May 21, 2008

Fire up the grill - Wines for Burgers

Everyone loves a big, fat, juicy burger. It doesn't matter if your burger of choice is turkey, veggie, portabello, or good old-fashioned USDA prime beef. There is just something comforting about sinking your teeth into mouthwatering goodness enveloped in soft bun. So what do you drink when you have to satisfy that yearning? Well you could go in so many different directions depending on your burger preference. Classic cheeseburger? Bacon cheeseburger? Mushrooms? BBQ? Don't worry there are a couple of good wines that will make any burger a dream burger.

hopeshiraz.jpgIf you're hankering for top sirloin, bison or just about any red-meat burger, go for a medium to full-bodied shiraz. I like the Hope Estate because it is big and intense with some fruit, but it is definitely more spicy than fruity and doesn't exhibit the fruit-bomb characteristics of most shiraz.

Hope Estate Hunter Valley Shiraz 2006 $12
Hunter Shiraz has unique characters, not the big, ripe jammy characters of many Australian wines but a more elegant, finer style. Our wine still has the usual plum and spicy pepper characters but a balanced elegance enhanced from time in French oak. A complex and satisfying Shiraz that you will love to drink. (from Hope Estate)

renwoodbarbera.jpgOn the other hand, if you fancy a more heart-healthy and figure-friendly burger, a la turkey, veggie and the sort, you might check out a barbera. There are some excellent Italian barberas out there that would foot the bill, but I really like the Renwood from California for all of my burger moods - meaty and meatless.

Renwood Sierra Foothills Barbera 2005 $10-$12
The 2005 Barbera displays aromas of rhubarb, cherry, and strawberry. On the palate the wine is lighter, with a smooth core of fruit flavors. Crisp acidity is Barbara's signature trait which makes this wine so mouthwatering. A finish that lingers, with raspberry flavors with a hint of cinnamon, balances the wine. The lots were aged in both stainless steel tanks and in a blend of older American and French oak barrels for 10 months. This allows the pure fruit to shine through and have a hint of smokiness. (from Renwood Winery)

If these two don't spark your interest, check out this great shiraz blend: D'Arenberg Stump Jump

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May 20, 2008

Fire up the grill - Wines for Wieners

Actually if you want to be literal, its wine for wursts. But I thought wine for wieners had a much better ring. Anyhoo, I digress from my mission which is to direct you in your wine and wiener (or wurst) pairing. Hot dogs and sausages are a little tough to pair because there are so many condiments and side dishes involved. Your best bet is a round and robust (yet dry) rose. It will have enough body and subtle tannins to cut through the fat in the meat, but ample fruit and moderate acidity to balance out the acidity in most condiments and picnic sides. If your tastes lean more toward spicy sausage and peppers, you could also try a light to medium bodied California or Northwest pinot noir. Here are two of my picks that are sure to please without breaking the bank

91020l.jpgPerrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone Rose 2006 $10
Cinsault, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre
Made by a traditional wine-making technique which results in a rosé wine made by running off or "bleeding", a certain amount of free-run juice from just-crushed dark-skinned grapes after a short, prefermentation maceration. Clearly a wine from a warm place, the color is an intense pink with bright reflections. The nose is fresh, with redcurrants and yellow raspberries. The mouth is supple with fruity roundness in the middle, and a lively finish that is quite long. (from

rexgoliathpn.jpgHRM Rex Goliath California Pinot Noir 2006 $8-$11
The aromas are characteristic of the cool Central coast vineyards that yielded the majority of the grapes for this wine. Red berry perfume with a touch of cinnamon spice, wrapped in a blanket of subtle French oak. Breathe it in. This is one of Pinot Noir's great pleasures. The taste is pure Pinot, too. Mouth-filling overripe raspberry and cherry flavors. Soft and supple are a few of the descriptors I would use. The wine exhibits a velvet finish due to the soft tannins and understated acidity. (from

If you are a die-hard white drinker then by all means go with a white. A medium to full bodied pinot gris or even pinot blanc are safe bets. Although there are certain principles to follow when pairing wine with food, the most important thing to remember is to drink what you like.

One final note: the Rex Goliath is currently out of stock on their site, but one can usually find it at Trader Joe's, certain grocery chains and many smaller independently owned wine shops.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

May 19, 2008

Fire up the grill - Wines for Barbeques

With the official beginning of the pool and barbeque season just a week away (aka Memorial Day), I thought it might be relevant to talk about wines that you can pair with all-American fare. For the next six days we'll give you great picks to go with cookout cuisine and hopefully you'll find a little inspiration for planning your Memorial Day gathering. And since we're talking about wines for a crowd, we're going to try to keep our suggestions close to $15 or under (no promises).

Let's start with actual BBQ, my personal fave for big cookouts because nothing is better than long and slow. You can marinate and pre-cook BBQ ribs and brisket the day before so you're not in the kitchen when you should be by the pool. And then just finish everything on the grill when guests arrive. The meat will be fork tender and slathered in your sauce of choice. And the best wine to serve with these sticky, sweet and spicy treats? A big, bold zinfandel or a rich petite sirah. Both will have the intense ripe fruit and spice to complement the sauce and stand up to the meat. Two of our favorite barbeque zins:

clineancientzin.jpgCline Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2006 $15.99
Dusty raspberry, blackberry, white pepper and spice, with coffee and chocolate characters. Ripe fruit and soft tannins make this a mouth-coating rich vintage. Aging in new and used wood has lent this wine a subtle vanilla quality that nicely complements the explosive fruit notes. (from

ravenswoodlodi.jpgRavenswood Lodi Zinfandel 2006 $12.79
Ancient vines in alluvial soil where roots grow very deep make this a ripe, lush Zin that's also concentrated and intense. Soft, round, spicy and jammy with voluptuous overtones of plums and blueberries, this wine lives large. (from

You could also do a wonderfully rich petite sirah. You'll get a similar jammy intensity, but not as much of the punch of spice. One real winner is the Vinum Pets. You can check our our previous review of that little gem.

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April 29, 2008

Regaleali Rosso 2005

regalealirosso.jpgVARIETAL: 90% Nero d'Avola, 10% Perricone
REGION: Sicily, Italy
PRICE: $16

Italian wines, for me are incredibly food specific and when I choose one, it is usually a food driven choice. That said, there are so many interesting varietals, particularly in southern Italy and in Sicily that thrive in the hot arid climate and produce wines that are riper and rounder than many of the north's more acidic styles. The Regaleali Rosso is a prime example. It hails from a noble estate that produces a number of higher end wines and that is certainly reflected in this blend. It possesses a stunning garnet hue that perfectly complements the crushed, ripe cherry and berry scents. But the Regaleali isn't just about the fruit. You do get crazy notes of dried varieties including currants, dried blueberries and dried cherries, along with a current of crushed sage and a hint of vanilla. This would be outstanding with roast venison or if you are a little more traditional, with stracotto (Italian pot roast made with about a bottle of wine and earthy porcini mushrooms). However, I'm throwing caution to the wind and having it with a kalamata olive and crumbled sausage topped thin crust pizza.
Give it a shot: Regaleali Rosso

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April 3, 2008

Is it a Cabernet Franc ... or Chinon ... or both?

Hmmm . . . I am famished and I'm feeling a little bit naughty tonight. I'm tired of salads and seafood and cooking things that look pretty and are fairly nutritious. Tonight I want a cheesesteak. Soft, fresh bun with tender, paper-thin sliced sirloin, gooey cheese and the sweet and savory kick of sauteed peppers and onions. So here, my friends is my dilemma . . . am I in the mood for an herbaceous yet fruity Cabernet Franc from sunny California or an earthy and spicy Chinon (aka Cabernet Franc) from the Loire Valley? I just might have to taste a little of both in order to decide.ironstonecabfranc.jpg

Ironstone Cabernet Franc 2004 $11
I can't say that I'm a huge fan of Ironstone wines in general, but I can tell you that this wine consistently knocks my socks off for the money. While Cabernet Franc is a little off-putting to some, I think most people who try the new world incarnations are expecting something quite like a Cabernet Sauvignon. However, I love that you get a mouthful of ripe, juicy dark cherry fruit contrasting with layers of fresh cut dill and peppers and laced together with a current of creamy vanilla and toasty oak. Sounds a little weird, I know, but somehow it really works because it isn't too fruity, or too vegetal or too creamy.

bredifchinonlabel.jpgMarc Bredif Chinon 2005 $16
One the other hand, the Marc Bredif Chinon (which is 100% Cabernet Franc), is much more restrained, or shall I say less overt, but no less interesting. The fruit flavors are intense, but they are distinctly dried--blueberries, strawberries and cherries--rather than fresh notes of those fruits. And you definitely get a lighter, tighter and spicier feel on the palate.

It is a tough call, but I think I'm leaning toward the Ironstone tonight. That vegetal kick will really work well with the peppers and onions. Then again, I do love Chinon. Perhaps I'll have just a little more of each before I decide . . .

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March 26, 2008

Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2005

JLClesabeilles.jpgVARIETAL: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre
REGION: Cotes du Rhone, France
PRICE: $11

Sometimes I just need to try things in pairs. Thus, my decision to review an actual Rhone red right on the heels of the Aussie version. I find that tasting similar wines in groups gives me perspective, and a deeper appreciation of the similarities and differences. But to the point, if you have never tried a Jean-Luc Colombo wine, please do. As soon as possible. His passion for winemaking and love of his land are evident in every bottle. In fact, you'll find quite a few red and white selections in the $10-$20 range that are all remarkable for the money. The Les Abeilles Cotes du Rhone is an intense blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre. It looks like purple ink in the glass and differs from yesterday's Australian Rhone blend in that it is much more earthy, and a significantly spicier pick. You get wafts of saddle leather and spice mingling with currants, plums, dried blueberries and raspberries and shots of anise. It is a no brainer in the winter with braised lamb shanks, but will just as easily pair with any number of grilled meats in the warmer months. I know I'll never decide if I prefer old-world to new, stylistically speaking. For me, deciding what wine to open is entirely based on mood and food. But you should try for yourself. Are you old-world or new-world?
Check it out, s'il vous plait: Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Cotes du Rhone Red

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March 25, 2008

d'Arenberg Stump Jump Red 2006

VARIETAL: Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre
REGION: McClaren Vale, Australia
PRICE: $11

37017.jpgLeave it to the Aussies to come up with the crazy, catchy names. The Stump Jump may sound a little weird, but it comes from quite an esteemed winemaking family in Australia. d'Arenberg wines generally fall into our swanky category, but this red blend is the ultimate in value. I bet if you tasted this one blind, you'd probably give it a price tag in the $25-$30 range. And you might mistake it for a Rhone blend - which except for geography, it is. This 70% Grenache, 20% Shiraz and 10% Mourvedre blend is the perfect Rhone knockoff. Beautiful deep ruby coloring is the one thing that sets this wine apart from its Rhone counterpart (which often has more bricky coloring). Otherwise you get the same earthy intensity balanced out with rich, dried fruits on the nose followed by a mouthful of ripe blueberry, black cherry and mulberry laced with clove and cardamom and just a hint of freshly chopped herbs. It is an impressive wine for the price - not fussy, but definitely interesting and lushly layered. This is a wine that is a staple in our house. Drink it with pleasure . . . and if you like, serve it with a mustard-crusted pork loin over roasted carrots and lentils.
Check it out: d'Arenberg Stump Jump 2006

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March 21, 2008

Rocket Science 2004 Proprietary Red

Rocket science btl shot detail.jpgWhen John Caldwell arrived in Napa Valley in the early 1980's, his intent was to make his mark as a real estate developer, but when the Napa bureaucracy crushed that dream, he decided that his land might just be the ideal spot for growing grapes. And so Caldwell Vineyard was conceived.

Caldwell Vineyard; the confluence of superlative soils, an ideal climate, and the passion to produce delicious wines. We are so fortunate to live and work in a place where Mother Nature conspires with us to make magic.

Now I've had my share of swanky wines but I must say, there are not too many that I've enjoyed as much as this one. No, for me the Caldwell 2004 Rocket Science is in a category all its own. The deep, dark garnet juice is a jewel in the glass. At first whiff, the sweet tobacco and spice and rich macerated berry are mind-blowing and totally hypnotic. This wine is so rich and layered that my mind and my palate can hardly keep up. My heart is racing. The Rocket Science teases with layers of black cherry and berry fruits that remain on your palate but at the same time give way to clove and cedar and sagebrush. It is reverent and refined, yet completely unpretentious. I am in love. And why shouldn't I be? This Proprietary Red blend is composed of some of my favorite varietals. It is 32% Syrah, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. You can find the current release (2005) on the Caldwell Vineyard site for $40. And it is worth every red cent.

P.S. If you are interested in learning more about the what Napa was like before it became a tourist destination and while it was struggling to become one, check out James Conaway's, Napa: The Story of an American Eden. It is a truly engaging account of Napa's storied past starring a fascinating cast of characters that you come to love or love to hate.
Photo from

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March 17, 2008

Castle Rock Monterey Pinot Noir 2006

castlerockpn.jpgVARIETAL: Pinot Noir
REGION: Central Coast, California
PRICE: $13

It is no easy task to make good, cheap pinot noir. It can be watery or too acidic, or just plain dull. The folks at Castle Rock rise above the skepticism and the mediocre juice with this fantastic little number from Monterey. The climate along the central coast of California provides a longer growing season for the grapes which means they stay on the vine a little longer, resulting in a more intense and concentrated wine. So what you get is a nose full of black cherry, dried flowers and spiced tea which is followed by ripe plum and spice on the palate. The Castle Rock is medium bodied and super smooth and quite frankly it is a whole lot of wine for not lot of money. You just have to try it. And what to serve it with you ask? Well, just about anything. Roast chicken, Salmon, pasta, lamb. . . it is so flexible you can serve it with just about anything and it will shine.

Check it out: Castle Rock Monterey Pinot Noir

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

March 10, 2008

Vinum Cellars "Pets" Petite Sirah 2005

vinumpets05.jpgVARIETAL: Petite Sirah
REGION: Clarksburg, California
PRICE: $13

Mondays warrant a special bottle. I don't mean expensive... just knock-your-socks-off good because you still have the rest of the week to get through. Or maybe you're tired of the long, cold drawn-out winter. Whatever your predicament, the Vinum Cellars Petite Sirah is sure to make you smile from the inside out. This wine seduces you with its intense plum hue and languid viscosity.
Swirl it, swirl it... now inhale. You'll be blown away by intoxicating scents of rich fig, cassis, deep berry and a twinge of pomegranate. This big chewy red is lush with jammy plum and blueberry balanced with a blast of cranberry, dusty sage and a hint of smoke. This is everything a petite sirah should be. You may not want to stop sniffing and sipping long enough to serve this with food. But if you do, it pairs beautifully with roasted racks of lamb - or any other roast for that matter. And as an added bonus, Vinum donates a portion of the profits from this wine to their local animal shelter.

Give it a shot: Vinum Cellars "Pets" Petite Sirah 2005

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