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Friday, August 26, 2011

Three Grand Slams

My Yankees just made history - they hit three grand slams in one ball game.  There aren’t too many things more exciting than a grand slam, at least in terms of baseball.

Yankee Stadium

I’ve experienced a few grand slams recently in terms of wine as well, some beautiful wines that left quite an impression and were so exciting while I enjoyed them.  The wines themselves left an impression, but it was also the way they made me feel that was memorable - I was excited, I was fascinated, and I was really pleased with each of them.
The most recent was the 2007 Ferrari-Carano Alexander Valley Chardonnay, which was paired with lobster flambe at Casa Rustica here on Long Island.  The pairing was perfect - the light golden Chardonnay had notes of lemon, apple, orchard fruit, pineapple, and tropical fruit, gentle spice and pepper, and baked aromas and flavors, and that buttery characteristic that I love so much.  The texture was soft and smooth and the finish was long with just a hint of sweetness and spice.  The wine mirrored the lobster and its sauce and the pairing was almost magical - it brought both the dinner and the wine over the top.  For a Chardonnay lover like me, this wine is near perfect, especially with lobster flambe.

2007 Ferrari-Carano Alexander Valley Chardonnay

Another grand slam sort of pairing I had fairly recently was at another Long Island restaurant, Vintage Steakhouse.  With my filet mignon, I had the 2006 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon.  I had actually looked first at one of my favorite Pinot Noirs, and then at a Barolo, but ultimately decided on the Phelps, and I am so happy I did, as it is now among my favorite American wines.  Cabernet Sauvignon, probably my favorite red, leaves me most satisfied when it’s big, bold, and special.  And the 2006 Phelps is just that - inky purple and loaded with deep fruit characteristics, bold spices, smoke, and an overall dark ripeness about it.  The texture is soft and full, and wine is elegant and well balanced, and the finish is long and memorable.  As soon as I took my first sip, I was really glad I had not gone with Pinot or Barolo that night - this Cabernet is amazing.

2006 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon

One of the most exciting wine moments I’ve ever experienced came just hours after I graduated law school several years back.  We opened the 2000 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut, and it was my first extraordinary Champagne.  I think it’s safe to say that just about everyone feels happy with a glass of bubbles in their hand, but this was different, and every time I went back for another sip, it felt like a special privilege to be tasting it, and to know that beautiful bottle had been opened to celebrate my special occasion.  Aside form the gorgeous bottle, the Champagne itself has a lovely appearance, with a somewhat light golden color and very small bubbles, and characteristics of green apple, a hint of white citrus and peach, white flowers, an indication of gentle spice, and wood, and some toasted characteristics.  The way it all came together, plus the elegant texture, and big presence that surprised me very much - to me, it was everything a celebratory bottle should be, and it was a sensation I’ll never forget.

2000 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut Champange

I’m asked fairly often if it’s really worth spending the money on an expensive bottle or wine or on a pricey bottle of vintage Champagne.  My feeling is that yes, it sure is worth it, because investing in such a bottle gives the buyer the opportunity to experience something truly great and exciting.  You have no chance of experiencing something special and memorable otherwise.  And I’ve heard so many baseball fans complain that going to a game is no longer worth the cost - it’s easier to sit at home in front of the tv and watch the game.  However, it’s not possible to get the same sensation at home as when you’re actually there to feel the crowd electrified when something great or memorable happens - like a grand slam, or a no-hitter, or that elusive triple play.  For me, hearing the crack of the bat for a home run or the pop of a cork of a special bottle of Champagne - I immediately realize something special could happen - something I won’t want to forget.  Yes, it’s worth it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

“To Play It Safe Is Not To Play"

I’ve heard that “to play it safe is not to play.”  Often I’ll find myself wandering around one of the local wine shops (and there are many) - in search of something new to try.  I’ve got a reputation for avoiding most of the “safe” wines, and if something looks new or unique, I can’t seem to pass it up.  This is probably why my wine racks have very limited space.  But honestly, what can a wine drinker hope to learn by drinking the same “safe” wines over and over again?  Not a whole lot - which is my reason for thinking outside the box when roaming the aisles of the wine shops and staying until I find something exciting to bring home and try.
Last month, while wine shopping for nothing in particular, I came across a very inexpensive Rose from Languedoc-Roussillon.  When I saw that the label read Cinsault, I decided I needed to try this bottle I’d never seen before, especially at about $7, I thought, what have I got to lose?  It was the 2010 Celliers Contemporains, which I wrote about last week.  It was such a great deal on a wine I’ve never tried before - in fact, the thought of Rose Cinsault hadn’t crossed my mind before, but it’s one of the best discoveries I’ve made recently, and at $7 it’s by far the best deal of the summer for me.

I think most wine drinkers have seen bottles from E. Guigal in the wine shops and have probably tried E. Guigal’s reds.  I’ve been a fan of their Cotes-du-Rhone for some time, but a few months back, I came across a bottle of their white.  I almost didn’t pick that bottle because I generally consider E. Guigal a relatively “safe” producer, but most of the white Rhone grape types are underrepresented in my wine racks, so I decided it was worth trying this wine.  It was the 2009 Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc, a blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette, and Bourboulenc.  This wine was anything but safe - Southern Rhone wines are usually a bit on the wild side, with aromas that often leap from the glass and flavors that burst on the palate, making for some excitement each time a bottle of Rhone is opened.  And the white Rhone didn’t disappoint - pale in color but bold on the nose and palate, characteristics of lemon and grapefruit, orchard fruits including peach, pear, and crisp apple, tropical fruits, honey, and deep spices and pepper, and a full yet clean texture with a long finish, this was a lot to take in at only $13.  I paired it with soft shelled crab, the match was excellent, and the wine was as exciting as any Rhone I’ve tried.  Just because a wine is produced by a reliable maker doesn’t mean it has to be boring and predictable, and this was a perfect example.

Another recent example of something a bit different from a very reputable producer happened when I was shopping for a Soave and came home with both the Soave and a bottle of 2006 Pio Cesare Dolcetto d’Alba.  I think most wine drinkers have heard of Dolcetto and many have probably tried it.  This was actually my first experience with a Dolcetto, as I tend to go for Nebbiolo wines from Piemonte, but I needed a wine a bit lighter than a Nebbiolo to pair with my squid ink pasta with lobster and asparagus tips in a light tomato sauce.  I had intended to pair that dish with one of the Italian reds I already have in the wine racks, but it was the only Dolcetto in the wine shop, and being a lover of Pio Cesare wines, $13 seemed like a good buy.  The wine is a deep ruby color with characteristics of both red and dark fruits laced with spice and pepper, and is nicely balanced, and got the job done - pairing correctly with heavier pasta but lighter sauce and shellfish.

One of the most unique wines I’ve ever tasted was a result of wandering around a wine shop I rarely go to.  Sicilian wines fascinate me, since they pair particularly well with my Sicilian cooking but they’re so different from other Italian wines.  This was the Scilio Phiale Etna Rosso, a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio - fairly dark in color with characteristics that reflect the ashy volcanic soil near Mount Etna where the grapes grow, as well as dark fruit, spice, wood, and slight bitterness.  It is full and dense and very dry, with a really long finish.  If I can ever find another bottle of this wine, I will be sure to buy it again.  It is fantastic and different from anything I’ve ever tasted.

Friday, August 12, 2011

2010 Celliers Contemporains Cinsault Rose

For the past month or so, I’ve been writing posts on recent tastings I’ve done at several wineries, mainly on the North Fork of Long Island and a few in Virginia.  I’ve had some great finds and a few disappointments as well.  But in between tastings I’ve been trying lots of wines that work well with summer dishes, and I’ve made a few discoveries that I’ll be going back to over and over again.

A few months ago, I wrote a post on a variety of Rose wines with summer approaching.  Since then, I’ve noticed that so many wineries are experimenting with Roses and producing dry Rose wines better than I have ever tasted.  (So there really is no excuse for associating Rose with White Zinfandel!)  And it seems lots of wine drinkers are finding a new appreciation for dry Roses as well - each wine shop I’ve been to this summer has a much larger inventory of Rose and the shopkeepers have been finding that Rose is a very popular wine this summer.  I think that’s a good indication that production of good quality dry Roses is on the rise.
One of my favorite Roses that I’ve had twice this summer is the 2010 Celliers Contemporains Cinsault Rose.  Here in New York, it’s about $7 a bottle and at first I was skeptical of a wine so inexpensive, but as soon as I gave it a chance in the glass, my mind was changed.

Cinsault is a red grape that grows in warm, dry regions, namely the Mediterranean and North Africa, and is particularly successful in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France.  This Rose is a Vin de Pays, or a “country wine,” from Languedoc-Roussillon - and it should be appreciated as one.  It is ideal for enjoying outdoors as a picnic wine or for sipping on the porch in the warmer months.  It’s a bit understated, with a bright pinkish reflective color, with soft aromas of bright red fruit and blossoms and a slightly herbal characteristic, and the flavors include strawberry, sour cherry, white citrus, a hint of raspberry and melon, blossom, a bit of grass, and stony minerality.  The wine is more acidic on the palate than its aromas would indicate, making it a refreshing wine and very food friendly.  The finish is long and the palate feels very clean.
I enjoyed this wine very much with fresh Greek feta cheese and a baby mesclun salad with a very simple balsamic vinaigrette, and then again on its own.  I think it could pair very easily with lots of cheeses, especially the salty and tangy ones; it can also pair nicely with fish and shellfish and lighter dishes.
I’m still on a quest to find more dry Roses but I’ve found lots of good quality Roses at very modest prices.  I’ll be returning to the ones I already enjoy, and I’ll be posting about more recent Rose discoveries as well.

Friday, August 5, 2011

My Virginia Wine Excursion

A few weeks ago on my way home to New York after visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Virginia, I decided to stop at a couple of Virginia wineries after hearing conflicting opinions about Virginia wines.

The first winery I stopped at was Lost Creek Winery in Leesburg.  The tasting room is beautiful and I was pretty curious to try the wines.
First was the 2010 Chardonnay, a pale yellow wine with characteristics of citrus, apple, and a bit of stoniness, bright acidity, and a crisp, clean feel.  The wine seemed very food friendly and I liked it.

Next was the 2010 Spring Time, a blend of Vidal, Viognier, Chardonnay, and Muscat Canelli.  This was another pale straw colored wine, with notes of slightly sweet citrus, orchard fruit, and a caramelized characteristic and a bit of macerated fruit.  On the palate, it is a bit tart, and far less sweet than the aromas would indicate, and the finish was quite long.
The third wine I enjoyed - it was the 2010 Vidal Blanc, light colored with lemon, orchard fruit (including apple, pear, and peach), and white blossom characteristics.  On the palate it is just slightly sweet with nice acidity and a clean finish.
Next was the 2010 Sweet Summer, a blend of Vidal, Chardonnay, and apple.  I really wasn’t connecting with this wine - it has a hint of citrus with lots of tart apple, raisin, and baking spice characteristics, but the apple and something almost indescribable overpowered the other aromas and flavors.  In my opinion, the wine was not at all food friendly, and the flavors seemed to be fighting with each other a bit.

We then moved on to the Rose, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay, and the wine is salmon pink in color.  The wine has aromas of very light, under-ripe strawberry and raspberry, and both sweet and tart characteristics, laced with a bit of fresh cut grass.  Considering the wine seemed so light on the nose and on the palate, I liked the structure very much, with bright acidity and a long finish.  I think it would be quite food friendly.
It was then time for the reds, and first was the 2009 Chambourcin.  The wine is a deep purple color, with notes of both red and dark fruit, a bit of raisin, plum, spice, and pepper.  However, I felt that the wine lacked structure, there was little texture on the palate, not much acidity, and not much finish.
The next red was the 2009 Merlot which was kind of disappointing.  It was a pale ruby red and approaching the wine I had expected regular Merlot characteristics - however, the wine had an overwhelming aroma and flavor of green bell pepper that almost completely masked the hints of dark fruit and spice that were a bit difficult to detect.

I then tried the 2009 Reserve, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  This wine was better than the other reds so far - ruby colored with a very slight water rim, and notes of soft fruit and a hint of spice.  There was some bright acidity and a decent finish, and I think the wine would be pretty food friendly.
The final red was the 2009 Chambourcin Gold, and probably my least favorite of the tasting.  Deep purple, the wine had berry undertones but the prevalent aroma and flavor was reminiscent of ink, and it was difficult to extract any other aromas or flavors, and very difficult to assess the structure of the wine, as I couldn’t keep it on my palate for too long.  I was really disappointed with this wine.

Interestingly, the two dessert wines were fun and I finished the tasting on a somewhat higher note.  The first of the two dessert wines was the Courtney’s Christmas blend of Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The color was a slightly amber pink, and the aromas and flavors reflected the “Christmas” name - the wine is perfect for autumn and winter months, with characteristics of spice, clove, gingerbread, and orange spice.  This was a really fun surprise.
The final wine of the tasting was the 2010 Late Harvest Alyce (Vidal).  The wine is a light golden color, with notes of pineapple, pear, mango, and passionfruit - mostly tropical fruits.  There wasn’t much acidity and the wine wasn’t particularly well balanced but the aromas and flavors were nice.
I then visited Tarara Winery, also very beautiful and also in Leesburg.  Tarara’s tasting room is quite simple but I was immediately impressed upon hearing that only Riedel glasses are used for tasting, and I could sense that the staff is quite knowledgeable.  And I am happy to report that the wines are equally as impressive.

We began with the 2009 Charval, a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris, fermented mostly in stainless but partly in barrels.  The wine is straw colored, with notes of white citrus, green apple, and mineral, and buttery and smooth characteristics and just a hint of yeastiness, nice acidity, and a clean feel followed by a long finish.  This was an excellent start to the tasting and I was already excited to try the others.
Next was the 2010 Rose, a blend of the juices of all the reds produced by Tarara.  The color is a brickish pink, and the characteristics were those of strawberry, a hint of raspberry and cherry, soft sweet citrus, white flowers, and a bit of grassy herb, and on the palate just a bit of spice.  The wine shows bright acidity and a very long finish.  This was quite a unique Rose as it had so many layers and a personality of its own, I think it would be very food friendly and I enjoyed it very much.

We then moved on to the reds, and first was the 2008 Cabernet Franc, which was ruby colored with a slightly brickish rim.  The aromas are mostly dark fruit and berry, a bit of cherry, herb, and spice, and the flavors were complex with cherry, dark berry, herb, spice, and a bit of raisin, with slight smokiness.  The structure is excellent with a nice balance of acidity and tannin, and the smooth finish carried with it the smokiness as well as the dark fruits.
Next was the 2008 Long Bomb Edition Two, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, Petit Verdot, Touriga Nacional, and Pinot Noir.  The color is a very deep ruby with a crimson rim, and the wine shows characteristics of dark ripe fruit, bold berry aromas and flavors, stewed fruits, a hint of dried flowers, and an almost scorched earth sort of aroma.  The structure is nice with a good balance of acidity with soft tannins, and an excellent finish.  This wine is absolutely lovely and I was really impressed with it.

We then moved on to the 2007 Long Bomb Edition One, which is a bit different as the grapes are all from the Columbia Valley in Washington State.  The wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, and it has an intense, dark ruby color.  The characteristics include dark fruit and berry, plum, spice, and earthiness.  The acidity makes the wine particularly food friendly and the firm tannins gave it great balance and texture, the finish is long, and this was another fantastic wine.
The final wine of the tasting was the 2008 Nevaeh Red, an estate red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a ruby color and a crimson rim.  The wine is so expressive of its Virginia terroir, not only for its grape types, but also because it is aged in new Virginia oak and fermented on indigenous yeast.  The characteristics were of dark and red fruit, berry, plum, dry leaves, a floral hint, earthiness, and cedar and spice.  I loved the many layers of this wine and its complexity, plus its excellent structure of nice acidity and modest tannin, and its rich finish.  This was a particularly nice end to my day of tasting at the two Virginia wineries I visited.