Posts Tagged “Around the World” Wines

Dessert Wines

Theme

Sweets for the sweet!  This tasting caters both to the wine lover and the sweet tooth, and is a real crowd-pleaser.  Many of the main wine regions of the world are known for at least one “dessert wine” that is sweeter and works perfectly as an after-dinner treat or as an accompaniment to your dessert course.  You’ll go through all the most famous dessert wines in the world, learning a ton while enjoying some serious and sweet wine!

Angle

This is a “getting to know you” style tasting where you want your guests to focus on one wine at a time.  It’s done best as a horizontal tasting where each guest gets a class and you pour a taste of each wine to everyone in the room and discuss it before moving on.  We’d go from lightest to richest, roughly according to the order we’ve laid out below.

Sample Lineup

  1. Saracco, Moscato d’Asti ($15)
  2. Selbach, Eiswein, Germany, 375ml ($55)
  3. Royal Tokaji, Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, 500ml ($35)
  4. Chateau d’Yquem 1996, Sauternes, 375 ml ($140)
    or
    Chateau de Farques 2005, Sauternes, 375 ml ($60)
  5. Rocca di Montegrossi 2001, Vin Santo, Tuscany, 375ml ($80)
  6. Inniskillin, Cabernet Franc Ice Wine, Canada, ($85)
  7. Allegrini, Recioto della Valpolicella “Giovanni Allegrini,” 500ml ($70)
  8. Graham’s Vintage Port 2007 ($80)
  9. Osborne, Pedro Ximenez 1837, Sherry ($18)

The Wines

This tasting presents a wide range of dessert wines from around the world.  What’s important here is to find examples of the varietals, not necessarily the specific wines we recommend above.  The fun of this tasting is to compare just how different the wines are from one another stylistically, given that they’re all dessert wines with relatively high levels of residual sugar that will probably all be popular with your guests who happen to have a sweet tooth.  We included nine wines above – five white and four red – though you certainly don’t need that many.

Start out with a range of white dessert wines.  Kick your party off with a Moscato from Italy, which is slightly sparkling and really refreshing – a perfect palate-cleanser with notes of peach and pear.  From there, move to a Riesling Eiswein (German for “ice wine”) if you can find it, made from Riesling grapes left on the vine in Germany until they are literally harvested frozen, in the snow.  Eiswein can be very expensive; the Selbach we recommend represents excellent value, relatively speaking, with great apple notes.  Then move to the sensational Sauternes.  You can pay as little as $15 or as much as $125+ for a half-bottle of Sauternes, depending on whether you want a value-priced offering or the celebrated “First-Growth” Chateau d’Yquem.  From there, move to Sauternes’ Hungarian counterpart; we think you should definitely try to find a Tokaji Aszu if you can (spelled and pronounced “Tokay” in English).  Tokaji is a rich, honeyed nectar that was revered by kings in the 17th century and is making a comeback after nearly disappearing to disease and Communist ownership of the vines in the 20th century.  Finally, as the wines you’re tasting are getting progressively richer, finish with Vin Santo, the traditional after-dinner, after-espresso dessert wine in Tuscany, which is traditionally served with biscotti cookies that you dip in the sweet wine.

From there, include a few reds in your tasting.  Among fine-wine lovers, Canada is known principally for their Ice Wine, made in the same style as the German Eiswein above.  Canada’s biggest producer, Inniskillin, produces a fascinating and delicious copper-colored Ice Wine from Cabernet Franc that would introduce something completely different to your tasting.  Another red dessert wine option, if you can find it, would be a Recioto della Valpolicella from Italy, a thick red that looks like a dry wine but tastes surprisingly rich & sweet.  From there, move to Port, the ubiquitous after-dinner drink loved by the British and made in Portugal’s Douro region.   Vintage Port is a serious wine, made only from the best vineyards in the best years (and priced accordingly).   We’d finish with a Pedro Ximenez, a particularly rich, sweet sherry from Jerez, Spain.

Music

We held this tasting recently and decided on a “sweet” iTunes mix.  I mean, a dessert wines tasting should be fun and light-hearted, not pretentious.  But to make it theme-appropriate…well, we compiled an admittedly ridiculous mix of songs that had the word “sweet,” the word “sugar” and/or the word “candy” in the title.  This seems lame until you realize how many great songs fit this description.  We kicked off the event with “Bittersweet Symphony” by the Verve, before hitting golden oldies “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies.  From there we segued into the contemporary with Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams are Made of This,” Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams,” Guns n Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine,” Sara Bareilles’ “One Sweet Love,” Amos Lee’s “Sweet Pea,” and Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape.”  And why stop there, when you can move to classics like Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”  This mix is admittedly cheesy but your guests will be having fun by the end of this set, and will appreciate your effort to pick theme-appropriate music.  Trust us.  We tried it.

Pairings

Dessert wines pair best with dessert – why fight the theme?  Make some sweets!  You have enough styles of wine at this tasting to pair with light desserts as well as rich desserts, so serve a variety.  We’d definitely include some Italian biscotti cookies, if for no other reason than that your Vin Santo is designed to be served alongside biscotti for dipping.  You also can’t go wrong with brownies – they’re bite-sized and go well with many of your wines (particularly the reds).  Maybe make some chocolate chip cookies, which should work nicely alongside the white dessert wines.  And maybe round out the solution with a fruit-based dessert, like angel food cake with berries, or a fruit tart.  If you want to include a cheese, we’d go with English Stilton, which is a perfect match for Port.  Your guests will have a great time trying different wines with the different sweets.

Tasting Notes

Dessert wines are sweet because of their residual sugar content; while dry wines have residual sugar of 3% or less, dessert wines can have from 5-30% residual sugar.  The best dessert wines don’t taste overly syrupy because the wines have enough acidity to balance out the sugar.  In many cases, the wines achieve this higher sugar content because the winemakers leave the grapes on the vine longer, which makes the wines ripen more and become sweeter.

We’d recommend printing out some tasting notes that give a little background on each of the wine varietals you’ll be serving.  Each of the wines has an interesting back story.  Sauternes, for example, is made when the benevolent fungus Botrytis cinerea (also known as “noble rot”) takes hold of the grapes and concentrates the sugars.  Tokaji Aszu is made sweet in the same way, in fact “Aszu” is Hungarian for “rot.”  Ice wine, meanwhile (both the Canadian version and German Eiswein) are made by letting the grapes stay on the vine so long they actually freeze on the vine with the arrival of winter.  Vin Santo is made by letting the Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes partially dry out for three to six months, during which time half the liquid in the grapes (the water) evaporates, concentrating the sugar.  Moscato is traditionally enjoyed at Christmas in Piedmont, Italy, whereas Port is a classic Christmas drink in Britain (paired with Stilton cheese).  And Pedro Ximenez is a particularly sweet, rich variety of sherry often used as a blending wine to add sweetness to lighter sherries, or used as a dessert treat on its own.  Rumor has it that Spanish men in Jerez pour it over ice cream and enjoy it after dinner with a cigar.

The most famous and celebrated dessert wine in the world is Chateau d’Yquem, the only Sauternes rated as ”Premier Cru Superieur” (Great First Growth) in the original 1855 classification of Bordeaux chateaux.  Wines from Château d’Yquem are characterised by their complexity, concentration and sweetness.  In addition, the wine is famously age-worthy; in a good year, a bottle will only begin to show its true qualities after a decade or two of cellaring.  Several vintages of Chateau d’Yquem have rated perfect scores from critics like Robert Parker.  Not surprisingly, this pedigree comes with a high price point; half-bottles of Chateau d’Yquem typically start at $130, and can cost significantly more in a particularly good vintage.  It would be great fun to include Yquem in your tasting, but if your budget doesn’t permit it, worry not; a bottle of Sauternes can be enjoyed for less than $20.  The other Sauternes we recommend for your event, Chateau de Farques, is a bit pricier, and was named one of Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines in 2008.

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Intro to Australia & New Zealand Wines

Theme

Kangaroo & Kiwi Wines!  These wines come from the lands down under, and are a ton of fun.  There are a lot of reasons to get to know Aussie wines and their Kiwi neighbors from New Zealand – they’re fun, they’re often great values, they represent a wide range of grape varietals, and many of the wines are fantastic.  This tasting will introduce your guests to some of the wines that have made Australia & New Zealand serious places for wine lovers to hunt for great bargains!

Angle

This is a “horizontal” tasting that covers a wide range of wines and styles that are totally different from one another.  The wines are totally different from one another, and they’re all at affordable price points, so there’s no reason to do the event as a blind taste test.  Present the wines from order – the lightest wines to the biggest reds.  If you’re inspired, fire up some shrimp and steaks on the “barbie,” but above all, relax and enjoy this tasting.

Sample Lineup

  1. Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($12)
  2. Cape Mentelle, Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, New Zealand ($15)
  3. Lindeman’s, “Bin 65” Chardonnay, Australia ($9)
  4. Mana, Pinot Noir, New Zealand ($13)
  5. Te Awa, Merlot, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand ($13)
  6. Rosemount, “Diamond” Label Shiraz, Australia ($10)
  7. Marquis Philips, Shiraz, Australia ($15)
  8. Penfolds, “Koonunga Hill” Shiraz-Cabernet, Australia ($11)

 

The Wines

Your tasting starts with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region, a wine that has burst onto the world wine scene in recent years.   Villa Maria offers fantastic quality for the money, but you can’t go wrong with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  We recommend trying two, including one that blends a little Semillon for some creaminess.  Then move over to an Aussie Chardonnay – they tend to offer a lot of big flavor for better prices than you can find in California. 

For the reds, start with a Pinot Noir from New Zealand.  The Kiwis are known principally for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, so their signature red deserves a place in your tasting.  From there, move to Australia’s best-loved wine export – its jammy, spicy Shiraz (the Aussie term for Syrah).  Again, we’d try two – a value-priced, widely-available Shiraz like the Rosemount Diamond Label, and a slightly higher-end, more complex wine like Marquis Philips.  Finish with an Australian red blend, which are notable for hyphenating the grapes included (e.g. “Shiraz-Cabernet”).  Penfolds is Australia’s best-known, largest producer, but don’t think that means they don’t make quality wines; the Penfold’s Grange is Australia’s most famous, most expensive red wine!

Music

This is a tasting with an emphasis on fun, so pick some Australian pop music to set the tone.  We’d start with a mix of Australian one-hit wonders off iTunes.  When all your guests arrive, fire up Men at Work’s “Down Under” to get the tasting rolling.  Make sure your mix includes Aussie imports like Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” Midnight Oil’s “Beds are Burning,” Savage Garden’s “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” Olivia Newton John’s “(Let’s Get) Physical,” Alan Parson’s cover of the Aussie hit “You’re the Voice,”Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All,” and absolutely, positively don’t exclude Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.”  That’s right, they’re all from Australia.

From there, work in some classic fun AC/DC (yup, they’re Australian!).  Don’t miss “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Back in Black,” and “Thunderstruck.”  From there, pivot to Australian rock banc INXS; their “Best of INXS” greatest hits album includes the 80s pop/rock smashes “Devil Inside,” “Mediate,” “Need You Tonight,” “New Sensation” and “Suicide Blonde.”

At this point, your guests are probably all but dancing, so move to Kylie Minogue.  Her music is an instant party; her “Fever” album has great dance floor tunes like “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” “Love at First Sight,” “Come Into My World” and “In Your Eyes.”  For fun, download her 1980s remake of “The Locomotion” as well. 

 

 

Pairings

You have a ton of flexibility for your cheeseboard here – there’s no need to try to pick Aussie or Kiwi cheeses, just pick widely available crowd-pleasers: Chevre, Brie, Manchego and sharp Cheddar.  You absolutely have to have a goat’s cheese like Chevre though – it’s a famous pairing with Sauvignon Blanc, which you’re showcasing here from New Zealand.  Brie will be a good choice that will pair perfectly with your Chardonnay.  Manchego is maybe our favorite cheese – it’s great with everything.  And Cheddar will stand up to your spicy Shiraz.

For appetizers, really the sky’s the limit for this tasting.  For fun, we’d recommend that you sauté or grill some shrimp skewers for a “shrimp on the Barbie” touch that will go great with your whites and your Shiraz.  Along those lines, grilled chicken or beef skewers (like Thai satay, but without the spicy sauce) would work great.  Maybe also get some fresh kiwi fruit (in a nod to your New Zealand wines) & slice it up on a platter with some strawberries. 

Tasting Notes

When it comes to wine, Australians think BIG.  They’ve planted a ton of grapes over the past few decades with the ambition to dominate the wine world (!) by 2025.  This ambition is relatively recent, and those vines are fairly young – in the year 2000, fully 20% of Australia’s 370,000 acres of vineyards were too young to be bearing fruit!  And the wines taste BIG – huge, fruity, mouth-filling flavors for both whites and reds.  The other thing that’s BIG about the wines is the value they represent; Australian wines are known worldwide for offering great quality for a good price. 

To get big, Australian winemakers have taken a user-friendly approach not just in the taste of their wines, but in their marketing: Australian wines are named according to the grapes from which they’re made, not for some far-off region you’ve never heard of before.  Australia also produces many unique wine blends that combine grapes in unusual combinations.  No other major wine region so readily combines Syrah/Shiraz and Cabernet, for example, or blends whites like Semillon or Viognier together with red wines.  And they make the blends easy to understand; Australian blends hyphenate the component grapes, e.g. “Shiraz-Cabernet.”

New Zealand, by contrast is SMALL – according to Hugh Johnson & Jancis’ Robinson’s “World Atlas of Wine,” New Zealand’s total wine acreage contains roughly the same amount of grapes as the tiny nation of Cyprus, just one-tenth of the production of the saucy Aussies next door.  But New Zealand’s reputation for high-quality wine belies its tiny size.  New Zealand’s wines are loved for their crisp, sharp flavors and food-friendly acidity.  By far, New Zealand’s best-loved wine export is its Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region, which many consider the finest expression of the Sauvignon Blanc grape in the entire world.  Luckily, you can get that quality for a low price – the most famous New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, from Cloudy Bay Winery, sells for just $20-30 in major metropolitan markets (and it’s fantastic). 

We’ve included some of our favorite Australia and New Zealand winemakers in this tasting, though the good value these countries’ wines offer means you have a lot of choice with your tasting.  Work with your local wine merchant to pick a good range that spans the varietals we include above.  And feel free to be creative; if you can find a good Australian Viognier or Riesling, feel free to include them in your event in lieu of a second Shiraz or Sauvignon Blanc as we suggest.

With that said, we think you should absolutely include Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc if you can.  It’s one of our very favorite wines, renowned for consistent quality for just $10/bottle; or pick a reserve wine from Villa Maria for just $5 more.  Similarly, we think you have to include a Penfolds wine in your event simply because it’s the most famous winemaker in Australia.  The Penfolds Grange is considered by many wine-lovers (most of whom are Australian, but still…) to be the best red wine in the world.  It’s 100% Shiraz from Penfolds’ select reserve vineyards in Australia.  It’s an age-worthy, complex mouth-filling dream of a wine, and it sells for several hundred dollars a bottle.  We included a Penfolds Shiraz-Cabernet because Penfolds is known for making some excellent Cabernet, in addition to their prowess with the Aussie’s beloved Shiraz.

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Rieslings from Germany and Alsace, France

 The Theme

Riesling is an unheralded, delicious wine that makes a total hit as a wine tasting party.  Many novice wine drinkers prefer sweeter-tasting wines, and with great Riesling you can be sweet and sophisticated at the same time!  Riesling is a great wine to become familiar with because it pairs amazingly well with food or as a flavorful white on its own.  Many delicious and easy-to-find Rieslings can be had for less then $25/bottle.  Wunderbar!

The Angle 

Focus on Rieslings from Germany and the Alsace region of France, the two areas of Europe known for elevating this grape to greatness.  German Rieslings can be complicated to learn about at first glance, so use this tasting as a way to break it down & demystify this wonderful wine. 
Meanwhile, introduce your guests to popular and widely-distributed German & Alsace winemakers at a variety of price points. 

Do this tasting in two parts.  First, German wine labels are crazy complicated – so turn this to your advantage by having your guests taste three German wines side-by-side: a Kabinett, a Spatlese and an Auslese (in that order).  Let them see the labels of these 3 so they can learn.  Second, explore the differences in style: German Rieslings tend to be a bit sweeter while Alsace Rieslings tend to be a bit drier.  So do a “blind” tasting (disguise the bottles) of 4-5 other Rieslings from Germany & Alsace to let guests learn what style they prefer and to find a favorite which they can look for in the store later.

Sample Lineup

Part One (in order, one at a time, with labels displayed):

  1. Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, 2007 ($40)
  2. Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, 2007 ($40)
  3. Joh. Jos. Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, 2007 ($40)

Part Two (blind tasting):

  1. “Dr. L” Riesling, Kabinett, Dr. Loosen, Germany, 2008 ($10)
  2. Hugel Riesling, Alsace, 2008 ($16)
  3. Trimbach Riesling, Alsace, 2008 ($22)
  4. Selbach-Oster, Zeltinger Schlossberg, Riesling Spatlese, Germany ($25)
  5. Domaine Weinbach, “Cuvee St. Catherine,” Alsace, 2007 ($50-60)

 

The Wines

We like to start this tasting by teaching your guests how to read those crazy-sounding German wine labels.  German winemakers often make several different Riesling wines from the very same vineyard, just by harvesting some grapes earlier, some a bit later, and others much later, and making completely separate wines from each batch!  The longer they stay on the vine, the more concentrated and intense the flavors.  So the first picked are labeled “Kabinett,” and these are lighter & refreshing.  The next harvested are more fuller-flavored “Spatlese,” and later still they pick wines for a more intense, concentrated “Auslese.”  An easy way for you to illustrate this is to start your tasting with three wines from the same winemaker, vineyard, and year – we recommend Joh. Jos. Prum as a winemaker and their Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard, which is excellent.  Let your guests try them one at a time and notice that the only difference on the label is the word “Kabinett,” “Spatlese” or “Auslese.” 

The first part of your tasting may feel a bit formal – though remember, guests enjoy wine tastings where they feel they’ve learned something – so next open it up for a fun “blind” tasting of the remaining wines.  We think you should pick one bottle from each of these four popular winemakers: Dr. Loosen (Germany), Hugel (Alsace), Trimbach (Alsace), and Selbach-Oster (Germany).  These wines are relatively easy to find, and great “brands” to know.  We like Dr. Loosen’s “Dr. L” as a $10 winner, although Dr. Loosen is also one of the most respected makers of German Riesling and makes delicious wines at higher price points.  In blind tastings it’s always fun to throw in one that’s expensive; we like the high-end “Cuvee St. Catherine” from Domaine Weinbach, a fantastic winery run by three talented women in Alsace. 

The wines in the blind tasting above range from $10-25/bottle except for the splurge wine from Domaine Weinbach.  We started the tasting with a very nice horizontal flight of German Rieslings from Joh. Jos. Prum that cost about $40/bottle, but you can certainly find a less expensive trio of wines for the starter portion if you like. 

Music

Play up the German angle when you pick the tunes for your event, and let hilarity ensue.  When all your guests have arrived, put on Nina’s “99 Luftballoons,” an ‘80s one-hit wonder and a fun blast from the past.  Joke that it’s the only #1 German song you could think of.  You could even put this on repeat for a while.  Follow with Devo’s “Whip It” which sounds German, even if it’s not.  Then segue into a few hits by the Scorpions –a legit German rock band! – like “Rock Me Like a Hurricane,” “Winds of Change,” and “Send Me an Angel.”  All of this will be jovial background music for the first part of your tasting and it’ll put your guests in a relaxed and fun mood for what otherwise could seem a very serious academic review of Germany’s complicated wine labels!

Once you head into the “blind” tasting portion of your party – and we’re not kidding here – download and play David Hasselhoff’s Greatest Hits from iTunes.  Make a very big production of this music change – a couple glasses of wine into the event, your guests should find it utterly hilarious that they’re drinking German wines while listening to songs that made the former “Baywatch” and “Knight Rider” star into an improbable pop music icon in Germany.  Don’t miss his cover of “Try a Little Tenderness!”

If our recommendation for a tongue-in-cheek romp through Germany’s contribution to ‘80s pop and rock doesn’t suit you or your guests, you could opt instead for a Polka theme for the whole event.  It’ll provide jovial German-sounding background music for the entirety of your tasting, and again should be mildly hilarious.  If after tasting 5-6 wines a few guests actually break into a polka, all the better.  In any case the music is just a sideshow anyway for the great wines and the great company.  

Pairings

For your cheese pairing, we recommend aged Gouda, which we cubed ahead of time and set out with crackers.  Riesling is a great food wine but interestingly isn’t one that you think of pairing with a variety of cheeses.  Gouda is a great cheese in its own right, comes in many varieties and does complement the flavors of Riesling very nicely.  Comte, Edam, Tomme Fermiere d’Alsace or Swiss mountain cheeses would work well too if you wanted to put a cheeseboard together.

Also, use this as an opportunity to educate your guests on how versatile Riesling is as a food-pairing wine.  Because of its acidity and relatively high sugar content, Riesling pairs great with Asian dishes, from Chinese takeout to Indian or Thai food.  Not all wines are good pairings with spicy food, so this is great to know!

So if you wanted to serve heavy apps with your tasting, play up this angle!  You could serve some steamed dumplings from your local Chinese place, order up some beef or chicken satay skewers from your favorite Thai restaurant, and/or put out some samosas from a local Indian restaurant.  Of course, German wines will complement German foods as well, so sliced bratwurst or kielbasa with toothpicks would make a great theme-appropriate finger food for this event. 

 

Tasting Notes

This is a tasting where we strongly recommend going with the well-known, well-distributed winemakers.  Frankly, not every wine store has a huge German or Alsace Riesling selection.  Hugel, Trimbach, Dr. Loosen, Selbach-Oster et.al. are all widely available, reliably well-made, and are often at very affordable prices.  Your guests will thank you later for picking wines that are easy for them to find! 

As with any “blind” tasting, disguise the bottles before you pour them.  If you have wine party decorative cloth bags, great; but paper bags or even aluminum foil work fine too.   Have a simple scoring sheet where guests can write their comments (“tangy,” “too sweet,” “too dry,” “delicious – my favorite!” or “tastes like apples”) and rate the wines on a 1-5 or 1-10 scale.  When everyone’s tried all the wines, collect and quickly tabulate the scores.  Unveil the wines one by one, making sure to first highlight wines that some of your guests loved (or hated!).  The great thing is, no matter which wine one likes best, everyone’s a winner.  If you pick the $10 wine, congratulations – you’re a cheap date and can easily afford to stock up on your favorite wine!  If you preferred the most expensive wine, congratulations – you have a sophisticated palate and are well on your way to becoming a certified wine snob! 

Germany is a nation known more for beer than wine, but no other nation achieves such greatness with Riesling.  In the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, German Rieslings benefit from the slate in the soil, whcih helps ripen the Riesling grape, which might otherwise struggle to ripen in a region this far north that gets relatively little sunshine.   

Alsace is in the northwest corner of France, not far from the German border and seemingly a world away from the great regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Loire Valley and the Rhone Valley.  Alsace is known for white wines and is worth a separate tasting all its own – we’ve had some delicious Pinot Blanc, Gewurtztraminer and white blends from Alsace, in addition to their great Rieslings. 

Last fun fact – if you’re looking for a perfect white wine to serve with Thanksgiving dinner, look no further than Riesling!  The acidity of Riesling makes it food-friendly, but its fruity sweetness makes it robust enough to pair with the creamy but otherwise mild flavors on most Americans’ Thanksgiving Day table.  Chardonnay, by contrast, isn’t usually a good Turkey Day choice as the buttery creamy flavors get overwhelmed by your mashed potatoes and gravy.  And if you feel (understandably!) that you should serve an American wine on Thanksgiving, Dr. Loosen has a joint venture in Washington that produces a very good and affordable Riesling called “Eroica” that is worth checking out.

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Sauvignon Blanc Paired With Goat’s Cheese

The Theme

Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine everyone should know.  It is the perfect white for an aperitif or cocktail party, is one of the most food-friendly wines on the planet, and is usually quite affordable.  Different regions make the wine in a slightly different style, which you can explore with this tasting!  Sauvignon Blanc and goat’s cheese is also one of the greatest food-wine pairings there is, as you can demonstrate to your guests!

The Angle

Do a “blind” tasting of 5-6 sauvignon blancs from around the world.  Great sauvignon blanc is made in the Sancerre region of France’s Loire Valley, in California, and elsewhere.  Pick a range of price points, though all will most likely cost less than $30.  Meanwhile, instead of doing a cheese board, pick 4-5 different varieties of goat’s cheese from around the world.  That way your guests can discover a favorite cheese to pair with a new favorite wine, and it takes the tasting party to a whole new level!

Sample Lineup

  1. Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand, Marlborough), $10
  2. Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc (Chile, Casablanca Valley), $10
  3. Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc (South Africa), $17
  4. Groth Sauvignon Blanc (California, Napa Valley), $18
  5. Pascal Jolivet Sancerre (France, Loire Valley), $20
  6. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand, Marlborough), $25
  7. Grgich Hills Fume Blanc (California, Napa Valley), $30

 

The Wines

Sauvignon Blanc is pretty wonderfully uncomplicated, and it’s delicious.  This tasting allows you to show off wines from all over the world while hitting all of the real hot spots of this wonderful wine.  You may have heard buzz about New Zealand wines – the sauvignon blancs from the Kiwis’ Marlborough region are unbelievable and becoming one of the most popular wines around.  Villa Maria is an amazing value and Cloudy Bay is a delicious higher-end sauvignon blanc that put New Zealand on the map.  Mulderbosch is also a very well-known and well-respected winemaker from South Africa known for a great (and affordable) sauvignon blanc. 

If you’ve heard of a wine called “Sancerre,” we’re not surprised – it’s a specific region of France’s Loire Valley known for producing fantastic sauvignon blanc.  Californian winemakers have also adopted this versatile grape – and your guests may notice a creamier edge to California sauvignon blanc because the winemakers often blend a little Semillon grape into the wine.  Note that “Fume Blanc” is just another way to describe Sauvignon Blanc.  The phrase was coined by Robert Mondavi based on the “fumes” of fog emerging from his vineyard, as he thought it might sell better than a wine called Sauvignon Blanc!  Finally, throw in a $10 Chilean for fun and you’ve got an around-the-world wine tasting!

We recommend this as a “blind” tasting – disguise the bottles in advance and let your guests determine which they like best.  It should be fascinating to see if they can tell a difference between a $10 and $30 wine, and if they have a preference for the more tangy citrusy wines made overseas or the creamier versions from California. 

Music

What music would you play for an outdoor picnic?  This is the perfect wine for such an occasion, so choose the music accordingly.  Pick something fun that evokes carefree spring and summer gatherings with friends outdoors.  We’d pick Counting Crows’ greatest hits album “Films About Ghosts,” Dave Matthews’ Band’s “Under the Table & Dreaming” album, Sheryl Crow’s “The Very Best of Sheryl Crow,” Madonna’s “Immaculate Collection,” and John Mayer’s “Room for Squares.”

Pairings

Sauvignon Blanc and Goat’s Cheese are one of the best food and wine pairings there is.  Just as you’re showing off wines from around the world, do the same with the cheeses!  Pick four very different goat’s cheeses that show off different styles, and place them around the room so that as your guests move from wine to wine, they discover different cheeses as well.  Serve with table water crackers and whole wheat crackers.   We’d recommend the following five cheeses, but your local cheese store or grocery can help you pick a nice variety.

  1. Humboldt Fog, California
  2. Crottin, Les Chevrots, France (presented as small firm “discs”)
  3. Chevre, France (presented as a soft “log”)
  4. Manchester, England
  5. Valencay, France

Humboldt Fog is rapidly becoming famous in its own right, one of the emerging cheese “brands” that people specifically ask for from California’s Cowgirl Creamery.  It’s noticeable for its grey ash-colored line down the center.  Valencay makes a striking presentation and you can mention it was Napoleon’s favorite cheese!  And of course France makes a variety of goat’s cheese worth exploring.

This is such a specific wine-and-cheese event that we wouldn’t recommend much else in the way of food pairings (certainly not heavy apps).  Add some grapes, maybe some dried apricots, and you’re all set.

 

Tasting Notes

In our view, the most important thing in selecting wines for this tasting is picking a variety of wines from around the world – making sure not to miss the Marlborough region of New Zealand.  We love Villa Maria and Cloudy Bay, and they happen to present a nice “less expensive / more expensive” pair for your “blind” tasting.  But really, we’ve rarely had a bad New Zealand sauvignon blanc from this region.  We do think it’s worth introducing your guests to Cloudy Bay as arguably the most famous sauvignon blanc in the world, but the success of your event doesn’t depend on it. 

When choosing California wines, feel free to choose other producers but we’d recommend keeping two things in mind.  First, choose at least one “Fume Blanc” if you can find it, just to highlight to your guests that this is just another way of describing the same wine, and a testimony to Robert Mondavi’s marketing genius.  Second, try to find at least one if not two California wines that blend in some Semillon for a creamy edge.  It’ll make your “blind” tasting more interesting if there’s a noticeable difference in style amongst the wines you select.

For Sancerre, we picked Pascal Jolivet because their wines are widely distributed, but just about any Sancerre will do – it’s always a crowd pleaser.  Mulderbosch is one of the few famous South African makers of this grape, so on the margin try to find that one if you can – it’s a worthwhile brand for your guests to know (if you’re only going to know one South African wine, this is a good one).  We added in Chile on a lark, but again the specific producer there is less important that introducing another region known for value-priced wines. 

Make sure to emphasize to your guests how food-friendly Sauvignon Blanc is.  It’s a great white wine to serve with just about any meal (with the exception of spicy foods, for which Riesling is a better choice).   Not everyone likes Chardonnay, and for that reason Sauvignon Blanc is also our choice for a white to serve at a cocktail party or as an aperitif before a meal.

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Wine Tasting 101

Theme

This is the perfect wine tasting for beginners!  This will be very classy and elegant, yet a fun and easy way to learn a lot about wine in a single tasting.  By the end of this event you’ll be familiar with all the “major” white and red wines of the world, you’ll know how to tell them apart, and you’ll have discovered several great and affordable wines that we bet will soon become staples in your home!

Angle

This tasting is a “horizontal” tasting of the basic, classic wine varietals.  A “horizontal” wine tasting means you taste very different wines one after the other and learn how to tell one apart from the next.  You don’t hide the bottles (as in a “blind” tasting) because you want your guests to see what they taste and learn as they go.  The angle of the event is to educate your guests on the “must-know” types of wine and to help them learn which they prefer.  You’ll also learn what part of the world each wine is most associated with!

Sample Lineup

  1. Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($10)
  2. Chalone, Monterey Chardonnay, California ($9)
  3. Dr. Loosen, Riesling, “Dr. L,” Germany ($10)
  4. Louis Latour, Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France ($13)
  5. Antinori, Santa Cristina, Tuscany, Italy ($10)
  6. Marques de Caceres, Rioja Crianza, Spain ($12)
  7. Joel Gott, Cabernet Sauvignon, California ($15)
  8. Rosemount, “Diamond Label” Shiraz, Australia ($10)

The Wines

What’s important in this tasting is the varietals, not the specific wines.  With that said, we tried to assemble a lineup above of winemakers we know and like, at price points that are perfect for an introductory tasting.  These are good wines for the money that are widely available. 

The three most important white wines to know about in the world are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling.  Serve them in order.  Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and citrusy, a great aperitif and fantastic with food.  Chardonnay is the world’s most popular white – creamy, fruity and rich.  Riesling is a sweeter but still zesty crisp white, perfect as a food pairing or on its own.  We’ve picked wines above that show off a region of the world known for producing great versions of each: New Zealand sauvignon blanc, California chardonnay and German Riesling.

We picked a lineup of the five red wine grapes that represent a complete world tour of the “basics” of red wine – pinot noir, sangiovese, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon and syrah (known as “shiraz” in Australia).  But if you had to pick just two of these, you’d take pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, which we’d argue are the most important red wines in the world.  Pinot Noir, with its light, elegant tart berry flavors, is a great wine on its own or with food and is made to greatest acclaim in Burgundy, France.  Cabernet Sauvignon, by contrast, is a more full-bodied, mouth-filling wine in which rich red fruit flavors mingle with lush chocolaty tones.  Cabernet is the main grape used in the famous red blends of Bordeaux, France, but it reaches greatness on its own in Napa Valley, California. 

Depending on how many wines you want to serve, we’d round out your tasting with one or more of the following: tempranillo from Spain; sangiovese from Italy; and syrah/shiraz from down under in Australia.  Most great Spanish reds are made from tempranillo, a light-to-medium bodied, spicy and earthy wine that is the primary grape used in Spanish Rioja.  No country makes more wine than Italy, and the great reds of Tuscany (including Chianti) are based on the sangiovese grape that pairs so well with tomato-based pasta sauces.  And syrah – a full-bodied, spicy red wine, thrives in the Rhone Valley of France as well as in the big jammy reds of Australia.

Music

This is a fun, classy tasting and a wonderful way to introduce your guests to la dolce vita – wine for us has always symbolized the good life.  So we’d choose music that evokes an era of class, sophistication, romance and fun.  Start with the classic stylings of Ella Fitzgerald.  Just about every album of hers is a perfect backdrop for a wine tasting party.  Her renditions of standards like “Something’s Gotta Give,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “S’Wonderful,” “Hooray for Love,” “From This Moment On,” and “Love You Madly” are fantastic, upbeat songs to set the mood for your party.

From there, pivot to Frank Sinatra.  You know all his songs; again, we’d recommend passing by his slow ballads and emphasizing the likes of  “Come Fly With Me,” “You Make Me Feel So Young,” “Chicago,” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “My Kind of Town,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”… and of course, “New York, New York” would be a great sendoff to your event.

Pairings

You’re serving as wide a variety of wines as possible, so pick cheeses that are versatile crowd-pleasers.  We’d go with Chevre, Camembert, Manchego, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Chevre (or any goat’s cheese) is a wonderful pairing with your first wine of the night, Sauvignon Blanc.  Camembert goes well with creamy chardonnay or with pinot noir.  Manchego pairs beautifully with Tempranillo like Rioja, or with richer reds like Cabernet and Shiraz.  Another perfect pick for the big reds is Parmigiano-Reggiano, which of course will be great with the Italian sangiovese as well.  Serve with simple crackers like Carr’s Water Table crackers, or simple whole wheat digestive crackers, or with sliced baguette.

For a wine tasting party like this, we’d choose other foods that complement the wines but stay in the background; avoid big flavors that might overwhelm the lighter wines being served  We’d stay away from classic party foods like ranch dip, hummus, guacamole, or salsa.  Go instead for fruit: strawberries, grapes and dried apricots will work well and also add color to your table.  A selection of unsalted almonds and mixed olives makes a nice accompaniment to your wine and cheese party as well. 

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Tasting Notes

For your event, add to the class by printing out a tasting notes sheet with the names of the wines and space for your guests to write notes on each.  You don’t have to be a wine snob to be able to notice what a wine smells & tastes like to you, and it’s fun to write down both so you can remember later and also to notice & record differences in the wines.  Do a little research and maybe write up a little summary of each type of wine – the flavors it’s known for, the primary grape used, and the regions of the world most known for producing that varietal. 

You don’t have to spend a lot on the wines for this to be a fun and educational tasting – the wines are different enough from one another that you’ll be able to learn the basics with wines that are $10-15/bottle.  If you want to spend more, you certainly can – and if you do, work with your local wine merchant to pick versions of each wine that are well-regarded, best sellers that are widely available.

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