Monthly Archives: March 2012

Blind taste Long Island merlots in NYC

Merliance. a Long Island merlot producers trade group (formerly the Long Island Merlot Alliance), is offering the public an opportunity on April 25 to blind taste their wines alongside a panel of New York City food and wine professionals.

The Merlot Focus at Artisanal Cheese, as the event is called, is a sit-down tasting with a panel that includes Artisanal’s Max McCalman, Mandy Oser, co-owner of Ardesia Wine Bar, and David Lecomte, head winemaker at City Winery.  The panel and public participants will attempt to distinguish the wines of Long Island among a group of 13 merlots, including some produced elsewhere.  At a similar Long Island trade tasting earlier this year, a Long Island merlot from McCall Wines topped 14 wines.

The organizers are hosting a cheese reception following the event that will feature Merliance member winemakers, including Roman Roth of Wolffer Estate Vineyards, and the panelists.

Tickets are $70 each and are available online. The Artisanal Premium Cheese Center is at 483 10th Ave. (between W. 34th St. and W. 35. St.).


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Long Island’s Banfi Vintners to buy Kenwood Vineyards in Sonoma

Banfi Vintners, the Long Island-based importer of Castello Banfi and other Italian wines, Concha y Toro Chilean wines and more, signed a letter of intent to buy Sonoma’s Kenwood Vineyards from F. Korbel & Bros., given the importer its first California label, Shanken Daily News reported.

In an exclusive interview with Shanken News Daily, Korbel owner Gary Heck and Banfi chief operating officer Marc Goodrich confirmed the sale. Pending the completion of due dilegence the sale would close in June.

The deal, Shanken reported, would include Kenwood’s estate, winery, vineyards and  other assets. kenwood produces mor ehan a half millionc ases annually. Banfi, of Old Brookville,N.Y., plans to integrate Kenwood’s sales team into the Banfi organization, placing the brand into the same portfolio as Riunite, Castello Banfi, Bolla and the other brands.

Banfi’s owners, the Mariani family, purchased Pacific Rim Winemakers, a Washington state riesling brand,in 2010, but it is operated separately, according to Shanken.

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Eastern Wine Competition’s big winner is a little-known Wisconsin winery

A little-known Wisconsin winery has walked away with the top awards at the 2012 International Eastern Wine Competition.

Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, Wis., was the big winner, picking up Best of Show, Best White Wine and the Riesling Champion honors for its American Dry Riesling, and Best Rosé for its 2011 Prairie Blush, made from Wisconsin grown Marechal Foch grapes. The award winning riesling was made with custom-grown fruit from Washington state. The winery, which produces about 10,000 cases annually,  buys fruit from growers in New York and Michigan. Wollersheim sells its wines  locally.

The competitions, organized by Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, a trade publication, took place March 6-7, 2012, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, Calif. Linda Murphy, West Coast editor of Britain’s Decanter magazine, was the chief judge.

The competition focused only wines made in the East, Midwest and eastern Canada.   In previous years, entries included wines from the western U.S., Australia and beyond.

“The quality of wines from the East and Midwest has increased tremendously in the last decade, as has the number of wineries producing them,’ Murphy said in a web posting announcing the results. “Under the new format, 13 states and Ontario were represented in the sweepstakes round, which clearly shows that well-made, exciting wines come from outside California, Oregon and Washington – and consumers everywhere should know about them.”

The 2012 competition included 800 entries.  Judges from across the United States awarded 15 double-gold, 73 gold, 216 silver and 235 bronze medals.

Magnotta Winery’s 2010 Limited Edition Shiraz from Ontario was named Best Red Wine, Grand Mark from Tabor Hill Winery in(Michigan was chosen Best Sparkling Wine, Mazza Vineyards in Pennsylvania won Best Dessert Wine for its 2010 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, and Door Peninsula Winery’s Peach won Best Fruit Wine. Click here for the complete list of winners.

Where were all the New York wines? Only Anthony Road in the Finger Lakes came out a winner, taking best of class for  its 2010 semi-dry riesling and 2010 gewurztraminer.  And only one Virginia winery came out on top, Sunset Hills, for its 2009 cabernet franc. Only a handful of Finger Lakes producers scored gold and the list of winners included no Long Island wines. I surmise that wineries in the better known regions, which are making good, if not great wines, didn’t bother to enter or the judges really chose to spread the medals around. A top pinot noir from Texas? There was only one medal-winning merlot, from Virginia.

Am I missing something?


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A sweet memory: Zymatore Thornbridge Raven Black IPA Whiskey & Pinot Noir Barrel

Every Thursday at 5 p.m. is “Thursday Tap,” at Jimmy’s No. 43, one of New York City’s top beer bars. That’s when host Jimmy Carbone taps a special keg/cask beer, usually a rare cask, a new beer or a hard-to-find small batch brew.

I happily happened to be the city recently on other business and made a point to stop in at Jimmy’s to try its unusual offering on that day, Zymatore Thornbridge Raven Black IPA, imported by B United International, a well-regarded importer that is working hard to challenge beer imbibers.

This was a black IPA developed for the U.S. market by Thornbridge Brewery in Derbyshire, England using five malt varieties and six different hops. It was then shipped to B. United’s facilities in Connecticut in temperature- and climate-controlled bulk liquid tankers for kegging, Jon Lundbom, the importer’s New York area manager told me in an email. A portion of the 3,500 liters imported went into wooden barrels for maturation. The barrels used for this brew previously held Ransom Winery pinot noir for three seasons before being filled with Ransom Distillery Whisky.  Each barrel produces up to a dozen 20-liter kegs. Only two kegs made it to New York and the entire production, Lundbom noted, has sold out.

This particular Raven is part of B United’s Zymatore Project, in which the importer matures and manipulates some of the distinctive beers it brings in.  Other breweries that have been a part of the project include Scotland’s Harviestoun Brewery, Germany’s Brauerei Heller-Trum/Aecht Schlenkerla, Switzerland’s Brasserie des Franches-Montages, Belgium’s Brouwerij De Glazen Toren and Japan’s Hitachino Nest, among others.

Thornbridge beers were first brewed in early 2005 after the establishment of a 10-barrel brewery in the grounds of Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire. Initially the brewery focused on traditional cask beers modernized through the use of a wide range of hops, malts and other innovations. It soon began sweeping up national and international awards, which now number more than 200. A second brewery was opened nearby at Bakewell in 2009.

The Zymatore version of the Raven is an incredibly complex brew. Served in a Chimay chalice at Jimmy’s No. 43 for $12, it has a deep, black body with a thin beige head that fades rather quickly. The aroma is super sweet with notes of whiskey, wood, dark fruit and chocolate. It’s a beer to sip slowly.  In the mouth it seems a tad thin but the flavors are intense: dark sweet chocolate with only the barest hints of resin but also oak, bourbon, and a hint of sweet wine. It tastes absolutely nothing like a black IPA, as virtually all the bitterness or hop character has been displaced by its barrel conditioning.

Now, I’m anxious to try other brews in the Zymatore range. For now, though, the Raven remains, alas, a sweet memory.





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Have you got the balls?

A celebration of beer and meatballs takes place April 7 in Manhattan.

The event, dubbed Beer ‘N Balls and a production of beer event promoter Get Real NY, will feature more than 50 craft beers and meatballs produced by chefs from 14 restaurants using farm-raised game and organic beef and pork, according to the organizers. Vegetarians will be accommodated, they noted.

Admission to the event is $55 per person or $75 for those who want VIP tickets allowing them an extra hour of noshing. Discount ticket are available through, $38 and$49, respectively, with a code available at the site.

The event takes place at the 404 NYC Event Space, 404 Tenth Ave. at W. 33rd Street

Participating breweries, so far, include Hill Farmstead, Captain Lawrence, Stone Brewing Co., Dogfish Head, Sixpoint, Stillwater, Lagunitas, Smuttynose, Ommegang, Ithaca, Empire, Wandering Star and The Bronx Brewery. More than 15 cask ales will be available as will local home brews, and for those who prefer wines, vino from Lieb Cellars on Long island’s North Fork.

The chef lineup, so far, includes “Discover Chocolate” author Clay Gordon, Brian Yurko of Alewife Queens, Christopher Parks of The Guilty Goose, Celsa Gonzalez of Carino, Stefan Ching of Kupersmith, Paul DI Bari of Zi’ Pep and Pane Panelle restaurants and Thomas Kelly of Mexicue.

Get Real NY’s previous events include the Get Real NY cask ale festival, Aporkalypse Now and Belgian Festival New York.

To purchase tickets for  Beer ‘N Balls or for more information, go to www.GetRealNY.Com

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Hello world!

Welcome to Corks, Caps & Taps. I’m Alan J. Wax and I’ll be writing here about the world of wine, spirits, beer and more.  You’ll find news from the drinks world, tasting notes, coverage of industry events and restaurant reviews, among other things. Given my long tenure covering the Long Island wine industry — I started writing about it in 1989 as a reporter at Newsday, there will be some emphasis on this region in my coverage. And much as I enjoy fine wine, there also will be plenty of digital ink about ales as lagers.  I’ve also been an aficionado of good beer since my introduction to craft brewing two decades ago by my former Newsday colleague, Steve Hindy, founder of the Brooklyn Brewery.  Not surprisingly, I also take pleasure in spirits and, of course, fine dining, so I’ll have something to say about these topics, too.

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Prunier Cognacs Dazzle

Mention Cognac and what names come to mind? Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell, Remy, are the obvious choices since they produce 90 percent of the world’s cognac. But how about Prunier?  Bet you never heard of it.  Neither did I — until last week, when I had the good fortune to attend an in-store tasting at Post Wines in Syosset, Long Island, conducted by Gerald Cogen, president of Prunier Cognac’s distributer, Select Brands International Inc.

The tasting, gratis and open to all, was sparsely attended, but the few there, including myself, were richly rewarded. I was dazzled by the Prunier samples, poured with a gracious hand by the soft-spoken, knowledgeable Mr. Cogen. All told, over the course of 90 minutes I tasted six Cognacs, an Armagnacs (brandy from the Armagnac region in southwest France) and two Calvados, brandies distilled from apples.

Cognac (pronounced kon-yak) is a brandy named for the French wine growing region and town of Cognac in the French Departments of Charente and Charente-Martime. For a distilled brandy to be called cognac, which is a AOC, or appellation d’origine contrôlée, it must be made from the Ugni Blanc gape, twice distilled in copper pot tills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais.

Cognac matures in a similar manner to whiskies and wine when aged in barrels, and most cognacs are aged considerably longer than the minimum legal requirement. Cognac, raw from the still is colorless and gains its hues, from deep gold to russet, from the casks in which it ages. The raw spirit — Mr. Cogen provided a sample of this, too — resembled a fruity eau de vie, but harsh and fiery, not unlike some Italian grappas.

But the stuff that’s been aged in barrels, well, that’s quite a different story.

Starting at the low end of the brand portfolio there’s the VS ($23).  Aged four to six years, it’s soft and fruity, but hardly complex.

Next, the 10-year-old Axel Gay ($40), named for Prunier’s cellar master, and a soon-to-be discontinued label we were told, is smooth and soft with hints of fruit as well as fire.

The Prunier Family Reserve ($63) was among my favorites. Russet hued from a stay of 15 to 40 years in oak and blended together, it offered up a complex array of flavors, fruit, oak and hazelnut, heat and a touch of what I perceived as sweetness.

Prunier 20 Years Old Cognac ($80), is a single vintage spirit aged for 20 years. It’s golden color pales next to the Family Reserve, but while soft, it lacks the complexity of its blended brethren.

XO, or extra old Cognac, by French law must be aged for at least six years. Prunier’s XO ($105) includes in its blend spirits aged for more than 80 years. Russet hued, its has an exuberant nose and a full body. It’s silky on the palate and its finish is lengthy.

Cogen hadn’t planned on opening the XO Litz ($200), bottled in a handcrafted glass decanter, but he relented with a nod from Post Wine’s co-owner Mike Douglas. It’s blend that ,includes brandies from the 1937, 1939, 1947 vintages, Cogen explained. Amazingly soft, well-balanced and russet colored and with a finish that won’t quit. It’s a fine as you’ll get.

Onto the Armgnac Sauval ($NA), a more rustic, coarser tasting brandy than the cognacs, it offers prune notes on the palate. It’s aged 18 to 30 months.

Finally, we move on to Menorval Calvados Prestige AOC ($NA). Aged for four years its comes across as bitter and harsh. The Menorval Calvados XO Tres Vieux ($NA), aged for 17 years, is sweeter and smoother.

Maison Prunier S.A. has been produced Cognac since the 17th Century and began exporting a century later. The company remains family owned today.


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