Monday, November 28, 2016

Bright, fresh, modern - the surprising new face of Bulgarian wine

It's not the first country Americans think of when it comes to wine, but Bulgaria actually has thousands of years of wine-making history. In fact, the cult of Dionysus originated here - Bulgaria takes its grapes seriously! 

 Yet this country, located northeast of Greece, is not stuck in ancient times, There's a new spirit of innovation that's leading to modern wines created for today's palate.  

At a seminar presented by the World Wine Guys Mike DiSimone and Jeff Jenssen, an audience of beverage media and trade tasted a range of wines made from both international varieties and indigenous Bulgarian grapes. There were some terrific surprises in the lineup.  

My favorite wines of the tasting included: 

- Version Plaisir Di Vin  2013 Cabernet Franc - delicious, fresh, black pepper and dark fruit, this wine won a silver medal at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. 
-F2F Chardonnay 2015 - notes of lime and minerality and delightfully crisp. 
-Pixels Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 - Blackberries, blueberries, high acid, this Cabernet is a far lighter rendition than Napa - and that's not such a bad thing. 
-Version Plaisir Di Vin 2013 Mavrud - Here is Bulgaria's hearty indigenous grape, offering savory quality of smoked meats but also nice pomegranate fruit. 
-Edoardo Miroglio Bio Mavrud and Rubin - This organic wine combines two indigenous grapes. The nose says "Bulgaria" but it's a more approachable rendition than when, in old times, it was said you could carry the wine in your handkerchief it was so dense. This blend had strong flavors of blackberry with black pepper. I compare it to the weight and spice of a good Carmenere.  

Clocking in under $20, these Bulgarian wines will expand your vinous world at an affordable price.  

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Chateau de La Dauphine delivers delicious value in right bank Bordeaux

It is the game many a Bordeaux-lover knows well.  If you love a certain appellation but can't afford it, look to the neighbors.

The highly esteemed wines of Pomerol are out of the reach of many a pocketbook, but there are other right bank Bordeaux appellations close by that deliver similar Merlot-based plushness at a fraction of the cost.

I had the opportunity to try some of the wines of Chateau de La Dauphine at a recent media lunch at Gramercy Tavern and was duly impressed by these rich red wines.

Chateau de La Dauphine is a historic property, so named because the Princess Maria-Josepha of Saxony (mother of Louis XVI) stayed several days at the chateau soon after it was built.  The chateau is situated in the Libourne region which comprises Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac.

With such esteemed neighbors, it's no surprise that the wines of Fronsac can be excellent, but often at a fraction of the cost of Pomerol or St. Emilion.

According to Marion Merker from the chateau, "The goal of Chateau de La Dauphine is to show the quality  of clay and limestone soil in a complex wine with character and elegance."  These wines are affordable, selling in the $18-$35 range, which Marion feels is correct, because, according to her, "Wine is to share, to enjoy, to taste."  In other words - we more often want wine that we can pull out today rather than cellar for decades.

Chateau de La Dauphine has made strides in its viticulture and today its vineyards are certified organic.  In addition, great care is show in the winemaking process.  Starting with the 2012 vintage, Michel Roland has been brought in as oenologist.

The vintages we sampled at lunch were all rich, smooth, and fully of red fruit, including:

Chateau de La Dauphine 2009 - With flavors of caramel and cherry this was rich, round, and plush - a great wine.

 Chateau de La Dauphine 2010 - A wine of good structure with greater acidity, drying tannins. This wine will be delicious in 3-5 years although can be drunk now.

Chateau de La Dauphine 2012 - A great vintage with more complexity. It will evolve well, but can be drunk now.  There are notes of licorice, caramel, vanilla, and ripe cherries.

The wines of Chateau de La Dauphine are available in the U.S. now.  For visitors in the Bordeaux region especially traveling to St. Emilion, Chateau de La Dauphine makes a wonderful visit, and it has garnered the Best of Wine Tourism award in 2016 from Great Wine Capitals.

Tis the season for Brunello, and La Mannella is ready to shine

When the temperature drops and holidays are here, it's the season for rich, red wines. And for memorable wines, too: This is when we pull something special from our cellars to make the evening unforgettable.

I met Tommaso Cortonesi earlier this year at a special tasting in New York when I was impressed with the quality vintages I tasted. His vineyards are located in some of the most highly prized sites both north and southeast from Montalcino, Italy.

I was thinking of his fantastic La Mannella wines recently when I came up on this article from The Times News which called the La Mannella Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010 "sublime and elegant."

La Mannella makes a range of wines starting with their satisfying entry level La Manella Rosso, now available in the 2013 vintage.

But it is the Brunellos that bring the winery the most accolades.  This winery ages these highly prized wines for five years before release.  I sampled the following Brunellos:

-  La Mannella Brunello di Montalicino 2010 and 2011
-  La Mannella Brunello di Montalicino Riserva 2010 Cortonesi
-  La Mannella Brunello di Montalicino  il Poggiarelli 2010 and 2011

These are all delicious wines of the highest quality, offering potpourri on the nose and redolent of dried cherries, spice, and earthiness on the palate.

As Christmas carols take over the airways, hasten to your nearest fine wine shop to stock up on some of these gems for your holiday meals. And remember, Brunellos often benefit from at least an hour in the decanter before serving.

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.