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Sparkling wine

Easy Holiday Punch Recipes

Easy Holiday Punch Recipes

As much fun as it is to host friends and family, entertaining can be overwhelming. I am always looking for ways to make things simpler to avoid the stress.  Serving a holiday punch puts the merry back in the holidays.  A good holiday punch eliminates the fuss of setting up a full bar.  Here are three easy holiday punch recipes you can serve at your next festive gathering. Cheers!


Apple Cider Bourbon Punch

Apple Cider Bourbon Punch

Vino 301 served this punch at one of our client’s holiday party recently.  It was a big hit!!! We served the  punch cold and rimmed the glasses with a cinnamon sugar mixture. For an additional surprise, a splotch of caramel was added to the bottom of the glass. The Apple Cider Bourbon Punch can be served warm too. The warm punch will melt the caramel adding a new flavor element.  If you serve it warm, remember to keep the heat low.  You do not want cook away the alcohol.



3 Cinnamon sticks

9 Cloves

1 Star Anise

4 cups Apple cider

1 cup Orange juice (no pulp)

1 cup sugar

½ cup Bourbon or to taste



Orange slices

Cinnamon sugar mixture




In a large pitcher or punch bowl, combine all ingredients and garnish with orange slices. Before serving rim your glasses with cinnamon sugar mixture, and place a dollop of caramel in the bottom of the glass for an added treat. Serves 10 – 15 people


Ornament Punch

photo credit: delish

Ornament Punch

This cocktail reminds me of a Christmas tree decorated with all of the lights and ornaments.  It sparkles, and has traditional red and green colors…hence the name Ornament Punch.  This recipe calls for sparkling wine.  Remember, it is okay to select an inexpensive wine. Select a dry sparkling wine.



2 Granny Smith apples, chopped

1 c. whole fresh cranberries

1 c. green grapes, halved

1 c. pomegranate seeds

2 c. sparkling white grape juice

1 bottle sparkling wine (e.g., Cava or Prosecco)



In a large pitcher or punch bowl, combine apples, cranberries, grapes, and pomegranate seeds. Pour over sparkling grape juice and champagne and stir, then serve.  Serves 8 – 10 people



Ginger Spritz

photo credit: bon appetit

Ginger Spritz

If you are not keen on serving a punch, have a signature cocktail.  Set up a self-serve cocktail station. The Ginger Spritz is a simple four ingredients recipe. It has my new favorite aperitif, Lillet (lee-lay).  Lillet is made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes.  It is flavored with herbs, citrus, spices and fortified with citrus liqueur (17% ABV).  Lillet goes a long way. You do not need generous portions. Also, it should always be served chilled.  Try Ginger Spritz recipe courtesy of bon appétit.



1 thin slice peeled ginger

2 oz. Lillet Blanc

3 oz. sparkling wine (e.g., Cava or Prosecco)

Splash of ginger beer



Place ginger slice against the inside of a rocks glass, fill with ice, and add Lillet and sparkling wine. Top off with ginger beer and stir gently to combine. Single serving.


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Glass Matters:The Best Glass to Sip Sparkling Wine

The Best Glass to Sip Sparkling Wine


Sipping Champagne evokes thoughts of luxury, style and elegance. It is the beverage exclusively served to kings and queens at a moment in history.  It is the Maserati of the wine world. Champagne or sparkling wine has always been in a class by itself.  It is elite and legendary.  Even its glassware has a fabled history.  The vintage coupe glass, first Champagne glassware, was rumored to be inspired by French queen Marie Antoinette.  The first modern glassware was actually designed in England in the 16th century according to Wikipedia and later made popular by the French in the 1700s.  Sparkling wine glassware was to modeled to display its delicate bubbles. As sparkling wine has evolved, so has how people enjoyed sparkling wine.  The vessel which sparkling wine is poured into has changed over time.  When sipping sparkling wine does the style of glass matter?  What is the best glass to sip sparkling wine?


The allure of sparkling wine is the carbonated bubbles.  The second fermentation process creates carbonation delight.  When sparkling wine is well chilled the carbon dioxide is slowly released creating a symphony of tiny bubbles. You want the perfect glassware to prolong the gentle stream of bubbles.  Glass Matters!!! Let us examine the popular glassware.



Coupe is also known as the vintage Champagne glass. It is a saucer design wine glass with a wide bowl and shallow shape.   It was popular in the early 20th century.  During that time a sweet syrup was added to Champagne making a dessert delight.  As Champagne drinkers’ palate moved towards a drier style wine, Champagne dessert lost its fizz.  So, did the Coupe.  Bubbles quickly disappear in the Coupe glass.  The shallow bowl design permits aromas and bubbles to escape quickly due to the large surface area.  In English, this means your sparkling wine will go flat very fast.  Do not throw away your Coupe glasses if you are nostalgic. You can use these glasses for desserts or cocktails.


Flute Glass

Bubbles, bubbles and more bubbles.  If bubbles are important to you, you will love the Flute style.  The Flute slender bowl design is made to capture the carbonation at the bottom of the glass and the bubbles rapidly rise to the rim of the glass.  Fizz, fizz and fizz again.  The Flute gets an A++ for fizz, but a C- for capturing flavors and aromas.  Its small rim circumference restricts smells to collect and develop.  Flavors and aromas are lost as a result. According to wine experts, this is problematic when tasting older wines or complex wines.  Older wines need more air space to develop and its flavors to appear in the wine tasting experiences.  Isn’t this true for all of us maturing.  We need a little more space and time to express ourselves.



The Flute traditional has a long stem for drinkers to hold the glass.  Modern or trendy Flutes are stemless. Stay traditional. Sparkling wine is best when it is served well chilled.  Chilled sparkling wines are between 41 – 46 degrees Fahrenheit (6 to 7 degrees Celsius).  You want to avoid holding the glass by the bowl.  Your hand will warm the wine when you hold the glass at the bowl affecting the temperature.

If you are clutching onto your Flutes, refusing to get rid of them and ready to boycott Vino 301’s blog, wait!  Here is a compromise.  Try a Tulip glass.  Tulip glasses are similar to flutes but permits more air space.  Tulip glasses have a similar slender base but the bowl gradually increases in width giving it a wider rim.  You are able to maintain the wine fizz, while capturing aromas.  This style is preferred by more professional wine tasters.


White Wine Glass

There is a movement in the wine world to use classic white wine glasses for sparkling wine tasting.  Yes, you heard me correctly,  white wine glasses.   But what about the sophistication, the elegance, the exclusivity?  Sparkling wine is not your everyday Moscato, you say.  We hear you.  The argument is sparkling wine is more diverse, more complex than it has ever been. It should be treated more like “real” wine. Sparkling wines are extremely complex and need a larger bowl for its aromas to present themselves.  The flavors will be accentuated and can breathe in a larger glass like white wine glass.   Using a white wine glass will not diminish Champagne’s mystic or character.



Glass matters based on your needs.  Select the wine glass for what best suits your desires.  Personally, the Tulip glass is my favorite.  Do what works for you.  Cheers to you!

Champagne, Sparkling Wines are the Little Black Dress of Wines

Champagne, Sparkling Wines are the Little Black Dress of Wines

Every woman has that dress, that outfit that she can wear to any occasion. It is the little black dress. She can wear it to the office.  Dress it up and she can wear it on date night.   It is versatile and never lets her down.  Sparkling wine is equally  versatile. You can serve it at any celebration.  You can serve sparkling wine with fried chicken or simply sip it while watching your favorite movie.  A sparkling wine will never let you down.

But, why?  Why do sparkling wines complement most foods?  There is not a single reason or a scientific theory that I know of.  Consider a couple of factors.



Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Moscato d’Asti, and other sparkling wines and made from different vintage wines.  The vintage is the year the wine is produce. Winemakers use the higher quality wines pressed from each year and combine the pressings to create cuvée sparkling wines. Each year’s wines have unique characteristics and qualities, regardless if the grape is the same.  For example, there are differences between a 2015 Chardonnay and a 2016 which makes each distinguishing.

A buffet of flavors, and characteristics are on display when you bring the best of the best together.  Mr. Chris Hallowell, a wine and spirit journalist, explains the blending process well. Hallowell said, “most bottles are blended from different vintage wines, resulting in a cuvée that’s greater than the sum of its parts; they tend to showcase minerality, a characteristic that adds depth to fruity, savory, meaty, and gamy flavors; and these wines possess an unparalleled acidity that cuts through rich, fatty dishes and surmounts even high-acid ingredients such as tomatoes or vinegars”, in an Epicurious article. Food pairing becomes simpler and less exacting when the wine possess broader traits.

little black dress

Verv Prosecco


All Rules Apply

There are a few rules that prevail when you are pairing food with wine.  These rules eliminate what kinds of wine that should not be paired with certain foods.  This makes the wine selection process easier. For example, opposite flavors with opposite flavors.  You can pair spicy Thai food with semi-sweet Riesling.  When you follow this rule, it eliminates bold, rich reds like Malbec from your selection.  Most importantly, you save your mouth from experiencing a three-alarm fire.

All food pairing rules apply to sparkling wines. Use our earlier example, opposite flavors with opposite flavors.  Pair the same spicy Thai food with a Sec or Demi-Sec sparkling wine.  A Sec or Demi-Sec are semi-dry wines. These wines have a slightly high sweet taste, lower alcohol and reduce the “heat” level impression.

You often hear red wines with red meat. They are complementary flavors. Tannin, found in red wine, will “cut” through the fat and salt in red meat, and not overwhelm the meal.  Interestingly sparkling wines are not high in tannin, although many Champagnes are made with red grapes like Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or Shiraz.  Sparkling wines have similar relationships with fatty, salty foods. Potato chips, French fries, anything wrapped in bacon, or short ribs are good combos with Brut or Extra Dry sparkling wines.  The sparkling wine acidic level brings balance. The food is less salty and fatty on the palate.

Tonight, try a sparkling wine with your meal.  Do not save the bubbles of milestone events. Every day is a celebration.  You something new!


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How Much Wine Do You Serve At A Wedding

How Much Wine Do You Serve At A Wedding Reception

There are so many decisions a bride and groom have to make for the wedding reception. Plated dinner or buffet, band or DJ, open or cash bar are just a few of  questions they have to answer? Our guide to “How Much Wine Do You Serve At A Wedding Reception” will hopefully help you when you are stocking your bar for your wedding reception.


1) Wine, Beer & Spirits: Your decision on how much wine to serve should be based on whether you are serving other alcoholic beverages.  It is common for only beer and wine to be served.   Believe it or not, your guests will drink more beer than wine.  Three bottles of beer to everyone 1 glass will be served.  Sixty percent of your guests will drink beer.

Signature cocktails are among the latest trends at receptions. Whether you decide to have a signature cocktail or a fully stock bar, your guests’ wine consumption is less than 40 percent.  Beer consumption drops significantly.  Guests consume 35% wine,  20 % beer, and 45% cocktails.   How Much Wine You Should Serve at a Wedding Reception


2) Wine Consumption:  You should plan to serve one glass of wine for each hour of the reception.  An 750 ml bottle contains approximately 5 glasses of wine.   Here is a simple formula when Beer and wine are served:

4 hours Reception  and 100 guests

  • 40 guests (only 40% of guests will drink wine) x  1 glass per hour = 40 glasses
  • 40 glasses x 4 hours = 160 glasses
  • 160 glasses / 5 glasses =  32 bottles of wine


3)  Time of Year /Indoor & Outdoor Wedding:  Red and white wine will equally be consumed at an indoor wedding and during winter, spring and fall  weddings.   However, white and sparkling wines consumption will be greater during summer or outdoor weddings. People find white and sparkling wines refreshing during warmer weather.  Sixty percent of white and sparkling wines and 40% red wine should be served at your bar.  This recommendation does not take in consideration the meal served.  You should also plan your wine and meal pair in your wine calculations.


4) Champagne/Sparkling: Sparkling wine (Champagne, Prosecco, etc.) is mainly used for toasting the bride and groom. Two glasses of sparkling wine per guest is the standard.  You can pour 6  glasses of sparkling wine from a standard 750ml bottle. You get more glasses per bottle out of sparkling wine because of the bubbles and the shape of the champagne flute. So here is an example calculation:

  • 100 guests x 2 glasses each = 200 glasses
  • 200 glasses / 6 glasses per bottle = ~34 bottles

Now that you know how much wine you will serve. Wish you all the best in planning your dream wedding.

Pop the Cork on New Year’s Eve … Guide to Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Guide to Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Champagne, Sparkling Wine
The other day a friend and me were talking about New Year’s Eve.  She said, “Should I serve Champagne or sparkling wine”?  My immediate response was, “Champagne is a form of sparkling wine. It all depends upon what you like.”  She gave me a puzzled look, and said “oh ok.”  Thinking about my response I should have provided a better explanation.  I realized she did not know Champagne is among the sparkling wine family.  She thought Champagne is different from sparkling wine.  Champagne has become the brand name for requesting sparkling wine. It is like when you ask someone to hand you a Kleenex®.  You are really asking for a tissue and not the brand Kleenex®.  The brand name has been ingrained in everyday vernacular. 

Champagne has very distinctive characteristics, fermentation methods, and regional restrictions. Here is the Reader’s Digest® version about Champagne.  Champagne is made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.  There is a double fermentation method known as Methode Champenoise.  Lastly,and most importantly to the French and legally,  only sparkling wine produced in the La Champagne region can be called Champagne (except for a few California vineyards.  That is another blog).



Now you know, what do you serve? You have a variety of sparkling wines to select. In addition to Champagne,  there are other sparkling wines styles like Cava and Prosecco. Cava is from Spain. Prosecco is from Italy. Each of these regions have unique grapes that make up the composition of these wines.   



Regardless of the country, there are common descriptions you will see on the label.  Here are the most common:

  • Blanc de Blancs: made from white grapes, like a Chardonnay.  
  • Blanc de Noirs: made from black grapes, like a Pinot Noir. The sparkling will be white in color.  
  • Rose: pink in color.  Semi-dry to sweet to the taste.
  • Doux: very sweet wine.
  • Dry: slightly sweet wine.  
  • Brut: very little sugar, dry and most popular sparkling wine



Your sparkling wine does not have to be international. When you are in your local wine store ask for Maryland sparkling wine.  It is not too late for the wine shop to order it from the vineyard.   
Crow Farm and Vineyard (Kent County, MD) has a delightful 2013 Vidal Sparkling. It is a Guide to Champagne and Sparkling Winesingle varietal wine. Vidal Blanc grape is used, very popular in Maryland.  Vidal Blanc is known for its honeysuckle favor and those with a sweeter palate enjoy this grape.  Do not let this dissuade the traditional drier palate drinkers. The Vidal Sparkling is a dry sparkling wine.  Effervescent, pale golden color, and hints of stone fruit and apple best describes this wine.  The Vidal is made in the Methode Champenoise style sparkling goes through primary fermentation in stainless steel, followed by a secondary fermentation in bottle. Aged for 13 months before being hand disgorged in small lots, then hand corked, caged and labeled.  
Hopefully, this will make your shopping experience a little easier. Cheers to you and Happy New Year!


Selecting the Best Wines for Thanksgiving

Best Wines for Thanksgiving

Regardless if you are hosting or you going to someone’s home you are probably trying to decide what wine should be paired with dinner.  People frequently ask, “What is the perfect wine to serve with Thanksgiving meal?”  Answer:  There isn’t a perfect wine.  There are so many rich and varying flavors, it is impossible to select just one wine.  However there are wines that pair better with thanksgiving.  What are the best wines for Thanksgiving?


Start at your local fine wine store.  Wine stores offer wine tastings on a weekly or daily basis during the holiday season.  You can call or go on their website to find out what days the tastings are available. These tastings are often free.  The store will pour between 4 to 6 wines. This is great opportunity for you to try different varietals.


Bring your dinner menu with you.  The wine representative can offer suggestions on what to pair with the wine. You may find your new favorite wine.


If the store is not offering a tasting, you still may have an opportunity to try an instore tasting.  You may ask the sales person to uncork the wine you are serious about purchasing.  Some stores will uncork the bottle for you.


If you cannot attend an instore tasting, there are no fail wine selection tips you can employee.

TIP #1 – Go with sparkling wine. Everyone likes a sparkling wine (well almost everyone).  Sparkling wine is the most versatile wine.  It is the little black dress of the wine world; it is good for any occasion.  It can be paired with almost any meal.  Try a dry sparkling wine, a brut, with your meal and a demi-sec, sweeter sparkling with dessert. Great Shoals2012 Cuvee Blanc Sparkling Wine, is a Maryland sparkling that is a blend of Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc in a brut style. It is a great way to begin your meal. Best Wines for Thanksgiving


TIP #2 – Some like white, some like red, offer both.  Rarely will all your guests like only white wine or only red. Offer them a choice.  You will look like a very sophisticated host.


TIP #3 – Vidal Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Albarĩno are great complements to side dishes.  Stay away from oaky Chardonnay; it can overwhelm your meal.  You can locate Albarĩno at local vineyards like Black Ankle Vineyard and Serpent Ridge.


TIP #4 – Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Zinfandel complements your hearty and savory dishes. You also can try red blends. Red wine blends, like Meritage and Bordeaux, are excellent with turkey legs and dark meat.


Have a very, very safe and happy Thanksgiving!  Vino 301 Wine Concierge is thankful for your continued support and we wish you well during this holiday season.  Cheers!

Grand Opening of Old Westminster Winery Tasting Room

Vino 301 Wine Concierge’s first endeavor was a self-guided tour of Maryland’s vineyards and wineries.  For a flat fee, a person could go to all of the participating wineries across Maryland and enjoy a wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres. Great project … right?  Well, not so much.  Vino 301 just started and no one knew who we were. No one was interested in taking a chance on a new company. It was a challenge convincing vineyard owners to take a chance on us.


There was one vineyard that stood out during that time.  They were fairly new too.  They just opened their tasting room and were abundantly cautious about participating in our project.  They had their own woes of being a new business. Several calls were placed; selling the merits of this endeavor to the General Manager, Drew Baker.  Mr. Baker finally agreed to Old Westminster Winery participating.   I would love to say the event was a huge success. It wasn’t and we had to cancel it.  However, it was the beginning of partnership between our organizations.


What a difference three years makes.  Since that time, Old Westminster Winery has grown and experienced tremendous success.  Old Westminster officially opened a newer and grander new tasting room earlier in this month.  “It looked like someone’s home, with a huge front porch and beautiful lights, just begging you to come in and have a drink”, is how someone described Old Westminster’s newly opened tasting room.  The building is airy with vaulted ceilings, and plenty of space to socialize.  Outside is beautifully landscaped.  Most of the construction was completed by the family, which is not surprising.  Old Westminster Winery is synonymous with family.  Each member of the Baker family contributes to the success of the vineyard.


Old Westminster is a must visit.  You can bring a picnic with you, but they do have food to purchase. You are always greeted by warm and friendly people, who are extremely knowledgeable about the wines they are pouring.  The staff is always happy to answer any questions you have, even the geeky questions, like what was the growing elevation for these grapes.  On the weekends, they have live entertainment.Farmer Fizz Sparkling Wine


Most importantly, you have to sample the wine. Old Westminster is known for its award winning wines. Our new favorite is the 2014 Farmer Fizz.  Just in time for the holidays.  It is a sparkling wine. Chardonnay-dominated blend. It has crisp apple and citrus flavors, followed by a touch of apricot.  It is youthful, fresh and crisp.

Congratulations Old Westminster Winery and much success.  We look forward to our continued partnership.

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