Thursday, November 20, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Washington State Red Blend - 2007 Brian Carter Cellars Byzance

My fun and mostly rewarding experimenting in the world of red blends continues with a blend of Rhone Varietals from Columbia Valley in Washington State. This particular wine caught my eye because of the Counoise grape included in the blend. Although only a tiny 2% of the blend, it is one of the grapes allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, and is used to add a peppery character and acidity to a wine blend.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Searching for Treasures, Avoiding the Traps - a Visit to Bar Zazpi in San Sebastian, Spain

Shrimp (Gambas) to Die For
San Sebastian is a wonderful food mecca in the beautiful Basque country of Spain. If you are a foodie or thinking about becoming one, I highly recommend visiting San Sebastian at least once - and if you’re like us, it will immediately become a regular stop on your vacation itinerary.  A big part of the attraction of San Sebastian for me is that there you can find everything from a simple, but life changing Shrimp Pintxo (the Basque version of Spanish tapas) for 2.50 at a little spot call Goiz-Argi in the Parte Vieja (Old Part) of San Sebastian, to all the Michelin starred restaurants you could ever want. In fact, San Sebastian is one of the top cities in the world for total number of Michelin stars per square meter - outdoing even Paris, France.  Not quite sure yet? How about a beautiful piece of seared Foie Gras with Apple Compote at another spot in the Parte Vieja, La Cuchara de San Telmo?  Just being inside (pintxos served only inside!) and listening to the crowd make their pintxo orders, as the servers yell orders back to the kitchen…”Luis… Dos Foie!”, “Luis… Cuatro Foie!, Dos Ravioli!” and hearing Luis shout the orders back was all part of the great experience there.

Luis! Dos Foie!!

Martin Berasategui
We have been lucky enough to dine at Martin Berasategui (three Michelin stars) this year, Mugaritz (two Michelin stars) a few years ago, and hope to visit Arzak and Akelare (each with three stars) sometime in the future. Our experience at these restaurants have been consistently awesome, you just need to pack a suitcase full of cash and expect to pay between $500 - $1,000 for a meal for two plus wine… and you really need to drink the wine! Each time we go to San Sebastian we typically stay 3 nights/4 days and plan to hit one of the heavy hitter Michelin star spots. Past trips have also included one of my all time favorite places - Asador Etxebarri, which is actually about 1 hour outside of San Sebastian. That leaves us three-ish days to enjoy the more reasonably priced offerings of the area.  

It’s super easy to Google Michelin star restaurants in order to find restaurants to try in a particular area, but the toughest part is actually getting a reservation.  Tourists, foodies, and travelers from all over the world are googling the exact same thing and trying to get the exact window table for two that you are hoping to score.  The challenge is finding those other places that offer wonderful food, great service, and a memorable experience in a town where food options are very plentiful.  With any destination that draws a large number of tourists each year, there are plenty of “touristy” spots that are easy to find near tourist attractions, probably recommended by your hotel staff, have lots of tables with very little waiting for impatient tourists. In short, everything you don’t want to look for if you are a foodie.  Will you be able to eat at these places? Of course - but do you really want to visit such a food haven and eat uninspired food, designed not to challenge or confuse the palate of the tourist crowd, and designed to be cranked out in a manner valuing quick over quality?  I do realize that the world has those who look at food as “meh, eating is just something we have to do.”  Like vegans, I know they exist and have seen them in the wild - but do not understand the point of view at all!

Wine Tip of the Week - Return that Corked Wine!

A reality of drinking wines from bottles sealed with natural cork is an occasional case of cork taint.  This syndrome is caused by a chemical substance called trichloroanisole, referred to as TCA.  If present, the substance is most often introduced to the wine through the cork - and if you drink enough wine you will eventually run across a tainted bottle.

If your wine is devoid of the fruit and other aromas, and smells only like musty wood or even like wet cardboard (for me it's often the musty smell of my grandmothers basement when I was growing up) - you may be the victim of TCA.  What should you do?  Push the cork back in the wine and return it to where you bought it. Return policies may differ, but a good wine shop should have a reasonable return policy.  Remember - this is a bottle by bottle occurrence, so give the wine another try. You don't want to miss out on a great wine just because you were unlucky enough to have one corked bottle!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Central California Syrah - 2010 Wrath Syrah KW Ranch

During a wonderful long weekend in Napa, we stopped off at the Oxbow Market (a wonderful collection of food shops and restaurants in downtown Napa) and I found a great Wine & Cheese shop. Yes we needed some wine even though we were hitting 9 or 10 wineries  as most of the wine we bought was getting shipped home.  This bottle was recommended by the wonderful person manning the wine section - big and bold was the promise and that sounded great to me!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - HOGAN!...Be Careful How You Clink!

A little known fact about Colonel Klink from the 1960s TV comedy Hogan's Heroes was that he was a wine fanatic. 

OK, maybe that's not true - if the Colonel or you invest a chunk of change on nice wine glasses, you don't want the delicate crystal broken by good intentioned friends or family raising their glasses - and clinking them together for a toast.  

Typically you will see people tilt the glasses toward their clinking partner. This however means the glasses will strike each other a the rim - the most delicate and fragile part of the wine glass.

Keeping your glasses upright for the clink will allow the clinking to occur further down on the globe of the glass, where it is a bit stronger. So clink away (HOGAN!) but be careful out there... especially with your nice wine glasses!!!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red Blend - 2009 Angosto Almendros

I have started sampling the spoils of the most recent "Cheapskate Marathon" from Wine Til Sold Out ( - everything under $25!.  Today's wine is from Valencia, Spain - and is a blend of Garnacha (a.k.a. Grenache), Syrah, and a grape I'd never heard of before - Marselan. Marselan is a grape that is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Give Thanks for... and with... Pinot Noir

Now that the Jack-o-Lantern is shriveled and in the compost heap, it is time to start planning for your Thanksgiving shindig or choosing a wine to take to someone else's feast.
The typical Thanksgiving day spread is a myriad of wonderful foods with a myriad of different and (mostly) wonderful flavors.  Your meal will very likely consist of the classics - Turkey (have you tried deep fried...awesome - but be careful!!!), ham, stuffing, cranberry, sweet potatoes, gravy, various salads from recipes old and new. These are all delicious foods, but they can present quite a challenge when trying to select one wine to hang in with so many different flavor profiles. Turkey and ham have both fairly mellow flavors; stuffing will have various herbs, spices, nuts, oysters; sweet potatoes may have a sugary sweet glaze; gravy may be from the "extra" bits of the turkey and have a slightly gamy aspect.

A nice fruity, lighter bodied Pinot Noir from Oregon or California can provide an excellent option that will pair nicely with just about all the flavors that your feast provides.  The key aspects of a lighter bodied Pinot Noir is that the fruit flavor will have a perceived sweetness (typically not actual sugary sweetness - read more), and Pinot Noir wines are fairly high in acidity. A little sweetness and a little acid will help complement and not clash with most dishes - provided they are not dessert level sweetness (beware that canned fruit cocktail salad!). 

While you guests are waiting for dinner and your Pinot Noir is chilling to the right serving temperature (55-ish degrees), severing some sparkling wine provides a nice palate cleanser, and would go nicely with some light appetizers to keep those big appetites at bay!  Try a Spanish Cava as a nice, value priced alternative to Champagne or California Sparkling.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Red Blend South Africa - 2011 Neethlingshof Estate Caracal

Tried any wines from South Africa? They do have a bit of history making wine, actually dating back to 1659 - when the Dutch East India Company established a supply station in the area now known as Cape Town. Today's wine is a Bordeaux style blend from one of the most famous South African regions - Stellenbosch.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: What to Eat with your Big Cab

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the red wines that people new to red wine often try - mostly because of familiarity with the varietal. Hey - it is the red that put Napa (and some parts of  Bordeaux, France) on the map right? 

I believe that some mishaps with food pairing and Cabernet Sauvignon may tragically scare some newbies away from the fantastic wonders of red wine. So here are some dos and don'ts for your consideration to help make sure you get the most out of your wine.  Cabs can be VERY expensive, but no matter how great the wine - team it up with the wrong food and it's not's not funny!

Cab Pairing Dos.  Cabs tend to be big and bold - tannic, high alcohol, and typically made with plenty of time in oak barrels.  With bitter tannins you need food with a bitter element to fight fire with fire.
  • Grilled red meats - cooked to no more than medium rare.  The char from grilling adds a bitter taste for the tannins. The bigger and more tannic the wine - the rarer the meat should be. Like your meat closer to well done - go for a Pinot Noir or other lighter bodied red.
  • Bitter side dishes - some bitterness in your side dishes, will also go nicely with your big cab - think bitter greens like mustard or collard, radicchio, or a grilled vegetable that will also get a good char - like eggplant.
  • Black Pepper - on almost anything will provide a bitter component to go with your Cab. Have a companion that doesn't like bigger Cabs but you do? Have them order something like a pepper crusted steak, or a Steak Au Poivre and the wine will taste less tannic to them. Cool right???
Cab Pairing Don'ts. These are food pairing don'ts that could ruin the flavor and balance of your wine or overpower the food - and none of us want that!
  • Hot and spicy foods - the capsaicins that create the heat in dishes will accentuate the alcohol and tannin levels in your Cab and make a good wine taste just gross!
  • Delicate fish dishes - Cab can work with heartier fishes like swordfish or shark, but you are better off with a lighter red or a heavier white like a Chardonnay.
  • Cheeses - Cabs can pair with some cheeses, and various experts disagree on what cheeses go well. With the right Cab, I absolutely love a reasonably strong blue cheese - but others say this is blasphemy.  My advice is to stick with Pinots, Spanish Reds, and other lighter style reds for your cheese - just in case.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Wine for Halloween Party

October is slipping away but there is still enough time for a fun filled Halloween party.  Of course you'll want to serve some great wine, but how about some wine with that Halloween theme built right in the name?

Here are just a few!

Owen Roe Sinister Hand
Rhone Blend from Colombia Valley, Washington State

Charles Smith Velvet Devil
Merlot from Washington State

d'Arenberg The Dead Arm
Shiraz from Mclaren Vale, Australia

My Personal Fav for this Year...
True Blood Pinot Noir
from Carneros, California

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Australian Shiraz - 2013 Mollydooker The Boxer

I decided to try a couple of Mollydooker wines during my last shopping excursion. Today we'll take a look at "The Boxer" Shiraz and later I'll be tasting "Two Left Feet" - their blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.  First up, let's put the gloves on...although it does make swirling the wine quite a challenge!