Purple Heart: A Red Wine That Is Good AND Does Good

purple-heartThe favorite gift on my holiday shopping list this year? A three-pack of Purple Heart Red Wine for my father-in-law.

For me, it’s a no-brainer. My wife’s Dad served in Vietnam, where he was injured so badly that he was laid up in the hospital for months.

Following surgeries and physical therapy, he was able to walk again — but with one leg a few inches shorter than the other.

He uses a built-up shoe to “even things out,” as he describes it, and is still going strong at age 70.

So when I heard about Purple Heart wine and the organization that its sales benefit, I knew I had one person on my gift list handled.

Purple Heart Wine is produced under the stewardship of the Peter Mondavi Sr. family, whose patriarch served in World War II.

The 2014 vintage — a delicious Merlot-based cuvee — was crafted by Ray Coursen, who served in Vietnam, and David Grega, who served in Iraq.

Each bottle sold generates a contribution to the Purple Heart Foundation, which is the fundraising engine of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Through grants and outreach programs, the Purple Heart Foundation lends support to other organizations whose programs align with its mission, and also makes smaller, direct contributions to veterans facing exceptionally difficult financial challenges.

As any family with a returning veteran knows, the emotional, medical and financial burdens of serving can be daunting. The Purple Heart Foundation helps fill an important void through its donations to organizations and individuals.

On Christmas night, when we open up that first bottle of 2014 Purple Heart Red Wine from California’s Napa Valley, we will breathe in its seductive cherry and berry aromas.

Then we will raise our glasses and toast my father-in-law and all the other veterans who have put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedom.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Why We Just Can’t Get Enough of Argentina’s Wines

argentineIt has been barely a decade-and-a-half since wines from Argentina began to show up in the United States in quantities large enough to be noticed by anyone but collectors.

Since then, they’ve become hugely popular thanks mainly to one variety: Malbec.

Whereas earlier 20th-century versions of Malbec were very big and very bold, today’s are much more user-friendly — lower in alcohol, more elegant and extremely food-friendly.

In fact, when it comes to Argentine asado  — the perfect marriage of fire, grill and beef — there is no better wine choice than Malbec.

Why? Because its fruitful quality balances out the char imparted to the meat. The 2013 Hugo Durigutti “HD” Malbec is a perfect asado pairing partner.

Another reason to love the wines of Argentina: Some of that country’s vintners craft engaging rosé-style renditions of Malbec, like the 2014 Belasco de Baquedano Rosé. It provides all the wonderful fruit flavors we’ve come to expect from Malbec in a bright, refreshing style.

And for those who prefer white wines, Argentina has a signature variety that is easy to love: Torrontes.

The 2016 vintage (Argentina is in the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed) from Anko is a wonderful example of the variety’s floral and fruitful style that complements seafood wonderfully.

You can enjoy a number of excellent Argentine wines from top vineyards in and around Mendoza in this year’s Argentine Reds collection on sale while supplies last.  It’s popular every year so don’t delay if you’re looking for a fine set of wines at a good value.

Food-friendly… unique varieties… diverse styles. No wonder the wines of Argentina have made such an impact on American palates.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes, Wine Region Profiles

Make Your Holiday Dinners Outstanding with Perfect Wine Pairings

holidayIn case you missed it, Sunday was National Cookie Day, and with Christmas quickly approaching, it won’t be long until we receive our annual gingerbread cookie shipment from my big brother.

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

When that package arrives, it will be time to break out a bottle of Moscato.

Moscato is a great pairing partner not only for gingerbread cookies, but for almost sugary cookie. Gingerbread works especially well because its sweet spiciness mingles so nicely with the light sweetness of the wine.

Now that we’ve discussed the holiday dessert, let’s talk about main courses — turkey and ham.

With turkey, nothing beats Chardonnay, especially those made in a creamy or buttery style —like these two from the Russian River Valley of California’s Sonoma County:

With ham, I prefer wines with ample acidity (to tame the saltiness of the meat), bold fruit flavors and a kiss of sweetness. Riesling, rosé-style wines and Grenache can be matches made in heaven.

A few personal favorites:

Of course, if you don’t have time to pick and choose, Vinesse has put together everything you need for delicious, traditional holiday pairings in their annually popular Holiday Collection. Try these holiday pairings, and prepare for lots of holiday cheer.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Malbec: Easy-Drinking, Spicy Pleasure in a Glass

malbecMalbec had always played a supporting role in the great red blends of Bordeaux, but during the 20th century, its role had steadily diminished to the point that many French estates were no longer including it in their blends. Then, something AMAZING happened…

Late in the 20th century, the wine industry in Argentina made a new commitment to quality and both growers and winemakers found that Malbec grown there could be transformed into easy-drinking, fruitful, spicy wines that are pure pleasure to drink.

It took about a decade, but once all the new plantings of Malbec were producing wine-quality fruit, Argentina had its own vinous superstar — much like those red blends of Bordeaux. Today, Malbec is the most widely planted red grape in Argentina, and that country’s leading variety. Talk about a Comeback Kid!

But as this Malbec collection demonstrates, world-class bottlings of Malbec are not restricted to Mendoza. Some pretty tasty renditions like the 2014 Big DeVine Red Blend are being crafted in Washington state as well, in part because there are microclimates there that mirror the Mendoza growing region of Argentina.

Black cherry, blackberry, roasted plum and black raspberry are among the fruit flavors that Malbec delivers, often accompanied by impressions of cocoa, chocolate, caramel and/or licorice… along with an engaging, subtle spiciness.

Whether it’s from Mendoza or Washington, Malbec delivers an abundance of drinking pleasure. It truly is the wine world’s Comeback Kid.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass, Wine Region Profiles

Cask 23: A Wine That Makes a Statement

When someone or something achieves iconic status, it doesn’t get much more prestigious.cask23

When I think of sports icons, Mickey Mantle comes to mind in baseball, Michael Jordan in basketball, Joe Montana in football, and Pele in that “other football” (i.e., futbol, or soccer).

When it comes to iconic wines, the Cask 23 cuvee from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars would have to rank at or near the top of any list.

In 1974, Stag’s Leap’s consulting winemaker, Andre Tchelistcheff, was roaming the cellar and tasting the newly fermented wines. Normally, virtually all of the “lots” — a name for each wine from a particular vineyard or part of a vineyard — would later be part of blending trials to achieve the ultimate cuvee for the vintage.

Along the way, Tchelistcheff sampled one lot that was so distinct from the others — beautifully balanced and amazingly flavorful — that he decided it should be bottled as a stand-alone wine. It was housed in a large cask with the numeral 23 imprinted, so that wine was named Cask 23.

Today, Cask 23 has evolved to a blend of the most distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from the S.L.V. and FAY vineyards, melded to create a wine that’s known for its extraordinary depth and richness, yet not “over the top” or out of balance.

Every vintage of Cask 23 is special, but 2012 figures to go down in history as one of the best ever. Don’t take my word for it, though. On three of the wine world’s most important and respected 100-point rating scales, it was awarded 93 points by Wine Spectator, 95 points by Decanter, and 96 points by Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate.

Those are pretty impressive numbers — numbers that make Cask 23 every bit as iconic as Mantle, Jordan, Montana and Pele.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

Get Social With Wine and Wineopoly

wineopolyPretty much every life experience I can think of is enhanced when it is shared.

It’s even true in sports. There are numerous sports that have both individual and team competition components. Ask an athlete whether they’d rather win an individual medal or trophy, or one that’s shared by the entire team, and they’ll almost always opt for the team prize.

I feel the same way about wine. While it’s certainly possible to enjoy a glass of vino while reading a book, watching TV or (perhaps not a great idea) balancing a check book, wine drinking is enhanced when the experience is shared.

How it’s shared can take numerous forms. It could be part of a romantic evening with a Significant Other. It could help transform a meal with friends into a culinary experience. It’s perfect for commemorating special occasions.

Now, there’s a way to enhance the social aspect of wine and extend the enjoyment. It’s a game called Wineopoly, and it’s similar in many ways to another board game whose name also ends in “opoly.”

Wineopoly can be played by two as part of a stay-at-home date on a cold winter night, or enjoyed by a couple of couples in a friendly competition — perhaps with a nice bottle of wine as the prize.

Either way, Wineopoly is a lot of fun. The only question is: Which game piece will you choose? The choices are a wine bottle, cork, wine glass, cheese, grapes and a carafe.

I’m not sure what each piece conveys about a person, but I’m certain your fellow player or players will be happy to offer their perceptions.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Stress-Free Holiday Wine Shopping

Holiday shopping using laptop computer, photographed against christmas tree lightsA buddy of mine — in the fact, the man who officiated at our wedding last fall — has the shopping gene.

He could spend all day at Costco, and then he could spend all evening regaling you with a list of all the cool things he found, not to mention all of their special features.

I, on the other hand, do not have the shopping gene. That’s not to say I’m not a good shopper. In fact, as a single Dad raising a beautiful daughter back in the 1980s and early ’90s, we got by on a freelance writer’s income largely by learning how to coupon. With the exception of fresh fruit and vegetables, we didn’t buy anything unless we had a coupon for it or it was on sale.

Now that “the kid” is grown and has kids of her own, and now that my household has two incomes instead of one, we have been known to fill two baskets in a single trip to the store — but I still couldn’t tell you all the special features of the things we buy.

I guess I’m thinking about shopping today because the biggest shopping day of the year, known as “Black Friday,” is just two days away. And it will be crazier than usual this year because more and more businesses are embracing traditional customs and giving their employees the day off on Thanksgiving.

If you enjoy getting up super early… on a day you could be sleeping in… to take advantage of those “door-buster specials,” and if you enjoy fighting for a parking space while hoping the item you’re shopping for isn’t already sold out, I say: Go for it!

Me? Because I have so many “wine friends,” I’ll be doing a good chunk of shopping from the comfort of my own couch recliner on the Vinesse website gifts section. I also plan to buy a case of Pinot Noir and then gift a bottle or two to my local “wine friends,” knowing that the Vinesse tasting panel has given each selection their seal of approval.

I also love the idea that each bottle of Vinesse wine is accompanied by its own “Tasting Notes” — telling the story of the wine’s origin, the aromas and flavors you can expect to experience, how long it can be cellared, and more.

I know my buddy with the shopping gene would love that, too.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Wine Is No Worry When You Ham It Up

Traditional Sliced Honey Glazed HamThings were going so well.

I wanted to take the burden of preparing the Thanksgiving meal off the shoulders of my beautiful bride, so I’d been plotting my strategy for weeks.

Basically, I would purchase a pre-cooked turkey that merely needed to be heated up, and other family members would bring one side dish each. That’s right — a Thanksgiving potluck.

I had already selected all of the wines to accompany the big feast: mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, along with a couple of semi-sweet Rieslings (so I could demonstrate to a few doubters that they really do like wine).

On Saturday, Michelle returned earlier than I’d predicted from a shopping expedition while I was in the process of washing the dinnerware and the wine glasses. Although that “surprise” had been ruined, she acknowledged my “sweet gesture.”

Then she said five words that sent my Thanksgiving planning plummeting in a steep downward spiral. (Okay, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but the steep spiral thing makes for a better story.)

Those five words? “Let’s do ham this year!”

“Great idea!” I replied, and after I’d finished washing the dishes and glassware, I put the bottles of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling that I’d selected back on the wine rack. With a honey-glazed ham, I needed to start the pairing process from square one.

Ham is a more challenging pairing partner for wine because it’s quite salty and, at holiday time, it typically comes with a honey glaze.

Whether the ham is salty, or salty and sweet, I’ve found that a glass of fruity Beaujolais makes a nice pairing partner. Another option is Viognier, which typically provides a nice counterpoint to the smoky quality of the ham.

I’ll also be opening a bottle or two of fruit-forward California Zinfandel. And to add a festive flair, I’ll pop the corks on a few bottles of sparkling wine once everyone has gathered at the dining room table. Sparkling wine — pretty much any type — is a good choice for accompanying salty fare like ham.

So, while the wines may be different, the big day will still be a lot of fun.

Besides, now I can save those bottles of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for our big Christmas meal.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Go Rogue With This Wine-Friendly Dessert

Pumpkin Pie Mini Tarts with Whipped CreamYes, you could stop by the local pie shop or bakery and pick up a pumpkin pie to top off the big feast this Thursday.

Yes, you could bake a pumpkin pie at home.

Or, you could go rogue and do something entirely different this year — while keeping pumpkin in the picture.

Some years ago, we featured the following recipe in this blog. After Thanksgiving, we heard from numerous readers who had tried it and liked it a lot.

So, in the interest of spicing things up for newcomers to the blog, we offer this different take on a Thanksgiving Day dessert. The dessert pairs beautifully with a well-chilled Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine, and this recipe yields 12 tarts.



* 2/3 cup gingersnap cookies, crushed
* 2 tablespoons butter, melted
* 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
* 1 cup 100% pure pumpkin
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 2 large eggs
* 2 tablespoons sour cream
* 2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate morsels


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 12-muffin pan (or two 6-muffin pans) with paper cups.

2. Combine cookie crumbs and butter in small bowl. Press scant tablespoon onto bottom of each paper cup. Bake 5 minutes.

3. Beat cream cheese, pumpkin, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl until blended. Add eggs and beat well. Pour into muffin cups, filling 3/4 full.

4. Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack. Remove tarts from pan and refrigerate. Garnish with sour cream.

5. Place morsels in small, heavy-duty plastic bag. Microwave on high for 20 seconds and then knead. Microwave at additional 10-second intervals, kneading until smooth.

6. Cut tiny corner from bag, and squeeze to drizzle chocolate over tarts.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Counting Calories? Have a Glass (or Two) of Wine

fotolia_123298724_xsThis is the time of the year when most of us start to count calories — and some of us have trouble counting that high!

From tapping (okay, stealing from) the kids’ Halloween candy stash to scarfing down the Thanksgiving feast to munching on too many sugar-coated snowman cookies, 10 months of watching our diet can go down the drain in, basically, three days.

And I’m not even counting the goodies that co-workers bring to the office.

So, if you’re trying to keep things under control this holiday season, you’d probably like to know how many calories are floating around in that glass of wine you’re having with dinner.

Well, every wine is a little bit different, and things have changed a bit since the last time I tackled this topic around a decade ago.

What’s different? Average alcohol and sugar levels have changed in recent years, especially among California wines, so the calorie count in some cases has increased — but only by a little bit.

Interestingly, alcohol has seven calories per gram as compared to four calories per gram for carbohydrates (sugar), which means it’s possible for some dry wines to have more calories than some sweet wines.

That’s an equation that really makes me wish I’d paid more attention in my high school science class…

But on average, a 5-ounce glass of white wine contains 125 calories, while a 5-ounce glass of red wine contains 120 calories.

Off-dry, semi-sweet and dessert-style wines will have a few more, based primarily on their percentage of residual sugar. An off-dry Riesling, for instance, will add 5 to 10 calories to the count.

And let’s not forget sparkling wine, since the toasting season is upon us. A flute of bubbly comes in at about the same calorie count as red wine: 120.

Considering a 1.66-ounce Snickers bar from the kids’ Halloween bag comes in at 229 calories, and a cranberry bliss bar from Starbucks represents 280 calories, a glass of wine makes an excellent waist-management option.

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Posted in Wine and Health, Wine Buzz
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