In the hopes that Riesling will make it springtime

2012 Kunstler Riesling2012 Franz Kunstler Riesling (Rheingau, Germany)

Last night’s shift drink, chosen partially in denial that it had begun to snow outside. If I drink warm weather wine, warm weather must come, right? Right. This is one of the five Rieslings we’re offering by the glass at Terroir Park Slope right now, from a family-owned estate in the Rheingau, and while it’s definitely dry, with a tart finish, the palate leads with Meyer lemon and ripe peach flavors to give the illusion of sweetness. There’s definitely a present minerality along with cleansing acidity that was the perfect refresher to get me through the frigid cold to the G train. Retails for around $20.

Behind the Cork: Chilean winter warmer

20140122_194604The bottle: 2012 Louis-Antoine Luyt “Trequilemu”

Origin: Maule Valley, located in the southern part of Chile’s largest winemaking region – the Central Valley. Previously an area known solely for bulk wine, there is a renewed interest from winemakers to make high-quality, organically farmed wine. Though Cabernet Sauvignon is by far the most widely planted grape in the region, Merlot, Carménère, and Carignan also thrive, some from vines planted hundreds of years ago.

Grape: 100% Carignan, a grape that originally hails from northeastern Spain (where it’s known as Cariñena or Mazuelo) but has found an even larger home in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southeastern France. Wherever it’s grown, it is usually produced as a blend, which makes this varietal wine a bit unusual.

Uncorked: As a means of survival during this latest polar vortex. Are you aware that it’s freezing outside? It’s freezing outside. Do you know where it’s not freezing? In Chile, where half of our office is currently enjoying summertime and getting sunburns and visiting our new client, Santa Rita. So in my denial that I am here, freezing, in New York, I opened this Chilean wine in their honor. (You’re bringing me back a present, right?)

Behind the cork: Full disclosure: I tried to open this bottle with my new ah-so wine opener, even though I do not know how to use my ah-so wine opener yet, and I pushed the cork of this bottle halfway into the juice, at which time a bit splashed up out of the neck of the bottle and into my face. And the first thing I smelled – the thing that was, quite literally, behind the cork – was a funky farminess that I was completely not expecting from a Chilean wine.

But then again, this bottle doesn’t come from a Chilean winemaker – not by birth, at least. The Trequilemu Carignan comes from French native Louis-Antoine Luyt, who took a quick trip to South America in his 20’s, fell in love with wine at sommelier school in Santiago, and became determined to revolutionize Chilean winemaking, which was (and still is) largely dominated by huge industrial wineries. Luyt now focuses on making terroir-driven, organically-farmed wines, prioritizing acidity and freshness over alcohol and tannin.

The grapes for the Trequilemu come from a single parcel of 70-year-old vines and undergo carbonic maceration – the technique traditionally used to make Beaujolais – to create a purple-rimmed, fresh, fruity wine that drinks incredibly easily. Though it’s not a low or even moderately alcoholic wine at 13.5%, it doesn’t immediately present as a “big” wine, with light aromas of not-quite-ripe red and black plum, raspberry, blackberry, and dirt. It tastes darker than it smells, but still, it’s not a knock-you-in-the-face type wine, with the palate dominantly tasting of ripe fruit – mostly blackberries – and a combo of bright acid and moderate tannin keeping the structure in check. It’s interesting that the most immediate characteristic of this wine – the funk that was so apparent upon opening the bottle – fades to the background once you get into all the fruit. But walk away from the glass, come back, and you notice that it’s definitely there, keeping the fruit from being a bit too lush and one-dimensional.

Drink with… A bowl of beef stew! A burger! A steak! Notice a theme? Though the Trequilemu would be excellent with beef (pork and lamb too!), the great thing about this wine is that, while it has enough weight to stand up to heartier dishes, the soft fruit, fresh acidity, and moderate tannin keep the wine light enough to drink with light appetizers or on its own as well. Which is what I did, obviously.

The verdict: This is my kind of winter red – hearty enough to satisfy in sub-zero temps, but soft enough to drink without requiring food. Check and check!

SRP: $21 – $25

Behind the Cork: A rustic Loire red

Herve Villemade Cheverny RougeThe bottle: 2011 Hervé Villemade/Domaine du Moulin Cheverny

Origin: Cheverny AOC, in the Touraine district of the Loire Valley (France). Located alongside the more famed regions of Vouvray and Chinon, the region is known for making dry whites, light reds, and some rosé.

Grape: 50% Gamay, 50% Pinot Noir, a typical cépage (grape variety makeup) for wines of this appellaton. Though Cabernet Franc is the red grape most typically associated with the Loire, Cheverny only allows up to 15% Cab Franc to make up the total blend of the wine.

Uncorked: Pre-Certified Somm study and flashcard-making, which seems to have been delayed further by this blog entry.

Behind the cork: “All of my friends drank my red wine this weekend, so I want a light red, but I tried that Gamay Nouveau, and I don’t want a typical Pinot, and I want something funky.” That’s what I asked for in my fatigued, slightly incomprehensible state of mind, and this is what I got.

I love love Cour-Cheverny wines from just next door to this appellation, made from the local Romorantin grape, which I always spell incorrectly, but this was my first Cheverny Rouge. A light wine with medium tannins, the nose and palate mirrored one another: dried cranberry, raspberry, dusty earth, hay, hint of black pepper. Hervé Villemade’s wines are all certified organic, and this one is unfiltered and aged in old oak vats, giving off a rustic quality. A leafy bitterness cuts off the finish a bit.

Not remembering what the grapes were, I called this Cab Franc with Gamay; the barnyard and leafy/green pepper notes totally tricked me. Either way, very Loire Valley-reminiscent, with a twist.

Drink with… Everything. Nothing. All of the above. This wine is so fresh and light that you could easily down a bottle without noticing – I mean, not that I’ve done that, or anything – and at the same time make it work alongside most dishes. I feel like trying this alongside chicken or turkey – think the cranberry complement to the mild taste of the meat – and while it still wouldn’t be my first choice for super-spicy food, it would probably work better than that Saumur-Champigny/red curry combo.

The verdict: Super easy red to have on standby, but I find myself wishing for a longer finish and less vegetal bitterness. A bit underripe to me.

SRP: $15-18.

Thanksgiving Wines: Round 1

Thanksgiving feastIt seems that I may have jumped the gun on Thanksgiving this year. A holiday revolving solely around eating? You can’t really blame me for wanting to prolong it. Since we’re all spending the official holiday with our families, some friends and I hosted a “Friendsgiving” last weekend, complete with 17-pound turkey and all the trimmings.

Of course, twice the Thanksgiving requires twice the Thanksgiving wines, so I now have twice the occasions to play around with fun pairings. For round one, I sought out a medium-bodied white, with a little bit of funk to it, and a low-tannin, easy-drinking red that would pair with almost everything.

Domaine Combier Saint Veran "La Barnaudiere"The 2011 Domaine Combier “La Barnaudière” Saint-Véran is not your typical white Burgundy. Though it’s made entirely from Chardonnay grapes, the wine is produced using organic (and soon-to-be-biodynamic) methods. Hours of Internet scouring yielded zero results for technical information on this specific wine, but judging from the La Barnaudière’s hazy straw appearance, I would guess that the wine is unfiltered. Yellow apples and peach skin met hay and a slight oxidative character in both the nose and the mouth; again, I’m just guessing, but this wine was probably aged in large, old oak barrels. A combination of fresh acidity, texture, and flavors reminiscent of fall made this an excellent companion to both turkey & roasted root vegetables. (Warning: bottle may be prone to cracking! More research to come on why this is not uncommon with natural wines…)

De Forville Barbera d'AlbaI’ve talked about my love for the Italian grape Barbera before, so I was set on bringing a bottle to at least one of my Thanksgiving celebrations. This 2011 De Forville Barbera D’Alba exhibits the richer, heartier qualities typical of this Barbera appellation, while still maintaining the grape’s reputation for producing food-friendly, versatile red wines. Black cherry, cranberry, wet earth, lively acidity, round mouthfeel – this wine carried through from appetizers to main course to post-turkey food coma sipping. This family-owned winery also produces wines Dolcetto and Nebbiolo on their Barbaresco estate, showcasing many examples of the wines made in this region.

Domaine Grande Contes du Jura

But the real surprise of the evening was a wine that was an unexpected bottle from one of my lovely co-hosts – a 2011 Domaine Grand Côtes du Jura Trousseau! I wouldn’t have even thought of looking to the Jura for Thanksgiving wine, but this wine brought bright, juicy red cherries, earth, and a hint of floral elegance to the table. Everyone loved it so much as a cooking wine (that is – a wine to drink while cooking) that the bottle was gone before dinner, but I would guess that this light-bodied red would be excellent alongside turkey.

As we gathered leftovers into Tupperware to take home, the mood dampened slightly at the thought of the feast being over for another year… until we realized that we’d all be enjoying another one just days later! Stay tuned for round 2 of Thanksgiving wines later this week. You know, I could kind of get used to this double-Thanksgiving deal; a new annual tradition, perhaps?

Behind the Cork: Syrah-filled Côtes du Rhône

2011 Franck Balthazar Cotes du Rhone The bottle: 2011 Franck Balthazar Côtes du Rhône

Origin: Rhône (France). Though most wines labeled with the regional appellation of Côtes du Rhône hail from the Southern Rhône, where the majority of the region’s wine is made, this one is an outlier. It comes completely from the Northern Rhône, its grapes grown on the edge of the Cornas cru.

Grape: 100% Syrah, also unusual for Côtes du Rhône (which is typically comprised of Grenache-based blends) but typical of the Northern Rhône, where the grape thrives.

Uncorked: During blind tasting group as my contribution to our study in classic grapes and wines of the world as preparation for the Certified Sommelier test. And of course, once again back at home as a reward for making it to tasting group even when the L train was shut down for the weekend, stranding me in Brooklyn. Dedication.

Behind the cork: If you want to know what Old World Syrah tastes like, start here. Winemaker Franck Balthazar comes from a long line of Cornas producers, and he uses a one-man, hands-on approach in order to express both the grape and the land from which it comes.

A deep ruby color, aromas of blackberries and purple flowers jumped out of the glass, with a savory, salty tomato/black olive/iron aroma mixed in there. The flavors were consistent with the aromas, but upon tasting, that typical meaty, slightly charred character of Syrah presented itself and lingered for quite awhile on the finish.

Unlike cru wines from Cornas, the Balthazar Côtes du Rhône wasn’t overwhelmingly powerful, which makes it more versatile. Medium-bodied, the wine was neither overly alcoholic nor tannic, though it had a definite grip, and the use of old oak barrels allowed those savory notes to develop without any vanilla/toast flavors of new oak. The present acidity would make this an excellent food wine, though sipping solo was just fine as well.

Drink with… Meat, meat, and more meat. The savory flavors would make the Balthazar Côtes du Rhône perfect with steak night, barbeque night, or just charred meat night, if that’s your kind of thing. Though this is in no way a “light red,” it’s restrained enough to drink alongside simple bites as well; try seeing how different kinds of olives with cheese or tomato-olive tapenade on crostinis would work with the salty flavors in the wine.

The verdict: Good combo of fruit, floral, and savory qualities; a Syrah for everyday drinking. Could benefit from another year or two of age to soften slightly coarse tannins.

Retails for: $22 – $25. Purchased for $24.99 at Vine Wine in Brooklyn.

Last-minute pairings: Cab Franc & Thai food

Cab Franc and Thai foodSometime this past weekend, autumn decided that it had had enough of playing games and smacked everyone in the face with a season-appropriate cold front, which was especially jarring to those of us who hadn’t checked the weather forecast before going away for the weekend and were left to fend for themselves with just a light leather jacket. And thus begins my eternal cold-weather struggle: resisting the urge to order delivery whenever it’s just a bit too chilly to want to leave my warm, cozy apartment. Such is life when everything from burgers, to Chinese, to beer is just a phone call and a delivery fee away.

I can’t say I’ve figured out a solution to that dilemma quite yet, but since it was the first truly cold night of the year last Sunday, I gave myself a pass and ordered my take-out cuisine of the moment: Thai. Although I knew my spicy red curry would pair better with a Riesling or Albariño than a red wine, sometimes a certain mood sets in firmly, and I was stubbornly in the mood for a red. Unwilling to venture out to find a light Pinot Noir or Gamay, the first two wines that came to mind, I settled on a bottle of 2012 Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny, a biodynamically-made Cabernet Franc from the Loire.

The wine was pretty aromatic, with a lot of different things going on: cranberries, raspberries, underripe plum, violets, damp soil, and just a hint of the grape’s characteristic green bell pepper. All of those same characteristics came through in the flavors of the wine, though the fruit took a backseat to a more vegetal, earthy, spicy palate with a bit of bitterness carrying throughout. The significant acid and fairly low tannins gave me hope that the wine could work with the spicy dish, so tentatively, I jumped in.

And I landed… sort of on my feet. The pairing wasn’t bad, exactly, with the wine’s fruit and acid washing away the red curry’s spice at first, but the vegetal bitterness on the finish brought it all right back again. A fruitier wine, less pepper-driven wine – like the 2010 Tramin Pinot Noir from Alto Adige that I brought home the next day – would have worked better.

But, as with most food-and-wine pairings, there was a twist to the scenario; the freshly steamed edamame that I also ordered was an excellent pairing with the Domaine Des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny. Based simply on theory, the combination’s success wasn’t too surprising; the slight natural sweetness of the edamame softened the harsh, earthy edge of the wine’s finish.

If I had to guess, a year or two in bottle will likely bring the various components of this wine together, but even then, I’ll probably save this wine for a nice roast chicken instead, and leave the red curry for the Pinot.

2012 Domaine Des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny
Found at: Vine Wine, 616 Lorimer St. in Brooklyn
Retails for: $18-23

Halloween PSA: Please don’t pair my wine with Halloween candy

Wine and Candy

 Can I have the wine now and take the candy to go, please? (Photo credit: Wine.com)

Listen, I get it. Halloween is a big deal! It’s a holiday! People dress up and eat candy! Therefore, as wine lovers, food and wine writers will use such an occasion to talk about, well, food and wine. But please, I’m begging you – don’t make me pair wine with my Halloween candy.

I’m not saying that sweet food shouldn’t be paired with wine; some of the best pairings out there are with desserts. Hence the whole category of “dessert wine” that Americans don’t tap into nearly enough. I had a chocolate pudding with salted caramel a few weeks ago and paired it with a Rutherglen Muscat from Australia, and I swear I had died and gone to heaven. The nutty, caramel notes of the wine mirrored the dessert perfectly, and the wine’s sweetness matched the pudding’s (a general rule of sweet food pairing). Actually, could someone get me some more of that, please? You’re too kind.

But there’s just something about individually-wrapped candy bars and a glass of Napa Cab that doesn’t sit well with me – neither theoretically nor, I would assume, physically. With all of the chemically designed sugar that goes into the candy, wouldn’t the combo make you feel sick after two bites? Maybe I could get behind trying a glass of that Muscat with a Snickers bar, just out of curiosity, but a dry California Chardonnay (“the nuttiness of the wine will play up the center of the candy!”)?? I appreciate the creativity, but no, thank you.

Instead of racking your brain for the craziest HalloWINE-and-candy pairings this year (I’m sorry, I had to, don’t judge), maybe just try sipping your vino solo while you pass out M&Ms and Kit-Kats. You’ll be able to sip whatever you please, and it will probably taste much better on its own. And of course, after a glass or two, you’ll be very glad to have free reign over the leftover candy after the trick-or-treaters head home.

Happy Halloween!

A Barbera For All Seasons

2011 Scarpetta Barbera del MonferratoIt seems to me that the 2013 summer/fall season transition has been, well, a little all over the place. Fall jackets were dug out of the closet just days after Labor Day, and now that typically-cool October has rolled around, tanks and sandals seem to be apropos again. My wardrobe is completely thrown off by the phenomenon, and it seems that my palate is too. Though I’m craving the warmth of autumnal reds, how am I supposed to toss aside my crisp whites and rosés when the temps could be in the eighties tomorrow?

Luckily I came across an excellent wine to bridge the gap a few weeks ago at the recently-opened Charlie Bird in Manhattan: the 2011 Scarpetta Barbera del Monferatto. An Italian winery, Scarpetta is owned by two U.S. natives, Bobby Stuckey, MS, and Chef Lachlan Patterson, who also co-own the restaurant Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado. Though the winery is based in Friuli, in northeastern Italy (the duo are self-proclaimed “Friuliphiles” – Frasca is dedicated to the region and its cuisine) the fruit for the Barbera is sourced from the birthplace of the grape – Monferrato, located within Piedmont in northwestern part of the country. For years, often austere and unrefined Barbera was thought of as the “lesser” of the red grapes in a region where Nebbiolo reigned supreme, but in recent years, producers have aimed to create wines that are more balanced and drinkable, much like the Scarpetta.

This wine is the definition of versatile: with seasons, with occasions, and especially with dishes. To give an example, at Charlie Bird, the Scarpetta Barbera accompanied bone marrow, rigatoni in spicy ragu, and grilled peaches with prosciutto & balsamic – and matched them all wonderfully. It’s fragrant and almost pretty, tasting of plum, both red & black berries, and just a bit of earth to balance things out. Round and juicy, with good acid, the Scarpetta Barbera isn’t super tannic or heavy, which allows it to work with dishes that have a bit of spice.

So why is this wine perfect to drink right now? Because it’s a cool-weather wine that’s light enough to drink even on warm days. It has all the tastes of fall with the brightness of summer. Personally? I’ll have a bottle (which retails for just $17-19, by the way) lying around in the coming weeks – after all, if I don’t get around to drinking it now (unlikely), it’ll still be just right for the chill that’s sure to settle in soon.

Acid Needed in Aisle 3: 2011 Diseño Torrontés

2011 Diseno TorrontesWhile prepping for this week’s family vacation, of course I did a search to look up area wine shops. However, my search came up blank. In a near-panic, I asked my mother how this could possibly be right. “That’s because,” she said, “down here, all of the wine is sold at the grocery store.”

Oh boy.

My mood exacerbated by the effects of a twelve-hour car ride, I stood in the wine aisle depressingly scanning through the rows and rows of White Zinfandel and “sweet red blends.” And then, hope! One lone bottle of Torrontés sat on the highest shelf, hanging off the end of the Pinot Grigio section. I snagged the bottle and headed grocery checkout, Torrontés in one hand, two-for-one Greek yogurt in the other. Just a typical stop at the wine shop, right?

An aromatic white grape, Torrontés hails from Argentina, where high-altitude vineyards are key to its success. The best examples often come from the Salta Province, the northernmost quality winegrowing region in the country, where vineyards often range from 5000 to 12,000 feet above sea level to combat their proximity to the equator. Cool, windy conditions allow grapes to build flavors while retaining high acidity, making them crisp, refreshing, and perfect for beachside sipping.

The 2011 Diseño Torrontés had a characteristic white flower/potpourri soap nose mixed in with a light peach note that’s had me confusing the variety for Riesling during blind tastings recently. The flavor profile largely mirrored the aromas, but this Torrontés was surprisingly lacking in acidity and overbearing in alcohol, with a hot, bitter finish. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information about where exactly the Diseño comes from in Salta, since it doesn’t appear to be made by a single winery or wine company, but both of these attributes could be caused vineyards located at too low of an altitude. Grown in these hotter conditions, the grapes wouldn’t retain their acidity, and the alcohol would climb too high, resulting in an unbalanced wine.

Overall, the Diseño Torrontés comes off as simple and refreshing, for an $8 grocery store wine. Personally, when faced with a limited selection, I’d opt for a more flavorful – if out of balance – option, over a tasteless, one-note wine, but that’s just me. Seek out Torrontés to add another aromatic, food-friendly white to the wine collection – but perhaps head to your local wine shop for a higher-quality bottle.

Riesling Duo

First, a preface to this post. It seems that I haven’t updated this blog since before I went to Aspen in mid-June for a few reasons: 1) It’s been study time all the time for my WSET Advanced test, which is coming up in exactly 11 days; 2) For some reason, this summer has been uncharacteristically busy, work-wise; and 3) Aspen was just so epic that it’s taken me this long to get my voice back.

However, yesterday I made the spontaneous/scary/somewhat insane decision to register for the Certified Sommelier test through the Court of Master Sommeliers when it is being held on October 17th in NYC. After a full 24 hours of research/hyperventilation, I’ve determined that I have one major disadvantage going into this test: I don’t work around wine all day long. Yes, my job has a serious wine focus, and I could talk about my clients’ wines up and down, but when it comes to the greater wine world, I have comparatively little exposure. So, the question becomes: how can I fix that?

For me, if I write about a wine, or have some sort of unique experience with it – as opposed to just ordering it, drinking it, and, for the most part, paying attention to it in regards to style and origin, but not really producer – I’ll remember that wine. Therefore, I’m making it a goal to write at least once a day for the next ten weeks and six days – and hopefully thereafter – as CS exam prep, even if it’s just a paragraph or two. And for those out there who have taken the Certified exam, advice, encouragement, and ways to stay sane are thoroughly appreciated.

With that being said… we’re talking about Riesling today.

I’m a big fan of Riesling and conveniently, since it is Summer of Riesling, after all, when dining out at Hearth and Terroir in NYC, it’s basically considered sacrilege not to order some Riesling. Last night I stopped by Hearth for the first time and was treated to a sandwich of this delicious white wine – a 2010 Kabinett to begin the meal, and a 1989 Auslese to end it.

Jakoby MathyThe 2010 Jakoby-Mathy Kinheimer Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett embodied so many things that I love about the grape: fresh acidity, ripe fruit, and distinct minerality. Hailing from a family-owned winery in the Mosel, the Jakoby-Mathy (now transitioning to the name Jakoby pur, or “Just Jakoby”) Kabinett was off-dry but balanced by both the acid and the slate quality. Fresh apples, peach, citrus, white flowers – let me start off every meal like this and I’m a happy camper.

1989 Weingut Geschwister Ehrhard Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling AusleseThanks to Christine at Hearth for letting us end our meal on a high note with this second Riesling – it was a nice little treat alongside Hearth’s tasty jelly doughnuts, though I would have drank it as dessert itself! The 1989 Geschwister Ehrhard Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Auslese still had surprisingly bright acid after 24 years, and though it definitely was a sweeter wine, it wasn’t too sweet or cloying. Bruised apples – in a good way, I swear – combined with a bit of that typical petrol flavor. I really enjoyed this – but again, I’m a fan of most Rieslings, both dry and sweet – and, fun fact: this Riesling and I are the same age. I might be playing favorites.

Summary: drink Riesling always, and apologies in advance for being a crazy person over the next eleven weeks.