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Archive for the ‘Wine Reviews’ Category

Why not the obvious 10 Winter Wines? Because when its 18 degrees outside, sometimes you need a little something extra to get you out into the world (amIright?) and so, dear readers, I’ve given you just that. Below you’ll find a collection of some of my favorite recent wines – I’ve got plenty more coming your way but these should all keep you nice and warm for now. And just in case you’re bummed that I’ve squandered an opportunity to ramble mercilessly before, after, and during my wine discussions, fear not! For there is a lovely little chunk of Forget Burgundy goodness in each bite-sized…erm…review?  Cheers!

Reds

Bodegas Muga 2007 Reserva Unfiltered ($26.99)* : This beauty was a finish-in-one-night bottle. When I mentioned to a dear old friend that I had a bottle of Rioja that I’d been meaning to taste lying around she exclaimed that she’d been loving her some Rioja lately and that was that. Powerful but lively with red fruit, undertones of chocolate and a kiss of oak, this was the perfect wine for a long night of catching up, old laughs, and chilly weather. So what does it mean that its unfiltered, you ask? A lot of winemakers these days like to pour their finished product through a fine-pored filter to ensure a crystal-clear wine but some more traditionally minded devotees, insist that this can strip a wine of some of its finer aromas and flavors and, thus, decline to filter their wine. However, this doesn’t mean that this wine was cloudy by any means - it was perfectly clear and just as delicious.

Trumpeter Rutini Wines Merlot 2010 ($12)* : This Merlot from Mendoza, Argentina’s Malbec territory was a really pleasant surprise. Sideways snobbery aside, I love a good Merlot. That’s right – I. love. Merlot. And this particular bottle was eager to please. This wine was juicy with flavors of black cherries and some brooding darker fruit that was set off with some nice subtle spice and rich full body all held up by firm but not overpowering tannin that made it a pleasure to drink all by its lonesome but also would have lent itself well to pairing with dinner.

Valle dell’Acate Frappato 2010 ($18) : Ah, Frappato – that strange little grape from Sicily. When a few friends and I went to one of my favorite wine bars, The Tangled Vine, on a recent Wednesday evening we were delighted to find out that on that particular day of the week they’ll serve any of the wines on their wine list by-the-glass if you commit to two glasses. In the face of such a glut of wonderful options, I gleefuly chose this little gem. When it arrived, the wine’s pretty scent was practically curling out of our wine glasses like the seductive pink hand-shaped puffs of perfume that, once upon a time, enticed cartoon characters to follow with love-struck infatuation. Strawberries, raspberries, and roses danced around the rim of the glass and delivered a light, floral and juicy wine with bright acid and a lovely finish.

2009 Chateau Coupe Roses “La Bastide” Minervois ($15) : Minervois is an AOC within the larger Languedoc-Roussilon region in the South of France (just west of Provence). For a long time, the Languedoc was the source of many of France’s ordinary table wines – and those from Minervois were particularly favored as great go-to’s for bistro fare. This particular wine, made from a mixture of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah is a wonderful example of an easy-to-drink wine that pairs well with all kinds of food. On the nose, this wine is a little bit barnyard – a little funky in the best sensebut with a crisp medium body that’s packed with plummy fruit and a dusty dark-chocolatey finish.

Dievole Dievolino Chianti DOCG 2008 ($14)* : I’ll be honest, most of the time I think about Chianti I think about it as a wine my dad loves to order. It’s not usually something that I pay a lot of attention – it’s a little been-there-done-that. This bottle, however, was a complete and pleasant surprise! Lively and bright with typical Sangiovese flavors of cherries and plums, this wine gets a little more serious the longer you sip it – unfurling flavors of tobacco and an earthy quality that make it stand out. It would be the perfect companion to a plate of pasta swimming in red sauce or something yummy and Parmigiano-ish.

San Pietro Lagrein 2009 ($15) : So there I was, hearing about this weird little grape called “Lagrein” for the first time and thinking that maybe I’d picked up on something new going on in the wide world of wine. Enter stage left: Google. Guess who wrote about Lagrein way back in March? You guessed it – good ole Eric Asimov at the New York Times. Drats! Any ways, Asimov might have written up this Northern Italian variety months ago, but it’s only just now popping up on wine lists all over NYC and making a more noticeable appearance on retail shelves. It’s not hard to see why either; Lagrein makes a plump, juicy red wine that’s high on acid, low on tannin, and fruity but not fruit-bomby. It’s the wine geek’s answer to Pinot-fatigue –  just as nice to sip on its own as it is to pair with lots of different kinds of food. 

Erste + Neue Lagrein 2010 ($18) : With my insatiable curiosity not yet quite sated, I was determined to get a fair swing at Lagrein. Purchased at Eataly’s wine shop – I brought this home to be my cooking companion while a friend casually whipped up some braised pork cheek caramelized ragu to be served over the funniest little curly pasta I’ve ever seen. Seeing as my friend was too busy cooking to actually pay me any mind while I clamored (danced, maybe?) for attention, I sure was glad I’d decided to purchase a bottle of wine for sipping-while-cooking. But enough about me. The wine? It was lovely – tingling acidity, warm ripe fruits, and a nice tight finish without a ton of tannin that made it effortlessly sippable. Dare I say gulpable?

Whites (and a Rosé )

Bodegas Muga 2010 Blanco ($15.99)* : Look, its hard enough to get me to drink white wine most of the time anyways. Add winter into the mix and you’ve got yourself a bonafide challenge. One this wine was happy to live up to. I schlepped this baby all the way from the UWS to a friend’s dinner party in Williamsburg – do you know how opposite those two places are? Like, the most opposite. Anyways. My friends were serving up a smorgasbord of leftover this-and-that and this wine managed to be a true crowd pleaser – the girl in the bumblebee outfit (she had just come from protesting Montsanto at OWS) loved it paired with dark chocolate just a much as I did alongside the pulled pork tacos. It had a gorgeous nose that leapt right out of the glass - orange blossom and melon – that was followed by a rich and full-bodied wine with flavors of peaches, a nice kiss of oak and a lively minerally finish.

Prieure de Montezargues Tavel AOC Rosé 2010 ($28)* : I’m kindof having a thing with rosé right now. It’s totally inexplicable given the frigid temperatures outside (seriously, right now I could chill wine leaving it by the window for a few minutes) but it’s just one of those things, I guess. This beautiful rosé from the Tavel AOC in the Rhone, across the river from famed Chateauneuf-du-Pape, tasted just as pretty as it looked. Delicate and subtle, with a nose of ripe grapefruit and pear, the crisp flavor of white raspberries was rounded out by a rich full body and long finish that expressed soft notes of ripe peaches. On a salad night, this is exactly what I want to add some indulgence.

Domaine du Tariquet Chenin-Chardonnay 2010 ($10)* : As I’ve made it no secret that Chardonnay is not my favorite grape, and that I love Chenin Blanc, I thought this wine might just be a great compromise. Calling this wine a compromise is to undermine just how delicious it is. At $10 a bottle, this is a wonderful wine – combining the rich sweetness and minerality of chenin blanc with the richness and big fruit of Chardonnay. The price means this wine might just enter into my rotation as a go-to everyday bottle when I’m in the mood for a white wine or have to entertain a crowd that clamors for Chardonnay.

Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2010 ($58)* : Yes, Chateauneuf-du-Pape is known for its earthy, spicy, and rich red wines. But this wine is a great example of just how good the oft-overlooked whites from the area can be as well! This is a rich and full-bodied white that has an intense expressive nose of ripe peaches and a hint of bitter citrus peel. Smooth and delightfully round on the palate, with ripe fruit and a long finish, this wine nonetheless has a nice lively acidity to lift it up and a pretty floral quality to the very end. If ever you’re looking for a rich, full bodied white to keep you warm on a winter’s night, this is definitely a great choice.

*denotes that this wine was a press sample

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Ah, sweet mother of — well, you know. It feels good to be back in New York. Other than the rather unpleasant experience of going from the 80 degrees t-shirt weather in Los Angeles to the 13 degrees and shivering-in-my-boots reality of an east coast winter, I’m really quite happy to be back. Besides, too much exposure to unadulterated sunshine is not good for you these days, I hear.

Just some gratuitous photos of pretty Mexican food

The twelve days I spent in Los Angeles were a really and truly orgiastic indulgence in good food, excellent wine, old friends, and sunny days. Christmas, of course, being the main event, we went balls-to-the-walls this year with the food and drink component of the holiday. We were not kidding around this year. To start things out, my mom and I headed downtown to a very cool new(ish?) wine shop in Downtown Los Angeles called Buzz Wine Beer Shop. Sticking true to everything I hold dear and profess right here on this little blog, we committed to keeping all of our wine purchases under $25 – from the sparklers to the table wine. And boy, did we nail it. Seriously, if Christmas was an Olympic sport, we’d have gotten solid 10’s across the board- except for maybe an 8.5 from the Russian judge that needs to get laid.

Christmas Wine Damage (from left to right): Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Cider, Latitude 50N Rose Trocken Sekt, Parigot Blancs de Blanc Cremant de Bourgogne, Chateau de Raousset Fleurie, Valli Unite Diogene Dolcetto, Domaine le Capitaine Vouvray

To start things off, my mom insisted (and I was none to happy to oblige) on a sparkler and after taking a look around, we settled on a NV Parigot Blancs de Blanc Cremant de Bourgogne for $23. Made from 100% Burgundy-bred Chardonnay grapes, I thought this would be an excellent stand-in for the usual Domaine Chandon and boy oh boy did we hit a home run with this one! Imbued with that classic Chardonnay tang, this was an invariably refreshing and dry sparkler, with a streak of minerality and bright fruit to wake up the palate. Rather than pick up two bottles of the same sparkler, however, I wanted to indulge my new-found and swiftly growing love of sparkling Rosé. Combine that with my recent obsession with Austrian wines and there is no way I wasn’t going to go for the Latitude 50N Rose Sekt Trocken at $14.99 a pretty pink bottle. Made from a combination of Dornfelder, Portugeiser, and Pinot Noir this was a really lovely Rosé with a creamy bubble, notes of bright sweet strawberries and a musky hint of earthiness to balance it back out. I practically guzzled the stuff. Elegantly, of course.

For our dinner wines, no one should have been surprised to find a Dolcetto, a Fleurie, and a Vouvray on my table. My unswaying devotion to the former two varieties has been well documented on this blog – both for sipping pleasantly on their own and for their amazing versatility when it comes to food. The Dolcetto we selected, Valli Unite Dolcetto Diogene 2009 ($24.99), is imported by none other than the wonderful Savio Soares  and so I was lucky to have had the chance to taste this earthy, spicy, and dry Dolcetto when I attended their portfolio tasting in the fall. It was a favorite then, and was a hit at the table even with my dad who is a loyal and unwavering orderer of “big, full-bodied but smooth reds.” The Fleurie we selected, Chateau de Raousset Fleurie 2009 ($15.99) was lauded by all who had the chance to taste it before it was duly drained. Elegant and delicate, I delighted in informing our guests that this was the grown-up big sister of the Beaujolais Nouveau we had, in years, past, swilled. The fact that 2009 was a landmark year for Beaujolais, combined with my favorite of all the Beaujolais appelations, the oh-so-pretty Fleurie, and the excellent price point, made this lovely wine a home run.

The Vouvray, Domaine Le Capitaine ($14.99) was an attempt to replace the usual California Chardonnay that has been known to grace our holiday table, and was largely ignored in favor of the reds. However, I made a point of tasting it and was pleased by the gorgeous nose of figs, honey, and a light waft of ginger. On the palate, the taste of sun-ripened pears was followed by the tangy rush of minerality that makes Vouvray one of my favorite whites.

Add in my beyond-gorgeous salted caramel apple pie, the best damned turkey we’ve ever made, and the awesome wines to accompany all of this gorgeous food and I’d say we pretty much kicked Christmas’ ass this year.

Textbook, right?

On such a wine-fueled roll, I had momentum, baby. The next wine of note was a 1993 Bersano Barolo that my dad had been holding on to for, unfortunately, a few years too long. Although we definitely caught it on the way down, there was still that thrilling experience of opening an older bottle of wine – the nose of dried roses and sweet port, the brick-orange color shifting in the glass, the trail of sediment that slid down the belly of the bottle, and the soft but-still-alive flavor of a dying wine.  We followed up all that old wine with some Scotch I’d brought back from my stay in Edinburgh a few years ago, believing, rightly, that every gentleman (and my father being no exception) needs a bottle of nice scotch around. The bottle, Old Ballantruan The Peated Malt, Speyside Glenlivet was purchased when I knew even less than I know now about Scotch (I really botched that opportunity with a 20-year-old’s conviction in the belief that I didn’t like brown liqour. Idiot.) but I was pleasantly surprised by what I knew had to be some good stuff. It was rich, toasty, just a tad sweet, and delightfully smoky with a long and smooth finish.

Fast forward through the days of endless driving, sunshine, and Mexican food to New Years Eve. I was anxious for at least one glass of good stuff on this, the last eve of 2011 and so I insisted on heading to one of my favorite wine bars in the city – Bar Covell in Silverlake. Matthew Kaner is the proprietor of this wonderful little spot and his tastes in wine are impeccable so I knew he’d be pouring something exciting. Sure enough he was offering the usual suspects – from Cava and Prosecco to the real spendy stuff. But he was also offering a Cremant de Alsace and, most delightfully, a Cremant de Limoux Rose that I was eager to sip. But, he also informed me, he had a few bottles of NV Egly-Ouriet Brut “les Vignes de Vrigny” 1er Cru made from 100% Old Vine Pinot Meunier and he was super excited about it. It didn’t take much to convince me that this was what I wanted to sip as I said Sayonara to 2011. My beautiful New Years Eve date and dear friend, Paley, ordered the Cremant de Limoux upon my urging and I settled in with a glass of the Egly-Ouriet, warm and toasty with notes of spiced apple cider and an absurdly fine bubble.

Clockwise from Left: The Egley-Ouriet, my NYE date Paley, The 2008 Sea Smoke "Ten", lying on the cool cement in New Years Day's 80 degree weather, the view from said spot, and the first pairing of 2012

Ever since my dad finally got off the wait list for a yearly allocation of Sea Smoke that just happens to arrive right before the start of the Holiday season, we’ve made a habit of opening a bottle over the holidays – and usually on New Years Eve. This year, we had to postpone our yearly indulgence to New Years Day. That in itself is a reason to avoid a New Years’ Eve hangover, my friends. Combined with the glorious decision to order a bottle of Sea Smoke “Ten” 2008, the fact that we decided to order Chinese take out from my favorite Chinese restaurant in probably the entire world, and you can color me happy. Then factor in the crippling defeat my brother suffered at my hands in our first game of Battle Ship? Color me ecstatic. Oh? How was the wine? Beautiful, decadent, indulgent. I have yet to meet a day in 2012 to rival that very first one.

The 2010 Turley Wine Cellars California "Juvenile" Zinfandel

After only a couple more days of tooling around the city of Angels, it was time for our very last dinner – and the early celebration of my little brother’s 17th birthday.  A cool kid to the extreme, my little brother has a serious palate to boot. No mediocre restaurant would do – no, siree, he wanted some serious eats and so we headed to Tavern in Brentwood, owned and run by the amazing chef, Suzanne Goin. When it came to the wine I was faced with the difficult task of balancing my dad’s desire for a “big, full-bodied red” with my mom’s preference for lighter more delicate reds , a reasonable price tag, and my desire for one last hurrah on my parents’ dime, I was thrilled to see the Turley Wine Cellars’ California “Juvenile” 2010 Zinfandel for $55. Turley Wine Cellars’ Zins are beloved – for their restraint, elegance, and sheer deliciousness. This wine did not disappoint – it was a truly gorgeous wine with nicely restrained rich fruit, a tight but full body, and smooth finish. As pretty as a pearl necklace, it too perfectly puncuated the end of a great trip.

Some beauty shots from my last morning's hike

After a morning hike in the Santa Monica Mountains perfumed by the heady scent of chapperal and wild sage and crowned with views of the glistening Pacific ocean, it was off to my ritual goodbye breakfast at 3Square Bakery and Cafe in Venice, where the Plum Tarts are enough to make me consider staying.

The plum tart at 3Square Cafe + Bakery in Venice. It's probably about 3,500 calories.

Nonetheless, here I am – back in the land of the Brooklyn Brogue and I couldn’t be happier. So here’s to what lays ahead: to a year of good wine, good writing, and good friends! Happy New Year, dear readers, and let’s have some fun.

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That’s right, I’m blatantly attempting to co-op some gooogle searches by making a OWS reference…but who can blame me? Tis the season, after all, and what are the holidays really good for if not being shameless? So anyways…

Tasting some gorgeous sparklers by candle ligh at Winston's Champagne Bar in NYC

There’s nothing more apropos of a celebration than the spectacular pop of opening a Champagne bottle and the effusive gush of bubbles that comes next. Although we may call it Champagne, in America at least, just as often as not, the sparkling stuff we’re toasting with isn’t Champagne at all – it’s a sparkling wine.

So, what’s the big deal? The French – the only ones who make true Champagne aren’t too keen on letting just any one borrow the name. True Champagnes are produced only from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and produced using the traditional méthode champenoise. But you knew all that, didn’t you, dear reader?

While Champagne may be the wine. that started it all, when it comes to sparkling wine, there are more options that are just as delicious and not nearly as expensive than ever before. Seeing as the holidays are quickly approaching and ‘tis the season for celebration, I’ve rounded up some great alternatives to the season’s favorite bubbly libation, Champagne.

Before we get started on some wonderful & affordable Champagne alternatives, if you want to try a great Champagne, try Taittinger Brut Prestige Rose NV ($50):  A gorgeous salmon color, this Rose features a toasty nose that has hints of burnt rubber and an extremely gorgeous fine bubble. On the palate, ripe berries and bright acidity make this a beautiful and delicious example of the best Champagne has to offer. 

*Note: Crémant is the indicator that the French came up with to connote sparkling wines from French regions other than Champagne, so anytime you see a wine labeled Crémant you’ll know you have a sparkler on your hands.

Crémant D’Alsace is the sparkling wine made in Alsace, France’s main Riesling-producing region. That said, these wines are often produced with – you guessed it! – Riesling, along with Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir. These sparklers are made using the same production method as Champagnes and can range from slightly sweet (demi-sec) to dry (brut) and extremely dry (extra brut). Cremant D’Alsace is usually considered a refreshing, floral, and crisp sparkling wine.

Try: Domaine Agape Cremant D’Alsace NV ($19)

Crémant de Limoux: Limoux is a region in the south west of France and the main grape of the region is an obscure varietal called Mauzac, but another local varietal called Blanquette along with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc are also grown here. Some believe that Limoux is the birthplace of the méthode champenoise – stumbled upon by monks in the 16th century. These sparklers tend to show the biscuity, herbal, and yeasty flavors that drive some Champagne lovers wild.

Try: Domaine J. Laurens Cremant de Limoux Brut Les Graimenous 2008 ($18)

 Blanquette de Limoux: Produced from the same grapes in the same region as Crémant de Limoux, these wines are set apart by a restriction on the percentage of Mauzac that must be used (90%). The other 10% can be Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, or a mixture of both. Mauzac lends these wines a distinctive taste of apple and spices (very cider-ish), and sometimes aromas of fresh cut grass.

Try: Antech Blanquette de Limoux Grande Reserve Brut ($15)

Crémant De Jura: Jura is a small region located along France’s border with Switzerland and is known for making a unique style of oxidized white wine that have a distinct taste and orange hue. White and rosé wines can be produced from local obscure grapes Poulsard and Trousseau and also Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris. These sparklers often have a musky aroma with flavors of ripe peaches and orange peel.

Try: Philippe Bornard Cremant De Jura NV  ($22.99)

Crémant de Loire (aka Vouvray Brut): Vouvray is the name of the region most commonly associated with sparkling wines from France’s Loire Valley, but the region also produces still wines. Either way, these wines are made from Chenin Blanc, a grape with naturally high acidity – making it great for pairing with food. The wines produced from this grape also have a sweetness followed up by characteristic minerality. Sparkling wines from the Loire Valley are often especially aromatic and beloved for their honeyed floral perfume.

Try: Bouvet Brut NV ($12) – This non-vintage sparkler made from 80% Chenin Blanc and 20% Chardonnay comes from the second oldest winery in the Loire Valley. It has a very buttery and yeasty nose that comes from having been made in the methode champoinese. On the palate there is bright acidity and sweet minerality balanced by notes of lime and citric peel.

Prosecco: This Italian bubbly has only become more popular as a Champagne substitute and for good reason – it’s very affordable and makes a light crisp sparkling wine. Prosecco is made from a grape that goes by the same name and is not made in the same way as Champagne; its secondary fermentation usually takes place in steel tanks rather than in-bottle.

Try: Caposaldo Prosecco ($12) – This Prosecco is always made to order so it’s unbelievably fresh! With a nose of bubblegum, this sparkler has the kind of clean palate that boasts flavors of pears and a slight minerality that would make it a perfect appertif. Slightly sweet and with a creamy bubble, this is a lovely little wine.

Asti: Another Italian sparkler, Asti is a sparkling wine made throughout the northern region of Piedmont. Made using the same technique as Prosecco, rather than with the méthode champenoise, Asti is produced from the Moscato Bianco grape. Speaking of Moscato, Moscato d’Asti is made in the same region (Asti) from the same grape, but is only slightly sparkling (frizzante) and tends to have less alcohol. Both, however, are sweeter wines that tend to have a very floral bouquet, and flavors of ripe peaches, nectarines, and apricots that are balanced by high acidity.

Try: Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2010 ($15): Honey and white flowers on the nose are followed up by sweet ripe peaches on the palate and held up by enough acidity to keep the sweetness from becoming cloying. Delicious!

Cava: Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine that is made using the same technique as Champagne using the traditional macabeu, parellada and xarel·lo grapes. Cava, like Champagne, can range in style from very dry (brut nature) to sweet and is a great celebratory sparkler that is usually very crisp and refreshing.

Try: Poema Rosado NV ($11) –  This Rose is a very deep blush – almost ruby colored. With a nose of tar and roses, it’s easy to tell at once that this is not your ordinary rose. On the palate are flavors of bright red fruits like cherries and raspberries, a juicy acidity, and the slightest sweetness.

Happy Holidays and a Wonderful New Year to you all! I leave you with this:

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Photo Courtesty of Katie Sokoler, colormekatie.blogspot.com

Jonny Cigar, one part performer to two parts wine geek, is the self-appointed master sommelier behind the city’s coolest underground wine salon, The Noble Rot.

Cigar’s impact on the New York City wine scene has been palpable; he was recently proclaimed one of the city’s new wine prophets by Time Out New York. He says it is crucial to point out that he has no official wine education – but he has studied performance and theater.

“I went to school for performance. What the hell am I doing?” Cigar said of his initial thoughts on receiving the news that he’d been named a “wine prophet.”

Cigar’s flair for the dramatic extends from his name (he was born Jonathan Cristaldi), to his bespoke three-piece suits and penchant for bow ties. At Noble Rot events, Cigar is known for his habit of introducing the evening’s theme and wines through dramatic readings, soliloquys and even the stray Frank Sinatra impersonation.

Meeting over tea on a chilly fall afternoon in the West Village, Cigar was in one of his signature three-piece suits with matching tie and pocket square – folded just so. Cigar has an easy grin and a mixture of sophisticated confidence – emphasized, perhaps, by his sense of style – and an endearingly goofy sense of humor that makes it easy to believe he’s a theater kid at heart.

“I should be a drama dork somewhere researching history for some big Broadway production getting paid big money to do that and instead I’m drinking and drinking professionally!”

The Noble Rot has come a long way since its first event. A few years ago, armed with not much more than a budding interest in wine and a mailing list from his performance art residencies at various downtown theaters, Jonny Cigar set out to hold a tasting of the best wines available for $10 or under. He found a

Photo Courtesty of Katie Sokoler, colormekatie.blogspot.com

rooftop, got together some friends to play music and make food and voila! The Noble Rot was born.

Cigar’s budding interest in wine sprouted, Cigar said, when he started drinking wine with the man who would become his father-in-law.

“My wife’s father is a serious collector of Burgundy and Bordeaux and old Italian wines – Brunellos and Barolos. So he would open up all this crazy stuff, I mean he doesn’t like to drink anything that’s not at least 20 years old, and so I’m dinking these wines and I didn’t know anything about them but I know there’s something special.”

His future father-in-law gave him a copy of a book called The Billionaire’s Vinegar about a wine fraud scandal that tore through the fine-wine collecting circle of the 80s and 90s. Cigar devoured the book in a single plane ride and found himself fascinated by the whole world and especially by the stories of extravagant vertical and horizontal tastings of first growth Bordeaux.

“I just thought, ‘This is very cool!’ I was really involved in the supper club scene and I thought, ‘I’m gonna start a supper club about wine so I can learn while doing it with a group of fun interesting people,’” Cigar said. “And it was sort of enlightening – we had a bunch of food and had a blast and we sort of took off from there.”

Time Out New York’s proclamation came just days before Cigar returned to New York City from a five-month trip to Napa that he’d taken in the wake of a professional break with his previous Noble Rot business partner.

“We tried really hard to hash out a business plan and in doing so we realized we had a lot of differences so we split ways,” Cigar said. “It came at a good time.”

Cigar seized the opportunity to get out of town and regroup.

“So I thought I will go west and look for gold!” Cigar riffed before taking a serious note. “The whole idea was to get an education, to completely immerse myself, and to get in from the ground up.”

Preparing for his move to Napa, Cigar set out to find work in a tasting room or a cellar and convinced himself he’d be spending most of his time knocking on doors and looking for work. Cigar caught a lucky break, however, when a new Sonoma winery called Ram’s Gate hired him to help launch their brand.

The Napa Valley, for all of the wine-fueled romanticism that surrounds it, is still very much farmer’s country and Cigar soon found his sartorial inclinations out of step with the community.

“I was the only guy in the whole valley wearing three piece suits,” he said. “I’d walk into the bank and people would get nervous because they didn’t know what to think, it was like ‘Oh god, whats this guy?! Whats he doing?’”

However, Cigar had no intention of trading in his custom-tailored jackets for overalls and, eventually, his sleek suiting helped to land him another job.

Cigar, dressed down in jacket & jeans, in Napa

Near the end of his two-month gig with Ram’s Gate, Cigar was invited to an event at a little known but beloved boutique winery owned by the Swanson family (yes, the Swanson family of frozen TV Dinners fortune).  The Swanson Vineyards & Winery hosts three by-appointment-only tastings a day in their tasting room, which they call the Salon, styled after the swanky Parisian salons of the 18th century, with intellectual discourse over good food and wine.

Cigar met the Swanson family patriarch, Clarke Swanson, decked out in a double-breasted suit at one of these events, and they hit it off immediately. Soon after, Cigar began hosting appointments in the Salon at the winery. When he wasn’t reciting passages of The Great Gatsby or serenading wine tasters, Cigar was doing grueling but, he said, fulfilling cellar work for another winery, Alpha Omega.

Having returned to New York City with a whole new appreciation of the winemaking process, and enlightened by his experiences in Napa Valley, Cigar has big plans for The Noble Rot.

“I’ve realized that I like a smaller more intimate group. I want our events to become a place for people to really come and learn about wine, and not only learn but experience something new,” Cigar said. “And also to be a conduit for people [who are] looking for hard-to-find awesome boutique wines – I want to be the place for that.”

Cigar’s first Noble Rot event since he returned to New York, a 2011 Harvest Party to “celebrate this year’s harvest from set to crush,” was an opportunity for Cigar to share his favorite stories and insights from working in Napa.

He greeted all of his guests that night with a glass of Cava – saying that the Spanish sparkling wine was a tribute to the Mexican workers who did much of the harvest’s work. Coming from anyone except the endearingly sincere Cigar, this could have been a gaffe but bravely wearing two paisley patterns that somehow meshed, Cigar pulled the whole thing off with charm to spare.

Once the small group assembled, Cigar regaled the small crowd with his favorite harvest stories while pouring wines from the wineries he worked for in Napa (Swanson Family Vineyards & Alpha Omega). When it was time to eat, he’d brought in The Brothers Green, a fraternal duo who run the same supper club circuit as Cigar, for a feast of tacos – another homage to the migrant workers and the end-of-day meals he ate with them.

Cigar plans to keep hosting events for The Noble Rot but is thinking of retooling The Noble Rot so that it’s membership only. He went on to say that he wanted to work his way into making The Noble Rot into a tiered membership, like a wine club.

“But the greatest wine club on the face of the earth,” Cigar said with confidence and a not a hint of histrionics.

Jonny Cigar’s Wine Picks:

I had to ask, what is he drinking these days?

“I’m big into Syrah right now – I just feel like it’s starting to turn crisp and cold and I love a good robust Syrah from California,” said Cigar.

I also asked Cigar, in honor of his recent trip to Napa to give me his five favorite California wines of the moment. Here’s what he had to say:

 Robert Foley Vineyards: “A wine I could drink all the time anytime is The Griffin. It is such a heartwarming delicious wine that’s got these subtle chocolate notes that are just outrageous.”

Covenant Wines: “A really outrageously delicious wine. Jeff Morgan is the winemaker and not only does he make a kosher wine, but it’s the best kosher wine on planet earth (according to Robert Parker).”

Pinot Noir from Carneros: “I have become a huge fan. I recently discovered Saxon Brown and Flowers makes a good Pinot, too.”

Ram’s Gate: “They are producing elegant wines with superb structure, aromas and will age beautifully

Gemstone: “ I had the opportunity to taste this wine right before leaving and I would say that its one of my favorite wines now.  So good.”

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Head right this way for Vine Talk’s Thanksgiving Wine Picks penned by yours truly! Instead of the usual suspects (Champagne, Beaujolais Nouveau, Pinot Noir, ect.) why not go for something off the beaten path? Picks include some of my new crushes, Blaufrankisch, Cremant de Limoux, and Courbieres Blanc.

Got questions on a specific pairing? Want more suggestions? Leave me some comments and…

Enjoy!!!

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So, readers, we’ve got some catching up to do. I’ve finally settled into fall and that means a change in my drinking habits. I’m waiting to bust out the big guns – the earthy ball-busters and powerhouse reds that I crave through the winter; California Cabs, spicy Syrahs, muscular Priorats and the like. Once I’ve started going down that path, and turned to the dark side, it’s hard to get back – so I’m biding my time with some in-betweeners.

That’s not to say, however, that the wines I’m drinking now are any less intoxicating than those lusty reds I’ll be cuddling up to when the snow starts falling. I’ve had quite a few infatuations this season that are exciting and delicious.

I’ve fallen head over heels with an Austrian wine called Blaufränkisch. Fresh berry flavors, bright acid, and delicious tannins make up the attributes that have me blushing every time I stumble upon a glass of this delightful wine. Did I mention that it’s insanely affordable at an average cost of $10 a bottle? Color me happy, folks. I’m also having a fling with another Austrian wine, St. Laurent – kind of like a male relative of that minx, Pinot Noir. With its sweet fruit, juicy tannins and ripe acidity this is a wine that seems fated for my Thanksgiving table – I have fantasies about sipping it alongside a plate piled high with turkey and cranberry sauce.

Recently, at the Savio Soares Fall Portfolio tasting in New York City, I tasted an example of each of these wines from a 100% Biodynamic producer called Pittnauer (the Blaufrankisch 2009, $9.99 and the St. Laurent Dorflagen 2009, $22.99). Savio Soares Selections is the importer of the moment in New York and Los Angeles. Savio, the owner, scours the world for small producers who make unique, delicious, and often biodynamic or natural wines. His wines are finding their way onto the wine lists and shelves of some of the city’s best restaurants and retailers (respectively, of course) and his portfolio is a wine geek’s paradise, filled with obscure varietals, regions, and producers.

I also have a big crush on the white wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon. It started a couple months ago with a bottle of Les Deux Rives Corbieres Blanc 2010 that I received as a sample courtesy of Pasternak Imports. The wine retails for $11 and has a gorgeous nose of ripe fresh fruits like white peaches that follows up with a velvety full body with fresh acidity and a long intense finish. I couldn’t get enough. My next encounter with a Languedoc-Rousillon white was, again, at the Savio Soares tasting where I had the chance to taste Domaine Rivaton Blanc Bec Vin de France NV that retails for $16. This wine was made from a mixture of Carignan Blanc and Carignan Gris and had an amazingly rich port-ish nose, a sweet and lusciously full body that ended on a delightful savory note of toasty caramel corn.

I’ve been strangely drawn to these rich and toasty whites lately. Another favorite from the Savio tasting was a white from the Cotes du Rhone made up entirely of an obscure little grape called Bourboulenc from the producer Le Clos des Grillons. The wine, Cotes du Rhone Blanc 1901 2010 (retails for $16) seduced me with a nose of rich caramel and buttered popcorn and then delivered a lovely wine with nice acid and savory flavors. It was the wine-equivalent of a sweet/salty treat.

Lastly, I was sent some samples from a boutique winery in the Willamette Valley in Oregon called Seufert that had me smitten. I’m not alone, here either – the winery’s Jonah Vineyard Pinot Noir was just named one of the top 5 Willamette Valley wines to seek out by Travel+Liesure Magazine. Seufert makes its Pinot Noir from grapes grown in some of the best sites in Oregon and I had the pleasure of trying their Vista Hills Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA, Momtazi Vineyards in the McMinnville AVA (retails for $35 each), and my surprising personal favorite, a Willamette Valley AVA Pinot Noir called Pinotlicious (retails for $20). Almost more than I loved the wines was the fact that each wine came with a label on the back that gave a “snapshot” of the wine’s character and best food-pairings. Genius.

So now that we’re all caught up on my favorite Fall wines, I’ve got some exciting stuff that I’ll be posting over the next week or so. Look out for a roundup of wines that would be magnificent for your Thanksgiving Feast as well as a profile of The Noble Rot (and one of TONY’s “Wine Prophets), Johnny Cigar. In the meantime if you’re interested in getting your hands on any of the wines above, just plug ‘em into Wine-Searcher.com and see where you can pick ‘

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Soo…after the freakish snowstorm of Saturday it hardly feels like fall. Weird weather aside, however, ’tis fall and, even spookier, ’tis Halloween!

It’s much too cold to dress up like a skanky firefighter this year, so  instead I got myself all gussied up as some sort of wine expert over on Refinery 29.

So head on over and check out the collection of perfect-for-fall wines that are all available around the city and even better (!) are all available for $15 bones or less. And in honor of Haloween they can be like scary zombie haunted bones.

 

 

 

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