Wines for Summer

Some things bear repeating – “Don’t forget to brush your teeth!” “Look both ways!” “Buckle your seatbelt!”  We’re never too old, or too young, to be reminded. Okay, it may be a stretch, but I want to remind you “Don’t wait to enjoy the wines of summer!”  And I promise this isn’t a lecture, just a gentle nudge to motivate your Sips.

For me the wines of summer occupy a special place in the Sips universe – the whites are fresh and zippy; the reds are punchy and ready for cookouts and al fresco dining; and then there is rose’.  Vive la Rose’ I say!  Just yesterday we sat on the deck with a couple of friends sharing a gorgeous salad with all kinds of mixed greens and goodies like grilled chicken breast and sipped on chilled rose’ from the Cotes du Provence, savoring the warm sunshine and gentle breeze.  How good is that!

So since some things bear repeating I want to get a few earlier posts back on your radar so that you can make the most of summer sipping.

Zippy Summer Whites will give you a good overview of some lighter and refreshing wines from around the world that are picture perfect for summertime.

Then we paid particular attention when It’s It’s Time for Sauvignon Blanc – the sassy Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand to Sancerre to California USA.

And when we wrote about Keeping Your (Wine) Cool we didn’t ignore the lighter styled reds either – wines like Barbera, Chianti and young Rioja that are ideal for the the way we eat during the summer.

But we also went right to the Weber when we Q’d the Zin! and got the fire under some dry-rubbed, slow cooked, sweet and smokey baby back ribs and the jammy yet peppery flavors of Zinfandel.

And before we leave the backyard, don’t forget Burgers and Bordeaux.

My favorite summer wine thing, however, is to be the Preacher in the House and convert you to Rose’.  I love Rose’. Did you get that? I said I LOVE ROSE’!  To quote me “Rose’ is everything that is crisp, lively, summery and tantalizing about wine.”

The beauty and magic of wine is that is brings us a never-ending variety of tasty experiences that can match the meal, the season or the mood.  Frankly, that is the reason I like to write about wine and spread the word about what it can add to our life experiences… even if it means repeating things some times!

If you would like to wander though some of the wines of summer, or any other time of year, then just be a regular visitor to our Sips pages for Every Day, Guest and Splurge choices.

Every Day Sips – Wines Under $25

Guest Sips – Wines to Give or Get from $25

Splurge Sips – Wines Over $50

Twelve Wines for Holiday Times

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring… except me – the wine cellar mouse! Yes it’s that time of year and I thought I’d share some thoughts for a Christmas case of wine with some rhyme. So here is my own version of the twelve days of Christmas!

Try one from the Left Bank meant to rest and to age (1)
and one from the West with notes of berry and sage (2).

Then pick a wine from new lands (3)
and one from the boot of old (4);
While making another choice from the hands of Oz (5)
and a bright green bottle from out of the cold (6).

Now you need some sparkle that glints, shines and dances in the light (7)
and a glass filled with ruby red to savor late into the night (8).

No holiday is complete unless there is fame (9) and a jaunty sipper to enjoy with the game (10).
And we’ll end with a bottle of artful delight (11) and one to celebrate the gift of this night (12).

This is a case for all to enjoy any day of the year
but especially now at this time of friends and good cheer!

Merry Christmas to all and Happy Hanukkah too – these are my sips of best wishes for you!
And if you’re still following here are some wines to fill your wishes too.

1 – 2010 Chateau d’Issan Margaux $80 “A complete, medium to full-bodied, exquisite Margaux from this medieval, moat-encircled, compellingly beautiful estate in the southern Medoc, D’Issan’s 2010 is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot – a dense, purple-colored wine with beautiful aromatics of spring flowers, blueberries and black raspberries as well as hints of cassis, tar and charcoal. The wine is gorgeously pure, well-balanced, and soft enough to be approached in 4-5 years or cellared for 25-30.” -Robert Parker Reviewed by: The Wine Advocate – 95 pts

2 – 2012 Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Canoe Ridge $28 “This wine is aromatically reserved with notes of milk chocolate, char, berry, barrel spices and high-toned herbs. It’s silky and polished in feel, with richness and elegance to the coffee flavors.” – Sean Sullivan, 11/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 90 pts

3 – 2012 Norton Malbec Reserva $16 “Offers a fruity aroma, with red and dark fruit flavors that are complex and woven together with fine tannins. Minerally midpalate, presenting some inviting peppery notes. Finishes with a flush of spice and brambly details. Drink now through 2018.” – Kim Marcus, Dec 31, 2014 Reviewed by: Wine Spectator – 90 pts

4 – 2012 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva il Grigio $22 “A cool, sleek style of Il Grigio with mint, lavender and black-cherry aromas and flavors. Sweet tobacco as well. Full body with firm, fine tannins and a long, fresh finish. A wine with lovely texture and tension. Drink now.” – October 29th, 2015 Reviewed by: James Suckling – 92 pts

5 – 2014 Two Hands Shiraz Angel’s Share $30 “While there are no half measures with the weight or shape of this wine, it has a touch of elegance running alongside its blackberry, blood plum and dark chocolate fruit; the tannins wait until the last moment to join forces with the oak to speak clearly of the long future ahead. Great value.” -James Halliday – 94 pts

6 – 2012 J J Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett $28 “Prum wines are among the most exciting and delicious Rieslings of the middle Mosel. Slow-to-develop and long-lived, these wines are full of pure stone fruits with a slate-mineral driven finish.”

7 – 2012 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs $35 “The 2012 Blanc de Noirs expresses generous aromas of yellow peach, fresh orange zest, cantaloupe, and citrus blossom, which gradually layers with fragrances of warm apple dumpling and creme anglaise. Lush flavors coat the palate with tangerine, Santa Rosa plum, candied ginger and a hint of French flan. This sparkling wine delivers a clean, lingering finish with crisp mouthwatering.”

8 – 2009 Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port $24 “This is a smooth and rich wine, with generous fruit alongside spice and ripe, black plum fruit accents. Ready to drink, it shows surprising balance between a perfumed character and an unctuous palate.” – Roger Voss, 8/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 90 pts

9 – 2012 Opus One $235 “Glorious purity of fruit here with black currants, blueberries, dark chocolate, fresh herbs and forest floor. Hints of mint too, plus hazelnut and chocolate. Full body with seamless tannins and balance. Tight and compacted tannins with beautiful fruit and great length. Goes on for minutes. One of the best Opus’ in years. Hard not to drink now but better in 2018. October 2015 release. This is 79% cabernet sauvignon, 7% cabernet franc, 6% merlot, 6% petit verdot and 2% malbec.” – July 28th, 2015  Reviewed by: James Suckling – 97 pts

10 – 2013 Klinker Brick Zinfandel Old Vine $16 “2013 Old Vine Zinfandel is a blend of 16 different vineyard blocks of old vine zinfandel vineyards with an average age of 85 years. With berries and spice on the nose, dark, sweet fruit fills the palate with just a hint of black pepper. This wine has a long, lingering finish.”

11 – 2012 Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon $50 “With 20% Malbec, this wine is layered in refined complexity, swaying from juicy blueberry to herbaceous cherry and currant. Restrained in oak, with the slightest notion of vanilla on the palate, it finishes in mouthwatering dark chocolate, the tannins firm and structured.” – Virginie Boone, 9/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 93 pts

12 – 2014 St. Rose Pinot Noir Nunes Vineyard 777 $48 “Perfumed aromatics of youthful cherry and dusty tannins mingle with traces of lavender and white  floral notes. A bright entry offers a blend of red fruit— raspberry, cranberry, dark cherry and rhubarb—that is integrated with softening tannins and hints of oak. A ripe blackberry and vanilla essence appears near the  finish, adding another dimension as the  flavors linger on the palate.

Take a Look at the New “My Sips”

Since I started this blog last summer I’ve been adding to the “My Sips” pages regularly.  My Sips are just that, wines I’ve had that I want to share with you.  I chose them based on the particular post, whether it’s about a wine region, a grape type or some good wine geek information!  And, after all, it’s lots more fun to drink wine than it is to read about it, right?

The list has grown pretty quickly – and to make it a bit more user friendly I’ve reorganized the pages so that it’s easier to find what you may want to try.  There are a couple of different ways to get to them and once you’re there I hope you’ll find the organization by main wine variety helpful.  Each category is on the main navigation as well as under the My Sips tab.

Just to refresh – there are three categories of My Sips:

  • Everyday Sips.  These are wines that sell for less than $25.  I know we each have our “everyday” price point so you’ll find a mix of wines at different prices, with most under $15.  Here’s the link: Everyday Sips
  • Guest Sips.  These are wines to give or get. Going to a dinner at friends?  Check the list.  Need a bottle for a BYO? Check the list.  These are nice wines that you can share whatever the occasion.  You’ll find them priced from $25 and up – generally to about $50. Here’s the link: Guest Sips
  • Splurge Sips.  Special wines for special times, or just when you want to treat yourself or friends.  Full confession – I don’t drink these often either!  But you’ll find wines I have had and that I think are worth the “splurge” when you feel like it.  These wines are $50 plus. Here’s the link: Splurge Sips

I don’t rate wines and these are not “reviews.”  But I know I appreciate it when someone can point me to a new wine or even get me back to an old favorite.  And I am always happy to hear what you like too – so feel free to share.

I hope you enjoy the new My Sips!

Bring on the Bubbly

Let the countdowns begin. Yes, it’s the time of year when our attention usually turns to the sound of a popping cork and the froth of bubbles rising in a champagne flute. What is it about Champagne or other sparkling wines that add the dash of specialness to our celebrations whether it’s a marriage, a birth, a New Year, a romance, toastable occasions or, my favorite, just any ol’ time you feel in the mood? A cynic might say “marketing” (not that there’s anything wrong with that) – but I think it’s simply because this kind of wine adds sparkle to life. The monk Dom Perignon is credited with inventing Champagne and supposedly declared, “I am drinking the stars!” I get it. That’s how if feel too when the bubbles reflect the light and tickle my taste buds.

Sparkling wines come in a lot of styles and from all over the world. But let’s dispense with one confusion – Champagne now only comes from the Champagne region of France. The French have adamantly protected the use of the name so effectively that all else from the rest of France and the rest of the world is “sparkling wine.” So when you see a Cava from Spain, a Franciacorta from Italy, a Cremant from France, or any of the better bubbly from the US they’re not “Champagne” – but they can be and are wonderful, festive, fun and tasty wines typically made the same way.

How do the bubbles get in the bottle? There are a handful of methods used to make sparkling wines, but since this is a blog and not a book we’ll hit a couple of highlights. The bubbles come from CO2 (carbon dioxide) that is captured in the wine under pressure. When you pop the cork that gas is released and the cork can fly out like a missile and the CO2 bubbles emerge to delight us. This CO2 got there through a second fermentation of the wine in the bottle caused by adding some sugar to already fermented still wine, then sealing up the the bottle. As the additional fermentation occurs the CO2 has nowhere to go so the pressure inside builds.  That’s why Champagne and sparkling bottles are thicker and have an indentation, called a punt, in the bottom, and why the corks have a metal wire around them – can’t have that burst of gas unintentionally! Doing this in the bottle is called the “traditional method” or “Methode Traditionelle.” It can also be done in a tank that is kept sealed during that second fermentation then bottled, which is the way most Prosecco, German Sekt and some of the more mass produced sparklers are made. Another key part to the traditional method is some amount of time aging on the lees. GEEK ALERT: Lees are the sediment primarily of dead yeast cells along with other bits from the grapes. This sur lie aging adds flavor and character to the wine that often is tasted as toasty, wheaty or creamy when you sip it.

How sweet it is! Or rather, How sweet is it may be something to know when you reach for a bottle of bubbles. The label can help you fit your taste. From sweetest to driest here’s what to look for:

  • Doux: Really, I mean really, sweet. Like a dessert wine.
  • Demi-sec: Sweet and yummy this makes a nice companion to desserts
  • Sec: Same as above but just a bit less sweet.
  • Extra Dry: Tends to be a crowd pleaser since it’s mostly dry tasting (the term is off dry) and less acidic or tart tasting due to the bit of residual sugar as well as a nice match to spicy foods like a California roll with wasabi.
  • Brut: Dry and crispy often with tastes of green apple, citrus and toast. Wonderful acidity delights the taste buds and make it a terrific aperitif and food wine – lobster, smoked salmon, eggs Benedict, food with cream sauces and lots more. My favorite with sashimi.
  • Extra Brut: Tangy and tart but also a delicate tasting experience.
  • Brut Sauvage: Zero sugar. Bone dry and even austere. Not a lot on the shelves.

All this writing is making me thirsty – so let’s get to it and Sip! And while we’re at it – here’s wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year! Let’s pop the corks!

Everyday Sip:
2013 LLopart Leopardi Rose Brut Reserva Cava $20, Spain
Mionetto Prosecco Brut, $12, Italy
Gloria Ferrar Sonoma Brut $20, Sonoma
Freixenet Cordon Negro Extra Dry Cava $10, Spain
Roederer Estate Brut $20, Anderson Valley
Guest Sip:
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut $43, Champagne
Tattinger Cuvee Prestige Brut $40, Champagne
2012 Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc $33, Napa
2010 Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut $33, Sonoma
Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve $50. Champagne
Louis Roederer Carte Blanche Extra Dry $45, Champagne

Splurge Sip:
Laurent Perrier Brut Rose $75, Champagne
Ruinart Blanc de Blanc $75, Champagne
Champagne Krug Grande Cuvee Brut $150, Champagne
2006 Dom Perignon $150, Champagne
2006 lotus Rogederer Cristal $200

Thanksgiving Dinner Wines

I love the excess of Thanksgiving!  It’s that one time of year when there’s no guilt to overeating – Even though I pay for it later, feeling like a stuffed turkey myself.  And I love the gathering of friends and family around the table, sharing the food, the stories and… The wine.  Putting the wine together with the meal is part of the fun for me and here’s how I approach it.

Let’s start with some bubbly.  It just seems right to kick off the holiday season with bubbles. Not only is some nice Champagne or sparkling wine festive, there’s the versatility it has with appetizers. We keep it pretty simple – smoked salmon, cheeses and olives since there’s such a big meal ahead. But even if you get fancy there’s a bubbly for you. My wine choice this year is Philipponnat Brut Royal Reserve $45 from France. It’s a Champagne made in the traditional method and, in addition to wonderful effervescence, the taste is a bit fuller in your mouth and it has a creamy texture when you sip it.

For the main event the wine choice really depends on how you put the meal together, especially how you make stuffing and which side dishes are a part of your family tradition. So here are some thoughts, first for whites and then red, with a couple of twists thrown in.

I think Viognier is overlooked as a terrific Thanksgiving wine. I love the richly viscous feel of it and how it complements the juicy roasted turkey. Its honeysuckle and peachy taste seems to add another layer of enjoyment to each bite, especially with a seasoned herb bread stuffing. My pick is 2013 Miner Simpson Vineyard Viognier $20.

Then there’s Chardonnay. While my own taste doesn’t run to the fuller bodied, more oaky style, I make an exception for Thanksgiving. I think the fuller, buttery profile is a nice match to the richness of the turkey. Geek Alert: That buttery quality is the result of a secondary malolactic fermentation that turns the sharper malic acid in the wine into smoother lactic acid. Hence, the buttery notes.  I think Chard is particularly good with a traditional oyster stuffing. My pick this year is 2012 Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay $26 from Santa Barbara.

Pinot Noir is one of my favorite Thanksgiving wine choices because it’s so darn flexible with food. And since there are so many flavors spread out on the table, the more versatility the better. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s often a cranberry-like flavor to Pinot. How good is that at Thanksgiving! And if you use some cinnamon in the yams or squash then bring out the Pinot. This year I’m going with an Oregon Pinot. The Pinot from the Willamette Valley tend to have a really nice balance of silky texture, lovely dark berry fruit taste with notes of clove and nice acidity. I think they’re classy wines. We’ll be having 2012 Penner Ash Willamette Valley Pinot Noir $40.

Then there’s jammy, spicy California Zinfandel. The big forward fruit taste of Zin along with the characteristic dash of white pepper is as all American as the day we’re celebrating.  We make a sausage and sage stuffing that is amazing. It’s full of flavor and along with the roasted, or if you prefer, deep fried turkey as the main course, the black cherry or boysenberry of a Dry Creek Zin is awesome. My wine pick is a 2010 Laura Michael Dry Creek Valley Old Vine, Mayo Family Vineyard $35 I picked up at the winery.

Finally a couple of twists. There’s always a place for Rose’ and maybe a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau. I think these wine styles are really good when you have folks around the table that usually don’t drink wine. It makes it easy on them. Rose’ is also a nice starter wine if you don’t want to do the Champagne to start but it can make a dinner appearance too. My Rose’ choice this year is from Tavel, 2014 Chateau de Trinquevedel $15. When I sip it the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” seems to jump into my head!


Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine of the new vintage in the Beaujolais region of France, released on the third Thursday of November each year. It’s not expensive and it’s ready to drink.  Bojo Nouveau 15This is a simple red wine that’s fruity and grapey. It’s really the only wine I describe as grapey as far as I recall! I often find the taste like, believe it or not, bubble gum. It’s also lighter in alcohol. I usually pick up a bottle just for the heck of it and think it can be pretty good with that left over turkey sandwich on Friday for lunch. Serve it lightly chilled.

Whatever you cook, with whichever wine you like to drink – enjoy this day as one to pause and give thanks. The best food and wine pairing there is doesn’t come from a recipe or a bottle – it’s the gratitude for those with whom we share our time and place and for the goodness we find around us.

Happy Thanksgiving,


Does the Shape of Your Wine Glass Matter?

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what type of wine glasses people should buy. So I thought I’d ask and answer the most basic one – Does the shape of your wine glass matter?  My short answer is YES.  But let me explain a bit further.  That YES is based on having a sensory experience with the wine, an experience that stimulates your smell, taste and enjoyment of this amazing liquid.  And that’s why I think the shape of the glass matters.

The tulip or bowl shaped wine glass is well designed to deliver on smell and taste, and on sight as well as long as you don’t use colored glassware.  After all the three basic actions to take in order to taste and appreciate wine are to See It, Smell It and Sip It.  That’s my routine when I first pour it in the glass or have it served to me.

See It: Take a good look at the wine and notice it’s color.  Color can be an initial telltale about the wine.  Is it cloudy or clear?  What shade of red is it (deep dark purple or brick red? see through light garnet or ruby?) – or what variation of white (more golden or yellow? pale or amber, etc).  The color can indicate the varietal, the age or the style so you want to be able to See It and that tulip glass with a nice bowl lets you move it around for a good look without spilling it.

Smell It:  Take a good whiff!  And as you move it around (this is the swirl of wine tasting) you can observe the “legs” or “tears” on the side of the glass.  This is an indicator of the wine’s body and alcohol.  Slower, more viscous legs indicate more heft and likely higher alcohol. The alcohols begin to evaporate and leave the legs – and carry the aromas up to our noses as we then Smell It.  Our smell drives our taste.  We are all unique and I won’t tell you what you should smell or taste with any wine.  There is no right or wrong answer.  This is your own sensory experience, but having a glass that let’s you stick your nose into it is where the tasting begins.  Then Sip It.

Sip It:  The payoff.  Here I think the glass matters in the mouth of the beholder.  I like the feel of sipping from a nice, thin wineglass as opposed to something heavy and thick.  The Riedel folks maintain that the crystal and the glass shape for each type of grape actually enhances the taste. I had a lengthy breakfast discussion with Georg Riedel himself about this and he can be pretty convincing, but I’ll leave that for you to decide.  Here’s a link to their glass guide: Riedel Glass Guide.  I personally like having a a well shaped tulip bowl on a stem to hold an to.  The stem let’s me hold it and swirl it easily while at the same time keeping the heat from my hand from warming the wine.

So in my view the glass does matter, but don’t make yourself crazy about what you have to buy or what the “proper” glass is for a particular wine.  Some of my favorite sips have come in wine_glass_glass_transparent little trattorias when wandering through Italy where the wine is served in small water glasses – and that makes them the ideal wine glass!

Preacher in the House

Today I’m going to preach. I’m going to sermonize, thump the table, bang the drum and shout Alleluia!  And I’m calling for the choir of believers to join me.  I am a Rose’ evangelist!

Rose’ is everything that is crisp, lively, summery and tantalizing about wine.  It’s typically dry, not sweet, so don’t confuse it with that pink stuff called white zinfandel or other so-called blush wines.  Rose’ is an artful and historic wine style.  The epicenter for Rose’ is the south of France but it’s made all over France and all over the world.  In Spain its known as Rosado; in Germany it’s Weissherbst; in Italy either Rosato or Chiaretto if you’re hanging out near Venice. In the US and places like Australia and South Africa we just stick with Rose’.  In addition to still wines there are also yummy sparkling wines and champagne made in the Rose’ style too.

Grape juice from red grapes isn’t red, it’s basically a clear liquid.  All the color for red wines comes from leaving this juice in contact with the red grape skins after they’re crushed and during the fermentation into wine.  (This is a process called maceration for those who like the geeky parts of wine).  There are really three methods used to make this kind of wine with the most common being one where the grapes are crushed and left to hang out in the juice for a few hours or a few days.  Actually some French producers use the term une nuit, or one night.  But regardless of how long they sit it’s up to the winemaker to decide when the juice is pink enough and then it’s pumped off the skins and tanked to ferment either bone dry or with just a hint of residual sugar.

The other two methods may even be called out on the label.  Saignée is a process where the red grapes are crushed and left to macerate for a while then some of the juice is pumped off and goes into the tank to eventually become Rose’ while the rest is left to ferment into red wine.  Guess that’s getting the most out of the grape, right?

And finally there’s direct pressing of the whole bunch or cluster of the grapes which almost immediately adds the color to the juice.  These are typically the lightest colored Rose’ and the label will often have the words vin gris on it.  But no matter which method is used, the artistry is the final wine and Rose’ can be a wonderful part of your wine experiences.

Rose’ can be made from any purple skinned grape. The color and flavors of Rose’ vary a lot.  Those from the south of France, like Provence, Bandol and Tavel, tend to be paler, salmon pink with more delicate fruit flavors of raspberry or ripe peach. In Spain, Italy, South Africa and the US they’re often darker, like a shimmering ruby you can see through and are “redder” tasting too – more like ripe strawberries or cherries.  But what they all have in common is that they are plain fun to drink.  These are “let’s have lunch on the deck” wines ideal for lighter foods and seafoods or crunchy summer salads – or just to sip entirely on their own.

This evangelizing thing must work because there are more and more on the shelves every year.  And now Rose’ is getting star power with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie owning their own label, Miraval (no kidding).  So if I’m preaching to the choir, Great!  And if you’re not in the choir yet open some Rose’ and sing along!  Let’s keep spreading the word and get ready to Pop the Cork on Rose’ today.

Everyday Sip:  Alexander Valley Vineyards 2014 Rose of Sangiovese $12
Coho salmon red with crispy fresh strawberry flavor.  Screw off the top and enjoy.

Guest Sip: Chateau Miraval 2014 Rose Cotes du Provence $23.
Very pretty wine.  Vibrant pink with strawberry and white peach tastes. Rounded bottle adds to the table setting and says that this is a bit more special wine.

Splurge Sip: 2014 Domains Ott Chateau Romassan Bandol Clair de Noir $48
Elegant – not a word usually associated with Rose’ but true none the less. Beautifully crafted. From the coastal area in Bandol.  Pale pink, with an almost light orange cast. Delicate flavors of strawberry with little squeeze of grapefruit. Crispy dry.