Looking for an impressive, big-ticket bottle of wine that is cooler than the well-knowns? [Read more…]
For many of you, the answer is clear: Chianti is a winegrowing region within Tuscany, Italy. However, for those who have drunk Chianti before — perhaps many times — yet never really knew what it meant, you can learn all about it by following this link: Chianti Wine Basics.
That page will cover the very basics of wine from the Chianti region. If you want a really detailed explanation or reference, consider purchasing this book from Amazon: Chianti and the Wines of Tuscany
Choosing a wine for Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be so different from any other special occasion. That said, sparkling wine or Champagne is the ultimate celebratory beverage, and the obvious choice for romantic endeavors. It’s a no-brainer — you can’t go wrong by picking a quality Champagne, no matter how you choose to spend your Valentine’s Day. You can drink it as an aperitif, with appetizers, through the meal, and in the hot tub afterward (beyond that you can let your creative juices run wild with the possibilities).
Ideally, I recommend you spend the extra dough and get a “real” Champagne, meaning the bubbles from France. Why? Because first of all your lover is worth it. Secondly, the fact that you’ve chosen the “real stuff” makes the motion that much more special. Finally, the majority of French Champagne you find will have the versatility mentioned above — in fact most Champagne labeled as Brut will have enough structure and acidity to drink right through a main course. Some of the brands you can trust include Bollinger, Deutz, Laurent-Perrier, Pommery, Heidsieck & Monopole, Gosset, Mumm, Billecart-Salmon, Roederer, Veuve-Clicquot, Taittinger, Ruinart, Leroy, and Bellefon. Understand that the aforementioned list is a small sample of what’s available, and I provide them with the assumption you rarely purchase Champagne, offering some trustworthy names you will likely see on a wine list or in a retail shop. If you are a more advanced imbiber of bubbles, you may want to check out the Champagne and Sparkling Wines for New Year’s article.
If you’re only into sparkling wine as a pre-emptive quaff to dinner, then you might rather prefer a Prosecco or a Moscato d’Asti, which are fizzy wines from Italy that have just the slightest hint of sweetness — just enough to whet your palate and get you in the mood for a romantic dinner.
Foregoing Champagne as your dinner pairing, you should choose a wine just as you would normally — pick a wine that will go with the meal and both you and your partner will enjoy. The only difference comes with the budget; if you are the type of person who weighs the price of a wine as much as the vintage (don’t be ashamed, I’m guilty), then throw that sensibility out the window on Valentine’s Day — it is an evening for splurging, not counting pennies. One night of breaking the budget won’t destroy you, so go ahead and pick that wine you always wanted to try but could never justify the expense. If your date knows you well enough, the surprise of your careless spending will heighten the romance, and you’ll be paid back in spades later in the evening.
Still looking for something that just screams Valentine’s Day? Short of being corny, you have two more options: choose a pink / rose wine, or find a wine that has something “lovely” on the label.
There are two types of pink wines — dry and off-dry (sweet). If you are a regular wine drinker and enjoy dry whites and reds, you’ll be pleased to find that dry rose can be not only a refreshing aperitif but also very adaptable to a number of dishes. Some of the best rose wines in the world come from Spain and Portugal, and are fairly inexpensive. There are also good choices from France, particularly Tavel and Bandol. Regardless of the region, be sure to get a fresher vintage — ideally, a wine labeled within the last two years. Like most white wines, rose wines tend to fade quickly, and are most enjoyable young.
If you or your date drinks wine only on occasion, or finds most wines are too dry or bitter, but you still want to have something pink, there is always white zinfandel. Personally, I’m not fond of white zins, but I will recommend Pink Truck, which is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Zinfandel. Though it definitely has a sweet component, it also has good structure — medium acidity and mild tannins — that allow it to match well with food. It is a perfect pink for people who are weaning off cola with their meals, and for those who think Yellowtail is the best wine ever. In other words, a step up from white zinning.
Finally, should your choice be to be clever, you can choose a wine that actually says love on the label. One of my favorites is the Beaujolais Cru Saint-Amour … which literally translates to “saint love”. Being a Beaujolais, it should match well with a variety of foods, so will make a safe choice. Additionally, there is a line of wines from Tortoise Creek that are labeled “Les Amoureux” (the lovers). There are whites and reds and you’ll know them by the cartoon drawing of two lovey dovey turtles, one holding a bottle of wine, the other a glass.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
OK, you’ve prepared a tray of baked ziti, have the nuclear-hot buffalo wings roasting in the oven, your secret-recipe chili simmering on the stove, and spread out the chips, dips, pre-cut veggie platter and getting ready to dole out the over-under squares in the final score pool. For beverages, you have the keg on ice and six choices of soda. What about the wine?
Huh? Who drinks wine during the Super Bowl?
Lots of people, if you’ll just give them the option. The trick is to provide the right wines for your crowd and your food spread — without killing your budget.
With big parties of people that may have diverse tastes, I like to go with reliable, popular standbys that meld well with a variety of foods, such as Pinot Grigio or Soave. There are plenty of solid, if unspectacular selections that come in wallet-forgiving 1.5-liter bottles. One 1.5 of Pinot Grigio or Soave is a must — the wine will go with nearly anything you’re serving, and be acceptable for drinking on its own. If you’re serving some particularly spicy dishes, you may also want to offer a bottle of German Riesling. Riesling is another food-friendly wine that matches with nearly everything, and its slight touch of perceived sweetness will provide a fine foil for hotter foods (i.e., buffalo wings, hot poppers, etc.).
In addition to the whites, you should also consider a dry rose, as most will go very nicely with myriad appetizers, from pigs in blankets to pate. The key, however, is to get a “fresh” vintage, especially in the under-ten-buck range. Fresh means the vintage on the label is from only a year or two ago. Look in the wine shop’s “Spain” or “Portugal” aisle for the best values.
For reds, it’s probably a good idea to pick up at least one bottle of inexpensive Pinot Noir, for no other reason than the fact that most pedestrian wine drinkers think it is the “best” wine to drink. If you have more savvy wine geeks, then by all means find a red to match with whatever you’re serving as a main course. For example, if you’re doing the baked ziti thing, Chianti is a no-brainer. If you’re doing some kind of chicken dish, go with a Cru Beaujolais or a lighter Merlot. Also, Cotes-du-Rhone (France) is an affordable, reliable red that matches with a variety foods and is pleasing to most palates.
Considering that football tends to draw crowds with a higher-than-normal testosterone level, you may want to also have on hand a bottle of the biggest, baddest red wine you can squeeze into your budget, such as a jammy Zinfandel or a palate-shattering Shiraz. There are some remarkably affordable wines that fit this profile; for example, anything from Ravenswood will fit the bill — after all, their motto is “no wimpy wines”. Rosemount and Penfolds also offer big, fruit-forward reds in the $10-20 range, as does anything from the Australian Wine Collection (you’ll see an identifying circular sticker on the bottle neck). In addition, you’ll probably score a hit without damaging your budget by choosing almost any red wine from importer Peter Click’s portfolio (look at the fine print on the back label to find a foreign wine’s importer).
If you think your party invites will appreciate it, go the distance and pick up a bottle or two of sparkling wine to celebrate the winning team. A good Cava (Juve y Camps is a reliable brand) or Prosecco will only run you about ten to twelve bucks, as will a sparkling wine from Domaine Ste. Michelle.
Keep the game plan simple — easygoing, food-friendly bottles with a few surprise, big-play reds mixed in — and you’re sure to score with your Super Bowl guests.
It’s time to ring in the New Year, and what other way than with a sparkling wine or Champagne?
Following are some of my favorite “non-vintage” or “NV” bottlings, with choices for every budget. Why non-vintage? For a few reasons, with the most prominent being consistency. Generally speaking, a Champagne house or sparkling wine producer makes their non-vintage in such a way that it tastes the same every year. Whereas a vintage-dated bottle will have a character and taste that reflects the year printed on the label, an NV — usually made from grapes and juice from several years — reflects the “house style”, and in many ways is the brand’s representative bottling. So, if you like the non-vintage bubbly from a particular brand, you’ll probably always enjoy it, from year to year, and there’s a good chance you’ll also like the vintage sparklers from the same house. Since vintage-dated sparkling wines normally cost more than the NV, you can consider the NV as an introduction, or tryout, before you shell out the big bucks for, say, a 1995 vintage Champagne from a particular house.
Enough banter, let’s get on with the suggestions. Rather than try to rank them, they’re listed by price from high to low. (By the way, clicking on the name of any of these wines will take you to the Wine-Searcher page, so you can find it at a retailer in your neighborhood).
1. Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve ($35)
Good mousse — lots of fine, tiny bubbles. Toasty nose of citrus, toasted Wonderbread, stony mineral. Good weight in the mouth — full and creamy. Nice citrus flavor — lemon peel / lime, pear, a bit of peach and vanilla, along with a touch of ginger snap and a hint of mineral. Good acidity — plenty of structure here to match with a myriad of foods. A high quality, lovely Champagne.
2. Moet White Star ($27)
The nose has open aromas of toasted Wonderbread, apple, pear, and vanilla spice. Big bubbles carry a creamy texture, decent acidity and mild white fruits: braemar apple, pear, touch of lemony citrus. Finishes pleasantly, with creamy fruit and a citrusy edge of acidity. An excellent choice as an aperitif or with just about any appetizer.
3. Pommery Brut Royal ($39)
Small to medium-sized bubbles, a somewhat closed, citrusy aroma with some toastiness and a hint of butterscotch. More toasty character comes out in the palate, which also displays mild pear and zesty lime / citrus flavors and a distinct mineral component that almost seems salty. Good dose of acidity holds things together and helps carry through to a balanced, pleasing dry finish. This Champagne tastes better as it sits in the flute and warms up a few degrees — it becomes rounder, riper, and more full-flavored.
4. Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top ($25)
Like the previous three, this is a dry style of Champagne, so if you’re into the sweeter sparklers, stay away. Otherwise, dive right in. You will be excited with anticipation the moment the wine is poured into the glass, as it will become charged with an abundance of aggressive, tiny bubbles that develop an immediate, full foam (or mousse, as the geeks call it). Clean, citrusy, slightly toasted aroma that also has a hint of mineral. In the mouth, you get very similar flavors as were on the nose, along with a touch of honey and pear, all tightly wound by a stiffly acidic wrapper. It has excellent structure, yet remains elegant and has the perception of being lighter than it really is.
5. Jaillance Clairette de Die “Cuvee Imperiale” ($15.99)
It’s French, but not Champagne — it’s sparkling wine from the Drome Valley in Provence, made from Clairette and Muscat grapes. This friendly fizzer has forward floral and ripe fruit aromas, including notes of sweet pear and muscat. The bubbles dance on your palate and deliver super-ripe flavors of bright fresh pear, granny smith apple, and hints of peach and lychee that give the impression of sweetness; however, it finishes almost completely dry and clean. A nice bonus is extremely low alcohol — about 7%, or slightly higher than beer. Fine on its own, the mild acidity offers just enough structure to match with simply prepared appetizers.
6. Juve y Camps Reserva de la Familia ($14.99)
If you can’t afford good Champagne, the next best thing is a bottle of Prosecco (a sparkling wine from Italy) or Cava, which is Spain’s version of bubbly. This example from Juve y Camps has lots of fizz, good acidity, is fruity yet dry, and finishes with a nice clean aftertaste. Strong scents of pear and spice in the nose. Good fruit, good acidity and good finish. Nice mousse (bubbles/froth). Not overly dry; hint of sweetness. Elegant. A super bargain
7. Canella Prosecco di Conegliano ($12.99)
Clean, mild nose exhibiting a touch of citrus and mineral. In the mouth, bubbles are coarse, flavor is clean with some salty mineral. There is enough acidity to match fairly well with food. Try it with spicy dishes as a foil, fish, and Greek (goes well with tzatziki). Citrusy fruit, light body, easy drinking, simple and short but pleasing finish.
8. Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs ($9.99)
Color is a pale orange — more like cooked salmon than pink. Soft, fruity nose of citrus and a hint of raspberry. Pretty good mousse, with persistent medium-sized bubbles. In the mouth it is mostly dry, with maybe a touch of sweetness that is due more to a fun and fruity ripeness than dosage. Finishes completely dry, with a good dose of acidity, which helps with structure and food matching. This runs about $9-12 for a bottle, and at that price it is a steal. Domaine Ste. Michelle is one of, if not the, most respected wineries in Oregon.
9. Pommery POP ($8.99 for 187ml)
You’ve seen all the cool people on TV or in a bass-thumping techno club sipping this Champagne through a straw. So let’s see, it’s real Champagne from France, it comes in a single-serving size, and it’s OK to drink with a straw … sounds great to me! This is a good quality Champagne that tends toward the sweeter, less-dry side — though it finishes fairly dry.
10. Sofia Blanc de Blancs ($3.99 for 187ml)
OK, there may be something cooler than Pommery POP. Imagine another single-serving sparkling wine you can sip with a straw, only it comes in a can. That’s right, an aluminum can, just like Budweiser. And it only costs about four bucks, so there’s no excuse for anyone not to celebrate 2007 with bubbles. Whether you’re a snob, an anti-snob, anti-French, American jingoist, short on cash, or a beer drinker more accustomed to drinking out of a can, there’s a sparkling wine for you.
Enjoy your New Year’s celebration, and best wishes to you in 2007!