Author Archives: CFWine

In-Store Tasting

Anyone in the area, ask to be on my email list. I send out very select wine specials in all price ranges, as well as when I have wine tastings in the shop. This past Saturday’s tasting was new arrivals. In the future I will have different themes such as varietal comparisons, or wines from one specific area.Wine Tasting

You’ve Asked, We Answered- Our Take on Pairing Wine with Food

My dear friend Marcia Kellogg is one of the very few people I know who truly lives to eat…(and drink wine).  The vast majority of our conversations hover around food and wine.  Perhaps it’s because she’s a good Italian girl, and my French side simply cannot get enough.  We just partnered, answering questions about the pairing of food and wine, which is posted below. Certainly, if you have any questions at all on this subject, please ask.  Be sure to visit Marcia’s Blog, www.cookingandthecareergirl.blogspot.com.  This post will also be on her blog.

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What sorts of strategies do you use in pairing wine with a meal?  (Asked by friend James Liska)

Charles Writes:  The first this I do is look at the menu, no matter how large or small it is.  Right then I have an idea of how many wines should be offered.  The host’s personal taste is most important, but it also needs to conform to the foods offered.  Usually for 2 courses, I recommend 1 white and 1 red. (I usually don’t recommend a dessert wine unless the host requests it.)  For 3 courses, 3 different wines, and for 4 courses, usually 3 different wines.   Unless it is a very long evening, most folks are tired after 3 different wines.  Remember, 4-6oz. glasses equals a full bottle.  When I recommend 2 or more wines for a menu, I always order the wines in degrees of lighter flavored to fuller flavored.  If the menu requires a lighter wine to be served after a fuller one, I’ll ask the host to swap the order of courses.  The reason for this is that the first wine jump-starts the palate and sets the tone for the evening.  When the next wine is offered your palate is already used to the previous one, and you want to stimulate the palate up a notch.  Thus, the fuller flavored wine.  If this was done in reverse, then the following wine would taste watery and light…even a really good quality wine.

Marcia Writes:  First, I start with the main course, whether it is meat, chicken or fish (I tend to take the more traditional approach), then take into consideration the time of year (season), which would dictate how light or heavy the varietal should be.  Finally, the palate of who will be enjoying the meal, i.e., are they exotic? adventurous? mainstream?, etc.  This will provide a pretty good idea of where to begin. For tracking purposes, although somewhat obsessive, you might want to create a historical database or matrix that includes the type of food served, the type of wine, tasting notes, etc.

How do you work your magic? What sorts of factors do you take into account when decided what wine would best go with a meal?  (Asked by friend James Liska)

Charles Writes:  As I love to cook, I like to dissect all the courses offered in the menu.  I look at the main protein(s) offered, what herbs and spicing that will be used, and the method of cooking.  Of course, also all the side dishes too.  In some cases there may be a specific herb, spice, or accent used in the preparation of the menu and that will alter my wine selection for that dish.  When I give wine class I always tell the folks that as the host of the evening, they will know at least 50% of the food/wine offerings.  They will either make up a menu and then fill in the blanks with the wine, OR, they will know what wines they want to serve, and fill in the blanks with the food.  Sooo…by knowing this, one always wants to never have the food overpower the wine, and the wine never overpower the food.  With what is available in the wine world today, at all price ranges, it is incredible the selection.  You may have a chicken dish (so of course we think of white wine), but if the herbs and spicing are fuller flavored, then you may want to go with a lighter red such as a Pinot Noir.  For delicate white fish, one normally wouldn’t overpower it with too much seasoning because that would kill the delicate fish flavor…thus a delicate white wine would be in order that would also not overpower the fish.  Grilled BBQ Ribs with a spicy sauce needs a hearty spicy red (such as a Syrah) to stand up to all the full flavors.  Also certain foods are known to affect wine in adverse ways.  An oily fish, such as salmon, bluefish, or mackerel, will make Chardonnay have a “steely metallic” flavor.  Artichokes make most all wines show a sweetness.  Asparagus is just too funky to marry well,  but because it is so delicious most times we look the other way.  For Southwestern spicy, chili based foods, forget wine…have a beer instead.

Marcia Writes:  In addition to the answer to the previous question, the best bet is to find out where your ‘wine passion’ lies.  As a true Pino-Phile, I tend to lead toward Pinot Noir (extra points if it’s from Anderson Valley, Sonoma or Napa Valley). Others may lean toward Cabernet, Bordeaux or (ahem!) Merlot.  [Just had a flashback to the one scene in the movie Sideways] Once you know where your passion lies, the rest is relatively simple.  Like I typically describe Charles attentiveness to his clientele: “He finds out what you really like and picks out the best option(s) for you- similar to how your hairdresser knows what hairstyles look best on you!”

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How simple/complex is it to learn intelligently about food/wine pairings?

Charles Writes:  If you make the effort to actually think about food/wine pairings, I would assume that you are someone who “lives to eat” vs. “eats to live”.  That’s a good thing.  You think about flavors, you like to cook.  You like to shop for food and wine.  The process is quite simple.  Most likely, you already know what foods you like, but wine can be confusing.  This is where your local wine merchant comes into play.  I tell customers that I know nothing about diamonds, but when I want to buy one, I go to a reputable jeweler and learn from him/her, and make an educated decision.  The same is for wine.  A good wine merchant can be a wealth of knowledge.  Bleed them for information.  After every visit, you will have more information than when you first came in.  Soon you will feel comfortable making an educated decision on your own.  Stay away from wine snobs!!!  There is no place in the wine world for them.  If the merchant is a snob, don’t walk…run away…leave skid marks on the ground.

Marcia Writes:  It’s relatively easy when you know what types of wine you prefer (and don’t), and what types of food you like to enjoy.  Also, most modern day cookbooks (and cooking shows, for that matter) will tip you off as to which wine is best to serve with a specific dish, which makes pairing really very easy. You can also ask Charles for advice. I have been in his shop numerous times when someone would stop by to bring a hostess gift and ask Charles which wine would go best with a certain dish that was being served.

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Food and wine pairings around the world.

Charles Writes:  Look at the food of the region in the world that you are going to prepare.  Ask yourself, what do the locals drink?  As Marcia says below, if it’s a Tuscan dish, serve Chianti, Sangiovese, or the like.  Look at Southwestern France, the land of Cassoulet, and the monstrous reds they enjoy.  Look at The French/Italian Riviera, with all it’s seafood, veggies, olive oils, herbs…and what do they drink?  Dry rosé, lighter reds, crisp whites.  In Northern Italy, game meats, truffles, mushrooms, hearty vegetables, richer sauces…and what do they drink?  Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, earthy, leathery, rich reds.  Japanese food, which is elegant, refined, and pure…beer or sake.  It’s very easy to go on-line and search what wines are served in very particular regions of the world.  Then go to your trusty wine merchant and find something in the style and price range you like.

Marcia Writes:  When preparing or ordering ethnic food, the best way to enjoy the experience is to have wine that would typically found in that particular region.  Pair Italian food with a good Chianti, Sangiovese or table wine; French food with a Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Rhone; Spanish food with a Tempranillo or Albariño; and so on.

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Talk to me about wine and chocolate.

Charles Writes:  I adore Julia Child and her amazing recipes, but this is once where I will  disagree with her.  She has said that red wine and chocolate are a fabulous pairing.  Here’s where I disagree.  Most all red wines have a “fruit” component, and an “acid” component.  The fruit is the ripeness of grapes that you taste, and the acid is usually a tannic acid.  If you don’t know what tannic acid is, you do if you have ever had a very strong cup of tea, or have ever bitten into a grape seed.  It’s that drying feeling left in your mouth.  So, when you match chocolate, that has a sweetness with red wine, that sweetness cancels (on the palate) the ripeness of the red wine, and all you have left is tannic acid…which can be quite bitter.  If you are a fan of chocolate and red wine (as many are), buy the darkest chocolate with the highest cacao percentage you can.  55%-70% is good.

Marcia Writes:  My best pick would be champagne, but that’s the romantic in me. However, I adore dark chocolate paired with a deep, dark wine with fruit undertones.  Milk chocolate does not work because it is too sweet and overpowers the nuances of the wine.  For me, the bigger and bolder the wine and the chocolate, the better.  Some brandies, congnacs and cordials work too, but too much sweetness tends to cancel out each other.  P.S. try Espresso vodka if you are not a wine fan!

How wine and seafood can sometimes be tricky.

Charles Writes:  As I mentioned above, certain oily fish don’t go well with Chardonnay, but can go beautifully with a Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Gavi, Pinot Grigio, etc…  Swordfish is meaty enough so that when it is grilled, it can handle a decently full bodied red, like a Zinfandel…(the red, not the pink stuff).  As Marcia writes below, the more delicate the flavor, the lighter the wine, the richer the flavor, the richer the wine.

Marcia Writes:  My rule of thumb is, the lighter the seafood, the lighter the wine, like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Sancerre, and the heavier the seafood, the more heavy the wine should be to accompany it, like a California Chardonnay or Pouilly-Fuisse. Oysters, Clams, halibut, cod and tilapia are lighter, while calamari, salmon and swordfish tend to be on the heavier side.  Shrimp and lobster on the other hand, could swing both ways in my book.

What foods are simply not wine-friendly?

Charles Writes:  Southwestern chili based foods, spicy Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican.  The locals would drink beer, so should you.  I agree with Marcia about breakfast foods. On the other hand, I love “breakfast for dinner”, and a nice Macon-Villages (crisp Chardonnay), or Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, or even a dry crisp rosé would work beautifully with a cheesy omelet or Eggs Benedict……Oh and don’t forget the bacon.

Marcia Writes:  Hotdogs, wings, nachos and other similar snack type foods are best paired with your beer of choice. Breakfast foods are best paired with mimosas for Bloody Mary’s, depending on your preference.

Really Good “Wine” movies to enjoy:

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Bottle Shock (Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine)

A Good Year (Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Marion Cotillard)

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Somm (For wine geeks only.)  Follows 4 men who study for, and take the Master Sommelier exam. One of the toughest in the world.

Mondovino (documentary)

(Personally did not care for “Sideways”)

Kings of Pastry (For you food heads)

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Other Notes:

Don’t be afraid to cook with wine and beer- they add that extra something in spaghetti and bolognese sauce, braised meats, chicken, baked fish and chili as well as other sauces and salad dressings.  Many cultures do this and there is a reason they do…because it works.  France would not be what it is today without Boeuf Bourguignon and Coq au Vin.  Nor would most any other country without fermented beverages in their cuisine.

Experiment and try new wines, particularly when recommended with various foods- you just might be pleasantly surprised.  Visit local wineries and don’t be afraid to try something new.

Drinking wine with a salad dressed in a vinegar-based dressing isn’t the best choice because the vinegar clashes with the wine and tends to overpower it.  Make your own vinaigrette and use lemon juice instead of vinegar.  Then it would be wine-friendly.

One of the best wine labels ever.

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Here’s something that really caught my eye…and palate.  Introduced to me by my good friend Marcia Kellogg, this California red field blend was enjoyed this past weekend.

OK, what’s not to love about this label.  Tasteful, with a naughty twist.  Here’s the low-down on this wine.

The majority of fruit—95% Grenache and 5% Mourvedre—was sourced from vineyards in Santa Barbara County.

The unique, transverse nature of the valleys of Santa Barbara Wine Country provides a patchwork quilt of microclimates and terrains, resulting in one of the most diverse grape growing regions in the country.The valleys in the Pacific coastline actually run east-west rather than north-south, and both the coastal Santa Ynez Mountain range and the more interior San Rafael range are transverse too. Because of this geologic oddity, the ocean breezes sweep eastward, channeled by the hills and mountains that ring the region. Heading east into the foothills, the temperatures are warm during the day and very cool during the night, whereas the vineyards that lie westward toward the ocean enjoy a mild and moderate climate. Coupled with soils that run the gamut from ancient beach and diatomaceous earth to chert and limestone, this is a near-perfect place for a wide variety of wine grape varieties.

The 2012 vintage has notes of fresh cracked black pepper, white flowers and cigar box followed by a deep and brooding core of blackberry jam, ripe strawberry and velvety textures with purity, concentration and a long, seamless finish.

A total of only 1,400 cases was produced of this Small Batch Series – Volume 1 by winemaker Charles Hendricks.Wine buyers will immediately notice that, unlike other wine bottles, Dirty Pure bottles do not have capsules. Capsules only serve a decorative purpose and, on occasion, can lead to mold forming on the cork if the wine is stored improperly (e.g. 99% of the time). Additionally, the production of metal and plastic capsules is a messy andenvironmentally unfriendly business. Foregoing capsules is just one of our efforts toward sustainability best-practices.

2011 Mer et Soleil “Silver” Chardonnay

2011 Mer et Soleil “Silver” Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County

Produced by the folks at Caymus Vineyards, the Mer et Soleil “Silver” is their version of a completely unoaked Chardonnay with no malo-lactic fermentation.  What this means is that there is no toastiness or butteriness with this wine.  This wine is aged in stainless steel and cement tanks, which imparts no flavors to the wine.

Mer et Soleil

But, what you do get is a very pure expression of Monterey Chardonnay, which is different than Napa or Sonoma.  Monterey Chardonnay offers up a wonderful rich forward fruit.  There is a depth to this wine, which is partially brought on because a tiny amount of oxygen is introduced to the wine as it is aging.  When wine is aged in oak barrels, the barrels breathe, and very small doses of oxygen become exposed to the wine.  So this is the winemaker’s method of creating richness without the cloak of oak, toast, and butter.

There is a minerality that blends in with the tropical fruit aromas and flavors.  This wine is all about freshness.  There is body here, no doubt.  The wine coats the palate and lingers.  The bright acidity helps balance the flavors and give a lovely backbone.  Think of pear, pineapple, kiwifruit, notes of tangerine, and cherrystones.  There’s a lot of complex flavors that marry very well here.

Food-wise, this wine will go beautifully with summer salads, grilled seafood, all kinds of birds, pork roast, and the like.  Give it a good chill and it’ll be great for Summer.

You will also notice something really different.  It comes packaged in a ceramic bottle…not glass.  A couple great benefits are that the wine is not exposed to light (one of wine’s greatest enemies), and the ceramic bottle will keep the wine chilled longer than a glass bottle.

Aside from the wine being really delicious, perhaps the greatest surprise here is the cost.

Originally, when the Mer et Soleil “Silver” Chardonnay was first introduced, it had a retail price of $39.99.  Good wine, not inexpensive though.

It has just gone on a major sale.

It is now $25.99 a bottle.

AND, by the case, it goes down to $19.99 a bottle.

THAT’S HALF OF THE ORIGINAL PRICE!!!

2011 Dow’s Vintage Port

Hello All,

This is the first of several very interesting e-mails that I will be sending out over the next week.  All will be quite different.

So for now, the subject is 2011 Port…2011 Dow’s Vintage Port to be exact.  19369

I just received a pre-sell offering a few minutes ago, and as the 2011 vintage for Port is absolutely stellar, and the first vintage to be “declared” since 2007…I simply had to pass it on.

The Ports of 2011 are very classical in their style.  Very extracted, dark, well structured, masculine, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, these wines are a “must” for anyone who enjoys fine Port.  The good news is that, with many of the historic vintages that required many years of cellaring, the 2011’s will be very approachable at a young age.

The growing season was tumultuous, leaving the winemakers puzzled as to the final outcome quality-wise.  Ultimately, between the irregular rain and sunny days, the vintage turned out to be exceptionally fine…favoring those vineyards with particularly old vines…like Dow’s.

As this is a pre-sell, and I have not tasted the 2011 (although I have tasted MANY vintages of Dow’s over the years), I am going to give you Robert Parker’s 98 POINT review of this wine.

Yes…98 Points!!!

The 2011 Dow Vintage Port was made from no less than 44 separate ferments from finest plantings. It has a beautiful, quite extravagant bouquet with copious black and red fruit, Indian spice, and hints of menthol and orange rind that unfold wonderfully in the glass. The palate is a sumptuous affair, one that is beautifully balanced with velvety smooth, plump tannins, copious black fruit with a harmonious, white pepper-tinged finish that is a decadent delight. This is one of the finest of the declarations of 2011 Vintage Ports, a sublime expression of the vintage you would be foolish not to buy. This is Dow at its best. 5,000 cases have been declared. Tasted May 2013.

We have time, folks, as this wine is not due to arrive until September.

The cost is $89.99 a bottle.

By the 6-pack case it will sell for $80.99 a bottle.

Great Dry Rosé Wines for the Spring and Summer

If it’s Spring, that must mean it’s time for Rosé.

AND in all the years I have been featuring these dry, pink gems, never have they been so popular.  All of my suppliers are now presenting me with pages upon pages of rosé offerings, from many parts of the world, in all price ranges.

In my opinion, as far as rosé goes, there is no need to spend a fortune.  Even in moderate price ranges, one can find rosé wine of different styles, most quite delicious.

What I like to do each year is choose 4 different ones.  They must be super young and super fresh, as that is the attraction to them.  When serving, have them chilled icy cold.  Of course, all that I have chosen here are from 2012.

So let’s begin:

2012 Chateau Grande Cassagne, Costieres de Nimes   images 1.45.15 PM

This perennial favorite is ALWAYS delicious, and one of my biggest sellers.  The grapes are Syrah (60%) and Grenache (40%).  The color is a bright pink.  This wine has a touch more richness, and hits you in the face with more intense character.  It is bone dry, and is a fabulous “food” wine.  No problem in simply enjoying a super chilled glass all by itself.  Ripe strawberry with notes of cranberry are evident.

2012 Falesco Vitiano Rosé, Umbria, Italy   T0002460_MonogrammaVitiano

The Frenchie that I am would never have guessed I would feature an Italian dry rosé.  But OMG!!!  This wine knocked me out of my socks with all that it jammed in the glass.  Made  from 30% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Aleatico, this wine is bone dry, with no sense of austerity.  The color is a deep, richly hued pink.  The aromas are pure raspberry and strawberry.  I can almost sense a note of Muscat on the nose, but there is no Muscat in this wine.  The flavors that meet your palate are incredibly round, super fresh and very complete.  This is a completely fun wine that will greet sunbathers and picnickers in a most welcome fashion.

2012 Chateau Pesquie “Terrasses” Rosé, Cotes de Ventoux   Pesquie

This is a very sophisticated rosé.  Harvested from the terraced hillside vineyards of Ventoux, this wine is made up of Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah.  Rose petal in color, and bone dry, this is a superb “food” wine.  Bright, and crystal clear, this wine delivers aromas and flavors of raspberry, currant, with a tiny dash of cranberry.  Not lean or austere, this wine maintains its wonderful freshness and drinkability beautifully.  The Cote de Ventoux is the gate between the Rhone Valley and Provence…homes to France’s finest rosé wines.

2012 Terres de Saint Louis, Coteaux Varois en Provence   Terres St. Louis

This Provence beauty is made up of Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah.  Its color is a delicate yet very pure pink.  The rosés of Provence can have an additional boost of richness in their wines, as this one does.  Super clean, and super refreshing, this wine lets you know why dry rosé is perhaps the largest selling summertime wine in Southern France.  Stroll the streets and on just about every café table will sit an icy bottle of pink wine in an ice bucket.  (If it’s not rosé, then they’re probably drinking beer.)  Perfect with shellfish, and all other fresh seafood, salads, grilled birds (avoid songbirds), and pasta dishes.

All available at Charles Fine Wine.  charlesfinewine@snet.net

VT Wine Weekend Memories

Thank You Richard A. for the fine memories of an infamous Wine weekend in Stowe VT a couple years ago.  Everyone’s generosity , good spirits, whole belly laughs, and cooking talents made for an unforgettable event. ( Note that many of the bottles shown are magnums.)  Also thank you JH for those amazing smoked, sauced and rolled racks of baby back ribs.  Can’t wait for more this year.

Vermont Wine Weekend  Ribs

Wine Interview with Marcia K.

A short while back I was asked by my dear friend Marcia if she could interview me with some wine questions for her blog…cookingandthecareergirl.blogspot.com.  Of course I was excited, so I want to present it to you.  I think it gives folks a good insight on how I approach wine.

For me, a meal is just not complete without a good glass of wine.  However, pairing various wines with meals is truly an art form.  I’ve been told that the old rules no longer apply now, that anything goes.  I have my preferences for sure, but not everyone has the same tastes.  For smaller, intimate dinners, I’m more likely to try something different; but for larger gatherings, I look to my good friend Charles Bissell, Owner of Charles Fine Wine in Glastonbury, CT, to help me with selections.  Passionate about both wine and food, Charles knows his craft, yet knows not to take himself too seriously.  He loves to help people understand the nuances of this ancient and mystical drink, and always greets his customers with a larger than life smile.  I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to interview him and share his insights with my readers. 

First, tell us a little about yourself and what draws you to this unique profession?

I have been in the wine business since 1980 when I moved to France after college so I could start learning about wine, winemaking, wine tasting, and vineyard work. I landed in the Burgundy region and spent a year working for 7 different families, negociants (wine shippers), and cooperatives. Whatever work was required, I helped. At a certain time of day, usually the morning, I would be educated in actual tasting and wine evaluation. The mornings were chosen because the palate is most acute at that time.Once back home I worked for a fine wine wholesale company and sold to restaurants and wine shops in Westchester New York. Not having much fun with that, I was then hired to manage a fine wine shop in West Hartford, CT. I found I really enjoyed the retail side of this business. After 2-3 years, I managed another fine wine shop in Hartford, CT. By 1988 I realized that the only way I could continue was to open my own fine wine shop, and Charles Fine Wine was introduced to the State of Connecticut.

What I enjoy the most is the interaction with a whole spectrum of folks and teaching them about wine. My customers include folks with large cellars to those who are not familiar with wine at all. I love to educate folks in a very comfortable and relaxing way, as many can be intimidated by its complexities. My goal is to customize the wine selection to the person’s needs and budget. Learning people’s palates is very important, as I can veer them into new directions still with wine styles they like.

What should we know about understanding the basics of wine types?

The types and styles of wine are infinite. Every single person on the planet has different tastes…and even those tastes will change with time. Understanding wine types allows each individual to direct their efforts toward wines that are particularly delicious to themselves. Frequently this is done with the help of books, videos, but most importantly a good wine merchant. 

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Charles and me enjoying my favorite Pinot NoirAs someone unfamiliar with wine walks into a wine shop, all they can see are bottles with different labels. It is the job of the merchant to find out what style of wine the person enjoys and guide them to a selection that they would enjoy. I make sure to describe the wine so the customer knows exactly what they are going to get. No one likes surprises. I use the example of buying diamonds. Personally, I know nothing about diamonds. A good jeweler would guide me through the complexities of diamonds so I am able to make an educated decision. The same thing goes with wine.  Once someone is familiar with some of the different wine styles, then they can veer off their usual path and try new things that are similar but also different.

I’m sure you’re asked this all the time- What are some things to consider when selecting a good wine at a reasonable price point? 

Value is the one thing I feel is most important when I select the wines for my shop. There are thousands and thousands of wines out there and I try to find ones that express their varietal grape, and regional qualities the best. 

For example, when a sales rep comes into the shop with a new wine to try, I will first look at the label and see what it is telling me. If it says “Cabernet Sauvignon” on the label and it is from California, I am already expecting certain things from this bottle. I will look at the color to see that it is deep and ruby. I’ll swirl the glass and put my nose in the glass. The aromas can speak volumes. Is it Cabernet Sauvignon I am smelling? Are the aromas rich and filling my nose with lovely black fruit smells? Are the aromas appropriate for a Cabernet Sauvignon? If “yes” I’ll move on, if “no” I pass. If I move on, I will want the flavors to match what I am smelling. Does the wine have a good richness? Does it coat the palate with ripe full flavors? Are the flavors in my mouth clean and fresh once I swallow? What feeling is left in my mouth?

After all this I decide on how much I would pay for this wine. If the price is less than my estimate, it will be a good value. If the price is more, I’d say “It’s a nice wine, but just too expensive.” 

Personally, I stay away from the highly advertised brands of wine. Since they are so advertised, who pays for all the advertising? The customer, of course. I’d rather pay for what’s IN the bottle than a fancy package or advertising. It’s the wine that counts.

That said, what would you would recommend, particularly now for BBQ’s and moving on to the colder months?

Rather than specifying specific wines, I’ll speak of wine regions and grapes where some of the best values are coming from.

When it’s hot out and the grills are aflame, red wines can start to act funny. In the heat on the deck, reds will start to fall apart in the glass, making them less attractive. In the heat, one of my favorite wines is the dry rosÈs from Southern France. Yes, you heard me right folks…rosÈ. Bone dry, bright and crisp, these are one of the least snobby wines on the planet. Served icy cold in small cafÈ glasses, it’s amazing how fast a bottle will vaporize. And I particularly love the bright pink color.

Other areas of interest are Spain, where white wines made with the Verdejo grape make for some of the best summertime pleasure. The Loire Valley in Central France makes some of the most refreshing, crisp, and clean Sauvignon Blanc in the world. Also New Zealand, where Sauvignon Blanc frequently possesses notes of grapefruit in these bright and zesty whites. 

As the weather starts to turn colder, here are some fun ideas… South America (Chile and Argentina) is one of the superstar regions for amazing values in both reds and whites. Malbec (a red grape from Argentina) can make wines comparable to California reds almost double the price. Carmenere (a red grape from Chile) can taste like Merlot on steroids, at half the price of a California Merlot. France’s Southern Rhone Valley is the home to the famous Cote du Rhone reds. Rich and spicy with notes of earth and dark fruit, these wines are great for cool weather and even those of us who like to grill year ‘round. And don’t forget Spain. The Tempranillo and “Old Vine” Grenache can be world class and inexpensive.

When it comes to flavors and aromas like hints of cherry, earth and chocolate, etc., where do they come from? And what is important to know about recognizing them?

Being able to recognize and identify specific aromas and flavors is something that comes quickly to some folks and longer to others. These characteristics come from a combination of the grape variety, soil, and climate. When identifying them, it is a very personal matter. As I can say “I smell cherries in this wine.”…you may say “No, I smell raspberries.” Neither of us are wrong, as we smell what we smell. A great part of enjoying wine is in the identifying of what we actually taste. Recognizing specific aromas and flavors in a certain wine makes us understand the wine more, and personalizes the wine to each of us.

IMPORTANT NOTE…Trust and have faith in your palate. It amazes me how many times a person would ask me if the wine they were tasting was good or not.

When I give a wine class, I tell everyone to open up their minds to every aroma and flavor they have ever experienced. The good ones and the bad ones. Easier said than done. I also tell them that somewhere in the world, there is a wine that will possess that specific flavor or aroma.

Here are some interesting examples…good and bad.

Red fruits (cherry, strawberry, raspberry, currant, cranberry)

Black fruits (blackberry, black raspberry, black plum, cassis)

White fruits (Peach, pear, pineapple, apple, kiwi)

Citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit)

Herbs (what’s in your spice cabinet?)

Earth, soil, leaves (dry and wet), mushrooms, tea, leather (even well used leather)

Woods (oak, cedar, smokey or not)

Nuts

Pencil lead

Minerals & Stones

Fabrics (cotton, wool, even wet wool)

Barnyard…yes, a barnyard on a hot day.

Burnt rubber

Tar

Wet dog (from different breeds, as they do smell different.)

Old lobster water

Wet musty basement floor

You get my drift?

We could go crazy about discussing wine parings.  On the extreme: white with fish/chicken and red with meat, to anything goes. Although this is no longer the rule, what is your approach to paring wine with food? 

I approach food/wine pairings a couple different ways. First, I will look at the style of wine I want to drink, or the style of food I want to cook. As I know one side of the pairing, I will need to match it with a similarly styled mate. If you had a delicate white fish, you wouldn’t want to clobber it with a dark heavy red, as the red wine will hide all the delicacy of the fish. Likewise, if I had a delicate fresh white wine, I wouldn’t want to slap down some super spicy ribs on the grill as that would murder the wine’s flavors. 

 

 wine tasting
Charles Bissell, Owner of Charles Fine Wine

Food/wine pairings need a balance. 

Let’s say you were going to have a creamy chicken dish or buttery lobster. A comparable wine would be a buttery rich California Chardonnay. Makes sense. BUT…how about pairing with an opposite style? Instead of having a creamy buttery Chardonnay, you decided on a zesty Sauvignon Blanc? Think about it. You take a bite of rich food that coats the palate with buttery creamy goodness. By taking a sip of a wine of an opposite style would allow the wine to cleanse the palate with its brightness and zest leaving the palate ready for another bite of richness.

If you are planning on BBQ ribs, pulled pork, or smoked brisket, generally a hearty spicy red would work. A Rhone red, Syrah, Grenache from Spain, or Australian Shiraz would all work well.  While white meat/white wine, red meat/red wine would still more or less work…those days are over.

What would you consider a ‘safe bet’ when bringing wine to a friend’s house for dinner?

When I recommend wines that will be given as hostess gifts or simply to be opened that evening with friends, I select wines that are ready to drink with no fuss, no muss. What I mean by this is that the wine has to have the ability to be opened without the need for additional age, and can be enjoyed with no breathing. Simply open and pour. The wine also has to have some decent character to it. A light white or thin red will not make the cut. Generally these “gift” wines fall in the $10-$30 range.   For whites, a French Chardonnay, California Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio (or any other Italian white), Spanish Verdejo or Viura.  For reds, Pinot Noir (not a thin one), Merlot, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Malbec, French Cotes du Rhone, Italian Chianti, Barbera or Dolcetto.

CT wineries are more prevalent now than ever. What are some things to consider at one of the tastings?

It almost seems like several new wineries open up in CT every year. The climate in CT (New England) is quite a bit different than that of California, Europe, or South America. One of the largest differences is simply “sun hours”. Each variety of grape requires a certain amount of sun and rain each year to form quality wine grapes. While we may see Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc for reds, and Chardonnay and Riesling for whites being grown in CT, other commonly known grapes are not. These grapes come from the vitis vinifera family. There are also a selection of French hybrid grape varieties such as Seyval Blanc, Vidal, and Marechal Foch. These grapes are less fragile to mildew and can ripen in the New England climate.  I encourage folks to take day trips to the various CT wineries as they are pretty to see, educational, and visits will let folks learn of new wines not commonly found.

What tips for storage can you give for those who do not have a wine cellar?

When storing wine, its worst enemies are temperature, light and vibration. Many folks want to store their wine at 55 degrees and 60% humidity, which is optimum. However, the need for a “wine cellar” is not always necessary.

My first question to a customer would be…”Are you buying wine to enjoy in the next 6 months?” If yes, then storage is less important. If you want to store wine for 6 months and on, then more focus on the storage would be recommended. If you are buying wine for more immediate enjoyment, then a storage closet or shelf in the basement would work just fine. (Note that wine should never be stored near a heat source.) Lay the bottles on their sides, so the corks stay moist, and you are all set.

If you want to start a collection and save some more special bottles for the future, then a particularly cool area in the basement (or even an under-counter self contained wine storage unit) may be required.

Some folks have come to me and proudly announced that they make sure that they rotate the bottles on a regular basis in their cellars. This is the darned silliest thing, as vibration is one of wines’ enemies…so simply leave your bottles at peace.

Many wines are now being bottled with screw-tops (which I love) or plastic corks. These prevent the wine from being spoiled by bad natural corks. Wine in screw-tops need not be laid on their sides.

 

Since we’re in the midst of vacation season, any advice for traveling with wine?

As with storing wine, managing the temperature is key. Insulated wine carriers are the best for picnics, the beach, concerts, etc… When outdoors on a hot day, red wines should try to be in the 65-70 degree range. Whites can be in the 45 degree range.

When travelling a long distance and you want to bring 6-12 bottles or more (my kind of vacation), then a styro-foam wine shipper would work the best. They coddle the bottles safely and keep them insulated for a long time. Beware about leaving bottles of wine in a hot car, as it can harm the wine.

 

To decant, or not decant? When, why and for which wines?

There are those who debate the benefits of breathing and decanting wine, but I am a believer in it. Not all wines need decanting. Decanting the right wine offers 2 advantages to its enjoyment. First, it separates the clear wine from any sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Second, it allows the wine to breathe and aerate. Wines that are normally decanted are mature and have a deposit at the bottom of the bottle. To decant wines for breathing purposes encompasses a larger audience. Breathing wine is actually oxidizing it. Wine is cooped up in a bottle void of any oxygen. When opened it can be “closed” (not showing much aroma or flavor). By breathing the wine, oxygen starts to bring out the wine’s inner characteristics. Generally this is most effective with heavy red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, hearty Pinot Noirs, and big Italian reds such as Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello.

As you know, I’m a huge Reidel glass fan… How important is the type/shape of the wine glass?

Wine glass technology has exploded over the past 15-20 years. Riedel was (and is) the leader in creating wine specific wine glasses. I am a believer that certain glasses will show off certain wines more effectively than others.  BUT, I am not necessarily a believer that the “Cabernet Sauvignon” glass cannot show off an amazing Pinot Noir, Zinfandel or Syrah. Red wines generally need a larger vessel to swirl around in so that their aromatics and character can develop. White wines generally don’t need the volume in the glass that reds do, but I’ve certainly had white wine in a “red” glass, and it was superb.

Certain wines may have a slightly higher alcohol content, so a proper glass can show it off well, and another may pronounce the alcohol too much and detract from the wine. The days of cheap Libby glasses are long gone.

With this explosion of designer wine glasses on the market, many can be found at very reasonable prices and safe in the dishwasher.

 

What are some key take always for you regarding Do’s and Don’ts?

DO have fun with wine and all it has to offer.

DO respect it as an alcoholic beverage.

DON’T be a wine snob.

DON’T be swayed by price. More expensive doesn’t always mean “better”.

(Note…Isn’t Marcia a babe???)

Great Dijon Mustard

If you really like to cook, one of the most important ingredients in the fridge is authentic Dijon mustard.  If you are thinking of Grey Poupon, that is fine, but it’s made for the masses…the American palate.

Authentic Dijon mustard comes in 2 styles…regular and grainy (still containing the mustard seeds). The ingredient list for Dijon mustard is short…mustard seeds, white wine, and salt.

There are hundreds of different mustards out there, but as a purist (and also 1/2 French) Dijon is the way to go. The flavors can be strong, and when tears start to form, and your nose runs, you know you found the right product.  The mustard should also be super fresh, which can be a challenge sometimes.

AmoraFallotPommeryRoland

Perhaps my favorite brand is Amora “Fine et Fort”.  Is there a café in Paris that doesn’t serve this at every table?  I think not.  It can be hard to find, as it may only be available in super specialty food stores, or on-line.  The best source on-line that I have found for Amora is frenchybee.com.  Order the 15.5 oz. pots, and if you spend over $49.00 the shipping is free.  I order 8 pots at a time.

Understand that mustard ages more quickly in small pots, and therefore should be used promptly.

Other good brands, if they can be found fresh are Roland “Extra Strong”, Fallot, and Maille (Found at the supermarket), and Pommery “Whole Grain”.  Also check out sources like Amazon.com.

Beware of the flavored Dijon mustards, as their flavors tent to fade and turn old quickly.  (Tarragon, Peppercorn, etc…)

NOW…for one of the best uses of a fine Dijon mustard is a Classic Vinaigrette.

2 tbs. Dijon mustard, 3 tbs. red wine vinegar, 6-8 tbs. oil, salt & pepper to taste.

Add mustard and vinegar into a bowl and mix.  Slowly add the oil.  Mix well.  Obviously, the amounts can be adjusted to taste, as well as the type of oil and vinegar you use.  Perhaps substitute a nut oil (walnut or hazelnut), or a rich and healthy olive oil.  Use rice wine vinegar to add lightness and a tart sweetness.  Add fresh chopped tarragon, or other fresh herbs.

Enjoy one of France’s great gifts.

2011 Domaine Lafage Bastide Miraflors Vieilles Vignes

This is one of the reasons I like my job so much.  I get first shot at some incredible wine buys…wines that no one knows about, that are insanely good price/quality values.  Today it is the 2011 Domaine Lafage Bastide Miraflors Vieilles Vignes, from Southern France’s Languedoc region.  Made up of Syrah and Grenache, these are perhaps 2 of the most successful grape varieties in this part of France.  Syrah offers the intensely dark color, black-pepper spice, and a note of game, while the Grenache gives this wine the earth and hints of garrigue amongst the ripe dark berry flavors.  (Note: garrigue is the smell of the dried herbs and grasses found in Southern France on a hot windy day.)  This is a full-throttle, mouth-filling, intensely flavored red blend that is delicious now (given some breathing), and will age beautifully for the next 5 years.

2011 Bastide2011 was a more challenging vintage in Southern France vs. 2010, but there are certain pockets of amazing winemaking talent.  It’s fun to find those.

Food-wise, this wine can stand up to most anything you have your heart set on.  Of course, anything too delicate will be clobbered by this bad-boy.  As the style of this wine is full, rich and intensely flavored, your food should be the same.  Grilled red meats would be a home-run.  Sausages, lamb or beef stews would also work.  Now, here’s something different that sounds against the rules.  How about a beautiful slab of fresh swordfish,marinated in olive oil, salt, and pepper.  After a couple hours, slam it down on a VERY HOT grill.  Once done, let it rest for 5 minutes.  The sundried tomato pesto, that you made in advance, is dalloped on top of the swordfish, and there you have it.

This wine is regularly priced at $24.99, but can be found in the mid-high teens.  I haven’t seen it at the $10-$12 price that Robert Parker notes below.Act quickly, as it is a wine that will disappear quickly from retail shelves.

If, like me, you are a fan of wine critic Robert Parker and his Wine Advocate publication, here is his 93 point review on this wine.

There are 3,000 cases of the naked, virginal, unoaked 2011 Bastide Miraflors Vieilles Vignes made from 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache aged in concrete. The difficult economic situation in the Languedoc-Roussillon corridor is being exploited to the maximum by importer Eric Solomon. The fact that wines such as this can be purchased is unbelievable. Largely an artisanal wine, it is brilliantly pure with a stunning nose of spring flowers, blackberries, cassis and earth. It is almost incomprehensible that something of this quality, complexity and richness can be purchased for $25 to $50, much less $10 to $12. The 3,000 cases should be gobbled up as quickly as they hit retailers’ shelves. I am honored to share my excitement about this amazing wine with readers.

The Wine Advocate #201, June 2012