Woman on wine is award winning writer Amy Reiley’s monthly wine column. What should you be drinking right now? You can always find the answer in Woman on Wine!

Affordable Wines for Romantic Occasions

Woman on Wine--affordable wines for romance

Woman on Wine

with Amy Reiley

An inexpensive wine CAN be a perfect choice for a romantic celebration, here’s why:

A few weeks ago, the marketing team for Noble Vines approached me. They pitched me on the notion that affordable wines are a viable choice for a romantic evening, be it Valentine’s Day, an anniversary, or whatever day you’re celebrating. I thought about it for a while and realized they have a solid argument. I mean, we always point to “special occasion” wines for making romance. But it is absolutely true that inexpensive wines can fit the bill just as nicely, depending on the circumstance. Read more

Try a New Wine

amy reileyWoman on Wine

with Amy Reiley

Now is the perfect time to expand your gastronomic horizons and try a new wine

This month’s column is inspired, in part, by a shopping trip to K & L, one of the West Coast’s most interesting wine retailers. I wanted to try a new wine and this wine store had more interesting and unusual wines than familiar favorites. Read more

Madeira Wines–they’ll get you in the mood

amy reileyWoman on Wine

with Amy Reiley

I was putting the final touches on this month’s column when I was struck by a bolt of lightning.

Not literally.

I was invited to a tasting of Madeira wines. I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I didn’t expect was that the lineup would inspire me to scrap my column entirely and start again.

Madeira wines are a bit of a mystery to most Americans. Sure most of us are familiar with the term, “Madeira wine,” and many tend to lump it into a category with Port. That wouldn’t be incorrect, exactly. Both are bold, fortified wines produced by the Portuguese. And many Ports as well as many Madeiras are delicious with chocolate and/or cheese. But that’s about where the similarity ends.

Madeira WinesTo better understand Madeira you have to start with its incredibly unique geography. After my tasting, the first thing I did was look up the exact location of Madeira (which is the name of the island as well as the style of wine produced in this geographic region). Madeira is a pinprick of a volcanic island standing solitarily in the Atlantic, over 1,000 miles from mainland Portugal. (It isn’t actually entirely alone. The island is part of the Archipelago of Madeira, which looks like a smattering of bread crumbs off the coast of Morocco on your average map.) And because it is actually off the coast of Africa, it is much closer to the equator than most popular wine growing regions.

But not only is Madeira’s geography unique, its tradition of winemaking also sets it apart from anything else in the world. It is estimated that in the 1400’s, only 25 years after Madeira was colonized, the islanders began exporting wine. However, the process of winemaking that marks the Madeira style of wine known today wasn’t invented until the 1700’s.

Aging Madeira WinesThe wines of Madeira, after they’re fortified, are aged through a process of slow oxidation. The wines are classified by their level of sweetness. Levels include Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Rich or Rich. If the wine is made from the Sercial grape, the wine will be Dry. If it is made from Verdelho, it’s Medium Dry. For the Boal grape, it’s Medium Rich and wines made from Malmsey are Rich. If you prefer a Madeira as an aperitif or with a savory meal, you might want to explore the Dry wines. And if you’re one of those people who love wine and chocolate, you should get to know Rich Madeira wines. For the rest of us, I recommend keeping one bottle in each style on hand at all times.

Now, back to the reason I completely changed my column to share Madeira wines with you RIGHT NOW.  Madeira is utterly perfect for the Holiday season. The wines echo the flavors of the season that pull on your emotions. There are notes of bright citrus, the warmth of baking spices, roasted nuts, golden raisins, vanilla and caramel. These are the kinds of wines to instantly get you in the spirit of the season. So to get you started, here are four of the wines from the tasting that helped inspire this column:

Tasting Notes

Henriques & Henriques
Single Harvest Sercial 2001
What’s most remarkable about this wine is its freshness. It is delightfully bright and fruity with citrus, especially orange oil, from the aromas to the finish. Although I’m recommending these wines for the holidays, this is one you could easily enjoy year-round.

The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Madeira
New York Malmsey Special Reserve
If you’re looking to lose yourself in a big, rich wine, this is the one for you. Its aromas are as enticing as a vanilla bean crème brulee and in the mouth it has weight, body, oranges and golden raisins. The best part is the finish with a hint of milk chocolate.

Broadbent 10 Year MalmseyBroadbent
10 Year Malmsey
This is the wine for drinkers who love texture. It is thick and rich with a seductively syrupy mouthfeel. Its flavors offer citrus with deliciously intriguing baking spice and just a touch of black pepper on the lingering finish.

Verdelho 1997
This wine is Christmas dinner in a bottle. Big, complex and spicy, it offers layers of vanilla and baking spice in the aromas and on the palate. As it rolls across the tongue it leaves the impression of a delicious baked something, like brioche studded with dried orange and raisins.

It’s Time to Rethink Lambrusco

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Woman on Wine

with Amy Reiley

I’ve always thought of Lambrusco as an almost toothachingly sweet drink made in mass quantities. That’s what I thought until recently… Now, I think it’s time to rethink Lambrusco.

The stuff I always knew as Lambrusco was popularized in the 1970’s. It was the age of “Riunite on ice?… That’s Nice!” The sudden, global popularity of the wine was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it introduced the Italian style of sparkling red wine to the world. But it also created a market for mass-produced wines that lacked balance or character. I’ve heard it referred to as grape soda—an accurate description in my opinion.

champagne recommendationsI never cared to look further into the history or production of Lambrusco. But a few weeks ago this misunderstood wine was showcased at a tasting I attended for an importer of premium wines. I probably would have averted my eyes and slunk past the table… except that this was a pretty impressive tasting. Curiosity got the best of me and thank goodness it did. Twenty minutes of tasting later, I was sold on red fizz.

I left the tasting determined to learn more. It turns out, Lambrusco is actually a family of grapes, not a single grape varietal and a few of those grapes make remarkable wines, many of which are fairly dry and nicely balanced. The label will denote the sweetness. Secco is the driest, followed by amabile and dolce, the sweetest.

Unlike Champagne, most Lambrusco wines get their bubbles through the Charmat method, which happens in tanks, not the bottle. The wines are not meant to have the effervescence of Champagne but more of a gentle fizz, called frizzante.

A well-made Lambrusco is an incredibly food-friendly wine, particularly secco bottlings with their pleasing dryness and round fruit. The wine can be a crowd pleaser, appealing to red wine lovers looking for something robust and bubbly lovers who appreciate a giddy fizz. The wines tend toward bright and tart fruit flavors and some underlying earthy or savory notes that make them perfect for pairing with a holiday meal.

I’m currently enamored with the wines of Medici Ermete, one of the oldest producers. Their wines make the perfect introduction to the Lambrusco odyssey. (Interesting to note, these wines are all made with natural fermentation, not the Charmat method so common in Lambrusco production.)

Lambrusco Recommendations:

I Quercioli Secco Reggiano DOC
This wine’s ruby red color makes it a holiday party must. It’s a reasonably simple wine with drying tannins and fresh, fruity flavors. For the quality, you can’t beat the price.

I Quercioli Dolce Reggiano DOC
If you’re looking for a fun and versatile wine, this bottle should do the trick at a very fair price. It offers pretty floral aromas and tomato jam sweetness, perfect for pairing with pizza, a cheese plate or fruit.

rethink_lambruscoSolo Reggiano Rosso DOC
If Lambrusco has a sexy side, this wine is showing it. Underneath the pretty fruit is a layer of gaminess. There’s great weight on the mid palate, something you don’t find often enough in sparkling wines and a freshness on the finish that makes you ready for the next sip.

Concerto Reggiano DOC
This is the frizzante for serious red wine drinkers. It offers body and complexity without losing the freshness of the fruit. Think raspberries, currants and cranberries teased by bramble and dried sage.

Summer & Sancerre–what to drink during the warm months

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Woman on Wine

with Amy Reiley

I sincerely like Sancerre. A few years ago, lauded wine critic Lettie Teague called it the Tom Hanks of wine. In other words, it’s the wine everyone likes. It may not knock your socks off, (but every once in a while, it does). And it probably isn’t going to linger in your mind as a part of some great gastronomic experience. Though you never know when you might strike gold. But you always know you’re going to enjoy it. It will go well with your meal. And you’re going to have a nice night.

Sancerre is made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, but that wasn’t always the case. Until the late nineteenth century, the region was primarily planted with Pinot Noir and Gamay. When the vines were destroyed by phylloxera, some genius replanted the region with Sauvignon Blanc—and then things took off.  (I should mention that there still are red Sancerre. A small quantity of vineyards were replanted with the Pinot Noir grape.) Quality in the region remained generally high—one secret to the success for sure. But that’s been changing a bit. A few producers with more of an eye on the bottom line than on French pride are diluting the market with some less than quality wines. But, there’s still plenty of good and even great Sancerre out there.

So, if you’re inclined to sip Sauvignon Blanc, why wouldn’t you want to drink Sancerre? It’s gentler than it’s New Zealand counterpart. The wines often have a mineral or flinty note and bright but bitter acidity. Here are just a few of the Sancerre I like to pair with summer.

Sancerre2014 Barton & Guestier
Made by a popular wine company well known for good value wines, it offers hints of oyster shells and a lemongrass and lime acidity. Ok, it’s kind of like starter Sancerre but what’s wrong with a wine you can always count on?!

2014 Alain Gueneau “Le Guiberte”
This wine offers a brilliant balance of sweetness and bitterness. The way the flavors of honey and sweet, cut grass play off one another on the tongue makes for a delightful tasting experience.

2014 Domaine des Brosses
This Sauvignon blanc offers a perfectly harmonized blend of citrus and hay. My favorite part is the finish, which shows classic minerality and a surprise of jalapeno pepper-like heat.