Thursday, March 27, 2008

Gorgeous Gewurz

I haven’t drunk a Gewurztraminer in years. But after trying this 2002 Alsace Grand Cru from Pierre Sparr, I won’t wait so long before opening another. Gewurz means “spicy” in German, and this wine has sweet and spicy elements. Gewurtraminer is often sold much younger: this six year old wine was really special, with huge fruit and complex layers of flavor.
I love this unusual green bottle. It has swirls climbing the sides like the baroque columns of the baldacchino in St. Peter’s Basilica. The varietal frequently paired with foods like smoked salmon and foie gras. So, here was dinner on a recent Friday night. The sweetness of the smoked salmon picked up the sweetness in the wine, and the bitter bite of the watercress was a nice foil against that. Next was the pate de foie gras from D’Artagnan simply spread on water crackers. Blended with truffles and Sauternes, it tasted…Oh wow. The earthy, powerful truffle penetrated the rich, buttery duck liver—it was bursting with flavor. So, a big, flavorful wine like this Gewurz stood up to it nicely. What a wake-up call for my palate. Big food! Big wine! Sometimes a night of full-out decadence does a body good.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Bracing Myself

Unlike wine aging in a bottle, we humans can actually keep tweaking things to improve ourselves as we, um, mature. Such high hopes led me to getting braces later than most. Yesterday my orthodontist bound my clear ceramic braces with a chain of transparent stretchy plastic. The problem? That plastic stains like crazy, and red wine and coffee (two of my favorite things) are the worst culprits.
It was on my mind last night as I headed out to meet my friends at Pershing Square, a bustling spot down the block from Cipriani’s fabulous event facility (from the glass front, I could peer in at the lucky ones basking in the glow of a purple light, being feted under the high, high ceiling. Please—anyone—invite me to a party there).
Once at the restaurant, which faces the magnificently-restored Grand Central Terminal, I chose the mushroom risotto and roast chicken. The J. Lohr 2006 Chardonnay was an excellent accompaniment: crisp, light fruit, a whiff of oak. So that, my friends, is the answer. A lot more non-staining white wine. If last night is any indication, it could be a wonderful thing.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Gift of Gab

Here’s a great topic for St. Patrick’s Day.
An Irishman with the gift of gab can enliven the most banal conversation. In the same way, some wine writers can get pretty colorful with the way they talk about fermented grape juice.
Over at Open Wine Consortium, there’s an ongoing discussion about using terms such as “rustic” to describe wine. Does everyone interpret these terms the same way? And if not, should we avoid using them?
I think there can be poetry in wine description (some writers certainly take poetic license), and I’d hate to see wine writing boiled down to the beverage’s most basic characteristics, i.e. acidity, tannins etc. However, I’ve worked in communications my entire life, and I know it’s essential not to leave the reader behind when your copy takes a flight of fancy. So, if writers get creative with wine descriptions, they should ask themselves, “Am I effectively communicating my meaning?” If the stylized writing conveys something about the wine that would be hard to describe otherwise, then it works. I say, “Long live poetic wine descriptions (when used by skillful writers)!”

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Back to Basics

I love wine classes, and I’ll shell out big bucks to hear wine gurus like Kevin Zraly walk me through the basics. To me it’s money well spent. But when I can taste 10-12 wines a night for seven weeks for only $130—that’s the bargain of the wine education world. And that’s the deal I scored (for a second time) out here in Jersey at the Caldwell/West Caldwell Adult School.
Wine classes are great for learning, of course, but also for tasting. I don’t work in a wine shop, for a distributor, or the wine press—and there are only so many bottles I can drink personally. So when our teacher cracks open a chilled bottle of Lillet (this aromatized wine is still a little weird to me) or a 22 year old Leeuwin chardonnay from the Margaret River Valley (a beautiful wine that kept revealing more layers as it opened up), it’s a wake-up call to my palate.
As an introductory first class, we really ran the gamut last night: a Cava (look for 1+1=3—I don’t usually get into Cavas, but this reminded me of Champagne), Riondo Prosecco (always fun at parties: light, sweet, fizzy & inexpensive), and a Peter Lehmann Riesling (a poor example of the varietal from Australia). Reds were represented by a 2003 Chateau Bernadotte from the Haut Medoc (rich & super tannic—I’d save this for a few more years) and, from our teacher’s cellar, a 1999 Robert Mondavi PNX Carneros Pinot Noir (brick red and unfortunately lacking in fruit). We rounded out the evening with both Port and Sherry. Whew!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Juice at the Javits

The Javits Center has another exciting show this weekend: The New York Wine Expo. Having just been there last weekend, I’m not sure I’ll do this, but it’s worth considering. For $85 tonight and $95 tomorrow, you can taste wines poured by about 170 producers. You can also attend (for another $35) seminars. Keynote speaker is Mark Oldman, author of Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine…not sure how wine can be outsmarted, exactly. He also writes a column for Everyday with Rachel Ray. There are also talks on Cotes du Rhone, featuring a French wine expert I met at Windows on the World Wine School, Robin Kelly, and others classes on super Tuscans and New York Rieslings. So, if you’ve got a bit of cash and some free time tonight (7-10) or tomorrow (2-6), head over to the West side and have a glass for me.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

WBW #43 – My Comfort Wines

Wine is many things at many times—-convivial when shared with friends, romantic when poured with a lover, celebratory when free-flowing at a party. But one of the nicest things that wine can be is a comfort.
When my muscles ache and my mind is spent, there’s a ritual that soothes me body and soul. I turn on the tap to the hottest water and fill the tub (yes, I use bubbles). I light a candle. If I’m really into it, I’ll put on Enya. Then I go into the kitchen and take out a lovely little cordial glass and pour something sweet.
I have a bottle of Taylor Fladgate 10 year old Tawny Port that is my go-to unwinding wine. I fill the glass to the brim and slip into the tub. Aahhh. I’ll stay there for half an hour, and sometimes I’ll call to my husband to bring me a little more. The nutty, caramel flavor and stronger alcohol work like charms for me.
One reason this is so calming is the ritual of sipping. It immediately slows everything down. I savor the liquid in my mouth. I breathe its aroma deeply.
I also like to fill my cordial glasses with ice wine. We picked up a bottle when we were on Niagara-on-the-Lake from Chateau des Charmes. The Vidal grape produces honey-like wine that is satisfyingly mouth-filling. And for my most decadent evenings: Sauternes. The only wine I packed in my suitcase from my trip to Bordeaux was a bottle of Chateau Closiot Sauternes. So perfumed was this wine that it was like drinking flowers. I was transported when I sipped this treasure.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hero Worship at the Javits Center

I left the NY Times Travel Show today feeling exhilarated. I'd attended talks from two of my heros: Rick Steves, possibly the world's most successful travel writer, and Eric Asimov, chief wine critic for the New York Times.
One of my travel writing teachers had recommended attending the travel show, a yearly event at the Javits Center. So I headed into the Lincoln Tunnel with family in tow, as children get in for free. My husband split off to see animal shows and eat empanadas with the kids, and I headed into a large seminar room to see Rick Steves.
I've been reading Rick Steves' Europe Through the Backdoor books since I traveled to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in 1988. I still turn to his books when I go to Europe: last year I bought his France book. To me, he epitomizes the kind of travel I love: get off the tour bus, stroll through lesser known neighborhoods, eat with the locals, and basically eschew the tourist traps and "sanitized" versions of travel (don't get him started on cruises). His passion for intelligent traveling, his knowledge of world cultures (he was a history major), and his insights about how America is viewed by the rest of the world left the audience enraptured. I was fascinated by his comparison of the "energetic" new European Community versus the U.S.: while the our country pours money into wars, Europe is investing in major infrastructure projects, from highway systems to sleek new rail stations. I walked away from his hour lecture incredibly inspired by his wit, charisma, and world view.
Next I strolled through the cavernous exhibit hall to the cooking demo area, where Eric Asimov spoke about traveling to lesser known wine regions. Joining him on stage was Doug Duda, host of A&E's The Well-Seasoned Traveler and executive director of the recently-opened Astor Center, a gorgeous-looking facility with classes in the culinary arts, wine tasting, even wine smelling! Definitely something I need to check out.
Eric was impecably dressed: from his houndstooth jacket to his mod black turtleneck he looked every inch the sophisticated wine journalist. Yet his presentation was anything but austere. He grinned his way through describing the up-and-coming wine region of Slovenia. We all sipped a buttery wine from the Ribolla Gialla grape, another great showing from the Fruili region I so recently became exposed to from Wine Blogging Wednesday. We also tried a bracing white wine from Santorini, Greece, and, as Eric put it, an "agile" red wine from Austria made from the unusual zwiegelt grape. After the talk I was able to chat with Eric and tell him about my little old blog. Unbelievable. Another reason I am so grateful to live a stone's throw away from one of the greatest cities on earth.
So cheers to NYC and the NY Times Travel Show. I can't wait to go for two days next year.