Skip The Tie. Buy Him Booze!

This Sunday marks one of the highlights of the calendar. National Turkey Lover's Day? National Go Fishing Day? Well, if you love turkey and like or want to go fishing, then yeah...you will be on Cloud Nine. No, I am referring to Father's Day. Additionally, do you know what today is? Apparently, it is National Bourbon Day. What a great time to be a whiskey-loving father!

Yawn. Can I drink this?

Yawn. Can I drink this?

You may be looking for a gift for dear old Dad this week or anyone you know who is a father. Sure, you could go with the cliché gifts, but why?

A toolbox? Guess what...I haven't a handy bone in my body.

A tie? I don't use one in the wine and spirits biz. Things tend to be casual around here.

How about a service, like mowing the lawn or washing the car? Cute, but the grass and the car will be in worse shape that it was before.

Nah. Assuming dad likes a good adult beverage, skip all that stuff and buy him booze! You are in luck, good Father's Day gift shopper. You have more options at your disposal than ever before. I something interesting today when tasting products with Berkshire Mountain Distillers: they received the 50th distillery permit in the country back in 2007. Today, there are over 1,300 permits. Craft spirit fans rejoice!

What about wine? There's a style for everyone. White, pink, or red? Sparkling? New World or Old World? Perhaps Dad is also a cigar-lover and would enjoy some Port, Sherry, or Madeira along with a stogie. I also know if I see my father, I can walk in with a bottle of red wine and everyone will be happy. In fact...red wine is required prior to entry of my parents' house, or I get sent away.

Of course, you have beers, too. There are over 5,300 breweries in the U.S. alone. Europe has about as many, too. So many choices available to you!

This isn't a comprehensive buying guide, but here are some brews, wines, and spirits that I enjoy personally or have brought as gifts before. Any of the following would make a fine choice for the old man, with some emphasis on Bourbon for spirits. To all the dads out there, have a great day this Sunday and keep kicking ass in the parenting department! Your family will (hopefully) reward your efforts with something below.

Two Roads Brewing Rye 95 Tripel Blonde Ale ($10/4-pack): Fruity, hoppy, spicy, complex, and rich. It may not be an ideal drink for the summer, but it does taste fantastic. At 9.5% abv, it's a beast, but after a long day for Pops it can be very satisfying.

Goose Island Sofie Saison ($12/4-pack): This Belgian-Style Ale takes 20% of the beer and ages it in wine barrels with citrus peels. Golden in color, peppery, citrusy, and lively. It's a great way to treat Dad.

Ventisquero Grey Glacier Single Block Red Blend ($25): I remember how good the Single Block series is when Ventisquero's wines were presented in the classroom. This is a red blend of Garnacha (Grenache), Cariñena (Carignan), and Mataro (Mourvèdre) that is big and bold, full-bodied, and fruity. This has a surprising acidity on the finish that doesn't make this wine feel to heavy on the palate, and it is a steal at this price.

Schloss Johannisberg Riesling Grünlack (Green Seal) Spätlese ($55): If Dad is out there fishing and catching some trout, enjoying lobsters, or even sausages on Sunday, this is a killer pairing with any of those dinner options. Schloss Johannisberg is a single vineyard estate in the Rheingau region of Germany that has been making exquisite wines for 500 years. Pineapple, peach, green herbs, and a beautiful balance of acidity and sweetness make this an awesome wine to either enjoy now or let dad stick in the cellar to evolve further.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve 120 Proof ($48): I really enjoy Knob Creek's flagship 100 Proof expression, but let Dad taste what their whiskey is like almost straight from the barrel. Bottled at this high proof, the Bourbon has a ton of character and fire, with toasted nuts, vanilla, caramel, and a little bit of smokiness on the finish. Get the fire pit going and grab a dram of this whiskey!

Berkshire Mountain Distillers Smoke and Peat Bourbon ($60): Out of western Massachusetts, Berkshire Mountain distills and ages all of their product on-site. This expression takes Berkshire's flagship Bourbon that was already aged four years, then ages it another six months in casks that previously held Laphroaig 10-Year Scotch Whisky. Plenty of smoke and medicinal notes from the peat, but does not overwhelm the corn-based sweetness of the Bourbon. Great for those who aren't sure if they should buy Bourbon or Scotch...this brings the best of both worlds!

 

Sangria: "The Only Acceptable Use Of Spanish Wine"

Whoa, whoa, whoa...what are you doing, Mr. Wine Expert?? Haven't you been telling us all along to explore and have an open mind about wines and spirits of the world?

Sangria: a refreshing "patio pounder" of a drink that you need this summer. Image credit: Food Network

Sangria: a refreshing "patio pounder" of a drink that you need this summer. Image credit: Food Network

Yes, I know the title of this post looks like some scorching hot take on wine, but please take note of something very important. These are not my words. This is a proclamation I have heard from some people who might be close to me say on more than one occasion. It's a pretty strong statement that reflects how some of us feel about certain types of wine that might not be our favorites. Some may not like the floral notes of Riesling. Others might be in the "ABC" (Anything But Chardonnay) crowd. Perhaps Australian Shiraz is too high in alcohol for one, while Beaujolais Nouveau is too light and candy-like for another.

Is it a fair stance to take on a wine? To those in agreement, yes. To those who love wines despised by others, of course not. But that's the beauty of the seemingly infinite styles of wine available to us today; the United States has more choices of sophisticated wines than ever. You are going to have wines that agree with your tastes and preferences, and some that you just don't care for. It applies to food, music, movies, art...whatever ignites a great sensation for you falls flat for someone else.

All of this is OK, by the way. We can go into more depth about this topic, but that's for another day. Instead, let's revisit the original statement above. What is it about some of the wines from Spain that can offend someone who would otherwise enjoy them in Sangria?

See this map? It is impossible to lump Spain into a uniform style of wine. All of the nooks and crannies throughout the country lead to a wide array of styles. Image credit:  Foods & Wines From Spain

See this map? It is impossible to lump Spain into a uniform style of wine. All of the nooks and crannies throughout the country lead to a wide array of styles. Image credit: Foods & Wines From Spain

First, let's start with "Spanish wine". I have spent a lot of time helping people delineate Spain into regions rather than lump them all into a uniform style. Rioja is the wine that comes to mind for many in the U.S. as it is easily the top-selling Spanish region, with Tempranillo and Garnacha being the two main grape varieties used to make the red wines. Tempranillo can be berry-scented with some tobacco notes in its youth; with age, the tobacco gets amplified along with evolving into more leathery, meaty flavors. Garnacha (a.k.a. Grenache) is full-bodied, high in alcohol, low in acid and very fruity. When handled haphazardly in the winery or not cared for in the vineyards, wines made from Garnacha can oxidize easily, turning into flavors caramel and road tar.

So yeah...if your first experience with Spain is a poorly-made Rioja, I can see why someone might be turned off. However, those qualities that Tempranillo and Garnacha show in their youth in a soundly-produced inexpensive wine, perhaps even coming from a region outside of Rioja, are ideal for a Sangria.

Now for what Sangria is...traditionally, it's going to be a red wine with brandy and fruit added to it to make a sort of "wine punch." Easy to knock back while sitting outside on a warm summer day, the brandy and fresh fruit (strawberries, peaches, plums, oranges, and more) provide some liveliness and refreshment. White sangria can be made, too (perhaps with apples, white peaches, and a vanilla bean) using a white wine from the Rueda region of Spain; Rueda's wines are made from Verdejo, though Sauvignon Blanc is gaining more credibility here, too. There are many permutations of recipes for Sangria out there; some might include lemon juice or other fruit liqueurs. If you like bubbles, use Cava as the base wine, or use some club soda to add fizz. The possibilities are seemingly endless. Beyond that, you can also buy ready-made Sangria, but as I professed in previous cocktail posts, you will find mixing your own to be more rewarding.

So when life gives you "Spanish wine", make Sangria...even if you don't necessarily care for it. Its youthful fruitiness is a perfect base for the refreshing qualities of a good Sangria. There is no need to spend a lot of money; anything more expensive will have its subtle nuances blended away. Here are some great choices...both for drinking on their own for a casual weeknight, or for turning into Sangria.

Bodegas Breca Garnacha de Fuego ($9): Hailing from the Aragon region of Spain, this is full-bodied and packed with straightforward cherry and plum flavors. With a touch of baking spice, this is easy base material for your Sangria. If you are grilling a some red meat, this is a fine accompaniment on its own.

Bodegas Atalaya "Laya" Red Blend ($10): A blend of Garnacha and Monastrell (an intense, high-alcohol, fruity/smoky grape variety), this wine comes from the Almansa region in southeastern Spain. This has dark cherry and blackberry flavor that adds a different dimension to your Sangria. Also a good partner with smoked red meat or grilled game meat.

Bodegas Menade "Creta" Rueda Old Vines ($12): Looking for a white wine? This Verdejo-dominant wine gives you citrus and peach fruit flavor that is perfect for Sangria.

Need a way to make Sangria without a recipe? Here is a great guide for you to assemble your own. Experiment as much as possible...whether you are making Sangria, or enjoying a glass of Spanish wine on its own! If you want to explore what Spain has to offer, Wines From Spain is a great starting point.

Ask Tony: What's The Deal With Asparagus And Wine?

In my best Jerry Seinfeld voice, "What's the deal with asparagus?"

In my best Jerry Seinfeld voice, "What's the deal with asparagus?"

Welcome to my newest segment: Ask Tony! You have questions, I (maybe) have answers.

Spring's arrival means the first bounty of green vegetables. While these don't make it to the forefront of a meal for some, certainly this is an important time for the vegetarian and vegan diners out there. Still...you should be having greens on the side with your meat dishes! Listen to your parents for once!

Asparagus: rough stuff if it comes in contact with the wrong wine. Proceed with caution!

Asparagus: rough stuff if it comes in contact with the wrong wine. Proceed with caution!

So among the leafy harvest of kale, Swiss chard, collards, and salad greens also comes the distinct, stalky vegetable called asparagus. It's chemical composition is unique; there are things called "asparagusic acid," "asparagosides," "asparagine," and "asparenyol" involved. These are group of building blocks that make asparagus so asparagus-y. To boot, 60-80% of the asparagus-consuming American population notices quite the "aroma" that emerges when you need to use the potty. All of these asparagus-y chemical components become the bane of many a wine pairing enthusiast. One has to be careful when marrying wines to these spears of green goodness. The wrong choice leads to overly tart, metallic, and astringent flavors on your palate. It's a beyond unpleasant chemical reaction for your senses.

I know...it doesn't sound like there is a lot of upside to getting wine into the equation when asparagus is being served. However, there is always a way. It's not impossible to enjoy both. A really simple guideline is to go for fresh, fruity, unoaked white wines. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Finger Lakes or Alsace Riesling immediately come to mind. You can even go with a Grüner Veltliner, which has always been an equalizer when it comes to greens.

A Grenache-based rosé wine, such as those coming from Navarra (Spain) or from the Côtes du Rhône in France will give you fruitiness if you are not a fan of white wine. If you must have a red, it can be a tougher pairing; any tannins will create chaos. Mild, unoaked, low-tannin reds such as the Gamay-based wines of Beaujolais would be useful in this spot, but go simple. If you spend for the "cru" wines, some (such as those from Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Côte de Brouilly, and Brouilly) have tannin in there; you might want to search for cru regions like Fleurie, which are lighter and gentler.

If all else fails, wrap a piece of prosciutto around a bundle of asparagus or cover asparagus with cheese. That will make life easy and you can just drink whatever you want!

Here are a few specific options for you. Try them for yourself and let me know what you think!

If you have questions you want answered, get in touch with me and maybe I will feature your question in another segment!

Silver Thread Finger Lakes Dry Riesling ($18)

Vibrant and peachy, this dry example from New York finishes clean and should help tame the green monster.

Dog Point Vineyard Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc ($20)

Bursting with passionfruit, herbs and a hint of stony earthiness, the ripeness will work wonders with asparagus.

Vega Sindoa Navarra Garnacha Rosado ($11)

Not having any part of white wine? This simple pink wine gives you lots of strawberry and spiced flavors at a terrific bargain.

Chateau de Pizay Beaujolais ($15)

A producer who has been a longtime favorite at the store, this is straightforward raspberry and baking spice that will satisfy the red wine fan.

Enduring The Big Game and Joe Buck: How To Drink On Super Bowl Sunday

(Warning: Contains some football and other sports content)

Long before I became interested in alcoholic beverages, I was a severe sports nerd. I still follow sports, but it doesn't consume my life as it once did. The days of watching a hockey game go into five overtimes on a Wednesday in February are over; I value sleep far more than my desire to stay up for a game. That being said, I have still been hooked on one sport and that is professional football.

Yeah, I know. The sport isn't perfect these days, and truthfully none of them are. Football game flow is choppier now and off-field transgressions are always in the spotlight. Basketball games come to a screeching halt with two minutes left in a half. Baseball can take forever since there is no clock. Major college sports is driven by the quest for the dollar. I get it, trust me. But with its ease of television viewing, ability to wager (where legal) and play fantasy games, I can't resist the call of the National Football League. 

So this little sporting event viewed by gazillions of people is being played on Sunday evening that I shouldn't really mention by name or some NFL executive's minion will beat down my door and give me a scolding, a fine, and perhaps take one of my children away as a penalty (Hint: it rhymes with "Duper Hole"). But this Sunday's championship largely isn't watched for the game itself (unless you live in Atlanta or a state north of Connecticut). Instead, we have large gatherings of friends, family, coworkers, and maybe even a few enemies. We watch the funny commercials and movie trailers. We have "square pools" and friendly wagers. We have tons of food and drink at the ready, because if you are getting started when the pregame shows are on, this is a 12-hour event for you.

This man hates your team. Image credit: Twitter @DrunkJoeBuck

This man hates your team. Image credit: Twitter @DrunkJoeBuck

Ah, drink you say? Indeed I do, because for roughly five hours, you have to hear Joe Buck, Fox Sports Lead Announcer, slight your team on Sunday (C'mon...you believe he hates your team with his commentary, no matter which team you root for). You can go in any direction you want: beer, wine or spirit. The key here is to get something you don't have to think about too much. Remember, you are likely at a casual party or focused intently on the game, eating many different things. Your party foods might be along the lines of nachos, pizza, wings, burgers, or pulled pork/barbecue just to name a few favorites.

I tend to favor low-alcohol beers, anything less than 6.0% abv and fruity and/or acidic wines low in tannin. Want a few recommendations? I have them for you below. Whether your team is in the game or you don't care about football, enjoy yourself this Sunday and as always...drink responsibly. 

If you are a beer person, rooting for New England: 

  • Berkshire Brewing Co. (Massachusetts) Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale ($6, 22 oz. bottle). This is the brewery's flagship product; it is malty and rich, but not crazy-high in alcohol at 5.2%. A good match with a simple burger.

If you are a beer person, rooting for Atlanta:

  • Pontoon Brewing Co. (Georgia) No Pants Pilsner ($9/six-pack). If you prefer a Lager style, this pine-scented Southern Pilsner is very refreshing, smooth, and easy-drinking, great with a plate of wings.

If you are a beer person who doesn't care about the game at all:

  • Ommegang (New York) Game of Thrones: Iron Throne ($10, 25.4 oz bottle). Sit back and watch the chaos and squirming from afar while you sip on this Belgian-style Pale Ale from Cooperstown, NY. That's right...I recommended a beer from the Baseball Hall of Fame location for a football game.

If you are a wine person, here's what we are tasting at the store this afternoon from 2:00-5:00pm:

  • Andrew Murray Vineyards Santa Maria Valley Viognier, (about $20). This white grape traditionally grown in the Rhone Valley of France has a second home in Santa Barbara County, California. Andrew Murray's expression is citrusy, floral, and has a honey-drizzled peach flavor. Great for Buffalo or "Hot & Honey" style wings.
  • Monti Guidi Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva ($15). When the Montepulciano grape shows its best, it is a fruity, dry red wine. Flavors of sour cherries and blackberry jam with a touch of black licorice. Two years in barrel increased the wine's body and softens the tannins. Perfect for a sausage and pepper sandwich or just a slice of cheese pizza.
  • Bodegas Ateca "Atteca" Garnacha ($16). This Garnacha from Aragon, Spain is very full-bodied with soft caramelized red fruit peppery spice. I like this with a plate of loaded nachos.
  • The Federalist Mendocino County Zinfandel, Bourbon-Barrel Aged ($21). Zinfandel when made as a serious red wine is plush, soft, and very fruity/jammy. After the wine is fermented and aged as normal, it is transferred to used Bourbon barrels for six months to impart extra cherry and vanilla flavor. Even though the abv registers a whopping 15.5%, you don't even feel the fire from the alcohol. Great with pulled pork or brisket BBQ.

If your team is victorious:

  • Oban 14 Year Old Single Malt Scotch ($80): Treat yourself to what I feel is the most balanced flagship product of any distillery. It has just the right amount of fruitiness, malt, spice, and smoke. Congratulations to you! 

 If your team failed:

  • Water (Free, from the tap): Rehydrate and go to bed. No need to wake up the next morning both hung over and a loser.