Sips: With a simple fish dinner, Wild Horse’s superb California verdelho

Sometimes, the simplest meals are truly the best, those that take advantage of the freshest ingredients, the bounty of the season and, of course, just the right wine. The other night proved the point in our house. Is there anything more basic than the freshest flounder fillets broiled with white wine, a sprinkling of fennel Wild horse bottle seeds and some dabs of butter to give the fish that wonderful, slightly crispy finish? Or, with broiled fish, plain white rice that acts like a sponge to soak up the juices? As for a vegetable, there’s nothing simpler than some just-picked lima beans from a local farm stand, steamed and served with a pinch of salt and a little  butter. The meal was superb in its simplicity and full of outstanding flavors, including the deliciously subtle, slightly nutty taste of the limas.

Clearly, the wine was going to be white. Chardonnay in any number of styles, depending on your preference, would have worked. Sauvignon blanc? Perhaps a bit too aggressive. What about something different? I found the answer in Wild Horse Vineyards’  2010 Verdelho from Paso Robles in California, which turned out to be an excellent match. I think of verdelho mainly as a signature white variety of Spain’s Rioja, although Wild Horse says its wine is inspired more by Australian verdelhos, which I imagine are somewhat richer. In any event, this estate wine is a pleasing, sophisticated verdelho that is at once rich and refreshing and belies its 14.5 percent alcohol. With tastes of pear, herbs and lime, it has a long finish and is a first-rate food wine.  It’s nice and fresh, with 90 percent of the blend aged in stainless steel and the rest in neutral oak. It’s also priced well at $22. Production is limited, with a couple of hundred or so cases made, and it is available only through Wild Horse’s website. It’s well worth ordering.


Swirls: Wine store tsunami video, wine fashion statement, Chinese wine tasting 101

SWIRL: It’s not often that a wine video gets more than a quarter million views on YouTube, or that that many viewers focus on a liquor store in  Sheboygan, Wisconsin, for that matter. But at Superior  Discount Liquors, the wine was flowing freely the other day after a wall of bottles came tumbling down – 6,810 of them to be precise. You can watch the video below and read about it in sheboyganpress.com, which began its story, “Talk about not being able to hold your liquor.”


SWIRL: I’ve never thought about making a fashion statement with the wines I serve, but Banana Republic and California’s Clos du Bois have teamed ubanana republicp to do just that with special limited edition  labels for the winery’s popular North Coast Chardonnay and  Cabernet Sauvignon. Would you be surprised if I told you that the effort was launched just in time for the holidays? According to a press release, the chardonnay features Banana Republic’s “go-to” little black dress and the cab shows “a red full-skirted frock made for romance and dancing the night away.” In case you had any concerns, Clos du Bois Bois’ winemaker, Gary Sitton, says, “"We are still offering the same quality and consistency of the wine itself, but with a festive twist that makes it even more enjoyable to drink." The wines sell for under $20. By the way, a quick check of Banana Republic’s website reveals – surprise! – no fewer than 13 little black dresses for sale.

SWIRL: With China developing an almost unquenchable thirst for wine and the wine world counting its blessing for that fact, there remains the challenge of teaching the Chinese about wine basics – everything from how to use a corkscrew to deciphering western-Oriented tasting notes. The Chinese, notes CNN, have little familiarity with blackberry or licorice.


Sips: Nobilo's wines highlight the freshness (and subtlety) of New Zealand sauvignon blancs

When I think of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, the first word that has always come to mind is “racy,” but at a dinner last night for a small group of wine writers at The Dutch, a lower Manhattan restaurant, some significant stylistic differences were highlighted. Dave Edmonds, the winemaker at Nobilo, New Zealand’s second-largest wine producer and the dinner’s sponsor,  presented three sauvignon blancs along with one of Nobilo’s pinot noirs. The sauvignons, while projecting quintessentially fresh New Zealand tastes, including lime and gooseberry and grassy notes, were subtly different and made for a fascinating comparison. Edmonds cited blending differences that reflected distinct Marlborough vineyard areas as well as vintage variation.

Nobilo’s 2010 “Icon” Sauvignon Blanc, for example, is what I would call a rather typical New Zealand sauvignon in that fresh and racy style, while the 2011 has more concentrated fruit and a richness that reflects a drier vintage. It was my favorite of the wines (and Edmonds’ as well) and demonstrated that ubiquitous New Zealand sauvignons can take on a dimension that goes well beyond their reputation as refreshing wash-down wines. The Icon line has a suggested retail price of $22. Also notable is Nobilo’s 2010 “Regional Collection” Sauvignon Blanc, which is lovely, light and subtle and a good value at $14.

The 2009 Icon Pinot Noir, also $22, packs a good deal of pinot punch for the money, showing dark cherry and spice notes and lots of earthiness. It matched well with perfectly cooked (medium rare) duck and was also a hit during dessert with devil’s food cake. I’d like to try it again in a year or two when the tannins settle down a bit more.


Sips: From Long Island, Shinn’s ‘Red’ is inexpensive and over-delivers

Long Island’s North Fork is not the first place that comes to mind when I think of value wines in the under-$15 category, especially reds. The region’s relatively small producers necessarily have to ask quite a bit more for their estate-grown wines. So I was surprised when a friend brought over a bottle of Shinn Estate Shinn-Estate-Vineyards-101103922_MED Vineyards’ “Red,” a non-vintage blend that still had the  $13.50 price tag on the bottle (it lists for $15 on Shinn’s website). I’d forgotten that Shinn, which is located on a quiet old farm road in Mattituck, 90 miles or so east of Manhattan, even made an entry-level red (the winery produces some of Long Island’s most distinctive merlots, cabernet francs, malbecs and Bordeaux-style blends). Its Red is a blend of 52 percent merlot, 26 percent cab franc and 22 percent syrah, with a least some of the fruit sourced from other North Fork vineyards.

The wine shows a lot of bright red fruit notes, good tannic structure and has an impressively long finish. Sipping it with  a casual meal (think chicken, grilled salmon, burgers, pizza) is an altogether pleasant experience that doesn’t invite over-analysis, simply enjoyment of it, which is exactly what a wine at this price should do. I’ve never had a house wine – too many new releases to taste – but if I were in the market for a red, this would  be high on my list. And for those of us in or not far from the area, the fact that it’s locally produced might just seal the deal.