Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays to all of our readers! We're off celebrating, but we will be back with more stories to tell and discoveries to share on January 6th. Enjoy your New Year celebrations!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Quick Review: Domane Wachau Loibenberg Riesling 2011

Austria, Wachau, Domane Wachau Loibenberg Riesling 2011
+ // Smooth, Crisp // Apple, Stone, Vanilla, Petrol // Petrol, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Honeysuckle // Med

Monday, December 23, 2013

Saving a Bottle for a Special Day

Most of the time, the only reason a bottle of wine stays on our rack for any length of time is because we have a case of it in our pantry to deplete first. Every once in a while, though, it's worth setting aside a bottle for a special occasion. Maybe its a bottle to commemorate a special event, or a great wine you discovered that you want to enjoy down the road.

We have a tradition around celebrating our anniversary: we set aside a bottle at anniversary time to open the following year. It helps remind of us of where we have been in our journey together over the last year. This year, we opened a bottle we picked up on our trip to Austria, a reminder of what might be our last big trip abroad of a while. Of course, a special bottle requires a special meal, so we decided to relive our dinners in Germany and Austria with a big plate of meat and potatoes, with a few tweaks to suit us.

The wine was as crisp as we expected from a cool climate white wine, with a hint of petrol and vanilla to give it a bit of a smoother, creamier mouth feel. With cream of broccoli and cauliflower soup, the wine was a bit too vibrant, and overwhelmed the light earthiness of the veggies. The soup was accompanied by potato dumplings spiced with jalapeno, which is always a good pairing with crisp Riesling. And of course, the meal needed some pork: chops with a lemon scallion relish needed a crisp wine to cut through the rich fattiness, and the citrus flavors matched the relish. There is something to be said for matching a wine with its native cuisine.

Is it vital to set aside bottles of wine? Most of the time, no. Most wine is made to be drunk right away. But, sometimes, you might save something to help mark a special occasion. Sometimes, you might find an amazing wine that you want to share with friends down the road. And, sometimes, you find a wine that you think deserves to be aged. The wait is worth it every time.

Friday, December 20, 2013

How Long Can You Keep an Open Bottle of Wine?

With guests coming and going, you may wonder how long you can keep that bottle of wine you opened but didn't finish. There are no hard and fast rules, but the general guidelines fall on a spectrum:

You milage may vary, depending on the wines and how sensitive you are to the taste of bottle, but it never hurts to keep the bottle. Worst case scenario, you pour it out tomorrow and open a new one.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Quick Review: Finger Lakes Tasting -Part 2

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Thirsty Owl Cabernet Sauvignon Ice Wine 2012
++ // Sweet // Nutty, Cherry, Berry // Raspberry, Cream // Full

Raspberry Ice Cream in a glass. The result of a happy accident, as the winemaker tried to make the best of a nvintage.

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Standing Stone Vidal Ice 2011
+ // Sweet // Cardamon, Almond // Honey and Blue Cheese, Peach, Hint of that Noble Rot funk // Full

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Wagner Vineyards Riesling Ice 2012
++ // Crisp/Sweet // Delicate, Old Flowers, Cloves // Perfect summer peach, Hint of Forrest Floor, Petrol, Salted Peanuts // Full

Balanced flavor, between sweet and crisp.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's Time to Buy Some Bubbly!

With the holidays ahead of us, its time to stock up on your favorite sparkling wines. While it's reasonable to grab a bottle from your favorite French Champagne house, it's useful to remember that there are other great regions for sparkling wine. The bonus: you can get a great bubbly for a whole lot less. We tried a few wonderful ones from the Finger Lakes, and just learned that one of our favorite Finger Lakes producers, Heart & Hands, just released their newest Blanc de Noirs for the season. So find yourself a great bottle, and celebrate!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Quick Review: Finger Lakes Tasting -Part 1

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Goose Watch Winery, Brut Rose
+ // Crisp // Candied Red apple, Cherries, Bread // Bread, Macoun Apples // Medium

A good starting wine, gets the taste buds flowing. Red fruit and fall flavors makes for a good cool weather wine. Made from Pinot Noir. The $18 price point makes this an exceptional deal for a sparkling wine.

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Glenora Wine Cellars, Brut 2003
++ // Smooth // Apricot, Peach // Nectarine // Medium-Full

Creamy with delicate bubbles. Maybe a hint of bitterness from the stems. The price point ($25) is slightly higher but another exceptional deal.

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Fox Run Vineyards Hedonia
+ // Sweet // Lemon // Lemon meringue, a hint of bitterness // Full

A big, grapey wine, but a undercurrent of other balancing flavors. The winery recommends you serve it like a fine whiskey - on the rocks. To be even more festive, add a slice of orange, lemon, or other citrus. This is a fortified wine made from the Traminette grape and comes in at 20% ABV. The price point is a surprise: $9.99 for a quality wine.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Wines: Sparkling and Dessert

With the holidays upon us, it's useful to have a stockpile of simple, accessible wines around the house for the wide range of tastes your visitors might have. A few bottles of Merlot for the red wine drinkers, a few bottles of Chardonnay for the white, and you are set for most everyone who might swing by. But what about those extra special guests? You might be able to get away with just a few glasses of this sort of "table wine" for that uncle you only see once a year, but what about the special friends joining you for your annual New Years celebration? These special times with friends and family can call for special wines.

We recently tasted a few such wines out of the Finger Lakes. Everyone thinks of "Champagne" for New Years and other big days, but it is useful to remember that other wine regions produce some great--and, better yet, more affordable--sparkling wines. While they can't use the "Champagne" name, many New World producers are making sparkling wines in the "Methode Champenoise" and creating some wonderfully complex and balanced wines. And with the new found success of Pinot Noir in the Finger Lakes, they are creating versions very true to they French style.

This year, considering branching out and trying other types of dessert wines. Dessert wines are great sip and savor with your special guests. Ice Wine is one such example. New York is known for its Ice Rieslings, but the region is experimenting with other dessert wines as well. The Vidal Blanc grape is well-suited to the cold weather in the Finger Lakes and creates bright, fruity Ice Wines. Even grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon are being turned into Ice Wine. These are great holiday wines, as a bottle can be opened to share and will keep in the fridge for the next visitors: these big, rich flavors last much longer than other wines, and an open bottle can keep for days if stored properly. That is, if you manage to have any of it left once you start sipping.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Did You Know?... About "Floral" Wines

Sometimes, you will hear a wine discussed as "Floral". This means what you think it means. It is used to describe wines that have a scent of flowers, often like a lady's perfume. This can sometimes translate into the flavor of the wine. Probably not the best wine to pair with a red meat dish, but they can make for refreshing sipping wines or accompany dishes with a citrus element.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Quick Review: Castello di Amorosa Gewurztraminer 2012

US, CA, Napa Valley, Castello di Amorosa Gewurztraminer 2012
+ // Crisp // Floral, Lychee, Orange // Apricot, Grapefruit, Lavender, Rose // Light

Bright and floral with Thai food. Brings a lot of similar flavors

Monday, December 9, 2013

Comparing Vintages from Castello di Amorosa

Being fairly new to the world of wine, we are still working on learning about different vintages of wine--meaning, the year the grapes were harvested. While a basic knowledge of regions and varietals provides a baseline to understand a particular wine, knowing the differences in vintages gives you an even better understanding--even if it requires a very specific knowledge base. You need to know the details of the weather in the wine region for the year in question, as well as what that means for the wines.

While we get a chance to sample Finger Lakes wines year over year (they tell us 2007 was a great year, as was 2009, and one year we traveled through and all the new Rieslings had a hint of peach in them), we don't often get to compare different vintages of the same wine from other regions. So when we get the chance, we jump on it.

We recently sampled the newest release of Gewurztraminer from Castello di Amorosa. We looked back at our notes because we knew we had tried an earlier vintage, as well. In both cases, the characteristics of Gewurztraminer shone through: bright, aromatic, crisp and floral. In the newest vintage, it seemed like there were more tropical flavors, with hints of lychee on the nose that we didn't notice last year. Why? We don't know. The vintage has an effect on the wine, we know that much, as sun and rain inform how the grapes ripen. But there are so many variables, and its difficult to follow the weather patterns from year to year.

Of course, comparing two vintages is imprecise unless you have the training and experience required. After all, this is the stuff that actual sommeliers do for a living. We can look back, however, see what our thoughts were at the time, but we can never directly compare two vintages because even in a vertical tasting, you have to account for the aging process that changes wines a little each day as they sit waiting to be enjoyed. Yet, knowing that a particular year was a "good year" in a region can help you direct your wine choices in the meantime. How do you find that out? You ask. Good luck!

Friday, December 6, 2013

What Do We Mean By a "Tight" Wine?

"Tight" isn't usually used as compliment for a wine. Like most wine terms, it doesn't have a perfectly defined meaning, but generally it indicates that a wine doesn't "reveal" itself easily. There many not be much on the nose, or maybe there are a range of smells, but they all assault your nose at the same time.
The other end is an "expressive" wine. These wines "open up" and invite the nose, revealing all their details. Often, an aged red wine will start off a bit tight, and open up as it is given a chance to breathe. An expressive wine is preferred because we sense wine with our nose almost as much as with our tastebuds, so a tight wine limits our experience of the wine.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Quick Review: Imagery Lagrein 2007

US, California, Paso Robles, Imagery Estate Winery, Lagrein, 2007
+ // Earthy // Leather, petrol, spice, green pepper, cherry // Petrol, cherry, hay, strawberry // Medium

With this level of petrol, we wondered if the wine had sat too long on the rack. Still a delicious favor, but overwhelming petrol notes.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Did You Know?... About the Alto Adige Region of Italy

Alto Adige is a region in northern Italy in the Alps, on the border with Germany and Switzerland. The wines of the region have as much in common with German wines as Italian, stretching from the warm Mediterranean to the cool foothills of the Alps. The Gewurztraminer grape is originally from the village of Tramin in Alto Adige.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Quick Review: Elena Walch Lagrein 2011

Italy, Alto Adige, Elena Walch Lagrein 2011
+ // Spicy // Raspberry, Cedar, // Blueberry jam, Cedar // Medium

Monday, December 2, 2013

Wine and Thanksgiving Leftovers

Thanksgiving dinner leaves most of us with a lot of leftovers. Turkey, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole--but seldom any wine. The wine you carefully selected to accompany your holiday meal is long gone before you have grown weary of your food. So in the days following, it's a struggle to find ways to repurpose those leftovers. Just because you're re-purposing doesn't mean you shouldn't find a good bottle of wine to go along with them.

For us, we decided to re-purpose some of our leftovers in a soup: turkey, pumpkin, and turnips, with a bit of cheddar cheese and sage. It was served up in a freshly baked bread bowl flavored with coffee, molasses, star anise, and orange rind. Big, crazy flavors, thankfully far removed from yet another day of leftover Thanksgiving flavors. Definitely not suited to a delicate, fruity red wine. Instead, we looked for something with some big fruit flavors, hopefully with some spices of its own.

Of course, right now our wine rack is full of Italian wines, in an attempt to learn a bit about some unfamiliar wines, so it was a tough choice. We picked a bottle of Lagrein from the Alto Adage region because we've had a few glasses of Lagrein before and thought it might give us what we wanted. In this case, it didn't work out as well as we had hoped. The wine had the flavors we were looking for, but since we didn't know enough about the wine, we didn't give it time to breathe, and it was a bit too "tight" on its flavors. There were hints there of what we wanted, but the wine wasn't "big" enough to let us really get all of the flavors when compared to the exuberant flavors of the dinner.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Wine We Were Most Thankful For

We had some really great wine this year. But the one glass we were most thankful for was something we didn't bother to review, or really even carefully examine. Not long after our daughter was born, we took her out for a spring afternoon in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and ended up enjoying a cheese plate and a glass of crisp white wine. Sometimes, the most amazing wine is one that is framed by the most amazing day, sitting in the spring sun with your loved ones.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What Are We Thankful For?

It's that time of year again to acknowledge what we are most thankful for. We could just say "Wine!" and it would be pretty accurate, but there are things about wine that we are exceptionally thankful for.

Talking about wine, we find a few people who want us to talk about their wine. We are thankful for all the great wine that we get to try. Some of it we might try on our own, but some we would probably never try on our own, and some we've tried previous vintages.

Always on the lookout for new food and wine, we explore a lot of different restaurants. We are thankful that NYC has so many choices, and that we have a chance to travel and try wine in new and exciting places.

Wine makes for a great addition to any celebration. We are thankful that we have had so much to celebrate: a new home, a new daughter, and big family events.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What Does "Reserve" Mean for a Wine?

"Reserve" wine is one of those terms that seems like it could mean a lot, but ultimately is minimally defined. In theory, it means that a winemaker has set aside a vineyard or vintage, or a special style, separating the grapes from the general process. This usually means a high quality wine, with more careful attention, but there is no governing rules or regulations. As a consumer, you need to be skeptical of such marketing terms.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Quick Review: Castello di Amorosa Blind Test Glass Two

US, CA, Napa, Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay 2011
Nate: + // Smooth // Butter, Lemon, Hint of Maple wood // Wood, Smoke, Hay // Full
Almost herbaceous, which was unexpected in a Chardonnay.

Tina: ++ // Smooth // Funky, wet leaves, oak // Aged grapes, ash, smoke, tannins // Medium to Full
There was a funk here, which Tina enjoyed. Smoky, ashy, wet leaves, oak, the grapes were definitely aged. This is a rich and full Chardonnay.

Expected Results: The funk and tannins and the smokiness tricked us into thinking it was the more "complex" of the two wines we tasted. We both thought the winemaker had tried to give the wine some greater complexity, and that this was the 2011 Reserve Chardonnay.
Actual Results: 2011 Chardonnay

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sushi and Chardonnay

Opening two bottles of Chardonnay for testing purposes, we had to find something good to eat with them before they lost their wonderful delicate flavors. With a balance of richness and crispness, Chardonnay seems like the perfect choice for Sushi.

Of course, it all depends on the style you prefer, but the raw fish in sushi will likely have a certain rich, silkiness that will match the richness of a Chardonnay, while the acidity of the wine with cleanse the palette with each sip, freeing the taste buds for the next bite.

The pairing with Castello di Amorosa's 2011 Chardonnays worked out well. With the bright, acidic Reserve Chardonnay, the wine was mellowed out by the fattiness of the Tuna, but brought a lot of liveliness to the meal. The more oaky "regular" Chardonnay brought a smoky flavor that paired well with the seaweed wrap of the sushi roll, and was a little more balanced with the food. Thankfully, with two bottles, there was more than enough to satisfactorily test our theory.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Quick Review: Castello di Amorosa Blind Test Glass One

US, CA, Napa, Castello di Amorosa Reserve Chardonnay 2011
Nate: + // (Very) Crisp // Butter, Lemon, Grass // Grapefruit, Caramel // Medium
Aggressive attack, with a really punchy bite that smooths out quickly.

Tina: + // Crisp // Apricot, Lemon // Apricot, lemon, grapefruit zest, vanilla // Medium
Yes, after a bright crispness the oak/tannins gave this a smooth finish.

Expected Results: The crispness led us to assume it was the 2011 Chardonnay.
Actual Results: The 2011 Reserve Chardonnay

Monday, November 18, 2013

Testing Our Tastebuds

One of the more interesting ways to learn about wine is to try similar bottles next to each other. Usually, we do this in classes and tasting rooms, but every once in a while we try it at home.

We had a couple of interesting bottles to open: the 2011 Chardonnay and the 2011 Reserve Chardonnay from Castello de Amorosa. We decided to try a blind test, to see if we could figure out which was which. To put it simply, we failed.

We did our best to go into the test blind, but we both brought our own idea of what a reserve wine should taste like. Typically, reserve wines are more expensive, and the idea is that there is something special there. Ultimately, we were both expecting greater complexity from the reserve wine, thinking the best grapes from the best vineyard would yield a more nuanced flavor. In this case, it seems like the winemaker was aiming for capturing the essence of Chardonnay. We found the regular Chardonnay to be layered with flavors, with a rich buttery-ness from the oak, while the Reserve Chardonnay was bright and crisp, capturing that pure acidity of Chardonnay that often disappears with the addition of wood aging.

It's humbling to be reminded that we don't know everything about wine, and that sometimes you learn a lot more when go into a tasting open-minded. Making assumptions here meant we failed our blind tasting. There is a silver lining to this story: finding the unexpected in a bottle is why we love wine and how we continue to have such interesting experiences with it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

How-To: Make Educated Guesses about Different Wine Regions

These days, everyone seems to be producing wine. Anywhere you travel, there is a good chance you'll come across a local wine region. When a wine region is totally new to you, use these rules of thumb to help give you a general idea of what you can expect from the wines.
  • Grapes: Some varietals, like Pinot Noir or Riesling can vary wildly from region to region, but others, like Malbec or Sauvignon Blanc usually present very similar flavor profiles no matter where they come from.
  • Neighboring Regions: Northern California shares a lot of characteristics with Oregon, while Northern Italy is similar to Southern Germany. Look to nearby regions that you know more about for clues.
  • Climate: Climate is a big clue. You are unlikely to find big, bold red wines from cool regions.
  • Age of Region: The reality of winemaking is that even the best winemaker cannot coax too many complex flavors out newly planted vines. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Quick Review: Parusso Barolo 2007

Italy, Piemonte, Barolo, Parusso 2007
+ // Smooth // Almond, Hazelnut, Vanilla, Woodchips, Leaves // Chocolate, Black Pepper, Plum, Tannins // Full

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Did You Know?... About Pennsylvania Wine Country?

Like most states, Pennsylvania has a growing wine region. Currently, the state boasts more than 100 wineries spread throughout the state, making it the 7th largest producer of wine in the country. Wineries are most prevalent in the Southwest of the state, near Philadelphia, and in the Niagara region near Lake Erie. The state wine makers still make a wine range from native varietals like Concord and Niagara, but they are beginning to find success with Noble grapes as well, like Riesling and Cabernet Franc.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Quick Reviews: Blue Mountain Cabernet Franc 2010

US, PA, Lehigh Valley, Blue Mountain Cabernet Franc 2010
+ // Smooth // Chocolate, Cherry, Dried cranberry, Whole cloves // Dried cranberry, Pepper, Cloves // Medium

Monday, November 11, 2013

Exploring Wine in Pennsylvania

We enjoying discovering new wine regions together. Wine is made in every state in the US now, and it's fun to try it all when we travel. Wandering through the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, we came upon a shop for Blue Mountain Vineyards. While we didn't have a chance to visit the vineyard, we could at least bring back a bottle to celebrate our visit to the state.

Picking up a bottle of their Cabernet Franc, we made the assumption that it would have a flavor profile similar to other cool climate regions we are more familiar with. Expecting a smooth wine, with strong fruit and a hint of spice, we took a bottle home and decided on a hearty, meaty meal utilizing some great fresh summer tomatoes--Ropa Vieja. A beef dish, slow cooked in a spicy tomato sauce, we thought that the wine might match that spice, and add a layer of sweeter fruit to the sweet acidity of the tomato sauce.

The plan paid off. The wine hit all the right notes with the food, even if it was a bit light for the big flavors of the meal. (Cabernet Franc is often light compared to traditional reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). It may be quite some time before we have a chance to try wine from Pennsylvania again, so we are glad it ended on such a good note.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Why Red Wine with Red Meat?

While there are no hard and fast rules for pairing wine with food, there are some recommendations that make a lot of sense. When talking about pairing red meat with wine, the suggestion is almost always that you select a red. Why? Because many of the flavors found in red wines are natural compliments to red meat.
  • Spice: Black pepper is an almost mandatory seasoning for a nice cut of meat, so a spicy red wine, like a Shiraz, will help add to that.
  • Smokiness: For a grilled or barbecued piece of meat, there will be strong smoke flavors enhancing the meat, which can be mimicked with smokiness picked up from the wood barrels in some red wines. Almost every red wine is aged in wood barrels.
  • Red Fruit: Some meat dishes are served with a sauce of red fruit, like cherries, to add a bit of sweetness. These same flavors can come from a red wine, like Pinot Noir or Zinfandel.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Quick Review: Stone Mountain Reserve Chardonnay 2009

US, Virgina, Stone Mountain Vineyards, Reserve Chardonnay 2009
++ // Smooth // Citrus // Vanilla, Oak, Lemon Zest // Heavy

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What Does a Well Designed Wine Label Tell You?

There is a wide range in quality of wine labels. Some offer a simple informative graphic, while others are a work of art in their own right. What does this tell you? It's the same story you'll find in any retail industry: In essence, the packaging only tells you how much the winemaker was willing to spend on designing a label. This could indicate that a winemaker is investing in a quality product. Or, it can be an indication that someone is hoping a pretty picture will capture your attention. There is nothing wrong with choosing a wine based on its label: if you like the label, and feel good about buying the wine because of it, you'll likely enjoy your experience more. After all, this is supposed to be fun, and sorting through the myriad of wine options at your local wine shop is part of the experience.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Quick Review: Honig Sauvignon Blanc 2010

US, CA, Napa, Honig Sauvignon Blanc 2010
+ // Crisp // Peach, Citrus // Under-ripe Peach, Grass // Medium

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dinner and History: Red Owl Tavern in Philadelphia

We've been stuck in NYC for a while now. With the new addition to our family, travel has been intimidating. Luckily, we have some great destination options an easy train ride away. We decided our first trip away from home would be a quick day trip to Philadelphia to see a few museums, and, perhaps more importantly, to take advantage of the hotel's babysitting service while we enjoyed a romantic evening at the  in-house restaurant.

Because it offered everything we were looking for, we decided to stay at The Hotel Monaco, overlooking the Liberty Bell. With easy access to the great historical sites of Philadelphia, we were ultimately most interested in the Red Owl Tavern downstairs. While we normally avoid steakhouses, it seemed appropriate to enjoy a great American meal in the most American of cities.

Camped outside, watching the last of the tourists shuffle home for the evening, we enjoyed some great wine and some amazing slabs of meat. A wide range of American wines--even a handful of Finger Lakes offerings--made us feel right at home. A menu of locally sourced produce showcased the quality of American meats. Easy, fun, and comforting, the perfect combination for a very special evening.

Friday, November 1, 2013

How-To: Get The Most Out of a Wine Tasting

Wine tastings are a great way to try a bunch of different wines, and often learn quite a bit about the comparison. They are almost always worth the time, effort, and expense, but there are some tips and tricks to make sure you get the most out of them.
  • Keep an eye out for Verticals and Horizontals which are a good way to compare similar wines: verticals are tastings that compare different vintages (years) of the same wine and Horizontals compare the same varietal from different producers. This is something you would seldom do at home.
  • Don't gulp. it's called "Swirl, Sniff, SIP" for a reason. You will be trying a lot of wine, fairly quickly, anyway (if all goes according to plan), and getting drunk will dull your senses and ability to compare the wines.
  • Be open-minded. Try everything!  If you don't like it, try it again. Remember, you are paying for the experience as much as you are the wine your sampling.
  • Pick a tasting that suits your knowledge level. Maybe you'll get something out of a horizontal tasting of $20 Chardonnays, but why not look for wines you might never get a chance to drink on your own?
  • Alternatively, pick a tasting that has wines that you might normally find in your local wine shop. A tasting of bottles being sold in the shop is a great way to sample before you buy.
  • Find a teacher you like who matches your style. If you are casual, a stereotypical French Sommelier might be a bit too much over your head. If you are looking to learn about wines to impress your boss, a teacher who loves the bargain wines might not suit you.
  • Don't get ahead of the teacher. You learn the most when you mirror what she or he is doing.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Quick Review: Two Italian Reds

We sampled two red wines at the 2013 NYC Wine & Food Festival Pairing Seminar.

2010 Layer Cake Primitivo
/ // Fruity // Black cherry, clove // Pruned cherries, purple flower (lavender?) // Medium

Anthony Giglio suggested the lavender. I wasn't sold, but I also couldn't say there wasn't lavender in there...and as we always argue, if someone thinks it, it is right! Layer Cake is a U.S. wine producer but, for this Primitivo, they source grapes from Puglia.

2005 Tormaresca Negroamaro Masseria Maime
++ // Spicy // Honey, coffee, black fruit, strawberry // black fruit, pepper, tannin // Medium-full

My favorite of the day's offering, best served with food. The grape here is Negroamaro.

The two reds, side by side.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Did You Know?... About Primitivo

Primitivo is a red grape from Italy. For a long time, it was considered to be identical to Zinfandel, but recent genetic studies have shown them to be close genetic clones of an older varietal, Crljenak. To most of us, this means very little, and they can still be thought of as the same grape.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Quick Review: Two Italian Whites

We sampled two white wines at the 2013 NYC Wine & Food Festival Pairing Seminar.

2009 Villa Matilde Fiano di Avellino
+ // Crisp // Apple //  Apple, roasted grapefruit, tart lemon // Light - Medium
Grapes grown in high altitudes that are warm by day but cool by night give this wine its crisp finish. Chef Lynch provided the apt "roasted grapefruit" descriptor.

The grape is "Fiano," and the area, or AVA "Avellino." Villa Matilde is the chateau.

2011 Feudi Greco di Tufo
+ // Fruity // Honey, melon // Melon, pear, ash, mineral // Medium
The grape here is "Greco" and the grapes are grown in the Campania region.

Fiano on the left, Greco on the right.

Monday, October 28, 2013

2013 New York Wine & Food Festival: An Afternoon with Barbara Lynch and Anthony Giglio

When we were invited as press to attend a lunchtime wine pairing seminar at the 2013 New York Wine & Food Festival, we were thrilled to see Anthony Giglio on the ticket. We remembered the 2011 NYWFF seminar led by Giglio which kept us talking for days. See, Giglio takes pride is making wine accessible to everyone. We were new in this business back then, but we remembered thinking, "hey, he's doing what we're trying to do" -- and we felt like kindred spirits for it. He's also pretty funny.

This year, Giglio teamed up with James Beard Award-Winner Barbara Lynch, who owns several Boston restaurants that are collectively known as Gruppo. She and Giglio worked together to come up with a menu of scrumptious tastes to pair with 4 Southern Italian wines.

For anyone who attends a Giglio wine-tasting seminar, you are guaranteed to walk away with ready-to-use tools for your next wine selection. His "3-sip rule" is not necessarily revolutionary but, for us, it's a new way of thinking about wine. In the same way we encourage people to "just try it" when it comes to food, Giglio is right to point out that it often takes a few sips before you can completely appreciate a wine. If, after the 3rd sip, you're still not convinced, so be it. But at least you tried.

Learning about how to assess the color of a wine.
The menu was delectable. A focaccia with tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes that was paired with a white "Fiano" wine from the Avellino wine region. There was a brightness to the wine but a hint of bitter, as well. Then, a Burrata with white truffle paired with a red "Primitivo" from Layer Cake. This was followed by a special treat of Fois Gras that was a "bonus" taste before we moved onto a white orcchiette pasta with fava beans and black olives paired with a red "Negroamaro" wine and a gnocchi with escarole and anchovy filling paired with a white "Greco di Tufa" grape from Campania.

All the wines were "interesting" in that they had complexities that I didn't expect and were offerings we probably wouldn't normally sample. Giglio selected wines at very reasonable price points--the most expensive, the Negroamaro, retails at $32--and wines that would be easy to find. He explained that even if you couldn't find any of these specific wines in a wine shop, they are common enough grapes that any decent wine shop could help find a similar substitute if asked. The only criticism I have for his wine choices is his inclusion of the Layer Cake Primitivo. Yes, the grapes were sourced from Puglia, but for some reason, I consider it a stretch to call this a wine "from Southern Italy."

The NYWFF wine pairing seminars are a great way to sample fine wine and cuisine while adding to your wine appreciation toolbox. My takeaway? I had no idea Primitivo has similarities to Zinfandel. That gives me one more nugget of information to help me decipher the next wine menu I come across.

Friday, October 25, 2013

How-To: Pick a French Wine

If you are used to New World wines, French wine labels can be uninformative. Instead of listing the varietals (grapes) used, French winemakers expect you to know what you are getting based on the region of origin. So if you have a favorite grape, it's important to know the approved grapes for any region of France:

  • Red: Mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc (and typically a blend of all three)
  • White: Mostly Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc
  • Red: Pinot Noir from the most prestigious producers, Gamay from Beaujolais
  • White: From Chablis, the Chardonnay grape is common
  • Sparkling: A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier
  • Red: Syrah or Grenache
  • White: Viognier or Muscat
  • Red: Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir
  • White: Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc
  • Alsace is the only region of France that typically labels the bottle with the varietal

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Quick Review: Chateau Doisy-Vedrine Sauternes 2004

Fr, Chateau Doisy-Vedrine Sauternes 2004
++ // Fruity, Funky  // Nut, Nutmeg, Clove, Apricot // Apricot preserve, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cardamom // Full

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Did You Know?... The Correct Serving Temperature for Wine

Most of us know that White wine is supposed to be served chilled. But in theory, Red wine shouldn't be served at room temperature either. The ideal temperature for Red wine is "cellar temperature," between 50 to 60 degrees, while White wine should be served between 40 and 50 degrees.

You lose a lot of the complexity in flavor if you drink wine too cold or too warm. In fact, a really chilled white can seem like it has no flavor at all.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Quick Review: Olga Raffault Chinon les Picasses 2008

FR, Loire, Olga Raffault, Chinon les Picasses 2008
++ // Earthy // Hay, Cherry // Strawberry, Old leather, Hay, Cherry jam // Med
Complicated flavor, hard to categorize

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Less Casual French Meal at DB Bistro Moderne

French food can be casual, but it seems to be the go-to high end cuisine of American restaurants. We usually enjoy more laid back experiences, but every once in a while we look for an amazing meal. For a special night out in Manhattan, we decided to check out DB Bistro Moderne after hearing good things about their wine menu.

We joined the pre-theater crowd on a busy Saturday night. Busy and trendy is not our usual scene, but we were impressed with the selection of French wines, and the classic French dishes weren't too overwhelming. Like French wine, French food can come off a little opaque, but a little bit of knowledge goes a long way to finding something you'll enjoy. Our waiter was extremely helpful in deciphering our dishes and the wine list, and we ultimately chose their 3-course prix fixe and were not disappointed.

A great dish to look for, if you want a glass of red wine, is Coq au Vin. "Old Rooster in Wine" may not sound too appealing in English, but slow cooking a tough meat in red wine is a great use of ingredients in any culture, and gives you one of the few chicken dishes that can handle a big red wine.

That is a wonderful thing about French cuisine. Years of culinary tradition have turned humble peasant dishes into amazing food. DB Bistro Moderne seemed to embrace that, serving amazing variations on dishes that can be found in any casual French bistro. The extensive wine menu did let us find a bottle at a reasonable value, and stick with wine that has been grown to match the traditions of French cuisine.

Friday, October 18, 2013

How-to: Understand a Restaurant's Wine List

Most people experience some level of anxiety when a waiter hands them the wine list. The more fancy the restaurant, the worse the anxiety -- and typically the longer the wine list! We often simply ask for recommendations to pair with our food. Sometimes, though, we decide to experiment a little, and see if we "know our stuff." I mean, we do this for a living, right? We always argue it's not rocket science, so here are 3 steps you can take to ensure you at least understand the type of wine you're ordering:

1. Know your noble grapes: these are the most popular grapes out there, the staples of any wine list.
2. Use the wine list to search for the grapes you like most.
3. Where the grape is not listed, use your smartphone to search by region: most European wines list by region, with the assumption you know what most grapes are grown there. Thankfully, we don't have to carry all this knowledge in our heads anymore.

Not sure how to pick out the region from the wine description? Simply ask your wine server to help you decode your wine menu. You should never be afraid to ask questions about the wine list, no more than you'd be afraid to ask about how a particular dish is prepared. And if your wine sommelier is like us, the chance to talk about wine is the best part of their work.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Quick Review: Chateau Villefrance Sauterne

France, Chateau Villefrance, Sauterne 
+ // Sweet/Funky // Floral // Bitter Apricot, Grape, Stone // Full
With blueberry hazelnut tart, brings out the funk.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Did You Know?... Why So Many French Wines are Labeled as "Chateau"

"Chateau" means "Lord's Manor" or "Castle" in French. While the monks defined the parcels that led to today's wine, those who developed those same parcels into great wine estates in the more recent centuries came to use the term to denote great wine houses. These days in France, it is a protected term for wine labels, and helps to define the most prestigious terrior.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Quick Review: Chateau Blouin

France, Bordeaux, Chateau Blouin
++ // Fruity // Blackberry, Apple, Currants, Oak, Tobacco // Berry, Apple, Chocolate, Oak, Cherry // Full
Opened up from med fruity to full, with tart fruit.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Comfort Food at Chez Oskar

We are fortunate to eat at great restaurants in New York City regularly. Never the "need to reserve a table six months in advance" level of fancy, but some fancy, popular places none the less. But when push comes to shove, we tend to look for homey comfort food instead of preciously crafted plates.

This is never more true than when we are wandering around our home grounds of Brooklyn. On a casual weekend evening, we like to find some quieter place to enjoy a long and easy meal. We love it when we find ourselves in a place like Chez Oskar. While the have a reputation for hoity-toity cuisine, there is just as much history of rich, hearty peasant food in their culinary tradition. A good French bistro like Chez Oskar can fill your belly with meaty stews like Beef Bourguinon, or even a great burger and fries.

Like the food, French wine has grown to reflect the needs of those farming the countryside as much as the elite. The big, bold flavors of a Bordeaux can bring layers of complex flavors to dishes rich in their own. In a dish like Beef Bourguinon, the slowly simmered stew can benefit from some of the darker flavors found in some Bordeaux wines, like chocolate, mushrooms, or tobacco. Of course, it helps that the recipe calls for a bottle of wine.

Chez Oskar was our kind of place. The space was intimate, but it was filled with a range of customers--from other couples to a huge family gathering. And with a great French meal, we were forced to enjoy a few great glasses of French wine.

Friday, October 11, 2013

How-To: Pair Wine with Spices

When talking about pairing wines with a meal, we usually focus on the main ingredient. But sometimes you can consider pairing your meal based on the spices that have been used to prepare it.
  • A hearty, sweet or semi-sweet Riesling can soothe the tongue when you have an exceptionally hot (spicy) dish.
  • Many Italian red wines have herbal notes that will match the classical Italian cooking herbs.
  • The peppery notes in Shiraz and Malbec will perfectly match meats that have been seasoned simply, with salt and pepper. (but, let's hope you never find a wine that has "salt" as a descriptor!)
  • Crisp, fruity and floral whites like Gewurztraminer, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc go well with the complicated layers of spice in many Eastern (think Thai) dishes.
  • A nice port or late-harvest wine would go well with "dessert" spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Quick Review: Finger Lakes 2012 Rieslings

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Lakewood Vineyards, Dry Riesling 2012
+ // Crisp // Lemon, Peach // Lemon, Green Apple, Stone // Light

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Lucas Vineyards, Semi-Dry Riesling 2012
+ // Fruity // Peach // Peach, Apricot, Slate // Medium

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Did You Know?... Taking Wine Notes Can Be Fun

Reading our Quick Reviews, you may think a life of writing notes about your wines is repetitious, dry, and boring. But hopefully, reading our weekly wine adventures reminds you that this is all about the enjoyment for us. The reviews are just a way to capture a moment in time, and help us remember what we enjoyed about a particular wine. After a while, you start to notice trends, too.

That said, just jotting down a few notes, in a serious, studious manner can be a bit boring. We try to keep it fun, and taking notes when you are sampling wine with others can be both helpful and comic.

Inviting a couple of friends over, we decided to break open a bottle of Fulkerson 2012 Riesling Iced Wine to share. We sipped the wine while we played a board game of zombie combat, so the environment wasn't exactly serious. And, as we rolled dice, sudden exclamations would spark a round of riffing on the notes and taste.

"I'm getting bread!" "No...old bread!" "No...sourdough!"

"I'm getting a lot of sweet fruit." "Yeah, some pear." "But almost sickly sweet, like pear that's been sitting out in the sun too long."

"I smell oranges." "I am getting chocolate." "Even better! Chocolate covered orange slices!"

This is the real fun of wine tasting: sharing the experience with others. Seems like the board game wasn't the only competition that night, too.