A drink for down the stretch

All the bubbly you'll need for the end of year sprint!

All the bubbly you’ll need for the end of year sprint!

The end of a year is always a sprint; house parties, last minute entertaining, holiday celebrations, New Year’s Eve cheers, work (you’d like to dis) function and whatever else pops up unexpectedly. Indeed the month of December acts as that last hurrah before your resolutions are drawn up, and your gluttony quotient is quartered. So if you’re going to be participating in all that clinking of juice vessels, then you might as well fill them up with something that satisfies.

The non-vintage Conti Riccati Prosecco (from the Valdobbiadene) is Italy’s answer for your go-to seasonal rush. With lively apple and citrus notes, a dry finish and zero sweetness it makes for an all-around aperitif/ better box buy/ food forgiving/ company content-er.

P-P-P-P-P-Prosecco!

Pure and proper, Prosecco at its best!

Pure and proper, Prosecco at its best!

If you’ve been reading and following “What’s in the bottle?” for awhile, then you’re undoubtedly aware that a certain someone in my life is a bit of a Prosecco devotee. Logically I like to keep her in bounteous supply, so my latest wine-haul from Woodland Wine Merchants in Nashville had to contain a few new ones to try out.

Saturday night’s excursion to a remote cabin in the Smoky Mountains proved to be the proper time to pop one. Not that we needed an excuse to enjoy a little Italian bubbly, but it was after all our first overnighter, as we would both be away from our 15 month old for the first time. Yeah it’s obvious, we’re first time parents. But that intense sense of worry went away as soon as our son saw his nonna. He wasn’t going to miss us, at least not the way we would him.

The non-vintage Sommariva Brut Prosecco from Conegliano Valdobbiadene that we packed for our 24-hour outing had a lot going for it. As if a relaxing night away weren’t enough to increase its chances of making the “buy again” list, it was also being opened in the great outdoors, on a beautiful deck overlooking the valley below and the rolling hilltops surrounding us. Perspective could get lost in all of this, but I think we’re in concurrence here.

The Sommariva delivered. Temperate bready notes and plump, orchard-ripe apple flavors would have been enough to convince anyone to return for another, but I think it was both the sense of crispness and layered, lingering finish of the Prosecco that added to its festive spirit.

When so many Proseccos are being bastardized by overproduction and the perceived domestic need for sweeter styles, it’s reassuring to know that not all Proseccos are being muted with the stewed fruit profile that so many bloated wine conglomerates are putting out.

Sommariva is imported through Kermit Lynch and should be available through request in our market as well. For a scant $15-16, it’s worth the 2-3 week wait. Pair it with your muse.

Transition is a ‘coming

says it all ...

The last of the summer bounty …

Late summer. There is yet ample time for flashes, in this season of heat, – for us to sweat it out – but the sunflowers from the garden have opened and started to bow down. This is August; this is transition month. The changes are evident in the wilting and drying up of the garden vines, in the back-to-school juggernaut, in the closing of some chapters and the potential for new creations. The beat of autumn is a low, not too slow hum. But the winds, they have come early this year.

Transition like this kind – that is also palpable around New Year’s Eve – requires a little celebration, a little marking of the time, a little acceptance. Toast the change that is coming. A simple Italian Prosecco like the classic Zardetto or even a less familiar one like Ca’Vittoria offer that lively effervescence and elevates the mood. And the fresh flavors of peach, melon and nectarine are a subtle nod of appreciation to the exclusive bounty of the season.

The Amalfi

With neighbors like Pompei, Sorrento and Positano, you know the Amalfi Coast is in good company. This southern Italian getaway brings the best of Italy together: breath-taking scenery, oceanic daydreaming, fresh cuisine and tourist-pampered indulgences. That was the inspiration behind this next drink, The Amalfi; I wanted to bring together some of the best that the boot has to offer, from the Venetian popularized Prosecco, to an old guard Amaro, to some of the continent’s best produce.

Italian sunshine in a glass!

Italian sunshine in a glass!

Amaro is a classic herbal spirit (often used as a digestivo) that can be both fruity and bitter. The Amaro Bolognese produced by Montenegro is my personal choice because it tends to show off more dried fruit flavors while escaping the nasty side of other Italian bitters like a Fernet Branca. One sip (if you can get past the smell) of Fernet Branca and you’ll swear off such liqueurs forever. Actually you’ll just swear a lot and wonder who dipped your tongue into iodine. Luckily, Montenegro is nothing like that.

Combine three parts Prosecco, one part of the Amalfi Coast’s famed limoncello (in this case I used the batch I enjoyed making this spring with the mayor of Rocky Hill) and a splash or two of Montenegro Amaro – depending on your herbal aptitude. Shake well and gently pour over several blood orange slices and ice.

The Prosecco will cause a little bubbly action so take it slow. The combination of limoncello and oranges create a nice sunshine like glow in the glass while simultaneously producing a popping citrus-like prowess.

A beastly wine for vegetarian night

Eat your greens!

Eat your greens!

Winemaking in Italy is anything but complacent. The historical production of leading white grapes like Trebbiano in the Veneto or Cortese in Piedmont’s Gavi region, may at times be overshadowed by the transatlantic call for Pinot Grigio, Moscato and more recently Prosecco. But that’s not the end-all to what’s going on in the Italian countryside.

I’ve noticed more and more that Italian winemakers are dabbling in the world of Sauvignon Blanc. True, that puttering experimentation may mostly be in small production lots, but the results of Sauvignon Blanc by producers like Herbert Tiefenbrunner and Stefano Antonucci are netting an array of aromatic and approachable wines.

I think that white spot is suppose to be a Milky Way like galaxy

I think that white spot is suppose to be a Milky Way like galaxy

Most notably, Antonucci’s Animale Celeste could be a springboard that emboldens other Italian producers to stomp into the Sauvignon Blanc game. Animale Celeste roughly translates to heavenly animal or with a little imagination- celestial beast. If its strangely intriguing label (featuring an animal with the hooves and wiggly tail of a swine on top of a winged looking hell cat) isn’t enough to coerce the cork pull from the drawer, then imagine a Sancerre-like Sauvignon Blanc that is more flavorful, less acidic and very food friendly.

And since vegetarian was on the menu Monday night, prep quickly developed into a gamut-like-run of baking, sautéing, boiling and tossing. The colorful finish was a platter full of Mexican sweet potatoes, garlic sautéed spinach, vegetarian spaghetti Carbonara (maybe it had a wee, tiny, little bit of pancetta) and mixed leaf lettuce with orange bells, Gloucester and almonds.

But it was the Italian Sauvignon Blanc that brought it all together. The Animale Celeste from Antonucci’s Santa Barbara Winery proved to be a palate cleansing wine with rare tropical notes, the right amount of acidity – to wade through the assortment of veggie flavors and more body than I would expect to find in a white wine from Italy’s Marche region. Something the pasta didn’t seem to mind at all.

Peaches and Prosecco

Cheese, glorious cheese!

Cheese, glorious cheese!

Ahhh, mid Spring! The evenings are still cool, the bugs yet to annoy and these vibrant moments in May are some of the best times to sit outside and enjoy a little cheese and vino. When my bride and I were still dating, we’d slip outside almost every evening to feast on some of our favorite cheeses, walnuts, figs and fresh fruit. Last night was a nice reminder of those free and pristine evenings.

Likewise, it gave us the perfect scenario to enjoy one of our favorite drinks, the Venetian Bellini. A simple half and half mixture of authentic, dry Italian Prosecco and peach purée, the Bellini is sunshine in a glass. With the fragrant south Georgia peaches arriving soon, be sure to treat yourself to this classic cocktail. And when shopping for a bottle of Prosecco, make sure to look for one from either Valdobbiadene or Conegliano; the nowadays knock-offs tend to be too sweet when mixed with those sweet, succulent peaches.

Cin. Cin.

Before the coming of the heat

Before the coming of the heat

Classic aperitif meets modern wine bar at – Drink.

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

Sit for a spell

Sit for a spell

I like to drink, you like to drink and I think that’s exactly where we’ll end up.

K-town’s swanky, hip, and mood enlightened drinking establishment, “Drink.” opened a few months ago after years of fashionable planning. The latest venture by Knoxville restaurant magnate, Randy Burleson, “Drink.” is a posh and sleekly polished wine bar located next door to his flagship restaurant, Bistro by the Tracks.

Bistro’s longtime wine and spirits manager, Lana Shackelford, has also taken over the portfolio of Drink.’s three self-serving wine dispensers as well as its full and eclectic collection of spirits. Her aptitude for selecting incredible and unique wines for Knoxvillians to sample is a tribute to her personal research and patient commitment to doing the homework. You’ll notice that just as soon as you circle the collection of wines to choose from, coming across both dependable selections as well as several exclusive wines you’re going to want to instantly learn more about.

Some of Lana's Libations

Some of Lana’s Libations

Lana’s creative application of thought provoking and conversation-starting names for her seasonal cocktails are just as appealing as the wine selection. And a recent meet up offered a challenge to her innovation by crafting imaginative cocktails using the nearly 100-year-old classic Italian aperitif known as Aperol.

In Italy, Aperol and Prosecco (Italy’s famed sparkling wine) go together as well and as often as prosciutto and cantaloupe. Known for its orangey, herby flavor profile and vivid blood orange color, Aperol’s lower alcohol content makes for an irreplaceable and inspiring mixer in cocktails.

Take for example Lana’s enhanced and Italian-inspired rendition of the aforementioned Aperol and Prosecco spritzer. The “Vespa” cocktail adds the influential elderflower element of St~Germain Liqueur to the traditional recipe. The result is an off-sweet cocktail, with a slow and soft fizz development. The “Vespa” successfully combines that subtle orange undertone to an inquisitive floral cocktail. It will have you humming along for the ride.

Everyday Patron

Everyday Patron

A second experiment in Aperol mixology spawned “Rosemary’s other baby.” With a clever take on Nashville- made Corsair Gin, Lana was able to balance some of the Aperol’s fruity nature. Corsair creates one of the more unique gin interpretations with its woodsy aromas and Indian-like spiciness. Throw in a little muddled rosemary and you have an angelic combination of the herb’s evergreen fragrance, the gin’s offbeat attribute and Aperol’s predisposition towards bright citrus and freshness. It’s the kind of shared drink that makes for better neighbors.

One might think Aperol’s flexibility would have been proven well enough after tasty run-ins with Italian Prosecco, or French liqueur or Tennessee gin. But a rendezvous with tequila shows its strength as well in appealing to south-of-the-border libations, namely Mexico’s distinctive Don Julio Reposado Tequila. With lime juice, honey, and bitters mixed together with the Aperol and Don Julio, the “Spaghetti Western” is reborn. This is Italian fashionista meets Cinco de Mayo, simultaneously chic and festive.

Are you thirsty now?

Are you thirsty now?

Prosecco & herbed cocktails

Herbed cocktails continue to rise in popularity and last night I was attempting to recreate a concoction I had earlier this spring at a Dogwood Arts event.

The aperitif was predominantly Prosecco based, but had a fresh blackberry and either a sprig of thyme or rosemary added. It was spot-on delicious and refreshing without being too odd or pretentious. Kudos to Mr. Perkins (with Dogwood Arts) for the originality.

When mixing a wine based cocktail, its truly best to use something affordable. Since so many other flavors are coming to the party, you don’t want a shouting match overshadowing an expensive bubbly. A solid Italian Prosecco, like Riondo, or even a nice Spanish Cava are safe and solid go-tos. Check out some other great Prosecco inspired cocktails at Bubbly Girl.

Bring home the bubbly and celebrate

Bubbly might have as many affectionate nicknames as my dog, Layla. She goes by Layla Great Dog, Layla Lou, Lou Bear, Boo, Pretty Girl, Boo Radley, Petunia, Brown Eyes and Sweet Heart.

Bubbly is almost as well regarded with nicknames like champagne, champognay, sparkling, fizzy and tiny bubbles. With so many terms of endearment it’s no wonder so many people embrace sparkling wine (like their faithful companion) as a symbol of fond memories and celebratory times.

This New Year’s Eve is the perfect time to challenge your notion of cheap champagne or affordable sparkling wine by venturing beyond the Andre, the Totts, the Cooks and the Korbel and toasting to something a little bit better. Indeed, toasting to the hope of a new year, a new beginning and a new view of what truly matters is cause enough to celebrate.

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Picking a bubbly for toast not so hard with these tips

It can sometimes be difficult to remember the difference in terms on a label of French champagne or other sparkling wines. This column is dedicated to helping party goers and party-throwers know the terminology and offer some safe suggestions.

Essentially, for something to be labeled champagne it must come from the region in France known conveniently as Champagne. Yes, champagne is a sparkling wine, but the French quickly take exception to anyone else using their designations.

Often, French champagnes will have flavors that are bread-like or yeasty. Their stream of bubbles is usually fine and well beaded. Domestic champagne will often reveal citrus notes and create a bubbling effect that might be visualized as a lava lamp for adults.

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White Italian wines wrap summertime in cool mood

When I first started writing this column about a year ago, I began by talking about one of my favorite categories of wine, Italian whites. It’s true that things come full circle in life because summer rolled around and I found myself enjoying some new white wines from Italy.

Like good Italian food, which can sometimes be hard to find, good Italian wines are meant to be shared with family and friends.

Amano Fiano ($10.99): The 2006 Amano Fiano is a dry Italian white with a solid structure and approachable acidity. Aromas of melon and grapefruit carry over nicely to the palate. My friend, the Great Scot, had me over for dinner recently. The Amano Fiano was a noble match to his wife’s coconut-crusted tilapia and a medley of sauteed zucchini, peppers and shallots. Lively and fresh, the 2006 Amano is summertime sunshine in a bottle. If you like it and want to try another, then I highly recommend the 2006 Terredora Fiano from Campania.

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Beach Wines

Travel, like wine, has the fortunate task of being fuel for the muse. While venturing down to the Gulf for a first-time visit to Florida’s Forgotten Coast, I had the opportunity to discover some interesting new wines and, likewise, get reacquainted with some old favorites. Atmosphere often makes everything a little better, so it was good to hit up my travelling companions for a little feedback and delve out some subtle pandering for anything savory to match with the wine.

Our initial discovery was perhaps the best, so why draw out the suspense? We called it Lemonecco. It’s half Simply Lemonade brand lemonade (from your local Kroger) and half Prosecco (Italy’s version of dry sparkling wine). And it beats mimosas like that drummer from Christabel and the Jons. Some of my all-time favorite Proseccos for flying solo or mixing up are the Bisol Jeio Prosecco, Canella Prosecco and Rebulli Prosecco. Lemonecco is a great way to start a morning at the beach, especially with some of bean counter Kristi’s breakfast casserole. Mmm, pass the bacon.

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Three wines worth drinking this year

At the start of each new year, some people take time to look back and do some personal inventorying, while others prefer to look forward and explore what this new year has to offer. Fortunately for the latter, three wines are emerging as phenomenal super-values in 2011.

- Lamarca Prosecco Brut NV

Just because the New Year has already begun doesn’t mean that you need a special reason to celebrate. You do, however, need a great bubbly to do the celebrating. Lamarca Prosecco (from Italy) isn’t shy in showing a little swagger about being the first Italian Prosecco to make Wine Spectator’s “Top 100″ list. Not nearly as dry as French Champagne, Prosecco creates a softer, more approachable texture with fresh fruit flavors of peach and citrus.

- 2009 Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut

While more and more wineries are going out of their way to find flashy ways to market their labels, one French producer is paying attention to what’s behind the label as well. Back in the 90s, Chapoutier became the first winery to put Braille on its label, informing the blind as to where the wine came from, when it was made and whether it’s red or white. Wine promoters may have perceived the change as a stroke of marketing genius, but more importantly, wine lovers were merely impressed that Chapoutier continued to put quality wine in their bottles.

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