Archive

Archive for the ‘Experiences’ Category

It Might Be Gone Already

November 13, 2019 8 comments

Oenophiles are strange creatures. We love wine and derive out of it a tremendous amount of happiness, joy, and pleasure. We are also somewhat of a masochistic type. We like to torture ourselves around our beloved beverage. We can spend a lot of time trying to select a bottle of wine for a Monday night – multiply that by 10 if we are talking even about a casual Friday night. We need to take into account everything – the mood, the weather, who are we sharing the wine with, and on, and on.

One of the biggest problems we are always trying to solve is called “is it the time”. Yes, we know that it is a gamble. There is no science to know when the wine is ready to drink. And as we always like to enjoy the wine at its peak, we can take forever to decide on that right moment. And this is where the danger lurks – instead of getting the wine at its peak, we might be facing the wine which is … gone.

There are two types of special bottles we, oenophiles, get nervous around. There are those which we are trying to age to precisely hit the bullseye, the “oh my god” moment when tasting wine at its peak. The second type are those wines which we call “special”. “Special” is personal – a single bottle which reminds us of a wonderful trip or a moment in life, a special present from a dear friend, a super-rare or a super-expensive bottle we want to hold on to for as long as possible. Sometimes, this can be one and the same bottle which hits both characteristics. For the second type of “special” bottles there is the OTBN – ”Open That Bottle Night”, an event celebrated on the last Saturday in February, invented to help people to part with those special bottles. For the bottles we are waiting to become perfect… well, it might be the same OTBN, or maybe we just need to convince ourselves that “the time is now”.

This is what we decided to do, setting the theme for our wine dinner as “It might be gone already”. Usually, we set the rules for our tastings – what wines, what regions, what price ranges, etc. But for this dinner there were no rules – whatever anyone wants to have open, whatever the reason is to believe that the wine might be past prime (or not) – everything goes.

We managed to assemble a lot more wines than we were able to drink, so many of the wonderful bottles will have to wait until the next occasion. However, we still did great, finding lots of great surprises and enjoying the program very much. Here is my account of our tasting.

We started from a very simple wine – 2007 Saint-Hilaire Brut Blanquette de Limoux, a sparkling wine from the Languedoc, from the winery which claims that they were the first to make the Methodé Traditionelle wines, before Champagne ever saw a first bubble in the bottle. This is one of my most favorite sparkling wines – it is inexpensive ($12.99 or so), and tasty. But – 12 years old? That sounds like a little much for a wine like that. Nevertheless, it was perfect – still fresh, still a good amount of bubbles, a touch of yeast – a perfect start for our evening.

We continued our bubbly explorations with something of a truly next level – 1990 Dom Ruinart Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Another perfect encounter – crisp, focused, a good amount of yeast and toasted bread – an outstanding vintage Champagne without a sign of age.

Italy is better known in the world as the source of great red wines. However, Italian whites shouldn’t be ignored. Jermann makes some of the very best Italian white wines, and these wines are unquestionably a world class. Vintage Tunina is a flagship wine, made out of a field blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia, and a small percentage of a local sweet grape. According to the notes on the Jermann website, Vintage Tunina can age for 7–8 years, 10 in the exceptional vintages. This 2006 Jermann Vintage Tunina Venezia Giulia IGT was 13 years old, and in a word, it was superb. Bright, vibrant, whitestone fruit and a touch of honey, medium+ body – an outstanding wine.

Our next white was 2007 Château St Jean Chardonnay Reserve Sonoma County – it was not as impressive as Vintage Tunina, but still was not over the hill, with a good amount of white apple, a touch of butter, and good acidity. I never had this wine before, and understand from the people who did that the wine was starting its journey down the hill, but it was still quite enjoyable.

I was trying to convince my friends that our next wine was not ready to be opened – 2011 Antica Terra Erratica Rosé from Oregon. I had 2010 last year, and the wine was mind-blowing (ended up being wine #2 on my Top Wines list of 2018). After being ostracized – “what are you talking about, it is 8 years old Rosé ?!?!” – I angrily pulled out the cork. 2011 was equally mind-blowing to the last year’s 2010. Pungent, lip-smacking, full of smoky cranberries and herbs, medium body – delicious. I don’t know for how long this wine can age, but I would definitely love to see it with at least another 5 years of age. Oh well…

Now, we are reaching practically a culmination point of the evening – 1966 Château Leoville Poyferré St. Julien. Well, it was conditionally the culmination point – when I received this bottle 2 years ago, the capsule showed a significant amount of wine stain, which is an indication of the wine potentially slowly sipping through the cork. But – it was 1966, so that alone deserves the utmost respect.

As we expected, the wine was past its prime. It had dark brown color in the glass – a color you expect to see on a well-aged tawny port, but not on Bordeaux at any age. The wine had the tasting profile of a nice hearty stew, but again, not the Bordeaux. To be entirely honest, I enjoyed a few sips of it (my friends refused it almost instantly), but this was definitely not the wine anyone should drink.

I’m not going in the right order, but let’s talk about maybe the biggest disappointment of the evening – 2010 Yves Boyer-Martinot Meursault-Perrier. 9 years old white Burgundy should be way too young to drink. But then the Meursault wines have a known issue – Premature Oxidation, or PremOx as it is often abbreviated. Fear of PremOx was a driving factor behind the decision to open this wine. Unfortunately, the fear was justified – kind of. The wine was not oxidized – but it was literally undrinkable. It showed a little sign of life at first, and we decided to decant it – however, it didn’t help. The wine showed very tired, some stewed plums, no vibrancy of any kind. Definitely not a good surprise.

Let’s get back to the red wines. Our next wine was 1978 Barbera. The label lost practically all of its color, so I don’t know who was the producer. But the bottle had been very important memorabilia – at the age of 9, our friend Stefano was helping to bottle that exact wine, so it clearly had a special meaning. The wine was still drinkable, had good acidity and some dark fruit. Not amazing, but well drinkable.

The next two red wines aptly compensated for all the misgivings of our tasting. 1997 Shafer Firebreak Napa Valley, a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, was excellent. The core of the dark fruit and espresso, firm structure, excellent balance, the wine was alive and delicious. It is a pity that this wine is not produced anymore, as Shafer replaced all the plantings of Sangiovese with the other grapes – this was definitely a delicious wine.

And maybe for the biggest surprise of the evening, let me present to you 1995 Navarro Correas Coleccion Privada Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza. What, you never heard of this wine? Me too! Until our tasting that is. When originally acquired, the wine price was something under $10. So who would expect that 24 years old simple Argentinian Cab would age so beautifully? The wine was fresh, no sign of age, tart cherries on the nose, the same tart cherries, herbs and a touch of sweet oak on the palate – the wine was going and going. A tasty, totally unexpected, surprise.

We had to finish this tasting with a dessert wine, didn’t we? 1988 Franciscan Estate Johannisberg Riesling Napa Valley, as rare and precious as you can find, as this wine is simply not produced anymore. This wine was definitely at its peak – beautiful figs, honey, and a perfect dose of acidity – an excellent finish to our great tasting.

Let’s try to summarize our tasting. Out of 11 wines, 6 can be safely designated as an “amazing experience”. Three wines were “good”. Two wines were a flap. I would take it as a very respectful, and very successful outcome – I’m sure you can think of a lot more tastings with a much lesser degree of success and enjoyment.

Here you are, my friends. Feel free to copy the idea – if you have anything reminiscent of a cellar, I’m sure you got the bottles that might benefit from being open. Open now, before it is too late. Cheers!

What Do I Need To Know To Enjoy A Glass Of Wine

October 26, 2019 2 comments

Glass and the candleSo you are wondering what do you need to know to enjoy a glass of wine.

This is actually a very simple question. Let me give you a very simple answer.

Nothing.

Nothing at all. You need to know nothing about the wine.

You don’t need to know who made it, where was it made, how was it made, what grapes were used, how much it costs. None of this matters.

The wine in your glass is binary. You either like it or not. If you are not sure if you like it, then ask yourself another simple question: “do I want a second glass, or not?” If you want a second glass, then it goes into the “I like it category”. If you don’t – well, you got my point.

I’ve not been fictitious or sarcastic here. I’m very serious. Wine is food. No, it is not a necessity, it is rather a luxury, it is a food you can live without. But still, wine is food, with about 100 calories in a standard size glass of dry red wine. When you take a bite of steak, your impression is binary – you either like it or not. The same is with wine – when you take a sip, you either like it or not. End of story.

Now, let’s get things straight. I’m not trying to invalidate here the whole wine ecosystem, where millions of people are studying and make their living around the oldest continuously produced beverage in the world. I’m not saying that wine is a simple subject. Depending on one’s life outlook, nothing is simple in this world, and the wine has unlimited levels of complexity (simple fact – at the moment of this writing, there are only 269 (!) Master Sommeliers (highest distinction of wine knowledge) in the world). Nevertheless, for a casual encounter with a glass of red, white, or pink liquid in the tulip-shaped glass, there are only two possible outcomes – “I like it” and “I don’t like it”.

Yesterday during the wine dinner I asked my neighbor at the table if she enjoys the wine we were drinking. “Well, I don’t know enough about wine”, she started, instead of simply answering the simple question – “yes, I do”, or “no, I don’t”. I heard this answer many times, and I find it instantly annoying. There is nothing you need to know to enjoy the wine in your glass. You don’t have to be a chef or a food critic to say if the omelet in front of you is tasty or not. The same is with wine – it either tastes good to you or not.

There is definitely a lot of intimidation around the wine. There are wine magazines that tell you what you should be drinking today. There are wine ratings – “here is an excellent wine for you – it got 95 points from Robert Parker”. You have no idea who Robert Parker is, but you would never admit it, “ahh, of course”. There are knowledgeable friends who tell you “try this – you are going to love this”. There are sommeliers and wine stewards at the restaurants who tell you that this is the best wine for your dinner tonight (nevermind that this is one of the most expensive wines on the list). All these things are part of the intimidation around the wine, and yes, it is very hard to say “hmmm, I don’t like it” if Robert Parker said that he did. But – you really have to learn to trust yourself. Everyone’s palate is different. There are only 4 basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter – we can skip the umami for this conversation) – but everyone perceives those tastes differently, has different sensitivity to each one of those (if you ever had to reduce salt consumption, you know that after a month or so of such a low-sodium diet, any restaurant dish comes as oversalted). And so what you taste is completely unique to you, and it is only you who is entitled to state “I like it” or “I don’t like it”, without any regard to any professional opinion in the world.

Again, I want to repeat my statement – you don’t need to know anything about wine to know if you enjoy it or not. But – and it is a major, major, supersized but – you might want to know about the wine as this might simply increase your level of enjoyment of that same wine. But even in this case, you don’t need to become an expert to better enjoy thye wine. You can start simple. When you find the wine you like and enjoy, take notice of the producer and the name of the wine (there are many apps today which can help you simplify this process). This can help you next time at the restaurant, trying to select wine from the list – once you see the wine you already tried and liked, this instantly reduces intimidation. Of course, it will also help you in the wine store, so you will get the wine you know you liked.

vinca minor cabernet sauvignon back label

Maybe once you recognize some producers, you might start taking notice of the regions the wine is coming from. You might find, for example, that you are usually enjoying white wines from Germany and red wines from Piedmont. This knowledge can help you further in your quest for the enjoyable wine, as even when you have your favorite producer and wine, you might not be able to always find that specific wine at a restaurant or in the store. In this case, you can use that knowledge to select the wine from the different producers but still from the same region, as this still increases your chances of liking the wine.

You don’t have to stop at the producer and region, and you can continue your wine knowledge acquisition literally forever, as the subject of the wine is endless. Vintages, vineyards, single vineyards, blocks and plots, grapes, blends, terroir, climate conditions, winemakers, oak regimen, age of the vines, visits to the wine regions, and on, and on, and on – all of this knowledge might help you enjoy the wine more. I can even take it further and tell you that all this knowledge might change the perceived taste of wine, as, for example, trying the wine made at the winery you visited can trigger happy memories, and definitely make the wine to taste even better – to you. Very important – this knowledge will only change the way the wine tastes to you. If the friend you are sharing dinner with never visited the winery, he or she can’t necessarily share your excitement and wholeheartedly say that they enjoy the wine if they don’t. And that’s okay. Everyone’s palate is different, and tasting and liking of the wine are strictly individual.

Remember this next time you are at a restaurant. If you know about the wines, don’t intimidate your friends. they don’t have to like what you like. At the same time, if you know nothing about the wine, don’t get intimidated by anyone or anything. “The truth is in the eye of the beholder” – if you don’t enjoy the wine, it is your truth, and it is nothing to be ashamed of or to worry about. Everyone’s palate is different. End of the story.

I hope you learned today everything you need to know to enjoy a glass of wine. Which is, literally, nothing. And nothing should be standing in your way of enjoying the wine in your glass. Cheers!

 

Spain’s Great Match 2019 – A Mixed Bag?

October 17, 2019 Leave a comment

I love Spanish wines.

Anyone who reads this blog for a while is aware of this. Spanish wines have a special place in my heart, as even today they are some of the best-kept secrets in the wine world, allowing those in the know to enjoy amazing wines still at reasonable prices (some of the best QPRs around).

For many years I had been attending Spanish Wine Tasting in New York, called Spain’s Great Match. I usually attend the early morning seminar, and then go for the walk-around tasting – here you can find my reports from 2014 and 2017 events.

The seminars at Spain’s Great Match are meant to showcase some of the best and interesting Spanish wines. 2014 event was an absolute stand out in this regard, as this was a special event celebrating 30 years of Spanish wines in the USA. The wines served in that seminar were way beyond amazing.

The 2017 seminar was also quite good – maybe not as good as 2014, but still, very, very good. Now, before I will report on the 2019 event, let me talk a bit about the setting.

Mercado Little Spain

The event took place in one of the trendiest New York neighborhoods, Hudson Yards, at the recently opened Mercado Little Spain. Mercado Little Spain is conceptually similar to the Eataly, with the space filled with all possible produce, food and drink options which you would otherwise find…yes, in Spain. So the setting itself was outstanding, creating the right atmosphere to enjoy Spanish wines as they should be.

Now, let’s talk about the seminar, which was called “Vinos de Vanguardia: Wines on the Cutting Edge”.

Vinos de Vanguardia tasting

Vinos de Vanguardia tasting

Vinos de Vanguardia tasting

Vinos de Vanguardia tasting

As you can tell from the name, the idea was to present a unique and different side of Spanish wines. Yes, I get it – Spanish wines might be relegated by “ordinary”, “predictable”, and “same all, same all”, and the seminar was designed to break that myth and to show the forward-thinking of the Spanish winemakers.

I don’t discriminate against any type of wines – natural, low intervention, “orange”, unoaked, unfiltered, canned, boxed, all is good. I’m willing to try absolutely anything – at least one time. When I taste the wine, I trust my palate, and that sip will be simply binary – I will either like the wine, or not. Yes, temperature, air, of course – I’m willing to give literally an unlimited amount of time to the wine to show itself properly – but at some point, the wine has to deliver what it is supposed to deliver – a pleasure. That’s all I’m looking for in wine – pleasure.

I’m sure the wines in the seminar were hand-selected to represent the avant-garde thinking of the Spanish winemakers. However, for me, only 3 wines out of 8 delivered that pleasure, and two out of those leftover 5 were not only boring, but they were also off-putting. I rarely call wines “bad”, I typically say that the wines are “not for me”. So these 2 wines were truly not for me – here are the notes:

2018 Can Sumoi Xarel-lo DO Penedès (100% Xarel-lo)
Golden
Great acidity, sour apples, an unusual ting of a fermenting fruit
Mostly acidity, a bit violent to my taste. Fresh lemon acidity, devoid of any sweetness. The bitter-sour finish lingered. It might be a food wine, but I would definitely prefer a Muscadet if I really look for food-friendly acidity.
Natural wine, the panel was talking about a sense of place and so on, but one can relate to that only if one is visiting, and without that “place” connection the wine was … well, you got my point

2018 Tajinaste Blanco DO Islas Canarias (90% Listán Blanco, 10% Albillo)
Golden color
Fresh grass, underripe white plums, distant hint of a grapefruit
Fresh acidity, Meyer lemon. Unfortunately, boring.

2018 A Coroa Godello DO Valdeorras (100% Godello)
Golden color
Whitestone fruit, a touch of lemon
Good acidity, distant hint of buttery notes, but this was mostly it – the acidity. This wine might well be improved with time, judging by the acidity, but at the moment, boring.

2016 Enrique Mendoza La Tremenda DO Alicante (100% Monastrell)
Garnet
Beautiful intense nose of fresh berries, a touch of iodine
Tannins-forward, tannins mostly take over the wine, some fruit present. Not great.

2018 Bodegas Ponce Clos Lojén DO Manchuria (100% Bobal)
Dark garnet
Touch of roasted meat, violet, very inviting floral aromatics
Beautiful pepper note, fresh berries, medium body, open, inviting, short finish. First good wine in the tasting.

2016 Marañones 30.000 Maravedies DO Vinos de Madrid (90% Garnacha, 10% Morate/Syrah)
Ruby
Hay and cherries, light
Tart, tannins forward, mouth-puckering, cherry pits on the back end. Maybe a food wine, and maybe it will improve with time. Ok wine for now.

2015 Alberto Orte Atlántida VT de Cádiz (100% Tintilla)
Dark ruby/garnet
Beautiful open inviting nose – sage, ripe plumes, thyme, lavender – one of the most herbs-driven aromas I ever experienced
Beautiful palate, herbs with a complex interplay, fresh berries, delicious. Second excellent wine in the tasting.

2015 Guímaro Finca Meixeman DO Ribeira Sacra (100% Mencía)
Garnet
Mostly closed, a touch of cherries, hint of currant leaves
The beautiful playful palate, crunchy wild blueberries, lots of herbs, medium body, medium+ finish. Also one of the best in the tasting.

As you can tell, Bobal, Tintilla, and Mencía were excellent wines which I really enjoyed – and all these wines are uniquely Spanish. When it comes to Spanish wines, you don’t need to try too hard – Spain offers lots of unique and delicious wines – but oh well, this was fine anyway.

Right after the seminar, we went back to the main floor, which was all converted into the walk-around wine tasting space. Spanish food was carried around, from famous Jamón to Manchego cheese to Spanish omelet to Potatas Bravas and more. I have to say that Gazpacho was my favorite bite without a doubt, but overall, there was no shortage of food.

Mercado Little Spain

Spanish Cheeses at Mercado Little Spain

Mercado Little Spain

Spain's Great Match 2019

I have to honestly say that in my 5 years of attending these “Spain’s Great Match” events, the “big guns” never showed up in the tasting – I don’t mean Pingus, Clos Mogador or Vega Sicilia, but even more accessible staples such as La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, Emilio Moro, Alto Moncayo and many others never made an appearance outside of occasional representation in the seminars. This year’s event was not an exception, with really minor representations of the better-known wines. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of excellent wines available, but been a bit spoiled (sorry), I just made a quick round, mostly looking to taste the new vintages of the wines I already knew, so I’m not going to inundate you with a long list of my wine recommendations.

In no particular order, here are the wines I tasted and liked:

Sparkling and white:

2017 Martinsancho Bodegas y Viñedos Martinsancho Rueda DO ($15) – this is one of the best Rueda wines, and it is a lot of wine for the money
2016 CUNE Monopole Classico Rioja DOCa ($27) – deliciously complex, oak-aged white Rioja
NV Anna de Codorníu Brut Rosé Cava DO ($15) – an excellent glass of bubbly for any occasion
NV Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad Penedes DO ($30) – this wine never disappoints, and a beautiful bottle makes it a perfect gift

Red:

2016 Viña Real Crianza Rioja DOCa ($16)
2014 CUNE Reserva Rioja DOCa ($29)
2012 CUNE Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa ($39)
2012 CUNE Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa ($80)
2016 Teofilo Reyes Crianza Ribera Del Duero DO ($37)
2018 Bodegas Divina Proporcion 24 Mozas Toro DO ($16) – a nice rendition of powerful Toro Tempranillo, good value
2010 Bodegas Martinez Lacuesta Reserva Rioja DOCa ($38)
2014 Bodegas Sonsiera Pagos de la Sonsiera Rioja DOCa ($38)
2016 Bodegas Valderiz Ribera Del Duero DO ($25)
2014 Boada Campo de Bueyes Crianza Ribera Del Duero DO ($15) – might be my favorite wine from the whole tasting. Approachable, round, delicious. Great value.

In terms of price versus quality, or the QPR as we like to call it, Spain still remains unbeatable, and it still remains more of a secret for a casual wine lover. Well, I guess it is all better for us – those who discovered the secret already.

What was your favorite Spanish wine discovery as of late?

For The Love Of Chowder – 2019 Edition

October 15, 2019 2 comments

Last Sunday, purveyors of the humble soup, also known as Chowder, assembled at the Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, for the 12th annual festival, the Chowdafest. 29 restaurants, mostly from New England, with a notable exception of Pike’s Place restaurant out of Seattle, Washington, competed in 4 categories (New England Clam Chowder, Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian) – and a few thousand (“a few” here might be 2, 3, 5 – the last number I heard was 12) of people came to have a good time, and to help to identify the best chowders.

My empty ballot held in place by muffin pans – an essential tool of chowder lover at Chowdafest

Before I will inundate you with pictures, as usual, let me give you my brief personal take on the event.

For the good part, there were plenty of tasty soups to go around, and an absolute majority of the soups I tasted were quite good. There were also lots of tasty giveaways, with Natalie’s All Natural Juices as my personal favorite.

For the not so good part, the event felt really, really crowded. This was my 5th Chowdafest, and all previous years I was able to visit the absolute majority of the stands within about 2 hours. This time around, I simply gave up at some point, as the lines were just unsurmountable. I believe there were two reasons for that – first, the weather was so-so, and people didn’t have much else to do on that Sunday. Second, and more important – there was lesser number of participants in the competition, thus even the same amount of people as usual had to line up to the fewer number of stands – this year, there were 29 restaurants competing versus 37 last year, and 40 in the two years prior. My last gripe would be with scarcely decorated stands – in the prior years, there were a lot more seasonal decorations seen everywhere – this year, the decorations were quite limited.

There was a good number of vegetarian soups presented, such as Gazpacho from Rory’s in Darien. Cast Iron Soup from the Cast Iron House in New Haven rightfully won this category as it was one of the very best soups in the competition.

Shrimp and Corn Chowder from the Ribbon Cafe was one of the most creative at the Chowdafest 2019, served with a cheese wonton:

As always, the Chowdafest went way beyond just the soup – Michelle’s Pies were an excellent addition, and as I mentioned, Natalie’s Natural Juices (Beet Orange was my personal favorite) were an excellent thirst quencher.

There were also some very creative tasting approaches at the Chowdafest, such as this one:

Here you can see a glimpse of the prizes, all made by the local artist, Wendy Marciano:

Let’s talk about the winners. For the 5th year in the row, Pike’s Place out of Seattle took the 1st place in the New England Clam Chowder category. Also for the 5th year in the row, Our House Bistro from Winooski, VT took the Creative Chowder category with its Drunkin Pumpkin Seafood Chowder. Gates from New Cannan, CT won Soup/Bisque category with its Crab & Roasted Corn Bisque, and Old Post Tavern/Cast Iron Chop House from New Haven, CT won Vegetarian category with its Cast Iron Soup. You can find all the results here.

I have to say that I’m convinced that Pike’s Place wins the competition not just because they make the best soup (in my opinion, they are not), but because they also provide the best service. While this was one of the most coveted participants, Pike’s Place stand was practically the only one without a line – they were very efficient in pouring out and simply carrying around their chowder on the large trays, so it was easy for everyone to try it without the need to stand in the long line.

I guess that’s all I wanted to share with you. Before we part, I will show you my ballot which is shamefully incomplete, but this is the best I could do:

I’m already looking forward to the Chowdafest 2020 – I hope it will be the best and the tastiest and maybe not as crowded as the one this year.

Why You Don’t Want To Miss Chowdafest 2019

September 25, 2019 Leave a comment

Really, why would you want to miss the Chowdafest 2019? If you like chowder or any form of nice, hearty soup – and note, it can be vegetarian soup as well – you can’t have an excuse good enough to miss the 12th annual Chowdafest festivities on October 6, 2019, taking place at the usual place – Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, from 11 AM until 3 PM.

I attended Chowdafest for the past 5 years, and when I’m suggesting that attending the event is well worth the effort of rearranging your Sunday around it, I’m simply speaking from experience (take a look my reports from past Chowdafests here). Chowdafest is a lot of fun – it is not only soups and chowders but lots of samples of cheese, bread, sauces, juices, tea, coffee, ice cream, and more. It is literally fun for all ages (yes, you want to teach your kids what tasty food is from an early age).

Chowdafest 2017

One of my very favorite creative chowders – and a winning one!

At the Chowdafest 2019, 30 restaurants will be competing for the titles in the 4 categories – New England Clam Chowder, Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian. Half of the 30 competing restaurants will be participating for the first time, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying new soups such as Mexican style Shrimp Posole Soup, or Buffalo Chicken Noodle Soup. But probably the main question is – will Pike’s Place out of Seattle, Washington, win the classic New England Clam Chowder category for the 5th year in the row? Well, you will need to be there to see it and be a part of it.

I hope I solved for you the problem “What to do on Sunday, October 6th”. See you at the Chowdafest!

 

Judging Wine

September 22, 2019 Leave a comment

Let’s do some math. There are about 8,700 wineries in the USA. Some wineries make only 2–3 wines, but this is quite rare. Some wineries make 10, 15 or more, especially if you will take into account all the “winery-only” specials. Let’s average, say, at 10 (I’m sure I’m reasonably conservative here). In this case, we are talking about roughly 87,000 different wines. Produced every year. In the USA alone.

How do we choose the wines? Presented with an average selection of at least a few hundred bottles even at a small wine store, we need all the help we can get to select that one bottle we want to drink tonight. One of such “helpers” is so-called ratings. Ratings are professional wine critics’ opinions, generally expressed in the form of the numbers (points), from 50 to a 100 – 89 points, 95 points, 100 points. Those ratings are produced by several wine publications (magazines and newsletters), such as Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, and a few others. Let’s say there are about 4 main publications in the USA (there are lots more, of course, if you will attempt a full count, but let’s just stay with the major ones). Now, to produce the ratings for all 87,000 wines among 4 publications, working 365 days a year (no breaks!), it will be necessary to evaluate about 60 wines per day, every day – and these are just wines from the USA, based on our rough assumption of 10 wines per winery. Mission impossible – and mission unnecessary.

What else is there besides ratings, to help our poor, indecisive selves? Well, how about some awards? If you ever visited some lesser-known wineries – maybe on Long Island, or in Finger Lakes, upstate New York, Pennsylvania, etc – have you noticed a display of the bottles wearing straps with various medals around the neck? Those are the exact awards we are talking about. How the wineries get those? By participation (and winning) at the various wine competitions, in the USA or even in the world.

There are about 70 of major (or better known) wine competitions in the USA, plus probably hundreds of lesser-known, more regional wine competitions. Wineries submit their wines for the competitions. The wines are grouped into the categories (white, blend, Chardonnay, Merlot, Dessert, etc), and get rated in a blind tasting within those categories by the wine judges. The best wines in the categories can subsequently compete for the “best in show”, “best red”, “best dessert” and so on. And then wineries get to brag about their awards and to display the medals, sometimes at the winery, and sometimes even on the labels – I’m sure you’ve seen those.

Wondering how the wine judging is done? Let me give you a first-hand account, as I just attended my second wine competition as a judge – at the Hudson Valley Wine Festival – obviously focused on the wines of Hudson Valley.

As we mentioned, the wines are judged blind, with only a variety (or blend composition) and vintage known for every wine. The wines are split into the categories such as white and Rosé, red, dessert, fruit, and can be split into varieties within the categories, each category presented as a separate flight – for example, Merlot and Cabernet Franc for reds, or Chardonnay and Riesling for the whites. The wines are assessed at the Hudson Valley Wine Festival according to the American Wine Society wine evaluation chart, which you can find in its entirety here. According to that chart, the wine can get the maximum of 20 points comprising of the following categories

  • Wine color – up to 3 points. This is an easy one – as long as your 1-year-old dry Riesling is not a deep golden, or not hazy/cloudy, it is 3 points.
  • Aroma and bouquet – up to 6 points. The 6 points are awarded if the wine is absolutely on point for the varietal expression.
  • Taste and texture – again, up to 6 points. To get 6 points the wine should be varietally perfect.
  • Finish – up to 3 points. Here the long and enjoyable is what is required to qualify for 3.
  • Overall impression – up to 2 points. Here is an opportunity for a judge to express his or her personal opinion about the wine – nah, okay, or wow.

The assessment of the wines done in the flights, where each wine is individually labeled with a code. The judges are working in the groups of 3, with each group having a captain who manages the group’s work and fills up all of the final decision forms. While the wines in the flight had been assessed, all judges keep it quiet and filling up the form. Once the flight’s assessment is finished, the wines are been discussed one by one, to arrive at a final score for the wine. Based on the score and opinion, the recommendations can be made for double gold, gold, silver, and bronze, as well as for the inclusion into the best of show tasting.

Once all the flights are done by all the judges at all tables, the results are processed, which takes about 30 minutes. During this 30 minutes break, it is a perfect opportunity for judges to walk around and see a bit of the show floor before it gets ultra-crowded. Here are some of the pictures of what you can find on the show floor of the Hudson Valley Wine and Food Festival. These are the things which attracted my attention, and I can tell you that the bacon salsa you see below was superb. Both single malt and rye whiskey which you can see below were good, but not $100 good as it was the show’s asking price. And how about those cans and wine labels!

After the break, the final part of the judging is set up – now the wines are judged for the best in category (best red, best white, etc), and then all of the best in categories are included into the “best in show” tasting. Best in category and best in the show are judged by all the judges at all the tables by the show of hands, and each judge can vote only once.

Best in Show tasting flight

An interesting by-product of all the voting is the title of the “winery of the year” for the region – I don’t know the exact formulae, but it is determined by the number of wines awarded the medals, taking into account how many wines were submitted versus how many wines got awards, and the type of those awards – for example, it is better to submit 2 wines, one of which will take double gold, versus 4 wines, out of which 2 will take silver.

That’s all there is to it – now you know all about the wine judging.

 

Here you can see our list of flights, and some of my notes. I have to honestly tell you that somehow I liked the wines from last year a bit more than the wines from this year – but then last year our red wines flight was Cabernet Franc, and this year it was Merlot – and Hudson Valley produces better Cabernet Franc than Merlot (personal opinion, of course). Also, last year we tasted no DPMs at our table – in case you never heard the term which I learned last year, DPM stands for Don’t Put in your Mouth – and DPM can happen anywhere, it has nothing to do with any particular region.  So last year we got lucky, and this year, we were blessed with two – one wine was completely spoiled (can’t describe it, just terrible, like a spoiled fruit), and the second one tasted like it had cheese blended in the wine – as one of the judges said, “I like cheese with my wine, but not in my wine”. Anyway, bad wines happen anywhere in the world – nothing else there is to it.

Overall, however, I have nothing to complain about, it was fun and successful tasting, and we completed our work with no issues.

Debbie Gioquindo, Chair of the competition, deep at work

I will not be repeating here all the results – you find them all here, on the website of Debbie Gioquindo, Hudson Valley Wine and Spirits Competition Chairwoman for the past 12 years. For my personal favorites, 2017 Millbrook Castle Hill Vinyard Chardonnay Hudson Valley was absolutely spectacular – it is hard to believe the Chardonnay of such a world quality can be produced in Hudson Valley (I mean no disrespect, but you have to taste this wine to believe it) – perfectly Burgundian with a distant hint of vanilla and butter. 2015 Glorie Farm Winery Cabernet Franc was simply perfect – an excellent rendition of the Cabernet Franc, the grape which Hudson Valley mastered to perfection for a while – and it was the Best in Show wine. And the Baldwin Vineyards Spiced Apple, entered in the fruit wine category, simply blew my mind with its perfect expression of a drool-inducing apple pie – the one you eat with the spoon directly from the tray, and you know you are not supposed to do it, but you can’t stop yourself…

In case you want to see it, here is the aftermath of the competition:

After the wine tasting...

That’s all, my friends. This was definitely a fun experience, and I’m already looking forward to the next year’s event. Cheers!

Alie Ammiraglia – The Rosé Experience

September 17, 2019 2 comments
Livia le Divelec

Livia le Divelec introducing Alie Rosé

Rosé Every Day – is that your wine motto?

Okay, that might be a bit much – occasionally, we would like to drink white and red too, don’t we? How about this:

Rosé is For Every Day – would you be able to subscribe to that?

It amazes me that today it still requires courage for an average wine consumer to happily say “I love Rosé” and stop right there without adding any “buts” – “only in the summer”, “only when it is hot outside”.

It is a given for us, wine aficionados and geeks, but an average wine drinker is still afraid that they are simply not supposed to like Rosé, and openly admitting your “Rosé love” in public is akin to loudly proclaiming “ohh, I have no taste in wine, no class”. This is mindboggling as we truly are living through the Rosé wine revolution.

Ten years ago, Rosé was strictly for summer, and the only Rosé you would find available during the winter months was the one from Tavel from the southern Rhône in France – only found in better wine stores or adventurous restaurant wine lists (Rosé is the major, if not the only type of wine produced in Tavel), or whatever ended up in the discount bins as not been sold during the prime season. Today, Rosé can be found at most of the wine stores throughout the whole year, no matter what season it is. It is also not surprising that literally every winery in the world, big and small, added Rosé to their repertoire. Actually, it might be still difficult to find Rosé at the wineries – it is usually produced in the small quantities and thus sold out in no time at all.

As we mentioned before, Rosé often considered an afterthought – while the winery is starting to make the red wine, whatever juice will bleed from the harvested grapes would be good enough to make Rosé – or whatever grapes are not good enough for the main wine still can be used for Rosé.

This, however, was never the case in Provence in France, where Rosé is The Main Product and never an afterthought. In Provence, the grapes were and are purposefully grown for the Rosé, and harvested at its proper ripeness to be made into Rosé – the best possible Rosé. But – “the best Rosé” crown is heavily contested today – literally, the whole wine world is after it.

Let me share with you an encounter with a perfect contender – Alìe Ammiraglia, an Italian Rosé produced by Frescobaldi family in Tuscany.

View from Polynesian Rooftop bar

At the end of July, I attended an event in New York City, where the new vintage of Alìe Rosé (in case you are wondering about the name, Alìe is “a figure from Greek mythology, a sea nymph and a symbol of sensuality and beauty”) was presented in style.

Let’s compact the whole experience into one very long sentence, just for fun: Alìe Rosé, made out of Syrah and Vermentino specifically grown for this Rosé wine, was presented at the event in New York City in the hottest setting of a roof-top bar, poured strictly from magnum and double-magnum bottles into the glasses specifically designed to enhance the qualities of the Alìe Rosé, accompanied by delicious bites of Polynesian cuisine on a hot summer day.

How about this long sentence?

Now, let’s repeat it, but a bit slower.

2018 Tenuta Ammiraglia Alìe Rosé Toscana IGT was introduced by Livia le Divelec, Frescobaldi Brand Ambassador and winemaker. 2018 is the fifth vintage of Alìe Rosé. The wine is made out of Syrah and Vermentino grapes grown at Tenuta Ammiraglia vineyards in Maremma, the region best known for the super-Tuscan wines. Maremma is a coastal region in Tuscany, thus the climate, soil, and terroir overall have a lot of maritime influence, hence the name and various sea-life elements of the design – the label, the glass. The bottles for Alìe Rosé are specifically designed in Mediterranean style, again to stress the origins of the wine.

The event took place at The Polynesian, bar and restaurant located at the Pod Times Square hotel and offering a roof-top seating. What can be better than sipping on a glass of beautiful Rosé, overlooking New York’s busy life from above on a warm summer afternoon? Well, let’s cue in delicious appetizers of Polynesian origin, harmoniously supporting the delight of Rosé – and now you got the whole picture.

Oh, wait, let’s not forget about the wine glasses! The wine glasses were specifically designed by German company Rastal for Alìe Rosé to accentuate qualities of the wine, both organoleptic (aroma, taste, …) and visual, with the glasses serving as another reminder of maritime-influenced origins of Alìe.

Well, I guess I still didn’t tell you how was the wine – got carried away with a beautiful setting of the roof-top bar, seductive bottles, and designer wine glass. Never mind all these accents – the wine was a real star, otherwise, I wouldn’t be talking about all this. Beautiful fresh strawberries on the nose, strawberries with a hint of Meyer lemon on the palate, crisp and fresh. Delicious cold, and still delicious even at room temperature – my litmus test for a quality white and Rosé. I would drink that wine any day, and any season. Remember, Rosé all day!

That concludes my brief. What is your Rosé of the Year? Cheers!

 

 

Mother Nature, Unbound

August 9, 2019 2 comments

I love photography. If you flip through the pages of this blog, you will see lots of pictures – I enjoy taking the pictures, and I enjoy sharing them.

Yes, this is a wine blog, and so most of the pictures here are related to either wine and food. Most, but not all – as, for example, will be this post.

I rarely take pictures of people – or even if I do, I rarely share them publicly. Nature, on the other hand, might be my most favorite subject, both for taking the pictures and for sharing them.

Yesterday we needed to take a trip downtown Stamford in the evening, and then the thought was  – why don’t we take the dog down to the beach for a walk?

Oh my… Once we arrived at the beach, for the next 30 minutes or so, we couldn’t stop looking and looking around, trying to fully appreciate and take in one of the most magnificent spectacles ever put out by Mother Nature (okay, yes, I’m going too far – she does it every day, non-stop around the world, but still). I often tell people that Mother Nature is a true and original artist, I just try my best to capture her creations and share them with the world.

I usually prefer to convey my own vision of the same Mother Nature’s act in my pictures (read – edit them), but yesterday’s performance was so perfect that I’m just sharing it as is, not edited at all – #nofilter as we like to say.

Enjoy!

June – What a Month, in Wines and Pictures – Part 2

July 11, 2019 6 comments

Warning – lots of pictures will be following. And you can find Part 1 post here.

My birthday celebration usually means “party”. This year we decided with my wife instead of cooking and cleaning for 2 days to spend time by ourselves and go to stay somewhere fun. We managed to pack a lot in mere 3 days.

As a collector of experiences, I’m trying to fill my Wines of 50 States map, so as we were driving to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I decided to visit local New Hampshire winery. Fulchino Vineyard was almost on the way, so this was our first stop (the details are coming in the separate post). Then we arrived at our intended destination for the evening – Wentworth by the Sea, a magnificent property hosting the Marriott hotel.

Wentworth by the Sea

When I drove by that hotel 5–6 years ago, I still remember my admiration of a beautiful structure. It got stuck in my mind and I was waiting for an opportunity to visit – I’m glad it worked out. Beautiful building, beautiful views, beautiful property – we really enjoyed our short stay. And I will let you decide whether this place is beautiful or not take a look at a few pictures below.

While Marriott was a great property in a magnificent setting, our next stop greatly exceeded my expectations. A few months ago I resubscribed to the Yankee magazine – it is a print magazine which is squarely focused on the happenings in New England part of the US, from Connecticut to Maine. As my “bonus”, I got a tiny leaflet called “Best of New England”, where one of the places that caught my attention was Inn at Woodstock Hill in Woodstock, Connecticut, mentioned as “Best Inn for privacy”. The Inn also conveniently hosted a restaurant with raving reviews, which sounded perfect for the birthday dinner.

When we arrived at the Inn, we found out that our room was located not at the main building, but at the adjacent cottage, which has a total of three rooms, but we would be the only people to stay there. So we literally had a whole house to ourselves, with the deck and the view of the fields. In addition to the fields which looked perfectly untouched, we had a pleasure of walking around a small garden, where blueberries, black (I’m assuming) currant and gooseberries were all growing, and a small field of poppies was yet another source of great pleasure, as we don’t spend much time around those gentle flowers.

I brought with me a couple of bottles to celebrate the occasion. One of those bottles was 2015 Field Recordings Foeder Old Portero Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley (14.9% ABV, 50% Syrah, 35% Zinfandel, 15% Mourvèvedre, aged for 12 months in 50 barrel American Oak Foeder). While I generally treat Field Recordings wines as every day delicious wines, good for any day which name ends with a “y”, some of those wines are a bit more special, as they are not produced regularly, and when produced, the quantities are minuscule. This was one of such wines, which I had for a couple of years, but then decided that birthday is a good enough occasion to have it open. This happened to be a mistake, as wine could definitely enjoy another 10 years to fully evolve, but even then, it was a delicious, fresh, acidity-forward concoction of sour cherries and blackberries, with well-defined structure and dense finish.

Our dinner didn’t disappoint either. First, the folks at the restaurant were very kind and let us bring our own wine despite having the full wine list (the corking charge was $15, which was totally fine, of course). The wine which I brought, 1998 Kirkland Ranch Merlot Napa Valley (14% ABV) was on my “to open” list for a while. I got a few of these bottles from Benchmark Wine and was really curious to see how the wine would fare, but the bottle went unopened on a few prior occasions. This time the cork was finally pulled out, and the wine delivered lots of pleasure. It started its journey to the peak but was still far from it – fresh, good acidity, a complex bouquet of roasted meat, coffee, dark fruit (cherries and plums), good balance – very enjoyable. The wine continued to evolve throughout the evening, giving me good hope for a few more bottles I have left.

The food at the Inn at Woodstock Hill (the restaurant doesn’t have its own name, and because of it you can’t find it on Yelp, but it has all information on the web) was delicious. We started with an Escargot, which was enjoyed to the last morsel, and Artichoke Bottoms, which were unique and delicious. Then I had The Wedge salad, which is one of my perennial favorites – you can get any salad off the menu complementary to your main dish, a very nice feature – and The Wedge again was delicious. My main dish was Pork Shank, which was… well, I don’t know if I should declare myself a pork shank connoisseur, but I’ve been through the Czech Republic, where pork is king – this dish was absolutely on par with the best versions I tasted in Prague. Yep, it was a delicious standout or it was standoutously delicious (yeah, I know it is not a word – but this is my blog :)), but I’m sure you got my point.

The morning with that fields view was just perfect. I couldn’t stop myself from taking more and more pictures…

We made two more stops before finally getting home. First, we discovered the Rosewood Cottage, a pink-colored summer residence of Henry and Lucy Bowen, built in 1846, also sporting beautiful garden delimited by 150+ years old shrubs. The Cottage, which now belongs to the Historic New England organization, hosted 4 of the US Presidents visiting Bowen family on various occasions. Over these years, the house was painted 13 times in various shades of pink, has many of the original wall coverings (wallpaper) called lincrusta, and stained glass windows, some of those original since the house was built. It also houses the oldest in the United States indoor bowling alley! Does it worth a special trip? Yep, it does.

 

Our last stop was at the Taylor Brooke Winery, also located in Woodstock. Compared to my previous Connecticut wineries experience, this was definitely a better one – but more about it later.

Here you go, my friends – one memorable June of 2019. How was yours? Cheers!

June – What a Month, in Wines and Pictures

July 10, 2019 1 comment

The Vessel Hudson YardsJune might be my favorite month of the year. There are many reasons for me to say that. For one, it is the very beginning of summer. It is like a Friday night when the whole weekend is still ahead – the same thing with June, the summer is just starting. Then it is the month of my birthday and Father’s Day, which means I get to celebrate a few holidays which are related to me. Throw in the end of school celebration and occasional graduation, and you can clearly tell June brings a lot of reasons to be happy.

This June of 2019 went particularly overboard with all the goodness. At the beginning of the month, I got invited to so many wine tastings and dinners that I had to simply decline the number of invitations. Those which I managed to attend were an absolute standout. Tasting of South African wines was small, but superb, with lots of simply delicious wines. Right after the South African wine tasting, I met with Stefano Ruini, the winemaker for Bodegas Luce, tasted through yet another excellent set of wines and finally realized that Luce, the wine I tasted and admired before, is a Merlot Sangiovese blend produced in the heart of the land of Brunello.

The last event of the same day was a dinner with Michael Benedict and John Terlato of Sanford and Benedict Winery, a pioneer of California Pinot Noir, which took place at the spanking new Hudson Yards, at the Wild Ink restaurant, overlooking freshly minted The Vessel.

My next day was even more memorable, with two hours of the pure joy of talking to Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone Winery in Napa Valley, and tasting (a better way to put it: been blown away by) Stu’s wines, which were simply a standout.

That eventful week ended with the L’Ecole 41, iconic Walla Walla producer’s lunch and vertical tasting, where I finally discovered for myself what is all the fuss about Ferguson.

Then there was Father’s Day, with all the cooking fun and an opportunity to open a special bottle of wine – it is always easier to pull a better bottle when you have a good reason to do so.

My cooking fun was more of the usual – BBQ. However, I experimented with the way the meat was prepared. The chicken breast was marinated overnight in the onion juice if this is a thing – simply a big Vidalia onion pulverized in the blender and then used as a marinade – with the addition of the bbq spices. The lamb was marinated overnight in the buttermilk also with the addition of rosemary, sage, and the spices. The result was outstanding – both chicken and lamb came out juicy, tender, and delicious.

The wine story started with the 2018 Field Recordings Morro View Edna Valley (13.9% ABV, 100% Grüner Veltliner) – fresh undertones of grass, Meyer lemon, bright, crisp acidity – a perfect sip for the summer day.

Two of the Martinelli wines joined the party. Martinelli is most famous as the grape growers, however, they also produced a number of wines under their own name, albeit those are rare. First, we had 2009 Martinelli Syrah Zio Tony Ranch “Gianna Marie” Russian River Valley (15.4% ABV), which took a bit of time to open up into the a delicious, blackberries and pepper concoction, firm and supple.

I only had two bottles of Martinelli so I had no plans to open both on the same occasion. However, when my oldest daughter came and said “Dad, I can have a glass of wine over the next two hours and I want California Pinot Noir” (she has medical condition which generally prevents her from enjoying any type of alcohol), the only wine my brain could think of was 2010 Martinelli Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (15.5% ABV), as I saw this bottle in the fridge the day before. This was a classic California Pinot Noir, which I generally describe as “plums and smoke” – soft, layered, good amount of fruit without going overboard, delicious long finish – an excellent example of the California Pinot Noir – and by the way, perfectly balanced – 15.5% ABV was absolutely unnoticeable.

The last wine I had high hopes for … well, didn’t work out. Back in 2012, I had 2004 Retro Petite Sirah, which was one of my top dozen wines of 2012. This time I opened 2007 Retro Petite Sirah Howell Mountain (14% ABV), hoping that 12 years is enough for this wine to at least start opening up. Nope, no such luck. The fruit was nowhere to be found, the wine mostly had sapidity, coffee and roasted meat notes on the first day, despite being decanted. It slowly improved day by day and showed some glimpses of the fruit on the third day, but still, it didn’t deliver the pleasure I was hoping for.

Well, let’s stop here. I will tell you about the rest of June in the next post – with lots (lots!) more pictures.

To be continued…

%d bloggers like this: