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Archive for the ‘What to Drink When…’ Category

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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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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Summer is over and fall has begun to settle quietly in. As with all of you, I’m gearing up to hunker down and get back to business (too many prepositions?).

Fall is wonderful; the way the light shifts from the harsh bright sunshine of summer to the soft golden hue of autumn, the chill that creeps in slowly and settles with a pleasant crispness and the scent of dried leaves that whisks away the sour odor of New York’s summer streets.

In the beginning, it may get just as warm as a summer afternoon, but suddenly, a glass of Rosé, though rosy as it always was, isn’t quite as charming. The bright, crisp, and refreshing quaffs of summer, no less delicious, just don’t seem to pair as well with the slight coolness lingering on the edge of the breeze.

It’s a confusing time…you’re not quite ready for the big hearty reds of winter but you’re through flirting with summer’s tipples.  For me, fall belongs to the red wines of Piemonte in Northern Italy.

If you’ve ever heard of Barolo or Barbaresco, you’ve heard about the most famous wines of Piemonte, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t know that that’s where they came from.

Barolo and Barbaresco  (made from the Nebbiolo grape) are the only two well known wines out of Italy that are identified by neither their place of origin (like Chianti, for example) nor their grape name (Montepulciano etc.).

Out of this same famed corner of Northern Italy come two less renowned grapes called Dolcetto and Barbera that produce wines by the same name (phew!).

Dolcetto is a grape that literally translates to “little sweet one.” Before you assume that I’m about to sell you on a sweet red wine (and you, like any self-respecting wine drinker, are thinking “Ew! Disgusting! Sweet wine?! Blagh!”) let me assure you that the grape’s name is entirely misleading.

Quite contrary to its name, this grape turns into an absolutely charming wine – dry, juicy, with good fruit and a fair amount of spice.

Dolcetto is the first vine to ripen in Piemonte and is often planted only on the least favorable sites in a vineyard. Many of the region’s most famed winemakers end up planting and producing Dolcetto out of sheer economy – they may have a site that’s unsuitable for Nebbiolo but instead of letting it go to waste, they’ll plant Dolcetto to sell as a simple table wine and offset profits. In the hands of the region’s star producers,  this humble little grape often ends up getting VIP treatment by default. The results have started to gain attention from wine drinkers here in the U.S – popping up in wine shops and on wine lists more and more as people realize the simple pleasures and particular food-friendliness of this little grape.

Barbera is Nebbiolo’s other ugly cousin – regarded with more esteem than poor little Dolcetto but still not as highly as Barbaresco or Barolo. Where Dolcetto is vigorous, Barbera is prodigious – capable of extremely high yields. Barbera also ripens after Dolcetto but still two weeks before Nebbiolo grapes and can thrive on sites still not ideal for Nebbiolo (a very picky grape).

Barbera, however, isn’t as charming straight off the vine as Dolcetto – with high levels of tannin and acidity that must be somehow softened. Until the 1970s this was done through blending with other varietals. Then, French winemakers suggested experimenting with aging the wine in small oak barrels. The oak barrels helped to oxygenate the wine, thus softening it, and also added richness and spice. These Barberas were suddenly structured, soft, and fruity wines that didn’t have to be blended at all! All of a sudden this grape, once only used for blending, became a good wine in its own right and quickly gained appreciation as such.

For fall, there’s nothing better than a glass of Dolcetto or Barbera – so how about a glass of both? Just the other day I was sent a sample of Cascina Degli Ulivi Bellotti Rosso 2010 – a blend of equal parts Dolcetto and Barbera – from my favorite online wine store, Plonk Wine Merchants.


Etty Lewensztain is the girl-crush lady-genius behind Plonk dedicated to bringing delicious, interesting, and affordable wine to anyone with an internet connection. She was just named one of Wine & Spirit Magazine’s 30-under-30 and she is the reason I have tried such weird wines as Plavac (Croatian) and Montsant (Spanish).

Cascina Degli Ulivi Bellotti Rosso 2010 ($18) is from a biodynamic and crazy natural winery in the heart of Piemonte. I swear, I usually don’t pay very much attention to a wine’s color but as I poured this one into my glass the color struck me – it was a gorgeous clear rose-tinted purple.

The nose was all wet leaves and hay and the first sip literally danced on my tongue. Maybe it was bottle shock – and I should have let the wine sit for a day or two longer, but the wine was lightly effervescent! Dark cherries and juicy tannins that sucked more at the tip of my tongue than the back of my mouth rounded out the first taste.

On her website, Etty suggests pairing this particular wine with a Soppressata and Wild Arugula Pizza; Rigatoni with roasted eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and ricotta salata; or Roasted veal chops with gremolata.

I suggest pairing it with these first few days of fall.

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I’m entering into the third week of my recent unemployment. I’m starting to feel like being unemployed is a lot like being on a long sea journey and that I feel like the captain of a doomed vessel. I think that maybe I should be keeping a captain’s log as I navigate the treacherous waters of this horrible economy in my quest for employment.  It would look something like this:

Day 1: This is awesome! It’s 11 am and instead of staring at an excel spreadsheet on a computer screen…I’m in bed. At 11 am. And its WEDNESDAY. I could get used to this…

Day 3: Up early with a cup of coffee and a muffin – feeling great about embarking on my job quest. Sure the economy sucks, the unemployment figures are dismal, and the NYTimes just published its third “Young College Graduates with Degrees from Ivy League Schools are Working as Bar Managers and Paralegals Because There ARE NO JOBS” piece but there ain’t nothing gonna bring me down!

Day 5: I applied to 24 jobs two days ago. Why isn’t anyone responding? Maybe if I check my inbox for the fifteenth time this hour something will – a new email! It’s just Shopbop telling me about a sale that I can’t even think about – I’m unemployed, remember?

Day 7: Will the weekend ever end? I can’t go anywhere because I can’t spend any money because I don’t have a job and I’m not going to get closer to a job until everyone else gets back to work and responds to my applications. I hate the weekend.

Day 10: Three interviews, seven hours, and two badly blistered feet later – I need wine. Lots and lots of wine. Now.

Day 11: The blisters from wearing heels all day yesterday have only worsened. I’m super pumped that my prospective place of employment is so laid back and all but it’s severely unfair that I have to dress up, put on heels, and look professional while you get to interview me in a slouchy tshirt, black leggings, and flip flops. God, how I wish I could be you instead of me – you have a job. And no blisters.

Day 12: No follow up calls. No follow up emails. Nothing. Buy wine instead of dinner.

Day 13: Unemployment seriously ruins the weekend. Just two more days of waiting to hear nothing back from any of the next batch of 25 job applications I sent out or the people I interviewed with. Why didn’t I just lie and say, “Why yes! I am detail oriented! I am incredibly detail oriented!”? I will never be honest ever again. I will give up every shred of integrity oif that’s what it takes. What does that even mean, “detail oriented”? Who cares! I will be it! I will do anything just so I don’t have to spend another afternoon on the couch obsessively checking my inbox.

Yeah, it would look something like that –  with the lucidity and sanity of the first few days quickly giving way to the desperate rants of a madwoman.  

It’s taken every ounce of strength not to open the bottle of wine I brought with me when I moved from California as my “Celebration Wine” – the expensive wine I brought to open when I got my “first real job”.

But unemployment does not call for the good stuff – no, when you’re unemployed, you should be drinking cheap wine; cheap, cheap wine because it’s all you can afford.

Perhaps that’s why I was intrigued by a South African Chenin Blanc in the window of my corner wine shop that came with a measly $9.99 price tag. Chenin Blanc is one of my new favorite varietals. I’d only had Vouvray before, where the grape is manifested in a slightly sweet and fruity quaff that finishes with a rush of minerality – like licking granite. It’s unnervingly pleasant.

This wine, by the producer Kanu, was ripe and tasted of tropical fruits – litchi and melon – more than the ripe pears and apples I’d come to expect from Chenin Blanc. It had a tangy finish that was more like a scoop of passion fruit than a slick of granite and left me a little wanting – even at only $10/bottle.

Nonetheless, it calmed my frazzled nerves and helped me to steele myself against another day of chronic unemployment.

Sidenote: You’d think that with all this free time on my hands I’d be blogging more, right? No. Wrong. Seriously wrong. I’ve been focusing on finding ways to pay the rent and in the course of doing so have come across the opportunity to work with some seriously awesome wine people – and you’ll be hearing all about that in a bit.  I’m looking forward to branching out a bit and bringing you all more winey goodness….stay tuned!

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This is an actual photograph of Hurricane Irene. Scary.

Having grown up in Los Angeles, I’ve lived through my fair share of natural disasters so I’m not one to take them lightly. Hollywood, on the other hand, has had a grand old time fantasizing about its own demise (see: Armageddon, Deep Impact, Battle LA, Volcano, et al.). I have a healthy record of outliving earthquakes, wild fires, and rock/mud slides – so I know first hand just how scary and devastating any kind of natural disaster can be! After this weekend (assuming I’m not tempting fate too wildly by assuming I’ll survive) I can at the very least add a Tropical Storm and, if I’m terribly unlucky, a Hurricane. Yippee.

So while I’m tempted to make a playlist of songs like Stormy Weather, I’m Only Happy When it Rains, End of the World, Fire and Rain (and on and on ad nauseum) while sipping Dark and Stormy’s (rum or vodka mixed with ginger beer) I’ve instead decided to take things seriously and make a Hurricane’s Guide to Wine. Because this is some serious business that deserves a serious drink.*

Magnificent Wine Co’s Steak House Red ($10.99)

The sky will darken, the winds will howl, and the rain will gush forth like blood from a mortal wound! Or something like that. Anyways, on a long and stormy day this wine is a great brooding companion. It’s packed with dark fruit and nice firm tannins (that’s the stuff that sucks at the back of your throat). If the lights go out and you’re forced to create a trashcan bonfire in your living room the only logical thing you’d want to cook over it is a thick juicy steak (amiright?) and this wine would go perfectly with it. Its all so primordial and caveman-ish – being at the mercy of the elements and praying that your internet doesn’t get knocked out because – OMG – your twitter followers depend on you!  Anyways, this is a really good big wine that will keep you company during a really big storm.

Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco ($23.94)

Hurricanes are super windy right? Let’s take up that theme and go for something breezy – something that, if you have a little too much, you’ll be swaying around your apartment like all the trees outside. Look, if its rotten outside, why not let loose and lighten up inside. Grab a glass of bubbly, put on some old-timey music so that when the lights go out and you’re lighting candles, its almost like being in a speakeasy – how hip! Pretend like you’re a drunk and bored debutante exploring the seedy underbelly! You’ll feel so dangerous and sexy you might forget all about that nasty storm raging outside!

2000 Chateau Latour Bordeaux ($1,500)

   Dude, did you hear that New York City might be totally annihilated by a hurricane this    weekend? If that’s not cause to break out the big boys, I don’t know what is. Do you have a more   appropriate occasion to make sure the expensive stuff doesn’t go to waste than to drink it during an   apocalyptic weather phenomenon? I mean, look, I’m not saying that I want to die or that I want   anyone else to die, or that anyone IS going to die! BUT if I was going to die, I’d probably want it to be with some really amazing wine in me.

 *On a more serious note, natural disasters are serious and should be taken seriously. This post is not meant to offend anyone who has ever suffered as a direct result of ANY natural disaster. I’m merely trying to make some lemonade out of a truly lemony situation and this post is intended purely as entertainment.

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