Friday, November 30, 2012

How-To: Select Wine for your Holiday Gathering

Holidays are a time to spend time with family and friends, and share a bit of our lives together. But with so many visitors, it's hard to chose which bottle of wine to open. With a special meal, you want a special wine. So, how do you select the perfect wine for your perfect holiday gathering?

  • For a special guest, learn their preference for wine, then make it a great gift to share with your other guests.
  • For a large group, select an "approachable" wine--wine in a style and flavor profile familiar to most everyone. Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and of course, a bit of bubbly can't hurt.
  • For a special meal, focus on the recommended pairing. For poultry, select something light to match the delicate flavor of the bird, like an Old World Pinot Noir or oaked Chardonnay. For ham, select something that will stand up to the saltiness, maybe the sweetness in a Riesling might work.
  • At a special meal, stick to one red and one white selection and have enough bottles on hand to make sure there is enough to go around.
  • Unless you are trying to impress your significant other's wine connoisseur parent, or sitting down with your wine enthusiast friends, do not break open your most expensive bottles. Save these for the people in your life who will truly appreciate them.
  • Yet, it's OK to splurge a little on holiday wine. Look for good discount deals this time of year, which will save you when buying for big group. Wine shops and wineries alike offer great discounts, and some will provide free shipping.
In the end, your goal should really be to simply seek out some delicious wine. Your guests are there to enjoy each other's company, not critique what you serve. Ask your local wine shop to help you if you need recommendations. Cheers!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Quick Review: Duckhorn Merlot Part 2

US, CA, Napa, Duckhorn Merlot 2003
++ // Fruity // Blackberry, Raspberry, Herbs // Oak, Coffee, Strawberry // Full
Big, bright flavors, but the tannins were starting to come through and hint that they might overpower the fruit flavors.

US, CA, Napa, Duckhorn Merlot 2002
++ // Fruity // Prune, Dried Berries, Hay // Chocolate, Cherry, Oak, Forrest Floor // Full
This was a difficult vintage, with a hot summer that seemed to come through in some over-ripe fruit flavors.

US, CA, Napa, Duckhorn Merlot 2000
++ // Spicy-Earthy // Blackberry, Cherry, Nutmeg, Fig // Pepper, Chocolate, Berry, Oak // Full
This was a great example of how a great wine can stand up to some aging. The flavors were more subtle and blended than the 2005, but were still huge in the mouth. It was just a bit more difficult to isolate any single flavor note.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Did You Know?... About Merlot

Merlot is a red grape, second only in global production to Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a fairly hardy grape, and is grown throughout the wine world, but is possibly most famous for its use in Bordeaux blends. Given its wide range of growing locations, it defies any specific flavor profile, but often results in a "smooth" wine. The wide range of flavors means a wine range of possible pairings, but the stronger New World styles can stand up to hearty meat dishes, while the lighter French style pairs well with lighter proteins.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Quick Review: Duckhorn Merlot Part 1

US, CA, Napa, Duckhorn Merlot 2009
++ // Fruity // Berry, Peach, Cola, Brown Sugar // Earth, Cherry, Currant, Fig, Oak // Full
This wine was just released, and definitely needed to spend some more time in the bottle to tone down its more astringent flavors, but it showed some great potential.

US, CA, Napa, Duckhorn Merlot 2007
++ // Spicy // Floral, Cherry // Blackberry, Oak, Chocolate, Green Pepper // Medium
This one too seemed like it could stand a little more aging, as there was still some "spikiness" to the flavors.

US, CA, Napa, Duckhorn Merlot 2005
++ // Smooth // Hay, Coffee, Dark Cherry // Cherry, Coffee, Cinnamon, Earth // Full
Apparently this was the largest vintage they have ever produced, by volume, and a perfect season. It was also the high point of the tasting, for us, as it seemed to be the perfectly balanced wine; fruit and earth notes still balanced against a strong tannic backbone.

Monday, November 26, 2012

2012 NYC Wine & Food Festival: Duckhorn Merlot

As the last of our three tasting events at the New York Wine and Food festival, we were invited to a vertical tasting of Merlot from Duckhorn Vineyard in Napa Valley. Duckhorn was the first winemaker in Napa valley to focus on Merlot, while most everyone else was looking at Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. For the past 40 years, they have sourced grapes from the northern reaches of the Napa appellation, where the climate and soils are more conducive to Merlot.

In 1978, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn released their first Merlot, based on the Bordeaux style--more subtle flavors, with a balance of fruit and earth. Since then, they have been one of the premiere producers of Merlot in California. As demand for Californian wines grew, the demand for Merlot outstripped the supply...until the movie Sideways came along, and ruined everything. These days, the public's demand for Merlot has stabilized to be the second highest consumed varietal, after Cabernet Sauvignon, and Duckhorn continues to release a wide range of wines under a wide range of brand names (all focused on the duck theme), from simple table wines to complex and subtle single-vineyard wines.

We had a chance to try wines from one of their premier vineyards, the Three Palms vineyard, and from six vintages ranging from 2009 to 2000. Each was amazing in its own way, and we learned a few important things.

  • These wines are made to be aged; they are held for 3 years before they are released, and will generally reach their peak in 3-5 years.
  • Merlot has some big flavors, and pairs well with red meats; something simple with an older bottle, but big, strong flavors with a wine at its peak.
  • They recommend we taste our wines from oldest to youngest, as the flavors get more subtle as the wine gets older and the young ones can kind of overwhelm the palette in comparison.
This was a great tasting for us, an opportunity to get a better understanding of what the best of Merlot can really taste like.


Friday, November 23, 2012

How Long Does an Open Bottle of Wine Last?

With the holidays, it's easy to open a bottle of wine for guests, but not finish it. So it's important to have a general idea of how long a wine will stay fresh, after it's been opened.

A young, crisp white wine has a lot of volatile flavors that will dissipate quickly. Properly resealed and stored in a cool place, most can probably survive overnight, but the wine can get "flabby" if stored for much longer than that.

An aged white wine should be a bit more balanced, with a backbone of oak. With the crispness already aged out of the wine, it can hold up to a few more days in the fridge.

Much in the same vein, a young red wine has a bit more stable flavors, and will last a few days when stored properly. An aged red wine might hold up even longer.

Dessert wines have remarkably stable flavors, and can store for weeks in optimal conditions. Useful, as its a bit more difficult to drink an entire bottle in one evening without the help of a large group of friends.

While most connoisseurs would insist that a wine should be drunk right away (after its given the appropriate amount of time to breathe), most of us will still enjoy that bottle the next night, or the night after, and there is no sense in letting a good wine go to waste!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wine at Thanksgiving

At the first Thanksgiving, there was probably no wine. It took centuries before winemakers discovered how to grow Vinifera grapes in the New World, and Labrusca grapes had yet to be discovered growing wild. The Pilgrims grew barley as one of their first crops, but it's difficult to know if they had managed to brew their first beer in time for the feast. As the colonies became more settled, they began to ship over wine as a luxury good, but the tradition of sharing a bottle over Thanksgiving dinner is as new as the actual holiday itself.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Wines We Are The Most Thankful For

We are thankful for every new wine we get a chance to try, but there are a few that stand out:

The wines we tried in the Finger Lakes this year really stood out, both as an opportunity to see the continued evolution of a wine region, and as our first real chance to talk with the winemakers themselves and get a better idea of what they are trying to achieve.

Our journey through the world of wine is all about the adventures they encourage. There was no one glass of wine that stood out, but sitting down for a glass in Lindau to start off our trip to Europe stands out.

Sometimes something close to home is just as special. After a hard day pounding the Brooklyn streets, finding a chance to slip into a local institution like Franny's for a few glasses of wine and some excellent pizza reminds us why we chose to make our home here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thankful for Wine

There are many things in life to be thankful for, but wine gives us so much.

We are thankful for a glass of wine with dinner. There are few beverages that do so much to add to the enjoyment of a nice meal. A good glass of wine can elevate a casual dinner to something special.

We are thankful for wine at the end of a hard day. Wine is also a great way to wind down for the evening. Opening a bottle for dinner, then sharing the remainder as we relax in front of the TV is a great way to close out a hard day after work.

We are thankful for all the experiences wine brings us. Wine tours are a great excuse to visit the countryside and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Learning about wine has been a reason to try new and interesting foods to pair with the new and interesting styles of wine. And, as we explore around home and afar, looking for the best wine bar has been the source of countless adventures.

We are thankful for those who share our wine with us. Wine is wonderful as a sharing experience. Opening a few bottles with friends over the course of an evening. Chatting with people about wine. Sharing our expanding knowledge with you readers and those who've attended our wine events. It's a way to share a common experience, and get a little bit closer.

We are thankful for those who bring us our wine. One aspect of wine that seldom gets talked about, we are thankful for the way it captures the hard work of our farmers. It's often easy to gloss over the effort that goes in getting food to our plates, but wine is a great way to show the value of the effort and skill of those who spend their days making sure we have these wonderful things to enjoy.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Quick Review: Gerard Bertrand Legend Vintages Part 2

1945 Rivesaltes
+ // Funky // Roasted Nuts, Salted Caramel, Cinnamon, Old Fruit // Honey, Cola, Caramel, Overripe Peach // Very Full
This one seemed a bit astringent.

1936 Rivesaltes
++ // Funky // Hay, Nuts // Bitter Chocolate, Caramel, Cherry // Very Full
This one seemed more "hot" than the others.

1929 Maury
++ // Funky // Hay, Brown Sugar // Bitter Cherry, Chocolate, Caramel, Grass, Cola // Very Full

The last two were our favorites. Maybe because we had been sampling such strong wines all morning, but lets assume its because there was a balanced complexity to the flavors.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Is?... Port Wine

Port is a style of fortified wine made famous from the city of Oporto in Spain and made popular through the British. During the fermentation of a normal wine, brandy is added, killing the yeasts and stopping fermentation before all the sugars are consumed. This creates a wine with a high alcohol content with sweeter than usual flavors. Wine like this can age for a very long time in barrels, useful when the British were sending wine from Spain back home via sailing ship.

There are wide ranging styles of Port, but most commonly they can be classified at Ruby, made from deeply red colored grapes, or Tawny, made from lighter colored wines. Both wines tend to be sweet, but can pick up more complexity as they age, and given the high alcohol content they can age for a long time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Quick Review: Gerard Bertrand Legend Vintages Port Part 1

1974 Rivesaltes
++ // Sweet // Floral, Nutty // Carmel, Honey, Berries // Medium

1969 Rivesaltes
++ // Sweet // Nutmeg (subtle), Nutty, Brown Sugar // Cola, Cinnamon, Caramel, Sweet Cherry // Full

1951 Banyuls
++ // Funky // Flowers, Fruit // Bitter Flowers, Tart Cherry, Brown Sugar // Full

Monday, November 12, 2012

2012 NYC Wine & Food Festival: Gerard Bertrand Legend Vintages

The first thing that hit us when we walked into the tasting room was the smell. It was as if someone had filled the room with caramel and nuts, and the smell was so thick it felt almost solid. We darted into our seats, surrounded by glasses that looked like arcs of amber, anxiously awaiting the chance to try something truly special.

Gerard Bertrand is a cheerleader for Southern France. Despite the fact that the region, sharing the border with Spain, is the largest wine producer in France, it sees far less press and prestige than some of the country's other regions. The award winning winemaker is doing his part to showcase the unique potential of Southern France, so when a local winemaker stumbled across a lost cache of Port style wines, he jumped at the chance to distribute them as yet another way to show exactly what the region is capable of.

The region produces a rich dessert wine in the style of Port, crafted from the three styles of the Grenache grape: Noir (black), Blanc (white), and Gris (grey) Granache. The grapes are blended to achieve a desired flavor profile, and during the fermentation process alcohol is added to stop the fermentation process before the yeast consumes all the sugars, leaving a sweet, highly alcoholic wine that can stand decades of aging. Left to age in barrels and then forgotten, these wines have been aging for decades in wood, only transferred to bottles 18 months ago. To say that they were rich in flavor doesn't begin to do them justice.

Our host eschewed the usual tasting banter, the comparing of smells and flavors, to instead let us sip each wine while he regaled us with pop trivia tidbits from each vintage. As we delved into the a world of powerful smells and flavors, we were reminded of the world that each vintage grew in. The 1969 grapes were harvested the year of Woodstock and the first man on the moon. The 1945 vintage captured the end of World War II. The wine from 1929 survived through the Great Depression. Each liquid jewel captured a moment of time, from moments in history that most of us have only ever read about. It was such a treat to sample these wines, an experience that would be almost impossible to replicate anywhere. And it didn't hurt that they were amazing wines as well.

Friday, November 9, 2012

How-To: Cleanse Your Palate During a Wine Tasting

To truly compare wines in a tasting, it's important to remove the lingering flavors from the last taste. There are a handful of tricks to letting your tongue rest between tastes of wine:
  • In a tasting of a wide range of wines, try to move from lightest to heaviest.
  • Rest. Taking breaks between sips will allow your taste buds to recover a bit more.
  • Rinse your mouth with water between wines.
  • Nibble crackers, preferably unsalted.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Quick Review: Fontanafredda Barolo Vigna la Rosa Part 2

The oldest three from the Barolo tasting with Fontanafredda.

++ // Earthy // Dried Fruit, Leather // Tobacco, Leather, Sweet Cherry, Chocolate // Full
A full bodied wine, with some big flavors, but maybe reaching its peak. The flavors lacked the pop of most of the other vintages.

++ // Fruity // Barnyard, Truffle // Dried Fruit, Tart Cherry, a hing of Leather // Very Full
A huge body, but a fairly subtle taste

++ // Fruity // Earth, Tobacco, Mushroom // Cherry, Tobacco, Truffle, Chocolate, Oak // Huge!
And enormous flavor for such an old wine, but perfectly balanced between all the notes.

The older ones (on the right) went down faster...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Did you know? ... What is Barolo Wine?

Barolo is a small village in the Alba region of Italy. The village has given its name to a style of wine, which is crafted from the Nebbiolo grape. Barolo almost always tends towards big, vibrant wines, rich in tannins and acidity. Plum, flowers, liquorice, and truffle, the huge flavors easily stand up to long-term aging, and the naturally strong tannins most often need at least a few years to mellow out.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Quick Review: Fontanafredda Barolo Vigna la Rosa Part 1

Three from the Barolo tasting with Fontanafredda.

+ // Fruity // Petrol, Fruit // Cherry, Tobacco, Oak // Medium
A little astringent, heavy on the oak. Maybe could use a bit more aging.

++ // Fruity, Earthy // Grass, Cherry // Cherry, Earth, Tannins, Chocolate // Medium-Full

++ // Earthy // Truffle, Mushroom, Toast, Hay // Cherry, Mushroom, Leather, Liquorice // Full
Compared to the younger two wines, this was starting to reach its maturity. The flavors were starting to balance out.

Monday, November 5, 2012

2012 NYC Wine & Food Festival: Fontanafredda Barolo

In some ways, wine is a universal language. Our palates may be as varied as our languages, but like a Rosetta stone, a glass of wine can give us a starting point for conversation. At the 2012 NYC Wine & Food Festival, we had a chance to participate in a tasting with Dottore Giovanni Minetti from Fontanafredda in Italy, presenting us with a vertical tasting of some of their Barolo Vigna la Rosa. His English was as heavily accented as his wine was full bodied, but since we shared common ground in discussing the same wines, we had a chance to learn quite a bit from him.

Founded in 1858 by the first King of Italy, Fontanafredda was originally intended as the court wine until it was introduced to the public in 1878. Situated in the temperate climate of the Piedmont region, the 240 acres of vineyards produces 100% varietal wines. We were tasting their Barolo Vigna la Rosa, made from Nebbiolo grapes from the 21 acres of the La Rosa vineyard in Serrelunga d'Alba.

The presentation was very technical. The winemaker had worked with others in the region to develop a custom tasting wheel specific to their Barolos, with a scale of common descriptors. Some, like cherry and mushroom were easy to identify, while others, like brushwood, were flavors that we were unfamiliar with and couldn't really discuss. The wines were amazing, a selection of good to great vintages starting in 2006 and going back as far as 1982. One downside of this type of tasting: Barolo is a huge wine, with big, bold, and aggressive flavors. Each wine was balanced with fruit, earth notes, and tannins, but it was hard to pick out some of the subtle differences between each. And the pace of the tasting, with 6 wines spread out over about 45 minutes, left our tongues feeling battered and bruised by the end. But it was amazing to track these wines through decades, with a wine almost as old as ourselves still big, bright, and fresh. It showed how much some wines benefit from age, as the oldest wine offered the biggest flavor while being the most balanced. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

How-To: Tell if a Wine is Too Old

For most of us, it's tough to gauge from taste alone whether a wine is too old. If the flavor is off, it's just as likely that it's a poor quality wine, or an issue with the specific bottle. But when selecting a wine, there are a few tricks to keep in mind to avoid getting a bottle that is past its prime.

For higher end wines, wine critics often provide a window for when they think it will be best to drink.

It's important to remember that most wines are meant to be drunk right away, after they have been released. For white wine, they tend not to spend much time fermenting or barrel aging, so they will usually be released about a year after they were harvested, and labeled as such. Red wines often spend more time in the barrel, so the winemaker may release them two years or more after harvest. For both, its best to drink them within a year or so after they have been released.

In your local wine shop, keep an eye out for wines that have been overlooked. Single bottles tucked away in corners on low shelves run the risk of sitting there for far too long.

As wines pass their prime, both reds and whites begin to brown in color. It's often hard to tell the true color of a wine through the bottle, but if you hold the "punt" or base of the bottle towards a light source, you can get a clearer view.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Quick Review: La Grange Tannat 2007

US, VA, Winery at La Grange, Tannat 2007
++ // Fruity // Berry // Black Cherry, Blackberry, Oak // Medium

This was an interesting wine. When first opened, it had a huge nose, full of ripe berry and a hint of spice, but the taste was extremely subtle. As it opened up, the flavors came out more, but never quite matched up to the huge promises of the nose, which was a good thing for a sipping wine, as it would have been overwhelming if it was as full bodied as the smell promised.