Contact Us

How can we help?

3143 Ponce De Leon St
New Orleans, LA, 70119
United States


swirl and savor

Pesto and Pigato, Perfect Pairing from the Ligurian Coast

Beth Ribblett

Who doesn't love pesto, that rich, green highly aromatic sauce known for its decisive yet delicate flavor? Fresh pesto is one of those foods that epitomizes Italian cuisine  - a blending of 6 high quality ingredients that when made fresh can make the most simple things taste divine.

Village on the Cinque Terra from the hiking path.

I can't eat pesto without thinking of its famous home in Italy, the Ligurian coast. A small and breathtakingly gorgeous region, Liguria sits on the Mediterranean Sea in Northwest Italy.  The location along the pristine coastline, its back set up against the steep hills of the Appennini Mountains, give it a unique microclimate and landscape that produces the majority of the ingredients used to make their traditional pesto—Genovese basil, Ligurian extra virgin olive oil and even pine nuts from the Stone Pines that grow in abundance. And it's bordering region, Emilia Romagna, provide the essential Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Ligurians use only the young tender leaves for their pesto.

Ligurians are very proud of their pesto and fiercely defend their traditional recipe, Pesto alla Genovese. This is a D.O.P. protected food that has to be made in a precise way and with very specific ingredients. The primary ingredient being D.O.P. basil from Genoa, for example, because the soil and climate in that particular area gives the basil a flavor that’s impossible to replicate anywhere else in the world.  

Trofie pasta, Vernazza 2004 trip
The are also very specific about they use pesto, never randomly adding it to chicken or fish as we often do.  Pesto is used for 2 things, pasta and soup.  But again, not just any soup but specifically minestrone alla Genovese, a staple of daily life on the Ligurian coast.  In terms of pasta there's a bit more variety here as gnocchi, a local version of Lasagna and a few traditional dried and fresh pastas, are acceptable.

And of course the perfect pairing comes in a the form of a local wine made from Pigato (of the same DNA as Vermentino, Rolle and Favorita).   The Punta Crena Pigato is produced by the Ruffino family who has be farming this particular land for the past 500 years. And they tend their vineyards as they always have; terraced by hand, grapes picked by hand, nothing added, nothing taken away - let the grapes do what they will.  No pretense here, just light, fresh wine that marries beautifully with the local cuisine of fresh vegetables, fritto misto, fish and of course, pesto alla Genovese! 

Here is the official DOP Pesto alla  Genovese from the Consorzio del Pesto Genovese:

Genoese basil - 70 grams, preferably young and fresh.
Grated Cheese - 50 grams  Parmigiano Reggiano DOP (preferably aged 36 months) and 10 grams of Pecorino DOP (preferably aged 15 months)
Garlic - 3 cloves (preferably Vessalico)
Pine nuts - 1 tablespoon of nuts from the Mediterranean 
Ligurian Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 3 Tablespoons
Coarse Sea Salt - a few grains

-Wash the basil in cold water and set aside to dry on a towel.

-In the mortar, crush the cloves of garlic with a few grains of salt until the garlic has softened. Begin adding basil leaves (but don't add all at once!) The essential oils of basil are stored in the veins of the leaves. For the best taste, you must be careful not to tear or shear the leaves. Use a gentle circular motion, slowly crush the basil by moving the pestle around the edges of the mortar. The consorzio allows for a food processor, but it must be down quickly so that the heat does not oxidize the pesto.

-When you notice a bright green liquid being drawn from the leaves, it is time to add the pine nuts.
Once softened, add the cheeses, and finally the olive oil in a very thin stream.

-Preparation should take place at room temperature and the sauce should be served immediately to avoid oxidation. So pour it over the pasta, possibly linguine or strozza preti, and enjoy!

Also from Liguria: Bringing the Cinque Terre to Swirl

What can I do to help you today...Erin Rhoads

Beth Ribblett

Awhile back I did a series of posts on our amazing staff, the heart and soul of the store. We've had a change or two since then so I wanted to update you on the current, hardworking, wine loving people who help us help you.  While we can fill our space with great products, do good deeds through our community work and support  local artists and businesses, it is our friendly, helpful, professional, knowledgeable team that truly set us apart! Because without the warm, positive vibe created by those who work here, Swirl would be just another wine shop!  

Erin Rhoads has been with us for quite awhile now.  But when Matt Snyder departed for the greener grasses of Gentilly to focus on his family and true career, she decided to take on a bigger role in the shop.  And we're so happy to have her! 

What are some important, more personal, non wine related things about you?  
I grew up on a cherry farm in Northern Michigan, and after a brief post-college stint (German and Marketing major) at a wine bar in Edinburgh, Scotland, I spent 10 years in Chicago. I fell in love New Orleans before I'd even visited through the friendships I developed with Katrina-transplants who bided their time in the cold Midwest while their true homes were being rebuilt. If you have an open heart, it's easy to be woven into the fabric of the magical place, and that has definitely been the case for me. A couple of fun facts: I'm a classically trained violinist (although terribly rusty now), and a trained Pastry Chef.

What are your hobbies?
Gardening and cooking are two of my favorite ways to relax - I'm a huge homebody! I'm also a sports fan, and when I'm not rooting for the Saints, I'll be cheering on my Michigan teams. I also recently began volunteering as a Docent for school groups at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art and have been thoroughly enjoying viewing art through the eyes of children!

What are your favorite wine regions for reds, whites, rosé?
Red: I'm a huge fan of all wines from Campania, but the reds are especially dear to me. I think that the volcanic soils of that region produce perfect "food" wines. White: The Columbard/Ugni Blanc/Gros Manseng blends from the Cotes de Gascogne are perfect for our humid climate. Rose': Provence is the classic region for Rose', but I've been really enjoying the richer Rosatos from Southern Italy this season.

What is your current favorite red, white, bubbly in the store right now?
Red: The Alois Settimo from Campania in the Earthy/Zesty section is to die for. I recently had the pleasure of revisiting it, and have been kicking myself for not recommending it more! White: The El Perro Verde Verdejo in Crisp/Lively is a steal of a wine and perfect for a summer pool and patio gatherings. Bubbly: We just brought in the Pol Roger NV Brut and it's a delightful champagne: powerful and full-bodied, yet still finessed and balanced.

If you could pick any wine from the indulge section right now what would it be?
The 2009 Travaglini Gattinara from Piemonte offers a light bodied Nebbiolo that is immediately drinkable and quite enjoyable, even during summertime in New Orleans!

What was you best recent food and wine experience?
Mine is more of a Wine and Weather experience. I recently enjoyed a couple of glasses of the Broc Cellars Old Vine Carignan on the porch on a drizzly Monday evening. Sometimes rain is the best thing to pair with wine!

And finally what do you like most about working in the wine biz?
One of the most rewarding moments in this business is reaching a point where you can break down complex concepts and theory into easily digestible chunks. I love educating customers. Of course, the more I study wine, the more I realize I have to learn. It is truly humbling.

Thanks Erin!
You can find Erin in the store Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and every other Friday.  We are also working on putting her culinary skills to use for our special events and private parties - more on that later!!

Un Caffè Per Favore!

Beth Ribblett

Coffee in Italy is an art and its ritual a necessity of life.  You won't find expensive fancy sweet coffee drinks served in giant go cups or milks from every source imaginable and more types of sweeteners than you can count.  Coffee in Italy is simple - it is your fuel in the morning and your digestivo after meals.  Because while the Italians aren't big on laws in general, food and drink are the exception and a little education on how it is done will go a long way on your next trip.  So here are some steadfast rules and observations from one who honors the long standing tradition of true Italian coffee.

Pasticceria Vannelli, our favorite in Toscana
  •  "Bars" in Italy are cafes and they are everywhere!  The are usually quite small and have only a handful of tables.  A pasticceria is a pastry shop that also serves coffee.
  • Usually you go to the register and pay first then take your receipt to the barista who will make your drink.  If you want a brioche (pastry), a typical Italian breakfast, order that while at the register as well.

Un caffè at Bar Mulino in Positano
  • Your morning coffee is usually "taken" standing up at a bar and often accompanied by a delicious brioche.  If you want table service there is a cover charge for doing so.
  • Cappuccino and milk based drinks are for the morning, espresso in the afternoon and after meals.  If you want to be sure to labeled as a tourist, order a cappuccino in the middle of the afternoon!

    Tre cappuccini at a "bar" in Milano
  • If you order a lattè you will get a cup of milk, if you want coffee order a lattè macchiato or milk with espresso.
  • If you order "un caffè" you will be served an espresso - unless you look like a befuddled tourist then your order will be confirmed,  "Espresso?"

  • A simple macchiato is espresso with a dollop of steamed milk
  • An "Americano" is not American drip coffee but the Italian way to satisfy the needs of Americans who think bigger is better by adding water to shots of espresso and serving it in a large cup.

Un cappuccino e brioche, a typical Italian breakfast!
  • Coffee is not taken to go, and it is always served in the proper china on a saucer accompanied by a small spoon.  Sugar, and the dreaded artificial sweeteners for the tourists, are on the bar.
  • Whole milk is the norm. Touristy bars in big cities that are catering to Americans may offer something else but it is rare.

    Un cappuccino alla mia cucina!
    And the best part?  This delicious cup of heaven costs no more than $1.25 even in a touristy area! I hope this helps makes your next cup of coffee in Italy the wonderful experience it should be!

Comments from The Somm's Pick Tasting Event

Beth Ribblett

Our Somm's Pick tasting event was a huge success and Dan Davis of Commander's Palace kicked the series off in grand style - not that we expected anything less! We can't wait to see what John Mitchell from the Windsor Court comes up with for next month! Here's what attendees are saying about the event:

"A great environment for an evening of wine discovery that was fun and informative. Will definitely be signing up for the next one!" Diana

"Dan was great! As anyone would expect, he is extremely knowledgeable. He provided a lot of information in a very accessible way. He broke everything down to a level that non-wine experts could easily grasp. There was not one bit of snobbery or condescension in his presentation. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Somm’s Pick events." Yvonne

"We have been to many tastings at wine shops and restaurants over the years, and by far Dan's descriptions/mini-lessons combined with the Sommelier tasting sheet for the red blind were fabulous. We learned a great deal." Brian

"The quality of the wines were perfect - not too expensive, addressed the value, yet complex and interesting." Joan

"My knowledge of wine is incredibly limited, but with the Somm's pick, in one night I learned enough about wine to get seriously hooked. It was so enjoyable learning in a laid-back atmosphere. I can't wait for the next one." Vey

"I have been reading about, studying, taking e-courses, etc. on wine, thinking about trying to break into the business, and one of the most intimidating aspects is the sommelier exam. Dan made it seem possible, if still rigorous. I feel excited and more eager than ever to take my passion for wine to the next level. Thank you so much for staring this program." Mazie

Visiting Vini Alois

Beth Ribblett

Frattoria Alois, Caserta, Campania

Located in the Caiatini Mountains of Campania, the beautiful property of Fattoria Alois is literally situated between 3 volcanoes.  With Roccamorfina to the North, Monte Nuovo to the west and the infamous Monte Vesuvio just south east, the town of Caserta sits amongst multiple extinct and active volcanoes.  It is here that for centuries the Alois family has been associated with the fine textile industry, their famous silks adorning the walls of the Louvre and the White House.  But more recently Michele Alois and his son Massimo have been taking advantage of their location and the volcanic soils that surround them by applying their talent and passion for quality products into Vini Alois.

But it is not just the soils that make these wines special.  Because while Campania is known for its expressive whites like Falanghina, Fiano and Greco and the dark, earthy Aglianico, the Alois wines are focused around some rediscoverd ancient varieties.  Twenty years ago the Italian government launched a project that was devoted to finding grape varieties that survived phylloxera, but were no longer being cultivated. Massimo has been a champion for those forgotten indigenous grapes and with his efforts Casavecchia, Pallagrello Bianco and Pallagrello Nero are making a comeback. See the video above as Massimo discusses the origins of the Casavecchia grape.

The Audelino vineyards surrounding the property

Thanks to our friend Matt Lirette of Lirette Selections, Kerry and I had the good fortune of staying with Massimo and his family at their estate in Caserta a few summers ago.  He spent the day with us, taking us to their different vineyard sites and cooked a fabulous dinner that we shared with his wife and children, of course accompanied by his amazing wines and great conversation.

In the Morrone della Monica vineyards with Massimo and his son Gianfranco
The next morning we  met his father Michele and oenologist Carmine Valentino in the winery for a tank tasting.  One of the things that struck us about these somewhat famous, southern Italian male winemakers was their genuine interest in what we thought about their wines.  Their humility, pride, respect for our opinions and the amount of time we spent together has left a long lasting impression about the people behind these very distinct and fascinating wines.

Oenologist Carmine Valentino and Michele Alois

Tank tasting with Carmine & Michele

We are excite to have Massimo visit us next week and you can join him at Swirl on Wednesday February 4th for a seated tasting of his wines accompanied by the cheeses of southern Italy.  Reservations are required and you can do so here:  Vini Alois

Massimo Alois

The Somm's Pick Buyers Club

Beth Ribblett

The Somm’s Pick Buyers Club 
Intriguing selections chosen by New Orleans’ sommeliers brought to you 
by Swirl Wine Bar & Market

The Program

Swirl’s tasting and education series, The Somm’s Pick, puts you in direct contact with some of New Orleans' finest sommeliers.  During their monthly presentations you'll have the opportunity to taste with them and discover wines they have chosen as some of the most intriguing in the market. Plus as a member of our Somm’s Pick Buyers Club you'll be able to purchase the wines at a discount and receive a special advanced notice for all tastings and events associated with the program.

What’s Included
  • Access to wines chosen by New Orleans’ Sommeliers as some of the most interesting wines in the market
  • Advanced invitation plus half priced admission to the Somm’s Pick Tasting held on the first Tuesday of every month
  • 10% discount on the featured selections available to you throughout the month
  • Exclusive offers and discounts on other special events associated with the program

 How it Works 

  • On the first of each month you will be billed for the featured somm’s selections of wines with a 10% discount.  The cost for the 2 wines can range in price from $40 - $80 depending up the wines chosen.  The wines will continue to be available to club members at the discounted price through the month or while supplies last should you wish to purchase more
  • Wines will be available for pickup at Swirl after the first Monday of the month
  • You will receive a special eventbrite invitation via email for advanced reservation to attend our Somm’s Pick tasting for half price ($5) The invitation will arrive 24 hours before the event is publically releaseYour membership commits you to 3 consecutive months of the program, after which you can cancel anytime via email to


  •      Email us at the or call Swirl @ 504.304.0635


Beth Ribblett

Sign up here for our email newsletter, a weekly rag on happenings, recipes, wine pairings, restaurants, travel notes and more! 

Subscribe to our mailing list

View previous campaigns.

The Somm's Pick, an Engaging New Program at Swirl

Beth Ribblett

Tasting wine @ Ken Wright's Tasting Room in Oregon
American wine consumption has been on the rise now for 20 consecutive years, in fact we've been setting records recently and the market is predicted to continue to grow.  And as Americans are getting more and more into wine, earning the title of certified sommelier has become a hot career path.  People are signing up for sommelier programs in droves and schedules fill up almost immediately when new training and certification dates are released.  Movies, national and international "top somm" competitions and the media have brought an intense, almost cult-like focus on this once somewhat stuffy and obscure wine and service career.

While there are many excellent wine education programs out there, there is no doubt that the title of "sommelier" is the most recognized by the American public.  In terms of certification organizations it is the Court of Master Sommeliers that tends draw the most attention with its multi tiered system where different levels of certification are obtained through rigorous study, exams and blind tasting evaluations. To earn the title of sommelier students must first pass an introductory level exam to then be eligible to take the Certified Sommelier exam which entails written theory, demonstration of service as defined by the Court and blind tastings.  This is just the tip of the iceberg as there are then 2 more levels in the Advanced and the coveted title of Master Sommelier.
Blind tasting is an important component of all CMS certifications
The post Katrina exploding New Orleans dining scene has brought with it a demand for wine professionals and there are probably more certified somms than ever before in the Crescent City. Helping to meet that demand, each year Commander's Palace hosts the Court of Master Sommeliers as a site for their workshops and exams, giving New Orleans service industry easy access to the program.  Dan Davis, sommelier and wine director at Commander's has been a driving force behind getting more New Orleanians educated through CMS and hopes to offer two certification dates in 2015.
At Swirl we have always tried to make it fun to learn about wine and I think our new program, The Somm's Pick, will be one of our best yet.  Through our new tasting and education series at Swirl, we will put you in direct contact with some of New Orleans' finest sommeliers.  During their monthly presentations you'll have the opportunity to taste with them and discover wines they have chosen as some of the most intriguing in the market. Plus you'll be able to purchase the wines at a discount should you decided to participate in our Somm's Pick Buyers Club.

Our guest sommeliers will include Dan Davis of Commander's Palace, Liz Dowty of Square Root,  Michelle Gueydan from Vino Solutions/Neat Wines, John Mitchell of the Windsor Court, our own Kimi Kivirana and more.  We'll meet at the shop once a month to taste their selections and pick their brains on the who, what, when and whys of the bottles they've chosen.  And if you have an interest in becoming a sommelier this will be the perfect time to learn what is involved with obtaining the title from professionals who have made it through different levels of the program.

So here's how it works.  The first Monday of the month my weekly newsletter will  introduce a featured sommelier and their picks of the month.  The next evening, the first Tuesday of the month, is The Somm's Pick Tasting.  Our featured sommelier will be in the house from 6-8pm pouring their 2 wines which can be sparkling, red, white, rose' - sometimes it may be 2 reds, sometimes mixed, who knows?  It's their call!  The wines will be priced somewhere between $19.99 and $39.99.  Plus we'll have a third selection from the shop that we'll pour blind to give you a little insight into how to evaluate an unidentified wine.  It is $10 to attend the event, that will include tasting the 3 wines plus a free Reidel crytstal wine glass that is yours to keep.  The wines will be available for sale starting that evening and will be featured in the store through the month.

Then there's the Somm's Pick Buyers Club.  If you decide to join, each month you will be billed for the 2 wines with a 10% discount for being part of the club.  You can attend the tasting for half price and receive your free wine glass.  If you choose to purchase more of the wines anytime throughout the month you will continue to receive the 10% discount.  You'll also receive exclusive offers and discounts for any other events associated with the program.  The best part is, there's no long term commitment or obligation - after the first 3 months you can cancel at any time!

Dan Davis, Commanders Palace - Photo by Sara Essex Bradley
Intrigued?  Our first tasting is on Tuesday, February 3rd at 6pm and our featured sommelier is Dan Davis of Commander's Palace.  I'll have more details in next week's email, but mark the date, this should be one exciting kick off!

Bubbles Make the World A Happier Place

Beth Ribblett

It is a well known fact that we have an affinity for bubbles.  A light, zippy style sparkling with fresh local oysters, a rich full bodied Champagne with a big juicy steak, a tasty cremant added to a cocktail, a celebratory toast - bubbles are one of the few wines we enjoy with or without food.  And our selection reflects our passion - with 45+bottles to choose from ranging in price from $10 to $200, we truly have something for everyone!

Cava, Prosecco, Cremant, Franciacorta, Champagne -how do you choose?  Here's my quick primer on what to buy depending on your purpose and your budget!  We have great bottles representing all of these and more...

Champagne - The big dog of the sparkling wine world, you can only call it Champagne if it comes from this
unique region of France located 100 miles east of Paris.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunire are the classic Champagne grapes with vintage, non vintage, blanc de blanc (white wine from white grapes), blanc de noir (white wine from red grapes) and rose' produced.  The production method requires that the secondary fermentation, the one that gives it the bubbles, takes place within the bottle over very defined periods of time.  It is these regulations and requirements that make Champagne expensive and delicious!  The wines can range from bright and zippy to rich and toasty depending on the house style.  Big house Champagnes like Roederer, Moet, Bollinger and Veuve Cliquot  use mainly purchased grapes from small growers to create a house style that is consistent with each bottle you open.  Estate grown and produced wines are called Grower Champagnes and are much smaller volume wines, often with more individuality, made by the growers themselves. How can you tell what's what? It is easy to spot the source of a Champagne from its label. Virtually all of them carry a numerical code prefixed by two letters - NM stands for négociant-manipulant, one of the big houses. RM stands for récoltant-manipulant, a grower.  Prices for true Champagne starts around $40 and really should not be used for mimosas or cocktails.  The addition of bitters, fruit juice, other spirits mask the unique qualities of Champagne and make it one very expensive mixer! Staff Fav's - De Sousa, 2005 Taittinger Comte de Champagne, Doquet Blanc de Blanc

Cremant - Basically French sparkling wine that is not from the Champagne region but from other designated areas.  The best known are from Alsace, Loire, Limoux and Burgundy and use the same classic method of secondary fermentation in the bottle with their local grapes but still with strict regulations on how they are made.  This is where you find some of the best values in French sparkling wine!  Starting at around $18 per bottle these are tasty, less expensive alternatives to Champagne.  Staff Fav's - Dopf & Irion Rose', Langlois, Gerard Bertrand Rose'

Franciacorta - Italy's best kept secret has been my current obsession!  From Lombardia in north central Italy, Franciacorta can rival some of the best Champagnes of France.  Using the same grapes, with the exception of a little added Pinot Bianco, and same classic method of production, this tiny region in Lombardy (north east of Milan) is where the highest quality Italian sparkling comes from.  Franciacorta is also similar to Champagne in that it produces vintage, non vintage, blanc de blanc (called Saten) and rose' with like aging requirements and styles based on amounts of residual sugar. However production here is very limited so exports are scarce with only the larger producers making their way into the US market.  Prices range from $24 to $75+ and offer a high quality alternative to Champagne for Italian wine lovers! Staff fav's:  Monterossa Rose', Ferghettina 2009 Saten, Contadi Castaldi Brut

Cava -Cava is Spain's beloved sparkling.  While made in the same method of Champagne, Cava is produced with some of Spain's most important grapes.  Macabeo adds a floraly, citrus note with a slight bitterness while Xarello is richer with more melon and pear and Paralleda gives Cava its zesty acidity.  It is usually fruity, but not sweet and doesn't have the yeasty, leesy notes of Champagne. It is also made as a rose' with Pinot Noir and while most is produced to drink young and fresh, aged and vintage Cava are also made but not something we see much of in the US.  It is usually priced between $10-$25 per bottle and offers good quality for the money. Staff fav's: Mont Charell, Florinda

Prosecco - Italy's most well known bubbly comes from a specific area of the Veneto and Friuli regions in the northeast part of the country.  The main grape used is called Glera and it is produced using the "charmat" method where the secondary fermentation takes place in a tank instead of the bottle.  This type of fermentation usually results in a softer style wine with a fruity taste that is meant to be drunk young and fresh.  The highest quality or DOCG Prosecco comes specifically from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene zone.  While the styles of Prosecco range from Brut, Extra Dry and Dry (depending on levels of residual sugar), there is a perception that all Prosecco is sweet.  Not so!  Brut Prosecco has from 0-12grams of sugar the same level as Brut Champagne.  Prosecco is my bubbly of choice for a good Mimosa! Usually priced between $13 - $27 per bottle depending on DOC or DOCG designations. Staff fav's: Furlan, Terriero,

These are not your only options as California, South America and many other regions produce great sparkling wines.  Once you get into bubbles there is a whole new world out there to explore!  Have fun, experiment with different styles and different foods like a Lambrusco or Gragnano with Pizza, a Brachetto d'Acqui with a fruit tart, a Bugey Cerdon as an aperitif, a sparkling dry Shiraz with lamb - endless possibilities!

Cheers and Happy New Year!

5 Thoughtful Gift Ideas for the Holiday Season

Beth Ribblett

Need a little help figuring out what to buy for your friends, family and favorite wine drinkers?  Stop by and check out the local art on the walls, wine related gifts, chocolates, cheeses, and the ultimate gift, a wonderful bottle or two or three of their favorite beverage, beautifully presented in our elegant gift boxes!

But we are not a grab and go store where hundreds of pre-shrink wrapped gift baskets are lined up filled with processed cheeses that don't need refrigeration and generic bottles of wine all dressed in pre-tied red and green bows.  At Swirl, we're about thoughtful gift giving, nice wine and local products that we ourselves like to eat and drink. So give us just a few minutes of your time, we will help you pick the perfect gift and wrap it in something unique; we're here to make you look good! Here are some thoughtful gift ideas to consider and feel free to call us up - we'll figure out what you need, wrap it up and have ready when you arrive!

Original Prints by Shaun Aleman
1. Artfully Local - Nothing captures the uniqueness of New Orleans like locally created and themed paintings, sculptures and works of art.  Mass produced items by an anonymous person or machine can't come close to the energy and creativity of an original piece.  Painted pieces by Shaun Aleman, paper mache sculptures by Brian Bush, glass tiles by Paulette Lizano, handmade leather masks by Julie Stefanski, and colorful "glam" okra art pieces by Jeanne Vidrine all line the walls of the store and start at just $12.

2. Gifts that Tell a Story - While we can make any bottle of wine look good in our black and gold carriers and boxes, we love putting together wines and items that have a theme and tell a story.  One of my favorites is the "Passionate Sicilian"  package that I created on Friday: highly acclaimed red & white wine from Tenuta Della Terre Nere plus a bottle of their delicious, small production extra virgin olive oil.  Or maybe my "Drink Local" pack with wines by our two favorite local producers, James Moises and Vending Machine wines paired with a New Orleans Drink Deck containing discounts at 50 of the city's best bars and hangouts.  My latest is the "Ratings Junkie" a 94 rated Washington State Red with a 95 rated Oregon Pinot, boxed and pretty for under $120... just tell us your budget and let us build you a beautiful gift!

4 pack of Truffles - Photo by imanolagirl
3. "You're So Fine" Chocolate and Wine - Our relationship with local chocolatier Cheryl Scripter of Bittersweet Confections has been a long and tasty one!  We were her very first retail account way back when and have been loyal devotees ever since, making a decision to not carry any other chocolates in the shop.  Let us pair up a bottle of Niner Cabernet, a ruby Port or maybe a Bugey Cerdon with a box of her handmade truffles. Or we can pack up nice gift with an assortment of her smaller items like chocolate dipped salted caramels, peppermint bark or coconut clusters with a wine pairing or two!

4. A Day in the Life of Faubourg St. John - Pick up gift certificates at our favorite neighborhood spots and combine them for a truly unique experience!  Start their day with tickets to an exhibit in the New Orleans Museum of Art or maybe a morning of kayaking on the bayou with Bayou Kayaks, then coffee and pastries at Pagoda Cafe or Fair Grinds.  Next hop over to Lux Salon for a spa day of massage, mani, pedi or even a new 'do!  Then to Swirl for a few glasses of wine and a cheese plate before dinner at one of our wonderful restaurants like 1000 FigsCafe Degas, Santa Fe, Lola's, The Half Shell and more.  It's a great way to treat someone to all of the wonderful things our neighborhood has to offer!

5. It's the Little Things that Count - Sometimes you just need something special and small for a colleague or friend or maybe a little stocking stuffer for a family member.  Our beautiful wood corkscrews, flour sack bar towels, vacuum pumps, wood cheese boards, Drink Decks and specialty olive oils are the perfect answer for $20 and under gifts!

5 Pairing Tips for Turkey Day 2014

Beth Ribblett

Those of you who shop with us know that we just love food and wine pairing so helping to make your selections for holiday meals is a real treat. What should you drink with all of those sides and mounds of turkey? There are so many answers to that question that sometimes the best choice would be to open a bubbly, white, red and rose, put them on the table and let people chose for themselves because it’s all about personal preference!

Every year I give a few pairing tips and recommendations from our staff.   We've chosen traditional and some more adventurous options at different price points so there is something for palate and every wallet.  Each of the wines will have a tag with our silly turkey photo above to let you know who picked it and if you purchase any 4 of these wines for your celebration, we’ll give you a 10% discount.  Here's a sampling of our picks, but you'll find lots more when you come in to shop...

1.  For the wide array of flavors on the Thanksgiving table, sparkling wines are a no-brainer. Bright acidity, fruit and yeasty undertones make bubbly extremely food-friendly. Especially good are Brut Rosé and Blanc de Noir, which can take you from the lox or chevre hors d'oeuvre to the vinaigrette salad right through the turkey and potatoes and onto the pie. The Pinot Noir in these wines provide body, some tannin for texture, red-fruit character, complexity and acid balance. And in general, the bubbles and the wine's acidity can help cleanse your palate and get you ready for the next course!

Our Picks: Budget Conscious (under $12) Matt: Florinda Cava
Solid Values ($12-$29) Kimi: Jean Paul Brunn FRV; Casey: Gerard Bertrand Rose' Cremant
Indulgent ($30 and up) Beth:  J. Lasalle Rose Brut Champagne, Adam: Monte Rossa Franciacorta; Tarani: De Sousa Brut Champagne

White wines with lively fruit and acidity and little to no oak are also versatile. With its aromas and flavors of citrus, apple and pear and zippy acidity plus herbal notes, Sauvignon Blanc pairs with everything from butternut-squash soup to green salad to turkey with a dressing made of briny oysters and herbs. Even notoriously tough-to-pair Brussels sprouts will sing with Sauvignon Blanc. Alsatian and German whites like Rieslings, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris with their tropical fruit, citrus, green-apple, pear and mineral notes combined with thirst quenching acidity, work with almost any Thanksgiving dish except the cranberry sauce.

Our Pick:  Budget Conscious (under $12) Adam: 2013 Nobilissima Pinot Grigio; Beth: 2013 Marcato I Prandi Soave
Solid Values ($12-$29) Tarani: 2012 Domaine Flaugergues Blanc; Kerry: 2013 Alessandro Bianco del Borgo Viognier, Erin: 2013 Groiss Gruner Veltliner
Indulgent ($30 and up)  Kimi: 2009 Deux Montille Rully; Kerry: 2011 Alice & Olivier de Moor Chablis

Fruity reds and dry rosés are a favorite "go-to" pick for Thanksgiving. They bring soft, easy drinking affordability to the table that's perfect for the variety of flavors and large group setting that Thanksgiving brings. With their bright fruit flavors, they can perk up the milder dishes and enough have structure to hold their own with the more robust courses made with sausage and herbs. As an alternative, a good Dolcetto or lighter style Barbera and a young Etna Rosso can offer similar characteristics and are real crowd pleasers.

Our Pick: Budget Conscious (under $12) Kimi: 2012 Honoro Vera Monastrell; Matt: 2012 Castello Monjardin Garnacha
Solid Values ($12-$29) Casey: 2011 Kyklos Agiorgitiko;  Kerry: 2012 Vino Lauria Frappato;  Erin: 2011 L'Argentier Cinsault
Indulgent ($30 and up)  Beth: 2012 Caciorgna Etna Rosso

Bigger reds with spicy, dark fruit and berries like Syrah and Zinfandel can bring out the best in cranberry sauces as long as the wine has soft tannins and ripe, forward fruit and the sauce is balanced -- moderately tart and not too sweet.

Our Picks:  Budget Conscious (under$12) Casey; 2012 Delas Frere Ventoux
Solid Values ($12-$29) Adam: 2011 Complicated Red; Kimi: 2011 Vina Robles Petit Syrah; Erin: 2012 Bastide Miraflors
Indulgent ($30 and up) Tarani: 2010 Mont Redon Chateaneuf du Pape; Beth: 2007 Dominio IV Syrah

The most popular single wine to choose for Thanksgiving is Pinot Noir. This versatile varietal has tangy red fruit of strawberry and cherry, with nice acidity to balance and low levels of tannin. With elegance and a touch of earthiness, Pinot Noir will subtly support most things on the Thanksgiving table without overpowering them. Cranberry sauce and dessert are exceptions again, with the sauce too tart and the dessert too sweet.

Our Pick:  Budget Conscious (under $12) All Staff: 2012 Sea Glass Central Coast Pinot Noir
Solid Values ($12-$29) Matt: 2012 Dominio IV;  Adam: 2010 Daniel Rion Cote de Nuit; Tarani: 2012 Sean Minor 4 Bears; Kerry: 2010 Brella Willamette Valley
Indulgent ($30 and up) Beth: 2008 Carlton Hill Yamhill Pinot NoirCasey: 2009 Domaine du Meix-Foulot Mercurey 1er Cru; Erin: 2010 Moises Yamhill Carlton

So there you have it! But remember the most important thing is to drink wines that make you happy with people that make you smile, because that is what it's all about!

Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving to All of You!!

Jaw Dropping Washington Wines

Beth Ribblett

Kiona Vineyard, Red Mountain  AVA

When Scott Howett of Mystic Vines came to me about doing a Washington State wine tasting I was intrigued.  While the area has never been a focus of mine, I've always liked the wines, finding the reds without the sledgehammer jamminess that many new world wines can have.  Big, bold but with nice structure awarded by the very unique micro climate of western Washington.

I asked Scott to send me his portfolio so I could begin doing my research and narrowing down our selections to 12 wines.  I was familiar with many of the wineries, having done events in the past with Scott (our partners in crime for our popular rose and charcuterie yearly event and many other great tastings) .  But as I dug deeper into the wines and the people behind them, I have to admit I was blown away by the absolute gems of artisan wineries Mystic Vine has curated.  And I realized how lucky we are to be able to introduce you to some of the most creative, highly regarded winemakers in Washington through our relationship with Scott and Mystic Vine.

Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Red Mountain AVA
The narrowing down part was the hardest, selecting wines at a variety of price points, styles and grape varieties to give you some insight into what is going on in Washington.  Below are my selections with a little info on each winery as well.  I used the word "impressive" when talking about these wines before I did my homework, but my new descriptor is "jaw dropping" and I even changed the name of the event!

Don't even care to read through them and just want to sign up?  But be aware these wines are not for the faint of heart - we're featuring 2 whites, a rose' and 10 big reds.  The walkabout style tasting is $25 and you can reserve your spots here:  Jaw Dropping Washington Wines

Klipsun Vineyard, Red Mountain AVA
The Lineup!
All attendees of the event will be give special pricing on the wines purchased that evening only.  
*Wines with limited availability!

Mark Ryan Winery
A Wine & Spirits top 100 winery in the world 3 years in a row is a pretty impressive accomplishment for Mark Ryan McNeilly who began making wine in 1999 in a friends garage.  Now considered one of the "godfathers" of cult wine making in Washington, the innovative McNeilly has a reputation for small production, highly rated reds.   With grapes sourced from some of the finest vineyards in the state such as Ciel du Cheval, Grand Reve, Kiona, and Klipsun, his wines are considered classic, structured and age-worthy, yet trust me, they don't skimp on fruit or texture!

Mark Ryan McNeilly

*2012 Mark Ryan Winery Dead Horse Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, WA 94-96pts.
Much more rich and voluptuous, the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Dead Horse Ciel du Cheval Vineyard boasts knockout aromas and flavors of blueberries, blackberries, licorice, spring flowers and toast to go with a full-bodied, rich and structured profile on the palate. Despite all of the richness here, this puppy stays nicely focused, has superb purity of fruit and notable tannin that frame the finish. It-s another effort that will benefit from 4 to 5 years of cellaring and have over two decades of longevity.

*2012 Mark Ryan Winery Mourvedre Crazy Mary, WA 92-94pts.
The Mourvedre- dominated 2012 Crazy Mary incorporates a splash of Syrah and comes both from the Ciel du Cheval and Force Majeure vineyards. Possessing serious minerality in its black cherry, black raspberry, pepper and floral-driven aromatics, this medium to full-bodied effort is still firm and tight on the palate, with savory tannin showing on the finish. It will need short-term cellaring and evolve gracefully for 10 to 15 years. 

Board Track Racer - a second label of value driven wines by Mark Ryan
2012 Board Track Racer The Chief, WS 92pts.
This ripe and generous red is open-textured and appealing, with broad cherry, currant and exotic spice flavors, remaining airy and refreshing as the powerful finish extends. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Drink now through 2018. 3,000 cases made

Sleight of Hand Cellars
To say that co-owner and winemaker Trey Busch is a fan of Pearl Jam is an understatement. Pearl Jam holds cult status in Trey’s mind and is the inspiration for the winery's branding. "Sleight of Hand", for those less familiar with the band, is a song about a dreamer who feels a compulsion to break free from the norm - almost as if by a magical force.  Launched in 2007, Sleight of Hand Cellars has but one focus, and that is to craft exceptional wines from exceptional vineyards here in the state of Washington. The winery has only been in operation for a short time, but in that time, Sleight of Hand Cellars has been named as one of the "The Next Generation" of up and coming wineries in Washington State by Seattle Magazine, as well as  one of "The Next Cult Wineries".

Trey Busch, Sleight of Hand Wines

2013 Sleight Of Hand Riesling The Magician, WA 90pts.
Made from 100% Riesling that wasn’t harvested until October, the 2013 Riesling Magician is an impressive, outstanding effort that gives up plenty of juicy citrus, lime and hints of lychee, and subtle minerality in its medium-bodied, lively and refreshing personality. Showing just a hint of sweetness on the finish, it will be versatile on the dinner table and drink nicely for 2-3 years. 

*2012 Sleight Of Hand Syrah Levitation, WA 94pts.
Kicking off the 2012s and my favorite vintage to date, the 2012 Syrah Levitation is a blockbuster-styled effort that possesses fantastic creme de cassis, blackberry, licorice, graphite and crushed flower-like aromas and flavors. Full bodied, balanced and awesomely textured on the palate, with integrated acidity and building, sweet tannin on the finish, this is the real deal and will dish out loads of pleasure over the coming 7-8 years, possibly longer.

Underground Wine Project
Our two above mentioned, dynamic and successful young winemakers, Trey Busch  and Mark McNeilly have collaborated over the years on a few very limited release wines under the name of The Underground Wine Project. A joint collaboration, the winery produced just a 100 cases of its first wine in 2007. The wine flew out of the winery, and they were eager to team up again. Only 700 cases of the 2012 vintage were produced, and they expect them to sell just as quickly. Aptly named, since this wine is a best kept secret of sorts, with no website or info available anywhere and very few cases leave the state!

*2012 Underground Wine Project Idle Hands Syrah, NYR
A luscious combination of 92% Syrah and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon coming from the Red Heaven Vineyard on Red Mountain, this thing is loaded with lots of in your face aromas of fresh vanilla, blueberry jam, and hints of anise. The palate is rich and supple, with full body and gripping tannins which will no doubt soften over time, showing blackberries and smoky oak, with hints of black pepper up front. There are combined hints of coconut and medium-dark chocolate which make me think german chocolate cake, and it finishes with ripe black raspberry preserve and perfumed roses.

Januik Winery
While our first two wineries featured young, energetic winemakers, “living legend” is accurate to describe founder, owner, and winemaker Mike Januik. When Mike Januik left Chateau Ste Michelle Winery in 1999 to form his own venture, he was regarded as possibly the most powerful and successful winemaker in the Northwest.  He’s had over a dozen wines in the Wine Spectator Top 100, and even Robert Parker can be counted as a superfan saying, “Nobody in Washington State delivers more outstanding quality for the dollar than Januik winery.” His reputation gets him access to some of the best fruit Washington has to offer and his small production winery offers wines of incredible finesse and balance.

Mike Januik

 2010 Januik Merlot, IWC 90pts.
(Fruit from Weinbau, Klipsun and Ciel du Cheval; contains bits of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc):  Good deep red.  Plum, redcurrant and spices on the expressive nose.  Suave and spicy on the palate, with red berry and spice flavors complemented by a sexy cocoa powder note that may be from the Taransaud barrels.  The mellow, persistent finish features smooth tannins and late notes of spices and milk chocolate.  Another excellent value.

2010 Januik Petit Verdot Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, WA 92pts.
The 2010 Petit Verdot Ciel du Cheval Vineyard is remarkably civilized for the variety. A blend of 96% Petit Verdot and a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, it delivers lots of spice-coated red and blackberry fruit, cedar cabinet and dried flower-like qualities to go with a medium to full-bodied, supple and beautifully textured palate. While up-front and very drinkable, it has enough back-end tannin and concentration to evolve gracefully for upwards of a decade (or more). Drink now-2020+.

Novelty Hill 
A second label for Mike Januik, Novelty Hill winery grew out of a dinner-party conversation between Tom Alberg and Januik four years ago. Alberg and his family had long suspected that their 300 acres of Columbia Valley land would make an excellent vineyard but they had let it remain fallow for more than 30 years. Januik offered to tour the site, found it suitable for grape growing and started planting vines in 2000.  The two, along with Alberg's wife, Judi Beck, founded Novelty Hill that year and started making wine using grapes from some of Washington's best growing sites with a goal of making wine with grapes only from his family vineyard, Stillwater Creek.  Through Mike's stewardship, the winery and has grown and now shares both the facility and reputation of Januik wines.

2012 Novelty Hill Sauvignon Blanc Stillwater Creek Vineyard, WE 90pts.
Done in a bracing, sappy style, this is a concentrated wine with lush flavors of lemon drop, orange candy and Key lime. It’s ripe and juicy, with a suggestion of bees wax in the mouth. Washington wine critic Paul Gregutt recently named Stillwater Creek one of Washington’s Top 20 vineyards, in part because of the site’s outstanding Sauvignon Blanc.  With the goal of growing world-class wine grapes through careful vineyard management and innovative clonal selection, this steep, south-facing estate vineyard on the Royal Slope of the Frenchman Hills is gaining a growing following.

2011 Novelty Hill Cabernet , WS 91pts.
Supple, spicy and appealing, offering a harmonious balance of dark berry and savory beef tartare flavors, lingering with a sense of elegance. Best from 2015 through 2021

JM Cellars

A successful career in technology sales helped fuel winemaker/owner John Bigelow’s path from wine enthusiast to vintner.  He began by studying winemaking in the mid-1990s at U.C. Davis and by the fall of 1998, he and his wife Peggy had converted the basement of their Seattle home into a winery where they fermented and aged 100 cases of wine for their own enjoyment. Encouraged by the success of their first vintage, John made 350 cases of Tre Fanciulli in 1999. JM Cellars was officially launched. John moved to Walla Walla for the 2000 and established a permanent home for JM Cellars in Woodinville – a seven acre property known as Bramble Bump.

John Bigelow
 2010 JM Cellars Tre Fanciulli, WA 92pts.
The 2010 Red Blend Tre checks in as a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 10% Syrah that spent 22 months in 75% new French oak. A rich, structured effort that will need bottle age to fully come together, it offers up deep, layered aromas and flavors of dusty spice, mineral, saddle leather and both red and black fruits as well as a full-bodied, mouth-filling and concentrated profile in the mouth. Give bottles 3-5 years in the cellar and plan on drinking bottle over the following decade or longer. Drink 2017-2030.

2013 JM Cellars Mourvedre Rose, NYR
Crafted to honor rosé found in the southern regions of France, JM’s 2013 Mourvèdre Rosé shows crisp and refreshing fruit flavors.  A grape originally planted in the Rhone Valley of France, Mourvèdre , offers distinctive aromas and flavors to create a memorable rosé.

Valpolicella, a Spectrum of Styles from Classico to Amarone

Beth Ribblett

Packing the punch of extraction and purity of fruit that equal some of the best the New World has to offer, the wines of Valpolicella, and especially those made in the Recioto and Amarone styles, are the perfect "gateway" wines. Yet at the same time these wines from Northeast Italy's Veneto region are still unmistakably Italian, or more accurately, unmistakably Veronese. The fan-shaped collection of communes and vineyards spreading out west, north and east from the ancient city of Verona to the shores of Lake Garda, produce wines that offer an intriguing combination of concentration (alcohol levels routinely approach 16 percent); fruit - in all its possibilities: dried, cooked, macerated and freshly picked; minerality; and deliciously velvety texture.

It all starts with Valpolicella, an area within the Veneto region of Northeast Italy around Lake Garda. Like “Chianti”, Valpolicella is a region, not a grape and the red wines produced there are blends dominated by Corvina, with Corvinone and Rondinella usually lending support. Molinara, Negrara, Rossignola, Dindarella and a few other local varieties are also allowed, although have diminished in importance. But it is Corvina that forms the backbone of the blend with its silky tannins and delicious fruity, smoky red cherry flavors and aromas with the deeply colored Rondinella grape adding red currant and citrus components plus color-intensity to the blend.

What can be difficult to understand about Valpolicella is that there is a hierarchy of styles. The lighter fruitier styles of Valpolicella Classico wines are what most people associate with the zone, but these are actually more recent creations. They were preceded in history by the sweet Recioto della Valpolicella and it’s dry counterpart, Amarone.
Grapes drying on straw mats

Recioto, by most accounts came into fashion during Roman times when wines were made sweet and high in alcohol to preserve them during long travel. The Romans are also said to have developed the process of “appassimento”, in which the grapes were dried in farmhouses on straw mats which transforms them into shriveled, sweet, tiny concentrated berries. To make Recioto, they press these tiny dried berries, but stop fermentation early to retain the high sugar level.

Amarone is said to have come about possibly as a mistake, someone left a barrel of Recioto unattended too long, the yeasts in the barrel continued to work and the wine fermented to dryness. Now aged a minimum of 25 months in oak, they are densely concentrated and deeply colored with luscious ripe fruit balanced with a savory robe of alcohol, acidity and tannins. Think leather, coffee, chocolate, stewed blackberry fruit all wrapped up in a rich, viscous and heavenly concoction that just so happens to come out of a wine bottle.

Straight Valpolicella Classico (no oak aging required) are the perfect easy drinking wines to have with pizza or pasta or sitting on the porch on warm summer evening. They are vinified in the traditional manner using fresh grapes and usually have little or no oak and present a fresh, fruit forward style with light tannins and tart acidity. The Classico Superior wines can definitely take on a more serious note with 14 months of oak aging required. You have more structure and complexity present which makes them a better match with game and roasted meats, although they are usually wonderfully pleasant on their own as well.

Valpolicella Ripassa is a different animal yet. The term Ripassa means “re-passed” and was made famous by Agricola Masi in the 1960’s. The straight Valpolicella, produced earlier in the usual red wine fashion, is passed "back over" the lees of the Amarone or Recioto after their fermentation is complete. The lees or pomace includes yeast, grape seeds, pulp, stems and skin and traces of alcohol. All of this leads to a second fermentation and the creation of Ripassa Valpolicella whose color, depth and flavors are greater than those of the original Valpolicella. Sometimes referred to as baby Amarone, it is also ready to drink much sooner than the Amarone and usually comes in at a third of the price.

One of the great things about Valpolicella is that you can experience the different aging and vinification processes across a spectrum of price points and styles. Basic Valpolicella is usually priced in the teens, Valpolicella Classico and Superior are priced in the high teens to low 20's, Ripassa style usually starts in the 20's to mid 30's, while most Amarone and Recioto (Recioto is sold usually in 375 ml bottles) wines begin in the $50 range and go from there.

Currently we are carrying a few different styles of Valpolicella, each chosen for their unique expression of the region, vinification process and quality. But as with every thing else in our store, my selection changes frequently although you will always find at least one Valpolicella on our shelves.

Franciacorta, What's Not to Love?

Beth Ribblett

I'll admit, it has taken me a long time to appreciate Franciacorta.  As a women obsessed with Italian wine who owns a wine shop/bar, you wouldn't think it would take almost 8 years in the business to get "it".  But in my defense, the problem with Franciacorta is its availability in the US has been scarce and with only 11% of its production sold abroad, it was something I rarely got to taste.  The only one in the market for years was the high quality and highly priced Bellevista label and recently Ca' del Bosco became available through our friends at Artisan and Banville & Jones.  It was something I enjoyed, as I do most sparkling wines, but I didn't really seek it out.

Then I went to northern Italy for the first time and Franciacorta was everywhere!  And affordable - and made by producers I'd never heard of - and I could drink a different one everyday to start my meal.  I became obsessed with tasting every Franciacorta I could find!  And I finally got "it".  High quality bubbles that could rival Champagne from my favorite place in the world?  What a no brainer!

So I come back home and start asking our wholesalers about Franciacorta and find them trickling in to the market.  Berlucchi, Ferghettina, Bellavista, Ca del Bosco, Cantadi Castaldi, Montenisa...I'm so excited that we are buying a new shelf just to accommodate all of the Franciacorta I want to buy!  

And now comes the part of my job that I love - exposing our wonderful customers to a still barely known wine region and the amazing world of Franciacorta.  We started with putting the Ca' Del Bosco on our by the glass menu and it has been so successful that it remains a staple on our list.  We used the Ferghettina in our Italian rose' flight and people went crazy for the elegant wine in the beautiful package. But we've decided to really put it to the test and conduct a seated tasting, blind, and put it up against the world's best sparkling wine, Champagne. 

Kimi will present the Champagne and I the Franciacorta.  But this is not a test to see if you can determine which is which because what I really want to know is what you think.  Is the quality similar? The taste?  Do you prefer one bottle over another?  And most importantly, do you like it?  We'd love for you to participate in this very special event where a small area in Italy takes on the most prestigious sparkling wine region in the world! Casey Foote will also present his favorite cheeses from both countries to pair with the wines.  Sound fun? Interesting?  You can make your reservations here:  Champagne Vs. Franciacorta 

Here's a bit of information for thought on my two favorite regions for sparkling wine:

Champagne:  Continental Climate, chalk and limestone soils
Franciacorta:  Continental Climate; moraine, limestone and volcanic soils

Grape Varieties: 
Champagne -  30% planted to Chardonnay, 38% planted to Pinot Noir and 32% to Pinot Meunier
Franciacorta - 80% planted to Chardonnay, 15% planted to Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and 5% to Pinot Bianco

Production Methods:
Champagne - Traditional Method with secondary fermentation in the bottle
Franciacorta - Traditional Method with secondary fermentation in the bottle

Non vintage:  Champagne -  wines must spend a minimum 15 months maturing on the lees 
Non vintage:  Franciacorta - wines must spend a minimum 18 months maturing on the lees 

Vintage:  Champagne -  wines must spend a minimum 36 months maturing on the lees.  100% of the grapes must be harvested from the stated year. 
Vintage:  Franciacorta - wines must spend a minimum 37 months maturing on the lees.  85% of the grapes must be harvested from the stated year. 

Blanc de Blanc:  Champagne - wine made exclusively from white grapes, 100% Chardonnay - must be aged 15 months
Saten:  Franciacorta - wine made exclusively from white grapes, Chardonnay and up to 50% Pinot Bianco allowed - must be aged 24 months

Duccio Corsini & Antonio Molesini Host Wednesday Nite Flites

Beth Ribblett

When I think about meeting Italian royalty, I envision a stuffy guy in a fancy designer suit, but maybe with an ascot instead of a tie - aloof and arrogant as truly privileged people can be (I've actually meet a marchesi from Piemonte who meets this description to a T!).  So you can imagine my surprise when a jovial man in jeans, a vest and button down shirt walked up and introduced himself to me, Kerry and my family while we were touring Principe di Corsini this summer.  "Il Duccio" was the complete opposite of my vision and previous experience. Humble, warm, friendly with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, he wanted to be sure we were enjoying ourselves and even sent me a personal email afterwards asking about our visit!

This week we're excited to have Duccio Corsini & Antonio Molesini host Wednesday Nite Flites.  The noble Corsini family has held a prominent place in Tuscan history since the 1100's.  Once the largest landowners in all of Italy the Corsini's prestigious and influential ancestors include a bishop, saint, and a Pope!  But Duccio is sure to charm you with his down to earth attitude, love of agricultural and belief that his wines are ideally paired with “good food and good company”! We'll be tasting a fantastic lineup of 4 wines -  
Le Corti Chianti Classico 2011 ($22.50)
Le Corti Don Tommaso Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 ($41.99)
Principi Corsini Birillo Maremma, 2011 ($20.99) 
Principi Corsini La Marsiliana Maremma 2006 ($68.99). 

The flite is $15 and we'll have Italian themed cheese plates available to try with the wines.  Reservations are recommended and you can do so here, Duccio Corsini.

Eating Green in Tuscany, Carpaccio di Zucchine

Beth Ribblett

My personal meat platter at Castello di Verrazzano
One of the things I love about foreign travel is immersing myself in the local culture.  Not only eating what they eat and drinking what they drink but also doing those things the way they do them.  Downing a shot of espresso in the afternoon with a half a pack of partially melted sugar in the bottom of the cup while standing at a bar in Cortona, eating a decadent brioche con crema for breakfast in Rome, drinking the simple but delicious house table wine made by the owner of the osteria in Montepulciano, enjoying a daily sweet, creamy gelato in Positano - I live 49 weeks of the year in America but for a few precious weeks I get to experience the joy of eating and drinking like an Italian!  I tell people who travel with us to leave all of their American habits at home because the best way to truly experience a place is to live it like a local.  After all, why spend the money and the time to come half way across the world to a country steeped in thousands of years of culinary traditions to eat a hamburger and french fries covered in ketchup and washed down with a Budweiser? 
Pasta with saffron cream, prosciutto and zucchine
But I must admit I do have one gastronomic complaint about Central Italy - as much as I love going to Tuscany every year the thing I crave by the end of our trip is fresh green vegetables! This part of Italy is about meat + pasta + cheese and many amazingly different and unique combinations of all of them.  Of course there is also an abundance of ripe juicy tomatoes in every size and shape, deeply flavored roasted eggplant, marinated artichokes, delicately fried zucchine flowers, but sometimes a girl just wants a SALAD!!! 

Truffles foraged in Umbria
So one of the American traditions that I enjoy on a regular basis has slowly and reluctantly crept its way to Tuscany.   Each year we go, as the Italians try to cater more to American tourists, I have noticed salads are making their way onto restaurant menus.  Thankfully these are not salads as we know them - there are no bottled gloppy dressings or fake processed cheese, no stale croutons that came out of a can or "salad in bag" stuff here.  It's their spin made of course with fresh local ingredients that change with the current season's offerings. Like crisp lettuce topped with the thinly sliced, small pears that were ripening on the trees and shaved with the local pecorino cheese from Pienza just a few towns away or the local figs that grow wild on the hillsides combined with strips of sliced prosciutto over freshly picked arugula....

Fufluns frolicking on the left
All of these wonderful food memories are bringing me to one such salad we had on our last trip - not once, but twice!  There is a great little pizza place off of Piazza della Republica in Cortona called Fulfuns (fittingly the Etruscan God of vegetation, gaiety and wine!) that we tested out on my family the first week and then brought our Swirl guests the following week.  Not knowing what it would be but assumed it would be "green"  Kerry and I ordered the "Carpaccio di Zucchine"; the epitome of Italian flavor and simplicity!  Freshly grown local lettuce and basil topped with very thinly sliced zucchine ribbons and shaved parmigiana cheese, a sprinkle of roasted pine nuts served with half a lemon and Tuscan olive oil to dress it.  I've made it a few times at home now and while it will never be as good as it is in that medieval hill town washed down with a pitcher of local Trebbiano, it brings me back to sitting outside on that cobblestone street with family and friends enjoying the food and flavors of Tuscany.

Carpaccio di Zucchine, Fufluns Cortona

Carpaccio di Zucchine  (serves 2 hungry Americans craving greens)
1 fresh head of local lettuce or Boston Bibb lettuce if not in season
2 baby zucchine sliced very thin on a mandolin 
1 handful of fresh basil torn into pieces
2 T. toasted fresh pine nuts 
lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
shaved parmigiana or grana padana
Salt, pepper
1/2 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil  

Take a large flat bowl, add the lettuce an torn basil leaves.  Top the greens with the zucchini, salt and pepper, and pine nuts; Serve with 1/2 lemon on the side and olive oil.  To dress, put a fork in the lemon half to break the fibers and squeeze the juice all over the salad.  Follow with olive oil, toss and enjoy!
Buon Appetito!!
I didn't have pine nuts this time so I used roasted almonds, preferred the pine nuts!

Real Crispy Skin Salmon, For True

Beth Ribblett

I admit that I am a bit obsessed with Salmon. Grilled, seared, plank roasted, baked it in parchment, topped with chermoula; you name it, I've cooked it!  It is a weekly item on our menu, especially when I need something quick, healthy, delicious and easy to pair with either red or white wines.

But my latest obsession has been crispy skin salmon, which I was never successful at until now!  I found a recipe a few months ago, which I'm sorry to say I could not find again to reference in this post, that I've modified a bit to create the perfect salmon.  The big crunch of the skin is truly the perfect contrast to a fat piece of tender, juicy salmon.  And when I say crisp I mean like a crunchy potato chip!

I will also admit that as beautiful as the Coho and the wild salmon looks, I love the fatty North Atlantic and King Salmon.  Much richer and more flavorful, I select which ever fits into my current budget.  The new Whole Foods on Broad has a really nice fresh selection and is easy to just pick  up a piece after work.  

So here it is, just a few simple tricks to create the perfect crunch:

Trick #1:  You have to descale it.
Take your salmon fillet ( I get about a pound to split between Kerry and I and we usually eat the whole thing!) and put it on a cutting board.  Then grab your chef's knife and run along the top of the skin with a bit of pressure, scraping the scales off.  You can tell they’re gone because the skin has a netting pattern to it:
Give the salmon a quick rinse to remove the scales.

Trick #2:  Water is the enemy 
Dry the salmon very well with paper towels. Water is the enemy of a good crisp sear so soak up as much as you can. Next, season the fish skin with a good pinch of salt (no pepper on the skin, it will burn) and let the fish sit for 5 minutes. Then touch the fish skin and notice that there’s moisture there. This is because the salt pulled out moisture from the skin. You've just set the skin up to be even CRISPIER.  Give the skin a good pat with paper towel again to soak up that excess moisture, and now it’s ready to be seared.

Trick #3:  Cut the salmon into even pieces.
The more evenly the meat is distributed the better it will sear.  With a large fillet you usually get the thick piece of the body and then the thinner part of the belly.  Cut off the thin part - you'll just cook it a little less.

Trick #4:  No non stick pans!
You just don't get the same sear and if your heat is high enough it won't stick anyway.  So start with an uncoated pan, fairly close in size to the piece of fish.  Heat up your pan somewhere between medium to medium high heat (6 or 7 on a 10 scale), and let it heat up for about 3-5 minutes (3 minutes for gas stoves, 5 for electric).  Since we are using an uncoated pan, you’re going to want to have a sturdy, metal turner that can really get under the fish, not one of those flimsy plastic spatulas.

Trick #5:  You need a high smoke point oil.
Olive oil or butter won't work here.  My preference is ghee or coconut oil but the ghee really helps to brown it evenly.  You could also use grape seed oil.   Add enough to really coat the bottom of the pan.

When the oil starts to shimmer, take your piece of fish and test it by touching the very end of it to the pan. If it makes that hissing sizzling noise, that means the pan is nice and hot, and go ahead and lay the fish down in the pan, skin side down, always away from you so the oil doesn't splash. (and if the fish doesn't sizzle, your pan isn’t hot enough).  Now you can season the top meaty side with salt and pepper.

Let the salmon cook for 90% of the time on the skin side. You need about 5 minutes per 1" thickness of salmon.  With the fillets I get I usually end up doing 7 minutes on the skin side.

While the skin is cooking, take a lemon and zest about half of the skin.  Take the rest of the lemon and cut into quarters to squeeze on the fish before serving.

When it is time, flip it over and give it a about a minute or so on the other side. Remove it, put a few pats of butter on it and the lemon zest and serve immediately with the lemon quarters on the side. Fantastic!!

Ok now what wine to serve?  The reason I had to make this was to give me an excuse to open the 2012 Terre Nere Cuvee delle Vigne Niche from Macrco de Grazia.  We just received our very very small allocation and half of it has come home with me!

Etna White Cuvée delle Vigne Niche 2012
Wine Spectator Score: 92

Aromatic, with floral and spice notes. There's power to the racy acidity and smoky minerality of this finely meshed white, which is elegant overall, offering flavors of creamed apple, almond skin, apricot and preserved lemon. A vanilla-tinged, leesy overtone echoes on the finish. Drink now through 2025. 250 cases made.

Bringing the Cinque Terre to Swirl - 2013 Bisson Ciliegiolo Rose'

Beth Ribblett

If you've ever been to the villages of the Cinque Terre or Portofino on the Ligurian coast, chances are you fell in love. You probably hiked a few of the trails between the villages, ate the local sea food and fresh pasta with pesto in one of those tiny osteria perched on the cliffs.  You warmed yourself in the coastal sun, taken in view the of the ocean, waves crashing on the rocks below as the terraced vineyards above soaked up the summer rays and salty sea mist.  Really, there's nothing quite like it.

You also probably had the local wines; the crisp refreshing whites, the juicy, pure rose' and the light bodied fruity reds.  And like me, you wished you could have them here at home to try to recreate that amazing feeling you had by the sea...unfortunately Ligurian wines are a bit hard to come by.  They produce such tiny amounts on those steeply terraced mountains and keep most of it for their own consumption.  So you can imagine how excited we were to get our hands on the 2013 Bisson Ciliegiolo Rose from one of the top producers in the region!

Pure red cherry fruit, juicy acidity with that subtle salinity from the sea breezes - this wine is perfect for New Orleans spicy fare, has enough body for barbecued chicken, pork sausage and most food from the grill, and is a classic pairing with Zuppa di Pesce Alla Ligure

Hunting with Sole

Beth Ribblett

Every year we take a group of Swirl guest on a wine, culinary and cultural trip in Tuscany and Umbria.  This year our visit included a truffle hunting excursion in Umbria...

Sunflowers in full bloom in Tuscany & Umbria
Driving the twisting narrow roads with seemingly endless switchbacks we go up and over the mountains that seamlessly join Tuscany and Umbria.  Even those who don't get car sick feel effect of the last 6 days on our stomachs.  Plunging down into the valleys we ride through the very rural small villages, peaceful land layered in a patchwork of color with brilliant yellow sunflowers, the silvery leaves of olive trees, golden wheat fields, and endless deep green tobacco.

View from the top of the mountain
Of course we make a few wrong turns but finally find the steep windy road that takes us up to the top of the tallest mountain yet.  Climbing higher and higher the forest changes from slender birch, ash and maple trees to thick trunks of oak and pine until finally reaching the top.  The GPS tells us we've arrived but all we see is a sleepy little hamlet of old stone dwellings and not a soul in sight.  As I try to find the phone number to get directions, a little white truck appears - our host out looking to see if we are lost.  We follow him further up the mountain road to his farm greeted by the breathtaking view of the villages below with the mountains of the Marche, Umbria and Tuscany stretched out before us.

Our host, the personable and soft spoken Matteo, brings us to one of the wood buildings on the property where we are greeted by his mother, father and two cats with their four young kittens.  Matteo and his family live here in this remote area of north west Umbria. They work the land as farmers, hunters and gatherers, living harmoniously with nature on their 30 acres of property.  It's not game or fowl that they hunt, but treasure in the form of elusive and mysterious funghi, truffles!  

We sit and spend some time talking first.  Matteo tells us that his passion and skill for truffle hunting was passed down from his father Carlos and he in turn wants to share his knowledge with others. He educates us on the fascinating world of truffles - what they are, the different types, colors, where they grown, how the animals find them, ripening, maturing and of course, the amazing dogs.

Walking to the forest to begin the hunt
Armed with our new found knowledge, we walk a short distance up the hill with kittens following close behind.  It's time to meet Sole, his dog.  As he talks about Sole, telling us stories of his training and first hunt, it's evident in his voice how much Matteo loves  his dog.  He releases him from the pen and the enthusiastic Sole bounds up the hill to greet us. Running, jumping, darting, constantly putting his nose to the ground and then the air, his energy seems endless.  Matteo softly commands and Sole obediently follows; their symbiotic relationship and mutual respect is the key to their success.

Into the woods we all traipse, Matteo leads us to one of his favorite spots. "Vai, vai Sole" Matteo says and Sole takes off, frantically searching, sniffing - you can actually hear his rapid breathing as he puffs his cheeks and puts his nose to the ground.  He hons in on a smell and frantically begins to dig.  "Piano, piano" slowly, slowly, Matteo softly calls and Sole tries to slow down but he's so excited, tearing at roots, flinging dirt behind him. Reaching down Matteo gently takes him at the neck and Sole immediately goes limp and lies beside his hole awaiting his next command. Matteo digs into the hole first using his vanghetto, a shovel like tool, and then his hands to see what Sole has found.  Out comes a black truffle about the size of a large plum with its dark knobby skin.  Matteo smiles, shows us all the treasure and then puts it into the pocket of his vest. Sole is generously rewarded with treats and affection.

Sole's first find
The ritual repeats, over and over in this spot and then another.  Matteo and Sole hunt each morning for several hours.  They are fortunate to live in an area where different types of truffles are available year round. And the reward can be great; the jewel of Italian gastronomy, white truffles, retail for over $3000/lb., the black for around $1200/lb. The black summer truffles that we found sell for around $500/lb.  Each type of truffle is available only certain months of the year.  Some days are plentiful but others might not yield a single truffle; it's a roll of the dice.

Today is a good day for Sole and Matteo.  In about an hours time Matteo has a pocketful of truffles and we head back to reception area where the delicious smells from the kitchen tell us lunch is almost ready!   Matteo shows us how to clean and store truffles as we sip on Prosecco in the courtyard.  We move into the dining area, beautifully and humbly set for our lunch. The intoxicating smell of fresh truffles permeates the air. Matteo sits with us but goes into the kitchen with each course to help his mother. Crostini with many different types of truffle sauces, carafes of local wine, fresh pasta shaved with our catch of the day, Matteo's fennel roasted pork with rosemary potatoes followed by dessert and of course espresso; we are served a simple, rustic family meal with local fresh ingredients, prepared with the utmost care.

The fruits of Sole's labor

Our fresh pasta with his catch of the day
Matteo's generousity,calm demeanor and infectious smile gives the experience an incredibly intimate feeling - his spirit, love of the land, his relationship with Sole are expressed throughout the visit.  Matteo is a young farmer dedicated to his trade and enthusiastic about sharing it with others.  We will be back...And so with full bellies and warm hearts we load back into our cars, with a new found understanding and appreciation for the now not so mysterious funghi and the people and dogs who bring them from the mountains of Italy to our tables.

If you'd like to visit with Matteo and Sole email him at or check out his website at Ca' Solare Agriturismo.  Please tell him Beth from New Orleans sent you :)