The beauty of wine and food pairings: Carmenere meets quinoa mushroom risotto

Quinoa Mushroom Risotto

I’m a quinoa lover. Although I love my animal protein, this savory, high protein grain is a savior to many vegetarians. Quinoa originated in the Andes mountains and is super versatile, has a uniquely nutty flavor and substitutes for practically any nutritionally neutral grain (think white rice or pasta). I featured a mushroom and quinoa risotto on my site late last year, but this recipe — recently enjoyed at a wine luncheon — sadly puts it to shame in the flavor department. The host chef, Ruth Van Warebeek, works for Concha y Toro in Chile and she paired this delectable recipe with a 2011 Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere (CAR min YARE), a grape originally from France now happily residing in Chile’s welcoming climes and soils. Marques de Casa Concha created a soft, silky yet robust Carmenere that cozies up to food in a friendly way.

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Wine value review: A to Z 2010 Pinot Noir from Oregon

A to Z 2010 Pinot Noir

The hunt for an affordable, everyday Pinot Noir just might be over. It’s not a coincidence that it hails from Oregon, the temperate vacation home for this finicky grape. But A to Z Wineworks isn’t your normal, everyday winery… they don’t have a physical location where you can bask in the wine country lifestyle. They focus on the wine and delivering it to juice lovers for less than $20 — their slogan is “Aristocratic wines at democratic prices” and you can taste it in this Pinot Noir. Founded in 2002, A to Z buys grapes from various growers around Oregon, keeping their costs low but also focusing on quality. I tasted this one blind, up against some heavy hitters in the same Pinot category but not in the same price range. For me, it beat out other contenders from Flowers, La Crema and Etude. At sometimes half the price. Blind tastings tell no lie…

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Zin love again: Folie a Deux 2009 Zinfandel wine review

Folie à Deux (pronounced “folee ah duh”) is one of the bigger success stories in the wine biz. Their sister label Menage à Trois sells like sex on a street corner mainly because it’s sweet, juicy and, well, the name is enticing. I doubt anyone at that winery wonders if sex sells. But the Folie à Deux labels show a more serious wine side to them, with fruit coming from Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley (Cabernet Sauvignon) and Dry Creek Valley, which this little drinkable gem hails from. Dry Creek is a neighboring wine region to where I live, and the Zinfandel grape thrives where summer highs can be 8-10 degrees warmer than 20 minutes south in the Russian River Valley. That was something I had to get used to when I moved here. This fruit-forward, low tannin wine has captured my attention for years and I used to drink them more often until their alcohol levels practically morphed into 16% rubbing alcohol.

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White wine review: Callia Alta 2010 Torrontes Valle de Tulum (Argentina)

Torrontés is one of those grape varieties that teeters on the edge of massive popularity. Its soft, elegant feel in the mouth, coupled with extreme fragrance and fruit could make it a no-brainer for women wine drinkers and men with enough balls to drink a white wine that smells like flowers. It is truly a lovely wine. From Argentina, Torrontés was long believed to be a descendant of Spanish Torrontés but DNA evidence says it’s a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and the Mission grape (more history about the Mission grape). Thus, if you like Muscat (aka Moscato) — a wine that’s blowing up right now — then Torrontés should be flying up there with it.

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Wine review: Dry Creek Vineyards 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley

The 2010 vintage in Sonoma County was super cool. And I don’t mean it wore awesome shades and sported the latest fashions — but cold like in France’s Bordeaux region. The heat index just didn’t quite get high enough to ripen grapes to the point of super fruitiness with floral aromatics (like Dry Creek Vineyards’ 2007 SB). So if you like New Zealand style Sauv Blancs (like me) then you’re in heaven with the 2010 wines (read more about Sauvignon Blanc, including how to pronounce it). And you’ll also have something to look forward to in the 2011 vintage, which had similar weather in Sonoma County.

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Sweet sparkling wine review: Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Acqui

In my opinion, Rosa Regale is the quintessential romantic wine and chicks seriously dig it — a sweet, rich dessert sparkler from the Piedmont region of Italy. It’s an absolutely perfect sparkling wine for a wedding, served with a decadent wedding cake, or to accompany berry-laden tarts… even ice cream sprinkled with raspberries.

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Good cheap red wine review: Bogle 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon California

Years ago, a sommelier friend of mine described Bogle wines as “mass-produced, and you can find them at [the grocery store], but for the money they’re the best damn grocery-store wine you can buy.” I still agree.

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Affordable everyday Wine review: Smoking Loon 2009 Zinfandel California

Smoking Loon 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel

When people talk about “everyday” wine, I’ve sometimes wondered exactly what they mean. Is it a wine that goes with all sorts of food so it can be consumed without care? Is it a simple wine that that can appeal to many different palates? Or is it an inexpensive wine that you can afford to sip everyday? Family-owned by Sonoma County’s Sebastiani and Sons, Smoking Loon wants to be all that and more.

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