Wine Memories – Sipping Special Places

Let’s do some traveling together.  We just returned from a vacation overseas and we captured the memories in pictures and videos as well as locking special moments into the memory bank. Isn’t savoring new experiences and building the memories why we travel? We have been blessed with many opportunities to fill the memory bank with special times involving wine so I thought it would be fun to highlight some of them, especially since they also offer insight into wine with food and wine with different places. In a way this is wine pairing at the source! Cue the traveling music please…

  • New Zealand may be known for lamb but did you know about the green lipped mussels? These are large, tender and flavorful mussels you can enjoy either hot or chilled. I like ‘em chilled and there’s nothing better than sitting around the table like we did in Blenheim – drinking some Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc and sharing a heap of green lipped mussels. The tart and herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc is an ideal match to the soft texture and slight taste of the sea. In the memory bank.
  • More seafood? The most enjoyable bottle of Pinot Grigio I can remember was sipped with a bucket of steamed “pisser” clams on a dock in Nantucket. The small clams, steamed in white wine, served in a bucket under the summer sun with the swish of the Atlantic waves under the dock, screamed for chilled, somewhat fruity yet bone dry Pinot Grigio. With a crusty loaf to dunk in the juice it was the perfect summer lunch and Nantucket memory.
  • Barcelona is an amazing city filled with the fantastical art of Gaudi and museums devoted to Picasso and Miro, but there is also art at the La Boqueria market where the variety of foods and tastes is almost overwhelming. IMG_4776So pull up a stool, order a bottle of wine from the Priorate and start noshing. The wine of Priorate is primarily Grenache and there is nothing like ordering up an array of tapas amid the bustle of the market, especially with a bowl of squid and beans as part of the choice, and sharing the bottle with good friends. It is a highlight memory of what Barcelona is all about… art, food and life.
  • Then there is my favorite bottle of Chianti, which we sipped with grilled-to- perfection sliced Chianina beef in a little trattoria called La Grotta della Rana (the courtyard is pictured above) in the small village of San Sano in Tuscany. The San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva is not the most famous or priciest of the area, but it was perfect – the vineyard is just a few kilometers away in the rolling countryside near Giaole. It’s pairing food and wine from the place – the easiest pairing rule you can remember for sure! And doesn’t the wine always seem to taste better when you’re in the special place of its origin? Sure does for me.
  • We’ll always have Paris – and the memory of dining at Alain Ducasse. The tasting menu was outrageously enjoyable as were our dinner companions, Parisian friends who know their way around a wine list!  This was one of the best splurges ever, complete with a bottle of the famed Chateau Haut Brion. Haut Brion is one of the 1st Growth Bordeaux estates and the wines are exceptional (both in taste and price!). Typically a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot the wine is an amazing experience, with layers of tastes that punctuate it as a memorable sipping experience. This night was the epitome of French fine dining. I saved the bottle.

I could go on and on – but will spare you! The amazing thing about wine is that its experience can last well beyond the empty glass or bottle.  And sometimes those most amazing experiences are right at home too. For Cris’ last birthday we grilled a steak, sat on the deck and opened a bottle of 1994 Silver Oak Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.  We not only celebrated her birthday but were reminded of trips to Napa and Sonoma and all of the magical moments that wine has brought to life for us.

And that’s what Sips, and wine memories, are all about.

New Zealand’s Big Reds

We’re back!  It was a terrific visit to New Zealand. What a beautiful and diverse country – from the verdant hillsides covered in vines to the rugged natural beauty of the South Island, from the bustle of wharf-side Aukland to the laid back charm of Queenstown this is a nation of experiences.  And that certainly includes the full range of wine experiences.

In January I wrote some resolutions so let’s make good on another one: “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.” And let’s add Syrah to that too. Other red varietals as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are grown on the North Island but we’ll stick to the three biggies.

When you think red from New Zealand, think Hawke’s Bay first, then Aukland. These are warm weather places and the regions that produce the most Cab, Merlot, Syrah and Bordeaux varieties and from which we have the best chance of finding some on our shelves.  Hawke’s Bay is also an area that has a subregion with a unique soil type called “Gimblett Gravel.” IMG_2043I had several of these on the trip and I think it brings something different to the taste of the wines – there is a flinty dry mineralty which adds to the character. It’s similar to the Napa Valley Cabs from Rutherford with the well known “Rutherford Dust” of the gravelly soil there.

For the most part the wines I had were big and boldly flavored; ripe, warm weather offerings made to drink today. And, of course, capped with a screw top. Some of the Syrah were like a smack in the face they were so powerful and peppery – more like the inky black Petit Syrah grape. I admit, it took a bit getting used to and to me they definitely needed food at the same time. The best matches I had with the Syrah were a braised short rib one night and a coffee rubbed steak another. Big flavors to match up with big flavors. Not wine for the faint-hearted!

My favorite sips were the Cab/Merlot and Bordeaux style blends. These were good food wines to have with the New Zealand lamb, venison and beef – versatile and drinkable. The Hawke’s Bay wines are clearly “New World” with bursting forward fruitiness and heady flavors of currant, blueberry and brambles. They aren’t tight or tannic making them an easy choice right off of the shelf. One of the wines I had was from Waiheke Island near Aukland which is rich in volcanic soils and it was one of the biggest mouthfuls of Bordeaux styled wine I’ve ever had.

So the bottom line is that we discovered some new sips that add to the big wide world of tasting experiences.  I just love keeping my New Year Resolutions!

Unfortunately for us there are not a lot of these New Zealand wines in US distribution at retail but here are some to try that I have seen, including my favorite, Te Mata “Awatea.” Be sure to give a look to the wine list when you head to your favorite steakhouse too.

Let’s Sip!

Every Day Sip
2014 Villa Maria Cabernet Merlot, Hawke’s Bay, Cellar Selection $18
Good everyday example of a Hawke’s Bay red blend and since Villa Maria is a pretty big exporter of Sauvignon Blanc there are a number of retailers who also carry this. Definitely worth a try if you see it.

2011 Craggy Range Te Kahu $20
From the Wine Advocate: ”A blend of 69% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Malbec, the deep garnet-purple-colored 2011 Gimblett Gravels Te Kahu has a nose of warm plums, crushed black currants and wild blueberries with nuances of cedar, toast, cloves and dried mint. Light to medium-bodied with a slightly hollow mid-palate, it nonetheless gives very drinkable, delicate, black fruit and spice flavors in the mouth supported by crisp acid and chewy tannins. It finishes medium to long.”

Guest Sip
2010 Craggy Range Syrah Gimblett Gravels Vineyard $30IMG_2228
A chewy Syrah with bold flavor and lots of peppery spiciness.

2014 Te Mata “Awatea” Bordeaux Blend Hawkes Bay $30
My favorite of all the ones tasted from Hawke’s Bay during our trip! A blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot. Full flavored and as good as any Napa or Sonoma Cab Blend and equal to even pricier wines from Bordeaux. I think it’s right between both with the approachability of California and the nuance of France.

Splurge Sip
2013 Vidal “El Legado” Syrah Hawke’s Bay $65
Every critic agrees on this one – just a terrific wine with lush dark fruit and complexity.

On the Road – In Marlborough Country

Marlborough New Zealand that is.  We just finished a few days in Blenheim and got to immerse ourselves in the winemaking culture and attitude of Marlborough.  An aside – when we disembarked the Interislander Ferry from Wellington at Picton and took the short drive through the hills into the Wairau River Valley I had to pinch myself to realize I was actually in New Zealand, a place I’ve longed to visit (as I wrote about). They take their wine seriously here and, remember, it’s really Marlborough that put New Zealand on the world wine map with lively and zingy Sauvignon Blanc. They still focus on that but Pinot Noir is finding its place along with other varietals like Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. Notice a theme?  Yep – Marlborough is where you find cool climate varieties.

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Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on the vine

New Zealand has several wine growing regions, and even though they have not yet adopted an appellation system like the US and other major wine growing countries, each does have unique characteristics. In Marlborough it’s the moderating influence of the rain shadow from the western mountains, the combination of clay and rocky greywacke soils and the ocean breezes from Cloudy Bay that give the wines their signature. The days are long and usually sunny and there are not high heat spikes so there is an extended, cooler growing season. Geek Alert: Greywacke is the mineral rich rock that makes up the mountains of the Southern Alps so its all over South Island New Zealand.

Blenheim is the heart of this wine region and from there it’s very easy to explore the whole area – none of the wineries were more than a 20 minute drive from our base station, the unique Antria Lodge, and owner Phil pointed us in all the right directions!  Most offer open to the public and free tastings at their “cellar door.” So we went off to sip some Marlborough wines.

This was like a Sauvignon Blanc seminar. When you consider that 85% of the wine in Marlborough is Sauvignon Blanc there’s a lot of sipping to cover – but somebody has to do it!

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Tasting 2016 Auntsfield Sauvignon Blanc and the grapes from 2017

What did we find?  We found characteristically grassy and tart wines and we found those with elegance and finesse.  We found wines with fruit forward flavors of gooseberry and herbaceous asparagus and wines with tropical grapefruit tastes.  We found edgy and acidic offerings and some lightly oaked with supple flavors. We found single vineyard wines and the high volume Marlborough wines you see all over the world. We found winemakers who are devoted to the heritage of their land (read the Auntsfield story), those who are experimenting with the nuances of the terroir (visit Clos Henri)and those using native wild yeast to give their wines a specific signature (see Greywacke).  In short we found a vibrant and eclectic wine country experience. There’s a lot more to a sip of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc than you may think. I know it opened me up to new sipping experiences.

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Greywacke visit

We were very fortunate to be able to wander these wines first hand, but a great way to pay a virtual visit to Marlborough, and help you find some wines near home, is by visiting Wine Marlborough.

Here are some Marlborough sips for you to enjoy from our visit. I tasted them all and they are a nice reflection of being “On the Road – In Marlborough Country.”
Let’s sip!

2016 Omaka Springs Sauvignon Blanc $14

2016 Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc $16

2016 Babich Sauvignon Blanc Black Label $16

Lawson’s Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2015 $16

Auntsfield Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $18

Zephyr Sauvignon Blanc 2016 $18

Villa Maria 2016 Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc $18

2016 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough $20

Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016 $24

2014 Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough $25

It’s Time for Sauvignon Blanc

When the days are warm and the menu lightens up for summer it’s prime time for Sauvignon Blanc.  I think its just about the perfect summer sipper any time, yet it is the versatile way Sauvignon Blanc embraces food that really turns me on.  One of the special way it pairs up with food is that it evokes the place it calls home.  I love letting go of my imagination when I sip, and Sauvignon Blanc takes me on a journey. This wine gives me a sense of place and experiences because of the stylistic differences offered from each of the main wine growing regions which produce it.  Allow me to generalize a bit:

  • New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc sipped with steamed mussels is an invitation to visit the Marlborough wine country on the South Island. It gives me the travel bug!  I find the Sauvignon Blanc of New Zealand to have an aroma of new mown hay and I can’t help but taste kiwi – the fruit, not the bird!
  • A chilled Sancerre from France’s Loire Valley puts me in a village on a hill, sitting at an outdoor table for a mid-afternoon respite from wandering the magnificent chateaus of the region. When I sip I think of stone fruit like white peach and often there are aromas of fresh cut flowers.
  • A citrusy and tropical Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc transports me to a shady grove in a winery picnic area as we share olives and cheese along with a salad of just picked greens and heirloom tomatoes. The Californians are riper tasting with grapefruit or even pineapple accents along with fresh melon.

All Sauvignon Blanc do share one key characteristic – they’re sassy.  Yep, sassy because of the acidity.  It’s this sassy factor that makes them so drinkable with so many foods.  They are terrific with salads and veggies, a great match for richer seafoods like scallops or prawns, perky enough to handle spicy offerings like gazpacho, dry and tart to accent the briny flavor of fresh oysters, and they’re nibble friendly too – pick a couple of cheeses and set out the olives!  Risotto with peas, chicken with lemon and capers, grilled sea bass – that’s versatility.  And what’s not to love about a white wine like that?  In a lot of ways Sauvignon Blanc is the anti-Chardonnay – it’s not oaky, lower in alcohol, crisper, lighter bodied, refreshing and easy to kick start a gathering or a dinner as a crowd pleaser.

Whether you’re packing the cooler for a summer concert on the lawn, hanging on the patio with friends, having a casual summer supper for two or you just want a glass of white to sip, make sure to chill the Sauvignon Blanc.

Let’s sip!

Every Day Sip
2014 Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc $14

2014 Groth Sauvignon Blanc $18

2015 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc $14

2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc $12

Guest Sip
2014 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre $23

2014 Hall Sauvignon Blanc $25

2015 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc $25

2014 Chateau Montelena Sauvignon Blanc $30

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir

I’ve been thinking about New Zealand lately.  It’s a place I’ve never been, and I want to get it on the travel calendar.  But it’s also a place I feel I know quite a lot about because of its wines.  I’ve enjoyed delving into the winemaking culture of the place due to them.  So one way to jump into some travel planning is to take a little virtual tour with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. A note: other varietals like Cabernet, Chardonnay, Riesling and more are also grown there, but the big stars of NZ wine are Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot.

New Zealand is an island country which means that generally all the wine growing is influenced by the cool ocean climate. It’s actually two main islands, the North and the South and there is wine growing on both, with the best known regions Hawkes Bay and Gisborne in the North and Marlborough and the Central Otago in the South.  The South is, of course, famous for the specular mountain and glacial vistas of the Southern Alps (check out the photo above) – here is where we cue the Lord of the Rings soundtrack!  But beyond the amazing natural beauty, the Southern Alps protect the Marlborough region and lead to its long sunny growing season.  Here’s a fun fact: the Central Otago region on the South Island is the most southern wine producing region in the world, and this region is really an up and comer, especially for Pinot Noir.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc put the country on the world wine map.  Unlike the Sauvignon Blanc from the US and France, these have a characteristic “grassiness” that appeals to lots of folks.  It gives the wine a unique flavor profile – along with fruity flavors of peach and apricot and telltale tropical citrus.  They are aromatic, crispy and tasty.  I find them to be particularly good seafood wines – not surprising given their island heritage. So if you’re ready for some mussels, clams, lobster, shrimp, scallops or baked calamari grab some.  A terrific combination for me is a chopped salad with shrimp, Thai ginger dressing  and chilled NZ Sauvignon Blanc.  And this is one wine that actually does well with some asparagus on the plate.  We make a “risotto a la hydrator” featuring  whatever is in the veggie bin in the fridge and just last night had some.  The creamy risotto, peas, asparagus, leeks, and a little basil are great with this wine.  I think the herbal, grassy character makes it an ideal companion.  But the other beauty of NZ Sauvignon Blanc is that its plain good to drink all on its own as an “I’ll have a glass of white” Sip.

The Pinot Noir from NZ are bright and acidic with the red berry flavors you often find in cooler climate Pinot.  They are youthfully exuberant and fun to drink. And like their NZ cousin, Sauvignon Blanc, they work well with a wide variety of foods, even fish such as salmon and tuna. I love Pinot with a roasted chicken and just about any pork dish.  I think that NZ Pinot Noir are some of the best value Pinots on the shelf.

I once had lunch with NZ winemaker Kim Crawford and he made a great point about the the wines of New Zealand – they are a lot like the country – open, accessible, personable and fresh.  Just as it’s a place to discover, so are the wines. This is the land of the Maori and intrepid explorers like Tasman and Cook, and even the inhabitants of Middle Earth (I do think I have to watch Lord of the Rings again!). But now it’s a vibrant and energetic wine country too.  There is much to see and do, and I plan to start my travel planning by spending more time with the fun, easy and approachable Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir of New Zealand.  Let’s Sip!

Every Day Sips
2015 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc $12
An any time choice.  Screw off the top and enjoy.

2014 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $16

2013 Allan Scott Pinot Noir $15

Guest Sip
2015 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc $24
Consistently one of the best

2012 Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Calvert Vineyard $40
Lovely single vineyard from the Central Otago

2013 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir $40