It strikes most wine drinkers at some point in their wine paths: Pinot passion. The multi-dimensional, seductiveaspects of this finicky, oft-loved grape are difficult to avoid. And, when it happens, all you can do is succumb to its wiles and enjoy the comfort it brings. Mendocino County, a wine region rich with redwoods, coastal climate and definitely Pinot Noir, has birthed three disparate yet dedicated wineries, proudly wearing their Pinot passion like a badge of honor. And created some gorgeous wine.
Read more: Celebrating three small, passionate Pinot Noir producers in Mendocino County
As we emerge from the doldrums of the economic downturn, people are rediscovering sparkling wine and Champagne. Bubbles can be sanity-saving– salve a bad day, make Meatloaf Night an occasion or help celebrate a holiday. Luckily these days, high-quality sparkling wine comes in all price points. So whether you have a Hamilton or a Franklin in your wallet, it’s easy to toast to the good life. In the $10 – $25 range, the choices appear endless. From super affordable Italian Prosecco and Cava to carefully crafted Californian sparklers, the wine lover wins. Most French Champagne and American sparkling wines are made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes (a third red variety, Pinot Meunier, is often blended in). But Italian Prosecco and Spanish Cava producers use indigenous grapes that are easier and less expensive to grow. And, as the infomercials say, the savings are passed along to us.
Read more: Bubbles for all budgets: Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Cava and Prosecco
Since I already own just about every food and wine gadget, I can imagine what a pain in the ass I am to shop for. Some tools I use regularly, like my J Vineyards branded Champagne opener or Microplane grater. But some ended up either being re-gifted or donated, like the cordless, electric corkscrewoddly resembling a vibrator – the thought of using it puts a smile on my face, although my old-school Screwpull openergets me there quicker. As we all know, the best gifts are the thoughtful ones; even if inexpensive, they’ll show that you took the time to be creative or find the unique. To come off as someone who thinks, here are my gift suggestions for the wine and food lovers on your list, whether they be newbies or connoisseurs. It’s always nice to give the gift of great food and wine.
Read more: Seeking the unique: Food and wine gifts for all seasons
The hills of El Dorado County are famed for the gold rush in the late 1800s. Hopeful prospectors arrived in the region, set up camp but also planted grapevines. So fun wine history is everywhere. Today, there are over 70 wineries to explore in the El Dorado American Viticultural Appellation (AVA). I found the area lush with earnest smiles, low-priced tasting fees and no attitude — a refreshing departure from the glitz and glam flourishing in, ahem, other wine regions close by. With over 30 different grape varieties growing there, it’s an enchanting place to explore Italian-origin varietals like Barbera and Sangiovese as well as Riesling, Viognier and Malbec.
Read more: Visit Sierra Foothills and El Dorado County: A Golden State wine destination
Although rosé wines are quite tasty all year round, summer is high season for all things chilled and pink. Backyard hangin’, patio pleasin’, light summer food pairin’ rosés are custom-made for thirst quenching. It only makes it better that they’re affordable too — with most weighing in between $10-$25. I’ve been exploring the California dry rosé scene this year… finding everything from Pinot Noir-based to Carignane to Grenache. Most have aromatic strawberry, luscious raspberry, tart cherry, (sometimes) watermelon with a squirt of lemon. All are refreshing, dry, sophisticated, with salavacious acid levels for sipping or drinking with food.
Read more: Wine reviews: Roses to write home about
A wine from Robert Mondavi needs no introduction. Their (in)famous family has been producing wines for decades in Napa Valley and their family feuds filled the gossip columns in wine mags for years. When they were acquired by the behemoth conglomerate Constellation Brands in 2004, I worried if the wine quality which Robert Mondavi so held true would suffer. For a while, I think it did. But this 2013 Sauvignon Blanc impressed me. Pleasantly so.
Read more: Wine review: Robert Mondavi 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Private Selection
When I was growing up, a dusty bottle of Greek Retsina held court in our pantry cupboard. My mom purchased it while traveling in Greece back in the 50s, hoping one day to open it with fanfare. To my knowledge, it’s still there, crusty and dusty. Sometime after I’d gone deep into wine, she did ask me if it would still be tasty if she opened it at that point. My response was guttural, mostly because my experience with Retsina resembled grain alcohol laced with turpentine – on a good day. It wasn’t until several years later, when I stumbled into the incredible Mediterranean restaurant Zaytinya in Washington DC, that I realized Greece might have other delicacies to offer than this famed, nose hair-burning liquid.
Read more: Greek wine comes of age
They call it an alcohol recovery shot but I call it a hangover miracle: Forgiven. The good news is that post-bacchanalia head fuzz and pain might be a problem of the past. A blend of vitamins, herbs and amino acids, Forgiven is a two-ounce post-hangover solution. To test its efficacy, I played the dubious lab rat and downed the liquid after a particular night of… ahem… fun. I felt significant relief literally within two hours. Some of the listed ingredients are an alphabet brew of B vitamins, zinc and sodium, all found on the plate of Eggs Benedict and in a glass of V8 — my former cure which took six hours to kick in. Added bonus: Forgiven only has 44 calories and no caffeine.
Read more: Reliable hangover cure (really): Forgiven alcohol recovery shot