Beyond Beer: The Best Wines to Accompany Chinese Food

2 Oct

By Sharon Kapnick

Years ago, my friends and I would invariably drink beer with Chinese food. While beer was, and remains, a fine partner with many Chinese dishes, we were learning to love wine. We were captivated by the whole new world of exciting bouquets and flavors. We just had to discover what wines went best with Chinese food.

So we did some research and some experimenting, and learned a thing or two. Because different people have different tastes, you’ll probably have to do some experimenting of your own. But here are some guidelines that will help:

When matching food with wine, there are several basic rules to keep in mind:

1) Similar foods and wines pair well. A delicate dish, for example, demands a delicate, light-bodied wine, and a hearty, rib-warming meal calls for a rich, powerful, full-bodied wine.
2) Contrasting foods and wines can also be good partners, although these matches are trickier.
3) Food and wine should complement, rather than overpower, each other. As wine importer Rudi Wiest likes to say, “Whatever’s on the plate is already dead. You don’t have to kill it again.” You don’t want a wine that will overwhelm a dish; you want one that will stand up to it.
4) Fiery dishes are best with wines that are low in tannins and alcohol, which fan the flames, and with off-dry (slightly sweet) and sweet wines, which tone them down.
5) In general, the lower the alcohol, the sweeter the wine.
6) If beer goes well with a dish, sparkling wine usually will too.
7) Here’s a rule of thumb: The milder the dish, the drier the wine; the spicier, the fruitier; the hotter, the sweeter.

There are other factors that should be taken into account, like cooking methods. Fried foods, for example, are great with sparkling wines because the bubbles cut through the richness. And then there’s seasonality: The wine you chose to accompany roast duck served on a cold winter’s day shouldn’t be the wine you pour with roast duck on a patio. Sauces, too, play a crucial role in deciding what wine to select, which is especially important in a cuisine like Chinese. In fact, as wine importer Terry Theise advises, you should “match the wine to the sauce, not to the meat. Orange-flavored beef calls for sweet Riesling, not Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”

It’s also important to keep in mind two other distinctive things about Chinese food: 1) the frequent combinations of sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavors, which play a great part in determining which wines are appropriate, and 2) the wide array of vegetable, tofu, seafood, poultry, pork and beef dishes served at the same meal. Given all these factors, it may be tempting to raise your hands in surrender and say, “I’ll have a Tsing Tao.” But, in a way, all these considerations make the choice of wine easy: The best thing to do is to serve the most food-friendly wines.

And there are no more versatile wines than sparkling wines. One of their many virtues is that they can be served throughout the meal. While sparkling wine may not necessarily be the best wine for a particular dish, it’s usually at worst a good accompaniment–and often much more. Sparkling wine doesn’t have strong flavors or tannins that overwhelm food; its thousands of tiny bubbles do a stellar job of cleansing and refreshing the palate; and its acidity and fruit temper spicy heat in food. Sparkling wines are wonderful with Chinese food. (The Chinese themselves gravitate toward bubbles with meals, although bubbles of a different sort: They often mix carbonated drinks like 7-Up with wine, whiskey or brandy.) These days there are many excellent, inexpensive sparkling wines on the market.

If expense is not an issue or you are celebrating a special occasion, you might opt for Champagne. As importer Theise says, “Don’t forget Champagne! In fact, never forget Champagne.” (Actually, I personally would be likelier to forget my own name than to ever forget Champagne!) Champagnes and some sparkling wines come in several sweetness levels: Brut nature (aka Extra brut and Ultra brut): bone dry; Brut: no perceptible sweetness; Extra dry: slightly sweet; Sec: noticeable sweetness; Demi sec: very sweet; Doux: sweetest of all. (Brut is most common.)

After sparkling wines, when eating Chinese, I turn to Alsace and its food friendly, aromatic white wines. Their fruity flavors and (generally) high acidity cool the palate and complement flavorful, spicy and sweet dishes. Their lack of oak is also a plus. “[Aromatic] white wines excel particularly with cuisines that are challenging for other wines,” especially those with some sweetness or hot spiciness, write Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy in Wine Styles. “Alsace wines in general are great choices when the meal has you wondering what wines could possibly work.”

There are several Alsace wines to consider. Riesling is its outstandingly flexible star. (Actually many think it’s the greatest and most versatile of all white wines.) It’s an excellent choice when you want one wine to serve with many different dishes-–from seafood to fowl to meat. It can be fruity, flowery, sometimes minerally, usually crisp, often elegant. Pinot Blanc, sometimes called the poor man’s Chardonnay, is a light, crisp, fresh, lively, delicate, all-purpose wine. Pinot Gris is like Chardonnay in weight and texture. It’s dry, rich, round, opulent, powerful, complex, sometimes smoky, with lots of fruit flavors. While it has the acidity of a white wine, it’s full bodied and can often take the place of a red. Pinot Gris is an excellent choice with very flavorful dishes. Gewürztraminer is extremely expressive and exotic, highly aromatic, with scents of lychees, rose petals and honeysuckle. It’s full bodied and sometimes slightly sweet. For these reasons, it’s often recommended with spicy cuisines.

Also at the top of the list as accompaniments to Chinese food are German Rieslings. Generally low in alcohol, they have high acidity, which makes them crisp, fresh, zesty and good with food. The sugar in them is balanced by acidity. They can handle the wide range of dishes served at Chinese meals. (Some pair Rieslings with game, like venison, pheasants and wild duck. Others recommend them with braised meat or steak.)

German Rieslings are made in several ripeness levels, which are indicated on the label. The most important styles for our purposes include: Kabinett-–light, delicate, refreshing wines from ripe grapes with a touch of sweetness; Spätlese–-fuller, more flavorful wines, characterized by high acidity and light sweetness, from grapes picked at least a week after normal ripeness; and Auslese–fuller, riper wines with significant sweetness, made from ripe and overripe grape clusters.

The Kabinetts favor subtly flavored, delicate dishes with light sauces. The Spätlese cut the heat of spicy foods and are also good with dishes with some sweetness. The Ausleses demand aggressively flavored dishes, including sweet-and-sour and orange-flavored sauces that benefit from wines with more residual sugar.

New York, Washington, Oregon, parts of California, Austria, Australia and New Zealand also produce very good Rieslings. This varietal has been regaining popularity as people learn how food friendly it is.

There are some other fine choices. Albariño is the floral, citrusy, sometimes minerally, usually dry white wine that the Spanish drink with all fish and seafood; you might try it with the same. Sauvignon Blanc has herbal elements that pair well with ginger and distinctive herbs like cilantro, aka Chinese parsley. It also complements fried appetizers and seafood well. Tangy, racy New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs come to mind first. Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s dry, high-acid white wine, can also be herbal, slightly vegetal, spicy or fruity, with mineral undertones. It’s appropriate with vegetable or shellfish dishes. Off-dry (slightly sweet) Chenin Blancs match well with moderately spicy Chinese food. Pinot Bianco is the Italian version of Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Grigio is the lighter Italian version of Pinot Gris. White Burgundies are elegant and complement elegant dishes. And then there’s Viognier, which the Wall Street Journal describes well: “At its best, Viognier can have the cleanliness of Riesling, the juiciness of Sauvignon Blanc and the orange-blossom charm of Muscat. It tends to taste of peaches, apricots and mango, and sometimes has a bit of weight.”

Rosé is another food friendly wine that takes to Chinese food. Jeff Morgan, author of Rosé and co-owner of SoloRosa, a rosé-only winery, writes, “Rosé is blessed with a fruit-driven, bright-edged core that blends well with the fiery, ripe fruit found in chiles. Refreshingly chilled, dry, pintk wine also cools down the palate.” He recommends it with many dishes, but especially with Szechuan cuisine. If you are a red-wine lover, I recommend Pinot Noir with Chinese duck and meat dishes. Some enjoy Beaujolais, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Côtes-du-Rhône, Shiraz or Syrah, inexpensive red Bordeaux and Barbera.

I suggest you experiment and seek the guidance available at a good wine shop. Chances are, you’ll find many pairings that appeal to you. And if not, remember, there’s always Tsing Tao.

Cantonese (some sweetness, not very spicy, sweet-and-sour, fermented black beans, soy sauce, salty): sparkling, Pinot Blanc (seafood), Riesling (seafood), Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer (roasted meats and poultry), rosé

Szechuan (spicy, hot-and-sour sauces, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic): sparkling wine, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Moscato d’Asti, rosé, Beaujolais

Hunan (similar to Szechuan): sparkling, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Beaujolais

Shanghai (slightly sweet): Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer
spring rolls and egg rolls: sparkling wine, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, rosé
salt-and-pepper shrimp, salt-and-pepper squid: sparkling wine
barbecued spare ribs: sparkling wine, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Albariño, rosé
noodles with sesame sauce: Gewürztraminer
soup dumplings: sparkling wine
dim sum: sparkling wine, Riesling
deep-fried dishes: sparkling wine
Singapore-style noodles: Sauvignon blanc, rosé
shellfish dishes: sparkling wine, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Albariño
hot pepper prawns: sparkling wine, Viognier
lobster Cantonese: white Burgundy
lobster with ginger and scallion sauce: white Burgundy
chicken with cashew nuts: Gewürztraminer
stir-fry chicken and vegetables: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer
kung pao chicken: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Albariño
General Tso’s chicken: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, rosé
vegetable lo mein: Sauvignon Blanc
minced squab with hoisin: Zinfandel
sesame chicken (Pinot Grigio, Riesling),
moo shu chicken: sparkling wine, Pinot Noir
chicken chow mein: sparkling wine
Peking duck: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir
tea-smoked duck: Pinot Noir
roast duck: Pinot Noir
sweet and sour pork: Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, rosé
moo shu pork: Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, rosé
twice-cooked pork: sparkling wine, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Albariño, Pinot Noir
Chinese beef dish at tasting: Pinot Gris
orange-flavor beef: Riesling

Sparkling wines: Lucien Albrecht, Bouvet-Ladubay, Domaine Chandon, Codorníu, Cristalino, Chateau Frank, Freixenet, Gramona, Gruet, Korbel, Albert Mann, Marquis de la Tour, Larry Mawby, Mionetto, Château Moncontour, Monmousseau, François Montand, Raventós I Blanc, René Muré, Saint-Hilaire, Segura Viudas, Valdo, Veuve Ambal, Veuve du Vernay, Willm, Yarden, Zardetto

Champagne: Aubry, Henri Billiot, Bollinger, Chartogne-Taillet, Gaston Chiquet, Egly-Ouriet, Nicolas Feuillatte, René Geoffroy, Pierre Gimonnet, Gosset, Alfred Gratien, Charles Heidsieck, Henriot, Jacquesson, Krug, Jean Lallement, Larmandier-Bernier, J. Lassalle, Lanson, Laurent-Perrier, Moët & Chandon, Dom Perignon, Pierre Peters, Philipponnat, Louis Roederer,  Pol Roger, Moët & Chandon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, Vilmart & Cie

Alsace wines: Lucien Albrecht, Paul Blanck, Léon Boesch, Albert Boxler, Marcel Deiss, Helfrich, Hugel, Josmeyer, Marc Kreydenweiss, Kuentz-Bas, Albert Mann, René Muré, Ostertag, Stoeffler, Schofitt, Trimbach, Weinbach, Zind-Humbrecht

German Rieslings: Georg Breuer, J.J. Christoffel, Darting, Dönnhoff, J.u.H.A. Strub, Kerpen, Dr. Loosen, Meulenhof, Monchhof (Robert Eymael), Egon Müller, J.J. Prüm, Schaefer, Selbach-Oster, Two Princes, St.-Urbans-Hof, Von Schubert, Robert Weil, Zilliken

Other Rieslings: Chateau Ste. Michelle, Eroica, Chehalem, Covey Run, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Grosset, Heron Hill, Hogue, Lamoreaux Landing, Pacific Rim, Pikes, Poet’s Leap, Sheldrake Point, Swedish Hill, Villa Maria, Hermann J. Weimer


Pine Ridge Vineyards: Much Too Good to Miss

15 Sep

By Sharon Kapnick

The talented Michael Beaulac, general manager and winemaker at Pine Ridge Vineyards, has a way with a wide range of wines sold at a wide range of prices. His 2012 Chenin Blanc + Viognier at an SRP* of $14 and his 2009 Fortis at an SRP of $150 are both stunning. I could drink the Chenin Blanc + Viognier day after day after day. If I could afford it, I might do the same with the Fortis.

While Pine Ridge ( specializes in appellation-driven Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons from the Stags Leap, Rutherford, Oakville, Carneros and Howell Mountain districts, it also makes Chardonnay, Rosé, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Port and a couple of red blends.

But the Chenin Blanc + Viognier is a revelation. (It’s so special, it even has its own website,

2012 Chenin Blanc + Viognier (80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Viognier): Pine Ridge’s Chenin Blanc + Viognier dates back to the early 1990s, when it started out as an experiment. Now the CB + V is one of its most popular wines. And it’s one of the most appealing wines I’ve come across in a long time. Pine Ridge’s website explains its appeal well: “This unique marriage of two varietals that would never share the same bottle in their native France unites the crisp, honeyed fruit of Chenin Blanc with the plush body, light floral aromas and juicy stone fruit notes of Viognier…” Wine guru  Robert M. Parker Jr. has been rating it 90 year after year. I’d rate it as “much, much too good to miss.”

It has aromas and flavors of honeydew, white peach, green plum, apple, grapefruit, pineapple and pear. It’s lush, lively, slightly off dry, well balanced and versatile-–not to mention unique and delicious.

But Pine Ridge is known for its Cabernet Sauvignons. Here are two from the excellent 2009 vintage for Cab lovers:

2009 Stags Leap District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP: $85): Aromas and flavors of bing and dark cherries, raspberry, boysenberry and strawberry, with touches of briar, espresso spice, dried violets, caramel, baking spice and sugared cinnamon toast. Silky tannins. Excellent balance. Supple palate. Velvety finish.

2009 Fortis Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Fortis is the tête de cuvée from the vineyard blocks that are standouts regardless of appellation. This Fortis has flavors and aromas of cassis, black mission fig, blueberry, blackberry and raspberry, with hints of caramel, dried rose petal, vanilla, chocolate ganache, espresso bean, brown butter and toast. Creamy tannins. Rich. Complex. Full bodied. Smooth and lasting finish.

*Wines can usually be found for less–-sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out to get an idea of actual prices. And Pine Ridge has a wine club that offers the wines at discounted prices.

Note: I was sent samples of the red wines and had the white at lunch with the winemaker.

Wine Trends

10 Aug

This week the Wine Spectator ran an interesting story called “Forecasting Wine’s Future.” The author believes that the large Millennial generation (ages 21 to 34) will shape wine’s future.  While he doesn’t always support his thesis–and I hate to see older folks dismissed once more–the trends themselves are real.

What is clear to me is that Americans of all ages have become more sophisticated about wine. As they’ve become more confident, they’re making bolder, and sometimes wiser, decisions.

Here’s the link to the story ( and the main points:

1. Dry Rosés are no longer just a summer pleasure. Their popularity has soared, and they’re now turned to year-round.

My take: While Rosés scream summer–and Thanksgiving–to me, they’re lovely and extremely versatile no matter what the season. If you like them, by all means serve them year-round with appropriate dishes.

2. Sparkling wine has experienced phenomenal growth and is no longer only a special- occasion wine.

My take: As a sparkling wine lover, this brings me great joy. The wines are festive, versatile and lively, and many are reasonably priced. They turn every day into a special day.

In my experience, with the right stopper, sparkling wines often stay sparkling for days. A bottle doesn’t have to be finished in one fell swoop.

3. This young generation is buying more imported wine.

My take: Why not?

4. Americans are experimenting with more grape varieties.

My take: Again, why not? There are hundreds of varieties and blends to explore, and many delicious wines to discover.

5. Alternative packaging such as boxes, TetraPaks and other environmentally friendly containers are gaining ground.

My take: I’ve been writing about this trend for years. It’s great that wine lovers in the U.S. have become more environmentally conscious and that they’re catching up with the rest of the wine-drinking world. These containers also tend to be convenient–easier to use and carry than bottles. And I’m all for easy.

It’s comforting to know that at least where wine is concerned, the U.S. is heading in the right direction.

Grüner Veltliner: The Genius Grape

18 Jul

Interested in trying a white wine that’s a little different and a lot delicious? I suggest Grüner Veltliner, the flagship wine of Austria. An under-the-radar wine, it’s not nearly as well known as it deserves to be. That’s a pity, because it complements so many foods beautifully.

Sommeliers love Grüner Veltliner because, as importer Terry Theise has written, it “answered a food prayer…. It’s the wine that will partner all the foods you thought you’d never find a wine for … artichokes …, avocado, every manner of obstreperous veggie … a really peppery salad.” It’s ideal for vegetarians. And it’s lovely with lobster, shrimp, crab, scallops, sushi, caviar, fish, poultry, veal and pork. Of course, it also complements Austrian cuisine. Theise, who partners with Michael Skurnik Wines, calls it “the world’s most flexible dry white wine at table.” It’s certainly one of them.

What are Grüner Veltliners, a.k.a. GrüVes or G.V.s or Groovys, like? They’re aromatic, usually dry, usually light to medium bodied, crisp and fairly high in acid.  “If Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc had a baby, it would be Grüner Veltliner,” writes Theise. Austrian wine importer Monika Caha suggests that if you like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, you’ll like Grüner Veltliner. Jodi Stern, manager of wine importer Winebow’s Austrian portfolio, believes that G.V.s combine qualities of Alsatian and Loire wines: They offer, she says, the “complexity, sensuality, depth and body of Alsace” and the “mineral, spark and loveliness of the Loire.”

Due to its unique character, Willi Klinger, managing director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, calls it the genius grape. Now, he may be biased, but he’s definitely onto something.

Some G.V.s are lively, simple, meant for everyday use and best drunk young; others are more complex and structured and age well. The price usually serves as a guide to which style the wine is.

Here are a couple of G.V.s to turn to regularly:

The Grooner 2012 (SRP* $12) is from the Forstreiter family, who’s been making wine in the Kremstal, along the banks of the Danube River, in the Niederösterreich region since 1868. They operate a small winery where grapes are hand harvested and  sustainable agriculture is favored.

Grooner, a Monika Caha selection, has aromas and flavors of green apples and citrus, with tropical fruit notes. It’s easy drinking, well balanced, fresh, dry, zippy, with good acidity. Grooner is a great aperitif, an ideal summertime wine. It’s recommended to accompany oysters, fried chicken, crisp pork belly, pizza, sushi, spicy cuisines from Korean to Indian, barbecue, salads, veggies and more. And it’s topped with a convenient screw cap.

Berger Grüner Veltliner 2012 (SRP $14; 1 Liter) also hails from the Kremstal subregion in Niederösterreich, the largest of Austria’s four major wine-growing areas. It represents roughly 60% of all Austria’s vineyard plantings, and produces mostly white wines.

Berger is a  perennial favorite. It’s the best-selling wine in Theise’s Austrian portfolio. It’s light, fruity, juicy, fresh, crisp and zingy, with some lime, some pear, some mineral notes. And it’s crowned with, well, a convenient crown cap.

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out to get an idea of actual prices.

Franciscan Estate’s Delicious White Wines

25 Jun

I recently enjoyed two lovely white wines when lunching with Janet Myers, the very talented director of winemaking at the venerable Napa Valley Franciscan Estate winery. Because they were so good, I requested a sample of a third, and it too was a hit.  I loved all three wines. I hope you too get a chance to enjoy them.

Equilibrium White Blend Napa Valley 2012 (SRP $23): Franciscan explains that the name means “to come together in a state of harmonious balance.” Crafted by experts in blending, this wine does just that. The unique mix of Sauvignon Blanc (72%), Chardonnay (17%) and Muscat (11%) swept me off my feet. As in any admirable combination, the grapes bring out the best in one another.

The wine has aromas and flavors of white peach, nectarine, pear, melon, passion fruit, guava and citrus, as well as floral notes of honeysuckle and jasmine. It’s fruit forward. Crisp. It has a full, round body on the palate. Try it with spicy barbecue and Thai and other Asian cuisines.

Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2012 (SRP $17): Franciscan says, “We took this wine on a little trip–the Loire meets New Zealand by way of Napa Valley.” They source grapes from a few Napa Valley sub-appellations and use a few small-lot winemaking techniques. Fruit from vineyards characterized by a mineral quality receive low, cold fermentation in tank to highlight the purity and minerality, as is done in the Loire. Berries from vineyards that produce rich, expressive fruit are treated to a New Zealand technique: giving the must 6 to 8 hours of skin contact. The resulting wine combines the best of three countries. It’s delicious, with aromas and flavors of lime, grapefruit, honeydew and green apple. Some citrus and tropical fruit.  Complex and vibrant. Long mineral finish.

Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay Napa Valley 2011 (SRP $40): In 1987 Franciscan was the first Napa Valley winery to make a 100% wild-yeast-fermented Chardonnay. The yeasts found on the grape skins carry out the fermentation. (The more common procedure is to inoculate the juice with commercial yeasts.) Each yeast contributes its own character to the wine, creating layers of complexity. In a kind of domino effect, as one strain slows, another starts. It’s a risky and unpredictable procedure that’s a Burgundian tradition, but many in California considered it too unpredictable to be attempted there. It requires winemaker expertise, constant attention to each barrel, a bit of praying and perhaps even a touch of luck.

Aromas and flavors of apple, pear, crème brûlée, honeysuckle and citrus. Full bodied. Elegant and sophisticated. Well balanced. Creamy flavors, crisp acidity, foundation of minerality. A beautiful wine.

Helfrich’s Versatile Alsatian White Wines

12 Jun

By Sharon Kapnick

Alsace is a region with a rich winemaking history. Alsatians have been making wine for millenniums. In 56 B.C. Caesar called Alsace “optimus totius Galliae,” the best of all Gaul. By 900 A.D. 160 villages in the region were making wine.

The sunny, hot, dry days, cool nights and long growing season offer ideal conditions for growing wine grapes. They contribute to the high quality of the wines, which at their best have beautiful aromas and flavors, great structure, complexity, lively acidity, distinctive minerality and the ability to age.

I recently had the opportunity to try the wines of Helfrich with Anne-Laure Helfrich and winemaker Nicolas Haeffelin. The Helfrich family has been prominent in the wine and spirits business for three generations, but its importance extends beyond its years. In 1979 owner Joseph Helfrich founded Les Grand Chais de France, a leading wine and spirits company.

Haeffelin’s family has been steeped in winemaking for centuries. They’ve had a winemaker in every generation since 1560, a rare occurrence even in Alsace. At 14, Haeffelin spent most of his free time and school holidays helping out at Domaine Viticole, where his father worked. Today, at 31, he’s in charge of winemaking at the Helfrich and Arthur Metz wineries and Domaine Viticole.

Authenticity is very important to Helfrich. They believe in minimal intervention, so that the truest flavors of the grapes and the splendid Alsatian terroir take center stage. Their wines are full of flavor and brimming with character, all at very reasonable prices.



Crémant d’Alsace (SRP $20; 100% Pinot Blanc): Fresh, fruity bouquet and delicate fruit flavors. Crisp and refreshing. Light and lovely. This sparkling wine serves well as an aperitif, for celebrations and to accompany all kinds of food.*


Noble Varieties (SRP $15): The grapes hail from the Couronne d’Or (Golden Crown), an association of local vineyards and winemakers that runs through the middle of Alsace. The Noble line uses screw caps. Helfrich likes them because they reserve the aromatic potential of the wines. I like them–rather, I love them–for most wines because they’re easy to open, easy to store and more convenient than corks. They also eliminate the chance of wine spoiled by cork taint.

2012 Pinot Blanc: Fresh and fruity. Serve with cold buffets, asparagus, salads, vegetables, fish and Asian food. Because of its accessibility, this wine serves well as a house wine.

2112 Pinot Gris: Aromas and flavors of white fruits and apricots. Very flavorful. A hint of spice. Rich, full, opulent and round. Serve with foie gras, grilled pork tenderloin, mussels and crab.

2012 Gewurztraminer: Aromas of citrus and tropical fruit, including lychees and passion fruit. Fragrant and fresh. Full bodied. Serve with spicy Asian cuisine, Chilean sea bass, smoked oysters, quiche Lorraine, roast chicken or turkey.


Grand Crus (SRP $20): There are 51 Grand Cru sites in Alsace. Helfrich’s Grand Crus all come from the Steinklotz Vineyard, one of the oldest documented vineyards in Alsace. It allegedly belonged to the Merovingian King Childebert II in 589 A.D.

2011 Pinot Gris Steinklotz Grand Cru: Appealing complex aromas. Smoky notes. Round and rich. Well-balanced acidity. Serve with fish and shellfish, quiche, chicken, veal and pork.

2009 Gewurztraminer Steinklotz Grand Cru: Aromas of candied apricot and clementine. Opulent, lush and fragrant. Serve with lobster, scallops, spicy Asian cuisine and soft cheese.

*The food recommendations above are those of Helfrich.

THE GRAPES: Pinot Blanc, sometimes called the poor man’s Chardonnay, is a light, crisp, fresh, lively, delicate, versatile, all-purpose wine. Pinot Gris is similar to Chardonnay in weight and texture. It’s dry, rich, round, opulent, powerful, complex, sometimes smoky, with lots of fruit flavors. While it has the acidity of a white wine, it is full bodied and can often take the place of a red. Gewurztraminer is extremely expressive and exotic, highly aromatic, with scents of lychees, rose petals and honeysuckle. It’s full bodied and sometimes slightly sweet.

ALSATIAN WINES AND FOOD:  Alsace’s food friendly, aromatic white wines pair well with many dishes. Their fruity flavors and (generally) high acidity cool the palate and complement flavorful, spicy and sweet dishes. Their lack of oak is also a plus. As Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy wrote in Wine Styles, “[Aromatic] white wines excel particularly with cuisines that are challenging for other wines,” especially those with some sweetness or hot spiciness. “Alsace wines in general are great choices when the meal has you wondering what wines could possibly work.” Pinot Gris is an excellent choice with very flavorful dishes. Gewurztraminer is often recommended with spicy cuisines.

Enticing Margaux: Château Marquis de Terme

28 May

By Sharon Kapnick

The best Margaux wines are known for their enticing aromas, elegance, silky textures, supple tannins and complex flavors. In her book The Wines of France, Jacqueline Friedrich calls them “the most feminine, the most seductive and sinuous of the great Médoc ACs.” They are, she says, charming and long lived.

Château Marquis de Terme is one. It’s a Fourth Growth in the historic Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, the ranking system set up by Napoleon III that included 58 châteaux then and includes 61 now. While Marquis de Terme’s  name dates to 1762, today Pierre-Louis and Philippe Sénéclauze own the estate that their father, a wine barrel merchant in Algeria, bought in 1935. During the Algerian war, the Sénéclauzes settled in Marseille and built up a wine empire in France, hiring Bordeaux specialists to run their Margaux property.

Many improvements have been made in the region in the past 20 years. Perhaps the most significant at Marquis de Terme was the hiring in 2009 of Ludovic David as director. David brought technical expertise from his nine years in Pomerol and his four years with Bernard Magrez Grands Vignobles in Bordeaux. At Marquis de Terme he’s been working–quite successfully–to improve the quality of the wines. By employing modern techniques, letting the grapes mature longer on the vine, reducing yield, improving selection and wielding better control of the winemaking process, he’s producing very fine, good-value Margaux.

I recently had the opportunity to try several of David’s wines with him. Bordeaux has been blessed with two fantastic vintages in 2009 and 2010. David says 2009 was a year winemakers dream of. Wine supernova Robert M. Parker Jr. called the 2009 the finest wine he ever tasted from Marquis de Terme. Selling for $36-$80 on, it’s medium- to full-bodied and has flavors of plums, berries and black currant, with silky tannins.

Even better is Marquis de Terme’s 2010 (selling for $49-$60). It’s been designated a Smart Buy by the Wine Spectator, which rated it 92. It too is medium- to full-bodied and has flavors of plums, berries and black currant, with lovely spicy notes and a long finish. The 2009 and 2010 are 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33-34% Merlot and 6-7% Petit Verdot. Both are excellent values.

The 2012, which is expected to arrive in the U.S. in 2015, has more Merlot (40%), lots of fruit, silky tannins and good acidity; it too is a lovely wine and has been receiving good ratings.

If David is right–he believes that 70% of the terroir Marquis de Terme is outstanding and that it has the potential to be one of the best producers in Margaux–we can look forward to more delicious wines from this producer.

American Wine by Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy

8 May

By Sharon Kapnick

It’s no secret that wine is In in the U.S. In 2011 the U.S. became the No. 1 wine-consuming country. And it’s now the fourth-largest wine-producing country, having expanded exponentially from 440 wineries in 1970 to 7,345 in 2012.

So it’s very good news indeed that at last there is a book that does the wines made in the U.S.–in all 50 states, that is–justice. American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States (University of California Press, $50) is the book about American wines that this wine lover has long been waiting for. As the publisher says, it’s the “first comprehensive and authoritative reference to the wines, wineries and winemakers” of the entire U.S. While American Wine of course covers the Big Three of the West–California, Washington and Oregon–and the Big One of the East–New York–about a third of the 278-page book is devoted to the other 46 states, the states many of us are eager to know more about.

The authors have impeccable credentials. Jancis Robinson has been called the Julia Child of Wine. Robert M. Parker Jr.’s Wine Advocate said she is “perhaps the most gifted of all wine writers writing today.” And she’s been voted the Wine Writers’ Wine Writer by her peers. She’s a member of Britain’s Royal Household Wine Committee, which chooses the wines that the Queen serves her guests. And she’s a prolific author, responsible for several multi-award-winning wine reference books: she edited The Oxford Companion to Wine and co-authored The World Atlas of Wine and Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. U.S. wine expert Linda Murphy edited the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine section–she won two awards from the James Beard Foundation there–and was the managing editor of the New York Times wine website. She contributes to and Decanter.

American Wine is organized geographically: broad sections of the U.S. are broken down into states, regions within states, American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and so on. It covers geography, geology, terroirs, founding fathers and other history (including Prohibition and its lingering effects), current personalities, producers and more. You’ll learn how winemaking evolved in America and where it’s heading. There are short snapshots of all major growing regions and their key wineries, including Trailblazers (historic wineries), Steady Hands (consistently reliable brands), Superstars (the most desirable wines) and Ones to Watch (up-and-coming and innovative producers). Also included are 54 maps, more than 200 photographs and informational graphics.

Here’s a sampling of interesting information:

FLORIDA: French Hugenots made wine in the mid-1500s from the native Scuppernong grape.

OHIO: The first commercially successful winery in the U.S. was established in Cincinnati in the mid-1800s by banker Nicholas Longworth. His specialty: sparkling wines from the native Catawba grape. By 1860, Ohio led the nation in wine production.

NEW YORK: Founded in 1839, Brotherhood Winery in the Hudson River Valley is the oldest continously operating winery in the U.S.

● MISSOURI: The first AVA was established in 1980–in Augusta, Missouri.

NORTH DAKOTA: In 2002 Pointe of View Winery made the state the 50th in the U.S. to have a commercial winery.

MINNESOTA: Frontenac (red superstar in the Midwest and New England), La Crescent (white reminiscent of floral Riesling) and Marquette (not unlike Frontenac) grapes, bred at the University of Minnesota, can survive temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees.

HAWAII: The most popular wines of Tedeschi Vineyards are Maui Blanc, a still pineapple wine, and Maui Splash, a pineapple wine with passion fruit essence.

● CALIFORNIA: 1) If it were a country, California would rank fourth in wine production, after France, Italy and Spain. 2) While the Napa Valley produces only 4% of the state’s wine, it accounts for 25% of its wine sales revenue.

Bottom Line: An informative, eminently browsable, entertaining, handsome reference book that’s a must-have for serious American wine lovers who are book lovers.

HandCraft: California Wines, with a Touch of Italy

30 Apr

By Sharon Kapnick

If I had my way with the universe, I’d arrange to be born into a winemaking family in my next lifetime. Cheryl Indelicato beat me to it. She’s the third generation of one of California’s oldest winemaking families. In 1924 her grandfather Gasparé planted the first grapes for Delicato Family Vineyards, aka DFV. His family had done the same in Italy for generations. Cheryl joined the business in 1990, working in marketing and human resources. And then, about three years ago, she decided to pursue her dream.

She’d long wanted to start her own wine label, and at last the time seemed right. In 2010 Cheryl and winemaker Alicia Ysais came up with the idea for the HandCraft Artisan Collection. Inspired by the field blends common at her family’s farm table in her youth, she and Ysais found that adding Italian and heritage varietals lifted the aromatics and fruit flavors of the wines, which are sustainably produced from northern and central California vineyards, including the family’s properties in Monterey and Lodi. Cheryl says, “The wines are like me, with a California home and a touch of Italian heritage.”

HandCraft wines continue the family’s tradition of growing good quality grapes and turning them into premium wines selling at affordable prices. I recently had the opportunity to taste them with Cheryl. They’re approachable, fruit forward, food friendly, versatile and very reasonably priced. Available for just a little over a year, the wines have already been winning awards and recognition from wine publications.


Chardonnay 2011: Flavors of citrus and peach. A bit of Malvasia Bianca provides heady honeysuckle and jasmine aromas. Medium bodied, good acidity. Serve with salads, seafood and chicken.

Pinot Noir 2010:  Aromas and flavors of cherry, strawberry, vanilla and spice. Medium bodied, elegant, smooth, well balanced. Just three percent of Sangiovese brings out the cherry and vanilla of the Pinot Noir and adds spice and texture. Serve with root vegetables, roast chicken, duck,  dishes garnished with bacon, and creamy potatoes.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: Aromas and flavors of cherry, blackberry, chocolate and mocha. Well structured, bold. A splash of Sangiovese is added to enhance the fruit flavors and smooth and soften the tannins. Serve with steak, braised short ribs and blue cheese.

Petite Sirah 2011: Aromas and flavors of blackberry and plums. Full bodied, assertive tannic structure. A touch of Zinfandel adds black pepper and jammy boysenberry. Full bodied. (The 2010 was recently chosen as one of the Wine Spectator’s best-value California wines.) Serve with macaroni and cheese, burgers, grilled pork chops and cheese.

While the suggested retail price for all the wines is $13, they usually sell for $10-$12.

Portugal’s Esporão: Beyond Vinho Verde

27 Mar

By Sharon Kapnick

Americans are always on the lookout for something new and intriguing. While Portugal is best known for its light white Vinho Verdes, its hearty red wines  and–of course–its Ports, it has more to offer for those seeking new tastes from unfamiliar indigenous grapes. If you happen to be looking for something different, you’d do well to try Herdade do Esporão’s white wines. (If you’re just a few varieties short of the 100 needed to join the Wine Century Club, for adventurous wine drinkers who’ve tried 100 wine grape varieties or more, these wines will quickly boost your numbers.)

I recently met Sandra Alves, who makes Esporão’s white wines, and tried several of them. I learned that Esporão’s boundaries were drawn in 1267, making it one of the oldest estates in Europe. It’s located in the Alentejo, Portugal’s southernmost, hottest and driest wine region. The traditional local grape varieties that Esporão grows date back to Roman times.

Esporão is proud of preserving a significant number of Portugal’s indigenous grape varieties. Its vineyards comprise more than 40 varieties and most are native to Portugal. The most important in the region is Antão Vaz, the local star; the best wines of the Alentejo are often based on it. Antão Vaz offers elegant aromas, tropical fruit flavors and mineral and spicy hints. It produces firm, full-bodied, well-structured wines. It’s often blended with Arinto and Roupeiro. In her book Vines, Grapes and Wines, Jancis Robinson describes Arinto as being “remarkable for its capacity to hang on to its acidity however hot the prevailing climate.” Arinto is often added to other lower-acid white grapes to improve blends–especially in the hot Alentejo. It adds freshness and vivacity. Roupeiro contributes strong floral and citric aromas.


Duas Castas, or two varietals, is made of a changing cast of two white grapes. The 2011 blends Viosinho and Semillon. Viosinho makes fresh, fragrant, full-bodied, well-balanced wines. It’s commonly found in Douro whites but also does well in hot, sunny climates like that of Alentejo. While Semillon is a varietal more commonly associated with Bordeaux and Australia, it thrives at Esporão. Chief winemaker David Baverstock hales from Australia and is responsible for its appearance in Esporão’s wines. Alves likes its rich, honeyed viscosity. The 2011 Duas Castas has aromas and flavors of orange blossom, white plum and grapefruit. It’s creamy with a long finish (SRP* $12.99).

Esporão’s Reserva Branco 2011, its classic signature wine, combines Antão Vaz, Arinto, Roupeiro and Semillon. Aromas and flavors of tangerine and apricot, with subtle hints of toast and smoke. Complex, with mineral notes; creamy;  well balanced (SRP $19.99).

The Private Selection 2011 is a blend of Antão Vaz and Semillon. It’s creamy, rich, elegant and complex. Its full fruit flavors, mineral notes and toasty oak combine to make a delicious wine (SRP $24.99).

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out to get an idea of actual prices.