Sunday, October 8, 2017

Turkish delights - Wines of Vinkara

The wines of Turkey are unknown to most Americans, so I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to try them at a recent media dinner in New York City.  There I had the pleasure of meeting Ardic Gursel.  Ardic is the founder of Vinkara Winery, which is located an hour outside of the country's capital of Ankara on property owned by her family.   

Ardic is committed to promoting the indigenous grapes of Anatolia, which is the historic name for the country we call Turkey today.  One of the exciting aspects of her family's efforts is that this land is believed to believed to be the birthplace of wine, and it certainly is one of the world's oldest wine-producing regions.

On this evening of taste discovery we got to know these beautiful Turkish wines: 

Yasasin - Kalecik Karasi red grapes fermented as a white sparkling wine. Loved this aperitif wine, the first and only in Turkey produced in the methode Champenoise. Yasasin is a Turkish toast meaning "Long life!" 

Narince - Made from grapes of the same name, this white wine showed ripe peach nose, creamy palate, and a dry finish with slight almond notes.  The unoaked version of this wine showed particularly well as a fresh medium-bodied white wine of character. 

Kalecik Karasi - The Pinot Noir of indigenous Turkish grapes. The wine was translucent with elegant cherry notes.  We also had the Reserve version, aged 14 months in French oak, which was richer,  more velvety and boasted riper cherries and a bit of chocolate. 

Bogazkere - A full-bodied red wine that offered both black and red fruit and notes of spice with firm tannins.  Excellent with full-flavored meat dishes.  

Okuzgozu - A wine known as "Bulls Eye," this was a big bold red wine with stewed red fruits and baking spices and a touch of smokiness.  

This line-up of indigenous Turkish wines was eye-opening in that they were all high quality. In addition, they were pleasing to American palates, yet all unique in their flavor and aroma profiles.  To have a taste of Vinkara wines, pay a visit to East Pole in New York City, where some of these special pours are on the list. 





Wine Blogger Impressions of a Beer Blogger's Conference

This August I seized the opportunity to attend my first Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference in the iconic beer city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

From start to finish it was fun, educational, friend-filled, and tasty.  Here are some of the highlights of my hoppy weekend:

Historic Pabst  - The BBC educational sessions were in the historic Pabst "Best Place" reception hall - a piece right out of American beer history.  Our lunch explored the Pabst Microbrewery - which seems like an oxymoron but a tour with one of the brewmasters and tasting of a number of their small production brews including a Forst Keller, Augsburger Godeln and Van Damme Good Tripel convinced me that this place was the real deal.

Educational Sessions and Tastings: I was most excited for Randy Mosher's Identifying and Describing Flavor, Smell, and Color in Beer.  Because it was at this session that my biggest question would be answered:  Is beer tasting essentially different than wine tasting?  The answer is that the process is pretty much the same, but the flavors and aromas are going to be different.  Never described a wine as "dank" or "resinous" and never had to consider the assortment of ingredients that make a beer.  It's a lot different thinking about the effect of hops rather than the characteristics of grapes.

Randy told us that all parts of the beer should taste good and to consider: Is it too astringent? That would give it a rough finish rather than clean. He talked about different kinds of malts such as Vienna, which gives a light sweet caramel aroma.  Randy acknowledged that beer tasting wasn't too different than wine tasting although the approach to aromatics was different.  "There are chemicals in beer you can't smell until they're in your mouth." That's because your mouth has enzymes in it. One of the best parts of the presentation was Randy set out a selection of Stone Brewing beers to taste through as he presented including Ghost Hammer (we picked up marigold and lemon) , Stone IPA (grapefruit), and Arrogant Bastard (toasted marshmallow and caramel).

Spontaneous learning: As I've always found with wine, the best way to learn is by hanging out and tasting with others.  I very much appreciated Carla Jean Lauter explaining to me the difference between lagers and ales.  Her point that lagers are brewed cold was brought home at our dinner stop where we got to see the pretty fantastic beer caves at the historic Miller Brewery - where their crisp lagers were indeed cold fermented below ground.

Fantastic welcoming Milwaukee:  The city of Milwaukee was fun, friendly, and fabulous for beer lovers. BBC participants went to so many inventive, high quality breweries and drank so much good beer - this is really a top destination for craft brew lovers, especially those who want to see a big part of American beer history.  I have to end with a shout out to the favorite brewery we visited: Lakefront Brewery which has capacious seating both inside and outside, a hilarious brewery tour, excellent range of beers (love their Pilsner - a much maligned style that they do so well), and gorgeous water-side location.

All and all, this wine blogger was impressed by her first Beer Bloggers Conference.  I'll be back!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

NJ Native Danny Marcus Brings His Italian Wine Dream Home

Danny Marcus moved to Italy for romance, but soon had a second love in Bella Italia – the country’s wine. With years of effort, he now has his own wine label and he’s seeking distribution in the United States.

The whimsical name, Mood, conveys Danny’s idea that wine tasting notes aren’t that useful to the average consumer. Instead, being able to tell imbibers that this wine is great for this mood is what Danny’s wine vision is all about.

The first wine under the label is “Sweet on You” – and, no, it’s not a sweet wine at all. The name is meant to evoke a little romance, which Danny believes is a good pairing for it.  It’s actually a
blend of Sangiovese and Syrah.  Danny works with winemakers in Emilia Romagna to develop the blend of his wine, is looking to create a white wine next. For now, he’s focusing on spreading the gospel of wine that evokes a certain feeling. Best of luck to this Jersey native as he lives his Italian wine dream!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Aia Vecchia offers luxury for everyday from land of super Tuscans

 Aia Vecchia's Elia Pelligrini, who was a former soccer star and now is the fourth generation in his family's wine business, visited New York City recently to show his wines.

The family owned vineyards are in the Bolgheri region of Tuscany, close to the Tyrrhenian coast - an area known for legendary super Tuscan wines including Ornellaia. Yet Aia Vecchia offers high quality wines at an affordable price point.

Unlike areas of Tuscany further inland, the vineyards here receive, "double sun" according to Elia. Grapes ripen more fully as the sun shines on the vines and also reflects off the water. The coastal site also gives vines an ample breeze, which helps keeps the plants naturally healthy and free from pests.

The dinner at A Voce began with the Vermentino, which Elia said is a "coastal grape."  The lemon and white flower nose was inviting and this was a wine that was terrific and showed the extra body of its aging on lees.  The Solidio Rosato is a Sangiovese dominant rose that was refreshing with savory strawberries and spice.

Advancing to reds, the Lagone Toscana is their calling card wine.  Elia said it is "a luxury for everyday."  This rich blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc offered dense dark fruit flavors and had a plum and leather nose - delicious and satisfying for a terrific $15 price.

The premier offering is Sor Ugo Bolgheri Superiore 2014. This wine has been aged for two years before its release, as required by the DOC.  With a super Tuscan mix of grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and a bit of Petiti Verdot), this is a wine made with the precision expected from this area known for greatness. After a month of temperature controlled fermentation with manual punch-down, the wine is aged in barrique and then rests in bottle.  This showed greater complexity than the Lagone, with ample black fruit and spice and firm tannins.  I would continue to age this bottle.

The wines of Aia Vecchia are widely available in the states - look for them for a taste of the Bolgheri and a price within reach.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Velenosi Roggio del Filare Rosso Piceno Superiore is hit of spring wine dinner

As the wine teacher for the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School, it's been my pleasure to host a number of local wine pairing dinners in northern New Jersey. The spring 2017 dinner took place at Millburn's elegant La Pergola. The theme was Northern Italian, and there was clear winner of the night when it came to the wines:

Velenosi Roggio del Filare Rosso Piceno Superiore .

As the evening began, the attendees were welcomed with a fresh sparkling wine from Franciacorta in northern Italy. It was a Saten - in other words, made from all white grapes and created in the traditional Champagne method. 

We moved on to white wine, and here attendees had the chance to try something new to all of them - Cesare Cento Filari 2015 Lugana.  It comes from Italy's northern region near Verona from a little known grape called Turbiana.  With notes of white stone fruit countered by a touch of bitter almond - it's a unique and delicious medium-bodied white.  This was enjoyed with fried calamari and zucchini. 

Moving on to the main course, the class was wowed by the Velenosi Roggio del Filare Rosso Piceno Superiore 2010.  Hailing from Italy's Marche region, which lies in the east bordered by the Adriatic Sea, this wine had already developed nicely but could age further.  A blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano grapes, the wine was intensely colored, concentrated with red and black fruits.  The lush fruit was balanced by good acidity and refined tannins. I discussed the idea of a wine's length with the class, in other words how long the flavor persisted after swallowing, and this was a good example of a wine with great length.  Served with La Pergola's succulent short ribs, the wine was a stunning match which impressed everyone at the table.  It's available in New Jersey at Laurenti Wines. 

We ended the lovely evening with something special - the Velenosi Querciantica Visciole.  It has juice of the anicient Marche Visciole cherry; therefore, it is not called wine but an aromatized drink. The cherry and cinammon notes made it an absolutely perfect match to the cinammon-dusted Tiramisu that was served for dessert. The Velenosi Querciantica Visciol is available in New Jersey at Jerry's Gourmet in Englewood. 

For news on future wine dinners, contact the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Bulgaria wines reinvent themselves with international and indigenous varieties

Like other winegrowing countries that once existed behind the Iron Curtain, Bulgaria is flourishing with an influx of new energy and renewed interest in its winemaking past with an eye to improving what was good and expanding to add new directions. 

The initial success of these efforts was evident at a media tasting at the elegant Hunt and Fish Club in Manhattan, where a group of winery representatives presented some of the wines currently available in the United States. 

The event was hosted by Master Sommelier Marika Vida-Arnold, who enthused about the transformation in the country's wine as she educated the group about the most heralded grape-growing regions. 

But first, there was some history.  In the crusades, Bulgarian wine growing areas were spared because the wine was so good.  During the Communist era, many wineries in Eastern Europe ceased to progress.  Years after the Iron Curtain fell, the winemakers began to innovate again, and now there is a new spirit in the vineyards.

Some favorite wines from the event include: 

Yambol Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2014 - With aromas and flavors of cherries and blackberries, this was a medium bodied cabernet with good balance of acidity and tannins and a lingering finish. 

Vina Merlot Special Reserve 2010 - Merlot is the most widely planted grape in Bulgaria and this wine showed why.  The perky chocolate cherry nose was inviting and on the palate there were ample cherries as well. The wine had bright acidity and a nice finish.  Very drinkable on its own or with food. 

Asenovgrad "A" Mavrud Reserve 2013 - Mavrud is the calling card for indigenous Bulgarian grapes. Marika called it "brooding" and that gets at its depth.  This reserve level wine would still be able to age for years, as I found it a bit tight yet. It had a dried cherry and leather aroma and smoky savory flavors as well as cherry notes on the palate.  If you really want to taste a true Bulgarian wine, this is a good one.   

Miroglio Elenova Mavrud 2013 - This wine is made from one of the oldest grape varieties in the world.  It has thick skin that produces a lot of tannins.  Elenovo is a single vineyard, carefully tended with green pruning to reduce production and encourage concentrated flavor in the grapes.  The wine had nice grip with ripe cherry flavors and leather. I'd put this away a couple more years in order for the tannin to settle down and the oak to integrate a bit more. At $18 US it's a great introduction to a unique grape. 

Miroglio EM Brut 2011 - I didn't expect a sparkling wine and this one was delightful.  Rich and yeasty from 36 months lees aging, this sparkler offered citrusy lemon lime flavors as well.  I drank this tart, fizzy pour right up.  

Look for Bulgarian wines to provide good quality at an affordable price and keep an eye out for those interesting native varietal wines as well. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Spicy, fruity Navarra wines warm up chilly spring nights

Spring in the northeast has wavered been warm days and brisk nights, but one of the up sides to the temperature dips is the opportunity to extend the full-bodied red wine drinking season.  The wine region of Navarra in northern Spain offers some bold wines that are perfect for roasts and stews to warm us up despite the calendar's date.

I recently sampled several Navarra red wines that were perfect to ward off the unseasonable chill in the air:

Castillo Monjardin Crianza 2013 Coupage Seleccion - This was a medium body wine - but with lots of character.  It had an appealing nose of black and red fruit, with a hint of strawberries, vanilla, and tar.  The wine had good acidity and levels of flavor with more strawberries as well as spicy black pepper. Wines of Castillo Monjardin are widely available in the USA.

Inurrieta Puro Vicio 2013 Syrah - On the nose, there was blackberry jam, with a fresh violet note and an earthy minerality, an almost soil-like note.  Despite the jamminess of the nose, on the palate, the wine had a tension; there was a drama with three major characters: acidity, tannin, and fruit.  It wasn't plush - it was more angular.  Here the fruit had a spiciness with it, black pepper and clover mixed with the blackberries.  The finish was long.  This is a satisfying wine that would add nicely to a mix of softer wines on a buffet table, or enjoyed with hard cheeses, or with a dinner of roasted pork.

Marco Real 2012 Syrah - The wine had a deep ruby  color and an intense, fresh nose with deep black fruit aromas reminiscent of Cassis.  The Cassis notes continued on the palate. In addition, baking spices of cinnamon and cloves added a savory flavors.  The wine had ample acid and firm tannins - a well-structured wine of complex flavor and a long finish.

Wines from Navarra are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., and often at affordable prices. Look for them at your favorite wine shop and enjoy their warmth until the warm weather finally decides to stay for the next few months.