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. 

The ever effervescent Vilma Mazaite

Vilma M Sparkling Wine“My goal is to be successful enough to enjoy rosé Champagne every day at lunch,” says Vilma Mazaite, director of wine at laV. The bubbly Advanced Sommelier introduced 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival attendees to a lovely selection of interesting sparkling wines in her session, “Surprising Sparklers.” Her recommendations included Prosecco from Italy, sparkling Gruener Veltliner from Austria, California sparkling wine, Cremant de Loire from France and slightly sweet sparkling Brachetto from Italy.

With the grace and elegance of the finest Champagne she quipped, “A magnum is the perfect size bottle for two people; especially when your partner is not drinking.”

Related 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival Articles: 

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.  

The Definitive Guide to Holiday Wine

Definitive Guide to Holiday WineThis story was originally published in the Winter 2014 issue of Austin Man Magazine. It looks fantastic in print, so grab an issue or two. 

December is stuffed with more parties, festive meals and holiday get-togethers than anyone can possibly manage. Getting in the way of that merriment is the mad scramble to meet year-end work deadlines, extra family obligations and the dreaded burden of shopping for gifts. The last thing you need is the extra stress of figuring out what kind of wine to buy for dinners and parties. Relax. We’ve got you covered. Here is your map and compass for navigating holiday wine shopping.

Ready Set Pop the Cork

PERFECT PARINGS: PICKING WINE FOR YOUR HOLIDAY MEALS

Holiday dinners can be a cacophony of conflicting tastes with several dishes demanding your tongue’s attention. Selecting the right wine to pair with diverse dishes like ham, goose, turkey or prime rib and truffled creamed spinach, scalloped potatoes and cranberry relish is downright daunting. The three keys to success are:

Pick a variety of versatile wines, make sure you have enough and don’t be a Scrooge.

Sparkling wine is a sommelier’s clutch wine for crazy food pairings. No matter what is served with it, those festive bubbles perk up the palate and put a smile on your face. The characteristic that makes bubbly so food-friendly is its high acidity. Several styles of white and elegant, refined red wine share that same trait.

Don’t be caught with thirsty guests. It’s safe to plan to serve one bottle for every two people at the table (two if I’m on your guest list).

Marc Hebrart Rose Sparkling

 

The best way to start off any holiday celebration is with a kiss under the mistletoe, quickly followed by a lovely Champagne toast. It’s a perfect mate with soft, creamy cheeses; curvy mounds of mashed potatoes and just about any luscious dish you encounter.

Marc Hébrart N.V. Premier Cru Brut Rosé, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ de la Marne NV. As exhilarating as a kiss with a strawberry tucked in her lips, the vivacious bubbles and lush, layered berry flavors of this rosé satisfy. Intense, complex flavors riding an edge of tremendous acidity and minerality make it extremely versatile with food. It’s a bargain for $45.

White

Serving holiday dinner without a white wine is like watching old reruns of Sex in the City without your girlfriend. You just wouldn’t do it. Put food-friendly sauvignon blanc on your shopping list.


2013 Fall Creek Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc
. This is a beautiful Texas wine that you might mistake for French. Locals and out-of-town visitors will both appreciate an enchanting local wine with fresh scents of honeysuckle and green apples, and bold flavors of lemon zest, peach and apricot. It’s perfect for savory, spicy and sweet dishes alike, at $12.

Red

 

Holiday WineThat shimmering Christmas goose or succulent turkey breast might make you crave white wine, but pinot noir will give it wings. Its bracing acidity, sumptuous fruit and soft tannins make it the perfect bedfellow with not only fowl, but also just about anything. Pinot noir is elegant and complex without being fussy.

2012 Starmont Stanly Ranch Estate Pinot Noir, Carneros. Only 214 cases were made of this exquisite wine, made with handpicked grapes from a single vineyard. Vivid violet scents marry with tart red plum, cherry, strawberry, caramel and cedar flavors. Its velvety texture has the right balance of acidity, smooth tannins and light alcohol to let the fruit flavors ease into a long finish with toasty fig and vanilla. Pick it up for $55 a bottle. When a holiday feast calls for a big red meat beast, nothing fits the bill quite like a sumptuous cabernet sauvignon.

2011 Merryvale Profile, Napa Valley. Serving the signature wine from this storied St. Helena winery will signal to your guests that you mean business. Only 957 cases were made of this family-owned estate wine with fruit grown on the east-facing hillside of Spring Valley. The 2011 is a blend of cab, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec, giving it brooding flavors of plum, blackberry, black cherry and dark chocolate. Bring on the tenderloin or beef Wellington. This spicy treasure with grippy tannins will bring out the best in any rich dish. It runs $175 a bottle.

HOLIDAY PARTY WINE-BUYING GUIDE

Holiday parties are fun, and buying the wine for them can be almost as enjoyable. Take the stress out of planning the wine for your party with these simple tips.

Get the Right Amount. Figuring out how much wine to buy is as simple as understanding how many servings are in a bottle, how much your guests will drink and the number of guests you expect.

Step 1: Serving size

  • One 750-milileter bottle = five 5-ounce servings
  • One case (12 750-milileter bottles) = 60 servings

Step 2: Consumption average

  • Assume guests at a holiday party will knock back two glasses of wine per hour.

Step 3: Simple equation

  • One hour at two glasses per person x 10 guests = four bottles of wine. Extrapolate from there.

Get the Right Mix. If your party begins before 5 p.m., get a mix that includes 40 percent sparkling wine, 30 percent white wine and 30 percent red wine. If your party starts after 5 p.m., your mix should include 30 percent sparkling wine, 20 percent white wine and 50 percent red wine.

Get the Right Wines. It’s always nice to pick crowd-pleaser wines that are both versatile with food and recognizable. Buying full cases will typically land a 15 percent discount.

SPARKLING WINE CHOICES

Prosecco From Italy. If you like a slightly less fizzy and sweeter wine, try Italian Prosecco. It’s made with the Charmat method, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless-steel tanks rather than in the bottle. Prosecco is readily available at prices that won’t kill your budget. Delicious wines to consider are Nino Franco Rustico, La Marca Prosecco and Enrico Brut.

Cava From Spain. Spanish sparkling wine called Cava is typically made using the same traditional method as Champagne, but with different grapes. It’s known for its high acidity, fresh-cut citrus and melon flavors, and lighterstyle body. Both the white and rosé Cavas are dry (not sweet) and refreshing. Excellent bargains are easy to find. Try Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé, Gramona III Lustros or Segura Viudas.

Sparkling Wine From the U.S. Domestic bubbles typically deliver great value. American sparkling wines are typically rounder and mouth filling. Quality American bubbles are made in the traditional method in California, Oregon, Washington and even lesser known wine-producing states like New Mexico and North Carolina. Some solid choices are Scharffenberger, Argyle Brut and Roederer Estate.

Champagne From France. If you go for Champagne, you will spend a little extra. It’s worth it. To get the best bang for your buck, consider grower-producer Champagne, meaning wine made by the same house that grows as much as 88 percent of their own grapes. Look for a tiny RM on the label. Small growers are able to control their crops and the quality of the product by bottling their own. Put Billecart-Salmon, Pierre Gimonnet & Fils and Guy Charlemagne high on your list.

WHITE WINE CHOICES

Chardonnay From France. Chardonnay is extremely popular, and also pairs well with a wide variety of foods. Consider Bourgogne blanc wines from producers like Joseph Drouhin or Bouchard Père et Fils. Chablis and Mâcon are outstanding growing areas of Burgundy, making crisp yet creamy wines with ripe peach, lemon peel and honeysuckle flavors. Try Domaine Daniel Dampt and Domaine Guillot-Broux.

Sauvignon Blanc From the U.S. or New Zealand. Zippy, light and refreshing sauvignon blanc is always a crowd pleaser and readily available at great prices. Juicy wines from New Zealand shimmer with lime, grapefruit and edgy jalapeño pepper. Cloudy Bay, Kim Crawford and Greywacke are good bets. U.S.-made sauvignon blanc has the same bracing citrus flavors as its New Zealand sisters, but trades fresh-cut grass for the jalapeño. Solid producers include Matanzas Creek, Galerie and Cliff Lede.

RED WINE CHOICES

Syrah Blends From France. The Côtes du Rhône region of France produces earthy, fruity and food-friendly wines made with a mix of grapes, including grenache, syrah and mourvedre. The medium-bodied wines pack bold flavors of blackberry, licorice, herb and black olive on a graphite backbone. They are great on their own or go well with a wide variety of holiday nibbles. Saint Cosme Côtes du- Rhône Rouge and Domaine d’Andezon Côtes du Rhône are solid wines to consider.

Cabernet Sauvignon From Chile or Australia. Cab is king in the familiarity column. Bordeaux and California cabernet are some of the most sought-after wines in the world. To get similar pizzazz with less impact on the wallet, go for wines made in Chile and Australia. Chilean cabs pair dark fruit and chocolate flavors with herbal and peppery tastes. Strong choices are Santa Rita, De Martino and Montes. Australian cabs are powerful, with rich black currant and cedar flavors. Try Ringbolt and Penfolds.

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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? 

A Traditional Thanksgiving with Biltmore Estate Sparkling Wine

Biltmore Estate Blanc de BlancsOh man, I just love Thanksgiving because it is distinctly American in so many ways. I can think of no better way to honor our early American settlers than by serving a completely traditional meal with an all domestic menu, including American wine.

This year I’m celebrating exactly like the Puritans did in the first Harvest Feast in 1621. I’m taking a cue from none other than the grand-daddy of all pilgrims, George Vanderbilt, who established Thanksgiving by pouring Jeroboams of Biltmore Estates sparkling wines for his guests from India at his palatial manor in Asheville, North Carolina.

OK, so I’m not exactly an expert on all things antiquity. Never the less, I’m good enough at geometry to know that North Carolina is part of New England on the east coast next to Plymouth Rock. Like me, what you might not have known is that there are excellent wines made in the Thanksgiving state of North Carolina. Living in another non-traditional wine growing state, Texas, I’m completely not surprised by it though.

I had a little chat with Sharon Fenchak, the winemaker at the Biltmore Winery, to learn about the wine industry in North Carolina and about the wine she makes. Wine has been made in the state since the 17th century and there are now more than 100 wineries and more than 400 vineyards. There are diverse and distinct growing regions in the North Carolina with mountain and coastal areas as well as three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).

Growing vinifera grapes in the North Carolina climate can be tricky business. Fenchak explained, “Our vineyards were originally planted in 1971 and the present vineyard was planted in 1985. The life of a vine in North Carolina is around 20 years and our harsh winters impact their longevity. The weather also dictates what grows. Viognier grows well here in some years and not in other years. We wouldn’t plant Pinot Noir here because it would fall apart in the humidity. Last year was a dry year which is great for the grapes and drove the sugar up to make bold red wine.”

Biltmore Estate has 80 acres of vineyards in the mountains with a humid, rainy and cool climate well suited for growing Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. The area sees wide swings in temperatures from day and to night that gives the wine zippy acidity. In addition to growing its own grapes, the winery buys grapes from other North Carolina appellations, like Viognier from the southern part of the state. It also gets about 25 percent of its fruit from California to round out its needs.

Fenchak was fascinated by science and fermentation at an early age. She tried making her first wine when she was 9 years old, and as expected it was horrible. She later lived in Vicenza, Italy while in the military and fell in love with wine and food pairings and the romance of wine making. She pursued her passion by earning a food science degree with research in wine for her Master’s thesis. “I fell in love with the idea of winemaking and then realize how hard the work is and how dirty you get,” she said.

Biltmore has only had three winemakers since it opened in the early 1970s. That longevity leads to consistency in the style of wine. It’s also lead to steady growth. The winery is expanding from 90,000 cases made per year to 170,000 cases. It is now sold in several states and they plan to go national soon.

Fenchak shares winemaking responsibility with Bernard Delille, who joined the winery in 1986. She described the synergy in their working relationship, “Bernard is French and I’m from Pennsylvania. He has a European palate and I have an American palate. We have different approach to wine, but we have been working together for so long we have agreements on styles of wine. We think about what the consumer wants and make wine that is ready to drink and taste good right away and for the next couple of years.”

Making wine from all North Carolina fruit is both challenging and rewarding. Fenchak believes that making wine with grapes from different areas has made her a better wine maker. “What’s going on in Monterey is not the same as what’s going on in Sonoma and definitely not what’s going on in NC. Making an American appellation is fun.”

The sparkling wine that I’m having with my Thanksgiving dinner is made with Chardonnay grapes grown in the Russian River Valley of California. This elegant wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks, and then it undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. Here is what it’s like.

Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs, Methode Champenoise Brut, 2008    

Look This star-bright, pale yellow wine is almost liquid platinum in the glass with an inverted shower of bubbles frothing into an ample mousse. It shimmers like a holiday.
Smell The Blanc de Blancs has a delicate scent of bread dough, green apples and nuts.
Taste Made with all Chardonnay grapes, it has apple blossom, green apple, lemon zest and tart Bartlett pear flavors. It has racy acidity and a lively mouth feel. The acidity and lively fruit make it versatile enough to pair with anything you serve in a traditional Thanksgiving dinner from green bean casserole to smoked turkey to oyster dressing.
Price $25

 

2012 Christmas at Biltmore Wine While I joked about the origins of Thanksgiving tied to George Biltmore, legend has it that Mr. Vanderbilt first opened the doors to the amazing estate on Christmas Eve, 1895. The dude threw down with a bad-ass party with tons of  holiday foods and sick amounts fine wines. Today the winery commemorates that bash by releasing The Christmas at Biltmore, a limited release wine. This aromatic blend of California Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Muscat Orange and Chenin Blanc is slightly sweet to pair well with holiday dinner classics like roasted turkey, baked ham and pumpkin pie.  I’ve got a bottle tucked away in my stocking ready for Christmas dinner.

Whether you choose a white blend, Pinot Noir or sparkling wine to enjoy with your holiday meal, consider buying a domestic wine from an up and coming region like North Carolina. Just make sure you have enough on hand to satisfy your thirsty guests. If you serve them enough, maybe they’ll start to believe silly stories about the origin of Thanksgiving.

Biltmore provided samples of the wine for review.  

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?

Fine Wine without Pretense Makes Sense at Max’s Wine Dive

There are days when I feel like wearing jeans and flip-flops. On those days that I’m feeling ultra-casual, I don’t have lowered expectations for how I’m served or for the types of food and drink I buy. I just don’t feel like getting all gussied up. On days like that, Max’s Wine Dive on San Jacinto and Third in downtown Austin is a perfect choice.

Max’s is the kind of place where the wait staff wears t-shirts that read, “Fried Chicken and Champagne? Why the Hell not?” Max’s is the kind of place that serves down-home food like Gator Beignets and Shrimp & Grits.  Max’s is the kind of place that doesn’t serve flights of wine, because who really just wants a small taste of wine when you can have a whole glass?

I ambled in to Max’s after work with my friends Cotton Candy and Jolly Rancher to enjoy a glass of wine or two during happy hour, which happens Monday through Friday from 4pm to 7pm. During happy hour wines by the glass are $2 off. It was a 90 degree evening in March, so I was hankering for a glass of Rosé wine. They had two on the menu, so I asked our server, Joe Fahlmann, for a recommendation. What happened next set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Joe asked me if I like my Rosé dry and advised me that if I do, I shouldn’t order either of the wines on the list. He then suggested I order a sparkling wine that wasn’t on the wines by the glass menu. I love bubbles, so I was game to go for a glass of Schramsberg Brut Rosé. Cotton Candy is a bubble fiend from way back, so she was down with it too.

Jolly Rancher had a hankerin’ for a light-bodied red. Joe nailed what she wanted with a glass of Lemelson Vineyards 2008 Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley for $14 a glass. This wine was also not on the wine by the glass list. Recommending an Oregon Pinot Noir scored points with me, and then he said they also carry Argyle Winery Nuthouse Pinot Noir which won even more points.

Jolly Rancher also wanted a little nibble with her wine, but the cheese selection wasn’t exactly what she wanted. “I like it hard. I want it hard. Hard. Can you do that?” Yep, Joe changed up the selection of cheeses to get rid of the goat’s milk and replaced it with Manchego.

Three special orders accommodated and food and drink were brought to our table quickly. Happy hour indeed. This is what I thought of my wine.

Schramsberg Brut Rosé

Look This blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is fermented in part in contact with the Pinot skins giving it a warm salmon belly hue. It has fine, active streams of bubbles that ascend to join their friends in a tiny mousse. 
Smell It has a scent like a summery desert with delicate strawberry and biscuit.  
Taste This was just what I was looking for, a delightfully chilled, subtle sparkler dancing with strawberry, nectarine, citrus and a hint of toasty pecan flavors. It has a quick finish of  buttered toast.  
Price $13.75/glass  (this typically sells for $39 a bottle at retail)

 

Max’s has a respectable selection of wine with 3 sparkling wines 2 Rose and about a dozen reds and a dozen whites available by the glass. They carry anywhere from 140 to 170 wines by the bottle at prices ranging from $12 to $500. All wines are available to take home at retail prices. If you’re not a wine drinker, they also carry about a dozen kinds of beer.

I’ve heard a lot of bitching about the expensive food, but I didn’t go to eat. I have no complaints about the prices of wine. They are pretty reasonable for a wine bar. I was impressed prompt, attentive service with an eye on getting us what we want. Note: the service was good even before I disclosed that I am a blogger. I appreciate knowledgeable servers that give good recommendations for wines. I like Max’s willingness to open any bottle to pour a glass as long as the table is willing to order at least two glasses from the bottle.  Good wine, good service, casual attitude.  

If you are looking for a place to get a good glass of wine while wearing jeans and flip-flops try Max’s Wine Dive.  

What are you drinking?

Budget Bubbles: Select a Delicious Sparkling Wine for your Holiday Party

Champagne is synonymous with celebration. There is something special about a tall, slender champagne flute with tiny bubbles streaming to the surface like thousands of balloons released to the gods, like so many comic thought bubbles floating over a crowd and bursting into fits of laughter. Any holiday party is incomplete without a toast with bubbles. Don’t send your guests home sobbing like unfulfilled children with coal in their stockings on Christmas morning, serve sparkling wine for Chrissakes.

Don’t despair if your wallet is a bit moth-eaten and too slim to cover for the expensive stuff from the Champagne region of France, there are plenty of lovely sparkling wines that can meet your budget. Sparkling wine goes by lots of different names, depending on where it’s produced. In the U.S., we have the evocative name, sparking wine. Other names around the world include Mousseux or Crémant in France, but not from Champagne; Prosecco, Trento and Asti in Italy; Cava in Spain; Sekt in Germany  and Austria; Espumante in Portugal, and Cap Classique in South Africa.

Here are a few tips for choosing a sparkling wine:

  1. Go to a reputable wine shop and get advice from the smart people that work there. They spend all day, every day recommending wine to people like us and are a great resource for finding the best wine for the money.
  2. Steer clear of Cold Duck.
  3. Look for the words “méthode Champenoise,” “traditional method” or “méthode traditionnelle” on the bottle. This signifies that the sparkling wine was made with the most complex of the four methods for making bubbly. When selecting an Italian wine, completely disregard this tip and instead look for “Metodo Charmat-Martinotti” or “Metodo Italiano.” This will ensure that you don’t get a horrid bottle of rot gut made with an injection of CO2 like the aforementioned Cold Duck. This method guarantees you will get a horrendous headache in the morning and you’ll be in desperate need of my hangover helpers.

If you still want a little help in picking a delightful sparkling wine for your holiday party, never fear, I have three recommendations for you. Beautiful Wife and I did your homework for you. We tasted three bubblies priced $10, $15 and $18 and here is your cheat sheet for wine shopping.

Valdivieso Champenoise Brut Nature

Our first wine is our least expensive and comes from the venerable Viña Valdivieso winery in the Curico Valley of Chile. The winery’s claim to fame is that it has evolved from the first company in South America to make sparkling wine, Champagne Valdivieso founded by Alberto Valdivieso in 1879.

Valdivieso Champenoise Brut Nature is made in the traditional method with 60 percent Chardonnay and 40 percent Pinot Noir. This wine is aged 24 months with yeast in the bottle. The wine makers achieve an elegant dryness by adding no additional sugar in the dosage when the bottle is topped off after disgorgement. Here are my tasting notes.

Look Like bright spun gold, with a hint of pale salmon at the edge, studded with millions of tiny diamonds. Valdivies has abundant fine bubbles and a soft mousse.
Smell A glass of delicate lemon meringue pie accompanied by a thin slice of green apple.
Taste A creamy, smooth holiday treat of tart green apple, toasty bread crust and a long finish with hints of bitter pecan.
Price $10

After the official tasting, we finished this bottle first. It has the smoothness, complexity and brightness that we like in a sparkling wine. At 10 bucks a bottle it’s a steal. We grabbed a bunch of it for our holiday parties and pop-in guests.

Crémant d’Alsace Brut Lucien Albrecht

Next up, a French-styled wine from Domain Lucien Albrecht in the village of Orschwihr in southern Alsace. This place has some serious wine history, records of wine production dating back to 728 AD.

Crémant d’Alsace Brut Lucien Albrecht is made from 100 percent Pinot Blanc grapes grown in clay-chalky soil. It is made méthode Champenoise with malolactic fermentation. Here is what you can expect.

Look Northern sunlight on a December afternoon, pale yellow, bright and transparent. This one has slightly larger bubbles than the first streaming with mid frequency for a gentle mousse that disappeared quickly.
Smell A cold winter’s day with dusty, minerally limestone and faint honey suckle.
Taste A bite of fresh grape fruit and tapioca with a silky-smooth, balanced feel. The Lucien Albrecht has a mid-length, slightly bitter finish.
Price $15

This was my third favorite of the three, but is a wine I have bought before and will buy again. The crisp

Carpene Malvoliti DOCG Prosecco Cuvée Brut

Carpene Malvoliti is one of the largest producers of Prosecco and has been making the bubbly from grapes grown in the DOCG hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene Veneto  region of Italy since 1868.

Carpene Malvoliti DOCG Prosecco Cuvée Brut is made from 100 percent Glera, aka Prosecco, grapes with the Charmat- Martinotti method, which puts more emphasis on the fruit by aging it for only three months on the yeast. This wine is the epitome of Prosecco with medium effervescence and round fruit flavors. This is what it tastes like:

Look The glint of light from the star on the top of your Christmas tree, light straw yellow with slightly larger bubbles than the other two wines. The slow rolling bubbles generate a generous mousse.
Smell A Christmas fruitcake with peach pits, toasted apples and floral scents.  My 7 year old son confirmed the peach and apple notes.
Taste Full, lush peach juice dribbling down your chin balanced by tingly bubbles, slight acidity and a smooth, clean, long finish.
Price $18

Prosecco is a food lover’s wine and pairs well with anything on your table. It’s also great all by itself. The Carpene Malvoliti is a solid wine, but for $8 less I can buy a lot more of the Valdivieso to serve at a big party.

Any of these three sparkling wines are good selections to serve during the holidays or any time of the year. They are delicious on their own, go well with food and are good in mixed drinks like mimosas or a festive Poinsettia Cocktail. What’s a Poinsettia Cocktail you ask? Here’s how you make this simple, festive drink:

  • Healthy measure of Sparkling wine
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau
  • ½ oz. Vodka
  • 3 oz. Cranberry Juice

Add chilled Cointreau, vodka and cranberry to chilled champagne glass. Give it a quick swizzle and top that gorgeous princess with with sparkling wine or Champagne just before serving. Now that says holiday a heck of a lot better than a roasted chestnut on Santa’s lap.

Happy Holidays!

What are you drinking?

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?