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Summer highlights: under $9 (rose) wine

It seems like summertime is also a time when you're more likely to escape to the beach, or go camping. Or maybe you have the great opportunity to be the 'destination location' of your friends. Either way, it seems like your more likely to be going through a few bottles on a given night, rather than just the one - or more likely to be drinking more in general, night after night on your vacation, for example. So having a few delicious but affordable wines in your repertoire is kind of a necessity. Note: Cheap wine does not necessarily mean BAD wine. On the contrary, savvy wine shop's have a collection of wines they work even harder to find in the affordable price range. Because they won't compromise quality for price.

This summer there were two wines, roses no less, that came with me on vacation pretty regularly. Both were late-comers to Ball Square Fine Wine's rose collection. The first of the two, Les Trois Chenes, is a project of Chateau Moutete and is a crazy blend of Cinsault, Ugni blanc, Syrah, Merlot, Mourvèdre and even Rolle, for good measure. The result? A wine with surprising levity, authenticity (great minerality) and under-handed (in a good way) fruit. Possibly a perfect example of Provincial rose. For $8.99 especially, this was a no-brainer.

The second of the two is a curious wine from the Vinho Verde region of Portugal. No joke. And no surprise, it has a little bit of spritz. A regular cork screw will do it. But those little bubbles go a long way to delight your taste buds on a hot day. (I mean, come on, why else do people put tonic water or club soda in their cocktails? Subtle bubbles rock.) This wine, Adegas de Moncao Murhalas rose, is made from Porguese varietals Alvarelhao, Pedral, and Vinhao, the last of which is a fleshy red grape. Almost sweet red berries and watermelon flavors are lifted by brisk acidity and that little bit of spritz I keep going on about. It's fruit-forward sweetness made it great with spicy foods, too - or as desert itself after a big meal.

Suffice to say: happiness! I'm drinking them still while supplies last.

Which under $9 bottles captured your enthusiasm last summer?



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?



October's Wicked Wine Picks!

Oct 09 Wicked Wines - 3 of 4 shownOctober poses a cliche opportunity to pick truly wicked wines. But rather than picking “scary” (seriously out of the ordinary) wines for this month’s line up, we’ve gone a different route. October's wine picks reflect a greater need for something familiar and comforting in a climate-changing time. Better yet, they serve as an escape from the same-old-same, just in case you’ve gotten too set in your back to school routine or forgot to take a vacation over the summer. October is a month to mix it up! And so we have. Pop on over to Wicked Local today to see what fabulousness we've stirred up!



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?



Minervois, a god-like wine

Chateau Coupe Roses Bastide MinervoisI was channeling Disney and Belle a couple of weeks ago. Today I envision a Greek god named Minervois. Except the name  "Minervois", a small sub-region of the Languedoc in France,  actually comes from the village of Minerve. Who knew? Because when I re-tasted an old favorite from this area, I wasn't just pleased with the result, it was a near-spiritual experience - for just $13 (retail). Backing up a touch, Minervois offers the world reasonably priced reds typically comprised of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre, perhaps with some Carignan or Cinsault mixed in for good measure. It depends. It's an experimental part of the world down there. Some wines are purely easy quaffing selections. But others are quite memorable. Typically the latter come from low-yield vines (remember, this means concentrated fruit flavors) in the rocky hills above the plateau.

The 2006 vintage of Chateau Coupes Roses Minervois La Bastide was a wine I first tasted nearly two years ago. I remember it having very floral notes and a tannic structure. It was very good, but it needed either food or a few breaths of fresh air to come alive and loosen up a bit. Perhaps both. Several weeks ago I happened to retaste this same vintage. Holy canolies. The extra bottle time served this wine well! If you can get your hand on a bottle (or several) I highly recommend it because it is tasting out beautifully right now. I saw the imaginary god Minervois, I'm not kidding.

To paint you a clearer picture, the Bastide is comprised of Grenache and Carignan with a touch of sultry Syrah. Today I find those same enticing floral aromatics from two years ago, with violets and juniper coming through most clearly. Tasting it is also like taking a dip in my spice rack! Sage and marjoram flow on the palate, with accents of resin and other earthy notes chiming in. It's the lush, fleshy- smooth, velvety blanket of black raspberry, plum and strawberry fruit that leaves you breathless, however.  The wine finishes with mouthwatering acidity, like a little wave washing onto the shore.

aquitaine-beet-salad-and-beet-soupImagine my delight when I popped over to Aquitaine in the South End last week and discovered this wine is available by the glass. It really is a savory wonder, absolutely delightful on its own and, of course, a good match for their beet salad, steak, lamb or chicken dishes. If you think you'll have more than one glass (and I suspect any wine-sipping citizen might), just treat yourself to the bottle!

Do you enjoy Minervois? What selections are in your "cellar"?



Red wine when summer comes early

Vacqueras loveWe've had a lovely bender of 80 degree temps here in Beantown. Love it. My soul is being nourished with Vitamin D, my grill is getting some much needed TLC, and I have an "excuse" to drink red wines even when it is warm out. This week I brought home a bottle of one of my all time favorite wines: 2006 Mas du Bouquet Vacqueras by Vignerons de Caractere.  Yes, I love a good Cote du Rhone. But the Vacqueras is my true happy place in that region. Almost 20 years ago Vacqueras got a little extra "credit" for the wines it produces, largely red wines made of the famous "GSM" trifecta: Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre; Vacqueras became one of (now) five AOCs in the Cote du Rhone. (By way of reference, there are over 100 villages within the CDR that do not have a special designation, or AOC status.)

Law mandates Vacqueras reds have at least 50% Grenache and at least 20% of either Syrah or Mouvedre. From there winemakers can blend in any one of the other 10 varietals permitted in the CDR, though you'll often discover Cinsault if a fourth grape is included in a particular red. Vacqueras is special because of its glacial soils as well as the hot, dry climate that is perfect for producing dense, structured, concentrated wines. And yet I find Vacqueras offerings tend to be a bit more approachable than its Gigondas or Chateneuf du Pape counterparts. (Ok, fine, you're working your way up the Wow Factor charts in "magical" qualities with those other two AOCs, but you also pay a few extra dollars accordingly.)

Vacqueras wines can certainly indulge your wild side or transport you to the great outdoors - they can offer tremendous earthy, herbaceous, rustic qualities, with trademark spice hitting a nice note on the finish. But more often I find those elements are more subtle, evolving behind the bigger fruit fiddles playing the main tune. These reds are big and bold - but soft and lush, too. The paradox enthralls my taste buds - AND more to the point, indulges my need to grill, grill, grill!

The Mas du Bouquet is a favorite of mine because of its tremendous consistency despite being the product of a co-op of winemakers. I think its consistency is actually an expression of place: the Manganelli Family has owned their vineyards for 100 years and many of the vines are quite old. That kind of history coupled with a dedication to sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices must set a certain tone and yield (no pun intended) particularly good fruit. That gives any winemaker a decent head start.

My tasting notes, you now demand? Fine, fine... When it is first opened, spices will literally tickle your nose distracting you from garnering more. But within as little as 20 minutes, its violet and lavender florals emerge, followed by aromas of black raspberries and plums. These fruits are juicy on the palate, with a touch of blackberry coming to fruition as well. A hint of leather, a hint of spice - and all is naughty and nice! The mouthfeel is what sends me to the moon, though - lush and supple with only gentle tannins becoming even softer as the wine continues to open. Lip-smacking goodness. Perfect with game, burgers, lamb - or even an earthy risotto dish, I imagine!

Which Vacqueras do you most enjoy? Or will you beginning your travels with the Mas du Bouquet?



April's "Wicked Wines" uncorked!

April 2009 Wicked WinesOf course we're all trying to forget about snow what with Spring springing. But I really think wine is like a snowflake. No two bottles (even of the same wine) are alike! Wine is one of the few things constantly pushing me to explore something new - because I never know what amazing gem I might encounter once the bottle is uncorked.

Today I am thrilled to debut a new series here at Pour Favor: Wicked Wines! Every second Monday of the month, pop on over to Wicked Local to see what treasures I've found - and hope you will also give a sniff, swirl and sip for yourself!

Are you familiar with any of the wines I feature this month? What's your April "Wicked Wine" find?



Wines with Style

Thanks to Gourmet for their image of The Achilles Project/Persephone!Ever been wary of a "Wines by the Glass" list? Been dubious the wines were opened two days prior to your debut at the bar? Or better yet, ever been overwhelmed by a list that's a real list, offering an ample array of wines you've never heard of?  The bars/restaurants that take their glass pours seriously are a rare and wonderful breed. The trick is navigating their list with style and grace. Not always an easy task! The Achilles Project/Persephone here in Beantown offers more than 20 different wines by the glass. To me, this is the first indicator they are serious about wine. The second indicator is that a good number of the wines on their list are "nerdy" (read: boutique offerings you don't see everyday). Like the boutique shop they run up front, they are focused on being fashion-forward, offering something new for folks to try. And because they are serious about glass pours, they also tend to be on the lookout for any wine that is past its prime, giving customers a greater opportunity to enjoy a "fresh" experience.  Sign me up!

Today I thought it would be fun to go through their "Wine By The Glass" list and pick out a handful of grapes that might cause a customer or two to scratch their head - when really they should be doing a little jig and embracing the list's fabulous uniqueness. Buckle your seat belt!

Lambrusco: This red wine varietal from Emilia Romagna, Italy is something else... Lightly sparkling (frizzante, as the Italians like to say), this wine offers smart red berry fruit flavors, often with just a touch of sweetness eminating from the ripe grapes they pick for this elixir. Think antipasto or anything with a touch of saltiness or lightly fried (calamari anyone?) as a perfect pairing. Or sip it on it's own! It's a real charmer.

Assyrtiko/Asirtiko: This white grape varietal may have different spellings, but to me they say the same thing: crisp, citrus deliciousness. The closest "mainstream" varietal I can reference for new Assyritko drinkers would be Sauvignon Blanc. But Assyrtiko brings additional minerality and even a hint of smoke to the table. This is a probably one of the most well respected varietals in Greece, with its real home in Santorini. Unique, bright goodness in your glass.

Scheurebe: This is one of Germany's best known hybrid varietals, yet it is still somewhat of an orphan.... DNA tests prove that this grape's dad is Riesling, but Mom is still unknown (though previously thought to be Sylvaner). Gotta love a freak! This wine typically offers tremendous floral aromatics and a touch of residual sugar (RS).  Tasting the wine out on the town can be a bit of a gamble, but your bartender should be able to guide you on just how sweet it is (though often enough you'll find they err on the drier side). Very much worth the experimentation, I've found. Often a great match for slightly spicy Asian dishes.

As for the Reds on their list, well.... some of these may be better paired with food than as a "cocktail wine" but it is certainly not everyday you see Austria's own delicious and lightly refreshing test-tube varietal Zweigelt on the roster, let alone a Mencia or a even a Monastrell (the Spanish name for the grape Mouvedre, which is better recognized in French wines). Nero d'Avola is up and coming, thought to be a pseudo Syrah with additional notes of currants, clove and vanilla; I find them more often distinct in their own right and offering far less oomph than Syrah can. But they are often just the thing to scratch the itch at a very reasonable price. Carignane can be wonderful, but I prefer to enjoy it when dinner's up, rather than at the bar with friends. I find it too dry, earthy and edgy without a bit of food on hand.

Any which way you look at it, the key thing is context. Do you want to sip something easy like a bit of Zweigelt while you chat with friends? Do you prefer something more familiar but still adventurous (like an Assyritko) to take the edge off a long day? Or do you crave a bit more body in your wine as you snack throughout the evening? If you're unsure you can either start with a bit of bubbly or white wine to get the ball rolling - and you can always ask your bartender for a recommendation to suit your mood!

Half the fun of wine is where you  are, what you're doing or who you are with. It's worth a touch of experiment; don't you agree?


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Open That Bottle Night wine report

The OTBN Line-up!I hope you and yours had a wonderful time popping a cork or two last Saturday night for Open That Bottle Night. For my part, a handful of my closest friends descended on my place for a wonderful meal of braised paprika chicken, orzo and lemon-garlic asparagus. We started with an appetizer of oysters, a small aperitif of exceptional Dolin Dry Vermouth and a glass of white Bordeaux ('06 Ch. le Tucau, Graves). Then with dinner we moved on to our "serious" wines - those we had been saving for whatever special occasion had yet to materialize. I wasn't exactly sure what my bottle of Spanish wine from Terra Alta, Spain would bring - but I had high hopes, too. This isn't a region you often see here in the States; my bottle was actually hand-carried back from Barcelona by my best friend after her wedding there.

The Terra Alta D.O. boasts only 28 vineyards. The region is characterized by its Mediterranean & Continental climate (very cold winters, very hot summers), steep slopes and valley floors, and its proximity to its better known neighbor, Priorat. The cierzo breezes from the northeast do their part to keep the grapes dry, preventing rot. Terra Alta is considered an up and coming region, with many winemakers experimenting with better known grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, which have been permitted since 1995. More often you'll find native grapes Garnacha Tinta and Carinena as well as Garnacha Peluda and Morenillo, as far as the reds go.

Doing my best to navigate the Catalan description on the back of the bottle, I anticipated the Ede Aria 2003 would be a big boy, with need of decanting.  The wine was a blend of three grapes: Garnacha Peluda (40%), Syrah (35The Ete Aria%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (25%). My inspiration for the paprika braised chicken was distinct from the wine I knew I would have on offer, so decanting was a priority to soften any rough edges and remove the sediment the wine was likely to throw. Since I know my friend prefers fruit-forward wines to uber-dry ones, I hoped this wine would deliver a nice silky mouthfeel, with both red and black fruits apparent. Finally, given the region's proximity to the Priorat, I hoped it would have a gentle herbaceousness and a touch of earthy leather. I was pleased to discover it delivered on all of the above!

The other two wines we opened Saturday night were the 2004 Stevenot Tempranillo (Sierra Foothills, California) and the 2004 Villa Antinori Toscana (Tuscany, Italy).

Yes, Saturday evening I traveled the world with my friends! It was a pleasure to do so.

What wine(s) did you open for OTBN? Any highlights or disappointments in the mix?

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winter warmers go west!

California and wineCalifornia wines were largely where my wine journeys started. But living on the east coast, and in New England more specifically, the influence of Old World cultures means there is also a large supply of Old World wines. California became less and less a part of my at-home wine drinking as my tastes took me in different directions and the rich history of winemaking abroad sucked me in. But that doesn't mean California doesn't have quite a bit to offer. It's not exactly a small state and it certainly has myriad climates, micro-climates, soil types, winemaking styles/influences and even its own unique history. So today my quest for winter warmer wines takes me - er, us - west! One winery that continues to impress me is Spencer Roloson in Napa Valley. It's not often I find one single winery where I have more than one "favorite" wine in their repertoire. With these guys I do. Perhaps it is because founder/winemaker Sam Spencer has a crush on the Rhone Valley & Spain, too. (In his vineyards you will  find Rhone & Spanish varietals planted like Syrah, Carignane, Valdigue, Viognier, and even Grenache Blanc.) But what's particularly cool is that Spencer believes, as I do, that wines need to be "true to their varietal character with enough finesse, elegance and focus to reveal the origin".

What does this really mean? It means the true flavors of each grape varietal are evident, demonstrating the characteristics they are known for; they simply taste like they are supposed to, not 'manufactured' through winery tomfoolery, if you will. And the best part is (drum roll please) they have a sense of place. In tasting Spencer Roloson wines, you know they come from Napa Valley, California. Ok, so maybe you don't taste volcanic deposits necessarily... Suffice to say, the Spencer & Roloson wines have a distinctly New World, California flavor: uber-round edges, deep layers of rich flavors, often sweeter notes of vanilla or chocolate... I know you know what I'm talking about. These wines coat your tongue and go down smooooth. But this smoothness does not hide the lovely fruit or earthy, floral/herbaceous flavors each wine delivers.

"Forced" to choose just one winter warmer wine for today's post, I'm going with the 2004 Spencer Roloson Palaterra, their red blend. This wine is modeled on the wines of the Rhone with this vintage a blend of Syrah, Carignane, Valdigue grapes. If this wine was a musical instrument, I'd say it is a cello. With every movement of the bow across its strings, deeper blackberry and chocolate covered strawberry flavors are accented with higher notes of fresh cut rosemary and thyme. The finish is just as graceful and intoxicating as its flavors on the midpalate. A solid food wine, I imagine the heartier wine-lover would enjoy this alone, too.

Which California wine is your winter warmer of choice?