Thursday, October 16, 2014

Quick Review: Thousand Islands Winery Pinot Grigio 2011

US, NY, Thousand Islands Winery, Pinot Grigio 2011
/ // Fruity // Grass, Apricot // Under-ripe Apricot, Butter // Medium

The butter notes were unexpected, and made it heavier. As the wine opened, it revealed some riper fruit flavors.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Did you know? . . . Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Gris

Upon receiving a bottle of Oregon Pinot Gris in the early days of this blog, we immediately started scratching our heads. What was the difference between this and the oh-so-popular Pinot Grigio? We had actually never heard of Pinot Gris, although the two sounded very similar. So, what is the difference?

A little research quickly revealed: not much. They are the same grape. Of course, all the rules of climate and soil apply. They say the difference rests in the treatment of the wine: Pinot Grigio is made in the Italian style, and Pinot Gris in the French style. For us, and most of our readers, that's a little too deep. We find Pinot Gris typically has a heavier mouth-feel to it. Pinot Grigio often comes off much lighter. Think of whole vs. skim milk. But, that's just our observation.

For fun, a little trivia: "pinot grigio/gris" means (in both French and Italian) "gray pine cone." The grape itself has grayish tones and the growing cluster looks like a pine cone. In fact, all Pinot grapes (Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc) have this "pine cone" in their name, due to their appearance.

Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio Grapes

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Quick Review: Imagery Code Blue

US, CA, Sonoma, Imagery Estate, "Code Blue"
++ // Fruity // Blueberry, Oak // Blueberry, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Brown Sugar // Full bodied

14% Blueberry wine, 86% Red Wine. Smelled and tasted like a blueberry pie: fruity and tart, with spices and sugar. A balanced flavor, made an excellent chilled dessert wine. Beautiful mouth-feel.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Quick Review: Lamoreaux 2013 Red Oak Vineyard Riesling

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Lamoreaux Landing, 2013 Red Oak Vineyard Riesling
++ // fruity // yeast, forest floor, green apple // apple, lemon, yeast, kiwi // light

Bright, assertive, complex. Fruity, but not too sweet. A nice, complicated (in a good way) sipping wine. A great finish to our 2013 Finger Lakes Riesling Tastings

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Quick Review: Bellangelo Dry Riesling 2013

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Bellangelo Dry Riesling 2013
+ // Fruity // peach, stone, // peach // light-med

A little "one-note" upon first tasting but ended up being an excellent food accompaniment. We enjoyed it with spicy fish and veggie soup. Surprisingly, even with the soup's strong flavors, this wine managed to cut through and hold its own. The soup's spices brought out the wine's much-desired crispness and helped to balance the fruity quality we got with our initial tasting.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Quick Review: Fox Run Dry Riesling 2013

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Fox Run Vineyards, Dry Riesling 2013
+ // Crisp // Apple, peach, blossoms // Apple,caramel apple, peach // Full

Unexpected floral notes. Really full body, like a sweet Riesling but minus those cloying aspects. Good to sit and sip. 

Enjoyed with spicy Indian food, this wine was able to hold its own against the spices. We noticed it finished a bit metallic, but this didn't ruin the overall quality of the wine.

This is a new release from one of our favorite, local wineries in the Finger Lakes Region.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Finger Lakes Launches 2013 Rieslings

The wineries of the Finger Lakes Wine Region work well together. Each fall, they collectively release the previous vintage's Rieslings. So dozens of wineries with brand new offerings, and celebrations and events to accompany them. Those who are familiar with the Finger Lakes know how far the wine region has come with this singular grape, and part of the annual celebration seems to be about closing ranks and finding power in standing together.

We were able to sample three new releases of Finger Lakes Riesling this past week, and will be reviewing them here over the next several days. Each year, we are like kids in a candy store, filled with excitement about what the most recent vintage will be like. We are never disappointed. Check out the twitter feed from the Finger Lakes Riesling Hour that occurred 9/27 to learn more about the recent vintage. During the virtual tasting, #FLXRiesling was the #2 trending topic on Twitter.

#2 Trending #FLXRiesling.png

Most United States wineries are releasing their 2013 white wines now (except where the wines--like Chardonnay--require aging). That's the most recent year you'll find in your wine shop. And, most of these 2013 white wines are meant to be enjoyed before the winemakers release their 2014 vintage next year. So, get to it!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Did you know? . . . about Burgundy Wine

The Burgundy wine region ("Bourgogne" in French) only grows two grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

This knowledge is useful when you are staring at an extensive wine menu, or picking out a bottle of wine for a gift and want to impress with something that sounds good. If you like either of those grapes, chances are you won't go wrong if you select a bottle of Burgundy. The wine will, however, have specific traits having been grown in that specific region in France, but most of us wouldn't notice the difference, anyway...and that's OK. If you don't like those grapes, you know chances are you won't like wines from Burgundy. That's OK, too.

Next time you're choosing wine, keep an eye out for the word "Burgundy" or "Bourgogne" on the wine menu, or on the labels. Remind yourself, "that's just Chardonnay!" or "that's just Pinot Noir!" Makes the whole wine experience less intimidating, right?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Did you know?....What "Funky" Wine Means

"Funky" is a funny descriptor. Recently a friend mentioned someone had described a wine to her as "funky," and she didn't know what that meant. I thought about it, and then I realized: people say "funky" when they don't know what else to say. The wine is so different that they can't easily describe it. Funny...but true.

Perhaps it's nicer to say that "funky" means "unusual" or "unexpected," in a way that makes the wine hard to describe. Wine experts do have lots of training, after all. Regardless, having read this, you now get to chuckle a little every time you hear a waiter or wine salesman describe wine in this way. Don't let this descriptor throw you. It sounds complex but really isn't.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Glass of Rose for Summer

We've said it before, and we will say it again: Rose is an amazingly versatile wine.

A new restaurant has opened not too far from us, Pacifico's Fine Foods. We liked the look of the menu: finely crafted dishes with a South American bent. But with an international menu, we didn't expect much in the way of local wines. It was a pleasant surprise then, when we found two different glasses of wine from Channing Daughters on the menu--a white and a rose.

When we are looking for a complicated bottle of wine to linger over, we often turn to red. When we want something simple we can just sip, a light white is in order. But when we are looking for something that blends the two--that has some complexity but is still light enough that it goes down easily--we seek out a nice rose. And Channing Daughters manages to deliver. Making just a few hundred cases of their Rosato's each year, we've started to look forward to catching these wines wherever we can each summer. So as fall approaches, it was great to find yet another chance.

The South American cuisine was an interesting twist for us. The menu was small, with only half a dozen entrees, and even fewer appetizers. Since we were starting with our wine choice and working from there, it limited our choices even further, but it seemed easy enough to find some good pairings. Pork and yucca seemed to fill the menu, along with some spicy sauces. Hoping for a bit of crisp to combat the heat of the sauces and the fat of the pork, with maybe a hint of earthiness to match the yucca, we were optimistic.

In this case, it worked, but maybe not much more. The wine was great. The food was great. In combination, they worked. It wasn't a sublime experience, where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. But that's okay. We were looking for a good, casual dinner and we got that. Maybe there were subtle flavors that didn't mesh, or maybe we were just more focused on our evening out than analyzing the complex interactions of our food and wine. We enjoy that, but sometimes just enjoying a fun night out is enough.

Friday, August 15, 2014

How-To: Tell What Wines are in a Blend

Americans like to know what wine they are drinking. While the Old World labels their wine based on region, sure in the knowledge that everyone knows the grape that ends up in a Burgundy or a Barolo, in the New World we want our wines to be labeled by the varietal.

In most cases, that's easy enough. But when it comes to blended wines, its not always so straight forward. A blend may be made up of a range of grapes, so the wine makers will often use a proprietary name useful for marketing, but not always informative. But there are tricks you can use to help pick out the grapes.

Look for typical styles: Bordeaux or Meritage blends are typical, made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Champagne will be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Labeled: Since Americans demand the info, many wine makers will include the list of varietals used. It may be hidden on the back label, but especially with New World wines it may be there.

Guess: If you know a bit about wine, you can start to guess what grapes make up a blend. In a red wine, soft red fruit flavors might be a high percentage Merlot or Pinot Noir, while a buttery white wine might be based on a Chardonnay.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Quick Review: Castoro Cellars "East Meets West" 2012

US, CA, Castoro Cellars, East Meets West Reserve 2012

+ // Spicy // Clove, Old leather, Tobacco, Dried cherry // Cherry cola // Medium to full-bodied

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Quick Review: Tess Winery Red & White Blend

US, CA, Napa, Tess Red&White Blend
++ // Spicy - Sweet // Maraschino cherry, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Clove, Candied apple // Cinnamon, Cherry, Rose petals // Medium

Monday, August 11, 2014

Red Wine In Summertime

When the summer rolls around, we don't drink a lot of red wine. Red wines tend to be heavier in flavor and body, and often a little bit higher in alcohol content. On a warm day, we are usually looking for something a bit more refreshing. There are reasons to still enjoy red wines in the summer. With grilled meat, sometimes you need a big red wine. A nice sangria is great for a casual weekend afternoon. And sometimes, you can find a red wine that works well chilled, allowing you that cool drink you so desperately need.

We are told we should avoid chilling red wines. They say that the fruitier, earthier flavors in red wines become subdued when chilled, so you lose a lot of the subtleties of the wine. This is true. (White wine tends to be more forward with its flavors, and chilling can even reign in a more aggressive acidity.) But some red wines can stand chilling, especially ones with sweeter fruit flavors. Even better are blended wines that use both red and white varietals. Chilling that sort of wine will help the flavors from the white varietals "pop" to augment the smoother flavors of the red varietals.

Why does this matter? Sometimes when you are lounging around, you might want to drink something a little more substantial. White wines can be refreshing, but they often go down a little too easy: the glass empties too quickly. A glass of red wine might catch your attention a little more, and remind you to savor your drink while you savor the warm weather. The trick is to give your red wine just a slight chill; leaving it in the fridge 15-20 minutes should be enough. If it comes out a little too cold for your tastes, simply let it sit a few minutes or hold the glass by the tumbler to raise the temperature a little.  To each his own: this is one of those subjective areas where experimentation is necessary and there is no right or wrong in what you like best.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Did you know?.... What We Mean by "Hot" Wine

Sometimes, a wine is referred to as "hot". Unless you are drinking mulled wine, this isn't a reference to the wine's temperature, or even its spice level (which is common vernacular in the food world). Instead, "hot" wine is wine higher in alcohol content than normal, and in most cases means you can feel that alcohol in your mouth. The reason it is referred to as "hot" is both because of the warming effect of the alcohol, and the fact that the high alcohol content is due to grapes that were riper than usual, most likely from a hot summer.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Quick Review: Albertina "Lorilai's Reserve" Merlot 2009

US, CA, Mendocino, Albertina "Lorilai's Reserve" Merlot 2009
+ // Fruity // Spice, Leather, Chocolate, Cherry  // Black pepper, Cherry, Savory // Medium

Hot. "Bigger" than preferred. Flavor dissipates quickly, but the hotness lingers.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why are Red Wines Always So Old?

When you look at a restaurant wine list, it might strike you that the vintages on the white wines are much younger than most of the reds. This isn't because they've been sitting on the same bottles of red wine for a long time. Most white wines are ready to bottle within a year after harvest, so the available vintage will be recent. Many red wines, however, see a much longer aging process in barrels. White wines may rest for a few months before they are bottled, while red wines can spend up to two years in barrels before the bottling process. This means a white varietal harvested in 2014 will be ready to be sold in 2015, while the red might be ready in 2016, or even later. And while most wines are expected to be consumed right away, a higher percentage of red wines are made with the expectation that they will be given time to age in the bottle after they are sold, so a restaurant with a world class wine list will let those wines age accordingly. This is also the reason you might find one wine-maker's Merlot, for example, offered from different vintages. You get a different experience based on year produced and time aged.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Quick Review: Pellegrini Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2007

NY, Long Island, North Fork, Pellegrini Vineyads Cabernet Franc 2007
+ // Spicy // Blackberry, Cherry, Currant, Slate, Earth // Graphite, Black pepper, Hint of plum, Cinnamon // Full

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wishing for More Cab Franc

Why don't we see more Cabernet Franc? Anywhere you can get wine, you can find its more famous cousin, but Cabernet Franc is a nearly forgotten varietal. For us, that's a sad thing. It shows up in Bordeaux blends, but that doesn't show the true strength of the grape. Fortunately, winemakers--especially on the East Coast--are working with the grape.

Many wine-makers in New York work with Cabernet Franc, one of the few red grapes that thrives in cooler climates. It's seen frequently in the Finger Lakes, but some people feel that the temperatures are a bit too cool, and the wine can end up with the green vegetable flavors of an under-ripe grape. Long Island puts out some flavorful wines, so when we found a bottle from Pellegrini Vineyards at ABV on Manhattan's Upper East Side, we decided it was a safe bet.

We've found Cabernet Francs to be earthier wines, rounded out with a balance of red fruit and spice notes in the best cases. We find it a good wine for cold weather meals that are heavy on meat and root vegetables. With the restaurant's "Super Fries," the wine was a bit much, overpowering the complicated spices of the fries. With a short rib gnocchi, however, it was the perfect complement, bringing a blend of fruit, earth, and spice to the sweet and meaty sauce. On the other hand, the gnocchi with winter vegetables and mushrooms was obliterated by the wine. The Cabernet Franc definitely needed some bigger flavors to match up to it.

ABV was a good venue for us. It was a bit trendier and noisier than our usual haunts, but the waitstaff was friendly and helpful, and the wine and beer lists were interesting. Changing, seasonal, with an American bar food menu, it felt comfortable for a casual evening. We don't have much excuse to get to that neighborhood often, so we were glad when we had the chance. And it was a good excuse to order some Cabernet Franc.

Friday, July 18, 2014

How-To: Pair Sweet Wines with Dinner

Sweet wines may be the go-to drink for dessert, or for casual sipping for some people. But they can be a good addition to some meals as well.

The most obvious may be the pairing we talk about fairly regularly: sweet Riesling with spicy food. The thick fruit flavors of a Riesling can calm all but the most severely spicy dish.

Floral, aromatic whites like Gewuztraminer can have sweet flavors. They tend to be lighter wines, but they work well when paired with herbal dishes.

Red wines can pick up the flavor of sweet berries and red fruit. A sublty sweet Pinot Noir can work well with a pork dish. A brighter, more delicate red wine like a Rioja can work well with a cheesey dish.

And the truly sweet wines, like an Ice Wine or Sauternes are typically best as a dessert as they will overwhelm most flavors, but they can work with anything that has enormous funky flavors of its own, basically anything that includes blue cheese.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Quick Review: Anthony Road Cabernet Franc/Lemberger 2012

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Anthony Road Cabernet Franc / Lemberger 2012
++ // Smooth // Leather, Mineral, Petrol, Blueberry // Blueberry, Smoke, Leather, Black pepper // Medium

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Did You Know?... Different Wine Vintages Can Taste Different

We've enjoyed a few vintages of different wines, like the Anthony Road Dry Riesling. In 2011, we found the wine to be crisp, with floral notes and a grapefruit flavor. In all, it seemed like an exceptional wine. In 2012, we found the same crisp wine with more apple flavors.

If these are the same grapes from the same winemaker, how can this be? The answer is: weather. Unless they are heavily manipulated or crafted in a way to maintain the same exact flavor from year to year, wines are highly dependent on weather conditions. Early frosts will reduce the yield of grapes. A hot, dry summer can speed up the ripening process and create bigger, bolder flavors. A cold, wet fall can slow down the final ripening of the grapes, and dilute the flavor.

Despite all the steps that go into making wine, and the skill of the winemaker, it's important to remember that first and foremost, grapes are an agricultural product and are subject to forces beyond our control. A good vintage comes from good weather, but that can vary greatly from region to region.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Quick Review: Anthony Road Riesling 2012

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Anthony Road Dry Riesling 2012
+ // Crisp // Stone, Petrol, Pear, Apple // Green apple // Medium

Really different interpretations of the flavor between the two of us. Tina thought it was under-ripe apple, while I found it to be a really lush green apple flavor. Proves how two palates can differ and how there is no "right" answer.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Old Favorites--Finger Lakes Riesling

Once upon a time, it seemed like all we drank was Finger Lakes Riesling. It was a great introduction to wine for us: we started with the simple sweet wines, progressed to more interesting dry versions soon after, then began to appreciate the more carefully crafted depths of the semi-drys that showcase great wine making. We now feel like semi-experts on Rieslings out of the Finger Lakes region, and have continued exploration in other regions and varietals. But, every once in a while, we just have to come back to our old favorite.

There may not be a "native" cuisine of New York State to pair with Riesling, but fortunately it's a versatile wine. The sweeter styles work well with spicy dishes or with dessert, while the dry style is great for sipping or pairing with fattier dishes. We decided on a bottle with a fish stew. Mixed with rice, veggie, and a spicy sauce, the stew was a light and spicy concoction, perfect for a crisp and sweet Riesling. In this case, the spice really brought out the sweeter fruit flavors in what was a pretty crisp wine on its own.

At this point, we enjoy the comfort that comes with sharing a bottle of an old favorite, even though, with all our work at growing our wine knowledge, we've increased our options for wine selection tenfold since the days of our first post. Not every glass has to be "an adventure."

Friday, July 11, 2014

How-To: Pair Wine and Clams

Shellfish like clams and oysters can be tough for some people to deal with. But for those of us who enjoy them, wine is a classic pairing.

On their own, clams have a sweet and salty flavor. Crisp wines are vital to work with that saltiness. Of course, even steamed clams usually come with some extra flavors of spices like garlic or herbs.

-Crisp and grassy Sauvignon Blanc will work well with some more herbal flavors of Clams Provencial
-Aggressive Verdello will work well with clams with garlic
-Creamy oaked Chardonnay will complement clams in a butter sauce

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Quick Review: Glenora "Lake Series" Riesling

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Glenora "Lake Series" Riesling

+ // Sweet // Apple, Wild flowers, Fall leaves // Red Delicious apple, Super ripe strawberry, Hint of mineral // Light

Light bodied for such an abundance of sweet flavors. Felt like a semi-dry, with a slight mineral edge at the finish to help round out the sweetness.

Photo retrieved from www.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Finger Lake Wines at The Clam Bar in Syracuse

With national clients, sometimes my work means an interesting trip to look at a space in DC or Las Vegas. And sometimes it's to check out a space in a strip mall in Syracuse, NY. It may not be a bad place, but if you manage to get stuck there overnight, as I did, you might run out of well-known restaurants once you've visited Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Spending the night alone at an airport hotel, I needed to find a place to get out for a few minutes, so I asked if they had any recommendations for dinner. It was either Applebee's or a local joint called The Clam Bar, so...seafood it was.

Walking into the place, I felt like I was entering someone's den in the 1970s. Wood paneling was barely visible beneath all the photos of sports stars. It was divey, but welcoming, so I grabbed a seat and a menu and got down to enjoying my evening. A cocktail, their version of an extra spicy Bloody Mary got the night started off right. Maybe it wasn't as spicy as the drinks I enjoyed in Mexico, but it was pretty well-crafted, and cheap in comparison to anything I could get in NYC. The caesar salad was nothing special, but a good place to start the meal. A plate of Steam Clams Provencal was much more interesting: sweet, salty and herbal. The Riesling I selected turned out to be from the sweeter style--way too much for the food, but not a bad drink on its own.

The most interesting thing for me was seeing New York wines on the wine list. Outside of the Finger Lakes, and a handful of restaurants in NYC that specialize in locally-sourced foods, we seldom encounter NY wines, even in cities as close as Rochester and Syracuse. But this is the second place on my second trip upstate this year that I have found Finger Lakes wines in an unexpected place, and it gives me hope that more Finger Lakes wines are making it into the daily conversation.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Quick Review: Madrona Zinfandel 2010

US, CA, El Dorado, Madrona Zinfandel 2010
+ // Fruity  // Cedar, Graphite, Dried cherry // Strawberry, Pepper, Graphite, Nutmeg, Candied apple // Full

Big savory flavors with a strong fruit backbone.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Quick Review: Vinum Cellars Zinfandel 2012

US, CA, Vinum Cellars Zinfandel 2012
+ // Fruity //  Ripe cherry, Raspberry, Cloves // Berry, Graphite // Medium

Feels more like a Merlot on the tongue--big fruitiness. Missing the white pepper notes we expected.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Pairing Wine and Pizza

We drink a lot of wine with pizza. Maybe most people crack open a beer, or down some soda, but for us on a Friday night, there is nothing like a hot slice with a nice glass of red wine. It's the perfect way to end a long week.

Picking the right wine for pizza is fairly straight forward. Just so long as you aren't dealing with a "White" pizza, the tomato sauce is going to be a defining flavor. You need a red wine, with some sweetness to complement the sweet acidity of the tomato. Then you need to pick the perfect red wine based on your other toppings. Most pizzas come with cured meats: sausage, pepperoni, or other most exotic options. This means saltiness, earthiness and maybe a hint of spice to the meat, which gives you some options with similar flavors in the wine.
  • Chianti will have that hint of spice and dark fruit suited for some of the spicier cured meats.
  • Zinfandel can offer some spice and red fruit for meatier options like sausage.
  • Pinot Noir can offer some sweet red fruit and earthiness to complement lighter cured meats.
If you are looking at veggies on your pizza though, it gets a lot harder. You might want to play around with white wine. Stick to Italy: a Pinot Grigio might be your best bet.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Wines of Mexico

Many people might be surprised to learn that Mexico has a thriving wine culture. One of the first things colonists brought from Europe were grape vines so they could make their own wine. In Mexico, the history of wine has been as tortured as in the United States, but there are regions that are starting to gain renown as worthwhile contenders on the national stage. The most prominent is the Baja California region, producing a predominance of red varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Did You Know?... About "Cooked" Wine

You might think the idea of a wine cellar is just an affectation of the rich, showing off how much wine they have by setting aside a room for it. That may be the case, but there is also an important reason for it. All wine, including red wine, should be stored in a climate controlled environment to avoid "cooking" the wine. The ideal temperature for storing wine is around 55 degrees. If a wine is exposed to greater heat, the wine will taste more like cooked than fresh fruits. Most of the time it is a flaw, but in a few rare cases its the goal of the winemaker to create those flavors, like in Madeira.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Did You Know?... About Tequila

Tequila is an alcohol distilled from the Blue Agave cactus, native to the region around the city of Tequila in Mexico. It is a strong liquor, usually at about 40% alcohol but ranging up to 50%. The flavors can vary depending on where it was grown and the aging process, but it tends towards sweet flavors with hints of flowers and herbs in its simplest form, smoothed out by smokey oak flavors as it is aged in barrels. It comes in four styles, classified by the aging process:

  • Blanco: "White", fermented for two months in stainless steel, but otherwise un-aged.
  • Reposado: "Rested", aged between two months to one year in oak barrels
  • Anejo: "Aged", spends one to three years in oak barrels
  • Extra Anejo: Aged up to 18 years in oak

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Quick Review: Michelada, or "Beer Cocktails"

Michelada is a Mexican mixed drink, made with beer, lime juice, and usually some sort of sauce. The basic drink, with lime juice and a salted rim is a light and refreshing drink, great for a sunny day on the beach.

Hot spices and sauces can be added, to make the drink more savory and spicy.

Fruit purees can be added to make it sweeter.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Vacation Without Wine

It finally happened. We went on a vacation, and didn't find a single wine worth talking about. That may be because we didn't go to a well-established wine region, but it was still interesting to go out for some amazing food, and not have anything more than a decent wine to go along with it.

With an infant in tow, we decided to forgo our usual urban exploration for a casual, relaxing trip. We chose an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, hoping to spend some time lounging by the beach and swimming in the pools, instead of stomping down side-streets in a strange city in between trips to museums and restaurants. It did the trick for us, letting us spend time as a family enjoying the sun and water. A bonus was that we found a resort with a reputation for amazing food.

Normally, we'd expect some great wine to go along with this sort of world-class food. Mexico has its own growing wine culture, although it is focused on the Pacific Coast where climates match those of California. On the Gulf Coast side, however, it's hot, sunny and humid--more conducive to jungle than vineyards. Of course, in a resort like this, there are always extras you can purchase, like picking  bottle from their curated wine list, but we were there during off-peak season, and the wine cellar had been picked clean.

We drank a few glasses of the house wine to get us through the week. The white was fairly inconsequential, not quite able to pin it down to sweet or crisp flavors. The sweetness made it tough to enjoy in the warm weather, ending up a bit too cloying to be refreshing. We enjoyed the red with dinner, but a glass from the outdoor bar tasted like it had been "cooked."

For us, it was a strange experience. We normally center so much of our travel experiences around wine. I wouldn't say it was refreshing, but we still managed to enjoy our meals and our vacation as a whole. We just needed to focus on the margaritas.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Quick Review: Eagle Vale Shiraz 2008

Australia, Margaret River, Eagle Vale Shiraz 2008
++ // Smooth  // Jammy, Pepper, Green pepper // Blackberry, Chocolate, Cedar, Tabacco // Full

Smooth flavor, but with a lingering spiciness. Opened up to fruity, with a undertone of tobacco-y bitterness. Layers of flavor, but very drinkable.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Quick Review: Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc 2011

New Zealand, Martinbourough, Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc 2011
++ // Smooth // Flowers, Grass, Kiwi // Flowers, Mango, Vanilla // Medium

Monday, June 16, 2014

Wine and Indian Cuisine in a Different Style

Friday nights at home, we eat a lot of Indian take-out. It's quick and easy, and can be tasty in a simple way. But real Indian cuisine can be something quite different. Done with care and skill, the flavorful spice mixtures and sauces can rival the best French cuisine. Of course, it's a bit more rare, but in NYC you can find anything, including some great Indian restaurants.

On a recent Friday night out, we decided to switch it up, and go out for Indian food. Manhattan's trendy Tribeca neighborhood has a lot of interesting restaurants, including an outpost of the Tamarind empire. A formal, spacious restaurant, it was quite a bit different than our usual restaurant adventures these days. We where there early, but the space filled quickly with a younger, boisterous crowd. Before the tables filled in, we faced that rare problem in NYC: a server a bit too solicitous, who asked if we needed something just a bit too frequently. This left us feeling a bit rushed.

Of course, the other big difference from our usual Friday night was the quality of the food. Take-out Indian is one thing, but a carefully crafted dish, cooked carefully and with quality ingredients in the same Punjab style is a world apart. A fish curry, made with a Goan sauce of spices in tomato and coconut was sweet and spicy. The last big difference from our usual Friday night was the wine options. In this case, a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand brought some sweet tropical flavors that matched the coconut and cooled the hot peppers. Always important with Indian food.

When thinking about food and wine, everyone thinks about Western food. Its good to remember that wine works with just about everything, if the food is prepared right and you pick a good wine that complements it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

How-To: Pair Wine with Indian Food Take-Out

Indian food is one of those cuisines that doesn't really have any history of pairing with wine. It wasn't a native drink in India, and the English tended to stick to their gin & tonic. That doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy Indian food with a glass of wine today. Why not? When both are so accessible now.

Of course, as a country of 1.2 billion people, "Indian Food" is more of a varied topic. But most American versions fall under the slightly less broad category of "Northern Indian" cuisine, with things like Tandoori, Naan, and paneer coming from this region that captures a wide range of global influence due to the spice trade. The food tends to be full of spices, but decidedly less spicy than "Southern Indian" cuisine. At least in comparison to Western dishes.

Take-out Indian food tends to rely heavily on stewed sauces for their complicated flavors. Tomato-based sauces can benefit from red wines with a hint of sweet fruit, like a Pinot Noir or Merlot. Cream-based sauces can use a crisp white, like Chenin Blanc to counteract their fatty richness. This works for more mild-spiced dishes.

You must remember the heat level, though, Some heat in a dish can be matched by a wine with it's own white pepper notes, like a Malbec. But the stronger heat of a Vindaloo needs something to cool it down, like a thick, sweet Riesling.

Finally, most casual Indian food in the United States tends to focus on ingredients Westerners can recognize,  the main protein or vegetable, which you can try to match your wine against. Pork isn't too common, and beef is basically right out, but you'll see plenty of chicken, mixed vegetables, fish, and even lamb.

As you can see, like all major cuisines, there is enough diversity of choice in Indian food that allows for just as much diversity in your wine selection to match it. Good luck!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Quick Reveiw: Heart & Hands Dry Riesling 2012

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Heart & Hands Dry Riesling 2012
++ // Fruity/Sweet // Peach, Flowers  // Peach, Vanilla, Honey  // Medium
Closer to semi-dry, with very ripe fruit flavors. Not as complex

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Noticing Trends: Riesling

We've been at this for three years now, and in that time I think we've tried more Riesling than any other grape. If you look back through our reviews, you definitely see some trends for this varietal. In our experience, Rieslings can be most commonly described as:

Descriptor: Crisp
Flavors & Nose: Peach, Apple, and Lemon
Body: Light

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Quick Review: Cono Sur "Bicicleta" Riesling 2012

Chile, Valle Central, Cono Sur "Bicicleta" Riesling 2012
+ // Crisp // Petrol, Lemon // Lime, Green apple, Herbs // Medium
Semi-dry, pretty long lasting on the tongue. A little more savory than we are used to.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Trying a New Riesling

At this point, we are pretty confident about Riesling. We've tried traditional German Rieslings, a whole slew of Rieslings from New York, and some amazing ones from California. So upon discovering a Riesling from Chile, we jumped at the chance to do some comparison.

Going with what we know, we poured a glass to go along with Friday night take-out from the local Indian restaurant. Riesling does well with spicy dishes. Even the lightest and driest version usually have a thickness and sweet flavors that cool the tongue. Of course, with a truly hot vindaloo, you can't really expect any wine to stand up to the searing heat. But with a milder Malai Kofta (vegetable balls in a lightly spicy tomato cream sauce), a nice crisp Riesling can cut through the richness of the cream and soothe the tongue after the hot chilies kick in.

This is what we would expect from any Riesling. So, what did we get from the Chilean Riesling? For the most part, it matched up to what we know: it was crisp, with citrus and apple flavors. What was different and unexpected was some strong savory herbal notes that reminded us of sauvignon blanc... in a good way.

Friday, June 6, 2014

How-To: Be Strategic at The Wine Shop

While we prefer to restock our wine rack with a casual visit to a wine shop--wandering the shelves and chatting with the shop keeper--this sort of experience is not always an option. We found ourselves pressed for time on the last day of a huge sale at one of our favorite wine stores, Union Square Wines, in New York City. Spending an hour or so picking a dozen bottles wasn't in the cards, so we had to figure out a way to get in and out quickly, yet still find interesting wines worth the effort.

The sale was 30% a case (12 bottles), so we knew we had to start with a strategy to do this quickly. The store is huge, and the selection wide. Because early summer is the time we enjoy Rose wines, we decided to start there, then supplement with a few reds and whites for flexibility. Within minutes, we had to adjust our plans when we couldn't find as many Rose wines as we had hoped (we did manage to fill half the case, before moving on to reds and whites).

Without specific dinners planned, we moved to selecting some flexible red and white wines: Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc. Also a few table wines.

Some people might pick a case of their favorites, but we are always looking to try something new. Of course, in our mind, a new vintage of wine we have enjoyed counts. A couple of Roses from Channing Daughters jumped out at us and were added to the cart.

Summer is a time for grilling, so an aggressive red or two works. Argentinian Malbec is almost a surefire win with a grilled steak dinner in the backyard. We also selected a Pinotage from South Africa to test with our grilling.

Sometimes, you need something very different. A bottle of Zweigelt reminded us of our trip to Austria, so we grabbed a bottle. We have no idea what to expect, except a trip down memory lane.

This trip felt a little more haphazard than the last, where we focused exclusively on Italian varietals selected with the help of the wine director. This hodge podge selection may be less thematic, but gives us the opportunity to create our own theme over the course of our tastings. Keep an eye out as we'll be discussing these wines throughout the summer.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Quick Review: Vinum Cellar Pinot Noir 2012

US, CA, Vinum Cellars Pinot Noir 2012
+ // Smooth // Dried Cherries, Cola, // Cherry, Leather, Clove // Med
Mushroom salad w/ blue cheese: this wine brings out the earthy notes and adds a sweetness.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Noticing Trends: Pinot Noir

We've been at this a few years now, so we can look back at our notes and see what we think about different wines.

In our experience, Pinot Noir seems to be described as:
Description: Earthy
Nose and Flavor: Cherry
Body: Medium

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Quick Review: Outer Limits Pinot Noir 2012

Chile, Aconcagua Valley, Outer Limits Pinot Noir 2012
+ // Earthy // Perfect strawberry, Forrest leaves // Tart cherry, Cola, Tobacco, Leather, Graphite // Medium

Monday, June 2, 2014

Wine With Caribbean Food

Friday nights are our casual nights: dinner ordered in, a fun movie, and a bottle of wine.  In our neighborhood, the trick is finding a wine to go with Caribbean food. We always get a great meal, but the Caribbean lacks the wine culture to match. With hearty meat or seafood dishes with a heavy influence of Indian spices, this unique food is hard to match to wine.

We do eat a lot of Indian food on our Friday nights at home, and we feel like we have found good pairings to match. Most of those dishes seem to rely on their spices, rather than the protein, for flavor (whether fish, goat, or chick peas). We usually pick a rich white wine to counteract the heat between bites. In contrast, the Caribbean food we have tried seems to use a lot of those same spices, but with a heavier hand on the meat: resulting in a much more earthier palate while retaining the spice. A white wine can get lost when matched with goat or ox-tails, so we have been seeking a red wine that can match the full flavors yet deal with the spice.

Pinot Noir seems to be pretty versatile among red wines. It's lighter and fruitier than many other varietals and can still bring some other interesting flavors. Most red meats can benefit from a little bit of sweet fruit flavors, but many Pinot's have an earthiness that matches the iron rich protein. With curried goat, you are looking at a lot of savory, even gamey flavors that need that bit of earthiness from a red wine, so we pulled down a bottle of Outer Limits Pinot Noir. We've never had a Chilean Pinot Noir, but it did what we expected, bringing a balance of sweet flavors to the spicy and savory curry. With rich side dishes like creamed spinach and macaroni pie, the wine helped round out the greasy mouth-feel left from the fat in the food.

We like to use a nice bottle of wine to transform a casual night in on Friday into a special evening. Finding the right wine for take-out food isn't always intuitive, but it's fun to keep searching for the perfect match.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Traditional Wine Blends

Sometimes a winemaker will blend varietals to make up for a weakness in the primary grape. But sometimes it's the style that they are going for:

  • Bordeaux is the most well known wine blend. The world famous red wine is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, with maybe some Malbec, Petit Verdot, or Carmenere - all grown int he Bordeaux region of France. The white Bordeaux is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion. 
  • Meritage is a blend of the same grapes as Bordeaux, but from wine regions outside of France.
  • Champagne is another famous blend, usually Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, and often a blend of different vintages of grapes as well.
  • The red wines from the Rhone regions of France, including the world famous Hermitage and Chateauneuf-du-Pape can be a blend of up to 21 different varietals.
  • The reds wines from Rioja, Spain are usually a blend of Tempranillo and Grenache.
  • While the traditional wines of the Tuscany DOCG are made from 100% Sangiovese, young producers created blends with other varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, or Syrah to revitalize the region with the now famous Super Tuscan wines.
  • On the other hand, traditional Chianti wine allows for a blending in of other grapes, like Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, or even some white grapes.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Quick Review: Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Chile, Colchagua Valley, Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
+ // Spicy  // Berry, Red apple // Leather, Tobacco, Cedar, Jalepno, Dried cherry // Full

An explosion in the mouth. Flavors are a bit scattershot.
Earthy when paired with pork and brussels sprouts.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Did You Know?... You Might be Drinking a Wine Blend

When you look at a bottle and see it labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon, you might think that you are getting nothing but the juice of Cabernet Sauvignon in your glass. But every wine growing region has rules for just how much of certain varietal needs to be present before you have to put it on the label or make clear it is a blend. A winemaker adds different grapes to a wine for a variety of reasons, usually to augment the primary grape, and usually in small enough quantities (1-2%) that it doesn't show up on the label.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Quick Review: Outer Limits CGM 2012

Chile, Colchagua Valley, Outer Limits CGM 2012
+ // Spicy // Blackberry, Old wood // Blackberry, Graphite, Cinnamon  // Full

A blended wine, made from Carignan, Granache and Mourvedre.
Aggressive right out of the bottle. Big flavors. Hot (high in alcohol content), but doesn't really taste like it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Wine Wednesdays

We talk alot about using wine to make an evening special. But on a Wednesday night, with half a week of work remaining, we might turn to a good glass of wine to simply make the evening bearable.

Usually, we consider our wine and food pairing and try to plan an interesting meal for an interesting bottle of wine. But by mid-week, that can be hard to do. It is useful to have a few more flexible bottles lying around that will go with whatever you throw together for dinner. Blended wines offer you a comparatively neutral palate, with a mix of the flavors from multiple grapes. This is something easy to mix and match with a range of meals.

Cooking a real dinner mid-week can be overwhelming, so having a few simple recipes in your back pocket will help. Sometimes, a good crock pot stew can be lifesaver. You develop some deep flavors, and are still ready to eat as soon as you get home from work. Some beef, rice, tomatoes and some broccoli to round it out made for an loose take on Cuban Mofongo.

We picked a bottle of blended wine from Chile. A mix of Carignan, Grenache, and Mouverdre, we had no idea what to expect. But the complex mix of flavors from the mofongo--earthy, acidic, fatty, and a bit of green vegetable--meant we needed some complicated flavors from our wine. This blend of grapes gave us flavors of blackberries, with hints of graphite and cinnamon. The spice of the wine matched the hot pepper spice of the mofongo, while the flavors from the sweet and acidic tomato brought the sweet fruit of the wine to the forefront.

Blended wines are often mistaken for "table wines" (unless, of course, a Bordeaux). It is good to remember that winemakers might attempt to create a versatile blend of flavors that lend themselves to easier pairings... especially on those Wednesday nights where you just don't want to think too hard about it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Quick Review: Sauvignon Blanc at Salud!

Chile, Quintay Clava, Sauvignon Blanc, 2010
++ / Crisp - Fruity / Fresh canteloupe, citrus, honeydew / Tart apple / Light bodied

Went well with the spicy appetizers we had - empanadas and spicy quacamole. Surprising to find such a fruity quality to what is normally a crisp wine.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Did You Know?... About the Wines of Chile

Like northern California, Chile relies on mountains to funnel sea breezes to cool its vineyards that otherwise might be too warm. Warm, sunny days tempered by cool evenings, with a long growing period means that a wide range of grapes thrive here.

Among red grapes, Chile grows most of the more popular varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Malbec. Most notably though, they also grow Carmenere, a European varietal that disappeared from the Old World, only to be found among Merlot vines in Chile a century ago.

For white grapes, the country focuses on Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Vintners are starting to explore other whites as well, creating fragrant and vibrant Gewurztraminer and Viognier, and bracingly crisp Rieslings.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Quick Review: Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc 2013

 Chile, Aconcagau Valley, Outer Limits, Sauvignon Blanc 2013
++ // Crisp // Lime, Green pepper, Watermelon, Grass // Grapefruit // Med

Refreshing in a thirst-quenching sort of way. The grapefruit flavors were an unexpected surprise.