Thursday, June 23, 2016

Pairing Wine with Ceviche

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Raw fish is always challenging to match with wine. Ceviche can be even more difficult as it has citric notes from splashes of lime and often—these days—a healthy hint of soy sauce on unique, Asian-inspired takes on the classic dish.

High-acid dishes often pair best with similar wines or those that are completely different. Best bets might be cool-climate whites from Northern Spain, Chile or Portugal or total opposites, such as highly oaked California whites.

Chiles that are often in the sauce that dresses ceviche or spicy dipping sides can also pump up the volume on flavor intensity and make pairings more difficult. The better Peruvian ceviche places often leave the lime on the side so guests can increase the acid levels as they like while they are eating.

A Restaurant’s Perspective
LaMar has long been one of my favorite Peruvian restaurants in San Francisco. They work with Master Sommelier Emmanuel Kemiji on fun and often challenging wine pairings from the restaurant’s mostly South American- and Spanish-focused wine list.

“Acid in wine is the key element to pair well with our food as it contains varied spices and high acid sauces that necessitate a high acid wine.” He adds that because of the spice factor, he likes to "use high-acid wines like [Spanish] Albarino and Godello from Galicia or Verdejo from Rueda.”

The types of raw fish that are used in ceviche can also make a major difference in terms of the right wine choices. “Texturally speaking I try to pair the wine to match the richness or meatiness of the fish. If the fish is of a delicate character, I try lighter wines like Albarino or if they are rich then wines like Sauvignon Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay,” said Kemiji.

He even had a very detailed list of ideal wine varietals that would pair well with different fish. They include tuna with Pinot Noir; salmon with Chardonnay; crab with Riesling; shellfish with Albariño; and sole with Rueda.

In terms of Kemiji’s pairing insights the Alpha Zeta Soave 2014 from the Veneto would probably be great with a range of raw-fish based dishes. Its steely minerality will excel with the citrus notes and offset onions and other alliums in the dish.

Another idea might be the Bonnet-Huteau "Les Laures Granite de Vallet" Muscadet Sevre Et Maine Sur Lie 2012 from France’s Loire Valley. This wine is made from 100 percent Melon de Bourgogne—which is typical for this wine region that is close to the Atlantic. Its crisp citrus notes and buttery and mineral flavors on the plate will work well with a wide range of raw fish. It also runs fairly low in alcohol so it won’t generate heat in the mouth when savored with a ceviche and is not likely to overwhelm the parings.

Another great choice would be the Mesta Verdejo 2014 from Castilla y Leon, Spain. These lean and clean northern Spain pairings tend to excel with most seafood preparations.

Also some great Northern Italian whites will savor with these types of dishes. Italians, along the continental, have long known how to pair wines with local seafood. The mineral and cool fruit notes of the Icardi "L'Aurora" Cortese 2009 from Piedmont and its bright acidity would be lovely with a ceviche dish. Other classic Piedmontese wines, such as Arneis, would also probably be suburb.

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: La Mar

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Wines for Father's Day

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Even dads who have seen it all want to be surprised once in a while and that special day in June is a great time to do it. My father only drinks Champagne, and gimlets, so he's a tough cookie to buy wine for. Hopefully your dad is a little more flexible, so let me give you a few ideas about how to surprise him on the 19th of June.

Cool and refreshing wines are a delight in hot weather across the country. So give him something with fizz, such as Billecart-Salmon Extra Brut 2006 (Champagne, France) . It is a great vintage that you rarely see on the market these days. I am also a great fan or the cherry, berry flavors in roses such as Canard-Duchene Brut Rose NV (Champagne, France), which is creamy, elegant and structured and a bargain for its price point. Another sparkling and even more affordable choice would be the Henry Varnay Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling Wine NV (Loire Valley, France).  The Loire Valley has always been home to so many beautiful wines that are so delicious on their own as well as with food. This wine has toasty notes that would make it well-suited to porch sipping with some mixed nuts.

For the Red Wine Dad
If your dad likes to spice things up Malbec is always a great direction to go in. Its zesty and pepper-driven flavors make it great with BBQ and spicy foods. Bodegas Renacer "Punto Final" Malbec 2015 from  Argentina is a great value and comes from very old vines, if you want to impress a wine-geeky dad. Malbecs are also great to grill with meat as they are the classic wines of Argentina and pair so well with everything from short ribs to steak and even blood sausage.

If your dad is a big Cabernet Sauvignon kind of guy go for some classics. Tannic reds can go beautifully with the burnt exterior of grilled meat. The   Liberty School Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is a great example of what this super-diverse wine region near the Central Coast of California can do with great grapes and climate. The area also makes some divine blends and Rhone varietals as well.

Another great choice for grilling and summer sipping, when it is not too hot, is Zinfandel. The sweetness of ripe tannins in this wine, combined with its generally high alcohol level, makes it soft on the palate and so approachable with meat. Amador County, just a few hours outside of San Francisco, is making some great examples. The Mountain View Amador County Zinfandel 2013 is an incredibly fruit-forward wine that will benefit from a little air before you drink it.

If your dad likes his big reds Old World, there is nothing better than an earthy and intense red from France's Rhone Valley. Ferraton Pere & Fils Crozes-Hermitage "La Matiniere" 2012 is a big, intense wine made from 100-percent Syrah with lots of red fruit and currants on the nose with soft herbal undertones. Cheers to dad whatever kind of wine he enjoys!

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, June 2, 2016

Pairing Wine with Fermented Food

By Liza B. Zimmerman

I have loved Kimchi since I was a kid. I think I may have been Korean in a past life. Almost every single dish of delicious fermented vegetable goodness Korean have served me at table I adore. However there's a reason that Koreans have long consumed beer and soju with their native food: these intense and spicy flavors are challenging to pair with wine. The same goes for the recent nationwide love of picked vegetable plates that are often served as side dishes.

Crisp and fresh wines from a range of cool-climate regions are likely to work best. "Avoid oak. Be conscious of your acid and spice. Look for your wine pairing to provide the inverse. If the food is mega spicy, find something with some sweetness," advises Josh Nadel, the beverage director at the New York-based NoHo Hospitality Group.

Whites are generally going to be your best bets with spicy, pickled dishes of all kinds. Alsace is a great region to start with as its whites tend to have distinctive acidity and great mineral notes. They are also often lower in alcohol levels so they won't generate heat in the mouth when paired with fermented dishes.

"With fermented foods, pairing with the acidity is paramount. I look for round and ripe whites, and depending on the spice and acid level, some residual sugar. The ripeness of Alsace wines, and the opportunity to select from multiple, moderate to lower acid wines, makes these wines a perfect match," said Nadel.

The bracing acidity and moderate alcohol level of the Willm Gewurztraminer Reserve 2014 make it a great choice. Other good whites might include aromatic Northern Italian whites such as the esoteric Kerner. While the Kofererhof Alto Adige Valle Isarco Kerner 2007 may be difficult to say its delicious in a glass. The grape was bred in the 1920s by crossing the Riesling and Trollinger grapes and was named for the German poet Justinus Kerner.

Careful With Oak
Oak-aged wines will not shine with fermented dishes like kimchi or pickles, unless they are fried. Once you fry just about anything all regular food-pairing bets are off. "Oak and fermented foods do not mesh,"  confirmed Nadel.

Fresh Sauvignon Blancs, be they from California or Chile, would be good matches and are rarely oaked. The Mahu Sauvignon Blanc 2015 would work well as would the Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc. White Bordeaux are likely to be too acidic and Loire Valley whites might be just to tart to meld with pickled flavors.

Reds in general are tough to pair, particularly tannic ones, said Nadel. Earthly reds, like those from the Rhone Valley or the Loire would also be less than idea. Perhaps a fruit-forward wine, such as a Sangiovese or even an Argentine Malbec, could stand up the flavors of fermented cabbage and other vegetables. However the higher-alcohol levels on these wines could run the risk overwhelming the dishes' vegetal flavors.

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 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.