Box Wines Perfect for Outdoor Parties

October 3rd, 2011

Story, photo and video courtesy by Steve Mirsky

Don’t let school calendars or the date dictate when summer ends – favorite picnic and hit road!  The crowds filled with screaming children and college partiers have vaporized, beaches are wide open offering free admission, and swimming is now actually the warmest ever after soaking in all of the sun’s longest summer rays.

OK, so now you have followed my advice, perhaps packing your favorite fried chicken or BBQ along with sugar baby watermelon and home-baked chocolate chip cookies. All that’s missing is your favorite wine…but packing a bottle means bringing along a cork screw, cushioning the bottle, and making sure it doesn’t break under foot. Boxed wines eliminate these inconveniences making top vintages infinitely more portable. Here are several I tried courtesy of Frederick Wildman:

Falling Star Malbec 2010

One of many value-priced wine from Argentina’s Cuyo region , Falling Star is made from all hand-picked fruit that’s thermo-macerated. This means it’s fermented at high temperatures over a short period while the remaining half undergoes traditional fermentation and maceration. Malolactic fermentation follows before blending, stabilization, and bottling. The result is easy-drinking red berry flavors and soft tannins. I experienced a deep blackberry bouquet, fiery spice at the front of tongue intensifying toward the back of the palate. With a sweet initial mouth feel, it was also a playful hard-hitting accompaniment to the cayenne and cinnamon in the rub mix that coated the tipsy-cooker whole chicken I paired this with. No boredom for the mouth guaranteed…my tongue was zapped in every direction. I got initial big spice but swallowed slowly, letting linger on the tongue where punchy blackberry and hints of tobacco reigned.

Falling Star Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

It’s been awhile since my last tasting and I forgot how rich this wine is! Semisweet chocolate and rich berry on the palate make steaks and rich desserts de rigeaur pairings. But it seems like considering this vintage as a dessert wine isn’t so far fetched. On its own, a bracing full-bodied cab.

Here are the results of pairing with 2 of my favorite cheeses:

Gruyere Reserve Wheel Raw Milk (Aged over 60 days) – accentuates the Gruyere’s subtle nuttiness stripping it back to its dairy essence.

Gouda Goat – brings out the creaminess. A swirl of more mature curd reveals itself throughout the mouth. Sweet cream dissolves exposing the aged curd flavors. Sweet and salty elevated to new flavorful heights. Can make any steak, particularly fatty and over-charred, taste like heaven.

Falling Star Chardonnay 2009

This light-to-medium bodied wine with a distinct yellow hue pairs nicely with poultry, seafood, pork, and spicy vegetarian dishes. Citrus and apple aromas lightly poke through the lighter edged vivacious Chard. Smooth honey with fragrant blossoms at first taste. Pepperiness pulls through on the palate along with a silky effervescence. Light floral to roof of mouth…smooth to the finish. Very neutral bouquet, easy drinking…as far away from acrid biting Chards as you can get. An unmistakably citrusy finish effectively cleanses the palate between sips.

Pomegranate Wines: Tart, Sassy & Oh-So 21st Century

September 29th, 2011

Nick and Brian Davis

About a year ago on a TV show, I came across twin winemakers, 26-year-old Nick and Brian Davis and their refreshing pomegranate wine. Born and raised in California’s Central Valley, they’ve been farming most of their lives. They both graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with degrees in viticulture, enology, and marketing. They have the necessary degrees and experience to produce a decent wine line, but could they actually sustain it and make a fruit based wine line grow?  Well, let’s just say that a year ago they were promoting one wine, now they have three.  Remarkable progress I’d say, especially in a down economy.

I had cellared the pomegranate wine they gave me a year ago, and brought it out for a small summer dinner party.  It was a hit.  So much so, that I thought I’d introduce the Twin Pomegranate wines to my Women’s Wince Council.

I could sense some eye rolling and head spinning when I announced to the Council that we were going to forgo the usual Cab, Zin & Chard tasting for a tart & sassy fruit wine tasting.  I promised no overly sweet wines to calm the troops down and I assigned each member some homework.  Each member was given a pomegranate wine selection to research and pair with a dish for the tasting.   I must say, the girls …and the wine came through with flying colors.

First up was the Sparkling Pomegranate Wine (About $20).  It was an instant hit. The nose is predominately pomegranate, but we were intrigued by the somewhat earthy undertones showcasing honey and nut, with just a hint of lavender.  This wine is crisp and refreshing and goes well with blueberry Stilton cheese, cranberry chicken, melon wrapped in prosciutto, meatballs with a red Italian and slightly spicy picante sauce, and a dessert called Strawberry Whipped Sensation.  Yup, the tasting was off to a very good start.

Next up was the Pomegranate/ White Wine Blend (About $15).  In this case the blend is pomegranate and Chardonnay.  As a group we thought it had more of a Sauvignon Blanc taste to it.  The pomegranate is certainly just a hint in this mixture.   More prominent on the nose and palate were the apricot and apple notes.  This went well with the cranberry chicken, the meatballs, and the Strawberry Whipped Sensation

Our final wine was 100% Pomegranate Wine.  Another hit (About $15).  Possibilities abounded. Everything from martinis, to tall cool spritzers, to reduction sauces seem to call our name.  Probably the most adaptable of the three wines, we found this wine to be tart, brisk and sassy – 100% pomegranate all the way.  We loved it with all the dishes, but especially the blueberry Stilton Cheese, the cranberry chicken and the prosciutto and melon.

All three wines should be served refrigerator cold to enjoy the true characteristics.  Yes, I know this is counterintuitive to how most wines should be served, but it works.  The big winner of the three wines in this tasting was the Sparkling Pomegranate.  You can find the wines at some Northern California stores like Lucky, Whole Foods, Safeway and various liquor stores.  In Southern California area  stop by Palm Liquor, 4150 Mission Blvd. #117, San Diego. Visit for additional information.


Ruby Kiss | Compliments of Twin Pomegranates

Pour the following into your favorite champagne glass:

* 3 Parts Twin Pomegranates™ Sparkling Wine

* 1 Part Cranberry Juice

Garnish with Pomegranate Seeds or Blueberries.



Story & Photos by Linda Kissam



Sarah Cyr, Sommelier at The Wine Cellar & Bistro in Columbia, Missouri

September 27th, 2011

Sarah and Craig Cyr

When Norm and I visited Columbia, Missouri, we discovered The Wine Cellar & Bistro. What a find!  In addition to a wonderful chef, Craig Cyr, it is co-owned by an equally talented Sommelier, Sarah Cyr. This small, intimate establishment has grown to be a successful highly recommended destination for memorable experiences.

Interviewing and sharing Sarah’s story revealed a road to success and happiness.

Maralyn: Sarah, how did you decide to become a Sommelier?

Sarah: I started working in restaurants while finishing law school, so I could see my fiancé at the time. We were both so busy and loved working together in whatever restaurant Craig was currently employed. I soon became a server manager at a fine dining restaurant, and helped them receive a Wine Spectator award for their wine list (the same award we, The Wine Cellar & Bistro, has received every year since we opened in 2003).

Organizing and learning about putting together an award winning list was where I got started learning to love the vast subject of wine. I have never stopped.

Since opening The Wine Cellar & Bistro, I have been certified as a first-level Sommelier by The Court of Master Sommeliers, and plan on continuing my sommelier training. I blind taste every Wednesday with my distributors and take extensive notes on every wine I taste.

Maralyn: Do you offer tasting notes?

Sarah: I personally stand behind the wines I put on the list, and offer tasting notes and food pairings (provided by Craig) on a label on each bottle.

Maralyn: What do you look for when you taste?

Dungeness Crab Crepes with Mango-Red Pepper Salsa

Sarah: As far as tasting wine, I always look for: Does it adequately represent the region and varietal (does the CA cab taste like an Oregon pinot? Hopefully it does not). I look for a good value (would my customers pay this price?). And is it tasty and food friendly? That’s pretty much it.

I always tell my customers to drink what they enjoy, and if they enjoy it all, then take our advice on a wine pairing to complement your meal. There is nothing better than that perfect pairing, where every drink invites another bite and every bite desires another drink. I just had that experience with a 10-year old merlot and shiitake bisque. It was amazing.

Maralyn: What about aromas? I pick up some, but my palate is not developed to pick up the subtleties.

Sarah: As far as aromas go, I am still working on that. It is such an important part of tasting because so much of what you taste is impacted by what you smell. Every time I smell a wine, I am amazed at the variety of aromas and how they change as the wine breathes. You can only start recognizing these aromas by trying to identify what you smell, over and over again. Pretty soon, you go from smelling cherries or strawberries to smelling tobacco leaves and juniper. It is subjective, but those aromas are really there.

Maralyn: What do you suggest to improve one’s tasting skills?

Local Chestnut Housemade Ravioli with Local Red Wine Oxtail Broth

Sarah: I highly recommend blind tasting wine, just pouring it in the glass, taking notes on its color, aromas, and flavors. Once you describe the wine, then allow yourself to discover what it is, what grape, from where, and what price point. This is the most effective way to learn. Pretty soon, you will notice similarities between the same varietals (all sauvignon blancs have grapefruit notes) and even some regions.

Maralyn: Sarah, you obviously are willing to share developing wine appreciation skills, thank you.

Sarah: I hope it helps! I love learning and teaching about wine. Since I do not practice law, wine has always been my passion and satisfies my craving to continually educate myself. I love it! The more you know about wine, the more you realize there is to know!

Maralyn: Could you pair some of Craig’s dishes with wine for our readers to see examples?

Sarah: I’d be happy to do that.

Sea Bass with Stir-Fried Spaghetti Squash, Banana Tartare

Sea bass needs a gently oaked CA chardonnay to pair with the fish, squash, and nice banana flavors (sometimes CA chardonnays will have their own banana aromas). It makes a great pairing.

With fondue, I usually recommend a glass of bubbly. We have a cremant by the glass that is nice with the fondue, the yeastiness pairs nice with the marshmallows, while the bubbles can bounce back and forth between the sweetness of the chocolate and the variety of flavors from the fruits. Or our local winery’s port would be nice as well (Adam Puchta, Hermann, MO).

Fondue Pot with Housemade Marshmallows and Chocolate Genache

The crepes are creamy with a sweet mango pepper salsa. They need a full bodied Oregon pinot gris or a California viognier to balance all those flavors and creaminess, while adding a lovely floral note.

Chestnut ravioli is earthy and nutty, with a rich oxtail tomato sauce, I just had a Spanish Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva 1995 that would have paired perfectly. I think a big Spanish red would be wonderful.

For Lemon Semi-Freddo with Lavender Shortbread Cookies, this dessert is so delicate with flavors that a light bubbly good quality Italian moscato would do the trick. It features small elegant bubbles and is gently sweet. Now, I am hungry!

Thank you for asking! I like to share!

Maralyn: I found Sarah’s tips and wine pairing suggestions quite helpful. Her talent is evident and it is easy to see why they continue to receive the Wine Spectator Award.


The Wine Cellar & Bistro

505 Cherry Street

Columbia, Missouri 65201

(573) 442-7281


Freelance travel writer Maralyn D. Hill, The Epicurean Explorer, is President of the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association. Maralyn focuses on food, spas, travel, and wine, while still covering meetings, incentives, and corporate assignments.

Website, Blogs & Email: The Epicurean Explorer, Where and What in the World, NoraLyn, IFWTWA Profile,




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