Cheers To You

An exploration of all things wine with local wine expert Mary Earl.
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Weekly Wine Defined – Gavi

March 17th, 2014 by Mary Earl

Gavi is a full bodied Italian white made from the Cortese grape. this grape has been around for some time, it’s roots can be traced back to the 1600s.

It is produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Gavi in the Piedmont region. It was given DOC status in 1974 and production more than tripled in the next 25 years.

What makes this grape unusual is where it’s grown. Piedmont is red wine country, home to big Barolos, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Dolcetto and Barbera. And yet, the region boasts two of today’s most popular white wines, Gavi and Moscato d’Asti.

Gavi’s aromatics are floral with a bit of lemon and apple. The fruity flavors are crisp green apple and melon with mineral notes and tangy citrus finish. It’s  best served chilled with a broiled red snapper with an orange-fennel garnish or fillet of sole with sautéed zucchini and almonds.

Orange Muscat with Pancakes

March 16th, 2014 by Mary Earl
Pairing breakfast with wine is not the way to start the day unless of course, it’s a Sunday, a brunch and a celebration. And then, we generally gravitate to the celebration wine that always works with breakfast type foods – sparkling wines.
But rather than another sparkling wine with this Aloha breakfast that Ann Vogel is suggesting, let’s look at it as a bit like a dessert rather than breakfast. And the rule of thumb for pairing desserts with wine is the wine is must be a bit sweeter than the dessert.
If you think about it, pineapples and coconut syrup, pancakes with nuts, have all the ingredients of a pie. Or a pineapple upside down cake. Or some of the ingredients of grilled pineapple with a side of coconut ice cream. So, which wine with pineapples and coconuts?
There are few wines as sweet and floral as a Muscat.  Muscat is in the Vitis Vinifera family along with Cabernet, Syrah and Chardonnay.
There are many varieties of Muscat that range in color white to black. Muscat is very much like Gewurztraminer in the aroma department; it’s very fragrant with a distinct floral aroma.
A few of the most popular muscats are Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains which is used to produce Asti Spumante from Italy’s Piedmont region. In France, a fortified wine called vin doux naturel is made from this variety of muscat.
One of my all time favorites is a Muscat Liqueur from Australia, very hard to come by but worth seeking out. It’s very PX like with aroma of coffee, fruit cake, raisins and toffee.
Spanish Moscatel is also fortified, made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape. Moscatel de Setúbal is a fortified wine from Portugal, usually served in bars or as an aperitif.
I first tasted Muscat Ottonel many years ago at a little winery in Oregon called Eyrie; it was dry and very aromatic. And there is Muscat Canelli, with quite a few vineyards in Washington, BV’s Muscat de Beauleiu is made from Muscat Frontignan , Moscato Bianco, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat d’Alsace, Muskateller, Moscatel Rosé, and Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise. Those are the white skinned grapes, but most are caramel colored in the finished product.
For darker skinned grapes, there is Muscat Rose à Petit Grains, Moscato Giallo, Moscato Rosa. These produce light fragrant rose scented wines.
 in California and Cyprus, dessert wine is made from the Black Muscat.
And then there is the Orange Muscat. These dessert wines have something of an orange aroma and a delightful sweetness to them that just pairs naturally to the pineapple and coconut.
Quady Winery out of California has been “keeping it sweet” since 1975. They make a number of dessert wines including port and a variety of muscats.
Their Essensia is an orange scented wine fortified to 15% alcohol and aged for 3 months in French oak puncheons. Its vibrancy makes it an excellent accompaniment to desserts such as the pineapple pancakes.
But even better is their Electra. As stated on the website, this little sweetie is “light as springtime, delicately sweet, refreshingly crisp, a bouquet of flowers with the taste of peach and melon.”
The wine is filtered at bottling when it is at 4% alcohol which makes it the perfect wine for an Aloha breakfast.
Quady is distributed by Unique Wines. Essencia 2012 is $20 for a full bottle and $15 for the half. Electra 2012 is $10 for the half bottle. Enjoy!

Wine Defined – Nero d’Avola

March 2nd, 2014 by Mary Earl

Nero d’Avola is one of the best and most widely planted red grape varieties out of Sicily. The island’s geography is mountainous with poor soils, low rainfall and hot summers.  These conditions tend to produce a wine that is very fruity with higher alcohol levels and typical high tannins.

Depending on how it’s made, Nero d’Avola can be a dense, dark tannic wine that is suitable for aging, or young, fruity and fresh for immediate consumption. In the past, this hardy grape was frequently used to add color and body to lesser wines.

When it’s grown at higher elevations where the climate is cooler, the wine is capable of making a rich, long-lived, full bodied wine with medium acidity.

Younger wines remind me of Italian plums and juicy red berry flavors, while wines with more age show chocolate and dark raspberry flavors. The nice part about these wines is the alcohol levels are restricted by law.

I’ve saved the best part for last, the wines typically sell for around $7 -11. Enjoy!

The Hotter, the Sweeter

March 1st, 2014 by Mary Earl

If you’re wondering what pairs well with curry, you’re not alone. There are more opinions on the subject than there are curries and the range is “just go with a beer” to any off dry wine you like.

The crux of the quandary is the amount of heat from the chilies and the alcohol. I read somewhere that chili heat and warmth of alcohol hit the same receptors on your palate, so when you have a lot of heat and high alcohol, the burning sensation is intensified.

Pairing wine with curry is tricky and it gets trickier the hotter the curry is. Some like their curry hot, some do not. It’s a lot like wine in that respect; it’s only a good if you like it.

Are you fond of the rush from Ghost Peppers, which clock in at 460,000 Scoville Heat Units? If so, fire away with a fruity 16% California Zinfandel or a beer. (For reference, the jalapeño rates from 2,500 –10,000 SHU depending on where and how it’s grown.)

But if you’re more likely to be in the 10,000 SHU, the pairing should be a low alcohol wine ranging around 10 to 12.5% alcohol with a lot of up front fruit.

In my experience, what pairs well with curry is a refreshing contrast to the heat of the food. Take a bite of curried chicken and put out the flames with something cold and sweet. The sugar or fruity sweetness and cold supplies that contrast. It can be actual unfermented sugars or residual sugars or it may be just a ripe fruity red with low alcohol.

Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s most underrated and versatile varietals. Chenin Blanc is the grape that made France’s Loire Valley Vouvray famous. And they can be sweet, dry, dessert, sparkling in so many delicious ways.


But Chenin Blanc suffers from an image problem, so I’m here to convince you to try one with the chicken or pork curry recipes submitted by Ann Vogel. The high acidity, low alcohol and fruity character would compliment either of these curry recipes.

Chenin Blanc is a vigorous vine and has a tendency to bud early and ripen late. These attributes have made it the workhorse in California’s Central Valley where it is blended with Columbard and Thompson Seedless and sold in jugs – with handles on them.

But grown under the conditions of  the cool Loire Valley, with its chalky soils, it can produce a wider range of styles, from bone dry to real sweet and even sparkling. Chenin Blanc can vary from thin with high acidity (where it is over cropped) to minerally and crisp, with intense fruit and the ability to age gracefully.

The aromas and flavors of Chenin can be citrus, floral and sometimes tropical. Older vineyards have wonderful floral aromatics, body and minerality that make the grape so delicious.

Here are a few Chenin Blancs, highly recommended and most are from vineyards over 30 years old.

Pontin del Roza 2012 Yakima Valley Chenin Blanc is, I must say, one of my all time favorites. I sold gallons of this in my day. The Pontin family has been farming along the Roza Canal in the Yakima Valley for over 40 years. In the 1980s, they began planting vineyards. This little sweetie, at 2.8% residual sugar, is all pears, melon and lemon zest aromas with wonderful peachy, flavors and a crisp clean finish.

L’Ecole No. 41 2012 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc is sold out but the 2013 will be released this spring. Be ready! This is sourced from one of the older vineyards in Washington. This wine has that enticing pear, peach and nectarine aromas with floral hints and fresh tropical flavors balanced by a crisp, citrusy finish. $14

Kiona Columbia Valley 2013 Chenin Blanc is another Old Vine Wine that is made in a crisp, clean style with peach and apricot flavors and mouthwatering acidity that balances the sweetness. The finish has a lovely mineral quality. $15

Hestia Cellars 2011 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc is a delightful wine that offers an enticing nose of pear, peach, and honeysuckle with a hint of minerals. The fruit is intense with that wonderful ripe fruit, wet stone and slightly honeyed yet dry finish. Around $16

Cedergreen 2011 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc this dry wine, 13.8%, is sourced from 32 year old vines off Snipes Road. It may be tough to find since there were only 70 cases made. But they’ll release the next vintage this spring. I love this wine for its minerality, pear and melon flavors and creaminess. $17

McKinley Springs 2009 Horse Heaven Hills Chenin Blanc is also made in a dry style that reminds me of the spring trip in the Loire Valley. Heaven! Also from a vineyard planted in 1981, the aromas of pear, peach, honeysuckle and orange blossoms are wonderful. The ripe fruit flavors are apple and citrus with a lovely touch of minerality, spice and dry finish. A bargain at $14.

Alas, Chenin Blanc will never be popular like Chardonnay but for wine lovers and the adventuresome, it’s worth seeking out. It could surely use your support.

Weekly Wine Defined – Chateauneuf du Pape

February 24th, 2014 by Mary Earl

This is the most important and well-known appellation of the southern Rhone.

Thirteen different grape varieties are permitted in any southern Rhone wine region whether Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyas, or Cotes de Ventoux. But in practice it will be mostly Grenache with Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre and perhaps a touch of Viognier.

The place name literally translates to Pope’s new castle. In the 14th century, Pope Clement, former Archbishop of Bordeaux, relocated the papal court to Avignon, France.

Estate bottled wines are entitled to be marketed in a bottle which is embossed with the papal coat of arms featuring a mitre and crossed keys.

What to Drink – Saviah The Jack

February 18th, 2014 by Mary Earl

Saviah Cellars was founded in Walla Walla in 2000. The first year was small, only 300 cases but it’s grown – alot. And the wine in most demand is The Jack.savuah 941

This wine has pedigree. Grapes are sourced from some of Washington State’s best vineyards – Pepper Bridge, Elephant Mountain, McClellan Estate, Stillwater Creek, Frenchmen Hills Vineyard, Seven Hills, Weinbau, and Conner Lee.

Fermented in open top tanks so it could be punched down twice a day, this brilliant red wine is a blend of 86% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc. The aromas of black cherries, plum and vanilla greet you and then the flavors offer up the black cherries and plums that are juicy and sweet. The flavors are balanced by perfect acidity, a kiss of tannins and nice, smooth finish. All that flavor is worth the $14.

What did our Presidents Drink?

February 17th, 2014 by Mary Earl

One of the more fun-filled presidential facts I remember reading years ago had to do with what our forefathers drank while composing the Constitution of the United States of America and all those endless late-night meetings they attended.

They drank Madeira, and lots of it. Why is that you may be wondering? During the Revolutionary War it was the only wine available from Europe. The British being the rulers of the Seven Seas back then forbade other European countries from shipping goods to the Colonies.

But Madeira happened to be outside the boundaries of the ban being out in the middle of the north Atlantic Ocean and was unaffected by this decree.

There was plenty of homemade beer in the Colonies. In his early teens John Adams started his day drinking beer for breakfast, and by the time he began his days at Harvard at age 15, it was a daily regimen.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate was completely self-sufficient. There were vegetable gardens, farms, orchards, smokehouses, root cellars and brew houses where beer, cider and wine were fermented. Washington would drink home-made beverages and Madeira wine with the abundance of the land: game, fowl, pork, beef, plantation grown fruits and vegetables, fish from local rivers and a little port with the puddings or cream trifles served up at a state dinner.

President Thomas Jefferson was America’s first wine connoisseur with a studied preference for Bordeaux and Burgundy and Champagne. He brought back cuttings from his European travels and had them planted on his estate in Virginia. The first vinifera vines planted on the east coast.

President James Madison was small and slender and not much is said about what his preferences were, however, his wife, Dolly, was quite the entertainer at White House dinners. This remarkable woman was raised Quaker and yet entertained royally with beer and wine.

Springfield, Illinois was the stomping grounds for President Abraham Lincoln when he began as a circuit lawyer and then senator. It’s where his family home, tomb and presidential library are located. But few know his boyhood Kentucky farm was named Knob Creek Farm. Knob Creek Bourbon was named to honor Honest Abe and his Kentucky roots. Probably would have been tasty in the hot black coffee that was his drink of choice.

It’s a Wine and Chocolate Weekend – Yum!

February 15th, 2014 by Mary Earl

All of the Bainbridge Island Wineries will be open this weekend. They will be serving up special chocolates and wine at each of the wineries. Here’s the lineup and a link to the website for directions and hours.

  • Eagle Harbor Winery: delectable chocolate truffles by Pink Peony: Double Dark Chocolate and Dark Chocolate with Chiles
  • Eleven: Assorted amazing chocolates from Bissinger Chocolatier: chocolate covered wine grapes with blue cheese, salted caramels with Merlot, with Pear and Balsamic Vinegar, and with Bacon, as well as our wonderful port served in chocolate thimbles.
  • Fletcher Bay Winery: delicious locally-made fudge from Bon Bon!
  • Perennial Vintners: luscious handmade truffles from Yukon Jackson incorporating our Frambelle raspberry dessert wine.  Chocolatier Keith Jackson will be on hand on Saturday to serve you and talk chocolate.
  • Rolling Bay Winery: delicious, innovative chocolates by the dozen from Seattle favorite Theo Chocolates.

An Evening in Italy

February 15th, 2014 by Mary Earl

Last fall Brynn put us up on the auction block for a fundraiser for her sorority. It was to  raise money for a scholarship and we have this unique and sought after talent: cooking, wine pairing and cleaning up.

We quickly decided on an Italian theme since it is so popular and there are so many Italian wines to choose from. Our goal was to wow them with dinner, and introduce them to some unique Italian wines.

The evening began with a classic antipasti called Bagna Cauda which literally translates to  “hot bath.” The bath is made of garlic and anchovies steeped in olive oil. This is served with little chunks of asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, peppers, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, and Pugliese bread.

The diner dips the vegetables into the hot oil while using the bread to catch any drips, and then mangia, mangia! Two wines were served with this dish: a white, Italo Cescon Pinot Grigio from Veneto ($13) and a rosso, Pico Maccario Barbera d’Asti ($14).

The Pinot Grigio from the Venice area was crisp, floral with good weight. The Barbera was perfect, lots of fruit with a hint of herbs and very good acidity. The acidity is typical of this grape variety and a perfect foil to the olive oil.

The pasta course was cheese ravioli in brown butter with sautéed mushrooms and toasted garlic. The wine, Villa Caffagio Chianti Classico 2009 was so smooth, with depth and great flavors of cherries and herbs. It was well balanced and had a wonderful silky finish. It can be had for around $19.

Brodetto, or the soup course, was a spicy potato kale served with a Tuscan red. We chose the Tuscan red to be served after the Chianti Classico because we wanted to show the Sangiovese grape from the same area in a different way.

We poured a Villa Antinori Toscana Red 2009. To have Chianti on the label a wine must meet the strict regulations governing the region. Any number of technicalities prevent the use of Chianti on the label including the wine does not have the required 80 percent Sangiovese; the fruit is
sourced from vineyards outside Chianti; or there are additions of fruit to the blend that are not allowed.

For the main entrée, Chicken Saltimbocca in Marsala flanked by roasted acorn squash, sage-scented cannellini and Chard, we served two wines: Montresor Valpolicella 2009 and Catina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2010. Valpolicella is a blend of grapes, Corvina, Rodinella and Molinara from the wine regions surrounding Venice. The Montepulciano is the grape from the Abruzzi area which is located at the calf on the Italian boot. Both are rich and fruity in their own way and sell for around $12 each.

Dolce was a Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake which was wonderfully matched to the Risata Moscato d’Asti 2012 ($13). Moscato d’Asti is the Muscat grape, one of only two white grapes grown in the Piedmonte region of NW Italy. In this case, the wine is slightly fizzy or frizzante as the Italians call it. It was a match made in heaven.

What to Drink – Chateau Lagarosse Premiers Cotes de Bordeaux

February 12th, 2014 by Mary Earl

Breezy, wet, chilly weather this time of year, dictate a hearty stew, crusty bread and a bottle of red wine.

I have an abundant fondness for Bordeaux, that wine region in western France where Cabernet, Merlot and Cab Franc rule. Bordeaux is the world’s largest producer of quality, age worthy wines, of which about 75% are dry red.

Bordeaux grapes are the Sauvignons, Cabernet and Blanc, and their traditional blending partners, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot and for the whites, Sémillon and to a lesser degree, Muscadelle.

Bordeaux is part of the 1855 Classification System where Chateaux were categorized as First Growth, Second Growth and so on down to a Fifth Growth.

If a chateau wasn’t selected for one of those growths, they were classified as Bordeaux Appellation Contrôlée or AC. Bordeaux Cotes is the name for appellations on the outer fringes of the region. These wines tend to have more personality than Bordeaux AC and provide some of the best wine values from the region.

Highly recommended – Chateau Lagarosse, Premiers Cotes de Bordeaux 2009. It’s a blend of 80% Merlot, 10 Cab Franc and 10 Cabernet. It sells for under $10 and is imported by Canon Wines, SFO.

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