As a Master Sommelier, I believe wine education at any level must be experienced first-hand, which is why tastings are a perfect way to help aficionados explore the world's wines... particularly limited-production finds. And when it comes to setting up a tasting, I like to focus on two of the planet's most established wine-making regions -- California and Western Europe -- and offer insights into some of the extraordinary gems you can find from both areas. So let's have a "virtual tasting" right here, as I share with you some of my favorite picks for the warm summer months:
My summer white recommendations start with Marquis de la Tour, a lively and refreshing sparkling white from France, featuring delicate floral aromas and a crisp melon finish. This particular vineyard in the Loire Valley has been producing excellence since 1885 and is a special favorite of mine as an ideal match for summer appetizers and light fare.
Anyone who has followed my previous wine musings knows I love the northwest region of Spain. So, naturally, my summer tasting list includes an Albarino from the Galician of Rias Biaxas. La Cana Albarino 2010 hails from 45-year-old vines cultivated near the Atlantic Ocean. Featuring the scent of minerals, lemon and summer flowers, this crisp lightly oaked white is absolutely resetting the bar for the category.
For you classic chardonnay fans, let's jump back across the Atlantic to Sonoma and check out Chateau St. Jean Belle Terre 2008. This is an exceptional chardonnay, sourced from a single Alexander Valley vineyard for over 35 years. Rich and creamy, this wine fills the mouth with flavors of apples, pears, citrus and peaches and finishes with toasted almond and vanilla oak.
Another must addition to the list is Tarima Hill Monastrell, a first vintage from Alicante, Spain, making its debut in the U.S this summer. I am especially pleased to be introducing this fantastic wine as part of The Generous Pour summer wine event at The Capital Grille (more on that in a moment). This medium-bodied red wine has an enticing purple hue with ripe blueberry flavors, a velvety mouth-feel and a great vanilla finish. Pair this with a nice steak for a truly awesome experience.
I selected a bevy of other reds to tempt, including a great Merlot from Italy, Conte Brandolini Vistorta Merlot 2006. From a 100-year-old vineyard in the Friuli region, Vistorta is a powerful wine that starts with truly brilliant black-fruit flavors and finishes with that innate earthiness that Italian wines are revered for. I also have some stalwarts for you -- two Cabernet Sauvignons from northern California (perennial favorite Freemark Abbey Cabernet Bosche Rutherford 2003 from Napa and Chalk Hill Estate 2006 from Sonoma) and a Byron Pinot Noir 2007 from Santa Barbara that is perfectly slow-ripened by Pacific Ocean breezes for a deep, smooth and sexy flavor.
Have some fun by comparing and contrasting the two regional powerhouses from Napa and Sonoma. Freemark Abbey is one of Napa's greatest wineries and their Cabernet Bosche is supple and balanced, yet rich and intense with dark plum and spicy black cherry fruit, firmed up with fine tannins. The Chalk Hill Cab is named for the volcanic chalk under the hillside surface where it is grown, which lends an incredibly unique mineral quality to the flavor -- dense with flavors of graphite, ripe black fruit and sage.
Let's round out this wine-tasting odyssey with a delicious tawny port-style dessert wine from Australia called The Portly Gentleman. It may have an amusing name and label, but this wine from RL Buller is all business as the perfect end to a great meal. With a beautiful brick-red color and flavors of berry syrup, nuts and raisin, I guarantee this will make an ideal complement for almost any dessert (especially if it involves chocolate).
All of these nine amazing, highly sought-after vintages will be featured as part of The Generous Pour, this year's version of my annual summer tasting event for The Capital Grille. Now in its third year, this aptly named program offers you unlimited tastings of these hand-selected wines for a mere $25 with dinner.
I hope you stop by and check them out at a Capital Grille near you. With expert guidance from your sever, you can enjoy all nine in custom flights paired with food to bring out the best in each, or as one-offs based on your taste preference.
The Generous Pour wine event is available through the end of the summer. For more information, go to www.thecapitalgrille.com.