Tag Archives: white wine

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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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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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.

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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.

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