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Missing Vino Volo at Newark Airport – Oeno is Just Not It

September 11, 2015 7 comments

Don’t know if you can figure out from the title, but yes, this will be a rant. There were a few rants in this blog before (I even have a dedicated category for that) – and every time I contemplate the same question – “should I do it or not”. The problem with the rant is that while it is often a quick “feel good” solution for the “rantee”, it can theoretically have some consequences for the object of rant. But outside of the letting the steam to blow off from a bad experience, I see the rant as a criticism, and criticism is a good thing – it identifies problems which can be fixed (or not, of course). Okay, let me not making this post a rant about rant – let’s proceed to our subject.

I’m regularly traveling for business for the long time. As previously reported in this blog, the situation with food significantly improved at most of the US airports. And not only with food, but with wine as well – on a multiple occasions I wrote happy posts about Vino Volo stores available in many airports – including the one at Newark Airport in New Jersey (here is the link). At Vino Volo, you can always expect to find an interesting wine flight at a reasonable price, especially considering the airport location, and a tasty and thoughtful bite of food.

Now, as it happened last year, Vino Volo was kicked out of the Terminal C, and replaced by the restaurant called Oeno Wine Bar. Oeno tried to replicate Vino Volo’s model by offering wine flights as well as wine by the glass and by the bottle, and of course, food to go with it. So far so good, right?

First thing as you walk into Oeno is that nobody greets you. Okay, quite common at the airport. Next, you have to find the table, sit yourself, and start navigating the iPad on the stand which crowns every table at the restaurant. The iPad presents all the food and wine, grouped in the number of categories. top menu at Oeno

Now, as you try to dig into the wines, there are a few surprises which one runs into. First of all, the prices – there are 6 wine flights offered, priced either at $36 or $54 – most of the Vino Volo flights were priced under $25, so $54 for the tasting flight, seriously? The prices for the glass of wine range from $10 going into the $40s (not bad for the airport, right? – $40+ for a glass of wine on the go). But – for me, an oenophile who was served by Vino Volo very amicably, the biggest gripe is the full lack of information. Despite the fact that you have in front of you an iPad, an electronic device which allows to have pretty much an unlimited amount of information for each and every item offered, Oeno menu provides literally no relevant information. It seems that the only reason to offer the menus on the iPads is to make it easy to charge the customers in dollars or in frequent flyer currency – points/miles. Nobody cares also to provide a service with that, make sure people actually like what you are offering (yes, I mean “information” by the service).

Let me advance my gripe further. Considering complete lack of information, I decided to at least order something inexpensive, so I went with Jelu Pinot Noir, at $10.50 per glass. I couldn’t figure it out where the wine was from, as no information was available. After tasting something pretty much undrinakble – hot, unbalanced, biting wine – I had to look it up. It appears that this was a Pinot Noir from Argentina, and it also appears the the whole bottle cost as much in retail as I paid for the glass. Had I known that this was a Pinot Noir from Argentina, I would simply avoid ordering that – you can hardly go wrong with Malbec from Argentina at any price level, but when it comes to Pinot Noir, you better know the wine and/or producer.

Smoked salmon Panini

Leaving the wine aside (as I did with my glass), the food was also marginally successful. I ordered a Smoked Salmon Panini. While I understand that Panini is a pressed sandwich, I didn’t expect that smoked salmon panini would be put under a hot press. Ever had hot smoked salmon? This is not the most delicious food in the world, as the heat accentuates the saltiness of the salmon, and really makes it marginally enjoyable. Never mind the price of $14.25 – for that amount of money, you can have 2 or even 3 excellent sandwiches in most of the European airports…

The iPad system at Oeno is really focused on getting money or miles (the points) out of you, at the same time providing as little service as possible, as you  do everything on that iPad (you have to place an order and pay before anything gets to your table). To add insult to the injury, the tip of 20% is added to your payment at the time of the order (for some reason it is called “check-out”, even it is the first thing you have to do to get your food). The only service you get is your food placed in front of you, but nevertheless, you are paying as you are at a high end restaurant with great service.

And the last thing which I found extremely annoying: the push to get you to use your frequent flyer miles. If you travel enough, I’m sure you know that all those “rewards points” don’t come very easily, with the airlines constantly looking for the ways to reduce your frequent flyer benefits. Now, every item on the menu has price both in dollars and in miles. For the glass of Prosecco, you could elect to pay $14.10, or use 2,020 miles. As long as you don’t analyze the numbers, and have millions of frequent flyer miles in your account, you probably don’t care about “just 2000” miles. Now, think about this: if you have no status with United, to earn the same 2000 miles, you have to buy a $400+ ticket (it should be $400 before taxes and fees), as you are only getting 5 miles per dollar on United. If you are short 2,000 miles for your award ticket, you can buy them from United, at a measly price of $70 – but here you are, offered to spend that same 2,000 miles on a glass of bubbly instead of $14. And when you refuse to do so, you are asked to fill out a survey to explain why did you refuse the offer to pay with miles. Don’t know about you, but I find this preposterous.

Okay, let’s end this Friday rant. If you  travel through Newark airport, and especially if you are an oenophile, I have only one recommendation for you – avoid Oeno. Unless someone at Oeno wakes up and makes changes to transform it into really a desirable destination, as Vino Volo was. Until then, take your hard earned money elsewhere, and – Vino Volo, I miss you very much… Cheers!

Oeno Wine Bar
Newark Liberty International Airport
Terminal C
Gates 70-89

Oeno Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Speak Up!

July 31, 2015 21 comments

wine_in_a_glassThis post is not really a rant, even though it can be classified as one. I would rather see it as a plea – not directed at someone particular, but to anyone who enjoys even an occasional glass of wine.

Wine can be intimidating at times. Heck yes, wine is often intimidating. It has an aureole of mystique. It seems to demand the special knowledge to be enjoyed, the years and years of hard study. And quite often, the “exclusivity” notion is enforced by the very people whose job is to help, to make the wine less intimidating, to make sure that “the customer” will simply enjoy the glass of wine.

True – the wine, as any other discipline, has a great depth of technical knowledge. It is not easy to make a good bottle of wine; it is very difficult to make a great bottle of wine. You need to study for many years almost 24×7, learn the exact names of hundreds of small villages in Germany, to become a Master Sommelier (there are only a few hundreds of them in the world). All of it is true. But not necessarily unique – most of what humans do today in so called “work” requires lots of studying and lots of specialized knowledge.

But wine is yet again different. While it requires knowledge to produce and explain it to others, when it comes to its basic purpose – drinking, it is, whether by itself or with the food – it is very simple. Forget all the nuances of the taste. Forget all the fancy descriptors and ratings. When it comes to the content of your glass, it is really all binary – you either like it or not.

Nobody questions their own ability to decide whether they like the burger or not. Or any other food for that matter – in most of the cases, people have no issues declaring “this is good” or “this is bad”. But when it comes to the wine, majority start second-guessing themselves. People often sheepishly say “but I don’t know much anything about the wine”. This proverbial “luck of knowledge” is used as an excused to keep quiet. People are afraid to state their opinion around wine, as they don’t want to appear disrespectful, or even worse, totally ignorant and not worthy. At the same time, when someone takes a sip, they know immediately whether they like the wine or not.

Now, let me get to the “Speak Up” part. No, I’m not advocating that everyone will start proclaiming “this is crap” or “this is nectar” on the very first sip of the wine in the various situations. For example, if you will open a bottle of young red wine, immediately pour it into a glass and take a sip, your first reaction might be “this is too sweet!”. Give this wine 5 minutes to breathe, and your next sip often will be totally different experience, with earthiness, minerality and acidity. As another example, the first taste of the cold white wine might feel extremely acidic, but the wine will mellow out right after. So, no, “speak up” is not about always declaring your opinion right away.

What is important for me is that if you drink wine even on a semi-regular basis, you know what you like and what you don’t. In case when you don’t like the wine, you also know why is that – too acidic, too sweet, too wimpy, too tannic, doesn’t taste well with food. There can be lots of reasons for not liking the wine. And it is all fine – taste is personal, and two people next to the same bottle don’t have to share the same opinion; there is nothing to speak up about here. With one exception: when the wine is spoiled.

There are many possible issues with wine, which affect its taste – these are called “wine faults”, and the end result is what we call a spoiled wine – the wine which tastes bad. This is not the case “I don’t like it”, this is the case “it is spoiled” – and nobody should drink it. Have you ever tasted spoiled milk, when the sweetness of milk is replaced with the off putting smell and sour taste? What you do with the spoiled milk? Anything but drink it, right? There are many potential faults in wine – brettanomyces (often called “brett” for short), volatile acidity, oxidation, heat damage (so called “cooked wine”), cork taint and many others (in case you want to read more, here is Wikipedia link). Some of the faults are less offensive than the others – for instance, brett is associated with barnyard aromas (so called “funk”) in the wine, which some people love (yours truly would be one of them). But most of the faults really kill the taste of wine; spoiled wine doesn’t deliver any pleasure the wine is supposed to bring.

One of most prominent offenders is the cork taint – typically caused by the cork material which was not cleaned properly – and the result of the cork taint is called a corked wine. What gives it away first of all is an aroma of the old, wet, musty basement – you know that smell, I’m sure you do. But this is not the worst part. On the palate, the corked wine is sharp, bitter, and devoid of fruit – the fruit is nowhere to be found in the corked wine. Sometimes the smell might be very minor, but then the sharp palate will give this fault away. And corked wine is something which you are not supposed to drink. Nor you should let anyone to drink that. This is the case when you have to trust yourself – and speak up.

How many of you ever been in the situation when you tasted the wine (or just smelled it) and said to yourself “this is corked”? And then, even when you are 100% convinced it is corked, you just kept quiet – you didn’t want to offend the host, you thought “ahh, may be something is wrong with me”, “but people already had been drinking the wine from this bottle for a while, how it can be corked”? Been there, done that? It’s okay, this blog is truly a non-judgement zone, please share your experiences. But I’m seriously telling you, if I may – I insist – speak up. Trust yourself and speak up.

I’ve done this many times in many different settings. Sometimes, the corked bottle is one and only, and all you can do is just to dump it or put it aside to return to the wine store (please note – most of the reputable wine stores will take the corked wine back and refund your money – they are not losing anything either, as they also will return the wine to the producer). But the best case is when the other bottle of the same wine can be open instead – and it shows all the beautiful aromas and fruit the wine was supposed to have. This is the best learning experience, of course – but even if you didn’t have that experience, you still have to speak up.

You need to understand that by keeping silent, you are not doing anyone any favors. If you keep silent, you drink the wine which tastes bad. You let others drink the wine which tastes bad. You letting down the winemaker as well. In many (most) cases, the corked wine is not even producer’s fault. And if you and others end up drinking bad tasting wine, you might say to yourself “I will never buy this wine again” – and trust me, this is not what the winemaker had in mind when the wine was produced with love and care.

You have to speak up – and you got nothing to lose. If you are wrong, and the wine is not corked but simply need the time to breathe – so be it. But I’m sure that once you experienced the corked wine, you will be able to identify it again, so if you think the wine is corked, there is a very good chance that it actually is. Trust yourself and speak up. When the next bottle is open, and everybody sigh with relief and pleasure, your host will be the first to thank you. And if you will feel happy, leave me a comment too. Cheers!

Top Highlights From Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2015

March 18, 2015 5 comments

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri logoAt this point, you most likely already read a number of reviews from Gambero Rosso 2015 (here are the links for the John and Stefano posts, the two that I know of), so it will be difficult for me to add much there. Considering that lots of hard work is already done by the others, I will take an easy path and this year will limit my post only to the 10 (or so) of the personal highlights. But before we will get to those, a couple of notes.

First of all, just in case you didn’t read the other posts and in case you are not familiar with Tre Bicchieri, let me explain what Tre Bicchieri is all about. In 1986, an Italian food Italian Colorsand wine magazine was created under the name of Gambero Rosso (in translation from Italian it simply means “red shrimp”, and it comes after the name of the tavern in Pinocchio). Starting in 2002, the magazine introduced the rating of the Italian wines using the symbol of glasses (Bicchieri), with 3 glasses (Tre Bicchieri) being the highest rating. This rating proved to be successful and demanded, and since then the Gambero Rosso created a special event, called Tre Bicchieri, to celebrate all those best wine Italy has to offer. Tre Bicchieri events take place around the globe, and the event I attended was in New York (it was the third Tre Bicchieri event I attended in the past 3 years, all in New York).

For the next note, here comes the rant. Yes, Tre Bicchieri is a great event which gives an opportunity to taste some of the best Italian wines. But in terms of the overall organization, this is one of the worst wine tastings I ever attended. I have two major problems with the event. Just so you understand the size of the event – there were 185 producers showing between 1 and 3 wines each, which would roughly equate to 350 wines. First problem is that all the producers were not organized by the region. And they were not organized alphabetically by the producer, oh no, that would be too logical, right? Instead, the tables were arranged in the alphabetical order of the … distributors! So the wine from Tuscany stands next to the wine from Sicily. What makes it even worse is that the numbering of the tables is not straightforward, so the table #142 can be next to the table #50; to make matters even more interesting, some of the distributors who pour the wine, don’t have enough people to cover all the separate tables, so some of the tables had been simply “pulled in” to have #122 to be nested between #42 and #43 – makes it easy to find, eh?

This story was the same for the past 3 years I attended the event – but I still can’t get used to it and still find it very annoying.

The second problem was probably even more annoying, and for all I remember, it is getting worse, year after year. The problem can be expressed with one word (okay, two) – wine glasses. Puzzled? Let me elaborate. When you arrive to the event and show your registration, you get a little piece of paper, which is your coupon for the wine glass (! only at Gambero Rosso!). You come to the counter and exchange your coupon for the glass. All is good so far. Now, you start tasting, which means that white, red and even dessert wines get to be poured into the same glass – after 50 – 60 pours, the glass has traces of wine all over it, inside and outside, and what you can do at the regular wine tasting is to put your glass aside and go get a fresh glass. Makes sense, right? But not at the Tre Bicchieri. They bring best wines of Italy for a special tasting – but they can’t procure enough glasses for the people who would want to get a fresh glass to be able to do so. Believe me – I tried, was almost screamed at. I don’t remember having this problem 2 years ago; I was able to get a clean glass with the organizers intervention last year, but this year – no, was told to go away by the multiple people. Of course I appreciate been invited to the event where you can taste the best Italian wines, yes, for free – but I just think that organizers must make an effort to match the level of the wines with the overall level of the event.

Okay, I vented, so it is the end of the rant. Now let’s talk about the wines.

As you tell from the title, I want to mention here only the highlights. Before we talk about those, a few general notes.

  1. No, I didn’t taste all 350+ wines. May be someone did, but no, that was not me.
  2. There were lots and lots of truly spectacular wines, as you would expect at an event like Tre Bicchieri, where only the best wines are presented. But don’t assume that I found all wines to be spectacular. Some were just good, some were just okay, and a few I regarded in my personal notes as “terrible”. Taste is personal, and that’s okay.
  3. I want to reiterate it again – while there were lots of wines and wineries worth mentioning, I’m purposefully limiting this post only by 10 – they might not be all around the best, but they were the most memorable. Oh yes, these are not the wines – these are rather 10 wineries – yep, guilty as charged.
  4. As usual in the overwhelming tastings like this, I’m using the “plus” ratings. “+++” should stand for Excellent, but trust me, I had more than a fair share of “++++” spectacular.

Okay, now we are ready – here we go.

I want to start with one of my favorite wines which I was very happy to find at the Tre Bicchieri event – Podere Il Carnasciale Caberlot from Tuscany. This wine is made out of unique, “self-created” but officially recognized grape called Caberlot, which came to being as a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. First time I tasted this wine was 2 years ago, and it was a love at first sight, errr, taste. The wine is produced in minuscule quantities and only made in magnums – and needless to say, very hard to find. We tasted the following wines:

2012 Poderel Il Carnasciale Carnasciale, Tuscany – +++. excellent, old world style
2010 Poderel Il Carnasciale Caberlot, Tuscany – ++++, wow! classic Bordeaux blend, spectacular taste profile
2011 Poderel Il Carnasciale Caberlot, Tuscany – ++++, similar to the 2010, only with more tannins

There were lots of other great wines coming from Tuscany ( just think about all the super-Tuscans), so I had to limit myself in what to include in this post. Here is one more winery where  I was literally blown away by the quality – Azienda Agricola I Luoghi:

2010 Azienda Agricola I Luoghi Campo al Fico, Bolgheri Superiore – ++++, wow!
2011 Azienda Agricola I Luoghi Ritorti, Bolgheri Superiore – ++++, beautiful, clean
2011 Azienda Agricola I Luoghi Fuori Solco, Bolgheri Superiore – ++++, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, wow!, precision!

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Moving from Tuscany up north to Piedmont, Michele Chiarlo was perfectly representative of the area. Yes, there were other Barolo present in the tasting, but some were boring, and some where plain undrinkable due to the tannin attack (not just attack, a juggernaut rather). This wine was just perfect.

2010 Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio, Piedmont – ++++, outstanding, clean, lavender, herbs

Continuing to explore the Northern Italy, we are now moving to Trentino, where we can find one of my favorite Italian Sparkling wines, Ferrari. While Ferrari wines are very hard to find in US, they are well worth seeking. Ferrari had 3 wines presented at the Tre Bicchieri, one better than another:

2004 Ferrari Trento Brut Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore – ++++, spectacular, notes of fresh dough, bread, yeast
2006 Ferrari Trento Brut Lunelli Riserva – ++++, very unique sparkling wine, undergoing maturation process in the oak casks, silky smooth palate
2007 Ferrari Trento Brut Perlé – ++++, beautiful!

Representing Campania, a few delicious wines. First, a beautiful white:

2013 Pietracupa Fiano di Avelino, Campania – ++++, fresh fruit on the nose, perfect palate with lemon and tart apples

And then the red and the white from the Fattoria Alois:

2011 Fattoria Alois Trebulanum Casavecchia, Campania – +++, rare grape, powerful tannins
2013 Fattoria Alois Pallagrello Bianco Caiati, Campania – +++, nice, acidic, clean, with some oily notes, unique and different. Plus, a new grape – Pallagrello Bianco.

A few wines from Puglia:

2012 Torrevento Castel del Monte Rosso Bolonero, Puglia – +++-|, fruity, open, beautiful ripe raspberries
2012 Torrevento Primitivo di Manduria Ghenos, Puglia – +++-|, playful, notes of tobacco and cedar

and

2012 Tenute Eméra Sud del Sud Salento IGT – +++, very good, soft approachable, reminiscent of Gamay, chocolate mocha notes
2013 Tenute Eméra Qu.ale Salento IGT – ++++, spectacular, great palate – not only this wine was outstanding, it was also a part of the very interesting project called Wine Democracy, which is all about making great affordable wines for the people and taking care of our little planet. Great cause, great wine.

Now, I need to mention another one of my favorite Italian producers – Jermann. Jermann wines represent Friuli Venezia Giulia, and I think these are some of the most thought-provoking Italian wines you can find. And as a side benefit, many of Jermann wines will age extremely well.

2012 Jermann W…. Dreams…. Friuli Venezia Giulia IGT – +++-|, spectacular, Chablis nose, light palate
2012 Jermann Vintage Tunina Friuli Venezia Giulia IGT – ++++, complex, delicious
2013 Jermann Pinot Grigio, Friuli Venezia Giulia IGT – +++

We are already at 9, and there are yet a few more wines I have to mention.  I guess I’m really bad at math and self-control. Oh well, I hope you are still with me – here are few more wines, wineries and regions.

A very interesting wine from Lazio:

2012 Principe Pallavicini Casa Romana Rosso Lazio IGT – ++++, outstanding claret, perfectly classic

And then an excellent wine from Veneto. Of course Veneto is best known for its Amarone. And those who can’t afford Amarone, should settle for the Valpolicella, often made from the same set of grapes (Corvina/Molinara etc.). I generally not a big fun of Valpolicella, as I hadn’t been successful in finding the Valpolicella wines which would speak to me. Until now.

2012 Musella Valpolicella Superopre DOCG – ++++, simple, clean, with dried fruit on the palate, excellent! Wine is produced biodynamically, and probably the most amazing part is cost, at about  €5! For the price, this is simply a stunning wine.

I would feel bad if I wouldn’t have at least one wine to mention from Sicily, where volcanic soils produce unique minerally-driven wines.

2013 Cantine Rallo Beleda Alcamo Catarratto, Sicily – ++++, spectacular, touch of sweetness, full body

And we are going to finish with some sparkling wines from Emilia-Romagna. There were lots of sparkling wines at the tasting, and many of them were outstanding. However, these wines really stood apart for me, as they were produced from the grape which generally commands  very little respect – Lambrusco, and they were pretty much on par with any classic Champagne.

2013 Cantina Della Volta Lambrusco di Sorbara Rimosso, Emilia-Romagna – +++, excellent, fresh, crisp
2010 Cantina Della Volta Lambrusco di Modena Brut Rosé, Emilia-Romagna – ++++, classic Champagne nose
2010 Cantina Della Volta Lambrusco di Modena Brut, Emilia-Romagna – +++, excellent!

Yep, this is the end of my report. As I said before, this is only a small excerpt from a great selection of spectacular wines – but I have to draw the line somewhere. I’m curious in your opinion if you had any of these wines. Cheers!

Vino Volo Experience – Mostly a Rant

December 9, 2014 14 comments

Rant? Vino Volo? Really? There must be something wrong with this picture, right?

Yes, on a number of occasions I confessed my love to the Vino Volo wine sanctuaries at the US airports. This time, I was yet again very happy that the ride to the Newark airport in New Jersey was quick and uneventful, and I had enough time to visit Vino Volo. In case you are not familiar with the Vino Volo concept, please take a look here.

Now, I don’t know how the Vino Volo stores are operating. I would assume that the local stores have some freedom to select the wines, based on their locality and, of course, their clientele. It is quite expected that the Vino Volo’s selection at the Seattle airport will be slated towards Washington wines, and San Francisco location will be California-heavy, and the store in Austin will have a flight or a few of the Texas wines. In the Newark store, there was nothing local – no New Jersey, no New York wines. There were a few of the “international delights” and few of the “value delight” flights – none of them generated any excitement. Then I saw a Sommelier Selection flight – two wines at $25, both wines supposedly high end.

To be entirely honest, first I made the mistake I make quite often when it comes to the wine lists – I don’t pay attention to the small details – as an example, one extra word in the name can take the wine from the first growth to the second label. So below is what I thought was in the flight (yep, I was hoping for the coveted Opus One):

Opus OneWell, there was no Opus One in the flight – instead, it was an Opus One Overture (see, one extra word!):

Overture by Opus OneOkay, fine. You don’t expect me to rant about my own mistake, do you? Of course not. Let’s continue.

The flight arrived, and it looked like this:

Vino Volo Sommelier flight winesJust so you can actually read the “official” description, here is the same – without the glasses:

Vino Volo Sommelier flightOkay, so I tasted the first wine, which was a non-vintage second label from Opus One, supposedly made with the surplus Cabernet Sauvignon grapes which were disqualified from the Opus One production. A bit thin, nice profile with touch of cassis, a bit green but palatable (but with the expectation of a lot more at the price  of $145). While I understand that it is a non-vintage, I would assume that it is a young wine, and if it anything like the other top Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon wines, it should be decanted to show best. Okay, let’s put it aside and let it breath, and let’s try the second wine, shall we?

Barolo from 2010. I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider 4 years old Barolo drinkable, unless it will spend good 3-4 hours in the decanter. I didn’t see a decanter at the bar, so I must assume that it was poured straight from the bottle. But even before that, if you want to really showcase the sommelier-selected wines, why would you put Barolo next to Cabernet Sauvignon? Wouldn’t you go to the Super Tuscan as the very least, showing California versus Italy? Okay, never mind all that, the proof is in the pudding, taste, right? Swirl, sip – there was nothing remotely reminiscent of Barolo in this wine – well, at least within my experience with Barolo and my expectation with “king of wines”. Very limited fruit expression, herbal nose, some tannins, very tart. Had it been decanted for the 3-4 hours, it would probably be a totally different experience – and should the folks, the professionals at Vino Volo known better?

Well, may be it was a root day after all. Or not. But there you have it, my friends – my first unsuccessful experience at Vino Volo. Let’s hope it was the last. Cheers!

P.S.  I have my “formal” tasting notes – but I’m withholding them as I don’t think they will be of any use here.

P.P.S. If anyone had the 2010 Mauro Veglio Barolo and wants to say I have no idea what I’m talking about, please be my guest – your feedback will be greatly appreciated…

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