Sunday, July 31, 2016

Respecting the past and innovating for the future at Trias Batlle

Trias Batlle's winemaking dates back to 1932 when Josep Trias Battle was among the many Spanish winemakers in Penedes who produced bulk wine.  Today the family makes delicious wines which, although small in production, are crafted with intentions of greatness.  But, the clan still remembers the winery's humble beginnings with gratitude, and in honor of their grandfather, third generation winemakers Pep and Rai Trias preserve a small plot of 65 year old Xarel-lo vines.

It was in this compact parcel of gnarled vines that I got to enjoy the fresh country air and taste through a selection of Trias Batlle wines.  

The Trias Batlle Cavas I tried were all terrific:

Brut Nature Reserva - this blend of the three traditional Cava grapes - Macabeu, Xarel-lo and Parellada - was aged for 24 months.  It had a fresh nose, stone fruit flavors, and a pleasing bitter almond finish. 

Brut Nature Gran Reserva - the longer aging on this Cava (four years) produces rich baked bread and white flowers aromas , flavors of chamomile, almonds, and white peaches, and a long finish. 

Brut Reserva - this was an outstanding Cava, also made of the three traditional grapes and aged for 18 months.  The wine was deliciously fresh with high acidity and grassy nose, but then had a surprisingly rich and creamy mid-palate.  

Brut Rose - made from 100% Trepat, this deep pink colored Cava had delicious strawberry on the nose and palate was a fitting aperitif with jamon.

Trias Batlle also produces a number of still wines that are impressive in their execution.  

Blanc de Blanc - made of the three traditional Cava grapes along with 10% Muscat.  It had a great balance of acidity, rich stone fruit flavors, and the floral impact of the Muscat on the nose.  

Rose - produced with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, this deep pink wine has a robustness that is rare in a rose.  Along with black cherry flavors, there is a whiff of white pepper on the nose and palate. 

Red - this is a really fresh and lively red made from 60% Tempranillo and 40% Merlot.  Well integrated tannins make this a pleasing, quaffable red. 

Xarel-lo Barrel Fermented - this was the stand-out of the still wines from Trias Batlle.  The 100% Xarel-lo had flavors of apricots, almonds, and had a rich mouthfeel and very long finish. 

Cabernet Sauvignon - this was a lighter rendition of a Cab, with a combination of cherries and blackberries on the palate.  It was a red wine that one could have at the height of summer without feeling overwhelmed. 

As I toured wineries in Penedes, I grew to understand that this region makes not only the world-class sparkling wine, Cava, but also a growing number of very fine still wines.  Meeting Pep and Rai Trias, I got the sense that more experimentation would ensue and that we would be hearing more about this winemaking family that honors tradition but embraces innovation. 

Diversity of Costers del Segre shows in wines of Celler Cercavins

Costers del Segre is the largest designated wine making appellation in Catalonia, Spain.  It's also one of the most open, allowing red and white wines to be created with many varieties of grapes and still be permitted to put the region on the label.

I met the three partners who own Celler Ceravins in Costers del Segre recently and learned about their dynamic young winery that in working with a broad assortment of grapes.  We walked on the rocky, arid soil that brings distinctive minerality and concentration to their wines. I also had the wonderful opportunity to dine alfresco on a typical Catalan meal of cannelonis filled with finely ground meat and topped with bechamel, snails, roasted meats, and more - enjoying the company of these enterprising gentlemen, all while taking in the blooming beauty of Costers del Segre in spring.

Here are some of the highlights of the Celler Cercavins wines I tasted:

Guillamina is a crisp and fragrant blend with 54% Sauvignon Blanc, and the balance being White Garnacha, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Albarino. This lush wine has a fresh lemon finish and is altogether appealing.

Guilla is another white wine made from 100% Macabeu, a grape best known as one of the trio in Cava.  This fresh wine had a nose of lemon curd with buttery notes, and a lot of tart lime on the palate.  It gets four months aging in American and French oak barrels which adds some richness to the flavor profile.  Its long finish adds to its sophistication.

Bru de Verdu 2014 is a red wine with strong blackberry and black pepper flavors, smooth tannins and a very long finish of black cherries. It's a deeply fragrant red that can cellar for years.  Produced from Syrah, Merlot, and Tempranillo, it was aged for 14 months in French and American oak.  This bold, lush wine won a bronze medal from Decanter in 2016 and 2015.

Collecio 2012 - This wine is 100% Merlot. With a ruby color, it has a stewed black plum aroma and spiced cherry flavors, well-integrated tannis, and a long finish.

My time in the Costers del Segre opened up a new world of wines to me in a part of Spain best known for Cava. I came away from my visit to Celler Cercavins with an appreciation of their innovative winemaking in this striking landscape.

Wines of Celler Cercavins are available at New York City restaurants Barraca and Macondo.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Dry Muscat wows as Patricius Winery releases shown in New York

The wines of  Patricius Tokaj were poured in New York CIty this week at the Austrian themed restaurant, Blau Gans in Tribeca.  The winery, situated in the historic Hungarian wine region of Tokaj,  produces both traditional sweet wines as well as dry wines, which are mostly single varietal bottlings.  

At the media luncheon, the following wines were featured: 

Dry wines: 

Dry Yellow Muscat 2015 - The winery is really excited to present this wine, as it showcases a deliciously different aspect of the Muscat grape that many consumers don't expect.  This wine is vinified completely dry - and it is a great alternative to other light-bodied aromatic wines such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.  It was paired with starter courses of smoked salmon as well as spaetzle. 
Dry Furmint 2014 - This medium weight wine has a good balance of acidity and fruit, making it a versatile wine with food. It paired at the lunch with main courses of trout and schnitzel. 

These dry wines also had fresh new packaging - with clear bottles so the appealing pale gold color of these white wines were nicely displayed as well as simple, elegant labels that give consumers the information they need in clear graphics without a lot of fuss that "old world" wines sometimes include. 

Sweet wines: 

Katinka 2012 (late Harvest) - This charming wine is not-too-sweet with enough acidity to carry the residual sugar.  It was nicely paired with a spicy paprika appetizer. 
Tokaj Aszu 2004- this is the wonderful sweet wine that has made the name Tokaj famous around the world.  This vintage was stunning with honey and apricots, lovely acidity, and a super long finish. It was delightfully paired with apple strudel. 
Tokaj Eszencia 2000 - the free run juice of the botrytized berries that are used in Tokaj Aszu. Impossibly rich and it will last for many generations. This was best sipped by itself, to appreciate the deep dark toffee and spice flavors. 

Patricius winery is bringing fresh new approaches to some of the world's oldest grown grapes with a knowing style that's sure to please today's consumers. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A craft beer movement grows in Miami

Miami is known for great weather, over-the-top cars, expensive bottle-service clubs, and a generally free-wheeling vibe with a soundtrack of Salsa. What it has never been known for is being a notable part of America's burgeoning craft-brew scene.  But all of that's beginning to change.

This weekend I happened upon Abbey Brewing Company, a snug little bar located on 16th Street, about a half mile away from the Atlantic Ocean.  Inside, dark paneled wooden walls shut out the day.  We choose the bar, not a table, and enjoy chatting with a pair of friendly bartenders.  I ask one of the guys, who wears a red tee shirt with a sketch of a bust of Bill Murray on it, "What can you tell me about Abbey Brewing" and he replies, "We make these beers, you can't get them anywhere else." He guides me and my son to the section of the beer menu with their offerings.  My son gets an Abbey Immaculate IPA, which he tells me has "mild hoppiness, malty and citrus flavors." I go for the Abbey Oktoberfest Marzen, a tasty Bavarian style fest beer, which also had a slight citrus note. It is Sunday at 3:30 p.m., and regulars are coming in for beers and free hotdogs and chips (one hotdog per beer ordered.)  The Bill Murray shirt guy tells us their beer is brewed up in Melbourne, four hours north of here, but they only serve it at this place.

Another bartender comes to give my son his next glass, a Father Theodore's Stout. He likes this stout, which is smoother than many Imperial stouts he's tried.  It had the typical coffee, chocolate flavors and was a winner.

The patron next to me, who wears a well-loved leather jacket and looks like he could have been in a band 20 years ago, tells me he's from Chicago.  He loves this place and it's his Sunday routine to come in for some beer and chill.

Our second bartender has an enthusiastic grin and ball cap, and recommends we head west across the water to Wynwood, where there are three craft breweries as well as some cool graffiti walls to check out.  He likes to dine at Kush, a gastropub with a good craft brewery selection and Gator tacos.

A couple tourists come in.  The wife says, "I don't see Coors Light on the menu..." "Yeah you don't" laughs our Bill Murray shirt bartender.  She orders her husband an Oktoberfest instead.  The bartender jokes, "If he closes his eyes, it won't taste anything like Coors Light." Our little group at the bar, which includes my son, myself, and the leather jacket guy, guffaw over this.  This feels like the kind of local bar where you can make instant friends and keep them for as many years as you chose to live in the area.

We could have stayed for hours and gone through their delicious selection of unique beers, but other obligations called.  But now, we had a mission: to return to Abbey Brewery for more fun and sampling, to take an Uber over to Wynwood to check out the more developed craft brew scene, and to keep an eye out for new breweries on our next trip to Miami.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Toasting David Bowie -- and my past -- with a wine oddity

I saw it on social media while still in bed, and then I couldn't move.  A friend - much younger than myself and therefore someone who couldn't feel what I felt - said "I didn't even know he was sick."

David Bowie had left the world.  I came to his music later, after Ziggy Stardust. My 70s ears were full of Donna Summer and the Bee Gees. It wasn't until the 80s that I became passionate about the new incarnation of David, the white-suited handsome man who sung alongside Blondie and Duran Duran in the playlists of the Melody Bar in New Brunswick, where my roommates and I danced every Thursday night.

It was Let's Dance that was, not our initiation, but more the moment when we fell in love. When Matt Pinfield (because we had the coolest DJ ever at the Melody and we didn't even know it) played the single, one of us would pull the others to the floor.  In our neon big shirts with large shoulder pads and our dark lipstick and fluffed hair, we shimmied over the old planks sticky with beer. In the frat houses of College Avenue, across the darkened rooms of The Roxy, when David Bowie said, "Let's Dance," we obeyed.

He made us feel cool. We were children of almost-immigrants (one or two generations away from Italy or Ireland), raised in the boring suburbs of larger, more exciting places. But when we listened to David Bowie, we could share in his exoticness.  When I hear his voice, I think of his massive intelligence and his wit -- his sense of irony only matched by his sense of fashion.  When he was older he married one of the most beautiful women in the world and bought a castle.  Who didn't want to be like David Bowie?

I got through today in a fog, flooded by memory.  I texted my ex-husband, "Didn't we see David Bowie in concert?" Yes, he replied, at the PNC Arts Center.  It was a good show I remembered.  I emailed my college friends "We have to raise a glass soon!"  I texted my son (a different generation but a musician who mourned him with a musician's heart), my poet friend Howard.  I posted on social media, but it wasn't enough.  The sadness deepened... and the memories had their way with my mood.

In my mind, I was back at the Melody dancing --  living with abandon for a few hours at a club. It was a time when being young meant endless possibilities.  I remember slipping my arms into the sleeves of an emerald green silk shirt, pulling up my black leggings, placing my feet into my faux-Doc Martens and painting on black eyeliner -- it was all a girl needed back then. That and the music. We had the night and cheap beers and shots of kamikazes, and we loved David Bowie and Adam Ant and Howard Jones and Madness and it made us feel cool and alive and immortal.

But we didn't stay young. We had children and bought houses.  We had our hearts broken by friends and lovers.  We buried parents. The cassette tapes gathered dust or were sold at yard sales or donated to charities.

We stopped listening to David Bowie.  When I was still married, my husband bought me his greatest hits on CD.  I appreciated it, but it all felt dated. I liked new music and didn't look back much in life.

But, tonight, I've got Bowie playing and my eyes are wet from tears.  I pulled one of the weirdest wines I had  - Mukuzani Red Dry 2006 from Teliani Valley in the district of Kakheti.  I bought it in the Republic of Georgia, during a life-changing trip to this ancient wine-making land.  It's made from the delicious but little known Saperavi grape. It's got inscrutable Georgian lettering on the label, curving and looping like backwards 6s and 3s with little flourishes.

None of us can be Bowie, but we can all embrace our special breed of oddness.  I guess as an explorer of vineyards, it's my passion to find the weird wines - the ones no one has heard of.  I'll raise a glass of this little known wine and toast David Bowie, and youth, and creativity, and lost loves.  I'm looking back tonight and feeling the great weight of time past, cherishing those beautiful nights that live on in memory.  The nights when we all said, "Let's Dance."

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Drink your way through history at The Imbible in NYC

Photo credit: Dixie Sheridan

Performed in a former Greenwich Village speakeasy, The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking is an entertaining performance piece that takes a crowd of eager-to-sip New Yorkers and savvy out-of-towners on a musical tour of the history of alcohol.

The brainchild of engaging, tuneful, and slightly hyperactive mixologist and barbershop quartet singer Anthony Caporale, The Imbible starts out in prehistoric times – where a pile of harvested wheat doused by rain is recovered soaked in a bubbly, happy-making brew – the first beer! Anthony takes a scientific approach and enlightens the crowd that alcohol had tremendous medicinal value before it was drunk for a good time, telling us that cavemen that drank beer were not only happier but just happened to live longer thanks to alcohol’s antiseptic qualities.

We go from the cave dwellers to Egyptians and beyond, and as the millennia turn, the quartet of actors (two boys, two girls) make numerous quick costume changes all while singing in four part harmony, and, on three occasions, handing out historically appropriate cocktails.

To celebrate the birth of beer, we enjoyed mighty tasty Shandies (Coney Island brewery's Overpass IPA mixed with gingerale).  Then when we traveled across the sea with the East India Company, we learned that Brits stationed in India mixed their malaria prevention (quinine-containing tonic) with their daily gin rations.  As we drank a very limey and refreshing gin and tonic we newly appreciated this summer standard for its medicinal qualities.

For me, I felt like I was back in class at the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), when Anthony placed a ridiculously adorable miniature copper pot still on the bar and rasped lyrical about distillation and the heads and tails.  Sigh, good old WSET was never such fun.  And after learning how whiskey was made, we got to enjoy a Ginger-Orange Old Fashioned, which was a drink that became popular after Prohibition, because it was made the “old fashioned” way – in other words, not with nearly-toxic bathtub gin!

Anthony and his merry band sang, mugged, served, and cheerfully presented about 10,000 years of booze history in a breezy hour and a half.  For those who appreciate theater, barbershop quartet music, and the chance to think (a little) as they drink, The Imbible makes a great evening out. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Ichishima Sake Brewery perfect for visiting Americans

The Ichishima Sake Brewery in Niigata, Japan is the perfect destination for English-only speakers who want to enjoy the unique experience of seeing where sake is made first hand.  For tourists familiar with winery visits, perhaps from trips to northern California or Long Island’s North Fork, a very different experience awaits.
First of all, unlike the picturesque Napa winery with faux-Spanish stucco enveloped in ivy and surrounded by vines, in Japan many sake breweries are in the middle of thickly populated cities or large towns.  The rice fields are many miles away and definitely not part of the tour.
The equipment you’ll view in a sake brewery is also unique to this beverage, which has been a traditional favorite in Japan for more than 1000 years.
At Ichishima Brewery, you can view well-preserved displays of old sake-making devices and sample their various styles of sake.

I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to share the day with seventh generation owner, Kenji Ichishima.  Kenji speaks perfect English and he was a wonderful guide for me as well as Ravi Mahabeer, a sommelier from Doha who just happened to be in town. Our multi-course lunch with a variety of fresh fish, shell fish, noodle dishes, soups, and more was a stunning example of kaiseki, or gourmet style Japanese cuisine. He poured us sake from huge saucers, which stack from largest to smallest - largest being reserved for most honored guests. This is an old custom that was fun to experience, although drinking from a dinner-plate sized saucer is something of a challenge. As we ate the wonderful lunch, we could see the snowy garden, where stone statues were softly rounded by the white cover. 
Our full day had included a full tour of the contemporary sake making facility, where I was most interested to see the koji room - this is a warm, sterile room of wood walls, where rice is sprinkled with the fungus that needs to grow as an important part of the sake making process.  We also got to try sake at various stages in the fermentation process.
Sake is only brewed during the winter - so if you want to visit a brewery, it needs to be during the cold months. 
I am at the begininning of what I hope will be a lifetime journey of learning about this ancient Japanese beverage.  If you are in Japan, I encourage you to try sake, and if you want to plan a fun day trip from Tokyo, hop on the bullet train to Niigata to visit the Ichishima Sake Brewery.