On another North Fork kick…

2012 Paumanok Chenin Blanc

2012 Paumanok Chenin Blanc

Kick, sure. I wanted to use the word bender but that’s definitely less classy a title, isn’t it?  But again Long Island wines are making my life a happier one. You know me, I can go on and on and on about how great the region and its wines are, and I have. Just check the archives…

The past few days are no exception. On Friday night I had the wonderful opportunity to pour some of my favorite North Fork wines — Paumanok and Sparkling Pointe — at a company tasting event (with one of the winemakers himself). It was easy to talk about them in depth with eager customers, given the amount of passion I feel for the region and its wines.

Then, when I arrived home I got a notice that my first club shipment from Anthony Nappa’s Winemakers studio had arrived. I will be going at lunchtime to pick that up and am already picturing popping open a Bordo or Anomoly later. Is it 5:30 yet?

And yesterday I continued by sharing with my family a Paumanok 2012 Chenin Blanc (which I got to try from the tank mid-fermentation last fall thanks to a special private tour) and a wonderful Lieb Cellars Cabernet Franc I picked up when on a visit out there last month. On that last visit I had the pleasure of meeting their head winemaker and we talked for hours about the craft and the joy of wine, how we ended up in the business and where we’d like to go. I ended up joining that club as well and look forward to their shipment. My regular share of the North Fork’s best is secure.

The 2012 Paumanok Chenin Blanc was crisp and refreshing with citrus and floral notes on the nose, and melon and grapefruit on the palate. It had a zippy but balanced acidity and medium body and finish. On this hot and sunny afternoon it was a perfect fit, sipped in the garden with some hors d’oeuvres. It is 100% Chenin Blanc and bottled with a screwcap to keep it fresh until its gone. It is a blend of three lots of Chenin and is made by slow cool fermentation in steel tanks to retain the acidity and bright fruit. It retails at $28. I have yet to have a Paumanok I didn’t love and there’s no exception here. Delicious.

Lieb Cellars 2008 Reserve Cabernet Franc

Lieb Cellars 2008 Reserve Cabernet Franc

The 2008 Lieb Cellars Reserve Cabernet Franc was delicious as well. I had it both with a fresh charcuterie tray at lunchtime in my parents’ sunny garden, as well as with my first BBQ of the season last night. It paired perfectly with the cold meat and the grilled burgers. It is ruby in color with notes of pepper, some perfume, toast and a little game on the nose. The palate carried over these aromas, with some cassis and wildflower hints. It’s structure was well-balanced in acidity and tannin and the finish was smooth. It retails at $26, and hopefully my first club case has a bit more of this, because I’m now all out! I tried many of their wines last month, and look forward to sharing my notes on more of them when they arrive at my door.  Also to note is this vineyard is completely herbicide-free.

Something I’ve noticed about all the winemakers in this region that I’ve met (and there are at least 5) is how friendly, approachable and passionate they are about their wines. There is none of the pretentious wine-snobbery here that you’d find in other places, even with the stunning wines they are producing. It is so refreshing, and it is one of the reasons I am more and more entranced with the craft of wine-making and this region every time I visit. It’s inspiring.

You can get wines from both of these fine vineyards in many New York City restaurants and shops, as well as in their tasting rooms, which I of course recommend. They will treat you right. Also, you can order online at www.liebcellars.com or www.paumanok.com.

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Alto Adige Wines USA Grand Tasting, April 25th 2013, New York City

Alto Adige Wines USA Grand Tasting, NYC

Alto Adige Wines USA Grand Tasting NYC

Update: I have slightly revised a portion of this entry based on feedback I received. While it appeared to be a Snooth event to me it apparently was just being promoted by them which is how I came to be at the event. Also it seems there was more extensive literature provided earlier in the day at a related event but as I was among the first ten through the door at this tasting at 7pm I can reiterate that there was none of this broader literature present by the tasting portion. I also have revised my geographical error. I appreciate the feedback and opportunity to be corrected. After all I’m here to learn and share that learning and personal experience with you. I don’t see my capacity as that of a critic. I do this for personal enjoyment not income or reputation. Thanks.

Last night I went to a Grand Tasting in Manhattan presented by Alto Adige Wines USA. This region is also known as Südtirol. There were tasting tables for Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Schiava, Lagrein, Pinot Nero, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and ‘other varieties’ which included Moscato, Riesling, Sylvaner and Kerner blends. Kerner was a new wine for me, and hence exciting to try. Named after a German doctor and poet with some poems and songs focusing on wine, it was very tasty. It is a German variety brought here in the 1970s. The Alto Adige region includes the Dolomite Mountains and the Italian Alps and shares bi-cultural and bi-lingual ties with Germany and Austria which informs several of the varieties grown in this part of Italy.

In the two hours the event lasted, I was able to taste through about 25 wines. I think 3 hours is a safe minimum when featuring this many wines. Though I have heard others say 3 is too long. Overall there were around 20 different producers. Each table was split by variety (except for the mixed table) not by producer. I might have preferred it the other way, but I also think this works as it helps you do horizontal comparisons from multiple producers. Here are my picks:

Favorite producers: Franz Haas Winery and Lahnhof.

Favorite wines:

Lahnof Pinot Bianco Firmalein 2011 – $19

Cantina Valle Isarco Kerner 2011 – $27

Tenuta Lentsch Moscato Giallo 2011 – $19.99

Kaltern Caldaro Lago di Caldaro (Schiava) Pfarrhof 2011 – $18

Nals Margreid Schiava Galea 2011 – $22.99

Castelfeder Pinot Nero Glener 2010 – $21.99

Franz Haas Winery Pinot Nero 2010 – $49.99

Erste + Neue Pinot Grigio Classic 2012 – $15.99

Lahnof Pinot Grigio 2011 – $22

Franz Haas Winery Manna 2010 (blend) – $39.99

The event in the Metropolitan Pavilion

The event in the Metropolitan Pavilion

There was also a Sauvignon Blanc table and while they had some nice examples it wasn’t high on my priority list as its not a local specialty and I was really going for that experience.

The crowd was a mix of young and old professionals. The music was more of a young New Yorker’s mix. My savvy music ear was able to discern current New York City rock bands the Strokes and TV on the Radio over the din of the room.

There was also a catered table of gourmet cheeses, meats, breads and condiments including some Lagrein cheese (which I paired with some Lagrein wines, of course) and fine prosciutto.

Catered local specialty foods

Catered local specialty foods

A nice modern touch here was a large projector screen with rotating past tweets about the event. I feel like it was a lost opportunity not having the ability to add live tweets by attendees to the stream.

I also think there could have been more complete printed material on the producers and wines. Or perhaps some sort of master checklist or tasting note sheets to better document favorite new discoveries for when you’re ready to buy. And on that note, where do I buy? My immediate assumption is that that information is online somewhere, but making it easy to find them after the event translates into sales. The producers would have benefited from having this information included in the event materials. If printing all that is costly, at the very least provide a website landing page with links to where you can purchase all of the wines. I looked but couldn’t find one. I feel like this was a big oversight.

There was at least one person, whether a winemaker or rep, at each table that could answer my more technical questions on the wines but there were also several who were just pourers who didn’t know much about what they were pouring at all. I believe some of these were just staff from the wineries themselves that weren’t formally educated in wine in their job capacities and came along to help.

Overall it was a lovely event, I discovered new wines I loved, and I look forward to the next one. Everyone got a nice tote bag and a small printed guide to the event and varieties in general. There was a good crowd and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, myself and my wife included. A fun spin on the event is a contest where you can tweet photos of yourself and friends enjoying the event and win prizes like Alto Adige wines or mountain-climbing classes.

Latest Tastes from France and Italy

Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons Millesime 2010

Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons Millesime 2010

Last week while in Florida on vacation, I absconded with 2 bottles of my father-in-law’s collection (with his permission, of course) for a short jot down to the keys. One was the Zuccardi Q Malbec I reviewed for Malbec World Day, and the other was a fine Chablis, which I enjoyed by the oceanside pool. It was a Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons Millesime 2010, and it was excellent.

Its appearance was a lovely lemon-gold. On the nose were citrus, some tropical fruit and grassy, dare I say ‘barnyard’ aromas. This is not meant to be derogatory, I have picked that gem of a descriptor up in several quality wines. How’s that for terroir? On the palate were crisp lemon-lime, more hints of tropical fruit, chalky/mineral accents and light vanilla from obvious time in oak. It had the full body and nice finish expected from French Chardonnay but the pronounced acidity and chalky notes expected in a Chablis. It was very enjoyable in the chaise lounge, as I’m sure it would equally be at the dinner table. As I hadn’t bought the bottle myself, I looked up the price and it averages around $25. This is a good price for a quality Premier Cru Chablis.

The other bottle, which I enjoyed last night was a budget-friendly yet delicious Cusumano 2011 Nero D’Avola from the Italian island of Sicily. It averages around $11 and they stock it at my local wine discount store, which is good news for me. It was deep ruby in color and on the nose were jammy red cherry and strawberry, cocoa and pepper spice. The palate echoed these aromas, with a bright acidity and tannin that were all very well balanced for a youthful wine (it also ages well). The body was full and satisfying and the finish provided more of the spicy edge.

2011 Cusumano Nero d'Avola Sicilia IGT

2011 Cusumano Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT

Nero means black in Italian and it gets its name from the dark color of this indigenous grape as well as the town it is most associated with, Avola. There is some question as to whether its other name, Calabrese, means its from Calabria originally. But either way, it is an important and historical variety in Sicily. It has also been used to add color to lighter reds from the mainland though its enjoying success on its own as of late. I can see why. This is a favorite of mine, and at this price I will buy it by the case to enjoy with casual dinners and with my friends. I also like the glass cork the bottle uses.

I paired it with a delicous garlic and pepper-laden chicken fettucini alfredo and it complemented the savory sauce very well.

Speaking of Italian wines, later this week I will be going to an Alto Adige tasting in New York City. I am looking forward to sharing that experience with you.

Malbec Day Review: Zuccardi Q 2010

Zuccardi "Q" 2010 Mendoza Malbec

Zuccardi “Q” 2010 Mendoza Malbec

Today, April 17, 2013, marks the third anniversary of Malbec World Day. This year, Malbec will also be represented as a cultural and artistic expression using street art as the medium. In over 30 countries around the world, tastings, dinners and parties will be thrown to celebrate the grape. Known by other names in its native France — both Cot and Auxerrois, it is believed to have originated in either Cahors or northern Burgundy.

Why today? On this day in 1853, Argentine president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento proposed diversifying and expanding the country’s wine industry, including a school of agriculture. Malbec and other varieties were brought to the country on behalf of this effort, and it was not long after this time that Malbec’s storied history in Mendoza would really begin. Ten years later, as Phylloxera was wiping out most of the Malbec vines in France, the variety was thriving in the rugged, hot and high-altitude terrain of Argentina, with perhaps even better results than its homeland. The intense sunshine allowed the grapes to ripen fully, and the sandy soils were inhospitable to Phylloxera. And while the school of agriculture didn’t last, Argentine Malbec would begin to make headlines in the wine world. In the 1950’s, a major frost in France also destroyed large quantities of French vines, including 75% of the Malbec in Bordeaux and surrounding regions. While it has since recovered and is still popular in Cahors and other regions around the globe, it has been the most celebrated red variety in Argentina ever since. It is known for highly tannic, plummy and deep-colored wines on its own, or used in blends where it is employed to add depth and color.

Rating at an average 90 points from Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator and priced at about $20, this is a fine example of Mendoza’s pride that won’t break the bank. 12 months in French barrels round out a very likeable Malbec, with jammy black fruit, white pepper, subtle oak and hints of wildflowers. Fully-ripened vines also means these wines have more alcohol. This one reaches 14.5% abv and has a nice full body. You can feel the heat but it is not overwhelming. The tannins are astringent and the acidity bright, but all very well-integrated. It is amazingly smooth and dynamic at once.

If only I had a steak.  Happy Malbec day!

Domaine Du Mas Blanc Clos Du Moulin Collioure 2004

Domaine Mas Blanc 2004 Clos Du Moulin Collioure, and my ham and leek fritatta

Domaine Du Mas Blanc 2004 Clos Du Moulin Collioure, and my ham and leek frittata

I’m still laughing over this article, and hence will try not to bore you with stuffy or overwraught descriptors, even if this is entry is about a fine wine. That being said, I also hope I never have.  And on with it then.

I am fairly pleased with myself at the moment, having executed a quick, but potentially disastrous recipe. Believe me, I have killed a few promising omelettes in the very few minutes one has to pull it off. I think it comes down to having made the prudent decision to not flip it until it was done and out of being finished off in the broiler. I love to cook and always have, from my days of loading mom and dad’s fridge with 20 different experimental salad dressings to attempting chicken Francaise or whatever the mood called for. Dad made me into a foodie like himself quite early, though one who actually likes to cook the food. My parents also worked late often, so having a more advanced palate meant doing my best to recreate cuisine instead of chicken nuggets or mac and cheese. But while it usually tasted good, we all know execution is just as important. So, bravo! (this time, at least). Not bad for no formal training. Maybe its because I donned the new chef shirt dad got me.

But the real occasion here is the wine. This was one of the wines I’d been saving, but I think almost 10 years is something that I can live with enjoying without too much guilt. Note that I did not patiently watch it age almost ten years, but it still counts. I won this wine at a charity auction along with a nice 2007 Ch. Climens Barsac and a Nuits-St-Georges. So now I can also enjoy it with good conscience. The other two better watch out. I’ve got a taste for the more expensive stuff lately.

I took out the decanter and let it breathe for about an hour. All the key factors for ageworthiness were there: bright acidity and at least medium tannins and fruit, but already perfectly integrated at this stage. The red fruit was soft, but entirely present. It poured a deep ruby, and on the nose were prune, black cherry, white pepper, tobacco, earth and saddle leather aromas. The palate echoed these aromas, along with a full mouthfeel and finish. Complex, yet not heavy. Rich, but not too much so. Another review I read called it ‘rustic’, which I think is accurate. Also noted was that it is very chocolate-friendly, so I’m going to have one last treat with this one before bed.

The Collioure appellation is part of the Languedoc-Roussilon region in the south of France where hotter temperatures suit this late-ripening grape and hence this is 13% abv.  Like its Bandol counterparts, this particular wine is primarily Mourvèdre, at about 80% (also known as Monastrell in nearby Spain and Mataró elsewhere). It is quite popular in this region, and recently it has found new fame in the USA thanks to the “Rhône Rangers”. This Domaine Du Mas Blanc averages around 90 points, depending who you ask. Average price is around $35-$45. This producer, Dr. Parcé, is known for quality over the last 25 years at least. I am certainly enjoying it.

While I could have spent more time cooking a quiche or tarte, the frittata had everything French I was looking for to pair with the wine. Ham, gruyere, leek, and herbs. Filling, yet not too heavy. Perfect together.

Buisson-Charles Meursault Vielles Vignes 2009

Buisson-Charles Meursault Vielles Vignes 2009 375ml

Buisson-Charles Meursault Vielles Vignes 2009 375ml

If you’re a regular reader you know that much of my early wine education consisted of being exposed to bulk Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios and Merlots from all-to-well-known mass-producers in large bottles. Sad, I know. Far too much oak or far too little fruit were basically ruining any understanding or real appreciation for wine as I knew it. Proms, weddings and the purchasing habits of family members did not improve this situation. I suppose the price and extra volume had an influence there, though I think that philosophy is best reserved for ramen and toilet paper.

Fast-forward to the present and those days are thankfully behind me. Wine now permeates my soul to the point where like most of you, I collect it, spend ridiculous amounts of money on it, write about it, read about it and always find an excuse to drink it. Down the road, I hope to make it.

Chardonnay is the one that took me longest to come to fully appreciate again. The excessive use of oak in those bulk-made wines completely overpowered any characteristics of the grape itself, and ageing would help these wines little. In most cases these wines are fermented in tanks with cheap oak chips or in better examples new American oak which I feel is better suited to Rioja than Chardonnay.

In my re-acquaintance it helped to start with steel-fermented and lightly oaked ones and go from there. But my new appreciation for the grape has also come through formal education. Knowing now how versatile this variety is and how vinification factors can affect it, as well as how to best pair it with food makes a world of difference. And tonight I am pairing a Meursault I got in that crazy 3-day flash sale at Last Bottle with some Belgian-beer-braised chicken and onions.

Cote de Beaune, inset (photo credit: The Wine Bible - Hugh Johnson/Jancis Robinson, 6th ed)

Cote de Beaune, partial inset
(photo credit: The World Atlas of Wine – Hugh Johnson/Jancis Robinson, 6th ed)

Meursault, if you don’t know, is a commune in the Côte de Beaune sub-region of Burgundy with many Premier cru and lieu-dit quality wines. Wine production here dates back as far as the middle ages. While there are no Grand Cru (this is the highest level in Burgundy), the top wines here can easily compete with the Grand Cru in neighboring Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. The finest examples can fetch over a thousand dollars a bottle. Fortunately I got this at a very good price, at $22 for a half-bottle, not being a top producer yet still 90 points. While there is red Burgundy made here, including one Premier Cru (Appellation Volnay-Santenots Premier Cru), 95% or more of the production is white. And while Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are technically allowed in both the red and white Burgundy here, it is almost always 100% Chardonnay in a white Burgundy. Meursault Chardonnays are known to have a clear oak influence, often described as buttery or creamy.  Tonight’s Meursault is Buisson-Charles Meursault Vielles Vignes 2009, the ‘vielles vignes’ meaning ‘old-vines’.

Lemon-gold in appearance, the wine is my dream Chardonnay, perfectly somewhere between too much and too little of a good thing. Expected creamy, nutty and buttery notes on the nose and palate yet still dry and with balanced crisp minerality and hints of citrus. Medium in body and finish. As Goldilocks might say, just right. The oak was there, but not offensively in any way.

Burghound echoes these sentiments quite closely: “A ripe yet airy, cool and citrusy nose that also features aromas of pear and hazelnut gives way to rich, concentrated and velvet-textured medium-bodied flavors that possess an opulent but not heavy mouth feel, all wrapped in a vibrant, dry and impressively persistent finish.”

What a wine, and what a match. The chicken dish was an outstanding pairing. It makes me sad to think of all the old me’s out there drinking products that do little to show how expressive and palatable this grape can be. I only wish the wine didn’t go so fast. Or the chicken.

Billionaire’s Vinaigrette

This Easter weekend had more in store than I could imagine. There was a sale in conjunction with the Parish thrift shop at the morning egg hunt to raise money for a new altar. Among the items for sale, a (very) old and dusty odd dark green wine bottle. Worth investigating at $5, whether vinegar or not. I bought it promptly and inquired if they knew anything about the bottle. Apparently a parishoner’s wife donated it after he passed not so long ago. He was a wine collector of sorts, but his wife knew very little. And while most of his collection was scooped up by wine-loving friends or auctioned to pay estate and funeral costs, this one was found hidden on its own later in the house and not in any shape she thought would fetch much money, let alone interest. So she donated it to the church sale.

I put it in the car, with the windows open so as not to overheat my mystery bottle, and finished the Easter celebrations with my family.

I peeled off the unusual thick black wax seal closure, uncorked it and poured some out into a glass. It was very deep in color. But on the nose, vinegar. On the palate, also vinegar. Any perceived value now lost, I thought at the very least it would make for an interesting salad dressing for this evening’s dinner. As we sat around the table that night enjoying my exotic vinagrette and inspecting the mysterious bottle, more and more of the dust started to come loose. In order to control large amounts of dust getting on the dinner table I used a washcloth with some hot water to clean it off as best I could. It was then that I noticed the three lines of inscriptions on the glass. In my shock, I dropped what was left of the bottle on the floor, only to watch it smash beneath me and spill the precious contents. It read:

1787
Lafitte
Th. J.