Thursday, April 8, 2021

Grilling Pizza With North Carolina Rosé

PXL_20210310_231600746.PORTRAIT

A Perfect Combination

What can be better than pizza and wine? How about a gourmet pizza prepared outside on the grill paired with a duo of great North Carolina rosé wines.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

The occasion was a virtual tasting hosted by Rosemont Vineyards of Virginia. The program was unique in that it featured a pizza recipe created by friend Pam Riley. She’s the publisher of Food and Wine Chronicles and is well-known in the Virginia wine world.

When I got the invitation from friend Arthur Barham (of Merlot2Muscadine) I knew it would be a special occasion. Since we were unable to obtain the Rosemont rosé featured in the virtual tasting, Arthur decided to go rogue. Instead of Virginia wine, he selected two lovely wines from North Carolina.

A Mountain Of Cheese

First a bit about the pizza. The pizza featured shrimp, onion, basil, prosciutto, and pineapple, plus plenty of cheese. It was also the first time that Arthur had prepared a pizza on a grill. Fortified with wine, he went to work original_fba411e5-4f16-41c6-8a1b-07a85e24a0f8_PXL_20210310_233954383.MPcarefully cooking over the fire, each step with complete precision – until it came to cheese. Arthur apparently loves cheese and covered the pies with a mountain of cheesy goodness! I certainly wasn’t going to complain.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

The first rose was the Rospira, a sparkling rosé of Sangiovese and Merlot from Piccione Vineyard.  This has frizzante bubbles and is nicely dry. It is a bit more substantial than your average Provence rosé, with flavors of strawberry and lime. I really enjoyed this one. The second bottle was the Dry Rosé from Biltmore Estate. The grapes are undisclosed, but I suspect some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This is lighter and paler compared with the Rospira. It’s a beautiful wine, but in a different fashion.

NC Rosé and Pizza

A Harmony Of Flavors

The harmony of the rosé and the pizza was truly exceptional. Each bite of the pizza brought an explosion of flavors with the tanginess of the pineapple contrasting with the saltiness of the prosciutto. Arthur raves about the contribution that the basil made to the dish. Rosé is so food friendly, it was a natural fit with this culinary masterpiece!

Hats off to Chef Arthur and the great wines of North Carolina!

Friday, April 2, 2021

Byrd Vineyard 2012 Red Wine, Mendocino

Byrd 2012 Mendocino Red BlendThis Byrd flies high with taste and quality.

Mountaintop Wines

When someone has an amazing revelation, it’s called a mountaintop experience. The saying is probably based on the Biblical story of Moses, who came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and was literally all aglow.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

We like mountaintop experiences ourselves, either by visiting mountains, like Pike’s Peak or the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica. We also particularly savor wines made with mountain grapes.

The high altitude provides plenty of sun during the day and nice cooling at night. The hilly terrain means great drainage and with less nutrients in the soil, the vines are stressed. The cooler temperatures allow the grapes to develop acidity and nuances before they ripen. The grape yield is lower, but the flavors are concentrated and intense.

Soaring High

We had the chance to enjoy a superb wine from Byrd Vineyard during our roadtrip to Ohio last week. Ten years ago Bruce Byrd began exploring the peaks and volcanic soils of the Mayacamas Range in California. He found his spot far above the fog line, at 2,400 feet. There the marine sediments, shale, sandstone, chert, and gravel all contribute to the unique mountain terrain of Byrd Vineyard’s estate.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

This is the far northern end of the Mayacamas Range, in Mendocino County, where there is nothing to intrude between the mountains and the Pacific coast. These are the highest-elevation vineyards in California.

After receiving our first vaccine shot, it was time to make an important family visit. While in Ohio, we gathered at a friend’s house to uncork some remarkable wine, including the 2012 Red Blend from Byrd.

The special occasion required some truly exquisite wine. The Byrd Bordeaux-style blend filled the bill perfectly.

The 2012 Red Wine is a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc. This wine earned a silver medal at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and it’s easy to see why the judges were captivated. At nine years since vintage, the wine has evolved into an elegant, rounded sip with tannins integrated seamlessly.

While this bottle could certainly accompany a nicely-marbled steak, we enjoyed a casual meal of Mediterranean food and when the Byrd arrived, we had dark chocolate and sea salt covered pretzels. A delightful pairing if ever I’ve had one.

This is a full-bodied wine. On the palate there is a superb balance with pure blueberry, cocoa, and cigar box notes. A delightful acidity keeps the flavors precise with no flabby fruit. Tastes of sour cherry, plum and accents of vanilla guide you to a lingering finish which demands another glass.

We were not familiar with Byrd Vineyard before we popped open this bottle, but this boutique winery is creating some gorgeous wines. Their success is right up there with the elevation of their vineyards. The SRP for the 2012 Red Wine is $65. It’s drinking perfectly right now, so you may want to grab two or three bottles. Enjoy one now and lay down the others.

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Texas Wine Flourishes With Creativity And Style

Brennan Vineyards Ella's Pine SemillonAre Texans trading 10-gallon hats for 750 ml bottles? 

By Dave Nershi, CSW – Publisher

Texans always think big. Although west coast wineries dominate domestic wine headlines, the wines of Texas are gaining critical acclaim and legions of new fans.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

The history of wine in Texas is a long one. The first vineyard planted in North America by Franciscan priests was planted around 1662 in Texas.  European settlers followed the development of mission outposts, bringing more grapevine cuttings and developing the industry through the 1800s. Today Texas has more than 500 wineries and the wine industry contributes more than $13 billion in economic value annually.

Wine Acreage By The Millions

Texans don’t do anything in a small way. Texas is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the US. Texas Hill County is the third largest AVA in the country encompassing 9 million acres. Even so, scoffers may doubt that the dry, arid climate is suited for growing quality grapes.

Spicewood Vineyards owner and president Ron Yates is from a six generation ranching family in Texas. “I grew up in Hill Country before it was cool,” said Yates. “We’d used to say that if you’re coming to Hill Country, you’re coming to shoot deer, eat barbecue, or play on the lake.”

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

Ron spent a year in Spain while a student at the University of Texas. It was there in the Ribera del Duero region that he fell in love with wine. Upon his return, he noticed that the Texas Hill Country was a lot like the Spanish vineyard landscape, with limestone bedrock and hot days. He was convinced that Tempranillo would grow successfully in Texas. His instincts proved correct as the grape highlights the offerings at Spicewood and he earned the Top Texas Wine award at the prestigious Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo 2021 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition.

Larger Than France

“One of the misperceptions about Texas is that it seems like it would be this very limited climate for growing grapes,” said Julie Kuhlken, co-founder of Pedernales Cellars, a family-owned and operated winery in Stonewall, Texas, that specializes in Spanish and Rhone varieties. “Texas is actually bigger than France so you’re talking enormous geographic diversity. If you look at the High Plains, the reality is an amazing diurnal (temperature) which is very helpful. They are using irrigation so you're not relying on rainfall in order to make sure the plants have enough water.”

“As with many wine regions, the weather can be unpredictable so there’s a lot of hard work required in the vineyard to get the highest quality fruit possible and in the winery to make the best wines from that fruit,” said Denise Clarke, sommelier and director of the Texas Fine Wine group, which was established in 2014, who has been involved with the Texas wine industry for more than a decade. “Texas wine people are very passionate about the opportunities in this state to make benchmark wines, and they are eager to share their experiences and knowledge with other winemakers and growers.”

Texas Fine Wine is a collection of five of Texas’ most distinguished wineries: Bending Branch Winery, Brennan Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery, Pedernales Cellars and Spicewood Vineyards. Member wineries are dedicated to producing superlative wines from Texas grapes.

One taste of the lovely mocha and deep blueberry notes tinged with floral highlights from the Bending Branch 2017 Tallent Vineyard Tannat will convince any wine lover that something special is going on in Texas. We enjoyed it with a vegan pizza. This Texas Hill Country wine is sensational, perfectly balanced and bold, bold, bold. (The secret ingredient for the pizza is shallots.)

Expect the unexpected with Texas wine. An example is the Brennan Vineyard 2019 Ella’s Pine, a 100% Semillon with a limited 200-case production. With a beautiful golden color, the wine delights with smooth pineapple and honey flavors topped with touches of peach and dry herbs.

The wine is a tribute to the house at Brennan Vineyards. The McCrary house has a Loblolly Pine Tree on its south side. Ella carried the pine tree with her from her home in Alabama as a piece of her homeland. Just so happens that here in North Carolina we are surrounded by Loblolly Pines. They tower above the ground and sway in the breeze. We packed up Ella's Pine for our morning walk and took the accompanying photo.

Each wine displays world-class quality and winemaking. The flavors entrance, even if the grape names aren’t commonplace.

Bending Branch 2017 Tallent Vineyard TannatMany consumers just don’t know grapes like Tannat or Semillon. “One of our biggest challenges is that many of the wines we produce may be unfamiliar to some wine enthusiasts – they may not know much about Viognier, Vermentino, Tannat or Tempranillo, for example,” said Clarke. “We work hard to explain the varieties and how they are similar in taste and body to more well-known grapes.”

Focusing On The Right Grapes

Dave Reilly, in his 13th year as winemaker at Duchman Family Winery thinks finding the right grape varieties has been key in the tremendous surge in Texas wine quality. In the 1970s Texas was trying to grow the well-known and popular international varieties. “Well, we can grow those grapes, but we weren't making world-class wines,” said Reilly. “I'm not in any way saying you can't make a world-class Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon in Texas because there are some. It's just more the exception than the rule.” Real success for Texas wine began when the focus changed to varieties better suited to the state rather than just what people knew.

“People are so aware of the international varietals, many of which are grown in France, but if you go along the Mediterranean and actually track all of the warm weather varietals there is an enormous range of them,” said Kuhlken. “It just blows you away. We have many of these varieties that are not well known, right, they're not household names. What's allowed the Texas wine industry to grow is that at some point we said we need to stop growing things that people know the name of but don't grow well here and start growing things that grow well here and get everybody else to learn their names.”

Spicewood vineyard courtesy Texas Fine WineAlthough Cabernet Sauvignon tops the list of grape production (2019), Tempranillo, a Spanish grape, is not far behind. Other top reds include Mourvèdre, Sangiovese, and Primitivo. The top white is Viognier. Muscat Canelli is also a popular vineyard choice.

According to Clarke, grapes that show the best promise in Texas are from warm climate, Mediterranean regions including Southern France, Italy and Spain – so everything from Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Albariño, Picpoul Blanc and Vermentino to Tempranillo, Tannat, Mourvèdre, Graciano, Carignan, Teroldego, Souzão and Touriga Nacional.

The less-familiar grapes shouldn’t be a barrier to wine sippers. “I find most wine lovers are adventurous and eager to try new varieties and producers, and many wine enthusiasts have not had a lot of Texas wines,” said Clarke. “The Texas wines on store shelves are just a small percentage of the Texas wines made in the state. Thankfully, Texas wine country is just hours from Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, making it a great weekend destination to get out and explore wineries that make something for everyone.”

A Bright Future Ahead

Clarke sees intriguing developments for Texas wines. Look for more single-vineyard wines that express microclimates and terroir and single-varietal wines from grapes like Touriga Nacional and Cinsault that, in the past, have been used primarily as blending grapes.

You can also expect to see more fizz. First introduced in Texas in 2012, pet-nat is gaining more popularity. In 2021, look for Spicewood Vineyards pet-nat of Sangiovese, Brennan Vineyards pet-nat of Mourvèdre and Muscat of Alexandria, and Pedernales pet-nat of Tempranillo. Bending Branch will offer its fourth vintage of its popular Frizzante Rosé of Tannat. Clarke sees bubbles as a great choice in Texas to pair with its cuisine and hot summer days.

“Texas is an exciting but still young wine region,” said Clarke. “Texas is still experimenting with new grape varieties and winemaking techniques. I’m excited to see more wines come from our higher, mountainous elevations to complement the warm-climate grapes we are known for.”

Full disclosure: These wines were received as marketing samples.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Beronia 2017 Rioja Crianza

Beronia 2017 Rioja Ciranza SMDouble you pleasure with this Rioja Crianza and “baby” 375 ML bottle.

Spain’s Icon

Rioja is an iconic Spanish wine. It comes from Spain’s first premium wine region and has earned loyal fans around the world.

We recently opened the 2017 Rioja Crianza from Beronia and it came with a twist – you’ll have to read on for that. First to the wine.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

Rioja is the most famous wine region in Spain and produces about one-sixth of Spain’s quality wines. Tempranillo accounts for more than 90% of the grapes grown. The classic flavor of Rioja relies on oak aging, traditionally in American oak, and the emphasis is more on earthiness than on fruit.

Digging The Oak

The love of oak barrels goes back to the French who settled there for a brief period in the 19th century when phylloxera wiped out vineyards in France. The French winemaking experience gave the winemakers in Rioja a jumpstart.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

The Beronia is a blend of 94% Tempranillo, 5% Garnacha, and 1% Mazuelo (also known as Cariñena or Carignan). This bottle is aged in a blend of French and American oak.

American oak gives big bold flavors, while French oak imparts more finessed tastes. Crianza wines in Rioja must age at least 12 months in the barrel and 24 months overall – so the type of cooperage really makes a difference.

A Contemporary Take On Rioja

The Beronia is a more contemporary take on Rioja. It isn’t highly tannic. Instead it is pleasant blend of cherry and raspberry with bright fruit notes accented by vanilla. Herb and spice threads intertwine to give another layer of enjoyment. This is a downright pleasing wine that would do well with a variety of dishes including roasts, cheeses, and pizza. We found it beautiful all on its own.

Now about that twist. This has been a weird year. In the past, wine tastings with the friends would mean grabbing a bottle as you walked out the door. Now you must master the logistics and safety aspects. Fear not, Beronia has produced a 375 ML bottle of their outstanding Rioja Crianza. If you are invited to a driveway party, or a socially-distant party where you are avoiding a whole troop of people handling the same bottle, voilà! It is perfect for single serve meet-ups with friends at a distance.

The SRP for the 750 ML bottle is $14.99, while the 350 ML bottle goes for $7.99.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Americans Gearing Up To Travel As COVID Vaccines Roll Out Ahead Of Schedule

The return of travel is coming. What are the concerns and trends as we pack our suitcases?

travel photographer

Hang On, Help Is On The Way

The announcement by President Joe Biden’s that the United States will have enough coronavirus vaccines for all adults by the end of May – two months earlier than previously thought – is encouraging news for travelers. Precautions will still need to be taken, but domestic travel is likely to be popular again by summertime.

Travel’s economic footprint in the United States shrank a staggering 42% last year, from $2.6 trillion to $1.5 trillion, according to new end-of-year totals prepared for the U.S. Travel Association by the research firm Tourism Economics.

The employment devastation was similarly massive: travel-supported jobs fell by 5.6 million in 2020 (16.7 million to 11.1 million)—a whopping 65% of all American jobs lost to the economic fallout of the pandemic. Travel and tourism had supported employment for 11% of the U.S. workforce prior to the onset of COVID.

More Than 80% Have Travel Plans In Next Six Months

Certainly the revival of travel, be it domestic or international, can’t come soon enough for the industry and also for those who have endured more than a year of a health crisis. According to the latest Longwoods International tracking study of American travelers, 84% have travel plans in the next six months, the highest level since the early days of the pandemic a year ago.  This is the third consecutive wave showing over 80% for this key metric. And the percentage of travelers who say that the coronavirus will greatly impact their travel plans has dropped to a third, down from a pandemic peak of two-thirds last April and matching the March 2020 low.

travel passport“Travel planning continues to accelerate as improving pandemic and vaccine data is released,” said Amir Eylon, President and CEO of Longwoods International.  “Barring another surge in infections, the beginning of the travel industry recovery appears on target during 2021.”

Even with the increasing optimism about the future, only 44% of travelers currently support opening their communities to visitors and about half feel safe traveling outside their communities or dining in local restaurants or shopping at local stores.  Moreover, 61% continue to modify their travel plans because of COVID-19.

A Shift To Familiar and Predictable Travel

David Zietsma, SVP Strategy and Performance at Jackman, a firm specializing in customer engagement insights notes that traveler preferences have shifted toward the familiar, predictable, and trusted (i.e. domestic destinations, more detailed planning). In a survey by Airbnb, 56% of consumers surveyed prefer a domestic or local destination, versus just 21% who want to visit someplace international and farther away. One in five Americans say they want their destination to be within driving distance of home

Road trips will boom, as they are cheaper and safer than flying and 59% of families say they’re more likely to drive than fly on their next trip. The ability to work-from-anywhere will further fuel this trend.

Zietsma says there is a shift from mass travel to meaningful travel: people are prioritizing more personal, more meaningful trips centered on family, friends and staying close, while avoiding more adventurous journeys and packaged tours. Travelers are also taking on the role of “concerned citizens” demanding responsible travel policies: thinking more mindfully about the way they travel, why they travel, and where they go

Air Travel Now And Beyond

Looking ahead, an IPX 1031 survey found that 45% believe travel will return to pre-pandemic levels of normalcy this year. However, 55% say they are uncertain if travel will ever return to normal without restrictions. There certainly is a pent-up demand as 57% of respondents say it's been a year or more since they've taken a vacation.

In terms of air travel, 48% say they will feel safe flying in 2021. That number jumps to 80% in 2022. Only 25% of Americans flew in 2020. For those not traveling in 2021, top reasons according to the IPX 1030 study include: 1. Safety 2. Budget 3. Dining/entertainment restrictions 4. Travel/flying restrictions 5. Can't take the time off work.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

WIYG? We Answer The Age-Old Question: What’s In Your Glass?

WIYG 031821WIYG? That’s a question we are often asked. Here’s a look at what we’re sipping.

Raffaldini Meditazione, Swan Creek

This wine was enjoyed at an indoor tasting (in my garage – thanks, COVID). Meditazione, from one of our favorite North Carolina wineries, is wonderful wherever it is tried. A wine for the end of the meal that invites contemplation and reflection. It is made in the appassimento style with the grapes dried before pressing. Grapes are Sagrantino, Sangiovese, and Petit Verdot. This is a port-style wine that dazzles with deep, rasiny flavors. 18.5% ABV.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook


Seven Hills 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley

This wine comes from the original blocks planted to establish this iconic Walla Walla winery. Flavors of bold red berries rush out trailed by blackberry, cigar box, and chocolate notes. Only 268 cases of this gem were produced. We love the style of Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon, and this one provides the trademark big fruit with just the right balance and moderate tannins.


Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!


Arthur and I sampled three of these wines in a garage tasting!Royal Tokaji 2017 Late Harvest, Hungary

There are just a handful of truly world-class dessert wines and Tokaji is certainly in that exclusive club. Looking to add to your list of exotic grapes? This wine from Hungary includes Furmint, Hárslevelű, Yellow Muscat, and other native varieties. It is pale gold in color with aromas of pear and exotic fruit. This is sweet on the tongue but not over the top with alcohol, with 11.5% ABV. On the palate there are notes of orange blossom and apricot with a touch of acidity that keeps a balance.  It’s packaged in a 500 ML bottle, so you get more than your typical dessert wine, which is usually in 375 ML bottles.

Saveurs du Temps 2018 Pinot Noir, IGP Pays d’Oc

This wine from Sud de France (south of France) is an IGP wine. This designation falls between “wines of France” and the more specific and prestigious AOP regions. I’ve had good luck with IGP wines and especially those from Pays d’Oc, which covers the Languedoc and Roussillon areas. I also like the great value of these wines. Unfortunately, this wine, named “Flavors of Time” was a bust. What was I expecting for $11? This is a sipper that has some vague cherry notes, but is not identifiable as Pinot Noir (although it is 100%). The bottle promises a concentrated and elegant drink, but the glass tells a different story.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Glenelly 2009 Grand Vin, Stellenbosch

Glenelly 2009 Grand VinA new APWASI wine certification means we pop open a special bottle.

South Africa Certified!

For the past few weeks, I’ve been studying South African wine as part of the Asia Pacific Wine and Spirit Institute Certified South African Wine Specialist program. I previously completed the Certified Argentinian Wine Specialist course and now just passed the exam for the South Africa certification.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

A major wine holiday took place while I was studying, Open That Bottle Night. On OTBN, you are supposed to open a special bottle (instead of letting it gather dust waiting for a super-special occasion). Our selection was the 2009 Glenelly Grand Vin from Stellenbosch. I chose the bottle for a couple of reasons. First, it was timely in light of my APWASI studies. It was also one of the last remaining wines we brought back from our trip to South Africa in 2015.

Memories Of A Safari And The Winelands

It was a special trip that caused us to fall in love with the country, its people, animals, cuisine, and wine. Glenelly has a stylish tasting room (or cellar door as they say in South Africa) and has a wonderful art glass collection. In fact, one of their ranges of wine is called the Glass Collection.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

We not only did a tented safari (OK, it was more like "glamping") but also visited Cape Town and the South African wine country. Known as the Winelands, these are perhaps the most scenic wine regions on earth.

South AfricaWinemaking in South Africa dates back to the 1600s when the Dutch settled the area at the continent's tip. It was believed that wine would help prevent scurvy for sailors, so this became a popular stop for ships sailing between Europe and India.

The country ranges from a mild Mediterranean climate to desert conditions, resulting in a wide range of different wines and styles. Since the end of apartheid in the 1990s, there has been a boom in wine quality.

The Best Of Both Worlds

While South Africa's best-known white wine is Chenin Blanc, known locally as Steen, it also produces beautiful Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. For red wines, the signature grape is Pinotage, a unique grape that is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Perhaps our favorites are the Bordeaux-style red blends (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot, etc.). The winemaking is a wonderful blend of New World flavors with Old World craftsmanship.

Stellenbosch is known as the Kingdom of Cabernet, and the Grand Vin blend includes Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot.

When we first tasted it at the winery, it was more fruit-driven. In the years since it evolved to have lovely toasted caramel notes with flavors of cooked fruit and black tea. The body remains smooth and supple. Delightful!

Flag of Italy - WikipediaNelle ultime settimane ho studiato vino sudafricano nell'ambito del programma di specialista del vino sudafricano certificato Asia Pacific Wine and Spirit Institute. In precedenza ho completato il corso Certified Argentinian Wine Specialist e ora ho appena superato l'esame per la certificazione Sud Africa.

Mentre studiavo si è svolta una grande festa del vino, Open That Bottle Night. Su OTBN, dovresti aprire una bottiglia speciale (invece di lasciarla raccogliere polvere in attesa di un'occasione super speciale). La nostra selezione è stata il Glenelly Grand Vin 2009 di Stellenbosch. Ho scelto la bottiglia per un paio di motivi. Innanzitutto, è stato opportuno alla luce dei miei studi APWASI. È stato anche uno degli ultimi vini rimasti che abbiamo riportato dal nostro viaggio in Sud Africa nel 2015.

È stato un viaggio speciale che ci ha fatto innamorare del paese, della sua gente, degli animali, della cucina e del vino. Glenelly ha un'elegante sala degustazione (o porta della cantina come si dice in Sud Africa) e ha una meravigliosa collezione di vetri d'arte. In effetti, una delle loro gamme di vini si chiama Glass Collection.

Non solo abbiamo fatto un safari in tenda (OK, era più come "glamping") ma abbiamo anche visitato Cape Town e la regione vinicola sudafricana. Conosciute come le Winelands, queste sono forse le regioni vinicole più panoramiche della terra. La vinificazione in Sud Africa risale al 1600, quando gli olandesi stabilirono l'area all'estremità del continente. Si credeva che il vino avrebbe aiutato a prevenire lo scorbuto per i marinai, quindi questa è diventata una tappa popolare per le navi che navigano tra l'Europa e l'India.

Il paese varia da un clima mite mediterraneo a condizioni desertiche, risultando in una vasta gamma di vini e stili diversi. Dalla fine dell'apartheid negli anni '90, c'è stato un boom della qualità del vino.

Mentre il vino bianco più conosciuto del Sud Africa è lo Chenin Blanc, conosciuto localmente come Steen, produce anche bellissimi Chardonnay e Sauvignon Blanc. Per i vini rossi, l'uva firma è il Pinotage, un'uva unica che è un incrocio tra Pinot Nero e Cinsault. Forse i nostri preferiti sono le miscele rosse in stile bordolese (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot, ecc.). La vinificazione è una meravigliosa miscela di sapori del Nuovo Mondo con l'artigianato del Vecchio Mondo.

Stellenbosch è conosciuta come il Regno del Cabernet e la miscela Grand Vin comprende Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot e Petit Verdot.

Quando l'abbiamo assaggiato per la prima volta in cantina, era più fruttato. Negli anni successivi si è evoluto per avere piacevoli note di caramello tostato con aromi di frutta cotta e tè nero. Il corpo rimane liscio ed elastico. Delizioso!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Four Picks For Your Passover Wines

Kosher wines from Argentina, France, and California 1Here are four kosher wine picks from around the globe. They are certain to please.

Value And Quality

For our Jewish friends preparing to celebrate Passover in just a few weeks, we’re pleased to present four kosher selections that will be ideal for the occasion. The quartet comes from three different continents.

Sforno Gran Reserva 2020Sforno 2020 Gran Reserva Red Blend, Argentina

This wine is 40% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Cabernet Franc. This wine has bold dark fruit with smooth tannins accented with sweet notes of oak. In Argentina, red Gran Reserva wines require two years of aging. Argentinian wines are always a great choice. This one nice richness and complexity for an SRP of $21.99.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook


Chateau Lacaussade Saint-Martin 2019 Vieilles Vignes, Cotes de Bordeaux Blanc

This chateau is located near the French town of Blaye and its fortress of Vauban, which is classified as a World Heritage site. White Bordeaux from this area is made primarily from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle. It is fermented and aged in barrels on the lees, resulting in complex notes of lime, grapefruit, and oak. This has great QPR (quality price ratio) with a price of about $20.99.

Les Lauriers des Rothschild 2017 Montagne Saint-Émillon

Herzog 2018 Lineage Paso Robles Cabernet SauvignonKeep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

An enchanting blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is aged for 12 months in French oak. Montagne Saint-Émillon is a “satellite” of the famed Saint-Émillon vineyard in Bordeaux. You can expect a fruity aroma of fresh-picked berries with smooth tannins, light oak flavor mixed with plum and earth notes. This would be perfect with brisket. SRP is $22.99.

Herzog 2019 Lineage Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles

This California Cab from one of our favorite regions is bursting with fruit-driven flavors. On the palate the tannins are smooth and supple. Black cherry and rich red currant tastes highlight this big wine that has an accent of tobacco. It’s easy drinking and food-friendly. The wine celebrates the rich winemaking history of the Herzog family, which goes back to Rabbi Menachem Herzog in the early 19th century in Slovakia. He was asked to produce wine for the royal court of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, starting a a lineage of wine producers with customers around the world. SRP is $19.99.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Cameron Hughes 2019 Lot 752 Gavi DOCG

Cameron Hughes Lot 752 GaviLooking for a satisfying white wine that breaks the mold? This wallet-friendly white from Cameron Hughes fits the bill.

Uncorking Italy

I really didn’t know. Cameron Hughes, one of our favorite vignerons, has wine from… Italy.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

We normally think of this brand as one that brings standout wines (and values) from California, Washington, and Oregon. But indeed it does also import some nice wines from Italy (Spain and France too).

We uncorked this bottle during a recent socially distanced tasting with friend Arthur Barham of Merlot2Muscadine. We were enjoying some pleasantly warm weather – but things changed in a flash and so we had to become garagistes as I converted the garage into a make-shift but fun tasting room.

Goodness, It’s Gavi

This Gavi comes from the northwestern part of Italy in the Piedmont region. It’s a DOCG wine, meaning that they have a regulatory council not only handing down rules about vineyards and production, but also guaranteeing the quality. It’s always a reassuring sign.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

Gavi is made with the Cortese grape and these were hand picked from select vineyards with exceptional soil and sun exposure. This weighs in at a lower ABV of 12%.

Even though it was chilly in the garage, this chilled wine hit the right note. It is light and breezy with notes of peach and apple. The body is light-plus, meaning you get a fuller experience than some thin-bodied whites. The acidity is enough to provide structure, but not too zingy to disrupt the vibe. It’s that acidity that could enable you to age this bottle for three or four years – but why wait?

The SRP is a mere $15 on the Cameron Hughes website. I’d say this is perfect for entertaining outdoors when that warm weather finally arrives. This is a limited run of 800 cases and you may want to purchase several, since the deals on Cameron Hughes can sell out quickly. This is a great chance to explore a delicious Italian white at a smart price.

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Top Chef Nini And Silk & Spice Highlight Virtual Cooking Adventure

Preparing to cook!During the pandemic I’ve been polishing my cooking chops. This would be my greatest challenge.

The Unexpected Chef

Most of the gourmet meals prepared around here are crafted by my wife. I do, however, have culinary experience cooking in restaurants in Colorado and West Virginia. None of them received a Michelin star, but the food was tasty and the beer was cold.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

When were were contacted about a virtual cooking program featuring Chef Nini Nguyen (of BRAVO Top Chef fame) and Portuguese wine Silk & Spice, I immediately signed on. In my mind I pictured myself sipping a luscious glass of red wine while the Green Dragon (yes, that’s my wife) prepared the meal. I was in for a bit of surprise.

As the time approached, I asked if there was anything I could do. I was informed that I was going to be doing the cooking. Truthfully, during these crazy COVID times, I’ve upped my cooking game. During the pre-pandemic days, I would pick out a nice restaurant when it was time for me to handle the meal. Now I try to pitch in by occasionally preparing elegant and cool (in my opinion!) meals.

Silk & Spice BasketUnpacking Silk & Spice

There is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, as they say, and so I was curious how this whole cooking event was going to unfold. Several days beforehand a package arrived filled with instructions and ingredients plus a gift card to purchase items (like boneless chicken thighs) that couldn’t be shipped.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

Included in the box were what I considered the three key ingredients: Red Boat fish sauce, the recipe for Vietnamese Ginger-Braised Chicken by Chef Nini Nguyen, and a beautiful bottle of 2018 Silk & Spice wine.

Rattling Pots And Pans

As hinted at previously, often for many of our sumptuous wine dinners, my preparation has been uncorking bottles of wine. This time we received some excellent coaching in advance.

Virtual cooking with Chef NiniInstructions for our cozy cabin virtual culinary adventure helped set the stage beautifully for a great evening of cooking. We were told to open the bottle of wine about 30 minutes before the start of the program and put a slight chill on the bottle, which we like to do with our reds.

The “golden nugget” takeaway was the French phrase mise en place, which means everything in its place. In the kitchen, this refers to organizing the ingredients in a way that makes cooking the meal seamless. So we organized all our cooking utensils and equipment and cut, peeled, sliced, grated, and measured all our ingredients. This is a much more civilized concept than our past method of “getting stuff ready.”

The Featured Wine: Silk & Spice

Silk & Spice with Vietnamese Ginger-Braised ChickenThe pairing of food and wine is one of our joys. We’re always thrilled when we discover an excellent food-friendly wine. Silk & Spice is certainly meant to be discovered!

The Spice Route was created by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century to bring exotic spices like clove and nutmeg to the Western world. This wine aims evokes the mystery and flavors of that famed trading route.A Portuguese wine, Silk & Spice is a blend of indigenous grapes: 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Alicante Bouchet, and 30% Baga.

"Portuguese wines are extremely gastronomic and work with everything from poultry and red meats to seafood," said Anita Musi, fine wine specialist for Evanton. "They are incredibly versatile, easy-drinking, and enjoyable with mostly anything."

If you haven’t tried Silk & Spice, or Portuguese wine for that matter, you may be in for a surprise. When we first tasted this wine, we had expected a rather faint, light-bodied wine. Not so! This wine is indeed silky with soft tannins and deep flavors. Raspberry and leather notes circulate with accents of vanilla. Not only is it a great food wine, but it is also delightful by itself. You can find this wine online or at the store for less than $15.

Chef Nini And The Dish

Chef Nini Nguyen is a New York City based chef, instructor, recipe developer, and recent contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef All Stars.  A New Orleans native, Chef Nini combines her Vietnamese heritage with Creole influences into her cuisine. She also has a knack for teaching and mentoring other cooks.

"I really like Vietnamese cuisine because it's my comfort food," said Chef Nini. "It's what ties me to my family's traditions, my heritage, and most of the fond memories I have from childhood. From a technical standpoint, I love Vietnamese cuisine because of the way in which the same staple ingredients can be used in a wide array of dishes. The rich umami of fish sauce with bright, fresh herbs is a balance that guides me through dishes both Vietnamese and otherwise."

As you may know by this stage of our pandemic isolation, it’s easy for a Zoom meeting with 50 people to go sideways. Ah, but Chef Nini is no novice. She guided us through the cooking process and made it a fun, stress-free experience.

While Chef Nini kept our cooking on track (and explained the wonders of Vietnamese fish sauce and how to properly cook rice), sommelier Anita answered questions and provided insight on the wine. Soon our kitchen was filled with the wonderful aroma of sizzling chicken and caramelized onion and ginger sauce.

The Taste Of Victory

Once the food was cooked, the program ended, and photos snapped, we sat down to savor our meal. Through Chef Nini’s guidance, the rice was finished at the same time as the chicken, a welcome synchronicity. The dish was sumptuous. The melding of spice, umami, and savory flavors paired with the wine spectacularly.

"The most important thing to remember when planning a meal like this is to be patient," said Chef Nini. "Set it and almost forget it! Let the braise work its magic on the chicken and don't keep poking and prodding at it. A dish like this is pretty hard to overcook so trust that you'll know when it's time to turn off the heat."

We continue to be impressed with Silk & Spice wine and recommend this as a wonderful value. It also offers a different flavor profile than your typical red wine, something sure to appeal to adventurous souls. Chef Nini has also earned two new fans as well. Until I’m featured on a cooking show (very improbable) we’ll be following the cooking exploits of Chef Nini.

Full disclosure: The wine and food were provided as marketing samples.