Don’t Assume That Red Wine You Bought Will Automatically Pair With Chocolate

February 10th, 2015

Valentine’s Day is Saturday and I’m guessing that many of you are still mulling about a list of possibilities on what do to with your special someone.

For those of us lacking in creativity, the tried-and-true ways to celebrate the day usually seem to work best. Dinner out with a bottle of something sparkling? A solid choice. Flowers delivered to the home or workplace? Always a nice touch. Stay at home with a movie, some chocolate truffles and an exquisite bottle of red wine? Not so fast!

nullSomehow, some way, the coupling of red wine and chocolate has worked its way into the minds of love struck sweethearts as the quintessential Valentine’s Day combination.

Let me warn you that more often than not, this pairing can be perfectly awful.

The culprit is usually the chocolate, which sets the bar so high with its cocoa, sugar and fat contents it can render many red wines tasteless.

The solution is to beat the chocolate at its own game by choosing a wine that’s just as bold or sweet. A big, full-bodied cabernet sauvignon or a spicy, smoky syrah or zinfandel might do the trick; but I’ve found even better choices to be fortified sweet reds, Sherries, or a tawny Port or port-style wine.

Here a few wine recommendations that should work well with chocolate or for sipping simply on their own:

Maryhill Winery 2008 Vintage Port (about $18 for 580 ml) – A blend of traditional Port grapes – tinto cão, tempranillo, sousão, and touriga nacional – this wine was aged 32 months in oak barrels at the Goldendale winery. Rum raisin aromas and flavors are accompanied by extra-ripe cherry along with a hint of caramel and butterscotch. A somewhat sweet finish nicely balances the Brobdingnagian 19.3-percent alcohol content.

nullDynasty Cellars 2013 Amabile Late Harvest Zinfandel (about $18 for 375 ml) – This fortified zinfandel from the Bellingham winery has a stunning chocolate cherry bouquet that carries over to the palate with a subtle finishing flourish of white pepper. There’s also plenty of sweetness to balance out the underlying tannins. Amabile, by the way, translates to “sweet” or “lovable” in Italian.

BarSol Perfecto Amor (about $19) – This unique and amazing amber-colored aperitif is a combination of pisco (a Peruvian brandy) and three white varietals. Intoxicating aromas of baked raisin bread and maple nut lead to flavors of butterscotch and dried fruits on the palate. The finish is soft, elegant and lingering with touches of toasted almond. Superb!

Gonzalez Byass “Nectar” Sherry (about $25) – Sourced from Spain and made from the Pedro Ximenez grape, I’m tempted to describe this wine as a liquid fig newton for adults. But it’s much more than that, with ultra-dark plum, date, and dried apricot flavors and a nice nuttiness on the super-sweet, incredibly lengthy finish. This wine will stand up to virtually any dessert as well as an after-dinner cigar.

Explore International Wines from New and Old World Sources

January 20th, 2015

The focus of my column has always been on Washington wine – and with good reason. Our state produces all the essentials a wine enthusiast could ask for: white wines ranging from crisp, vibrant riesling to full-bodied chardonnay and a wide array of red wines from velvety merlot to big, bold cabernet sauvignon.

But even if all your taste-preference bases are covered by Washington wineries, you’d be foolish not to enjoy wines from other parts of the United States and around the world.

Old World wine-producing countries of France, Spain, and Italy and New World sources such as South Africa, Australia, Chile, and Argentina offer an immense variety of styles to complement and contrast anything from Washington in your on-hand wine supply.

nullToday I’ll give you several international recommendations I’ve recently enjoyed that make great choices for wineophiles looking to venture outside the Pacific Northwest.

Borgo M 2013 Pinot Grigio (about $12) – This refreshing Italian white has a lightly floral and fruity aroma with plenty of crisp citrus flavors and a lemon-drop finish. It pairs well with manila clams in butter broth and is currently on the menu at Keenan’s at the Pier Restaurant in Bellingham.

Montes Twins 2012 Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon (about $15) – This 50/50 blend is sourced from the Colchagua Valley in Chile. It’s loaded with dark berry, plum, and black currant fruits followed by a layer of even darker bittersweet chocolate and espresso. The soft finish makes it instantly enjoyable and a pleasure to taste.

Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva 2008 (about $19) – This beautiful Spanish red is comprised almost entirely of tempranillo and its opening cherry flavors are accentuated with subtle clove and cinnamon spice. The lingering, complex finish suggests caramel and hazelnut with a dusting of cocoa powder. It pairs nicely with a variety of tapas from octopus to linguiça.

nullKaiken 2012 Ultra Malbec (about $24) – Another excellent Chilean malbec, this one is filled with reserved blueberry and blackberry flavors and underscored with an earthy, mineral-like quality and supple tannins. The 14.5-percent alcohol content comes off as slightly hot; a quibble quickly tempered by the dollop of vanilla bean on the finish.

Antonelli San Marco 2010 Montefalco Rosso and Arnaldo-Caprai 2012 Montefalco Rosso (between $19 to $25 each) – Montefalco is a subdivision within central Italy’s Umbria region and known for its big, heady red wines.

Both of these wines have a sangiovese base and 15-percent sagrantino. The Antonelli also blends in cabernet sauvignon and merlot and its cherry, red plum, and toasted oak profile is perfectly balanced with grippy tannins.

The Arnaldo-Caprai is finished with just a bit of merlot. It’s a touch lighter in body, with red currant and berry flavors, firm tannins and a pleasant splash of green tea on the finish.

Guidelines for Serving Wines at Thanksgiving That Will Keep the Holiday Stress-Free

November 25th, 2014

Serving wines with Thanksgiving dinner? Just follow a few simple guidelines and the selection process can be as stress-free as opening a can of cranberry jelly.

First and foremost, offer variety. I harp on this every year, but you can hardly go wrong if you use this as a starting point. With a variety of wines at the table, say, a sweet or off-dry and a dry white, and perhaps a light to medium-bodied red, you’ll cover all your bases.

Second, don’t fret over precise food and wine pairings. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner usually isn’t heavy on the seasonings and spices. That makes more wines easily adaptable to the basics of turkey, potatoes and gravy, and stuffing you’re likely to serve.

Third, ask others what they like. Don’t assume that just because you’re a big fan of chardonnay, others will be too. Here again, variety is the key.

Finally, don’t be too skimpy on cost. A bargain wine or two? No problem. Every wine at the table under $10? Come on, it’s Thanksgiving! Splurge a bit and use this as an opportunity to show off your wine-buying prowess to family and friends.

In keeping with the variety theme, I’d like to offer some European wine recommendations from France, Italy, and Spain that should be a welcome addition to your Thanksgiving Day meal.

nullLa Gioiosa Non-Vintage Prosecco DOC Treviso Spumante (about $11) – An outstanding sparkling wine for starters, this tasty Prosecco features luscious ripe pear and honeydew melon flavors with a creamy texture that hints at lemon custard. Guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser with its faintly sweet finish.

Domaine du Tariquet Classic (about $11) – This refreshing, four-varietal white wine blend offers citrusy and herbaceous aromas and flavors while the finish is clean and green and reminiscent of a vinho verde. It makes a nice pairing with seafood, shellfish or oyster stuffing.

Marchesi de Frescobaldi 2010 Nipozzano Riserva (about $19) – This incredibly well-priced, sangiovese-based Chianti is a great example of how practical it is to serve a red wine for Thanksgiving. Hints of licorice and spicy cherry on the nose, bright red currant and cranberry flavors on the palate, and supple tannins on the finish combine to provide a great compliment to dark meat.

Bodegas Shaya ‘Habis’ 2010 Old Vines Verdejo (about $26) – From Spain’s Rueda region, this stunning white wine opens with aromas of fresh peach and green herbs. Generous tropical and stone fruits fill the glass with a gentle kiss of ruby red grapefruit on the finish. My only quibble: it’s so good you may not want to share it with anyone else.

Damilano 2010 ‘Lecinquevigne’ Barolo DOCG (about $35) – This nicely complex nebbiolo is both elegant and muscular with floral aromas of rose and violet, red cherry flavors, and a splash of green tea on the finish. Grippy tannins are softened with a bit of aeration and decanting or easily complemented with an after-dinner cigar.

Stemmari Offers Pinot Grigio and Intriguing White Blend

September 28th, 2014

nullOriginating in Sicily, Italy, Stemmari Winery has a couple of white wines I recently tried for you to consider.

Their 2013 Pinot Grigio (about $10) has some nice, true-to-the varietal flavors of lemon and white peach, and good acidity that lends itself to the wine’s crisp finish.

The wine should pair well with a variety of seafood and shellfish dishes and it’s also reasonably priced.

The 2012 Dalila (about $14) is a blend of 80% Grillo and 20% Viognier.

There’s definitely a tropical note here, some very gentle citrus flavors, and a distinctive trace of spearmint on the finish.

Not unpleasant, and certainly an intriguing combination.

Wine Flavor Profile Affected by a Number of Factors

August 19th, 2014

One of the fun things about wine tasting is comparing and contrasting the flavor profile and characteristics of the same type of wine made by a different winery.

If you’re relatively new to wines and haven’t tried this, your first reaction might be, doesn’t one merlot pretty much taste like any other merlot?

To that I would say, you are mistaken, grasshopper.

There are a multitude of factors that can affect how a wine tastes, and today, I’ll give you what many consider to be among three of the most important.

First, vintage. Like any other agricultural crop, wine grapes can fall victim to poor weather conditions. As you might suspect, wetter and cooler than normal growing seasons don’t allow the grapes to fully ripen and develop their signature flavors. The resulting wines can be higher in acidity, lower in alcohol and lacking in character.

nullSecond, geographic region. The climate, soil conditions, and even the specific vineyard in which the grapes are grown can have a profound impact on the wines they produce. For starters, know that grapes grown in cooler climates generally result in wines with brighter, leaner flavors while those in warmer climates yield more full-bodied wines.

Third, winemaker style. A winemaker has a host of options to exercise that can help him or her arrive at the wine they’re trying to achieve. For example, the use or non-use of oak during the aging process, as well as the length of aging time, can affect the wine’s flavor, color, and aroma.

nullSide-by-side tastings can help you discern the differences that these and other factors have on a wine. Have fun with this by organizing a group tasting or simply make notes on your own for comparison purposes.

Here are my tasting notes on a chardonnay and a pinot noir produced by two different wineries. The first, Stoller Family Estate in Dayton, Oregon, was Wine Press Northwest Magazine’s 2014 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year. The second, J Vineyards & Winery, is located in Sonoma County, California.

The Stoller 2012 Reserve Chardonnay (about $35) is the leaner of the two, with aromas and flavors of green pear, Fuji apple and citrus throughout and a finish suggesting lemon chiffon. The J Vineyards 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay (about $28) is bigger and rounder, with baked apple flavors accentuated by a touch of orange zest and toasted vanilla.

The Stoller 2012 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (about $25) is a sensual delight, with floral aromatics, red berry and cherry flavors, and an almost sultry, inky finish with hints of baking spice. The J Vineyards 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (about $37) displays gentle raspberry and strawberry fruits with an underlying note of lavender. It’s delicate, beautifully balanced, and a pleasure to taste.

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