South African Finds at the Miami International Wine Fair

This article is part of my series of posts from the Miami International Wine Fair.

South Africa isn’t usually high up on my list of countries I gravitate toward when selecting wine but that is likely to change after trying some nice wines at the fair.

I really enjoyed the wines of Kleine Zalze, in particular the Chenin Blanc and a red blend. The Chenin Blanc had bright tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and guava, along with white peach. It was smooth with a long crisp finish. The Cellar Selection SMV is a blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Viognier. My first thought when tasting it was “yummy!” It has great flavors of raspberry, plum and black currant with a touch of cocoa on the finish. It has fairly light tannins making for a silky mouthfeel. It was one of my favorite red wines at the fair.

Whalehaven, also from South Africa, had some really nice wines. The Viogner Chardonnay was light and refreshing, with flavors of lemon, grapefruit, peach and honeysuckle. It’s not aged in oak so those fruit flavors really stand out. I’m not normally a fan of Pinotage but I had to try it, knowing how popular it is in South Africa. It’s the country’s signature grape variety and is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Whalehaven’s Pinotage was bold and complex. Chocolate was the first taste that popped into my mind, followed by ripe dark cherries and smoke. It’s full bodied with a thick and smooth mouthfeel. It’s a wine that you won’t want to drink on its own. I’d pair this with foods that are big in taste, like beef, lamb and venison.

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A Sip of India

This article is part of my series of posts from the Miami International Wine Fair.

Chateau Indage sounds like it could be the name of a winery in France or in California. It’s actually the name of India’s largest and oldest winery.

Chateau Indage is one of several brands in the Indage Wines family. Indage is located in the state of Maharashtra, which is on the western coast of the country. The company produces an impressive assortment of red, white and sparkling wines, several of which were available to try at the Miami wine fair.

Chateau Indage’s Marquise de Pompadour sparkling wine is made in the traditional Champenoise method with a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Ugni Blanc grapes. It has a crisp, creamy taste with well-balanced acidity. The mouthfeel is very similar to Cava with larger bubbles that seem to expand in your mouth; it’s not quite as delicate as Champagne.

Among the other Indage wines I tasted, I enjoyed a couple from Tiger Hill. The Chardonnay was clean and crisp with a refreshing taste of green apple and melon. The Merlot Shiraz was well balanced with flavors of ripe strawberries, plum and cassis with a finish of pepper. It has an earthy taste to it, much like wines from South America.

The Indian wines I tried were not quite as sophisticated as their American or French counterparts but they had a lot of potential. With the quality and variety of the wines India is now producing, it seems the country is poised to become a bigger player in the international wine scene.

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A Sip of Thailand

I love Thai food. I usually order in Panang Curry or Pad Thai from a local Thai restaurant once a week. And for someone who is of Eastern European and Irish descent, I think I make a pretty good Thai coconut curry!

Thai food is a mix of spicy, sweet, salty and savory. Each dish is an explosion of flavor. Why not complement these flavors with wines created in the same country?

Monsoon Valley, located about 40 miles southwest of Bangkok, has been making wine since 2003. The grapes are grown around the latitude of 13 degrees north; most grapes for winemaking are grown between 30 and 50 degrees north and south of the equator.

You’d think the wines made in the warmer climate would be fuller in body with higher alcohol but Monsoon Valley’s wines are surprisingly light and fruity. The Blended White is 90% Malaga Blanc and 10% Colombard. It tastes a little like Sauvignon Blanc but without the grassiness. It’s fruity and floral, with flavors of grapefruit, lemon and melon. It has well-balanced acidity. This would pair well with Tom Kha Gai soup or fresh rolls. The Blended Red is 85% indigenous Pokdum and 15% Shiraz. It’s ruby red in color, medium-bodied, and has a smooth finish with a little bit of spice. The taste is of cherries and ripe strawberries, with a little plum. It would pair well with curry dishes. Both have about 12.5% alcohol.

Monsoon Valley’s wines were a pleasant surprise and have the potential to get better with each vintage. I would definitely give them a try if you see them on the menu at a Thai or even Chinese restaurant.

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A Taste of the Past

At this weekend’s wine fair at the Miami Beach Convention Center there was a number of really good and interesting wines. Many wine producers were there to find a distributor in Florida, so it was a great opportunity to taste wines that aren’t available here.

Wine has been around for thousands of years. It was a part of everyday life in Ancient Rome; Romans had a big influence on viticulture and brought vines to new lands they conquered. One Italian winemaker had the idea to make wine in the same way it was made back then. As someone who has been fascinated by Ancient Rome since elementary school, I made this booth one of my first stops.

As I learned from the Italian man promoting the simply named “Wines of the Ancient Rome,” Roman wine had a salty taste due to the use of salt water in making wine and the high salt content in the soil. It struck me as a creative premise for making wine, though perhaps not the most appetizing one.

The grapes used to make the current version of Roman wine are grown by a saltwater lagoon in the east of Veneto in a city called Brussa, near Venice. It’s in the same area where Romans produced wine 2,000 years ago. The grapes absorb salt from the soil, which then comes through in the taste of the wine. Caligola, their white wine, is made from mostly Pinot Grigio. It’s light and fruity, with hints of lemon and white pear. The salty taste is on the finish. It’s not overwhelmingly salty like if you swallowed ocean water, but you can definitely taste salt. Cesare Augusto, the red wine, tastes like a mix between Pinot Noir and Merlot, with strawberry and black plum flavors. It has a thin mouth-feel with a mild amount of tannins, but is missing the complexity of other reds at the fair. The saltiness too came out at the end but was more subtle than in the white.

These wines would be fun to drink while learning about Roman history and they’d be a great conversation starter at a wine and cheese party but I’m not sure how well they’d do at a restaurant in the United States. It’s a great concept for wine but there is something to be said about those 2,000 years of improving grape growing and wine making techniques.


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Oktoberfest in Miami: Part Two

What could be better than clinking giant beer mugs with new friends while singing along to “Ein Prosit” once every 10 minutes?

This weekend Hofbrau hosted its own Oktoberfest in a big white tent at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami. You may remember I went to Hofbrau on Miami Beach last month for my own celebration.

The festival atmosphere was complete with a full German band, dressed in their finest lederhosen. Between such crowd pleasers as “YMCA” and “We are the Champions,” they played “Ein Prosit.” It starts with these words meaning “a toast,” and includes another German word that I can’t spell or pronounce, and am not quite sure what it means. It was fun to raise our glasses after every two songs or so and (attempt to) sing along.

Men and women dressed in traditional garb also performed choreographed routines to traditional Bavarian music. Some Oktoberfest-goers joined them, doing their own interpretations of German folk dancing – fueled I’m sure by several rounds of beer.

Within minutes of sitting down I had a liter of beer in my hand. There was only one type of beer, Hofbrau’s Oktoberfest. It’s light in color with a crisp, clean taste. It went well with the salty foods served in the tent. It packs a punch with 6.3% alcohol.

I ordered the currywurst and a plate of sauerkraut, which came out quickly. Currywurst is pork sausage covered in a brown sauce that’s a mixture of curry powder and tomato paste. It was served with deliciously crisp french fries that tasted great when dipped in the sauce. The sauerkraut was piled high on a Styrofoam plate. It was flavored with caraway seeds and bay leaves. After eating way more than I should have I left very full and with “Ein Prosit” stuck in my head.

I’m still hoping to celebrate Oktoberfest in Germany next year but celebrating in Miami was a really fun alternative.

AG Pick: Gundlach Bundschu 2005 Mountain Cuvee

I first tried Gundlach Bundschu wines at their winery in Sonoma. I was driving from Sonoma County to Napa along highway 121 and decided to take a detour. They have a charming tasting room that is decorated with old newspaper clippings and artwork from their bottles.

The Mountain Cuvee is a great wine for chicken, lamb or pork dishes, and goes well with fish with higher fat contents, like Chilean sea bass or black cod. The wine is about two-thirds Merlot and one quarter Cabernet with Cabernet Franc and Syrah. It’s aged mostly in French oak, with some use of American and Hungarian oak.

It has a delicious complex taste at a good price (it costs around $24, though I found it for $22 in a large wine chain). The wine has a great aroma of plum and ripe black cherries. The taste is warm and round with raspberries, plum and chocolate, with spice on the finish. It’s smooth and silky with just a hint of tannins. It’s great if you want something that’s a step up from a basic Merlot, but not as big as a Cabernet.

Gundlach Bundschu also makes a great Zinfandel that I really enjoy. It costs about $38.

For more information on Gundlach Bundschu visit www.gunbun.com.

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Tea Time at Takashimaya

When I was in 4th grade, my best friend Mari and I did everything together. We had sleepovers, shared inside jokes, gushed about boys and acted out scenes from our favorite TV shows. I was devastated when she and her family moved to Japan that summer. The following summer I had the opportunity to visit Mari in Yokohama. I went to her classes, explored Tokyo and visited nearby temples and shrines. During my two weeks in Japan I developed a deep appreciation of the Japanese culture and lifestyle, which I still have today.

While I was in Japan, Mari, her mom and I went to Takashimaya. I remember it being a huge department store, like Saks Fifth Avenue. A little while after I returned home to New York, Takashimaya opened a store on Fifth Avenue. The New York version is smaller and more posh, with clothes that are out of my price range. When I go there I head straight for the café downstairs. It’s a great place for tea and a light bite. I went there earlier this week with my mom.

There’s a great selection of black and herbal teas, and of course, green tea. I ordered Houjicha tea. It is brown in color with a great roasted aroma. It has a slightly smoky taste with flavors of toasted rice. The finish is smooth and clean. My mom ordered Gyokuro tea. It’s light green in color with a great fresh smell. It has a clean and grassy taste; it’s almost like you can taste the individual leaves used to brew the tea. It has a slightly bitter finish.

I ordered my tea with a Japanese version of tea sandwiches. They’re triangles of pressed rice with either thinly sliced salmon or cucumber on top. It’s like a large piece of sushi you eat with your hands instead of with chopsticks. They’re simple and yet so good, I order them almost every time I have tea at Takashimaya. My mom went for dessert, ordering a chocolate tart served with mascarpone cheese on top. The tart was dense with a great dark chocolate taste. It was so rich one bite was enough for me.

Takashimaya is located on 5th Avenue between 54th and 55th Streets.

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Pearl Oyster Bar's Lobster Roll

After hearing about my love of lobster rolls, a friend said I had to try the one at Pearl Oyster Bar in Manhattan’s West Village. Earlier this week I took the subway down to West 4th Street to try one for myself.

During my senior year of high school and in college, the West Village was the place to hang out with my friends. We had a favorite restaurant there (mainly because they didn’t card us when we ordered drinks), and we all bought fake IDs at a store there. Since graduating I haven’t spent as much time in the West Village but I always enjoy checking out the boutiques and restaurants.

Pearl Oyster Bar is located on Cornelia Street, one of the quieter streets in the West Village. Stepping inside it feels like you’ve been transported to New England. The décor has a charming seaside town feel. Exposed brick walls, warm lighting, simple wooden tables and framed illustrations of shells create a cozy environment.

I started with fried oysters. They came served on the half shell, with a layer of tartar sauce separating the shell from the oyster. Biting in, the oyster was crunchy and juicy, though if it had been fried a little less the great flavor of the oyster could come out more.

Next came the main event: the lobster roll. It was served on a brioche roll with a generous serving of shoestring fries. The roll had giant chunks of fresh lobster, mostly tail meat with a few pieces from the claw. The meat was held together with a little too much mayonnaise; other than that, there was no filler.

If I hadn’t spent my summers eating lobster rolls at the Market Place Raw Bar, I’d think this would be my favorite. The ones at the Raw Bar are about three times as big, a few dollars less expensive and have much more claw meat, which is my favorite. I do prefer Pearl Oyster Bar’s bun which has a sweeter taste. But as far as New York City goes, it is certainly hard to top Pearl Oyster Bar’s lobster roll.

For more information on Pearl Oyster Bar visit PearlOysterBar.com.

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Tasting Notes from the New York City Wine & Food Festival

When I think of New York City, I think of food. I think about great restaurants, amazing chefs and extensive wine lists. I think about pizza, bagels, the tempting smell of hot pretzels and roasted peanuts, those dirty water dogs I stay away from but my guy friends can’t resist, and even the tap water. New York is the city that never sleeps thanks to its eateries that stay open 24 hours, serving up at 3 am some of the best food you’ll have any time of day. It seems a festival celebrating food and wine in New York is long overdue.

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival. It was held in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, near the Food Network studios in Chelsea Market. The festival is organized by the same people who do the one in South Beach so there are many similar events. My favorite is the grand tasting. Instead of on the beach, this tasting was set up on a pier stretching out into the Hudson River.

Armed with my Waterford Crystal wine glass, I decided to start by finding a good white wine rather than going for my preferred reds. One of my favorites was a 2006 Chardonnay by Stonestreet from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. It’s made with grapes grown on mountain lots at an elevation between 700 and 1,800 feet and aged six and a half months in small French oak barrels. It’s crisp with fresh flavors of green apple and well balanced with just the right amount of acidity. The taste of French oak comes through with a smooth taste of toast and vanilla. Stonestreet has three other Chardonnays; they weren’t available at the tasting but I hope to find them at a wine store. The 2006 Chardonnay costs around $28.

My other favorite whites were from Carmel Road Winery, in Monterey County. They had two Chardonnays, one from a single vineyard source, the other from four vineyards. I enjoyed tasting them side by side to taste the differences between the two. The 2006 Carmel Road Monterey Chardonnay is sourced from four vineyards. It’s crisp and fruit forward, with a taste of green apple, pear and citrus. It has a firm acidity and great minerality. It costs around $14, which makes it a great deal. The single vineyard 2006 Carmel Road Arroyo Seco Chardonnay took that great taste of green apple, pear and citrus to the next level, with a more elegant taste and a finish of hazelnut. It’s more expensive, around $35 a bottle.

On the red side, I was surprised how much I enjoyed two Portuguese wines. They were both made by Callabriga, a winery I’m not too familiar with. They’re made with native grape varieties, predominantly Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), and using the most advanced winemaking techniques. The Alentejo (with the orange label) is made from Tinta Roriz and Alfrocherio Preto grapes grown in the southeast. The terroir comes through with a great earthy taste from the area’s volcanic soil. It has a nice amount of tannins that give it a pleasant mouthfeel. My favorite of the two was the smoother and more complex Douro (blue label). Tinta Roriz grapes are blended with Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca grapes from the northeast; these two grape varieties are used to make Port. It’s bold and elegant, with deep red fruits, spice and a hint of smoke and tobacco. I’m not sure exactly how much these wines cost, but I believe it’s around $15 – $20, which make them a great deal.

Another wine I enjoyed was Escudo Rojo from Chile. A closer look at the label revealed it’s made by Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Apparently the Rothschild family bought land in Chile in the mid 1990s, which led to the creation of this wine. It’s a blend of Bordeaux varietals with a distinct Chilean style. The wine is a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Chilean Carmenere. It has a spicy and complex taste with bold red fruits, a nice earthy taste and a good balance of tannins. It costs between $10 and $15, making it an excellent deal.

Many of the food offerings were so good I sneaked a second portion. There was freshly sliced prosciutto that melted in my mouth, with a great buttery and salty taste. Foie gras from the Hudson Valley was rich and creamy. My favorite was a carrot soup from Devi, an Indian Restaurant on East 18th Street. It was thick and yet still light, with a great taste of fresh ginger. My favorite dessert was a root beer float made with Stewart’s root beer, butternut squash ice cream, ginger cream and Amaretti cookies. I love root beer floats and would have never thought to try them with a flavor like butternut squash. It was sweet with some spice, a great fall twist on this classic treat.

As the sun set and the tasting came to a close, I left the tent with slightly purple lips and a full stomach. I really enjoyed tasting wines from wineries and regions I was not too familiar with, and hope there will be even more of those next year. I can’t wait to see what new wines I’ll get to try at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February.

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Pret a Manger and Quick Bites at Grand Central

Free WiFi is the greatest. I’m sitting outside at Bryant Park on this gorgeous fall day and am loving the fact that I can connect to the internet. The park is packed with businessmen and women having lunch, parents pushing children in strollers, friends chatting over coffee and tourists carrying bags from the department stores.

I myself just finished lunch. I grabbed a sandwich at one of my favorite British imports, Pret a Manger. As the name indicates, everything is ready to eat – from sandwiches, to salads, to soups, there’s a wide assortment of options for breakfast and lunch. While studying abroad in London, Pret a Manger was the place I went for yogurt and a mocha in the morning, a sandwich for lunch and a mid-afternoon brownie if I was craving chocolate. Today I got a sandwich with sliced chicken, avocado, lettuce and basil with balsamic dressing. To drink I had a bottle of Pret’s chilled organic Assam tea. It’s pure tea, no sugar, just the way I like it.

Bryant Park is around the corner from one of my other favorite places in midtown for a quick bite to eat – Grand Central Station. Growing up in Westchester, Grand Central was like home base for me: the beginning and end to many adventures in the city. I’ve spent lots of time sitting on the marble steps waiting for trains; I’ve had panicked sprints through the main concourse hoping to catch the last train of the night.

Grand Central Station is a great destination for food. Grand Central Market is a long hall of bread, seafood, cheese, olives, prepared foods and more. If I lived in the area I’d stop there to pick up something for dinner. Downstairs at Grand Central’s dining concourse you can choose among Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Indian or Mexican restaurants, or have ice cream or a slice of pie. I always head right to Two Boots, a pizza restaurant with several locations throughout the city. It’s a blend of Italian and Cajun cooking; the two boots refer to the shapes of Italy and Louisiana. Two Boots’ pizza is so tasty because it’s made with a cornmeal crust. It’s thin and crunchy and has a slightly sweeter taste than standard pizza dough. You won’t want to order cheese here; instead go for one of their creatively named slices, from the Mr. Pink made with chicken, plum tomatoes and mozzarella, to the Newman made with sopressata and sweet Italian sausage. I like ordering my slice with a Brooklyn Lager. It’s one of my favorite combinations to get every time I visit New York.

If you prefer your food raw, the Oyster Bar is the perfect place to go. Along with a wide variety of raw oysters you can get clams, shrimp, chowder and all sorts of fish. It’s simple, quick and good, a great spot to unwind before catching a train. Hopefully I’ll have time for a quick stop there today before I have to head to the airport.

Coming up tomorrow, I’ll be posting my tasting notes from the New York City Wine & Food Festival.

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