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. 

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? 

Wine for your Halloween Party

Reportedly Halloween  is the third biggest party day after New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl Sunday. Its not surprising with many adults wanting to drink their sweets instead of begging for them door to door. This year if you are hosting a party full of people dressed as Miley Cyrus, Walter White and Minions, you’ll need to buy a bunch of wine and nibbles to keep the party going.

There is no reason to break the bank buying expensive wine. Here are a couple of uncomplicated, inexpensive wines that will be crowd pleasers for your naughty nurse and Duck Dynasty dude and everyone in between.

First up, the folks at Gnarly Head are promoting their unpretentious, fruity Old Vine Zinfandel and Chardonnay as Gnarl-O-Ween wines. With the pumpkin packaging and easy on the wallet pricing, these wines will do the trick at Halloween.

The 2012 Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel is made with grapes grown in Lodi on vines that are up to 80 years old. Its a blood red mouthful of bombastic blackberry and black cherry. It will go well with a fist full of fun sized snickers. It will set you back about $12 a bottle.

The 2012 Gnarly Head Chardonnay is also sourced from ancient vines creaking about the flat fields of Lodi. This is no restrained white Burgundy. Hell no, this wine dresses in leather and chains even after Halloween. The honeysuckle, tropical fruit and oaky flavors will go well with that apple you just bobbed for. Its a bargain at $10.

Concannon Vineyard is also promoting its wines as a Halloween treat. They have cooked up a ghoulish recipe to pair with the  2009 Conservancy Petite Sirah. Bay Area chef Joyce Goldstein, has a “Turkish Meatballs with Smoky Eggplant Puree” recipe that reminds me of the grapes for eyeballs and spaghetti for brains trick of my childhood haunted house (OK, it will taste better). She encourages us to dress up the meatballs to look like mummies by arranging shredded mozzarella cheese over the top and placing two slices of black olives for eyes. Here is the reasonably simple recipe to prepare for your Halloween party.

Turkish Meatballs with Smoky Eggplant Puree

Time: 1.5 hours
Serves: 4-6 people

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef, not too lean
  • 1/2 cup grated yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne, or ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley plus a bit more for garnish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Flour
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cups plain tomato sauce, (canned is just fine) or Parmalat strained tomatoes.
  • 1 cup beef broth

Directions
In a mixing bowl combine the meatball ingredients with your hands. Fry a sample meatball and taste it to make sure the seasoning is balanced. Then form all of the meat mixture into balls that are the size of a walnut. You will have about 34 to 36 meatballs.

Dip meatballs in flour. Film a large sauté pan with olive oil over high heat. Brown the meat balls, in batches, turning to brown evenly, and set them aside on a plate in or a bowl. (Leave them a bit rare as they are going to simmer in the tomato sauce. You want them to be moist, not dry. )

In another large sauté pan, warm the tomato sauce and thin with beef broth. When ready to serve, add meatballs to tomato sauce and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes to warm the meatballs through.

For best balance with the wine, the folks at Concannon encourage you to “be sure to take a good mouthful of eggplant along with each bite of meatball. The eggplant is the key ingredient in this food and wine pairing.”

Now you just need to hire the fire dancers, fill up the smoke machine and carve a few pumpkins.

What are you drinking?

Happy Chardonnay Day

For those of you who aren’t strict adherents to the “ABC” philosophy – Anything But Chardonnay – National Chardonnay Day, which is on May 23, 2013, is an excellent reason to pop open a bottle or two. What’s that you say? Its just a dumb marketing gimmick to get us to  buy more of the world’s most planted wine grape? If you are like Beautiful Wife and me, you appreciate any excuse to have a glass of wine.

This year we tasted through a flight of California Chards in a variety of style.

 Giguiere 2011 Clone No. 809 Musqué Chardonnay ($16)

Our first wine is the newest edition to John and Lane Giguiere’s Dunnigan Hills portfolio, Clone No. 809. This grape clone is also referred to as the “musqué” clone, named for the French term meaning perfumed (‘musky’) or Muscat-like. Because its highly aromatic the winemaker chose to age it in stainless steel – completely unoaked – to let the natural fragrance and flavors shine through. This 100% Clone No. 809 Chardonnay lives up to its name, with a full nose of honeysuckle, orange blossom, peach and pear. It has vibrant flavors of tropical fruit and citrus. This is a pleasant summer sipper to pack in your picnic basket.

 JUSTIN Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay ($19)

The next wine was a fun juxtaposition. The 2012 JUSTIN Vineyards Chardonnay was barrel fermented and aged in French oak giving it a classic California Chardonnay style. JUSTIN grows its Chardonnay grapes in California’s Central Coast, which gets hot days and cool evenings that bring out the ripeness in the grapes.   This wine has enticing scents of apple blossoms, peaches, green apples and cloves. It tastes just like it smells with lemon, apples, peach and butterscotch with a crisp, clean and lemon thyme finish. This pup would be great with fried chicken or grilled trout.

 Landmark Vineyards 2011 Overlook Chardonnay ($25)

Landmark Vineyards, nestled in Sonoma, is all about Chardonnay. The winery produces five Chard styles, with Overlook being its entry level. Landmark Vineyards is truly California’s Chardonnay, blending grapes from  21 vineyards. Fermented in French oak barrels the Overlook boasts a rich, classic California Chardonnay style ideal for the traditional Chardonnay lover. It has scents of honeysuckle, lemon and pear. Its  full bodied with apple pie, nectarine and toast flavors. Pair this lovely lady with spicy Chicken Tortilla Ramen from East Side King.
Chateau Montelena 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($50)

We kicked it up a notch for the last bottle of the night. Chateau Montelena is famed for stunning the French by bringing home the white wine trophy from the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” tasting. Chateau Montelena’s Master Winemaker Bo Barrett continues to produce their Chardonnay with the same attention and practice they did over 40 years ago. Lemon, orange blossom and hone greet the nose. Its a big, round Chard with white peach, green apple flavors and hint of almond. This wine only gets better with age and would be a delightful Chardonnay to tuck away in your cellar if you didn’t already guzzle it down for National Chardonnay Day.

What did you drink for Chardonnay Day?

The wineries provided samples of these wines through its PR agency, Calhoun & Company.

What are you drinking?

Tis the Season wine list: Top 10 holiday wines, from sparkling to dessert

 Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut

 Co-authored by Jessica Dupuy
Looking for the perfect holiday wine? If you need a little help, and you’re willing to take the advice of two relatively well-informed wine enthusiasts, then look no further than our very own “‘Tis the Season wine list.”

CultureMap contributor Matt McGinnis of WhatAreYouDrinking.net and food editor Jessica Dupuy bring you a short and simple list of 10 wines. Two sparkling wines, two whites, two reds, two dessert whites and two dessert reds.

Matt McGinnis: “If you follow just one guiding principle for selecting wine for your holiday celebrations, by all means make it this one: don’t be a Scrooge. Whether you are hosting guests or celebrating just with your family, the holidays demand that you go the extra mile. You don’t have to be ostentatiously extravagant or break the bank, but don’t skimp on the most important element of your holiday meal, the wine.”

Jessica Dupuy: “McGinnis’ list may appeal to the Champagne and Lace wine lover, but let’s say you’ve got to host a large group of people and don’t want to shell out the big bucks for a crowd who — most likely — doesn’t care what alcohol-infused beverage you put in their hands. Or let’s just say it, you’re like a lot of us Scrooges out there and are just plain cheap, my list is the one for you.”

Sparkling Wine 

McGinnis Picks: Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru
The first wine you should grab for any holiday occasion is bubbly. Every aspect of opening, pouring, serving and drinking Champagne excites the senses in ways no other wine can. This Christmas, look for a smaller Champagne house that grows its own grapes and produces its own wine. You can find these Champagnes, known as grower-producers, by looking for a tiny “RM” on the label. This is a good short-hand for finding high-quality bubbly without overpaying.

Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru fits the bill for “party-in-a-bottle.” Once popped open, riotous showers of bubbles race to the top of the glass to form a creamy mousse and the bubbles continue to dance and play on the tongue with aplomb. It fills the nose with walnut, apple and pear with the burst of each festive bubble. The Godmé has toasty bread and bright green apple, ripe strawberries flavors and a jangling citrus zip.

The best way to start off any holiday celebration is a kiss under the mistletoe quickly followed by a toast with lovely Champagne. It’s a perfect mate with soft creamy cheeses, ripe berries and just about any hors d’oeuvre you choose to serve before dinner.

I picked up this lovely bubbly from The Red Room Lounge for $55.

Dupuy Picks: Gruet Rosé Non Vintage
While Matt’s philosophy is certainly altruistic if not a bit showy, there was a time when shelling out a few extra bucks to ensure you could show up to a holiday dinner with a good wine was key. But these days, the global market for wine has been blown wide open with a whole slew of impressive wines on the shelves for under $15. You just have to know how to find them.

Everyone loves a good celebration. And a few bubbles in the bottle is a sure fire way to summon a good time. While the best from the large French Champagne houses or even the most delicate of small production grower-producer Champagnes can be instant show-stoppers, I’d suggest panty dropper. And sparkling wine is no doubt the go-to wine for that. But you’re just as likely to turn heads with a little bubbly from the sandy loam soils of New Mexico.

The Gruet Rosé is bright with flavors of strawberry and raspberry as well as hint of lemon zest and warm limestone. When it comes down to it, it’s really just as sophisticated as the real deal. It doesn’t hurt that the winery was started by a French family in the mid-1980s while looking to make a mark with wine on the American frontier.

You can find Gruett Rosé at Spec’s for about $15.

White Wine

McGinnis Picks: Fritz Haag 2010 Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese
Coming to Christmas dinner without a white wine is like going to church without any pants. You just wouldn’t do it. Riesling is among the most food friendly wines on the planet and a sure bet to pair well with almost anything you choose to serve at the holidays. I recommend an ever so slightly sweet Spätlese variety which will accompany savory, spicy and sweet dishes alike.

Here is the second place where you shouldn’t be a cheapskate. Spend a bit more to get a fine German Riesling like the Fritz Haag from the Mosel region. This is an absolutely delightful wine that smells of honeysuckle, ripe pear, baked apples and cotton candy. It has luscious cocktail pears and peaches, honeydew flavors balanced with an electric acidity that makes it sing. It’s great with your salad and appetizer courses.

Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling is available for $40 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

Dupuy Picks: Domaine de Bernier Chardonnay
McGinnis’s shrewd selection of German Riesling for the holidays is certainly noble, but potentially foolish. I’m not about to waste a few drops of precious angel tears on someone who doesn’t appreciate them. And when it comes to holiday celebrations, you are usually running the gamut of wine drinkers who love anything from the oakiest of Rombauer Chardonnays to the most delicate of German Rieslings. I’m in favor of meeting somewhere in the middle.

Offer all the citrus and apple notes that a fine Chardonnay can offer, with an extra boost of minerality from the French region of the Loire Valley. This crisp little wine barely has a kiss of oak, but finds its strength in its acidity, which makes it a great food wine for your average turkey dinner to grilled fish or pork tenderloin.

Whole Foods Market has this wine for only about $10.

Red Wine

McGinnis Picks: 2011 Domaine Chignard Fleurie ‘Les Moriers’
Christmas dinners can be a cacophony of clashing flavors with several brash dishes competing for your tongue’s attention. It’s tough to pair a red wine with diverse dishes like goose, turkey or beef Wellington and Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and Waldorf salad. Beaujolais, made with the Gamay grape, are soft, fruity and versatile enough to go with almost any dish.

The engrossing experience of drinking a Beaujolais cru is a departure from the unfussy toss back of inexpensive Beaujolais Nouveau. It has bold scents of wild strawberries and maraschino cherries. Unlike the Nouveau, it has complexity on top of the fruit-forward juiciness. The sassy cheery cherry and blueberry flavors are balanced with granite minerality, crisp acidity and soft tannins. It is a festive accompaniment to almost anything you choose to serve.

This lovely Beaujolais is among the sumptuous selections of French wine at the Austin Wine Merchant for $25.

Dupuy Picks: Marquee de la Musa Garnacha
True, Beaujolais is an elegant and beautiful choice — and I look forward to joining McGinnis’ holiday dinner to enjoy some. But just as with Riesling, it’s the type of wine that is more on an acquired taste for some than for others. I choose to move to the warmer climate of Spain, specifically to the Cariñena region where Garnacha (Grenache in French) reigns supreme.

Similar to the Gamay grape found in Beaujolais, Garnacha is a thin-skinned grape often used to bring more depth of fruit to blends with a breadth of earthiness and tannin. This wine is light, but with a fair amount of complexity. And as it is a warm climate grape, it lends itself to foods with a little spice — as is fairly typical of holiday dinners in Texas. Smoked pork loin with an apple, cranberry and jalapeño chutney would be ideal for this wine.

You can pick this up at Whole Foods Market for about $9.

White Dessert Wine

Sandeman SherryMcGinnis Picks: Sandeman Royal Corregidor Rich Old Oloroso Sherry 20 Year Old
Sherry is one of the most complex and difficult to produce wines in the world. I could bore you with the intricacies of how it’s made, but suffice to say that if someone shares Sherry with you, it’s because they think you are worth it. That’s reason enough to put it on the holiday table.

The Sandeman aged Oloroso smells as good as a holiday party with roasted candied pralines, almonds and baked pear. It tastes like kissing the gorgeous, foul-mouthed intern in the coat closet at the end of that Christmas party; nutty and bitter mixed with 20-year-old sweetness and the saltiness of a reluctant tear. I can’t imagine another wine combining sweet, bitter and brine in a more pleasurable way.

Back at home, serve it slightly chilled, but not refrigerator cold, in a tulip shaped white wine glass. It is a perfect compliment to the end of a holiday meal. Its rich raisiny sweetness goes well with many traditional holiday deserts like gingerbread, rum cake and chocolate-cherry trifle.

This diminutive 500ml bottle will set you back $20 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

Dupuy Picks: King Estate Pinot Gris Ice Wine
While McGinnis is manipulating the intern into the coat closet, I’d rather keep my dessert wines on the classy side. They can be sweet, but more in the vein of angelic seraphim and cherubim rather than tawdry underaged tarts. So I’m going with a lovely little ice wine from Oregon.

The King Estate uses the often mis-represented Pinot Gris grape for this crisp and delicate wine brimming with ripe pear, apricot, peaches and wildflower honey. At only 11 percent alcohol this wine is searingly delicate, but the fragrant aromatics and the higher level of residual sugar will do doubt ensnare your senses. Serve chilled alongside a cornmeal cranberry-orange zest cake and you’ll certainly hear the songs of angels.

Technically, I’m barely shaving a few dollars off the price of his Sherry with my ice wine, but with the difference, you can still do your best to entice the intern with a Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boy — she probably won’t know the difference. You can also find this at Whole Foods Market for about $18.

Red Dessert Wine

Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny PortMcGinnis Picks: Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Porto
Port has always been one of my favorite fortified wines. The Port screams “Happy Holidays!” Drinking Port at Christmas is definitely a British tradition, but it’s getting more and more traction in the states as people are more open to explore fortified wines. This 20 Year Old Tawny has a boozy nose of dried orange peel and figs. Port is always bold and this one doesn’t disappoint. Orange, cherry, leather and cigar cling together in a sweet vanilla present.

When you are all done with your feast having eaten every tidbit of Who-pudding and every morsel of roast beast, sip on this nectar and you won’t have a care in the least. Sit back by the fire and sip a snifter of joy while enjoying visions of sweet fairies dancing, oh boy. It’s just as sad to finish the glass as unwrapping the last present under the tree.

The Austin Wine Merchant has a good selection of Port and this one goes for $50.

Dupuy Picks: Pedernales Cellars Glögg
McGinnis does have me here. I am a sucker for Port. But while he’s savoring his last drop of Tawny, I’ll likely be polishing off the last of the dirty dishes from the Holiday feast. But I’d never leave my guests without something to talk about. Which is why I’m going with something a little unorthodox: a Swedish-inspired wine made from a local Hill Country producer.

Glögg is a seasonal holiday fortified red wine infused with a whole range of spices including cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s typically served warm with a cinnamon stick and handful of raisins or dried cherries tossed in the bottom of the glass — an excellent treat to enjoy when the Glogg is at its end. This velvety red sticky is made in homage to Pedernales Cellars co-founder Fredrik Osterberg who grew up in Sweden and now finds his home among the rolling landscape of the Texas Hill Country. Serve this libation with a handful of Swedish-style ginger snaps and know that you’re not only spreading good cheer but supporting a local producer all at the same time.

Currently Glögg can only be found at the Pedernales Cellars winery in Stonewall for about $19. You can order it online and still probably stay under the price of McGinnis’ Port.

This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?

Fall Creek Vineyard Bets Big on Texas Wine

 “This isn’t an easy business. It takes a tremendous amount of work and skill. Its’ also a big gamble.”
Ed Auler’s words bounced around in my head. I had just driven about two hours from Austin to visit with him at his winery, Fall Creek Vineyards. On the way I’d passed dry river beds, scorched fields and groves and groves of sun-seared trees dying by the dozens; all victims of the most severe single-year drought in Texas history and the hottest summer ever recorded in the United States. “It’s also a big gamble.” The weather this year makes me wonder why anyone would gamble with producing wine in Texas.
Ed Auler, founder, Fall Creek Vineyards

 If it weren’t for Ed Auler, perhaps no one would bother trying to make wine here. He’s one of the Texas wine industry pioneers that paved the way.

In the early 1970s the Auler family had been in cattle ranching for five generations. At the time the cattle business was going south. Ed thought about growing pecans and peaches as an alternative. Then the crazy notion of growing grapes to produce wine came up. He didn’t know much about wine, but his wife, Susan, who knew a little more encouraged him to take a trip to Europe to learn more about wine. Once in Europe they realized there were a lot of similarities with various wine regions and the growing conditions in Texas.

When they returned, Ed and Susan planted an experimental vineyard to test it. It worked well, so they doubled down and bought more land on the north west shore of Lake Buchanan where the prevailing breeze cools the air quickly at night. Grapes love hot days and cool nights. The sandstone and limestone rich soil in the area is transported from the High Plains of Texas by the Colorado River and is reminiscent of the premier soils in wine regions in Europe. It was a good location to gamble on making wine.  

They planted the vineyards in 1975 and opened the winery in 1979. It was only the second winery in Texas closely following Llano Estacado Winery which opened in 1978. The early days were challenging with trial-and-error in the vineyard. The Aulers experimented with grapes looking for the varietals that thrived. At one point they grew 25 varietals on the property. It was lonely in the early days without a community of wine makers to turn to for advice. It was a big gamble. 

In 1990 Mother Nature had a Royal Flush and blew a catastrophic freeze into the Fall Creek vineyards. The only thing that survived was the Chenin Blanc vines. The Aulers weren’t about to give up. They replanted the vineyards with new trellising and other varietals. Not long after, they were dealt another blow when Pierce’s Disease sucked the life out of the vines. This set-back triggered Fall Creek to source grapes from other suppliers while they replanted the vineyard. Rather than betting everything on their own grapes a third time, they put a program together that spread the chips to other vineyards around the state to minimize risk.

Now Fall Creek vineyards are planted with Black Spanish Lenoir, a neutral blending grape, and they buy grapes on long-term contract such as Chenin Blanc from Mesa Vineyards in Pecos County and Tempranillo from Salt Lick Vineyard south west of Austin.

Ed and Susan Auler learned about wine in Europe and acquired a European taste for wine. The climate at Fall Creek is like Rioja in Spain. The climate at Fall Creek is like Southern France. It is also like Mendoza in Argentina, yet its own region with a style all its own. They employed Burgundian wine-making techniques in pursuit of the European taste profile. To further hone their technique, they called on renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff as a wine consultant. Tchelistcheff is credited with creating a Napa style for Cabernet while working at Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) and he brought some of that “new world” flair to Fall Creek. The Fall Creek wines respond well to new world technology such as cold fermentation and precision processes.

One of Tchelistcheff’s influences is his encouragement of the Bordeaux blend, Meritus. He tasted the wine and really liked it. Tchelistcheff encouraged the Aulers to set aside Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Bordeaux varieties and give them white kid glove treatment to make a special wine. Don’t let the grapes get too hot. Don’t let the skins stay on too long. Age the wine in oak barrels and leave it alone. This is the advice Fall Creek has followed since the 1980s. Meritus is only made in the years that it works out well. Fall Creek won’t bottle it unless very pleased and feel it’s worth it. “This is Texas. Texas weather can be our best friend or our worst enemy. Some years we can make Meritus, some years we can’t.”

 Making high-end wine satisfies part of the market, but there is also significant demand for every-day drinkers. To quench that thirst, Fall Creek makes a fruit forward Merlot and Granite Reserve Cabernet, both easy drinking red wines at affordable prices. They also introduced two value lines: Twin Springs Winery and Mission San Antonio de Valero. The Twin Springs Sweet Red, Sweet White, Sweet Blush and the off-dry Merlot-based, Ed’s Smooth Red, all sell very well.  

The gamble on Texas wine has paid off. In the beginning Fall Creek produced 250 cases. They planned to be a 25,000 case winery someday.  Now they are making 55,000 cases a year and splitting at the seams. They installed a new bottling line new can handle 2000 cases a day and have even more expansion plans.

The Aulers will sell their line of sweet wines out of state. The acceptance of the Twin Springs and Mission San Antonio de Valero second lines will determine how big they grow.

Ed Auler poured a line-up of wines for me to try and lovingly described each one.

2010 Vintage Chardonnay Texas

Fall Creek treats its Chardonnay to cold fermentation and retain the character of the fruit. It sees a little time in oak to round it out, without over powering the fruit and goes through partial malolactic fermentation for a richer texture. This crisp and refreshing wine would pair well with anything from deli sandwiches to grilled sea bass.  

Look Light golden with good clarity.
Smell The Chardonnay has tropical scents of pineapple and honey.  
Taste This is a light style Chard with fresh honeydew, green apple and citrus flavors. It has a nice balance of fruit and acidity with a smooth mouthfeel. The clean finish is neither buttery, nor over-oaked.   
Price $12

 

2010 Fall Creek Vineyards Chenin Blanc, Texas

It turns out Ed doesn’t personally care for dry Chenin Blanc, but the University of Texas asked if he would produce experimental grapes. He agreed to grow Chenin Blanc. To achieve a hint of sweetness, fermentation is stopped leaving 2 percent residual sugar. It is then fine filtered and gets a kiss of oak. This is a “perfect wine for people that like to talk dry and drink sweet.” It pairs well with spicy food like Thai and Cajun cuisine.

Look The sunny flaxen wine has good viscosity and clings to the glass.
Smell The Fall Creek Chenin Blanc has a playful nose of cotton candy, honey suckle and toast.
Taste Fruity pear and nectarine flambé greet the palate, followed by toasted marshmallow on the finish. It goes down smooth.
Price
$8
 
Ed’s Smooth Red
Here is a wine for people who don’t take wine too seriously. It’s fun and easy drinking. Its best served slightly chilled, but not as cold as you might pour white wine. It’s a fine accompaniment to Texas BBQ and Tex-Mex food.
  

Look An inviting ruby red glimmering in the glass.
Smell A burst of berry scents greet the sniffer with a touch of oakiness.
Taste Ed is slightly sweet and tastes like a smoky blueberry tart.
Price $10

 

2009 Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo, “Salt Lick Vineyards” Texas Hill Country

The grapes for the Fall Creek Tempranillo are grown by Scott Roberts at the Salt Lick Vineyard in Driftwood, Texas. The climate is similar to Rioja, Spain and the grapes are doing very well in Texas. The production is limited, so this wine is only available in the tasting room and in a few select restaurants in Austin. Jansen Roberts said it perfectly – “Perfect wine for people that want more body than a Pinot Noir and less than a Cabernet.” 

Look Bright garnet with a deep red center like a king’s velvet robe.
Smell It has a rich fragrance of smoked plum and raspberry.
Taste The Fall Creek Tempranillo is lush with cherry, blackberry and nutmeg with a long finish. Delicious. I was impressed with this wine and wanted more. Fortunately Ed sent me home with the rest of the bottle to share with Beautiful Wife.
Price
$30 available in tasting room in very limited quantities
 
2006 Meritus
The crown jewel of the Fall Creek line-up is made from 74 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot and 1 percent Syrah. The award winning wine can stare down the thickest Texas steak with grace and finesse. 

 

Look The Meritus is brick red with burnt sienna in the glass.
Smell The nose is full of sweet black cherry, vanilla, rhubarb and oak.
Taste This is a big wine with cassis, blackberry, tobacco and chocolate. It has a good balance of tannins and a long oaky finish. It has the underpinnings of traditional Bordeaux with a little new world punch.
Price
$40
 

The wines are getting national attention and the business is doing well, but is it worth the gamble? Ed Auler reports that making wine in Texas is very satisfying. “This is not a widget. It’s something you put yourself in and put your signature on. It’s a combination of working with mind and hands like being a plumber, electrician, chemist, physicist, accountant, PR, and lawyer at the same time. The moments that bring satisfaction are when I know people enjoy my wine.”

 That sounds like a winning bet.

 Fall Creek Vineyards provided samples of the wines for review.  In addition, Fall Creek was a sponsor of my 2011 Mellow Yellow Benefit with proceeds supporting the Lance Armstrong Foundation to continue its fight against cancer.

This article also appears on CultureMap Austin.

 

Get Naked: 2009 Big House Unchained Naked Chardonnay

There’s nothing better than going naked, particularly if you’re unrestrained. That’s the attitude of Big House Unchained Naked Chardonnay. As the label suggests, this wine is as carefree as a bare-ass romp through the vineyard. 

Naked, or unoaked, Chardonnay is made by fermenting and aging the wine in stainless steel tanks rather than in oak barrels. It’s not a new practice, but one that is picking up steam over the past few years in New World wines as consumer tastes are changing.

Chardonnay made in the Chablis region of France typically exhibits tart acidity because it is traditionally aged in stainless steel to let the terrior shine through. Conversely, it’s a common practice in the rest of the Burgundy region, where the climate is cool, to age Chardonnay in oak barrels. The grapes typically don’t get extremely ripe, which means they produce lower sugar levels and therefore lower alcohol levels, resulting in acidic wine. Aging in oak smooths out the acidity and gives the wine a bit more complexity.

The hotter climates in California and Australia means Chardonnay grapes ripen more, producing higher sugar and, yeah you guessed it, higher alcohol. Aging these less acidic wines in oak means they take on more of the oaky, spicy characteristics of the wood. In addition many wine makers do a secondary, malolactic fermentation, which gives Chardonnay that buttery taste. California Chards, and by extension the entire varietal, has earned a reputation for being a big, flabby, oaky, buttery wine that tastes nothing like the clean, fruity grape that it’s made from.

In recent years, the rise in popularity of flirty, crisp, fruity, unoaked wines like Italian Pinot Grigio, Spanish Albariño, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Austrian Gruner Veltliner have made Chardonnay the ugly kid at the dance. Preference for unadulterated wines is surging. Chardonnay producers in California and elsewhere are responding by embracing au natural wines. 

Big House Winery in Soledad, CA takes the starkers approach to Chardonnay. I spoke with winemaker Georgetta Dane – or The Warden as she’s called the company’s prison themed materials – to learn more about their Naked Chardonnay.

The 2009 vintage is the first year Big House has made a Chardonnay. Georgetta wanted to try it and see how it is received. So far it has received good feedback. She wanted to make a different style of Chardonnay – a wine that never sees oak or malolactic fermentation, a wine that lets just the beauty of the grape shine through. During harvest Georgetta select grapes from various appellations, namely Monterey county and Paso Robles. Grapes from these areas make very different wines because of their particular terriors. Wine made from grapes grown in Monterey are very citrusy with apple flavors and higher acidity. Paso Robles warmer so Chardonnay made from grapes grown their tastes of pineapple and tropical fruit.

Georgetta approaches wine making like blending essential oils to make perfume. She wants base, middle and top notes on the nose and palette. To achieve that in the Unchained Naked Chardonnay, she uses not only grapes from different regions of California, but also different yeasts on each lot to enhance flavors. In the tasting room she dives into blending with passion; looking for base notes of citrus, middle tropical flavors and for the top note, she blends in a bit of Gewürztraminer or Viognier for a hint of sweetness. She hit the mark. Here’s what it’s like.

2009 Big House Unchained Naked Chardonnay

Unchained Naked Chardonnay
Look Unchained Naked Chardonnay is pale daffodil yellow, lively and clear.
Smell It has a fresh lemon, papaya and slate nose. It’s aromatic, but not overly powerful.
Taste This fruit-forward wine tastes of apple, honeydew, pear and mango. It has a slight heft to the body, like light and dry syrup from canned peaches. If I tried this in a blind tasting, I would have mistaken it for a Viognier. It certainly doesn’t taste like a traditional, oaked California Chard. It also doesn’t taste like its tart, crisp French cousin Chablis, with less acidity.  
Price $9.99 for a 750mL or $22 3L box “wine cask”

 

I asked Georgetta her favorite place to drink this wine and she had a great response. “The wine is so food friendly and pairs well with anything. I like to pair it with sunny afternoons. I drink it outside by itself, with no food, but with friends. Enjoying wine is so much about whom you enjoy it with and the occasion.”  I couldn’t agree with her more.   

At 10 bucks a bottle or $22 for a 4 bottle box of wine, this is the kind of wine you can pack in a cooler and take out on the boat, on a picnic or to a backyard BBQ. Go ahead, get naked.  

The wine sample reviewed was provided by Big House Wine Company, sent by Folsom & Associates.

 What are you drinking?