Saturday, December 17, 2011

BUBBLY! BUBBLY!! BUBBLY!!!


Sometimes people ask me: if I could only drink one kind of wine for the rest of my life, what would it be?  Oh Wineaux, that’s too easy – Champagne. 

"Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast?  Doesn't everyone?” - Noel Coward

Many people jump on the bubbly bandwagon this time of year, with good reason.  Sparkling wine is a celebratory toasting beverage, but also comes in an incredible array of styles, making it perfect for food pairing. 

"Three be the things I shall never attain: envy, content, and sufficient Champagne." - Dorothy Parker

Stylistically, Bubblies typically fall under two categories, depending on the fermentation process: traditional style (or “méthode Champenoise”) which provides warmer, rounder notes of toasted bread and yeast, and Charmat (or tank-fermented) which is used for cleaner, crisper styles like that of Prosecco.

"I only drink Champagne when I'm happy, and when I'm sad.  Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone.  When I have company, I consider it obligatory.  I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am.  Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."
- Lily Bollinger

Champagne Terms and Facts Every Wineau Should Know:
1) NV = non-vintage.  Not meaning ‘inferior,’ NV wines are actually painstakingly blended to reflect a ‘house style’ and to have consistent quality from year to year.
2) Vintage-designated wines are from grapes harvested in a particular year.  These usually rest “sur lie” (on the lees of the dead yeast cells that were used in the fermentation process) at least three years, sometimes much longer. 
3) “Blanc de Blancs” means white from whites – a sparkler made from 100% Chardonnay, rather than the allowable Champagne blend of Chardonnay with the red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. 
4) “Blanc de Noirs” means white from reds – a white sparkler made only from either or both of the above red varietals.
5) “How sweet is Extra Dry???” This can be a little confusing.  From driest to sweetest (measured by grams per litre of residual sugar) it goes: Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry (Extra Sec), Dry (Sec), Demi-Sec, and Doux. Starting with Extra Dry, you’ll be aware of the elevated sweetness, and Demi-Sec and especially Doux are noticeably very sweet.  But don’t let those on the end scare you off – there are amazingly crafted sweeter styles of sparkling wines found all over the world.

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right." - Mark Twain

Finally: one bit of housekeeping.  All Wineaux should know that the term “Champagne” is ONLY used for wines from the particular region of Champagne in France.  ANYTHING else, no matter how wonderful, is called a sparkling wine.  And there are some wonderful sparklers out there, just don’t call them Champagne.

"In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it.” - Napoleon Bonaparte

Here is a round-up of Bubblies for all of your holiday needs, organized by price, with lists of my go-to dependables as well as some particular recent favorites.

UNDER $20
Go-Tos: Domaine Chandon (US), Gruet (US), many Proseccos (Italy) and Cavas (Spain) – be careful with Prosecco, some value brands are not well-crafted.  Fave value Brut/Rosé Cava: NV Segura Viudas (~$10!!)

*NV Nino Franco Prosecco di Valdobiaddene Rustico, Italy ~$13
Sensuous nose of lime, florals and grass.   Lemon curd and underripe melon also on the palate.  Rich mousse and sprightly acidity give a long finish with a nice weight. (This made my “TOP 20 UNDER $20” in 2011.)

*NV Clos de la Briderie Pureté de Silex Brut, Loire  ~$16
Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.  Strict biodynamic production, using natural yeast, etc. Fresh citrus notes but great roundness from lees and stone fruits.  (Also a “TOP 20 UNDER $20” this year.)

*NV Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG, Italy ~$18
Frothy pink sparkler, slightly sweet, bright raspberries, strawberries, some florals.  Touted as a dessert wine – on its own or it pairs very well with chocolate!  Definitely a party in a glass.

$20-50
Go-Tos: Taittinger, Perrier-Jouët, Moët & Chandon, Billecart-Salmon (all Champagne), Mumm Napa DVX (US)

*2005 Sakonnet “Blanc de Blanc” Rhode Island ~$30
Don’t be afraid to try a sparkler from somewhere unusual!  100% Chardonnay, 5 yrs on lees. Very light and crisp with pleasant yeasty character.  Very nice!

*NV Piper Heidsieck Cuveé Sublime Demi-Sec Champagne ~$35
Nose of cake spice and herb stems. Sweet peaches, pineapple, bit of honey, creamy and soft. Not “too” sweet.  Hands-down the best example of Demi-Sec I’ve ever tried.

*NV Leclerc Briant “La Ravinne” Blanc de Noirs Cru Brut ~$42
Unusually 100% Pinot Menuier.  AND from a single vineyard!  Slightly peachy color with a spicy nose.  Notes of peach peel, mountain florals, plum and lime.  Slightly bitter, earthy, dry, good acidity.  May be tough to find but very much worth the effort!

$50-$100
Go-Tos: Most NV rosés and vintage bottlings from the above Go-To producers.  Many Champagne growers (as opposed to the big Champagne houses) also bottle in this price range – with a very small production but painstakingly handcrafted and high quality.

*2001 Argyle Brut Willamette Valley Extended Tirage, Oregon ~$55
A top American sparkler.  Fresh grapefruit, warm melon and taffy notes.  Elegant but flirtatious.  Very nice.

*2004 Ayala Blanc de Blancs Champagne ~$68
Wow nose of toasted buttered bread. Concentrated fruit, yeasty, very dry, tactile and flavorful with a finish for days. 

*2004 Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs Champagne ~$70
Unusual nose of Asian spice and violets, mandarin orange.  BIG.  Some toast, grass and lemon curd.  Good finish. YUM.

*NV Bollinger Brut Rosé Champagne ~$74
Fantastic berry and floral nose.  Those notes are lush on the palate, with a pleasing minerality and an intense mousse.

SUPER PREMIUM
Go Tos: Krug Champagne, which is big and bold and probably my all-time favorite.  I’d drink it every day if I could afford to!  Their Multi-Vintage blend is fantastic, the vintages I’ve tried are all unique and sublime, and the single-vineyard 100% Chardonnay Clos du Mesnil is the pinnacle of the best of the best.  Also Dom Pérignon and Roederer Cristal Champagnes.

*1999 Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs Champagne ~$100
Compact mousse, nice salinity, orange blossom, ripe lemon, toasty/yeasty. Dense but smooth.

*NV Gosset Célébris Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne  ~$190
Gosset’s Tête de Cuvée (the premier Champagne produced by an individual house.)  Lavender perfume, a little caramel, yeasty notes, some age – big but focused.  Super creamy, very sexy.

*2004 Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Cristal ~$200
Rich and unctuous. Notes of brioche and white flowers, with a hint of green apple on finish.  Big wine!  A superstar.

*1999 Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil $290
From a single vineyard, and although over ten years old, this is the current release!  (There have been only 37 vintages produced since 1905.)  Soft soapy nose, huge florals, incredible mousse, tangy minerality.  My notes say “UH-MAY-ZING!”

*1975 Dom Pérignon Brut Oenothèque ~$1500
Incredibly, this was only disgorged (removed from the lees and then bottled) in 2009.  Color of light rose gold, tiny lazy bubbles and a supremely smoky nose.  Notes of honey, caramelized lemon tart crust, brioche and a bit of meatiness.  Mature and harmonious with a smooth mousse, just incredible.  A wine of a lifetime.

Whether your budget is ten dollars or fifteen hundred dollars, there is a sparkling wine out there for you, so have fun this holiday season!  Cheers, Wineaux!

“I am tasting stars!” – Dom Perignon

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

TOP 20 UNDER $20!

It’s time!  The long-awaited compilation for those with thirsty palates and savvy wallets has arrived.

Now that I’ve wrapped up the list, the theme of 2011 was generally out-of-the box ideas.  Not surprisingly, there were strong showings from France, Italy and Spain.  But South Africa provided three of the top 20, and Portugal, Argentina, Australia, Greece and Germany were also represented.  (I was shocked to realize no US wines made the list this year but 'that's the way the grape juice ferments'.)   Grape varieties were also all over the place, with some indigenous varieties, classic red blends, and TWO Rieslings!

The point of all this is to share with you some of my favorite wines that I have tasted over the past year that were incredible values.  Out of hundreds (if not thousands) of wines, I have culled these memorable standouts.

Read, take notes, get inspired, and most importantly – get out there and TASTE FOR YOURSELF!

#20) 2008 Vietti Moscato d'Asti Cascinetto, Italy ~$18
Very light and lightly sweet, with refreshing notes of peach & pear, this is a slightly sparkling wine perfect to get things started or wind things up. Charming and appealing.

#19) 2008 Azul Portugal Ribatejo, Portugal ~$12
A white blend of the Portugese indigenous grapes Trincadeira, Arinto and Fernão Pires. Lemony nose, with light acidity and notes of herbs, yellow apple, white flowers, and peach. Interesting and different. 

#18) 2009 Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes, Beaujolais France ~$15
Notes of crunchy red fruit and violets. Good acidity, light in style but balanced with a lot going on.  Great example of Beaujolais.
 
#17) 2010 Pazo Señorans Albarino, Rias Baixas Spain ~$19
Perfumey and warm floral nose, with melon and a bit of spice. Round peachy fruit and jasmine florals.  Balanced acidity, rich but not heavy. 

#16) 2009 Bodegas Caro Amancaya, Mendoza Argentina ~$17
70% Malbec/ 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Velvety plumminess, very smooth, with dense, dark fruits and herbs. Perfumey acidity lifts out blackberry and blueberry fruit.  Yum.

#15) 2008 Blason d'Aussieres Corbieres, Languedoc France ~$19
Great values continue to come from Southern France. This shows sage, cassis and cranberry couched in herbs. Looong finish, well-balanced, spicy and tart, notes of pepper, licorice, hint of barnyard. Great all-around.

#14) 2006 Annie Lane Cellars Clare Valley Riesling, Australia ~$12
Nose of round stone fruit and florals, with grass and white flowers. Bracing acidity. Light grassy aromatics, and a long, tart finish. Additional notes of honey and petrol show the few years of age.

#13) 2010 Nikiforou Cellars Moschofilero, Greece ~$12
Vibrant floral nose, with grapefruit, pear, florals and a some herb and mineral notes. Good balance and finish.  Wonderful example of the quality of Greek table wines of late.  Thirst-quenching!

#12) 2009 Protos Tinto Fino, Ribera del Duero Spain ~$15
Fantastic affordable Tempranillo.  Velvety plum and herby nose, behind-the-teeth sweetly tannic, good acidity but light in style, notes of bright plum and dark fruits – an all-around fun, ready to drink wine.

#11) 2010 Ken Forrester Estate Chenin Blanc Reserve, Stellenbosch South Africa ~$14
Light but well-balanced, with floral aromatics, rich and round notes of taffy, mountain flowers, and minerality.  Even with zippy acid, this is creamy and has a nice weight and long length with a bit o’ shpritz.  Perfect for food!

#10) NV Nino Franco Prosecco di Valdobiaddene Rustico, Italy ~$13
Sensuous nose of lime, florals and grass. Those notes also on the palate with a hint of lemon curd and underripe melon.  Rich mousse and sprightly acidity give a long finish with a nice weight.  Extremely worthy substitute for celebratory Champagne.

#9) 2010 Cercius Côtes du Rhône VV, France ~$14
Complex nose of red berries, earth, cola and floral perfume.  Great fruit expression with fresh herbs, licorice, lavender and a peppery finish.  Lightish in style but sumptuous with balanced acidity and soft tannins.

#8) 2010 Castello Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio, Italy ~$16
A pear explosion on the nose, with notes of florals, honeysuckle, melon and a bit of spice on the palate, with light citrus and good acid.  Tuscany’s first Pinot Grigio is a winner, a bit more evolved than many typical PG’s from Northern Italy.

#7) Clos de la Briderie Cremant de Loire, France ~$18
A sparkling blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc in the brut (dry) style. Clean citrus and grass with a roundness of peach and wax. Nice weight and mousse.  Interesting and different from the “usual suspects.”  Good fruit expression, well-balanced, and a bit of a flirt.

#6) 2009 St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Kabinett Goldtröpfchen, Mosel Germany ~$19
Pepper and honeysuckle florals.  Candied orange peel, wonderful fruit expression of passion fruit and mandarin, with minerality, white florals, hint o’herbs, perfectly balanced acidity, bright and rich.  Very slightly, barely sweet, but oh so balanced.


#5) 2009 Domaine Grand Nicolet Côtes du Rhône-Villages VV Rasteau, France ~$16
Very spicy, black bramble fruits and pepper nose.  Outrageously heavy-duty but still refined.  Layers upon layers of herbs, licorice, warm spice, blackberry liqueur, smoked meats, black cherry syrup and mocha with good acidity and silky tannins.

#4) 2009 Aviva Vino Bula Montsant, Spain ~$12
50% Carinena, 30% Garnacha, 20% Syrah. Wowowowowow. Dense, earthy, spicy and warm.  Great fruit expression of dark cherries, cocoa powder, mesquite and blackberry liqueur.  Rich and integrated, really incredible value and an across-the-board favorite at its tasting.  And for only twelve bucks!?!

#3) 2010 Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap Rosé, South Africa ~$12
This rosé is a blend of 66% Syrah, 20% Cinsault and 14% Grenache.  Nose of green pepper and mint, bold and spicy on the palate with strawberries and watermelon. A true crowd-pleaser, versatile and scrumptious.  My mouth is watering just typing this...

#2) 2009 Ch. Peyraud Premieres Côtes de Blaye, France ~$12
Blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon with no oak influence.  Huge ripe crunchy red fruit, cranberry, cassis, nice acidity, silky tannins, lush & ripe & lovely.  What a surprise!  Incredible values coming out of this relatively new “Côtes” region abutting Bordeaux.  Do yourself a favor and dig some up!

#1) 2008 Spice Route Pinotage, Swartland South Africa ~$20
Deep fruit on the nose of torched berries. Sexy! Smooth & rich, blackberry and spice flavors inundate, so velvety and caressing, with a bit of tar mid-finish.  Drinking this is an experience! Pinotage is a South African grape variety that often passionately divides Wineaux.  But this wine is gorgeously tailored and was hands-down my favorite wine I tasted this past year.  (And did I mention SEXY?!)

As always, any errors or opinions are all mine.  Comments and questions heartily welcomed. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

STRONG OF MIND, SUPER-STRONG OF PALATE

I often encounter people who are flabbergasted and not a little overtly envious of my job as a professional Wineau. This is indeed a wonderful industry with a product that brings people together in a special way. There is passion at every corner: in the vineyard, retail store, tasting table, online forums... Wine enhances food, and vice-versa. It makes memories. It is a celebration.

Unless you're a professional wine taster, that is.

Then the world of wine can be a marathon whirl-wind of tasting, spitting, note-taking, absorbing details of varietal percentages, soil composition and time spent in what kind of oak.

I recently spent a 50-hour span at the Wine Spectator magazine's NY Wine Experience. Although this is primarily a consumer-oriented event, I approached it as a fantastic trade opportunity. During the two Grand Tastings, I sped between tables with a marked-up map and plan of action, running up and down from ballroom to ballroom to taste as many wines as I could. During the days, the pace was kinder, but there were still seminars pressed against each other - the pourers sliding between rows with the precision and frequency of an elite military assault team.

My intention would be to eventually break down some of these amazing wines into categories and post richly-detailed and enthusiastic articles about them. But the sheer number of wines might make that quite difficult.

So as a bridge to understanding for you fellow Wineaux who may not be in the industry, here is simply a list of every single wine I sampled that weekend (and apologies for some missing accents and any overlooked auto-corrections.)

Take a minute, read it through, and imagine what it would be like to spend time tasting and evaluating each one. I think you will agree that being a Professiona Wineau is not for the weak of mind or palate! (But still enviable.)

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Castello d'Albola Toscana Acciaiolo 2006
Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006
Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007
Marquis d’Angerville Volnay Taillepieds 2008
Marquis d'Angerville Volnay Clos des Ducs 2009
Antinori Brunello di Montalcino Pian delle Vigne 2001
Antinori Chianti Classico Badia a Passignano Riserva 2001
Antinori Toscana Solaia 2007
Antinori Toscana Tignanello 2001
Antinori Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Fattoria La Braccesca 2001
Argyle Brut Willamette Valley Extended Tirage 2001
Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura 2006 (2x!)
Antonio Barbadillo Oloroso Jerez Dulce Amoroso San Rafael NV
Marchesi di Barolo Barbera d'Alba Ruvei 2008
Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005
Beaulieu Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Georges de Latour Private Reserve 2008
Beaux Frères Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge The Beaux Frères Vineyard 2009
Bergström Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Bergström Vineyard 2009
Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Private Reserve 2008
Bollinger Brut Champagne NV
Bollinger Brut Rosé Champagne NV
BOND Quella Napa Valley 2007
Bouchard Père & Fils Volnay Caillerets
Cà Bolani Sauvignon Aquileia del Friuli Gianni Zonin Vineyards 2010
Brander Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley 2010
CARM Duoro Reserva 2007
Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Special Selection 2005
Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Special Selection 2009
Chalone Chardonnay Chalone 2009
M. Chapoutier Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne 2007
Jean Chartron Puligny-Montrachet Clos du Cailleret 2009
Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County Cinq Cépages 2007
Château Cheval Blanc St.-Emilion 2005
Château Climens Barsac 2007
Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia Cicala 2007
Continuum Estate Napa Valley 2008
Château Cos d'Estournel St.-Estèphe 2004
Château Coutet Barsac 2007
Dalla Valle Maya Napa Valley 2008
Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Red Rock Terrace 2000
Disznókó' Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2000
Dolce Napa Valley Late Harvest 2006
Dominus Estate Napa Valley 2001
Dominus Estate Napa Valley 2008
Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne 2002 (2x)
Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne Oenothèque 1996
Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne Oenothèque 1990
Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne Oenothèque 1975
Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2008
Joseph Drouhin Morey-St.-Denis 2009
Drouhin-Vaudon Chablis Les Clos 2008
Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes 2009
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou St.-Julien 2008
DuMOL Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Estate 2009
Ernie Els Stellenbosch Signature 2007
Domaine Faiveley Corton Clos des Cortons 2009
Far Niente Chardonnay Napa Valley 2009
Ferrari-Carano Trésor Alexander Valley 2007
Ferrari Trento Fontadore Riserva 2001
William Fèvre Chablis Bougros Côte Bouguerots Domaine 2007
Firestone Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley Barrel Select 2009
Château La Fleur-Pétrus Pomerol 2005
Flowers Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Camp Meeting Ridge 2010
Fontodi Colli della Toscana Centrale Flaccianello 2007
Marchesi de'Frescobaldi Brunello di Montalcino Castelgiocondo 2006
Fontana Candida Frascati Supreiore Luna Mater 2009
Gaja Barbaresco 2007
Gaja Langhe Sperss 1999
Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007
Domaine J. Grivot Clos de Vougeot 2009
Domaine J. Grivot Echézeaux 2008
Château Gruaud Larose St.-Julien 2001
GTS Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District Seaver Family Vineyards 2008
E. Guigal Condrieu 2009
E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d'Ampuis 2007
Gunderloch Riesling Beerenauslese Rheinhessen Nackenheim Rothenberg 2001
HALL Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Kathryn Hall 2008
Harlan Estate Napa Valley 2007
Château Haut-Brion Pessac-Leognan 2006
Charles Heidsieck Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Blanc des Millénaires 1995
Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Martha's Vineyard 1999
R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja White Reserve 1993
Hess Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder 2007
Hitching Post Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County Highlander 2008
Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard 2008
Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain Richard Dinner Vineyard 2009
Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008
Hugel Gewürztraminer Alsace Vendage Tardive 2005
Inniskillin Riesling Niagara Peninsula Ice Wine 2007
Louis Jadot Puligny-Montrachet Les Combettes 2007
Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Les Caillottes 2010
Kistler Chardonnay Russian River Valley Vine Hill Vineyard 2008
Kracher Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese Burgenland Zwischen den Seen No. 11 2008
Château Lafite Rothschild Pauillac 1998
Alois Lageder Alto Adige Löwengang 2007
Lapostolle Clos Apalta Colchagua Valley 2008
Louis Latour Corton Château Corton Grancey 2009
Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien 2000
Lewis Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008
Lincourt Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills Steel 2009
Lincourt Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2008
Littorai Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Hirsch Vineyard 2009
Dr. Loosen Riesling Spätlese Mosel Ürziger Würgarten 2009
Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac 2005
Château Margaux 1999
Masseto Toscana Masseto 2001
Domaine Pierre Matrot Meursault Charmes 2007
Medici Ermete Lambrusco Reggiano Concerto 2010
Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Klopp Ranch Méthode à l'Ancienne 2007
Peter Michael Chardonnay Sonoma County Ma Belle-Fille 2008
Peter Michael Les Pavots Knights Valley 2008
Château La Mission Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan 2006
Mollydooker Shiraz McLaren Vale Velvet Glove 2009
Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve 2007
Château Mouton Rothschild Pauillac 2006
Muga Rioja Torre Muga 2006
Mumm Napa DVX Napa Valley 2001
Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2004
Chateau Musar Bekaa Valley White 2003
Domaine Michel Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet Clos de la Maltroie 2008
Greg Norman Estates Shiraz South Eastern Australia Reserve 2006
Quinta do Noval Vintage Port Nacional 1994
Numanthia Termes Toro Termes 2008
Opus One Napa Valley 2008
Orneillaia Bolgheri Superiore 2001
Pahlmeyer Napa Valley 2008
Château Palmer Margaux 2000
Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape White 2009
Peay Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Pomarium 2009
Penfolds Shiraz Barossa Valley RWT 2007
Perrier-Jouët Brut Fleur de Champagne Cuvé Belle Epoque 2002
Joseph Pelps Insignia Napa Valley 2008
F.X. Pichler Riesling Smaragd Trocken Wachau Dürnsteiner Kellerberg 2010
Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron Pauillac 2003
Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande Pauillac 2008
Pride Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Somoma-Napa Counties Reserve 2007
Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling Spatlese Mosel Wehlener Sonnenuhr 2007
Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Pedregal Vineyard 2008
Revana Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena 2007
Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello 1981
Château Rieussec Sauternes 2006
Bodegas Roda Rioja Cirsion 2001
Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley L'Ermitage 2002
Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Cristal 2004
Rosenblum Zinfandel Rockpile Road Vineyard 2008
Champagnes Barons de Rothschild Brut NV
G. Roumier Morey-St.-Denis Clos de la Bussière 2009
G. Roumier Morey-St.-Denis Clos de la Bussière 2008
Royal Tokaji WIne Co. Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos Red Label 2007
Château de Saint Cosme Gigondas Valbelle 2003
Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil 1999
Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne 2006
Sanford Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2008
Sartori Amarone della Valpolicella Corte Brà 2004
Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri Sassacaia 2007
Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2007 (2x!)
Schramsberg J. Schram Rosé North Coast 2004
Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District Hillside Select 2007
Simcic Ribolla Goriska Brda Opoka 2008
Soter Vineyards Brut Rose Willamette Valley 2006
Spice Route Malabar Swartland 2007
Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008
Spring Valley Uriah Walla Walla Valley 2008
Staglin Family Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 25th Anniversary Selection 2007
Sterling SVR Reserve Napa Valley 2008
Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Alexander's Crown 2008
Château Suduiraut Sauternes 2007
Taittinger Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne 2000
Terradora di Paolo Greco di Tufo Loggia della Serra 2010
Domaine Tollot-Beaut Corton-Bressandes 2009
Domaine Tollot-Beaut Corton-Bressandes 2008
TOR Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Beckstoffer To Kalon Clone 337 2009
F. E. Trimbach Riesling Alsace Cuvée Frédéric Émile 2005
Two Hands Ares Adelaide 2007
Two Hands Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella's Garden 2008
Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Madonna del Piano Riserva 2005
Vall Llach Priorat 2006
Bodegas Vega Sicilia Ribera del Duero Unico Gran Reserva 1994
Bodegas Vega Sicilia Ribera del Duero Unico Gran Reserva 2000
Vietti Barolo Castiglione 2007
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau 2009
Château d'Yquem Sauternes 2008
Zaca Mesa Syrah Santa Ynez Valley 2007
Zaca Mesa Viognier Santa Ynez Valley 2009

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For the record, it only took one day until I was ready to actually drink a glass of wine again.  Some of the above were truly standouts among magnificence and I hope to get into more depth about my favorites soon!  Drink well.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

FAKE WINE UNCORKED - A Detective Story

Merriam-Webster defines counterfeit as: "made in imitation of something else with intent to deceive."  Counterfeiting money is the most obvious forgery; you make fake money and you spend it. But people counterfeit identification papers, art, jewelry, drugs, you name it. Anything to make a dishonest buck.

In terms of collectibles, it seems no commodity is safe from forgery. While there have almost certainly been numerous historical instances of wine being doctored to appear more valuable, it seems that with the dawn of the new century, discoveries of counterfeit wines have mushroomed.

Some of these cases are preying on mass-market consumers; in England, a huge amount of the relatively inexpensive Jacob's Creek wines was recently found to be fake and filled with some plonk wine after the discovery that "Australia" was misspelled on the back label.  (No one had spell-check at the forgery lab? Idiots!) For the full story: http://bbc.in/ifaWy6.

And another article appeared even as I sat to compose this entry: 10,000 bottles of fake inexpensive wine seized in Taiwan: http://bit.ly/nptRll - and these bottles were merely full of grape juice and chemicals.


But what concerns me on a more psychological level is the seemingly rampant forging of fine and rare wines.  The Minx almost takes it personally; how dare a forger tamper with something that is meant to be consumed on special occasions, relished, exalted over, shared with nearest and dearest, every drop savored?

Many in the wine industry believe that a German national going by the name of Hardy Rodenstock is the mastermind behind an enormous amount of counterfeit wine being discovered.  If this is true, I can posit a theory that what drove him and presumably others like him was the desire to "get the ungettable get" - in tight wine circles, to be the one providing the most rare, most extraordinary wine of the tasting.

So... can't actually find it?  Fake it.

Now, this man has not been tried in a court of law (although lawsuits are flitting about) and he has not yet been proven to be the orchestrator of a massive counterfeit wine scheme.  Nor do I personally think it possible that one man alone could be responsible for amassing age-appropriate bottles, printing up labels, doctoring corks, putting them all together, filling them with wine and distributing them.  But this assemblage and distribution has occurred beyond any doubt.

NOT a 1945 Mouton, alas.
And this is where I join the story.

In June, I was involved in a tasting of twelve magnums of prestigious Bordeaux wine.  If real, they would have been valued at around $250,000.  However, my father, the wine appraiser and consultant William H. Edgerton, had made strong conclusions derived from physical appearance and determined each bottle was a forgery.  He had then arranged to take possession of the bottles to try and gather more information.  You see, unlike art or gold bars or other valuable collectibles, just about the only way to truly determine if wine is fake is to destroy it - by opening and tasting it.

So to do that, seven industry insiders including the influential wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. gathered at a restaurant in Baltimore.  Wineaux, the combined knowledge and experience of these palates was just incredible; a veritable library of wine catalogs perched around a table.

We sat down to begin the tasting with a palpable feeling of anticipation in the room.  If some or all of these wines were real, it would be a tasting of a lifetime.  The first wine, a 1921 Clos L'Eglise-Clinet, was definitely exhibiting signs of being from the proper era: an age-appropriate color and nose.  But immediately Mr. Parker shook his head.  Others concurred - while old, it was from a far inferior vintage than the 1921.  However, one thing was for sure - whoever forged this wine didn't fill it with Trader Joe's "Two-Buck Chuck." Someone took care enough to ensure that most who opened the bottle would experience an aged Bordeaux, just maybe not showing as well as was expected.  The detectives in us scrutinized the wine's cork and capsule in wonderment... nothing was overtly alarming at first glance, although upon tasting, the wine was obviously not what it was labelled to be. Fake.

Wine number two, a 1947 Clos L'Eglise-Clinet raised a few eyebrows with what seemed like printed-on spidering on the label and a suspicious-looking cork.  This, and the others of the same vintage, a 1947 Château Cheval Blanc and 1947 Château Lafleur, were all properly colored for their age, but not a one had any personality.  They were all light and thin, not the blockbuster wines they should still be.  Fake, fake and fake.

Next up, the 1950 Château Lafleur - it was arguably the "best" wine tasted so far, but still was flat and lifeless, and certainly not sixty-one years old; more likely fifteen to twenty-five.  Fake.

The saddest experience yet was the following 1961 Château Latour: "acid water." Ugh.  Fake.  Way-too overly acidic wines continued with the 1948 Château Latour à Pomerol and the 1961 Château Latour à Pomerol. Fake and fake.

Notice the conveniently missing last digit...
Next, a 1945 Château La Mission-Haut-Brion. Here is a photo of the cork - just look at that perfect smudge where the final digit of the vintage should be.  I mean, REALLY.  Due to the flavors and style of this wine, it was agreed upon as probably indeed a Ch. La Mission-Haut-Brion, just from an inferior vintage, maybe 1946.  This cork (as well as some others and their capsules) were pulled aside for testing in a lab; perhaps technology could be utilized to see what number was originally printed there. Fake.

And now the room held its collective breath for the hopeful star of the tasting, the 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild. (See label above.)  It had good color and a nice nose, with flavors of licorice, red fruit, big florals, asian spice, and cedar and tobacco notes with a long finish.  Wineaux, it was just lovely.  But was it real?  Sadly, no.  While definitely from a similar era, this was judged to be far too light in style to be a powerhouse 1945.  Quite possibly a Ch. Mouton, but again, from an inferior vintage.  Fake.  (As the tasters oohed and aahed over the bouquet and flavors, Mr. Parker was especially intrigued, and one gentleman leaned in and said, "Now, don't rate the fake wine too high, Bob!")

Our last two wines were from the same estate: a 1950 Château Pétrus and a 1961 Château Pétrus.  While once again exhibiting signs of appropriateness, these wines were both judged to be... you guessed it, fake.  The über-knowledgeable palates agreed they were probably from the correct region of Pomerol, but either from inferior producers and/or vintages.

Our tasting was concluded, but there were very few absolute conclusions.  While the insight was interesting as to what was being put out into the market as a high-end forged wine, it was impossible to determine the forger's identity/identities or precise methods.  We are still waiting to hear if any further information is gained from the bottles, labels, corks and capsules sent for testing.  Sadly, this Detective Story has no exciting finale, Wineaux.  It is just another chapter of the epic maelstrom that is counterfeit wine.  Perhaps one day there will be justice and wine collectors will be able to begin to relax in the knowledge that their holdings are true.  That may even be happening now; no one at the tasting believed that forgers on this wide scale were still in operation, especially as the level of scrutiny has skyrocketed.  But auction houses and collectors are noticeably jumpy, with good reason.

Interestingly, many of us brought the glass of the counterfeit 1945 Ch. Mouton to our lunch table.  Here is where the psychology goes haywire - if I had no suspicion of this wine being falsified, I would most likely have gushed on and on about its beauty and magnificence.  Not having had the opportunity to taste this wine before, I had no experience to compare it to.  Ultimately, the influence of the mind over the palate is almost impossible to ignore.

In any case, what I am left with is this: one of the most amazing wines I have ever tasted in my life was... a FAKE 1945 Ch. Mouton.  Sigh.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

ACH DU RIESLING MIT PRÜM!

Many people think of Germany as cold and austere... and then there's the wine regions!  (Nyuk, nyuk.)  The most northerly wine-growing area in the world, Germany does indeed have a cold climate, but the moderating influence of the Rhein and Mosel rivers combined with the heat retention ability of the 400 million year old blue slate on which the vines grow make a happy recipe for a luscious grape, Riesling.


Savvy Wineaux have long championed Riesling, though it seems a constant battle to convince other people it's not always a flabby, sicky-sweet Blue Nun experience.



A recent tasting at PJ Wines (in "Upstate Manhattan") was a showcase of one legendary producer of the Mosel, J.J. Prüm, two vintages, two vineyard sites, and three ripeness levels.  Such a telescopic tasting of these wines was a rare and lovely experience! 


It was surprisingly easy to identify the wines from the different vineyards.  Wines from Wehlener Sonnenuhr showed more peachy fruit, while those from Graacher Himmelreich exhibited a great deal of minerality.  The levels of grape ripeness (Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese) did show a slight increase of sweetness at Auslese as expected, but the sweetness was always balanced by the minerality and Riesling's robust acidity.


All of the following wines will age beautifully for ten or twenty years or more, and are perfect throughout the meal; as an aperitif, paired with salad, fish, or even with cheese after dinner.  All are available at PJ's - www.pjwine.com.  Try some now and get on the Riesling bandwagon before it's too late and the rest of us drink it all!   Which is impossible, but I'd try if you dared me. 


2007 J.J. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese
Very, very pale greenish yellow. Stony nose of peach, touch of honey and ginger, sweet lime. Fresh fruit, clean and bright, peach syrup, not overly acidic finish. $44.49 WM:86
2007 J.J. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese
Very pale yellow. Peach and orange blossom on the nose. Petrol, peach, hint of botrytis character, little shpritz of CO2, honey, caramel as it warms. Lovely balance, long finish. $51.99 WM:89
2007 J.J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese
Very, very pale green yellow. Nose of wet rock, nice fruits, very spicy with lychee. Peach and pear with a long, balanced finish. Elegant. Shortbread cookies show up as well. $41.97 WM:90
2007 J.J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese
Very, very pale yellow-green. Salinity on the nose, with florals, fruits, minerals, melon, and candied orange peel. Concentrated and balanced but not huge length. $57.99 WM: 90
2009 J.J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett
Incredibly pale green-yellow, almost clear. Huge blast of stone on the nose, petrol, minerality - super steely. Grass, pear, apricot, bright with a nice finish and bit o'shpritz. $35.99 WM:91
2009 J.J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 
Very pale yellow-green. Nose of tropical fruit and melon, with pineapple, sweet herbs and tangerine on the palate. Good minerality and balance. $52.99 WM:90
2009 J.J. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese
Very, very pale green/yellow. Some SO2 on nose, notes of grass and petrol. Crisp and clean notes of lime and pear. Pleasant. $40.99 WM:87
2009 J.J. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese
Very pale yellow-green. Interesting grassy nose, with steel and sweet florals. Great roundness of fruit, delicate balance. Medium length. $47.99 WM:90



On the PJ Wine website, you will also find information about their upcoming Saturday tastings.  These are fairly formal events conducted in an intimate setting led by extremely knowledgeable people.  When you make a reservation over the phone, they charge $20 to hold your place, which is returned to you in the form of a PJ Wine gift card.  What did I buy with my gift card?  Why, a bottle of Prüm Riesling, of course!



Saturday, August 6, 2011

SWE SUPERLATIVES...

Fellow Wineaux, I have just returned from a week in Rhode Island at the Society of Wine Educators' annual conference.  A whirlwind of wines, to be sure.  I estimate I sampled around 200 wines, and will be reporting on much of what I encountered.  Know that I will gladly suffer daily purple tongue and teeth on your behalf, Wineaux, and keep your eyes peeled for the fruits of my labor.

But I have to give you a little tease, now, don't I?  (The answer is: Yes, I do.)

I've awarded my version of "Most Likely to Succeed" and "Best Smile" to some of the wines and regions that truly leapt to the forefront.  Read on...

Sexiest Wine: 2009 Spice Route Pinotage
Forget about traditional descriptors, this wine basically takes you over in the corner and bites your earlobe.  Drinking it is a visceral experience that is sensuous, pulse-quickening, and maybe a little naughty. It certainly cast a spell on me and may cause me to make rash decisions in the name of lust.

Best Bang-for-the Buck: 2009 Ch. Peyraud Premieres Côtes de Blaye 

The Right Bank of Bordeaux's relatively new "Côtes" region is producing some absolute stunners, at a true fraction of typical Bordeaux pricing.  And this little gem in particular is a must-buy at only $11.99.

Best RI Wine: 2005 Sakonnet "Blanc de Blanc"

Fresh, clean, relatively inexpensive, a lovely aperitif and a bit of a shocker as I was expecting next to nothing from RI vineyards.  (No offense.)


Consistent Performer: TIE - Champagne & Alexander Valley
I may have never met a Champagne I didn't like, but my experience over two different seminars on Champagne was a lovely reminder that the quality control going on over there is pretty darn good these days.  And I have never sampled so many gorgeous reds from Alexander Valley (Sonoma) in a row - the winemakers seem to be engaging in a friendly game of one-upmanship and they are somehow all succeeding.


Change-Your-Mind Winner: NV Piper Heidsieck Cuvee Sublime Demi-Sec
I - and many Wineaux - tend to favor the Brut, or dry, style of Champagne, but this Demi-Sec (nearly the sweetest style in the canon) was perfectly balanced and absolutely gorgeous.  Really.  Give it a try, trust me. 


Favorite Champagne: 2004 Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs
Wow, wow, wow, wowie wow.


Favorite "Secret" Region: Chile's Central Valley
Chile's meteoric rise in quality over the past decade or so will soon make it a favorite wine shop destination for Wineaux if it isn't already.  Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming and very thorough entry on Chilean wine, coupled from an earlier Wines of Chile event as well as a few seminars this past week.


Chilean Champion: 2008 Casa Lapostalle Clos Apalta Red Blend
Another wine to garner a lot of "wow"s, this is an absolute stunner.

Nummiest Napa: 2006 Heitz Wine Cellar Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

One session on the possible effects of climate change showcased a number of wines from Heitz Wine Cellars and Cain Cellars.  Every single one scored highly with me, but this little lady was the belle of the ball.



Best Wine I'll Probably Never Taste Again: TIE- 1981 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino & 1968 Blandy's Bual Madeira
Although the Banfi was from an iffy vintage, it was just gorgeous, and poured from magnums liberated from their cellar.  (Apparently there are still a few bottles left available for sale at the winery, priced in the 400-600 Euro range, but alas, I don't have a trip to Tuscany pencilled in my calendar anytime soon.) And the Madeira was nectar from the gods, turning this previously Madeira-averse Minx into a convert.  I see on wine-searcher.com that a store in NYC carries it, but it costs $250 and I just don't have that kind of change lying around.  (But maybe the Minx will receive a nice gift for Christmas if she's a good Minx, right Santa?)


I can't wait to share with you more in-depth reporting from the SWE conference.  But I must dash, a scrumptious bottle of vino is calling my name.  Cheers!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Italy's Everyday Quality... Now Thatsa' Italian!

As the Wine Minx, one of the questions I encounter most often is about finding good wines that don't cost a lot of money.  (Either the economic meltdown is still affecting consumers or the Minx is friends with a lot of tightwads, take your pick.)

Well, Wineaux, the Minx has your answer: ITALY!!

Caveat No. 1:  Italy's a big wine place. I've said that before - you practically couldn't swing a gatto morto without hitting a vineyard.  So the country takes a lot of time to master, especially as there is an extraordinary amount of wine from Italy on wine store shelves all over the US and there is no easy way to summarize these offerings.

Caveat No. 2:  Some of the great Italian wine IS really expensive, so we'll save Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone, the Super Tuscans, Brunello, Chianti Classico, etc., for another time. (I hope that time isn't too far away though, I just made myself pretty darn thirsty typing that array.)

At a recent tasting of some value-minded Italian producers, I was reminded of the incredible quality of some of the more affordable offerings from Italy and I will share with you some of my favorites.

First up: a selection of 'Terre Forti' wines from Caviro.  Caviro is the leading wine cooperative in Italy - comprised of 36 partner wineries and over 18,000 wine growers from all over Italy - and they are passionate about quality at every level.  These wines are distributed all over the world, and are expected to be available in wider markets in the US by Fall 2011.  So keep your eyes peeled for the following absurdly good values:

2010 Caviro Trebbiano-Chardonnay Rubicone IGT 'Terre Forti': This blend of Trebbiano and Chardonnay from the Emilia-Romagna region was very light, with a nose of florals and citrus.  It had a lovely flavor of honeydew melon and grass but wasn't overly acidic. [87] ~$8
2010 Caviro Pinot Grigio IGT Delle Venezie 'Terre Forti': From Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the NE part of the country, this had a light straw color with floral aromatics, a nice spiciness, and good acidity for such a light wine. [84] ~$8
2010 Caviro Sangiovese Rubicone IGT 'Terre Forti': Also from Emilia-Romagna, this Sangiovese had a light ruby color and a great red berry fruit nose.  Light in style with notes of blueberry, sweet herb and pepper, some acidity and a quiet finish. [86] ~$8
2010 Caviro Nero d'Avola Sicilia IGT 'Terre Forti' From the island of Sicily (what in the name tipped you off?), this Nero had a violet berry color, with notes of cola, raspberry and red cherry.  Incredibly light, with a nice finish and smooth tannins. [87] ~$9
2010 Caviro Montepulciano D'Abruzzo DOC 'Terre Forti': From... yes, Abruzzo. Super red berry ruby color.  Bright nose of red fruits with florals of rose and violet.  Lots of crunchy red fruit, super bright and acidic; "summery" was the word I wrote.  This was not the more traditional brawny, velvety and peppery style of Montepulciano I'm used to, but quite lovely in its difference. [86] ~$8

Tucked away in Northern Italy's Trentino region at the foot of the Alps and Dolomites, the Marco Donati family has been producing wine for five generations, focusing on native grapes and small production.

2009 Marco Donati Müller-Thurgau Trentino DOC 'Albeggio': Many producers from this part of the world are doing wonders with Müller-Thurgau, a grape unfamiliar to the majority of American wine drinkers.  This was a pale peachy-yellow, with a soft nose of stone fruits.  It was refreshing and light with low acidity and yet a nice crispness and notes of peach, straw and mountain flowers. [85] ~$15
2009 Marco Donati Vigneti Delle Dolomiti IGT 'Situla Rosso': This red is a blend of three local varieties - Lagrein, Teroldego and Marzemino.  Bright ruby red, it showed raspberry and violet aromas, with blackberries, violets, sweet cherry, loads of acidity and silky tannins. [86] ~$19
2009 Marco Donati Teroldego Rotaliano DOC: 100% Teroldego.  Totally opaque purple color.  Hint of sweetness on the nose, super velvety with opulent fruit.  Weighty and rich but not overbearing. [88] ~$16

Another cooperative, Cantina di Villa, based in Valtellina on the outskirts of the Lombardy region is making some lovely Nebbiolo-based wines.

2003 Cantina di Villa Valtellina Rosso Superiore DOC 'Incontri': Brick red, this unusual clone of Nebbiolo seemed almost fortified to me.  Wet leaves, a hint of brandy, dried cherries.  Elegant and luxurious.  [86] ~$20
2006 Cantina di Villa Valtellina Rosso Superiore DOC 'Grumello': Dark ruby red, nice fruit notes.  Super light and elegant, not too earthy, well-balanced, tastes luxurious. [88] ~$17
2006 Sforzato Di Valtellina DOCG 'Tinaia': 100% Nebbiolo. Interesting nose of spice, wet leaves, plums.  Complex notes in the mouth, almost like a spiced berry preserve from a forest (?!)  Not initially a favorite, this really grew on me. [87] ~$26

From the central region of Umbria, Terre de Trinci is working passionately to highlight the ancient regional grape Sagrantino.

2004 Terre de Trinci Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG: Quite dark red, with a maroon tinge.  Perfumey nose with a bit of raspberry liqueur.  Velvety feel of lush red berries with late-arriving tannins and a nice earthiness on the finish, very extracted.  This wine's grapes are carefully cultivated and aged, so it costs a bit more, but is still quite reasonable for the power and intensity of this lovely wine. [89] ~$30
2009 Terre de Trinci Umbria IGT Rosso 'Trinci': 80% Sagrantino and 20% Merlot. Dark red, with a nice structure, good red fruit, herbs and fairly dry tannins. [86] ~$12
2010 Terre de Trinci Sangiovese Dell'Umbria IGT: Sangiovese is the star grape of nearby Tuscany, and this shows off quite well - bright red in color with a pleasant earthy nose, lovely ripe fruit, loads of herbs, a little tannic but easy-drinking. [86] ~$9

In the Maremma coastal region of Tuscany, the conditions are perfect for Sangiovese, and Casal di Pari takes full advantage with the following wines:

2007 Casal di Pari Montecucco Rosso DOC: A blend of 70% Sangiovese, and 10% each of Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot.  Dark purply-maroon in color, it had a nose of pepper, red berries, and pine.  Tangy cherries and a dusty feel in the mouth, sprightly and acidic. [84] ~$12
2009 Casal di Pari Montecucco Rosso DOC 'Ciarlone': The same blend as above but vinified slightly differently, this had a bright red color, with nice heady fruit aromas on the nose.  Very 'chewy' and tart in the mouth with red fruits and a bit of spice.  Quaffable and yummy. [86] ~$12

So get out there and scour your local wine store's "Italy" section.  With a little digging, you may unearth some of these or other fantastic gems that are as wonderful on the palate as they are easy on the wallet.  And when the market takes an upswing, we'll return to Barbaresco, Brunello, Barolo and Amarone, etc., together!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rosé Around the World, or, Not Yo' Momma's White Zin

The heat of summer is most certainly upon us.  And as people everywhere scramble to choose the perfect wine for this time of year, suggesting Grüner Veltliner or Sauvignon Blanc, I scream "Rosé, rosé, rosé!"

Sadly, many people scream back "No way, no way, no way," fearful of revisiting the experience of a youthful sip of Momma's White Zin at a family cookout.  While one-dimensional sicky-sweet blush wines do remain out there on the market, fellow Wineaux have long embraced the wonderful variety and loveliness of well-crafted rosés from all over the globe.

At a recent tasting of six different worldly rosés, even burgeoning Wineaux admitted an early reluctance to embracing the pink.  Afterwards, however, each one had become tantalized by the aromas, flavors and freshness of these wines.  Lest the Minx say, "I told you so," go out there with an open mind and an excited palate and give rosé wines a chance.

We began with a 2010 Château de Pourcieux Rosé from Provence in France, a blend of syrah, grenache and cinsault - grapes that grow beautifully in the Mediterranean climate and chalky, gravelly clay soil of the south of France.  This had a very pale salmon/rose color with a nose of red berries and evident minerality.  In the mouth it showed raspberry, strawberry, rose petals and minerals, well-balanced but not overly acidic.  [WM 89]  A big hit early on, the Ch. de Pourcieux remained a favorite of the tasting.

Next stop was Greece, for a 2010 Kir-Yianni Akakies Rosé.  The only Greek AOC rosé, it is made of 100% Xinomavro.  With a bright raspberry color and a very unusual nose of green tomato, it had flavors of Fuji apple, cranberry and mint, with earthy elements.  I wished I had thought to pick up some feta cheese and stuffed grape leaves; it might have been the perfect accompaniment!  [WM: 87]  A few tasters were put off by the unusual notes exhibited, but I kept returning to its interesting complexity.

Heading east to Italy, we tried the 2010 Cantina del Taburno Albarosa Rosé, made from 100% Aglianico.  Red wines from this grape can be incredibly powerful, so the winemakers take care not to let the wine stay in contact with the grape skins too long.  It was indeed fairly light in color with a pinky-red hue.  This rosé had a wonderful perfumey nose of honeysuckle and rose petals, with a little soapy scent.  Nicely floral and with great strawberry and herb notes, I wished it was a little more acidic.  But it was one of my favorites of the tasting, and didn't last long after everyone had left!  [WM:89]

From Italy, we ventured to the Basque region of NW Spain for the 2010 Ameztoi Txakolina Rubentis Rosé.  The important word is Txakolina, or Txakoli - pronounced "Chac-o-lee-na/Chac-o-lee," which is the name of the type of wine, not the grape variety.  Those are Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Belta.  White Txakolis are a little more common, and have become a favorite in-the-know wine for many Wineaux.  With nice CO2 "shpritz" and a super-light palate cleansing essence, they are ideal for the hottest of summer days.  (I say just stick a straw in the bottle and you're good!)  I had never personally tasted a rosé Txakoli, and at first had thought it would be so light and a great start to the tasting, but pushed it down in the order after popping the cork.  Definitely not "so light!"  With a pale red berry color, it had a nose of tangerine peel and 'dirty sock,' great CO2, bright acidity and a refreshing cranberry note at the finish, with definite earthiness.  [WM: 86]  While the "ginger ale"y feel (one taster's opinion) did not appeal to all, many agreed it was indeed the most refreshing of the group by far.

Long Island wineries have had a great deal of success with rosé wines, so I chose the 2010 Shinn Estate Rosé as our bottle from the U.S.  Made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, it was raspberry red in color.  Some of the tasters were fearful of that brightness translating into sweetness, and were pleasantly surprised at the spicy, grassy, earthy nose with a fresh note of watermelon.  It had a wonderful acidity, clear, strong cherry in the mouth, and a pleasant creaminess.  [WM:88]  One taster (who is a musician) pronounced it "B-flat," which, unlike the letter grade of B-minus, is actually a compliment - meaning that it felt like the most middle-ground of the wines.  (B-flat is concert pitch, to which the entire orchestra tunes.)

Finally, we tasted the 2010 Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap Rosé from South Africa.  A blend of 66% Syrah, 20% Cinsault and 14% Grenache, it was another favorite of the group, although stylistically very different than the similarly-blended rosé from Provence.  With a deep red/pink color, it had a nose of green pepper and mint, and was bold and spicy on the palate, with strawberries and a little watermelon.  I felt the heat of alcohol, spurning me into a frenzied search for all of the wines' alcohol percentages, and sure enough, I was correct; with 13.5%, it had the highest amount of all we'd tasted.  (Most were in the 12-13% range.)  What can I say?  The Minx likes to be right.  [WM: 89]

At the end of the day, notes were put aside, and the tasters revisited their favorites - leaving behind a number of empty bottles for the recycling bin.  One taster remarked that she was no longer going to be intimidated to try rosés, another commented on the surprising variety even in such a relatively small sample of wines.  It's all true - rosés are refreshing, interesting, quaffable, and complex.  Be sure to give one a try - like I said, these are absolutely not Yo Momma's White Zin.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Wine Bar Crawl, Destination #3

A few weeks ago, I embarked on an ambitious journey with fellow Wineaux Carol: visit four NYC wine bars in one night.  After lovely experiences at TURKS AND FROGS and THE UPHOLSTERY STORE, we meandered over to CENTRO VINOTECA, located at the bustling intersection of 7th Avenue S and Barrow Street.

Immediately the difference in ambiance between our prior two stops and this one struck us, as we snagged the last two seats at an extremely crowded bar.  At this point we were ready to order some dinner but as our plans for the entire evening were vague, we hadn't made a reservation.  I suppose in one sense we were lucky to get seats at all.  Unfortunately, the party directly to my right had no sense of space, and I was rudely jostled throughout the entire meal.  No fun.

In all fairness, I suppose I should return to Centro Vinoteca during a quieter time, as the craziness was the root of my dissatisfaction with the place.  The food was very good - both Carol and I sampled different pastas - and the wine list was nicely focused, with over thirty Italian wines available by the glass.  (I should say by the quartino, for at Centro Vinoteca, the pour is measured out to a vessel slightly over a glass.)

But our bartender Connor was slammed with patrons, and when I pronounced the first wine we were tasting as corked, he rather fussily agreed with my assessment, seeming put out at the need to remedy the situation.  Then, after opening another bottle, he poured it immediately without offering a taste.  Bad form, in my opinion, no matter how crowded the bar.

[It is unfortunate that many people mistake the off-odor of 2, 4, 6 - Trichloroanisole (TCA) as merely an unpleasant note in the wine.  In reality, it is a by-product of the cork bleaching process and can happen to any wine stopped with a traditional cork.  Some people are more sensitive to TCA than others, and while it is in a Wineaux's best interest to learn to properly identify this cork taint, is is also the responsibility of the server to acquiesce to his customer.]

Luckily, the second pour of 2009 Bolgheri Rosso Scire was fine, with a nose of cherries, and blueberry pie filling, herbs, rosemary and a hint of prune on the palate.  It was warm and rich with a nice finish and good body. [88]

We also tasted the 2009 Colline del Sole Aglianico, which had a nose of roasted meats, and cherry pie and violets in the mouth.  It was bright, but balanced with a good earthiness on the finish. [86]

With the crowd, noise level and nudgy neighbors, we couldn't wait to get out of there.  But I'm not ready to completely write off Centro Vinoteca just yet.  On Mondays they have half-price bottles, and are offering a five-course wine tasting dinner on Sundays this summer, so I expect I will give it another go and cross my fingers for a more relaxed, wine-focused experience.

Centro Vinoteca - 74 Seventh Avenue S, NYC ~ 212-367-7470 ~ www.centrovinoteca.com

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

NYC WINE BAR - The Upholstery Store

Tucked away on a quiet stretch of Washington Street in the way West Village is a tiny gem - The Upholstery Store.  Do not bring grandma's needlepoint-embellished dining chairs with you, there is actually no upholstering going on in this dimly-lit wine bar.  At least not as far as I could see on my recent visit with fellow Wineaux Carol.

A footnote of sorts to Kurt Gutenbrunner's Wallsé next door, the Upholstery store is heavily Austrian-influenced, giving us Big Apple Wineaux a chance to 'stretch our legs' from our usual tours of France, Italy and the US.

We began with a pair of offerings from Weingut Walter Buchegger - I had the 2009 Riesling Lössterassen Kremstal, which exhibited pleasant florals and notes of melon and peach with light acidity [85] and Carol sampled the 2008 Grüner Veltliner Pfarrweingarten, which had complex notes of lemon, pear, lavender, honey, earth and white pepper, nice body and good finish although light in acidity. [88]

At this point in our tour, we were getting a little hungry, so snacked on some nuts and a pair of cheeses (the Epoisses was a standout!)  The menu at The Upholstery Store is limited, but pretty perfect - snacky options, a few entrees, salad and strudel.  Our bartender Evan was incredibly knowledgeable and made perfect suggestions along the way, including guiding us to our next two wines.

I had the 2008 Peter Schandl Furmint Neusiedlersee Hügelland - nose of lemongrass and earth, a hint of CO2 "shpritz," good weight mid-palate with a long finish and notes of grass and buttered toast.  Carol also suggested an unusual but apt descriptor of "oatmeal" (good one, Carol!) [88]  She was sipping the 2009 Peter Schandl Muskateller Gelb Brut, which had candied pear and apricot on the nose, nice sweetness at the top but bone dry finish.  We both found this wine flirty and fun - a little 'schitzo,' but in a good way! [87]

While it would have been great to stay and continue our in-town journey to Austria, we had a plan and needed to head to our next spot.  But Evan wouldn't let us leave without trying the 2007 Kreinbacher Somló Juhfark.  This Hungarian wine is from a tiny region just off the Austrian border, and is made with 100% Jufark (a variety previously unknown to me, grown exclusively in Hungary).  It had a barnyardy nose and was very clean and steely with a hint of butter, sweet lime and herbs.  It had a light acidity but a nice balance.  Aged ten months in Hungarian oak. [88]  Carol wasn't as interested in this wine, but then again, she did apply menthol lip balm just before tasting it... ooooohhhhh, Carol!  (In all fairness, she did think we were leaving when she did so.)

While there are other regions represented on The Upholstery Store's wine list, the opportunity to taste less-familiar Austrians wines is a fantastic excuse for a visit.  And next time, I'm saving room for the strudel.

The Upholstery Store - 713 Washington St. (W 11/Perry) 212-240-9557 ext 10.
http://kg-ny.com/the-upholstery-store