Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Light and Lovely Reds of the Hudson Valley

Never was the difference between east and west coast wines more apparent than during my recent visit to the Hudson Valley, New York, as a participant in a wine blogger weekend known as Taste Camp.

I am no fan of the heavy, jammy style of red wine that can be found in countless bottles from California.  While subtler styles exist, there is no arguing with climatic differences between the coasts.  California’s got a lot more warm sunny days and the grapes get much riper.  California’s weather can ripen the grapes that give us bold Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon among other heavy-weight pours..

On the East Coast, we have icy, snowy winters, a lot more rain, and uneven summers.  In short, our climate demands different grapes – and they create a completely different style of wine.  I, for one, often prefer the more subtle North East style.

Hudson Chatham Baco Noir
Baco Noir is a curious variety that I’ve never had from other wineries.  Hudson-Chatham winery owner Carlo Davito poured a number of versions of this wine, including Old Vines.  His wines were translucent and had subtle earthy flavors and sour cherry notes.  They were welcoming wines that didn't need to overwhelm the palate in order to interest the drinker.  There was a dimensionality to these wines, which was in stark contrast to many one-dimensional wines I have tasted from hotter climes.

Whitecliff Gamay Noir
This winery's Gamay Noir is another light wine that is made from the same grape as Beaujolais in France.  I might try serving it chilled in the summer with charcuterie or even burgers.  The style is easy, fresh, with strawberries on the palate and crisp acidity – a wine to enjoy in its youth.

Tousey Cabernet Franc
Moving up in weight class is Cabernet Franc.  This is a grape that can do quite well in the North East, including on Long Island and in the Finger Lakes.  Here in the Hudson Valley, winemaker Ben Peacock gets a fuller-bodied wine than Carlo’s delicate Bacos – but still with a far lighter style than any California Merlot.  The fruit flavors are blackberries and raspberries with a slight spicy edge.  I enjoyed his 2012 Cab Franc with a roasted chicken; it is the perfect heft for poultry. 

Victory View Vineyards MarĂ©chal Foch
Perhaps the boldest wine I tasted during the weekend was from another little known grape, MarĂ©chal Foch.  I myself had experience imbibing this wine from family vacations in Nova Scotia.  Winemaker/owner  Gerry Barnhart explained that he wanted to choose grapes that would grow well in their climate, and that this one is a hardy variety that can withstand tough winters.  I found it a balanced red wine with strong black fruit character – a hearty pour for stews and red meat, but still with lighter tannic structure and no cloying jamminess. 

The Hudson Valley is a quick two hour trip from New York City, and all of the wineries listed welcome visitors.  It is a particularly lovely weekend getaway in the autumn.  But don’t just go for the scenery – enjoy these beautiful wines that offer balance, delicacy, or even boldness – but always with a typical Yankee restraint.



Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Bordeaux Legends explores fascinating saga of First Growth wines

In the world of wine, certain names are held above all others.  While any rube with a whiff of sophistication knows Bordeaux, few people understand the scale of this region: 8,000 wineries produce 700,000,000 bottles of wine annually.  Despite this massive production, only 160 of these wineries are designated as classified growths.  And then there are best of the best:  the five first growth chateaux of Bordeaux: 
Haut-Brion
Lafite Rothschild 
Latour
Margaux 
Mouton Rothschild

Wine educator and journalist Jane Anson has written BordeauxLegends to trace the 500 year history of this illustrious  quintet.  I met Jane on my first trip to Bordeaux in 2007, when I attended her class at the Bordeaux Wine School.  We maintained a cross-continent friendship that has included dining on oysters on the quays of the Garonne River and sipping Oregon Pinot Noir at Corkbuzz in New York City. From Jane’s writings and Twitter stream, I have followed her to En Primeur tastings and learned the inside scoop on the comings and goings of Bordeaux’s elite.  She has been my window on this rarefied world. Her expertise as a Bordeaux correspondent for the British wine magazine Decanter and her residency in the city of Bordeaux give her a close perspective on the region.

Bordeaux Legends is beautifully illustrated with many luminescent photographs by Isabelle Rozenbaum. The book brings the reader straight into the world of Bordeaux, grounding us with the history of the region and sharing the excitement as the chateaux increased in renown and ultimately became a superpower in the world of wine.  Jane’s astute observations and her careful, yet approachable, prose make the region, its characters, even the terroir itself, come vividly to life.


With a foreword by Francis Ford Coppola, this beautifully published hardbound book is a welcome addition to the library shelves and coffee tables of any wine lover – especially those for whom the very names of the first growth Bordeaux chateaux inspire something akin to reverence.   


Sunday, June 8, 2014

My dinner with Oscar

Wouldn't you like to have dinner with a wonderful Portuguese?  Last night some new friends and I dined with Oscar - which is a wine (technically two - a white and a red) but also a member of the Quevedo wine family.

I met Oscar Quevedo Jr. in 2009 at the European Wine Bloggers Conference in Lisbon, and he still writes his family's winery blog. He is a prime example of how wineries can benefit from a likable brand ambassador who is adept at social media - and an all-around nice guy.   Along with his winemaker sister, Claudia, Oscar is one of the more youthful members of a family that has made wine in the Douro Valley for generations. Quevedo's extensive line up of Ports includes lovely ruby, tawny, white, rose, and vintage ports.

Yesterday Oscar was at Columbia Wine Company - which boasts quality wine from around the globe - located way uptown at 170th and Broadway in Washington Heights.  The store was hosting a tasting with over a dozen bottles from Portugal, South Africa, and more.  Those who know me well know I adore Port, and I did buy both Quevedo tawny and rose Ports straight off the tasting table.  However, I'm often more excited about the Douro's dry wines, because most people are unaware of them.  So I was eager to present these wines, made from blends of native Portuguese grapes, at last evening's intimate dinner party.

Oscar white was from 2012, and it was a  medium bodied white wine with a nose of green apple. It had refreshing acidity and crisp, bright fruit flavors. It was a perfect pairing with crab cakes served on arugula with hazelnut oil and a roasted red pepper coulis.

The red wines of the Douro are dense, with full-on black fruit and plenty of tannins to stand up to fatty dishes like lamb or steak.  As the sociable evening continued, my friend pulled the cork on the red Oscar and we sipped it with hard cheeses, including a buttery cheddar reserve.  It was a wonderful way to end the evening - which, had we decided to stay up even later, would have eventually led to that bottle of Tawny.  But my recently-purchased Quevedo Ports will have to wait for another magical evening of wine, food, and friendship.





Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Patricius Winery presents Tokaj wines at Hungarian Consulate in New York

The distinguished wines of Tokaj, Hungary, were the focus of an elegant lunch held at the Hungarian Consulate. The event was hosted by Ambassador Karoly Dan, Consul General of Hungary to New York and attended by Katinka Kekessy Wimpffen and Arno Wimpffen, the owners of Patricius Winery, as well as guests and media. 
Very few oenophiles know that Tokaj is among the world’s oldest designated wine regions. The five luncheon wines, all created from native Hungarian grapes, reflected this distinctive heritage. The afternoon included an open forum for discussion about the history and future of the Tokaj region. After the economic downturn of the communist era, the region is now seeing a rebirth. There is new energy being brought from families like Katinka’s. She returned to the home of her forefathers to renew the vineyards and start over with her own family in this historic land.
The afternoon began with a light-bodied white, the Harslevelu 2012 – the Hungarian word for “linden leaf,” which offered pretty floral nose with vanilla notes. Their dry Furmint was a fresh white wine with high acid, a good choice for many dishes and a wonderful alternative to the ubiquitous Chardonnay. The two varietal wines are also the component wines in the famous Tokaji Aszu. We were also treated to the Katinka late harvest, a delicate, sweet wine with a wonderful balance of acidity and sugar. The afternoon ended with the wine that made the area famous – the 2003 Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, Gold medal International Wine Challenge winner at London in 2013. This rich, sweet wine is made with a portion of grapes that have been affected by noble rot--in the same way that Sauternes is in France--and it was sipped with the reverence it deserved.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Insider Talk from Food Writers at New York Travel Festival

The second annual New York Travel Festival was a fun weekend of panels, workshops, one-on-ones and masterclasses with industry experts -- all aimed at providing insight and information to avid travelers. The event was held again at Bohemian Hall in New York City. The session that most spoke to culinary adventurous folks such as myself was What's Yummy in Travel. 

The panel was moderated by Matt Gross,editor of BonAppetit.com, who is a traveler, journalist, and author of  The Turk Who Loved Apples: And Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the WorldMatt was joined by Peter Meehan, co-founder of Lucky Peach gastronomy magazine, former New York Times food columnist, and author; Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a New York-based journalist and author of A Tiger In The Kitchen: A Memoir of Food & Family and former Wall Street Journal staff writer; and Jen Murphy, editor at AFAR magazine

What's it like to be a food writer traveling internationally? Sure, it can be glamorous, but according to Peter Meehan, there can be too much of a good thing. His first food writing trip to Europe included nine Michelin star restaurants in less than a week. Food writers face challenges other travelers don't, like when the local speciality is "fish cum" and you end up eating it at every meal, because every host wants to serve you their best dish.  How do you survive a press trip that includes five courses at lunch and dinner? Slender Jen Murphy confided she has resorted to hiding food in her purse. 

But, in a world where food writing seems to be everywhere, what makes a good food story? Jen Murphy believes it is a story that takes you deeply into a culture, a story where the food tells you about the history of a place.  Cheryl Tan likes to write about the characers that haunt the local hole-in-the-wall spots.  She told attendees that the best place to eat in Singapore is the red light district because "men are hungry and the food is cheap!"


The New York Travel Festival has been a spring in New York City event. Check the website in early 2015 for details on the next or follow them on Twitter at @NYTravFest to find out more.





Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bold, beautiful Damilano Barolos

"The wine of kings, the king of wines.” Barolos are among Italy’s most prized wines, and they are loved for their perfumed nose, layered flavors, great structure, and long cellar life. Paolo Damilano, who has vineyards in the best sites in the region, recently stopped in New York to discuss his family’s historic wines and some new projects.
Because of they are so highly valued, Barolos are typically sold in the U.S. for no less than $50-$60 and often for far more. Yet this tasting began with the Damilano Barolo Lecinquevigne 2009, a relatively new project for the winery. At $35, it is a “gift for the market,” according to Paolo. The wine was ruby with slightly browning at the edges from age. There were tight tannins and spice. As for the nose, Paolo stated, “Balsamic is typical for a Barolo.” The complex layers of flavor included cherries and clove. Seventy percent of sales of Lecinquevigne are in the U.S., and it is the perfect economically priced Barolo to drink now. For those who have never tried Barolo, it’s a good entry point as well.
The Barolo region has a collection of specific vineyard sites that vary in sun exposure, soil, climate, and vine age. In the tasting, we were able to clearly distinguish among Barolos from different vineyards, even among wines of the same vintage, and all of which are comprised (as all Barolos are) of 100% Nebbiolo grapes. 
Barolo lovers, and they are a passionate bunch, know that the Cannubi cru is widely acknowledged as the most highly regarded vineyard in Barolo. Paolo noted, “Wise people always knew Cannubi had great exposition,” and the Cannubi name was found on a wine label as early as the 18th century. While the borders of this historic vineyard area were recently expanded, the original cru is only 15 hectares in size. Ten of those hectares are farmed by Damilano. 
The tasting continued with the Damilano Barolo DOCG Cannubi 2008. There were violets on the nose, cherries on the palate. The wine was beautifully perfumed, elegant, and had great length. With this wine, Paolo advised, “Don’t look for the power, look for the elegance.” Paola said that in 2008, the winery made a change and stopped using the smaller barrique barrels for aging: they now use only large format barrels. The change has provided a wine in which the fruit is more prominent and the flavors that oak can impart are less present.
We continued with the 2006 Damilano Barolo DOCG Brunate, which I gave my highest rating of the tasting. The wine had higher tannins and more fruit than the Cannubi – in short, it was a bigger wine. With eight years aging, the color of the wine was a light ruby with browning. The nose was balsamic and floral, the flavor was intense with tobacco, cherries, and spice, and it had great length. The wine is produced from the vineyard Brunate in the municipality of La Morra. 
The 2006 Damilano Barolo DOCG Liste was our final wine. This wine was deeper in color and the nose had blackberries and smoked meat. This well-structured wine showed the aging potential of great Barolos. Along with the production of the moderately priced Lecinquevigne and the commitment to quality in the historic vineyard production, the Damilano family is now looking to bring a Riserva wine to the market that would only be produced in the best vintages. In 2015, Paolo hopes to launch the first Riserva from the 2008 vintage. Judging from the exceptional Damilano wines we tasted that night, the Riserva will be a rare treat that Barolo lovers will eagerly anticipate.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Get your mouth ready for Covela Escolha Branco

"I don't like white wine." How many times have I heard this from my wine class students or regular folks when discussing vinous preferences?  What I always want to retort is, "You probably don't like Chardonnay." It's that old reliable, widely planted, flourish-in-so-many places grape that's made into the white wine Americans know best.

Because of this attitude, I love when I find a game-changing white.  At a recent David Bowler portfolio tasting in New York City, I had an eye-opening, palate-wowing, nose-pleasing wine that got me excited.

It was a tip from my Portuguese Facebook friend, Vitor Mendes, that led me to the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan. I zipped out of my day job, crossed the Hudson, and hustled over to 18th street. "Where is this tasting?" After a confusing few minutes trying to resurrect the FB conversation with Vitor on my phone, I remembered: he told me 19th Street! Time was wasting. I took the stairs at a fast clip and reached check in at 4:58 p.m.  "The tasting is closed."  In my early blogging years, I would have slunk away.  But I was a veteran: "I just want to see Covela."  It was a legitimate request, and the gatekeepers acquiesced. I grabbed a glass and ran to the table where I met the energetic and charming managing partner of the winery, Tony Smith.

When Tony poured the 2012 Escolha Branco, he explained that it had been revolutionary when it was first made because it  combined native Portuguese with foreign grapes. The blend includes Avesso, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Gewurztraminer.  As I lowered my nose to the glass, I was seduced by strong aromas of white flowers and lychees.  I was not entirely sold, however. I've had many wines that promised worlds on the nose and disappointed on the palate. But as soon as the wine touched my tongue, I knew this was not one of those wines. I immediately sensed a crisp acidity.  Thank God, as Viognier itself can go flabby, as I saw far too often in Virginia during WBC. The Portuguese grapes gave this blend a shot of acid, the aromatic varieties added beautiful fruit and flowers, and the Chardonnay gave it heft. This unlikely combination of varieties formed a harmonious, unique Portuguese wine from the historic Quinta de Covela estate in the Douro Valley.

Wine geeks might enjoy analyzing Escolha Branco, which Tony called "iconoclastic" for the winery, but that would miss the point - that this is a wine for unabashed enjoyment.