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Harry and David Launches Wine Collection

Gift giant Harry and David Launches Wine Brand

Some of Harry and David’s wine collection

The air was thick with the scent of fermenting grapes. The heady aroma of yeast working it’s magic entranced me from the second I stepped off the bus. The building’s cold, dimly lit exterior could not shroud the fantastic things happening inside it’s walls. Inside Pallet, Linda Donovan’s new custom crush facility in Medford, Oregon wine was being made, and I had to have some. A new partnership, Linda was making wines that will be exclusively available from premier gift company Harry and David.

Long known for their high quality gifts of fruit and food, gift giant Harry and David is poised to enter the wine business. Their brick and mortar retail stores actually carry an impressive selection of wines. A recent media trip to Medford, Oregon had me browsing in-store bottles ranging from Oregon locals J Christopher and Ken Wright, to various producers from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While you are already able to order gifts of wine from Harry and David, this is the first time the company is putting their name on a bottle of wine.

Tracy Kaiser, Harry and David Sr Director of Merchandising, talking about the wine collection

Harry & David’s Tracy Kaiser talking about the wine collection

The Harry and David wine collection currently consists of 9 wines. All of the wine comes from Southern Oregon, with a focus on the Rogue Valley. Future vintages will focus on even more narrow appellations in the southern Oregon wine region, including a single vineyard offering from Illinois Valley. The Harry and David wine collection consists of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier, and gewürztraminer as white wine options. The red wines in the collection are pinot noir, merlot, syrah, tempranillo and  a blend called Royal Crest Red. The Harry and David Royal Crest Red wine is a blend of 60% Merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon and 10% carmenere.

During a sponsored press trip I had the opportunity to taste most of the Harry and David wine collection at a fantastic media dinner held in Linda Donovan’s new custom crush facility, Pallet. Located in Medford, OR, Linda purchased an old commercial building that was in a state of disrepair. Putting a lot of work in to the building, including pouring new concrete ramps and patching up holes in the floor, Pallet boasts over eight fermentation tanks, and a fantastic new press that was pressing the 2012 vintage of riesling during my visit. Linda consults with a number of wineries and has a beautiful barrel room for aging the wines of both Harry and David and her other clients.

Winemaker Linda Donovan on Harry & David wine collection

Winemaker Linda Donovan on Harry & David wine collection

The Harry and David wine collection will be priced from $15 to $30, and should be available online in early 2013. Winemaker Linda Donovan captures the terroir of Southern Oregon and the Rogue valley by focusing on grape varieties that do well there. The wines should be nice to sip on alone, or pair with foods. For the launch dinner, Harry & David’s Chef Tim Keller used many of the company’s soon to be released Easy Entertaining ready to serve dishes to pair with the wines. Some highlights included the Easy Entertaining Chardonnay Turkey with crisp apples and toasted hazelnuts, and a Bellini topped with Steelhead salmon and pickled creme fraiche. Tim was preparing these dishes for 13 food and wine writers, and did a great job impressing us with his creativity using the ready to eat Easy Entertaining meals Harry and David will soon offer.

Bellini using Harry & David Steelhead Salmon

Bellini using Harry & David Steelhead Salmon

The wines were practically barrel samples, bottled a scant few weeks ago before our dinner. The company will be sending me samples to taste and discuss in the near future, but there were two Harry and David wine collection standouts for me. For only $15, the sauvignon blanc had a nice melon and orange citrus nose, with a great orange citrus palate, balanced with a little green herbaceous note that offered some depth without being very prominent. The second standout is the $20 Pinot Noir. A very nice expression of what the Southern Oregon wine country has to offer, this wine had a palate of nice red berries, but not over ripe jammy fruit. It was balanced nicely with spice and smoke from the oak aging.

At $15 This Harry and David Sauvignon Blanc is a buy!

At $15 This Harry and David Sauvignon Blanc is a buy!

As a long time customer of Harry and David, it’s nice to see them offer wines that will showcase the terrior of Southern Oregon. They already offer gifts of fruit, cheese and food from the Pacific Northwest, and it’s only logical that they offer wines from their home. Look for tasting notes and pairing ideas in future articles, including my using the Harry and David Mushroom soup mix to pair with… Well, just come back soon!

Making Meatballs and Pairing Red Wine

Recipe for Sicilian meatballs paired with red wine

Sicilian meatballs paired with red wine

I can’t think of anything that brings people together better than food.  The notion of breaking bread goes back to biblical times.  However I’m sure the first time Ogg charred a hunk of brontosaurus, he invited Brugg for some and they told stories about when Trobb fell in the tar pit. Food, regardless of cuisine, transcends age, race, and political affiliation. That is why it’s very important to me that my son, now 13, not only gains an appreciation for good food, but also learns how to prepare it.
Even a 13 year old can cook this recipe for Sicilian meatballs

Even a 13 year old can cook this recipe for Sicilian meatballs

You would think that when teaching a 13 year old to cook, I’d start with something basic like pasta or grilled cheese.  I’m a fan of the Go big or go home philosophy folks, so we went with Sicilian style meatballs.  It’s a recipe I found in Food & Wine September 2007 magazine, and after making once right after reading, I saved the recipe for future use.  My son helped me when I first prepared them, so perhaps there was a tie to the dish. We started by reviewing the ingredient list and reading through the steps twice. It is important to understand the steps and the order in which we will use the ingredients, as well as having everything ready before we turn on the oven.

Batasiolo Sovrana and Heitz Cellars red wines to pair with meatballs

Batasiolo Sovrana and Heitz Cellars red wines to pair with meatballs

Before I give you the recipe, I will of course tell you about the wines paired with this fantastic meal.  My selection was Beni di Batasiolo 2009 Sovrana Barbera D’Alba. I paired this Italian red to not only stay on theme with an Italian meal, but also because the grape pairs well with the beefy meatballs while being able to handle the acidic tomatoes.  Like Ogg, I invited Brugg to break bread and share the meal.  Brugg is actually my friend Kirk, who brought his red wine contribution to the meal.  He chose a bottle of Heitz Cellar 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, another wine option that works well with meatballs and tomato sauce.

The Beni di Batasiolo Sovranna 2009 is a Barbera d’Alba. The barbera grape is grown in various places in in Italy, and this one is from Alba, a region in Piedmont, Italy. The bouquet is full of dark berries, violets and the oak notes of spice like cinnamon. The palate is medium to full, and dusty old world flavors come across at first. Dried strawberries and dried raspberries mingle with white pepper. It’s a full flavored wine bursting with taste. There was firm acidity on the finish of the wine, and it lends itself to be a wine to pair with food.

Tasting notes for Beni di Batasiolo Sovrana 2009 Barbera D'Alba

Pairing Beni di Batasiolo Sovrana 2009 Barbera D’Alba

Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 is a Napa Valley, California wine. The bouquet is gorgeous, a sensual nose of mocha laced dark cherries. There are subtle spice notes that waft from the glass as well. The palate is full, but silky. Beautiful notes of chocolate cherries, but not sweet. The oak aging fills the glass with lovely spices.

Both the Beni di Batasiolo Sovranna and the Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon wines work so well with a meal of meatballs and tomato sauce. One did not stand out over the other as a better pairing. The Barbera D’Alba from Batasiolo became a bit less acidic and fruit took more of a center stage with sipped after a bite of meatball. For the Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon, the sweetness of the fruit and mocha are a little more subdued with the meal.
Tasting notes for Heitz Cellars 2007 Cabernet sauvignon Napa Valley Red wine

Sipping Heitz Cellars 2007 Cabernet sauvignon Napa Valley Red wine

Back to the recipe. Your mise en place includes
  • Two 28-oz cans of crushed Italian tomatoes
  • Four slices of white bread
  • 1/4 cup of water (drinking quality)
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries or currants
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • Kosher salt (about 2 tablespoons)
  • freshly ground pepper (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 large cloves of garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon died marjoram
  • 2 lbs ground beef (chuck)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
ingredients to make perfect Sicilian meatballs

ingredients to make perfect Sicilian meatballs

In a 5 quart or larger sauce pan, pour the Italian tomatoes in and season with salt and pepper. I added about 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 tsp of pepper, then added more slowly throughout the simmer, to taste. Add the 1/4 cup EVOO, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil (medium high heat), then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes (low heat).

After your sauce is on low and simmering, in a large bowl soak the 4 pieces of bread in the water. If you need less water to soak the bread, use less. If the bread is still dry, add a little more. Once the bread is saturated, squeeze out the water and place bread in another bowl. Mash the bread into a paste, then stir in the beaten eggs, garlic, parsley, marjoram, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Mix until smooth and well combined. I like to stir the sauce every 5 or 10 minutes while mixing and rolling out the meatballs.

mixing the ingredients for perfect italian meatballs

mixing the ingredients for perfect Italian meatballs

Add the ground beef, cranberries (or currents), pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Mix these ingredients until well combined. Adding 1 tablespoon at a time, slowly add and mix in the bread crumbs. Kneed the mixture until it is firm enough to roll into balls.
You will roll the meatballs into about 36 meatballs, each about 2 to 3 tablespoons of mix. Tuck the pine nuts and cranberries inside as much as possible.I placed my meatballs on a cookie sheet covered with wax or parchment paper while rolling them out. Once you’re about finished, turn your oil on medium-high in a large, no-stick skillet. Did you remember to stir the simmering sauce?
roll your mixture into 36 meatballs

roll your mixture into 36 meatballs

Heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. I check the oil by putting a tiny piece of meatball in. If it doesn’t immediately start to sizzle, it’s not ready. Once it starts sizzling, then you’re ready to cook.  Work in batches, placing about 10-12 meatballs into the oil at once. I recommend using a slotted spoon to roll them into the oil gently, to prevent splattering.
You’ll cook the meatballs for about 12 minutes, turning at least 3 times throughout that time to ensure each side is done. Never turn your oil past medium high or the meatballs will burn. Using a 12″ skillet or frying pan will allow you to place about 12 meatballs in it. A 10″ pan will of course accept less. Transfer the meatballs to a plate that is lined with paper towel, and continue cooking the rest of the meatball mixture.
using an all-clad skillet to cook Italian meatball recipe

using an all-clad skillet to cook Italian meatballs

Once finished, place all of the meatballs into the sauce. Again, use a slotted spoon to gently roll them in, to avoid splatter.
After all of your meatballs are in the sauce, allow them to simmer on low for another 30 minutes. I like to gently stir every 10 minutes to allow the meatballs on top to get to the bottom and continue to cook evenly.
delicious and easy Italian Sicilian meatball recipe

delicious and easy Italian Sicilian meatball recipe

Personally I like this dish without pasta. Fill a bowl with a few meatballs and some sauce, sprinkle with a little more Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and serve. Some bread to sop up the sauce is all I like.  Robin, my son and Kirk all had some pasta with theirs and were quite happy. As for teaching my son how to cook, he made the entire meal, including frying the meatballs. He did so well, he went to his mom’s and made this awesome Italian meatball recipe it for her birthday the next week.  Maybe we will do Boeuf Bourguignon next!

Wine and Dine: Napa Cellars 2009 Zinfandel and Stacey Ribs

Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2009

Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2009

Cooler weather typically means people find themselves reaching for cozy food and wine pairings. While you may not live in a cool climate, you still may change your eating and drinking habits in fall and winter. One dish that really works in warm or cool climates is BBQ baby back ribs. They’re hearty and delicious, and can be made indoors or out. And, since Zinfandel works so nicely with barbeque, I’d recommend pairing BBQ ribs with Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2009.

Napa Cellars is part of the Trinchero Family Estates portfolio. They own or market a host of labels, from Sutter Home to Newman’s Own to Napa Cellars, and even Fre alcohol free wines. I received several samples from this past vintage release of Napa Cellars wines to review. Since I’ve already written about Napa Cellars Chardonnay when pairing with shrimp,, I thought I’d take this opportunity to focus on one of their reds.  Coming in at $22, this Napa Zinfandel has powerful, big fruit without being over the top jammy.

The Napa Cellars 2009 Zinfandel is 88% Zinfandel and 12% Petite Sirah, and is aged 14 months in French and American oak, 10% of which is new. The bouquet and palate are very similar, with chocolate and raspberries on the very inviting nose. The palate is fresh red berries surrounded by baking spices, cinnamon and a herbaceous note as well. The finish is very long, with a predominantly spice and pepper note. There’s a little cocoa that dances around that fruit and spice, adding a layer of complexity that was nice. Letting it breathe for 15 or 20 minutes did not tame this powerful wine, which was 14.7% ABV. However, it’s big without being jammy or hot, and that makes it worth trying.

Stacey Ribs on my Traeger Smoker

Stacey Ribs on my Traeger Smoker

Now, the ribs part requires a story. Our family loves to grill, smoke, and cook in general. I respect vegans and vegetarians, and apologize to my plant eating friends. This recipe is not going to please your palate.  However, PLEASE feel free to post your favorite vegan or vegetarian recipe below, and I’ll try it, pairing it with some delicious wines.

One thing that makes it to the table at almost every cookout is ribs. I have several recipes, from a 6 plus hour smoke, to a 1 hour grill, to baking them in the oven. All of them are tasty, but Stacey Ribs have all but cemented their place as our favorite. Stacey is Robin’s cousin, who is an amazing hunter. The man lives to hunt. And he’s apparently equally as good at cooking what he hunts. In eight years, Stacey has only been to two or three events at the same time as us, but this year at the lake house was the best. He rolled out his trailer barbeque and fired up the coals. He then cooked some of the best baby back ribs I had ever had, earning the name “Stacey Ribs”. The preparation was simple, and the results were divine.

Cousin Stacey Queing Ribs

Cousin Stacey Queing Ribs

While the coals were heating the BBQ pit up to 325 degrees, Stacey peeled off the silver membrane from the ribs, and seasoned both sides with Everglades All Purpose seasoning, salt, and pepper. He tossed the ribs onto the grates, indirect heat, and let them cook for an hour and a half, turning two or three times. Then, during the next 20 minutes he basted each side with some BBQ sauce, mentioned below. He pulled the ribs off the grill, let them sit for 5 or 10 minutes, then cut and served. They were tender, moist, and flavorful. The simple preparation was very exciting, and the sauce was some of the best I’d had in ages.

Smoked Ribs on my Traeger SmokerI did the exact same preparation with my Traeger grill, and it was incredible. The Trager holds the heat constant, and produced a nice smokey flavor. I used apple wood pellets, as I light a lighter, sweeter smoke. And while the seasoning and smoking are important, I think the finishing touch was the sauce that Stacey used. He picked it up at  gas station in Kenansville, FL. From what I gathered, the company was small and just sold locally to the gas station. Stacey picked up a bottle while driving by once, and swore by it. I looked the shop up online, ordered a few small bottles, and the rest is culinary history.

Jimmy Bear's BarBerQ Sauce

Jimmy Bear’s BarBerQ Sauce

The sauce is Jimmy Bear’s Original BarBerQ sauce. They sell it online, and accept paypal. I ordered two of the 16 oz bottles, and cooking two racks of ribs used about 1/3 of a bottle. I didn’t dissect the flavors, but it seems to be a mustard base with honey flavors. The spices are excellent, and it’s a great balance between savory and sweet that worked perfectly on the pork ribs. I think the sauce, the ribs, and wine all made a perfect pairing for a good time with wine.

In addition to your favorite vegan or vegetarian recipes, what foods do you find yourself making and eating more of as summer ends? What’s on your table these days? I’d love to know, so comment below.

Sipping Stepping Stone Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Wine

Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Wine

When people talk about Napa Valley wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, they often talk about lofty prices of hard to get wines like Screaming Eagle and Scarecrow. And while there are definitely great wines at lower prices in Napa, California, like Hartwell which can come in around $80, that is still above some people’s wine budget. That’s when a wine like the Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon fits perfectly in your glass. It’s a great expression of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, at a price that doesn’t make you feel like you just bought a whole vineyard.

Stepping Stone is the sister label to Cornerstone Cellars, a venture with managing partner Craig Camp and Drs. Michael Dragutsky and David Sloas who started the label in 1991. I had the chance to try the Cornerstone Cellars 2004 Howell Mountain Cab Sauv a year or so back. While I didn’t write up a review, I thought it was delicious, and I was quite sad I opened it when I did. I felt it could have aged for another 2-3 years, if not 10. So, when I was given a shot to try the 2008 Stepping Stone Cab Sauv, bottled in May 2010 after spending 18 months in 50% new French oak barrels and released 9 months after bottling in early 2011, I was quite excited. At just $35 a bottle, I believed we’d have a great Napa wine under $40 to talk about.

Get a Wine Decanter

Get a Wine Decanter

First, a word about decanting, or just aerating wine. Do it. Stop being so impatient. It’s not rocket science, and will improve the taste of just about any red, and even some white wines you’ll drink.  If you don’t have a formal decanter, which my God, if you’re a regular wine drinker, get one, then just pop the cork, and pour out a smidge of wine into a glass. That will allow air to get into the neck of the bottle and start oxidizing the wine. I won’t get into why decanting works, just know you should. Some wines need more air than others to “open up”, and that part sort of IS rocket science. Just know that 10-20 minutes sitting and breathing is almost always the right thing to do.

Tasting the Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, the nose was a sweet cherry, with some notes of blueberry and brambles. Yes, I taste with my nose first. Some 80% of what things taste like are based on smell, so taking a nice sniff of the wine will start producing taste patterns. The palate was big fruit up front, dark cherry and blueberry, followed by a nice earthiness. I let this decant for about an hour after my initial taste. I noticed the mouthfeel was full but silky, round flavors of dark cherry, mocha and a beautiful herb and forest floor note. There were fine, well integrated tannin, and this wine was just a pleasure to sip. Even at 14.9% ABV, there was no heat on the finish, and it was a well made wine. At $35, I’d say it was worth every penny. Tim Lemke of Cheap Wine Ratings wrote up a number of the Stepping Stone wines, and agrees the Cabernet Sauvignon is a good wine.

Cabot Coop Private Stock Cheddar and wine

Cabot Coop Private Stock Cheddar and wine

Food pairings for this Cabernet Sauvignon would be the typical red meat such as steaks, as well as lamb or veal. We enjoyed it with some amazing Cabot Coop Cheddar cheese, and think it’s a perfect pairing. The two dance together in a delicious harmony. The Stepping Stones 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is a great wine on it’s own however, and you can enjoy it just sipping on a glass with friends. I know I did.

 

The un-retiring of Bernard Portet

Bernard Portet Heritance Wines

Bernard Portet Heritance Wines

When I was asked if I wanted to meet Bernard Portet for lunch, I immediately hit the internet. Didn’t the 30+ year Clos du Val veteran retire from the business? Why would they want me  to meet with someone spending his days playing cards or shuffle board, wine industry veteran or not? The first result when searching for “Bernard Portet” brought up a July 2011 Napa Register article about his retirement barely lasting a year, and his being involved in a new venture, Heritance wines. I jumped at the chance to meet Bernard, and taste his wines, even if I wasn’t getting a “scoop” story.

I met Bernard at Tryst, a trendy downtown Delray Beach, FL restaurant for lunch. As I walked in, Bernard stood, warmly welcoming me to the table. We sat, along with Tryst owner Butch Johnson, and chatted about the Heritance Wines endeavor. After only a year of retirement, Bernard quickly grew antsy when he saw grapes on the vine during 2010′s harvest, and realized none of that would be wine that bore his signature. He soon formed a venture with Don Chase, named Polaris Wines, and began buying juice he had been fond of from the 2008 vintage. Bernard Portet uses assemblage winemaking for Heritance as it has long been his signature style, where he blends different lots of wine to craft a finished wine that is greater than the sum of their parts. Bernard began his masterful blending, and we were soon given Heritance Sauvignon Blanc and Heritance Cabernet Sauvignon, two wines made in the old world style of Bernard’s native France, heralding from Napa.

Bernard said the intent of Heritance wines was originally to be a negociant, buying juice from vintners and blending and bottling himself. However, that plan changed when the wine glut of 2008 and prior dried up. Bernard said the difficult 2009 and even worse 2010 vintages had caused there to be less available wine for Bernard to purchase and blend.  This forced him to change his business plan, purchasing grapes and blending at a custom crush facility. Heritance would not give up the mission of bringing good wine to market, and quickly began sourcing grapes in Napa to continue their project.

Our discussion lead to the styles of wine we often see out of Napa today. We discussed, and all agreed that the age of big, over the top wines may be coming to the close. Bernard feels that the pendulum has swing to it’s furthest point, and is starting to swing back towards more reserved, balanced and elegant wines. Indeed, Bernard found himself wanting to make wines that were closer to his French roots, balanced between fruit, earth and acidity, and crafted with food in mind. With that, we ordered lunch and began to taste the wine.

Heritance Sauvignon Blanc 2010 review

Heritance Sauvignon Blanc 2010

First we tasted the 2010 Heritance sauvignon blanc, a blend of 91% sauvignon blanc and 9% semillion. The nose was full of fresh melon, with faint notes of citrus. The palate was soft and fresh tropical fruit, with a round mouth feel. As the wine opened, citrus notes of lime and lemon developed, and a light herbal note permeated the glass. The Heritance sauvignon blanc had crisp but not bracing acidity, and additional spice notes developed over time. It’s aged and fermented in 100% stainless steel, and has 13.5% ABV. With only 2,000 cases available, it won’t be around long. This white wine had good depth and balance, making it a great $18 white wine, good on it’s own or with food.

I had ordered the fish tacos from Tryst’s lunch menu, and was very glad. Fresh fish, with great taco seasoning, made a great pairing for the sauvignon blanc. The citrus notes balanced the heat of the taco seasoning, while the spice from the wine managed to keep the flavors lingering. I also thought the fish taco would pair nicely with the Heritance cabernet sauvignon, and I was right.

Review heritance cabernet sauvignon 2008

Heritance cabernet sauvignon 2008

The Heritance Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 is a great under $30 Napa cab. A bouquet of dark cherry and spice box waft from the glass. The palate has beautiful fruit, black cherry and blackberry mix harmoniously with a mid-palate of earthy leather. This old world leather transitions into a finish of cedar and soft spice while holding on to the fruit. The finish absolutely kicks on this red wine, bold and prominent but not overpowering. At just 13.8% ABV, the Heritance Cabernet Sauvginon 2008 is a blend of 92% cabernet sauvignon and 8% merlot, and was aged in a mixture of new and used medium-toast French oak barrels. With only 3,000 cases made, you’ll find Heritance cabernet sauvignon mainly in restaurants on their website online.

The fish taco paired nicely with the Heritance cabernet sauvignon. The spice from the wine pumped the spice from the taco, while the dark Mexican seasonings worked nicely with the black fruit. However, I think this wine would prefer beef roasted or grilled, as well as lamb, or veal.

Bernard has no plans of stopping with just the two wines currently in his portfolio. There are plans to bring another red wine to market shortly, and while I can’t mention what it is, I look forward to this South American gem gracing my glass and palate soon. Additional plans are in the work to expand past that and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Bernard Portet, Heritance and his wines.

Wine and Chocolate for Valentines Day

Rodney Strong red wines

Rodney Strong red wines

With Valentine’s Day approaching, wine and chocolate will be bought and consumed in astounding numbers. About 58 million pounds of chocolate will be purchased, and I’m sure more than a few bottles of wine will wash that down. For the past 23 years, the Rodney Strong Wine & Chocolate Fantasy event has paired wines with gourmet chocolate, inviting guests to revel in the sensory delight. The Rodney Strong twitter team asked if I’d participate in a Twitter Tastelive event, pairing three of their red wines with chocolate, and tweeting about it. I admitted that my personal palate preferred food to sweets when pairing wines, but I’d love to challenge my palate.

Rodney Strong 2009 Knitty Vines Zinfandel

Rodney Strong 2009 Knitty Vines Zinfandel

First we taste the Rodney Strong Knotty Vines 2009 Zinfandel, as well as paired it with some grilled hamburgers. Spending 16 months in a mixture of French and American oak barrels, this $18.50 zinfandel displays a bouquet of red berries such as red raspberry and even dark cherry, while the palate offers bright red berry fruit, raspberry on the front, with the flavor getting darker on the mid palate and the finish. There are notes of black pepper on the back end, and the wine has good California fruit, and is big and powerful without being overblown. It’s a perfect wine for a bbq, whether ribs or burgers, and we had to struggle not to finish it with our meal, for the upcoming chocolate tasting.

Rodney Strong Alexander Valley 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

Rodney Strong Alexander Valley 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

Next we taste the Rodney Strong Alexander Valley 2009 cabernet sauvignon, a $25 bottle of California wine. A full bodied red, the nose shows fresh dark cherry, ceder and baking spice. The palate opens nicely, showing more fruit than wood and spice, while retaining a nice firm tannin structure. With the burger, the California fruitiness of this wine tones down, and the earthy leather notes really show through on the mid and finish. It works nicely with or without food, and I was able to enjoy a glass up to three days after it was opened. It retained it’s fruitiness, while still having integrated tannins lending body to the wine.

Rodney Strong 2007 A True Gentleman's Port

Rodney Strong 2007 A True Gentleman’s Port

Finally we taste Rodney Strong 2007 A True Gentleman’s Port, from Sonoma County. A blend of 39% zinfandel, 30% touriga, 16% malbec, and 15% syrah, this wine is aged 40 months in neutral oak, after being fermented on the skins. This is a very limited release wine, available only to the winery’s Collector’s Circle members and at the winery itself. Without the benefit of air, the nose was hot and spicy, and the palate had a tremendous amount of power behind it, with plum, raisin and spice notes. However, on the second day, the Rodney Strong A True Gentleman’s Port opened to a big, full, round and silky palate, with flavors of dark chocolate, raisin, plum and fig.  There was fine spice on the finish, and it lingers quite a while.  The nose on the third day is dominated by chocolate, and the palate is even rounder, softer, more integrated, like a plum and raisin dark chocolate bar, instead of individual notes. For $30, it’s a very nice way to end a meal.

Dark Chocolate to taste with wine

Dark Chocolate to taste with wine

Now that we’ve taste the wines, how does the chocolate factor in? First, we had five different chocolates to try, including some 72% cocoa bits from Peters’ Chocolates from Sebastopol, CA, as well as 55%, 61% and 72% cocoa dark chocolate from Chocolate By Numbers. I also added a little Brix chocolate later on, which is supposidly chocolate made especially to pair with wine. We’ll cover that after the cover the first four chocolates.

Frankly, I’m still not a dark chocolate fan, and still don’t like chocolate with my wines. I found pairing 72% dark chocolate from Peters’ Chocolates with the Rodney Strong Port was my favorite pairing of the night.  The wine took some of the heat out of the finish, and brought out the chocolate notes in the wine, of course. However, there were tons of oohs and ahhs about the pairings, with other wine writers loving the different wines with different levels of cocoa. Everyone’s palate is different, and there are different sensitivities to sweet, salty, and sour. So don’t let my preferences influence yours too much. You can try some Rodney Strong wines and chocolate and attend the Wine & Chocolate event Feb 4, 2012 at the winery, and form your own opinion.

Brix 54% Cacao Dark Chocolate

Brix 54% Cacao Dark Chocolate

Back to the Brix Chocolate. The Brix was 54% cacoa and surprised me in terms of taste, in a positive way. Supposedly made with pairing wine in mind, Brix chocolate claims to pair well with Champagne, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Vintage port. At $10 for 8 ounces, it’s about double the price of a bag of Dove chocolate, which you can get in the grocery store. While I felt it was pretty good chocolate, and I felt it paired really well it with port, I’d have a hard time recommending you buy it just because it pairs with wine.  I’ve not paired it with anything other than port, and have a bottle of Prosecco that I’ll try it with later this week!

What are your thoughts on chocolate and wine? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Do you want to try it? Let me know your thoughts, leave a comment below!

 

All of these wines, and chocolates, were provided as samples to taste and discuss honestly with you. Nothing affects my opinion of the wines or products I write about, not even getting them as free samples.

Wine Gift Ideas For The Holidays Part 1

Great Wine Gift Ideas

Great Wine Gift Ideas

I’m sure you’re making your last minute rush to get gifts for everyone on your list as I write this.  I’m sorry this didn’t get to you sooner, but I’m here to offer three great ideas for wine gifts for everyone on your list.  I’ll post the video, which has all of the information you’ll need. However, I’ll also put some quick highlights below the video for you to cut and paste into your wish list.

Seven Peaks 2009 Pinot Noir

Seven Peaks 2009 Pinot Noir

First up was a $9.99 option from California. The Seven Peaks Pinot Noir was one of my Thanksgiving recommendations, and it carried over to the Holidays. I feel for $10, it offers a nice, fruit driven pinot noir that most wine drinkers and non wine drinkers alike will enjoy. I mentioned previously that this wine was made by Deloach Vineyards. The Seven Peaks label is owned Jean-Charles Boisset, also the owner of Deloach vineyards. The winemakers are Bill Arbios (Lyeth – Sonoma County) and Dan Cederquist, and are not tied to Deloach that I can see.

Pascal Jolivet 2010 Sancerre

Pascal Jolivet 2010 Sancerre

The next option for $20-25 was Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2010. This wine can be found in most retail shops, and like the other two options here today, can be found at most Total Wine stores. A great white wine for any time of the year, this crisp, lean expression of Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, France is fantastic. It has excellent citrus notes and good acidity  with nice minerality. It’s perfect with seafood, salads, appetizers or just sipping alone.

Chateau La Nerthe 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape

Chateau La Nerthe 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape

Finally, an incredible wine for $50-55, the Chateau La Nerthe 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This wine is a gift for anyone who likes wine, loves wine, or wants to love wine. From one of the oldest Chateau’s on record in the area, with evidence dating back to 12th century, this historic winery produces amazing options. This wine shows beautiful dried fruits with amazing earthy and leathery mid palate notes. The wine is perfectly balanced, with nice acidity, restrained fruit, and perfect earthiness that typifies the region. While this will harmonize perfectly with your beef, lamb or any roast meat dish for the holidays, it’s perfect to sip on alone. It’s a definite great gift for the holidays.

Whether you need a gift for Christmas, a gift of Hanukkah/Chanukah , or just a gift for someone who deserves something special this holiday season, these three wines will make perfect options.  I’ll be back shortly with a few more options at various prices making your holiday wine gift ideas simple!

Some of the wines presented here were offered as media samples. That, however, does not influence my decision to include them in posts, television segments, or recommendations. I only recommend wines I believe offer great quality for the price, and stand behind each offering as something I would, and usually do, spend my own money on.

Talking Turkey – and Wine

Wine Ideas For Thanksgiving

Wine Ideas For Thanksgiving

With the cornucopia of food on your Thanksgiving table, finding one wine that works with everything being served is impossible. As I mentioned in my previous Thanksgiving wine article, drink what you like is a popular response to “what’s the best wine for Thanksgiving”. However, I have some additional recommendations that will work not only with a typical holiday meal, but any food or occasion. In the video that follows, I chat with CBS12 anchors Suzanne Boyd and Eric Roby about three wines, with more detail on each below the video.

Gewurzstraminer Hugel 2009

Gewurzstraminer Hugel 2009

Gewürztraminer is a grape often recommended on Thanksgiving. The palate is typically light to medium bodied, and the flavors work well with not only Turkey, but much of the side dishes you’ll find at a holiday feast. While grown around the world, I prefer gewurztraminer from the Alsace, such as the Hugel 2009 Gewürztraminer. For about $15, this white wine offers fantastic value. What I love about this wine is its light palate, dominated by white floral notes such as jasmine and honeysuckle. The finish brings a nice spice flavor, and leaves soft peach and apricot notes that linger. However, the acidity is firm, lending a tiny citrus note to the palate, and that works perfect with turkey, yams, and even fresh fruit. It is important to note that this wine will change as it warms and gets air while in your glass. You’ll notice the flavors more prominent and it becomes a little less crisp and a little fuller bodied. I recommend popping the cork 5 or 10 minutes before you’re ready to eat, and letting it breathe just a little bit.

Rodney Strong 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Rodney Strong 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Pinot noir makes an appearance twice in my holiday recommendations, as I feel it’s a versatile, food friendly wine. Rodney Strong 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir delivers a stunning red wine for only $20. A beautiful, light garnet color in the glass, this is a wine that wasn’t over extracted or over concentrated. With fruit from estate vineyards, meaning the fruit is from Rodney Strong Vineyards or from vineyards they control, manage the growing practices, and have long term contracts with, this Pinot is every bit old world in style as it is new. There is big flavor in the bottle, with tons of raspberry and dried strawberry. However, the palate is a mix of California and Burgundy, as it delivers the right amount of new world fruit perfectly balanced with old world earth and tobacco. This pinot noir will benefit from some breathing time, so pull the cork and let the bottle sit for about 20 minutes before serving, or decant and let aerate for 10 minutes. This will allow the wine to open a little, allow you to more fully enjoy the wine. While I was quite happy sipping this on it’s own, look for this wine to pair with almost any meat you put on your thanksgiving table. From turkey to pork to beef, this Pinot rocks them all.

Potel Aviron 2009 Julienas Cru Beaujolais

Potel Aviron 2009 Julienas Cru Beaujolais

Finally, though I have absolutely no love for Beaujolais Nouveau, I’m a fan of wines from many of the 10 Cru Beaujolais areas. These areas are designated due to their superior conditions for growing grapes in comparison to other areas within Beaujolais. While both are made from the gamay grape, Cru Beaujolais wines are more structured, typically aged before release, and are nothing like their bubblegum Nouveau wine cousins. Each of the 10 Crus brings something different to the wines, and this wine from Julienas is no exception. The wines of this area tend to have a rich, spicy character coupled with fruity qualities of gamay. The palate of the  Potel Aviron 2009 Julienas had notes of dried dark cherry, with an old world, earthy component as well. This wine definitely needed to decant for about an hour before serving, and could age for a year or two and still show nicely. For fans of old world wines, created to pair with a meal, this $25 wine will be a treat.

Dr  Loosen 2006 BA

Dr Loosen 2006 BA

At the end of the TV segment, Eric and Suzanne ask about dessert wines. I’m a big fan of port, but believe beerenauslese riesling is a better pick for Thanksgiving. This riesling is a little lighter than a port, and after a big meal, is the right wine for that touch of sweetness you may crave. A lover of Dr Loosen wines, their 2006 Beerenauslese will offer the rich, sweet honeyed apricots and nectarine flavors that end the evening perfectly. It will pair with many of the fruit pie desserts served during Thanksgiving, or be perfect on it’s own. This high quality, low quantity wine will fetch about $25 for a 187ml bottle or $50 for a 375ml bottle, which is half the size of a “normal” wine bottle. There are many late harvest riesling option available at a lower price, but they won’t necessarily be the same the quality of Dr Loosen’s BA.

I look forward to hearing what wines you pick for your Thanksgiving day meal. And no matter what you drink, I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!

 

-These wines were provided as media samples for review. However, my opinions are my own, and not influenced by samples or the people who provide them -