A Novice’s Guide to Pairing Chocolate and Wine

Valentine's Day CelebrationThere are those who will tell you that there is no chocolate that pairs well with wine, and no wine that pairs well with chocolate.

These are not “bad” people. They simply are people with whom I strongly disagree. There actually are a number of wine-and-chocolate pairings that work quite nicely… which means you need not skip one in favor of the other this Valentine’s Day.

Here’s a look at some of the pairings my fellow wine lovers embrace, from milder chocolates to more intense renditions…

  • White Chocolate

Technically not chocolate by definition (because it contains no cocoa), we’ll include it here because, hey, we’re not big on technicalities. Because its flavor is so mild, white chocolate benefits from a wine with sweet fruit flavors — a wine like the Moscato d’Asti from Il Conte d’Alba.

  • Milk Chocolate

Get your hands on a milk chocolate-covered truffle filled with strawberry, cherry or raspberry cream. Then pair it with the Pink Moscato from Atelie. Then smile.

  • Dark Chocolate

The pairing possibilities multiply with dark chocolate, as a number of “bigger” wines pair well with this “bigger” chocolate. A rich, nutty Port works nicely when chocolate is the lone flavor. When you add fillings such as dark cherry or raspberry cream, then you can pair the chocolate with wines like the 2015 Sophie’s “Palm Block” Shiraz from Australia, or the 2014 Criss Cross Zinfandel from Lodi, California, which is just as intense as the chocolate.

One word of caution when it comes to dark chocolate: Stick to bars or truffle coverings that are between 35 and 70% cocoa solids. If you go above 70%, the chocolate will overpower all other flavors, including those of the wine.

And since no Valentine’s Day is complete without chocolate AND wine, that would be a true tragedy.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

TMZ Says Wine Is on the Way from Lady Gaga

Champagne Cork PoppingBased on her performance during half-time of Sunday’s Super Bowl game, one could get the impression that Lady Gaga is capable of pretty much anything.

And that would include making wine, according to TMZ.

“Grigio Girls” was a bonus track on Gaga’s 2016 album called “Joanne.” It was dedicated to a friend who has cancer, and told the story of how a circle of friends would get together, crack open a bottle of wine, and cry for her.

The chorus of the song:

All the Pinot, Pinot Grigio girls
Gather ’round now
Watch your blues turn gold
All the Pinot, Pinot Grigio girls
Keep it real cold
’Cause it’s a fired up world

Now, TMZ says “Grigio Girls” will be the label for a line of wines, wine coolers, wine cocktails and wine punches.

Although not confirmed, TMZ adds, “We’re guessing Pinot Grigio will be the flagship product.”

While we’re waiting for Lady Gaga’s project to officially launch, we’ll be drinking three Pinot Grigio wines from Italy that are outstanding renditions of the variety, all from the 2015 vintage.

The Viaggiatore showcases lemon, lime, green apple and melon notes, and is a wonderful companion to fresh shellfish or oysters mignonette.

The Ca Solare is floral, crisp, fresh and fruitful, and pairs perfectly with lemon-herb chicken.

And the Avito is packed with honeyed fruit flavors; it’s the wine to pour when serving pasta with a white sauce.

How good will Gaga’s wines be? We can’t wait to find out, especially if they’re as good as her Super Bowl performance. Meanwhile, the Viaggiatore, Ca Solare and Avito bottlings could be considered benchmark examples of Pinot Grigio, and certainly worth emulating.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

How to Be a Romance Hero With a ‘Pretty’ Meal and Wine

Juicy meat with sweet sauce on black platePinot Noir is the wine of romance, and in case you you’ve been watching too much football lately, I should remind you that there’s a very romantic “holiday” coming up next Tuesday.

Pinot Noir often is described by any number of “S” words: smooth, silky, seductive. These are qualities that are ideal for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner.

But what if you want to surprise your significant other with a romantic meal at home, and don’t have a lot of time to cook? The recipe that follows is easy to prepare and looks as pretty on a plate as Pinot Noir looks in a glass — and this dish pairs perfectly with Pinot.

PORK WITH RASPBERRY GASTRIQUE

Raspberry Gastrique Ingredients

  • 2 cups ripe raspberries
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Sea salt (to taste)

Raspberry Gastrique Preparation

  1. Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottom saucepan and cook over a medium flame. Mix ingredients with back of a spoon and bring to a low simmer, stirring often. Adjust heat to medium-low, and cook until mixture becomes thick and syrupy (about 13 minutes).
  2. Pour through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl, then return to saucepan.
  3. Add a sprinkle of salt (to taste).

Pork Chop Ingredients

  • 1 large pork chop
  • ½ tablespoon butter
  • Pinch of dry mustard
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Pork Preparation

  1. After allowing pork to sit at room temperature for an hour, preheat oven to 400 degrees F for 15 minutes.
  2. Sprinkle both sides of chop with salt, pepper and mustard.
  3. In a heavy-bottom, oven-proof skillet, melt butter, and immediately add pork.
  4. Sear on one side for about 2 minutes, achieving a crusty brownness.
  5. Cook for 5-8 minutes, depending on thickness of the pork chop. (Note: The pork needs to be cooked to 145 degrees.)
  6. While pork is resting, pour most of the fat from the pan into another pan, then add chicken broth, shallots and thyme. Whisk together with browned bits at the bottom of the first pan.

Final Steps

  1. Pour some of the gastrique on a plate, top with sliced pork, and top pork with a drizzle of the gastrique and a drizzle of the new pan sauce.
  2. Top that with a few fresh raspberries.
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Rooting for the Falcons? Open a Bottle of Merlot

Fresh homemade burger on wooden serving board with onion rings and glass of red wineI am a life-long Green Bay Packers fan. My Dad was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. But even though they obliterated the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, I will be rooting for the Atlanta Falcons in this Sunday’s Super Bowl.

I have my reasons…

  • Not every sports fan agrees with this, but when my team is knocked out of the playoffs — be it in football, baseball or basketball — I want the team that beat “us” to go all the way. That way, we can always say that we lost to the best team that season.
  • The Falcons have been around for 51 years and have never won a Super Bowl. Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots, has been around 38 years and has won four Super Bowl games. I like to root for the underdog.
  • Ann’s Snack Bar. This is the REAL reason I want the Falcons to win — as a tribute to Miss Ann Price, who passed away in 2015 after running her eight-stool snack bar in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta for close to four decades.

Ann’s Snack Bar was (and is — it’s now operated by her sister and three brothers) known for the Ghetto Burger, a double cheeseburger that includes chili, bacon, grilled onions, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. You can see what it looks like, and hear from Miss Price herself, in the YouTube video below.

Miss Price ran Ann’s Snack Bar her way, complete with posted rules such as, “No cursing in the snack bar,” and, “No sitting or standing babies on the counter.” If you were willing to follow the rules, and wait outside until a stool became available inside, you could eat one of Miss Price’s burgers, cooked to order on a very small grill.

There are other places in Atlanta for good burgers — Holeman & Finch’s, Bones restaurant, One Eared Stag — but there’s nothing so sloppily wonderful as the Ghetto Burger from Ann’s Snack Bar. It has been at Atlanta institution for almost as long as the Falcons — and with a much better record.

This Sunday, if you’re a Falcons fan, you may want to try making your own version of the Ghetto Burger. If you do, and as long as the chili you use is not too spicy, I’d suggest opening a nice bottle of Merlot to accompany it.

My choice: the 2015 Bilgola “Estate” Merlot from South Eastern Australia. It’s medium-bodied, food-friendly, and the perfect companion to a flavorful burger.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes, Wine in the Glass

Don’t Waste a Sick Day — Drink Wine on Super Bowl Sunday!

Football SnacksIf you’re a football fan, you know that there’s one more game to be played this Sunday, and you’ve probably been soaking in all the stats and stories that the sports media has been cranking out this week.

I’m not sure whether anyone has reported on it yet, but there’s an interesting “wine story” connected with the game. You may know that the quarterback of the New England Patriots, Tom Brady, was preceded by a QB named Drew Bledsoe. What you may not know is that Bledsoe now is a winery owner.

His estate is called Doubleback. It’s located in Walla Walla, Washington, and it’s not unusual for visitors to encounter Bledsoe in the tasting room. Pretty cool for a football fan.

Now, here are a couple of fascinating “wine numbers” associated with Sunday’s game between the Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons…

  • $4,800 — Average price for a Super Bowl LI ticket — enough to purchase 22 bottles of 2006 Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne, a floral, fresh and fruitful sparkling wine that would be perfect for toasting the winning team — especially if it’s the team you’re rooting for.
  • 1.23 billion — The number of chicken wings that will be consumed this Sunday. Since most wings have at least a bit of a “kick” to them, my wine of choice to drink with them is Zinfandel — the “bigger” the better. The wine we’ll be pouring is the 2013 Grey Wolf Vineyards “Big Bad” Zinfandel, which we’ve already enjoyed with a grilled, marinated leg of lamb.
  • 51.7 million — Number of cases of beer sold on Super Bowl Sunday, which no doubt contributes to the next number…
  • 1.5 million — Number of people who call in sick to work on the day after the Super Bowl.

Don’t be one of the 1.5 million and waste a sick day. Drink wine this Sunday!

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Why I’m Voting for Wine Samplers Over Wine Growlers

Vintage oak barrel on rack on old wooden table still life with copy spaceThe Rolling Stones famously informed us that we might not always get what we want, but we just might get what we need.

In the state of Washington, some wine drinkers are getting what they want, but if new legislation passes, it may not be what they need.

What they’re current getting is wine in refillable containers known as growlers. The consumer takes the growler to its winery of origin for refills.

Nothing wrong with that, as the winery maintains total control of its product.

The new proposal, however, would allow consumers to refill growlers at grocery stores and other designated wine retailers.

Some winery owners, interested mainly in selling wine, support the bill, which you can read more about at The Spokesman Review. Others, however, are concerned about oxygen mixing with the wine during the transfer process. Oxygen exposure hastens a wine’s aging and can impact quality.

Some winery owners simply aren’t willing to surrender quality control during the “bottling” process — and the good news about the proposed legislation is that they would not be forced to. All wineries could continue to sell wine in bottles, with no requirement to use growlers.

I’m not complexly anti-growler. I think if you live near a winery and are hosting a party at which all the wine in the growler would be consumed, the growler could be a fun conversation starter. But for anyone planning to consume wine one meal at a time, the bottle continues to be the best bet.

Rather than growlers, you’d be much better off stocking up on quality wine with a Vinesse wine sampler. Not only are you guaranteed fresh and perfectly protected wine, but in most cases, you get three different tasting panel-approved wines to compare, contrast and enjoy.

Growlers have their place when a winery is handling the refills. But I’m not convinced that a grocery store is a good place for a growler refill.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

How to Pronounce Some Common Wine Words

Couple having dinner in a luxury restaurantWhy can virtually everyone look at a word like Champagne and pronounce it correctly, yet have so much trouble with other words associated with wine?

The answer is simple: Pretty much everyone has heard of, sipped and enjoyed Champagne, but lots of “wine words” are quite tricky to pronounce correctly.

Take Vin de Pays, as an example. That looks pretty straightforward, right?

Vin… deh… pays.

Wrong… right… wrong.

The correct pronunciation is vahn-deh-pay-ee.

A few other “wine words” and how to pronounce them…

  • Malbec — mall-bek

Celebrate your knowledge with a glass of 2013 Hector Durigutti Malbec from Argentina, a full-bodied and fruitful wine that showcases notes of black cherry, blackberry and gobs of chocolate.

  • Semillon — say-mee-yawn

Practice it while drinking the 2015 Ricardo Santos Semillon from the Mendoza region of Argentina. It’s a rich, viscous wine with notes of peach, melon, and red and yellow apples.

  • Viognier — vee-own-yay

The 2015 Domaine Vision — and I’m pretty sure that’s not pronounced like the word associated with eyesight — Viognier would be a wonderful wine to drink while practicing your pronunciation. It has an alluring orange blossom aroma that leads to impressions of peach, apricot, vanilla, coconut, toast and cedar.

  • Loire — lwar

I’ve found that spooning some peanut butter in my mouth helps with the pronunciation of this appellation of France.

  • Shiraz — sheer-az

You’ll need a lush, intense rendition like the 2015 Thomas Goss Shiraz from Australia’s McLaren Vale growing region for this one, because it’s certain to spark a debate.

I’ve saved this one for last because even some “wine pronunciation guides” get this one wrong, as do many sommeliers. In fact, I’ll often order Shiraz in a restaurant by pointing to its line on the wine list, so I can hear how the sommelier pronounces it. If they get it right, I know that they know their stuff.

As noted above, the correct pronunciation is sheer-az. Think of it as the last syllable rhyming with pizzazz.

Yet most people will look at the word and pronounce it like this: shi-raws.

And that’s just shi-wrong.

How do I know this? Because I have asked literally dozens of Aussie vintners, and to a man (and one woman), each has pronounced it sheer-az.

There occasionally is a slight variation to shee-raz. But that’s rare. And not one has ever said, “shi-raws.”

When I mention to those vintners that many people do pronounce it “shi-raws,” their typical response is: “They must be Americans.”

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Celebrating Australia’s Cutting-Edge Wines

Vineyard in NSW, AustraliaToday is Australia Day — the “National Day” of Australia — which marks the arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships in New South Wales in 1788.

It was known as New Holland back then, and the Brits sent ships to establish British sovereignty over the continent’s eastern seaboard.

Australia Day has had various incarnations and has been marked in various ways through the years. In the world of wine, I think of it as the day to honor the country’s fiercely independent winemakers.

In establishing the country’s vineyards and wine estates, the Aussies were not bound by convention, tradition or any other word that ends in “tion.” They have paved their own path, and the result has been cutting-edge wines that are unlike any others in the world.

True, the Aussies use the same varieties found in many other countries. But they’ve pioneered crushing and fermentation techniques and, even more significantly, embraced the concept of blending — even between and among varieties that rarely, if ever, had been blended before.

A perfect example is the marriage of Semillon and Chardonnay — typically abbreviated to “Sem-Chard” — which results in wines that meld tropical fruit flavors (from the Chardonnay) with nut and straw notes (from the Semillon) and are ready to enjoy (especially with food) upon release… no aging necessary.

bigolaThen there are wines like the 2015 Bilgola “Estate” Merlot, which is made in the Aussie style that emphasizes fruit flavors over “earth” or oak notes. Aussie vintners are all about showcasing the fruit flavors in their grapes.

Aussies don’t even call Syrah by its historic name. They refer to it as Shiraz (rhymes with pizzazz), and often blend it with Cabernet Sauvignon, as demonstrated by the delicious 2015 Lawson’s Ridge cuvee found in the Aussie Shiraz & More Collection.

Australia Day may not be that country’s “Independence Day” as we think of the 4th of July, but there’s no doubt that the land Down Under is home to lots of independent-thinking winemakers.

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Everything You Need to Know About France’s Wine Regions

The wine growing region and town of St Emilion FranceFor centuries, France has set the benchmarks for virtually every type of wine you could imagine, developed through a generations-long focus on the concept of terroir.

In a nutshell, “terroir” is about matching the right variety to the right type of soil and climate, and simply allowing the resulting wines to “speak for themselves.” In years when the weather cooperated at key junctures of the growing season, the resulting wines could be phenomenal.

So, the wine world has long looked to France’s Bordeaux appellation for benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot… to its Burgundy region for exceptional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir… to the Rhone Valley for rich red cuvees (such as blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre)…  the Loire area for refreshing rosé wines… and the Champagne appellation for sparkling wine.

The system has served the country well… for the most part. The challenge faced by French vintners of the 21st century involves what’s happening in the rest of the wine world, where winemakers have not been afraid to challenge old conventions in order to produce great wines.

Now, however, a new generation of French vintners — possessing much more formal training than their predecessors — is stepping up and shaking things up.

In general, they’re using new techniques to coax more flavor out of the wines, they’re utilizing science to minimize vintage variables, and they’re even experimenting with varieties seldom before seen in certain appellations.

frenchIt all adds up to a brave new world for French wine, and the France’s Best Reds Collection offers a delicious introduction with:

  • A fresh approach to Bordeaux from an experienced winemaking family in the 2014 Chateau Le Mas.
  • A different approach to Cabernet Sauvignon in southern France via the 2015 Laurent de L’Olibet.
  • The 2015 Espirit des Trois Pierres, which melds three varieties from the Costieres de Nimes area of the Rhone territory.

France has long been the leader on the global wine scene, and things are now changing for the better. That can only add up to an even greater selection of French wines for us to enjoy.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass, Wine Region Profiles

Wine Habits of the Presidents

congratulations Baikal red wineWe have a new President, one who does not drink alcohol. Never has. That makes him unusual among U.S. Commanders-in-Chief.

Here’s a brief look at the wine habits and preferences of some of his predecessors…

  • It’s fairly well known that Thomas Jefferson planted grapevines — European varieties — at his Monticello home. What’s not so well known is that he did not live to see them produce wine-worthy grapes.  A trip to France in 1784 had changed Jefferson’s drinking habits. Like most people, his experience with wine up to that point had been limited to Madeira, in large part because it traveled well (thanks to being fortified). But once he had experienced the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, there was no turning back for his palate.

I’m guessing Jefferson would have loved the 2015 Lavender Row Pinot Noir, a beautiful wine that shows off the terroir and winemaking techniques of France with its enticing aromas and flavors of red flowers, toasted oak, rhubarb, strawberry and crushed stones.

  • Most early Presidents were Madeira drinkers. Records show that during one six-month stretch — from September 1775 to March 1776 — George Washington spent more than $6,000 on adult beverages, mostly Madeira wine. Back then, $6,000 could buy A LOT of Madeira.
  • On January 24, 1980, Jimmy Carter hosted a dinner at which Prime Minister Francesco Cossiga of Italy was served a meal that included Robert Mondavi Johannisberg Riesling, Simi Cabernet Sauvignon and Hans Kornell Extra Dry sparkling wine.  The dinner was followed by a concert featuring country music star Tom T. Hall, who concluded his set with the song, “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine.” That must have been quite a night.
  • From the perspective of making the information public, Lyndon Johnson was the first President to place an emphasis on American wines at White House functions. He understood that wine is not only a drink but also a business, and American wine creates jobs, generates tax revenue… and tastes good.
  • Demonstrating that he was quite different from Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon preferred French wines. Chateau Margaux reportedly was his favorite.
  • Ronald Reagan was an equal-opportunity wine drinker. At various stages of his life, he loved both American (primarily Californian) and French wines.
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Posted in Editor's Journal
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