Don’s February Premier Series Top Picks

This month’s first Top Pick is a no brainer.  The 2009 Château Barreyre clearly stands out as an extraordinary example of what Bordeaux can deliver for a price most of us can afford.  The prodigy of an overachieving Petit Château in a fabulous vintage the 2009 Château Barreyre delivers everything one could ask from a top notch Petit Château: an alluring  aromatic profile, plenty of up front cassis fruit, a nuanced complex mid-palate, and just enough ripe tannins to further its development for several more years.  Drink this wine happily now and over the next four or five years.  My second Top is more problematic.  The 2011 Vesevo Falanghina is a delicious white wine from Italy’s Campania and the finest Falanghina we have tasted from this excellent winery.  However, two other outstanding features make this month’s second Top Pick a tough choice.  Bisci’s 2011 Verdicchio Matelica remains a personal favorite because I find it simply hard to resist as an aperitif or accompaniment to seafood, but then there’s the exuberant 2011 Gormaz Ribera del Duero: it may just be the best value in Tempranillo from Spain’s legendary Ribera del Duero.  So, who gets the crown?  It truly depends upon one’s preferences and what accompanies the wine, but pushed to make a decision I have to opt for Vesevo’s 2011 Falanghina.  Falanghina is an ancient varietal that is little known in America.  It’s excellent with seafood and holds up well to spicy sauces.  If you have never tried a Falanghina, it’s about time you did. 

A votre santé.


To Screw or Unscrew the Cap Re-visited

screw topNearly ten years ago I wrote a feature entitled, “To Screw or Unscrew the Cap” in which I made a case for metal screw caps.  A decade ago cork finished nearly every fine bottle of wine and the Stelvin metal cap was a relative novelty, except among Australian and New Zealand wineries. The prevailing sentiment in America was that screw caps, regardless of their origin were fit only for inexpensive wines with limited ability to age.  No more!  What started as a novel way to avoid the taint of infected cork that had become increasingly more prevalent with the shortage of high quality cork has now become mainstream in nearly all wine producing countries.  Today, even Verget, the great French Burgundy producer has adopted the metal screw cap for his top end wines.  Why?  Screw caps work, and they work well, plain and simple.  In fact, they finish wines better than cork.

In nostalgic moments, I bemoan the loss of a perfect cork exiting every special bottle of wine but the reality of the situation is that not all of those “special bottles” were as special as they should have been or could have been had they been finished with metal caps.  Ten years of positive results with screw caps finishing top end wines should be all the testimony we need.  Nevertheless, perceptions die hard, so I would like to reiterate my initial arguments in favor of the metal cap.

Natural cork is a limited commodity.  It is the refined bark of the cork oak, which grows only in certain Mediterranean climates and locales.  Moreover, it takes decades for a cork oak that has been “harvested” or flayed if you will to once again bear sufficient cork for our precious wine bottles.  In a world enamored of wine, the supply of cork simply cannot keep up with demand.  There just isn’t enough genuine cork to go around, and even less high quality cork to be had.  Hence, the plethora of alternatives:  composite corks, hybrid corks, synthetic corks, and now screw caps.  Each has its attributes as well as its drawbacks, with the exception of the metal screw cap whose only downside is its lack of aesthetic appeal.  Aside from aesthetics, the modern screw cap is the perfect seal for most wines.  It provides an airtight seal, rarely leaks and never spoils or imparts an off taste or smell to a bottle of wine.  Surprisingly, it appears to allow fine wines to mature slowly and consistently in bottle as well.  The same cannot always be said for all genuine cork or the “pseudo corks” we find closing many wines today, so let’s not hold the metal screw cap in contempt.  Besides, the metal cap is here to stay, whether we like it or not, and I predict that more great names in wine will soon adopt or expand their use of the metal screw cap.


Red Wine Spaghetti with Seared Scallops

We’re cooking with wine this Valentine’s Day!

1 bottle dry red wine
3 cups water
1 tsp salt
13.25 oz box whole wheat spaghetti
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup walnuts (2 oz), toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
18 scallops (about 1 1/2 lbs)
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped


In a large pot, combine all but ~1/4 cup of the red wine, 3 cups of water, and the salt. Bring to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook, till al dente, according to instructions on box. The pasta should absorb most all of the liquid (if not, drain pasta before tossing in upcoming step).

In a deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/4 cup red wine. Bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large non-stick skillet. Sear the scallops about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until browned and no longer opaque throughout.

Carefully stir in the pasta, and cook until liquid has absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add the parsley, nuts, the 1/2 cup of cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and toss. Season the pasta with pepper and serve with 3 scallops atop the pasta. Yield: 6 servings (about 1 1/4 cups pasta with 3 scallops).

Nutrition Information (per serving): 616 calories; 21.8 g. fat; 40 mg. cholesterol; 598 mg. sodium; 53.3 g. carbohydrate; 7.2 g. carbohydrate; 30 g. protein

Result: A dressed up spaghetti meal that suites the wine-lover best. Because the pasta absorbs nearly the entire bottle of wine while cooking, the pasta is flavored beautifully with wine. Therefore, be sure to use a bottle you love! A Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot would be my choices here. While I served this pasta meal with seared scallops you could certainly opt for a vegetarian meal, or switch the protein to shrimp, chicken, or even a red meat…the flavors are very versatile. Enjoy!

Recipe and picture from PreventionRD

SprinkleBakes Red Wine Lollipops

As Valentine ’s Day quickly approaches, we thought that we would share something we stumbled upon that is fun and unique, SprinkleBakes Red Wine Lollipops! With just a few ingredients, this could be a great way to share your love of wine with your special someone! Visit SprinkleBake’s website for the recipe!

What to Look for in 2013

I am always looking for wines that are not yet on the tip of everyone’s tongue.  Some are relative newcomers, others are ancient varietals whose many attributes are just being discovered or re-discovered in the case of Mencia.

Mencia is a red Spanish grape varietal found primarily in the Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras appellations of northern Spain.  The Mencia varietal was once considered by enologists to be a direct ancestor and precursor of Cabernet Franc, but recent DNA testing has shown that this is not the case.  Mencia and Cabernet Franc do share some common characteristics, but not the same ancestry.  It is now widely believed that Mencia and Portugal’s Jaen de Dão (Jaen for short) grape variety are one and the same.  Still, not everyone agrees.  However, what we do know for certain about Mencia is that it has been around for quite some time, and it is producing outstanding wines.

In Bierzo, original plantings of Mencia likely date to the earliest Roman settlers in Bierzo, who cultivated the varietal two thousand years ago in what remains one of Europe’s most isolated wine regions.  Bierzo is a remote area of Galicia, Spain’s cool, windswept province astride the Atlantic.   Certainly, it is the very isolation of the Bierzo that has allowed Mencia to survive and even thrive.  Moreover, the average age of the hillside vines in Bierzo is quite old, which lends itself to the production of high quality wines.  Consequently, the wonderfully fruity, spicy, and wholly intriguing Mencia varietal has recently been discovered or rather re-discovered by modern legions of wine drinkers.  They are no doubt intrigued by the unique viticultural entity we call Mencia, whose many attributes are accentuated by organic farming, low vineyard yields, and modern winemaking techniques.  In 2013, look for Mencia and other outstanding premium varietals that are not yet household names to arrive at your door.