What to drink during Running of the Bulls: Avignonesi Desiderio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you drinking?

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 Tasting is for Snobs

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

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

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

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

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

Masi Campofiorin

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

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

 Rosso di Montalcino

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

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

Langhe Nebbiolo  

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

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

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

The wines we tasted were purchased at Austin Wine Merchant.

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It takes two to make a thing go right

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

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

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

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

2008 Langhe Nebbiolo

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

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

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?