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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Not Quite Right

You open a bottle.

You pour it into the glass.

You look at it.  You swirl and sniff it.  You taste it.

Repeat.  And again.  And again.

Something is not quite right.  But what, then?  It doesn’t look right, or it doesn’t smell right, or it doesn’t taste right, or it doesn’t feel right?  Why?

Perhaps the bottle is corked or the wine is flat out defective - it wasn’t made correctly - something was wrong with it right from the beginning, or it wasn’t sealed properly, or for a long time it wasn’t stored correctly.  Or maybe it’s in its awkward stage.  Or maybe it’s past its peak time and is on a serious decline and can no longer show as well as it once had.

Have we tasted this wine/grape/region/producer/vineyard/vintage before?  Did we know what to expect and did the wine fail to meet our expectations, or was it just a defective bottle?

What about this - let’s say you open a bottle, and you’ve had this wine over and over and over again.  You’ve always enjoyed it, which is why you continue to open more bottles of it.  But not this time.  But it’s not because the wine is corked.  And maybe it’s not a bad vintage at all.  But something isn’t quite right.  You’re no longer connecting with this wine anymore.  What do you do?  Do you continue to open more bottles of it, hoping that you’ll go back to enjoying and loving it again, as you once had?  Do you begin to question yourself and your taste regularly now, wondering why this wine no longer inspires you?  Or do you cut off your supply of that wine, once and for all, never to return to it again?

Perhaps you’ve lost your faith in that wine.  But why?  Is it just this one isolated instance where a problem has come up?  Or has the wine been leaving you feeling less than satisfied the past several times you’ve opened a bottle?  And why?  What is it that’s wrong?  Does it no longer sparkle and shine in the glass, giving off a radiant color, or perhaps the aromas and flavors no longer appeal to you or interest you or keep you coming back for more?  Or maybe the structure no longer seems right - it’s lacking something or maybe the length and finish aren’t what you had hoped for?

Did you have unreasonable expectations?  Or did it just flat out come up short?  Or, worse, did it come up short AGAIN, disappointing you and leaving you wondering if maybe that wine just isn’t for you anymore - now what?

I love wines that inspire me.  What I love even more is a wine that I’ve tasted over and over again and each time I learn something new about it or connect even better with it.  On the other hand, I tire of the wines that no longer inspire me.  I resent the bottles that come up short and fail to meet my expectations.  What if my expectations were perfectly reasonable - I understand the grape and the region and style and vintage - so what excuse does that bottle have for coming up short?

Maybe the Champagne had lost its bubbles.  Maybe the Chablis lacked the proper acidity.  Maybe the Margaux had an uncharacteristically short finish.  Maybe the Nebbiolo was past its peak now.  But something is not quite right.  Now what?

When I open a bottle, I want to love it.  What makes me love it and keep on loving it is how it makes me feel.  If it inspires me, makes me think, and appeals to my senses, keeps me guessing, and makes the experience exciting, then I’m all in.  Anything else, and for me it’s just pointless.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ugly Realities

We have all kinds of friends, but, at least for me, the most trusted and often the most treasured are the ones who not only share in our joys and sorrows and build us up, but also they know how to be [brutally] honest with us, sometimes pointing out the cold, hard truths that we might not necessarily want to hear, but we have to.

For me, wine plays a special part in my life, as I’m sure it does for a lot of people.  There are the celebratory wines, my go-to Pinot Noir when I’m having a sad day (I have no explanation for this, but on those days, I just want Pinot), my thought provoking and inspiring, almost “cerebral” wines, and there are my learning experience wines too.  If we let them, they really can tell us so much and we can learn a lot from them.

I had a thought yesterday after a conversation with my wine-industry-veteran boyfriend regarding great vintages of Bordeaux, and discussing the differences and virtues of the 2009 and 2010 vintages.  I started musing about when the 2010s might peak, and we decided that some of the great wines really do have a lifespan nearly as long as that of a human being in reasonably good health.

That’s when I had a borderline bone-chilling though that stayed with me the remainder of the day - when some of the great wines peak, many of the people who were present at their release will not be there for their peak.  Why?  Because sometimes the distance in years between release and peak time exceeds that of the years remaining on a person’s life, depending on how old the person is at the time of release.

It was particularly disturbing to me, and you may wonder why, as I’m only 30 years old and was in my 20s when the 2009s and 2010s were released - but most of my family, friends, and boyfriend, clearly were not in their 20s when those wines were released, and I began to wonder who will be here to experience some peak times for the more recent great wines.  For me, that’s an ugly reality and a cold, hard fact, taught to me by the wines I love so much.  I realize nothing in life is certain, but considering I’m still pretty young, I began to wonder what life will be like for me when, say, a 2010 Bordeaux is at its peak, and I’m ready to open it.  Who will be here with me to enjoy it?

I have a friend in the industry who has been like a mentor to me over the past few years.  He’s said some things, often about wine, that have made me think twice (or more).  Something he asks me often is, “When are you going to open it?  What are you waiting for?  Are you waiting until you die?”  We all know and understand that some wines have to wait a while before we can really enjoy them at their best, but sometimes I stop and think, and have a desire to open a bottle even if it’s a little young, just to make sure that the experience did happen.

The discussion yesterday about the great vintages, and which ones might peak at what time, and my thoughts of what it’ll be like and who will still be here, was a harsh, unpleasant reality.  Yes, we want ageworthy wines that literally keep time in a bottle, almost like a time capsule of what that year was like and who was involved with the making of the wine, but at what cost do we have to wait?

I, for one, am beginning to realize that, if I had to choose, I’d rather experience a wine a bit earlier than to wait so long that I’m forced to open it alone.

My friend has also noted that he believes wines often appear to taste and smell and feel better to the drinker if we are in a happy place, surrounded by those we love.  He’s right.  So in case a wine isn’t showing its absolute best, because I opened it slightly too soon, I’ll probably still enjoy it as if it were perfect, because I’m in that happy place, experiencing the wine with those people that I love.  And for me, that’s no real concession anyway.  Think of the end of Sideways, when Miles eventually opens his 1961 Cheval Blanc - alone.  Yes, he waited for peak time, but what of it?

2009 Bordeaux is special to me.  For my preferences, considering I generally prefer wines to be older, I still love what seems like an approachable nature of the 2009 vintage, as opposed to the 2010s that I feel will make me wait, perhaps too long.  Thank goodness for 2009 - I’ll be sharing those before long.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Krug Grande Cuvee

I will shamefully admit that the bottle of Krug we opened over the weekend was my first bottle of Krug, ever.  Considering how long I’ve loved wine and the fact that Krug is such an important Champagne house, one would think I’d have tasted it long ago, but no - I’ve spent time on small production grower Champagnes, and I’ve fallen in love with Salon.  I’ve tasted other “big” Champagnes too, so it’s not like I’ve been too cheap to enjoy the prominent examples of the region - it’s just that for one reason or another, I’ve been tasting through others aside from Krug - maybe I was just hung up on saving Krug for a special occasion.

But a wise person (that same wise person I refer to regularly in the blog and other places as well) has said time and again that instead of waiting for special occasion to open certain bottles, it actually makes more sense to open the bottles and make that the special occasion.

Peter had a glorious idea of picking up a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvee last weekend.  For days, I thought about it, dreamed about it, craved it.  And while I should not have waited this long to experience Krug, I can assure you that, in case you have not yet tasted it, it’s worth the wait.  It’s fabulous, it’s extraordinary, it’s everything I had hoped it would be.

Aside from a beautiful bottle to grace an otherwise casual evening of very good sushi and watching Casablanca (my favorite movie to watch with Champagne actually), the wine is a beautiful, elegant, majestic thing itself.  A gorgeous golden color with so much bubble in the glass, it’s great just to look at it for a moment, observing the bronze tint to the liquid gold, and then the characteristics - plenty of fruit, mostly white, yellow, and some red berry, but an emphasis on cooked orange, followed by white blossom and baking spices, mostly cinnamon and something more exotic - saffron perhaps, and a burst of freshly baked pastry, toasted bread, and roasted nuts.  And the textures?  Oh my - bubble perfection, clean and round and satisfying, and luxurious.  It was one of those wine moments where I wondered if I even deserved that bottle.  But Peter assured me that I did.  He picked out brie and a gouda with truffles - perfect pairing indeed, the earthiness and smooth textures of the cheeses with that glorious Champagne left me absolutely delighted.

So, we decided on another bottle of that for New Year’s Eve this year (with other grower Champagne too) - and Peter wasted no time - there’s a lovely box with an even lovelier bottle of Krug Grande Cuvee sitting next to my wine racks at home.  It’s certainly something to look forward to!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bonny Doon + Brewology

Menu/Wine Pairings
Usually, when I have some kind of extraordinary wine experience, it’s a fabulous bottle from France or Italy or Austria - at least, those generally are the kind of experiences that I can’t stop thinking about by the next day.

A few nights ago, I had the best California wine experience - we attended the Bonny Doon dinner at Brewology and got to meet Randall Grahm himself, and enjoy several Bonny Doon wines paired with Chef Lia Fallon’s creations.


We got there a little early so we took a seat at the bar, and after a round of Gruet, we looked over the evening’s menu, and upon seeing that Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy was on the glass list but not on the evening’s featured menu, we ordered a glass, and it was a nice prelude to an evening of Bonny Doon wines.  2013 Clos de Gilroy is a blend of Grenache and Mourvedre, smooth and delicious with lots of plum, berry, and soft hints of spice.  For me, it’s a spring/summer/autumn red, and at cellar temperature, it could pair with just about anything, I remarked to Peter.

Vin Gris 2013
And then Randall Grahm arrived.  I was so enthusiastic to meet him as I’ve heard only awesome things, and honestly I was suspicious this was going to be a really fun night.  He’s so cool.  And he’s brilliant.  Over a glass of 2013 Querry Cider (Pear/Apple/Quince) and a glass of 2013 Vin Gris of I believe mostly Grenache but it was a traditional blend (which was probably the best dry rose I’ve had from a place other than Provence - just my style!), Peter and I got to talk with Randall at length.  We got to discuss everything from Tannat to bass guitar and all the while I was in my glory.

Here’s why.

As a very young child, sometimes I had a difficult time communicating certain thoughts and feelings.  My parents would put on Mister Rogers for me, and in his words and songs, it was as if he was speaking directly to me, like he knew what I was thinking and it was something I could connect with at last.

See how much fun we had?
I had a similar feeling, only the grown up version, that night.  Usually, when I hear about terroir and personalities of the wines and noninterventionist ways of making wine, it’s in a conversation with someone French, or Italian.  Here was someone saying what I think and feel about wine, in great detail, but with an American accent.  And what’s more...well, I keep a quote that I read by Randall Grahm some time ago, about Madiran, and terroir, and the quote is hanging on a mirror in my bedroom.  The other night, it was fascinating to hear a man committed to terroir and expressiveness in a wine, telling his audience about “wines of terroir” versus “wines of effort,” and that generally the former is in Europe, and the latter is in California, and about the desire to move in a direction of terroir rather than just effort from the winemaker instead of allowing the wine to do the speaking.  He even went so far as to personify some wines, by making a parallel - imagine being in a room with an individual with lots of personality - after a while you like them, but you tire of their presence a bit.  And then there’s a subtle person who is a pleasure, and everything in moderation, and that’s a person whose presence you can appreciate for a long time.  It’s what he wants in his wines now - they are not explosive.  To me, they are more suggestive and hint in different directions - and it’s how I felt when tasting the Vin Gris - so subtle and lovely and unobtrusive.  The more he spoke, the better connection I had with his wines and his style as a winemaker.  He even mentioned something about wines that have no makeup on - which is exactly how I described good Burgundies in a conversation with Philippe Pascal on the day we worked together last spring.  Good, I thought.  I get it.

Randall Grahm speaking on the personalities of the wines
Dinner opened with a delicious ceviche (which was actually my favorite dish of the evening) in an avocado boat, and 2013 Albarino.  I loved the weight of the Albarino, so fresh and yet so satisfying, a perfect summer white with seafood, a burst of flavor without excess, lots of fruit and an excellent match of textures.

Next was a pasta with truffle cheese, mushrooms, and spinach and veal meatballs - and the pairing was a side by side of 2011 Le Cigare Blanc and 2010 Le Cigare Volant (read up on the law in Chateauneuf du Pape from I believe 1954 regarding outlawing flying saucers from taking off or landing in the wine region).  Le Cigare Blanc (Roussanne/Grenache Blanc) is unique, textured, quite dry but still fairly round, showing plenty of fruit but lots of spice as well and mineral.  I liked the red better for the dish, the Cigare Volant (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre/Cinsault/Carignane) - this was a deep, mature, stylish wine yet unpretentious, lots of red and dark fruit and plenty of baking spices with a warm earthiness and for me, it was a near perfect pairing with that dish, although I do believe I could enjoy Le Cigare Volant anytime, anywhere.

[At this time, I realized I was already getting tipsy and promptly handed over the keys to my SUV to Peter, and a selfie ensued - we were having a blast!]

Next course was skirt steak with a rather summery medley of chopped vegetables and corn (to me, it was so seasonal Long Island, delicious) - paired with 2012 Syrah Le Pousseur.  For me, this wine was a perfect example of what Randall was discussing earlier in the evening, about subtlety and that difference between Europe and California.  When I think of Syrah, the first thing that comes to my mind generally is Saint-Joseph - raspberry and dark fruit with a wildness and lots of black pepper.  Here’s a Syrah, I thought while tasting Le Pousseur, with plenty of personality but nothing too wild, and not much black pepper, at least not what we tend to perceive in its Northern Rhone counterpart.  Lovely, I thought.  Wonderful fruit and Peter and I decided it was distinctly California, quite separate from Rhone Syrah, but still very much a Syrah, just extremely approachable and probably the easiest wine to enjoy that evening, at least for me it was, because it wasn’t overpowering anything, the way some young examples of Syrah might.  It was just being itself, and that’s more than good enough for me.  Another successful pairing.

Finally, we ended with a dessert dish of grilled peaches, meringue, almond brittle, and bleu cheese.  The wine was the 2013 Vinferno (Grenache Blanc/Roussanne), a decadent, delicious, rich wine with concentrated orchard and tropical fruit notes, bold spice, and huge aroma and flavor, and a particularly satisfying texture.  The wine refused to allow the bold ginger and funky cheese flavors from the dish to outdo it, ultimately leaving my nose and palate in a sort of wine ecstasy - just the way I like it, to end an evening of excellent wines and good pairings.

And we had so much fun.  I look forward to tasting more Bonny Doon wines and meeting Randall Grahm again.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Alto Adige GuildSomm Master Class

I attended the Guild of Sommeliers master class on Alto Adige at the end of June - I was so hoping to get into that class as it was small and limited in seating, and when I first tried to get in, it was closed, but when a space opened up, I was on that!  And I got in and was thrilled!  It was completely worth attending.  I love eye-opening wine experiences.  Sometimes our eyes are opened when we don’t expect it.  And sometimes we expect the unexpected and we’re still astounded.  This was an example of the latter; I was astounded by the wines and I can assure Madiran’s customers that several of the wines tasted at that master class will make the list.

It’s no secret that I’m into giving proper attention to wine regions that often go overlooked on account of...well, I’m not sure what it’s on account of, since oftentimes, the quality to price ratio in these growing regions is far better than that of many other more popular regions.  Perhaps it’s media coverage, Wine Spectator, etc., that fails to cover these spectacular regions and neglects to expose wine drinkers to them.  Those who frequent Madiran after opening will notice that the wine list gives special attention to places like South West France, Sicily, Alto Adige, Styria, Hungary, Croatia, and Washington State.  We’re used to hearing about regions other than those, but I assure you, you’ll find plenty of otherwise underrepresented regions present at Madiran.

I suppose I haven’t had time to blog about the Alto Adige class as it was only a week before I went public about Madiran and a lot has changed since then, but I’ve got a little time this morning and I can’t hold back any longer about the fabulous wines I had the opportunity to taste that day.

When we think of wines from Northern Italy, we probably think of places like Piemonte, Veneto, Friuli, and if you’re “certifiably insane” like I am, you might even have fallen in love with Vallee d’Aosta by now (I certainly have!), but Alto Adige needs to be in the mix as well.  I’m not just talking about Trentino - I mean Sud Tirol, home of a more Germanic/Austrian type of people with names and accents that show almost no trace of anything Italian.  Cool, I thought.  I knew this was the situation up there, vaguely though.  And MS Geoff Kruth did a fantastic job covering the lay of the land, the terroir, the people, the food, and of course the wine, as well as history, culture, identity, and...speck.

“I hope this isn’t just going to be a study in Pinot Grigio,” I told Peter the night prior to the tasting.  And it certainly wasn’t!  Not that there’s anything wrong with Pinot Grigio, it’s just that the mass production and lack of inspiration when crafting many examples of Pinot Grigio has led many of us wine geeks to cringe a little when thrown into a lineup of Pinot Grigio.  I usually go for the kind from Friuli, with the true grey color I like to see in a properly executed Pinot Grigio.  But...

We opened with the Muri-Gries 2013 Pinot Grigio.  Bingo.  Only one Pinot Grigio in the lineup and it was awesome - everything I’d look for as a wine buyer - good value, plenty of character and still quite light and easy drinking, and user-friendly for the everyday American wine drinker who asks for a Pinot Grigio and the person pouring cannot and will not serve Santa Margherita.  What a happy wine with notes of bitter almond, orchard and citrus fruit, and white mineral, and just a touch of the telltale grey color, I’d wear that “I just made a wine discovery” smile the rest of the class.

Next up was the Colterenzio Weisshaus 2012 Pinot Bianco.  Now, I’m not usually a lover of Pinot Blanc.  But this one was different, lovely, and quite delicious.  Pale and subtle with suggestions of citrus, orchard fruit, white blossoms, and mineral, the wine has an air of mystery about it, and femininity, if that makes any sense.

I actually preferred the following Pinot Bianco, which was even lovelier and more graceful than the first, with notes of pear, melon, a hint of spice and some texture, and a soft yet bright character.  This was the Cantina Terlano Vorberg Riserva 2011 Pinot Bianco.

Next was the Erste + Neue Salt 2012 Chardonnay, which I found a bit “odd” and strange as I noted on my tasting sheets.  Its name, Salt, was no joke - laced into the lemon curd and green apple notes was a salty characteristic, and oddly enough, I found the wine a little bit hot, although I could have been mistaking some other trait for what I perceived as a balance issue.

The next wine I also didn’t connect well with, as it seemed too strange, even for a geek like me.  It was the Manicor Reserve Della Contessa 2012 Terlaner, a blend of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.  (I’m not a huge fan of white blends actually, especially when the blend appears to muddle the identity of the wine, at least on my nose and palate and therefore in my perception of the wine.  There are many exceptions for me, however this was not one of them.)  The wine showed notes of what appeared to me as green apple, sour peach, lemon, grapefruit, funky herbs, and...drumroll please...a less than sanitary urinal.  Obviously this wasn’t on my favorites list.  To put it mildly, I hated it.  But that’s going to happen sometimes - if there are things we like, surely there will be things we don’t like.  It was one of two wines at the tasting that flat out offended my nose and palate.

I went straight into recovery mode with the gem that came next, and I’m still thinking about this wine a couple of months later.  The Peter Zemmer Rohracker 2013 Riesling was gorgeous and I wrote the happiest thoughts in the margin next to the wine’s name and tasting notes.  Clearly less expensive than many of its counterparts around the world, it’s very much a Riesling with lovely aromas and flavors including green and white grapes, orchard and tropical fruits, bold white blossoms, and white stony mineral with a waxiness and plenty of acidity and a perfectly clean feel.  I was back on track in no time and completely in love with this wine.

Another gem (which I’ve tasted previously but never tire of it) was the Abbazia di Novacella Val Isarco 2012 Kerner (MS Kruth tells us that Kerner is the product of Riesling crossed with Schiava) - Kerner is something worth experiencing, because there’s nothing quite like it, in those funky tall skinny bottles.  It’s got a pale yellow gold color, it’s clean and wonderful with lively acidity, a fun, happy, aromatic wine with more citrus peel and spice and fennel than Riesling but otherwise fairly similar with orchard fruit and floral perfume.

The other wine that didn’t sit well with me was a disappointment as I love Gewurztraminer, but this was just too much.  The Cantina Bolzano Kleinstein 2012 Gewurztraminer has the tropical and lychee and spicy notes we expect from Gewurztraminer and that weight we like to see with a wine like this, but the alcohol was intense and for me, it overtook what could have (should have?) been an otherwise good wine.  And then MS Kruth read the alcohol content to us - 15.5% ABV - for me, that’s just too much.  The balance seems quite off and the wine left me with a hot, sweet, strange sensation - and for the first time in recent or long term memory, I did not go back for any more Gewurztraminer.

Then the reds came out.  There were three of them.  And they were just an expression of love and passion that we find in many Italian wines, and precision and exactness that often we experience with German/Austrian wines.

First was the Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro Pfarrhof Lago di Caldaro Classico Superiore Schiava 2013 (it took much longer to type it than to enjoy it).  It was served chilled, as a wine of such lightness and mirth should be.  Pale, a pinkish red with clear reflectiveness, berry, herb, stone - it’s a perfect summer red with cheeses, meats, antipasti - just perfect.

Next up was an excellent example of good quality to price ratio - as I believe it’s somewhat challenging to find good Pinot Noir at an affordable price.  The Castelfeder Glener 2011 Pinot Nero is delicious, bright red, smokey, fruity, elegant, clean, and has a fun hint in it.  It’s an easy drinking wine and easy to pair with food, and I really enjoyed this one.

The final wine was one of the true winners in the lineup - the Tiefenbrunner Linticlarus Riserva 2011 Lagrein.  Wow, just wow.  Americans, on average, seem to like bigger styled reds.  It’s very dark in color, almost purple and inky with a black core.  It shows dark fruit, plum, blackberry, blueberry, some oak, and purple blossoms/lilac, with bright acidity and very present tannins.  For the red drinker who’s looking to change it up from Cabernet and Merlot and wants an excellent quality-to-price wine, here’s your wine.

So there it is, the Alto Adige GuildSomm master class and my observations and notes - look for some of these wines next year at Madiran!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Pinot Noir: Revisited

“These California wines are all so good...”
“What did you expect?  Thunderbird?”

I still chuckle at this quote every time I watch Bottle Shock, which is very often - probably much more often than I’d care to admit.

Old World Pinot Noir
I haven’t had very much time for blogging with all that’s been going on lately, and what I really wanted to tell you about was the outrageously good GuildSomm Alto Adige master class I attended recently, because I really have lots to say about it - but today I need to focus on something else, because it seems I just learned a bit of a hard lesson over the past couple of days.

It has to do with Pinot Noir.

You’re probably wondering, then, why I led off with a quote from Bottle Shock which revolves around Chardonnay, whereas Sideways is the movie that revolves around Pinot Noir.

About the Pinot Noir...I like telling people that I believe that due to the thin skin of the Pinot grapes, the grape has both the duty and the privilege to express terroir, the climate, soil, etc., of where the particular Pinot Noir grapes grow.  I think Burgundy has been a prime example of that concept, as we can detect subtle differences (and sometimes not so subtle) among examples of Pinot Noir from vineyard to vineyard in Burgundy, the home of the Pinot.

New World Pinot Noir
I’ve been working among French people in the wine industry for some time.  I’ve come to embrace the concept of terroir the way I embrace my beliefs about just about anything else.  In a way, it’s made me feel like Pinot Noir is only Pinot Noir if it comes from Burgundy.  I know that probably sounds strange, but the Pinots I’ve been accustomed to for some time have had the telltale color of Burgundy, with the characteristics we’d generally expect of them.  And I felt like, anything other than that from a Pinot made it into something other than a real Pinot.

A couple of days ago, I attended a portfolio tasting in preparation of Madiran’s opening.  One of the areas where I wanted to focus was West Coast wines, as I’ve got rather a large hole in my proposed wine list where West Coast wines ought to be - in fact, I’ve got so few - just a few from Washington State, and a very good quality Zinfandel from California, and that’s it.  So at least I knew there was a bit of a problem there that needed to be addressed, even if I’ve still got plenty of time before opening.

Peter suggested that we taste through whites first, then Pinot Noirs, then other reds, and then dessert wines.  That proved to be a very good idea.

I got to taste through a bunch of Pinot, mostly from California.  Several of them I really liked.  Aside from liking them as much as I did, what I was realizing is that some of the winemakers were showing several Pinots on a table, all from the same winery and same winemaker, but different vineyards.  Cool, I thought.

After wrapping up the tasting, hitting a wine bar, eating plenty of oysters, and having lots of fun in the city with the rest of the night, coming back to Long Island, and waking up yesterday morning still thinking about Pinot Noir from California, it dawned on me.

Pinot Noir is still doing its job the same way it does in Burgundy, only in California.  Plenty of my former coworkers would have anyone believing that Pinot Noir is not free to express itself if it’s growing in a warmer climate, with what many perceive to be overzealous American winemakers.  Well, if the wines on the West Coast are just about the work of the winemaker and not the location, then why were wines from the same grape made by the same person showing such variation?  Because they’re from slightly different sites.

Sure, the Pinots from California have not much in common with their Burgundian counterparts - but isn’t that the point?  Shouldn’t Pinot tell us it’s from California or from Burgundy, and not that it’s an impostor if it’s West Coast?  Then I thought some more - I’ve had plenty of other Pinots from France outside of Burgundy, and I reflected on examples I’ve tasted from Sancerre and Menetou Salon.  And they’re quite different from Burgundy Pinot.  So why, then, shouldn’t a California Pinot speak to us in, for lack of a better term, a different accent than a Burgundian Pinot?  Pinot is the best example for that, in that it takes on its terroir and expresses itself to the wine drinker and tells us where it’s from.  Whether it’s Burgundy, Languedoc, Loire, Champagne, Northern Italy, Germany, New Zealand, Tasmania, Oregon, California, etc., it’s still Pinot.

This may come as a dumb and obvious observation to many, but for me, as open minded as I’ve been about wine, I’ve been very aloof when it comes to West Coast Pinot Noir.  Now I just want to find the best possible examples of California Pinots to bring to Madiran’s customers.  I want them to feel the terroir of different parts of California.  Sure, perhaps the intense sun of the West Coast makes it more challenging for Pinot to tell us exactly where in California it’s from, as opposed to Burgundy Pinot that plainly states it’s from Marsannay or Santenay or Mercurey, but at least it’s not trying to be French Pinot.  It seems rather proud to be California Pinot.  At least that’s how I perceived them at this week’s tasting.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

MADIRAN | The Wine Bar

So, in case you missed the big news a couple of days ago - I announced that in 2015, I will be opening my very own wine bar!  Plans have been underway for quite some time, but due to somewhat recent developments, it’s on the fast track now, and I am hoping to open MADIRAN in the earlier half of 2015.  I’m so incredibly excited, it’s been hard to try to keep it to myself - and after so much enthusiasm on the part of many family and friends, I’m glad I decided to make the announcement when I did.

The wine bar is going to be located in East Setauket, Long Island - very close to home.  There aren’t really any wine bars in the area - sure, Long Island has a few, but not that many, and none of its kind near my community.  So I think it’s a great fit, and I look forward to serving our locals and enjoying their company.

What I’d like to mention is that Madiran, while named after a wine region in South West France, will be a sort of celebration of culture.  Wines from all over the world, including Long Island, will be represented on the wine list.  The focus is primarily on Old World (European) wines, but New World growing regions will be very well represented.  My intention is to bring the very best quality and representation of grapes and different terroirs to Madiran’s customers, while still providing the products at very reasonable prices, making the wines approachable and accessible.  Madiran’s customers deserve only the very best of what the wine world has to offer.  In addition, I want to make sure as many cultures are represented on the wine list, so that customers can find products from places where they and their ancestors came from.  I think it’s important to celebrate all of our backgrounds, and I’ve found that food and wine are a sort of universal language, much like a smile, or, dare I say it - soccer.

And yes, I do intend to serve food - small plates and boards are all part of the plan currently.  I always want to be able to provide customers with new and exciting choices on the menu and wine list.  Wine, to me, is art and culture and an industry, but most importantly, it’s also about having fun and bringing people together.  There will be all kinds of surprises, all the time.

So - why Madiran, you ask?  Well, I’ve mentioned a great many times that the wines of South West France have a special place in my heart and on my palate.  I love the expression of fruit and soil and climate - the wines tell such an honest story, and the prices are still so reasonable for the products.  And they’re different from wines I’ve tasted from anywhere else.  There’s a sort of humble nature about them - a diamond in the rough, I suppose.  The Tannat grape left a tremendous impression on me when I attended my first Guild of Sommeliers master class a few years ago, taught by the always entertaining and awesome master sommelier and wine educator MS Fred Dexheimer, and the brilliant and methodical master sommelier and wine educator MS Scott Carney.  It was then that I realized I connected with these wines in a different way, and I’ve never looked back.

The other reason why I chose the name Madiran came on an evening a couple of years ago when I was pouring a tasting at the local wine boutique where I poured many tastings.  One of the wines in the lineup was Domaine le Serp Madiran, which is mostly Tannat with some Cabernet Franc.  Rustic, satisfying, and so dark in the tasting glasses, the customers were fascinated as I explained the wine to them.  Not only was it the favorite of the evening, but the following week, even though the Madiran was not on the tasting table, people came back looking for that wine again.  It was then that I realized that the local tasters had an open mind about wine, and I decided I wanted to give them a place to enjoy food and wine and try new things together.

The decision to open the wine bar was an easy one; the decision as to timing was not so easy at first, as it’s a tremendous undertaking, but it just seems right.  I’ve been spending a lot of time tasting and looking for the best wines to fit my needs and what I believe to be the needs of Madiran’s future patrons.  I’ve been attending tastings and master classes, seeking out some really fun wines, and I’ll keep on searching for more wines to enjoy at Madiran.  And I’ll be sure to keep you all posted as to my progress along the process of opening the wine bar.

And in the meantime, I ask you - Have you ever tried a wine from Madiran?  Sud-Tirol?  Styria?  Franken?  Priorat?  Istria?  Well, in case you haven’t, you will have that opportunity before long.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Champagne/Sparkling Wine Tasting

It’s too early to report that I’m drinking anything, but I’ll tell you that I had some fun wine last night - a sparkling wine from Provence, vintage 2010, Cinsault/Grenache extra brut, methode traditionelle.  Lovely.  And right now I’m listening to the Pointer Sisters - such fun music!  It’s early in the day and I almost never blog early, but I don’t have any real obligations until later today.

And I’ve been wanting to tell you about this tasting we attended last weekend.  To be honest, I can hardly believe that I’ve never been to a Champagne or sparkling wine tasting before - at least not that I can remember.  So when one of my favorite retailers told me he was hosting such a tasting in his wine shop last week, we decided we absolutely had to go.  And it was completely worthwhile.  I won’t tell you about prices on the wines as pricing can vary tremendously depending on your location, and honestly, his prices are among the best I’ve seen on Long Island, for many different products, so his pricing might not be a fair reflection of what you can find elsewhere.

We started out with a wine that I’ve had before - the Domaine de Moulin Gaillac NV - here’s one you’ve probably never had.  It’s creamy and delicious with fine bubbles, made from the Mauzac grape from the Gaillac region of South West France.  (After reading it’s from South West France, you probably can guess why I’ve had this wine a few times before - in fact, I opened this past Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve with this wine.)    It has lemon, apple, and floral notes with a touch of sweetness.  And it’s inexpensive by anyone’s standards, for an offbeat sparkling wine.

Good grower Champagne at under $30?  Sign me up!
The other non-Champagne sparkling wine we had was the Raventos I Blanc de Nit 2010, from Spain, in fact from where they produce Cava.  It used to be classified as a Cava, comes from that region of Spain, and made with grapes such as Xarello and Macabeo that we usually see in Cava, but after issues with Spanish government regulations regarding classification of Cava, Raventos opted out of being classified as Cava, and since then, their sales have increased a great deal.  The wine is soft, clean, and a gorgeous very pale salmon color in the glass.  I liked it very much.

The next wine was the surprise of the night for me, as it’s the least expensive real Champagne I’ve ever tasted (at under $30) - the Duc de Romet Brut Prestige NV - it’s mostly Pinot Meunier actually (as opposed to mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) - and it’s surprisingly sophisticated, elegant, and lovely and bright, with very fine bubbles, and characteristics of lemon zest, golden apple, earth, and mushroom (the latter being a result of the high percentage of Meunier).  I’d be hard pressed to find a better Champagne in this price range.

Next up was one of my favorites but not one of Peter’s favorites, even though we both found it to be satisfying and very complex.  It’s the Aubry Brut 1er Cru NV - and as strange as it may sound, for me it’s a very masculine Champagne in that it just smells like a man.  Here’s why - it’s got woody, musky, wild characteristics and notes of subtle incense and patchouli.  I love subtle suggestions like the characteristics of this wine, a Champagne that keeps me guessing and wondering.

The rest of the Champagnes seemed very traditional in style.  Next was the A. Margaine Brut 1er Cru NV, with lots of fruit, stone, herb, pear, and a creamy but very clean feel.  It’s exactly what we’d expect from a good grower Champagne (see?  All the Champagnes at the tasting were grower Champagnes, coming in at prices far lower than their counterparts at the large Champagne houses that compromise on quality for the sake of quantity - taste through some grower Champagnes, check out the prices, and there’s a pretty big and convincing case for buying grower Champagnes), and traditional is usually my favorite way to go in terms of sparkling wines and Champagnes.

I loved the penultimate wine - the Chartogne-Taillet Brut Rose 2009.  It’s a bright salmon colored rose, with notes of peach, orange peel, barely ripened red berries, and a clean feel - just amazing in appearance and on the nose and palate as well.  I don’t drink rose Champagne nearly often enough, I have no idea why, but this is a new favorite.

And we wrapped up with the Egly-Ouriet Brut 1er Cru “Les Vignes de Vrigny” NV - another stunning example of a reasonably priced grower Champagne, traditional to the core in style, with a slightly golden rim, a perfect balance of fruit and mineral, a clean but satisfying and delicious wine with wonderful texture and presence, and a fabulous way to end a Champagne tasting.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Guild of Sommeliers Master Class: Washington State

I love master classes hosted by the Guild of Sommeliers - they’re really informative and the opportunity to taste through plenty of wines from different regions is fantastic.

This time, I finally got to attend a class on American wines - from what might be my favorite major wine producing state (don’t judge me, fellow New Yorkers, please!) - Washington State.  I’ve tasted a bunch of Washington wines already and I like how they seem to reflect the natural characteristics of the grapes without much tampering and without the over-concentration that we see sometimes in the bigger style wines of California.  So when I learned that the Guild was offering a master class on Washington, I was all in.

I think when most people think of WA, they think of a cool, rainy place - now, I’ve never been to WA, but from what I hear, Seattle and the surrounding areas are just that - rain, clouds, cool temperatures of the Pacific Northwest.  But there’s a part of WA, farther east on the other side of the mountain range, where the climate is far more conducive to growing wine grapes, and while, comparatively speaking, the region is relatively young, there is still history in the area and significant experimenting is going on with regard to more esoteric grapes, or at least grapes that we might not have thought of when thinking of WA.  And after tasting through the lineup - 3 flights - I can assure you, it’s not all just Riesling, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet.  And it certainly is not all just Chateau Ste. Michelle.  And guess what else - it’s all a lot more affordable than its California counterparts, wines of equal quality at a fraction of the price.  Suffice it to say, I was very impressed - and as always, I learned a lot and enjoyed the lecture by MS Matt Stamp and MS Scott Carney.

I’m going to list the wines tasted and mention which were my favorites, and then I’ll tell you a bit more about them.

Flight 1
Long Shadows “Poet’s Leap” Riesling, Columbia Valley, 2013
W.T. Vintners Gruner Veltliner, Columbia Gorge, 2013
Amavi Cellars Semillon, Walla Walla Valley, 2012
Efeste “Feral” Sauvignon Blanc, Ancient Lakes, 2012 (favorite)
aMaurice “Sparrow Estate” Viognier, Walla Walla Valley 2013 (major favorite)
Analemma Wines “Oak Ridge” Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge, 2011

Flight 2
Memaloose “Mistral Ranch” Syrah, Columbia Valley, 2011
Gramercy Cellars “Lagniappe” Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, 2011 (favorite)
Va Piano “Les Collines Black Label” Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, 2012 (major favorite)
Syncline Carignan-Grenache, Columbia Valley, 2012
Rotie Cellars “Southern Red,” Washington, 2011
Idilico Monastrell, Snipes Mountain, 2011 (major favorite)

Flight 3
Cor Cellars Cabernet Franc, Horse Heaven Hills, 2010
Fall Line “Red Willow Vineyard,” Yakima Valley, 2010 (favorite)
Leonetti Cellar Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, 2012 (major favorite)
Andrew Will “Champoux,” Horse Heaven Hills, 2010
Cadence “Ciel du Cheval,” Red Mountain, 2010
Col Solare Red Wine, Columbia Valley, 2001

So as you can see, the first flight was pretty much a variety of whites, most of which were not what I expected (in a good way!), plus a Pinot Noir.  The second flight was mostly Rhone grapes, and the third flight was mostly Bordeaux grapes.

Beginning with the whites - the Riesling was very good, and I know WA is well known for its Riesling.  It had plenty of weight to it, for a Riesling, with a lovely nose and a nice flavor, but for me, I prefer Rieslings a little lighter and this one seemed a little “hot” for a halb-trocken style.  Again, that’s just my style, but I felt there was a bit too much heat for a grape I prefer either on the sweeter side with an acidic follow up, or austere and lean with slightly higher alcohol once the sugar has been converted. I liked it but didn’t love it.  The Gruner was cool - clean, easy, uncomplicated, and not overly acidic.  (Please remember - yes, I’m a certified sommelier and a major wine geek, and while I like my cool climate wines best, I’m no “acid freak” in that I need these crazy amounts of acid coming at me from the wines - I want them to be fun and delicious while also being clean and lively, but I also realize that many American palates will be turned off by excessive acidity and so I’m more reasonable about acid - unlike many modern young sommeliers who take the acid overload like rays on a tanning bed.  Sorry, I seek balance - nothing should be overpowering, including [read: especially] acidity.)  The Semillon was also very good - kind of funky and geeky, especially on the palate, and slightly stinky on the nose, which I’m cool with.  The texture was on the luscious for a dry style Semillon, with an almost waxy feel and a hint of bitter nut toward the finish, and some “fume” as I like to call it - white smoke with some fuel characteristics.  I liked it.  And then there was Sauvignon Blanc.  Wow.  I loved it!  It’s more like a Bordeaux style Sauvignon (as opposed to New Zealand or Loire) in that it has a “main course” sort of capability - it can stand up to somewhat richer dishes.  With words like “substantial,” “love,” and “standout” written next to it in my notes, I was very impressed.  The acidity was bright, the balance was excellent, it’s very food friendly, and - as I like them - a quirky wine that I can identify with, showing garden weed notes, tart white fruit, cumquat, bitter citrus, lemon, crab apple, and dry soil - the unpredictable nature of this wine landed its name as first on the list of favorites of the day.  And then the Viognier came along, and I was blown away.  Another standout, with “wow” and some other words not fit for a proper wine blog written next to it to remind me how it made me feel, I was in love.  On the nose, there was no telltale sign that says “hi, I’m Viognier” at all, as most Northern Rhone examples would.  Instead, it had an air of mystery about it.  But on the palate, there it was - Viognier - gorgeous on the palate (as well as in the glass!), full, satisfying, borderline stunning, and voluptuous without being too big.  Showing notes of tropical and orchard fruit, white and yellow blossoms, and dry soil (with just a touch of Fruit Loops cereal on the nose), it was amazing, and full of personality and expression and uniqueness.  Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed a bit by the Pinot Noir - yes, it was sort of Old World style, with plenty of acidity, but perhaps too much tartness, green notes, brine, but otherwise not bad - a touch of bacon fat and smoked wood, cinnamon, barely ripened cherry.  Just not what I was hoping for after being completely enchanted by those whites.

Next up were Rhone grape based wines.  As you may know, WA Syrah has garnered quite a bit of attention in recent years.  Several of the wines in this flight were Syrah based, but there were some surprises as well.  We started off with the Memaloose “Mistral Ranch” which was nice and I liked it - it showed characteristics of raspberry jam/liqueur, dry soil, and lots of black pepper - clearly it’s mostly Syrah, with Counoise and Grenache.  It seemed to beg for some meat with it.  Next up was the Gramercy Cellars “Lagniappe” 100% Syrah, which I wrote next to it “wonderful,” and interestingly I called it a “standout in a subtle way” - in that it gently shows beautifully and makes a statement.  It’s very minerally and expressive with a cool characteristic (probably reflecting a cool vintage in 2011), both red and dark fruit, raspberry, plum, soft black pepper notes, chocolate, herbs, and flower petals, with a clean feel, fine tannin, and overall balance.  That one obviously made the favorites list.  And then a surprise - the next 100% Syrah, in my opinion, managed to outshine that last one.  The Va Piano “Les Collines Vineyard Black Label” - while seemingly ideal for the American palate who enjoys Syrah, I called this one a “standout with lots of presence” and made mention that food should be there alongside this wine.  It’s textured, with nice acidity and balance with the tannin.  It shows darker fruit, chocolate, dark herbs and spices, and purple blossoms - it’s delicious, rich, big, young, and dark.  Wonderful.  Next up was another surprise - usually I don’t connect well at all with Carignan based wines (for my own reasons, I just never really cared for them) - well anyway, the Syncline Carignan-Grenache was a pleasant change as it didn’t have that strange sweaty and rubbery smell.  Rather, it shows mostly red fruit with a touch of bell pepper, a lovely nose, and a clear red color.  I mentioned in my notes that it’s ready to be enjoyed now, and I also noted that it’s probably the first time that I was not offended by a Carignan based wine.  The next wine was a bit of a problem for me - the Rotie Cellars “Southern Red” had that thing that disturbs me on some southern French reds (usually from Languedoc actually) - a hot feel and too much “black” spice.  The rusticity of it I did enjoy as I like honest wines that show earthiness and I liked the finish that cooled off and showed smooth fruit and softer spices, but up front it was a little intense for me.  Finally, we wrapped up the second flight with the Idilico Monastrell, and I was in love.  I do enjoy a well made, properly executed Monastrell (I believe this winery’s maker is Spanish so it’s right to call it Monastrell, otherwise French would call it Mourvedre) - anyway, I included words such as “outrageous,” “harmonious,” “standout,” “wonderful,” and “love” - it shows wonderfully soft fruit notes (both red and dark), sage, thyme, other herbal notes, gorgeous floral notes of young blossoms, and a seemingly perfect balance.  For me, this Spanish-influenced wine was an ideal finish to the flight.

Finally we moved on to the Bordeaux grape third flight.  I liked this flight, but for some reason I was expecting more - so there were a couple of amazing wines in the flight, but the others didn’t impress me the way I thought they would - I’m suspicious that the wines needed more time, some age to them, and perhaps then they’d show far better, because they are from very reputable producers.  Forst was the Cor Cellars Cabernet Franc, made in a Loire style and very bright and tart with red fruit, but as green or peppery as some Loire examples though, but it seemed up tight for me.  Next up was the Fall Line “Red Willow Vineyard” which I enjoyed and called it “lovely,” “fun,” “happy,” and noted the characteristics of raspberry and strawberry preserves, fresh herbs, and dry soil, plenty of acidity but what seemed like just the right amount - very dry and clean, young, satisfying, overall delicious and nicely made.  Next was one of the best New World wines I’ve tasted in a very long time - the Leonetti Cellar Merlot.  Leonetti is considered by many to be among the better producers in WA, and after tasting and experiencing this wine, I concur wholeheartedly.  It’s a little on the pricey side, but as MS Stamp pointed out, imagine if the wine came from Napa, it would be several times the price.  It’s a very delicious and satisfying wine, dark in color with notes of rich, ripe cherry and chocolate, berry, jam, purple blossoms, and dry soil, with a slight sweetness to the fruit characteristics - suffice it to say, I loved this wine very much, which is saying a lot, considering I generally don’t go for the bigger ripe wines like that.  But it had such wonderful presence, expression, and fruit, it was hard to resist it.  Impossible, in fact.  I was then disappointed a bit by the next two wines.  We tasted the Andrew Will “Champoux” which seemed a bit too young to be experienced right now.  It’s got plenty of fruit, acid, and tannin, but oddly, while all seemed to have equal presence, instead of coexisting harmoniously, those components seemed to be in a fight with each other.  Maybe give it some time and see how they settle in together.  I had the same issue with the next wine, the Cadence Cellars “Ciel du Cheval,” in that the fruit, acid, and tannin seemed to be fighting and might just need some more time in the bottle.  The final wine of the class was meant to show whether the WA wines are ageworthy - now, as we know, just because one can age does not mean another can, but if this wine, the Col Solare Red Wine from 2001, is any indication, then age is no issue.  In fact, I think the wine, while showing gloriously at this time, could stand another five years at least.  The rim is beginning to turn a brickish hue, but the core is still dark and borderline opaque, telling us to open another bottle after some time has passed.  And in terms of tasting notes, it’s a rich wine with plenty of texture and reminiscent of an older Bordeaux, lovely, showing dark fruit mostly (but softening), smooth baking spices, dry herbs and flower petals and leaves, and stone.  Wonderful.

So I found some amazing wines in the lineup, I learned about terroir and climate and soil and even history of WA wine growing regions, and I enjoyed experiencing some fantastic New World wines, which is something of a rarity for me.  I have another master class coming up soon - Alto Adige in just two weeks, and I can’t wait!

Friday, May 16, 2014


I took my sommelier exam 3 years ago.  I’ve been pouring regular tastings for 2.5 years, and I’ve been a wine rep just over 2 years.  Lots of people I’ve met in the wine industry ask me how I know so much about wine, from classics to esoterics, regions, grapes, etc., particularly since they tell me I seem to know lots more than plenty of people who have been in the industry since before I was born.

I’m flattered by some compliments like these, but it’s made me think - how did I learn so much about wine in so short an amount of time?

I didn’t have to think long about it.  Research is my sort of thing.  Ever since I was pretty young, I’ve encouraged myself to research different topics, especially those of interest to me or things I felt I’d need to know.  And all through law school, research was how it was - find a word, research it, find another word in that definition, research it.  Read up on a case, research it, see more case references, research them.  And so on.

But wine research?  That’s the most fun kind of learning that there is.  Pour a glass, look at it, sniff it, taste it, feel it.  Repeat.



Sounds like fun?  It is!

Yes, it’s important to read up on wines and wine terms - different grapes, regions, producers, production methods, history, theory, philosophy - it helps us understand what’s in our glass.  But the real life experience of walking among the vines, tasting from a glass, especially blind tasting - that’s what gets us to our real conclusions, and consequently more questions, more to learn.  There’s always more to learn.  But most of what we learn comes from that glass, when we let the wine speak to us.  Terroir driven wines, the wines that are most expressive, especially in terms of soil and climate, can tell us the most about their vineyards.  And certain grapes make for a more expressive wine (don’t over-oak a Pinot Noir or give it excessive sunlight, and you’ve got a wine full of things to tell us!).  And the more we taste, the more we know what to look for when inquiring as to the wine’s identity.

I learned a fair amount of basic wine knowledge while I was in law school, as I didn’t want to admit it to myself at the time but I enjoyed wine research a lot more than I enjoyed case law.  Over the next couple of years, I’d do a lot more research, but most of it was on my own.  I’d read up on wines, and some nights I’d just watch episodes of Oz Clarke and James May in France or California.  And many evenings, I’d choose a bottle, go to the wine map, find the region so I’d start guessing what to expect from a wine grown in a particular part of the world, then I’d choose what to cook with it.  I’d read the label carefully (especially if it’s a German wine - the label can tell us quite a lot, if we know what to look for), and then pour myself a glass (or decant first), and begin observing, and writing it all down.  I’d make notes on color, rim, viscosity, aromas, intensity, flavors, finish, texture, balance, etc.  And then I’d pour my second glass, and as I observed how the wine began to change as it opened up, I’d begin cooking.  I’d make notes of what I cooked, what were my ingredients and methods used, and how they worked with the wine after tasting the wine and food together, making notes of how aromas and flavors worked together, and how textures either mirrored or countered each other, and what went right (or occasionally wrong), and oftentimes I’d even write down what time of the year it was, whether I was outdoors or indoors, and what music I was listening to at the time.  Everything mattered to me, and it still does.

That’s how I learned.

Now, sometimes I’ll “research” with someone else, family, friends, or most often my boyfriend, since he’s got so much experience in the wine industry but also knows how to approach it in a fun way, never too serious.  If I thought wine research was fun on my own, imagine how much fun I’m having now!

Something that disturbs me - too often I hear “wine experts” telling people that the right wine, or the best wine, is the one you like to drink.  So in other words, it’s ok to drink a Napa Cabernet with sushi, just because you like Napa Cabernet, or a Sancerre with a ribeye steak, just because you like Sancerre? Nonsense.  Do some basic research.  Figure out what you like, but I guarantee that you’ll like it even better if it’s paired correctly, or served at the right temperature, or with the right company.  For years, I had a policy that I would not drink any sparkling wines while alone.  I still stick to that, but now I’m not usually alone so it isn’t as much of an issue.  I won’t pour an Aglianico with oysters, and I won’t drink Muscadet with braised short ribs.  Why?  No, I’m not a wine snob, as some might want to call me.  Rather, I understand why one flavor or texture works with another, and also why a flavor or texture simply won’t worth with another.  You don’t just grab a bottle willy-nilly when preparing dinner.  You don’t drink chilled Provence rose by the fireplace at Christmas time, you don’t drink Sauternes at a barbecue, and you probably don’t drink Champagne after a funeral.  Why?  Because you took the time to learn what was the right wine for the right occasion, because you allowed yourself to connect with the wines and decided when you want them, and you experimented with different wines and foods, and decided for yourself what works and why.

No, you don’t just drink any old thing.  You took the time to do your homework, and it paid off.

Research usually does pay off.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Easter 2014

As usual, I’ll tell you what’s going on - it’s hard to choose what I want to listen to/watch, as there was the Papal canonization today, Turn is on, and the Yankee game is on - thank goodness for dvr!  And what wines tonight?  I opened 2 Portuguese wines, a Vinho Verde and a Douro red.  Fun evening for sure.

What I want to tell you about tonight is Easter dinner from last weekend.  I was so pleased with the food and wine selections and there was very little room for improvement.

The menu was appetizers - basket cheese, Swiss, prosciutto di Parma, orange peel stuffed olives, pizza grane, and chick peas.  Next course was pesto sauce on penne, which I topped with toasted pignoli and parmigiano reggiano.  And the main course was leg of lamb, roast potatoes, and stuffed tomatoes.  Dessert was flourless chocolate ancho chile cake with cinnamon whipped cream.  Delicious.

The wines were wonderful - I chose the Pierre Peters Brut Rose to open first - it’s a pink Champagne with a hint of bronze to the color, with notes of cranberry and lemon and mineral, and very bright, clean, lively acidity with a long finish, and a fine yet assertive texture.  Next up was the 2011 Pieropan La Rocca Soave (Veneto) - if you want to know how much I love this white from Italy, see my notes from the post on Gambero Rosso - it’s a lovely and smooth, satisfying wine with hints of citrus but mostly orchard fruit, delicate and floral, and clean but very textured.  I love this wine, and it’s everything I want to see and feel in a Soave.  The reds were fun - first up (and all were decanted) was the 2009 La Sirene de Giscours (Margaux) - just over half Cabernet Sauvignon, with ther est being Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot - plenty of fruit as expected on a 2009, both dark and red fruit, black currant, plum, pencil shavings, and purple blossoms, with a smooth feel and just flat out delicious.  Next was the 2007 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville, Napa) - it had softened quite a lot and opened up beautifully and showed characteristics of raspberry, chocolate, vanilla oak, bramble berry, and other dark fruits - what a delicious wine, and I’m not even a great lover of California wines in general, but this was a rock star in its own right, and I’ve been looking forward to tasting the 2007 Cabernet.  The order was correctly rounded out with the 2006 Haut Batailley (Pauillac) - soft, smooth, aromatic, balanced - dark fruit and red fruit, savory herbs, a touch of tobacco, flower petals, pencil shavings, just beautiful.  And we finished off with dessert and cappuccino and a glass of Ferrand Pineau des Charentes, luscious and sweet but balanced, perfect with dessert (but I can see some versatility there), with characteristics of candied orange, peach syrup, honey, white blossoms, and perfection at the end of dinner.

I’m thinking it might be a good idea to do individualized posts on the Here, Taste This! blog regarding recipes for pesto, leg of lamb, stuffed tomatoes, and flourless ancho chile cake.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

1998 Beaucastel and Creating a Special Experience

I’m watching the Yankees/Red Sox game (and of course the Yankees are winning!) - and a white Cotes du Rhone was what I had tonight.  But right now I’m eating - believe it or not - Rainbow Nerds. It’s ok to go outside of the box sometimes, and while I don’t usually advocate eating candy out of a box, I’m making an exception, as my mom placed it strategically in my Easter basket last week.  (For the record, I’m not an advocate of shaking anything out of a box to eat it.  Just a peeve I guess.)

And I’m thinking about a wine I opened recently.

As you may remember, if you read my 30th birthday post about the lineup of 1983 wines that I opened back in November, there was a 1983 Beaucastel present, and showed perfectly on that evening.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to a BYOB bistro restaurant nearby, with lovely French dishes that are nicely executed.  We decided that BYOB should mean Bring Your Own Beaucastel that evening.  And I opted for the 1998, which I had blind tasted not too long ago.  Stunning, to say the very least.  Beaucastel is special for lots of reasons - partly because they use all 13 permitted Chateauneuf du Pape grapes, partly due to the larger percentage than normal of Mourvedre,’s Beaucastel.  It’s rich in history.  It’s exquisite.

It’s no secret I prefer wines when they’re older, as long as they’re the kind that can age gracefully.  (Generally, it’s also no secret that I prefer nearly everything older, but that’s another story.  Or you could go back a while to I believe September 2012 and read about the Nebbiolo Man.)  But, as I said, it’s got to be the kind of thing, including wine, that can age gracefully and does in fact do so.  Beaucastel is one of those things.  Interestingly enough, I’ve never had a recent/current vintage of Beaucastel, so I’m just curious to experience it in its youth.  But I’d prefer to have it when it’s aged a while.  Anyway, it’s glorious when it’s aged properly - interestingly enough, the bottle actually threw off no sediment which I always find fascinating when an older red just doesn’t have any sediment or waste down the bottom of the bottle.  In terms of characteristics and appearance, the wine had a lovely dark red color with with a rust colored rim and was becoming more transparent.  The wine has become quite elegant and soft and clean, with notes of subtle red and dark fruit, plum, bramble berry, black pepper, savory herbs, dried flower petals, soft baking spices, a bit of tobacco, and stony mineral.  The wine still has plenty of energy, but everything has become balanced - acidity is in check, tannins are softened, and all flavors and aromas are present but none overpower the others.  And the finish is long and lovely.  Basically, it’s just the way we want it.

And for me, it’s a perfect evening.  Granted, I usually like to do the menu planning and cooking myself, but it’s fun to bring a great bottle to a very nice BYOB restaurant and enjoy ourselves for the evening.  And a wise friend and fellow wine professional likes to remind me that the situation often makes the wine experience even better - when I’m in a nice restaurant enjoying good food and conversation with someone I love - yes, the experience of a 1998 Beaucastel seems pretty perfect to me.  (And it helps that my very special someone is a seasoned wine industry professional who appreciates a wine like this, too, and being able to discuss the wine together makes it even more fun.)

My suggestion?  Try and find a great wine like that, something that you know you’ll enjoy, and open it with someone special.  You don’t have to choose a special occasion to open it - create a special occasion with the great bottle and the special person.  There’s no sense in opening a bottle like that alone.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Nebbiolo Revisited

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post about this thing we started calling, “The Nebbiolo Man” - it got quite a bit of attention, and whether it was for the right or the wrong reasons...well, anyway, it got some attention, and it was fun to write, because it reflected some of my own personal opinions, which has been the case on this blog for some time now - making parallels: wine and people.

And for good reason, I still believe in the Nebbiolo Man - the man who, in my opinion, is at his best when aged a bit, especially if he’s the kind who ages gracefully.  (Go ahead and read the blog post, it’s from I believe September 2012.)

When I speak of the aging qualities of Nebbiolo, I mean the way in which Nebbiolo based wines (particularly from Barolo and Barbaresco) generally possess the ability to age longer than many other wines.  But interestingly enough, in their youth, sometimes they’re a little awkward, and not particularly approachable - they seem off balance, they have a strange and sometimes less than pleasant texture (and in the old post I likened it to a kid who looks a little funny and has to grow into his features, but once he’s older, he’s quite the catch) - anyway, you get the idea - he gets older, and suddenly he’s got it all.  He’s Nebbiolo.

I’ve also had some Nebbiolo in styles like basic Langhe wines, where the wine is approachable when it’s younger, and it’s not intended for aging.

But something strange to me is when I experience a very young Barolo or Barbaresco - and I’ve enjoyed them in general, but considering I like things “older,” I still prefer older examples of the greatest Nebbiolo wines of Piemonte.  Sure, they can be delicious and pleasurable, but knowing what Nebbiolo wines are prized for generally, I love to watch them show off their aging capability and complexity in their age.

It’s sort of like watching a person who was greatly underestimated in his youth develop into quite a man - attractive, worldly, complex, experienced, and desirable.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

When I Need a Little Bounce in My Step

Yes, I know I just wrote a blog post 2 days ago, but I had some thoughts.  I realize that this blog has become more a philosophy and how wine sort of parallels things in our lives (or at the very least in my own life), and how I relate to wines, as opposed to the tasting notes and pairings that it used to consist of almost exclusively.

And before I forget, I’m sipping on a Bordeaux blend (mostly Merlot) and I’ve got a favorite Sherlock Holmes episode on in the background.

I was thinking today - if I’m having a difficult day, particularly an emotionally trying day, I crave Pinot Noir.  Pinot is something with which I connect so well, because it is honest yet unobtrusive in terms of fruit and earth, and it’s thin skinned, telling me that Pinot has feelings too, which is why Pinot has both the duty and privilege to express its own identity in terms of fruit, but also its soil type and climate, including variations in rainfall, temperature, sunlight, etc.

Pinot, for its sensitivity, is, for me, an ideal shoulder to cry on when I’ve had a rough day.  But Pinot isn’t one to be uplifting, in spite of its sometimes bright acidity.

But what about a personality like Champagne, or another sparkling wine?  They’re liquid joy, happiness in a glass.  Champagne, it seems, has a bright and lively smile, a positive outlook, and a bounce in its step.  I suppose most would find it hardly appropriate to drink something like Champagne on a difficult day - but why not?

Someone once told me that we should not open special wines (and he included Champagne) on just special occasions - in fact, he suggested that we should drink a special wine and make it, therefore, a special occasion, just because we opened the wine.

He’s right, of course.  And so why not open a happy wine to make it a happy moment?  I’ll drink to that!

We all have those people in our lives who let us cry it out on a rough day - they let us hash it out over and over and while we appreciate their lending an ear in our time of sorrow, that’s all they can give us.  Personally, I’m not sure how much better I feel after that, actually.  Yes, the sensitivity is good and serves its purpose, but there’s still something missing.

And then there’s the person who sees we’re feeling down.  The person says or does something, be it large or small, with the purpose of chasing away our sadness or discouragement.  They put the bounce back in our step.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Tannat - Making Believers

Sipping Primitivo and listening Tommy Emmanuel, I’m thinking.

I know I’m always saying that anyone who knows me, and then go on about how “it’s no secret that” blah blah - well here I go again.

It’s no secret that I love Tannat, and in fact I love a great many wines from the Sud-Ouest.  If you follow my blog or know me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you know this already.  (In fact, on Instragram I’m @tannatforlife, so there you go.)
Often I’m amazed by how few people are familiar with the wines of Sud-Ouest (think Cahors, Madiran, Bergerac, Pacherenc, Gaillac, Fronton, and Jurancon) - and considering Americans’ love for big, bold, rich wines, I’m even more surprised, especially since I find that almost no one knows the name Tannat - the dark grape used in Madiran and Irouleguy.  It makes some big, dark, rich wines (albeit very dry wine), and they’re not particularly expensive, most Madiran wines I’ve come across are around $17 (although Montus is generally higher), and most Irouleguy I’ve bought are between $20 and $26.  And now that I think of it, Madiran and Irouleguy would be ideal pairing wines for lots of American foods, especially since we love meaty dishes and (admittedly) fatty dishes.  Imagine a bold dry red with mac and cheese, or a bacon ad bleu cheese burger, or a ribeye steak - wow.  (I prefer that kind of wine with cassoulet, but it would certainly pair up well to American dishes.)

And also interesting to me is how few wine professionals seem to place any importance on these wines.  I’ve seen more Cahors these days in wine shops (but mainly more esoteric or upscale wine boutiques) and occasionally on wine lists, but still not often at all.  (And considering how popular Malbec has become, it’s really peculiar to me that Argentina gets all the placements and attention, casting aside the wonderfully expressive Malbec based wines of Cahors.)
But for now, I want to tell you a little more about Tannat, and some of my observations and thoughts.

Like I mentioned, Tannat is special to me.  Considering I generally prefer lighter to medium bodied reds from cool climate growing regions, the dry, honest, expressiveness of Tannat based wines of Madiran and Irouleguy have left their impression on me and in fact I crave them almost too often.

So imagine my thoughts (and borderline bewilderment) when a fellow wine pro has some less than flattering things to say about my beloved Tannat - immediately I embark on a mission to make a believer of the person.  (A brown bag is often the proper vehicle for blind tasting and prevents any prejudice before observing, smelling, and tasting the wine.)  All it takes is an excellent example of Madiran or Irouleguy, the Tannat based wines, often blended with a bit of Cabernet Franc and sometimes some Cabernet Sauvignon, and the wines can make a believer out of any cynic!  I suppose a concern of mine is that if the wines are brought in with indifference, many poor quality examples will be tasted, and certainly in time, the wine taster will become skeptical of the grape and regions in question.  But all it takes are some excellent examples to counter the negative experiences, and a dry, expressive, honest, well balanced wine will find its way into the heart of the wine professional, as it did to me.

Find some examples of them, and of other wines of Sud-Ouest too - you won’t be taking much of a risk as the wines, like I mentioned, are relatively inexpensive, and they’re fun, delicious, food friendly, and unique.

Friday, February 21, 2014

What Are You Waiting For?

Listening to French music and sipping on a Refosco, and I’ve got lots of things running though my mind - too many thoughts for an evening spent alone.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I like buying bottles that need to age a while and then holding them for ages in my wine racks.  This is a very good thing to do when bottles need aging.  And I suspect far too many people lack the patience required for aging bottles and appreciating the wines at their optimal time, rather than simply seeking immediate gratification and opening the bottle before it’s quite ready for consumption.

But sometimes I place too much emphasis on waiting.  Yes, I prefer drinking my best bottles when they’re at their peak, but not everything has to wait.  Not everything should wait.

A “wise” person has asked me (a number of times) when he wants to know how I liked a particular bottle and invariably I have to tell him that I haven’t opened it yet, he asks me, “what are you waiting for, are you waiting to die first?”  And oftentimes, he’s right.  I don’t always need to wait.

Some things have come up in the past few months.  Some good, some bad, and some that I don’t know yet which way it’ll go.  But some of these things have started teaching me that waiting isn’t always the answer.  Sometimes, it’s now or never, literally.  And I’ve always considered myself a good learner but rather a slow learner in some ways.  But this time I’m prepared to learn that waiting isn’t always the answer.

One of my favorite lines from It’s a Wonderful Life is, “Wait?  Wait for what?  Until their children grow up and leave them?  Until they’re so old and broken-down that they...”  George Bailey was right - wait for what?  Until it’s too late?

A few times, unfortunately, I’ve let a bottle sit too long in the wine racks, and opened it up, and it was too late for that bottle.  It’s happened a few times, and it’s happened because I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  And then it was too late.

Please don’t let that happen to your wines.  Better just a bit too early than too late.

And while we’re at it, let’s not let that happen to other areas of our lives.  No, we shouldn’t just do everything that comes to us on a whim.  But don’t just wait, either.  If it’s something or someone that matters to you, don’t wait.  If there’s something you want to try, then try it.  If there’s somewhere you want to go, then go there.  If there’s something that you will regret not buying for the rest of your life, then buy it.  Whether it’s something you need or want so badly you can hardly go on without it, just buy it.

Have fun.  Live.  Love.  And if you do love, tell them so.  Yes, tell that person you love them.  You only live once.  What are you waiting for?