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That Time of Year: 2014 Thanksgiving Postmortem

29 Nov

For lovers of the grape, “holiday” means wine time! When chance put a perfect Halloween wine in my hands, I wrote about it (here). But this fall, I found myself somewhat reluctant to write about the biggest food holiday we celebrate: Thanksgiving. Every year I write about what I’m serving, and make suggestions to the myriad friends and lurkers who have come across me in person, at a wine event, on Facebook, WordPress, or via the ‘net. So why was I reluctant to talk about my plans for Thanksgiving wines this year?

*The four wines are I usually serve are: 1) a fun white, 2) a serious white, 3) a delicate red, and 4) a bold red. -JvB UnCorked

What would my four wines be thus year? Last year I had six wines, (one held in reserve for a guest who didn’t make the meal after all) but this year was a serious question. I’ve had some great wines over the summer and fall that made me re-think my choices.

Furiously working on the broadcast of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and dinner was (thankfully) not at my home this year, yet the wine is still my domain. Because pre-production and broadcast equates to very long hours of hectic work, I planned to serve wines from my cellar, so that removed a lot of options from contention. I had been deep in thought about the stunning pinot noir wines I tasted from Santa Barbara and Central Otago, New Zealand this year. In SB County I had been impressed by Fess Parker, Cottonwood, Blair Fox, Au Bon Climat, and Ken Brown, -just to name a few of the SB wines. Some specific bottles were so shockingly good they just haunted me, such as the Dominio del Falcon from Sanford  as well as Pipeclay Terrace and Long Gully Pinots from Mount Difficulty, and wines from the Otago NZ crowd like Felton Road, Quartz Reef, Rippon, Amisfield, and Mud House.  

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MtDifficulty

 

I was also spoiled by a hot summer of killer treats, and these wandered into my thoughts as I considered what to serve.

Starting with the reds: the delicate red was in contention. I usually serve a bright and acidic pinot, gamay, or cru beaujolais but I kept returning to this crazy idea of serving an Aussie sparkling shiraz called The Red Brute from Bleasedale Vineyards I tasted earlier this fall. Sometimes I have to take a chance, right?

The serious red has lots of options but can be a tough choice, when you have my wine cellar. I have some nicely aged reds (like the 2000 Pomerol, or 1996 Cos D’estournel, and other earlier delights) but knowing the guests who would attend, I kept thinking that one of the 1.5L northern Rhône bottles I have on hand would pair best. The Pierre Gonon syrah is a juicy black currant delight with tons of darker notes of earth and leather, good acidity, and is a crowd pleaser. While I consider this vintage too young for a red meat entrée, given this meal, it will provide a perfect pairing, and I know people will adore it.

Having waffled on my traditions for those two, I have to sit back and slow down for a moment. There are three more wines I need to consider, one is the delightful rosé from Modus Operandi Wines that blows away most wine drinkers at the table. It always goes something like this:

Guest: “Sorry, I don’t like rosé.”

Me: “No problem, just humor me and take a tiny taste of this, then we’ll move on.”

Guest: “Oh, ok. (sip). Oh. Wow, that’s really good. May I have that?”

Me: “Of course!”

But having enjoyed so many great rosé’s this summer and fall, in my mind even my kick-ass Modus Operandi rosé was in question after being impressed by this inexpensive sleeper rhône rosé, Belleruche Rosé from the Côtes du Rhône just recently. I really enjoyed it, but was not sure it could stand up to the red meat in the soup or the savory flavors on its own. I decided to stick with my gut on this and transferred the Napa 2012 Modus Rosé from the rack in the cellar to the safety of my six-slot wine bag.

I also wondered about the red and white blend from Tess Vineyards that I found on Underground Cellars. It’s a little bit of a lot of things, and its fresh and light yet fruity and fun. But I feared a red/white blend would be too much of a challenge for some of the older & traditional crowd at the meal, so I decided to hold that for a tasting I’ll host  in the next few months.

Tgiving Reds

 

I needed a simple solution for at least ONE of my wines! So the “fun” white was easy: Leitz’ Dragonstone riesling from the Rheingau. It offers great minerality, white stone fruit, a touch of sweetness, and a crisp finish.

On to my final tough choice, the serious white. My go-to here is a Bordeaux blend, and my cellar has some great choices. I opened up a couple of crates and looked at options while thinking about the total wine lineup, and I went with a choice that for me seems out of left field:  I took a bottle of my ’09 Vintage Tunina from Silvio Jermann that is huge, rich and creamy.  I adore this classic IGT blend of white grapes, and I could not think of a better meal to pair it with that Thanksgiving dinner.

Tgiving Whites

 

I finally sat back and was able to breathe. This year’s Thanksgiving wines, all told. Wines from Germany, Italy, USA’s Napa Valley, Australia, and France: a true melting pot, just like NYC.  For me a few surprises, but lots of tradition. Something for every palate, and the only repeat is my favorite rosé.

TgivingWines

 

 

As I had hoped, when the day arrived, the wines were a hit. Everone who tried The Brute sparkling shiraz was surprised how savory, dry and refreshing it was, and both it and the rosé paired amazingly well with the first course, a beef vegetable soup, and the main meal. The Gonon Saint-Joseph was the crowd pleaser I expected, pairing beautifully with the meal, while the non-drinkers enjoyed the riesling and the vintage tunina held court nicely. My wife’s ninety-one year old uncle said to me, “you brought a lot of wine, you might have a little left over at the end of the meal”, but I told him not to worry. Like the leftovers from the meal, I was sure they would not last long.

à votre santé!

 

La Grasparossa

2 Sep

This summer at #wbc14 I learned that lambrusco is really delicious, having shunned it for decades after a taste in the 1970’s of the commonly found, cheap lambruscos that flooded the market, along with bell-bottom jeans and polyester knits.

Remember this commercial? 

A curious piece of history, that is. The ad was cute, but the wine was nothing to write home about.

I’m so glad I tasted the wines at #wbc14, because it changed how and what I drank in Scotland, and again last night with neighbors. My wife and I try to have a cookout with our neighbors each summer and this year we never found the right time, until the last minute, for Labor Day. We invited the neighbors over and for the first time ever, I had lambrusco on hand. 

“La Grasparossa” Labrusco di Castelvetro, DOP, Secco, Modena, Italy 2013. From Astor Wine & Spirits, $12/bottle (on sale), 11.5%ABV.

From Zanasi, this Italian gem has a dark violet color with ruby red edging. The nose features frothy boysenberry, red plum and wildflowers, while the mouth experiences tart raspberry, blackberry, and black plum notes on the mid palate with a nice, tart finish. A very dry sparkling wine, this is easy to drink on a hot summer night, whether or not Meat Loaf is on the radio. Okay, all 70’s references aside, La Grasparossa paired nicely for those who wanted chicken, beef, and even the vegan options. Most importantly, those who enjoyed La Grasparossa were treated to a refreshing, sparkling red that left the palate feeling clean and ready for more. At $12 a bottle, I should have bought a case.  At least now I have another excellent lambrusco to add to my filing cabinet, and more to come in the future!

La Grasparossa

 

à votre santé!

 

 

A litte meat loaf for your hot summer nights.  

What I Drank On My Summer Vacation

16 Aug

Ah, summer vacation. In childhood, we couldn’t wait for summer to romp and play, no worries of homework or responsibilities. During high school I worked, dated, partied, hung out with my friends, and traveled both Europe and the States with my family. Fresh out of college, I worked, too broke to afford to travel, until my honeymoon in France, which was fabulous and full of vigor but we were still too broke to eat or drink well. Twenty-something years later, now in middle age and trucking along our teenagers, vacation time is precious and the difficultly is making a calendar that suits our various needs.

Scotland. We escaped to Scotland, getting away from the summer heat of New York to the cool, rainy highlands and dark, foreboding castles. Or so we thought, until we arrived and found the highest heat index Scotland has had in 40 years. We had sunny days and sunburned bodies. Worn out from each day and a full itinerary, we’d collapse into a chair to review the dinner menu, and I’d search for something wonderful to drink. And so I searched.
Glen Coe

Glen Coe. I could not have felt more at home in these highlands.

 

local

A local on his way to work.

 

Brodies

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, Edinburgh

 

Maybe you’re laughing. Was I too naïve, thinking I might find a lovely wine to accompany my travels in a land known for ‘whisky’ (that’s how they spell it, without the “e”) and warm beer served in public houses?

Perhaps I was. But I managed to drink wine most nights, regardless.

Friendship like whisky

 A popular attitude in Scotland. The sign reads:
“Friendship is like Whisky, the Older the Better
Too Much of Anything Is Bad, But Too Much of Good Whisky Is Barely Enough”

I was thrilled when we arrived in the town of Oban (pronounced: ‘OH-bun’, not ‘oh-Bahn’), for they have the famed Classic Malts of Scotland distillery of the highland malt of the same name. Tours were plentiful and cheap, plus they keep offering you opportunities to taste the wares. Who am I to refuse?

oban

Since 1794, this famed distillery has been the center of town. What can I say? I’m a fan. The Oban malts are in very high demand worldwide, with good reason. They do one thing, very well.

Oban glass

Oban’s namesake 14 year Single Malt (twice distilled and matured in second use bourbon barrels)
and Distiller’s Edition (finest of the 14 year selection is then matured a second time in sherry casks).
Shown with two “proper” Glencairn tasting glasses, the dram and pour.

I loved the “Oban Whisky & Fine Wines Shop” across from the distillery. They did have wines I recognized, but in the same relation to the whisky as shown in the circle on the wall, demonstrated below. Perhaps a quarter of their inventory was wine.

Oban Whisky Shop

The Oban Whisky & Fine Wine Shop. Here, it’s quietly suggested that you purchase the whisky.

I found my answers (and my options, many were good) and enjoyed our travels to sunny isles and castles, lochs and churches. I drank cool ciders when the wines were scarce or suspect, and visited distilleries to taste the local whisky. Some nights we ate like the locals in the evenings, thought we tended to stay with fish & chips and not the favored haggis. We requested & took the local recommendations for food, seeking out (much to our surprise) small Italian restaurants to provide all of us with perfect comfort food and most importantly, good wines.


Papilio

Our better meals were in small Italian restaurants like this one, which sat 27. 

Thanks to #WBC14 I had recently tasted more wines from regions of Italy, Portugal, Greece, even Croatia, so I had an eye for more than just the popular Vinho Verdes, Barolos and Montepulcianos, or the wines of northern Italy and the Alto Adige that I adore, especially Lagrein.

The rare heat was perfect to drink sparkling wines, sparkling and still rosés, and on the coolest night I splurged for one rare Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that I couldn’t resist. Most of my choices, like this lovely rosato pictured below, cooled our bodies, refreshed our palates and cut through salads and sauces, leaving us satisfied, happy, and ready to continue our journey.

rosato

 One of my favorite wines from the trip, Bortomolio Rosato Frzzante- crisp, dry, delightful. 

While I didn’t discover a great many new wines to share, the post-#WBC14 break for my palate allowed me to enjoy the local spirits helped me to indulge in the Scottish experience, returning refreshed and ready to explore all new wines to share with you in the near future.  Until then…

à votre santé!

and a few more shots from Scotland:

isla mullBeautiful Blue Skies over the Isle of Mull.

ForeWell

“Water was either suspect or in short supply here. We suggest you drink the whisky.”

Mug His Lordship

“Would you care for a sense of entitlement with your morning beverage?”

barrel rev2

The Oban Distillery tour was incredibly informative. A shot prior to barrel tasting!

sunset

Sunset, Port of Oban

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle Ruins on Loch Ness

inverness

Dusk, Inverness

toes in water

a relaxing opportunity to cool my heels and enjoy Loch Lomond

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Where have you journeyed lately, and what did you drink on the way? 

à votre santé!

Dinner With Friends- #MWWC11

10 Aug
Note: This post is 1) different that what I normally write, 2) about a recent wine dinner, as well as 3) a response to my friend Jeff ‘s request for submissions to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, #MWWC11 which if you really want to (if you blog & want to write about wine)  you can see here.  Or if you ride or like comic writing, you should check out my favorite  section of  Jeff’s blog, which I really enjoy. I hope you enjoy this post! Feel free to comment and let me know -JvB
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A friend I’ve not seen for 28 years was in town for a family wedding- his! So I invited Joe & Kaz to come to our home for dinner while they were in NYC, visiting from Osaka Japan. Joe has lived in Japan for almost two decades and I knew we’d have a lot to discuss. I was a little nervous about making dinner since our Western meals are quite different than those in the East, so I enlisted my (much) better half to help create a solid dinner plan, while I, as in classic form, worried and worried about what wines to serve.

I stared into my cellar, pondering choice after choice, changing my mind several times. Finally I settled on a small- production petite sirah I’ve been holding for a special occasion to pair with beef, and a vinho verde I love on hot summer evenings. I grabbed a bottle of Chateau de L’Aulée AOC Méthode Tradtionelle brut sparkling wine from Touraine, France so we could toast the wedding. And just for fun, I selected two half bottles of dessert wine, a port and a sauternes. I felt prepared. No, really I felt terrified, but at least I had wine!

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Since both my wife and I are freelancers in the arts and work a lot of (ok, almost all) evenings and weekends, we rarely get to entertain. We also didn’t know how busy we would be prior to our dinner. As my schedule got increasingly hectic, she agreed to shop while I was working. Our menu plan included several cold salads that I could help prep and she could execute while I was grilling the entrée. The butcher didn’t have the cut of meat I wanted available, so she purchased several shoulder steaks and we agreed to make kabobs to allow us to serve efficiently.

As she sliced a butternut squash and put that into the oven, I cubed the beef and dumped it into a bowl for the marinade- then diced fresh garlic, onion powder, cracked 4-color pepper mix, and ground some Himalayan salt on top. I added two heaping tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, then raced to the cellar to get a bottle of my ‘everyday’ red table wine– a bottle of 2011 Los Vascos from Colchagua, Chile which is managed by none other than Baron Eric de Rothschild.

los vascos

This wine is one of the best values I keep in my cellar at about $10 a bottle, and is great to drink but doesn’t break my heart if I need a lot of it to make a meal taste wonderful. I poured it on the beef and mixed my marinade happily, putting the bottle aside as a backup to the Petite Syrah, then covering the marinade bowl and sliding it into the fridge to continue the prep.

Annette and I chopped Israeli cucumbers and diced roma tomatoes, parsley and scallions for a cucumber/tomato salad that could be dressed quickly with oil and balsamic vinegar. As I washed vegetables for the kabobs, she cut yellow and red peppers for me, moved to prep an avocado salad that had to be made at the last minute, then put sweet peas and water into a pan to cook while I scraped & preheated the grill.

Thirty minutes had passed and we were moments away from our guests arriving, so we enlisted a daughter to set the table while I aerated and decanted the petite sirah, using a True Fabrications Aerating Pour Spout to pour into the decanter. The petite sirah was a gorgeous, near-black purple in color, delightfully aromatic with the scent of african violets, and exciting even to pour. I was happy that the spout had caught some sediment as well as aerating. I rinsed it and set it aside, then pulled the meat out and built the kabobs for grilling, using mushrooms, onion, cherry tomato, yellow and red pepper, and of course the marinated steak cubes.

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Joe and Kaz arrived and we greeted them, opened the bubbly and toasted their wedding, and I took them with me to the backyard to grill the kabobs while Annette completed the salads and vegetable courses.

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The grill ran about 550 degrees and while kabobs require about five minutes a side for medium well (turning over once), I prefer to turn them every three minutes as neither the vegetables nor the meat always turns as one wants. After a quick sear, I moved several kabobs to a higher level to grill them to medium rare over the same duration. We chatted about their trip, enjoying the sparkling wine until it was time to take the kabobs off the flame.

Following our guests into the dining room with a plate of burning hot skewers, I noticed that Annette had made a couscous (when did she find time to do that?) and also managed to plate the butternut squash rings so that they enclosed the steaming hot green peas, a neat little visual I didn’t know was in her repertoire! I refreshed flutes with sparkling wine and poured the petite sirah, as Joe gave a quick Japanese blessing, “Itadakimasu” or いただきます.  A few bites in, Joe exclaimed his joy at the wine, which made me beam proudly and take time to explain my choice, ignoring the earlier requests from my 13-year old daughter who had begged me not to wax poetic about wine tonight…sorry, sweetheart!

Modus Operandi is the Napa, CA home of winemaker Jason Moore. I was introduced to his wines by a fellow oenophile who INSISTED I try Jason’s cabernet sauvignon- I loved it, noting the depth and complexities of flavors, with an unusual bonus: chocolate covered strawberry notes on the finish. I quickly joined the Modus wine club and have been a fan ever since. Jason may not be the first of the independent winemakers that I decided to champion and support, but he is highly accomplished and we share an affinity for passion in the things we do. His work is exemplary.

Back to the dinner table: Joe noted the sirah was more black in color than red, more floral than fruity on the nose, and deeply complex. I agreed, and explained that it was made in very limited quantity (only two barrels produced) and that I chose it specifically to complement both the meat and array of vegetables due to its flexibility to pair so well with grilled foods. I have a full review of the ’09 sirah here.

 

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The meal I had been so worried about had been a success, and we talked late into the night. After a small intermission we cleared dinner, I made coffee while Annette served berries and some small pastries I’d picked up at Financier for dessert, and I brought out the dessert beverages to our guests. These included the 2006 Chateau Doisy Vedrines which is showing beautifully right now, a tawny port from Kalyra Winery, from Santa Barbara, CA that I just tasted recently on my Wine Blogging trip, and a calvados: Christian Drouin Coer de Lion “Selection”, a delightful digestive that offers apples, spice, and cinnamon-all the best parts of apple pie- in the glass.

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We sampled sips of all three, and a little XO courvoisier that was a gift from a client.

My fears of failure seemed to have been conquered by paying great attention to detail. Fresh, flavorful, and colorful food well-paired with tasty wines and made for a lovely, memorable evening with old friends and our spouses. While I don’t know when I’ll see my friend Joe again, I hope that Annette and I will work harder to entertain more guests at our home sooner, rather than later.

à votre santé!

 

 

 

In Vino Veritas 2014. Vinho Verde!

28 May

I attended another “In Vino Veritas” group in NYC in which everyone brings a bottle (not the same one, hopefully) of a grape varietal or style of wine. I suggested several possibilities for summer wine options to group’s host,  Jimmy. A few days later I got an invitation via email, and the wine of choice was Portugal’s Vinho Verde.

I’ve been to Portuguese wine tastings before. One at a high-end wine store in Manhattan where I had found the vinho verde choices just not quite to my personal liking at that moment. I hoped to fare better at this one, and knew at least I’d bring one that I enjoyed.

The day of the tasting came and we found ourselves around a table with five bottles of vinho verde, from five different manufacturers, several of which cost under $10. They were quite different in style: some were lighter in color, body, and depth while others had some savory notes and a more yellow hue instead of the pale green I’ve come to associate with them. Not all the wines were sparkling/carbonated, and interestingly enough as a group we all seemed to choose different bottles as our favorite of the set. The tasting process became a great overview of a variance of style and flavors.

My apologies for the lack of specific individual reviews, as I was determined to actually enjoy this tasting and not make it “work”, so I left my notes for the next tasting, and am sharing only the overview today.

Casal Garcia

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Quinta de Azevedo

quinta-de-azevedo-vinho-verde-portugal-10153720

Gazela Branco

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Muralhas de Mancao

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Most importantly at this tasting, everyone found a wine (or three) they enjoyed. For most of the group, it was their first time tasting this delicious and refreshing treat just in time for summer. For all of us, it was a great time with friends, trying something new and exciting, learning and enjoying, and having a wonderful summer evening.

vinho-verde-portugalHave a favorite Vinho Verde or a great story to share? Tell us about it!

à votre santé!

Prosecco for Anytime? Prosecco for Everytime!

13 Apr

Montelvini Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy. 12%ABV.

Sample provided by Studio Cru, International Wine PR, Vicenza, Italy.

There are people who think about drinking sparkling wine for special occasions, and there are people who want to drink sparkling wine all the time. GET READY to want to drink it all the time, because with this one, you can.

On a short, slightly squat bottle design is a beautiful gold and black label that says “Venegazzù Montelvini Asolo Prosecco Superiore Millesimato DOCG”. That’s all lovely. And then you put a glass of this elixir to your lips and have a sip, and then you say “Oh… that’s GOOD!” And you offer a glass to everyone near you, who taste it. Surprised, they too, exclaim, “Oh! That’s GOOD!” And ask you what it is. And you can only reply in your best James Bond voice, “It’s Montelvini Asolo Prosecco. Would you care for some more?”

Asolo

This is my exact experience. After my own taste, everyone I shared this with was impressed, and why not?  A bubbly the color of morning straw, the dry nose gives away little. In the mouth, there is a linear minerality, a delicate layer of white fruit, creaminess, and a distant hint of ripe peach sweetness that makes this an incredibly satisfying sparkling wine that is a mega crowd-pleaser. This blend of qualities also allows this sparkling wine to pair with just about anything, from appetizers to entrees, from afternoon sunshine to midnight moonlight- without breaking the bank. When I googled the Asolo Prosecco, I found a supplier that would ship to my state at a price so low (about $15/bottle) that I was honestly shocked. At this price, I could buy by the case and just keep two bottle cold all the time, to drink whenever- the way good bubbly should be enjoyed!

When I used to think about drinking sparkling wine, James Bond would pop up: the suave-as-hell guy who orders beluga and champagne. He has two bites of caviar, grabs the bottle, two glasses and a super-hot girl and he’s off to the bedroom. But now I can think of not only the white dinner-jacket clad Bond, but also the birthday party, the office celebration, the “because it’s Tuesday” or “just because I love you” with great value, without breaking the bank- because of  Venegazzu Montelvini Asolo Prosecco. And you can, too! Because once you taste it, you’ll also be impressed enough to say, “Oh… thats GOOD!”

This is a prosecco for any time, that will be a hit every time.

Montelvini

 

Imported to the USA by Wine In-Motion LLC, Union NJ.

 

à votre santé!

 

Dürnberg Sparking Rosé

1 Mar

Dürnberg Sparkling Rosé

This sparkling rosé was part of the 10 Wines Under $10 package I got from Astor Wines.  I opened it with my wife during the Academy Awards. Pink in color without a discernable nose, it is very light on the palate with some nice strawberry and orange peel, without being too noticeably dry or sweet. In short, we enjoyed it. From Falkenstein, Austria, this is a good value and a tasty option to champagne, prosecco, and other sparkling wines.

Durnberg

Here are links to the Durnberg website, as well as their direct sales page.

à votre santé!

 

Prosecco? Please! Carpene Malvolti Cuvée Brut DOCG

2 Aug

Carpene Malvolti Cuvée Brut Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco

This is a dry sparkling wine, made using the Italian ‘Charmat method’ (if you’ve never heard of this and you’re interested, read about it here).

Almost clear in color with the slightest color of pale straw, the flavor is effervescent with a slight citrus nose, vanilla and touch of green apple on the tongue. This is a delightfully gentle palate cleanser that maintains its personality as the temperature warms slightly and is delicious from start to finish.

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My stage manager buddy Lurie Pfeffer is a huge fan of prosecco and her interest made me reconsider this sparkling wine in general, to which I now must say- Champagne? I probably will not indulge when offered. But prosecco? I probably will! Many proseccos (but the Carpene Malvoti’s DOCG Cuvée Brut in particular) are still slightly acidic yet less dry and have a delicious, cleansing taste that make you want to keep sipping over and over, whereas a brut champagne needs something else to make it special- a cube of sugar, a tiny spoonful of caviar, strawberries and cream perhaps. Not so with Carpene Malvolti, it was amazing first on its own, then with a warm slice of buttered bread, even more as a foil to my appetizer of fish tacos. I’ll be keeping this prosecco up my sleeve for future use, and urge you to seek it out if you need a sparkling wine.

Purchased in a restaurant by the individual serving for $9, I have seen it online from $9/375ml half bottle, and $13-18/750ml bottle.

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From their own website:
http://www.carpene-malvolti.com/index.php?area=86&menu=134&lingua=1

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