Got the bubbly? Now get the cure!

There’s plenty of Champagnes, sparkling wines, proseccos, cavas or bubblies that would make for an excellent choice to ring in the new year this evening. But if that’s the plan for tonight, then I highly recommend you consider plan B for tomorrow: the always needed “I drank too much champagne, hair of the dog, I’ll never do that again, WTF, down on your knees” remedy.


Plan B: The easy, no-fail Bloody Mary with Zing Zang tomato juice mixer, Ketel One Vodka and the celery stir. Keep it simple and Happy New Year!

Blueberry cheesecake & Brachetto d’Acqui


When it comes to matching dessert wine with the post-dinner dolce, foodies can easily over think the pairing. If doubt comes knocking at the cellar door just remember that it’s really hard to beat a good cup of coffee, especially with cheesecake.

This miniature ode to the classic dessert has an extra dash of nutmeg inside and is topped with a Grand Marnier and blueberry reduction.

So if coffee is not your cup of tea, then trying a Brachetto d’Acqui from the Marenco sisters might be enough to get your just deserts.

PinetoBrachetto d’Acqui (brah-KET-ohh daKwi) comes from the Piedmonte region near France. Slightly effervescent with raspberry and strawberry flavors (whose aromas you’ll notice as soon as you fill the glass), Brachetto d’Acqui typically runs close to $20 for a standard 750 ml size bottle. You also can’t go wrong with a sweet or semi-sweet style of Vouvray from the Loire Valley.

Guinness & Beef Pie

GuinnessIt’s a wee bit dreich outside today! So, what better way to except and embrace this cold, nasty weather than with a pint of Guinness and a quasi-traditional British beef pie?

My muse found this recipe by Paul Hartley in a short read about the historically famous beer. The puff pastry is filled with a beef and Guinness stew that includes mushrooms and figs. It takes 2-3 hours to put together but all that wait gives you an excuse to pour another pint. If you’re not beer versatile, you might look for a French Rhone or Spanish Priorat to compliment your cold-weather concoction.

Say Cheese!

SottocenereSanta delivered two of my all-time favorite cheeses in time for Christmas Eve dinner this week. Sottocenere (left) comes from the northeast Italian region of the Veneto. Its grey ashen rind is coated with cinnamon, fennel and a handful of other spices. But the hints of truffle in this slightly creamy cheese will stretch the smile and evoke a nod of approval.

The Beehive Cheese Company in Utah makes an outstanding and addictive Barely Buzzed cheese from cows milk. Rubbed with lavender and coffee, this domestic cheese proves just how well American cheese makers can hang with the European big boys.

I recommend either of these cheeses with a lighter red, but I couldn’t resist a “long held back” bottle of the Cabernet based 1995 Chateau Cos Labory Grand Cru Saint Estephe. Tis the season to treat others and maybe yourself!

American Syrah still the bridesmaid

* The following article originally appeared in Saturday’s online edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel. Special thanks to Russ, Daniel, Lee and Julie.

The last holdout for taking its turn as America’s darling red wine has to be the Syrah grape. Although the US consumer had a brief fling with the Australian Shiraz, the domestic version has yet to capture our imagination or fill our stemware like Cabernet, Zinfandel, Merlot and, more recently, Pinot Noir have done.

Less than 25 years ago, the Syrah grape accounted for just more than 500 tons during California’s crush season. Now its grape crush tonnage is over 125,000. Yes that sounds like a lot, but in reality, Syrah represents only three percent of California’s total haul. So, it may be quite some time before domestic Syrah is elevated to rock star grape status.

In the meantime, keep your eye open for higher quality Syrah’s that are priced over $15 from both California and Washington State including these three stylistically different options.

A voluptuous Syrah that makes a superb first impression is the 2009 Klinker Brick Farrah Syrah for $18. From Lodi, Calif., the Klinker Brick winery may be better known for its big, luscious Zinfandels, but their Farrah Syrah should not go unnoticed. A round, creamier mouth feel introduces surprising favors of vanilla and milk chocolate truffles. Hints of sweet oak and perfumed clove contribute to this wine’s intoxicating appeal.

In contrast, the 2006 Novelty Hill Columbia Valley Syrah, which goes for about $19, offers a bit more of that Rhone-style Syrah profile. This Washington State Syrah may need a little time to open up; however, once it does you’ll enjoy an array of aromas from cedar and smoke to a funky blue cheese predilection. A definite food wine, the Novelty Hill’s rich meatiness and lively pepperiness begs for a fat steak au poivre.

And if your tastebuds lend themselves to a wine with a little softer, more approachable fruit style or a need for immediate gratification, grab a bottle of Charles Smith’s Boom Boom Syrah from Washington State at around $16. With lighter, fruitier and really affable raspberry notes, the Boom Boom will be the fruit bomb your palate is thirsty for.

Since this is gift giving season your shopping list may include a very hard to please wine guru. Syrah is an often overlooked variety that would impress the most grape-savvy friend. Consider a nicer bottling of the harder to find Truchard, Tablas Creek, Qupe or Longboard Syrahs.

Good Green Soup & A Pennsylvania Red

Green SoupI’m in the middle of making soup tonight, when a surprise package arrives at my door, containing a bottle of red wine from the wine producing mecca of … wait for it … Pennsylvania. I’ve tried successfully produced vinos from New York, Virginia, Indiana and even New Mexico, but one from central PA would be a first. After discovering the blend was part Cabernet Franc and part Chambourcin, I thought I might be in luck for a new spicy soup partner.

Brookmere Alexander Red

The lighter, paler color of the Cabernet Franc blend brought along raspberry flavors and a fruitier style that would match well with a slightly spicy bowl of green soup, really good green soup. A purée of swiss chard, kale, spinach, rice and sauteed garlic and onion, the green soup was a healthy change-up to the very savory dinners and often times sugary sweets of the holiday season.

Super Tuscan with Roman Lamb

Roman LambItalian winemakers have been producing successful “Super Tuscans” for the past few decades. With a necessity to move beyond the confines of both Chianti and Brunello, vintners in Italy started making fabulous red wines with a handful of grapes that most don’t associate with the boot. These wines took Italian reds to a whole new level by transcending the traditional tethers of Sangiovese and blending together additional Bordeaux style grapes like Cabernet and Merlot. The result was and is nothing short of lovely, food friendly and diverse red wines, like the Leopoldo I di Toscana D’ Echo.

Paired tonight with some heavenly, Roman inspired lamb & potatoes with garden fresh rosemary, there are a few of these less expensive or “baby” Super Tuscans that are both affordable and absolutely amazing.

The Masterful Martinelli

The masterful Martinelli Zinfandel (affectionately named for the family’s nonno and nonna, Giuseppe & Luisa Martinelli) ranges in ABV from a heady 16 to 17% plus. I just opened my last bottle of the 2009 vintage, so if you were looking for something to send me for the holidays… this would suffice.

A few years ago, I lucked out and ran into the very amiable Regina Martinelli at a Lamour du Vin wine auction. Her family’s portfolio of wine is just as classy as she is.

The Martinelli “Giuseppe & Luisa” Zinfandel is sourced from a select family vineyard on Jackass Hill in the Russian River Valley. Apparently, it’s a pretty steep hill and you’ll need to be a sure-footed creature to traverse it. The 2009 vintage resonates with plenty of powerful plum notes and decadent dark fruit flavors of blackberry and black cherry. Don’t forget to Decant!

Cheap Port & Cheese Cake

I have your next cheesecake companion: a slightly chilled, nutty and inexpensive Tawny Port.

A typical blend of half a dozen or more Portuguese grapes, the Porto Cruz Tawny is a lighter style, dessert friendly Port with aromas of fruitcake and caramel. There’s not too many competitors lining the shelf in that magical $10-$15 price range, so feel safe in giving it a whirl this holiday or into the winter season.

Remember that Port is also great with a woodblock of assorted cheeses, nuts, figs and dates. Cheers!

The Best Wine Values of 2012

* A version of this column originally ran in the on-line edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

One of my favorite columns to write each year is a recap of the best wine values. 2012 had its fair share of remarkable values, due in large part to the influx of new and original domestic blends. Although there were quite a few leading the charge, one red blend really stood out. And as always, Europe continued to export extraordinary values geared more towards food lovers. Sit back and enjoy, for these are the best your dollar could buy in 2012.

Best French Value
The Grand Veneur Reserve Cote du Rhone by Alain Jaume is an amazingly rich wine with inky, crimson hues. Its bouquet shows off a dichotomy of rustic aromas and dried cherries, backed up by pomegranate tastes and a decadent finish. What a fabulous food wine!

Best Spanish Value
Ahhh, if only our market could get more Jorge Ordonez wines and get them regularly. It’s not just the wine that’s missing the boat ride over. This Spanish importer represents some of the best values that all of Europe has to offer. The 2010 El Chaparral by Vega Sindoa is Garnacha at its best, diverse and complex in aromas, easily enjoyable and inspiring in flavor. This wine is all about the fruit forward style. Runner up: 2009 Evohe Garnacha

Best Red Blend Value
What Ste. Michelle Wine Estates does for Washington in producing varietally correct, affordable wines, Bogle Vineyards does the same for California. And although Washington State led the charge years ago with early introductions of red blends, the release of the 2010 Bogle Essential Red proves that getting into the game a little later can make for a better game plan. Runner up: Concannon Crimson & Clover

Best Rosé Value
Any consumer would be fortunate to find this French Rosé still shelved at their favorite wine shop, let alone any of the fine Rosés from the 2011 vintage. The Hecht & Bannier Languedoc-Roussillon Rosé had a lot of stiff competition this year, including Oregon’s latest venture with the Acrobat Rosé. But its amazing blood orange color and raspberry/ strawberry fruit punched a whole lot of would be contenders down the rankings. Runner up: 2011 Michel Chapoutier Les Vigne Bila Haut Rosé

Best Zinfandel Value
Earlier in August, I blogged that the 2010 DeLoach Russian River Valley Zinfandel was the new “it” wine. There may not have been a ton to go around but this spicy tongue enticer was a summertime BBQ’s best friend. Runner-up: 2009 Brazin Lodi Zinfandel

Best Chilean & Best Sauvignon Blanc Value
With more grapefruit, lime and tropical expressions than a banana republic, it’s no wonder that the 2011 Leyda Sauvignon Blanc took home two “Best Of” awards. Sauvignon Blanc Runner-up: 2010 Vavasour from New Zealand

Best Italian Value
It’s done it again. This isn’t the first time that a southern Italian co-op topped the charts. The 2009 Colosi Rosso is easy drinking Nero d’Avola from Sicily. Runner-up: 2009 Masi Chianti Riserva

Best Cabernet Value – 2009 Milbrant Traditions Cabernet. Runner-up: 2009 Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet

Best Austrian Value – 2011 Wimmer Gruner Veltliner

Best Merlot Value – 2008 Santa Ema Merlot

Best Malbec Value – 2009 Trapiche Broquel from Argentina

Best Chardonnay Value – 2010 Four Vines from Santa Barbara

Best Sparkling Value – Lamarca Prosecco Brut NV and Cupcake Prosecco NV