VINHO VERDE – St. Patrick’s Day Wine

Top o’ the mornin’ to ye lads and lassies! Tomorrow we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that marks the death of Ireland’s beloved patron saint. Many public parades mark the occasion and GREEN clad revelers sporting shamrocks will flock to local pubs to imbibe that St. Paddy’s Day libation of choice – GREEN beer.

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But for some of us wine aficionados who aren’t particularly fond of beer, this is a holiday that can truly “ale” us. What’s an oenophile to do short of artificially dying wine GREEN? I propose the perfect alternative. Vinho Verde!

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Vinho Verde (pronounced VEEN-yo VEHR-deh) literally means “GREEN wine”. This light, slightly effervescent white wine from Portugal is not literally GREEN in color. Rather, it’s a young wine mean to be drunk soon after it is made, ideally within a year. Vinho Verde hails from the Minho region of Portugal which lies in the northwestern corner of the country. This is the coolest, wettest and GREENEST part of Portugal ideal for producing highly acidic white wine.

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Taking the GREEN theme a bit farther, just north of the Minho region and across the border into Spain lies the Galicia region. This area is known as GREEN Spain, also the coolest, lushest and most verdant part of that country. Both areas are idea for growing the grapes alvarinho/albariño, trajadura/treixadura and loureiro/loureira, three of the twenty-five grape varieties used in making Vinho Verde.

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With an alcohol content averaging just 10% and a slight fizziness that comes from malolactic fermentation that takes place within the bottle, Vinho Verde is a veritable vinous substitute for foamy beer. It’s light enough for bigger gulping and celebratory in its bubbliness. Its aroma blossoms in an effusive bouquet of GREEN: lime zest, GREEN apple and honey dew melon. Its lively acidity makes it an ideal food-pairing wine, the perfect palate cleanser between bites of corned beef, cabbage, and buttery potatoes.

Here’s one more GREEN fact about Vinho Verde. It won’t cost you much GREEN. You can easily find bottles of it well under $10. About this time of year, when winter melts into spring and folks look forward to warm weather alfresco dining, you’ll see Vinho Verde advertised on sale. I purchased a dozen bottles last year for just under $60. Another plus: many Vinho Verde bottles sport screw tops. Not only is this an added convenience for picnics and patio dining, but screw caps virtually eliminate the risk of cork taint.

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So as beer lovers chug-a-lug their mugs of green glug on March 17th, we wine lovers have the perfect St. Patty’s Day prerogative. We will celebrate by pouring a GREEN  wine from a GREEN region loaded with GREEN flavors that didn’t set us back much GREEN.

Vinho Verde just might make beer lovers GREEN with envy!

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BET ON THIS HORSE

Meet my NEIGHbors.

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These three spirited horses greet me on my walks past the ranch near my house.  Such a “mane” attraction they are! They love to frolic in the verdant meadow, snorting and kicking up their hooves in equine glee. When I pass by, they often stand transfixed, providing me the picture perfect Kodak moment. I’ve dubbed them “The 3 Night Mares”, and should I ever dream of owning a horse ranch, these three feisty fillies would fulfill my equine reverie.

So when I saw this bottle of 3 HORSE RANCH Chardonnay, I said, “WHOA! HOLD YOUR HORSES! This label reminds me of The 3 Night Mares!”

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I took creative license with my graphics software to feature the horse trio at their nonofficial 3 Horse Ranch in Montana.

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The official 3 HORSE RANCH is located high in the foothills above the town of Eagle, Idaho.

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The wine hails from Idaho’s new AVA (as of November 25, 2015), Eagle Foothills, a sub AVA of the Snake River Valley AVA. The family run vineyard is dedicated to natural growing methods which minimize detrimental impacts on the environment. Natural weed management is practiced and pest control measures involve encouraging a sustainable population of beneficial insects. Hand pruning, individual vine training and hand harvesting attest to 3 HORSE RANCH’S commitment to quality and purity in their 100% naturally grown grapes.

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This focus on natural growing techniques allows 3 HORSE RANCH to nurture a more intense expression of each vinifera varietal they choose to bottle. This is exhibited beautifully in their Chardonnay. Like the counterpoints in western versus English style horsemanship, this Chardonnay is rustic yet refined, hefty yet elegant, its girth camouflaging a fine-boned finesse.

Palomino gold in hue, it shimmers in the glass. On the nose, a delicious bouquet of apple pie and pear crisp waft up in aromatic tendrils, tickling my nostrils and whisking me back to grandma’s country kitchen. The first cursory sniffs are indeed delightfully fruit juicy, but upon deeper whiff I detect a subtle hint of saddle leather. On the palate, the orchard fruit flavors are girded with a Burgundian minerality lending an Old World elegance. The creamy, honeyed texture and mouth-watering acidity on the backstretch paces toward a lingering finish.

And if you allow me to engage in serious punnage, the oak has been REINED in making this an exquisitely balanced wine. From a single vineyard, it’s a PUREBRED with PEDIGREE. Only yays and no NEIGHS to this ChardonNEIGH. HOOF it to your nearest wine retailer and FILLY up your wine cellar with 3 HORSE RANCH. If I were to take a GALLOP poll, surveys would prove it’s a WINNING WINNY WINE! Come share with me an UNBRIDLED passion for the Snake River Valley terroir! Retails for approximately $18.

Okay, I’m done HORSING around!

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

I hail from Colorado and as a Rocky Mountain gal, most of the Christmas seasons I recall were snowy. Once I married and was stationed at various warm climate duty stations with my military husband, I’d pine for the white Christmases of my childhood.

Once we settled in Montana over 20 years ago, I welcomed those snowy holidays again. But this winter has been a particularly harsh one with a lingering arctic blast sending temperatures plummeting below zero. This frigid weather and inundation of snowfall is typically not experienced until January and February. Needless to say, I’m craving warmth and sunshine; dreaming of a green Christmas is more like it!

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Thankfully, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with its crisp grapefruit zing and grassy aromas transports me to southern climes, if only in my reveries.

I’ve enjoyed a gamut of Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs from either end of the price spectrum. From Cloudy Bay to Smart Cookie, each bottle is a vicarious voyage to sunny shores. This 2015 vintage of Prophecy is no exception. It’s the color of golden sunbeams with a tinge of grassy green. Aromas of grapefruit, lemon zest, and freshly mown lawn lead to a flavor burst of mandarin orange, granny smith apple and gooseberry.

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It’s the mouthwatering acidity that I adore about this wine and of southern hemisphere Sauvignon Blancs in general. Each zippy sip explodes in citrusy goodness and then wipes the palate clean. Subsequent sips are just as impactful. It’s almost oxymoronic for a wine to be so light bodied yet simultaneously so intense. Such an intoxicating juxtaposition!

Prophecy wines feature varietals from different locations, and this Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from vineyards in the Marlborough region on the northeast corner of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s a veritable vacation to southern sunshine, certainly what I’m dreaming of this cold December day!

So as the snow continues to fall into a thick blanket of white and the mercury hovers at the zero Fahrenheit mark, I’ll be sipping my grassy Sauvignon Blanc under an imaginary sunny summer sky.

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DREAMING OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS

The first snow of the season always fills me delight. My little alpine town transforms into a picturesque postcard. Pastures are blanketed in snow and the white capped peaks of the surrounding mountains beckon winter sports enthusiasts.

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Our charming downtown, draped in festive lights, bears a striking resemblance to Bedford Falls in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The long awaited rituals of the season are practiced: caroling, sledding, snowshoeing in the moonlight, and gathering around the hearth sipping hot cocoa, mulled cider and red wine.

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As an avid cook and entertainer, I’m drawn to hearty seasonal fare in the winter. Piping hot stews, cheesy casseroles and stick-to-your-ribs beef and potato dishes truly warm me and my family through and through. As is predictably standard, red wine is the go-to pairing for such rich and heavy meals.

However, as a white wine lover living in the land of eternal winter, I grow weary of red vino rather quickly. So this holiday season, to balance out the red with white, I’ll be dreaming of a white Christmas. Or more aptly, I’ll be DRINKING UP a white Christmas! In the coming weeks, I will feature various white varietals to enjoy as apéritifs and pairings with winter meals.

It’s a Winederful Life after all!

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For kicks and giggles, I composed a parody to launch my white wine series. Sing the lyrics below to the tune of White Christmas.

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Element of Surprise

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. They certainly are mine and that’s no surprise since diamonds happen to be my birthstone. I have a penchant for sparkly things, so when I recently uncorked a bottle of Columbia Winery’s Element, a Wahluke Slope red blend, imagine my delight when the bottom of the cork, embedded in tiny crystals, twinkled up at me. I let out a squeal and walked around showing everybody my exquisite discovery. My blingy cork was met with oohs, aahs and a few raised eyebrows, followed by the query, “What is THAT?!”

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Never ask a wine nerd a question about wine for they are certain to geek out on you and answer with animated passion bubbling over, drowning you in a vinous sea of deep details.

With that disclaimer, here’s my description of wine diamonds, hopefully with just enough information to satisfy inquiring minds and not too much mind numbing minutia.

“Wine Diamonds”, as they are commonly referred to, are minute crystalline deposits that occur in wines when tartaric acid and potassium bind together. Tartaric acid is the most prevalent acid in grapes and wine, but if the wine is exposed to temperatures below 40º, wine diamonds can form. In such chilly conditions, the tartaric acid compounds in a wine naturally combine with potassium to form a crystal. This can appear as a powdery white substance at the bottom of a bottle or as crystals clinging to the cork.

Some experts in the wine industry claim the presence of tartrate crystals are a sign of quality, indicative of a wine that hasn’t been over processed. They also claim that wine diamonds do not impart an unpleasant taste. Others believe that wine diamonds can noticeably affect the wine’s taste. Because tartrate crystals, once formed, cannot be re-dissolved, a wine might taste noticeably less acidic. In either case, wine diamonds are not considered a defect in wine nor a hazard, unless, of course, the imbiber ends up choking on the unexpected chunks of crystal!

To prevent wine diamonds from forming, winemakers employ a process called “cold stabilization” to remove tartrates from white wine before it is bottled. This technique is used for purely aesthetic reasons. It is performed with care because very cold stabilization strips a wine of its aromas and flavors. Colder temperatures also increase a wine’s ability to absorb oxygen which can lead to premature aging.

Because red wine is less apt to form wine diamonds due to its lower level of tartaric acid, I consider my sparkly cork a rarity. I will add it to my growing collection of corks, and as the sole bejeweled specimen, it will hold a special place of honor.

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If you ever serve a bottle of wine with tartrate crystals on the cork, simply wipe them away with a cloth (or save the cork if you are mesmerized by it!). If the crystals are present in the wine, you can decant the wine and leave the last bit of them in the bottle. You can also pour the wine through a cheese cloth. If the wine is being served to you (and you have an irreverent sense of humor like I do) you can feign a heightened sense of interest or horror, raise a supercilious eyebrow, and pointedly ask the server, “What is THAT?!”

How they answer will be the true test of their enological IQ and their level of wine geekdom!

Sparklingly yours,

Linda

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June Blooms & June Grooms

“My luve’s like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June.”

What quote could be more quintessentially June than the first line of my favorite poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns? June’s birth flower is the rose and red roses symbolize romantic love. Roses happen to be the most popular choice for wedding bouquets. Consequently, June is also the most popular month for nuptials. Such a ubiquitous image is that blushing June bride clasping a rosy bouquet while beaming at her adoring beau. Ahhh, roses and romance. June blooms and June grooms.

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And just as love blooms like a red rose in June, so too does rosé. Pink wine lovers celebrate their beloved wine on the second Saturday in June, National Rosé Day. In every glorious shade of pink imaginable, rosés bloom prolifically throughout the month and well into the hazy, lazy days of summer.

I came across a perfect bottle of rosé befitting the June wedding season. Save Me, San Francisco Wine Co. is a collaboration between esteemed winemaker James Foster and the San Francisco based rock band Train. The wine labels are named after Train hits, and Marry Me Rosé is an apropos wine for a wedding and perhaps even a proposal.

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The label art depicts the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, a venue for hundreds of weddings.  Train lead guitarist Jimmy Stafford states, “Our song Marry Me has serenaded many of these weddings and now can be enjoyed at every wedding. When you taste this rosé, you will want to get married all over again. Here’s to love!”

This vibrant rosé is the perfect marriage of fruit and mineral, acidity and balance. Its tropical aromatics dovetail beautifully with a profusion of red berries on the palate. Coupled with a light pasta salad and grilled fish or chicken, this might be love at first sip! Rosé paired with summer fare is veritable wedded bliss!

I imagine bottles of MARRY ME rosé have accompanied many a proposal and have graced the reception tables of many a wedding. It’s June, the season of rosy blooms and brides and grooms. Share with me your most romantic love story, the joy of courtship, the heartfelt proposal, and your best relationship advice.

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As I opened with Robert Burns, I would like to close with dear “Rabbie” who is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement. In deference to and in reference to his unique writing style, I have penned a poem in honor of the tender intensity of his spirit. It would do my romantic heart good if you oblige me to wax poetic over love, roses and of course, my beloved rosé!

Let us toast to June, to June grooms and June blooms, to roses and rosés!

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National Rosé Day – June 11

Ring around the rosés! Pocket full of poses! Flashes! Splashes! Rosé rain down!

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I’m taking poetic license with a childhood nursery rhyme and tailoring it to my love of pink wine in honor of National Rosé Day. Can you tell I love photographing rosé? For those of us who think pink and drink pink, we celebrate our beloved rosé wine on the 11th day of June.

Here are a few fun facts about rosé to tickle your fancy and tickle you pink.

• Purportedly, rosé wine was the first wine ever made. Twenty-six centuries ago, the Greeks founded a colony in Marseille where the first vines and winegrowing culture were introduced in Provence. The wines made in those days had a light color, similar to rosés, because the maceration of juices with grape skins was either unknown or only practiced on a limited basis.

• 50 Shades of Rosé? At the very least! From the palest Provence pink to a deep magenta, the shades of rosé cover the red color spectrum. As a general rule of thumb, the darker the rosé wine, the longer the grape skins have been in contact with the juice and the more tannic it will be. Although rosé will never taste like a bold, blockbuster red, it is definitely capable of projecting a bolder profile.

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• Think Rosé isn’t for serious wine buffs? Think again. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, two of Provence’s celebrity vineyard owners, launched a rosé wine created by the Perrin wine-making family.

Named Miraval, it went on sale in March 2013. Most of the stock sold out within five hours. Already praised by critics, the wine received a big boost in November 2013 when it made Wine Spectator’s list of the top 100  wines in the world.

Although Miraval came in at a mere #84 on the list, it was the sole rosé, essentially making it the best rosé wine in the world as well as the first rosé to have ever appeared on the list.

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• To piggyback on the Provence Perrin family, the rosé they produced before “Brangelina” bought their estate was named Pink Floyd after the famous rock bank recorded part of their The Wall album there.

• You’ll have more green in your pocketbook if you drink pink. Rosés are usually a great bargain, especially compared with red wines. Unlike reds which typically mature for a few months to several years, rosés are “young” and relatively cheap to make  because they don’t require lengthy aging. They’re also underappreciated and undervalued in the United States which explains why French rosé is affordable despite the fact that most French imports are fairly pricey for American consumers. A decent rosé will only set you back $10-$15, and a splurge on a quality French rosé won’t break the bank for around $25-$30.

• Rosé is very versatile vino. From bone dry to super sweet, rosé can satisfy a wide range of palate preferences. Old World Rosé from Europe generally tends to be dry. New World Rosé from everywhere else can range from dry to sweet. From the most discerning of wine snobs to your simple, sweet-toothed grandmother, there’s a myriad rosés to please the pickiest to the most peasant of palates.

• In the event you end up with a rosé you just don’t like for whatever reason, this amazing pink wine shines in its versatility. If a rosé is too cloyingly sweet, add some club soda for a refreshing spritzer. On the flip side, if you end up with a lackluster rosé, you can use repurpose it as a cocktail mixer or for spiking lemonade. Add a sprig of basil for a classy touch. Who knows? Your most adamant rosé hater friend might warm up to this vilified pink wine!

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So pour yourself some rosé and let’s clink our pink glasses together in honor of National Rosé Day! Think pink! Drink pink! Cheers!

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