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Cote du Rhone


Wine Pairs with Pop Tarts - and 6 other "cool" Back 2 School foods

Why should kids get to enjoy all the fun and excitement of back-2-school?!

Quite certainly, adults need a playground, too - one where play leads to innovation and reward.... If you are an event planner, conference/meeting "junkie", or just OITW (out in the world) you know that from cronuts to gourmet grilled cheese and everything in between, Chefs are having a blast in the ever-evolving, no-holds-barred 20Teens playground. The more kooky or 'old school classic', the greater the delighting riff for foodies and the casual consumer alike.

Whether an individual trend is coming (donuts, cronuts and Pop Tarts) or going (cupcakes!), wine has been around for 12 THOUSAND years. It has outlived every up and down - and it continues to find its place in our hearts.

Here are 7 Worthy Wine Pairings not only to get you through the first full week back to school, but that give you key street cred as you and your tastebuds get throttled into Hipdom!


Classic Peanut Butter & Grape Jelly: Festive and fruity Lambrusco

Gourmet Peanut Butter & Apricot Jam: Exotic and spiced Gewurtztraminer


Ants on a Log: Sassy, grassy Gruner Veltliner


Apple Cider Donuts: Appley, Pear-y, bright and lactic White Burgundy


Sarma Pistachio Pop Tarts: Fleshy and zippy Spanish Albarino


Poutine: Gamey yet silky Cotes du Rhone Rouge


Gourmet "Spanish Fig & Olive" Grilled Cheese, w/ grated Manchego cheese: bold yet refined Priorat or Montsant red


Reinvented "BLT", aka zucchini latke, heirloom tomato and sweet corn custard w/bacon vinaigrette ~ Rustic and charming Nebbiolo

And, guess what?! These suggested wine pairings are just a starting point. There are many other fun directions to take, too. With wine, the options can be endless. So get out on the playground and start swinging!



Buying wines for your wedding - made easy!

This time of year in particular we get numerous inquiries from anxious brides and grooms who rightfully care about what wines they will serve at their wedding, but are stressed to the max about choosing them for their big day. While some weddings have specifications which call for a professional consult, many others are more streamlined. For the latter case, we thought it might be time to write up a few How To's to take the stress out of this project!  

The three most common criteria couples present to us:

1.  User-friendly: We want wines that everyone will enjoy, whether they are "usually" an X-wine drinker or not.


2.  Food-friendly: We want the wines to work with what we're serving, whether someone opted for the fish, chicken or tenderloin.

3.  Cost-effect: We don't want to serve anything "cheap", but if we could keep things under(?!) or around $15 per bottle, that would be great...

You can address all of these concerns in just a few steps:

TIP #1: Streamline your offerings

There are reasons (yes, plural) "His and Her Cocktails" are so popular... It's festive, for sure, and fewer options for guests tightens up your liquor order (read: budget), focuses consumption, AND expedites service! So approach wine offerings similarly and CHOOSE "HOUSE" WINES: by offering your sparkler plus a crowd-pleasing white and red (with maybe a beautiful dry rose thrown in for good measure), you will satisfy the majority (if not all!) of your guests. Remember, these three options offer enough variety themselves. So have fun with it! You could even come up with creative or personal names for each choice.

TIP #2: Pick a Perky White

Wines with higher acidity are food-friendly by nature; but their mouthwatering effect also comes in handy when your best friend just got stuck talking to crazy Aunt Edna or you've got dancing on the agenda. Sauvignon Blanc works, sure!, but one of our other "sneaky" tricks is to select grape varietals that guests may not have ever heard of, let alone tasted. Case in point: as popular as Austrian Gruner Veltliner and Spanish Albarino are becoming, these are not grapes that everyone knows (though they should!). Offering something people have no expectations about means they just simply sip and enjoy!

TIP #3: Select a Smooth Red

When it comes to selecting your red offering, you want something that strikes a middle ground - something not too bold and dry, and something not too light so that guests use that dreaded wine word "thin". You also want something that goes down smooooth - something with nice fruit and soft edges. Here again, a way to work around the grape varietal fatigue (aka I only drink California Cab...) is to choose wines that are named for their region, with no varietal labeling evident. Smart picks are red wines from the Cotes du Rhone (fabulous, food-friendly red blends) or wallet-friendly Spanish Rioja (the more expensive options often mean the wine has spent more time in oak barrels, which puts the wine into the "too bold" camp). Both of these regions have prolific, 100% delicious options that are exceptional values!

TIP #4: Bubbles!

Some say you should splurge in this category; we don't necessarily agree. While you certainly can splurge here, remember that the nuances that a higher priced bubbly offer are likely going to be lost in the equation. More often sparkling wine is consumed per tradition, or to add an additional festive flare.  And there are SO many great options from outside of Champagne, France that lend exactly the helping hand you desire, with plenty of Delight on offer at oh-so reasonable prices. For some suggestions beyond the happy usual suspects Cava and Prosecco, check out other alternatives here!

So now the question of quantity: how much is enough?

The good news is, there is a formula for this quandary! While consumption as a whole tapers off over the course of the festivities, some people will hit it harder as the evening progresses. Taper-ers tend to beat the Hard-hitters, but either way, if you assume one drink per person per hour* you'll have more than enough to go around.

There are five glasses of wine in every bottle, six when it comes to a sparkling wine toast.

So if you have 100 guests and a six hour event, figure 600 total drinks. Divide 600 by 5 to figure out how many bottles are needed (120) and then by twelve to get the number of cases needed (twelve bottles in a case) = 10 cases of wine. You can then decide how many cases of each wine you'd like to have on hand based on your knowledge of your guest list, wedding date and venue (e.g. more red wine drinkers than white, hot summer day under a tent vs. cold and wintery, etc.)

*Note:  This is number of DRINKS, not just wine. If you are serving beer, wine and liquor, estimate the number of wine drinkers and go from there to gauge your wine purchase. Alternatively, you can adjust the number of hours you think people will be drinking wine, e.g. cocktail hour (1.5 glasses) + dinner hour (1.5 glasses) + dancing (1 glass) = 4 wine drinks per person, or 400 total glasses = 80 bottles of wine = 7 cases (always round up).

With this approach you'll be setting yourself up for success! Now all you have to do is taste a few wines in each of these categories and make the final decision.

Stuck or have a bigger wedding wine quandry? Give us a shout! We'd be happy to help you navigate this component.



nuance and panache via Elyse Vineyards

Here in Boston we often find that in the (unofficial) 'Winemaking Philosophy School' domestic producers come down on one or the other side of the Old vs. New World style line. California producers who want to be know for producing "cleaner" (read: more subtly oaked, or unoaked), less "tropical" white wines and/or producing "cleaner" (less chocolatey) or alcoholic reds often describe their approach as more Old World. Sometimes they'll even get more specific, too, such that if they are focusing on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, they are shooting for a more Burgundian (France) approach; if they are focusing on Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc or the like, they will tell you they are inspired by Bordeaux (France) reds; and likewise if they are focusing on Syrah, Grenache and the like, they will tell you Rhone (France) wines are their inspiration. New World wines can strike a middle ground, where the fruit is forward and full, but not so much so as to hide any other nuances.  This style is just a lot harder to find.

This week we had the pleasure of revisiting the well-known, highly regarded wines of Elyse Vineyards with the understated Winemaker/Owner Ray Coursen guiding us through his ample lineup. The elegance and distinction of his wines (among an elite list of colleagues - we also happened to have the pleasure of tasting Burgess wines earlier that day) spoke for themselves, with his Rhone-focused reds displaying an almost unheard of level of refinement and elegance, with a surprising lighter body (relatively speaking) and a lower alcohol level than the heavy-handed Grenache grape (in and of its own genetic makeup) is known. The nuances of smoked meats and charcuterie stole the show - and brought back to discussion the impact of terroir in California.

We've agreed amongst ourselves informally that the popular alcohol bombs of the 1990s were delicious enough at the time, but took their toll on you physically. But we hadn't heard a domestic producer weigh in on the topic recently. Interestingly, Ray offered up his perspective on alcohol levels at the outset - and it was fascinating. This man is NOT, by any stretch of the imagination, working with grape varietals that are not a huge challenge to keep at moderate levels of alcohol. (And especially during the heyday of Robert Parker reviews (1990s), big, extracted wines were what the market was after; given the growing conditions and winemaking practices of the time, it was easy enough to offer up the goods accordingly.)

Ray said he and his crew got to the point where they didn't want to drink their own wines everyday - they had worn them out because they were just so big, so high octane. Over the years it was just too much. In the last few vintages they've made the decision to simply apply a lighter hand. And the savory/elegant tension is outstanding!

Ray's Zin's continue to be flagship wines, for sure, but if you want to be enchanted for enchantment's sake seek out the Elyse Le Corbeau Hudson Vineyard (Rhone red). This largely Grenache-based wine (with a dash of Syrah and Viognier) has a surprising Burgundian appeal (yep! That's French Pinot Noir I'm talking about). The nose offers up black cherry fruit and a large yet refined helping of charcuterie. Lovely and floral, it is earthy and pure, clean yet spicey, both black and red fruited - and best of all, it is feminine and lithe (3% Viognier goes a long way).

For slightly less dough you could also try the Rhone-inspired Elyse C'est si Bon. It delivers more robust fruit, a welcome kick of spice, more of that surprising smoked meat nuance as well as blueberry and black fruits, raspberry and even a little bit of strawberry leaf earth. It is surprisingly lighter bodied for how profound the fruit is. It is another complex wine with hits of Burgundy from Elyse - that will leave you waxing poetic.

If you prefer whites, Ray has something for you, too: the Elyse Sonoma Chardonnay. This is a wine with incredible balance and refinement with an awesome, easy-going approach. Gentle nutmeg spice complements the melon and Meyer lemon flavors on entry and the more tropical fruit notes on the finish. This is a pretty, delicious, memorable vin.

These are just a few notes from the ample line-up we tasted - and there wasn't a bad one in the bunch! If we saw more of this approach coming out of California, suffice to say, we'd be spoiled rotten. Giddy-up!


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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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Last leg! Memories from trip to Cairanne, Southern Rhone

Ever heard of the French village of Cairanne? Neither had my GPS… Not terribly far outside of Avignon in the Vaucluse region, Cairanne is a very tiny locale gaining increased consumer recognition for their outstanding Rhone vin. I had some early introduction to the wares from this region because my wine mentor is a huge fan of Gigondas and Vacqueras wines, a stone’s throw from Cairanne. Cairanne provided an opportunity to enjoy wines with tremendous concentration and sense of place, without commanding the bigger bucks of its highly regarded neighbors.

Three years ago my interest and appreciation of these wines was further piqued when I had the opportunity to meet a tremendously talented winemaker at a Boston wine trade event. Who was it, you ask? Pop over to Wicked Local today to find out!

Have you brought home a Cairanne recently? From which producer?



Wine Tasting in Tavel

When I was planning my trip to the Southern Rhone, visiting Tavel was a given. Not only was I arriving in May, the beginning of rosé season, but Tavel offers perhaps the most revered bottlings of this sacred juice internationally. It is the only region in France where rosé is the only “official” wine allowed to be produced. That is, any producer can produce any wine, but the way French wine law works you only get “credit” for a wine if it follows certain strict regulations, or guidelines. In Tavel that guideline is a mandate for rosé. See which winery was my host and what my taste-buds told me over at Wicked Local today!

Have you enjoyed any great Tavel rosé yet this year?



in my glory in Chateauneuf du Pape

Wine is a cerebral “sport”, it’s true. Of course, like anything, it doesn’t have to be; but anytime you invest a little extra something into what’s on hand, you benefit even more. In the case of wine, we’re talking about the curious intersection of history, tradition, terroir, climate, culture, cuisine and grape. And so traveling to wine country is one of the best ways to really explore the stuff we pour so willingly into our glasses. Case in point: a recent trip to the Southern Cote du Rhone proved as enlightening and dramatic an experience as I hoped! Pop over to Wicked Local to get the scoop on (part one) of my wine country tale!

Which producers would you visit when in the Rhone?



No bigger event than a trip to the Southern Rhone!

This Friday I bring to you something new, in my world of wine news and "events". I took myself to the Southern Cote du Rhone last week and had a blast! There is no better way to fully appreciate a region's special magic than seeing it, the land, the climate - the Mighty Mistral! - at work  for yourself; meeting the local winemakers who make your heart sing back in the states; and enjoying the local culture, cuisine and hospitality. I posted my web album et. al. over on Ball Square Fine Wines' blog earlier this week. Pop over to check it out!

Where are your wine travels taking you this year? Have you also been to the Southern Rhone?



2010 rose wine season off to a good start

Last year we waited, and waited, and waited for warmer days to come. Rosé wine, one of the best ways to enjoy said weather, took a kind of backseat amidst the dreary doldrums we experienced here in New England. It wasn’t until August that I finally had the inclination to write about how gorgeous (and not sweet) rosé wines are – and offered them as a solution to the hot and humid days of summer. This year we're off to a much better start - and the 2009 roses are starting to come in! Pop on over to Wicked Local to get a refresher course on these lovely wines and a few recommendations to kick off your 2010 rose travels.



Easter wine recs

Easter is a holiday that not everyone celebrates – nor in the same ways. Traditions are a bit more fluid somehow here in the United States. Maybe your family prefers a delicious Easter brunch after a morning visit to church and an Easter Egg Hunt for the kiddies. Maybe you do your own thing with your family in the morning, then visit with friends in the afternoon over a mid-afternoon dinner of baked ham or a leg of lamb. But one thing is certain: such a lack of specific tradition can cause some level of Easter week “panic.” Of course, there's no need to stress when a little advice is at the ready. Pop over to Wicked Local today to get some ideas for your celebration! Will wine have a place at your Easter table this year? What will you uncork?