Sunday, November 6, 2011

Art on Tap at Montclair Art Museum

What do you get when you combine contemporary art, artisan beers and ciders, and a heaping helping of indie music? You get Art on Tap from the Montclair Art Museum. The museum is a beacon of culture in the burbs, a beautiful neoclassical building that sits serenely on a bucolic corner in Montclair, NJ. It houses an impressive permanent collection of native American art, as well as fascinating temporary exhibits, right now Marina Zurkow: Friends, Enemies, and Others, and The Spectacular of Vernacular.
Art on Tap is a one of a series of innovative special events that brings the community together in fun ways. Previous events have included wine tastings on the beautifully landscaped front lawn. This event was presented in partnership with Amanti Vino, a local wine and spirits shop that is an oasis of cool pours in this upscale suburban community.
Driving the beat of the event were two terrific deejays from WFUV, Rita Houston and Russ Borris. They took turns spinning the radio station's unique blend of funky, indie, folky music.
And as for the beverages of the evening? A fun mix of local and international pours, many notable for being poured from cans, a phenomenon we can thank the trendy PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) revival for, among other cultural influences. The locally brewed Brooklyn Pennant Ale, which celebrates the memory of the1955 World Champion Dodgers (when they were in Brooklyn) was one of my favorites of the night - a traditional English-style pale ale.

Friday, September 23, 2011

So, what am I doing in Georgia, anyway?

When I told my friends I was headed on a wine trip to Georgia, they were shocked, or, alternatively confused if they thought I meant the deep south. A fellow blogger wondered how I had been selected for this trip, where I would travel in the rarefied company of four Masters of Wine (only 300 have achieved this designation). As I looked over the illustrious participants, I began to wonder the same.
The trip was sponsored by the USAID Economic Prosperity Initiative. USAID supports economic development in struggling countries as a practical way to encourage peace and stability around the world. Georgia, which has suffered greatly at the hands of our former enemy, the Soviet Union, seemed like a good place to prop up, bordered as it is by the middle east to the south and Russia to the north.
The trip is being run by Jim Krigbaum, a cheerful, whip smart entrepreneur, who runs 2020 Development Company. Whether he's checking out mangoes in Pakistan or wine in Georgia, Jim knows all the ins and outs of getting the right products to the right markets.
So, I signed on and on Sunday, September 18th, boarded the minibus that would be our chariot to Georgian wine country (a far cry from Napa in every way). In addition to the MWs, there were two other well-known wine personages, Mr. Wine Hub, Luiz Alberto, and two polite and well-spoken Georgian men, our USAID guide George and our guide to all the wineries, and a wine marketer himself, Levan. We were the Opinion Shapers of Georgian Wine, a lofty title, and one I was determined to live up to.
On the first day, as we rode out to the bucolic countryside there was always activity on the side of the road: sturdy old men walking, dogs milling about, chickens pecking, and women selling tomatoes, garlic, and onions.
At the wineries, we discovered the unique qualities of Qvevri wines. The qvevri is a container that dates back 8000 years in Georgian wine making. It's essentially a clay container buried in the ground that receives the juice and crushed grapes and stems. Natural yeast begins fermentation, and then the solids are removed and the whole thing is sealed until spring. The qvevri wines - the running joke was the numerous mispronunciations, essentially one says "Quev-ri" - were spicy and exotic and reminiscent of fino sherry. Then we tasted the fresh modern-style wines made from varieties we would grow to know so well: Rkatsitelli, Mtsvane, and Kisi for the whites and the dark and juicy Saperavi for the reds.
As we tasted the winemakers and owners awaited our judgment, and one thing I learned is that MWs are the least shy people in the world when it comes to expressing an opinion - an excellent quality for an Opinion Shaper. If the world of wine is snobby as some say, then the MWs deserve to be more snobby than any. But, they were so welcoming to me-- a mere blogger, online writer, social media type - that soon I, too felt comfortable giving opinions. So we tasted and debated which wines we liked and which wines we felt would fare well on the American market. I was immensely gratified to find that some of my ideas about the wines - too tannic/a green note/very juicy/etc. - were sometimes shared by my esteemed co-participants. And as the week wore on, I understood why I had been selected. That my voice - of a blogger and tweeter, of a person that had traveled to the wine regions not as someone who works in the trade, but as an independent traveler - provided a different, valuable perspective.
This week I have made new friends. I have experienced the legendary hospitality of the Georgians. I have drunk wine from a polished horn (and finished the whole thing). Tomorrow, I will regret leaving this fascinating country, but I will be charged with writing much more about its charms.
So, that's what I'm doing in Georgia. In case you wondered.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Georgia (Wine) on my Mind

The country of Georgia is nestled in the southeastern corner of Europe, or is it the far western side of Asia? No matter, this country, about the size of Austria, has a rugged landscape defined by the dramatic Caucasus mountains, which boast the highest peak in Europe, Mount Elbrus (ah, so that’s a vote for Europe).
Formerly enclosed behind the iron curtain, this post-communist country is not well-known nor well traveled by Americans. Which is a shame, because this land offers its own magnificent brand of hospitality, so well expressed in the lines of their famous poet Rustaveli: Spending on feasting and wine is better than hoarding our substance; That which we give makes us richer, that which is hoarded is lost. In addition, the country has a fascinating, ancient tradition of making wine.
In fact, Georgia is considered by many to be the birthplace of wine. While some may consider the Romans or Greeks to be the first to ferment grapes, it’s simply not true. There is evidence of winemaking in Georgia dating back 5000-7000 years.
Now the country is determined to bring this ancient tradition into the modern world, looking to send its wines to export markets far beyond its borders.
I am pleased to announce that I am joining a select group of wine experts organized by 2020DC on a journey of a lifetime: seven days criss-crossing Georgia, visiting wineries, feasting at the rowdy and extravagant Supras, and learning about and documenting the state of Georgian wine. While internet may be scarce in the most rural pockets of the country, I will be tweeting and blogging as I can. When I return, my notes and photos will be made into articles distributed to a number of outlets – and I’ll make sure to include links of these in future blog posts.
For now, my mind and heart are turning eastward -- farther east in Europe than I have ever gone before. To the ancient land of mountains and wine. To Georgia.

Friday, August 19, 2011

TasteCamp 2011 Reveals Winning Ontario Wines

This spring a group of wine bloggers, primarily from the Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada, descended on the Niagara on the Lake wine region for the third annual TasteCamp. TC gives wine bloggers an intense weekend of wine tasting and education in wine regions that are not usually widely promoted. This year’s group was notably multilingual, as French Canadians joined the usual crowd of native English speakers.

On to the wines. I found a number of the white wines to be of very high quality. I enjoyed many Rieslings, most notably the single vineyard offerings from Thirty Bench. These had lovely minerality and lush tropical fruit flavors, a winning combination that I wholeheartedly recommend.

My wow wines of the trips were the Chardonnays. Being grown in a cold climate, the grapes achieve higher acidity than the same grapes from California, South Africa, or Australia, for example. It was this extra shot of acidity that brightened the classic Chardonnay flavors of apples and citrus and gave the wines a welcome liveliness. I am not the biggest fan of Chard, but these were very special. The offerings of Tawse Winery were most memorable.

Pinot Noir is another go-to grape for the Ontario winemakers, but I must say that many of these wines tasted green to me – did the grapes ripen adequately? To my palate, the answer was no. And yet, there were exceptions. Flat Rock Cellars did present some very pleasing Pinots, along with an interactive tour that included quizzes, and, most sensational, a sparkling wine that was not sabered, but axed! Very Canadian.

But no discussion of Ontario wine would be complete without mentioning their most famous offering: ice wine. Grapes are hand-picked after they have frozen on the vines. The juice that is pressed from these icy berries is thick and full of sugar. Once vinified, they are some of the world’s best dessert wines – and it is traditional to serve them chilled in cordial glasses. We tried dessert wines made from Vidal grapes (a common variety up north), from Riesling, and, most intriguing of all, one ice wine from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which was a lovely pink-amber color and tasted of strawberries.

In all, TasteCamp 2011 gave us a very good foundation in the joys of Ontario wine. In addition, the Niagara on the Lake area offers lovely rolling countryside and fine dining: our group was most impressed by the succulent lamb shanks that were the entree of our excellent dinner at Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine. Throw in a visit to the Falls, and you have a perfect weekend wine destination from the northeast.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer Wine Pairing Dinner in Maplewood June 28

I'll be pouring and presenting at a Summer Wine Pairing Dinner at Coda Kitchen and Bar on June 28 from 7-9 pm. The dinner is sponsored by the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School. I hope you can join me for an evening of good food and special summer wine pairings. To register for the dinner, which costs $63 plus a small registration fee, please visit the class page on the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School web site. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

House of Esterhazy Launches Line of Austrian Wines in U.S.

The string quartet filled the air with Mozart. The apfelstrudel was sublime. But most of all, there were the wines. Brought from the land of waltzes and Alps, from the land where Hayden is still remembered with reverence. The House of Esterhazy poured their line of wines at Austrian-themed restaurant Blaue Gans in lower Manhattan at a recent event for members of the press and wine trade.
The estate of the aristocratic Esterhazy family is a castle located just a short ride outside of Vienna. Visitors can tour the magnificent house as well as step down into the old wine cellars, which boast huge wooden casks that have beautiful carvings on their fa├žade. The contemporary winery is a short ride away. Here, glass and steel dominate the architecture, and this is where the modern wine-making magic happens.
I visited Esterhazy during the European Wine Bloggers Conference. Now the wines of this historic estate are available in the states. At the luncheon the following wines were poured:
- NV Blanc de Noirs – with a fresh nose of peaches, white pepper, and brioche, this was a refreshing sparkler
- 2010 Estoras Gruner Veltliner – from the Weinwertel region, this showed the signature peppery nose and flavors of Gruner, a good spring and summer wine
- 2008 Blaufrankisch Follig – a single vineyard wine with dark berries, grippy tannins
- 2008 Cuvee Trockenbeerenauslese – a dessert wine blended from Welchriesling and Pinot Blanc, with exotic fresh fruit flavors
I enjoyed the wines of this luncheon, and I can recommend Esterhazy as a fascinating destination for tourists who are visiting Vienna. One final note: while you can’t judge a book by its cover – or a wine by its label – I happen to love the Esterhazy wine labels. They feature historic paintings or artwork in a fresh modern design. Very much like the winery itself, which draws upon its centuries-old winemaking tradition while incorporating the best of current technology.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Clearing the language hurdle to sell Austrian Wine

Last night at Austria Uncorked, a massive trade/consumer tasting at the sprawling event space TriBeCa rooftop, I noticed something funny on some of the wine labels – words that were not German.

For example, Hillinger poured a Pinot Noir-based sparkler that was full of ripe raspberry flavors, but it was not called by the German word Sekt, as I knew it normally would. Instead, it was referred to as “Secco.” When I asked why, I was told because people would think of Prosecco. It was an interesting choice, especially because wine aficionados also think of “sec” (the word for "dry" in French) as being a level of sweetness, a la Champagne. It was also at the Hillinger table where I encountered the word “Terroir” on the label – it was the name given to one of their high-end wines. That word's thrown around a lot, but here it just seems confusing, as the label tells you nothing about what the "terroir" is actually like--it's merely used as a buzz word.

I wonder if this language tinkering is necessary, because I think Hillinger has already tackled the "German" question with their innovative silver labeling and stylistic logo, and, most importantly their wines are really good. I understand that the German language is no picnic for the English speaking world, and that wine lovers in the international market are more likely to know about the popular Prosecco than Sekt. However, as a lover of language, I'm a little let down when I see this.

One brand that seems to successfully be jumping the German hurdle is Monica Caha wines, which have a great graphic representation of Austria's signature grape, Gruner Veltliner. I met Toni Silver, a New York-based representative for the brand and the model for the shouting "Grooner" girl, who appears on their wine labels and Twitter avatar. I like the way this company has taken the hard to pronounce Gruner Veltliner and shortened it in a fun way. At least we're still in the same language.

Another Austrian brand uses the "animal on the label" to cross the language barrier -Zantho. I also like this decision, because, not only is their lizard rendered in an artistic--not cutesy--way, but also because I know that this type of animal is unique to this part of Austria and therefore representative of the (there's that word again) terroir.

As someone who loves history and language, I appreciate traditional Austrian labels, such as are found on one of my favorite wine brands: Umathum. Their labels conjure up the romance of Europe and the tradition of the old world.

Still, I acknowledge that for the most part, it is a tough challenge to get Americans and the rest of the non-German speaking world to get beyond this complicated language to appreciate these wines. However, it's definitely a worthy goal, as Austrian wines have something very special to offer wine lovers.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ruinart Champagne Blanc de Blanc

I recently attended an evening sponsored by Ruinart Champagne at David Burke's newest venture, David Burke's Kitchen. More specifically, a dozen or so bloggers and I were invited upstairs to the bar, playfully named the Treehouse.
We were greeted with full glasses of the Champagne house's Blanc de Blanc. The name has everything to do with the color of the grapes used in the wine. Champagne traditionally is blend of wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and to a lesser degree, Pinot Meunier. The last two grapes are red grapes, and Chardonnay, of course we know as a white-wine grape.
However, at times Champagne makers choose to produce a sparkling wine from either all white, as in the case of Blanc de Blanc, or all red (also called "black") grapes, as in the case of Blanc de Noir.
And so I sipped the lovely Champagne that was distinctly more refreshing than the usual blend of white and red grapes. After chatting with the tall and charming head of Ruinart, Jean Marc Gallot, and mingling with my fellow bloggers, I headed to a formally-set table for some fun and games with scent.
Ruinart proposed that we wine and food bloggers consider the different aromas and flavors in their blanc de blanc Champagne. So, set before each of us was a small cylinder filled with seven tiny vials filled with liquid scent. We also each had a card of about 18 aromas and a sharpened pencil. And so it began. We unscrewed the top of each vial and sniffed. Was number 2 lemon and number 3 citron, or vice versa? The floral scent of jasmine was undeniable, and Jean Marc offered us a broad hint, "think of Sushi" that led us to ginger. Clues were hidden around the table decorations, and it turned out that one of the vials was pink peppercorns - look there was a glass bowl of them in front of us! We were not subject to the public scrutiny of reading our choices aloud (I was about 50% right), but the one who self-reported the most correctly identified scents did win a prize.
The better prize, however, was an evening full of Ruinart blanc de blanc and the daring cuisine of David Burke. After playing the scent game, the buttered toast, yellow apple of the Ruinart were clearer to me, along with hints of pineapple, and a nice lemon spritz on the back end. The fruit flavors were ripe, and the toasty flavors were delicious.
On to the dinner. The chef wowed us with a deep-friend grape filled with peanut butter appetizer, and a main course of crab cake lined with pretzel sticks - the salty crunch of the pretzels was a wonderful foil to the sweet crab. Lastly a delightul lollypop tree - orbs of different flavored cheesecakes dipped in white, milk, or dark chocolate and drizzled with flavors or dipped in crunchies.
At the end, we were delighted when celebrity Chef David Burke came upstairs and greeted us all. It was a stunning evening that was over too quickly. However, the ripe, layered fruit and toasty notes of the Ruinart were available to us any time we wanted a special champagne to savor.