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Providing punch to the proceedings

Providing punch to the proceedings

Punch is back.

The crowd-friendly concoctions are appearing on celebration beverage menus and are more hip than ever. But today’s punches aren’t the old-style sherbet punches or the stereotypical renegade in the movies spiking punch bowls with Everclear.

My inspiration came from not only the many bartenders around the world holding “punch” competitions much like the “cocktail” rivalries but from books like David Wondrich’s, Punch and Dan Searing’s The Punch Bowl.

In the books, we walk through the history and the reasoning behind the re-birth of this drink. The challenge is modernizing recipes from the 18th and 19th century. These punches were often made to serve army regiments and other large groups of hundreds of people or more. Many of these early recipes include directions with phrases such as, “place in trough to serve” and “mix with a wooden paddle.”

Punches are a tasty hassle-free option for entertaining a large group. And if you stick with low alcohol wines as your main ingredients, punches offer a sipping treat for a long evening of celebration versus heavy, high-alcohol cocktails.

To make serving easier have your punch mixed, chilled and ready to serve several hours in advance.

Remember, when making a punch the wine will be mixed with other ingredients so you will be modifying the wine’s distinctive flavors. With that in mind, I suggest using good quality but value wines. Save the expensive bottles for when they can shine on their own. Your goal is a well-made wine with good acidity and structure.

I generally use Spanish cava, California sparkling wines or French cremant. These wines not only have the key to the structure of the punch but are also excellent value prices for large groups.

This is a recipe I have used several times and always receives rave reviews from my guests.

Pomegranate Sparkling

3 tablespoons sugar

1 cup pomegranate juice

3/4 cup chilled late harvest white wine

2 (750-mL) bottles chilled sparkling wine

2 oranges thinly sliced crosswise

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

1 cup diced fresh pineapple

In a punch bowl, dissolve the sugar in the pomegranate juice stirring vigorously. Add the wines, and then fruit. Chill well before serving. Serve over ice, if desired.


  • NV Toso Brut Sparkling, Argentina (about $10 retail)


  • NV Gloria Ferrer Brut Sparkling, California (about $19 retail)
Find perfect wine for cheese pairing

Find perfect wine for cheese pairing

When it comes to holiday entertaining, it’s hard to beat the fun and ease of a wine and cheese party. It is such an effortless gathering considering there is rarely, if any, cooking and prep time involved other than shopping and setup. How do you find perfect wine for cheese pairing?

The menu can be as simple as wine and cheese. But if you want to have more substantial food offerings, you can add crusty breads and other complementing foods such as charcuterie, olives and nuts or an array of fruits such as pears, apples and grapes.

Wine and cheese have many similar characteristics, even the language used to describe them. Fermentation, acidity, light-bodied versus full-bodied, region identity, and even the “terroir” are used to describe cheese. Cheese is deeply connected to the animal from whose milk it’s made and to the animal’s environment. A cheese made from the milk of a goat that was feeding on the juniper grasses on the hillside pastures of Corsica will have a definite “terroir,” just as red wines include flavors and aromas from eucalyptus trees growing close to the vines from which its grapes are grown.

In the past, most of us followed the time-honored rule of “pair cheese and wines that share the same home.” Italian gorgonzola with chianti and French brie with Champagne. But the rule is not as sensible when you consider what wine to pair with cheese made from the cows of Wisconsin.

It’s not that some of the rules should be disregarded. It’s just sometimes best to use them as a starting point and then let your taste buds create new rules!

Stick with reputable wine and cheese retailers to guide you on specifics while helping you stay within budget. And keep in mind that quality is better than quantity. Here are some of my favorite combinations.

Happy celebrating!

Sparkling wine and brie


  • NV Zonin Sparkling Wine, Italy (about $14 retail)


  • NV Gaston Chiquet Champagne, France (about $49 retail)


Sauvignon blanc and chevre goat cheese


  • 2015 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $14 retail)


  • 2015 Bell Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $16 retail)


Chardonnay and camembert


  • 2014 Apaltagua Chardonnay, Chile (about $11 retail)


  • 2015 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay, California (about $40 retail)


Merlot and pecorino fresca


  • 2014 McManisFamily Vineyards Merlot, California (about $12 retail)


  • 2014 Robert Mondavi Merlot, California (about $26 retail)


Cabernet sauvignon and aged gouda


  • 2014 McNab Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $15 retail)


  • 2013 Spann Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $30 retail)


Port and Stilton


  • Dow’s Late BottledVintage Port, Portugal (about $25 retail)


  • Graham’s 10-Year-Old Tawny Port, Portugal (about $45 retail)
Port wine is misjudged, it should be admired

Port wine is misjudged, it should be admired

Port is a must during the holiday season and mine is not complete without a celebratory glass of this liquid masterpiece. Port wine is misjudged, it should be admired. 

This rich fortified wine — made in the Douro Valley of Portugal — is often underappreciated and misunderstood. Images of British gentlemen in high-back leather chairs speaking of the Queen while sipping port and smoking cigars might be responsible for some of this misunderstanding. But in reality, port is far from stuffy nor is it always sweet (another misconception about port).

One might even call it an (almost) any occasion wine. It can be served during the most trendy or the most traditional of occasions. Chilled white port makes an unexpected aperitif. Tawny port is at home with dessert and, of course, vintage port is the pinnacle of choice for port fans.

Some of the misunderstanding comes from the many styles. Port really has many tastes: young, fruity, and intense; or old, nutty, and complex.

White and ruby ports are young and will have a lighter style compared to others. Aged Tawny showcases the aromas and taste of almonds with an unforgettable rich intensity. LBV (late-bottled vintage) is a classic reliable port from a single vintage but ready to drink and a fraction of the price compared to the crowning glory vintage port.

Ports have a unique viticulture and winemaking story. The growing region of the Douro Valley is one of the most inhospitable areas of viticulture in the world with baking-hot summers and freezing-cold winters. The isolated landscape is just as uninviting with its steep hillsides, poor, dry soils and archaic-looking planting terraces. In spite of the weather conditions and poor terrain, port grapes thrive there. Port is made mainly from five authorized varieties with Touriga Nacional (too-REE-gah na-SHUN-al) being the lead grape in the blend.

It could be the winemaking process that is the most unique part of port’s story. Just after harvest a celebration of sorts begins with the traditional foot-treading in open-trough wine vats by families and workers of the wineries. They march, walk and even dance in keeping with this winemaking tradition. (This may seem a bit awkward to envision but the human foot is perfect for the task.)

The best way to determine your taste for port is to try a few when you are dining in restaurants offering a selection of port styles. Order a glass of ruby and tawny ports and taste them side by side for comparison. It can be an expensive way to explore and learn your favorite taste profile, but it’s less expensive than buying whole bottles at the liquor store.

Adding to port’s significance during the holidays is it makes an ideal gift for the wine lover. The latest vintage port releases are 2007 and 2011. Check with your favorite wine retailer for availability. You will most likely see the cost well over $100 for a bottle but it’s worth the investment. But keep in mind vintage ports will need at least 15 to 20 years of cellaring before they will really show off their magnificence; the reward is well worth the wait.


  • 2010 LBV Taylor Fladgate Port, Portugal (about $26 retail)


  • 2007 Fonseca Vintage Port, Portugal (about $130 retail)