The 12 drinks of Christmas: Delicious libations for boozy holiday entertaining

I love the traditions of the holidays. The Trail of Lights, the decadent treats, spending time with family around the Christmas tree, sitting on Santa’s lap, and sometimes even Christmas carols.

But not all Christmas carols. The indomitable repetition of that seemingly endless cumulative carol “The 12 Days of Christmas” is as maddening as it is catchy. It may draw on your nostalgic heartstrings, convincing you to sing along the first time you hear it each season, but after that …

Back in 1982, the Canadian comedy couple Bob and Doug McKenzie created a fantastic parody of the “12 Days of Christmas” that gleefully declares, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, beer.” To honor that sentiment, here are 12 festive drinks to have at home or a party to help you start new holiday traditions.

1. Beer is the right thing to have on the first day of Christmas in a nod to Bob and Doug. A good choice is Rahr & Sons Winter Warmer, a dark English-style ale with dried fruit and chocolate flavors. These guys in Fort Worth know how to make a solid brew. It’s great on its own and pairs incredibly well with gingerbread.

Rahr and Sons Winter Warmer
Rahr and Sons Winter Warmer

 

2. The second day calls for a delicious holiday twist on a classic cocktail, a perfect way to prep your appetite for a big holiday meal. The boozy Cynar Manhattan made with double-proof Cynar 70 is one of the best tasting versions of a Manhattan you’ll ever have. The newly introduced big brother of Cynar has the same balance of bitter and sweet flavors with festive hints of spice and herbs.

Stir the ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with maraschino cherries.

Cynar Manhattan
Cynar Manhattan

 

3. The third day deserves a classic wine to celebrate the holidays: a stout cabernet sauvignon. Cabernet is a bear skin rug in front of the fire. To really wow your holiday guests, grab the 2012 Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown cabernet sauvignon single vineyard, a Sonoma County beauty bursting with the lovely smell of plum and chocolate and powerful blackberry, black cherry, licorice, and dark chocolate flavors with a bit of cedar lingering on the finish. Whether you serve this with a sumptuous beef Wellington or on its own, it’s sure to dazzle for $75.

Alexanders Crown Cabernet Sauvignon
Alexanders Crown Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Another choice is the 2012 Experience Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with viscous flavors of spiced black currant, jammy plum, and dried strawberry. It’s great with rib roast for $25.

Experience Napa Valley Cabernet
Experience Napa Valley Cabernet

 

The third day calls for a third bottle of wine. An easygoing and unpretentious choice for the neighborhood party is 2013 Sterling Vintner’s Collection cabernet sauvignon. This Central Coast cab packs in a load of blackberry, ripe blueberry, dark chocolate, and vanilla flavors with a sprinkle of baking spice. Pick it up for $27.

Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon
Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon

 

4. The fourth day warrants a lush wine. Merlot is the Snuggie of the wine world: soft, cuddly, and oh so comforting. An incredibly elegant merlot for the holidays is the 2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Jackson Park Vineyard merlot. This Sonoma County vineyard is planted with the same grapes as one of the most famous Bordeaux wineries, Petrus. It’s velvety smooth with plum, blueberry, and boysenberry jam flavors and a bitter-sweet chocolate finish. The Matanzas Creek merlot goes incredibly well with roasted duck and sells for $60.

Matanzas Creek Merlot
Matanzas Creek Merlot

 

5. The fifth day asks for a slightly more rustic wine. Syrah is a walk through the woods to find just the right Christmas tree. The 2012 Qupé Santa Barbara County syrah ($30), made with biodynamic or organically grown grapes from the cool climates of the Santa Maria Valley and the Edna Valley in California, is as wild, funky, and brambly as any French Rhone wine. This little number is bounding with blackberry, cranberry tarts, and spiced with herbs and pepper. Serve it with a festive grilled lamb for the holidays.

Qupe Syrah
Qupe Syrah

 

6. The sixth day requires a playful wine. Petite sirah is a kiss under the mistletoe. For one big, bold kiss go with the 2013 Parducci True Grit Reserve petite sirah from Mendocino County, California. It has dusty raspberry scents, tart raspberry, Luden’s cherry cough drops, and blueberry pie with a healthy dollop of tannin. Yum! It is a great wine with steak and sells for $30.

Parducci True Grit
Parducci True Grit

 

7. The seventh day is a good time for portable wine. Grab a can of Underwood rosé from the Union Wine Company of Oregon to sip while you look at holiday light displays. The half-bottle size can be enjoyed in a crowd, and the fresh watermelon, strawberry, and tart lemon flavors pair resplendently with funnel cake. Pick up a four-pack for $24.

Underwood Rose Wine
Underwood Rose Wine

 

8. The eighth day is all about cuddly comfort. Pinot noir is the purr of a snuggly kitten, velvet furred and wispy tongued. A classic from the Eola-Amity Hills in Oregon, the 2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate pinot noir gleams like Dorothy’s ruby slippers with aromas of wet leaves, Bing cherries, and mocha. It has bright black cherry, raspberry, and chocolate flavors that give way to an earthiness characteristic of Oregon pinot noir. It is great with salmon and sells for $30.

Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir

 

9. The ninth day is a little naughty. Cinsaut is a tryst at the office Christmas party. Emblematic of a night of debauchery is the 2014 Bonny Doon cinsaut counoise from vineyards in California’s Paso Robles, Mendocino, and Lodi. Its looks are deceiving. The light ruby color of this wine is as delicate as the newest Beaujolais Nouveau, but its taste is anything but subtle. Wild strawberry, raspberry, and cranberry scents endorse the red berry, satiny chocolate, and herbal flavors. It pairs exceedingly well with quail and sells for $35.

Bonnie Doon Cinsault
Bonnie Doon Cinsault

 

10. The 10th day is sophisticated. There is nothing as erudite as a snifter of brandy. A Spanish delight, Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva is made from Palomino grapes and aged for 15 years in the same intricate fashion that sherry is made. The century-old oak casks used in the aging give it vanilla and honey flavors that envelop a bourbon-esque core like a velvet smoking jacket. Serve it at room temperature to savor the unmistakable imprint of sherry with its telltale oxidized sea-breeze taste. I could sip this all night after opening gifts. Deelish. It goes for $46.

Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva
Lepanto Brandy

 

11. The 11th day wakes up early for a cup of coffee. Coffee with a dose of cheer, of course. Coffee with liquor is the next best thing to snuggling with a ski bunny. Pour a couple ounces of Frangelico into your cup. The sweet hazelnut and vanilla flavors will perk up any morning. Pouring from the distinct bottle with the rope belt is a lot of fun too. Be careful not to overdo it because even in coffee it can get you drunk as a monk. Grab a bottle for $25.

Frangelico Coffee
Frangelico Coffee

 

12. By the 12th day you are bound to be in need of a tummy soothing digestifAmaro Averna soothes the flames of holiday indulgence with a luxurious blend of honey and bitter-sweet chocolate flavors. Sip a small glass neat or with an ice cube and let the sweet, thick herbs and citrus do their trick. It’s a lovely way to wind down the holidays for $30/bottle.

Amaro Averna
Amaro Averna

 

If you must sing a Christmas carol while enjoying any of these drinks, please make it “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. Cheers to a happy holiday!

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: I received samples to review of most of the products included in this post.

What are you drinking?

The Right Wines for Summer Grilling

Flowers Vineyard & Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013
Flowers Vineyard & Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013

Summer grilling season is in full swing, which is a perfect opportunity for us to try different food and wine pairings. Wine as a whole goes better with food than any other beverage and with so many varieties to choose from, there are numerous pairing options with grilled food. The naturally occurring sugar, acidity and alcohol in wine to complement almost anything cooked with flames.

The general principles for selecting a wine for summer grilling is the same for any wine and food pairing. The goal of the pairing is that both the food and the wine taste better when properly harmonized. Start by matching the weight of food with weight of wine. The delicate flavors of vegetables, seafood and chicken are lovely with lighter wines. Fattier and denser varieties of fish, like salmon and swordfish, pair well with a medium-bodied wines like Merlot. The flavors in most types of hefty meat, like burgers, steaks, lamb and barbeque are enhanced by intense, full-bodied red wines.

The good news is that we have a long summer in Texas that gives us plenty of time to try numerous wine and grilled food pairings.

YOUR GUIDE TO WINE AND GRILLED FOOD PAIRINGS

Grilled Veggies

Summer is the perfect time for grilling a bounty of seasonal vegetables like asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant and corn. Whether veggies are your main course or a side dish, picking the right wine can turn it into the star of the show.

A wide variety of vegetables allows for a wide selection of wine pairing options.

Lighter style and green grilled vegetable call for white wines like unoaked Chardonnay, Chablis, dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc and dry rosé. The fire-roasted char and caramelization of grilled vegetables beg for fuller-bodied whites, dry rosé and even lighter reds, particularly those with mild tannins. For the other dark vegetables like squash, Portobello mushrooms or eggplant, reach for light style reds like Pinot Noir and Barbera.

Rosé to try: Commanderie de Peyrassol Côtes de Provence 2014, France ($20). A classic rosé with a delicate lilac, strawberry, lemon zest nose and fresh biscuit, strawberries and crisp lemon flavors and good minerality.

Chardonnay to try: Cambria Estate Winery Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2013, California ($22). The dynamic fruit flavors of lime, cantaloupe, and pineapple make this wine an excellent accompaniment with eggplant or grilled zucchini.

Cambria Estate Winery Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2013
Cambria Estate Winery Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2013

Grilled Fish  

Selecting the right wine to pair well with grilled seafood is probably easier than grilling the fish itself. A range of wines with high acid are great with grilled seafood. Think of the kind of wines that make you pucker a little bit like lemony Pinot Gris, briny Albariño, vibrant Sauvignon Blanc, ripe fruit Chardonnay, or minerally dry rosé. These types of wines go well with any type of seafood that you normally squeeze a little lemon onto.

Don’t shy away from a fruity red wine with a smoky oily fish.  Meatier or fatty fish like swordfish and salmon love Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

Pinot Gris to try: Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris 2014, California ($15). Made with a blend of grapes grown in the cool climate of Monterey, including Roussane, Viognier, Grüner Veltliner and Albariño, this wine has a lively blend of citrus and mineral flavors. Its tropical fruit, melon and peach flavors love sea bass.

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris 2014
Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris 2014

 

Albariño to try: Wedding Oak Winery Albariño 2013, Texas/California fruit ($23). This fresh, dry and versatile Albariño has distinctive aromas of peach and apricot along with bracing sea spray, lemon and mango flavors. The unoaked wine pairs with incredibly well with shellfish.

Wedding Oak Winery Albariño 2013
Wedding Oak Winery Albariño 2013

Sauvignon Blanc to try: Matanzas Creek Winery Helena Bench Sauvignon Blanc 2013, California ($40). This Knights Valley wine has floral and minty aromas and bouncy flavors of white peach, nectarine, grapefruit and lemon zest. It’s an excellent match with Gulf black drum.

Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc
Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc

Pinot Noir to try: Vineyard 29 Cru Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013, Oregon ($54). This Old World style Pinot has delicate floral fragrance and spicy earthiness with lush flavors of wild strawberry, cherry, dark plum, nutmeg and vanilla. The velvety texture and smooth tannins make it a classic pairing with salmon.

Vineyard 29 Cru Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013
Vineyard 29 Cru Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013

Grilled Chicken

Grilled chicken always makes me think of carefree days and picnics by the lake. The hot coals bring out the best in this bird. The sweet caramelization and bitter char from the grill make it an excellent partner with buoyant white wines. Citrusy Sauvignon Blanc, aromatic peachy Viognier and tart, tropical Chardonnay are all excellent choices to pair with grilled chicken.

Sauvignon Blanc to try: Vineyard 29 Cru Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013, California ($54). This limited production wine aged in a combination of French oak, concrete and stainless steel is an absolute delight. True to the Sauvignon Blanc style, it has zingy citrus flavors of lemon and green apple and layers in luscious toffee and butterscotch. The bright acidity is excellent with chicken thighs.

Vineyard 29 Cru Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Vineyard 29 Cru Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Viognier to try: Pedernales Cellars Texas Viognier Reserve 2014, Texas ($40). Floral scent with honey, and bright white peach, citrus, vanilla and toast flavors coming alive on the palate. This is an amazing wine that is versatile enough to pair with almost any style of grilled chicken.

Pedernales Cellars Viognier
Pedernales Cellars Viognier

Chardonnay to try: Flowers Vineyards & Winery Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013, California ($50). Bliss.  The barrel aging in mostly neutral French oak gives this wine roundness without letting the oak obscure the fruit. Lemon zest and white flower scents mingle with pear, green apple and melon flavors with a solid structure of minerality and acidity.

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Steak and Burgers

It’s hard not to have a beer in hand when you are standing over the grill, but once the meat is done, pick full-bodied wines with dark berry fruit and some tannin to pair with grilled beef. It’s a tried and true practice to pair red wine with steak because the fat and protein in beef lowers the impact of tannin. It’s simple chemistry. Don’t mess with a good thing.

Lightly seasoning any steak or burger and grilling it to a rare to medium temperature lets beef sing. The char on the meat goes well with the tannins in red wines such Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varieties. Meat with a heavier char and cooked medium-well to well-done pairs better with softer, less tannic red Rhone grape varieties like Syrah and Grenache, or Pinot Noir.  If you prefer to keep it local, grab a delicious Texas Tempranillo. The bright fruit and high acidity cut right through that fatty beef.

Pinot Noir to try: Flowers Vineyard & Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013, California ($50). This luscious wine has vivacious scents of wild strawberry, cranberries and herbs layered with black cherry, raspberry and thyme flavors. It is an elegant and refined wine that will dress up any meal.

Grenache to try: Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache 2012, Australia ($32). The old vine Grenache was planted in 1946 and produces wine with powerful raspberry, cherry and red plum fruit flavors with peppery spice, licorice and chocolate. It is excellent with grilled lamb.

Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache 2012
Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache 2012

Petite Sirah to try: Edmeades Mendocino County 2012, California ($35). This limited release wine is absolutely perfect with grilled beef. Its smoky and spicy nose with loads of blackberry, plum, vanilla and coffee flavors and firm tannins will have you taking a drink with every bite of steak.

Edmeades Petite Sirah Mendocino County 2012
Edmeades Petite Sirah Mendocino County 2012

Tempranillo to try: Spicewood Vineyards Estate Tempranillo 2012, Texas ($45). This wine has bright acidity and firm tannins along with tart cherry, leather and tobacco flavors making it a perfect pair with grilled beef.

Cabernet Sauvignon to try: Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Argentina ($15). This is a perfect backyard wine; easy on the wallet and big on flavor. Bold bouquet of blackberry jam and smoke accompanies a bounty of blackberry, raspberry, fig, chocolate and herbal flavors that are great with a burger.

Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Cabernet Sauvignon to try: Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012, California ($65). Indulgent as a velvet smoking jacket, the Melka Cab is packed with ripe plum, black cherry, cassis and mocha with baking spice and tobacco. The silky tannins are soft as a kitten purring for another bite of your steak.

Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012

Barbeque

Sure it’s easier to grab a beer to go with the smoky, rich flavors of saucy slow-cooked meats like ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, but it’s not impossible to have stellar wine pairings with barbeque too. A rule of thumb is big, intense flavors go well with big wines.

Dry rubbed barbeque can sometimes be salty. That style loves Champagne and sparkling wine. A sip of bubbly after savory barbeque makes the salt pop and lowers the tartness of the wine. Sparkling wine tastes less tart with salt than it does by itself. It’s best to avoid big tannic red wines with this style of barbeque, as salt makes tannins taste more bitter and intensifies the alcohol.

Slow cooked, straight forward brisket is excellent with a high acidity, low tannin Cabernet made with mountain grown fruit.

Sauces and glazes introduce sweet and spicy flavors that call for different styles of wines. Fruit forward, full bodied wine like big, jammy Zinfandels and bold Syrahs are an excellent complement to sweet sauces. Barbera, Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Grenache and rosé are excellent with either sweet or spicy barbeque. The soft tannins and impression of sweetness keeps the wine from tasting sour with a heaping plate of barbeque.

Sparkling Wine to try: Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé 2011, California ($37). The vibrant, fruity and creamy sparkling wine dances with delicate strawberry and raspberry flavors with a hint of apricot. Made with a blend of 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay grapes, this peppy, bubbly wine is an absolute stunner with barbeque.

Domaine Carneros Wines
Domaine Carneros Wines

 

Zinfandel to try: Quivira Vineyards Reserve Zinfandel 2013, California ($42) Stick your nose in the glass and fill it with the scent of blackberries ripening in the sun. The clean, bright wine has mild tannins that let the bold fruit shine through with red raspberry, black cherries and “that classic Dry Creek spice.” It’s a great accompaniment to ribs.

 

Pinot Noir to try: Kendall Jackson, Jackson Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2013, California, ($30). The coastal influences of the Anderson Valley creates wines with bright acidity to balance fruity black cherry, blueberry, chocolate and cola flavors. The silky tannins and lingering smoky, spicy flavors are a dream match with barbeque.

Kendall Jackson, Jackson Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2013
Kendall Jackson, Jackson Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2013

Cabernet Sauvignon to try: Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder Napa Valley 2011, California ($75). When you order fancy BBQ, like the award winning brisket from Franklin Barbeque, you deserve a wine that is equally as good. A stand-out wine with energetic blueberry, black currants, anise violet and coffee flavors. This graceful Bordeaux blend has relatively soft tannins that will dress up any smoked brisket.

Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon
Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon
No matter what you choose to grill, use the opportunity to try a variety of wine pairings to discover which ones you like most.
This story was originally published in the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas newsletter, The Crush, “Jump Into Summer.”
Disclaimer: Several wine producers provided samples that were reviewed for this article at no charge. 

Rainy Night Wine, 2012 Carmel Road Monterey Pinot Noir

Carmel Road 2012 Pinot Noir

Thunder grumbles old man curses as the rain spits half-heartedly on the black streets. The July heat gives itself up to the rain, but just a little bit. Heat’s oppressive sister, humidity, fills the space between the raindrops with breath-sucking glee.

Nights like this call for a chilled glass of wine. Typically sultry summer nights push my hand onto the neck of a cold bottle of rosé or white wine. When the night sky is blackened deeper by rain, red wine whispers in my ear. Hot rainy nights call for a cool bottle of Pinot Noir.

Tonight 2012 Carmel Road Monterey Pinot Noir graces my glass. Carmel Road is made with pinot noir grapes grown in three vineyards in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County. The cool weather and layers of Pacific fog with sustainable practices slow the ripening of grapes, letting them retain the crisp acidity that makes pinot noir sing.

It smells of cherries aged in a dusty cellar and the petrichor aftermath of a rain shower deep in the woods. The earthy plum, cherry and berry flavors with hint of tea and mocha fit the rainy weather mood exceedingly well. Its 60 degree chill takes the edge off of the sticky heat. A wine as soothing as the patter of rain.

It sells for around $22 a bottle, which means it’s not too expensive to open one any night it rains.

Carmel Road provided a sample of this wine for review.

What are you drinking?

Merry Edwards Honored as Featured Winemaker at the 29th Annual Rare & Fine Wine Auction

This story originally ran on Austin Woman Magazine

Merry EdwardsThe wine world can be a bit of a good-old-boys club, but Sonoma County-based winemaker Merry Edwards has broken through the gender barrier in her 40-year career. Edwards, who makes pinot noir and sauvignon blanc at Merry Edwards Winery in the Russian River Valley, will be honored as the featured winemaker at the 29th Annual Rare & Fine Wine Auction March 22 at Four Seasons Hotel Austin.

This honor adds to a long list of accolades for Edwards, including recognition as the Outstanding Wine Professional at the 2013 James Beard Awards, just the fourth woman to be so honored, and she has been inducted in to the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame. Her wines have also piled up the hardware, including landing the number nine spot on the Wine Spectator’s list of Top 100 Wines of the Year with the Merry Edwards sauvignon blanc Russian River Valley 2007.

The Rare & Fine Wine Auction, hosted by The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas, will benefit the Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, which will receive a portion of auction proceeds. The foundation awarded Dell Children’s $60,000, earmarked for nutritional programs and education, from proceeds from last year’s auction.

Edwards is the first female selected as the annual auction’s featured winemaker and joins a stellar list of who’s who in the wine industry, including Robert Mondavi, Paul Hobbs, Chuck Wagner and Christian Moueix. Wine & Food Foundation auction chair Daniel Bleier has collected Merry Edwards’ award-winning pinot noirs for years and says he’s thrilled to introduce the wines to the audience in Austin.

Austin Woman recently visited with Merry Edwards to learn more about her participation in the auction.

Austin Woman: How did you get connected with the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas for the Rare & Fine Wine Auction?

Merry Edwards: The call came through my daughter, Leslie. They asked if I would be interested in being honored as the featured winemaker. I was thrilled because, while I support a lot of charities, I have a big interest in children’s health. I have two sons and one left the earth when he was 19. He was severely disabled. Because of that, I have spent a lot of time in hospitals. That, coupled with my background in physiology and nutrition, has led to support for charities that help sick and needy children. I like to support medical centers like the Dell Children’s Medical Center to put money in to saving a child. There is also another personal connection, as a friend of my daughter was treated at Dell Children’s.

AW: What does it mean to be the featured winemaker at the 29th Annual Rare & Fine Wine Auction?

ME: It’s an honor to be a featured winemaker. I like doing an event that puts my wine in the spotlight, as it’s a great opportunity to share deeper information about it in my seminar. I enjoy speaking and educating people about wine. More focus on our brand.

AW: What inspired you to become a winemaker?

ME: I came to winemaking through food. I started cooking when I was pretty young and I carried that forward to college, when I started brewing beer and making fruit wine. Wine is an extension of cooking. You start with a recipe, just like cooking. While I was in graduate school studying nutrition at UC Berkeley, a friend introduced me to the wine program at UC Davis, where I earned a master’s degree in food science with an emphasis in enology. When I started in 1972, there were no women professors teaching in the program and there were only three women studying in the graduate program. The study of winemaking was a natural extension of interest in chemistry and nutrition. I got hooked. When I was growing up, my parents didn’t even drink. I introduced my parents to wine back then and my mom is still my winery partner at age 93.

AW: Do you have any female role models in the wine industry?

ME: The two women that led the way for me were Maryann Graf and Zelma Long. They were the only women I knew in the industry when I was starting out. They were both successively hired by a French winery in Sonoma called Simi Winery. Maryann was a pioneer for women’s winemaking and she was followed in that position by Zelma, who was previously an enologist at Mondavi. Between the two, there were at least 20 consecutive years of a female winemaker at Simi. Zelma also went on to start Vilafonte Wine Estate in South Africa. There have been many women role models in other places around the world. Most of the women in Europe who came in to the wine industry did so through the death of their husband. Women like Madame Jacques Bollinger in Champagne made a profound mark on the industry, and so many innovations in the industry came from women.

AW: When you first entered the business, you were one of the few female winemakers. Did you meet any gender bias?

ME: Oh, yes, of course I did. I credit my dad, in part, with how I overcame it. I was very close to my dad. He never told me I couldn’t do this because I was a woman. The second influence was that there were a lot of gay men in my life in the time when I was getting in to the wine business. They didn’t think there was anything weird about a young woman trying to get in to the wine business. Among those gay men, I had a professor, counselor and advisor who supported me and stood beside me. I was really discouraged in the beginning when I was applying for jobs. The winemaking business is farming-based, and there is no business more conservative than farming. A recent survey by UC Davis found that today in America, only 9.9 percent of winemakers are women. When I got in to the business, there were probably only six female winemakers total. Now there are more women winemakers because there are more wineries, but the percentage is still pathetic.

Merry’s Favorite Wines:

Littorai  Mays Canyon Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $90

“Ted Lemon is an excellent winemaker who produces elegant pinot noir and chardonnay in Sonoma.”

Peter Michael Winery L’Après-Midi Estate Sauvignon Blanc, $55

“I like sauvignon blanc from America. I make a barrel-fermented style and like similarly made wines. I’m very loyal to our area and don’t think they are as hard on the teeth enamel as wines from New Zealand or South Africa.”

Merry Edwards Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $60

“I drink a lot of my own wine and I prefer my vineyard designates. I like to drink my pinot older and right now I’m drinking the 2003. I’m also infatuated with our Georganne pinot noir, which I drink a little younger. Right now, I’m making a special wine to celebrate our 40th vintage year. That wine will be composed of different selections of my own clone from different vineyards. I’ll make about 300 cases with a specially designed label.”

Photo courtesy of Merry Edwards Winery. 

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Thanksgiving Wine Picks: Why Not Serve Pinot Noir with Turkey this Year?

Thanksgiving wine recommendationThis article originally appeared in the November issue of Austin Woman Magazine, and it looks way better in print.  Photo by Rudy Arocha; Platter, wine glasses and runner available at Breed & Company, 718 W. 29th St., 512.474.6679; Cheeses compliments of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, 4220 Duval St., 512.53.9610; Wine available at Twin Liquors.

This year, Thanksgiving falls on the first day of Hanukkah. It’s hard enough to pick the perfect wine for Thanksgiving dinner, but for families celebrating both holidays, it’s even trickier. A surefire key to success is selecting more than one type of wine. Bubbles are a must on the table, and it is also a great idea to have an elegant, refined red wine. A complex menu like those served at traditional Thanksgiving and Hanukkah begs for versatile wines.

Sparkling wine is as adaptable as a little black dress during holiday party season. No matter what foods you serve with it, those festive bubbles perk up the palate and put you in a good mood. Sparkling wine also has high levels of acid that cut through any rich and fatty foods like mashed potatoes with gravy or fried latkes.

You might not think of red wine when you gaze at that succulent turkey breast, but pinot noir deserves a seat at your table. Its lush fruit, mild alcohol and soft tannins give it the versatility to pair well with not only turkey, but also with red meats and just about any dish. Pinot noir is the ultimate svelte, elegant, complex wine, and red Burgundy is the best there is in the category.

Similarly, the Syrah-driven wines of the Côtes du Rhône region of France are earthy, fruity and foodfriendly wines. Unlike some of your relatives, these wines won’t dominate the conversation—or the food. The subtle, medium-bodied wines go with white meat or a traditional Hanukkah brisket equally as well.

Whether you are cooking at home or attending dinner at a friend’s house, plan to have one bottle of each for every two people. As a guest, you might not need to supply all the wine, but you should always bring a bottle of something to augment the host’s supply. It’s a nice gift if it isn’t served.

Here are my bubbly and red recommendations for your holiday feast:

Bargain Bubbly: Gruet Brut Non Vintage French Champagne may be the standardbearer for sophisticated bubbles, but domestic bubbly typically delivers better value. Quality American sparkling wines are made in the traditional method in California, Oregon, Washington and even New Mexico. French Champagne maker Gilbert Gruet moved to New Mexico in the early 1980s to make Gruet sparkling wine. Gruet brut is bright with flavors of apple, grapefruit, a hint of lemon zest and an edge of stony minerals that make it a natural dance partner with any food. Pick it up at Twin Liquors for $15.

Splurge Bubbly: Marc Hébrart N.V. Premier Cru Brut Rosé, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ This Premier Cru rosé from the small French Champagne grower/producer Marc Hébrart is as refined and silky as you would expect from a Grand Cru. Its gorgeous salmon color and streaming bubbles are a delightful visual accompaniment to any table. It has a nice balance of fruit and earth with fresh apple, strawberries and funky goat-cheese scent. It finishes with crisp minerals and tart acidity. It’s a steal for $55, available by order at Austin Wine Merchant.

Bargain Red: Domaine d’Andezon Côtes du Rhône 2011 Domaine d’Andezon from the Southern Rhône tastes like a much more expensive wine made in one of the more prestigious regions to the North. This blend of mostly Syrah and Grenache has rich violet color and lush black fruit and wildflower aromas. The blackberry, licorice, herb and black-olive flavors are balanced with graphite minerality. It pairs well with duck, venison and brisket. It is available at Twin Liquors for about $15.

Splurge Red: Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Clos des Issarts” 2010 The famed wine village of Gevrey-Chambertin in the Burgundy region of France produces some of the world’s most sought-after Premier and Grand Cru wines. The Faiveley has rich extraction, resulting in a dark ruby color. It has opulent, long-lasting scents of forests, fennel and ripe cherries. The well-balanced wine tastes of cherries, strawberries, mocha and dried mushroom. It has a silky texture, despite the racy acidity and firm tannins. It is elegance in a bottle for $95 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

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Wines duke it out at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse Bottle Wars

Flemings  Bottle WarsEvery Friday in September Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Austin and San Antonio is hosting comparative wine tasting sessions called “Bottle Wars” as part of their “Month of Discovery.” Every September, Flemings revises its wine list of 100 wines by the glass and this is a fun way of introducing some of the new choices.
Beautiful wife and I attended the “Pinot Smackdown” on September 7th and had a lot of fun comparing eight wines. Here is my score sheet:

My overall favorite was the Cambria from the Central Coast. I’d buy that again. I enjoyed the format, but whined to myself that I would prefer more Oregon Pinot and some Burgudy from France, but that’s because I’m a snot. The event was attended by wine aficionados and new comers alike. If you are just getting started in wine tasting, this is a fun, no-pressure way to do it.

Bottle Wars are held 5:30- 7:00 pm each Friday this month. Flemings serves light hors d’oeuvres and pairs eight to ten wines in each competition for $25 per person. Here is the schedule for the month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: Beautiful Wife and I were provided complimentary tickets to this event.

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Argyle brings Oregon bubbly to Austin

Argyle Winery winemaker, Rollin Soles, brought his mustache and a truckload of his fantastic wine to Austin on February 10, 2012. Guests were treated to 2008 Argyle Brut Rosé, 2008 Argyle Brut, 2008 Nuthouse Chardonnay and 2009 Reserve Pinot Noir paired with oysters and other nibbles at Parkside. 

Soles, a native Texan, has been making wine in the Willamette Valley of Oregon since the mid 1980s. He is a double Aggie, having studied at Texas A&M and at U.C. Davis. He had a great time introducing the Argyle road show crew to Texas BBQ before they introduced Texans to their wine.

2008 Argyle Brut Rose

After pouring samples the wine and describing its production, Soles demonstrated the process of disgorging sparkling wine with the help of guests. The bubbles in sparkling wine are caused by adding yeast to the wine in a secondary fermentation. Disgorgement is the process of getting the yeast out of the neck of the bottle where it has settled over time in the process of riddling. Using a special bottle opener, two heroic volunteers popped the caps while holding the bottles upside down, shooting foamy, yeasty wine out onto 6th Street (and onto onlookers). They quickly plugged the geyser with their thumb and brought the bottle up to 45 degrees to let it settle.

Typically sparkling wine, or Champagne, is topped off with liqueur d’expédition, a mix of the base wine and a dash of sugar, and then sealed with a cork after disgorgement. We didn’t want to wait for that process, so Soles poured the non-dosaged bubbly for a bone-dry treat.

Argyle is celebrating its 25-year anniversary this year. Recognized 11 times in Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Wines of the World,” Argyle’s Extended Tirage Brut is the highest rated sparkling wine made outside of Champagne, France. Argyle wine is available at Austin Wine Merchant, Specs and several other wine shops around Austin.

This story also appears on CultureMap.

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Picking the Right Wine for Thanksgiving Dinner: Shea Wine Cellars 2006 Wädenswil Clone Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Selecting the perfect wine for Thanksgiving dinner means picking more than one wine. Bubbles are a must on the table, and after that it is a great idea to have an elegant, refined red wine. Try and keep the number of varietals served down to four: sparkling wine, red wine, white wine and desert wine. Also consider keeping the same wine for each varietal so you don’t introduce further chaos to your taste buds. That said; don’t be afraid of selecting too many bottles to have at the ready. Lots of alcohol can be good should you encounter:

Mom: “Do you remember when you were six and you recreated the first Thanksgiving using tooth picks and gum drops? So clever.”

You: “Yeah, you told that story 10 minutes ago. And last year. And the year before that. It wasn’t all that clever. We all learned it in kindergarten art class.”

Mom: “You were so bright. You had so much potential. I suppose if you hadn’t married beneath you, things may have turned out differently.”

Don’t let that dominate the evening. It’s your responsibility as host to keep the conversation flowing in a genial and entertaining way. It’s no secret that alcohol is the key to unlocking the creative story telling generator in your brain. Use it wisely.

A complex menu like what you’ll serve at Thanksgiving calls for a versatile wine. Pinot Noir fits the bill as it pairs well with so many different types of food. Its lush fruit, mild alcohol and soft tannins give it the versatility to pair with red or white meats, and just about any dish you can think of. It is a complicated and sensitive varietal. Don’t be surprised if you find a bottle of your favorite Pinot nestled away in a darkened bedroom, smoking cloves cigarettes, wearing a velvet robe, listening to Passion Pit and reading Anna Karenina by candlelight.

There are only two regions in the world that produce worthy Pinot Noir. Yes, I’m biased. Deal with it. The revered Burgundy region of France produces the standard-bearer wines and for that, they command a king’s ransom for the prestige. The second region is the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Talented winemakers have been producing brilliant Pinot’s in the hills and valleys of Oregon for more than 40 years. The Willamette Valley shares several ties with Burgundy. The both lie at the same latitude, Oregon wine makers select Burgundian Pinot root stock clones and several French houses have set up operations in Oregon.

Many award winning wines from producers such as Beaux Freres, Ken Wright, Bergstrom, Penner Ash, and Raptor Ridge made from grapes grown in the Shea Vineyards typify the Oregon Pinot Noir; bold, spicy and rich with fruit. This has become one of the region’s premier vineyards under the direction of Dick Shea. That’s true for the vineyard’s namesake Shea Wine Cellars, founded in 1996. Not only do the Shea’s have exacting control over the fruit, but they also have a unique method for creating the wine. Rather than using stainless steel, Shea Wine Cellars uses of neutral wooden fermenters, which smooths out the tannins for a longer finish. Wine made in wooden fermenter is rounder and softer than wine fermented in stainless steel.

For Thanksgiving, you have to bust out the 2006 Wädenswil Clone Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. This is Shea Vineyards signature clone. It is a blend of wines made from grapes grown in three blocks of the Shea Vineyards. After the wine is fermented in wood, it is aged 10 months in mix of new and old Burgundian oak barrels. Just enough time to impart a toastiness, but not so much as to overpower the delicious fruit.

Look The envy of a brandy-braised cranberry sauce. If only it could look as rich, deep and dazzling as a Willamette Valley Pinot in full resplendence.
Smell Don’t worry about the glorious smell of roast turkey overcoming this wine. It has an intensity that can take on the most fragrant dish on your Thanksgiving table. As complex as your meal, it has scents of the Oregon hills, lavender, spice, black coffee, molasses and black cherry.
Taste The 2006 Wadenswil is as complex as your Thanksgiving dinner. The first course is an orgy of black cherry, blackberries and plum entwined in lusty embrace with clove, cinnamon and spicy cedar smoke. The second course is the creamy, velvety round mouth feel. And the third course lingers for an incredibly long finish of soft tannins and dark chocolate.
Price $52

Like a catchy song that gets stuck in your head, this wine will wedge itself deep in the folds of your cerebral cortex. You’ll never know what will trigger it, but sooner or later this wine will come back and grab you. The next time you smell the woody earth of wild mushrooms sautéing in Irish butter, you will get a phantom taste of blackberries and spice that could only be the Wadenswil. You’ve been warned. Drink it with your Thanksgiving dinner, and dream about it the rest of the year.

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What a difference a year makes

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you had been born in a different year? Would you have the same convictions, vote for the same party, hold the same religious beliefs and like the same kinds of foods if you were born in a different decade? Would you be more conservative like Richie Cunningham in the TV show Happy Days if you had been born in the 1950s instead of the 1970s? Do you think it would matter if you were born only one year earlier or later?

I like to think my birth year had an effect on me. 1969. What a momentous year. Led Zeppelin released their first album and Hendrix played Woodstock. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Stonewall riots in New York City ushered in the gay rights era. The Concorde was the first supersonic plane to break the sound barrier. The Summer of Love. All of that and the yin and yang of ‘69 was amplified by my star sign, pieces. It left an indelible mark on my world view.

It goes without saying that wine is also impacted by the year in which it was born. Why else would we fuss so much about the vintage. “Oh man ’96 was a great year for California Cabs.” “I’ll take a ’05 Bordeaux over that any day.” Its loads of fun to experience the difference a year can make by conducting a vertical tasting. Grab a few friends, pick your favorite wine by producer and by four or five sequential years and compare them side by side. Nothing beats it.

Beautiful Wife and I decided to do a micro-vertical with one of our favorite wines, Argyle Winery Nuthouse Pinot Noir. We selected the ‘06 and ‘07 for our little tasting. Both of these wines are a little young, but we’re an impatient sort, so we went forth. Argyle viticulturist, Allen Holstein, does a brilliant job of selecting the grape clones and managing the Lone Star and Knudsen Vineyards where Nuthouse Pinot grapes are grown to get the best berries year after year. Winemaker, Rollin Soles, deftly combines chemistry and artistry to make those grapes into wine that makes me euphoric. So what did these guys have to work with in ’06 and ’07?

The Oregon Willamette Valley had an excellent year in 2006 with a warm summer that persuaded the fruit flavors to burst forth and a little rain right before harvest kept the alcohol levels in check. The 2007 season started with a warm spring and rolled into a moderate summer, ideal for abundant amounts of fruit to mature. However rain deluged the wine region in September and October making for a challenging harvest.

Comparing the two wines side-by-side it was obvious that they are siblings. They both had a bright disposition and grounded in the land from where they came. They aren’t twins though. Their birth years made their mark.

2006 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir

Look Playful, with translucent eyes and a broad smile of ruby-red lips.
Smell Saucy and earthen as a ripe blueberry Violet Beauregarde after she rolled in the Oregon soil.
Taste Boarding school charm with a penchant for a smoke after class. The ‘06 began with blackberry and dried cherry which hung around for a long time to be joined by cocoa, cinnamon and puckering tannins. Its velvety smooth with good acidity and a polite acknowledgement of alcohol.
Price $60

 2007 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir

Look Fresh-faced with rosy, cranberry cheeks.
Smell Forthright and confident Hermione Granger with a strawberry and graphite mist issued from her wand.
Taste The younger sister emerges from the Nuthouse with the same fruit forward posture, but less of an attitude. She has a clean, bright cherry introduction that smoothly rounds into a smoky, lingering finish.
Price $60ish (I think)  

 I went back and forth trying to decide which one I liked better. Was it the more complex, darker ‘06 or the more innocent, fruitier ‘07? I think I’ll have to do this test again to really decide. Why don’t you try it and tell me what you think? I’d love to hear it.

Full disclosure: I had the wonderful fortune to work part-time at Argyle Winery, during which time I developed a fondness for the people and the wine. This is a completely biased review.