Seasonal Sipping: Capturing the Flavors of Fall in a Glass

These days, autumn is basically a synonym for “pumpkin spice everything season,” but let’s not forget about the other cozy, delightful fragrances and flavors of fall. Whether you’re enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, relaxing in front of a roaring fire, or rewarding yourself after a long day of raking leaves, you don’t need to venture to Starbucks or a candle shop to get your fix of your favorite flavors. Instead, look for a bottle of wine that captures those characteristics (it will be a lot more fun!).

If you like: Autumn leaves
Try: Red Burgundy
Red Burgundy, made from Pinot Noir, will always exhibit typical notes of red fruitstrawberry, cherry, cranberry, and pomegranate, to name a few—but sometimes the wines from this renowned region will also feature a flavor that is a bit more savory, more wild, and very specific to the local terroir. This can be described as anything from autumn leaves to fresh earth to even wet dog. It may be a bit surprising at first for those who are accustomed to the bold fruit of California Pinot, but it’s definitely worth giving these beautifully complex wines a chance to grow on you.
Our Pick: 2012 Maison Pascal Clément Bourgogne Rouge

If you like: Macintosh apples
Try: Loire Valley Chenin Blanc
Apples are of the most perfect foods for fall—you can enjoy them fresh and crisp on their own, bake them into a pie, or use them to brighten up savory dishes like pork loin or sausage stuffing. Apple is also a common flavor in many wines, particularly in Chenin Blanc, which often smells and tastes like Macintosh apples dipped in honey, and can range from bone dry to lusciously sweet, and from still to sparkling.
Our Pick: 2015 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Sec

If you like: Baking spice
Try: Oaked Chardonnay
Depending on their place of origin, oak barrels can impart various flavors to a wine during fermentation and maturation. French oak in particular is known for attributes of baking spice or “Christmas” spice. Chardonnay, a fairly adaptable variety, readily displays these characteristics when oak (especially from previously unused barrels) is utilized during winemaking.
Our Pick: 2013 Ramey Russian River Chardonnay

If you like: Caramel
Try: Tawny Port
When wine becomes oxidized, in addition to changing in color (from red to brown, in the case of Port or other red wines), it picks up an entirely new range of flavors and aromas. Tawny port is slowly oxidized through controlled aging in porous wooden barrels. This causes fruit character to pleasingly fade from fresh to dried or stewed berries, and the development of nutty and caramelized notes. These can make for delightful after-dinner wines—try them with a cheese plate or a classic apple pie.
Our Pick: Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port

If you like: Cranberry
Try: Central Coast Pinot Noir
A wide range of red fruit flavors can be found in Pinot Noir from any region, but in the California’s Central Coast, where warm sunlight is tamed by cool breezes, cranberry tends to be a dominant flavor. This bold, tart flavor shows up in Pinots that are marked by moderate to full body and crisp acidity, making for a very crowd-pleasing as well as fall-friendly style.
Our Pick: 2014 Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir

If you like: Firewood
Try: Northern Rhône Syrah
Syrah from France’s Northern Rhône Valley can often be easily distinguished in a blind tasting by experienced wine professionals based on several common characteristics: purple fruits and flowers, white pepper, and smoke—sometimes with a hint of bacon fat thrown into the mix! These wines are bold, warming, and aromatically pleasing—and absolutely perfect for enjoying in front of a fireplace while wearing your coziest socks.
Our Pick: 2013 Jean-Louis Chave St. Joseph Offerus

Thanksgiving Wine and Pie Pairings

Dessert and fortified wines are one of fall’s most delicious wine treats. While many of these dessert-themed wines find happy pairing partners in the traditional blue cheese or salty seasonal nuts, many will shine exceptionally bright when partnered up with the season’s favorite pies. Check out some top pie pairing picks ranging from fortified favorites to late harvest delights, Banyuls and more.

  • Pumpkin Pie – traditional, rich and filled with warm seasonal spice – the perfect pick for Port. To slice through the yummy spice character and lean into the creamy textures and full-on pumpkin flavors, consider the nutty nuances, smidge of citrus and innate spice of Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny  to bring synergy and contrast to the sweet pumpkin motifs.
  • Lemon Almond Tart – With Italian roots and the perfect mix of sweet meets savory, the famed lemon almond tart begs for the decadent, late-harvest, botrytis-ensnared themes that Bordeaux’s Sauternes deliver so well. Meshing the full-bodied medium sweet, honeyed profile of Chateau Guiraud Sauternes’ citrus character with the peppy palate offerings of the not overly sweet lemon almond tart brings the old standby of complementary pairing protocol to full flavor fruition.
  • Pecan Pie – Sticky, nutty and ultra-sweet, what’s not to love about this seasonal favorite? For this pairing we’ll travel southwest off the coast of Portugal to the island of Madeira. Opting for Blandy’s 15 Year Old Malmsey Madeira, where a full body and smooth palate texture delivers generous brown sugar character, rounded out by caramel, walnuts, and distinct mocha influences. The high acidity in the wine is what makes this pairing work. Acidity cuts through the sugar in the pecan pie like a knife and carries the residual sugar in the Madeira itself to brighter levels preventing the sweet spike from being turned into an insulin-induced sugar spiral void of competing flavors and palate interest.
  • Apple Cobbler – Ahh, apple cobbler. That sweet fall treat that fans the flames of ripe apples, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, and toasted oats crumbled with butter – does anything say fall louder than that? For this autumn dessert, we’ll run with a lighter-styled white wine from the hillside heart of Italy’s Langhe region in Piedmont. Light, bright and insanely aromatic, Saracco Moscato d’Asti  engages everything from apple cobbler to the famous French upside-down apple Tarte Tatin to biscotti and Milan’s famous panettone with exceptional versatility and pairing potential.
  • Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie – Beginning with a basic pecan pie and turning it up a notch by adding the unmistakable flavors of both bourbon and semi-sweet chocolate, this particular high-octane pie demands something with a bit of palate heft itself. Enter Taylor Fladgate’s 20 Year Tawny, big, rich and complex, marrying the best of figs and caramelized character with the savory elements of walnuts and warm spice.  This pairing highlights the complement over the contrast with both the pie and the fortified wine showing full throttle flavors and spotlighting some overlap in terms of aromatic and flavor elements.
  • Cherry Pie – There’s just something cheery about cherry pie. An American staple and perfect for pairing with the French dessert wine from the Roussillon, the traditional cherry pie will find a friend in the sweet cherry and chocolate flavors of Grenache-based Banyuls. Gerard Bertrand Banyuls promises significant ripe red and black fruit on the nose and palate combined with a sweet style, full body, and moderate tannins. If you plan on opting for a piece of chocolate in lieu of a slice of pie this Thanksgiving, Banyuls also delivers some serious pairing potential with all things chocolate.

While pairing Port with pie and Banyuls with chocolate are both decadent and delicious endings to a Thanksgiving feast, there are many that consider dessert wines as dessert themselves.  The choice is yours! Happy Thanksgiving!


Bordeaux on a Budget

Bordeaux is a classic region, home to classic wines. So often seen as unattainable, or even undrinkable, the wines of Bordeaux are slowly overcoming these misconceptions in the wine world. While serious wine collectors tend to focus on high-priced futures intended to be cellared for decades or on the rich, honeyed sweet wines of Sauternes, it is certainly possible to find both aged Bordeaux and ready-to-drink young Bordeaux at affordable prices—you just need to know what to look for.

Because outdated stereotypes can make these wines seem so intimidating, many casual wine drinkers don’t know enough about affordable Bordeaux to choose one for the dinner table. In reality, there is no need to feel overwhelmed, and the selection process can be simplified with a few easy pro tips:

1. Discover the Côtes de Bordeaux
Côtes de Bordeaux is comprised of the Right Bank regions of Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon and Francs. This collective of growers and producers banded together a few decades ago and were granted the Côtes du Bordeaux appellation status in 2009. In a way, this is similar to the way villages are attributed on the labels for Côtes du Rhone-Villages—each appellation adds its name to the Côtes de Bordeaux label, highlighting its own unique identity but identifying with the quality specifications of the Côtes de Bordeaux appellation as a whole.

A favorite value from the Cotes:
Chateau Les-Charmes Godard 2012

2. Buy older wines at a value
Some vintages are highly acclaimed at the time of their release (such as the heralded 2000 vintage), but then a few years later, even better vintages arrive—for example, 2005, 2009, and 2010. As a result, the 2000 will begin to lose some of its shine, followed by the 2005, and so on. Those vintages, when available, offer the great opportunity to purchase an older Bordeaux from an outstanding vintage.

Great picks include:
Château Simard Saint-Emilion 2005
Château Balestard La Tonelle 2005
Château Cap de Mourlin Grand Cru 2005

3. Find entry-level wines from fantastic vintages

There are highly-acclaimed vintages that demand extremely high prices from top châteaux, but a universally wonderful vintage means that even the under-$25, entry-level wines will be delicious. Currently, 2009, 2010 and 2011 can all be relied upon for high quality at low prices.

Some more-than-safe bets:
Château Lyonnat Lussac Saint-Emilion 2009
Château Fourcas Dupré 2010
Château Haut-Bellevue Haut-Médoc 2010
Château le Doyenné 2011

For a comprehensive list of the best deals in Bordeaux for this fall, shop this link.




Sicily: A food and wine paradise

At the mention of Sicily, hopefully some of the first things to pop into your mind are sunny beaches, Mediterranean air, fresh seafood, and possibly even delicious wine. Two of the coolest things about Sicilian wines are that they are approachable both in style and price. They offer some of the best—and diverse—options for introducing yourself to Old World wines. But unless you actually go there, it can be hard to realize how large, and unlike an island, this island really is. Its surface area is actually three times the size of New Zealand! They produce between 100 and 130 million gallons of wine per year. That is equivalent to about 2 million oak barrels! The region is also number one in Italy for organic wines, boasting 38% of Italy’s total organic wine production.

The first record of wine on the island dates back roughly to 700 BC when the Greeks occupied the island. Wine appears again in Sicily in the volume “Natural History,” when Pliny the Elder mentions the Mamertino wines produced around Messina. From about 831 to 1072 AD vines risked extinction altogether when the Arabs dominated the island.

The reign of Frederick III of Aragon in the early 1300’s finally unchained the wine trade in Sicily, but their industry didn’t start to pick up until the 1500’s. Nearly four hundred years later, in the early 1990s, Sicilian wines started to make a mark on the international market. This was a thanks in part to the blending of international varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot noir Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, and some might say Riesling) with indigenous grape varieties. The result was a group of wines that were more understandable to consumers in the global market. Currently about a third of the wine production in Sicily comes from international varieties and two thirds from indigenous grape varieties.

With so many types of Sicilian wine out there, experimenting on your own and finding new wines to like is easy, especially with some fun food pairings.

If you like light and crisp wines like Sauvignon blanc, a good Sicilian wine to try is the Planeta Eurazione, which is made of 90% Carricante, an indigenous grape to Sicily, and 10% Riesling. It has aromas of apple, mango, and white flowers. It is light and crisp on the palate and offers a bright finish with flavors of lemon curd. Pairing it with a dish like grilled prawns tossed in lemon juice and garlic works splendidly. Or if you can make it or find it, the Sicilians also like to have this wine with octopus salad. Any seafood salad will work!

Another fun white is the Insolia by Cusumano. This indigenous grape makes a full bodied and aromatic wine. It offers aromas and flavors of lemon and herbs, is smooth and rich on the palate and finishes with a hint of toasted almond. It is delicious with any pesto dish.

sicilian-pizzaThe Donnafugata Sedara, which is predominantly Nero d’Avola, one of the most important red grapes of Sicily, is the perfect everyday red wine. Full of wild blackberry and raspberry fruit, it is juicy and quaffable and excellent with pizza or a quick tomato-based pasta dish.



If you want to get a little more serious, another delicious Nero d’Avola is the Feudi del Pisciotto Versace Nero d’Avola. It has a deep bouquet of rose and ripe red cherry, is full on the palate and has a long, complex, and spicy finish. It is works beautifully alongside roasts or game. Plus, a serious meal will need a conversation piece and the label on this bottle is a good one. In the vain of creating wines that truly express the “Made in Italy” theme, the head of Feudi del Pisciotto decided to call on famous Italian artists and designers to create the labels for his wines. And what’s even better, a small portion of the winery’s revenue goes to reconstructing ancient works of art in Sicily. Donatella Versace, a lover of Nero d’Avola, chose the original Medusa head Versace logo for this wine, which for the Versace family symbolizes their desire to catch the eyes of audiences with astonishing and stylish designs.

planeta-etna-rossoThe Planeta Etna Rosso, made from the grape indigenous to Mount Etna called Nerello Mascalese, is an engaging wine with complex aromas of rose buds and stems, forest floor, sour cherry, strawberry, and rhubarb. On the palate it is full and smooth with a long spicy finish and suede-like tannins. This is a fun red too because it even works with fish! Try it with some pepper and herb encrusted grilled cod or seabass with a side of Caponata.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Caponata could be described as a Sicilian interpretation of Ratatouille. It also works well as a bruschetta topping, or be super authentic and serve it atop an orange slice, like the Sicilians do. If you have a little spare time, it isn’t difficult to make on your own. It’s totally worth it!

2 eggplants, cut into 1 inch dice
2 Tbsp plus 1.5 c olive oil
1 cup diced celery
3 onions, chopped
1 cup tomato puree
3 Tbsp capers
12 black or green olives, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
chopped basil or parseley
salt and pepper

Saute celery briefly so it is still crisp. Set aside. In a wide saute pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 c of olive oil. Saute the eggplant, making sure to cook thoroughly. Transfer to a plate with paper towels to drain. In the same pan, warm the remaining 1/2 c of oilive oil, then add the onions and saute until translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add the reserved celery and tomoato puree and simmer, stirring occassionally for 10 minutes. Add cooked eggplant, capers, olives, nuts, vinegar, sugar, and herbs. Stir well and simmer, uncovered over low heat for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. It is best to reserve for the next day so flavors can meld but it is also possible to serve immediately.


Ten Wicked Wines for Halloween

Halloween party planning is in the works and if you’re scouting for some spooky sips to serve friends and fiends at Halloween happenings, then look no further! From wicked reds to a ghostly white, these wines vow to take a creepy spin on the fruit of the vine.

besiegedbottleRavenswood Besieged Red Blend 2014 (CA)

A blood-red blend of plush Sonoma fruit, Besieged gives a dubious nod to the day winemaker, Joel Peterson, harvested grapes under thunderous skies and circling ravens, the notorious bird of ill omen. Happily, the day’s dark clouds rolled by and Ravenswood wines shine brighter than ever with intensity, power, and rich berry-driven flavors. Besieged is no exception, built on the blood red blend of Petite Sirah, Carignane, Zinfandel, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, and Barbera, this limited-edition, Sonoma-county carrying bottle rocks the palate with dark fruit, a full body and a tangle of well-integrated tannins.

velvetdevilbottle1The Velvet Devil Merlot 2014 (WA)

If the devil’s in the details, then this lip-smacking, pitchfork-wielding Washington State Merlot has them covered. Columbia Valley, through and through, showing off whole berry fermentation that gives aromatics a leg up and tannins a smoothing out, 10 months of barrel aging (30% new oak), and going for gutsy by utilizing some native yeast influences during fermentation, the Velvet Devil delivers black plum, Bing cherry and a dash of cocoa in a medium-bodied, easy to drink style.


chronic_purpleparadiseChronic Cellars Purple Paradise Red Blend 2014 (CA)

From the heart of Paso Robles, brothers Josh and Jake Beckett have given voice to regional wines with unforgettable labels built on quality fruit and a signature easy-going style. Expect this Zinfandel-dominated blend with a smidge of Syrah to engage ghouls and goblins with a deadly mix of black cherry and strawberry driven fruit medleys. The loud, eye-catching label leans heavily into Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday themes, making this bottle a go-to grab for all sorts of Halloween gatherings.



sinisterhandbtlOwen Roe “Sinister Hand” 2012 (WA)

This is a classic Rhone-inspired blend delivering Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsaut, but with an ominous name like “Sinister Hand” – you know there’s got to be a haunting backstory. And there is. Seventeenth century legend holds that two Irish families, the O’neills and O’Reillys (of course), determined their claim on a prized plot of land by entering into a rowing race. The straightforward agreement was that whichever team reached the land first won. Fair enough. However, when O’Neill’s boat began trailing behind, a member of the crew, reached for his own sword, chopped off his hand and tossed it to shore – going to great lengths to secure the land for the O’Neills. Rumor has it the land remains in the O’Neill family today.

plungerheadredbottlePlungerhead Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (CA)

Not all Halloween wines need to be devious and dark, some may inspire last minute costume designs: enter Lodi’s Plungerhead Cab. A light-hearted Cab that is as affordable as it is drinkable. Perfect for pairing with tricks and treats, making the most of mini milk chocolate candy bars, malted milk balls, and more, this Lodi red is fun and flexible with plenty of blackberries and raspberries up front and center well-supported by slices of chocolate, a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice and a smidge of smoke.



faust4Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (CA)

For the more cerebral Halloween imbiber, Faust is a deeply concentrated Napa Cabernet deriving its name from Goethe’s tragic play whereby Dr. Faust sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for power, pleasure, enduring youth and infinite knowledge. While this richly textured Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t make any such promises it does deliver, mystery and intrigue, brooding dark fruit, a full body, stunning structure and an ongoing finish.


alma_negra_m_blendbottleAlma Negra M Blend 2013 (Argentina)

What does the “M” stand for? Mendoza, moon, mystery, Malbec, magic. Well, Alma Negra says, it’s up to the drinker. Whatever the connotation, this magical red wine brews up a healthy blend of Bonarda and Malbec, and pours almost as inky black as the label itself. Black fruit character, dusty dark chocolate, and peppery spice with a snip of black licorice all fold themselves into dense layers of liquid delight. The M Blend label, a foreboding enigma, promises to deliver some serious mystery on Halloween night.



Ghost Pines Chardonnay 2013 (CA)

Named for the shadowy pines that border the Ghost Pines Vineyard in Napa Valley, this otherworldly Chardonnay is a certain sip for those eating as much candy corn as they’re passing out. Expect to go bobbing for apples with this one as Granny Smith meets Gala and tart mingles with sweet, medium-bodied, with creamy textures and an ethereal finish.




poizin2Armida Poizin Zinfandel 2014 (CA)

Poizin, dubbed the “wine to die for,” is a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel that’s made for Halloween.  Adorned with blood-red labeling, complete with creepy font and a haunting skull and crossbones graphic, this wine is the one to sip while passing out Halloween candy.  And it’s delicious with both milk and dark chocolate, that may or may not make it into the candy bowl this year. What’s not to love?




apothicdarkApothic Dark Red Blend 2014 (CA)

From the makers of Apothic Red and dripping with Gothic intrigue, the Apothic dark delivers a haunting blend of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. No need for candy, this one carries its own stash of ripe berry fruit flavors wrapped up in dark chocolate decadence.

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