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Friday, August 31, 2012

Wrapping Up the Summer

It’s Labor Day weekend so we all know that means summer is wrapping up and rose season is winding down.  I still have a couple left, including a Rimauresq Cru Classe Cotes de Provence and of course my Tempier Bandol Rose, and I’ll have them within the next week or two, before it cools off outside.

It’s time to transition into Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Chianti, and Tempranillo, some of my favorite pairings for autumnal dishes and temperatures.  The wines are food friendly, not too heavy, and are perfect for matching up to fresh produce at harvest time.  But this summer, I tried more wines than ever before, and it’s a good thing I took plenty of tasting notes - I’ll be back for those wines again with the next vintage next summer.

This was my first summer as a wine rep, and I learned a lot in a short span of time.  I enjoyed bringing good quality dry rose to Long Island, especially the Hamptons.  What did I learn?  Dry rose is gaining popularity, Sancerre is at the top of its game right now, and it’s a wonderful time for introducing new products into the area.  While summer is by far my favorite time of the year, I’m excited to start showing autumnal wines - some things I haven’t covered yet on the blog!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Reason To Celebrate!

For the past nine months, I’ve been sipping wine without one of my favorite tasting partners - my sister.  Well, she’s back!  (When I say nine months, it might be easy to guess she and her husband have been expecting a baby - he arrived over the weekend!  We’re thrilled!)

I’m also excited that my sister will be able to sip with us again.  After she and her husband open their bottle of Moet that they brought back from their trip to France, I’ll open a bottle I’ve been saving since I bought it a few months back - the 2011 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose.  It’s still summer so we can still enjoy our rose, and since I was only able to get my hands on one bottle of the Tempier Rose, I’m glad I saved it so we could all enjoy it together.

So what did I choose to toast to the new little guy on the night he arrived?  2007 Chateau Gloria, a perennial favorite from Saint-Julien (Bordeaux).  It’s a delicious traditional Bordeaux (and fortunately fairly easy to find in wine shops), with characteristics of blackberry, plum, cassis, herb, vanilla, dark chocolate, coffee, wood shavings, and graphite.  The texture is full and smooth and luscious yet a bit reserved, with a very nice finish.

Somehow, though, wine seems to taste even better on special days such as that.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Croatian Wines - Malvazija and Teran by Degrassi

I had my first taste of Croatian wines last week and I’m fortunate enough to be the rep on a white and a red that in my opinion are fantastic.  They’re different from anything I’ve tasted before.  I have an increased curiosity in Balkan wines lately, which is why I tried the Vranac a few weeks back.  This time it was a Malvazija and a Teran.

The Malvazija is the Degrassi 2011 Bomarchese and the Teran is the Degrassi 2007 Terre Rosse (named for the red soil in which it grows).  Degrassi’s grapes are planted on the northwestern part of the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia.

The Malvazija is quite funky and very unique - it’s a rich white with fruit characteristics (I noted mostly tropical fruit), nut, and floral.  It’s smooth and ripe and finishes with a clean feel.

The Teran is bold yet elegant, with a lovely deep red color and a lighter rim, ripe red and dark fruit, floral characteristics, and very soft spice, with an expressiveness that reveals an identity completely foreign to me, since I had never tasted Teran or any Croatian red before.  It’s delicious with a soft feel in spite of its initial boldness, and would pair perfectly with meat dishes or would be a wonderful sipper on its own.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Coda di Volpe

The importer I represent recently started carrying Italian and Croatian wines, in addition to the French and German wines they already have.  I was really excited about the new products.  I believe I’ve covered some of the Italian wines and I’m covering another one today, and next post I’ll probably address the Croatian wines, as they’ve been fascinating.

When my boss handed off a few cases of Italian samples to me, he told me to have fun with them.  There was just one in the box that I’d never heard of, so he told me I’d probably be able to find some information on it - “Coda di Volpe.”

Well, from what I know of the Italian language, I remember that volpe means fox.  And from my music sheets, I know that coda means tail.  So it was fairly easy to guess that Coda di Volpe means fox’s tail.  The rest was up to me to learn.

The Coda di Volpe that I represent is the 2011, produced by Tenuta di Cavalier Pepe, which is the producer we represent from Campania.  Coda di Volpe is an ancient white grape grown almost exclusively in Campania, and ours is from Irpinia.  What I love about wines from Campania is how many off-beat Italian wines come from there.  When we think of Italian wine, we think of Chianti, Pinot Grigio, possibly Nebbiolo, and lately we think also of Moscato.  Campania is different - expressive wines made from Aglianico, Falanghina, Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino, etc. are produced in Campania.  Coda di Volpe is another example of wine from that region.

The Cavalier Pepe Irpinia Coda di Volpe is straw colored with soft aromas of citrus, orchard fruit, nut, and soil.  On the palate, it’s clean and reflects the aromas, with the nut flavors lasting into the lovely finish.  This is a perfectly food friendly wine, and I’d choose this over most Pinot Grigio on any given day, especially since it’s so reasonably priced, probably retailing under $20.  

Friday, August 17, 2012


I spend a lot of time around other people in the wine industry.  I like to hear the things they say - how they perceive the wines they taste, how they connect with wines, interesting wine facts, pairings they’ve tried, sometimes things I’ve never considered, etc.  But the thing I listen to the most is their wine philosophy, because I’m a firm believer that if you spend enough time experiencing wine, you start to develop a wine philosophy.

One of my favorite things that I’ve heard is this: You either like it or you don’t, and that’s what matters most.

Simple, isn’t it?  It may seem like over-simplifying it, but in the end, it really is what matters.  I’m not saying that I won’t cringe if I see someone order a dish and a wine together and the pairing is completely off, and I’ll definitely cringe if someone insists on drinking the same thing over and over particularly when it’s clearly not good quality.  But with wine, everyone’s palate and preferences are different, and it’s up to the wine drinker to determine what he/she likes.

Here’s where I get annoyed.  It would be foolish and idealistic of me to expect everyone in this industry or any industry to be completely unbiased.  Everyone has a soft spot for something, and tends to encourage others to feel the same way.  But when I read or hear things that are very obviously biased, pretty much instructing wine drinkers to feel a particular way and even to the point of trying to influence others in the wine industry to embrace the same bias - well that’s something I have very little patience for.

I think a lot of people realize that oftentimes (not always, of course), the producers that pay the most for advertising in a publication tend to receive the most praise from said publication.  Other publications, large or small, have other reasons for pushing particular products - reasonable or not.

Yes, I encourage my readers to try certain products.  My reasons are because the wine was very enjoyable and I’d love to know that others were able to share the same experience.  Or that the wine is sustainably produced, or that supporting smaller producers, both at the local and foreign level, has its advantages.  Or maybe I’d like to bring a lesser known wine to others’ attention, because otherwise they might not have the opportunity to try it, if they don’t know to look for it.  Or maybe I can see some bias out there, and notice that a very good producer is being excluded for whatever reason, and since I don’t share in that bias, I prefer to encourage my readers to try that product, simply because it’s just so good and worth trying, and no one else was going to mention it.

An unbiased bit of advice I can offer to my readers, and to anyone else, is that, yes, it’s good to read up on wines and wine trends.  But ultimately, you’ve got to do your own thinking and deciding, and that’s done by trying more and more wines, and forming your own opinions. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

2007 Plantaze Vranac “Pro Corde” Reserve

Here’s a secret - whenever I realize that a bottle I’m looking at in a wine shop is in fact the last bottle of its kind in the shop, I need to have it.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m afraid it won’t be available again, or if that’s an indication that other bottles sold rather quickly, so it must be fantastic, or that I want it and I don’t want anyone else to have that last bottle - it’s mine, mine, mine!  For whatever reason, I always need that last bottle.  And that was the case with the last bottle of Plantaze Vranac at Lake Side Emotions.  I saw that lone bottle after wrapping up a Friday tasting, and all I knew was, it had to be mine.

I’m glad it was mine.  It was absolutely delicious and a great find under $20.

The 2007 Plantaze Vranac “Pro Corde” Reserve from Lake Skadar Valley in the region of Podgorica, Montenegro, is made of the Vranac grape, one of the most important grapes in the Balkan wine regions and probably the most important in Montenegro.  It’s indigenous to the region, and with more Balkan wines becoming available in the United States, we might be able to find more Vranac.  Plantaze is a large producer in Montenegro and so it’s able to ship all over the world.  The name “Vranac” means black stallion, and it really is a black wine that would pair perfectly with firm cheeses as well as meat dishes - hearty dishes in the winter, and grilled meats in the warmer months.  It would also be an ideal winter fireside sipper due to its smooth texture and the satisfying feeling it gives the drinker.  A word of advice - I did not decant the wine, and I do not suggest decanting it, as this wine loses its smoothness after being open for a few hours.

Shifting between purple and a reddish black with a still slightly pinkish, youthful rim, the Vranac shows characteristics of stewed blackberry and blueberry, chocolate, vanilla oak (aged in French barrels), soft spices, a hint of herb, floral notes of purple blossoms, some black pepper, a bit of roasted meat, and a hint of saline minerality.  The alcohol content of 13.5% is right in my wheelhouse, as I tend to shy away from the 14%+ wines, and the wine is nicely balanced fruit/acidity/tannin - it’s clean and refreshing while still having enough smooth texture to feel satisfied by it.  The finish is long and reminiscent of lilac.

In a blind tasting, never would I have guessed this wine was under $20, and admittedly I never would have guessed it was Vranac - probably because I had never tasted one before.  I do know that I’d have this Vranac or another again in a heartbeat.  If you’re not familiar with Vranac, it’s worth reading about and hunting one down.  A delicious wine with good value and a unique identity is what we want to look for - and the chance to tell fellow wine drinkers that we got to try something new.  Lots of people ask me how I’ve learned so much about wine.  I tell them I have a very long way to go and that there’s really no end to learning about wine, but the best way to educate yourself is to try more and more wines.  It’s true.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thinking Ahead

I know it’s hot out.  It’s been particularly hot out here in New York this summer, and very humid.  I don’t mind it - in fact, I love the intense heat in the summer and sipping dry rose from Provence or Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre or something fun and clean from Italy, like a Falanghina, out on the porch in the evenings.

But just knowing that the season will be changing in about a month, I’ve started thinking up new recipes and culinary concepts for the cooler months.  Last year I had several “kitchen ambitions,” as I like to call them.  And I could hardly believe that I completed every dish or idea I had on my list for the year.  I taught myself to make homemade ravioli and gnocchi, I created my own risotto recipe, I learned to cook duck to replicate some favorite restaurant dishes, I came up with a wintery dish that included bison and several other favorite ingredients, I made a fantastic goulash, I created some dishes that had sat in my imagination bank for months, I invented a mac-n-cheese dish that absolutely blew my own mind, and I tackled a recipe that had intimidated me for some time - and conquered it - a duck cassoulet.  And of course I took great care in choosing the appropriate wines for pairing to these dishes.  I shared them on the blog over the past year or so, and enjoy revisiting the photos of dishes I created and recipes I wrote.

In my opinion, based on their relatively high acidity, I believe red Burgundies and Chianti are ideal for pairing to lots of dishes.  They’re clean, generally fairly low in alcohol, and bright and versatile.

I hate to see the summer come to an end and always feel sad when it happens.  But the flavors, aromas, and textures of autumn inspire new dishes and satisfying pairings, and before long we return to the couch beside the fireplace, watching hockey instead of baseball.  We sip Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Nebbiolo, and Amarone.

But for now, I’ll enjoy my dry rose, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling...and summer.

Monday, August 6, 2012

2011 Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Bianco

A few weeks ago I tasted this white and had to have a bottle, which was perfect last night with Fettuccine Alfredo on the porch.  I love uncomplicated, clean summer sippers, and on a hot, humid evening, it was just what I wanted.

I’ve tasted rose and a few reds (even one at Gambero Rosso this year) from Regaleali, which is one of my favorite Sicilian producers, and now I can add the Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Bianco to the list.  The 2011 Bianco is a traditional blend of Sicilian white grapes Inzolia, Grecanico, and Catarratto.  It’s a straw color and shows characteristics of citrus and crisp orchard fruits laced with some minerality, and a clean, fresh feel with bright acidity and a longer finish than I had expected.  It would be ideal with a seafood dish but cuts nicely through a creamy pasta dish like the fettuccine.

I think most people associate Italian whites with Pinot Grigio and the occasional Gavi, but there really is a lot more out there to try, and those three Sicilian white grapes are a good example of fun, lesser-known whites from Italy.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Wine Geek or Wine Snob?

What’s a wine snob, you may ask?  Sometimes I wonder what really is a wine snob.  I’d describe a wine snob as someone who is narrow minded and probably purports to know more than he/she actually does about wine, and uses such limited knowledge of so vast a topic as a way of looking cultured somehow.  It’s a person who “loves” wine for all the wrong reasons.
My concern, for lack of a better term, is that some of us who embrace and respect wine are labeled wine snobs, because we take the time to learn about it and aren’t ashamed to possess such knowledge and appreciation.  But that doesn’t make a person a wine snob; rather, that’s a “wine geek” - and I’m proud to call myself one.  For me, one huge difference between a wine snob and a wine geek is that a wine snob focuses on name and price generally and shuns something from a lesser known grape or region, or at a lower price point, while the wine geek is happy to drink Petrus from a great vintage, as well as a funky wine from an off-beat grape from a nearly unknown region, for a fraction of the price, and is proud to have found such a bargain that delivers.
Sometimes I’m not sure when to feel more proud - that I found an opportunity to drink an iconic wine such as a First Growth Bordeaux or one of the great Super Tuscans or a special Napa red, or that I had provided myself with enough knowledge to hunt down something few people know about, paid under $20, and absolutely loved the unique expressiveness of the wine.  The wine snob will miss out on a cool wine from Irouleguy or Valle d’Aosta or Nahe or Minho or Montsant, but the wine geek is thrilled to come upon one of these treasures for under $20.
Raise your hand if you’re proud to be a wine geek.  Embrace your knowledge and continue to fortify it.  Expand your palate and your understanding of wine.  And don’t apologize for the kind of respect you have for wine, for its makers, and for its centuries of history.  You’re not a wine snob if you keep an open mind.  And if you’re a wine snob, perhaps remove the white wig and stop judging and looking down on the Tannats and Prie Blancs of the world - and prepare yourself for a delicious and fun surprise when you decide to try them.  The Bordeaux and Piemonte reds can wait for your attention, so put them in your cellar and grab a Schiava and enjoy it! 

Schiava/Lagrein blend - Alto Adige