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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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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)

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.  

Wines Under $20

Today Show: Wines for Snack Foods

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I was on the fourth hour of Today on NBC this morning, doing a fun roundup of affordable wines to pair with snack foods—definitely no haute cuisine here. But if you've ever wondered what wines go with nachos with cheese & jalapeños, or Slim Jims, or Ring Dings (really), click through to the video.

Wines Under $20

Today Show: Values You Can Find

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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.

  

 

Wines Under $20

Last Minute Bubbly: CBS Early Show

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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.

Wines Under $20

Holiday Wines: Fox Business & CBS Early Show

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'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.

Wines Under $20

Today Show: Spooky Beers and Wines

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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)

Wines Under $20

Wines for Weddings (and other big parties, for that matter)

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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.  

Wines Under $20

Weekend Today: Wines for Grilling

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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.

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