Like many of you, I am sure, I have found this summer to have been, long, sweltering and very wearisome. Fortunately, I have had a place of employment to go to everyday, cranking their air-conditioning instead of mine. On this last weekend of summer, I am really happy to say farewell to air conditioning, summer wines and basically everything to do with the dog days of
In a previous post, I alluded to the fact that I am a seasonal wine drinker, gravitating to the crisp whites and the many shades of rosé during the summertime. This year I have definitely had my fill and cannot wait to pop open my inaugural bottle of red, as the weather starts to cool down and we welcome the first days of fall.
Before we don the boots and comfy sweaters, let’s take a look back on some seasonal favorites:
Located in the southwest of France, Bordeaux is situated on the bend of the Garonne River and divided into two parts; the right bank to the East and the left bank to the West. Always a fan of Bordeaux, red and white, this summer I discovered this white gem. A blend of Semillon (70%) and Sauvignon Blanc (30%), this fresh wine is lemony and herbaceous, making it a perfect match for seafood, poultry and fish.
French Sauvignon Blanc
Situated in the central Loire Valley, Touraine is known for both red (Pinot Noir and Gamay) and white wines (Sauvignon Blanc). If anyone is looking for a Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, which can sometimes be overpriced, I will usually recommend this wine as an alternate. Dry, citrusy, with a smooth mineral finish, this wine pairs well with any type of seafood or pork dish, as well as goat cheese.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
This classic white from the Marlborough region of New Zealand has contrasting characteristics from the Sauvignon Blancs of France. Located on the South Island, Marlborough is the largest wine region in New Zealand. The cool climate of the area produces a dry white wine that combines tropical and stone fruit flavors, with a hint of grassiness; I enjoyed this one as an aperitif! Nonetheless, Sauvignon Blancs from this area are a perfect match for seafood dishes or a delicately spiced Asian cuisine.
I have noticed that people shy away from the darker shades of rosé, thinking the lighter, Provence-style wines are the best to drink. Of course this is untrue and this summer I tried this medium colored rosé from a region 40 miles south of Madrid called La Mancha. A well-balanced blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha, this dry wine has deep notes of cherries and strawberries on the nose, with a fresh long finish on the palate. This wine would go great with barbecue, grilled meats or a nice charcuterie plate. Please open up your mind and palate to all shades of rosé.
So let’s raise a glass, bid adieu to the final days of summer and all your favorite summertime wines!
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.
In a previous post I talked about how the majority of customers who ask for “Champagne” are almost always, unknowingly, asking for a reasonably priced sparkling wine. If you haven’t purchased your bubbly yet for your New Year celebration, it is a good idea to know what is available out there as a Champagne alternative. Here are a few terms you should know when making your selections for New Year or any special event:
Prosecco – Produced solely in the northeastern part of Italy, Prosecco is one of the most common of the sparkling wines. There are nine provinces in the Veneto and Fruili Venezia Giulia regions where it is exclusively produced. Named after the town of Prosecco, it was also once the name of the grape used, but in 2009 was renamed Glera by the European Union. The Glera grape must account for at least 85% of all Proseccos; other grapes commonly used in addition are native varieties Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Glera Lunga and international grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio.Unlike Champagne, which must be refermented in the bottle (Méthode Champenoise), Prosecco is made by refermenting the wine in steel tanks (Charmat Method or Italian method). The three sweetness levels of Prosecco are: Brut, Extra Dy and Dry.
Cava – A Spanish sparkling wine, Cava can be either white (blanco) or rosé (rosado). Traditional white Cava is made from the white grape varieties Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo. 95% of all Cava is produced in Catalonia in northeastern Spain. Like Champagne, Cava is made using the Traditional Method or Méthode Champenoise. Cava has seven different sweetness levels: Brut Nature, Brut, Extra Brut, Extra-Seco, Seco, Semi-Seco and Dolce.
Crémant – An alternative to Champagne, the French sparkling wine Crémant is just slightly less effervescent. The name literally means “creamy” so the softer bubbles have a more silky feel. Crémants are produced in specific regions of Loire, Burgundy and Limoux. They, too, are made using the Traditional Method or Méthode Champenoise. Depending on the area, grape varieties vary, but they all heed to the same rules – hand-harvesting, second fermentation in the bottle and 12 month minimum aging. There are also two areas outside of France that produce Crémant – Crémant de Luxembourg and Crémant de Wallonie in Belgium. The sweetness levels of Cremant are: Ultra Brut, Brut, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux.
Whichever you choose to ring in the New Year, may it be a safe, happy and healthy 2020 for you all! Thank you for your continued support.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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!
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!
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?
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.
Recently I had the pleasure of experiencing two homemade red wines, each remarkably different from the other. These days the internet is flush with all kinds of recipes for wine, using almost any fruit, grape juice and even honey, which, with other ingredients, produces mead, the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man. How-to videos are available on YouTube and there are a plethora of kits available for purchase online as well. However, the kind of homemade wine I am talking about was made by two very serious winemakers.
In a past post, I have written about my cousin Lisa, who grows her own grapes and makes small batches of homemade wine up in Maine; she has been bottling since 2009. She planted her first group of vines (10) and a small garden in front of her house in 2006, later expanding the vines to the back of the house, clearing the property with a rented back hoe. Currently she has 40 vines spaced 8 feet in rows, 10 feet apart, which she maintains each year on her own. She grows two cold weather red grapes, Frontenac and Marechal Foch.
Sometimes buying frozen juice and must (crushed grapes with skins, stems and seeds) or whole grapes, Lisa will blend either of these with her grapes before fermentation to elevate the sugar levels and decrease the acid levels. By doing this she decreases the amount of added sugar to her wine. Lisa procures her products from Musto Wine Grape Company, LLC in Hartford, CT. There was one year she blended Tempranillo, a black grape indigenous to Spain, that the company secured from Suisun Valley, CA. A grape high in sugar, it blended very well with her grapes.
However, the wine I opened was a straight up Frontenac, harvested September 23, 2011 and it had been aging in my wine cooler since bottling. Once uncorked, the aromas of cherry and other red fruits permeated the room; the same fruitiness came through on the palate. In addition, a slight oakiness was detected, due to the probable use of oak chips in the glass bottle aging process done before the final bottling. Overall, I found the wine very smooth, velvety, with a really nice finish.
The second bottle I opened was from a customer, who has been making wine for most of his 85 years; first with his dad and now on his own since 1952. Joe has added more and more family members along the way to assist in the process. However, unlike Lisa, Joe purchases all of his grapes from a company in Pleasantville, NY called Prospero. Most varietals are for sale from growers and can be purchased online (or in person) through a grape broker. Prospero is a one-stop shop for all winemaking equipment, supplies and grapes, which they get from California. They also service home brewers, distillers and cider makers.
Joe blends three grapes into his wine – Alicante Bouschet, Zinfandel and Thompson Seedless. The Alicante Bouschet is a dark-skinned grape with a bright red pulp that produces a wine low in acid and light in body. Zinfandel, another red, has medium acidity and boundless fruity flavors. The Thompson Seedless, I am learning, is a favorite white blending grape for home winemaking. Because of it’s low acid it is perfect for blending with both whites and reds. Back in the day, Joe’s dad used the white Muscat grape, but Joe finds the Thompson a better grape for blending with his reds.
His 2018 vintage was approximately 60% Alicante Bouschet, 30% Zinfandel and 10% Thompson Seedless. Aged in oak (for a short time), the fruitiness of the Alicante and Zinfandel come through on the nose and palate; there is a slight hint of oak on the nose, not so much on the palate. Overall, it is an appealing blend, and the more it opened up, the more I enjoyed it.
The thing to note about home winemaking is that the wine is pretty much made for immediate consumption; it is rare someone like me will have a bottle hanging around in their wine cooler. Lisa’s husband, Don, almost single-handedly drinks her wine each year, while Joe and his family turn their winemaking into an annual family event. Maybe you would like to attempt home winemaking, or like me, just leave it to the experts and drink the fruits of their labor.
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.
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!