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thanksgiving wine ideas

For Thanksgiving you often think of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris as "perfect" pairings. And in fact, those are the varietals that I almost always seek out for the big day in part because they are such a good match but also because it is an 'excuse' to spend the bigger bucks on a great red Burgundy or some incredible Alsatian PG. But Thanksgiving really is an open-ended wine pairing holiday. Like chicken, turkey offers a clean slate. It's like the tofu of the meat world; it's something that needs dressing up to have a real identity. As such, wine pairing is more about all the sides you are going to prepare - cranberry sauce, earthy root vegetables like brussel sprouts or creamed white onions, or sweet potatoes, or your mother's fruit salad (with marshmallows) that you have every year because it's "tradition". Yes, the Pinot family can take the fun on home with sides like these. But the world really is your oyster!

Here are a few other ideas to consider - and when I say consider, I mean who all is coming to dinner, what their preferences might be and how to keep everyone happy (sometimes the real objective at your holiday gathering)....

Whites  ~

White Burgundy, or the more affordable alternative, Macon Chardonnay. The thing about these wines is that Burgundy (and the surround areas where you can spend a few less dollars) offers a full, fleshy and fruit-forward experience that won't weigh you down. They are gently oaked wonders, which means that you can still bring Chardonnay (a familiar grape) to the table without bringing a bottle of buttery, wooded, BIG juice, that won't quite work with such a big meal. Clean, pure, fruit and citrus lift are a winning combination.

Albarino. Albarino is an incredibly versatile option that will pair with anything. Its low alcohol, terrific, sea-like minerality and bright acidity keep your guests, and your overindulgence, in check, and also offers a little something unique and enjoyable beyond "the usual suspects". While gaining in popularity, it is still a grape that not everyone knows. Few are likely to have a preconceived notion of what to expect - and whether they will like it or not. Chances are - they will, too.

Reds ~

Malbec. Now this is a grape that people know and tend to have only very positive feelings about! And, it is also a grape that won't over-power the turkey and will certainly complement the earthier fare on your table. Seek out fruit forward, earthier styles (as opposed to the chocolatey, rich ones) for a real treat.

Zinfandel. Zin can be tricky because so many of them are so high in alcohol. That is dangerous both on an over-consumption level and also because it really can weigh you down. The juicy sweetness and slightly earthy nuance on offer (in great Zin) certainly pairs with the cranberry sauce. But for the Thanksgiving table that runs the 'non traditional' gamut in particular by delivering an Italian feast (and yet for folks that want a truly "American" wine to pair), this is an option to consider. My recommendation? In this case, spend the extra bucks to get a really well-made, more nuanced wine.

What will you be drinking next Thursday?


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Pairing wine with pumpkin

Last weekend at a pumpkin carving fiesta a good friend asked me which wine I would pair with pumpkin. I was arm deep in pumpkin guts at the time (see image to the right) so I told him to keep an eye out for a post this week. And now here we are 3 days from Halloween with an ample supply of pumpkin around town - also known as the biggest opportunity to bust out your culinary genius. A post was all too necessary! Here are a few different ways you could go (and there are many...):

Pumpkin Rissotto w/Scallops

If you prefer a cheese-tastic take on rissotto, go for a buttery Chardonnay from California. If you prefer a lighter, savory risotto, go for a more mineral-driven, Alsatian white like Chasellas or even Pinot Blanc.

Roasted Pumpkin w/Root Vegetables

My brother in law makes a killer roast pumpkin - with all the root veggies and even tomatoes left to stew inside his prized Princess pumpkin. In this case, a fine option would be a Valpolicella from Italy. Savory, with stewed fruits and some nice structure, this wine's earthiness, fruit forward qualities and natural food-loving nature would be a treat. An earthy red from the Cote du Rhone would also work superbly.

Beef and Pumpkin Stew

Go to the mothership of all things beef: Argentina! Go team Malbec.

Pumpkin Pie or Pumpkin Bread

Any dessert made with pumpkin and seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg will love a great off-dry white. Think Riesling or Gewurtztraminer. Either of these will complement the savory brown spices in the dessert, yet the richness of the food will be cut by the great acidity and low-alcohol nature of the wine.

Which pumpkin dish is your favorite to make this time of year?

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Sr. Juan Bengas comes to Boston

This Friday I have a bit of a treat for you! Rather than sticking to our usual format of wine news/trends article links today, I urge you to pop over to Ball Square Fine Wines' blog to learn a bit more about Argentine viticulture, winemaking and the impact of the Chilean earthquakes not just domestically, but among their neighbors just over the Andes. There you'll find a bit of video to stimulate your senses as Senor Benegas, the 4th generation grandson of the man known as the Father of Argentine winemaking, visited us in Somerville last week with his wares and his knowledge both at the ready. Enjoy! Are you a fan of the Benegas collection? Have you tasted the latest releases yet?



January's Wicked Wines!

January 2010 Wicked WinesAnd.... we're back! What better way to come back from the holidays than to find out this month's Wicked Wine picks? I figure it's worth celebrating the end of 2009 with some truly wonderful selections you can snuggle up to on the coldest nights of the winter. Pop on over to Wicked Local to see what I have up my sleeve!

Does your New Years resolution have anything to do with wine? If so, what have you decided to pursue in 2010?



December Wicked Wines will thrill you, guests, hosts

Dec.09.WickedWinesDecember is one of my favorite months for enjoying wine. Festivities abound and the cold and snow are still welcome friends. It’s also a time to wax nostalgic as we think about all that’s transpired over the last 12 months – and anticipate a new chapter soon to come. There are ample wines for gussying up and heading out the door in your “Sunday best” to enjoy the company of good friends and family. And there are wines for snuggling up by the fire because it’s just so tempting to stay in! Pop over to Wicked Local to learn more about the Wicked (good) Wines for you and yours to enjoy this December! What do you think? Did we hit the nail on the head this month?



Wines for Thanksgiving!

Schloss Mulenhoff Dornfelder 07With only one weekend before Thanksgiving remaining, no doubt wine lovers throughout the country will be out and about buying wines for the big event. Indeed, it's up there as far as important wine events go! For your drinking (and reading) pleasure, it seemed prudent to round up a few of my favorite picks for the e-roster. Wheeee!!


2007 Schloss Muhlenhof Dornfelder - This bad boy comes in a 1L size. I hosted a small affair last weekend and it could have easily been the only wine I poured (it was gone WAY too quickly!) - offering great, concentrated red berry fruit flavors (cherries, raspberries) in a smooth, sultry package. Generally speaking, this grape (Dornfelder, that is) is a German red wine phenomenon for those who like a lot of fruit, a bit of "lift" and a welcome bit of earthy, mineral-driven nuance to their wines. No lie, Scholss Muhlenhof's is THE BEST I've ever encountered (so great is my love I'm tempted to buy a full case of the stuff to have on hand "just in case..." this winter). The extra glass the 1L size offers will NOT be wasted.  Only $15!

2006 Bethel Heights Eola-Amity Cuvee Pinot Noir -  A careful blend of 6 different vineyard sites, the  is a tremendous, mouth-filling example of Oregon Pinot Noir. Think of this wine as a smooth, deeply earthy Belgian truffle, filled with cherry and raspberry fruits. Truly a well-integrated, delicious wine worth the gentle splurge. (A winner destined for my own table.) About $31.

2007 Clos la Coutale Cahors - With the (worthy) Malbec craze stemming from the success of this grape in Argentina, many consumers forget Malbec is actually a French varietal. Many more do not know that arguably the best, single bottling Malbecs in France come from the Cahors region – and are labeled simply as such. This wine is  remarkably succulent, juicy and approachable. Enjoy black raspberry and blackberry flavors complemented with fresh strawberries! A touch of earthy rusticity makes this Malbec uniquely French. This one is a "bigger" wine than "traditional" Thanskgiving recommendations and would be a particularly good match for rosemary/garlic encrusted roast hen, or the like. About $17.


Schoenheitz NV Edelzwicker - Edelzwicker means "noble blend". Indeed this wine includes as many as seven different varieties from Auxerrois to Sylvaner. The result is suprisingly coherent and delightfully flavorful. Well balanced, dry Alsatian goodness, this is another wine that comes in the 1 litre size bottle. About $15.

2006 Clos de Rochers Pinot Gris - While Alsace, France has long been the place for rich, but dry Pinot Gris, this Luxembourg beauty beats them at their own game. Ripe pears and yellow flowers abound on the nose and coat the palette while brisk minerality keeps things dry and balanced. This wine is absolutely worth the splurge – and certainly a great conversation topic if the family gets a bit unruly. (This one will also be on my own table!)  About $22.

2007 Anne Amie Cuvee A Mueller Thurgau -Leave it to the folks at well-known Anne Amie Vineyards to deliver an exceptional, if not lesser known, wine. The Cuvee A Mueller Thurgau’s tropical and floral aromas could very easily be bottled on their own and used by aroma therapists to rejuvenate clients. Pineapple, melon and white peach flavors comingle with a perky taste of fresh lemon juice. About $15.


Villa di Corlo NV Grasparossa Lambrusco - Versatile, slightly sparkling, fresh, fruity goodness. Lambrusco is pink - and the best are oh-so-dry. This is a wine for guests who deserve and enjoy a break from the norm. This particular offering shows ripe raspberry fruit backed by a coy minerality. Perfect simply when you want to dazzle without effort. About $17.

Poema NV Brut Cava - Today, if you look for it, exceptional Cava is available at a fraction of the price of Champagne. Case in point: the Poema makes drinking bubbly every day (or in a large party format) oh-so-easy and affordable! This is a fun and versatile bubbly with subtle flavors of peach, pear and warm, toasted bread. A bit of orange rind on the finish adds additional intrigue and nuance. Enjoy this one before, during or after your meal. About $11.

Which one of these is likely to grace your table? Is there another you have in mind for the big day??



Wicked August Wines uncorked!

August 09 Wicked WinesI have now been to the beach a total of 4 days this summer - all of which have been during the month of August. So yes. It's official! Summer weather has finally arrived here in New England. And I just can't help myself! I am happily sipping from all categories of wine: red, white and... rosé! It’s time to make hay while the sun shines, and try something uniquely delicious and satisfying at the end of a sticky, summer day. Head over to Wicked Local to check out which Wicked August Wines you might just want to give a s-whirl!

Have you had the pleasure of tasting any of these offerings? What are your tasting notes?



Episode 2: the love affair between food and wine

Black Bean Burger care of: started to revisit the topic of food and wine as a match made in heaven a few weeks ago... My family wine taste-off of sorts interrupted us for a week last week, but with the fourth of July grill fest soon to come, it seems prudent to re-tune the station to another of our Supper Swap success stories! So without further ado, here we have Episode #2 of our Supper Swap series: Black bean sliders! The first time I tried my "Summer is Coming" black bean sliders recipe out on my fellow Swappers I discovered "it needed a little... tweaking", in the words of Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail. Not to worry. I excel at taking a base recipe and fine-tuning it for future endeavors. I discovered Sandra Lee's recipe lacked a bit of bite, sweetness and texture. The food processor process I employed the first time out of the gates ground everything to a paste;  the flavors of each individual component couldn't possibly show through once "grilled". (I also learned the grill is not the cooking tool of choice....) Here's what I came up with as an alternative to this fast summer savior:

Ingredients - black beans (30 oz), 1/2 sweet onion, 1/2 cup of whole beets, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1 egg (white)

Directions - Pulse the beans LIGHTLY and in batches in your food processor. Place in bowl. Then pulse 1/2 cup of beets in your processor. (This adds additional flare, color and sweetness to the burgers without being over the top for those who may shy away from beets.) Dice sweet onion into small pieces by hand. Combine, adding black pepper and salt to taste. Then combine with egg and crumbs. Form patties.

Use a skillet to cook each side (about 4 or 5 min/side), til done.

Makes 5 Servings for a large burger, or about 7 sliders.

Serve on a large English muffin and - the key - use Greek yogurt as the topping. Add mango salsa for additional panache!

So, what wine works?

I had a bottle of the Nuevo Mundo Cabernet/Malbec on hand the first time I tasted these re-vamped burgers - and have lived to tell the tale again and again (just ask my poor colleague...)!  But I've also given them a whirl with a Syrah-based Cote du Rhone as well as the Crios Syrah/Bonarda and been oh-so-satisfied. Basically, you want a lush and mouth-filling, deep, dark fruited red wine with a touch of herbaceousness and spice. Other blends that would work happily are the SNAFU (CA) and the Portteus Rattlesnake Red (WA). Or try a good old-fashioned, dark toned, (with chocolate subtones) Malbec!

The point is, these burgers aren't shy, but also offer a touch of spice and sweetness. A wine with dark but lush and sweet fruit or undertones (e.g. the chocolate thing) makes for a great pairing.

What other wines would you pair with such an easy-to-make, satisfying, hearty meal?



wine column hop'n!

Disney World - care of www.babble.comEven with the Super Bowl due this weekend and beer lovers all over the US (and beyond?) gearing up for the big day of consumption, wine columnists at some of the country's top rags stayed the course, touching on topics I personally have been following. And so this Friday I bring to you a look at wine from three of my favorite writers: New York's City Winery is open. Looking for the Disney World of Wine? It seems City Winery is trying to be just that. As enthusiastic and passionate as I am about the art of fermented grape juice, I'm not sure if I'm about it.  Must we be everything to everyone? Or is it just this approach that will allow CW to find success even in a down market? Eric Asimov, author of the New York Times' "The Pour", checks out the scene and brings up some very interesting points.  I'll be in town once the ice melts to check it out for myself, but in the meantime, I'm dying to hear what my Big Apple readers think of it! Are you "a fan" of the concept? Comment below!

Malbec, mmm Malbec! Argentine Malbec is certainly a section in the store with a ridiculous number of facings given our small space. But there is enough demand to warrant so many choices! This scenario (plus my personal affection for it?) encourages our reps to continue to bring by new Malbecs for us to try. What's interesting is how many simply 'eh', down right bad, or "fakey-fake" offerings we've tasted in the last 4-5 months. Of course, this just makes us feel even happier with the wines we do carry, but it also demoralizes me a bit. I'd hate to see Malbec winemaking go down the tubes just to meet the increasing demand. While we've been experiencing this challenge here in Greater Boston, you never know for sure if your experience is being felt elsewhere.... This week Gaiter & Bretcher at the Wall Street Journal took 100 Malbecs to the mattresses and reported their findings. Check out their 411! And then tell us, what are your own recent experiences?

Fireplace magic. Since I've been on my winter warmers bender and definitely used the term "fireplace wine" at least once in recent history, I was happy to see Stephen Meuse take up the torch in January's Boston Globe "Plonk of the Month" column. Meuse usually rounds up a solid number of somewhat lesser known, reasonably priced wines, from around the world (yea!). You'll never see mass-marketed items, so it is a pleasure to check out his line-up every 4th Wednesday. And I appreciate that with "plonk" wines as his focus, he describes the wines in relation to their accessible price; it's true, we are "prepared to overlook the occasional quirk [to] be amply compensated by a level of character and interest heavily marketed brands just can't deliver". See what he recommends this month here. Are you familiar with any of these already?



Wines for fall: Mmmm... Malbec

I spend a lot of time in the shop hanging out in our Argentine/Spanish section. Not only do our customers gravitate to that area, but I found my first bottle of love from a non-US producer in that aisle: (Altos de las Hormigas) Malbec. I was hesitant to talk about Malbec in my mini series, Wines for Fall, because there are other grape varietals (e.g. Petite Verdot, Petite Sirah) that are lesser known and lesser consumed, but no less worthy of our attention this time of year. But I realized there was no real reason to keep my personal favorite off the list - and at least once a week I introduce a customer to a bottle of Malbec, so that proves there are still some grasshoppers out there who need to know of this magical varietal!

Malbec is THE Argentine (red) grape of mass export to the US. (I tried to find the exact figure to back this up, but was unable to do so! Please feel free to comment below if you know the answer...). When I was first introduced to Malbec some years ago it was considered an 'up and coming' project in Argentina. The vines were still young (not that they aren't still now, but every year helps!) and so lacked depth, concentration and, key word, ripe berry fruit. The wines tended toward the more vegetal, or "green" flavor profile as a result. As a new wine-exporting/producing nation, there also existed a natural lack of funding, interest (from winemakers and consumers across the globe) and modern technology. These facts could make finding truly phenomenal Malbec a bit more of a challenge. In just the last 10-15 years or so however, the funding is there, Mendoza is better known and appreciated for its happy climate to grow Malbec, and even curious winemakers from all over the world are happy to jump on a plane and get in the fray.

The result? Malbecs of many shapes and sizes are in the US market offering a range of tremendous flavor.

I find it thrilling to help others navigate this range of possibilities. The undercurrant to Malbec tends to be: dark fruits (like the plumbs or blackberries you often find in Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot); spice (sometimes simply black pepper, other times more exotic spices you may play with in the kitchen); earth (think outdoors, woodsy, wet soil or even a touch of saddle leather); gentle grip (not too dry, but evident tannin); and solid acidity (mouthwatering & food-friendly). What makes each (good, non-vegetal or bell-pepper tasting) Malbec fun to expore is which of these elements is/are more evidant and - most important - what role the winemaker has played in coaxing a truly lushy, soft, velvety (or not) mouthfeel.

I've come to know and love the softer, lusher Malbecs (Melipal makes a great example); the earthier style (I'm a fan of Nieto Rsv Malbec); or the berry-forward, unreserved, slightly more rustic basic level offerings like Altos las Hormigas (their Reserva is definitely bigger, bolder and more lush than their $10/bottle offering).

As for the Fall connection? Let's turn to food pairings, of course! But, wait, what's my rule of thumb on this again? Look to the culture from whence the wine came! So, let's also not forget Argentines consumes a LOT of beef. Throw that herb-encrusted steak on the grill and, well, I think your inner child will have no choice but to emerge. Then again... anything on the grill makes Malbec a great choice. Whenever I host a BBQ, I have a case on hand. Malbecs are approachable yet intriguing and ever-so worthy of grilled fare.

What's your favorite Argentine Malbec of choice? Or do you head to France, where this grape got its start, for a Cahors selection?