With the invisible threat of COVID-19 upon the world, it is quite fascinating that a common response within the population has been to run out and panic buy things that are not immediately needed. When the news hit that we could be confined in our homes for upwards of a month or two, industrial-sized packages of toilet paper rolled out of stores everywhere. This irrational behavior was brought about by fear, which in turn, seemed to bring out anger among some seeking paper products thought to be in short supply.
Deemed an essential business, the wine and spirits industry has also seen an upswing in panic buying amid consumers. While I have not seen any fighting for coveted bottles of Chianti, I have observed customers loading up on cases of wine, “just in case”. The unpredictability of current events is definitely making people more stressed and fearful. A frequent worry amongst my customers is being homebound with family without something to imbibe. Quite honestly, I usually hear this same distress when a weekend snowstorm is in the forecast. I can only imagine what the possibility of a month or two of quarantine, without an end in sight, could do to a parent or spouse; wine does seem to be the perfect elixir. Having said that, I will leave the toilet paper anomaly to the professionals to figure out.
For the most part, people have been very appreciative that we are open for business and remain essential; we have cut our hours and have limited customer contact, with shipping and curbside pickups on the rise. To my amazement, there are a small number of shoppers that act as if they have just woken up from a coma and it is business as usual in their world. For those of us that are out there servicing the public, I feel the warm glow of being essential is slowly dimming as this continues on.
I know we, who are working in customer service, are not in the thick of it with doctors, nurses, and emergency workers; I wouldn’t want to be. However, just remember that each day we too are taking chances, venturing out there to assist the community. While it is our pleasure to do so, I just ask that you be extra kind to the people delivering packages, mail and food to your homebound selves. Be a little more patient waiting for your curbside order and in line at the stores. And for the love of God, do not show up two minutes before closing time to browse the store and shop, while you have been sitting home all day long and we have been working a full day.
Over the past few months, a friend and I have been exploring a few of our local wine bars. A concept created in Europe, wine bars became trendy here in the United States in early 2000, with various locations cropping up in major metropolitan areas around the country. Since then, wine bars in various formats have emerged and now compete with bars and restaurants in popularity.
The basic idea of a wine bar, of course, centers around the wine, with a limited menu of beer options and cocktails. For the most part, the wine choices are wide-ranging, offering selections from around the world, while a small percentage choose to pay homage to a wine from a particular region. The food served is traditionally simple fare; small plates, cheeses, olives, charcuterie and desserts. Very few places actually have full kitchens to accommodate lunch and dinner menus.
The main concept of this bar is in the name. For $24, you can choose three wines from a list of about thirty; they include red, white, rosé, sparkling, and port. You are served three, 3-ounce glasses of your selections; these represent your flight. The food menu is very limited; it includes an array of olives, hummus, cheeses, charcuterie, salads, pizza and desserts. We stopped in during the summer; it was an all white flight for me! It consisted of a Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) from France, an Albariño from Spain and a White Burgundy (Chardonnay) from France; all three, good choices. The Sancerre was crisp, with melon, apple and citrus aromas and flavors. The Albariño offered citrus and orchard fruit on the nose and palate, with a slight floral finish. The well-balanced Chardonnay had apple and pear flavors and aromas; it did have a slight oakiness which I did not mind. We also split a glass of the summer favorite, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; as usual easy-drinking, fresh herbs and tangy citrus on the nose and palate.
From the food menu, we ordered olives, cheese and charcuterie, which was more than enough to eat. They also have a bottled beer menu, limited cocktails and an extensive whiskey (who knew!) menu that can be ordered in a flight as well. Overall it was a fun experience and comfortable environment, which we plan to revisit for a red flight before the hot temps return.
This establishment is situated in an old house, tucked away off the main street, and not very well-lit. When I finally found the parking lot, I still could not find my way in; I thought I was entering a private home uninvited. Some upgraded signage and lighting would certainly help. Once inside, the interior was not very welcoming; dark, with small, low tables (we used two) and uncomfortable cushioned benches. I realize they are going for a certain “look”, but for me it is about feeling relaxed.
On a positive note, they have a nice wine menu; their claim to fame being they serve wines from small growers/producers who practice organic, biodynamic and sustainable viticulture. At the recommendation of the server we ordered a bottle of the Kerner, a white wine from Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy. To go with that, we ordered their popular fried Brussels Sprouts with hot honey and pistachios, the Poutine and an assorted cheese board. The Kerner was a great recommendation; dry, with some floral and green fruit notes and the sprouts were a definite winner.
Overall, it was an interesting experience, one I unfortunately do not have to relive anytime soon.
Vinoteca, or enoteca, in Italian literally means wine shop. Unlike our wine shops, in Italy, you can kick back with a glass of wine or purchase a bottle to drink at home. Modern day vinoteche have become more bistro-like, serving snacks as well. The actual word in Italian for a wine bar is vineria.
Mima Vinoteca, touts themselves as a restaurant and wine bar. Their wine menu is 100% Italian, while their food menu is a little bit more eclectic, combining classic Italian favorites with the latest trends. We went on a Tuesday night, which offers Wine Down discount pours for $7.00 a glass. I believe four wines were available; we settled on the Negroamaro Rosato. One of my favorite red varietals, I found the rosato most enjoyable. From Puglia in Southern, Italy, this was a dry, refreshing wine with red berry and ripe fruit notes. I followed it with a glass of straight-up Negroamaro off their regular menu, which was a major contrast to the rosato. Teeming with tannins, this full-bodied red offered notes of cherries and currants, with a nice smooth finish.
From the seasonal menu, we ordered the Crispy Truffled Chick Peas, which were amazing, and a nice-sized portion of the delicious Risotto Balls. In addition, we each ordered a salad. The Baby Arugula Salad was a combination of all my favorite ingredients; arugula, artichokes, heart of palm, cheese and tomatoes. The manager very nicely brought over a plate of their Grilled Octopus on the house. This dish was served with paprika roasted potatoes and drizzled with a delightful chili-honey. Even though I was somewhat full, I could not resist trying the Warm Panettone Bread Pudding, as I am a big fan of both panettone and bread pudding. Fortunately, it was a manageable piece and not at all disappointing.
Mima Vinoteca also has a small craft beer menu, hand-selecting beers from New York and beyond, as well as a small cocktail menu. They have happy hour and specials all week long and serve brunch and lunch Tuesday-Sunday. Overall it was an enjoyable experience; I would be happy to return again next season to see what is on the menu!
I hope you feel inspired to venture out and investigate the local wine bars in your area. If you do, please share your experiences.
For some time now I have been hearing about this “trend”; reading articlesand listening to industry experts. This week I finally decided to taste my very first red wine aged in a bourbon barrel; it was an Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon. Not a spirits fan, I did not quite understand the reason for this aging process, but I decided to give it a whirl – or in my case, a swirl.
From what I have heard, this barrel-aging technique is not a trend at all, but has been used for centuries; just not talked about. Due to the high cost of new barrels, it can be more cost-effective for some wine producers to purchase used barrels, be it from the spirits industry or other wine makers. Producers of some big reds – Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and blends – have used bourbon barrels to age their wines, even using them to age Chardonnay. Made of charred American oak, bourbon barrels are taller and thinner than traditional wine barrels; this supposedly allows for more richness and complexity in the wines. Likewise, spirit producers have also purchased used barrels from wine makers, but that is a whole other story.
As with all barrel-aging, the characteristics of the barrel are usually detected in whatever is aged in them; attributes vary depending on the length of the aging. So, it would make sense to some, that if you reuse a barrel, you should also pick up some notes of what was previously aged in said barrel. Right? Uh, not so much.
The wine I tasted was a traditional full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with blackberry and plum on the nose; no sweet spice, smoky cedar or bourbon bouquet detected by this sniffer. Nor did any essence of bourbon come through when I tasted the wine, which I am wholly grateful to report. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed the wine and would have enjoyed it more with a big juicy steak I am sure, but was it because of the bourbon barrel-aging? I truly have my doubts.
So, whether it is a trend that will soon fade away or a marketing ploy to get spirit drinkers to drink more wine, it may be worth your while to at least try a bourbon barrel-aged wine and see what you can detect. Or not! If you do or if you have, please let us know.
The commonly consumed Chardonnay from California is just not my “thing” and when asked for a recommendation for a buttery or oaky one, I am very honest with people. I tell them I prefer to actually taste the Chardonnay grape and not butter or toast. I do suggest wines that I know have those notes, but I cannot recommend them from experience. I, like a lot of people, had a very closed mind about Chardonnay, thinking they all tasted the same, until the classes I took led me to start tasting different wines and now it is a whole new (or should I say old) world for me. Let us explore the differences.
You may not realize this, but climate (different from weather) does affect grapes. Chardonnay grapes grown in warm regions like California will produce a wine fuller in body, less acidic, with tropical fruit notes. Whereas, grapes that are grown in cooler areas in the Burgundy region of France, will produce lighter, more acidic wines with citrus fruit notes.
Before moving on, let me first explain the difference between New and Old World for those that may not know. New World wines are made in areas of the world that were developed during The Age of Exploration. They include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, the United States and Canada. Old World wines are made in areas where winemaking originated – basically in all of Europe.
To continue, Chardonnay is also one of the only white wines that truly benefits from aging in oak barrels by taking on the flavors of the oak. A lot of California Chardonnays are aged in new oak barrels. This imparts the vanilla, caramel and toasty notes. Chardonnays in France are aged in older barrels so you get very little oak flavor – these are considered unoaked. There are also others that are aged in stainless steel tanks.
To achieve the “buttery” aroma and mouth-feel, Chardonnay wine makers will sometimes take additional steps after fermentation and do a “secondary fermentation” or malolactic fermentation (MLF). This process converts the tart, green-apple components (which some of us like!) of malic acid into smoother, buttery attributes of lactic acid. This conversion is done with the use of a particular species of bacteria (yum!). Before you get grossed out and swear off your favorite California Chardonnay, please note that MLF is more often used in the production of red wines, since high acidity is something less desirable in reds. So you see, this makes total sense – most times. There is also another process wine makers can do to achieve the creamy texture, but it is an arduous technique, it has a French name and it will just confuse things.
One evening I brought a bottle of Chablis over to a friend’s house. Located in the most northern area of Burgundy, they are known for producing some of the tastiest Chardonnays, which is the only grape that region produces. Not a fan of Chardonnay, I asked my friend if she liked what we were drinking. After she told me she liked it, I confessed we were drinking a Chardonnay. She of course did not believe me at first and was amazed to realize that she, in fact, does like Chardonnay after all.
So if you too have avoided Chardonnay, try to find one that suits you – I am sure it is out there. If you like full-bodied whites with tropical fruit notes, but do not like oakiness, then try one that is aged in stainless steel. Or try an Old World Chardonnay from France so you can taste the bright flavors of the Chardonnay coming through. It is about trying different wines, educating yourself and learning it is not all butter and toast. Tell us about your favorite Chardonnay.
In an earlier post, I mentioned Gruner Veltliner, a white wine grape that grows most notably in Austria. Pronounced “grew-ner velt-LEE-ner”, it is a dry wine known for lime, lemon and grapefruit flavors.
I opened a bottle of Gruner this week, which proved to be a very tasty pour. It was light, fruity, well-balanced, with a nice crisp finish. Gruner is also known to have peppery notes, which I have yet to detect. Maybe you can – please let me know!
Additionally, Gruner Veltliner is a very food-friendly wine; it can be paired with just about anything. From soft cheeses and vegetarian fare, to a host of meat, seafood, spices and sauces; it also stands quite well on its own.
If you are a fan of Sauvignon Blanc and want to try something new and a little different, you must pour a Gruner Veltliner – you will not be disappointed. Let me know what you think!
As a wine professional, I have encountered several wine misconceptions while engaging with the general public. Regions are mistaken for grapes, wines are sometimes confused with other wines, and region names are often used as generic descriptions.
Here are just a few of the common misconceptions I have observed:
Region Versus Grape
When asked for a Rioja recommendation, I usually steer someone towards my favorite grape, Tempranillo – the most produced red in the Rioja region of Spain. When once making the recommendation, I was asked, “What is that?”, the person mistakenly thinking Rioja was actually the grape. France can also be very confusing for some. I have crossed paths with many who have told me that they love Sancerre wine, thinking it is a grape. If I try to recommend another Sauvignon Blanc, they turn up their nose and tell me they do not like it. They are always very surprised to learn that Sauvignon Blanc is the primary white grape of Sancerre, a region in the Loire Valley. Sadly, the biggest misconception to me seems to be Chianti, which is a region in Tuscany, Italy. When I start talking about Sangiovese, the most cultivated grape in Chianti, some people look at me like I have two heads.
Zinfandel Versus White Zinfandel
When recommending Zinfandel wine from California, I have come across a number of people who have looked at me in horror. Just from that look, I know immediately they are confusing it with White Zinfandel. Before I can even explain, some will blurt out, “No – I do not like sweet wines!” When I finally clarify, they are relieved to hear that Zinfandel is a robust, red grape grown widely in California and that White Zinfandel is basically the rose’ or “blush wine” produced from that grape. Sadly, it seems Zinfandel has gotten a bad reputation because of its use to make White Zinfandel, but things are changing, be it slow for some.
Champagne Versus Sparkling Wine
Nine times out of ten, when someone asks me for Champagne I know they are asking for a sparkling wine. No matter, I will show them the Champagne, note the look on their face when they see the price and then lead them towards a less expensive sparkling wine. To be called Champagne, there are rules that must be followed. It has to be made from all or any of the three different grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) grown in the Champagne region and must be produced using the Champagne method. It is this method that makes the Champagne expensive because it is long and labor-intensive. For fine sparkling wines outside of Champagne this same arduous method is used, but it is called Traditional Method. Cheaper methods are used to make less expensive sparkling wines around the world.
For the most part, people are receptive to learning something new about wine. It is, however, hard to correct or educate everyone – sometimes you have to pick your battles. I find this true with this last misconception, since the word “Champagne” has become such a universal word to describe sparkling wine. Sometimes I don’t even correct people and only offer an explanation when asked. No doubt the French are just delighted that so many Americans refer to all sparkling wine as “Champagne”. And it must just tickle them, too, when we mix it with orange juice at brunch and pair it with our French toast!
At a recent wine event, I became engaged in a deep conversation with some enthusiasts about our favorite wines. When I first started drinking wine many years ago, I gravitated towards a specific varietal (usually red), exploring different vineyards from around the globe, until something else peaked my interest. At the time I considered myself a “varietal drinker” having had my share of Malbec, Pinot Noir and Tempranillo, before taking wine classes and expanding my inexperienced palate. Now I like to say that I am a “seasonal wine drinker” – red in fall and winter and white and rose’ in the spring and summer months. The majority of wine drinkers tend to fall into this category.
The gentleman I was speaking with had a very interesting way of choosing his, what I will call, “wine of the moment”. He explained that for him, environment has a lot to do with whether he is enjoying the wine he is drinking. Clarifying further, if he is enjoying the company of the people he is sharing the wine with or the place where the wine is opened, then that wine tends to be his favorite “wine of the moment”. Intrigued, I gave this some thought and agreed that this philosophical notion given to the wine experience really made some sense to me.
I recalled a time long ago when I was at a vineyard with a group of friends in the Hudson Valley area of New York, which I will not name. It was a cool summer day in June, the conversations were flowing, along with the wine. Everyone was relaxed and having a good time. I had sampled a Chardonnay, which I am not normally drawn to, but on this particular day it tasted like heaven and I could not resist buying a bottle. Months later, I opened the bottle after a rough day at work (subconsciously looking to relive that day?) and I wondered, “Why the hell did I buy this?”
I can also see this approach come into play in one of my closest friendships. I have a good friend that I have known since first grade – we have laughed our way together through grade school and high school. These days we are still laughing and when we do get together it is usually a two bottle night for us. Having put this philosophical notion to the test together many times, I can honestly tell you, we have never had a bottle of wine that we did not enjoy. Our years of friendship and laughter have gotten us both through some pretty hard times in recent years. In turn, I can attribute a lot of great bottles of wine to our amazing friendship. Just this weekend my “wine of the moment” was a crisp, dry Gruner Veltliner. Oh, and as usual there was a second bottle – a refreshing Loire Valley Rose’.
So make some exciting plans, gather up your friends or family, and open some bottles of wine. Maybe you too will find your “wine of the moment”. I would be interested to hear about them.