Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Doing Dry January for the First Time as a Wine Blogger

Today is the last day of January, 2024, and tomorrow I will have my first alcoholic beverage in a month. Yes, this is the year I did Dry January, 31 days of abstaining from one of the peak joys in my life. 

I never had an interest in what seemed like a passing fad of post-holiday sobriety, yet this year was different. I've been more health-focused in general lately, and so a break from alcohol seemed like something I'd like to try. 

After ringing in the New Year at an all-ladies Champagne party in Manhattan, I woke up late on New Year's Day to a protein-filled breakfast with coffee. The tee-totalling kept going from there.  

How was my first Dry January? 

It was great! Surprisingly so. It made me realize that drinking wine, beer, or cocktails is something I enjoy but not something I need every week. I occasionally thought about the flavors I was missing - the honey and butter of a Burgundy white, the citrusy punch of a hoppy IPA, the carmel and oak flavors of my favorite whiskey. But, I didn't reach for these once. 

Did I ever have a tough time during Dry January? 

I wavered slightly after a long, emotional day. I was in the kind of self-pitying mood that seemed to call for a proper bottle of Italian red, maybe some chocolate, and definitely a guilty-pleasure Netflix session. But, I didn't have the kind of bottle I wanted at home, and it was too cold to walk to the wine store. So, I cooked another healthy dinner, drank herb tea, and didn't even have chocolate. The Netflix, however, was non-negotiable. 

Were there benefits to Dry January? 

I really enjoyed this month because it felt great to be intentional about what I was consuming. It was an exercise in self-care and a reason to focus on myself in a positive way. Eating more healthfully felt easier without having a glass of wine, which sometimes tempted me to a rich piece of cheese, and then some more nibbles. 

Another plus is that I definitely saved money! Dining out when you are only sipping tap water is a sure way to save on the check. 

One of the best things was just the knowledge that I stuck to the commitment I made to myself. 

What was the hardest part of Dry January? 

Socializing without joining my friends in alcohol was something I wasn't accustomed to. At a brunch gathering, I had to watch 8 friends order French 75s (oh, I like those), Negronis (and they looked delicious), and one pale pink glass of French Rose which looked divine. I drank a cappuccino, lots of water, and then a cup of Earl Gray. And I had a very good time - being with my friends was what mattered the most. 

The hardest thing was the fear that I would feel awkward in some situations. For example, there was a work dinner while my boss was in town. Everyone on my team knows me as the "wine blogger," so I expected my colleages to be taken aback at my abstaining. While my boss seemed a little surprised, it wasn't a big deal. 

After a few of these experiences, I realized that my not drinking wasn't important to anyone but me.   

So what did I drink during Dry January? 

Water, plain or flavored seltzer, club soda, seltzer with fruit juice or bitters or lemon or lime slices, coffee. But the real hero of Dry January was tea. Because my evening glass of wine became a hot mug of green tea with mint or tangerine-orange Zinger, or even a maple vanilla tea that my daughter gave me for Christmas. This was in addition to my daytime teas of Irish breakfast, Earl Gray, Lady Gray. These teas gave me the full, satisfying flavors I wanted, and were perfectly acceptable substitions for wine during this month. 

What happens in February? 

On February 1st, I have plans to attend a travel meetup at Vol de Nuit, a Belgian Beer bar in downtown Manhattan, where I will order one of their delicious beers. And I'll go back to having wine with friends when we dine out - but maybe not as many glasses as before. And - for now - I do believe I'll drink less wine and other libations at home. 

What about next Dry January? 

I don't know if next year I'll do a full 31 days dry again - maybe I'll do more of a "damp" version that some of my friends have done this year. I do like the notion of a post-holiday easing up on alcohol, but it will depend on my inclination at the time. No matter what I decide in the future,  I'm very happy for having had the Dry January experience this year. 

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Chimney Rock Vertical Showcases Elegant, Long-lasting Napa Wines

When we think of what makes a winery noteworthy, we often consider a sense of continuous quality that somehow transcends the vintage challenges. Such wineries produce good wine in even the tough years – and magnificent wine when nature is more forgiving. The best way to determine whether a winery has done this over the course of time is to sit down at a vertical tasing. I was lucky enough to do so with Elizabeth Vianna, lead winemaker of  Chimney Rock Winery, at a media tasting in New York City.

But, first, we were provided with some context. Chimney Rock Winery was founded in 1980 on a former golf course, and the winery was designed with distinctive Cape Dutch architecture. In 2000, the Terlato family became involved with the estate, and they assumed full ownership in 2003. From the beginning, their vision was to create top quality wines from Bordeaux varieties in the premier Stags Leap District.

Elizabeth spoke about the Stag’s Leap Palisades where bedrock traps heat and low hills pull cool air across the vineyard. The climatic factors along with volcanic soil produce fruit “that’s intense but graceful.” She added that as a winemaker she doesn’t want to “futz” with the fruit a lot, but rather let the wine express a sense of time and place.

Our vertical included Chimney Rock Winery SLD Cabernet Sauvignon from 1984, 1985, 1992, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2012, and 2019. Elizabeth choose both vintages that were critically acclaimed and others that were not, but which she felt offered something special.

Here are some of the Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon SLD vintages that impressed me most:

1984 – The color was ruby with brick-toned rim. The nose was complex with caramel and pot pourri. On the palate, dried fruits and a hint of white pepper. The acid was still present, remarkably, and there was still plenty of length.

1992 – The nose still offered the promise of raspberry, which was delivered on the palate, where black and red fruit were still present. There were fine tannins and good acidity, truly a wonderful wine over 30 years old.

1998 – I got a lot of tart cranberry on the nose, and the palate was lush with red and black berries. The tannins were silky. This was an elegant wine with true finesse.

2006 – This was a lush, big wine with gorgeous cherry compote on the palate – a crowd-pleasing, Napa wine.

2012 – A generous wine with jammy blackberry fruit. Persistent finish with fine tannins.

2019 – Cassis on the nose, fruit-forward on the palate, lively acidity, and very long length. 

During the course of the afternoon, Elizabeth told us that she and her staff are in the vineyards all year long. The winery also considers sustainability a priority, and they use biological controls such as cover crops to ensure vineyard health. Solar power and pollinator gardens add to the sustainability focus.

This exceptional opportunity to taste over 30 years of one winery’s vintages was truly illuminating. I left with the strong impression that Chimney Rock is consistently making high quality wines that offer wonderful fruit when young and beautiful complexity with age.  

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Bodegas Bianchi new releases show lasting luster of family-owned Argentinian winery

Bodegas Bianchi is a historic family-owned winery in Argentina that has been producing wine since 1928. With successive generations, the winery grew and modernized, and in 2018, the family brought in renowned Argentine winemaker Silvio Alberto to be Wine Director. For the past five years, he's been on a mission to update classics and expand their vineyards beyond their home in San Rafael, the southernmost part of Mendoza. 

Silvio was in New York recently showcasing the current releases at a media dinner at Capital Grille. Sitting down with Silvio, a gregarious man of good humor and wine wisdom, is always a treat. He discussed how winemaking has changed at the bodega to provide more of what today's consumers want. One of the changes is that the heavily-oaked wines of the past are no more - now the wines that do see oak get lighter touches of wood. Today's palates also seek more freshness in wines. Silvio explained, "People like more fruit, more acidity." 

Bodegas Bianchi wines sampled included: 

Famiglia Bianchi Chardonnay 2021 - This wine had both fresh apple as well as some honey and butter, and offered crisp acidity. I was impressed that the wine had complexity and rich texture at the price point of $18.99. 

Famiglia Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 - Surprisingly light and fruity, this Cab had blackberry on the nose and palate, fine tannins, balanced acidity, and lots of freshness. $20.99. 

Gran Famiglia Bianchi Malbec 2019 - My first note was simply "delicious" for this wine. On the nose there was leather, caramel, black cherry, and on the palate I tasted chocolate covered cherries. This was a full bodied wine with good length and mouth-filling fruit. This is one of the wines from the Uco Valley, 3600 feet above sea level. $29.99

Particular Bianchi Malbec 2019 - A very structured wine created from 30-year-old vines in San Rafael, this Malbec had inviting aromas and flavors of toffee, cherries, and spice. Silvio told us that the wines from the Finca Asti Vineyards of Parades are known for having notes of pink peppercorn as well. This was an exciting Malbec that would certainly age longer. $39.99 

Particular Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 - Also from San Rafael, this is a blend of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc. Blackberry was on the nose, and flavors of blackberry, blueberry, spice, and a little rosemary created a lively palate. The wine was full bodied with long length. $39.99 

Enzo Gran Corte 2018 - This blend has Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The name Enzo honors the son of the original founder. This powerful wine had a big nose of red and black fruit and notes of caramel. The palate was quite rich, with dense, ripe fruit and fine tannins. It's a wine of elegance with great length. $69.99 

Our delicious Bodegas Bianchi wines were brilliantly paired with the Capital Grille's famous steaks, for a wonderful food and wine pairing treat. What struck me most about this dinner - other than Silvio's charming personality - was the way that these wines really were punching above their weight. For relatively modest price points, they were delivering very well crafted wines that had distinct qualities that showcased their Argentinian terroir.  

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau Also a Refreshing Winter Treat

Can you drink Beaujolais Nouveau after Thanksgiving time when it's released? Mais oui! 

Most sources suggest you can enjoy Beaujolais Nouveau wines from six to 12 months after their bottling, which means that when you want to reach for a refreshing light red this winter, you can still enjoy your Beaujolais Nouveau! 

Beaujolais Nouveau and Les Vins Georges Duboeuf

Franck Duboeuf, who runs Les Vins Georges Duboeuf and is the son of the house's founder Georges, was in New York City to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau day this November. This year he celebrated with a media lunch at Quality Bistro, where he poured a range of the house's Beaujolais Nouveau. 

The idea of promoting the new wine of the Beaujolais harvest came from his father, Georges, and has grown into a phenomenon that is celebrated world wide on the third Thursday of November. This year, the wines were fresh and flavorful. 

And, even though many regard the young wine as being a Thanksgiving staple, there's no reason not to have some bottles on hand for the months after their release. Stock is still available, and there's no denying the appeal of the red fruit palate and light body. 

The line of Beaujolais Nouveau wines are mostly light-bodied reds, but for the past couple years Dubouef has also released a delightful rose, which Franck admitted is "not an easy wine to produce."  

2022 Beaujolais Vintage

The 2022 Beaujolais vintage saw the hottest summer ever recorded in France, with long dry stretches as well as strong storms. Harvest began August 17th, a month earlier than in 2021, with perfectly ripe grapes. This year's wines are full of tart cherry, cranberry, and the hint of herbs like thyme anchored by good acidity.    

Beaujolais Nouveau for a lighter winter wine

Just as drinking sparkling wine is a great change of pace from the heavier reds we normally pour in winter, so too can drinking Beaujolais Nouveau provide your palate with a fresh, flavorful departure from the big winter reds in many glasses.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Yountville's Reinvigorated Goosecross Winery Creates Vineyard-Driven Wines

Dave and Christi Ficeli met while working at the historic California winery, E. & J. Gallo. In 2021, they fufilled their dream of owning their own piece of Napa Valley wine history by acquiring Goosecross winery, which they had been managing since 2013. Since the beginning of their involvement with the winery, the couple was determined to create a special destination that offers memorable, terroir-driven wines. 

Essential to this vision is Goosecross winemaker Bill Nancarrow, a New Zealand native whose illustrious wine career has taken him all over the world. His most recent position prior to Goosecross was being executive winemaker of Duckhorn Wine Company's Napa Valley properties. After rising to the executive ranks, Bill said he wanted to get his hands dirty, drive a tractor, and make wine again. Goosecross gave him that chance. Bill is passionate about selecting vineyard sites, as Yountville has diverse soil profiles in every direction. With the Ficeli's vision and Bill's winemaking skill, Goosecross has blossomed. 

I met Dave and Bill at a recent media dinner in Manhattan at Marta, where I was able to hear about how Goosecross has been transformed into a destination winery focused on sustainable viticulture and complex, balanced wines. They poured a number of wines that we paired with the restaurant's crispy pizzas with a variety of fun toppings - from fresh corn to black truffles. Here are some highlights from the wines we sampled: 

Goosecross 2019 State Lane Vineyard Merlot - State Lane is the vineyard on the Goosecross property which features diverse alluvial soils and temperatures moderated by the San Francisco Bay. This Merlot combines fruit from two distinct blocks, producing a wine with ripe cherry aroma and flavor, bright acid, fine-grained tannins, and a whiff of caramel on the finish. 

2019 Goosecross Holly's Block Cabernet Sauvignon - The vineyard block is named after Christi's grandmother, Holly, and it's a winery favorite. 2019 was a generous year weather-wise, and this is reflected in the rich blackberry jam flavors, silky tannins, and persistent finish. I was delighted by this elegant, plush wine. 

2019 Goosecross State Lane Aeros - The best of the best from the State Lane Vineyard, this wine is blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot. This is a structured wine with great ageing potential that was still drinking well at its young age. I found plum and blackberry on the nose and palate and enjoyed its rich mouthfeel. The wine is limited to 145 cases.  

Wines may be ordered directly online, but the best way to experience the wines is by visiting them at the welcoming tasting room or on the patio in Napa Valley. Goosecross offers wine tastings, wine and food pairings, and special events. Find out more on the winery's website.  



Naturally Bordeaux Dinner Showcases Sustainability-Minded Chateaux Creating Beautiful Wines

The prestigious wine region of Bordeaux produces many of the most renowned wines in the world, although producing healthy vines in a maritime climate has often led vineyard managers to turn to chemical and pesticide intervention. Happily, for the past 15 years the region has been moving away from these practices. 

Nowhere is that more evident than in the three chateaux participating in the current Naturally Bordeaux campaign -  Chateau Fourcas Hosten, Chateau de la Dauphine, and Chateau Jean Faure. At a media dinner at Clay restaurant in Harlem, representatives from the three wineries were on hand to pour their wines and discuss their environmental programs.These include efforts to regenerate the land in addition to shunning chemical intervention. 

The resulting wines being produced under strict conservationist practices are a testament that delicious, age-worthy wine can be made in an environmentally sensitive way. 

For example, Chateau Fourcas Hosten began a program to be HVE3 certified beginning with the 2017 vintage. HVE (Haute Valeur Environmentale) is a three-tiered program aimed at decreasing negative environmental impact of disease control, managing fertilizer inputs, and improving water management. HVE3 is the highest level of sustainability in this program.  

At Chateau de la Dauphine, a new program brings 200 sheep from the Aspe Valley to live on the organic, biodynamic vineyard for six months. This program contributes to the biodiversty of the vineyard, gives the sheep access to pesticide-free grazing , and provides the vineyard with natural fertilizer and mowing between vines.  

Chateau Jean Faure is a certfied organic vineyard whose 2023 vintage will be certified by Biodyvin, a biodynamic certification organization. Among its efforts to create a healthy,  sustainable winery, the chateau uses organic preparations, natural herbal infusions, as well as horses to pull plows.   

Among the wines poured during the dinner, my favorites included: 

Chateau de la Dauphine Rose 2021, Fronsac - Comprised of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this rose had crisp acidity, crushed ripe strawberries on the palate, and a hint of baking spice. 

Chateau Fourcas Hosten 2018, Listrac-Medoc - A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc, this medium-bodied wine had a nose of tart cranberry and basalmic with flavors of ripe black cherry. 

Chateau de la Dauphine 2012, Fronsac - A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this still-youthful wine was inky dark and offered gorgeous blackberry flavors, wonderful balance, fine tannins, and a long finish. 

Chateau Jean Faure 2010, St. Emilion Grand Cru - A blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec, this wine had a nose of cherry and forest floor with tart cherry and basalmic notes, fine tannins, and long finish.   

This instructive wine dinner truly proved that organic farming and sustainability can lead to the creation of spectacular wines.  The wines of Chateau de la Dauphine, Chateau Fourcas Hosten, and Chateau Jean Faure are all available in the U.S.  For information on specific wines, I recommend checking  


Monday, September 5, 2022

Navarra's Inurrieta Winery Brings Fresh Approach to History of Family Winemaking

The region of Navarra lies in the northeast corner of Spain. While it's a land where the past glory of the Kingdom of Navarra still feels vividly alive, the region today also boasts innovative winemakers looking to bring a fresh approach to ancient practices.

On my trip to Navarra this year, I visited Bodega Inurrieta as part of group of trade and media. The Inurrieta name refers to the place where the owner's family grew grapes nearly a century ago.

On the way, we stopped in the picturesque village of Olite, where an ancient fortress was being used as the backdrop for a new series "Vampire Academy." What would we find at the winery, our group wondered... Ghouls and goblins among the Garnacha?

Bodega Inurrieta lies in the Ribera Alta, one of five winemaking regions of Navarra. The region accounts for one third of the production of Navara.  When we arrived, we were happy to see a bright, modern, airy winery.  Walking over the metal catwalk that overhung the stainless steel tanks, we were assured that we were very far from any ghouls.

As we settled in a spacious table lined with full length windows that showed the vineyards and forests outside, we were walked through the bodega's current releases. Some of my favorite wines from our visit are assessed below:

The 2021 Inurrieta Orchidea is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was very aromatic with fresh gooseberry and citrus notes. On the palate, there was lemon and a hint of pinepple with a backbone of acidity and a touch of minerality on the finish. I didn't expect to enjoy a Spanish Sauvignon Blanc so much, but this was a wine that won a gold medal at the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon among other accolades. 

We tasted the Inurrieta Coral, a rosado comprised of a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Garnacha. This was a lovely rose with notes of strawberries and a lift of acidity. A darker rose wine came next - Mediodia. This was a richer version of rose with more savory notes -- delicious for summer and beyond.  

Next came several hefty red blends that showcased the power that red wines can have in this region. Inurrieta Sur 2020 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot  which spends 7 months in American oak. It was a beautifully balanced wine with plums and a bit of bacon on the nose. It had a rich mouthfeel with dark fruit and a hint of spice. Well-integrated tannins made this delicious to drink now, but I would certainly age this as well.

My favorite wine was the Inurrieta Mimao 2020, 100% Garnacha. The grapes get a cold soak for 8 days when they come in to retain freshness and flavor. After the first round of fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks, Malolactic fermentation takes place in used French oak barrels, where the wine rests for 7 months. The resulting care produces a wine of fresh red and black berry flavors, round mouthfeel, and lingering finish.

During our visit, we enjoyed some delicious local treats including smoked meats, hard cheeses, and white asparagus -- a great start to our day of wine touring in the area. 

Inurrieta welcomes visitors and is just a 40 minute drive from Pamplona.