I had a great time on the fourth hour of Today today, recommending a few super value wines with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. These were drawn from my February column—essentially, tasty wines that are made in quantities greater than 150,000 cases. That's 1,800,000 bottles, which means that they sure ought to be available somewhere nearby. Check out the clip here.
For fun, here are a couple more that have substantial production, but that didn't quite make my 150,000 case cut-off:
2009 Caposaldo Pinot Grigio ($10) Pinot Grigios labeled with the broad Veneto region classification tend to be less interesting than more pricey wines from regions like Friuli and the Alto Adige, but this crisp, lightly spicy white transcends its pedigree.
2009 Kendall Jackson Avant Chardonnay ($14) Though Kendall Jackson's iconic Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay remains immensely popular, longtime winemaker Randy Ullom tweaks his successful model-quite effectively with the first vintage of this bottling. The wine is made solely in stainless steel tanks and older oak barrels (which impart no oak flavors), keeping its lemon-citrus flavors lively and crisp.
If you haven't stocked up on sparkling wine or Champagne for New Year's yet, here's a clip from the CBS Early Show this morning, where I went through a number of great, affordable possibilities with host Harry Smith. I was also on the CNBC WSJ Report with Maria Bartiromo over the weekend, talking a bit more about the business side of sparkling wine, along with some recommendations. The video on their site isn't working at the moment for some reason, but here's the text of the story.
'Tis the season to do TV appearances on wines for the holidays, apparently! I was at the CBS Early Show last weekend offering wine & spirits gift-giving strategies, and on Fox Business News last Friday with some great wine values for holiday entertaining.
Also, if you need a last minute stocking-stuffer for the wine geek in your life, you could definitely do worse than the Twistick ($9.99), which may well be the world's smallest corkscrew. You can put it on your keychain for wine emergencies (they do happen!), and while it's not the easiest corkscrew in the world to use, it's a lot better than biting off the top of the bottle with your teeth.
Had a great time on Today yesterday with Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford, talking about spooky beers and wines for Halloween parties. The clip is here if you're interested, but I also thought it would be worthwhile to run through the wines in Tasting Room, and add a few extra for fun. Halloween's still a few days away, so there's time left to shop.
2008 Spellbound Chardonnay ($16) Rob Mondavi, Jr. (of those Mondavis) makes this juicy, eminently drinkable Chardonnay with fruit primarily from the Lodi region. (find this wine)
2007 Bogle Phantom ($20) This is a juicy, dark-fruited blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre. Plus, it's got an eerie label that looks like a haunted forest at night, though I suspect it's actually gnarled old Zin vines. (find this wine)
2006 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Cabernet Franc ($40) Flora Springs will be doing a "ghost winery" release every year on Halloween (or just before, so it can be shipped in time to arrive for Halloween). This year's is an appealingly aromatic Cab Franc with good tannic bones. So to speak. (find this wine)
2008 Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly ($18) Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais, vinified by the talented winemaker Steve Edmunds: it's a great combination, resulting in a wine that is much more full of life (and lively red fruit) than the skeletons on the label might suggest. (find this wine)
2009 Owen Roe Sinister Hand ($24) Why not pour a wine on Halloween whose label happens to have a blood-dripping severed hand on it? Especially why not, when the wine is a peppery, berry-bright, Washington State Grenache blend like this one. (find this wine)
The #1 question I received leading up to my wedding this past weekend: What are you going to drink? Me? Well, my new husband and I opted for the lightly toasty, strawberry-inflected NV Gatinois Rosé Champage ($40; find this wine), but we couldn’t exactly afford to serve it to all of our guests. We did, however, want to serve wines that we wouldn’t mind drinking and more important, would please a range of palates. Here is where we landed:
NV Botter Prosecco Spago ($10; find this wine): This apple-scented sparkling wine has just a touch of residual sugar, making it delicious with all the salty hors d’oeuvres, like pigs in a blanket and mushroom-and-onion tartlets with blue cheese.
2009 Domaine Gaujal de Saint Bon Picpoul de Pinet ($10; find this wine): We wanted a zesty unoaked white that was a little more interesting than cheap Pinot Grigio but not as grassy as Sauvignon Blanc. Picpoul is minerally and citrusy but with an ever so slight floral character that was nice with the lobster-sherry broth in our fish dish.
2008 Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya Monastrell ($9; find this wine): Since people would be drinking this wine both with food and without, we wanted a red with no rough edges. This blueberry-rich Monastrell (the grape is known as Mourvedre in France) is fruity enough to drink on its own but has enough guts to stand up to the steak that was served.
It's grilling season, and consequently I'll be appearing on Weekend Today tomorrow morning—Saturday—in the eight o'clock hour with some affordable wine recommendations for everything grilled. Malbec with burgers, albariño with grilled fish, zin with ribs, and one of my favorite dry rosés that I've tried recently—the 2009 Mulderbosch Rosé ($11), from South Africa—with grilled chicken breasts. If I don't run out of time (always a risk, since three and a half minutes goes fast), I'll wrap it up with a tangerine-and-peachy, lightly sparkling, lightly sweet 2008 Michele Chiarlo Moscato d'Asti ($14) to serve with grilled peaches. Should be fun, so tune in.
I was thinking through what I'd tasted, and read, and heard about, and so on through the course of 2009, and it seemed like a good idea to recap a few highlights as possible gift ideas. After all, there's still time left—and even if the holiday season passes, why not give a few more gifts to people? The wine business—in fact, the entire U.S. economy—will thank you!
10. Evan Williams Three-Ounce Flask ($13.50) Long flight? The cagey folks at Evan Williams are there to keep you from having to drink rotgut from a cart; this stainless steel flask holds only three ounces, which makes it OK for airport security. You could fill it with, just on a whim, the latest release of Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon ($26), the lightly spicy, supple 2000 vintage. As usual, it's a great deal in a single-barrel Bourbon.
9. Wine from Italy's Lazio region I had the interesting pleasure of running a tasting recently of wines from Lazio, the region that surrounds Rome and is bordered by Umbria and Tuscany to the north. Lazio tends to get overlooked, because the vast majority of the wine it produces is utterly forgettable white Frascati that flows in a vast river into the glasses of Rome's countless trattorias. But there's a hidden realm of ambitious small producers in the region, making some fantastic wine. I'm particularly fond of the in-your-face fragrant 2008 Cantina Sant'Andrea Oppidum ($24, try contacting the importer), a dry Muscat that smells like a fistful of flowers and tastes of citrus fruit with a nut-skin edge, as well as the dark cherry-and-silk 2005 Damiano Ciolli Cirsium ($40, ditto), made from the local Cesanese grape variety. Cool wines. Unfortunately, both a bit hard to find.
8. Easier to find: The 2007 Twenty Bench Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($19, find this wine). This is a stupidly good deal in Napa Cab, so much so that when I used it in a blind tasting on the CBS Early Show the other morning, it bested a 2006 Bordeaux from a second-growth property (admittedly a bit unfair, as '06 Bordeaux aren't exactly user-friendly at the moment).
7. Even easier to find: The 2008 Foxglove Chardonnay ($16, find this wine) I don't know what sort of deal Jim & Bob Varner cut with the infernal forces to be able to keep producing such a good Chardonnay for such a modest price, but whatever it was, wine drinkers owe them some thanks.
6. The One wine glasses ($50 for four) Andrea Immer, Master Sommelier & general wine-authority-about-town, designed these glasses with the specific thought in mind that (a) you would only need one red and one white glass, and (b) you could dishwash the darn things without breaking them. I've tested them out; they work. Nice glassware is a good thing. Alternatively, you could buy someone the Riedel stems that I've always used as my go-to all-purpose glasses, the Riedel Vinum Chianti/Zinfandel glass (model 6416/15, about $40 for two). I know, doing this defeats the whole point of Riedel glasses, but hey, I'm a journalist, not a millionaire.
5. For Pinot Noir fanatics, winemaker Ross Cobb is making some of the best Sonoma Coast Pinot I came across all year. I didn't get a chance to write about them in the magazine, because they're small production and fairly expensive, but they're truly impressive wines. My favorite was his 2007 Cobb Coastlands Vineyard ($68), which had lovely floral and balsam aromas, gorgeous wild berry fruit with a hint of white pepper, an orange peel note to the acidity, and a taut, streamlined structure. Just terrific stuff. You have to sign up on the website to receive an allocation, but from what I can tell it's not sold out yet.
3. What the heck. While I'm at it, why not give someone a gift from the Food & Wine Wine Club.
2. The Macallan 57 Year Old ($15,000) OK, it's a little pricey. But I did get a chance to taste this stuff, and, whether it's worth fifteen grand or not, I can definitely say that it's truly gorgeous whisky. It isn't remotely dried out (a common problem with extremely old whiskies), gives off whiffs of caramel, sweet spice, tobacco and peat, and tastes of orange rind, spice drop, rancio, and dried fruits; it's tremendously complex and also lovely, with a rich viscosity. Plus, it's bottled in a fancy-pants Lalique decanter, of which there are exactly 400 total for the world. But, if you don't feel like trading your child's college fund for a bottle of hooch, you could instead pick up the nifty new half-bottle size Macallan 18 ($80), which is exactly the same Macallan 18 as in the traditional 750ml bottle (extremely good, in other words) but smaller. Really great stocking stuffer.
1. Champagne The Champenoise are having a tough time this season, people are holding onto their shekels & not shelling out for the pricey tête-de-cuvées they once did, but hey—as far as I know, no one is ever unhappy to be given Champagne. Why would they be? It's festive, it tastes great, it's fun, and even if you're one of the weird anti-fizz minority and don't like the stuff, it's eminently regiftable. There's plenty of good Champagne out there, but I'm particularly partial at the moment to the chalky, aromatic NV Henriot Blanc Souverain (about $50, find this wine), a graceful—and findable—blanc de blancs bottling not to be confused with the similarly named (and also quite good) Henriot Brut Souverain.
Had a fun time today, as usual, on the Today Show with Kathie Lee & Hoda. This time around the subject was wines to pair with takeout food, part of my secret plan (actually not so secret, given I'm blogging about it) to convince the world that wine (a) doesn't have to be fancy/elegant/effete and (b) that it goes with almost everything. You can see the segment here, but to give a quick rundown:
1) Unoaked Chardonnay with Sushi: 2008 Spring Seed Wine Co. Chardonnay ($15 or so, find this wine). My experience is that oaky whites don't do well at all with raw fish (or with shellfish, for that matter) but unoaked ones do. I could have used a Sauvignon Blanc, but from experience I know that Kathie Lee is not a fan—to say the least—of Sauvignon Blanc, so I opted for this tasty Australian Chardonnay.
2) Gewurztraminer with Kung Pao Chicken: 2007 Hugel & Fils Gewurztraminer ($22 or so, find this wine). The oil and heat of some Chinese dishes can make them tough to pair; I find that Alsace Gewurz's substantial body and spicebox character works pretty well, especially drier versions like Hugel's. For even hotter dishes I'd turn up the sweetness on the wine, maybe to something in a Zind-Humbrecht style.
3) Champagne with French Fries: NV Henriot Blanc Souverain ($42 or so, find this wine). Basically, if it's salty and fried, Champagne is a good bet. And what's more fun that eating French fries and drinking Champagne? Only eating French fries and drinking Champagne while lounging in a bed in a stupidly expensive hotel room with a fantastic view of Paris.
4) Chianti with Pizza: 2007 Antinori Pèppoli ($22 or so, find this wine). Well, Chianti and pizza, right? But there's legitimacy to this beyond the sort of no-brainer cultural connection, which is that with something cheesy and oily (yep) like pizza really needs a red with firm tannins and a nice cut of acidity—which Chianti supplies quite well.
5) Pinot Noir with Tacos: 2008 La Crema Monterey ($19 or so, find this wine). I owe my sommelier pal William Sherer for this one. The reason it works so well is that Pinot's bright fruit can hold up to all-over-the-place flavors in something like a taco; but also, when you've got hot peppers/jalapeños/hot sauce, what you don't want is a particularly tannic red—tannins tend to amplify heat, rather than subdue it. Though, if you're one of those lunatics who likes chewing up scotch bonnets for fun, hey, pour a Barolo with your Mad Dog 357-smothered wings and go to town.
I was on the Today Show over the weekend, suggesting wines not just for the big Thanksgiving meal but all the other activities that go on this week—parades, football games, recovering after being mashed and jostled at the mall, you name it. The clip isn't up yet, but here's a link to my November column, which was the spur for it.
That got me thinking that I should recommend a few other worthwhile wines to hunt down in the remaining couple of days—affordable bottles that will pair well with a wide range of foods, which is pretty much what Thanksgiving is all about (since turkey itself doesn't taste like a whole heck of a lot).
From Spain's Rias Baixas region, Albariño is a terrific food wine, crisp and refreshing, with a kind of saline minerality and juicy citrus notes. I was there recently, and among the wines I liked were the fragrant, focused 2007 Pazo San Mauro Albariño ($17 or so) and the complex, stony 2007 Do Ferreiro Albariño ($22 or so, find this wine). Another good white option would be the 2007 Hugel & Fils Gewurztraminer($18 or so, find this wine). It's less florid and in-your-face than many Alsace Gewurzes, instead dry and crisp with a little white pepper note at the finish.
I also tasted through a heap of California Chardonnays the other day, with almost universally disheartening results. Most of them seemed blocky and blob-like, with too much oak and too much alcohol—the kind of wine that beats up your food rather than partnering with it. But, for a splurge, I did find the 2007 Lynmar Quail Hill Vineyard Chardonnay ($35) extremely impressive, its clean peach character succulent and inviting, with soft creamy lees and oak spice notes.
In reds, a couple of recent discoveries in the tasting room were the 2007 Pulenta Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($25), a lush mouthful of blackberry fruit from Argentina with just enough light herbal character to keep it from being a fruit-bomb, and the 2006 Mazzoni Toscana Rosso ($16, find this wine), a firm-spined, tart, cherry-inflected blend of 72% Sangiovese and 28% Merlot from, well, Tuscany. As the name suggests.
Finally, you have to have a value pick for turkey-day, and this year I'm in favor of the 2007 Vinum Cellars PETS Petite Sirah ($13 or so, find this wine). It's smoky and toasty, with that classic dark, spicy Petite Sirah fruit—think of a melange of blueberries, black plums and blackberries. Very drinkable, and a good deal, too.