Monday, March 25, 2013

Snooth PVA: A World of Wine In N.Y.C.

By Eric Guido

I have just returned from a rollercoaster ride of a tasting weekend. The Snooth People’s Voice Wine Awards managed to take me from Italy, to Spain, to Austria, to Brazil and even South Africa. It was a massive event with focus group tastings, guest speakers, cooking demos, food & wine pairings and a group of some of the best wine bloggers from around the country. It will take many days to sort through the massive amount of pictures, tasting notes and overall impressions that I collected over the last few days. All of those impressions will find their way into these pages.

However, until that time, I thought it would be great to go over a few of the highlights of my weekend. In the world of wine tasting, you always have the ones you love, the ones you like and the ones that fall flat, but I can tell you that this weekend opened my eyes to large number of excellent wines. What’s more, the people that made it happen, the bloggers that shared my experience (which you should be following, see below), and the foods—oh the food. So I’ve attempted to put something of a scrapbook together for you here. Enjoy.

The Aurora Carnaval Moscato Rose
We started early Saturday with the wines of Brasil. My overall impression of this up-and-coming region was good, however the tasting was marked by an unusually large amount of corked bottles. I certainly enjoyed a number of the red wines, but the show stealer (and great for the upcoming spring) was the NV Aurora Carnaval Moscato Rosé, a spicy floral and fruity rosé with soothing bubbles, ripe fruits and spicy inner floral tones on the palate. At $14.99, this would be a great way to sip through your summer BBQs.

Costilla al Vino Tinto
Ribera del Duero braised short ribs
With Brazil behind us, we made our way to Salinas Restaurant for a tasting of wines from Ribera Del Duero. This was an eye-opening tasting for me, as I admittedly have not spent enough time exploring this region of Spain. The wines were ripe and juicy, but not over the top. They were great with food, yet could easily be sipped for your enjoyment, and I can’t wait to compile my notes and present them.

Chef Luis Bollo

Then there was the food. Salinas Restaurant presented us with a four-course meal prepared by Chef Luis Bollo. It was fantastic with the warm, soothing Caldo de Temporada (Galician style Pumpkin-Chicken soup) and the Costilla al Vino Tinto (Ribera del Duero braised short ribs). The setting was comfortable, yet uplifting, with skylights and a warming fireplace. I can’t wait to go back and spend some time perusing the menu.

The afternoon found us tasting through the white wines of Italy, a region that I have the most experience with. However, on this day, nothing truly wowed me from this lineup of wines. No matter, because right afterwards we were brought to Snooth’s Grand Tasting, featuring the finalists from the People’s Voice Wine Awards. It was amazing with some of the best wines from around the world.

Chipotle-Rubbed Swordfish
with a Papaya-Fennel Slaw
Many of my favorite wines were present along with cuisine from a number of local and, not so local, chefs. We even enjoyed a cooking demo from Chefs Vidyadhara Shetty and Keith Griffin of the Cayman Islands, preparing a Chipotle-Rubbed Swordfish with a Papaya-Fennel Slaw. The crowd was massive and there was a feel-good aura to the entire event, which I seldom find at tastings.

Some of the highlights from my evening included a great performance from the Australian wines of Yalumba, a Masciarelli Merlot, and the Villa Ghemme Montepulciano d’Abbruzo, as well as the young yet spellbinding ’09 Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero. My detailed notes will follow in the weeks to come.

At this point, you’d think there’s nothing much to top what we had already tasted, but you’d be wrong.

Aldo Sohm talks rocks, dirt
and Gruner Veltliner.
With Sunday came an early morning tasting of the wines of Austria. The tasting was magnificent with a great presentation Aldo Sohm, on terroir, and so many stunning wines that I was floored. As I continued to work through them, it seemed as if they just kept getting better and better. My experience with Austrian wine has been limited, and this tasting left me as a fan, with a new love in life, Gruner Veltliner. One of the highlights of this tasting was the 2011 Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Lamm # 1, a completely seductive white wine that was stunning for it’s richness, yet balanced and laced with minerals and tart citrus. It’s a wine that will find its way into my cellar.

Smoked Ostrich
Lunch brought us to my alma mater, The Institute of Culinary Education, for a paring of South African food and wine. One of the highlights of this tasting was to find the 2009 Glenelly Lady May in the lineup, a wine that I became familiar with from a tasting late last year. Different vintage, but same amazing performance. The Lady May is a Bordeaux blend from South Africa that truly proves that the possibilities are endless in this region. It’s a wine that could be decanted and enjoyed now, or better yet, placed in the cellar for years.

With only a few hours left to our day, we made our way to a tasting of the wines of Rioja. It’s amazing to me that I don’t have more of these wines in my cellar, because each time I have a chance to taste both young and aged Rioja, I swoon over them. It’s a region of remarkable beauty and ancient cellars that are filled to the brim with treasures waiting to be released.

The '85 Conde de Valdemar Gran
Reserva.  A perfectly aged bottle.
This tasting put a number of vintages in front of us, but what was truly stunning were the wines from 1994 and 1985. They were so intense, still fruity and young, yet they showed all the depth of aged wine, along with price tags that are surprisingly easy to swallow. Our last wine of the weekend, the 1985 Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva, was so beautiful that I couldn’t help myself from drinking it down—and going for a second glass.

What a weekend! But that’s not all; the people that I shared it with were such a big part of the experience. I had the honor of tasting with, and have been humbled by, some of the most talented and interesting wine writers and artists. Their links are all below, and I urge you to check them out. It’s amazing what resources are out there for wine and food lovers; you just need to look.

The Wine Hub: Wine Exploration Starts Here
Wine Julia - A focus on Oregon wine & so much more
Wine Harlots - On wine and all things that inspirer her
Richard Jennings on Wine - A truly epic wine taster and writer
Seema Gunda of the Serious Eats Amateur Taste-Along.
Wine Folly - Wine tips, maps and tools.  An amazing resource for wine lovers.
Wine by Benito - Food, wine and great perspectives, a blog after my own heart.
Reverse Wine Snob - Down to earth, looking for great wines that are good values.
Makers Table - Food, Wine and the pleasures of the table.
Brunello Bob - Love Sangiovese? This is the blog for you.
Vineyard Adventures - Wine, food, Travel and Tours.  A beautiful site to dig into.
Vines Sleuth - "the wine blog for casual wine drinkers" but so much more.
Vindugle - Wine Education and Consulting
Wannabe Wino - Totally down to earth with a great selection of reviews
Hip Tastes - A totally hip website about wine, food, travel and music, as well as a published wine 
Vine Spot - appreciation, education and the enjoyment of wine.
Avvinare - An amazing, experienced palate with perspectives on food and wine. 
Jameson Fink - Wine without worry

Friday, March 22, 2013

People's Voice Wine Awards Grand Tasting

Where will I be this weekend?

I'll be at Snooth's People's Voice Wine Awards Grand tasting. Leave it up to Snooth to finally hold a wine awards system built on the opinions of all wine lovers. Throughout last year, all members of Snooth were given the ability to vote weekly on their favorite wines. The winners were announced and now you can taste them too. Saturday, March 23rd from 6pm - 8pm, held at the Altman building in the heart of Chelsea and will feature 100 winner and finalist wineries, as well as food pairings and demonstrations. It should be a great time.

The purchases tickets to the event: Eventbrite

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Skip the city, I'm going to La Vigna

By Eric Guido

As I think of all the amazing restaurant experiences that I have put to paper, I realize that one is truly overdue. Seven years ago, after Babbo refused my eight-month pregnant wife and I a seat after waiting over an hour in line (by the way, that was the last time I ever went to Babbo), we found ourselves searching for a dining experience that would not disappoint. Our search took us out of the city and slowly making our way toward home. We were hungry, tired and truly disappointed—until we happened upon La Vigna.

Calamari Ripieni (Calamari stuffed 
with risotto and vegetables in tomato broth)
It was an eye-opening experience. The staff provided perfect service, the food was absolutely amazing, rivaling anything I could have hoped for--and the wine (oh, the wine): a bottle of 2001 Guado al Tasso for only $95 dollars. It was on that night that I realized I had been shortsighted for a very long time. Trekking out to the city in search of a superior Italian meal had become completely unnecessary.

With La Vigna's affordable corkage fee
I often find myself pairing my favorites
from my cellar with their cuisine.
Now fast forward seven years and, to this day, I continue to visit La Vigna whenever possible. Anytime I need to show weary foodies that great cuisine exists in Queens, I take them to La Vigna. Wine dinners and tastings close to home? I go to La Vigna. Birthdays, anniversaries, and visiting family are all great reasons for me to head to La Vigna. Yet somehow I have never put these thoughts to paper. An oversight—maybe, or possibly, I just wanted to keep it secret, in fear of ruining my little find. However, if I have learned anything in these seven years, it’s that La Vigna is here to stay and they march to the beat of their own drum, remaining unchanged in all the right ways.

Orecchiette  (Fresh pasta served with 
chicory, wild mushrooms, and guanciale 
in garlic and olive oil)
Located on Metropolitan Ave in Forest Hills Queens, La Vigna finds itself tucked into small, unassuming spot that makes it very easy to pass unnoticed. However, stepping in the door, you are greeted by a friendly, knowledgeable staff that caters to locals and new faces alike. It’s close and personal, yet uncramped, with visions of Italy decorating the walls. You’ll find it easy to fall into a comfortable state at La Vigna, surrounded by wood tones, Tuscan colors and candlelight and enjoying a plate a fresh made pasta, or my favorite, the Costoleta di Vitello alla Vigna.

Chef Vitale
Of course, the real treat here is the food, which I find comparable to anything you will find at the best Italian restaurants in the city and there's a good reason why; before opening his restaurant, Chef Vitale worked with Lidia Bastianich at the famed Felidia, as well as Becco and her original location in Forest Hills, Bona Via.

I urge you to take a trek of your own and find La Vigna. I guarantee you, you’ll find yourself thanking me later.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

My Daughter's Wine Art Contribution

I'm really impressed, and yes, she did all the work. Plus, there are some great winemaker's represented here and I love seeing them like this. She promised I could display it in my cellar when she get's it back from school.

Monday, March 4, 2013

An exciting lineup from G.D. Vajra

By Eric Guido

We all have our favorites and those favorites tend to change with time. For the longest time I would count myself among those that followed anything made by Vietti and to this day, I buy a number of their wines each year. However, recently, I have found a deep love for the wines of G.D. Vajra.

It all started at a tasting two years ago, where I was lucky enough to taste through the entire lineup. What stood out the most was the outstanding quality of the affordable Nebbiolo, the stunning and sexy tones of the Barbera and the purity of their single vineyard Barolo. Then the 2007 vintage of Barolo hit and the Vajra Bricco Delle Viole ended up as my top Baroli of the vintage. When I started to look back upon my tasting notes and scores, it became apparent that Vajra was a producer that I would have to follow.

So what makes Bricco delle Viole such an amazing wine? For one thing, in this world of an ever-expanding topic of global warming, Bricco delle Viole remains one of the highest elevation vineyards for all of Barolo. So as the average 2007 Baroli might have seemed over-ripe and concentrated, Vajra’s Barolo was in perfect balance. On a larger scale, when I think of the older wines I love and what they may have tasted like in their youth, Vajra is the closest to what I would guess these wines tasted like in their youth.

In the end, it’s just one man’s opinion, yet I full-heartedly believe that G.D. Vajra may be one of the top producers to watch in all of Piedmonte. I know their wines will fill my cellar.

On to the Tasting Notes:

2010 G.D. Vajra Langhe Bianco - The nose was clean, coming more to life as the wine warmed in the glass, showing nectarine, spicy floral notes, minerals, and almond skins. On the palate, it was crisp with ripe, yet focused peach and inner floral tones. A note of grapefruit and green apple lingered through the finish. (89 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

This being my first experience with a Riesling from Piedmont, I will say that I was very impressed. It may not be a blockbuster but it certainly showed a lot of potential. The style was more Alsace than Germany and great with a plate of mixed Wurst and Sauerkraut.

2011 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d'Alba - The nose was earthy and floral with dark, mixed berry notes, hints of mountain herbs and chalky minerals. On the palate it was light to medium bodied with juicy acidity as notes of blackberry, with an herbal quality framed silky tannins that lasted through the long finish. (90 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

I really enjoyed this value oriented wine with tons of character. When it was first opened, at cellar temp, it was easy drinking and great with dinner. However, as it rose to room temperature, this easy drinking beauty gained weight and lots of dark Dolcetto character. Plus, with it's firm structure making an appearance on the palate, I have to wonder what this wine may become with another year in the cellar.

2009 G.D. Vajra Barbera d'Alba Superiore - The nose was intense and sexy with black cherry, woodland notes, dark chocolate, floral tones and a hint of vanilla. On the palate, it was rich yet perfectly juicy, showing notes of blackberry jam, sweet spices, tart cherry juice and cola with hint of tannin clinging to senses. The finish was long with concentrate ripe berry fruit coating the palate, along with well polished tannin that seemed to linger for over thirty seconds. (93 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

This may be a full-throtle, in your face Barbera but it stays juicy throughout with such beautiful fruit and structure that I just wanted to pour glass after glass.

2010 G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo - The nose showed intense raspberry, red floral tones, tar, animal musk, undergrowth and dark chocolate. On the palate it was medium-bodied with concentrated, tart cherry fruit, tobacco and leather. The finish was long with dry, red berries and grainy tannin that coated the palate. This is a little painfully to drink now but should be marvelous in a few years time. (92 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

I have to note, that after three days of being open, this wine continued to show amazing fruit and purity with no signs of deterioration. It's a beautiful Nebbiolo that will find a place in my cellar.

2008 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe - The nose showed ripe cherry, floral and tobacco notes with hints of herbs and cedar. On the palate, it was youthful yet still enjoyable with red berry fruits, licorice, and dark savory tones on a medium body showing excellent balance. The finish lingered for over a minute as ripe berry fruit slowly melted away from the palate to reveal a layer of fine tannin. (93 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!