It’s the most wonderful time of the year

The holidays are fast approaching. And while I would love to continue my summer fantasies, reality has hit. I am sitting here in a coffee shop, wrapped in a scarf, sweater and tall boots; trying to warm up with a latte. Out the window is drizzle and bare trees. In Seattle, this means the holidays are near. So instead of longing for those summer nights, I am buckling down and focusing on one major thing, wines I will be drinking this holiday season. It all starts with Thanksgiving and pairing the perfect wine with this gluttonous holiday.

What I love about Thanksgiving is the time I spend with my family and friends; eating, laughing, telling stories and shopping the next day. And of course, I love the wines we will open for this dinner. For the next month, my blogs will focus on wines for the holidays. Those to splurge on, those case-worthy and those that will pair delightfully with all your holiday meals.

When in doubt, bring on the bubbles…

Let’s start with Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Sparking wine, bubbles… etc. Whatever you call it, these little effervescence’s of love taste delightful with many holiday meals, particularly Thanksgiving. They are festive, cleanse the palate and versatile. Because we eat a variety of foods on Thanksgiving, Sparkling wine is a great go-to because it tastes delightful with all stages of the meal (even with the pies).

Bubbles can vary greatly in price. I am a true believer that you can find a perfect Bubbley bottle for $20-30. While Champagne has the glamorous the reputation, there are many other Sparkling wines that are just as tasty and easier on your wallet.  Here are a couple options.

**If you need a little refresher course on all the different types bubbles, refer to my past blog on 9/19/2010 – Too much wine? It’s explains the definition of Cava, Champagne, etc.

Splurge: Eric Rodez Cuvee des Crayeres, Grand Cru Brut – (a Growers Champagne)

Around $50.00, The Grape Choice

For many this is a splurge, others it is a steal. According to my pocket book, it’s a splurge… but a delicious, smooth, dance in your mouth one at that! This Chardonnay/Pinot Noir Champagne has notes of honeysuckle and pear and is simply decadent; a crowd pleaser. He also makes a Rose Champagne as well, that’s just as amazing. If you are unable to find an Eric Rodez Champagne, ask your local wine shop for other Grower Champagnes. If I am going to throw down the cash for a Champagne, I always search for a Growers Champagne. These Champagnes come from smaller, local vineyards in the region of Champagne, France. They are described more as artisanal wines. The vineyards are usually independently owned around a single village (as opposed to Moet et Chandon who buys grapes throughout the Champagne region). I am a fan of small, local businesses, which is probably why I am pulled towards Growers Champagne.

Thanksgiving Splurge

Thanksgiving Splurge

Steal: Domaine Carneros – Napa, California

$28.00-100.00

I have talked about Domaine Carneros before and I will say it again, they produce marvelous Sparkling wines. Founded by Taittinger (a Champagne), so they know exactly what they are doing. For the “steal” I would pick up a bottle of their Domaine Carneros Brut Vintage ($28.00). This is one of my standard go-to wines (it helps that I belong to their wine club; I receive a shipment every other month). It is vibrant and fresh; hints of lemon zest, pear and mineral. This wine will add a spark to any holiday meal. I have been able to find this wine in most wine shops and markets. You can also make a purchase through their website http://www.domainecarneros.com/.

Domaine Carneros Le Reve

Domaine Carneros Le Reve

*This is a picture of their Le Reve, which is a splurge at $99.99. This is my Thanksgiving contribution though. This Blanc de Blanc is made of Chardonnay grapes and aged 6 years before release. This will be my first Le Reve and I am beyond excited! I will let you know if it’s worth the price!

Other Options:

If you are concerned about price, look into Prosecco’s and Cava’s. While I often find Prosecco’s slightly sweet on my palate, they are easy on the budget and will likely be a hit with everyone. Just today I saw a great deal on Prosecco at Trader Joes. Cava is also another fantastic option.

Whether you splurge for that $50.00-100.00 bottle of Champagne or go for the $9.99 Trader Joe’s Prosecco, Bubbles are the hit wine for Thanksgiving.

Gobble Gobble my friends!

Carolyn

Once upon a time in Barcelona…

There are many reasons to love Europe, but today I will focus on one of my most favorite things about Europe.. wine!  Now, before the wine advocates in Washington, California and Oregon get in a tizzy, I would like to say I love wines from the US as well. However, my love and passion for wine began in Barcelona, Spain. And for that, Europe will always have my heart when it comes to wine.

I remember the day I feel in love with wine. Well, it wasn’t really the day, it was about 10:00 a night in Barcelona. At the age of 23 though, my day was pretty much beginning at 10:00 pm. I was heading out to meet up with some friends, but was persuaded to stop into this wine shop off Valencia street. Upon entering the shop, I was mesmerized by the warmth and feeling of the place. It smelled of stone, wood and wine.  The shop looked as though it had been in operation since 1889. The owner was this old Spanish gentleman and even though we didn’t speak the same language, that didn’t stop him from pouring me some of the most amazing wines I had ever tasted. We laughed and drank… and laughed a little more. For hours this continued. I couldn’t tell you the exact Spanish wines I drank. All I remember is tasting, sipping, drinking and falling in love.

From that night on, my mind, palate, nose and ambition changed forever. My ideas of wine expanded beyond belief. During that same period of my life I was able to travel to the Burgundy region of France, Italy and Germany. I adored wines from those countries and regions as well.  But nothing compared to Spain’s wine and the little wine shop that expanded my horizon.

Spain’s Wine Regions:

Spain has 7 wine regions: Green Spain, North Central Spain (Ribera del Duero), Ebro River Valley (Rioja and Navarra), The Meseta, The Mediterranean coast ( Priorat, Montsant and Cava), Andalucía and The Islands.

Spain makes many wines from these regions, more than us in America could imagine. Many varietals similar to the US (Cab, Merlot, Chardonnay) and many we wouldn’t be able to recognize (Aragon, Castellana, etc.).

However, I will not go into all the varietals in this blog. The focus will be on two varietals to explore next time you are in a courageous mood to try something new!

Wine 1: Tempranillo from the region of Rioja

I am a sucker for a good Rioja, Tempranillo. I love its earthy, dirty, jammy flavors on the palate. It can often have strong oak and vanilla flavors as well. When I drink it, I am instantly brought back to my little wine shop However, I am picky about my Rioja’s.  You will find 4 different classifications for Rioja’s – so I will give you a quick low down. This makes a difference in my book.

Rioja – the youngest wine. Spending less than a year in an oak barrel.

Rioja Crianza- ages for two years and at least one of those years in oak.

Rioja Reserva – aged for three years and at least one year in oak.

Rioja Gran Reserva – Aged two years in oak and three years in the bottle.

While you can get some nice Crianza’s at your local wine merchant (for an excellent price at that)… I would spend the extra $5-10 and purchase the Reserva. Often Crianza’s have a bite to them.. with a Reserva (in most cases) I found them to have that silky, smooth, rustic jammy taste that I appreciate.

I often  hear from people that they don’t like Rioja’s. My guess is that they have not tried a Reserva or Gran Reserva, because my friends your opinion would change. Please, give a Rioja a second chance. Step it up a notch on the price scale and you will not be disappointed.

Ontanon Rioja Reserva

Ontanon Rioja Reserva

** A little note on Rioja’s – is they make a light to medium bodied white wine as well… delicious!

Wine 2: Albarino

This is a medium-bodied white wine from the region on Galacia. It has distinct flavors and aromas to Viogniers; hints of peach, nectar, apricot and stone. Albarino is a lively and crisp wine which pairs well with most fish and shellfish dishes.  It is an extremely popular wine in Spain, and quickly growing in its popularity here in the US. And the best thing about this wine is the price. This is an extremely affordable white wine. Often around the $10.00-15.00 price point.

La Cana - $14.99

La Cana – $14.99

There you have it my friends; two new wines that you must try. Even if you are unable to try these wines in the heart of Spain, at least you can bring Spain to your home.

Cheers!

Memories from Barcelona

Memories from Barcelona

Wines with a V

I am typically a red wine drinker. Since this past summer though, I have been drinking a lot more whites. Even in this cold, drizzly Seattle weather, sometimes a crisp white wine just sounds tasty. Lately, I have been gravitating towards wines that start with V… Strange huh? Does a wine that begins with V ring a bell for you?

The white wines most wine novices typically gravitate towards are Chardonnay’s, Sauvignon Blanc’s and Pinot Gris/Grigio’s. But not me. Because of you, my friends, I am a risk taker who is down with the V’s. Which means you should check them out next time you are at your local wine merchant. These wines will say to your guests, host or friends that you are adventurous, daring and wine knowledgeable…. (Trust me; they will be impressed with your picks)

These are my 4 varietal, go -to favorites lately

 

Verdejo (Verdelho) – Ola! This is bright and fairly medium bodied Spanish (and Portuguese) white wine (although, I have an Australian Verdejo last night from Mollydooker and it was a lot of fun). Being this is typically a Spanish wine, it pairs well with most fish/seafood dishes, pastas (esp. with pesto) and vegetarian dishes. This is also a wine that will go nicely with an Indian dinner or something with a lot of spice. It has a well balanced flavor with many foods!

Vermentino – I have been on a Vermentino kick lately. This is another medium bodied wine that often has hints of mineral and citrus (lemon and pear in my opinion). Vermentino is typically from Sardinia and Liguria, but can often be found grown along the Mediterranean coast. Simple fish dishes are what I would pair this with. I love the flavor of Vermentino, so I wouldn’t have it with a dish that would take away from its simple, yet elegant flavor. A nice tossed salad would also pair nicely with this wine

Vinho Verde– This fun Portuguese, semi-sparkling white wine is inexpensive and goes well with spicy foods. This wine, in general, does not have a whole lot of flavor, but I feel it blends nicely with spicy foods (I had one with empanadas and it tasted brilliantly together). It would also be a fantastic wine to drink with fish tacos, seafood stews and crab cakes. You usually can find this wine under $10. What a steal!

Viognier- This is a French (WA, CA, OR, and Australia as well) dry, florally, full bodied white wine. Now, my issue with Viognier is that the floral nose and taste can be overpowering (I prefer subtle wines). However, if you find the right balanced Viognier, it is heaven in your mouth. You do have to play around with them to find your perfect Viognier though. Once you find that perfect wine, it will go nicely with Asian dishes, Chicken, dishes with cream sauces, lobster and pork. Viognier is one of those wines that will blend nicely with a variety of cheeses…

Alright, just one more V wine…

Valpolicella – This is not a white wine, but I wanted to add in as a favorite red wine of mine. Valpolicella is an Italian, light-bodied dry red wine from the Veneto region. Like with Viognier, I have had some bad Valpolicella that tasted thin and had the flavor of dried cherries and stale licorice. I am REALLY picky about my Valpolicella. Finding the right one can take work, but again high risk means high rewards. Once you find the right Valpolicella (look for Valpolicella Classico Superiore) it will be smooth, well rounded. This wine is great to start your dinner party off with. Pairs well with Italia dishes (pizza, pasta, etc), Risotto, grilled/roasted chicken and sausage.

Go ahead and show off your adventurous wine side to your friends. Bringing one of these V wines to your next party will impress your other wine novice friends. And it’s just nice to break out of the norm.

Put down that Chardonnay and pick up a Vermentino!

Cheers and Happy February friends….

 

Another Saturday night in

It’s Saturday night and you are staying home because you are broke, cannot find a babysitter, don’t feel like going out or  none of the above. For whatever reason you are in for the night, but have the urge to pop open a bottle of wine. Yet, you are broke and need to find a bottle of decent wine for $10 or under. That, my friends, is where I come in to help you.

It is Saturday night and I am home, due to most of the above. In my need to blog more with interesting wine bits for my readers,  I have decided to help my Saturday night, feeling poor, friends by tasting 4 different wines under $10 (for those needing to stay within their budgets).

The 10 dollar challenge goes as this:

Pick 4 different wines from 4 different locations, all under $10, to see if they are worthy enough to drink. I decided to focus one region – Spain was the choice tonight. I opened all bottles, knowing most of them will be thrown down the sink. I wanted to taste the differences, not to drink tonight. This is all for you my readers!

The Wines:

The good news is most of these wines I found in at least two stores!

#1: 2009 La Aldea : 100% Monastrell- Jumilla region  Trader Joes $7.49

I was able to find a  TJ’s wine expert to help me decide what wine I should choose for my challenge. Many of their Spanish wines were under $10, so I wanted to hear his expert advice on wine. He a promised full bodied, full tannin wine, with a very nice finish. The description of the wine states a ripe wine with blackberries, dark cherries, earth and wild flowers.

The verdict: bland, tart, not bold at all. There was very little flavor. I did not taste a hint of any fruit. This would be a wine to buy when you just want to get drunk. Not a sipping, enjoyable wine at all.

Sorry Trader Joe wine expert, I question your knowledge.

#2: 2009 Coto de Hayas- Garnacha/Syrah  Fred Meyer $8.49

Ok, I am feeling hopeful with this challenge. First of all, I give a lot of credit to Fred Meyer (Kroger) – their wine section impressed me!! I was blown away by the selection of wines, not just Spanish, but all regions. I stood there, in shock and awe, trying to decide on a wine. The negative is that I received no help. So, I blindly chose.

The verdict: Smooth wine, with a berry finish on your tongue. Not a favorite wine by a long shot, but a decent wine for the price. A wine to take to a party. It is different enough to impress your usually non-drinking wine friends!

#3: Don Ramon Red- 75% Grenache, 25% Tempranillo Greenlake Wines $9.00 (also at Fred Meyers)

The help at Greenlake Wines was appreciated. The selection was small, so I had little hope in finding a wine under $10. However, the sales clerk showed me a couple Spanish wines within my budget. He thought this wine would impress me, so I took his advice.

The verdict: Very, very nice medium bodied wine and a great buy. I had a very hard time deciding what this wine tasted like though. The wine left a spicy dance on my tongue with some berry tones – but hard to determine which berries.

 I was only tasting these 4 wines (otherwise I would not be able to write), but this bottle of  wine I could sip and enjoy. It is hard to describe, but a joy to drink.

#4: 2007  Campo Viejo Rioja – Crianza  Safeway $9.99

As I went stopped at my final store, Safeway, I was nervous I wouldn’t find a $10 Spanish wine. I was very happy to find a Rioja within my price range. I love Rioja’s. They have to be one of my favorite wines. So, I was excited to try my find.

The verdict: Undrinkable. I couldn’t even finish my taste. Even foods wouldn’t help this wine (in my opinion). I may try it again tomorrow, just to give it a second chance. Sadly, I was very disappointed. A wine I will steer clear from. Sorry Safeway – you scored the lowest tonight.

 

The final verdict is that I was not 100% sold on 3 of the 4 wines. Number 2 was decent enough to take to a non-wine drinking friends party, but Number 3 was by far the most enjoyable. For the price, it has the most fun potential. You will find it at Trader Joes, Fred Meyers and possibly small wine shops (I purchased it at Greenlake wines), which makes obtaining this wine a breeze.

Your next Saturday night in and you want to try something different, pick up a Don Ramon, you will be happy with your investment.

Enjoy your wine night in!

Viva Espana

Go Spain!

I am very fond of Spain. Everything about this beautiful country intrigues me; the beautiful people, delectable food, amazing history, interesting taste in fashion, horrible driving and of course their delicious wine (and they make fabulous olive oil as well). Maybe I am partial to this European country because I was able to live in Barcelona for 4.5 months about 8 years ago. Honestly, most of my experience in Barcelona is a blur. I would like to say I am fluent in my Spanish language (which was my main reason for going) – but I became fluent in eating and drinking the Spanish way. Hey, at least I learned something from the Spaniards, right?

France, Italy, California and Washington are famous for their amazing wines. Until recently, Spanish wines were not overly popular here in the US. But, this New World wine should not be over shadowed by those power houses. Give Spain a chance, try a few bottles of Spanish wines. They can vary greatly, so be prepared. However, you can find some great Spanish wines at good prices.

**Side note – My bet is on Espana to take World Cup 2010 – we don’t want to see Italia win this year.

Tonight’s Tasting:

Pinuaga Nature – Tempranillo 2007 (West Seattle Cellars $15.00, I also saw it at Whole Foods) – A Castilla red wine.

At first taste, this wine had a bitter bite (beware Tempranillo’s are temperamental sometimes). I was a little nervous that I would have to write my first bad review for my fellow novices. After letting this wine sit for a few minutes, it ended up with a smooth taste (strange I know, but wines are like that). The flavor of this wine is tricky – at times I can taste a plum, cherry flavor but then my next sip I notice an earthy, nutty note. An interesting combination, but kept me wanting more. This is a medium bodied wine that will warm you during the winter months, but also a nice wine to pull out on a summer evening while sitting on your deck reminiscing the past (and all the trouble you caused) with your girlfriends (or guy friends) ! This would be a great wine to keep around the house for all seasons (if it stays that long, it is very easy to drink, after first taste)!

Wine on my friends….