Friday, February 27, 2009

Dig Into Your Cellar – Open That Bottle Night is Saturday

Exactly what have you been waiting for? Your anniversary? Your wife’s birthday? Your son’s graduation from nursery school? So many people have that special bottle of wine tucked away….waiting for an event so wonderful that it cries out for a special pour. The problem is, we start accumulating a lot of those “special” bottles and when that grand event finally does come, we end up going out for dinner.
Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) was created by Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. Take a look at their recent WSJ article on the subject. The event has picked up steam and become a national celebration among wine enthusiasts. This year marks the 10th anniversary of OTBN.
Some people are concerned that they’re opening an age-worthy wine too young. Others may feel that no night could possibly justify opening up the most valuable wine in their cellar. But life is fleeting and so is wine—neither it nor we will live forever. So grab that bottle you’ve been saving. Invite over some friends and ask them to do the same. When you’re all gathered, say a few words about why your own wine is special—was it bought on your honeymoon to France? With your first paycheck from the new job? Part of the fun of these wines is the stories behind them. Then drink. And celebrate the wine, the memories, and each other.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Luca Maroni’s SensofWine Exudes Italian Warmth

Ever since I laid eyes on the magnificent space that is Cipriani’s 42nd Street,I’ve longed for a reason to attend an event there. Last Friday I got the chance. My friend Kevin Heald tipped me that Alta Cucina was giving away tickets to an Italian wine tasting there.
SensofWine is presented by Italian wine expert, author, and creator of his own wine-tasting method, Luca Maroni. Maroni cut an elegant figure in his trim, dark suit, and his sharp features were lively as he addressed the crowd. I attended the portion of the day dedicated to the trade, and, as such, came home with his thick and informative book, Top Italian Wine Producers 2009, a terrific reference.
Thirty-nine Italian wine producers representing 14 different regions were in attendance. The event was overwhelmingly grand, housed as it was in that cavernous space. Cipriani 42nd Street is a landmark building, previously the headquarters for the Bowery Savings Bank. Walking the perimeter of the huge room, I could see wine being poured through the old teller windows.
In such a large tasting, it’s tough to get to every table, so I zeroed in on the regions where I planned to travel later in the spring. In the Tuscany area, I liked Serraiolo’s 100% Sangiovese and their white made from Vermintino, which was bright, bursting with fruit, with a lovely finish. The Sada Carpoli 2005 Toscana was a big wine made in the Bordeaux style, combining Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. It’s aged for 18 months in small oak barrels known as barriques. This wine was full and rich with layered flavors and a long finish. This was one that could age.
One of the pleasures of the evening was discovering that Riondo now offers pink Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine from the northeast. Cotton-candy colored, it was a beautiful, bubbly treat. I finished up tasting the extensive line of wines from Negretti, whose Bricco Ambrogio was the best wine I had tried at the tasting.
All of this wonderful wine was complemented by the authentic Italian treats: freshly carved Prosciutto, tangy chunks of Parmesan, olives, and beautiful hors d’oeuvres such as tiny cones of fried calamari and grape tomatoes filled with Pesto.
The wine was delicious, the food was great, but it was the Italian producers who stood out in my mind as most impressive. Their welcoming ways and warm smiles were the best PR for their products. When I told them I planned to travel to Italy later, many of the winery representatives—who varied from hired staff to the owners and winemakers themselves--insisted that I stop by to see them. “Come, visit, it’s beautiful, we’re right by the Mediterranean.” I can’t wait to take them up on their lovely invitations.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wine Blogging Wednesday 54 – Piedmont, Albeisa Barbaresco

I hurried over to the Wine Library after work to pick up an appropriate Piedmont wine for Wine Blogging Wednesday. I’m very glad I did—because I came home with a delicious 2005 Albeisa Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco, a cooperative of winegrowers founded in 1958.
I was thrilled to participate in this month’s WBW because I’m planning a trip to Italy later in the spring, and I’m on a mission to taste and learn as much as possible about Italian wine before I go.
The distinctive Albeisa bottle, which originated in the 1700s, is brown glass with deeply sloped shoulders. Albeisa is rendered in raised letters on the bottle itself—an attractive touch. The label shows an old castle with a rectangular tower—very medieval looking--and a raised copper seal with a beautiful bearded Roman on it. Also, Vendemmia 2005 is listed. I love the use of Italian language on the label; it makes me pine for my trip. On the back label, a nice paragraph of description is given in Italian and English which lets us know that the wine was made entirely from Nebbiola grapes. The vintage clocks in at 14% alcohol.
On to the wine—I let it breath for about an hour, and when I came back to it detected a nice sweet nose with floral characteristics such as violet, which is typical of the variety, and perhaps rose as well. An attractive medium ruby color that pales to salmon near the edge and ends a bit watery at the very outer rim. There is a roundness to the mouthfeel; the tannins are really evident and I feel them strongly on the attack. But after that, the wine shows real grace. It’s medium-bodied, with really satisfying fruit. There’s the slightest bit of fizz when poured.
I bought this bottle about $26, and thought it was a very good value. I drank this with a raw cow’s milk aged fontina and really enjoyed this match. I’m looking forward to drinking more of this lively Barbaresco. Cheers!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

To blog, to comment, to friend, to tweet

Ever notice how one’s to do list has gotten a lot longer these days? In addition to the usual (go to work, pay bills, hit the gym) there is a whole new list of stuff to keep up with regarding one’s internet identity.

My first internet love and still my strongest interest is right here at Wine Lover’s Journal. Through this blog, I’ve developed my writing style and expressed my views about wine, travel, dining, classes and events. I’ve advertised the classes I’ve taught and cross-marketed my travel writing on the web. For a long time, this was all that existed of me online.

Social Networks
Then last spring I joined Open Wine Consortium, which has been a terrifically beneficial social networking group. Through this forum, I’ve made friends around the world, from Bordeaux to Barcelona to Santa Barbara. In the beginning it was a wee little group and we all knew each other, but it quickly mushroomed. Now it takes more work than I’m able to put into it to be a real presence. That was my only network for the past year, but lately I’ve joined LinkedIn and Facebook, too. While LinkedIn has been more static, Facebook has been an entertaining, but slightly demanding addition to my life. What am I doing that is post-worthy? Since I view my profile as a professional networking opportunity, watching Seinfeld re-runs does not qualify!

To Friend or Not to Friend?
Once sucked into Facebook, I quickly added my blog posts and started collecting friends. But which friends—my college pals, family members, and all the assorted people in my life? Or just professional contacts? Well, I have a bit of both now, so my “wall” is covered with wine professionals discussing business and friends talking nonsense. A strange mix for sure.

Part of the mechanics of the blogosphere is that when you comment on other people’s blogs, they’ll come and comment on yours. That’s fine until your realize how many, many blogs there are to read that relate to you. Keeping up with the top 20 wine blogs alone would suck away a couple of hours a day that I just don’t have! Yet I try to read and respond when I can—still feeling like it’s never enough.

To Tweet
I had two intense conversations about Twitter last week. Then on Saturday at the NY Times Travel Show, I heard a panel of travel writers espouse its virtues. Enough! I got with the program and am starting to follow some writers, editors, and wine bloggers. This begs the what-to-post question once again. If it’s hard to think of a few Facebook-worthy posts a week, the pressure to be interesting at least once a day that I feel on Twitter is worse.

The Upside
Here’s the good part. Once I joined Facebook, I saw all the interaction I’ve been missing. Having only a blog was way too one-dimensional and I love the updates I’m seeing and posting. Now that I’m on Twitter, I feel like developing relationships with important contacts all around the world will be much, much easier. I’ll use it to promote my blog and just become part of the always-on conversation of the Twitterstream. I’m enjoying it all—but have to acknowledge that my virtual to do list just got a lot longer.

If you want to follow me on Twitter I’m at Diane_Letulle.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tishbi at the Travel Show

I attended the sprawling Travel Show at the Javits Center this past Saturday, more as a travel writer than a wine lover. Last year, I was fortunate enough to meet New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov at the show, but this year, there were no major seminars on wine. I did, however, happen upon a little talk and tasting by Israeli winemaker Jonathan Tishbi.
I have been hearing buzz about wines from Israel for the past year, both on the internet and through a writing buddy who insists I should visit the vineyards there. Historically, winemaking originated in the middle east, yet many of us westerners have rarely given a thought to wines from that part of the world.
So, with my curiousity piqued and my throat parched, I plunked down in one of the folding chairs and listened to Tishbi, a dignified older man in a conservative dark suit, describe his winery in halting English. A Shiraz was passed around, which tasted like its alcohol was very high. Tishbi described the growing conditions for his grapes: they receive little rainfall and his vines therefore produce less fruit and smaller grapes with more concentrated flavor. Next a blend of cabernet, merlot and cabernet franc was distributed in plastic Dixie-cups. It’s aged about five years, the fruit is well-balanced, and it has a nice amount of tannin, although a little too oaky for my taste. We ended with a sticky: an Israeli desert wine that is reminiscent of ruby port. At this point, Jonathan raised his own plastic cup in “L’Haim” and we toasted him back. I’m glad to have had this brief introduction to wines of Israel and I expect to see and taste more of them in the coming years.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Vino-Versity Majors in Fun

Vino-Versity—I came to this wine “class” expecting an education. But the only resemblance to my own undergraduate years was at the campus parties where you’d stand on tip toes behind a wall of imbibers trying to get a drink. In fact, if this was supposed to be college, it had more of the 20th reunion feel: a bunch of 30 and 40 somethings mingling, drinking, and catching up with friends.

It all happens smack dab in the middle of midtown at the spacious Divine Bar on West 54th Street between 8th and Broadway. The two hour wine event (I won’t call it a class) has a lot going for it. Starting with the venue: classy and atmospheric with low lighting, four wine stations, two areas where snacks are served on tiered serving platters, and a few low couches to relax with your drink. I have to commend the friendly staff who do a remarkable job of simultaneously pouring drinks for a half dozen thirsty folks and carrying on substantive discussions about wine with more inquisitive drinkers. And speaking of the wine: it was terrific. This was Northern Italian night, and there were 26 wines poured! Beautifully layered whites from Friuli, richly tannic Barbarescos, huge Barolos, plus varieties I had not heard of before such as the violet-scented Lagrein from the Alto Adige region of Italy near the Austrian border. At station D, Divine Bar owner Shari took the time to explain every wine she poured: “This wine is a Ripasso” she would begin and then discuss the method in which wine is re-passed over crushed grapes, intensifying the flavor. After her explanation, I had a better appreciation for the Amarone, which was densely concentrated and smelled and tasted of raisins.

There is a small attempt at educating participants, mainly on handouts of grape varieties and regions represented. We also had lists of the wines poured on which to make notes. However, this was the type of crowd that was more concerned with tasting and talking than writing.

I found the Vino-Versity crowd both upscale and friendly. I met the dynamic duo of lovely Xan and hilarious Jonathan, corporate attorneys who know how to let loose after billable hours. I also reconnected with fun-loving teacher Miriam (I knew her at a former job), who is a big fan of the wine series here.

Friendly crowd and good wine aside, Vino-Versity is most notable for its price--only $38! As my pal Miriam (do not call her Mimi) emphasized, “This series is a real bargain.” I heartily agree. Vino-Versity continues with events on Australian and Spanish wines coming up soon. I may need to return for extra credit.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Of Wine and Snowmen

It’s been a very white winter here in the northeast. My house sits on the side of a hill which has been covered with a very pretty blanket of snow for at least six weeks. This comes to mind because last night I met Bob Eckstein, author of the funny and surprisingly educational book, The History of the Snowman. Today I visited Bob’s website and started thinking of what the perfect drink would be to warm up after carousing in the cold. And then, it hit me: mulled wine. This old drink was popular in the middle ages and is still enjoyed in places like Germany, where it is referred to as Gl├╝hwein. It’s pretty simple: red wine is warmed, then spices are added, and sometimes sweetening agents such as juice or sugar. I have used packets of mulled wine mix that come with a little metal strainer. You simply dip the spice-filled strainer into a pot of red wine and simmer away. There are also many easy recipes online, such as this one from
1 1/2 c. boiling water
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 lemon, sliced
3 sticks cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 lg. bottle red wine
Combine boiling water, sugar, lemon, cinnamon and cloves; stir until sugar dissolves. Add wine; simmer 20 minutes. (DO NOT BOIL!) Strain. Serve hot with a sprinkling of nutmeg. Makes 12 servings, 3 ounce size

In addition to being a unique cold weather treat, mulled wine has the added benefit of being terrific with cheap wine that you might not otherwise wish to drink. So, go ahead, build a snowman, catch snowflakes on your tongue, whip out some snowangels, and nail a loved one with a well-aimed snowball. Snow brings out the child in all of us, but once you come in, warm up with an adults-only treat--and leave the cocoa to the kids.