Spring Forward

 

One thing that is consistent about Texas weather is its inconsistency. Fifty degree swings in 24 hours are not unheard of.  In fact the week before Spring Break we had freezing temperatures, the weekend it began we hit the seventies, the second weekend was chilly and raining.

Another consistent for Spring break is daily drinking with friends. There were plenty of opportunities to do some sampling, and those bottles were as varied as the temperatures.

The week before, I participated in a Snooth Twitter Tasting with Ruffino‘s line of Chianti*.  They ranged from the 2013 Chianti DOCG ($9) with bright red fruit and plenty of acid to the 2010 Riserva Ducale Oro ($28), a rich, layered, brooding example of what Sangiovese can be.  One thing remained true throughout.  These are well made, balanced wines that are priced to benefit the customer. It was a pleasure to hear from the winemaker, Gabriele Tacconi, about both the history and winemaking process and the participants always entertain.  If you haven’t joined before, we will banter again on Monday April 27th,

IMG_5251

Malbec is a grape I enjoy more in cooler weather so I made it a point to open a sample from Rutini** ($18) before the temps changed.  This 100% Malbec from Argentina is held in 50% French, 50% American barrels.  The fruit was deep, rich, intense and has a smooth and spicy finish.  I paired it with a ratatouille with turkey sausage, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, onion, tomatoes, and herbs.  I finished the sauce with some of the Malbec and let it simmer for a couple of hours.  It turned out really well and paired nicely.

IMG_5234

Later that week we opened the Rutini** Chardonnay($18).  Chardonnay is generally not my go-to white, but when the oak is subtle and the fruit has a starring role, I am in.  This wine had tropical fruit notes and honey balanced with abundant acid.  50% goes though Malolactic fermentation and it sits in New French Oak for 10 months. I rarely make recipes anymore but as I was thumbing through my mom’s Country Living magazine, I found this for Pancetta and Brussels Sprouts linguine.  Since I had the ingredients (sub bacon for pancetta and pasta) I gave it a try.  Lovely together.

IMG_5244

By mid-break I was in the mood for Sauvignon Blanc and so I invited a neighbor over to sample with me.  These two SBs from Chile were vastly different. Outer Limits by Montes($30)*** is a series that explores grapes from new regions.  This bottle yields from the Zapallar vineyards in Chile, 6 miles from the Pacific Ocean.  This came as no surprise to me as the first sip tasted like the ocean.  A great deal of salinity, tropical fruit, and citrus with a touch of oily green.  The color reminded me of an unripened banana, yellow with hues of green.  Although not my preferred style of SB, it was a food-friendly, complex, and interesting wine.

IMG_5272

The second Montes wine was Montes Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc ($15)***. Grass, white peach, and floral notes on the nose and in the mouth.  Crisp, fresh, floral and delicious.   Grown in the Leyda Valley, this was exactly what I am looking for when I open a Sauvignon Blanc.

IMG_5276

They say if you don’t like the weather, wait.  By Friday, it was chilly and rainy.  I had previously caramelized onions for French Onion Soup and then frozen them.  I knew it might be our last chill of the season so I decided to finish the process.  With one more sample that was predominantly Malbec looming, I knew what I had to do: call in the hubs for red meat reserves. When the wine suggests decanting for at least an hour, you know you’re dealing with a big one and the soup just wouldn’t cut it.

The 2011 Achaval Ferrar Quimera**($38) is a Bordeaux style blend but the predominant grape is Malbec. 60% was aged 12 months in 1-year old French oak barrels, 40% 12 months in new French oak barrels. The color was a deep cherry plum, the nose conveyed spicy dust and sun-warmed fruit.  A surprising amount of acid at first, it faded as it opened.  Black fruit and alpine herbs with sturdy structure and a long finish.

There are some wines that I receive as samples that, in my mind, need to be held for a bit.  It pains me to open them, but it hangs over my head if I don’t. This was one of those wines. In retrospect, I would have paired it a little differently (stinky cheese?), decanted more, and held it a little longer.  It was clearly well-made and has potential, but I think I missed the mark with this one. Now I know.

Sometimes price point is not an indicator of how much you will enjoy the wine.  Yet another reason to taste before you judge and  review with an open mind.  In each of these samplings, for whatever reason, I found myself enjoying the wines that were less costly. Now if only that were true with shoes…clothes…hotels…

Wishing my friends up north a jump towards spring and for my friends in Texas, a lengthy one.  Cheers!

*These wines were provided as media samples for Snooth Virtual Tasting and I received no other compensation. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

**These wines were provided as media samples by Gregory White PR and I received no other compensation. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

***These wines were provided as media samples by Feast PR and I received no other compensation. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

 

 

Conversation Wines: What Message are You Sending?

I met my husband at the end of 2001.  We casually dated over the holidays; neither of us were looking for a relationship. So when February 14th was approaching, I decided to diffuse it rather than cause either of us unnecessary stress.

” I am not one to buy into the mass marketing commercialism of holidays.  Especially ones that try to force people to spend quadruple the price on flowers, etc.  However, I do think Valentine’s Day is a good excuse to spend time with someone you are kinda in to sooo… what do you think of making dinner together tomorrow night?   Just an excuse to drink a nice bottle of wine and hang out.”

Simple, non-committal, casual.  I made filets, potatoes, salad.  Easy, tasty, a little special but not crazy.  But I made a critical error in my “low-key” approach.  We opened this bottle of wine.

IMG_5082

I had brought it back from my trip to Italy in 2000.  A small producer, Francesco Mollaioli,  I found on the streets of Assisi.  Even though I didn’t know too much about wine at the time, this wine had a story. I’d saved it for the right occasion, I couldn’t easily replace the bottle. Cover blown.

Your approach to this holiday sends a message.  The wine you choose punctuates that message.  If the relationship is new, the wine should convey that.  If you are getting super serious about this person, you need to step it up. In a long-term relationship? Well, that’s up to both of you. There is the freedom to keep it low-key or the excuse to show your significant other what a treasure he or she is, and drink some dang good wine. I always opt for the dang good wine, even if we drink it in comfies on the couch.

I recently participated in the Boston Wine Expo Twitter Tasting featuring Hope Family Wines*.  Three wine samples were featured. The names of the wines naturally lend themselves to my Valentine’s wine choice theory. Allow me to demonstrate.

IMG_0264

Liberty School Merlot ($16)

You’ve spent some time together, but are focused on your freedom. You don’t want to send a message that conveys anything but so stay under $20.  Even if the evening is a total bust, you aren’t out too much. Black fruit, spice, a good Merlot for the price point.  this would be great with a pork dish.  I recently made a Chinese Five Spice Pork with horseradish sweet potatoes that would’ve paired really well. Or chocolate. Love Merlot with Chocolate. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of good wine.

Troublemaker ($20)

Ok, maybe you weren’t looking, but this person is taking up way too much of your brain space.  You find yourself thinking about them. Involuntary smiles at the sound of their voice. A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Zinfandel, I described this wine on twitter as Boysenberry cobbler with a smoked crème anglaise. A little sweet, a little sassy. Your favorite kind of trouble.

Treana Red ($45)

Hope Family calls this their benchmark blend: the wine by which all others are measured. If you have one of these in your life, you do what you can to hold on.  It’s beautiful on the outside, multi-faceted on the inside. A blend of Cab and Syrah, this wine meets its match with something equally complex. Filets with bleu cheese, braised short ribs, think big and rich. A memorable wine for a memorable evening.

 

We would both say that, even though we don’t donate to Hallmark, Valentine’s will always be special for us. Over the years we’ve had swoons and laughter, tears and silence. We’ve had dinners in which I put on a new dress and one when held a four-day-old bundle in sweats. But one constant is recounting our first special bottle together while enjoying another.

So, maybe the wine choice blew my cover. But, maybe the risk was just what we needed because we were rarely apart after. Whether you are opening something special to treat yourself, a new interest, or your benchmark in life, think about the message your wine could be sending. Cheers!

 *{I received these wines to participate in a #BWETaste Twitter conversation. I received no other compensation. thoughts and opinions are my own.}

 

The Magic of Bubbles

DSC_0605

What is it about bubbles?  Is it the anticipation? The way they reflect the light with swirling colors?  Perhaps it is the challenge of blowing the biggest bubble or the chase as they float out of reach. Children of all ages can easily become absorbed in the magic on a sunny afternoon.  That doesn’t change in adulthood.

DSC_0592

DSC_0604

Any afternoon becomes an occasion when you accept the invitation to play. Here are a few bottles of Monday wines for any occasion.

Codorniu Clasico is cava made from  Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Parellada.  I bought it for mimosas but it was fun by itself.  Stone and tropical fruit, dry, bright, tasty.  A great bottle for the price point of around $8. An even better bottle when shared with friends.

DSC_0525

Anna de Codorniu Brut NV* is from the same family but this bottle is composed of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Parellada. The bubbles, delicate, the color, straw yellow.  Tropical and citrus notes combine to create a balanced bottle of bubbles that is impressive, especially at $15. It was just the right bottle to celebrate my friend’s end of a grueling semester.

DSC_0554

Ruffino Prosecco** was sent to me to create a holiday cocktail they suggested.  I had every intention of doing just that, but when I got home on NYE to discover I was missing the cranberry juice, I improvised.  (The cider was for the littles). The original cocktail was:

Sweet and Spiced Holiday Sparkler

3 oz. Ruffino Prosecco DOC

3/4 oz. apple cider

3/4 oz. cranberry juice

1 tsp. maple syrup

squeeze of 1 lemon wedge

Instead I made:

Five Spice Sparkler

4 oz. Ruffino Prosecco

1/2 tsp of Five spice Syrup***

Squeeze of Meyer Lemon

While the first cocktail looked yummy, I generally prefer less juice, more booze and bubbles.  The one I came up with was delicious if I do say so myself.  On its own, I find the Ruffino a little bitter in the finish but the syrup and lemon worked well with it.  I’ll be making that again.  Holidays or not.

DSC_0599

*This wine was provided by Gregory White PR as a media sample.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.

**This wine was provided by Nike Communications as a media sample.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.

***Five Spice Syrup (approximate recipe)

1/4 c sugar

TBSP Five Spice Powder

1/8 c water

Combine and heat, stirring until syrup consistency.

More Last Minute Gifts: Central Market Wine

We all have our favorite stores, or if you are like me, you have favorite stores for different types of shopping.  I like one store for staples, another for grass-fed beef, yet another for when I need a combination of staples and epicurean novelties.  When it comes to grocery stores for choosing wines, my favorite locally is Central Market Westgate.  The selection is excellent, the people are knowledgeable and easy-going.  Andy Christiansen took over the wine department a couple of years ago and he frequently holds themed tastings, holds secret stashes, and always has great recommendations.

Last week his newsletter contained his 10 favorite wines of 2014.  What I love about his list was that it is diverse and accessible.  Prices range from $13-$40 and all wines were (at the time) in stock.  That’s a practical list that I can work with.  I asked his permission to share with my readers.  If you are in Austin, you can find most, if not all, of these wines.  If you are elsewhere, I’m sure there are more than a few readily available.  Thank you, Andy, for the recommendations and for making the trips to the grocery store that much more fun.  I’ve been a very good girl so if Santa wants to put aside an Assobio for me I won’t complain.  Now, if you can create a list of 10 ways to keep my five-year old occupied while I peruse your department…

Cheers!

#1 2010 Chateau Carignan, Cadillac Cotes de Bordeaux, $17.95

We introduced this around Halloween when we inevitability have guests asking for wines with vampires, devils or monsters on the label. To these inquiries, I would ask, “How about a wine that tastes like Halloween!?!”. This beautifully balanced wine tastes like a slightly bloody, rusty hatchet that was dipped into a bucket containing gorgeous blue and black fruits. Sounds slightly odd and gruesome but there is poetry here. David Lynch wishes he had made this wine!

#2 NV Cleto Chiarli ‘Vecchia Modena Premium’ Lambrusco di Sobrara, $13.99

Wow, does this wine ever represent a category that is needed in central Texas; a dry, fruity, dark rose/light red sparkler that is what I like to call “seriously fun”. It is like a well crafted pop song that is sure to get your toes tapping but you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be caught singing in your car with the windows down. Think Buddy Holly vs. Justin Bieber. It’s no surprise that this lyrical wine was introduced to me by one of our guests and local musician Adam Aherns. By the way, his latest release, Black Pepper Corn, is addictively joyous and we’ll be having a drawing at the tasting to give away 5 copies of it. If you don’t win, I suggest you read more about it at www.adamaherns.com and purchase through iTunes!

#3 2012 Joan D’ Anguera ‘Altarosas’ Granatxa, Montsant, Spain, $17.99

I can’t think of many grapes that I have as much of a love-hate relationship with as much as Grenache/Grenacha. Grown under certain conditions and under the direction of heavy-handed winemakers looking to impress your palate rather than seduce, it can be a hot mess of globby, bubblegumy fruit and scorching rubbing alcohol. Spain is a region that sometimes seems to let this happen more frequently than not. This is an example of how the grape is capable of “transparency” in much the same way great Pinot Noir can be. It is certified biodynamic and made using old-school techniques such as concrete tank fermentation and aging. The end result is a wine with lifted red fruit, mineral and floral notes that breath life. I can scarcely think of any wine I’d rather drink with a wide range of foods, especially pork or turkey.

#4 2011 Riserva Del Canapone ‘642’ Maremma Toscana Rosso, $14.95

The first of several wines on this list that our buyer sourced to introduce during our Passport Italy event. We’ve had a hard time keeping this one in stock ever since. This is a unique blend from Tuscany that blends six grapes into one magical expression that feels like the closest thing I’ve experienced from Italy to a high quality Rhône blend and yet does not lose an essence that can only come from Italian terror.

#5 2012 J. Bouchon ‘Canto Norte’ red blend, Maule Valley, Chile, $12.99

This was also introduced during one of our events this year, Wine Week, where numerous winemakers from around the world came to sample and discuss their wines. This is a true family winery that dates back to the late 1800’s when the first Bouchon immigrated from France. The current owner/winemaker continues to make wines with Bordelaise influence, no doubt influenced from his enology degree received from the University of Bordeaux. This is Merlot predominant which provided suppleness, spice from Carmenere and Cabernet Franc and stability from a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. Made using many organic and natural winemaking principles.

#6 NV Baron Fuente Brut, Champagne, $24.95 (normally $29.95)

Champagne is probably the hardest category of wine for us to convince people to try something new. I think it mostly has to do with tradition and traditionally (at least in this country), Champagne has been consumed as a celebratory beverage on various holidays or to mark certain achievements. Like many things related to tradition, people like to replicate details. It’s a nostalgic way of connecting to past times and people. That’s cool. What’s also cool is that we are in the midst of a sparkling wine revolution where people are realizing what an incredible beverage Champagne and the like can be as a daily drinker. They are uniquely suited to go with an amazingly wide range of types of food. We introduced Baron Fuente a couple years ago across all nine Central Markets in Texas but it has been the Austin market that has been the most open to trying something different than the Grand Marque houses they’ve known for so long. Pat yourselves on the back for recognizing quality and value over fashion and pretense! By the way, if its been awhile since you’ve had this Champagne, I’d recommend trying it again. I’m sure what we’re getting in now had the same disgorgement date as when we first brought it to Texas and it has done nothing but get better!

#7 2012 Graffito Malbec, Luca de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina, $17.99

Many years after it began, the Malbec craze shows no signs of slowing down despite many predictions that it would see the same sudden and dramatic decline in popularity that Aussie Shiraz did not too long ago. This is another example of a small family-owned producer make outstanding wine. Again, the owner/winemaker visited us for our Wine Week in July. While working for years for iconic winery Catena, Jimena Lopez would drive around Mendoza all day checking on many vineyards. She got to know them all intimately and when she recognized the incredible opportunity to purchase fruit from a 7 acre vineyard planted in 1908 she was able to realize her dream of making her own wine. With fruit as good as she is able to buy, she smartly takes an approach to intervene in the winemaking process as little as possible. The fruit and wine speak for themselves with depth and complexity. It’s remarkable to think that an outstanding wine like this, made with vines over 100 years old can be had at such an accessible price!

#8 2013 Bosio Gavi, Piedmont, Italy, $12.95

Another newly introduced Italian. This crisp white with subtle peach, tropical and citrus notes pretty much blows away any comparably priced Pinot Grigio. There are some very good Pinot Grigios out there, but this is an example of why Italians don’t consume it nearly as much as Americans do. They know there are usually better options and this wine made with the Cortese grape is just one of many interesting Italian whites we’d like to introduce you to if you haven’t been already.

#9 2012 Maison L’ Envoyé ‘The Attaché’ Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $39.99

The winery’s name translates to “The House of the Messenger” and they are intent on making sure their wines “jublilantly sing of their origins”. While most of the wines I’ve already listed have high ratings from big name critics, you’ll notice I’ve refrained from mentioning them. I do want to mention here that this received 94 points from both Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits and I believe they both got it right. Spectator said, “An essay of volcanic and sedimentary soils, delivering density and concentration without oppressive weight. A long, focused core of blue fruits and intriguing spice dances across the palate, bound by silky yet precise tannins and a bright line of minerality. An unabashed come-hither mouthfeel”.

#10 2011 Assobio, red blend, Douro, Portugal, $12.99

Portugal table(non-Port) wines have been predicted to be the next big thing for as long as I can remember but continue to lag far behind their Iberian Peninsula neighbor, Spain…by a bunch. This blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) and Touriga Franca will show you why we all should be looking a few miles more to the east for our wines from the Iberian Peninsula. This also received a big, fat rating from a major wine publication and because of that our supply is unfortunately very limited.

Musical Pairings with Banfi

When it comes to stocking your wine fridge, or cellar if you’re lucky, you can and should do so with several things in mind.  You have those special occasion bottles and the duplicates for comparative purposes.  You have the obscure blend you found at your favorite store and the ones you picked up at the winery.  And then you have the others.

If you have the means and the storage, you have several bottles that are Monday wines.  Wines that you know are the old reliables.  Wines that you can open and not finish and not worry.  The wines that you can pop for any reason or no reason and not have to think about them.

Wines that qualify need to be affordable and versatile.  Maybe you buy them by the case, maybe you stock up during the semi-annual sale.  One favorite red for such purposes is Chianti.

Chianti is wine from the Chianti region of Italy.  Depending on the specific area and time in the barrel, the wine is given different designations. All Chianti needs to be 75% Sangiovese.  To be considered a reserve, the wine needs to be aged at least two years in barrel, three months in bottle.  Classico is from the central region, an area given DOCG status in 1996.  If it has the black rooster, it has been tested and deemed worthy of the designation.

I recently sampled three Chiantis from Banfi Wines: Placido Chianti ($9), Chianti Classico($15), and Chianti Classico Riserva($19).  They were doing a campaign about Chianti and comfort foods, very appropriate.  It is nearly impossible for me to eat Italian without wine so these were fun to sample.

I’ve mentioned that I sometimes like to taste “blind,” without reading anything about them first.  When I went to open these, I couldn’t find the attachments with the retail info. or production sheets so I paired blindly as well.  A bit risky, but a good experiment.

A few weeks ago I wrote about pairing Chicken Saltimbocca and the Placido Chianti was one that was an option.  A few nights later, I made Minestrone which I paired with the Chianti Classico.  The following weekend I made Pasta with meatballs and we drank the Riserva.

The Placido was a little “thin” for the rich sauce of the Saltimbocca and, while it worked, the Riserva would have been a better choice.  The Minestrone was great with the Classico, but knowing what I know now, I should have held on to e Placido.  A true Monday wine in price and complexity, it would have been just fine with the soup.  The Riserva was great with the meatballs.  I had opened it early to put a splash in the sauce and, since it was already opened, I channeled my inner-Olivia Pope and had a bit with the afternoon matinée popcorn.  It even worked there.  However, the red fruit and acidity of the Classico may have been a little better.

Every bottle WORKED but I could have paired better.  But for versatility, affordability, and as the promotion was claiming, comfort, Chianti hits the mark. I may need a do-over and a wine do-over is one I never mind doing.  I know I’ll be stocking up on some more for the holidays.

{These wines were supplied by Banfi as media samples. I received no other compensation.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.}

Forming a Theory with Help from Mia Wines

I may have a cure for the Texas Hill Country drought.  It requires wine, food, wonderful people, and a great deal of planning, but if we work together, I think we can pull this off.  So far, I am two for two on the Wine event:Torrential rainstorm ratio.  Last month, after the Dry Creek event, I couldn’t see ten feet in front of me, even going 10 mph.  I avoided highways, prayed, and made it safely, but the lakes rose.  On Thursday, I went to a party at a private home to launch Mia wines, the new line from Freixenet, and we rushed home followed by tornado warnings and downpours.  Coincidence?  You decide.

This was not just any home.  This was one of the most beautiful private homes I have been in.  High above Lady Bird Lake, the views to the right were of the river winding past the downtown skyline, to the left, Red Bud Isle and Lake Austin.  The home had been recently purchased and redesigned by Mark Ashby Design.  The home was contemporary, sleek, yet comfortable and inviting.  That can be a difficult balance to strike; Mark and his team did so with an incredible eye for both subtle and dramatic details.

20140618-095858-35938351.jpg20140618-095855-35935366.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As guests arrived, tapas were passed.  With the Spanish wines, Spanish fare was a given.  Eva Bertran of Freixenet and Daniel Olivella of Barlata have a friendship which has spanned decades, so even on his birthday, he provided a beautiful spread.  Crostini with Octopus and fennel, Iberica and micro greens, Chorizo, prawns, and wild mushroom with pine nuts.  Again, I cursed this shellfish allergy, but what I could have was delicious.  My husband oohed and aahed and claimed it was the best paella he’s had.  I have never seen a Paella pan like the Paella pans Chef Olivella had at this party.   What came out of them had to be fantastic.

20140618-095900-35940227.jpg

Gloria Collell is from a family of wine entrepreneurs so it is no surprise that the lure of enology trumped the lure of law school.  She has been with the Ferrer family, owners of Freixenet, for years and felt the next move should be into easy-drinking, food-friendly wines.  She wanted them to be approachable and festive.  She wanted them to capture the essence of Barcelona and be at an accessible price point.  Gloria has achieved what she set out to do.  These are perfect party wines.

The Mia line currently consists of five wines: white, rose, red, sparkling, and sparkling rose. The whites and pinks are low in alcohol with a level of sweetness.  They are all fermented in steel to retain the fresh, bright flavors.  The grapes are quintessentially Spanish.  The labels boast a colorful mosaic, a perfect representation of the wine.

miaredmiawhitemiapink

 

Mia’s white blend consists of Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Moscato, and Parellada.  Bright blossoms, tropical fruits, and honey.  The rose was my favorite and new grapes for me, Bobal and Sumoli.  Subtle red fruit, floral notes, a great food wine.  The red was, of course, Tempranillo.  Red and black fruit, spice and earth.  Both sparklings are Moscatos.  She suggests pairing the white with rich cheeses or dessert.  The rose has a 2% addition of Tempranillo which changes the wine immensely.  It balances the sweetness and would be perfect with berries and chocolate.

As The Brew played, the sun set, and in the distance, thunder clouds began to roll in.  It did not stop the band from hitting every note.  In fact, that could also be said about Janet Kafka and her team.  Every detail was well executed; the setting could not have been more captivating.  The hosts were gracious and inviting and the service was top-notch.  The food and wine sang of Barcelona, with casual, colorful elegance.

To test a theory, one need to evaluate in several controlled settings.  There needs to be a consistency in the elements, careful observation.   Now, I’m not saying that there is a definite correlation between the great food and wine events and the storms, but it is something I am willing to offer my services as a test subject, repeatedly if necessary.

Many thanks to Janet Kafka and team, Mark Ashby, Daniel Olivella, Gloria Collell, and everyone that made the evening possible.

I was invited to the event as media but received no additional compensation.  The thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

 

In a Sentimental Mood-Monday Wines

Last Tuesday I cooked my final dinner in the former version of my kitchen.  Since I moved in nearly nine years ago, actually since my then-boyfriend moved in ten years ago, I have wanted to make some major changes.  The original tile and cabinets, the laminate countertops, the horrid pantry all had to go.  I did the best with what I had.  I tried painting, but what I had hoped would be a wheat color, was more of a mustard mess.  “No matter,” I thought, “It will be gone soon enough”.  That was probably seven years ago.  Other things took priority.  And dollars went to diapers; it was survival mode, a long mental fog.  I was patient.  Very patient.

So, knowing it was my “last supper” of sorts, I turned up the music and got chopping.  The “shuffle gods” had something else in mind.  One after another, it was a “this-is your-life” soundtrack and a funny thing happened.  I found myself a little wistful, a little teary.  And I was chopping galanga root, not onions.  Even though I loathed that laminate, it is the one I floured for gnocchi and pie crust.  Even though that grout made me cringe, it is what my babies learned to move on as I pureed.  Even though that pantry was my organizational nemesis, it has stored a lot of love.  Well, groceries which would become little gestures of love.

I guess I’ve always been that way.  If I love you, I will cook for you.  If we are friends, we will share secrets and laughter at the kitchen table.  And once you’re in, you’ll always have a place at my table.  Maybe not literally; life brings changes in schedules and obligations.   Friends scatter and parenthood can squeeze your social calendar into a barely recognizable pulp.  But if you’ve held a place in my life, in my kitchen, in my heart, you’re there still.  Even if you are nasty green laminate from the 90s.

People had warned my about the chaos of life without a kitchen.  Actually, so far so good.  We’ve made our dining room our makeshift kitchen, I am not drowning in dishes, and I stocked up on Monday wines.  A girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do.  If you’re new, Monday wines are in the $8-12 range.  They are wines you don’t mind opening for no reason, wines that don’t need to be paired, etc.  Knowing that my cooking abilities would be  compromised and my need for wine reinforced, I needed to be prepared.  And like the food coming out of my current “kitchen”, these wines aren’t fancy, but they are tasty.  They are ones I’d love to share and they will all have a home in my new kitchen.

11 Irony Merlot from Monterey County

We opened this last when we had the neighbors over for a cook out (we still have a grill) so take this with a grain of salt, but I really liked it.  Great fruit, balanced, a little spice, round cocoa notes.  We had it with some salty grilled venison backstrap a neighbor brought.  Super yum.

09 Anciano Tempranillo Crianza

I love a good Crianza.  Fresh red, easy-drinking fruit, subtle spice, good acid.  Will be restocking this one.

Rapido Red Sangiovese from Puglia  Everything you want from a pizza wine.  Including the price.

Anna Codorniu Brut Rose

Opened this with a friend visiting the week before we started the crazy.  Beautiful, festive color,  nice balance of fruit and yeast, lovely little bubbles.  Great wine to share with the girls.

“Sparkle and Shine”-Bubbles for NYE and Beyond

I love Steve Earle.  I first fell for El Corazon, went back to I Feel Alright and then on to Transcendental Blues.  “Ft. Worth Blues” was on repeat as I watched the moon over the Adriatic.  I had people come up to me at the show at La Zona Rosa and say they had never seen anyone so into Steve Earle.  I snuck up front at The Backyard and “Galway Girl” and “More Than I Can Do” always get me moving.  I’ve missed some of the more recent stuff as I don’t dedicate nearly enough time to music these days, but one from 2007 will always be a favorite.

When I think back on my first pregnancy, two songs come to mind.  We chose not to find out the sex, but I knew.  I knew I was having a girl and I sang to her in the car, as I walked, whenever I was alone.  One was Patty Griffin’s ‘Heavenly Day,’ the other was Steve Earle’s “Sparkle and Shine.”  Much of what he writes is rough and tumble and colored with political punches, but when he writes a love song, he writes a long song.  “My baby sparkles and shines and everyone knows she’s mine…”

Who doesn’t want to be described as sparkling?  Sparkling personality, sparkling eyes.  The word connotes vivacity, magnetism.  When we think of celebrations, we want sparkling lights and sparkling wine.

As the year ends, many of us will gather with those that have meant something to us in the past year.  We will look back fondly or bid good riddance to a year we’d rather not repeat.  Either way, the evening should end, or begin, with something that sparkles.

You’ve got choices to make.  Domestic or foreign?  What’s your price point?  What’s the gathering?  If it is intimate, you may choose to have one or two bottles of something splurge-worthy and elegant.  If you’re hosting the whole block, you probably want something that tastes great at a reasonable price so you can pour freely.

I recently received some samples of Cava, sparkling wine from Spain, and Prosecco, bubbles from Italy.  I’ve discovered some new French favorites and some domestic standouts.  Some I have mentioned this year and some are newly tried.  Either way, there is sure to be something here to fit your gathering.

Feeling domestic? Try J Winery Sparkling Cuvee.   Priced in the low $20s, it is affordable and delicious.  Warm pears and citrus. A good compromise between splurge and a save.  Another that falls into that category is Jean Charles Boisset’s JCB bubbles.  The Brut and the Rose are delish and you can find them in the high teens, low 20s.  If you want to try a Texas sparkler, I really enjoyed McPherson Cellars Sparkling Wine with Chenin Blanc and Muscat Canelli.  A great value, too great I am afraid.  It is currently sold out but look for it next year.

Viva  España! There are some great values if you go for Cava.  Some better than others, of course.  One sample of “value” Cava I didn’t care for but it made a great cocktail with grapefruit, pomegranate seeds, and bitters.  I did like the Segura Vidas Brut Rosé ($10)* and was pleasantly surprised by the Freixenet Brut($11)*.  Neither were overly complex but pleasant for sipping.  If you want to bump it up a notch, try the Segura Vidas Reserva Heredad.*  The bottle itself is beautiful.  Pop the cork and find lots of beautiful bubbles, floral notes, apple, citrus and yeast.  Elegant and nicely priced around $25.

20131229-153859.jpg

Oui, Oui, Mon Cheri!  Last month I told you about a Cremant that I have a big crush on.  Aimery Sieur d’Arques Cremant de Limoux Rosé.  If you want to splurge on something pink, I’d suggest my birthday bubbles, Chassenay d’Arce, Rosé Brut, Champagne.  It is 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 100% delicious.  Maybe it was just the fact that I had it with my mom’s strawberry cake, but it was worth every bit of the $45(ish).

Two of the highlights of my year (more to come) meant Champagne.  The first came in the form of the Formula 1 G.H. Mumm party which meant unlimited Champagne from the classic producer.  You can never go wrong with Mumm.  The Cordon Rouge, is toasty, fresh, classic and delicious.  At $39, it is a special occasion wine, but totally doable.The second came in the form of a thank you from the wonderful Carin Oliver for participating in the Rodney Strong Anniversary dinner as press.  Bollinger Brut Rose is a bit of a splurge at $89 but with a finish like that, it’s like getting two bottles in one.  Red berries, yeast, firm minerality, and this little love lingers.

Molte Bene In the mood for Prosecco?  A guest favorite in my Moms-coping-with-winter-break Blind Tasting was the Voveti Prosecco.  On the nose, some honey and yeast, good green apple notes and a decent finish.  In general, Prosecco can be a little sweeter than Cava or Cremant.  This one was indeed a little sweeter, but nice with the salty snacks.

Brasil!  For my (cough,cough) 40th, a friend shared this yummy number with me.  Casa Valduga 130 Brut is made using méthode champenoise and was nutty, full-bodied, and tasty.  A unique wine that is sure to be a conversation starter.  How many wines have you had from Brazil?

Now I know when Mr. Earle wrote the song, he didn’t mean “baby” like I meant “baby,” but I’ve got to say, my baby does indeed sparkle and shine. I can’t really think of anything “sparkling” without thinking of that song.  So, while the lede may have you scratching your head still, I hope you still enjoy the song.  2013 has had its challenges, there have been highs and lows, but I have much to be grateful for.  I hope that you will be surrounded by those you love and that there is something delicious in your glass and fabulous in your future.  See you in 2014! Cheers!

*These wines were provided by Janet Kafka and Associates as media samples.  The opinions are my own.

Less is More-Clean Slate Riesling

There was a time when a meatless meal would be cause for a mini-revolt.  But I’ve gotten better at creating delicious, satisfying vegan meals and my husband’s gotten better about not complaining.  Less meat is just better for your health and the environment.  It’s a win-win.  Less is more.

There was a time when my day was so crazy and I was so overwhelmed that I wanted a glass of wine every night.  Now I get a break during school hours and am more in the groove of the SAHM thing.  So instead of having a Monday wine on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I generally have one or two glasses of something tasty, once or twice a week.   Less is more.

I have had a few samples of wine that I have been meaning to try, but when you drink less, you drink less.  So yesterday I opened a bottle of Clean Slate Riesling that has been in my refrigerator for weeks.  I’m glad I did.  The wine hails from the Mosel region of Germany which is known for producing some great Riesling.  While choosing most German Rieslings can be intimidating because of their classifications, this one is straightforward.  A look at the label will give you a good hint about what you are getting.

Clean floral and fruit notes with little residual sugar and a lot of minerality.  Just as the photo indicates.  Citrus, stone fruits, and a little spice.  When people ask about minerality in wine, I always think of the smell of slate.  I think of climbing on slate river beds as a child and the taste of your hands after.  No, I didn’t go around licking my hands as a child, but it happens, right?  If you’ve ever done it, you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t, open a Mosel Riesling.

With a price point around $10, it is a great Monday wine.  I wish I’d opened it on Monday, in fact, because it would have been perfect with the meal I made.  I was in clean-out-the-fridge mode so I used what I had and it turned out to be, in my husband’s words, the best vegan combination I’ve made so far.

I cubed and roasted some butternut squash with olive oil, salt and pepper and then added mint.  I made brown rice with sautéed leeks, currants, cilantro, cumin, cinnamon, and a little lemon juice at the end.  I also roasted brussel sprouts which I finished with a little Sriracha and lemon juice.  It was delicious.  The warm, fall flavors with a little heat would have paired perfectly with the wine.

You may have read that I was cutting out this, that, and most things in between.  I was really strict at first, then I loosened up on the weekends.  But after two months without the weight budging, I got discouraged and my husband started to complain.  Understandably.  So I adopted my sister’s 80/20 lifestyle.  Eat in the anti-inflammatory way 80% of the time, but when I’m at someone’s home or on date night, I’ll loosen up.   And if I have a sample begging to be opened, I’ll open it.  I’ll just pair it with something healthy.  I’ll still make overall health the goal, but I’ll lighten up on the rules.  Less is more.

South A. Welcomes South A.

20131029-102802.jpgA few weeks ago I told you about a South African Pinotage that I blew my socks off. It was my first piece for Wine Savvy so you may have missed it but the experience whet my appetite for South African wines. This past Sunday, Wines of South Africa held a Braai and wine tasting to benefit the Amala Foundation. Held in the new venue, Vuka, in South Austin, the atmosphere was friendly and casual, approachable and diverse, just like the wines.

The organization is currently doing a US tour to showcase the wines and the changes being made in the industry, socially and environmentally. There were about 25 wines being poured and a few stations with nibbles: ostrich burgers, chicken skewers, etc. Because I was there on a mission, I only tried a little of the food, but what I tried was tasty. I had more important things to taste.

I had sampled some of the wines at previous events so I tried to stick to the new labels. I came away with two clear favorites. The main varieties being poured were Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Pinotage with a few classics thrown in. If you are one that sticks with what you know, I would recommend checking out the Passages label. They were pouring a Chardonnay, a Merlot, and a Cab/Merlot blend. I preferred the bookends in the list but they were all good values around $15.

If you are adventurous, I highly recommend the Bellingham wines. The two being poured were very different, in every way, but my two favorites of the day. The Bellingham Citrus Grove Chenin Blanc was a great value at about $12. Bright citrus, tropical notes, easy drinking. The Bellingham Bernard Series SMV was a beautiful blend of Syrah and Mourvedre, softened with Viognier. Really versatile and smooth with floral red fruits and enough spice to give it weight. It could easily be quaffed alone or with a variety of foods. At $30 it is one of the higher end wines, but worth it. Both wines are available at Whole Foods.

If you are looking for some others to try, I also enjoyed the Stellar Organics Pinotage and Extra Dry Sparkling, both ridiculous values at $11. Also, check out the Mulderbosch Rose and Sauvignon Blanc. Tasty.

Usually at wine events I see a few people I know. These were new faces. These were happy faces. The wines of South Africa may not be well-known yet, but I see that changing. The quality for the price point is attractive, especially for those just experimenting with wines. The wines were easy to drink and easy to share. I’ll always drink to that. Cheers!