Pretzel Logic: An Unexpected Wine Pairing Partner

PretzelsPreztels with wine? We enjoy occasional visits to Auntie Anne’s or Wetzel’s Pretzels when visiting a mall or killing time in an airport, but never had we thought about eating this warm, chewy treat with a glass of wine.

Never, that is, until we visited Switzerland and encountered the Brezelkonig kiosk at the main train station in Lucerne. We saw lots of people lined up to get their midday snack, and then we spotted a number of other people sitting nearby with pretzels and small bottles of wine — the latter, we learned, purchased at a nearby convenience store.

We didn’t really know what to think of this seemingly unusual pairing. So, we decided to give it a try.

We ordered a plain pretzel and a sesam (that’s how sesame was spelled on the menu), and then headed over to the convenience store. To our surprise, there were several types of wine available, all in those small, single-serving bottles.

Only one problem: They were Swiss wines… something we knew next to nothing about.

Fortunately, the cashier spoke English. We asked her for some help, and told we’d like to try two different wines. She recommended two whites, and we were on our way.

The wines were light-bodied and lacking much fruit flavor. But they were well chilled, and went just fine with the salty pretzels.

But what about pretzels with other, more assertive flavors — the kind you might find at your local mall, airport, or other pretzel purveyor? As always, it’s best to match the wine with the dominant flavor of the food. Here are a few suggestions:

  • With a pepperoni pretzel — Zinfandel or Petite Sirah.
  • With a sour cream and onion pretzel — Chardonnay.

Who knew that pretzels could be such versatile wine pairing partners?

The Swiss — that’s who!

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

A California 1 Wine Adventure

California highway 1 green sign on the streetSummertime is a great time to take a drive on Highway 1 — the scenic, occasionally harrowing road that hugs California’s Pacific Coast.

Harrowing, in part, because of the hairpin turns and narrow lanes, but even more so because many first-time visitors are trying to drive and soak in the scenery at the same time. But if you can manage to dodge them, you can have a fabulous day of sightseeing, wine tasting and casual dining.

I suggest staying in Monterey, and waking up to breakfast at Loulou’s Griddle in the Middle. If you’re adventurous, or feel like solidifying your seaside cred, try the Squiddle & Eggs (tender calamari steak, lightly breaded and grilled to a crispy brown, served with eggs as you like them). If you have a sweet tooth, there’s only one choice: the chocolate chip “hubcap” griddle cakes (served with butter and syrup).

The nearby (everything is nearby in this quaint town) Monterey Bay Aquarium continues to be a world-class attraction 31 years after it opened. And unlike many aquariums, it requires only a few hours to experience everything it has to offer.

Next, head south toward Carmel, then cut inland (east) on Carmel Valley Road. Your destination: Cowgirl Winery, where an authentic “western” experience awaits. The tasting room is housed in an old redwood barn, and nine chickens roam the grounds.

For a totally different vibe, head to nearby Joyce Vineyards, where visitors encounter a 1,700-square-foot industrial urban and contemporary tasting room. Wine can be sampled at a spacious bar or in one of several lounge areas.

You can then head back toward the ocean, check out the shops of Carmel-by-the-Sea, and then unwind with a casual dinner at Monterey’s Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar. There, you can choose between enticing entrees or small bites, accompanied by a glass of wine from a well curated list. The menu changes daily, but if the Gazpachuelo (clams, white‏ beans and local petrale sole) is available… go for it.

So if you’re looking to escape the heat, plan a day, a weekend or a week in California’s Monterey and Carmel area. Trust me, you won’t run out of fun wineries or fine restaurants to visit.

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Posted in Our Wine Travel Log

River Cruising: A Stylish Way to Experience Wine

rivercruiseMany Americans have taken cruises on large ships, but many more have not experienced a river cruise — something European vacationers have been enjoying for years.

Scenic Cruises is now offering an 11-day, Paris-to-Paris cruise called “Gems of the Seine” on its newest ship, the Scenic Gem. The ship’s rooms are larger than those found on most European river ships, and feature beds with Egyptian linens, walk-in showers, high-end Duravit sinks, top-of-the-line Dornbracht fixtures and small balcony areas.

There are six dining venues on board, including the upscale L’Amour, which guests may enjoy once on the trip. And unlike on most large cruise lines, there is no up-charge for that fine-dining experience. A meal at L’Amour is included in the cruise price.

In fact, all meals and all beverages — and that goes for beer and wine, in addition to coffee, tea and soft drinks — are included. So are gratuities for the ship’s staff. The price is as close to “all inclusive” as we’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. Credit cards aren’t even swiped when guests board, and many cruisers disembark back in Paris without a bill.

So, as you can see, “Gems of the Seine” offers many opportunities to enjoy wine while taking in magnificent sights and sites along or near the Seine River:

  • King Richard the Lionheart’s Château Gaillard
  • The Rouen Cathedral and Museum of Fine Arts, Deauville (playground of the rich and famous)
  • The estate of Manoir d’Appreval (for a unique cocktail event)
  • The beaches of Normandy (where the historic D Day landings took place)
  • The Normandy Cemetery (with its 9,387 graves)

… and so much more.

For information on 2016 departure dates and pricing, go to:

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Posted in Vinesse Style

Grilling… and Wine Pairing… Secrets Revealed

Barbecue GrillAs I noted in a blog post a few years ago, pretty much everything I know about barbecue comes from Steven Raichlen, who has written several books on the subject.

Raichlen’s books… and over-cooking quite a few chunks of meat before I’d had a chance to read those books.

“The Barbecue! Bible” is perhaps the most comprehensive barbecue tome out there — comparable in detail and readability to Karen MacNeil’s “The Wine Bible.”

Raichlen also has written a book devoted exclusively to sauces, rubs, marinades, bastes, butters and glazes, as well as a step-by-step “how-to” book on the subject, perfect for barbecue newbies.

Read all three books, and you’ll know everything you’ll ever need to know about barbecue… and a whole lot more.

The go-to beverage at most backyard barbecues is beer. And that makes perfect sense. When the weather is warm to hot, and when the food is hot and perhaps a bit spicy, a nice cold brew can be mighty refreshing.

But if you’re looking for something beyond mere refreshment with your barbecue — a beverage with flavors that complement the flavors of the food — wine can work just fine.

Of course, it needs to be the right kind of wine, or you could end up with a pairing that does neither the wine nor the food any favors.

So, what kind of wine pairs best with BBQ? The key to any food-and-wine pairing is to zero in on the key flavor of the food.

Take chicken, for example.

Cook chicken in a frying pan or deep fryer with just some oil and minimal seasoning, and almost any white wine would make a good pairing partner. Just chill it down for a half-hour or so, and enjoy.

But what if you were eating Chinese-style orange chicken? In that case, a wine that shows off some orange-like nuances would be ideal. Think: Muscat, Orange Muscat or Moscato.

And so it is with barbecue. Now, to cover all the wine pairing possibilities with all the different styles of barbecue would require a very thick book rather than a relatively short blog. So, we’re going to concentrate on the backyard barbecue: meat (beef, chicken, pork, etc.) cooked slowly over fire, topped with some sort of semi-sweet sauce.

What’s the key flavor of the food? Most likely, it’s the sauce. So, we need a wine that not only plays off the texture and succulence of the meat, but also complements (and won’t be overwhelmed by) the flavor of the sauce.

bbq715Fortunately, those parameters are not as limiting as they may seem. There actually are numerous choices. Here are our favorite pairing partners for a backyard barbecue:

  • “GSM” (a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre—either from southern France or Australia)

Check out today’s sale from Vinesse for some specific barbecue-friendly wine ideas.

And here’s one tip you may not read in very many wine blogs: It’s perfectly okay to chill down a red wine before serving it. In fact, with barbecue fare, we highly recommend it. Thirty to 45 minutes in the refrigerator before serving is ideal.

Chilling basically doubles the pairing enjoyment factor. Not only do you get the complementary flavors of the food and the wine, but the “coolness” of the wine helps mediate the “heat” of the food.

When it comes to food and wine pairing, both similarities and “opposites” can be complementary.

Happy grilling!

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Posted in Wine Buzz

What Kind of Wine Glasses for a Summertime Party?

Outdoor catering. Food events and celebrationsWe get lots of questions about stemware. Here’s one that came in recently…

QUESTION: We’re going to have a party, and my wife suggests we use our stemless glasses for the wine. I think that would be tacky. What do you think?

ANSWER: Stemless glasses have several advantages, not the least of which is that they don’t break as easily as glasses with stems — which might be a consideration at a party with lots of people bumping elbows.

Also, keep in mind that Italian families have been drinking wine from tumblers for generations. So if your party includes Italian food, that would give you a good “excuse” to keep the stemware in the cupboard and use those stemless glasses as part of your party’s “theme.”

In the summertime, we tend to consume more “casual” foods, including at our parties — pizza, barbecued fare, and so on. In our opinion, that makes a more casual approach to the wine glassware perfectly acceptable.

A party should be about fun. So don’t sweat the stemware, and instead concentrate on selecting a nice mix of wines that will appeal to the vast majority of your guests. For ideas on this topic, go to:

When you check out that blog, you’ll see that our opinion on stemless wine glasses has evolved over the years. That said, we’re still absolutely opposed to serving good wine in plastic cups.

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Posted in Wine FAQ

An Unexpected Cheese (and Wine) Discovery

CheeseFactoryPart of the fun of traveling is getting lost.

Last fall, my fiancée and I discovered a wonderful tapas restaurant in Barcelona simply by walking around without a map. Later on that same trip, we found a cheese-making operation by taking a wrong turn in a Swiss monastery.

The monastery is the Engelberg Abbey, which I wrote about in yesterday’s blog. We’d been told about its massive organ, and decided to go early in the morning since our body clocks were still adjusting to the time zone changes from America’s West Coast, and we were wide awake.

Either we are easily confused (not out of the realm of possibility) or the signs were not real clear, but we ended up entering through the wrong door. Before disappearing too far into the jowls of the giant abbey, however, we were spotted by one of the monks who approached us saying, with his right hand held out, “No, no, no!”

We apologized profusely, explaining that we meant no harm, and then he apologized for his tone of voice. Then he asked us, “Are you looking for the cheese factory?”

It probably wasn’t a wise thing to do in a monastery, but I then lied, “Yes, we are.” While saying those words, I was thinking, “Cheese factory?!?”

That little wrong turn led to one of the many memorable experiences on that trip that were totally unplanned.

It turns out that this was the only cheese factory in Switzerland — a country known for its cheese — located within the walls of a monastery. If your timing is good, you can watch cheese being made by hand, including the monastery’s specialty, the Engelberger Klosterglocke, a mild cheese that’s pressed into the shape of a monastery bell.

CheeseDisplayYou can buy cheese — many different types — in the deli that we described in yesterday’s blog, along with an array of other treats, many made by Engelberg residents in their kitchens. And, as also noted yesterday, you can purchase wine.

The deli will prepare picnic baskets or boxed lunches, and has seating for those who would prefer to eat on the premises. We shared a tasty ham and cheese sandwich toasted to blissfully buttery perfection on a fresh bun. It was wonderfully flavorful and gooey.

It wasn’t just the surprise that made visiting the Engelberg Abbey cheese factory so much fun. Thinking about it later, I realized that it also was about experiencing the intertwining of old and new.

Here in America, we tend to plough over our historic buildings to make way for new ones. In Europe, those old buildings tend to be preserved, even if it’s only part of a crumbling brick wall surrounded and re-supported by the steel beams of a modern structure.

At the Engelberg Abbey, the contrast was provided by the modern dairy, with its state-of-the-art, stainless-steel equipment, housed by the monastery’s ancient walls.

And we never would have seen that contrast… or savored that crunchy ham-and-cheese sandwich… had we been afraid to get lost.

If all this talk of good cheese has made you hungry, I wouldn’t blame you, but before you run out and buy up the store, you can make sure you’ve got great wines ready to pair with cheeses of all types by grabbing Vinesse’s Cheese Pairing Reds Collection on sale now.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Wine in the Deli: My Kind of Monastery

EngelbergIt was at a beautiful monastery in the Swiss Alps, in a postcard-worthy village called Engelberg, where I learned something extremely important about wine: It’s no big deal.

Before the boss hands me a pink slip, let me explain what I mean by that.

Here in the United States, many people think of wine as a special occasion beverage. They’ll go out after work for a beer or a cocktail, but a glass of wine is reserved for a birthday, an anniversary or a fancy meal.

Yet in most of Europe, including Engelberg, Switzerland, wine is consumed almost every day. The quality of the wine may vary by occasion, but the gift of the grape is ubiquitous.

When my fiancée and I walked through the gates of the Engelberg Abbey, we encountered not only beautifully landscaped grounds, but also a gift shop, a cheese factory and a bistro — a bistro selling wine.

“This is my kind of monastery,” I remember thinking to myself. No wonder the poet, William Wadsworth, fell in love with this mountain village (see below).

I also recall thinking that while wine may not be an essential part of life, it certainly makes living more fun. And where’s the sin in having some fun on a daily basis? At the monastery in Engelberg, it’s certainly not thought of as sinful.


For gentlest uses, oftimes Nature takes

The work of Fancy from her willing hands;

And such a beautiful creation makes

As renders needless spells and magic wands,

And for the boldest tale belief commands,

When first mine eyes beheld that famous hill

The sacred Engelberg, celestial bands,

With intermingling motions soft and still

Hung round its top, on wings that changed their hues at will.

— William Wadsworth, 1770-1850 (excerpt)

Tomorrow: The story of the cheese-making operation at the Engelberg Abbey.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

A Deliciously Different Take on ‘Red Wine With Fish’

zinThe now legendary book, “Red Wine With Fish,” helped explode some of the myths associated with food and wine pairing.

The book was built around a truly sublime match: Pinot Noir with salmon. No trip to the Pacific Northwest is complete without at least one meal featuring that wine and that fish.

Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are light years apart in their aroma and flavor spectrums, and yet Zinfandel also can be an excellent pairing partner for salmon — if the fish is prepared so that it has a little “kick,” and when the cooking method is grilling.

The recipe that follows yields 4 servings, and the perfect pairing partner for this main course dish is Zinfandel — including any of the bottlings featured in today’s sale from Vinesse.



  • 2/3 cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 4 salmon fillets (appx. 6-oz. each)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, minced


  1. In a small bowl, combine the first six ingredients. Set aside 1/4 cup.
  1. Moisten a paper towel with cooking oil. Using long-handled tongs, lightly coat the grill rack.
  1. Grill salmon, covered, over hot heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork, basting occasionally with barbecue sauce mixture.
  1. Top with reserved sauce, and sprinkle with cilantro.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

The Vinous Secrets of Napa’s Mount Veeder

Mount-VeederMount Veeder was named for the German Presbyterian pastor, Peter Veeder, who lived in Napa, Calif., during the Civil War Era and enjoyed hiking on the mountain, where the Douglas Firs and Bristlecone Pines reminded him of the forests of home.

It was during those Wild West days that winemaking on Mount Veeder was first recorded; in 1864, Captain Stelham Wing presented the first Mount Veeder bottling at the Napa County Fair, a wine hailing from today’s Wing Canyon Vineyard.

The Germanic thread continued with the founding in the 1880s of the Streich Winery (today’s Yates Family Vineyard) by Ernest Streich, and the Fisher Winery (today’s Mayacamas Vineyards) by John Henry Fisher of Stuttgart.

Commercial scale production arrived on Mount Veeder in 1900 when Theodore Geir, a colorful and flamboyant German-born Oakland, Calif., liquor dealer, bought the property that would later become the Christian Brothers’ Mont La Salle Winery (today’s Hess Collection Winery).

By the late 1890s, there were some 20 vineyards and six wineries on the slopes of Mount Veeder.

Prohibition diminished the vineyards, which revitalized beginning with Mayacamas Vineyards in 1951 and Bernstein Vineyards in 1964.

During the 1960s, Mount Veeder became a haven for people seeking a lifestyle closer to nature. Among them were Arlene and Michael Bernstein, whose 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was the first wine to bear the Mount Veeder designation on the label.

With the first California vineyard planted to all five of the classic red Bordeaux varieties, the Bernsteins also were the first in the state to produce a Meritage-style wine using all five grapes.

Based on Mount Veeder’s incomparable mix of steep slopes, predominance of seabed soil, and proximity to San Pablo Bay, the area was deemed distinct enough that American Viticultural Area status was granted in 1993.

From the deep roots of the pioneering German farmers, Mount Veeder wines continue to reflect the impassioned spirit of the vintners who grow them.

Update:  Vinesse Today reader Jim Caudill of The Hess Collection wrote in with this correction:

…a small botanical correction is in order….There are no bristlecone pines in the Mount Veeder AVA or anywhere in Northern California for that matter. We do have a few Knobcone Pines around here but even those are not particularly common.

I know this does not matter to most people, but to anyone who knows anything about native vegetation, this kind of error keeps us up nights. (I do care, but I’m sleeping quite well, thank you.)

The Mt. Veeder Appellation Council brochure contained the same error in its draft stage, but it was corrected so that it now reads “Douglas Fir, Knobcone Pine and Redwoods.”

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

A Temecula Food, Wine and Music Getaway

ThorntonJazzAttack1We know that the right food paired with the right wine make beautiful music together. But when you add actual music to that equation, well… now we’re talking about a symphony of sights, sounds, aromas and flavors — a tremendous sensory experience.

That’s why, each summer, thousands of people flock to the Thornton Winery in Temecula, Calif. — surrounded, roughly, by San Diego, Orange County, the Inland Empire and the Pacific Ocean — for Thornton’s Champagne Jazz Series.

Concert-goers may purchase a ticket just for the show, then buy their food and drinks a la carte. Or, they may opt for the Gourmet Supper Package, and nosh on a three-course meal as the evening’s performers prepare to take the stage.

Three stars of the smooth jazz genre — Richard Elliot, Peter White and Euge Groove — performed under the banner of “Jazz Attack” on May 30, and will return for an encore concert to conclude the 2015 season on October 18.

That May evening, the supper package’s first course was a Jazz Salad, with mixed greens, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, Midnight Moon cheese and Brut Rosé vinaigrette.

The main course was a perfectly cooked and juicy Lemon Pepper Breast of Chicken, with rustic mashed potatoes, garden vegetables and rosemary jus.

Dessert was Hazelnut Truffle, with hazelnut gelato and a chocolate truffle.

Wine is not included with the supper package, but it is available. Which brings up our only quibble with the experience: Wine can be purchased strictly by the bottle, not by the glass. For some couples, a full bottle may be too much to consume at one sitting. But that’s a minor complaint about an otherwise highly enjoyable convergence of food and music.

ThorntonDinnerJust up the street from Thornton, you’ll find the perfect place to relax before a concert, and to unwind and get a good night’s sleep afterward. The owners of the Churon Winery and the Inn at Churon Winery like to describe their property as “where a bit of France and rolling vineyard hills of Temecula wine country meet.”

That’s an apt description. As you wind your way up the grapevine-lined entrance to the Chateau and Winery, the stately 40-foot-high Grand Lobby Rotunda comes into view. The tasting room is located on a lower level, down a winding staircase, and is where guests of the inn enjoy their evening wine hour.

The inn has 19 large vineyard-view rooms, priced from $179.95 to $295 per night; three over-sized luxury suites, priced from $250 to $395 per night; and two deluxe suites, priced from $275 to $450 per night.

Each room features a gas-burning fireplace (three of them in the deluxe suites), French doors opening onto a private terrace or balcony, and a king or double queen beds with down blanket bedding. In addition to the evening wine hour, guests awake to a gourmet breakfast.

Here’s a useful strategy for Thornton concert-goers staying at The Inn at Churon: Arrive around 3 p.m., check in, and settle into your room. When the wine hour begins (the time may vary by day of the week), head downstairs and sample the fine wines made at the estate. The pours are generous, so you may need to pour out some of the wine if you’re driving.

Then at around 6:30, hop in the car and drive the short distance to Thornton. If you’ve purchased the Gourmet Supper Package, you’ll be directed to a parking area that’s adjacent to the entrance for table seating. A reserved table — which you’ll share with another couple — will be waiting for you, and the food will begin to be brought out in just a few minutes.

And not long thereafter, the music… and the magic… will begin.

• For the rest of this year’s Champagne Jazz Series schedule, click here. For The Inn at Churon Winery reservation information, call 951-694-9070.

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Posted in Wine Buzz
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