Monday, March 30, 2009

Real First Fruits - Southern Hemisphere Harvest Preview

Wine drinkers are often taken of guard when they find Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand on the shelves of their favorite stores vintage dated in the current year.  The simple explanation is that by April, vineyards in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Chile and Argentina have finished their harvest.  So while Northern Hemisphere wineries rush to market in November with the first wines of the vintage - Beaujolais Nouveau from France, Novello from Italy, even the North Fork of Long Island gets in on the act with Macari's Early Wine - the kiwis are shipping their first Sauvignon Blanc to US shores.  And unlike those rushed first fruit bottlings, these wines are finished, and usually quite delicious.  

I ran a Southern Hemisphere Harvest Roundup in April 2007 while I was writing for The Nibble and I'm feeling the urge to do it again - oh boy!  

Come back next Monday for the report!  

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Toast to March - Wines for a Month of Transition

They say March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, meaning that the weather can be really fierce and scary in the beginning, but by the time the end of the month comes around, it is calm and gentle, may be even a little warm and fuzzy.  Perhaps, in winespeak, March then comes in like a Zin and out like a Pinot Noir - depending, of course, where they are made.  Also, a full bodied, ripe red California Zinfandel is perfect comfort wine for cold and blustery weather, which we also find in the early days of this transitional month.  While Pinot Noir is not necessarily a warm weather wine, the benign late days of March are good days for venturing out and finding something new among the wonderful wines of Burgundy.  

And for my Pisces posse, we have crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, delicate Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie and lean Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige - all great wines for fish.  Venture into Austrian Zweigelt or perhaps a Long Island Cabernet Franc if you prefer salmon or tuna steak.  Aries Rams, your gamey flesh needs something more rich and rustic, like Aglianico del Vulture from Basilicata in Italy's dirty south, hand crafted Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre blend from McLaren Vale Australia or South African Pinotage, so try one of these after the 21st.  

So what does one drink on the ides of March?  If you are filing business taxes at the last minute, then whatever you can open quickly, preferably something with a screwtop, but if your taxes are in and you are enjoying the transition from winter to spring in relative leisure, you can get a preview of the season of new beginnings with Tempranillo, Spain's early girly, say goodbye to winter with a fairwell sip of German Eiswein, or start celebrating early with a fabulous grower champagne.  

Here's to March!  Try these: 
Gnarly Head Old Vines Zinfandel 2006 Lodi $10
Eradus Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough $19
St Michael Eppan Pinot Grigio 2007 Alto Adige $20
Lieb Cabernet Franc 2002 North Fork of Long Island $25
D'Arenberg The Cadenzia GSM 2006 McLaren Vale $25
Man Vintners Pinotage 2005 South Africa $9
Christoffel Ürziger Würzgarten Eiswein 2001 Mosel $112 half bottle
L. Aubry et Fils Brut NV Champagne $36

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Women of the Vine

So I wanted to wait to post this blog because I wanted to give you a recap of last night's Women of the Vine Cellars tasting and tell you about some of the most compelling reading I've done in the last few years.  

My friend Deborah, who is also a member of the NYC Chapter of Women for WineSense, changed her life a few years back by writing and publishing a fantastic non-fiction book called Women of the Vine.  In it, she profiled 21 women in wine, including Master Sommelier Andrea Immer Robinson, Stephanie Browne, founder of Divas Uncorked and a host of women winemakers.  In the beginning, she talks a bit about wine basics in a tone that is easy to sip and savor, and then she launches into compelling profiles of phenomenal women who have each carved themselves a niche in the male dominated wine world.  After all, we are responsible for at least 65% of all the wine purchases that take place in the US (think, who is usually responsible for shopping for the household?)
  and in my opinion, we write the most interesting wine books!  If you haven't read one already, read this one!  

So last night's event was at Fred's, the restaurant on the top floor of Barney's New York on Madison and 61st in Manhattan.  This was a fabulous venue!  Marketta Formeaux, one of the winemakers Deborah wrote about, was on hand to talk to us about the line and specifically the wines she made, the Sauvignon Blanc and the Cabernet Sauvignon, in the line.  She is a lovely, friendly French woman with a fantastic story and the Midas touch - the wines were good as gold!  She explained that 25% percent of her Sauvignon Blanc is fermented in oak (not normal for this grape variety) which I thought was a nice touch and added some weight in the mouth and some delicious spicy notes to the overall flavor, which was characterized  by crisp, fresh fruit.  There is also a Tempranillo, a Zinfandel and a beautifully made Chardonnay and more in the line.  All the links I've provided here will help you find out where to buy them.  Also, keep up with my blog and you will find more opportunities to taste the wines, meet the author and winemakers  and get your copy of Women of the Vine autographed.  

Another amazing story of a woman in wine is that of Susan Sokol Blosser, of the eponymous winery in Dundee Hills appellation in Oregon's Pinot Noir wine country.  She endured a 
turbulent marriage, the birth and upbringing of three children, aging parents, political changes - she even once ran for a local polictical office - and she later on took over the winery as her husband phased himself out.  They are apart now, but Sokol Blosser is going strong, and her book, At Home in the Vineyard, chronicles all of this in an honest voice that makes her so compelling.  Last year, I met Susan, who founded Oregon's first Women for WineSense chapter years ago, at the Women for WineSense Grand Event in Napa.  She was accompanied by her lovely daughter, who was just about as pregnant as I was at the time.  

Last but not least, much closer to home for me, is the story of Louisa Hargrave.  She and her husband Alex planted Long Island's very first vineyard in 1973 amid apple and potato farms.  They really did what they did against many odds - the locals thought they were crazy, the administrators at Cornell University's viticulture reasearch program saught to sabotage them, and she too was pregnant during the planting of the vineyards.  She was out in the field nonetheless putting the vines down in unfriendly weather.  The vineyards are still there, under the stewardship of Anna Marie Borghese and her husband, though Louisa, now a journalist, has since moved on.  But here is yet another compelling story of a woman who went through the fire for her passion and created a legacy in wine.  Where there were once potatoes, a burgeoning wine country now flourishes on the North Fork of Long Island.  The Vineyard is a must read for those of you who are seeking inspiration for starting a new business of any kind.  

So what's the difference between men and women when it comes to wine?  Here are some differences that I've discovered over the years: 
1. Women are indeed from Venus when it comes to wine - we talk about it in like it-don't like it terms, and sometimes can't explain why, but can definitely tell you how it makes us feel (typical, huh?).  We are also good at accomodating other people's perceptions.  

Men talk about wine in definite terms, for them there is right and wrong in discussing the flavor profile of a wine and what makes it taste the way it tastes.  And much like in sports, they like stats. 

2. Which brings me to my next point.  Men invented the 100pt rating system of wine and for the most part, they rely on these kinds of stats to help them decide what to buy, and even what to like (men inside the industry are a bit exception to this rule).  Most wine collectors are men, who buy wine not to enjoy, but to display on racks like trophies and trade like stocks (can't hate on that, investment grade wine performs amazingly as an asset class!).  

Women buy wine to enjoy in the short term, and share with their friends.  In general, they will buy and try what their friends suggest and seek recommendations from their girls.  

3. They say women's palates are better than men's.  (They're probably right!)

4.  Women tend to be less confident about affirming what they like and don't like if they think they don't know anything about wine. 

Ladies and gents, please take my poll below.  I'd like to know more about how wine fits into your life.  Also, your comments are very welcome (again, typical :) 

Monday, March 2, 2009

What Makes a Wine?

My chapter of Women for WineSense had a great tasting with David Moore at Moore Brothers Wine Company last week in Gramercy.  One of the things that makes this shop so unique is that they specialize in wines from France, Italy and Germany, and as well, they have a wonderful event space that has a kitchen stocked with sleek stainless steel appliances - Chef Shehu, who came to pick me up, was drooling!  

Listening to David Moore speak that night brought to light another unique feature of this shop.  A main vein wine philosophy that likely directs all the wine selections in the store.  He talked at length about the places the wines came from - it seems he had not only visited them all, but was surprisingly familiar with minute details like soil and climate differences between this vineyard and the next vineyard over - and it soon came to light that he places a high level of importance on the origin of a particular wine.  

Although the reasons for this fact are arguable, it is undeniable that wine is a product of its place.  Nonetheless, I had to disagree in my own mind with the way he diminished the importance of the grape variety as a contributor to the character of the wine it becomes.  "Calling Chinon Cabernet Franc is like calling bread flour," he opined, referring to one of my favorite red wines from France's meandering Loire Valley.  

To be clear, Chinon is the name of a place in the valley, also referred to as an appellation.  The wines of Chinon are red wines made from the Cabernet Franc grape.  I agree that Cabernet Franc wines made in Chinon must taste different than Cabernet Franc made on the North Fork of Long Island, as a function of the phenomenon we call terroir.  Nonetheless, I maintain that Cabernet Franc as a grape has a distinct character and therefore is a major contributor to what makes Chinon Chinon.  If Pinot Noir were also grown and produced in Chinon, it would be an inherently distinct glass of wine.  

As well, to say that calling a wine of place by the name of the grape it is made from is akin to calling bread flour is a bit simplistic.  One of the magical things about wine is that it is the least processed of the agricultural products that undergo processing to reach a final result.  Water, sometimes sugar, eggs, seeds, grains, flavorings of various types and heat must be added to flour to create bread.  Wine, in its most essential form, is never embellished to this point.  It may be aged in oak or fermented with selected yeast strains, but it remains what it is from day: 100% grape juice.  And the juices of Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling grapes all taste distinct.  Even the addition of water can change the flavor of flour, depending on where that water comes from.  

In my crusade to help the wine consumer confidently buy and enjoy wine, I have found that grape varieties are a much more simple thing to latch on to and make sense of.  A grape can have a character like an person, and it can travel and live and grow in various places, take on new characteristics, even reinvent itself, but still be what it is.  To understand a particular location as the identity of a wine can be a bit confusing, because while all wine is a product of grapes, not all wine is an inextricable product of the place it was made.  

I love a good Chinon.  We tasted one on the night of our event in our cute shoes side by side with a Bourgeil.  They tasted different to me, one a bit more tannic and earthy than the other, but none the less I loved them both.  Two wines made from my favorite grape variety: Cabernet Franc.