Posts Tagged ‘Ridge Vineyards’

“What’s a great red wine to take to a guys “foodie” dinner party featuring steak?”

February 11, 2015

A friend of mine asked me this question yesterday and, in developing an answer, it occurred to me the question would be a great blog topic. That’s because in order to get to the answer, I had to sift through a few important wine issues.

The first one to deal with was the fact this was not only a dinner party, but a “foodie” dinner party. From that, I took it that the participants are knowledgeable about at least about their food (and probably about their wine). That means whatever wines I recommended had to work with the food

And it was also a “guys” dinner party. So – at the risk of stereotyping – and assumed there would be a bit of competition going on here. So the wine not only had to be good, it had to be well known and probably not cheap. So probably no bargains wanted.

Next issue – the food! By steak, I assumed it wasn’t just chuck or sirloin and would be cooked on the barbecue. The potential cuts actually didn’t matter as much – T-bone, striploin, New York, Porterhouse, Ribeye – as it would be the barbecuing that would add much of the flavour. Grilling adds that wonderful charred flavour to meat, which can be powerful and overwhelm a more delicate read wine. A minor consideration was also if they were going to sauce the steak i.e. bbq sauce before, béarnaise after. Either way, those are some rich flavours that have to be accounted for in the wine selection.

The last issue was the word “great”. I needed not just any red wine, but a “great” red wine.

Now, that could mean a number of things, of course. “Great” tasting, “great” reputation, “great” rating…or some combination of all three. I doubt it meant “great” price i.e. cheap, given the other factors above. So, we are probably looking at $50+ in order to be in the game!

The toughest issue here, actually, is the “great tasting” one. It would be relatively easy to find a “big red wine” from Bordeaux, Piedmont, Tuscan, or even Spain. But if it is too young – and therefore too tannic – that might be a problem, even if those tannins are somewhat softened by the steak itself. Chances are the guests are going to start with a glass before eating the steak, and if all they get is a mouth of wood and lip-searing tannin, that’s not going to work.

So, with all that to consider…can you guess my recommendation(s)?

There were two, both from California.

The first was Cabernet Sauvignon from a “name” producer in a good, recent year. The style of Cali Cabs should be perfect for steak – big enough to take on the barbecue and any sauces, but also ripe enough even on release to enjoy on their own. And some of the “name” wineries make enough wine to have it available. I specifically recommended Caymus (the 40th Anniversary Vintage is very highly rated, although pricey at $72) as the wine that would be the best name. For about $30 less, I also recommended the Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet – not as big, but same style.

The other option was old vine Zinfandel. Again, big enough to take on the barbecue (it is actually my “go to” barbecue wine), nice on release, and available from some big name producers. Ridge Vineyards is my top pick, either the Lytton Spring, Geyserville (both $55 up her) or the Three Valleys (at $40). All are Zin blends, which adds even a little more complexity to the wine.

There you go…no over to my friend to see what he chooses…and how it works out!

SB

PS If you have a wine question you think would make a good blog topic, let me know!

http://www.sbwinesite.com

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Holiday Blog #1 – Red Wines

December 4, 2014

Alright, three blogs left for 2014, so let’s focus on holiday wines. Today, we will start with red wines, with recommendations for all occasions. White wines next week, and we will finish with sparklers and sweet wines the week before Christmas.

1. Open Houses/Big Dinner Parties

In a lot of ways, this is the toughest category, because while you need to potentially serve wine to a lot of guests – and want it to be good – you also don’t want to break the bank. So you need to try and keep the wines to under $15 if possible.

My first “go to” region is the Cotes du Rhone in the south of France (and the regions around it). Even with the vagaries of exchange rates, there are lots of relative bargains out there. Most of these wines are blends – mainly Grenache and Syrah, with a smattering of Mourvedre and Carignan mixed in – but the big reason they are popular with many people is they lack oak. That means instead of cedary, woody aromas and flavours, you get cherries and berries, herbs, earth and pepper. Up here, my best pick is the Vin de Pays by Domaine la Bastide, a GSM mix that goes for $10.95 a bottle. The Ventoux by La Vieille Ferme is also a good bet for a few bucks more. And don’t worry about the vintage – the style is very consistent from year to year.

Spain is another obvious choice for value reds you are going to serve in quantity. My only caution here is that the main grape used in the cheaper wines – Garnacha (the Spanish version of Grenache) – is often oaked, which can take away fruitiness and add in woodiness. So be careful! A very consistent producer is Castano, which makes La Casona for $9.99 and Monastrell for $12.49. There is no oak in either that I can taste.

2. Small Dinner Parties

If you are having only a few friends over, you can afford to spend more per bottle (since you are going to serve few of them). If you want to keep the tab under $25 a bottle, I have a few suggestions.

Back to the Cotes du Rhone! The 2012 vintage is on the shelves and it is very good, better than the 2011 (if not as good as 2010). Most of the wines – again, made of Grenache and Syrah – are ripe, medium bodied, and have little evidence of oak aging. Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages will cost anywhere from $18 – $25. Look for Famille Perrin (the makers of Chateau de Beaucastel), Chapoutier (including his Bila Haut wines from the Roussillon) and Delas Freres.

If you like Shiraz, this is also a good price point, because you can avoid the overly sweet, syrupy cheaper wines. Personally, I love the blackberry jam and licorice you find in the best wines. Vintage variation isn’t that big a deal (because of the climate consistency). Recommendations would be the wines from d’Arenberg, Shotfire Ridge, Kilikanoon, and Penfold’s.

3. Special Occasions

Last but not least, some special occasion red wines. Here you either want to enjoy a great bottle with someone, or perhaps just show off a bit! The price tag starts at $40 and can go up – way up! The other thing to consider, though, is the maturity of the wine. If you open up a young Bordeaux or Barolo that cost you $75 or more, you (and your guest) may be very disappointed by the harsh, tannic wine.

Instead, I look to California. Cabernet Sauvignon can be a good bet, as most of the wines are made in such a fruit forward style that they drink beautifully when young (as well as aging well). Beringer and Caymus are two famous names to look for… their “regular” Cabs start at about $45 (and their reserves are over $100). But they taste fabulous!

Another option can be old vine Zinfandel. Young wines almost explode with ripe blackberry fruit, but without the jam you get in Aussie Shiraz. Ridge Vineyards is my favourite (look for Geyserville and Lytton Spring blends for about $50), along with Ravenswood. If you want a real treat, try to find a Turley, a cult wine for sure, but can be worth the $60+++.

So there you go…some red wine options.

Next week, the whites!

Stephen

MOTHER’S DAY WINES

May 10, 2013

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend and while my Mom passed away long ago, I think about her every day…and the wines she might want to have with a special brunch, lunch or dinner! So here are a few for your consideration – bubbles, pink, white and red!

Bubbles

It’s hard to go wrong with sparkling wine for any meal on Mother’s Day (even breakfast, if you mix in a little fruit juice!). For those on a budget, my “go to” wine remains the Segura Viudas Non Vintage Brut. This classic Spanish cava is full of crisp, green apples while still completely dry. And it is a bargain at about $16. For a BC version, the best remains Blue Mountain’s Non Vintage Brut or Brut Rose. At $24.95 (available from the winery or private stores), it is a step in quality but has the same cava aromas and flavours. Finally, if you want real Champagne, you can’t go wrong with Bollinger, the favourite wine of James Bond! Although expensive (even the Non Vintage Brut is $70 – $80), that yeasty, toasty style just exudes “special occasion”.

Pink

Rose is another good option for Mom, especially if the weather is already warm. There are two general kinds, and I prefer the ones with a little residual sugar (that leaves them just a touch off dry). The best in BC is from La Frenz – it is usually full of super ripe strawberries and red grapefruit, about as good a patio experience as you can find. Another option, more widely available, is from Quail’s Gate, which is not quite as fruity but made in the same style. Chill until very cold and then serve on the deck all day long!

White

The white wine I remember my Mom liking was a Premier Cru Meursault from Burgundy (on the rare occasions I could afford to serve it!). A couple of more reasonable – and available – options, though, come from California and B.C. One of the benchmarks for Cali-style Chardonnay (meaning vanilla/butter covered citrus, luscious mouth feel and medium body) is Beringer’s Private Reserve Chardonnay. Not cheap – at $45 – $50 – it is still worth it, an incredibly indulgent wine that is great on its own or with rich sauces. From BC, the recent Reserve Chardonnays from La Frenz are also made in this style (at $32), as are those from Cassini Cellars ($29) and Nk’Mip (the Qwam Qmpt for $30).

Red

For red, a couple of options. I’m not sure if my Mom liked Pinot Noir (she preferred bigger red wines), but it is always a popular option. I would stay away from Burgundy because of cost and quality variability, and go to BC instead. Kettle Valley (Hayman and Reserve) and Blue Mountain (Reserve) make the best in BC – they are full of red and black cherries, spice and earth. While not cheap (at $35 – $40) or widely available (the winery or private wine stores), they are definitely special occasion wines.

The other option – which I know my Mom liked – was Zinfandel, and not the pink kind! Go for the best if you are going to serve this super ripe wine full of blackberry jam and herbs, which means Ridge Vineyards in California. My two favourites are the Lytton Springs and Geyserville, both of which are predominantly Zinfandel and about $50 a bottle. You won’t need more than a glass or two, as they tend to be higher in alcohol, but are a great drinking experience.

So Happy Mother’s Day to all out there!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

A Quick Guide to the 2013 Vancouver International Wine Festival

February 27, 2013

Hard to believe it is that time again, but the 2013 Vancouver International Wine Festival is on this week! With 176 wineries pouring over 600 wines, it can be a pretty intimidating evening of tasting, to be sure. So here is a quick guide to some of my recommended wineries and wines.

California

California was the only winery represented at the initial festivals, and it is great to see them back as the feature wine area! While prices have soared in the past years, the quality – and ripeness – of many wines continue to be very high. Here are five wineries to visit:

1) Antica Napa Valley – a venture by the Antinori family of Italy, this relatively new winery is producing fabulous Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays
2) Joseph Phelps – one of the most reputable and established wineries in California, Phelps is justifiable famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines, especially its Insignia blend
3) Paul Hobbs – another relatively new winery, but Paul Hobbs has been growing grapes/consulting for cult producers for years. Try his Cabernets, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs
4) Ridge Vineyards – one of my favourite wineries, led by legend Paul Draper. A Zinfandel specialist – check out their Lytton Springs and Geyserville bottlings – Ridge also makes very nice Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay
5) Wagner Family of Wine – the new name for the winery that makes Caymus (among other wines), and go to taste the Caymus Cabernet Sauvignons. Year in, year out, they represent all that is great about California Cabernet – super ripe black currant fruit, just enough wood, and the structure to age well!

Argentina

Not as many wineries as in past years, but still a few that make really nice Malbec (the signature grape of Argentina). If you only go to one winery, visit Catena Zapata, which makes rich, ripe Malbecs in all price ranges, as well as some nice Cabernets and Chardonnays.

Australia

Disappointing to see so few Australian producers this year; not sure why (they are among my favourites). Of those attending, I would recommend visiting Gemtree Vineyards (nicely valued Shiraz), Inland Trading Company (they own Turkey Flat Vineyards, which can make great old-vine Shiraz) and Yalumbia, which makes the full range of wines (I particularly like their Grenaches).

British Columbia

By comparison, I was very happy to see so many BC wineries attending, including some of my favourites. That includes Averill Creek from Vancouver Island (Andy Johnson makes amazing Pinot Noir in Duncan), Blue Mountain (not sure if they will have their Reserve Pinot Noir, but it is one of the two best made in BC; also try their Gamay and Sparkling Wine), and NkMip Cellars (a First Nations winery making very good Pinot Noir and Syrah).

France

I am also disappointed by the low number of French wineries this year! Even so, there are a couple of very good ones from the Rhone Valley – Chateau de la Gardine and Les Halos de Jupiter (both of which make very nice Chateauneuf du Pape). And, of course, the Perrin Family, which makes perhaps my favourite wine – Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape – as well as great Gigondas, Cotes du Rhones Villages and others.

Italy

Italy has also sent a smaller than usual roster of wineries (am I sensing a trend here?). Worth checking out, however, are the Chianti Riservas from the likes of Antinori (as well as their Tignanello if they have it), Fontodi, Ruffino and Rocca della Macie.

Portugal

Finally, a great way to end the evening is with some Port! Three of the “biggies” are there – Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca and Croft – so it will be interesting to see if they bring any of their vintage wines.

So have a great time at the festival! My final advice, as is the case every year, is two-fold – spit if you can (to avoid getting drunk) and get out of the way once you’ve tasted (to avoid causing a line-up).

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

PS I will once again be “tweeting” my Festival experience, so feel free to follow me at @sbwinepage.