Wine Bars 101

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.

Here are the wine bars we visited:

Flights Bar

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.

IMG_1346
My flight at Flights Bar.

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.

Pour

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.

IMG_4871
Kerner at Pour wine bar.

Overall, it was an interesting experience, one I unfortunately do not have to relive anytime soon.

Mima Vinoteca

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.

IMG_1678
Negroamaro and Negroamaro Rosato at Mima Vinoteca.

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.

IMG_1679
Grilled Octopus at Mima Vinoteca.

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.

Cin Cin! 

Greek Wines: (Not) All Greek to Me

This week, a friend and I went to a local Greek restaurant for dinner. Planning ahead, we knew the wine selections by the glass would be pricey; we opted to BYOB and pay the corkage fee. Offering to bring the wine, I chose a Greek red blend I have enjoyed in the past. I thought it would be a good match with the theme of the evening, as well as a good wine choice with dinner.

Since entering the European Union, Greece has experienced a surge in the wine world with some indigenous and not very well-known grapes of their own. There is, however, over a 4,000 year wine history in Greece, dating back to the Middles Ages, when they exported wine around the Western world. This went dormant for some time due to heavy taxation imposed on wine exportation.

Retsina is the most commonly known Greek wine, with over a 2,000 year history. A white wine typically made from Greece’s most widely planted grape, Savatiano, the wine was sealed in porous clay amphorae with thick resin from the Aleppo pine tree. This gave the wine a distinct flavor, often compared to turpentine (yum!). Modern day winemakers have taken a crack at retsina production and have supposedly made it more palatable.

The red I chose for our Greek dinner is a blend from the Rapsani region, located on the slopes of Mount Olympus. The three grapes in this blend are:

  • Xinomavro (Ke-see-no-mav-roh) – This is the dominant grape of the blend. Dark cherry fruit, licorice, allspice, and high-tannins make this grape very similar to the Nebbiolo grape of Italy.
  • Krassato – Exclusively used for blending, this dark-skinned grape is not widely grown in Greece.
  • Stavroto – Another exclusive blending grape, this late-ripening grape is responsible for the ruby-red color of the blend. It also mellows the more hearty Xinomavro grape.
IMG_1546
Red Blend paired with moussaka.

We paired the blend with an appetizer of saganaki, a Greek fried cheese. The full-bodied wine was a perfect match with the tanginess of the cheese dish. Our main course was moussaka, which is a traditional dish of eggplant, potato, ground meat and spices. The rich tannins of the wine blended well with the many flavors of this delicious classic entrée.

There are other indigenous grapes located throughout the country that are worth trying –  and fun to pronounce. Here is a brief list:

  • Agiorgitiko (Ah-your-yeek-tee-ko) – This is another red grape, similar to Merlot. It hails from Nemea, a region in Peloponnese. Wines produced from this grape are full-bodied with flavors of sweet raspberry, black currant, and nutmeg with smooth tannins.
  • Assyrtiko (Ah-sear-tee-koh) – A white grape originally from the island of Santorini, these wines are fruity, with a touch of minerality on the finish. Those labeled as “Nykteri” (nith-terry) are always oak aged. The wines are full-bodied with notes of lemon, cream and pineapple.
  • Malagousia (Mala-goo-zee-yah) – This white grape was almost extinct until a winery in northern Greece breathed new life into when it started growing it again. The wines from this grape offer notes of peach, lime and orange and can be either dry or sweet.

Ya Mas (Cin Cin)!

Wine Bottle Sizes: A Brief List

Learn about the various wine bottle sizes, small to large.

Recently, my “partner in wine” and I went out for dinner to a local Italian restaurant. Perusing the wine menu prior to our night out, I discovered the restaurant had a 1.5ml bottle of Chianti available for $40. Also known as a Magnum, this large format bottle is equivalent to two standard 750ml bottles. Since it was a great deal, by restaurant standards, it was a no-brainer for us; we ordered the bottle. I was also intrigued because I do not think I have ever seen this on a restaurant menu in this varietal. The waiter also seemed intrigued as well –  by us! 

IMG_1522
Magnum (1.5ml) bottle

Following is a list of other bottle sizes, starting with the smallest:

  • Split or Piccolo (187ml): You may have seen this bottle unduly consumed on long distance airplane flights; this is equivalent to a glass of wine.

    IMG_1526
    Split or Piccolo (187ml) bottle
  • Half or Demi (375ml): This bottle is just what it says, half the size of a standard bottle.
  • Standard (750ml): This is the most common bottle size; each bottle serving is approximately five 5 ounce glasses of wine (or four 6 ounce glasses for me and my PIW!).
  • Magnum (1.5 liter): Mentioned in my introduction, a Magnum serves 10 glasses of wine and is great for the holidays and parties. These days the number of producers and varietals in this size has definitely increased from years past.
  • Jeroboam or Double Magnum (3 liter): This is also equivalent to 4 standard bottles of wine. As a kid I remember my Italian grandparents having this size bottle in the house, filled with some type of dry red wine.

    IMG_1524
    Jeroboam or Double Magnum (3 liter)
  • Rehoboam (4.5 liter): You will only see Champagne in this large format.
  • Imperial or Methuselah (6 liter): This bottle holds 8 standard bottles or 40 glasses of wine. These are Bordeaux-shaped bottles which are broader at the top; they are 22” high.
  • Salmanazar (9 liter): This bottle is equal to one case (12) of standard bottles (60 glasses of wine) and is 25” high.

As this is a brief list, I am going to stop here; these are the basics. There are about fifteen other bottle sizes (small and large), some I cannot even imagine lifting; a case is my limit. You may notice, starting with Jeroboam, that some of the names of the large format bottles are Biblical. Why? No one seems to know, but it could have something to do with wine being imbedded in our history and culture.

Next time you are out shopping for wine, take note of the various bottle sizes and see if you can pick out the ones mentioned above. Treat yourself to a split of your favorite red or white. Or if it is a particularly trying day, just grab that standard and enjoy! 

Cin Cin

Italian Grapes Worth Exploring

Recently I attended a wine tasting featuring little-known grapes of Italy. Led by Jan D’Amore of Jan D’Amore Wines, a Brooklyn, NY based importer and distributor, the wines were a mixture of whites and reds from various regions of Italy, personally selected by Jan himself.

A native of Rome, Italy, Jan came to the United States over 30 years ago to pursue a heavy metal music career with his bandmates. Settling in Los Angeles, he lasted six months with them, but refused to return to Rome. After some soul-searching, he headed east to New York to explore the art scene and display his talents as an artist. It was here Jan also waited tables and was exposed to the world of wine; growing up in Rome, he only knew the white table wines of Frascati. At the suggestion of an acquaintance, Jan’s next path took him into wine sales. Working as a sales rep for Viniferia Imports, he learned the ins and outs of the business before finally setting out on his own.  

Traveling around Italy and doing a lot of research is what led to his securing the first five producers in his collection. Now, following recommendations is a big part of how Jan finds his winemakers; currently he has over 30 producers in his portfolio. His website highlights each winemaker, the winery and the wines he distributes.

At the tasting, Jan opened seven wines from his portfolio; two whites and five reds. These were two of my favorites:

Ancarani Famoso ‘Signore’ 2016

Made from 100% Famoso grapes, this white wine was the first wine of the evening we tasted and I was immediately in love. Indigenous to the Emiliia-Romagna region of Italy, this grape was long considered extinct, but has been recently revitalized by some small vineyards, one of which is Ancarani. Fragrant and unique, this dry white has fresh floral aromas, ripe exotic-fruit notes, and is light and crisp on the palate.

IMG_1349

Bussoletti Ciliegiolo di Narni “0535″

This Umbrian red is made from 100% Ciliegiolo grapes by vintner Leonardo Bussoletti. The name Ciliegiolo means “little cherry” so it is not surprising that the nose is crazy with fresh red cherries. There are also some floral notes with tones of black pepper. Luscious on the palate with mild acidity and very little tannin, strawberry and raspberry fruit stand out.

IMG_1350

If Italian wines are your thing, then take some time and explore Jan’s site; you might discover something new and exciting. If you cannot find his wines in a store near you, then look for the grape from another producer. Or let me know and I would be happy to help!

Cin Cin!

Wine Terms Deciphered

When choosing a bottle of wine, everyone has their favorites; red, white, sparkling, or rose’. We also have particular nuances that we look for; bone dry, dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, or sweet. 

Lately I have been getting a recurring question (mostly when discussing whites) –  “What do you mean when you say dry?” I know it may sound snide, but the correct response to this is, “Not sweet!” When a winemaker produces dry wine, they let the fermentation process completely finish, allowing the yeast to absorb all the sugar present, leaving no residual sugar. No sugar; hence, dryness.

Other confusing terms are the words fruity and sweet; they are notably different. The amount of residual sugar left behind after fermentation, will determine the level of sweetness a wine will have. Fruitiness will always be detected at different levels, even if a wine is dry. Many people are usually surprised to hear this; it is a big eureka moment for them!

IMG_1284
Dry New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and semi-sweet New York Riesling.

So what do you look for? Now that the days are getting warm, are you gravitating towards a crispy, dry, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc or a sweet, fruity Riesling? Or do you drink red all year long and reach for a bone dry, fruit-forward Sangiovese from Chianti, rather than a dry, ripe Garnacha from Spain?

IMG_1288
Bone dry Sangiovese from Chianti and a dry Garnacha from Spain.

 

 Whatever your preference, next time you are out shopping for a bottle, try to think about what it is you favor when selecting a wine, and reach for something new to try. Or ask for help; it is how you learn. 

 

Cin Cin!

Sauvignon Blanc Day!

IMG_1240

Every first Friday in May, winemakers in Marlborough, New Zealand come together to celebrate the crispy, white grape known as Sauvignon Blanc. Since the early 1980s, New Zealand has been producing some very reputable Sauvignon Blancs, especially on South Island, home to Marlborough, their largest region.

Sauvignon Blancs from this area are very herbaceous and fruit-forward, with grapefruit and tropical fruit notes. These wines are usually high in acid and are almost always dry. They pair well with young, creamy cheeses, white meats like chicken, pork or turkey and just about any fish, including shellfish. The acidity of the wine bursts through in high fat dishes like vegetarian quiche, casseroles and lasagna.

So despite the cool start to this spring season, chill your favorite bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc today and celebrate this delightful white with Kiwis around the world.

Cin Cin!

To Pair or Not to Pair: Are There Rules?

192019 292
Photo by Michael Kasten

I remember, not long ago, attending a wine tasting led by a French winemaker, peddling his portfolio of wines. He alleged that ALL wines are meant to be paired with a good meal; he said it is the European way aka “the right way”. Further, he declared to a room full of Americans, that Americans will come home at the end of a stressful day, open a bottle of wine, drink a glass or two without food, solely with the purpose of unwinding. And? What is wrong with that? Oh mon Dieu!

When I dine out in a restaurant, I very rarely start out with a cocktail before the meal; I usually go straight to the main drinking event and order a glass of wine. Not really into cocktails, I will likewise order a glass of wine (sometimes a beer) if we are allocated to the bar to wait for a table. When deciding on a varietal, I give zero thought to what I will be eating. There are a few things I will take into consideration: 

  • What am I “in the mood” for – This comes into play when making many “life” decisions
  • What do my dining mates like to drink – I am usually quite flexible when it comes to sharing a bottle
  • Are there specials – There may be wine specials, especially during happy hour
  • What season are we in – This will determine if I will drink red, white or maybe rose’

Once in a while, however, I will stumble across a great pairing. Over the holidays this past year I got together with friends for an evening of food, wine, and laughter; one of my favorite ways to pass an evening. We started out with three different reds for the appetizers. For dinner, the hostess prepared chicken francese so I opened a white Bordeaux. Wow – it was an amazing pairing! The crisp, citrusy flavors of the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion blend was a perfect complement to the lemony sauce of the chicken; just delicious! It is worth noting, however, I have also had this same wine on a hot summer night, at the end of a stressful day, to help me unwind; it was also quite satisfying. 

Having lived in Europe myself for four years, I don’t know if I believe pairing is the European way – it may be the French way. There was a fabulous vineria (wine bar) close to where I worked in Rome, Italy. The proprietor, Alberto, saw most of his business congregate well into the evening, but you could still find customers stopping in at the end of their stressful day, to unwind with a glass of prosecco or two. My small group of friends were a United Nations mix of people and regulars at this vineria.   

So, to pair or not to pair? I say drink what you want, when you want, with whatever you want, with whoever you want, wherever you want; it really should not matter, there are no rules. It is all about the experience, making new discoveries and creating memories of your own.

Cin Cin!

Cheers (or Cin Cin) to a New Year!

Cheers-group-1030x773

As everyone celebrated the holidays with food and family, popping open bottles of wine and bubbly, did anyone think about why we clink glasses and toast each other? Does anyone notice that at the end of each post I write “Cin Cin”? Admittedly, clinking glasses is something I do automatically, without thinking; it is something I learned early on, never really giving it much thought either.

Funny enough, it is believed this custom began back in medieval times as a way to prevent poisoning. Clinking glasses would cause liquid from one glass to spill into the other glass, hence proving the host was not intentionally trying to poison their guests. The sound also made by the glasses (back then wooden or clay mugs) was said to be a celebratory sound. Unfortunately, these are just stories and there is no recorded proof.

Another very popular story comes from the 17th century in which the word toast comes from the custom of flavoring drinks, like wine, with a piece of spiced toast. Hence the term toasting came into use. The most common toast you will hear around the world is “to health”. You will hear Salud (Spanish), Salute’ (Italian), Sante’ (French), or Zum Wohl (German). The often heard, L’Chayyim (Hebrew), is a traditional Jewish toast and means “to life”. The word “Cheers” is all-encompassing, expressing “good wishes” to the recipient. “Cin Cin” is the equivalent of cheers and the most popular way to toast in Italy, but to Italians is less formal than Salute’ and glasses should not be clinked, but just raised.

So let’s raise, clink, spill (hey, you never know!) our glasses together to a happy and healthy 2019! Cheers, Salud, Salute’, Sante’, Zum Wohl and L’Chayyim to you all!

Cin Cin!

Give Thanks With Wine!

Thanks.jpg

On this Thanksgiving Eve, with your pies in the oven and your turkey (I hope) brining, many of you are probably thinking about what you will be drinking with your divergent feast tomorrow. If you are entertaining, I am sure you are all set by now with a variety of libations, from aperitifs all the way through to dessert. But, what wine have YOU decided to drink during the main event? This year I have given this a lot of thought. 

Pinot Noir  Long a Thanksgiving staple for red wine drinkers, Pinot Noir is a good choice because of its light body and versatility; it will go with just about anything on the table.

Gamay As I mentioned last week, Beaujolais Nouveau was just released and is a fine accompaniment to Thanksgiving. Similar to Pinot Noir, the Gamay grape is also very versatile. If you do not want the fruitiness of a Beaujolais Nouveau, try a more mature Gamay and pick up a Beaujolais Cru.

My Pick I know I have proclaimed myself a seasonal wine drinker, but after much thought, I have decided to drink a white wine with tomorrow’s Thanksgiving meal. With the variety of dishes and flavors on the table, I just feel a cool, crisp white is a better pairing for the actual meal. My pick is a medium dry Pinot Gris from Alsace, France. With hints of peach, spice and minerality and a long, crisp finish, I think this wine will be perfect with the various items on my plate.

Pinot Gris for Thanksgiving
Pinot Gris for Thanksgiving

Whatever it is you decide to drink tomorrow, make sure it is something you enjoy; whether it pairs well is secondary. May your Thanksgiving be filled with peace, love, laughter and good wine. Happy Thanksgiving!  

 

  Cin Cin!

National Chocolate Day!

NatChocDay

According to the National Confectioners Associations (NCA), there are approximately 16 different chocolate days per year, but October 28 is the most universally celebrated. Not surprisingly, surveys  show milk chocolate is the most favorite among men and women, followed by dark and then white. Studies also show that chocolate is good for our health. The antioxidants present in this sweet treat have been known to help in high stress situations and the polyphenols can increase HDL cholesterol, the good kind.  

Additionally, chocolate is a wonderful pairing with many wines:

Dark Chocolate Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Zinfandel, Syrah/Shiraz, Port, or Sherry

Milk Chocolate Light-bodied Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, medium to dry sparkling wines, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Port, or Madeira

White Chocolate Sherry, Moscato d’Asti, Lambrusco or Pinot Noir

And with Halloween just around the corner, amazingly, wine pairs well with your favorite chocolate goodies:

Kit Kat Pinot Noir

Butterfinger Sauvignon Blanc or Lambrusco

Twix Syrah

Peanut Butter Cups Chardonnay

Snickers Syrah

So grab your favorite chocolate and pair it with a bottle of wine – or vice versa – and have a very Happy National Chocolate Day! 

Cin Cin!