Rut-Busting Wines For New Cooking Adventures #SundaySupper

Admit it. You’re in a wine rut.  Regardless of whether you enjoy wine with a meal, as a cocktail, or both, you don’t stray too far off the beaten path.  You cling to your handful of favorites like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Moscato.

Do you know there are over 10,000 varieties of wine grapes!

The true figure will never be known because number of grape varieties is a moving target.  New varieties are constantly evolving or being produced, and some obscure varieties become extinct.

Below is the Wine Grape Varietal Table put together by grape variety expert Steve de Long. It’s lists 184 varieties of grapes.

DeLong Wine Varietal Chart

DeLong Wine Varietal Chart

With so many varieties of grapes in the world, you’re sure to find wines other than your “usual suspects” that will suit your personal tastes, and moods.

So, if you’re ready for bit of vinous adventure, I’m offering some rut-busting wines to pair with the #SundaySupper team’s culinary adventures this week. Check out this week’s #SundaySupper menu and my wine pairing recommendations!

Pair these dishes with a sparkling wine – from South Africa!  South African sparkling wine is made in the traditional Champagne style is known as Methode Cap Classique, or MCC. Look for the Graham Beck Brut Sparkling Wine Western Cape. It’s blend of Pinot and Chardonnay grapes with creamy apple blossom, tangerine, and exotic fruit character

Pair these dishes with a wine made from the Torrontés grape variety. Torrontés is Argentina’s only truly indigenous grape.  It produces a juicy fragrant wine with citrus pineapple and spice flavors.  It’s a pretty food friendly wine too.  It pairs wonderfully with seafood, or try it with a pasta primavera or spicy Asian noodle, or curry dishes. Look for the 2011 Bodegas Colomé “Estate” Torrontés Valle Calchaquí Salta.

Pair these dishes with wine made from the Marsanne grape variety. This is probably the finest grape variety you’ve never heard of. It makes a full-bodied, sometimes rustic wine with amazing complexity, and honey, peach, and sweet spice flavors. If you like Chardonnay, give this wine a try.  Look for the 2011 Qupé Santa Ynez Valley Marsanne.  It’s a blend of 70% Marsanne and 21% Roussanne with floral, green apple, peach and ginger aromas, followed by energetic apple, peach,and citrus flavors on the palate.

Pair these dishes with wine made from the Pinotage grape variety. It is the signature red variety of South Africa.  It’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, two French grapes.  It shows the soft fruitiness of Pinot Noir, and the rustic characteristics of Cinsault. It produces a fruity, lively wine with soft tannins, and black fruit, spicy and many tasters report, banana flavors.  Look for the 2010 Southern Right Pinotage Walker Bay.

Pair these dishes with wine made from the Mencia (a.k.a. as Jaen in Portugal) grape variety. It’s a grape that’s indigenous to Spain that is gaining in popularity. Typical flavors are of earth, herbs (think mint, rosemary, thyme), dark fruits (raspberry, black cherry, blackberry). Look for the 2010 Amizade Mencia Monterrei.  It shows a spicy redcurrant and cherry aromas complemented by notes of Asian spices and minerals. On the palate it has lively acidity, and spice-accented dark fruit flavors with a hint of sassafras. 

Pair these dishes with wine made from the Aglianico grape variety. It’s a grape that is native to Italy  which makes great full-bodied, intense, tannic wine with berry, cherries, plums and spice flavors. Its high acidity makes it food friendly. Pair with hearty meats, tomato-based pasta dishes like lasagna, or lamb. Look for the 2009 Musto Carmelitano “Serra Del Prete” Aglianico Del Vulture.

Pair these with a Cadillac – um…the little known village just south of Bordeaux known for its sweet botrytized white wines. It’s never reached the lofty status of Sauternes, just across the river.  The wines are typically made from Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes. Look for the 2009 Chateau Suau, Cadillac.  It a blend of 40% Sauvignon – 60% Semillon with a fruity, complex, and sweet peach and honey character with good acidity. 

Pair these desserts with a sparkling red wine – Brachetto d’Acqui, from Italy. It is a produced from the Brachetto grape.  Look for Banfi Rosa Regale. It has a delicate aromas of  rose petals and offers luscious flavors of fresh raspberries and strawberries.

Pair these desserts with Madeira, one of the world’s great fortified dessert wines produced exclusively on the Portuguese archipelago of the same name that is actually closer to Africa than Portugal.  One of the things I appreciate about Madeira is that it’s relatively indestructible.  Once opened, it will keep for years. Look for the Broadbent 10 year Malmsey Madeira.  It’s a great match for rich desserts made with cream or chocolate. Or it can be the dessert in and of itself (If you have a sweet tooth, Madeira can satisfy it, and it has few calories too most other dessert choices!;-) 

And last, but not least, enjoy Bircher Muesli from Peanut Butter and Peppers with your favorite type of milk!

Join the #SundaySupper conversation on Twitter on Sunday, March 31st to talk all about citrus recipes! We’ll tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm EST. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag, and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. Check out our #SundaySupper Pinterest board for more delicious recipes and food photos.

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Wine Pairings for Home for the Holidays #SundaySupper

This week’s #SundaySupper theme “Home for the Holidays”, and is all about holiday traditions. Americans are such a diverse people.  As such, we have diverse holiday traditions that reflect our multitude of heritages. I prefer to focus on the common threads that run through the our diverse national fabric.  Among those common threads are family and tradition, and that’s  #SundaySupper movement is all about.

Our family tradition is to gather on Christmas Eve for our holiday meal and opening gifts (it used to be one gift when I was a kid, and when my kids were small – since we all adults now, and getting together can be like herding cats, we just open all the gifts on Christmas Eve). We’ve enjoyed Prime Rib, the last couple of years, but don’t really have a long-standing standard holiday meal. I guess, it’s more about getting together than what we eat.

Wine Lights Candles

Image courtesy of

For this week’s “Home for the Holidays” theme, as best as I can, my wine pairing recommendations will reflect our diversity.  Aside from wanting to make my wine pairing recommendations congruent with this week’s theme, my reason for doing so also reflects some pragmatic food and wine pairing advice…that is pair the foods of a place with the wines of that place (Spanish wines with Spanish food, German wine with German food, etc).The flavors of food and wines that have “grown up” together over centuries (at least primarily in the case of the European “Old World” countries) are almost always a natural match. So where I could readily discern a heritage of the dish, my wine pairing recommendation(s) will be for a wine from that country. Of course, there are exceptions, but keeping this guideline in mind is a great place to start.

Here is this week’s stellar line-up of dishes.  My wine pairing recommendations are italicized.


Pair these breakfast dishes (except the coffee cake) with sparkling wine. Nothing like adding some sparkle to your morning to start the day!.  Look for Scharffenberger Brut Excellence, a California sparkling wine from Mendocino County.  It’s a blend of Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir with a lovely red fruit, apple, citrus and a touch of honey character.  

Pair the coffee cake with the Broadbent 10 year Malmsey Madeira. One of the things I appreciate about Madeira is that it’s relatively indestructible.  Once opened, it will keep for at least 6 months.  It’s a great dessert wine to keep on hand because it has a backbone of natural acidity.  It a great match for fruitcake, or rich desserts made with cream or chocolate. Or it can be the dessert in and of itself (If you have a sweet tooth, Madeira can satisfy it, and it has few calories too most other dessert choices!;-) 

Appetizers & Snacks

Pair these dishes with the Scharffenberger Brut Excellence

Main Dishes and Sides

Pair this dishes with a white Rhone blend. What’s great about blends is that the combination of grape varietals creates vinous synergy – a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts. Look for the 2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc. It’s a blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. It’s a crisp and aromatic wine with honeysuckle and stone fruit aromas that follow onto the palate. It also has very good acidity and an appealing minerality that make it versatile food partner.

Pair the following dishes with the 2011 Burgáns Albariño Rias Baixas a crisp, fresh food-friendly white wine from Spain with a crisp apple, apricot and peach character. 

Pair these dishes with Gruner Vetliner (Groo-ner Velt-Leen-er), the primary white grape variety of Austria.  It is typically medium-bodied, high-acid mineral driven wine that is very food friendly.  Look for the 2011 Laurenz V. Singing Gruner Veltliner. 

Pair these dishes with Sangiovese (that is if you prefer wine over the delightful Martinis;-). I recommend the 2010 La Mozza I Perazzi Morellino di Scansano. It’s a “Super-Tuscan blend of 85% Sangiovese, 5% Syrah, 5% Alicante, 2% Colorino and 3% Ciliegiolo.  It shows a wonderful mixed berry, and spice character with a bit of smoky tobacco, and licorice aromas. 

Pair this dish with the Scharffenberger Brut Excellence sparkling wine:

Pair these dishes with Torrontes, a white Argentine wine grape variety that produces delightful, spicy, perfumed wines.  Look for the 2011 Bodega Colome Torrontes. It’s off-dry with an aromatic fresh citrus, kiwi, and white flower character. 

Pair these dishes with a Riesling.  One of my favorites is the 2011 Josef Leitz Rüdesheimer Drachenstein “Dragonstone” Riesling. It’s an off-dry Riesling with an apple, pear, citrus, and mineral character with great acidity. 

Pair this dish with the 2009 Boas Vinhas Tinto Dao, a red wine from Portugal that is a blend of the indigenous Portuguese grapes Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Tinta Roriz with a  plum, dried berry, blackberry and spice character that is layered with supple tannins and good acidity.

Pair this dish with a Moscato d’Asti Moscato d’Asti from Italy.  Look for the 2011 Saracco Moscato d’Asti. It shows a sweet, fragrant, delicate, floral, tropical fruit, and a hint of honey character.  It’s “frizzante”, which means it’s not as effervescent as most sparkling wines. It’s also a wonderful example of why I love sparkling wines, they can work with all the courses of a meal from appetizers through dessert. 


Pair these desserts with a Sauternes,  a sweet wine from the Sauternais region of the Graves section of Bordeaux. They are made from  SémillonSauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes affected by noble rot.  Look for the 2005 Guiraud Sauternes.  It has a full-bodied, honeyed, lemon tart, baked apple, baking spice, and  vanilla cream character

Pair these desserts with an Oloroso Sherry, a denser richer style of Sherry.  Look for the Lustau East Indian Solera. It’s a provocative sweet creamy Sherry with a toffee, fig, caramel, raisin, and baking spice  (cinnamon and clove) character. 

Pair these Italian desserts with the 2011 Saracco Moscato d’Asti.

Pair this dish with a late harvest Riesling.  Look for the  2011 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese. It’s a has an elegant, floral, spicy, exotic, and tropical fruit character. 

Pair this dish with an a German Red wine made from the Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) grape variety. Look for the 2009 Friedrich Becker Estate Pinot Noir.  It’s a spicy treat with a strawberry, cherry, and earthy character that will stand up to having the Pfeffernusse dipped in it, or used as a based for gluhwein, a spiced red wine drink!


What does it mean for you to be Home for the Holidays?  Please join on us on Twitter throughout the day during #SundaySupper on December 23rd.  In the evening we will meet at 7pm EST for our #SundaySupper to talk about our Holiday Traditions.  We are so excited to have you join us.  All you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag or you can follow us through TweetChat.

Please feel free to share with us and our followers your favorite Holiday recipe on our #SundaySupper Pinterest Board.  We are excited to have you!

Dessert Wine Primer; Part I – Fortified Dessert Wines

A glass of port wine.

Image via Wikipedia

Dessert wines are sweet wines served with, or instead of dessert.  Dessert wines are also known as “stickies” because picking the grapes makes the workers hands sticky.  The term originated in Australia, but has become ubiquitously synonymous with dessert wines around the world. There are essentially two types of dessert wines, fortified and late harvest.  In Part One of this series, I will introduce you to fortified dessert wines.  In Part Two, I’ll introduce you to late harvest dessert wines. Fortified wines are wines to which a distilled beverage (usually grape brandy) has been added. Adding a distilled beverage does two things to the wine.  First, when a distilled beverage is added to wine before fermentation is complete, the alcohol in the distilled beverage kills the yeast and leaves residual sugar behind which make the wine sweeter.  Secondly, it increases the alcohol content of the wine, which is why dessert wines are served in small quantities (typically a 2 ounce pour).  Dessert wines are typically unctuous, but don’t let the smooth taste fool you, the higher alcohol levels can loosen inhibitions quickly! There are many different styles of fortified wines.  The three major styles are PortSherry, and Madeira.  Other styles include Marsala, which is similar to Port, but made in Italy, and vermouth which is primarily used for cocktails and cooking, and Vins doux naturels, which I will touch on later


Port is the most famous wine of Portugal, where it is known as Porto.  It is widely considered one of the most unique, delicious dessert wines in the world and, as such, it’s the most consumed dessert wine.  I’m surprised I haven’t seen “The Most Interesting Man In The World” sipping Port!  It’s got that kind of swag.  True “Port” is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in Portugal. However, port-style wines fortified wines are produced in California, Australia, South Africa, Canada, and Argentina.  Ports are typically red wines. There are many styles of Port, which can be divided into two broad categories, barrel-aged Ports, and bottle-aged Ports.  Barrel aged ports are predominately aged in wood, and are ready to drink right after they are bottled and shipped. They should be consumed within a couple of year of bottling.  On the other hand bottle-aged ports start out in wooden barrels for a brief period of time, but are matured in bottles for a much longer period of time. Barrel aged ports include:

  • Ruby Port – Aged in oak 3 years – approachable, vibrant
  • Tawny Port – Basic, easy Port aged 3 years in oak.  Pale onion skin color, usually consumed as an aperitif.
  • Aged Tawny Port – Designated as 10,20, 30,>40 years old. Tawny colored with nutty, brown sugar and vanilla flavors. Soft silky texture.
  • Colheita – An aged tawny port from a single vintage. Minimum of 7 years age. The rarest of all ports.
  • LBV – Late Bottle Vintage – Aged 4-6 years in oak.  Vintage dated. Lack the richness, and complexity of Vintage Ports, but offer good value.
  • Vintage Character – Aged 4-6 years in oak.  Cross-Ruby Blend

Bottle Aged Ports include:

  • Vintage
  • Single Quinta Vintage

Classic pairings with Port are roasted nuts, and Stilton (along with other blue cheeses).   My favorite pairing with Port, so far, is dark chocolate.


Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes that originated in Jerez, Spain.  It is, arguably, Spain’s greatest wine, and certainly its most complex and labor-intensive wine.   That’s because of the way it’s made.  It is progressively blended and aged in a complex network of old barrels, called soleras.  The solera system is comprised of 500 litre casks made of American oak stacked one on top of another.   Periodically the newer wine is moved down to the next barrel containing older wine, some of which has evaporated.  How the wine moves through the solera determines which type/style is of sherry produced.

Sherry Solera

The styles range from bone-dry to super sweet.  There are two broad categories of Sherry, finos and olorosos.  I’ll focus on the olorosos, which may be produced into dessert wines. Unlike finos which are aged under what is called a “flor”, which is a complex strain of yeast that blooms spontaneously in Jerez’ humid air, olorosos are fortified such that a flor does not form.  Because a flor doesn’t form, olorosos are exposed to oxygen, and its oxidizing effects, which results in making the sherry darker fuller textured than finos with a deep, caramel-toffee richness. The other difference between oloroso, and finos is that olorosos are moved more slowly through the solera system.  Sherry is aged in the solera for a minimum of 3 years.

Once the oloroso is removed from the solera it is ready to be bottled as dry wine.  Or it may be sweetened with the ultra-sweet juice of Pedro Ximénez (“PX”) grapes. Depending on how much PX is added the sherry may be medium sweet, or if PX makes up about 15% of the final blend, the oloroso is deemed to be a cream Sherry.  Finally, PX is also made into a rare Sherry of its own.  PX’s are nearly black in color and have a very thick texture.  It’s so sweet, it IS the dessert, or, as in Spain, it may be used to top ice cream.

My favorite dessert and wine pairing with Sherry, so far, was a Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Chantilly with NV Gonzales Byass, Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce Sherry.


Madeira is a fortified wine made on the island of the same name off the coast of Portugal. As with Sherry there are sweet and dry style Madeira.  It is believed to be the wine used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

To make Madeira, clear Brandy is added to wine before it has completed fermentation.  Unlike Port or Sherry, Madeira is essentially baked naturally by the hot Madeiran sun in huge casks in the attics via a process called estufagem, or by heating it to 120 degrees for at least 3 months.  After the heating process is complete, the wine is carefully cooled and allowed to rest for at least a year to recover from the shock.  After that, depending on the style and quality level, it is further aged.  Like Sherry, Madeira may be made using the solera system.

The two styles of Madeira considered to be dessert wines are Bual, which is a dark amber color and medium-sweet, and Malmsey which is also a dark amber color, but sweeter.  Both are made from white grapes.  Like Port, Madeira is made at various quality levels ranging from 3 years to 20, or more years.  The highest quality is labeled Vintage and must be from a single year, or a single grape variety and aged at least twenty years.

My favorite Madeira dessert wine pairing, so far, was Triple Bittersweet Chocolate Ice Cream, Hot Fudge, Caramel Cream, Pecan Praline & Caramel Brownies with a 1997 Cossart Gordon Madeira Bual Colheita.

Vin Doux Naturel

Vin Doux Naturels (“VDN”) are sweet dessert wines from France that are made in a similar process to Port. Like Port, extremely ripe grapes are fermented to a point where the residual sugar level is approximately 10%, before fermentation is halted through the addition of neutral grape spirit, fortifying the wine to 18% to 21% alcohol by volume.  VDN are made from both red and white grapes, primarily in the South of France.  The white versions are typically made from the Muscat grape, while the red versions are typically made from Grenache.

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How To Choose Dessert Wines To Pair With Treats

Now that you’ve been introduced to Fortified stickies (Part 1 ), and Late Harvest stickies (Part 2) via my Dessert Wine Primer series, here’s a short video from Howcast on how pair dessert wines.  Go forth and indulge thy self!

If you have a favorite dessert wine, or a favorite dessert and dessert wine pairing, leave a comment and let me know!