Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Grill Mates

   Now that Memorial Day has kicked off the unofficial start of summer here in the States, barbecue grills everywhere will remain fired up for the next few months, sending up smoke signals far and wide. Out of fear, confusion and habit, the majority of the populace will imbibe in beer or blender drinks during the grill season. Shying away from drinking wine, some people just don't know what pairs well with the plethora of seared items served up at summer cookouts.
   Rather than flashback to the 80s and pick up a four pack of wine coolers, try some of these pairings at your next gathering around the grill:

  • Beef: If you are tossing some steaks or burgers on the barbecue, try a bottle of Malbec, Syrah, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. A well-balanced and aromatic Malbec, 2011 Don Miguel Gascon from Mendoza, Argentina is one of my favorites.

  • Chicken: Grilled chicken pairs well with either red or white. Uncork a Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Grenache. 2010 Ferrari Carano Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma's Alexander Valley is a great match for chicken. However, if you slather barbecue sauce on your fowl to give it some zing, best to uncork a Zinfandel. Try a bottle of the 2010 Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel I recommended recently.

  • Pork: Pork is a very versatile grill meat. Lambrusco, a slightly sparking sweet red wine, is a great pairing for sausage. If you are serving up a grilled pork chop, the best wine to uncork is Pinot Gris, Grenache, or Cabernet Franc. Originating in Spain, Grenache (Garnacha) is the most widely planted red wine grape in the world. 2009 Las Rocas is a full bodied Garnacha from the Calatayud region in Spain. The taste will transform as the wine stands in the glass, for an amazing experience. If you are grilling some ribs, spicing them up with a rub, try that Zinfandel.
  • Grilled vegetables, tuna and veggie burgers and the all-American hot dog pair well with a cool, crisp Rosé. Try one of the versatile rosés I recommended last week.

   I know how tempting it is to just grab a cold one or gravitate like a bee to the sweet, fancy umbrella drinks. Whether you find yourself hosting or attending, share your knowledge and uncork one of the above bottles the next time you get your grill on.

Cin Cin!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Rosé By Any Other Name

   Last evening I uncorked my first rosé of the season. Usually I wait for more balmy temperatures before cracking one open, but I fear at this point it will be September before we start feeling anything close to spring, let alone summer. During the warm weather months I drink more rosés, with a smattering of whites; rarely any reds.
   The term rosé (French), rosado (Spanish) or rosato (Italian) literally means pink. The shades of the wines vary, depending on the grape variety used and how long the skin is in contact with the juice during the winemaking process. Rosés are produced still or sparkling and range in levels from bone-dry to very sweet. The sweeter rosés are better known as blush wines or White Zinfandels. This is a whole other topic!
   Hands down, the largest producer of rosés is France, with the majority of the production coming out of Provence, followed by Rhone and Loire. Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Argentina and the United States are all noted for their own distinct styles of rosés.
   Drier rosés are more versatile and are easy to pair with just about anything. They combine well with grilled vegetables, seafood (grilled shrimp or salmon) or a Spanish paella. Grilled chicken, pork, steak or veal are also a good match for this wine as well as spicy foods. Indian curries, Thai dishes and Moroccan-style meals work extremely well with rosés.
   A few of my favorite dry rosés come from the aforementioned areas above:
  • 2009 Les Heritiers Dubois At a tasting in a local wine store, I sampled this rosé from Anjou in the Loire Valley. Produced from a Cabernet Franc grape, I continue to buy this one each summer; I am never disappointed. It retails for $8.99.
  • 2011 Crios de Susana Balbo – From Mendoza in Argentina, this wine is 100% Malbec. Retailing for about $11.99 this deep, lively rosé has aromas of strawberries and cherries, with some spicy notes.
  • 2012 Mas de Cadenet This is the one I opened last evening. I discovered this Cotes de Provence rosé at a recent tasting at Gary's. It is a Grenache blend and retails for $14.99.
  • 2009 Pala Silenzi – I actually found this on a clearance rack in a wine store and have been looking for it since. From Isola dei Nuraghi (Sardegna) this rosé is a blend ofAs 50% each Monica and Sangiovese grapes. The clearance price was $6.99. I wish I had picked up a few more bottles. If anyone comes across it, please let me know.
  • Jaume Serra Cristalino Cava – I picked up this sparkling rosé for New Year's Eve. From the Catalunya region in Spain, this blend is 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Trepat. It was quite a deal for $10.99.
   As the temperatures warm up and spring turns into summer, there is nothing more refreshing than uncorking a crisp, cool bottle of rosé, still or sparkling. If you haven't already done so, you should expand your palate and explore the wonderful world of rosé wines.

Cin Cin! 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What Wows You About a Wine Bottle?

   Quite recently a friend admitted she bought a bottle of wine wholly based on the name of the wine and the label. This got the wheels turning, made me wonder if there are others out there who purchase a wine purely using your visual sense. Is it the name that catches your eye, the label design, the shape of the bottle or some other characteristic that draws you to a wine? I must confess, even an experienced oenophile will sometimes give in to temptation, take a chance and pick up an unusual bottle. 

Dearly Beloved, I Thee Red
Regina's Pick: A clever name, with an artistic bottle.
Cupcake Pinot Noir
Sarah's Pick: A cutesy name.

Bully Hill Sweet Walter's Red
Lauralyn's Pick: Unique label.
Lisa's Pick: Bought a bottle for the glass cork.

Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin
My Pick: Matching label & cork.

   It is very common for winemakers to create catchy names, flashy labels or gimmicky packaging to entice the consumer. Has anyone else out there bought a wine because they have been wowed by the bottle? If so, it would be really great to hear about your wine experience.

Cin Cin!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Homage to the Vine

   At this time of year, in vineyards around the world, there is an amazing phenomenon taking place. Viticulturists (cultivators of grape vines) everywhere are beginning the early stages of what is known as the seasons of the vine. By now most have completed the first stage in the process leading to harvest called pruning. Pruning is the method of cutting the previous year's dead or overgrown branches and stems to encourage new, healthier growth on the vine. The sections of the vine are the trunk, followed by the cordon or “arm”, then the cane and the shortened cane called the spur. Pruning can start as early as January or February and continues through to harvest and usually after.
   The new growth, known as bud break, is when new shoots begin to push through and we see the first signs of green on the vines. As the buds break, the vines start flowering. This is the stage immediately prior to fertilization when small flower clusters appear on the new growth. Once the fertilized flower develops a seed and a grape berry to protect the seed, this stage is called fruit set. At this point the tiny berries are green, hard and have very little sugar. There is a spike in the sugar levels and the green fruit will begin to turn red. This is known as veraison and so begins the ripening process of the grapes, which takes about 40-50 days.
   All of this ultimately leads to harvest, which is when the grapes are pulled from the vines and go through the winemaking process (a whole other blog entry). In the Northern Hemisphere this takes place between August and October, while in the Southern Hemisphere it occurs between February and April. Harvest is determined mainly by the ripeness of the grapes, but weather and vine disease can help a viticulturist decide when to begin the procedure as well.                          
   Two years ago, I had the pleasure of experiencing pruning first hand at my cousin Lisa's “vineyard” up in Maine. Yes, you heard right, Maine! Lisa first planted in 2006 and now has 42 vines (just under .25 acres) of Frontenac, Marechal Foch and a few Noiret - all red grapes. Because of the colder climate in Maine, she performs a double-pruning process each season. During the first pruning, she leaves four canes with 20 buds untouched and then shortens them (spurs) during the second, leaving about 10 buds and tying back the vines. 
   When I was visiting two years ago in March, we started the first round of pruning in the snow. I was amazed by the care that is taken when cutting away the old growth; it is not done willy-nilly. Before cutting, you must assess the vines; see what has the most potential to produce bud break and survive the possible frost. There is a lot of studying, cutting, and tying back of the vines; whole process is an art.

Before pruning (Lisa's vines, Maine)

After pruning (Lisa's vines, Maine)

   So next time you uncork your favorite bottle of wine, think about where the grapes originate. Most people only visualize the actual winemaking process and what often comes to mind is the classic I Love Lucy episode where Lucy stomps the grapes in the huge vat, making everyone laugh with her impeccable comedic timing. We forget about all the hard work that goes into the growing process and the seasons of the vine.

Cin Cin!