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NorCal Wine Blog

7 New Year’s Resolutions for Expanding Your Wine Horizons

New Year’s resolutions are often made but rarely kept. They are usually positive goals we create to improve ourselves or our lives. But resolutions frequently involve stopping behavior that has become ingrained. So they are difficult to stick with. That’s especially true if the habits we’re trying to break are one’s we actually enjoy.

Here are some resolutions that build on things you enjoy, rather than forcing you to give them up. Giving these a try will expand your horizons and you’ll actually have fun in the process.

Drink a red wine with fish.

There are many “rules of thumb” when it comes to pairing wine and food. They are well-intended, meant to make creating palatable combinations simpler. But some of these general guidelines seem to have become hard and fast rules. That's not right. You can play it safe and stick to the rules. But you’ll learn more, and have fun, by breaking them from time to time.

And there’s another potential benefit to drinking red wine with fish. Eating more seafood and less red meat is a healthy choice. If you prefer red wines, you may be eating red meat than you ought, just because of the pairing. I know I do. By letting ourselves enjoy reds with seafood, we'll be doing our bodies a favor.

Among the fish most likely to work with red wine are salmon, swordfish and tuna, all either pan roasted or grilled. Go easy on the salt. Skip the lemon. Feel free to pour on the mushrooms. Here are three types of West Coast red wine to try with them.

  • Pinot Noir, especially youthful wines from Oregon or cool climate areas in California
  • Merlot, particularly medium-bodied versions with only gentle oak.
  • Grenache and blends thereof, look for wines with little oak and moderate alcohol.

Drink a white wine with red meat.

You don't necessarily need to open another bottle of wine when moving from light starter course to mains. White wines are generally lower in alcohol than reds. So, going all white occasionally may keep your liver happy. And whites are often less expensive than reds of similar quality too.

When pairing red wine with fish, the main concern is that the two might clash badly. That’s not the case with white wine and red meat. Here the challenge is choosing wines that won’t be overwhelmed by the meat.

  • Oaked California Chardonnay will go well with fatty meat, such as Kobi or Wagyu beef. The wine will also pair with lean meat, like filet mignon, if the meat is served rare or medium rare, especially if it comes with a cream or butter sauce.
  • Rhone-varietal whites (Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier) work well with many different pork preparations as well as veal.
  • Riesling is also a good choice for pork and it’s ideal for Asian meat dishes such as Indian or Thai curries, Vietnamese beef pho, as well as spicy or sweet and sour Chinese fare.

Try wines made from uncommon grapes.

There are so many wineries and vineyards that you could drink a different Pinot Noir every day for the rest of your life. But you’d be missing an awful lot of fun wine. New World wine laws are much less limiting than those of Europe with respect to what wines can be produced in a given region. You can find well over a hundred different varietals to sample just within California. Here are three suggestions to get you started.

2009 Uvaggio Vermentino - Okay, Vermentino isn’t too bizarre. It's an aromatic white wine with aromas, flavors and textures that vary substantially based on where and how it is grown. It can be citrusy and mouth-watering or heavier and softer on the palate with stone fruit. Briny minerality is common. Odds are though that you haven’t tried one unless you drink a lot of wine from Northern Italy or Southeastern France. Uvaggio’s fruit comes from Lodi. And the wine is darned good. It’s a low alcohol white that goes great with linguini in clam sauce.

2009 Robert Foley Charbono - Charbono is found in France’s Savoie region where it’s known as Corbeau Some say it’s identical to Argentina’s Bonarda, that country’s 2nd most common red grape. Still others claim, incorrectly, that it’s Dolcetto. In California you can call it almost extinct. Once common in the Napa Valley, it was pulled out over the years in lieu of the much more profitable Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s making a minor comeback now and Foley has long been a proponent. Charbono offers tangy berry flavors accompanied by plenty of tannins and acidity. It’s a good wine for pizza or grilled meat, but not one to try with fish.  

2008 McCrea Counoise Ciel du Cheval Vineyard (Red Mountain AVA, Washington) - Counoise is a red grape most commonly found in France’s southern Rhone Valley, especially Chateauneuf du Pape where it is a minor component in blends. Even there it isn’t grown widely with less than 20 acres under vine, according to Harry Karis. The scant planting is due primarily to Counoise’ susceptibility to gray rot and resulting inconsistency of yield. Wine made from Counoise is similar in some ways to Pinot Noir; light tannins, moderate alcohol, notable acidity and strawberry flavors. Unlike most Pinot Noir though, Counoise tends to have black pepper and blue fruit flavors too. McCrea lets Counoise star in this wine, mixing it with just 20% Syrah. It is medium-bodied and fresh with lovely red fruit. Pair it with food as you would Pinot Noir.

Wente Vineyards also makes a Counoise varietal wine from Livermore fruit as part of their Small Lot series. Theirs includes both Petite Sirah and Barbera.

Seek out unusual blends.

American wine laws give winemakers more freedom in making blends too. And there are some pretty interesting ones to be found in California. Here are three of my favorites.

2008 Cypher “Louis Cypher” Eclectic Red, Paso Robles - Winemaker Christian Tietje starts with four Portuguese varieties: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Souzao and Tinta Roriz (aka Grenache). Added to that are five other grapes: Teroldego (mostly found in Northern Italy), Zinfandel, Carignane, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah. Even the oak is a blend, French and Eastern European. The wine is dark and delicious, bursting with red fruit with notes of dark flowers and exotic spice.

2010 Vina Robles White4, Paso Robles - This winery is based in Paso Robles but it’s owners and winemakers are from Switzerland, a small country with several languages. In White4, they stuff four grapes that wouldn’t normally congregate (Viognier, Verdelho, Vermentino and Sauvignon Blanc) into one bottle and it works out just fine.

2010 Matthiasson Napa Valley White Wine - This is an odd blend that critics and wine geeks love. It's that good and it's unique. A majority of the wine is Sauvignon Blanc blended with it’s natural Bordelais partner Semillon. But then things go south — geographically, not qualitatively — with two varieties from Italy. The grapes in question Ribolla Gialla and Friuliano (known as Tocai Friuliano until the Hungarians got assertive) aren’t even that common in Italy. The end result is a wine that is clean yet waxy, ripe yet fresh, light yet solid, this yet that.

Taste wine with new people.

I’m not suggesting that you ditch your spouse or stop drinking wine with your regular gang. However, adding more people to your wine tasting circles will expose you to their favorite wines and wineries. And they'll enjoy hearing about yours.

Take a wine class.

It can be intimidating to buy wines from a region you know nothing about. Taking a class focused on a particular country, region or varietal will introduce you to a lot of new wines. It will provide context that can add to your enjoyment. And you may make some new wine friends too.


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Banner photo Copyright Sunnybeach. All rights reserved.

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