It’s like when you casually lean over to smell a rose, not expecting anything, and you can actually smell the rose! It transports you to your childhood in your grandmother’s beautiful garden with melon sized roses that you could smell from a yard away.

That is how the Manu Sauvignon Blanc is. You open it and pour, expecting to smell some Sauvignon Blanc, but then you smell it! It has a gorgeous nose that feels like a lungful of fresh air out on an alpine meadow. It is full of bright lime, grapefruit and green apple freshness balanced with tropical notes of guava and gooseberry. It is overlaid by a wonderful herbal grassiness that reminds you of lying on a hillside on a lush lawn watching the clouds drift across the sky. Even if you never actually taste the wine, you could breathe it in all day.

But then if you do taste it, it is tart and tangy, round and smooth and totally refreshing – from the first taste to the last lingering flavors, it is a wine to be tasted with your eyes closed.

Sauvignon Blanc is grown in many regions of the world. While the Loire and Bordeaux are undoubtedly the wellspring of classic Sauvignon Blanc wines, it has found one of its most popular expressions in New Zealand. Close to 95% of all wine exported form New Zealand is Sauvignon Blanc, followed by very excellent Pinot Noir. What is it about this southern clime that makes this wine so special there? There are several factors. One is the ideal climate in the Marlborough region of the southern island. It is a maritime climate with warm, sunny days and cool nights with ocean breezes flowing off the Pacific to cool down the vines. The morning fogs protect the grapes from the worst of the sun’s ray until the sun is overhead and the leaves can protect them – after all, grapes can get sunburned too. It has combination of schist and sandstone mixed with clay (called Greywacke) that allows the roots of of the plant to penetrate deep, drain well and yet retain enough moisture to nourish the vines. And of course, the final factor is the winemaker. Steve Bird is a fabulous producer – dedicated, thoughtful and willing to think “outside the box.”

As our summer transitions into autumn, this wine will allow you to linger in that alpine meadow for a little longer and draw out the best of the season.

On Wednesday, I went to the farmer’s market in Arlington and there they were. Native tomatoes! I bought a carton of cherry tomatoes, a carton of sun gold tomatoes, a few Black Princes and six early Early Girls. I also bought a big bunch of basil because my daughter and her husband were coming for over and I was planning a simple, summery pasta for dinner.

Now I needed wine.

Although, since Sideways, we all drink Pinot Noir, pasta with tomatoes and garlic calls for something a bit bolder. Something Italian. I could have picked a Montepulciano, which I love, but my inner Anthony Hopkins prevailed.

Hello, Chianti.

I picked up two bottles of Rocca delle Macie’s 2015 Chianti which boasts a understated label that belies its reasonable price. Then I went home, unpacked the tomatoes and got cooking. This is my easy, go-to summer pasta sauce because frankly with fresh, ripe tomatoes, it’s hard to go wrong.

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I tossed some minced fresh garlic in a pan with good olive oil. My daughter, Perry, arrived. “Smells good in here!”
I handed her a corkscrew and she opened the Chianti. Yes, she’s over 21. And that’s just one of the great things about adult kids. You can drink with them. We poured the wine and noted its gorgeous ruby color. We sipped and knew that even though the first swallow was delicious (tart cherry, vanilla? cinnamon?) it would be even better by the time we ate. So we opened the second bottle to let it mellow out, too.

Then Perry showed me a hack to slice cherry tomatoes that she had seen on YouTube.

It worked!

So we tossed all the halved cherry tomatoes and one of each of the big tomatoes into the pan with some salt, pepper and basil chiffonade. While the sauce cooked down a bit, we started the water for pasta, put some hot Italian sausages onto a cast iron pan and made an arugula salad.

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By the time my son-in-law and husband arrived, it was time to eat. We brought our plates and the two bottles wine onto the porch so we wouldn’t have to get up mid-meal. The evening was getting cooler, the sky was turning grey, thunder rumbled in the distance. We filled our glasses and toasted to an ordinary Wednesday. The wine had opened up and was smooth as silk, the tagliatelle was al dente and the sauce captured the essence of summer.

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May every day be this ordinary. Ciao!

I remember the first time I tasted a Soave in my wine class. I was expecting Riunite – a sweet fruity drink that would loosely be classified as wine. Boy, was I disappointed! My first taste – which went against every expectation I had – was tough. It was totally dry, dry as the Sahara dessert and therefore shocking to my palate.

Let me back up a step. Expectations are always a tricky thing. Sometimes, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy – you expect something to be bad, you make it bad in your mind by picking it apart. And vice versa, you expect something to be good, so you only see the upsides. But most of the time, expectations can mislead you. When someone hypes something to you and raises your expectations too high, you are bound to be disappointed. And again, vice versa, you hear only negative reviews of something, but then when you actually try it, it’s not so bad! My husband used to always tell me to spend about 20 percent of my time managing expectations. In order to get a job for example, you have to talk yourself up. But then when you actually get the job, you need to make sure people are going be realistic about what you can accomplish. So, walk the line of not being a complainer, but talk about the challenges, your problem solving strategies and so forth. Make sure people know what they are getting so then, they will be happy with the outcome!

Now, back to the shock to the palate. Soave is dry! Dry, dry, dry but also delicately floral with notes of peach and pear and a very refreshing, crisp, mineral-driven finish. In fact, it is one of the great wines of Italy. One would not necessarily know that because it is not as recognizable as Chianti or Prosecco. And furthermore, it is made from the terribly named Garganega (pronounced gar-GA-nega) grape. Sounds like mouthwash, but tastes sublime – it is fresh, lively and can pair with everything from white meats to shellfish.

wine photoSoave Classico is the heart of great wines made with the Garganega grape. It is in the extremely picturesque part of the Veneto that is just east of the gorgeous Lake Garda. The valleys are lush and beautiful dotted with castles and modern buildings alike. Rocca Sveva is made by the cooperative winery, the Cantina Di Soave, which having been established in 1898, is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. They use high-technology to analyze soils and ensure the quality of the grapes supplied by their growers as well the latest techniques to ensure quality but make wines that are extremely traditional and hark back to their origins.

The Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2016 is a wonderful, easy-to-drink, highly enjoyable wine. It’s beauty is in its simplicity. It doesn’t require any concentration to appreciate its depths like a white Burgundy might and it doesn’t lull you into a stupor like a big, high-alcohol, buttery Chardonnay might. In fact, at 12.5% alchohol, you can enjoy that second glass guilt free. And really prolong the enjoyment on a hot summer’s day. This wine has lovely notes of grapefruit and lemon zest with a hint of white peach on the nose. It has a nice, soft mouthfeel with some mineral notes and it leaves your palate with a fresh, dry snap.

Cheers! Seema

IT’S SUMMER THINK PINK1

Seems like just a few summers ago I showed up at a dinner party with a bottle of pink wine and my hosts were aghast. They remembered the sticky sweet white zinfandels we guzzled in high school and quickly whisked my bottle into the kitchen where it remained stashed behind the paper towels for the duration of the evening. Fools.

Because now, thanks to some good public relations and some really delicious rosés, pink is everyone’s favorite color.

IT’S SUMMER THINK PINKStill, when my neighbor Edith, who is from France, invited me and a few other women over for “aperitifs,” I fretted over what wine to bring. Frankly, the French thing is a little intimidating. I mean they practically invented wine. My first instinct was to buy a rosé from Provence, but then I saw the Elouan rosé with its distinctive vertical label. I am a big fan of wines from Oregon and Elouan’s pinot noir is practically my house wine—so I bought the rosé, iced it down and trotted next door for to join the gals.

The ladies were already in the backyard drinking Aperol spritzers and noshing on hummus, strawberries, and cheese.

I passed on the spritzer, grabbed a wine glass and was immediately grateful for the screwcap. I like a user-friendly wine. The Elouan isn’t just easy to open, it’s easy to like. When the spritzers were drained, I poured glasses for each of the ladies. Denise plopped some ice cubes in hers, Joanne garnished hers with raspberries and Edith, added a splash of seltzer. All delicious. We held our glasses up to the light, we asked Edith what kind of dishwashing liquid she used, we toasted and we sipped.

Pale pink and crisp, it’s perfect for summer evenings (okay, late afternoons) and we found that it pairs particularly well with berries, Trader Joe Thai spring rolls and with juicy neighborhood gossip.

Ok, so no matter how serious you are about drinking wine and learning all you can, sometimes you are seduced by the label.  And the João Portugal Ramos Alvarinho 2015 label is seductive.  The voluptuous bottle shape is shown to great advantage by the slanting, “off-the-shoulder” style of the label, very simple and elegant lettering with just that small showy glimpse of a golden “L” in the word Alvarinho.  I just had to try it.
 
Alvarinho (pronounced Al-va-reen-yo) is the same grape as the Albariño grape found in Spain.  And it is grown in a very similar environment or terroir – the cool Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula.  But the Portuguese version is a bit fuller and rounded with a lovely, rich mouthfeel with a bit of a sharp kick from its flinty, acid finish – every bit as seductive as the label.
 
Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 10.14.49 AMPortugal has long been overshadowed by its neighbor in wine production.  Spain is quite simply a powerhouse when it comes to wine.  Everyone has heard to Rioja and Ribera Del Duero, they know the Temperanillo grape and most have heard of Garnacha as well.  Spanish Cava, their traditional method sparkling wine, is beginning to be highly prized and is starting to compete on quality with Champagne in a way that Prosecco never will.  So, how is Portugal to fight back and carve out its own identity when so many of the wines are so similar?  The solution has been to really concentrate in recent decades on quality.  Portuguese wines used to be of marginal quality largely because it has a very large domestic market where people drink their local wines by the liter.  But over time, it has been recognized that to compete on the global market, the wines have to be really good with consistent and high quality.
 
This producer understands this challenge and has been making wonderful wines in its very short lifespan (for a European winery).  Established in 1990, João Portugal Ramos only began making this Alvarinho in 2013.  And for a third iteration, this wine is excellent.  It is very carefully made – fermented at low temperatures to preserve that beautiful varietal character of peaches and lemons with a slightly briny character.  It is then made richer by partially fermenting it in new French oak to bring out that voluptuous quality I had mentioned before.
 
 

Enjoy this wine with shellfish, sushi and anything fried!
 
Seema 🙂

Moldova is a fascinating country. It sounds both very remote and yet very familiar to my ear – something about Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains to the west, the Black Sea to the east. It seems to sit at a sinister juncture of fairytale and legend. But in reality, Moldova is a country covered by gently rolling hills that reach no higher than 1000 feet. There are lush valleys and rich pastures with a very temperate climate that is not too cold in the winter and not too hot in the summer and it gets just the right amount of rain for farming grapes.

In fact, Moldova has been growing grapes for millennia. There is evidence suggesting that the native Moldovans were making wine as early as 3000 B.C.E. There has been constant cultivation since that time, excepting the 300 years of Ottoman rule that destroyed many of their vineyards. Further damage was caused during both World Wars, decimating their wine stocks. However, in the post-war period, there has been a concerted effort to replant the wonderful hillsides with vines and bring production back to its former glory.

They have succeeded to a very great extent and replanted many indigenous varieties such as the difficult to pronounce “Feteasca Alba”, “Rarã Neagrã” and “Zghiharda.” They have also followed global trends and replanted the lands with more international varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, which seems to thrive almost everywhere, as well as Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.

Until I tasted this remarkable wine, I couldn’t really predict what I would be tasting. I have had many, many red Cabernet Sauvignon wines and even had a few rosés, but I have never had a white wine made with it. This wine makes you appreciate just why Cabernet Sauvignon is indeed a superstar among grape varieties. My son would call it “o.p.” or overpowered. When it is gently pressed to preserve its fruit flavors and keep out the colors and polyphenols from the skins, it yields a white wine that has some beautiful aromas and flavors. Fresh and approachable, you smell grapefruit, herbs, perhaps some mango, pineapple and banana, and maybe just a hint of jalapeño. Then on the palate, you get creamy textures of summer fruit and with a mineral finish that is completely satisfying. Like most Cabernet’s, this is a full-bodied wine that is perfect with a range of flavors including shell fish, mature hard cheese, and charcuterie.

Thanks for reading,

Seema

I often hear people refer to the wine they are drinking as “Pinot” – but since “Pinot” comes in red, rosé and white, not to mention sparkling, one should disambiguate!  Is it the blanc, the gris or the noir?  What does “blanc de noir” mean?  And what is the difference by the way between “gris” and “grigio”?

Today, we will explore all of these questions
The word “Pinot” is thought to refer to the shape of the grape bunches on the vine because they resemble pine cones.  They have relatively small berries which are tightly packed together in a characteristic shape.  And, given all the names attached to the word “Pinot,” one might be forgiven for thinking that they refer to a family of grapes.  In fact, all the pinots share a genetic fingerprint.  Or in other words, they are all clones or mutations of one variety.  The gris and blanc are just lighter skinned versions of the noir.  Much of this is because the pinot grapes have been around for centuries; some think they have been around for 2,000 years with specific references dating back to the 4th century A.D.  It has had a lot of time to create a highly branched family tree.
The expressions of the various wines span a spectrum of colors, styles and flavors.  Pinot Noir is the red wine made anywhere from a light, fruity easy drinking style full of bright cherry and strawberry notes to a more muscular, grippy style full of forest floor and earthy, meaty aromas.  Most interestingly, it can me made into white sparkling wines, called “blanc de noir.”  This literally means “white from black” and is made by very gently pressing the grapes to ensure that color from the skins does not leech into the wine, which is then fermented as a white wine.
Pinot Blanc wines tend to be made with white grapes into a white wine (obviously) but they are often made in a relatively full-bodied style with moderately aromatic characteristics of stone-fruit, almonds and grapefruit.  It is most widely planted and highly regarded in Alsace, France, Germany, Italy, and Austria. Unfortunately, in most other regions of the world, it is woefully underappreciated and does not receive the attention it deserves!
That is not the case with Pinot Gris or Grigio, which has seen a huge rise in popularity of late.  So, what is the difference between the two?  It is pure style, baby.  Pinot Gris is the French / Alsatian name which also denotes a rounder, softer, fuller-bodied, more scented style.  Pinot Grigio is the Italian name and also the Italian style.  A bit harder-edged, a bit sharper with higher acid and crisper finish.  Both can have beautiful noses with stone fruit and grapefruit with a hint of orange blossom.  Interestingly, different places in the new world have adapted both the names and styles to some extent.  In Oregon for example, the viticultural area rules prohibit calling it “grigio” and one might expect a more Alsatian character to the wines.  New Zealand also hues to the “gris” name and style.  But Washington and California tend to call it “grigio.”  Go figure.
Which brings us to this week’s wine: The Thirsty Owl 2016 Pinot Gris from the Finger Lakes region of New York.  I know some people are skeptical about wine from New York, but this wine will put those doubts to rest.  It is a lovely summer wine that will pair with everything from fresh mozzarella and brie to bratwurst.  The first sign that it is a fuller bodied, softer style of wine is the tall, elegant fluted bottle.  The second sign is, of course, the name.  The third sign is a memory of a balmy, sunny summer in 2016 that allowed the grapes to ripen fully and allowed the creation of a lovely wine full of peach, pear and tropical citrus notes and a light floral quality indicating the relatively cool nights in upstate NY.  Despite only having 12.2% alcohol, it has a creamy, silky texture that slides across your tongue like a cool caress.  And the finish leaves you wondering if you should take the next sip right away or savor the previous one a little longer.
Thanks for reading, Seema

 

 

Summer is the time of the year that I come alive.  Having grown up in India, on a beach in Goa no less, I am still accustomed to sunny days and warm ocean breezes.  Right now, I feel like a bear emerging from hibernation, as the crocuses finally pop up and the forsythia celebrate the changing season with bright yellow sprays of color.

And speaking of celebrating, what better way to cheer on the warmth, the long, lazy days and heat of the sun on your bare skin than to chill down a beautiful bottle of rosé and throw the windows open for the fresh air.  That is exactly what I have been doing with a dry, refreshing bottle of Castello di Bossi Rosato.  Just saying the name of the wine makes me happy.  
rose
The Castello di Bossi Rosato, made from 70% Sangiovese grapes and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, uses the maceration method to gain some color from the red grapes.  That means that it spends approximately 3 hours in contact with the red skins of the grape before the juice is pressed off and fermented separately.  There are two other methods for making rosé wines.  One is just to blend in some red wine to add color.  This is generally not allowed in most wines that want to be labeled as quality wines.  The second is to use a technique called “Saignée”, which means to bleed off.  In this method, some of the wine in a red wine fermentation is bled off after a short period of time to be fermented separately as rosé, which leaves less juice and more skins in the main vat to concentrate the flavors of the red wine.  This technique is used in places like Bandol in Southern France where the grapes may not have ripened enough or in places like Napa Valley, where vintners want to make richer, more extracted wines.  
This Rosato is a dry, dusty, wonderfully aromatic wine full of bright cherries and cranberries and hints of fresh, wild herbs.  On the mouth, it has a bright acidity on the open with a fruity, yeasty lingering finish.  One of the secrets to enjoying a good wine is to appreciate what comes before and after as much as the actual taste.  You should smell it, swirl it, smell again.  As the volatile compounds are released, they tease you with elusive scents that change from second to second.  When you finally taste it, you are invariably surprised because the nose did not reveal all of its treasures.  And then, for a really good wine, you can just enjoy the lingering aromas after you have swallowed it.  Sometimes that is even the best part of the whole experience.  This wine gives you a similar experience.  Each part of the tasting gives you a different impression and a different experience.  And you realize after each sip that the process was so enjoyable that you want to experience the whole thing again.  
 
Serve this wine well chilled – in an ice bucket – with a plate of caprese salad and prosciutto, a light pasta with fresh vegetables and herbs, grilled chicken sausages and sage-scented butternut squash soup (like we did!) or a creamy mushroom risotto…you will be in heaven.
Thanks for reading, Seema