Thursday, November 5, 2009

Douro! Douro! Douro!

Why not shout about the wines from the Douro (rhymes with Toro) Valley in northern Portugal? They are surprising, exciting, unique.

I’ve just returned from two days in the region. The landscape includes a meandering river, sweeping valleys, terraced vineyards, and winding roads that aren’t for the faint of heart (especially when driven by Portuguese bus drivers, who love to tailgate).

Port wine, a fortified beverage that is often aged for years, has been produced in the area since the 1600s. But table wines are babies – they’ve only been made for 15 years! There are some white wines produced in the Douro, but it’s the reds that play the leading role.

When young, the red wines of Douro can be too much for many palates- certainly mine. The acidity makes the side of your mouth tingle, the fruit is powerful, but rough, the tannins are sometimes out of control, and there can be bitter flavors and stalky vegetable notes that don’t work. However, when in the hands of a skilled winemaker and when given a few years to mature and a few hours to decant, the wines are delightfully approachable and always food friendly. In fact, I believe that drinking them without food does them a disservice. I found that when I was eating – whether a full meal or a few marcona almonds-- the wines uniformly tasted better. The very high acid in the wines makes them great matches with many foods.

One of the controversies in this very young wine region is what to grow and how to blend it. Touriga Nacional is a popular grape variety that produces a full bodied, inky dark red. Many Portuguese wine makers are making single variety wines with it. However this is a departure from tradition in the Douro, where field blends are commonly fermented. I was unfamiliar with this practice, but learned that older vineyards have a huge variety of grapes--as many as 50 or more--mixed together in the fields. In those vineyards, the winemaker waits until everything ripens then ferments it all together.

Many winemakers are getting away from that tradition in an attempt to serve a market that expects to see grape varieties listed on the label. They’re replanting old vineyards with five common varieties in order to make new style wines. When I met Cristiano Van Zeller from Quinta do Vale dona Maria, he said this was a mistake. His field blend wines are gorgeous, so he makes a good point. Personally, I think that the tradition of field blends is one of the aspects that makes Portuguese table wines unique.

It will be fascinating to watch and taste the development of this up-and-coming wine region. Just remember to decant!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Seven Hills, Lots of Wine, EWBC Anticipation

I am packing my bags, downloading ISpeak Portuguese, and counting the hours until I fly into Lisbon this Friday morning. The object of my anticipation is the European Wine Bloggers Conference.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting California twice for the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, and I’m really looking forward to its sister conference across the pond. I have to hand it to Gabriella and Ryan Opaz and Robert MacIntosh, conference organizers, for putting together a stellar weekend.

One of the best things about these conferences is that they give wine bloggers the opportunity to meet. The friends I’ve made in this funny little world of online wine writing have always delighted me with their intelligence, humor, and joie de vivre.

I’m thrilled that the conference site is Lisbon. I’ve never been to this European capital, and I’m glad that the conference has given me the excuse to go. From its historic monuments to its seven hills, Lisbon looks quite magical. I’ll have to squeeze in as much touring as I can during my brief stay.

When I heard about the Saturday night dinner it sealed my decision to attend. We will be dining at Restaurant 11. I recently purchased a top 10 book of Lisbon, and the number one restaurant cited was –you guessed it—Restaurant 11. At last count, 15 courses were being planned with appropriately matched wines.

After the conference, there will be three straight days of vineyard tours, including two days in the beautiful Douro Valley. I am always thrilled to visit the lands where grapes are grown, to speak to the winemakers, and to get a sense of the place that goes into a wine. This truly enriches the experience of wine for me and inspires my writing.

Not to be forgotten in all this touring, interacting, and dining, is Portuguese wine. At the North American wine bloggers conference I had the opportunity to taste a lot of wonderful, full bodied red Portuguese wines. These were rich in fruit and tannin and extremely good values for the money. I can’t wait to visit the land where they were made.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Taste New York

Let’s all taste some Rieslings from the Finger Lakes. The idea spanned several states and multiple blogs, beginning with the plan’s originator Lenn Thompson of the blog Lenndevours: New York Cork Report. Here's his report of Taste NY.
And so, a shipment of Riesling was sent to New York City and sat waiting for bloggers until last Friday night. It was then that Erika Strum, Robbin Gheesling, Rob Bralow and I held court at a corner table in Lily’s restaurant in the Robert Smith Hotel and tasted through the bunch.
On the way, there was a cheese plate and some lamb lollypops and good conversation and a discussion of whether and where to have dinner (the answers were “yes” and Apiary).
As I posted recently on my Manhattan Wine Examiner Column, here are my tasting notes:
Hermann Wiemer 2007 Dry Riesling—Fresh nose with lots of ripe honeydew. Very pronounced on the attack with high acid. Tangy, tangerine flavors, but a disappointing finish.

Red Newt Cellar 2006 Riesling -- White flowers on the nose and a bit of petrol. Lots of lime on the palate, a very tangy wine that could be a good food match.

Atwater 2007 Dry Riesling – Another high acid wine, with a bit of spice and a splash of lemon on the finish.

Fox Run 2008 Riesling – Complicated nose that began with pretty floral characteristics, but gave off an odd note after a couple minutes. Tingling acid and flavors reminiscent of peach pit.

Hazlitt 2008 Homestead Reserve Riesling – Fresh nose, a lot of acid that tingled on the inner cheeks, nice pear flavor.

Billsboro 2008 Riesling– Big nose, rich flavors, especially ripe pear. The best of the night.

Anthony Road 2008 Semi dry Riesling– Winner of the 2009 Governor’s Cup, a lightly sweet wine with good acidity.

I'm looking forward to reading what other bloggers have to say about the bunch. There are still more unopened bottles of Riesling that need a taste.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Diane Letulle--Manhattan Wine Examiner

I’ve had a range of jobs in my life – working in marketing, public relations, doing freelance writing, even teaching music—but I’ve rarely been so excited about taking on a new role. I’m very pleased to announce that I am now the Manhattan Wine Examiner.
That means I get to take one of my favorite activities—checking out wine in New York City—and write about it for a national web site.
I recently went downtown to visit City Winery. My first post focuses on the After-Work Backyard BBQ free music series (check out the slideshow), but follow-up articles will include an interview with the founder Michael Dorf and news about their custom crush program.
Please check in with the site often, and if you have recommendations for a Manhattan wine event, store, or program that you think I should examine, please feel free to let me know.
I’ll still be posting to this blog, but I hope you’ll visit me at the examiner. Cheers!

Monday, July 27, 2009

10 "AHA" Moments from the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference

1. Wineries love bloggers – we were spoiled rotten in Napa with beautiful meals, walks, talks, and tastings
2. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is consistently priced out of reach of everyone I know – $100 a bottle Cabernets abound.
3. Melissa Dobson is a great date for the weekend
4. Petite Syrah is hot – although I still don’t “get” this grape
5. Rick Bakas really does eat bacon 7 days a week, but 5 of those he’s doing turkey bacon
6. Portugal’s red wines are terrific – full bodied, flavorful and well-matched to many foods
7. Despite his new found celebrity, Hardy Wallace is as nice and self-effacing as ever
8. Stag’s Leap was named for a hunted stag who jumped over a promontory to escape death
9. The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone is a breathtaking facility and, according to its director, “Hogwarts for food and wine lovers”
10. Barry Schuler has the historical perspective and contemporary insight to be able to explain just what’s happening in print and electronic communications, e-commerce, social media and more

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

East Coast Food & Wine Festival Offers Relaxing Taste of NJ

Some wine festivals are mob scenes—hundreds of people crammed under a giant tent, all pushing their way with glass extended to the overwhelmed winery staff. But the East Coast Food & Wine Festival in Pennington, NJ, offered a bucolic alternative to those over-crowded fests.
As soon as my car bumped over the lumpy clover field to the parking, I knew I had reached the heart of New Jersey farmland, a heritage forgotten by out-of-staters who have heard too many “What Exit?” jokes.
But this is, after all, the Garden State. Pints of New Jersey blueberries were stacked high, their purple-blue hue peeking through their clear plastic containers. In the produce tent, vendors sold lettuce harvested just two hours before, as well as fresh beets, peas, and more. There I met Mikey Azzara, a friendly pioneer of the Jersey locavore scene who runs Zone 7. He drives to farms to collect just-picked produce and then delivers it to local restaurants.
But what about New Jersey wine? All in all, it was a mixed bag, and some wineries showed much better than others. Unionville Winery offered the best reds I tasted. I particularly liked their more expensive (still only $22-$26) reds, including a medium weight, fruit-forward 07 Montage, which blended 50% Chambourcin and 50% Pinot Noir. I also enjoyed The Big O, another 07 that was a big, tannic wine with lots of fruit. This is another 50/50 blend, mixing Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. I’m guessing the Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t ripen sufficiently to make a varietal wine, but it blended nicely with the earthy Cab Franc.
Unionville is able to grow their own Merlot, while another winery I won’t name sources grapes out of state for theirs. This is one of my pet peeves. If I’m visiting a local winery, I want to taste the local wines, not ones from the West Coast or New York. I suppose it’s a money-maker for them to offer Washington State Pinot Noir, but I question how NJ can establish itself as a quality wine-producing state if its wineries sell out-of-state products? I believe that more NJ wineries need to embrace lesser-known varieties that grow well in their soil and climate, rather than trying to offer the standard Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon.
For example, Hopewell Valley Vineyard, the festival host, offers a flavorful Chambourcin. Originating in the 1950s in the Loire Valley, Chambourcin grows very well in NJ and I'd feel safe buying it at most NJ wineries. It produces a medium weight red wine with rich ruby color, good fruit, and light tannins, and it pairs well with lots of dishes.
One thing that a lot of wineries got dead wrong was their Chardonnay. I tasted more than a couple that were over-oaked. One of my tasting notes said, “I feel like I’m sucking on a 2 x 4.” I asked Gary Pavlis, a festival speaker who judges NJ wine competitions, “Why do so many NJ wineries over-oak their wine?” His answer was that they didn’t get enough flavor from their fruit. I thought about the European wineries that wouldn’t produce any wine during a bad harvest in order to preserve the quality of their brand, and wished the NJ wineries would make the necessary changes in what they grow or how they grow it to eliminate the need for such masking techniques.
I found one quality Chardonnay that was not available for the general tasting. This buttery Chard from Unionville retails for $45…which made me question how many people would pay that much money for a NJ wine, even if it is quite good. My choice for the best priced, high quality white wine was at Cape May Winery’s booth: Victorian White. This blend of white grapes produces a pleasing, medium-weight wine, light gold in color with a punched-up, fruit flavor.
When I asked several winemakers and local experts, the consensus was that New Jersey wine is improving, but it has a long way to go.
But as far as wine festivals go, the East Coast Food & Wine Festival got it right: multiple tents that were leisurely spaced-out, a great-sounding country band, food vendors offering delicious gourmet fare, and terrific speakers including TV Chef Michael Colameco, Judgment of Paris author and journalist George Taber, and the charming chef and wine expert Maureen Petrosky. On a sunny, blue-sky weekend, the East Coast Food & Wine Festival was the place to be.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Many Moods of Beaujolais

Beaujolais has a reputation as a simple wine, but maybe it’s got more going on than meets the eye.
I never thought of the grape as very age-worthy, but last night at a tasting at Snooth headquarters on Madison Avenue organized by Gregory DalPiaz, I heard tell of 10 year and older Beaujolais showing very well, comparing favorably with younger Burgundies. Well, I haven’t tasted old Beaujolais, and I’m not in a big rush to do so, because, frankly, I like Beaujolais very much for its youthful, fresh taste.
When it comes to Beaujolais, I subscribe to the Kevin Zraly school of thought. In his Windows on the World Wine School, he talks about it as a great choice for a bottle when out to dinner with friends. It’s the red that can work well enough with both fish and red meat. He also likes to drink it at the end of a long day, when he doesn’t want to analyze his wine.
But analyze we did, at least enough to figure out that there are some substantial differences in the Cru Villages. While wine marked Beaujolais Village is a blend of grapes from across the region, Cru Village Beaujolais (it will have the name of the village on the label) comes from one of the ten small towns that have earned this designation.
The wine that stopped me in my tracks was the 2007 Thenevet Grain & Granite from the village of Régnié. This was a darker, fuller bodied Beaujolais with greater tannins than any I had ever tried. I enjoyed the wine, but felt like it wouldn’t be my first choice if I wanted to reach for a typical Beaujolais. The Domaine des Terres Dorrees Jean-Paul Brun Cotes de Brouilly was also a bigger version of the wine.
More in line with my expectations were the wines from Fleurie, Chenas, St. Amour & Julienas. This were lighter in color & flavor and offered the fresh, strawberry goodness that I love in Gamay.
My personal preferences: when I want a typical Beaujolais that still has a bit of character, I’ll go for Fleurie or Julienas, two of my favorites, and serve them chilled, as they do in France. However, I won’t turn down a glass of the bigger Beaujolais if I’m in the mood for a heavier red wine.
No matter what the style, one thing to love about Beaujolais is the price. You can buy the best ones for under $25. Now how many wine regions can you say that about? I think of Beaujolais as a spring wine—when temperatures rise it’s often nice to have a lighter red. I recommend sampling wines from several of the cru villages in order to find the mood of Beaujolais that suits you.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

If music be the food of love, play on -- WBW #58

O.K., so Shakespeare was talking about love, not wine, but if you reach in far enough, there’s an appropriate metaphor about music enhancing one’s experiences, whether they be falling in love or wine-tasting.

For this eye-opening experiment I tasted two wines with each track:

Channing Daughters
Rosata / Cabernet Sauvignon
Mudd Vineyard



1) Artist: Moby CD: Hotel/Ambient Disk Track: 1

For my first tasting, I felt that the pulsing bass line and throbbing synth overwhelmed this gentle pink wine.

With the Barolo, I noticed the smokey nose and meaty flavor distinctly. The Barolo was a better match for Moby’s intellectual reaching on this Phillip Glass-like track. But, the pulsing rhythm outran the mellow appeal of the wine.

Result: Double Fail

2) Artist: Belle and Sebastian CD: Boy with the Arab Strap Track: Sleep the Clock Around

I really like the high energy and light harmonizing on vocals. Belle & Sebastian is a Scottish band that provides bouncy pop music with a twist. The song was a great match to the Rosato’s strawberry punch. This wine is fun and so is this tune.

Drinking the Barolo while listening to the same song, I’m less aware of the high-pitched vocals and more clued into the deeper acoustic guitar strum and bass line that run under the happy sounding voices. I’m compelled to grab the lyric sheet to find the dark words that lie hidden like the Loch Ness in their bubble-gum pop sound…”And could this be the time when somebody will come/To say ‘Look at yourself, you’re not much use to anyone.’” The Barolo was not a natural match, but somehow the music lightened the wine’s serious palate, and the wine brought out the gravity in the song.
Result: Good pairing with Rosato, Qualified success with Barolo

3) Artist: Taking Back Sunday CD: Louder Now Track: Liar, Liar

This is a fast-paced song with drilling bass lines. The young band offers tight musicality, but this close-but-not-quite-headbanging (head nodding?) tune is best played loud. The rollicking guitars on the break overwhelm my poor rosé, although the tart fruit nose is definitely sharper when smelled against the backdrop of this song.

When I replay the song for my Barolo, I notice the length on the wine much more. Its heavy tannic structure is blunting Taking Back Sunday’s best attempt to capture my sensory perception…the finish on the wine coincides with an awesome guitar neck slide, which is a cool moment in the tasting/listening. But this match is too competitive: my ears and mouth are fighting for my brain’s attention. Love these, but separately.

Result: Double Fail

4) Artist: Kate Bush CD: The Whole Story Track: Wuthering Heights

Kate’s eerie high voice sings about the moors of England and the ghostly romance of Wuthering Heights. This pairing is a triumph. The berry flavors of the wine put me in mind of the fresh-mown English lawns and gardens in spring bloom, rosebushes which Cathy’s gowns may have swept by. This song is based on my favorite novel, a Gothic romance, and it lends a depth to the Rosato. With its deep salmon color, the wine even appears to be a romantic choice. Its sweet fruit structure is heightened by the ghostly Cathy’s soulful howling at the end of the track. Beautiful.

“Oh it gets dark, it gets lonely,” sings Kate Bush, channeling the ghost of Cathy. The Gothic drama of this dark tale of star-crossed lovers is underscored by this big, complicated Italian wine, which reminds me of the broad-shouldered, heavy browed hero Heathcliff to whom she sings. The finish lingers and Kate plaintively sings while a rich guitar riff extends the melodic vocal line. This pairing is the clear winner of the night.

Result: The Rosato is Cathy, the Barolo is Heathcliff, both pairings enrich each other.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Big and Little Bs of the Piedmont

Italian wine is a vast subject that many of us don’t know a great deal about. But there is much to explore beyond the familiar straw-wrapped Chianti bottles. The country offers many styles of wine from everyday sippers to glorious age-worthy bottles.
One of the most challenging things about Italian wine is all the different varieties. Take Piedmont, for example. This storied wine region is in northwest Italy. On a clear day, you can see the Alps from its sloping vineyards. In Piedmont alone, three significant wines all start with the letter B.
Barolo – The grape of Barolo wine is Nebbiolo. Barolo itself is a charming hilltop town. As you drive up the winding road, you immediately see Barolo Castle, which now houses a stylish enoteca where you can sample fleets of local wine and get an overview of the area’s wines from a multi-lingual guide. During my time in the region, I learned that Barolo is the wine of kings & the king of wines. This red is a big, tannic beast that often requires at least a decade to settle down and become a dry, complex red whose tannins have been tamed. The problem with loving Barolo is its price: I haven’t seen one below $50 this side of the Atlantic. However, in Italy, I found some relative bargains, so I snatched up some 2004s & 2005s, which I plan on aging at least a few years. It’s nice to have some wines to look forward to in the future.
Barbaresco—Here is another wine based on Nebbiolo grapes, but it’s grown in different regions than Barolo. I visited a fine Barbaresco winemaker at Paitin, a family winery that boasts an amazing 15th century wine cellar. Silvano Pasquero-Elia took me out on a balcony and showed me the sweep of tongue-shaped hills that comprise the Langhe mountain range. The white-tinged soil in his town of Bricco de Neive is perfect for cultivating grapes for Barbaresco, which is still a big, age-worthy wine, but with a fresher nose and slightly less firm tannins. Silvano was gracious enough to take me through a tasting of his wonderful Barbarescos, and made a present of an old vines 2004, which I look forward to opening in the future.
Barbera – One resident told me is that Barbera is the heart of Piedmont. Although some may argue that Dolcetto, a jammy, simple red wine, is the daily wine of the area, my guide at Rocche Costamagna, confirmed that Barbera is their everyday wine, while Barolo is the weekend wine. During the months before my trip, I sampled Italian wines of the regions I would visit and developed a real fondness for this wine. Barbera has that dusty, potpourri-scented, dry Italian wine thing going on, and it has high acidity, making it an easy match for lots of foods, including red-sauce meals. Unlike Barbarescos and Barolos, Barbera is delightful when young. In the US, it often is sold in the low 20 dollar range—not the cheapest, but certainly not the most expensive foreign wine and well within my own threshold of wine spending.
Now if you’re thinking “Haven’t I heard of another famous B wine from Italy?” you’re right. That would be Brunello de Montalcino, but this isn’t produced anywhere near Piedmont. Those vineyards are hundreds of kilometers south in Tuscany and made from Sangiovese grapes, which is also the dominant grape of the blend of our old friend, Chianti.
Check out some Italian wine soon. Confusion never tasted so good.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Travel Channel Academy Shoot-- Pairing Wine with Film

This weekend I expanded my communication skills considerably by attending the Travel Channel Academy in NYC. This four day workshop is intense and expensive ($2,000 not including MAC laptop or camcorder rental), so you really need to be serious to consider doing this. However, for those of us for whom time is more valuable than dollars, this course provides the perfect quick and dirty intro to shooting and editing.
Heavy-hitter TV production team Michael Rosenblum and Lisa Lambden led the long days, which took place in a third floor conference room at CUNY’s School of Journalism. Part of the value for dollar was making contact with top level Travel Channel execs like Lori Rothschild Ansaldi. When she dangled freelance video projects in front of us, it was like watching lions circle for the kill: we salivated over the thought of being paid $1000 to sell off exclusive rights to our two minute travel pieces.
Our first projects were harried: we were quickly taught video basics and thrown onto the streets of Manhattan to shoot about 20 minutes of tape, which we later edited down to a one minute clip. In the screening, our feelings were not spared as we were subjected to, as Michael called it, Public Humiliation and Public Praise. I felt slightly terrified of the prospect, but, in the end all of the criticism was tempered with humor, and our work was the better for it.
For the second shoot, we were required to find a character. Where in NYC would I find someone who came across well on camera (their requirements) and was involved in wine (my requirements)? Thinking about the wine shops, restaurants, and bars I’ve been to, I remembered meeting Jean Luc Le Dû, proprietor of Le Dû’s Wines in the West Village.
I made quick contact with him Saturday morning, and, even though Jean Luc was moving his apartment that day, he made time to meet me at his store. While I waited, I met his associate Yannick, an enthusiastic wine lover who is currently in the process of pursing his Master of Wine from the Court of Grand Sommeliers.
When Jean Luc arrived, he was all quick movements and fast talk in his melodious French accent. Following him around the store was a bit of a challenge, but, in the end, I got some great footage of him tasting wine that was poured for their Saturday wine tastings, talking about wine with his associates and customers, and telling stories about Romanée Conti for the camera.
It was a lovely visit and made a great subject for my two minute video. If the Travel Channel doesn’t buy this clip, you’ll see it posted here within a few weeks.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I Earned My Long Island Wine Tasting Badge at TasteCamp East

If I were a scout, I’d be sewing a patch embroidered with a glass of red wine and a map of Long Island on my green-sleeved uniform today. Because at TasteCamp, I had earned bragging rights to knowing more than a little about wines from both the North and South Forks.
TasteCamp East was organized by the energetic Lenn Thomson. He matched up 30 bloggers with more than a dozen Long Island wine producers and the result was a glorious weekend of discovery.

Our entrée to Long Island wine began Friday evening in the grand tasting room at Raphael Winery, where members of the Merlot Alliance poured their wines. Merlot is Long Island’s signature grape. In many bottlings of Long Island Merlot, winemakers feel free to stir in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Petit Verdot. The Aussie-born Pellegrini winemaker took us through a flight of Merlot that began in 1993. I was impressed that the older wines stood up and offered a nice amount of fruit and color despite being 16 years old. Favorite wines from that evening included the 2004 Clovis Point Merlot blended with Cabernet Franc and the 1998 and 2000 Wölffer Merlots.
After enjoying passed appetizers and a good share of wine tasting, we settled at formally set tables complete with candelabras. Dinner was ever-so-good after a dreary day driving out to the edge of Long Island. The foie gras and poached pear appetizer and short rib ravioli in particular were stunners.

Saturday morning started early as we corralled into a back room at Roanoke. The set-up was professional: spit buckets, water bottles, and information sheets about the wine. We sat at long tables and went to work on our tasting, learning that they like their wines unfined and unfiltered—an approach we would see again out here. Our next stop was Paumanok, where the smiling welcome of Charles Massood eased our way into their terrific line-up, including a super crisp Chenin Blanc and their elegant Assemblage, a Bordeaux-type blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. I was thrilled that his son, winemaker Kareem, took us into the cellar for 2007 barrel samples that left our tongues bright purple.
Our lunch was at Shinn Estate. We eagerly attacked a buffet of duck breast, mushroom salad, penne and asparagus, green salad, and calamari. The lunch wine that was my favorite of the weekend was the barrel sample of the 2007 Shinn Cabernet Franc. Long Island Cabernet Franc was a revelation to me. I had tasted quite a few Cab Francs on my trip to the Loire Valley last summer. In France, this wine can be pale in the glass and in the nose it often takes on vegetal components. Here, it is a riper, meatier red--darker in color and more intensely flavored. Then again, I’m told that 2007 is an exceptional vintage.
Lunch was followed by lengthy chats by North Fork winemakers who conveyed their passion for farming sustainably, despite the challenges of their maritime climate. Before entering the winery, I had admired the sunny dandelions and brilliant green ground covers that grew between the vines, which had just gone through bud break (every blogger took the same close-up photo). Barbara Shinn explained that they intentionally created a meadow to bring in good bugs and assist their vineyard’s ability to thrive organically. This attractive and incredibly down-to-earth winemaker said the funniest line of the weekend: “They say that good wine is made in the vineyard, but good wine comes from a horse’s ass.” These words to live by were uttered as the group passed around a flower pot of aged manure that’s used as fertilizer—I kid you not.
The after-lunch tasting in the garage of Shinn was overwhelming—too many wines in too little time. We had all slowed down by that point, tired by the food and the pace of the day. (I never did get that double espresso I needed!) It was more of a social time for us to catch up with old friends and get to know new ones better. As Finger Lakes publicist Melissa Dobson and I exchanged girly hugs, it occurred to me that I was enjoying the company of my fellow bloggers as much as the wine. These are vibrant, funny folks who share my passion, and I was delighted to spend the weekend with them.
On the huge porch at Bedell, we shivered in a cool spring breeze as we ran through their line up, which included some yummy but expensive selections, including an oaked Chardonnay which I might have bought if it had been $30 instead of $48. After our tasting, we soaked up thin rays of sunshine and admired the flat, wide vineyard behind the open-air deck. Some of our party dropped off, but the boldest ones soldiered on to a final tasting at Lenz—and I’m so glad I did. The winemaker was a character: bearded, hippy-like and precise in his opinions. Maturity ebbed away as we laughed at each other spitting into a grate in his drive, giving each other points for distance and style. We drank frothy barrel samples poured from a plastic pitcher and were pressed to guess the variety—the white pinot noir stumped all but the most astute.

Sunday morning, our numbers had dwindled further, and my group got a bit lost as we ambled over two ferries and across lovely Shelter Island. When we reached the regal Wölffer Estates, we found our companions in a beautiful tasting room, its high ceilings crossed by thick wooden beams, a beautiful iron chandelier hanging over a grand dining room table. Our red wines were served in bell-shaped Reidel glasses. We swirled our Merlot and watched it spin, like Flamenco dancers careening in long skirts. Roman Roth, the German-born winemaker, grinned as he discussed 2006, a challenging year that still produced a wonderful fruity wine. We ended that tasting with a golden dessert wine from grapes that had been attacked by Botrytis—a very good thing! This is the same noble rot that creates exquisitely sweet and complex Sauternes in France. It seemed sinful to pour the rest of our glasses down the spittoons—but we had one more winery before we were done.
Our weekend finished at Channing Daughters. Their fast-talking winemaker Christopher Tracy was lively, fun, down-to-earth, knowledgeable—I can’t say enough about how I enjoyed his hospitality. Luckily, his wines reflected his boundless enthusiasm. In terms of winemaking, he took a distinctly different view than other Long Islanders, looking to grape varieties from Northeast Italy and the Adriatic-influenced Veneto rather than Bordeaux. One sip of his Tokai Friulano and we were convinced that he was right. As we petted his fuzzy, brown Labroodle and enjoyed the sound of rain pinging on the porch roof above, we felt a comfortable pleasantness steal over us. We had learned so much, tasted to exhaustion, taken pages of notes, and sent out dozens of tweets. At last, we could relax. On the porch at Channing Daughters, drinking fine wines on a rainy Sunday afternoon, we knew how pleasant a trip to Long Island wine country could truly be and we enjoyed the moment….not as bloggers, but simply as lovers of the good life.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Taste Camp Anticipation

I’m pleased as punch to be part of Taste Camp East, a by-invitation-only wine bloggers event on Long Island’s North Fork. The event was organized by Lenn Thomson, author of the highly-regarded New York State wine blog , Lenndevours.
I’m especially looking forward to spending time with some of the great folks I met at the California Wine Bloggers Conference, such as Rémy Charest, Robbin Gheesling, and Melissa Dobson, all great wine bloggers and very cool peeps.
Lenn did an amazing job organizing a full weekend of Long Island wine tastings. Tonight, we’re being treated to dinner by Raphael Winery and the Long Island Merlot Alliance. Saturday we’ll be spitting a lot—woe to those who don’t because we begin at 10:00 am -- tasting through the day at these vineyards: Roanoke, Paumanok, Shinn (who’s treating us to lunch!), Bedell, and Lenz. Our Saturday dinner is being put on by Grand Cru Classes and it’ll be BYOB. Can’t wait to see what these wine lovers bring to dinner—it’s always fun when the bloggers start pulling out their favorite bottles. Sunday there’s an outing to the southern side of the island for tastings at Wolffer Estate and Channing Daughters.
I expect to come home with red-stained teeth and a high appreciation of Long Island wine. Cheers to all the sponsors and organizers of Taste Camp East!

Monday, April 27, 2009

St. Michael’s Food and Wine Festival Sizzles on the Chesapeake

Record-setting April temps struck during this year’s St. Michael’s Food and Wine Festival, which made the nice folks at the D’Marie booth very happy. They sell a mix that you stir into red or white wine, pop in the freezer, and a little while later you get an icy slush made with wine. Their little cups of red and white wine slush tasted great on such a scorcher, and as did crisp whites like Pinot Grigios—although I steered clear of anything red for the first couple hours.
Although the event officially began at 11:00, the local liquor laws required everyone to wait until 12:00 to pour. Someone shouted “ 11:59” the minute before and then it was “12:00, You can pour wine!”
My schedule only allowed me one day at the festival, but it was well worth the drive down Maryland’s rural eastern shore. The folks who run the fest have Southern hospitality down pat and welcome you with big smiles. The location of the event, right on the water at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, was scenic and fascinating. Our tickets to the festival also included entry to the museum’s exhibits. I climbed up a furnished 19th century lighthouse and got a fantastic view of the water and the festival.
Two large tents are set up where the wineries pour. There is also cheese sampling from a quality local producer Firefly Farms. My husband and I always take some of their fresh goat’s milk cheese home with us.
This festival has terrific speakers, but the supply of public tickets is unfortunately very limited. I arrived half an hour early for the first speaker, the Wine Coach, and was already too late. As the day wore on, I began to think that I could only get into one seminar due to the long wait. I choose to hear Danielle Cyrot, winemaker at Napa Valley’s St. Clement Winery, voted Best Boutique Winery two years in a row. She was a delight—young, upbeat, and informative. Her seminar focused on tasting the four Cabernet Sauvignons that comprise the blend of their signature wine, Orropas. As Danielle described the topography of each of the different vineyards, I imagined myself in California hiking in the vineyards again. I later introduced myself to Danielle, who was quite gracious. Hope I have the opportunity to visit her winery one day.
After the seminar, my husband and I strolled the tents and took time to chat with both the exhibitors and attendees. At the Lockwood booth, we drank Syrah and debated with another wine lover just who sang Que Sera, Sera….one I-Phone search later and we had the answer: Doris Day in an Alfred Hitchcock Film.
At the festival’s end, my husband and I scampered down the shore to soak our tired feet in the cool water of the Chesapeake. It had been a hot, fun time at the St. Michael’s Food and Wine Festival on Maryland’s scenic Eastern Shore.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bordeaux Prices Show Signs of Dropping

During the spring, wine buyers flock to Bordeaux to taste the vintage of the previous fall. So in March, the 2008 wine from the great Chateau was being tasted. There is a tradition here when it comes to pricing the wine: the famous wine critic Robert Parker will release his reviews (on a 100 point system) and then the chateau owners will put a price to bottle, most often in June.
But the rarified world of Bordeaux wine cannot escape the world financial crisis. In addition, many observers believe that the pricing structure in Bordeaux became out of whack after the spectacular 2005 vintage. It seems that the prices for 2006 and 2007 Bordeaux did not drop much, even though the wines from these years did not compare to the 05. That was in the days when investment bankers with bulging wads of cash snapped up Bordeaux, pushing the prices out of the reach of the average wine collector. But those days are done. In light of the world financial crisis, many are concerned about the world’s most prestigious wines languishing without buyers.
Already, one Chateau owner has taken measures to deal with that. Chateau Angelus is offering their 2008 at a 40% price drop from their 2007. We’ll see if other chateaux follow suit. If they do, this could mark the year that sky-high Bordeaux prices fueled by flush investors finally float down to earth. While these are never going to be inexpensive wines, they could at least be a little more within reach, especially in the wines classified further down the traditional Bordeaux ranking.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

World Wine Guys Visit Windows on the World Wine School

Monday night I a met a dynamic duo of food, wine, and travel writing, Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, the world wine guys. While I'm always excited to talk to other wine & travel lovers, I was especially pleased to speak with them because I had recently read their article on visiting Rioja in Wine Spectator. The Windows on the World Wine class that I visited on Monday night was focused on Italy and Spain, and Kevin Zraly had invited the guys to tell us a little bit about what’s happening in Rioja – basically a construction boom that is attracting the world’s most innovative architects including Frank Gehry and Philippe Mazieres. After the class wrapped up, I chatted at length with them about their time traveling around Spain and other European wine destinations, including their recent trip to Hungary to visit the land of the delicious dessert wine, Tokai. When I later checked out their fun website, I discovered some yummy international recipes including fried calamari, Beef Bourguignon, and Sultan’s Chicken. Keep a look out for more of their journeys in upcoming issues of Wine Spectator or take a look at their site for their travel recommendations.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Valrhona Chocolates, Van Leeuwen IceCream & Mr. Cupcakes

O.K., I admit it. In addition to loving liquid refreshments, I have a sweet tooth. I can go days without eating dessert, but if I am going to indulge, I want something wonderful—no waxy chocolate bars or cookies filled with artificial ingredients. For whatever reason, it’s been an awfully sweet week. Here are the sinfully good sweets that were worth the indulgence:
Valrhona Chocolates – My dear friend James came home from a weekend in Amsterdam with a box of these decadent and beautifully crafted “bon bons” for me. Every day, we each have one. I am a true chocolate lover, and these may be the best box chocolates I have ever had. I understand that there is a Valrhona Boutique in the Trump Place Food Emporium—much closer than Europe!
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream – At a recent writer’s meetup, I started talking about the sample ice cream that I tried recently and a fellow writer cried, “The ice cream truck!” It seems that Pete Van Leeuwen has an honest-to-goodness truck that treks around NYC. But, we can eat his cool treats without running down the street to catch him—it’s sold at Whole Foods. To give you an idea of how good this is: my husband brings home several half-gallons of ice cream every week and I never eat it. Unless it’s scorching hot, I find ice cream pretty easy to resist. But this ice cream is so high quality, it might as well be in a different food group: there are only about four ingredients per container, including fresh cream, hazelnuts from Italy’s Piedmont (in chocolate hazelnut, my favorite flavor), and actually less sugar than the bigger brands.
Mr. Cupcakes – Well, you have to drive to Jersey for this one! Let’s face it: cupcakes are having a moment. I know New York has its share of bakeries like Magnolia that offer the darling little treats, but I’ve heard tell of a NJ spot that is worth the trip. This past Tuesday the whole family headed to Clifton and we were not disappointed. With flavors like Peanut Butter & Jelly, Chocolate Strawberry, Smores, Red Velvet, and more, this is a fun spot to pick up a box. And, at $1.50 a piece, it’s a super economical indulgence. We ate ours at Brookdale Park , a sprawling green space designed by the Olmsted Brothers of Central Park fame.
Back to the wine anon. Hope readers will excuse a girl for sharing a little dessert love.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One Night in France

Last night I taught French Wine: An Evening of Tasting & Discovery for the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School. 24 wine lovers came to drink, eat & learn about the pleasures of French wine.
Our host was Papillon 25, where chef Yanick Ramieri whipped up chicken dumplings, fried calamari, and spicy skewered chicken to accompany the drinks. Our night began with a modestly-priced ($28) Champagne from the house of Duval-Leroy . This light-flavored Champagne was satisfying, but, to me didn’t compare to some of the more expensive ones, including Moёt Chandon or Veuve Clicquot. One piece of trivia I learned recently: it’s good to dry your champagne glasses with a cotton bar towel. The reason? The bubble trains that shoot up from the glass are formed around tiny pieces of lint. This is one time when it doesn’t pay to have pristine glasses. Sure enough, our flutes were just out of the dishwasher and the bubbles were a little disappointing.
We next moved on to Sancerre Delaporte Loire Valley 2006 Chavignol. This was a softer version of the classic Sauvignon Blanc with citrus on the nose and less acid than usual. Reactions were mixed to this pour. Another trivia: the town of Chavignol, where this wine is made, is also the namesake of spectacular Loire goat cheese that’s comes in thick discs. Chavignol cheese is a fantastic pairing with Sancerre.
We moved southwest to explore Bordeaux next. Papillon had supplied us with their house Bordeaux, which was Baron de Rothschild Lafite Reserve Special 2007, a jammy wine, deep garnet, that was 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet. This wine was palatable but quite simple and young: I showed my class the shine on the wine’s surface which indicated its youth. I would have wished to serve something older and more complex: maybe next time.
We moved east across the country to end my lecture in Burgundy. From this region, we enjoyed the hit of the night: Domaine A.F. Gros Hautes Cotes de Nuits 2002. Earthy on the nose and palate, but balanced with rich fruit that’s mellowed nicely with age, this wine was a steal at $20 from the Wine Library.
By this time, the group had grown quite convivial. I turned off my powerpoint and poured our last wine, a bonus, Fleur Des Pins Graves 2006, made of Semillon 70%, Sauvignon Blanc 30%. With aromas of marmalade and an appealing golden-orange hue, this was a sweet and delicious way to end a wonderful evening. As my happy students left, they thanked me and asked when the next class would be. We’ll see. For now, I’m pleased that my first foray into the world of conducting wine classes—with wine--went so well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish Loving Wine Drinkers Can Fill their Cup with Mead

It’s the day when everyone’s Irish! So, what’s a wine lover to do if she doesn’t feel up to a Guinness, and the thought of green beer turns her, well, green?
How about enjoying an ancient Irish wine-based beverage--mead? Many experienced Renaissance Fair visitors are familiar with the sweet beverage, as it is often sold at these events. But there’s a lot more to mead than men in tights and corseted ladies.
Mead is a mix of white wine, honey, and herbs. This sweet elixir is said to have wondrous properties. I love the old Irish tradition that after couples were married, they were sequestered for a full moon cycle (a month) with a supply of mead and a comfy bed. If a baby was born nine months later, it was attributed to the fertility powers in the drink. This was the beginning of our honeymoon tradition, which unfortunately has been downsized to a much shorter time, although the addition of traveling to luxury accommodations is a welcome one.
Bunratty Meade is a traditional Irish one that’s available in the U.S. But, whatever you’re drinking today, enjoy a safe and fun St. Patrick’s Day.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bargain Airfares, Strong Dollar Make Now the Time for European Wine Trips

While terrible economic news dominates the airwaves, there are still a lot of folks who have their jobs and, while their 401ks have taken a big hit, still have disposable income. If they happen to be wine lovers who want to plan a getaway abroad, this is a great time to book a trip.
Airfares to Italy are under $500 – a remarkable fare. A sluggish travel season and decreased fuel prices have made the airlines willing to drop prices in order to fill planes. I just booked round trip tickets from Newark to Milan for only $478. I’m still working out the details, but my trip will focus on wine regions near Venice, Florence, and Alba.
Feeling like sampling some Claret in Bordeaux or bubbly in Champagne? British Airways has a roundtrip New York to Paris fare for only $449. Or maybe it’s Tempranillo in Rioja you’re after. British Airways will take you to Madrid from JFK for only $422.
Those fares are even more tempting when you consider that the one euro now costs 1.28 dollars. That’s a lot more value for the greenback when compared with recent years. Another plus is that these fares are for travel in late spring, when all of Europe is blooming and the weather is ideal for excursions.
I have found the best airfare aggregator to be Kayak. Check out the prices—it might be the motivation you need to book the wine trip of a lifetime.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wine Lovers x 22 in South Orange

On Tuesday, March 24, I will meet 22 wine lovers at the elegant Papillon 25 for my South Orange-Maplewood Adult School class, French Wine: An Evening of Tasting and Discovery. I am excited to have such a robust registration for this class, in which I will discuss the wine regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and the Loire Valley. This is the first class I’ve taught in which we will have wine tasting, and I’m selecting at least four representative wines from the regions, so it should be lots of fun. Attendees will be able to learn about what grapes grow where, how the winemaking techniques differ in the regions, and view photos from my recent trips to France. Can’t wait to bring a little bit of la belle France to South Orange, N.J.

Friday, March 6, 2009

123 A-Z Grape Guide at Decanter

The other day I went into my local wine shop and asked if they had any Vermentino. I discovered this fragrant white wine recently at an Italian wine tasting and wanted to explore it further. Not only did they not have the variety, but their resident Italian wine expert had never even heard of it.

Today, I discovered a terrific online resource which would have helped my wine shop friend. has an incredibly useful list of 123 wines listed from A-Z, from Aghiorghitiko (a Greek red) to Zinfandel. This list is helpful for anyone who tries something new and wants to learn more—it even includes grapes that have different names in different countries. I learned that the Italian Vermentino I enjoyed is known in southern France as Rolle—hey, I had a glass of that at a Women for Winesense dinner!

Is the list definitive? Not even close. For example, the Zs stop at Zinfandel, not listing Austria’s Zweigelt grape which Eric Asimov introduced me to at a seminar. Still, it’s a very convenient resource. Some grapes have write-ups that are concise and to-the-point. Others have long paragraphs that offer insights not only about their taste, but also about their trendiness. For example: “Viognier…has become the darling of Californians, and, latterly Argentina, Australia and the South of France too.”

I can see this as also being a great resource for those trying to join the Wine Century Club. These ambitious imbibers are on a mission to try wines from 100 different grape varieties.

There are many wine resources online, but this is one that I’m sure I’ll return to time and again.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snooth Open (Those Bottles) Night

If opening one special bottle of wine is event-worthy (see Open That Bottle Night below), what about opening 31 special bottles? That was how many wines were poured during the marathon wine–tasting and dinner I attended at the cozy art deco room of the North Square Restaurant in the Washington Square Hotel in the heart of Greenwich Village.
This Open That Bottle Night event was organized by Snooth, an all-around online wine destination where you can log your favorite wines, access other folks’ tasting notes, join groups, make friends and search their huge wine database. The event was also loosely tied to Twitter Taste Live, an online event so geeky that it’s hard to begin to describe, but, in brief, a lot of us had iPhones in hand and were whipping out micro-tasting notes, and, when the ability to quickly summarize wines failed us, snarky comments and photos.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the evening was dining with such a witty and charming group, including Robbin from Vineyard Adventures and her wine-loving friends, Catherine and Scott, as well as Snooth staff Mark and Gregory, music biz guy by day and chef by night Erik, wine educator Ben, and assorted other great peeps.
The wine ranged from very good to outstanding. In a night of truly wonderful reds, old Barolos in particular stood out, the wine that made the biggest impression on me was white, a 1991 Eyrie Vineyards chardonnay from the Oregon's Willamette Valley. The same climate that produces wonderful Pinot Noirs, just like Burgundy, can apparently produce spectacular age-worth Chardonnays, just like Burgundy. With a hard candy butterscotch flavor, deep gold color and intense buttery aromas, this was a chard that aged beautifully.
Our dinner was delicious, too. My lambchops were juicy and perfectly medium-rare, and our assortment of appetizers included a chopped tuna tartare served with creamy guacamole and crunchy sprouts—a really well-executed dish.
So, cheers to Snooth for organizing a great event and to all the attendees for sharing such wonderful wine.

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 Glühwein. 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.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

PARTY! Celebrate the Inauguration Tonight

It’s 1:05 p.m. I’m in the office of my rather conservative day job where I just joined my colleagues in an emotional viewing of the swearing in of our 44th president. There’s a bit of the work day left, but tonight I want to PARTY! And, since this is a wine blog, I will go on the record as saying that I plan on purchasing on a nice California sparkler after work to celebrate this amazing day—plus maybe some red, white, and blue cupcakes. I’m not usually seized with patriotic fervor, but today I want to run American flag streamers around my house.
I think you have to experience darkness to appreciate light, and while the new president himself would be the first to urge us not to get too excited in light of the crisis we and the world face, this is a day to forget the pain, toss our caps in the air, forego political acrimony, and toast America!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Are You a Big Lover of Bordeaux?

My friend Cornelia Blume of the Bordeaux-based tour company Vitivinitours has alerted me to a special getaway her company is organizing May 15-17 on Le Weekend des Grands Amateurs—or the Weekend of Big Lovers, as I translate it. If you’re passionate about Bordeaux wine and you’ve yearned to visit the vineyards where the world’s finest wine is made, this trip is hard to resist.
While my time at the Bordeaux Fete le Vin, a biannual event, was tremendous fun, the wine offered there came from the lesser producers. Le Weekend des Grands Amateurs is for connoisseurs who appreciate the difference between Malesan (a sturdy, supermarket Bordeaux) and Margot. Participants will start Friday night with a dinner in the city, then wake up to a tasting of over 100 Grand Cru wines--the good stuff. Saturday evening promises a gala dinner at a Grand Cru estate. The weekend finishes up on Sunday with a tour of a great growth winery and lunch. Naturally, all the meals will feature carefully chosen Bordeaux.
All this glorious touring, dining, and drinking does not come cheap: the tour begins at 580 euros, which includes accommodations (double occupancy) in a two star hotel. But, when you consider the quality of the wine offered, the price seems reasonable. My own travel plans will take me further south (to Italy) this spring, but I hope one year to join the other Big Lovers at this amazing wine weekend in Bordeaux.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Out and About--Images from Spain

I'm spending time this weekend revisiting the notes and pictures I took while traveling to the wine regions of Spain for 10 days in early December. I've (finally!) downloaded pix from my Iphone, so here are some images captured "on the fly" as I traveled.
Madrid trio
In Madrid, I first began speaking with Carlos (center), who turned out to be a sommelier. I wasn't sure if it was fate or luck that the first Spaniard I met was also an expert on their wine. He wrote out his list of the best Spanish wines: Vega Sicilia (this winery is legendary), Vina Tondonia, Fontal, Arzuaga, Beronia, and Rivola from Abadia Retuerta. Soon we were joined by his old friends Sylvia and David (the dark-haired guy) and we enjoyed a fun evening of wine, tapas and conversation. Thanks so much guys for picking up the tab--and I owe you a night out in NYC!
My Dinner with Americans
In Aranda de Duero I met Tom & Melanie--a couple of political science professors who were each teaching a semester abroad in Spain, albeit at different universities. It was fun to hang out with some English speaking folks because in this town, hearing any English spoken was a real rarity. I was lucky that they invited me to join them for dinner, not only because we had a great time together, but also because if I had dined solo, I would have been unable to order the signature lamb dish of the region, which is served family style. The lamb, by the way, was out of this world tender and flavorful and matched the house Tempranillo beautifully.
Awesome Ex-pats
Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of the lovely British couple, Howard and Linda, whom I shared some wine with the following evening at the Hotel Aranda bar. They are a charming and refined couple who have traveled around the world. Now retired, they've settled in what sounds like a heavenly seaside community not far from Grenada. I was so exhausted after a day of touring that I didn't realize until later that Howard had picked up my tab. Cheers to both of you & I would be happy if our paths crossed again on my continent or yours!
Tasty Tapas
Logrono is the capital of the Rioja wine region and a busy, dynamic city. On Calle Laurel, you can hit about a dozen of the best tapas places in town.
Luxurious Lounging
Here's a shot of the bed in my first class room at the Marques de Riscal resort, designed by renowned Canadian architect Frank Gehry.
Marveling at Miro
During my brief time in Barcelona, my favorite tourist destination was the Fundacion Joan Miro, where I reveled in the inventive artist's dreamy work.
Consuming Cava
Gabriella Opaz of Catavino took me out on the town in Barcelona, including stopping in a hot spot where she introduced me to a cava (Spanish sparkling wine) that I really enjoyed: Mestres. We ate far-out tapas like these deep fried baby eels.
Well, that's all the blogging for now. Today I have to settle down and organize writing a chapter for my book about wine travel. Salut!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ya Still Gotta Eat: New York City Restaurant Week 2009

The economy is in a tailspin. No one knows where bottom is. It’s a grim time.
But--ya still gotta eat.
Luckily New York Restaurant Week is coming! Very soon! So we can stroll with our slim wallets into restaurants we would never dream of setting a toe into (even in good times.) And the better news is that it’s actually two weeks—January 18-23 and 25-30 (Saturday nights are excluded from the special offers.)
For $24.07 lunch and $35 dinner, you can get all dolled up (in the clothes you already own – we are, after all in a recession), and go out on the town to enjoy a three-course meal from a special prix fix menu. With the food bill so modest, there’s even money left over for a couple glasses of wine—although you may have to search hard on these lists for a modestly-priced bottle.
Indulge in old-money places like Delmonico’s, which bills itself as America’s first fine dining restaurant (opened in 1837). Delmonico’s is a grande dame of American cuisine: in its famous kitchens the first Delmonico Steak, Eggs Benedict, Lobster Newburg, and Baked Alaska were created. Or swing by that former speakeasy and forever NYC icon, the 21 Club. Duck under the lawn jockeys that top the doorway, and guys—dig that jacket out of the back of your closet.
Feeling like something a little fresher? How about either of French chef Daniel Boulud’s more casual Manhattan eateries: Bar Boulud or db Modern Bistro? (Sorry, his elegant Café Boulud is not on the list).
There are dozens more to choose from, including romantic spots like One if By Land, Two if by Sea and Water’s Edge, which offers a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline from Long Island City (a ferry service is available from Manhattan—which kicks off the romance and view before you even get to dinner).
The full list of New York Restaurant Week participating restaurants is posted here. So book your table and forget the economy for a night of indulgence.