Courage and Grace in a Glass: House of Mandela Wine Collection

January 16, 2015

The name Mandela immediately recalls the former president of South Africa, Nelson
Mandela. The face of the fight against apartheid symbolized courage and grace in adversity.

The world mourned his death last year. But the House of Mandela – a wine label created by his daughter and granddaughter – lives on, drawing inspiration from his humanity and compassion.

Mandela’s daughter, Dr. Makaziwe (Maki) Mandela, and her daughter, Tukwini Mandela, traveled to D.C. last October to present their wines. Brought to Washington by Heritage Link Brands, their U.S. distributor, the South African Embassy and the South African Board of Trade, Makaziwe and Tukwini introduced their current releases to wine enthusiasts, journalists and VIPs at a dinner at the City Club of Washington and a luncheon at the South African Embassy.

The daughter and granddaughter duo embarked years earlier on their ambitious venture to bring the world fine South African wine. What made this idea even more remarkable was that no one in the family had any idea how to grow grapes or make wine.

What they did have was a love for their land and a strong sense of family and tradition, stemming from a long line of kings and chiefs. Their connectedness to the land translated well to wine making. The mother and daughter conceived of the House of Mandela to bring the world the beauty of South Africa in a glass.

Using sustainable growing methods and, in some cases, Fairtrade-sourced grapes, the House has produced two collections under the House of Mandela label. The Thembu Collection is the entry-level line, named after their tribe. The Thembu people are known for their hospitality. Fittingly, this line of wine is very drinkable and approachable. The second line is the Royal Reserve, a higher-quality, higher-priced line.

The wine dinner at City Club featured some standouts, many of which are available in the D.C. area. Enjoy!

Brut NV Sparkling Wine
This “Méthode Cap Classique” is a blend of the traditional grapes of Champagne, but with Petite Meunier replaced by Pinotage. Mainly Chardonnay, with 33 percent Pinot Noir and 12 percent Pinotage, this wine could be aged for up to three years. The first pressing of the juice, aka the “cuvee,” and the best juices from the harvest are used. The second fermentation process takes place in the bottle as with traditional Champagne.

Thembu Collection Chardonnay 2012
Produced from grapes grown in the Western Cape, the juice is initially fermented in stainless steel tanks. It then spends time in French oak. The oak aging provides a richness that is not heavy, but can be felt in the mouth. Upon tasting this Chardonnay, I immediately detected apple flavors. It was served with a butternut squash soup, making a superb pairing.

Royal Reserve Chardonnay 2009
Next, we were served the Royal Reserve Chardonnay 2009, representing the classic house style of their best wines, at a higher price point. It was pale yellow with tinges of green. Citrus and lime aromatics were both on the nose and detected as flavors on the palate, along with some pleasant minerality. This wine paired well with the prawns which it accompanied. It will go nicely with any shellfish dish.

Thembu Collection Shiraz 2012
The entrée course paired this Shiraz with a petite bobotie tartlet and frikkadel. Bobotie and frikkadel are traditional South African meat dishes similar in consistency to meatballs. The wine’s blackberry and dark plum flavors, along with a hint of black pepper notes, complimented the savory spices of the meat. This wine is medium-bodied and lends itself well to meat dishe. It is quite drinkable now, but has nice aging potential (up to 10-12 years, I would say).

Royal Reserve Cabernet 2008
The keywords here are spice and structure. This Stellenbosch blend is 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 percent Shiraz and 3 percent Mourvèdre. Look for hints of sandalwood along with black fruits. It is very drinkable now, with aging potential up to 10 years.

Discover House of Mandela wines at these and other establishments in Washington, D.C.:

Rodman’s 5100 Wisconsin Ave., NW
Bell Wine & Spirits 1821 M St., NW
Salt & Pepper5125 MacArthur Blvd.


I arrived shortly after its opening one recent Saturday eve. I was greeted warmly by the staff and encouraged to explore the newly opened space that is now Eno Wine Bar next to the Four Seasons Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Not many patrons or guests from the Four Seasons had ambled in yet.

Immediately, I noticed the warm wood décor. The classic Georgetown townhouse has been completely transformed into a sleek modern exposed brick space. Apparently the building is a great upgrade from a former jewelry store and a one-time doctor’s office. The second floor provides more seating and the center of this floor is cut into an atrium to showcase the massive “exploding barrel” sculpture suspended from the ceiling. People sitting at the bar look up into the shattered staves of a reclaimed oak wine barrel turned into art.

With eight wines on tap, more than 25 wines by the glass, more than 200 bottles presently in its international cellar, with the list continually growing to 500 bottles ultimately, there’s plenty of variety at Eno.

Looking at the wine menu, I was greeted by a page of cleverly named wine flights with titles like “50 Shades of Gris” and “The Other Washington.” There is also a “Cheat Sheet” in the back of the menu that describes a hand full of popular varietals and their classic characteristics to help beginner wine drinkers. What a brilliant and refreshing idea for a wine menu.

Feeling assured that the wine evening was off to a good start, the first dilemma arose. Which cleverly named flight would I choose? I decided to begin with the “Float Like a Butterfly” on the recommendation of Fabienne, the most charming knife-welding Frenchwoman I have ever met. She was running the bar that night. The name of the flight suggests that the wines in it are light in style. The first in the series was a pinot noir from Biggio Hamina Cellars in Willamette, Oregon. It was pleasant and light with a slightly oily or lanolin like mouth feel. Classic pinot noir cherry flavors were there as well.

As I chatted about wine with Fabienne, she deftly sliced charcuterie, cheeses and wonderfully fresh baguette and brown breads with her large knife for orders that steadily picked up as more guests flowed inside. I moved on from my “Float Like a Butterfly” flight, but the favorites of the trio were the Mondeuse from Franck Peillot in Bugey, France and the nebbiolo from Laretti. Mondeuse is not normally seen on wine lists here and it was chosen for its acidity and fruit to go with charcuterie. It expressed hints of cedar upon tasting. The Laretti Nebbiolo is from Piedmont, Italy, and Eno saved the best for last in this flight. The color is beautiful deep purple. Rose aromas abound. A simply delicious wine.

The next flight chosen to sample was the “Jefferson’s Heirs.” This flight’s theme features medium-bodied Virginia wines. A 2011 Cabernet Franc from Tarara Winery in Leesburg started off the line up. It encompasses all the best qualities of cabernet franc (soft tannins, understated finesse, red and black fruit flavors). It also has a bonus-a hint of mocha. Second favorite wine in the flight was the 2009 Lovingston, a merlot based blend. It tastes rustic with a mixture of blackberry notes and hint of tobacco. A pesky fruit fly tried to share this wine with me and seemed to enjoy it, too. Third was the Sangiovese Reserve from Barboursville Vineyards in Monticello, Va. This classic Italian varietal is done well at Barboursville. It has a pleasant “dusty” (think smoky) cherry nose and red fruit flavors with soft tannin.

The final wine flight was “The Other Washington.” This flight was the fullest bodied of the red wine flights. The wines hail from Washington State. They are made exclusively for Eno by Dusted Valley Winery. The flight is comprised of a cabernet sauvignon, a Rhone-styled blend dominated by grenache and a merlot based Bordeaux styled blend called Columbeaux.

Fabienne encouraged me to stay for small plates, featuring brioche grilled cheese sandwiches with duck confit and deviled eggs. And I was tempted by the extensive cheese and bruschetta flights. Everything on the menu looked so equally tempting, I could not narrow down the choices.

But when you go be sure: 1) NOT to skip out on the Chocolate Flight and pair it with “Three Kings” dessert wine flight, featuring sherry and Madeira, 2) sit at the bar and gaze up at the “Exploding Barrel” and 3) tell Fabienne I sent you. Enjoy. Cheers!

Wines and BBQ

Washington, D.C., is a backyard BBQ-grilling-cookout town. If there’s any little sliver of grass available in the city, folks are out throwing down a blanket on it for a picnic. Those with backyards have set up a grill and are cooking out on it or on their patios.

A perusal of neighborhood backyards will result in finding everything from space defying little picnic table top grills to massive stainless steel Viking outdoor built-ins gleaming bright in the sun. Beside most of those grills you will be sure to find long neck bottles of beer in tubs or kegs of beer. But what is the wine lover to drink?

Pairing a good wine with grilled foods or picking one to bring to a cookout can sometimes be a daunting task. The thought of trying to find a white wine to stand up to grilled meats or a red that won’t be too heavy in the summer heat can stump many. Fear not! Here is a list of food and wine parings that will make your next cookout a breeze.

There is a rule of thumb when pairing wine and food to pair simple wines with simple foods. That piece of advice goes a long way when it comes to finding the right wine to serve at a cookout. But this adage doesn’t mean you should sacrifice quality. It means you don’t have to serve a very complex wine with your hot dog or hamburger. So relax. You don’t have to look for anything fancy unless of course, you want.

The second rule to remember is that it is sometimes easiest to pair wines from a country with foods and flavors that come from the same region. Let’s say you are going to grill Italian sausage. A good wine to go with them would be Chianti. Chianti is from Italy. An Italian wine with Italian sausage. What could be simpler? Chianti is made primarily from the red grape Sangiovese. Sangiovese is very food friendly. Look for a Chianti Classico or Superior.

If you are throwing some “shrimp on the barbie,” ice down a bottle of Oregon Pinot Gris beforehand. Pinto Gris is made
from the Pinot Grigio grape. However, Pinot Gris is richer and spicier. You will experience more citrus flavors and floral aromas.
The richness will complement the smokiness of grilled flavors of the shrimp without over powering the delicate minerality of the meat.

Red Zinfandel is a truly American wine. It is generally not produced anywhere else in the world (however, the same grape is used in Italy to produce Primitivo). So, it is apropos to pair it with BBQ short ribs. The tangy smoky sweetness of the meat with marry well with the earthy, dark cherry, and pepper flavors of this wine. Red Zinfandel is medium bodied so it will stand up to the hearty flavors of the smoky grilled meat.

And speaking of meat what backyard grill master would dare to throw a cookout without a good old flame kissed hamburger? Grilled beef and red wine are a match made in heaven. But when it is ground and put between a bun with cheese, ketchup and mustard, it can be a tricky food to pair with a wine. Look to another very food friendly red wine, Rioja to complement a burger. Rioja is from Spain and it is made from the temporally grape. While Rioja has enough structure and weight to stand up to the fire charred beef and strong flavors of the mustard, it has enough milder tannins. And its traditional flavors
of berries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, and herbs will enhance the flavors of a simple burger well.

Don’t forget to cool off your reds before serving. 10 minutes in the fridge before serving should do it. Happy grilling and pairing!

The Italians Are Coming, the Italians Are Coming!

This past week, D.C. Wine Week introduced the city’s wine loving public to an array of wines and venues. The goal of D.C. Wine Week is to educate D.C.’s population and expose local wine businesses, restaurants, and chefs to the area’s wine enthusiasts. The stars of the week were the Italians (wines that is). From chef Christianne Ricci’s Italian Wine Fest at her restaurant i Ricchi, to the Italian wines served at the week’s closing Saturday brunch at Sonoma Wine Bar on the Hill, some delicious Italian wines were featured. Lucky for us, these beauties arrived just in time to inspire great food pairings with the rustic flavors of fall.

At i Ricchi’s Wednesday night patio Italian wine fest, chef Christianne beautifully paired over 15 wines with two simple Tuscan inspired dishes: cannellini beans in a rosemary tomato sauce with grilled pork sausage and fried polenta sticks and an herb chicken with bay leaf on crostini sandwiches. Ricchi’s fare paired perfectly with the wines from the various Italian wine regions poured that eve.

Sonoma Wine Bar hosted the closing event with an assortment of brunch items from a sausage breakfast sandwich to the ubiquitous melon wrapped prosciutto, but the fare was a good foil to the three Italian sparkling wines served. The best of the Italians are below and perfect for pairing with fall’s heartier meals. Many are available locally through Schneider’s, Paul’s, Rodman, MacArthur’s, Circle Liquors and Weygandt Wines and should retail under $30. Enjoy!

Ca’ del Pucino Prosecco

This wine is made from Glera Prosecco grapes. Prosecco is a sparkling wine normally made in the Veneto and Friuli regions of Italy. This Prosecco has a fine bubble display and is refreshingly balanced. It is soft but has some nice complexity with mineral and peach flavors as well.

Lovisolo Brut Nebbiolo Spumante Rose

100-percent Nebbiolo grapes along with its surprising pale onion skin color announces that this sparkling wine something different according to the tasting menu handed out. Indeed it was for a sparkling rosé. Upon tasting look for basil, mint, cherry and strawberry flavors.

Valpolicella Classico, Nicolis

Valpolicella is a wine region in Verona, Italy. Wines from this region are simple and range in quality. This Valpolicella is rich in ruby color and flavor but light enough to be drunk alone. Drink it with charcuterie, mortadella and tomato-based dishes.

Greco di Tufo, Loggia Della Serra

This wine hails from the Campania region of Italy and is made from 100-percent Greco grapes. This white wine has wonderful floral aromas. Its acidity will pair well with shellfish dishes.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Fattoria Del Cerro

This vino is a blend of Sangiovese, Colorino, and Mammolo grapes. A clone of Sangiovese is the predominate varietal in the blend and it makes this wine very drinkable. It is smooth with black cherry and black plum flavors. Tannin is only slightly detectable. Pair with grilled meat, hard flavorful cheeses or enjoy alone.

Il Bruciato, Guado Al Tasso

A blend of 65-percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20-percent Merlot and 15-percent Syrah inspires flavors that remind you of cinnamon and all spice. This intensely colored red wine is a great go-to everyday wine. Pair with grilled meats, rustic soups, chili and grilled sausage.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Antica Antinori

This wine is made from 100-percent Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Napa Valley. However, the family that makes the wines uses its Tuscan roots to create a rich Italian style wine. Mild tannins make this cabernet drinkable alone. Coco, coffee and baked black fruit flavors abound. If you want to wait to have it with food, it will go wonderfully with osso buco, prime rib and brick oven pizza.

Col Solare, Antinori & Chateau Ste. Michelle

Here is another red, born from a collaboration between the U.S. and Italy. The Washington state winery Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Tuscan winery, Antinori partnered to produce this bottling. The Col Solare is a blend comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. This wine has rich smoky flavors. The Merlot adds cinnamon and pepper spice notes to the blend. While just a touch of Malbec in the blend rounds this wine out and gives it elegance. Try steak with sautéed mushrooms, rack of lamb or game with this wine. Saluté

Wines for Your Own Bastille Day Fête

July 2, 2014

Those of us looking for yet another excuse to celebrate independence will round out our July holiday revelry by observing France’s Independence Day equivalent, La Fête Nationale – aka, in the U.S., Bastille Day – on July 14.

The French among us (and the French at heart) look forward to enjoying some French food and wines to celebrate the storming of the Bastille in 1789 on that day.

In France, there will be firemen’s balls, parties and picnics at Versailles. And, of course, those parties and picnics will include wine. Here are some suggestions to help you enjoy your own celebration of French freedom this month – right on our own true-blue U.S. soil – with wine.

Drink Bubbles

Many Frenchmen and Frenchwomen celebrate Bastille Day with red wine. But Washingtonians usually prefer something lighter in the middle of July. Any occasion instantly becomes a celebration when a little sparkling wine is served. Audrey Hepburn said, “Paris is always a good idea” – and so is something bubbly!

You can never go wrong with a bottle of true Champagne from France, like a bottle of Bollinger. If you want to take your celebrating to a higher level, go for a bottle of traditional vintage French bubbles like Bollinger Grande Année 2004. Bollinger always gets high marks from wine raters. (Most of the big Champagne houses usually do because of the high standards of quality and consistency.) Bollinger’s 2004 vintage doesn’t disappoint.

But if your celebrating gets a little out of hand – and someone decides he or she wants to celebrate the storming by shaking up the bottle and spraying it at your party guests like they have won the Tour de France – you might want to encourage use of a non-vintage bottle, one that costs less than Grande Année 2004 at $130.

If you want to try a French sparkling wine that is just as festive and delicious, as well as a little different, try Lucien Albrecht Rose Cremant d’Alsace Non-Vintage. The coral/light pink/salmon color will entice you. It’s made of 100% Pinot Noir, after all. But it is bursting with refreshing strawberry and red plum flavors.

I opened of bottle of it about two weeks ago and couldn’t finish it, so I put a stopper on it and put it in the refrigerator. Two weeks later, I remembered it and pulled it out for a taste, just knowing that it had since gone flat. Normally, Champagnes and sparkling wine turn flat after several days, even with a Champagne saver stopper on the neck. However, this bottle still had fizz and finesse – not sparkling like the day it was opened, but a pleasantly surprising amount. Longevity is a definite plus for a sparkling wine.

Go for Bordeaux…But Bordeaux Blanc

The Pessac-Léognan region produces some of the best dry white Bordeaux. Most whites of the region contain 70% Sauvignon Blanc, expressing a range of floral and perfume aromas and honey, citrus, lemon, grapefruit, mineral and spice flavors. The best white wines from the region can age for decades. Try Château de Fieuzal Blanc 2004, 2012 or 2013.

Party with Beaujolais…But Not Nouveau This Time, Please

Do you still want a red wine to toast independence here and in France, but even the thought of something heavy on the palate when it’s 90 degrees outside makes you sweat? Then try a traditional Beaujolais. Made from the thin-skinned Gamay grape, Beaujolais has the flavor profile of a red wine, with its red-berry fruit flavors, without the tannin or the heaviness of heartier reds.

I always think of Beaujolais as a teenager. The wines, like the kids, show some signs of maturing but don’t take themselves too seriously. They are great picnic, BBQ or outdoor party wines. The region is best known to Americans for Beaujolais Nouveau, but you will find more complexity and sophistication venturing beyond the fruity, banal Nouveau.

Producing wines since 1859, the House of Louis Jadot is almost as old as the French Revolution. The Morgon Ch. des Jacques 2011 shows promise for easy drinking up through 2015. And at approximately $19, you can stock up for your next year’s celebration. Tip: Get hold of some 2009 while you’re at it if you like this style of wine.

*Shari Sheffield is a wine, food and lifestyle writer as well as a Wine Educator and speaker. She can be reached at or on her website:*

Alsatian Spring: Six Delicious White Wines for the Season

May 9, 2014

The seconds are literally counting down to spring as I write this. . .tick, tick, tick. Washington is
sitting on the edge of its seat, waiting for the new season to usher in warm breezes and sunny weather.

Washingtonians have been dreaming of the day when the weather will break, allowing for the leisurely enjoyment of a delicious glass of white wine. Spring always makes me think of fragrant and luscious white wines. Specifically, Gewürztraminer and Riesling from the Alsace region of France come to mind. Below are my annual Wines for Spring recommendations, featuring the off-dry to dry Alsatian Gewürztraminer and Riesling.

Enjoy a glass and toast the end of Washington’s “Winter of Discontent” – whenever that happy
day arrives. Cheers!

Hugel & Fils Gewürztraminer

2010 $22

This white wine from Alsace, France, will display a slight green tinge in the glass. Only in Alsace will you experience the true heights and expressiveness of this grape varietal. This Gewürztraminer is a fine entry-level example of a spicy, dry and
well-balanced wine of the region.

Hugel & Fils Gewürztraminer

2010 $25

Look for pale yellow colors with flecks of green once you pour this in your glass. This wine, from older vines than the first Gewürztraminer on the list, is made under stricter standards. Consequently, it shows more elegance and finesse. Upon tasting, you might experience flavors that remind you of orange peel and mango. It is highly aromatic with lots of floral scents emanating from your glass. See if you can catch hints of rose and orange blooms. Though it is a dry wine, its lushness and acidity make it refreshing. Drink this wine young or let it sit for a year or two. Drink it alone, as an aperitif or (if you wish to pair it with food) with lobster tail or tandoori chicken. varietal. This Gewürztraminer is a fine entry-level example of a spicy, dry and well-balanced wine of the region.

Domaines Schlumberger Gewürztraminer Kessler Grand Cru
2008 $30

Domaines Schlumberger has been family-owned and family-run since 1810. Biodynamic and sustainable farming practices have been employed in this premier cru. One thing you will definitely notice is this dry wine’s body, meaning its weight in your mouth. It has more substance then most of the wines listed here and could never be called thin. The richness of the fruit balances well with its acidity.

Domaines Schlumberger Gewürztraminer Kessler Grand Cru

2008 $28

Minerals and citrus fruit flavors abound in this Riesling. This wine is a beautiful golden color. It is dry, but expresses nice fruit
flavors. Drink now and through 2015.

Domaine Weinbach
Gewürztraminer Cuvée

2011 $45

Thoughts of spice, apricots, banana and candied orange rind come to mind when tasting this off-dry Gewürztraminer. Aromas of lychee and caramel will draw you into your glass. You might experience a slight oily or petrol impression, but these are classic notes in Alsatian wine, adding to its complexity. This wine can be drunk now or held for up to five years in your cellar.

Trimbach Riesling Cuvée
Frederic Emile

2009 $62

No list of Alsatian Riesling recommendations would be complete without a mention of wines from one of the most prestigious houses: the family-owned Trimbach. While known for Rieslings (there are four), the house also produces Gewürztraminer. The Rieslings are classically dry with apricot, pineapple and mineral flavors. I recommend any of the bottlings. Explore, but
do try the Cuvée Frederic Emile. It is an elegant, expressive, steely Riesling, a wonderful example of what the house –and region – produces.

Shari Sheffield is a wine, food and lifestyle writer as well as a Wine Educator and speaker. She can be reached at or via her website:

A Quintessential Experience

April 23, 2014

Well, if you were despairing that you won’t get a chance to experience the swanky new Georgetown Capella hotel’s $3,500-per-person “Once In A Lifetime” wine dinner that was postponed indefinitely, you are in luck! There’s a new opportunity to visit the hotel for something special.

Executive Chef Jakob Esko and the hotel’s Grill Room restaurant have announced their revised wine-dinner concept. On May 8, guests will take part in a quintessential experience featuring the wines of Quintessa winery of California and food pairings handpicked by Chef Esko. Capella plans to host several wine dinners throughout the year.

The Quintessa estate, located in Napa Valley, is a favorite of the hotel’s sommelier, Will Rentschler. In addition to its stellar reputation for producing amazing red wines, Quintessa prides itself on sustainable growing methods. This excellence in producing wonderful tasting wines, as well as environmentally conscious organic farming, has endeared Quintessa to many a lover of fine wines.

When I spoke to Rentschler and Esko about the upcoming event, their excitement to share the winery’s new releases – and show how well they complement the cuisine of the Grill Room in an intimate setting – was evident. Quintessa’s own Larry Stone, wine director and educator, will be on hand to highlight what makes each of the wines a standout.

Chefs usually create food, with wine just an accompaniment. However, this night will be different. Chef Esko has designed four great seasonal dishes around the Quintessa wines. At the dinner, you will be led through four food and wine courses:

Quintessa Illumination

Sauvignon Blanc, 2012

Paired with diver scallop carpaccio, served with cucumber, radishes and soft goat’s cheese.

Quintessa Proprietary

Red Blend, 2010

Paired with herb-roasted quail, served with rosemary and potato gnocchi, chorizo and parsley.

Quintessa Proprietary Red Blend, 2005

Paired with bison strip loin, served with wild mushroom ragout, black truffle and spring peas.

Faust Cabernet

Sauvignon, 2011

Paired with dark chocolate Black Forest cake roll.

Capella’s Grill Room typically showcases creative seasonal dining. Diners enjoy views of the picturesque C&O Canal, with outdoor seating available.

The Quintessa Wine Dinner four-course menu is priced at $180 per person (excluding tax and gratuities). To make a reservation, call 202-617-2424 or visit

Think of the Grill Room’s upcoming wine dinners as “Once in a Couple of Months” wine experiences. Once you have had your fill tasting the new Quintessa releases, why not head back to the hotel’s Rye Bar for a nightcap, go up to the rooftop infinity pool and look out over Georgetown or check in to one of the 49 luxury guest rooms and suites? You’ll make it your own quintessential evening. Cheers!

Shari Sheffield is a wine, food and lifestyle writer as well as a Wine Educator and speaker. She can be reached at or

Wines for Your Thanksgiving Feast

January 17, 2014

Thanksgiving can be D. R. A. M. A. Trying to choose “the perfect wine” to go with your Thanksgiving feast can
?add to that drama. Trying to find a single wine to please everyone from grandmother to the newly minted drinking-age college boyfriend your daughter has brought home is a challenge. With all the meal preparations required, quite frankly, don’t you always have enough to worry about planning this holiday meal? Stuff the bird before cooking or after? Cranberry sauce with whole berries or none? Sweet potato soufflé or candied yams casserole? And let’s not even get into the seating arrangements that must be con- sidered ensuring that a family kerfuffle doesn’t erupt … again … seconds before the bird even hits the table. Thus, turning your Thanksgiving into your own Bravo reality TV series. Why stress yourself out with what wine to serve?

One tip I give to quickly calm down those responsible for securing the wine for the Thanksgiving meal: Pick one red and white wine. It’s so simple it often gets overlooked. You will invariably have guests at the table who will pull a face and whine dramatically: “I only like white” or “I only like red.” Serving at least one type of each will put a cure at least to that issue.

But, of course, you can go all out and turn Thanksgiving into an opportunity to try multiple wines in one setting. This can be fun and wine will rarely be wasted because of the number of people who will be trying them, if you host a large Thanksgiving meal for family and friends. It is also a chance to explore bottles you might not normally try and discuss.

Another way to totally obviate the pressure of choosing the right wine is to ask each guest to bring a different type of grape varietal (one brings a Chardonnay, one a Merlot and so forth). You can also assign each guest to bring a bottle from a different region. This will result in your own informal private wine dinner right at the Thanksgiving table.

However, if you choose to select the wines yourself, here are a few recommendations for food friendly wines that will pair well with multiple dishes and please the cast of characters seated at your table this year. When the curtain closes on the meal you’ll be able take a bow for your role as “Grace Under Thanksgiving Wine Pressure.” Cheers!

Choose your favorite Champagne or for a French sparkling wine that is reasonably priced. Try the Blanc de Blanc from Duc De Raybaud available at local Whole Foods, under $17.

A less dry Riesling will go well with salty, sweet, and spicy foods. Its apple/citrus flavors and balanced acidity won’t over power your turkey. And, it will go with the pumpkin pie. Try Bonny Doon’s California Riesling or Rosemount Estate Diamond Traminer (Australia), approximately $10.

Pinot Gris
This floral white wine has a hint of smoke, apples and creamy texture with all the character of a chardonnay but has more fruit flavors. Try King Estate Pinot Gris, $12, or J Russian River Pinot Gris, $17, approximately.

White Blend
Try Perrin Cote Du Rhone Blanc, 2011 under $17. The Vioginer and Grenache Blanc take the leading role as the predominate grapes in this blend. Marsanne and Roussanne play supporting roles which makes this wine’s lemon flavors and floral notes heavenly at this price point.

Pinot Noir
DeLoach Russian River Pinot Noir $21, has cherry and plum flavors that pair well with herbed stuffing and dark meat without overpower- ing the rest of your dishes.

Kunde Syrah costs approximately $16. Syrah can be light or tannic with a lot of structure. This light style Syrah, aka Shiraz, has peppery notes and a spicy edge along with lightness.

Markham Merlot from California is very smooth and food friendly. If a crown roast or lamb will be served at your Thanksgiving meal. It has structure but is fruit-forward. It is also velvety with chocolate notes.

Sherry is a fortified wine and as such is higher in alcohol usually around 15 percent. It can be drunk with the meal, as a dessert wine, or after dinner. Try Tio Pepe Fino with its pale golden color. It has fresh bread and almond aromas. The palate is very dry and complex.

Celebrity Vintages

September 26, 2013

There is a story that Dom Perignon, a blind monk and master winemaker for the monestary in Champagne opened a bottle of their regular still table wines that had been aging in their bottles in the French caves. Upon tasting the bubbles created from the accidental second fermentation that had taken place, Perignon called out, “Brothers come quickly! There are stars in our wine!” Today, the wine world is experiencing stars in wine in a new way. Instead of just drinking wine, stars are becoming winery and vineyard owners or licensing their names to become the face of wine brands.  Here is a list of surprising celebrity and politico owners, some of whom are making some pretty good wine. Some even in our area.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

The star couple own a vineyard in France and produce a Provençal rosé called Chateau Miraval Rosé. They purchased the South of France estate in 2008 for reportedly $60 million. The wine is packaged in what is a traditional Champagne bottle and is made primarily of Grenache grapes.  It is said to be a really serious wine. According to the McArthur’s Wine in D.C. website, it retails there for approximately $21.

Mario Andretti

Race car driver legend Mario Andretti has traded in the literal fast lane for the rolling hill vineyards of Napa Valley, Calif. His 42 -acre estate vineyard grows pinot grigio, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and merlot. The winery also produces a moscato and red zinfandel. Prices range from $26-$85.

Nancy Pelosi

The former speaker of The House doesn’t produce actual wine but she along with her husband own two vineyards in Napa Valley that produce grapes for wine making by other area wineries.

David and Victoria Beckham

International footballer (soccer) star David Beckham surprised his celebrity wife with the gift of a Napa Valley, California vineyard in 2008. Of course the winery produces a bottling named after his wife Victoria aka “Posh Spice,” the former Spice Girl.  However, sorry Becks fans, the vineyard is private and only produces wine for the Beckham family and their friends.

Dave Matthews

Front man of his self-named chart-topping Dave Matthew’s Band set up shop in his beloved hills of Charlottesville, Va.  His vineyard and winery are named Blenheim Vineyards. The estate has a long historical linage including being a resting stop on George and Martha Washington’s journeys through Virginia. The winery produces cabernet franc, viognier, chardonnay, and merlot in the $18-$22 range.

Donald Trump

“The Donald” purchased the Kluge Winery at a foreclosure auction and renamed it — what else? — Trump Winery. Located in Charlottesville, Va., his tasting room is only a minute’s drive from Dave Mathew’s Blenheim Vineyards. Trump produces sparkling rose?, viognier, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and red table wines ranging from $16-$40.

Jeff Gordon

Wine enthusiast and four-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion, partnered with a winemaker and began producing his Jeff Gordon Collection wines. Gordon sources his grapes from vineyards and his winemaker makes the wine at a winery facility.  The Gordon Collection produces chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet blend.

Senator Mark Warner

Growing grapes for Ingelside Vineyard is a side venture for former Virginia governor and current U.S. Senator.  Warner owned a Rappahannock County farm, 50 miles from Richmond, where he devotes 15 acres to growing viognier, chardonnay, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and sangiovese grapes for Ingleside.  In turn, Ingleside produces a private label for Warner that he has donated to charities.


Solo artist and member of the chart-topping hip hop group Black Eye Peas owns a winery in Santa Ynez, Calif. with her father.  The Ferguson Crest six acre estate produces viognier, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and of course, a wine called “Fergalicious”- a blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, grenache and merlot.

Like Fergie, Madonna owns a winery with her father. Ciccone Vineyard and Winery is located in the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan. They produce riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot grigio, chardonnay, pinot noir, and cabernet franc.

A Summer-Opening Virginia Wine Country Guide

September 12, 2013

In need of some hot fun in the summertime? Here are some fun and different wine events coming up to get you out in the countryside and explore the ever-expanding Virginia Wine Country. According to, Virginia boasts to have more than “200 wineries and counting.” So, why not take a day trip, visit some of these and bring a picnic basket?

‘The Paradise Springs
Winery Experience’ Production Tour and Tasting
Billed as the winery’s “signature experience tour and tasting.” You will get the opportunity to learn how wine is made. The tour consists of the property’s historic log cabin, vineyard, and production facilities. You will cap the tour off with a full tasting of their wine portfolio. Tour and tasting experience is held every Saturday at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and every Sunday at 3 p.m. Cost is $25 per person and includes a PSW etched glass.

Paradise Springs Winery
13219 Yates Ford Road
Clifton, Va. 20124

Anniversary Celebration
Celebrate the 24th anniversary of Hartwood Winery on June 2, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pack a picnic and the pets and enjoy live music, tours and wine tasting. There’s even a moon bounce planned for your little ones. $15 for adults; children are free.

Hartwood Winery
345 Hartwood Road
Fredericksburg, Va. 22406
Phone: 540-752-4893 ?

Tailgate Thursday with Eli Cook
Head to Stinson Vineyard’s Tailgate Thursday summer music series. Local blues legend Eli Cook plays summer long each Thursday as you grill on the lawn of the vineyard. Admission is free, grills will be provided for you to cook your own picnic fare. Meats from Timbercreek Organics can be purchased by call-ahead ordering. Dogs and children are welcome. Make sure you try their Rose and Meritage red wine. Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. May 23 through August 29, 2013.

Stinson Vineyard
4744 Sugar Hollow Road
Crozet, Va. 22932
Phone: 434-823-7300

Friday Nights Under the Stars
What could be more romantic than a wine dinner under the stars? Head out to AmRhein Wine Cellars winery in Bent Mountain, Va., on the second Friday of each month, May through September, and you can do just that. Wine will be paired with an appetizer and a three-course dinner. $75 per couple; $37.50 per person. Reservations required. 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

AmRhein’s Wine Cellars
9243 Patterson Drive
Bent Mountain, Va. 24059
Phone: 540-929-4632 ?

16th Annual Cajun Festival at Breaux Vineyards
Breaux Vineyards hosts its 16th annual Cajun Festival June 15. Taste wines, shop from local craft vendors, or join a hayride all to help celebrate the vineyard’s Cajun heritage. Little Red and the Renegades will perform from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and the Dixie Power Trio from 2:30 to 6 p.m. Kids can enjoy clowns, balloon art, face painting and hayrides. No dogs or picnics are allowed. Cost is $16 in advance and $20 at the gate.
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