What wine does a wine connoisseur buy for a friend as a special gift or a celebration with friends and family? That was the question we would answer when each member of the Wine Review Council brought one of their favorite wines to share along with a pairing of a favorite food a couple of weeks ago.
Nothing is more festive than Champagne (real Champagne from France), which is what started off our tasting. In an ice bucket on our table sat an elegant Moét Rosé Impérial, showing off its rosy salmon color and promising a fruit-forward taste. It did not disappoint. This Moét, comprised of three varieties of grapes (mainly Pinot Noir) has a nose of strawberries and raspberries. It comes packaged in a pink decorative box to make the perfect gift for a breast cancer survivor or Mother’s Day. A fun wine deserves a fun pairing, so we paired it with chicken tenders as well as shortbread cookies filled with raspberry jam.
How about a crisp Sauvignon Blanc? An inexpensive and delicious one is the 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Horse Heaven Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($18 retail). We found this Sauv to be less grassy than some of those from New Zealand. Crisp and vibrant describes this wine with flavors of citrus. The perfect pairing was a tray of Herbs de Provence Crackers and Chévre.
If you can get your hands on a bottle of Carménère from Tertulia Cellars in Walla Walla, WA, grab it—or grab two or three. This amazing wine was the #1 pick of our group on this particular evening. It is a very unusual grape varietal, considered the “lost grape of Bordeaux.” Currently, Carménère is predominately grown in Chile. Cuttings were taken from France to Chile, and subsequently, Phylloxera killed this varietal in the Bordeaux region. With soft tannins, the wine has flavors of black pepper, pipe tobacco, and ground coffee as well as blueberry and black licorice.
This wine is suggested as a gift for someone who is more of an IPA drinker because of the flavors and complexity that resemble an IPA (India Pale Ale) as well as a similar aftertaste. Maybe we are all IPA lovers at heart! The pairing was a beautiful antipasti platter, a perfect combination because this wine loves to be with BBQ and bold meats.
Do you have a Sicilian among your friends? The Tasca d’Almerita Winery’s Lamuri 2013, a Nero d’Avola from Sicily would be the perfect gift ($20 retail). It features aromas of black cherry, vanilla, and herbs with a beautiful ruby-red color. My palate was awakened by the smooth tannins and pleasant acidity. This wine goes so well with spaghetti and meatballs, lamb kebabs, Pappa Pomodoro (a luscious and flavorful Sicilian tomato soup) or anything musty and earthy. Be sure to open this bottle at least a half hour before dinner.
How about that person who loves organic and vegan food? We tasted the Big Red 11 from a Lake Elsinore, CA winery called La Rebelde. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot varietals. Flavors of plum, green pepper, and a whole lot of earthiness fill your mouth with a finish of cherries. The pairing was an eggplant and sweet pepper tapenade. By the way, this winery is one of the only vegan wineries in the U.S.
Is there a Syrah lover on your list? The 2013 Walla Walla Syrah from Tertulia Cellars will truly delight them. This wine is true to what one expects from a Syrah—it’s bold with aromatics of black licorice, fennel, smoke, and blackberry. We tasted cassis, vanilla, and bay leaf with a smooth finish. Your Syrah-loving friend will want to try this wine with grilled meats or spicy salamis.
Anyone who loves giving dinner parties will welcome this nirvana in a glass after a wonderful meal—the R.A. Harrison Family Cellars 2013 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley. With notes of honey, apricots, and peaches, it offers a finish of lush crème brulée. Your friend will relish the complexity without a cloyingly sweet taste. Try this with our pairing of puff pastry pillows filled with blue cheese, goat cheese, and mascarpone cheese topped with a drip of honey. (Find the recipe for these bites below.)
Good friends who enjoy good wines deserve the gift of a delicious wine. Savoring this gift with perfectly paired food and enjoying the company of all while reflecting on the beauty of each mouthful is, after all, why getting together with friends who love good wines is so pleasurable.
Puff Pastry Pillow with Chevre, Blue Cheese, and Mascarpone
Ingredients Makes 16
1 sheet prepared puff pastry, approximately 12-inches by 10-inches (I use Pepperidge Farms Frozen Puff Pastry, thawed for about 30 minutes)
2 ounces soft Goat Cheese
1 ounce Blue Cheese crumbles
2 ounces Mascarpone
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped walnuts (optional)
2 tablespoons of honey (optional)
Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry dough to form a 12” square. Cut the pastry in 3” squares, making a total of 16. In a small bowl, blend the three cheeses together. Place a rounded teaspoon of the cheese filling on half of each square. Sprinkle the walnuts (if used) and pepper over the cheese. Carefully outline the squares with water along the edge of each to help seal each piece. Fold each piece in half to form a triangle. Take a fork and seal the edges with the tongs.
Place the triangles on the parchment prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden and puffed, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes, then serve. If desired, drizzle a small amount of honey atop each piece.
Guest Blogger Linda Milks, a former English teacher, is a food, wine and travel writer living in Southern California.
Linda has been involved in the culinary arts throughout the years. She publishes on a variety of sites including FoodWineTravelChix.com, Temeculanightout.com, and Life-Uncorked.com and has a passion for sharing experiences with her readers.