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Apply the Rule of 3 to discover Food/Wine Pairings you will relish

We recently taught a wine seminar at Harvard University celebrating the Art of Food/Wine Pairings. Our muse? West Coast Wines! California, Washington and Oregon were all gainfully represented.

The red wines we shared we shared with Harvard students during a recent Wine Seminar we taught.
The red wines we shared we shared with Harvard students during a recent Wine Seminar we taught.

It was not lost on us that the underlying vinous theme focused on wines from a part of the world that is quite large and quite diverse; it's a culinary Choose Your Own Adventure. And so the food pairing principle "if it grows together it goes together" is, quite simply, harder to exemplify. Not to worry!

If you cannot at least start out PAIRING BY PLACE and, therefore, tapping into the local cuisine which blossoms naturally with wines grown in a particular region, then you must make a go of it by applying one of these principles to achieve a balanced, complementary, aw-eliciting experience:


Consider the Weight of the dish* (usually taking into consideration how it is prepared (e.g. steamed vs. grilled vs. roasted) and if it is dressed in a rich sauce or just a squeeze of lemon). You'll want the weight of the wine to match the weight of the dish.

Consider also the Acidity in the dish. Is the dish bright? Does your mouth water at the thought of it (like the thought of grapefruit, tomato sauce or dill pickles)? If it is a high acid dish, you'll want a high acid wine.

Next, consider the 'Meatiness' of it. Is the bold factor dialed all the way up? Whether it is a hearty vegetarian dish like sauteed portabellas and eggplant, or roast lamb and potatoes, the more savory the dish the more tannin-loving (aka how dry your tongue feels after you swallow) it will be. High tannin/very dry wines marry perfectly with hearty, "meaty" fare.

Last, what about Sweetness? BBQ sauce is Zinfandel-loving because Zin tends to be bold, bursting with ripe and/or dried fruits. While the wine may be vinified dry, the flavor experience from all that fruit complements the sweetness of the BBQ sauce.


Alternatively you'll want to create balance by contrasting what's on your plate - and nothing is truer than when you are faced with a particularly Salty dish! Fried foods, often Chinese fare and meats like Ham or charcuterie tend to be saltier and require a wine with a sweeter or more fruit-forward composition to create a harmonious palate experience.

While these principles are sure to get you started, there's something awesome to be said for the exploration itself, for figuring out how flavors jive - for finding out the hard way, and if you're lucky, for finding out the optimal way. Each revelation is a win in itself - inspiration promotes celebration (and keeping at it)! So most important, HAVE FUN on the journey.

 *   By "dish" we don't just mean the protein on the plate! Consider the sides as well (sometimes they are more interesting and fun to pair off of), or what components you want on your fork - the 'bite' in its entirety.

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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?



Episode 3: the love affair between food and wine

Jamaican Jerk Chicken photo care of: 4th of July! Ok... so we still have a few days of anticipation left this week - or a few more days to get our marinades going and our wine shopping underway. This week we resume our food/wine pairing conversation with episode # 3 in our Supper Swap Series: gett'n giggy (jerky?) with chicken and Zinfandel! It doesn't get more American than Zinfandel. Yes, it's widely thought Zin's roots lie in Puglia, Italy where it is known as Primitivo. But the truth is this particular grape's origins are still somewhat of a mystery. All we know for sure is it is America's grape. It really doesn't grow well outside of California. And so Zin has become our baby.

What's even better about this grape is.... it is terrific when Jamaican Jerk Chicken is on the menu! My buddy John is The Man when it comes to marinades. Actually, he's really the guy who got me on the bandwagon. Since I first met him he never missed an opportunity to bring by his  bags of meats. I've learned several things under his tutelage:

1. Ziplock is the key. The bag allows the marinade to coat every centimeter of meat and lock in the desired flavors. It also travels well and takes up no room in the fridge either when your own is full, or when landing at a BBQ and fridge-space is scarce.

2. It is a quick method to employ. I like to spend time in the kitchen preparing my dishes - but I usually have more than one thing going at a time. Marinades allow me to get the meat going first, and then spend the rest of my time preparing my sides. All the while my protein is getting some TLC in the fridge.

3. It isn't messy and clean up is a snap! I love that you can just dump all of the ingredients into one bag and then mush it around. Once your meat is on the grill, the bag can be efficiently discarded without having to clean another bowl.

John did not let us down when we last swapped a few weeks ago, either.  Looking at the recipe later, I would have thought it would have packed more flame-throwing heat. But this particular marinade brings a different kind of heat as all of the flavors blended together and mellowed perfectly as the chicken was essentially slow-cooked on the grill; (we were pacing ourselves what with all of our culinary delights to enjoy throughout the evening).

We didn't have any Zin on hand by the time the chicken rolled out, but it would be a terrific pairing. Zinfandel is perhaps best known for it's juicy, red berry, fruit-forward character; this profile is a great match for any dish that packs a bit of a punch. But even the other style of Zin, the more tannic/structured style with a kick of spice on the finish, would be a good match for this particular recipe. The protein in the tannin would soften and sweeten once in contact with the chicken/meat protein (on your tongue) - and this dynamic marinade, with subtle flavors and nuances, would be enhanced by the slight kick of pepper on the wine's finish.

(NOTE:  I would, however, caution anyone making a truly spicy dish and picking up a truly tannic wine - danger danger! That could cause a bit of a fire-y explosion in your mouth! You'd be better served by a wine with a little bit of residual sugar to put out the flames.)

Suffice to say, as you get your Marinade On this Fourth of July, feel free to grab a bottle of America's beloved Zin to accompany your dish! Be mindful of your spice quotient and simply ask your local wine guru which style/bottle of the juice is your best bet.

Which CA Zinfandel do you enjoy most?



Drinking red after Memorial Day

Lambrusco at Pour Favor's March Wine & Style eventFolks have been coming by the shop with great gusto for warmer temps;  and they have been seeking out red wines for the occasion! No, we're not just talking about "BBQ wines". We're talking about wines to sip and enjoy with or without a meal while you sit on your porch watching the sun go down. Today I'm going to share some lesser known varietals or unique regional offerings (hybrids or blends) perfect for just such an occasion. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is taking this list (or a modified version, as you see fit) to your local shop to see which offerings they have on offer. These are some cool wines to keep your summer fresh - but they aren't necessarily available at every shop. They are, no less, worth seeking out.

Zweigelt. Austrian fruity goodness. Some earth. Often a touch tart. Lively. A hybrid of  St.-Laurent and Blaufrankish.

Dole. A Swiss wine, which blends Pinot Noir and Gamay. Fresh, ripe redberry fruits and cherries. Distinct in its own right, it has a unique identity I think many palates will embrace.

Dornfelder. Some argue this is the new "hottness" out of Germany. Another red berry-fruited wonder, but with a great spice. Terrifically light on its feet - without ever leaving planet Earth.

Gamay. Low tannin, light style red. Very fruity and THE grape in Beaujolais red wines. Seek out Beaujolais Villages offerings to get a bit more depth in your glass (aka a dash of Burgundian earthiness).

Lambrusco. An Italian, frizzante style wine. Vinified sweet and dry - so ask to accommodate your taste or intentions. A lovely spectrum of depth and redberry fruit flavors on the market.

Some of these may be familiar to you as we've bantered about several in the past. But I've been known to get stuck in traditional ruts when on a mission for an aperitif or a lighter style red to accompany a meal on a hot day. So, go on! It's a big bad world of refreshing RED wine out there.  Remember these options and... experiment!

What other reds do you like on a hot day? There are several more out there... please chime in!


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H1N1... Wines?

mexico (wine) fevahOk. Bad joke. (I can't take full credit as one of my best friends, fellow foodie and wine lover actually fed it to me.) What can I say? Sometimes a little levity is needed!And it was Cinco de Mayo yesterday.... Mexico is actually the oldest wine producing country in the New World. Who knew? (Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, apparently. There are two full columns dedicated to Mexico in their most recent edition of the World Atlas of Wine.) I was intrigued - but not surprised - to learn the Spaniards got the ball rolling in the 1500s; but there was a significant interruption in 1699 when "the King of Spain banned new vineyards in Mexico, fearing competition to Spain's wine industry, thus halting the development of a wine culture in Mexico for three centuries." Egad! 3 C's? No wonder no one really knows about Mexican wine - and the country is better known for tequila and refreshing cerveza.

It wasn't until the 18th Century that vines started to get a little local love. Grenache, Carignan and even Pedro Ximenez (used in the production of a yummy, rich Sherry) varietals landed on the scene. Somehow, someway, "they" also figured out that Baja, Mexico was quintessential vine country, er... wine country. Only 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Baja has a terrific climate and mineral-rich soil ideal for viticulture. Today innovation seems to be setting in - albeit slowly.

If you caught the recent "Diary of a Foodie" episode on PBS, a work of Gourmet magazine, none of this is news to you. Rather, Casa de Piedra Winery is synonymous with innovative, tasty Mexican vino.  Piedra plants a range of "uncommon" Mexican varietals and their philosophy is to keep yields small while employing a "simple technique". The episode reports they plant Grenache and Mission grapes for the reds, and Palomino for the whites. Further research on their website suggests their repertoire of varietals is much greater: Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are additional red varietals planted; Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are some of the whites grown. That's certainly a diverse lot! I applaud their willingness to experiment.

Unfortunately I've never had the (dis?)pleasure of sipping on a Mexican wine offering. But by Robinson's account, while "Mexican tastes and drinking habits have long lagged behind the increasingly exciting achievements of Mexico's modern vineyards and wineries", they are worth checking out.

Are Mexican wines even available in your market? Have you had a chance to sample them?

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wines for fall: the fiesty and fabulous!

Today the rain and leaves are swirling and the sun isn't due to show itself.  On burly fall days like these, there's nothing better than an awesome bottle of wine to hunker down with and lift your spirits! The last few weeks I've broken down the nerdier nuances of cool red varietals perfect for fall. While fabulous on their own, sometimes the best of the best are actually blends of a few - or several - different grapes. Given the circumstances outside my office window, it's only appropriate that we start exploring these finds with the 2005 SNAFU red blend.

SNAFU? Yep! That would be translated as Situation Normal All F***d Up. This wine is the brainchild of both Paul Moser (Winemaker) and the Local Wine Company, a group dedicated to bringing us some of the coolest blends from the Pacific Northwest and California. I get the sense that the Chicago-based wine geeks at LWC get an idea for a wine and then send their general, and no doubt entertaining, musings to one of the folks in their winemaking contingency....

I can't help but think for the 2005 SNAFU red wine the LWC Powers That Be gave Mr. Moser notes that said something like, "we want a wine with tremendous chutzpah that sources as many grapes from as many subregions in California as possible - and still maintains a sense of place.... You know, the wine you want to come home to at the end of a long day that reminds you of something familiar, but gives you a little something more, too."  Moser did their 'request' justice, though from the sounds of it, what's tucked inside that bottle wasn't necessarily what was originally planned; they did call it SNAFU, after all!

SNAFU is a blend of 42% Petite Sirah (the monster grape) & 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 8% Merlot and Syrah, 6% Zinfandel and 3% Petite Verdot (the late-bloomer on the playground this fall). What's noteworthy about this wine is how well each of the grapes in this blend harmonize. It's tremendous, in fact! It's greatest component, Petite Sirah, is cold soaked for four days and then pressed to concentrate the fruit. This technique offers the wine fabulous depth (that "oomph" and backbone we spoke about earlier), but manages how much tannin (dryness) remains in the final product. The Cabernet, also cold pressed, offers classic flavors of currant, black fruits, and spice. I argue the Merlot contributes a softer, more elegant edge, and brings home the (similar) fruit flavors you get from the Cab. The Syrah adds a touch of earthiness and herbaceousness; the Zin provides berry sweetness, and the Petit Verdot offers its color and floral aromatics.

I know I don't offer my own wine notes that often on this site, but I do have quite a bit of fun writing them for myself and my clients and their guests. Here's what I came up with the last time I gave this wine a whirl!

This wine's name says it all: Situation Normal... and it is wonderful as a result! This is a killer blend of Petite Sirah (42%), Cabernet Sauvignon (33%), and other red varietals sourced from various vineyards throughout California. SNAFU opens with all the panache you can imagine, fresh blueberry and raspberry fruits explode onto the stage. Then you taste its earthier side, as if it had to take a quick walk through a wet forest to collect itself before the curtain went up. And yet it all comes together easily, delivering a well-executed, perfectly delightful performance. Buy your tickets to this show early!

What red blends are you a fan of this fall season?


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Wine Blogging Wednesday: 2004 Tobin James Dusi Vineyard Zin

Big, red, New World wines (California and Australia) were my first real introduction to the wine world. My Phoenix upbringing/roots made those wines easily accessible in the local market; meanwhile, my older brother and sister-in-law had gotten a jump start on traveling to the CA wine country in search of the best wines on offer. I can't remember exactly which year it was they came across Tobin James Cellars. But I know it was early in their wine making history (mid/late 90s). Tobin James became not only a staple those first years I returned from college for Christmas vacation but also during the summers, when my brother would bring a case to our little vacation spot in Rhode Island. These wines were always a particular treat. On a more daily basis I admittedly spent my pennies on Yellow Tail and Buckley's (a topic for another day, perhaps...). So for this Wine Blogging Wednesday where Lenndevours encouraged us to celebrate WBW's 4th Birthday by returning to our roots, of course Tobin is a natural choice for me. Even though Tobin is a rare find in these parts - especially when it comes to the really good stuff - I happen to have a secret stash in my cellar. The challenge this WBW was not which producer to return to, but rather which wine (read: varietal) to select. I decided to go with the '04 Dusi Vineyard Zinfandel, since Paso Robles is largely Zin Country and I've found Tobin's Dusi Vineyard selection to be consistent vintage after vintage.

I could look at a line up of Tobin red wines and be in heaven. This one was an inky, deep, violet color as it flowed out of the bottle and into my glass. Made from 80-year-old vines such concentration comes as no surprise, nor the fact that it offered bright, juicy fruit, just shy of the fruit bomb jammy explosion I often associate with this part of the world. The wine had just a touch of smoke too, with some earthiness and typical black pepper notes, which sang a soft tune on the finish. I'm not sure how much oak this wine sees, but it doesn't feel heavy-handed; rather the oak imparts a smooth, lush, sexy mouthfeel that sucks you in for another taste. It is well-balanced, with the acidity and tannins commingling happily with the fruit's fleshy, fullness. If you've got a bottle, I encourage you to decant it. I didn't this time because I wasn't sure I would finish the bottle - and actually wanted to taste it again after a day or so. But I definitely got a little extra "protein" on Day 2 as I polished it off.... A final note of applause: this wine doesn't bring the exceptional heat you might expect for a wine coming in at 15.6% alcohol; the layers of flavor are what you remember.

As much as perhaps 90% of my wine expenditures support Old World producers these days, each time I pop open a bottle of Tobin James I'm uniquely satisfied. Granted I'm likely a bit biased because this wine is from my roots. But I'm ok with that. Satisfaction is as satisfaction does.

What wine helps define your wine-drinking "roots"? Have you ever enjoyed a Tobin James selection?

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