About Matt.mmwine

Sommelier, wine writer, and overall Motor Mouth, I appear on various TV shows, host local wine events, and write about wine, food, cocktails, family & more!
Website: http://agoodtimewithwine.com
Matt.mmwine has written 199 articles so far, you can find them below.

About Matt.mmwine

Sommelier, wine writer, and overall Motor Mouth, I appear on various TV shows, host local wine events, and write about wine, food, cocktails, family & more!

Find more about me on:

Here are my most recent posts

United Way of Broward County Wine Event

United Way of Broward County

The media team with the United Way of Broward County asked if I’d be kind enough to help get the word out about their upcoming Red & White – Wine and Culinary Delight event. I have not been fortunate enough to attend the event in the past, however any charity that’s not only doing good things, but doing them via food and wine is ok in my book. Below is the media release, with information about the event.

UNITED WAY OF BROWARD COUNTY INVITES YOU TO INDULGE IN 

“RED & WHITE – WINE AND CULINARY DELIGHT”

 

FT. LAUDERDALE, FL – (February 11, 2011) – Sample delectable foods prepared live by Fort Lauderdale’s top chefs and exquisite wines from all over the world at United Way of Broward County’s “Red & White – Wine and Culinary Delight”, presented by Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Inc. and Premier Beverage Company. The event will be held at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six on February 11 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Crystal Ballroom, with a VIP reception from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Pier top.  

Guests will have the opportunity to participate in a raffle and silent auction featuring fabulous prizes while watching live cooking demonstrations performed by Chef Miguel Santos of Pier Sixty-Six, Chef Jason Connelly of Sea Level, Chef Bil Mitchell of Publix Apron’s Cooking School, Chef Lenore of Lenore Nolan-Ryan Cooking School and Catering.

“Red & White” is United Way of Broward County’s 10th annual food and wine event, and will benefit United Way of Broward County’s Community Investment Fund to improve the community by providing human services to those who need it most.

VIP individual reservations are $100 and general admission reservations are $60 per person. Tickets can be purchased online at www.unitedwaybroward.org. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. For more information, please visit www.unitedwaybroward.org or call Dianne Maddalena at 954-462-4850 ext. 119.

About United Way of Broward County

United Way of Broward County is a volunteer driven, community-based, non-profit organization with a mission to focus and unite the entire community to create significant lasting change that positively impacts people’s lives. UWBC is the catalyst for change and convener of partnerships that unite the hearts, minds, and resources within the Broward community. For more information, visit www.unitedwaybroward.org.

Wine for Super Days – Valentine’s and Super Bowl

Intense battles will be won, or lost, in both love and football. With The Super Bowl today, and Valentine’s Day next week, having the right wine will help you be on the winning side for both special days. I visited CBS 12 WPEC this week to offer a few wine options to make sure you’re scoring on the big day. In the following clip, we’ll first talk about two Valentine’s Day selections, and then, two Super Bowl Sunday selections.

Biltmore Estate Pas de Deux Sparkling Wine for Valentine's Day

Biltmore Estate Pas de Deux Sparkling Wine for Valentine’s Day

The first wine is a delicious sparkling wine from Biltmore Estate in NC. A sweeter option, in the Sec style, this wine has a fruity nose of pears and dried apricots, and a fruit forward palate of ripe and fresh fruit. Almost as sweet as your Valentine, this option will be perfect as an aperitif before dinner, or with desserts such as fresh fruit, strawberry cheesecake, or even chocolate truffles. I’ll have an easy recipe for Chocolate truffles at the bottom of this post.

The Biltmore pas de Deux is made with 100% Muscat Canelli grapes, which are sourced from Monterey CA, Arroyo Seco AVA. It retails for around $19, and can be purchased from Biltmore Estate directly, or at your local wine shop.

J Vineyards Nicole Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

J Vineyards Nicole Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

Looking for a wine for your Valentine’s Day dinner, whether out at a fancy restaurant, or with a delicious home cooked meal? Look no further than J Vineyards Nicole’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008. Available at “White Tablecloth” restaurants nation wide, or direct purchased from their website, this $50 option is spectacular. The wine has soft and silky palate, with complex layers of fruit, chocolate, and light smokey notes. The winemaker suggests pairing with venison, bison burgers, wild pig or salmon. I paired it with a horseradish crusted brisket and it was fantastic. I’ll have a separate post in the coming days on this wine and the brisket itself.

Valserrano Crianza 2006 Rioja

Valserrano Crianza 2006 Rioja

When it’s time to pair your big, bold flavors at your Super Bowl party, you may want to look for Valserrano Crianza 2006 Rioja. Made from the Tempranillo grape, this old world style wine has a little new world flair to it. Crianza means the wine was aged for at least two years, with at least six months in oak. It will appeal to fans of dry wines, with earthy flavors of tobacco and leather, and a bit of red berry fruit as well. Perfect for roast dishes, whether a roast pig or a roast beef, this wine is definitely food friendly. It should also do pretty well with your chili or even wings at your party.  It cost about $15 at your local wine store, and is an interesting wine to try. It will appeal to fans of dry, earthy wines, Super Bowl game or not.

Sobon Estate Rocky Top Zinfandel

Sobon Estate Rocky Top Zinfandel

The final selection can be enjoyed on either special day, or any day. It’s Sobon Estate Rocky Top Zinfandel, and for about $16 it’s awesome. Their grapes are farmed organically, and wine megastore Total Wine often features Sobon Estate wines in their “Green and Earth Friendly” category of wines. It’s bouquet is somewhat floral, and the palate is pleasant ripe, round berries, dark plums and raisins. I love the backbone of spice this Zinfandel has, and it makes this wine perfect for everything you serve at your Super Bowl party. We enjoyed it with just burgers and grilled Italian sausage, but it’ll go nicely with everything from wings to chili to steaks and cheeses. Sobon Estates Rocky Top Zinfandel is available nation wide, and is part of a family of red wines I’ve recommend in the past.

If you’re even remotely coordinated in the kitchen, these chocolate truffles are easy to make, and delicious. I added just a small amount of ground cinnamon and loved the flavors. It worked nicely with the Biltmore Pas de Deux, but also worked lovely with the Sobon Estate Zinfandel. I’d love to hear your thoughts

Decadent Biltmore Truffles

Winemakers Suggestion: Enjoy with Biltmore Estate® Blanc de Blancs or Pas de Deux sparkling wines for a festive and decadent treat. 

Ingredients:

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
Cocoa powder or semi-sweet chocolate, as needed
Optional additions: 2-3 tablespoons liqueur, roasted chopped nuts, chopped dried fruit, toasted coconut, fruit jam, peanut butter, sweet potato, caramel topping, chopped toffee or cookie pieces, extracts or flavorings.

Method: To make the ganache, place chocolate into a bowl. Bring the cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate. Stir together until all is combined and chocolate is melted. Mix in any additions (see above for suggestions) to the ganache you desire. Let the ganache set and scoop into portions and place onto parchment or wax paper. Refrigerate for 10–15 minutes then take out and round into balls. Roll into cocoa powder or coat in semi-sweet chocolate and serve.

Makes about 20 truffles.

Quick Picks – Superbowl Wines

SuperbowlWith the Superbowl approaching, everyone’s planning their party snacks and drinks. There’ll be a lot of beer poured, and I’ll partake for sure. However, I’ll be visiting the good folks at CBS12 to talk about some nice wine selections for your Superbowl Party. I’ll post the entire segment as soon as possible, but here are the picks, plus a few more.

I’m a big fan of all of the foods that are served at Superbowl parties! From ribs and burgers, to hot wings and quesadillas. The foods are usually fleshy and flavorful, and need a big, bold wine to stand up to them. For me, zinfandel gets the call for the first string at these parties.

Sobon Estates Rocky Top Zinfandel Wine

Sobon Estates Rocky Top Zinfandel Wine

I’m a big fan of Sobon Wines, and have spoken about them before. The first-string call for Superbowl Sunday goes to Sobon Wines Rocky Top Zinfandel. At just $16, there’s no reason this wine shouldn’t show up at your party. Great fruit flavors, berries and nice spice, it works amazingly well with anything you toss on the grill. That means your beef sliders, your grilled chops, or your steaks will taste even better with this wine. It’s also big enough to stand up to grilled pork, like sausages. Toss some cheese and it catches it for a touchdown.  And those hot wings, they’ll just be hotter with this great wine. Give it a shot!

Titus Napa Zinfandel

Titus Napa Zinfandel

Other Zins in the first string line up include a favorite of mine, Titus Napa Zinfandel. Big and bold, this wine will fight for every yard at your game. It’ll work with the same foods, or on it’s own. It’s about $25, and worth every penny of that Superbowl salary. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the Titus brothers, and they are not only working the same farm their parents did, their kids are in the picture. It’s a family business, and one that tastes great!

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel

Want another option for your Superbowl wine? Take a look at Ravenswood Zinfandel. There are a variety of levels, but the entry level Vintners Blend for $9 will kick your field goal. Fantastic for the price, I’ve served this with smoked ribs, steaks, and even prime rib. Yes, prime rib. You can find it at any grocery store or wine store, and you know you’ll get a great bottle of wine for the sub $10 price.

Not a fan of red wines. I’m a lover of Riesling for parties. I think it’s fruit forward flavors will go well with a bunch of things on the table. More importantly, I think it’s a great compliment to hot grilled chicken wings. There are some GREAT rieslings available, from New York, Washington, and of course Germany. If you cant find the Dr Loosen Dr L in the wings post, look for almost any other riesling, and let me know how it goes.

Short and sweet, I’d love to know what you’re drinking during Superbowl Sunday!

Pass the Pali Pinot

Pali Wine Company

Pali Wine Company

Don’t we all wish we could take what we are passionate about as a hobby, and turn it into a business? That’s just what entrepreneurs Tim Perr and Scott Knight did in 2005; they founded a winery that was focused on producing small lots of pinot noir that they loved to drink. Named Pali Wine Company, after their home town of Pacific Palisades, they set out to focus on producing wines that represent the areas in which the grapes are grown, as well as being varietally correct. I was sent samples of their Riviera Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast, CA and Alphabets Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, OR, and they’re doing something right.

I’ve written about pinot noir a few times, and I love the various expressions you’ll find. The red wine can show flavors that range from ripe fresh fruit of strawberries to earthy and organic, and everything in between.  It’s found in both the New World and Old World, and is quite a food friendly wine.  It can be found in nearly every wine growing region, including France, New Zealand, Chile and of course, the US.  Pinot Noir is often a red wine I recommend to people who are looking to dip a toe in the red wine world, as it’s often soft and approachable, and an enjoyable glass.

Pali Wine Co Riviera Pinot Noir

Pali Wine Co Riviera Pinot Noir

The Pali Wine Co Riviera Pinot Noir 2009 bears the Sonoma Coast appellation on the label. This means that the grapes are not sourced from any specific vineyard, but rather from one more more sources within the Sonoma Coast AVA. This allows Pali to change it’s suppliers, should the grapes not be up to standards from one or another vineyard. As soon as it was uncorked and poured, the nose was chocolate covered strawberries, with some spice notes as well.  The palate was light, and bursting with fruit. Round and easy to approach, there were cherry flavors, and were almost reminiscent of the cherry cough drops you’d eat by the pack, cough or not.  After airing for about thirty minutes, the palate was still quite similar. It was perhaps a bit heavier, and showed a bit of tannin I didn’t previously notice.

The tannin could be a function of  aging 10 months in barrels, 20% of which is new French oak. It didn’t have gripping tannins, but some where noticeable. The Riviera pinot noir is not an over the top fruit bomb, and not terribly high alcohol, clocking in at 14.5% ABV. However, it’s round, fruit forward profile made this an easy sipper. While certainly a round, California red, the Pali Riviera Pinot Noir will make a good food wine. The acidity isn’t racing, but it’s somewhat noticeable. I think it played nicely with a bit of grilled Italian sausage and hamburger, and wouldn’t hesitate to pair it with a variety of foods.

A quick hour flight north of Sonoma takes us to Oregon, where we visit the renown Willamette Valley wine country. I was indeed fortunate enough to visit Oregon in May 2010, and enjoy some fantastic Willamette Valley and Dundee Hills pinot noir, including J Christopher, Cameron, and Ponzi. Oregon produces some world class pinot noir, and has been compared to Burgundian pinot noir time and time again. Burgundy, of course, largely produces old world pinot noir, where the flavors are more earthy, organic, and less fruit driven. While not a RULE, it’s indeed the case that many of the wines I’ve been enjoying from Oregon are made in this old world style. I believe that the Pali Wine Co Alphabets 2009 Pinot Noir is indeed ones of these wines.

Pali Wine Co Alphabets Pinot Noir

Pali Wine Co Alphabets Pinot Noir

The nose of the Pali Wine Co Alphabets 2009 opens up as bright raspberry and strawberry, and is very intense. While also aged in 20% new French oak for 10 months, and made from pinot noir grapes, that’s where the similarities with the Riviera end. The palate, right out of the bottle without any air, is medium, with lighter fruit notes. With thirty minutes decanting, the nose is still strawberry, but a bit darker, if you can imagine that. The palate, however, is much darker, and the fruit as “blown off”, leaving a very earthy, organic flavor that is mushroom like. The terroir, or earth where the grapes were grown, really shows in this wine. It’s markedly different from its fruit forward, approachable cousin. While still easily enjoyed, the Alphabets seems a bit more of a food wine than the Riviera. It definitely liked the hamburger and Italian sausages I made on the grill, and even brought out some of the fruit when sipped after a bite.

What I enjoy most about these wines was the price. At $19 each, they’re an affordable way to sample two distinct styles of the same grape, and from the same wine company. You can order Pali Wines Pinot Noir online, or ask your local wine retailer to order them for you. If you have had them, or have them in the future, I’d love to know your thoughts.

New versus Old

Do you have questions about wine?

Do you have questions about wine?

I love to answer your questions about wine. I’ve been soliciting them on Twitter and Facebook, with the hopes of making wine more approachable once they’re answered. A recent question came from my friend Joe who asked “What’s the difference between New World and Old World?”  Great question, and one I’ll answer simply. When people refer to Old World wine, they usually are referring to wines from traditional wine making areas in Europe, such as France or Italy, among other places. On the other hand, New World wine comes from regions such as the US or New Zealand, in addition to many other places.

The palate, or taste, of Old World wine is usually a bit less fruit, a bit more earth or vegetables, leather, and tobacco. Whites and reds of course will vary, with white wines perhaps showing more minerals, grapefruit or citrus than a New World wine with tropical flavors, including stone fruits or tree fruits.  Additionally, the nose, or bouquet of Old World wines will frequently mirror the palate, a bit more earthy for reds, a bit more mineral driven and austere for whites. In contrast, New World wines usually show a bit more fruit on the nose or palate, and can be more easy drinking and approachable.  Many Old World wines are food wines, and while they can be sipped on their own, food tends to bring out their qualities.  New world wines, on the other hand, are often good without food, though it’ll be find with food as well!

Christian Moreau Chablis 2008

Christian Moreau Chablis 2008

To compare a specific grape, we’ll take Chardonnay.  An Old World example is Chablis, which some have called the purest expression of Chardonnay.  There’s rarely any oak or malolactic fermentation, and all that shows is the grape.  However, the expression is often mineral driven, a little grapefruit and acidic, which is much different than a Chardonnay you’ll see from California, for example. I enjoyed a bottle of Christian Moreau 2008 Chablis, a Frederick Wildman selection. The nose was crisp and clean, showing a mineral focused bouquet. The palate bursts with lemon and grapefruit notes, and it had fantastic acidity. Awesome on it’s own, we paired it with mussels and clams steamed in white wine with garlic, and it was fantastic.  Robin found it a bit austere on it’s own, but with the food, she found the two were a great pair.

Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay

Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay

In contrast, the New World version of Chablis would be the Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay I wrote about previously. The nose and palate are markedly different, and you may almost believe they’re two different grapes. The nose was a mixture of of pears and fresh fruits, and the palate was a very nice tropical pineapple and pear flavor. Perfect on it’s own, easy to drink and enjoy, the Passaggio also went well with Shrimp Scampi, proving to be food friendly similar to it’s French cousin from Chablis.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule of Old versus New World wines. Oregon, for example, makes some great Old World style Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, leaning towards Burgundian in style in many cases. Cameron comes to mind, a winery I visited in May 2010. Additionally, you’ll find some New World styles coming out of France or Italy, as the world market changes.

And of course, New World doesn’t only mean The US or New Zealand. You’ll also have the opportunity to experience New World wines from South America, such as Malbec from Argentina, or Chile. It’s polar opposite from Malbec from Cahors, France, which I’ll discuss in a future post.  What do you think about New versus Old World wines? Where does your palate live?

Pairing Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay with food

Passaggio 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay with Shrimp Scampi

Passaggio 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay with Shrimp Scampi

Philosophers will debate endlessly whether food enhances wine, or wine enhances food. Frankly, I don’t care which enhances the other, I just know the two together are worthy of many words. My focus this year is definitely on the best food and wine pairings I can create, usually within a reasonable budget and amount of time. When Robin, my better half, decided to make Ina Garten’s Shrimp Scampi recipe from her Food Network selections, I knew just the wine in the cellar to pair with this simple, but delicious meal. I’ve held on to a bottle of Passaggio 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay for several weeks, a sample from winemaker Cynthia Cosco, and was excited to serve it up! Was this $16 white wine palatable, and did it work with the recipe?

The first answer is of course it was palatable, as I rarely share bad wines with the world.  Cynthia’s philosophy at Passaggio is quite simple, Follow Your Passion, and that clearly shows in her wines. Currently Passaggio’s passion extends to the Unoaked Chardonnay, and a Pinot Grigio that I’ll be tasting later in the week. There’s insider information that perhaps we’ll see a Passaggio Rose in the future. Yum! Cynthia sources her grapes for the Chardonnay from Lodi, California, and uses the Crushpad custom wine making facility to work her magic!

In making the Chardonnay, Cynthia chose to veer away from the “typical” oaky, buttery chardonnay we see out of many California wineries, and let the fruit express itself, rather than the wood. Therefore, the wine is fermented in stainless steel, rather than in oak, and it does not go through malolactic fermentation. “Malo” will provide the heavier, buttery mouth feel that you find in some Chardonnay wines, such as Chateau Montelena of Bottleshock fame. To get a bit of a heavier mouthfeel, Cynthia stirred the wine, which was aging sur lie for six months, every other week. Aging sur lie, or aging on lees, means that the wine stays in the same tank or barrel with the yeast that helped ferment the wine. Often this provides a bit of richness and complexity to the wine, which was very noticeable in the Passaggio chardonnay.

Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay 2009

Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay 2009

Right out of the bottle, the nose was a little buttered popcorn with pears, and the palate was crisp, with tropical fruits and a little spice, all of which took me by surprise. Usually spice comes from the oak, not the chardonnay, and this was unoaked, right? RIGHT!  After about 5 or 10 minutes of breathing, the nose opened up to be a lot less butter popcorn and a lot more pear and fresh fruits. The palate also changed, with a very nice tropical pineapple and pear flavor, with no spice or butter in sight, or taste. Many wines can really benefit from a little air, or breathing. I already went to the “Geek Side” with Sur Lie, so just trust me on this one. Opening the bottle, pour a quarter of a glass, and let oxygen get into the bottle and glass for 5 or 10 minutes for a fabulous glass of wine.

So I’ve told you that the wine rocked my socks, but what about the food and wine pairing? Well, first of all, Ina makes great food, so you know the meal on it’s own was going to be amazing. Easy to make, with fresh flavors of garlic and lemon that enhance the flavor of the shrimp, not mask it. The pasta was al dente and not over sauced, making it a participant of the meal, and not a casualty. We changed the recipe and omitted the red pepper flakes so that the fresh flavors stood out more, and not the heat. However, I’m tempted to make this recipe this weekend with the red pepper flakes, and see how it goes. While I’ve linked to the recipe above, I’ll post it here (without permission, I’m a rebel, huh) for your convenience. Please, Food Network, don’t be mad!

Shrimp Scampi from Ina Garten's recipe

Shrimp Scampi from Ina Garten’s recipe

The pairing was, of course, spectacular. Chardonnay and shrimp is usually a fool proof food and wine pairing. However, the tropical flavors of the Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay complimented the lemony zip of the shrimp scampi so wonderfully, each mouthful beckoned another sip, and each sip, another mouthful. The Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay is a great wine for $16, and paired with this dish that will run you about $15 to serve 3 or 4 people, you’ve got a great meal for about $30.

A few other wine writers have tasted and shared their thoughts on the Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay. Check out what Frank Loves Wine and The Iowa Wino had to say. I’d love to hear what YOU have to say! Leave a comment below about Chardonnay, Passaggio, what food you’d like me to pair and post, or what you had for lunch! I don’t care, just leave a comment!

Linguine with Shrimp Scampi by The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten from Food Network

Ingredients:

Vegetable oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt plus 1 1/2 teaspoons
3/4 pound linguine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
1 pound large shrimp (about 16 shrimp), peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 lemon, zest grated
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 lemon, thinly sliced in half-rounds
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (we skipped, but give it a go!)
Directions

Drizzle some oil in a large pot of boiling salted water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the linguine, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or according to the directions on the package.

Meanwhile, in another large (12-inch), heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic. Saute for 1 minute. Be careful, the garlic burns easily! Add the shrimp, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and the pepper and saute until the shrimp have just turned pink, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat, add the parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon slices, and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine.

When the pasta is done, drain the cooked linguine and then put it back in the pot. Immediately add the shrimp and sauce, toss well, and serve.

Pairing Napa Cellars 2009 Chardonnay with Sauteed Shrimp

Napa Cellars 2009 Chardonnay

Napa Cellars 2009 Chardonnay

I’ve always been of the opinion that two things enhance the enjoyment of drinking wine, food and friends. The mission of my writing has always been to make wine more approachable, which includes helping my friends make well informed choices in their wine selections. When my twitter friend Richard Auffrey issued a call to action for wine writers to step up our game in 2011, my response was to post more relevant food and wine pairing to help you have a good time with wine.

A tweet from the folks at Food Network inspired a mid-week quick and easy meal of sauteed shrimp.  Their idea was to saute shrimp with garlic, and deglaze the pan with Champagne.  A simple enough idea, and one that included wine or Champagne, so I was quite excited.  I knew I had a host of wines to pair with such a dish, so I prepared the following recipe:

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 medium cloves of garlic, chopped
2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 to 1 cup of Sparkling wine (you can use a California Sparkling Wine or Italian Prosecco, Cava, or a Champagne)

In a large saute pan, I heated the olive oil on medium for about 4 minutes, then added the chopped garlic to saute for about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring the entire time.  I then added the cleaned shrimp, and sauteed them until pink, about 5 minutes. You want to ensure you don’t over cook the shrimp, or they’re rubbery. Cut one open and ensure the inside is pink and no longer the translucent white. Once they’re done, take them out of the pan and put them in a serving dish. Pour the sparkling wine into the pan, and deglaze, ensuring the crusty bits come off the bottom of the pan.  Stir for about three minutes, as the wine will reduce and thicken, mixing nicely with the flavors in the pan.  Pour over the shrimp, serve over pasta, rice or on it’s own, and pop a cork.

This dish could have gone with quite a few wine options, but I selected a bottle of Napa Cellars 2009 Chardonnay, which cost around $24. After giving the bottle a few minutes to open and breathe, the bouquet of ripe pears pops out of the glass, followed by a little creme brulee.  There are even scents of sweet white floral mixed in with those pears, and it’s a great nose. The palate is light to medium body, and is a good mix of buttery and crisp. Some of the wine goes through malolactic fermentation, which will produce the buttery, heavy mouth feel in a white wine like chardonnay. However since not all of the wine went through “malo”, it retains some of the crispness chardonnay can show. There is good fruit, apples and pears,  and spice right up front, with some nice toast, but not over done as you can find in “Over Oaked” chardonnay. There’s a lingering smokey spice flavor on the finish, but it’s warm and inviting, not overbearing.

There are some great examples of Napa chardonnay on the market, and I truly believe that this Napa Cellars 2009 Chardonny is one of them. Winemaker Joe Shirley, head winemaker since 2007, is a California native who’s doing some nice things at Napa Cellars. He worked at Sonoma Cutrer in the late 90′s, which almost typifies buttery California Chardonnay. At $24 for the Napa Cellars 2009 Chardonnay, it’s quite nice when compared to chardonnay in the same price range, such as Paraiso’s Chardonnay, which I also enjoy and have brought to various TV segments to recommend.

Don’t think that chardonnay only pairs with foods prepared with Shrimp. I love chardonnay with chicken, from baked to fried to roasted. As a matter of fact, this Napa Cellars Chardonnay sample came with a recipe for Chicken Saffron Brochettes with Spanish Chorizo. YUM, we’ll have to make that and discuss in the future! And of course, lobster, whether boiled and dipped in drawn butter, or in a lobster roll, is a natural pair for most California chardonnay. What is your favorite food and wine pairing with chardonnay? Leave a comment below, I’m dying to know.

A Look a Red Wine Blends from Chile

Tasting Wines of Chile

Tasting Wines of Chile

As a wine writer, it  is sometimes difficult to know exactly what your audience will want to read. Do they want to know about wines that are fruity,  jammy and just easy to drink? Do they want to know about complex wines that have multiple layers of flavors or perhaps need food to be enjoyed? One thing I know, almost everyone drinking wine is focused on its quality to price ratio or QPR. I recently participated in an event that allowed me to taste some wines from Chile, typically known for it’s QPR wines. These wines ranged from $15 to $50, which may push the envelope for QPR wines, but they definitely were worth trying.

In the fourth such event, the PR folks from Wines of Chile sent eight wines, this time blends of different red grapes, to sample and write about. Over 40 wine writers had the opportunity to join Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer as he moderated a video conference with the eight Chilean winemakers in  Santiago, Chile. We had an absolute blast not only talking, but also joking with the winemakers to learn about them and their masterfully made wines. We had a fun time sipping and tweeting, and now writing about wines I’m excited to share with you.

Valdivieso Eclat 2005

Valdivieso Eclat 2005

The first wine of the evening was the Valdivieso Vineyard 2005 Eclat, from the Maule Valley. A blend of 56% Carignan, 24% Mourvedre and 20% Syrah, this wine retails for about $27.  The winemaker, Brett Jackson, was one of the only non-Chilean wine makers at the video conference, as he hails from New Zealand. The wine’s bouquet was bursting with lush red berries, fresh, and was very inviting. The palate was full and silky, with more earthy and spicy notes than the nose eludes to. It was the lightest of the eight wines, though full bodied, and even though it was aged 12 months in French Oak Barrels, the oak flavors were well integrated in the wine. I loved that Carignan was the predominant grape in this blend, as it’s often a subordinate blending grape. Carignan lends this wine it’s deep ruby coloring, and is typically high in acidity, making it a great food wine. You can throw a steak at this wine, and enjoy, though the winemaker recommends soft meats such as lamb, turkey, fish, or lightly sauced pasta.

De Martino Las Cruces 2006

De Martino Las Cruces 2006

The next red blend wine comes from the De Martino winery, founded in 1934 in Isla de Maipo, Chile. The blend of 66% Malbec and 34% Carmenere comes from a single vineyard planted in 1957 in the Cachapoal valley. While Malbec is a grape most associated with Argentina, Chile’s neighbor on the other side of the mountains, I’ve seen some great offerings from Chile. Wine Maker Marcelo Retamal has been with De Martino since 1996, and is very focused on the Terrior, or the location to grow the right grapes. The wine’s nose has a fantastic mint component, while the palate was a silky smooth symphony of great, dark flavors, subtle fruit and sweet spices. No flavor competes with another, and they work beautifully together. I found this wine very easy to sip on, and it worked nicely with the steak I had that evening.  The winemaker suggests pairing this wine hearty dishes such as lamb or venison. The De Martino Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines “Las Cruces” 2006 retails for about $45, and while not an inexpensive wine, I thought it was a wine worth trying at the price.

Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008

Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008

Our third red blend of the evening was the Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008, from Colchagua Valley, Chile. A blend of 57% Carmenere, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot, this dry red wine worked best with food. Winemaker Ricardo Baettig has been with Estampa since 2004, and his wines have earned quite a few awards. I noticed the nose, which was sweet red fruits reminding me of Hubba Bubba bubble gum with some woody brambles underneath, was nothing like the palate. The palate was very earthy, with tobacco and leather coming through. The wine was very typical Carmenere, which is a favorite varietal of mine, and was quite dry. The Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere retails for about $22.

Montes Liited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008

Montes Liited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008

While the Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008 was the most inexpensive wine of the evening, it’s price was certainly not indicative of quality. Montes makes a number of different wines at different quality and price levels, and I’ve enjoyed many of them. Winemaker Aurelio Montes Del Campo joined the winery in 2007, and has a history of making premium wines in Chile. This 2008 Montes Limited Selection is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Camenere, and was aged in American oak for 6 months. The nose may be a bit awkward for some, and I can only describe it as a barnyard smell, but in a sexy way.  Think earthy, organic scents, almost primal in nature. Pair that with the palate of great earthiness, amazing spices, and subdued fruit, and you’ve got a very interesting wine at $15. One of the interesting notes of the tasting, Montes plays classical music in the barrel aging room 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and practices Feng Shui. Whatever they’re doing, I think it’s working!

I’ve got four more wines to discuss, but I’ll save them for tomorrows post.  I’m curious if you’ve had any of these Chilean wines before, and if so, your thoughts. If not these Chilean wines, how about sharing the last Chilean wine you had, even if it wasn’t a red blend! I’d LOVE to hear from you!