Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A paradigm shift in wine preservation?

I must admit that I was skeptical, but now I'm convinced.  Imagine the ability to pour a glass of wine from your finest bottle and then return it to your cellar for months or even years without oxidation. I didn't believe it until I saw and tasted it for myself. Coravin has made this a reality.

It may look like something Dr. Mccoy would have used on Star Trek, but it's actually the next evolution in wine preservation technology. And it really works.  I'm currently writing a piece about the experience that truly sold me at the Coravin launch party, but I will say that I'm impressed and do plan to purchase one of these for home and work.  Stay tuned for more details.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sauvignon Blanc: Heat Wave Wine

Here I sit, trudging through the third heat wave that New York City has seen this summer! In fact, 96 degrees is starting to feel like the new normal. The days of big, structured red wines are long gone. At this time of year, I’m longing for something different; something with enough fruit to soothe my craving, yet cold and with enough acidity to keep it mouthwatering. This time of year, I’m craving Sauvignon Blanc.

I know that some people might think of Chardonnay, or even Riesling, but not me. For me, Sauvignon Blanc is the ultimate hot weather wine. It’s extremely versatile with lunch, dinner, the grill, or just sitting around on a hot summer afternoon. What’s more, you can find it in all styles, from rich with ripe tropical tones to mineral-laden with tart citrus that makes your cheeks pucker.

It’s also one of the most versatile food wines I know. How many wines do you know of that can pair with salad, asparagus or sushi? The right Sauvignon Blanc can. What can be confusing is knowing what you’re going to get from a bottle. You can generalize that California will produce a ripe Sauvignon, but it’s often the grower and winemaker that determines a wine's characteristics. Was the climate moderate or hot? Was the soil gravel or schist? Was the wine aged in barrel or stainless steel? The good news is that they are all wonderful expressions of this zesty white wine and a good rule of thumb is this: if it goes with lemon, then it goes with Sauvignon Blanc.

This year I had the pleasure of tasting some outstanding wines from a number of different regions. Many of these have found their way into my cellar, and I'm hoping you will enjoy them as well.

On to the notes:

Napa Valley, United States

Year in and year out, Larkmead's Sauvignon Blanc finds its way to the top of my list. It’s a perfectly balanced wine that can be enjoyed upon release or put away in the cellar to gain further complexities. Unfortunately, it’s made in such small amounts that it never finds its way to retail shelves but is a great reason to visit the winery if you're ever in Napa Valley. In fact, Larkmead is one of a small number of wineries whose mail list I remain signed up for. All of the wines are worth trying.

2011 Larkmead Sauvignon Blanc Lillie B4 block - The nose was beautiful, showing fresh citrus tinged green notes of herbs and field grasses, ripe stone fruit backed by a hint of undergrowth with an intense mineral core. On the palate, it was elegant with silky textures, just the slightest touch of oak ushering in melon, and citrus notes with a hint of herbs. The finish left me wanting more, as its well integrated acidity made the mouth water to notes of ripe melon with a zest of orange. This is easily one of my favorite vintages and reaffirms my belief that this may be the best Sauvignon Blanc coming out of Napa Valley. (93 points) Visit the Larkmead website!

Alto Adige, Italy

Northern Italy continues to impress me with their white varieties. The region has become a powerhouse producer of vibrant white wines that tantalize the palate while refreshing the senses. Last year, one of my top wines came from this same region, and here we are again with a Sauvignon Blanc worth searching for.

2011 Cantina Andriano Sauvignon Blanc Andrius - The nose showed intense tart grapefruit, lemon and green stems with a whiff of dried minerals. On the palate, it was softer than expected with tart acidity showing more toward the close, with flavors of lemon and mineral stones. The finish remained tart, yet mouthwatering with long, staying citrus tones. It was beautiful. (90 points) Find it on: Wine-Search!

North Fork Long Island, United States

The North Fork of Long Island continues to push the envelope as the quality of their red wine rises. However, something that I don’t often hear mentioned is the varietal white wines. I’ve tasted a number of great whites that are worth your attention. A few that immediately come to mind are One Women Wine Chardonnay, Paumanok Chenin Blanc and, of course, Macari Sauvignon Blanc Katherine’s Field.

2012 Macari Sauvignon Blanc “Katherine’s Field” - The nose showed peach skins with hints of lemon, minerals and a dash of vanilla. On the palate, it was racy and clean with ripe white fruits accented by lime and herbs. It finished clean and refreshing with a bitter lemon peel note lingering through the close. (89 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

Stellenbosch, South Africa

South Africa is starting to carve out it’s own niche in the production of Sauvignon Blanc. Not having a lot of experience with the wines, I was very happy to make the discovery below.

2012 Thelema Sauvignon Blanc - The nose showed tart grapefruit aromas with hints of minerals and herbs. On the palate, it was rich and juicy with sour citrus and herbal tones. The cleansing finish was mouthwatering and long with tart citrus fruit. (89 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

Marlborough, New Zealand

And then there’s New Zealand. Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand has certainly gained a well-deserved place among the top producing nations. The wines have a unique character that is truly New Zealand. Their long growing season and maritime influences allow Sauvignon Blanc to achieve amazing intensity, ripeness of fruit and zesty acidity. On those extremely hot days, no wine can cool me down faster.

2012 Chasing Venus Sauvignon Blanc - The nose was fresh with intense aromas of grapefruit, fresh-cut grass, chalky minerals and a hint of green peas. On the palate, a mix of sweet fruit and tart acidity made for a great contrast of textures with flavors of passion fruit, stony minerals and lemon-lime, which seemed to linger for half a minute through the finish. It was remarkably fresh and perfect for a hot summer night. (88 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pyramid Valley: A genie in a bottle?

So goes the philosophy of Pyramid Valley Vineyards; “Wine to us is a genie, our job is to coax it from its rock bottle.” It’s certainly an interesting thought, and quite catchy too. In a world where we continue to refine, redefine and categorize natural winemaking, Pyramid Valley, in New Zealand, seems to be marching to the beat of their own drum. I honestly can’t hold it against them after what I’ve recently tasted.

The winery is content to let the wines make themselves, at least enough to create a good product that can be labeled wine. The vineyard has been cultivated using biodynamic principles since inception. The wines undergo naturally occurring, long-lasting yeast fermentations and then age in old neutral oak or clay amphorae. Bottling is done without fining or filtering, and sulfur is only added when necessary and at a strict minimum. This results in a set of unique wines that truly have a sense of place--and are pretty damn tasty as well.

Pinot Noir is the primary focus with Chardonnay, Semillon, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris rounding out the lineup. My tastings were primarily of the Pinot Noirs, and I must say that I’m impressed.

There’s simply something about this wine that really jump-starts the imagination—is this how wine might have been made 2000 years ago? No chemicals, no machines in the vineyards and giant clay vessels to age them in? The wines taste wild, savage, and with a refreshing quality that you’d expect more from a glass of iced tea. In fact, Kombucha came to mind as I tasted these wines. Both were cloudy, with a kaleidoscope of colors in the glass, but on the palate—focused and pure.

I will be back for more, and I urge any fan of Pinot Noir or natural / biodynamic wines to seek these out. The price can be a little restrictive, but when you consider that this is an artisanal creation, and not just a product, it may just be a genie in a bottle.

On to the wines:

2008 Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Earth Smoke - The color was a light ruby and slightly cloudy at the core, turning orange and finally auburn toward the rim before tapering off to a transparent halo. The nose was ripe with vibrant red and black berry, gorgeous floral notes, herbal tea, hints of cinnamon, and earthy undergrowth. On the palate, it was weightless yet ripe with beautifully balanced acidity and a sweet and sour sensation that dazzled the senses with cranberry, light orange, sun tea, inner florals and a slight (not sweet) note of caramel. The finish left the mouth watering with a bitter twang of orange and tart berry. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2008 Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Angel Flower - The color was faded red, almost verging on pink with a cloudy appearance. The nose showed fresh strawberry, stems and all, with notes of floral undergrowth, fresh turned earth and mulling spice. On the palate, it was energetic, juicy and clean with raspberry fruit, a hint of orange peel and herbal tea. The finish lingered long, with a slight drying note that made me crave another sip. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ribera del Duero: Digging a Little Deeper

Recently, I've been receiving a serious education on the wines of Ribera del Duero. Why? Well, it all started with a tasting in March that truly opened my eyes to what's possible in this region of Spain, which is too often overshadowed by the likes of Rioja and Priorat. So why are these wines so great? For me, it's a balance between ripeness and early accessibility versus structure, depth and finesse. You see, Ribera del Duero manages to walk the tightrope between the two styles, and the results are stunning.

These are serious reds that can be playful at the same time. They will accompany your meal with strides, while also filling your glasses well into a night of deep conversations. What strikes me, as I sip from my glass, is perfectly ripe fruit, earth tones, great acidity and broad structures that add to the experience instead of drying you out. What’s more, the expert use of oak is neither too little, nor too much.

In a recent tasting, the two wines below truly stuck out to me for their amazing depth, pure fruit and sheer sex appeal. The first is a great bottle that won't break the bank and will do well at the table or on the couch. The second wine, Malleolus, truly floored me. What a beautiful wine. It was lush and textured, with a balanced structure that promised a great trajectory in the cellar. It's a little pricy, but worth every penny. Did I mention that the first thing I did after this tasting was buy a few of these for my cellar? I think that says it all.

For a more detailed look at the wines of Ribera del Duero, check out my report from earlier this year, "Ribera del Duero: Thriving through Adversity"

On to the Wines:

2011 Bodegas Cuevas Jimenéz Ribera del Duero Ferratus A0 - The nose showed intense red berry, ginger, hints minerals, dark earth and woodland tones. On the palate, it was silky smooth with balanced acidity, ripe dark fruits and herbs accentuated by a hint of heat. The palate-staining finish lasted long with blackberry and spice. Again, the alcohol peaks out a bit on the finish yet it’s not dramatic, resulting in a rich and provocative wine. (89 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero Malleolus - The nose showed rich dark berry, blueberry skins, brown sugar, vanilla and a whiff of gravel dust, along with hints of barnyard. On the palate, it was feminine and elegant with an unexpected weightless sensation complemented by focused ripe fruits and hints of holiday spice. Very young but impeccably balanced. It finished fresh but with berry extract saturating the senses. (92 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Newport, Rhode Island: Rain or Shine

Newport, Rhode Island is certainly one of the premier vacation destinations in all of New England. It’s home to the Newport Jazz Festival, the beautiful cliff walks, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, luxery yachts, and tours of some of the most extravagant summer cottages you’re ever likely to see (although you or I would call these mansions). All that aside, what always attracts me to a vacation spot is the food and accommodations. With some 102 bed & breakfasts on the island, along with scores of local pubs and some great restaurants, Newport is also a destination to be considered for foodies.

In the end, this was an amazing trip; even if the weather did its best to scare us away. Following suit, in what’s been a year of constant rain and humidity, Newport was covered in a dense fog with cold winds blowing off the bay. There were times that you could have convinced me we were in Scotland. However, Newport isn’t just about the wharf and water-themed activities. The island is home to some of the most amazing mansions you will ever see, remnants of another time, where the blue bloods of our country would vacation for only two months out of the year. Many tours are now audio only, but a number of guided tours do still exist and they were excellent.

Rough Point, the home of Doris Duke, is run by the Newport Restoration Foundation and was one of the most interesting destinations on our trip. Unlike many of the other homes that have been empty for many decades, Doris Duke was still living in this home as of 1993, giving it a truly unique feel, as you can still imagine her in our time. What’s more, this wealthy philanthropist was also quite quirky, having not only one of the most beautiful art and antique furniture collections—but also camels on her property. It was a great tour of a truly beautiful home that’s full of history.

Another tour of note was the Servants Life Tour, run by The Preservation Society at The Elms. The Elms was the home of Edward Berwind, who made a fortune in the coal mining industry. This home, completed in 1901, was gigantic and had all of the most advanced technology of the time. The Servants Life tour showcased how the other half lived with a tour of the inner workings of the mansion. False fronts, inlaid buttons and trellises covering service entrances made it to seem as if the house worked by magic—without us ever seeing a servant in the public rooms of the home. It also sported its own coal fired furnaces, large ice making machine, and an 82-stair climb up to the servant’s quarters. It was an amazing tour.

What else was there to fill our time as the mist and rains continued to roll in? For one thing, our Bed and Breakfast was fantastic, and one of the best I’ve ever stayed in. La Farge Perry House is a Victorian-era home located in the heart of historic Newport. An easy walk to all the attractions, fine dining, shops and the wharf. The rooms were beautiful, elegant, comfortable, and even larger than expected from the pictures we had seen. The breakfast was excellent, home-cooked and perfectly prepared. However, what truly set this apart from other Bed and Breakfast experiences was the warmth and hospitality that was not only ingrained in the home itself, but in our innkeeper.

Never before have I felt so welcomed at a Bed and Breakfast, so able to enjoy all of the public rooms and everything the house had to offer. I found myself enjoying coffee with our innkeeper at the early hours of the day. The surrounding gardens and porch made for a beautiful backdrop, as well as a great location to spend the evening (at least when it wasn’t raining). I’d be hard pressed to recommend another Bed and Breakfast over La Farge Perry house; it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Then there was the food and dining, which ended up being one of the more difficult parts of our trip. In the end, what we learned was that our next rip would be planned a little differently. Usually, I’ll seek out one or two formal dining experiences on vacation. However, it became quickly apparent, as I asked around with the locals, that the reservations I had made before arriving were at the wrong places. Newport has a number of formal dinning rooms attached to a pub or bar that really don’t make the cut. Of these, The Black Pearl and Clarke Cooke House were the two that fell short. The food was dated, poorly cooked and covered in thick, rich mother sauces.

Enough of the bad though. On the good side, we left with a list of great restaurants (local approved) to try on our next trip, as well as some fine places we found while we were there. In my last post, I spoke of the Wharf Pub and Restaurant and The Fifth Element. Another to add to that list is the Salvation Café. Salvation Café was a relaxed, colorful and inspired location that reminded me of something you might find in NYC’s East Village. The menu was inventive and not afraid to list staple dishes (glazed short ribs) right next to dishes that tempted the imagination, like the rabbit sausage or vegetable and herb gnocchi.

On our list for next time, The Thames Street Kitchen and Tallulah on Thames. I’ve been assured that these two spots will easily make up for my fine dining let-downs at the Wharf.

As for wine, we brought our own and enjoyed a wonderfully refreshing bottle of Paumanok Chenin Blanc (my note can be found below). However, I also stumbled upon a small wine shop, The Newport Wine Cellar, attached to a specialty foods store, Le Petit Gourmet, with a selection of wines that I might have thought came straight from my cellar. Literally, the shop owner had a great selection of Italian wines that I love from Paolo Bea, Montevertine, Aldo Conterno, and Brovia. The store was staffed by knowledgeable and passionate wine lovers, and even one with his own new blog, The Penniless Wine Snob, worth checking out. These shops are definitely worth a visit, whether it be for a great bottle of wine or to put together your own picnic for the beach.

In this end, this was a great trip, and I would recommend Newport to anyone, rain or shine, looking for a unique vacation spot.

2012 Paumanok Chenin Blanc - Upon first opening, the 2012 Paumanok Chenin Blanc was stubborn on the nose, but with a little time in the glass, blossomed beautifully with ripe pit fruits, a spritz of lemon, stoney, chalky minerals and fresh herbal tones. On the palate, a hint of sweetness was counterbalanced by green apple acidity with ripe green melon and beautifully soft textures. The finish was dry with citrus pith and minerals lingering through the close. (89 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!