Saturday, June 5, 2021

Clink Different Seeks to Expand Wine Lovers' Flavor World

The ongoing Clink Different promotion is a pair up of an unlikely duo - wines of Bordeaux and wines of Germany. While France and Germany may seem like unlikely partners, in fact both have long, esteemed histories in wine dating back over 2000 years. And with those long histories comes a level of confidence in what grows well in certain terrain.  

I attended a fun media tasting led by the very knowledgeable and engaging Cristie Norman, Co-Founder and President of the United Sommeliers Foundation and Wine Enthusiast's 2020 Educator of the Year. 

Cristie led us on a taste journey across some lesser-known grape varieties that she encourages consumers to try. 

First up was the Weingut Strum 2019 Silvaner Trocken, which retails for $19. Cristie recommended this white wine made from the Silvaner grape with sushi, fish dishes, salads, and stir fry.  I found it delightful - with a fresh, grassy nose, high acid, good weight, and a long finish.  

Next we went to Bordeaux for the Dourthe 2019 La Grande Cuvee Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc. This affordable wine retails for $14. With a very aromatic nose of lemon and vegetal notes, the wine delivered fresh tart citrus flavors and high acid - perfect for goat cheese, creamy pasta, and shell fish. 

Moving on to the reds, we tried the Schnaitmann 2017 Steinwiege Lemberger. This grape is also known as Blaufrankisch.  With a nose of bramble fruit and bell pepper, the palate was structured with perceptible tannin, a stewed red fruit flavor, and a long finish. This wine retails for $37. 

Finally, we were treated to a fascinating wine made from 100% Petit Verdot - a 2018 from Chateau Belle-Vue.  The opaque, inky purple color of the wine struck me immediately. The flavor delivered on the promise of the color - this is a big wine, with lush black fruit and grippy tannins indicating that the wine can certainly age. Cristie suggested gouda cheese, dishes with mushroom, or a nice steak to pair with this bold wine, which retails for $25. 

I enjoyed these wines made from some lesser known grape varieties and appreciated that this campaign is encouraging consumers to drink "outside the box" and experiment with new varieties.  You can follow the @clinkdifferent campaign on Instagram and Twitter to see what's next. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Theresa Heredia Crafts Captivating Chardonnays and Silky Pinots at Gary Farrell Winery

Walk through a city and you’ll notice distinct differences from one neighborhood to the next. In Manhattan, the creative energy of the Chelsea Gallery district is a different world from the soaring skyscrapers and hard-driving speed of the Financial District.

It’s the same in wine regions. The AVA of the Russian River Valley is a large expanse, and a stretch of several miles can make a big difference in vineyards – more ocean breeze, higher elevation, and distinctive soil variation. In fact the Russian River Valley has more soil types than France!

Theresa Heredia has been the winemaker at Gary Farrell winery since 2012. One of the aspects of Gary Farrell that attracted her is that the winery has no estate fruit but sources grapes from some of the best vineyards across the Russian River Valley.  She compares this to the role of “negociant” in Burgundy. Although Gary Farrell winery doesn’t own the vineyards, Theresa works closely with the vineyard managers, especially when it comes to picking decisions. She endeavors to have their fruit picked early to try to get good acidity and manage the alcohol.

She aspires for her wines to have Burgundian elegance and restraint while also showcasing the unique aspects of the Russian River Valley.  Theresa told us that she wants to make expressive wines that have a sense of place.  In a guided tasting for media, Theresa walked us through seven wines made from grapes sourced from various neighborhoods of the Russian River Valley. The distinct flavors and aromas of each wine was striking considering they all came from one AVA.

We started with three lively Chardonnays:

·         2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay – Santa Rosa Plains  /  Notes of ripe yellow apple dancing with vibrant lemons with a dash of minerality – a Chardonnay with bright flavors and good length  and refreshing acidity.

·         2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay – Laguna Ridge / Made from small bunches of grapes, this wine was very concentrated with lemon and floral aromas and a round mouthfeel with apple and pear – also with the lift of acidity.

·         2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay – Middle Reach  /  A lush Chardonnay with notes of caramel, baked apple and a dash of pineapple on the nose, on the palate more baked apple flavors along with a shot of acidity to lift the lushness.

Then we progressed to the silky Pinot Noirs:

·         2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir – Middle Reach  / Classic Burgundian style Pinot with earthy notes along with the red fruit flavors – juicy yet complex wine. Theresa told us she does some whole cluster additions to this to add some tannin.

·         2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir – Green Valley  / A tart cherry nose and black and red fruit on palate with white pepper on the black cherry midpalate and bright acid.

·         2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir – Sebastopol Hills  /  Rosemary and red fruit on the nose with bing cherries and baking spice on the palate. Theresa told us the cold temperatures in this vineyard produce lots of acidity in wines from here. She also noted that she does 40% whole cluster when fermenting this wine which adds some dusty tannins.

·         2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir – Santa Rosa Plains  / Black plum nose with loads of ripe cherry on the palate and refreshing acidity – this is a real crowd pleaser of a Pinot Noir.

Overall, I found the wines to be balanced with regard to alcohol, fruit, acidity, and tannin but fairly bursting with lively flavors.  Theresa Heredia is most assuredly a precise winemaker who brings a clear vision to the wines she creates.  We are all the better for it when we partake of her creations. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Velenosi Virtual Tasting Impresses at Wine Media Conference

The annual Wine Media Conference (formerly Wine Bloggers' Conference), went virtual this year like so many events in an effort to keep everyone safe. Fortunately WMC organizers were able to arrange a few wine tastings in which attendees were able to receive samples by mail and taste online together. One session featured wines from Velenosi winery in a tasting led by Italian wine journalist Laura Donadoni.

The family winery was founded by Angela Velenosi in 1984 in the historic Ascoli Piceni area of Marche, just 20 kilometers from Italy's Adriatic coast. The family grew the winery ambitiously over the years, and now they produce over 2.5 million bottles which are sold in Italy as well as 52 export markets. Velenosi wines have been lauded by top wine publications as well as Gambera Rosa, Luca Maroni and more. 

The WMC participants at the virtual tasting of Velenosi wines were impressed by the depth of flavor and quality levels of the four wines presented during the virtual tastings. Many participants were also delighted to taste a new variety they had never tried. The virtual tasting included this selection of Velenosi wines: 

Querciantica Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico - Light gold in color, this wine offered citrus notes of lemon and lime on the nose and palate, along with white peaches and a slight vegetal note. The wine has high acidity as well as a touch of minerality. It was a delicious medium-bodied white that would pair well with many chicken and fish dishes. 

Querciantica Lacrima di Morro DOC Superiore - This rare wine is created from the ancient Lacrima di Morro grape that is indigenous to and found almost exclusively in the Marche region. Described by Laura as a polarizing wine, this is vinified completely in stainless steel, yet offers a vanilla note that is totally from the grape as well as cherries and herbs. 

Il Brecciarolo Rosso Piceno DOC Superiore - A blend of 70% Montepulciano and 30% Sangiovese, this wine had a very aromatic nose with toffee and rosemary notes. The palate offered sour cherries, medium acidity, and a long finish. Aging in used barrique mellows the wine without overwhelming the fruit with flavors imparted by oak. A delicious red that is widely distributed in the U.S. 

Roggio del Filare Rosso Piceno DOC Superiore - This was an impressive, full-bodied wine with intense aromatics of black fruit, coffee, and violet. The opaque wine was inky purple with a purple rim. I enjoyed the smooth mouthfeel with well-integrated tannin. The wine offered ripe black and red fruit on the palate, and there was a very long finish. The 2019 was drinking well, but I am curious about having this wine again in five or more years. 

The WMC Velenosi wine tasting allowed participants to learn about and enjoy a less-heralded region of Italy that is truly worthy of attention. I'm sure many of us will look for the wines of Velenosi in our local shops and appreciate the wines of Marche more frequently after this instructive, tasty evening. 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Finger Lakes Wineries Opening Up After COVID-19

The Finger Lakes is one of New York's premier wine tourism destinations, but like the rest of the state, it shuttered its wineries to tourists in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the area weathered the lockdown, many wineries offered contactless delivery options and curbside pickup on pre-ordered bottles. While that was a good compromise during the peak of the pandemic, many wine lovers have been eager for a more engaged wine tourism experience again.

This weekend, I visited the Finger Lakes and got a first-hand view of what re-opening this wine region looks like-- including ways that wineries have adapted to offer safe and satisfying experiences to consumers.


Dr. Konstantin Frank

Dr. Konstantin Frank was a legend in the Finger Lakes, famous for successfully cultivating vinifera grapes in this cold weather region. The current winery that grew from his original venture is located in Hammondsport, a town situated on Keuka Lake's western shore, When I visited on Friday, June 5, 2020, the crew was offering walk-up wine ordering in addition to online and phone sales.  I was able to go to a window, review a list of wines, and chat with a helpful tasting room representative about them.  After I made my selection and paid, the bottles were brought to a parking area in a sturdy cloth bag, and I was on my way. The staff told me that the winery would begin hosting outdoor tastings by appointment starting next Saturday, June 13.

Heart and Hands Wine Company 

This small winery --  situated on a bucolic hillside in Union Springs, NY -- is owned and run by Tom and Susan Higgins.  When I visited on June 6, 2020, they had just begun offering outdoor wine tastings. Metal tables were well spaced in a gravel lot, and guests were offered a choice of two flights with five wines each for $10.  I chose the Pinot Noir flight, being familiar with their high quality Pinots from a previous visit. The staff wore masks, and visitors were asked to wear masks if they entered the winery to use a restroom or wanted to make a purchase inside.  It was wonderful to sit down on a beautiful sunny day and enjoy a wine tasting in person once more. While this company had developed an active online wine tasting program, all the guests seemed appreciative and in good spirits to be welcomed at a winery again.

Keuka Spring Vineyards 

Keuka Spring is located in the town of Penn Yan, NY, and is situated on a ridge above Keuka Lake. The winery has an established seating area with comfortable Adirondack chairs offering majestic lake views. Additional seating was offered under the shade of a party tent. When I visited on June 6, 2020, it was also their first weekend offering wine tastings again. I saw many small groups enjoying wine samples as they spread out, laughed, and sipped.

I was able to enter the shop and select my own wines without feeling rushed.  As with all the other wineries, masks were worn by all staff, and guests were expected to do the same when inside. Hand sanitizer available by the cash register was a thoughtful touch.

Outdoor dining resumes in Finger Lakes

On June 5, 2020, I was able to indulge in my first restaurant meal since mid March.  My daughter and I visited the Lakeside Restaurant and Tavern on the western shore of Keuka Lake.  This restaurant was well situated to reopen, as it has three outdoor seating areas -- all with gorgeous lake views.  Menus were printed on paper - the entrees seemed limited, but there were certainly ample options. I was also able to enjoy a lovely Hunt Country Pinot Gris made at a winery just up the road. While my server apologized for serving it in a plastic cup, I was thrilled to drink wine sitting at a restaurant.  I noticed that all the silver wear was wrapped in large napkins that were tucked in around the edges - another nod to sanitary practices.  My daughter and I enjoyed lingering at our table, savoring the food, wine, and the rare privilege of having a restaurant experience.

To provide more context for this get-away, the areas that I visited were not affected badly by the pandemic, and I therefore felt that - with proper precautions - arranging a visit to the Finger Lakes would be worth it.  New York state is conducting staged re-openings, and this region is far ahead of New York City.  When the weather cooperates, the range of outdoor wine tastings and restaurant experiences - along with the natural beauty of the region - make a trip to the Finger Lakes a wonderful treat as we begin to travel again.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Top Three Reasons why Rioja is my lockdown wine

The news outlets seem to be unanimous - we're all drinking more during our respective shelter-in-place instructions to help contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Online booze sales were reported up by over 240 percent as of April 1, 2020.

My own lockdown buying took place at the well-stocked wine mecca of the suburbs, Total Wine. There, I found myself strolling the aisles looking for both familiar and interesting bottles to get me through weeks of sheltering in place. 

As I poured my way through my wine collection over the last two months, I was struck by how much Rioja ended up in my glass.  This was not intentional, but as I go wine shopping I look for value wines that suit my palate and are dependable - and that's what I love about Rioja wines. Some of the go-to Rioja wines I can find in the Northeast U.S. are Lan, Camp Viejo, Marques de Riscal, Lopez de Heredia, Faustino, Muga, Dinastia Vivanco. 

Here are the top 3 reasons I love Rioja wine: 

Palate pleasing flavor - Red Rioja wines (or tinto as they say in Spain) use the grape Tempranillo.  For me, this is one of the winners in the grape world. It produces wines with dried cherry flavors with a touch of tobacco and spice.  I don't go for jammy, fruit bomb wines; I prefer drier styles - so Rioja is well suited to my palate. 

Excellent food pairing - Rioja wines tend to be medium weight and they aren't so bold that they dominate a dish. Therefore, I drink them with lots of dinner staples, including pizza, roast chicken, all kinds of pasta dishes, hamburgers and more.  They usually have good levels of acidity which is always a welcome aspect when pairing wine with meals. Unless a dish cries out for a white wine, I will very often pour a Rioja with what I'm having for dinner. 

Terrific quality for the price - I find the Rioja wines that I buy offer dependable quality. Unlike with Burgundy, I don't break out vintage charts to make sure I'll like what's in the bottle.  And I can spend between $12.99 - $18.99 and get really terrific wines that I know I'm going to enjoy.  That's one of the top reasons that so many of them end up in my cart. 

I hope that all my wine friends are staying safe and enjoying some home-cooked meals with wines that they love.  And, while I have lots of wines from other countries in my collection, you will often find me in the evening with a lovely glass of Rioja keeping me company as I stay safe at home. 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

101 Gins captures the flavorful world of a classic spirit

101 Gins to Try Before You Die is a beautiful, smallish format book that provides a current snapshot of many of the best producers of this fragrant spirit. The author is Ian Baxter, a veteran drinks writer also known for his 101 Whisky Books.

The book starts with this premise: "We're in the middle of a new Gin Craze. From being the drink of choice of middle-aged, jaguar-driving golfers and an easy target for stand-up comedians, today's it's harder to find anything hipper on the international bar scene."

The book takes readers first through a little history of the beverage, and then through a bit of the production methods.  Then from page 20 on, it's the - as promised - 101 gins. Each carefully curated entry boasts a beautiful photograph and a succinct page of text.

There are predictably plenty of gins from the United Kingdom represented, starting with #1, Fifty Eight Gin made in tiny batches in a trendy part of London.  Ian characterizes this new gin brand as "a great example of the new wave of small operations trying to find a gap in the market."

But there are also gins made in France -- and Philadelphia. Germany and Spain are also represented as well as Japan.  That one - Nikka Coffey Gin - uses Japanese citrus such as yuzu, kabosu, hirami lemon and amanatsu, as well as apples and sansho pepper -- in addition to the expected ingredient: juniper. And it's ingredients lists such as these that help explain the current fascination.  In a world where "hand crafted" is often just a marketing ploy, gin really can spring from one distiller's imagination and creativity.

Readers interesting in taking a deep dive into this hot beverage category need look no further than this book.

Versatile Lugana delights with modern Indian cuisine

Fans of Lugana wines know that the region offers far more than a delicious white wine from the indigenous Italian grape Turbiana.  It's also a versatile, food-friendly white wine that can work with a variety of cuisines.

A wine media dinner at Spice Symphony showcased five Lugana wines that paired beautifully with the flavor sensations of authentic Indian fare.

Our meal was full of playful touches, like the first course of spicy pani puri.  These crunchy orbs were terrific paired with a sparkling Lugana DOC Classic Method 2016 from Olivini, which showed bright acidity and nice body. 

The Lugana DOC Ca' Maiol Molin 2018 was a medium-bodied wine with citron and stone fruits on the palate.  With our second course featuring samosa pinwheels and paneer with pomegranate, it was a zesty accompaniment to the richly flavorful offerings. 

As dinner progressed, the wine became richer and more complex.  The Lugana DOC Superiore Ca' Vaibo 2017 from Fausto Bulgarini had complex aromatics and notes of pastry and lemon meringue on the palate. It was a full bodied wine that stood up to the multitude of flavors we feasted upon. 

The stand-out wine of the evening was Lugana DOC Riserva Vigne di Catullo 2016 from Tenuta Roveglia. Bright acidity was balanced with a touch of residual sugar.  The grapes used come from 50 year old vines. I found the lime notes on this wine to be lovely counterparts to the richly spiced fare. 

Our final vinous treat was a Lugana DOC Vendemmia Tardiva Rabbiosa 2015 from Marangona.  With 26 grams of residual sugar, this late harvest wine was an elegant touch of sweetness that sent us back into the night with a smile.