Tag Archives: red wine

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.


Petit Verdot on its own

Petit Verdot is a grape that is used in Bordeaux blends to add flavor, tannins and a darker color. I’m used to drinking it in blends but can’t recall ever having it on its own. That’s why I was interested in trying St. Supery’s Petit Verdot.

I’m a big fan of St. Supery wines, especially their Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends. They make some huge Cabernets and blends that are so bold and complex you want to chew them and wash them down with a glass of water. If you’re a fan of big California Cabernets you’ll definitely want to check out St. Supery.

Pouring the Petit Verdot into the glass I can’t help but notice the dark color. It’s deep purple, almost black. The smell is deep purple and black too – blackberries, black pepper and spices. The taste is big and complex – blackberries, plum, cassis. It has a long finish with soft tannins. It’s distinctly different than Cabernet, but would pair nicely with anything you would normally pair with Cabernet.

Petit Verdot as a single varietal is a very pleasant surprise. I’m now on the hunt for others like it. Please send me an email to alix@amateurgastronomer if you’ve found other good ones.

St. Supery’s 2005 Petit Verdot is $50 and can be purchased online at www.stsupery.com.


Florida Wine: Eden Vineyards

My tour of Florida’s wineries as part of “Drink Local Wine Week” continues with the family-run Eden Vineyards in Alva. It’s a rural community about 20 minutes east of Fort Myers.

The name evokes images of paradise – somewhat ill-fitting for a place where barren vines show the effects of Mother Nature. In 2004 Hurricane Charley destroyed about one hundred vines. The Kiser family replanted, only to have them wiped out a year later by Hurricane Wilma. Today Eden Vineyards gets most of its grapes from growers about two and a half hours north, in Land O Lakes. Though the Alva tasting room will remain open, the future of grape growing there doesn’t look promising.

Florida is a tough place to grow Bordeaux varietals not just because of the climate, but because of Pierce’s disease, a bacteria that kills vines (Muscadine grapes are resistant to the bacteria). In the 1950s researchers at the University of Florida developed hybrid vines to withstand the bacteria. In the mid 1970s the Kiser family purchased cuttings from these vines to start producing their own wine.

Driving up to the tasting room on a narrow dirt road, you feel like an invited guest on the Kiser family’s farm. The winemaker’s wife runs the tasting room and makes you feel right at home. She’s great at explaining to newcomers how to taste wine.

The first wine I tried was the Lake Emerald. It’s a white wine that’s fermented in French oak barrels for 10 to 13 months. It’s dry with a crisp taste of green apple. The Alva White is medium dry with a pleasant and crisp taste of honeysuckle. This would be a nice wine to drink with pasta or fresh seafood. Coral Bell, their version of blush wine has a nice fruity taste without being too sweet.

Eden Vineyards makes two reds. The Alva Rouge is created in the Beaujolais Nouveau style. It’s a little bit lighter than a Beaujolais, but is fresh and fruity with a hint of ripe tomatoes. Eden Spice is a sweet red wine that I was not a fan of; to me it tasted too similar to fruit punch.

Non-grape wines are popular to make in Florida. Eden Vineyards makes Eden Stars from star fruit. It tastes just like ripe star fruit and is so sweet it’s like drinking candy. If you like sweet wines, it would be a tasty alternative to an afternoon cocktail or sangria.

My favorites were the Lake Emerald and Alva White, with the Alva Red coming in a close third. I bought two bottles of each white for $12.95 each. All the wines cost that price.

For more information on Eden Vineyards visit EdenWinery.com.

To see more articles on regional wine across the country and in Canada, visit DrinkLocalWine.com.


Florida Wine: Henscratch Farms

Watch out west coast – the other 47 states are producing wine, some with great results.

A couple of successful wine writers came up with the idea of “Drink Local Wine Week.” The concept: they and other writers across the country would write about wines in their state to encourage people to discover regional wines (for more information visit drinklocalwine.com). I’m spending the week visiting some of Florida’s wineries, to see what the Sunshine State has to offer.

If you’re looking for big and complex wines, you won’t find them here. The warm and muggy climate isn’t great for Bordeaux varietals; here Muscadine grapes thrive. They produce sweet and semi-sweet wines that are served chilled, great for sipping outside on a hot Florida day. If you’re not a fan of sweet and fruity wines, you’ll have a hard time finding a Florida wine that suits your palate.

My first trip was to Henscratch Farms Vineyard and Winery. It’s located in Lake Placid, the Caladium Capital of the World. It’s a small town northwest of Lake Okeechobee, about a 2 hour drive south from Orlando and southeast from Tampa. Lake Placid’s Main Street is a small stretch of hair and nail salons, regional banks, murals and the Main Street Café, a restaurant where the waitresses greet all the regulars by their first names.

Henscratch Farms produces wine from Muscadines and Scuppernongs (a large type of Muscadine that’s greenish-yellow in color and has a honey-like taste). They also produce a Strawberry Blush wine that tastes just like strawberry candy, and a Country Blueberry wine that is surprisingly not too sweet, with a fresh blueberry taste on the finish.

Everything is grown on the 20 acre farm that’s open to the public. Visitors can pick the hydroponically-grown strawberries December through March, the blueberries in April and May and the grapes in August and September.

The farm is also home to approximately 200 hens and roosters that wander freely among the vines. Just like the fruit, you can pick your own eggs from the chicken coop; if you’re not as adventurous they’re also sold at the farm’s country store.

The tasting bar is located inside the country store, a building constructed in the old cracker style. It features a raised floor, sliding barn doors and an open breezeway. The look is completed with a few rocking chairs on the front porch.

The first wine I tried was the Golden Sunrise which is made with Scuppernong grapes. It has a strong aroma of Scuppernong – musky and very sweet. I was expecting a strong sweet taste but instead it was surprisingly and pleasantly dry. The sweet taste of the Scuppernong grapes comes out in the Country White. This wine was awarded Best in Show for Florida white wines at the 2008 Florida State Fair. Henscratch Farms’ winemaker suggests pairing this with chicken salad, roast port or catfish. To me it was too sweet to have with dinner; I thought it would be great as an aperitif or dessert wine.

The red wines are also served chilled. The Red Sunset is made with Muscadine grapes. It’s dry with a nice mild taste of Muscadine and red plum. A slightly sweeter red is the Country Walk, which was awarded Best in Show for Florida red wines at the state fair. It’s smooth with the taste of red berries. The sweetest red is the Country Red. It’s fruity and sugary with a warm finish, like an adult version of fruit punch. Rounding out the reds is the Foot Stomped 2007. Like its name indicates, the Muscadine grapes are stomped by foot by visitors at the “annual grape stomp.” I thought it would be fun to taste something that visitors helped to make. I then thought about all their feet and had second thoughts. The wine though was not bad. It was semi-sweet with a nice grapey taste. It would be a fun wine to drink chilled at a picnic or afternoon barbecue.

If you like the taste of Muscadines and Scuppernong but don’t like them in wine, Henscratch Farms uses them to make very tasty cider. It’s 100% juice blended with sugar and spice. There’s also blueberry, blackberry and strawberry cider for sale in the country store, along with grape seed oil, jellies and hot sauces.

For more information on Henscratch Farms Vineyard and Winery visit their website.

Click here for a map of Florida’s wineries.


A Dog (and a Wine) Named Moose

I’ve seen B.R. Cohn wines at stores and at several wine tastings. I’ve driven by the Sonoma Valley winery a couple of times. But it wasn’t until my most recent trip to Sonoma when I decided to try the wine – and I realized I should have tried it sooner

B.R. Cohn is located off Sonoma Highway in Glen Ellen, on a beautiful tree-covered stretch of road that winds around fields of grapevines stretching out as far as the eye can see. Around every curve is another winery. It’s the perfect place to spend the afternoon driving around, seeing which wineries tempt you to stop in.

After driving up the long driveway, we parked in front of the tasting room. When we walked in we heard Abbey Road playing. I’m a huge Beatles fan, so I took this as a good sign. A friendly man with grey hair welcomed us over to the tasting bar and started telling us about the history of B.R. Cohn. The winery’s founder and proprietor is Bruce Cohn, who is the manager of the Doobie Brothers. He bought the property in the mid 1970s, and began making his own wine there about 10 years later. Also on the property is a grove of 140-year-old French Picholine olive trees, the inspiration for B.R. Cohn’s distinctive labels. B.R. Cohn also produces a variety of olive oils and vinegars which I’ve seen sold at specialty food stores and Whole Foods.

We decided to stick to reds for our tasting and were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed them. One favorite was the 2005 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel. The color is deep red, almost purple. The smell is of raspberries and very ripe blackberries. In the taste those berries come through, with hints of cherries and strawberries. It has a smooth finish with very soft tannins. We purchased 3 bottles for $26 each.

Our other favorite was the 2005 Moose’s Red. It’s a blend of grapes from B.R. Cohn’s vineyard and other North Coast vineyards. The wine is named after Bruce’s dog, who’s featured on the label. A portion of the wine’s profits are donated to a local animal shelter. On the back label the wine is described as having “the potential of becoming your best friend.” It’s easy to see why – it’s full bodied with the taste of blackberries, cassis, cherries and a hint of vanilla. We purchased 3 bottles for $40 each.

Moose’s Red inspired me to think of what I would name my own wine. Here’s what it would be:

Porter, my cat, is the most adorable cat ever. Just click on the bottle to see an enlarged picture of him. I can also send you hundreds of other pictures if you need more proof. Porter is very talented, he can jump high into the air to catch his favorite stuffed mouse. If I were to make a wine named Porter it would be big and full bodied (he’s big and full bodied), with rich fruit flavors that come out after a few minutes (he can be a little shy and timid at the beginning).

From the tasting room we moved to a small building next door to taste some of B.R. Cohn’s olive oils and vinegar. My favorite olive oil was the Olive Hill Estate Picholine extra virgin olive oil. It was light and clean with a delicate flavor of olives. It was $39. Other olive oils are around $10. We tried a balsamic vinegar that was aged 25 years. It was delicious – full of flavor and thicker than regular balsamic vinegar. The man who had been guiding us through the olive oil and vinegar tasting said this was great on ice cream. I think I’ll stick to hot fudge on my sundaes, but I had no doubt the balsamic vinegar would be great on sliced heirloom tomatoes. This vinegar cost $25, others ranged from $10 to $20.

If you like your wine, olive oil or vinegar with a side of rock and roll, B.R. Cohen hosts a charity concert each fall. This year’s event is on the weekend of October 4th, and features some famous groups and of course, the Doobie Brothers.

For more information on B.R. Cohn, check out their website.


Beyond the Stigma of Screw Caps

I must admit, I am a little biased when it comes to screw caps on wine. The thought of them brings back unpleasant taste memories from college. However, now that screw caps are gaining popularity among skilled winemakers in places like Australia, New Zealand and here in the United States, I’m giving screw caps a second chance.

There are benefits to screw caps. They’re cheaper than cork and you don’t have to worry about them tainting the wine. On the other side they’re not as good for aging. And there is something to be said about the tradition of using cork to seal wine bottles.

I really enjoy the ritual of opening a bottle of wine – cutting the foil, twisting in the corkscrew, anticipating that first sip. The sound of metal cracking when you twist open a screw cap is nowhere near as satisfying as the pop when the cork comes out.

Last night one of my favorite local wine bars, Wine 69, hosted a tasting that featured screw cap wines from Finnegan’s Lake in California and Stringtown Wines in Oregon. The first was a 2006 Chardonnay from Finnegan’s Lake. It was light and fruity, good for drinking on a hot summer afternoon. It was aged in stainless steel barrels instead of oak; I did miss that oak taste that I like in other Chardonnays. Next came a 2007 Pinot Grigio from Stringtown Wines. If you’re into light wines with the taste of tropical fruit you might like it. It was too fruity and a bit watery for my taste. The 2006 Stringtown Pinot Noir was nice. It did have a lot of strawberry and other light fruit flavors but it wasn’t too overwhelming. The next wine was an interesting mix of six grapes. The 2006 Stringtown Cotes du Rogue had Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Grenache. It had a fairly big taste, but seemed to be lacking direction. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Finnegan’s Lake was my favorite. It was well balanced and smooth, with very soft tannins. Price-wise it was the cheapest. Both Finnegan’s Lake wines were $22, the others ranged from $24.50 to $39.50.

Though I wasn’t too big on any of these wines, it wasn’t because they were sealed with screw caps. I may not always gravitate toward screw cap wines at the store, but in the future I’ll definitely give them another look.

A Cafe Culture

In London you have pub culture, in Paris it’s the café culture. Hundreds of cafes line the streets of the city. They’re great spots to meet friends for coffee or to sit by yourself and people watch.

It’s my last day in Paris and I’m feeling like a real Parisian. It’s a rainy afternoon, I’ve got my French newspaper, and I decide to stop in to Café de Flore. It’s a well-known café on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, right next to Les Deux Magots. Years before I was born, this was the place for artists and intellectuals. Sitting at the small table by the window I imagined I could be in the same spot where people like John-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus discussed philosophy.

An older waiter came over carrying a silver tray. “Un café, s’il vous plait,” I said. “Oui,” he responded. Somehow I felt he could still tell I’m not a real Parisian. Minutes later my espresso arrived, along with a small piece of solid dark chocolate and a packet of sugar. It reminded me of my first trip to France with my family, when I was 7. My sister, who at the time was 4, and I would play with the sugar cubes at restaurants while waiting for our food. Each restaurant had its own wrapper for the sugar cubes. We’d take one from each restaurant. By the end of our trip had quite the colorful collection. The sugar at Café de Flore is in a wide, white packet, not a fancy looking cube – not worth saving. There’ve only been two worth saving so far – a thin packet with the recognizable logo from Les Deux Magots, and bright pink sugar cubes from Fauchon.

While the cups of coffee have been abundant and have always tasted good, it’s been harder to find a good tasting glass of wine. It seems most people order bottles or half bottles, so some of the wines by the glass taste like they’ve been open for a day or so.

I found my favorite glass of wine (and favorite wine of the entire trip) at a place called Willi’s Wine Bar. I thought a place with ‘wine bar’ in its name would be a good place to find a good glass of wine.

Willi’s Wine Bar is located near the Palais Royal, on Rue des Petits Champs in the first arrondissement. It was opened in 1980 and named after the owner’s dog. They had a fairly extensive list of wines by the glass from all over France, and the good vintages weren’t only reserved for full bottles. I ordered a glass of the 2001 Chateau Issan from Margaux. I wasn’t familiar with the wine, but it tasted delicious. The blend of cabernet and merlot was a dark red color. It had ripe red fruit on the nose, the taste of blackberries and black currants, followed by a finish of tobacco and cloves with soft tannins. Definitely a wine I’d like to drink again.