Archive | December, 2020

Letters from Readers: Wine Pairing for Pasta Con le Sarde

24 Dec

I love when readers reach out looking for wine suggestions. So it made me happy when broadcast audio engineer and self-described beer aficionado Stevie G reached out and sent me a wine pairing inquiry. He sent a recipe link he was prepping from Serious Eat’s Pasta Con Le Sarde, what he calls “a pretty traditional Holiday dish from Sicily”. “So I was thinking,”, he said, “What wine would JvB pair with this?”

Good question, indeed.

My stomach thought, “Wow that sounds good right about now…”

My memory banks were recalling the reflection of the sun on the ocean, and the smell of the Mediterranean when going from Sicily to Sardinia, and the delicious flavors that accompanied every meal. 

From my travels, heading to Sardinia- Jim van Bergen


While touring the region, I had a similar dish. It was simply delicious. The balance of saffron with toasted fennel, superbly fresh sardines, and pine nuts is an unusual, savory,  and delicious treat for the palate. 


The Serious Eats recipe that Stevie shared calls for saffron steeped in warmed white wine, which I think elevates the recipe. My reaction was pretty immediate: Salivating!  Thinking of the flavor profiles, my wine training leaps into action with two answers, no questions: Either Grillo, from Sicily or Vermentino, from Sardinia. Knowing that the zesty, fruity, dry and fresh Vermentino is more easily found on nrighborhood wine stores, my reply to Stevie G blurts out.

“For Pasta Con la Sarde, I would pair an un-oaked vermentino from Sardinia! The dish needs fresh, herbal, and citrus components to maintain the delicate palate and balance with the fresh sardine, pasta, fennel & saffron.”

Stevie was pretty blasé. 

“Cool. I don’t drink white much, but heck I’ll give it a shot. What could possibly go wrong ?”

I found it hard to process when someone asks for a wine suggestion, but then says they don’t drink much white wine. I know what he meant: He doesn’t drink it. For a moment, I wondered if I’d hear back, or if Stevie would pull out a beer and ignore my suggestion. But my phone went off, my mind shifted elsewhere, and I focused on other things until I heard back.

Stevie G’s dish 

Only a day later, Stevie wrote me again, and shared the above image. 

“Yeah… You DO know about your wines. The pairing was great! Both fruity notes complemented each other. The coolness of the vermentino helped temper the four-spice spiciness. Thanks for the Holiday recommendation! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, as well!”


All’s well that ends well, no? Except that if you are remotely hungry, you are now thinking about making this recipe… because it’s delicious. 


A memory of finding great local wines while touring Italy

I did a little digging looking for the origin of this dish, trying to understand the recipe a little better. In Messina, the sauce is made in a ‘white’ style, without the saffron. So I started searching for an origin story, and found one!

Bolognese Foodie & blogger Filippo from tells the backstory of this recipe & story on his blog that I have excerpted below:

The origin of Sicilian sardines pasta is intertwined with an act of rebellion and revenge.

At the beginning of the 9th Century A.D., Euphemius of Messina, the commander of the Byzantine navy had been a man of power. According to the legend, the influence of Euphemius was too much for the Byzantine empire; so, the Emperor Michael II the Amorian ordered the demotion and the mutilation of the nose of the Commander on charges of the presumed kidnapping and marrying a nun.

In response to that accusations, that Euphemius considered outrageous, the former commander retreated in Africa along with a clutch of trusted men and hooked up with the Saracens.

On June 14 827, Euphemius sailed to the southern coast of Sicily and reached the bay of Capo Granitola, near to Mazara del Vallo after a three-day storm. The Saracens sailors were tired and hungry. The pantry was almost empty, and the soldiers needed an energetic meal before the battle.

At this moment the cook of the boat prepared a dish with the few ingredients at his disposal: wild fennel, pine nuts, dried pasta, saffron, raisin and the sardines caught in the water of the Sicilian bay. The legend says the Sicilian Pasta con le Sarde has been born that day!



And there it is. Thanks Stevie G! Cheers, Happy Holidays, and a Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones. 


à votre santé!


2020 Holiday Wines

17 Dec

Happy Holidays!
As we wrap up this unprecedented, dumpster fire of a year, we still have holidays to celebrate while quarantined at home. What we know is, WE NEED MORE WINE.

So here are JvB’s wine picks for the Christmas Holidays to wrap up 2020!

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you should ignore white wine. 

You should start the festivities with something dry, fun , and fruity! Albariño is what you should be looking for! This is a wine you can start to pour anytime, while cooking, when you’re still opening presents, and before or after the big meal, this is fresh and zesty and will keep people happy all day long!  You are looking for wines from Spain’s Rías Baixas region, the southwestern coast of Galicia, to source some stunning, Mediterranean  Albariño! Some of the better-known producers you’ll find on the shelves include Paco & Lola, Martin Codax,  Pazo de Señorans, Castro Martin Family Estate, and Pazo Pondal. 

Total Wine has over a dozen Albariño wines from Rías Baixas ranging from $10-$30, has almost two dozen bottles in the same range. These are high pleasure wines that deliver. They drink well on their own, and best of all, they pair amazingly well with the appetizers, the vegetable sides you’ll be serving, AND the meats, whether you are serving a turkey or other bird, ham, or roast. 


Ready to raise your game? You need a delicious and decadent white wine.  White Rhône Blends are what you should be looking for. These wines from the South of France have a fuller mouthfeel, while still providing fresh fruit notes and broad acidity. When I pour these wines for a first-timer at the tasting table, tasters consistently find these wines to be a glamorous experience and are immediately impressed. Whether that is for you or for your family, it can’t hurt, right?   

People get confused by the term Rhône blend. It’s quite simple: winemakers will blends several Rhône grape varieties to make a lovely mixture- from grapes such as bourbolenc, grenache blanc, roussane, marsanne, clairette blanche, and picpoul. They might be hard to pronounce, but all you have to do is enjoy! And the resulting, fuller mouthfeel and luxurious response will continue to improve as you pair the wine with roast, goose, turkey, baked ham, or other complex flavor combinations from the holiday meal.

One of my favorite winemakers of Rhône style wines is Sue Tipton of  Acquiesce Winery in Lodi, California. (Sidebar: yes, it’s California and not France. She uses the same grapes in a different location, but with similar Mediterranean growing weather & conditions.) Tipson’s Rhône-style wines simply shine with brilliance, flavor, and joy in the bottle, and of course, I heartily suggest you try their wines! (Click the link above!) But every decent wine store in the USA will also have Rhône style blends, from luxurious Hermitage and Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blancs to the entry-level La Vielle Ferme Blanc for a mere  $7.50 at Total Wine ,  which is most likely in a prominent aisle in your local wine store! You’ll find a bevy of wines in between those ranges.

OK, – let me take a breath. Ahhhh. It’s December. There is snow on the ground in many places. And we’re with only our closest family. Let me take another breath, and think pleasant thoughts:  

“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.” – Andre Simon     

Moving ahead! 

When it comes to choosing red wines for the holiday meal, it is imperative to do your best in pairing the wine choice with the meal. For a great food & wine pairing, we must match the weight of the food with the weight of the body in wine. So you are looking for bright and fruity with medium to moderate weight. Here are three great options, easily found on your local store’s shelves or at Total Wine or (And NO, I’m not advertising them, I’m just trying to help you find wines more easily.)

Cru Beaujolais. Here we have the structure and depth of expensive pinot noir at a fraction of the cost. You can choose to age these, or drink them relatively young! The ten crus (regions) are divided into two groups, first,  those you are LIKELY to find: Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, and Moulin-à-Vent. Secondly, those that are more rare: Chinas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Régnié, and St-Amour.  You should be able to find wines from Fleurie (known for floral aromatics and bright fruit)  or Morgon (known for depth, robust flavor, and structure) in most wine stores int the $20-40 range, and these wines consistently deliver far above their price point. 

Chianti Classico: Towards the full-bodied side, these wines are made from Sangiovese grapes grown under the lovely Tuscan sun, they are refined wines with lovely tannin and structure that range from high teens to mid 30’s in price. It’s hard to go wrong here, if you know the secret: look for the black rooster on the label, which is the guarantee that the wine is indeed from the DOCG Chianti Classico! You’ll recognize some of the most popular winemakers: Antinori, Banfi, Castello di Monsanto, Mazzei, Ruffino, Santa Margherita, and Viticcio just to name a few. Highly popular, easy to drink in quantity, and always delivering high quality.  Chianti Classico is NOT just for Italian food. Trust me. Try it. You’ll thank me.  

Rioja Riserva is still under appreciated in the USA, which is good for those in the know. It’s funny, because a “JS 93 point” Chianti Classico wine is almost $30, but you can grab a JS 92 point Rioja for $14 bucks! In Rioja you’re going to find the Tempranillo grape, usually with oak aging, and moderate tannin, in a very food-friendly approach. These wines are highly structured like Cabernet Sauvignon, with beautiful fruit like Garnacha/Grenache.  Truly, what’s not to like?  Bodegas LAN, Bodegas Muga, Faustino, Marques de Murrieta, Marques de Riscal, R. Lopez de Heredia, Viña Ardanza,  and Viña Real are just a few of the household names you should be able to find on your local shelves with price ranges from the $15- $50; with a slew of killer options in the high teens to high 20’s. One more bit of knowledge is that it’s easier to find AGED Rioja on the shelf, to increase your wine lover’s drinking pleasure. Both Total Wine and have bottles from 2009-2011 for around $30. Talk about a mic drop moment- BOOM! You’ll be amazed at how fabulous these wines are, and how well they pair with your meal. 

Let us take another breath.


I’ve likely given you TOO much to consider, but I always think more options are better. 


As we wrap up this dumpster fire of a year, I look forward to 2021 with the awesome news that in spite of the trauma and drama of covid-19,   JvBUnCorked continues to thrive in blog form as well as on Twitter and Instagram. And I can not wait to get back to doing tastings and wine dinners with you in person! 


What are YOU looking forward to in 2021? 

à votre santé!


Domaine Rose-Dieu Plan de Dieu, 2014

8 Dec

Domaine Rose-Dieu 2014 “Plan De Dieu”, 14.5% ABV, Approx $16/bottle in 2016.

Most wine lovers have favorites when it comes to Côtes du Rhône village-level wines.  This one I found locally for about $16, but I’ve seen as low as $12 online!  Domaine Rose Dieu’s Plan De Dieu, a full-bodied, spicy blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre (GSM). The flavor profile includes black currant, bramble, blackberry, licorice, tobacco, and pepper with tertiary notes of tar & herbs; this wine is made to pair with food. It excels doing so with robust flavors of meat, cheese, or game. 



Domaine Rose-Dieu is a southern Rhône winery,  located 36 km north of Avignon. Founded in 2002 and operated by Damien Rozier, Domaine Rose-Dieu encompasses 40 hectares across four appellations, and offers seven blended wines (five red, one rose, and one white) from  grenache, syrah, cinsault, carignan, bourboulenc, and roussane grapes grown on the property.

At this price point, Domaine Rose-Dieu is a solid producer you can trust to your cellar. These wines can be enjoyed while young, but will show best with 3-5 years of age. 



à votre santé!!


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