Are You Ready for National Rosé Day?

RoseEvery year as Thanksgiving approaches, people ask me what kind of wine they should buy to accompany the big feast.

Because there are so many flavors involved — from corn bread stuffing smothered in gravy to sweet potatoes to cranberry sauce to turkey to ham and on and on — a good default choice is always sparkling wine, which typically brings more refreshment than (competing) flavors to the table.

But over the past decade, another option has come to the forefront: rosé-style wines. More and more wineries — both domestic and international — are making dry or slightly sweet rosés out of a wide array of grape varieties.

Pretty much any red variety can be made into a rosé, and virtually all of them make great food pairing partners.

So it’s no surprise that rosé wines now have their own “day.” National Rosé Wine Day will be celebrated on June 11.

Although their marriage ultimately didn’t work out, the rosé created by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie under the Chateau Miraval label helped bring top-of-mind awareness to rosé. The attractive hues of rosés, ranging from light salmon pink to light garnet, also act like a magnet.

And when the weather warms up, nothing can beat a slightly chilled glass of rosé with a breathtaking sunset… or a feast of grilled meats… or a good novel. Talk about versatility.

I’ve already made plans for National Rosé Day. We’re going to open a couple bottles from different producers, slice a selection of cheeses and cold cuts, and propose a toast (or two… or three) to our good fortune.

And if we happen to get a gorgeous sunset as part of the deal, we’ll raise another toast to our good fortune.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Oysters and Wine Pairing: The Ultimate Revenge

oystersIt’s amazing I’ve maintained my sanity given all the culinary mixed messages I’ve endured during my lifetime.

When I was a kid, I remember vividly that my Mom was not a fan of slurping. “Stop slurping!” she’d command if I’d make any noise while eating soup or drinking a soda through a straw.

“What about a Slurpee [from 7-Eleven]?” I’d counter if feeling particularly brave (or dumb).

“That’s different,” she’d reply.

It wasn’t until I visited Japan for the first time, some 30 years later, that I learned there are places and instances where slurping not only is accepted; it’s encouraged. There, slurping one’s soup and noodles is considered a sign of appreciation to the chef.

Then came a real revelation: It’s okay to slurp here in the United States as well: as long as you’re eating oysters.

According to Vanity Fair, the right way to eat a raw oyster is to “take your tiny fork and sort of move the oyster around in its liquid-filled half shell to make sure it’s detached. Then put down your fork, pick up the shell, and slurp down the oyster from the wide end.”

If you want to get a little more of the briny flavor, chew the oyster once or twice before you swallow it.

Because there are several different kinds of oysters — ranging from salty and chewy to creamy and sweet — recommending a single type of wine to pair with them is impossible. Your best bet is to find the type of oyster you especially like, and then try various types of wine with it.

My favorite pairing partners with salty and chewy oysters are Vinho Verde, Prosecco (or other renditions of dry sparkling wine), and dry or off-dry Riesling.

With creamy and sweet oysters, I like Sauvignon Blanc and a Chablis-like — meaning non-oaked — Chardonnay.

And if you feel like slurping your wine while you’re slurping your oysters… who’s going to notice?

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Vegan Wine!

thursdayThere are so many different kinds of wine today — and we’re not talking just about the array of varieties and blends from the various microclimates and wine regions of the world’s many winemaking countries.

Among other “styles” of wine, you may also encounter:

  • Natural wines — Made with minimal chemical or technological intervention, and that goes for both in the vineyard and in the cellar. There has been something of a natural wine movement in France in recent years, although I’ve found such wines — because they are not filtered to remove perceived impurities — to be an acquired taste.
  • Kosher wines — The definition of “kosher” varies widely when it comes to winemaking. In general, however, it could be said that a kosher wine is one produced according to Judaism’s dietary laws.
  • Vegan wines — We have a young vegetarian in the family (my granddaughter is 13 years old), and that can be challenging enough when preparing meals. Over time, I’ve gained a great deal of experience in pairing wine with vegetarian dishes — mainly so we don’t have to prepare two meals. I know that pairing wines with dishes that are vegan friendly would present a whole new set of challenges.

What I didn’t know is that there are vegan wines. Following vegan guidelines, these are wines that do not use animal products — gelatin, egg whites, milk products, fish bladders — for fining.

These also are wines made from grapes grown in vineyards where no animal products are used in the fertilizers.

I like to think of them as natural or organic wines taken to the Nth degree. And they are out there for folks really interested in tracking them down.

We’ve compiled a list of a handful of our personal favorite vegan wines:

Me? My next job is to start working on a few vegan dishes… just in case my granddaughter decides to take that next step.

I’ll worry about the wine pairings for those dishes later…

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

Favorite Wines of the Top Celebrities

tuesday“Showman P.T. Barnum set the stage for modern celebrity culture by opening the curtain on mass entertainment in the mid-19th century,” wrote Amy Henderson in an essay.

“He dazzled in an era before technology could ‘broadcast’ performance — before the advent of the recording, radio, and motion picture industries; before the heyday of advertising; before the mass distribution of photography in rotogravure sections of the Sunday newspapers.”

Today, America obsesses on its celebrities, wanting to know every detail of their lives — including what kind of wine they like to drink. Those “details” are easier to uncover than ever thanks to Internet search engines and various social media platforms.

With just a little bit of online “investigation,” we were able to learn the favored wines of the following 10 celebrities. In some cases, we “uncovered” their favorite color of wine (white versus red). In others, we garnered much more specific information.

If your favorite celebrity isn’t on this list, simply Google their name and “wine,” and chances are good you’ll find out something you didn’t know about them. And isn’t that what America’s celebrity obsession is all about?

  • Katie Lowes (Scandal) — spotted sipping a glass of Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) while on a trip to Barcelona.
  • Ashley Tisdale — rosé, disclosed on Instagram.
  • Tracee Ellis Ross (Blackish) — undisclosed red wine, identified through a bathtub selfie.
  • Shemar Moore (S.W.A.T.) — undisclosed white wine, identified through a video of himself dancing with his shirt off.
  • Dua Lipa (“New Rules” singer) — undisclosed red wine, identified through an Instagram post of her “vineyard vacation.”
  • Alexa Ray Joel — Vermentino, as noted in a photo of herself at Lilia in Brooklyn.
  • Michael Strahan (Good Morning America) — Pinot Noir.
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar — rosé.
  • Drake — Moscato. (He even sang about it and helped introduce it to a whole new audience.)
  • Paul Stanley (Kiss) — Australian Shiraz.
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Posted in Wine Buzz

Time to Celebrate National Wine Day — It’s Tomorrow!

cheers_1For those who work Monday through Friday, I have good news: National Wine Day falls on a Friday — tomorrow, to be specific.

So unless you have someplace to be early Saturday morning, you can stay up a little later than usual Friday night and pour yourself an extra glass of wine.

Wine is an important beverage for millions of Americans, whether as a before-meal aperitif, the perfect companion to a main course, an after-dinner sweet treat, or simply for sipping after a long day at work.

Tomorrow, I will take advantage of National Wine Day by planning a wine-intensive experience for my after-work hours. It will involve four parts, each including half a glass of wine:

  1. A nicely chilled Rosé to kick things off, out on the patio if the weather is nice. No homework… no newspaper… no book… no nothing. I may even close my eyes between sips.
  2. Back inside, I’ll switch to Sauvignon Blanc, and sip it with a few crackers and small chunks of cheese.
  3. With dinner, which my better half informs me will be a simple roasted chicken with corn on the cob (lightly buttered, of course), I’ll pour a glass of Chardonnay.
  4. Then after dinner, the Mrs. and I will raise glasses of sweet Moscato in a toast to National Wine Day.

Best of all, we’ll have plenty of wine left over for the day after National Wine Day.

And we’ll save the red wine for another day — perhaps Sunday.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

How Much Do Scores on Wines Matter?

winedrinkingSome people are downright vitriolic in their disdain for scores being assigned to wines.

“You wouldn’t assign a score to a painting, would you?” is a common refrain. “Or to a piece of music?”

Painters and musicians engage in forms of artwork, and I would argue that so do winemakers.

So I’m agreeing with those dislike scores for wine, right?

Wrong.

In all the years I’ve been associated with Vinesse — which is all but the first year of the company — scores have been assigned to the wines featured in the various clubs, Cyber Circle collections, and wines sold on the Vinesse website.

We utilize the standard 90-point system that Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and others use. Why? Because it’s based on a grading system that a vast majority of us grew up with in school. It’s easy to understand.

The reason some don’t like the system applied to wine is that it is somewhat more arbitrary than the grades we got in school. You either got a math question right or you didn’t; you either identified a noun as a noun or you didn’t. With wine, there’s a lot more gray area in assigning numbers.

Complicating matters for folks on my side of the argument is that each person “experiences” a given wine uniquely. This is especially true when it comes to the perceived flavors, because everyone’s palate is unique.

Using a 100-point system, there are several ways for a judge — that would be anyone assessing the wine — to arrive at a final number.

Some start at 80 and award “bonus points” for things such as color, complexity of the aroma, mouthfeel, the mix of flavors and the finish. They’ll also ask themselves whether the wine is a poor, good or great example of the variety (presuming it’s a single-variety wine).

I’ve seen some judges start at 90 and both award bonus points for certain outstanding traits and deduct points for perceived imperfections.

Over my three decades of judging wines, I’ve come to three conclusions regarding scores:

  1. I believe we’re better off with them than without them. If nothing else, they provide a starting point of differentiation among wines of the same variety.
  2. I believe the scores of tasting panels are more reliable than those of individual reviewers, simply because four or five educated palates are better than one.
  3. Once you find a tasting panel or individual reviewer with whom you seem to agree more often than not, stick with them. It likely means your palate is similar to theirs, and that should be true with virtually every type of wine.

Me? I’ve been putting my trust in the palates of the Vinesse tasting panel for more than 20 years.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

It’s 4 Days Until National Chardonnay Day; Are You Ready?

whitewine1I had been drinking a lot of red wine over the winter, which seems to be a recurring theme with me.

But when the first really warm day of 2018 arrived a couple of weeks ago, I instinctively reached for a bottle of Chardonnay. I put it in the refrigerator for about 40 minutes to cool it off just a little bit, then opened it and enjoyed it with a baked chicken breast topped with basil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

It was an incredibly simple-to-prepare meal that was elevated by the perfect wine for drinking with chicken: Chardonnay.

America’s most popular white wine got that way because of its versatility. Not only does it pair beautifully with everything from chicken to shellfish, and from creamy pasta dishes to many vegetarian dishes, but it also is an exceptional sipping wine.

There’s also an aura of mystery about the varietal, the result of it taking on a number of “personalities” based on a number of factors. I can’t think of another variety that can be crafted in so many styles: rich and creamy… lean and mean… fruit forward… oak influenced.

Factors include where it’s grown, how it’s handled during fermentation, the type of vessels in which it’s aged, and winemaker preferences. Some wineries become known for a specific style of Chardonnay that’s consistent from vintage to vintage and recognizable in blind tastings.

I love the fact that Chardonnay always delivers an enjoyable drinking experience, regardless of the style and whether it’s part of a meal or savored solo.

With National Chardonnay Day just four days away, I’ll have one more reason to open a bottle of delicious wine — regardless of the weather that day.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

Table Grapes vs. Wine Grapes: What’s the Difference?

grapes.jpgDang it. We polished off our last bottle of Vinesse-curated wine last night, the wine rack is empty, and we have guests coming over tonight.

No problem. We’ll just drive over to the market, buy a few bags of grapes and a packet of yeast, and make our own wine.

Uh… no.

Besides the fact that we’d be buying the wrong type of yeast, not to mention that we don’t have any barrels sitting around the house, there’s another problem: There’s a big difference between table grapes — the kind we buy at the market — and wine grapes.

Actually, there are several big differences…

* Table grapes have thin skins, which makes them wonderful for snacking on a hot summer day. But because they’re thin, they don’t possess much in the way of tannins, important for imparting color and “ageability” to wine. Tannins come from thicker-skinned grapes.

* Wine grapes are much sweeter than table grapes — although that may seem hard to believe. Whereas table grapes are picked when their sugar levels are in the 12-15 percent range, wine grapes remain on the vines until their sugar level climbs to around 23-30 percent. The higher level is necessary for the yeast (not the kind found at the market) to be able to convert the grape juice into alcohol through the fermentation process.

* Wine grapes are smaller. And that’s a good thing, because smaller grapes are more concentrated in flavor, another important factor in producing an exceptional wine.

* Table grapes produce much higher yields because, well, they’re allowed to. Table grapevines are trellised in a way that allows the bunches of grapes to hang without touching each other, which enables a single vine to produce upwards of 30 pounds of fruit. Wine grapevines are intentionally “cut back” to limit their yields — typically less than 10 pounds of fruit per vine — and intensify their flavors.

* Finally, there’s the scientific difference. Wine grapes come from the species Vitis Vinifera, whereas table grapes come from other species such as Vitis Labrusca and Vitis Rotundifolia.

So, best to save the winemaking for the men and women who have access to the best wine grapes from the best wine-growing regions, and to enjoy table grapes for what they are: a delicious, if somewhat addictive, snack. (As is the case with popcorn, I could munch on grapes all day long if my better half didn’t confiscate the bowl…)

 

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Posted in In the Cellar

Women Continue to Make Their Mark in World of Wine

female2017 will long be remembered for the #MeToo movement, and rightly so.

In the world of wine, however, women have been making their mark for decades — some as winery owners, some in winery management, some as vineyard managers and some as winemakers.

Here are four who have crafted wines featured by Vinesse in the not-too-distant past…

* KATE RADBURND — In the great scheme of things, all that a winemaker really has is their reputation. It’s something that can take years, even decades, to develop, because the opportunity to craft new cuvees of wine comes only once each year. That’s why the story of Kate Radburnd is so unusual… and so impressive. In a relatively short period of time, she has gained a reputation as one of New Zealand’s finest winemakers. The awards her wines have garnered — well over a hundred gold medals since she began her career — tell only part of the story. Radburnd was a key player in the development of the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand program, an endeavor that has benefited all grape growers and wine estates that have embraced it. She also has volunteered time to other industry organizations, helping to spread the word about the ever-improving quality of New Zealand wines. Hers is a reputation well earned.

* DARCY PENDERGRASS — The Detour label is a collaboration between sommelier Andrew Stover and winemaker Darcy Pendergrass with the goal of crafting classically styled wines. One key to achieving that goal for Pendergrass is to have perfectly ripened grapes with which to work in the cellar, obtained dependably from vineyards that are sustainably farmed. Sustainable farming is a wide-ranging practice that includes stewardship of natural and human resources, the conservation and protection of water sources, embracing and welcoming a diversity of wildlife (rather than attempting to destroy it), using renewable energy sources, and minimizing or eliminating the harmful impact of agricultural activities on air and soil. All of that attention to detail in the vineyard produces grapes to which Pendergrass can lend her exceptional talents as a winemaker.

* ANALIA LAZANEO and VALENTINA GATTI — Canelones, situated about 30 miles north of the seaside capital city of Montevideo, is Uruguay’s premier winegrowing region. Artesana is located on an 80-acre estate in Canelones’ Las Brujas area. There, sustainable, low-input, dry farming is practiced, and an integrated pest management system is embraced. The entire vineyard is farmed by hand — no machinery is used. This not only helps sustain the land for the near-term as well as future generations, it produces perfectly healthy and fully ripened grapes each growing season. That’s music to the ears of the two-woman winemaking team of Analia Lazaneo and Valentina Gatti, both born in Uruguay. Gatti spent some time in California, working at the Simi and Frank Family wineries, where she learned a lot about growing and making Zinfandel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Tomorrow Is National Moscato Day — Let’s Celebrate!

moscatoAnd you thought tomorrow was just another Wednesday.

Not so. Tomorrow is National Moscato Day.

If you intend to raise a glass of this fun, delicious, delightfully sweet wine to celebrate, you’ll need a few fascinating facts to work into the subsequent small talk.

Here are 10…

  1. Moscato smells almost as good as it tastes. Honeysuckle and orange blossom are among its alluring aromas.
  2. As for the flavors, you can almost always expect to experience peach and orange. Others flavors will vary depending upon the clone and the place where the grapes are grown.
  3. Moscato is the Italian name for Muscat Blanc.
  4. Muscat Blanc is one of the oldest wine grape varieties known to man, dating back to the Ancient Greeks.
  5. Two of the favorite ways to enjoy Moscato are in forms known as Moscato d’Asti and Asti Spumante. Moscato d’Asti is semi-sparkling, while Asti Spumante is fully sparkling. Just to confuse matters, some wines labeled simply as Moscato are made in a bubbly style.
  6. While Moscato wines typically are semi-sweet or sweet, the variety can be made into really, really sweet dessert wines. In Australia, these wines — made primarily in the Rutherglen region — are known as “stickies.” (I have been known to pour Rutherglen Muscat over French vanilla ice cream for a two-continent dessert.)
  7. Awesome food pairing and a simple meal: Moscato with teriyaki chicken and chow mein from Pandra Express.
  8. It also pairs wonderfully with vegetables and just about any Asian fare. Most spicy dishes work quite nicely with Moscato.
  9. Pink Moscato is not in any way related to White Zinfandel. It’s typically made with a splash of Merlot to give it its color and a hint of berry flavor.
  10. Unless you’re hanging with unadulterated wine snobs, it’s perfectly okay to transform your glass of Moscato into a fizzy, fruity cocktail. Just add a few peach and orange slices, and enjoy.

 

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Posted in Wine in the Glass
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