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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Riedel Wine Glass Tasting at Morton’s The Steakhouse

This week I had the pleasure of attending a presentation of Riedel wine glasses including a tasting of several wines, at Morton’s the Steakhouse in Manhattan.  The purpose of the tasting and presentation was to demonstrate how the use of a proper wine glass enhances the experience of drinking each particular wine.
Many people are skeptical of whether the shape or quality of the wine glass has any effect on the appearance, aroma, and flavor of the wine - in fact, the Riedel representative posed the question to the people in attendance as to whether they were at all skeptical about how a glass effects the overall wine experience.  But after a very short amount of time, it was clear that a good quality and properly shaped wine glass indeed affects the wine experience.

Riedel Wine Glass Tasting at Morton’s The Steakhouse

Since a tasting should begin with the lightest wine of the evening, the first wine we tasted was the Chateau Ste. Michelle Horse Heaven Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, and the glass was the Riedel Vinum Sauvignon Blanc.  The glass is egg shaped and the top is a bit tapered, so that the aromas typical of Sauvignon Blanc - light fruits and flowers - are enhanced, and the wine is directed to the front of the tongue and palate, which makes the flavors and bright acidity characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc become more apparent.
We were also asked to sample the same Sauvignon Blanc from the “joker” glass, a small plastic cup which completely detracted from the aromas, and over-emphasized the acidity.  Clearly, a plastic cup is not suited for drinking good wine, or any wine for that matter.  I think that much was clear before we even began the tasting, but after analyzing the Sauvignon Blanc in its proper glass and experiencing all of the aromas and flavors one would expect from the varietal, one could already be persuaded to invest in appropriate Riedel glasses for a variety of wines.  And there were still three more wines to try, in three different glasses.
The next wine was the Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay, a white with more body than the Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine was served in the Riedel Vinum Chardonnay Montrachet glass, with a large bowl and a very wide rim, best suited for accentuating the wine’s fuller and more intense characteristics, including the buttery, rich, caramelized notes of the Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay.  Had the Chardonnay been tasted from the narrower, egg-shaped glass, the full bodied wine would have lost its rich character.
We then moved on to the reds, the first of which was the Villa Maria Cellar Selection
Pinot Noir, with fruit characteristics and gentle tannins.  The glass was the Riedel Vinum Pinot Noir Red Burgundy, with a large bowl perfect for bringing out the Pinot Noir’s fruity aromas, and the tapered rim aiming the wine at the front of the tongue to perceive the sweeter characteristics of the wine and softening the perception of acid, making for a proper balance in the flavors and textures.  If the wine were tasted from a glass that looks similar (the Montrachet glass) but without the tapered rim, the aromas will be preserved, but the flavors will be misdirected, causing the wine to display too much acidity, and masking the fruit flavors characteristic of Pinot Noir - clearly the Pinot Noir must be tasted in a glass with the large bowl, but with the narrower rim.
The final wine of the tasting event was the Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, a tannic, full bodied red with notes of dark fruits.  The glass was the Riedel Vinum Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, with a deep bowl ideal for bringing out the many layers of aromas in Bordeaux varietals, that tapers to a narrower rim, again directing the wine to the areas of the mouth that detect sweetness, allowing the wine to show its fruit, instead of only displaying the tannins.
After tasting the wines in the Riedel glasses for which they were intended, it was clear that a wine enthusiast hoping to maximize the experience of the wines should invest in good quality, properly shaped glasses.  The hosts of the event were so gracious as to send their guests home with a set of complimentary Riedel glasses, one of each of the glasses we used during the tasting.  My glasses of choice are Riedel, and the glasses of the Vinum collection are relatively affordable - it is certainly worth investing in these glasses to better enjoy your wine experiences.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Fantastic Wines on a Night to Remember

This weekend marks a year since my sister and brother-in-law got married.  I can honestly say that night was one of the most fun nights of my entire life, we had such a wonderful time and it’s hard to decide what stood out the most from that wedding, the music, the food, the wine, the overall atmosphere, the fun we had with family and friends, and seeing Lauren and Mike so happy on their wedding day, it was such a special memory we will have forever.
I think a lot of people underestimate the importance of excellent food and wine at a wedding.  When choosing a venue for the wedding, Lauren, Mike, and my parents considered many locations, but when they visited the Garden City Hotel (Garden City, Long Island, New York) and met with Joseph Borbely, their director of catering, they knew instantly that they had found the perfect venue.  The food was excellent, cocktail hour consisted of so many stations including a sushi station, raw bar, Peking duck, and lots of others.  Appetizer was a lobster sampler, the salad was field greens with apple chutney, and dinner was a choice of swordfish or filet mignon, followed by a gorgeous and delicious wedding cake.  But when preparing for the wedding, when Lauren chose the menu, she had to decide which wines would be served.  And her choices were perfect; they were the best wines I’ve ever had at a wedding.  We were told by guests how much they enjoyed the food and wine, and some even sipped Champagne throughout the evening.  We were so happy to hear how much everyone enjoyed the selections.
The Champagne, served throughout the reception, was the Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial NV.  This is such a dependable Champagne that has lovely characteristics of light crisp citrus, a hint of white flowers, nut, brioche, and just an indication of honey on the finish.  While sparkling wines, including Champagne, are very food-friendly and excellent palate cleansers due to their bubbly texture, this Champagne was actually an ideal pairing with the salad and apple chutney, and accompanied the lobster sampler very nicely as well.  In addition, it’s an excellent choice for cocktail hour, as there are so many different flavors and small plates, and it’s not easy to find a red or white to pair with all of what is offered at each station.  The shining moment for the Champagne on that evening was during the toast, I was so honored to raise a glass of Moet & Chandon to the happiness of my sister and brother-in-law at the end of my maid of honor speech.

Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial NV

One of Lauren’s favorite white grape varietals is Sauvignon Blanc - it’s crisp, clean, complex, and relatively easy to pair.  To accompany the lighter dishes, as well as the lobster sampler and the swordfish, she chose the 2008 Domaine Alain Cailbourdin Pouilly-Fume Les Cris.  This is a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, and it is very indicative of its region, very pale in color, with energetic notes of bright citrus, white fruit, grassy herbs, and mineral characteristics, very upbeat yet classy and elegant, beautifully structured with bright acidity, and a long finish.

2008 Domaine Alain Cailbourdin Pouilly-Fume Les Cris

After considering a Medoc and a Hermitage, Lauren opted for the 2006 Domaine de l’Harmas Chateauneuf du Pape, which was an excellent pairing with the filet mignon.  The wine, consisting of Grenache and Mourvedre, is a deep dark red Southern Rhone blend, with characteristics of dark and red fruits and berries, tobacco and a bit of smokiness, earth, a complex spiciness, and perhaps an indication of dry potpourri.  The wine is nicely balanced with a bit of sweet fruit, tartness, and a dry texture.

2006 Domaine de l’Harmas Chateauneuf du Pape

Often, it’s best to ask a catering director about upgrading the wines at an event as important as a wedding, as a facility is unlikely to offer its best selections as house wines.  Good food and wines are no less important than a beautiful dress, lovely flowers, and excellent music at an important event, and you and your guests would notice the difference.
Wishing a very happy first anniversary to Lauren and Mike!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Refreshing Whites for Summer Evenings

Last night we had a thunderstorm, much like any summer storm, the kind that knocks out the electricity for a few hours.  It’s a hot night, the air conditioner goes off - hopefully you’ve got your bottles stored in a place where they’ll keep cool until the house is cool again.  But what do you drink to keep yourself cool?  Probably something chilled and crisp - that would be my choice.
Last night was a Pinot Grigio.  I usually steer clear of the celebrity wines, but I was curious to try the Ramona Singer Pinot Grigio - and it didn’t disappoint.  Pale straw in color with characteristics of lemon, white flowers, fresh cut grass, and a hint of nut, bright acidity, and a long finish, this wine is a good yet inexpensive example of a food-friendly Italian Pinot Grigio.  I was pleasantly surprised and would go for it again.

2010 Ramona Singer Delle Venezie Pinot Grigio

Another summer wine at a very reasonable price is The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand.  I loved this wine the first time I tried it and keep a bottle in my wine rack at all times - it’s such a dependable Sauvignon Blanc and so indicative of its region.  Very pale in color with notes of tropical exotic fruits, bright citrus, soft herbal characteristics, and good minerality with upbeat acidity and a clean finish, this is another food-friendly wine perfect for very warm weather.

2009 The Crossings Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

When thinking of Riesling, often we think of a wine with a sweeter taste, however that sweetness is actually softening a very bright acidity typical of a good Riesling, and that underlying acidity is exactly what makes Riesling such an ideal summer wine.  One of my all-time favorite Rieslings is the Pierre Sparr Alsace Riesling.  The wine is straw colored but leaning towards golden, with characteristics of lime and a bit of sweeter citrus, white blossoms, and a hint of spice, with that clean Riesling acidity and a very beautiful finish.  Food-friendly though it is, my preference is to enjoy this wine on its own.

2005 Pierre Sparr Alsace Riesling

Friday, June 3, 2011

The “Wow Factor"

I do enjoy my regular favorites and there are lots of wines that keep me coming back for more, but I continue to try new wines to keep an open mind, keep on learning, and occasionally stumble upon something truly amazing.  Every so often, I get a surprise when I open a bottle that I figured would be satisfying, and the wine far exceeds my expectations.  These wines have what I call the “wow factor” - they’ve got that certain something about them that makes them special.
A white that very recently surprised me was the 2004 Tamellini Soave, produced in the Veneto region of Italy from the Garanega grape.  Generally, a Soave is meant to be enjoyed fairly soon after production, so you’re probably wondering why I had the 2004 Soave in 2011.  My explanation is that it was the only bottle of Soave I could find, and when I held the bottle up to the light, it looked clear, so I decided to bring that bottle home.  It’s a bright yellow color with a pale straw, almost clear rim, and characteristics of citrus, apple, a hint of peach, and lots of floral notes, a coolness about it, and a long finish with interesting notes of nut and cheese.  I paired the Soave with Italian feta cheese, and spinach fettuccine with sauteed chicken and a light cream sauce, and the wine worked very nicely with this dinner.

2004 Tamellini Soave

I had expected the wine to be perhaps past its prime since Soave should be enjoyed very young, but instead, it had matured gracefully, and the many layers of aromas and flavors, with its present yet somewhat restrained acidity and lovely structure and lengthy finish, gave me a very happy surprise, and as I allowed the wine to return to room temperature, the flavors were absolutely bursting and I could not have been happier with it.  The wine was truly wonderful, at a very reasonable price.

Soave with spinach fettuccine and sauteed chicken in a light cream sauce

A few weeks back while blind tasting, I found that maybe it was time to explore some South American wines, and what better way then to start with a good Malbec?  The answer is to start with an amazing Malbec!

2004 Achaval Ferrer Malbec

I picked out a bottle of 2004 Achaval Ferrer from the very dependable Mendoza region in Argentina to pair with the steak I had rubbed with fresh garlic, and a baby mesclun salad with a balsamic vinaigrette.  As soon as I poured the wine, I knew for sure it was something special.  Very dark in color with a much lighter rim demonstrating its age, and plenty of viscosity in the glass indicating its alcohol content, the aromas rushed to me in the form of rich blueberry, blackberry, plum, a hint of purple flowers (perhaps violets or lilacs), soft herbs and baking spices.  The aromas were confirmed on the palate, with the blueberry characteristics really coming through, with that bit of spice and mineral soil characteristics.  The tannins had softened beautifully and balanced so nicely with modest acidity, and the finish seemed to go on forever.

Malbec with steak and mesclun salad

It’s safe to say I was very taken by this wine and this is one of my best examples of the “wow factor” - I figured this would be a good wine since it was one of the higher priced Malbecs in the wine shop that day and something made me confident with the purchase, but I had no idea how much I’d love this wine.  I’ve heard the recent vintages of Achaval Ferrer Malbec are very enjoyable as well, and I look forward to tasting them.