James Beard Dinner at Vingenzo’s

In December Chef Michael Bologna of Vingenzo’s was invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York City. It was an honor for the chef, whose Woodstock restaurant is loved by locals but may not be as well known to Atlantans who live inside the perimeter.

At Vingenzo’s Chef Bologna creates traditional Southern Italian dishes using ingredients that are so fresh the restaurant doesn’t have a walk in freezer. The ambiance is warm and welcoming, with a wood burning oven in the open kitchen.

On January 29th Chef Bologna recreated the five course dinner at his Woodstock restaurant. Every seat at Vingenzo’s was filled — a testament to Chef Bologna’s following and an indication that Atlantans who venture north will find a delicious dining experience.

The evening started with a glass of Candoni Prosecco and hors d’oeuvres that included housemade crudo, asiago-encrusted baby artichokes and white bean stew that was served on individual spoons.

The first course was hand-crafted burrata that looked like a wrapped gift. It was served with preserved tomatoes, basil and arugula, and paired with Luna Nuda Pinot Grigio 2010. Scroll down for photos.

The second course was osso buco tortelli with gremolada and roasted demi cream. The dish was accompanied by a glass of Castello D’Albola Chianti Classico DOCG 2007.

The third course was pan roasted halibut served with a Sicilian pistachio mascarpone sauce and butter-stewed baby root vegetables. The fish was paired with Principi di Butera Chardonnay 2009 from Sicily.

The fourth course was braised Riverview Farms pork shoulder and crisp pork belly with creamy polenta and glazed cipollini compote. It was paired with Rocca di Montemassi Sassabruna 2008, a red “Super Tuscan” that was a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Syrah.

Dessert was called “Semplicemente in Bianco e Nero.” Mozarella di bufala and chestnut-honey balsamic strawberries were drizzled with a chocolate gaze. The dish was served with a glass of Candoni Muscato.

Vingenzo’s is located at 105 East Main Street in Woodstock, Georgia.
(770) 924-9133

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Dining Atlanta: Week of January 30, 2012

By Eric Harvison

Dining Atlanta spotlights what is opening and closing around the city. Check in at the beginning of each week to find out what is changing in your neighborhood.

Click here to read earlier columns

Around Town

A chaser with that Venti Vanilla Soy Caramel Macchiato? STARBUCKS announced last week that they will introduce their “evening day-part” concept in four to six Atlanta locations, offering new premium food as well as wine and beer. The concept was first introduced in one of their Seattle locations in late 2010 and has been slowly expanded to select stores in Washington, Oregon, and the Chicago area. Though the locations have not been named, its been reported (Decatur Metro blog as I recall) that employees at the downtown Decatur store have shared that they will be closing for several weeks of ‘refurbishments’ in the near future.

Buckhead

Former BARONI space has quickly reopened as FIG JAM KITCHEN & BAR. The new concept, still under ownership of the BARAONDA/PUBLIK crew, has an Italian-esque menu of pastas, grilled meats and the seemingly obligatory meatball sliders (lamb in this case).

HOUSTON’S on Peachtree is getting rebranded as HILLSTONE, a “flagship” location of their parent company, Beverly Hills based Hillstone Restaurant Group who operate upscale/casual dining establishments under a dozen or so different names across the nation.

College Park

Open for a couple months now in the longtime FINA space on Main and John Wesley Avenue, THE CORNER GRILL is serving American and Cajun/Creole cuisine. Open for breakfast and lunch.

And opening soon a few doors further up Main Street, REAL PIT BBQ.

East Atlanta

The East Atlanta Patch is reporting that Mayor Kaseem Reed has denied the liquor license application for KIRKWOOD BAR & GRILL.

Ormewood

Recently opened, HODGEPODGE COFFEE HOUSE AND GALLERY. 720 Moreland.

Two “former educators” have turned in their chalk and are opening ENDULGE CUPCAKES (I infer that they weren’t teaching spelling) in the former LITTLE CAFÉ PARIS spot sometime in the next month or so. As evidence that they’ve done their homework, they will offer a drive-through cupcake window.

And in the same cluster of shops, the MORELLI’S ICE CREAM that has been closed since before Christmas reopened last week.

Panthersville

Opened in 1970, the CHICK-FIL-A at South DeKalb Mall closed last week.

Westside

Road trip! Owner Kamal Grant is tweeting that SUBLIME DOUGHNUTS is opening another branch of the popular bakery, this one in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Eric Harvison’s Dining Notes began a few years ago as a sporadic e-mail exchange with a friend, sharing restaurant openings and trying to satisfy that vague urge to dine “somewhere new.” That friend started forwarding Eric’s messages to some of her friends, several of them food industry professionals. They in turn began passing along bits of restaurant news and gossip that they would come across. These exchanges became more frequent and took on a viral life of their own that has evolved into what you read today.

Aside from the occasional editorial comment, Eric won’t attempt to review these restaurants. There’s plenty of others better qualified, with much more refined palates — probably you. Rather, this is an attempt to help you keep up with the constantly changing Atlanta dining scene, for better or worse.

AG Pick: Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Merlot 2008

The Amateur Gastronomer has predicted that 2012 will see the return of Merlot. Why? In the years following the movie “Sideways,” California winemakers have revamped how they produce Merlot wine. Careful attention has been paid to how the grape is grown, when it is harvested and how the wine is crafted. The latest releases focus on the desirable characteristics of Merlot, with wines that are better than ever.

The Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Merlot 2008 is a wine that stands out. Its refined black and berry fruit flavors show just how tasty and sophisticated Merlot can be.

The wine is made from 95% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remaining 4% comprised of other Bordeaux grapes. The fruit is all estate grown and comes from the top 5% of Kendall-Jackson’s Merlot wine lots in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino Counties.

Through precision farming methods and harvesting the grapes at the peak of their potential, Kendall-Jackson ensures a high quality Merlot.

The wine spent 19 months aging nearly entirely in French oak, of which 47% was new.

At first sniff you can tell this is a Merlot that deserves a taste. The wine has aromas of dark fruit and spice. The taste is a round mix of boysenberry, blackberry, black plum, cherry and currant layered with violet, cedar, dark chocolate and a touch of smoke. Refined tannins give the wine good structure. The finish is satisfying with lingering berry notes.

If you stopped drinking Merlot years ago this is a wine that will bring you back.

A bottle of the Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Merlot 2008 costs $26.

14.5% alcohol by volume

More Red Wines | White Wines | Under $20

Atlanta Starbucks to Sell Beer & Wine

Starbucks has long been the destination for a morning pick me up but soon it could be a happy hour spot as well.

The Seattle-based coffee company announced that it will be adding beer and wine to four to six of its Atlanta locations in 2012, according to the Reuters article published today. Atlanta will be among the first cities in the country to get the adult beverages added to its menu, along with a handful of Southern California and Chicago locations.

Seattle was the test market for beer and wine sales at Starbucks; in October 2010 the coffee chain introduced them to one of its locations. Currently there are five Starbucks in Seattle and one in Portland, Oregon that sell beer and wine.

Beyond beer and wine the extended menu will include cheese plates and hot flatbreads.

The Atlanta Starbucks locations that will offer the new items have not yet been announced.

Starbucks has nearly 11,000 cafes in the United States but does not expect to sell beer and wine in all locations.

Dining Atlanta: Week of January 23, 2012

By Eric Harvison

Dining Atlanta spotlights what is opening and closing around the city. Check in at the beginning of each week to find out what is changing in your neighborhood.

Click here to read earlier columns

Buckhead

The YACHT AND POLO CLUB private event venue which was for many years ANTHONY’S restaurant has closed after a scant six months. I can only surmise there is insufficient yacht parking along Piedmont Road.

MF SUSHI partner Chris Kinjo tells the AJC’s John Kessler that as part of their ongoing “reorganization” they are negotiating with the Terminus building management to return a portion of the restaurant space. Brothers Kinjo are also reportedly bringing in a new business partner.

East Point

SHACK ON MAIN (paradoxically located on East Point Street) barbeque restaurant has closed.

Midtown

Temporary signage indicates that SENOR PATRON MEXICAN RESTAURANT will open in the former FUNE SUSHI BAR space at 860 Peachtree Road.

Jonathan St. Hilaire’s BAKESHOP closed last week. As discussed last November, the space will ultimately reopen (second quarter of 2012) as a Mexican restaurant, LIME FRESH MEXICAN GRILL.

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Eric Harvison’s Dining Notes began a few years ago as a sporadic e-mail exchange with a friend, sharing restaurant openings and trying to satisfy that vague urge to dine “somewhere new.” That friend started forwarding Eric’s messages to some of her friends, several of them food industry professionals. They in turn began passing along bits of restaurant news and gossip that they would come across. These exchanges became more frequent and took on a viral life of their own that has evolved into what you read today.

Aside from the occasional editorial comment, Eric won’t attempt to review these restaurants. There’s plenty of others better qualified, with much more refined palates — probably you. Rather, this is an attempt to help you keep up with the constantly changing Atlanta dining scene, for better or worse.

AG Pick: Xarmant Txakolina 2010

If you’re looking for a wine to get you ready for warmer weather try the 2010 Xarmant Txakolina. It may be a bit intimidating to spell or pronounce but this white wine is extremely easy to drink.

Xarmant Txakolina comes from the Basque region of Spain, in the northeast part of the country. The Basque is located on the Atlantic Ocean just southwest of the French border.

The wine is produced by Arabako Txakolina, a winery that was founded in 1989 by eight growers from the same family. They came together to revitalize local winemaking that had been abandoned after the phylloxera epidemic wiped out vines in the mid 19th century. In 2003 their efforts were rewarded and the region was granted an official Denominación de Origen status.

The wine’s name means “charming” in French, though it is spelled in the Basque way. When pronounced, Xarmant sounds like “charmant.”

Xarmant is a blend of two grapes that are indigenous to the Basque region: Hondarribi Zuri (80%) and Hondarribi Zuri Zerratia (20%). The wine was fermented in stainless steel which preserves the fresh fruit flavors.

If you like Albariño you’ll like this wine. Light, upbeat and yes, charming, this is a wonderful warm weather wine. Xarmant Txakolina has an aromatic and floral nose, with crisp flavors of pink grapefruit, lime and apple. The finish is dry and refreshing with just a hint of spice.

Serve Xarmant Txakolina with oysters, mussels, white fish, salmon or salads. Or enjoy the wine on its own, as an aperitif or outside on a sunny afternoon.

A bottle of the 2010 Xarmant Txakolina costs $17.

More White Wines | Red Wines | More Under $20

Dining Atlanta: Week of January 16, 2012

By Eric Harvison

Dining Atlanta spotlights what is opening and closing around the city. Check in at the beginning of each week to find out what is changing in your neighborhood.

Click here to read earlier columns

Around Town

Two new food trucks hitting the streets: IBIZA BITES is serving up menu items including bison short ribs over stone ground cheddar grits. ROLLING REUBEN’S is offering favorites from their Broad Street brick and mortar deli.

Avondale Estates

Owner Denise Gerard has settled on BREWHOUSE CAFÉ AVONDALE as the permanent name for the pub that has in the last few months been known as the JAMES JOYCE, HAIL MARY SPORTS BAR and most recently, AVONDALE ARMS. Signage is expected to go up this week.

Brookhaven

BACI RESTAURANT & BAR mentioned as “coming soon” a couple weeks ago is having their soft opening today. Town Brookhaven development.

Buckhead

HOOTERS knock-off coming to Tower Walk on Piedmont. TWIN PEAKS, a mountain sports lodge themed “breastaurant” featuring provocatively clad “LumberJills” and a menu consisting almost entirely of comfort food and cold beer is slated to open some time this summer.

Chamblee

STEAM KOFFEE in Chamblee Village, 5300 Peachtree has opened. In addition to the usual coffee and pastries, the coffee house/café will offer cheese plates, wines and desserts. Proprieter Roderick Pierre comes from BerNiko, an importer of high quality wines and spirits, so look for some interesting wine offerings.

Forest Park

TACO RANCHO inside the State Farmers’ Market has bought the farm-o.

Lindbergh

URBAN FLATS has closed. Again.

Midtown

BELLISSIMA nightclub on Amsterdam Walk closed. Owner Anna Ragghianti had been trying to sell the three year old nightclub for some time but reportedly was unable to find a buyer who was acceptable to Halpern Enterprise, owner of the Amsterdam Walk development.

Vinings

CAFÉ AT PHARR is the “restaurant to be named later” that will be taking over the former GRAPE space in Vinings Jubilee.

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Eric Harvison’s Dining Notes began a few years ago as a sporadic e-mail exchange with a friend, sharing restaurant openings and trying to satisfy that vague urge to dine “somewhere new.” That friend started forwarding Eric’s messages to some of her friends, several of them food industry professionals. They in turn began passing along bits of restaurant news and gossip that they would come across. These exchanges became more frequent and took on a viral life of their own that has evolved into what you read today.

Aside from the occasional editorial comment, Eric won’t attempt to review these restaurants. There’s plenty of others better qualified, with much more refined palates — probably you. Rather, this is an attempt to help you keep up with the constantly changing Atlanta dining scene, for better or worse.

Dining Atlanta: Week of January 9, 2012

By Eric Harvison

Dining Atlanta spotlights what is opening and closing around the city. Check in at the beginning of each week to find out what is changing in your neighborhood.

Click here to read earlier columns

Out of Town

Worth noting that Charlie Trotter has announced he will close his eponymous Lincoln Park restaurant at the end of August, ending a 25 year run as one of Chicago’s (if not the nation’s) most sought after reservations. Trotter is reported to be planning to open another restaurant sometime in the future, after he completes work on his master’s degree in philosophy.

Onetime prominent Atlanta chef Joël Antunes (JOEL) recently opened a new London restaurant in Mayfair, this time Provençal style, called KITCHEN JOEL ANTUNES.

Briarcliff

The IGA supermarket at the corner of Briarcliff and Clairmont that has operated under an assortment of names over the past 50+ years closed on January 1st. A new QuickTrip gas station with an expanded convenience store is reportedly going to be erected on the property, following the demolition of the existing IGA structure.

Brookhaven

POUR WINE MARKET & TASTING ROOM has recently undergone a change of ownership with plans to transform the concept into a wine bistro, bar and tapas restaurant. 1418 Dresden Drive.

Buckhead

The changeover from VIA to ISTANBLUE on Pharr Road mentioned last week did involve a change of ownership with new owner Okan Ozyukteri taking the helm of the 110 seat, now Turkish restaurant.

LOST DOG TAVERN hopes to open in mid February at 3162 Roswell Road.

MODERN restaurant cleared an important hurdle towards opening in the former COPELANDS space on Piedmont Road, gaining approval from the Buckhead NPU Safety Committee last week. Buckhead Patch reports that the restaurant will feature a fine dining area, a “more casual dining spot for five course meals for $65 per person” (yikes!), and an early morning/late night café for coffee, beer and wine.

OLDE TOWNE TAVERN & GRILLE (Dining Atlanta, December 19) plans to open on January 15th.

Former ABATTOIR executive chef and co-owner Joshua Hopkins revealed his future plans with the announcement of STG TRATTORIA, coming to 102 West Paces Ferry. The restaurant from BOCADO‘s Brian Lewis will offer pizza and casual Italian cuisine. Chef de cuisine will be former SOTTO SOTTO sous chef Adam Waller.

TAVERN 99 has new ownership, a new chef and an upgraded menu. 128 East Andrews Drive.

Kitchenware retailer Sur la Table will replace the former Williams-Sonoma shop in Phipps Plaza.

Kirkwood

THE PULLMAN will open this Friday at 1992 Hosea Williams Drive. Serving modern American cuisine at the former JAK’S ALL INN/ACES BAR & GRILLE location.

Midtown

After 7 years Rufus Terrill has closed O’TERRILL’S IRISH PUB on Piedmont. Their website advises that a new concept will be coming later this year.

The Georgian Terrace Hotel has announced plans to open a new (yet unnamed) casual bar later this spring. LIVINGSTON will remain as the hotel’s full service restaurant.

Included in the recent Atlanta City Council’s list of local restaurants granted permission to open at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is CHICKEN N BEER, a new venture from Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, which is destined to open sometime soon on the D Concourse. As a result, Bridges and partner Chris Yeo have subsequently closed their long struggling STRAITS restaurant on Juniper. Bridges told the AJC’s Leon Stafford, “STRAITS was a great segue into the industry and with CHICKEN N BEER I can create my own concept. I look forward to expanding my creativity and driving to a much higher plane.”

Reported that sports lounge/seafood grill FINS will open later this year at the corner of 12th and Crescent.

Vinings

Vinings Patch reports that the flagship Vinings Jubilee location of THE GRAPE has closed. This leaves the Atlantic Station location as their last surviving shop/wine bar in Georgia. Jubilee property manager Terri Hilderhoff was quoted advising that another restaurant is lined up to replace them but details cannot be announced yet.

Westview

Jackson, Mississippi’s legendary soul food restaurant BIG APPLE INN is planning to open in Atlanta’s Westview neighborhood, according to Creative Loafing.

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Eric Harvison’s Dining Notes began a few years ago as a sporadic e-mail exchange with a friend, sharing restaurant openings and trying to satisfy that vague urge to dine “somewhere new.” That friend started forwarding Eric’s messages to some of her friends, several of them food industry professionals. They in turn began passing along bits of restaurant news and gossip that they would come across. These exchanges became more frequent and took on a viral life of their own that has evolved into what you read today.

Aside from the occasional editorial comment, Eric won’t attempt to review these restaurants. There’s plenty of others better qualified, with much more refined palates — probably you. Rather, this is an attempt to help you keep up with the constantly changing Atlanta dining scene, for better or worse.

It’s Time for Wine: Wines, Wineries and Dining for the New Year

DeLoach, Moshin, Oakville Ranch, and Brassica

By Monty and Sara Preiser

It is time to start planning your California wine country trip if you intend to travel to California during the 2012 season. Many wineries that you will want to see will start filling their appointment slots a few months in advance of your arrival, so we recommend early reservations to confirm visits to the places you desire. We will try to help you along in your selection process with profiles of a number of wineries over the next month or two.

DeLoach Vineyards

We have been recommending DeLoach as a must visit for a number of years now, and somehow the superb wines continue to improve. There has to be a line beyond which they cannot get any better, but we don’t know where that is or when it might be reached.

At our last tasting, which was not blind, we highly graded each wine and began to wonder whether we were influenced by our previous love of the wines, respect and friendship with the owners and managers, and/or our enjoyment of the property. We well know that all these things affect perception. So even though we do not place much stock in number scores, we took a look at what the major magazines had said, figuring that a few wines would have received fair scores, a few good, and a few very good (thus, we would have actually learned nothing). Amazingly, 11 wines (most of the portfolio) had received scores of between 90 – 95 points from respected publications. So we are certainly not alone in giving high kudos to DeLoach.

We do have our favorites, however, and drink them whenever the opportunity arises. For Chardonnay we are partial to those from the 2009 Durell Vineyard ($50), and the 2009 O.F.S. ($32). For Pinot Noirs we gravitate to the 2008 Green Valley ($45), 2008 Swicegood ($45), and 2008 Maboroshi ($45). And for Zin we think the 2008 Forgotten Vines ($36) rivals California’s best, though with that said, the 2008 Nova ($32) is almost as good.

deloachvineyards.com
(707) 526-9111

Moshin Vineyards

Off the beaten path for sure, a visit to Sonoma County’s Moshin is a welcome throwback to the times of simpler tasting rooms and smaller family operated wineries.  The first person we saw was taking out the trash, and he turned out to be the owner, Rick Moshin, who, with his wife Amber, pretty much run the whole shooting match.

We first sampled a superb 2010 Morris Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Gris ($21), which is mostly sold to the wine club only (a good reason to join). We then talked about varying styles of Sauvignon Blanc as we sipped the outstanding 2009 Dry Creek Valley Larrick Vineyard ($22) with its perfectly rounded finish. From there we moved on to Chardonnays, and will highly recommend the 2008 Russian River Valley ($28) and the 2008 Bacigalupi ($38). If you know what fabulous wines come from the latter vineyard, and what many other wineries charge for Bacigalupi Chard, you will easily recognize the good deal to be found at Moshin.

Then came a number of the winery’s outstanding Pinot Noirs (who could have fathomed they made so many different bottles at this lovely, but small, facility?). Using the fruit from some of the state’s most noted vineyards, the winery’s specialty in producing this varietal shines. We appreciated the opportunity to recognize distinct differences between 6 or 7 different Pinots (most of them vineyard designates). We also appreciated the price points, which ran anywhere from $26 to $65 per bottle – something for everyone for certain. Our favorites were the 2007 Moshin Estate ($65), the 2008 Morris Ranch ($44), and the 2008 Halo’s Hill ($45). Besides the varietals we mentioned above, Moshin offers Merlot, Petite Syrah, a Late Harvest, and Zinfandel. Tastings are daily from 11:00 am to – 4:30 pm, and tours are available by appointment.

moshinvineyards.com
(707) 433-5499

Oakville Ranch

You never know what is at the top of any mountain range in wine country, and so if you can arrange a tour (or two or three) at the right place(s), you are in for some gorgeous scenery and an opportunity to learn some viticulture as well. Oakville Ranch is one of those “right” places, not only for the views, but for the wine. Sitting on a sloping plateau that rises to 1400 feet on the east side of Napa, the rocky volcanic soils slowly release nutrients to the vines that already have to struggle to force their roots to water. These factors lead to wines that are highly concentrated in flavor.

We recently toured the estate with affable and interesting vineyard manager Phil Coturri, and then dined with GM Paula Kornell and winemaker Anne Vawter, both women of brains and beauty. We tasted through the entire portfolio, and choosing which wine to recommend is easy – all of them. Each in its own way is a serious example of how good wine can be (and at a reasonable prices, too).

The 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($45) makes you remember how good a balanced big Chardonnay can be, even (perhaps we should say especially) when most of it ages in new oak. Unfortunately the 2008 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is sold out, but year in and year out this wine features concentrated black fruits co-existing with spices from layer to layer. So keep an eye out for 2009. Our favorite varietal might be Cabernet Franc, and so we are in love with the 2007 Robert’s Blend ($92), which has 90% Cab Franc and boasts flavors of black cherries and blueberries supported by bold tannins. And while we are not always lucky enough to prefer the least expensive product of whatever kind, here the 2009 Field Blend ($32), a combination of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, hits our palates in precisely the right manner.

oakvilleranch.com
(707) 944-9665

Brassica Mediterranean Kitchen and Winebar

There is nothing that famed chef Cindy Pawlcyn cannot do when it comes to culinary ventures. Her newest restaurant, Brassica (which is Latin for a family of plants known as mustards that grow in both Napa and the Mediterranean), is already a hit among locals and will no doubt be one of the “go to places” once the season begins in May.

The cuisine at Brassica, inspired by the flavors of Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East, is like nothing else in wine country. Traditional dishes (though each with an additional unknown oomph that great chefs all seem able to add) such as humus, baba ghanoush, fried stuffed olives, and stuffed grape leaves, are joined on the menu by what will soon be signature dishes such as coriander & thyme braised rabbit; Tunisian halibut; crispy whole sardines; and leek & pancetta risotto with fried egg. All delicious. But a true destination dish is the succulent Moroccan lamb shank, which easily qualifies as the best we have ever had.

What about wine? Well, Brassica offers the most extensive by-the-glass wine list in the Valley with a focus on small producers as well as an eclectic assortment of local wines on tap that have been produced just for Cindy. Look for the “Brassica 12” on the wine list or menu, as this section showcases a dozen small production Napa winemakers that do not have their own tasting rooms. The opportunity to order small tasting pours allows for wonderful experimentation. Brassica has it all.

brassicanapavalley.com
(707) 963-0700

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It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November. In fall 2011 the Preisers released the first issue of The Preiser Key to Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

Wine Trends for 2012

Broaden your wine horizons and stay ahead of the curve in 2012. The Amateur Gastronomer predicts what wine trends will be big in the new year.

The Return of Merlot

The much-maligned Merlot will be making its comeback in 2012! The grape and wine took a hit after the 2004 release of the movie “Sideways,” in which the main character Miles refuses to drink Merlot. In the years since the movie came out California winemakers have gone back to the drawing board, working with Merlot grapes to bring out their best qualities and flavors. The latest Merlots are better than ever so it is time you gave them another taste.

Box Wine

This isn’t your parents’ boxed wine (or that sweet stuff you drank in college). The new crop of cubed vino is offering some tough competition to bargain-priced bottles in terms of taste, convenience and cost. Brands like Santiago Station from Chile and Bota Box from California make easy to drink crowd-pleasing wines that are on par with other wines in the $7 – $9 bottle price range. A 3-liter box generally costs between $15 and $20 – pretty good when you take into account that the box contains the equivalent of four bottles.

Boxed wines are great for tailgating, parties and picnics, or for people who don’t want much more than a glass of wine a night. Because of the packaging the wine is not exposed to air – that means the wine can last for a month or so after you pour your first glass.

Wines from Patagonia

Argentina’s newest wine producing region is coming into its own with bold wines that are earning rave reviews. Vineyards are located in the province of Neuquén, about 680 miles southwest of Buenos Aires and just south of the province of Mendoza. The grapes grown are mainly Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), as well as the lesser-known Tannat. For a taste of the high quality wines being produced in Patagonia try one from Bodega del Fin del Mundo or Bodega NQN.

Mourvedre

In 2012 it’s time to give Mourvèdre the recognition it deserves. The “M” in “GSM” blends (along with Grenache and Syrah), Mourvèdre can be outstanding when it is on its own. This red wine grape adds structure, tannins and dark berry flavors when blended, and produces a bold and intense wine as a single variety.

You’ll find Mourvèdre blended with other red wine grapes in southern France (like the Rhone and Chateauneuf du Pape), and in central California (like Paso Robles and Santa Barbara County). Look to these regions for wines made entirely from Mourvèdre. Bandol, on France’s Mediterranean Coast, is the go-to place for exceptional Mourvèdre. You’ll also see it as a single variety in Spain, where it is called Monastrell. Additionally, Mourvèdre produces a red wine drinker’s rosé wine – aromatic and full-flavored, perfect for warm and sunny days.

Albariño

Give Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio a break this spring and summer. As the temperatures rise the white wine to drink will be the lesser known Albariño. This grape and wine come from the Rías Baixas region in northwest Spain. You’ll also find it in Portugal, where it is called Alvarinho. Albariño produces dry and fragrant wines that are high in acidity with moderate alcohol. It is the ideal summer white, pairing with anything from seafood and salads to picnics and afternoons at the beach.

Cork Alternatives

Now that the debate between natural corks and screw tops has effectively been settled, there’s less of a stigma on alternative wine bottle closures. This year look for the newest ways wineries are sealing their bottles, from glass corks to the plastic ZORK.