[Wednesday's] Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, High Tech Gadgets, Wine in Numbers and more

September 18, 2014 4 comments
Cvne Rioja Monopole

Cvne Rioja Monopole

Meritage time! Yes, I know it is a Thursday, but…

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #114Grape Trivia – Viura / Macabeo.

In this quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about white grape called Viura in Rioja region of Spain, known as Macabeo through the rest of Spain and in Roussillon in France.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Which one doesn’t belong and why:

a. Chardonnay, b. Sauvignon Blanc, c. Trebbiano, d. Verdejo

A1: Trebbiano. The rest of the grapes are growing in Rioja and allowed to be blended with Viura in white Rioja wines.

Q2: True or false: Viura is one of the 10 most planted white grapes in the world

A2: True. According to 2010 data, there were 102,615 acres of Macabeo planted worldwide, which gives it a number 8 spot among the white grapes.

Q3: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are no Viura/Macabeo-based wines rated in the Classic category

A3: False. I was able to find one (but only one!) white Rioja – 1918 Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta (yep, 1918!) rated at 95 point. But – one is more than none…

Q4: Which grape is missing: Chardonnay, Macabeo, Malvasia, …, Xarel-lo

A4: Parellada. All of the white grapes above are allowed to be used in production of the Cava.

Q5: Fill the gaps: If Macabeo is blended with Grenache Blanc and Malvasia, the resulting wine is most likely a ___from_____ ; if Macabeo is blended with Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, the resulting wine probably a ___ from ___.

A5: White Rioja from Spain; a wine from Roussilon in France (can be both red and white).

When it comes to the results, we have a winner! apuginthekitchen answered all 5 questions correctly, so she gets to coveted prize of unlimited bragging rights! Well done!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

Let’s talk about some useful gadgets and uneasy thoughts. When you are about to step out of the restaurant or the friends house, and before you get into your car, do you ever get that tough question, a whim of the uneasy thought on your mind – “did I drink too much”, or in the semi-scientific terms, “what is my blood alcohol level”? Of course you can rely on the common sense and watch the amount you drink (and you should), or have a designated driver (but still control that amount). But we live in the era of technology, don’t we? Yes we do. And if you happened to have an Android phone or tablet, you will be able to take the guesswork out that “BAC level” estimate, and use a little device called DrinkMate. Plug it into your phone, breathe into it- and an application will tell you exactly what your BAC is. The device is finishing up the Kickstarter campaign (they have already twice exceeded the goal), so jump in if you want one – here is the link with the information.

Next up is one of my very favorite subjects – numbers, and more numbers. Based on the article in Wines and Vines, it appears that the number of the wineries in US exceeded 8,000 – it stands at 8,049 as of September 1, 2014. The biggest growth is happening in Oregon, where the number of wineries increased by 10% in the last year. Still, Oregon is trailing Sonoma County, which has 782 wineries, with total number of wineries in California standing short of half of the total US amount at 3,798. I suggest you will head over to the original article for many more interesting numbers.

In the last week’s meritage I mentioned the Wine Video contest run by the Wine Spectator magazine. The contest concluded, and the winner was the video about Norton, the most American grape. Here is the link to the final contest information.

The last one for today is an interesting article from the new professional wine blog called SWIG. When I started reading the wine blogs years ago, I found it very surprising that many blog posts are written in rather an antagonistic fashion, and critical notes and comments are often flying in multiple directions. This post at SWIG, called “How To Respond to Attacks And Criticism in the Wine Industry”, is a very useful guide to the best course of action if you are the subject of such an attack. The idea can be well extended outside of the wine industry specifically, so it makes a good general reading on the subject.

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Riesling, Oh Riesling – Finger Lakes Riesling Deep Immersion with #WineChat

September 16, 2014 6 comments

IRF tasteprofileThere is nothing obscure about Riesling. Unquestionably one of the “big three” white grapes (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling). Celebrated through various social media events – “The Summer of Riesling”, “Riesling Month”. An established, de-facto pairing for the Asian or any spicy cuisine for that matter. “Fastest growing white wine in America”. And nevertheless, one of the most unknown, under-appreciated and misunderstood wines, if you ask me.

Walk into any general wine store, and try to find Riesling wines. Are they right in the first isle, next to the California Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc? Nope. Oh yes, a lot of Rieslings come from Europe, so they definitely will be right next to the Burgundy and Loire. Oops – not here again? Here they are – in the back of the back, a side isle, a small section, ask the sales guy, he will show you. And this is not limited to the wine stores only – most of the restaurant wine lists have one or two Riesling wines, usually in the cheapest group. Similar story in most of our cellars – how many bottles of Riesling do you have on your shelves? A few? And this is despite the fact that Riesling is one of the most age-worthy wines in the world…

So how do these two realities of “one of the fastest growing” and “last row seat” co-exist? I think perception has a lot to do with this. Since Riesling can be sweet, and often it is praised for its sweetness, consumers are stuck in the notion Riesling = Sweet. Take a look at the Wine Spectator ratings – highest rated Kabinett Riesling (typically showing only a hint of sweetness) got 93 points; and then 8 (eight!) Rieslings got 100 points (the absolute top) rating – by the way, it is 8 of only 75 wines which got 100 points from Wine Spectator – and all 8 are Trockenbeerenauslese, the highest sweetness designation. Thus for lots and lots of wine drinkers, Riesling is a dessert wine, and while we love dessert wines a lot more than we are willing to admit, the dessert wine designation means “only for the special moments”.

Can this perception be changed? Of course. How? By educating people. This was one of the reasons for the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) to be created in 2007. The idea behind foundation was exactly this – to make people aware of what Riesling has to offer, and to help people better understand Riesling wines. One of the outcomes of the IRF efforts became the Riesling Taste Profile. According the the specification of that profile, four taste categories are defined – Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet and Sweet. Based on the given set of parameters (sugar, acid and pH), the IRF developed a technical chart which allows winery to estimate how the consumers will likely perceive the wine across the 4 defined taste categories. After that, the winery can print that taste profile on the label (you can see an example at the very beginning of this post) – and then the consumer can quickly set the expectations just by glancing at the label.

Finger Lakes Rieslings

Well, it is good to have an informative label, but when it comes to the wine world, seeing doesn’t really equates to believing. But tasting does. This is where the #winechat comes to the rescue. Last week, a group of enthusiastic oenophiles had a chance to dive deeply into the world of 2013 Finger Lakes Riesling, by tasting through the 8 different wines and sharing the excitement with each other. And the wines were definitely very exciting, full of pleasure in every sip. Finger Lakes region in New York deserves all of your attention  – but I already shared my thought about the region at length in the two earlier posts this year, so I will have to refer you to those (first Finger Lakes #winechat and the post about Bellangelo wines).

Below are my notes regarding the individual wines. These notes are based on the longer evaluation of the wines than we would otherwise have during the 60 short minutes of the #winechat, so if you are talking part in another #winechat session on that subject, I suggest you will start tasting your wines now. One last note regarding the wines. As this is my third encounter with the Finger Lakes wines this year, I would like to offer two “bits of wisdom” based on that experience:

  1. Don’t over-chill.
  2. Let ‘em breathe.

Terroir, minerality are important components of Finger Lakes wines – by serving the wines a bit warmer than you normally would, say at around 50F, and letting them breathe for may be an hour, you will do yourself a big favor and will find a lot more pleasure in every sip. At least I did. Without further ado, here are the 8 beautiful wines:

Thirsty Owl Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Thirsty Owl Wine Company Riesling Finger Lakes (11.0% ABV, $14.95). IRF scale not shown. On the nose, touch of minerality (gunflint), apricot. Overall nice and restrained. Palate: Clean , crisp acidity, touch of honeysuckle, golden delicious apple. Medium finish, overall very refreshing. Drinkability: 8-

 

Knapp Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Knapp Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (12%ABV, $15.95) – On the IRF scale, this wine is at the lower part of the Medium Dry style. White apples, honey and lemon on the nose. On the palate, candied lemon peel with fresh lemon juice, complemented by the cut-through acidity. Medium finish, overall a nicely balanced wine. Drinkability: 7+

Boundary Breaks Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Boundary Breaks Vineyard #239 Dry Finger Lakes (11.6% ABV, $19.95) – right in the middle of “dry” on the IRF scale. This is my second encounter with Boundary Breaks Riesling, and I find that this wine needs breathing time to show itself. Initially, closed on the nose, then opening to show distant hint of lemon, touch of minerality. On the palate – wave of sweetness first, with cut through acidity, lingering for a bit and then finishing dry. Tasting at a later time adds some fresh apple and more minerally undertones. Drinkability: 7+

Red Newt Cellars Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Red Newt Cellars Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (11.8% ABV, $17.00) – right in the middle of “dry” on the IRF scale. On the nose, shows minerality, touch of fresh grass. hint of fresh lime, overall very intense. On the palate – nutmeg, hint of mango, fresh herbs and lemon, crisp, dry. Excellent balance and overall very pleasant. One of my very favorites from the tasting. Drinkability: 8

Swedish Hill Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Swedish Hill Riesling Finger Lakes (11.8% ABV, $15.99) – IRF scale not shown. Fresh white fruit on the nose, touch of candied lemon. Nose quite intense. On the palate – rich, velvety, ripe peach with touch of fresh lemon, clean acidity, excellent finish (medium plus). Texturally quite unique. Drinkability: 8-

Fox Run Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Fox Run Vineyards Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (11% ABV, $17.99) – According to IRF scale, the wine is right on the border between Dry and Medium Dry. On the nose, subdued notes of peach and honey, touch of lemon, intense. Palate is elegant, mineral-driven, with green apple, touch of Meyer lemon, overall dry and very balanced. Drinkability: 8

McGregor Riesling Finger Lakes2013 McGregor Vineyard Riesling Finger Lakes (10.5% ABV, $19.99) – IRF scale is not used. A lot is happening on the nose – cantaloupe, honeysuckle, candied orange, openly sweet and intense. On the palate – ripe apricot, honey, ripe white apple, elegant acidity, perfectly refreshing, very good balance. Drinkability: 8-

Chateau Lafayette Reneau Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Chateau Lafayette Reneau Riesling Semidry Finger Lakes (11.5% ABV, $14.99) – IRF scale is not used. On the nose – rhubarb, floral, touch of grass, white apple. On the palate – honeysuckle, ripe peach, touch of minerality and grass, lemon zest, clean acidity, excellent balance, soft and round mouthfeel. Another top favorite from the tasting. Drinkability: 8

Here we go – 8 great wines, and the region for you waiting to be discovered. September is still on, and it is an official Finger Lakes Riesling month – make an effort to find your new love – a versatile ( and affordable!) wine which you can drink now or put away to enjoy in a few years (or 10 or 20, this is entirely up to you). Cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #114: Grape Trivia – Viura / Macabeo

September 13, 2014 3 comments
220px-Maccabeo_blanc

Viura/Macabeo grapes. Source:Wikipedia

The Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to your new wine quiz!

We are continuing our grape trivia series, and today’s subject is the white grape Viura, also known as Macabeo.

I know what you are thinking – we are going from “not so popular”, like we did with Müller-Thurgau and Pinot Blanc, to practically obscure. You probably want to say “I never heard of the grape and never had any wine made with it!”. Well, let’s see. Have you had any Cava, a sparkling wine from Spain, during the last summer? Macabeo is a part of the blend. How about white Rioja? If you actually never had white Rioja, you have to correct it as soon as possible (go on, run to the store, I will wait here). Look for Cvne Monopole Rioja (100% Viura), the oldest white wine in Spain, produced since 1915, or for any of the R. Lopez de Heredia whites, like Viña Tondonia or Viña Gravonia – those wines might change your view of the world forever (well, the wine world, of course). But – let’s get back to the grape itself.

Viura is the name of the grape used in Rioja (interesting fact: until 1975, there were more white wines produced in Rioja than the reds). The same grape is known in the rest of Spain as Macabeo, and as Macabeu and Maccabéo in Roussillon in France. Viura has a few interesting traits, which make it to stand out among others white grapes. First, it is considered to be resistant to Phylloxera, and it was widely planted in Spain after the Phylloxera devastation. It also can withstand oxidation better than many other grapes, which makes it a favorable variety for the prolonged barrel aging, where some exposure to oxygen is inevitable. At the same time, as Viura grows in the very tight clusters, it needs hot and dry climate to fully ripen, otherwise it is susceptible to mildew and rot – to get the best results the grape often requires extensive pruning and lots of attention in the vineyard. But – good white Rioja is a magnificent wine, with incredible aromatics and delicious bouquet, and can age and gain complexity for decades – it is well worth the trouble! In addition to white Rioja, Macabeo also plays main role in production of Cava, famous Spanish Sparkling wine. And we shouldn’t forget the Roussillon region in France – Macabeo is an important contributor to many different types of wines produced there.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: Which one doesn’t belong and why:

a. Chardonnay

b. Sauvignon Blanc

c. Trebbiano

d. Verdejo

Q2: True or false: Viura is one of the 10 most planted white grapes in the world

Q3: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are no Viura/Macabeo-based wines rated in the Classic category

Q4: Which grape is missing: Chardonnay, Macabeo, Malvasia, …, Xarel-lo

Q5: Fill the gaps: If Macabeo is blended with Grenache Blanc and Malvasia, the resulting wine is most likely a ___from_____ ; if Macabeo is blended with Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, the resulting wine probably a ___ from ___.

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Few Words About Wine Blogging, FLX Riesling #WineChat Tonight and more

September 10, 2014 2 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #113: Grape Trivia – Pinot Blanc.

In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about white grape from the Pinot family, Pinot Blanc.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Below is the list of some of the countries growing Pinot Blanc. Sort this list by the area plantings of the Pinot Blanc, from the lowest to the highest:
a. Austria, b. France, c. Germany, d. Italy

A1: Might come as a bit of a surprise, but the correct sequence, based on the 2010 data,  is France (3,230 acres), Austria (4,785), Italy (7,715) and Germany (9,675)

Q2: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are Pinot Blanc wines rated in the Classic category

A2: True. By a very slim margin, but there are 2 Pinot Blanc wines with the 95 rating (there are plenty in the Outstanding, 90-94 range). As a matter of fact, one of those 95 pointers comes from the New World – 2009 Erath Pinot Blanc Dundee Hills Sweet Harvest from Oregon got that “classic” rating in April 2011 issue.

Q3: In Europe, Pinot Blanc was often confused with and often treated during winemaking the same as _______

A3: Chardonnay. Historically, Pinot Blanc was growing side by side with Chardonnay, and was often confused for one. Similar to Chardonnay, it can be made in both unoaked and oaked styles with equal success.

Q4: In California, the grape which was brought in as a Pinot Blanc, in reality happened to be  ____?

A4: Melon de Bourgogne, French grape used in the production of Muscadet wines.

Q5: True or False: from 2000 to 2010, worldwide plantings of the Pinot Blanc dropped more (percentage-wise) than the plantings of its sibling, Pinot Gris, have increased.

A5: False. From 2000 to 2010, the plantings of Pinot Blanc dropped by about 15%, while the plantings of Pinot Gris more than tripled worldwide.

When it comes to the results, I’m glad to say that the number of players took a stub at this quiz – but, somehow the quiz happened to be somewhat difficult (I usually miss the difficulty in my own assessment, unfortunately). Nobody was able to answer all the questions correctly, but I would like to acknowledge Next Stop TBD who got correct answers for 3 questions out of 5. Thank you all for playing!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

Alfonso Cevola, who writes an excellent blog “On the wine trail in Italy”, shared his sad outlook on the wine blogging community with the post titled Wine Blog Death Watch: Two wine blogs that are bright lights in a forest of darkness. Well, it is not all doom and gloom in that blog post. First, Alfonso introduces two new wine blogs which he likes. And may be most importantly, speaking from the 9 years of blogging experience, he also gives an advice to the wine bloggers. His advice is very short and concise, and I would dare to say, literally the best you can get. Alfonso has only six bullet points, so taking just the key items themselves, here is a summary of what he suggests: “Write for yourself. Read great writers. Do not look at stats. Write consistently. Don’t follow the trends. Find your niche.” Touche. I can only add “amen”.

Tonight we will take a deep dive into the world of Finger Lakes Rieslings – the #winechat with 8 producers, 8 excellent wines from the 2013 vintage – join the conversation! The logistics are as usual – at 9 PM eastern, open a twitter client and search for #winechat – from there, the conversation is on, and don’t forget to use hashtag #winechat on all your tweets.

Do you know that when you drink the wine (or any alcohol for that matter), you should have water in between the glasses? It supposed to prevent hungover (some of the latest research suggests that it might not be true, who knows), and water is generally good for you. Some of the creative types designed nested glasses which would simplify this task for you – both wine and water are readily in your hand at any time, wine glass on top of the water glass. You can read about this glasses in the Dr. Vino’s blog post.

Got a bit of time on your hands? Wine Spectator is running an annual wine video contest, and you can help to decide who made the best video. Wine Spectator selected 9 videos as the finalists, so your job would be simple – watch those videos and decide who will be the Grand Prize winner. Here is the link to the page for you to watch the videos and take vote.

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Do You Wine Club?

September 9, 2014 14 comments

International Wine of The Month ClubWhat do you think of the Wine Clubs? Do you belong to one, or two or five? Have you in the past? Would you recommend a wine club membership to your friends?

Yes, I know, the subject of the wine clubs was well discussed in the past, and it is hard to say something new here. However, a few months ago, I was asked if I would be interested in receiving a sample from the International Wine of the Month Club, which I accepted with the usual condition – I will write about the wines only if I like them. I tasted the wines a while back, and yes, I liked them – only now I finally found the time to write about it. But – I don’t want just to share the tasting notes and be done with it – I would like to take this opportunity to ponder at the subject of the wine clubs (beer and spirits too for that matter).

My love for the [wine] clubs started the way back, in the middle of 1990s, when I subscribed for the first time to the Beer Across America monthly club. To begin with, the club had a great story of two friends quitting their IT jobs, coming up with the concept and trying to (unsuccessfully) start the business, then literally with the last of their savings creating leaflets and going in Chicago neighborhood door to door, leaving those leaflets in the mailboxes of people in time for the holidays – and seeing the business to pick up. Every month UPS would deliver a box to my doorstep with two six packs of beer – not just any beer, but only microbrewery products, coming from all over the country. Today any wine store carries literally hundreds of selections – but this was 20 years back, and microbreweries very hard to find. Every shipment would also include information about microbrewery, about the particular beer we received, recipes  and lots more. I was definitely looking forward to those shipments – you would never know where the next beer would be coming from, and what the story might be behind it, so it was definitely fun.

I think I stayed with that club for about two years – the club changed the concept slightly at some point and went from the regular 0.33 beer bottles to the large format, 22 oz, and those started to accumulate, so I had to stop it as the whole process became somewhat boring.

Since that time I had a few other club experiences. For about year and a half, I was in the D&M Scotch club – this was great, very unique selections, but I just don’t drink enough Scotch, so it started to pile up, and I had to stop it; to be entirely honest, if I would be able to reduce the frequency of the shipments, I would still continue it. A few years back (say 6-7, to be more precise), many newspapers started their wine clubs. I subscribed to the Wall Street Journal wine club, but that experience wore off very quickly, as out of the case of wine, only 3-4 bottles would be somewhat drinkable, so paying about $180 for 4 “okay” bottles was not my idea of the bargain. I wouldn’t recommend the newspaper wine club – the selection there is simply not good.

All in all, I think all the wine clubs are different, and some of them have their place. For majority of the cases, you get a great deal of information with your wine club shipment – and I really like that. Also, for those few bottles which you will be receiving, you get two additional [oenophile-specific] benefits – you don’t need to chose anything, and you have an element of surprise with every “mystery” box you receive. As it was the case with the my sample shipment from the International Wine of the Month Club.

This club offers three different levels of membership – Premier, Masters and Collectors. The difference between the levels is in the price of wine you will be receiving – otherwise, each shipment contains 2 bottles of wine, which can be red and white, or just two reds. The sample I received contained the 2011 Bellingham The Bernard Series Small Barrel S.M.V. from the Masters series, and 2012 Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc form the Collectors series, both wines from South Africa.

2011 Bellingham The Bernard Series Small Barrel S.M.V. South Africa (14% ABV, 75% Shiraz, 22% Mourvèdre, 3% Viognier) took one day to open up. Dark, Concentrated, with raspberries and blackberries on the nose, touch of tobacco and earthiness. On the palate, the wine was firm, structured, with cherries and lavender, touch of espresso, good acidity, hint of eucalyptus and sage, well balanced. Long finish with tobacco aftertaste. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc Estate Wine, South Africa (13.5% ABV, 89% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Semillon) is produced by the famed Klein Constantia, makers of the iconic Vin de Constance, favorite wine of Napoleon. This Sauvignon Blanc had gooseberry, fresh grass and lemon on the nose, with touch of sweetness. On the palate, the wine had nice zippy acidity, lemon zest, lemon and a touch of freshly cut grass and mineral complexity. It is interesting that this wine also required a day to open up and to develop a balance – from the pop and pour, the wine a was a bit disjointed and sharp, and it became soft, balanced and cohesive on the second day. I believe this wine can age, and it would be interesting to see what would happen with in a few years. Drinkability: 8

Remember I started this post with the question? How about a simple poll – I’m just curious what you think about wine clubs, so here are two questions for you. First, just tell me if you ever belonged to the wine club:

And now, if you did (or still do), how often do you get your shipments?

So, what do you think? Is there a wine club for you out there? Oh yes, before I will forget – wine clubs make perfect gift! I heard the holidays are coming… Cheers!

Prime Time at Washington Prime

September 8, 2014 4 comments

Washington PrimeWhen you come to the new restaurant, first you discover the food. Then drinks and wine. Then ambiance and decor. Then service. Well, yes, all of the above – but in the random order. The experience is somewhat like peeling the onion, only with an element of surprise – you don’t know what your next excitement will be. May be a new dish. Or may be, as I recently had, a creative interior which all of a sudden dawns on you, after you already spent more than hour in the restaurant.

About two weeks ago, we visited new restaurant in Norwalk, Connecticut, called Washington Prime. The restaurant is located on the Washington Street, hence the first part of the name. And for the second part, there can be multiple explanations, but as restaurant is a steakhouse, and it serves only Prime cuts of beef (for the readers outside of the US – Prime is a definition from the US Department of Agriculture for the best quality selection of beef), hence the second part of the name.

We walked into the restaurant, immediately got to our table, and started studying the cocktail selection and got into the conversation with our dining companions. Only an hour into our dinner I had an opportunity to walk around and see how creatively the dining room was decorated, with the grape vines on the ceiling above bar and green plants (yes, artificial, not live) covering the walls in the corridor. It became quire dark when I made the discovery, so the pictures wouldn’t do a justice to the decor, but nevertheless, you will get an idea.

The cocktail list was quite interesting, and it was not easy to make a selection. I went with the Basil Smash (basil, simple syrup, tanqueray 10, lemon just) – nicely refreshing and not overly sweet. Moscow Mule‘s presentation also looked quite interesting. Then, of course, we went for the wine. The wine list overall was interesting and well composed – but it was not easy to make a selection as I always go out of my way looking for value, and it was simply not that easy (lots of selections were priced at about triple retail, and you know that I have a problem with that). For the white, we had a 2012 Martín Códax Albariño, Rias Baixas – simple, food friendly wine with clean acidity and touch of white stone fruit. We also had 2013 Jean-Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé Provence, which was light and loaded with strawberries.For the reds, we started with the 2012 David Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – young, smokey, light cherry flavor, good acidity. While this was a nice wine, we felt that it wouldn’t really stand up to our dinner which included steak, so the red wine we chose to stay with until the end of the meal was 2011 Ridge Three Valley Sonoma County – notes of smokey raspberries, espresso, touch of dark chocolate, all weaved together over a firm structure with some earthy notes – excellent overall.

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And now let’s talk about the food. Everything was split into the courses. We started with a few appetizers – Seafood Tower (colossal shrimp, local oysters, little necks, Alaskan king crab leg, Maine lobster, spicy mustard, house cocktail sauce, classic mignionette) and House Slab Bacon (smoked, thick-cut). The bacon more resembled the pork belly than traditional bacon, and literally was melting in your mouth. The Seafood tower was excellent, great selection of fresh oysters and clams.

Our dinner continued with Small Plates. Lobster Bisque (parsley, crème fraische) was very concentrated, with nice flavor. Deviled Eggs (creamy yolk, prime meatball, pickled onions, foie gras powder) were unsuccessful, unfortunately. I love deviled eggs, one of my childhood favorite dishes – and we keep making it almost for each and every party. The deviled eggs served at Washington Prime were way too acidic, with pickled onion been just too much. I think this dish requires some work make it a success. Burrata (creamy slaw, sambal aioli, sesame, pretzel bread) was creamy and satisfying, just as you would expect the Burrata to be.

Poutine (oxtail ragu, house fries, cheese curds, green onions) was an interesting dish. The oxtail ragu was outstanding, with the flavor and texture creating irresistible, homey experience . However, the cheese curd didn’t fully integrate into the dish – at least with my memories of Poutine in Quebec.

Knuckle & Claw (blue cork grits, lobster sauce, tobiko) was okay – yes, I’m not really a big fun of lobster, so the blue corn grits and tobiko were the best components of the dish for me.

Octopus (pickled peppers, duck fat marble potato, pepper emulsion) was to die for. Perfectly cooked, with delicious flavor combination, it was definitely a star dish.

Wings (fried, kimchi sauce, scallions, soy, chilli) were crispy and very tasty (could use a bit less salt).

Finally (after about an hour of eating), the time had come for Salads. First, Prime Wedge (gem iceberg, pickled heirloom tomatoes, bacon, ewes blue cheese, chili, house ranch dressing) was spectacular. I love the Wedge, and I order it quite often – this was the very best Wedge salad I ever had – the bacon, the sauce, the sweetness of the lettuce were  just spot on. And our next salad dish, Chop Chop Salad (iceberg and romaine, bell peppers, onion, carrot, provolone, salami, red wine vinaigrette) was also very much on par with the Wedge – fresh, light and delicious, with the very tasty sauce.

And the time had come for Land & Sea.

We were in a steakhouse, so of course there was steak! USDA Prime Steaks – 8 oz filet Mignon, 18 oz Ribeye, 32 oz. Porterhouse (dry aged 28 days) – were all served on the beautiful wooden boards, in its perfectly simple beauty. The selection of steak sauces, which also included spicy mayo and Chimichurri, was served on the side. The steaks were just outstanding, all three of them had a slight difference in texture and flavor, but they were all simply done at the “wow” level.

Representing the “sea” part, first we had Grouper (Carolina gold rice, tomato, asparagus, carrot butter sauce) – if the steak was  “wow” dish, this was a double “wow”. I know that expression “melting in your mouth” is abused, nevertheless, this is the only way I can describe this dish – great flavor, and the fish was really melting in the mouth… And then there were Scallops (middlins, corn relish, nicoise olives, hunters sauce), my perennial favorite, done at the textbook quality – “perfectly seared, succulent and sweet” – the best way possible.

You didn’t think that we left without having a dessert, right? Of course not! Italian and New York Cheesecake, a Tartufo and an Ice cream cookie sandwich with cereal milk were all included in the sweet ending of our evening. All were excellent, but the ice cream sandwich with the cereal milk was a standout for me in creativity. In case you are wondering, the cereal milk of the day was Fruit Loops…

Executive Chef Jared Falco came out to check on us many times, and we had an opportunity to discuss the dishes and his approach to making his cooking stand out. All in all, we had a great time.

Executive Chef Jared FalcoThat’s all I have for you, my friends. Yes, we had a great evening of food and wine, and the restaurant is definitely worth a visit if you are in a mood for steak, or simply a creative bite of food. Oh yes, and I meant to warn you not to read this post hungry – I guess it is too late now, sorry. Cheers!

I visited restaurant as a guest of the management. All opinions are my own.

 Washington Prime
141 Washington Street
South Norwalk, CT 06854
Located at the corner of Washington and Water St.
TEL: (203) 857-1314

http://washingtonprimect.com/

Washington Prime on Urbanspoon

Weekly Wine Quiz #113: Grape Trivia – Pinot Blanc

September 6, 2014 7 comments
Pinot Blanc Grapes. Source: Wikipedia

Pinot Blanc Grapes. Source: Wikipedia

The Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

We are continuing our grape trivia series,  and today’s subject is Pinot Blanc.

How many of you can consciously remember that they had a Pinot Blanc wine? Yeah, I thought so (and I’m doing a quiz about it – not very wise, huh?). Well, what else we can expect if the grape is a mutation of a mutation, right? Pinot Noir, proudly presiding  over the Pinot family, is a very mutation-prone grape. So first, there was a Pinot Gris, a grey-colored mutation of the Pinot Noir. And Pinot Blanc – yes, you guessed it – is a mutation of a Pinot Gris.

Nevertheless, Pinot Blanc used to be quite popular world wide. In the 1700s, plantings at the famous Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy had 20% of the Pinot Blanc – now there are none. Pinot Blanc still allowed to be used in Burgundy in the wines labeled Bourgogne Blanc, but the plantings of Pinot Blanc in Burgundy are practically non-existent. Same story is in Champagne, where Pinot Blanc is allowed to be used, but practically never is. Even in Alsace, where the grape still is widely planted, Pinot Blanc stands in a very interesting position. Alsace is the only region in France where the name of the grape is always put on the label. However, event if the label says “Pinot Blanc”, any of the Pinot family grapes ( including unvinified Pinot Noir, which will produce clear juice), can be used in the Pinot Blanc wine.

One of the major characteristics of the Pinot Blanc is its neutral taste. The grape has good acidity, and the neutral taste allows it to be added to the blends for the body and acidity, and also to be vinified on its own, with and without oak, allowing terroir to shine through. Then in the times when everybody are looking for differentiators, that neutral taste works against the grape. Also, Pinot Blanc grows in the tight clusters, thus it requires dry conditions to avoid the mildew setting in. Looking on all these challenges, it is not surprising that the worldwide plantings of Pinot Blanc are declining. But – the grape is still planted in literally each and every major wine producing country, and don’t worry, it is not going to disappear any time soon, as it is still one of the 30 most planted white grapes in the world.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: Below is the list of some of the countries growing Pinot Blanc. Sort this list by the area plantings of the Pinot Blanc, from the lowest to the highest:
a. Austria
b. France
c. Germany
d. Italy

Q2: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are Pinot Blanc wines rated in the Classic category

Q3: In Europe, Pinot Blanc was often confused with and often treated during winemaking the same as _______

Q4: In California, the grape which was brought in as a Pinot Blanc, in reality happened to be  ____?

Q5: True or False: from 2000 to 2010, worldwide plantings of the Pinot Blanc dropped more (percentage-wise) than the plantings of its sibling, Pinot Gris, have increased.

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Barolo Boys, California Wine Month, Tasters Must Read and more

September 3, 2014 2 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #112: Grape Trivia – Müller-Thurgau.

In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about the white grape called Müller-Thurgau.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Which country is not known to produce Müller-Thurgau wines:
a. Australia, b. England, c. Hungary, d. South Africa, e. United States

A1: South Africa. The rest of the countries make wines out of Müller-Thurgau

Q2: True or False: In 2010, plantings of Riesling in Germany were double in size compare to those of Müller-Thurgau

A2: False. Plantings of Riesling were barely exceeding plantings of Müller-Thurgau (it was even the other way around few years before – Müller-Thurgau was one of the most planted grapes in Germany).

Q3: Wine Spectator calls wines with 90-94 ratings “Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style”. True or False: There are Müller-Thurgau wines rated as Outstanding by Wine Spectator.

A3: True. However very few, but yes, there are Müller-Thurgau among Outstanding wines, with 92 been the highest rating.

Q4: Which one doesn’t belong and why:
a. Kerner, b. Müller-Thurgau, c. Scheurebe, d. Sylvaner

A4: Sylvaner. The rest of the grapes are the result of crossing between Riesling and other grapes.

Q5: True or False: There  are no sparkling wines produced from Müller-Thurgau

A5: False. All grapes are used today to produce sparkling wines, and Müller-Thurgau is no exception. According to the reviews, some of the Müller-Thurgau sparkling wines are very good.

When it comes to the results, this is something I was afraid of – nobody took the challenge. I can’t blame anyone – the grape, generally famous for its appearance in often insipid Liebfrauenmilch wines, doesn’t incite people to spend time researching information about it. Well, I will stick to my plan, nevertheless, and the next quiz will be about Pinot Blanc – start studying!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

Barolo Boys are coming! Well, this might be a bit of a weigh announcement. Let’s try it again. The movie “Barolo Boys. The Story of a Revolution” is coming to the theaters near you. The movie, which took two years in the making, will profile a number of famous Barolo winemakers, talking about the winemaking revolution which took place on the hills of Piedmont in the 80s and 90s. The movie will open on September 26th in Italy, and will be showing at the beginning of November in New York. To wet your appetite, here is the preview:

Did you know that September is California Wine Month? Of course you don’t have to drink only California wines during the whole month of September, but on the second thought – why not? So many amazing wines coming out from California, one month will not be even nearly enough to get a clear picture of what wines California can produce. To celebrate California wines, there will be lots of special events in California and beyond – here is the link for you to read more about California wines and all the festivities around it.

Yes, Matt Kramer is one of my very favorite wine writers, and it is showing. Here is yet another reference to one of his articles. If you are serious about tasting the wines, this is a must article to read. I want to stress the difference between tasting wines and enjoying them. To say you enjoy the glass of wine, you really don’t have to dig into it, and try to figure out “texture”, “mouthfeel”, “midpalate density”, “fruit” and many other descriptors. Enjoying wine is pretty much a binary activity – you either enjoy it or not. For all of us who passionately pursues the geeky, technical side of wine, this article  is a godsend. Taking Montrachet as an example, Matt Kramer goes into the depth of explanations about texture, mouthfeel, ageability and many other elements which are near and dear to every oenophile’s wine geeky side. Don’t miss it – and I would even suggest reading it multiple times to let it all settle in.

Last one for today, a mixture of curious and borderline funny. As part of the 10 year anniversary of the movie Sideways (produced in 2004), the Merlot Taste-Off will take place on September 13th in Solvang in California – the town closely associated with the movie and one of the main characters, Miles, exclaiming “I’m not drinking no f*ing Merlot”. Here is the information about the event – of course you have to be in Solvang to take part in it. I wonder what Miles would say about it…

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Month In Wines – August 2014, plus a Sabering Video

September 1, 2014 7 comments

Summer is practically over, and the school is about to start, together with all the after-school activities and other busy things. Well, this is not the worst of the problems to have, isn’t it? Anyway, we should be talking about wines here, so let’s do that.

August is usually an interesting month with the wines, as August 31st is our wedding anniversary, which requires to kick it up a notch when possible. We didn’t drink anything insanely out of this world this past month, but there were quite a few of the very solid wines worth mentioning. As usual, this summary includes only 8- or higher rated wines – with some exceptions possible; many of the wines you see below were previously discussed in this blog, so this only serves as a summary post.

2007 Champagne Veuve Doussot Brut (12% ABV) – beautiful complexity of the vintage champagne – yeast, toasted bread, nice and elegant mid-palate weight, toasted bread on the palate. 8-

2011 Adega Pedralonga Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain (13% ABV, $22)ocean air in your glass – a sea-driven pleasure, with lots of minerality and delicious complexity. 8+

2012 Buil & Giné Joan Giné Blanc, Priorat DOQ, Spain (14% ABV) – a Burgundy rivaling complexity and elegance, with touch more floral and white fruit notes. 8

2012 Villa Bellangelo Chardonnay Finger Lakes (13.8% ABV, $20) – Chablis-style, restrained, balanced, delicious. 8

2012 Villa Bellangelo 1866 Reserve Riesling Finger Lakes (11% ABV, $32) – excellent minerality and complexity, classic Riesling aromatics, lots of pleasure. 8/8+

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2010 Marco Sambin Marcus Veneto IGT (14% ABV, Cabernet Sauvignon 45%, Merlot 40%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Syrah 5%) – delicious from start to finish. Multilayered, complex and bringing lots of pleasure. 9

2013 Wonderwall Pinot Noir Edna Valley (14.9% ABV) – a supercharged California Pinot Noir with fruit forward power balance. Exuberant wine. 8-

2011 Bodegas Caro ‘Amancaya’ Gran Reserva Malbec–Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina (15% ABV, 70% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon)playful, open, dark chocolate and mocha notes, dark fruit and big voluptuous body, all very balanced. 8

2010 Château de Pibarnon Bandol Rouge Les Restanques de Pibarnon, Bandol, France (14% ABV) – cherries and blackberries, firm structure, earthiness, noticeable acidity. Very pleasant overall and pairs great with steak. 8

2009 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley (14.2% ABV) –  Perfect Bordeax elegance coupled with unmistakably a New World flair. 8

2005 Neyers Vineyards AME Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.7% ABV)  – stunning elegance of red berries, acidity, tannins and firm structure. Delicious one sip after another. 9

2013 Newport Vineyards Landot Noir SENE AVA ($18) – barnyard on the nose, freshly crushed berries on the nose and palate, very unusual – and a new grape. 7+

2011 Robert Storey Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.4% ABV) – classic Cabernet profile, cassis, green bell pepper, eucalyptus, balancing acidity, medium to full body and firm tannins. 8-

2000 Primus Casablanca Valley Red Wine, Chile (14.1% ABV, 60% Carménère, 22% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon) – lots of pleasure which only aged wine can deliver. Very complex, rich, with great bouquet of herbs, spices, fresh eucalyptus, touch of cassis and earthiness, fresh. Had lots of life left in it.  8+

2008 Flam Merlot Reserve, Israel (14% ABV) – restrained and elegant. Dark fruit on the nose with a touch of espresso. Blackberries and touch of plumes with supple tannins and clean acidity on the palate, excellent balance. 8

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Somewhat unusual addition to the “month in wines” post – a short sabering video. I have done sabering (opening the bottle of the sparkling wine by hitting its top to create structural damage in the glass and to allow the internal pressure of the sparkling wine to break the top off – in a classic scenario, done with the sword) before, using the bottom of the Champagne glass. Then I had a number of fiascoes, breaking a few glasses and cutting myself. Then I was again inspired by the drunken cyclist sabering video, and while I didn’t attempt to use the golf club, I did it again (successfully) with the glass. Here is the video for you (the Champagne I’m opening is the one mentioned in this post, 2007 Veuve Doussot):

And we are done here. What were your wine highlights of the past month? What do you think of sabering – would you attempt it? Cheers!

Wineries of New England: Newport Vineyards

August 31, 2014 7 comments

Newport VineyardsHave you heard the term “tourist winery” before? I didn’t, but now I have. Follow along, I will explain.

Recently, the subject of the wines of 50 states came back into my focus – after tasting wines from Vermont, Colorado, Texas and Connecticut, it was kind of easy to get carried away, right?  When we arranged a short weekend getaway with family in Newport, Rhode Island, I decided to check on the wineries on Rhode Island. Yes, the almighty google said, there are a few on Rhode Island, and one of them, called Newport Vineyards, is about 20 minutes away from the downtown Newport. My wife likes to visit wineries, and kids are old enough to sustain at least one winery visit, giving me only a reasonable amount of hard time, so our first destination of the trip was set.

Finding our destination was easy – a long building with clear sign, adjacent vineyards and very substantial parking lot ( I understand they got land, but still). Walked in, waited a bit in the lane and bought a ticket for the tasting ($12 allows you to taste 5 wines, or you can pay $15 if you want a logo glass). The tastings were happening in the multiple locations, both inside and outside. We settled for the tasting bar on the second floor, as the crowd appeared to be smaller than in the other places.

We looked at the list of available wines, and it contained 32(!)  selections – white, rose, red, sweet – a substantial number of wines, as you see. When I handed the ticket to the gentleman at the bar, I told him that I have a wine blog and would like to try a few more wines if I can. That solicit really no interest, rather a surprise that I asked to taste more wines, and the answer came “okay, may be one or two, but no more”. The next uncomfortable moment came when after the taste of the first wine I did what I usually do at the wine tasting – I used the spittoon for its intended purpose – and the gentleman almost run over to me from another side of the large bar and said that it is fine to use the spittoon to pour over the leftovers of wine if I don’t want to finish it, but I should use it only for that (he didn’t say directly “don’t spit!”, but my wife helped to translate his rather long tirade about usage of the spittoon into the simple instruction). I would guess that seeing someone spit the wine will make the other guests uneasy (and he also said something about “sanitary”). Anyway, moving along…

Before I will talk about the wines, let me tell you a few things about the winery which I picked up from the back and forth conversation with our pourer (it was back and forth as we couldn’t just stand and talk – he had to serve the other guests as well). The winery was founded in 1988. 70% production are the white wines. Winery makes about 22,000 cases a year, primarily from the estate grapes. The mix of grapes is somewhat eclectic, at least judging by the wines of neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts – for the whites, in addition to Chardonnay, Riesling, Vidal, Cayuga and Seyval Blanc, the winery also grows Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. The red grapes include Merlot and Cabernet Franc, which are both pretty standard for New England, but Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are not so much. Additionally, Newport Vineyards makes single varietal wine from the hybrid grape called Landot Noir – will talk about this wine later. The soils are heavy clay loam (just as a statement of fact – I can’t tell you how does it affect the taste of the wine).

Here is the part of our conversation which I found most interesting. As you know, I’m a big fan of the aged, older wines, and I’m always looking for an opportunity to taste them. If I can’t taste the older wines myself, at least I would like to hear what the winery staff thinks about aging of their own wines, what was was the oldest vintage they ever tasted, what do they think about aging of the current release. Any and all of my inquiries were met with the stern “we don’t do do it”, “no, I have not”, “I never had”,  etc, until the phrase came “we are a tourist winery. We have 50,000 people  visiting winery every year, and all of our current releases sell out”. This was definitely a revelation for me. I always associate winery existence with utmost passion, borderline obsession to create great wines just for the art of creation (I understand that winery is a business – wines should be created and sold – don’t grab on this, please) – and I always thought that tourists were an afterthought to the winery’s existence. Now, having heard the term almost as an official statement (of course this is not a statement from the winery), that makes me think – yes, I can come up with more examples of the “tourist wineries”, based on my experiences in Temecula Valley and Connecticut. With that concept in mind, I can now better understand the logic of some of the winery decisions which appear puzzling otherwise.

Talking about learning new things, I also learned about new AVA – Southern New England AVA (SENE AVA), which stretches along the Eastern coast of US from Coastal Connecticut through Coastal Rhode Island, South Coast of Massachusetts and into the Cape Cod and the islands. SENE AVA was defined in 1984, so it celebrates 30 years this year. All together, the wineries form the Coastal Wine Trail (here is the link to the web site).

Let’s finally talk about the wines, shall we? I can tell you that the attitude of our pourer changed as we were talking, so we ended up trying way more than the intended 5+1. One general note about most of the wines we tasted – they all had clear cut, vibrant acidity. I don’t know if this is the result of the “heavy clay loam” soils, but the acidity was very present. Here is what we tasted:

2013 Newport Vineyards Newport Chardonnay SENE AVA ($18) – touch of gunflint, apple and tropical fruit on the nose, vibrant cutting-through acidity, apple on the palate. Drinkability: 7+

2013 Newport Vineyards Vintner’s Select Pinot Gris SENE AVA ($22) -very perfumy, pear, substantial sweetness on the nose, fruit forward on the palate, needs acidity. Drinkability: 7

2013 Newport Vineyards Dry Riesling SENE AVA ($23) – traditional east coast Riesling, touch of honeysuckle on the nose, lucks minerality and complexity on the palate, extremely acidic. Drinkability: 7

2013 Newport Vineyards Vidal Blanc SENE AVA ($15) – nice summer wine. Perfumed nose and shellfish-craving acidity on the palate (Muscadet style). Drinkability: 7

2013 Newport Vineyards Rosé White Merlot SENE AVA ($14) – touch of strawberries on the nose. Very light wine with very strong acidity. Drinkability: 7

2012 Newport Vineyards Rochabeau SENE AVA ($19, blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Landot Noir) – fresh fruit nose, nice acidity, old world style. Drinkability: 7

2011 Newport Vineyards Cabernet Franc SENE AVA ($18) – touch of smoke , green bell pepper nose, touch of cassis on the palate, strong acidity. Drinkability: 7

2012 Newport Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon SENE AVA ($18) -varietally correct profile on the nose and palate (green bell peppers and cassis). Drinkability: 7

2013 Newport Vineyards Landot Noir SENE AVA ($18) -barnyard on the nose, freshly crushed berries on the nose and palate, very unusual. An extra bonus – a new grape. Drinkability: 7+

NV Newport Vineyards Port SENE AVA ($18) -Nice and elegant, clearly a classic Portuguese style, good berry profile, elegant. Drinkability: 7

There you have it, my friends. Definitely an interesting and learning experience. If Newport is in your travel plans, stop by the Newport Vineyards, I’m sure it will worth your time. Cheers!

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