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.