Monthly Archives: June 2013

Summer Caught and Stoppered: First in a Series

Posted by Amy Neyer, CSW, WSET Advanced Certified

With the temps and humidity finally making their annual appearance, it’s time to break out that classic summer bestie – rose. If you’re like me and other wine geeks, odds are likely that you’re well into your stock, despite this season’s tardy arrival from the classic Old World areas. France and Italy, I’m looking at you.

What is summer if not a time to break from the usual routines that mark the rest of the year? I’ve embarked on a personal challenge to explore new options for summer that heretofore I’ve overlooked or just didn’t know about.

How fitting, then, upon the arrival of the summer solstice, I welcomed a fun, new BFF into my line-up of summer quenchers. Its name: Txakoli (cha-ko-lee … kind of like Chipotle). Sure, it’s a little hard to pronounce the first time … or twenty … and its pedigree is obscure. Once you taste it on a late summer afternoon, the name will soon slip off the tongue with the same ease as downing the fresh oyster that pairs so wonderfully with it.

My introduction to Txakoli came courtesy of Kevin Hart of wineCRAFT at the Anchor Grill in OTR . Given the St. Patrick’s party nature of the bottle and the overall obscurity of the wine, a little nomenclature taxonomy for greater enjoyment, interesting party chatter or sleep aid is in order.


Winemaker: Nicolas Ulacia. Much of the winemaking is small scale, including the lovely bottle I enjoyed. Founded in the 1940s, the winery produces just 6,000 cases a year. Much of it never gets beyond the region. Spoiler alert: Txakoli might take some consultation with your local wine store to find it but keep at it.

Appellation: Getariako Txakolina. You’re probably thinking “it’s Greek to me” when, in fact, Getariako Txakolina is located in the Basque region of Spain. The Basque is on the Atlantic coast in the northern Spain where it’s typically cool and rainy. In Spain’s wine classification system, it is a Denominacion de Origen, an indication of quality. For foodies, the area is located near San Sebastian, home to more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than anywhere in Europe, according to the distributor’s web site (

Grape: The wine is made from two very obscure grapes – 85% Hondarrubi Zuri, a white grape, and 15% Hondarrubi Belza, a red grape.

Geek Highlight: Traditional fermentation is in foudres (large old oak barrels) but lately it’s all stainless steel.  The two grapes are fermented separately and then blended. The winemaker keeps the carbon dioxide in the bottle, which provides the light effervescence known as petillance in France or frizzante in Italy.

What to Expect: A delightfully crisp, very pale wine with a mouthful of very refreshing acidity and green apple and lime notes. With its low to medium levels of alcohol, Txakoli is a wine that cheerfully says “bring it” to the heat and humidity of a steamy summer day or early evening.

And, if it couldn’t get any more charming, Txakoli is typically served holding the slender green bottle high in the air in one hand and the glass low to the ground all the while guiding the stream of wine into your glass. The result: a sprite of a wine that you’ll want to serve well chilled as a perfect aperitif  or pairing to fresh shellfish. Summer doesn’t last forever and neither does this wine. Much like white linen, it isn’t meant to be worn beyond Labor Day.



Perfect Pairings: Principles of Pairing Wine with Food


Posted by Kathy Merchant, DWS, CSW 

Pairing wine with food can be very confusing, even frustrating, perhaps best left to chefs and sommeliers. Not!!! A few simple principles can strip away the uncertainty that prevents many of us from exploring new cuisines, unusual flavors and unfamiliar wines.

Five basic principles guide most wine and food decisions. In future blog posts I will share more in-depth information based on “Perfect Pairings” at The Grotto in Mt. Adams, a series of tasting events I am co-hosting with chefs Dave Cioffi and Brady DeLong of The Painted Chef catering.

#1 ǀ Match wine with food from the same place

Across the globe, this principle is simple: “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”! In wine world, the concept of terroir is central to explaining why Pinot Noir from Burgundy tastes different than Pinot Noir from Oregon. The same goes for food and other aspects of regional cuisine. Remember, grapes are food. The main elements of terroir are soil structure and climate conditions. Certain types of hardy vines can grow just about anywhere, including Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas other vines such as Vernaccia di San Gimignano only grow in specific places due to growing conditions (and regulations).

When in doubt, stick with “international” varieties grown worldwide that can be paired with many foods: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and (dry) Riesling for whites; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir for reds.

#2 ǀ Match wine to ingredients, not protein (or vegetables)

Most of us know two simple principles for pairing food with wine: white goes with chicken and fish/seafood, red goes with everything else, including chocolate, and nothing goes with vegetables. None of these seemingly sensible principles are 100% correct or complete. What about rosé or sparkling wines, two personal favorites? Would a light red Beaujolais go well with salmon? How about a fruity white such as Albariño with pork?

The secret lies in matching wine to ingredients including sauces, spices/herbs, fruits, savory vegetables, even butter vs. olive oil. Coming soon: how to think about ingredients in a dish according to flavor intensity, heat (spiciness), weight, delicacy, contrast, saltiness, acidity and more. But for now, mix it up a little and try something new!

Dessert divides the universe into two parts: those who like chocolate with Cabernet, and those who don’t. (I’m definitely in the latter group.) This pairing idea merits an entire discussion of its own…

#3 ǀ Use “bridge” ingredients to create a stronger tie

”Bridge” ingredients tie flavors and textures together primarily through cheeses, spices and sauces. For example, slow-cooked onions connect with creamy wines, whereas carmelized onions would bridge a simply grilled steak to a meaty Rhone Syrah. A cut of beef roasted with rosemary would marry well with a Cabernet Sauvignon exhibiting the same herbal aroma in its flavor profile.

Asian food is a special case, always requiring a bridge. With the exception of China, where a wine industry is flourishing, winegrapes are not grown and wine is not locally produced. Generally speaking, wines with a hint of sweetness such as Gewurtztraminer or Riesling will cool down a spicy Asian dish and be versatile enough to complement dishes made using many different cooking methods, sauces and seasonings but often served simultaneously.

#4 ǀ Take into account what else is on the plate

Have you ever been served an oaky Chardonnay with a vinegary salad or asparagus? How about a young, high alcohol red wine that overwhelmed the flavor of a lean cut of beef with oaky tannins? Yuck!! These are the worst possible pairing problems. The simple solution for high-acid or tart foods is a complementary high-acid white wine. The safest bet is Sauvignon Blanc, but there are many other options such as Italian Falanghina or Greek Assyrtiko. And that beef problem? Just introduce some fat – say a cheesy potato or rice dish, or butter in a wine and mushroom sauce – to solve the pairing challenge.

#5 ǀ Guide for serving multiple wines throughout a meal

One hard and fast rule never changes: move in progression from light/dry wines to rich/full-bodied wines. Generally white wines will be served before red, but a full-bodied white can follow a light red. If you are serving a multi-course meal starting with hors d’oeuvres and ending with dessert, the sequence should generally flow as follows: sparkling wine with hors d’oeuvres, acidic white wine with the salad course, full-bodied white and/or red with the main course, and a red or white dessert wine such as Port or Sauterne to complement a sweet dessert. And if you’re a rosé lover? Stay on the light/fruity side of the menu and serve it throughout the meal! Think strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert…

Thanks to The Painted Chef catering and The Grotto of Mt. Adams for partnering on Perfect Pairings, and to Monteverdi Tuscany for being our wine sponsor! Join us for our four-part summer series which launched June 10th at The Grotto, 6:00 – 8:00 pm. You can register by calling (513) 386-8437. Join us July 10 for Backyard BBQ, August 14 for summer tomatoes, and September 9 for French.





NOTE: You can order the 13×19 infographic poster “Pairing Wine & Food” from for $19.95 plus taxes and shipping.

Welcome to Vino Ventures!

You’re just in time to grab a glass of beautiful rosé Champagne to help us toast the debut of our new wine education blog – Vino Ventures.


We launched Vino Ventures to provide a creative home to share the stories of our passion for wine, our educational events and programs, and an educator’s perspective on notable news and trends from the local wine community and beyond. Whether you’re learning the difference between rosé and white zin or are already well versed in the premier crus of Burgundy, join us as we explore this rich world of wine, the diverse factors that influence every bottle, and our collective experiences that inspire our thirst to keep learning more. We want to use this site to inform and to learn from others who share our passion.

We are  Kathy Merchant and Amy Neyer, Cincinnati wine educators, whose passion for wine led us to the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and the Society of Wine Educators (SWE) for professional credentials. Kathy holds a Diploma level accreditation from the London-based WSET and a Certified Specialist in Wine from the SWE. Amy holds an Advanced Certified designation from the WSET and a Certified Specialist in Wine from the SWE.

We will draw from our experience as wine writers. We are both 2013 attendees of The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa Valley, California. Kathy has been a contributor to Venue magazine and national food and wine publications. Amy has been a contributor to {513}eats, a local blog dedicated to showcasing the area’s culinary community and the former wine columnist for CityBeat and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

We will also share our endeavors as providers of educational programs and consulting services to individual and  corporate clients who wish to learn and explore wine for personal and/or professional purposes. We are excited to announce our new wine education venture with the American Wine School, based in Cleveland. Serving as the Cincinnati-area educators for the AWS, we will launch the area’s only WSET offering this July at the Metropolitan Club in Covington, Kentucky. More to come in the next few days about this program.

For more information or to register in the interim, contact the American Wine School at

In creating this online venue for wine education in the Cincinnati area, we were inspired by Proust who said, “The real voyage lies not in new landscapes but in having new eyes.” It is our hope to use this blog and other social media tools to help our followers see and experience wine in new ways to understand and enjoy their own individual journeys. We hope to use our passion for wine and the lessons we’ve learned on our wine journey to further inspire yours.

We hope you will bookmark our site, follow us on Facebook, offer your thoughts and questions and forward our link to your friends and colleagues.

Join us on our journey!