Friday, July 24, 2015

Refreshing Summer Libations

Living in San Diego is almost like living in a constant state of summertime.  That means that my house is always stocked to the brim with the makings for a cadre of light aperitifs.  In July and August, low alcohol pre-dinner cocktails are even more mandatory.  Here are my faves---all liked by even the most discriminating visitor.

WHITE PORT and Tonic:

                                   Served to the Wine-Knows group on the 2011 tour.

One of the most surprising is a drink made from white Port.  White Port is dry, not sweet.  I first was served this by a well-known chef in Porto, Portugal, the epicenter of Port production.  It was 100 degrees and the aperitif was mixed with tonic water and a slice of lemon (equal parts).  I’ve been a raving fan since.   While white Port is difficult to find in the states, it’s growing popularity has made it has more available.  If kept in a frig, it will last at least a month…at our house, it wouldn’t last the week.  If you’re fortunate enough to have snagged one of the sold-out 2016 Portugal seats, you’ll have several!

LILLET and Tonic:
                                           Lillet Blonde, Lillet Rouge & Tonic.

Lillet is an aperitif made from Bordeaux grapes.  It comes in a white version (distilled from Bordeaux’s Sauv Blanc and Semillon), or a red version (distilled from the area’s Cabs and Merlot.)  On Wine-Knows' tours to Bordeaux we always take the group to the Lillet factory where one can mix a plethora of drinks.  The hands-down winner is always the following recipe:  1/3 white, 1/3 red, 1/3 tonic…with a slice or orange and/or fresh fruit in season.


                                             My very first Aperol Spritz in Venice.

This is almost like having to choose your favorite child, but currently this one floats to the top of my list.  I discovered the drink in Venice about 5 years ago…every table of Italians was filled with neon orange drinks.  I ordered one and the rest is history.  They are the bomb!  Keep in mind I hate Campari (way too bitter for me), but I love its distant cousin, Aperol, an intensely orange-flavored aperitivo with just the right whisper of bitter.  The spritz is half Aperol and half Prosecco, served with a slice of orange.   Viva Italia!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Awesome Albariño

                                        Galicia's spectacular coastline, ground zero for Albariño

If you don’t know Albariño, put it at the top of your summer’s list of white wines to try.  Everyone we serve it to always inquires about the wine and asks where it can be purchased.  It’s different.  It’s interesting.  It’s subtle.  It’s masculine.  It’s feminine. 

Albariño is the name of the wine and the grape.  Although this grape originated in France, it is now rarely grown there----Spain is the country that produces quintessential Albariño. The Galicia province, Spain’s most western area just above Portugal, is the epicenter for Albariño production.

If you’re a lover of aromatic Viognier, dry Gewurztraminer or Argentina’s Torrontes, you’ll no doubt be equally attracted to Albariño.  All of these wines offer enticing aromas of peaches and apricots.  Another compelling feature is Albariño’s high acidity which allows it to be a food-friendly choice.  Last, but  no means least especially during the heat of summer, Albariño is low in alcohol, typically only 11.5 – 12%.

Rias Baixas (ree us buy shussz) is Galicia’s premium wine district for Albariño.  Look for the Rias Biaxas D.O. label on the bottle which proves the origin of grapes from this important district.  Recommended producers worth searching out (including on the Internet) are:
  • Forjas del Salnas:  boutique winery pushing the quality envelope
  • Pazo de Senorans:  killer wines from this benchmark producer
  • Palacio de Fefiñanes:  the oldest producer of Albariño…and one of assuredly the best

If you are coming on next year’s harvest tour to Spain and Portugal, we will be visiting all of these rock-star wineries.   If not, order a bottle and discover and enjoy this varietal.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Best of Greece, Umbria, & Tuscany

I’ve just returned home from nearly two months in Europe.  I had three different groups of Wine-Knows in three different venues (Greece, Umbria and Tuscany).  All locations were equally compelling from a wine point of view.  Here’s what floated to the “best of the best” list.   (Please note that one of my criteria for listing in this Blog was that the wines were available in the U.S.)

                   (Togas on the yacht were mandatory on our last night for women...and men!)

We had some fabulous wines on the 12 person private yacht that Wine-Knows chartered, all carefully chosen from this country’s top producers.  The white that really stood out was Gerivassillou’s Viognier, 2013.  Viognier in Greece?  That’s what I thought but Decanter Magazine (kind of the UK’s version of the Wine Spectator) had given it a coveted Gold Medal, and the Viognier had scored well in numerous blind tastings.  Indeed, this wine was killer.  If you want to help out Greece’s economy, this $40-45 wine is a solid bet sure to please even the most discerning oenophile.

(Last night festivities at our Umbrian villa included a glorious outdoor dinner)

One of my favorite white wines in all of Italy is a chardonnay blend made by Antinori’s Castello della Salla.   I have had numerous vintages over the years and scheduled an appointment at the Castle (castello) with the Wine Knows group that had rented a 10,000 square foot Umbrian villa.  While I loved the chardonnay wine (called “Cervaro”), the other wine they served really pulled at the strings of my heart for the quality price ratio.  This white Bordeaux blend (Sauv Blanc and Semillon) was luscious and had great complexity for the price.  Named Conte della Vipera, this one is a steal at $30.

      (A casual last night's dinner at our swanky seaside villa to toast our week of wining & dining)

Wine Knows concentrated on the area of the Super-Tuscans, the Maremma district.  Located on Tuscany’s relatively unexplored western coastline, this is an area of renegade winemakers who are breaking all the Italian rules for winemaking and pushing the viticultural envelope by introducing international varieties to a formerly only-Sangiovese area.   Three producers wowed me in the Maremma.  Poggio Tesoro had me at hello when they served their 2012 Mediterra.  A Cab Sauv, Syrah and Merlot blend this one represents an outstanding value at $25.  Podere Sapaio also produced a best in class red called Volpolo.  Their 2012 Volpolo (Cab Sauv, Petite Verdot and Merlot) was chocked full of complexity for an unbelievable price of 25 bucks.   Upping the price point ante, Castello Bolgheri 2011 vintage was a beautifully crafted wine.  At $50-60 per bottle, this Cab Sauv & Franc plus Merlot blend was lovely.

The Wine Knows groups in Greece, Umbria and Tuscany had many gems in our glasses.  For those of you who could not make it, you should consider purchasing these wines...all of which were crowd-pleasers on the tour.  If you were on the trip, open a bottle and reminisce.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Groovy Grüner

                                           >30% of Austria's grapes are Grüner Veltliner

Don’t worry about how to pronounce Grüner Veltliner.  It’s easier than it looks.  (grewner vilt leener). Don’t worry that you have never heard of this dry white wine ---it’s Austria’s signature wine grape and rarely grown in the U.S.  Do worry, however, if you’ve not tried this wine as it’s the perfect wine for a summer’s evening.

Until the 1990’s very few wine lovers had heard of Grüner but things have changed.  Today, any serious restaurant (whether it be in San Francisco, New York or Tokyo) is not without a Grüner Veltliner on its wine list.  In blind tasting after blind tasting among oenophiles in-the-know, Grüner continues to surprise many by floating to the top of the best whites…surpassing premier white Burgundies such as Corton Charlemagne and Montrachet.  Grüner is capable of producing very fine, full bodied wines.  Moreover, some of them are quite capable of aging.

Flavors?  Think lime, lemon and grapefruit mixed with peach or nectarine.  A note of herbs can be present that is often described as white pepper.  All of this is hanging cohesively on a well-structured backbone of acidity.

One of the most important qualities for me about a wine is how it pairs with food.  Grüner Veltliner is an especially food-friendly wine---it works well with the traditional pairings for high-acid whites such as chicken and fish, but it also works beautifully with spicy cuisines such as Asian.  Some even say that it passes the litmus test to pair with artichokes and artichokes, both of which have been next to impossible in our home to work with any wine.

The best Grüners can be expensive but they have enormous aging potential.  If you want to try a good one for $30 look for Niolai Hof’s Hefeabzug 2012.  The Wine Spectator listed it in its top 100 wines of the world, and Parker scored it a 91.

Get in the Groove!