27-year-old Long Island Cabernet proves to be a pleasant surprise

History can indeed be found in a bottle

By Alan J. Wax

I found a pleasant surprise recently rummaging through my wine cellar: a forgotten relic from my early days of covering the Long Island wine industry for Newsday.

I decided to pop open this particular bottle to accompany a socially distanced home cooked dinner of reverse-seared filet mignon and was glad I had.

The bottle was from one of Long Island’s first benchmark vintages, from a winery that long has existed as only a memory, and its contents produced from a grape variety that rarely shines in the region.

The bottle: Gristina Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 1993, 88 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 12 percent Cabernet Franc. Only 300 cases were produced and the wine retailed for $16 a bottle when it was released in 1996.

Using my Durand corkscrew, a two-piece gizmo designed for opening old bottles, I uncorked the bottle with trepidation, wondering how a wine produced 27 years ago could stand the test of time. Commentators on Cellartracker.com put the end to its drinking days In 2010. Yet, after another 10 orbits of the sun, and two hours in a decanter, this wine was surprisingly pleasing. The tannins were velvety—totally resolved. We picked up notes of leather, black fruit, spices, and hints of chocolate.

All I could think was that then-Gristina winemaker Larry Perrine had done a great job. Of course, he had a lot of help. The wine was a legacy of a hot, dry summer that produced a terrific vintage, one in which notoriously difficult-to-ripen cabernet sauvignon grapes shone. Long Island’s reputation for red wine usually is associated with merlot. 

Perrine joined Gristina in Cutchogue in 1988, Long Island’s first top vintage, after working as a grape specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension. He remained at Gristina producing excellent wines for six years and has since become president and a partner in Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton.

I remember visiting Gristina Vineyards, founded in 1983 by Westchester physician Jerome Gristina and his former wife, Carol. You’d drive up a long-curving driveway on the north side of Main Road. The tasting room was a comfy place with a fireplace and couches. The Gristina property, originally 30 acres of former potato farm, had since more than doubled in size and was producing 7,000 cases a year. 

But it also had a somewhat turbulent history. The farm originally was purchased by Gristina and the late Bob Pellegrini, who went on to found nearby Pellegrini Vineyards after a partnership dispute led to Gristina buying out Pellegrini. Jerry Gristina later lost control of the property to his now ex-wife, Carol, during divorce proceedings, but subsequently regained it, only to sell in 2000 to telecom entrepreneur Vincent Gallucio.  Gallucio, who changed the winery’s name to Gallucio Family Winery, was forced to sell it three years later due to personal financial difficulties. Today, the site is owned by Macari Vineyards, which continues to operate its original winery in Mattituck.         

This almost-three-decade old Gristina bottling lends credence to the aging ability of Long Island wines.  Popping the cork also released memories and history.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Corks - Wine

A tasting of Lucien Albrecht’s wines provides a reminder of Alsatian delights

Lucien Albrecht winemaker Jerome Keller and his wines.

I don’t drink enough Alsatian wine.

I realized that recently while sampling the delightful wares of producer Lucien Albrecht with the producer’s winemaker, Jérôme Keller, in a New York City restaurant.

Alsace, which lies 300 miles east of Paris and is the northernmost wine producing region in France, is just 72 miles long and only a few miles wide and home to 119 villages. Once a part of Germany, the region largely grows Teutonic grape varieties, but the wines are vinified with French customs. The wines are sold in flute-shaped bottles, like many German wines, and the type of grape is clearly placed on the wine’s label – unlike the typical French practice of labeling wines by region. 

The wines of Alsace are mostly white, with Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer and muscat the dominant varieties and are the only varieties permitted in the appellation’s 51 grand cru vineyards.  Pinot Blanc, not considered a noble variety, is key in making many Alsatian sparkling wines known as Cremant d’Alsace. But red wines, notably Pinot Noir, have been emerging for the last several decades.

Domaine Lucien Albrecht has long been associated with Alsatian wine. Its origins go back to 1425, when Romanus Albrecht established the family in the town of Thann, near the Swiss border. In 1698, Balthazar Albrecht moved the family to the small southern village of Orschwihr. The Albrecht brand — the second biggest Alsatian brand in terms of sales in the U.S. (by volume) —was purchased in 2012 through receivership by one of the largest and most respected Alsace co-operative producers, Wolfberger. Wolfberger has been around since1902 and also produces wines under the Wilm label. It purchases many grapes from small, independent producers, near Orschwihr where the soils are dry clay and heavy chalk. 

Most of Albrecht’s 500,000-case production is Crémant d’Alsace. Not surprising since Albrecht was a pioneer in the production of Crémant d’Alsace, and was at the forefront of the campaign to authorize the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée Crémant d’Alsace, which transpired in 1976. Albrecht’s sparklers are vinified using the classic Champagne Method, or methode traditionalle, from 100 percent free-run juice.

Albrecht wines generally are crisp and lively, some dry, others less so, All, however,  show bright acidity, freshness and the perfumed noses that typify Alsatian wine. Alsatian wines are versatile. While I often drink them with Asian cuisine, they paired well with the Greek seafood I shared with Keller.  Albrecht’s wines also are priced quite reasonably.

I started my sampling with the NV Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé Cremant d’Alsace ($23), a perfect, refreshing aperitif with a salmon hue and a nose of strawberries. One hundred percent Pinot Noir, it has 20 grams of sugar and has spent up to 16 months  fermenting in the bottle.

The NV Lucien Albrecht Brut ($23), certainly not a ringer for Champagne, is nonetheless delicious with its floral nose and notes of limes and apples on the delicate palate.  One hundred percent Pinot Blanc, it was aged in the bottle for 18-24 months,

The Cuvée Balthazar Pinot Blanc 2018 ($14) is soft, smooth and dry, pale yellow in color with hints of stone fruit. This can double as an aperitif and as a food wine. It’s a bargain.

Riesling Réserve 2018, a tank sample that when released will sell for $18, shows its terror, says Keller. It’s balanced, with good intensity and acidity.

Pinot Gris Romanus 2017 ($20), named after winery founder Romanus Albrecht, has a rich perfumed, fruity nose and is fresh and crisp with pear and citrus notes. 

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2015 ($33), the first grand cru of the tasting, was lush and full-bodied with ripe pear notes accented by lemon and a hint of sweetness.

Gewurtztraminer Réserve 2018 ($23) is a delicious, concentrated, off-dry wine with notes of spice and lychee. 

Regrettably, I did not get to sample the Riesling Grand Cru Spiegel 2017 ($30), because the bottle was corked.

Gewurtztraminer Grand Cru Spiegel 2015 ( $36). The undeniable star of the tasting. It was elegant and rich with a fruity nose with notes of pear and peach that follow through on the palate along with notes of lychee and rose—all characteristic of the grape—and some minerality.

I’m quite happy that Albrecht and Keller brought their wines to my attention. Alas, these wines, and many others from Alsace, are difficult to find in restaurants. I happily spotted the Albrecht Brut Rosé Cremant d’Alsace recently on a restaurant wine list in South Florida and ordered a glass. Unfortunately, I was told that the restaurant no longer stocked it, because no one had ordered it in the past seven months. What a shame that these wines go unappreciated. 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Corks - Wine

A Chinese booze that nobody knows

William Isler pours samples of baijiu

Have you ever tasted baijiu (prounced bye-jyo)? Nevermind. Have you ever heard of it? Probably not. Neither had I, until recently.

It’s a Chinese spirit –the world’s best-selling alcohol by volume, outselling whiskey and vodka combined – that some non-Chinese may find challenging. A white spirit with a savory funkiness, it stands apart from other spirits, and to say that it’s an acquired taste is an understatement. Some might liken it to firewater. Indeed, some brands exceed 100 proof, but not all. Others refer to it as the stinky tofu of the liquor world. This is closer to the truth.

Nevertheless, I celebrated the Chinese New Year at my favorite restaurant, The Orient, in Bethpage, NY, with this traditional Chinese tipple, after sampling several baijiu recently at Post Wines in Syosset, NY, guided by Bill Isler, director for North America of Ming River, a new brand that arrived stateside just months ago. 

Baijiu, which translates to “white alcohol” in Mandarin Chinese, Isler told me, is usually made from sorghum, a common animal feed, but can also be made from other grains. Its ingredients and style vary by distillery and region, but generally are divided into four flavor classifications: strong aroma (full bodied, spicy, fruity), light aroma (light, floral, slightly sweet), sauce aroma (umami, mushroom, earth) and rice aroma (light, clean, honeyed). 

Isler and his partners hope to create new spirits category in the U.S. To be sure, other baijiu are sold in the U.S., mostly in Chinatowns. One, Vinn, is made in Oregon using brown rice from California.

Isler’s product, Ming River, is a strong aroma baijiu, though the label identifies it as Sichuan style. It’s made by a distillery that’s been producing baijiu since 1573. Made from red sorghum and fermented the traditional way – in clay pots with locally harvested yeasts that are buried for two weeks in pit – the result is a 90-proof spirit. 

My tasting with Isler began with Oregon’s VInn Baijiu, whose nose reminded me of sake. It’s of the rice-aroma classification, so no surprise. Its floral and at 40% ABV it goes down easily with a bit of a nutty finish

My second taste was a baijiu classified as a light aroma, Kinmen Kaoliang, from Taiwan.  At 116 proof it’s got a kick that made me wince upon my first sip. It’s a bit like a grappa and somewhat reminiscent of Rhum Agricole from Martinique. It has a grassy, herbal character.

Next up was Isler’s brand, Ming River, classified as a strong aroma baijiu.  It offers up bright, fresh tropical fruit notes along with some licorice-like star anise and a sweet funkiness. My guess, it’s been designed to appeal to western palates.

The final baijiu in the flight was Kweichow Moutai Prince, from China’s largest distillery, categorized as a sauce-aroma baijiu. It’s 106 proof and has big-time funky notes of stinky cheese and mushrooms. It finishes surprisingly sweet.

Isler’s Ming River brand is an outgrowth of a successful bar, called Capital Spirits, that he and ex-pat partners started in Beijing that was dedicated to single shots of baiojiu,. Isler, for one, who majored in Asian studies at Columbia University before spending decades in China, calls himself a serial entrepreneur.

Ming River Baijiu, made at the state-owned Luzhou Laojiao, China’s oldest continually operated baijiu distillery, starts with a mash of locally harvested red sorghum grain and local well water. It is fermented in 30-year-old earthen vessels with naturally harvested yeast cultures native to the Sichuan river town of Luzhou. After two months, the mash is unearthed and distilled in small batches using a traditional Chinese pot still. The spirits then are aged for up to two yearsbefore blending into Ming River’s distinctive flavor. 

Baijiu is traditionally enjoyed neat at room temperature, but Isler is working with bar tenders in trendy eateries to develop cocktails based on the spirit. He likens Ming River to Rhum Agricole, the white rums made from sugar cane in the Caribbean that are often components of cocktails.

A 750ml bottle of Ming River retails for $34-$35 with distribution currently limited to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In New York, you can find it at Bottle Rocket in Manhattan, in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Wine Exchange andat Post Wines. Park Street Imports LLC, of Miami, FL, is the importer.

I purchased a bottle of Ming River and brought it to dinner. Most of my companions were not enthusiastic. I enjoyed it, however, sipping numerous cups as we dined on some 11 courses of Cantonese fare. Gan-bei!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Caps - Spirits

Weihenstephan and Sierra Nevada collaboration results in a masterpiece

By Alan J. Wax

What happens when the world’s oldest brewery and America’s longest-standing craft brewer combine talents? In a word, a masterpiece.

The two breweries, Bavaria’s Weihenstephan, established in 1040, and Sierra Nevada, established in Chico, Calif. in 1979,  joined forces last year to create this new beer, Braupakt Hefeweissbier, bottled under the German brewer’s label.

The finished product. bottled earlier this year and now is finding its ways into U.S. retail channels in time for summer quaffing, is not your typical Bavarian Hefe.

How could it be with input from Sierra Nevada’s brewmasters. It meets all the requisites of a good Bavarian hefe. But there’s also the fruity happiness we’ve come to expect from Sierra Nevada.

“Both breweries had something to glean and gain from the other. noted Tobias Zollo, brewmaster at Weihenstephan said in a press release. “We came in with high standards for the Hefeweissbier style. Sierra Nevada, who is world-renowned for the Pale Ale style, came in with the discerning palettes for fruity and aromatic-bodied beers. With Braupakt, we were able to exceed the expectations of both breweries.”

Recipe development took the better part of 2017.  It was brewed traditionally, with Hallertauer Tradition hops and refined with American West Coast Amarillo and Chinook hops. 

Braupakt (literally translated; brewery pact) merges Old World purity standards with New World innovation and hop flavors. The name plays on America’s “bro pact” vernacular for fraternal allegiances. The label features the imperial Bavarian bear sporting a “hang loose” gesture.

“Sierra Nevada has often collaborated with other brewers, but none as well-regarded as Weihenstephaner. Previous Sierra Nevada collaborators include Stone Brewing and Dogfish Head. “When we look to create these partnerships, rarely do you get to work with breweries of [Weihenstephan’s] stature and we were blown away by the process,” said Scott Jennings, brewmaster of Sierra Nevada said in a press release. “Not only are we blown away by the finished beer… we learned a lot on this journey as well from one of the original visionaries in our industry.”

Not only does this beer have a good story, it delivers a fine drinking experience.

The beer pours a cloudy, deep gold, almost amber with a dense, creamy, bright white head. The nose carries aromas of citrus fruit, no doubt derived from the American hop varieties, as well as notes of stone fruit with just a hint of banana. On the palate, there are notes of clove, citrus, bread and other spices. There’s a mild sweetness. It’s smooth and easily drinkable.With about 6 percent ABV and 35 IBUs, the beer is eminently drinkable.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Taps - Beer

Brewers Association announces 2018 World Beer Cup winners

8,234 entries from 66 countries compete at the “Olympics of Beer”

By Alan J. Wax

More than 300 beers out of more than 8,000 entries were winners in the 2018 Brewers Association (BA) bi-annual World Beer Cup competition.

In all 303 awards were presented May 3 in Nashville, where the bi-annual competition was conducted just prior to the annual Craft Brewers Conference.

The Boulder, Colo.-based BA, the trade group representing America’s small and independent craft brewers, calls the World Beer Cup one of the world’s largest global commercial beer competitions. This year’s competition drew 8,234 beers from over 2,515 breweries located in 66 countries – the largest number of entrants in the history of the competition since it was established in 1996.

Beers were judged during six sessions over a period of three days by an elite panel of 295 judges from 33 countries—72 percent of whom were from outside the United States.

The judges awarded 302 out of 303 total possible awards, reflecting the chance for one gold, one silver and one bronze in beer style category.

The most-entered categories in 2018:
377 entries in American-Style India Pale Ale
196 entries in Imperial India Pale Ale
196 entries in Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer
190 entries in Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout

The complete World Beer Cup  is available at the BA web site.

Beers were judged during six sessions over a period of three days by an elite panel of 295 judges from 33 countries—72 percent of whom were from outside the United States. Judges evaluated 8,234 beers—a 25 percent increase in the number of entries from the 2016 World Beer Cup. Of the 2,515 participating breweries, 807 were from outside the United States.

“Beer brings people together,” said Charlie Papazian, founder and past president, Brewers Association. “The World Beer Cup showcases the breadth of the global brewing community and winning an award symbolizes one of the greatest brewing achievements. Congratulations to all the winners on this remarkable accomplishment.”

Leave a Comment

Filed under Taps - Beer

A Tuscan wine producer shows his wines in a French bistro in Brooklyn

Caprone Rose

2016 Prunideo Sangiovese/Cabernet blend

Betti Chianti Montalbano

Creto de Betti Bianco




















It was an unusual dining experience the other evening at Le Fond, the Michelin Guide-listed French bistro in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to say the least. How odd is it to sip Italian wine in a French restaurant, in Greenpoint?

Le Fond a tiny place with oak tables and simply decor and except for our party of 15 it was largely empty on a Wednesday evening. I was there as a guest of Fattoria Betti, a Tuscan wine producer seeking an importer and looking to impress the media. (The guests were bloggers, mostly interested in culture, not wine).  The eatery was selected by the winery’s Italian PR firm and our menu had been scripted almost three months in advance.  To be sure, the wines, except  for a Sangiovese-based rose served with dessert, paired nicely with our food, though I was not  exactly enamored by my host’s dining choices.

Our host was Guido Betti, owner of Fattoria Betti, a 500,000-bottle-a year winery in the Montalbano region of Tuscany, Italy, Betti has 26 hectares of red clay  vineyard and sells half of its production to private label customers and outsiders. Last year’s production was impacted by lousy spring weather. Fattoria Betti’s wines are fermented in steel and concrete vats, the IGT wines aged a year  in 900-liter tonneau.  Fattoria Betti exports 60 percent of its production throughout Europe and China, but not the U.S> Betti is hoping to find a U.S. importer. “it;s the most important market in the world,” he told me.

Guido Betti, owner of Fattoria Betti

The restaurant is known for its French comfort food and that, indeed, is what we had, prepared expertly by chef owner Jake Eberle, a Cordon Bleu alum. We started with 2017 Creto de Betti, an easy sipping, fruity, white blend of Chardonnay and Trebbiano, which was paired with Spring Vegetable Capriccio with mustard vinaigarette and egg. Pretty as a picture, the dish consisted of razor thin shavings of tomato, beets and zucchini showered with milled hardboiled egg. There was, sadly, not much to taste beyond the dressing, although the crusty dark bread and sweet, creamy butter helped fill things out.

Our second course, cavatelli with prosciutto, scallions, green lentils in a spinach emulsion (foam), was a delight. The pasta perfectly al dente and the sauce stood up to the winery’s high alcohol (14%), fruity, but earthy 2016 Chianti Montalbano, which had just the right acidity to offset the rich dish.

Our main, was braised lamb shoulder with artichoke barigoule (the vegetable was stewed in wine), all topped by a minted salsa verde. The lamb was tender, but lacked verve, despite the minty salsa. The wine with this course, 2016 Prunideo, was a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. It was inky, more elegant and  more powerful than the Chianti, but still easy to drink and it out-showed the food on my plate.

The chef, however, shined with dessert, Chocolate Cremeux (custard) with poached strawberries and a dab of vanilla custard. It resembled a long finger of chocolate truffle, but was soft and creamy and it melted instantly inside my mouth. Alas, the winery’s 2017 Caprone rose, a pretty deep pink, was disappointingly blah.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Corks - Wine

Why are these Bordeaux wines different from all other classified growths? 

By Alan J. Wax

Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Château Giscours, Château Lascombes, Château Léoville-Poyferré, Château Cantenac Brown, Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt, Château Malartic Lagraviere.  Familiar names  to aficionados of top French wines.

But these highly regarded French wines, all classified growths, are different from all others.

How? They’re kosher for Passover. And for wine connoisseurs who observe kashrut, especially at Passover, which begins on the evening of March 30, this is exciting news.

To ensure wine is kosher, it must be made exclusively by Sabbath-observant Jews The winemakers may not touch it, so mashgichim do it all. The winemaker at each chateau still makes all the decisions as to blending and aging aging. And he wines must pass muster with the owners of the respective chateaus before they can be labeled.

The excitement was especially evident at the recent New York Kosher and Food Expo at the Chelsea Piers put on by the Royal Wine Corp., the largest factor in the kosher wine trade.

Lining up to taste kosher classified growth Bordeaux

There, lined up on table after table, were wines from some the most highly regarded producers in Bordeaux. And behind the table, Menahem Israelievitch, Royal’s man in France, who was responsible for the production of these wines. Israelievitch worked for many yeares alongside his predecessor, Pierre  Miodownick, who moved to Israel a decade ago and now owns the Domaine Netofa winery.

As Israelievitch enthusiastically discusses the wines, a large Hasidic man attired in long black coat and black hat, yells across the crowd. “Where’s the Lascombes?” Israelievitch calls Lascombes “our new star.”

These high-end wines, it seems have broad appeal.

“Kosher wines have become more serious,” said Bruno LaPlaine, vice president of Malartic-Lagravière, which has been making kosher cuvees since 2003. In the 2018 vintage, he says, the producer will add a kosher white. Malartic-Lagravière is one of the only six classified growths both for its red and white wines.

Menacnem Israelievitch

But it’s not easy to get these wines to market. It took three years of discussions before Château Lascombes agreed to produce a kosher cuvee, said Israelievitch. “If the wine is not at the same level as the non-kosher, they will not permit their label to be used.” he added, “The big chateau don’t need the kosher market.” But he said Royal’s good reputation in the industry was key to getting the cooperation of the top producers in France to produce kosher cuvees. Now, he says, Royal has relationships with 27 wineries in France.

The kosher cuvees are made at each property from specified vineyard blocks that are contracted for a year in advance —without knowing how the vintage will turn out, said Jay Buchsbaum, vice president of marketing at Royal. Because the wines are kosher, the grapes cannot be picked on the Sabbath or on holy days and there is a chance that the kosher versions may not be picked at the optimum ripeness as a non-kosher wine or may benefit or not from variations within a vineyard.  “We got lucky,” said Jay Buchsbaum of the 2015 vintage. Israelievitch said the 2015 kosher cuvee of Léoville-Poyferré “was the best vintage we ever produced.” The vintage benefited from dry weather at harvest, leaving time leisurely picking.

To be sure, the wines are not cheap. Buchsbaum said the cost of a kosher cute may be 40 percent higher than the non-kosher version.

Nor are the easy find. They are on allocation—Royal only imported a few hundred cases — and some retailers are reluctant to stock them with asking prices that can reach three-figures.

Chateau Lascombes 2015, from the Margaux commune in Bordeaux’s Haut-Médoc Appellation, for example, is available for $129 at online retailer kosherwine.com.  Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse, a top selection from the Pauillac appellation is a $75 bottle. Chateau Malartic Lagraviere 2014 can be had for around $90. Chateau Giscours Margaux 2015, $135. Chateau Cantenac Brown Margaux 2015, $150.

And older vintages, more suitable for current drinking as these wines should be laid down for several years, can go for up to $700 a bottle.

The wines I tasted were for the most part extraordinary, but really need lots of time before their corks are popped.

Château Malartic 2014, from the Pessac Leognan appellation, is rich and powerful, but the tannins are soft, making the wine surprisingly accessible for current consumption. Similarly, Gazin Rocquencourt 2015 from the same producer, is dark in hue, rich with juicy dark fruit and also soft on the palate.

Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 2013, from Pauillac, is loaded with dark fruit, tobacco and licorice flavors and solid tannins, but also is approachable now. The silky 2015 vintage has notes of dried fruit, cherries and forest.

Château Giscours 2014, from Margaux, has concentrated notes of cherries, raspberry and black currants mingled with cedar and graphite. But I was turned off by the green notes I also encountered.

Chevalier de Lascombes 2015, the second wine of the second-growth Château Lascombes, is fruit forward with tons of plum notes and more easily consumed thats its sibling.

Château Lascombes 2015  is a beautifully balanced, albeit dense, powerful wine load with loads of tannins. Give it at least eight years.

Chateau Leoville-Poyferre 2015, a second-growth St-Julien appellation wine, is an unctious, well balanced, and offers notes of cassis, tea and lead pencil.

Pavillon de Poyferre 2015 the second label of Leoville-Poyferre, is nicely balanced with notes of fruit and chai tea spices. It lacks the depth of its sibling but still a fine wine.

Leave a Comment

Filed under 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”


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.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Corks - Wine

Happy finds – and disappointments – mark a S. Florida breweries adventure


A recent visit to South Florida provided an opportunity for two days of boozy adventures, visiting some old haunts and a couple of newer breweries. I was delighted by several beers and, surprisingly, disappointed by others, especially the offerings at one of the region’s leading beer makers.

My itinerary:


Among the delights I found were the handful of brews sampled at Bangin’ Banjo Brewery, which is located in an industrial park not far from the highly popular Festival Flea Market in Pompano Beach. Bangin’ Banjo is a 3-barrel brewing operation opened in mid-2014 by a pair of homebrewing friends. Nothing fancy here. The tasting room, rustic in tones of green and varnished pine, puts the focus on the beer. And they were quite satisfactory. High on my list were Swiftness Potion Belgian Triple, a deep-golden brew with an intense Belgian yeast character, banana notes and a dry finish; OJ Session IPA, an eminently drinkable crisp, light golden brew with a citrus nose with notes of sweet malt and piney hops; Annie’s Raspberry Cream Ale, a light, cloudy brew redolent of the red berries; Bangarang English Brown Ale, a copper-hued, somewhat grainy brew with notes of chocolate and nuts; and Overcast Shadow, a chewy, winey, deep-brown Russian imperial stout with a mocha head and notes of chocolate and licorice.



26th Degree Brewing Co., launched in September 2015 by a group of self-taught homebrewing buddies, occupies a former supermarket on a busy main strip in Pompano Beach that’s close to the Atlantic Boulevard bridge that spans the Intracoastal Waterway. The brewery’s name is derived from the city’s latitude. It’s brewing system, behind the large taproom, turns out 30 barrels at a time. It was easy to feel lost in the sprawling 4,500-square-foot, industrial-chic taproom on an early Sunday afternoon. The beers, served way-too-cold, were largely uninspiring. Erick the Great, an opaque black Russian imperial stout made with Belgian yeast, however, stood out with it a rich chocolate velvety character, estery Belgian notes and a dry finish.



After several visits here in recent months, I’ve learned it’s best to stick to the tried-and-true year-round brews and avoid the overly sweet, flavored beers no matter how tempting it may be to give some of these brews with outlandish flavor additions that include strawberry extract, vanilla, chocolate nibs and more (Last Snow is an exception). The tasting room and outdoor drinking areas always seem to be filled. During my most recent visit, a pug dog-rescue group was holding a fundraiser and a bunch of people masquerading as Star Wars characters abounded. Last Snow, unfortunately was a week away from being released when I visited.  One standout among the specials was the Veruca Snozzberry Gose, a Berliner Weise brewed with kettle salt and coriander with a name that references the spoiled bratty girl in “Willy Wonka.” A refreshing brew, it’s a bright orange yellow and its taste suggests orange juice with salt.  Avoid Hit “Em with Hein, a creamy sweet brew with a fake strawberry flavor reminiscent of the taffy I ate as a kid; What is That Velvet, a flavor-muddled copper brew and Neapolitan Porter, a sweet brown brew with vanilla notes rising above the other muddled flavors; and, I’m So Excited, I’m So Scared, which tasted of sweet roasted grain and little else.


My third visit to this out-of-the-way, but pub-style tasting room, was less inspiring than earlier visits, though Jess, who worked the behind the bar, was a helpful guide. Nuance, a prototypical Saison, was a top quaff, and Monk Be Mine, a cherry chocolate quad brewed for Valentine’s Day, wasn’t far behind with a full-bodied velvety character and the suggestion of chocolate-covered cherries.

Other offerings I tried were less successful, including 1801, a brew redolent of coffee and little more, and Start Sour, a fruity brew with only the barest suggestion of tartness.


I first visited here on the eve of its opening three years ago. Head brewers have come—and gone, but the basic beers remain the same.  Since then, they’ve turned out more than 300 different brews, many twists on the core roster. Alas, an old favorite, Don’t Get Confused, a Belgian tripel was not available. On this visit, I particularly enjoyed Mayday, a deep-brown, malty, drinkable American porter. Monk’s Vacation was an interesting quaff reminiscent of a sweet spice cake, albeit a liquid one, with dominant Belgian yeast and clove flavors.



We ran into Jess, who served us at Barrel of Monks a day earlier, behind the bar here. She knows her way around beers. Named for an indie rock song, the brewery was opened in mid-2015 by Chip Breighner, who worked at a home beer supply store. He brews on a 1-barrel system so that qualifies Devour as a nano. Our evening visit was interrupted by a power outage, forcing us to drink at one of the tables set up in the parking lot that serves the industrial strip that is the brewery’s home. I enjoyed the SoBo Wit, cloudy yellow, lively and a definite orange character, but was unmoved by most of the others brews sampled.



My second visit since its opening in the spring of 2016. Owner Matt Cox, winner of GABF gold medal in 2002 when he worked at Big Bear Brewing in Coral Springs, brews on a 20-barrel DME systems, viewable through the wall of the comfy brick-walled taproom. Das Pilsner, a bright golden, crisp brew with notes of fresh hay, was an enjoyable quaff. Also quite tasty, Blood Orange Wit with its reddish hue, citric-cardamom nose and the notes of sweet fruit and spices that played off against one another.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Taps - Beer

The best beers I had in 2016


It was a year in which I had to slow down. Both on drinking and writing.

Medical issues forced me to cutback on imbibing for several months. I’ve been adjusting back slowly, largely sampling, not guzzling brews. I’ve stopped going to beer fests, too, but that’s just as well because you barely have time to taste and analyze what you’re drinking at these events.

As a result, I sampled only a hundred or so beers in 2016. With fewer opportunities to imbibe, there were fewer opportunities to scribble blog posts.

When you cut back, you hope the brews you’re drinking are only the best. But that’s in an ideal world. There were more than a handful of beers tasted over the past 12 months that were exceptional. Many more good, but no nearly as good and there were a few drain pours. I visited one brewery in Brooklyn during the past year, where after tasting, I could not find a single beer that I’d considering drinking a full glass as one was hoppier than the other. I hope this hop craziness goes away. What’s wrong with balance?

Rant over.

My favorites last year represented a broad spectrum of origins and styles. They included American craft brews, Belgians and one German. There were more than a few sours, a lager, a stout, a porter and a couple of big brews. Here, alphabetically, are the best beers I had last year:

collaboration_no_5_tropical_pale_ale_12oz_bottleCollaboration No. 5 – Tropical Pale Ale by Boulevard Brewing Co., Kansas City, MO., and Cigar City Brewing of Tampa, FL. This 6.2% ABV, bottled pale ale is built on a pilsner malt base with additions of Marris Otter, Munich, and caramel malts and late hopping with a blend of Mosaic, Citra, Lemondrop, and Azacca hops. It’s bright amber with a dense head and a citrus nose. This is a real lip smacker with a great balance of fruit, malt and hops.

evil_twin_big_bottle_0007_imperial_biscotti_break_nataleImperial Biscotti Break Natale Pretty Please With A Cherry On Top by Evil Twin Brewing, Brooklyn, NY. A deep brown, bottled American-style imperial porter (11.5% ABV) with a mocha head and a nose that shrieks alcohol. Nonetheless, it was quite likeable, sweet and winey with notes of chocolate, caramel and malt.

nancy-1Nancy by Allagash Brewing Co., Portland, ME. A sour red ale fermented with Maine cherries and Brettanomyces in 100 percent stainless steel tanks for almost a year. Golden/copper hued, the bottled version presents itself with a nose of Brett and earth. It’s extremely tart and balanced with feint cherry notes. Quite lip smacking.

oudbeersel_oudekriek_375_met_glasOude Kriek (Vieille) by Brouwerij Oud Beersel, Beersel, Belgium, This deep red Lambic brew with 6% ABV offers up a pretty-in-pink head. There’s a lovely balance that melds 400 grams of cherries per liter and the oak from old barrels that are used in its production.

popsporter-1520Pop’s Porter by Wynwood Brewing Co., Miami. A 6.2% abv robust porter, this brew was a GABF gold medal winner in 2014 and is made with a blend of roasted malts. Deep brownish black with a cocoa-hued head, there are notes of roasted grain and chocolate on the nose. There’s lively carbonation in the bottled version, which has a creamy, chewy texture and flavors of chocolate, caramel and anise. It finishes bitter.

southdown-breakfast-stout-2Southdown Breakfast Stout by Sand City Brewing Co., Northport, NY. Sampled on draft, this 8% ABV, American-style stout is dark and roasty with notes of coffee and hints of creaminess. It’s brewed with roasted barley, oats, chocolate, and coffee beans from Southdown Coffee in Huntington, NY.

 319-speziator-hell-doppelbock_720x600Speziator Hell by Brauhaus Riegele of Augsburg, Germany. We forget how good German beer can be. This relatively new-to-the-U.S. Teutonic import is a reminder. A doppel-style mai bock, it pours deep gold with a thick white head. The nose is rich malt with a touch of floral notes. There’s a mouth-filling, malt-rich, caramel malt palate with a tad bitter finish.

8803797958686St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition by Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck of Emelgem, Belgium. This brick-red Gueuze style beer is anything but shy. It has a huge ripe cherry palate and perfect tartness.

Keep up with my ratings at untappd.com. Find me there as corkscapsandtaps.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Taps - Beer