Daily Glass: The More I Drink, The Less I Understand?

February 20, 2019 2 comments

Wine is an enigma.

But you already know that.

The wine had been a serious object of obsession for more than 20 years for me. I went through multiple education programs. Read an uncounted number of wine books and articles. Most importantly, drunk a lot of wine – from the bottles, from the barrels, the juice of freshly harvested grapes and the juice which only had been fermented for a few days. Two days old wine and 80 years old wine. I taste roughly thousands of wines every year (with the help of trade tastings). Yes, the wine is an object of obsession. And yet, I would never say that I figured it out, that I fully understand it.

Wine is an enigma.

Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria AustraliaThe curse of wine is rather simple – until the cork is pulled (or unscrewed), you don’t know what to expect. A lot of wine bottles look ultimately attractive outside – bottle’s shape and weight play an important role, and then you got the label which, when properly done, is an ultimate seduction device. But once the cork is out, it is only the content that matters – and here we learn that not all the beauty from outside can be found on the inside. The worst part? Until the first sip, we have no way of knowing what we will find, even if we tasted and loved the wine before! Sadly, this is a classic case of any investment prospectus disclaimer – “past performance is no guarantee of the future results”. It is quite possible that you tasted and loved the wine before – nevertheless, every new bottle is a perfect screw up (or a beautiful surprise) opportunity. The wine is an enigma.

Back in 2014, I tasted 2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia (13% ABV, $14.99) and was blown away by the beautiful purity of that Shiraz. The wine had a clean, herbs-driven profile full of freshly ground pepper – you really had to taste it to believe it. I was so impressed with that wine that it became wine #4 on my Top Dozen list in 2014. I got 6 bottles or so (at $14.99, a great QPR) and was slowly enjoying it over the years. But not always. I remember trying to impress a friend with this wine when I found it available in a restaurant in Florida by the glass. That simply did not work – the wine was flabby and mostly insipid. Then I had opened a bottle last year, only to be able to say “what just happened???”. The wine had just some single note fruit, no pepper, limited acidity, and in a word, was not fun. I was further put down with this wine last year after tasting the current vintage release at the trade tasting – that wine was insipid, cherry cough medicine style.

When I pulled my last bottle from the shelf a few days ago, the thought was – yeah, whatever, let’s just free up some space. Unscrew, pour, sip – oh, my, everything was back as when I fell in love with this wine – fresh pepper, sage, rosemary, intensely herbal with tasteful addition of ripe black plum – as wow wine as it can be. Don’t ask me for explanations or theories – as I said, the more I drink, the less I understand.

Wine is an enigma.

Tallulah Cabernet Sauvignon

The second story is less unusual, but still in line with what we are talking about here. I got the 2009 Tallulah MD1 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV, $75) after reading the skillfully crafted sales pitch by the folks at Benchmark Wine Company. What’s not to like there? Excellent winemaker, Mike Drash; beautiful label, great story of naming the wine after winemaker’s daughter, and maybe most importantly, the cult grape from the cult region – Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. The first experience with the wine was at the “ohh” level – tight, closed, by all means not ready. The next time I had the same wine was back in 2014, it fared better – I gave it 8- rating, but mostly for the potential, not so much for the actual pleasure delivered by the wine back then.

Looking for the wine to drink last Saturday with the steak (looking for the wine is a physical process of moving the shelves of the wine fridges in and out – I don’t have any record-keeping in place), I saw the bottle top with the characteristic “T” on it. Similar to the wine we discussed before, the thought was “well, why not – I need to free some space anyway”. The first sip solicited an instant “oh, wow” – a Cabernet perfection in the glass, vibrant cassis, eucalyptus, touch of cherries, sweet oak, perfect mid-palate weight, clean acidity, impeccable balance – the wine Napa Valley is so famous for was right there – in my glass.

While working on this post I looked for my previous notes on this wine, and I only found a short reference in the post about “Month in wines”, written precisely 5 years ago, in February of 2014. To my big surprise, in that post, I found the following line: “…definitely needed more time, let’s say, at least 5 years…” – the fact that I randomly pulled this MD1 bottle exactly 5 years after and the wine evolved beautifully – well, I guess, this is just a happenstance…

Wine is an enigma.

But that what makes it an ultimate fun.

Restaurant Files: Comfort and Classy Italian – Bar Zepoli In Stamford, Connecticut

February 6, 2019 2 comments

Bar Zepoli table settingComfort Italian food? Oh, yes! Italian immigrants played a big role in creating the USA as we know it, so it is not surprising that Italian food is one of the most popular here – and yes, more often than not, it falls in the category of “comfort food”. For example, pasta and meatballs – isn’t that just a different way to spell “comfort”? Or how about pizza? Or anything with mozzarella, the word which non-Italians can’t even pronounce in a tasty way (it is “mozzarell” to you!), wouldn’t copious amounts of mozzarella make any dish a comforting one?

Can the food be comforting and classy at the same time? Why not? There are many ways to add a classy element to the comfort dish – presentation might be the simplest one. Or you can just add a tasty cocktail or a glass of wine to the same dish, and all of a sudden you have the next level of experience.

Bar Zepoli has one of the most central restaurant locations in Stamford, right in a middle of the “restaurant district” if Stamford would ever designate one. The restaurant is technically located inside the Marriott Courtyard hotel, but it is easily accessible right from the street without the need to navigate the maze of the hotel and its self-focused guests. Once you walk inside, dark paneling and dim lighting quickly get to you to quickly install “yep, this is comfortable” mood.

As usual, we started with the cocktails. The Pear Bears Margarita (Reposado Tequila, Pear Syrup, Honey Triple Sec, Cinnamon sugar rim) was good, maybe a bit too sweet for my taste. The KGB Will Wait For No One (Apple-infused Vodka, Muddled Cranberries, Ginger Simple Syrup, Ginger Beer and Cider) – I just had to try the wine with such a name. It was again a bit on a sweeter side, but quite tasty nevertheless. The wine list is small but offers a good variety, including some of the “local” selection, such as few wines from the Finger Lakes region.

We started our dinner with a set of appetizers.

Eggplant Rollatini (eggplant cutlets, ricotta, Grana Padano) had excellent seasoning, perfectly executed dish. Zepoli Chicken Wings (classic buffalo, roasted garlic, Parmesan) were delicious, done at the level when you want to lick your fingers after you eat one; let’s not forget an excellent, classy presentation. Marinated Beef Tips (24 hour marinated beef tips, smoked pepper aioli) were literally surprising, as cooking the beef to such a level of tenderness is not easy – excellent, tender beef, melt in your mouth dish.

Our next comfort group included Pizza and Pasta. Margherita (San Marzano tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella) was very good; Roasted Butternut Squash (Sage, red onion, kale, mozzarella) not only was tasty, but it was very unique – when was the last time you had a pizza with roasted eggplant on it? This was definitely a first for me. Zepoli Ravioli (whipped ricotta filling, wild mushroom cream, topped with arugula and crispy pancetta) were excellent, rich and generous; Cavatelli (broccoli rabe, sausage, roasted fennel, marinara) was also tasty, and one of my favorites – pasta with sausage is one of my favorite ways to eat pasta.

We closed the main part of our dinner with two of the entrées. Herb Roasted Chicken (free range chicken, red bliss potatoes, baby carrots, peas, pan jus) – spectacular. Everyone who thinks it is easy to prepare a delicious, juicy, not dry and boring chicken is dead wrong – delicious, tasty chicken requires great skill. Bar Zepoli perfectly delivered the deliciousness in one composed dish. If this is not the comfort food, I don’t know what is. When it comes to Braised Short Rib (parsnip puree, sautéed kale, roasted potatoes), short rib might be my favorite cut and preparation of beef – this dish was outstanding, fork tender and flavorful.

Sugar is definitely an element of the comfort. Dessert, anyone? Raspberry Tart (fresh strawberry, caramel sauce, raspberry coulis) was very good, not too sweet. Chocolate Polenta Tart (vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, fresh raspberry) was definitely unique – never had polenta-based sweet dishes before. Cheese Cake Crème Brulee (creamy cheesecake, caramelized sugar, marinated strawberry, whipped cream) was again another unique cake, combining two of the classics – Cheesecake and Creme Brulee.  last but not least, Cinnamon Zeppole (Italian donuts tossed in cinnamon sugar, with side raspberry sauce) was a perfect finishing note to an excellent dinner.

What are your favorite comfort Italian dishes? Cheers!

Wine, Super Bowl, and Commercials

February 2, 2019 Leave a comment

Tomorrow is the day when a lot of towns in America will look like ghost towns, as people will be crowded next to the TV screens in their homes and bars to watch one of the most important entertainment events of the year – Super Bowl, also known as The Big Game. There are two main attractions of that night – the game itself and the commercials, which run at some obscene rates, reportedly $5.25M for 30 seconds commercial (going 2007 rate was $2.4M for the same, talk about the absence of inflation). And then, of course, there are food and drinks – you can’t spectate such an event on empty stomach, can you?

Super Bowl and wine … yep, don’t go hand in hand. The drink of choice at all of the Super Bowl party is beer – but of course, it is all about your company and your personal preferences. Have no doubts that wine will be a drink of choice at Casa Talk-a-Vino. But – it is not the subject of the post, it is the commercials I want to talk about.

I learned something very interesting from the Wine Spectator article a couple of days ago – until 2017, there were no wine commercials shown at Super Bowl broadcast. The reason? Anheuser-Busch InBev, the maker of infamous Budweiser beer, owns nationwide rights to alcohol advertisement during the game since 1989 so you can imagine that wine is not on the menu of the beer giant. To circumvent this restriction, one has to get really creative and play “local ad” card.

In 2017, one company (Deutsch Family, the importer) decided it is worth the trouble and went for it, showing the advertisement for Yellow Tail, the Australian wine made by the company called Casella – in the past, holder of the crown of most imported wine in the USA. It appears that trouble was worth it, and the ads affected sales in a very positive way – look at the WS article for more details.

What I want to do here is to share with you the Yellow Tail commercials from 2017, 2018 and 2019:

2017:

2018:

2019:

What do you think? Which one is your favorite? I can definitely get behind this message – “Tastes Like Happy“. And you?

 

Wine Lover’s Guide To Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions – Salice Salentino

January 31, 2019 2 comments

Today, wine lovers, we are going on yet another wine journey in Italy. We are going all the way down almost to the bottom of the heel of the “Italian Boot”, to the area called Salice Salentino.

While we are on our way, I have a question for you – what do you know about first ever Rosé wine – ahh, we are in Italy, so let’s switch to the proper names – so again, what do you know about first ever Rosato wine bottled in Italy and exported to the USA? Do you know where, when, what was the name of it? I’ll let you ponder at it for a bit – the answer will come a bit later. And for now, let’s talk about Salice Salentino.

Salice Salentino is a small town located down south on the “heel” of Italy. If you will find it on the map, you will see that it is situated on a strip of the land, Salento, sandwiched between Adriatic and Ionian Seas (Gulf of Taranto, to be geographically precise). The town supposedly takes its name from the willow trees, which were growing in abundance in the area in the old days – you can see the willow tree showing up in the middle of a shield on Salice Salentino’s coat of arms. I don’t know if the land looked anything the picture below, but it is easy to imagine that this looks very authentic.

willow tree photo by arvid høidahl on unsplash small

The town of Salice Salentino was founded in the 14th century, but wine… The wine was made on that land way, way before – let’s say, about 2000 years before, as the first mentions and artifacts of winemaking in the area go all the way back to at least the 6th century BC. And why not – you got rich soils with a lot of maritime influence, and despite the close proximity of the seas, hot and dry summers, which sport on average 300 sunny days. It is easy for grapes to ripen happily and abundantly in such conditions – may be, too easy – it is difficult to tame that amount of sugar later on at the winery. It is not very surprising that for the longest time, Salice Salentino was known as the source of grapes and bulk wine, and quantity was definitely trumpeting quality.

Come the 20th century, and the situation started to change, with more attention placed on the quality of the wine, controlling the yield and focusing on the quality of the grapes. Historically, Salice Salentino, and the whole big region it is a part of – Puglia – was focused on the red grapes and red wines; ohh – let’s not forget about olive trees (Puglia produces about 50% of all olive oil in Italy – but this is not the subject of today’s conversation). When Salice Salentino DOC was created in 1976, red wines were the only ones allowed under the DOC. Rules were subsequently changed in 1990 and 2010, and now both white and Rosato are produced in Salice Salentino.

To make wine, we need grapes, right? So let’s talk about grapes. Every region in Italy has its own, unique grapes – such grapes are called autochthonous (having a local origin). Salice Salentino is no exception – Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera (Black Malvasia, a red grape which is a sibling of the well known aromatic white grape, Malvasia), and Primitivo are three of the autochthonous grapes in that area.

Negroamaro is definitely the kind of Salice Salentino winemaking. The grape’s name can be translated as “black bitter”, due to its shiny black skin and bitter aromatics. It is widely considered that Negroamaro originated in Salentino area. The grape has no problems with dry hot climate and lack of water and can consistently achieve appropriate levels of ripeness. Most of the Salice Salentino DOC red wines contain 80% to 90% of Negroamaro grape.

Malvasia Nera is a dark-skinned member of Malvasia family. Malvasia Nera is growing around Italy, not only in Salice Salentino, and it is typically used as a blending grape, adding unique aromatics to the resulting wine.

You might not be familiar with Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera, but I’m sure you heard of Primitivo, which after the long research and often heated debates was recognized as an identical grape to American beloved Zinfandel. Primitivo is a star of the surrounding Puglia, especially in Primitivo de Manduria, however, in Salice Salentino it only plays supporting role in some of the blends, particularly with Aleatico.

In addition to the three grapes we already mentioned, Aleatico (red), Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and Fiano can be used. Overall, DOC rules allow the production of the full range of wines – sparkling (spumante) white, Rosato, red, and dessert (Dolce and Liquorosso).

Now, it is time to taste some wines. I had an opportunity to taste three of the Salice Salentino wines, but before I will share my tasting notes, let me introduce you to the three wineries.

Leone de Castris

This is definitely one of the pioneering wine producers in Salice Salentino. The company started in 1665 in Salice Salentino, by planting vines and olive trees. In the 19th century, the Leone de Castris was exporting bulk wine to the United States. The first bottling under Leone de Castris name was produced in 1925.

Now, remember the question I asked you at the beginning of this post? You probably figured that already (o mighty google), but nevertheless: the very first Rosato produced and sold in Italy, and imported to the United States was made at Leone de Castris winery in 1943, under the name of Five Roses. The name signifies the fact that multiple generations of de Castris had 5 children each.

Gradually, Leone de Castris reduced their land ownership from 5,000 acres to under 900 acres, which is split between the vineyards and olive trees. The winery makes today around 2.5 million bottles per year, which includes red, white, Rosato, and sparkling wines.

Cantina San Donaci

Cantina San Donaci is also one of the oldest wineries in Salice Salentino. It was established in 1933 by 12 local farmers. Today, about 600 partners are involved in all aspects of winemaking – tending to about 1,250 acres of vineyards, harvesting the grapes and making the wines.

Production includes white, Rosato and red wines.

Candido Wines

Candido Wines started in 1929, producing bulk wine obtained from the 1,000 acres of vineyards. In 1957, the bottling started under its own label. Today, the winery owns 350 acres of organically farmed vineyards, focusing on the autochthonous varieties, as well as some of the international ones and producing the typical Salice Salentino range of wines.

Here are the notes for the 3 wines I tasted.

2015 Leone de Castris 50° Vendemmia Salice Salentino Riserva DOC (13.5% ABV, $12, 90% Negroamaro, 10% Malvasia Nera, 12+ months in barrel, 6+ months in bottle)
Dark ruby
Herbs- driven nose – sage, oregano, excellent minerality, underbrush, a touch of cherries
Ripe cherries on the palate, sweet tobacco, well-integrated tannins, a touch of sandalwood. Good balance.
8, the wine is super food-friendly, and it is a lot of wine for the money.

2017 Cantina San Donaci Anticaia Rosato Salice Salentino DOP (13.5% ABV, $8, 90% Negroamaro, 10% Malvasia Nera, 18-20 hours skin contact)
Beautiful Intense Rose color
A touch of strawberries, restrained,
Beautiful strawberries and cranberries, good acidity, fuller body than a typical rose, but nicely balanced, good tartness.
8-, very good

2015 Candido La Carta Salice Salentino Riserva DOC (13.5% ABV, $12, 95% Negroamaro, 5% Malvasia Nera, aged in large casks)
Garnet color
Tobacco, sweet oak, leather, medium plus intensity
Cherries, smoke, round, pleasant well-integrated tannins, delicious.
8+, superb. Absolutely delicious. Outstanding value and QPR.

As you can see, these Salice Salentino wines are offering an outstanding value – at $12, finding the wine which gives you so much pleasure is rather difficult – and these wines delivered. They are perfect on its own and would work very well with food – antipasti, traditional local hard sheep cheeses, such as Pecorino Sardo or Pecorino Romano, hearty stews, you name it.

I hope I helped you to discover a new Italian wine region. If you are looking for every day, great value, delicious glass of wine – Salice Salentino wines are worth seeking and experiencing. Cheers!

Wine Lover’s Guide To Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions – Alto Adige

January 28, 2019 4 comments

Italian Wine Regions. source: Wikipedia

Italian wines are some of the most respected wines in the world. Well respected and well known, which is not surprising as Italy is the biggest wine producer and wine exporter in the world. But if you will ask a random wine lover about their favorite Italian wines, there is a good chance that all you will hear will be a few of Bs, most likely a C, and an S on a good day. I’m not trying to be cryptic here, just playing a bit – most likely you will hear about Brunello, Barolo, Chianti, and possibly, Super Tuscan. Some of the more advanced wine lovers might include Amarone. Someone might also include Prosecco, but that would pretty much complete the list.

When it comes to the regions, I expect the story to look very similar – Tuscany and Piedmont are two of the most likely contenders, everything else is open to the chance. Meanwhile, the wine is produced in Italy absolutely everywhere – otherwise, it is not that easy to be the number one wine producer and wine exporter in the world. When I say “wine is produced everywhere in Italy”, I mean exactly that – Italy has 20 administrative regions, and all 20 administrative regions are also wine regions.

There are many reasons why you want to expand your Italian wine horizons. For one, with the exception of Georgia and probably a few others, Italy is one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world with almost 3,000 years of history of the winemaking – that in itself deserves some respect. Another, and more important reason is that lesser-known regions usually mean great value – you can find the wines to enjoy with much better QPR than those coming from the best-known regions. And let’s not forget the sheer abundance of the grape varieties in Italy – about 350 used in winemaking today, out of which about 180 are so-called autochthonous (the grapes which originated in their respective local regions) – that translates into a tremendous range of wines available to the consumer.

Source: AltoAdigeWines.com

Let’s start our exploration. Let’s go to the northmost part of Italy, between Austria and Switzerland, where the Italian Alps are located. There are few names used for this region – Trentino, South Tyrol (Südtirol) and Alto Adige all point to the same area in the north. One of the oldest winemaking areas in Italy, with about 3,000 years of winemaking history, with the wines having significant Austrian influence and using a number of the same grapes, such as Müller-Thurgau and Gewürztraminer. While the region is small, there are about 5,000 grape growers and 150 wineries in Alto Adige, producing on average about 60% of the white and 40% of the red wines (colder climates enticing more production of the whites). The climate in the region is the Mediterranean, and it allows for proper ripening of both white and red grapes, without much worry about over-riping the grapes (unlike in the South of Italy). You can also imagine that it is not easy to work with the vineyards on the mountainous slopes, so grape cultivation in Aldo Adige is quite demanding.

Out of 17 or so grapes used in the winemaking in Alto Adige, three varieties are considered autochthonousGewürztraminer, Lagrein, and Schiava, with both Lagrein and Schiava being red grapes. I’m sure you are perfectly aware of “spicy aromatic” grape – Gewürztraminer is popular most everywhere around the world. However, it is not an easy grape to work with, as it always needs balancing acidity to avoid single-dimensional wines. Alto Adige Gewürztraminer might be one of the very best renditions on the market, along with Gewürztraminer from Alsace.

Lagrein is the indigenous red grape of Alto Adige, known for its high acidity and high level of tannins. Lately, Lagrein gained popularity around the world and now can be found in Australia, New Zealand, and the USA. Schiava, also known as Vernatsch and Trollinger, is the second indigenous red grape in Alto Adige. Schiava is known to produce the lighter-bodied wines with high acidity.

Let’s taste some wine, shall we? Why don’t we try exactly the grapes we were talking about – the autochthonous varieties:

2017 St. Michael-Eppan Gewürztraminer Alto Adige (13.5% ABV, $14) – St. Michael-Eppan winery is a cooperative of 340 winemaking families, formed in 1907. The winery produces a wide range of white, Rosé and red wine.
Light golden color
Intense, lychees and peaches, a touch of guava
More lychees on the palate, nicely restrained compared to the nose, good acidity, a touch of spicy notes, minerality showing up on the finish. very enjoyable.
8-, would be good with the food. Also, expect it to evolve over the next 5-7 years.

2017 Muri-Gries Santa Maddalena Alto Adige (12.5% ABV, $14, Schiava 93% and Lagrein 7%) – MURI-GRIES is the monastery, starting its history in 1845, when Benedictine monks moved into the monastery from Switzerland Today, MURI-GRIES makes a number of wines from Lagrein  as one of the favorites, however, today we are tasting the Schiava wine and not the Lagrein from this producer. This Schiava comes from the well regarded single vineyard, Santa Maddalena
Light ruby color
Earthy nose, a touch of underripe raspberries, lavender
The light but supple palate, round and velvety, beautiful silky mouthfeel, more underripe raspberries, a touch of pepper and interesting salinity.
8-/8, the wine to ponder at

2017 Cantina Schreckbichl Colterenzio Lagrein Alto Adige (13% ABV, $14, 100% Lagrein) – and finally, Lagrein. Colterenzio winery was formed in 1960 by a group of 26 winegrowers. Today, more than 300 partners winemakers participate in the work of the winery.
Dark garnet, almost black
Roasted notes, a touch of smoke, black plums, a touch of oregano
Velvety palate, excellent extraction, a touch of pepper and herbaceous notes, black fruit, medium+ body, voluptuous and sexy
8, this wine has a mystery to it.

Alto Adige wines offer all wine lovers an opportunity to drink great wines at the very reasonable prices – may be that’s why we should keep it a secret? Have you had wine from Alto Adige? What do you think of them? Cheers!

Lists Worth Waiting For

January 24, 2019 6 comments

Once again, one of my all-time favorite subjects – lists. This time, however, these are the lists with a twist – these are the lists you probably want to know about.

Let’s talk about wine collecting.

I have to say that I don’t consider myself a wine collector. I will gladly identify under multiple “wino” categories. I can identify as wine snob – I have my [strong] preferences and if I’m not careful, they will either slip off my tongue or will be readable off my face as in the open book. I’m definitely a wine geek – wine from the barrel, 2-days fermented juice, obscure grape varieties, wine in the can, wine in the plastic bottle – bring it on, I will happily try it all. I’m a wine lover, oenophile – all of these identities are just fine. Wine collector – I would never present myself as such. I love aged wine – this is the main reason for me to have a “collection” – I buy the wines which I believe (hope?) will improve with time, and I store them to give them time to evolve. In my mind, to be qualified as a wine collector, you need to have more or less an unlimited budget – you taste a good wine, you like it, you say “I’ll take a case” – all of it without paying attention to the price. You are definitely free to disagree with my approach, but this is not what this post is all about.

Collector or not, but I’m passionate about wine. I’m paying attention to what I taste. I’m paying attention to what critics have to say. I’m paying attention to what fellow bloggers and writers are saying. Yes, I’m paying attention to the recommendations, reviews, and suggestions – but the trick is to convert the recommendations into the actual wine. You need to be able to find the wine which is so highly recommended – otherwise, the wine will remain only a “fiction”.

If you think that getting the wine everyone wants to drink is easy, you are probably just starting your oenophile journey. Getting the “desired” wine is not even a question of money. Yes, some of these wines are impossible to find and very expensive. But this is not always the case. For example, 2014 Carlisle Syrah Papa’s Block, 96 rating by Wine Spectator, was priced on release at $44. According to Wine-Searcher, it is available only at one single store in the USA. I’m sure you can afford it – but you can’t really find it. And this is just one example. Theoretically, any wine can be acquired from the wine store. In practice, lots and lots of the wines which built their reputation, are not available in the store, neither “brick and mortar” nor online.

This is exactly what I want to share with you today – where and how to find the wines everyone wants to drink. Before we get to it, one important note – everything I will be talking about here is relevant only for the wines in the USA. It is entirely possible that some winery around the world has the same mechanisms in place, but I’m not aware of those wineries – with the exception of Bordeaux En Primeur however, this is not something I want to talk about today. 

Now, how can you reliably get the wines everyone wants to drink? You will need to learn few key terms – “allocated wine“, “allocation” and “mailing list“. The gist of the process can be summed up in one sentence – in order to get highly allocated wine, you need to be on the winery’s mailing list in order to receive your allocation. Sounds simple, isn’t it? Let’s take this summary in pieces.

Highly allocated wine” simply means that the desirable wine is produced in the limited quantity – 100 cases, 200 cases, whatever the number is – but it is given that demand greatly exceeds supply, and so the wine becomes allocated.

A mailing list is a form of the winery membership which is very different from the typical winery wine club. In the wine club, you say how much you are willing to spend, and the winery will decide what they will send you (yes, you have an option of ordering more, but this is beside the point). Mailing list membership gives you access to desired wines the winery produces, but you still have no guarantee that you can get any wine you want.

Every member of the mailing list receives their allocation – how many bottles of what wine they can buy. Allocation is uniquely tailored to your buying history, position on the mailing list and other factors. Even when you get your allocation, life is still not necessarily perfect – some allocations are guaranteed, and some are offered on “first come, first serve” basis – yes, you have an allocation for the wine, but unless you are buying as soon as you receive the email, the wine you wanted might be already gone – experienced this scenario with Peter Michael and Turley many times.

Lastly, you need to keep in mind that your allocation will not necessarily include all the wines which winery included in so-called Release – some of the wines in the release might not be a part of your allocation. Ahh, and one more thing – in order to be on the mailing list, you need to continue buying the wines. I don’t know if there are minimal quantities, and I know that some of the wineries will allow you to skip one or a few of the mailing list offers and will still keep you on the list. Some wineries, however, warn you in a very direct fashion – if you will not order wine from this offer, you will be taken off the mailing list.

So that’s it, now that you understand how the system works, the rest is easy, right? Let’s find the wines we want, go sign up for the mailing list and start receiving the wines – easy! Not so fast. There is one more term I need to make you familiar with. This is the scary term – it is called “waiting list“. Remember I gave you the gist of the buying process for the highly desirable wines in one sentence? We need now to use a few sentences to fully explain the process:

In order to get highly allocated wine, you need to be on the winery’s mailing list in order to receive your allocation. Before you will get on the mailing list, you will first join the waiting list for that mailing list, as the mailing list has limited capacity.

What’s so scary about the waiting list? You have no idea how long will it take for you to transition from waiting list to the mailing list. I was on the waiting list for about seven years in order to get on Cayuse mailing list. I’m waiting for more than seven years now to get on Saxum and Sine Qua Non mailing lists with no end in sight. So yes, if you want access to the wine, you will have to learn to wait.

That’s about all there is to the allocated wines and mailing lists. I would like to make it clear – mailing list is one of the sources of allocated wines – but it is the only option if you want to be fully in charge of what you will be buying. Wine distributors in the USA also hold positions on various mailing lists and they get access to the allocated wines exactly as individuals do. However, their allocations are also limited,  and different stores have different access to those wines. Yes, you can definitely rely on the stores as your source of the allocated wines – for example, Wades Wines in California offers an amazing selection of the allocated wines – but you still have to hunt down the wines you want to drink.

At the beginning of this post, I said that we will be talking about wine collections. So far I explained how you can get wines for your collection – but as someone who had been hunting down collectible wines for a while, I would like to give you a number of suggestions for the wines I consider of being worthy of anyone’s collection – and worth hunting them down and waiting on the lists. Or at least, worthy of most anyone’s collection – for instance, if you don’t like Zinfandel wines as a category, Turley and Carlisle might not be wines you will be interested in. I’m not going to recommend any individual wines – below are the wineries I suggest you will get on the waiting lists for mailing lists, including a short explanation as to why I’m recommending them. I’m also including links for your convenience. The list sorted alphabetically without implying any preferences.

Alban Vineyards

Rhône-style specialist located in Edna Valley in California. Produces both whites and reds. Alban Syrah is a riot, and Alban Viognier might be the best in the country – among other wines. One release per year.

Carlisle Winery

Zinfandel and Syrah specialist. Produces also a number of white wines (Gruner is amazing) and few of the red blends. The wines are released twice a year. Allocations are typically guaranteed until the expiration date of the offer. Majority of the wines are under $50. Wines can be ordered as individual bottles.

Cayuse Vineyards

One of the very best wineries in the country, located in Walla Walla, Washington. Produces predominantly red wines – Syrah and Grenache rule, but Cabernet and Bordeaux blends supposed to be outstanding. Didn’t have a pleasure of tasting the Cayuse wines yet, but have high expectations. The wines are sold in the 3-packs, so 3 bottles is the smallest quantity you can buy. One release per year.

Horsepower Vineyards

The winery takes its name from the fact that all the heavy work in the vineyards is done using horses. Another winery from Washington and closely affiliated with Cayuse through Christophe Baron, the winemaker at Cayuse. Produces only Syrah and Grenache. If you like Syrah, Horsepower Syrah is amazing. One release per year, 3-pack offering only.

No Girls Wines

yet another project of Christophe Baron. Syrah, Grenache, and Tempranillo from Washington. Delicious, terroir-driven wines. One release per year, all wines are available as 3-packs only.

Peter Michael Winery

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon specialist out of Napa. The wines are simply outstanding. Two releases per year. Wines are available in single bottle quantities. Allocations are not guaranteed – first come, first serve.

Saxum Vineyards

the winery, located in Paso Robles in California is focused only on 3 varieties – Syrah, Grenache and Mataro (they prefer to use the popular Australian name for Mourvèdre grape). Their wines supposed to be amazing – I’m still waiting (for 7 years now) to find out how amazing.

Sine Qua Non

the legend. I should really stop right here and not even try to describe this winery. Might be the most cult winery in the United States – it’s either Sine Qua Non or Screaming Eagle. These wines are impossible to get (unless you have a spare $1000 – then run to Benchmark Wine website, they have one bottle available at that price). Sine Qua Non makes supposedly amazing wines in California (the winery calls Santa Barbara home), each wine in each vintage having a unique name and unique label. I’m waiting for about 7 years already and will continue to do so.

Turley Wine Cellars

best known as Zinfandel and Petite Sirah specialists from Paso Robles. Turley produces 47 wines from 50 vineyards. When it comes to Zinfandel, Turley is often considered a hallmark of Zinfandel expression. In addition to Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, Turley produces a small number of whites, plus a number of red blends. A few years ago Turley even started making their own Cabernet Sauvignon wines, called The Label. Most of the wines are priced under $50, with a few exceptions. Two releases per year, plus separate end of the year release for The Label. All wines can be acquired in the single quantities. Your allocation is not guaranteed – first come, first serve.

There you go, my collector and future collector friends – my explanations about inner workings of the desirable (allocated) wines, and the list of the wines I find worth waiting for. I’m sure many of you have your own take on wine collecting and wines worth hunting down – use the comments section to share your opinion with everyone.

Hope you will find this useful. Cheers!

An update: After this post was published, I received a number of suggestions for the lists worth waiting for. I have very little knowledge of most of these wines, but as they came recommended, I will list them here so you can do your own research and make your own decisions: Abreu Vineyards, Aubert Wines, Brand, Hourglass, Quilceda Creek Winery, Scarecrow Wine, Schrader Cellars, Vérité.

 

Restaurant Files: Eat Well On The Go and Not – Station House in Port Chester, New York

January 20, 2019 Leave a comment

station house restaurant port chesterIf we think of the US history, this country was largely developed around and with the railroad infrastructure. The fortunes were built and the country flourished with the advancement of railroads, the ability to transport both people and cargo. The trains powered the first industrial revolution in the US, changing the idea for what is possible and making the country a lot smaller.

Today, the situation is quite different. The plane and the car are definitely the preferred means of conquering the distance in the USA. Of course, the tracks and trains didn’t disappear from the land, but unlike Europe and Asia, passenger trains in the USA are mostly the short haul, helping to offload transportation grid of the large metropolitan cities, without providing much of a meaningful alternative to the plane and the car for any long distance travel.

Okay, after this long intro, let’s go back to the core of this blog – food and wine. Only today, we are talking about food on the go. No matter how and how far you are traveling, you have to be able to eat. Train station, airport, rest area along the highway – ability to find a bite on the go, and preferably a tasty bite, is a key to the happy travel. Of course, safely and timely arriving from point A to point B is a whole substance of the journey, and it is the most essential part – but think about your own travel experience – are you happier when hungry or when well fed? Yeah, I thought so.

When it comes to the food on the go, airports in the USA definitely trumpet the train stations (the only exception might be Grand Central Terminal in New York, which offers a great range of fine dining options, even though United Terminal C at Newark airport might give Grand Central a fight for the supremacy). However, there is one important difference between the train stations and the airports – no matter how amazing the airport food is, it is strictly available “on the go” – you need to be flying somewhere to have a boarding pass in your hand to reach that coveted restaurant, like United Classified. However, you don’t need to be going anywhere (or you might be) to have a great meal at the train station’s restaurant. Case in point – Station House restaurant in Port Chester, New York.

As the name says it, the restaurant is situated in the old Station house at the Port Chester train station (if you are not a commuter, your only challenge might be parking – but this shouldn’t stop you from having a good meal). Once inside, you will find a modern restaurant well placed in somewhat of a nostalgic setting:

We had a dinner at the Station House a while ago, and had an opportunity to taste through a variety of dishes, which will suit you well whether you are truly on the go and want to grab a pizza to shorten your ride, or you are arriving after a long day at work and need to feed the family, or even if you are not going anywhere and simply looking for a quiet dinner in an unpretentious atmosphere.

Assuming you got some time, how about starting your evening with a cocktail? We had New Haven Bound (Tito’s Vodka, Blackberries, Strawberries, Lemon, Soda) which was tangy and refreshing; Hop on Board (Vodka, Honey, IPA, Lemon) was light and crisp. You can start with the cocktails and continue with beer and wine – the restaurant offers a good selection in both categories to perfectly supplement the casual fare.

We had a few appetizers to start. Blue Point Oysters were, well, delicious – what else can you expect from the fresh oysters. Summer Asparagus (Farro, Feta, Tomato, Dijon Vinaigrette) was excellent, with asparagus been snappy and crunchy (overcooked asparagus is a big no-no in my book). Charred Baby Bell Peppers (Basil Sea Salt) were good, Homemade Whipped Ricotta (Honey Herbs, EVOO, Toast Points) was tasty, a good flavor combination.

We continued with Coal-Fired Wings Thyme & Lemon (Sea Salt, Caramelized Onions) – love caramelized onions on anything, and it was a very nice addition to the well-cooked wings. Mama’s Meatballs (Marinara, Provolone, Parsley) were fork-tender and well seasoned; Baked Mac & Cheese (Four Cheese, Béchamel, Bread Crumbs) was homey and comforting.

Every restaurant should have their “specialty”. For Station House, it is the Coal-Fired pizza.

clam and bacon pizza station house port chester

classic pepperoni pizza station house port chester

four cheese pizza at station house port chester

sweet and spicy pizza station house port chester

For the regular (tomato-sauce based) pizza, we tried Classic Pepperoni (Tomato, Mozz, Pepperoni), which was excellent, and Clam & Bacon (Littleneck Clams, Parmesan, Garlic Oil, Chili Flakes, Parsley) which was perfectly garlicky (love garlic!). Two of the white pizza were also very tasty, Four Cheese (Fresh Mozz, Herb Ricotta, Fontina, Parmesan, Garlic, Herbs) and Sweet & Spicy (Fried Onion, Cherry Peppers, Fontina, Honey, Provolone), which was, as suggested, deliciously spicy (I find it personally very important that the “advertisement” would match the “content”).

cannoli at station house port chester

Do you think we left without the dessert? Of course not! Cannoli offered a perfect finish to the casual and comforting meal.

There you are my friends – on the go and not, you can always find a delicious bite by the tracks. Do you have your own train station food standouts? Cheers!

Wine and Bacon? Why Not?!

January 15, 2019 10 comments

There is a good chance that you love good food and wine pairing as much as the next connoisseur. We all know that successful pairings are very far from trivial, and we also know that not all the foods are good with the wine.

So have you ever thought of pairing bacon with wine? I’m sure that there is a very good chance that such a pairing never crossed your mind, despite the fact that you might love each one on its own – bacon and wine – almost religiously (there are lots of people in this world who will start drooling just at a sound of the word “bacon”).

Before we continue – or before you stop reading this as you don’t eat bacon for whatever reason (religious, veganism, anything) – I need to ask you (beg you?) – please do not fret. Bacon doesn’t have to be made out of pork! In today’s world, besides turkey bacon, which I agree is generally very pedestrian and not satisfying, there are also Beef Bacon, Duck Bacon, and even variety of Vegan Bacon – your life doesn’t have to be bacon-less, even if pork is off the menu for good.

What wine to serve with bacon is typically not the question you are facing, though. The main reason is that in the direct form – a slice of bacon and a glass of wine – they belong to the different, non-overlapping “time zones”. Bacon is a morning food, and wine, umm, really not. Yes, bacon easily takes on the role of a condiment at lunch and dinner, but then it is a whole another story in terms of the wine pairing.

But then there is brunch, where bacon is still a star, and who doesn’t like a glass of wine with their brunch? Or have you ever enjoyed bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with the blue cheese, so popular in many Spanish restaurants? So maybe bacon can be and should be paired with wine? Folks at Drinkable Gifts surely think so, and they even came up with infographics to illustrate their bacon and wine suggestions. As I’m an infographics junkie, I’m happy to share it with you. You can find all the detailed bacon recipes and pairing suggestions here.

I’m also curious in your opinion if you think suggested pairing combinations will work. Enjoy!

Source: DrinkableGifts.com

Tale of Two Reds – Are All Wine Lovers Eternal Optimists?

January 14, 2019 8 comments

Let’s talk about red wines. And optimism. The connection between the two? You will see – give me a few minutes.

Let’s start from a simple question – how many chances do you give to a bottle of wine? Fine, let’s rephrase it. You open a bottle of wine. It is not corked, or if you think it is, you are not 100% sure. You taste the wine. The wine is not spoiled, but you don’t like it – doesn’t matter why, we are not interested in the reason – the bottom line is that it doesn’t give you pleasure. What do you do next?

Of course, breathing is the thing. You let the wine breathe – you pour it into a decanter, and let is stand – few hours, at least. You taste it again – and it still doesn’t make you happy. Your next action?

Let’s take a few notes here. First, we are not talking about the wine you feel obliged to drink – it is not a $200 bottle, it is not a first-growth Bordeaux – it is an average bottle of wine, let’s say, of $20-$40 value. Second, it is a quiet evening – let’s say, it is you and your spouse, and you have a luxury of opening another bottle of wine to enjoy.

As we said, two hours in decanter didn’t do anything. And another 4 hours didn’t help either. Or maybe you didn’t use the decanter, as you only wanted a glass, and dealing with moving the wine in and out of decanter was not your priority, so the wine was standing in the open bottle. In any case, it is the end of the day, and it is time to go to sleep – and the wine is still not what you want to drink. What is next?

At this point, you got a few options – leave the bottle on the counter, dump it into the sink, put it aside into the “to cook with” section, or pump the air out and see what the next day will bring. Let’s assume you’ve chosen the latter option, but the next day didn’t improve the situation – for how long will you keep trying?

While I’m sending you on the trip down the memory lane (or maybe not), let me share with you my most recent experience. On December 31st, I opened the bottle of 2012 Codice Citra Laus Vitae Riserva Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP (14% ABV, $32). I had very high expectations of this bottle for a few reasons. First, the bottle itself is a BAB (for the uninitiated, it stands for Big Ass Bottle – a heavy, thick glass, pleasant to hold, bottle), which always creates high expectations for me. Second, I have high respect to the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – was surprised with the quality more often than not. Third, I just tasted through the samples of a new line of wines from the same producer, Codice Citra (the line is called Ferzo), four delicious wines, more about it in a later post – obviously, all of this added up to the expectations. Only the first sip delivered nothing but disappointment.

I took a sip of the wine, all ready to say “wow”, and instead the first thought was – “heat damage”? Most prominent note on the palate was stewed fruit, which is definitely a problem for the 6/7 years old wine, clearly meant to have a long cellar life. What happened? Was the wine stored improperly? No way I can pour this to my guests, so put the cork in, pump the air out and let’s see what will happen.

Every day from there on, I would pull the cork out, pour a glass, taste, and sigh. Still, the stewed fruit in various amounts – day three seem to show some improvement only to go back on day 4. Can you see me winding up the drama? What do you expect happened on day 5?

January 4th, I’m pouring another glass, not expecting anything good, but willing to finish the “experiment”, and subconsciously still surprised that BAB didn’t deliver. The first sip extorts “wow” and the thought of “what just happened”? The core of pure, ripe, tart cherries with a touch of a cherry pit, the hallmark of good Montepulciano, is laughing at me. Firm structure, fresh tannins, balancing acidity – the transformation couldn’t have been more dramatic. I thoroughly enjoyed every last drop of that wine, still utterly amazed at how little I understand in the mystery of the wine.

The second wine, which I happened to open a day later, but played with in parallel to the Montepulciano, worked in a very similar fashion. I got the bottle of 2014 Ernesto Catena “Tikal Amorio” Malbec Mendoza Argentina (13.5% ABV, $30) as the present from Chuck Prevatte of Food, Wine, Beer, Travel blog as part of the “Secret Wine Santa” fun originated and run by Jeff Kralik, a.k.a. The Drunken Cyclist. Chuck sent me a bottle with the message that Malbec is his favorite wine, and he was hoping that I will also enjoy his selection.

Okay, so here is another gaping hole in my “I don’t discriminate against any wine” adage – Argentinian Malbec is not my thing. I will gladly jump at Cahors, but given an option, unless I perfectly know the producer and the wine, I will avoid Argentinian Malbec as a generic category (as an example Broquel, Kaiken, Achaval-Ferrer, Trapiche are all on the “good list”). Yes, I will still try the Malbec I don’t know (someone has to eat the broccoli, right?), but only if asked. If you are interested in the reason, it has something to do with the flavor profile – I had a lot of Argentinian Malbecs which lack acidity and have too much of the overripe fruit and baking spices – interestingly enough, that exact flavor profile often wins the “easy to drink” praise among wine consumers.

Anyway, the Tikal Amorio Malbec had a very attractive label and sounded good from the description – the wine was created for the love of the grape and represented a blend of Malbec grapes from 3 different vineyard sites in Mendoza. Besides, it was recommended, so as I was opening the bottle, the thought was a happy “what if…” The first sip, however, brought (I’m sure you guessed it) the “this is why I don’t like the Argentinian Malbec” sigh – flabby fruit, very little acidity, and lots of baking spices. Ooh. I will spare you the day by day description – not much changed over the three days. But on the 4th day… The first sip brought in perfectly ripe blueberries with the core of acidity – nothing flabby, perfect structure, firm, fresh “pop in your mouth” blueberries with undertones of tobacco. The wine beautifully transformed (another mystery), and similarly to the Montepulciano, was gone in no time.

Here it is, my friends, a tale of two reds – and an ode to the optimism, don’t you think? Have you been in a similar situation? What do you do when you discover the wine you don’t like at first sight? How many chances would you give it? Cheers!

Bubbles for the New Year 2019

January 9, 2019 2 comments

I pride myself with not discriminating against any type of wine – white, red, sparkling, Rosé, dessert, fortified, $2, $10, $100 – doesn’t matter.

In theory.

In reality, most of the days, I drink red. And wish that I would drink more white and bubbles. Especially bubbles.

But luckily, we have at least a few holidays in the year, where the only appropriate choice of wine [for me] is bubbles. New Year’s Eve is absolutely The One – bubbles all the way.

As with all the holidays, a little prep is involved – the word “little” is a clear exaggeration, as deciding about the wine is mission impossible around here. However, this year it was easier than usual. Shortly before the New Year day, I received a special etched bottle of Ferrari Trento, the oldest Italian traditional method sparkling wine and one of my absolute favorites (I wrote about Ferrari many times in the past), so it was an easy decision regarding the bubbles to ring the New Year in with. I also wanted to start the evening with some vintage Champagne but considering that nobody was thoughtful enough to send me the gift of Krug Vintage, I had to settle for whatever I already had in the cellar. And then there was a bottle of generic French sparkler (non-Champagne) “just in case”.

2008 Philippe Fourrier Cuvée Millésime Brut Champagne (12% ABV, $29.99 WTSO) was outstanding, just a perfect sip to start the holiday evening right. It had just the right amount of yeast and toasted bread notes on the nose, just enough to enjoy without going overboard. Apple and lemon notes on the palate, round, fresh, elegant, perfect balance – just a beautiful wine (Drinkability:  8+). It was also a steal at the price (seems that the wine is no longer available at WTSO).

The vintage Champagne disappeared in no time, it was still long before the apple would start its slide down in the Times Square, so the generic French sparkling wine was next. The weather outside was far from ideal for the New Year’s Eve (non-stop heavy rain) but it didn’t stop me from the pleasure of sabering the bottle into the darkness – worked like a charm even with the wine glass, unlike the #$%^ (insert your favorite expletive) with the saber at the French Laundry.

The NV Prince d’Estivac Blanc de Blancs Brut Vin Mousseux de Qualite (12% ABV, $13.99 WTSO, Melon de Bourgogne 50%, Ugni Blanc 25%, Chardonnay 25%) was excellent in its own right – fresh and vibrant, with rich mouthfeel, touch of a fresh apple, a bit bigger body than a typical Champagne – delicious in every drop (Drinkability: 8). It was also interesting learning for me as I’m not really familiar with “Vin Mousseux de Qualite” designation. It can be used for any French sparkling wine made with the traditional method. I’m assuming with the Vin Mousseux de Qualite designation the grapes can come from anywhere in France, where all of the Cremant wines (Cremant de Alsace, Cremant de Loire, …) require the grapes to be from the defined geographic area – if I’m wrong, please let me know in the comment.

Last but not least the time has come for the NV Ferrari Brut Trentodoc Emmys’ Special Edition (12.5% ABV, $24, 100% Chardonnay, 24+ month on the lees). Ferrari wines generally don’t disappoint, and this one was not an exception – crips, bright, bubbly (pun intended), good minerality, cut through acidity – sparkling wine worth any celebration (Drinkability: 8).

Of course, there was more than just the wine – New Year’s Eve is calling for a full table – here is a fragment of ours.

How did you celebrate the arrival of 2019? What were your bubbles of choice? Cheers!

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