June 4th is National Cheese Day! Cheese boards are a staple of my home entertaining. There is nothing simpler, yet delicious and enthusiastically received by my guests than a variety of cheeses to pair with whichever wines we will be sipping on. Cheese boards can be inexpensive with easy to find, traditional cheeses most Americans are familiar with, or they can be an eclectic spread of costly gourmet cheeses from all over the world. I often enjoy having one or two gourmet cheeses that are new or unique to my crowd of guests, accompanied by several common “ol’ standby” cheeses to offer a little something for everyone. In honor of National Cheese Day, I offer you seven simple, easy to find cheeses and my favorite varietals to pair with them perfectly.
These days, life is all about experiences. The gathering of friends, creating of memories, and sharing in experiences. Wine creates more memories than any other beverage in the world, but the old school thinking of wine being pretentious and complicated is gone. Whether in one of my public wine classes or at one of my private in-home wine and food pairing experiences, it has been proven time and time again almost anything can be paired beautifully with wine. A crowd favorite is a “Sips and Dips” theme, which is exactly what it sounds like: the perfect wine paired with a variety of dips. Easy as could be, minimal prep time, and a casual great time for everyone. I have compiled some popular dips and suggested recipes with my personal favorite wine style pairings.
Buffalo Chicken Dip
Buffalo chicken dip is my favorite go-to dip at any party or gathering because it pairs incredibly with almost any wine! It’s particularly good with off dry and semi sweet whites, but it’s also a home run with the dry whites and reds, as well. My personal favorite is an off-dry Riesling or Chenin Blanc, but have fun with this one! When in doubt, grab whatever bottle of wine you have and serve up a bowl of buffalo dip, and let the fun begin.
This dip is so easy to make and incredibly delicious. Best of all, it’s low carb and keto friendly! The ol’ “If it grows together, it goes together” applies here, so it’s wonderful with any Italian red, however the salt, fat, and acidity of the dip makes this a fabulous partner to a majority of medium and full bodied red wines. My favorites include Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Sangiovese, and Nero d’Avola.
Crab rangoons are another favorite staple wine pairing with any white or rose wine, so it makes sense to ditch the wonton wrappers and grab a spoon! I enjoy this dip with a crisp Pinot Grigio from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy, as well as a fruit forward yet refreshing dry rose’ from Provence, France, but in reality, most dry and off-dry whites will be delightful with this dip.
Sweet loves heat, and that’s certainly the case with off dry and semi sweet white wines when paired with this incredible jalapeno dip. All of the deliciousness of stuffed jalapenos with the ease of a dip. Dry whites work beautifully as well, as will a dry rose’.
This is a standard go-to favorite. With its creamy texture and salty flavors, spinach artichoke dip will pair beautifully with a variety of wines. My personal favorite is Sauvignon Blanc. Combined, this varietal with this dip highlights the herbaceousness of both the dip and the wine, offering beautiful “green” flavors.
This dip is just a good time in a bowl! Between the peanut butter, oats, M&Ms, and cream cheese, it’s everything delectable all mixed up in one bowl. Perfect sweet treat for a buttery chardonnay, semi sweet whites, and even some fruit forward reds, such as Pinot Noir, Grenache, or Gamay!
There are countless numbers of world wine regions I am incredibly fond of for a variety of reasons, but Oregon is one of my very favorites. If you have yet to enjoy a wine from Oregon, you are in for a wonderful surprise. This region produces some of the purest, highest quality wines in the world with a large focus on sustainability. Oregon boasts more than 700 wineries and more than 1,000 vineyards growing 72 grape varieties.
Pinot Noir is the predominantly grown grape in Oregon, making up 72% of the region’s grapes, with Pinot Gris a distant second, comprising 14% of the region’s grapes. Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown and produced here, among many others, and offer superior domestic wines to the US market.
Oregon wines are often discussed as being similar in style and even quality to the wines of Burgundy, France. Both Oregon and Burgundy produce wines that distinctly reflect the individual terroir in which the grapes were grown. You can actually taste the difference in terroir (soil type, slope gradient, slope aspect and sunshine hours, climate, etc.) from vineyard to vineyard, even if only a mile or less away. Although I would never consider Oregon in the shadow of Burgundy, I do believe Burgundy has been a source of inspiration to its Oregon counterparts for many decades.
Oregon’s winemakers focus on small batch, high-quality wines. The grape growers and winemakers take incredible pride in their craft, and that is represented well with consistently high ratings by Wine Spectator and the like. In fact, Oregon wines made up 20% of Wine Spectator’s 90+ scores on domestic wines in 2017.
There is a culture of sustainability among Oregon farmers and winemakers, something more and more of us are prioritizing when it comes to the preservation of our planet. 47% of Oregon’s vineyards are certified sustainable, a higher percentage than any other domestic wine region. Oregon also accounts for 35% of US Demeter Biodynamic vineyards. Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator remarks, “It’s here in the culture; it’s here in the air. The very DNA or Oregon winegrowing is sympathetic to this non-interventionist, naturalist, small-scale form of farming and winemaking.”
With incredible respect and admiration for sustainability and biodynamic farming, I will more often than not choose a wine from Oregon over any other if it is available on a menu while I am dining out. I know I am getting a wine that a community’s heart and soul went into growing and making, and that spirit is reflected in each savored sip.
Since 2012, the Oregon wine industry has celebrated Oregon Wine Month annually in May. I invite you join in and celebrate with your own bottle of wine from Oregon, and discover a new favorite wine region to enjoy for a lifetime.
Back in 1993 at the age of 18, my family and I moved from Massachusetts to Louisiana. You can imagine the culture shock this Yankee was in for, having been born and raised in New England! I had never visited Louisiana or anywhere in the deep south, and truth be told, I didn’t know much about the culture. Being a foodie for all of my life, spending time in Louisiana was nothing short of one delicious adventure after another. I soon learned what the incredible appeal was about visiting cities like New Orleans and Baton Rouge, between the culture, the history, the music, the wonderful people, and of course the food. Although New Orleans is known more for its mixed drinks such as daiquiris, hurricanes, and even hand grenades, I find wine to be the ultimate complement to the local cuisine.
All these years later, whenever I make a trip to Louisiana to visit my family, the very first thing on my list is stopping for a fried shrimp po’boy. Incidentally, my favorite po’ boy isn’t from a restaurant in New Orleans, but from a quaint little restaurant in my mom’s town of Gonzales, LA called Philay’s Catfish ‘n More. The shrimp are fried to juicy perfection and dressed with just the right amount of toppings. Whether fried fish, fried oysters, or fried shrimp po’boys, the meal simply isn’t complete without being paired with a dry, crisp white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio/Gris, Grüner Veltliner, or perhaps a nice dry rosé.
Another seafood favorite of mine is boiled crawfish. For years, I thought the term “crawfish boil” was actually “crawfish bowl”, clearly my inability to decipher the charming New Orleans accent. Once I attended my first official crawfish boil, it all made sense… a giant pot of seasoned crawfish, corn on the cob, and potatoes that once cooked was dumped on a giant table covered in brown paper. An experience everyone should enjoy at least once! A crawfish boil begs for several bottles of Chardonnay on the table, from unoaked versions to oaked versions. It is simply a pairing made in heaven.
No trip to Louisiana is complete without enjoying some authentic gumbo and homemade jambalaya. In my experience, I’ve found the little hole-in-the-wall food stands and take out restaurants have the best jambalaya and gumbo in the state, such as The Jambalaya Shoppe. Not only is an individual portion of jambalaya here enough to eat for about 3 days, but the giant seasoned chunks of chicken and sausage can’t be beat. I absolutely love pairing these spicier dishes with an off dry white, such as Vouvray or German Riesling, or even a light to medium bodied red with softer tannins, such as a Pinot Noir or Gamay.
We cannot forget about the endless amount of delicious desserts Louisiana offers. From the traditional Mardi Gras dessert King Cake, to creamy Louisiana pralines. But no trip to New Orleans is complete without visiting Café du Monde in the French Quarter to enjoy their famous beignets. The light, fluffy, French donuts are fried to perfection and smothered in powdered sugar. Any of these delectable, sweet desserts will pair perfectly with an off dry white, a semi sweet white, or even a sweet dessert or ice wine.
At one time I saved my Louisiana cuisine for when I would visit, but those days are long gone. Although I once again live in New England, I regularly cook Louisiana style cuisine so I can enjoy that unique taste of the deep south paired with the perfect wine in the comfort of my Massachusetts home.
When asked to give my top four chili and wine pairing suggestions, I was all too excited to oblige. Let’s get spicy!
There’s nothing like a bowl of hot, classic chili. Chili is traditional comfort food, a game-day staple, and the subject of cook-offs all across America. Classic chili with mild to medium spice would pair beautifully with a dry or off-dry white wine, or even a fruity red soft in tannins such as Pinot Noir. A pot of chili heavy on the spice would be better paired with a semi-sweet or even sweet white.
Sweet and spicy is a loved, delicious combination. That bit of sweetness blanketing the spice allows you to pair your chili with a nice, fruit forward red, such as a Zinfandel or even a Cabernet Sauvignon. If you prefer white wines, an off-dry Riesling would be perfection on the palate.
If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean, you’ve been fortunate enough to experience the unique spices and flavor combinations of the cuisine. Mango and cilantro are a Caribbean staple, providing the palate with a tropical essence. This Caribbean chili recipe offers the best of all flavors, including the heat of habanero peppers with the sweet citrus of orange juice and warmth of allspice. This fusion of flavors pairs well with crisp, fruity white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Torrontés, off-dry whites such as Riesling, and reds soft in tannins but forward in fruit, such as Pinot Noir and Merlot.
Vegetarians rejoice! This chunky vegetable chili provides all the delectable flavors of traditional chili, but brimming with an array of vegetables. This recipe can be made as mild or spicy as you wish, depending on the spice level of the salsa and amount of chili powder. A mild version would be idea with almost any white, red, or even rosé. A spicier version would pair best with an off-dry or semi-sweet white or soft, fruit forward, mild red.
Wine and chocolate, a match made in heaven in this wine lover’s opinion. I tell my students, when in doubt, grab a bag of dark chocolate and a bottle of tannic red wine, and you will have an evening of deliciously paired bliss. There is so much to explore in the world of chocolate and wine. Valentine’s Day is upon us, and what better time than to take our taste buds on a sweet adventure?
White chocolate and Pinot Noir is probably the most surprising and delicious chocolate and wine pairing I’ve ever experienced. Pour yourself a glass of Pinot Noir, then put a square of quality white chocolate on your tongue and savor. While the chocolate is melting, raise the glass to your nose and breathe in the aromas of the wine. You will start to taste an incredible vanilla flavor that wasn’t noticeable before. Once you’ve enjoyed this sensation, take a sip of the wine, coating the white chocolate as it continues to melt, and enjoy pure bliss.
Old vine Zinfandels are some of my favorite wines, and I’m absolutely obsessed with pairing them with dark chocolate raspberry, such as Ghirardelli dark chocolate raspberry squares. Zinfandels are so jammy and fruit forward that these chocolate squares will turn that wine into liquid raspberry on the palate in the most heavenly of ways.
Cabernet Sauvignon tends to have undertones of eucalyptus or mint, which makes these hefty reds the ideal partner for chocolate mint. You can go beyond dark chocolate mint candies and pair them with Mint Milanos, Thin Mint cookies, or even grasshoppers.
I enjoy the flavor of coffee in pretty much anything, and chocolate is no exception. You will bring out a delicious earthy, mocha note when pairing red wine with dark chocolate covered espresso or coffee beans. Earthier varietals like Cabernet Franc and Pinotage will truly impress with this delightful pairing.
A fun and unusual combination I have grown to love is dark chocolate chili, which provides a nice spicy kick. Enjoy this with a nice Syrah/Shiraz, and watch the fruit and spice dance happily on the palate, switching off who takes the lead.
What about white wines? These can be a bit tricky, especially the drier ones, as too much sugar will amplify the acid, resulting in an unpleasant bitter taste. I have found the heavier bodied oakier whites, such as Chardonnay, pair wonderfully with creamy white chocolate, or even milk chocolate covered nuts or turtles. Try an off-dry white, such as a Riesling, or a sweeter white, such as a Moscato, with milk chocolate caramels with sea salt.
Want to explore a little outside the box? Try chocolate covered bacon for a new and exciting twist. This gives you the best of the wine pairing world: salt and fat blanketed in decadent chocolate. You could even drizzle chocolate on some salty kettle chips for a similar effect.
When it comes to wine and chocolate pairing, the best part is the “research”!
I have always been a fan of wine cocktails, whether a morning mimosa or bellini with brunch, sangria in the summer, and especially mulled wine. Also known as glögg, Glühwein, and many other names I cannot pronounce, mulled wine is a wine beverage served hot or warm, particularly in the colder winter months. It is typically made with red wine and various baking spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, ginger, cloves and dried orange peel with the addition of some sort of spirit, most commonly brandy or vodka. Born and raised in New England, I have experienced my share of Nor’easters and blizzards, and nothing makes me feel cozier than watching the snow fall from the comfort of my living room while cozied up fireside with a mug of nice hot mulled wine.
Not only is mulled wine incredibly simple to make, the house smells incredible from the simmering baking spices. By keeping a few simple ingredients on hand, you can be prepared to whip up this comforting recipe in a pinch. I also find this fun to make for cocktail parties, get-togethers, the random “pop-in” visitor, and especially as a dessert beverage after dinner parties. Mulled wine can be made stovetop or in a slow cooker, whichever you prefer.
You can find hundreds of different recipes for mulled wine on the internet, but I have my own personal favorite that is simple, inexpensive, and delicious. You can certainly buy your own personal favorite combination of spices separately, but I choose to purchase a pre-mixed combination of mulling spices from Atlantic Spice Co. in North Truro, MA (https://www.atlanticspice.com/), which contains cinnamon chips, orange peel, allspice, and cloves, as the base of my spice mix. I purchase small muslin bags to contain the spices while simmering for easy removal; however, you can choose to add the spices to the simmering pot on their own, then simply strain them when it is time to serve.
Missa’s Mulled Wine – 1 (750 mL) bottle of the red wine of your choice – 1 muslin bag (or cheesecloth pouch) containing 2 Tbsp of Atlantic Spice Co’s mulling spice mix – ¼ cup brandy or vodka (or your favorite liqueur) – 2–4 Tbsp of sugar, maple syrup, or honey (or your desired sweetener) to taste – optional garnishes: orange slice, cinnamon stick, star anise
Steep mulling spices and wine for 30-60 minutes on the stovetop or in a slow cooker on low just to a simmer. Do not boil, making sure to keep the wine under 160 degrees. If no pouch or bag is used, strain the wine into a mug, top with desired garnishes, and serve hot.
This can be made in a non-alcoholic version, as well. Simply simmer the spices stovetop or in a crock pot with a gallon of cider or juice and omit the wine and liqueur.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY TRAVELING VINEYARD ON DECEMBER 29, 2018
As long as I can remember, I’ve had an incredible passion for Champagne. Champagne was my very first experience with fine wine, and has become a regular part of my wine drinking. Champagne is not simply a bottle of bubbly wine, however …
What is Champagne?
Champagne is not a grape or a style, it is a geographical region in northern France. In order for a wine to be called Champagne, it must come from this region, and it must adhere to various rules and laws that include specific growing conditions to its wine making technique.
Champagne must be made in the Methode Champenoise, or Méthode Traditionelle (Traditional Method). This is a very intricate and time consuming wine making process that involves a second fermentation in the very bottle it will later be sold in. This can often, in part, account for the hefty prices many bottles of Champagne command.
How Do You Properly Store Champagne?
As with all wine, you want to store your bottles of Champagne away from bright or artificial light and maintain a consistent and cool temperature (ideally 44-50 degrees F). Long term storage should be with the bottles on their sides in a wine rack or in a wine cellar.
What’s the Best Way to “Pop” the Cork?
Although the loud POP sound of a bottle of Champagne is synonymous with celebration, it is not the proper and safe way to open your bubbly. The first step is to remove the foil, then to loosen the wine cage (this should take 6 twists of the wire tab). Next, drape a towel or cloth over the cork and cage, hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle and away from yourself and others, and while firmly holding the cork in place, slowly twist the bottle from its base. You want a very soft “pop” of the cork into your hands.
How to Serve Champagne
There are various shapes of glassware in which to serve your Champagne, such as a flute (tall and narrow) or a coupe (wide and shallow), or even various white wine glasses. The depth of a glass can really influence the aromatic release of a sparkling wine. There is much controversy about which shape is best, so my advice is to try different glasses and choose your favorite. My personal favorite is a traditional Champagne flute, simply for the aesthetics and the ability to see the bubbles dancing to the top of the glass. To me, this is a symbol of celebration.
How to Pair Champagne
When we think of Champagne, we think of celebration and decadence. Caviar, smoked salmon, exquisite French cheese—each of these are a match made in heaven with a beautiful glass of Champagne. As someone who enjoys Champagne on a regular, non-celebratory basis, these luxurious foods simply aren’t always on my menu. One incredibly delicious everyday pairing is, believe it or not, French fries! There isn’t a single other wine this New Englander would rather pair with freshly fried fish and chips than a glass of Champagne. Fresh fried seafood, goat cheese, fish tacos, fresh strawberries, even deviled eggs are simple everyday pairings that are sure to enhance the Champagne experience. Shellfish, such as shrimp, oysters, clams, crab, and lobster are other delicious dinner options. High acid, salt, and fat content in your food pairings will be sure to pair wonderfully with the high acid content of your Champagne. Cheers!
I was once one of the skeptics who didn’t entirely believe that glassware made a significant difference when it came to drinking wine, that is until I put it to the test myself. I took two wine glasses of the same shape and size, one Riedel crystal glass, and one from the dollar store. I poured the same wine in both glasses and began to explore. I was absolutely amazed at the difference. The aromas were noticeably different in each. The dollar store glass gave off a somewhat chalky odor, overpowering the delicate fruit and earthy aromas of the wine, where the crystal glass sent all of those aromas directly to the nose. From first smell, I was a believer. Then, I sipped the wine from each glass, and once again, my world was changed. The aromas flowed on the palate in just the right spots from the crystal glass, where as in the dollar store glass, the wine just sort of landed flatly on the palate. I didn’t understand the hows and whys, but I knew glassware absolutely made a huge difference.
This fall, I was fortunate to attend a seminar with Maximilian Riedel, glassmaker and 11th generation CEO of Riedel crystal glassware. We were presented with five different handcrafted Riedel crystal glasses: Cabernet Sauvignon, oaked Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and basic white wine. The sizes and shapes of each glass were noticeably different, but each one was thin, light, and incredibly beautiful. Over the course of two hours, Mr. Riedel led us through one of the most fascinating seminars I have ever attended, sampling some very high-quality wines in each glass. We’d go back and forth between glass, smelling and tasting, seeing for ourselves how the delicate nuances of each wine was either enhanced or dulled, depending on the glass it was served in. I left absolutely amazed. I was even more thrilled when Mr. Riedel announced each attendee would be able to take the glasses we used at the seminar home with us! That collection is now my prized glassware that I use when I want to truly taste a wine to its fullest.
Glassware makes a huge difference in your wine tasting experience. The way a glass is shaped can direct its aromas to the nose properly, and it can cause the wine to flow on the perfect spot on the palate, almost like magic. You don’t need to spend a fortune on glassware to enjoy your wine, but investing in a set of moderate or high-quality glassware, even if just for special occasions, will truly enhance your appreciation and ability to taste the nuances of a wine. Neither do you need a different glass for each varietal. Although they are available and are crafted to enhance each specific varietal, you can achieve a similar effect with basic glasses. For instance, I serve my white wines in a differently shaped glass than my red wines. I serve my oaked Chardonnays in a differently shaped glass than my Rieslings, and I serve my Pinot Noirs in a differently shaped glass than my Cabernet Sauvignons. Each wine is so unique in its aromatics and texture, and a specifically crafted glass for each truly brings out the best. For every day consumption, however, I suggest having two different glasses—one for whites and one for reds.
How to Choose the Right Glassware
In general, red wines are bigger and bolder than white wines, and these require a glass with a bigger bowl to allow the aromas and flavors to be expressed to the fullest potential. The smaller bowl of a white wine glass helps to preserve the aromatics and floral aromas. This simple rule will elevate your wine experience. The stem on your glass matters, too. Although stemless glasses are attractive and popular, the stem of a glass plays an important role in maintaining the temperature of your wine. Temperature is extremely important in the aroma, flavor, and texture expression of a wine. Holding a wine glass by the bowl itself, and not the stem, can easily change the temperature of the wine in your glass.
Next time you’re serving wine to friends and family, check your cabinet and be sure you’re using the right glassware for your wine!
2019 is upon us, and ringing in the new year by toasting to family, friends, and new possibilities with bubbly is a tradition many of us partake in. Sparkling wines are my absolute favorite style, not just for special occasions, but even for any random weekday lunch with friends. Why save the celebration for holidays when we can celebrate each day? Where does one begin, and what is the difference between the world’s sparkling wines?
The word Champagne has become synonymous with sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine should and can be accurately called Champagne. Champagne is not a wine, and it is not a grape. It is a region of France known for some of the world’s best sparkling wines. In order to be called Champagne, a wine must come from the Champagne region. Champagne is made from any combination of three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The Méthode Champenoise (also known as the Traditional Method) is the winemaking method followed in Champagne, which includes a second fermentation in the very bottle in which it will be sold. This can be very time consuming and laborious, which is often partly responsible for the hefty price tag on many Champagnes. Champagnes are aged in such a way that the resulting wines give a creamy, bready, brioche flavor in the glass. Champagne is not where the world of bubbly ends, however. In fact, you can find a plethora of other sparkling wines from other regions of France, which are labeled as Crémant.
Prosecco is Italy’s famous bubbly. Prosecco is produced in northeastern Italy, specifically the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine regions, that uses mainly the Glera grape to produce Champagne’s Italian cousin. A totally different winemaking style than used in Champagne, Prosecco tends to be fresher tasting with more fruit, less brioche. Proseccos can come in a variety of sweetness/dryness levels to please every palate. Prosecco’s price tag is equally as appealing, as you can easily find delicious Proseccos for under $15 a bottle.
Cava is the well known Spanish sparkling wine that can be made from a combination of grapes, most commonly Xarel.lo, Macabeo, Paralleda, and Chardonnay. Cava can be found in a wide range of sweetness levels, although Brut is most common in the mass market. It can also be found in a variety of quality levels, although compared to their counterparts from Champagne, are incredibly affordable. Cava provides the drinker with a balance of fresh fruit and subtle brioche.
Excellent sparkling wines are made all over the world from all kinds of grapes, resulting in a variety of styles (white, red, and rose), in every sweetness level, and available in every price range imaginable. The fun is in celebrating special occasions with something new. Perhaps this year leave the $10 bottle of Korbel on the rack and grab something new and exciting that will leave a lasting memory.