Category Archives: Corks – Wine

A sweet pairing from the Lord of Barsac

Climens is poured alongside a selection of cheeses.

Bérénice Lurton-Thomas, owner of a legendary Bordeaux chateau, takes a “cheesey” approach to broaden the market for her “stickies”

By ALAN J. WAX

Bérénice Lurton-Thomas would like you to say, “Cheese.”

Bérénice Lurton-Thomas

Lurton-Thomas, owner of esteemed Bordeaux First-Growth Château Climens, thinks cheese lovers will be surprised to discover how well their favorite fromages pair with her sweet Sauternes wines. Sauternes, the famed—and expensive—sweet wines of Bordeaux, traditionally have been consumed with dessert or on their own.

To prove her point, the owner of the so-called “Lord of Barsac,” as the chateau is known, hosted a recent media tasting at the tiny French Cheese Board shop in New York City’s NoLita neighborhood. There, she and the participants sampled eight French cheeses with four Climens wines.

Lurton-Thomas, who has overseen Climens in the tiny Sauternes appellation Barsac for the past 25 years, said such pairings are not uncommon in France, though most aficionados would first think of dry red wine and cheese. “With most cheeses, I think white wineries better,” she said. Her sweet white wines, have plenty of acidity, which keeps them from feeling thick and cloying and helps them to stand up to the acidity in cheese.

Climens, which since 2010 has utilized biodynamic farming, makes its Sauternes with 100 percent Semillion grapes that have been infected by the botrytis fungus, also called “Noble Rot.” Other Sauternes producers also use Sauvignon Blanc. The botrytis causes the grapes to shrivel, thereby concentrating the sugars and intensifying the aromatics.

At this recent tasting Lurton-Thomas put up 2009, 2007 and 2005 vintages of Climens and the 2012 Cyprès de Climens, the chateau’s second wine. Their foils, cheeses hard, soft, orange, blue and white: Ami du Chambertin, Blu D’Auvergne, Époisses, Fourme d’Ambert, extra-aged Mimolette, Ossau Iraty, Petit Sapin, Vacherin Mont D’Or and Sainte-Nectaire. She declined to guide the tasting, because “everybody knows what they really like.”

The wines by themselves were pure decadence. Each cheese was delicious on its own. Paired, many of the wines with the cheeses were delightful, but not always. The bigger wines overwhelmed some delicate cheeses. The salty Mimolette worked best with the lighter Cyprès. My favorite match, hands down, was the spectacular 2005 Climens with the stinky Époisses de Bourgogne. Pure heaven. Lurton-Thomas might agree. “When it’s with red wine [the Époisses] is terrible.”

The cheeses

Here’s a look at the cheeses sampled:

Ami du Chambertin is an ivory-hued, semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a strong palate produced in the Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy. It’s aged for nearly two months and washed in Marc de Bourgogne, a 40 percent alcohol eau-de-vie

Bleu d’Auvergne is a creamycow’s milk blue cheese from the Auvergne region of south-central France. A strong-smelling cheese, its taste is spicy, grassy, floral.

Époisses de Bourgogne, well known as stinky cheese, it’s made in and around the village of Époisses in Côte-d’Or. Some consider pungent Époisses to be the smelliest cheese in the world (think sweaty, smelly socks). Even so, this creamy cheese has a salty and powerful rich flavor.

Extra-aged Mimolette, a dense, hard cheese produced near Lille, it’s similar to Dutch Edam though with distinct orange color and nutty flavor from the addition of annatto. Extra aging produces hazelnut-like flavor.

Ossau-Iraty, a sheep’s milk cheese from the French Pyrenées. The texture is uniformly smooth and dense, but supple. Flavors are sweet and nutty, with pleasant earthy notes from the cheeses made during the winter and grassy, floral, vegetal flavors from the summer cheeses.

Fourme D’Ambert is made from pasteurized cow’s milk in Auvergne with less spicy blue mold than its cousin, Roquefort. Velvety and creamy with earthy mushroom overtones.

Petit Sapin (literally, little fir tree) is a washed rind, pasteurized cow’s milk cheese, from the Alpine Comte region of France bordering Switzerland. It is smooth, creamy with a sweet creamy aftertaste.

Vacherin Mont D’Or is a soft, rich, velvety, buttery seasonal cow’s milk cheese that has been wrapped in spruce. Made near the mountain D’Or on the border of Switzerland only between Aug. 15 and March 15.

Sainte-Nectaire (meaning sweet nectar) has a fruity aroma, rich texture, creamy texture, and a sweet flavor. It has been produced in the volcanic, mineral-rich meadows of the Monts-Dore region of northern Auvergne for centuries. The resulting milk from the Salers cows has high concentrations of phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium.

The wines:

The blockbuster 2005 Climens–all gone.

Les Cyprès de Climens 2012 (average price $64 according to wine-searcher.com). From a challenging vintage in which some Sauternes produces made no grand vin, Clemens produced both a grand vin and with grapes left after the primary selection it produced Les Cyprès, its second label. Nonetheless delicious, floral and honeyed, but less viscous than the grand vin bottlings.

Château Climens 2009 (average price $127). A very good vintage that produced wines with ripe, powerful botrytis character, rich texture with freshness and balance. Amber-hued, it offered layers of flavors including minerals, flowers, citrus and stone fruit notes, but terrific balanced of sweetness and acidity.

Château Climens 2007 (average price $160). A terrible vintage for Bordeaux, 2007 was one of the greatest Sauternes vintages, largely due to great autumn weather. Candied fruits on the nose, great acidity, sweet and viscous without being cloying with a lengthy finish.

Château Climens 2005 (average price $119). Called a “big one” by Lurton-Thomas, this was a classic, powerful, elegant Sauternes. The product of a hot, drought year. There is apricot on the nose; on the palate, orange marmalade, apricot, and honey, with good acidity and a finish that doesn’t quit.

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Finding history in a glass of Cognac

1811 Cognac

1811 Napoleon Cognac

Maxim's 1914 Cognac

Maxim’s 1914 Cognac

Armagnac 1893 J. Marou

Armagnac 1893 J. Marou

Coganc 1928 Croizet B Leon

Coganc 1928 Croizet B Leon

1865 Madeira Cafe Anglais

1865 Madeira Cafe Anglais Photos courtesy Old Liquors

Port 1887

Port 1887

We taste 19th century Cognac, Armagnac, Port and Madeira

By ALAN J. WAX

It was a once-in-a-lifetime tasting of liquid history.

Twenty plus connoisseurs, spirits merchants, and media gathered in the cellar tasting room of the Brandy Library in Tribeca on April 12 to sample three rare Cognacs—one produced in 1811, an Armagnac, a Port and a Madeira.

The bottles belonged to Dutch history buff and collector Bay van der Bunt, who has gathered more than 6,000 rare bottles over 40 years and who had planned to sell a 39-bottle collection from his cache at a Christie’s auction on April 13.  Alas, van de Bunt’s bottles failed to sell. But for those who attended the $250-a-ticket tasting, it was an evening that would not be forgotten.

Upon entering the Brandy Library, owned by Frenchman Flavien Desoblin, that descended a narrow spiral staircase to its cellar, a dark room illuminated by a handful of incandescent lights hung from the ceiling by copper tubing. At the front of the room, atop an old oak cask, stood the evening’s wares. Behind them, a flat-panel TV flashed a power point presentation about the collection and its sponsor, Old Liquors of Brede, Netherlands.

Greeting guests was Bart Laming, CEO of  Old  Liquors, van der Bunt’s trading and investment companies, who arranged the tasting to mark the Christie’s sale. Laming has worked closely working with van der Bunt since 2010 to develop a business plan to sell his collection.

Edwin Vos, head of Christie’s wine department in Amsterdam, assisted by Christie’s Noah May, played sommelier for the evening, carefully prying  corks from bottles untouched for more than a century. “It’s a challenge opening old bottles,” Laming noted.

And all were opened without harm and glasses filled with a few sips were distributed.

Here. In order of their presentation, are notes from my taste of history:

Madeira 1865 Café Anglais. Café Anglais opened in 1802 and today is known as the world famous Tour d’Argent.  This bottle, found buried in the restaurant’s cellar below the Left Bank, was bottled late in the 19th Century. It was purchased in 2012 for $900 and now is estimated to be worth $1,800. The wine is golden, proffers a sweet cigar-like/Acacia honey nose with notes of nutmeg, vanilla, citrus and coconut. There’s a bit of a sawdust on the finish.

Port 1887 Brand Unknown. This fortified wine from northern Portugal’s Douro Valley was produced, we were told, from a classic vintage. Bought in 2000 for $115, its value now is estimated at $1,900. The color is a hazy, light reddish orange. The nose is smoky bacon. It’s soft and elegant with notes of sweet chocolate and nuts.

Cognac 1928 Croizet B. Léon. Croizet is one of Cognac’s oldest companies, founded in the Grande Champagne appellation by Léon Croizet in 1805. This bottle, purchased in 1999 for $220, now is worth an estimated $1,200. Amber hued with a powerful nose with suggestions of banana. The palate offers orange peel and spice notes and a bit of Speculoos biscuit.

Cognac 1914 Maxim’s, Caves du Restaurant. A bottle from the cellars of the famous Paris bistro, known for its Art Nouveau decor and beautiful women. Purchased in 2003 for $310 it might sell today for $2,350. Golden, amber hue. A nose of prunes and musk melon. Hot and spicy, a broad palate with notes of biscuits and passion fruit.

Armagnac 1893 Jacques Marou. This spirit from Armagnac-Ténarèze appellaton is from a family producer that’s been around since 1650.  Ténarèze is considered the strongest-tasting Armagnac, reaching full flavor at a later age than those of Bas- and Haut-Armagnac.

Cognac 1811 Napoléon. 1811, the Year of the Comet, was considered the greatest vintage in Western Europe of the 19th Century. Though produced in 1811, when Napoleon was at its peak, Vos said, this Cognac may have remained in cask for 50 years. Purchased in 2000 for $1,700, today it’s worth $8,000. Amber colored with a rich, caramel nose. It’s a tad floral with notes of spice, oak and brown sugar.

All told, an amazing experience.

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A new style Barbera, made from dried grapes, reaches the U.S.

An approachable, affordable, elegant red wine from Italy’s Piedmont region

Ricossa Barbera Appassimento on the table at Lupa Restaurant in New York City

Ricossa Barbera Appassimento on the table at Lupa Restaurant in New York 

By Alan J. Wax

An Italian wine producer little known to many in the U.S. is about to launch a new style of Barbera. This new Piedmontese red, sold under the Ricossa Antica Casa brand, borrows the appassimento winemaking technique, which uses dried grapes and is popular in the Valpolicella district of another northern Italian wine region, the Veneto.

This new wine is made from grapes that are left to dry for several weeks prior to crushing. The result: a higher sugar-to-juice ratio that fills out the body and results in a rounder, more elegant wine and, in the case of the Ricossa wine, a softening of the acidity often associated with Barbera.

The wine, which I sampled at a luncheon sponsored by Ricossa’s owner, MGM Mondo del Vino, at Lupa Restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village, is an approachable, light-medium-bodied, dry wine with a smooth red-berry and cherry fruit. It’s drinkable alone — or with many foods. Ricossa Appassimento Barbera 2014, which has an ABV of 13.5 percent, will retail in the U.S. for about $26 for a 750 ml bottle.

The 2014 Ricossa is the first appassimento wine ever produced in the Piedmont and followed a year-long government approval process. Ricossa, which produced 80,000 bottles of the new style wine, until now has been sold mostly in the Midwest, according to brand manager Andrea Marazia,

Despite the similar process, this new-style Barbera is different from the rich, high alcohol Amarone wines made using the same process in Valpolicella. In the latter, the grapes are dried for four months — on straw mats — before vinification. Ricossa’s Barbera grapes are handpicked and dried in a ventilated room for at least three weeks. The fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks with skin for about two weeks and then is matured, 60 percent in barriques and 40 percent in stainless, for eight months, followed by a minimum six months in bottle.

A shipment of the new wine, a group of wine writers were told at the luncheon, is at sea, heading to the U.S. the wine. The wine already is available in Canada and Europe.

Ricossa, which buys its grapes from a consortium of growers in the Piedmont, came up with the idea of using the appassimento process almost three years ago and working with the growers worked for a year to obtain government approval for the new DOC, or Denominazione di Origine Controllata (controlled designation of origin).

Barbera is the third-most-planted grape variety in Italy, outside of Sangiovese and Montepulciano and is known for its deep purplish hue, low tannins, high acidity and robust well-rounded flavors, making perfect for pairing anything from flavorful cheese to pasta  to stewed or grilled meat.

Ricossa Antica Casa is named for a long-shuttered Piedmontese distillery that dated back to the early 1800s. The name was acquired by MGM Mono del Vino to produce a range of classic Piedmontese wines, including Ricossa Barolo DOCG, Barbera d’Asti DOC, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, and Gavi DOCG, that are considered good values.

A group of winemakers founded MGM Mondo del Vino in 1991. It was acquired in 2013 by the Mondodelvino Group SpA. The parent company operates in many areas of Italy, producing a wide variety of wines under a number of labels including those of major retailers. The company produce 25 million 750 ml bottles and 4.5 million 3L boxes of wine each year, which are export to over 40 countries.

Though best known for their reds, Ricossa produces one still white wine, a Gavi, made from 100 percent Cortese. It’s a dry, crisp wine. It also makes a delightful, soft uncloying, slightly frizzante Moscato d’Asti.

Ricossa wines are imported by Touchstone Wines of Redwood City, California.

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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ top Cabs offer reminder of restrained California wines

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates New York State Manager Brian Strauss conducts Stag's Leap Wine Cellars tasting

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates New York State Manager Brian Strauss conducts Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars tasting at Long Island’s Post Wines.

 SLWC wines, especially Cabs, show well at a retail tasting

By Alan J. Wax

I’ve never been a big fan of California wines, but a recent tasting at a shop near my home happily reminded me of the fine wines being produced at Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

I’d sampled the wines of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars from time to time in the past at various large, industry walk-around tasting events, but never before had an opportunity to give them a more contemplative look.

I left the tasting at Post Wines in Syosset, Long Island, quite impressed and quite happy.

The wines were exciting, particularly the reds. The Stag Leap Wine Cellars’ Cabernet Sauvignons showed tannic structure, acidity, and for the most part, restrained fruit, which probably explains my enjoyment.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars has a terrific story. Warren Winiarski, a former college professor, founded the winery in 1972 and in 1979 it gained worldwide acclaim when its second vintage, the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon, bested a group of handpicked Bordeaux wines in a blind tasting by French judges held in Paris during the American bicentennial. The tasting advanced not only the reputation of Stag’s Leap but also those of Napa Valley and California. The tasting became the subject of a 2005 book by George M. Taber, “Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine.” Washington-based Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Tuscan vintner Piero Antinori, partners in various wine ventures, have owned Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars since 2007.

New ownership brought changes, the tasting group at Post was told by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates New York State Manager Brian Strauss, including replacing vinyl piping with stainless steel and adding air conditioning to the winery’s aging caves, all of which, he said, resulted in better wines, beginning with the 2012 vintage. The partners also brought in a new wine maker in 2013, Marcus Notaro, from the Col Solare winery in Washington, which they jointly own.

We sampled wines from the 2012, 2013 and 2014 vintages starting with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Aveta 2014 ($22). Straw-hued, with a grassy, herbal nose, there’s grass and grapefruit on the palate with just enough acidity to keep it interesting.

We followed with another white, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Karia Chardonnay 2013 ($28). This straw-hued, creamy Chard offered hints of spice on the nose and pear and vanilla on the palate along with lip-smacking acidity.

Then onto the Cabs, for which Stag’s Leap remains best known. The winery’s top wines and, perhaps most-renown, are its Cask 23 Cabernet blend, which sells for $150— not poured at the recent tasting – and the Fay and S.L.V. bottlings. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ fame is closely linked to its signature estate vineyards, S.L.V. and FAY. The FAY Vineyard was planted in 1961 as the first Cabernet Sauvignon site in the Stags Leap District. The S.L.V. Vineyard was planted in 1970.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($55). This deep purple seems the antithesis of its pricier siblings with oak dominating the blackberry and cherry fruit and the finish. Not particularly a favorite at this stage.

Stag’s Leap FAY Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($1205). Deep purple hued with notes of spice and cherries on the nose. It’s quite approachable despite its youth and very fruit forward.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($120). The final wine of the evening – they saved the best for last. Dark and inky, this was a powerful, full-bodied wine with loads of black fruit and spice notes from nose to palate. I’d love to taste this beauty after a few years of aging.

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Little-known Lemburger is a big winner for a Finger Lakes wine producer

Lemberger, growing in popularity, garners top honor for Ventosa Vineyards in New York State’s 2015 competition.

By Alan J. Wax

Winner of the 2015 New York Governor's Cup

Winner of the 2015 New York Governor’s Cup

When was the last time you sipped a Lemberger? Likely, not lately.

But that could change as this little-known grape variety, originally from Germany and also grown in other parts of central Europe, finds new popularity.

Lemberger, a hardy, dark-skinned red wine grape that produces full-bodied, fruit-forward, peppery wines, has found a home in parts of Washington State and in New York’s Finger Lakes. Lemberger also is known as Blaufränkisch and several other names as well.

And it was a 2011 Lemberger from Ventosa Vineyards, on the northeast shore of Seneca Lake in Geneva, New York, that recently was crowned the top wine in the annual New York Governor’s Cup competition. This year, the competition’s 30th, attracted 858 entries from throughout the state, including Long Island, Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Niagara Escarpment and Lake Erie

You won’t find many Lembergers in your local wine shop. Astor Wines, among the largest wine merchants in New York City, sells but one, from Fox Run Vineyards, also on Seneca Lake. Wine.com lists 14 offerings, mostly from Washington, but all are as sold out. (Channing Daughter’s Winery in Bridgehampton, Long Island, produces a Blaufränkisch.)

In Germany, the Lemberger grape has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years, according to the Wines of Germany web site, which noted that plantings have grown from about 400-500 hectacres in the 1980s to more than 1,750 hectacres.

Many Finger Lakes wineries produce Lemberger wines, in large measure due to the grape’s winter heartiness. A 1996 study by a group of Northeast researchers, including the well-respected Dr. Joseph A. Fiola of the University of Maryland, reported that vines can be hardy at 0°F to -10°F and that vines have survived temperatures as low as -13° F. Finger Lakes winters can be harsh. This past winter, the mercury dropped to as low as -10°F, which can kill half the buds on a grapevine.

The Ventosa Lambeger 2011 is estate grown — as are all the winery’s wines. But production is small, just 256, 12-bottle cases. The wine, aged in new Hungarian oak barrels, retails for $23.95 at the winery.

Wines at this 10-year-old producer, owned by Lenny and Meg Cecere, are made by Jenna LaVita, who honed her craft working under Peter Bell at Fox Run Vineyards; Eric Shatt, formerly head wine maker and vineyard manager at Ventosa, and Rob Thomas of Shalestone Vineyards.

Grapes for this year’s winning wine were planted in June 2004, after more than half of the vineyard’s red grape vines were destroyed by frost. The vineyard is just 23 acres and produces about 4,200 cases of wine annually, all made without the aid of herbicide sparys. Ventosa also produces Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese.  Ventosa is also one of only two New York to grow and produce Tocai Friulano, a white Italian varietal (Millbrook Winery in the Hudson Valley is the other).

Ventosa’s online tasting notes describe its award winner as having “a powerful spicy oak nose, botanical notes of juniper and eucalyptus on the immediate palate. Sharp tannins, under-ripe blackberries, fiery pepper lingering on the finish.”

I can’t say I picked up the pepper, but it is a terrific wine, nonetheless. My notes: Almost inky. Spicy oak nose. Intense brambly character with juicy black fruits and oak notes. I found the tannins to be moderate. Lengthy finish. Enough here to convince me to try other Limburgers.

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An impulsive visit to Chateau La Nerthe proves to be a worthwhile decision

By Alan J. Wax

The gates to Chateau La Nerthe

The gates to Chateau La Nerthe

Our day of touring Avignon and its Palais des Papes had drawn to an end. What else to do with just a few hours of daylight remaining?

Visit a winery, of course. Which one? I turned to my GPS, hit points of interest, attractions and then wineries. A list displayed with the wineries closest to our position, along the Rhone River, near the Pont d’Avignon. With traffic in every direction, a spot decision was required. With a quick glance while stopped for light, I  instantly recognized Château La Nerthe, just 20 minutes away. Off we went.

La Nerthe is one of the historic estates of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appelation with 225 acres of vineyards in the stony southeastern portion of the region. Château La Nerthe, whose origins trace back to the 12th Century, has been owned by the Richard family since 1985. Their vineyards are all organic. The annual production is about 290,000 bottles of red and 40,000 bottles of white.

La Nerthe's stony vinyard

La Nerthe’s stony vinyard

The estate’s well-lit, modern tasting room was reached by driving up a narrow, gravel lane through the stony vineyards. The classic chateauneuf terroir of the famous galettes, or large, round stones, dominates the vineyard, where vines on average are 40 years old. La Nerthe grows 13 different grape varieties.

Château La Nerthe, whose origins trace back to the 12th Century, has been owned by the Richard family since 1985. Their vineyards are all organic. The annual production is about 290,000 bottles of red and 40,000 bottles of white.

The tasting room was abuzz as we arrived late in the afternoon. A group of American tourists from Southern California on a winery tour was busy sampling Le Nerthe’s wares.

Soon, I would, too. And later be joined by a group from Pennsylvania. What is it with all these Americans?

Le Nerthe's  tasting room wine dispenser

Le Nerthe’s tasting room wine dispenser

The wines, poured from a dispenser built into a wall behind a tasting bar, was a step up from some of the rustic tasting rooms we’d visited during our travels.

I was especially eager to try La Nerthe’s CdP Blanc. White Cdps—and numerous whites from other Rhone appelations are hard to find in the U.S. and I’ve enjoyed them immensely when offered the opportunity.

La Nerthe’s white is made predominately from Roussanne along with Grenache, Clairette and Bouboulenc. The 2013 vintage was being poured. Pale gold, it offered an intense it was fresh and round with a nose of peach, citrus and flowers and lively acidity and mineral notes on the palate followed to a lengthy finish.

Three CdP Rouge followed, the 2011, 2010 and the 1996. The 2011, a blend of blend of  syrah, grenache noir andmourvedre, was soft with notes of red fruit and spice. The 2010, a blend of  Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault, was for me a perfect CdP with its plush body and complex notes of ripe cherries and plums, spice and earthiness. The 1996 offered a raisiny, stewed red fruit notes and earth, but left an impression that it had peaked.

Finally, a surprise. Fine de Châteauneuf-du- Pape, a brandy, labeled an eau-de-vie, a rarity in the appellation.  Made from a white wine base distilled three times and aged in large oak barrels, it reminded me of a lightly hued cognac, quite aromatic, fruity, smooth and flavorful with a bit of an alcohol bite in the finish.

Not wanting to weigh down my suitcases, I bought only a bottle of the ‘13 blanc and the ’10 rouge., though it was temping to buy the brandy. Only the prospect of a credit card bill that I could not pay put the brakes on that.

The spur of the moment decision to visit Le Nerthe provided a welcome respite from playing tourist and terrific dividends from  tasting such terrific wines.

 

 

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New York’s top winery accolade goes to Long Island’s Macari Vineyards

 

Macari Vineyard on  Long Island's North Fork

Macari Vineyard on Long Island’s North Fork

By Alan J. Wax

A multi-generational, family-owned Long Island wine producer founded almost two decades ago is getting long overdue recognition.

Macari Vineyards, which now produces about 14,000 cases a wine annually from 200 acres of vines in Mattituck, on Long Island’s North Fork, won the New York State Winery of the Year award at the 2014 New York State Wine & Food Classic, an annual competition run by the New York State Wine & Grape Foundation.

“It was really great. We’re really happy,” co-owner Alexandra Macari said of the award announced Aug. 13 in Watkins Glen. She attributed the win to the winery’s staff. “We have such a solid team,” she said.

Owners Joseph Macari Sr., his wife, Katherine, and Joseph Macari Jr., who runs the winery with his wife, Alexandra, and their children, founded the winery in 1995 on 200 acres of the family’s 50-year-old, 500-acre waterfront estate,  Some of the acreage is used to raise livestock, including Texas Longhorn cattle, goats, donkeys, horses, ducks and rabbits.

In June 2007, the Macaris added 20 acres of vines to their holdings and a second tasting room when they purchased the former Galluccio Vineyard in Cutchogue.

The Macari vineyards, planted with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viogner, Grüner Veltliner, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier and Syrah, are largely farmed using biodynamic methods with fungicide and pesticide sprayed only once a year. Chemical nitrogen and herbicide has not bee used for the past 16 years. The vineyard was briefly on the selling block a decade ago.

The Winery of the Year award recognizes consistent quality of wines, said Jim Trezise, president of the wine industry group. At least seven wines had to be entered into the competition. Trezise said numbers are assigned for Bronze, Silver, Gold, Double Gold, Best of Class and Best of Category, and then the total is divided by the number of wines entered to derive a ratio; the winery with the highest ratio receives the award. This year, there were 863 entries, 733 of them medaled.

Macari is the third Long Island winery to receive the top winery award, which last year went to McCall Wines, of Cutchogue, and in 2004 to Paumanok Vineyards, of Aquebogue.

Chateau Lafayette Reneau 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling, Estate Bottled, from the Finger Lakes wine region won the coveted Governor’s Cup trophy as the judge’s top wine. The winery was purchased last year by Gene Pierce, owner of nearby Glenora Wine Cellars.

This year’s competition included 835 New York wines, 20 hard ciders and 8 spirits from across New York.

Macari winemaker Kelly Urbanik Koch

Macari winemaker Kelly Urbanik Koch

Macari won Best Red Wine and Best Cabernet Franc for its 2010 vintage on its way to its Winery of the Year award, along with several other top medals. “We really believe in Cabernet Franc from Long Island, said the UC Davis-trained Kelly Urbanik Koch, Macari’s winemaker since June 2010.

Macari’s other awards included double gold for its 2012 Chardonnay Estate, gold for its 2010 Cabernet Franc, 2008 Dos Aquas red blend, and 2013 Katherine’s Field Sauvignon Blanc. It also received silver medals for its 2007 Merlot Reserve, 2010 Bergen Road red blend, 2012 Chardonnay Reserve, 2013 Rose and 2010 Block E Viogner

The awards were based on blind tastings by 22 expert judges, including four from California, 10 from New York, seven from other states, and one from France. They included wine writers, restaurateurs, retailers, and wine educators. Judging panels determined the initial awards, with the top-scoring wines evaluated by all 22 judges for Best of Category and Governor’s Cup awards.

Such awards and medals are useful marketing tools for the numerous small wineries across the state that were eligible to enter the competition.

The complete results can be download from industry group’s web site.

The Best of Category awards, all considered for the Governor’s Cup, went to:

Best Sparkling Wine: Sparkling Pointe Vineyards & Winery 2005 Brut Seduction, Methode Champenoise

Best White Wine: Chateau Lafayette Reneau 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling, Estate Bottled

Best Rose Wine: Anthony Road Wine Co. 2013 Rosé of Cabernet Franc

Best Red Wine: Macari Vineyards & Winery 2010 Cabernet Franc

Best Dessert Wine: Idol Ridge Winery 2014 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

Best of Class awards went to Double Gold or Gold medal wines in classes of at least seven wines. The winners:

Best Oaked Chardonnay: Coffee Pot Cellars 2013 Chardonnay

Best Unoaked Chardonnay: Martha Clara Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay

Best Overall Chardonnay: Martha Clara Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay

Best Gewürztraminer: Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars 2013 Gewürztraminer, Estate Bottled

Best Dry Riesling: Wagner Vineyards 2012 Riesling Dry, Caywood East Vineyards Estate Grown

Best Medium Dry Riesling: Chateau Lafayette Reneau 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling, Estate Bottled

Best Medium Sweet Riesling: Barnstormer Winery 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling

Best Sweet Riesling: Wagner Vineyards 2012 Riesling Select, Estate Grown & Bottled

Best Overall Riesling: Chateau Lafayette Reneau 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling, Estate Bottled

Best Sauvignon Blanc: Hosmer Winery 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

Best Pinot Grigio: Swedish Hill Winery 2013 Pinot Grigio

Best Grüner Veltliner: Three Brothers Wineries & Estates 2013 Grüner Veltliner, Estate Reserve

Best Vinifera White: Seneca Hayes Wine Cellars 2012 Riesling-Gewürztraminer

Best Other White Vinifera Varietal: Millbrook Vineyards & Winery 2013 Tocai Friulano, Proprietor’s Special Reserve

Best Cayuga: Lucas Vineyards 2013 Cayuga White

Best Traminette: Thirsty Owl Wine Co. 2013 Traminette

Best Vidal: Swedish Hill Winery 2013 Vidal Blanc

Best Vignoles: Anthony Road Wine Company 2013 Vignoles

Best Cold Climate White Varietal: Tug Hill Vineyards 2013 LaCrescent, Estate Grown

Best Hybrid White: Lucas Vineyards 2013 Harbor Moon

Best Niagara: Lucas Vineyards Miss Behavin

Best Vinifera Rose: Anthony Road Wine Company 2013 Rosé of Cabernet Franc

Best Catawba: Woodbury Vineyards Foxy Blush Renard

Best Native Blush: 21 Brix Winery Thirsty Elephant

Best Cabernet Sauvignon: Brotherhood Winery 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

Best Merlot: Osprey’s Dominion Vineyard 2010 Reserve Merlot

Best Pinot Noir: Ventosa Vineyards 2010 Pinot Noir

Best Cabernet Franc: Macari Vineyards & Winery 2010 Cabernet Franc

Best Lemberger: Inspire Moore Winery & Vineyard 2012 Change

Best Syrah: Billsboro Winery 2012 Syrah

Best Other Red Vinifera Varietal: Fulkerson Winery 2013 William Vigne Dry Zwiegelt

Best Vinifera Red: Harbes Vineyard 2012 Red Blend

Best Vinifera/Hybrid Red: Buttonwood Grove Winery Redbud

Best Other Red French-American Varietal: Johnson Estate Winery 2012 Chambourcin, Estate Grown

Best Cold Climate Red Varietal: Thousand Islands Winery 2012 Frontenac

Best Hybrid Red: Lakewood Vineyards 2013 Long Stem Red

Best Concord: 21 Brix Winery Ella’s Red

Best Fruit Wine: King Ferry Winery 2013 Apple Mystique

Best Cider: Kaneb Orchards 2014 St. Lawrence Cider

Best Spirit: Hidden Marsh Distillery Judd’s Wreckin Ball Corn Whiskey

Best Ice Wine: Idol Ridge Winery 2014 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

Best Vinifera Sparkling White: Sparkling Pointe Vineyards & Winery 2005 Brut Seduction, Methode Champenoise

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Long Island vineyard funded through Kickstarter offers different wines

Southold Farm+Cellar, an upstart winery, is producing distinctive wines made from familiar grapes.

 

Regan Meador of Southold Farm+Cellars, his tasting barn and vines

Regan Meador of Southold Farm+Cellars, his tasting barn and vines

By Alan J. Wax

A little more than a year ago, the owners of a Southold, Long Island, vineyard were seeking crowd-sourced funds to plant 9 acres of what they described as “weird” grapes. Now, they’ve not only planted their grapes but they’re selling their first vintage, albeit made with purchased grapes.

The owners of Southold Farm + Cellar, Regan and Carey Meador, raised almost $25,000 through a campaign on Kickstarter.com to plant what Regan Meador called “weird grapes.” This spring, they planted 9 acres of grapes – Teroldego, Lagrein, Goldmuskateller and the not-so-weird syrah— and now they’re are selling four wines from their hard-to-find, small, gut-renovated-barn-cum-tasting room on a rural North Fork lane.

The Meadors’ hope was to bring diversity to the Long Island wine market by planting grapes such as Teroldego, a red Italian variety grown primarily in the northeastern region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Süditrol, Italy.

The Meadors, now 34, combined their savings with money from relatives two years ago to buy the 23.7-acre former Charles John Family Vineyard on Long Island’s North Fork from Leucadia National Corp., which had pulled out all the vines.

Now, with fund raising behind him, vines planted and wine made and on sale, Regan Meador says he feels an air of excitement. “It’s so nice to actually sell something now. It was so esoteric and theoretical. Now I can put stuff in front of you.”

Regan Meador and his wines, inside his tasting barn.

The Wines

And what he’s putting out!

Southold Farm+Cellar’s wines stylistically stand out in the increasingly crowded Long Island market dominated by merlot and chardonnay.

The wines, except for one, are made from grapes purchased from area growers, including Rex Farr, who owns a certified organic vineyard, and the pioneering Mudd Vineyards. Meador made the wine at the Raphael winery in Peconic.

Meador, who has no formal wine making training, but has taken courses from the University of California-Davis and has apprenticed as at Osprey’s Dominion in Southold, was a planner at a New York City advertising agency before turning to oenology.

Greg Gove at the now-closed Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue made Southold’s La Belle Fille Brut Nature 2009, a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sparkler. “It was a forgotten step child. It never saw the light of day,” he said, explaining that he bought the entire 100-case stock, disgorged the wines but did not add a dosage, and then slapped on his own label. The wine, it’s French name translates to “The Step Daughter,” sells for $36. It offers a nose of pears. It’s rich and fruity with a dry finish. “I wanted to give people the same experience I had in in stumbling upon it,” Meador said.

Devil’s Advocate, a Chardonnay made from the 40-year old Mustique clone vines at Mudd Vineyards in Southold, is not a typical chardonnay.  Though not a fan of Chardonnay, Meador said he felt compelled to offer one, albeit made his way. He barrel fermented the wine in large, 228-gallon wooden casks, leaving the wine on its skins for seven days. This wine fermented on wild yeast for over four months, going through secondary on its own. A bit of sulfur was added at the end. It’s full-bodied with tropical fruit and spice notes reminiscent of Gewürztraminer. It sells for $26 a bottle; 190 cases were made.

Cast Your Fate to Wind, Southold’s cabernet franc, also is a departure from the North Fork’s traditional handling of the grape.  It was made in a Chinon/Loire style, using whole clusters of grapes that were, in part, foot-stomped and aged in large casks. The organic fruit came from Rex Farr in Calverton. Dark, but light in body, it’s earthy, spicy and full of cigar box character. Meador produced 119 cases; it sells for $32 a bottle.

Damn the Torpedoes a crown cap finished, wild-fermented sparkling red wine in the Lambrusco style made from a Merlot-predominant blend that also includes Petit Verdot and Pinot Noir. It offers up noted of dried fruit, and plums. A light summer red, it sells for $28; 148 cases were produced.

The wines already are attracting attention. In just a short time, Meador’s made his first sale to a restaurant— Damn the Torpedoes, Cast Your Fate to The Wind and The Devil’s Advocate are now available at The North Fork Table and Inn in Southold. He’s also selling wine online, and, relying strictly on social media, he attracted 60 visitors on his opening weekend.

And while that last number may seem small, Meador is unperturbed. “I don’t need a big cavalcade of people coming in the door. I want people excited about wine.”

 

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Forget beer and tea: She picks the right wines for high-end Chinese food

Christine Parkinson Portrait

Christine Parkinson

Christine Parkinson, the worldwide wine buyer for London-based Hakkasan Group’s Michelin-rated restaurants, reveals some of her secrets.

By Alan J. Wax 

What wine with Chinese food?

An oft-debated topic with Riesling or Gewurztraminer the usual answers— or beer, or tea.

But don’t tell that to Christine Parkinson, the London-based global group wine buyer at Hakkasan Group restaurants, whose chain of stylish, high-end Chinese food outposts spans the globe. Its 12 locations in London, Beverly Hills, Miami, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, New York, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Mumbai and Shanghai, have become destinations for wine as well as Cantonese cuisine.

Recently, I met with Parkinson, who’s been called “one of the most creative wine buyers in the UK” by English wine writer Jancis Robinson, at the almost two-year-old New York City Hakkasan, to gain insight on how she crafted the Hakkasan wine program and how the food that is served influences the wines on the list.

The interior of New York's Hakkasan restaurant

Latticework decor in New York’s Hakkasan restaurant

The New York Theater District location at 311 W. 43rd St. is a stunner. The 11,000-square foot, 200-seat foot eatery is sleek, decorated with marble, ornate wood latticework, glass and mirrors and deep blue colors. The restaurant was bustling with an après-work crowd at the time of our meeting.

Parkinson, who was tasked in 2001 by former Hakkasan CEO Niall Howard to create the first Hakkasan wine list in London, was recruited just 10 weeks before it opened. She has since become regarded as a pioneer in pairing wines with Cantonese cuisine

In those days, she recalled, “it was tea or lager beer” with Chinese food in Britain.

Putting together that first wine list required much research, guidance from colleagues and, of course, lots of tasting, she said, noting she decided at the start “to look for lovely wines.” The wines, of course, had to match the food—all of it. Parkinson and a group of sommeliers and Hakkasan’s chef settled in temporarily at another restaurant and tasted and matched. “The experience taught me that some wines taste dreadful with Cantonese cuisine,” she said, noting that to make the cut, a wine must work with every dish on the menu. “If it goes with the food, I’ll put it on the list.”

Chinese cuisine with its multitude of flavors — mild, savory, sweet and spicy, “makes life very hard for wine,” said Parkinson who said she acquired her wine knowledge as a food and beverage manager, a job that was preceded by work as a chemical analyst and head chef. “From my experience so many wines don’t work with the food. If a customer doesn’t like the match up, she added, they’ll return to their tea and beer.”

Hakkasan's Hakka Noodles with mushrooms and chives

Hakkasan’s Hakka Noodles with mushrooms and chives

Roasted Silver Cod with Champagne and Chinese Honey

Roasted Silver Cod with Champagne and Chinese Honey

As we chatted, we nibbled on delicately flavored hakka steamed noodles tossed with mushrooms and chives and an addictive, sweetish Roasted Silver Cod with Champagne and Chinese Honey. We sipped Ca’ dei Frati Lugana I Frati, an Italian 100 percent Lugana (Trebbiano)-based wine from Lombardy that’s been on Hakkasan wine lists since 2001. A delicate, fragrant wine with floral, apricot and almond notes, it suited both dishes.

Parkinson and her teams of sommeliers have tasted every wine on the restaurants’ lists with the cuisine and continue to taste new wines every Tuesday in each location.

Hakkasan’s wine list is formatted to minimize confusion.  Various sections reflect the categories that Parkinson has placed the wines for Hakkasan’s guests. Each title is followed by a simple, brief explanation. Each page essentially is a separate list.

The lists vary by location, due to availability of the various wines, but Parkinson noted, at their hearts, they are all similar.

The  New York wine list, has about 350 wines, listed in order of body and flavor from light to rich, starting at $30 for the Chilean Riesling, Neblina Vineyard Leyda 2008, and climbing to almost $3,000 for a 1982 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. Virtually every wine-producing region in the world is represented, including Greece and New York’s Finger Lakes with Dr. Konstantine Frank Rkatsiteli. There are also 23 different sakes. Nine wines are available by the glass.

Sauvignon Blanc is the group’s top seller by the glass. At the New York Hakkasan it’s Astrolabe, a dry, full bodied New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that goes for $15 a glass or $57 a bottle.

Parkinson says the restaurant’s top selling red is a tempranillo-based Rioja Reserva, Remelluri 2008, which goes for $80 a bottle.

Hakkasan’s menu often pairs best with wines that are fruity, have soft tannins and are light to medium in body, she said, adding, “Sherry is very good with the food – Tio Pepe [Fine Sherry] or a dry Amontillado Sherry with our food is one of my favorites.”

Hakkasan NY, 311 W 43rd St, New York, NY 10036 (212) 776-1818

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Gallo Marks 50th Anniversary of its iconic blend, Hearty Burgundy

What was your first real wine?

For me, it was probably a bottle of Gallo Hearty Burgundy.

That’s after dismissing all the sweet kosher wines I drank on Jewish holidays and the fruity Yago Sangria and Boone’s Farm fruit wines that I chugged with college pals to soothe our throats after inhaling the smoke of a weed now considered medicinal. I remember it was at a dinner at a long-gone Italian restaurant in Port Jefferson, N.Y., not far from the Stony Brook University campus, where I spent my undergraduate days. My roommate was buying to celebrate the completion of a project. We thought we were pretty damn sophisticated ordering a bottle of Gallo Hearty Burgundy to wash down the pizza we ordered.

I don’t remember how the wine tasted, or, to be honest, if I really liked it. I didn’t know Burgundy from Bordeaux until some years later when I entered the working world and Terry Robards had begun scribbling his weekly wine column for the New York Times.

But that college-era recollection came back recently upon seeing a press release from Gallo noting that 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Hearty Burgundy by pioneering American winemakers Ernest and Julio Gallo.GALLO FAMILY VINEYARDS HEARTY BURGUNDY WINE

Hearty Burgundy, we are told was the favorite wine of the winery’s late founders, Ernest and Julio Gallo. The brothers originally made it as an ode to the wines from their native Italy.  Of course, no wine from Italy would ever be called Burgundy, the region on France best known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Nor has Hearty Burgundy ever been made from those noble grapes.

Although the exact varietal components of the wine vary from vintage to vintage, two grapes, Zinfandel for its brambleberry flavors and Petite Sirah for its depth and dark fruit flavors, have always been a part of this wine.

There’s a reason it endures. It’s better than most of us remember and, of course, there’s its consistency over the years and its price, $9-$10 for a 1.5 liter bottle. I tried some recently—after hunting it down and finding on the shelf nearest the ceiling in a local wine shop.   It’s a moderate bodied, deep purple hued wine. It’s advertised brambleberry aroma is evident in the nose and the berries shine through on the palate as well, along with hints of spice.  It’s better that some of the plonk I’ve tried masquerading as red varietal wine. You know the kind that’s served at catered affairs and pizza joints.

The Gallo folks boast that Hearty Burgundy not only introduced Americans to wine, but also for put American wines on the map during an era when spirits dominated consumption.

Indeed, in 1972, Hearty Burgundy graced the cover of a Time magazine issue featuring a story about the booming California wine industry. In the feature, wine critic Robert Balzer called the wine “… the best wine value in the country today” as it outscored more expensive California and French

“We are both proud and humbled by the longevity of Hearty Burgundy,” third generation family member and vice president of marketing Stephanie Gallo said in the press release. “I have so many fond memories of sharing this wine with my friends and family, especially my grandfather, Ernest – it was his favorite.”

Today, Gallo, of course, is more than cheap industrial wine.  It markets more than 70 labels across the price spectrum, including value varietals, and premium varietals from a cross section of California appellations.  It also markets wines under such brands as Frei Brothers, MacMurray Ranch, Edna Valley Vineyard, Mirassou, Louis Martini, William Hill Estates, and also imports such labels as Martin Codax (Spain), Ecco Domani and Davinci (both Italy) and Alamos (Argentina). It also produces gin and vodka under the New Amsterdam label.

This year, to celebrate Hearty Burgundy’s golden anniversary, Gallo has produced a limited edition bottle that pays homage to the original flavor profile that harkens back to the original blend.

Gallo says Hearty Burgundy pairs well with a variety of hearty foods, including chili, Italian fare, including red sauces, meatballs and hard cheeses like Parmesan and Romano. Though I did not try these pairings, I am fairly confident they’ll work

The anniversary bottling of Gallo Family Vineyards Hearty Burgundy becomes available this month with a suggested retail price of $9 for a 1.5 liter bottle.

Nostalgia comes cheap.

 

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