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Alsatian Riesling

Poor Riesling. No matter how hard wine aficionados champion its qualities, it remains one of the most misunderstood grapes.  Many people associate it with being uber-sweet and often shy away from its bold, aromatic qualities.  However, this is one versatile grape that can be vinified across the entire flavor spectrum, from bone dry to luscious dessert wine; sweet is only one chapter of the Riesling story.  It is also a highly adaptable grape that is grown all over the world. While its roots are European, burgeoning wine regions, such as the Finger Lakes, have had great success producing wines.

While it is often associated as one of Germany's premier grapes, Alsace is also renowned for its Riesling production. This northeastern French region is home to 13 different terroirs, and these distinctions can be tasted in the wines. Many winemakers commonly use organic and biodynamic practices to lessen the manipulation of the wine and let the terroir define the wine. 

I was sent a bottle of Albert Seltz, Riesling Reserve, Alsace, 2012 for review.  The winemaker took over the family vineyard when he was just 19 and has been overseeing production since 1980.  In true Alsation form, he provides minimal intervention in the winemaking process, letting the wines ferment with indigineous yeasts (as opposed to adding yeast to affect the fermentation process) and letting it sit on its lees.

The result? This unctuous wine, with tones of ripe canteloupe, lemon zest and mineralty on the nose, was an aromatic treat.  Med plus body and acid, the  palate showcased a higher citrus profile, along with slate that was mouthwateringly rich. This is a great introductory Riesling for those that normally shy away from the varietal.

Albert Seltz, Riesling Reserve, Alsace, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Albert Seltz, Riesling Reserve, Alsace, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Keep tasting, friends....

Huertas

The New York City dining scene is a restless one. Trends come and go, cuisines that used to be out of vogue are now back in fashion and everyone is constantly seeking the Next Big Thing. It can't be easy for a restaurant to find its unique identity. 

Huertas is a new restaurant in the East Village that opened to much fanfare a few months ago.  Upon reading first impressions, the whole endeavor sounded intruiging, if not chaotic, as it seems to try to encapsulate classic dining formats (tapas and passed dim sum) and current trends (a tasting menu, which is the nouveau fine dining experience, and conservas, seafood tins, which is new to the NYC dining scene but an integral part of coastal Spanish cuisine) within one restaurant. Let me break it down. Essentially, the space is split into two concepts: in the front is a tapas bar with a focus on traditional tapas and canned seafood. Up here, servers also pass the daily pintxos (small snacks) around on a tray, dim sum style, so you can eat at your leisure. The back, however, is a frequently-changing tasting menu that focuses on modern Spanish cuisine. With so much going on, how would this restaurant fare?

The chef, Jonah Miller, certainly has the pedigree to pull this place off.  Under the tutelage of David Waltuck (Chantarelle) and Peter Hoffman (Savoy) not to mention a 3-year stint at Maialino, he honed his skills as a chef.  Trips to Spain crystallized his vision for a restaurant and fueled his passion for his own place. Oh yeah, and the guy's only 28. 

We checked out Huertas on a rainy Tuesday night in early September with the plans of drinking wine and having a couple bites (is there any better post-Pilates workout meal?). Walking in, the place was warm and inviting yet energetic at the same time.  We perched on a couple bar stools as we contemplated drinks. The beverage menu was varied and interesting, with well-curated and reasonably priced selections of wine, beer and cidres.  The first glass was  Via Arxentea, Treixadura and Godello, Monterrei, Spain, 2012.  The blend of Treixadura and Godello grapes lent itself to a crisp, moderately acidic wine, redolent of pear, ripe peach and bracing minerality.  It was refreshing after the humidity was trekked through on our way to the restaurant.

Via Arxentea, Treixadura and Godello, Monterrei, Spain, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Via Arxentea, Treixadura and Godello, Monterrei, Spain, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

We starting discussing tapas from the menu but a tray of pintxos came around and we were treated to a great surprise: all pintxos are only $1 on Tuesday nights.  Dinner? Done.  

The first one was a duck croquette, a crispy fried ball stuffed with duck. The contrast of the crisp exterior and creamy, saucy interior was delightful but be forewarned: this sucker is hot.  And it squirts. Proceed with a knife and fork.  Another croquette came around, this time with mushroom, and was another fried winner.  We also tasted a pane con tomate (olive oil and tomato rubbed bread) as well as a tortilla (Spanish omelette).  Both were very traditional and well executed.  There was also an anchovy, skewered and snaked around olives, which was a briny, bright contrast to the croquettes. We noshed on several of these as they came 'round and 'round and ordered up our second wine of the evening, Monopole, Rioja Blanca, Spain, 2013.  Like the first wine, there was a good deal of acid and minerality on both nose and palate, but the fruit was a bit more opulent on this wine as ripe peach and pineapple came through.

Monopole Rioja Blanca, Spain, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Monopole Rioja Blanca, Spain, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

We were chatting with the bartenders and having a grand 'ole time when an object caught our eye.  A cross between a decanter and a watering can, we discovered the porron, a Spanish wine pitcher.

Image courtesy of decoesfera.com

Image courtesy of decoesfera.com

Often at parties in Spain, guests will pour wine directly into their mouths using the porron and as the night progresses it becomes a fun, albeit messy, drinking game. Naturally, we had to try it out.*

Still feeling peckish, we took another look at the tapas menu and settled on the bocadillo, a sandwich with fried calamari, arugula, fried lemon, and squid in aioli. The umami of the ink aioli balanced perfectly with the acidity of the fried lemon and sweet calamari.  It was a delicious sandwich, although the bread ratio seemed a bit high and obscured the calamari on a couple of bites. 

One of the best elements of Huertas was the service.  The guys behind the bar were attentive as well as passionate about what they were doing. One of them overheard us contemplating an octopus dish versus the bocadillo and brought us out a small plate of the sea creature; it was his favorite thing on the menu and wanted to make sure we tried it.  Damn, he was spot on; that was one of the best bites of octopus I've had in a while. They were also knowledgable and helped guide us in our wine selections (not to mention gave us a crash course on the porron).

I'm now eager to go back for the tasting menu.  If the $1 pintxos are any indication of what's to come, that's going to be a memorable experience. 

Reservation for Huertas can me made on the New York restaurants page on OpenTable.

 *I am proud to report that while neither of us mastered the art of the porron, we did not need to take a trip to the dry cleaner the next day. 

One of the Least Informative Posts I've Ever Written

I'm not being intentionally lazy here.  Normally, I try to throw some nuggets of knowledge into my posts and I had every intention of sharing thoughtful, informative notes from a recent event: The Joy of Sake Tasting, held September 18 in New York City.   I love sake and find it intriguing but know diddly-squat about it, save for one Wine Spectactor article and several late nights at sake bars around the city.  With such a low baseline knowledge,  I couldn't wait to learn more.  However, a few wrenches were thrown into the game plan. First, there were over 300 sakes to taste, so my tastebuds were a bit blurred by the end of the night.  Sake tastings, unlike wine tastings, don't provide dump buckets, so you need to finish whatever is in your glass before you can move on.  Also, there were almost no producers there, so there was no one to chat with about technique, production,  etc. Finally, did I mention there were over 300 sakes to taste?

Overall, the event was rather spectacular;  not only was there a wide spectrum of sakes to sample, but several renowned Japanese restaurants in New York City were offering small bites.  In lieu of tasting notes,  I took a boatload of pictures of the standouts from the evening (I didn't get pictures of all the food and there some great bites, such as the one from SakaMai, that unfortunately will go undocumented).  Let's consider this Blog Laryngitis and instead I'll let the pictures tell you about the night.

A little bit about GInjo style sake.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

A little bit about GInjo style sake.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

 

Junmai sake.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Junmai sake.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Daiginjo sake (the B indicates the table number) Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Daiginjo sake (the B indicates the table number) Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

This is how sake is tasted: with a syringe.  I don't think we're at a wine tasting anymore, Toto.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

This is how sake is tasted: with a syringe.  I don't think we're at a wine tasting anymore, Toto.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

That's a whole octopus, isn't it purdy? Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

That's a whole octopus, isn't it purdy? Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

And here's the octopus after it's been poached. Restaurant 15 East.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

And here's the octopus after it's been poached. Restaurant 15 East.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Black Truffle Mousse from En Brasserie.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Black Truffle Mousse from En Brasserie.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

King Crab Sushi with truffle from BondST.  They are loving their truffles at this event.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

King Crab Sushi with truffle from BondST.  They are loving their truffles at this event.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Sunflower-miso soup with shittake, daikon and tonburi from WD-50.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Sunflower-miso soup with shittake, daikon and tonburi from WD-50.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

OK, back to drinking.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

OK, back to drinking.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

A really delicious beef dish and unfortunately my notes went missing for the deets.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

A really delicious beef dish and unfortunately my notes went missing for the deets.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Duck! The meat was perfect but the daikon radish accompaniament didn't work at all (I hid it from view, you're welcome).  By restaurant Aburiya Kinnosuke.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Duck! The meat was perfect but the daikon radish accompaniament didn't work at all (I hid it from view, you're welcome).  By restaurant Aburiya Kinnosuke.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

They're not kidding with that gold label, this was beautiful sake. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

They're not kidding with that gold label, this was beautiful sake. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

And finally, dessert.  Did you know the Japanese make chocolate?  Those, my friend, are Champagne Chocolates.  You're welcome. By Royce Chocolates.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

And finally, dessert.  Did you know the Japanese make chocolate?  Those, my friend, are Champagne Chocolates.  You're welcome. By Royce Chocolates.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

These Royce matcha almond chocolates were amazing.  Don't let the Kermit color scare you.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

These Royce matcha almond chocolates were amazing.  Don't let the Kermit color scare you.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

And finally, white chocolate and caramel covered potato chips.  Because when you are drunk on sake, these are the best idea ever (actually, they're pretty friggin' great sober as well).  By Royce Chocolate.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

And finally, white chocolate and caramel covered potato chips.  Because when you are drunk on sake, these are the best idea ever (actually, they're pretty friggin' great sober as well).  By Royce Chocolate.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

 

 

 

 

 

Brooklyn Taste Talks BBQ

BBQ.  What comes to mind when you see those letters? Round patties browning on the grill; hot dogs rolling back and forth along the smoking grate;  overflowing bowls of confetti coleslaw and glistening pasta salads resting on a table; ice-filled coolers emitting rustling noises as a hand reaches in for a beer. Many happy memories have been made in this old-fashioned Americana setting, but BBQ can take on so many more forms. 

On Sunday, September 14, Brooklyn Taste Talks upped the BBQ game with their All-Star BBQ event in East River Park in Williamsburg. I received a pass from OpenTable and couldn't wait to check out the offerings. Under white tents that contrasted against a perfect almost-autumn blue sky, I sampled some seriously kick-ass fare. 

 

The menu.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The menu.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

 

Charred lamb tongue. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne

Charred lamb tongue. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne

First up was the charred lamb tongue with fried anchovy by Nate Smith and Lee Tiernan. Finished with a black bean sauce and some crushed peanuts, it was a perfect textural balance.

An out-of-focus  anchovy taco. Bad photo, great dish.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

An out-of-focus  anchovy taco. Bad photo, great dish.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Next up, riding the anchovy train, was this anchovy and egg taco from Danny Bowien at Mission Cantina.  I loved the salty taste and rich texture, along with the handmade tortilla, but I overheard some people grumbling about the lack of meat.  Really, people? 

Lamb tartare.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Lamb tartare.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Danny Bowien also partnered with Jamie Bissonnette for a Mission Chinese-represented dish of lamb tartare.  This rosette of meat was simple, elegant and a perfect example of how sometimes leaving ingredients alone lets them shine. 

 

Blue whale oyster awesomeness. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Blue whale oyster awesomeness. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Alternating land with sea, I eagerly slurped down this grilled blue whale oyster from Matt Rudofker.  I have no idea what a blue whale oyster is (and Google was less than helpful) but I do know that this was briny, smoky and insanely good. A standard mignonette sauce is such a weak oyster companion after tasting this preparation. 

I was riding a high of awesome bites but was rather disappointed with the smoked char and Long Island eel.  In full disclosure, I've never been a big fan of eel, but found the chewy hunk of this sea creature to be a tougher version of kippered salmon and an overpowering force against the char, which was completely obscured.  It was like a Jewish appetizing plate gone awry. 

Grilled duck hearts, Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Grilled duck hearts, Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Redemption was found in the grilled duck hearts by Ivan Ramen.  Paired with a rich, creamy corn something-or-other, each heart had a slightly crisp exterior and tender-yet-chewy interior.  I've never eaten heart before and I must confess, I'm in love. (oh come on, you saw that one coming). 

 

BBQ duck from Nightingale 9.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

BBQ duck from Nightingale 9.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

However, there was another duck dish at the event that blew me away and may have been my favorite at the event.  The BBQ duck, plated with a long bean and shishito pepper from Nightingale 9/Wilma Jean duo Kerry Diamond and Rob Newton, was well worth the wait in the verryyy long line.  The meat was elevated with the Vietnamese flavors and seasonings and was perfectly cooked (how they did that in this pop-up setup is beyond me, especially considering some of the botched ducks I've had in restaurants).  

C.J. doing his shucking thang.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

C.J. doing his shucking thang.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Taking a spin around the grounds, contemplating my next move,  I saw a flurry of action in the corner, which turned out to be Island Creek Oysters being freshly shucked by C.J.., one of the fastest shuckers I've ever seen.  With a squeeze of lemon, that little mollusk was the perfect palate prep for whatever came next. As a side note, if you're ever up in Boston, I.C.O. owns a fantastic restaurant called Island Creek Oyster Bar that, along with delicious bites, has a superb wine list and very knowledgeable sommeliers.  

 

Grilled chicken "kebab".  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Grilled chicken "kebab".  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Oddly, there was only one chicken dish at the 'cue, which came from  the Mile End brothers (what, no smoked meat?).  Upon close inspection, the square piece of poultry looked like a terrine of some sort.  I loved the vaguely middle eastern flavors in this but was confused about the tortilla piece and lack of stick.  

Cinnamon Babka from Russ and Daughters.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Cinnamon Babka from Russ and Daughters.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

At this point, I realized I was very full, but there was still dessert to be had. Russ and Daughters presented a grilled cinnamon babka with a streusel topping; an elevated version of cinnamon toast.  Comforting and familiar, it tasted like an edible hug.  

(As a follow up, I went to the Russ and Daughters new cafe shortly after the event and I must advise you to not overlook their sweet offerings.  Four words: Chocolate Babka French Toast.  I am still lusting after this dessert.)  

The event was concluding and chefs were starting to prep for session 2, so I made my way over to the Future of Food Expo being held a couple of blocks away.  

Sud de France wine tasting.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Sud de France wine tasting.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The expo showcased vendors and startups that were bringing new ideas and products to the food industry. Before I started wandering, I tasted through a lineup of wines from Sud de France. These wines, from southern regions in France such as Languedoc-Roussillon, tend to be perfect for warmer-weather fare, given the climate in which they are produced.  The reds tend to work well with barbeque so these sips were a tardy, yet ideal partner, to all I had just consumed.

Susty Party serving ware.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Susty Party serving ware.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Raaka Chocolates. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Raaka Chocolates. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

 A few vendors of note were Susty Party, who produce biodegradable serving ware for parties, Empire Mayonnaise, who were sampling their offbeat-yet-delish flavors and Raaka Chocolates, gourmet chocolatiers. 

Not for sale but fun to taste. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Not for sale but fun to taste. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

There were also educational stations, such as these concept crackers, which illustrated the future of snacking based on what crops will be a bigger part of our agricultural footprint in the future. 

Food Talks is next heading to Chicago October 3-5 so if you are in the area I highly recommend getting tickets.  The weekend is overflowing with panels, discussions and of course, eating. Bring your stretchy pants, it's a weekend well spent and I'm looking forward to NYC in 2015. 

Interested in checking out these restaurants yourself? Visit the New York restaurants page on OpenTable for reservations to many of these awesome spots.

Tavel Rose Rounds Out the Summer

Summer is still lingering, but there is a softness in the air that hints at the coolness that is fast approaching.  We are all hanging on to the last gasps of warmth and embracing the finale of the season. 

On one such night, I opened this Chateau de Trinquevedel, Tavel Rose, France, 2013. Tavel is a town very close to Avignon in the Rhone Valley and is unique in that it only produces rose. It was also the first region to be granted AOC status for the pink sipper, meaning rose is serious business. In other parts of the world, where rose is sometimes produced as an afterthought or as a "casual" wine in a producer's portfolio, Tavel winemakers must meet strict requirements to ensure they are creating quality quaffers. 

With this particular bottle, the winemaker's great-grandfather fortuitously purchased the chateau in 1936, the same year Tavel was granted AOC status. However, he wasn't profitable immediately as the vineyard was in rough shape; "rough" as in it took until 1960 for them to release wines that upheld the governing regulations. Talk about gumption.  

The soil, most interestingly, is comprised of sand and galets (round stones), which are a signature characteristic of Chateauneuf du Pape, which obviously peaked my CdP-loving self's interest.   So, how did this wine fare?

 

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The color was a deep rose, which immediately gave the visual impression of power.  On the nose, field ripe strawberries, bright cherries and a strong floral tone, almost that of a rose (funny how that works) came through. The palate showcased a lot of the same strawberry notes, ripe raspberries and blackberries yet there was a savory quality, almost like licking a rock, and a spiciness that came through as well.  Medium acid and medium plus-bodied, it was a rich rose.

 

Keep tasting, friends.... 

Weekend Recap

I started transitioning to fall a bit early this past weekend.  Instead of pounding the rose (which apparently was not an options for Hamptonites), we dove into some bigger reds.  

First up was this Monteraponi, Chianti Classico, Italy, 2011.

Monteraponi Chianti Classico, Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Monteraponi Chianti Classico, Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Rather lush with deep, ripe cherry notes, high acidity and medium tannins, this was a great start to dinner.  

But then... 

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape, photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape, photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

 We luxuriated with this beauty, Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape, France, 2006. It was a bit of a newer-world style, with more dominant fruit on the nose and palate, but the traditional earthy, savory tones still enhanced every sip. 

It's almost time to bust out the sweaters but looks like my palate has a headstart.  

Keep tasting, friends.... 

 

 

Rose's Last Call

Not to be a downer, but.... I'm going to be anyway. Summer is coming to a close.  You need to get your rose on.  Now.  Here are a few new ones I discovered at a recent tasting.  

Tissot, Cremant du Jura, France, NV. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Tissot, Cremant du Jura, France, NV. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Bubbles! This Tissot, Cremant du Jura, France, NV, had a lot of fresh strawberry on the nose but was beautifully balanced with a brioche toastiness on the palate.  

 

Charles Fournier, Gold Seal Vineyards, Rose, Finger Lakes, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Charles Fournier, Gold Seal Vineyards, Rose, Finger Lakes, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

A bit of Finger Lakes history for you.  Charles Fournier was one of the pioneering winemakers in this northern New York region and is credited with moving the industry forward.  In the 1950s he brought Dr. Konstantin Frank over and together they revolutionized FInger Lakes wines.  The Dr. Konstantin Frank label is fairly well known but there hasn't been a Fournier Private label for a while.  The Charles Fournier, Gold Seal Vineyards, Rose, Finger Lakes, 2013, was somewhat Provencal in style with the lighter body but it showcased more New World style fruitiness. 

 

Blackbird Vineyards, Arriviste Rose, CA, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Blackbird Vineyards, Arriviste Rose, CA, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

And then, there was this awesomeness. Blackbird Vineyards, Arriviste Rose, CA, 2013, was a Bordeaux blend rose.  Fuller in body, it was rich in fruit but what was most interesting was a bit of creaminess and a slight dairy tang.  Yep, this rose was treated with a bit of malo.  

Finally, with the cooler weather coming, I recommend these two Rosato-style roses. Heftier in body and juicy beyond all belief, they are the sweatercoats of Rose: Enanzo, Rosado, Garnacha, Spain, 2013  and Akakies, Kir-Yianni, Greece, 2013. 

 

Enanzo, Rosado, Garnacha, Spain, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Enanzo, Rosado, Garnacha, Spain, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Akakies, Kir-Yianni, Greece, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Akakies, Kir-Yianni, Greece, 2013. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

I'm gunning for Endless Summer....

Women and Wine - Corkbuzz Wine Studio

 

There's a strange irony in the wine world: as much as women drink wine (visit any wine bar and the numerous tables and stools occupied for a girls' night out will confirm this), much of the wine industry is still seen as a boys' club. However, there are a few female pioneers that are out to change this, not to mention revolutionize the whole wine bar experience itself.

One of the most noteworthy places to drink wine in the city is at Corkbuzz Wine Studio, the creation of Laura Maniec. Until 2011, Maniec was the youngest person to hold the title of Master Sommelier and only one of 18 women with this prestigious title. Although she had extensive experience as the Wine and Spirits Director for various restaurants across the country,  she notes on the Corkbuzz website that she " 'retired' so I could create and run my own own wine studio." What's a wine studio?  It's hybrid wine bar/restaurant/classroom/event space that's holistically awesome.  With classes such as "A Tour of Italy," "Blind Tasting 201" and "Sparkling Wine Around the World" there's a diverse range of topics for novices and aficionados alike to dive into.

One of Laura's passions is Champagne and she strives to bring this sparkler out to the public in a fun and accessible way.  Every night after 10pm, a bell is rung and Champagne Campaign begins, where every bottle of the bubbly stuff is 1/2 price.  Late night not your thing?  Then head over for brunch, where Champagne Campaign will assuredly make running errands later in the day much more fun. On tops of all this, there are clambakes in the summer, blind tasting happy hours and a roster of other unique experiences. 

I've been to Corkbuzz quite a few times ever since it opened in 2011 but have been delinquent in making a return visit in recent months.  With the opening of the new location in Chelsea Market, it was about time to see how the original has evolved. Having made a reservation on OpenTable,  I headed down to reacquaint myself with this unique venue.

The staff is more than well-equipped to guide guests through the constantly rotating 30+ wines BTG (By The Glass, for those looking to get down with the lingo).  Educate, not intimidate, is the goal here.

First up was the Palmina, Arneis, Santa Ynez, CA, 2011.  Arneis is a white grape indigenous to the Piedmont region in Italy but is now being grown domestically in Santa Barbara.  There was a good amount of acid along with some honeysuckle, basil and a savory spiciness. 

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The sign of a great wine bar is a sommelier who knows his or her stuff and loves to bring out something unique to guests. Lusenti, Bianca Regina, Malvasia, Colli, IT, 2008, was a ripe, aromatic Italian white from the Colli region. There was a slight note of wet wool on the nose along with hazelnut.  Again, there was a good amount of acidity and body on this fun n' funky wine.

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These bad boys needed some food, so my friend and I started with the brussel sprouts, which were roasted to al dente and topped with a flurry of pecorino cheese, and followed with the fideos tossed with squid, tomato, pepper and topped with a large prawn. Savory and satisfying, the food made fast friends with our wine.

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Clang! Clang! Everybody stopped and looked around at as the bell reverberated throughout the bar: Champagne Campaign!  Having made friends with two people next to us, we decided to combine forces and partake in a bottle. Chartogne-Taillet, Rose, Champagne, FR, NV.  Yeasty with a bit of a brioche tone, strawberry tones and mousse-y bubbles, this was the perfect wine to end our Corkbuzz experience with. 

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After three years, Corkbuzz continues to impress with its unique concept, oenophile staff, and exciting wine and food; Maniec's vision is definitely redefining the way people learn, consume and understand wine. 

(And P.S., in addition to the newly opened Chelsea Market location, a Corkbuzz in Charlotte, N.C., is due to open very soon).

 Reservations can be made on OpenTable 

http://www.opentable.com/new-york-city-restaurants

Wines of Alsace - Pinot Gris

There's a wine region in France that I don't frequently write about but find myself constantly drawn to its offerings. Alsace, in the northeastern area of France, primarily produces mineral-driven, high acid wines that are intensely aromatic.  The majority of production is dedicated to white wines, with some sparkling wines known as Cremant d'Alsace.  Fuller in body than some other whites, they stand up well to food but are also a toothsome alternative to the light summer sippers I've been drinking frequently. 

The 51 Grand Cru appelations in the region were recently granted AOC status to ensure the quality of the wines remains consistent. In these sites, only four varieties are allowed to be produced: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat d'Alsace. Also required? The wines must be bottled in the green fluted-shaped vessels.  Quick history: the trade route along the Rhine, where Alsace and Germany did most of their commerce, was not a rough ride, so the fluted shape was ideal for packing and shipping the wines.  It was also a cheaper style of bottle to produce so economically it was the best option. Over time, efficiency became tradition, which then became a marketing tool.   

Recently I was sent a couple of Alsatian wines to try and the other night opened up the Pinot Gris.  The Dopff et Irion Cuvee Rene Dopff Pinot Gris, 2012, immediately announced ripe apricot, lemon and honeysuckle on nose.  Sipping through, the slight amount of residual sugar brought to mind candied peach and zesty lemon peel.  I was reminded of the sugar-coated gummy candies that were thrown at a kid during his or her bar/bat mitzvah once the Torah portion was completed. (My dimished recollection of Hebrew School thinks we did this to celebrate his or her accomplishment and to send wishes of a sweet life.  Of course, services were long and we all were a bit hungry by this point. Sorry, Rabbi). With a medium plus body and a good amount of acid, this wine was a delicious, lusty sipper for a warm summer's evening.

 

Dopff & Irion Cuvee, Pinot Gris, Alsace, 2012. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Dopff & Irion Cuvee, Pinot Gris, Alsace, 2012. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Keep tasting, friends....

 

 

Weekend Quickies

Just a couple of the wines we got into this weekend:

 

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Black fruit and a lot of funky, barnyard animal notes were going on in this Noemie Goichot, Pommard, Burgundy, France, 1998.  Definitely needed some food (like dem there meat and cheese in the background).

 

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Nicknamed "Baby Sassacaia,"  this Guidalberto Tenuta San Guido, Tuscany, Italy, 2011,  a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Merlot wine, was uber-high in acid, lots of deep red cherry and a noticeable tannic structure.  A bit stinging on its own, it found its plushness with the marinara sauce consumed during dinner.

And the summer keeps rolling along...

Going Back, Back to Cali, Cali

And I'm not talking Napa.  Tonight at The Dutch was a wine from Santa Barbara, southern counterpoint to the famed Northern wine country.  Wanna get fun n' funky? It was a Gruner Veltliner, most often found in Austria.  The Habit, Gruner Veltliner, Santa Ynez Valley, 2012, had some of the classic Gruner qualities - lime, lemon peel, slate, rocky - but there was a slight roundness of green apple and pear that spoke to the New World's love of fruit. High acid but not attacking on the finish, this was a great wine for both sipping and light fish dishes (lobster salad with mustard oil and Old Bay as the app and tilefish with a Thai herb broth for the main course, in case you were wondering. Oh yeah, and blueberry pie).  According to the sommelier, the vineyard is a side project for the winemaker who's main career is a voiceover artist.  I think he should give up his day job, this stuff was friggin' good. 

 

Crappy picture, good wine.  Habit Gruner Veltliner.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Crappy picture, good wine.  Habit Gruner Veltliner.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Drinking the USA

It was the 4th of July and it felt a bit unpatriotic to drink anything besides domestic wine.  In the spirit of the holiday, I opened myself up to revisiting some Napa Valley wines, which is one region I don't traditionally drink.

Oh man, I am so happy I gave myself over to the West Coast. At dinner Friday night, we went with a bottle of Jordan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, CA, 2010 and Saturday we gave the 2009 a test run. 

The favored Jordan vintage.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The favored Jordan vintage.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

By law in the US, these wines need to be composed of 75% of the primary grape in order to be named single varietal.  What this means is that although they are dominantly Cab Sauv, technically they are a blend (I dare you to try pulling this stunt with a Brunello)  The 2010 was 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec. The 2009 varied slightly, with 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec. How did the compare?  The 2010 showcased riper, richer berries and the tannins were softer and better integrated.  Hints of mocha and chocolate also came through as the wine opened up.  The 2009, on the other hand, felt a bit leaner and more angular and there was a more dominant presence of oak tannins on the tongue.  This vintage could probably use a bit more aging and the bottle itself could have benefited from some decanting.

The shining diamond in all this was the other bottle of wine on Saturday: the Opus One, Napa Valley, CA, 2006. Opus One makes a Bordeaux-style blend: 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% 
Merlot 5% 
Cabernet Franc, 3% 
Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec. Interestingly enough, although the wine contains the required 75%+ Cab Sauv, it chooses not to identify as a single varietal.  

Truthfully, I've always been put off by Opus One.  When I visited the winery a few years ago, I wasn't overwhelmed by what I tasted and I couldn't get over the audacity of charging me $35 for a 1/4 of a glass "taste."  That's some shit right there.

However, this wine was stellar. Deep raspberry and blueberries were immediately apparent and met by tobacco and smoked meat. Chocolate and mocha again made an appearance, rounded out by a full body and silky feeling in the mouth. I wish we had decanted it for a bit before we started drinking because those last few sips were something special.

 

Keep tasting, friends...

 

I Prefer These Kinds of Fireworks

We BYOBed these beauties to dinner last night: 

 

Swoony-worthy Nebbiolo.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Swoony-worthy Nebbiolo.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

This Travaglini, Riserva, Gattinara, Piedmont, 2001, was a Nebbiolo stunner.  Gattinara is another DOCG region in Piedmont that, like Barolo, produces Nebbiolo wines. Once it opened up a bit, the rich, deep blueberry and raspberry fruit, slightly perfumed with violet, showed great aging with its complex black tea and loamy soil notes.  Medium in body, the tannins integrated lusciously to give it structure but didn't overwhelm.  

We also brought along this  Malenchini, Bruzzico, Tuscany, year not noted, Supertuscan for comparison: 

 

Supa-dupaTuscan, Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Supa-dupaTuscan, Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Brandy-soaked cherries and a chili pepper spiciness met with earthy and tobacco essences in this bottle.  The acid felt more prominent on the tongue as well as the tannins.  Man, they were not shy and I felt them acutely.  

There were definitely some "oohs" and "aahs" at the table night and if this was the prelude to July 4th, I can't see what tonight brings.

 

 

Journey to the North Fork

I've waxed poetic about Finger Lakes wines for a while now, but New York State also houses a large area of viticulture on Long Island, especially on the North Fork. It's an interesting wine culture where many wineries take their vinicultural cues from other parts of the world, yet international grape varietals are also given a distinct local treatment.  On a recent trip, I felt as if I was exploring Champagne and Provence, yet still encountered wines that were uniquely New York. 

The first winery we stopped at was Sparkling Pointe, an aptly named place that produces sparkling wine. If you can get past the numerous marriage proposals (two that occurred nearly simultaneously) and bachelorette parties (I counted about 5 "Bachelorette!" sashes), it's interesting to experience the gamut of sparkling wines being produced out here.  What I found most notable is that most of the wines are of a specific vintage and not a cuvee. What's the difference, you ask? Cuvees, which are blends made from various vintages, are created to ensure a consistent house style and quality. When a winery creates a bubbly based on a vintage, they are paying more attention to the weather and other climate factors that will affect their final product. I'm not sure why this is the path Sparkling Pointe has chosen; it could be they are still building their reserves, or perhaps they like the subtle variations in the vintages.  

Sparkling Pointe Brut, 2010.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Sparkling Pointe Brut, 2010.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Sparkling Pointe Brut, 2010 was an easy drinking bubbly with lots of pear notes up front and a little bit of baking bread on the palate. The texture was soft with very fine bubbles, slightly mousse-y on the tongue.  It was simple yet perfect for a summer patio situation.

Next in the flight was the Sparkling Pointe Brut, 2007 (not pictured). The aging on this one gave more noticeable yeasty, savory tones to the wine  and was a bit more complex and refined than the 2010.  

Sparking Point Brut Seduction, 2005.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Sparking Point Brut Seduction, 2005.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Because sex sells, we were treated to the cheesily named Sparkling Pointe Brut Seduction, 2005.  Luckily, the wine fared way better than its label name; complex toast notes met with floral sweetness and subtle fruit, creating a elegant bubbly.  

Sparkling Pointe Cuvee Carnaval Blanc, NV.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Sparkling Pointe Cuvee Carnaval Blanc, NV.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The final wine was the sole cuvee, the Sparkling Pointe Cuvee Carnaval Blanc, NV.  The sweetest of the bunch, the residual sugar lingered on the palate and the flavor profile immediately brought to mind a Moscato d'Asti.  I could see this as a great pairing for dessert. 

We hit the road and headed over to what promised to be my Nirvana: Croteaux, which is all rose, all the time.  

 

Provence via Long Island.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Provence via Long Island.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

The beautiful Provencal-inspired patio was the perfect venue to taste through six of their roses.  

 

The rose lineup.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

The rose lineup.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

The Provence aesthetic clearly extended to the wines as most were in the light and crisp spectrum of roses, perfect for summer day drinking.  I found most to be rather simple, but I did favor the Croteaux Merlot 3 Rose Cuvee, which was softer and a bit richer than the others, as well as the Croteaux Jolie, which was in an Italian rosato style, meaning a fuller body and richer fruits. 

The final stop was to Corey Creek, an offshoot of the North Fork stalwart Bedell. 

 

Can't beat that view.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Can't beat that view.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

 

If this isn't the essence of summer, I don't know what is. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

If this isn't the essence of summer, I don't know what is. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Corey Creek lineup.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Corey Creek lineup.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Here, I found myself drawn to their reds a bit more over their whites, including their Corey Creek Cabernet Franc, 2012, which is not normally in my wheelhouse.  However, theirs was a bit rounder and softer than the underripe pepper and vegetal notes I often associate with Cab Franc.  Their Corey Creek Merlot, 2012, too, avoided its soft fruit bomb association with a balance of soft tannins and spice. 

While the North Fork is still working to stake its claim as  a major player in the wine world, it's definitely worth a trip to seek out some of these hidden gems.  

Keep tasting, friends....

New Zealand Wine Fair

New Zealand wines have always been a bit of a hard sell for me. Touted for their Sauvignon Blanc, I haven't been able to fully get on board with the cut grass/pineapple/cat piss thing that is prevalent in so many of these wines.  I always get a little gun-shy when ordering and inevitably hide behind the fort of Old World vinos.  

So, at a recent James Beard wine event, I went into the trenches and put myself in the line of fire.  New Zealand, hit me with your best shot.  (like I went from violent warfare references to cheesy eighties tunes right there? Didja?)

Overall, there was quite a bit of what I expected, but there were a few shining gems that definitely turned my head. The Framingham Classic Riesling, Marlborough, 2011 was one of the first wines I tasted and it held my attention for most of the night.  I started with the Sauvignon Blanc, 2013, and was about to walk away but figured I'd give it's vineyard neighbor a chance, even though this first wine was textbook in all that didn't appeal to me in a Sauv Blanc. I'm glad I gave it a whirl; this Riesling had intruiging notes of charcoal up front with mineral and flint tones immediately following. Fresh peach and lemon took the edge off and although this was technically a dry wine, there was a tingle of residual sugar on the palate.  

 

 

Framingham Classic Riesling, 2011.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Framingham Classic Riesling, 2011.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Waimea Estates presented a noteworthy Gruner Veltliner, 2012. This producer is located in the Nelson region, which has very few wineries, especially in comparison to the vineyard-heavy Marlborough.  However, this wine proves branching out from the popular crowd can lead to something unique. There was nice balance between fruit, body and acidity in this accessible white. 

Waimea Gruner Veltiner, photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne

Waimea Gruner Veltiner, photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne

Astrolabe, who's Sauvignon Blanc I've written about in the past, did not disappoint with the latest vintage, but there were a couple other wines that showed this producer's skill. The Province Pinot Gris, Marlborough, 2013, presented a bouquet of honeysuckle, freesia and other flowery aromatics on the nose.  Apricots also came to light when drinking through this crisp wine.

Their Province Pinot Noir, Marlborough, 2011, was another wine worth considering.  Very New World in style, it was rather fruit forward but still characteristically light bodied, yet had a dusty violet essence that what somewhat reminscent of a Burgundy. 

 

 

Astrolabe Wines, photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Astrolabe Wines, photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Finally, there was VIlla Maria.  One of the most well-regarded wineries in the Marlborough Region, their lineup included delectable whites and reds. Their Cellar Selection Riesling, 2010, was one of the few Rieslings I encountered, besides the Framingham, that had a Germanic tilt to it. Acid? Yep. Citrus and stone fruits? Check.  But it also had a smoky charcoal essence that moved it away from its fruit-driven New World counterparts.  The Reserve Pinot Noir, 2008 and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Gimlett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, 2008, were two of the best reds tasted all night.  Both in balance, both delicious.

 

logo via villamaria.co.nz

logo via villamaria.co.nz

Keep tasting, friends….

I'm Wicked Serious...

Massachusetts makes wine. Sparkling wine. Definitely a sweeter style bubbly, almost like a fizzy apple juice, but come on. That's a wicked pissah. Suddenly I'm a bit nostalgic for my Bostonian roots. 

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine

 

So You Think You Know Chianti?

Pop quiz: what do you think of when you think of Chianti?

This question was posed to a random group of wine enthusiasts and answers ranged from "Meh" to "why drink that wine when there are so many other great Italian options out there?"

More famous for its straw wrapping rather than the quality of the wine, Chianti was seen as an inferior wine choice to many of Italy's other famous varietals. Chianti winemakers have worked feverishly over the past few decades to rectify their reputation and present wines that are worthy of recognition. Through stricter regulations, more advanced vineyard management techniques as well as a passion to keep traditions alive, Chianti wines are trying to be seen as serious contenders on a wine list.

While Sangiovese is still the primary grape in Chianti, blends of native and international varietals lend unique characteristics to the wines.  By allowing other grapes into the wine, unlike a Brunello, the winemaker is empowered to find a balance in technique, terroir and varietals.

At the Consorzio VIno Chianti Seminar, held in April in New York City, we tasted through a series of 2010 Riservas.  I have to admit, I was skeptical about what I would find in the glass. I favor Barolos, Barbarescos and other Piedmont treasures and am somewhat biased in my Italian wine choices. So, how did Chianti measure up?

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Wine number one, a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Trebbiano immediately showcased notes of violets and dark berries.  A peppery spice also became apparent, along with the savory notes of tomato. On the palate, essences of white flower came through as well, most likely attributed to the trebbiano.  

The international varietals used in wine number two -  Sangiovese, Merlot and Syrah -brought to mind brighter fruits such as raspberry and overall there was a sharp contrast to the indigineous blend of wine number one.  Herbaceous tones of rosemary came forth but again there was a distinctly floral essence to the wine. Overall, there was a freshness that seemed to be lacking in the first as well as a softness and roundness that was absent in the first.

Through the murmers heard throughout the audience, the third wine illicited the most positive response out of all the wines tasted. Again, it was comprised of native varietals - Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino. Sweeter baking spices, such as cinnamon and cumin jumped out immediately and the berries again were of the deeper blackberry profile. On the palate, cherry was the star player, with a bit of vanilla softness. The tannins were very noticeable and the finish resonated long after the wine left the mouth. 

The fourth wine, with Colorino and Merlot supporting the Sangiovese, was aged for 24 months in Slovenian oak.  This was one of the most floral Chiantis tasted but there was a slighlty persistent sour note, hard to identify, that permeated the wine.  Soft tannnins gave this wine structure and a soft mouthfeel.

Wine number five, the only one in the lineup to solely use Sangiovese, showed obvious traits of having gone through malolactic fermentation. Bright berries, soft tannins, sweet vanilla all rolled together into a plush mouthfeel that was balanced by the high acidity common to Italian wines.  

The last wine, with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon in the mix, showcased a whole baking rack of herbaceous spices.  Deep berries and ruby fruits were largely present on the palate along with balanced, structured tannins.  

 

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 Overall, I was positively surprised by many of these wines. There was a complexity to several of these that belied their infamous reputation, as well as an obvious thoughtfulness to vinification of the grapes. Many of these can stand proud on any wine list and I'm hoping more winemakers will follow suit.