Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What does "Product of France" Mean on a Wine Label?

The most recognized wine growing regions of France, the AOCs, are closely controlled. A winemaker cannot just claim to be from Burgundy. "Vin de Pays," making up nearly 35% of all French wine, means that the wine is from a specific region, but not one of the specially recognized AOCs. What this means, in essence, is that the grapes have likely come out of several unidentified vineyards within one region.  "Vin de Table" or "Product of France" wines have even less distinction, the grapes sourced from anywhere within the country (including Uncle Henri's backyard!).

In U.S. terms, we're talking about the difference between "Napa Valley Wine", "California Wine", and "United States Wine" on the bottle. You get the point, I hope.

While you risk quality when purchasing a wine that reads "Product of France" on the label, we are not suggesting you avoid French wines without the AOC distinction. As we constantly remind ourselves, and our readers: if the wine tastes good to you, it's a good wine. Period. And, at their lower price points, these wines are often worth the try. By understanding the labels, you will make better informed choices, and, hopefully, find greater pleasure in your wine selection.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Quick Review: Caves de Grenelle Peche Imperiale

Fr, Caves de Grenelle, Peche Imperiale
+ // Sparkling // Overripe Peach, Yeast, Meyer Lemon  // Peach, Rye Bread // Med

Monday, July 29, 2013

Don't Judge a Wine By its Bottle

One of the benefits of being vocal about wine as a hobby is that people always know what to get you for a gift. One of the downsides is that sometimes those same people get you something that you would never have picked for yourself.

We received a bottle of sparkling peach-flavored wine from a former co-worker of Tina. Looking at it, I dreaded the idea of uncorking it. A cheap label, with "Product of France" called out and missing the "DOC" accreditation we look for, I envisioned some sort of fruity, sugary mess would be hidden in the bottle. Even so, I thought it might work well with some sort of cocktail, as even the sweetest sparkling wine can make a good base for the right ingredients.

Tina regularly suggested we try the wine. Her coworker had wholeheartedly recommended it, and she thought why not try it first before adding other ingredients to it? I continued to resist. Eventually though, I was forced to make a decision. Our supplies had run low, and it looked like a evening without a glass of wine, unless I broke down and opened the bottle.

As it turns out, my prejudice was unjustified. While the peach flavor was pronounced, it was well balanced with some other interesting layers of flavor, cutting the over-sweet edge of some fruit wines.

I still hold that my fears were not unfounded, but it's nice to be reminded that you can find a good wine in even the most unexpected locations. Of course, the threat of having nothing at all might make the taste buds that much more appreciative, but it worked out well ... this time around.

Friday, July 26, 2013

How-To: Enjoy Wine With Movies

The simplest way to enjoy a bottle of wine and a movie is with a glass and a couch. If you want to get out of the house and enjoy the two, there are limited options. While the laws may be complicated, a few movie theaters have figured out ways to serve you booze while you are watching your film. The oldest and most famous is probably the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, but versions are cropping up all over the country.

Here in New York, we have Nitehawk Cinema. If a few drinks improves even the worst movie at home, imagine what adding a few drinks and a gourmet meal to a good movie on the big screen can do to create a great experience.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Quick Review: Barristers Sauvignion Blanc 2010

US, WA, Barristers, Sauvignon Blanc 2010

+ // Fruity // Lemon // Meyer Lemon, Mango, flowers, grass, stone // Medium

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Did You Know?... About the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley runs from the western coast of France through the central regions of the country. The region is most known for its white wines, especially Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. The region produces a wide range of other varietals, but Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc result in some of their other world class wines.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Quick Review: Domaine du Moulin

Fr, Loire Valley, Domaine du Moulin, Herve Villemade Cheverny 2010
++ // Fruity // Hay, Graphite // Strawberry, Oak, Hay, Mushroom, Graphite // Med

A little off on the nose, but almost no trace in the flavor.
Complimented our cheese plate.

Amazing with French dip. Earthy, funky, fruity to compliment the spice (caraway) of the meat.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Adventures in Brooklyn, Allswell Restaurant

Brooklyn is an odd place. Once of the largest cities in the US in its own right, Brooklyn a patchwork of different neighborhoods that grew up as suburbs and manufacturing districts around Manhattan. These days, that patchwork shows itself in the poor network of transportation between neighborhoods: the trains were constructed for the Manhattan commute. Sometimes, the only way to get between (for those of who don't drive or ride a bike) is to ride a train into Manhattan to come back into Brooklyn. From where we are, any trip to the trendy neighborhood of Williamsburg is an adventure. These days, it's tough for us to pack everything we need to spend a day out there, so we made sure to take a few extra trips before our child was born, to see what was happening.

Thankfully, it's easy to find something to make the entire trip worthwhile. Back when NYC was still frozen, we decided to venture to Williamsburg. The cold weather, while appealing now, left us unwilling to just wander, so I looked for a dinner option that would suit us: local food, carefully prepared, in a casual environment. After an afternoon of darting from store to store in a desperate attempt to outrace the brutal winds, we were glad to have a plan for dinner, the restaurant Allswell.

With a mixture of hearty, meat-centric dishes, the menu was stuffed with British, German, Italian, and French dishes in an American comfort food style. The big, hearty plates were perfect for a cold winter night, and the menu changes daily based on available fresh ingredients. Some interesting beer and a list of Old World wines let us select something confidently. The crowd was younger and the prices lower than many options in our stretch of Brooklyn, but the menu born out of their fresh and local philosophy was right up our alley. If only it were a bit closer, we would be back often.

Friday, July 19, 2013

How-To: Pair Wine With Grilled Meat?

It's impossible to pin it down, since there is a wide range of flavors within styles and regions of any varietal, and a range of recipes you can use for your grilled meat, but you can use a basic guideline to help you make some decisions when trying to pair a wine with grilled meats.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Quick Review: Fox Run Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010

US, Fingers Lakes, Fox Run Vineyards, Reserve Cabernet Franc, 2010
++ // Earthy-Spicy // Berry, white pepper, leather // Full bodied

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What does "Oaked" Mean in terms of Wine?

After a wine has completed the fermentation process, a winemaker can choose to bottle it right away or age it in barrels. For red wines, this often means spending time in oak barrels for up to 2 years before it is bottled.

They do this for several reasons:
  • To all wines for clarification, as solid particles settle to the bottom of the barrel.
  • To soften the natural tannins of red wines.
  • To impart wood flavors to the wine.
  • To allow a limited amount of oxygenation.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Quick Review: Drinks at Fatty 'Cue

Root Beer Sazerac
Sweet, hint of earthy. Reminiscent of a Manhattan, without the smoke of bourbon.

Austria, Neusiedlersee, Sepp Blauer, Zweigelt 2010
+ // Earthy // currant, leather // cola, cocoa, cherry, oak // med
Delicate flavor that holds up to the meat surprisingly well. Spicy wood comes through.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Slabs of Meat at Fatty 'Cue

It's been a meat-centric year for us. Lots of grilling at home, and lots of BBQ when we go out. Steakhouses aren't really our scene, but there are a lot of interesting barbecue joints popping up throughout NYC these days. Fatty 'Cue counts as part of this wave of BBQ, but manages to be something entirely unique.

Fatty 'Cue - West Village location.
While most BBQ joints aim for a more casual vibe, Fatty 'Cue seems to be shooting for a more upscale feel, with a complicated fusion of American BBQ and Asian flavors, adding in an interesting menu of cocktails and wine. We sat down for an early dinner on a stormy night, enjoying the basically empty restaurant that the storm and our early dinner afforded us. The intimacy of the space was highlighted by the lowlighting, provided by small lit niches filled with bottles of bourbon. Feeling free to sit and savour our evening, we ordered a cocktail while we pondered which slabs of meat we wanted to enjoy.

Everything on the menu looked interesting and amazing, so we had trouble narrowing down our choices. The apple salad was fresh and crisp, well-complemented by the addition of some extra sharp aged cheddar. The pumpkin congee was rich and earthy, with a pickled mushroom that added a touch of acid bit. The real stars of the evening though were the meat dishes: a half pound of deep fried bacon and a brisket served up with a big slab of Texas Toast. Simple dishes--smoky, meaty, fatty. We decided to try a wine from a region known for its simple "meat and potatoes" cuisine: a red Zweigelt from Austria. The wine had a delicate flavor surprisingly suited to the hearty meat dishes--a bit of fruit and light oak that added some spice to the meat dishes. We were pleased with the choice.

While the idea of an Asian/BBQ fusion restaurant seems overly complicated, in reality it's a great pairing. Long traditions of simple meats, cooked low and slow, are just as much part of some Asian cuisines as they are of Southern US cookouts, so it adds a little flair to an already familiar food. The wine might have been something out of the ordinary, but was well selected to keep from over-complicating the meal. It was just what we needed.

Friday, July 12, 2013

How-To: Pick A Bottle of Riesling

The Riesling grape is flexible and offers itself to a wide range of styles of wine. How do you select the best Riesling for you?
  • If you are looking for an easy drinking wine to enjoy by the glass on a warm summer day, you might look for a Dry Riesling. Its crisp quality will feel refreshing in the oppressive heat.
  • If you are looking for something to enjoy with a dinner, a Semi-Dry Riesling might serve you well. These wines balance the crisp acidity with the sweetness in the grapes to create a more versatile wine.
  • If you are looking for something to accompany dessert, select a Sweet Riesling. Or, skip the dessert altogether and opt for a very sweet Dessert Riesling (often called Late Harvest or Beerenauslese Riesling).
Look for the scale found on many Riesling bottles that indicates the level of sweetness in that particular Riesling wine.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Quick Review: Lucas & Lewellen Riesling 2011

US, CA, Santa Barbera County, Lucas & Lewellen Riesling 2011
+ // Crisp // Grapefruit, // Lemon, Floral, Grassy // Light
Sweetness comes out in contrast to spicy Indian food.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What Does the Name of "Single Vineyard" Mean?

When a wine grower decides that a vineyard has special properties that sets it apart from the rest of their grapes, they can keep those grapes segregated to create a Single Vineyard wine. To help market that, they often create special names for those vineyards to include on the label. These names are chosen for many reasons: geographic features, special conditions, or just something creative. The name is not so important as the acknowledgement that the conditions in that vineyard are something the wine maker feels worth highlighting.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Quick Review: Lamoreaux Landing Red Oak Vineyard Riesling 2012

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Lamoreaux Landing Red Oak Vineyard Riesling 2012
++ // Sweet // Peach, Honey // Honey, Apricot // Light
Balanced sweetness.
More fruit flavors come through with dinner.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Even More Riesling

What more can we say about Riesling? We spend a lot of time talking about the wines from the Finger Lakes, but we seldom have the chance to compare them to the Rieslings from other regions. While we can speak at length about the strengths of this grape in our favorite region, it is good to compare it with other styles, to learn more.

To see what we could learn from a direct comparison, we decided to open a bottle of Finger Lakes and California Riesling each, to test with the same dinner. Over a meal of Indian food, we found many similarities between the two. With only a sample of just two bottles, we can't draw any real conclusions about the regional styles, although we could learn a bit more about what makes for an excellent wine. Both wines had the characteristic crisp fruit, but the Finger Lakes wine had more complex layers of sweet fruit and minerality. Against the spicy Indian food, the sweet flavors of both wines became more pronounced.

The question is, what does this tell us? As a way to guage the two regions, nothing. Comparing two wines is just too small of a sample size. We could theorize that the warmer climate of California doesn't give the Riesling grape--a varietal made popular in the cooler climates of Alsace and Germany--the full time it needs to develop the depth of flavor. But that is a shallow understanding of the wine regions of California, as the mountains and northern growing regions can match Germany's cool climate. It could be the difference between a good vintage in NY compared to an average vintage in California, or a carefully selected single vineyard wine from the Finger Lakes compared to a more general run of wine from (Sonoma). But it was fun to open two bottles of wines and pretend we had a more important reason than that we were simply excited to try them both.

Friday, July 5, 2013

What Makes a High Quality Wine?

The creation of a high quality wine is a combination of science and art, as a wine maker uses their vast base of knowledge, augmented by their intuition and tastes to create the best wine they can. Of course, it's aided by a bit of luck, as even a master can only do so much with poor materials (or a poor vintage, in this case).

The quality of the wine depends on the quality of the grape. Good growing conditions, skilled care in the vineyard, and the ever elusive terrior play a role, before the wine maker has a chance to work their magic.

A skilled wine maker knows what to do with that grape, what to do to bring out its natural aromas and flavors, and how best to turn the simple juice into a complex wine.

The details about a high quality wine can be argued, but for us it boils down to complexity in the glass. A good wine will be flavorful or refreshing, but a truly great wine will bring layers of flavor and encourage you to sit and contemplate the glass.

There is constant arguing about whether anyone can actually tell the difference, with studies supporting both sides. This week we had a chance to run our own informal test: two bottles of Californian Cabernet Sauvignon with drastically different price points. Shared with family, we gave them a taste of each and asked for their thoughts. The results followed our thesis, but it still wasn't universally agreed which was the better wine. In this case, we know who was wrong (the one who disagreed with us!). But it does go to show that all that really matters is what you enjoy!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Quick Review: Selby Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

US, CA, Selby Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
+ // Fruity // Cranberry, Cloves   // Blueberry, Raspberry, White pepper, Clove // Full

A bit aggressive on the alcohol when it was first opened, but developed a nice rounded fruit flavor, with some deeper spice notes.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Q&A with Chris Phelps, Winemaker, Ad Vivum Cellars

When we started this blog, we had no idea how much pleasure we would get from meeting those people behind the scenes who toil over the grapes to produce the wine we regularly enjoy. We still consider ourselves amateurs, and yet have always been treated with respect by small and large producers alike. They take us seriously. And, nothing compares to speaking directly with winemakers when it comes to growing our wine knowledge.

A few weeks ago, we were asked by a small but very prestigious Napa Valley winery if we would sample their most recent vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon - the only wine produced by the winery each year. In terms of a wine adventures ... boy, did we have one! Josh Phelps, son of Ad Vivum Cellars winemaker Chris Phelps, was coming to New York and invited us to meet over a glass of wine. Timing didn't seem to be great -- Chris with a packed schedule and us with a new baby -- but after a flurry of emails, Chris ended up meeting Nathan at his office to drop off the wine, shake hands, and make a new friend. This Q&A with his father followed. And this is why we do what we do. Wine should be fun, not intimidating, and this winemaker reminds us of that!

1. How did you get into the wine business?
I grew up in the Livermore Valley, East of San Francisco. Some of my family's first friends were the Concannon family, owners at the time of Concannon Vineyards, so I was in a winery environment, knocking on the big redwood tanks, as soon as I could walk. Then my folks started making Cabernet and Zin[fandel] at the house with friends: I even hand-dug a wine cellar for them while I was in high school. I grew up in a family where local wines were always on the table.

2. What are your inspirations for your wine?
Even after 30 years of winemaking, it's still fun to discover new sources of inspiration: they are easy to find if you keep an open mind. It's easy to just say, "hey, I've got this whole thing figured out, my wine is the best, what could I possibly do to improve what I do?" Of course, this is exactly the opposite of what is the best approach - to constantly search for ways to up your game. A wine in the bottle is the culmination of hundreds, even thousands, of decisions, most of which might seem trivial in and of themselves. Choice of variety, appellation, hillside vs. valley floor, when to harvest, these are examples of big decisions. But, how do you prepare a new barrel for use, with steam or water, or at all? How often should barrels be topped? When you add up all of these choices, the sum total is the wine in your glass. We have a lot of options as winemakers, and a lot of them are not high-tech or even that interesting to the consumer. I am inspired by the day-to-day challenge of this work, and it is work. A lot of the younger Millennial winemakers are inspiring to me - they are pretty quick to think outside the box, and look at varieties and blends that are new and untried. I get really inspired whenever I set foot in French wine country, especially the Right Bank of Bordeaux, where I have lived and spend a lot of time. The blend of "new world" and "old world" approaches - and there is definitely room for both - to winemaking inspires me constantly.

3. In your opinion, does pleasure come from the discovery of new wines or in returning to your favorites time and again?
Both! There is a French expression that translates as, "everyone has his or her own taste". I believe the pleasure of a wine is an entirely personal experience. No one should have the power to tell you what you should like or not like, it is solitary pursuit. However, it sure is nice to share the mutual pleasure of a wine with a close friend. There is always time to come back to personal favorites that you discovered as 'new' finds at some point. There are thousands of wines to discover, and there will never be enough time to experience them all. It's so nice to stumble across a new 'favorite', and then share it with someone else. So many wines, so little time!

4. If you were stranded on an island that had a vineyard (and winemaking facilities), but could only grow one type of grape, which grape would it have to be to keep you satisfied?
Impossible to say without more information! Let's hope for a Mediterranean climate. Give me some climate data, maybe a little information about the soil, and I will try to answer. This is a super-critical question, and I would want to be deliberate in my response!

5. You source your grapes from a vineyard in Napa. What are the advantages and disadvantages to doing it this way, rather than growing and producing the wine yourself?
I've been a Napa Valley winemaker for 30 years - 12 as founding winemaker at Dominus Estate, 8 at Caymus, and 10 at Swanson. For the first 25 years, I resisted strongly having my own brand, which is a huge amount of work. Everything changed in a heartbeat when I was completely and irrevocably seduced by the Clone 191 Cabernet Sauvignon grown at the top of Sleeping Lady Vineyard in Yountville against the flank of the Mayacamas Mountain range on the eastern edge of the Yountville appellation, 1 km south of Dominus. The fruit is remarkable - super-premium Napa Valley Cab, but with a very unique aromatic and flavor profile. I do not have the means to buy a vineyard like this. A very good friend, Larry Bettinelli, is an extremely meticulous 5th-generation farmer, and is the force behind Sleeping Lady. I do have the privilege of producing the wine itself entirely on my own.

6. People in the wine industry debate the elements that produce the best grape – terroir, climate, age of vines, etc. In terms of the production side, where do you focus your energy and resources to ensure you produce the highest quality wine?
The single most important decision I make every year is when to harvest the fruit. Then it's on to the thousands of other day-to-day decisions I mentioned earlier - none of the little steps along the way to getting the wine into a bottle can be neglected. You have to be willing to make the tough calls, too. In a recent vintage, I pulled out an entire barrel out of the program, because the wine simply didn't taste as good as the others. This is a difficult decision, trust me, when you only make 10 barrels of wine!! Scrupulous attention to detail is the key. I am a maniac of details.

7. What sets your 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon apart others produced in Napa?
There are many top-flight 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines. The 2010 Ad Vivum has an aromatic and flavor profile that NO other Napa Valley wine has, and I stand behind this. While the wine clearly shows its Napa pedigree, it is very unique. I could write an entire page to elaborate on this point, but the most efficient way to understand what I am saying is the try the wine! If a picture is worth 1,000 words, in this case, a taste is worth 1,000,000! This unique quality is what truly differentiates Ad Vivum from all other Napa Valley Cabernets, as audacious as this may sound.

8. Are there any other grapes you would be interested in exploring?
ALL grape varieties are worth exploring, if they are cultivated in a "terroir" that is suited to them. ALL grape varieties can be shaped into something great if the conditions are optimum.

9. What are your long term goals as a winemaker and owner of Ad Vivum?
I constantly seek to refine how I approach everything to do with Ad Vivum - from my interactions with Larry at Sleeping Lady, to my choice of barrels, to how we market the wine. The wine sells easily in just a few markets, but we would like to reach a wider audience, so this is one of our current goals. We'll consider expanding production at some point, but 3,000 bottles is just about right at the moment, and allows absolute focus on what we are doing.

10. What, if anything, is the one thing you wish people knew about Ad Vivum?
We would like EVERYONE to have a chance to try the wine! Visit our website, give us a call, come and see us. Who knows, Ad Vivum could become one of your favorite wines - you wouldn't be the first person to have such an epiphany!

Winemaker Chris Phelps
photo courtesy Ad Vivum Cellars

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Quick Review: Ad Vivum Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

US, CA, Napa, Ad Vivum Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
++ // Fruity // Graphite, Strawberry, New leather // Graphite, Strawberry, Pepper, Cedar // Full

A well balanced wine with layers of flavor, well suited to big flavors for dinner. Ripe fruit flavors, but well served by some added layers of complexity.

Monday, July 1, 2013

So Much Celebration, So Much Wine

There has been so much in our life to celebrate recently. A new home, a new baby, and the special days around both. And for each, we need to find a bottle of wine worthy of the day. So when my little brother came, with his new fiance, to visit our baby over this Fourth of July week, we had to find something to top all of our recent evenings.

Our guests were not wine afficianados, but we decided to try something special: Cabernet Sauvignon from Ad Vivum in Napa seemed an exceptional but approachable wine, a little bit of Americana in a glass. Big, bold, ripe fruit, but with a balance of other interesting flavors, it made for a perfect glass with a big celebratory meal of grilled beef brisket, salt potatoes, and veggie coleslaw. It had a range of flavors that made each bite of food a little more special, as we caught up on our new and exciting life events.