Larger Bottles – Great for Parties, But Be Wary of Quality

September 30th, 2008

A standard 750 milliliter bottle holds slightly more than 25 ounces. Double that to 50 ounces and divide it by, say, 5 ounces, which is a pretty decent pour for a single glass of wine. That gives you about 10 glasses of wine per 1.5 liter bottle – far too much for two people to enjoy at a single sitting for dinner.

At my house, and I’m sure at many of yours, you’ll always find a few wine bottles on the kitchen counter and in the refrigerator in various stages of completion. Provided they don’t get used in cooking, they’re usually poured out. It’s a sad ritual akin to throwing away a worn out pair of your favorite shoes; they were great for awhile, but all they’re doing now is taking up space.

So why buy a 1.5 liter bottle at all? The main reason is because it’s a great size to serve at large gatherings and parties. Unfortunately, there are a lot of marginal quality wines produced at this volume, with California the leading culprit. But if you do a little sifting around you can find a few good ones out there at some really reasonable prices.

I’ve also had good results with Washington’s Hogue Cellars Non-Vintage Harvest White (about $12). It’s a nice wine in the 1.5 liter size, with plenty of crisp apple flavors and a slightly sweet finish.

nullFrom Spain’s Rioja region, the Cortijo III 2006 Tinto (about $20) is a super buy for 1.5 liters. This red wine blend of 80 percent tempranillo and 20 percent Garnacha displays lots of dried cherry flavors, an underlying trace of smokiness, and a good dash of acidity.

If you must serve a California wine, Barefoot Cellars is probably one of the better options available. The wines are very fruit-forward and tend to appeal to those who drink wine less frequently. They also come in a variety of choices – ranging from chardonnay and pinto grigio to zinfandel and merlot – and all are priced at about $11 for a 1.5 liter bottle.

Three Great Wines for Specific Soup Selections

September 23rd, 2008

With the fall season upon us, I suspect that we’ll be eating more soups at mealtime as we begin to move indoors. When you do, remember to consider a nice wine to accompany the soup and help maximize your enjoyment of this great food/wine combination.

Pairing wine with soup is relatively easy if you remember to keep things simple by using a lightly seasoned soup stock as the basis for making a wine selection. Today we’ll look at three basic soup stocks and a specific wine that work well with each one.

nullFor creamy soups and bisques, a wine that is high is acidity makes a great choice. I recommend the Edmonds Winery 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (about $14 at The Vines). This newer, Woodinville-based winery has produced a lovely white wine, with citrus flavors up front that are tempered by a touch of stone fruit and melon. The mildly crisp finish also suggests a slightly savory quality.

If the soup has a high acid content, such as a tomato-based stock, a medium-bodied red wine that’s also high in acidity should work nicely. Try the Damana 5 2006 Tinto Fino (about $18) from Spain’s Ribera del Duero region. Made from 100 percent Tempranillo, it’s got plenty of bright cherry flavors and a smoky, spicy finish that make it ideal to pair with gazpacho. The wine is currently available at the Fairhaven Market Haggen and can also be ordered through other local wine shops and grocers.

For beef stock and heartier soups and stews a good, sturdy red wine is a must. The San Juan Vineyards 2005 Syrah (about $20) makes an excellent choice because it’s intense and compact with black currant and plum flavors to start, followed by a bit of coffee and dark chocolate on the finish. San Juan Vineyards wines are well distributed throughout the greater Bellingham area.

Wine With Soup? Absolutely!

September 16th, 2008

There are a few foods that can be problematic when searching for wine pairings. Asparagus and artichokes always seem to be a bit tricky while ice cream and sorbet are nearly impossible (but then, why would you serve wine with a sorbet?).

And how about soup? With all of the possible combinations of types of soup, should you even attempt to serve it with wine? The answer is a resounding yes.

I suppose you could drive yourself crazy if you tried to analyze all the ingredients in a soup and then come up with the perfect wine. But if you focus on the just the basics – that is, the soup stock – the guidelines for pairing it with wine are really quite simple. Here are three basic stocks to consider:

nullCreamy soups and bisques tend to have a higher fat content, so wines that are higher in acidity work well here because they cut through the cream and allow you to taste both the food and the wine. A sauvignon blanc makes a great choice, or if you prefer your wines slightly sweeter look for a riesling or chenin blanc as a potentially good match. If red wines tend to be your preference, then a pinot noir can also provide you with an excellent option.

On the opposite side of the coin, the soup could have a high acid content, such as something with a tomato-based stock. In this case, try a good medium-bodied red that’s also high in acidity to help complement the soup’s flavors. Sangiovese makes a natural choice, and a good Spanish Rioja or an Italian Chianti should easily fit the bill.

Finally, for heartier soups and stews that might use a beef stock you’ll want to steer clear of wimpier, lighter-bodied wines that could be overwhelmed by the food. Here you can hardly go wrong by serving a big, bold cabernet sauvignon, a tasty syrah or even a nice, spicy zinfandel.

Next week I’ll offer a few suggestions on specific wines that pair well with soups.

Bargain Wines Can be Found Both by Recommendation and With a Bit of Searching

September 14th, 2008

Sometimes you have to do a bit of searching to find a good, bargain-priced wine. And other times it takes virtually no effort at all when you get a hot tip or recommendation on a wine from someone else.

I like to categorize a wine as a bargain in one of two ways. The first is the price test; that is, the wine is quite drinkable and it only costs about $10 a bottle or less. The second is the bang for the buck test, which means you get a great wine, say, in the $10 to $20 a bottle price range and it tastes like one that might be priced at $30 or more.

Rachel Riggs, proprietor of Quel Fromage cheese shop in Fairhaven recently suggested I try the Ridgeline Vineyards 2002 Merlot, a Sonoma County wine that she’s currently featuring for only $10. My first thought is that this wine might be past its prime, but it’s still drinking absolutely beautifully.

Twenty-four months of French oak aging provide the wine with great structure and depth and it’s also full of dark berry flavors and nuances of spice. This wine easily qualifies as both bargain-priced and comparable to many that are two to three times the price.

nullAt Carpenter Creek Winery in Mount Vernon, there are several wines currently available that fall into the more bang for your buck category. I “discovered” them during a recent visit to the tasting room, which is about a 30-minute drive south of Bellingham.

White wine bargains include the 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (about $15) and the 2007 Signature Series Riesling (about $13), a delicious wine that tastes like a baked apple pie with a trace of sweetness on the finish. There are also several well-priced red wines, but my overall favorite was the 2004 Lemberger (about $14) which is wonderfully complex, with light cherry and vanilla flavors, a creamy mouth-feel, and a silky, lengthy finish.

If you can’t make it to the tasting room you should be able to find Carpenter Creek wines at the Food Pavilion, selected area Haggen stores and Compass Wines in Anacortes.

Town of Prosser Benefits from Increase in Washington Wineries

September 7th, 2008

Prosser is one of many Eastern Washington towns that have benefited tremendously by the State’s expanding wine industry.

What used to be a sleepy little burg located about a half hours drive west of the Tri-Cities has now blossomed into its own full-fledged wine destination. I suppose you know you’ve “arrived” as a bona fide wine town when close to 30 wineries have a Prosser address and you start seeing street names such as Cabernet Court and Merlot Drive.

I attended the Prosser Wine and Food Fair last month; a fun, folksy sort of outdoor event that’s set up on the Prosser High School football field. I’ve always been a big proponent of wine fairs and festivals because there’s always a nice variety of wines to sample and often times you get to chat with industry staff and winemakers.

nullA couple of favorites at this year’s event: The Pontin del Roza 2007 Chenin Blanc (about $11), a tasty, refreshing wine with plenty of green apple and pear flavors and a touch of sweetness on the finish. Chenin Blanc has long been the signature wine for winemaker Scott Pontin, who will soon be marking his 25th year in the wine industry.

Also noteworthy was the Airfield Estates 2007 Unoaked Chardonnay (about $17). I appreciated the lack of oak in this wine, because it really allows the gentle fruit flavors to shine through. It displays a slightly citrusy character, with a clean, crisp finish.

While visiting Prosser I also took the time to visit a few local tasting rooms. Recently opened Milbrandt Vineyards offers several selections, including a 2005 Legacy Merlot (about $25) that I particularly enjoyed. It’s full of dark berry flavors, along with nuances of smoke, spice and coffee. I picked up a bottle and plan to serve it at a later date with duck ravioli.

And finally, a trip to Prosser would not be complete without a stop at one of its oldest wineries, Chinook Wines. The quaint but charming tasting room featured a chardonnay, a cabernet franc and a newly released, non-vintage white wine blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon – an absolute steal at only about $11 a bottle.

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