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This Week at Total Wine – Sauvignon Blanc

Matthew Horbund talks Sauvignon Blanc at Total Wine

Matthew Horbund talks Sauvignon Blanc at Total Wine

A wine store like Total Wine and More can be intimidating for the uninitiated. With thousands of bottles staring you in the face, picking out the perfect wine for your meal or party may seem daunting. Though it’s really not that difficult, I kick off a new collaboration with Total Wine to help you navigate the aisles easily with a video about sauvignon blanc, a perfect summer wine.

The short video will go through where you’ll find sauvignon blanc, the different flavors this grape offers, and even a few food and wine pairing tips with sauvginon blanc. A delicious, dry, crisp white wine,  you’ll enjoy exploring the different areas producing sauvignon blanc.

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Matthew Horbund Talks Sauvignon Blanc at Total Wine

In coming weeks, we’ll talk about other delicious wines for your summer get together. In the mean time, I’d love to hear which sauvignon blanc is your favorite, and if you like sauvignon blanc alone, or with food!

Pairing wine with Easter and Passover meals

wine to pair with easter or passover dinner

Happy Holiday

Easter and Passover are on their way, and that means family will be getting together to celebrate the holidays. Whether your family has a tried and true menu, or likes to change it up year after year, having the right wine on the table makes everything better. Recently, I brought four wines to the CBS12 WPEC station as recommendations for your holiday celebrations.

The segment starts with two kosher for Passover wines. There is not a tremendous difference between kosher wine and non kosher wine. In general, because kosher wine is used in the Sabbath blessing, as well as holidays, it can only be handled by Sabbath observant Jews. Additionally, no animal products can be used in the winemaking process, such as gelatin or egg whites to fine the wine (remove particulates). The difference in Kosher for Passover versus Kosher wine is that they make sure no grain yeasts are used, since during Passover Jews do not eat any grains (no bread, for example). That’s it, otherwise, it’s fermented grape juice, just like any other wine. I’ve discussed kosher Chardonnay previously, and compared to a non-kosher chardonnay.


Click above to watch Matthew Horbund talk Kosher for Passover and Easter wines on CBS12 WPEC

The first wine in the TV segment above was Hagafen 2008 Chardonnay from the Oak Knoll District of Napa, California. This wine retails for $20, and is a nice Napa Valley chardonnay at this price. Irit and Ernie Weir founded the winery in 1979 with their inaugural vintage in 1980. With a total production of only 8,000 cases annually, they produce small batches of various wines including merlot, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, chardonnay, and riesling. Their wines are well made, and for this segment I tasted the merlot, cabernet and chardonnay. I selected the chardonnay as I thought it offered a nice rich and full mouth feel, having good pear fruit with the toasty spice from the oak aging. This wine sees malolactic fermentation, which gives it that rich mouth feel, often associated with a buttery quality, and a little oak which gives it the buttery taste, as well as a little spice. This wine will pair well with the appetizers, as well as any lighter fare served at the Seder such as chicken. For the record, the name is pronounced Ha-Ga-Fen, not Hag-a-fen as I said in the above TV spot. Clearly, my Hebrew needs as much work as my French and Italian. In the Hebrew prayer over grape juice or grape wine, the ending words “p’ri hagafen” translates to Fruit of the Vine.

Hagafen 2008 Chardonnay perfect for Passover Seder

Hagafen 2008 Chardonnay

For a red wine option, I selected the Baron Herzog 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Central Coast, California. The Herzog family has a long history of wine making, dating back to Philip Herzog making wine for the Austro-Hungary court more than 100 years ago. Emperor Franz Josef enjoyed the wines so much, he made Philip a Baron! During World War II, Philips grandson Eugene hid the family from the Nazis by moving them around the Slovenian countryside, and at the end of the war came out from a false wall in a friends shed to reclaim his family’s winery. Three years later they were driven from their home, and in 1948 arrived in New York. Eugene toiled in a small store front making kosher wine from Concord grapes, and instead of being paid for some of his work, was given shares in the company. All of the other owners eventually gave up their shares, and  in 1958 he became the sole shareholder. They renamed the company Royal Wines in deference to grandfather Philip, and turned the company into a success. They moved out to California, expanding in 1985, with a focus on making high end quality wine under two labels, Baron Herzog and Herzog Wine cellars.

baron herzog cabernet sauvignon for passover seder

Baron Herzog cabernet sauvignon

The Baron Herzog 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is made mostly from grapes sourced from the Paso Robles wine region. It’s aged 18 months in stainless steel, which helps retain the fruit notes. The nose of the wine has bright raspberry and red fruits, which soften as it opens up. This is a very California wine, showing more fruit than earthy or leathery notes. While a tad dry and mild tannins, the round fresh fruit translates from the nose to the palate. It will pair nicely with your Passover Seder meal, whether that includes brisket, lamb shank, or some other roasted dish. For $13, it’s a nice California Cabernet, Kosher for Passover or not.

There were plenty of other Kosher for Passover wines I could have selected. I tasted the Ben Ami Chardonnay and Merlot, and while both were a bit on the lighter and easy drinking side, they’d make a fine showing at your Passover dinner. I also tried the Hagafen Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which showed a bit more earthy and leather notes on the palate than the Baron Herzog. Any would make a fine showing at your meal. While selecting a Kosher for Passover wine requires a little work, visiting Total Wine will help make that work a bit easier. They’ve got a tremendous selection of Kosher wines, including other US made wines as well as Israel made wines. They’ve also plenty of wines to select for Easter. Selecting a wine for Easter isn’t as restrictive as Passover, so the field is wide open. For Easter, I selected two Argentinian wines for the TV segment, and think for the price, they offer great quality, though they aren’t Kosher for Passover.

Don David Torrontes a great white wine for Easter

Don David Torrontes

With about 1,500 acres of vineyards  5,500 feet above sea level, the Michel Torino Estate is a key player in the Cafayate Valley of Argentina. The winery was founded in 1892 by brothers Salvador and David Michel, and they produce a wide variety of wines from a malbec rose to cabernet sauvignion to pinot noir and more. In the TV segment, select the Don David Torrontes Reserve 2009 as a great white wine for Easter, and for $16, it’s great any time. The nose of this wine is absolutely beautiful, with soft white flowers and a slight melon note.  The palate shows some citrus and melon, and is light and quite delicious. It will pair well with chicken, sea food and shellfish, and as I mention in the segment, Thai food.

Don David Malbec perfect for your easter meal

Don David Malbec

As a red wine for Easter, I believe the Don David Mabec Reseve 2008 will be a fantastic wine selection. Malbec is a versatile wine, and it pairs well with beef or lamb prepared almost any way, as well as ham, which covers most of the meats at traditional Easter meals. Without any decanting this wine has a palate of simple red fruit, with restrained earthy notes. As it opens, the palate is powerful fruit of red cherries and a little chocolate, and shows definitely a bit more new world with it’s round flavor profile. The more this wine opens, the more dark the fruit gets, and the more complexities come out. With a price of about $15, it’s not only worth making an appearance on your Easter table, it may be the best value wine you can get for the holiday!

Of course, everyone is looking for the best wine for Easter, and Passover, and I’ve given just a few selections here. I’ll come back in a few days to offer some more Easter wine pairings, but I’d love to hear what you plan on serving this holiday season. Easter or Passover, what’s in your glass?

St Patrick’s Day – It’s not just for beer anymore

Irish Clover for St Patrick's Day

Happy St Patrick’s Day

Though St. Patrick’s Day is a religious celebration, enjoying a drink has long been a part of that celebration. And while it’s customary to have a beer or cocktail on St Patrick’s Day, enjoying a glass of wine is certainly an option. To put together a food and wine pairing piece,  I asked an Irish friend what she would eat on St Patrick’s Day. With Irish Eyes Smiling, she said “Mum would fix corned beef and cabbage, Irish lamb stew, and bread pudding.” I took Mum’s menu, and went to pairing wines perfect for Irish food and St Patrick’s Day.

Since I didn’t have Mum here to cook for me, and I was short on time to create the dishes myself, I went over to Oshea’s Irish Pub on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. It’s been recommended for it’s food before, and it’s  menu was just what I was looking for. I picked up two main dishes, as they didn’t have bread pudding, and scurried home.  The food was still hot when we plated it, which wasn’t surprising since I live only 2 miles away. We started with the corned beef and cabbage.

Corned Beef and Cabbage for St Patrick's Day

Corned Beef and Cabbage for St Patrick’s Day

Valckenberg Madonna Riesling Kabinett 2009

Valckenberg Madonna Riesling Kabinett 2009

The briny flavors of the corned beef and cabbage worked very nicely with the German wine I selected. I wanted one with a little sweetness, and the Valckenberg Madonna Kabinett 2009 was perfect. From the Rheinhessen, the largest German wine region in both area and production, the Madonna is a blend of the grapes riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner and Kerner.  The bouquet on the Valckenberg Madonna  initially was tight, though it opened to a sweet, fruity bouquet. The palate was delicious ripe honeydew melon, with just a touch of acidity. The wine paired perfectly with the corned beef and cabbage, and for about $12.00 it’s a nice value.

Your St Patrick’s Day party may not consist of corned beef and cabbage. Or, white wine may not be your preference, and you’d like an alternative idea for your festival. I’d highly recommend finding a recipe for Irish Lamb Stew, or a Irish Beef Stew if you prefer. And then I’d recommend pairing it with a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon.

Irish Beef Stew from OSheas for St Patrick's Day

Irish Beef Stew from OSheas for St Patrick’s Day

Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Frank Family Vineyards has a history dating back to 1884 in Napa Valley, California. They produce a wide variety of wines, from Zinfandel to a Sparkling Rouge, and their Cabernet Sauvignon. The Frank Family Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 is a big Napa Cab. Right out of the bottle, the nose of the Frank Family Cabernet was tart cherries with notes of spice and leather. The palate was silky, with nice fruit and firm tannins, showing the tart cherry all over the palate. After about about 30 minutes decanting, the nose is more a stewed cherry and baking spice, with blackberry and bramble notes.  The palate was a full, rich red berry with warming spice. There was a green note as well, such as bell pepper, but it was a undercurrent and not a prominent taste.

However, the wine really shined when it was paired with food. With each bite of the stew, the wine took on this soft, silky approach and gained complexity. The fruit was less tart, and took on a black cherry note with cocoa flavors and warm baking spice. The wine spends 24 months in french oak, about 35% new, the remainder 1 and 2 years old. The oak is well integrated, though the tannin is firm as I said. You can order the wine from the Frank Family website as well as select stores, and it comes in at $45 from the winery, though you can find it for less shopping online.

If you want to skip the main course and head right to dessert, I have some great options for you. Rich and heavy, bread pudding is not only perfect St Patrick’s Day dessert, it’s delicious. It can be served hot, or cold, and with any number of toppings from whipped cream to a bourbon sauce. We served it cold, and paired it with an Italian white wine that can only be described as beautiful. The Saracco Moscao d’Asti is an amazing wine on it’s own, and really harmonized with the bread pudding.

Bread Pudding for dessert on St Patrick's Day

Bread Pudding for dessert on St Patrick’s Day

Saracco Moscato d'Asti

Saracco Moscato d’Asti

Moscato is all the rage now, being one of the trendy wines that people ask for in restaurants, clubs, and of course, wine shops. I don’t reach for Moscato often, as many expressions are just a bit too sweet and syrupy for me. However, the Saracco Moscato d’Asti is fantastic. The wine in the glass is a beautiful light yellow hue, and you’ll immediately notice it’s slightly frizzanti, or sparkling.  The nose is a wonderful white floral and peach bouquet, and it’s just gorgeous. The palate opens up with a sweet floral and apricot or peach note, and I can only describe it as delicious, refreshing, and sweet without being sugary. You can find it for around $16, and it’s worth buying! I’d serve this alone as an aperitif, or with dessert, or to sip on during a lovely evening with friends.

I’d love to hear how you celebrate St Patrick’s Day!

White Wines from the Alsace – Helfrich

Helfrich Wines from Alsace, France

Helfrich Wines from Alsace, France

While the rest of the country digs out from snow, spring has sprung in Florida. The weather reached a high of 84 degrees, and after a day in the sun I was looking for something refreshing to drink. I decided to open white wines from the Alsace region of France that I have had in my cellar for a number of months. While information about the producer is nearly non-existent on the web, and various articles site different longevity information about the producers, one thing remains constant. The riesling, pinot blanc and gewurztraminer from Helfrich are pretty darn good.

Several writers have met with Anne-Laure Helfrich the sister of Frederick Helfrich and note in their writeups that she is the sixth generation Alsatian, while others note her father is third generation in the wine business.  Regardless of how long they’ve been in Alsace, or the wine business,  Helfrich offers two levels of wine, the noble variety (entry level) which all retail for $15 and the Grand Cru which are single Vineyard offerings which retail for $25. The Alsace wine region, which is in France on the border of Germany,  is one of the smaller wine producing areas in France. The region typically produces dry riesling, while the other notable varieties pinot gris and gewurztraminer are typically off-dry, with some residual sugar left after fermentation.

Helfrich Riesling 2008

Helfrich Riesling 2008

The first offering that I tried was the Helfrich noble variety Riesling 2008. The nose, or bouquet is stone fruits and petrol, with mineral notes. The palate comes across as tart green apples, citrus and is very mineral driven. Though not very acidic, some acidity is definitely noticeable on the mid-palate and finish.  With some time, and air, the wine opens up nicely. The flavors round out a little, becoming a little less tart green apple, and more focused on citrus flavors. The wine comes across very dry, and can remind you of a sauvignon blanc. The winemaker’s suggested food pairings are sushi, white meats, Alsatian tarts and smoked salmon.

Helfrich Gewurztraminer 2008

Helfrich Gewurztraminer 2008

The second wine from Helfrich was a the 2008 gewurztraminer, which I just popped and poured. The nose is a little floral, with melon notes coming through as well. On the palate, it’s a medium weight with white flowers upfront followed by a burst of sweet stone fruit. There is a sprinkling of white pepper on the finish, but it’s lost amongst the flavors of flowers and peach. Typically, gewurztraminer has a nice spicy component, and the name actually means Spicy Traminer (a grape). However, after 20 minutes in the glass, the wine warmed up a little and with air has opened a lot. The palate is much more white flowers now, with a nice vein of spice on the finish. I really enjoyed this wine, especially as it opened up. It has a nice bit of sweetness that will appeal to many, while the structure and balance make it a good buy at $15.

Helfrich Pinot Gris 2008

Helfrich Pinot Gris 2008

Finally, the Helfrich pinot gris 2008 rounded out the tasting for the day. With a mineral driven nose of stone fruits such as nectarines and peaches, this white wine from the Alsace region of France has a delicious bouquet. Slightly viscous with a medium mouth feel, the initial approach of this wine is super ripe stone fruits, particularly apricots. There is a honeyed fig component as well, and this wine is very reminiscent of the late harvest semillion I had from Apex recently. The Helfrich pinot gris comes across a little sweet, however its finish leaves crisp and clean and purely fruit driven. Again, aerating this white wine opened it beautifully. After 15 minutes in the glass it’s become a bit more balanced, the sweetness is a bit more tame, though prominent, and the spice little bit more noticeable throughout the palate.

The Helfrich gewurztraminer 2008 and pinot gris 2008 were both off-dry wines, what most people would think of as “sweet”. The sweetness, and fruit forward nature of both of these wines make them a perfect pairing for spicy foods, as well as the typical “Asian” food pairings. The pinot gris may go well with pork, perhaps slow cooked with onions. All of these white wines were refreshing on a hot day, perfect summer sippers, and food friendly. At $15 each, there’s no reason to avoid them, so let me know what you think.

These wines were provided as trade samples for me to taste and review honestly.

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.

A Bit About Torrontes – A White Wine From Argentina

Information about Torrontes white wines

Bunch of Torrontes grapes

Torrontes is a crisp white wine, produced almost exclusively in Argentina. Typically, the bouquet of a Torrontes wine will be aromatic, showing floral notes, often with citrus characteristics. The palate is crisp, ranging in body from light to medium, and is considered to be high in acidity. Citrus and floral characteristics will translate to the palate, though the citrus is not as prominent as say, a Sauvignon Blanc. As with any wine, the bouquet and palate, or scent and taste,  will be different depending on where it is produced, how it is fermented, and how it is aged.  Torrontes wines are meant to be drank young, and are not typically purchased to age. Torrontes is said to be the signature white wine from Argentina. It pairs nicely with seafood, cheeses, Mexican food, Thai food, and chicken.

It’s not known how Torrontes arrived in Argentina, or how long ago. Once thought to be native to Argentina, there is a bit of speculation where the grape originated. Citations on Wikipedia state “the Torrontes grape has been recently linked, genetically, to the Malvasian grapes, which originates in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is speculated to have come from Spain, perhaps by missionaries”.  However, torrontes genetic profiling done in 2003 links it to Muscat of Alexandria, which originated in North Africa,and Criolla chica, or the Mission grape.  While I find it fascinating that the origin of the grape can not be nailed down, and the debate ranges in writings by many wine geeks, I think I’ll instead pop a cork, or unscrew a top, and tell you a little about the wines from first  hand experience.

Speaking of first hand experience, have you had a Torrontes recently? Or ever? If so, let me know what you had, and what you thought of it! Where did it come from, and would you recommend it to others?