Bolognese + Brunello


It’s Monday. You may be revving up for NFL. I’m swooning for the “Monday night special” at Nicola’s Ristorante Italiano flanking the northeast corner of OTR.

Nicola’s Tagliatelle alla Bolognese is so popular among knowing neighbors and patrons that I hesitate to call even more attention to this fabulous experience. Every Monday night, the restaurant is packed with diners who will undoubtedly spend more on wine than on dinner for the table. This unbelievably value-priced bonanza starts with a basket of house-made and classic Italian breads and crunchy breadsticks. Carbo avoidance be damned! Next, either a fresh greens or caesar salad. And finally the moment you’ve been waiting for: a rich, soulful, mouth-watering bowl of ragu served on fresh pasta with a dusting of parmigiano grated at the table just for you. On my most recent visit, my guests enjoyed a bottle of Donatella Brunello di Montalcino 2007. But don’t get your hopes up for that particular selection — it was the last bottle of an amazing vintage in Nicola’s cellar.

Seriously, does it get better than this? Well, it does. I won’t share the price to avoid a stampede, plus Nicola must reserve the right to change it from time to time. But let’s just say you should get on over on a Monday night as soon as you can fit the date in your holiday schedule and the restaurant has room for you.

Photo credits for wine and pasta:;



Turkey Wines


Every year, without fail, I get “ask Kathy” calls from friends far and wide: what wines should I buy for Thanksgiving?

The easiest answer is to choose one (or more!) wines that you really like. There is frankly enough stress created by preparing holiday meals with many courses, setting a table to host many guests, or guessing which wine will work best with your host’s version of the Thanksgiving meal.

One definite problem-solver for our dilemma is to avoid wines that are high in oak, tannin and/or alcohol. Their flavors and textures will compete with almost all of the dishes served at a traditional American Thanksgiving meal, and may also pose challenges for cultural variations as American food traditions broaden so beautifully.

My ABD (all but dessert) global wines recommendations for 2015 are all under $20:

1.  Sparkling Cava from Spain. Prosecco would also be a great alternative. Champagnes and other traditional method sparkling wines are lovely (but typically more expensive). Serve as an aperitif to welcome your guests. Sparkling wines can also work throughout the meal as a palate cleanser for the many flavors of Thanksgiving. Vallformosa Mistinguett Brut Cava NV

2.  Dry Riesling from Australia. I often hear people say they don’t like Riesling because it is sweet. While that is the subject for another story, let’s be clear that beautiful Riesling wines can range from very dry to very sweet, and are great matches for Thanksgiving at almost any point in that range. This recommendation, however, has enough lively acidity to spark your palate and inspire a second plate of delicious food. Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling 2013

3.  Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley Oregon. With a hint of sweetness that is entirely pure fruit, Pinot Gris is an outstanding choice to cut across the flavors of any Thanksgiving meal. Although it is the same grape as Pinot Grigio, the Italian version tends to be too light for a multi-course meal with many savory elements. Seven of Hearts Pinot Gris 2014

4.  Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Most people will agree, Pinot Noir is the premier grape of choice for Thanksgiving. Keep in mind that wine pairing is contextual, looking beyond the protein to factor in condiments and accompaniments. I prefer the more savory qualities of Burgundian PN, while others may want to choose a more fruit-forward New World selection. J. Drouhin La Foret Pinot Noir 2012

5.  Red Blend from Piedmont, Italy. The bright acidity of this blend of Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes is sure to please every palate throughout the Thanksgiving meal. The lush tannins of this “drink now” wine are very food friendly. G. D. Vajra Langhe Rosso 2012

All of these wines are available from The Wine Merchant, 3972 Edwards Rd., Cincinnati OH 45209. (513) 731-1515.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo courtesy of

1 Chef, 3 Somms @ Mita

Chaine logo Mondiale logo Mita logo

Chef Jose Salazar of Cincinnati’s eponymous Salazar restaurant opened Mita to great acclaim in August 2015 as a showcase for the cuisines of Spain and Latin America. Members of the Société Mondiale du Vin, a sister organization of the Chaîne des Rotisseurs, were treated to an exclusive sampling of Chef Salazar’s fabulous culinary skill with Spanish, Portuguese and South American wines (from Wine Trends) paired by somms Mary Horn, Bethanie Butcher and Kathy Merchant.


A refreshing glass of Naveran Cava 2013 welcomed guests, a perfect apéritif with Consommé en Gelée with Maine Lobster and Pan con Tomate from Mita’s small plates menu.

The first course was anchored by thin slices of Red Snapper ceviche plated among the varied flavors and textures of avocado, hearts of palm, passion fruit and green mango, then topped with crunchy plantain chips to complete the experience. A variation on the dish, Ceviche de Pargo, is available on Mita’s fish menu. Pairings from Spain and Portugal were indigenous white varietal wines — Viura from Spain (Buenas 2014) and Loureiro from the Vinho Verde region of Portugal (J. Portugal Ramos “Lima” 2013) — each connecting across the range of elements in the dish. Sure to please most wine lovers, a familiar Sauvignon Blanc from Chile (Leyda 2014) sparked the dish’s citrusy elements.

The somms mixed it up for the second course, selecting red wines from Spain and Portugal as well as a Chardonnay from Argentina. While grilled and deeply smoky Spanish octopus appears on the Mita menu of large plates, the special preparation for Mondiale was anchored by Amish saffron chicken roulade presented with summer beans and rice. A perhaps unconventional choice from Spain where Tempranillo and Garnacha rule was a blend of Syrah and Petit Verdot, a single vineyard (Dominio de Valdepusa) selection from Marqués de Griñon “Caliza” 2010. Three of the grapes permitted in Port were used in making a deliciously juicy (but not sweet) wine from the Douro region of Portugal: 50% Touriga Franca, 30% Touriga Nacional and 20% Tinta Roriz (Tons de Duorum 2012). Showcasing Argentina’s recent increase of Chardonnay winegrowing, the Viña Cobos “Felino” 2012 was from the Luján de Cuyo region.

In a fine crescendo for the evening, Chef Salazar served spice-rubbed Kentucky lamb tenderloin, deftly ending Summer and ushering in Fall with a selection of vegetables in piperade sauce (a traditional Basque dish with onions, green peppers, and tomatoes sautéed and flavored with red Espelette pepper). All three wines squarely met the pairing challenge with eggplant, summer squash, tomatoes, arugula and chickpeas. From Hammeken Cellars in the Priorat region of Spain, a 2013 “Tosalet Vinyes Velles” was a blend of Garnacha, Cariñena and Cabernet Sauvignon. Perhaps the most unique wine of the evening was from winemaker Wine & Soul, a very approachable 2012 blend of up to 30 indigenous grapes (not specified) called “Pintas Character” grown in the Douro region of Portugal.

Food + Wine

Photo credit: Janet Smith

Wine “Rock Stars” Headline International Wine Festival

Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset, courtesy of the Napa Valley Register

Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset, courtesy of the Napa Valley Register

Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset are inarguably the best known wine couple in the world. Their stories, separately and together, are inspiring and magical. As a very private couple who are parents of young twin daughters, they rarely appear together at public events. So it is truly special that they agreed to serve as co-chairs of this year’s 25th anniversary Cincinnati International Wine Festival.
imageThe Festival’s story is very compelling, enough to ignite Gallo’s and Boisset’s interest in leading the event March 4-7. Twenty-five years ago, Festival founder Russ Wiles decided it was time for Cincinnati to “kick it up a notch” on exposure to fine wines, and to do something good for the community at the same time. Thus was born a tradition of doing good while doing well, which has become one of the Midwest’s largest annual wine events. Over the past 24 years, the Festival has donated over $4.2 million to more than 30 local charities through a combination of the March Festival events and the Russ Wiles Memorial Golf Tournament held annually in June.

Tradition is something that Gina Gallo’s family knows quite well. In Europe it is not unusual for a sixth or seventh generation family member to take over the family enterprise as winemaker. In the U.S., where according to Time Magazine the wine industry only began to “explode” in the early 1970s, it is unusual to have even a second generation take over winery operations, never mind a third. And though the majority of winery inheritors are male, it is increasingly common for daughters and granddaughters to take the helm. In the forward to Women of the Vine written in 2007 by Deborah Brenner, Gallo posits that “(t)he world of wine is neither a man’s world nor a woman’s…as we enter a true Golden Age for wines, women are increasingly visible as leaders in every aspect of winegrowing and winemaking.”

Gina is a granddaughter of the late Julio Gallo, and great-niece of Ernest Gallo, brothers who started E. & J. Gallo wines in 1933. After first studying viticulture and enology at University of California (Davis), Gina became winemaker in 1991 for the Signature Series at what is today called the Gallo Family Vineyards. Her brother Matt has grown the winery’s grapes during that same period. With more than 70 brands from nine countries, Gallo is the world’s largest family owned winery, the largest exporter of California wine, and the largest winery in the United States. From Brenner’s interview with Gina Gallo: “I create wine, I absolutely love it, but the thing I love best is that at the end of the day you put that bottle on the table with family and friends.”

Current Generation Gallo Family (photo courtesy of

Current Generation Gallo Family (photo courtesy of

Creating an unusual story in tradition-steeped France, Jean-Charles Boisset is a second-generation winemaker, equally enterprising with global reach. His parents, Jean-Claude and Claudine, founded Boisett Family Estates in 1961 in the prestifious Gevrey-Chambertin commune of Burgundy.  Today, Jean-Charles is the president of the Boisset Collection which, in addition to the original Jean-Claude Boisset label, includes nine California properties such as Sonoma’s Buena Vista Winery and Napa’s Raymond Vineyards, ten French still wine brands, and four French sparkling (cremant) brands. All of the family’s estate properties in Burgundy and California are farmed using organic and Biodynamic practices. “The Boisset Collection unites the old and the new worlds of wine with its Franco-American spirit and wineries on two continents.” (

Jean-Charles Boisset (photo courtesy of

Jean-Charles Boisset (photo courtesy of

The power couple, who met in 2006 and married in 2009, are clearly masters of their universes on two continents. When in France, they live in the famous village of Vougeot where Jean-Charles grew up, and in California, home is the sprawling property in Yountville with a lofty view of the Napa Valley built for wine pioneer Robert Mondavi.

(photo credit Sonoma Magazine)

(photo credit Sonoma Magazine)

I can’t wait to meet Gallo and Boisset in person! If you share my enthusiasm, please join me at the Cincinnati International Wine Festival where more than 600 wines from over 100 countries will be featured. Gold, silver and bronze medal winners from a juried tasting will be presented at the Grand Tastings on Friday and Saturday March 6 & 7. Advance tickets are on sale online until March 1 for the co-chairs dinner, winery dinners around town at 10 fantastic restaurants, grand tastings and Saturday morning’s charity auction (which includes a luncheon).

It’s for a great cause, and you’ll have a blast!

Cincinnati International Wine Festival

Contains Sulfites

Consumer warning: this is a lengthy article debunking the myths and legends of sulfites.

Let me cut to the chase and provide dessert before the entrée: unless you are asthmatic or one of the 1% club of people who have a bone fide sulfite allergy, it is highly unlikely that sulfites are the cause of your hangover or any other ill effects from drinking wine.

I will make this hypothesis: you like high alcohol wines, you perhaps drink too much wine in one sitting, and/or you tend to mix types of alcohol (including types of wine) in the course of an evening or event. Gotcha! Those choices are the real culprits. Oh yes, and if you think that red wines cause extra problems because of sulfites, you should know that they tend to have lower levels than white or sweet wines. And your theory about European wines having fewer sulfites because you can drink them without ill effects? As a general notion, it’s just not true. Wine made in Tuscany and sold in Italy is the exact same wine that is exported to the U.S. There’s only one difference in the U.S.: the bottle has the required warning “Contains Sulfites” on the back label.


Intrigued? Read on.

This is a complex topic, and I am keen to help simplify it. I cannot be the only reasonably well-educated wine-lover to get confused by the differences among sulfur, sulfur dioxide and sulfites, or about their health effects. Do they matter in the winemaking process? Sure, but why and how? Why is it that sulfites get blamed for many maladies and keep otherwise enthusiastic sippers away from vino?

For wine enthusiasts not terribly intrigued by the chemistry of wine, this analysis may be a bit of a rat-hole. But let’s level-set the chemistry backdrop.

Sulfur (or sulphur) is the tenth most abundant chemical element in the universe. Usually found in salt deposits, it is pale yellow, odorless and brittle. Because it existed naturally near volcanoes such as Pompeii, sulfur was known and used as a preservative in the winemaking process in ancient Roman times, but it was not officially named a chemical element until the 1770s.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) forms when fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil) are burned or sulfur-rich mineral ores (e.g., copper, zinc, lead, iron) are smelted. It can be deadly in high concentrations. Commercial SO2 is typically used as a bleaching agent, solvent, disinfectant and refrigerant. SO2 is also used to preserve fresh foods and as a preservative ingredient in processed foods such as jam, soda, canned soups and dried fruit.

dried fruit

Sulfite is a class of sulfur compounds. Because SO2 is one of the best known sulfur compounds, the terms “sulfur dioxide” and “sulfite” tend to be used interchangeably (and thus constitute the main source of consumer confusion).

To simplify things for the balance of this article, I am going to use primarily the compound name SO2 rather than the class name of sulfites. Please hang on to the truth that they are often used interchangeably (and at times incorrectly) in many references as one and the same.

Where does SO2 come from? Two sources: yeast and the winemaker. Some yeast is wild. It may be found in the vineyard on grapes and in the winemaking facility. Most commercial strains of yeast produce 10-30 ppm of SO2 during the normal process of alcoholic fermentation.

Why is SO2 added during the winemaking process? SO2 is considered to be the most important additive used in making wine. As author Jamie Goode describes it in the second edition of his book Wine Science, sulfur dioxide is the “chemical custodian” of wine. (I highly recommend this book as an excellent resource for both consumers and professionals, as it is written in a very approachable style.) SO2 acts a preservative in wine just as it does in solid food. It is both antimicrobial (kills bacteria and fungi) and antioxidant (inhibits the damaging effects of oxidation). The degree to which SO2 exists in finished wine is expressed as “parts per million” or ppm for short. (This is the exactly same liquid measure as milligrams per liter, or mg/l.)

Wine is inherently volatile due to many changes that occur from grape to glass. It can easily spoil from bacteria, turn to vinegar, or develop other faults during fermentation and aging. In Roman times, sulfur-based candles were burned in amphorae (aging vessels). This unnamed discovery stabilized and preserved the wines which were so popular two millennia ago. In modern times, winemakers employ a similar burning process, using SO2 to clean barrels. Sulfur dioxide is increasingly used to augment good cellar practices as part of a winery’s “housekeeping” regime to clean hoses, fermentation tanks, valves and other processing hardware.

When is SO2 added? SO2 is often added to protect and preserve the wine’s character, flavor and color. Among other things, it inhibits enzymes that cause browning, controls the balance of bacteria, controls wild yeasts from growing, helps to extract pigment making red wines “redder,” and prevents secondary fermentation in the bottle. The winemaker’s challenge is to use SO2 judiciously.

Sulfur dioxide can be added at four main stages in the winemaking process depending on the condition of the grapes and desired style of the finished wine:

  1. Arrival of fresh grapes to control wild yeasts and/or to protect the berries from disease as the surface is broken in the process of destemming and crushing the grapes.
  2. Beginning of alcoholic fermentation to prevent browning from oxidation and premature malolactic fermentation (MLF) for fruit-forward wine styles that are not intended to be barrel-aged.
  3. After MLF to achieve certain wine styles, and to preserve and stabilize the wine for barrel aging.
  4. Prior to bottling to support bottle aging.

How much SO2 is added, and why? What factors influence this decision? Two main factors influence how much SO2 should be added at any stage in the winemaking process to achieve antimicrobial and antioxidant goals. The proper conventional dose of SO2 is determined by a technical formula that maximizes the effects of SO2 in the context of alcohol by volume (abv) and pH level.

Alcohol by volume (abv) is the total percentage of ethanol (the type of alcohol in wine) expected in the finished wine. This measure matters because the higher the abv, the less SO2 protection is required. There is no longer a threat of secondary fermentation in the barrel or bottle, and ethanol enhances the bacteria-killing effects of SO2.

The pH scale, which ranges from 0-14, measures acidity (0-6) vs. alkalinity (8-14). Seven is considered neutral. The higher the pH, the more SO2 needs to be added to prevent MLF, Brettanomyces or other bacteria. Acidity (low pH) helps to keep those things under control.

While it may seem counterintuitive, for a quick pneumonic, remember these ratios. It is these ratios that matter.

  • higher pH = lower acidity (which needs more added SO2)
  • lower pH = higher acidity (needs less added SO2)
  • higher alcohol (and drier wine) = less need for SO2
  • lower alcohol (and sweeter wine) = more need for SO2

White wines tend to be higher in acidity than red wines, so applying this ratio, they should require less SO2. But that’s not usually the case. They actually require more SO2 because they are prone to oxidation. The more color in the grape pigment, and the longer the period of maceration (contact with skins and stems), the less added SO2 is needed. In most cases, red wines do not even need to have SO2 added because they contain these natural antioxidants, but conventional winemakers may still add it as a precaution. Additionally, higher pH wines (alkaline) made from very ripe red fruit to enhance youthful drinkability are more susceptible to bacteria, thus may require excessively high levels of added SO2. Wines with higher levels of residual sugar need more SO2 to prevent secondary fermentation. The typical order from most-to-least use of SO2 is as follows: sweet white dessert wines, blush and semi-sweet white wines, dry white wines, and dry red wines.

What happens to SO2 during the winemaking process?

The basic formula for sulfur dioxide in wine is this: total SO2 = bound SO2+ free SO2.

When SO2 is added to wine, it is initially “free” to serve intended antimicrobial and antioxidant purposes. Over time, a portion of the SO2 binds (or dissolves) with other components of the wine and is becomes inactive, undetectable to most people except the small percentage who are genuinely sensitive. Some proportion of the SO2 evaporates as gas, but the unbound portion remains “free,” continuing to work as an antimicrobial and antioxidant agent. Of the total SO2 in finished wine, 50-90% tends to be bound. The remaining 10-50% is active, or free. It is the only portion of the original dose of SO2 still actively working in the wine, and is thus the component most likely to have a negative impact on sulfite-sensitive wine drinkers.

Labeling Laws and Consumer Protection

It’s a conundrum. Labels are frankly not helpful. But how would a consumer know any of this?

All bottles of wine sold in the U.S. with more than 10 ppm of SO2, regardless of country of origin, must be labeled “Contains Sulfites.” By now you should be quite clear that this information borders on irrelevance. All wines will have at least this level of SO2, whether naturally from yeasts or added by winemakers. It simply isn’t a helpful warning.

In the United States, the Food & Drug Administration discovered nearly 30 years ago that about 1% of the population is severely allergic to sulfites, and that about 5-10% of people who have asthma are prone to having adverse effects from sulfites. This prompted the health warning label “Contains Sulfites” starting in 1987.

Why you may ask? Other countries do not do this. For example, SO2 limits vary in the European Union according to type of wine, from 160 ppm for red wine to 400 ppm for sweet wine, but the EU does not require this information to be disclosed on bottles sold/purchased in the EU.

My recommendation is to create a worldwide standard for sulfite content and labeling requirements that actually achieve the intended goal of health protection and education for the consumer. The warning “Contain Sulfites” is neutered by so many misunderstandings of its meaning.

The Bottom Line

If you are one of the rare people with a known sulfite allergy, or if you suffer from asthma plus sulfite sensitivities, please be careful. If you are not certain, do check with a physician who understands the nuances of this type of allergy. Sulfite reactions induce symptoms such as hives, itching, swelling, nausea, diarrhea and low blood pressure. Headaches and hangovers are another matter.

Choosing your wines carefully is another option. If you are particularly sensitive, look for “no sulfites added” on the label. Know your winemaker and his/her practices. (Ask if you aren’t sure – many winemakers can tell you the amount of sulfur dioxide added or the total ppm of SO2 in the finished wine.) Organic wines typically limit SO2 to 110 ppm or less, a good option for people with sulfite sensitivities. Biodynamic wines go a step further, typically building on organic farming and winemaking practices. This class of “natural” wines is an interesting subject unto itself.

And get to know your wine merchant. There’s no substitute for good advice in buying wine.

For everybody else? Don’t drink too much, choose wines that have a low-to-moderate alcohol level, and don’t mix too many different types of alcohol. Don’t buy cheap wine that may have been heavily processed unless you know how the wine was made. If SO2 is an aromatic annoyance, decant and chill the wine before serving. Wines served at warmer temperatures tend to release their free SO2 compounds, which can also be mitigated by chilling and decanting.

In Pursuit of More Knowledge

For another angle on this topic, please read the Vino Ventures blog post from July 2013 “I Can’t Drink Wine. It Gives Me a Headache.” In coming weeks, there will be more posts about natural wine trends, an exploration of various types of wood and toasts used in barrels for aging, and other influences on the overall wine experience.

The references used for this post are primarily secondary based on quality original source material.

  1. Butzke, Christian. “Use of SO2 in High-pH Wines.” Purdue University Extension. March 2010.
  2. Good, Jamie. Wine Science: The Application of Science in Winemaking, Second Edition. Octopus Publishing Group Ltd (Mitchell Beazley), 2014.
  3. Henderson, Pat. “Sulfur Dioxide: Science Behind this Anti-microbial, Anti-oxidant, Wine Additive.” Practical Winery & Vineyard Journal. Jan/Feb 2009.
  4. Jancou, Pierre. “Sulphites in wine.” Undated.
  5. Miller, Mike. “How SO2 and pH are Linked.” Undated.
  6. Robinson, Jancis et al. Oxford Companion to Wine.
  7. “The Bottom Line on Sulfites in Wine.” January 15, 2014.

Photo credits: http://www.practical;;

Washington Wine Vanguards

A lively session at the 2014 Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, hosted by Jon Bonne and Eric Asimov, inspired a maelstrom of chatter on social media and a verbal boxing match. The session frame was simple and elegant: introduce writers to California winemakers who are experimenting in a “back to the future” movement with old world grapes in new world settings. Reactions spewed all over the place, especially as they reached three and four degrees of separation from the actual event. Were all of the wines outstanding? Perhaps not. Were they all interesting, and an important lesson in exploring possibilities, absolutely!!

To my great delight, I discovered that the innovative and entrepreneurial winemaker movement is alive and well in Washington State. Seattle is the host location for the 38th annual conference of the Society of Wine Educators. So what to do upon arrival from Cincinnati? Take a short walk to the Purple Cafe & Wine Bar for some Washington wines!

Washington Vanguard Wine Flight - Purple Cafe & Wine Bar, Seattle WA

Washington Vanguard Wine Flight – Purple Cafe & Wine Bar, Seattle WA

Purple Cafe & Wine Bar is well known in the Seattle area (4 locations) for its extensive wine list, and especially for featured flights of wine. My selection, “Washington Vanguards,” included Gruner Veltliner, Aligote and Picpoul paired with a citrusy, floral and suitably acidic Humboldt Fog goat cheese. All three winemakers have been in business less than a decade, quite remarkably surviving the economic downturn during 2008-09. All three wines were vintage 2013.

W. T. Vintners was founded in Woodinville in 2007 by three families, the Whites (two generations) and Thorsens. Winemaker Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen is also wine director at the San Francisco-based Mina/Paar restaurant RN74 in Seattle. In addition to stints working vineyards in New Zealand, Burgundy and the Pacific Northwest, Jeff won the 2008 Pacific Northwest Super-Regional Best Young Sommelier Competition and competed as a finalist in the national competition hosted by La Chaine des Rotisseurs International Food & Wine Society (of which I am a member).

Gruner Veltliner is one of four wines made by W. T. Vintners, a notable exception since the other three are Rhone varieties. From the red volcanic/clay loamy soals of Underwood Mountain Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge AVA, the 2013 Gruner was fermented in both stainless and neutral oak. In a blind tasting, this wine could easily have been mistaken for an Austrian gem from Wachau. Notes of green apple, meyer lemon, underripe peach, nectarine, distinct minerality and a spicy vegetal note paired perfectly with the Humboldt Fog cheese.

The Bartholomew Winery is a self-described “Seattle urban winery” launched in 2007 by Bart and Chona Fawbush. With no formal training or experience in the wine business, the Fawbushes decided in 2004 to own a winery. Although this maiden attempt didn’t work out, they applied their learning to create the new winery operation in 2007 followed by a tasting room and wine club in 2010. The fruit for their Aligote — better known as the second white wine of Burgundy (if it is known at all) — came from the Upland Vineyard in Snipes Mountain, a sub-AVA of the Columbia Valley region.

Only 145 cases were made of the 2013 Aligote. On its own, the wine was a juicy melange of stone-fruit aromas and flavors tinged with a hint of melon and chalky limestone. It was tasty, but seemed to call out for a food partner. Indeed, the cheese lifted the flavors of the wine to a new level, luring thoughts of how this particular Aligote might work with other pairing options.

Gramercy Cellars was founded in 2005 by Greg Harrington, MS, and his wife Pam to specialize in Rhone and Bordeaux varieties. Greg is Seattle Magazine’s 2014 Winemaker of the Year. The Harringtons both grow and source fruit. They were buying fruit from a grower who had a small plot of Picpoul on the edge of a larger planting of Grenache. They decided to give the Picpoul a try before grubbing up the vines to plant more Grenache. The Picpoul plants had been imported from Chateau Beaucastel by Tablas Creek (based in Paso Robles). Perhaps if they had known how spectacular the result would be, the Harringtons might have given that plot a second try! Instead, the 2013 Picpoul will be Grammercy Cellars’ only vintage. So sad…

In Greg Harrington’s own words, the “Picpoul is an acid monster” — so true, and totally to my taste — with aromas and flavors of “lemon, lime, grapefruit, mineral, brine, white flowers and green herb.” The Humboldt Fog cheese actually moderated the acidity in the wine, another perfect match.

Imitation is the finest form of flattery…

Sublime. That exquisite moment when the first nibble of a perfectly prepared dish melds in layers of flavor with the first sip of a gorgeous wine. It’s an art, and yet a science, the joyful experience of pairing wine with food.

Few chefs can resist the temptation to tart up a dish with multiple ingredients of herbs, spices, rubs, sauces, fruit, salt, sweet and more. Their theory seems to be that more is better. I disagree. Less is more, especially if what you have in mind to do is showcase a particular style of wine with a dish to create that magical sensation that echoes the marriage between them.

Chef Jeremy Luers gets this point. He landed as executive chef at The Presidents Room at The Phoenix, which reopened in May after a five-year hiatus to sit out the economic recession and await the renaissance of nearby Over-The-Rhine. He’s cooked in many kitchens, in Cincinnati and New York, but now Chef Luers is in charge. After a stint at 1215 Wine Bar, Daniel Souder joined the team as wine and beverage director. On the ides of July, Luers and Souder were joined by Master Sommelier Matt Citriglia for a five-course German wine dinner.

Chef Jeremy Luers and Matt Citriglia, MS, join forces to create a perfectly paired German wine dinner.

Chef Jeremy Luers and Matt Citriglia, MS, join forces to create a perfectly paired German wine dinner.

With each course, it became more and more clear that this collaboration was electric. Chef Luers developed the menu first, sharing intimate details of the ingredients for each simple but elegant course with Matt Citriglia. With clear flavor profiles in mind, knowing that most wine enthusiasts don’t really understand German wines, Matt selected wines he knew would draw out the essence of every dish’s distinct personality. The connection was palpable.

In a fun lesson supported by excellent educational materials for the wine educators, beverage directors and somms in the room, Matt walked through the science of food and wine complementarity — the importance of matching residual sugar, fruitiness, texture, body — and he chipped away at unfortunate American misperceptions about cloyingly sweet German whites wines. Dispelling a common myth: “Historically, Germany has always produced and consumed dry wine.” Yet international export markets continue to clamor for sweet wines. Not this crowd!!

This was a very special wine dinner, but Cincinnati diners, do not despair! The Choucroute Garnie Royale, a famous Alsatian recipe for preparing deeply flavored sauerkraut with a selection of sausages (plus spareribs and pork belly in this case), is on the regular Presidents Room menu. This dish was paired beautifully with a single-vineyard Pfeffingen Riesling from the Pfalz region. I can’t wait to go back.

Scallop Crudo with Silvaner; Sweet Corn Agnolotti with Pinot Blanc; and for dessert, Cambozola Cheesecake with a Scheurebe BA

Scallop Crudo with Silvaner; Sweet Corn Agnolotti with Pinot Blanc; and for dessert, Cambozola Cheesecake with a Scheurebe BA

Visit The Presidents Room at The Phoenix, 812 Race St. Call (513) 721-2260 for reservations Wednesday through Saturday.