Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wine with Tomato-Based Dishes

By Liza B. Zimmerman

We have been in love with the tomato for hundreds of years. It didn't arrive in Europe until around the 16th Century and is believed to have been grown by the Aztecs centuries ago.

The tomato is technically a fruit and part of the nightshade family, that includes peppers and eggplants. They were often thought to have curative properties and sometimes be aphrodisiacs. Regardless of their other health benefits, we know that they brighten up salads come summer and are essential in all kinds of pasta dishes and as a base for stews year round.

Their intense and acidic flavor can, sadly, make them hard to pair with wine. What grows together goes together is often the case and Italian-influenced, tomato-based sauces are often best enhanced with a touch of Italian wine: either in the sauce or on the side. The well-defined acidity and assertive flavors tend to work hand in hand.

Italian Picks
Tuscan Sangiovese has a beautiful pepper and spice flavor profile that works beautifully with tomatoes. It generally has structured fruit flavors and a lengthy acidity that works well with the deep flavors a tomato can bring to a dish.

The Rocca di Frassinello "Le Sughere di Frassinello" Maremma Toscana 2012 is a great pick. It's an intense blend, fueled by herb and tobacco flavors that can run around the block with tomatoes.

Keep in mind that too much balsamic vinegar on a salad will overwhelm almost any wine. Charring tomatoes before you serve them can also give them a toasty and roasty flavor that will highlight herbal and dusty notes in some wines.

A big, but worth it, splurge, would be La Fortuna Brunello Di Montalcino 2010. It is a great wine from a suburb vintage. It  is a 100 percent Sangiovese that has some earthy aromas that will complement tomatoes.

Other Tomato-Friendly Suggestions
Balanced acidity and herbal and earthy flavors are key to complementing tomato dishes. Loire Valley wines and some rustic Syrahs would also be good choices. Earthy and black-pepper driven wines such as Domaine Grosbois "La Cuisine de ma Mere" Chinon 2014 will complement a range of vegetal flavors, including those of the assertive tomato.

The funk and spunk of France's Rhone Valley Syrah-driven wines will also stand up beautifully with tomato-driven dishes. Some of these wines can be too redolent of earth and too packed with vegetal flavors but the Yann Chave Crozes-Hermitage 2012 is a great choice. It is 100 percent Syrah and full of spices.

Wines with high alcohol levels are likely to overwhelm the fresh and herbal tomato flavors. So the key here is too look for well-balanced wines grown in not overly hot climates. Hilly and breeze-rich areas are likely to produce the most tomato-friendly wines out there.

Some of Sicily's ever-evolving Nero d'Avolas might also fit the bill, particularly those grown in the Southeast part of the country. Tasca d'Almerita "Lamuri" Nero d'Avola 2014 is a fruit-forward example that also has some great herbal notes.

By all means have some fun, mix it up with your tomato-based dishes this summer and play around with some of your favorite wines. Just keep in mind that many of the best choices will come from areas where tomatoes have long been grown and appreciated.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Wines for Mother’s Day

By Liza B. Zimmerman


Restaurants can be incredibly crowded on Mother’s Day so why not stay at home to fete her with some great bottles? To start the festivities I would go with a handful of bubbles. You might even try something different like a cider or sparkling sake for fun.

France’s Normandy is famous for its delicate ciders and the Duche de Longueville "Antoinette" Dry Sparkling Cider NV is a great example. It is naturally fermented and the producer grows more than a dozen different types of apples.

The variety of sakes made in Japan is incredible. They range from cloudy and unfiltered versions to amazingly dry renditions. Some of the best are the sparkling versions as they combine all of sake’s complexity with lovely bubbles. The "Festival of Stars" Sparkling Sake has something in common with Champagne as it undergoes secondary fermentation in bottle.

Show Her Some Old School Treatment
There’s nothing more classic than Bordeaux. Not all the reds—and whites—from this region come with big price tags. Second, or third or forth, growths that escaped top-line classification back in 1855 can also be more affordable. Many of them may also be second-label wines produced by major Chateaux.

Chateau Mirefleurs is a good example of affordable red Bordeaux that can pair with a wide range of foods. Roast pork dishes—particularly with rosemary or sage—would be a great fit, as would non-tomato based rabbit dishes.

The white wines of Bordeaux hardly get the respect that they deserve. They tend be to well-balanced wines with great acidity and mineral notes. Most of them are made with an ever-changing mix of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Chateau La Mouliniere is a great single-estate that makes wines that are divine with seafood.

Another treat for mothers around the country would be a little trip to the hills of Italy. Sicily and Piedmont, at opposite ends of the country, are two of its most bewitching regions. Their indigenous grapes, from Nebbiolo to Nero d’Avola are going in some of the best wines on the market these days.

The Damilano Cerequio Barolo is an intense expression of what Nebbiolo can do in Piedmont. The estate also features a handful of diverse single-estate vineyards.  Nero d’Avola is probably the best-known red grape grown on the island of Sicily. Many wines made with it are easy-drinking and food friendly. The Tasca d’Almerita “Lamuri,” Nero d’Avola is no exception and would pair well with grilled meats.

Bring on the New World
For the innovative mama give her a bit of the Southern Hemisphere in a bottle. South Africa and Chile have been producing amazing whites and reds for several decades. Both countries’ style can show a lot of respect for Old World influences and great bottles from both lands can cost much les than classified growths from France.

South Africa has long excelled at Bordeaux blends. They tend to be somewhat traditional with hints with a hint of modern style.  Some of the best ones are made by producers with roots in the Old World. One of my favorites is Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons "Classique" 2013. It is made just outside of Cape Town and ages beautifully.

Chile produces some of the most elegant wines in South America. This country excels with international grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, that have long been planted there. Cousino-Macul is more than 150 years old and its cellar is one of the few that is within the city limits of Santiago. The producer’s Merlot is a soft and approachable wine that works well with simple beef preparations.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.
Photo Credit: Assovini

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Kosher Wines for Passover

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Long gone are the days of most kosher wines being sickly sweet and served at room temperature. Many wineries all over the world have taken to making part of their production kosher, both for the big holidays and everyday consumption for those who keep kosher.

Israel is obviously a great place to start as producers here offer so many selections. While wine has been made in this country since Biblical times, modern wine production seriously got underway in the 1880s with the help of Baron Edmond de Rothschild. A true move to producing quality wines and an investment in planting international varietals occurred a full century later in the 1980s and 1990s.

Mainstream international varietals take the lead in this country with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc being among the top varietals produced. Production of Syrah is also on the rise. The country is home to five wine growing regions Galilee-Golan, Shomron, Samson, Judean Hills and Negev. The majority of wines are produced in the first three.

Wines to Try
The Gush Etzion "Spring River" Syrah-Mourvedre blend 2012 is made in the Judean region, south of Jerusalem. It is one of the highest altitude areas in Israel. Its lush berry flavors and early notes will make it a good match with lighter meats. It is also a balanced 13.8 percent alcohol by volume, unlike many other big reds, so it won’t get you tipsy on just one glass.

California winemakers have been a big part of the winemaking scene in Israel for decades. So it is not then surprising that they were inspired and took some of their experience back home to make some lovely kosher wines in the similarly Mediterranean climates of California.

The Shirah Syrah 2013 is made in Santa Barbara County. Its herb-driven and jammy flavors will pair well with bigger, hearty meats as steak and stews. It is a little bit of a spurge, but worth it.

Other European Choices
Many of the great wine producers in Europe make kosher lines of wine for their local communities. I have been to wineries in remote areas of Spain where the local rabbi even frequently comes in to oversee the production and insure that the entire wine production process follows kosher rules and regulations.

The Gran Sarao Cava Brut is made from a traditional blend of Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Parellada grapes, with a touch of Chardonnay. It is quite dry and loaded with fruit aromas and flavors. It is a great way to start off a meal or just enjoy on a warm day on the porch (if you have one).

Italy also makes a wide range of kosher wines in various regions. The Borgo Reale Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is produced from 100 percent Montepulciano grapes in the Central region of Abruzzo. It is great with simple pastas and would even work with a corned beef sandwich, although you might have to BYOB it to your local deli.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Wines for Spring

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Punxsutawney Phil seems to have been right. Our somewhat reliable groundhog friend didn’t see his shadow this year, which is supposed to mean that we will we have an early spring. We have already seen evidence of that on the West Coast and for some days in New York, even though snow covered parts of the Midwest in late March.

So it’s time to stock up on wines for sunny weather. For me that includes lovely, acid-driven white wines; fruity roses; and lots of bubbles. 

Wine as a Vacation in a Bottle
I sometimes pop a bottle in honor of where I would most like to be at the time. There are few times a year I wouldn’t want to be on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, just south of Naples. The Terredora Dipaolo "Rosaenovae" Irpinia Rose 2013 will take me right there. It is made from 100 percent Aglianico grapes, which are indigenous to the region, and has lovely fruit flavors.

Hopping down the Italian Peninsula, the weather is often warm and sunny in much of Sicily. One of this ancient island’s indigenous grapes makes another lovely rose the di Giovanna "Gerbino" Rosato di Nerello Mascalese 2014. It is fun to see how this super-aromatic grape can structure and shape a rose, as opposed to in a cool-climate red wine for which it is best-known.

Set me up on the outdoor terrace of a little café in Provence any day of the week. I will take an enormous Nicoise salad, topped with fresh tuna, with a mineral and fruity glass—or two—of rose. The La Vidaubanaise "Le Provencal" Cotes de Provence Rose 2014 is just the ticket, if you don’t have time for the vacation just close your eyes and take a sip.

White Delights
The whole Loire Valley smells like springtime when the crops are in bloom. Almost all of this region’s whites have divine ribbons of acidy that refresh the palate and the soul. However Muscadet, as the region is on the Atlantic Ocean, almost smells like sea salt and minerality the minute you open the bottle than any wine I know. The Bonnet-Huteau "Les Laures Granite de Vallet" Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2012 is fresh, grassy and citric.

Sauvignon Blanc is another grape that always sings of spring to me. Most white Bordeauxs are based on it and are so delicious. The crisp Chateau La Mouliniere Blanc 2014 is a great example. Another good one would be Joel Gott’s 2013 Sauvignon Blanc made across the ocean in California.

Pop the Cork
There’s nothing better than to herald the arrival of warm weather with a bottle of bubbles. If you love Champagne the non-vintage Gosset Brut "Excellence" NV is a great place to start. The non-vintage Henry Varnay Blanc de Blancs Brut sparkling wine, from the Loire Valley, is more of a delicious everyday indulgence.

For something locally produced, with a French influence, try the Domaine Saint-Vincent Methode Champenoise Brut NV. It is made by the Gruet Family from Champagne and with its subtle yeasty flavor might just pass for one if you taste it with your eyes closed.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pairing Wine with Grilled Steak

By Liza B. Zimmerman

As the last traces of cool weather start to evaporate from the sky we will be segueing into eating lighter meat dishes: at least some of the time! So here’s a primer on what to pair with those last hearty beef dishes of winter and some of the lighter ones for springtime.

Choosing the right wine for the pairing has as much to do with the type of meat as how it is cooked. Seared or barbequed meats will pair better with big, tannic reds that can cut through the crunch of the fire on the exterior of the meats. The same goes for fatty and marbled meats as tannins interplay beautifully with layers of fat. If you add any kind of sweet sauce as a marinade you will also want to find a red with a fairly high alcohol level—think California Cabernets and Zins as well as Portuguese wines from the Douro—so it pairs some sweetness with the flavor.

Malbec from Argentina or the South of France would be ideal. The French region of Cahors specializes in Malbec-based wines, although they call the grape “Cot.” Georges Vigoroux "Gouleyant" Cahors Malbec 2013 is a great example of the wonders that they work in this lesser-known French region.

Brazilian Style
Few denizens of the globe enjoy their meat as much as residents of Brazil. When I visited years ago the only disappointment was how much they overcooked a lot of the meat, as is done in much of South America.

Fortunately stateside we can get meat cooked at any temperature we like, even at a Brazilian restaurant. I spoke to Ryan Metcalf, general manager at San Francisco’s new Fogo de Chao location about his strategy to pair grilled meat and wine.

He agrees that level to which the meat is cooked can strongly affect the best wine pairings. “If one likes their meat on the well-done side, I’d recommend a lighter, gentler red wine as a lot of the fat has been cooked and melted away. If one prefers their meat medium-rare, I’d advise a richer, spicier wine to help compliment the rich flavors from fat.”

The Bodegas Renacer “Punto Final” Malbec would be a good choice with medium- to well-done meats. So would the Liberty School Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. For rarer meats you might want to go with a softer Rhone blend such Kermit Lynch Cotes du Rhone 2014. The fact that the bulk of the wines from this region are blends will also tend to soften their interaction with meats.

Wines that have robust tannins will also stand up to fatty meats better. “Tannin in wine can neutralize or balance fattier meats like rib eye or Fraldinha [marbled bottom sirloin]. Fat is integral to flavor but can coat your palate and inhibit your ability to experience maximum flavor.  Tannin balances this by actually pulling that film off your palate,” said Metcalf.

Other red wine styles that are rich in tannins include California Zinfandels, such as Ridge Vineyards "Three Valleys" Red 2011 or those made in the Sierra Foothills, such as Mountain View Amador County Zinfandel 2013. Bordeaux blends, either from the mother country or sourced in California will also excel. The Chateau Mirefleurs Bordeaux Superieur 2012 would be a great choice as would Bodegas La Cartuja Priorat 2013. The 14.5 percent alcohol by volume level on the second wine will also give it certain sweetness in the mouth that will interact nicely with grilled meat.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Wines for Easter

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Easter comes early this week and with it we may have cooler weather. What you will want to pair with your pre-Springtime feast will depend on what the main course of the day is. Italians classically pair Lambrusco—with its lovely bubbles—with the holiday turkey. One of my favorites is Lini, but there are many great choices, which run from fairly sweet to almost totally dry.

Another super flexible stand-in might be a fruit-forward, sparkling Shiraz from down under. You will want to stay away from big reds with tannins if you want to choose a wine to go with a wide range of meats and vegetables. Old World classics such as Burgundy and Cabernet Franc-based reds from the Loire Valley would be great choices. The smoky and mineral infused Jean-Maurice Raffault "Les Galluches” is a superb choice. One of the Beaujolais Crus might also be delicious since Nouveau season is long over.

For that Turkey
Wine choices to pair with that bird or game birds in general, are pretty wide open depending on how you cook it. If you deep-fry a turkey you will want a crisp, acidic white to cut through the intense, crusty exterior. A slightly off-dry Riesling, from anywhere from Germany to the Finger Lakes in New York will work well. A Gewurztraminer, or an esoteric white, such as Kerner from Trentino Alto Adige, such as the Kofererhof Alto Adige Valle Isarco Kerner 2007, would pair nicely with it.

If the bird is stuffed with sausage and roasted you will want to move over to a light red. While New World Pinots, particularly with high levels of alcohol, may overwhelm the bird, Burgundy will be perfect. An Austrian red, such as the relatively unknown Zweigelt might be delicious.

For Lamb and Pork
For a tender cut of intensely flavored lamb you will want to pull out the big guns: think Cabernet Sauvignon if your chops are pepper incrusted or maybe Cotes du Rhone. Red Bordeaux and California- and Chilean-produced Bordeaux blends will also hit the spot. Washington State is also home to some impressive, locally produced Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines, such as Reynvaan "In The Rocks.”

Or go all Syrah with a bottle such as Yann Chave’s Crozes-Hermitage to impress your guests. Or head to Northern Spain for massive blends from the Priorat region. Alavaro Palacio’s “Les Terrases,” is dense, intense and great with meat. 

Pork pairings can vary depending how the pork is prepared. If it has hints of sweetness, like country ham, you will want to go with an off-dry white. If it is herb-encrusted, an herbaceous wine such as a Vermentino from Italy will balance out its flavors.

If you prepare any of your meats with a tomato sauce remember that tannic reds will fight with its acidic taste profile. Tomatoes have a love affair with Italian reds, particularly Sangiovese. I love wines from the Southern Tuscan region of La Maremma and Le Sughere di Frassinello, a Sangiovese blend, is a standout. You could also wow your guests with a taste of the Tuscan highlife: a little Brunello.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Wines for St. Patrick’s Day

By Liza B. Zimmerman

While the Irish are known for their love of many types of drink, it is not always wine. However given how bitter the weather can be in New York, and other parts of the country, for the big parade some bone-warming wines are always a great call with which to enjoy the festivities.

So here’s a play-by-play chart on what to drink for St. Patrick’s Day. While you are watching the parade with a slice of pizza or a fresh-from-the-stand hotdog, you might enjoy a Beaujolais slightly chilled. If you are going to pile the sauerkraut on the hotdog, or potentially hot mustard, you might debate pairing it with a sweeter wine like a sparkling wine with a hint of residual sugar. A Riesling might even work, but please just don’t ask the hot dog guy to uncork it on the street.

If you go the pizza route, which many of us do on St. Patrick’s Day, I have a few suggestions. If you have a white pizza (with no sauce) and lots of spice you might go with a Chablis or even a Rhône white (trust me that these flavors work better with whites). If you are going to add that tomato sauce you may want to think about a light and simple red, perhaps a Sangiovese or Zinfandel, which are always great choices. They could be either Italian or from California. A lesser-known, but great fruit-forward choice would be Di Majo Norante delgi Osci Sangiovese from the southern Italian region of Molise.

For the Sit-Down Meal
I always like to come home to a classic, meat-hearty meal after running around in the cold streets of New York to see the parade. The evening would be the time to pull out some more serious wines, ideally red blends. Those could be rowdy blends from California, something slight peppery from the Rhone Valley or Bordeaux. A lesser-known blend and a gem is the Esporao Alandra, which is a blend of the indigenous grapes Moreto, Castelao and Trincadeira.

If you sear a steak you may want to pair it with bigger, more tannic and higher-alcohol wines such as California Cabernets or Douro reds. Should you make chile in the crock pot, which I love to do on cold days, you might want to scale back to lighter reds such as Pinots from California to Oregon and Burgundy, if you have the budget. If you make them with pork and lots of spice you might even go for a rich white such as a white Burgundy or a Rhône blend. One delightful choice would be the Domaine de Suremain Mercurey 1er Cru 2013.

To close the evening bubbles are always the best. They could be Champagne or Gruet from New Mexico or California sparklers. You could always just pour a little ice wine over some ice cream to celebrate a day with a cool finish for the Irish who live in colder climes.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.