"Good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used."

Love it or hate it, Prosecco is here to stay

Mionetto

Mionetto

It's crisp, refreshing, and Italian. It's Prosecco!

Haven't tried Prosecco yet? Well, if you haven't you're either a person of superbly defensive good taste; or missing out on the wine story of the last few years. 

First off, what's Prosecco? It's an Italian sparkling wine. Unlike Champagne, it's usually quite cheap. Your typical bottle of Prosecco won't run you much more than $10. The main difference between the Grande Dame of beverages and its lesser Italian cousin is that Champagne gets its bubbles from a secondary fermentation process in-bottle. Not so, Prosecco.

When I first got into wine, in the 1980s, you never saw Prosecco. Now you see it everywhere. We served it as an aperitif at my wedding — and even then, we were on the leading edge of a trend. But nowadays, being handed a glass of Prosecco when you walk into a dinner party is as common as being handed a Martini used to be (not sure if that's progress, but there you have it).

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Weekend not wine: What to drink while watching the Super Bowl? Cider!

Woodchuck Cider

Hard cider and football — natural companions!

The weekend bring us Super Bowl XLVI (translation: Superbowl 46). You will be exposed to the usual bevy of...beverage! choices. And most of it beer and, for those not yet of age, soda. 

Isn't there anything else?

Why yes there is. It's called hard cider. Everyone probably already knows what this is — it's an alcoholic form of apple cider. But what you need to know is that it's the perfect drink to accompany football, especially the big game. 

Beer is a year-round thing (although there are seasonal brews). Cider is, to my mind, an autumn-winter drink — football season. Nothing is nicer than cracking open a bottle of hard cider (or even better, getting a pint drawn from the tap) on a cool afternoon with some salty snacks on the side. A crackling fire also helps.

So what ciders should you seek out? Well, this isn't the U.K., where there are many hard ciders available. But in the U.S., we still have a quite a lot. One of the better brands is Woodchuck, which sells for about $9 a six-pack. You can also look for Hornsby's, which is a bit cheaper and produced by the Gallo people. I'm not nuts about it on its own, but I think it's quite tasty mixed half-and-half with Sam Adams Boston Lager in what I call a "Shandy," although I understand it's properly known as a "Snakebite."

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Wine Challenge: What to drink with a Philly cheesesteak?

A Philly cheesesteak from Pat's, one of Philadelphia's famous purveyors of the sandwich.

It's a simple combination of, canonically, bread, sliced steak, sometimes onions and always Cheez Whiz. It is not a miracle of healthy eating. But it is the signature sandwich of the City of Brotherly love.

It's the Philly cheesesteak. And thanks to a colleague, it's the first in what will become an ongoing DeWine Report feature: Wine Challenge!

Soooo.... What wine do you drink with a Philly Cheesesteak? I'll admit that I had to think on this one a bit. You have the beefy, the sweet (from the onions) and the tangy (from the Whiz). A rich red wine, say a California Cabernet Sauvignon, would be all wrong. A lighter red might seem to, well...refined for this inimitable street food. 

But wait! What if a somewhat lowbrow sandwich was paired with a highbrow beverage? Eureka! 

Champagne is your pairing. OK, I'm taking the easy way out — Champagne goes with everything. But in this case, I think the combination could be supremely delicious. I wouldn't recommend a truly grand Champers — Salon or Cristal — but you could certainly give Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label a whirl. At $40, it's affordable and it's everywhere.

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Weekend wine: Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel

Who doesn't like Zinfandel? These robust reds are a counterpoint to more refined Cabernets and Merlots. Not that they can't be special in their own right. But for the most part, they're less complicated, less...well, snooty, and certainly less expensive than reds of grander pedigree.

One of my favorites comes from Ridge Vineyards, the idiosyncratic winery that hired Paul Draper as winemaker in 1969. He's still there (he also makes — or rather now oversees the making of — a truly great California Cabernet, Monte Bello). While Ridge pricier Zins, you can usually find the Lytton Springs bottling quite easily. The 2009 vintage retails for about $25.

I think it gives a lot of Cabs at twice the price a real run for their money. The fruit is abundant, dark, and rich. But there are also lots of spicy elements. A wine with plenty of oomph, but also plenty of harmony.

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The best wine to buy when there isn't any wine to buy

A colleague recently suggested that I find a wine that you can buy when you're in a place where...there just isn't that much wine. Like a liquor store that's more about...liquor. Or even maybe a gas station that sells wine.

Luckily, there is no truly bad wine out there anymore. Certain wines may not float your boat as well as others, but you can usually feel pretty comfortable with most wines being fruity, flavorful, and aromatic. So when it comes to the tough question posed by my colleague, you can focus on brand.

And why not make that brand Gallo? Probably the best-known name in California wine, Gallo has a very broad portfolio. Yes, it still makes Hearty Burgundy. But there are plenty of other wines that you can find, just about everywhere. One of these is the Gallo Family Vineyards brand. 

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