Tag Archives: Wine

Wine Around Town? In Vino Veritas!

21 Jan

A friend and business associate invited me to an informal wine tasting based on grape. I’ve been to tastings, but this was really a fun get-together of friends called “In Vino Veritas” (translation from the Latin: “In Wine, There is Truth”, attributed to Roman philospher/naval commander Pliny The Elder). It was a modern, intimate social media event. Jimmy (the host and event creator) wrote about the get-together to the (closed) group in his invitation:

I admit I know very little about wine, but I know what I like, and the reason I know what I like is I put as many versions of the same grape in front of me and sample them all. This is what this event will do. We’ll get together and all bring a bottle of the same type of wine (merlot, syrah, pino, etc) with you. Everyone will hopefully bring wine from different vineyards and of different vintages, so we can get a large sampling. The more people come, the more wine we get to taste. And don’t feel pressure to spend lots of money: if the wine is great AND cheap, it makes it that much better a find! If you want to pair up with someone and go in on a bottle together, please do!

It was quite straightforward. First I got the invite, then the indication of which grape was- tempranillo! Then, the location and time. Finally, the day arrived. I fretted about choosing the wine to bring, and settled on a Rioja I picked up from Morrell Wine, which is a shop that has a nice variety and is conveniently close to my current work. I went and looked at their selection of tempranillo wines, narrowed it down to three possible bottles, and then asked a salesperson for help. I showed them my choices, and explained that 1) I was looking for a good value on a great drinking wine, 2) did any of these wines fall into that category, and 3) were there other bottles I should consider?

The salesperson was very nice, expressed approval at my choices and described the qualities of two of them they had tasted. I chose a wine whose name is as much of a mouthful as the wine is itself:  La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Rioja Spain 2001. On the shop’s website, this wine boasted a Robert Parker rating of 94 points with a review calling it “medium-bodied, velvety-textured, and already complex” and sounded like a mature wine I’d appreciate that might be very different than what others were bringing. Off I went to the gathering!

I arrived at the appointed location and was quickly introduced to those I did not know. As is always a good idea when tasting both to cleanse the palate and assist the body’s ability to process wine, we got some food and water along with our wine glasses and then opened the bottles one at a time to taste. Yes, just to taste, as in sample, not drink! There were five bottles in total, each of a different vineyard, and varying vintages. What fun!

We poured a sample, passed the bottle, looked in the glass at color, smelled the bouquet, tasted, and shared our thoughts openly. It was great fun to attend a tasting when you have no clue where the bottle came from, who bought it or what it cost, and no pressure to buy the wine, or to even enjoy it! A couple of sips and some discussion, and we were on to the next wine. I have to admit that it was even more fun not knowing what kind of stores these were from, or the price range. Everyone had their own personal reactions, some people dumped glasses quickly, others sipped delicately, thoughtfully. No one left drunk or even tipsy. Here’s the list of the wines we tasted, with a tasting note and a link for your enjoyment. I’m including my terrible camera-phone pictures for label reminders.

1. Zumaya Ribera del Duero Crianza Tempranillo 2003

Garnet color with brown edge. Zingy nose with acid and sugar- like a cherry cola, to me indicating possible TCA (aka trichloroanisole, or cork taint). Very fruit forward, overly ripe cherry on the palate– but seems the wine is tainted or at least, turning, possible in the bottle from lack of temperature control. Overall, this was our least favorite wine. $17/bottle.



2. Termes, Numanthia 2009

Deep red in the glass with a nose of black fruit and menthol. Blackberry and black plum, touch of leather & oak. Nice texture, tannins were slow to kick in with a long, lingering finish, making the wine feel slightly provincial, thought I sense a lot of care and thought went in to making this wine. I will try the 2009 in a year, and decant first.  $30/bottle



3. Vinaguerena Denominacion de Origen Toro Barrica 2008

Nice ruby color, nose of cherry and green grass, hint of cedar. In the mouth, the cherry is forward with some raspberry and a hint of red cassis. Decent acidity but a short finish due to tannins being tight.  $16/bottle



4: La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Rioja Spain 2001

Garnet color, nose of cherry, red plum and a distinct odor of dill. In the mouth, the cherry and plum still mix together with black plum, spicy pepper, black cassis and a long finish with oak, spice box, a hint of smoky mint- perhaps cardomom. This wine does show differently than the others due to age (and the flaw in the Zumaya wine being turned) $32/bottle from Morrell, as low as $25/bottle online.



5. Grupo Yllera Tempranillo 2006

Bright ruby color with a browning edge, nose of fresh red cherry, strawberry, and sour raspberry. Hints of cacao, and oak.  Structure is good, finish is balanced. I went back for another taste (twice). $11/bottle



Of the five wines, I personally enjoyed #4 and #5 the most, but I do wonder if it was partially my palate and the process of tasting the three wines prior to #4 that assisted in that development. No matter, as I truly had a great time- this was a lovely evening and I felt honored to be brought into this group of like-minded people who all enjoyed the method of tasting and discussing without drinking to excess on an early work night. If I didn’t work most evenings, I’d want to set up an evening like this in my neighborhood, and I highly suggest that you try this with friends. The idea of tasting several bottles of a specific type of grape makes for a lot of fun, as well as being educational. It gently takes people away from their comfort zones into a playful area of exploration with no pressure to buy anything or answer to anyone in a safe environment. To me, the enormous success of this evening proves that Jimmy chose the name accurately.

In Vino Veritas Est! 

à votre santé!

Sonoma’s Forest Glen Chardonnay and Portugal’s Cepa Pura Fernao Pires

19 Dec

Forest Glen: 2009 Chardonnay, Sonoma, CA. $7.50 / Wine Room of Forest Hills.

Pale yellow-green in color. Lemon and green apple aromas with a touch of gentle wood from barrel fermentation. In the mouth, the pear, fig and apple flavors match with good acidity, showing balance. What felt tight in the mouth left a creamier, lasting finish that was pleasant and would go easily with appetizers, white meats or a cream sauce. Nice for the price. I was told it is entirely organic/biodynamic by the store proprietor, but have not found any data to support that on the web.


Cepa Glass

Cepa Pura: 2011 Fernao Pires, Quinta do Montalto, Lisboa, Portugal. $8 / Astor Wine, NYC

Light straw color. Citrus nose with a hint of sand and slate. Quince, pear and creamed honey are forward in this fresh, simple but unpretentious and well-made wine sporting a nice, dry finish. A solid vin du table that would easily pair with salads, shellfish,  calamari,  chicken, or by itself. The acidity marries the wine with the food on the palate, cuts through the protein and makes you slow down the process to enjoy the pairing more. I don’t see many Fernao Pires wines on the shelves in the USA but this is a tasty Portuguese white that could easily be a staple in households if it gained popularity in the USA, comparable to white wines costing twice as much.


à votre santé!

First Impressions

5 Dec

We are taught that presentation is important.  The Dress For Success, and Make a Good First Impression mentality permeates almost every culture. But not wine? Sure, it’s all over the bottle- sometimes it IS the bottle, but it usualy starts with the label. When you see your favorite label on a bottle, what is your reaction? (Mine is a look of pure joy.) What about the label from a wine you found tainted with TCA? Not good, one would expect. (Shudder)

With all we pay attention to in tasting and rating wine, does a label really matter? It must, if some wines make their sale purely on visual appeal, which may be the only shot a winemaker gets to put a taste into the buyer’s mouth. As a matter of fact, the marketing gurus will argue that the LABEL is the most important impression of the winemaker, long before the bottle is uncorked- because as a consumer, you have already bought the product.

This article from the Daily Meal is what got me started thinking about how I don’t really like wine labels of a certain type (animals) but prefer art or abstract designs. Could you imagine hiring tattoo artists to design your labels?

I adore some crazy looking labels. Ignoring the salivation I get when seeing a classic label from a historic chateau, my (current) favorite labels are both from Orin Swift, a small winery by David Pinney. Check out his labels from Papillon and The Prisoner wines- they have names pulled from classic entertainment, which endorses it in your mind to start. But then you see the killer images:

Papillon Prisoner Bottle Shot Pretty interesting stuff, right? It’s certainly got more character than a plain beige label with a bland “classic” sounding name from Napa with no image to lock firmly in your mind. After seeing the label and drinking the Papillon in a restaurant, I knew I would remember that bottle in a second,  -and I did- when I next saw the wine in a store.

This article from the Daily Designer demonstrates the label design as part of packaging concept. And some of these are amazing, I’d buy them based solely on label.

Finally, I give to you my holiday gift:  a link to 30 of the coolest wine label designs, which has a little something for everybody, and may provide for you that amazing, previously unimagined holiday present for that special someone in your life. Do check ‘em out, you will enjoy them I promise!  I love the idea of the Boarding Pass Shiraz concept for your frequent fliers, the Rorschach Test bottle for your shrinks and counselors, The Return Of The Living Red for your Walking Dead fans, the gas can designs from Mini Garage Wines for your grease monkeys, the B Frank wine where you get to write your own label- the list goes on and on. And let me know if you buy something, or find something ELSE that you think is super cool!

à votre santé!

Qualcosa di vecchio e qualcosa di nuovo (Something Old, Something New)

3 Dec

Two Montepulciano Wine Reviews!

First, a bang-for-the-buck you will enjoy that is easy to find:

Citra Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2010

Billed on their label as America’s #1 Montepulciano (according to Neilsen 52-week Rating ending 4/2/11,) $8/bottle, I found this locally at The Wine Room of Forest Hills.


A light ruby color throughout, the nose has red and black fruit with some pepper. Cassis, black cherry and blackberry dominate the palate with hint of  spice and a bit of sulfur on the dry finish. I paired this for a family dinner with meat loaf and we finished the bottle in record time. At such a low price it offers a good deal. Seen available online for as low as $4/bottle it may be useful to know that the 2009 is the highest-rated vintage to date.

Here’s our second wine, a hard-to-find but mind-blowing treat:

Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 1997


The 1997 has a garnet color in the glass with the edges just starting to brown. Very notable nose of aging red fruit, dusty rose, and oak. In the mouth, this is a stunning wine, great balance of elements with reserved red and black fruit, moderate acidity and tannins, this offers a velvety experience similar to those of Margaux fame. The finish lingers with perfectly red plum and raspberry, saddle leather and earth.  $30/bottle, rare.

Dei Wine

Some Backstory for procuring the ’97: I purchased this when NYC’s Chambers Street Wines offered the remains of a private cellar “ready to drink” via internet. I scoured the offering, came up with ten bottles I wanted, and managed to procure five of them when I called. The kicker for me was the offering had bottles ranging as low as $15, with most in the $20-40 range. Of the bottles I bought, all are rated 90 points or above, have great reviews, and had hit the mark for prime time to consume.  I’m quite happy with this approach and will keep my eye peeled for similar offerings in the future, and for Dei Vino Nobile Riserva Montepulciano in general which usually sells in the high teens for recent or current vintages and routinely scores 91 from Robert Parker or  James Suckling. I plan to buy and cellar some more of this and see if I get similar results!

à votre santé!

Oh Susanna! (My Favorite Chardonnay)

9 Nov

Finding your favorite table wine can sometimes be a chore. My high school chum Susanna is not only a wine lover, she is also a specific chardonnay snob!  I’m teasing,  she simply prefers chardonnays that are buttery and oaky. But, she is constantly in search of “the perfect” every day chardonnay – which for her is a deliciously rich & buttery chardonnay featuring lots of oak, at under $20 per bottle.

Susanna recently sent me a note reminding me of her quest, so this blog post is a series of chardonnays for her to try in her price range.  (I hope she’ll comment on what she tries and how she likes them!) It’s important to remember that the massive oak of Californian whites has receded significantly over the last ten years , so this request is not as easy as one might expect.

What follows are some suggested chardonnays, mostly on the rich & creamy side, for all my readers (especially Susanna ) to try!

From the Good Ol’ USA:

Clos Du Bois Chardonnay 2010 (North Coast, California) –apple, pear, lemon with toasted oak and butter. $12.99/bottle

Chateau St. Jean, Alexander Valley, Sonoma 2010 –pineapple, lemon, melon, with a creamy finish.  $14/bottle.

Kendall Jackson Chardonnay Vintner’s Reserve 2010. If you haven’t tasted America’s #1 selling chardonnay, you should. It’s entirely fermented in 100% oak, and at $14/bottle is a bargain compared to many popular California  wines. The “classic” oaked chardonnay in the USA.

Also  from Kendall Jackson is the Chardonnay Grand Reserve 2010. Robert Parker has been scoring this rich & creamy Chardonnay  consistently in the 90-91 range for the last decade. At $19.99, it’s the top of the price range here, but in general, a great price on a delicious, luscious wine.

Glen Ellen Chardonnay 2010. A buttery Sonoma wine at $6/bottle? You have to try it!

La Crema Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, from $11/bottle. Top rated butterscotchy chardonnay, might be too crisp but delicious and worth tasting!

Columbia Crest Grand Estates 2010, Columbia Valley, Washington. Received an 89 from Wine Spectator, known for a creamy, buttery  & refined finish, at $14/bottle.

Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay, 2011, Central California –considered one of the biggest, richest white wines on the market, decadent amounts of butter finishing in oak at $12-14/bottle.

Cambria Katherines Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Santa Maria Valley, CA $18/bottle, big, rich, creamy with good acidity and a minerality on the finish that leaves your mouth wanting more!

Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut, Russian River Valley 2010– noted to be creamy and oaky but not ‘weighted down’ by either. Perhaps a best of both world’s at 19.99/bottle.

From the rest of the world:

Louis Jadot Puilly-Fuisse (2010) I’m a French wine snob, a little peeved that she didn’t try my decandent bargain  Montrachet, even if it’s out of her price range.   But in spite of that, I want her to look for a brilliant chardonnay, and this is one, with lots of melon and minerals and gentle amounts of oak. What can it hurt @ $19/bottle?


Alamos Chardonnay 2011, consistently good, notes of butterscotch and oak. Might be too smooth and fruity as opposed to rich and creamy for Susanna, but it might be a good choice to know!  12/bottle.

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2010, $14/bottle. Great fan reviews online, worth checking out for ‘best value’.

What’s your favorite Chardonnay? What suggestions do YOU have for Susanna? Please share your thoughts, comments, and experiences!

à votre santé!

A Trio of Tens

4 Nov

I found these three ten-dollar bottles on a recent visit to one of my local wine haunts, Mayfair Wine & Liquor on Utopia Parkway. (For anyone who travels Fresh Meadows, this is a great store for quality and value. The owner has phenomenal knowledge of wines and liquors and a surprisingly wide range of stock.)

Each of these wines offers something different, and could be a good or great option in the appropriate pairing. Here are my most recent finds, in no specific order:


Canyon Road Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010

A purple color with garnet edges in the glass and nose of red ripe fruit. On the palate this wine features raspberry and plum with hints of vanilla, oak, and a touch of smoke. I tasted this with a strong cheese, then noticed it went very well with chocolate that brought out nice mocha notes. Light for a cab with an easy finish and gentle tannins, this was delicious and my favorite of the three wines.  I’d like to taste other offerings from this winemaker!

Visit Canyon Road Winery for more information.


Esteban Martin Carinena Reserva 2007

This wine has a ruby color and a spicy nose of red fruit and dried wildflowers. In the mouth it features red currants, powerful spices, notes of cigar box, and aged wood on the finish. The spice in this wine is dominant, and as such it would ideally pair with a strongly-flavored complement. The blend is 70% grenache, 15% syrah, and 15% cabernet sauvignon from grapes grown in Carinena, Spain. An interesting vineyard to keep an eye on.

Esteban Martin‘s website features much more on their winery.

2010 Chateau La Garrousse Bordeaux (bronze medal winner, Concourse de Bordeaux 2011)

Pale garnet color, with raspberry & violet and some gravel on the nose.

On first taste I was overpowered by sweet red fruit, followed by loads of acidity and some bitterness on the back palate I didn’t care for. My immediate reaction: not enough tannin, this wine is young and requires time to develop. Fortunately I decided to let this take some air. After an hour, the bitterness was gone and I felt the wine was decidedly different and greatly improved. The next day, I enjoyed this wine with a salad and pizza and the elements I’d been concerned with had entirely disappeared. With a little age, this has great potential.

*If you find a website for Chateau La Garrousse, please let me know! *

à votre santé!

An Over the Top Zin!

28 Oct

While on hurricane “Sandy” standby, my neighbors called me to come over and taste a new bottle. I was greeted by Lori & Gary and their new bottle of 2010 Earthquake Zinfandel from Lodi, California.

The color is purple with ruby edging. The nose is very sweet blackberry, blueberry, and plum. As I inhaled, I also noticed secondary scents- green vegetation, a touch of earth and some minerals: granite & clay.

On the palate this zin (which has some petite syrah blended in) bursts with bold sweet fruit. As it swished around my mouth, I noticed powerful tannins but not as much acidity. Perhaps with age, it will gain more balance. In the meantime it’s a fun, bold wine with noticeable alcohol- a whopping %16, that you might not notice quickly as you imbibe, so drink responsibly.

Here’s a link to the Michael David Winery, who makes the Earthquake wine. 

If you don’t recall my mention of my neighbors and their connection with Lodi wines, you can find a refresher in my blog post The Casual Summer BBQ.

Finally, a link to the Ripkin Winery and their phenomenal Late Harvest Viognier.

à votre santé!

My Favorite Cheap Wine

27 Oct

Part of my blog’s focus is to introduce my friends & readers not only to new wines to try, but also to great values and sometimes to great classics. Today I’m giving you what I’ve realized has become my go-to cheap bottle of wine.

“It can’t be,” you might be thinking. “JvB choosing ONE wine?”

Haha, No, not a chance. You’re absolutely right. It’s not one wine, it’s one manufacturer.

The Naked Grape is a label that I have come to trust for a really passable $6 bottle of wine. Better yet, they offer a cabernet sauvignon, a pinot noir, a malbec, a chardonnay, a pino grigio, and a moscato, all of which I’ve tried and enjoyed. The last two I have opened are the californian moscato, which has nice pear fruit up front with distinct orange flavor and a sweet tang to it, and the argentinian malbec, a plummy, spicy offering that rocked leftovers, chinese food, & mexican at $1.50 a glass. Really!


Check out their website here, which sadly demonstrates not a whole lot about this manufacturer. Demand your local shop carry this, like mine does. (Forest Hills residents, I get this at Mayfair Wine & Spirits on Union Turnpike. John carries all of these, right near the register.)

The coolest thing about The Naked Grape is (no, not the cutesy bottle color coding, that ranks third behind #1 value & #2 drinkable) that for 36 bucks you can have SIX different bottle of six different grapes and pair them for what they are with your meals, and then move up to something serious, or know a great cheap bottle of wine that will work beautifully with your meals.

Last but not least: these are all really decent, well-made vin du tables worth serving, but if you don’t like one, it’s less than the cost of a glass at the restaurant, so who cares? You can always toss it, use it in the sauce, or serve it to a drunken guest after they’ve had your good stuff, right?

à votre santé!

A Second Wine With Premiere Cru Qualities

22 Oct

Croix de Beaucaillou,, St-Julien, 2008

This is the ‘second’ wine from the prestigious Chateau DuCru in the Medoc region of France. Dark purple in color, it has lush raspberry, blackberry, and licorice on the nose with no floral notes I could discern, but a hint of minerality. In the mouth, cassis and black plum were dominant fruit with graphite, earth, espresso, cigar box, and gravel giving way to a hint of wood shavings on the finish. Complex with firm tannin, a pleasure to drink by itself and easy to pair with strong flavors.  A nice balance of 10% Merlot and 90% Cabernet make up this Bordeaux Blend.

Various vintages of this wine might range from 30-65/bottle, I picked up a half-bottle for about $23 in midtown and enjoyed three medium pours over three nights, with the wine changing little and demonstrating power and consistency.  While not THE Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, this is every bit a delicious, savory wine and a bargain at the price with all of the characteristics that make a great St- Julien. You’ll only miss the Premiere Cru if you have enjoyed it before… and I have, but this is a nice, tasty reminder as well as a bargain in the half-bottle.

Here is a link for more information about Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, their wines and terroir.

à votre santé!

A Way To Identify Smells In Your Wine!

28 Sep

Many of my friends and wine associates have challenges in identifying wine aromas. This is a fun article that describes a wonderful approach to expanding your sense and ability to smell and describe wine!

A link to the article is here, and the text follows. Ross Szabo does a great job. Enjoy, and follow his work on Huffington Post!


A Fun Way to Discover Wine Aromas With Items Already in Your Kitchen 

By Ross Szabo

As a person who rarely even selects which wine to drink when I am out for dinner, I am definitely a novice when it comes to properly identifying wine aromas. I can’t tell you how many times I have put my nose over a glass and guessed, purely out of embarrassment. When tasting in the past, everyone’s nose seemed better than mine, like they had an inside secret I would never know. I felt like I had some kind of impairment that would never be cured.

A large part of the problem was that I wasn’t in touch with my senses enough to know what words to use to verbalize the scents wafting past my face. When I don’t feel like I have words to describe what seems so commonplace to others, like most people in this situation I feel stupid and hesitant to speak up. However, all that changed with one simple exercise that anyone can do at home! This isn’t a wine infomercial. I promise.

My wife, Heidi, and I were guided through a wonderful lesson on how to smell wines by a sommelier in Mendoza, Argentina, Mariana Onofri. She made the process really comfortable. She said, “Scents are one of the basic building blocks of wine tasting. People say they don’t know about wine and feel inhibited. Wine is about enjoyment. My goal is to help people understand what they are tasting to enhance that enjoyment.”

Here are the three simple steps to properly identifying aromas. You can even use them to throw a party.

1. It’s important to include a variety of different whites and reds during this exercise. We had six glasses of wine for each person, including Torrontes, Chardonnay, Rose, Pinot Noir, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. During our aroma ID session with Mariana, we smelled and tasted each wine one at a time. The first sniff should always be done before swirling the wine to preserve the purity. This exercise is to learn the scents, so it’s important not to drink all of the wine, as you will be smelling and tasting them again. As we smelled each wine, I expressed to Heidi my lifelong frustration with not knowing how to describe the odors. Then the magic happened.

2. We took a break from smelling the wines and played a game. There were 16 ingredients placed into individual short, black, opaque wine glasses. At home you could use coffee mugs, or small plastic cups — just as long as you cannot see what’s inside. We passed around the glasses and wrote down what we smelled in each of them.

When we couldn’t identify exactly what was in the glass, it helped to write down memories the scents evoked. For example, Heidi’s answers consisted of ocean, grass, Christmas and other familiar memories from her life. For me, Chardonnay smelled like fresh pancakes from my childhood, but I was actually identifying the buttery nature of the varietal. Smell often triggers memories. If they do, you should write down that feeling. The important thing is that this exercise is not about being correct, it’s about becoming more in touch with your senses and references from your world.

After writing down our thoughts, Mariana told us the answers, and the hidden scents came alive one by one. The ingredients were green olives, orange, honey, chamomile, fruit jam, pepper seasoning, butter, lemon, vanilla, red pepper, pineapple, black licorice, green pepper, caramel, cinnamon and apple. We kept score to see who had correctly identified the most items. You can come up with a fun punishment for the person who has the lowest amount of correct answers.

3. The next step was to go back to the wines and smell them again. For me the bouquet of smells came alive from every glass. Because we had taken the time to identify the individual aromas earlier, it all clicked for me now as I smelled the wines. I finally felt like I was part of the club that could identify different aromas of wines, instead of just looking around the room and trying to fit in or giving up on the idea of ever having this skill. Being comfortable with the words to describe the smells has changed my entire wine tasting experience.

It’s easy, and a lot of fun, to replicate this process at home. Invite some of your friends over and have each of them bring a different wine. There will always be cheaters trying to see what is in the hidden cups. Try to discourage them, as it is so much more important to be identifying with your own experience, rather than “the right” answer. You’ll be amazed at how well the sniffing experiment works.

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