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From Languedoc, With Love and Pride – Wines of Paul Mas

June 17, 2014 7 comments

DSC_0964Talking about wines of Languedoc, with the risk of being boring, let me mention a few of the basic facts about the region.  Languedoc is the biggest single wine-producing region not only in France, but also in the world. According to Wikipedia, only 13 years ago (in 2001), Languedoc was producing more wine than entire United States. Another important distinction of Languedoc is the fact that it practically has no restrictions on the type of grapes which can be grown there. While Mourvedre, Syrah, Cinsault and Grenache might be main red varietals, pretty much any of the international varietals are also permitted  and grown in Languedoc. While such a liberal approach encourages winemaking, its flip side is that a lot of wines are produced under the designation of Vin de Pays d’Oc, which technically stands for “country wines”, a step below in classification compare appellation-specific wines (AOC wines such as Bordeaux, Pomerol, Medoc, etc.).

What this all means to the wine consumer? Value. For the long time, Languedoc had being known as a hidden gem, a secret source of excellent wines which you can enjoy every day, without the need for the special occasion (I actually wrote a post about Languedoc as one of the wine world hidden secrets – you can find it here).

Let me explain why we are talking now about Languedoc wines. A short while ago, I was invited to participate in the virtual tasting of the wines of Chateau Paul Mas. Paul Mas family had been making wines in Languedoc since 1892. Jean-Claude Mas, the 4th generation winemaker, set out to expand farther the family vineyards and winemaking business overall. Starting in 2000, Domaines Paul Mas plantings increased from about 86 acres to 440 acres of vineyards, and it has another 2000 acres under the contract. Just to give you few more facts, in 2006 Jean-Claude was awarded the title of International Mediterranean Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young; in 2008, he was named one of the Top 30 Winemakers of Tomorrow by L’Express magazine in France.

Domaines Paul Mas vineyards are planted with more than 25 varieties including Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Viognier and Chardonnay. Obviously, there is a wide range of wines produced under the Domaines Paul Mas label, including some of the widely successful everyday wines such as Arrogant Frog.

The focus of our tasting was on the single vineyard wines of Chateau Paul Mas. Guillaume Borrot, the winemaker of the Chateau Paul Mas, who was presenting the wines during the virtual tasting, touted them as “affordable luxury”. And the wines were actually made to support this claim. Even the bottle itself, Burgundian in shape and very heavy, was supporting the “luxury” claim. And the fact that all three wines we tasted are available in retail for less than $25 each, definitely makes them affordable.

Well, it is not the look and weight of the wine bottle which will determine the “luxurious” designation. It is the wine itself which should support that claim – and all three wines perfectly delivered. Dense, concentrated and balanced, all well made and ready to be consumed now, or 5-10 years down the road – if you have enough patience though. Here are the more detailed notes on the 3 wines we tasted:

2012 Château Paul Mas Clos des Mures Coteaux du Languedoc AOP (14.5% ABV, 85% Syrah, 10% Grenache, 5% Mourvedre, 10 month aged in oak)

Color: Dark Garnet
Nose: Dark fruit, touch of spices, earthiness
Palate: Spicy cherries, touch of pepper, earthy profile, espresso, soft tannins, medium-long finish.
Verdict: Needs time, should develop nicely. Drinkability: 8-

2011 Château Paul Mas Grés de Montpellier Clos des Savignac Coteaux du Languedoc AOP (14.5% ABV, 50% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 2 month aged in oak barrels)

Color: Practically black
Nose: Rich, dark chocolate, ripe blueberries, spices
Palate: Loads of pepper, dark ripe fruit, blueberries, perfect balance.
Verdict: Delicious! Drinkability: 8

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2011 Château Paul Mas Pezenas Clos du Moulinas Coteaux du Languedoc AOP (14.5% ABV, 55% Syrah, 45% Grenache, 12 month aged in oak barrels, 3,500 cases produced)

Color: Very dark garnet, almost black
Nose: Loads of fruit, nice, open, touch of earthiness
Palate: Earth, hint of sweet fruit, loads of complexity, leather, tobacco, pepper, perfect balance, wow!
Verdict: My favorite wine of the tasting, Has great potential. Drinkability: 9-

There you have it – an encounter with everyday luxury wines, made with love and pride in Languedoc. Some of these wines should be available in US, so make sure to look for them.

Have you had Domaines Paul Mas wines before? Do you have any favorites? What do you think about Languedoc wines in general? Cheers!

 

Quick Trip Around The World

December 20, 2018 3 comments

Travel might be the biggest joy of human existence. Okay, if not the biggest, it is still one of the most essential ones. Travel leads to new experiences – and experiences are the moments which comprise our lives. I’m sure the joy of travel is not universal, but I’m equally sure that it actually is for the majority of the readers of this blog (hoping that there is at least someone reading it?).

Travel typically requires two things – resources and preparation. Heck, with unlimited resources you need no preparation – you can finish your work day, say “I feel like dining at Le Cinq tomorrow”, have your limo take you directly to the airport and off you go. For many of us, this would be just a scene from the movies – which doesn’t make it impossible, right?

For most of us, successful and happy travel would require a bit more effort – find the deal on the airfare, find the deal on the hotel, find out that your passport expired just a week before you need to get on the flight, then listen to the boss complaining that you are leaving without finishing all your important tasks, finally, throwing everything you need but mostly what you don’t into the suitcase 30 minutes before leaving for the airport and starting your so long anticipated travel totally exhausted. More or less, this is the picture, right?

Then every once in a while, there is something even the unlimited funds can’t buy. Time, I’m talking about. When you finish work at 6 in New York, there is no way to be in Madrid in time for dinner. This is where you need a magic trick – and I can offer you one. Actually, you don’t need any magic to travel instantly to many different places – all you need is … well, I’m sure you know it is coming … yes, all you need is wine. The wine has this capacity. Once you look at the label and see it says France, Spain or California, your imagination can easily do the rest. A well-made wine has a sense of place, so once you take a sip, you are instantly transported to the place where wine was made. And if you ever visited the winery or the region where the wine came from, I’m sure you can be instantly overwhelmed with the emotions and memories. No, it is not the same as simply been there, but I’m sure it will still do the trick.

Bodegas Godelia Compra Online

Bierzo, Spain. Source: Bodegas Godelia website

Let’s take wine and let’s travel – how about a quick trip around the world? Let’s start in Spain, in the region called Bierzo, located in the North East part of Spain, close to the Portuguese border. As with many places in the old world, the viticulture originated in the region in the times of the Roman empire. Today, Bierzo is best known for the red wines made out of the grape called Mencía, and Godello and Doña Blanca are the two primary white grapes in the region. Bierzo is known for its special microclimate, conducive for the grape growing, which can be characterized as the continental climate with ocean influence. Bierzo has today about 2,000 grape growers, 75 wineries, and produced about 9 million bottles of wine in 2017.

Two wines I want to offer to your attention come from the Bodegas Godelia, about 86 acres estate in Bierzo. The winery was created in 2009, however, their vineyards are much older, from 20 to 90 years old, depending on the grapes, and located at the altitudes of 1,600 to 2,000 feet.

2015 Bodegas Godelia Blanco Bierza DO (13.5% ABV, $17, 80% Godello, 20% Doña Blanca)
C: light golden
N: intense, pear, guava,
P: lemon, honeysuckle, crisp acidity, medium + body, delicious
V: 8-

2012 Bodegas Godelia Mencia Bierzo DO (14.5% ABV, $19, 12 months in oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: warm, inviting, medium+ intensity, a touch of barnyard, spices
P: cherries, baking spices, medium body, violets
V: 7+ on the 2nd day, needs time. Mencia is known to produce massive, chewy wines, so this wine is no exception. 6 years of age is nothing for this wine – it might start opening up after at least another 6.

Tuscany

Hills of Tuscany. Source: Barone Ricasoli website

Where should we go after Spain? How about Italy? Let’s visit Tuscany, where 2015 vintage was simply outstanding. Of course, Tuscany is best known for its Chianti wine. At the heart of the Chianti region lays a much smaller region called Chianti Classico – this is where the Chianti wines historically originated from. Inside Chianti Classico, let’s look for the winery called Barone Ricasoli – one of the very first producers in the region, taking its history since 1141. Barone Ricasoli property has a grand looking castle, where some of the stones are still original since 1141, 600 acres of vineyards and 65 acres of olive trees. While Barone Ricasoli is mostly known for the reds, they also produce a few of the white wines, a Rosato, grappa, and of course, the olive oil.

I want to offer you two of the classic Chianti wines from the Chianti Classico area (pun intended):

2015 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG (13.5% ABV, $18, 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: Garnet
N: Tar, leather, sandalwood, tart cherries
P: Tart cherries, plums, clean acidity, sage, a touch of tobacco, medium plus body, good structure.
V: 8, was excellent from the get-go, got more complexity on the second day.

2015 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (14% ABV, $23, 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: Dark garnet
N: Cherry, Sage, Rosemary, leather, medium plus intensity.
P: Supple berries, tart cherries, firm structure, young tannins, a touch of tobacco, good acidity, tannins on the finish
V: 8, great potential. Right now needs food. While perfectly drinkable now, with time will become a truly delicious sip.

Languedoc image

Languedoc. Source: Languedoc-wines.com

We need to complete our old world portion of the tour, so I think the stop in France is a must. How about a quick visit with Paul Mas in Languedoc? Languedoc is the largest wine producing region in France, located in the south, producing a tremendous range of white, sparkling, Rosé and, for the most part, red wines. Domaines Paul Mas is one of my favorite producers I have written about many times. What I love about the wines of Domaines Paul Mas is that you literally can’t go wrong with any of the wines produced at the domain – Sparkling, Rosé, white or reds. Not only the wines taste great, but they are also priced very reasonably – Paul Mas wines saved my wallet at the restaurants on multiple occasions, so they definitely deserve some respect. Here are the wines I want to bring to your attention:

2016 Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Chardonnay Saint Hilaire Vineyard Pays d’Oc (13.5% ABV, $12.99)
C: Light golden color
N: Meyer lemon aromatics, hint of white peach, Bosc pear
P: Crisp, tart lemon on the palate, ripe Granny Smith apples, clean, refreshing. Good mid-palate presence, medium finish.
V: 8-, very good.

2016 Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Pinot Noir Saint Hilaire Vineyard Pays d’Oc (13.5% ABV, $12.99)
C: Dark ruby
N: Fresh raspberries and cherries on the nose
P: Soft, supple, fresh berries, crisp, fresh, perfect acidity, excellent
V: 7+/8-

2016 Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Malbec Saint Hilaire Vineyard Pays d’Oc (13.5% ABV, $12.99, 90% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc))
C: Dark garnet
N: Fresh raspberries and blackberries in the nose, nicely inviting
P: Soft, supple, fresh berries, crisp, fresh, perfect acidity, excellent
V: 8-

How is your day going so far? Feel like traveling somewhere? How about we will take a trip to sunny California? California is a big place, so to narrow it down we are actually heading to the Santa Barbara County. Here is a perfect example of the wine being a connector and an instant transporter – as soon as I hear “Santa Barbara County”, the brain instantly serves up the memories of the first Wine Bloggers Conference I attended, WBC14, which took place in Santa Barbara County. Moreover, one of the best experiences of that trip was a visit to the small town of Solvang, which is an incredible place for any wine lover. While visiting Solvang, we tasted the wines produced by Lucas and Lewellen – thus seeing that name on the label was an instant memory trigger.

The wine I want to offer to your attention today is perfectly representative of the capabilities of the Santa Barbara County wine growing region, and at the same time is very non-typical for California. Lucas and Lewellen produce the line of wines under the name of Toccata, which are all Italian varieties and blends, all grown in California. This Toccata Classico was a perfect enigma – varietally correct Tuscan beauty, only made from start to finish in California. In a blind tasting, my guess 100% would be “Chianti!”.

2015 Lucas & Lewellen Toccata Classico Santa Barbara County (14.1% ABV, $29, 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Freisa, 5% Petit Verdot, 18 months in French Oak, 346 cases produced)
C: Garnet
N: Fresh cherries, touch a leather, medium+ intensity
P: Ripe cherries on the palate, bright, firm structure, fresh, crunchy, touch of leather, excellent complexity, nicely integrated tannins
V: 8+, an excellent rendition of the old world wine in the new world.

vista trinidad ventisquero

Trinidad Vineyard, Chile. source: Viña Ventisquero website

Hurry up or we will be late for our last destination – Chile. About 25 years ago, Chile was mostly known as a “one-trick pony”, offering bargain-priced Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Today, Chile is one of the leading wine producing countries in the world, offering a substantial range of perfectly executed wines, from Chile’s own trademark, Carménere, to Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, and many others.

Today we are visiting Viña Ventisquero, the winery which started only 20 years ago, in 1998, and now offering a diversified set of wines, coming from the different regions and made with the finest attention to detail.

Vina Ventisquero

2017 Viña Ventisquero Grey Glacier Single Block Apalta Vineyard Valle de Colchagua (14% ABV, $18, 62% Garnacha, 19% Carinena, 19% Mataro, 6 months in French oak)
C: Ruby
N: Fresh raspberries, medium plus intensity, beautiful
P: Restrained, dark fruit, medium body, minerality, clean acidity, tart raspberries
V: 8-

2014 Viña Ventisquero Grey Glacier Carménere Trinidad VIneyard Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $19, 18 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
A perfect nose of Carménere – mix black currant berries with blackcurrant leaves
Medium to full body, soft, silky, fresh blackcurrant present, anis, good acidity, good balance, very pleasant overall
8/8+, excellent wine

That concludes our trip, my friends. Wasn’t it easy to travel with wine, in the comfort of your living room? Cheers!

Top Wines of 2017 – Second Dozen

December 31, 2017 1 comment

? It’s that time again! The year is ending, and it is always fun to look back and reflect on the things which are now becoming the past. Of course, there all sorts of memories linked to the year which is about to depart, the bad, the good (hopefully none of the “ugly”, right?). It’s the good things we want to carry with us, and so this is the primary purpose of this post – well, just a reminder – it is the wine we are talking about here.

The “Top Dozen” posts are a tradition here, ever since the blog has started – here are the links for all the past “Top” lists: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. To build these top lists I usually go through my posts and label journals, as the idea is simple – the lists represent the most memorable wines I came across during the year. Some of the wines were written about, in this case I will offer you a link to the original post. Some of the wines never made it into the posts, but they are still well worthy of being on this list. Also, I can rarely contain myself to the one dozen of wines – in most of the cases, I have to split the wines into the first and second dozen and have two separate posts.

The year 2017 was very happening wine year, full of great discoveries, and thus warranting the two posts. We will start with the second dozen, and then the top dozen post will be coming out shortly. The order of the wines on the list is somewhat random, with the exception of the Top Wine. And yes, building up such a list is never easy – but you derive lots of pleasure along the way. Okay, enough of the introductions – let’s talk about the wines now.

25. 2016 Terlato Vineyards Pinot Grigio Friuli Colli Orientali DOC ($22.99) – I don’t know if “typical” Pinot Grigio exists anymore – you know, the one which resembles more water than wine – but this is not your typical Pinot Grigio. This wine had excellent aromatics and lots of depth on the palate. I also managed to pleasantly surprise some people at a dinner in a restaurant when I ordered this wine. A perfect all occasion white.

24. 2011 Quinta dos Murças Reserva Douro Valley, Portugal ($45) – when it comes to Portuguese red, my preference is at the Reserva level – this is not a random word on the label. The reservas typically offer a much higher concentration of the flavor, and this wine was not an exception – lots and lots of layers on the palate, delicious now, and can age for a long, long time.

23. 2014 Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin South Africa  ($20) – fresh grass with lots of complexity. This wine is not “in your face”, it opens up slowly in the glass (and can stay for a while in a bottle), and it offers way more than just grass and grapefruit. Classic Sancerre level of complexity, perfect on the sunny deck or by a cozy fireplace.

22. 2013 Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($35) – cassis berries and leaves combined – does it get any better? Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon are relatives, having a common parent, Cabernet Franc. In this wine, which is a blend of these two grapes, both perfectly contribute their best varietal characteristics, resulting in layered, luscious, velvety smooth wine. Most highly recommended – if you can find it.

21. 2016 Paul Mas Rosé Aurore Pays d’Oc ($8) – Best Rosé ever, eh? For sure when it comes to the QPR, as for measly $8 you get a 1L of a delicious wine, which can brighten up any day, summer or not. Simply delicious – let me leave it at that.

20. 1994 Chateau Lilian Ladouys Saint-Estéphe ($15) – This wine keeps surprising me. It is 23 years old, it doesn’t come from any of the ” x growth” chateaus, and it is simply delicious Bordeaux which still can age for longer – it shows fresh and delicious, literally no sign of tertiary aromas yet. Outstanding.

19. 2016 Troon Riesling Whole Grape Ferment, Applegate Valley, Oregon ($20) – Craig Camp keeps on making unique and different wines. His whole line of wines at Troon Vineyards in Oregon deserves another post, but for now, I want to single out this Riesling which I tried at wine bloggers conference this year. This is what technically people call an “orange” wine, considering the color the white wine would obtain if left in contact with the skin for an extended period of time. “Whole Grape Ferment” in the name of the wine signifies exactly that – and the wine is totally unique. It is a bit closer to sherry than to the regular wine, but at the same time, it still has the bright fruit and perfect acidity. I would happily pair this wine with the steak (I didn’t have the pleasure), as I’m sure it will be delicious. And it will beat most of the wines next to cheese. Find it, let’s talk later.

18. 2007 Salabka Le Diamant Praha Czech Republic (€25) – talk about surprises. Very small vineyard and winery, right in Prague – and a world-class sparkling wine, méthode classique? Yes! I never wrote a post about that visit (which I’m not happy about), but the wine was a pure standout. Vanilla, toasted bread, apples, generous, voluptuous, fresh, and crispy. Outstanding. No chances of finding this wine in the US, but if Prague, which is a beautiful city, is part of the travel destination, don’t miss unique experience at Salabka vineyards and winery.

17. 2015 The Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc, Colorado ($21) – my Colorado wine experience was not going great – and then I found this wine, and everything was right with the world. Blackcurrant all the way, excellent acidity, clean, lip-smacking – just an excellent example of the Cabernet Franc capabilities and good winemaking. And that label…

16. 2016 Bodega Javier Sanz V Malcorta Rueda D.O. ($26) – discovered during the Rueda wines seminar at Spain’s Great Match event this year. I couldn’t stop smelling this wine while others already finished drinking it. It had great complexity, the herbs, the flowers, the fruit and the spices (ahh, nutmeg) – this was a type of wine I can smell literally forever. Clean and delicious on the palate too – outstanding.

15. 2011 Turley The Label Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($50)  – this is not the first time Turley The Label makes the top list. I had a few bottles of 2011  throughout the years, and it continues to evolve, literally getting better and better. This year, the wine was a textbook Cabernet Sauvignon – cassis, mint, eucalyptus – in a perfect, velvety envelope. Delicious and perfectly on par with the very best wines Turley produces.

14. 2014 Shiloh Mosaic Israel ($55) – was literally blown away by the first sip. Israeli wines are unquestionably world class – but this wine was also Mevushal, which means it was pasteurized one way or the other. Typically, you would expect pasteurization to affect the flavor one way or the other, but this was not the case here. Spectacular Bordeaux blend – this is when after the first sip you say “mmmm!” and you don’t put down the glass until it is empty. Then quickly ask for a refill. Superb is the word.

13. 2012 Sandhi Chardonnay Santa Barbara County ($35) – let me be brief – this is the wine to be experienced. I discovered Sandhi wines this year, and while I was initially skeptical because of the whole IPOB juggernaut (I believe the balance can be found equally in wine at 11% and at 17% ABV), this wine was real – sublime interplay of Chardonnay flavors, with vanilla, apple and a touch of butter been in a perfect harmony. Delicious – definitely look for it.

I don’t try to “engineer” my lists in any way (this is not a paid publication, and I have zero vested interest in promoting any of the wines above) – but just take a look at the happenstance diversity here. The wines represent 9 different countries (Italy, Spain, France, USA, South Africa, Czech Republic, Chile, Israel, Portugal), 13 different regions, a bunch of different grapes and the price range from $8 to $55. Can’t wait to see how the top dozen will fare – and that list is coming up soon. Stay tuned…

Three Beautiful Rosé To Fit Any Budget

July 13, 2017 6 comments

Can I give you a small piece of wine advice? I promise it will be short and simple. Here it goes: if you are looking for an excellent value wine, look for the wines of Domaines Paul Mas from France. That’s it. End of the advice. And I can pretty much finish the post right here as this was my main point for today.

Paul Mas Rose

I discovered the wines of Paul Mas 4-5 years ago, and ever since, they were my perennial favorites. Red, White, Rosé, Sparkling – I tried many of the wines (here are a few links – reds, sparkling) and they always delivered – at a great QPR, whether you are buying them at a store or at a restaurant. “Affordable luxury” is a perfect definition for Paul Mas wines, as these wines deliver a great value – without the need to rob the bank or borrow from 401k.

The story of Domaines Paul Mas started in 1892 in the small town of Pézenas in Languedoc (Pézenas’s fame is usually associated with the famous French playwright Molière). The modern part of the history of Domaines Paul Mas, however, is associated with Jean-Claude Mas, who fell in love with winemaking at the age of 3 (yep, and if you want the whole story, you can read it here). Jean-Claude Mas is often credited as a pioneer who is working hard to change the winemaking in Languedoc from the focus on the quantity to the focus on the quality, to bring Languedoc to the old glory of 2000 years of winemaking. 

The wines I want to talk about today are happened to be all … Rosé. I don’t know if this is an effect of summer, but it seems that the pages of this blog are lately nicely colored in pink. Nevertheless, the wines below are well worthy of your attention and deliver a great value which is really hard to beat. Here we go:

 

2016 Paul Mas Rosé Aurore Pays d’Oc (13% ABV, $8, 1L, 30% Cinsault, 20% Syrah, 50% Grenache Noir)
C: beautiful pale pink, light salmon
N: touch of fresh strawberries, gentle, medium intensity.
P: strawberries all the way, perfect balance, nice, refreshing, clean.
V: 8, outstanding, just perfect.

2016 Arrogant Frog Rosé Lily Pad Pink Pays d’Oc (13% ABV, $8, 100% Syrah)
C: bright pink, intense but without getting into reddish hues
N: strawberries, medium intensity.
P: strawberries with touch of lime, good acidity, good balance.
V: 7+, perfect everyday Rosé

NV Coté Mas Rosé Brut Crémant de Limoux (12% ABV, $15, 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc, 10% Pinot Noir)
C: beautiful bright pink
N: toasted bread notes, crisp, fresh
P: fresh, clean, lemon, tart strawberries
V: 8, outstanding Rosé sparkling, will compete with any Champagne

Have you had any of these wines? Are they a great value or what? Let me know! Cheers!

Champagne! Champagne! Conversation with A.J. Ojeda-Pons of The Lambs Club

February 7, 2017 4 comments

While some of us insist that Champagne is an everyday wine, majority treat it as a “special occasion” only. Of course, every day with the name ending in “day” is worthy of a special celebration, but jokes aside, most of us need a good reason to pop the cork on that tickling, gently foaming, playful and refreshing nectar.

Lucky for all “special occasion” folks, one such special occasion is almost upon us. What can accentuate “love and romance” better than a glass of bubbly? Yes, bring the Champagne as Valentine’s Day is only a week away!

A.J. Ojeda-Pons The Lambs Club SommTo help you celebrate and maybe even answer a question or two which I’m sure you always had, I [virtually] sat down together with A.J. Ojeda-Pons, sommelier at The Lambs Club, one of the popular New York restaurants by the Food Network’s best-dressed star and Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian. I need to mention that in addition to being a WSET Advanced Sommelier, A.J. knows a thing or two about style – in 2014, he was the official winner of the U.S. Best Dressed Somm contest by Penfolds and GQ Magazine. And the Champagne? Just take a look at the A.J.’s LinkedIn profile, which says “Drink Champagne Every Day”!

Here is what transpired in our conversation:

[TaV]: Champagne is perfectly appropriate for any celebration, however, it is most often associated with Valentine’s Day – well, after the New Year, of course. When celebrating Valentine’s Day, would you recommend Champagne as the one and only choice of dinner wine, or would you use it just as an opener and then continue with whites and reds?

[A.J.]: Ah! My motto is “Drink Champagne Every Day,” so I often have a whole meal drinking just Champagne. Besides, drinking champagne before a meal is the most civilized thing you could do.

I know that it may be hard for some people to drink bubbles throughout a meal, but if you tailor your menu choices with the champagne that you are drinking, you can have an amazing experience (Think Crudos, Oysters, Fish or Seafood Tartare, Veal, Rabbit or Fish and avoiding red sauces or rich, creamy preparations). Otherwise, if you can’t commit, plan to drink the Champagne for at least half of the dinner and then switch for your main courses. In regards to desserts, champagne could sometimes be a total clash (due to its crispness and acidity) but a nice sorbet or fruit-based dessert will do.

[TaV]: To continue the previous question, just in case you suggested to stay with Champagne all the way, can you make some recommendations for different Champagne or Sparkling wines to complement a three course meal, including dessert? I’m talking not so much about particular producer names, but more about the styles and types of the sparkling wines.

[A.J.]: I like to drink a champagne that has more complexity throughout a full meal, so in that case I would go straight to a vintage champagne, even though it is always more expensive. You will benefit from the extended period of aging, it will have more nuanced layers and complex flavors, and will make it easy to pair with different flavors in various dishes.

[TaV]: Now, let’s actually talk about names. Splitting into three price categories – under $20, $20 to $60 and my favorite, “the sky is the limit”, what are the special Champagne and sparkling wines would you recommend to our readers in each price category?

[A.J.]: For the under $20 category, you won’t find any champagne in the market, unless it is a half bottle, but for that price point you are better off selecting other sparkling wines that are made in the méthode Champenoise. There are not a lot out there, if you can find them, because generally they are not exported or their production is very limited.

For example, from Italy you could try to get Franciacorta from the Lombardy region, from producers like Berlucchi, Il Mosnel or Mirabella. From the Veneto, you could try Il Buglioni spumante, and don’t forget that the Dolomites produce great sparkling, like Castel Noarna and Endrizzi. In Spain you can find great Cava from producers like Gramona, Mestres and Naveran.

If you are really in love with French sparkling, Crémant de [Bourgogne] (Veuve Ambal, Clotilde Davenne), [Jura] (Domaine de la Renardière, Rolet Père & Fils) [Alsace] (Albert Mann, Pierre Sparr or [Limoux] (Tocques et Clochers, Paul Mas) is your answer.

In the $20-60 sweet spot, you’re going to have the majority of Champagne options, from producers like Benoit Lahaye, Laurent Perrier, Dhondt-Grellet, Andre Clouet, Ayala, Billecart-Salmon, Aubry, Deutz, Henriot… open the floodgates!

Sky is the limit… yes, always! Find the Tête de Cuvées from Billecart-Salmon (Le Clos Saint-Hilaire), Pol Roger (Sir Winston Churchill), Charles Heidsieck (Blanc de Millenaires), Krug (Clos de Mesnil) and of course, Moët & Chandon (Cuvée Dom Pérignon).

[TaV]: What do you think of Grower’s Champagne? It is often hard to find, and if you can find it, it usually comes with very little information – is Grower’s Champagne worth seeking?

[A.J.]: Grower Champagne is by far my favorite type of champagne. Yes, they are hard to find at some stores but you can actually purchase quite a few online, if your state allows. Think about it, they ?own the land, they farm it, quite often respecting nature to the T, they produce and sell their own champagne, they don’t sell the fruit to big houses or mass producers. I stock on these a lot.

There are many styles to look forward to and many small producers that just are thrilled to share their farmer love in the language of a great bottle of champagne.

The Lambs Club Mezz Bar NYC

The Club Mezz at The Lambs Club

[TaV]: Over the past few years I had a number of delicious encounters with so-called Pét Nat sparkling wines – what do you think of them? Is this a fad, or will we see more of them? Do you offer Pét Nat at your restaurant?

[A.J.]: These are fun and can be quirky, but really excellent options to explore. I don’t think they are a fad, but you will see them more often in natural wine bars. They’re versatile with food, I must say.

We carry a couple at The Lambs Club and we offer on-and-off a choice by the glass depending on the season. I like them a lot. They are approachable, easy drinking and they also have a variety of styles from different countries. My favorite from California: Birichino, New York State: Channing Daughters, and from France: Chahut et Prodigues and Taille aux Loups!

[TaV]: In your opinion, what is the ideal vessel to serve the Champagne in? Is it the ever so popular flute, or should we rather serve and drink Champagne from the standard white wine glasses?

[A.J.]: Avoid flutes like the Black Plague. They are indeed obsolete, although they are alright for Prosecco. A regular white wine glass will be much better and, in fact, many crystal/glass makers have completely changed the shape of flutes to more white wine glass-shaped. You will be able to experience a lot more of the aromas of the champagne. Great champagne deserves a great glass. I prefer larger Burgundy or Bordeaux glasses for Vintage champagne.

[TaV]: What are your most favorite Champagne producers, if you have any?

[A.J.]: I have so many that I will need an extra page (back to my motto and hashtag, #DrinkChampagneEveryDay) but, here’s a few: Dhondt-Grellet, Billecart-Salmon, Agrapart, Savart, Tarlant, Robert Moncuit, Delamotte, Krug, Guillaume Sergent, Pierre Moncuit, Besserat de Bellefon…

[TaV]: Can you share your most mesmerizing Champagne experience, or most memorable Champagne bottle you ever had?

[A.J.]: It was a Heidsieck Monopole 1945. I was working a collector’s dinner and they had brought so many incredibly old vintage champagnes, but this one was my eye opener. All I could think about was ‘drinking this back then when the war finally ended.’ Seriously.

[TaV]: Last question – do you have a favorite Champagne quote? You know, like the famous [supposedly] Napoleon’s quote “Champagne! In victory one deserves it, in defeat one needs it” – do you have one (or more) which you like the most?

[A.J.]: Yes!!! Always a current quote from the poet Paul Claudel: “In the little moment that remains to us between the crisis and the catastrophe, we may as well drink a glass of champagne.”

There you have it, my friends. Hope you will find our conversation interesting, but most importantly – you don’t have to wait for the Valentine’s Day to get some fizz on. Pop that cork already, will you? Cheers!

Samples Galore – Holiday Edition

December 28, 2016 3 comments

Côté Mas Chardonnay Blanc de BlancsOver the last few months, I had an opportunity to try a number of wines. What I didn’t do in timely fashion, however, is to share the tasting notes with you – and this needs to be corrected, which I’m doing with this post.

While I call this post a “holiday edition”, this is strictly due to the fact that this post is coming out during the most festive time of the year. It might be too late to use any of these wines for the gift giving, but you know what – these wines will be perfect for any day, whether it is cold or warm outside, and whether you need a gift or just want to reward yourself (yep, you always deserve an award for just being you).

Let’s start with the sparkling wine – I have one to bring to your attention today. This wine comes from the master of “affordable luxury” Paul Mas (I wrote about his wines a few times in the past – you can find those posts here). This Blanc de Blancs from Languedoc is made out of Chardonnay using the traditional method, and it perfectly on par with Paul Mas sparklers I tasted before:

NV Côté Mas Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs Méthode Traditionelle Vin de France (12% ABV, $15.99, 100% Chardonnay)
N: Pleasant nose with touch of yeast and fresh apples
P: Restrained palate, good acidity, clean, touch Of yeast, hint of Granny Smith apples.
V: 7+

Let’s continue with a few of the white wines. First, one of my perennial favorites – Hanna Sauvignon Blanc. I tasted prior vintages of Hanna Sauvignon Blanc, and this is one of my most favorite styles of California Sauvignon Blanc – grassy, fresh and clean:

2015 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Sonoma County (13.2% ABV, $20)
C: straw pale
N: intense, fresh-cut grass, touch of lemon, fresh meadows, you can smell this wine forever.
P: nicely restrained, same grassy notes, touch of black currant (distant hint), perfect balance, refreshing
V: 8+

The next white wine comes from the very creative producer in Oregon – Left Coast Cellars, which also not a stranger to this blog – I had a pleasure of speaking (virtually) with Luke McCollom, winemaker for Left Coast Cellars and taste some of the previous vintages of their wines (here are the links to the two-part interview  – Part 1 and Part 2). You can’t go wrong with Oregon Pinot Gris – today this is literally a “classic”:

2015 Left Coast Cellars The Orchards Pinot Gris Willamette Valley (13.7% ABV, $18)
C: Straw pale color
Touch of honeysuckle on the nose once warmed up, White stone fruit initially
Closed up while cold, white ripe fruit once warmed up, good balance, medium body, medium-long finish.
V: 7+

Last but not least is Les Dauphins Côté du Rhône. Rhone whites are fun wines, often very dry in the early years, and “ripening up” as they age. This was unquestionably a young wine which most likely would improve with age:

2013 Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Réserve Blanc (12.5% ABV, $11, 65% Grenache, 15% Marsanne, 10% Clairette, 10% Viognier)
C: Light golden
N: touch of honey, white stone fruit
P: white stone fruit, herbs, good acidity, quite astringent
V: 7+, will hold well with and without food

Now, time for the reds. The reds today represent a diverse group, from Australia to Italy to the USA. At the beginning of November, I participated in the #winechat with Michael Twelftree, winemaker for Tow Hands Wines out of Australia. We had an opportunity to taste and discuss three wines from Two Hands – two classic Shiraz wines from Barossa and McLaren Vale regions, and a Cabernet Sauvignon:

Two Hands Wines2014 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz Barossa Valley (13.5% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: espresso, roasted meat, licorice, blackberries
P: spice, plums, big concentration, touch of salinity, smooth texture, velvety and dusty
V: 8-, good rendition of Shiraz. The wine completely reversed on the Day 2, closed up.

2014 Two Hands Angel’s Share Shiraz McLaren Vale ($14.5% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: intense, powdery, eucalyptus, mocca, licorice, tobacco
P: peppery finish, round, restrained, excellent acidity, bright and crispy red fruit
V: 7+, probably needs time

2015 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon Mclaren Vale (13.8% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: touch of cassis, closed
P: smooth, round, nice cassis backbone, mint, restrained
V: 7/7+, too young, needs time to rest and evolve

Two Italian wines were probably my favorite in this group – Cecchi Chianti and Alta Mora from Sicily:

2014 Cecchi Chianti Classico DOCG (13% ABV, $22, 90% Sangiovese, 10% other grapes)
C: Garnet
N: dark red fruit, dark chocolate, touch of smoke, roasted notes
P: fresh, vibrant, good acidity, touch of pepper, hint of tobacco, crashed raspberries, firm structure
V 8-/8, very enjoyable from get go, will evolve

2014 Cusumano Alta Mora Etna Rosso DOC (14% ABV, $24, 100% Nerello Mascalese)
C: dark garnet
N: playful, open, cherries, mocca,
P: bright, mouthwatering acidity, tart cherries without too much astringency, pronounced minerality, medium body, dry finish
V: 8-

And to finish off, here are two classic grapes – Merlot and Pinot Noir:

2014 Markham Merlot Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $26, 86% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Sirah)
C: garnet
N: touch of cassis, mint, alcohol presence is noticeable, dark chocolate
P: round, soft, clean acidity, touch of cassis, underripe raspberries, alcohol and tannins show a bit on their own, peppery finish
V: 7/7+, needs more time? second day definitely showed to wine as more coherent (7+), but it would benefit from more time

2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvée Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.5% ABV, $24)
C: Dark garnet
N: Mocca, sage, roasted notes, touch of mushrooms, savory undertones
P: Fresh raspberries, mint, herbs, touch of roasted meat, fresh acidity, mouthwatering finish, medium body, easy to drink
V: 8-, easy to drink, pleasant

We are done here. Have you had any of these wines? What do you think of them? Cheers!

Sparkle Your Holidays!

December 23, 2015 7 comments

The holidays are still upon us, and nobody would argue that bubbles in your glass make you feel excited and festive, and that is exactly what we want for these special days.

Bubbles – let’s properly call them “sparkling wines”, so nobody would think that we are talking about condiments for your bath time – come today absolutely from everywhere. Forget the times when Champagne was one and only, and Cava and Prosecco were known only to a few professionals. Now literally each and every winery offers at least one sparkling wine, even if it is produced in a few hundred cases for the tasting room only.

Such an abundance is great for the oenophiles, as you always have something new to try. Today I want to bring to your attention few of the sparklers I tried recently, which would go great with whatever holiday festivities you are planning. As an extra bonus, these sparkling wines can also serve as a perfect illustration to diversity of places and production methods.

Sparkling wines

Let’s start from Champagne’s homeland, France – however, this wine is not produced using Méthode Champenoise. NV Coté Mas St. Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale (7.5% ABV, $15.99, 100% Mauzac) is produced using so called Méthode Ancestrale, which is very close to traditional method and most definitely precedes it. In case of Méthode Ancestrale, first fermentation is stopped before all sugar is converted into alcohol, and then secondary fermentation takes place in bottle with additional only of the yeast (no sugar is added). Unlike Champagne, Méthode Ancestrale sparkling wines undergo very short bottle ageing (3 month versus minimal 12 month and typical 2-3 years for Champagne). This Paul Mas’ sparkler had light golden color, showing yeast with touch of apple, good intensity, promise of a classic sparkling wine on the nose, and then touch of honey and honeysuckle, hint of ripe peach on the palate. As one would expect from only 7.5% ABV, it was quite sweet (similar to spatlese level of Riesling), but with the help of fine mousse, perceived very light and refreshing. I would serve it at the end of a good meal with a sharp cheese, they should go together very well. Drinkability: 7+

From south of France, it is short trip east to Italy, where outstanding sparkling wines are crafted in the northern region called Trento. Here the wines made using “metodo calsssico“, which an Italian name for Méthode Champenoise/Méthode Traditionelle. The requirements for metodo classico wines are even stricter than those for Champagne, with minimal bottle age starting from 15 month to the 10 years for the Riserva. And who can represent Trento DOC better than Ferrari – pioneer in both Chardonnay plantings and classic wine production in the region (Ferrari winery started in 1902). NV Ferrari Brut Metodo Classico Trentodoc (12.5% DOC, $25, 100% Chardonnay) had delicious nose of yeast and fresh apples, and clean acidity on the palate, with lemon and green apple. Classic, classic classic – clean, crisp and refreshing. Drinkability: 7+

Conversation about Sparkling wines would be incomplete without mentioning Cava – Spanish wine produced using classic Méthode Champenoise. Production of Cava is every bit as laborious as classic Champagne, with main differences been slightly shorter minimum bottle ageing requirements (9 month) and typical use of Spanish indigenous grape varietals. Anna Codorniu is one of the best representations of Cava and Spanish winemaking overall, producing wine since 1551 and pioneering Cava production in 1872. I wrote about NV Anna de Codorniu Brut Rosé Penedes DO (12% ABV, $14.99, 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) a few month ago – the wine is delicious, fresh, with fine mousse and pleasant body weight – it will complement any of your holiday festivities perfectly well. Drinkability: 8-

Now, I have two more interesting sparklers for you to consider, both coming from the USA. However, the place is rather unexpected – Finger Lakes region in New York. First one is made using the classic Méthode Champenoise2006 Glenora Brut Métode Champenoise Sparkling Wine Finger Lakes (12% ABV, $29.99, 52% Chardonnay, 48% Pinot Noir). Wine had light yellow color, fizz of light intensity. Classic nose – yeast, fresh bread, overall delicate. On the palate, it showed Granny Smith apples, touch of lemon, good acidity, fresh, clean. Overall, it was a good rendition of classic sparkling wine, however, to be consumed in one single day, as it lost all fizz by the second day. I can’t help to mention that at $29.99, QPR is not great. Drinkability: 7+.

To round off, while our last wine is also produced in Finger lakes, it is made using one more significant sparkling wine production technique – Transfer method, where after second fermentation in the bottle (6 month minimum), the wine is transferred to the pressurized tank, thus greatly reducing cost and labor which go into production of Méthode Champenoise wines. Italian Prosecco is made in somewhat similar way (sans the second fermentation in the bottle), and this Finger Lakes wine was modeled exactly after the Prosecco. 2013 Damiani Bollicini Bottle Fermented Sparkling Wine Finger Lakes (12.4% ABV, $15.99, 47% Cayuga, 35% Chardonnay + Pinot Noir, 16% Chardonnay, 2% Pinot Meunier) had straw pale color, touch of tropical fruit on the nose, complemented by a hint of gunflint. Nice creaminess on the palate, delicate fizz, clean, refreshing, crisp. Excellent overall, pleasure to drink, and would complements lots of different foods. Drinkability: 7+

That’s all I have for you for today. I wish you sparkling holidays, whatever bubbles tickle your fancy. Cheers!

Daily Glass: Summer Perfect

June 7, 2015 9 comments

Is there a such thing as “summer wines”? When I think about this subject, I’m always torn. I don’t have any problems drinking Provençal Rosé or crisp light white wine in the winter, and I would never refuse a glass of heavy and hedonistic California Cabernet in the summer. But is it only in my mind that I’m so open-minded (hmmm, was that a pun, and was that intended?) – in reality, I would usually gravitate towards reds in the winter, and Rosé and white wines as the temperatures starts rising. After all, there might some merit to the summer wines concept. Anyway, let’s proceed.

Today I want to bring to your attention a summer-perfect collection of White and Rosé wines – they were all samples I got recently (some are even not so recently), but most importantly, they will perfectly brighten up your summer day.

Let’s start with the two of the excellent Rosé wines from France – Domaines Paul Mas. Last year, I was lucky to taste through the Paul Mas portfolio of red wines, and after tasting Rosé wines this year, I can only say that it is not for nothing Paul Mas is considered a specialist in “Affordable Luxury”.  The first wine was 2014 Côté Mas Rosé Aurore Sud De France Pays d’Oc IGP (13% ABV, 30% Cinsault, 20% Syrah, 50% Grenache, $12.99 SRP, 1L bottle) beautiful concentrated pink color. Fresh strawberries, lemon zest and limestone on the nose, fresh strawberries and lemon zest on the palate, vibrant acidity, very balanced, medium finish – a perfectly refreshing wine for the hot summer day. This wine creates a feeling of a calm and relaxation, it is like a lazy summer day (Saturday!) distilled in the glass. (Drinkability: 8-/8) I have to add that I love the festive label, and of course the wine has an amazing QPR at $12.99/1L bottle.

The second wine was even more interesting – NV Paul Mas Cote Mas Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($18.99 SRP, 12% ABV, 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin, 10% Pinot Noir). This sparkling wine comes form the cradle of the sparkling wines winemaking – St. Hilaire, which claims to start production of sparkling wines in 1531. Well, this is not a subject of this post – the wine itself was outstanding though. Beautiful salmon pink color, touch of yeast and toasty bread on the nose. Perfectly present toasty bread on the palate, clean acidity, light creaminess. Right from the fridge shows very astringent. As the wine breathes and warms up in the glass, it shows more minerality while staying very dry. Drinkability: 8-

From France, let’s move two Italy – here I have two summer wines from the Banfi selection. First, NV Maschio Prosecco Brut Treviso DOC (SRP $13, 11% ABV, 100% Glera)- nice, clean nose of white peach. Palate restrained and quite dry, with touch of peach, light creaminess, very refreshing overall. The wine complemented well spicy food as well as chocolate dessert. Drinkability: 7+

Next wine – 2013 Fontana Candida Terre dei Grifi Frascati DOC (SRP $13, 13% ABV, 50% Malvasia Bianca di Candia, 30% Trebbiano Toscano, 10% Greco, 10% Malvasia del Lazio) – on the nose, touch of candied fruit, white flowers, touch of lemon, overall very pleasant. On the palate, lemon, candied lemon peel, touch of tropical fruit, good acidity, medium-long finish. Drinkability: 7

Continuing our European tour, we are now arriving to Spain. First up – delicious sparkling wine – NV Anna de Codorniu Brut Rosé Penedes DO (SRP $14.99, 12% ABV, 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay). This Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine produced by the same method as Champagne, has very interesting story behind it. Anna was a name of the heiress of the Codorniu winemaking family which started making wines in 1551. In 1659 Anna married winemaker Miguel Raventós, and their direct descendant José Raventós was the first to commercially produce Cava in 1872 using méthode traditionelle. The wine itself was excellent – fresh, slightly yeasty nose, fine mousse, firm on the palate with crisp acidity and touch of strawberries. This wine would make a perfect sip any time, summer day or not. Drinkability: 8-

Next wine is another Spanish classic – 2014 CVNE Monopole Rioja (SRP $14.99, 12.5% ABV, 100% Viura). Monopole was the oldest white wine from Rioja, starting from 1915. The wine has dry and pleasant nose, with a hint of white fruit. On the palate – touch of the white stone fruit, lemon, and crisp and bright acidity. This wine needs time to fully develop in the bottle, so if you have some space in the cellar, throw a few bottles in and forget it for the next 5 years or even longer. Drinkability: 7+

Another wine from CVNE, which was a first time experience for me – 2014 CVNE Viña Real Rosado Rioja (SRP $13.99, 12.5% ABV, 85% Viura, 15% Tempranillo). The wine was perfectly Provençal in style – hint of strawberries on the nose, dry, crisp and restrained on the palate, steely acidity combined with firm structure, light but noticeably present wine. The wine would perfectly fit any hot summer day (and not so hot too). Drinkability: 7+/8-

Old York Cellars Pinot GrisI have one last wine to present to you. This time, we are crossing Atlantic ocean and arriving at New Jersey. Yes, New Jersey makes wines, and I wrote about them before. Today I’m bringing to your attention an excellent summer wine from the same winery – 2013 Old York Cellars Pinot Gris American Table wine, New Jersey (SRP $18, 12% ABV) – clean and crisp nose, touch of Chablis-like minerality. On the palate – restrained white fruit, crisp acidity, touch of minerality. Overall very refreshing. Drinkability: 7+/8-

And we are done here. Enjoy the summer with the glass in your hand. Cheers!

 

Saju Bistro – Great New York Midtown Dining Without Breaking the Bank

October 26, 2014 2 comments

Dining in New York is tricky. Well, if you are on an unlimited expense account, it is pretty straightforward – New York has no shortage of amazing chefs, so your only hurdle might be scoring the reservation, and then you are almost guaranteed an amazing experience. It is a bit more complicated if you don’t have an access to that wonderful “no holds barred” source. In such a case, you have to do your homework, and still you are taking chances.

Going to the concert at the Town Hall in Midtown Manhattan, I did my homework and came up with the French restaurant called Saju Bistro Bar and Restaurant – 3.5 stars on Yelp, French cuisine, two dollar signs. Yes, 3.5 stars is not that much, but being in the Theater district, your options are quite limited, so all together it sounded like a place worth trying.

The place did feel like a French bistro from the moment we walked in. By the entrance, a sitting area open to the street – you can feel as you are in Paris, just sitting down with a cup of coffee, and watching the people and the street. If you do want to be in the more enclosed area, walk to the back and get the table surrounded by the French bistro-type paintings – the atmosphere is definitely there.

We got situated at our table and got the menus. Of course I had to start from the wine list, which was somewhat small. Wine list’s focus was on France and California, with the number of wines priced quite reasonably. Thanks to my encounter with Paul Mas wines earlier this year (here is the post), when I saw a 2011 Paul Mas Carignan Vieilles Vignes from Languedoc, this was a very easy decision (the fact that the wine was priced at $34 was also very helpful). The wine had a fresh red fruit on the nose, and medium body with a touch of warm spice, overall it worked quite well throughout the dinner.

The menu at Saju Bistro has a reasonable size – it doesn’t overwhelm and makes your dinner experience nice and easy. We decided to start with a few appetizers which can be shared among 4 of us.

Grilled Vegetables Aïoli (Zucchini, Yellow Squash, Carrot, asparagus, Eggplant, potato, Broiled Egg, home made Aïoli)  – if you ever tried to grill vegetables, I’m sure you know that behind the seeming simplicity, grilled vegetables are super-easy to ruin. This dish was done perfectly, with the eye-happy grill marks and prefect crunch. Home made Aïoli was a delicious complement to all the vegetables.

Assiette de Charcuterie (Saucisson sec, procuitto, country pate, breseola, garlic sausage, cornichons) – I was a bit concerned that this dish would be enough to share for 4 people in a French restaurant, but our waitress, Alissa, assured us that it will be perfectly shareable – and it was. Very tasty selection, very generous amount, just an excellent dish all around.

Paté de campagne (Country paté, célery remoulade, cornichons, toasted bread) – you can’t go wrong with the Country paté dish in a french restaurant – you just have to make sure you save some bread in the bread basket, which we did. This was another excellent appetizer, again  – perfectly shareable.

For the main course, we wanted to try all the different things, so here is what we got:

Lapin des Garrigues au Romarin (braised boneless rabbit, sautéed gnocchi, French sweet peas, white wine reduction with fresh rosemary) – this was so homey, an outstanding comfort dish, with the perfectly melding flavors.

Pumpkin Ravioli (two-colored pasta, pumpkin filling, truffle sauce) – seasonally appropriate, this was quite tasty, but the filling was a bit too sweet to my taste – I would take it more to the savory direction. Still, I would say it was a successful dish.

Filet Mignon au poivre (French fries, haricots vert, pepper sauce) – when it comes to the steak, proper execution is a key – and this steak was done perfectly – succulent cut of meat, delicious pepper sauce – excellent dish.

Grillade de la Mer (Grilled Shrimp, Octopus, Clams, Mussels, Calamari, Sea Bass, served with sautéed Pommes Rissolées. Grilled Asparagus and Persillade) – in a restaurant, I’m generally a seafood guy, probably 9 times out of 10. There were two dishes which I was considering – Bouillabaisse or Grilled seafood. Alissa recommended to go with the grilled seafood – and boy, was that a great advice. Perfectly cooked calamari, shrimp, mussels  – absolutely delicious.

You can’t leave French restaurant without having the dessert, right? Of course not, that would be a crime! We chose two desserts to finish our evening:

Profiterole (Puff Pastry, Vanilla Ice Cream, Hot Belgian Chocolate) – profiteroles is one of my very favorite desserts, and these were delicious!

Lemon Panna Cotta (Chilled Eggless Lemon Custard and Red Berries Coulis) – perfectly refreshing, very light, great flavor and very generous amount of berries. An excellent dessert!

Before we part here, I want to acknowledge our waitress Alissa one more time – she took a great care of us – the food was coming timely, the wine was always in the glass just at the right amount – she did really an excellent job – thank you Alissa!

There you have it, my friends – a great restaurant experience in midtown Manhattan. If you see any of the Broadway musicals in your future, then you might want to check out Saju Bistro. Cheers!
Saju Bistro Bar and Restaurant
120 W 44th Street
New York, NY, 10036
Phone: 212-997-7258
http://www.sajubistro.com
Saju Bistro on Urbanspoon

Month in Wines – May 2014

June 9, 2014 10 comments

There was no shortage of the good and even great wines in May,  including some potential candidates for the Top Dozen list. The spread of wines origin-wise was mostly even, from New Zealand to Italy to Spain, France and California. As usual, the list includes only the wines rated 8- or higher, with some lower rated wines included on the exception basis. Let’s take a look.

2011 Sueño Tempranillo Ribera Del Jucar DO, Spain (14% ABV, $19,99) – a classic, round Tempranillo – eucalyptus, cigar box, perfect balance. 8-

2012 Centanni Pecorino Offida DOCG, Italy (14.5% ABV) – a supple white, with lots of big flavors, very concentrated, but still refreshing. Quite unique and different. 8-

2012 Centanni Rosso Di Forca Rosso Piceno DOP, Italy (13.5% ABV) – One of the best Pop-and-Pour wines I ever had. From the moment the glass “cork” was pulled off, a luscious, luxurious, round and delicious wine, one sip after another. It was gone in no time… 9-

2010 Rio Maggio Rosso Piceno DOC (13.5% ABV) – Another excellent Rosso Piceno wine, but very different from the previous one – dark restrained fruit, a touch of cherry pit, excellent acidity. 8-

2012 Borell-Diehl Pinot Noir Estate, Germany probably the first German Pinot Noir I liked. While not super-sophisticated, it was simple enough and food food friendly. 7+

2011 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, California  – Classic California Pinot, dark chocolate, pencil shavings, smoke, excellent balance. 8

2009 Maysara Pinot Noir, McMinniville AVA, Oregon – herbal profile on the nose, dark fruit, earthiness, balancing acidity. I can drink that every day. 8-

2012 Château Paul Mas Coteaux du Languedoc AOP (14,5% ABV, Syrah 85%, Grenache 10%, Mourvedre 5%) – dark fruit, earthiness, spicy cherries, pepper, espresso – lots of things going. Need time. 8-

2011 Château Paul Mas Clos de Savignac Grés de Montpellier (14.5% ABV, Mourvedre 50%, Syrah 30%, Grenache 20%) – Dark chocolate, loads of pepper, blueberries, perfectly balanced. 8

2012 Château Paul Mas Clos du Moulinas Pezenas Grand Terroir du Languedoc (14.5% ABV, 55% Syrah, 45% Grenache) – extremely complex, leather, tobacco, pepper, perfect balance, simply a wow. 9-

2012 Swedish Hill Reserve Chardonnay Finger lakes, New York (13% ABV) – Chablis-like personality,  with the hint of gunflint on the nose, also showing of as nice restrained California wine, with vanilla and oak, and everything in balance. 8-

2012 Dr. Konstantin Frank Gewurztraminer Finger Lakes, New York (12.5% ABV) – beautiful honeysuckle and white peaches nose, coupled with exotic fruit and spices the palate, and most importantly, all nicely balanced. 8-

2013 Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles Rosé Paso Robles, California (13.5% ABV, $4.99 at Trader Joe’s , Mourvedre 49%, Grenache 26%, Syrah 25%) – simple, balanced, delicious, surprising. Yes, this was a perfect summer wine from Trader Joe’s – get it by the case. 8-

2010 Cairdean Vineyards Malbec Nape Valley (14.2% ABV) – My first experience with California Malbec. Very unusual – socks (yep, you can think whatever you want of me), baking spices, lavender, fresh cookies, very elegant. 8

2010 Cairdean Vineyards Chardonnay Russian River Valley (13.9% ABV) – touch of vanilla and butter, toasted bread, soft and round. 8-

2012 Matua Pinot Noir Marlboro New Zealand (13% ABV) – this wine screams “classic Marlboro” all the way – smokey nose, cherry on the palate, light and at the same time savory profile with cut-through acidity. 8-

2005 Dama de Toro Crianza Toro DO (13.5% ABV) – wonderful complexity, makes you smell this wine indefinitely, and then you can spend eternity analyzing each sip – herbs, lavender, sage, nutmeg, red and black fruit – just a wonderful example of the wine [probably] at its peak. 9-

2010 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.5% ABV) – great open Cabernet Sauvignon nose, bell peppers, black currants, very classic. Medium to full body on the palate, perfectly restrained, excellent balance. 8

2008 Tamaya Syrah Reserva Limari Valley, Chile (13.5% ABV) – this wine would perfectly impersonate a classic Northern Rhone Syrah – very restrained, dense, concentrates, pepper and spices on the palate, savory herbs. A Thought provoking wine. 8-

That completes my wine highlights report for May. Did you make any interesting discoveries in the last month? Did you have any of the wines I mentioned here? Cheers!

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