Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Wines for the New Year

By Liza B. Zimmerman

We all like to celebrate the passing of any year with memorable wines. However this year--given its combination of political and cultural loss of beloved musicians and other icons combined with political friction worldwide--is one to which many of us may be happy to say goodbye. So let's send it out with some festivities, including great wines.

We should all toast the New Year with wines that we love. For me, my favorites of all time would range from Champagne to the Loire Valley's austere whites and gracious reds and dipping down to Piedmont's simple Dolcettos and Barberas. Let's not forget about South Africa and Chile's stellar red blends and almost anything made anywhere in Portugal.

I encourage you to seek out and experiment with new wines and food pairings. It is always better done in company, so you can veto and embrace what you like about wines in a group. A great retailer can provide you with a mixed case to do just so.

Advice from a Sommelier
Jill Weber, owner and founder of Philadelphia's Jet Wine Bar and Rex 1516, loves to have big meals to celebrate the  holidays. She says that she "always pair the wine to the food. If I’m making a Bagna Cauda [a typical Piedmontese dipping sauce made of olive oil, anchovies and garlic] for a celebratory meal, I’ll pair that with a Barolo from Piedmont."

She adds that an intensely local dish such as Bagna Cauda is not one  that everyone would make all year long as it is super-garlic driven. Above and beyond serving wines linked to specific culinary pairings she adds that Proseccos produced in Congeliano, in North-Eastern Italy, are also another favorite of hers. It is also a favorite of mine.

Most Proseccos have a fair amount of finesse but those from Congeliano do even more than some of the best in the bunch. I would equate them with some of the  best sparkling wines produced outside the Champagne region of France: think Alsace and the Loire Valley.

For Weber most types of bubbles are phenomenal with tamales. However with her carnitas tamales, "I recommend a Lambrusco. And for the chicken green chili tamales, a Prosecco is perfect." Light meats, such as pork, with a hint of chilies do brilliantly with  fizzy wines of either color. Lambrusco is also an ever-ideal match for most  holiday  foods.

Weber is also a fan of "oysters with something sparkling or a crisp white that’s rich in saline and minerals." My favorite wines with these babies from the sea would include Muscadet, because you can almost smell the sea salt in it, as well as Loire Valley Whites and most sparklers (particularly Champagne).

Happy New Year from all of us at 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.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Wines for the Feast

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Whether you are planning on a traditional turkey for your dinner or something unusual, I have some great wine suggestions for you. Be sure to start the day out with bubbles: who doesn’t love them?

I am a fan of roses myself and dozens of regions are making spectacular versions. Some of my favorites this time of the year tend to be cremants from the Loire Valley. They are bright and fresh and are more affordable than Champagne. Some of the California houses are also making some great sparklers as are many regions of Northern Italy.

Wines for the Meal
When you sit down and eat you will want to offer a mix of whites and reds to pair with all the meats and side dishes. Crisp whites, like Sauvigon Blanc, are always flexible. Rhone whites, whether from France or California, will be great choice as well.

Emily Horenian, the sommelier at the new San Francisco restaurant Saratoga shared a few of her strategies. “For white wines, I tend to prefer two different styles.  One could select an off dry white wine like a Kabinett Riesling from Germany: something to refresh the palate during the rich meal.  I also think a more austere Chardonnay would be very complimentary; something with a bit of body but with balanced minerality. “

For turkey and other game birds Lambrusco is an amazing pairing. I would go for a fairly dry one; a hint of sugar is fine but not too much. It is what most Italians have with their holiday meals (which is often a bird for Thanksgiving).

“For reds, I would recommend cru Beaujolais all day. Something fruity with a bit of grit,” says Horenian. I couldn’t agree more. Whether it is the super-light Nouveau which debuts a week before Thanksgiving or the Crus, their fresh, fruity style is perfect with turkey. They also have the acid structure to cut through some of the fattiness of the potato-driven side dishes. 

“Lighter-style Pinot Noirs would also work well with the meal,” she adds. I agree and would stay away from high-alcohol versions. Cool climate Oregon and Burgundy are the way to go.

Alternatives to the Bird-Route
I was never a fan of turkey or the stupor it induced in me after I consumed too much of it. My family in New York has long made a big steak or a rack of lamb for the holiday. Pork is not a bad choice either as it is so wine friendly.

With a bigger meat, you will want to go with a more robust wine. For steak think Zinfandel, a big Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux. A beautiful big, red blend from the Douro Valley in Portugal would also be fantastic.

Some of my favorite pairings with lamb are the Rhone reds. They have a lush, gaminess to them that works so well here or with venison. Pork can take much lighter reds, such as a Chinon or you could hop back to the Beaujolais Crus and they would be perfect.

For dessert a little sweet Moscato would go well with fruit. If you are going to indulge in pecan or pumpkin pie I would go for a well-aged Tawny Porto.

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, December 15, 2016

Wines for a Full Moon

By Liza B. Zimmerman

You have a chance to see the entire face of the man on the moon about once a month. As the cycle between full moons is about 29.5 days some months we even see two of them. According to Space.com they all also have unique names: such as the Full Worm Moon in March or the Full Pink Moon in April.

December’s full moon is called The Full Cold Moon and the Full Long Nights Moon. It is also sometimes called the Moon before Yule since it comes right before Christmas. Buddhists think that these evenings of the full moon are sacred while I think they give us all a great excuse to sample different wines.

Full Moon Pairings
Since, “The Farmers Almanac calls December’s full moon a ‘Cold Moon,’ so what could pair better with that than a chilled glass of pink Champagne?,” asks Terry Berch, owner of Philadelphia’s London Grill. She adds that “I especially like the way that rose Champagne matches the rosy tint of the moon’s surface as it rises.”

I couldn’t agree more and rose sparkling wine goes with practically anything besides big, fatty meats. Sipping ice cold bubbles from anywhere seems particularly right while admiring this moon that escorts us into the height of the holiday season.

“I celebrate the full moon every month,” says Berch. She claims not to be superstitious but it just “awed by the grandeur of our planet. Again, it feels like a cause for celebration to me, so a sparkling wine is always a good choice and feels a little like the stars twinkling around the moon.”

Cool-Climate Choices
Since December brings cold weather to most of the country you might want some bone-warming wines. A luscious red like a Spanish Garnacha or a spicy Rhone would do the trick. Elegant Bordeaux blends from both sides of the Gironde River and California would also hit the spot.

Berch shares that, “In the winter, I like the leisurely feel of a rich Port wine paired with a cigar – it’s a perfect little luxury to make the occasion of the full moon.” An aged 10- or 20-year-old Tawny is always a treat. A little dram of Sherry would also work well.

If you are superstitious about the occasion you could make a roast or stew with lots of garlic to ward away bad intentions. Italian Sangiovese and Tempranillo generally work well with garlic-inflected food. If you want to pump up the volume of the pairing Malbec and Syrah would also be good choices. Cheers and happy moon gazing.

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.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Wines for Cyber Monday

By Liza B. Zimmerman

If you are not totally exhausted by from the epic meal on Thursday and all that running around in big department stores the day after, Monday is a day to focus on those great online deals in the comfort of your home.

Since most of these deals come from smaller stores and there are lots of them, you will want some wines that keep the brain humming and clear. In Italian we say there are certain wines that are vini da meditazione. There are wines worthy of lingering over by the fire or in company, wines that may go down easily but demand your attention to be fully understood.

I would break these wines into several categories. Let’s start first with Marsala from Sicily: those sweet vicious caramel notes demand you attention as you savor them. Just one sip can get your palate primed to concentrate on those deals and see if that toaster that prints designs on your morning bread is really worth all that cash.

Sherry is another fortified wine that merits your full attention when you drink it. Those nutty, maderized notes continually change on the palate and as you sip from your glass. The relatively low alcohol level of many of these Sherries, which hovers from 15 to 20 percent on average, will also keep you clear minded in front of the computer.

Last but certainly not least are Portugal’s beautiful Madeiras. This island has long produced fortified wines with notes of dried stone fruits, nuts and hints of toffee. They are delicious and relatively affordable given some of the age statements going back to the ‘70s and ‘80s that are still easily available on the market.

Other Wines for a Busy Monday
You may just want wines that warm the body, and the soul, as you sit home trying to stay toasty in front of the computer. Fruit luscious reds will do the trick. Some of my favorite winter reds are Rhone blends and tannic and complex reds from Piedmonte.

While Barolo may get all the attention, I prefer its softer and more complex cousin Barbaresco. Gattinara is another great 100 percent Nebbiolo choice. Barbara is also another great, affordable, every day, easy-drink red that goes with so many foods. Alcohol levels on Barberas can also be nicely balanced at below 13 percent alcohol by volume to keep you focused on that screen and finding what you need for your home.

If by chance you are sneaking in a little leftover turkey sandwich at the keyboard, Lambrusco is always a great choice. There is no need to meditate over it and it so refreshing and the fizz is so holiday festival. Happy shopping and drinking!

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, November 10, 2016

Wines for Fall Weather

By Liza B. Zimmerman

As temperatures drop it’s time to open some of those big, hearty reds we have been saving in the cellar all year. The last tomatoes of the season are being replaced by more chard and piles of root vegetables. I start thinking of what I can roast and what I can simmer all day in the crock pot.

The harvest is wrapped up in most of the Northern hemisphere so it is time to dig deep into the cellar for older vintages. Suitably Layne Heggen, beverage manager at Nevada’s Montbleu Casino Resort and Spa compares wine to a baseball, as it “fittingly coming to its end just as summer turns to fall.”

She adds that the cooler weather means that “Finally the wine lovers of the world get to drink liquid snobbery. It's time for the big red wines from places like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Mendoza and Napa to grace decanters everywhere.” Drinkers in Lake Tahoe, where Heggen works, have already started dipping into these big bottles as it already snowed once this October.

Fall Favorites
Some of my go-to cool weather wines include spicy Syrahs from anywhere, particularly the Rhone Valley or winding parts of the Sonoma Coast. I love the depth and peppery finish that many of them have. These are wines that can take on big flavors, like grilled steak and beef-filled stews.

“The truth is all Red Wines are made for this time of year. Bigger and gammier meats paired with the bottles at the bottom of the list,” says Heggen. This is the time to pop bottles that “haven't moved in a decade,” she recommends.

One of her favorite pairings is “Brown sauces and French Onion soups paired with Pinots that somehow live between the sweetness of the fruit and the spice of the table.” These could be the elegant and delicate versions from Burgundy or the wild children of the West Coast. Italy and New Zealand also produce some remarkable examples of Pinot that work with a wide range of foods.

Fall Fizz
Just because it is cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a glass of bubbly. Champagnes, and French cremants, go with everything in my book: particularly if they are rose. Alsace and the Loire Valley are great regions to seek out lesser-know producers making quality bottles. Gruet, made by a French Champagne house in New Mexico, has long been one of my favorites.

These are great wines both with which to start and finish a meal. They pair beautifully with Middle Eastern dips and cheese, before and after a meal. They will also cut through the spice on Indian and Chinese dishes and make butter-filled savory crepes and roasts taste even more delicious.

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, October 27, 2016

Wines for Halloween

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Halloween was long one of my favorite holidays as a kid. Whether I was going trick or treating in the building where I grew up in New York or heading down to the parade in the Village I loved the crazy costumes and the chance to indulge in eating multiple peanut butter cups. These days I stay in and thought I would share some of my favorite wines for the evening with you.

I keep cloves of garlic around all year, to make roast vegetables and stews. So a handful of wines that stand up to intense garlic-infused flavors include rich Syrahs and Barberas as well as red blends and Chilean Carmenere.

You will want to find reds with soft tannins and a nice spice profile. Many of the Rhone reds from simple Cotes du Rhones to Chateauneuf-du-Pape have lovely black pepper tones and hints of rosemary, and other herbs, that pair beautifully with garlic-based dishes. Another great way to bring garlic into your meal is by roasting whole cloves and serving them hot and spreadable with bread instead of butter throughout the meal.

In terms of pairing the Barberas with garlic you will want to find ones with slightly longer alcohol, so the heat from the wine doesn’t overwhelm the dish. Dolcettos, especially from Italy, will work fine as well. Italian winemakers are masters of creating wines that pair seamlessly with a hint of garlic.

If you have kids and will be taking them out and about, don’t forget to bring a little tipple for yourself. Those insulated water bottles you use at the gym keep wine cool as well (good to know for those hiking and beach trips as well), and can be filled with the libation of your choice.

Candy and Wine Pairing
If your kids have leftover candy or the neighborhood children don’t come by to enjoy all of yours you can host a candy and wine pairing after dinner. Since much of our candy is very sweet you will want to seek out dessert wines with good acidity to balance out the pairing.

Older Tawny Ports will pair beautifully with anything with caramel in them, even if it’s coated in chocolate. Rubies will work well with milk chocolate, while dark chocolate remains pretty difficult to pair well with a dessert wine and is perhaps best enjoyed on its own.

Sweet sparkling wines, such as Muscats and Moscatos, will also work well with caramel- and some coffee-flavors sweets. I am going a bit out on a limb here, but try them with buttered popcorn and caramel corn-flavored jelly bellies if you can find them.

If you are having ice cream for dessert, a simple flavor like vanilla, is great with a ribbon of ruby Port or Muscat reduction. You can make these easily by boiling the Port for about eight minutes in a sauce pan. Happy Halloween however you choose to celebrate it.

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, October 20, 2016

Port and Food Pairing

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Port has long been a great closer for a meal. It is also often paired with chocolate, which I hardly think is its most flattering match. As it is both sweet and fairly high alcohol choosing the right dishes with which to pair it can be challenging. So I consulted two experts on the matter.

“Port wine is a complex drink,” says Francisca van Zeller, wine director at the Douro Valley-based Six Senses Hotel. “Ruby Ports have tannin, they are fruit forward and generally wines with great structure and power. Tawny Ports have a persistent dried fruit and a slightly more marked acidity when they are younger.”

Each type of Port, she notes, is best matched with different foods. “Ideally, Port wine is enjoyed with snack, due to its complexity and array of flavors and aromas.” Roasted almonds are a typical treat that Portuguese enjoy with their Port in the Douro. In an American twist pretzels might also be nice with Ruby Ports as well.

“Ports are intensifiers of the taste spectrum, as their sweetness and complexity easily match the caramelized and nutty sweetness and contrast with salty cheese or citrus and berry acidity,” adds Beatriz Machado, the wine director of The Yeatman Hotel in the city of Porto. “This Fall spoil yourself with a full bodied fruit port served a bit chilled and a game and mushroom risotto!”

A Pairing Premier
When matching Port to food you will want to use it in the dish’s preparation as much as you can. Van Zeller says she had an amazing meal of veal slow cooked in Reserve Ruby Port that was paired with the same Port.

“If a Ruby Port is used as a reduction to be poured over a dish, or as a sauce to marinate a meat or fruit, then it should be the same Port wine that is paired with it,” she notes. One traditional Portuguese dish is called Drunken Pears, in which the peeled pears are soaked in Ruby Port before they are cooked until they are crunchy and sweet. Another way to incorporate Port into dessert is by making a reduction of Ruby Port and pouring it, when cool, over vanilla ice cream.

White Ports, which are generally sweeter than their red siblings, need to be chilled down to around 60 degrees before they are served. Van Zeller enjoys both them, and aged Tawny Ports, with foie gras and paté. Machado enjoys them with tonic water and a twist of orange and so do I. She also suggests pairing them with Parmigiano and Manchego cheeses, apple crumble, crème brûlée, tarte tartin and nut-driven desserts.

Ruby Ports, both Reserve and Late Bottled Vintage, work well with mild cheeses or a rich, bitter chocolate dessert, suggests van Zeller. While Vintage Port, as it is fuller-bodied and more complex, needs a slightly stronger contrast, such as slightly stronger cheese like Roquefort and Gorgonzola or the opulent soft and intensely perfumed Portuguese Queijo da Serra.

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.