Thursday, January 8, 2015

Wine Resolutions for 2015

Making New Year's resolutions can be a tedious chore for the motivationally challenged. However, if it's a question of expanding one's wine palate and cellar, can there be a more tantalizing proposition?  In that spirit, I offer up some suggestions for further adventures in wine exploration and tasting.

I recently discovered an online wine resource on the MSN homepage that features a number articles on various wine-related topics, including a new post entitled

12 Ways To Get Out Of Your Wine Rut In 2015

For your convenience, I am reproducing the article below along with my own suggestions, recommendations and observations.  So here's wishing you a Happy New Year full of good times and exciting new discoveries in the world of wine!
With every new year comes a resolution or two, so this is the perfect time to make a few changes to your wine-drinking routine. Take the opportunity to uncork (or unscrew) a bottle you’ve seen but haven’t tasted; try a new food pairing; make a detour on your next winery tour. A chat with the owner of your local wine store can get some ideas flowing, and a new cookbook may inspire you in the kitchen. Here are 12 ways to start new gastronomic traditions right now.

1. Drink bubbly with dinner.
Don’t save that bottle of bubbly in the fridge for a special occasion; open it up the next time you order sushi, Thai or even Indian cuisine. Sparkling wine’s naturally high acidity and minerality make it a natural partner with food. And there are so many affordable bubblies now that there’s no reason not to let it perk up a weeknight. Besides Champagne, try a Crémant de Bourgogne or Crémant di Limoux from France; Spanish cava or Italian Prosecco; a sparkling wine from California or New Mexico; or even a sparkling Shiraz from Australia.

Rodney's comments: This recommendation is right on.  There's a common misconception that bubbly is only for special occasions, but in fact, the right sparkling wine can make any meal or get-together special. Indeed, there's an appropriate bubbly for each and every course, for example:

 - A light, dry Brut for appetizers and hors d'oeuvres (the salt and oil of snacks pairs well with the dry acidity of Brut wines)
- A light Blanc de Blancs is a great palate cleanser following the salad or soup course and anticipating the main dish
- Savory chicken, veal or fish dishes match nicely with a full-bodied Blanc de Noirs or Cava (Blanc de Noirs are made from medium-to-full-bodied red wine grapes such as Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier and therefore have a natural affinity for white meats or fish)
- Finally, for a dessert wine, try a sweet Asti from Italy which has the effect of closing the palate and complementing the sweetness of the dessert.

 Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne "Perle d'Aurore" Brut Rosé

2. Buy large-format bottles.
It may seem like a luxury, but depending on the occasion, buying a large-format bottle can actually save you money — and make you the life of the party. Here’s some easy math: a magnum (1.5 liters) is equal to two bottles; a double magnum (3 liters) equals four bottles; and a jeroboam (4.5 liters of still wine) holds six standard bottles. (A jeroboam of sparkling wine is 3 liters, equaling four standard bottles of bubbly.) Sommeliers rave about these larger bottles because they often age better than the traditional 750-milliliter bottle; the oxygen-to-wine ratio in them is far lower, which allows for a slower maturation. More wineries are offering large formats, and stores such as Costco often carry them for the holidays.

Rodney's comments: You'll want to be fairly sure you and your friends can finish the large-format bottle since such bottles do not lend themselves to storing easily once opened.

3. Try a Rhône varietal from California’s Central Coast.
There are some exciting wines coming out of California’s Central Coast. The terroir is similar to the Rhône Valley, and winemakers are producing reds based on Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache, as well as whites with Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, that whisk you off to France by way of the West Coast.

Rodney's comments: I can't say enough about Central Coast Rhône-style wines - they're giving the French a real run-for-the-money.  Look especially for such wines from the Paso Robles area or AVA.  A few of my favorite wineries are Justin and Qupé.  Australian wines of this style are often labeled GSM (grenache, syrah, mourvèdre).

2012 Qupé Central Coast Syrah

4. Order the wine-pairing option.
The next time you’re at a restaurant with a tasting menu, opt for the wine pairings as well (usually available for a supplement). The beverage directors and sommeliers work with the chef to create something out of the box, so why not take advantage of their expertise? It’s a chance to get creative and open your palate to new pairing ideas.

Rodney's comments: This is a great idea if the price doesn't break your budget. I've exercised this option a couple of times at Tashan, the upscale Indian fusion restaurant on S. Broad Street in Philadelphia. It was an excellent selection and bargain. 

5. Try Italian whites.
Sick of Sauvignon Blanc? Try one of Italy’s white varietals. They may be hard to pronounce, but they’re easy to drink (and generally affordable). Falanghina, for instance, tastes like bananas, apples and pears; look for producers Feudi di San Gregorio and Terredora. Vermentino tastes of crisp apples and citrus; producers include Antinori and Pala. And Piedmontese Arneis offers flavors of lemons and apples; look for Vietti. All three pair beautifully with seafood, chicken, pork and anything fried.

Rodney's comments: The number of Italian varietals, both red and white, are seemingly endless.  This is the reason I'm constantly encouraging my wine friends and students to try new or unfamiliar wines of different regions and varietals.  They have so much to offer and often provide a wholly different taste sensation.  Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc (just check out my post from this past summer on my house wine party!), but there are just too many wonderful varietals to get stuck on Chardonnay or (God forbid) Pinot Grigio!  I've never had the Falanghina, so I will definitely put that on my list of wines to sample this year and will report back.

vietti roero arneis

6. Try a new wine-and-food pairing.
Break out of the mind-set that classic pairings (for instance, red meat with red wine, white meat with white wine) are your only options. Here are some creative examples:
Chicken fajitas and guacamole with still or sparkling dry rosé
Beef chili and cornbread with Zinfandel
Grilled swordfish with Beaujolais
Grilled sardines with Pinot Noir
Arctic char over tomato-olive tapenade with Sangiovese
Roasted veal chops with Viognier
Roasted pork chops and caramelized onions with Chardonnay or Riesling
Roasted asparagus with Chianti Classico
Roasted cauliflower with sparkling wine

Rodney's comments: Tape this list on your refrigerator door and start sampling and pairing!

7. Serve a French dessert wine with chocolate.
While Port is a natural with chocolate, try a glass of Banyuls for a change. Banyuls is a Grenache-based wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, fortified (as it has been since the 13th century) with clear brandy and aged for at least 10 months. With flavors of mocha, coffee and dark plum, it’s the perfect complement to any chocolate dessert. Serve it at around 58 F in small dessert-wine glasses. Ranging from $25 to $60 for a 375-milliliter bottle, Banyuls may not be easy to find, but it’s worth the effort. M. Chapoutier and Domaine La Tour Vielle are two to look for.

 Rodney's comments: I keep hearing and reading about Banyuls, but have to try it. Another resolution to  add to my list.  By the way, M. Chapoutier is a top producer from Southern France and is a sure bet no matter the price point.


8. Drink white wine with cheese.
Many consumers don’t realize that cheeses generally taste better with white wine than red. Here are some starter pairings:
Goat cheese with Sancerre, Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
Parmigiano-Reggiano with Prosecco or Orvieto
Brie with Pinot Gris or Chardonnay
Triple crème with Riesling
Stilton with Sauternes

Rodney's comments: Another great suggestion. We sampled the regional goat cheese Crottin de Chavignol with a Sancerre at my Loire wine class - excellent pairing!

Image : <b>Crottin de Chavignol</b> - <b>Chavignol</b> fermier

9. Try a white wine that you think is sweet.
Many wine lovers stay away from a varietal because they associate it with a characteristic they dislike. Take Rieslings: despite their reputation for sweetness, they’re not all sweet. Rieslings are wonderfully food-friendly whites that deserve a place at the table. Juicy and crisp, dry German Riesling sets the standard, but domestic Rieslings are on the rise, so there are plenty of options at a wide range of prices.

Rodney's comments: Dry Rieslings are growing on me, but I still can't bring myself around to the sweeter ones.

10. Visit off-the-beaten-path wineries.
Do your homework before your next California wine trip. It’s worth seeking out small family-run wineries that may be a bit out of the way. Picturesque Preston Family Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley has a farmstand and bocce ball court in addition to a tasting room. Iron Horse Vineyards boasts an outdoor tasting facility with spectacular views of Sonoma County. Cliff Lede Vineyards may be just minutes from a busy Napa highway, but its sculpture garden, art gallery and specialized wine tastings make it feel like a special getaway. (You can even book at a night at Mr. Lede’s Poetry Inn in the Stags Leap District.)

Rodney's comments: And don't forget to try visiting off-the-beaten-path wine regions.  At every chance I get, I put in a plug for the Temecula wine regions in Southern California, just over the mountain pass from Palm Springs.  Definitely worth a visit if you're in the area. Check out their homepage for a preview:




11. Sign up for wine-and food tours.
You should also check out wineries that do more than just pour a glass of wine. Many in California offer additional activities such as olive-oil tastings or farm tours. Here is a sampling:
Long Meadow Ranch, St. Helena
Round Pond Estate, Napa
DaVero, Healdsburg
Viansa, Sonoma
Benziger Family Winery, Glen Ellen

12. Join a winery-run wine club.
They’re not just for tourists anymore. Wineries have been honing their club memberships in recent years to make them more personalized, and the rewards can be great — particularly the discounts. If you live within a reasonable distance of the winery to take advantage of their special members-only events, do it. But even if you just receive monthly or twice-yearly shipments, you’ll benefit from such programs.

Rodney's comments:  Alas! Pennsylvania consumers are at loss on this idea because of the infamous LCB and its draconian restrictions.  I suppose you may be able to sign up for a PA wine club if you live close enough to the winery, but so far I haven't come across a PA winery that's worth the trouble and effort.  On the other hand, I was so jealous of the local wine club members at the Temecula Wineries I visited which offered good value wines with the personal touch and free tastings to boot!  A good reason to decamp to California!