Hello Again

Hello again.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. There are several reasons for that, mostly personal. Mainly, I wanted to focus my energy on my Washington Post wine column, which reaches a much wider audience and, well, it pays. But The Post still mentions this blog in the tagline of each column, and my wife keeps chiding me to take that out because I don’t post here any longer. Every now and then WordPress notifies me that someone has subscribed to the blog, and that tells me there is still interest out there. Some friends have also asked me about WineLine.

So here we are. Maybe it’s time to bring Dave McIntyre’s WineLine back to life. It’s always been a zombie. I started it in late 1998 as an email newsletter when my gig at the time, Sidewalk.com, dried up because banner ads hadn’t been invented and no one could yet make money from a website. This was before the word “blog” was coined, or maybe around that time. Robin Garr was kind enough to host my humble little newsletter on his WineLoversPage website for a few years. I went to Blogspot, then Typepad, and finally WordPress. Will I migrate to Substack, like the rest of the world? Perhaps. I like Substack. It’s a writer’s community. I might not feel so lonely there.

I’m reviving WineLine — or at least restarting it, I hope it will be vital enough to continue — because there is more to write about than I can fit in my column. Wines that are delicious but perhaps too small production or more expensive than my target range for a weekly newspaper column. Or just more wines than I can include in my current format of three recommendations per week. My reactions to wine news, articles, silly brouhahas on social media. Most importantly to me, local news about Virginia, Maryland and the “Other 47” — a focus that defined my early wine writing but no longer fits in The Washington Post’s current self image as a “national” publication. 

So what will you get with the “new” Dave McIntyre’s WineLine? Nothing polished. If I had a media team helping me, or if I’d simply gotten my act together, I’d have several weeks or months of posts ready to go so I could keep feeding you a stream of brilliant wine writing. But no. The only Force that is with me is inertia. You won’t get self-promotion; I’ve never been good at that. Content will be irregular, but it will be spontaneous, heartfelt and honest. Unvarnished (as in, my wonderful editors at The Post won’t be here to save me from myself). Humorous, I hope. Thought provoking, even. Sometimes just “Hey! Try this!” You may get a rant, but I hope no whine. (See what I did there?) Think of these not as posts or articles, but as letters to a fellow wine lover.

I hope you will enjoy it. Most of all, I hope you will let me know if you enjoy it, by posting in the comments. That’s the only way I’ll know if I’m reaching anyone or just talking to myself. Maybe we can get a good conversation started over a glass of nice wine.

All best for a wonderful 2023 vintage for you and yours. And thank you for waiting.


Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Two stunning (though not surprising) chardonnays

I cut my wine teeth when “ABC,” or anything but chardonnay, was all the rage. This was the golden era of buttery, oaky chards that cried out for “chicken in a cream sauce,” and I found myself gravitating more toward sauvignon blanc and riesling. Even now, decades later, chardonnay is rarely the first wine I reach for when I want a white. (Unless it’s Burgundy, of course. All generalizations about chardonnay stop at Burgundy. Including that one.)

So I tend to end up with chardonnays with some age on them. The other day as I was rummaging around in The Pile I found two of my favorites from 2015: Stony Hill from Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain District and the Roserock from Drouhin Oregon in the Eola-Amity Hills of Willamette Valley. This was too good an opportunity to pass up.

My wife and I enjoyed these with dinner over a few nights. They paired beautifully with salmon, a Persian chicken and eggplant dish a neighbor brought us, and a simple spicy tofu stir fry. Each wine balances oak and acidity with vibrant fruit. The Stony Hill was a bit more voluptuous, while the Roserock remained laser-focused. Both had softened with a few years of age and shed any resistance, but they should also last many more years. Pity I don’t have more. (In what should become a regular caveat when I write about wines from The Pile, these were not in temperature-controlled storage but in the basement of my drafty suburban split-level home, which we keep slightly cooler than tolerable because — well, wine!)

These wines reminded me of my fondness for chardonnay from the Willamette Valley and certain mountainous outcrops of Napa Valley. Do you have any favorite chardonnays lurking in your collection? Which are your favorites, from California, Oregon or elsewhere? Any sleeper regions you wish you could find in stores? (Mine are Argentina and New Zealand.) Please let me know in the comments. (Both wines were samples.)

Posted in Burgundy, California, Oregon | Tagged , | 6 Comments

What do wine lovers really want?

When preparing yesterday’s rant about the current existential dread in the wine industry over the indifference of younger consumers to our favorite tipple, I came across this piece I wrote just more than 10 years ago. It still rings true to me, so I’ll post it again here.

What is wine? Is it merely fermented grape juice? At its most basic, yes. But wine can be so much more. A connection to a cherished memory, a liquid impression of a place and time. And these don’t have to break the bank. Even those of us who can’t afford those expensive bottles — those of us who “explore on the edge of the map” — can experience the thrill of that connection to another place, another time.

The following was originally published on WashingtonPost.com on December 31, 2012.

You don’t have to know Burgundy to know wine, but the more you know wine, the more you will want to know Burgundy.

That’s the blessing and the challenge of modern wine. We don’t have to start at the top, seeking out and tasting rare vintages of Echezeaux, Romanee-Conti or other fine Burgundies to understand pinot noir and chardonnay. Nor need we mortgage our future for a taste of first-growth Bordeaux to experience wonderful cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The globalization of wine, especially technological advances in the vineyard and the winery, has made it possible to produce good wine just about anywhere, and the global economy allows us to try wine from anywhere without leaving home.

Good pinot noir is produced in California and Oregon, of course, but also in New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. By concentrating on these regions, a budget-minded wine fan can gain an understanding of pinot noir before tackling Burgundy. Cabernet and merlot fans can explore Chile’s Colchagua and Aconcagua valleys before shelling out for Napa or Bordeaux.

But that globalization has also led to similarity. As Paul Lukacs argues compellingly in his new book, “Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures” (Norton, 2012), modern technology and a global marketplace have helped create an international style that, at a certain level at least, trumps place of origin. The international style “emphasizes ripe fruit flavors, lush textures, and forceful levels of alcohol — in a word, flamboyance,” Lukacs writes. So when we go into a store or restaurant and ask for a chardonnay, it doesn’t matter whether it comes from California, France, Australia or just down the street as long as it tastes like our idea of what a chardonnay should be.

So we are awash in well-made, technically sound wines from around the world that tend to taste alike. We could stop there and be happy with the reliability of today’s inexpensive wine. (There are many evenings and many meals when such wines are just fine.)

Yet many wine lovers want more. We explore the regional expressions that do persist, finding differences in pinot noir from New Zealand’s Central Otago and the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County. We move on from our favorite gulpable malbec and discover the nuances that Argentina’s cutting-edge winemakers achieve with grapes grown in alluvial soils at ever-higher altitudes in the Andean foothills. There are winemakers around the world who rebel at the sameness of the international style and take pride in creating wine that expresses its place of origin. The problem, of course, is that those wines are harder to find and cost more. But they are worth seeking out.

Many wine drinkers try to escape the confines of the international style by experiencing unfamiliar regions and grape varieties. Mencia from Spain, gruner veltliner and blaufrankisch from Austria, wines fermented and aged in clay pots buried in the ground; all these are populating lists at wine bars and restaurants. Modern winemaking has helped improve these wines and made them available across the globe. It also has helped spur the dramatic rise in regional wine in the United States, including impressive growth in Virginia and Maryland over the past decade.

Riesling is in vogue among sommeliers, writers and adventurous consumers, despite a lingering misperception among some that it is always sweet. In fact, dry Riesling achieves impressive finesse in New York, concentration and power in Washington state’s Columbia Valley and a full-throated roar in Australia. In Austria, it achieves an intense mineral quality. Perhaps Riesling is the anti-chardonnay: It delights us precisely because it challenges our idea of what a Riesling should be.

In the weeks ahead, we will continue to explore wine from the edges of the map, taking advantage of the success of modern winemaking around the world while seeking vintners and winesnot restricted by an international style. And we may detour from time to time toward iconic Burgundies and Bordeaux. It’ll be a fun voyage.

Posted in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bargain Wines, Books, Bordeaux, Burgundy, California, Champagne, Chile, China, DrinkLocalWine.com, Eastern US, Local Wine, Maryland, Riesling, Sustainable, Weblogs, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The End Times for wine?

The wine community has been abuzz lately about its difficulty attracting young consumers. It’s a bit like drug pushers hanging around the school yard wondering where the kids are.

Okay, that’s unfair. Every consumer industry wants to attract new consumers and frets when its core demographic starts dying off. For wine, that core demo is us Boomers, who are beginning to fall off the actuarial table. Or at least, we are theoretically contemplating our mortality by slowing down our purchasing because we realize we’ll never be able to drink all of it. (There’s an essay there about whether we ever really intended to drink it or if we just bought it to admire in our luxury cellars and congratulate ourselves on being affluent and smart enough to buy it.)

The catalyst for all this wringing of hands and gnashing of purple teeth was the Silicon Valley Bank’s annual report on the state of the wine business, released in January. Rob McMillan, the report’s author, has been sounding the alarm for years but the industry hasn’t paid attention. Until now. I suspect his predictions in past annual reports are finally showing up on winery sales ledgers. We see the light of the oncoming train in the tunnel, but we don’t panic until it’s right in front of us.

I’ve written up past SVB reports, in years when they didn’t get the End is Nigh response of this year. I won’t summarize McMillan’s 2023 analysis — you can find it everywhere on the vinoweb and in the original here

But I do have some thoughts on the generational shift issue, from a left-field perspective. My lens is a book published in 2012 called “Inventing Wine,” by Paul Lukacs. I reviewed it back then for The Washington Post, part of my only appearance in the book review section (aside from my annual writeup of wine books in my regular column). But Lukacs’s thesis has stayed in the back of my mind all these years, because I believe we are re-inventing wine now, in so many ways. More on that in posts to come.

Lukacs got right to his point in the first paragraph of his introduction: “So while people in different times and places have long drunk the same basic chemical substance, they have done so for a wide array of social and cultural reasons, in the process coming up with very different uses for it. Through its extensive history, wine has played various roles, being everything from a vehicle for spiritual communion to a source of bodily nourishment to an object of aesthetic appreciation. In virtually all of them, it has brought pleasure, but pleasure conceived of in a wide range of ways.”

How did Boomers conceive of wine? It was part of the good life, growing out of post-World War II travel to Europe, culinary exploration ignited by Julia Child. The real Boomer boom came in the late 1980s with the growth of the American wine industry. That’s when I got hooked on wine, in my late 20s, as the Cold War was ending and we appeared headed to an era of global peace and prosperity. The Greatest Generation may have won the war, but we won the post war. Time to party.

Wine was part of the good life. The best, as defined by arbiters such as Robert Parker and other critics, were to be collected and enjoyed, if not consumed, as symbols of our success. Wineries and vineyards became the playgrounds of the wealthy who sought to return to the land, whatever that means. Even “returning to the land” was a symbol of luxury. Magazines such as Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast amplified this aspirational ideal of wine as the ultimate lifestyle. As Lukacs wrote, “an object of aesthetic appreciation.” If you’ve never participated in a “100 point dinner,” you’ve no doubt seen people bragging about them on social media. Wine appreciation at its worst.

Our children see all this as excess. The 2008 Great Recession was a blip for Boomers, but a formative experience for generations hanging on for dear life at the end of the alphabet. (Even that nomenclature hints of the End Times. What comes after Gen Z? Gen Alpha — as in “I am the Alpha and the Omega”?) They don’t envision a secure economic future, even if they will inherit whatever we don’t squander. They haven’t seen the world moving toward peace and stability — their world is school shootings, police brutality, systemic racism, insurrection and disfunction in Washington. They’ve lost faith in their national leaders. (I remember my father saying, “Wow, Nixon lied to us.”) They don’t expect Social Security to help them, and they may not believe the Earth will be habitable when they reach our age. They see us building our wine collections instead of trying to solve these problems. Why should they be interested in overpriced luxury wines? Why would they want to be like us?

Okay, I’ll stop here before I go totally off the rails. When my wife and I got hooked on wine back in the ‘80s and sought out other oenogeeks, we wereamong the youngest by far in our friends circle. Now we’re among the oldest. Today’s 20- and 30-somethings may or may not discover a love of wine, but it’s not likely to be our wine. It will be wine reinvented on their own terms.

Posted in Books, California, Current Affairs, Navel Gazing, Wine, writers | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Loving those fizzy Italian reds

Back in the mid-70s, I remember my mother would sometimes keep a jug of Riunite in the door of the fridge. We were not a drinking family — my father was a health nut, into fitness and exercise (a frequent marathoner starting in his 50s) and didn’t approve of coffee, soda and especially not alcohol. Mom of course had her own rules — she was a smoker and would occasionally sneak a tipple after Dad went to bed, probably while watching Johnny Carson. She joined the craft group that met on Wednesdays at a nearby Episcopal church, not just to keep up her ceramics and have time with friends, but also because the priest would come by to conduct Communion, and the Episcopalians, unlike us Methodists, used real wine. Once when home from college I discovered a flask of Jim Beam tucked toward the back of a pantry shelf behind boxes of Bisquik. The Riunite was more common, usually leftover from having her ladies over for an afternoon chitchat or whatever. Dad tolerated it, or at least he didn’t complain about it in front of me.

Riunite was widely advertised — “Riunite on ice! That’s nice!” was the earworm jingle. It’s still available today, incredibly cheap, semi-sweet and semi-sparkling. And for my generation at least, it defined lambrusco. But this style of frizzante red wine can be strikingly good and remarkably food-friendly. It hails from Emilia-Romagna, after all, the heartland of (northern) Italian cuisine. I love its woodsy, earthy character that feels and tastes like a crisp autumn breeze while the leaves are falling. And of course, the palate-refreshing bubbles. Whenever I taste one I think of many of the foods I love — salumi and charcuterie, pizza, barbecue.

Yet I don’t drink it often enough. It’s like sherry — a wine I love and appreciate but rarely drink. I keep telling myself to do better.

Here are two wines I’ve enjoyed recently. And I just wrote myself into a corner, because they aren’t technically lambrusco. The first hails from around Naples. You wouldn’t know that if you didn’t read the label, though. And the second, while from a lambrusco producer, isn’t labeled as such, for reasons I was not able to discover. I suspect the vineyards that produce this particular wine may be outside some legally defined area to earn the name.

These reviews were published February 2 on WashingtonPost.com. Images are from the winery websites.

Salvatore Martusciello OttoUve Gragnano Della Penisola Sorrentina 2021


Italy, $17

This rosso frizzante hails from the Sorrento Peninsula south of Naples — think Amalfi coast, romantic vistas, and of course pizza. Think of it as a vacation in a bottle. The Washington-area importer, Michael R. Downey Selections, first brought this wine in for 2 Amys restaurant at the launch of the Neapolitan pizza craze. Fruitier than its more northerly cousins from Emilia Romagna, this wine has a dried plum character that reminds me of — dare I say it? — Dr. Pepper. But it’s an Italian Dr. Pepper. And a great value at the price. Alcohol by volume: 11.5 percent. Bottle weight: 631 grams (Sparkling).

Imported and distributed locally by Michael R. Downey Selections. (Purchased.)

After this review was published, a commenter highlighted the Dr. Pepper reference and asked, “Is that a recommendation or a warning?” The answer, of course, depends on your view of Dr. Pepper.

Medici Ermete Le Tenute Solo Reggiano 2018


Italy, $19

This “vino frizzante rosso secco” comes from a leading Lambrusco producer in Emilia Romagna. The wine is vibrantly ruby in color, earthy and fruity in aroma, and beautifully balanced on the palate with dark cherry and mushroom flavors. The bubbles make it refreshing and versatile with all sorts of foods. The classic pairing would be charcuterie or smoked meats, and it could also cut through the richness of heavier pasta dishes. ABV: 11.5 percent. BW: 775 grams (Sparkling).Imported by Kobrand. Distributed locally by RNDC. (Sample.)

Note: The label on the bottle I had said “Solo.” The photo presumably shows the label used in Italy.

Posted in Italy, Sparkling Wine, Wine | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Bedrock and Tablas Creek make gains for boxes and kegs

Two of my favorite California wineries made announcements this past week that should help push the needle further on alternative packaging for wine. On February 1, Morgan Twain-Peterson, co-owner of Bedrock Wine Co., announced on Instagram that Bedrock was releasing some of its 2022 rosé, called Ode to Lulu, in bag-in-box format. 

“Environmental costs associated with glass bottles represent nearly 50% of the wine industry’s carbon footprint, according to several industry audits,” Twain-Peterson wrote. “Bag-in-Box (BiB) represents a nearly 80% reduction in overall carbon footprint due to less weight, recyclable materials (the lining, though plastic, is made from predominately post-recyclable material and is recyclable, as is the box itself), and ease of shipping.”

He also said the format is “perfect for wines made for nearer-term drinking and will remain fresher when tapped than a bottle once opened,” and perfect for occasions when a single glass is called for rather than a whole bottle. And, he adds, “I never got to play ‘slap the bag’ in college.”

The 2022 Ode to Lulu in 3-liter box format is a trial, and will be in distribution in the California and New York markets, and available at Bedrock’s tasting room in Sonoma. Let’s hope the trial is successful and the wine will be easier to find in future vintages.

Morgan credited Tablas Creek winery in Paso Robles for the inspiration. Tablas Creek trialed its rosé in BiB last year, on the heels of Really Good Boxed Wine demonstrating that high quality wine can succeed in this format. 

The same day as Bedrock’s announcement, Tablas Creek general manager Jason Haas announced on Instagram and on the winery’s blog that Tablas had switched to kegs for most of the wines it will serve in its tasting room. 

Tablas has been kegging wines since 2013. Kegs accounted for 12% of the volume Tablas sold last year, totaling 640 kegs sold to restaurants and wine bars. Using kegs for the tasting room should save about 9,000 bottles, which were “sourced, shipped to us, filled, closed, labeled, opened, poured, and recycled within a year,” Jason wrote. The winery purchased its own kegs and kegging system for the tasting room, rather than going through a third-party service as it does for wholesale kegs.

Advantages will be freshness for customers, less cost and waste for the winery, and of course lower carbon footprint for the environment.  

“What’s the most useless glass bottle?” Jason asked in the title of his blog post. “One that never leaves the winery.”

This makes so much sense, I hope other wineries follow suit and make the investment for kegs in their tasting rooms. It could help boost consumer awareness and demand for kegs in more restaurants and wine bars. At the very least, these announcements by Bedrock Wine Co. and Tablas Creek represent another step toward social responsibility and sustainability for the environment. We as consumers should support them.

What do you think about better wines in boxes and kegs? Tell me in the comments.

Postscript: If you haven’t discovered the Tablas Creek blog, I highly recommend it. Jason Haas is the most eloquent thinker and writer on sustainability issues facing the wine industry. His posts are well worth the read.

Posted in Climate Change | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is Prohibition returning?

Anyone notice a strong anti-alcohol sentiment lately? It’s more than the annual focus on Dry January. For months, each week my recommendations appear online at The Washington Post, at least one commenter has complained that the newspaper is advocating consumption of a carcinogen. These are pretty nasty, mean-spirited comments. And usually met with a good-natured reply from a regular reader pointing out that there are other things the person could read, and of course other common foods or drinks that can cause health problems. But still — some people take it as their mission to go online and throw mud at other peoples’ simple pleasures.

The news has echoed this with reports on studies arguing “no such thing as safe alcohol,” or a post-covid backlash after we all supposedly drank ourselves sick during the initial months of lockdown. Even media coverage of non-alcohol drinks — a subject worthy of its own discussion — seem “obsessed” with the ill effects of alcohol, as the British drinks pub Harper’s recently noted. 

My social media feeds are full of posts from people — even wine pros — boasting that they are cutting back on their alcohol consumption. That’s all well and good: We know our own limits and should respect them. And posting something like this publicly is both a personal diary and public commitment to keep oneself motivated. But it’s also virtue signaling, humble bragging and even shaming in a way. Or is it just me? A majority of my social media friends are still posting photos of unicorn wines they enjoyed at their latest bacchanal. These are just as depressing to read. I’m considering deleting Facebook from my phone to protect me from those lucky enough to enjoy such wines every day as well as those virtuous enough not to. 

But I digress. This current anti-alcohol wave is not really new. The United States has had a weird, tempestuous relationship with alcohol since the beginning, with a pendulum swinging wildly between prohibition and abandon. We wine lovers have been lucky to live at a time when the pendulum swung our way — the 1991 60 Minutes episode on the French Paradox was perhaps an apex, or whatever term describes the widest swing of a pendulum. Wine suddenly was good for us, thanks to red wine’s resveratrol, something most of us had never heard of. Some even argued that a little bit of alcohol itself was good for us. (Want to share the marketing power with white wine, beer and spirits after all.) This coincided with the Baby Boom generation reaching peak economic influence and a focus on the good life.

Every pendulum swings back, of course. The 2008 Great Recession shattered our self-image of  permanent prosperity. Younger generations have been forced to be more moderate in many ways than their Boomer parents. (Note: Those younger, more moderate folks are the same people the prohibitionists feared would use their Boomer parents’ credit cards to have wine delivered through UPS.) Wine (and Hollywood) marketing ideas such as “Mommy’s Time Out” and book clubs that are more about getting plastered than reading may have been humorous, but they promoted the idea of wine (and alcohol more generally) as a crutch and helped fuel a prohibitionist backlash.

This comes around to an old argument: If U.S. culture and society had just developed a rational relationship with beverage alcohol, without the religious or political fervor we see today, we might not have these wild swings of public sentiment. We might instead have something resembling equilibrium, in which people know their limits and drink accordingly. Those who drink would respect those who don’t and be careful to avoid creating situations that make them uncomfortable. And those who don’t drink wouldn’t demonize those who do.

But maybe equilibrium is another unicorn.

Posted in Anti-Alcohol | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Where to find me

Back when I was regularly updating this blog, several readers who were not subscribers to The Washington Post asked me where they could read my columns. You know, pesky paywall and all.

First of all, I want to urge everyone to subscribe to The Post. You not only get my columns, but first-class journalism and commentary about what’s happening in Washington and around the world. And of course, the world’s greatest newspaper Food section, with content updated daily (mine on Thursdays, ahead of the print edition the following Wednesday). Yeah okay, I’ve waving the flag here a bit, but the Food section is really outstanding. And of course, it can’t survive without subscribers.

That said, you can find my writings on my Authory page, at www.authory.com/davemcintyre. I can’t say this is a complete archive, as I believe even The Post doesn’t have all of my articles from 2008 available online for some reason. And my two-year career reviewing restaurants for DC Modern Luxury might as well have never happened, though I think I have hard copies somewhere. And when I link to past articles, they’ll pop up on my Authory page, so no pesky paywall.

For example, here’s my Valentine’s Day themed column from 2015, which still holds together though the vintage reference to 2011 Ports is dated. And you’ll see one of my favorite recurring themes — Brachetto d’Acqui with chocolate desserts. Spoiler alert, that pairing appears in my column going online today at WashingtonPost.com/Food

Posted in Chocolate and Wine, Italy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Somms Offer Romantic Value on V-Day

In 2013, I turned to some D.C. sommeliers for their advice on pairing wines with a romantic dinner out on Valentine’s Day. Sadly, several of these restaurants have since closed, and of course somms move around as opportunities arise. But their advice still holds, in case you are dining out this Valentine’s Day.

As Moez Ben Achour approaches a table at Marcel’s, Robert Wiedmaier’s haute restaurant in the District’s West End, he is already assessing his clients’ thirst. On Valentine’s Day, the sommelier knows his task can be even more challenging.

“Everybody has already spent money on the gift, maybe even an engagement ring, and they are splurging on the food. So I know the bank will be low,” Ben Achour says. “They’re looking for a wine that offers romance and value, especially on the sparkling side.”

Ben Achour’s recommendation for the budget-conscious romantic is a sparkling wine from Burgundy: the Michel Sarrazin Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé, made entirely from pinot noir grapes. While it doesn’t come from the Champagne region and cannot legally carry that prestigious name on its label, the wine is made in the same method as champagne. Cremant de Bourgogne is the insider’s secret in sparkling wines, because it often approaches champagne in quality without commanding the same price. And, of course, the Burgundians know a thing or two about pinot noir.

Local sommeliers I spoke with about Valentine’s Day choices struck similar chords: bubbles for celebration, rosé for everyday romance, modestly priced picks for young lovers. Richard Dunham, who directs the wine program at L’Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls, one of the Washington region’s most romantic dining spots, suggests half-bottles to provide appropriate variety and set the mood. He’s bold enough to suggest a sweet champagne, such as the Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec, to start the meal.

“It pairs well with our appetizer of Roquefort cheese and caramelized apple,” Dunham says. For chateaubriand for two, he recommends a half-bottle of Shafer Merlot 2009 from Napa Valley. “Its supple elegance will have you gazing not only into the glass but at each other,” he says, as though he were pouring romance rather than wine.

That meal for two would cost about $350. More-budget-minded diners could substitute two glasses each of Jean-Baptiste Adam Cremant d’Alsace, another French sparkling wine, and a 2009 Bordeaux with the whimsical name of Chateau Baby, and pay about $250.

Scott Clime, wine and beverage director for the Passion Food Hospitality group — which includes DC Coast, Acadiana, District Commons and Passionfish, among others — also thinks of rosé: the Gruet Rosé non-vintage sparkling wine from New Mexico, which he describes as “a garnet-colored wine with a floral bouquet of strawberry, raspberry and cherry.” At $17 retail, it is a terrific value. He recommends an Argyle Riesling 2010 from Oregon and a Vina Cobos Malbec 2010 from Argentina  — both at less than $20 a bottle retail — to round out the meal. [NB – He most likely meant the Vina Cobos Fellino. And Acadiana and DC Coast are now closed.]

If you’re dining at CityZen, sommelier Andy Myers might serve you sparkling wine at the end of the meal. [NB – Well, okay, nobody is dining at CityZen anymore, and Andy might favor a Spanish wine now that he is heading up the beverage programs for José Andrés’s Think Food Group of restaurants.]

“If the couple’s young, playful and romantic, I go for moscato d’Asti,” Myers says. “We will pour you a glass for your birthday or anniversary. It’s a great wine with dessert: sweet, and the alcohol’s not too high.” He recommends a moscato called Annalisa, which retails for a modest $12.

Moscato needn’t be limited to the end of the meal, he notes: “My mom drinks a glass the minute she sits down.”

Should you be dining at Plume in the Jefferson Hotel, sommelier Michael Scaffidi has splurge suggestions for the end of your Valentine’s meal. If all has gone well, opt for a glass of Madeira. If you are having the wine pairings with your menu, the Love Letters dessert will be paired with On the Wings of Dawn, a sweet wine from Austria made by Heidi Schroeck. [NB – Michael has since decamped for New York City, but Plume is still noted for its Madeira selection.]

The wine carries a double-entendre for lovers, Scaffidi warns: The name for this particular style of dessert wine, means “escape” in German.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

An Ode to Sweet Wines

Here’s another of my Valentine’s Day columns for The Washington Post, from 2011:

We don’t drink enough sweet wines.

There are several reasons for that. We have been taught that “dry” wine is more sophisticated. Truly luxurious sweet wines that taste like nectar stolen from the gods can be ridiculously expensive, so thrift has something to do with it. Moderation comes into play; that extra bottle might seem intemperate. And there’s satiety, that fullness and fatigue that says: “Enough! Let’s just finish the wine already on the table.”

Many bottles of dessert wine have made the trip from my cellar to my dinner table, only to make the return journey unopened. I love a good sticky, but it remains a special-occasion treat.

Valentine’s Day is a worthy special occasion for ending dinner with a sweet wine. The good news: Your dessert tipple doesn’t have to swallow most of your dinner budget. In fact, delicious sweet wines are made around the world, many in unusual styles. Your valentine is special: Why not treat him or her to a unique wine?

Continue reading

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