Make it a cava

A different way to sparkle on Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day, and you want to create an amazing dinner for the one you love, but your food and wine skills need a little help. You want it to be special and not just a DoorDash or Grubhub delivery. You want to be themaster of the meal. After all, it is a special day that deserves that special meal, prepared, and not purchased by you!

For this special day, I chose to go to a venue to shop for that perfect dinner: Angela’s Pasta and Cheese Shop, on Chestnut Street in Manchester. I have patronized Angela’s since their very beginnings on Union Street in 1980, through their move to Chestnut Street in 1994, and I can’t begin to count the number of times I have been there. I have cultivated a taste for the different homemade fresh pasta, along with the variety of imported dried pasta.

If you can boil water, you can make pasta. Pick up a jar of sauce, or better, some Angela’s homemade sauce, fresh bread, and you are on your way! A salad or antipasto completes the meal, which can be finished with luxurious chocolates.

What kind of wine goes with pasta? A dry sparkling wine goes very well with a cream-based sauce like alfredo or if the pasta is simply dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan. A good cava from Catalonia is the perfect match for this dinner. The cava can be opened along with the antipasto course and will continue to pair well with the pasta. If there is a drop or two left in the bottle, it will work nicely with rich dark chocolate, as its minerality and high acidity will contrast nicely with the rich, creamy, smooth texture and intense flavor of the chocolate.

A 2019 Sumarroca Reserva Brut, available at Angela’s at $19.99, is the perfect accompaniment to this meal. This cava is made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes that grow in the Sant Sadurní d’Anoia region, just a few miles west of Barcelona, Spain.

According to the website for Bon Vivant Imports, a combination of several microclimates throughout the fields where Sumarroca wines come from, generated by warm climatic influences from the Mediterranean coupled with protection from the Montserrat mountains, and more than a dozen different soil types, makes for a wide range of still and sparkling wines from this region.

The bubbles rise in the glass, are persistent and tickle your nose. I agree with Bon Vivant’s description that the wine has aromas of wild strawberries, raspberries and slight floral notes of rose petals with flavors of cranberries and rhubarb. As advertised, this is a very crisp, dry and refreshing cava.

Featured photo: Photo by Fred Matuszewski.

Port — a winter favorite

Warm up with the flavors of Portugal

Planning on doing a little cross-country skiing — that is, once we really have a little snow? Or how about a little pond skating once it gets cold enough to freeze the water? Staying indoors? Why not curl up with a good book? These are all great wintertime activities, whether you’re huddled around a fire in the backyard pit after skiing or skating, or curled up under a comforter, when enjoyed with a glass of port.

What is port? It is a fortified wine that originated in Portugal and emerged into a worldwide market with an ever-growing complexity of wine varietals, growing regions and environments, all contributing to a vast array of color, noses and tastes.

According to publications by Taylor Fladgate, a respected port wine house, Portuguese port is made from grapes grown along the Douro River, where they have been cultivated since the Roman conquest of the third century B.C. These grapes produced enough wine for an export market. The Portuguese discovered that adding a small amount of grape spirit, or brandy, after fermentation not only increased its strength but kept it from spoiling. This technique evolved into the addition of the brandy during fermentation, keeping the wine’s sweetness and adding to its robust qualities.

In the early 18th century, the business of trading wines emerged, and with a long history of trading alliances between Portugal and England, the British merchants dominated the market. During this time the shape of the wine bottle changed from the short bulbous form to a long, uniform cylindrical shape, allowing the wine to age in the bottle to become even more complex in nose and taste. Port pioneered aging vintage productions.

The six most widely used grapes for red port wine are touriga franca, tinta roriz, tinta barroca, touriga nacional, tinto cão and tinta amarela. Port is a blended wine and therefore the blend is subject to change with each vintage. These grapes are principally Portuguese, unique to the Iberian Peninsula.

Our first port is Taylor Fladgate 2016 Late Bottled Vintage Port (available at the New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlets at $22.99, reduced to $18.99). Produced from wines from a single harvest, it has a complex rich fruity character. The color is a deep and opaque ruby red, befitting its moniker, “ruby port.” There is an elegant light floral nose along with dark cherries and cassis. On the palate the fruit continues, joined by notes of dark chocolate along with a touch of leather, with reserved tannins.

Our second port, Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Porto (available at the New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlets at $27.99, reduced to $22.99), is a rich tawny port that is fully matured in seasoned oak casks for 10 years, with each cask holding 630 liters (about 150 gallons) of wine. Aging in barrels brings delicate wood notes to combine with mature fruit. It is bottled for immediate drinking. It has a deep brick color. Its nose is of ripe dried fruit with a slight nuttiness and chocolate secondary notes. It is smooth and silky with rich jammy flavors with a long finish.

These two distinctly different ports, made by the same family-owned company since 1692, are readily approachable and very affordable. One note: Once these bottles have been opened, they should be stored in a wine fridge or standard refrigerator. Ruby port can be stored for four to six weeks without any trouble; tawny port can last for up to three months. But by all means, enjoy them this winter!

Holiday hot wine punch

With dry red wines from Austria

Winter started at 4:48 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Dec. 21. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year but also ushers in (at least) two months of cold days, only to be outdone by colder nights! With its roots in paganism, the solstice aligns with the modern holiday season of Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s. These holidays are celebrated in Northern Europe for weeks with fairs and markets in almost every town and city. Hot wine punches are served at these fairs and markets, ideal for warding off the winter chill.

German glühwein is traditionally served at stalls at Christmas markets across Germany and Austria to keep people warm as they shop and socialize. “Glühwein” literally translates to glow-wine, describing how you feel after you’ve been drinking tiny mugs of it outside over the holidays. The recipe is simple, and the most important rule to follow is “Do not let the wine boil, or you will boil off the alcohol.” Added to the dry red wine are an orange, granulated sugar, cloves, cinnamon sticks and star anise.

Weihnachtspunsch is a traditional German Christmas punch of tea, red wine, rum, fresh lemon and orange juice and spices. While the name translates as “Christmas punch,” this punch is ideal for any cold winter night.

Feuerzangenbowle is a festive German Fire Punch. This is an interesting punch in that in addition to the heated red wine, joined by slices of lemon and orange, along with the traditional spices of cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice berries and ginger, the ingredients include a lit sugar cone, soaked with rum that is poured over it, as the cone is perched on tongs, balanced on the ridge of the hot pot. That is impressive! Note that this concoction involves the handling of alcohol and an open flame! Extreme care should be exercised in the creation of this libation.

Now, about the wine! Recipes for these punches call for a dry red wine. Therefore, a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, Chianti, zinfandel or merlot will do, but I believe that if we are about to make a German hot punch, a German dry red wine should be used. However, I encountered a small “speed bump.” My quest (albeit perhaps not exhaustive) for a German dry red wine met with some disappointment in the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets. So I purchased two Austrian dry red wines.

Our first wine is a 2015 Höpler Pannonica Blaufränkisch Zweigelt Pinot Noir, priced at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets at $12.99. What an incredible bargain! The color is a dark ruby hue. To the nose there are dark blackberry notes, along with a little plum. The nose carries through to the tongue with flavors of blackberries, along with some gentle spices and very soft tannins. This is an Austrian blend of 40 percent blaufränkisch, 35 percent Zweigelt and 25 percent pinot noir. The Zweigelt variety was created in the 1920’s by Professor Fritz Zweigelt, by crossing varieties of blaufränkisch, St. Laurent and pinot noir. Zweigelt is the most widespread red wine variety in Austria.

Our second wine is a 2017 Anton Bauer Zweigelt Feuersbrunn, priced at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets at $17.99. Another great silent bargain! This 100 percent Zweigelt has a color that is a bit more purple than the first wine, along with the nose and tongue also ever so slightly more intense than the first bottle. This wine hails from the Wagram viticultural region of Austria, on the banks of the Danube. Known to produce excellent Grüner Veltliner, the region is ideal for the production of this superb red varietal.

So gather round a fire pit and enjoy the crisp winter cold with a cup of any of these hot wine punches, and if you lack the ambition to flame a rum-soaked sugar cone, you can curl up in front of the fireplace with a glass of either of these fine, light, dry red wines! You will delight in these new experiences.

Wine for the host

Give the gift of bubbles or reds

At this “most wonderful time of the year,” there will be plenty of dinners, parties and gatherings of all sorts, and you want to bring something special to the host, your favorite family member or good friends, but you may not know what they will be serving or where exactly their tastes may lie. I offer the following suggestions of a wine to bring along to your next event or to gift.

Nothing says celebration like Champagne! There are many to choose from, and they need not be expensive. Among the many offered, I recommend the Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial (available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, priced at $44.99, reduced to $41.99). This is one of the most sought-after Champagne brands in the world, with almost three centuries of history behind it. The color is that of golden straw, with a very slight green highlight carried in the glass. To the eye it is, what else? Sparkling! The nose is full of green apples along with some citrus, minerality and the yeast of a fresh brioche. To the tongue there are notes of apple, peach and pear carried through on the fine, tiny bubbles. This is a wine to be savored with the best of company and should never make its way to the bar alongside the buffet.

Our next wine comes from the winery of Joseph Carr, the 2020 Josh Cellars Central Coast Pinot Noir, (available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, priced at $17.49, reduced to $14.45). The color is a rich ruby red with slight blue notes. The nose has cherry and strawberry that carry through to the tongue, adding a bit of chocolate, ending with notes of smoke or leather, coming from the toasted oak. This is an all-around, all-purpose wine that can be paired with a roast turkey on the sideboard, or served alongside soft cheeses like brie and Comté, or stuffed mushrooms and roasted vegetables. This wine comes from prime pinot noir producing regions that include Arroyo Seco, Monterey and Santa Lucia.

Our third wine is a 2019 Decoy Red Wine (available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, priced at $22.99, reduced to $19.99). This wine is a blend of 35 percent cabernet sauvignon, 27 percent merlot, 16 percent zinfandel, 8 percent petite sirah, 5 percent malbec, 5 percent petite verdot, 2 percent syrah and 2 percent carignan. With a deep red color, this wine has full aromas of blackberry, plum and dark cherries, with hints of spice. There are supple tannins in this full-mouth lush wine that is perfect for pairing with that prime rib holiday roast! While priced to be placed on that bar, alongside the buffet, this wine can be thoroughly enjoyed at an elegant dinner party.

Reds with your bird

How to pair red wines with the Thanksgiving feast

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, a gathering of friends and family to share a large meal after the morning road race and football game. We give thanks for the fellowship, but we also look forward to the sumptuous meal, only to be outdone by late-night snacks of leftover turkey and cranberry. The turkey and sides are the main attraction of the event, taking hours of painstaking work, not without days, if not weeks of planning, assigning various side dishes to those joining in the event.

In addition to the food, an essential element to the planning of the dinner is the proper pairing of “the right wine.” The trick is to find a wine that goes with the vast array of flavors that make up the event. Toward that end, several different wines garner consideration. For appetizers, the selection of a sparkling wine is important. It should be dry, such as a brut from France or California. A cava from Spain is an excellent choice, but a prosecco is just a little too light and sweet to go with the oysters, shrimp or cheeses so typical of the beginnings of this banquet.

White wines for the main course are typically the “go-to” for many hosts. They are versatile, and with the rich butter and sauces that accompany the bird, a dry wine with “green notes” such as a sauvignon blanc or riesling makes for a good choice. While fuller-bodied wines like cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are crowd-pleasers, their bold and typically oaky notes are better suited to the roasted meats of December’s holidays.

So, about the reds. I recommend a pinot noir. There are so many to choose from. Whether from California or Oregon, or the Burgundian wines of France, you cannot miss with a well-balanced pinot noir to sip with the main course. Pinot noirs are food-friendly and often show classic fall flavors, such as cranberry, red apple skin, dried leaves and resonating allspice. What better match can one find?

Our first wine is a 2018 La Crema Pinot Noir Fog Veil Russian River Valley – Sonoma County,available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, originally priced at $64.99, reduced to $29.99. The grapes for this wine come from neighboring vineyards to their Saralee’s Estate. The primary clones are Pommard and Flowers, first planted in 1996, and the wine is aged for 14 months in 100 percent French oak. The color is a ruby red. To the nose there are notes of black cherry, raspberry and baking spices. To the tongue, there is black plum and pomegranate, balanced by fine tannins, with very slight acidity. As the name implies, a late afternoon fog visits the valley daily, ensuring slow and steady ripening, leading to the grape’s slight acidity. Historically Russian River Valley pinot noirs had bright red fruit and delicate earthy, mineral notes. But changes in viticultural and winemaking practices have led to riper fruit and bolder wines, exhibiting black cherry and blackberry notes over the more traditional pinot noir notes of strawberry, raspberry and sour cherry. This is a bolder pinot noir worth trying and comparing to an Oregon or Burgundian-sourced pinot noir.

Our second wine is a 2020 Domaine Olivier-Nicolas de Bourgueil Cuvée Domaine, available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, originally priced at $22.99, reduced to $12.99. This wine is 100 percent cabernet franc from the Loire Valley, France. To the nose, there are floral aromas, along with pink peppercorns, all linked to the senses of fall. There are notes of raspberries along with some minerality. This is a great wine that pairs well with the flavors of fall. The earthy-woodsy notes may not please all palates, but it is worth trying, as the price-point is most appealing. If it doesn’t suit your taste alongside the bird, try it with a piece of smoked Gouda. This could lead to a great pairing to be sampled again and again!

Enjoy the holiday. Share it with friends and family. Try some alternatives to “the usual go-to” white wine with turkey. Explore new wines and show your friends just how pioneering one’s taste buds can be!

Wine pairing, Italian style

What to drink with each course of a hearty Italian meal

The crisp days of autumn call for a reunion of family and friends. Italians are well-practiced at family reunions over hours-long dinners, with multiple courses, accompanied by the appropriate wines, punctuated by short rests between the plates.

The gathering may start with a traditional aperitivo, a sampling of a plant-based dip, olives, nuts, and cheeses, followed by a traditional antipasto, an arrangement of best cheeses, meats, marinated artichokes, olives, crostini, the spread before the main meal. It is a delight to both the eye and the tastebuds. The primi piatti, or first course, can be a pasta, risotto, soup or polenta; the possibilities are endless. Secondi piatti, or second course, will feature different types of meat and fish. The portions are small and will typically have a vegetable alongside the protein. Just when you think you have completed the meal, along comes the insalata, composed of leafy greens dressed with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper; and lastly, followed by the dolce, or dessert. Panna cotta or tiramisu are prime examples, served alongside a tiny cup of dark, strong coffee.

What sort of wines are served with this mélange of courses, all different from each other? The aperitivo calls for a prosecco or spritz. The antipasto calls for an unoaked white or a light dry red wine like a barbera. The primi piatti course typically calls for a wine that will match the dish, dry for a pasta laced with pesto, or a creamy chardonnay with a pasta with clam sauce. The secondi piatti course will be matched to a wine that depends on the protein, from pinot gris, which pairs well with a creamy seafood dish, to a dry Chianti, the most commonly consumed wine of Italy. The insalata and dolce are the only two courses without a pairing to wine.

Two red wines noted in the paragraphs above include barbera, from the Piedmont region of Italy, and Chianti, from Tuscany, made primarily from sangiovese grapes. What are their similarities and differences? Sangiovese is a relatively “sweet” newer wine, but its sweetness can be brought closer to barbera when blended with dry red wines. Both have strawberry as a primary flavor, but that “sweetness” may be more apparent in the sangiovese than in the barbera. We should note the term “sweet” does not imply sugar; it refers more to the level of fruit that is experienced in the nose and on the tongue.

The Vite Colte Piedmonte Spasso Passito Appassimento Rosso, available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, priced at $39.99 and reduced to $19.99, has a deep ruby red color. To the nose it is open and elegant, with ripe fruit of berries and plum. On the tongue, the wine is dry with light tannins; the fruit carries through with some herbaceous notes. Barbera is not grown on the best real estate of the Piedmont, but its lowly position should not be ignored. It is meant to be enjoyed young, is affordable, and is a perfect complement to the antipasto, or perhaps also enjoyed with the courses that follow.

The 2015 Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, from the Mazzei Vineyards, available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, priced at $71.99 and reduced to $35.99, may not be the least expensive Chianti, but it is an excellent choice, coming from one of the most prestigious wineries of Tuscany, owned by the Mazzei family for 26 generations. This blend of 92 percent sangiovese, 4 percent malvasia nera and 4 percent colorino, two indigenous varietals, it hails from the vineyard’s best parcels. With a deep red color and pronounced fruit to the nose and tongue, this Chianti calls for rich, dark meats, mushrooms, herbs, herbaceous cheeses, root vegetables and braised greens. It will complement a rich, meaty secondi piatti.

Autumn is a time to settle back indoors. Plan a four-hour, multi-course Italian dinner, with family and friends. Enjoy the camaraderie of sharing a well-planned spread, paired with an excellent selection of wines. Repeat those great stories again, revisit those shared adventures, all enjoyed over great food and wine. Enjoy a meal the way Italians do!

What to pair with osso buco

A robust red for a robust dinner

Over the weekend, we were invited to dinner at a friends’ house. I asked what we could bring, and the response was: the wine! I then asked what was being served. Beef osso buco, made with locally grown organic beef, was the response. Immediately, like a Pavlovian dog, my mouth started to water.
Osso buco, translated as “hole-in-the-bone” from Italian, is a slow-cooked shank crosscut of meat. It originated in northern Italy and traditionally was made with veal, but beef and lamb are also popular. The recipe includes a mirepoix of onions, carrots and celery, that fundamental base for all stews and braising. There are numerous recipes for osso buco, some calling for tomato paste, others not, but a traditional addition is gremolata, a mixture of parsley, orange peel and garlic, as a side or included in the final steps of the hour-long slow cooking of the dish. The singular appeal to this dish is the intense flavor and richness imparted by the marrow found within the bone. Osso buco is typically served on a bed of mashed potatoes or polenta.
“How wonderful does all this sound?” I thought to myself.
Following a couple of days of rain, the skies have cleared to a deep blue, a beautiful backdrop to the incredible colors of fall we are blessed with every year. With warm days and cool nights, we begin to enjoy the late growing season of our gardens turned into hearty fare. And so the question arises: What kind of wine do we begin to roll out, to pair with this shift in menu?
The wine should be able to stand up to the richness of the food that is slowly simmered in thick sauces. This is the time we set aside the cabernet sauvignons and even the lighter sangioveses and opt for wines with “tooth.” A malbec or a grenache and syrah will pair nicely. Among my favorites are the wines of the south of France, the wines of the Rhone River Valley. The wine I brought to this dinner was a bottle of Domaine de la Charbonniere Vacqueyras that for the moment isn’t available in New Hampshire. Fear not, though, as New Hampshire has several wines from the Vacqueyras appellation that are superb.
One wine worth recognition is Les Seigneurs de Montrevel Vacqueyras (available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, priced at $29.99 and reduced to $24.99). I found this to be an equal to the bottle brought to the dinner. It is a blend of 60 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah and 10 percent mourvedre. The color is a deep red. To the nose, there is an abundance of black cherry, wild berry, plum. This follows through to the tongue with subtle textures of dark chocolate and oak, from the time spent in barrique. This wine needs decanting.
The Vacqueyras appellation is in the southern Rhone wine region. It is primarily a red wine region, with some white and rosé wines being produced. It lies alongside the Gigondas and Chateauneaf-du-Pape appellations, who both grow the same varietals but are more prestigious. The Vacqueyras wines are more approachable, frequently offered at half the price of the others. Slight differences in terroir, their soils and exposure to sun and winds add complexity to those finer wines. However, the wines of the Vacqueyras should not be dismissed and offer one the invitation to try a wine that would otherwise be dismissed because of price.
Enjoy these beautiful fall days with a hearty slow-cooked meal, joined by a bottle of wine that will stand up to the robust flavors of this simmering delight. Enjoy the fruits of your harvest with a bottle of wine from the Rhone River Valley that seems to be made to fit exactly with that wonderful meal.

Fred Matuszewski is a local architect and a foodie and wine geek.

Rosés for fall

The pink drink with seasonal flexibility

The autumnal equinox, denoting the first day of autumn, fell on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 9:04 p.m. Yes, school is back in session. Yes, the nights are getting cooler, but the days remain warm and the skies are a crystal-clear blue. OK, it is fall, but we don’t want to give up on those warm afternoons and times to spend with friends and family. We still have time to prepare for winter. There are opportunities to go apple-picking, to have that afternoon picnic, to schedule that barbecue of chicken or sausages or to just “kick back” and enjoy the day and embrace the evening.

Rosé wines are growing in popularity, simply because they are so flexible. They pair well with many cheeses, chicken, pork, shellfish and, let’s not forget, vegetables. In this column we will explore two rosés that are not only created in different parts of the world but created with very different grape varietals. Rosé wines are made from red grapes whose skins spend limited time in the pressing process. Rosé wines are light and have a limited lifetime, once bottled. That’s not a negative; it is in fact a contribution to the very essence of what they are. Rosé wines are youthful and bright and can be sipped with or without a pairing with food. But, as with all wines, the experience of the tasting is changed with proper pairing with food, and thus enhanced. So. Let’s explore some rosés!

Our first rosé is from where else but Provence, France! The 2021 Crépuscule Coteaux D’Aix-en-Provence Rosé (available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, originally priced at $39.99, reduced to $12.99) is a classic rose from the south of France. Coming from Château Paradis, it is a blend of 30 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache, 20 percent Carignan and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Crépuscule is the noun the French use to define that time of day at twilight when the sun sets and the sky is a wonderful collection of golds and pinks, casting these warm colors of various shades of pink on the landscape. This is the perfect description of this wine, its color, its presence.

The grapes of this wine are grown at an elevation of 850 feet at the northern edge of Provence, in a rich clay-limestone terroir. They are blessed with a warm Mediterranean climate with strong Mistral winds, blowing from the Bay of Biscay to the Gulf of Genoa, resulting in clear skies and warm weather. The color is a rich peach, and to the nose the peach carries through along with floral notes, coupled with minerality. The fruit is dense, slightly spicy, and crisp. This is a wine to be enjoyed with grilled meats and vegetables, flavored with herbs de Provence. The crispness and minerality of the wine work very well with this blend of herbs, and so it should, as they speak of the same terroir.

Our second rosé is from Washington State. The 2020 CasaSmith Vino Rosé (available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, originally priced at $13.99, reduced to $6.99) is made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes. The sangiovese grape is grown throughout Italy and may have its roots in Roman times. It is most famously known as the grape of Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti, but when used to make rosé, the earthy tea leaf notes of these reds recede, producing a wine with lighter mineral notes. In his tasting notes posted on his website, Charles Smith states, “The 2020 vintage might be the best vintage that we have ever had in Washington state history.” This may very well be the case. Coming from the Columbia River Valley, this wine has pale straw color tinged in pink. To the nose there are berries along with some floral notes. The minerality of the soils of the river valley carries through to the tongue with a refreshing, crisp finale. Noted wine critic James Suckling described it as a “dry, chewy rosé with sliced-cherry and peach-skin character. Flavorful finish…. Drink now.” With his score of 91 points, this is a wine to be tried, and per his instructions, now! At this most inviting price, this is a wine not to be passed by!

So extend your summer by a few weeks. Pick up one or both of these rosés, grill some food and enjoy that beautiful sunset a fall day can bring.

Featured photo. Courtesy photo.

The many faces of chardonnay

This ubiquitous grape can be a product of its upbringing

Chardonnay may have reached its peak in the 1980s as a “wine of choice,” where a number of labels were sold as bladder boxes, housed in the household refrigerator, ready to be savored after a long day of trials and tribulations. However, this grape should not be slighted. It is, after all, one of the most widely planted of grape varieties. With over 500,000 acres planted, virtually worldwide, it may be considered the entrée to grape-growing and the production of wine.

Its recognized origins lie in Burgundy, France, but the grape’s true origins are a bit clouded. Tales trace it to the Crusaders bringing the grape to Europe from indigenous vines in Cyprus. Modern DNA research suggests chardonnay is the result of crossing two indigenous varieties, pinot noir and gouais blanc, a Roman grape, first found in Croatia. Whatever the true source of the grape, it has been grown and cross-bred so that as of 2006, 34 clonal varieties of chardonnay could be found in vineyards throughout France. The Dijon clones are bred for their adaptability, and the New World varieties, such as Mendoza, produced some of the early California chardonnays.

Why is there this interest in chardonnay? There are some, including my wife, who are true believers in “ABC” (Anything But Chardonnay). However, these same “non-imbibers” will drink heartily of white Burgundy or Champagne! This is simply because many consider chardonnay to be a neutral grape, a chameleon that fully expresses its terroir, the climate and soils of where it is grown. Chardonnay has an affinity to three soil types: chalk, clay and limestone, all prevalent in Champagne and Burgundy. California, with its volcanic soils and climate warmer than France, produces a wine with tropical and citric notes. The story of chardonnay is long and complex in each of the regions wherein the grape is grown and the wine is produced.

Our first wine, a 2021 Josh Cellars Chardonnay (originally priced at $16.99, and on sale at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets until Sept. 25 for $11.45), is a Lake County California chardonnay. The color is light straw. To the nose there are notes of citrus and honey. These carry through to the tongue, with hints of peaches and the slightest touch of leather given by some exposure to oak. The flavor lingers on the palate with a fresh and clean finish. You could describe this as a classic California buttery chardonnay. This is an excellent value and would pair well with mild soft cheeses or rotisserie chicken.

Our second wine, a 2021 Maison Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay (originally priced at $15.99, and on sale at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets until Sept. 25 for $12.95). is a classic Cote d’Or White Burgundy wine. With grapes harvested from the Maconnais region of Burgundy, Louis Jadot produces some of the most prestigious Premier and Grand Cru wines. With its light straw color and floral notes to the nose, coupled with apple and citrus, this is a decidedly different chardonnay from the Josh Cellars. To the tongue, the taste is full of lemon curd or tangerine, but these flavors are coupled with the minerality of the chalk and limestone soils of Burgundy. This wine is 100 percent unoaked chardonnay to maximize the complex and vibrant nose and flavors it offers up. It can be sipped as an aperitif or paired to shellfish or goat cheese.

Our third wine, Pommery Brut Royal Champagne (originally priced at $46.99, and on sale at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets until Sept. 25 for $39.99), is a blanc de blanc Champagne. That is, it is made of 100 percent chardonnay grapes sourced from 40 selected villages in the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims areas of the Champagne region. The color is pale yellow with faint green highlights. To the nose, it is lively with that touch of brioche dough so closely linked to the yeast of the double fermentation. To the tongue the taste is rich and rounded, smooth and not dry with touches of apples. This is a wine for toasting, to be shared to acknowledge a special event.

Three examples of chardonnay that are so different from each other, and all to be enjoyed for their very different qualities. Give them a try!

Featured photo. Courtesy photo.

For food cooked over fire

Zinfandel can accompany your meal from the grill

Barbecue, the quintessential way to entertain, to dine, to enjoy family and friends, can extend well into September and October. The fare is important, second only to your choice of company. In this season of sunny days and cool nights, it is a treat to set up the patio for a late afternoon repast, followed by a gathering at the firepit (always monitored in these dry conditions). The food can be chicken, bathed in a rich sweet and sour sauce; sausages, ribs or simply hamburgers, all prepared with appropriate sides, but let’s not forget the wine, the perfect wine to span this array of flavors: zinfandel.

Zinfandel can be described as American. It certainly has a long history on the American landscape. Those of us “of a certain age” remember the big bottles of Gallo, but the history of zinfandel in Europe and America goes deeper than Gallo. The grape appears to have its origins in Croatia and was introduced to the United States in the 1820s, as “Black Zinfardel of Hungary.” The grapes made their way to California in the 1850s, and by the end of the 19th century it was the most widespread variety in California. The Great Depression hit the wine industry hard, and the grape slowly crawled out of obscurity by the middle of the 20th century, with some variants, such as the rose-colored, slightly sweet white zinfandel. Thankfully that variant went the way of big hair and gold chains! Today California is planted in almost 40,000 acres from Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County to Napa and Sonoma counties, to San Joaquin County and Mendocino County. Each of these regions produces its own signature zinfandel, owing to their different climates, soils, elevations — their respective terroirs.

There are many zinfandels to choose from, but I live by the axiom “life is too short to drink mediocre wine” so am very selective. The beauty of zinfandel is that there are many bottles to select from that are well within reach, or under $30 a bottle. I have selected two for this column.

Our first zinfandel is a 2019 Bedrock Wine Co. Old Vine Zinfandel (available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, originally priced at $25.99, and reduced to $23.99). Bedrock Wine Company is in Sonoma, and this wine is a creation of Morgan Twain-Peterson. The production of this wine is small, just 4,000 cases. The vines are at least 80 years old, coming from Sonoma, Alexander Valley, and the San Joaquin Valley. The color is a deep ruby red. To the nose there are blackberries and plum. These carry through to the tongue with additional notes of vanilla, with some tobacco. It has a slightly more than medium finish to it, benefiting from some aeration. It is not as bold as a cabernet sauvignon; it isn’t supposed to be. However, this bottle can be set aside for another five to 10 years to be enjoyed in future September evenings!

Our second zinfandel is a 2019 Neal Family Vineyards Rutherford Dust Vineyards Zinfandel (also available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, originally priced at $32.99, and reduced to $29.99). This wine hails from the Rutherford District of the Napa Valley floor. With only 500 cases produced, it is a blend of organically grown zinfandel grapes, with some petite syrah added. 2019 was an excellent year for this wine, with this vintage rating better than any other year. The color is a deep ruby red. To the nose there are cherries, pomegranate and raspberries. These continue to the tongue along with nutmeg and white chocolate adding surprisingly complex layers of taste. This wine has the sophistication of a cabernet sauvignon, in part because it is aged in 40 percent new Hungarian oak. It is to be savored because, unfortunately, the fires of 2020 resulted in Neal’s not having a harvest, but the next vintage, 2021, will be available in March 2023.

These are two exquisite zinfandels, coming from different locations but sharing much in their very low production and high quality. They are to be enjoyed over that casual barbecue, and perhaps finished over the firepit. Enjoy the season, the warm days and cool nights; enjoy the barbecue with some excellent zinfandels.

Featured photo. Courtesy photo.

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