Monday, April 30, 2012

An Afternoon at Brooklyn Winery

When we think of wineries, we often envision a cluster of barns and production facilities surrounding a tasting room, all nestled among a vast vineyard. But with the ability to buy grapes from growers, some wine producers have realized that if they don't need the vineyard, they don't need the farm, and can instead put their facilities closer to the bulk of the people who drink their wines. With that idea in mind, there has been a growth of urban wineries, like Brooklyn Winery.

Friday, April 27, 2012

How-To: Taste Wine "Properly" Video

Following up on our recent post about the "official" way to taste wine, please enjoy this video.

Let us know what you think, and whether you'd like to see more videos on the site!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Quick Review: Hermann J. Wiemer Late Harvest Riesling

NY, Finger Lakes, Hermann J. Wiemer, Late Harvest Riesling 2009
+ // Sweet // Peach, Overripe Peach // Peach, Mineral, hints of flowers // Medium

Late Harvest wines are typically sweeter and serve as dessert wines. By allowing the grapes to stay on the vine as long as possible, they ripen and produce more sugars. The resulting wine is sweeter and usually more alcoholic. If you order such a drink at a restaurant, it's likely to come in a smaller glass, the portion being much smaller than the traditional wine (but at the same price, normally!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Did you know? . . . About Sake

Sake is an alcoholic drink made from fermented rice with origins in Japan. According to Wikipedia
"Sake is often referred to in English-speaking countries as rice wine; however, this term is a misnomer. Unlike wine, in which alcohol is produced by fermenting sugar that is naturally present in grapes, sake is produced by means of a brewing process more like that of beer. Thus, sake is rice beer rather than rice wine."
Interesting, huh? It's important to note, however, that sake has higher alcohol concentrations than beer traditionally does. And, it takes a special rice to make this drink (don't try it at home with your Uncle Ben's!).

We were surprised to find a sangria with sake as the added component. Most often sangria gets its extra kick from rum. We admit we do not have much experience with sake but plan to expand our knowledge of it in future, particularly at sushi bars. 

A sake barrel, offered to Meiji Shrine, in Yoyogi Park.
photo by Stéfan on Flickr

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Quick Review: Sangria at Ortine

Sangria: Red wine, apple, orange juice, sake
+ // Fruity // Apple, citrus, berry // Apple, citrus, funk // Medium

With the addition of the sake and tart apple, this was a much more tart sangria than we usually enjoy, but it worked well for the cool spring evening. That sake added an unmistakable flavor, very different from the usual sweet or spicy rum. Makes us want to explore sake a bit more.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pizza and Sangria at Ortine

While we enjoy the fancy restaurants that NYC has to offer, it's just as good to stop by the local pizza joint. This is of course biased by the fact that we live in Brooklyn, with great little pizza joints on every corner. And obviously, we have to try them all to compare.
We have our favorite place, the only restaurant I allow us to return to regularly. But sometimes, we have to try a new place, to see what it is like. Always on the lookout, we spotted a place recently that we felt compelled to try. Ortine is a small place, edging the outskirts of the wave of gentrification. The restaurant embraces the values of the locavore movement in an unimposing space. The service was a bit slow, but the staff was friendly and the space casual, so we felt no pressure to rush our meal when it finally made it to our table. With the low-key decor and classic 50's rock on the radio, Ortine felt like an old-school diner, but with a surprisingly contemporary dedication to local and seasonal ingredients.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How-To: Pick a Before Dinner Drink

We spend a lot of time talking about what wines to drink with a meal, but sometimes you want to start with a glass of something before the meal starts. Whether you have to wait for a table at the bar, or you are celebrating a special evening, or you just want to sit and enjoy yourself for a little longer, there is a perfect aperitif for you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quick Reviews... Wine at The Dutch Restaurant

Austria, Kremstal, Forstrieter Gruner Veltliner Grand Reserve 2010
/ // Funky // Grass, Bread // Grass, Butter, Lemon, Apricot // Light

Compared to the Gruner's we've enjoyed recently, this was strikingly funky, with less of the crisp fruit notes we've come to expect. It's possible it was simply this wine, and without trying others from the same year and vintner, it's impossible to know if the funk was part of the wine production, or simply an anomaly in this bottle.

CA, Santa Barbera, Tensley Syrah 2010
++ // Fruity // Berry, Cherry, Black Forest Cake // Strawberry // Medium

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Did You Know?... About Whiskey

Whiskey is a liquor made from distilled grains and aged in wood barrels. Like wine, whiskey adheres closely to a strict system of classification.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Quick Review... Billecart Salmon Brut

France, Mareuil-sur-Ay, Champagne, Billecart Salmon Brut, NV
+ // Crisp // Lemon, Bread // Green Apple, Lemon // Light

A perfect start to a meal, with tart, crisp flavors to get the mouth watering. Note this is a "true" Champagne; it comes from the Champagne region of France.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Celebrating at The Dutch

New York City is a great place to celebrate the important events of life. And we like to take advantage of that. So, having received some good news and after a quick phone call at lunch, we had reservations for a restaurant we'd been hearing great things about: The Dutch.

(c) Noah Fecks, from

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Quick Review... Restaurants of Vienna, Austria

We've been talking about most memorable restaurants from our trip to Europe. Today, we talk about Vienna, Austria.

3 Hacken Magazin: A wine bar, with a focus on traditional food and local wine, our ideal place for dinner. The dinner was well-executed, the wine list was interesting, and our waiter was both helpful and fluent in English to help us with the menu. We enjoyed our meal, and, a first: we even tried some afterdinner drinks--a local Elderberry Schnapps and a Chardonnay "Grappa" which was much sweeter than the Italian style. Not really to Tina's liking, either of them, but fun to try.

Reinthaler: This was an interesting find. Hidden in the cellar, on a side street, we stumbled across it and felt compelled to try it out. The old cellar-basement was a maze, and we had some difficulty figuring out what was going on. We could order food at our table, or at the counter in the other room, but we had to order our wine from the waiter. Or at least that's the gist of what Tina understood, from the terse blast of German our waiter rifled off in the energetic bar. Getting our food and wine was worth the effort: simple, honest food and simple, local wine. The house wine, at 1,60 Euro (or, about $2.00) a glass was some of the most drinkable housewine we've ever had.

Dinner at Rheintaler, pork in the foreground, schnitzel in the background.
Hollmann Salon: The internet makes finding good restaurants easy, even halfway around the world. Nestled in a courtyard well outside the main tourist areas, we never would have found this place on our own. But we are glad we did. This was a real treat to end our trip with dinner here our last night in Europe. The space was modern and cozy, the staff was helpful with impeccable English, and the food was interesting and one of the best meals we've had anywhere. The food was a bit meat-centric, and the portions were a little large for a four course dinner, but it was good to see tail-to-snout cooking so embraced. We had the chance to try some really interesting ingredients over the course of our dinner: pig's ear, veal tongue, snail, and snail eggs. And the wine list was heavily slanted towards Austrian wines, which was a nice touch. We learned that their menu changes every month, and when it does, they host a party to say goodbye to the old menu, and hello to the new. We say, Hello Hollmann!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Quick Review... Restaurants of Munich, Germany

We had such a fun time in Europe; we thought we would share with you the restaurants that we continue to talk about, weeks after our return to the U.S.

Hofbrau Haus: Even though it was the middle of the afternoon on a Friday, the warm spring sun meant the outside courtyard was nearly full. Luckily, we found seats next to another couple of tourists. The beer was excellent, very easy to drink the entire liter. Unfortunately, the service was horrible; after our beer was delivered our waiter forgot about our lunch, and then forgot all about us. By the time we finally got our food, the traditional Munich "white sausage" (WeissWurst), we devoured it so fast that I couldn't tell you if it was any good or not. Of course, from what we've heard, people normally don't go here for lunch. It's a beer garden, after all!

Augustiner am Dom: Located on the plaza surrounding Frauenkirche Cathedral, and recommended in the tourist info provided by our hotel, we expected no less than a tourist trap (a la Hofbrau Haus). But the food felt exceptionally authentic, and it was the best pork we had on the entire trip; juicy with a crispy and heavily spiced skin. We deviated from normal dinner, and ordered a cheese plate as an appetizer with pints of Augustiner Edelstoff beer. The cheese plate was enormous and quite varied. Piled with mild cheeses and a range of pork products, as well as a huge pat of butter, we devoured it with a delicious, fresh pretzel. The pretzels, in fact, were the real treat; they tasted as good as the NYC street pretzels always smell (but never actually taste like).
Cheese plate with pretzel at Augustiner am Dom
Brenner: A modern take on classic Bavarian cuisine. We enjoyed the variety available, with a menu composed of more than just meat and potatoes. It was a busy place, filled with trendy young couples. The space was interesting, with the large kitchen grille in the middle of the dining room, exposing the roaring flames to the patrons. The wine menu was long, complicated, and in German, but surprisingly full of French wine. Also recommended in the information provided at our hotel, and a good find: definitely not a tourist trap by any means, we felt like locals for the evening.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Quick Review... Restaurants of Lindau, Germany

Rather than the "Quick Reviews" of wine you normally read on Tuesdays, we thought this week we would present you with quick reviews of the most memorable restaurants from our recent vacation to Germany and Austria. In this post, we discuss the restaurants in Lindau am Bodensee, Germany.

Zur Fischerin: A cosy basement restaurant on the street behind the harbor hotels, this restaurant beckoned us in. In these first days in Germany, we were often surprised to find wine bars (we now realize they are just a part of the culture as beer gardens are there.). Local wine from the Bodensee region and local produce from the farms of the area filled the menu. In fact, this Weinstube (or "wine tavern") was a hit for us both. The service was both fun (as Tina tried to use her German) and accommodating (the restaurant was packed but we felt no pressure to hurry our meal), as we lingered over a glass of wine after our last dinner in Lindau, reminiscing and talking about adventures to come.

Zur Fischerin is an art gallery as well as a wine tavern
Weinstube Frey: Dinner in a wine tavern that's been in operation for more than 200 years, and in a building constructed in the 1400's was a serious treat. Add to that the focus on regional specialities and delicious pilsner beer...we're still talking about that first night in Lindau.

Main dining room, Weinstube Frey
La Fontana: An Italian restaurant in Germany? You bet! Great beer from Post, and excellent thin crust pizza, smothered in fresh ingredients. 
Balsamic vingar on pizza was a first for us

Monday, April 9, 2012

Exploring Germany and Austria

The view from our hotel room in Lindau was wonderful, especially at night. (During the day, our room had a gorgeous view of the Alps.)

Friday, April 6, 2012

How-To... Enjoy Wine and Beer in Germany

In our short travels, we noticed some striking differences in the wine and beer culture of Europe compared to the US. 

The most obvious was the price. Its easy to see why wine is so much a part of the food culture, when a glass of wine costs the same as a bottle of sparkling water at even the best restaurants. It's much easier to have a different glass of wine with each course when ordering that second glass isn't going to double the cost of your meal. We were drinking excellent wine for the equivalent of $3 and $4/glass. (At our first dinner back in the States, Tina commented at how horrifying it was to be paying up to $14/glass here.)

Even more striking was the easy embrace of the local. In NYC, any restaurant that is serving NYS wine, or various local microbrews, will be sure to shout that fact from the rooftop. In Germany and Austria, it seems expected that a restaurant serves a local beer, and most often just one brand. Wine lists were a bit more varied, but especially in Vienna it seemed that House wines were just that, a brand of wine closely tied with the restaurant, as epitomized by the heuriger, or wine taverns. And the best restaurants we ate at had vast lists, including many imported wines, but they always seemed to focus on the most local wines first. Some of the most expensive wines on those lists, in fact, where the ones imported from California; they were still at about $6 or $7/glass, even in expensive Vienna.

We didn't take much time to explore wine country, but it seems like the vineyards along the Danube have embraced the US style of marketing, with free wine tastings by knowledgeable staff. But make sure your server speaks English, or your German is very strong, so you can keep up with the technical descriptions of wine. Or, in our case, just nod and smile, and enjoy the free drinks.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Vacation Review... Red Wines

With all the warm sun and pork-centric meals, we drank less red wine. We still had a chance to try a few offerings in both Germany and Austria. The most striking thing we noticed was the volume of Blaufrankisch (or Lemberger, as we call it) on offer. This is a varietal we love, discovered on a tasting in the Finger Lakes a few years back, but which we can seldom find on wine menus. It's a light-bodied red with some spiciness and tart red fruits.

We also tried a few glasses of Spatburgunder, the German version of Pinot Noir, with a similar flavor profile. In Austria, we had a chance to try Blauburger, a hybrid of Blaufrankisch with strong berry flavors. We haven't found this grape in the cold climate reds we have had elsewhere.

Even a happy couple sometimes disagrees about which wine to order.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Did You Know?... The Wines of Austria

There is a strong wine culture in Austria, although we're more likely to hear about Germany's, here. Like nearby Germany, Austrian wines come from cold climate grapes and are often grown on hillsides along river valleys, like the Danube. Despite the similarities in climate, Austrian wines tend toward riper fruit, with higher alcohol content.

Vines in the Wachau region, outside Duernstein

Austria relies on a mix of "Germanic" and "Romanic" labeling for it's wines. In many cases, wines are labeled by the varietal, like German or New World wines. But they also have developed a series of Appellations with typing styles, called DACs, similar to the French and Italian system of labeling.

The majority of the wine made in Austria is white wine. The most common grape is the Gruner Veltliner, a native of Austria that is seldom seen anywhere else.(Although it's a common varietal in some U.S. cold climate regions, as well.) In addition to growing small amounts of some of the more common white varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, they grow a large number of grapes seldom seen outside Eastern Europe like the Welschriesling and Weissburgunder.

The bulk of Austria's red wine is in other nearly unique varietals, Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch. They grow other common varietals like Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, but these make up a very small percentage of their overall production.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Vacation Review... White Wines

Since we were on a vacation, not a working trip, we didn't take notes on each and every wine we drank, but we did note some re-occurring themes. As expected, we drank a lot of Riesling in both Germany and Austria. That grape should be considered King in those countries. The one we tasted were more dry than sweet, though there was usually the same hints of fruit and stone that we have come to expect. In Germany, we found some wonderful Gewurztraminer, with hints of both spice and flowers. In Austria, we  drank a lot of Gruner Veltliner; a grape we find less seldom on wine menus in the US. We found a lot of these to be crisp as well, with floral notes.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Local Wine, Abroad

After years of discussing it, we finally organized a trip to Germany and Austria. As the spring weather broke, we took some time off from work and from our exploration of the New York wine scene and made our way to Europe.

We managed to stretch it out to a long trip, and visit a large swath of Germany and Austria. Starting in the small Alpine resort town of Lindau, a bucolic little inlet on the Bodensee (Lake Constance). There, we took a couple of days to decompress before moving on to enjoy the big cities. We walked the streets of the old city, marveling at the old architecture, the medieval city wall, winding streets and back alleys. We enjoyed the peace and quiet of this town in the off season. But we made sure to do our best to sample the local cuisine, along with the local beer and wine. There were many places focused on local products--fresh fish from Lake Constance and wines from the Bodensee region. The wines were wonderful; crisp and tart fruit as would be expected from the cold climate they worked well with the fattier fresh water fish. We had such a wonderful time there, and there seemed so much more to try that we were reluctant to leave, but we were off to Munich.

Those cute little paper-flowers at the stem of Tina's beer? Quite common when you ordered "ein Pils."

Munich was everything we expected. The history was palpable, and the German culture was so "obvious" it was nearly a caricature of everything you'd read in books. We wandered from church to church, taking pictures with every step, stopping only to grab a beer at whatever spot piqued our interest. We had sausage and beer at the Hofbrau Haus as soon as we arrived -- both surprisingly good for such a tourist destination. We enjoyed a humongous meat and cheese plate in the shadow of the Frauenkirche cathedral, along with some wonderful Augustiner pilsner beer. We discovered at a small cafe on a side street where we could enjoy a couple of glasses of wine in the warm spring sun. And we enjoyed a locavore meal of German specialties at a restaurant where the German wine list (pages of Riesling, and pages of Gruner Veltliner!) made us thankful for an English-speaking waiter who gave us a great recommendation. It was wonderful to see wine lists filled with both imported and local wines.

A "Mass" bier at Hofbrau Haus. Tina's German only went so far - she accidentally ordered us the largest biers on the menu!

Our last stop was Vienna. It was like Munich, writ large, but felt like NYC with an added edge of antiquity. We visited churches and cathedrals. We drank more beer and wine with sausages and pork. Through very, very careful testing, we confirmed that sauerkraut, pork, and especially wiener schnitzel go wonderfully well with crisp white wines. We wanted to visit the some of the Wachau wine region along the Danube outside of Vienna. We found ourselves exploring the medieval town of Duernstein. There, in the quiet off-season, we found a delicious "locavore" meal without any pretension that put most big city versions to shame. I never thought that organ meat could make such a rich and delicious stew. (Tina still doesn't believe it.) The small restaurant-pub stocked nothing but local wines, a range of light Blaufrankish and crisp Rieslings wines for yet another sunny spring day. The next day, we ended our trip with an excellent dinner in a hidden plaza in Vienna: four courses of carefully prepared dishes with more Austrian wine.

The remains of the castle where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned, in Duernstein
Along with being a wonderful and relaxing trip, it was a great experience. While the food was heavy and meat-centric, it was well-executed and prepared with care. The beer available in every bar was on par with the best microbrews we can find in the States. And the wine lists were startling: either a short list of local wines at even the crudest tavern, or pages of varietals found only sparingly in the US. It's rare for us to find a bottle of Gruner Vitliner or Blaufrankish, let alone multiple vintages from a range of wineries. And wherever we went, no matter what sort of place it was, the wine was good. It was refreshing to see such dedication to the local food, beer, and wine at every level, and it helped us feel like we were really experiencing the local culture, instead of having the same meals we could have back home.