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Wines for Easter

March 28th, 2010 No comments

The Easter Bunny is hopping our way, bringing with him (or is it her?) eggs, chocolates, and of course, a big Easter feast. Whether you view Easter as a meaningful religious event, the day that frees you from your Lenten sacrifice, or simply as a time to get together with family and friends and celebrate springtime, Easter always involves a great meal.  And if you’re reading this blog, to you, a great meal calls for great wines.

Ham is one of the most traditional Easter dishes.  Ham’s dominant flavors are saltiness and, especially if your ham is glazed, sweetness.  Ham calls for a wine that can cut through those strong flavors without overwhelming the more delicate flavors of the actual meat.

Highly acidic wines are your best choice.  Wines that also fall on the sweeter side can be great choices too, because nothing balances salty flavors better than sweet ones.  But be careful–if your ham is glazed, the combination of sweet glaze and sweet wine could be too much for your guests to handle–and if they’re overwhelmed with sweet flavors, they won’t be able to enjoy their Easter candy!

Riesling and Gewurztraminer are classic choices for a reason–their crisp and acidic but delicate natures make them the perfect companion to ham.  If you aren’t looking for a sweet wine, make sure that the bottle you’re choosing is dry–many wines of both varietals are sweet.  A Pinot Grigio or a lightly-oaked Chardonnay could also be good choices to accompany ham, so if one of those varietals is your favorite, don’t be afraid to serve it.

Tender, flavorful spring lamb is also a popular choice for the Easter meal.  Lamb is earthy yet delicate, with a powerful, lasting flavor.  Lamb is made for red wine.  The perfect red can vary with the method of preparation and cut of meat you’re using.  Sauteed veal medallions will require a more delicate red than roasted rack of lamb.  Grilled lamb (and grilling is a great way to celebrate the beginning of nice weather and capture the fresh nature of springtime) needs a wine that can stand up to the smokey and charcoal-y flavors it creates.

Bordeaux is the classic pairing for lamb, and it’s a good choice that will match well with this meat no matter how you are preparing it.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo and Malbec can also be great choices.  Look for a wine with the structure (read: tannins) and finish to handle the strong flavors of lamb without overpowering it.

If you’re celebrating a traditional Passover or will have a Jewish guest in attendance, you might be thinking about Kosher wines to serve.  You’ll be happy to learn that kosher wines have moved on from that sweet, syrupy grape juice stuff that was the only available choice in the past.  Kosher wines today are produced around the world and in all classic varietals.  Because of kosher wines’ bad reputation, the good ones often won’t advertise the fact on the label.  Look for the U in a circle, meaning kosher, or the U in a circle followed by the letter P, which means that the wine is kosher for Passover (its makers had to adhere to ever stricter standards).  These symbols will usually be located on the back label.

Whatever you’re serving or whomever you’re serving it to, there are great Easter wine options out there.  Happy Easter!

Wine Profile: Riesling

March 20th, 2010 1 comment

Along with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling is considered one of the world’s greatest white wines.  Riesling has a long history, even for a wine: it has been produced for at least 600 years.  Rieslings are highly versatile: they cover a widerange from dry, crisp wine perfect for a spring picnic, to  highly sweet dessert wines with complex, unctuous flavors.

Riesling grapes originated in the Rhine region of Germany.  They are highly  aromatic, imparting flowery, perfumed scents and high acidity to the wines they produce.  Riesling grapes are known for their expression of terroir, or the unique qualities of the soil they are grown in.  In addition, Riesling wines are hardly ever aged in oak barrels, meaning that their flavor and aroma is not changed by the addition of flavor compounds from the wood.  As a result, Riesling is prized for its clean, pure reflection of the soil in which its grapes are grown.

Riesling grapes need a rare environment: cool, with lots of sun and protection from the wind.  Small microclimates that fulfill these conditions often produce the best Rieslings.  Vineyards in Germany along the Mosel River and the French region of Alsace produce what are arguably the world’s best Rieslings.  Other notable areas are: Washington, Oregon, and in California, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Mendocino.  Australia, South Africa, Austria, Chile, Switzerland, Russia, Yugoslavia, and Italy also grow Riesling grapes, but their product is generally of lesser quality.

Riesling grapes are fairly hardy in that they withstand cold well, but one rainy day can ruin a whole crop.  Riesling grapes left on the vine in wet weather develop the Botrytis cinerea fungus, more commonly known as Noble Rot.  The name “Noble Rot,” is truly a contradiction in terms, for this fungus is actually welcome by viticulturists.  In the late 18th century in Johannisberg, a vineyard’s workers received permission to harvest too late.  The grapes began to rot before they were picked, but the resulting beverage was remarkably tasty.  Noble rot causes the grapes to shrivel and the juices to evaporate, resulting in a wine with a sweeter, more concentrated and dynamic flavor.  This is particularly suited to Riesling grapes, which have the acidity needed to balance out the added sweetness, and in fact, Noble Rot helps to produce many great Riesling dessert wines.

Riesling’s flavor profile is highly fruity, balancing its high acidity with flavors of apple, pear or apricot, and floral aromas of rose and violet.  Because its taste so faithfully reflects its soil of origin, Rieslings can also have natural mineral tastes like flint, steel, and gunmetal.  Aged Rieslings can develop a distinct petroleum taste, but because it develops in grapes grown in ideal conditions and is thus present in often-great wines, these petroleum notes are actually prized by wine connoisseurs.

Riesling pairs well with many food.  Try the lighter, crisper Rieslings with delicate dishes like poached fish or simple salads.  The sweeter, more full-bodied and minerally Rieslings pair exceptionally well with foods with strong spices and sauces, especially Asian foods.

Celebrate the beginning of spring by trying a Riesling tonight!
Riesling Wine on Foodista

Wine and Chocolate: The Perfect Valentine’s Day Gift

February 8th, 2010 No comments

To all you boyfriends and husbands out there: it’s that time of year again.  Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, which means that you’d better get thinking about what you’re going to give the lovely woman in your life.  Sure, there are the old standbys like a dozen roses or a nice dinner out, but the gift that will truly wow her is something a little more original and personal.  If she’s like me, she’d like nothing better than a box of good-quality chocolates and a bottle or two of wine to enjoy with them.  Choosing the chocolates and wines you think she’ll like best is fun and creative, and shows that care and thought went into your gift.  If you play your cards right, she might even let you share!

Matching wine with chocolate can be an intimidating task, especially since no two experts seem to agree on pairings.  But luckily, many of the same rules that guide us in pairing wine with food can help us decide which wines might go best with which chocolates.  Just like in food pairing, the most important consideration is balance.  You don’t want either the wine or the chocolate to overpower the palate, so pick wines and chocolates of similar intensities.

White Chocolate: The extra sweet, delicate flavors in white chocolates respond well to wines that enhance their buttery qualities, like Sherries or Muscatos.  Though experts often recommend pairing chocolates with sweet wines, I find that this matchy-matchy approach results in a cloyingly sweet tasting experience.  The combination of a sweet wine and a sweet chocolate can be overwhelming to the palate, making it difficult to pick up the more subtle flavors in both the wine and chocolate.  If you feel the same way, try a Pinot Noir or a mellower Merlot with your white chocolate–the key is to pick a wine that isn’t too tannin-heavy or acidic.

Milk Chocolate: Milk chocolates provide perhaps the widest range of possibilities for pairing.  If you prefer to pair the chocolate with a sweet wine, try a Muscat, a Riesling, or a sweeter sparkling wine.  Dessert wines and port wines, especially Ruby Ports, are a classic pairing for milk chocolates, as the richness and heaviness of a port blends well with the creaminess of milk chocolate.  And if the milk chocolate you’ve chosen happens to surround some succulent strawberries, don’t mess with something perfect–choose champagne!

Dark Chocolate: Some women (including me) feel if it isn’t dark chocolate, it isn’t really chocolate at all.  If your significant other doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth or loves strong, rich flavors, she might prefer chocolate of the dark and decadent variety.  Dark chocolate needs to be served with a wine that can match up to its strong flavors.  The higher the percentage of cacao in the chocolate, the stronger the wine needs to be.  Ports are a great choice on the sweeter side, but I find that dark chocolate pairs best with bold, spicy reds.  Try a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel for a truly mouthwatering flavor combination.

For a unique tasting experience, try a chocolatier that specializes in unique flavors.  Chocolates made with chili powder or filled with goat cheese ganache are unique and interesting, and their savory flavors can break up the sweet-on-sweet monotony.

If you want to give something a little different, pair your wine choices with a chocolate souffle, chocolate mousse, or chocolate cake, either chosen at a great bakery, or (for the especially intrepid) homemade.

For an especially romantic gift, consider setting up a private wine and chocolate pairing session, just for the two of you.  Pick a variety of wines and chocolates and taste all the variations.  Besides encouraging great conversation and a romantic mood, this method will let you and your sweetie discover your favorite flavor pairings.

See some of our suggestions for Valentine’s Day wine pairings.