Monthly Archives: September 2012

Stars from a Finger Lakes winemakers’ 2011 Riesling showcase

Jeff Houck, winemaker at Lucas Vineyards in Interlaken, N.Y. in the Finger Lakes likes his 2011 Riesling.

But at a recent New York City tasting for the trade and media he confessed that he preferred his 2010 wines to the vintage just released as part of a 20-winery launch sponsored by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, a trade group.

The newer wines are tighter and need more time in the bottle, said Houck, who brought four wines to the launch at Hearth Restaurant in the East Village: The Lucas 2011 Dry and Semi-Dry Rieslings as well as his 2010 vintages. To me, the 2011s were timid compared to the ripe and seemingly bigger 2010s. The lip-smacking, round and juicy 2010 dry recently was declared the state’s best dry Riesling at the New York Wine and Food Classic.

And while Houck said the Finger Lakes region enjoyed two great back-to-back vintages and likely will enjoy a third once the current harvest is completed, there’s good reason why the 2010s showed better.

The 2011 Finger Lakes vintage was a trying one by many accounts. After a normal winter with little or no fruiting bud damage to the vines (always a possibility during the region’s cold spells), growers encountered an extraordinarily wet spring. June and July were dry, but heavy rains showered the region from mid-August through harvest, causing some growers to pick early or to drop some fruit due to rot. Grapes came into the wineries with uneven ripening depending on the vineyard.

After tasting 40-plus wines at the launch event, it was clear that the winemakers behind these wines made good use of their their skills. Most were very good, some better.

Topping my list was the 2011 Dr. Konstantine Frank Wine Cellars Semi-Dry Riesling, a monster of a wine. No surprise that it was voted overall top wine for the Governor’s Cup at the recent Wine Classic. The 2012 Dr. Frank Dry Riesling, to be sure, was enjoyable too with its floral nose and slate palate.

Red Newt Cellars Winery & Bistro brought six Rieslings from the ’11 vintage, including four single-vineyard offerings, all bursting with juicy stone fruit and lime flavors: Dry Riesling, Bullhorn Creek Vineyard, Sawmill Creek Vineyard, Semi-Dry Riesling, Tango Oaks Vineyard, Lahoma Vineyards. The latter two tended to the sweet side with hints of honey, but all showed fine acidity. Top wine in the group, at least for me, was the lush, crisp, juicy semi-dry.

The Fox Run Vineyards 2011 Reserve Riesling, an off-dry rendition, meanwhile, offered bracing acidity with a knockout punch of lime.

The Fulkerson Winery’s 2010 Dry Riesling closely resembled a German trocken with a finish that wouldn’t quit.

The vibrant Ravines Wine Cellars’ 2011 Dry Riesling also was quite dry with floral aroma and notes of apple, pears and citrus.

Though I had barely a snapshot of each wine, it’s quite clear that Finger Lakes producers are smart in showcasing their signature grape. In America, nobody does Riesling better.


Filed under Corks - Wine

Belgian Beer Café invades New York

Belgian Beer Café in Melbourne, Australia

New Yorker area denizens soon will have a trio of new places to savor Belgian beer and cuisine.

The first of these Belgian-owned restaurants, all operating under the Belgian Beer Café banner, opens soon at Newark Liberty International Airport, according to the company, though an exact date hasn’t been set. Additional units will open  early in 2013, in Manhattan and Port Chester, an executive told me .

Belgian Beer, a global chain created in 1998 by what is now Leuven, Belgian-based Anheuser-Busch InBev, operates 60 locations in a dozen countries in Europe, Australia and the Middle East. The first U.S. unit is scheduled to open next month at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, just a few weeks after the concept’s first North American unit opens in the airport at Edmonton, Alberta on Sept. 15.

The Manhattan branch, scheduled to open early in 2013 at 220 Fifth Ave., diagonally opposite Madison Square Park and close to the booming Eataly restaurant and foods complex. Port Chester will open next spring.

As many as 60 units, modeled on the classic Brussels brasserie café are planned for the U.S. within four years, according to a press release issued last year announcing the chain’s planned entry to the U.S.

Creneau International, one of Belgium’s premier interior design firms and the designer of the restaurants, owns the U.S. franchise rights to the Belgian Beer Café concept. A-B InBev owns the rights to the concept elsewhere in the world.

Belgian Beer Café logo.

To be sure, Belgian Beer Café won’t be the first Belgian-style eatery in the New York area.  In Manhattan, Belgian beers and cuisine has been offered since the 1990s by such restaurants as Petite Abielle with four locations, Markt and more recently BLX Café with two units and Brabant Belgian Brasserie. On Long Island, Waterzooi has operated in Garden City since 1998. Belgian Beer Café, however, may be the most upscale of them all with its white-jacketed wait staff.

Surprisingly, the beer offerings at the new cafés will go well beyond the A-B InBev portfolio. The beer selection at the two New York venues are expected to be similar to that of the other locations around the world — about 60 different Belgian brews, including Trappists, abbeys, ambers, fruit lambics, gueuzes, lagers, and wits. Among the brew typically carried at Belgian Beer Café are Bockor, St-Feuillien, Palm, Van Honsebrouck, Brasserie de Silly, Bosteels and Dubuisson.

Belgian beer tower at Belgian Beer Café in Australia

The Atlanta restaurant will offer five Belgian draft brews: Palm,  Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Leffe Blonde and  Leffe Dark. Bottled beers will include Delirium Tremens, Saison Dupont, Chimay Triple, Budweiser, Corona Extra and the locally brewed Sweetwater IPA.

Beer lists will vary by location due to differences in distributors.

Meanwhile, the menus will include such Belgian specialties as mussels, Flemish beef stew, steak frites, asparagus a la Flamande and sausages with stoemp.

Creneau International is seeking franchisees to open additional U.S. units. According to the U.S. operations web site, Creneau is seeking “restaurant entrepreneurs in the upper segment of the market that have a proven history of operating one or more high-quality venues.” Potential licensed franchisees are also expected to have expertise in both beer and wine. Franchises, according to the web site, can expect to spend $2.3 million per unit, which range in size from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet.



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“Beer Here” and gone at the New York Historical Society

Iconic poster for the exhibition featuring the George Ehret’s Brewery in Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood.

Finally got to see the “Beer Here: Brewing New York’s History” exhibit at the New York Historical Society – on its last day.

This exhibit, which opened on May 25, was described on the museum’s web site as a survey “of the social, economic, political, and technological history of the production and consumption of beer, ale, and porter in the city from the 17th century to the present.”

If you didn’t make it, you didn’t miss much. Unless, of course, you didn’t know a thing about beer.

IMHO this was an overhyped, overpriced fundraiser for the New York Historical Society. The cost of admission, $15, covered the entire four-floor museum, but if you chose to tour only the one gallery with the beer exhibit, you would have been done in under a hour, assuming you didn’t stop in the “beer hall” at the exhibit’s end for a plastic cup of some locally brewed suds for $8 – $10 with a bowl of pretzel nuggets.  Thanks, no, I’ve had my beer money taken at the admissions desk.

The exhibit, which filled one gallery at the historical society, was composed largely of words and photographs. If I wanted to read about beer, I’d buy a book! One could argue, of course, that the narratives were necessary to bring it all together.

I’d spent a great deal of time squinting to read notes accompanying the various displays, which included artifacts and documents such as shippers’ ledgers showing the transported beer (ho hum), brewer’s recipes, reproductions of brewer’s ads from newspapers four centuries ago and also a half century ago, collections of old bottles, mugs and ice and hop harvesting tools and local breweriana of perhaps a century ago, or newer.

Also, there were photos and posters of breweries and architect’s plans for breweries long gone, among them the Ehret’s Hell Gate Brewery in Yorkville.  Not a mention, however, of the brewer’s row of mausoleums at Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery.

You could read about pasteurization and the invention of the Crown cap and, yes, view an old beer-capping machine (one previewer called this “impressive”). You could read about the invention of steel cans and see a few examples on display. You’d also have seen displays of temperance movement advertisements and newspaper ads for and against Prohibition as well as labels for so-called near beer sold during Prohibition.

Video? A silent movie showed beer being made at the Genesee Brewery — in upstate Rochester — following the end of prohibition.

Audio? You could listen to circa 1960 radio commercials for Schaefer and Rheingold over tiny, tinny speakers barely audible over the gallery’s din.

Fashion? The show displayed the dress worn by the 1956 Miss Rheingold, Hillie Merritt.

Nineteeth Century’s Geo. F Neidlinger & Sons Maltsters plant at East River and East 47th Street in Manhattan.

Still, I learned few new things. Hops once were a major crop in New York State. Long Island’s pristine water was important to Brooklyn’s breweries. A malting plant once stood at the site  of  the United Nations and that a Bushwick brewer, William Ulmer, built an amusement park in 1880s in Brooklyn’s  Gravesend neighborhood.

It’s a shame some brewer couldn’t finance a more Disneyesque, exciting show.   Overall, this was a low-budget attempt to make hay of the current craft-beer-appreciation phenomenon. But you’ve got to hand to the exhibit’s organizers. They suckered me in. Did they get you, too?



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