Tag Archives: wine

Wine Pairing, Made Simple

I’m trying to keep an open mind about this….. I got a press release this morning about a new line of wines called Wines That Love™.  It sounds a bit odd at first, but read that as “Wines That Love [fill in the blank].” And you can fill in that blank with Pizza, Roasted Chicken, Grilled Salmon, Grilled Steak or Pasta with Tomato Sauce at this point (with more menu items to come). 

These new wines go down a path that nearly turns food and wine pairing on its head, selling the bottle based pretty much solely on what’s for dinner. No Wines That Lovethinking required. Chicken? Grab the bottle with the bird on the front. Novel, to be sure. But perhaps no more so than other labels that have taken any and all pretension or intimidation out of the wine-buying experience, such as the Mad Housewife label.

It might be easy to dismiss this as a sort of hokey operation, just skimming the surface of wine appreciation. Which, honestly, was my first reaction at reading the release earlier today. Interestingly, the Wines That Love wine director has quite a pedigree. Ralph Hersom is the former wine director from Le Cirque in New York, and before that he was at Windows on the World. He offers good tasting notes on the web site, discussing tannins, varietals, intensity, acidity. So for the initiated among those new wine buyers, there is a bit of an education to develop the future wine-lovers. And that’s certainly a plus.

I really am not a wine geek at all, nor do I consider myself to be a food snob. I did, after all, write a post about Tater Tots, and admit in another that I occasionally give in to a Domino’s delivery. More lowbrow disclosures are sure to come. On the subject of food and wine pairing, my MO is generally to not follow any particular rules but instead drink what I want with what I want. So I guess the whole guise of selling a bottle of wine tied to just one type of food seems more limiting than perspective-opening. After all that pizza may have goat cheese, artichokes and pine nuts, leaning more toward a moderately rounded white wine, maybe an unoaked chardonnay. Or it could be a pizza with lush tomato sauce, roasted peppers and coppa, calling more for a sangiovese or other medium to light red wine. The “drink this bottle with roast chicken and this one with grilled steak” premise just seems a bit simplistic to me. So much is variable.

But hey, if this is a means to make more people comfortable with buying wine, versus not buying it at all because they find it intimidating, I’m all for it. Maybe this is the right answer for a big cadre of new wine consumers. Company president Tracy Gardner states in the release, “My goal is to double wine consumption in this country by solving the most difficult issue consumers face, ‘what goes with what?’ Wine That Loves solves that problem.”

Perhaps it does. At suggested retail of $12.99, this certainly is an easy group of wines to experiment with. I’ll give a bottle or two a try when I can. Current distribution is limited to New York, Rhode Island, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maryland, D.C. and Massachusetts, according to their web site. If you live in one of those states, the site helps you track down a local retailer.


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Oyster Wine Winners

This is what I sat down to last Thursday afternoon:

oyster wine glasses


Twenty glasses, a judging sheet, a bottle of water and a pencil, with a platter of freshly shucked kumamoto oysters delivered forthwith. The tools of the trade for an oyster wine judging. This Seattle gathering at Anthony’s HomePort at Shilshole was the last stop of a three-city tour for the twenty finalist wines in this year’s Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition.  Souls more stalwart than I were part of a team to trim down the 200 entries this year to those twenty finalists the rest of us judges sampled.


After the rigorous judging, twelve entries won the “best oyster wines” distinction this year, earning the prestige of being the top picks to sip alongside a briny, fresh, crisp oyster from the Pacific Coast. Sponsored by Taylor Shellfish (their web site posts the winners and other competition information) and orchestrated by the inimitable seafood guru Jon Rowley, this is an elite dating service for bivalves and wine. And it is a focused process, to be sure. Before sampling each wine, we took one of the kumamotos into our mouth and chewed it well, following it with a sip of the wine.


Not a belabored study of the merits or qualities of the wine itself, Jon asked us all to judge instead on the “bliss factor” of the pairing. To me, this translated best in the moments where the wine emphasized the deliciousness of the oyster and the oyster’s strong character didn’t conflict with the wine. I generally liked all of the wines I sipped, though some were a bit too shy for oysters, succumbing quickly to the salty-minerally oyster flavor lingering on my tongue. Other wines were too bold, too tropical or too floral, ultimately overwhelming the oyster flavor.


Among those winning wines that were “just right” are Covey Run Winery 2006 Fumé Blanc from Washington, Willamette Valley Vineyards 2007 Pinot Gris from Oregon and Robledo Family Winery 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from California. Those also happened to be my personal top three picks. How Pacific Coast-inclusive of me (there apparently were no wines submitted from British Columbia).


All but one of my top ten picks from last week made the final cut, which was a surprise. Surrounded by many who have far more developed and knowledgeable wine palates than I–restaurant wine managers, wine shop owners, wine writers, all-around enophiles–I might have expected my palate to be a bit more skewed from consensus view. But I guess, when it comes to oysters and wine, when it’s right, it’s right.


One final thought. Remember that sparkling wine and oysters are also ideal partners. And bubbly goes beautifully with other seafoods too. When I was researching my Crab cookbook, Lane Hoss from Anthony’s very generously set me up with a chance to taste a dozen or more Northwest white wines with a few different preparations of crab to discern what some of the best pairing options were. And with each crab dish, we also sipped a ringer: Veuve Cliquot Champagne. Not every wine worked well with every crab dish, but the Champagne was a delight with everything. In fact, I’m not sure I have yet to encounter a food and sparkling wine pairing that didn’t work! Maybe I’ll set up my own little oyster and Northwest sparkling wine challenge at home one of these days.

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Open That Bottle Night #2

For the general population, it was the ninth annual OTBN,  but here at my house it was just the second year we’d joined in the fun. OTBN is a sort of unofficial wine holiday, brilliantly dreamed up by the wine writers from the Wall Street Journal who grew tired of answering reader questions the likes of “When should I open that 1985 Petrus Pomerol I’ve had for 20 years?” While there are many ways to answer a question like that, some delving into the year’s qualities, the wine’s style, how the wine was stored, philosophical discussion of wine appreciation….often the very best answer is simply just ‘open the bottle, enjoy it.’ So to help those in need of an excuse to open OTBN4exquisite, old or otherwise special wines, Dorothy J Gaiter and John Brecher created Open That Bottle Night, celebrated on the last Saturday of February.

As I mentioned in my enewsletter last year, I called upon 10 friends “who eat and drink well with others” to help us celebrate OTBN. Perhaps no surprise, but the same 10 from last year were eager to relive the experience this year. Here’s what we drank. And ate. For me, this is a blissful opportunity to cook my brains out, stretch my culinary-school muscles and have a ball in the kitchen.


Juana Palo Cortoda Sherry

in the Sacristia (very old soleras) collection of Bodega Garvey


Carrot-Thyme Soufflé

1996 Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvée Palmes D’Or Brut


Duxelles Egg Custard In Egg Cups

Frisée with Truffle Oil

Dom Perignon 1999


Sole and Salmon Packets

with Shaved Celery, Chive & Lemon Salad – Classic Beurre Blanc

2006 Robert Hall Sauvignon Blanc Paso Robles


Foie Gras on Crostini

with Dried Cherry & Cocoa Nib Compote

1999 Gunderloch Nachenheirner Bothenberg Riesling

Trochenbeeranauslese Reinhessen Nackenheim


Warm Duck Confit Salad

Local Morels, French Green Lentils, Red Cabbage & Arugula

Toasted Hazelnuts, Sherry Vinaigrette, Marinated Goat Cheese

Vertical of Chinook Merlot: 1992, 1993, 1994


Herb Marinated Lamb Loin with Grain Mustard & Mushroom Demi

Potate Galette – Bacon Braised Savoy Cabbage

1966 Chateau De Pez, St Estephe

1962 Chateau De Camensac Grand Cru Classé, Haut Medoc


Artisanal Cheeses with Homemade Walnut Bread

2002 Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling Auslese

1996 Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon, Bin 707


Chocolate/Raspberry Terrine

Coffee Madeleines

Almond Gateau

Clear Creek Pear-In-The-Bottle Eau de Vie

Vin Santo Toscano Vendemmia 1988

Here you can read the forum at WSJ where readers are sharing stories about the wines they poured. I hope might consider celebrating OTBN yourself next year. It’s by all means NOT about the fanciest, most noteworthy wines. Anything that means something to you that you’ve been holding on to for a special occasion. Life is a special occasion and meaningful wines are meant to be enjoyed. Cheers!


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