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One of the more embarrassing episodes of my life involves an infatuation with musical theater. And so, when I walked out of my apartment the other day to find the whole city suddenly in bloom, I couldn’t help but to think of the song below:

Note, of course, that the song is all about JUNE busting out all over because, well, sadly, there’s usually not too much to sing and dance about til then.

New Yorkers love to gripe that Spring is not a season that affords much celebration in the city. Too often, she is much too coy a lover – getting all of our hopes up with a string of beautiful days, warm and sunny, and then taking it all away without warning and leaving us shivering in our light jackets against a cruelly chilly wind and cloud-darkened sky.

Personally, I have vivid memories of railing against Spring’s maliciciously late appearance last year – of wandering past barely budded branches in April and feeling cheated by the season’s pathetic showing of scrawny daffodils and bone-chilling nights.

So, this year, when Spring, in her star turn as seductress, whirled into the city early, sending trees into ecstatic blooms, coaxing tulips out of the ground with wanton promises, and inciting a riot of hyacinths, I couldn’t help but wonder what she was up to.

And then I got over it. Because, heck, we’ve got a real, true, swear-to-goodness Spring in the city this year, and that’s just swell.

This sudden and unexpected turn in the seasons also got me to thinking about just how important the seasons are in wine making.

Just a couple months ago, I took a trip to the Finger Lakes of upstate New York, a place where the seasons and its inevitable variations have a tremendous impact on the region’s wines.

“A lot of people say that the terroir up here is the weather and that defines our vintage more so than in many regions that may have a climate that is fairly stable,” said Peter Becraft, an assistant winemaker at Anthony Road Wine Company (and one of my favorite producers in the region).  “On the east coast you’re dealing with constantly changing weather pattern – some years it is much colder and some year it’s much warmer, some years we get more rain than we need and some years we don’t have enough!”

The view from the Chardonnay Vineyard at Dr. Frank's

In fact, at the very first lunch we sat down to on our whirlwind trip through the region, Tricia Renshaw, a winemaker at Fox Run Vineyards, told us a horror story about waiting a few days too long to harvest the season’s Gewurztraminer and losing the whole crop to bad weather.

The Finger Lakes is quietly but steadily gaining recognition as one of the best wine-producing regions in the U.S., a reputation that is staked largely on the region’s wonderful dry Rieslings.

The region has a long and storied past in wine making – but one that mostly involves producing cheap bulk wine or sweet wines from native North American grape varieties called Vinifera Labrusca (grapes like Concord, Niagara, Catawba, and Delaware). Its worth noting, too, that those sweet wines are still doing just fine, thank you, in the region and, in many cases,  are the work horse wines that pay the bills and allow many of the region’s winemakers to produce their more serious wines.

The Chardonnay Vineyards at Dr. Frank's

It wasn’t until the 1960’s, that an ambitious Ukranian named Dr. Konstantin Frank introduced European varieties to the region and incited a “Vinifera Revolution” that would totally change the direction of wine production in the region.

Ok, you’re thinking, So they’ve been at this since the 1960’s and I still haven’t heard of, let alone tried, a wine from the Finger Lakes? Doesn’t that mean the region had, like, a ten year start on California’s serious wine making efforts? So why have I gotten sloshed on Napa Chardonnay before I’ve even had a sip of Finger Lake Riesling?

And this, dear reader, is an excellent question. Let’s start by addressing the fact that there is just much much more land in California that is amenable to successful viticulture.

In the Finger Lakes, vineyards can only be successfully cultivated on a very small portion of land – the hills directly above the region’s namesake deep lakes. Those lakes are essential to grape production in the region because they are very large and extremely deep. In fact, one of those lakes, Seneca Lake, is so deep that the US Navy tests its submarines inside of it. True story. The depth of those lakes is important because it makes it impossible for the lakes to freeze over in winter and causes them to act as natural weather moderators – keeping the immediately surrounding hillsides warm enough through the region’s harsh winters for vines to stay alive, and cool enough in the summer time to keep them from getting fried.

The view from Lamoreaux Landing

Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, has said it very eloquently indeed.

” Our geography in New York State really limits what we can do,” Trezise told me. “California is so much larger as a state and has so much more acreage within the state that is conducive to growing grapes than we do here in New York […] we’re never going to be a major quantity player in the world.”

In essence,  there’s just not much wine from the Finger Lakes to go around. And because the region’s output and quality is so dependent on the weather, one bad vintage can mean even less wine than the year before or after.

However, it’s important to note that quality is not one of the reasons you’ve never tried a wine from the Finger Lakes. Ask me why you haven’t tried a wine from Mississippi, Kentucky, or Wisconsin and I’m gonna tell you it’s because they’re not very good. Not so, my friends, with the Finger Lakes. Perhaps a few years or a decade ago, this could have been a valid argument but, these days, the Finger Lakes is producing some top quality wines, indeed.

What do I mean by top quality in relation to the wide world of wine?

“We see the opportunity to position The Finger Lakes as North America’s preeminent cold climate region,” said Bob Madill, Chair of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance. “In terms of quality, we truly believe that we can say that we are producing some of the great Riesling of the world -right there along with Alcace [France] and even Mosel [Germany].”

Vineyards at Fox Run Vineyards

I’m the first to admit I’m nothing close to any kind of aficionado on the subject of Riesling. Prior to tasting my way through the Finger Lakes’ offerings, I usually scrunched up my nose and took a pass on the wine – thinking of it mostly as a sweetish wine that I had no taste for. But, what I tasted in the Finger Lakes, for the most part, impressed me. These were some tasty tasty wines.

The winemakers in the region are proud of what they’re doing, too. They believe that there is a true regional style that is emerging and I, for one, can agree. There’s a lot of minerality in these Rieslings that makes them interesting and particularly enjoyable. There’s also razor-sharp acidity (that, in fact, after three days of imbibing caused actual physical pain to my palate), gorgeous perfume, and breathtaking balance.

Obviously, Riesling isn’t the only grape being grown in the region – winemakers are also using Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Gruner Veltliner on the white side. As for the reds, many in the wine world are eager to see what the region does with Pinot Noir and winemakers are also playing with Cabernet Franc, Blaufrankisch (known as Lemberger in the region), Gamay (the grape of Beaujolais) and Merlot. There are also some great sparkling wines coming out of the region. The sparklers would be my recommendation after the Rieslings.

So, in short, if you can get your hands on some Finger Lakes Riesling to celebrate this glorious Spring, go for it. They’re lovely  – and their effusive aromatics are often of a floral nature that makes them a perfect pairing for the season.

As for the reds, in this humble wine blogger’s opinion there’s still some work to be done. Of course, I understand that this is never going to be a region to turn to for a big bold red wine – the style is leaner, brighter, and fresher than that of, say, California. But, personally, I found most (and not all – there are some red recommendations below!) of the red wines I tasted green, twiggy, and tannic. However, I will say that there is some serious promise in the regional blend of Blaufrankisch and Cab. Franc – these, I think are the best bet for the region’s reds – at least for now.

I’ve rounded up my 19 top wines from my Finger Lakes trip below. I’ve thrown in a couple of dessert and ice wines, too, because after this trip, I’m just smitten (if you haven’t already, check out the guest post I wrote for Mutineer Magazine’s blog on the subject!). Now get away from the computer screen and go dance around outside – Spring is busting out all over!

19 Finger Lakes Wines of Note

Pleasant Valley Wine “Millennium” Sparkling Wine – Warm biscuity nose with a hint of cider. Light and appley with a touch of vanilla at the end.

Tierce Dry Riesling 2008 – A toasty nose of roasted nuts, marshmallow, and a whiff of ripe pear – on the palate, there is sparkling acidity, and flavors of ripe tropical fruits that are reminiscent of white gummy bears.

Wagner Vineyards Semi-Dry Riesling 2009 – Softer nose of unripe strawberries with a touch of funk around the edge. Still, however, the wine is very juicy and more fruit on the palate than the nose. Racy acidity.

Anthony Road 2009 Riesling – Tar, pear, and ripe bananas on the nose. Super juicy with nice soft but strong acid, lychee, tropical flavors, this is Riesling is soft, warm and delicious.

Hosmer Riesling 2010 -Lots of fruit on the nose, smells sweet – almost like baked fruits. Luscious and juicy

Eagle Crest Vineyards semi-dry Riesling 2010 – A gorgeous perfume that mingles floral scents with ripe peaches and green mango. Lean fruit on the palate with a brisk minerally finish, brisk acidity.

Dr. Frank’s Rkatsiteli2009 – The nose is musky and melony with a touch of bubblegum. This is a wine made from an obscure grape that is juicy, long, full-bodied, and soft but still very brisk. Floral on the palate, too.

Dr. Frank’s 2010 Semi-Dry Riesling– Tropical fruit on the nose with a hint of peach. Sweet and bright.

Treleaven Chardonnay 2010 – Toasty oak, roasted almonds, and petrol. Rich and buttery with notes of toasty oak and hazelnuts. Nice and full.

Glenora Pinot Blanc 2011– Green apples, peaches, and grass on the nose. A soft and fleshy wine with zingy acidity and flavors of ripe pears.

Wagner Vineyards Semi-Dry Gewürtztraminer 2010 – Floral nose of roses and peonies and some lychee with a whiff of nutmeg. The luscious perfume carries through to the palate with a pleasantly oily texture.  The weight of the sugar in the wine is completely balanced by the acid – making this an old-world style Gewurz with a gorgeous nose that actually translates from the nose to the palate.

Lamoreaux Landing ’76 West 2007  – Cocoa and leather on the nose, nice acid, juicy red fruit, soft tannin and a rush of vanilla on the finish.

Lakewood Lemberger 2009 – Smokey on the nose, with classic notes of black pepper, strawberries, and a slight gamey quality that is intriguing. Tingling acidity, warm, spicy with notes of currents. Fuller to mid palate with chewy rather astringent tannin.

Anthony Road Lemberger/Cabernet Franc Blend 2010 – Floral nose complimented by the scent of baked blueberries. Slight sweet vanilla on the palate, candied violets, high acidity, and soft tannin.

Standing Stone Vineyards Chardonnay Ice Wine 2008 – Smells like a caramel apple. Soft, lush, and juicy.

Martini Reinhardt 2008 Trockenbaren – On the nose, the scent of ripe pink ladies, mango, frangipani all mingle together to make an intoxicating perfume that smells a little bit like Hawaii. Cocoa butter and sunscreen. Bright, juicy, rich, and warm.

Sheldrake Point Riesling Ice Wine 2008 – Baked apricots, fresh almonds on the nose brings to mind the smell of a Danish. On the palate, it’s really bright, juicy with flavors of white peaches, and even a hint of peach gummy candies. Sweet without being cloying at all.

Lakewood Vineyards 2010 Glaciovinum – This super affordable desert wine is made with a grape called Delaware that some claim is native to North America and others argue is the result of some sexy time between European and native varieties. Either way, Delaware yields some delicious desert wine – I likened the nose to cherry Jolly Ranchers but fancier reviewers call it “sweet tangerine.” Bright, juicy, and just bursting with sweet exotic flavor, this desert wine is quaffable delight.

Treleaven Eis Wine 2008 Late Harvest Riesling – Peaches, marmalade, and a streak of caramel make up the nose of this luscious iced wine. The late harvest grapes are frozen after they’ve been picked, which excludes it from being a true ice wine, but its no less delectable. Rich and juicy, this dessert wine has stunning acidity and perfect balance.

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       I know what you’re thinking. You’re like, “Jeez, Caroline, can’t you use the one most obvious holiday as an excuse to talk about something other than wine?” And I hear ya, I do. I could totally use St. Patrick’s Day as an excuse to talk about craft beers or local whiskeys made from micro-distilleries just a subway ride away. But then I’d be just like everyone else, wouldn’t I?

            So instead, I’m going to use the holiday as a good reason to talk about the wines of “Green Spain.” “Uugghh. Spain? On St. Patrick’s Day. Really???” Yep. Really. For a couple reasons.

A beauty shot of - nope! Not Ireland! Green Spain! Image used under Creative Commons via talliskeeton (Flickr)

The first is that this region of northern Spain is referred to as Green Spain because the area’s combination of ocean influences and rain contribute to lush growth that is reminiscent of Great Britain, Normandy, and – you guessed it – Ireland! Also, a nifty little fact about the area is that it was settled by the Celts nearly 3,000 years ago – the same band of merry marauders who would settle Great Britain and – wait for it – Ireland! One of the Celt’s most enduring legacies in the area is the survival of the Galician language – often spoken and taught in schools of the region right along side Spanish. So in a way, the wines of Green Spain are the closest the Irish have come to producing world-class wine – a fact that makes it the perfect subject for a St. Patrick’s Day post (curious to see what I wrote about last year? Click away).

In particular, I want to focus on the regions of Rías Baixas (pronounced ree-ass bye-shass), known for its white wines made from the grape Albariño; Valdeorras, an interesting up-and-coming region producing wine from an indigenous grape called Godello; and Bierzo, a region where one of my favorite wines, Mencía, is made.

An Albarino vineyard in Rias Biaxas. Image used under Creative Commons via jacilluch (Flickr)

Rías Baixas, as a wine region, really didn’t come of age until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when winemakers of the region were introduced to modern technologies such as stainless steel tanks. From there, the quality of the region’s white wines absolutely took off and were soon recognized as among the best white wines in Spain. Albariño is a grape that makes a wine with a soft and sometimes creamy texture yet high acidity (making it an ideal companion for sea food) and flavors that can range from zippy citrus, peach and apricot to floral and sweet almond. Some of the best Albariño is also quite affordable – ranging in price from $10-15 a bottle.

Vines planted along the Ribera Sil. Image via Jose Pastor Selections

Valdeorras is further inland than Rías Baixas and Godello is planted in vineyards on the banks of the river Sil.  Godello is an ancient grape with a long storied past in the region, but was only revived and revisited by winemakers in the 1970’s. Godello  can be made in two distinct styles; young and barrel-aged. Young Godellos (Joven) are fermented in stainless steel and taste pure and minerally with lemony acidity and notes of wildflowers. Many winemakers are also experimenting with oak and making Godellos aged in barrels; these wines are more honeyed, with notes of vanilla and the stony quality of the grape coming through on the finish.

Godello grapes just hangin' out, gettin' ripe. Image used under Creative Commons via Asier Sarasua (Flickr)

Bierzo, outfitted with a perfect microclimate for viniculture, is home to the lovely Mencía. Mencía makes a wine that is traditionally lighter in body with a distinctly floral nose, flavors of bright ripe cherries and cranberries, and often a streak of herbs or anise. Just like with Godello, winemakers in the region have become bolder with their use of oak barrels for aging the wine, and its not hard to find a bottle imbued with toasty oak and spice, bigger in body than your average Mencía, but that still captures the grape’s exotic floral notes and lively fruit.

Old gnarly Mencia vines planted on slopes in the Ribeira Sacra, a region, along with Bierzo, that makes some of the best Mencia. Image via Jose Pastor Selections.

So, have I convinced you that the wines of Green Spain are worthy of your attention this St. Patrick’s day? I’ve listed some bottles below that fall below the $25 price point (except for one Mencía) for your perusing pleasure. Cheers!

Albariño:

Martin Codax ($10-15): A great introduction to Albariño, Martin Codax’s examples have gorgeous aromatics, full body, crisp acidity, and notes of pear, passion fruit, and apple on the palate. Clean, bright, and straightforward, you can’t go wrong.

Rosalia de Castro ($11): The Paco & Lola Albariño from this producer offers quite a different take on the grape, but one that is no less delightful. Herbacious and floral rather than fruit-driven, this is a super fresh wine. Full, crisp, and with a persistent finish, this wine would be great with sushi.

Adega Eidos ($22): This producer makes Albariño that is very terroir-driven, usually showing intense minerality that can range from stony to briny. Balanced by bright notes of lemon and flowers, these Albariños are complex and lengthy – great wines to pair with seafood.

Godello:

Bodega Del Abad ($10-16): This is a Godello from Bierzo, rather than Valdeorro (which are, unfortunately, pretty hard to come by stateside). Made in the young style and fermented in stainless steel, this Godello is minerally and spicy with bright notes of grapefruit and green apple. Super fresh but still fairly full-bodied and lengthy, it is a great example of Godello Joven.

A Tapada ($20-$24) From Valdeorro, this Godello is made much more in the new barrique style. Waxy, firm, and full in body, with notes of citrus and flowers, this creamy Godello has a slightly nutty character, too.

Mencía:

Benaza Mencía ($10-15): I’ve written about this super wallet-friendly Mencía before, so its no secret that its one of my faves. Light, earthy, and with a tartness that brings to mind cranberries, it also has wonderful balance and a dry finish that makes it go well with food.

Luna Beberide ($12.99): A more medium-bodied Mencía that spends some time in oak -giving it soft tannins and a touch of smoke and vanilla. This producer’s Mencías have consistently made numerous “bang for your buck” lists, and with good reason. It’s a thinker’s wine that evolves in the glass.

Guimaro ($15): If you love Cru Beaujolais as much as I do (and that ain’t no secret), then this is a great Mencía for your introduction to the grape. Violets, cherries, and some slightly smoky, earthy qualities all make this light-to-medium bodied wine delightful.

Gancedo ($19-25): A thoroughly modern Mencía, made with plenty of exposure to oak, this is a full-force wine. On the nose, notes of blackberry, liquorice, and stones lead into a wine that tastes of dark fruit and chocolate.

Descendientes de J. Palacios Petalos ($23): This is one of the most widely available bottles of Mencía in NYC. I see it all the time, so I know it’s fairly accessible. A floral nose of roses with some pink peppercorns, bright and earthy, plush and silky, this is a pretty decent price, too, for such an elegant expression of the grape.

Raul Perez Ultreia San Sacques ($30): Raul Perez is a groundbreaking winemaker in the region. Not only does he produce complex, intense wines that redefine everything you thought you knew about Mencía, but he also works with a number of other winemakers in the region as a consultant. This bottle is his most accessibly priced and a wonderful introduction to Perez – his wines can cost upwards of $90.

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Guess what I did? I went and made you all a few valentines! Chalk it up to just a bit too much time on my hands, an intermittent Photoshop obsession, or just a love of the holiday of love. I’ve decided to suspend all bitterness and just embrace the sheer rediculousness of the holiday. It’s actually pretty liberating.

Also! I’ve also got a rundown of the wines I’ll be pouring at a little Valentines Day Shindig I’m hosting later:

Sparklers

Domain Carneros by Taittinger Brut 2007

Santoleri Grognaleto Spumante Rose Brut N.V

Whites

Les Grandes Vignes 2009 Cotes Du Rhone

Lafite Barons de Rothschild Collection Bordeaux 2010

Reds

Palmina Barbera Santa Barbara County 2009

Clos Siguier Cahors 2008

Seufert Pinotlicious Willamette Valley 2007

Desert

Les Petits Grains Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois N.V.

Happy Valentines Day! May you drink yourself into oblivion tonight.

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To celebrate Valentines Day this year, I’ve teamed up with Mutineer Magazine’s Blog and written a lovely little piece about my newest love: Sweet Wines. Make sure you head on over and check it out. I’m sorry I’ve been a little MIA these past couple weeks – I’ve been a snot zombie, tourist, and busy little bee but I’ve got some great posts in the works and some exciting collabs to come so stay tuned!

Much love.

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Ah, Valentines Day. I can’t believe it’s almost here already!  That most singularly reviled holiday amongst singletons and couples alike. Singletons get sad that they’re all alone while couples often buckle under the pressure of concocting the perfect day. No wonder it’s a holiday so often associated with that most luxurious quaff, Champagne – perhaps the most pleasant way to a quick buzz (amIright?). Read into it what you want (and surely one too many movies have used the euphimism of the exploding cork for certain, ahem, activities) but Champagne is certainly a wine that exudes romance; famously finicky and hard to make – yet endlessly indulgent and exceedingly delicious when done right. Just like any great relationship, right?

Whether you’re planning on serving Champagne with one of its famously aphrodisiac companions or sipping it with the gals while watching SATC reruns, I’ve rounded up 10 wonderful Champagnes and sparkling wines (because it can only be called Champagne if it’s actually from Champagne. Want to learn more about that? Click here.) available for your purchasing pleasure around NYC right this way on my very favorite fashion site, Refinery 29.

PS: Wanna learn all the nitty gritty that goes into Champagne? Head over to my blog post: “Champagne: So much more than a bubbly wine that’s fun to mispronounce”

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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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