Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Quick Review: Wine at Franny's

Italy, Venato, Latium Morini, Valpolicella 2010
++ // Fruity // Strawberry jam// Sweet cherry, Earth // Medium

Italy, Campania, Oconapollo, Aglianico 2006
+ // Fruity // Leather, Cherry Jam, Earth // Tart cherry, chocolate, Black Forrest Cake // Medium

Marangi Negroamaro
++ // Fruity // Currant jam // Blood orange, red grapefruit, strawberry // Medium

Monday, July 30, 2012

Lunch at Franny’s in Brooklyn

Our neighborhood of Brooklyn has some real culinary treasures. While it's not as high profile as the restaurant scene in Manhattan, there are some interesting options in Park Slope, and it seems there are more every week. One of the oldest institutions of this burgeoning foodie mecca is Franny’s, a pizza joint featuring a wood-fired oven, thin crust pizzas, and a handful of seats. It is so popular that, whenever we think of it for dinner, the place is too packed: we see the line out the door from blocks away.

We discovered the secret to admission though. We had been wandering about Brooklyn, looking at open houses most of the day, and we wanted a place to sit and discuss what we had seen. So, we swung by Franny’s in the middle of the afternoon--after lunch but before dinner--and found it nearly empty. We grabbed a couple of seats at the bar, and ordered some wine while we looked over the menu. The wine list was Italian, the food was Brooklyn. Handcrafted small pizzas and a range of ingredients, it was the perfect treat for a chill winter afternoon. The pizza was everything we expected from such a popular place: fresh, interesting ingredients carefully selected for a balance of flavors, piled on top of handmade pizza dough infused with the smokey flavors of the wood-burning oven. The Italian red wines were powerful, and complemented the flavors of the pizza as well as one would expect of a wine and food culture so intimately mixed.

It's great to be reminded of such a wonderful treasure, right around the corner from home. While it is not always easy to squeeze through the crowds, sometimes a popular spot is really worth the wait--and even better when you don't have to.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How-To: Read an Italian Wine Label

Like so many of the Old World wine regions, Italian wine labels can be very confusing to American consumers. In addition to the foreign language, Italian grapes are seldom seen outside Italy and can be entirely unfamiliar to New World wine drinkers. Like most wine labels, however, there is a logic--for those who can follow it.

Look for "Denominazione di Origine Controllata", or DOC, the defined quality grape-growing regions in Italy. Even better is the "Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita", or DOCG, designation.

The label will always include information on:
  •   The winemaker (here, Sainsbury's)
  •   The region, where applicable. Popular regions include Piedmont, Fruili, Veneto, Tuscany, and Puglia. (here, it's Abruzzo)
  •   The grape used, the name of the proprietary blend, or the name of a regional style (here, Montepulciano): Popular grapes include Muscato, Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano, and Sangiovese.
  •   The alcohol content (here, 12%)
Once you are able to distinguish the various parts of a wine label, you will be much more confident knowing what your getting inside the bottle. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quick Review: Rosso Conero

Italy, Marche, Rosso Conero, La Terrazze 2009
+ // Earthy // Plum, Cedar, Leather // Chocolate, Cedar, Leather, Strawberry // Full 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Did You Know?... About Montepulciano

Montepulciano is a red grape grown throughout much of Italy, especially the Abruzzo and Marche regions. The grape is commonly used in Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno wines. It can produce a wine with deep color and heavy tannins, and is often considered an earthy flavor.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Quick Review: Refosco Le Marsure

Italy, Friuli, Refosco Le Marsure, Teresa Raiz 2009
++ // Spicy // Smoke, Leather, Old Berries // Black Pepper, Old Currant, Tanin // Medium bodied

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bar Veloce Dinner

Normally, we keep Friday nights casual. Some takeout, a bottle of wine, a bit of TV. It's a good way to wind down the work week. But every once in a while we pretend we are young and adventurous and go out for the evening. Sometimes we even justify it to ourselves by going to check out a good wine bar. This time around, we decided to check out a place known for having a great wine list--Bar Veloce.

Friday, July 20, 2012

How-To: Avoid Getting Drunk in a Wine Tasting

Whether it's in a class or on a wine trail, if you are doing series of tastings, it's easy to end up drinking quite a bit of wine. There are tips and tricks out there on how to avoid getting drunk, or at least appearing like you are not, but the only sure fire way is to not actually drink.  So, at a wine tasting, that means you need to spit. While it might be a bit distasteful, on many levels, it is vital if you want to actually try a large number of wines at the same time, and still walk out of the tasting room.

  • Find a deep, opaque bucket (often provided): You need this to avoid splash-back.
    • Opaque because you don't want people to see what you've spit!
  • Swirl, Sniff, Taste: the ritual of how we sample wine.
  • Spit: Pick up your bucket securely, and spit...unless it's an amazing wine.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Quick Reviews: Finger Lakes Round-Up--3 White Wines

Again, we couldn't sample everything in the Finger Lakes, but from our visit to 6 wineries, our favorite 3 whites were:

US, New York, Finger Lakes, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Rkatsiteli, 2010
++ // Fruity-Crisp // Herbs, Banana, Vanilla // Lime, lemon // Medium bodied
There is a crispness here that balances the herbs and minerals.

US, New York, Finger Lakes, Lamoreaux Landing, Chardonnay, 2008
++ // Smooth-Crisp finish // Butter, white pepper // Green apple, lime // Light bodied

US, New York, Finger Lakes, Fox Run Vineyards, Dry Riesling, 2011
++ / Crisp // Citrus // Peach, lemon, touch of smoke // Light bodied

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Finger Lakes Update

This year's visit to the Finger Lakes in early July revealed the following themes: 

Barrels at Anthony Road Wine Company
  • Finger Lakes winemakers strive for balance. Although this region has been known for producing wines of extremely high acidity, this year was the first time we heard winemakers talking about how wince can be crisp, but still well-balanced with fruitiness. We encountered several examples of this.
  • Finger Lakes winemakers are using native varietals less. Once a kitschy part of any trip to the area, visitors will find native-to-New-York varietals (like Cayuga White, Niagara, Delaware, etc.) less than they had in past. Perhaps, in the past, winemakers felt pressured into working with those varietals. Today, they are proudly producing wine from the noble grapes you've come to know by household name (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, etc.)  According to Scott Osborn, President of Fox Run Vineyards:

    I am guessing the [wine from] Labrusca doesn’t sell too much anymore. Most visitors are looking for Vinifera wines and most of the higher quality producers are only making Vinifera wines with some good hybrid’s thrown in there. Niagara, Delaware, and Concord wines tend not to move on a wine list and if you keep them to long like a year they tend to go bad. That said there are a few producers who still grow those varieties and make wines out of them.
  • Finger Lakes winemakers are increasingly placing emphasis on treating the grape less during production. To compete on an international stage, the winemakers from this region know that whatever they produce has to maintain highest standards of quality. This starts by working with what they have in their vineyards, and they are beginning to grow fewer varietals overall but focusing on the quality of those they do. Then, the least amount of treatment the grapes get in the wine-making process, the better, in these winemakers opinions.  
  • Finger Lakes winemakers are using Lemberger as a blending grape to round out Cabernet Franc (and other wines). Blending is very common in Europe (a red Bordeaux is, after all, the blending of typically three grapes), but less favored in the U.S. for many reasons. While Lemberger still exists as a standalone in the Finger Lakes, we saw it more and more blended into other wines. A great use of the not-so-commonly-known grape.
  • 2007 was a great vintage. If you can find a 2007 wine from the Finger Lakes, you will not be disappointed. The weather was perfect in terms of allowing the grapes to ripen at the most preferred pace.
We were impressed by the wines this year--even more since last year's visit--and credit this to the changes we're starting to see in the Finger Lakes. There's a lot going on in the Finger Lakes. If you have never tried wine from this area, do so now!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Quick Reviews: Finger Lakes Round-Up--3 Red Wines

Of course we couldn't sample everything in the Finger Lakes, but from our visit to 6 wineries, our favorite 3 reds were:

US, New York, Finger Lakes, Heart & Hands, Pinot Noir, 2010
++ // Earthy // Earthy, Fruit (berry) // Pepper, tart cherry, currant, wood // Medium bodied

US, New York, Finger Lakes, Heron Hill Winery, Classic Cabernet Franc, 2010
++ // Earthy // Cherry // Dried cherries, chocolate, tobacco // Medium bodied

US, New York, Finger Lakes,  Anthony Road Wine Company, Cabernet Franc/Lemberger, 2010
++ // Smooth // Blueberry, Pepper, Earth // Blackberry, plum, cherry, vanilla, pepper, Medium bodied

Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer in the Finger Lakes

It's that time of year again, when we get out of NYC to escape the heat. So we packed out bags and headed for our favorite summer destination: New York's Finger Lakes. We found ourselves a hotel room in Geneva, on the shore of Seneca Lake, and spent a couple of days driving through the hills, enjoying the views and tasting the wines.

We only had a few days, so we carefully selected the wineries to visit. Too many close together, and the tastings could blur into one. Too haphazard in our approach, and we could spend far more time driving between the lakes than sampling this year's wine. But we managed to do well, picking a handful of excellent wineries to visit. And as an added bonus, we were able to make appointments with some fine winemakers to sit down and chat with them, and try some of their extra special wines.  
View from our hotel room
Our first visit was at Anthony Road Wine Company, where we met owners Ann and John Martini, and their winemaker, Johannes Reinhardt. Johannes took the time to show us around the production facility, which was very interesting compared to the few others we have seen. The larger, more modern facilities may not retain the old-world charm of an older cellar, but modern technology can only enhance the winemaker's skills. Johannes showed us their "cold cellar;" a refrigerated room that allows him to better control the wine's temperature during barrel fermentation to create more balanced Rieslings with lower alcohol content. 

Before we started our tasting, Ann and John took a few minutes to sit with us on the porch off the tasting room, overlooking the lake. They shared with us some of their joys and concerns about running a winery business. Like any sort of farming, it's a hard life, but they seemed content with what they have built, and proud of the benefit theirs and other wineries have brought to the Finger Lakes community.

After all of that, all of us--Ann, John, Johannes, and us--took part in a tasting, sampling their everyday wines alongside the special wines that add depth to their portfolio. Johannes pointed out that, in addition to the dry Rieslings that the Region has become known for, the Finger Lakes can create some wonderfully balanced Semi-Dry Rieslings that offer richer, fruitier flavors and a smoothness that plays with that acidity. And, as a special treat, he shared some of his dessert wines, the Berry Selection and Trockenbeerenauslese (or, "TBA") Rieslings, made it the traditional German style. This wine is made from handpicked grapes and is lovingly handcrafted--and all the rich, sweet unctuousness that can be expected of wines created with this level of care came through. The range offered in the Anthony Road tasting was excellent, and set the tone for our entire visit. It highlighted the level of balance that a deft hand can bring to Finger Lakes wine. It was only 11:30 in the morning as we walked out of the tasting room--but we felt like we had spent a whole day with this wonderful team.
Martini Reinhardt Selection
Given our recent discovery of his wines, we knew we had to visit Tom Higgins at Heart & Hands Winery. The tasting room is closed weekdays except by appointment, so this gave us ample opportunity to ask questions and learn about Tom, his wife Susan, and their craft. Tom explained how he trained in France, California, and New York, and how he wanted to work with the Pinot Noir grape in the Finger Lakes, and in the Burgundy style (all red Burgundy wine is Pinot Noir). It helps to know that Pinot Noir is considered a "difficult" grape to grow let alone produce into good wine, so many winemakers don't even try. Also consider that Finger Lakes wineries have a hard time convincing media and consumers that they can produce a decent red wine besides Cabernet Franc and Lemberger, two cold-climate grapes. 

Tom showed us his vineyard, where he lavishes his Pinot Noir vines with the extra care required to produce the highest-quality wines. Then, he shared with us his wine portfolio: two Rieslings crafted with skill, three Pinot Noirs made in the French style--one called "Polarity" that received no skins during fermentation and was therefore as white as any white wine--and, an amazing sparkling Blanc de Noir. He also showed us some very technical information about land composition, which proved that while tasting wine is an ongoing learning journey, there is vastly even more to learn about growing grapes that is far beyond us. We did learn a bit more about growing the perfect grape and transforming it into the perfect wine.

Pinot Noir Grapes at Heart and Hands
Our next step was a big contrast. Scott Osborn from Fox Run Vineyards showed us around his farm, explaining all the practical concerns of one who has been farming in the region for decades. He pointed out the drought damage already starting to show in the vines, and discussed the amount of labor that would go into hand watering the vines if it didn't rain soon. From there, we visited his enormous production facility, and he touched on a topic near and dear to our hearts: his support of all things local. He talked about how he commissioned the first stainless steel tanks from a local welding company, and after showing them how to build a higher quality tank, they have become the largest supplier of tanks on the East Coast. He talked about the challenges of competing with South American wines on price, while still providing his employees with a living wage and health benefits. And he talked about the relationship with the local community, and how supportive the public is to local wines, even when local restaurants and wine shops don't embrace them. It wasn't all practical though; he did spend a lot of time with us in the tasting room. He shared his Geology Series of Rieslings--wines crafted from specific vineyard plots to begin to fully understand the terroir of their property. He shared his Lembergers, Cabernet Francs, and the range of blended wines they create with the two. And, we closed with his dessert wines. The "Hedonia" was a special treat; a floral and funky wine made in the style of Port from the Traminette grape, a hybrid grape found throughout the Finger Lakes. An interesting visit for us as we learned both about the excellent wines crafted at Fox Run, as well as about the reality of the business concerns Finger Lakes winemakers face.

Bottling room at Fox Run Vineyards
Our next day started at Heron Hill. We'd visited their Seneca Lake tasting room in past, but this was our first time to their vineyard on Keuka Lake. We spoke with winemaker Bernard Cennac about the trials and tribulations of working in a cold climate, and tasted a range of their wines, incuding their Ingle Vineyard Series. Ingle Vineyard is operated and maintained by the owners of Heron Hill, and is the only Vinifera vineyard on Canandaigua Lake. The Ingle Vineyard Cabernet Franc is a "field blend": when the rows in the vineyard were first planted, there were a few vines of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignion mixed in with the Cabernet Franc. There is balance in their Rieslings, like at other wineries, that almost suggests those highly acidic white wines are a thing of the past--almost. While we tasted, we chatted a bit about the support for Finger Lakes wines in NYC restaurants, and how there is still a very limited few who have any real offering of New York wines on their wine list. This year's releases will feature updated and refreshed labeling that might help propel Heron Hill to the next level.

View from Heron Hill tasting room
Since we were in the neighborhood and we had time between appointments, we dropped by Dr. Konstantin Frank. We had just missed their 50th Anniversary celebration, and the official release of the 2011 vintages, but we looked forward to enjoying their wines on a quiet weekday. Given our newfound enjoyment of the more balanced Semi-Dry Rieslings, we gave the 2011 a try. Ironically, it was similar in profile to the 2010 Dry Riesling which was an excellent vintage, with ripe peach flavors against natural acidity. The Rose of Pinot Noir which was right in our wheelhouse: light bodied and earthy minerality at the same time. And our favorite of this quick tasting was the new release of Rkatsiteli (2010). This is a rarer white wine; this vintage is both crisp and smooth, herby with hints of banana and vanilla. 

Our last stop was a special treat. Lamoreaux Landing is Wine & Spirits Winery of the Year (2010), and after spending some time with co-owner Josh Wig and trying their wines, it is easy to see why. Focused on freshness, they pride themselves on being able to get their grapes from the vine to storage in two hours, in an attempt to reduce the natural oxidation of fresh picked fruit. This means despite they fact that they have 110 acres of vines, each small block is handled independently, and tracked during the barrel aging process, allowing them to better understand the different terriors of the vineyards, and blend as needed to achieve the perfect wines. We tasted through their different wine "programs." The Riesling program again showed us how different plots of land can effect subtle differences in the flavors, like a skilled jazz performer improvising slightly different tunes around the same main theme. The 2007 "76 West," a red Bordeaux blend, knocked our socks off. And most surprising was the Chardonnay program. In the past, we have written off Finger Lakes Chardonnay, but this trip showed us that like Pinot Noir, it can produce great wines if the winemaker embraces the cool climate and doesn't attempt to create a California style wine. Most interesting was their dedication to showing that the Finger Lakes can produce age worthy wines as well; Lamoreaux Landing sets aside cases of each vintage of their best wines to age in their cellar. Every year, they release wines from their cellar until they reach their peak, giving everyone, including those of us who lack our own wine cellars the chance to see what it means to age a wine.                                                
A wine barrel at Lamoureux Landing
In fact, many of the winemakers expressed to us that their wines could benefit from aging. Tom Higgin's told us his Reserve Pinot Noir would be best in 2018, and Johannes Reinhardt and others are confident in the age-ability of their Rieslings. This goes against current teaching that Finger Lakes wines are best within a year of release. Every time we visit the Finger Lakes, we're impressed. They seem to be in the midst of a major transformation: from sickly sweet wines in the 1980s to really acidic Rieslings in past years, the new phase is all about finding balance and suggests the Finger Lakes is maturing as a wine growing and wine consuming region.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Quick Review: Brooklyn Winery Barrel Aged Riesling

US, NY, Brooklyn Winery Barrel Aged Riesling 2011
/ // Fruity (tart) // Butter, Apricot, Petrol // Apple, Granite // Med
On the initial sip, we felt it was not very rounded, and could stand some more aging.
After coming back to it after tasting the other wines in the flight, our second take was that it opened up quickly. More balanced, but still not exactly what we would like in a Riesling

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Did You Know?... About Orange Wine

All wine start out white. Well, to be more clear, when pressed (or crushed) you'll notice that all grape juice runs clear. We get red wine by exposing the fermenting juice to the skins (known as "must") of the grapes early in the fermentation process. The pinkish hues or rose wines occur by exposing the fermenting juice to the skins of those red wine grapes for a very short period of time. The more exposure, the redder the wine gets, depending on the grape.

White wines almost never touch the skins after pressing. If the skins of white grapes are exposed to the fermenting juice, the juice picks up orange hues, creating what is called "Orange Wine." This has a tendency to reduce or mute the bright, acidic flavors of a particularly wine and is just one technique (of dozens) employed by winemakers in working their craft. While rose wines are commonplace today, however, it's more rare to find orange wine.

So: skins of white wine grapes allowed to ferment with the wine = orange wine.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Quick Review: Brooklyn Winery Orange Chardonnay 2010

US, NY, Brooklyn Winery Orange Chardonnay 2010
+ // Funky  // Nutty, Dill, Butter // Dill, Orange peel // Medium
More balanced flavor, only a hint of Chardonnay

The one in the middle is indeed the Orange Chardonnay

Monday, July 9, 2012

Brooklyn Winery Release Party

Not too long ago, we ventured out to the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn to try some wines at Brooklyn Winery. On our cellar tour, we heard about their upcoming release party, when the new vintage would be ready, and we kept an eye out for the big day. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Profile of Stuart Smith of Smith-Madrone Vineyards

Tina recently enjoyed dinner with Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone Vineyards at Rouge Tomate in NYC. Her profile ran in Palate Press and can be read here:


Stu and his dog, Curly.

How-To: Pair Wine with Pulled Pork

We do not often go into a meal with a clear idea of what the wine is going to taste like, and then select the dinner menu accordingly. But not long after we tried Heart & Hands Pinot Noir at Brooklyn Winery, we received a bottle of their Barrel Reserve Pinot Noir in the mail. Having thoroughly enjoyed their "normal" Pinot Noir, we felt compelled to do something special with the Reserve version. Expecting even stronger earth notes, we decided to try a heartier dish: Pulled Pork with a Blue Cheese Mushroom Sauce.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July!

Sometimes a glass of wine and a beautiful sunset is all you need for a great 4th of July! (our 2011 holiday)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Quick Reviews... Summer Wines

We've reviewed summer wines in the past, and there will be more to come. Here are a few recommendations for summer wines:

Viridian Pinot Gris

Rose options

Shinn Estate Claret


Monday, July 2, 2012

Wine and Grilling

It's that time of year again. While we are still trying to find ourselves a backyard to do some real grilling (curse you, NYC Real Estate market!), we have done our best with the stove-top grill to try out some summer recipes in the past. In preparation of the holiday weekend, here are a few of our favorite attempts from the past year at finding the perfect wine for summer foods off the grill.