Friday, July 29, 2011

HOW-TO: Shop for Wine at a Large Liquor Store

For me, the most daunting aspect of choosing wine happens at the large liquor store. The large selection is so overwhelming that after spending several minutes (or more) browsing, Nate and I typically end up with the first bottle we find in our price range with the “prettiest” label. Surprised? I admit that we’re easily overwhelmed by the selection. Worse, we usually find that the staff is only slightly knowledgeable about the wine offered. Just like the customer, there is no way they could have tried all these wines. It feels like a game of roulette.

Fortunately, there has only been one bottle that we were ever extremely disappointed in, and we would never judge anyone who grabs a bottle “just to see” what it takes like. That’s part of the fun. But, because our goal is to help increase your confidence in choosing wine, here are a few tips on approaching the large liquor store for your wine purchase:

1.   Read our post on ordering wine from a wine menu.
2.   Explain your criteria to the staff on-hand. (Note that liquor stores normally organize their shelves by region, and if you want a specific varietal (grape), you may have to sift through the various regions to compare.)
3.   Feel free to ask the staff whether a typical wine or brand is popular with customers.
4.   Get comfortable reading labels. The easiest way if you don’t speak French, Italian, etc., is to ask the staff on hand to help you translate the label. Once we understood that “trocken” and “sekt” meant “dry” in German, we were much more confident in selecting Riesling wine, as we are fervent dry Riesling fans but avoid the sweeter Riesling wines at all costs.
5.   Consider geographic temperatures. This is new for us, but we now know that California and Australian wines are probably more rich and “ripe” than the wines from France and Northern New York. Hotter year-round climates mean the grapes ripen quicker. Ripe fruit has its own taste, agreed? On the converse, cooler year-round climates mean a lighter, fresher taste.
6.   Nothing lost by trying something new. So go for it!

Any tips to share with the readers?  Post here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Did you know? . . . about Chardonnay

Because we're posting two Quick Reviews this week on the famous Chardonnay grape, here are some facts to wet your palate:

1. Wine labeled "white Burgundy" and "Chablis" are most always made from the Chardonnay grape.
2. Most Chardonnay is "oak-aged" - resulting in toasted, buttery flavors.
3. Chardonnay comes in many "styles" based on region and terroir, making this wine extremely versatile.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


US, California, Edna Valley, Edna Ranch, Chardonnay, Tolosa, 2008

+ // Crisp // Lemon // Lemon, Vanilla, Honey // Light

Monday, July 25, 2011

Retail Therapy

Shopping is tough. After a whirlwind tour through the Men’s Department, and then a more leisurely visit to the Women’s Department at Macy’s, a drink seemed in order. Dragging our bags through the city, we ended up at a small hole in the wall in Greenwich Village, Gottino.

Braving the threat of rain, we grabbed a table under a tree in the back courtyard. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon, so we had a chance to chat with our server about the wine menu. Tina asked several questions and then chose a rosé--the 2010 Rosato de Conventino from Il Conventino, which was popular with the other patrons. I, on the other hand, took a random stab at the wine menu, and selected the 2010 Soave Classico from Pra-Veneto. Tina’s social efforts proved a boon, as she ended up with a robust rosé--heavy in fruit and leather flavors--to start off the afternoon. My Soave was decent, with fruity green apple cider flavors that was just a little too warm for the afternoon. It may have been better served to be chilled over ice for a more refreshing aperitif. We then switched to the 2010 Sillery Pinot Nero from Frecciarossa. This was a perfect palate cleanser, a super crisp wine with strong lemony acidity and just a hint of sweetness on the finish.

After a couple of casual drinks, we decided it was time for a small meal. In addition to their fairly substantial wine list, Gottino offers a delightful selection of small plates. We decided to share a handful of different dishes NS selected a plate of cheeses, a hearty boar liver paté, a dish of fresh boar and cauliflower, and some shaved brussel sprouts.

The boar’s strong, rustic flavor contrasted the mild and sweet cheeses, and the brussel sprouts were fairly light and fresh. I chose a hearty 2007 Negroamaro from Rosa de Golfo, a medium bodied red with strong fruit notes, berry on the nose, and a balance of fruit and a punch of leather on the tongue. This held up well to the boar, but overpowered the rest of the flavors. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it immensely. Tina was pleased with her choice as well. She ended up with a 2010 Ansonica from Firriato--a crisp white wine with a balance of lime and honey on the nose, with a hit of acidity and lingering notes on honey and sweet stone fruit on the tongue. The hints of minerality paired well with the paté, the acidity went well with the veggies, and the sweet notes balanced well with the sweet cheeses.

The afternoon was fun and relaxing, a light drizzle drove the other patrons indoors as we sheltered under a tree that canopied our table, enjoying a rare moment of peace and quiet in the Biig City. Tina enjoyed chatting with our waiter to help select her wines, while I had fun experimenting. We also learned that with a complicated meal, vastly different wines can work well; there is no right wine. And finally, the best drink is always the third--although our judgement may have been a bit questionable by that point. Luckily, we’re just here to share our enjoyment of the wines, not present a scientific study.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summer of Rosé: The Results

How do rosé wines stack up against the flavors of summer? While city life makes it tough to grill outdoors, I improvised on the stove-top griddle. To test this, I ventured to the local farmers market and butcher and ended up with a pretty decent menu for the weekend.

French Fries
Fresh watermelon

Pork Chops
Grilled Tomato
Corn on the cob
Potato salad
Tortilla chips
Snap peas & broccoli
Spinach & artichoke dip
 Our first dinner was a mixed bag. The fruitiness of the Bordeaux well balanced the watermelon, and hints of minerality popped against the heartiness of the burger slathered in mustard and ketchup. The light, sweet flavors of the Negroamaro was buried under the flavors of the burger and fries, though it worked well with the bright, fresh flavors of the melon. The real winner here was the Pinot Noir. While its robust flavors overpowered the melon, the smokier oak notes complimented the burger, and the salt of the fries really made the flavors pop.

The snacks (meal #2) were simple, mild flavors. They didn’t stand a chance against the Pinot Noir. The sweetness of the Negroamaro proved to be an odd counterpoint to the mostly savory flavors. Overall, the Bordeaux paired the best. The subdued sweetness of the wine went well with the hints of fresh, sweet flavors of the veggies, and the hints of minerality played off the saltiness of the chips and pretzels.

For the final meal, all three wines worked fairly well. The sweet potato salad and corn paired  well with the sweet flavors in all of the wines, though the heavier berry notes of the Negroamaro may have been a bit too fruity against the corn. The tomato was a fairly simple flavor that nearly disappeared in the overall meal, but again seemed to bring out the sweeter flavors in all of the wines. Against the hearty, fatty flavors of the pork, the sweeter wines paired well, the fruitiness cutting through the richness of the pork. The more robust flavors of the Pinot Noir proved to be a bit strong, but like with the burger, smokey notes from the oak worked well with the meat. In all, this was by far the most successful round, with each of the wines having something to offer.

I declare the experiment a success. Rosé offers a range of flavors, leaning towards the fruitier side that pair well with the fresh, sweet flavors of summer fruits and veggies. The more robust flavors can compliment hearty grilled foods. And all of this holds up well to being chilled. I know we’ll be stocking up to last us through the warm months.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Keeping with our theme of rosé wine, we stumbled across this wine at Dino Restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Italy, Veneto, Lamberti Rosé Prosecco NV
+ // Fruity // Apple // Tart Apple, mineral // Light

Notice that this is a sparking wine ("Prosecco"). The "NV" simply means that the grapes came from different years. It means "Non Vintage," as "vintage" means the year harvested.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer of Rosé: About Rosé Wines

With their light pink colors and chilled temperatures, rosé wines are often associated more with white wines, sweeter wines, "chick wines." But consider that most often these are made from red grapes and can almost "feel" like a red wine at time. Rosés can be produced in two primary ways:
  • They can be made in the same fashion as red wine, but the skins (the lees) are removed much sooner in the process, giving the finished product less time to pick up the pigmentation.
  • If a maker is looking to make a particularly hearty red, they may draw off a bit of juice from the grapes early on, to increase the flavor density of the remaining wine. This drawn off wine can be used to make a rosé.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

QUICK REVIEW (Summer of Rose)

As part of our Summer of Rosé series, we purchased three bottles of wines, from three different countries, featuring three different grapes. We'll review all three here. Notice the differences between the three Rosé wines, from mineral, to fruity, to heartier oak.

France, Bordeaux, Rosé de La Grange Clinet 2010  (Merlot Grape)
+ // Fruity // Floral, Cherry, Mineral // Tart Apple, Mineral // Light

Italy, Salento, Negroamaro, Rosa del Golfo 2010
+ // Fruity // Honey, Berry // Berry // Light

USA, Oregon, Anderson Valley, Pinot Noir, County Line Rosé 2010
+ // Robust // Peach, Oak // Oak // Med

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer of Rosé: The Plan

Summer time is tough for selecting a wine. Sitting outside under the hot sun, a chilled, refreshing drink is called for. But for summer food, nothing is better than fresh fruits and veggies and hearty grilled meats, which are tough to balance with a light wine. I normally love a crisp, dry Riesling, but it’s unlikely to hold up to a cheeseburger slathered in ketchup and mustard. Yes, for while it’s great to think about wine in respect to a five-star meal, there is no reason to discount the possibilities of enjoying a glass with a traditional outdoors summer meal with the family in the backyard.

With our discovery of the Moschofilero Rosé, we've embarked on a whirlwind of rosé tastings. So, it occurred to me that rosé wine may well be the perfect answer for a more casual summer wine that's still robust. While the stereotypical pink Zinfandel can be thin, watery, and sweet, a good rosé can be as full bodied as a light red, and can be found in a wide range of flavors. With a long summer weekend stretching ahead of us, we decided to venture to a larger local wine shop, Red, White, and Bubbly. We chose three bottles of rosé wine and paired them with picnic foods, asking ourselves, "Can a rosé wine hold up to heavier picnic foods?"

Check back this week to find out more! We'll be discussing our picks and how they went with our meals. Pictures will be included!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wine Temperatures (or why the rich and famous install wine cellars)

The serving temperature of wine is important. If you white wine is too chilled, it might be crisp and refreshing but you may not notice the more delicate flavors. If your red is too warm, it ends up a bit more harsh; if it is too cool, the heavy tannin flavors overpower the more complex flavors.

Fortunately, wine temperature is pretty simple. White wines and rosé are generally best served at refrigerator temperatures, around 40 degrees: store this wine in the fridge, and keep the bottle in there between glasses. A quality, aged champagne or sparkling wine, along with more complex barrel-aged whites, want around 55 degrees to allow the flavors to come through; store these in the fridge, then pull it out shortly before you plan to open it. Let it sit on the counter for 15 minutes or so to let it warm appropriately. Reds can hold up to being served at room temperature, but the flavors may pop a bit more if chilled, for a few minutes only, to around 65 degrees. Chill reds in the fridge for 20 minutes or so before you want to serve them.

Of course, most of us don’t carry a thermometer with us when we are drinking, so don’t sweat it too much.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Australia, Eden Valley, South Australia, Riesling, Mesh Winery, 2008

+ // Crisp // Citrus // Lemon, Mineral // Light

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Automated Wine

Once again, convenience was stymied by concern over abuse. A clever idea was over-encumbered by bureaucracy. The Wegman's grocery store chain tried out automated wine vending machines in some of their Pennsylvania stores. Turns out having to scan your ID and then waiting for someone off-site to check the video-feed to confirm your identity isn’t any more convenient than just taking your wine to the checkout. Some day we may catch up with Japan when it comes to the delivery methods for booze.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Italy, Toscana (IGT), Canaiulo, Sono Montenidoli, Rosé 2010

++ // Crisp // Floral // Berry, red apple // Light

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beer Cream

On the recommendation of some friends, we ventured out to a new ice cream shop in the neighborhood, Ample Hills Creamery. It’s a local venture, making custom ice cream made on site from local milk. Luckily, we had to wait in line, because the selection of at least 20 different flavors was overwhelming. Actually, after a quick glance, the choice for me wasn’t that hard: Otis Stout and Pretzels.

What more can I ask for in dessert? Ice cream, made with beer, with chocolate covered pretzels mixed in. . .it’s a match made in heaven! The chocolate and malt flavors from the stout balanced the heavy creaminess of the grass-fed milk, and the salty crunch of the pretzels was a nice pop of flavor and texture.
It’s nice to be reminded that the flavors of my favorite drinks are good flavors in-and-of- themselves, even without the alcohol. It made for a perfect treat to end the day.

Friday, July 8, 2011

McDonald’s and Wine?

Sometimes the thought of wine pairings is overwhelming. If I have no idea what a Chenin Blanc or a Bechamel Sauce taste like, how can I understand what they may taste like together? But a Big Mac is a flavor I know, so using that for a baseline when talking about wine pairings is a clever little experiment. 

Read this article from the Huffington Post.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


New York State, Rare Vos Amber Ale, Brewery Ommegang (Beer)

+ // Hoppy/Funky // Light

It's summer, the season for beer. This beer is a light, hoppy beer, with hints of funk reminiscent of cheese. 2008 Great American Beer Fest Award Winner.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Grape Decoder

You might find wine a little less mysterious if you knew that many grapes (varietals) have equivalents in other languages. For example: Chardonnay is also Chablis. Same grape, different country. U.S. winemakers often name based on wine style, so you can find french-named, italian-named, and english-named wines here. Here is a short dictionary of wines and their equivalent grapes.

  • Chardonnay = Chablis
  • Pinot Grigio = Pinot Gris
  • Sauvignon Blanc = Fume' Blanc (the fume' means it's been aged in Oak)
  • Shiraz = Syrah

Wine lover beware! Being the same grape doesn't mean the same taste! Far from it. So much more goes into the aroma and taste of a wine than just the grape. If this is not obvious, go select 3 Chardonnay wines and compare them. However, I found it much less confusing once I understood the similarities.  What do you think?  Did we miss a pairing?  Post here and let us know.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Oregon, Pinot Gris, Wine By Joe, 2009

+ // Crisp // Lime // Under-ripe Apple // Light

A simple, crisp wine, high acidity with just a hint of sweetness. Very refreshing on a warm evening.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fine Food for Five Years

Sometimes, life makes it hard to take the time to slow down and carefully consider our wine. Tina and I recently celebrated our fifth year together, and we decided to make a special, if a bit busy, evening of it.
We started off at Bar Carrera, a small wine and tapas place, for a quick aperitif. My cousin was in town for the day, so we agreed to meet up for a drink after work on a warm Friday evening. With just a few minutes together, Tina scanned the menu for something crisp and simple, but we definitely spent more time chatting than we did savoring our wine. Before long, we had to gather our things and run off to our dinner reservations.
Dinner was at a wonderful restaurant, Market Table, in New York’s Greenwich Village. A simple space, with large windows; from the street it didn’t look like much. But as noted on their website, the quality of their farm fresh ingredients made the evening. Usually, I order something that I could never make at home, but the free range chicken breast struck a chord with me. It’s amazing how juicy a fresh chicken is compared to what comes out of the grocery store. I chose a 2010 Grüner Veltliner from Schloss Gobelsburg to go along with it, and the wine proved a good match. The lemony, acidic notes cut through the richness of the meat. It may have paired better with a fish course, but I have no complaints. Tina decided it was an evening for enjoyment, not work, so she chose to drink her rose´ in peace, and not share her thoughts.

For dessert we splurged on a glass of Sauternes, and pair with the dessert special. The pound cake with fresh strawberries was delightfully light and refreshing, but was no match for the drink. The Sauternes region in French produces a very powerful white wine, created when the grapes are left out to dry and even mildew. It’s typically sweet but also dark and rich. As we will always argue, there is no wrong pairing. Even though the sweet fruitiness of the wine was dessert enough by itself, we also enjoyed the strawberry pound cake.

With after dinner plans, we didn’t have much time to savor our dinner, but I still vote it as one of the best tasting meals we’ve had to date. I think we will have to try Market Table again on a more casual evening--hopefully before our 10th anniversary.

Friday, July 1, 2011

HOW-TO: Order Wine from a Wine Menu

Ordering from a full wine menu that offers dozens of producers (wineries), varietals (types of grape) and vintages (years of harvest) is not easy. In fact, it can be stressful, and for many reasons. First, when given so much choice, consumers are more likely to antagonize and deliberate for fear of making a wrong decision. We've also been trained to believe that there is a "right answer" to pairing wine with food, and that you should only choose a wine that will compliment your order.  In addition, we have to battle against our own inner demons: we don't want to look bad, cheap, uneducated, etc. in front of the waitperson. Finally, the menu itself can be simply overwhelming.

We can remedy some of these problems by deciding today to get over the first three concerns: quit agonizing, there is no "right answer" (and never was!), and your waitperson is there to help, not to make you feel incompetent. (Nate and I had a funny moment a while back when, at an upscale NYC restaurant, we discovered we knew more about the Riesling grape than our waiter. It's leveled the playing field for me, I no longer worry what the waitperson thinks about my wine choice.) So, now that you've moved past these concerns, it's time you figure out how to read a wine menu. It's actually not that difficult. It should certainly be fun.  

Nate and I ask ourselves these questions to help us narrow down the selection:

1. How much am I (are we) willing to spend?

2. Do I (do we) want red or white? Leave the sparkling wines for celebratory moments, and unless you want to be really adventurous, you can ignore the rose´ options.

3. Which wine attributes are most important for this dinner? This could be country of origin, the grape, or a particular winemaker. Nate and I often stick to U.S. wines because we like to support local producers. We go through phases on grapes (we were on a really strong Riesling kick for about 2 years), and because we visit wineries, sometimes we’ll recognize a winemaker and go from there. Selecting based on this last attribute is rare for us: we don’t recognize that many wineries, and when we do, the restaurant is typically offering just one wine from that producer. So it’s limiting.

4. What is my (our) preferred style? Something sweet, fruity, dry, robust, acidic, etc.

5. How can the waitperson/sommelier help? Share your preferences. For example, “we’re looking for a red wine from the U.S., something a little on the not-so-sweet side?” Point at one that is in your price range and ask about it. If you want a Cabernet Sauvignon, and there is more than one option, ask the waitperson to compare the options, and make the final decision based on your preferred style. For example, if two are sweeter and you prefer dry, select the second.

Notice food hasn’t come up yet. That’s because we feel there is no true pairing. If you like the wine, eat it with your meal. We’ll get into pairings on another post. But be wary: most waiters/sommeliers will not deter you from your wine choice even if it won’t be a great match with your order. It’s business, after all. You can avoid this by speaking to him/her about a “versatile” wine that would go with most anything.

Trust us: it’s a very rare and skilled person who can read a wine menu and know exactly what they are ordering. Make it interesting and fun for yourselves by asking lots of questions, and being open to trying something new. We have been pleasantly surprised on many occasions.  

Also note, many wine lists also offer wine by the glass. Do not feel obligated to lock yourself into a full bottle. Nate and I often do not buy wine by the bottle, except for special occasions. If I’m going to have 2 glass of wine, I prefer to mix it up and try something different for my second.