Archive | November, 2011

The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine by Karen Page with Andrew Dornenburg

21 Nov

By Sharon Kapnick

Every year hundreds of new cookbooks and books about food and books about wine join the thousands already published. But books about food and wine, well, that’s a different story. You can count them on one hand–well, maybe two or three hands. Fortunately, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, the First Couple of Food-and-Wine, have just written their second book that explains and simplifies the task of choosing the right wine and the art of pairing food and wine.

The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine (Little, Brown; 336 pp.; $35) picks up where What to Drink with What You Eat left off by describing the flavors of some 250 wines and varietals. (The authors’ nickname for the new book is “The Flavor Bible for Wine Drinkers.”) It calls upon the familiar language of food as the logical tool to understanding wine. The authors’ premise is that “if you love food, you know flavor — and you can master wine.”

The guide is very timely. While more and more Americans are interested in wine–as of 2011, the U.S. is the world’s number-one consumer of it–many are overwhelmed by the thousands of choices. The authors aim to educate consumers and demystify wine, to take the fear out of buying wine and matching it with food. And they do it so well–clearly, comprehensively, enthusiastically.

The heart of the book is a hefty chapter that profiles more than 250 different wines by grape, region, intensity, acidity, flavors, texture, food pairings, notable producers and more. In this section, you really get to know the characteristics of and differences among the wines. Included, of course, are the usual suspects–Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon–and many of the unusual, like Roter Veltliner, Saperavi, Taurasi, Terroldego, Tsinandali.

To further illuminate this complex subject , they have enlisted the help of dozens of the world’s best sommeliers. Their opinions, advice, passions, loves and secrets play a crucial and entertaining part in this book.

I especially enjoyed the dozens of helpful sidebars on topics like “Matching Wine to Common Dishes,” “Go-To Wines: Sommeliers’ Picks of Wines That Never Let Them Down,” “Choosing a Wine by Flavors,” “Wines Under $15,” “Second Label [Lower-Priced] Wines [from Top Producers].” The last chapter, a valuable resource, features recommended books, websites and magazines.

Bottom Line: With Page and Dornenburg as your guides, you’ll feel comfortable selecting wine, serving it and enjoying it regularly. Their love of wine and food is infectious. They’ve written another must-have book for anyone interested in food-and-wine pairing or furthering their understanding of wine. It’s empowering, eminently browsable and just plain fun.

For more information on the authors, go to

Let’s Talk Turkey: Think Young, Food Friendly and Fruity When Choosing Wines for Thanksgiving

16 Nov

By Sharon Kapnick

Before Big Macs, Whoppers and Kentucky fried chicken, before hot dogs, corn dogs and chili dogs, there was Thanksgiving. Actually, Thanksgiving dinner, which dates back to the early 1600s, is America’s oldest food tradition. Today most families cherish their own traditions and serve the same dishes year after year. The menu is practically written in stone. You risk the wrath of Uncle Bill or Aunt Rose, not to mention cousin Sam or mother-in-law Miriam, if you remove any item from the repertoire. “Americans would no sooner change the menu for Thanksgiving dinner than paint the White House beige,” writes Diana Karter Appelbaum in her book Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, An American Tradition.

While the menu may require little planning, the food-and-wine pairing probably needs some attention. Although matching wine with turkey is a cinch–almost any wine, from a medium-bodied white to a fairly robust red, will work–matching wine with turkey, marshmallow-topped sweet-potato casserole, creamed onions, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, giblet gravy and—oh, yes!—stuffing that’s often laden with oysters, chestnuts, dried fruit, sausage, mushrooms, celery and/or seasonings—well, that’s another story entirely! Fortunately, there are several wines that can best handle all the diverse flavors.

And there are some general principles to keep in mind.

1) With a cornucopia of different flavors like these, simple, young, fruity wines are best. (Pairing simple wines with complex dishes is a basic food-and-wine-matching tenet.) It’s wise to stay away from heavily oaked and high-tannin wines. And it’s not the time to uncork your most expensive wines. It’s smarter to save them for occasions when fewer sweet dishes, which don’t really pair well with complex, sophisticated wines, are on the agenda.

2) Because Thanksgiving is usually a lengthy affair, it presents a perfect opportunity to pour several wines, at least a white and a red. After all, abundance is what Thanksgiving is all about.

3) Some think American wines are most appropriate for this particular holiday, but I don’t subscribe to that theory. Isn’t it American to welcome those from other countries to our own?

Now, on to the particulars. Since Thanksgiving is a celebratory day, why not get things rolling with a sparkling wine or Champagne? These bubblies are festive, invigorating and well loved. They make any day special—and a special day more so. Their fans will not be unhappy with them throughout this meal.

There are two excellent whites to move on to. Riesling is one. Many wine experts consider it to be the best and noblest variety of all. Rieslings are vibrant, with floral, fruity (apple, peach, pear, citrus, tropical) and mineral aromas and flavors. One of their great virtues is their versatility: No wine goes better with food. Their fruitiness, crisp acidity and low alcohol level (German Rieslings range from 7% to 11%) make them a great choice almost anytime, and especially for Thanksgiving. Wine importer Terry Theise says, “Once people try German Rieslings at Thanksgiving, they’ll never drink anything else.” I recommend off-dry (the German Spätlese) versions, because a touch of sweetness matches the sweetness in this meal. “The dry wine you think will be great with the turkey,” says Theise, “will be castrated by the candied yams.” German Kabinetts (dry to off-dry) are a viable, less expensive alternative. Many think that the best Rieslings in the U.S.—and they are very good indeed—are made in New York’s Finger Lakes region. They’re surprisingly similar to German Rieslings. Washington also often handles the varietal well. (See recommended producers below.)

If you are interested in something white yet different and exotic, you might try a Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminers, which translates as “spicy grapes,” are distinctive, wildly aromatic wines with honeysuckle, rose petal, lichee, apricot and grapefruit aromas and flavors and a rich, luscious texture. They’re full bodied and complement heavier meals. Alsatians drink them with rich pâtés, foie gras and choucroute garni. In the U.S., they’re often considered one of the best wines to accompany spicy Asian dishes. Their spicy quality meshes with the Thanksgiving cranberry sauce, froufrou stuffings and other side dishes.

Kerry Norton, winemaker at Washington’s Columbia Winery, touts Gewürztraminer as the perfect Thanksgiving wine. “Gewürztraminer spices up the meal,” he says. “It stands out; it wants to be noticed. What better time is there to serve it than at Thanksgiving, where the food can be prosaic?”

Some years ago, wine guru Robert Parker wrote in Food & Wine magazine about the wines he features at his Thanksgiving table. “I believe that the stuffing [should] dictate the type of wine that should be served,” he said. “Our stuffing is … a spicy, boldly flavored bread, sausage and celery combination …. While the turkey itself has relatively straightforward flavors and could easily be matched with a multitude of medium- to full-bodied white wines (such as a California Chardonnay, an Oregon Pinot Gris or a French white Burgundy), the addition of the sausage and aromatic poultry seasoning in the stuffing requires a wine of considerable richness and unmistakable personality.” That wine, Parker wrote, is an Alsatian Gewürztraminer. Alsace is the region most associated with this particular grape and produces fantastic versions. Good ones are also made in the U.S.

Norton sees Gewürztraminer as a wine to jazz up a bland meal; Parker sees it as a wine that can handle a complex meal. Taste is subjective, but one thing’s for sure: Gewürztraminer is a wine to try on this particular holiday.

Francophile wine-shop owner, importer and author Kermit Lynch suggests both whites and reds for Thanksgiving. “I find that Alsatian wine [which is virtually all white] is in the right spirit for this holiday,” he writes. “Beaujolais, too. Both, in their perfumes, contain memories of the past harvest’s bounty, which is what we are giving thanks for, right?” You bet.

Beaujolais comes in several levels. All are made from the Gamay grape, with flavors of blackberries, raspberries and cherries. They’re low in alcohol, food friendly and should be served slightly chilled. Since Thanksgiving is a meal that celebrates the harvest, Beaujolais Nouveau is appropriate. It’s the first wine of the season, readied in just a few weeks; it becomes available on the third Thursday of November. It’s fresh, grapey and simple. If you want something a little more serious, which I recommend, Beaujolais-Villages wines are a couple of steps up, and are even better turkey-and-trimmings matches. Beaujolais-cru wines, from ten designated areas, have more character and complexity and are best of all. In fact, they are probably the ideal red wines for this holiday repast. Look for Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon.

For something trendier, you could try Pinot Noir. It’s the grape that on its own (it’s rarely blended, except in Champagne and other sparkling wines) makes the great reds of Burgundy. It has fewer tannins than Bordeaux’s Cabernet Sauvignon, the other superstar French red grape. When Pinot Noirs are at their height, they can be astounding—elegant, complex, silky, smooth, subtle, charming and seductive.

Pinot Noir is made in two styles: fruity or earthy. California Pinot Noirs usually fall in the first category, with flavors of cherries, strawberries, raspberries and plums, and thus are ideal for Thanksgiving. Their fruit complements the sweet food yet doesn’t overwhelm it. Pinot Noirs also shine in Oregon, where the climate is not unlike Burgundy’s. The wines tend to be closer to Burgundy’s in style.

If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, which is best with red meats and usually too powerful for this particular dinner, you might offer the more approachable Cabernet Franc, its lesser known, and often overlooked, relative. (Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are thought to be Cabernet Sauvignon’s parents.) Cabernet Franc is one of the grapes used in Bordeaux blends and a mainstay in Loire Valley reds. Cabernet Franc is light- to medium-bodied, fruitier and more aromatic than the weightier Cabernet Sauvignon. Its refreshing acidity and low tannins make it notably versatile. Look for lighter-style French versions from Chinon, Bourgueil, Anjou and Saumur. New York State produces worthy Cabernet Francs, and those from Washington have received good reviews too.

Zinfandel is often recommended for this holiday in part because it’s thought of as an all-American wine (even though its ancestry has been traced back to Croatia, where its called Crljenak Kastelanski!). Its spicy-peppery, fruity flavor goes well with the meal, but it tends to be high in tannins and very high in alcohol (as high as 17%), which would accentuate the heaviness of the food. Since the Thanksgiving feast is often the most elaborate meal of the year and the turkey is laced with sleep-inducing tryptophan, heavy, highly alcoholic wines may be overwhelming. They may even put your guests to sleep! In general, it’s a good idea to stick with lighter, low-alcohol wines. I’d look elsewhere for my Thanksgiving wine.

If you and your guests are still vertical after dinner and you would like to serve a dessert wine, I suggest a Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont or a similar slightly sparkling Muscat wine. Moscato d’Asti is sweet, white, light, low in alcohol, with heady fruit and floral aromas—think peaches, apricots, orange blossoms. It’s delicate, elegant, charming and never overpowering. Non-sparkling Muscat wines are also a fine option, although they tend to be heavier and higher in alcohol. There are good ones made in the U.S. as well as lovely Muscats de Beaumes-de-Venise from the southern Rhône.

It’s important to remember that while there are rules and guidelines for matching food and wine, drinking what you like is always a good choice. You won’t go wrong if you go with your favorites. But remember too that your favorites may not be your guests’ favorites. And because Thanksgiving is such a large meal and you’ll probably need more than one bottle, it’s a perfect time to experiment and try something new. Who knows? You just might discover something wonderful—something else to give thanks for.

Recommended Producers

Sparkling wine:
Spanish Cavas: Aria, Cristalino, Freixenet, Segura Viudas, Sumarroca; U.S.: Korbel, Chandon, Gruet, Roederer, Schramsberg; New Zealand: Lindauer; France: St. Hilaire; Champagne: That’s another story

Germany: Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler, Kurt Darting, Dr. Loosen, J.J. Prum, J.u.H.A. Strub, Selbach and Selbach-Oster, St.-Urbans-Hof; New York: Dr. Konstantin Frank, Hermann J. Wiemer,  Salmon Run; Washington: Pacific Rim, Hogue, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Covey Run

California: Handley; New York: Lenz; Washington: Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Covey Run, Hogue; France: Léon Beyer, Lucien Albrecht, Pierre Sparr, Hugel, Trimbach, Weinbach, Zind-Humbrecht

Georges Duboeuf, Joseph Drouhin, Durdilly, Louis Jadot, Jacky Janodet, Louis Latour, Marcel Lapierre, Trenel Fils, Vissoux

Pinot Noir:
California: Acacia, Beringer, Cambria, Camelot, Cartlidge & Browne, Castle Rock, Clos du Bois, Estancia, Gallo of Sonoma, Kendall-Jackson, Meridian, Montpellier, Napa Ridge, Redwood Creek, Robert Mondavi, Saintsbury, Sebastiani; Oregon: Argyle, Cooper Mountain, Firesteed, Lemelson, Ponzi, Wine by Joe

Cabernet Franc:
France: Catherine & Pierre Bréton, Bernard Baudry, Cave de Saumur, Caves des Vignerons, Charles Joguet, Joel Taluau, Olga Raffault, Saint Vincent, Sauvion, Thierry Germain; New York: Lamoreaux Landing

Muscat dessert wines: California: Bonny Doon, Novella, Quady, Robert Pecota; Italy (Moscato d’Asti): Ceretto, Chiarlo, Contratto, Vietti; France (Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise): Coyeux, Durban, Paul Jaboulet Aîné; Israel: Golan

White Wine Lovers Flock in Droves to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

13 Nov

By Sharon Kapnick

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a great success story, a phenomenon really. Although the first vines were planted in Marlborough as recently as 1973 and the first wine made in commercial amounts in 1980, by the early ’90s, Sauvignon Blanc had become the country’s flagship wine. Soon after, it  started to capture much attention and gain fans in the U.S. In doing so, it rejuvenated and redefined the Sauvignon Blanc category. Now its style is emulated by others worldwide.

Over the past year ending on August 20, according to Nielsen, New Zealand wines had the fastest growth rate of all import countries it measured. Volume went up 31.8%. (More than 90% of New Zealand wine sales in the U.S. are Sauvignon Blanc.) And, says Nielsen, sales of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc are growing much faster than those of U.S. Sauvignon Blanc.

Why? The wines have flair. The words often used to describe them are racy, zingy, zippy, zesty, bold, exuberant–all very upbeat, appealing qualities. The wines have distinctive, pungent, powerful aromas and flavors and lots of character and personality, occasionally even bordering on flamboyance. It’s a style that’s caught on like wildfire. Mary-Ewing Mulligan and Ed McCarthy wrote in Wine Style: “Many Sauvignon Blanc wines from the Marlborough region redefine the term aromatics, so intense are their passion fruit, green citrus, or vegetal aromas and flavors.”

Most of the country’s Sauvignon Blanc is grown in Marlborough, New Zealand’s premier wine-producing region, at the north end of the South Island. Marlborough’s dry, sunny days and cool maritime nights–no point in New Zealand is farther than 70 miles from the sea–suit the varietal, as does the long growing season.

In the U.S. the wines are easy to find, easy to open–-upwards of 95% have screw caps– and often easy on the pocketbook. Here are some brands to know and four delicious wines I tasted recently, either with the winemaker or from samples I received.

Recommended Wineries and Wines

Cloudy Bay  ( was named in 1770 when British naval Captain James Cook was navigating the New Zealand coast. The winery that took its name was founded in 1985. Cloudy Bay is usually considered the best New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Master Sommelier Vincent Gasnier wrote in Top 10 Wines: Australia and New Zealand: “Cloudy Bay defined the archetypal New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and became an international celebrity.” In September, Drinks International released its list of the World’s Most Admired Wine Brands, a comprehensive industry poll of the world’s best regarded wines, and Cloudy Bay was among the Top 10.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough 2010: Aromas and flavors of lime, grapefruit, mango, nectarine, gooseberry and orange blossoms. Mineral tones. Elegant and crisp. Most New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are cold fermented in stainless steel, but a small portion of this wine spent time in old French oak barriques. An excellent value at $25 SRP (suggested retail price*).

In 1943 Nikola Nobilo, a Croatian immigrant, planted his first vines in his new home west of Auckland, at the north end of the North Island. Nobilo became one of New Zealand’s pioneering winemakers. He played an important role in steering plantings toward Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir and  developing the Marlborough region . Today Nobilo (, now owned by Constellation NZ, is one of the top-selling New Zealand brands in the U.S.

Nobilo Regional Collection Marlborough 2010 ($14, SRP): Aromas and flavors of lime, pineapple, melon, passion fruit and tropical fruits; fresh, crisp, fruit forward. An excellent value.

Dashwood  ( was founded in 1989 by Vavasour Wines, which made its wine with grapes from the Ataware Valley. But Vavasour wanted to offer a different style, one with crisp acidity, vibrant fruit flavors and intense aromatics, so it created  Dashwood, which blends grapes from the Wairau Valley for their fruit character and grapes from the Ataware Valley for their flinty, mineral character.

Dashwood Marlborough 2010 ($14, SRP): Aromas and flavors of pineapple, melon, white peach, citrus and mango. An excellent value.

Martinborough, at the south end of the North Island, and Marlborough, right across the Cook Strait, are similar to each other in soil profile and climate. But Craggy Range ( believes that the small differences are critical. It opted for Martinborough, generally thought of as Pinot Noir territory, for its Sauvignon Blanc because it believes that the wines are more extracted, complex and structured, with more subtle aromatics and greater elegance. Try them side by side with some Marlborough wines to see if you agree.

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Martinborough 2010 ($22 SRP): Aromas and flavors of lime, passion fruit and herbs. This wine is fermented in French oak barriques and stainless steel tanks.

Foods that pair especially well with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: Tomatoes, salads, vegetarian soups, vegetarian dishes; goat and many other cheeses; seafood, shellfish; light chicken, veal and turkey dishes; Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese dishes, including spicy ones; dishes with herbs and garlic

*Note: Wines can usually be found for less money–sometimes considerably less–than their SRP. Check out to get an idea of discounted prices.

“Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines” by Natalie MacLean

1 Nov

By Sharon Kapnick

On her journey searching for some of the planet’s best bargain wines, Natalie MacLean sampled an astounding 15,267 wines at 312 wineries in 8 countries on 5 continents so you don’t have to. You can just sit back in your favorite chair and read her book and learn and enjoy and laugh. The only drawback: You’ll have to supply your own wine.

MacLean’s an accredited sommelier, a “lover of both bargains and grapes.” She’s extraordinarily accomplished. Among her citations: four James Beard Foundation Journalism awards, six Bert Green Awards for excellence in food journalism and the 2009 Louis Roederer International Wine Writing Award. She was named the World’s Best Drink Writer by the World Food Media Awards.

I think of her as the Energizer Bunny of the wine world. As she says in her video promoting her book, “I’m always eating and drinking for the sake of my readers.” Afterwards, she writes books, magazine articles, and print wine columns that reach more than 5 million readers. She’s got a website, a blog, an e-newsletter, a Wine Picks and Pairings mobile app (and other apps, of course) for smart phones. And naturally she tweets and has a gazillion Facebook friends.

In Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines (Perigee, $24, 344 pp.), which is part memoir, part travelogue and part wine guide, MacLean shares her adventures at wineries in Australia, Germany, Canada (where she lives), South Africa, Italy, Argentina, Portugal and France. And, to wrap things up, she makes a stop at the famed bar in New York City’s Algonquin Hotel.

In each chapter, she recounts her visits with several winemakers and paints colorful portraits of them. They come to life, and you feel privileged to accompany MacLean on her rounds. Ernst Loosen of Germany’s Dr. Loosen wine estate, for example, expounds on what makes Mosel Riesling special: “When I drink Mosel riesling, I want to smell the blue slate soil that formed the fruit. I want to taste the memory of the old vines, and I want to feel the rain and the sun that year. Without all of this, wine is just another drink.” Loosen extols the virtues of riesling: “Many wines are big and fat and that’s it, you know, but riesling is strong and delicate at the same time. It has many facets, like a diamond, depending on when and where you taste it and what you’re looking for.”

The wines she devotes the most time to are Shiraz, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Nero d’Avola, Malbec, Port and Provence rosés. The end of each chapter features “Field Notes from a Wine Cheapskate,” which includes insider tips, the websites of the wineries she concentrated on, the best value wines, top-value producers, special pairings and resource suggestions.

MacLean suggests you “read the book for the adventure stories,” and then visit her website,, for recipes, photos, website addresses, wines she liked that are in stores now and much, much more. There’s plenty that will capture your interest.

Bottom Line: Unquenchable will undoubtedly inspire you to undertake your own wine journeys–whether to the supermarket or to faraway continents.