Category Archives: Corks – Wine

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 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.

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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. 

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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.

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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  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.

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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 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


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. 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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