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Wine Review: Ravenswood 2007 Zinfandel, Belloni Vineyard (Russian River Valley)

August 26th, 2010 No comments

If you’ve ever searched for the perfect pairing for a porterhouse, we have the wine for you.  The Ravenswood 2007 Zinfandel just cries out to be imbibed with the buttery tenderness of a great porterhouse steak.

This wine is dark ruby in color and has a nose of black cherry, violets and baking spices.  The taste is characterized by lots of concentrated, juicy fruits including blueberry and blackberry.  The rich acidic quality this fruity taste contributes works wonderfully with the fatty unctuous taste of steak.  The finish had a hint of dark bitter chocolate, which contrasted well with the wine’s fruity qualities and made for a taste that truly embodied that word that wine experts love so much: balanced.

Rich, tannic wines such as Zinfandels tend to be very good pairings for steak.  The high levels of tannins in these wines bind to the fat molecules that are so prevalent in something like steak, acting as palate cleansers that refresh the mouth with each sip, leaving it primed for another bite of meat.   (Check out our article on The Science of Wine Aging to learn more about how this works.)  This Zin showed a particularly strong ability to stand up to the rich, meaty taste of the porterhouse, which was simply seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled to a perfect medium rare.

The vines at the Belloni Vineyard are estimated to be more than 90 years old.  The wine they produce is known for its round, fruit flavors and subtle complexity, which makes this 2007 Ravenswood Belloni the perfect candidate for aging.  The company recommends 7-10 years in the cellar to really bring out its background flavors of smoke and peppercorn.

A bottle of this great Zin, accompanied by a perfect steak was the wine lover’s idea of a perfect meal.  To finish with a 1994 Graham’s Vintage Port, now that would be living…

Wines for Grilling

July 26th, 2010 1 comment

Summer’s here and that means grilling season.  When the summer days mean it’s too stifling to cook over a hot stove, I loveto take the kitchen prep outside and cook as much as I can over the open flame.  Not only does it keep the house cool, grilling outside lets me enjoy the warm summer evenings, and offers the delicious reward of smoky, crisp-on-the-outside-juicy-on-the-inside grilled food.  There’s nothing that says summer as much as grilling.  But where do wines fit into this?  Does enjoying the tasty experience of grilled summer food mean that you have to trade your wine glass for a beer can?  Not unless you want to!

Grilled foods’ unique, strong flavors offer their own unique set of pairing challenges.  Luckily, there are many wonderful wines that are up to the test.  Here are a few of our favorites:

Zinfandel has a reputation as the quintessential grilling wine, and deservedly so.  Zinfandel‘s full-bodied character makes it the perfect accompaniment to rich grilled meats like steaks, burgers, and lamb.  It also has a unique fruity-yet-spicy flavor that matches perfectly with the rich, spicy sauces that are so often seen on barbecued food.  But be careful: you want the flavors of your wine and food to complement, not compete.  So pairing a spicy Zin with an especially spicy barbecue sauce might make the spice flavors overwhelm the dish.  If you’re cooking something especially spice-forward, try a Merlot–its fruity characteristics will let the spice shine without masking the subtler flavors of meat and smoke.

Speaking of smoke, another great grilling wine is Syrah, because it is characterized by smokey notes that go perfectly with grilled foods like sausage, brisket, and just about any red meat.  Syrahs from the Rhone region are especially known for their smokey characteristics.  Syrah also has very fruit-forward flavors and soft tannins that make it an easy-drinking wine perfect for sharing around the picnic table.

Rosé is a great choice for lighter grilled foods because its red wine notes match up to the intense charcoal flavors the grill imparts without overwhelming more delicate foods.  Try it with fish, chicken, or grilled veggies.

Chardonnay is a great wine for summer grilling because its strong oaky notes allow it to stand up to the rich tastes of grilled foods better than most whites.  Its buttery flavors make it a fantastic accompaniment to things like grilled fish with a buttery sauce.  And for a little slice of heaven, pair a Chardonnay with fresh grilled corn on the cob with plenty of butter.

Sauvignon Blanc is another great grilling wine, but for a different reason–its citrusy, herbaceous nature is a great foil to the opposingly strong, rich flavors of grilled food.  It refreshes the palate and makes those grill flavors shine through even more.  Try Sauvignon Blanc with fish grilled with lemon or anything marinated in herbs.

As always, remember that pairing wine with food is an art, not a science.  Don’t be afraid to break the rules a little, pairing a nice red with grilled chicken or experimenting with a brand-new varietal.  Play to your tastes and enjoy the summer grilling season!

Wine for St. Patrick’s Day

March 17th, 2010 No comments

Sure, the traditional beverage of St. Patrick’s day is beer.  Usually it’s a frothy pint of Guinness.  And if it’s not Guinness, it’s most likely dyed green.   And there are some who love their St. Patty’s day beer and wouldn’t consider parting with it for anything.  But others, faced with a pint glass of green beer, would prefer to opt for something else.

Why not try wine for St. Patrick’s Day?  Many wines match just as well as beer–if not better–with traditional Irish foods.  And if your friends tease you for not following tradition, just remind them that there’s nothing very traditional about green beer, either.  Here are some St. Patty’s Day food and wine pairings that will help you decide what to make or order tonight:

Corned Beef and Cabbage with Pinot Noir: Even though this dish has a recipe as a highly traditional Irish food, it’s not.  The Irish were introduced to corned beef once Irish immigrants to the U.S. used it in place of bacon.  But traditional or not, corned beef and cabbage is a long-standing–and delicious–part of St. Patrick’s Day.  The best complement to this dish is the earthy flavors and velvety texture of Pinot Noir, which will complement the salty, meaty flavors, not fight with them for dominance.  Try one from Sonoma County.

Bangers and Mash with Zinfandel: This dish, sausages and mashed potatoes, is popular all throughout England and Ireland.  If you’re eating traditional pork sausages, you’ll want something fruity to contrast.  Try a Zinfandel.

Irish Stew with Bordeaux: Irish stew is a simple, traditional dish of lamb (or mutton) boiled with the root vegetables of Ireland: carrots, onions, and, of course, potatoes.  With it, try a red Bordeaux: its complexity of flavors goes nicely with the simple, straightforward ones of the stew.

If your tastes lean towards wine no matter the occasion, try these pairings.  But don’t forget to wear green!

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.

Wines for Winter

February 2nd, 2010 No comments

Last time on the VC blog, we talked about how to pair wine and food.  That got me thinking about the kind of foods I’ve been craving and cooking this winter: hot soups, hearty braises served over polenta, and rich pear tarts.  The rich comfort foods of winter definitely call for wines that can stand up to deep flavors.  When looking for a wine to accompany your favorite winter dishes, think bold and powerful.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Often called the “King” of reds, Cabernet is the quintessential winter wine.  A typical Cab has flavors of plum, cassis, and berries (from the grapes), and can also taste of vanilla, dill, toast, caramel, and coffee (from the oak barrels).  It’s a fruit-forward wine with a lot of tannins, those phenolic compounds that give wine its richness, but can also impart bitter, astringent tastes (To limit astringency overkill, decant your wine.  Learn how here.)  The tannins that are so prevalent in Cabs love to bond to the proteins in red meat, “softening” the tannins and making them less noticeable to the drinker.  Because of this, the classic food to pair with Cabernet is beef. A highly esteemed Cabernet Sauvignon that responds well to aging is a French Bordeaux–an old bottle paired with a simple grilled steak and green salad is a true wintertime treat.

Syrah: Syrahs originate from the Rhone Valley in France, so if you want a traditional Syrah, look for wines made there, such as Chateauneuf du Pape or St. Joseph.  Some people don’t like Syrah because the flavors are so strong, but it is this quality of boldness that makes Syrah a great winter wine.  Syrah is often characterized by tastes of coffee, blueberry, rust, and cured meats.  It is strong flavors pair very well with the bold flavors of lamb, so try it with a roasted leg of lamb, or for a special treat, a rack of lamb.

Zinfandel: Zinfandels are a highly fruity, and so, very acidic wines.  There are many times of Zin, from fresh-flavored, low-alcohol types to highly ripe, jammy and sweet times.  Try the lighter dishes with heavy stews and soups: the acidic qualities work as a palate cleanser by ridding the mouth of the fats from the meat, and continually refreshing it so that the dish doesn’t start to taste bland.  The sweeter Zins pair very well with desserts and cheeses, which can be difficult to match.  The Napa Valley, Mendocino County, and Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley are all known for producing exceptional Zinfandels.

Petite  Sirah: Sometimes mistakenly spelled as “Petite Syrah,” this is perhaps the biggest and boldest of them all.  90% of Petite Sirahs are made from Durif grapes, primarily grown in California, Arizona, France, and Israel.  Durif grapes produce highly tannic wines with spicy, plummy flavors.  If aged in oak barrels, Petite Sirahs can also gain an aroma of melted chocolate.  Petite Sirahs are so dark and inky that they may appear to be staining the glass.  When pairing, think of rich beef stew served in a sauce made from its reduced cooking liquid.  Petite Sirahs also make excellent red wine reductions themselves, so try using them in your food, as well as with it.

Winter Whites: Reds are certainly easier to pair with winter dishes, and their hearty flavors and warmer serving temps make them the kind of wine most people reach for when it’s cold outside.  But certain whites can be big enough to stand up to winter too.  Any kind of dish in a cream-based sauce goes better than white than red wine, because the acidic qualities of red can cause dairy products to curdle on the tongue.  Though many types of white wine can work, Chardonnays, especially the rich ones with buttery flavors, which tend to pack more of a punch, are the obvious choice.  Rich New England Clam Chowder, for example, pairs wonderfully with a buttery Chardonnay.

These are some great winter wines, but there are many more that you can discover with a little imagination, perhaps assisted by the resident expert at your neighborhood wine shop.  The most important consideration is that the wine you chose can hold its own against the flavors of your winter dinner.  So pick out a few to try, get that stew simmering, and enjoy winter the right way!

Something to Add to Your Wine Cellar

July 31st, 2009 2 comments

Vintage Cellars is not just about custom built wine cellars and wine storage equipment, it’s about wine.  Though I have not yet made it to every wine region of the world (a lofty goal, I know), I like to have my palate travel to each region 1 bottle at a time.

Currently, I’m spending the early summer months enjoying Zinfandels of Northern California.  This past weekend, I opened a gem.  The 2004 Yoakim Bridge Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel was everything I wanted it to be.  A rare find unless someone has pointed it out, Yoakim Bridge is not distributed nationally.  It’s a quaint family-owned vineyard and winery in the heart of the Dry Creek Valley.  This vintage has been in my wine cabinet for the past 3 years and I thought it was about time to give it a try.  I was not disappointed in this big, rich Zin with layers upon layers of black berry fruit and spice.

If you can find a bottle, I highly recommend you buy 3: 1 to enjoy now and 2 for the cellar.  I still have 3 bottles of this excellent Zinfandel left and on the perfect occasion, maybe with Steak Diane or some sirloin tips in a mushroom reduction sauce, I will enjoy again.

View more of our wine tasting reviews here.

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