Wednesday, December 31, 2008

400 Bloggers Celebrate Quebec City’s 400th Anniversary


Or at least it’s hoped that 400 bloggers will toast & post, as it were. So I’ll join the celebration, and a worthy one at that. I hope that readers of this blog have already viewed my video from the Bordeaux Wine Festival, in which 400 French cowboys & girls performed line dancing in a salute to Quebec’s anniversary.
But getting more personal, I have fond memories of a trip to Quebec about nine years ago. For anyone whose world is rocked by history, architecture, fine dining, and all-out charm, Quebec City fits the bill. It’s as close as you can get to a trip to Europe without crossing the Atlantic. A place to practice your French, enjoy delicious cuisine, and amble around winding cobblestone streets of the old city.
My husband and I were there in the depths of winter, a time when hotel prices had dropped and the cafes and restaurants welcomed us warmly. A frigid hike around the spectacular Montmorcey Falls was a memorable outing. But mostly, we just soaked up the atmosphere. This was one of our first trips sans kids, and we treated ourselves to the luxury of the iconic Chateau Frontenac, a magnificent French-style edifice positioned high on a hillside overlooking the city.
I’m sure I’ll visit Quebec City again in the future, and when I do, I’ll also look into the emerging wine region there.
Happy New Year to all my friends, fellow bloggers and readers! Et bon anniversaire à Quebec City!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Perfect Pairing: Monastrell & Treats from Despaña


For Christmas, my husband gifted me three Spanish wines that I had never tried before. The first was a Juan Gil Monastrell -- a wine with lots of oomph. The grapes grow on 40 year old vines in the Jumilla region of southeastern Spain. This deep purple-red wine has lots of character: there is a great deal of ripe black fruit flavor, coupled with ample spice. It really opened up in the second glass, when I detected intriguing aromas, including a sweet caramel note—perhaps from being aged 12 months in French oak. The wine stood up to pizza I was eating just fine, and I’m sure it would work with other spicy fare. I’ve since learned that the monastrell grape is the same as mouvedere, which is used in France and elsewhere. I’m not very conversant with this variety, but I likened it to a big Zinfandel—high in alcohol (14.5), rich, and robust.
Planning a small tapas party for later in the week, I’ve been on a mission to hunt down recipes and gather provisions. This led me on a search for authentic Spanish ham—not an easy task! Luckily, I work mere minutes from Manhattan, where Despaña (literally “from Spain”) stocks all manner of Spanish goodies. They import products from one of the only producers of Jamon Iberico who is allowed to sell products in the U.S., because he has converted his farm to comply with U.S. Agricultural standards. That’s good for us, but bad for our wallets—the treasured sweet, salty, tender ham, made from black-hooved pigs who feed only on fallen acorns—sells for…steady now…$159 a pound!! Luckily, they slice the ham very thin, and will sell you just a couple slices if you like. I went with my entire clan into the city yesterday and we were charmed by the store on Broome Street (close to the tourist wonderland of Little Italy).
There were olive oils and vinegars and pates and olives to sample, but, best of all, they have a little take out counter and a small seating area in the back that serves authentic chocolate and churros. For about $16.00, four of us enjoyed small cups of the richest hot chocolate and a plate of 8 churros, plain except for a sprinkling of sugar. Then I introduced my children to the sweet joy of dipping churros into the piping hot chocolate.
I bought winding strings of bright orange chorizo, which I’ll slice into individual servings and only garnish with a toothpick, and a fat log of a deep purple sausage that I’ll serve sliced on country bread. Later in the week, a Manhattanite friend will pop into Despaña and pick up some of the wonderful jamon for the gathering.
I can’t wait to try more of my Spanish wine with authentic Iberian treats. Salut!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Stateside, Choose Xunta for Tapas

It’s been exactly one week since I left Spain and my appetite for its food, wine, and spirit has not diminished. So it was with great enthusiasm that I agreed with fellow writing group member and actor Gregory Waller when he suggested Xunta for tapas last night.
After an evening of critiquing each other’s work and reviewing the progress we made in 2008, my writer’s group descended from our cozy upstairs enclave at Solas and headed east on 9th Street. New York was buzzing on this mild Sunday night, but, Xunta was empty. Was it closed?
No need to worry! We poked our heads in and were warmly welcomed. The place was ours, and we choose a rustic wooden hightop and stools near a huge map of Espagne. I proceeded to trace my recent travel route with my index finger for my fellow writers.
Xunta is pronounced Shunta. This is from Galego--a language spoke in Galicia, a remote region in the far northwest of Spain above Portugal. There’s a map of Galicia on the wall, too, so clearly the restaurant has a Galician connection.
We turned our attention to the long, laminated menu crammed with dozens of tapas—not Americanized versions, but true Spanish treats like pulpo and croquettes. We ordered a good assortment: white asparagus in vinegar adorned with a pretty slice of roasted red pepper (a little bland), manchego with quince paste (the sweet quince balanced the salty cheese nicely), green olives stuffed with anchoivy paste (I never saw the stuffing, but these were tasty nonetheless), and sweet and savory Iberian ham slices, all served with slices of dense country bread that we rubbed in pools of olive oil on our plates.
We washed down the tapas with a bottle of Crianza. This one was a 2004 Diez Caballero, a Tempranillo from El Ciego in the Rioja Alavesa, in the northwest of the Rioja region. As a Crianza, this wine has, by law, seen at least 12 months in an oak barrel, as well as additional bottle aging. It’s released three years after harvest. I detected French oak on the nose and suspected there might be American oak as well. Checking their website today I found that this is in fact the case. The wine had good fruit and substantial tannins for a Tempranillo—this one really dried the mouth on the finish. During my time in Ribera del Duero and Rioja, I found that the barrel chosen for aging was one of the factors, in addition to age, that changed the nature of the fruity Tempranillo grape substantially. There were some winemakers devoted to French oak, some swore by American, and then there were those who mixed.
As my friends and I lingered over the food and wine, we talked about life, travel, books and more. Then we raised our simple juice glasses filled with rich red wine and toasted each other, the end of a year of writing, and the holidays.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Five Things I learned in Spain

The landscape is incredibly rugged. I saw mountains—jagged ones, softly curving ones, ones piled with lumpy rocks, and, most spectacularly, snow-covered majestic peaks.
The boots are to die for. On the Madrid metro, I couldn’t stop lusting after all the beautiful boots on every woman—and even some girls—I saw. Buttery brown leather, sleek black with high heels, pointy-toed, frilled, buckled, tasseled and tied.
Tapas rule. I’ve been to many a party where the hors d’oeuvres were amazing and the main course a snoozer. The tapas life means never having to be bored by the main course food. I enjoyed making a meal on tapas crawls throughout Spanish cities.
The Priorat is an amazing region. This landscape of painted hills, plunging valleys and twisting mountain roads is truly breathtaking. And the wine-making is exciting here. I stopped in Buil y Gine and, after having a breezy tour of their multi-level winery, tasted three red wines that couldn’t have been more different—a young tarty one, a purple-hued, jammy red with an intriguing whiff of cloves on the finish (this one from Montsant, a different but nearby region), and an earthy red that was tinged brown and had that characteristic earthiness and minerality from the stones that characterize this region.
Barcelona feels like home. During my weekend in Barcelona, I felt like I was in a Spanish-flavored New York City. This most international of Spanish destinations has streets teaming with both tourists and locals and has a racing heartbeat that rivals the Big Apple.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Live from Logrono, Spain

This is day 6 for me in Spain, and it´s been an incredible journey so far. There will be photos to post later of the great folks I´ve met and things I´ve seen. First impressions: Loved Madrid, it´s a grand capital with wide avenues and graceful architecture. The Prado is beautiful and I loved exploring the galleries, like my college art history class come to life. So far the advice I have gotten from Ryan and Gabriella of Catavino has been spot on. Ryan told me to head to a specific street in the city for tapas and sure enough, they were great and the scene was lively. I met three fun Madridlenas and enjoyed a debate with one about French vs. American oak. I still prefer French, but like when it is not too heavily applied, i.e., not all new oak, and sure mix in some American too.
Driving up from Madrid I was stunned to see snow-covered mountains. My next stop was Aranda de Duero in the Ribera del Duero wine region. This is a small town that has seen way better days. Even the historic archtitecture is crumbling. However, it has lots of bars and restaurants, especially ones that serve the speciality of the area, roast baby lamb, a juicy, super tender dish that pairs so well with the Ribera del Dueros. While in the area, I had the good fortune to have a personal tour of Abadia Retuerta, a sensational modern winery where the wine is truly treated like gold. Nothing every shakes up the wine, no pumping here, every process is acheived through ingenious operations that allow gravity to remove the wine from the tanks and barrels.
I spent the afternoon in Valladolid a lovely city with so many interesting styles of architecture represented that it should be on every aspiring architect´s list of places to visit-I saw a baroque university, a Spanish gothic church, a palace with a platteresque window and more.
Driving out of the area, I was advised to avoid the shorter route as the snow was bad there. Snow? Oh, yeah, 3 hours of driving in it to get to Rioja. And in the mountains. Mountains with jagged black rocks looking down menancingly at me in my little car. Then, when the driving should have gotten better, I got thoroughly lost in Logrono. Thanks to my Iphone´s GPS, I finally made it to my hotel. I´ve grown to like this town very much, which is a stop on the Pilgrim´s route to Compostala. Well, apologies for the typos, etc., it´s rough blogging from the road.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Talking Turkey

It’s that time again. The time of year when the wine stores are all abuzz with people who have no idea what to wash down 20 pounds of turkey with. Once in Bordeaux, I met a former sommelier and I asked what he would serve with our American Thanksgiving feast. He told me you match to the sauce, not the meat. I’d say a lighter style red such as a Beaujolais (not Nouveau) works beautifully with turkey pan gravy. However red wines make me sleepier than whites, and I need my wits about me for later in the evening, when I am leaving for my 10 day Spain vacation.
So this year, I’m feeling something white. A couple of years ago, I picked up a bottle of Cakebread Chardonnay for Thanksgiving. I loved this wine’s flavor, but its buttery oak notes did overwhelm the bird, so, alas, it was not a good marriage. Thinking about it again today, Riesling popped into my head, and suddenly I thought it was the perfect solution. Crisp, light, and with a slightly lower alcohol content. Checking on the web, I found an article in which Bill Daley of the Chicago Tribune reached the same conclusion. Happy Thanksgiving one and all. Enjoy the wine-- and the time with your loved ones.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What pairs well with art?

I am departing from the wine talk for a moment to tell you about James Horner, a fascinating upcoming artist whose work can be viewed at www.Jameshornerart.com .
I suggest pouring yourself a good red--maybe the Muirwood Pinot Noir I enjoyed this weekend (a well structured Californian heavy on the French oak, but then, that’s how I like it)—and clicking through his wonderful new website.
James’ fluid style is very evocative. The emotions that one finds in watercolors like Anxiety and Turnaround are stirring. He captures faces in an entirely unique way, as his beautiful piece Landing shows (the painting on the home page). His originality is expressed in a number of evolving styles, from the moody self-portrait to the wildly colored Olympia Going Strong.
So, go ahead, have a little “cultcha” with your wine. It’s a pairing that’s hard to beat.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bordeaux Fête le Vin Video

video
Hope you enjoy this video from the 2008 Bordeaux Wine Festival.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

WBC -- Russian River Valley Hike



One of the highlights of the WBC was the hike in Saralee’s vineyards in the Russian River Valley. The vines were kissed with gold and the sky was brilliant blue. Local winemaker Rod Berglund was an enthusiastic guide who not only could walk backwards uphill and talk at the same time, but had all the dirt, on, well, the dirt. From the powdery, tan soil beneath our feet, to the earth filled with cobbles (large river rocks) up yonder. I love hearing about geology, a topic I know little about but enjoy, especially as it relates to grape growing.
Our hike was arranged by Zephyr Adventures, a pretty cool outfit that arranges tours in some of the world’s most exciting locales, including Sonoma County as well as Europe and Asia. Speaking to Zephyr founder Allan Wright later at dinner at Sebastiani winery I was interested to hear that, despite the adventurous nature of his tours, he wants to accommodate everyone’s abilities. Our hike, which was slated as the second easiest of four, did include some quite steep inclines in vineyards with names like Rollercoaster! I’d expect Zephyr tours to neither take it completely easy on you physically, but also to be not too much—a pretty good combination, especially for us desk jockeys who need to stretch our legs and expand our horizons once in a while.
The reward for the hike well worth it—a stunning panorama of Sonoma County, with Mount St. Helena rising up, lavender and majestic, in the distance. At the top of the hill, a charming picnic lunch featuring peak-of-ripeness local produce. I fell hard for the fresh figs, which were juicy, lightly sweet, and incredibly delicious. We washed it down with the local wine—never a bad thing in California—including a crisp Joseph Swan Pinot Gris that was a refreshing treat on this warm October afternoon.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Benefits Galore from Wine Bloggers Conference: Part I --Professional


I had an amazing time at the first ever North American Wine Bloggers Conference. The benefits were numerous—both professionally and personally.
I learned so much about what I should and shouldn’t be doing as a blogger to increase readership—and thanks to Alder Yarrow of Vinography--why that maybe doesn’t matter so much because we won’t make enough money to leave our day jobs so we should be doing it for love. Also, props to Tom Wark of Wark Communications and the blog Fermentation for giving us a great top ten list of driving traffic, which included really easy, yet overwhelmingly overlooked, techniques, such as sending an old-fashioned press release to our local paper. This idea crossed my mind in the past, but I never put it into action. Thanks to Tom’s prompting I will. His proactive philosophy also includes asking to be put on top blog’s blogrolls—a more assertive tactic than I’ve used, but perhaps I’ll get some gumption and give it a try.
We learned what to do to make Google like us, and heard different opinions about what it means to be an ethical blogger. Are bad reviews a no-no? Personally, I don’t see why we should be different than any other media with regard to voicing fair but informed opinions. I suppose the onus is on us to make sure we present a balanced view any time we delve into negative territory.
On the money side—there was a wide diversity of opinions here. I found our Friday night keynote Gary Vaynerchuk (JERSEY REPRESENT!) to be boyishly charming as well as charismatic. He exhorted us to go out and make $100,000 on our blogs! As previously noted, Alder and Tom were far more conservative with their assessments of a wine blog’s potential for generating revenue. However, Joel Vincent, our fearless OWC founder, presented the middle ground: starting with a blog and using it to launch a successful consulting business. Snooth founder Philip James showed us a detailed graph of ways to make money and juxtaposed the scale of readership with the complexity of the money-making ventures. Bascially as we get more readers we can make more ad money – o.k., I knew that, but I wasn’t aware of the really piddling CPM rate that Google ads pay, only $1 per thousand hits—yeesh, I’ll leave my blog uncluttered right now. However, Philip echoed Joel’s sentiments by discussing how we can parlay our blogs into other consulting-type ventures as well.
Even the most widely-read bloggers are only making the monetary equivalent of a really poorly paying part-time job strictly from their blogs—which begs the question, “Why do we do it?” Why do we blog and why do we shell out airfare, hotel, and conference expenses (admittedly these were quite low) to attend a bloggers conference? First of all, there is a passion among us which is palpable. Secondly, this feels like we are on the verge of something that is going to be big. I don’t know where my blogging will lead me. All I know is that it’s someplace I want to go. And at the Wine Blogger’s Conference in beautiful Sonoma County, CA, I was surrounded by 160 other people who, I’d venture to guess, feel exactly the same.

Friday, October 24, 2008

WBC Live Blogging: Reds are beating whites three to one


Our table's final wine of the live blogging session at WBC:
Estate Cab Sauv. - Clos LaChance
Hummingbirds there help with pollination and scares away the bigger birds that are vineyard pests. Biggggg tannins. Maybe it would mellow in a couple years. Lots of yummy black fruit. Really nice, I just think it could age a couple more.

WBC Live Blogging: Jerseyites stick together


Sitting next to me is one of only other people from NJ - Gabe at Gabesview

WBC Live Blogging: CRAzy pace continues


Don't spill on my laptop! Business cards, promotional CDs,and wine clutter our table tops. Next up on live blogging:
Bonterra Winery
The McNab
60 Merlot
26 Cab
14 Petite Sirah (old vine)original rootstock - it has phylloxera but it stays healthy - wow.
Mendocino
Hoke Harden describes his wine with a great booming voice
This is really terrific. My favorite so far. Second swig unloads the tannin. Rich, yummy, 2004. They have lavendar fields, lavendar honey, great place to visit

WBC Live Blogging--More live blogging

Green packaging on a Yellow +Blue = Green in a box
2007 Malbec from Argentina--Full, rich tannic Malbec
ybwines.com/bloggers - announcement
We get the 30 second warning - ROTATE!

WBC Live Blogging--Holy Overwhelmed Connection Batman


Santa, Rosa, CA...Wine Bloggers Conference...Live Blogging Session...4:16 Pacific time. 45 mins into the "live blogging" I'm on.
Lionheart Roussane -- a white crisp wine. Pale straw. Pleasing amount of fruit, Well balanced, nothing overwhelms. Sells for about $30. Clean fresh tart fruit on the nose. I would enjoy this, esp. in warm weather,
FourBears--85 Cab. A little merlot & petite verdot. Under $20. I'm getting some of that fuzzy feeling in my mouth. Gotta find out what that is. It's a nice, easy drinking Cab., there is something about the mouthfeel, though, I wonder if anyone else gets that? Something about the work of the tannins is funky. Good flavor, though, a reasonable price point.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

WBW #50: The Great Outdoors

I am late to post, but couldn’t resist participating in this theme, which is near and dear to my heart. From the very first time I went hiking and camping with the man in my life, we’ve always packed a couple of bottles of wine along with the tent. It’s got to be big, tannic, and red to ward off those chilly nights on the trail. We have even given the wines a name. They’re our “Camping Wines.”
Nothing beats sitting around a campfire, enjoying rustic red wine in plastic cups. It’s a pleasure I’ve enjoyed many times and it brings back great memories of relaxing weekends in the Connecticut wilderness. If I had the chance to go this fall, I’d probably reach for a Ravenswood Old Vines Zinfandel and see what Cotes du Rhone strikes my fancy. Sadly, a weekend away is not in the offing, but we can always make do in our own back sitting by firepit we dug, surround by our maples, which are turning golden this month. A toast -- to all things autumnal!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wine for Your Oktoberfest?


Even though I never saw anything but beer when I was in Munich (20 years ago to the month!) for Oktoberfest, since we are celebrating, why not pour some wine, too? The question posed to me from my girlfriend, Lori, was what German wine should she serve at her Oktoberfest party. Great question, and it got me thinking about the German and German-style wines I enjoy.
Here's a wine that is German-like even though it's made in Alsace, France. Trimbach is a reliable producer of Rieslings, and they are dry ones which I like. It's also fun to have Gewurtraminer, a really different white wine that is packed with rich, spicy flavor. I’d try either a French or German producer for the Gewurtz. If you do try to buy a German wine for a Riesling, look for the word Kabinett along with the word Trocken, which would mean it's a little dryer. Unless you're going for a sweet Riesling, in which case Halbtrocken. The sweetest Riesling dessert wines are pricey: Auslese, Spatlese, and Beerenauslese. If you check the alcohol content that will also clue you into the sweetness: around 12 shouldn't be very sweet, lower is sweeter. Prost!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Luscious Cocktails for the Well-Heeled



My very good friend James recently brought me to Olives, the ground-floor bar at the W Hotel near Union Square. Ws are hot stuff--chi-chi boutique hotels that have been springing up all over the world (23 at last count). They refer to themselves as a “global lifestyle brand.” At $500 a night for a double room, this certainly isn’t my lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean I can’t stop in for a drink!
The slender cocktail menu has pages of delicious choices. I opt for the exotic Lychee Martini: Skyy Vodka, lychee nectar, and Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut Rosé. The drink is white and cloudy. Its flavor is rich; its texture pulpy. It’s like a pina colada that went to finishing school.
James has wisely chosen a Pomegranate Sour: Skyy Vodka, pomegranate molasses (!), and sour mix. I enjoy my drink, but after one sip of his tangy and sweet elixir I’m jealous.
The place is a scene. It’s barely 6 p.m on a Friday and already every chocolate leather banquet and pouf is taken. My mission is finding us seats—his is getting the drinks. After we both accomplish our goals, we are happily seated back-to-back with other imbibers on the stretch of banquet that runs the length of the floor to ceiling windows. We watch amused as the pedestrians tug on their umbrellas and get splashed by oncoming traffic. It’s good to be inside on this miserable night, drinking expensive cocktails.
We are sitting opposite two women who could be twins. Each one has perfectly highlighted blonde hair, black pants and sweaters, and—this is the kicker—identical square cut diamond rings that appear to be at least three carats each.
Women dripping logos like Chanel and Prada, men in beautifully cut suits, young business people checking their Ipones, it’s a well-off after work crowd mixed with hotel guests, all enjoying their drinks and the beautiful bar.
As I drain my drink, a lovely surprise: a glossy white lychee had been lying at the bottom of my glass. I pluck it out and bite into its succulent flesh. For a moment, I am transported back to the rainforest of Australia, where I ate a lychee straight from the tree.
Then I shake off the revelry and grab my coat. At $14 a pop, one round is all we will have tonight at Olives.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Women for Winesense at Passione

I just joined Women for Winesense and attended my first event last week, a four-course wine dinner at Passione in Montclair, NJ. I heard about this group previously but had a bit of trouble locating them until Manoavino posted their event. I was pleased (and a little surprised) to discover that this was a snob-free gathering of gregarious bon vivants. The dinner was held in a private room and we had several tables pushed together so we made a big rectangle of 17 wine lovers—lots of lovely ladies (and a few gents) of various ages and levels of wine knowledge.
The group is all about education, and that night we had full paragraph descriptions of all of the five wines we tried, as well as a little oral presentation on all of them. I appreciated that one wine was from a variety I’d never tried, the rolle grape.
Dinner was very nice, although I’d say the start--a rich squash bisque with pancetta--and the finish-- apple torte with praline ice cream--were the highlights. Best wine of the night? I really enjoyed the Bordeaux poured with our main course, Chateau Tour Marcillanet Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois. However, we also sipped a lovely Trimbach Gewurtraminer from Alsace, and the memory of its tangy, full bodied flavor remained with me the next day.
WWS gets together about once a month except for a summer break. You don’t have to be a member to attend. I’m looking forward to more lovely evenings in the company of fellow wine lovers. Salut!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Drink (and eat) French at Brasserie Les Halles


I first learned about Brasserie Les Halles when I read Anthony Bourdain’s riveting memoir, Kitchen Confidential. While Bourdain has moved on to bigger things (his TV show No Reservations), the Brasserie where he got his groove on, cooking-wise, is still a staple of the New York restaurant scene.
I dined at the Park Avenue location (there’s also one downtown) on a recent Friday night and was immensely pleased. The large wine list is printed on laminated, broadsheet-sized paper: whites and by-the-glass menu on one side, reds on the other. The bar is beautiful white marble and, trés français, there is a silver punchbowl filled with icy water chilling bottles of champagne on it. Their menu includes some wonderful wines that aren’t usually featured in single pours. I choose the 2003 Louis Latour Puligny Montrachet at $17.50 a glass. This goes on record as the most I’ve ever paid for a glass of wine. However, compared with buying an entire bottle (an extravagance I couldn’t justify at the restaurant-markup price), getting a glass for under $20 was a relative bargain. They’ll also pour you a glass of Taittinger Brut or Prestige Rosé Brut for $16.50 or $19.50 respectively. Other treats include a Pessac-Léognan Chateau Larrivet-Haut-Brion, a red Bordeaux, for $19.50, and branching out beyond the French stuff, Californian Cabernet from Provenance for $17.50 and a Chardonnay from Hanzell for $19.50. Yes, there are much cheaper pours, but I was tickled to see such exciting by-the-glass options.
But, back to my wine. I remember well that 2003 was the year of France’s deadly heatwave. When I was in Burgundy in 2007, I tried a lot of red 2003s, which were richer than normal due to the tremendous ripeness of the fruit that year. But when I tasted the Puligny Montrachet (a white Burgundy) there was no overabundance of fruit. It was very well balanced: the fruit was there, but restrained, and the influence of the oak enhanced it beautifully. It had the fragrance of candied walnuts. Two of my friends who joined me that night were dyed-in-the-wool red wine drinkers, and even they were wowed by this expressive white wine.
Our dinners were wonderful—steaks are heavily featured on the menu, and my friends and I all ordered different cuts. My hanger steak with shallot sauce was delicious, and the Bernaise sauce that my friends enjoyed with their steak was perfect. We naturally had a bottle of red wine with our meals, and I choose a 2003 St. Emillion “Les Halles”, bottled for the restaurant from Chateau Toinet Fombrauge (a reasonable $38). This was a big wine (once again the heatwave vintage) dark in color (although difficult to judge in the dimly lit restaurant) with lots of tannin and fruit. A delicious accompaniment to the juicy steaks.
The red wine section reads like a wine map of France: Alsace, Bourgogne, Beaujolais, Provence, Languedoc-Roussilon, Sud-Ouest, Vallée de la Loire, Vallée du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and Bordeaux are all represented. A few other countries have wines listed, too, but honestly, with so much delicious French wine to choose from, and while eating all the classic French food from the menu, I don’t know why you’d bother. This restaurant has all the French brasserie specialities: steak and moules frites, cassoulet, a house paté, and much, much more. If you long to eat and drink French, and are in the mood for brasserie fare (rather than break-the-bank gourmet cooking), Brasserie Les Halles fits the bill.

Monday, September 15, 2008

If a Vodka Tonic Were a Wine…


Summer’s not done yet, as evidenced by a weekend of hell-like humidity hovering around 72% and heat around 90 degrees here in NJ. The furnace blast upon leaving our air-cooled home wilted our clan as we cheered son Dylan’s first outing in the WOHS Marching Band during an afternoon home game (West Orange creamed Bayonne 47-6).
Stopping by Home Liquors later, I blew some of my NJ Homestead Rebate check on an assortment of wines.
I picked up a Spanish white that was not only unfamiliar, but also unpronounceable: Txomin Etxaniz Getaria 2007. Reading up on it online, I discovered that it’s similar to Portugal’s Vinho Verde. It comes from a tiny region in northeast Spain, close to San Sebastian in Basque country.
I chilled it well and served it over ice, just to add to the refreshment. I was tickled to see that it has a little spritz and bubbled slightly as I poured. It even looked refreshing: near-transparent with the faintest hint of yellow. It has a fresh, crisp scent and the flavor really wakes up your mouth—zesty, full-on lime. This wine is a wonderful, cooling palate pleaser on a sticky night. Its alcohol is on the low side, at 11 %.
I’m not much for mixed drinks anymore, but it’s hard to argue with the hot weather appeal of a nice vodka tonic. Now I have a wine that refreshes equally well, with a mouth puckering lime flavor to boot.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Horsing Around at the Saratoga Wine Festival








This year my indefatigable friend Lori joined me in New York State for the annual Saratoga Wine and Food Festival. This well attended fest in the heart of race country was fun, fun, fun.
First of all, the food was divine--and plentiful. Local restaurants served up osso bucco, pulled pork, sushi, squash bisque, blueberry cobbler, and more, all adorably arranged on tiny plexi-glass plates. The crowd was upscale—tickets were, after all, $80—but quite friendly, a nice combination for our day’s drinking partners.
We really enjoyed the lecture by Burt Wolf, pictured above with me, and Kevin Zraly, my old Windows on the World Wine School teacher.
We also enjoyed meeting the guys (and tasting the mouthwatering samples) from Brooklyn’s own Wine Cellar Sorbets and mixing with the other gregarious attendees. I give this wine festival two thumbs way up. The fest was well-managed, the crowd was great, and the wine and food lasted until the end. Next September, I recommend to all Northeast wine lovers to check out Saratoga. But for now, enjoy the photos from this year’s event.

Register Today for Discover the Wine Regions of France

There’s still time to register for my class at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School for just $18! Follow this link and scroll down to see all the details. I hope some of you can join me for a fun night discussing the prestigious wine regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and the Loire Valley. Come see a slide presentation and you’ll be sure to learn something new about these beautiful wine-producing regions. The early-bird price ends tomorrow, so sign up today!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Toast to Back to School

It finally came—the end of the summer. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved the season in New Jersey. We enjoyed sunshiney, blue sky days that stretched for weeks at a time. But for our family, late August meant camp was over, day care was sketchy, and Sponge Bob and Guitar Hero were constantly on the tube, often at the same time on different floors.
So, this week I’m raising a glass to school starting again. And speaking of the end of summer, as I put away my Capri pants and sandals, I’ll also be taking my last sips of the luscious pink Tavels and racy Sauvignon Blancs I’ve been drinking. Because when the sweaters coming out of the closets, the big reds return to my wine rack. In the warm months, I sipped a few Beaujolais, but unless I was grilling steak, I steered clear of the heavier stuff. But by the time October rolls around, I’ll be well into the Cabernets, Zinfandels, and Shiraz again.
So here’s to school in session! The kids are well-occupied and properly stimulated. And I’ve got one last bottle of Sancerre in the fridge waiting for the perfect Indian summer evening.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wine Geeks Will Love Bottle Shock


My friend Joli and I hopped in her trusty Subaru Outback and headed down to Maplewood to catch the Saturday night screening of Bottle Shock. Was this a great movie? No. It was light as a Muscadet sur Lie, a little frizzante, and perhaps lacking structure.
Alan Rickman (J’s fave) is the centerpiece of the film. He plays Steven Spurrier, the stuffy proprietor of a Parisian wine shop who decides to organize a blind tasting of the best French and California wines. To even compare the two country’s wine was heresy in wine circles, truly dramatic stuff. But instead of delving too deeply into the wine world, the film focuses on the motley crew of California wine makers, including Bill Pullman playing the patriarch of Chateau Montelena, his prodigal son played by the shaggy-haired and denim-clad hunk Chris Pine, and the other hippies/farmers/Mexicans who populated the rolling brown hills of Napa Valley. Wine geeks will love the oenological references, like the time when the Chardonnay turned brown and the wine workers drove their beat up pickup truck in the direction of Davis – nudge, nudge, wink, wink: UC Davis, home to one of the world’s most esteemed wine programs!
One of the most memorable scenes takes place in Joe’s, the local bar. A young Mexican-American is about to hustle the patrons in a blind tasting. But one of the local yokels shouts, “Any a**hole can tell a Zinfandel from a Cabernet!” Love that line! Then the young man correctly identifies not only the grapes, but the vintage and producer of three masked wines. Now, I don’t live in California, but this type of down-market bar doesn’t seem like it would have a bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc in the back, but it does.
I’m not sure that a better movie couldn’t have been made about this historic event which put California wines on the map and changed the wine world forever. For a more complete telling of the story, I’d read George Taber’s book, Judgment of Paris (Taber was the only journalist who witnessed the actual event.) But like a Tuesday night, poolside wine, this movie satisfied a craving for something enjoyable and not too heavy.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Snazzy New Store Simplifies Wine


Best Cellars, a chain of wine stores that originated in Manhattan, has come to West Orange on Pleasant Valley Way in the old Blockbuster video space. This weekend is their opening celebration, and tonight they poured an interesting selection from their well-priced wines. Starting with a sparkling white from New Mexico, of all places, which is actually made in the methode champenoise. Who knew? This fizzy treat was light and fruity. And speaking of fizzy, that’s one of the “I get it” wine descriptors that are the hallmark of the chain.
Josh Wesson originally founded the stores before selling them to A&P. He’s kept an active role as Senior Director of Wine, Beer, and Spirits. Josh was on hand tonight and I had the chance to speak with him about the store. He created the easy-to-relate-to labels for the wines, and it’s what makes his store perfect for those who are intimidated by traditional wine shops.
If you like one "fresh" white, like Sauvignon Blanc, and you’re looking to try something new, well, hey, there’s Pinot Grigio on the same shelf. Wines are grouped by color and style, not country or, even necessarily grape. As one helpful associate explained, Merlot could sit in three different areas: with juicy, soft, or big reds depending on the style of the wine, whether it was oaked, where was it grown, etc. Popular wines are well represented (there’s a section of top ten wines in a variety of styles), but also you’ll see some lesser known but delicious choices.
The Best Cellars staff pride themselves on tasting all the selections themselves, and, as Josh explained, the store offers a guarantee of satisfaction. If you don’t like the wine, bring it back. Since buying an unknown wine is always a risk, that’s a nice way to encourage people to try something new.
I should also mention that the store itself has a fun atmosphere, with punchy colors and a fashionable feel. It’s not so big that it would overwhelm you, but, like Noah’s Ark, there seem to be at least a couple of everything you’d need.
The other hallmark of the store is price. The major focus of the store is a wall of bottles arranged by style, all priced $15.00 and below. As one sales person said, “Many of them taste well above the price.”
For traditionalists and those who want to spend more, there is a smaller section of wine that is divvied up by country. These you could spend as much as $30 or so on. I saw a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc I thought I’d try, and I was pleased to see they carried Veuve Clicquot and Grgich Hills.
This weekend is a great time to stop by as the festivities continue tomorrow with WCBS-FM visiting and more free tasting and give-aways. Given the value, convenience, and intriguing selection, I’m sure I’ll be spending a lot more time here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jacks! For Drinks

The Jersey City Hyatt opened in 2002, but it still looks brand-spanking new. The 350-room hotel faces the Hudson River and exudes both comfort and elegance. The secret that’s hidden from street-view is a breezy terrace projecting from the rear of the building.
One day, my pal James and I strolled over, wondering if there was an outdoor bar. We spoke to an attractive desk clerk who told us there wasn’t a bar, per se, but there was Jacks. Jacks is a summer-only happy hour every Wednesday night out back on the patio. Marking our calendars in eager anticipation, we looked forward to hump day.
Last night, we made it over to the Hyatt and were not disappointed. A limited amount of drinks were served—bottles of bud light, taps of Stella Artois and Hoeegarten, and a fun assortment of pre-mixed drinks ready to pour: red Sangria, Mojitos, and Margaritas. James and I can never turn down Sangria, and their version was heavy on the wine. It hit the spot. The view of lower Manhattan was spectacular. The air last night was crystal clear. It looked like we could touch the glass windows of the skyscrapers across the river, which shone beautifully, reflecting the sky’s pink sunset glow.
A thick crowd of business people mixed at high tops and relaxed in patio chairs at lower tables. The imbibers reflected the international crowd that is Jersey City: Indian, European, Latin, and mixed-heritage Americans like us. Pinstripes were a popular fashion statement, and the business crowd looked happy to postpone their commute home in favor of drinks al fresco.
Mixed nuts and snacks were plentiful in silver globes that were heavy enough to resist the winds that scattered our cocktail napkins. The breeze got heavier, the air got cooler, our last glass of Sangria was drained, and the beer taps were oozing foam. James and I joined the rest of the business people trailing off to the Path Train, Light Rail, and cars. We faced the remaining work week a little happier, thanks to a Wednesday night boost from Jacks.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Meet Me at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School

Attention North Jersey wine lovers! I am extending an invitation to you to attend a class I’m teaching at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School: DISCOVER THE WINE REGIONS OF FRANCE. This one night class-- on October 22 from 7-9 p.m.-- highlights my recent trips to Burgundy, Bordeaux, and the Loire and Champagne regions. I’ll narrate a slide presentation and provide lots of information about what’s grown where, how to get around, tips for getting into Chateaux and much more! Click here and scroll down to see class information or to register. I hope you can join me in South Orange for a fun night talking about French wine and travel. If you register by September 10, the cost is only $18. Feel free to email me at dianeswines@verizon.net for more information. Cheers!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Sip in Time

This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday asked us to go back to a wine we drank back in the day. So, I’m thinking early 1990s, on a trip to visit my dear friend Bernadette out in San José. I saw her a few times when she lived there, and we always fit in a trip to Napa or Sonoma. Living in California, she got into wine before I did, and I was impressed when she and her husband would talk about the Chardonnay they were pouring with dinner in their little house with the lime trees in the back.
Gallo was still one of the biggest names in wine, and our excursions often included visiting their tasting room, which was large, impressive, and ready to welcome busloads of tourists. In those early days, learning about wine was new and exciting, and to my young mind, it reeked of a sophistication I was yearning to have.
So for this month, I picked up a Gallo Chardonnay. This one was the 2005 Sonoma Reserve. The front of the bottle includes four little gold medal seals, and the back label talks about the fact that Gallo has won Winery of the Year multiple times.
Gallo is a name I avoid in wine stores, not because I don’t think they can’t make decent wines now, but because of bad associations with the large jug of Hearty Burgundy that I often saw poured at my Italian family dinners. The jug packaging, the false use of a French appellation, it all adds up to bad memories of American wine making.
But I keep an open mind as I pour this wine, which has a pleasing light gold color. I get full-on fruit at the nose, mostly yellow apples and over-ripe cantaloupe. The taste continues with lots of fruit, but there’s a fair share of oak—although not nearly as heavy- handed as I was expecting. The oak somewhat flattens the fruit flavors without really enhancing them. The bottom line was this was a very fruity chard, 13.9% alcohol (what did they do to get it below 14, I wonder?), which, according to the label, was aged partially in French and American oak. I prefer a dry Chard—give me a Chablis or Macon--or, if oak is involved, yes, I’ll take a Burgundy style, thank you very much. So, the style was not my preference. It is a pleasing wine, though, nothing really offensive (except perhaps the over-ripe quality), and, when all is said and done, I’m sure that many people would like it very much. So, thanks to Lenn for suggesting a trip back in time. The wine was o.k., but the memories were much better.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Swilling at the Sirloin Saloon

Having a New England getaway for a few days, starting with a big family reunion in Manchester, VT. Last night our party of 16 gathered at a hopping restaurant where steak is king--the Sirloin Saloon.
Since I dine so much in New York City, it's always interesting to check out the food scene in other parts of the country. This restaurant is carnivore heaven. My husband ordered a Fred Flintstone size prime rib; the huge rare cut was pooling blood. Yabba Dabba Doo!! I enjoyed rib eye, which was delicious despite being cooked more than the medium rare I ordred.
So, with all this meat, naturally our eyes gravitated to the red section of the wine list. The Cabernet selection was small but serviceable: four Californians. My husband's cousin is a true Californian down to her love of wine, so I asked her which one she would choose. We settled on Sterling Vintner 2005. It was deep red, so full-bodied it was almost heavy, alcohol 13.5%, firm tannins, and maybe a smidgen of sediment. This big wine was great with the juicy steaks.
As the meal progressed and the alcohol flowed, a flurry of limerick writing broke out at the table. Suddenly various in-laws -- father, brother, and sister--were putting pen to napkin in a hilarious bout of literary one-upmanship.
Laughing at the ridiculous rhymes that followed, the family enjoyed the entertainment, although it was certainly not our best work. But there were no critics at the table. No, we were having a raucous good time, enjoying the pleasure of each other's company and the All-American food and wine. The evening ended with more wine quaffed out of plastic cups in the hotel parking lot while our kids lit sparklers. A fine end to a beautiful summer evening.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Nosing in on wine tasting

The humble nose is a part of the body that never gets much attention (unless we’re talking Extreme Makeover) , but is absolutely critical to our appreciation of wine, not to mention food in general. I’ve heard this point made before, but it was brought to mind by an article in yesterday’s New York Times. Natalie Angier talked about an experiment that Dr. Rachel Herz of Brown University has people try: eat a handful of Jelly Bellies, one at a time, and concentrate on the vividly distinct flavors. Then she asks them to hold their nose as they chew…the candies are still sweet, but it’s impossible to tell if that yellow bean is lemon or buttered popcorn. When the nostrils are released, the flavors come flooding back. That’s because our tongue is poorly equipped for tasting, only perceiving sweet, salty, sour, and bitter flavors. The rest of what we consider our sense of taste actually happens because of our sense of smell.
Distinguishing the scents in wine can be a challenge, but it helps if your sense of smell is functioning correctly. I never even bother drinking wine when I’m stuffed up—the flavor and smell are far too diminished to enjoy it.
It seems to me that the finer the wine, the more I love to smell it. The best way to take advantage of that pleasure is to pour a shallow amount in a large wine glass. Give it a good swirl to agitate the molecules—more aromas will be released. Then stick your nose all the way in and inhale deeply. For a fine Burgundy, you may smell leather, crushed leaves, and, one of my favorites, barnyard odors. The more smells I can distinguish, the more pleasurable the wine drinking experience often is. I have learned to appreciate the smelling of wine, to the point where I sometimes put off even having a sip, as I leisurely enjoy swirling and sniffing.
Exploring our much neglected sense of smell is one of the chief pleasures of drinking fine wine. I liken it to looking at a beautiful oil painting. At first, the image is a whole, but then we begin to notice individual colors, brush strokes, pleasing composition. While paintings can be viewed again, drinking a good bottle is a transient pleasure. So breathe in, and make the most of it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Speed Over to Bar Veloce for Vino

Having rhapsodized recently about Bordeaux’s CIVB wine bar, I decided I needed to spend more time checking out the New York wine scene. Which brought me to Bar Veloce, a dimly lit, highly stylized wine bar on Seventh Avenue (there are also Soho and East Village locations) serving a wide variety of interesting Italian wines.
The narrow space is sparely decorated with natural wood and black metal. An exposed brick wall is lined with 2x4s that have been inventively modified as wine storage. Stripes of dark and light bottles are artistically lit from behind. The light gently penetrates the white wines bottles, giving off golden spotlights.
Last night the bar was completely packed, but my friend and I squeezed into a couple seats in the back. From there, we faced a flatscreen showing old Italian films subtitled in English. Our bar tender, an engaging young man nattily dressed in a dark suit and tie, knew his selections well. We were also assisted by the menu’s helpful tasting notes.
I’m no expert when it comes to Italian wine, and I was unfamiliar with most of the choices—a good thing! I appreciate being introduced to different varietals. Now I’ll contradict myself by saying I choose the only red I knew: a Montepulciano. This 2006 had rich fruit, nice acid, and light tannins--yum.
My dear friend Lauren amplified my tastings by trying an assortment of the other reds—and being willing to share. The most interesting wine of the night was a Poggio l’Aiole 2003. It was aged five years in cement barriques. The tasting notes mentioned cloves and this wine was SPICY! Very distinctive stuff. I had a few sips, but I really need to sit down with a glass or two of my own to analyze it further.
I enjoyed the comfortable, upscale atmosphere. We had come for an after-dinner drink and this bar fit the bill perfectly. The bar does offer small plates of food—a good and bad thing, in my opinion. The food looked tasty, but the smell of it cooking (there seems to be no kitchen in the back and I believe we were seated directly by the Panini press) was a distraction from the wine tasting.
I’ve read that Italy has more miles of vineyards than anywhere in the world and that it has scores of varietals planted. Bar Veloce goes beyond the straw Chianti bottle and introduces adventurous imbibers to intriguing and unknown Italian wines.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Chalk one up for the Romans

Reims, FR—This busy city, 90 miles east of Paris, has a deep sense of history. Its much-acclaimed gothic cathedral was the coronation site for French kings. But this town’s history reaches even further back to antiquity. It was the Romans who dug out the chalky limestone to build a city on this site. The French word for chalk is craie, and in Reims you won’t hear talk about wine caves, but you will be directed to the crayères if you want to see where the city’s coveted Champagne is aged.
On a wonderful tour at Veuve Clicquot, we viewed a tiny portion of their crayères, warren-like tunnels that extend 24 kilometers! Unlike the moldy, low-ceiling cellars we found in Epernay, the tunnels here are airy because the Romans included vents that reach open air, keeping the walls clean. It’s fascinating that the conditions in these chalk tunnels are perfect for wine storage, possessing both the correct temperature (about 55 degrees F) and the right humidity. Pushing my finger to a wall, I discovered that it released small beads of water and it gave a little--you can scrape a bit of Reims off if you like. My souvenir, however, was far more delectable: a bottle of 1991 vintage Veuve Clicquot. That bottle safely made it to my thoroughly modern NJ home, where it awaits a suitably spectacular occasion for opening.

Bacchus and the Goddess of Wine Carved in the Wall at the Veuve Clicquot Crayères

Friday, July 18, 2008

Yankees Charmed By French Manners


Wine travel is fascinating way to meet local people and absorb the culture. In my recent trip to France, I discovered the exceptionally gracious manners of the people of the Loire Valley. On each day of our visit, my traveling companion and I were delighted by the extremely polite, albeit completely down-to-earth, people we encountered. Every time we entered a shop or a restaurant, it never failed that we were greeted with a cheerful Bonjour. Whenever we purchased something, it was a grateful smile accompanied by an “Au revoir, Merci”. Leaving a bakery with our lunch of quiche lorraine and fruit tartlettes, we were sent on our way with a pleasant “Bonne journee.” While bonjour is used in greeting, this phrase is used in parting--it’s the equivalent of telling someone to enjoy the rest of your day. We were most struck by the genteel exchange that is so natural for these français while dining at an outdoor café in the medieval town of Chinon. As we leisurely ate our salads and croque monsieurs and indulged in a pichet of local rosé wine, a pleasant-looking old woman pushed a walker in front of our table. She paused and said “Bon Appetit.” What a generous spirit she showed—to observe us at table and feel moved to wish us to enjoy our food. We did enjoy a perfectly wonderful lunch even more, thanks to this dear’s lady’s wishes for our good appetite.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

2008 Golden Wagon Film Festival Wine Tasting—Saturday!

It’s one of my favorite wine events of the summer, and I think I’m going to miss it. But that’s no reason for anyone reading within an hour of so of Long Island not to go. Of course I’m talking about the Wine Tasting event that’s part of the Golden Wagon Film Festival on Fire Island. While the island has been given the moniker “land of no” because of all its bizarre regulations (don’t try drinking the lemonade you just bought from those kids on the corner—it’s illegal to eat as you walk), it really is a summertime “land of fun.” And for my money--$25 to be exact—nothing is as fun as attending this low-key wine fest on the dock overlooking Long Island Sound. Apparently movie star and all-round local community guy Steve Guttenberg will make an appearance. Never mind the celebs, it’s the wine and cheese that will star. So, check the Saturday ferry schedule, and go, please. Have a glass of Paumanok for me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Best Lil’ Wine Bar in the World


O.K., maybe there is a better wine bar, somewhere, somehow, but in all my years of drinking fermented grape juice, nothing, but nothing compares to the CIVB Wine Bar. What, you ask, is the CIVB? In French, le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux, basically The Bordeaux Wine Council.
This organization, which is based in the heart of this historic city, is dedicated to promoting Bordeaux Wines. They run a very nice wine school, where anyone can take extremely informative two-hour wine tasting classes. For all but the hardcore, morning classes mandate spitting, and this place has the coolest chrome spit sinks built into the long white tables. Last fall, I was lucky enough to attend a class taught by the charming and articulate British wine writer, Jane Anson.
I didn’t know the Council ran a wine bar until my pal, Connie choose it as the place where we could reconnect. The bar has several posh seating areas with amorphous shaped cushions and comfortable crescent banquettes. There is also sidewalk seating outside. But it was a hot day in this southern city, and I was happy to cool down in the beautiful bar. A wall-sized stained glass picture of Bacchus brought an exceptionally upscale feel to the space.
When I looked at the menu, I was blown away. I never saw so many fine Bordeaux appellations on a by-the-glass menu. There were at least six different white Bordeaux, a handful of rosé, and a good dozen reds to choose from. More than the titillating selection, the CIVB wine bar has extremely knowledgeable, yet down-to-earth, staff who really know wine. Our waiter was a thin Brit with a brush of sandy hair and a cockney accent who told us about subtle differences among the offerings. He had the gift of being able to describe the wines in a way that made them very clear without resorting to any incomprehensible wine speak—no small feat.
Connie and I savored the crisp and fruity white Bordeaux, while my husband had a lip-smacking rosé that was redolent of strawberries.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Connie told me that the menu changes every few weeks, so there are always new producers to try. She felt it was a wonderful place to have a drink because they have so many fine bottles of Bordeaux available by the glass. I am in complete happy agreement—and only wish they’d open up a location in NYC. But for now, when ever I’m in Bordeaux again, I’m sure to stop in my favorite wine bar in all the world.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bound for Bordeaux



I am besides myself with excitement as I pack up for 10 days in France. My itinerary criss-crosses the country to some of the top wine regions.
I’ll start in Bordeaux, where I’ll meet up with Cornelia Blume, a friend from Vitivinitour Then I’ll meet Randolph Resnick, a new online acquaintance from Open Wine Consortium, for an international meet up on the banks of the Garonne River.
Although it’s been only 9 months since I was there, Bordeaux is on my agenda again because it’s the biennial wine festival—too good of an opportunity to miss. There will be massive tastings, parades, fireworks, barrel-rolling, and wine, wine, wine. But not just any wine. The best of the best. After all, this is Bordeaux, the wine region chosen by Napoleon III to represent France at the 1855 World’s Fair. Stay tuned for more trip details, and if an internet café is in the offing, a little blogging from the road.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

So Close and Yet So Far

As a preparation for my upcoming trip to France, I’ve been drinking some of the local wines. This past weekend I did a side by side comparison of two Loire Valley wines—one Sancerre and one Pouilly-Fumé. I have enjoyed both of these wines before, especially Pouilly-Fumé, which is one of my all-time favorite wines.
Before I get to the tasting, consider the facts. Both wines are 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Both are grown in the far eastern Loire Valley. The towns are only 20 minute drive from each other (I checked). So, we know the grapes are being exposed to the same amount of sunshine & rain, experiencing the same daily temperature. Sancerre is a little to the north and on the left bank of the Loire. The town of Pouilly-sur-Loire (one of a handful of villages that produces Pouilly-Fumé) is a little further south and on the right bank.
All things considered, you would think that these two wines taste pretty similar. Well, think again. It really amazed me to taste each of them side by side. The Pouilly-Fumé is a bigger wine—more fruit, more intensity, more of the interesting characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc, the fresh cut grass, the zest of grapefruit, although it was far more restrained than the way these flavors show up in a New Zealand SB. In contrast, the Sancerre had more of a perfumed, floral nose. It was all elegance on the palate: crisp acidity and lighter fruit. The Pouilly-Fumé is still my favorite, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Sancerre as well, and I can see instances in which the more restrained Sancerre might be easier to match with food.
My side by side tasting demonstrated to me, as nothing else could, that terroir is more than just a fancy French word that wine geeks like to throw around. The soil in which these grapes are grown and the microclimate of the vineyards produced very different wines, despite all the other similarities.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #46 -- Rhone Whites

Wine Blogging Wednesday is here and the electricity isn’t, thanks to a fire at the transformer station and a nasty thunderstorm. In fact, my county declared a state of emergency today. So I’m out on the grass of my front yard (it’s getting dark in the house), draining my laptop’s battery as well as my wine glass. The posting will wait until Thursday, because the blackout knocked out my WiFi.
I actually visited the Rhone River, and really tied one on with some red CDR (talk about rustic!) at a youth hostel in Avignon (but that’s another story). However, I never tried a white, so I turned to a really helpful employee at the Wine Library (Gary Vee’s domain), who pointed me towards the Domaine Philippe Plantevin 2005 Côtes de Rhone for $19.00. In a departure from the usual French labeling, the back label provided detailed information about the blend: 40% Viognier, 30% Grenache, and 30% Marsanne.
I opened the bottle two nights ago and was knocked out by the high acidity. Tonight, I wondered if it would have softened a day after opening. It did, barely. I can enjoy many wines on their own, but to me, this is definitely a food wine. I took out some creamy goat cheese and the acids were tamed by its richness.
On the nose, there are a lot of interesting things going on. I get a little bit of lemon, a hint of peach, the barest amount of floral. It’s a pleasing aroma and quite full. The color is mid-range for a white wine, not quite golden but darker than straw. For a wine that’s three years old, the Domaine Phillipe had a tremendous amount of fruit. The acid was so high that it really left things a bit unbalanced, although I did enjoy the wine’s fresh fruit. The finish was scant. This wine isn’t my style, but I’m curious about trying other white Rhones now to see how they compare.

Friday, June 6, 2008

LI Arrest Prompts Manhattan Galleries to Serve—Gasp—Seltzer!


I went to an art opening in Manhattan last night on 25th Street, which is a veritable Gallery Row in Chelsea. The street was hopping with art lovers taking in a number of openings.
Now you can’t always count on the art being good, or even understandable, at these opening night parties, but one thing you can always count on is wine being served. But the rules have changed in NYC. The Memorial Day weekend arrest of Long Island gallery owner Ruth Vered (see related story) has some of the Chelsea galleries shaken up. Vered, an art scene veteran who owns a gallery in East Hampton, refused to stop serving alcohol after the police showed up. She was carted off to headquarters in handcuffs.
An assistant at Lohin Geduld Gallery said Vered’s arrest caused them to serve only seltzer that night. “And it’s not even like we serve anything expensive. It’s, like, $7.00 for a double bottle.” So now we know that even when the galleries pour wine, they’re doing it as cheaply as possible. O.K., that really wasn’t a surprise.
At CUE Art Foundation gallery a few doors down, wine was being served at a book signing party. I asked a gallery worker about the LI arrest and their decision: “Yeah, we heard about it, but we’re pouring wine anyway. Let them come arrest us.” He told me they would probably starting buying permits in the fall.
A one day permit to pour wine at this type of event costs $31. But according to the gallery people I spoke to, it’s more the inconvenience than the cost. “The permit is for only one day. You have to buy a permit every day you want to pour wine.” As one attendee said, “You’d think the police would have better things to do.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pouilly Travels--Part Deux


Last spring I traveled to the land of Pouilly-Fuissé. The wine is grown in the southern reaches of Burgundy, where the unoaked chardonnays are dry as a bone. I even stayed in the village at the Bergerie Fuissé, a bucolic B& B that faces a hillside of chardonnay vines and has beautiful white hens prancing in the yard.
In a few weeks, I’ll be in the land of the other Pouilly—-Pouilly Fumé, the world-famous Sauvignon Blanc grown in the Loire Valley west of Paris. Long before wine lovers ever heard of Marlborough, NZ, Pouilly Fumé was the measure of a Sauvignon Blanc--fresh with a bracing minerality. It was the first SB I had ever tried and I immediately fell in love with it. I do enjoy those new world SBs, too, with all that grapefruit and fresh cut grass, but they can sometimes seem disorganized and all over the place in their flavor profile. A little too herbaceous, a little too over-the-top citrus. That’s never a concern with Pouilly Fumé—it’s always an elegant expression of this very expressive grape.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dîner Sur L’Herb

Late spring is bringing gorgeous weather here in the northeast. The sky is periwinkle blue. The young maples along our hill are rustling. The local blue jays are calling. I’m enjoying it all from my screened porch, a perfect spot for warm-weather blogging.
Now that June has arrived, squeezing in time outside is a priority—even on busy weeknights, we take short strolls to see whose azaleas are blooming. Friday night the family packed up a picnic dinner—casual fare of hamburgers wrapped in foil, fruit salad, wine for the grown-ups, and birch beer for the kids. We had an urgent need to visit the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens while they were still at their peak.
These gardens in Montclair, NJ are remarkable. The word iris comes from the Greek goddess of the rainbow, and irises have the widest range of colors of any flower. Hundreds of varieties are represented here, and the colors are spectacular: deepest purple, pale white with yellow beards, orange, ruby red, soft blues. Some have lovely color combinations. Petals may be pale orange at the outer edges and their color gradually deepens to a rich garnet closer to the flower’s core. For 80 years this garden has been a tourist destination as well as a harbinger of summer.
Our picnic was set above the gardens under a sassafras tree. We spread our blanket and ate our modest dinner while viewing the colorful gardens spread out below us. My husband and I enjoyed more of the 1998 Ferrari Carano Chardonnay. Its flavor showed even more complex fruit flavors that night—citrus notes, a little bitter orange peel, mixed with tart apple. It glowed golden in our wine glasses (no plastic cups for us). I thought of the famous painting by Manet, Dejeuner Sur L’Herb. The pleasures represented in the painting and in our evening are timeless: nature at its peak, good food, good wine, and gathering with friends.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Flurry of Festivals


If you’re making travel plans for the summer--or the rest of the year--take a look at The Big List of Festivals on localwineevents.com. It seems that no matter which direction you’re headed, there’s a wine festival on the calendar. Starting this weekend, Taste of Pennsylvania Wine and Music Festival, a small event in close by York, PA features six bands and ten wineries—wish I could bring the kids along, but it’s over 18 only. Venturing farther afield this weekend, Vintage Virginia is a larger party down in Centreville, VA. Planning your vacation around a wine festival will land you in some pretty beautiful spots. How about a spring break at the Aspen Food and Wine Classic? A summer weekend in Santa Barbara at the California Wine Festival? Or spending a winter weekend basking in sunshine and drinking wine at the Cabo San Lucas International Wine Festival January 16-19, 2009? More than 200 festivals are listed all around the world. Start packing!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Can I get that Jeroboam to go?


The wine tasting class I took through the Caldwell Adult School culminated in a festive wine dinner at Luce. Our teacher, Dan Kifner, brought out many special wines for the occasion, including this large bottle of 1998 Ferrari-Carano Alexander Valley Chardonnay. About 40 folks sampled this bottle, and it was only half drunk by the end of the night (as opposed to the wine dinner attendees, who were wholly drunk by the end of the night).
I was always intrigued by the names of larger bottles of wine. They start with a Magnum, which is 1.5 liters. Then you move on to a 4.5 liter bottle, known as a Jeroboam. It holds six standard-size bottles of wine. The name comes from a rather naughty Israelite king who brought back golden calves among other sinful moves. Then there’s Methuselah, the longest living man in Genesis, weighing in at six liters. The largest bottles are Salmanazar, an Assyrian king (9 liters), Balthazar, a Babylonian king and big partier (12 liters), and they top out at Nebuchadnezzar, another Babylonian king who is remembered for destroying the Temple of Solomon and having a really fun name (15 liters).
At the end of our dinner Dan told me I could take the half-full Jeroboam. The still- heavy bottle stood upright in my trunk for the short ride. Once home, I transferred the contents to three empty wine bottles and put rubber stoppers into them.
I am still working my way through the remains of the Jeroboam. As for the wine itself, this California Chardonnay is a decade old, and it has aged beautifully. The color is of burnished gold. It tastes like granny smith apples and bosch pears drizzled with honey. One bottle of the 1998 sells for about $35, so I came home with over $90 worth of chard--the best leftovers I've ever had.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Violet Quest


At one point in my wine education, I learned that Italian wines can smell like violets. Here’s the frustrating thing. When was the last time you smelled a violet? Here in NJ, U.S.A., they’re not exactly sprouting out of every garden bed…unlike, honeysuckles and lilacs--gorgeous fragrances that I can identify blindfolded.
So, I was on a mission this spring: smell a violet. My eyes were always scanning the ground for purple blooms. This was not going to be easy. When I found little purple flowers, they often had no discernable fragrance.
Even when traveling, I tended to my quest. Strolling in Blowing Rock, I spied a patch of purple. I quickly picked a flower and stuck it up to my nostrils. Smells like…nothing. Then I looked more closely and realized I just picked Vinca, a common groundcover. The tattered petals fell to the ground along with my hope.
Finally, along the cracks of my own driveway (score one for letting things go), I finally found a few stray blossoms…small, deep purple, real violets. I picked them eagerly and smelled. Then I sniffed more deeply. Did I catch a whiff of anything? I shred the little petals to release more fragrance. There, at last, a faint, but distinctive smell. At this point I was afraid if I inhaled any more deeply I’d be snorting violets.
All this dedication came to fruition at a recent wine dinner. Among the very interesting wines being poured that night was a 1999 Bava Barolo Contrabasso di Castiglione Falletto. I love the label on this wine, a lively sketch of a bass violin. The beautifully aged red wine was silky smooth, rich with cherries, really spectacular. The 100% Nebbiolo is one of Bava’s Collezione Quintetto. Each wine is named for a musical instrument. In addition to the base violin, there is Stradivario, Violincello, Cor de Chase (a hunter’s horn), and Bass Tuba. I love that on Bava’s web site, there are musical suggestions for each of the wines.
I stuck my nose far into the glass and sniffed as deeply as I could. At last! Violets! The aroma was clear as day. I grabbed my husband and stuck his nose in. “What do you smell?” Silence. Since he had not dedicated his spring to picking purple flowers, I had another idea. “It’s violets, you know, like those little purple candies?” Yes, he smelled them too. So, in the end I found my violets. I drank a gorgeous Nebbiola that smelled like violets. And I put another notch in my belt of wine knowledge.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sangria-In-A-Pinch

Parties are always a fun time to try new wines. My husband’s surprise birthday bash was no exception. I enjoyed a full bodied Simi Cabernet Sauvignon that my girlfriend Lori brought over. Our friend Bob introduced us to Red Guitar, a yummy fruit-forward red from the Navarra region of Spain.

Several party-goers were horrified by the poor quality of a 2006 Frey Organic Pinot Noir (“I paid $16 dollars for that!” my friend Lauren gasped). The pale color was evident even in the bottle. In the glass, the sickly cast of the wine indicated a lack of ripeness when these delicate grapes were picked. Finicky Pinot Noir is now grown in many regions it shouldn’t be, thanks to the burgeoning demand after the film Sideways. This one had a sour taste that everyone hated. It might have tasted better when fresh: the wine lacked the preservative of sulfites and could have spoiled along the way.

At the end of the night, things got interesting. Our Spanish friend Antonio is known for his wonderful Sangrias and his facility in the kitchen. This night he showed his flare for improvisation. He mixed 2/3 Mike’s Hard Lemonade (like alcoholic Cool-Aid) with 1/3 Conha y Tora Cabernet, unearthed some oranges that he quickly cut into wedges, and voilá—Sangria. I was amazed at Antonio’s MacGyver-like ability to invent something out of the materials at hand. O.K., so he wasn’t dismantling a bomb with bubble gum and paper clips. But Sangria-In-A-Pinch is a little more useful, don’t you think?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Fine Appeal of an Unfined Wine

I tried a California cult wine last week at dinner. My friend Jay brought a bottle of 2005 Kistler Chardonnay to Antonella’s in South Orange. This hard-to-get wine is only available by mail order. To stay on the mailing list, you have to purchase an entire case at $80/bottle and up. Clever Jay split a case with a friend—still a lot of dough, but this wine is truly special.
I examined the bottle and noticed that the limited production wine had a number on the label (like a lithograph). Inside the bottle, the golden wine showed a wisp of cloudiness wafting up the center. Reading the back label, I learned that the wine is unfined and unfiltered. Fining is a process that gives wine clarity and filtering removes further sediments. Most winemakers choose to do both, but some forego one or both processes, believing that they sacrifice some flavor. These renegades want to create a wine that is as unprocessed as possible. I think it’s possible to make good or bad wine either way.
While some drinkers would panic to see a ghostly presence in their wine. I thought it looked ethereal and was more intrigued.
The aromas were complex with honey and floral notes. The mouthfeel was very dense. Loads of fruit with a delicious amount of tannin. The finish went on forever. This is a spectacular Chardonnay that says “Burgundy” far more than “California.” In fact, it reminded me of the Bobby Kacher white Burgundies from 2005 I had drunk two weeks before.
The wine paired beautifully with a mouthwatering appetizer—mussels and clams in a Prosecco cream sauce.
So cheers to Jay for introducing me to an outstanding wine. Given its scarcity, difficulty in ordering, and price point, the wine is a rare pleasure best savored with wonderful food and old friends.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #45--Old World Riesling

Straw colored, with lemons and a touch of honeysuckle on the nose, the Hugel Riesling 2004 I tried was fresh, fruit-forward, and highly acidic. In fact, it cried out for food to soften the acids. I was having one of those, I’m not eating dinner nights (who says cooking has to happen 7 nights a week?) and I buttered some water crackers and happily munched. The acid from the wine was softened by the butterfat, which would translate easily to a more civilized evening enjoying sole with buerre blanc. I’m partial to bone-dry Riesling, and I am more familiar with the Alsatian ones than German. Hugel is Appellation Alsace Contrôlleé and very reasonably priced at $15.99. The winemaking tradition in this region is centuries old: the Hugel family has made wine there since 1639--talk about the family business! Michael Franz said in France Magazine that Alsatian Riseling is “the most lamentably under-appreciated of France’s greatest wines.” I am discovering more about Alsatian wines all the time, having blogged recently about a complex grand cru Gewurtztraminer and a fascinating Sylvaner. I’m loving learning about this wine region, and the Hugel & Fils Riesling is one more winner from eastern France.

St. Michaels Food and Wine Festival: Saturday

The weather held for day two of the food and wine festival. After exploring this historic town by bike and foot, I headed to a session by Laurie Forster, The Wine Coach. She led us through a blind tasting of six wines and, as is always the case, tasting blind was really revealing. Laurie, who’s originally a Jersey girl, discussed the differences between New World and Old World wines. I’m becoming far more sensitive to the amount of oak in wine, and she acknowledged that New World winemakers often have a heavier hand with oak. This led me to correctly identify all the red wines, although I admit the fruity Fruili Pinot Grigio was so flavor-packed it made me think hot climate and, therefore, New World. Laurie’s a great presenter and her perky personality made it lots of fun to figure out if the wine was European--or Everything Else.
My next class was led by Hank Wetzel of Alexander Valley Vineyards. His presentation was unfortunately less impressive. When he slammed the French as having regulations that keep them from making great wine—Tell that to Bordelaise who command hundreds of dollars a bottle—and he didn’t know that Sangiovese, a varietal he grows, is the dominant grape in Chianti—I decided to play hooky. I picked up and left his class to enjoy the end of the festival.
The tents were brimming with convivial folks, and I was ready, at long last, to put my notebook away and enjoy all the delicious wine being poured. While wandering about, I ran into a William Shepard. At last year’s festival I attended his excellent session on Burgundy and purchased Shepard’s Guide to Mastering French Wines, which was an excellent preparation for my two trips to France in 2007. It was nice to see him and his charming wife again.
As the afternoon wore on and the wine began to run out, many of us filled a last generous pour and sunk into the grass at the water’s edge. Sunlight sparkled brightly on the bay. My guy, guitar in hand, gave into requests for a song. He played a gentle tune, and, mellowed by the weather, the music, and the wine, we relaxed away the end of the fest.

Monday, April 28, 2008

St. Michaels Food and Wine Festival: Friday

Had a great time down in Maryland this weekend at the St. Michaels Food and Wine Festival. To start, the weather was sublime. Spring was in full swing, and the scent of honeysuckles and lilacs drifted through this historic little town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
After four hours in the car, I was eager to hit my first class at the festival: The World’s Indigenous Varietals. This class was taught by a handsome wine distributor who really knew his stuff. I appreciated being introduced to varietals I had never heard of, such as a young and eager wine made from the Primitivo grape from Italy’s heel in Puglia (this inky pour really left my braces stained) and the Sylvaner grape (a dense white wine with a unique flavor) from Alsace. Apparently, these both are the table wines of their regions and little known to us outsiders.
Next was the class I had taken a day off to attend: Burgundy: A Sensory Tour. In this class, I met Bobby Kacher, of Robert Kacher Selections. This wiry 56 year old was full of energy and passion as he talked about working with small, family owned vineyards in Burgundy’s prime areas. I was extremely grateful for the selections he shared, all 2005 (touted as a spectacular vintage): two gorgeous white wines showing beautifully at this point, and two more restrained reds that were sure to be wonderful when time had opened them up. All through the classes I was pacing myself, but on these $80/bottle wines, I admit I savored nearly all that was poured.
My final class was a really fun way to end the day. We met the head winemaker from Chateau St. Jean in CA who talked about Cinq Cépages (five grapes). This Bordeaux-style, 75% Cab blend also includes Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. This wine won “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator in 1996. O.K., very impressive, but now it was our turn to create our own Cinq Cépages. We had five wine glasses with all of the varietals from 2004. And we had a cylinder and a pipette. Now we got to make our own Bordeaux-style blend. I tasted all my varietals and decided I liked the Merlot better than the Cab. So I made a blend with about 55% Merlot, 30% Cab, 10% Malbec, 8% Cab Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. To watch a room full of people (who had been drinking wine all afternoon) playing with pipettes and measuring wine in cylinders and all declaring their blend “the best” was hysterical. We were all laughing by the end of this class, which is also offered to groups at the winery. It was a really fun way to learn about the art of wine blending.
After these very educational and amusing sessions, I needed to absorb all I had learned and all I had drunk. In short, I needed a nap.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wining and Dining at The Red Cat

Had a fantastic meal Tuesday at The Red Cat, an upscale restaurant in the gallery district of Chelsea. Starting at the bar, I was thrilled to see their by-the-glass menu included unusual pours like Grüner Veltliner and a Trocken Riesling. Best of all— Proseco "Jeio" NV, Bisol. It was gorgeous and fruity and full of fizz. I adore Prosecco as an aperitif, and it’s far too rare to be able to get it by the glass. One unfortunate evening I ordered a glass at Primavera, an over-rated joint in West Orange. After hounding waiters for 45 minutes, I finally learned they don’t sell it by the glass! But I digress.
The Red Cat is a lovely place. Huge iron lanterns hang along the corridor of the restaurant. My friends and I started with a mouth-watering grilled octopus and an unusual fondue…the melted cheese was served on a plate with chopped salad and bacon on top. The crunch of the vegetables contrasted nicely with the warm liquid cheese.
My main course was sensational: braised shortribs served over polenta. The ribs were amazingly tender. We choose a very affordable ($27) bottle of Petit Chapeau Côtes Du Rhone 2005. It had nice big tannins that worked great with the ribs.
I love the way The Red Cat presents their wine list. They break down the reds into Soft Reds (including Burgundies), Earthy Reds (including our Côtes du Rhone), and Full Bodied Reds (including Bordeaux). For whites, you could choose from Clean Whites (including Sancerre and Chablis), Floral Whites (including Riesling) and Rich Whites (pretty much your oaked Chardonnays).
With aperitifs, wine, appetizers, mains, a shared dessert (Brooklyn blackout cake with heavenly Earl Grey icecream) and even a shared cheese course (divine), this meal was a true indulgence that I whole-heartedly recommend. So wine and food lovers, head to Chelsea and enjoy the gustatory pleasures of The Red Cat.