Purple Angel & Santomas RefoskSince we were enjoying a culinary tour de force, what else could we do but have more wine? Decanters were rapidly being filled and drained and refilled.

We next enjoyed a heavyweight from Napa Valley, the 2008 Schweiger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from the Spring Mountain district. This is a towering Cab with mountain-grown fruit.

Chocolate truffles were the pairing for this wine, a good choice. We decanted the Schweiger for about 30 minutes, but it still opened up more as we conversed and swirled. This whole College Football Playoff controversy seemed to make more and more sense as the wine in the decanter got lower.

The 2008 Schweiger is a great Napa Cab with aging potential for up to 20 years. We couldn’t wait. It has wild cherry notes coupled with plum and dark chocolate. It has a smooth start, crescendos in the middle and has a lingering finish. It retails for about $59, but I was able to get a “steal” for about half price.

Schweiger Cabernet 2The night was drawing to a close. While some guests had only to walk next door, others had to drive to Chapel Hill. But before the guests departed, I had one more ace up my sleeve.

Plonk is a new premium wine club with a very eclectic selection of wines. We featured Plonk in a recent article. One of the selections was the 2015 Santomas Refosk, from Koper, Slovenia. This has flavors of blueberry, but with spice notes that make it a unique wine.

After our wine and culinary tour of four continents and many bottles, the party reached the end of the line. Thanks to the cooks, party-goers and winemakers who helped us warm up a chilly December night!

Full disclosure: Some of the wine served was received as marketing samples.