Cozying Up with Winter Warmers

DrinkingRedWine_Fire-On a cold, dreary January day, I like to settle in with a robust red wine that warms me to my extremities.  Following are four reasonably-priced favorites that we keep stocked at my house for those winter weekends when we have the luxury of hibernating indoors.

Mark West Pinot Noir (
Winemaker’s notes:  Enticing aromas of strawberry and raspberry with barrel notes of caramel, vanilla and baking spices.  Oak aging rounds out the palate and gives the wine its body.  The wine drinks of deep, concentrated raspberry, cherry pie with a touch of cola berry.  The wine shows juicy fruit texture and subtle oak.

Lisa’s notes:  At $10 a bottle, I think this is a very nice California pinot noir.  Although it’s slightly heavy on the oak, the fruit surfaces enough to make for a well balanced wine.  I’ve found it to be a nice accompaniment to salmon.

Cupcake Red Velvet (
Winemaker’s notes:  Over the top aromas of chocolate, deep rich blackberries, red fruits that follow through the palate to a creamy mocha finish that is unmistakable in its intensity and length, with a hint of coconut.  It’s reminiscent of a blackberry chocolate cupcake with a mocha coulis.

Lisa’s notes:  This California wine, averaging about $10 a bottle, is a tasty blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah grapes.  With just a hint of sweetness on the finish, I find it to be light and velvety enough to drink on its own.  The winemaker suggests pairing it with sweet and spicy Hoisin steak, a barbecue bacon cheeseburger, or even dark chocolate fondue.

Banfi Centine (
Winemaker’s notes:  A blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  On the nose, fruity notes of raspberry and plums, but also spicy hints of coffee, liquorices and cinnamon.  The complex structure, soft and round at the same time, makes this wine particularly elegant.

Lisa’s notes:  Having visited the Banfi vineyard estate and winery while vacationing in Italy, I find the “Super Tuscan” Centine just as appealing at home as it was in its enchanting birthplace.  This ruby red beauty is medium-bodied with intense cherry and blackberry flavors.  It’s an exquisite wine with soft tannins and a lingering finish.  And at $9 – $12 a bottle, it’s a superb value!  While I enjoy it on its own, it also pairs well with pastas, roasts, grilled meats or poultry, and medium-aged cheese.

Salvatore Principe Malbec  (
Winemaker’s notes:  This Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina is complex and beautifully crafted.  The grapes are harvested from low yielding vines, creating a wine that is rich in color showcasing dark plum and cherry flavors accented by layers of chocolate.  Twelve months of oak aging adds character and tantalizing tannins.

Lisa’s notes:  My husband and I were introduced to Malbec at a 2010 Christmas Eve dinner and were instantly infatuated.  When we happened upon a bottle of Salvatore Principe’s Malbec at Sam’s Club, the artistic label enticed us to try it.  This luscious wine, which costs $9 – $12 a bottle, blends flavors of ripe plum, warm spices, a hint of chocolate, with a finish of juicy raspberry.  Try it with pasta, vegetables, cheeses, pizza and roasted meats.

How to Taste Wine Like a Pro

030110Sommelier 1.jpgIf you’ve resolved to make 2014 the year you become more educated about wine, I welcome you to what promises to be a most pleasurable activity. A great way to discover which wines are your favorites is by tasting a wide variety of them! Start with your basic senses of look, smell and taste and you’ll be appreciating wine in no time.

These tips from the Pennsylvania Winery Association and will guide you on your way:

Pour. Pour some wine into a glass, allowing enough room for swirling. If you only plan to sample the wine before moving on to another, pour just enough for a few sips.

See. Tilt the glass away from you against a white background. Note the color of the wine from the rim edges to the middle of the glass. Different wines will vary in their color intensity (white wines gain color as they age, while red wines lose their intensity and may turn brownish or brick red). Wine color is affected the most by the age of the wine, the grape variety, and the amount of time spent in oak.

Next, notice the wine’s clarity; is it clear and brilliant or cloudy and dull? Can you see sediment? Also observe the body of the wine by the way it coats the sides of the glass. If the “legs” trickle down slowly, it has more body; if it falls down in sheets, it has less body.

Swirl. Swirling wine in the glass exposes it to a larger surface area, allowing oxygen in and bringing out its natural aromas. On a flat surface, grasp the stem and move the glass in a tight circle for a few seconds. Or swirl gently by moving your wrist or hand.

Smell. The smell of wine is referred to as its nose, bouquet or aroma. Sniff the wine, first with your nose a few inches from the glass, then lower your nose into the glass and breathe deeply. Repeat if desired, resting your sense of smell in between. A wine with great complexity will offer different aromas each time, as well as several scents at one time. Common aromas include different fruits, spices, herbs and flowers. These will give you an indication of what to expect when you taste it.

The sniff test can also detect a spoiled wine before you taste it. “Off” smells include sherry (the wine has oxidized from age or improper storage), vinegar (the wine contains excessive acetic acid), cork/mustiness (a defective or inferior cork has affected the wine), or sulphur (the wine contains excessive sulfur dioxide).

Sip. “Chew” the wine or roll it over your tongue to cover your taste buds. Different parts of your tongue are designed to taste different things: sweetness (tip of tongue); sour/acid (inner sides); saltiness (outer sides); and bitter/alcohol (back of tongue). A balance of the following characteristics is ideal: body fullness or thinness; acidity; tannin; sweetness; and fruitiness. Because smell and taste are inextricably linked, feel free to breathe lightly through your nose while tasting the wine.

Swallow or Spit. Swallow the wine—or not. While most people choose to swallow the wine, some (especially those tasting many different wines) will spit the wine into a receptacle or paper cup, which is later dumped into the receptacle. If you do swallow, notice the aftertaste, or finish. The better the wine, the more defined the finish. Good finish will linger on your palate for quite some time and will reflect the flavors of the wine or have flavors on its own.

Happy sipping and cheers to your exploration!

Wine shops proliferate downtown

wine_shop_2This article by Amber Nimocks appeared in the Sun., November 17 edition of The News & Observer. It’s a great overview of the independent wine shop culture that is permeating the downtown Raleigh area. Enjoy!

If a rising wine tide lifts all oenophile boats, then downtown Raleighites will soon be living in an age of top-shelf juice bliss.

In the next few months the number of locally owned wine shops within two miles of my house in downtown Raleigh will jump from three to five. That’s pretty remarkable, considering that nine short years ago when I moved here, there was just one – Seaboard Wine Warehouse – within walking distance.

A look around at the single-home construction and apartment buildings going up in and around downtown bears witness to the area’s booming population. But can we really support five wine shops?

“The more the merrier,” said Craig Heffley, who is preparing to open a downtown Raleigh version of his popular Durham Wine Authorities. “If this becomes the wine district of Raleigh, I’d love it. … The thing about it is we all have different products and we all have different focuses.”

When Seaboard Wine Warehouse started selling its carefully selected inventory 17 years ago, its focus was on being downtown’s only wine shop. This was long before Tyler’s Tap Room, 18 Seaboard or Phydeaux moved into the Shops at Seaboard Station and helped it become the anchor of downtown’s north end.

Seaboard was the first wine shop I knew of that kept a record of what you buy, so that when you come in and say “I want that wine I got last time …” they know what you’re talking about. This month, Seaboard announced a new feature, a Le Verre de Vin dual preservation system, which uses vacuum technology to keep opened bottles of still and sparkling wine fresh. It’s similar to the preservation systems The Raleigh Wine Shop and Wine Authorities use to serve by-the-glass tastes of their inventory.