Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An Afternoon in France With Dion Jones-Lewin - Great Food, Wine…and a bit of Good Whisky Too

On Saturday, December 14th, we had the pleasure of hosting Dion Jones-Lewin at our store. She signed her cookbooks and handed out samples of delicious French fare as I poured some wonderful French wines and an excellent French Whisky to celebrate.

This delightful lady was born and raised in Paris and learned to cook from her Grand-mere. After her grandmother’s death, Dion found a sealed box filled with recipes and family photos, which inspired her to write her series of cookbooks, “From the Sealed Box: Simply French”. They are written to allow anyone to experience French cuisine without spending hours in the kitchen.

Dion charmed our customers, introducing them to the joys of French cooking - and sold a lot of cookbooks. This was not surprising as her books are very well written with easy to read and follow recipes…and lists of ingredients which are not impossible to find. There are four volumes in the series, with her recently released “A French Christmas” now available. You can find out more about Dion and her Cookbooks at

We poured four wines to celebrate France. They all showed well and many people enjoyed them enough to purchase the wine from a bottle or two to a case or so.

Domain du Salvard Cheverney Blanc 2012. This is a blend of 85% Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Chardonnay from estate vineyards in Cheverney, a small appellation  in the Loire Valley. It is fresh and crisp with flavors of citrus, mineral and a generous acidity that results in a mouth watering finish that is refreshing and food friendly. It is a good alternative to the more pricey Sancerre produced nearby, costing only $14.99 per bottle.

Champalou Vouvray Sec 2011.  This wine is 100% Chenin Blanc and is from an estate founded by Didier and Catherine Champalou in the early 1980’s. White acacia flowers, honey  and citrus on the nose and a complex flavor profile of citrus  fruits with a beautiful minerality  make this a wonderful food wine. Priced at 21.99.

Clos la Coutale Cahors 2011. When Malbec is mentioned, people think of Argentina although Cahors, located just south of Bordeaux, is the birthplace of this grape. It was taken to Argentina by French emigrants at the end of the nineteenth century and has become that country’s signature red varietal. This wine which is 80% Malbec and 20% Merlot is much meatier, earthier and more structured than the Argentinan style of Malbec. It has a similar fruit profile but  is less flashy and fruit driven and  is an outstanding wine. $19.99.

Chateau Aney Haut- Medoc Rouge 2010. This Bordeaux blend from the Left Bank is a great value from an area where wine prices can get astronomical. Left Bank wines are usually Cabernet Sauvignon  predominant, and this is indeed primarily Cabernet, tempered and rounded with a bit of Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. It is aged 12 months in new French oak. There is a nose of cassis, black fruits, graphite and tobacco with a wonderful fruit and earth flavor profile.  Delicious now and will only get better in the cellar for the next several years. A bargain at $32.99.

Last but not least, we poured a wonderful Whisky, Bastille. When thinking of Whisky, nobody thinks of France – at least until they try this. It is distilled from barley and wheat and is aged primarily in French Limousin oak for five to seven years. It has a floral, fruity nose with a hint of cinnamon. On the palate, it is slightly sweet and honeyed, with a bit of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. This is a beautiful whisky that is  best enjoyed neat and is a bargain at $30.00.

Dion’s cookbooks combined with her delightful personality, great wines being poured, a few morsels demonstrating her expertise…topped off with a sip of a great whisky…make my job very easy to enjoy.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Tired of the same old varietals? Me Too!

People who know me have often asked why I can claim so many previous occupations. I tell them either that I get bored easily, or that I can’t decide what I want to do when I grow up. I guess both of these are true which has led to me to be an obstetrician/gynecologist for 20 years, own an equestrian training/breeding facility, be a bartender and kayak guide in the Caribbean, and eventually end up in the next logical thing…retail wine and wine education.

My restlessness extends to other aspects of my life, including the wines I drink. I can only drink so much Merlot and Cabernet without wanting to venture into the vast world of different grapes that become incredible wines. So let’s look at some fun wines to impress your dinner guests with. Italy, with over 1000 grapes that have been, or are being, made into wine, is a great place to start.

San Giovanni Il Groppello. Groppello is the major grape grown in the Lago Garda area between Veneto and Lombardy. When you open the squat little bottle aromas of dark cherries and spice leap from within. The wine is medium bodied and silky with moderate tannins supporting minerally dark fruit flavors. It is a delicious alternative to Pinot Noir for $22.99.

Emilio Bulfon in Friuli has dedicated his life to resurrecting obscure grapes that often were thought to be extinct. His Forgiarin is an excellent example. The wine is medium to full in body with fruity aromas with hints of underbrush. On the palate warm, smooth flavors of red fruit are supported by light supple tannins. A bit understated but plenty of flavor to enjoy and wonderful with pork or fowl. $19.99.

Castelfeder Rieder Lagrein. Lagrein is a grape native to Alto Adige, in the far north of Italy where more Germen is spoken than Italian. This wine has aromatics of black and red cherries with a hint of violets. Medium to full in body, it is intense but soft textured, chewy but not heavy. Your palate will experience earthy plums and dark cherries with a pronounced mineral edge and a wonderful savoriness. My favorite wine with beef stew. $19.99.

We could stay in Italy for the rest of this article and talk about Piculit Neri, Teroldego, or Nerello Mascalese but we should head elsewhere. Before we do, we should touch on a white wine, and Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68 would be my choice. This young rock star winemaker from Sicily is crafting wines from indigenous varietals such as Frapatto, Grillo and Nero D’Avola. But this white, made from Albanella and Zibibbo is off the charts. Bright and fresh, with bold zesty flavors of citrus, white peach, and tropical fruit with a rosemary-ginger kick at the back end. Pricey at $29.99, but fabulous!

France has its share of grapes you never heard of, too. For a great bargain in white wine, try Saint Mont “Les Bastions”. From the Basque country of Southwest France, this fresh, vibrant, delightful wine is a blend of Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac. There are floral and citrus-grapefruit aromas with grapefruit and herbs on the palate. With a bracing acidity it is a great little wine on its own or with food for $10.99.

Jura is a little known region of France which is currently a darling of high end restaurants and sommeliers. Jacques Puffeney’s Arbois is a wonderful wine made from the Trousseau Noir grape. Known as the “Pope of Jura” he brings the best out of this grape. The nose is of wild berries, game, and pine. There are mineral infused flavors of red cherries and berries with grainy tannins. There is a wonderful rustic quality that makes this a unique wine. It is not cheap, at $42.99, but worth the experience.

Domain de Labarthe Gaillac is from the region of Gaillac in Sothwestern France and is a blend of Fer-Servado, Braucol and Duras. Flavors and aromas of dried herbs, red fruit, pencil lead and minerals in this earthy, rustic wine end with a spiced, tart smoky finish. Unusual and delicious at $20.99.

No discussion on unusual grape varietals would be complete without an entry from Greece. Domain Skouras makes a wonderful red from the Aghiorghitiko (honest) grape. Since the grape is so hard to pronounce it has been renamed Saint George for English speaking wine lovers.  Big lush flavors of dark fruit in this complex earthy wine make for a delightful pairing with lamb or braised meats. At $14.99 it’s a great way to forget that Greece has to claim Retsina as coming from there.

These are just a few of the unknown, unusual and wonderful varietals out there to explore. There are many more and they are worth every effort to find. Think how smart you’ll sound when you matter of factly say “Here’s a delightful little Garganega I picked up recently…”


Monday, December 2, 2013

Beaujolais – More Than A November Celebration

When the third Thursday of November rolls around every year, the light, fruity red wine known as Beaujolais Nouveau appears all over the world to celebrate the French harvest.  Meant to be drunk the first few months after its release and made from grapes that were literally hanging on the vine 8 weeks earlier, the wine has become popular largely through great marketing techniques. With aromatics of strawberry and bubble gum and flavors of strawberry, banana and pear, it is hardly a serious wine and has in fact, had a negative effect on the reputation of serious winemakers from the appellation of Beaujolais.

Beaujolais is found in the region stretching from southern Burgundy to the northern Rhone. It is considered part of Burgundy, but the terroire is closer to that of the Rhone. Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape, an offspring of the cross between Pinot noir and an ancient varietal known as Gouais. Thin skinned like its parent, Gamay ripens a full two weeks earlier, is much easier to grow, and is much more prolific. It was once widely planted in Burgundy, but much was ripped up and replaced by the more elegant Pinot Noir and pushed southward to where it thrives today.

Beaujolais is a large region with 44,000 acres of vines spread over 96 villages. In the northern part, the soil is granite and limestone and the wines tend to be more complex and structured. In the southern part the soil is clay and sandstone and the wines are lighter and fruitier. The vast majority of Beaujolais Nouveau comes from the south. There are several levels of quality.

The lowest is the already mentioned Nouveau and fully one third of the total production of the region goes to this wine every year. The next level is simply called Beaujolais. The grapes are sourced from any of the 96 villages. The vines must not produce more than 60 hectolitres of grapes per hectare, preventing overproduction and less concentration of flavor.

Beaujolais Villages is sourced from 39 of the villages, and the yields are further restricted,  resulting in wines that are more concentrated in flavor and a little more complex and structured. These wines still should be drunk within 2 years.

Cru Beaujolais is the highest quality designation and the wines must come from 7 villages or three small areas. The restriction on yields is even stricter and this combined with the local terroire ( all these villages are in the northern region with the granite and limestone soils) results in the most complex and structured of the Beaujolais, often approaching Burgundy Pinot Noir in finesse.  None of these Cru villages are allowed to produce grapes to be used in Beaujolais Nouveau. The different villages produce wines of varying structure and complexity and this can be predicted by the north /south location of the villages.

Brouilly, Regnie and Chiroubles are the farthest south and produce the lightest wines that should be drunk within 2 years. Fleurie, St Amour and Cotes du Brouilly produce more complex wines to be drunk within 4 years. Finally, Moulin A Vent, Morgon and Julienas are the farthest north and produce the most complex and structured of all. These wines improve with age and are meant to be drunk 4 to 10 years after release.

Serious Beaujolais has aromas of spice and red cherries with flavors of red fruit and spice with a bracing acidity and a bit of earth making them great food wines. They  are especially good with Thanksgiving Turkey. They are often better slightly chilled, especially the lighter ones.

One of the very best Beaujolais is made by Dupeuble for $18.99. Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s great producers makes a very respectable Beaujolais villages for $13.49.  The Cru Villages are the ones that illustrate just how good these wines can be. Clos du Roilette Fleurie ($16.99) is my go to Thanksgiving wine and the Thivin Cote de Brouilly is crazy good at $28.99. The Grange Julienas Cuvee Speciale  is well named for it is truly special at $25.99 with great depth and surprising structure.

The 2013 Beaujolais is here, and if you want to celebrate the harvest and the holidays go with the Rochette Nouveau 

Villages at $9.99, although the Georges DuBoeuf with its celebratory flower label is a bargain at $6.99.

Beaujolais is more than the simple wine quaffed over the holidays at cocktail parties. It can be a serious, very good wine to be enjoyed on its own or with food and deserves the attention of every wine lover.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Time for Turkey Friendly Wine

Thanksgiving is once again almost upon us. Our store will be filled with people looking for that perfect wine to go with their special holiday meal. Turkey, of course is at the forefront of most Thanksgiving dinners, so what do you choose to go with the beautifully browned bird?

For those white wine lovers, the wine must be able to stand up not only to the turkey, but to the myriad flavors that assault our taste buds at the holiday table. It is easy for the cranberry sauce, yams, dressing, three bean casserole, and gravy to overwhelm a wine. My first pick for the job is Gewurztraminer from Alsace. These spicy, aromatic wines are wonderful in this setting. Ziegler’s is very good at $13.99, but even better is Joseph Cattin Hatchbourg for $22.99 and if you want what I consider the very best, $26.99 will get you a bottle of Zind Humbrecht.

Riesling, with its touch of sweetness and its generous minerality, is another great choice for the occasion. Washington makes several that are great bargains. Chateau St. Michelle has been the gold standard, but Charles  Smith’s Kungfu Girl is rapidly overtaking it. They are in the $10 to $11 range. Germany is where Riesling rules and Dr Loosen’s Blue Slate from the Mosel ($20.99) and Donnehoff from Nahe ($24.99) are great examples of what heights the Germans can attain with this varietal. If you like your Rieslings drier, the Aussies make some good ones. Yalumba Y series is only about $11 and is wonderful.

The final white to consider is Chenin Blanc. Not any old Chenin Blnc, but vouvray from the Loire Valley in France. These wines have a beautiful acidity and minerality that work well with many foods and will offer much pleasure to your thanksgiving guests. Clos le Vigneau, at $19.99 is very good, Vigneau-Chevreau Cuvee Silex is  downright ridiculous at $21.99.

The red wine lover will have no problem finding a wonderful libation to make the meal truly memorable. The most common choice is Pinot Noir, its medium body, fragrant aromatics and cherry flavors mingling gracefully with the roasted fowl. I especially like those from Oregon. They have a little more minerality than California Pinots and are not quite so fruit forward. Halloran Estate Pinot Noir at $29.99 should be bought if you find it because it is outrageous. Foris, at $20, is a classic example of Oregon Pinot Noir. For a true bargain, try Llai Llai, from Chile. This is done in a Burgundian style and is remarkably good for $10.99.

Burgundy makes the best Pinot Noir in the world. Unfortunately to get a good one, $30 is about basement level. Bouvier’s En Montre Cul is a god one at this price point.  I had a glass of 2008 Domain Belleville Chambolle- Musigny that practically brought tears to my eyes from its magnificence. It’s not cheap at $55.99, but if you want to see what Pinot Noir is supposed to taste like, this one will give you the idea.

A great alternative to Pinot Noir is Beaujolais. I am NOT talking about Nouveau Beaujolais, that banana bubble gummy stuff released the third week of November every year.  What I mean is a good single village Beaujolais made from 100% Gamay, preferably from a grand cru. These are similar to burgundy, but are more vibrant. Clos de la Roilette Fleurie, at $16.99 is a very good one.

The other wine that I think is one of the best choices for this occasion is Cabernet Franc, particularly one from the Loire Valley in France. Most commonly known as one of the grapes used in Bordeaux, this grape can be awesome on its own. The nose has a characteristic herbaciousness that combines with nice berry fruit and round tannins. Medium in body and generous in acidity, this wine is a truly food friendly wine and together with turkey or other fowl it forms the proverbial “match made in heaven”. Bernard Baudry Chinon is a classic at $19.99. From the tiny nearby appellation of Samur is Domain Fillatreau Chateau Fouquet which is probably my favorite at only $16.99.

Now you have no excuses not to have the right wine to maximize your enjoyment of your holiday meal. Be safe and enjoy this special time. Happy Thanksgiving to all! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Zinfandel – “America’s Grape”

The red varietal Zinfandel is planted in over 10% of California’s vineyards. It produces a robust, fruit forward wine that is very popular in America as well as a semi sweet red blush (White Zinfandel) which is even more so. Although many writers in the late nineteenth and twentieth century liked to refer to it as “America’s grape”, it did not originate here.

After finding similarities between Zinfandel and Primitivo, an Italian varietal found in Puglia, Italy (on the map of Italy this region is ‘the heel of the boot”) the two grapes were found to be genetically identical in 1933. Further historical and genetic research led to the theory that both grapes were brought to their respective countries from, of all places, Croatia. Then in 2003, they were  genetically proven to be an offspring of the grape known as Crljenak Kastelanski, a total of nine vines bearing this grape being found in a single vineyard in Kastel Novi, Croatia.

The varietal was introduced from Hungary to the east coast of the US in 1829 where it was grown in hothouses and prized for its early ripening (hence Primitivo’s being named for being the first grape to ripen). It was brought to California in the 1850s during the Gold Rush where it exploded in popularity, becoming the most widely planted grape in California.

During Prohibition, many of the vines were ripped up and replaced with Petite Sirah and Alicant Bouchet, which transported more easily for home winemaking. Zinfandel was largely forgotten, being used mainly for bulk fortified wines, but some producers with very old vines wanted to keep the varietal alive.

One such producer was Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home, who in 1972 decided to make a rose of Zinfandel and sell it under the name of Oeil de Perdix. He legally was required to change the name to White Zinfandel. In 1975 he experienced a stuck fermentation. This occurs when the yeast dies before the sugar is completely converted to alcohol, resulting a lower alcohol somewhat sweet wine. He sold it anyway and it was an instant hit that made him a wealthy man. Modern day white Zinfandel still a very popular wine. The popularity of the wine also saved many of the old vines from being ripped up in premium growing areas  until red Zinfandel came back into fashion and they came to their own.

Zinfandel vines are vigorous and do best in warm but not hot climates. If the climate is too hot the grapes ripen too quickly and become over ripe with a raisin like quality. Also the high sugar levels result in wines becoming very high in alcohol in order to be fermented to dryness. High alcohol can result in a “heat” to the wine. Many Zinfandels can reach alcohol levels of over 16%.

Red Zinfandels are very popular wines. The big fruit flavors make it an ideal barbeque wine and it is easy drinking on its own.  It goes very well with glazed ham at Easter. The wine does pick up variable characteristics  of its terroir. Those from Dry Creek in Sonoma tend toward bright fruit, balanced acidity, and blackberry anise and pepper on the palate. Dashe, at $19.99, is one of my favorite Zinfandels, with complex black fruit flavors intertwined with pepper and earth.

Zinfandel from Napa Valley tends more toward red fruits, cedar and vanilla. Storybook Mountain, at a weighty price of $43.99, is probably the best Zinfandel I’ve ever had. It is almost Cab-like with remarkable finesse and balance between fruit, acid and tannin.
Sonoma’s Russian River Valley tends to have a cooler climate, resulting in slightly lower alcohol, spicy wines with more red fruit.  Deloach is an excellent example from  here for $16.99. Lodi, home of some of the oldest plantings produces Zinfandels rich in dark fruits and can be somewhat complex, but can tend toward overipeness. Lodi is the source of many Zinfandels with Michael-David winery’s Earthquake leading the way at $25.99, its massive fruit exploding on the palate. Also very good is The Zin ($19.99) and Brazin at $17.99. There are many very nice Zinfandels that are designated “Sonoma County” so the fruit is sourced Dry Creek, Russian River and other places as well.  Seghesio’s is especially good at $18.99 and Ridge’s Three Valley at $25.99 is very complex and full of fruit.

 If you like big, full bodied flavorful wines you have to try Zinfandel if you already haven’t. You will see why although it can’t correctly be called “America’s Wine” it can be called one of America’s most popular. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Some Great Bargains From a Small Distributor

One of the biggest concerns of customers in our store is the price of wine. Many people come in after a trip to France or Italy and are discouraged by the fact that they see $19.99 price tags on wines they drank in Europe for a few Euros. This is not because we are making huge margins at Liquormart, and it certainly isn't the fact that the winemakers are getting paid any premiums for shipping their wines here. The reason is the multi-tiered system that rules the wine industry. An estate in Europe must sell its wine to an importer. That importer then sells it to a distributor, who sells it to the store. Often the estate has to pay a negociant to make the wine available to importers.  With everybody getting their substantial cut, it is small wonder that the wines double or even triple in price from the estate to the shelf.

Is there a way to combat this? Not always, but one person does it the right way. Enter Denver's own Philippe Sevier.  He owns some vineyards of his own in Europe. He also visits other small estates that make wonderful  wines, and brings them to Colorado, acting as importer AND distributor. He even delivers the wines himself in his van. When other distributors host trade tastings they do so at restaurants, museums or art galleries at considerable expense (ultimately born by the customer in the store). Phillipe hosts trade tastings in his dining room, with dozens of wines lined up on the table, a few assorted cheeses to enhance the flavors of the wine, and an occasional treat from his delightful wife's oven.  He knows everything about every wine, so it is a very valuable experience for all who attend.

Not only do his methods keep prices very reasonable, but he gives small estates an opportunity to showcase their wines...and many of these wines are very, very good. They grow grapes in the same terroir as the more expensive, well known estates, and have similar winemaking techniques. They can avoid the techniques of mass production that enable the production of hundreds of thousands of cases of wine, and also diminish the flavor and character. The result is a great wine for a great price.

Sampling Sevier's wines is like taking a tour of Europe, and it doesn't feel like a low budget one either, until you hit the checkout line. If we start in Bordeaux, chateau Carbonneau delivers vibrant black fruit flavors with earth, cassis and spice. This is an every day dinner wine for $9.99. Chateau La Croix Bonnelle from St Emilion, shows surprising complexity, with rich dark fruit, earth and spice. One of the most expensive wines in his portfolio at a whopping $16.99!

When looking for crisp, minerally vibrant whites, one may forget Bordeaux and Sevier is there to remind you of these great bargains.

These wines are blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, are beautiful food wines, and perfect for large events....and I sell a lot of this wines for wedding receptions. Chateau Vrai Caillou and Chateau Des Chapelains, both at $9.99, give a mouthful of mineral driven, fresh, vibrant tropical and citrus fruit.
Traveling next to Cahors, we come to the birthplace of Malbec. Although most people think of Argentina when they think of this grape, it originated in France and is one of the grapes found in red Bordeaux. Cahors are primarily Malbec with a little Merlot or Tannat thrown in. They are more structured and less fruit forward than the typical Argentinian example, and more complex. Sevier has two, and they are excellent – Chateau St Sernin ($13.99) and  and Chateau Nozieres ($12.99), both are bursting with ripe plumb, black cherry, cocoa, vanilla and spice. Next time when you think of Malbec, give one of these a try.

Looking for a different summertime white? Think Ugni Blanc, a grape most famous for its use in Cognac. In the Cotes du Gascogne, in southern France, this grape makes very flavorful whites. Domain D'Uby makes a blend of Ugni blanc and Columbard. It is fresh and vibrant, similar to a Sauvignon Blanc, but a little more floral and nutty. Awesome at the massive price of $8.99. do you HAVE to have your weekly Chardonnay fix? The Philippe Sevier Chardonnay from the Loire valley, in an unoaked style gives the best mothful of tropical and citrus fruit you'll ever have for a $8.99 price tag.

This is just a small sample of Mr. Sevier's  list of wines. Burgundy is represented and he really does the Loire Valley in style. Wines from Chinon, Bougeuil, Anjou, Muscadet, Sancerre and Vouvray are all found on our shelves and are all fun to try, with not a single one over 15.99!!! The Rhone Valley is not forgotten either. So come in the store and ask for me. Let Philippe Sevier and I take you on a tour of France. First class accommodations at Supersaver prices.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wines for Halloween

With Halloween coming up, there is the inevitable party or dinner that screams for fun labels. Luckily there are a host of Halloween friendly labels out there that identify some very good wines. Vampire Merlot 2012 is a perfect party wine, with soft supple tannins supporting bright fruit flavor and a hint of vanilla from the French and American oak used in its aging, and costing $10.99. Next up is Spellbound Petite Sirah 2012 , and it is a bargain at $13.99. Petite Sirah is a grape that produces big, often very tannic wines, but this one is very approachable. There aromatics of black fruits, vanilla and coffee. On the palate there is lush black fruit with supple tannins lending just the right amount of support. This is a really nice wine.

Charles Smith is a very irreverent winemaker form Washington who makes big flavorful wines. His Velvet Devil Merlot 2011, at only $11.99, is typical of his and of Washington state wines – jammy,  and big on fruit and flavor. There are aromas of dark cherries, cedar and tobacco. When you take a sip, black fruit and chocolate covered cherries comes to mind. The tannins are soft, making for a very easy drinking wine.

Michael David winery  from Graton, California, is a very hot winery right now. They are known for their Seven Deadly Zins, Sixth Sense Syrah, Petite Petit, and their Earthquake series, all big bold fruit driven wines. Their Incognito wines, with the simple mask on the label, are no different. The red is a blend of primarily Rhone Varietals (up to eight different ones) and is full of fruit and spice. The white is a full bodied Viognier based blend with rich flavor and decent acidity for this varietal if grown in California. These wines run about $18  and are worth it.

Ghost Pines is actually a separate label owned and bottled by the Louis Martini Winery, known for its luscious Cabernet Sauvignons. Several varietals are found under this label, but my favorite by far is the Zinfandel. California Zinfandels can sometimes be overblown and hot with high alcohol levels and almost a raisiny quality from over ripened fruit. Ghost Pines has a more laid back and elegant style that is very enjoyable and makes it very food friendly. It is worth the $17.99 price tag (a bit high for a California Zinfandel unless you are looking at Turley, Storybook Mountain and Ridge, wines that can top out over $40).

In 2009, three college buddies form the Midwest and the East Coast met up in California, pooled their money and made a Pinot Noir from purchased grapes. The wine sold out in three months and by the end of the year Banshee wines was their full time pursuit.  While they bottle several varietals, the Sonoma Pinot Noir 2011 and the Mordecai Red Blend are particularly noteworthy. The Pinot has tons of red fruit, but also has the earthiness and complexity to back it up. This is an excellent wine for the $22.99 price tag. The Mordecai is a true kitchen sink wine…containing something like thirteen different varietals. The main grape is Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Syrah for spice, some Grenache for red fruit and some Mourvedre for a lift. All the others add complexity and richness – Bordeaux meets the Rhone. This is about as much flavor you can fit in your mouth for $22.99.

Last, and by all means not least, are Reaper Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 and Pinot Noir 2012. These are the wines you’ll want to pour for your Halloween dinner. The truly macabre labels (complete with blood red faux wax capsules) will certainly catch the attention of everyone at the table. The Cabernet is made by Jake Bilbo, the owner of Limerick Lane and Marietta Cellars wineries. The grapes come from the famed Chalk Hill appellation, one of California’s greatest sources of this varietal.  The nose is of super rich black fruit, leather and tar. On the palate there is a mouthful of blackberry and mocha with vanilla notes from the oak. Well balanced and utterly delicious, it is well worth the $33.99 price tag. The Pinot Noir is even better. Made by Pinot Goddess Penny Coral Gadd-Coster of J vineyards fame, there are aromatics and flavors of cherry, pomegranate, strawberry, and persimmon with notes of earthy mushroom and sweet herbs.  This is what California Pinot Noir is supposed to taste like. $27.99 will seem cheap after you taste this wine.

Hopefully I’ve been able to scare up (sorry) a couple of good ideas for Halloween at your house. Just because the atmosphere may be frightening, there’s no reason the wines have to taste that way. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Grape You should Know About – Petite Sirah

In the 1860s, French botanist Francois Durif  went into his nursery where he was growing Syrah and Peloursin and he saw another vine growing, a new cross between the two. The new grape was called (not surprisingly) Durif and because of its resistance to mildew was planted in the south of France. However, the wines that were produced were inferior, so the grape fell out of favor and is rarely seen in France at present.

The grape was introduced to Australia where it is still called Durif, and to California and Israel where it came to be known as Petite Sirah. The grape became very popular during the American Prohibition because it is very durable and along with Alicant Bouchet could be transported around the country for home wine making. In fact, by the Repeal in 1923, two thirds of all plantings in Napa were to these two grapes. Some of the oldest vineyards in California are planted to Petite Sirah.

During these early years, field blending was common and often a bit of Alicante Bouchet, Zinfandel, Mourvedre, or Peloursin can be found in these vineyards as well as genetic naturally occurring crosses between them. As a result few Petite Sirah vineyards are “pure” and the wines produced are technically blends. It is estimated that 90-95% of Petite Sirah in California is actually the original Durif.
The wines from these vineyards are so similar that the single varietal designation is indeed justified.

Petite Sirah gets its name from the small size of the grapes which result in a large skin to juice ratio. This, in turn, can result very tannic wines if juice goes through an extended maceration period. The grapes form tightly packed clusters so are prone to rot if grown in rainy environments. French oak is often used in aging these wines, softening the tannins and imparting chocolate overtones to the aromatics.

Petite Sirah produces dark, inky colored wines that are relatively acidic with firm texture and mouth feel. The bouquet has herbal, chocolate and black pepper overtones. On the palate, these wines offer flavors of black fruits, plums, vanilla and especially blueberries. It is darker than Syrah, the grape it is often confused with, and is typically rounder and fuller in the mouth. The wine tends to have a wonderful brightness because of the ample acidity. This same acidity along with the well developed tannins allow this wine to age gracefully, often improving in the bottle for several years. If there is one flaw in this otherwise excellent wine, it is the rather short finish that the wine can have. For this reason, Zinfandel or Petite Verdot is often blended in small amounts to lengthen the finish and complete the wine. 

Petite Sirah is often combined  with other grapes to produce some of California's most well known red blends. The Prisoner, Marietta Old Vine Red and Bogle Phantom all have significant amounts of this grape in their mix. These are all big, fruit forward wines that are a mouthful of flavor. Especially in years where rains or poor growing seasons lessen the quality of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah is often added in small amounts to give deeper color and more backbone. It is also added to Zinfandel to help overcome the  “overdone” almost raisiny quality, that can sometimes occur in this varietal

Despite being a commonly blended grape and one used to improve or repair other varietal wines, Petite Sirah is truly special on its own. We have lots of these wines on the shelf. When someone comes in who drinks and enjoys red Zinfandel or Aussie Shiraz, I often suggest that they try this varietal. The big fruit flavor that these people enjoy will be enhanced by more complexity and structure. Newer techniques of developing fruit concentration and flavor has allowed for shorter maceration times resulting in wines with tannins that support nicely the fruit rather than overpowering it. Finally the acidity  adds a vibrance to the wine that is often missing in Zins and Syrah.
Bogle makes a really nice example of this varietal for the cost of a mere $11.99. the typical characteristic blueberries on the palate is unmistakeable. Actually, of all the wines Bogle makes at the entry level, this is by far my favorite. Peirano Estate, at $13.99 and David Bruce at $22.99 are good ones to try as well.

The one that you can't miss, however, is Michael David Winery's Petite Petit. You will recognize it by the whimsical circus themed label with large elephants. A blend of 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petite Verdot, this wine offers an explosion of black fruit, vanilla and of course, blueberries,  that coat the mouth offering remarkable richness and a lingering finish. This dense, full bodied whopper of a wine is a must have at $17.99. The same winery makes a more expensive wine, called Earthquake Petite Sirah, which is what your palate will feel like it got hit by when you get a mouthful of this monster. Knock your socks off with this one for about $25.99.

Petite Sirah is a wine everyone should try, as well as the blends that this grape is so influencial in. I'm willing to bet you'll come back looking for more

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

South African Wines—Too Funky or Worth Exploring?

Viticultural history in South Africa is a roller coaster of success vs. disaster. The signature grape, Pinotage, is about as controversial a grape as ever.

South Africa’s history of wine production began in 1659, when the Dutch East India Company ordered the founder of Cape town, Jan van Riebeck,to make wine to help fight scurvy among the sailors during their voyages along the Spice Route. In 1685, the Constantia Estate was founded for that purpose. The estate fell into disrepair in the early 1700s but was rebuilt in 1778 when Hendrik Cloete purchased it. Soon this estate’s wines were famous throughout the world and coveted by the likes of Napolean Boneparte, King Louis Phillipe of France, and Frederick the Great of Prussia. The rest of the country’s wine production was largely unsuccessful, however. High-yielding inferior grapes such as Cinsault were planted in huge numbers, and by the early 1900s, some producers were dumping unsold insipid wine into rivers and fields. Apartheid and the resulting worldwide boycott of South African goods didn’t help the situation. The country’s wines were basically nonexistent in the foreign marketplace.

When apartheid was lifted in the 1980s, South African wines expressed a renaissance. Many producers adopted new technologies and planted well known varietals such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc (called Steen). This replaced Cinsault, which now comprises less than two percent of total plantings. Red varietals have exploded. In the late 1990s, less than eighteen percent of the grapes produced were red; now about half are.

The red wines from South Africa have had a reputation for being very rustic and course. New techniques have resulted in a more international fleshy style. However a certain earthiness remains that signifies a South African Cabernet or Syrah. This is not at all unpleasant, in fact I really like some of them, but if you’re new to South African wine you may find them a bit unusual. American consumers will frequently come across wines called “Cape Cross” or “Cape Blend.” These are usually blends of Syrah or Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinotage, and they are often really good wines.

As for the white wines, Sauvignon Blanc does very well here, with a flavor profile roughly between a California and New Zealand expression of the grape. Wines made from Chenin Blanc, known as “Steen,”  rival the Vouvrays of the Loire Valley.

Now, for the controversial “love it or hate it” grape—Pinotage. In 1925, Abaraham Izak Perold crossed the very robust Cinsault (known as Hermitage in South Africa) with Pinot Noir, a grape that produces great wines but is very difficult to grow. He planted four seeds in the residential garden and promptly forgot about them. The plants were rediscovered several years later. The first wine was made in 1941 and Pinotage was born. After a Pinotage wine won the Capetown Wine Show’s championship in 1959, the first label with the word “Pinotage appeared in 1961.

Pinotage typically has a characteristic flavor profile of smoky bramble, dark fruit, and earth. Aromatics of banana and tropical fruit are common. However, the acetone aromas turn some people off. This can result in very unusual descriptions. My colleague Jessica once said a badly made Pinotage smells like “Beaujolais Nouveau and a tire got together and had a baby.” I would add that the baby is lying in a manure pile.

I’ve got you all wanting to run out and get a Pinotage, right? Before I start a war with South Africa, let me say that if you choose carefully, Pinotage can be a really neat, funky, geeky wine that I enjoy a great deal. Pinotage adds a smoky earthiness to Cape Crosses that makes these wines very interesting.

Anyone with an interest in wine should experience a good Pinotage. Barista 2011 is just such a wine. Rich aromas of chocolate, coffee, plum, and mulberry with a hint of Maraschino cherry carry through to the flavor profile, with the addition of a bit of vanilla and butterscotch. The smoky earthiness reminds you that this is a Pinotage (a very good one.) This wine is a bargain at $17.99. Another good Pinotage to try is Painted Wolf Guillermo 2010, with lots of ripe blueberry and mulberry, spice, and bramble. The tannins are ripe and the finish quite lingering for a Pinotage. Again at $17.99.

Stellekaya is a great producer in Stellenbosch. I especially like their blends. The Cape Cross (fifty percent Merlot, thirty percent Pinotage, and twenty percent Cabernet) is aged in French oak for twenty months. With wonderful aromas and flavors of mint, fresh and stewed fruits, and mulberries, it’s done in a fleshy new world style but still funky because of the Pinotage in the blend. They also do a blend called Hercules (fifty percent Sangiovese, twenty-five percent Merlot, twenty-five percent Cabernet Sauvignon) which is like something out of Tuscany except the Sangiovese component is a bit fleshier and rounder. Earth, red berry, and supple tannins make this full flavored wine worth trying. Both are $21.99. 

Not to be lost among the big reds are the very well done whites. For a prime example of Sauvignon Blanc, look no further than the original great estate of South Africa, Groot Constantia Langoed Sauvignon Blanc 2011. Wonderful flavors of gooseberries, guava, and green bell pepper follow a typical grassy herbal nose. The background minerality is reminiscent of a cool climate Sauvignon Blanc like a Sancerre from the Loire Valley, but with more fruit. $22.99 may seem a bit steep until you try it and realize it’s worth it.

So don’t forget South Africa. The country is producing better and better wines and the good ones are worth the effort it takes to find them. Ask your local wine guy (or gal) about the best of the bunch.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Southern Rhone—Grenache is the King, but Others Help

We now head south past the city of Montelimar into the Southern Rhone. This region is more spread out than the Northern Rhone, with many small towns nestled in the hills on both sides of the river.  Many of these towns are tiny and beautifully picturesque, with narrow cobblestone streets and quaint names like Segurat and Sablet.

The climate here is more Mediterranean, and the differing terroir combines with the rugged terrain partially protecting the valleys from the mistral to produce varying microclimates. As a result, a diversity of wines are produced. Grenache is the most widely grown grape here. Also found are Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Carignan, among others. In fact, the most famous A.O.C. here, Chateauneuf du Pape, allows up to ten different varietals in the red wines and nine in the whites. Gigondas, on the other hand, another well known appellation, only allows Grenache and a few others. The white varietals are primarily Ugni Blanc, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, Viognire and Clairette.

Most of the red wines are pleasant, fruit-driven (primarily dark fruit) earthy wines. Those from Chateauneuf du Pape have power and structure and can rank with Bordeaux and Burgundy as the country’s most respected wines. They are all excellent food wines, are great with pork, game, poultry, sausage, and are as good as it gets with lamb. They are also priced much lower than the Northern Rhones, with very good examples in the $12.00 to $20.00 range. Only the great Chateauneuf du Papes are really expensive.

While the majority of the wines are red, some very nice whites are produced here as well. They are usually blends with a combination of fruit, acidity, and minerality that make them interesting and food friendly. The A.O.C. of Tavel is one of the world’s most famous areas of rosé production. Finally, the appellation of Muscat de Beaumes de Venise produces fortified white wines.

Labels indicate the quality of the wine according to the following classification:

Cotes du Rhone—denotes wines from the entire southern Rhone.

Cotes du Rhone Villages—higher minimum requirements for wine maturation and production.

Cotes du Rhone + village name—Usually the highest standards before Cru status.

Cru—the name of the actual A.O.C. is on the label, best quality of all. These are wonderful wines for the price. They are Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Lirac, Rasteau, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Tavel, and Vacqueyras.

The shelves in our store contain dozens of these great wines, but here are a few of my favorites.

Cotes du Rhone: Chave’s Mon Coeur 2010 (Grenache, Syrah) shows kirsch and black currant fruit intermixed with earth and spice. Luscious but has good structure. All this for $19.99. Chapoutier’s Belleruche 2010 (80% Grenache, 20% Syrah), an excellent bargain at $12.99, has wonderful red fruit aromas with dark red fruit and spice flavors. There is surprising structure at this price. At the same price point, Oraison 2009 shows the lush fruit typical of that vintage.

Cotes du Rhone Villages: Domaine Boisson Cairanne 2010 (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan). Prepare yourself for awesome red and dark fruit, great earthy structure. I love this wine at $19.99, and the L’Exigence 2009, its big brother, is ready to knock your socks off after getting an extra year in the bottle.

Cru: Cuvee Prestige Gigondas 2011 (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) is an amazing bargain at  $19.99. The  typical price from this appellation is $30.00-40.00, but this is classic Gigondas with a fleshy and velvety mouth feel. There are lush blackberries, plums, cherries, licorice and spice on the palate, held together by soft but structured tannins with a long spicy finish. This is a lot of wine for $19.99.

My vote for best Chateauneuf du Pape for the money is Bois de Boursan 2009. Classic, old school, full throttle Chateauneuf with rich layers of fresh and stewed fruit, wet earth, spice, juicy tannin… OMG this is good! It’s not cheap at $47.99, but great Chateauneuf is never cheap. Get this for that special occasion or meal. You will not soon forget it.

The Rhone Valley is definitely a wine region to be explored. There are great bargains from the south and great wines from both sub regions, so do yourself a big favor and check them out.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Northern Rhone Valley—Where Syrah is King

The Rhone region of southern France produces marvelous wines and is one of the most beautiful yet least visited areas of that country. The region is divided into two sub regionsthe Northern Rhone and the Southern Rhone. The wines from the two regions are different in composition and in style (and as a rule, in price.)

Grapes have been grown in this area since about 600 B.C.E. Various theories give credit to the Greeks, Persians, and Romans for initiating viniculture here, but all agree that genetic studies prove the Syrah grape indeed originated in the Rhone.

The Northern Rhone, where the vineyards are often on incredibly steep hillsides overlooking the river, has a continental climate influenced by mistral winds which bring in cool air. Winters are harsh and summers are warm. Syrah is the only red grape allowed in A.O.C. wines here. For Cornas A.O.C. designation, the wine must be one hundred percent Syrah. The other appellations allow addition of white varietals such as Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne, although only Cote Rotie widely does this. Some white wines are produced. Viognier is produced in the northernmost part, and blends are made from Marsanne and Roussanne in some other areas.

The Syrahs from this region are earthy, meaty, and structured on a tannic backbone. They are very different from the much more fruit-forward versions from California and Australia (where the grape is known as Shiraz.) Aromatics of smoky bacon and green olives are classic. Northern Rhone and lamb are a match made in heaven.

The appellations are as follows, as you drive north to south:

Cote RotieSyrah with up to twenty percent Viognier. Wines are elegant and layered. They tend to be very expensive and are produced in small amounts. Guigal’s single vineyard Cote Roties cost almost $300.00 per bottle at release

CondrieuProduces white wines only of Viognier. The varietal reaches its greatest heights—incredibly aromatic and floralin this regionThe climate in Condrieu is difficult. Fierce cold winds during winter sometimes cause havoc during budding and flowering. The clone of Viognier grown in Condrieu produces lower yields and smaller berries than other clones grown in France or elsewhere. As a result, Condrieus are very pricey and are difficult to find under $50.00.

Chateau GrilletThis appellation consists of only one estate (called a monopole) comprising a little over three hectares and producing whites from Viognier. The Viognier from this estate is unusual in that it is meant to age up to ten years before reaching its full maturity. The wine is hard to find and expensive, but is a rare experience.

St JosephRed wines of Syrah and up to ten percent Marsanne and Rossanne. These wines are earthy, structured, and a beautiful expression of the Syrah grape. They are also a relatively good value for the Northern Rhone. Offerus, from Chave, one of the Rhone’s great producers, is a wonderful wine for $29.99. It shows meaty black cherry and black currant notes intermixed with damp earth and forest floor. It is an excellent introduction to the northern Rhone.

Croze-HermitageRed wines of Syrah with up to fifteen percent Marsanne and Roussanne. This is the other appellation to shop for in looking for affordable northern Rhone wines. Chave also has a great offering here at 27.99. The wine is stuffed with dark raspberry, plum, and licorice, with graphite and smoke on the finish. Jean-Luc Colombo does a nice one too. Finally, Chapoutier, another of the Rhone’s great sources, makes a nice white Croze-Hermitage, Meysonniers, that is delicious.

HermitageRed wines of Syrah and up to fifteen percent Roussanne and Marsanne. According to legend, a knight named Gaspard de Sterimberg returned wounded from the Crusades. The Queen of France permitted him to build a small refuge on a hilltop in which to recover, and he lived there as a hermit. The hill is now owned by one of the great negociants of the region, Paul Jaboulet Aine. These wines were favored by royalty, and in the nineteenth century, some Bordeaux wines were “hermitaged” by blending in wine from this appellation to fetch higher prices. These are huge, powerful, age-worthy wines that are very expensive. They have aromas and flavors of leather, red berries, earth, and coffee. Many are over $100.00 at release.

CornasRed wines from one hundred percent Syrah. This is one of the smallest appellations. It is on lower hillsides and is partially protected from the mistral winds, hence its climate is a bit warmer. The fruit ripens well and harvest tends to occur the earliest of the northern appellations These are dark, inky, very powerful renditions of the Syrah grape. Domaine Courbis Cornas Champlerose is insanely good at $47.99. Robert Parker, giving this wine 94+ points, says, “This wine shows terrific full-bodied texture with gorgeous ripeness, purity, and expansiveness.” It will drink beautifully for decades.

The wines from the Northern Rhone are very special. Viognier and Syrah reach heights here to which all other examples of these varietals are compared. To try them is to truly experience what these two grapes are meant to be.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pinot Noir
The World’s Most Difficult Grape—But Worth It!

Pinot Noir is one of the oldest grape varietals in the world. Originating in Burgundy, France, where it is the source of some of the world’s best wines, the grape is now grown in California and Oregon in the U.S., as well as in Chile and New Zealand.

Difficulties with Pinot Noir occur at virtually every step of wine production. It is genetically unstable, and the parent vine can produce offspring that bear fruit totally different in size, aromatics, and even flavor. This has resulted in hundreds of inferior clones that need to be sorted from the good ones. Any affliction that can affect vines occurs commonly in Pinot Noir. Because it leaves early, it is susceptible to spring frost. It is a perfect host to the sharpshooter leafhopper, which causes Pierce’s disease and can wipe out a vineyard in three years. Leaf roll, a viral infection, is common. The vine is not very vigorous so there may be not enough leaf cover to protect the fruit from birds. This plus the fact that the grape is very thin skinned means berries can shrivel quickly and dry out if picked too late.

Pinot Noir is even difficult to ferment. It ferments rapidly and violently, sometimes out of control. Color retention is a common problem because of the thin skins. Finally, a process known as acetification can occur, causing aromatics and flavors present during fermentation and aging to disappear when the wine is bottled.

Pinot Noir prefers cool climates and chalky, well-drained soils. If grown in warm weather, the delicate aromas and flavors don’t develop. Burgundy has just such a climate and terroir. Willamette Valley, Oregon is at the same latitude as Burgundy and has a similarly cool climate. Pinot Noir grows best in cooler regions of California such as Carneros and Russian River. Cool climates are the most varied, so different vintages vary greatly.

So why do vintners bother with such a difficult grape? Because it can make incredibly aromatic, flavorful wines with a perfume of strawberry, raspberry, black cherry, tea, mint, violets, and spices. The flavors (similar to the aromatics) are delicate but can be quite intense. Pinot Noir tends to be a medium bodied wine with soft tannins and a balancing acidity. Done right, it can be like liquid silk—a profound experience. Aging in oak enhances these characteristics beautifully. It is a wonderful food wine, matching well with Salmon, fowl, ham, and lamb.

There are differences among Pinot Noir from Burgundy, California, and Oregon. Burgundies tend to be lower in alcohol, more structured, and less fruit juicy than American wines. They have more earthy and herbal notes and tend to age longer. Many critics feel Burgundy is a better food wine—it accepts food without overwhelming it, and its lower alcohol and slightly higher acidity balances and brings out the nuances in the accompanying dishes. California Pinot Noir tends to be softer, more lush, and more fruit forward, has a higher alcohol and usually less structure. It is a better wine for drinking on its own.

Oregon seems to be somewhere in the middle of the two. The climate is more similar to Burgundy, but the soil is richer and more volcanic. Oregon Pinots differ greatly among themselves, but tend to be more earthy than California Pinots with a complexity sometimes rivaling Burgundy. The fruit forwardness, however, more closely mimics California.

Another difference among the wine from Burgundy, California, and Oregon is the price. Burgundy is the most expensive, with almost nothing drinkable below $20.00 and prices from the best growers starting at $100.00. Domain de la Romanee Conti wines are over $1000.00 per bottle at release, are the most expensive wines in the world, and are sold out every year. However, some Burgundies are quite affordable, like Seguin Gevrey Chambertin at $47.99 and Regis Bouvier Bourgogne en Montre Cul at $29.99.

California does some really nice Pinot Noir in the $15.00 to $25.00 range, such as Wyatt, Au Bon Climate, Block Nineteen, and Banshee. There are some pricier ones that are really awesome. Try Melville Estate for $27.99.

Oregon is making a lot of really great Pinot Noirs, and this grape has become the state’s signature red grape. Holloran makes two wines. The entry level offering, at $22.99, is called Stafford Hill and is my choice for the best Pinot Noir in the store at this price point. The upper level one is only $7.00 more and is a beautiful mix of perfume, flowers, fruit, and earth. There is a small producer called Tyee whose barrel select Pinot is wonderful at $28.99.

New Zealand is becoming as well known as much for its earthy, funky Pinot Noirs as it is for its Marlboro Sauvignon Blancs. Sherwood and Allan Scott are good values at under $20.00 and are fairly typical of Pinots from this country.

Finally, some definite bargains are coming out of Chile, which is known best for its Carmenere and Cabernet. Llai Llai is a nice example for $10.00 and Cantaluna and Root One are in the same price range. These wines are good places to start if your wallet is a bit light because they are true Pinot Noir. Be careful of inexpensive California Pinot Noirs. Syrah is often added generously to the blend (in California to be called a specific varietal the wine must contain only 75% of that grape) so you may get a pleasant, quaffable wine, but it tastes nothing like Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir can be amazing and can be a great wine with dinner or by the glass on your patio. As tricky as it is to grow and make into wine, it can also be tricky to shop for. So ask your wine geek for the best….it will be an awesome experience.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Easter Wines

Easter means a food fest and a food fest means good wine.


One of the most popular main courses for Easter is, of course, ham. Ham is not as easy to match as you might think, although the mix of sweet and salt brings some great possibilities. For the white drinker, Riesling is an excellent choice. Get one with just a touch of sweetness, which rounds out the saltiness and has the good acidity to support the sweetness and fruit of the wine. My choice from Washington is Kung Fu Girl. From Germany, go with a Kabinett, like Dr. Loosen Blue Slate ($20.99.) Another white to try is Joseph Cattin Gewurztraminer from Alsace. Big fruit, spice, and a bit of residual sugar work very well with the ham.

For the red drinker, a big fruit-forward wine works well, such as a California Zinfandel.  Seven Deadly Zins or Dashe are good examples. Even better would be a Nero D’Avola or Negroamaro form southern Italy. These are similar to Zinfandels only a little lighter on the alcohol, a little earthier, and a little more elegant. Occhipinti’s TAMI Nero D’Avola is awesome at $18.99 and N Zero is a $12.99 Negroamaro that will make your ham wonderful.


If you are lucky enough to live in a house where your wife doesn’t think lambs are too cute to cook, then nothing is better for Easter dinner. As far as I’m concerned, the perfect match for lamb is a red from the northern Rhone. These earthy Syrahs bring out the gamey rich flavor of the lamb like nothing else can. J.L. Chave is one of the Rhone’s great producers, and his Croze-Hermitage Silene ($27.99) or his St. Joseph  Offerus ($29.99) will guarantee a return invitation to dinner. For less money, a southern Cotes du Rhone blend such as Chateau Pesquie Terrasses ($15.99) will do fine.  If you don’t want French, a nice Spanish Rioja like Zuazo Gaston ($14.99) or a big Nebbiolo such as Dominico Clerico’s Capisme-E 
($37.99) are excellent choices.

Prime Rib

A marbled prime rib literally screams out for a big tannic wine like a California mountain Cabernet. Staglin’s 2007 Salus at $89.00 is epic, but Mt Veeder ($35.99) and Educated Guess ($20.99) are both very nice. Even better is Aglianico, a tannic, rustic monster from southern Italy. San Martino’s SIIR at $19.99 is a true bargain. Taurasi is the world’s greatest expression of this grape. If you brought a bottle of Mastroberardino Radici 2006 ($63.99) to my house, you’d get a lifetime invitation to dinner anytime you want. But you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy your prime rib properly. 1907 Madiran from southwestern France (home of the Tannat grape) is a wonderful accompaniment for a whopping $12.99.


Last but not least, Easter Brunch. If you are looking forward to those mimosas, Spanish Cavas and Proseccos are great bang for your buck and they have big exuberant bubbles that will stand up to your O.J. Sonim is a great Cava for $13.99 and Le Colture Sylvoz at $12.99 is my favorite Prosecco for the job. Don’t bring a nice Champagne from France. The very fine bubbles will flatten in about ten seconds if you add O.J., peach nectar, or Kirsch…very unimpressive indeed.

These are by no means your only choices, especially if you’re having a different or unique food for Easter. And for dessert? You may have to consider a nice Port for all that chocolate.

Above all, though you may not eat responsibly, please drink that way. Happy Easter!