What to pair with your spicy Asian dinner

Thai stir fry!

Thai stir fry!

Load it up… my plate that is! My muse tried her hand at some spicy Thai stir fry with snow peas, broccoli, chicken, rice noodles and chili paste. The result was best exemplified by my empty plate, the empty wok and my very full belly.

When it comes to wine pairing, Spicy Asian cuisine has become pigeonholed by its overly recommended partnering with Riesling. They do work well together, but too often that’s the only choice at restaurants and the frequent advice of wine stewards. I’m guilty as charged, too.

Although Gewurztraminer is another easy match for spicy food, I wanted to find something that doesn’t always come to mind so obviously. Enter Vouvray!

Vouvray is made from Chenin Blanc grapes and grown in France’s Loire Valley. The wine can run the gamut from fruity and sweet all the way to bone-crushing dry. Try to find something left of center… that is leaning to the sweeter side without being cloyingly sweet. The “La Craie” Vouvray is an excellent example of a demi-sec Chenin Blanc. Soft fruit, with some sweetness to balance all that hot and sassy chili paste in the Thai snow pea dish, is the calling card of the “La Craie.”

Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, it retails for around $18.

Chenin from the South

Sock it to you.

Sock it to you.

If you haven’t enjoyed a Chenin Blanc from South Africa in awhile, now is the time. I’ve had a lucky run of various samples over the past year and that has me thinking the category may take off in the next year or two. Earlier this month, I opened a bottle of the 2012 Badenhorst Family “Secateurs” Chenin Blanc for a holiday cocktail party. It was a big hit within the white wine crowd, especially from the old voice coach who held it like a basso continuo.

When the bottle wasn’t wrapped up like a lover long since seen, it’s contents poured out an unctuous liquid gold. The weight of the wine might be mistaken for something more new world in nature, but the remarkable combination of honey and citrus separate the Secateurs as something all its own. It’s hard not to like this wine.

Wines from the Western Cape

* A version of this column was first published in the on-line edition of Saturday’s Knoxville News Sentinel.

Some of South Africa's Best

Some of South Africa’s Best

South Africa’s Western Cape serves as the Rainbow Nation’s cradle of vineyards as well as its celebrated wine-producing hub. Most notable is the Stellenbosch area near Cape Town, where vacationers will stumble across endless rows of vines. The Mulderbosch vineyards, located in the hill country along Stellenbosch, has carved out a big presence on the South African wine scene in a very short period of time.

Founded less than a quarter century ago, Mulderbosch Vineyards started flexing its muscle almost immediately with rave reviews from big name wine critics. The winery’s success started with well received bottlings of popular white varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc and has more recently evolved into stellar production of fabulous rosé. They’ve managed to do what only a handful of major South African wine exports have, namely move beyond misconceptions about South African wines and the pigeon-holed Pinotage variety that many Americans equate with the South African wine scene.

Likewise, Mulderbosch bottles waste no time in separating themselves from international wine label conformity, instead opting to use a bottom to top ribbon label that is both eye catching and textural. After trying them, you’ll see why these wines are definitely worthy of their beauty pageant sash.

I recently had the pleasure of trying a handful of Mulderbosch wines that included both their big hitting whites and their newly released 2012 Rosé. Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2012 Mulderbosch Rosé is a fuller bodied rosé with a deep color that you’ll notice immediately. If this isn’t the most vibrant and brilliant colored rosé that I’ve seen this season, then it was beaten out by the whiskers of a horse’s nose.

With a bejeweled pink grapefruit color, the rosé has wonderful watermelon flavors and that “gotta have more” red berry presence. An excellent and prolonged finish with a perfectly refreshing mouth feel separates the Mulderbosch Rosé from the field. Enjoy after some summertime gardening or as a Sunday brunch showstopper.

If the moniker weren’t already snatched up, Mulderbosch might market this next wine (with it’s golden hues) as their mellow yellow. The 2011 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc reveals entertaining scents of Asian pear and bubble gum. Often referred to as Steen in South Africa, Chenin Blanc wine like the Mulderbosch also walks that Johnny Cash line of not being too sweet or too dry. A profile of simple, honeydew melon and pear persists from start to finish, allowing the wine to be approachable to most wine drinkers.

And when it comes to the 2011 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc, I asked winemaker Adam Mason what made this wine so special. “Being about 5 miles from False Bay we are blessed by cooling afternoon winds that make a big difference to freshness and aromatic intensity. The wine sits in a really lovely place for Sauvignon Blanc, not too green and herbal like you would find in a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but with some riper citrus, melon and gooseberry notes that give a slightly softer element.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Man Salad & Chenin Blanc

ManSalad

Heavy clouds but no snow may be the weather story of the season for this dreary Eastern Tennessee “winter.” We can’t spring ahead but we can start dreaming of April. This healthy, but slightly heartier, salad carries some extra oomph with olive oil marinated portabella mushrooms, sweeter red bells and protein-rich eggs.

Although, this salad will keep you fuller for longer, you’ll still want to look for a lighter white wine to avoid overshadowing the delicate nature of greens. Anything from the Loire Valley like a Sancere, Vouvray or even Muscadet will do fine. I went with the American version of Vouvray and got a classic California Chenin Blanc.

Perhaps the flagship white in their collection, Pine Ridge Vineyards is well-known for their Chenin Blanc- Viognier blend. Lots of stone fruit flavors and crisp apple aromas surround this clean-finishing white. Its fresh and versatile nature is ideal for salads and day dreaming of not-too-far-off Spring evenings.

Pine Ridge Chenin

What to drink: 2011 Dry Creek Chenin Blanc


Recently, I was reading about a feud between Eric Asimov (wine critic for the New York Times) and James Molesworth (wine critic for the Wine Spectator). These two gentlemen were doing a little snarky debating about the merits of South African Chenin Blanc via the twittersphere. You can see a highly recommended and succinct play-by-play here:

Asimov vs. Molesworth: the Thrilla in Vanilla

The story written on the wine blog, Dr. Vino, had me laughing out loud, but it also got me thinking about Chenin Blanc. So, I decided to revisit one of California’s best and well-established. The Dry Creek Vineyard, located in Healdsburg, has been producing quality Chenin Blanc for forty years.

Its 2011 vintage displays the palest of gold colors with a tropical bouquet that might remind you of those banana notes from a stick of Juicy Fruit. It has a remarkable creamy texture for being all stainless steel fermented and some easy-drinking flavors of pineapple and honeydew melon. With mass appeal and a wallet-friendly nature for around $8-$9, hopefully your favorite wine critic won’t be so touchy.

Loire Valley offers light and lively whites

American exploration of the French wine world is often limited by the internationally touted giants of Bordeaux, Burgundy and, increasingly, the Rhone Valley. Considering the historical achievement of their vineyards, there is little astonishment that other areas of France have not been able to break through in producing equally appreciated still-wines. That premise has been challenged as of late by the ever-increasing attraction and lure of white wines from France’s Loire Valley.

The Loire River, France’s longest, may not measure up in length to the African Nile, but it quite possibly holds the cradle of white wine sophistication within its shallow valleys. From coastal growing districts like Muscadet to the inland villages of Vouvray and Sancerre, the Loire River Valley produces some of the best whites in all of France, if not that of the entire Western European seaboard.

If one were to begin a wine journey from the Atlantic port city of Nantes and follow the Loire River eastward into France, the likelihood of first encountering a wine called Melon de Bourgogne would be high. Melon de Bourgogne is the signature grape of Muscadet and what the locals drink for white wines. Naturally paired with the offerings of the great sea, a Muscadet, by many standards, is a simpleton compared to a bossy California Chardonnay. However, what it lacks in pretention is easily made up for by its amiable way of complimenting both the local sea-fare and the easy-breezy, cultural and climatic environment of its residents. If you are looking for the best that Muscadet has to offer, then look for those from S<0x00E8>vre et Maine. Three of my favorite Muscadet’s are the Domaine de la Quilla, the Harmonie by Michel Delhommeau and the Sauvion.

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Wine blends to watch for

With Americans consuming more than three-quarters of a billion gallons in 2009, wine has increasingly found its way into the American home and claimed its spot at the American dinner table. Considering that our consumption has more than doubled since celebrating our bicentennial, wineries have sprung up on every hillside across our land as vintners try to stay above the grape press.

Not surprisingly, all this extra juice equates to unique opportunities for winemakers looking to create something special. 2011 should see an increase in approachable and delicious wine blends that have something to offer every wine enthusiast. The following two wines blends represent what some producers are doing in these modern times and what some are continuing to improve upon. And as far as red and white blends go, they are two of the better offerings that American winemakers are crafting.

n 2009 Bell Big Guy White

The Big Guy is back in town, or more specifically, Bell Vineyards’ beloved “Big Guy” wine. This time, there’s a twist on one of Knoxville’s favorite blends: Bell Vineyards has rolled out an innovative white blend from California. Comprised of an exotic blend of their famous Chardonnay, a floral touch of Viognier and a rounder, supple element of Chenin Blanc, the 2009 Bell Vineyards Big Guy White has all the trappings of a gracious Napa Valley white wine.

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There is life after Chardonnay

Walking past the aisles and aisles of wine at the store can be very informative. Over the years, you notice that many consumers are not only brand-loyal but are often loyal to a single varietal of wine. Knowing what you are getting can be very comforting and safe. Likewise, knowing what you’ve taken home means no big surprises when it comes to bottle-opening time at that next dinner party.

That being said, wine is like most things in life. By venturing out and trying new things, you can grow to have a greater understanding of things that are very different from what you’re used to, as well as growing to have a greater appreciation of what you’ve always known and enjoyed. So, even if you’re comfortable where you are, it’s still good to reach out and try something new, something off the beaten path. You may not fall in love with all the new wines you taste, but you won’t be disappointed in experimenting with something new or unique.

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