Cruising Europe in Search of Wine

SeineRiverViking River Cruises, Emerald Waterways and Uniworld are among the cruise lines offering wine-themed river cruises, and all are worth checking out if you’d like to experience European wine regions at a nice, slow, casual pace.

Yet another option is Avalon Waterways, which has cruise ships featuring an array of facilities and conveniences. You can tap into the complimentary Wi-Fi to keep in touch with family and friends back home, stay perfectly in style with a visit to the hair salon, and keep up with daily workouts at the fitness center. In short, Avalon ships are built with an impressive collection of amenities to enhance one’s journey all along the way.

Here’s a look at two of Avalon’s wine-themed river cruises in 2015…

  • Grand France Wine River Cruise (16 days from Paris to Cote d’Azur, departing October 20) — This vacation showcases France’s scenery, history and culture as you sail along its beautiful rivers.

Embark in Paris and head northwest along the Seine River into the picturesque Normandy region. Dock at Conflans and choose between a guided excursion to Vincent van Gogh’s Auvers-sur-Oise or Napoleon and Josephine’s elegant Chateau de Malmaison. Next up: your choice of a guided visit to Claude Monet’s stunning gardens at Giverny or remarkable Bizy Castle. Then it’s on to Joan of Arc’s historic Rouen, where you choose between an included excursion to the poignant Normandy landing beaches or a fascinating “Taste of Normandy.”

Continue to Les Andelys — home of Chateau Gaillard, built by England’s King Richard the Lionheart in 1196 — and enjoy free time to explore this medieval town on your own. Return to Paris, where you’ll disembark and travel south to fascinating Beaune for a wine tasting.

In Chalon-sur-Saone, board your second cruise ship and sail on to medieval Tournus, Macon, the twin cities of Tournon and Tain l’Hermitage, Viviers, Avignon, and Arles, as well as France’s gastronomic capital of Lyon, where you have time to explore this fascinating city. Your vacation ends with an overnight in the stunning Cote d’Azur on the French Riviera.

  • Burgundy and Provence Wine River Cruise (11 days from Cote d’Azur to Paris, October 29) — Opportunities abound on this grand vacation to learn about France and to taste its sumptuous wines and cuisine.

Your adventure begins with two overnights and guided sightseeing in Paris, the “City of Light.” Travel south to fascinating Beaune for a Burgundy wine tasting, then board your ship in quaint Chalon-sur-Saone and set sail for lovely Tournus, Macon, France’s gastronomic capital of Lyon, as well as medieval Tournon, charming Viviers, Avignon and Arles. Before disembarking your ship in Arles, sail through the peaceful Camargue area.

Your vacation ends with an overnight on the French Riviera, also known as the Cote d’Azur. This cruise vacation has it all — historic sites, charming towns, spectacular cuisine and more.

Tomorrow: Two wine cruising options on the legendary Danube.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Keeping a Vineyard Pest in Check

MealybugHonig Vineyard & Winery in the Napa Valley town of Rutherford is known far and wide for its “green” practices — including the use of sniffer dogs.

Imagine a nose that is thousands of times more powerful than a human’s when it comes to detecting subtle odors. Put that nose on a golden retriever, give it some extensive hands-on training, and you have the latest weapon in the winegrape growers’ war on the vine mealybug.

In 2005, Michael Honig worked with Dr. Bonnie Bergin, founder of Assistance Dog Institute (now known as Bergin University) in Santa Rosa, to help train some special golden retrievers. Referred to as “sniffer dogs” by grape growers in Napa and Sonoma counties, they could detect the female mealybug pheromone. Early detection of the bug allows the grower to treat or remove a vine or two, alleviating any broad use of pesticides.

Vine mealybugs are difficult to detect, being nearly invisible to the naked eye, and hide under bark and roots. Dozens can fit inside of a one-inch square. They attack vineyards by feeding on the tender vines and leaving a heavy excretion of honeydew that promotes the growth of black, sooty mold.

The vine mealybug has been held in check on the North Coast to date, and area growers are being proactive in their efforts to make sure it doesn’t get established.

For that, they have, in large part, Michael Honig to thank.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment

A ‘Capitol’ Idea for Wine Tasting

iStock_000008957470LargeA question that came in last week reminded us of a very unusual wine tasting facility in California’s capital city…

QUESTION: We’re going to be spending some time in Sacramento, visiting the state capitol, the California State Railroad Museum and Sutter’s Fort. Are there any interesting places to go wine tasting in the city?

ANSWER Yes! Check out Old Rail Bridge Cellars, which has a tasting room on the 14th floor of the Elks Tower at 921 11th Street.

The location is significant because the tracks that cross the I Street bridge once linked Sacramento to the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma. Today, Old Rail Bridge Cellars brings top-quality winegrapes to Sacramento and transforms them into wine at a facility a few blocks away on 16th Street.

But be advised that you can’t just drop in. To make a wine-tasting appointment at the tasting room on 11th Street, known as the Penthouse Lounge, go to

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Posted in Wine FAQ

Both Las Vegas and San Francisco Want You!

uncorkdTwo of America’s greatest cities are Las Vegas and San Francisco, and on the last weekend of April, they have conspired to present a vinous conundrum for wine lovers.

On that weekend, each city will host a very tempting wine event. The main difference between the two is their scope.

In Vegas, everything is larger than life, and so it is with an event called Vegas Uncork’d. In San Francisco, all types of ethnic cuisine can be found, so the City by the Bay is a logical choice to host the TAPAS Grand Wine Tasting, focusing on the varieties of just two countries: Spain and Portugal.

Bon Appetit magazine conducts a number of wine festivals each year, but none is more anticipated than Vegas Uncork’d, which in 2015 will be held April 23-26.

Venues include the Aria, Bellagio, Caesars Palace and MGM Grand resorts, and among the scheduled events are “Decadent Delights: Wine and Chocolate Pairing,” “Premier Pairings With Krug Champagne and Guy Savoy,” and “Creative Cantonese and Wine at Hakkasan.”

You can get further information here:

The TAPAS (that’s short for Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society) Grand Wine Tasting will take place on the afternoon of Sunday, April 26 at the Golden Gate Club at the Presidio.

It features a consumer tasting of varietals such as Tempranillo, Albarino, Garnacha, Touriga Nacional, etc. from 2 to 5 p.m., preceded by a blind tasting of four American-made Tempranillos and four Spanish versions from 12 noon until 1:30.

The events are separately ticketed, and ticket information is available here:

Las Vegas or San Francisco? A long weekend of vinous decadence, or a more focused, education-oriented, single-day event? The choice is yours.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

A Dish That Pairs With White Wine and Red Wine

Meatballs with fresh fish“Red Wine With Fish” was a best-selling book that helped erase the myth that one should serve only a white wine when the main course was a fish dish.

The pairing spotlighted in the book was salmon and Pinot Noir.

Ever since, creative chefs have tossed out the old cookbooks and taken an “anything goes” approach to food preparation. And sommeliers have joined them in recommending complementary, often under-the-radar wines — regardless of their hue.

With that in mind, here’s a recipe for a dish that pairs well with either white wine (Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc) or red wine (Sangiovese). This recipe yields 4 servings.



  • 2 cans (160g) tuna in olive oil, drained (reserve a little oil)
  • Small handful of pine nuts
  • Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Small handful parsley leaves, roughly chopped
  • 50g fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 400g spaghetti
  • 500g jar pasta sauce


  1. Flake the tuna into a bowl, then tip in the pine nuts, lemon zest, parsley, breadcrumbs and egg. Season and mix together with your hands until completely combined.
  1. Roll the mix into 12 walnut-size balls.
  1. Put a large pan of salted water on to boil, then cook the spaghetti according to package instructions.
  1. Heat a little of the tuna oil in a large non-stick frying pan, then fry the tuna balls for 5 minutes, turning every minute or so until completely golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
  1. Heat the tomato sauce, then toss together with the pasta and tuna balls.
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Posted in Wine Buzz

Add a Little Spice to Your (Wine) Life

paprika dolceIn New Mexico, St. Clair Winery takes fire-roasted Hatch green chiles, cold-soaks them in white wine, and produces a wine that’s semi-sweet, slightly spicy and quite smooth, especially when served chilled.

A chile pepper in wine? That is perhaps the most extreme example of vinous spiciness. Other spice impressions are far more subtle, lending nuance and complexity to a wine, rather than a dominant flavor.

Spice — defined as a dried seed, fruit, root, bark or vegetable substance — usually is used to enhance the flavor of food, to elevate the color of a dish, or, in some cases, to mask other flavors. In a wine, it can add another aroma and/or flavor element to complement the natural fruit flavors.

“Spiciness” in wine does not imply that a burning sensation has been created, nor that a specific spice has been added to the cuvee. Rather, the spiciness occurs either naturally, via the flavors of the grapes, or through human involvement, via the type of oak barrels selected for aging.

In some cases, a specific spice comes to mind when one smells and/or tastes a specific wine. Examples include anise in Sangiovese, pepper and clove in Syrah, white pepper in Grenache and Gruner Veltliner, basil and tarragon in the wines of Provence and Italy, cinnamon in Cabernet Sauvignon and Gewurztraminer, and mint in New World reds (particularly Napa Valley Cabernet).

An impression of fennel is found in many red and white wines, and clove can often be detected in wines aged in well-toasted barrels.

Oak is used like a “seasoning” by vintners who wish to add flavor and palate appeal to a wine, or perhaps “fill in” a flavor or aroma “hole.”

On the nose, the primary influence of oak is to underscore aromas that center on the spice rack — clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.

In many cases, however, a distinct aroma or flavor won’t jump out of the glass, even though there’s a definite impression of spiciness. That’s when the catch-all descriptor — spicy — typically is used.

Whether occurring naturally in the wine or imparted by oak barrel aging — or even by adding a green chile pepper to the cuvee — spice is another factor that makes drinking wine so enjoyable and so interesting.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

The Pork Possibilities With Pinot Noir

pinotpigSeveral months ago, my 10-year-old granddaughter announced to the family that she “loved piggies” and would no longer be eating her favorite grab-and-go breakfast: Jimmy Dean sausage-and-egg sandwiches.

She did not reveal how or why she had come to this life-changing decision, although I suspect peer pressure from a fifth-grade BFF probably had something to do with it.

So, don’t expect to see her this weekend at Charlie Palmer’s 10th annual Pigs & Pinot event at the Hotel Healdsburg in California’s Sonoma County. But if the stars had aligned just a little bit better, I would be making the trek this weekend, because past P&P events are legendary among Pinot Noir lovers.

The two-day celebration is summed up like this on the event’s website: “A cast of Master Sommeliers and international celebrity chefs will showcase some of the world’s greatest Pinot Noirs with perfect pork pairings.”

Winemakers to be featured at a P&P Gala Dinner are Merry Edwards (Merry Edwards Winery), Alex Gambal (Alex Gambal), Nicolas Morlet (Peter Michael Winery), James MacPhail (MacPhail Family Wines), and Gary Pisoni (Pisoni Vineyards).

And that’s just one of several events, including a tasting featuring 60 Pinot Noirs… a Saturday night dinner featuring Pinot paired with Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese preparations of pork… seminars and more.

Pigs & Pinot has been on my wine event wish list ever since I heard about it, and perhaps next year the dates and circumstances will work out.

Or, perhaps I’ll aim for the 21st annual edition, and hope my granddaughter has come to her senses by then.

– – – – –

To learn more about Pigs & Pinot, click here.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

A St. Patrick’s Day Wine Cheat Sheet

Saint Patricks Day green clover ornamentGood advice never gets old. And based on the emails I received following my St. Patrick’s Day blog of 2010, the advice contained therein turned out to be pretty good for wine lovers.

So, in the spirit of not trying to re-create the wheel, we present that blog from five years ago…

– – – – – – – – – –

Tonight, there’s a good chance you’ll be donning a silly-looking green hat and heading out with friends to celebrate a “holiday” that you probably know very little about.

And that’s okay. I mean, do we really need a reason to go out and party?

On St. Patrick’s Day, we may indulge in certain dishes not seen the rest of the year, and many people will wash them down with an ice-cold beer — laced with green food coloring, no less.

But what if wine is your preferred adult beverage? St. Patrick’s Day fare can present some pairing challenges.

With that in mind, I urge you to print this edition of “Food and Wine Pairings” and take it with you you when you head this evening. Think of the list that follows as your personal St. Patrick’s Day wining-and-dining cheat sheet.

  • With Corned Beef and Cabbage — Historically, this dish is more American than Irish (the Irish usually eat cabbage with pork), but it has become the “go-to” dish for restaurants on St. Patrick’s Day. The wine to drink? A nice Pinot Noir, preferably from the Russian River area of Sonoma County. But don’t obsess on the sub-appellation; virtually any Sonoma County Pinot will work.
  • With Irish Stew — Cabernet Franc, or a French Bordeaux with a significant portion of Cab Franc in the blend, makes an ideal pairing partner.
  • With Bangers and Mash — Pork sausages with a bit of spice call for a fruitful wine with some spice of its own. Try a Syrah-based wine from the southern Rhone (such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape) or a Zinfandel from California.
  • With Fish-n-Chips — Almost any fried food matches beautifully with dry Riesling. Many American Rieslings are made in an off-dry style, so look for bottlings from Germany or France that are completely dry in style.

Embrace these pairings, and you won’t need the luck o’ the Irish to have a good meal and a fun evening.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Walk the Wine Walk and Talk the Wine Talk

iStock_000008666127XSmallA little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. But when it comes to wine, the more you know, the more fun the experience can be.

It would take a very thick book to fully explore the language of wine, in part because it unfolds in so many different languages. So, for today, let’s settle for two dozen plus two “wine words” — presented A-to-Z style…

Appellation — French term for a geographically designated wine area or region.

Barolo — An important Italian wine made from Piedmont-grown Nebbiolo grapes.

Cava — Spanish term for sparkling wine, adopted in 1970 to differentiate it from French Champagne. Until then, the term used was Champaña.

Dosage — The final addition of wine (often including a sugar syrup to mitigate high acidity) to top up a bottle of Champagne.

Espumoso — The actual Spanish word for sparkling, although “Cava” is used on labels of exported sparkling wine.

Fizziness — Describes a sparkling wine’s trait of bubbling when uncorked.

Gardet — Champagne house founded in the late 19th century, which today melds tradition and modernity in its cellar.

Henriot — Champagne house, based in Reims, which celebrated its 200th birthday in 2008.

INAO — The Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité, which oversees French appellation laws.

Jammy — Describes a wine that tastes like cooked, baked or stewed fruit.

Kabinett — German term for a wine of quality, typically the driest of the country’s best Rieslings.

Lees — Solid particles that settle at the bottom of a tank or barrel following fermentation. Contact with lees adds mouthfeel to a wine.

Mediterranean Climate — Defined by summers that are normally dry, warm to hot, and sunny, along with the winters that are mild — in other words, ideal for ripening winegrapes.

Nose — The aroma or bouquet of a wine; what it smells like.

Oloroso — Spanish term used to describe a style of Sherry with an intensely nutty aroma, generated via oxidative aging.

Primeur — French term that denotes a light, fruity style of wine that undergoes virtually no aging prior to release. Example: Beaujolais Nouveau.

Qualitatswein — Term that covers the top two tiers of Germany’s four-tier quality classification system.

Residual Sugar — The natural sugar remaining in a wine following fermentation. Some winemakers stop a fermentation early in order to retain sugar.

Sur lie — French term that denotes a style derived by maturing a wine in contact with its lees. Generally enhances complexity and texture.

Terroir — The grape-growing conditions — soil, climate, etc. — of a specific site.

Ullage — Small space of air in a wine bottle’s neck.

Viticulture — The science of growing wine grapes.

Whitehall Lane — An award-winning winery in the heart of Napa Valley, owned by the Leonardini family. The estate was founded in 1979.

X Winery — California winery that grew out of an MBA business plan hatched by Reed Renaudin at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Vinesse has featured numerous X Winery bottlings through the years.

Yield — The amount of grapes, usually measured in tons, harvested in a given year — by state, region, appellation, estate or vineyard.

Zweigelt — The most widely planted red winegrape in Austria, known for its mild peppery character.

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Posted in Wine Tips

Easier to Sneeze Than Pronounce

White_Wine_PouredImagine if you were able to create a wine in a test tube. What characteristics would it have?

Hmm… Let’s start with an aroma that’s engagingly floral, perhaps with a hint of sweet spice and a note that would differentiate it from all other wines — let’s go with lychee!

Flavor-wise, that spice impression should carry over to the palate, joined by some stone or citrus fruit flavors. And on the “sugar scale,” we’d want to be able to make it bone dry, off-dry, semi-sweet or very sweet.

Beginning to sound like a mad scientist’s impossible delusion? Well, no test tube is necessary; such a wine already exists. And the only reason you may not have heard of it is its impossible-to-pronounce name: Gewurztraminer.

So let’s get that challenge out of the way immediately: guh-VERTS-truh-mee-ner. Or, if you prefer, just say, “guh-VERTS.”

Rare, indeed, is a wine that can be made in so many styles. That’s a wonderful thing, but it also can be a bit confusing because a bone-dry rendition is quite distinct from a super-sweet, dessert-style Gewurztraminer.

That said, the wide stylistic spectrum is accompanied by endless food-pairing possibilities — from spicy Asian fare with dry Gewurztraminer, to fruit-based desserts with sweet Gewurztraminer.

The variety’s historic home is Germany’s Pfalz region, but its modern hub is France’s Alsace area, where the bottlings can be, to use a scientific term, mind-blowing. The dry versions are crisp and clean, ideal for drinking with wiener schnitzel, spicy Asian dishes, or Tex-Mex fare. The wines made in a sweet style are lush and honeyed, and deserve to be sipped and savored solo. They don’t just go with dessert, they are dessert. And those that split the difference — be they off-dry or semi-sweet — are absolutely perfect for the Thanksgiving table and its wide array of food flavors and textures.

In addition to Alsace, outstanding Gewurztraminer is made in California — particularly in Sonoma County and along the Central Coast — and in Washington’s Columbia Valley.

Although it may be easier to sneeze than pronounce, Gewurztraminer is a wine variety well worth trying.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass
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