Recap: Four Go-To Wines of the Moment

It's hard to believe that I've been writing in this space for two and a half years now. That's a long time to journal about what I've been drinking and learning. My understanding of and appreciation for wine has grown since I started, and there are quite a few Tasting Notes on this site. Because of this, I thought I'd sum up my top four go-to wine recommendations of the moment. My main goal with this list is value, so you won't necessarily see all four-bunch wines, but this way you'll be introduced (or re-introduced!) to a few of my favorites that you may have missed over the years.

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Honora Vera Garnacha

This Grenache (or Garnacha in Spanish) is food-friendly, fruit-forward, and light to medium body. I think it's a crowd pleaser! I typically purchase it at Total Wine, but I have started to see it pop up other places. This brand also makes a white that I've been curious to try. Now $8.99 a bottle, this wine is still a steal! See my full post here.

Gnarly Head Zinfandel

This wine is my #1 go-to recommendation for anyone that is looking for a good value. It can be found anywhere, which is great because not everyone has access to local wine stores, Total Wine, or even more gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods or Fresh Market. I have found it even in the smallest of towns when I was traveling for work. Full-bodied with dark fruit and pepper notes, this wine is going to please most red wine drinkers. See the full post here. Note: Gnarly Head has changed their label a bit, so the photo in the full post is not what you will find in store!

Starborough Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is a great white to have around. It's crisp, refreshing, and typically works great for cooking, especially if it's a dish with lemon and herbs. I bought this at Harris Teeter, our local grocery chain, so my guess is you can find it at yours. With balanced acidity and grapefruit notes, this classic portrayal of Sauvignon Blanc will be great for the upcoming warmer weather. See the full post here.

Trader Joe's Reserve Brut

You all know I love my bubbly, and this one is a great affordable option! Available for $9.99 at Trader Joe's, this wine will bring fresh acidity with the typical notes of lemon and apple. This is perfect for brunch, festive parties, or just a regular Tuesday night! See the full post here.

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Thanksgiving Wine Guide

Thanksgiving is the holiday I try not to zoom past on the way to Christmas once Halloween is over. I've noticed that stores tend to forget about it, going directly from spooky spiders and skulls to glittery ornaments and all things Santa. It's important to take a day to spend quality time with family and friends, eat a delicious meal, and reflect over all we have to be thankful for. With all of the tragedy in the world today, it feels especially important this year.

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Pairing wine with Thanksgiving is particularly tricky because most sources agree that there is too much going on in the meal for one wine to satisfy all dishes. If you have a traditional Thanksgiving meal, your plate is filled with a wide variety of flavors -- sweet, savory, green, acid, and butter. So. Much. Butter. What's the best wine to pair with all of these flavors and dishes? See below for a guide that will hopefully point you in the right direction. If you have the budget and ability, I recommend having a variety of options on the table for the various courses. 

Reds

Our families are red wine drinkers, so I know we need to have a good bottle of red on the table. This year, I plan to pair our meal with this Seghesio Family Carignane from Weekly Tasting. It is the most food friendly wine I think I've had, and the flavors will go so well with a lot at the table. The mild tannin will not overpower any of the dishes, it's got the warm spices like cinnamon, and there's a hint of tart cherry or cranberry in there. Does that not sound like Thanksgiving in a bottle?!

If you don't have access to the Carignan, I recommend a Zinfandel or lighter Pinot Noir. Classic Thanksgiving reds right there. Zinfandel has similar quailities to the Carignan I mentioned, and Pinot Noir has that earthy, acidic quality that mirrors cranberry and will go nicely with the turkey.  

My recommendations: Gnarly Head Zinfandel for the price point and availability, or La Crema Willamette Pinot Noir.

Whites

If our family is full of red drinkers, why even have a white? Butter. Green beans. That's why. A classic Thanksgiving white is Chardonnay. I'd go for one that's oaked because that malolactic fermentation will give you the creaminess you want to go with those mashed potatoes. Don't get an oaky, butter bomb, but find one that is well balanced and you'll love it!

As for green vegetables, they are infamous for being tough to pair with. Brussel sprouts, asparagus, green beans... they're all stumpers. Some would say to just re-hydrate with that course and drink water, but if you really want something to go with the veggies, I'd mimic the flavors in a Sauvignon Blanc, or if you're feeling adventurous, a Gruner Veltliner. The whites are also where you can bring in.

My recommendations: Ramey Chardonnay for a higher price point, or for a more affordable bottle, try the Olema Chardonnay. Both are from Total Wine. For the greens, try the Starborough Sauvignon Blanc, which I believe is widely available in grocery stores, or the Winzer Krems Gruner from Total Wine.

Dessert

I HIGHLY recommend having a dessert wine for all the pie. Many people will continue drinking whatever they had a dinner, and really, it's doing a disservice to the drinker and the dessert. The key for pairing wine with dessert is that the wine should be sweeter than the dessert or it will taste funky. If you don't care, then cheers to you! I've definitely done that 99% of the time. This year, I'm feeling a little celebratory and will be sure to have a 20-year Tawny Port to go with dessert. Other recommendations are Vin Santo, Canadian Ice Wine, or a late harvest Riesling.

"I can only have one bottle."

If you truly want just one bottle to go with everything, I'd choose a sparkling wine. It'll be your best bet because the bubbles will help cleanse the palate between dishes. Champagne is a great choice if your budget allows, but you can also find a good option at a lower price point. 

My recommendations: For the lowest price point, I'd try Juvé y Camps Pinot Noir Rosé Cava found at Whole Foods. For something a little more celebratory, try a bottle of Schramsberg - Blanc de Blanc or Brut Rosé would both be tasty.

I hope you all have the most wonderful holiday, and that your hearts (and bellies) will be full and happy!

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Wines of Portugal: Vinho Verde

Vinho Verde was another popular wine I came across in my few tastings of wines from Portugal. I had never really heard of it but was instantly drawn to the refreshing quality of the whites. I am starting to come around on the more hearty whites, but I will always have an affinity for a white that is crisp and citrusy. 

Picture: winesofvinhoverde.com

Picture: winesofvinhoverde.com

  • Vinho Verde is a region, not a grape, and is also known as Minho. The region is the northernmost wine producing region in Portugal.
  • The region was first settled by Celtic tribes over 2,500 years ago. Vinho Verde wines were the first to be exported to Europe during the Middle Ages.
  • "Verde" does not mean green the color. It means young! These wines are meant to be consumed right away.
  • Vinho Verde produces red and white wines, and they're usually blends. Whites are what they're known for because 86% of the region's production is white. White grape varieties include: Alvarinho (Albariño), Arinto, Trajadura, Loureiro, and Azal.
  • If you like seafood or Asian dishes, a Vinho Verde white will make the perfect pair. These wines have low alcohol which makes them food friendly (especially with something that has a little heat!).
  • The wines usually have a slight spritz to them.

Portuguese wines haven't totally taken hold here in the United States, despite them being delicious and a good value. They're unfortunately usually lumped into the Spanish section, which is unfair. However, I have been able to find some Vinho Verdes, so keep your eyes peeled!

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Wines of Portugal: Port

In preparation for our upcoming trip to Portugal, I wanted to look into what types of wines I would be having. I have been to a few tastings, but wanted to do some more in-depth research. The one thing to know about Portuguese wine is that they almost solely have indigenous grapes as opposed to international varieties that everyone knows like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc. This makes knowing how to identify something you'd like a little tough, but also makes it very exciting!

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If you know anything about wines from Portugal, it is most certainly about Port, the fortified dessert wine originating from the country, specifically the Douro Valley. I mean, the name should give you an idea of that! Here are my favorite facts from my research: 

  • While many think of Port as just being this dark, reddish-brown wine, there is also white and rosé Port! I am hoping to be able to give those a try while over there.
  • Port is a fortified wine, which means a neutral grape spirit (brandy) is added to stop the fermentation process and boost alcohol content. Stopping the fermentation process leaves residual sugar in the glass, making the wine sweet.
  • Five grapes that are commonly used to make Port are Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional.
  • Tawny Port (arguably the most popular in the USA) is made by aging the wine in oak barrels, slowly exposing it to oxygen.
  • If you're looking for a wine to go with dessert, Port is a great option! You want your wine to be as sweet or sweeter than your dessert, so wines with residual sugar are best.

While I typically see Port as a "love it or hate it" wine, I hope these little facts helped you learn something new. I can't wait to go to Portugal and report back all that I learned!

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Raid the Cellar with Laura Maniec: Napa Valley

I hope you aren't tired of hearing about Corkbuzz yet, because y'all, they do things right! Last month, The Cellar at Corkbuzz hosted an new event called "Raid the Cellar". For those in the Charlotte area who may not know, Corkbuzz recently opened a new Parisian-inspired wine shop and bar, and it's GREAT! 

Anyway, the event is a new monthly series they're starting in Charlotte called "Raid the Cellar" where Laura Maniec, Master Somm and co-founder/owner of Corkbuzz, comes to have a causal wine event showcasing some of her favorite picks. These "raids" came about from when Corkbuzz in New York would be having a wine class and Laura's Director of Wine would choose a selection within his allotted budget but Laura would always say, "But I really also want to pour X and Y, oh and what about Z!" So he would tell her, "Okay, okay -- go raid the cellar!" These events are much less structured than their normal classes and are really a way for people to relax, share some good wine, and of course, also learn a little. The "raids" will be themed and the first was focused on wines of Napa Valley.

We had three whites and three reds, all from various price points and areas of the Napa Valley region. The specific wines we had were:

The first two whites are interesting blends of varietals I wouldn't expect from Napa like Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Ribolla gialla, an Italian white grape I'd never heard of. I especially liked the Abraxas from Robert Sinskey. Kongsgaard is a classic, big, oaky, creamy, nutty Napa Chardonnay. I typically lean toward crisp and citrusy whites because I like them to be refreshing, but Kongsgaard was hard to put down! The Napa Cabs were all good. These are the reds I "grew up on" because my father loves big bold reds, and these did not disappoint! Continuum was the boldest (and best) in my opinion, and Frog's Leap was lighter in body and more acidic than I was expecting, but I didn't have a problem finishing any of the glasses!

My favorite part of the evening, though, was hearing the stories of the wineries. Sinskey is a husband/wife team where Robert is an amazing photographer whose pictures adorn his labels and his wife is a super-star chef. Matthiasson was named winemaker of the year in 2014. Chateau Montelena is famous for being the winery that took down the French in the "Judgment of Paris" competition in 1976 with their Chardonnay. Finally, Continuum is a winery run by the children of Robert Mondavi, and they are dedicated to continuing the tradition of a family owned winery producing fine wine after Robert Mondavi (the winery) was sold in 2004. 

Finally, here are some other tidbits from the evening that I enjoyed and have tucked away:

  • Laura, even being a Master Somm, stressed that the most important thing about wine is that you enjoy it. I've always felt this way, but it was great that a Master Somm said the same thing.
  • Her mantra: "Don't believe your own hype." To me, she is a wine celebrity and so accomplished, but she is so down-to-earth and easy to talk to.
  • Finally, a wine nerd tip: Acid in wine is balanced by salt. Tannin in wine is balanced by fat. Important for wine and food pairings!

If you're in the Charlotte area, the next Raid the Cellar is next week and is focused on France! You bet I'll be there. If you'd like to sign up, you can register here!