ENGAGING THE SENSES

In the aftermath of our Best in Glass (BIG) Wine Challenge, there has been a lot of attention paid to the gold medal-winning wines. That attention is certainly well deserved, but let’s not lose sight of just how valuable a silver medal can be.

As you will recall, the Best in Glass winners are selected by a panel of South Florida sommeliers. The wines are all tasted blind and in the final round of judging, our sommelier-judges cast votes for the wines they thought were the best options for pouring by the glass in their restaurants. They were aware of the wholesale price of each wine and price certainly was a consideration, as was each sommelier’s sense of whether a given wine would work in her or his restaurant. This means that the sommelier at an upscale restaurant might not be as attracted to a simple wine that is an excellent value while the sommelier from a wine bar would welcome an obscure grape variety that would require some explanation because in a wine bar setting, there is time to explore with customers. A relatively high-priced cabernet might seem reasonable to a small high-end restaurant and less desirable to a larger restaurant with a more commercial wine list.

To earn a gold medal in the competition, a solid majority of the sommeliers had to vote for a wine. If the vote was, say, 10 for gold and 11 for silver, the wine got a silver medal. But wait! That silver medal-winning wine still got a vote for gold from ten sommeliers, and that is not to be ignored. In fact, most of the wines that earned a silver medal had several votes for gold and to me this means every silver medal wine is a real treasure.

View our list of silver medal wines, and you could have a fun time printing the list and taking it to your favorite wine shop to see what you find. It’s a long list and a thankless task to single out a few wines, but I will note that the Brancaia Tre is a Tuscan blend that is hugely successful at Cibo, one of my favorite wine bars in Coral Gables. I would have given Château St. Maur rosé a gold medal and I know that it got silver from some sommelier-judges only because there were so many excellent rosé wines in the competition this year. This is an assertive and well-balanced rosé that is very much to my taste. Another very popular rosé with some of the judges is the Cubanisimo rosé from Oregon made from pinot noir – I think the vibrant and rather deep color led some somms to think it would be a hard sell as a rosé though other somms loved the flavor and weren’t at all disturbed by the color.

I absolutely love the Edna Valley Vineyard sauvignon blanc. It takes a seductive middle road between the assertive style of a New Zealand sauvignon and a less aromatic wine from the Loire Valley. I had this at a restaurant a couple of weeks ago and thought it was marvelously food-friendly.

Two final wines that I thought deserved gold for their bar-friendly demeanor are a Champagne and a sherry. Canard-Duchéne was for many years a Champagne admired in France but not well known in the export market. That is changing, and to re-introduce it in the U.S. the importer offers it at a very good price for a classic Champagne. The brut nonvintage is a lovely wine worth tasting. Another wine I thought deserved a gold in the competition is the La Gitana Manzanilla. It’s a bone dry sherry and a style of wine that perplexes many sommeliers who are focused on table wines to go with a meal. Manzanilla is the perfect accompaniment to tapas – it has a bracing, crisp attack on the palate that suits everything from jamón to fried artichokes to a bowl of olives. It’s a wine I’d like to see on more restaurant wine lists, especially those with bars that have snacks.

I could go on, but better you print the list and do some experimenting on your own. And I’ll circle back in a few weeks with some other silver suggestions for your summer drinking.

Despite the rain that is a regular feature of our South Florida summers, we Floridians do love to cook outside. Grilling is a treasured summertime pursuit and so, during the warm weather, we have some specific (and sometimes difficult to meet) requirements in our summer wines. Fortunately, our recent Best in Glass Wine Challenge turned up some wines that will bring you accolades from all your grilling friends.

Consider what kind of food we eat when we have a backyard barbecue: smoke becomes a dominant seasoning in our food whether it’s fish, chicken or beef. If you use a barbecue sauce with your chicken or ribs, you introduce strong flavors that tend to be both acidic (from vinegar) and sweet (from sugar). So what do we need from our wines to make a good match?

A bottle of Hiruzta Txakolina, a fruity and refreshing white, perfect for a hot summer day [Photo: Hiruzta Bodega]

Just as a good barbecue sauce has a balance of sweet and sour, a good summer wine will be both fruity and crisply acidic. One of my favorites to tote along to a backyard grill-fest is the hard to pronounce but utterly delicious white wine called Txakolina (pronounced chock-oh-LEE-nah), though it often shows up on wine lists as Txakoli (CHOCK-oh-lee). The name is Basque, and the wine is a fixture at the several Basque restaurants that turned up on the list of “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” that was released last week. Outside of the Basque region of Spain, the wine is a bit of a rarity. In fact, other than Spain, the only other country where you can readily find Txakolina is the U.S., by far the wine’s largest export destination.

Txakolina is sometimes slightly fizzy and always crisply acidic and relatively low in alcohol (12 percent), so it is a perfect thirst quencher on hot days. It also stands up well to spicy food. At the recent Best in Glass Wine Challenge, a wonderful example of the wine, Hiruzta Txakolina, captivated the judges and earned a gold medal and that is the wine I’m recommending today.

What does it taste like? It’s bright pale lemon yellow in the glass, and the aromas are elusive and captivating – I get apple, pear and some grapefruit and pineapple, quite a fruit basket! On the palate, this crisp wine gets your salivary glands pumping with citrus and pear wrapped up in that bracing acidity. What works particularly well for me is that, with that vibrant acidity, it is a wine that cleans the palate, even when you are eating spicy barbecue or burgers with sweet ketchup.

For the wine geeks among you, the full name of the wine region is Getariako Txakolina; if the label also includes the name of the main grape (hondarrabi zuri) things rapidly get complicated with consonants. Just keep in mind the name of the winery – Hiruzta – and the type of wine – Txakolina – and you will have all you need to find this refreshing summer quaff – as you can see, the wine bottle has an easy to read label to make your purchase even easier. Pick up a bottle and take it to your next cookout to amaze your friends – odds are they haven’t tried a Txakolina before and you are about to be a wine hero. And you will be a happy imbiber as well!