Thursday, June 30, 2011


Domaine Spiropoulos, Meliasto, 2009

++ // Smooth // Floral // Honey/Hibiscus/Oak // Medium

This was a real find, recommended to us by our local wine shop Fermented Grapes. I forget that Greece has a history of wine production--another knowledge base stolen by the Romans. Even more surprising is that this is a dry Rose'--not fruity nor syrupy. While this wine had a sweet bouquet and sweet flavor notes, there was no hint of the high residual sugar found in many rose' wines. The strong flavors and good body in this hearty wine make it more than capable of standing up to the burgers grilled in summer. Made of 60% Moschofilero grape.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fungus Makes This Wine Better

Question: What is Sauternes?
Consider that fermentation is the delicate act of letting something already delicious rot in the hopes that result will taste even better. I once described the process of making cider-jack to a friend as mixing a gallon of cider with a cup of sugar and saying “plop, don’t turn into vinegar!” If you're lucky, that process creates something truly sublime.

Sauternes is a region of France where Botrytis cinerea, also known as “noble rot,” is common. Grapes are left to dry on the vine and then to become infected with this fungus. The result is a higher sugar content in the wine. Now intensely sweet, the wine will also release strong notes of the fungus--very reminiscent of the best sweet blue cheeses. (In fact, a Sauternes pairs extremely well with a strong blue cheese.) 
You’ll often find this wine on dessert menus. It is not for the weak of heart. Its strong flavors will overpower all but the richest of dishes. But the fullness of the wine, redolent of honey drizzled over blue cheese, can make it the perfect aperitif to sip all by itself.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


California, Sonoma County, Viognier, Imagery Winery, 2009

+ // Crisp // Fruitty // Apple/Mineral // Light
A simple flavor, with strong notes of green apple and stone. Worked well when paired with a dinner of sausage and mustard sauce.
Extra bonus: This winery is particularly known for its beautiful, artist-created wine labels, each featuring a parthenon, the logo of the winery. Below is the label from this Viognier.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bluegrass Brewing Co. (Louisville, KY)

On a recent trip to Louisville, we found ourselves with a day to fill. Since we were staying downtown, we decided to explore. From the NuLu district with its antique shops, to the 4th Steet entertainment district, we spent hours walking under the hot 90+ degree sun. Needless to say, by lunchtime we had worked up a powerful thirst. Skipping the typical chain restaurants on 4th Street, we found ourselves descending into the cool gloom of the Bluegrass Brewing Co. on 3rd and Main (one of three locations in the City).
BBC proved to be a nice find. A little off the beaten path, the bar was fairly quiet on this weekend day. Their beer is brewed on site, and we could spy the occasional tour of the brewing room through the window behind the bar. Tina nursed their Pale Ale, while I made due with their Nutty Brown and their Kolsch, since they were out of the Bourbon Barrel Stout. We enjoyed our drinks and a light lunch, and took some extra time there just to sit and chat.
Of course, part of me can never stop working, so I noted that a good craft brew can be every bit as complex as a good wine. While I have never heard terrior discussed with hops, if anything the brew master's hand is even more obvious. I’ve never really looked into it until now, but apparently there is even a tasting wheel out there for beer. Since I don’t limit myself to wine, I feel compelled to share my beer experiences with you, so expect more on this matter from this blog.

Friday, June 24, 2011

HOW-TO: Read a French Wine Label

As an American, buying french wine is intimidating. Wine is much more ingrained in the French culture than it is here in the States, and they seem to revel in exposing our ignorance. Take a French wine label, which seems to say: If you don’t know what this means, it’s not meant for you. But it’s a ruse! You don’t need to speak French to figure out the joys of French wine.
The important thing to remember is that the French label their wines by region instead of by grape variety. This is different than in the U.S. Think about it: when you order wine, you probably ask for “Chardonnay” or “Merlot” but you don’t say “I’ll have the Oregon red house wine.” French regions are known for a specific style of wine making, and there are certain grapes that are native to each region. There is great history behind how the regions were formed. They were delineated by monks who popularized the growth of wine hundreds of years ago.
Labels describe the wine from the more general to the more specific (specificity often denotes the wine quality):
France --> Region (Burgundy, Boujoulais, etc) --> Sub-region (Chablis, etc) -->  Village --> Vineyard.
The lowest quality of wines are Vin de Table which is seldom exported, or Vin de France. These are very generic wine, meant for the most basic of consumption, and are seldom seen in the States.
Vin de Pays are wines from the not-regulated regions of the countryside. They can be wonderful rustic wines, but lack the regulation on grape growth and production methods. You can find these here, all they tell you is that the wine can be produced from grapes from all over
AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) indicates the grapes come from a specific wine region (Appelletion Bordeaux Controlee, would mean coming from the Bourdeaux region, for example), as defined by France’s wine regulations. This tells you the grapes came from this region, only.
You might find some wines labeled Grand Cru or Primier Cru. This designation developed relatively recently in an attempt to highlight the best examples from specific regions.
This info, coupled with knowledge of some winery names, is meant to give you an indication of the quality of wine--although its usually an even better indication of the cost. We recommend you take this info with you when you visit the wine store and ask lots of questions when there. What we’re learning is that just knowing how to read the labels isn’t enough. You have to try lots of different wines to figure out what you really like. Choosing an AOC wine will give you more confidence that this winery is putting out similar wine bottle-over-bottle, but you can expect to easily find out what it will taste like, too. You owe it to yourself. And, if your wine seller can’t provide a general description of that particular wine’s taste, consider finding a new wine store.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


California, Carneros, Pinot Noir, MacRostie, 2007
++ // Robust // Leather // Leather/pepper/tobacco // Full

A hearty red wine with a strong profile of earthy flavors. Unexpected, as we've always understood Pinot Noir’s tend toward the lighter, more fruity side of the palate.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Love NY

Thanks to Bill Dowd over at DrinkingNY for posting a breakdown of the results of the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits competition. Some excellent results from some of our favorite NY wineries.

The grapes harvested in 2010 are now becoming available for sale. 2010 was an especially good year for Riesling in the Finger Lakes due to the warm climate that extended through October. Dr Konstantin Frank, one of the first to treat wine-making as a science, pulled in several gold medals, with special note going to their Rkatsiteli (pro-nounced "ar-kat-suh-tell-ee"). Swedish Hill put in a good showing as well. Most surprising for me was the medal for a Dry Reisling from Geneva's Belhurst Winery, as I find this winery usually puts out slightly weaker wines compared to its sister winery across the highway, White Springs. (Coincidentally, Belhurst Winery uses grapes from White Springs to make its wines.) Even so, hearing of the Belhurst win is especially touching, as Belhurst was the location of our wedding in 2009.

Looks like its time for another trip Upstate, to try the newest Reislings.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Cotes de Provence Rose' 2010
+ // Fruity // Peach/Petrol // Overripe Peach // Medium
A refreshing summer drink. Sickly sweet fruit flavors counterbalanced by notes of petrol for a balanced, enjoyable wine. Not sweet in traditionally sense. Poured from the tap at Cornelius Restaurant in Brooklyn, NY.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quick Reviews - Our System

As we experiment with wine, I have developed a system to help me keep my thoughts organized. As we share our journey, I want to share this, so you can follow our quick reviews of some of the wines we try.
I've chosen to use the following simple categories to discuss wine:
  • Quality
  • Descriptor
  • Nose
  • Flavors
  • Body

Quality: Stolen from George Orwell, I use the Double Plus Good system:
++ for excellent wines, + for good wines, / for acceptable wines, - for bad, -- for undrinkable, but since we are kind-hearted folk, you probably won’t hear much on the last two unless there is a story to go along with it.

Descriptor: This clever idea is based off a wonderful NYC wine shop, Best Cellars. We too feel that most wines can be broken down into some broad categories:
      • Crisp
      • Fruity
      • Sweet
      • Smooth
      • Robust
      • Spicy
      • Funky
      • Bubbly

Notes & Flavor: Nothing revolutionary here, just our interpretation of the scents and flavors of the wine. This info is probably most important for those trying to enjoying wine.

Body: Light, Medium. or Full, answering the question, "how long do the flavors linger on the tongue or hold up to other strong flavors?"

When I take time to consider what I am drinking, there usually is more to say, but who wants to write an essay when there is a glass of wine to be enjoyed? 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Little Southern Comfort

610 Magnolia (Louisville, KY)
Shortly after receiving an invite to a family wedding in Louisville, KY, I saw an episode of Iron Chef America, featuring Chef Lee, the executive chef of 610 Magnolia. As we had the better part of a weekend to fill with non-wedding activities, and could not guarantee we’d be back in Kentucky any time soon, it seemed the perfect reason to treat ourselves to a special occasion.

Since we are used to dining in New York City, where the restaurants are often found in the bustling commercial areas, we were surprised to find this remarkable restaurant buried on the cusp of a residential and industrial neighborhood. Even their front door was cleverly hidden from view.
The restaurant is a quaint space, probably no more than a dozen seats framed by a large bar and patio. While the menu advertises Chef’s Tastings only (traditionally meaning that you have no choice in the food courses you receive), what we found was more what we would call a Prix Fixe menu--the opportunity to choose among a few options for each of the five courses. Chef Lee focuses on local produce wherever possible, and this was evidenced by our wonderfully composed plates. We also opted for the wine pairings to accompany each course.

A simple amuse bouche course was paired with a sparkling wine from Germany, a dry Troken Sekt from Henkell; light, crisp flavors to cleanse the palate. The fish course was paired wonderfully with Argentinian Torrontes, the ‘07 vintage from Baguala. The Torrontes offered a powerful funky bouquet, with sweet flavors of overripe peach and plum cutting through both the richness of the Lobster Pie with fresh garden veggies and Tina’s Crudo of Cobia with savory and spicy sauces.

The salad course was paired with a full bodied ‘07 Pinot Noir from Baqueano, Argentina, which was a surprise. You might expect strong leather and cherry flavors to overpower powerful a salad course, but in this case, the non-traditional salad course paired well with this wine. The hearty, earthy flavors of mushroom and sweetbreads balanced well, as did the smoky, rich flavors of Tina’s farm egg and hash.

Of course, in BBQ country, even the fanciest restaurants must embrace their local roots. Tina enjoyed a rib-eye & BBQ short ribs, while I had duck and squab (and some of Tina’s ribs). The deeply intense flavors were well served by the Wit’s End Sidetrack ‘08 Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignion blend from McLaren Vale. The fatty richness of the proteins was balanced by the heavy notes of cherry and pepper in the wine. And Tina learned that a hedgehog can sometimes mean a type of mushroom. According to our waiter, many diners that week had asked about the “hedgehog” on the menu.

After a decadent meal, I will say that the desert course was a bit of a disappointment. But while the cheese plate was a bit uninspired, the port was extremely enjoyable, and taught me that I prefer the balanced fruitiness of a red port to the sickly sweet flavors of the tawny ports that I have tried in the past.

The biggest thing that struck me about our dinner was the deceptive size of it. While each course was small, five plates added up to quite the meal, even if it was spread over nearly three hours. It was a wonderful treat, and if you are passing through Louisville, we highly recommend it. As the seasons change, so will the menu, and if we ever return to Louisville, we will be certain to stop here again.

Friday, June 3, 2011

HOW-TO: Order Wine at a Bar/Restaurant with a Limited Wine List

When there is no wine list, tread with caution. I realized only recently that the main reason I don’t like Chardonnay or Merlot very much boils down to the fact that most bars and restaurants without an extensive wine menu will still offer a red and white wine by the glass (called, “the house wine”)—and it’s typically Merlot and Chardonnay. It’s also typically quite cheap, and almost always tastes that way, too. The Merlot will be hard to drink and will leave a bitter finish, and the Chardonnay will be thick and almost slimy on the tongue, with a somewhat sweet yet tinny taste. Ring a bell? No wonder these grapes have gotten a bad rap over the years—albeit false! Imagine swearing off kissing because you didn’t enjoy your first kiss. You know inherently that, with trial-and-error, you could find a good kiss. Something about the wine industry confuses us, though: I, too, fell into the trap, assuming that a grape was a grape was a grape, or, that Chardonnay and Merlot wines will be pretty much the same. That’s simply not true. I’ve recently been experimenting with both grapes, after a recent trip to Sonoma that proved these grapes can be so much more complex and delicious than ever expected, especially for those of us used to the house wines.
So, when you’re faced with a decision about what to drink at a restaurant/bar without a full wine menu, what do you do? A few considerations:
  1. Accept that wine may be your first choice, but instead order beer. Beer is as diverse an industry as wine, and something I’ve grown to appreciate myself. If you consider yourself someone who avoids beer, ask the bartender for something very light, not hoppy. It’s the beer’s hops that go into beer that give it that yeasty, beer-like taste and make it difficult to drink. And, food accompanies beer quite well, unlike many cocktails.
  2. If you really want a glass of wine, order it with food. It will make it more drinkable. I would not recommend these wines as sipping wines.
  3. Ask for sangria, where the wine will have been mixed with other ingredients including rum and fruit. I’ve never had bad sangria. Just be careful it’s not artificially made with syrups behind the bar. You want something that’s been brewing for hours.
I should add that some bars offer limited, but good, wine selections. How do you know? The wine will be listed alongside its vintage (year) and producer (winery). I give the green light on ordering from such a list. If you don’t have this information, and even if the venue offers more varietals (Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are popular), I would avoid ordering the wine. Of course, experiment a little yourself, see what you like. As we’ve said before, a good wine is one that you personally enjoy, not one that someone else tells you to drink.