What to drink during Running of the Bulls: Avignonesi Desiderio

Avignonesi Desiderio Cortona DOC Merlot 2011
Avignonesi Desiderio Cortona DOC Merlot 2011

Reading Hemingway always makes me want to drink. Every time Jake Barnes takes a long tug off of a wine skin during the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona while watching the Running of the Bulls in The Sun Also Rises, I want to join him in some purposeless debauchery.

This year, the annual Running of the Bulls happens July 6th through 14th at the San Fermín festival, sparking a week-long celebration in Spain and with people like me around the world who want to party vicariously. You don’t have to be a Hemingway fan to have a deep affinity for tradition that honors a mix of beast-inspired panic and the adrenaline rush that comes with it. There is nothing better than a bottle of Spanish wine to celebrate the impudent gamblers who thumb their noses at certain death at the tip of the horn of a massive mound of sweaty bull flesh.

Well, unless you can find a fantastic bottle of wine adorned with a big white bull.  In that case, a fitting wine to drink during the Running of the Bulls is actually an Italian.

A wine that fits the bill is Avignonesi Desiderio, a brooding blend of 85 percent Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from the La Selva estate of Cortona DOC in Tuscany. The label of one of Avignonesi’s most prized wines depicts the beautiful Chianina bull, named Desiderio, of Tuscany. His reputation brought wealth to the small farm of La Capezzine, which became one of Avignonesi’s main vineyards.

This wine smells like courage. It’s bold with fat black and blue berries lashed with leathery straps. It tastes like victory. Brazen black cherries, plum and dusty mint and eucalyptus leaves wave a deep garnet flag in front of that bull. It’s strong and fleet enough to stay one step ahead and carefree enough to dodge any arrogant horn or hoof. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, this wine is the blood of Desiderio, giving all who drink it, his powerful character.

Grab a bottle at your favorite wine shop for about $60 and celebrate this summer’s Running of the Bulls with the wild abandon of Hemingway’s lost generation.

Disclosure: I was provided a sample of Avignonesi Desiderio for review at no charge.

What are you drinking?

Screw the New Year’s resolution — Let’s drink Franciacorta

FranciacortaPeople load up on sparkling wine in December for the holiday bender, but quickly eschew the bubbly after the ball drops. It’s heresy. I get it, we all eat and drink too much during the holidays and want to clean up our act in the New Year, but let’s be realistic. We all need a few glasses of wine, even in January.

I’ve got a recommendation for something to add to your juice diet: Franciacorta.

Franciacorta is Italian sparkling wine made in the same way as Champagne with essentially the same grape varieties. Born in northern Italy, this bubbly traces its roots to the 16th century when winemakers made highly acidic still wines in the cool climate. Today, the prestigious sparkling wine is as omnipresent with Milanese fashion models as Marni floral prints.

Despite its quality, history and prestige, Franciacorta gets little attention compared to its famous cousin, Champagne. Here are a few things to know about Franciacorta:

Where is it made? Franciacorta is the name of the wine region or appellation awarded Italy’s highest status, DOCG. It is located in the foothills of the Alps an hour’s drive east of Milan, close enough for it to be a staple at the AC Milan football matches. The mild climate and cool nights let the grapes develop the crisp acidity that is so desired in sparkling wine.

What is it made of? Franciacorta DOCG wines are made with a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero, aka Pinot Noir grapes, just like Champagne. Where it differs is that it is also made with up to 50% of Pinot Bianco, a grape not used in Champagne.

How is it made? Like Champagne, Franciacorta DOCG wines are made in the “traditional method,” meaning that still wine is produced first, then secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle. It’s that second fermentation that gives the wine its fizz.

How should it be served? Like any sparkling wine, Franciacorta is great as a celebration wine, but it is also a fantastic accompaniment to any meal. Serve it chilled to about 45 degrees (fridge temperature) in flutes or white wine glasses. It pairs well with just about any food including soft cheeses, sushi, classic Italian dishes, pork and fruity desserts.

Where is it sold? Franciacorta is readily available at wine shops around the country. In Austin, you can pick it up at places like Austin Wine Merchant, Central Market, East End Wines, Specs, Twin Liquor and Whole Foods Market in the sparkling wine section.

How much does it cost? Because of its high quality, Franciacorta costs more than the other famous sparkling wine from Italy, Prosecco. However, it’s often cheaper than Champagne. Prices range from $20 to $100, with great wines going for less than $50.

Here are a few wines to try:

Ronco Calino Brut Franciacorta

This non-vintage Brut is a cuvée of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir aged for at least 24 months on sur lie. The spirited bubbles happily shimmer straw yellow until the glass is drained.  It has lush scents of ripe apple, pear, citrus and apple blossoms balanced with fresh baked biscuit and vanilla. Both velvety soft and perky with zippy acidity, Ronco Calino tastes like red delicious apples, lime zest and nutty bread with a vanilla crème brûlée finish. It sells for about $30.

2007 Lo Sparviere Extra Brut Millesimato Franciacorta  

Millesimato means vintage-dated for Franciacorta. Only 10,000 bottles of this 2007 Lo Sparviere Extra Brut were made using 100% Chardonnay grapes from 20 year old vines. The wine is aged for a minimum of 60 months sur lie (with the yeast still in the bottle) giving it a lovely gold color, creamy texture and rich nutty flavor. It has concentrated aromas of peach, lemon, pineapple and toasty pecans. The silky smooth wine tastes like lemon meringue, green apple, white peach and vanilla with toasted bread crust. It’s as vivacious as it is elegant. It’s a bargain at $34 a bottle.

2008 Monte Rossa ‘Cabochon’ Brut, Franciacorta

Cabochon is the most prestigious in the Monte Rossa Franciacorta line up. It is made with the winery’s best selection of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir from the hill of Monte Rossa. It’s aged in oak barrels for the first fermentation and then bottle aged sur lie for more than 40 months. This sophisticated and intricate wine has intense aromas of toasted hazelnuts, coffee, candied apples, Meyer lemons and dusty limestone. The energetic bubbles tickle the palate with golden apple, pineapple, toasted nuts an caramel flavors. This Franciacorta rivals even the finest Champagnes at a fraction of the price at about $55.

This year I resolve to drink more Franciacorta.

What are you drinking?

Disclosure: Samples were provided at no cost by Balzac Communications.  

Thanksgiving wine guide: Perfect pairings for morning, noon and night

I love Thanksgiving. It’s a fantastic day to enjoy the company of family and friends, reflect on the best parts of our lives, and break out bottle after bottle of delicious wine.

With a complex meal (and a long day of gluttony), Thanksgiving offers the perfect opportunity to open lots of wines to pair with different dishes and please plenty of palates. Follow this schedule and you are sure to have a fantastic wine day.

Murphy-Goode ChardonnayLate morning
Chardonnay. Meal prep will be in full swing, and it is simply impossible to cook without wine. A dash for the dish, a swig for you. The Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears game kicks off at 11:30 am, and that game certainly could use liquid accompaniment to make it more interesting.

Why Chardonnay? Because it’s versatile with almost any food on the Thanksgiving table, it’s easy to find at fine wine shops and corner stores alike, and your mother-in-law and great uncle love it. Give your relatives a reason to be thankful by serving a wine they will recognize early in the day.

Try Murphy-Goode 2013 Single Deck Chardonnay. This single vineyard Russian River wine has ripe pear, tropical fruit and vanilla flavors. Keep a few extra bottles on hand to make sure you have some left to serve at dinner. It will pair well with the turkey. You can find Murphy-Goode wines at Twin Liquors. The Single Deck Chardonnay goes for $30 a bottle online.

Mid-afternoon  
Sparkling wine. Dinner is almost ready. The savory aroma of turkey is the kitchen’s siren song, tempting you to spoil your appetite by binging on snacks. It’s better to satiate that desire with crisp, frolicking bubbly rather than eating tons of Chex mix. The Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles game kicks off at 3:30 pm and America’s Team deserves a toast with sparkling wine.

Why bubbles? Because nothing screams holiday celebration like sparkling wine. It’s hard for your significant other to be mad at you for stealing bites of the turkey skin before dinner when you hand over a gorgeous flute of bubbles. Whether you pick Champagne, Cava, U.S. sparkling wine, Sekt or Prosecco, bubbles give everyone a grin. Buy a double-bottle magnum or two so you have plenty of sparkling to last the afternoon and to serve at dinner.

Try Argyle Vintage Brut 2011. This Oregon stunner is easy to find, reasonably priced and packs zillions of tiny bubbles bursting with apple blossom, lemon zest, toasted almond and pear flavors. Argyle will have your cousin raising a glass to toast everyone in the room. Spec’s sells it for $22 a bottle. A magnum will set you back $60.

Scacciadiavoli Sagrantino di Montefalco 2007Dinner time
Italian red. The table is loaded with an incredible array of foods from creamy green bean casserole and buttery mashed potatoes to savory stuffing and the luscious turkey. Make sure you put the Chardonnay and sparkling wine on the table, but red wine needs a spot too.

Why Italian red? Because you’ve served Pinot Noir at Thanksgiving for the past 10 years straight and it’s time to have a little fun. Italian red wine with fresh acidity loves the rich fat of dark meat and gravy. The bold wines from the town of Montefalco in the Umbria region pack a punch for a decent price. The earthy, spicy wines won’t get lost in the cacophony of flavors in the feast.

Try Scacciadiavoli Sagrantino di Montefalco 2007. Made with the Sagrantino grape, this wine has bold scents of graphite, dried lavender, cranberry and lovely raspberry and red plum flavors with aromatic herbs. It’s well balanced with bright acidity and firm tannins giving it a long spicy finish. It sells for $37 at East End Wines.

Chateau du Tariquet VS ClassiqueEvening
Armagnac. After you’ve managed to kill an entire pecan pie and half a pumpkin pie by yourself, the only thing to do is to kick back on the couch next to the fire with a glass of Armagnac.

Why Armagnac? Because this French brandy from the small region of Gascony is less expensive yet every bit as good as its more recognizable cousin, cognac. It’s also a bit fuller figured than cognac, which is completely fitting on Thanksgiving. It is made with distilled white wine grapes and then aged in local black oak casks. It hides its brawny 80 proof alcohol in velvet, so sip it slowly.

Try Chateau du Tariquet VS Classique. Produced at the estate which has been family run since 1912, Chateau du Tariquet has the elegance and finesse that is a hallmark of the Bas-Armagnac appellation in the far north of Armagnac. The “VS” on the bottle means it has been aged a minimum of two years, leaving it with a light golden color.

Serve it neat at room temperature in a brandy snifter or a tulip-shaped glass. Swirl it to let the full aroma of the heady vapors release. It fills the nose with racy spice, butterscotch and cinnamon, but don’t sniff too deeply or the 40 percent alcohol will singe your nostrils. Let the first sip wash across your tongue to take in the raisin, roasted apple and caramel flavors finishing with a sweet kiss of chocolate and liquorice. It’s love in a glass.

Don’t worry if you don’t have enough guests to finish the whole bottle. Armagnac doesn’t go bad after you’ve opened it. It will be good to drink next Thanksgiving. Pick it up for $35 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

This story was originally published on CultureMap

Disclosure: sample wines were provided by Murphy-Goode, Scacciadiavoli and  Chateau du Tariquet. 

What are you drinking? 

Starting with wine at Chefs Under Fire

The Austin/San Antonio regional semi-final of Chefs Under Fire was held tonight in Austin. The final battle of the chefs will be held on October 16 at the AT&T Executive Center. What am I doing blogging about a foodie event? It opened with a VIP reception hosted by Bill Elsey, who was recently crowned Best Sommelier in Texas at TexSom. How could I miss that?

Bill is no stranger to food and wine events. Not only does he host them at work as the director of sales at Duchman Family Winery, but he also attends them as a fan. He and Diane Dixon, co-founder of Keeper Collection, the organizers of Chefs Under Fire and Somms Under Fire, met  through a wine tasting group hosted by the  Wine and Food Foundation of Texas. They hit it off and he was officially invited to host the pre-event VIP tasting after he won Sommelier of the Year at TexSom.

Here is what Bill poured tonight.    

Étoile Brut, Domain Chandon

This easy going sparkler is aged sur lees (on the yeast) for five years giving it a nice mellow, nutty flavor.

Look Slight straw with steady stream of bubbles
Smell It has a delightful scent of French bread and green apples.  
Taste A great way to start an evening with fresh, vibrant flavors of toast, green apple, nutmeg and hint of citrusy, zippy effervescence. Crisp, light and delightfully ready to wakeup taste buds for a night of fine food.

 

2009 Château de Sancerre

Fairies delivered this delightful gem from the Loire Valley with pixie dust and dreams. Have you ever met a fairy? No? That’s because they’re understated, and not all up in yo grill. The same way this Sauvignon Blanc is compared to its New Zealand or California cousins.

Look Late morning sunshine, bight and pale yellow shimmer in the glass.
Smell A nose full of kiwi, lemon, daffodil and limestone greet you and beg you to take a sip.
Taste Vivacious citrus sunshine slides across a slate slab with nice acidity and pep to greet the palate with a sassiness balanced with subtlety. Fruit, balanced with acidity and minerality. Pert, crisp and ready to go.  

 

2009 Dolcetto d’ Alba

(OK, I didn’t get the producer. Shame on me. Sorry, but I got caught up in the festivities)

Look Royal amethyst purple shimmering and inviting.
Smell This puppy has a distinctive nose of cranberry rolled in soy and balsamic vinegar. Fruity and tart.
Taste Light and chipper cherry pit with pecan and vanilla.  

 

No matter whether you are preparing award winning food, or if you are simply preparing a quick dinner, these three food friendly wines will hit the spot.

Chefs Under Fire pitted excellent, up and coming chefs in a competition to see who can make the most excellent dish from a list of ingredients disclosed at the start of the competition. I’m so glad I wasn’t put in that place. I just stop by and enjoyed the wine. Thanks Keeper Collection for another amazing event.

What are you drinking?

Wine for 4th of July Picnics: Red, White and Rosé

There is nothing more traditional than celebrating Independence Day in the U.S. with a picnic. Whether you’re the type to grill burgers, hot dogs and chips or the type to serve cold poached salmon with an heirloom tomato salad, one thing is for sure, you need something cold and delicious to drink with it. Here are three food friendly wines that will feel right at home on a picnic blanket.  

Santero Bessi Rosso NV

Bessi is the girl next door with doe eyes and little zippy secret. She’s light on her feet and best served cold in the hot sun. She never met a picnic she didn’t like. This soft sparkling sweet Italian non-vintage red isn’t fussy and won’t complain about being packed in the cooler next to individually wrapped American cheese slices. She’s a great accompaniment to cheese or savory and spicy snacks before you dig into the main course.

Look Bright ruby red with a burst of effervescence on the initial pour. Wave your sparkler in one hand and your Bessi in the other.   
Smell A summer fruit salad with tart blueberries, cranberries, dried tobacco and hibiscus petals.
Taste Bessie is sweet sassy fizzy fun like fruit punch with a bite. It tastes almost exactly like it smells with an abundance of tart cranberry mellowed by tobacco. While this is a sweet wine, it’s not syrupy. It has just enough acidity and that light bubbliness to keep it from being cloying.  
Price $10

 

Try Bessi with watermelon dipping wedges. Here’s a simple treat to start off your picnic:

  • Cut chilled watermelon into 1 ½ inch wedges
  • Dipping sauce:
    • Juice of two fresh limes
    • ¼ cup cold water
    • Pinch of salt
    • Pinch of red pepper flakes

Stir it up, dip, eat. Yum.

Urki Txakoli de Getariako 2009

Txakoli is a Basque word pronounced (CHA-koh-lee), but I like to call it (Texa-koh-lee) for obvious reasons.  This precious Spanish gem is a high acidity and low alcohol wine from the Getariako Txakolina protected Designation of Origin on the northern Atlantic coast. It’s a slightly more sophisticated sister to the Portuguese Vinho Verde. Txakoli is traditionally served as an aperitif with tapas. It’s also well suited for a splendid picnic with chilled shrimp, raw oysters or grilled fish. Make sure to have an ample supply because it will go fast.   

Look The first Pale yellow ray of sunshine on a hot July day, with tiny bubbles sporadically streaming to the top.
Smell Soft jasmine and stone scents mingle with lemon zest and cut apple.
Taste A bite of fresh, crisp green apple, backed by dusty limestone minerality. It’s light and bouncy with a long lemon zest finish.
Price $19

 

I want to drink this with a big pile of ceviche while lying on a blanket next to the lake. Here’s a recipe from Bon Appetite for Scallop Ceviche.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound bay scallops, quartered
  • 1 cup (about 12 whole) cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 green or red serrano chiles, seeded and minced (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
  • 1 cup finely diced red onion (1/2 medium red onion)
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • Salt to taste
  • tablespoons finely shredded unsweetened coconut flakes

Preparation

  • Combine all the ingredients in a nonreactive bowl and stir to mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 16.
  • Spoon the ceviche into small (4-ounce) glasses and garnish with cilantro

Commanderie de Peyrassol 2010 Côtes de Provence

What would summer be without a cold, crisp rosé? It’s the long relaxing exhale in the midst of your day dream day lazing about in the sun. If you’re going for rosé on the 4th of July, why not get one from the birthplace of the varietal, France. The Knights of Templars started making wine at Commanderie of Peyrassol about 800 years ago. That’s plenty of time to refine a craft and turn out excellent wine. The 2010 vintage is fresh, fruity and ready for fun. This is one food friendly wine. Try it with fried chicken, grilled vegetables and even ribs.

Look A classic rosé, delicate rose pink, with good clarity.
Smell Commanderie de Peyrassol is delightful with a lilac, strawberry, lemon zest gentle nose.
Taste Fresh biscuit, strawberries, lemon good minerality, crisp with an easy finish. Food friendly
Price $20

 

Do you have a big fat buttery Chardonnay on the wine rack ready to take to your picnic? Leave it sitting right there. This 4th of July celebrate independence from your regular wine while you celebrate the independence of our country. Give these three wines a try and let me know what you think.

What are you drinking?

Wine Tasting is for Snobs

The whole concept of a wine tasting sounds forced and stuffy. When you hear the term, don’t ya just picture a bunch of pretentious snots trying to out-do each other with pompous descriptions like, “I detect herbaceous notes,” and “the musky, mushroom mid-palette speaks to the terroir,” and other such nonsense?  

 Why does it have to be so complicated? Why can’t we just enjoy drinking the wine? Of course I’m going to taste it when I drink it. Do I have to call it a tasting?

 OK, so I don’t wear an ascot, but I do like a wine tasting. Surprise. A genuine wine tasting is a great way to find new wines, explore the true characteristics of a wine in a semi-structured way, have fun with friends and. . . it doesn’t have to be affected. I actually go through the whole tasting process in my head when I’m trying a new wine at home, so why not do it with a bunch of fun people?

So I did. I led a wine tasting for a group of friends to share experiences of three Italian wines. We took a casual approach to our tasting and figured picking wines from one country is enough without needing to get extremely specific the varietal. This was our Nordstrom Rack tasting – you know, same great label at a discount price. I selected wines from producers that make prestigious wines and also affordable, anytime drinkin wines. We had a 2006 Masi Campofiorin, a 2008 Rosso Di Montalcino and a 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo.

We used tasting sheets to guide our assessment of each wine on the basics: look, smell and taste. We checked out the color and clarity. We swirled and sniffed to describe the nose, complexity and intensity of the aroma. And finally we drank them making sure to trill and chew the wines to get the full flavor. We rated their complexity, texture and weight, balance and the duration of the finish. Here is a summary of our tasting.

Masi Campofiorin

This is our budget Amarone. It’s a really interesting Valpolicella wine from the in the Veneto region in Northern Italy. It’s made through a cool process of introducing a second fermentation by pouring the over dried Amarone grape skins. This gives it more heft and a bigger aroma.

Look Warm and lush, deep red like a bruise on Sophia Loren’s thigh.
Smell Black cherries drying on a rustic wood bench.
Taste The swagger of Sylvester Stallone in Rocky I with bold cherry and a hint of tobacco. The affable beginning gave way to moody tawny port with a mid-length spicy finish.
Price $13.75

 Rosso di Montalcino

This Tuscan made with Sangiovese grapes is a running mate of the prestigious Brunello di Montalcino. It’s from the same vineyards and same Denominazione di Origine Controllata designation. The difference is that it is turned out of the house at a younger age, while the Brunello lays around on the couch eating mom and dad’s food for a few more years. Less aging means its less set in its ways and costs less for us to buy.

Look As brick red as that brick house we all know and love.  
Smell Violets and spice spiked with a friendly wink of alcohol.
Taste Vivacious, medium curvy build yet tight enough to remind you of your youth. This one hands over a blackberry to be bitten off vine and lets the flavor linger for a long time.
Price $22.50

Langhe Nebbiolo  

I previously reviewed this wine and you can read about it here.

The favorite of the night? The Rosso di Montalcino. The consensus was that it was a more complex and enjoyable wine than the other two. The runner up with a nod to the great price was the Masi Campofiorin. I’ll buy all three of them again.

What about you? Are you turned off by a wine tasting? Or do you want to try it and you’re not quite sure how to go about it. Give me a shout, I’m happy to come over and guide you through it with a group of friends. 

The wines we tasted were purchased at Austin Wine Merchant.

What are you drinking?

It takes two to make a thing go right

It takes two to make a thing go right
It takes two to make it outta sight
Hit it!
I want some wine right now
I’m not Rob Base, but I came to drink down

Sometimes Beautiful Wife sings ‘80s pop songs to me, because she’s sweet like that. Tonight I got some silly song stuck in my head and it made me think about how the wine I’m drinking was made. A stretch? Maybe.

How do small vineyards growing Nebbiolo grapes in Barbaresco in the Piedmont region of Italy compete with the guys growing Nebbiolo in Barolo? Join forces in a cooperative. And that’s what happened in 1894 and continues today with nine classic premium sites from Barbaresco: Asili, Rabajà, Pora, Montestefano, Ovello, Pajé, Montefico, Moccagatta and Rio Sordo. It takes nine to make a thing go right.  

Produttori del Barbaresco makes an affordable, easy drinking wine out to the cooperative; Nebbiolo Langhe. A young wine made from grapes grown on young vines is ready made for nights when you want to dance your young ass off. This isn’t a throw-away wine, but it also isn’t a pretentious wine that needs some uptight DOCG designation. Go ahead, open this one up and dance the Cabbage Patch.

2008 Langhe Nebbiolo

Look Ruby red sipper wearing ruby red slippers.  
Smell Fennel spiked jam. Jam on it.
Taste The first steps are raspberry and cherry transitioning into smooth tannic black tea for a pucker-up dip to end the song.  
Price $22

 If you want all the classic moves of a Barbaresco, without the price of the VIP room, grab a Langhe Nebbiolo.

In flight at House Wine

Do you remember ten years ago when wine bars started popping up here and there? Not tasting rooms, or wine shops that served by the glass, but honest to goodness establishments fully dedicated to the enjoyment of wine by the taste, the glass or by the bottle. Outside of New York and San Francisco wine bars were few and far between. Much has changed. In Austin there are at least a dozen different wine bars.

My beautiful wife and I decided to try House Wine before going to dinner. This place is in a little house just south of Lady Bird Lake a block west of S. Lamar on Josephine St. They are definitely going for the South Austin vibe – casual, cozy and a little sloppy. The space is intimate (small) and eclectic (mismatched shit). We felt pretty comfortable right from the start.

There wasn’t table service, so we bellied up to the bar and looked through the menu. House Wine has about 25 whites and 30 reds by the glass and by the bottle. The prices are pretty damn reasonable ranging from $7 to $11 and bottles in the $20s and $30s. We were there at happy hour – hey hey 2 bucks off each glass.

On this particular night, we were indecisive, so we decided to order two flights. Three half glasses for $15. A bargain. I ordered a Spanish Tempranillo, a Côtes du Rhône and Spanish Verdejo (white). My beautiful wife asked the bar tender to select a flight for her. She had a sparkling rosé, an Argentine Malbec and a California Pinot Noir. We also ordered a selection of cheese and smoked salmon. The cheese and salmon were nice, served in a gorgeous wooden bowl and gave us something to clear our palettes between wines. Worth the order.

Here’s what I had.

I started off with Paso a Paso Verdejo 2008.  Lovely pale yellow in the stemless glass. Nice scents of pear. The Verdejo grape makes a nice medium bodied, citrusy, honied wine that is right at home on the shabby back porch of House Wine and at your summer party.   

Next I had a Volver Tempranillo 2005.  Bright ruby with a fruity nose. This guy started off with round cherry, cassis and vanilla and finished with cocoa and a bite of tannins. The smoked salmon tasted great with this.

My third glass was REDblanc Côtes du Rhône. This organic Grenache, Syrah blend had a warm plum color and a nose to match. It was a mouthful of raspberries, violets and licorice with a touch of cedar on the finish.

Decent wines for the price.  If you are looking for a very relaxed, inexpensive wine bar with a decent selection, try House Wine. If you want knowledgeable wine guideance and service in an elegant setting, you’ll be disappointed here. Good news is there are several other wine bars in town.

Suitable Wines for a Summer Romance

“Summer romances end for all kinds of reasons. But when all is said and done, they have one thing in common: They are shooting stars-a spectacular moment of light in the heavens, a fleeting glimpse of eternity. And in a flash, they’re gone.” – The Notebook

 Lazy summer days are perfect for carefree romance. What better way to while away a languid day with a lover than a picnic with feet dipped in the lake? Like the thrill of romance, a chilled white or rosé wine makes everything in a picnic basket tastes better.   

 This week I set out to find wines that have the ease of summer and brighten the mood at any occasion. I’m looking for bottled sunshine. When it’s hot out, I often find myself reaching for a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. I guess I’m a loyalist. I decided to break out of that mold just a little bit, and selected four different wines from Italy, France and Spain that are perfect for a picnic.

 San Felice Vermentino

The first one I cracked open was from Tuscany, a 2009 San Felice Vermentino Maremma Toscana Perolla. San Felice has been cranking out reds and whites in a modern winery since 1967 amidst a medieval village.

The dominant grape in this wine is Vermentino, which is widely grown in the hills of Maremma. The grapes sun bathe in the hot sun all day, then sleep in the cool Mediterranean breezes at night. This stress free grape lifestyle gives the wine a fresh, bright flavor. Did I mention that I like Sauvignon Blanc? I guess habits are hard to break. This wine has about 15% of it, which gives it more complexity and a little heft. 

This baby has less alcohol than big red wines, clocking in at about 12.5%. Drinking a couple glasses of this on a hot afternoon won’t make you too drowsy. If that’s your goal, have a third glass. 

Look This is sunshine in a glass.  
Smell Like a tropical beach breeze carrying flint-kissed citrus scents.
Taste San Felice tastes like the perfect shade to prevent sunburn. Its gauzy body gently releases tart, crisp green apple and lemon zest flavors easing into hint of meringue and a clean finish. This is not a wine to lay down waiting for a special moment. Drink it now. Every summer day is a special moment.
Price $16

 Château Bonnet Blanc

Second up, is Château Bonnet Blanc from the AOC Entre-Deux-Mers in the Bordeaux region. The storied vineyards of Chateau Bonnet are downright ancient with the first plantings emerging from the dirt in the 16th century, and the current regime took over in 1956.

 OK, so I’m still on the Sauvignon Blanc train. This one is made up of about half Sauvignon, 40% Sémillon and the rest Muscadelle grapes. Semillon is the rich, supple, subtle Angelina to balance the Brad of Sauvignon Blanc, which can be fragrantly belligerent and acidic. Like Jolie and Pitt, these two make a fantastic blend, particularly with a smidge of Muscadelle thrown in for good measure.

You know what can spoil a picnic quicker than ants? Forgetting your corkscrew. Never fear, this baby is packaged with a screw cap. Just twist and pour. If you miss that ceremonial pop of the cork, just stick your finger in your mouth, bend it into a gentle “J” shape, pucker tightly around it, and then pull it out briskly. “Pop!” This is the genius move that was created centuries ago specifically to mimic the sound of a cork being pulled. It’s fantastic.   

Look The delicate color of gold coins shimmering just below the surface of a gentle green stream.
Smell This wine smells just like a vivacious young girl picking up those gold coins, while eating grapes and drinking lemonade with white blossoms in her flowing hair.
Taste Château Bonnet Blanc introduces itself with smooth grace before racing into crisp, fresh citrus fruit flavors with vivid acidity that draws out a long, relaxed finish. It’s hard not to lounge just a little longer enjoying the after-glow once you’ve had it.  
Price $11

Blanc Pescador

Don’t you just love the delicate tickle of an effervescent wine? Like miniature angles frolicking over my tongue. For my third selection, I opened a young Blanc Pescador. This isn’t a rollicking sparkling wine – its less bubbly than Champagne, but has more fizz than a Vinho Verde. The good folks at Castillo Perelada in the Empurda Costa Brava region of Spain work a little magic during fermentation to conjure a fine, light and natural sparkle. In Spanish this is called “vino de aguja”, which means “needle-wine”. I have no idea what that means, but I read it somewhere.

Finally I’ve taken a complete departure from Sauvignon Blanc. Blanc Pescadore is made up of Macabeo, Parellada and Xare-lo grapes.

This is a picnic wine if there ever was one. Its entire attitude and outlook on life is casual fun. You could try to dress it up for a black tie event, but it’s much more comfortable in flip flops and a sundress eating finger foods in the breeze. If your lovely day gets rained out, bring it inside and serve it with ceviche while sitting on the floor in a circle of friends.  Better yet, serve it for brunch with a crab omelet. The tart fruit and acidity are an ideal date with shellfish. With only 11.5% alcohol, it won’t knock you down so soon after you woke up.  

Look Daisy petal soft yellow with hints of spring green.   
Smell Grapefruit mist carried on a sea breeze with a whisper of yeast.  
Taste It tastes like wearing white linen while playing badminton. Clean, fresh and crisp with a sparkling bounce in its step.  
Price $11

Riondo Prosecco Raboso, Pink Spago Argento

I can’t get enough bubbles, so my fourth wine choice is a spirited Prosecco made with Raboso grapes, grown on the Veneto hills of Italy.  Riondo opened in 1999 and is nestled in Monteforte d’Alpone in northern Italy, west of Venice.    

Pink Spago Argento is a frizzante with frothy bubbles that make me smile. The wine makers get the gentle sparkle by controlling the temperature during fermentation. It is impossible to be in a bad mood while sipping a glass of bubble gum pink wine that begs you to take it sailing. Like most of my summer choices, this is somewhat low in alcohol at 10.5% to give us license for day drinking.

Look As bright pink as the crinoline of a fairy princess tutu.
Smell  It smells like the delicate breath of that lovely fairy princess after she’s eaten a bowl of sweet cherries and freshly picked strawberries.
Taste Pink Spago Argento dazzles the mouth with a crisp pop of fresh fruit and brisk acidity. It finishes with a subtle bitterness that reminds you it isn’t simply cute and sweet. Its gentler than the bittersweet end of a summer romance.
Price $9

 Try one of these wines pool-side, at the lake, in the hammock or on a picnic blanket this weekend. Let me know what you think. What is your favorite wine for making summer memories?