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

Many Napa Valleys

When it comes to defining wine in the US most people probably sort right away to Napa Valley.  It was the wines of Napa that really put the US on the world wine map, and Napa seems to serve as the shorthand for our wine in general, California wine more specifically, and all of the images and texture that conjure up “wine country.” And that’s all good for sure.  But there’s a lot more to Napa than those generalities capture.  In fact there are many Napa Valleys. No, not geographically, but within the confines of this amazingly special county there are clusters of growing regions that truly give it more meaning and definition when it comes to the wine.

These are called AVAs – American Viticultural Areas, and within the Napa Valley, which is an appellation all on its own,  there are sixteen sub-regions.  Each exists because there are some shared characteristics of earth and sky, a confluence of soil and climate that lend distinctiveness to the grapes and wines.  When it comes to getting deeper into the bottle and appreciating the magic of wine, the more you know about where and how its grown, and how its made, the more each Sip becomes more than just a taste.  So when you see an AVA on the label it’s your first clue about what’s in the bottle.

Here are the 16 Napa Valley AVAs along with a map from the Napa Valley Vintners.  And if you visit their site here there’s even more detail.  But I’d like hit a few of the highlights from my own, nontechnical perspective.

  • Atlas PeakNapaValley AVA Map
  • Calistoga
  • Chiles Valley
  • Coomsbville
  • Diamond Mountain
  • Howell Mountain
  • Los Carneros
  • Mount Veeder
  • Oak Knoll
  • Oakville
  • Rutherford
  • Spring Mountain
  • St. Helena
  • Stags Leap
  • Wild Horse Valley
  • Yountville

I don’t pick favorites (insert the smiley face emoji here!) – but I love

  • The Cabernets from Oakville, Rutherford and Stags Leap. To me these valley floor growing areas are what Napa Cab is all about – ripe and lush, structured and textured with layers of taste and tannin to drink now or park for a while.
  • That Los Carneros is unique and is a shared AVA with Sonoma – and its an area that greets us with the cooler and windy influences of San Pablo Bay, which means Pinot Noir with bright berry fruitiness and tingly acidity and Chardonnays that seem to mimic the mineralty of Chablis
  • The grapes from the mountain ridges where they grow above the fog line, ripening in the sunshine to robust flavors. From Spring Mountain to Mt. Veeder, Howell Mountain to Diamond Mountain the Cabs are powerful and the Merlot are lip-smackers.
  • That the northern part of the valley up by Calistoga and St. Helena is the warmest. I like it for the big tastes of Zin and Syrah and for Cabs that are densely fruity. We paid a visit to Calistoga in an earlier post you can check out.  This is also where I get my favorite Cabernet Franc direct from the winery.

Napa Valley is many wines and many Sips and no single post can possibly capture them all.  But as you dive in a little deeper and choose some wines from the different AVAs you’ll find the diversity and nuance, as well as the variety and vitality, that make the many Napas the quintessential wine country.

Here are some Sips for you to explore – as well as some tips on paying a visit to Napa Valley.

Every Day Sip
2015 Frog’s Leap Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc $12
Cameron Hughes Lot Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford $20
Martin Ray Chardonnay Los Carneros $20

Guest Sip
BV Rutherford Cabernet $28
Steltzner Cabernet Stags Leap District $35
Cuvaison Pinot Noir Carneros $35
Mondavi Oakville Cabernet $40
Ballentine 2014 Cabernet Franc Pocai Vineyard Calistoga $48
Terra Valentine Cabernet Spring Mountain $48
Von Strasser Cabernet Diamond Mountain, 2012 $50

Splurge Sip
Groth Cabernet Oakville $55
Chimney Rock Cabernet Stags Leap $70
2012 Staglin Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford $180

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.

Fall In To Fuller Wines

It’s official… summer is over.  But in many parts of the country we get to enjoy a great time of year – Fall.  And it’s also time for me to get back to some posting!

In Fall the days are strikingly clear, the nights crisp and cool, and I love the crunchy rustle of the fallen leaves as you walk through them.  In the vineyard the vines begin to shut down too and the leaves turn reddish rust or golden – a beautiful time to visit.

But no matter where you live Fall seems to signal that it’s also time for heartier foods and a return to the bigger style wines that go with them.  If summer is a time for Zippy Whites then Fall brings me back to mouth-filling reds, so I find myself reaching for different ones that fit the season.  It can be the ideal tailgate wine – California Zin,  juicy Merlot from Washington, tasty Syrah/Grenache blends from the Rhone in France, lush Tempranillo from Spain, spicy Shiraz from Down-under or terrific everyday Malbec from Argentina.  And, of course, there is always Cabernet Sauvignon in all of it’s kingly splendor.

Sure, that’s a pretty big list, but the tastes of Fall bring a lot of variety into the mix. At our house we’ve already chopped the carrots and chunked the beef for hearty stew, baked chicken and Italian sausage in the oven, braised short ribs, made a pot of chili, grilled thick cut lamb chops, roasted the pork all day to pull for tacos al pastor and slow cooked Osso Buco – and it’s only early October!

If you follow Sips or remember The Wine Experience then you know that my personal food and wine pairing mantra is “drink what you like.”  Well I like putting many of the tastes of Fall foods together with reds that just seem to complete the package.  Here’s what I mean:

  • Chili and Zin. Zin adds a dash of peppery flavor and has the attitude to stand up to the multitude of ingredients, especially the tomato and peppers. Other choice: Primitivo.
  • Beef stew and Merlot. Merlot’s jammy flavor seems ideal for the supple gravy and soft beef chunks, as well as the sweetness of the carrots. Other choice: Cabernet.
  • Baked chicken and sausage with Rhones. The Grenache based blends of the southern Rhone bridge the mild flavored chicken and the spiced sausage.  This one is interesting because we actually use white wine in cooking but I like the way the red pulls it all together when it’s time to eat. Other choice Sangiovese.
  • Thick cut grilled lamb chops with Cabernet. The tannins of the Cab are like an exclamation point to the richness of the lamb. Other choice Tempranillo.
  • Braised short ribs with Shiraz. I love the fruit and spice with the meatiness. Other choice Merlot.
  • Osso Buco and Tempranillo. I like the acidity of the Tempranillo with the deep hearty flavor of the slow cooked veal shank. Other choice Nebbiolo.
  • Tacos and Malbec. Si.

I think it’s time to start cooking – then pick some wine from our Sips pages for Every Day, Guest and Splurge wine choices.  And as your special treat, here is the Chicken and Sausage recipe!

Cristina Pastina’s Chicken and Sausage
Serves 6
Note:  Your choice on the chicken.  You can use a whole chicken cut up or six split breast if you prefer just white meat.

Ingredients:
6 split chicken breasts (bone in)
4 Italian sausages, cut in thirds
6 medium sized Yukon gold potatoes, quartered
4 large carrots, peeled and cut to large chunks (3 or 4 per carrot)
1 large onion, halved and sliced
½ cup olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup seasoned bread crumbs
3 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 tbs. oregano

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

  1. In a large baking dish, pour olive oil and coat the bottom.  Add the chicken and roll around to cover with oil.  Arrange chicken skin side up around the dish. You may use two baking dishes if more room is needed but this will add to the cooking time.
  2. Pour the wine over the chicken.
  3. Salt and pepper each breast.
  4. Sprinkle oregano, garlic and bread crumbs over each.
  5. Arrange sausage pieces, potatoes and carrots around the dish and between the chicken.
  6. Cover all with the onion slices.
  7. Loosely cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour.  Remove the foil and bake an additional 30 – 45 minutes to desired doneness – cooking time can vary… the tighter it’s packed the slower it cooks (don’t burn, but make sure the carrots and potatoes are cooked tender)  chicken should be browned by now…if not you may broil for a moment…but watch carefully.
  8. Serve.

Q the Zin

Q – as in Bar-B-Q.  So let’s fire up the grill or start the smoker and get your favorite rub or sauce mixed up so we can smoke, sear, baste, rub, pull, shred to our heart’s content.  I love barbecue any and all ways.  It’s the epitome of casual eating.  I think it’s that messy, finger-lickin’ thing.  And there’s one wine that, to me, has the lip-smackin’ style to match up with that finger-lickin’ food.  Whew… try saying that a few times!  That wine is Zinfandel.

What I particularly like about Zin is the jammy flavor for sure – to me its like a spoonful of boysenberry jam.  But with many of the Zins out there it’s the little dash of white pepper-like spiciness that just seems to bring the taste all together, especially with my Q.  These are easy to drink wines all by themselves, but let me tell you, Zin is always part of the meal with my own BBQ baby backs.

Now I know that there is great barbecue from other countries like China and Korea, but the best there is just happens to be from all over the USA.  And Zin is quintessentially an American born and bred wine. (I’ll cover its Italian relative, Primitivo another time along with the luscious cooking of southern Italy).  Sonoma’s Dry Creek region, the old vines of Lodi, the warm Alexander Valley, the rolling hills of Paso Robles and, lest we forget, Napa, all give us Zinfully tasty wines at just about any dollar amount you want to pay.  Maybe we should head for California and start the Zin tour now!

Everyday Sip: 2012 Klinker Brick Zinfandel Old Vine $16
Here’s that spoonful of boysenberry jam.  Old Lodi vines about 80 years old average produce the big flavor. I keep hearing the CCR refrain, “stuck in old Lodi again” and that’s a good thing!

Guest Sip:  Ballentine 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel $25
Black raspberries and spiciness.  Packs a bit of a punch at 15.5% alcohol. A big BBQ wine from old Calistoga vines in northern Napa.

Splurge Sip:  Martinelli Giuseppe & Luisa Zinfandel 2013 $65
First tasted an earlier vintage of this at the winery and was blown away.  Concentrated dried black cherry. Big fruit and a mouthful of wine in every sip – isn’t always easy to get.

Want a terrific dry rub recipe?  Here’s the one I use.  I adapted it from one of Emeril’s to my own taste and I think it offers just the right balance of flavor, spice and underlying heat, especially when the ribs are finished with a smokey sweet sauce.

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Hungarian paprika
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup garlic salt
1/4 cup crushed oregano
2 tablespoons Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper