Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and you’re being barraged with reminders. Reminders to buy jewelry. Get flowers. Pair chocolate with wine.
Before you rush out and grab your favorite bottle of Cultivar and box of local artisan chocolates or truffles, stop. Not all chocolate and wine is a match made in heaven. (If you’re unsure, finish your wine before sampling your chocolate.)
Between the wine and the chocolate you are looking for a balance of sweetness, fruit, and acidity. To help you achieve this balance, there are a couple of general guidelines to keep in mind.
Truly successful matches go beyond these guidelines.
What are the exact characteristics of a successful match? It depends; it’s a matter of personal taste. Some feel chocolate never pairs with wine. I believe it’s not that straightforward, and matches can only be found through experimentation. When pairing wine with chocolates, I look first to the aromas I’m inhaling when I first raise my glass. Then I think about the nuanced flavors I’m tasting.
Interested in learning more about the art of chocolate and wine pairing? Check out the three-part series on The Nibble: Part 1 – Introduction; Part II – Pairing Chart; and Hosting a Chocolate Tasting Party.
If you want a memorable bite, try one or all of these three pairings.
Rose is the perfect Spring wine. For Valentine’s Day, our 2014 Cultivar Napa Valley Rose is a great way to start your evening, light and crisp with just the right balance of tart cranberry and hint of strawberry.
Why this pairing works: The interplay between cranberry and strawberry notes is why our 2014 Cultivar Napa Valley Rose pairs with a Peanut Butter and Strawberry chocolate. The fresh strawberry jam in the chocolate brings the strawberry notes of the wine to center stage while the creamy peanut butter softens the sweetness of the milk chocolate with its saltiness for a soft finish.
Our 2013 Cultivar Napa Valley Rose (currently only available in keg), on the other hand, which is sweeter than our 2014 vintage, paired with a Candy Cane chocolate. This unusual pairing worked because organic candy canes were crushed into Strauss cream, organic butter, and white chocolate. The peppermint accented the strawberry notes while the cream coated the mouth and balanced the wine’s crisp finish.
A wine for scotch drinkers is how our 2013 Cultivar Oak Knoll District Chardonnay has been described. This characteristic is why when chilled you can enjoy with an Old Fashioned Chocolate which is a combination of single barrel bourbon, Fee Brothers bitters, a twist of orange all blended into Solstice Madagascar chocolate.
Why this pairing works: Our 2013 Cultivar Oak Knoll District Chardonnay, fermented in neutral oak barrels, delivers fruit on the nose and hints of baking spices that finishes with caramel and brown butter. These apple, pear, and melon notes in the wine balance the bitters and hint of orange in the chocolate for a richer experience. Where alone the wine has a delicate finish, the single barrel bourbon in the chocolate intensifies the wine’s caramel finish and adds a touch of oakiness.
At first glance, our last pairing looks as if the caramel might be sweeter than the wine. It’s not. Passion fruit is a tad bit sweet and yet also slightly sour. It is this contradiction that makes this match complementing the structure of our 2011 Cultivar Leaky Lake Cabernet Sauvignon.
Why this pairing works: On your inhale, nutmeg and cinnamon tantalize with a hint of mocha and cedar. These aromas scream for caramel and passion fruit. The Passion Fruit caramel combines these flavors into a creamy decadent bite that’s slightly bittersweet. Because the chocolate isn’t overly sweet and the flavors are those present in the 2011 Cultivar Leaky Lake Cabernet Sauvignon you have a match made in heaven.
Which ever way you enjoy your chocolate and your wine--together or separately, have fun this Valentine’s! Jot down notes about what you like as well as what you dislike. Then, the next time you’re standing in front of a chocolate counter pick up a few more to try.
Want to be daring while reducing the likelihood of a mismatch? Check out The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. Simply find the wine you’re trying to match, for example Cabernet Sauvignon, and see what fruit flavors or dessert ingredients work with it, for example strawberries. (If there’s no fruit or dessert ingredient such as butter or cream, start with one of the aromas or one of the flavors on your palette that you experience with the wine.) Then look up strawberries (or the other fruit).
What chocolates do you enjoy with your Cultivar Wine?
We love a good celebration, and just because the holidays are over doesn’t mean the toasting has to stop. Keep the toasting going past the holidays and create a new tradition: a late January tasting party.
And right now is the perfect time to explore three Napa Valley Appellations through a horizontal wine tasting. We have three 2012 Cabernet Sauvignons available: 2012 Cultivar Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2012 Cultivar Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wondering what is a horizontal wine tasting? It’s when you select one varietal for a tasting of the same vintage from different appellations. This is a great introduction to the nuances imparted into the wines by the land.
Before the tasting, decant all of the wines you've chosen. We recommend about an hour to two hours for our St. Helena and Rutherford and just a touch longer for our Howell Mountain.
While the wines are decanting, set out three glasses per person (eighteen for a party of six people) that way everyone can compare the color of the wines as well as the legs before tasting. Be sure to mark the wine glasses ahead of time with color-coordinated Washi tape or letterpress coasters.
Once the wines are decanted, pour at least four ounces of each wine into everyone's glasses. Be careful not to overfill the wine glasses. You want everyone to be able to easily swirl the wine without fear of it splashing out of the glass. Swirling doesn't just look cool. It serves a purpose: swirling releases the aromas and coats the glass with them. Let the wines breathe for a few minutes before inviting guests to begin.
Once your guests are seated and have their wines in front of them it's time to begin tasting. Lead them through the steps for sampling the first wine. The following steps are conveniently included this tasting sheet that you can download and print for your guests.
As the host, you can decide whether you want to share the appellations ahead of time or have your guests guess. Our tasting sheet has general notes for tasting wines on the front and tasting notes for each of our 2012 Cabernet Sauvignons on the back. If your guests are Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon aficionados, testing how well they know their appellations can be fun. Simply print the tasting sheet on two pages and hand out the tasting notes after all guests have noted their picks.
When you first look at your glass note whether the wine is clear and bright. It should be. Is the color light? Medium? or Dark and opaque? Look at the wines next to each other and record any differences you see.
It's often said that you can tell a good wine by the thickness of its legs (the drips or tears that run down the inside of your wine glass after you swirl it). This is a myth, but the legs do reveal properties of your wine. Thick, slow moving legs mean your wine is heavy in alcohol and body. It will probably taste full and very rich. Delicate wines with less alcohol will have harder to see legs.
Swirl each wine and compare the legs of each. Record any differences you see on your tasting sheet.
Swirl your wine to coat your glass with the aromas of your wine and hold up your glass to your nose. You're looking for notes that will reveal where your wine came from. Some appellations are known for sour red-cherry notes where others are known for black currants. With complex wines you may not smell all the nuances in your first whiff.
There are 88 common aromas. On the provided tasting sheet we've identified eight common types of aromas: floral, spicy, fruity, vegetative, nutty, caramelized, woody, and earthy. An aroma wheel may help your guests identify what they're smelling.
Now the part you've been waiting for: the taste! As you sip and swish the wine in your mouth you're looking at its acidity: is it tart or acidic? Is it interesting? If you ponder a wine trying to discern what you're tasting it's a sign of a complex wine.
What's the finish like? Is it long or short? Elegant or harsh. Do you want more after you finish your sip?
Be sure to clear your palate in between each wine. In addition to lots of water, wine crackers are great to have on hand. Because they're flat, they don't impart any flavor to your next taste.
For six people, we like to have three bottles of each of the wines we’re pouring. For a horizontal tasting of all three of our 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, that's nine bottles total. This gives everyone enough wine to sample as well as being able to enjoy their preferred wine with the meal.
Remember that you receive 15% off wines when you order 12 or more bottles. So if a horizontal tasting sounds appealing, stock up and take advantage of the savings.
We are excited to announce the availability of our 2012 Cultivar Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, which we bottled this past August. This is our second offering from the Howell Mountain Appellation, one of the first regions in Napa Valley to gain American Viticultural Area (AVA) status.
And right now with the cold, grey weather the Bay Area is experiencing, I’m really enjoying the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. For me, it’s the perfect wine to curl up with and savor. Why? Because thanks to its balanced acidity and sugar and long finish, the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is great on its own or with food!
Our winemaster, Julien has advised that the Howell Mountain will age for another 10 years, but I’m having a hard time saving it. Lately, it’s my wine of choice to serve before heading out to dinner or a party.
Our 2012 Cultivar Howell Mountain is beautiful to look at with its rich, dark, smokey purple color. Once you stop staring and bring it up to your nose, you’ll smell cassis, currant, and blackberries. When you taste the wine, your palette is hit with these powerful fruits as well as more subtle notes of cedar and wood smoke and hints of truffles, licorice, and espresso. The distinct long finish and smooth tannins demands a leisurely pace. This is not a wine you want to open if you’re rushed for time. If you’re not already dreaming of mountain cabins and the outdoors, you should be. What I tell my friends is that if they like Mountain fruit they will love this wine as much as I do. One sip and I’m imagining myself seated in front of a roaring fire staring out at snow kissed slopes or fire pit overlooking the ocean.
For best results serve the wine at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit, just below room temperature. Depending where you store your wines, you may need to bring your wine up to temperature. If your wines are stored at room temperature, you may want to tuck them into the refrigerator for about twenty minutes before serving and use an aerator pour spout to decant if having just a glass. Before enjoying I then let them sit for a few minutes to breathe.
To truly appreciate the Howell Mountain you'll want to enjoy it in one of the Riedel wine glasses made specifically for red wine. The shape of the glass allows the wine to breathe. If your wine is below the optimal drinking temperature, you'll be able to use your hands to slowly warm it.
Because the Howell Mountain is so drinkable now and only 148 cases were produced, we expect it to sell out quickly like our first offering did. (We have many Cultivar and Caspar customers who needed to restock or missed out on last year’s offering lined up for this release.) Don’t delay and pick up a few bottles for enjoying today as well as a few for your cellar.
Purchase your Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon now. Bottle $72 / $57.60 Wine Club; Case $734 / $691 Wine Club
The Howell Mountain AVA is located on the Northeast side of the Napa Valley within the Vaca Range near the town of Angwin, overlooking the town of St. Helena. The boundaries of the AVA are dictated by vineyard land located at elevations of at least 1,400 feet. Often you will see photos of the cabernet sauvignon vineyards on Howell Mountain with the fog filling the Napa Valley below.
We were drawn to Howell Mountain for its unique nutrient poor soils, the decomposed volcanic ash called ‘tufa’ and the red clay that is naturally high in iron. The soil types found in the Howell Mountain appellation stress the vines planted there. The result of this stress is that the vines produce lower yields than other appellations. But these lower yields have fruit that is consistently intense in flavor with balanced acidity and sugar and a unique minerality from the volcanic ash.
Prior to Prohibition in the United States, Howell Mountain was best known for its Zinfandel. Now the slopes of Howell Mountain are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. When you try our 2012 Cultivar Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon we’re sure you’ll see why we chose grapes from Howell Mountain and why we can’t wait to share our wine.
Because of the fruit’s balanced acid and sugar, you may be tempted to drink it now. (Be sure to stock up so that you have some left in your cellar to enjoy as the wine ages.)
The 2012 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is best paired with juicy steaks and hearty stews. For the holidays, it is the perfect complement to your standing rib roast.
Hosting a holiday gathering at your place? Be sure you have enough wine for your guests. Unsure how much wine you need for an event? Don't worry!
When planning all you need to know is how you plan on serving your wine, how many guests will be drinking, and how long your guests will be there. Think about:
How long will your guests be over? Assume each guest drinks about two glasses of wine every two hours.
How many guests will be drinking? Each standard 750-ml wine bottle is roughly four servings of wine (assuming a six ounce pour). A magnum bottle (1.5 liters) has eight to twelve glasses of wine (assuming four to six ounce pours).
For a twelve-person dinner for Thanksgiving, with guests arriving around 5pm and dinner at 6pm, assuming all guests are over 21 and will be enjoying wine, plan on consuming six bottles. Over the course of five hours, twelve guests will drink two glasses of wine very two hours, a total of 30 glasses or eight bottles.
Are you pairing wines with individual courses? If you’re pairing wines with individual courses, you’ll need more bottles to ensure that everyone gets enough. The exact number of bottles you need depends on whether guests are drinking full glasses (four to six ounces) or tasting pours (two ounces).
If you’re serving tasting pours at your twelve-person dinner, you’ll want two bottles of each wine for every course you’re serving. To ensure you don’t run out wine over the course of five hours at a three-course meal, plan on eight bottles of wine. For full glasses, you’ll want three bottles of each wine for every course you’re serving; in this example eleven bottles of wine.
When planning your Christmas and New Year’s celebrations keep these dates in mind to ensure your wine cellar is well stocked:
Remember that when you order 12 or more bottles of Cultivar Wine you receive a 15% discount, so for your twelve person dinner, why not make it a case?
This year has flown by! We’re excited that harvest is over, and we're looking forward to gathering with our family and friends to give thanks.
As you get ready to join your family and friends around the table, we wanted to share some of our favorite red wine pairings for smoked turkey. (Come back next Wednesday for tips on how much wine to have on hand!)
2012 Cultivar Oak Knoll District Cabernet Franc, with its sweet black cherry, plum, and blueberries with hints of vanilla and Asian spices, will leave your guests talking when you serve it up with either a curried pumpkin or sweet potato soup as your first course.
Or be a little daring and pair it with dessert. May we recommend a pecan pie or a rich pumpkin pie?
2012 Cultivar Oak Knoll District Cabernet Franc: Case $530 / $500 Wine Club
2011 Cultivar Phoenix Ranch Syrah, with its blueberry, black currant, and plum fruit, offers the perfect counterpoint to a smoked jalapeño turkey.
We especially love it with mushroom and sausage stuffing.
2011 Cultivar Phoenix Ranch Syrah: Case $571 / $537 Wine Club
2012 Cultivar Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, with its ripe black currant, plum, and dark cherry with a hint of vanilla, violets, and warm spices, softens the tartness in some cranberry sauces.
Tired of canned cranberry sauce? Try your hand at a Cabernet-cranberry sauce with figs. Your guests will thank you.
2012 Cultivar Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Case $286 / $269 Wine Club
TheFiftyBest.com is an award-winning online guide to fine living, featuring rated listings from unbiased surveys and proprietary tastings judged by wine/spirits journalists, wine/spirits professionals, sommeliers, retailers, restaurateurs, and connoisseurs.
For this tasting of recent release California Sauvignon Blancs, they assembled a pre-qualified panel of judges. Judges blind-tasted the wines and rated them individually on a 1-5 point scoring system, with 5 being the best. After tallying the scores, The Fifty Best awarded medals based on the judges' impressions.
2013 Cultivar Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc Tasting Notes
We crafted our 2013 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc to be approachable and the perfect treat after a hard day. The grapes we selected for our 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and Musque clone come from three vineyards, two in St. Helena and one in Napa. This mix of grapes creates a crisp, refreshing wine with peach and nectarine on the tongue with just a hint of the grassy notes Sauvignon Blanc is famous for.
Individual bottles are $20 (Case Price $204 / Cultivar Wine Club $192). Cultivar Wine Club members enjoy 20% off. If you're not yet in our club, learn more about the benefits of membership.
Order your Sauvignon Blanc now.
Wondering what to pair Sauvignon Blanc with? Check out our tips for crafting the perfect seasonal cheese, salami, and apple platter. Sauvignon Blanc also pairs beautifully with turkey and sweet potatoes and would make a great addition to your Thanksgiving celebration.
To ensure your wine arrives in time for Thanksgiving, place your order no later than Friday, November 14.
The secret to a perfect pairing is balance, not just of flavors, but of texture and acid as well. For a perfect cheese and salami platter to serve with your Cultivar Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, you’re looking for some creaminess and just a hint of sweetness or spice. You want to select foods that will complement or amplify the notes in your wine and not overpower it.
Because Sauvignon Blanc has grassy notes, it’s a great wine to pair with goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses. Cow’s milk cheeses are trickier to pair with Sauvignon Blanc as they are fairly acidic. You want to select a mix of unaged cheeses with light flavor, such as Idiazabal Raw Sheep Milk Cheese, Petite Basque Sheep’s Milk Cheese, and Goat Milk Cheddar Cheese.
For that hint of sweetness, choose in season apples that are a little more tart and have a bit of crunch, like Fuji or Gold Rush. Chili-dusted candied pecans are also delicious, delivering both sweetness and spice.
Similar to cow’s milk cheeses, salami can be challenging to pair with Sauvignon Blanc. Look for meats that are lower in salt and milder in flavor, such as Olli Organic Norcino Salami or have a little kick, such as Fra Mani Salametto Piccante.
What better way to spend a Saturday than being surrounded by our wine club members and friends enjoying delicious food and drinking fabulous Cultivar wines? And a couple of Saturdays ago, that's exactly what we did!
After a quick headcount, we left overcast San Francisco in search of the sun, which we found just on the north side of the Rainbow Tunnel in Marin County. While on the bus, guests enjoyed our 2013 Cultivar Napa Valley Rose (currently sold out in bottles, but still available in kegs).
At Balboa Cafe, situated in downtown historic Mill Valley, we introduced our September 2014 wine club selections. There on the outside patio while sampling our wines, we enjoyed light bites styled by executive chef, Rick Edge, and live music by Tom Rhodes.
The light bites provided by PlumpJack Catering that we enjoyed were:
To learn more about the pairings, some classic and some others daring, check out our Food Pairings for Our September 2014 Wine Club Selections where we break the matches down for you.
Be sure to check out our Facebook page for more photos from the event. Also, if you'd like to hear about further upcoming events in San Francisco and Wine Country, be sure to like our page. In addition to news about events, you'll get behind the scenes peeks into how we make our wines along with recipes and pairing tips for entertaining in your home.
When it comes to pairing wines with food there are two options: classic or unexpected. To showcase our wines and give you ideas for what to serve with your wines, executive chef of Balboa Cafe Mill Valley, Rick Edge, prepared four appetizers for us to nosh on at our September Balboa & Cultivar Wine Club Bus Party.
The wines Chef Rick was matching with the perfect appetizer were one of our vineyard designate wines, 2011 Leaky Lake Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and three of our appellation wines: 2013 Cultivar Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc, 2012 Cultivar St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2011 Cultivar Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chef Rick prepared four dishes for six pairings. Here are the flavors to look for when planning your own dinner. Where a pairing is daring, we included some tips to ensure a perfect match.
Tomatoes and Sauvignon Blanc: a classic pairing. When you think gazpacho you're probably imagining a soup dripping with acidity. Not so with this refreshing shooter. Guests reached for taste after taste enchanted by its rich unctuousness. The smooth creaminess of this shrimp gazpacho amplified the richness of our 2013 Cultivar Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc, blinding one to any other pairing for the Sauvignon Blanc.
Caramelized Onion and Carmody Cheese Skewers with Sherry Vinegar Glaze & Piment d'Espelette
At first glance you may wonder how a dish can be paired with both a red and a white wine. The key lies in the balance of peppery, sweet, and creamy components. The green citric notes of our 2013 Cultivar Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc balance the heat in the Piment d'Espelette, a variety of chile pepper cultivated in Southern France, and the tartness of the sherry vinegar glaze. The rich sweetness of the caramelized onions and the buttery flavor of the Carmody cheese soften the tannins found in our 2011 Leaky Lake Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
When trying this pairing at home be sparing with the glaze. Too much of the sherry vinegar and your tastebuds will shrink in horror effectively stealing the thunder from either the Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc or the Leaky Lake Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, a travesty as both of these wines otherwise have a lengthy finish that deserves center stage.
Who says you can't have chicken with red wine? Successful pairings are made with sauces and this match is no different. Our 2011 Cultivar Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon brings earthy notes reminiscent of some Pinot Noir that complement the arugula pesto, offsetting its peppery nature with the sweetness of Bing Cherry and plums.
The meatballs, because they are made with chicken, have a more delicate flavor than their beef and pork counterparts. So, if it takes you a couple of bites to finish your meatball, you may not have any of the pesto left for your pairing. Not to fear! Try a sip of either our Leaky Lake Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon or St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon, cabernets less earthy than the Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon with smooth finishes that complements rather than overpowers the chicken.
You can never go wrong pairing beef with a Cabernet Sauvignon. What makes some matches more memorable than others are the toppings. With the selection of cheddar over a blue cheese the 2012 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon was a solid choice. If you prefer the earthiness of a blue cheese over a cheddar, you want a wine that's more of a meal by itself. Think of it like a boxing match, it's more interesting when both fighters are the same weight class. If a heavyweight and a featherweight are in the ring together it won't be as exciting. With its earthiness, the Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon is the heavyweight while the St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon is a featherweight. Had the slider been topped with Blue Cheese instead of cheddar the St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon would have been down for the count.
We have two brand new releases going out in this month’s wine club shipment that we think you’re going to enjoy. If you’re not in our wine club, now is the time to join because we have some great wines to share with you... just in time for those cooler nights when red wine sounds oh so right.
First, our 2012 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon. This is our first release from the St. Helena appellation, where the temperatures run about 4 to 5 degrees warmer than in Napa. This rise in temperature results in wine with richer, more concentrated flavors. Ours has wonderful aromas of cassis, plum and vanilla with beautiful yet subtle floral notes. On the palate, ripe fruit flavors are balanced with great tannins. This wine will age well for 7 to 10 years and will go perfectly with a delicious grilled steak.
Also a new release is our 2011 Leaky Lake Cabernet. The grapes for this wine grow in the Leaky Lake Vineyard, located on top of the Mayacamas Mountain Range. Bright red in color, this wine has incredibly enticing aromas of wild blueberries and cherries that seem to leap from the glass, followed by notes of spice, pepper, cedar and mocha. The palate reveals fruit-forward characteristics with dark cherry fruit flavors, smooth tannins and a lengthy finish. Decanting allows the wine’s complex flavors to shine now, but it will also age gracefully for the next 2 to 7 years.