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.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Quick Review: Knapp Winery Dry Riesling 2012

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Knapp Winery Dry Riesling, 2012
++ // Sweet // Floral, Peach, Melon // Honey, Petrol, Melon, Very ripe peach // Light
Light on the nose, sweet flavors but not too heavy.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Quick Pairing: Wine and Fried Chicken

These days, we have a little less time to spend in the kitchen. It's useful to remember that we don't need to over-think our wine and food pairing choices: a few carefully selected ingredients can define a meal, and flexible wines give you a lot of latitude.

With the release of the 2012 vintage of Finger Lakes Rieslings, we had a few bottles of wine and we basically knew what to expect out of them. Sweet peaches, minerality, apple... these are flavors we know. So for a quick mid-week dinner, it was simply a matter of finding the meal to go with those flavors. I quickly sautéed some fresh fall bok choy with onion and jalapeno, to combine sweetness and heat, then added rice for a base and fresh chopped arugula for texture. The fried chicken was there for the minerality. Although there was a bit of prep time in the chopping and breading, and rice takes as long as rice takes, this was a quick and easy dish, all told.

Paired with the new 2012 Dry Riesling for Knapp Vineyards, we ended up with a great meal. The wine was sweeter and fruitier than we expected from a dry Riesling, but not overpoweringly so. The sweet flavors worked well with the spice of the jalapeno, and the flavors were bright and crisp against the fried chicken. With life as complicated as it is, it's useful to have a repetoire of quick recipes and and a library of wines you are confident in to make even a quick dinner after a long day an enjoyable experience.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Quick Review: Shinn Estates Cabernet Suavignon "Wild Boar Doe"

US, NY, Long Island, Shinn Cabernet Sauvignon "Wild Boar Doe"
+ // Fruity // Cherry // Tart, Grass, Seeds, Cinammon // Medium - Full

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Did You Know?... About "Petrol" Flavors in Riesling

When talking about Riesling, people often talk about "petrol" aromas. Yes, that means gasoline in many parts of the world. Maybe with a hint of rubber. You may ask yourself, why in the world is drinking something that smells and maybe even tastes like gasoline a good thing?

It's important to understand that it's not a flaw in the wine, but it can be a bit of an acquired taste.

Is it just tradition? Many of the classic German Rieslings include these strange flavors, and people have been drinking them that way for centuries.

It may be more that in the sweet Rieslings, these different flavors add some complexity to the wine, and cut through the syrupy sweet flavors.

Try not to be turned off if you do get the strange petrol bouquet on the nose the next time you take a big sniff of your favorite Riesling. But, we also recognize it's not for everyone.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Quick Review: Nik Weis "Urban" Riesling

Germany, Mosel, Nik Weis 'Urban' Riesling
++ // Fruity // Peach, Petrol // Peach, Apricot // Med
Good example of semi-dry. Bright, ripe fruit but not too sweet.