I can thank plenty of people for my love of wine. Not sure my mother would show up too high on that list.
Mom certainly enjoys wine, but she readily admits she isn't an expert. When I was growing up, ice cubes could be found in the wine glasses at our kitchen table.
But, hey, I’ve forgiven her. And like every good mom, she's shown she's willing to learn — all the more reason to raise a glass this Mother's Day.
But why leave it at that? What better time than this to help expand her wine horizons? Just because she can’t quote chapter and verse about varietals — or maybe both of you are learning the basics — it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the holiday as a chance for a little adventure. It sure beats the old cards-and-flowers routine.
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Here are some wine suggestions to help make this Mother’s Day extra-festive:
Brunch: If you’ve made reservations to celebrate at Mom’s favorite spot, you’re hardly alone. Mother’s Day is the busiest holiday for dining out, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Brunch is a difficult meal for wine. Midday isn’t always a time when people want to be consuming alcohol. In addition, most brunch food isn’t typically paired with wine. (Imagine a snooty sommelier’s grimace if you ask for something to go with your pancakes!)
All certainly is not lost, though. A brut Champagne-style sparkling wine matches nearly any brunch food you can dream up, and rare is the mother who won’t appreciate a modest glass or two of festive bubbles with the meal.
It doesn’t have to be Champagne; any good sparkler will do. (We reviewed unusual sparkling wines last December; read our picks, French and otherwise . Mimosas (a blend of sparkling wine and orange juice) and bellinis (a sparkler and peach puree) are both brunch staples, too.
And don’t forget moscato d’Asti, especially if Mom has a sweet tooth. Made from the perfumed muscat grape, moscato’s classic light, citrusy sweet notes not only match everything from fruit salad to eggs Benedict, but at under 6 percent alcohol, these lightly sparkling Italian beauties also are easy on the body, leaving you both intact for a lovely afternoon walk.
The other excellent brunch option, suggests Matthew Turner, wine director at California’s Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay, is riesling. “It works well with a wide variety of foods, which is what brunch is about,” Turner says.
True, drinkers of a certain age can have bad thoughts about that grape, largely thanks to cheap German wines such as Blue Nun (which actually isn’t riesling). Here’s an opportunity to change that.
Between Europe and the New World, you can find riesling in nearly every style and sweetness level imaginable. Most pair well with usual brunch items — eggs, sandwiches, standard lunch fare. Plus, many German rieslings are under 10 percent in alcohol.
If Mom prefers reds, here’s the perfect chance to help her expand her palate. Nothing too heavy or tannic: A good village or cru Beaujolais, made from the gamay grape, will be light and refreshing while still being a serious wine. (This is not Beaujolais nouveau, mind you; the 2004 nouveau is already past whatever prime it had.)
Better yet, give in to the “Sideways” hype (no doubt Mom will ask if you’ve seen it yet) and dabble in pinot noir. A young, fruit-driven pinot will complement brunch quite well. We’ve covered a few in this week’s Tasting Notes (please see below).
Home cooking: If you’re staying home for brunch, I think the best approach is to consider what wines Mom likes to drink, then gently push her a step or two beyond her comfort zone. If she protests, politely note that she always told you to be open to trying new things. (If you think she’ll really protest, keep one of her old standbys hidden in the cabinet. It’s her day, after all.)
If Mom’s stuck in California chardonnay mode, serve unoaked chard like those from Kim Crawford (New Zealand) or Chehalem (Oregon). Better yet, find a modest bottle of Austrian gruner veltliner. If she’s a white zinfandel gal, you might intrigue her with riesling, muscat or even a late harvest gewürztraminer — anything with some residual sugar. Or seek out some drier rosés.
Is yours one of those Moms trapped in the merlot vortex? Fear not. Other wines offer the same mellow fruit and muted tannins. “Try some syrah,” advises Jean Yates of Avalon Wine in Corvallis, Ore., “Some nice, fruity, plush syrah.” Australian shiraz (another word for syrah) will also do.
Far, far away: Just because you can’t celebrate with Mom in person doesn’t mean you can’t inspire some wine discovery using the same expand-your-boundaries approach.
Even if your mother lives in a state without direct shipping (like mine) you should be able to work with a local retailer to deliver her a half-case or case of affordable, $15-and-under wines that gently stretch her palate. Tell her to think of it as a wine education in a single box.
My sister and I have been trying this very tack with our parents. Last December, we sent them a grab bag of a case, choosing unusual picks while also limiting ourselves to prices matching their everyday wine budget.
And when Mom e-mails you to say how much she enjoyed the pinot gris you sent, what could make a wine-loving son more proud? Definitely beats a boring bunch of flowers.
TASTING NOTES: Spring pinot noir
Mother’s Day is the perfect time to discover the subtle joys of pinot. So is spring, when fresh, subtle flavors like lamb, rosemary and morel mushrooms appear on the table again. Spring menus are simply made for this grape.
Finding good pinot, though, is a tricky matter; too many are imbalanced or too heavy in their fruit, a result of trying to make pinot bigger and lusher than it should be. California, especially, can be guilty of this. More than a few duds appeared during our tasting.
It’s not unusual to fork over $25 or more for decent pinot, but here’s a few picks $20 and under:
Scott Paul 2003 Cuvee Martha Pirrie Willamette Valley ($20)
The name’s a tribute from winemaker Scott Paul Wright to his daughter. Includes classic bright cherry, but the complex earthy tones underscore that this is serious wine. An extraordinary display of Oregon’s potential for the price, it well displays Wright’s pinot talents.
Morgan 2003 Twelve Clones Santa Lucia Highlands ($20)
A good example of the big California style kept from going overboard. Young, opulent strawberry and blackberry, with a dry earthy note. Good balance, with fine tannins and a joyous finish. More modest in the mouth than its terroir would indicate.
Nobilo 2003 Icon Series Marlborough ($20, International Cellars)
A pretty, affordable intro to New Zealand pinot. Cherry with blue plum. A bit pungent, with some pebbly earth notes and warm vanilla to offset it. Tart but balanced, with an earthy middle and a supple, fruity finish.
Evesham Wood 2003 La Grive Bleue Willamette Valley ($18)
Almost candyish when you approach it, with wild strawberries and black cherry in the mix, plus vanilla and hints of moist, foresty earth. A touch pungent, but self-assured and elegant, with a sweet finish. Organic grapes.
Martin Ray 2003 Angeline Santa Barbara County ($10)
This second label from a respected California name is all about the fruit — bright red cherry and a sweet touch of mint. Light, tart and balanced. A lingering finish evokes a wine well beyond its astonishingly good price. Not profound, but a happy puppy of a pinot.
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