wine - Page 3

What’s In My Glass? Ste. Chapelle Chardonnay

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Chardonnay grapes on the vine

This summer weather sure is sticking around! It’s an excellent excuse to pop open a bottle of cold Chardonnay if you ask me. Precept wines recently sent me a delicious box of wines to taste, and the first one I picked was this delectable Chardonnay from Ste. Chapelle Winery. I was especially excited when I found out it comes from Idaho! I was able to do a little tasting there this summer and was blown away with what I tried. Finding a new wine region is always so fun, especially one that is growing like crazy, like Idaho!

Chardonnay is absolutely one of my favorite varietals. I like the cold and crisp versions aged in stainless steel, and ones that have seen some oak contact and have a hint of butter. The Ste. Chapelle Chardonnay definitely had a bit of oak contact, but I loved it! There of course were flavors of toast, but I also got notes of pineapple and bright citrus. Oak contact done right can create a wine that is smooth and has very nice balance. This wine was a great example of this! I loved the smooth, balanced mouthfeel and how fruit forward this wine was. This is the perfect summer wine.

Idaho is a region that I am definitely going to keep my eye on. There are some good things coming out of this area. Cheers to new wine regions, and delicious affordable wines.

What a Grape: Grenache

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When I am asked my favorite wine I almost hardly ever have an answer. There are so many varietals that pair with many different things and add to an experience, that picking just one is hardly possible. However, I do have a grape that I would put in as a top contender: Grenache. Now this grape isn’t super common (at least here in Oregon) but it is produced at a few wineries throughout the state. Just what is Grenache? It is a red grape (there is also a blanc version but that is even more rare!) that is originally from Northern Spain, that is also called “Garnacha”.

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The Beautiful Grenache Grape. Photo Credit.

The first wine I ever tried and actually enjoyed was a 2008 Boedecker Cellars Grenache. I remember the velvety mouth feel, cherry and pepper notes, and the smooth finish. It was love at first sip. I might be a bit partial but I am drawn to this grapes high tannins and acidity that create a very balanced wine after aging. Usually this grape is very fruit forward with jam-like flavors and cherry, with a kick of spice on the end.

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Most of this varietal is grown in Southern Oregon, but you can find it throughout the state. J.Scott Cellars has a current release, as does Milbrandt Vineyards in Washington. Many times it is used in blends as well, like in Folin Cellars “Estate Misceo”. The next time you are wine tasting keep your eyes peeled for this medium bodied varietal. We have a few local options to choose from, and there are many more produced in France and Spain if you are feeling adventurous. Cheers!

 

What is Wine?

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So very often we pop open our favorite bottle, pour it into a glass, and drink it up without a thought of what we are really consuming. What is really in that glass of wine we are drinking? Not until I actually witnessed a real harvest was I fully aware of the process, and that was what really sparked my interest in making my own wine someday. The actual science behind wine is fairly simple, and I feel the more a wine drinker knows about its processes the more one can appreciate the beauty that is wine in the glass.

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(Photo Credit: Alex Ranaldi)

Obviously, wine is made with grapes. However, not the table grapes we are used to eating. Wine is made with wine grapes, which are much sweeter. They are picked at the perfect amount of sweetness. Actually, once the grapes have reached the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness then they are ready for harvest. Another simple indicator is, are the birds eating them? That means they are close to perfect.

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Freshly harvested grapes ready for processing
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Oregon Pinot Noir being de-stemmed at J.Scott Cellars

Once these grapes are ready and picked they are brought to a winemaking facility and processed in a few different ways. If a red wine is being processed the juice (known as the “must”) is left in contact with the skins, seeds, and sometimes stems to create a rich color profile. If it is a white wine the aim is little skin contact, as to not extract any color. The musts of grapes is then fermented with yeast (most commonly Saccharomyces cerevisiae, although there are more species that will also work), and then the yeast microbes convert the sugar into alcohol. The more sugar present in the must the higher alcohol content the wine can have. Wine is simply the product of fermentation.

In addition to being fermented it is aged, sometimes filtered, and “fined” for clarity. Wines can be aged in a few different vessels, but mostly they are aged in either oak or steel barrels. These are of course the general processes behind winemaking, but each winemaker will choose to make wine the way they like. There are many variations to each step, and that is why wines are all so different.

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(Photo Credit: Christian Haugen)

Learning behind the processes of wine really helped me see the beauty and artistry in each glass. No two wines are ever the same, which is why I’m an equal opportunity wine taster. The next time you pour a luscious red or a crisp white wine, keep in mind the amount of love and care that went into just that one bottle. It’ll really change the experience. Cheers!

What’s In My Glass? Eola Hills Merlot

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Merlot is a fantastic, big bodied wine that is not often found here in Oregon. Recently, I was fortunate enough to find one that is not only from our home state but a delectable treat. The Eola Hills 2011 Merlot was a knock out!

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It was produced just west of Salem in Rickreall, Oregon and the grapes were picked in both the Colombia and Applegate Valleys. Since the grapes were grown in warmer areas this wine has all of the big bodied fruit flavors you’d expect, but also had a nice complexity. The nose was full of wood notes and a strong cup of coffee. The first sip reminded me of chocolate covered blueberries, and had jammy fruit flavors. It had a hint of licorice spice and erred more on the dry side. What a treat! Check out the Eola HIlls 2011 Merlot for yourself, at less than $20 a bottle this wine is a steal. Cheers!

To Age or Not to Age

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I recently mentioned the basics of cellaring here, but sometimes I’ve been faced with the question: Does this wine need to age at all? Most wines are ready to go when bottled and may only benefit from a short amount of aging. How do you decide whether or not to age? A lot of it comes down to a couple of basic rules. First, is it a frugal find under $20? It more than likely doesn’t need to be aged. Many times these will be aged in oak barrels for an adequate amount of time before it is even bottled so aging will not benefit the final product.

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(Photo Credit: Ren Kuo)

Next up, is it a red or white wine? White wines have a much lower tannin content because of their lack of content with the skins, seeds, and stems during processing. The exception to this rule is when a white wine is aged in oak barrels, where it will pick up some tannins and help round out the final product. Many Chardonnays will age for 1 – 2 years. Red wines benefit from aging much more. Big red varietals can be aged anywhere from 5 – 10 years easily, just keep an eye out for corked wines when opening. Our beautiful Oregon Pinots can benefit from 3 – 5 years of aging. If you happen to pick up a Beaujolais or Dolcetto though, those are ready almost right away.

Aging and cellaring wines can be very simple. Remember that most wines are ready right away, but some aging on big reds can help round out the harsh tannins and create a more full experience. When in doubt though, just pop that bottle open and give it a try. Cheers!

Oregon Adventuring: Brandborg

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On a rainy Oregon Saturday, I hopped in my car and headed south for a little wine adventure. Less than an hour later I arrived at Brandborg, a winery located in Elkton, OR (right off of highway 38). The selection at this winery was wonderful. They have an extensive selection of white wines, Pinot noirs, and big red varietals. I also had the privilege of trying the first wine with the Elkton AVA (American Viticulture Area) label. This is the newest AVA addition in Oregon, and it was so exciting to see this new label officially in action.

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I tried quite a few wines here, but I highly recommend trying at least the 2012 Elkton AVA Riesling ($16) and the 2008 “Love Puppets” Pinot Noir ($30). These were two very different wines but both represented some of the amazing varietals that Brandborg creates. This was less than an hour drive from the heart of Eugene, and it was a beautiful drive indeed. Check out Tomaselli’s Pastry Mill and Cafe while you are there as well, they had some beautiful pastries and drool-worthy lunch options. Cheers to new adventures!

The Frugal Wine Gal: J.Scott Sauv Blanc

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People often ask me what my favorite wine is. I always say that I do not discriminate against any one grape or wine out there. I like white, pink, and red wines almost equally. Wine is all about the experience, and each bottle is an opportunity to have a wonderful time with family and friends. Although, I have to admit the first time I tried a Sauvignon Blanc I didn’t quite get it. It was crisp, too acidic, and dare I say tasted a bit like cat pee. All of that changed when I tried J.Scott Cellars 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. This wine blew any Sauvignon Blanc that I have tasted out of the water.

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J.Scott Cellars is an urban winery located in West Eugene. It is nestled in right near the Noble Estate tasting room, and adjacent to the Viking Braggot Company. Jonathan Oberlander, head winemaker, produces varieties from all over Oregon. The reason why I love visiting their tasting room is the sheer amount of wine they make. They make everything from Pinot blanc to Petit syrah. He sources many grapes from Southern Oregon, and nearby in Junction City and Monroe. Being an urban winery can be a challenge because you have to find all the grapes you need from many different vineyards. J.Scott Cellars makes the best of it though and produces wines made from grapes sourced all over the state.

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The 2013 Sauvignon Blanc in the glass – yum!

Sauvignon Blanc is a very interesting grape. Originally sourced in the Bordeaux region of France, it is a grape that has quite a long history. It also grows very well here in Oregon like many Bordeaux varieties. J.Scott’s 2013 version is the perfect example of the high quality grapes we are growing here. He sourced his grapes for this wine from vineyards all over the state. Southern Oregon, High Pass Vineyard in Eugene, and Silverton are all represented in this varietal.

The 2013 Sauvignon Blanc had initial scents of ripe citrus fruits and fresh cut grass. It reminded me of late Spring day. While I would describe this wine as dry, it was still very smooth and light bodied. It was very fruit forward with flavors of pineapple and pear popping out at me. It was just the right amount of tartness as well, extra crisp and refreshing. I usually drink Sauv Blanc with food but this time I went to it without accompaniment. It drank really well on it’s own, although pairing this with something light like local goat cheese, jam, and crackers would be delicious.

I picked up this wine straight from the source for only $18 at J.Scott Cellars. Their tasting room is open every Friday from 4 – 9 pm and Saturday from 1 – 9 pm. They also have an amazing 2013 Pinot Blanc that is in our frugal budget at $17. It won 90 points and editors choice from Wine Enthusiast Magazine. It is definitely worth stopping by for a taste. Cheers!

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J.Scott Cellars wines aging beautifully in oak and steel barrels

Growing up Italian: The real Italian job

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There is a lagoon famous all over the world that attracts millions of tourists every year. There is a city built on sand that inspired movies, books and intriguing  love affairs. There is a port that made history worldwide. There are buildings that endured centuries, wars and domination. There is a unique culinary experience that accompanies it all.

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Landing at the Marco Polo airport in Venice gives me goosebumps, always!

 

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How my first morning in Venice usually looks like …

 

Venice is everything one would imagine, and then some.

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Vintage postcard from Venice

People often ask me, what is the best time to visit Venice? Every day is a great day in Venice I say!

In winter, the Serenissima ( aka Most Serene, a title given to the Republic of Venice) is often wrapped in mist. Like a shy girl, she shows  her real self only to a few selected friends. Away from the seasonal tourist crowds, Venice is mostly enjoyed by its residents.

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Venice at Midnight in December. Photo by my friend and Venician resident Stefano Minetto

Then, also in winter, there might be some snow. There is high water.The lagoon might freeze, and the scenery gets really surreal. Some of these weather conditions are not suited for carrying on the best everyday routine for the residents, but as a tourist …..it has its own unique appeal for sure!

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High water in Piazza S. Marco (St Mark square)
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Ice in the Lagoon during the winter 2012
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Snow in Venice, a rare occurrence. Seen from the window of my friend Stefano’s apartment. Peaceful !

 

There are no cars in Venice. The ambulances, fire trucks, taxis, buses and even the funeral vehicles are substituted with boats. Other than that, Venitians walk everywhere!

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You recognize the logo..it’s not what Brown can do for you. Here is Mr. Blue :) delivering in Venice.
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Firetruck, in Venice.

There are a million bridges in Venice. Some are famous, some are not. Some are large, some are tiny. Each is unique and can lead to a magic corner of the city. I never travel with a map. I really enjoy getting lost and finding my way back through a different route. Venice is a treasure chest, with little trinkets scattered everywhere.

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On our way to the hotel, the Bridge of Sighs.

 

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Rialto bridge at 6am. The only time of the day when it’s not crowded by tourists and it can be seen like it really is: Majestic.

 

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Just another little bridge somewhere in Venice.

Then there is the bird that represents Venice the most: Pigeons! They are everywhere, comfortably living the lazy life, like a cat on its chair.

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Pigeons in St.Mark Square
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Local residents.

Summer is when Venice really comes alive. In July the city turns into a gigantic Tailgating party for the Festa del Redentore. The Redentore Festival is celebrated on the third Sunday of July, with a grandiose fireworks show on Saturday night as the main attraction. The Venetians take part in the spectacle of fireworks right from their boats, which are usually decorated with balloons, festoons and lights. Starting before sunset, the boats make their way to the Saint Mark’s Basin and to the Giudecca Canal. The waters sparkle with the reflection of boats and lights. On the boats, among song, dance and typical food, people wait for the fireworks that begin at 11.30 p.m. and go on for almost an hour. Along the banks thousands of people also wait for the fireworks at long tables set up for the occasion. I was fortunate enough to attend a few of these celebrations over the years, and I think it should be on everyone’s bucket list!

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Italians do it better: it’s a party boat! Festa del Redentore 2010

 

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Sitting precariously in a tiny gondola, getting dusted by the ashes coming down from the fireworks. I remember taking this picture and shedding tears of happiness.
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Magic night for the lagoon that repeats itself only one day a year.

In September then, there is the Historical Regatta that re-enacts the one hosted in 1489 to commemorate the welcome to Caterina Cornaro,  the wife of the king of Cyprus who renounced to her throne in favor of Venice….now…do you blame her? :)

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Original reproductions of costumes and boats make the lagoon most colorful.
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St Mark Square night (foot) traffic

Then, for the night owls, Venice has a variety of al fresco dining experiences stretching as wide as your wallet allows it. Cafe’ Florian in St. Mark Square sells over-priced drinks with an unlimited view of one of the most beautiful squares in the world, and a string quartet that plays the soundtrack to an unforgettable Italian night.

The Islands! Yes, there are the famous islands in the lagoon. Burano and Torcello are my favorite, the last one off the beaten path.

Burano is charming, cozy and cheerful with its brightly colored homes. Tradition has it that the wives of the fisherman would paint the houses so bright they could be seen for miles, even in bad weather, by their husbands at sea.

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This color combination wouldn’t look this good anywhere else. Burano Island

 

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Fresh flowers, colors and religious symbols. Burano Island

 

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Bill and I in Burano 2012

If one stays clear of the “touristy” areas, Venice will surprise even the most discriminating traveler. Its people are friendly and the living is fun, just embrace the lagoon…

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Locals shopping at the “market” in the island of Murano.

As a foodie, Venice offers infinite opportunities to enjoy the traditional cuisine of the lagoon. Ernest Hemingway had his favorite fishmarket. It didn’t take long to understand why.

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Rialto Fish Market. Fresh fish, daily

Seafood is a key ingredient in the Venitian diet. It has been like this for centuries. Housewives go to the market daily to purchase the freshest elements for their meals. Same thing for the vegetables and fruit.

When in Venice every day is a “heyday” for me when it comes to food. A constant celebration of flavors, history and human creativity.

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Squid ink pasta (typical of Venice) with shellfish from the lagoon, and a Caprese Salad. Perfect lunch!

And then after the glorious summer, Venice goes back to her serene state again, coming to life briefly in February for its CARNEVALE (Carnival) when people crowd every single corner of the city in a joyful celebration. Magnificent costumes, artfully constructed, enhance the Most Serene city, if that is possible at all. Everyday life attire, coexist- for a day- with the pompous medieval fashion. Plumes, colors and paillettes bring sparkle to an otherwise grey town.

For a weekend in winter, Venice shines of its own light.

 

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Carnevale a Venezia
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Glorious crisp cold day in the lagoon

My friend Stefano, born and raised in Venice says: “There are no strangers, just friends whom you haven’t met, yet”.  This is the spirit of Venice. A city that has always embraced changes, adventures, colors, diversity, and mostly….love, in every aspect of living.

The recipe I’m enclosing today comes from Stefano’s wife, Paola. She is great cook, and she made this for me one warm summer night.

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My long time best friends Stefano and Paula. As Venetian as it gets!

It’s a ridiculously simple recipe, but so deliciously decadent. For those who believe that cheese and fish don’t mix…oh well, too bad, so sad.

Another reason to try this recipe.

This dish is rich, bold, vibrant and surprising. Just like a day in Venice. Enjoy!

[gn_box title=”PASTA CON TONNO (Paola’s tuna melt pasta)” color=”#AA0″]
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NOTE: since this is a very simple recipe, the quality of its ingredients is crucial. I use homemade butter or the best unsalted butter you can afford. Kerrygold is a good choice.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 400 gr pasta (Spaghetti are ok, or I like to use maccaroni)
  • 100 gr Tuna. ( Again, the best tuna you can buy. Home canned or in oil, not the one in water)
  • 3 anchovies
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a generous pinch of freshly chopped parsley
  • 3/4 stick of butter

DIRECTIONS:

With a fork, mesh the tuna, anchovies, and the butter to a paste.

If using fresh tuna, you can sear it and slice it. Then mix it lightly with the butter instead.

Cook the pasta according to the package direction.

Strain it and put back the noodles in the pan, coat the pasta with the butter and tuna, add some parsley and taste for salt.

I usually add a generous handful of grated cheddar cheese. My Italian family would not approve of it, I’m sure..but it tastes sooo good!

Dust with pepper before serving. Serve immediately.

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Until next time, Mangia, Enjoy, Ciao!

The Frugal Wine Gal: Prohibition Rosé

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The Southern Willamette Valley has some awesome wine industry growth right now. One of my favorite local producers is William Rose. They produce their wines right in the heart of Eugene, and sell it right off 5th and Lincoln at their location, The Oregon Wine Lab. Winemaker Mark Nicholl isn’t a Eugene native, but has made his home here. He has produced wine for Sweet Cheeks in the past and started his very own label. He is also the director of the Southern Willamette Wineries Association. They put on cool events like the Winter Wine Walk, an annual wine tour that celebrates all of our urban wineries in the area every December.

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The last time I stopped by the Wine lab, I spotted the newly released 2013 Prohibition Rosé. As a huge rosé lover, I was very excited to try it. This wine deserved my excitement – it was fantastic. I’ve had a love affair with rosé wines for many years. I’ve met many different kinds of rosé wines, sweet, dry, and not so good. What I love about them is their versatility. I popped this bottle open on a cold blustery day, and it was perfect. By all definition it might fit better on a warm, July day. I drink them at holidays, with dinner, and in the summertime while I barbecue. All in all, they are great for any occasion.

The Prohibition Rosé has some excellent characteristics to it. Part of the reason is the way the wine is produced. It is left to age with all of its lees (all of the particles left after fermentation) until right before bottling. That means there is lots of time for the wine to get complex flavors during the aging process. The blend on this wine is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Syrah. That little bit of Syrah really added a beautiful color. Some rosé wines can be too light in color for my taste, this one was just beautiful. Similar to a pink hued sunset.

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The first sniff of this wine was fabulous. Tart cherry and a hint of crisp apples filled my senses. In addition to the scent, the initial sip was packed with flavor. I picked up notes of raspberry, and tart cranberry. This wine was aged in steel barrels, and because of that it finished with a freshness that wasn’t too dry, nor too sweet. A thoroughly enjoyable experience overall.

I prefer to taste my wines without any food, mostly so I can really savor all the elements in the wine. This wine was really nice on it’s own. However, I could easily see this pairing well with grilled barbecue chicken or a fresh salmon salad with vegetables from the garden. I picked this bottle up at The Oregon Wine Lab for $18. It’s about as local as you can get, and is one of the best rosé wines I’ve tried in a long time. Stock up, and enjoy. Cheers!

 

Pairing Challenge: Sauvignon Blanc

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There are some very logical choices in terms of food and wine pairings. Some common ones include Pinot noir and earthy dishes, like mushroom sauce or roasted chicken. Or Pinot Gris and white fish. Then there are the ones that can stump you, like Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp, acidic, and herbaceous, this wine can be a hard one to work with.

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Recently, on a cold winter evening I was preparing some teriyaki chicken stir fry and thought, this could work with Sauvignon Blanc. I was right. The slight sweetness of the teriyaki sauce paired with the green flavors of the Sauvignon blanc were well balanced. This particular occasion I had on hand some Capitello 2013 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and it was an excellent choice. It would also pair well with Chinese or Thai food, it is that hint of sweetness that really brings out the flavors in this varietal. Cheers!

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