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By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Wine

A Case for Boxed Wines

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2009 Bota Box Chardonnay.

© Courtesy of DVF Wines
2009 Bota Box Chardonnay.

People have been putting wine in boxes (or rather, in bags within boxes) for years, but it's a relatively new phenomenon that the contents be worth drinking. Last week, New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov covered 10 worthy reds and whites, and for this month's issue of Food & Wine, Ray Isle tasted a slew of boxed Chardonnays and named four winners.

Why look past the cheesy stigma this summer? Boxes are lighter (therefore greener) and easier to close than bottles. That portability makes them great if you're inclined to partake at beach picnics, and researchers in Spain recently suggested that wine could even protect against sunburn (though dehydration is still something to worry about when day-drinking). The biggest advantage is that whites will stay fresh in your fridge for weeks, making it easy to squeeze off a glass whenever a new heat wave rolls into town. Here, surprisingly good boxed wines to drink now.

Wine

A Grape That Could Use Some (Tough) Love: Chenin Blanc

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I have enormous respect for Chenin Blanc, but this is one grape that definitely needs to spend some time in a military academy. Left to its own devices, after a few years Chenin vines sprawl out, get all broad and flabby, and start overproducing like the Octomom. But with a little firm discipline (shoot- and cluster-thinning, which is vineyard-manager-speak for “drop and give me twenty, dogface!”) suddenly they're a source for crisp, complex—and underrated—white wines. Here are five that have been whipped into shape:

2011 Indaba Chenin Blanc ($10) Sales of Indaba’s wines support a fellowship for needy South African students interested in wine-related careers. Like growing more Chenin Blanc, because the place does it so darn well, for instance.

2010 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc ($12) This peachy wine comes from Clarksburg, in California’s Sacramento River delta. No oak here, just zippy stainless-steel-tank freshness.

2010 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc ($13) More peach notes—it’s sort of a Chenin signature—and a nice hint of spice, from one of South Africa’s top wineries. Plus, how can you not love a place that also makes a wine called “Faithful Hound”?

2010 Pine Ridge Vineyards Chenin Blanc-Viognier ($14) The Pine Ridge folks add about 20% Viognier—another grape that tends towards sloth and dissolution unless you give it what-for—to this melony Chenin, giving it a nice floral note.

2009 Domaine Huet Le Haut Lieu Sec Vouvray ($30, more or less) “Sec” means dry, important to know with Vouvray, since many of the Chenins from this French region can be sweet. “Domaine Huet” means “I make the best damn Chenin Blanc on the planet,” basically. It’s a splurge, but once you’ve fallen in love with this grape, it’s one you’ll want to make.

Related Links:
Top 10 No-Fail Tips for Picking a Stellar Wine off a Wine List
15 Rules for Great Wine and Food Pairing

Wine

Wines for Junk Food

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Yes, we all ought to be eating our locally-sourced, free-range, antibiotic-free, Mangalitsa porkchops or whatever, but sometimes, you know, you just want a Frito. Particularly if you’re doing something like watching a ball game on TV, or taking a break from hurling a Frisbee around a park. However, just because your cravings currently extend to chips, chicharrones, or Chung King noodles from a can doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a tasty glass of wine alongside. Here are a few off-the-wall (or off-the-convenience-store-rack) pairing suggestions.
 
Potato Chips
Or French fries, or Tater Tots—basically any kind of fried potato object with lots of salt. Go crazy: drink Champagne. The stuff was made for salty fried foods, whether the Champenoise want to admit it or not. (If real Champagne is too pricey, head to Spain for Cava.)
 
Doughnuts
Look, I don’t drink wine with doughnuts, but that doesn’t mean there’s not some madman out there cruising the streets at midnight, wondering what the heck will go with his bagful of Krispy Kremes. If you’re that person, the answer is sparkling wine that’s sweet. (Note: The same holds true for wedding cake, too.) Sugary pastries and cakes make dry sparkling wine taste like lemon juice. Go for ademi-sec Champagne, or the American equivalent thereof.
 
Slim Jims
Don’t even ask what these things are made from, but if you’re eating them and craving a glass of wine—or really if you’re eating any kind of dry sausage, beef jerky or charcuterie—go red. In fact, go red and Mediterranean. Spicy Sicilian Nero d’Avolas, ripe red blends from France’s Languedoc-Roussillon, and Monstrells from Spain’s southeastern coast are all great possibilities.
 
Spaghetti-Os
Seems like red wine would be the answer, but when’s the last time you had Spaghetti-Os? Those things are sweet. So a crisp white wine is actually going to be the better pairing, for instance a Vermentino or Soavefrom Italy (because, um, Spaghetti-Os are Italian. Er, right?) It’s the same rule-of-pairing-thumb that applies to Asian dishes that have a bit of sweetness, akin to squeezing lime juice on pad thai; match them with a white that has good acidity.
 
Deep-Fried Mars Bar
It’s a Scottish thing. Not really ideal for wine. I’d say if you’re self-destructive enough to eat deep-fried candy bars, go ahead and break out the Johnnie Walker with them. What have you got to lose, really?
 
Related Links:
 
15 Rules for Great Wine and Food Pairing
 

Wines Under $20

Wines for Dads

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There are people out there—and they know who they are—who missed Father's Day. You forgot to call, you were traveling, the gift got eaten by the dog; whatever the case, now's a good time to make it up to dear old dad. In fact, speaking as a father myself, it's always a good time to give gifts to fathers. Nothing warms the cold cockles of the heart more than a thoughtful present from a dutiful child, except maybe an all-expenses-paid trip to a Caribbean island plus a speedboat-driving butler, but hey, that's hard to come by. In any case, should dad be a wine-lover, here are some handy gift ideas, good for any occasion whatsoever.
 
Grilling Dad
Affordable: 2010 Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Joven Campo de Borja ($8)
This robust Spanish red is a great partner for burgers off the grill.
Sky’s the Limit: 2007 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($100)
A benchmark Napa Cabernet. Velvety, rich and deceptively powerful, it’s drinking great right now—especially with some sort of troglodyte-size T-bone.
 
Eco-Conscious Dad  
Affordable: 2009 Fetzer Valley Oaks Zinfandel ($9)
A juicy red from one of the world’s largest farmers of organic grapes.  
Sky’s the Limit: 2008 SokolBlosser Estate Cuvee Pinot Noir ($50)
Sokol Blosser farms organically, participates in salmon-safe run-off programs, uses biodiesel fuels and has solar panels in its vineyards. Plus, its Pinot Noir is terrific.
 
Beach Dad (no glass bottles)
Affordable: 2008 Bandit Cabernet Sauvignon ($8)
Dark fruit and lots of flavor in a one-liter cardboard Tetra Pak.
Sky’s the Limit: 2009 Wineberry Chateau du Chatelard Bourgogne Blanc ($45/3 liter box)
New York–based Wineberry packages small-production French wines in cool wooden three-liter boxes.
 
Sports Dad
Affordable: 2009 Arnold Palmer Cabernet Sauvignon ($11)
A straightforward and appealing red from a golf great.
Sky’s the Limit: 2008 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon ($85)
Former NFL star Drew Bledsoe grew up in Walla Walla, Washington, with Chris Figgins, whose family owns one of the state’s top wineries, Leonetti. They reunited to create this structured, intensely flavorful Cabernet.
 
Never-Met-a-Party-I-Didn’t-Like Dad
Affordable: Mionetto Il Prosecco ($9)
A lively Italian sparkler from one of the best-known Prosecco producers.
Sky’s the Limit: 2002 Dom Pérignon ($140)
Dom Pérignon lives up to its reputation, especially in the terrific ’02 vintage. Plus, dad will definitely impress his friends with his bottomless wallet (well, your bottomless wallet, but who’s counting?).
 
Related Links:
 
Bargain Wines
 
35 Fantastic Father's Day Gift Ideas

The Best Barbecued Ribs Recipes
 
Chef-Dad Mario Batali’s Best Grilling Recipes

20 Great Brunch Recipes

Wines Under $20

A Grape That Could Use Some Love: Dolcetto

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Mario Batali's Spicy Stewed Sausages with Three Peppers
Dolcetto has a tough time getting the attention it deserves. Mainly its problem is that it’s grown in Piedmont, in Italy. The other red grapes that are grown in Piedmont? Well, first there’s Nebbiolo, the grape in Barolo, which means Dolcetto is competing against a beverage that’s been known since as the mid-1800s as “the wine of kings and the king of wines.” Not a fair fight. Then there’s Barbera, which is kind of the Avis to Nebbiolo’s Hertz. It’s number two. It tries harder. Which leaves Dolcetto as, what, the Rent-a-Wreck of grapes?

When I am the emperor of reality, after the bazillion dollars and the private island and the sudden ascent to George Clooney-like savoir faire, I am going to give Dolcetto a little boost. It’s a nifty grape. It makes juicy, lively, affordable and delicious reds, with a flavor that suggests black cherries and a faint, intriguing touch of bitterness. Dolcetto isn’t meant for deep thought but simply for happy drinking. You can chill it lightly. You can serve it with burgers. Hey, you could put it in a CamelBak and take it up a mountain. Dolcetto is fine with that. It would make me think of my Italian grandmother back in Alba and her great homemade agnolotti, except that I’m mostly Irish plus some random Welsh-German craziness and the only thing I remember my grandmother cooking was toast.

So, Dolcetto. Go buy a bottle. Invite some friends over. Get a pizza. Drink the stuff. Don’t think about it—there are plenty of other things think about. Besides, how can you not love a grape whose name translates as “little sweet one?”

5 Dolcettos to Hunt Down

1.     2009 Elio Grasso ($17) The rich fruit here recalls pomegranate rather than cherry.

2.     2008 Renato Ratti Colombè ($15) Mild tannins make this a good candidate for a light chill; an ideal picnic red, in other words.

3.     2009 Cavallotto Vigna Scot ($16) Dark fruit and soft tannins make this a good introduction to the Dolcetto variety.

4.     2009 Borgogno ($20) An old-school producer making old-school wine: earthy and herbal, rather than fruity and ripe.

5.     2009 Massolino ($20) Clear, precise flavors define this streamlined red. 

Related Links:

Wine 101: Dolcetto

15 Rules for Great Wine and Food Pairing

Bargain Wines

Beyond the Mimosa: Sparking Wine Cocktails You’ve Never Heard Of

Cooking with Red Wine

Bottles from the Best Blogging Winemakers

(Pictured above: Try pairing Mario Batali's Spicy Stewed Sausages with Three Peppers with a great Dolcetto)

Wines Under $20

Three Great Burger Wines

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Cheddar-and-Onion Smashed Burger
Grilling season has started, and while there are certainly other things you can grill than burgers, why? A burger is an excellent thing. To that end, here are three great burger wines:

NV Lini Labrusco Lambrusco ($14) It’s purple, it’s fizzy, it comes from Italy, and it’s really good, the latter part being what separatesit from most Lambruscos.

2009 Crios de Susanna Balbo Malbec ($15) Malbec was made for grilled meat (that may explain its popularity in Argentina, where people eat something like 125 pounds of beef each year, per person). Susanna Balbo, one of Argentina’s greatest winemakers, has a knack for the grape, which this juicy, lightly spicy red makes clear.

2009 Foxglove Zinfandel ($14) Bob and Jim Varner make high-end, terrific wines under their own name, and inexpensive, also terrific wines under the Foxglove label. There’s a little Petite Sirah in this, which adds some backbone to Zinfandel’s lush fruit.
 
Related Links:
More Burger Pairings
Best Burgers in the U.S.
10 Favorite Burger Recipes
Top 10: Fast Burgers
15 Rules for Great Wine and Food Pairing

(Pictured above: Cheddar-and-Onion Smashed Burger)

Winemakers

“Fueled by Fine Wine” Half Marathon

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Fueled by Fine Wine Half Marathon

I wouldn’t really consider myself a “serious athlete.” Sure, I’ve done a few triathlons, and a half marathon always seemed like a great accomplishment. But when I found out about the Fueled by Fine Wine Half Marathon, happening on Sunday, July 10, I didn’t think twice–this is the one for me!

Set in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the course winds through the gorgeous vineyards in the Dundee Hills. In addition to being acclaimed for producing top Pinot Noirs, I can’t think of a more spectacular setting for a half.

The best part, though, is the after-party, which will feature wines from some of the top producers in the region, including Archery Summit, Domaine Drouhin, Domaine Serene and Lange Estate, to name a few. Says winemaker Jesse Lange: “While there are plenty of rolling hills to tackle, your source of infinite inspiration will be the world-class wines that await you at the finish line. And this is also your chance to put highfalutin winemakers in their place by leaving them in the red dust of our volcanic soils!”

The official motto of the race is “You won’t run your best time, but you’ll have your best time!” I know that a glass of amazing Pinot will be the proverbial carrot on a string to get me to the finish line.

PS: Stay tuned for reports from the road…

Wines Above $40

Shipwrecked Champagne

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A bottle the divers didn't chug.
Last summer, divers discovered a cache of incredibly old Champagne in a shipwreck off Finland's Åland islands. Today, someone snatched up part of it. Two 1840s-vintage bottles (one from the long-gone Juglar house, the other from the ubiquitous Veuve Clicquot) sold at auction for 54,000 euros (about $39,000 a bottle). That's plenty, but only half of what Champagne expert Richard Juhlin speculated they might sell for, and much less than the $130,000 that someone recently paid for a huge bottle of the so-so (but Jay-Z-approved) Armand de Brignac. So maybe today's winning bidder scored a deal.

What happened to the other 145 bottles? At least one was consumed, immediately, by the divers who discovered it. One told the press: "It had a very sweet taste. You could taste oak and it had a very strong tobacco smell." Sound enticing? You can hope that the Finnish government releases more.

If you missed the chance to bid, console yourself with 10 much more affordable Champagnes (and other excellent sparkling wines), plus pairings like crunchy hush puppies with Tabasco-spiked remoulade.

Wines Under $20

The Queen Wants Wine!

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Or at least wine from a French Château owned by an Irishman. A few weeks back on the Today show I semi-predicted that one of the wines served at the royal wedding events would be Château de Fieuzal, a white Bordeaux from a property owned by wealthy Irish fellow named Lochlan Quinn. Well, I was wrong.

But, because evidently I'm more in tune with the doings of royalty than I thought, Fieuzal was poured at a recent dinner for the Queen in Dublin castle. It's a lovely white wine, and the current 2009 vintage can be found here, for about $45.

In fact, white Bordeaux tends to be a bit of a forgotten category. But the combination of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (typical of these wines) has a subtle fragrance and taste that's easy to become addicted to. A few good ones to try out include those from Château Graville-Lacoste, Clos Floridène, Château Carbonneau, Château Bonnet, Château Ducasse, and Château Rahoul. In the I've-got-money-to-burn-and-I-don't-care category, also look for Domaine de Chevalier blanc and Chateau Smith Haut-Lafite blanc. The 2009s are on shelves, but these wines age well and 2008 was a great vintage for white Bordeaux, so don't shy away from those either.  

Chefs

This Year's Pebble Beach Food & Wine

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I think I must have been dazed by an overdose of Montrachet (a statement that will get me little sympathy from anyone), because it's taken me several days to get a handle on this wrapup post for the big event at Pebble Beach a week or so ago, Pebble Beach Food & Wine. As in years past, several thousand wine lovers converged on this idyllic spot for three days of rampant wine tasting. Highlights for me were the various tastings I helped host:

 (1) an eight-vintage retrospective of Bordeaux's Château Palmer (deal alert: 2008 Alter Ego de Palmer, a thrilling wine that, at about $50, costs a fifth of what Château Palmer itself costs).

 (2) a tasting of 2005 and 1999 Montrachets from Drouhin, Bouchard, Marc Colin, and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (really non-deal alert: 2005 DRC Montrachet. Pretty much nectar of the gods but it does run a cool $4500 a bottle or so...)

 (3) a tasting of the wines of the Rhône's Château Beaucastel with Marc Perrin, one of the family members who own the estate. Beaucastel is arguably the benchmark Châteauneuf-du-Pape-the wines were unsurprisingly wonderful. I particularly like the aromatic, garrigue-y 2001.

 Finally, my other highlight event was the dinner we hosted—along with the good folks at Robert Mondavi Winery—to celebrate our top sommeliers of 2011 (click through for the article). Good wines, well-deserved applause for the somms, and fantastic food from some of Napa Valleys star chefs: Richard Reddington, Ken Frank, Tyler Florence, Jeff Mosher, and Masaharu Morimoto (who came out and sang, accapella, a traditional Japanese fisherman's song).

Anyway, the event is over for this year but it will be back next year. If you're in the Bay Area and you like wine, you'd be crazy not to go.

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