Venison pairs well with merlot, shiraz

Venison pairs well with merlot, shiraz

Among the many pieces of art adorning my in-laws’ walls, one piece is my favorite. An engraved wood plaque that simply reads, “We interrupt this marriage to bring you the hunting season.”

Venison is the first and most abundant addition to our freezer. Venison is not your average red meat, it has a rich, distinctive flavor but also is extremely lean. The key to the pairing is to stay clear of red wines with high tannin. Wines offering an ideal combination are merlot, syrah, shiraz and zinfandel. These wines will generally have less tannin but bring out the richness of the venison’s gamey taste to complement the blackberry, peppery spice of these wines.


  • 2015 Carisma Mendocino Syrah, California (about $13 retail)
  • 2015 14 Hands Merlot, California (about $14 retail)
  • 2015 BV Coastal Merlot, California (about $11 retail)
  • 2015 Bogle Merlot, California (about $12 retail)


  • 2014 Bell Canterbury Vineyards Syrah, California (about $27 retail)
  • 2015 Charles & Charles Merlot Blend, California (about $18 retail)
  • 2015 Charles Smith Boom Boom Syrah, California (about $22 retail)

Duck breasts are notoriously fatty, which gives them delicious flavor and juiciness. Grilling is a great way to cook them to perfection giving them a little smoky flavor and creating that crackly skin so many of us enjoy. Because of the earthy smoky flavors a pinot noir is the ideal wine pairing. If you want to heighten the pairing combination, make a classic dried cherry sauce bringing the cherry flavors of the pinot noir front and center with the flavors.


  • 2015 Carmenet Pinot Noir, California (about $14 retail)
  • 2015 Bread & Butter Pinot Noir, California (about $13 retail)
  • 2015 A by Acacia Pinot Noir, California (about $14 retail)
  • 2015 Angeline Pinot Noir, California (about $13 retail)


  • 2015 A to Z Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $19 retail)
  • 2014 Bell Russian River Pinot Noir, California (about $50 retail)
  • 2015 Resonance Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $47 retail)
  • 2014 Rex Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Washington (about $34 retail)
  • 2014 Fulcrum Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, California (about $55 retail)
Kosher wines made using specific rules

Kosher wines made using specific rules

There are many misconceptions about kosher wines.

The most common is that they are sweet and of poor quality.

In the early 1980s only a few wineries were producing kosher wines and most were sweet. Today, the kosher wine market is vibrant and growing.

Consuming kosher food, including wine, is essential to those who observe kashrut, the body of Jewish religious laws concerning the suitability of food, the fitness for use of ritual objects, etc.

The term kosher was derived from the Hebrew word for “fit,” meaning fit for consumption. Kosher wines start as with any wine — with a grape.

Kosher does not mean the wine was blessed by a rabbi. Rather, it means the wine was produced following specific rules according to kashrut.

Only religious Jews can handle the wine and touch equipment from the time the grapes arrive at the winery. Even a Jewish winemaker who is not orthodox cannot draw samples from the barrels. The additives used in the wine-making process are restricted too. Fining, cleaning materials and the yeast must be certified as kosher and not derived from animal by-products. Isinglass (coming from a nonkosher fish), gelatin (an animal derivative) and casein (a dairy derivative) are prohibited.

There are three basic categories of kosher wine.

“Kosher” is produced in a matter approved in accordance with Jewish Dietary Laws.

“Kosher for Passover” are wines not coming in contact with bread, grain or products made with leavened dough.

“Kosher le Mehadrin” are wines following the rules of kashrut but must be strictly approved.

Manischewitz and other sweet red wines are kosher but these are generally considered sacramental wine or “Kiddush wine.” These wines tend to taste like sugary, syrupy water. As more and more Jewish families search out dry table wines for festivals and blessings these wines and this style are also changing.

Mevushal wines differ in that they have been flash pasteurized so they remain kosher even if a nonobservant or non-Jewish person serves the wines. This wine must be heated to 185 degrees. Just in the last five years, “flash pasteurization” for wines was in its infancy, today this technique is becoming much more precise, satisfying the rabbinical requirement and not harming the overall quality of a wine as it had in the past.


  • 2016 Baron Herzog Chardonnay, California (about $19 retail)


  • NV Laurent Perrier Brut, France (about $75 retail)
Let guests choose from several wines

Let guests choose from several wines

Thanksgiving is one of the holidays for which I usually spend a great deal of time selecting the wines. The holiday offers a plethora of food choices, which makes wine selection the ultimate challenge. It has to please everyone and fit with everything at a traditional turkey dinner.

This year I am embracing an idea I was given many years ago by a fellow wine writer: After 25 years of attempting to be the hero at the family Thanksgiving dinner with the perfect pairing, he finally got smart and started leaving the choice to the guests.

This Thanksgiving I’m offering my family and friends an opportunity to appease their palates on their own. Rather than selecting the wines for each guest before the meal, I will place several different wines on the table, each a good pairing option in different styles and colors. And let my guests try the wines based on their preference, with the opportunity to explore different foods and flavors.

If you worry that certain wines will be emptied first, buy several backup bottles but have fun and make it casual declaring the first bottle emptied to be the best pairing of the meal. Also, don’t be concerned with passing a bottle around the table. Since most of us already pass around the food casually on Thanksgiving, why not pass the wine?

With this idea in mind, I have selected wines that are confirmed matches with the array of flavors from turkey and cranberry sauce to sweet potatoes.

Dry white wines with refreshing acidity — sauvignon blanc, dry Riesling, pinot gris, chardonnay, chenin blanc, viognier and albarino — are ideal to pair with almost any menu item.

Off-dry wines such as Gewurztraminer and Off Dry Riesling as good options as well. But avoid wines with cloying sweetness.

For a Thanksgiving food friendly red, pick one low in tannins to not overwhelm the array of flavors. Pinot noir, gamay and merlot are good bets.


  • 2015 Cline Viognier, California (about $14 retail)
  • 2015 Charles and Charles Riesling, Washington (about $15 retail)
  • 20115 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Village Gamay, France (about $16 retail)


  • 2015¬†Stoller Dundee Hills Chardonnay, Oregon (about $22 retail)
  • 2013 Hugel Gewurztraminer, France (about $29 retail)
  • 2015 Anne Amie Cuvee A Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $25 retail)
Zinfandel lauded with a special day of celebration

Zinfandel lauded with a special day of celebration

I always love any reason to celebrate, but when it’s considered a “National Day” and includes wine, that’s even better. Today is National Zinfandel Day — a made-up worldwide celebration of the Zinfandel grape variety. The day celebrates and gives Zinfandel lovers around the globe a platform to express their passion for the grape and the wines made from it.

Numerous studies indicate the grape used for making California Zinfandel originated in Croatia, as it is genetically similar to an old varietal called Cljenak Kastelanski. Historians believe that in the 1820s a nursery owner brought Zinfandel cuttings that were Croatian in origin to the United States from an Austrian collection.

The Zinfandel name, however, is truly American, the earliest documented use of the name is when Boston nursery owner advertised “Zinfandel” for sale in 1832.

Zinfandel was introduced to California during the Gold Rush between 1848 and 1855. It was the top choice of the American alcoholic beverage consumer, even over whiskey. After the California Gold Rush, timber and wire were scarce. Production of Zinfandel grapes surged because they could easily be cultivated using traditional European “head pruning” techniques requiring a minimum of special equipment to grow. Zinfandel even found a niche in the homemade wine market, a legal loophole during Prohibition (1920-1933), while many other vines were being uprooted.

During Prohibition and the Great Depression, the U.S. wine industry weakened and most of the world had forgotten about this once popular grape. But in the 1960s vintners started handcrafting age-worthy wines blended to be “Bordeaux-like” wines. This was the change factoring in California’s path to high quality wines and Zinfandel was the distinguished grape among them.

In the 1970s a wave of blush wines started when California wineries began to draw free-run juice from Zinfandel grapes, fermenting it as “white” Zinfandel. This trend should be commended for the preservation of the old Zinfandel vines. Red table wines were decreasing in popularity and growers could have been forced to other varietals to keep up with consumer demand, leaving the old vines lost forever.

In 2006, then California state Sen. Carole Migden introduced a bill to designate Zinfandel as the official “historic wine of California.” The original reasoning behind appointing Zinfandel was to acknowledge its success in California, having been cultivated there since Gold Rush Days. Unfortunately, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure.

Today, this grape continues to be celebrated not only for its historic influence on the American wine industry but its distinct style and flavor profile.

How will I be celebrating National Zinfandel Day? By sharing a bottle with friends and becoming a part of the global conversation. Connect with other Zinfandel lovers on social media with the hashtag #ZinDay.


  • 2015 Ridge Zinfandel, California¬†(about $13 retail)


  • 2016 Artezin Old Vine Zinfandel, California (about $18 retail)
Warm soup better with the right wine

Warm soup better with the right wine

With the weather finally in line with cravings for hearty soups and stews, it’s a good time for some pairing tests.

Soup with wine can be a notoriously difficult match. The challenge lies not in flavor, but texture. Both are liquids (for the most part, anyway) and, for many, there is conflicting appeal, or lack thereof, in eating a liquid and drinking a liquid at the same time.

But that’s not to say there aren’t good matches out there.

First, consider the texture and ingredients of the soup. Is it velvety smooth? Are there tender bits of vegetables suspended in clear broth? Or is it a hearty, rib-sticking stew with large chunks of beef and potatoes? Next, consider the main ingredient much like you would when you pair pasta or rice dishes.

While not a first thought for many, sherry is almost always the best and safest pairing with any soup. It’s a “go to” wine that will match into a wide range of soups. Dry Fino Sherry works beautifully with more delicate flavored soups and a dry amontillado or oloroso goes well for those with bolder or more earthy flavors.

With cream based soups, a medium- to high-acid wine adds welcomed freshness. It’s almost like a squeeze of lemon for a touch of flavor. Consider chablis, unoaked chardonnay, albarino or sauvignon blanc.

Very thin soups bring the liquid-upon-liquid debate into play, begging the wine to be a supporting cast member rather than the star. Consider dry amontillado sherry, dry madeira, gruner veltliner or dry German riesling.

Protein based soups containing meat, fish and beans are the most versatile and the pairing guidelines become broader. Remember to keep in mind the texture of the soup, but this is a soup where the spices and other ingredients can be your guide. Consider tempranillo with chile pepper, carmenere with beef stew, muscadet with clam chowder.

Unlike many dishes that always have a safe pairing option, soups are all about exploration. Use your dining experience — whether at home or out at a restaurant — as a palate-testing lab. And don’t forget to take note when you find the perfect match.


  • 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling, Washington (about $12 retail)
  • 2016 Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $14 retail)


  • 2015 Sandeman Don Fino Sherry, Spain (about $19 retail)
  • 2015 Christian Moreau Chablis, France (about $33 retail)
Drink to recovery of California wine

Drink to recovery of California wine

There is no other way to start this column other than to say my heart aches for the many people affected by the devastating fires in Northern California’s wine regions. I have been on the phone over the past several weeks touching base with some of my dearest friends, in not only business discussions but to offer my personal condolences on the sheer devastation and destruction they have endured. Our conversations quickly turned not to the devastation of the wines but to the loss of lives.

The vineyards will recover in time, but the loss of life is forever.

From all accounts, the immediate implications of the devastation are still being assessed, but in no way is this vintage — or the wine regions we have revered for decades — doomed. Many wineries in this region had almost 90 percent of their grapes harvested and some already in vats in the winery.

Most readers have questioned the effect smoke has on grapes and a finished wine. The industry refers to this as “smoke taint,” the result of smoke seeping into the pores of grape skins and grapevine leaves and becoming present in the juice. This generally shows up later in smoky or ashy wine aromas and taste of bitter, smoky and charred flavors. Smoke has affected vineyards as recently as the 2008 vintage in Mendocino and northern Sonoma where forest fires in Mendocino cast an eight-day smog of smoke over many vineyards.

A recent bulletin from the University of California Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology offered a wealth of information on this subject. The grapes can’t simply be washed to remove the smoke. Washing grapes will remove the ash left by the fires from the exteriors but the compounds causing smoke taint are already inside the grapes. However, there are methods used to remove these smoke-derived compounds. One is reverse osmosis, a form of membrane filtration that can remove these compounds. But the UC Davis bulletin states that over time the taint may return because some of the smoke’s effects are temporarily bound up in the chemistry of the wine but can be released as the wine ages. Many experts in the industry believe this unlikely, as this method has improved dramatically over the last years and is a viable option. But, with much of the harvest in before the smoke covered vineyards, smoke taint is a risk for a small percentage. Numerous studies confirm that smoke taint does not linger in the grapevines and will not affect the quality of future harvests.

Here in Arkansas we may feel as if we’re too far away to help in the recovery, but one thing we can all do is simple: Buy Northern California wines with confidence in the resiliency of these communities that in their words, “are only stronger” and keep their devastation and recovery in our thoughts.

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