Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Riesling Resolution

Last night, I found myself sipping a Riesling at Sojourn Restaurant on the Upper East Side. As I sat there, admiring its bold flavors and mouth-watering acidity, the Sommelier came over to introduce himself. A few moments later, he asked what I thought of the wine. After a brief exchange about what was in the glass, he went on to explain his frustration over how few people appreciate Riesling. It is such a versatile wine, capable of expressing itself beautifully from bone-dry all the way to sticky sweet and all the while saturating yet stimulating your palate… So why don't more people drink Riesling?

“Maybe it's the Tolkienesque script on the bottles,” I replied. Or that the average person doesn't know the difference between a Kabinett and an Auslese, a Trocken or a Feinherb. Or, maybe, it's that the average wine and liquor store doesn't provide a quality selection or one that even comes close to representing what the region is capable of. In fact, I think it's all of these things… One thing I’m sure of, however, is that Riesling is worth overcoming these challenges.

Thinking back over the last few years, there are a lot of great wines that stick out in my mind. Among those wines is a smattering of whites, which convinced me long ago that if I’m going to drink white wine, I want it to be Riesling. However, it seemed that each time I wanted to put some effort into experimenting with the varietal, something Italian would come along and turn my head. And so, I decided to make a commitment; that 2011 will be the year in which I truly explore Riesling, and it’s a journey that I hope you will take with me.

Like any journey into unknown territory, I required a guide. After polling the opinions of many trusted sources, the decision was unanimous: The staff at Crush: Wine and Spirits, were the people to see. One glance at their inventory and the writings/blogging of Wine Director, Stephen Bitterolf was all I needed to know that this team was serious about Riesling, and they have been more than helpful in getting me started.

So where to start? In my opinion, the biggest challenge with Riesling is in understanding the different styles and what to expect, as well as what you prefer. And so, I opted to try a lineup of wines from one producer in the region who came highly recommended: A.J. Adam.

Mention the name A.J. Adam in the company of an experienced Riesling aficionado and the least you’ll get is a nod of respect. However, it’s more likely that the response will be one of admiration and genuine excitement about this young producer, who has only started to recently craft wines under the name “A.J. Adam.”

Andreas Adam, of the Middle Mosel, is best known for a collection of wines made from the Hofberg vineyard, with a soil composition of mostly weathered slate and clay. These wines are wonderfully rich and full yet somehow electric through a whip of vibrant acidity that excites the palate. Recently, he has also crafted a Grosses Gew√§chs (Germany’s version of a Grand Cru) from the Goldtropfchen vineyard. It’s a dry wine that is spellbinding on the nose with a massive amount of flavor and character on the palate. All the wines were amazing, and picking which ones to add to my cellar was near impossible.

If you don’t know Riesling, A.J. Adam is a great place to start. Readers can also expect many more updates such as these throughout 2011, as I continue to explore this amazing region. For those of you that love the little details there are many to follow. For now, permit me to simply introduce you to four very special wines, and the best part is my top scoring bottle also happens to be the best priced around $26.

On to the Wines:

2009 A.J. Adam Piesporter Goldtropfchen GG – The color of A.J. Adam Goldtropfchen was of pure white gold. In the nose, spring flowers and grapefruit assaulted my senses as aromas of raw almonds and burnt butter followed behind adding subtle complexities. On the palate I found sour lemon drops with minerals and a touch of green grass. The flavors turned to sour apple as this wine’s tongue-curling acidity turned what was originally a perception of a full-bodied wine into something ethereal and light as a feather. The lasting finish showed lemon and lime with hints of salinity. Today, this wine is almost too much to drink, but with proper cellaring, may one day be truly magical. (92 points)

2009 A.J. Adam Dhroner Hofberg Riesling Feinherb – In the nose, this showed lemon and wet slate with a hint of honey and kiwi. On the palate, I found ripe peach, apple and stone with just the slightest kiss of sweetness. This was velvety and mouth-coating, followed by a mouthwatering finish of lemon and lime. The Hofberger Feinherb would be a perfect alternative to the Kabinett for a taster who prefers a bit less residual sugar. However, I still found the Kabinett to be a more complete wine. (91 points)

2009 A.J. Adam Dhroner Hofberg Riesling Kabinett - The nose was at first ungiving, but with some time in the glass, this wine bloomed with fresh brioche, slate dust, citrus and white flower petals. On the palate, I found a hint of sweetness balanced by tart lemon curd and clotted cream, which showed incredible mouth-filling richness that was suddenly wisped away, and turned refreshing, by lively acidity. The finish was like that perfect glass of lemonade on a steaming hot day. This is a bottle to wow your guests with or simply treat yourself to the depths of which Riesling is capable of. (93 points)

2009 A.J. Adam Dhroner Hofberg Riesling Spatlese – Aromas of lime, walnut and green apple wafted up from the glass. On the palate, this was weighty yet still fresh with flavors of honeydew melon and grapefruit playing a sweet and sour act across the tongue. There was a perceptible amount of sweetness, but this didn’t come across as sweet; instead it was full, balanced and bursting with flavor. The finish was long with citrus fruit and a hint of toasty pecan. This bottle is gorgeous now, yet I can’t help but wonder how great it will be in 10 to 15 years. (92 points)

Also see: The Wines of Willi Schaefer

Sunday, January 16, 2011

An unexpected update: Tenute Dettori, Tenores

Back in September of 2010, my post, “The Wild Wines of Sardinia.” spotlighted a number of the top producers from the region. However, there was one winery that was given its own introduction without any tasting notes, because I had yet to be able to experience the wines myself… until today.

The following is an excerpt from that post:

"...Alessandro Dettori, on the north west of the island. Dettori can easily be compared to Frank Cornelissen of Sicily in his approach to natural winemaking. Refusing to use chemical fertilizers in the field and only a trace of sulfur in the bottles, Dettori believes that wine itself can be made without human intervention and that it is the “winemaking” that should be removed from the process. Dettori uses a number of indigenous grapes, such as Pascale and Monica, to create truly unique Sardinian wines and suggests that bottles should be opened and left to air for hours or even days before enjoying. These are truly wild wines, and although they may not be for everyone, they are worth trying to expand your palate.”

Below is my first, but certainly not my last, experience with the wines of Dettori.

2005 Tenute Dettori Tenores – For three weeks this bottle sat up in my cellar, waiting for the day that I had the time to open it and let it breath for hours before tasting. The day had finally come. At 10am, the cork was popped and the bottle was left until 6pm before the first glass was poured. The color was red in the center, fading to amber and then orange at the rim. The aromas of this wine drew me in with ripe figs, confectioners sugar, leather, potpourri, rock dust and…green olive. I found myself returning to the glass repeatedly for nothing more than another smell. The first sip took me aback, as an intense wave of rich, almost sweet fruit that was suddenly balanced by griping acidity, flowed across my palate. Flavors of blackberry jam, cinnamon stick, red apples and tobacco followed, complementing this wine’s full body and near invisible 16% alcohol. The finish showed mulling spices, which lasted well over a minute. There were times that the Tenores could have been mistaken for an aged Barolo or Burgundy; it’s an absolutely compelling wine. (96 Points)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Terre Nere: Wines of Earth, Wind and Fire

I think back five years, when I was just starting to get into Italian wine. I was a new chef that had just finished paying my school bills and I was working at T.H.O.R on the lower east side of Manhattan. I had money in my pocket for what seemed like the first time in many years, and I was determined to understand Italian wine. At that time it was Italian Wine Merchant (the authority on Italian wine in NY on E. 16th Street) that was filling my cellar and I would spend hours there each week, talking wine and Italian culture. However, with time, I began to realize that there was something missing from their inventory. IWM had all the big wines of Italy and many obscure gems from cult producers, but what they didn't have were the wines of the south and especially Sicily. Their inventory literally seemed to stop short at Campania. I even posed the question to my trusted cellar consultant, "What about Southern wines?", and the response was dismissive–not of me but of the wines themselves.

The reason for this is that, up until recently, the wines of Sicily were still recovering from decades of being nothing more than a production of concentrated, sweet and uninteresting bulk wines that would be shipped north for blending or sold as table wine. There were only a handful of producers who were working to invigorate the Sicilian wine industry. However, something has been brewing in Sicily; a winemaking revolution of sorts. The problem is that it takes time to change a vineyard over from producing bulk to beauty.

Fast forward only a few years, and now we are reaping the benefits. If Sicily is not on your map, then you owe it to yourself to put it there. Tread carefully, though. While there are many quality producers making serious wine, there are still many who are pushing plunk. I've been exploring for over six months now, and have found a number of great wineries to recommend, (Frank Cornelissen and Occhipinti come to mind) but there's one that has truly stood out: Terre Nere.

The wines of Terre Nere hail from the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna–that's right, on the side of an active volcano. It's here that many believe Sicily will show that it can make wines of elegance, depth and refinement. I can honestly say that I'm a believer.

What makes Terre Nere so special? A number of things, such as vineyards that sit at some of the highest elevations for red wine grapes in Europe, about 800 - 900 meters above sea level. Between the three Crus that Terre Nere sources from, there is a diverse mix of soils due to volcanic eruptions over thousands of years. The vines, primarily Nerello Mascalese, are between 40 - 50 years old–60 - 80 years old in the Feudo di Mezzo cru–and are in some cases pre-phylloxera (not grafted onto American root stock). Lastly, the production is all organic. What this all adds up to are characterful wines of amazing finesse, haunting aromatics, and complexities that have often been compared to Barolo and Burgundy. When I first read this, it immediately brought to mind the number of times this kind of hype was used to describe a new winery–but in this case it's for real.

Over the last month, I've been able to taste through three wines, from their $15 rosso to two of their vineyard classified bottles in the $30 -$35 range, and to say I'm impressed is putting it lightly. These are wines that can be enjoyed today with proper decanting or put away for a decade and, for the price, can't be beat. If you seek earth, air, minerals, smoke, spice and rich fruit with vibrant acidity and structure in your wines, Terre Nere must be on your short list.

On to the notes:

2007 Terre Nere Guardiola - The Guardiola opened on the nose with eucalyptus, olives, crushed wild berries and hint of raw beef. On the palate, this showed a lush mouth feel with a pop of zesty acidity, as cool mint swept across the tongue, followed by sour blackberry and herbs. The medium-long finish was fresh with bitter cherry pits. (92 points)

Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2008 Terre Nere Etna Rosso - After a half hour in decanter, this wine showed wild berries, top soil and rosemary on the nose. On the palate this showed juicy blueberry that turned to sour cherry, cinnamon and granite. It was elegant and dazzled the senses as it started sweet, turned dry and then left you with a finish of spicy, sour fruit. (89 Points)

Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2007 Terre Nere Feudo di Mezzo - The nose drew me in and evolved with time in the glass. At first it showed cherry with dusted sugar, cinnamon spice tea and hints of forest floor. Notes of menthol came forward as I swirled, and the fruit continued to gain volume and depth. The palate was very lean with a tannic bite at the end. The fruit that came to mind was fresh cranberries with a sour, dry finish and leather strap with a slight bitterness. There was a lot going on in the glass with the fruit gaining richness over time and verging on cherry, but the structure was massive and closed the wine down as tannin coated the palate. This bottle has many years ahead of it and has earned a place in my cellar. (92 Points)

Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Food and Wine in December

December tends to be my busiest time of year and usually keeps me away from tasting as much as I’d like. Luckily, I was still able to find a few diamonds in the rough. Through December, I was able to taste an amazing white from Piedmont that anyone who loves white wine should know about, some great vintage Vin Santo that’s available and affordable, and a truly exciting yet stylish Cab Franc from Long Island.

However, December wasn’t all about wine. What’s Cookin’ also released one of my newest articles “Eric Guido’s Eggplant Parmigiana” a recipe that comes right from my heart. This is serious Italian American homestyle cooking that was taught to me by my grandmother and hardly changed by my trained hand. Why mess with perfection?

Eric Guido's Eggplant Parmigiana

If you were to ask any of my friends or clients about my specialty, they would quickly inform you that it’s risotto. However, it wasn’t always so. Long before my professional career and formal training, I was a cook that depended on what I learned as a child. The rich Italian-American cooking of my family was my strong suit and, more than anything else, it was my grandmother’s Eggplant Parmigiana... (For the full article and recipe, visit: What's Cookin

On to the wines:

Arneis is a white grape indigenous to Piedmont, Italy. Many bottles of Arneis are easily forgettable, but in the hands of some producers (Bruno Giacosa & Vietti come to mind), they are gorgeous, showing white flowers and citrus fruits, with a mix of richness and finesse on the palate. This one is the best I’ve tasted to date:

2009 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis - On the nose, I found white flowers and citrus zest with hints of honey and slight toastiness. The palate was crisp and fresh yet still showed weight with flavors of sweet peach, apricots and cream. The finish was fresh and floral. This may be the best Arneis I’ve ever had. (91 Points)

Find it on Wine-Searcher!

The North Fork of Long Island continues to push its way into the world of fine wine but it’s an uphill battle. Nonetheless, many quality producers are determined to show what the North Fork is capable of (Shinn and Paumanok come to mind). The bottle below, from Vineyard 48, was thoroughly enjoyable. Think an official visit to the North Fork is in order for later this year.

2007 Vineyard 48 Cabernet Franc Reserve - The nose showed licorice and cherry liquor with a hint of musky animal fur and new oak. On the palate, I found strawberry fruit, milk chocolate and sweet vanilla on a full bodied frame. The finish was long and fresh with red fruits. This was very enjoyable and with enough character to cut through the rich fruit. (90 Points)

For more information, visit: Vineyard 48

Vin Santo is not a wine you see at many tastings and events these days. The fact is, dessert wines fell out of style a while back and it’s because of this that you don’t see quality Vin Santo adorning the shelves of your trusted wine merchant. However, this almost forgotten style, in the United States, is still the pride of many Tuscan winemakers portfolios. I was lucky enough to taste a ’90 Vin Santo about two years ago and it changed the way I thought about this wine. So it might be sweet… but it also possesses depths of flavors and nuances unheard of in dry wines. I highly recommend that my readers try a good aged Vin Santo, and the one below would be a great place to start.

1994 Isole e Olena Vin Santo del Chianti Classico - Roasted almond, varnish, orange peel, chestnut and smoke filled out the nose of this beautiful Vin Santo. The palate was perfectly resolved, yet lively, with acidity and sweet caramel followed by roasting nuts and a hint of tropical fruit. The finish was over a minute long with vibrant acidity, showing nuts and orange that faded into warm wood tones. (92 Points)

I found this great bottle at: Grapes: The Wine Company