Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wines to Brighten the Winter

By Liza B. Zimmerman


The Swedes have long celebrated Santa Lucia Day during the darkest months of the winter. To celebrate the holiday the family's eldest daughter generally wears a wreath of candles on her head and serves her parents breakfast in bed. Younger siblings often help and it is a tradition that continues among Scandinavian Americans as well.

These winter festivals are all about bringing light (both figurative and real) and festivities to the coldest and darkest time of the year. The types of wines you drink in the depths of winter can also lift your outlook on gloomy months and can be a reason in and of themselves to celebrate with friends and family.

A Little Fizz is All is Takes
There's nothing like sparkling wine to get everyone in a festive mood. It pairs divinely with rich winter foods, like fried and cheese-inflected dishes. Classic and yeasty Champagnes are always a good choice, such as Duval-Leroy Brut, and there are so many sparklers that will also be delicious.

The Loire Valley and Alsace both make some of France's greatest, primarily dry, sparkling wines. The varietals may not be the same--which is part of the fun--but the classic French winemaking style and pelage is there.

Prosecco is always an affordable Italian choice. Franciacorta is its granddaddy of the category and doesn't even cost that much more. The bubbles tend to be finer and it often tastes Older World with a pleasantly heavier yeast profile on the palate. There are also many fantastic Cavas, which can have a lighter taste profile than many Italian and French sparkling wines.

Big Succulent Reds
Winter is the time to bring out those wines you have been hiding: hopefully in a temperature-controlled space.  Luscious Zinfandels from places like Amador Country in California will pair so well with big hunks of grilled steak or lamb.

This would be the season to open those older Napa Valley Cabernets as well. Hopefully the tannins will have evolved enough to interact with the fat structure of fat-riddled cold-climate meats--and potentially stand up to bitter winter vegetables--in an appealing way.

Bordeaux blends are also ideal for this time of year. You can go left- or right-bank depending on what you are serving. Right-bank wines, that have more Merlot, often open up sooner and show softer notes with food. Or play around with some classics from Napa and Sonoma. Washington is also making a name for itself in the hotter climates out in Eastern Washington for creating some incredible, and food-friendly, Syrah-based reds such as Tertulia.

Go Sweet
Everyone put a few pounds on with holiday indulgences, and wine lovers are no exception  This would be the time of year to bring on that Muscat Beaumes du Venise with a Carmel treat or some multi-layered Tawny or Vintage Port on its own or with chocolate; and perhaps event a little Sauternes with a tiny bite of cheese.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza 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.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Steven Soderbergh & Singani 63 (Part 1 of a 3-part series)

By Antonia Fattizzi, Founder/President, Cork and Tin


Recently I met with the renowned movie producer and director, Steven Soderbergh, to discuss an extraordinary spirit called Singani 63 (Singani63.com) and his 6-year journey importing it from Bolivia into the United States. Produced solely in the Bolivian Andes since 1530 (5,250 feet or higher, to be exact), Singani is a pomace brandy based in white Muscat of Alexandria grapes.  It is considered the national liquor of Bolivia, consumed at national festivals, weddings, religious holidays and more. Distilled two times in 2500-liter potstills, its water comes from the highlands of Tarija.  Singani invites frequent comparisons to eau-de-vie and even gin, due to its light, clean body and floral notes. Although this product exists in the brandy category, Singani is its own entity. On a molecular level it is constructed differently from brandy and even its close Peruvian relative Pisco, and Mr. Soderbergh is actively campaigning for it to have its own designation.

Upon being introduced to Singani by his Bolivian casting director during the filming of the movie Che, it immediately became the drink of choice for both him and his crew. After researching the Singani market in Bolivia, Steven selected a premium version (Singani 63), into the USA.  It shouldn’t be hard, he thought. All he wanted was enough for he and his friends to drink and maybe sell a bit of it.

What follows is the condensed version (Part I) of a two-hour conversation that captured the history of Singani 63 and the story of how an unassuming Hollywood movie producer found himself navigating an unfamiliar industry and its complicated three-tier legal system to bring his favorite tipple from the mountains of Bolivia to the glasses of adventurous drinkers here in the United States.

On Consumption:
First and foremost, what kind of tippler is Steven Soderbergh? Steven calls his current drink of choice “the Sub-Woofer”, which is Singani 63 on the rocks.  Prior to his introduction to Singani, he was a vodka drinker with his drink of choice after a long day of shooting films “a dirty, Ketel One martini. Shaken.  That would have been my prior go-to drink if I could get it. And let’s be clear – it is really, really easy to fuck up a dirty martini. If I walk into a place, the first thing I do is order a martini. It’s shocking how many people will make a really bad one.

If I’m in a hotel or somewhere that I’m not sure about anything on the menu, I’ll order a BLT because how do you fuck up a BLT? Because it’s hard. It can be done, but it’s hard to fuck up a BLT. But a dirty martini, it’s really interesting. Just the way it’s made, the ratio – I’ve been in some really high-end joints where they’ve been awful. And then I feel bad and I drink the one, and they’re looking at you like, do you want another one, and I’m like, no I’ll take a Ketel One Citron on the rocks.”

Growing up, “my parents weren’t drinkers. I grew up in Louisiana at a time when the drinking age was 18, so I got an early start. If I were visiting Louisiana after high school, (I was in Los Angeles for a while and then I went back and stayed there) – I was a block from the campus and there was this legendary, now burnt down bar where we shot “Sex Lies”, called the Bayou. I would just hang out there a lot. I knew everybody who worked there, they had pool tables, they had a record collection that the bartenders got to play whatever they wanted – it was GREAT. A world-class BAR.  This was the 80’s, so it was before the whole fantastic wave of mixology. Back then it was just the staple items and that was it.”

Inspiration to Import:
Steven’s first experience with Singani was on set filming the movie Che, when his Bolivian casting director, who had family ties to prominent distillery Casa Real, handed a bottle to him as a gift. He was immediately smitten, and took particular note of how it made him feel. “One of things that appealed to me about Singani was that I found it very smooth. I just drank it on ice – I drink vodka that way - and I was waiting for the burn (after the swallow is the burn), and it didn’t come. That’s when I started asking, what is this stuff, where does it come from? Casa Real, Singani 63’s parent company, is hugely successful and very well run. They’ve been great. Given the sort of parameters we were working with, I was just trying to come up with something that basically was distinctive enough where, if you put that bottle on a back bar, you’d know what it is. The idea was just having something that your eye from here to there makes you know that that is Singani. But how do you do that without spending too much?”

Part of the intrigue is how challenging it is to even produce Singani. “There are a very small number of companies that make Singani because it’s very difficult to make. It has to be made in this one, 20,000 acre area in the Bolivian Andes with this ONE grape. That’s it. Casa Real controls about 75% of the market, they’re the biggest of the companies; they’ve been around a long time. Again, I didn’t know this until I started talking to people. To my mind, knowing what I know now, if you’re going to be involved in one of those companies, they’re the company you want to be involved in. But strangely, maybe because they’re so successful there, they’ve never had any desire to sell outside of Bolivia.

Steven’s creative control with the brand did not extend to what one tastes when they drink Singani.   “What you’re tasting is exactly what they sell in Bolivia as their white label (premium) brand. I responded to the flavor profile as it was. They’ve gotten this right for a long time. When I wonder whether or not I should be doing this, I just go back to the idea of, well I tried it and I liked it; and if I tried it and I liked it, and I’m somebody who likes to drink, then will there be enough other people to make this sustainable? Now that’s an open question.”

“It’s important to me that it’s done RIGHT. I’d rather fail doing it the way I think it oughta be done than succeed in a way that I think is lame and embarrassing.”

A Bit About The Bottle:
“A friend of mine, Joanna Bush, who’s worked on movies for us, designed the label and the man on the label is a friend of hers. He dressed in traditional Bolivian workers clothes with the hat. The coloring of their clothing is really remarkable, very vibrant and dense. So we talked a lot about colors, composition, and negative space, looked at a lot of other products. We were also faced with an economic consideration which is that I see a lot of stuff and we know if we spent so much money on THE BOTTLE, and I have to – this is produced in Bolivia – so my options in terms of bottling, capping, labeling, are tied into what they can do. Everything is done there, so there are certain considerations in terms of what they can do.  The 63 in Singani 63 represents my birth year.”

What Will Make Him Happy:
“At the end of the day, if it turns out to be something that I can just give to my friends over the holidays and I have a constant supply of my own, that’s not a bad result to me. Because the whole thing is like, when I had it, I was said to myself, “well I have to have it”. Also, I like learning about new stuff. A lot of the fun has just been learning a new business and talking to people and realizing, as I moved around the world, as somebody who goes to bars and restaurants, that there’s this whole air of activity going on which I had no idea. This whole ecosystem was invisible to me. To now be in it is really interesting and it’s so, even more so than the entertainment industry, you talk about evolve or die, it’s the walking definition of Darwinian.   It’s funny talking to my sales managers about the difference between NY and Los Angeles.  Everybody has told me that the L.A. market is SO tough because there’s no brand loyalty there. L.A. is so cutthroat, like, what happened yesterday doesn’t matter today.”

In the next installment, Steven Soderbergh gives DrinkUpNY.com an exclusive glimpse at his controversial campaign to engage in close personal contact with Singani 63 fans, and the results could change the course of U.S. trial law forever…

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Since 2003, Antonia Fattizzi has managed, marketed and sold boutique wines and spirits in the US market. Her passion for artisinal products propelled her to found Cork and Tin, which serves as a voice and a strategic partner for small and emerging brands. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cocktail: Travels and Essays

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

Four Roses Small Batch forms the base of a very fall flavored cocktail that is meant to propel you towards the crescendo-the Christmas weekend. 

I’m very fond of holiday flavors and aromatics along with the taste of the place that says New England.  The spices that come to mind when I think of this history are imprinted into my collective memory of childhood. This classic potpourri of scents is very easy to prepare because you can acquire the ingredients as easily as opening the DrinkupNY site and making a few well-timed clicks.

I love bourbon whiskey and fine bourbon whiskey can be purchased with many different producers on their labels.  At this time of the year I’m naturally attracted to Four Roses Small Batch, because the combination of four different blends make this drink sing the clarion song of refreshment. 

As illustrated above, I seek the flavors of the fall in my cocktail glass and Sorel from my friend Jackie Summers makes perfect sense when a “Manhattan” of sorts is whipped together.  Sorel is a combination of Caribbean herbs, roots and spices along with very potent, New York State distilled alcohol.  It’s passionately made to Jack’s specific recommendations and each sip brings a smile to your face.  I think it mixes like a dream. 

Instead of using Sweet Vermouth and Rye whiskey with Angostura Bitters in your “Manhattan” may I please suggest using the Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey along with a nice measure of Sorel?  As not to confuse the basics of my plan, may I also include a portion of the brilliant cranberry soda and cocktail syrup from my friend Allison Goldberg in the form of her Fruitations Syrup? Why yes, yes I shall. 

The reasoning for flavors that speak of the fall is very simple.  The mindset of the season is of freshly cut firewood and the snap of the fire in your cocktail glass.  I’m pretty understanding when it comes to the effort that goes into making a craft cocktail and this one is no different.  The ingredients just speak for themselves.  When you use quality ingredients the best is always the ones that speak clearly of the place.  The combination of cranberry, bourbon whiskey and Caribbean spices are their own representation of my past.  And that brings a smile to my face.  As we all know, when the person who is preparing your drinks is smiling, that energy translates through to the drink.  I’m fascinated by this technique for excellence and hope that you experiment the same way. 

Sorel when combined with whiskey makes for gleeful revelry.  Add to this a few teaspoons of cranberry syrup and then finish it all off with a splash or two of Lapsang Souchong tea.  Serve it over an ice spear in a tall glass with a large sprig of fresh mint.  And add a lemon zest or an orange zest that has been dipped in bittersweet chocolate.  The possibilities are endless for finishing bitters, but may I suggest the Creole Bitters from The Bitter Truth?  They are spiced just right for a tropically influenced holiday slurp.  With an ounce or so of seltzer water to finish, this drink is deceptively easy to put a few into you.  But be careful there is kick in there, so unless you have a hollow leg, let’s just say that this drink is not at all weak!

Travels and Essays
Ingredients (for two persons who drink more than they read)
3 oz. Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey
2 oz. Sorel
4 oz. Lapsang Souchong Tea
2 oz. Fruitations Cranberry Soda and Cocktail Syrup
4 oz. Seltzer Water
3-4 drops Bitter Truth Creole Bitters
Ice spear
Mint sprig

Preparation
To a large Boston Shaker (or in two equal batches) fill ¾ with regular bar ice
Add the Four Roses and the Sorel
Add the tea
Add the Fruitations Cranberry Syrup
Cap and shake hard for 15 seconds
Add your ice spear to a Collins Glass
Pour the mixture over the top
Finish with a splash or two of seltzer water
Add the bitters
Garnish with the mint sprig (slapped first)

Yum!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

About Warren Bobrow
Author of: Apothecary Cocktails-Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today- Fair Winds Press- Beverly, Massachusetts. Apothecary Cocktails was nominated for a Spirited Award, 2014 Tales of the Cocktail.  His forthcoming book, Whiskey Cocktails will be released October 14.  Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails follow with publication in spring ’15.  Warren is a master mixologist for several craft liquor companies.

Warren consults about mixology and spirits, travel, organic wine and food.  He’s written for web-blogs and magazines like: Williams-Sonoma, Whole Foods: Dark Rye, Distiller, Total Food Service Magazine, Beverage Media Group, DrinkUpNY, Edible Publications, Foodista, Serious Eats, Mechanics of Style and Beekman1802.  He was in the Saveur-100 in 2010.

Warren is a former, mostly self, trained cook from the pot sink on up.  J&W and ACF were thrown in for good luck.  Warren was the former owner/co-founder of Olde Charleston Pasta in South Carolina: *Dissolved his business after Hurricane Hugo in 1989* - to a career in private banking, (nearly 20 years; “a very grand mistake”) to this reinvention in 2009 as the Warren he's finally become.

Warren is available to do highly personalized, interactive mixology events, local, national and international.
PS: Warren's second book, Whiskey Cocktails is on the market now!
Contact: jockeyhollow@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wines to Sip with Soup

By Liza B. Zimmerman


My crock-pot is going all year long, but in the winter months it's turning out multiple dishes a week and sometimes a day. Even though the cold months are hardly frigid in San Francisco, it is still nice to have the heat and lovely aromas coming out of my kitchen.

One of my favorite dishes has long been soup. My mom had to pack a thermos of it everyday for me when I was a kid and never wanted a sandwich. I have moved on from Campbell's and make a huge range of primarily vegetable-based soups, full of hearty meats.

Stock is Key
What stock base you use--vegetable, chicken and beef are the most common--is going to influence your wine pairing choices. I am a fan of beef broth in almost anything as it tends to give dishes a more savory and complex flavor.

Whether you make your own, or buy bullion cubes--I won't tell anyone--beef is going to give a soup a more earthy and comparably robust flavor. Funky, umami-flavored wines are going to life these dishes up. A little Oregon Pinot Noir or perhaps Barbaresco like Conterno's "Cerretta" (really anything made with the Nebbiolo grape) is going to pair beautifully.

Wines with mushroom notes, particularly when they are part of the hot pot's ingredients, bring expansive wet earth notes to a soup pairing. In my book that is not bad. think of anything you might pair with locally foraged mushrooms, such as medium-acid Pinot Noirs from the Mendocino Coast or rowdy reds from the South and Southwest of France, such as Cahors and Côtes-du-Rhône.

Lighter Soups
Chicken, and vegetable, stocks will make your soup a little lighter and may enable you to go down the high-acid red, or even white wine, path. They will also allow the green, feisty and difficult-to-manage ancient vegetables to sing a bit more with wine.

If you soup contains dark meat from a chicken, you may want to go with still somewhat earthy wines: such as Loire Valley reds or lighter styles of Washington State or Central Coast Bordeaux blends. If you want to keep flavors lighter and less animal-fat influenced go with big whites with a lot of structure, such as Rhône Whites or their domestic brethren. Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane may be your best friends with chicken-stock flavored soups. A very yeasty Champagne might also do the trick, but I would stick to a blanc de blancs and steer away from rosés.

Those Difficult Vegetables
When strong vegetal flavors take the lead in your soups you have to be careful. The herbal flavors of asparagus and artichokes are legendary for being hard to pair with wines. You might add fennel to the lineup as well as its licorice notes are hard to content with in a wine pairing.

Match green with green. Highly vegetal wines will pair up and partner with these intense green notes. Care for a little Grǖner Veltliner with that vegetable soup. These wines often smell, and taste, like a freshly plowed field so enjoy the match. Farm fresh Sauvignon Blancs, especially from New Zealand such as Babich, and many from California as well will also let these great vegetal flavors shine. Many of South Africa's Sauvignon Blancs run a bit more fruit-forward but they might also do the trick. Don't forget some of those classic White Bordeaux, particularly from Entre-deux-Mers, that also tend to have a lovely fruit to green intensity balance.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza 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, January 8, 2015

Slightly Twisted Up-Coconut Cooler

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

Rhum Clément VSOP has been my usual go/to for Rhum that tastes like my memories of the Caribbean.  That’s not to say I was drinking much rum as a teenager, far from.  But the first true memories I have of real Rhum (instead of rum) started around age 18. 

My family was fortunate to have the love of the wind running through them.  Sailboats were as much a part of my teen years as was the education of drinking rum hailing from the different islands in the Caribbean that we sailed to.  The difference between Rhum Agricole made from freshly crushed sugar cane juice completely different from rum distilled from boiled molasses.  Rhum Agricole tastes more astringent and wine like.  It is sharper across the palate than softer and creamier molasses based rums. 

But what does Rhum Agricole from Guadeloupe have to do with yachting?  Everything it seems when you are asked to sail on a magnificent, hand-built yacht “down island.” It was here in Martinique and Guadeloupe that I learned to enjoy the uniquely flavored Rhum distilled according to laws pertaining to the specific terroirs of the region. 

French speaking residents of the French Caribbean islands still distill their Rhum Agricole in a fashion that dates back to 1870.  Freshly crushed sugar cane juice is distilled before it has a chance to oxidize in the hot sun and tremendously high humidity.  This crush takes place mere hours from hand cutting the cane.  The main reason why molasses was employed to distill rum in was because of practicality.  Molasses is boiled sugar cane juice and it is much more durable as a product than fresh juice.  The fresh juice is much more fragile and it rots much more quickly than molasses in hot temperatures of the Southern Caribbean.  That’s not to say that it is any less delicious than molasses based rum.  I just tend to prefer Rhum Agricole (or agricultural-handmade rum) to mass-produced molasses based rums just by their flavor.   But not all rums are poorly made when they are made from the more industrial version of molasses.  They are just different than the freshly crushed sugar cane versions of the word rhum!

Damoiseau Rhum VSOP from Guadeloupe is every bit as delicious as Rhum Clément VSOP from Martinique.  These are gourmet Rhums that are as much at home in a snifter as they are mixed into a Ti-Punch (fresh lime, sugar cane simple syrup and Rhum Agricole.  I wouldn’t necessarily mix an expensive VSOP level Rhum Agricole with concentrated fruit juices because this Rhum has such gorgeously evocative flavors housed within each expressive sip.  I would however splash a bit of fresh pineapple juice with a squeeze of lime over the top.  And I NEVER use cheap concentrates of fruit juices ever to make my cocktails.

It’s just not done with any good quality liquor!

One of my cocktails from Apothecary Cocktails, Restoratives from Yesterday and Today uses a whole coconut that has been “frozen” overnight in a freezer.  The naturally insulating properties of the coconut will keep your drink cool nearly all morning.  Rhum Agricole goes inside the coconut where the potassium rich water is relaxing in a frozen state.  The high gravity or proof level of the Rhum Agricole will melt the coconut water housed within the coconut and create a cocktail of sorts.  You can add some simple syrup to the coconut water if the Rhum Agricole alone is too bitter to your palate.  It’s really up to you. 

This is a slightly twisted version of the Coconut Cooler with influences from my book.

Slightly Twisted Up-Coconut Cooler
Ingredients:
2 oz. Damoiseau Rhum VSOP
1 Coconut (frozen overnight)
1 oz. Simple Syrup (2:1 ratio sugar to boiling water)
½ oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ oz. Orgeat Syrup
¼ oz. Grenadine Syrup
3-4 drops Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters

Preparation:
Add all ingredients over ¾ ice filled Boston Shaker
Shake vigorously
Add all the liquid ingredients to a coconut that is not only frozen, but has two holes drilled into it for easy entry of the cocktail

Add two straws to the holes in the frozen coconut

Sip carefully… and with reverence!

Tasting notes for the Damoiseau Rhum VSOP:
Spanish Saddle Leather nose gives way to notes of tropical fruits and sensuous Caribbean spices.  Freshly cut sugar cane dipped in bittersweet chocolate dominate the long, exotic finish that goes on and on. 
This is a truly exotic slurp, worthy of your hard earned money.  The Damoiseau VSOP is gorgeous alone in a snifter or woven into a delicious and memorable cocktail. 

You’re in for a HUGE TREAT! 

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

About Warren Bobrow
Author of: Apothecary Cocktails-Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today- Fair Winds Press- Beverly, Massachusetts. Apothecary Cocktails was nominated for a Spirited Award, 2014 Tales of the Cocktail.  His forthcoming book, Whiskey Cocktails will be released October 14.  Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails follow with publication in spring ’15.  Warren is a master mixologist for several craft liquor companies.

Warren consults about mixology and spirits, travel, organic wine and food.  He’s written for web-blogs and magazines like: Williams-Sonoma, Whole Foods: Dark Rye, Distiller, Total Food Service Magazine, Beverage Media Group, DrinkUpNY, Edible Publications, Foodista, Serious Eats, Mechanics of Style and Beekman1802.  He was in the Saveur-100 in 2010.

Warren is a former, mostly self, trained cook from the pot sink on up.  J&W and ACF were thrown in for good luck.  Warren was the former owner/co-founder of Olde Charleston Pasta in South Carolina: *Dissolved his business after Hurricane Hugo in 1989* - to a career in private banking, (nearly 20 years; “a very grand mistake”) to this reinvention in 2009 as the Warren he's finally become.

Warren is available to do highly personalized, interactive mixology events, local, national and international.
PS: Warren's second book, Whiskey Cocktails is on the market now!
Contact: jockeyhollow@gmail.com

Friday, December 26, 2014

Wines to Ring in the New Year

By Liza B. Zimmerman


I have never been a big fan of going out for an extravagant meal to fête the end of the year. It is so much nicer to celebrate at home and drink indulgent wine with a nice roast or a stew. Last year we made guinea hen, paired with copious amounts of rosé Champagne, and previous years have included steak and the occasionally the obligatory turkey (forgive my lack of enthusiasm).

Regardless of what you eat, in or out, sparkling wine is always a great way to kick off the evening. I adore classic Champagnes like Gosset, as well as festive sparklers such as Lambrusco. There are also many other great bubblies, often at a more affordable price point, from which to pop the cork on New Year’s Eve.

The Gruet family in New Mexico also makes some sensational and classically well-balanced sparkling wines. They may be tied for some of my favorites with Cremant d’Alsace and from the Loire Valley. There’s no doubt that many cool-climate, French winemaking regions are putting out some dynamite bottles.

On the less expensive, but still so enjoyable side, are Prosecco and Cava. These Italian and Spanish versions, respectively, may not be made in the traditional Champagne style but offer great flavors to start a meal or pair with food.

What to Serve with the Meal
A little red meat as a main course is always a great way to celebrate a new year. Those bitter vegetables and slow-roasted squash won’t mind these pairings as well. A big, fruit-forward red is always a crowd pleaser.

California Zinfandels have the alcohol level and sweet tannins to break down some of the animal fat on a lamb shank or pork roast. American Bordeaux-style blends will also step up these synergies with more acidity and complexity if you are making a stew. In my mind, there’s almost nothing better than a paprika-infused beef stew on a cold night.

If you are focusing on a more vegetarian or less meat-focused, a lean red with higher acidity would be ideal. A little Chinon, or any bright red from the Loire Valley, would fit the bill. So would a pale and tight Austrian red such as Zweigelt or Sptäburgunder. Some of the truly Old World-style Pinot Noirs from Oregon might work as well.

To End the Evening
A little off-dry Moscato with bubbles wiggling their way up to the top of the glass is always a diving way to end an evening. The Rhône Valley’s Muscat Beaumes du Venise aren’t a bad finale either. Otherwise perhaps a little Fernet Branca to finish the New Year on the right foot?


Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza 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.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Wines for Under the Tree

By Liza B. Zimmerman


Whether you fete your holidays by a tree, a Menorah or a Kwanza Bush, there are so many wines to enjoy. Joyful evenings are often best celebrated with a little bubbly. Most Proseccos and Cavas are showing better than ever at great price points, as are French sparkling wines from regions such as Alsace and the Loire Valley.

California makes an abundance of balanced and creamy sparklers, many from French houses and Oregon and Washington are also towing the line. Major corporate powerhouse Chateau Ste Michelle in Washington continues to produce some of the best sparkling wine for the price point. Lambrusco, from Italy, is rich in tannins, makes the tongue tingle and pairs so well with plates of holiday meats and cheeses you may want to lay out for appetizers.

Herbaceous Wines for the Season
With all the foliage that can deck the house as we move into the new year, wines with herbal notes almost put all the aromas in synergy. Crisp Sauvignon Blancs (some of us love whites when the heat is on or spend the last months of the year in warmer climes) has brambly notes. Some of my favorites are from the Loire Valley or Chile. Bordeaux is also making some smashing Suavignon Blanc-based wines, many blended with Semillon.

If you are serving cocktails for the holidays a dash of bitters in almost any drink does wonders for its aromatic profile. Many classic gins as well as Genevers also have abundant aromatics that can be touched off by just a hint of tonic, citrus or water.

Lush and Fat Wines for Feasting
If the end of the year is a time for you and your loved ones to pull out some stellar vintages and have an over-the-top celebration, may I suggest an older vintage from Tuscany or Piedmonte? Barbarescos always know how to bring to the party, while their lower-key cousins may keep it more understated and classic. Classic Tuscan wines and great Bordeaux are always great to serve and older vintages of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon can be exciting to taste if they have been well cellared.

Holiday celebrations are never bad times to break open those old bottles of Port and Madeira (your guests will be taking about your party for years to come). Later in the evening is also a great time to pull out those Magnums or even larger format bottles that put smiles on everyone’s faces. They could be Champagnes or classic reds. You could also wrap up the evening with great dessert wines—from Napa to Bordeaux there are abundant  choices—or even a little round of Fernet Branca to fortify the stomach for the new year.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza 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.
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