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VALENTINE’S DAY: Sparkling Wines For Gifting & Drinking

Brachetto d'Acqui Banfi

Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui: a wine that says “Be My Valentine.”

 

If you’ve taken a look at Champagne prices, you’d like a recommendation on which way to go.

Our recommendation: Steer away from Champagne and look at other sparkling wines. Here are two of our favorite affordable bubblies for Valentine’s Day. Both are crowd pleasers. One is a perfect dessert wine or an apéritif; the other can be enjoyed anytime, with any course.

Drink them yourself or give them as gifts. As with all sparkling wines, serve them chilled.
 
BANFI ROSA REGALE BRACHETTO D’ACQUI

This sweet sparkling wine from the Piedmont region of Italy is a vivid rose red. The color is natural!

It’s made from the Brachetto df’Acqui grape, which grows in the area of Acqui Terme in rocky, calcareous soil (tough soil makes better wines).

 
The bouquet is very aromatic, with hints of raspberries, strawberries and rose petals. You’ll taste hints of fresh raspberries, with crisp acidity.

In addition to dessert—cakes, tarts, ice cream—it pairs well with seafood, cheeses, spicy fare and yes, that box of Valentine chocolate.

One of our friends calls this wine “love at first sip.” It’s pretty romantic stuff.

The price: $17-$20 per bottle. The pronunciation: bra-KET-toe d’AH-qwee.

There’s more on the brand’s web page.
 
YELLOWTAIL BUBBLES SPARKLING ROSÉ

A recent Top Pick Of The Week for the holidays, this sparkling wine from Australia makes everything more festive—at just $10-$11 per bottle. It’s not a sweet wine, but crisp and refreshing, so it can be paired with anything.

The fragrant nose promises cherries and strawberries on the palate. Unlike the deep red of Brachetto d’Acqui, it’s a pale pink color, similar to a rosé Champagne.

Depending on the retailer and promotion calendar, the bottle may come with a resealable, plastic cap that allows you to seal in the bubbles for the next day. If not, and if you don’t have one, pick up a Champagne resealer. It’s inexpensive, and really does keep that wine sparkling for days.

And it can be the part of the gift that remains, when the wine is long gone.

Here’s our full review of the wine.

And here’s the Yellowtail Bubbles Rosé web page.

 
  

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TIP OF THE DAY: Buying Champagne For New Year’s Eve

If you’re headed to the store to buy Champagne for New Year’s Eve, there are a lot of choices. Where should you start?

We’ve written a lot about lower-cost sparkling wines like Asti Spumante, Cava, Crémant and Prosecco. Our Top Pick Of The Week is Yellow Tail from Australia. All are delicious bubblies, worthy of toasting the new year.

But if you want to toast the New Year with Champagne, here are some money-saving tips.

You Don’t Need To Purchase A Vintage Champagne

There are two categories of Champagne: vintage and non-vintage. By law in the Champagne region of France, a vintage year can be declared only when the grapes contain a specific level of sweetness, which varies from year to year. Even in a given year, the sugar levels (called brix) can vary from vineyard to vineyard.

With a vintage bottling, the year will prominently appear on the label. Otherwise, no year is given, and the Champagne is nonvintage.

  • A vintage year means that all the grapes used to make that wine came from that particular year’s harvest.
  •   Champagne Flute

    For a classic toast: a flute of Champagne. Photo courtesy Champagne flute.

  • Vintage Champagne represents only about 10% of the total production of the region. On average, producers will declare a vintage in three out of every ten years. Each producer declares for its own house; there is no “regional decree.” In great-weather years, almost every house can declare a vintage.
  • When no vintage year is declared, the Champagne is known as nonvintage wine, although a more accurate term would be multivintage, since wines from different years are blended to create the signature house style (le style de la maison, a consistent taste from year to year). Nonvintage Champagnes are not inferior to vintage ones; they’re just different.
  •  

    Vintage Champagnes Are More Expensive Than Nonvintage Champagnes

    Of the Champagnes shown below, Pol Roger (puhl roe-ZHAY) nonvintage is about $40 a bottle. The current vintage on store shelves, 2006, sells for more than $100. Big difference!

    This is due to key factors in both marketing and production. The first is supply and demand. There are more than three times as many nonvintage years as vintage years. Vintage bottlings are considered more prestigious, creating greater demand.

    Production factors also justify the higher price for vintage Champagnes. For nonvintage Champagnes, the law requires a minimum aging time of 15 months after the commencement of the second fermentation (where the bubbles are created by added yeast that eat added sugar). For vintage years, a minimum of three years of aging is required.

    However, in vintage years, most Champagne houses will age their wines even longer. Riper grapes have longer aging potential; aging develops more layers of flavor and complexity. The wine still needs to age after it’s bottled (see the next section). It costs more to finance and manage the inventory, and that expense is reflected in higher prices, along with supply and demand.

     

    Pol Roger Champagne Label

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/pol roger vintage2000 230

    TOP PHOTO: The label of nonvintage Pol Roger Champagne. BOTTOM PHOTO: The
    label of vintage Champagne, in this case the
    2000 vintage, which, due to the need for
    longer aging, should be drinking very well in
    2015.

     

    An Important Note About Aging

    Vintage Champagnes typically need to be laid down for at least 10 years, and ideally for 15 or 20 years, to develop their great nuances. The vintner constructs the wine to last for the long run.

    While the vintage wines can be drunk when they’re released for retail sales, knowledgeable buyers don’t plan to drink a current vintage anytime soon.

    For all the celebrities and others who spend big at restaurants and clubs on newly-released vintages of Roderer Cristal or Dom Pérignon, for example: This is wine infanticide. The wine is drinkable to be sure, but much more simplistic than it will be when fully developed. It’s better to enjoy a nonvintage wine than a too-young vintage,

    Nonvintage wine, on the other hand, is ready to drink as soon as it is released. Yes, it will develop more with a few years of bottle aging, but don’t hesitate to pop the cork right now.

     
    Don’t Be Afraid To Buy Champagnes You’ve Never Heard Of

    Smaller Champagne houses don’t spend money on marketing and cost less than the “name brands.” However, a Champagne you’ve never heard of can be even more delicious to you than the brands you know.

    A number of years ago, on a recommendation from wine expert Robert Parker, we purchased and went crazy for a $35 bottle of Egly-Ouriet, a smaller producer we’d never heard of. Most buyers have still never heard of it, and it remains very well priced.

    You may find that “unknown” Champagne houses—Betrand Devavry, Jacques Selosse, Paul Dethune and Vilmart, for example—are sparkling treasures.

    If you have style preferences—for example, if you prefer a fuller bodied Pinot Noir-based Champagne rather than a lighter “blanc de blancs” made only with Chardonnay grapes—let the wine clerk make a recommendation.

     
    Only True Connoisseurs Can Tell The Difference Between Vintage And Nonvintage

    Only Champagne connoisseurs—those who drink a lot of it and have the expertise to analyze what they’re drinking—can tell you if a glass of Champagne served blind holds a vintage or a nonvintage.

    We still remember when we were taken to dinner years ago, by a Wall Streeter who ate and drank “the best” almost nightly. He ordered a bottle of vintage Veuve Cliquot, but the waiter returned with a bottle of the nonvintage and apologized that they were sold out of the vintage.

    My friend scoffed and snorted at the thought of nonvintage Champagne, and chose another brand with a year on the label. Net net, a little learning is a dangerous thing. If you like Veuve Cliquot, you like vintage and nonvintage alike.

    So the final word is:

  • If you know what you like and want to save money, buy the nonvintage version.
  • If you don’t know what you like, ask the wine clerk to point out the great values.
  •   

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Vermouth & Tapas, For Brunch & Cocktails

    Vermouth is enjoying a renaissance. Vermouth (ver-MOOTH) is a fortified wine—one that includes a base spirit—flavored with a proprietary mixture of botanicals (roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs, spices).

    A glass of sweet red vermouth with an orange slice or twist was long a fashionable apéritíf for café society*. In Barcelona today, vermouth and tapas are a hot duo after mass, both at home and at the vermuterías that have popped up to serve them.

    Today’s tip is to try a bit of café society at home. Turn it into a brunch or cocktail party with tapas. Use the occasion to get to know vermouth, trying the different styles.

    You don’t have to try them all in one day. We’ve turned our monthly Sunday friends-and-family brunch into a vermouth and tapas event, trying different vermouths and tapas each week. So it doesn’t get burdensome, participants are assigned to bring a bottle (for those who don’t cook) and a variety of tapas (for those who do).

    And we have a great time!

     
    A BRIEF HISTORY OF VERMOUTH

       

    Red Vermouth

    An apéritif of red vermouth. Photo courtesy Foods From Spain.

     
    Vermouth evolved from a 16th-century practice in Northern Italy and Germany, where apothecaries would blend extracts of herbs and roots to blend with wine and brandy. This was the way to make bitter medicines more palatable. (Virtually all spirits were first developed for medicinal reasons.)

    The original recipe for red vermouth, and possibly even the name “vermuth,” was invented in Torino, Italy in 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano. The red vermouths of subsequent producers like Cinzano were based on Carpano. Carpano is still a major brand in Italy, perhaps best known today in the U.S. for its Punt e Mes (“Point And A Half”), a sweet and bitter style.

    In the late 19th century, bartenders began to make cocktails with vermouth. The Manhattan and Negroni, made with sweet vermouth, and the Martini, made with dry vermouth, are three that remain popular today. A plain glass of sweet vermouth is still enjoyed as an apéritif in Italy, France and Spain, the three largest producing countries.

    There are a number of different vermouth styles: sweet and dry, red and white, amaro (with added bitters), chinato with added chinchona (quinine) and often gentian (a root), alla vaniglia with vanilla, and others. Vermouth houses typically make a variety of styles.

    While many vermouths are regional and not imported, familiar names in the U.S. include:

  • French vermouths Noilly Prat, Boissiere
  • Italian vermouths Cinzano, Martini & Rossi
  • Spanish vermouths Lacuesta, Canasta Rosso
  •  
    Other countries have gotten on the vermouth bandwagon. There are a number of American brands (Atsby, Gallo, Imbue, Ransom, Sutton Cellars, Vya from Quady), along with vermouths from Australia, Germany and elsewhere.

     

    vermouth with tapas

    Trade the Mimosa and omelet brunch for vermouth with tortilla española and other tapas. Photo courtesy Foods From Spain.

     

    VERMOUTH & TAPAS

    After Ferran Adría closed the famed El Bulli temple of molecular gastronomy, he opened a vermutería in Barcelona: Bodega 1900, that serves different vermouths and tapas.

    In Barcelona, the trendy food capital of Europe, vermouth is now the midday fashion on weekends. It’s called “la hora del vermouth” (vermouth hour, after “cocktail hour”): good food and drink, good conversation, a good time hanging out with friends and family.

    It’s easy to create your own “la hora del vermouth” for brunch or an all-vermouth-and-tapas cocktail party.

    EASY TAPAS

  • Fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar (or you can grill them)
  • Fried green plantains
  • Green olives stuffed with piquillo peppers and anchovies
  • Grilled shrimp with olive oil and lemon juice
  • Marinated peppers and anchovies
  • Manchego cheese with serrano ham
  • Mussels with vinaigrette
  • Oysters and/or clams on the half shell
  • Potato chips, homemade or artisan
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Serrano ham
  • Tortilla espanola, an omelet with onions, peppers, potatoes and sausage (substitute a frittata or quiche)
  •  

    For brunch, add a green salad, with fruit salad for dessert (you can marinate the fruits in a bit of sweet vermouth or orange liqueur). If someone wants to make flan, by all means!

    Here’s what the menu at a tapas bar looks like.

    We promise, you’ll love this new approach to brunch and/or cocktails.
     
    SPANISH ANCHOVIES

    Many Americans recoil at the thought of anchovies, tough, bristly and way too salty. But these are cheap anchovies, typically served by diners and pizzerias. You must try fine Spanish anchovies—practically another species.

    Tender Spanish anchovies and boquerones, white anchovies, are imported canned and available fresh in May and June.

    They are a classic Spanish tapa. Boquerones are lightly pickled in vinegar and olive oil. Lightly salted and smoked anchovies are only distantly related to the over-salted anchovies too many of us have had.

    They are truly delicious. Try them: La Tienda is an importer of fine Spanish foods, and the photos of anchovies on their website will change your mind, even before the first bite.

     
    *Café society was the precursor of the jet set, and what more recently has been called the “beautiful people.” Beginning in the late 19th century, these wealthy individuals and celebrities gathered in fashionable cafés and restaurants in New York, Paris, and London. As a social group, they attended each others’ private dinners and balls, vacationed at the same elegant resorts, and so forth. In New York City, café society would hang out at El Morocco, the 21 Club and the Stork Club. American journalist Lucius Beebe (1902-1966) is generally credited with creating the term “café society” in his weekly column in the New York Herald Tribune, which ran in the 1920s and 1930s.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Grenache (Garnacha) For Fall & Winter

    The third Friday of September—the 18th this year—is International Grenache Day. With its high alcohol content and spicy notes, it’s an excellent wine for autumn and winter food pairings (see below).

    Grenache (gruh-NOSH) in French, Garnacha in Spanish, is easy to grow and thus one of the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world. Because pure Grenache wines (monovarietals) tend to lack acid, tannin and rich color, the grape is often blended with other varietals. For red Grenache, these are chiefly:

  • Mourvèdre and Syrah in France and Australia.
  • Tempranillo in Spain.
  • However, if you want a pure Grenache, you can find it.
  •  
    There are also white Grenaches and rosé Grenaches. Noteworthy examples of the latter are Tavel from the Côtes du Rhône of France and the rosés of the Navarra region of Spain.

    The high sugar levels of Grenache make it good for fortified wines, as well. It is used in most Australian fortified wines and in the Port-like red vins doux naturels of Roussillon, France such as Banyuls, Maury and Rasteau.

    Today, narrow down your options and try a red Grenache or Garnacha. What should you try it with?

       

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/garnacha sematadesign shutterstock230

    A glass of Grenache. It’s hard to tell Grenache by its color, since most are blended with other grapes. A Grenache blend with Syrah or Temperanillo, for example, will be much more purple than a 100% Grenache. Photo courtesy Semata.

     
    FOOD PAIRINGS WITH RED GRENACHE

    Red Grenache is a versatile wine, even though—as with any wine—its flavors vary, depending on where the grapes are grown, the soil and microclimate characteristics and diverse winemaking styles among producers.

    But red Grenache is generally spicy* with raspberry or strawberry notes. As the wine ages, leather and tar flavors can emerge.

    Pair red Grenache with:

  • Fall and winter dishes: braises, casseroles, roasts, roast turkey and stews (beef, fish, lamb, pork, poultry, veal).
  • Hearty regional fare: classic French bistro dishes, Indian curries, Moroccan tagines, paprika/pimenton-spiced dishes (great with goulash), Portuguese and Spanish country dishes.
  • Vegetarian dishes: bean- and lentil-based dishes, casseroles, cooked tomatoes and eggplant.
  • Smoky foods: barbecue and other smoked meats and related dishes like pork and beans. For smoky pairings, try lighter, affordable Garnachas from Spain.
  • Comfort foods: burgers, mac and cheese, pizza.
  • Strong aged cheeses: blue, cheddar and washed rind cheeses, for example.
  •  
    *In wine, “spicy” refers to flavors such as anise, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, mint, nutmeg and pepper. Some grapes—and the wines made from them—are naturally spicy: Grenache, Malbec, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Zinfandel. New oak barrels also impart spicy notes.

     

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/beaucastel jacquesperrin skinner 230

    One of our favorite grenache blends, Chateau de Beaucastel from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region of the Rhone. Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds tend to be earthy and gamy flavors, with hints of tar and leather: big, lush wines that are terrific with roast beef or lamb. Photo courtesy Skinner Inc.

      FOOD PAIRINGS WITH WHITE GRENACHE

  • Artichokes
  • Charcuterie
  • Cheese dishes: fondue, gratin, soufflé
  • Paella
  • Seafood dishes
  • Tataki, tartare and sushi (especially stronger flavors, like
    salmon and tuna)
  •  
    FOOD PAIRINGS WITH FORTIFIED GRENACHE

  • Chocolate and chocolate desserts
  • Figs and blue cheese (one of our favorite cheese courses)
  •  
    THE HISTORY OF GRENACHE

    Garnacha most likely originated in the Aragon region of northern Spain. In the 12th century it spread to Catalonia and other regions under the Crown of Aragon.

    When the Roussillon region was annexed by France, Garnacha became Grenache, and the grape was planted in Languedoc and the Southern Rhone region. The latter is the home of perhaps the world’s greatest grenache blend, the A.O.C.† Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

     
    †Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), or controlled designation of origin, is the French certification granted to certain wines, cheeses, and other agricultural products made in specific geographical areas, from local ingredients and according to time-honored artisanal practices. The terroir of the region and the artisan techniques assure the authenticity of the product.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Pairing Ice Cream & Wine

    We’ve written extensively on pairing wine with desserts, from apple tart and chocolate cake to cheesecake and tiramisu. There’s a brief mention of two sweet wines that go with ice cream: Nigori saké, a sweet, milky style, and Pedro Ximénez* dessert sherry.

    But the problem with those limited ice cream and wine pairings is that ice cream comes in many flavors, and you wouldn’t pair the same wine with chocolate ice cream as with strawberry.

    So since then, we’ve devoted lots of time to pairing wines with ice cream. The recommendations are below, and also include pairings with sorbets.

    ICE CREAM & DESSERT WINE: A NEW CONCEPT

    How alien is the concept of wine and ice cream? So much so that we couldn’t find a photo of a dish of ice cream together with a glass of wine “for love or money,” as the expression goes. The closest we got was a bowl of rum raisin ice cream, over which Pedro Ximénez sherry had been poured as a sauce.

    It is widely thought that ice cream and wine just don’t mix. One reason given is that the butterfat from the cream dulls the palate; but foie gras too is even fattier and sweet wines are splendid with it. The other reason is that the coldness of ice cream numbs the palate, and this can be true.

       

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/px sherry BodegaJoseDeLaCuesta 230

    Pedro Ximénez, a sweet sherry, goes well with chocolate, ice cream and numerous desserts. Photo courtesy Bodegas José De La Cuesta Pedro | Spain.

     
    However, if you wait at least 10 seconds to sip the wine, following a spoonful of ice cream, your palate can be “primed” for wine. Use sorbet instead of ice cream and avoid the butterfat issue altogether.
     
    The Tradition Of Sweet Wine For Dessert

    Sweet wines date to ancient times. The finest wines in Rome were sweet white wines. Bonus: The higher the sugar content, the more a wine can withstand aging, temperature shifts and transportation; so sweet wines held up better.

    Also, then as now, sweet wines pair with any course, depending on the particular dish. Today, wine connoisseurs pay big bucks to attend dinners where different vintages of Chateau d’Yquem, the priciest sweet wine (it’s a Sauternes from the Bordeaux region of France), is poured with every course.
     
    The Tradition Of Sweet Wine For Dessert

    For centuries at refined dining tables in Europe, dessert consisted of a glass of sweet wine, alone or with fresh fruit. A glass of Port with cheese is another time-honored tradition. Wherever a sweet wine is made, you can bet that it is enjoyed at the end of dinner.

    We respect that tradition: A glass of Sauternes with sweet summer apricots or peaches is divine; ditto with Port and Stilton or other blue cheese. Over time, we’ve switched our guest menus away from serving a substantial dessert after a big meal (including a cheese course), to a dish of sorbet and a glass of dessert wine.

    More recently, we’ve been inviting friends to an “ice cream social”† to try different wine and ice cream pairings. It’s a delightful occasion, and we highly recommend it. Consider it for adult birthday parties.
     
    *Pedro Ximénez, pronounced him-AY-nez and also spelled Jiménez and various other ways, is a white Spanish wine grape used to make fortified wines like sherry. It’s also the name of the sweet dessert sherry made from it. Pedro Ximénez is often abbreviated as PX. The identity of the original Pedro Ximénez and his relationship to the grape is lost to time.

    †Ice cream socials—parties where people came to eat ice cream— were popular events in the U,S. They date back to the 19th century before freezers, not to mention electric ice cream makers (i.e., they were a laborious undertaking, and thus a real treat). Some churches and communities still give them, but today it’s an easy party to throw at home. Here’s how to have an ice cream social.
     
    HOW TO PAIR WINE WITH ICE CREAM & SORBET

    While we’ve paired specific sweet wines with specific ice cream flavors, below, you first need to seek out what your local wine stores stock. Explain the specific ice cream flavors you’d like to serve and see what they recommend from their inventory. You can bring them this list, to make the selection process easier.

    France’s vintners produce a wealth of sweet wines:

  • Banyuls, a fortified red wine (Roussillon, France)
  • Champagne Sec, the sweetest style of the sparkling white wine (Champagne, northeast France)
  • Bonnezeaux, white wine (Anjou, Loire Valley, France)
  • Maury, red wine (AOC†, Roussillon, France)
  • Muscat de Rivesaltes, a fortified white wine (AOC, Roussillon)
  • Muscat-de-Beaumes-de-Venise, white wine (AOC†, Rhone Valley, southeast France; not to be confused with the dry red AC wines labeled Beaumes-de-Venise, formerly known as Côtes du Rhone Villages)
  • Sauternes, white wine (Bordeaux, southwest France)
  • Vin de Paille, white wine (Jura, France)
  •  
    Dessert wines from other countries include:

  • Amontillado Sherry, fortified red wine (Spain)
  • Brachetto d’Acqui or Lambrusco, slightly sparkling red wines (Italy)
  • Black Muscat, red wine (California and elsewhere)
  • Ice-Wine/Eiswein, red and white (Austria, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and elsewhere)
  •  
    *AOC, an abbreviation for appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), “controlled designation of origin,” is an official designation that assures that a product was produced in the specified region according with specific ingredients, according to traditional techniques. The analogous word in Italian is denominazione di origine controllata abbreviated, DOC.

     

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/nigori sake takarasake

    Nigori saké is unfiltered, creating a cloudy, or milky, appearance. The style is brewed to be sweet. Photo courtesy Takarasaké.

     
  • Late Harvest Wines (made the world over from Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Semillon, Viognier, Zinfandel and other red or white grapes)
  • Madiera, fortified red wine (Portugal)
  • Moscato d’Asti, sparkling white wine (Italy)
  • Moscatel de Setúbal, red wine (DOC, Portugal)
  • Muscat, red and white (grown in many locations in Europe, Australia, U.S. and elsewhere)
  • Nigori Saké, milky white and sweet [the name means cloudy] (Japan)
  • Pedro Ximénez Sherry [abbreviated PX], fortified white wine (Spain, Andalusia region)
  • Reciotto de Valpolicella, red wine, very raisiny (Amarone, Italy)
  • Ruby Port, fortified red wine (Portugal)
  • Sparkling Shiraz (Australia) or Lambrusco (Italy)
  • Sweet Madiera (Bual or Malmsey), fortified red wine (Portugal)
  • Tokaji (Tokay) 5 Puttonyos‡, white wine (Hungary)
  •  
    ‡Puttonyos is the Hungarian word to denote the level of sugar in wine; the comparable word used in the U.S., France and other countries is brix.
     

    WINE & ICE CREAM PAIRINGS

  • Any flavor of ice cream matches with its corresponding liqueur (e.g. raspberry with raspberry liqueur) or complementary liqueur (e.g., chocolate ice cream with coffee liqueur, peach ice cream with raspberry liqueur)
  • Apricot ice cream, Bonnezeaux, Sauternes, Vin de Paille
  • Berry ice creams match with Champagne, Muscat, Nigori Saké
  • Butter pecan, maple walnut or other nutty ice cream with PX Sherry, Sweet Madiera
  • Caramel or dulce de leche ice cream with PX Sherry or Sweet Madeira
  • Chocolate ice cream with Banyuls, Nigori Saké, PX Sherry; or Brachetto or Lambrusco with bittersweet chocolate ice cream
  • Chocolate chip ice cream should be matched to its base flavor: chocolate, coffee, mocha, raspberry, vanilla, etc.
  • Coconut ice cream with Late Harvest Semillon, Nigori Saké, Sauternes, Beerenauslese (or the pricier Trockenbeerenauslese)
  • Coffee or mocha ice cream with Amontillado Sherry, Nigori Saké, Madeira, Ruby Port
  • Floral ice cream—Earl Grey, jasmine, lavender, rose—with Ice Wine
  • Ginger or pumpkin ice cream with Sweet Madiera
  • Mint ice cream with Nigori Saké, Madiera or Late Harvest Zinfandel
  • Rum raisin ice cream with PX Sherry or Reciotto de Valpolicella
  • Stone fruit ice cream—apricot, cherry, mango, peach, plum—with Muscat-de-Beaumes-de-Venise
  • Vanilla ice cream with Nigori Saké, PX Sherry, Sauternes, Sweet Madiera, Vin de Paille (bonus: Scotch also works!)
  •  
    HOW TO SERVE WINE & ICE CREAM

  • Serve the wine in a glass.
  • Drizzle it over over the ice cream.
  • Soak dried or fresh fruit in the alcohol overnight and use it as an ice cream topping, along with a glass of the wine.
  •  
    WHAT ABOUT PAIRING WINE WITH SORBET?

    You can use the same wines and liqueurs as with the analogous ice cream flavors; or with a sweet sparkling white wine. For citrus sorbets (grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange—not represented in the ice cream list), pair with the sparkling wine or the matching liqueur.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Wines For Easter Dinner

    lacryma-christi-mastroberardino-230

    Lachryma Christi, “Tears Of Christ,” a
    delicious red for Easter. Photo courtesy
    Vinmoldova.md.

     

    What’s a holiday feast without memorable wines? THE NIBBLE’s wine editor, Kris Prasad, has come up with special recommendations for your Easter dinner.

    Whether your main course is lamb, ham, beef or poultry, these affordable red wines are not only tasty, they’re clever: You’ll have an anecdote to share with your guests as they taste and comment.

    Here are three wines with religious significance that should be on your table.

    RED WINE FROM ITALY: LACHRYMA CHRISTI, “TEARS OF CHRIST”

    With lamb or ham, you need a medium-bodied red wine.

    Legend has Lucifer grabbing a piece of heaven as he was being cast out of it; he dropped it near Naples. When God found that a piece of heaven was missing, He shed tears and vines grew where his tears landed—on Mount Vesuvius.

    The vines bear both red (Aglianico) and white (Coda di Volpe, Falanghina, Greco and Verdeca) grapes that produce wines called Lachryma Christi, “Tears of Christ.”

     
    The grape variety is mainly Aglianico, one of the noble red grape varietals of Italy (along with Nebbiolo and Sangiovese).

    If you can’t find the Lachryma Christi from the producer Mastroberardino, substitute another producer.

    RED WINE FROM FRANCE: ST. JOSEPH “OFFERUS”

    This red wine from the acclaimed Rhone producer Jean Louis Chave has a religious reference to Joseph of Arimathea. St. Joseph, canonized by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, was allowed to remove Christ’s body from the cross and bury him; he was supposedly present at the time of the Resurrection.

    According to the Gospels, Joseph, a man of wealth, donated his own prepared tomb for the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion.

    This is the St. Joseph for whom the great northern Rhone wine appellation is named—a west bank appellation that primarily produces red wines from the Syrah grape, along with some white wines made from Marsanne and Roussanne. There’s a faint illustration of him behind the print on the label.

    The doubly-aptly-named “Offerus” is a wonderful Easter offering. Pair it with either lamb and beef.

     

    WHITE WINE FROM GREECE: MERCOURI REFOSCO

    A Greek wine for Easter? Absolutely! There are important connections.

    The very word “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” the Anointed One. Paul the Apostle spread the gospel throughout Greece.

    Refosco is a grape variety indigenous to the Friuli region of northern Italy. In 1870, Theodore Mercouri imported Refosco cuttings and planted the first vineyard in the western Peloponnesian Mountains of Greece.

    This wine has velvety tannins and uncomplicated red cherry fruit flavors, which pair well with lamb.

    FOOD TRIVIA: The Peloponnese region of southern Greece is known for its currants—the Mercouris also grow them. The word “currant” derives from the nearby port of Corinth, from where the currants were shipped.

     

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    A double offering: Offerus from St. Joseph. Photo courtesy Winenoir.Blogspot.com.

     

      

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    VALENTINE’S DAY: Drink Pink

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    Chandon California Rosé is a sparkling rosé wine that’s less than half the price ($24) of a French rosé Champagne. The company also makes Sparkling Red from Zinfandel ($30), Reserve Pinot Noir Rosé ($35) and Etoile Rosé ($50). Photo courtesy Chandon.

     

    Heading out to the liquor store to pick up a bottle for Valentine’s Day? Here are some tips:

    Don’t purchase a vintage year Champagne. Vintage champagnes typically need to be laid down for 10 or 15 years to reveal their glorious nuances. Knowledgeable people who buy them don’t plan to drink them anytime soon. Instead, you’ll save money and have a better taste experience with nonvintage Champagne.

    Do look for rosé Champagne, as “real” pink-hued Champagne is called. Fuller in body with a deeper flavor, it’s our personal favorite. (It’s also pricier due to the extra steps required to extract the pink color. Taittinger Brut Prestige Rosé is a beauty, with the greater roundness that rosé Champagnes have. It’s priced in between the nonvintage and vintage Taittingers, around $65.00.

    Don’t buy anything called “Pink Champagne.” It is not French but inexpensive wine, carbonated and colored pink. Authentic rosé Champagne (and other natural rosé wines) get their color by extracting it from the grape skins into the white juice.

    Do look for non-Champagne rose sparklers. Two of our favorites: [yellow tail] Bubbles Rosé from Australia (yes, it’s spelled lower case and in brackets) and Martini Sparkling Rosé Wine from Italy. Both are not much more than $10 a bottle, but don’t let the price fool you. They’re delicious! Another favorite, Chandon Rosé, from California is about $22.00.

     
    If you want Champagne with dessert, look for a sec- or demi-sec Champagne*. These are vinified for sweeter foods (i.e., extra dosage is added for sweetness). Brut Champagnes are not vinified to pair with desserts, and will seem too astringent if you drink them with sweeter foods. Sec Champagnes also go well with foods that typically pair with sweeter wines, such as foie gras, lobster and double-creme/triple creme cheeses (our idea of a perfect meal).

    If you don’t want sparkling wine, buy rosé, a pink still wine.

    MORE VALENTINE WINE IDEAS

    Here are some of our favorite Valentine wines.

    More of our favorite rosé Champagnes.

    Whatever is in your glass, have a delicious Valentine’s Day.

     
    *While sec means “dry” in French and demi-sec means “half dry,” as the terms refer to Champagne, they indicates sweetness.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Alternatives To Champagne

    You’ve just spent a pile of money on Christmas. Do you have to spend a mini-pile on Champagne for a crowd on New Year’s Eve?

    Nope. For starters you can head to Costco and pick up Kirkland Signature Brut Champagne for $19.99 a bottle, compared to a minimum of $27.99 or more for our favorite nonvintage Champagnes, Pol Roger and $32.99 (prices from Wine.com).

    Made in Champagne for Costco, Kirkland Champagne lacks the toasty complexity of a name Champagne, but unless they travel in connoisseur circles, most guests won’t notice the difference.

    There are other more affordable sparklers that also deserve attention—if not a place in a lineup for a New Year’s Eve bubbling tasting. Head to your wine store and check out the options in:

  • Asti Spumante and Prosecco from Italy
  • Cava from Spain
  • Cremant d’Alsace from the Alsace region of France
  • Sekt from Germany
  • Various sparklers from Austria, New Zealand, South Africa, the U.S. and other countries.
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    Cava, Spain’s alternative to Champagne. Photo courtesy WS Wine Club.

     
    Ask for recommendations from a staff member and look forward to the voyage of discovery. Here’s our recommendation:

    One of our favorite sparklers, Yellow Tail Sparkling Bubbles Rosé from Australia, can often be found for $10.

    You can also serve red bubblies such as Italian Brachetto and Lambrusco or sparkling Shiraz. For us, a fun New Year’s Eve involves tasting the different options.

     
    THE LARGEST CHAMPAGNE BRANDS

    According to a ranking compiled by industry publication The Drinks Business, the world’s largest Champagne brands in 2013 were:

    1. Moet & Chandon
    2. Veuve Clicquot
    3. Nicolas Feuillatte
    4. G.H. Mumm
    5. Laurent-Perrier
    6. Taittinger
    7. Piper-Heidsieck
    8. Pommery
    9. Lanson
    10.Canard-Duchene

    There are many smaller vintners who make beautiful Champagnes; you just don’t hear of them in the media. Instead, rely on recommendations from store personnel and friends.

    Head there now. The closer you get to New Year’s Eve, the longer the lines!

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Rose Champagne With Turkey

    Each year at this time we get queries about the best wine to serve with turkey. Click over to see our list of “turkey wines”: delicious, affordable choices in red, white and sparkling wines.

    One wine we left off of our original list is a crowd pleaser: rosé Champagne. The dark fruit flavors make it a delightful match for turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, butternut squash soup, roasted Brussels sprouts and the rest of the menu.
     
    Party Favors

    Not only will it thrill at the table; if you’re into nice party favors, you can use splits as place settings. Tie a ribbon around the neck and thread a card with the person’s name. We’ve seen rosé splits from Nicolas Feuillatte’s and Moet & Chandon and Pommery (from $12-$15); your retailer may have others.

    But for only $10 for a full-size bottle, we really enjoy [yellow tail] Bubbles Rosé from Australia (yes, it’s spelled lower case and in brackets) and Martini Sparkling Rosé Wine from Italy.
     
    Dessert & Brunch

    For dessert, the delicate sweetness of a demi-sec rosé, such as Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte’s D’Luscious and Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial Rosé, pairs with most desserts. Those who don’t indulge in dessert—or have no room left for it—will enjoy sipping a glass.

       

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    Quarter bottles of Champagne are sparkling party favors. At left, Brut; at right, Brut Rosé. Photo courtesy Nicolas Feuillatte.

     

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    Sparkling rosé wines from Australia and Italy are very affordable—some just $10 for a full-size bottle. Photo courtesy Martini.

     

    Recork any leftover bubbly with a Champagne recorker and mix it with pink grapefruit juice for a Grapefruit Mimosa. There’s a recipe below.
     
    WHAT IS ROSÉ WINE?

  • Also referred to as blush wine, rosé can be made as a still, semi-still or sparkling wine.
  • Still rosé wines can be made from almost any red grape varietal, or from a blend of varietals. Sparkling rosé wines, including rosé Champagne, are exceptions because they also can be made with white grapes. The wines get their rosy color from contact with the red grape skins.
  • Depending on the grape, terroir and winemaking techniques, the color can range from the palest pink to deep ruby red to hues of orange or violet. Styles range from bone dry Provençal rosé to sweet White Zinfandel and other blush wines from California.
  • Still rose wines are not made to age, and should be drunk at 1-3 years old. The exception is top-quality rosé Champagne. A 15-year-old Dom Perignon Rosé, for example, is a joy.
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    RECIPE: GRAPEFRUIT MIMOSA COCKTAIL

    This recipe, from Emeril Lagasse, can be made sweeter by adding more juice and less Champagne—a proportion that also stretches the Champagne if you don’t have enough left over.

    Ingredients For 4 Flutes

  • 4 tablespoons triple sec or other orange liqueur (e.g. Cointreau, Grand Marnier)
  • 1/2 cup pink or red grapefruit juice
  • 2 cups Champagne
  • Garnish: grapefruit wedge
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE 1 tablespoon of liqueur in each flute. Top with 2 tablespoons of grapefruit juice and 1/2 cup of Champagne.

    2. GARNISH with a grapefruit wedge and serve.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Have Some Grenache

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    A glass of 100% grenache is a new
    experience for most wine lovers. Photo ©
    Dusan Zidar | Bigstock Photo.

     

    Grenache (pronounced gruh-NOSH), called Garnacha in Spain, is one of the most widely planted (and highest-yielding) red wine grape varieties in the world. It’s most commonly found in blends, where it’s used to add body and sweet fruitiness. It’s not easy to find a 100% garnacha wine in many U.S. wine stores.

    But look for Las Rocas and other wines from the Aragon region of northeast Spain (where the grape probably originated, although Sardinia also claims it as a native grape). Five D.O.* regions in Aragon (Calatayud, Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano and Terra Alta) are producing quality wines that are at least 85% Garnacha. (A wine that is at least 85% of a particular varietal can be called by that varietal’s name.) Las Rocas, at $15, os well priced.

    Grenache grows in hot, dry climates; Spain, Sardinia, the south of France and California’s San Joaquin Valley are prominent growing regions. It is the dominant variety in most Southern Rhône wines, especially in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

    BLENDED INTO VERY POPULAR WINES

    In Spain, Grenache is blended into Rioja. It is used to make rosé wines in France and Spain. If you’ve had a bottle of Tavel (a district in the Côtes du Rhône), you’ve had grenache.

     

    Grenache was one of the first grape varieties introduced to Australia in the 18th century. It was the country’s most widely planted red wine grape variety until it was surpassed by Shiraz in the mid 1960s.

    In was also one of the first grapes to be successfully planted and vinified during the early development of the Washington wine industry, in the early 20th century.

    Wines made from Grenache tend to lack acid, tannin and color, which is why they are usually blended with Cinsaut, Syrah, Tempranillo or other grapes. In addition to the better-known red wine, there is a white grape, Grenache Blanc or Grenacha Blanca. A wine made with White Grenache is similar to White Zinfandel.

    White Grenache is a very important grape in France, where it is the fourth most widely planted white variety†. Like red Grenache (Grenache Noir), it is used as a blending grape in the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

     

    CELEBRATE INTERNATIONAL GRENACHE DAY

    To celebrate International Grenache Day—the third Friday in September, which this year is September 19th—the producers of Las Rocas Garnacha sent us a bottle of red. The brand name, which means “the rocks,” refers to the steep, rocky slopes where the grapes are grown.

    The flavors of grenache are typically spicy (look for white pepper) with berry fruit, often raspberry and strawberry (we found blackberry and black cherry in Las Rocas). The lower tannins make it softer on the palate; the alcohol content is relatively high (this year’s Las Rocas has 14.9% alcohol).

    GRENACHE & FOOD PAIRINGS

    Pair grenache as you would any medium-body red wine: with beef, chicken and turkey, lamb or pork, including stews. Its spicy qualities also pair well with international spices, such as garam masala and milder curries. The fruitiness also makes them a natural for dishes with dried fruit, such as Moroccan tagines; and with general sweetness, such as barbecue.

    In recent decades, the total acreage of Garnacha in Spain has been on the decline, with the vineyards being replanted with the more fashionable Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo.

     

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    Celebrate International Grenache Day. Photo courtesy Las Rocas.

     

    Show your support of Grenache today: Enjoy a bottle with dinner.

     
    *D.O., short for Denominaciones de Origen, is similar to the French Appellations. Production of products produced in a particular D.O. are regulated by specific laws meant to ensure quality and consistency.

    †The first three are Ugni blanc, a blending grape; Chardonnay and Semillon.

      

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