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Archive for the ‘Wine Trends’ Category

On a cold rainy night last week I was introduced to the wines of Toro – incidentally, a very dry and warm winemaking region of Spain. Not only had the day’s rain dissipated into the kind of steady mist that makes you feel silly for hiding under an umbrella yet leaves you annoyingly wet without one – to make matters always worse, I had to navigate Times Square.

Eager for a drink after my damp and frenzied rush through the worst four blocks of Manhattan,  I was none too happy to find myself settled into the corner of a retro-chic red leather booth at The Lambs Club. It was my first time attending a winemaker’s dinner, and this was a much more intimate affair that the one I’d imagined. There were only seven of us seated around the table: the winemaker, Manuel Louzada of Numanthia, the lovely publicist who had arranged the dinner, an executive from Moet Hennessy (the company that owns Numanthia), three other journalists, and little old me.

It’s no wonder that we were introduced to Numanthia by way of its charming winemaker, Louzada. Born and raised in Portugal to a family that had been making wine for generations, Louzada likes to tell people that winemaking is in his blood. His is an interesting career path for a wine maker – he started off making Port, which in Louzada’s own words is all about the sheer power of nature, before moving to Argentina to work in sparkling wines – which, he said, are all about delicacy and detail.

When Moet Hennessy purchased the Numanthia label in 2006, the company invited Louzada to Spain to be the winemaker for their newest property and he fell instantly in love with the small region of Toro. The Estates & Wines division of MH is interesting all on its own; a collection of small wineries that span four continents from Napa to New Zealand. Because all of the wineries in the division are located in “New World” locations (also in Australia and Argentina), I had to ask – why Numanthia? Why Toro, Spain?

The answer was that MH snapped up properties in burgeoning wine regions – places they believed would yield unexpectedly great wines and were on their way to becoming the “next big wine region.” Also interesting, I thought, coming from such a large and globally recognized company, was the focus on smaller-scale production and the attention to detail that Louzada expressed. Several times the words artisinal  and hand crafted popped up when Louzada discussed his wines.

At the time of his move to Toro,  Louzada said he had little idea of the region’s potential or history. In fact, Toro is an ancient wine making region located in the northeast near the Castille-Leon region of Spain, just across the Douro River from the Portuguese border. In an interesting turn of fate, Louzada said that the Portuguese had a habit of looking out towards the sea rather than in towards their own country and that in a way, moving to Toro was bringing Louzada full-circle and back to his roots.

Toro is a region with a fascinating history; it is said that Columbus took Toro wine with him on his journey to America in 1492 because its immense structure and body made it suitable to survive long journeys. Though the vineyards of Numanthia don’t yield vines quite that old, there are 150-200 year old vines still growing in the area. These Toro vines are a rare and direct link to the wines of Europe before the phylloxera plague of the late 19th century destroyed about two thirds of the continent’s vineyards. The region is largely made up of a sandy soil that kept the Phylloxera at bay and protected the vines from the devastating plague.

The only red grape grown and used to make wine in Toro is called Tinta de Toro. The wines of the region are known as massive and powerful red wines and Louzada regailed us with stories of painfully losing his sense of taste for weeks after he had conducted barrel tastings of his first vintage –the tannins of the wine were so powerful. Louzada, with his background in sparkling wines and his penchant for detail set out to create wines that maintained the freshness of the fruit while using the tannins inherent to the grapes to sustain them and give body and structure.

Louzada said time and again throughout the dinner that his goal was to balance the concentration and intensity of the wines with elegance. He was inspired, he said, by the tastes he found in the vineyards themselves and aimed to give an impression of each vintage. The terroir of the region, Louzada said, was so massive and so concentrated that it had to be reigned in.

The first wine we tasted was the yet-to-be-released 2009 Termes. According to Louzada that year was riper, slightly warmer, and made a lighter and fruitier wine that was suitable for drinking now. This was not the first time I’d heard this from winemakers (remember the 2009 Bordeaux that could have been a fruit-bomb California Cab?).  In the glass, the wine was gorgeous and dark, the nose had the slightly sweet smell of toasted oak, liquourice and a whiff of eucalyptus. The wine was paired with a beef carpaccio drizzled with a fruity olive oil that had an amazing conversation with the wine – the olive oil’s musky and melony flavors brought out the fruit in the wine and the wine spoke back with echos of olives and dust.

It was really amazing, and when we all nodded in pleasure, proclaiming that we liked the wine, Louzada gave a shy boy “aw shucks” shrug that couldn’t have been more endearing.

Next up, we drank the 2007 Numanthia, which smelled like wet dirt, earth and cherries. This wine had big tannins and tasted of leather, coffee, and toasted oak. Paired with succulent medallions of veal, the wine’s unctuous flavors spoke to the sweet gaminess of the meat.

Last on our tour of Numanthia was the 2008 Teremanthia with a nose of baked blackberries that made it seem heavy and dark until it arrived on the palate where it was plush with dark fruit but supported by lots of tannin.  That was the wine, Louzada claimed, the stars had aligned to make.

While we drank each of these wines, Louzada emphasized that he was driven by his desire to achieve balance. Louzada wanted his wines to, he said, seduce in the nose and pleasure on the palate – making him a sort of oenophile’s Casanova. By the end of the dinner we’d all fallen in love with Louzada’s wines – rich, complex, powerful and elegant.

After last week’s tasting, I can see why all eyes are on Toro as Spain’s next big region – though I’m wary that just anyone should try to coax a wine with mass appeal from the region’s sandy soils. Indeed, this must be a region that  is as challenging for the vines as it is for the winemaker who tries to tame them. A winemaker looking to conquer the wines of Toro must have just the right blend of pioneer and perfectionist – such as can be found in Numathia’s Louzada.

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            Look, I totally get it. I’m not so jaded and sophisticated that I don’t understand the appeal of going to a wine tasting for the “free booze” but if that’s why you’re thinking of attending a wine tasting you might want to think again.

Wine tastings are a great opportunity to try a lot of different wines – maybe a lot of different wines that you’d never have the chance to try again! And yes, they can also be an occasion for lots of drinking on the cheap…a $15 dollar ticket to what is basically an open bar? I hear ya! You’re like, “where do I sign up?!”

And while I’m all about pushing aside staid conventions and having fun with wine, a wine tasting is no place to get wasted. You’ve got to think about it from the point of view of the people hosting and working the event – sure, they know you’re there because you might leave drunk, but they’re also there hoping to introduce their product and perhaps do some business.

If you don't pace yourself, you could look like this.


            Ok, enough with the semi-lecturing and onto the good stuff….

Do a walk around before you start tasting. Grab your tasting glass from the front and do a quick round of the room. Realistically, you’re not going to get a chance to try everything so make a mental note of the tables that have wines you’re really interested and hit those first – before you get too buzzed to remember any of your tasting notes.

Rinse your glass between tables. You walk into the room and you do your scan and you see a bottle of club soda or soda water on every table and you’re like, “Gee, that’s so nice that they’ve put something out for the people who came here and don’t drink!”. Yeah, no. The seltzer is for rinsing out your glass between tables.

Generally, you should rinse your glass if you’re going from reds to whites (or visa versa) at the same table, or even if you’re switching between totally different varietals from pour to pour (from a Cabernet Sauvignon to a Pinot Noir for example) so the flavors don’t get muddied. It’s up to you how often you rinse your glass – some people do it after every pour and some wait until they’re switching colors or tables. You want to pour in a small amount of the soda water (sometimes its just plain old regular water), swirl it around, and pour it into the spitting bucket. If anyone sees you drinking this water, it will be a dead giveaway that you’re a newbie! Generally they’ll provide ice water or water bottles at a tasting that are for drinking.

The spitting thing. I can’t spit in public. I just can’t – its gross and, inevitably, I either spit with too much force and get splashed by the disgusting bucket juice or I don’t spit hard enough and it dribbles down my chin (embarrassing) or down onto my shirt (more embarrassing). So, what’s a very small girl with an average tolerance and 11 tables to go supposed to do?! I limit myself to a two-sip per pour – and often only end up taking one. Sometimes its enough to get the gist of a wine from one long taste – letting it spend more time than usual swishing around my mouth before swallowing – and sometimes I need a small second taste. Don’t feel compelled to finish every pour. I can’t stress this enough! You will not insult anyone if you simply pour out the remainder of your taste into the bucket. If anything it will show that you know you have to pace yourself and you’ll get some major tasting cred. And if any of the other guests give you a hard time for pouring out the wine they’re probably just embarrassed that they’ve been choking down a lot of wine they didn’t particularly care for. That said, if you do get a pour of something you love it is more than acceptable to not only finish the pour but ask for a second one while you move to the next table.

Keeping track. I’m old fashioned – I like to bring a small notebook and pen with me to write down the names of any wines that I loved. If you have an iPhone or a crackberry it is more than ok to bust it out and type the name of the wines you liked into it. You can also ask the pourers if they have any info to take away with you – most of the time they’ll be armed with press releases or some kind of info.

Be polite. The people pouring the wines are there because it is their job. I shouldn’t even have to say it but, say “please” and “thank you.” Also, try not to make this face if you hate a wine:

Asking questions. Alright, here’s where things get tricky. As you’ve learned here…we Americans are used to seeing our varietals right where we can see ‘em – printed clearly and neatly on the label. Unfortunately, things get complicated when you go abroad – particularly to France, Spain, or Italy. Damn those foreigners!

So, here’s where all those nifty maps I’ve made come in handy (click here and here). Most of the time when you’re being poured a French wine, the wine will go by the name of the area where it is from. Knowing which grapes are grown where can be helpful in knowing what grapes are in your glass. (Bordeaux has a traditional mix of five grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot while anything labeled “Burgundy” is strictly Pinot Noir. Seriously – just look at my old post!).

It is perfectly reasonable to ask the pourer what grapes or varietals (same thing, fancier word) are in the wine but you’ll be showing yourself off  as a newbie and, really, when it comes to French wine, the grapes are not the point – the terroir is the point.

If you’re tasting an Italian wine, things can get tricky since some go by their grape name (Dolcetto, Valpolicella, Nero d’Avola) and some go by their place name (Chianti – which is made from Sangiovese for example). Emphasis is more on grapes and less on terroir for Italian wines, but Italian wines are also much more prone to include obscure hyper-local varietals that you (or I) have never heard of. So you can ask…just prepare your best poker face when you have no idea what the guy’s talking about.

Here are some better questions to ask if you want to know more about the wine you’re drinking:

How many vineyards are the grapes sourced from? (Often if the grapes are sourced from a single vineyard or less than a few, this is a good sign)

What is the area like where the grapes were grown? What kind of soil? (This is a great way to learn more about how geography influences wine as you’re tasting it!)

How many bottles are produced each year? (A smaller amount produced and the more focus the winemaker can give each individual vintage).

What is in here that gives the wine it’s color/nose/backbone/smoky taste? (Is there something unusual or striking about the wine? Asking why it’s there and identifying something that is unique about a wine will impress everyone!)

Where can I buy this wine? (If you love a wine, ask where you can find it!)

So, that’s all I got for navigating a wine tasting. To sum up:

            • If you’re going to get drunk, don’t go.

            • Don’t feel compelled to finish every pour and don’t feel pressured to try something you have no interest in! Just say no thank you and ask to try what you want to try!

            • If you don’t want to spit in public, just commit yourself to a one or two sip maximum and pour out what’s left without feeling badly.

            • Pay attention and take notes if you want to remember something.

            • Ask questions that have answers you actually care about or would understand. There’s no point in asking “what grapes are in this?” if you have no idea what it means that a wine is blended from Roussane and Viognier. On the other hand, ask “what varietals are typically found in wines from this region?” and you’ll sound so much more informed.

            • Enjoy! Talk to strangers and be polite when they like the worst wine you tasted the whole night. Nobody likes a snob. Oh, and I leave you with this picture…which is just…weird: 

           

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So, one of the things I’ve been trying to do lately is actually get out there and spend some more time in the wine world. All of this is, of course, in the name of bringing you more snarky commentary and helpful advice.  One of the ways I’ve been doing this is by trying to attend more wine tastings and let me tell you – boy, it is a jungle out there.

Just this past week I went to two very different tastings (I know, tough life, right?) – the first was Garnet Wines (one of NYC’s most beloved wine shops) First Annual Fall Harvest Wine Tasting on the Upper East Side. Despite what Gossip Girl would have you believe, while there is a small portion of the UES that is inhabited by glamorous rich people, there are also a lot of old people and “young professionals” (bankers, finance guys, lawyers, and the Tory-Burch-clad girls who love them).

Anyways, the tasting was (not surprisingly) mostly populated with respectable looking older     people – the kind of people whose kids I would probably be friends with – and younger guys in yellow sailboat ties. The whole point of the event was to go and try a whole bunch of wines that the store was selling – you could place an order for bottles and cases as you walked around and sipped. It would be fair to say that I, being a female under 30 and the only person in the room wearing skinny jeans and also not in any kind of financial position to buy loads of wine, was the odd man (erm..woman?) out in the room. Nevertheless, I drank some awesome wine and passed a pleasant evening tasting and talking with strangers.

Last night’s wine tasting was a horse of a whole different color. I ventured out to Brooklyn for Second Glass’s Wine Riot. I’ve been talking the event up on this site because, in full disclosure, I’ve known the company’s founder and CEO, Morgan First, since high school and I think the concept behind their company is pretty awesome. This time around the crowd was way younger – mostly people in their 20’s and 30’s, there was music being pumped into the room, plastic stemless wine glasses instead of the usual suspects, and an air of giddy excitement.

These two very different wine tasting experiences placed side-by-side offer an interesting view of how the wine world is changing. The Garnet Wine tasting was far more traditional and so was the audience – the younger people at this tasting were the kind that were suddenly coming into respectability and felt compelled to grow up and learn about wine because that’s what you do!

At another party (this time I freeloaded off of some friends – cheers!) earlier in the week, I talked to a (straight!) Marc Jacobs lookalike about how he’d gotten into whisky as he’d approached 30 exactly because it was something he thought he should know about. When I asked about wine he said that it was something that he thought he’d come around to when he was approaching 40. 40!

The young people at Wine Riot were there because it was an event for them as much as it was about the wine – they were happy to be wandering around sipping wine all night instead of taking shots because the atmosphere was just as amenable to sipping a Jack and Coke as a Barbaresco from Piedmont.

Wine Riot was much more about bringing wine into a space and attitude that young people are familiar with than bringing young people into the “wine world” and the result was total success!

So my take away is this:

1. I’m gonna work on a post about how to attend a wine tasting without looking like an idiot 

2. There is no reason why young people shouldn’t be drinking more wine but the reason they’re not is because it’s still put up on this ridiculous shelf that a lot of people think you’re not supposed to reach until you’re 40 (40?!!).

3. I will continue to work tirelessly to correct the wrongs inherent in #2.

Lastly, what’s the point of going to these wine tastings if I can’t share with you some delicious new finds, right? Below is a list of my favorite wines from both of the tastings – cheers!

Chateau de Paraza Minervois 2009, $9.99: This wine from the Garnet tasting just about ran away with my heart. It is a simple bistro wine – a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre from the Languedoc region that was delightfully savory. It actually kind of tasted like stew and, more specifically, the carrots that you slice through like butter –  so rich.

Segura Viudas Brut Cava, $10: For $10, this is an amazing wine. It’d be no less delicious at $50/bottle.  With the teensiest amount of sugar (7g in a 750 ml bottle – that’s like…nothing!), this is a rich and full-flavored sparkler with an elegant bubble, notes of ripe apples, pears, and almonds.

St. Francis Winery Red Splash 2008, $15: I’ll be honest, this was one of the last wines I tasted at Wine Riot so I don’t remember a ton about it except going back for seconds because it was really yummy. What I can recall is a juicy, rich red wine that drank easily and satisfied.

Au bon Climat Chardonnay, $16: I was really skeptic about this one – I’ve really tried to like Chardonnay, guys, really, I have. But, at the end of the day, I have to admit that it’s just not my favorite. This wine blew my mind – it had just the right amount of slightly toasty oak – lending it a smokey richness that gave way to notes of hazelnuts and pears.

Austin Hope Trouble Maker (Paso Robles, CA), $20: A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Petit Sirah, and Mourvedre, this wine is so-named because, according to the guy pouring it, “It’s lots of trouble to make!” Indeed, the wine is made from grapes from three different vintages (2008, 2009, and 2010).  Besides being weird, it was also really delicious.

David Bruce Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir , $25: I think I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am not the biggest Pinot Noir fan – usually its just too light. But, the PN’s I do love are usually from Sonoma Coast or Santa Barbara and this one is no exception. David Bruce also makes a really good Petit Sirah worth checking out.

2009 Hauner Hiera Salina, $18: This was my absolute, hands-down, favorite from the Garnet Wines Tasting. My tasting notes read: “Wet earth, raspberries OMG”. The nose is where the wet earth comes in and it tastes very rustic until about mid-palette when it explodes into flavors of ripe raspberries. To die for.

Arlaux Pere & Fils Champagne Brut 2009, $36.99: A tiny producer in Champagne that, after one sip, will have you saying, “Veuve wha -?”. With a beautiful floral nose, the first taste is a really lovely “grapey” taste that tapers off into delicate notes of sweet almonds.

2009 Domaine Michel Bouzereau Beaune 1er Cru Les Vignes Franches, $70: Ok, this one is a stretch. BUT! It’s from Burgundy! And it had the most amazing perfume – seriously, like sticking your nose into a bouquet of roses and violets. And the wine was slightly effervescent on my tongue and had really nice savory quality to it that gave it substance.

 

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1. First off, I’d like to congratulate the NYT for finally realizing that good wine is now coming in boxes. Hey, it only took you a year to get it together and if you used my blog post for inspiration (funny cuz Eric Asamov notes some familiar examples of good boxed wine) that is a-ok. Also, NYT – get it together on the trending pieces – dresses in summer? the Brooklyn flea? What’s next….the revelation of short pants?

2. If you found yourself here because you googled “woman with legs open” you are either 13 or you really think you are going to find porn in google images – probably both (that is one of the top google searches that will land you right here on this lovely little blog). Trust me, all you’re going to find through google are sterile and totally unsexy medical images. Try googling “free porn” instead.

3. Happy Wednesday, all…you’re halfway to the weekend (woot woot)! Go celebrate with a bottle of wine or what not.

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        Seven months ago, when I set out to create this blog, one of my goals was to write about wine in a way that spoke to people my own age. So many of my friends or acquaintences were self-professed “foodies”. They watched Top Chef religiously, they went to the newest restaurants and ate food that was seasonal and reveled in identifying esoteric ingredients and obscure cooking techniques. They drank craft beer and frequented bars helmed not by bartenders but mixologists and paid $14 dollars for artisanal cocktails. They were the first brave and eager patrons of the food trucks that spawned an army of restaurants-on-wheels doling out gourmet-fusion fare.


With this proclivity for the obscure and complicated, how hard would it be, I thought, to make the leap from molecular gastronomy and the like to wine? The answer, seven months later, is that wine is still a no-mans-land for most of the people described above. In the last few weeks I’ve been asked more than a few times why, exactly, it was, I thought, that young people still hadn’t “discovered” wine in the same way that they’d “discovered” food? In short, the question they were asking was, “Why am I the only 20-something they know who is a wine geek?”

Well, I have some theories.

Wine is at odds with the cultural phenomenon of hipsterism

As someone recently mentioned to me, if you’re in your 20’s its almost impossible to defend or define yourself as “not a hipster” to anyone in our parents’ age group. The term is so loose and so vague precisely because there is such a vast array of “types” of hipsters within the broader category. However, no matter if you’re of the vegan-hippie variety or the salvage-obsessed (of obscure cultural moments or otherwise), there is something about hipsterism that promotes an attitude of prolonged adolescence and eschews anything that might be too serious.

Previous generations were anxious to grow up, get out of their parents’ houses, get jobs, and find success. We are generally a group that is too busy reveling in the anxiety of “feeling lost” and indulging our desire to “find ourselves”. Our parents, not wanting us to end up as “unhappy” as they are, have allowed us and often encouraged us to pursue this alternative course in the hopes that we may end up “happier” if we can avoid becoming grown-ups as quickly as they did.

Wine, despite all efforts by winemakers and marketers, hasn’t been able to shed its association with the realm of the grown-up. Fine dining transcended the boundary between these two worlds by humbling itself in the form of upscale comfort food and by employing “artisanal” products that were made by the “little guys” who shunned the conventional model and were, thus, embraced by hipsterist culture.

Wine doesn’t get you drunk fast enough

            Alright, maybe you’re not a hipster. No matter, if you’re around my age, no matter what you consider yourself, if you went to college, you probably did a lot of drinking. I mean a lot. Like, scary a lot. Most of the people I know who are my age and even older, have carried their college-drinking habbits into adulthood with them. True, most of them aren’t getting blackout every night, but there’s a good chance that when they are going out, they’re heading out with the intention of having a debaucherous night of wreckless abandon. Often, the goal is blackout and if it doesn’t happen, it wasn’t a good night.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no teetotaler. When the mood strikes I’m usually the first one to suggest tequila shots – the bad kind, too, thrown back with a lick of salt and a desperate suck of lime. But most of the time I’d rather have a few drinks with friends and be a functioning human the next morning rather than spend an entire day in bed with a headache, stomachache, and only a faint will to live.

However, even those who have graduated from the habbit of destroying themselves every weekend, are not drinking wine. No, they’re drinking those fancy cocktails I mentioned earlier. Sure, they are expensive, but they’re truly delicious and they can still get you drunk relatively quickly. They have alcohol in them that they’re familiar with – these kids don’t have a clue what Barbera or Gewurtztraminer is, but they know the difference between Rye and Bourbon.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that wine just doesn’t have the allure of being a get-drunk-quick-fix. Wine is for dinner parties and long conversation – its for sipping not gulping. Until the culture that surrounds drinking changes, wine won’t ever have the same allure as even the most hoity-toity of cocktails or spirits.

Nobody believes that cheap wine can be good wine

Wine is still largely viewed as something that’s too expensive. Forget trying to explain that one bottle of wine at even, say, $30 a bottle (at four large-ish glasses to a bottle) is still cheaper or about the same price as buying four gin-and-tonics at your average NYC bar.

And as far as cheap wine goes – you’re talking about an age group that came of age at the same time as Two-Buck-Chuck. In other words, standards aren’t very high and it’s hard to convince someone that you can actually get decent wine at $10 or $11/bottle if you do just a little bit of homework.

Along that same line of thought, because the only wine that they have tasted is the super-cheap variety, a lot of people around my age have just resigned themselves to the idea that they don’t really like wine very much anyways.

The local movement didn’t help, either

If you’re not in California, Washington, or Oregon, its going to be pretty hard to find a great bottle of wine that can be considered “local”. Pretty much anywhere else, however, and New York included, you can probably find locally-made spirits or beer. In New York, at least, it’s much cooler to buy a bottle of small-batch gin that was distilled in Brooklyn by a small operation than to buy a bottle of wine made by a tiny biodynamic winery somewhere in the Languedoc.

So that’s it, folks. That’s all I got. If you have got a better idea, I’d love to hear it.  Next up might be the story of how, exactly, I “got into wine” – another question that has been popping up with more and more frequency. I also have some great posts coming up – including one all about cooking with/and wine. So stay tuned! 

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The other night I attended a lovely event hosted by Sonoma Cutrer. The evening started with a discussion, moderated by one of my idols, Barbara Fairchild. The panel included Chef Michael Lamonoco, who owns Porter House New York, where yours truly worked as a hostess for about 4 months when I first moved and when I still thought that I was the exception to the “magazines aren’t hiring” rule.

Also on the panel was famed Chef Charlie Palmer, cookbook author and writer Dede Wilson, longtime food journalist and critic Ray Sokolov, and Mick Shroeter, winemaker for Sonoma Cutrer.

The prospect of being in the same room with, let alone possibly meeting Barbara Fairchild had me shaking in my boots just enough to zap my appetite for the day. The wine served was a California Chardonnay that was zippy and fruity rather than oaky and buttery. The discussion was centered on the idea of American food trends, so naturally, Barbara asked about the biggest trends of the last 30 years had been.

No matter how many different ways they tried to say it, the answer from everyone on the panel was the same: fresh seasonal and local ingredients. There were jokes about how frozen Dover sole was once an innovation, and about how restaurant patrons back in the day didn’t know the difference between a freshly caught diver scallop and one chiseled out of a frozen bag. The biggest shift, agreed on by all present, was that fresh and quality ingredients had become available, in demand, and had changed the way that everyone was cooking.

The follow up question was, of course, to name three chefs who made a difference in food trends of the last 30 years. Chef Lamonoco went first and mentioned Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Palmer, and the French chef  (my French is nonexistent…) who brought contemporary French haute cuisine to NYC. All of these, I thought, were noble choices and all of the parties mentioned certainly did make a significant contribution to modern American food.

However, after all of the other members of the panel went on and discussed their choices, the feminist in me couldn’t resist screaming inside my head:

YOU ALL JUST SPENT 15 MINUTES TALKING ABOUT LOCAL SEASONAL AND QUALITY INGREDIENTS AS A HUGE CULINARY TREND AND NO ONE MENTIONED ALICE WATERS?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

(By the way, she had spent that morning with Michelle Obama – you know, the president’s wife? No big deal.)

While the feminist in me can be hot headed,  she also has a point.

To be honest, it should not have been surprising. At the end of the day, though women have made huge contributions to the culinary industry, its still a world predominantly run by men. That’s not to say that women have not been successful – especially outside of New York.

When I think about Los Angeles, where I grew up, and the culinary scene out there, I think about women who have built veritable culinary empires like Nancy Silverton, Susan Fenniger, Suzanne Goin, Zoe Nathan,  and Candace Nelson.  Even the food critic for the LA Times is a woman (though S. Irene Virbilla is hard-up for fans these days) – hell, Ruth Reichl got her start as the LAT critic and Barbara Fairchild ran Bon Appetit from the west coast!

In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I’ve rounded up some  California wine makers that make great wine and happen to have breasts, too.

Heidi Peterson Barrett: Winemaker at Screaming Eagle & La Sirena Winery (her own label) via CalWineries.com:

“In 1992, Barrett went to work for Screaming Eagle. Screaming Eagle is one of those wines that everyone has heard of, but not many have tasted. It is an emblematic California wine, perhaps the California wine of the last few decades. And once again, it was Barrett’s exquisite blend of art and science that made this wine a reality.

Her first vintage, the 1992, also received a 100 point score from Parker. (Two in one year!) At the 2000 Napa Valley Wine Auction, a 6 liter bottle of this wine was purchased for $500,000; the most expensive single bottle of wine ever sold.”

Sally Johnson:  Winemaker at Pride Mountain Vineyards. Pride Mountain Winery is located on Spring Mountain, one of my favorite areas of Napa. I’m not alone, here, and Johnson managed to make one of Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines of 2010.

Laura Zahtila is the owner of Laura Zahtila Vineyards in Napa Valley. Laura is the owner and winemaker and they make teensy tiny amounts of amazing wine.

Anne Vawter: Winemaker at Oakville Ranch Vineyards. Vawter worked under Heidi Peterson Barret at Paradigm, one of the most prestigious winemakers in Oakville before moving on. Oakville Ranch Vineyards was the first in the area and has always been known for being the best so Vawter’s position is an important one.

Helen Turley: Winemaker at Martinelli, Marcassin, and Turley Wine Cellars.

Via thelifestyleloft.com:

“A name that has become synonymous with truly great California wines is Helen Turley, one of the most sought-after winemakers in the world. […] Now Turley’s efforts are so revered that she recently graced the cover of Wine Spectator beside the suggested title “America’s Greatest Winemaker?” 

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Ladies and gentleman, I have been on a roll this week. I suspect that my brush with zombie-ism that was last week and my reintroduction to the wonders of caffeine are at least partially responsible but this week, I just feel great.

I have done such things as craft two haikus (go ahead, you try it before you roll your eyes at me), come up with an entire wine related rhyme, and made a gigantic leap in the direction of saving myself a giant mound of money by learning to make Chinese food at home. BAM.

So how did I feel when my dear cousin brought up the topic of wine spritzers? Did I slump into my chair and groan? Did I laugh? Did I cower? No, dear readers, I said bring it.

Spritzers are generally something I relegate to the realm of white zinfandel and commercials for Arbor Mist. However, I have a feeling that wine-centric cocktails are boomeranging back from 90’s obsolescence and I’m always happy to be ahead of the game.

Spritzer’s are generally nothing more than white wine and seltzer with, perhaps, a stray strawberry or raspberry thrown in for decoration. However, after a wee bit o googling, there’s also a healthy contingent of spritzer spikers out there who recommend a splash of peach schnapps or other such fruity liquors. To that end, this whole spritzer thing is starting to sound like a vaguely good idea.

So, what wine would I use? I would say that, since you’re going to be mixing it with seltzer you want to use a white wine that is already pretty light but that has plenty of fruit in it. Also, since you’re going to be watering it down, I would think that you wouldn’t want to spend more than $10. Give these a whirl:

• Torrontes: A distinct nose of peaches and apricots that would get a nice bump from a splash of Schnapps. The high acid, full body, and crisp finish are perfect for a spritzer.

•Albariño: A super super light and snappy white wine that usually has notes of watermelon and roses. Throwing in some Saint Germain Liqour along with your seltzer of choice couldn’t hurt.

Vinho Verde: Bargain-basement prices and a unique fresh lime zest quality makes this ideal for a spritzer, especially if you wanted to throw in a dash of vodka or perhaps even some clear tequila or a splash of chartreuse?

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