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.