Spirit of Independence – Virginia Wine

I love Independence Day – Backyard cookouts, flag waving parades, the fireworks and, of course, the celebration of our history at the heart of it.  And it also reminds me that wine is as American as apple pie and baseball. Why? Because none other than Thomas Jefferson himself was infatuated with wine. Jefferson developed his love for wine during the many years he spent in France serving the cause of our new nation and was convinced that his native Virginia, and his own estate at Monticello, was perfect for grape growing and winemaking.  03_thomas_jeffersonUnfortunately, while he continued to be a major supporter and promoter of wine, he was never able to bring “fruit” to his labors to be a grape grower.  But he did stock the first wine cellar in the virtually brand new White House when he became our 3rd President in 1801.

Now we approach another Independence Day and Mr. Jefferson would be delighted by the vibrancy of the US wine industry, and particularly thrilled that his home state of Virginia, including his estate grounds at Monticello, are now producing wines of which he would be proud. Winemakers in Virginia have mastered the respected grape varieties of the world (with Viognier gaining a nice foothold) as well as some American varieties that aren’t as familiar to us, like Norton and Chambourcin.

Today there is wine being made throughout the state.  And this is wine country that is not only incredibly beautiful, but accessible and intimate. It’s intimate because you can get up close and personal at the wineries – they aren’t huge production businesses overrun with tour buses.  It’s accessible because it makes for a delightful side trip from the visit to DC every American should make – as well as easy driving into the history of our country from Monticello to Richmond and Jamestown to Williamsburg, and from the awesome beauty of the Blue Ridge to the shores of Chesapeake Bay.

So this Independence Day let’s take a Sip in honor of America’s Third President, Thomas Jefferson, and discover the heritage of Virginia wine country. After all, how can you not raise a glass to the man who said, “Good wine is a necessity of life for me.”

Here are some Virginia wines for you from online sources – until you get the urge to pay a visit in person! And if you are in the DC area be sure to check the wine lists for local favorites. On my last visit I had some awesome crab cakes with a Virginia Viognier!

Every Day Sip
Williamsburg James River White $8
Horton Norton $12
Barboursville Cabernet $14
Horton Tower Series Viognier $18
Monticello Claret $20
Monticello Chardonnay Reserve $20
Pearmund Ameritage Red $22
Fabbioli Cabernet Franc $24

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

Sparkling Shiraz

It’s February and that means planning something for my Valentine, and this year we’ll celebrate with Sparkling Shiraz from Australia.  That was my resolution a month ago and I’m sticking with it.

Sparkling Shiraz may not be the most elegant and expensive fizzy – but it is certainly fun and interesting to drink.  sparkling-shirazAnd I like to keep things fun and interesting with the wines I pick for different occasions. Valentine’s Day seems like the perfect time to bring out a new sip experience, especially one that is deeply red, almost purple, from the wonderful foaming bubbles that rise in the glass to the rich dark berry flavors that will delight you as you toast the one who is most special to you.

Most folks aren’t familiar with this kind of wine – unless you’re an Aussie that is!  But it’s a style that has become much more respected and refined, especially as Shiraz from Down Under has increased in popularity.  This is not some syrupy, cloyingly sweet fizzy like “cold duck” or some of those 70’s wines many of us may have slurped in our younger days. Sparkling Shiraz is seriously good to drink.  Here’s why: the ones we now have available to us are made in the traditional method, which means that they are made the same way as fine Champagne and other world class sparkling wines. If you want to read more about that process just click on this earlier post. 

Let’s get to the taste – and the taste begins with the sight and smell of this wine when you pour it in a glass.  So start with what we like about Shiraz and then think of this as a Shiraz that has been sprinkled with stardust.  It’s densely purple color is classy and rich, to me it’s like an amethyst hanging on a pendant or set in a ring (not that I am suggesting what you give your Valentine!).  Shiraz gives us inky dark wines so expect it to be almost opaque.  Yet the magic is in those lively bubbles rising in the glass which add the special tingle of sparkling wine.  I prefer to drink it from a tall Champagne flute especially to enjoy those bubbles.  And inside that glass you’ll get the blackberry and peppery flavor of Shiraz.  What a nice combination!

You can enjoy this wine all by itself as an aperitif but it really is a good food wine too:

  • Sip it with cheese like aged gouda or manchego.
  • It’s wine for tapas and tasty morsels like bacon wrapped dates, grilled octopus or stuffed mushrooms.
  • And for entrees you can’t miss with most grilled red meats right off of the barbie Mate!

Serve Sparkling Shiraz well chilled like Champagne, but not ice cold. If it’s too cold you’ll miss out on some of those dark berry flavors.

I don’t think I can wait until Valentine’s Day so I’m off to pick up some Sparkling Shiraz right now!

Let’s Sip!

EveryDay Sips
Paringa Sparkling Shiraz $16

The Chook Sparkling Shiraz $18

Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz, The Red Brute $20

Guest Sips
Molly Dooker Miss Molly Sparkling Shiraz $25

Black Bubbles by Shingleback $28

Perfect New Year Resolution

This is not about working out.  And it’s not about doing the “cleanse” that is so popular or paying for a membership at the Bikram yoga studio.  My Perfect New Year Resolution is this: I resolve to experience a new wine every month.  I am up for the challenge (and the rules are pretty loose) – this can mean a varietal I’m not really familiar with, or a wine from a region from which I don’t normally buy the wines, or a particular style or approach to winemaking that is new to me, or a wine that is just different, or maybe something from off the beaten track.  I think this is a heck of a way to end up with a mixed case of new wine experiences.

This is one resolution that I know I can keep – how about you?

Over the years I’ve tried to be open to finding as many different wine experiences as I can.  And one of the things that enamors me most about wine is its almost infinite variety.  So here are my resolution sips and each month I’ll share them with you:

  • January – starting the year off with a journey south and an exploration of Carmenere from Chile
  • February – means something for my Valentine and this year we’ll celebrate with Sparkling Shiraz from Australia
  • March – as we look forward to spring in the northern hemisphere they are picking grapes in New Zealand so I think we’ll try some of the Cabernet and Merlot from the North Island
  • April – makes me think of the song April in Paris so let’s head to France. Hmmm, how about some of the lovely whites of Alsace?
  • May – we drink a lot of Italian wine at our place but there’s still a lot of Italy to sip into.  So let’s hop over to the island of Sardinia and see what we find
  • June – let’s stay in the Mediterranean and sail on to Greece.  They’ve only been making wine there since Homer was a boy!
  • July – time for the 4th of July and some wine from Jefferson’s home state, Virginia
  • August – did you know that Spain is the 3rd largest wine producing country in the world with more wine than the US and Australia combined? That’s a lot of wine to experience so we’d better get on it. Hint: following the footsteps of Don Quixote
  • September – crush time begins in California and what better time to step off the beaten path and take in some wine from places outside of Napa and Sonoma
  • October – the Danube flows through and separates the cities of Buda and Pest – but not the amazing wines of Hungary
  • November – when I visit Mexico I drink local.  Not tequila, but tasty wines from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja.
  • December – down at the tip of South Africa there’s a wine with a unique heritage to uncover

Stay tuned and keep sipping!


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.

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,