Wine on Wednesdays – Rigatoni Red

When I worked at my Uncle Tony’s liquor store in high school, I was often approached by customers asking me to recommend a wine to go with a particular dish.

Rigatoni Red

Rigatoni Red

Aside from the fact that they were asking a 16-year-old for wine advice, I did my best to accomodate them. Yet since my wine knowledge was rather limited at the time, some of the pairings were questionable.

Pork chops with apricot sauce? You might try this Mogen David made from Concord grapes. Cashew chicken? How about Richard’s Wild Irish Rose? Traditional Thanksgiving dinner? I suggest Riuniti on ice. It’s nice!

Well, a couple of wine importers from New York are offering a solution to the problem of which wine to serve with a particular entree. Cousins Darren and Ben Restivo, owners of Biagio Cru & Estate Wines, have launched the Food & Wine Collection, which pairs particular foods wines the company develops with selected vintners.

The wine I tried is called “Rigatoni Red” and it is made with a blend of varietals grown in Puglia, Italy, which is traditionally thought to be the place pasta was invented.

The wine was affordable, priced at $9.99/bottle. I paid $8.49 with the 15% discount I get at my wine store for buying 6 bottles or more at once.

I actually tried it twice, once without pasta and once with rigatoni and red sauce.The first time I enjoyed its smooth flavor on its own. It sort of had a Merlot-like mellowness going for it, with a little bit of a cherry tang. Definitely not a fruit bomb.

I wondered how it would stand up to a rich tomato-and-garlic pasta sauce. The answer is surprisingly well. The flavors of the wine and the pasta complemented each other so  that both ended up tasting even better than they would by themselves, which is the way successful food and wine pairings are supposed to work.

The company also offers Bar-B-Que Red, made with grapes from France’s Rhone Valley; Fresh Catch White, a blend of Sicilian varietals; and Ribeye Red, which is composed of a blend of grapes from Argentina’s Fanatina Valley.

I haven’t seen those wines yet, but I’m looking forward to trying them. Especially if they pair as well with those dishes as Rigatoni Red did with the pasta.


Wine on Wednesdays – Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir

I bought this wine because the sign at the wine market said it was made by a vineyard owned by cyclist Lance Armstrong. I’ve been a fan of the Tour de France for many years now and with this year’s race in full swing, that was enough for me to give it a chance.

Turns out the sign was fibbing. The wine is made by Hahn Estates Winery of Monterey County, Californina, and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong apparently has nothing to do with Cycles Gladiator wines.

Still, this pinot noir is a champion in my book.

First of all, it passes the affordability test: As you may recall, I cap my budget wines at $7.99/bottle or less. This one came in at $6.79 with the 15% volume discount for buying 6 or more mixed wines.

Secondly, it has an interesting back story. Cycles Gladiator is named after a 19th Century French bicycle manufacturer and includes that company’s original promotional poster on its label, which features a nude woman riding a bicycle.

That was enough to cause the Alabama state legislature to ban the wine’s sale in 2009. When news stories about the ban broke, sales of Cycles Gladiator wines went through the roof all over the country, causing many other wineries to request that Alabama ban their wines as well, I’m sure.

Finally, it passes the most important test of all, the flavor test.

Frequently, inexpensive wines don’t taste like the varietal they are made from, and many are just plain bad, which is why I’m cautious about spending money on an affordable wine I’ve never tried before.

I’m glad I took a chance with this one, however, because this pinot noir is not only balanced and delicious, but it has all the qualities of a traditional pinot: Cherry flavor, smooth, no tanginess, and just the slightest hints of sweetness and smoke.

One reviewer compared the taste of Cycles Gladiator pinot noir to the taste of Pepsi Cola. While that’s a little far out there, I can understand what made them say that.

So even though my local wine market used a little false advertising, I’m glad they did because otherwise I probably never would have picked up this lovely, affordable and delicious wine.

On a related note: There are only two days per year when there are no major American sporting events going on, and today is one of them. On the day before and the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star game, there are no other major sports scheduled.

That doesn’t include the Tour de France, however, which is one of the greatest televisoin to watch, in my opinion.

This year, NBC Sports Network is featuring live daily coverage and multiple daily replays of the 21-day race, which features some of the best athletes in the world competing in a grueling cycling competition over the village streets and mountains roads of France. The stunningly beautiful images are awe-inspiring, especially in high definition.

American Lance Armstrong, 7-Time Winner of the Tour de France

Although not the maker of this wine, American Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France more than any person in the race’s history, but now he may be stripped of his titles because of doping allegations. While Armstrong hasn’t been convicted of anything yet, every day more witnesses — including some of the biggest names in cycling — are coming forward to confirm the allegations.

This is especially sad because Armstrong’s successful battle against cancer and his Livestrong Foundation have inspired millions of cancer victims and their loved ones through the years. While it’s still too early to pass judgement, I hope the charges are untrue, at least for their sake.