Geeking out yet again: 7th Annual Wine Geek Dinner 2012

Biodynamic, Bubbles, cheese, cooking, Uncategorized, Wine Blog

This has been the second year I have been fortunate to attend the incredible Wine Geek Dinner, put on by my dear friend and part owner of Elysium Fine Wines, Trevor Martin (aka my Lopez de Heredia dealer). Each year he slaves away for literally days before this event, prepping the dishes and scribbling like a madman on his tattered menu that is scotch-taped to his kitchen cabinet. He goes to such lengths to pull this off in a way that might have you thinking you were surely at a 3-star Michelin restaurant rather than a humble garden level apartment in the Highlands. While he is busy ordering a 7 lb wheel of the stinkiest Muenster months out, our job as the lucky few guests is to pair his six course creation. At this point we strive to find bottles that are either quirky, thought-provoking and/or dusty.

What I found most interesting this year was that out of 13 bottles, we only had 2 reds. Bubbles, oxidized wines, old whites and fortifieds were coincidentally what all us geeks wanted to play with this year–it is a trend toward whites that I have been observing this whole last year. I am curious as to what that’s all about. I thought it was just me, but it most certainly is not.

I always love to give a little play-by-play to those who are curious. So here you are, my friends. Le menu avec les vins:


Puff Pastry, Fava, Asparagus, Mushroom-Meunster Cream, Baby Shoots

’93 Nikolaihof Vinothek GV & a ’06 Helfrich Grand Cru Steinklotz Riesling

My eyes feasted on this first course as much as my tongue–the first ever in the history of WGD to be 100% vegetarian. An absolute cinch with the ’93 Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner, this garden fresh starter was met with remarkable acidity and depth. This defined a truly sensational pairing, where both the food and its wine were made even more incredible when fused together. It was though my mouth became a magnifying glass. Such bliss.

The Riesling was outstanding. More than anything, it held its own with a rather tricky dish when one think of the vegetal compounds that can mess with wine. It was not enhanced, perhaps… but more importantly, it was not hurt by the dish. It was exquisite from the first taste to the last.

Butter Poached Lobster, English Pea Puree

1990 Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle Alexandria Rose

It is always such a treat to sip on old bubbles, especially when it is as lovely as the Grand Siecle. A honeyed salmon hue, the bubbles were far from gone. Tiny and fierce, those bubbles raced to the surface with awe-inspiring persistence.


                                         Garlic Pork Sausage, Flageolets, Chicory                                                                                                

                                ‘09 Clos Cibonne Tibouren Cotes de Provence                     ‘                                                 ’98 San Lorenzo Verdicchio 

Holding the hyperbole, this was still one of the best plates of pork and beans I have ever tasted. This homemade sausage brought out a little fruit that was silent on its own in the legendary Tibouren– a grape that inspired Andre Roux to rip up the Mourvedre in the ’30’s for Tibouren’s natural place in Provence. It had geek all over it. Very cool wine. I could stare at that playful label all day long. The ’98 Verdicchio was one of my contributions. Man, that was cool. This wine spends 9 years on its lees in steel and cement, then an additional year in the bottle. One might be shocked it sees no wood. Picked only in the best years from vines that bear a couple bunches of fruit, this wine only amounts to 2700 bottles. We won’t see it again until 2001 is released… in a couple years.

Colorado Rack of Lamb, Grains, Spring Vegetables, Mache, Natural Jus

’04 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino & ’82 Borgogno Barolo Riserva

Need I say much? This lamb was cooked to perfection. The Brunello was a bit young–but honestly, who cares. It was pretty lip-smacking with its sexy strength. The Barolo? I am biased, see… That is my birth vintage. I am quite proud of that fact. I have been lucky to try this one before about a year ago. Both times have been remarkably different, but both so very good. It reminds me that wine is very much a living, evolving thing. Unpredictable and multifaceted.

Les Fromages

A.E. Dor Pineau des Charentes 50 year

Stuffed to the brim and aching, I couldn’t resist the assortment of cheese to mop up a beauty of a fortified he had on the table. We began to open a couple others as cheese turned into strawberry crepes. We try a 2004 Piazzano Vin Santo, a 2006 Tre Monti Casa Lola Passito from Emilia Romagna and finally a ’92 Scheurebe from Lingenfleder in the Pfalz. Scheurebe, by the way, is the illegitamate cross of Riesling with some unknown varietal, according to a fellow geek. Very technical.

We are all a little starry-eyed at this point, but we don’t care. The name of the game is total, ridiculous indulgence for one night a year. And what a way to do it.

Just another Sunday afternoon?

cooking, denver restaurants, french wine

Sometimes it isn’t a matter of waking up on the wrong side. At times, a day will flop on its side several hours in, as my did a couple nights ago. This was without a doubt such a remarkable afternoon, it can’t live in my mediocre memory for long. It must see print and longevity. For it’s one for the books.

Sunday started quite swell, unaware was I that the universe was in the mood to play pranks. I went for a morning jog, baked a delicious quiche from scratch (beginner’s luck), had brunch with some friends over Camille Braun Cremant d’Alsace, then got a brief taste of Christmas by going to the mall for a few knit leg warmers and St. Nick gifts. It all started out so idyllic.

That should have been first sign.

But no, actually the first sign started with the meal itself– the meal that began the previous night with the purchase of short ribs. I shared the recipe I was eyeing to the butcher, to be sure he’d cut it correctly. Then as I went to marinade the meat in a bottle of wine and spices, it was all wrong. We had to return it for the proper cut. In the fridge and on my way, it wasn’t until the next afternoon—the ill-fated Sunday afternoon—about twenty minutes before I was to initiate braising, when it occurred to me: I forgot to turn the meat over in the entire 24 hour period it was marinating. Seriously? What a rookie mistake. I read up online about how awful this was for a thick, chewy cut like short ribs. But it was too late. I gave it a half hour on the other side and crossed my fingers.

I was cooking for my future parents-in-law. Two people who spent their first years of marriage eating short ribs for supper near nightly due to cost and availability. They knew how to make it in their sleep. I hadn’t even put it in the oven, and already it wasn’t looking good. You should know, I mysteriously screw up every meal they come over to eat. It’s incredible actually. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy perhaps.

Alas, I placed it in the oven and proceeded to prep the side dish: Aligot. This French-inspired regional dish of the southern Massif Central, is one of my fiancée‘s absolute favorites. He was begging for me to make it, so I looked up the recipe. I then felt my arteries clog as I read the ingredients. A few cups of Cantal cheese (substitute sharp cheddar), a couple cups of crème fraiche, a half stick of butter… All for a recipe that makes about 6 servings. ‘That’s it!’, he exclaimed, “That’s the recipe!” Alrighty then. In the name of love. Good grief. (Though I admit, my inner fat kid was cheering!)

After peeling the potatoes into the sink, I slowly put them down the disposal when all of a sudden… it stopped. Flash forward fifteen minutes, we were shoving the plunger down the drain. We then tried chemicals that put Drain-O to shame. Finally, flash forward thirty more minutes, the tough meat braising in the background, the water went down. It was clear! Hooray! What a relief.

But then…

Not one minute later, while rejoicing and reviewing the next step on the recipe, we noticed a small flood of water falling from the cupboard below. Shit.

We quickly removed everything we could, changed clothes to avoid touching the chemicals just poured down the now burst pipes, and began sopping up the potato skin mess that had blown through. At this point, I was wondering if JV was reconsidering the proposal, focusing instead on the ‘crash’ part of my nickname: crashley. I told him, I come with a disclaimer. But only then do I think he realized it.

We finally got the sink pipes working properly, so I went on with the meal. Transferring the meat from the casserole to the baking dish, draining off the fat, and pouring it back on top for the final glaze gravy, I was in the home stretch. By the handfuls I mounded the cheese on the whipped potatoes, and I ignored that I just spent 3 days eating turkey dinner and leftovers nonstop before this decadent meal. I checked on the broil braised short ribs, turning them once as it said, licking my chops. I had the feeling all the worry was in vain. This meal was pointing to a success after all. And I was satisfied.

I was whipping away, admiring the fatty potatoes, when all of a sudden a loud sound cracked the silence in the room. What the…??? The oven door blew open on my feet, smoke filled the room and glass shards skated across the floor. Oh… my… God. I instantly knew what happened. The Pyrex exploded. Just a minute earlier my face was a couple inches from the pan.

JV was quick to salvage the meat—‘Give me the tongs! I can save it! I got this!’ I furiously beat the potatoes, refusing to acknowledge the disaster below me. Refusing to mess up the Aligot as well. Are you serious, God?

JV scooped out the meat, sure it was unharmed by the hundreds of pieces of glass. HIs mom slowly shook her head, insisting that it was not safe.

As we sat down to eat our potatoes and brussel sprouts, JV munched away at the gravy-less short ribs, grinning wildly and exclaiming how great it tasted! I, out of sheer stubborn will, put myself on the line and forked out a piece. It was quite good, in fact. And there was no crunch that told me I was about to die.

Within a few minutes, we actually all put ourselves on the line. He and his folks munched through the remnants of the explosion. And I was touched, as I put a lot into the meal. That said, I also learned that I need to let go sometimes. I put such high expectations on a piece of cheap meat (relatively speaking). And not only that. It’s everything. I think we all tend to do that. We focus on the little parts of our day that fall apart, forgetting that it began with a jog, friends and a damn good quiche.

As we took the last couple sips of the 03 i Clivi Merlot and said goodbye to his folks (after extensive research and evidence of other pyrex kitchen catastrophes), we looked at one another, exhausted and certain we needed to walk away from the kitchen and end the night on a good note. We headed to the new speakeasy in town: Williams and Graham.

This Highlands hideaway was just the ticket. Just behind the bookshelf was a world that took you back in time. We enjoyed a Pisco Sour and an El Diablo. Damn, they tasted good. We had a nice laugh and reflected on the odds. Even a couple days later, I can say it already provokes a smile in hindsight. Life’s imperfections tend to make a greater impression sometimes.

But I am staying away from the oven for at least a week.

DU Vin Festival this weekend!

cooking, denver restaurants

Show your support for the upcoming 2nd annual DuVin, put on by students at the University of Denver. This is a wonderful opportunity to sample over 150 wines from around the world on Saturday, Nov 5th from Noon-4. Here are a few more details taken from their website:

“The Grand Tasting will be on Saturday, November 5th from 12pm to 4pm. This event celebrates scholarship, food, wine and music. Guests will have the opportunity to sample wines from around the world, while enjoying food prepared by the student culinary team from the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver. To complete the setting, music will be provided by students of DU’s Lamont School of Music. The Grand Tasting is a wonderful opportunity to experience superb wineries and support a top-ranked Hospitality Management program.

Cost: $52.80 per person / Special discount available for DU community $45, enter code at check-out: DUVIN11″

More information can be found on:

seeking perfection in pairing: a night with frasca and kermit lynch.

cooking, denver restaurants, food pairing, french wine, Kermit Lynch, Uncategorized

White knuckled up 36 north to Boulder, I wonder sometimes what provoked me to be a stagiere at Frasca Food & Wine. I didn’t have much intention to ever work the floor as a practicing sommelier, but what I knew was that this restaurant would be the best place to improve my skills regardless. To become better at a job, even off the floor, as a writer and retailer, one must push him/herself into scary territory–territory that seems daunting, foreign… even humiliating at times. Every time I ate at this phenomenal restaurant, I cowered under the knowledge of the somms who direct the program. They truly know so much. And anyone who knows me know that once I locate a fear on fire within, I relentlessly seek to extinguish it.

Frasca has been a pinnacle for me. My fear told me that I needed that instruction, despite the humble pie I’d be fed (whether it was the best pie in the state or not).

Seven months later, nights like last Monday remind me that this apprenticeship of sorts is not finished. I have much to learn and gain from this experience.

We were pouring some of my favorite wines–those of Kermit Lynch. He is an important figure if you are just getting into wine. The concept of ’boutique’ or ‘small grower’ farms may not carry the intrigue or novelty it once did, as more organics and local goods are made available to an ever-curious, aware public. But this was not always the case. Back in the ’70s, a man named Kermit went to France with this mentality, shook the leather-worn hands and drank the wine of those farmers who were engaging in an honest days’ work, preserving the terroir of their land in the grapes they cultivated, and he brought a bottle of that work home with him to share. He now has one of the most successful wine importing companies in the USA, and works with many of the producers that so inspired him to begin this journey.

These wines have integrity. They have a soul. A story. A reason. Placing them alongside food that mirrors this intention just felt right. They were at home with one another.

The first wine has long since been a favorite of mine: the 2010 Hyppolyte Reverdy Sancerre. A wine whose label seems to have been designed by a team of hobbits, it recalls the lore of the Loire, medieval castles and the dense history that is so entrenched in this particular parcel of France. The wine region here is among the oldest  in terms of documentation, as it is so close to Paris, and therefore has had a prominent place in culture for centuries.

A smattering of likely scents greeted me: a sure squeeze of grapefruit, lime zest and the pure cold stony, steely minerality of a wet canyon. There was a curious hint of honeydew in there to soften the edges as well as that dependable note of fresh cut grass. The acid was rippin’, and its lean balanced structure spoke to a classic, satisfying vintage. 2009 may have gotten some high marks for its ripe, opulent bodice, but 2010 was a winemaker’s year–a true wine connoisseur’s vintage. That perfect balance of acid and body, minerals and fruit. Summer snap peas fell on the tongue. And God… did I mention that minerality?

This Sancerre couldn’t have been paired better, as it was met with the ‘Verdure d’Estate’–a field blend of mizuna/arugula lettuce, fresh radishes, carrots, peas and mint.

The next wine was a 2009 Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes— a term that translates to ‘old vine’ in French. If I had known nothing of this wine and had tried it blind, I would not have hesitated to think it Premier Cru quality. The wine was astounding for its (not so) ‘simple’ village status. Its brighter, youthful qualities were the first to jump the rim: green apple, yellow pear, lemon curd and the smell of sidewalks after a heavy rain. Seashells were prominent. The mushrooms subdued but persistent. There was a nuttiness about it that was confirmed by the leesy finish on the palate. This wasn’t your typical Chablis that sees stainless steel alone. It spent time in 20% neutral barrel on top of the lees ageing.

This wine was sexy as hell. A superb example of poetry bottled. It has been so long since I have had a pairing so exquisite, as they delivered up royal red shrimp and scallop sauce abed fettuccine to compliment this gorgeous selection.

Olivier Savary was a neighbor, friend and colleague to the famed Jean-Marie Ravenaeu, who introduced Savary to Lynch. Raveneau is known as one of the top producers in all of Chablis, another gem Kermit brought to our palates. Chablis is a question I can never answer–so saturated with surprises and missing words, these wines confound me.   I am endlessly intrigued.

And finally, last but not least, a lovely red to end the evening meant to accompany the ‘Agnello’–a lamb shoulder upon rancho gordo beans and mustard greens with pepper. The wine was no other than the well-known Vieux Telegraph ‘La Crau’ (2008) by the Brunier family. Established in 1898, this elevated site in Chateauneuf du Pape, known as ‘La Crau,’ has its history as being the site where the first telegraph was built to communicate messages between Paris and Marseilles in the 18th century. It still has a role in communication, as it has since then come to be one of the most revered vineyard sites for its ability to tell the story of the soil through wine.

Monday night this wine spoke of alpines, liquorice root, wet violets, cracked peppercorns both white and black, anise and garrigue. It spoke of sunshine, warm pudding stones and layers of stratified soils: limestone, silica, red clay and alluvial deposits. An almost silky wine on the palate, it managed to maintain the force these age worthy wines contain, whilst dancing with delicacy on the tongue. It carried a smoky, gamey scent so as not to blow its cover through purely soft-spoken attributes.

It’s incorrect to say the wines just got better and better. They were all so remarkably different from one another. What they shared was integrity and an honest sense of self. These wines were exactly what they should be considering their variety and terroir. And they all really showed themselves in their best light when paired with their soul mates.

That is what makes Frasca so distinctive–their ability to find a way to allow food and wine to realize their greatest potential. They put both into context. They make meals inspiring, meaningful and relevant.

And that, my friends, is why I will continue to drive up 36 north, white knuckled and ready for more.

Cooking with Wine: Does it Matter?

cooking, Wine Blog, Wine Education

We’ve all been told to cook only with wine you would drink. But what does that mean? Wine that you can swallow without wincing? And what about specific kinds of wine for a recipe. Does it matter if you use Pinot Noir or Cab? Chard or Sauv Blanc? When it comes to cooking with wine, are there more rules to keep in mind before submerging our meal in fermented grapes?

What follows are a few things to keep in mind the next time your recipe calls for the good stuff.

1) Do only cook with wine you would drink yourself.

Regardless if you buy the right kind of red or white, what matters more is that it is something you could see yourself finishing after you pour your cup or two in the skillet. There is no reason not to buy a decent quaffable wine what with all the choices in the world today. I have tried many $10 bottles that annihilate all the bulk, mass-produced plonk at $7 that people somehow feel more comfortable buying due to brand recognition (‘ahhh, yes, that label and price seems to be telling me this is ‘cheap’ wine, therefore fantastic for my demi-glace!’).

Plus, beware! Some of those jug wine have a lot of sugar added to them (this is called chapitalization) to hide the faults or beef up the alcohol. Reduce that in a sauce, and not only will you be able to smell those faults, you will also be adding some unnecessary and possibly detrimental sugar to your recipe. Dry, decent quaffable wines are out there. Just ask an experienced salesperson/wine expert.

2) Do not use ‘Cooking Wine’.

It seems logical (doesn’t it just add some acid the dish needs?). But it is not a good idea. Not only are you not really saving much money, if at all, but you are actually adding a ridiculous amount of salt and artificial flavorings to your dish.

If you are going to take the care to roll up your sleeves and make a meal that calls for wine and other lovely natural ingredients don’t bastardize it.

3) When it calls for White Wine…

If a recipe isn’t specific, the white that I reach for 9 times out of 10 is Italian—Pinot Grigio, Friulano, Falanghina, Gavi, Verdicchio, Vernaccia, you name it. Why? They tend to be lower in alcohol, light to medium in body, less intense on the nose and medium-plus to high in acidity. You don’t want aromatics, body or oak to overwhelm the flavors in a dish. Sauv Blanc can imbue too much citrusy grapefruit, Chardonnay can be oaky, Viognier a bouquet of flowers and lacking in acid, Chenin Blanc has a honeyed nose.

Here are some inexpensive picks (pretty consistent vintage to vintage, so not named):

-Ca del Sarto Pinot Grigio: $9.99

-Santi Apostali Pinot Grigio: $9.99

-Piccolo Gavi: $13.99

-Fattoria il Palagio Vernaccia: $11.99

-Santa Barbara Verdicchio: $11.99

-Anselmi Friulano: $11.99

4) When it calls for Red Wine…

Back in 2001, Cooks Illustrated took out the guesswork for me and tested a bunch of red wines on all the classic sauces. What they found, time and again, was that it pretty much boiled down to two kinds of reds for any given recipe: medium bodied, lesser to no oak, fruity red blends, or… Pinot Noir. Pinot was the only single varietal that was a success with consistency, in fact. They are often less oaked, fruity, medium bodied and high in acidity. They synergized with the other compounds in the dish as opposed to defeating them with their strength, perfume, oak, tannin or fruit. Merlot made sauces seem overcooked and jammy, Cab ‘bullied’ other flavors with its muscles and oak, Sangiovese was fine for red sauce but flattened every other sauce with a cardboard taste, and Zin also made the sauces too jammy and stewed.

So how to choose between Pinot and a red blend? Use your instinct. If a lighter, earthier dish, go Pinot or a light Cotes du Rhone—especially if it incorporates herbs, mushrooms and spice. If a heavier, heftier sauce/dish, go with a heartier, fruitier red blend—particularly one from California or Washington.

Here are some great, inexpensive standbys:


-E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone-$13.99

-Domaine des Rozets Cotes du Tricastin: $9.99

-Apaltagua Pinot Noir: $10.99

-Pinot Project Pinot Noir: $13.99


-Parducci Sustainable Red: $11.99

-Laurel Glen Reds: $11.99

-Ass Kisser GSM: $10.99

-Pedroncelli Friends Red: $11.99

5) Never, EVER cook with flawed wine. It only gets worse…

Perhaps you’ve been there. You open a wine. Perhaps it is corked, tainted, whatever…something’s not quite right. You shrug your shoulders and decide you won’t waste it. You put the cork back in and throw it in the fridge for cooking wine. The thing is, when you reduce a wine, those flaws only exacerbate. Just take it back to the store and get credit. Flaws usually affect one bottle, not a whole case. You just had bad luck. No need to chuck it…and certainly no need to reuse.

6) When cooking a regional dish, consider a regional wine to cook and consume with…

Yes, I said blends and Pinot are just about the best no brainer ways to cook with wine, but so is considering the source of the meal. If you are making a hearty red sauce, think Italian. If going for a rustic, Provencal dish, try a red blend from Southern France (there are a million). If an All-American steak with potatoes, consider a reduction sauce to pour over it using a Zinfandel—Jammy flavors actually compliment a red, juicy steak.

7) The higher the price tag, the better the sauce.

According to Cooks Illustrated, this is true. But… it’s not a huge difference. The consensus is that you should buy a decent $10-12ish bottle of wine. Increments of $10 thereafter are noticeable in a taste test, but marginally significant overall.

9) Port.  Ruby or Tawny?

If a recipe does not specify which to use, again use your instincts. If it is a richer, deeper sauce to compliment nuttier flavors, go Tawny. If trying to compliment a berry reduction, go Ruby.

I mean, for the most part, Ruby port is a little more versatile when cooking, as it doesn’t tend to see much oak and therefore puts forth fruitier flavors, much like a red wine. So unless it calls for Tawny, or you just feel intuitively that Tawny would be a better choice (for example, charred sirloin with fig and tawny reduction), maybe safer to go Ruby.

8) Slow and low…

Finally, you probably know this already, but don’t crank up the heat to high when making a reduction. You want the flavors to intensify and develop. If you want to speed it up, don’t increase the temperature, rather, make the sauce in a larger skillet, so the added surface area allows for faster evaporation whilst not compromising the flavor evolution.

Follow these simple rules, and you should make it through any recipe just fine! Email me with any other questions you might have, too, about this topic. I am happy to sleuth out some answers for particular recipes.

Roast beast and friends: A global guide to pairing wine this holiday.

cooking, food pairing, Holiday Pairing, Wine Blog

And so it begins, with the passing of the bird at Thanksgiving, the advent of the holiday season. Already a volunteer for Salvation Army was ringing the bell outside the grocery, and Bing Crosby blared from the speakers as I sifted through dented apples. My calendar is slowly filling with bonfires, festivals and parties of good cheer.

This is my absolute favorite time of the year.

But as I get older, it’s less about the presents and Santa Claus… it’s more about friends, family…and food. More provocative is the knowledge that people everywhere share this same sentimental ritual. Whether Jewish or Christian, Chinese or Chilean, old or young, people around the globe pause this season to share a meal, wine and time together.

Food and wine are so central to culture. During a time of such universal celebration, it’s difficult to focus solely on American traditions, particularly given that globalization has never been so extensive. Having a shop so close to a university, this becomes even clearer just how many people are away from ‘home’ for the holidays. Not only that, America truly is a melting pot of cultures. There are many people that adhere to their ‘motherland’ rituals around the holiday. Therefore, instead of merely pairing the roast beef and turkey with wine this season, we’re going to step outside and look to traditional fare consumed ‘round the world for bottled inspiration.

In Denmark, they begin the meal with rice pudding followed by a roasted goose stuffed with prunes and apples, sides of brown potatoes and red cabbage. Germans, too, love a chubby goose on the table. A good match here respects the gaminess of geese and pierces through the oh-so-succulent fat that makes it so yummy. So keeping in mind something medium bodied, with a quirky attitude and generous acidity, go Chinon with the 08 Baudry ($18), Burgundy with the 05 Audoin Marsannay Cuvee de Demoiselles ($34), new world Pinot with the full fruited yet earthy tones of JK Carriere’s 08 Provocateur ($23), the painstakingly traditional 02 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia ($38) that proves vintage is irrelevant when the winemaker kicks ass, or the more modestly priced 08 Chateau d’Oupia Minervois ($12) which expresses both savory spice and floral notes, a sensational combination to give this goose a gastronomical glow.

Italians begin their 2-day feast with seafood on the eve of Christmas and regional pastas and appetizers on the actual day. You can experiment with reds—typically those with very little weight and tannin—however, with seafood, have fun with bubbles and obscure Italian whites. For the former, consider Emilia Romagna born Lambrusco Bianca with the fresh zippy Lini 1910 ($17). You can’t go wrong with a well made Cava like the lean 05 Juve y Camps Brut Nature ($18), equally dry Finca Labajos Brut Nature ($13) or the 07 Gramona Gran Cuvee ($21) if you like a creamier, rich style. But if you wanna go big, go Champagne. Particularly the more linear styles of Vilmart and Cie ($75), Gaston Chiquet ($47), and Marc Herbart Rose ($45), though the quirky, mineral-kissed, slightly oxidized notes of Aubry ($37) would leave a tasty impression as well with a variety of fruit de mer.

If you want to try out some funky regional whites from Italy, start with the floral, herbal youthfulness of the 07 Sergio Mottura Orvieto ($18) or the equally floral but more honeyed 07 Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino ($24), which also boasts tropical notes of papaya. Many wine connoisseurs believe that

Verdicchio is the most complex grape in the country, and a fine example of such would be high acid, food friendly 08 Le Vaglie ($23). Finally for something a little nutty with soft citrus tones, reach for either the 08 Bastianich Friulano ($18) or 09 Picollo Gavi ($14).

As for the Christmas Day feast, go for just good, solid reds from the northern regions of Tuscany, Piemonte and the Veneto. If hosting a party, stay with some of the lesser expensive options. One of my new favorites is the fruity, smooth yet still distinctly Italian 08 Ca’ del Sarto Barbera d’Alba ($10).

Others that don’t break the bank are the 07 Mazzi Valpolicella (dusty and rustic with notes of pie cherries and licorice) and the 08 Roagna Dolcetto d’Alba (sweet yet surprisingly tart cherry with rockin’ acid)—both$18. Taking it up a notch, some lovely, well-structured reds are found in the 06 Villa Cafaggion Chianti Classico Riserva ($26), the contemplative 04 Fanetti Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($28) and the Nebbiolos from northern Piedmonte in the 06 Proprieta Sperino ($37) and Valtellina in the 06 Triacca ($28). As opposed to Langhe, where most Nebbiolo is found, these are a little more elegant, restrained and beaming with higher floral tones and pie spice. If what you desire is splurging for the big day, consider such reputable, cellar-worthy producers as Cigliuci, Moccagata, Cavalotta, Brovia, Giacosa, Conterno, Montevertine, Paolo Bea, and Borgogno. Several of which you can find at Little’s. Of these, most are under $60. All of these wines mentioned can be tracked down and special ordered and shipped to the Italian wine lover on your list.

The Brazilians come together over pork loin (lovely with Riesling). The Japanese oven-roasted chicken. The Peruvians oven-roasted turkey. Both made more interesting with Alsacian whites and Beaujolais. And the French, of course, settle for nothing second best as they slurp back oysters and gelatinous Foie Gras. The former is sensational with Sancerre, like the 08 Crochet Croix du Roy ($34), or a mineral loaded Muscadet like the 08 Chauviniere Thebaud (Champagne without bubbles at $21). The latter, fatty foie is ethereal with Sauternes—like Raymond Lafon—though a demi-sec Vouvray would work as well.

If you celebrate Hanukah, try a beef brisket bathed in red wine. A perfect complement to this would be a fruit forward Syrah from California, like the 08 Barrel 27 ($19), or one from down under, such as the 08 Eagle Vale Shiraz ($20) from Margaret River. For yet another option, maybe give Spain a chance with the 06 Pesquera from Ribera del Duero ($34).

Of course, coming from all corners of the earth, Americans have come to make other meats part of their festive meal. From pheasant and venison to oxen and duck. Pheasant will typically pair similarly to the goose. With braised red ox cheeks, reach for that Bordeaux you’ve been waiting to find an occasion to sip. With venison, cozy up to a big ol’ Cabernet from Cali. And for the duck, don’t settle for anything other than a fine Syrah from the northern Rhone in France or a Chateauneuf du Pape from the South.

Finally, welcome the New Year by honoring the current one with a memorable feast. If going with classic prime rib, have a soft, Merlot-based Bordeaux from St. Emilion, like the 03 Galius ($23) or the 98 or 00 Bellevue (both about $40). For a step outside the box, try a Cab/Merlot blend from New Zealand in the 01 Hans ($27). If having a fondue party, what better than wines from the region where this tasty dish was born—the Savoie of France. Whether the crisp whites of Apremont and Montmelian or the red grapes like Mondeuse and Pinot Noir, all find their place when paired with the regional cheeses from this Alpine corner of the world. Breakfast after bars at 3 am?  Yes, you can pair it!  How better than bubbles. Any bubbles!  Especially forgiving with a wide variety of morning food if you transform it into a Bellini or Kir Royale.

Finally, if you want to twist the traditional ‘surf’ portion of the night, as I will, try making a Lobster and Saffron risotto. I am imagining a white Burgundy or Rhone Grenache Blanc (Oh, Fonsalette, I love you—why do you have to be $70!) to snuggle nicely with this earthy, decadent dish.

Cooking up something else?  I’d love to hear about it and help you make some memorable pairings this holiday season.

turn it on: aphrodisiac food & wine pairings.

cooking, food pairing

Is it true that some foods can actually put one ‘in the mood’?  For centuries,  aphrodisiacs have been sought after and consumed by those who are wishful thinking for its…well…benefits.  Though the science is suspect, it’s not  without a hint of logic.

Whether lion’s blood or bull testicles, elephant tusks or pig genitals, each substance  encourages the body to respond in a way that is linked to the physiology of love.  We decided there had to be tastier options out there, though, that could be even more delightful if paired with the right wine.  So this Valentine’s Day, try these out on your honey and yourself.  At worst, you will experience a pretty remarkable pairing.

Avocado: This one is based on texture.  Incorporate in a salad with a fellow  aphrodisiac, Asparagus, which is high in potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and  Vitamin E (stimulates hormones).   Pair with the 2007 Gobelsburger Gruner Veltliner ($14.99) or 2008 Brocard ‘Kimmeridgien’ Chardonnay ($15.99).

Oysters: These provide a good dose of zinc, which   increase testosterone levels in both men and women.  Oysters are screaming for acid and citrus, so I would suggest the 2008 OCD Sauvignon Blanc ($12.99) from New Zealand, the same grape from France gone flinty in the 2007 Reverdy Sancerre ($24.99), or a mineral-drenched 2008 Muscadet from Metaireau ($11.99).

Chili Peppers: Promotes oxygen flow and gets that heart racing.  Soften its spice with a mellow Beaujolais or a 2007 Qupe Syrah ($14.99).

Chocolate: I haven’t met too many people—male or female—that don’t swoon over chocolate, legitimate aphrodisiac or not.  Could it be the caffeine?  The intoxicating smell?  Well, we suggest a nice port, particularly with milk chocolate and hazelnuts.  Perhaps take home the Niepoort LBV ($22.99) or the Royal Oporto Ten Year Tawny ($9.99, 200 ml)—both unbelievable values!

Pine Nuts: Again, a generous helping of zinc.  Try as a spread or in pesto sauce.  If the former, pine nuts in their purity are divine with a richer style Chardonnay, such as the 2005 Four Hearts Chard ($35.99) or the 2006 Clos Pegas ($22.99) from California, as well as the sustainably  produced 2007   Domaine Marc Jomain Meursault ($33.99) from Burgundy.

Olives: Men, go green.  It will give you gusto.  Women, go with the darker varieties.  You’ll feel a little more frisky.  The wines?  Go with mineral-driven, savory style whites, like the 2007 Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri ($18.99) from Greece, the 1999 Lopez Gravonia from Rioja ($27.99), or the lovely 2008 Taburni Dumas Falanghina ($13.99).

Honey: Whether curing impotence or sterility, honey has been what you call an ‘all-purpose’ aphrodisiac over the centuries.  I suggest dribbling some over mild, nutty cow’s milk cheese like Tomme de Beaumont, Castelmagno or Mahon, then serving it up with the 2006 Clos Dady Sauternes ($27.99) or the 2005 Oremus Late Harvest Tokaji ($26.99).

Truffles: Maybe it’s the musky smell, maybe it’s the fact that they are such a hard-to-find delicacy… but these mushrooms are such a turn-on… particularly thinly sliced atop a poached egg or fresh pasta with a touch of butter.  There’s only one answer: Nebbiolo.  Try the 2005 Mauro Molino Barolo ($49.99), the 2000 Moccagatta  Barbaresco ($39.99), or even the 2007 Rivetto ‘Baby Barolo’ Nebbiolo ($16.99).

Peaches: Finally, end on a fuzzy, sweet note.  These fleshy, full stone fruits are more textural than anything else when it comes to encouraging love.  Best paired with a sweet bubbly, like the Baldi Moscato d’Asti ($15.49).   Delicious!

Whatever your love potion, be sure to pair it wisely.  For, like I said, if all that happens is a fabulous meal… you will surely have no regrets.

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Truffles: Maybe it’s the musky smell, maybe it’s the fact that they are such a hard-to-find       delicacy… but these mushrooms are such a turn-on… particularly thinly sliced atop a poached egg or fresh pasta with a touch of butter.  There’s only one answer: Nebbiolo.  Try the 2005 Mauro Molino Barolo ($49.99), the 2000 Moccagatta  Barbaresco ($39.99), or even the 2007 Rivetto ‘Baby Barolo’ Nebbiolo ($16.99).

Peaches: Finally, end on a fuzzy, sweet note.  These fleshy, full stone fruits are more textural than anything else when it comes to encouraging love.  Best paired with a sweet bubbly, like the Baldi Moscato d’Asti ($15.49). Delicious!

Whatever your love potion, be sure to pair it wisely.  For, like I said, if all that happens is a fabulous meal… you will surely have no regrets.

good acid. good fruit. bring it on big bird…

cooking, food pairing, Holiday Pairing

Pairing Thanksgiving and holiday dinners shouldn’t be dreadful.  In fact, like the meal itself, it should give one a sense of permissible indulgence.  When other time of year can you buy so many wines from around the world, knowing all have their place for perfect articulation with some classic dish on the table?

Rather than stress about THE perfect wine, take a deep breath and choose a few versatile sippers.  Think higher acid varietals that simultaneously offer lower tannins and little to no oak.  This is not the time for Silver Oak and Prisoner.  If you are hosting, place a few glasses at each setting, and encourage your guests to really experiment with food and wine pairing.  These are meals that are characterized by their abundance and variety, so why fall short with the wine?

Here’s a little guide so you can make the best of this most anticipated gastronomical tradition.  It’s a little long, but many have requested it.  Remember, if you are not in Colorado, ask your local wine shop what wines might be like the ones you are interested in.  They should be able to help.

Whetting the palate…

Whether looking for something to pair well with appetizers or enjoy with the meal itself, you can never go wrong with bubbles at Thanksgiving.

B-Deville-Chevellier Grand Cru Champagne ($31.99): This is the Champagne for those who will have nothing less but are finding such a palate hard to afford these days…  A gorgeous blend of 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay made by a family who has been in the business of bubbles for four generations.  An inexpensive, classy touch to any holiday event.

Allimant-Laugner Cremant d’Alsace Rose ($22.99): Exquisite.  Truly eye-opening in elegance and complexity for the dollar.  Juicy cherries and raspberries soften the tang of the high acid that makes this wine such a stellar selection for pairing with holiday food.  Made of 100% Pinot Noir.

Lini 910 Lambrusca ($16.99): Blow away your guest by popping open this lambrusco… bianco.  Very rarely does one come across this Emilia-Romagna delight in a dry, white style.  Stainless steel fermentation allows for a bright, citrusy alternative to Prosecco or Cava.  A real crowd pleaser.

On the table whites…

2007 Chehalem Pinot Gris ($16.99): They say go Alsace for this meal, but some of these Gris coming out of Oregon are eerily parallel to these petrol-like, minerally whites from France.  This one is just so.  Rich pear and apricots laced with an array of spices will play wonderfully with mashed sweet potatoes and homemade stuffing.

2008 Leitz Out Riesling ($12.99): It’s not every day you can come by fruity, mineral-kissed German Riesling for under $13.  Leitz Out Riesling is a special selection of grapes from a variety of their highly acclaimed vineyards in the Rheingau.  Generous fruit and stiff acid make for a symphony with just about anything on the table!

2008 Delheim Chenin Blanc ($11.99): Chenin Blanc is definitely one of the most well-received varietals coming from South Africa at the moment.  This is a wine that shows off a lovely arrangement of flowers, honey, and ripened pear.  A decadent white that would easily harmonize with squash, buttery potatoes, and cream-based side dishes.

2005 Domaine Ferret ‘Les Moulins’ Pouilly-Fuisse ($33.99): Don’t miss out on experiencing one of the best producers in the Maconnais.  Recently sold to Louis Jadot, this is one of the last vintages available that will give you an idea of just how incredible a producer Ferret it.  A serious Pouilly, this Chardonnay is aged for 18 months in the bottle before release, gaining complex aromas of white flowers, pear, and a lovely paradox of both focused citrus notes yet indulgently lavish plump fruit characteristics.  Sometimes the best pairing during the holidays is just with a good, classic wine.

2006 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot d’Alsace ($24.99): A blend of 70% Auxerrois and 30% Pinot Blanc from the highly esteemed biodynamic producer Olivier Humbrecht.  Well-structured, this dry austere white promises to be a sensational pairing with any harvest dish, as it is simply singing with acid and hushed aromas.

On the table reds…

2007 Chateau Cortinat Saint-Pourcain ($16.99): Everyone knows the age-old pairing of Beaujolais with Thanksgiving food.  The famous Duboeuf Nouveau comes to mind, which is released the third Thursday of November to celebrate the end of harvest.  But why not go with something a little different?  How about combining the two best red holiday grapes: Gamay and Pinot Noir?  This selection from Chateau Cortinat in the Loire Valley is a perfect choice for the holidays.  Embedded with dried cranberry, forest floor, and savory herbs, this medium-bodied red will enhance just about any dish on the table.  A well-balanced, smooth, delicious alternative!

2008 Humberto Canale Pinot Noir ($12.99): Sure you’re familiar with one of the world’s most esteemed varietals, Pinot Noir.  But have you tried one from the lowest latitude winegrowing region, Patagonia?  On the nose it shares a resemblance to the bright fruity pinots of California, but the alcohol is kept at a modest 12.5%.  This means that you can enjoy all the pure, clean flavors that this delicate grape has to offer without the scorched, heady elements that sometimes come from Cali Pinot Noir.  Superb acid and classic characteristics make for a perfect, affordable Pinot for the holidays.

2005 Chateau des Tours ($25.99): I figured I had recommended the Domaine des Tours ($18.99) one too many times by now, so I am moving up to the next in line from this incredible producer, Emmanuel Reynaud, the current owner of the well-known Chateau Rayas and Fonsalette.  This selection definitely needs a little air in the decanter, but once it opens, you are in for a treat.  More concentrated than des Tours, this CDR has richer notes of kirsch and strawberry, with a touch of peppery spice and savory herbs.  A familiar Reynaud touch of smokiness and minerality sets this wine apart in its own remarkable category.

2007 Ridge ‘Three Valleys’ ($22.99): So you want the quality that comes with a well-established name like Ridge, but you want to save a few bucks.  This is the only zin-based Ridge that is made from multiple vineyards, though mostly with fruit from their reputable Lytton Estate in Sonoma.  It is a bit softer than the others and more accessible in its youth, but it still bears the indisputable structure and complexity so many have grown to respect in this producer’s wines.  A classic holiday pairing wine.

2006 Quinta de Cabriz ($11.49): I wanted to offer a red that was completely unlike those typically associated with holiday wine pairing guides.  This red from the Dao region of Portugal came to mind immediately.  Remember, the key is low tannin, fresh acid, opulent fruit.  That’s exactly what you have here.  This red uses grapes you would find in a any traditional port wine, including Touriga-Nacional and Tinto Roriz (otherwise known as Tempranillo).  An undertone of earthiness really seals the deal.  A friendly red that is certain to please a wide variety of palates at your table.

While holding the belly…

2007 Leo X-treme ‘Sundowner’ Eiswein Rose  ($39.99): Few wines come along that leave such an impression as this one.  Eiswein (or ‘ice wine’) is a sweet dessert wine made from grapes that are left to freeze on the vine.  Actually, the water inside the grapes is the only part to really freeze, leaving a concentrated must to be pressed for fermentation.  The result is divine.  This German eiswein is made of Cabernet Sauvignon.  It wears the palest of pink shades.  Well-balanced acid assures this dessert wine not to be sticky and cloying.  A rare occasion allows for this labor-intensive production, and not much can be made from the limited grapes, making this a pricey dessert wine (that’s oh so worth it!).

2005 Oremus Late Harvest Tokaji ($26.99): If you haven’t tried this Hungarian delight, it is time.  A sweet dessert wine made of the furmint varietal, Tokaji is like Sauternes in that it sits on the vine late into the harvest, naturally gaining in sugar content.  It also typically develops noble rot, or bortrytis, which deepens its complexity and flavors.  Honeyed notes of apricot and pear are the first to be recognized, along with nutty undertones to follow.  Unforgettable with blue cheese, fruit tart dishes, and cheesecake.  Not as great with chocolate.

2006 Clos Dady Sauternes ($27.99): So often people want to experience Sauternes, but not for over $30.  As a wine buyer, that creates a challenge.  Every now and again, though, one comes along that is able to provide an accurate depiction of this much-adored noble sticky at a fraction of its typical price.  Notes of honey, apricots and spice characterize this wine, but unlike Tokaji, Sauternes is fantastic with chocolate desserts.

2006 Jorge Ordonez Muscato ‘Naturalmente Dulce’ ($23.99): Just next door to the land of Sherry lies Malaga in the southern part of Spain.  Like much Moscatel in Malaga, this particular wine was made in the mountain region, in a small village called Almachar.  ‘Naturalmente Dulce’ refers to the style in which this wine was made.  This indicates that the Moscatel grapes were sundried for about 4 or 5 days in order for sugar levels to rise naturally.  This style also sees extended maceration, honing the fullest aromatic expression.  That’s really the magic of Moscatel, after all—the exquisite, elegant bouquet on the nose of tangerine, honeysuckle, and sweet spice.  Lovely with squash pies, light cheeses, and fruit tarts.

Underberg ($4.99/3-pack): Finally, when the last piece of pie has been swallowed, and you are afraid you may be about to make a scene dropping flat on your host’s living room floor, holding your stomach in agony… reach for the Underberg.  Ask no questions, kick a baby bottle back, allow a moment for wincing and possibly even a swear or two, and wait… A few minutes later, you just may be ready for round two.  It’s a miracle-working herbal digestif.  And it is necessary if you plan to do some serious eating.