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.