Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 - My year in wine

2010 marked my fourth year as a wine blogger and it was filled with highlights of travel, friendships, and spectacular events.

In early 2010, I enjoyed the delicious abbondanza of Vino 2010, an elaborate Italian wine festa at the Waldorf Astoria, where I waded through rooms full of Italian wine producers and enjoyed not one, but two, talks, by Anthony Giglio and managed to waltz across to Cipriani’s for Luca Maroni’s SensofWine on the same day.

At the end of the month, I bade a fond farewell to Italy-bound, Vineyard Adventuress Robbin Gheesling, and, along with Rob Bralow and Matt Sitomer and a few others, helped her finish off about nine bottles of vinous wonderfulness from her well-filled wine refrigerator (which I later took off her hands).

With spring came wine festival season, and I made the acquaintance of George Wilson and the gang from the St. Michael’s Winefest. After numerous emails and cell phone conversations on the fly, I was standing on board the Patriot on a fine May evening, gliding onto the Chesapeake Bay as I presented five wines during a lovely wine and food pairing cruise.

Also in May, was TasteCamp 2010, the second such blogger get-together that serves as a foil to the larger North American Wine Blogger Conference. Organized by the indefatigable Lenn Thomson, this year’s Taste Camp brought a few dozen bloggers (including my dear friend Melissa Dobson) and their significant others to the lovely Finger Lakes region in upstate New York for austere Rieslings and some very good Pinot Noir. My favorite visit was our last, to the small and welcoming wine cave of Heart and Hands Winery: their Pinot Noirs offered delicate fruit and earthy flavors – a lovely treat for someone with an old-world-leaning palate such as myself.

In June, the spirit of adventure turned me towards Europe again. During an hour long phone call from Rome, Robbin and I hatched the plan that I should come visit her in Amalfi. I’ll never forget our first stroll up the promenade to her favorite bar for a Spritz, an aperitivo comprised of Aperol bitter orange liquor, club soda and white wine. Nibbling on a bowl of nuts and watching the sunset over a steel blue Mediterranean, I couldn’t have been more content.

After zipping up and down the Amalfi coast on scenic ferry rides and scary bus rides--visiting the Marisa Cuomo winery, Pompeii and Positano--I left Italia for France, where I had signed up with Vitivinitours for Le Weekend des Grands Amatuers in Bordeaux.

On my first evening, I had the pleasure of dining with Jane Anson, her husband Frank, and a few of their fellow British ex-pats. We ate fresh oysters and drank (of all things) Prosecco on a picnic bench with a view of the Garonne River. Another magical evening of wine and friendship.

The next night proved how very small the wine world is, when I ran into Gregory Dal Piaz, the editor at Snooth and a New York City friend. Proving “there are no coincidences,” he and I were booked on the same trip that evening, an enchanting jaunt to Chateau Guiraud for a multi course dinner of superb cuisine and Bordeaux wines, ending with the Chateau’s own spectacular Sauternes.

Later that month, I faced a sore disappointment when I missed my flight to the west coast for what would have been my third North American Wine Bloggers Conference. I consoled myself by drinking a cult Cabernet Sauvignon and following the action on Twitter.

The summer saw some lovely get-togethers with other wine bloggers including the talented chef, Eric Guido, and two lovely NYC-based women of wine, Sasha Smith and Susannah Gold – hope to see all of them soon. And at a swanky Sonoma in the City event, I had the pleasure of meeting Carlo Devito, a wine-loving writer, blogger, and editor. In September, I was honored to be one of the bloggers invited to cover the Saratoga Wine and Food and Fall Ferrari Festival, where I was happy to catch up with my former teacher, Kevin Zraly, a man whose wine knowledge and charisma know no bounds.

As the leaves began to turn on the East Coast, my thoughts turned to Europe again, this time for a trip to Austria for the European Wine Bloggers Conference in Vienna. My last few trips had been to Italy, France, and Spain, where the lilt of Romance languages filled my days. Now, I was bound for the eastern fringe of Western Europe's traditional boundaries, where the hard “g” and clipped, mutli-syllables of German hold sway. I had traveled solo to Austria in my 20s and was eager to return to this majestic world capital.

EWBC felt like coming home in a way, as dozens of the friends I had made in 2009 in Lisbon were on hand again, including the lovely and intensely energetic, Gabriella Opaz. I cannot begin to describe the comradery and joie de vivre we wine-loving compatriots share, especially my wickedly clever pals, Denise Medrano and Andrew Barrow. This year, I made more friends: the witty Alistair Bathgate, the enthusiastic Eamon FitzGerald, the earthy and wonderful Caroline Henry, the well-liked-by-all wine student Prateek Arora, , and the swarthy Spaniard who lent me his arm for a waltz, Esteban Cabezas. I was also happy to hang out with my favorite Portuguese winemaker Oscar Quevedo, and, naturally, to drink some of his family's delicious port.

From Austria, I took a memorable train ride with Luiz Alberto, who accompanied me on my first foray into Eastern Europe: Budapest. There I was hosted by the gracious couple Carolyn and Gabor Banfalvi, who opened their home to me and fellow EWBCers, including the always intriguing Sam Ockman and two more Budapest dwellers, the charming Molly Havorka and her dynamic husband Zoli Piroska.

After two whirlwind days in the enchanting land of Tokai, I finished my Hungarian trip with a private lesson at the Central European Wine Institute at the invitation of another new friend, Gabor Patko.

As the cold weather swept into New York City, I began my next adventure in the world of wine: enrolling in the International Wine Center, the New York City branch of the internationally-recognized Wine and Spirits Education Trust, where I am applying myself diligently to the study of wine.

Thanks to everyone who made 2010 such a wonderful year of exploring new wines, new lands, and new adventures. I raise my glass to you.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Wine – Drink Something Wonderful

At Thanksgiving, the wine shops are packed with people, many of whom are fretting about the endless choices and what’s the “right” pairing for turkey. There are many wine writers who will provide Thanksgiving wine advice, and, for the first time, I’ve decided to join them.

It’s been widely written that there is no single, “perfect” wine to serve at this feast. What matches with your turkey may taste dreadful with your cranberry sauce. Some people say, put out a white and red and let your guests decide. I’d say that’s a good guideline, but I’d like to provide an additional thought.

Think of thanksgiving as a fancy dinner, one that you have slaved over, one where you want to enjoy yourself to the fullest. After all, it’s a national holiday devoted to food (and family, but where I’m from the two always go together).

What is the wine you love most in the world? For me, it’s lovely red Burgundies with a little age on them. I am serving a 2006 Domaine Pavelot Savigny-les-Beaune premier cru La Dominode, selected with help from my new friend, Ian, from the Wine Library. I told Ian I love Gevrey Chambertin, and (since the bulk of their Gevreys were north of $70) he guided me to this wine, a few villages south of Gevrey but offering the flavors that should delight my palate at a more modest price.

I think my Burgundy will work with most of what I’m serving: turkey, pan gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes. The vegetables – they’re on their own, I am not worried about what works with them. Basically, cover your plate in brown gravy and reds work fine.

But, I would argue, if you love white wine, then serve that. Or Champagne. There are some wines that might be too heavy; big tannic reds would probably stomp all over your palate and not help you enjoy what’s on your plate. But rather than worry about what wine is “right”, think about what wine you love. It’s a special day, a rare occasion when we all can pause and take a moment to enjoy the people closest to us. Toast that with a wine worthy of the occasion.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

2010 European Wine Bloggers Conference in Vienna

Vienna, a grandiose city of palaces and museums, a city of music where Mozart’s legend was born. A city at the edge of the western world. Go a little further and you’re in Eastern Europe. Timeless and modern, where the Habsburgs ruled and Freud analyzed.
For food lovers, Vienna is where calorie-laden fare like wiener schnitzel, apfelstrudel and potatoes done six ways are served in beer halls and heurigens. Not to mention the coffee house culture and its Sacher Torte and other elaborate pastries. And Vienna is noteworthy for wine lovers: it’s the only European capital with wineries within city limits.
Vienna was recently the host of the 2010 European Wine Bloggers Conference. About 200 bloggers from 30 countries gathered at the Schonbrunn Palace Orangerie for two days of meetings and speakers highlighting trends in digital media, blogging, wine criticism and more.
The EWBC was presented by Catavino and The Wine Conversation and included sponsorship by Wines of Austria, who provided one of the most dynamic and entertaining speakers, Willie Klinger.
There were technical tastings and many more casual opportunities to sample wines from Austria: tangy Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings of many stripes, including a 1973 that had the heavy diesel nose that some wine lovers dream of. The reds included fruity Blaufrankisch, Zwiegelts, and the Pinot Noir progeny, St. Laurent.
For many returning participants EWBC offered the chance to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. Because the wine blogging world is serious about both wine and camaraderie. One of the most valuable aspects of the conference is the connections that are made, both personal and professional.
There will be many blogs, vlogs, and tasting notes posted online about EWBC 2010. But if you don’t have the chance to read all that, know this: EWBC was a resounding success for participants, sponsors, and for Austrian wines, which picked up a couple hundred new devoted fans.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Weekend des Grands Amateurs, Bordeaux

I'm sitting in my hotel in Bordeaux, exhausted and exhilarated by the last few days of events of Le Weekend des Grands Amateurs.
It's a weekend for wine lovers, not professionals. Today as I sat next to Chateau Branaire-Ducru co-owner, Patrick Maroteaux, at a delicious four course lunch, he told me, "It's very important for the winery owner to be open to wine lovers.". It's not surprising that Mr. Maroteaux was one of the founding organizers of the weekend, now in its fifth year.
The weekend started yesterday morning with a six and a half hour grand tasting on the river walkway near Chartrons, a historic wine merchant district. I have never tasted so many wines from exceptional houses all at once: Chateau Angelus, Chateau Giscours, Chateau Beychevelle, Chateau Talbot, Chateau Lynch-Bages, Chateau Pichon-Longueville, more than 100 in all. I myself tasted 75 wines, the majority with notes. It took me four and a half hours with three breaks, and only bread & cheese to sustain me.
Of course I didn't drink all that wine. I and the vast majority of attendees made good use of the silver pedestal spitoons, which were emptied frequently. My favorites included: 04 Chateau Canon-la-Gaffeliere 04, 03 Chateau Dassault, 01 Chateau La Tour Figeac (all from St. Emillion ); 02 Chateau Beauregard, 01 Chateau Petit Village, and most of the 07s from Pomerol; 03 Chateau Brane-Catenac, 02 Chateau Dauzac (Margaux), 02 Chateau Lynch Bages & Chateau Pontet-Canet (Pauillac).
Dinner last night was at a beautiful Sauternes wine estate, Chateau Guirard. Its drive is striking, lined with tall trees. One of the owners, Xavier Planty, greeted us warmly & cordially hosted another elaborate meal that lasted four hours. Today, the last event was a wine tour. I chose the Medoc, legendary red wine region on the left bank of the Gironde River.
In addition to lovely tastings & gracious winemakers, the tour was also higly enjoyable because it offered the chance to meet & mingle with an international assortment of wine lovers. On the bus back to Bordeaux, I befriended French, Swiss & British wine lovers. And that was one of the surprise benefits of the weekend: sharing it all with my fellow amateurs.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wine Speaker - My New Role

I just finished unpacking from a great weekend at the St. Michael’s Winefest, the first annual wine festival in St. Michaels, Maryland. St. Michaels is a charming, historic town on Maryland’s eastern shore with cute boutiques, good restaurants, and very friendly locals.

I had gone to their previous wine festival for the past three years. When I saw that this year’s event had a new format, I noticed there were no speakers. I love teaching wine classes, so I offered my services. Soon I was engaged to speak at a floating wine event.

On a mild evening at the end of April, I set sail on the Patriot, a cheerful vessel owned by John Marrah. A lovely selection of wines had been chosen for the event, and I introduced each as it was poured:
- Bellinis
- White Bordeaux
- Chassagne Montrachet
- Vino Nobile de Montepulciano
- Brunello de Montalcino

The crowd mingled and sipped as the Patriot glided on smooth-as-glass water, out past million dollar waterfront homes and onto the lovely Cheasapeake Bay. A two piece band had the crowd swaying their hips on the upper deck, while on the lower deck attendees lounged in casual groups and caught up with old friends.

It was a wonderful trip, the kind you wish would last longer than it does. The next day as I poured French wines at the Kemp House Inn, I heard many people remark on what a lovely time they had on the Patriot. I was pleased to be the speaker for the event this year, and I look forward to being a wine speaker again next year in St. Michaels.

If you would like to engage my services as a speaker at a wine event, please contact me at dianeletulle(at)gmail(dot)com.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Le Du's Wines Bring French Twist to NYC Wine Scene

Le Du's wines is owned by one of the world's most famous sommeliers. From 1995-2004 Jean Luc Le Du was head sommelier of the gastronomic mecca, Restaurant Daniel, owned by famed restauranteur Daniel Boulud. He was awarded the James Beard Foundation 2003 Award for "Outstanding Wine Service". But Jean Luc had dreams beyond the prestigious restaurant.

For four years the wine shop as been an airy and attractive place to buy wine, enjoy wine tastings, as well as take classes in the chilly back room, which is temperature controlled to preserve the finest wine in the store (bring a sweater or jacket).

The wine is selected with great care and the staff is passionate about their choices. One of the wonderful qualities about Le Du's is that there is great wine at all price points, and they are not ones to scoff at a fantastic $10 bottle - in fact, wines that present an excellent price to value ratio are reason to celebrate.

But if you do want to buy something really rare, perhaps a case of Romanee-Conti, Jean Luc can also help you with that.
Le Du's Wines seems to pull off the impossible balancing act between sophisticated selections and a down to earth attitude. It's a must for wine lovers traveling in the West Village neighborhood.

Le Du's Wines
600 Washington Street
New York, NY, 10014

Sunday, April 18, 2010

2010 New York Wine Expo

The third annual New York Wine Expo was held on the last weekend in February at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. The huge event featured hundreds of wines to try. Among the regions featured at this year's show were: Cotes du Rhone, France; Portugal; Castilla-La Mancha, Spain; New Zealand; Greece; Hungary; and New York State.

This is a huge consumer wine show, and hundreds of wine lovers converged on the Expo to try new wines, sample delicious foods, and have some fun. In addition to the long rows of tasting tables, the event featured small scale seminars, which offered a deeper understanding of certain wine regions.

At the "Portugal and the rise of Touriga Nacional" seminar, Michael Weiss, wine book author and chairman of wine studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, gave an informative talk on Portuguese wine today. In addition to providing an introduction to Touriga Nacional, probably the best known of Portugal's red table wine grapes, he also spoke about the country's wine regions, including the Tejo, Beiras, Douro, and Alentejo.

John Bandman, instructor and certified sommelier, presented a seminar on Cotes du Rhone to a packed room of French wine enthusiasts. He discussed differences between the Southern Rhone, which grows riper grapes and whose cuisine is more Mediterranean, and Northern Rhone, which has grapes that have more subtle flavors and whose cuisine has a greater amount of hearty dishes such as stews. One of the best things about Cotes du Rhones wines is their price: many can be had in the $12-$30 range.

The wine certainly was the focus, but there was some delicious food being sampled as well. Hudson Valley Foie Gras was grilling up slivers of goose liver on site and serving them hot. This company supplies foie gras to many local restaurants, and their products are available at better grocery stores. Wild Alaska Seafood provided samples of a delicious seafood pasta as well as copious recipe books for using sustainable seafood from the state.

In all, the New York Wine Expo provided a full weekend for wine lovers to sip, sample, and enjoy.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dinner with Bordeaux Wine Makers in New York City

Anyone who considers the French serious and stuffy had better rethink their assessment. At a Wine Families of Bordeaux Dinner at the Robert Smith Hotel, I laughed myself silly chatting with French winemakers over a lovely three course meal accompanied by some of their recently released wines. These men and women are delightful, open, and friendly. I heartily recommend drinking their wine and taking a trip to Bordeaux to visit them at their wine estates.

To my right at dinner was Didier Marcelis of Chateau Serilhan in Saint-Estephe. Smart, funny and an excellent English speaker, Didier provided an insider's view of the winemaking life in Bordeaux. At this point many of the estates in the Medoc are owned by individuals far flung around the globe. As he said, he is one of the "Last of the Mohicans," being a winemaker who still chooses to live in the area. For Didier and many others, making money is not the motivation to stay in this business. Indeed the love and pride that the winery owner feels for his or her wine are the strongest motivators. An example of this is a French expression used at Bordeaux's famous barrel sampling event, En Primeurs. When someone asks winemakers how people are judging their wines, they are asked, "How are you tasting?" not "How is your wine tasting?" According to Didier, this is not an accident of language; the identification with one's wine is very real.

I also had the pleasure of getting to know Jean-Daniel Debart of Chateau Cablanc. This animated and very amusing man has a comical Facebook page where he takes on the role of Docteur Cablanc. Judging from the winery brochure, the estate looks like a great visit for families, as there are arranged treasure hunts, games, and more.

I would be remiss if I did not also note that seated to my left was Jane Anson, Bordeaux correspondent for, and a very accomplished wine writer and keen observer of the Bordeaux wine scene. I had met Jane in Bordeaux two years ago and was pleased that she remembered me. Since then, we've had some internet interaction through blogs and Twitter, but nothing beats catching up in person.
The other wineries represented at the event were:

Chateau Paloumey
Chateau Beau Rivage
Chateau Brethous
Chateau du Cros
Chateau Gamage
Chateau Minvielle

The dinner marked the end of a week of events for the winemakers, who had come to New York to make contacts, find distributors, and expand their consumer base. To that end, the dinner was preceded by a free wine tasting, which was publicized widely to local members of Corkd, an interactive wine site that encourages members to share reviews of wine and interact on and offline. The winemakers also learned a thing or two about social media from Corkd staff, including CEO Lindsay Rongo.

It looked like the training paid off right away. By the end of the evening, winemakers were creating Twitter accounts, discussing ideas for blogs, and talking about their Facebook pages. Look for these intrepid winemakers both online and on the shelves of your local wine shop.