It’s the time of year when mailboxes are filling up with invitations to weddings to be held in the coming months. I always find buying the ideal gift for our bride and groom confusing, what with all the choices.
The intention is genuine and we want to buy a unique gift that will be appreciated or treasured for years to come.
For me, the dilemma often comes as I look over the gift registry printout debating the blender, the fondue set or the stainless-steel popcorn popper. It’s not that the newlywed couple would not truly appreciate one of these additions to their household, after all they are asking for them. But I want my gift to be special, so why not share my passion for wine in a unique and commemorative way?
Wine and wine accessories can be perfect wedding gifts and a thoughtful gesture.
The bride and groom will enjoy it during a quiet, reflective moment.
The following are ideas that will add a personal touch to your gift:
- Personalized wine boxes — I love this gift because it is a novel way to package and wrap wine bottles. The Wine for a Wedding boxes are made by Artificer Woodworks. Each box features a custom engraved design with “open on” anniversary instructions for each compartment. As the couple reaches the anniversary they open a bottle of wine along with a personal message engraved on the inside lid of the box. The site guides you with ideas on design and fun or sentimental quotes. It’s as simple as selecting your box, adding the personal message and shipping address. As for selecting wines for each compartment, your local wine shop can help select the right wines for each anniversary. For more information, visit arkansasonline.com/0516boxes
- Write an inspiring message — Buy any large-format bottle of wine and have friends or family write a personal message to the couple. Wine bottle markers come in an array of colors but the metallic silver and gold stand out the best. They are usually under $10 and can be found in most craft stores.
- Personalized Wine Labels — A fun and unique gift for the bride and groom also can be used for wedding favors. You can select from hundreds of designs and ideas or create your own by adding a favorite photo. Most of the companies I researched do not charge a design fee and allow you to order as little as one label. The price from most companies ranged from 50 cents to a dollar.
My family loves pizza.
What makes pizza — a near perfect food — even better? Pairing it with the perfect wine. For many years I have been consuming pizza with wine but usually I order the house wine in pizza restaurants or drink what we have on hand in our home. But recently I have been exploring pairings that make this food and wine combination even better.
Pizza already has acidity from the rich tomato sauce, fattiness and salt from the cheese and then there’s a range of options when it comes to the toppings.
Italian Chianti, made from the legendary sangiovese grape, has always been a classic pizza pairing. This pairing fits with one of the general food and wine pairing rules: Drink a wine from the same regions as the cuisine. But there are many exciting options for pairing this now-American staple.
Barbecue Chicken Pizza is quickly becoming one of my favorites. I admit it could be that I enjoy anything barbecue because of the savory-smoky flavors. The barbecue sauce on the pizza brings out many exciting flavors when you add cheeses and spices. Malbec tends to be fruit forward and works with the sweeter styles of most barbecue sauces.
- 2016 Alamos Malbec, Argentina (about $10 retail)
- 2016 Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec, Argentina (about $16 retail)
Hawaiian Pizza is one of my husband’s favorite pizzas and I am always looking for the ideal match. If you consider wine and food pairing advice of the past, a pizza topped with meats is usually considered to match only with a red wine. But during my exploration one of my favorites has been a slightly sweet riesling. The acidity in the riesling acts as a palate cleanser and the slight sweetness brings out the best in the salty ham and sweetness of the pineapple.
- 2016 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling, Washington (about $12 retail)
- 2016 Trimbach Riesling, France (about $27 retail)
Meat pizzas — especially with sausage toppings — pair with fuller bodied red wines. Pepperoni gives pizza a meaty spicy flavor matching perfectly into the bold peppery style of the syrah grape. The rich meats with spices generally including fennel, anise, thyme and oregano bring out the intense flavors of this wine.
- 2016 Cline Cellars Syrah, California (about $13 retail)
- 2016 Bell Syrah Canterbury Vineyards, California (about $28 retail)
Pizza Margherita is sometimes put into the same category of wine pairings as a simple cheese pizza. But the aromatic notes of fresh basil and the saltiness of the fresh mozzarella offer much more to pair with a wine also offering aromatics. A dry rose brings an ideal pairing with this pizza style.
- 2016 Apothic Rose, California (about $13 retail)
- 2016 Presqu’ile Winery Rose, California (about $20 retail)
I keep my eye on grape varieties getting attention and for selfish reasons am always looking for great value wines I can add to my everyday drinking shopping list. Barbera is such a grape.
In the past, most of us only thought of this grape as a blending partner, overshadowed by the famous Barolo wines of Italy. But over the past decade we are seeing this grape stand on its own as a sought-after wine. Why have American consumers been left out on this wine? The simple answer may be the Italians were keeping this secret to themselves, keeping almost all of the wines produced for local consumption.
This grape grows throughout the world, but most famous are the vineyards of Piedmont, Italy, that for centuries have produced the most concentrated and complex examples. It’s considered the “workhorse grape” for Italian winemakers because of its hardy growing traits that thrive in most soils and climates.
Most think of Piedmont for the famous nebbiolo grape used in the coveted Barolo and Barbaresco wines. But barbera is known in this region to locals as “the people’s wine” as almost half of the everyday house wines or table wines in Italy are made from this grape. It is the third most planted grape in the entire country and almost 1,000 years older than the well-known cabernet sauvignon.
Because barbera is very low in mouth-drying tannins but high in acidity, it is a dream for wine and food pairing. It’s one of the Italian grapes I have found that simply matches with almost any food. It can be deceiving because the wine is very dark in color and most are expecting a tannic full-bodied style similar to cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, but the taste is generally light and refreshing. It has flavors of cherry, strawberry and raspberry when it’s young, and as it ages can deliver the undeniable “truffle” aromas and flavors reminiscent of the great wines of Piedmont.
The best examples are from the town of Asti. This town has been producing affordable barbera for centuries. Look for the name Barbera D’Asti on the label.
- 2016 Araldica Albera Barbera D’Asti, Italy (about $12 retail)
- 2011 Michele Chiarlo Barbera D’Asti, Italy (about $22 retail)
You may have seen the words “sur lie” on the label of wine bottles. Sur lie is French for “on the lees,” but what exactly are wine lees and what do they do?
Simply put lees are sediment and sur lie means the wine was aged with this sediment.
As a wine ferments the lees fall to the bottom of the tank in two stages. The first is known as “gross lees” and the other “fine lees.”
Gross lees are the heavier particles made of leftover sediment such as stems, seeds, pulp and even dirt. These are generally racked off — racking is the process of moving wine from one barrel to another using a siphon and gravity rather than a pump to avoid stirring up sediment (i.e. lees) — immediately after fermentation. Too much contact with gross lees can be harmful to wine and lead to spoilage or undesirable flavors.
Fine lees, composed primarily of dead yeast cells, are quite desirable. Contact with fine lees is an important part of the winemaking process as fine lees impart complexity and richness to a wine.
For white wines, a key function in keeping a wine on the lees is for oxygen absorption. This acts to protect a wine from oxidation and preserve youthful and fresh characteristics. The key is the amount of time and the balance in stirring these dead yeasts. The perfect technique will give wines an added texture and generally make the wine smoother on the palate. Another technique in this process is “batonnage” where the settled lees are stirred in the wine. It is important in the process because it promotes integration and keeps the lees from compacting and bringing in undesired hydrogen sulfide odors.
Another technique is autolysis. It may not sound enticing, but this process involves the decaying dead yeast cells bursting, and thus imparting flavor to the wine. Some of the greatest Champagnes can spend decades in the process as they mature in bottles inside cellars. The yeast cells die in the bottle once sugar has been consumed — ending the second fermentation. This means that these wines are coming into close contact with fine lees left in the bottle and over time this is what creates the flavors of biscuits and bread we love so much in these exceptional wines.
- 2015 Charles and Charles Chardonnay, California (about $15 retail)
- 2015 Sauvion Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine, France (about $17 retail)
- 2014 FEL Chardonnay, California (about $32 retail)
- 2013 Hahn SLH Chardonnay, California (about $20 retail)
- 2015 La Cana Albarino, Spain (about $19 retail)
If you know me well, you know I am always one to celebrate — even if I’m a little late sometimes. Uncorked turned 13 last month. For me, each year is a monumental milestone and a reflection on how much I truly enjoy writing this column for my readers. In addition to my love and passion for learning more about wine, it’s your feedback, ideas and your questions that make it the most fulfilling.
In the coming year I invite you to continue to reach out to me with more of your thoughts and questions. These comments and questions often lead to new columns. I hope over the next year we can continue our dialogue to make Uncorked even more relevant to you.
Value wines continue to be the most sought after “what do you recommend” requests I receive.
Here’s a selection from this past year’s columns.
- 2016 Picpoul de Pinet, France (about $12 retail)
- 2015 Bell Red Blend, California (about $16 retail)
- 2016 Bell Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $17 retail)
- 2015 14 Hands Merlot, California (about $14 retail)
- 2016 Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $14 retail)
- 2016 La Cana Albarino, Spain (about $17 retail)
- 2016 A to Z Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $15 retail)
- 2015 Chateau Bonnet Blanc, France (about $15 retail)
- 2015 Parallele 45 Cotes du Rhone, France (about $15 retail)
- 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer, Washington (about $12 retail)
- 2015 Snoqualmie Naked Riesling, Washington (about $14 retail)
- 2015 Sean Minor Pinot Noir, California (about $14 retail)
- 2016 Montes Cherub Rose, Chile (about $14 retail)
- 2016 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $13 retail)
- 2015 Cline Cellars Zinfandel, California (about $11 retail)
- 2016 Shannon Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $15 retail)
- 2016 Sables d’Azur Cotes De Provence Rose, France (about $12 retail)
- 2014 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Village, France (about $14 retail)
Arkansas is home to a number of food and wine festivals. And later this month, a new festival will be added to the lineup. The first Arkansas Italian Food and Culture Festival, will be held in Riverfront Park, North Little Rock, April 20-21.
The festival will kick off with an Italian Film Spotlight and VIP Reception, 5:30-10 p.m. April 19 at The University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The event will include Italian cuisine and specialty drinks over a double feature of Moonstruck and I Sopravvissuti. Seats are $25 each and must be reserved by April 18.
VIP Dinners, 5:30 p.m. April 20 and April 21 will feature perfectly matched pairings of Italian cuisine prepared by Ristorante Capeo and wines by Banfi. Each night’s menu will differ slightly. Tickets are $100 per person.
The festival will have an array of wine tasting opportunities for attendees — sparkling, sweet, refreshing and of course those robust Italian reds we always enjoy. During the daytime events you will be able to sample Chianti, Lambrusco and Prosecco and offerings from local winery from our own Little Italy community in eastern Perry County.
Other festival activities include an Italian car show, youth and adult soccer tournaments, bocce in the park, entertainment, celebrity and kids grape stomping competition, cooking lessons and workshops, kids zone and a best sauce cooking competition. And for the drink and food lovers, yes, there will be a plethora of everything Italian!
General admission to the festival is $5. All proceeds will benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Central Arkansas.
For complete schedule of events and ticket information for the VIP events, visit aritalianfestival.com