Whenever I go into a wine shop I often pass by the California, Washington and Oregon sections just because I am always on the lookout for some old school obscure grape that I have never heard of before. I always figured that the states would have to wait. And more often than not…or should I say so far I have not found that in the U.S. Also every time I talk about a wine it is usually available at one or two of the local NYC wine shops. This post is about a California producer that is not readily available in the city but can be accessed online. As a recent birthday present my wife’s parents bought me a six-month membership to the California Wine Club. Every month I will receive a bottle of red and a bottle of white (can’t help thinking of that song when I say that) from a boutique producer from the golden state.
It’s pretty exciting. I have never been in a wine club before. I don’t know about you but when I was a kid the anticipation of getting something cool in the mail was down right unbearable. I would read comic books and in the back were catalogs of meaningless junk toys that I thought were priceless must haves. I would save up my allowance and order a booklet on how to throw your voice and everyday would run to check the mailbox to learn such a prank. I would have visions of leaving my voice in the mailbox to freak out the mailman or in girl’s lunch boxes. And does anyone remember those weird sea monkeys? Freaky stuff man. Looking back on it those sea monkeys were creepier than the infamous clown in the corner of all of our bedrooms (what’s up with clowns man).
Anyway, that anticipation crept up in me when I received the card announcing that I should be receiving my first package soon. When it arrived I was that boy again but this time I didn’t run up a long suburban driveway into the house but up a five-flight walk up to my one bedroom East Village apartment (sorry, “junior” one bedroom). I ripped open the box with Christmas day fervor and pulled out the cool styrofoam dual bottle encasement to find the first two bottles of my California Wine Club experience.
The producer’s name is Ventana and is located in Monterey, California. Along with the wine came a pamphlet with information on the history of the winery and its owners. Doug and LuAnn Meador founded Ventana in the 1970’s. It goes on to talk about how Doug, after a tour in Vietnam and graduating from Washington state with a degree in mathematics and econometrics (which the dictionary tells me is a branch of mathematics concerned with the use of mathematical methods in describing economic systems…. I am still a bit confused) he had had enough with fighting and studying so him and his wife bought some land and dove into viticulture. Wine makers always make it sound so damn easy don’t they?
I did some research and it seems that Monterey has eight appellations. From north to south there is Carmel Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Chalone, Arroyo Seco, San Bernabe, San Lucas, San Antonio valley and Hames Valley. Ventana is located in The Arroyo Seco appellation. This area is well known mostly for its chardonnay which takes up forty percent of the area’s acreage but also plants the Bordeaux grapes cabernet sauvignon and merlot as well as, of course, zinfandel. Interestingly enough the red in the package this month was a syrah. I looked around and there was no mention of this grape in great detail having any impact on the area. I found one or two other producers that grow it but their prized wines are the ones mentioned above. No matter to me. I was about to pop a bottle of boutique Monterey syrah.
So last weekend My wife and I, syrah in hand journeyed to the upper west side to visit some close friends for a night of good company, good conversation and as it turns out, great wine. The night was not a focused wine tasting but being the wine geek that I am as the bottles were being opened and as the conversation flowed I was also thinking about the wine. Couldn’t help it. As we arrived Dave and Alex welcomed us with a glass of American bubbly. I don’t have any info on it but I will say that this was my first sparkling from the states and it was great. It was earthy and lean with not too much residual sugar and the bubbles were comfortably smooth. It even began to open a bit and some nice citrus came out and intertwined the fruit of the wine. I do remember that it was a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay (reminiscent of the champagne region). When it was time for the reds we started off with a South African blend to cleanse the palate. It was an inky, dark full-bodied wine with major fruit concentration and a good tannin structure that went well with the spread of cheeses our hosts had provided.
After the pinotage blend it was time for the 2003 Ventana syrah. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. There is always an anxiety involved with bringing a bottle to a friends pad. You are responsible for the offering whether it is good or bad. And even though your friends probably won’t hold it against you, the feeling is inevitable. So pop went the cork and off we went into Monterey wine country (via Ventana). Speaking of cork there was no print advertising the winery on it. Talk about boutique. We poured the wine and I was immediately into it. The color was dark and inky yet well balanced. It didn’t look like a dark syrupy shiraz from Australia and it didn’t have the clear vibrancy of a Rhone. It was right in the middle. The wine coated the walls of the glass with elegance and showed its thirteen percent alcohol with pride. We chatted and I swirled. The nose when tight had a good concentration of fruit and on the same level there was the oak. And it was American oak. But it was a good American-oak-nose. I am not sure if it was new oak or not but I do know that the pamphlet that accompanied the wines said they use Minnesota oak. I just realized I don’t know enough about American oak. I need to look more into this for the next California wine club entry.
Since the alcohol level was reasonable the burn off was quick and steady. On the palate the signature syrah spice came at me at a smooth pace. It seemed to be really comfortable all wrapped up in the fruit. It did need some time to open up so I sat the glass down and came back to the real world where our friends and my wife were in the middle of having a laugh. When I came back to the wine it had done its duty. The nose had opened a lot and brought on some smokiness. The fruit on the nose opened as well, saying goodbye to the prominent oak, which, in turn, headed to the background but was still lingering and saying hello to dark cherries and cranberries. This combination was excellent and running through it was a nice pepperiness just letting you know its there to cut through the depth of the wine. The palate was very balanced. I was expecting a fruit bomb (not sure why) but what we got was a smooth, full-bodied red wine that just coasted along leaving a lingering finish that was pronounced yet not overwhelming. I thought about food for this wine and of course lamb or pork chops came to mind but then again I was enjoying this syrah just sipping away.
Well, the Ventana syrah was gone too soon and it was time for another bottle. I saw that Alex and Dave had a 2003 Guigal Cote du Rhone and suggested that we compare it with the 2003 Cali wine. They were happy to do so and it was a great comparison. The body of the Rhone was a bit smoother and color was more vibrant and less opaque. The nose had that Rhone white pepper you sometimes get and it just lay happily on top of subtle mushrooms and earth. The palate was soooo comfortable and inviting and as the wine opened it just got better and better. Our palates were fully prepped for this wine and I could taste all the subtle differences. It was a fun comparison. I liked both wines. I love that syrah says, bring it on. Wherever it is grown it takes on a different identity while staying true to its core characteristics. In the Rhone it is smooth and smoky, In Australia it is a big bomb of a wine with spice and oak, In Sicily it teeters in between Australia and The Rhone with muscle and spice and smoothness in the background, shy at first but willing come out after some breathing. And in Washington…well I haven’t tasted many of them but the ones I have tasted are almost cab franc like. All this depends on the producer of course.
And then there is Monterey. As I mentioned in the beginning of this lengthy post I did a search and cannot find it in New York. It might be sold in BevMo on the west coast. But if you are like me and reside on the east coast this wine is available through their website and It still fits within the East Village Wine Geek price range; eighteen bucks. I think a case might be $126. My first membership bottle was a success and I can’t wait top pop Ventana’s chardonnay this weekend with some good friends. Speaking of good friends. Thank you Alex and Dave for the hospitality. There is nothing like a relaxed New York City night with good friends and good wine. This city is amazing. And thank you Dean and Marylyn for the wonderful gift. I can’t wait for the next package. Cheers!
Thanks to the boys over at redteeth.com there has been some more in depth info discovered about the touriga nacional that I had written about recently. Pardon me as I wipe my brow but, phew. This wine was hard to research. I always love a challenge but this one was a doosey. Now that you can put a label to the name by clicking on the link check this bottle out it is solid and unique. And if you get a chance checkout redteeth.com. They are doing good things for the wine world by creating a huge database of reviews that are approachable and down to earth. Also Damien’s blog where he often connects life experience with wine is always a good read. Thanks guys!
I have been searching unofficially for this little grape for some time now. I read about it last year and have always kept my eye open for it as I ran around tasting all different kinds of wines and giving in to my short attention span. The grape is called mencia and is found in the Bierzo region located in the Provence of Leon in northwestern Spain. Until now this area and this grape have not really been talked about too much but here and there people have been voicing their quiet opinions about it and those opinions are positive.
I love southern Italian wine not on only because it is amazing but because of the history of the southern Italian varietals. Their story is of renaissance. Grapes like falanghina, aglianico, Fiano, and Greco di tufo were almost winked out of existence until people realized (Thank you Mastroberadino) just in time the greatness of these vines and brought them back to life. Here we are thirty or forty years later and they are winning awards and being seen more and more in wine shops and wine bars across the country. This is what is happening to the mencia grape. It has always been around and it wasn’t necessarily almost extinct it just wasn’t being taken care of and so it was placed in the after thought category of the wine world. People actually thought it was a strand or relative of the cab franc grape and maybe that is why they just ignored it. Oh it’s just a cab franc in a bad area. It shouldn’t have been brought there in the first place. Well, DNA testing at some point proved this to be false and that it indeed is a varietal indigenous to the Bierzo region. Enter the renaissance. Once the people of Leon realized this they (quite recently) re-reworked their approach to the process and started planting vineyards in more optimal locations (such as hillsides) and taking better care of the vines and the berries. As a result of their efforts people such as Eric Asimov and Jancis Robinson have talked about mencia and I have seen it in a couple of places at pretty high end prices.
High end is cool and all but I wanted to find one not-so-high-end example because that’s my focus. It is fun searching out the “twenty and unders” that are really good. It is very gratifying. So, Mr. Wolff and I found ourselves in this new little wine shop in the East Village after lunch one day called Tinto Fino. WOW! This place is awesome. It is located on First Avenue between fifth and Sixth Street on the west side of the avenue. If you blink you’ll miss it so keep your eyes peeled, you won’t be sorry. Tinto Fino is about as big as my junior one bedroom apartment. Yes I said junior one bedroom. I would like to say “one bedroom” but when a person in the “know” saw our little quaint East Village pad they affectionately blurted out, “Oh, what a cute little junior one bedroom.” And you know what? It makes sense. And I am cool with that. As long as it fits my wine “cellar” we are all sittin’ pretty. Any way, Tinto Fino is tucked away in the middle of the block with a sober yet really neat silhouette sign hanging a little ways above the front door. It’s a bit hard to see this sign among all of the stores around it proclaiming their existence but it’s quietly there swinging back and forth in the NYC breeze.
Mr. Wolff and I walked through this magnificent little gem of a shop in jaw droppin’ awe. The selection was so focused and professional. Tinto Fino has maybe over fifty wines in the entire store. Which is perfect. They have high-end tempranillo and rioja as well as a shelf dedicated to sherry and other labels that I didn’t recognize but can’t wait to try. They even sell perrones, a traditional Spanish decanter/carafe/pitcher for communal wine drinking. I have heard they are not used as much now a days but there is a market for them nonetheless. They look a little bit like a decanter but there is a cork in the top and as the neck falls into the base of the glass there is a long thin glass-blown spout that protrudes at an angle. What you do is pour the wine into the perron, pop the cork into the open top, raise it in the air, tip the spout towards your mouth and a thin stream of wine comes at you with all it’s gravitational fervor. Sounds fun right? I’ll be buying one soon to see how easy it really is. Something tells me I should wear a shirt I don’t mind staining before I attempt such a bacchanal venture.
After speaking with the owner for less than a minute or so I was ready to trust her with any wine in the store. I am not sure but with her confident musings on every single bottle I asked about she must do the buying her self. And that is so cool. We were talking to the person that chose all of these wines. As I walked over to the front of the store where I thought I had seen a label with Bierzo on it I looked back to see if Mr. Wolff was okay. He was more than okay. Mr. Wolff loves all things Spain. He has traveled there and speaks the language. He is also an amazing jazz musician and sometimes I believe incorporates his love for flamenco into his songs. This may be a shameless plug but his music is great and deserves to be heard. The name of the band is The Patrick Wolff Trio. It is well worth checking out. So, needless to say our boy Wolff was drooling over a label he knew well and was probably reminiscing about the day it was consumed.
This next moment for me was very exciting. I was holding a bottle of mencia that I would soon purchase and devour with glass and pen and paper. Why was I so excited? Well, this wasn’t the first time I had come across this grape. But this is the first time I had come across this grape and the bottle was only thirteen bucks. I have seen mencia for fifty, sixty even seventy bucks around the city and the places that have carried it have looked down upon me when I asked if they have any under the twenty-dollar mark. “Out of stock.” they would grumble and walk away leaving me confused and swearing to never come back. But here I was in a place of respect and maturity. Here I was as confident about the bottle as the owner was. I have never tasted this wine but when I asked her about it and she gave me her tasting notes with no pretense I was in. We were three wine geeks chatting away as I purchased my new exciting and promising bottle of mencia.
I regret to say that Mr. Wolff could not attend the tasting. So Gal and myself popped the bottle. The wine is a 2004, one hundred percent mencia from Bodegas Pucho. It’s always exciting popping a new bottle that we are going to enjoy and ponder. I hear that slight pop of the cork and my mind starts racing with all the wines I have tasted before and my database starts juicing up. What was even more exciting about this wine and other wines that are new to me is that I didn’t know from where I would draw my comparisons. I love uncharted territory. We poured the taster and swirled our glasses. The wine really coated the sides of the glass showing signs of a full-bodied wine. The nose was nice and tight with good, ripe fruit concentration and I could see right away why it was once thought to be cab franc because underneath the fruit was that lingering herbaceous aroma that cab franc is known for. Also, as I swirled a little bit more a pepperiness came out to mix with the herbal tones. The wine was opening nicely and we hadn’t even taken our fist sip yet. It was time to taste.
The fruit concentration on the nose came through on the palate along with the well-balanced spice that was the herbs and pepper mingling together. The tannin structure was smooth and silky and constantly flirting with the fruit. As it opened all of these components began to mellow into each other giving this wine a nice medium to full bodied flavor. The finish was lingering but not aggressive. I ate this wine with some lamb and it was great but I couldn’t help thinking of some sort of pork dish with this one. What is nice about this wine is that it has a depth that lasts all the way to the end of the bottle keeping the tannin in check. The vines that this bodega harvests are between forty and eighty years old which explains the continuous fruit concentration. Also this wine was aged in stainless steel so all this balance comes from whatever the fruit has to offer with minimal manipulation. Great wine. I can see why people thought it was cab franc but I have had some bottles from the Loire and they tend to be lean sometimes lacking the under current of fruit that this wine has. I have also had some one hundred percent cab francs from Italy and they have great depth in the fruit category but this sometimes-uncomfortable intensity in the peppery herbal tones. Mencia kind of takes the best of both worlds and puts them together. Well at least this producer does. And it was only thirteen bucks. It has deep fruit characteristics with a nice tannin structure that helps carry the herbal tones of the wine.
I will be going back to Tinto Fino to purchase another one of these bottles to share with Mr. Wolff because I know he would really dig this one. I am also ready to try a higher end mencia to see what more this grape can give. But I must say that I really enjoyed this bottle and I wonder how much better it can get. I am sure it would be a bit silkier and Probably see a bit of oak. Until then please check this one out. The Bierzo is an up and coming area and you will be seeing it more and more. Pick it up because it’s new and its fun and…well…it’s really good. Pop the cork, let it breath a bit, cook some pork chops in a mild mustard sauce with a side of baked and cubed butternut squash or some sort of roasted red pepper salad, contact Mr. Wolff through his myspace and grab his CD, put it on, sit back and enjoy the flavors and the music. Cheers!
Mr. Wolff was telling me recently about a certain Portuguese wine that he had quite enjoyed. My interest was peaked when he said, “Get this,” And proceeded to roll off the components of a quite extensive blend. What got me was out of a blend of four or five varietals I only recognized one. And that one was alicante, an ancient name for cannonau in Sardegna. It isn’t even used anymore (the name not the grape). Now I’m not saying that I should know these grapes. I am no expert. I am saying that this was most exciting because as a wine geek finding a new treasure trove of varietals is the beginning of a very fun adventure. Mr. Wolff gave me the details of the wine and off I went searching for a bottle. Tinto Fino was the first place that came to mind but I realized She only Does Spanish wines. Tinto Fino has, if you don’t yet know, one of the most concentrated selections of amazing Spanish wine I have seen yet in the city. That’s probably because all they carry is Spanish wine. It is a small selection but man is it great. I will be posting a few words on the mencia grape from the Bierzo region next week that Tinto Fino helped me discover. So I went to visit my friends at Astor Wine and Spirits.
They politely directed me to the small cornered selection of Portuguese wine and after a good once over (which didn’t take too long) I wasn’t seeing the Wolff’s recommendation. So I just sat there staring with confusion and excitement. Which one do I try? I had a Portuguese wine once and it was medium and well balanced. I knew it was a blend but I was at a restaurant and the sommelier was not very informative and I wasn’t sure what was in it but I remember liking it. Although the options were few the prices varied widely. There were a few in the thirty to forty dollar range (one at fifty), one or two in the eighteen to twenty dollar range and the rest (about six or so) were all under ten bucks and of those mostly three or four dollars. What was I to do? Door number one, two or three? I chose door number two. For this blog I don’t like going over twenty and I wasn’t so confident and adventurous about the low end. Not yet. Let’s do some middle ground experimentation.
The bottle I chose had the title SO’. After some exhaustive research I cannot find out whether this is the producer or simply the title of the wine. What I do know is this: The wine is made from one hundred percent touriga nacional, which is one of the almost five hundred indigenous varietals or castas in Portugal. It is a 2001 and has a designation of vinho regional, which I believe is, in comparison to Italian wine laws, somewhere between the vini di tavola and IGT (in Portugal IGT is called IPR). And part of this designation is the Terras Do sado, which is located just south of Lisbon. This wine is from the Terras Do Sado. Something else interesting is that touriga nacional is not known for making regular red wine (vinho tinto). It is actually famous for its use in the fortified port wine. Actually, I read that it is hard to find a port without this grape in the mix. Talk about some new territory.
Mr. Wolff unfortunately could not attend the tasting so Gal and I popped this puppy open and went at it. The initial nose was full of concentrated fruit and had a prominent musty, earthiness to it. It seemed to me right away that this was probably aged in American oak. Underneath the fruit and the must was a hint of pepper and spice that just wanted to come out. We swirled and thought and sniffed and thought and finally got around to the first sip after about five minutes or so of just letting the wine open. The palate was, in my opinion, great. It was medium to full, more on the medium side because I realized that it was still a bit tight. Speaking of tight, one of the things I liked about this wine is that it was balanced when tight with a seamless tannin structure running through it but not overwhelming. Sometimes when a wine is tight I find that one characteristic or another is right on top and as the wine opens everything comes together. It had a mild lingering finish and the body of the wine coated the palate which I believe is a result of the American oak. It was an almost sweet coating but restrained and balanced. It actually added to the smoothness of the wine. After opening a little bit the spices came out more along with hints of bitter chocolate and cinnamon. The tannin increased but not overwhelmingly and because of this wine’s nice acidity it went great with a risotto sautéed with some white wine and porcini mushrooms.
All in all I was very impressed with this wine. The oak was used with restraint, which is nice because American oak can yield some overly buttery, vanilla characteristics. There was a nice balance to it from beginning to end. Gal didn’t have too much input for this bottle but what he did say was that he enjoyed it because it was totally different than any other wine he has had yet. I agree. This wine is very unique and has a hybrid feel to it. Almost like a cross between a cannonau and a cab franc with more depth and color. It is definitely a food wine and I can see why it is so popular for port with its fruit concentration. I am going to try some of door number three just to compare and contrast. Until then if your feeling adventurous and want to try something different but not pay an arm and a leg this is a good one for eighteen bucks. And I’d like to give a shot out to Mr. Wolff for peaking the interest. I am still on a quest for that blend. Cheers!
Happy New Year!!! Wow. It has been too long. I have been on a bit of a hiatus for the holiday season. Got a little too busy and lost all sense of time. It was definitely a whirlwind of holiday cheer and I gotta say I had a lot of fun. We ate sumptuous food and drank special wines. We ran around Manhattan buying gifts and rewarding ourselves with a nice dinner here and there. We traveled to the south to visit family, made homemade pasta and also enjoyed the ease of a catered meal. I visited local wine shops and found good juice that I am currently looking for here in NYC. We had a twenty-five dollar amarone that was really on par with its more expensive namesakes. We took a tour of a cellar in a restaurant tucked away in some southern wildlife preserve. We ate at a Thai restaurant that rivals some of the best Thai we have had here in the city as well as a nice Riesling to boot. We gave and received and relaxed and played. JFK was crazy and flights were canceled and over booked. Somehow during the storm of travel my wife and I obtained complimentary tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S. and have already planned our trip to California wine country.
But man was it nice coming back to the one, the only, New York City. I hope all of your New Year’s Eve plans worked out accordingly and I hope that you had at least some decent sparkling bubbly whether it be champagne, American sparkling, cava, prosecco, or the infamous Asti. My wife and I started the evening with dinner at Azul on the corner of Suffolk and Stanton with our friends August and Lauren. I had been wanting to go to this place for a long time and just never got around to it. What an amazing place. The steak is prepared wonderfully and when you ask for a certain temperature you get it. August and I had the sirloin grilled to perfection with just the right amount of rosemary, sliced and served on a sizzling skillet with a side of fresh cut fries and some of the best homemade chimichurri I have had yet in the city. My wife and Lauren both had the skirt steak cooked medium rare. I honestly can’t remember what was served with it because of my almost total concentration on the dish in front of me. I did ,however, manage to get a bite of the skirt and the quality of the beef was apparent immediately. Excellent steak. My sirloin was a little too good. I couldn’t help but pause after every bite and savor the experience before sipping the really nice wine that we chose. The wine was a blend form Argentina. I wish I could remember all the information that I love to give out before I talk about a wine but I was not in wine geek mode that night. The geek was there but just chillin in the background letting the rest of my brain enjoy the night without thinking to hard on the wine. I mean I thought about the wine after every sip and enjoyed it opening up and seamlessly pairing with the food but the urge to break out a pen and paper and take the fun notes never crept up. I just enjoyed the experience and that is what wine and friends are all about.
Speaking of wine and friends that is how this New Year’s ended up for my wife and I. At midnight we were surrounded by some of our closest friends drinking prosecco and sounding the noisemakers. We all hugged and I kissed my wife at midnight. We even celebrated a New Year’s Eve birthday. Happy Birthday Angus!!!! I have some pretty cool pics yo. Anyway, I just wanted to reconnect with everyone and rant and ramble for a bit on what this blog is all about: wine, food and life. I love writing this blog. I also love that you guys actually take the time to read what I have to say and for that I thank you. I plan on keeping this thing going throughout 2007 and in the process we can explore more wines together. When I write about a wine I am not an expert on that particular bottle. I am experiencing it for the first time, taking it all in and researching it. I am learning with you and that for me is one of the most exciting parts of this blog thing. Please keep coming back to see me. And thank you again for all of your support. Happy 2007!!!!
My thirst for wine knowledge is never completely quenched. And honestly I don’t attempt to quench it. I just allow my geekiness to bring me form one wine to the next with an open mind. And when you have an open mind you constantly think of stuff other than what you’re supposed to be thinking about at that moment which leads to more questions and more inquiries. This is the life of a wine blogger. We are the people that sit and think about wine and love it so much we can’t help but share it with the world. As wine bloggers we (at least I hope) are reading every other wine blog out there trying to find that common thread of interest and approach. My focus when searching out wine blogs to read- and I read about fifteen to twenty a day- is a lack of pretense. Wine is for everyone and its knowledge should be shared. We are here to give that person just getting into wine a one up before they enter the store. We are the ones giving that person advice on what to look for in a wine merchant. We are the vintage trackers, the taste testers. But we do all this with the intention of helping. Not telling. We are putting our passions out for display in the hopes that we can help a little bit more in this sometimes confusing and esoteric yet amazingly fun world.
Speaking of amazingly fun. I said that I read about fifteen to twenty blogs a day. Well after a good couple of hours of writing my posts and reading and communicating with fellow bloggers there is one place I can go to just sit back, relax, smile and watch a wine review. Enter Gary Vaynerchuk. This guy brings something to the table that has not been brought before. He takes the blog idea to the next level. Gary is the host of his own video blog at WineLibraryTV and man is it a great time. According to is “About WineLibraryTV” He had his first wine experience at the age of seventeen and it is clearly evident that it only fueled him form there. He does a post everyday and it’s not just some guy sitting at table sipping expensive wine and droning on about things that only he knows. No. This is a fun time. The minute you click the screen on he comes with usually three or four wines on the table in front of him, a Jets spit bucket, sometimes some toy action figures of some sort and a dry erasure board with something written on it form the Jets game score to a welcoming to first timers to the show. He bursts out with his salutation by stating his name in pronunciation form, “Hello everybody and welcome to Wine Library TV. I am your host Gary Vay-ner-chuck.” which catches you immediately and screams that this guy is excited about what he wants to get out there and that he loves what he does.
He then launches into his show, which is everything, wine…and sometimes Jets. He always likes to keep his shows surrounding a theme whether it is the best wines for thanksgiving or a line of granache from different parts of the world (one of my recent favorites). He gives an introduction to what he’s tasting and gets right to it, all the while having fun messing with his camera crew and throwing objects, usually corks at the camera. And then comes my favorite part the tasting notes. I love Gary’s brutal honesty. He rates the wines that he tastes on a point system remniscent of the “the Spectator “ but with his enthusiasm and his passion shining through the screen I would take his ratings more to heart. If it is a new world wine he lets us know so an old world lover won’t go out and waste his or her mullah on a fruit bomb and vice versa. And the aroma descriptions that he pulls out are truly his own and make complete sense. He says what he thinks but he also does it in a way that is non-threatening. He has a good sense of humor and I think that is what is important in the wine world today. We have sit back, relax and enjoy. We have to be able to laugh when experiencing the good juice and the bad juice knowing that it’s all part of discovering this natural phenomenon. And Gary Vaynerchuk helps us do that. His viewers who call them selves “Vaniacs” arehttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif twenty thousand strong and growing…make that twenty thousand and one. Count me in. The WineLibraryTV website is chock full of information on wine as well as a place to order wine online, a written blog and a huge forum that people can communicate about what they have tried form the show (or not from the show in which case Gary makes a good effort to try get the requests that he gets in emails and on the forum on the show). This wine geek makes it a daily priority to check out what the Vaynerchuk is into. Keep it up man. When I talked about searching for a common thread in the beginning of this post this blog is the example that came to mind. You’re doing great work for the wine world everyday. To get pumped up and really get into this new and refreshing approach to wine blogging when you go onto the site find episode #125 (or just click on this) and you will get a feel of what this guy is all about. I will end this post with a quote from Gary that he ends his show with everyday and that I think really hits home with the approach he is taking. Cheers!
“ You. With a little bit of me. We’re changing the wine world.”
- Gary Vaynerchuk
At work the other day a customer form Australia came in for a couple glasses of vino and I couldn’t help but start picking his brain about the wine from down under. We talked a lot about the Riesling grape and how it’s the wine he remembers his parents always drinking from his childhood. I mentioned some info I had come across that Riesling came to Australia via a large group of people fleeing prosecution in Germany and he said he wasn’t to sure about that but that it made sense because there is a large, concentrated German and Austrian population in Adelaide (Southern Australia). We talked about chardonnay and how it became popular in the vineyards of Australia a little over twenty-five years ago to which I mentioned that I also heard that there are some spots in the south western part of the continent that has cool ocean current climates which are great for Riesling. He concurred and gave me a couple of Riesling producers to look out for as well as an insider’s scoop on pinot noir from the Yarra Valley and how the cool climate is helping some producers to yield some nice juice from there.
We then turned to the subject of New Zealand and sauvignon Blanc. As far as he was concerned it is only thing good in wine that is happening in that country. He said that on his last visit there a friend of his gave him the skinny on New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Apparently when they are very young they show quite well with slick (good thing), ripe fruit and gooseberries. Then as they age a bit they start to fall apart and flatten out. But what was really interesting to me is that he said after the fifth or sixth year of aging (I didn’t even know this grape had such aging potential) it comes back to life. Well that one got me. A wine that wakes up when made then hibernates for a year or two only to wake up with a whole list of characteristics.
So the next day I stopped into this local wine shop on Second Avenue looking for a pinot noir form the Yarra Valley this guy had been telling me about. Unfortunately there was none there. But the guy running things had an enthusiasm about him that said wine geek. So we chatted about pinot as he showed me some of his favorites in the store from Oregon to Burgundy. After all was said and done I changed the subject to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. He smiled and as we walked to the right section saying that he really liked the sauvignons coming out of that area of the world. For me that was a great indication that I should ask this cat which of the selection was his favorite. And so I did. With confidence he grabbed one and gave it to me. I looked it over briefly saw that it was only twelve bucks and just went for it. I didn’t need to look at the bottle intensely and figure out whether it was worth it or not. This guy was smiling with confidence and for the price it was fun just diving in.
When I got home I took the bottle out of the bag started to really look at it. After doing some research this is what I came up with. The wine is a 2006 Regional Collection sauvignon Blanc From the House of Nobilo in the wine region of Marlborough in the northeast of the south island of New Zealand. Marlborough is known to have been the birthplace of the modern wine culture of the country starting in the 1970’s. The House of Nobilo is a mass production subsidiary of the largest alcoholic beverage company in the US. But with that being said Nobilo has also been making wine for sixty years and is well respected throughout New Zealand. Pretty cool. A well priced wine from a producer that had mad props in its homeland. I couldn’t wait to try it.
BYOB. It just popped into my head and the next thing I know I was on an intensive search for a fairly close offering that paired well with my new ’06 sav, if you will. After about a half an hour or so through chowhond.com I found what might just be the ideal spot. It is a sushi place down in the Lower East Side called Cube 63. I had heard about the place and actually the people who told me about it said that it some of the best sushi in the city. Well whether it was the best or just damn good I though my wife and I would enjoy testing out this new bottle there.
When we arrived the place was almost full and it was only seven at night. That ‘s the LES for ya. It is really crammed into the island so the high concentration of foot traffic is intense at times. Cube 63 is on, go figure, 63 Clinton street between Stanton and Rivington. With the name it all just fits together. Not only does the number in the title correspond to the address but the word “cube” does as well. This place is small. It really is a bit cube-ish with less than twenty tables and has this really cool kind of green fluorescent lighting with a sushi bar in the back accompanied by what would normally be bar shelves that are empty save for a couple of glasses reminiscent of a former liquor license maybe? Unless they use the margarita glasses for some sort of presentation which would be awesome.
We got there just in time to grab the last two-top in the place. They popped our bottle for us and poured out a bit in each glass so we could do the rest. The wine glasses here by the way are pretty cool. Most of the time BYOB places have little “trattoria” glasses. I am not saying that they are bad or good. It’s just nice to sometimes see people go that extra inch and get larger glasses for us wine geeks to savor aromas, swirl uncontrollably, check out visual body structure, you know all that weird geeky stuff we get into that makes my wife just stare and smile and giggle.
The wine was at a good temperature. I had been carrying it around for a little bit so it had been out of the fridge for maybe a half hour or so but it was quite cold out so it didn’t warm up too much. It was at probably almost fifty degrees, which is not so bad for a white. I like white at this temperature because all the aromas are out to play. The initial nose was full of that cat pee we have all come to know and love in Sauvignon Blanc. I could just call it gooseberries but where is the fun in that. It was screaming its vintage all the way to the first sip with crazy citrus swimming underneath fresh peaches. The palate was quite comfortable and big with great acidity and juicy roundness. What was nice about it and what I was worried it wouldn’t have for the price was good balance. The wine wasn’t one to blow you away and run out to purchase a case but was one to run into a wine shop in a hurry and grab a good sav for twelve bucks.
We went a little nutty with the ordering. We had edema me and vegetable tempura for starters. These of course went seamlessly with the wine. The batter of the tempura and the saltiness of the soy sauce allowed us to really enjoy the thirst quenching properties of white wine. We actually got the edema me with out salt and it was a good idea because my wife noticed something refreshing about the wine when pairing the two. The lack of salt made the spiciness of the wine come out for a visit and mingle with the acidity and fruit. And on the palate the pairing was very balanced with nothing over powering each other. The mains were just downright great with the wine. We had the tuna sushi with a Cali roll, an avocado maki roll, a spicy tuna roll and one more that I actually cannot remember but, WOW. The quality of the fish here and the rice and the seaweed was just great. It was the best I had had yet in the city. I am fairly new to sushi places but my wife has been a sushi lover for years and she agreed that it was down right delicious. It was all so fresh with no hint of too much air exposure and brininess.
So if you’re in a pinch and need a BYOB bottle; especially if your headed for sushi or even curry this wine is a great choice. I am sure it is readily available because of the parent company that distributes it and the price is right. It washes down the rightly paired food beautifully with great acidity and fruit with a slick roundness that leaves a fresh, medium finish. I am on a mission now to find another place that can compete with Cube 63. But you know, even if I do find one that is as good or better and they are not BYOB then it will come down to what wines they have to offer. If that element is lacking then it will probably be tough to stay away from the cube. BYOB and sushi ah the possibilities! Cheers!
I popped into a wine shop the other day in sort of a hurry. I had multiple bags of ingredients in hand from an amazing new find called the Essex Street Market. This place is amazing. It is an indoor market from a bygone era (1930’s) when LaGuardia was mayor. There were so many vendor pushcarts on the streets of New York City that police and firefighters were having a hard time getting around. So the mayor created indoor markets so the vendors could permanently set up shop. This market as far as I know is the only one that has been brought back into existence. It has everything from butchers to fishmongers to local produce. There are a couple of serious cheese mongers in there as well as a kosher wine shop, a barber shop a tailor and a restaurant. This is where I will be going for my menus at home from now on. It is a bit of a walk but it is so worth it.
Ok, back to the point. I was in a bit of a hurry but as always with me as busy as I might be when I walk into a wine shop the world slows down a little and calm washes over me. A smile forms on my face and I begin to just stroll and stare and soak it all in. I had my mind set on a red but when I thought about it I realized it was Monday and my wife, around this time, was just ending one of the worst days of the week for public school teachers dealings with kids besides Fridays and she gravitates more towards the white wine. So white wine it was. Now, because of the time constraint I was in I knew that when I got home I would have to start cooking immediately to be done in time for when my wife got home. And when I am cooking I like to sip the wine that I will be having with dinner just to relax me and contemplate it while in the Zen-mode of food preparation. Therefore there was no time for buying white off the shelf and hoping that I could chill it before the food was ready. I needed it cold now.
Fortunately this particular wine shop has a pretty good size white wine cooler. Actually now that I think about it, it might be one of the largest I have seen. Also because of time I didn’t have the luxury of browsing the different regions on the shelves and going to the cooler to see if it was there and then back and forth again. So I just went up and down the rows of cold whites, which were separated generally by country and found myself in the region I have been in for a while now, France. I have only tried a couple of serious French whites and they were spectacular but I have been with people that really know their French whites and I am not even sure how much they cost. They were amazing but could have an astronomical price. I will look into that soon because one of them from Alsace was probably the sexiest white wine I have ever had and I want to write about it but if it costs an arm and a leg than there’s not really a place for it on this blog other than an honorable mention.
Anyway I set my sights on something I had never seen before. It was a white form the Languedoc called Picpoul de Pinet. And it was eleven dollars with tax. Well at this time my other worldly demeanor of leaving the world outside while in a wine shop was quickly being taken over by Father Time and it was time to go. So without knowing too much about this wine (this particular shop isn’t so good at being on top of their customers unless it’s time to be rung up) I paid my eleven and chugged on home to cook and sip and think and chill.
Before I talk about the wine I want to say that I did not choose the right meal for it. I went in to this whole thing thinking of hearty fall dinner with rustic red but I love my wife and the thought of her chillin’ with a refreshing glass of white just felt right. So I won’t be talking about the food. I will mention though that I will be making the same dish again and will do a rustic red and get really into it but for now let’s talk white. Languedoc has twelve or so appellations and I am not too familiar with them just yet but the appellation this wine comes from is the Coteaux de Languedoc. I did some research on this wine and what I found was pretty interesting. The producer of this 2005 white is Domaine Gaujal Saint Bon, a mother and daughter team who apparently run a pretty tight ship and are very focused on bringing their local varietal into greatness. The grape is called picpoul (apparently derived from two French words, one meaning “lip” and the other meaning “stinger”) and the area in which the Guajals live is actually a sub-appellation of Coteaux de Languedoc by the name of Picpoul de Pinet. They keep their yields low and rest the Picpoul on the lees for longer than most of the producers in the area and are aged in stainless steel. If this wine had any of the qualities of other French whites that I have had it was going to be a good day knowing I had another go to wine.
I popped the bottle and had at it. The color of this wine is a nice pale hay if that is such a term and when swirled it clung to the glass pretty well probably indicating the effect of the lengthy rest on the lees. The initial nose was what I have been loving about French white wine. It had a good dose of minerality and slight hint of fruit. But more than that it had balance. I mean it really had balance and that was indicated just on the nose. Nothing was overwhelming. Yes, I did say that there was a good dose of wet rock, minerality but it was so intertwined with the mild fruit it was almost seamless. The first sip confirmed this wines harmony. It was a great wine and the fact that this was only eleven bucks made me want to dance a jig (I didn’t of course because I was listening to some Stravinsky. Now, if I had had on some Jay-Z or Talib Kweli things would have been different). The mouth feel was very smooth and crisp with mild acidity that was present but muted in a good way. I think the Guajals were speaking to me through the wine. See, they were saying, that is why we rest the wine on the lees for a long time. They were trying to keep the acidity in check and it worked. I wonder what other Picpouls with a different approach might taste like. Maybe more steely? I‘ll have check it out. The minerality carried through from the nose to the palate and added to the unique roundness to this wine. And that roundness held as the wine came to room temperature. My wife was really into this nice little lip-stinger and saved the last drops of the glass letting the slight aromas of deep citrus to form, folding into the fruit and sitting underneath the minerals dancing around with out a care (well at least they danced a jig. Next time I will join in).
If I had to do it again I would have had this wine with some sort of fish dinner. I love halibut and skate and they would do wonders for this wine. Also lobster would be a good choice. I don’t think this is necessarily a cheese wine but then again the cheese I chose was a bit hearty and pungent. For all of you out there reading my rants please go and pick this wine up. Look it up on wineseacher.com or just head down to the East Village and pick it up at Discovery Wines. You just can’t beat a balanced French white wine for eleven bucks. Hurry though, I might be buying them up. Just kidding…maybe not. Cheers!
Well it has been over a week and I am so sorry for not posting. Actually I have been sick for most of the time and found that it is almost impossible to write about wine when under the weather. There is this preoccupation with wanting to sleep or just veg with DVDs. I actually even attempted to taste wine…which was interesting and not in a good way. When your sick it seems that all you can taste is the acidity and sourness of a wine. I even tried a couple different wines to see if was the wine or if it was me. It was me. What a nightmare.
Well I am right as rain now and ready to dive back into where I was when the bug hit me. France. Tomorrow I will post mine and my friends’ experiences with a couple more French wines before I start exploring elsewhere.
I really do not like not being able to taste wine. When I am sick and cannot do so I truly realize how much I love this artisanal natural phenomenon. This amazing product of thousands of years of trial and error. Wine carries with it a mystery and an excitement that I miss dearly when I am unable to taste it. When I go to a shop and pick up a bottle of wine it hits me. The anticipation is almost too much (Antici…..pation. Rocky Horror Picture Show anyone? No? Sorry I got carried away there. I have rent that again. It’s been too long). The guys and I usually wait until later on in the evening when we can just sit back relax and dissect the wine lovingly but that excitement stays with me from purchase to popping. I am not going to go on and on about how much I dig wine. I think it is apparent (hopefully) through my writings. But I am back in wellville and will talk to ‘yall tomorrow about this excellent fifteen dollar Bandol we tried a week or so ago. Good gift wine for a holiday dinner get together.
I am on a brief French wine kick right now. I was running around yesterday and popped into a local wine shop to search out another twenty dollar and under. I decided to stay in the Rhone Valley because I wanted to see what the other appellations had to offer in this price range. This shop wasn’t as informative and interactive as Astor. It had these kiosk scanners that told you everything about the wine from varietals to tasting notes and food pairings. That is all well and good but what happened to human contact. If you have a computer telling you everything you don’t have the privilege of going back after a wonderful find and thanking your wine merchant for the suggestion and may you please suggest one for this evening. Anyway, what I am saying is that no one came up to me and asked me if I had any questions and there seemed to be a low staff count save for someone putting up wine and ignoring me and someone on their lunch break talking loudly on the phone about their friend’s significant other’s infidelity. I was on my own save for Mr. Hendrix in the speakers griping about love and cross-town traffic.
I strolled pass the Bordeaux that I will tackle one day and the rose of Provence. I gazed pass the Languedoc and headed straight for the Rhone. I grabbed a Gigondas and scanned the label under the trippy red lights of the computer…. then scanned the label again…again. Nothing. I was having some high-tech trouble with lunch-break-staffer right behind me munchin’ and yappin’ and not helpin’. I was a bit pressed for time so I put the Gigondas down and grabbed a Vacqueyras. Scan…scan…scan. Nothing. Maybe I was doing something wrong. I looked at the bottle and something in me said take it. Don’t worry about it, the voice said. This is what it’s like to be adventurous in wine. If no one is helping you then you are experiencing what the majority of wine buyers feel in a wine shop. A shot in the dark. Ok, I said to myself. Just one last try. I found inventory-stocking-staffer and asked if she had tried this wine and if not what the blend, if any was in the wine. I gave her the bottle, she looked at it puzzlingly and said she had never tried it and did not know the blend, if any, but the computer would know. She scanned the wine successfully (how did she do that) and sure enough tasting notes and food pairings appeared along with some other facts. As we both stared at the screen I asked if she could find the varietals. She could not. I looked a little closer and saw “granache” (sigh of relief). Ok, I got the varietal. Let’s do it. I left with my new bottle of Vacqueyras feeling excited and a little disappointed in the kiosk technology. “…Cross town traffic. So hard to get through to you.” (Hendrix)
Sorry about the rant. I am not a very negative person I was just a little taken back. I love talking about wine. And if I can enjoy a conversation with someone about the wine in question then I feel more confident about my purchase. Whether it is a hit or miss doesn’t matter so much as the enthusiasm of the merchant. Please let me know if I am way over sensitive or not.
Anyway, Back to the point of this post. Wine. The bottle I purchased was a 2003 Domaine La Garrigue from the Vacqueyras A.O.C. The computer said one hundred percent granache but after tasting it there might some syrah and a little mouverde in there. The wines from this appellation are predominantly granache (I believe the AOC laws state that there must be at least fifty percent granache but I am not totally sure) with syrah, mouverde and cinsaut rounding out the mix. I spent twenty bucks on this wine.
Angus, Gal and I popped the bottle and began the initial evaluation. The color was nice and deep. The wine clung to the glass walls nicely showing that it was full but not too big. The first nose was really pleasant and made me realize what I loved about the wines from this part of the world. The alcohol burned off quickly and Angus and I agreed that the aromas coming off that first sniff were mushrooms and soil. Not together but separate aromas. You could pick them out and distinguish them from each other. We swirled and sniffed a couple more times before sipping and everything in the glass started to come together. For me there is nothing like sitting back after a long day or night of work and just enjoying the evolution of a wine in the glass. Gal piped in just before we tried the wine saying he was getting raw meat with a bit of citrus. To my surprise when I stuck my down in there one more time I knew what he was talking about. The mushroom aroma was intermingling with the fruit and thickening up the nose wonderfully. That citrus was playing around with a slight note of mint. I had a good feeling about this Vacqueyras.
The sips came. Our faces crinkled and our eyebrows rose on high. And when I looked up from my glass there was an expression of genuine satisfaction on all of our faces. The palate had a nice and solid tannin structure that was very approachable. The fruit and alcohol along with the acidity settled in together at a calm pace and allowed us to enjoy a mild yet prominent finish. Gal mentioned that the finish was actually a little short but we all agreed that was a good thing. It added to the smoothness of this wine. On the second nose all that citrus and mint had melded into some very comfortable herbal notes along with what Gal described as wheat and dried fruits. And there was something else going on in the glass that we couldn’t quite place right away. There was savory thing happening here. Almost like a smokiness and then Angus hit it on the nose. Bacon. The fruit and the tannin came together to give a mild smoky bacon smell. Really nice.
This was a great wine for twenty bucks. The Rhone just keeps me coming back. The intensity of the tannins increased a bit as it opened up but the fruit was so well balanced and intertwined with the body that it was a welcome addition of strength to round it all out. If you are looking for a smooth medium to full body wine to pair with some sort of pork tenderloin dish with some kind of earthy bean or mushroom salad this is it. It is a great wine for fall seasonal dishes. I also just realized that this is a 2003. This vintage was the one with the deadly heat wave in France and it looks like the wines of the Rhone made out just fine. This is my second stab at the Rhone and I am one happy wine geek. If my spontaneity doesn’t get the best of me I will be writing about a Gigondas next. Cheers! Oh and by the way, if you grab this bottle know that it also pairs well with Jimi Hendrix.