2 Wine-and-Cheese Pairings to Try Before You Die

I never knew I liked blue cheese until I tried it soft and warm atop a thick, juicy steak. I never knew that what we in America think of as Swiss cheese really isn’t until I went to Switzerland.

For me, those experiences resulted in two wine-and-cheese pairings that you absolutely must try before you die — and hopefully several times before that inevitable day arrives.

Blue cheese is salty, spicy and pungent when crumbled over a salad or simply served solo. But when you mix it with a little butter and then dab it on a broiled-to-perfection steak, it instantly becomes a perfect pairing partner for Pinot Noir, especially one from a region where the wine takes on a somewhat earthy character.

If you think you don’t like blue cheese, give that combo a try. It may change your mind, as it did mine.

Two autumns ago, the Mrs. and I visited Switzerland — a place about which I had no preconceived notions. We were visiting a friend who lives in the mountain community of Engelberg, and we asked him to share with us an authentic Swiss dining experience.

“Do you like cheese?” our friend asked. My dad’s side of our family comes from Wisconsin, so the answer was an enthusiastic yes.

That night, we were treated to a wonderful Swiss fondue dinner. I presumed that Swiss cheese would be used, but as my friend pointed out, there are dozens and dozens of different types of cheese made in Switzerland.

The pot of melted gooey goodness turned out to be a mixture of equal parts gruyere and emmenthaler, and about one-third as much Appenzeller. Day-old bread, pickles and a few other bite-sized items were provided for dipping, and we washed it all down with glasses of Austrian Gruner Veltliner wine.

Sadly, we can’t go to Switzerland every day, so we must seek out wine-and-cheese pairings that are a bit more accessible. The wines included in this collection of Heavenly Cheese Pairing Reds provide half of the “answer.”

What about the cheese?

Well, with the fruit-forward 3 Muses Zinfandel, I’d opt for Parmesan or Asiago, either of which could be sprinkled on pizza or pasta with a red sauce.

With the rich, classic Espirit des Trois Pieres, a red Leicester would work well, or opt for a simple macaroni-and-cheese meal or a cheese-topped casserole using a mix of your favorite cheeses, with cheddar as the base.

And with the full-bodied and spicy Tamaya Reserva, an aged cheddar would work very nicely.

All of that said, don’t be afraid to experiment. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll have a wine-and-cheese pairing epiphany like I had with blue cheese and “Swiss cheese.”

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

The Best Wine Pairings for St. Patrick’s Day Fare

Technically and traditionally, St. Patrick’s Day pays homage to one of Ireland’s patron saints, St. Patrick.

In practice in the United States, St. Patrick’s Day is embraced by far more people than just those of Irish heritage, and provides a reason to drink lots of beer that has been dyed green. It also gives the folks who live in the Windy City an excuse to dye the Chicago River green. I lived there for 13 years, and I can report that a lot of green beer is consumed along the green river each March 17.

But as St. Patrick’s Day 2017 approaches, we all need to remember that beer is not the only adult-beverage option for accompanying traditional Irish pub fare. Wine works, too. Wonderfully.

I have personally experienced all of the pairings I’m about to suggest, and highly recommend you give one of them a try this Friday… or any day…

  • With Fish-n-Chips — Almost any fried food matches beautifully with dry Riesling. Try the 2015 Carl Zuckmayer from Germany’s Rheinhessen region. It’s a crisp, juicy, easy-to-drink wine. Or consider the fresh, crisp and powerful 2015 Sherwood Estate Riesling from New Zealand.
  • With Corned Beef and Cabbage — This has become the “go-to” dish for many restaurants on St. Patrick’s Day, and a nice Pinot Noir makes an excellent pairing partner.
  • With Irish Stew — Cabernet Franc is an ideal pairing partner for this hearty dish. I love the wine known as “Le Bouquet” from Laporte, as its flavors of tea leaves, blackcurrant, strawberry and chocolate intermingle deliciously with the flavors of the stew.
  • With Bangers and Mash — If your palate is feeling adventurous, pork sausages with a bit of spice call for a fruitful wine with some spice of its own. For me, that can mean only one thing: Zinfandel. It’s a uniquely Californian wine that meshes perfectly with this traditional Irish dish.

And that’s no blarney.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Wine Showdown: Australia vs. New Zealand

New zealand flag combined with australian flagHead-to-head encounters in cricket, rugby, hockey and netball have been known to evoke heated exchanges between Aussies and Kiwis. The sports fans of Australia and New Zealand love their teams, and aren’t about to back down from some friendly banter when the situation calls for it.

There also are minor cultural differences between the two largest countries of the region often referred to as Oceania, primarily based on the influence of the indigenous Maori population of New Zealand.

And then there is wine — an area in which the competition between Australia and New Zealand is both friendly and serious. It’s friendly because the people are fun loving. It’s serious because it’s business, and as the old saying goes, “If you want to make a million dollars in the wine business… start with two million.”

The rivalry is a boon for wine lovers, because it motivates men and women who already are extremely passionate about their craft to push the boundaries of tradition, try new things, and focus on one thing and one thing only: the quality of the finished product in the bottle.

Vinesse’s Oceania’s Greatest Treasures collection provides a delicious opportunity to compare and contrast a few of the varieties and blends produced by these quality-focused vintners.

oceania

There’s a wonderful Merlot from one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed winegrowing areas. There’s a bottle of that country’s signature red wine — Pinot Noir. And there’s a wonderful example of what Aussie vintners do best: a perfectly proportioned blend of Shiraz (a.k.a. Syrah) and Cabernet Sauvignon.

These are treasures of Oceania that are packed with personality — just like the people who made them.

Which country is making the best wines? The answer to that question will be determined by your palate.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass, Wine Region Profiles

The Under-Experienced Beauty of Black Muscat

bellaYou’ve no doubt heard of Riesling, the delightful wine that’s most commonly associated with Germany.

You may even have heard of Torrontes, the alluringly floral wine of Argentina.

However, you may not have heard of Black Muscat, which is part of the big Muscat family of wine grapes.

Black Muscat is known as Moscato di Amburgo in Italy, and that’s where Craig Reed first encountered the variety. Now, after making Moscato wines in a number of styles for more than two decades, Reed is known as “the godfather of American Moscato,” and his Moscato Bella is an absolutely delightful rendition of Black Muscat.

Not everyone drinks dry wine. Even dry wine lovers like to experience a touch of sweetness in their glass every so often. Black Muscat is a delicious departure from the norm, and Reed makes his Moscato Bella in a lightly effervescent style that makes it even more difficult to resist.

Black Muscat is one of those lightly sweet wines that is extremely versatile.

If you’re a cheese fan, it’s a wonderful pairing partner for Gorgonzola or goat cheese.

If you have a sweet tooth (as I do), try pairing it with a slice of classic New York-style cheesecake (as a substitute for a fruit topping). You can also pour it over French vanilla ice cream for a simple sweet treat.

Whenever I travel, I try to find time to visit a few local wineries. I’ve enjoyed Black Muscat at wineries in Texas and Virginia, and they were good. But so far, nothing has come close to Craig Reed’s Moscato Bella Black Muscat.

Give it a try, or even better, pick up two bottles of it as part of the six-bottle Succulent Whites and Lights collection that also includes an outstanding Riesling and a wonderful Torrontes.

Try Moscato Bella once, and you’ll become an instant fan of the under-experienced variety known as Black Muscat.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

How to Get Great Deals on Boutique Wines

Midsection Of Customer Holding Wine BottleEverybody loves a good deal. Hey, I’ve been known to spend $3 on gas to save $2 on groceries.

When I’m looking for a great deal on boutique wines — wines that are always priced lower than retail, if they’re even available at retail — I don’t have to get in the car. I just power up my trusty laptop and check out the latest offers from Vinesse.

I’ve really come to love the exclusive samplers because they get my creative juices flowing.

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Quintessential Classic Reds

For example, the Quintessential Classic Reds collection gave me three different wines (and two bottles of each!) that have made me prepared for virtually any dining or hosting occasion.

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Succulent Whites and Lights

I absolutely love the Succulent Whites and Lights collection because all three wines (two bottles of each) can be enjoyed as aperitifs or served with food.

Check out the samplers. I know you’ll find something you’ll absolutely love.

Another great way to stock up and save is with Vinesse Grab Bags. These are six-bottle samplers that may be ordered in one of three ways: white wines only, red wines only, or a mix of red and white. These are wines that are in such limited quantities that they can’t be featured in other offers — and you won’t believe the price.

And finally, Vinesse has a great email newsletter called Cyber Circle that lets you know about very special deals on very limited wines, enabling you to save significant dollars with exclusive online deals.

Ready for a good wine deal? With the Vinesse Wine Samplers, Grab Bags and Cyber Circle offers, great deals are just a few keystrokes away.

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Drink These 3 Wines All Winter — You’ll Kick Yourself If You Don’t

winterIn case you hadn’t heard, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Groundhog Day.

As we know, that means we’re in for more winter. Six more weeks, as of February 2.

In my mind, I imagine a legendary cartoon character, Bugs Bunny, commenting, “Now isn’t that a revolting development!”

As far as your wine collection is concerned, are you ready for this “revolting development”? Do you have enough winter wines on hand just in case Punxsutawney Phil is correct?

For me, a “winter wine” is full-bodied in style, and usually red — although Chardonnay can be a yummy full-bodied choice among white wines.

But for the most part, when the days and nights are cold, I gravitate to red wines, like those included in this specially curated Winter Collection.

The collection features a nice mix of wine types and places of origin. There’s a complex Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile… a fruit-forward red blend from Argentina… and a plush Shiraz from Australia.

I can’t help but wonder if there’s a kangaroo equivalent of Punxsutawney Phil in Australia…

Regardless, once I got the word from Phil, I immediately re-stocked my wine rack with this Winter Collection.

It should help me get through what’s left of the winter with a smile.

If you like the idea of wine selected especially for each season, you can receive them four times a year in our Four Seasons Wine Club.

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British Fizz: The Next British Invasion?

Flute con vino biancoI have to admit it: When I first heard the phrase “British Fizz,” the first thing that came to mind was that Alka-Seltzer must be undertaking a brand extension in England.

Remember that antacid product’s iconic theme song? If not, you can view it here:

“Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is…”

Well, it turns out British Fizz has nothing to do with settling one’s stomach. It’s the name that the United Kingdom Vineyard Association is seeking to register for protected geographical indication (PGI) status — similar to the status that Champagne enjoys in France and that Prosecco possesses in Italy.

Interestingly, the U.K. association did not come up with the name. It’s believed that it first appeared on the menu of a New York bar. Two members of the U.K. association, Bob and Sam Lindo, spotted the name and jotted it down.

If you’ve ever seen Parliament in action, you know that the Brits love to debate, and so it is with this proposed umbrella phrase for sparkling wine made in the U.K.

Some think it sounds trendy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in an industry that would like to see its demographics skew a bit younger. Others suggest it sounds too much like “British Wine,” a cheap concoction made from reconstituted grape must that’s imported — and really couldn’t be considered wine at all.

I’ve had a few renditions of sparkling wine made in Britain, and it’s pretty good. Whether it really needs to be rebranded as “British Fizz” is a marketing question that only those who make the wine can decide — and in Britain, that’s a debate that likely won’t be settled anytime soon.

Meanwhile, I’ll be perfectly content to enjoy the bubbly personalities of the Champagnes of France and the Proseccos of Italy.

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Posted in Wine Buzz, Wine in the Glass

Prepare Your Own ‘State Dinner’ for Presidents’ Day

Serving beautifullyPresident Barack Obama hosted his first state dinner in March of 2010.

Guest Chef Marcus Samuelsson joined White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford in creating an Indian-inspired menu that featured wine with each course. More on that in a moment.

With a new administration in place, led by a President who does not drink, it will be interesting to see what types of menus are developed for the next round of state dinners. President George W. Bush also was a non-drinker by the time he took office, but that did not stop wine from being served to White House guests.

Back to the first Obama state dinner, which we examine here in recognition of Presidents’ Day: It was a meal with some intense flavors, yet prepared with ingredients that would make it fairly simple to emulate, if not duplicate, at home.

Let’s take a look at the dinner, course by course, and I’ll suggest some presently available wines to substitute for those served at the time…

• Potato and Eggplant Salad, made with White House arugula and topped with an onion-seed vinaigrette. Wine: 2008 Modus Operandi Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California.

Substitute wine: 2014 Osseus Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley, California. This is a zesty wine showing some varietal “grassiness” that melds perfectly with arugula.

• Red Lentil Soup with Fresh Cheese. Wine: 2006 Brooks “Ara” Riesling, Willamette Valley, Washington.

Substitute wine: 2015 Carl Zuckmayer Riesling, Rheinhessen, Germany. You need a crisp and juicy wine when pairing with a flavorful soup, and this one would work very nicely.

• Roast Potato Dumplings with Tomato Chutney, and Chick Peas and Okra or Green Curry Prawns, served with collard greens and coconut-aged basmati. Wine: 2007 Beckman Vineyards Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley, California.

Substitute wine: 2013 Clefs des Legats, Cotes du Rhone, France. This is a Grenache-based blend that is fragrant, spicy and Indian food-friendly.

• Pumpkin Pie Tart with pear tatin, whipped cream and caramel sauce. Wine: Thibaut Janisson Brut, Monticello, Virginia.

Substitute wine: Almost any sparkling Brut wine will work. Because pumpkin is such an assertive flavor, the wine needs to be fairly neutral in flavor, but possessing bubbles to help soften the pumpkin filling’s mouthfeel.

There you have it — a DIY state dinner. Happy Presidents’ Day!

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes, Wine Buzz

How Better Science Produces Better Wines

Harvest of bunch of chardonnay grapesIt’s truly amazing to see how far “sustainability” has come since the 1960s, when a group of people my parents labeled “hippies” first brought widespread attention to the concept.

Today, we take recycling for granted, both when preparing our trash for pick-up and in many of the restaurants we frequent. In countless businesses, “going green” has become a mantra, sometimes motivated by law, but in most cases by a sense of wanting to do the right thing for Mother Earth.

The wine industry — and despite the romance we associate with wine, let’s not forget it is an industry — has done a remarkably good job in this area. Not only are individual wineries embracing earth-friendly practices in their cellars, but they’re extending those practices to their vineyards.

In fact, in terms of meaningful scientific advancements over the past two decades, a vast majority have taken place in the vineyard.

Part of the science revolves around matching the proper varietal clone to the right vineyard site. Part of it involves making sure each grapevine receives the right amount of nourishing sunshine it needs to produce perfectly ripened grapes.

But most of it has to do with embracing age-old farming methods that enable weeds and pests to be controlled sans pesticides, and the soil to be enriched by recycling the natural byproducts of winemaking.

The Earth-Friendly Wine Club was founded to shine the spotlight on wineries and vintners who take their environmental responsibility seriously.

It also was founded to give wine lovers who embrace “green” practices in everything they do an opportunity to support like-minded people.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment, Wine Buzz

Wine-Related Desserts That Are Sure to Impress

Grilled peaches, mascarpone & mint  leavesYou know how they say that the first time is always the best?

The first time I ever tried to make a Valentine’s Day dessert, I searched the family cookbooks (this was before every recipe ever concocted could be found online) for something appropriate.

Nothing.

So I decided to check my Mom’s recipe box, and was surprised to come upon a recipe — handwritten on a 3×5-inch index card, as all her recipes were — for “Peaches With Riesling.”

That sounded good, and better still, the instructions indicated that it was super-easy to make. So I decided to give it a try.

These are the ingredients:

  • 2½ cups Riesling
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 5 sprigs tarragon
  • 4 peaches (ripe but firm)
  • Whipped cream

Here’s what Mom wrote on the card…

  1. Put Riesling, sugar, vanilla bean and one tarragon sprig in saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat.
  1. Cut peaches in half and remove pits. Add peaches to saucepan and let them simmer. Turn every so often, checking on how tender they are. (Water temperature should be just below boiling.)
  1. When peaches are tender, remove from heat and allow them to cool completely. When cooled, refrigerate for 90 minutes.
  1. Top each peach with whipped cream, and garnish with a tarragon sprig.

My Mom’s recipe card did not mention the following, so I will add it here: This dessert is delicious with a glass of Riesling.

Here are a couple other wine-related desserts I’ve heard good things about, and will be trying soon:

Almost any sweet treat is appreciated on Valentine’s Day. When wine is part of the recipe, it adds to the enjoyment. And when you make the dessert with your own hands, you’ll score big-time romance points.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes
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