Biodynamic Old Carignan Vines at Chateau Maris

Natural, Organic, Biodynamic – oh my! Sometimes trying to navigate the shelves of a wine store sure can make you feel like Dorothy in the woods. And I’m not gonna lie – I’ve definitely met my share of curmudgeonly wine shop owners who could stand their own in a witch-off with that famous green-hued cackler.

Understanding the difference between these three environmentally friendly labels isn’t even really enough – there’s a huge debate among people in the wine industry about whether or not these labels make any sort of a difference to the wine itself.

But we’ll get to that. First, let’s tackle each of these terms to understand what, exactly, they mean:

            Organic: A wine that is labeled “organic” means it is produced only using chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other treatments that fall within the parameters of that country’s “organic” guidelines. Different countries have different standards and allow for different practices – but most require a wine producer to meet the standards set out by that government and to pay for a license that allows them to call their wine “organic.” Organic wines can be misleading when consumers assume that “organic” means “without chemicals.” In the USA, organic actually allows for a wide variety of chemical sprays and powders, however, products, if used, must be derived from natural sources and not synthetically manufactured. Organic also becomes a problem when winemakers are using environmentally sound practices that don’t fall within the government’s guidelines – in fact, often they are more “organic” but because they’re not following the rules, they don’t get the label. There are also many small producers that practice organic farming but don’t want to or can’t afford to pay for the license and have to forego it.

Biodynamic: Biodynamic wines are made using the principles of Biodynamic Agriculture, which emphasizes the relationships between all living things in a vineyard and visualizes it as a self-sustaining system. Biodynamic farming has much in common with organic farming in that it excludes the use of artificial and synthetic chemicals and follows guidelines set by a local certification agency. However, biodynamics takes its practices further, with its emphasis on sustainability, and also reliance upon various fermented herbal and mineral preparations, often buried in cow horns, the use of animals instead of machines for labor, and the use of an astronomical (and often lunar) sowing and planting calendar. Many detractors of Biodynamics have focused on the more wacky practices – such as burying cow horns, crystals, and planting based on a celestial calendar.

Natural: So here’s where things get tricky. There is no governing body or association that has set guidelines and presented a series of practices a winemaker must use for his wine to be labeled Natural.  If a wine calls itself natural, that could mean that the wine was made without any intervention – no yeast inoculations, no sulfites added, no fertlizers or chemicals in the vineyard that weren’t heaven sent – nada, zip, zilch. The problem with this approach, however well-intentioned, is that quite often, these wines are highly volatile. They end up refermenting in the bottle (because something wiggled in and started to grow) or they’re horribly oxidized (exposed to oxygen). One of the biggest selling points for many natural wines is that it’s made without sulfides – compounds that have become the scapegoat for every wine drinker who ever got a headache after a glass of wine. Yes, there are winemakers – usually large or industrial-scale – who pour sulfides into their wine like there’s no tomorrow. And that can be a problem. However, sulfides are naturally occurring in wine and have been used in wine production for centuries. So, really, sulfides are not the enemy. Many of the most successful natural winemakers are the ones who understand that wine needs guidance – it needs sulfides, it needs fermentation to be controlled, and the whole process needs to be very clean. Which brings us back to the question of what Natural means exactly? Let’s come back to that in a bit.

What the wine world has to say

            Over the past few weeks I have spent a fair amount of time talking to various peeps in the biz about the whole Natural Wine Movement and also tasting my way through a pretty sizeable sample of natural wines.

One of the people I spent some time with is Jenny Lefcourt, one half of Jenny & Francois Selections, a company that imports and distributes

Jenny Lefcourt, of Jenny & Francois Selections

natural wines. Lefcourt discovered natural wines while living in Paris, where she says she drank a lot of wine and found herself drawn to wines made from small producers using natural winemaking techniques.

“There was a freshness to these wines,” said Lefcourt. “They were alive and complex.”

After many visits to Paris wine bars and vineyards throughout France, all paths led to wine instead of academia and Lefcourt started Jenny & Francois Selections in 1999 with her partner, Francois Ecot.

For Lefcourt, natural wine is made with the least possible use of chemicals, additives and overly technological procedures.

“We present the wines of small vineyards […] winemakers who work like artisans, crafting a different wine each year,” said Lefcourt. “Natural wines are low-tech or no-tech meaning no laboratory yeasts, enzymes, sugar, artificial concentrators, acidification, or sulfites are added during fermentation, and the wines are aged and bottled without stabilizers, or excessive filtering or sulfites.”

One of the biggest challenges to Natural Wine is the perception among some in the industry that the whole movement is a gimmick solely intended to sell more wine. Lefcourt attributes the demonization of the Natural Wine Movement largely to industrial wine producers who don’t want consumers to know just how many chemicals are in their wine.

Jacque Herviou of Natural Selection Wines, whose company focuses on importing and distributing biodynamic wines, agreed with Lefcourt that much of the most vocal opposition to natural wines is coming from industrial producers.

“Natural wine is against industrial plonk that is sold to us as a natural product because they’re anything but,” said Herviou. “They’re made with crazy enzymes, genetically modified yeast and ]…] and also more importantly, pesticides, insectisides, herbicides. There are all sorts of chemicals around it that get into our food and wine.”

Herviou understand the industry’s reluctance to embrace the natural movement in the wake of what he calls the “greenwashing” of the industry.

“If you go to any website for large corporations you’ll see talk of sustainable, organic,” said Herviou. “But it’s a reaction against us and it takes us back to question of what is natural wine? It’s exhausting because it’s the wrong question, the wrong conversation.”

However, the backlash is not restricted to large industrial winemakers. Many smaller winemakers object to the movement, as well. For many of these winemakers it is the implication that their wine is “unnatural” when many of them follow sustainable and responsible practices yet don’t ascribe to the movement’s stringent yet vague guidelines.

“Natural wine is a loaded word in the world of wine,” said Will Ouweleen, the owner and winemaker at Eagle Crest Vineyards in the Finger Lakes. “For me, natural means the least manipulated possible […] its sort of a philosophy of wine as a natural thing so we try to guide the wine like judo masters.”

Ouweleen went on to say, however, that there are few, if any, organic grape growers in the Finger Lakes because the region’s climate puts the vineyards at high risk for mildews and fungi. That doesn’t mean, however, that the growers and winemakers in the area are not sensitive to the issue.

“Most people are like, ‘We live here! If anyone is going to get sprayed on its us!’ So it’s not about being high and mighty about organic but spraying costs money and I’d rather not have that stuff near my family,” explained Ouweleen.

There is also a sense among many winemakers that the movement seeks to bully consumers into buying their wine by playing into the recent rise of the ecological conscience in the marketplace.

“It’s this totally bogus movement today that is using the word ‘natural’ to connote some kind of ephemeral quality that doesn’t exist in the wines,” said winemaker Jeff Morgan, of Covenant Wines in Napa. “If you can grow grapes organic and make your wine really naturally that’s something to strive for but it’s certainly not a consumer’s concern and I think it’s a mistake to buy those wines because of those labels.”

Lefcourt insists, however, that it’s not a marketing ploy, but rather a genuine interest in discovering and sharing wines that she believes in. Lefcourt does acknowledge that there are certain factors in the marketplace that have helped increase awareness of natural wines.

“There are more women, and more younger people interested in wine,” said Lefcourt. “And these are consumers who are more aware of what they are putting in their bodies. Also, there’s an increasing awareness of wine as part of the meal – as going with food, and there’s a freshness to natural wines that lends them to that particularly well.”

Herviou also acknowledged the idea of “freshness” in natural wine, saying that there is a purity to the wines that can be tasted.

The work horses in the vineyards at Chateau Maris, biodynamic winery

As for Herviou, when it comes to natural wine, he has put his money where his mouth is. He is a partner in a Biodynamic winery in Minervois, France called Chateau Maris.  The winery itself is made entirely of organic hemp, a biodegradable material that provides enough insulation to the winery that it requires no heating or cooling.

“The hemp is mixed with lime and together they actually absorb and store carbon,” said Herviou. “So since we bought solar panels, the winery is not just carbon neutral, its carbon negative. Biodynamic is really about the farm as a self-sustaining entity and that is what we try to do.”

Chateau Maris also employs two large workhorses who work in the vineyards, and they use bottles that are made from recycled glass and weigh 1/3 of the weight of a standard wine bottle. The label, too, is made from recycled paper and printed with natural ink.

So, what’s the verdict? Personally, I think that many of the people working within the natural wine movement are doing something they truly believe in. I think Jenny Lefcourt and Jacque Herviou are two such people – they practice what they preach and they’re true believers in making wine that is not just environmentally friendly but also representative of a dying breed of artisanal winemakers who focus on simplicity and purity. I think that there’s good reason to be skeptical, especially with the increasing “green washing” of the industry, but I think that, in general, the natural wine movement is well-intentioned and based on principles that I, for one, can support.

Does that mean I’m only going to buy natural or biodynamic wines? Not in the least. Do I think these wines are better than other wines out there? Not always – they range from terrible to brilliant just like any other kind of wine. Typically, these wines do come from the kinds of winemakers and producers that I like to support anyways – those who have smaller production and approach winemaking as an art, not just a business. They are the winemakers who feel a sense of responsibility to the land, to the terroir, from which their wines are produced and are representative of. For me, the most beautiful wines are expressive of the place they are from – they are the distillation of a unique moment that makes them different from every other wine.

Interested in tasting some delicious Natural Wine? Good, because I’ve made you a nice little list:


Didier Montchovet Bourgogne Aligote 2009 ($8.00): A fairly obscure grape used almost exclusively in Burgundy and really the only white grape you might encounter besides Chardonnay in the region. You’d be hard pressed to ID this grape in a blind taste as something other than a classic Bugundian Chard with its smoky nutty nose, rich juicy flavors and light body.

Domaine Binner Saveurs 2010 ($10.00): Sweet ripe summer peaches and honey on the nose and a lovely slightly smoky quality on the palate.

Chateau Haut La Vigne Cotes de Duras 2010 ($12.99): Burnt rubber on the nose is complemented by notes of brown butter. That buttery nose follows through to the palate with toasty notes and a hint of lemony citrus and bright brisk acidity.

Claude Courtois Quartz 2008 ($16.99): This is a totally atypical Sauvignon Blanc. Bright and bubbly on the nose, with notes of citris leaping out of the glass, its an absolutely delightful little wine.

Didier Montchovet Hautes Cotes de Beaune 2012 ($17.00):  This wine smells like apple cider! It’s got the sparkling acidity to match, with a slightly dusty texture that is intriguing and delicious.

Domaine Oudin 2007 Les Serres Chablis ($22.00): At first sniff, this is a stinky wine. After a few swirs, the nose opens up into a rich, appley perfume that’s boosted by a savory yeasty quality. Super gulpable!

Clos des camuzeilles Muscad de Rivesaltes 2010 ($22.99): A beautiful wine with an aromatic nose of white peacehes and warm, tropical fruits.  

Domaine Audrey et Christian Binner 2004 Schlossberg Grand Cru ($23.00): On the nose, this Riesling has classic unctuous notes of petrol lingering with the scent of tangerine. It’s savory, bright, toasty and actually made me write “wow!” on my tasting notes.

2010 Plageoles Domaine des Tres Cantous Ondenc ($25.00): This is a wine made from a rather obscure old white variety that was, once upon a time, prominent as a white grape in Bordeaux. The nose is pure honey followed by a rush of ripe pear on the palate that yields a surprisingly dry white wine.

Hardesty 2010 Reisling ($26.00): A really savory and enticing bready and yeasty nose followed by a rush of grapefruit notes and lively acidity.

Chateau Maris Grenache Gris 2010 “Brama” ($50): Apparently those natural wine makers have a thing for obscure   and practically extinct grapes – because Grenache Gris is another one! This wine had the most amazing nose of smoky roasted almonds and burnt popcorn, followed by a wine that is has big sweet juicy fruit, soft body, and racy acidity. A really interesting and rare wine that’s definitely worth the price tag.

Rosés & Sparklers

Deep Creek Cellars 2010 Glade Run Rosé ($14.00): The first note on this wine? “Delicious.” Juicy and bright with notes of ripe pear and melon, this surprising wine comes from Maryland of all places(!) and is utterly delightful.

De la Patience Costieres de Nimes 2011 Rosé ($16.00): An explosive floral nose and inviting notes of ripe fruit make this a wine that is entirely sippable.

Colombaia Vino Rosato Frizzante 2010 ($29.99): This lovely sparkler comes with a trendy crown top and smells like walking into a patisserie. The scent of ripe strawberries and freshly baked bread mingle on the nose with notes of cherry liquorice.

Jacques Lassaigne Le Cotet Champaign N.V. ($70.00): A delicious savory biscuity nose that yields a nice, bright, and juicy champagne. Simply gorgeous.


Clos Seguir 2008 Cahors ($12.99): Ripe red fruit an savory notes of oak on the nose are followed by a plump, juicy, and delicious wine that is surprisingly more dry than fruity.

Deux Anes Premiers Pas 2009 Corbieres ($13.99): A great everyday wine that combines funky Carignan, fruity Syrah, and spicy Grenache.

Tire pe Diem 20111 Bordeaux ($13.99): The gorgeous floral nose on this wine just jumps out of the glass, mixed with the scent of ripe plums. It’s pleasantly dry and has savory notes of toasty popcorn on the palate.

Chateau Maris 2009 “La Touge” Syrah ($14.45: This biodynamic wine is made without any filtering or fining. Despite this, the nose is rather shy with a whiff of black raspberries. It’s clean, bright, fruity and has nice lively acidity and some tannin to hold the whole thing up and accents the slightly herbal notes in the wine, as well. 

2010 Sablonettes Les Copines Aussi Gamay ($18.99): The nose on this wine is a little bit funky and definitely has some barnyard notes. On the palate, this wine is light, juicy and very pleasant.

Tire pe 2009 Les Malbecs Bordeaux ($29.99): Smoke and savory notes dominate the nose, along with the tell tale odor of barnyard funk. It’s a soft, nice, and plush wine on the palate.

2009 Plageoles Prunelart ($31.99): A nose of baked plums, dried herbs, and a cool rush of juniper on the end. Bold tannins and a full body lends this wine to accompanying a big meal.

2010 Herve Souhaut Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet Sainte Epine ($40.99): A green spice on the nose that comes off more floral than leafy. On the palate, its light and lovely.

Catherine et Dominique Derain Gevrey-Champbertin En Vosne 2009 ($89.00): Earthy and smoky on the nose with a tinge of cherry liqourice.  Ripe red fruit bursts on the palate and paves the way for a velvety smooth wine.





That’s right, I’ve done another lovely little collaborative blog post with Mutineer Magazine!

Check it out right this way!

Image used couresy of Creative Commons Dave_B_

Happy Valentines Day!!!

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:


Domain Carneros by Taittinger Brut 2007

Santoleri Grognaleto Spumante Rose Brut N.V


Les Grandes Vignes 2009 Cotes Du Rhone

Lafite Barons de Rothschild Collection Bordeaux 2010


Palmina Barbera Santa Barbara County 2009

Clos Siguier Cahors 2008

Seufert Pinotlicious Willamette Valley 2007


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

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

Just a few days ago, I had the chance to chat with kosher wine-maker, Jeff Morgan, who is behind Napa’s Covenant Wines which Robert Parker has called the “best kosher wine in America.” Read on for my super interesting Q&A with Morgan!

Jeff Morgan, winemaker and owner of Covenant Wines in Napa

ForgetBugundy: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into wine?

Jeff Morgan: When I was 19, I dropped out of college and went to study music at the French National Conservatory. […] I eventually became a saxophone player, singer, dancer, and a band leader at the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo […] circa 1987. The shittier the music was the more they liked it and we were going nowhere fast. So one night I said to myself, ‘Gosh, there must be something better than this – something I like more than music because I could see myself growing old on this stage’ and it just came to me in a flash. ‘Wine! I love wine! I love wine as much as music!’

FB: Were you always interested in making wine?

JM:  Well, I decided to move back to the states, and to New York, where I’m from, and I started knocking on doors out on the east end of Long Island to work as a cellar rat because no one in France would hire an American sax player who knew nothing about making wine! In America you can actually get by on Chutzpah – at least at first. I got a job at a little winery that wasn’t built yet – it was just a vineyard and I worked in the vineyard for about a year and then they built the winery and I worked in the winery for another year or so and learned how to make wine from the ground up.

FB: You ended up writing about wine a fair amount, too. In fact, weren’t you the Wine Spectator West Coast Editor? How’d you go from the east end of Long Island to California?

JM: Yeah. I started writing about wine and somehow I worked myself into the New York Times as a stringer and then somehow I got into the Wine Spectator as a freelancer and they liked what I did and hired me to be the West Coast Editor and moved me to California in 1995.  I stayed with them for another five years and quit in 2000 because I wanted to make wine again so I started a little winery that only made rose wine called SoloRosa. It was a brilliant idea and also a terrible idea at the same time.

FB: So how’d you go from making only rosé to making kosher wine?

JM: I started Covenant (Morgan’s kosher wine label) in 2003 on a dare from Leslie Rudd. […] Leslie is a nice Jewish boy from Wichita and I’m a nice Jewish boy from New York. Neither of us was particularly observant but I’d had some good kosher wines over the years and I said, ‘We can do it! We just need some great grapes from your fabulous vineyards!’ and he told me to think again because he was afraid I’d screw it up so I started with grapes from another exceptional vineyard called Larkmead vineyard.

Two Nice Jewish Boys: Rudd (on the left) with Morgan in the Covenant Cellar. After Jeff was able to show Rudd he knew what he was doing, Rudd finally granted Jeff his wish and allowed a Covenant wine to be made from his coveted and acclaimed Napa Valley grapes

FB: Why was Rudd so afraid you’d screw it up? Are there certain practices and methods you have to use that make a wine Kosher and also compromise the quality of the wine?

JM:No, all wine is kosher! But to keep the wine kosher it can only be touched by a Sabbath-observant Jew. And that is the only requirement. So there is no kosher wine making method and there’s no reason why Kosher shouldn’t be as good as other wine. You just need to pay attention, know what you’re dong, get good grapes and be able to reveal the terroir of what you’re using.

FB: If that’s the case then why does kosher wine get such a bad rap?

JM: Most people who are 40, 50, and older grew up with really lousy Manischewitz concord(grape)-based sweet wines that are bad whether they’re kosher or not. So I think we all have that taste in our memory banks. But I had been writing about kosher wines on [Wine] Spectator for a while so I knew there were good ones out there but Les didn’t. One day we went to a tasting and tried some Israeli kosher wine from a winery called Castel and we were loving them. Les said, ‘Why is this so much better than what we had as kids at Passover?’ I said, ‘It’s a brave new world!’

FB: So since you’ve started making kosher wine under the Covenant label, have you seen an increase in demand for Kosher wines in the marketplace?

JM: I think there’s an increasing demand for fine wine that happens to be kosher. A lot of that is sparked by a resurgence in spirituality and especially Jewish spirituality that’s being embraced by a lot of younger people today that may not have grown up Sabbath observant or keeping kosher but now they are and they’re used to drinking really good wines that aren’t kosher. I also think that the Jewish palate, like the American palate, is definitely becoming more sophisticated and discerning.

Also, did you know that the Jews were making really great wine at least a thousand years before the Roman Empire was even started?

FB: Really? The Jews are not really known, historically, for their wine.

JM: Yeah. We’ve been at it like…forever! Last May, I was in an old winery or wine press, and there were vats that were carved out of the limestone in the Judean hills and I’m telling you, from what I could see from the way that this thing was put together that these guys were making their wine essentially the same way I do! We extract the juice from the berries and we just let it sit there. We don’t even add yeast – I mean we use native yeast, from…. from God! I don’t know where it comes from but why not say from God? And we don’t inoculate, we don’t filter, we don’t fine, it’s a very simple gentle process.

Covenant grapes ready for harvest

FB: So would you describe what you make as “Natural Wine”?

JM: I would say our wines are totally natural but it has nothing to do with the kind of bogus movement today that is using the word “natural” to connote some kind of ephemeral quality that doesn’t exist in the wines. Most of the natural wines I’ve had unfortunately – and it’s a great concept – but most of them are so poorly made that they’re undrinkable; they’re refermenting in the bottle or prematurely oxidized because they don’t use sulphur and it’s a disaster. […] And that doesn’t mean that they’re all that way – it’s a big mistake to make a broad generalization about anything. If you can grow grapes organic and make your wine really naturally that’s something to strive for but it’s certainly not a consumer’s concern and I think it’s a mistake to buy those wines because of those labels.

FB: Changing subjects, here, did you have an “Aha!” moment with wine – perhaps a specific bottle of wine that changed the way you thought about wine?

JM: Yes. I’d been in France for maybe a week, I was 19, and I went to have lunch at the student restaurant at University of Nice. The lunch was government-subsidized and it was only two Francs, or about 50 cents. So I got my little tray and lined up and they had all of these little salads and you could pick the one you want. They had things like celery remoulade, grated carrots with all these funny little things on them, a beet salad and these beautiful little frisee lettuce. I didn’t know what to take but I took the celery root remoulade – I remember that! And it was a Friday so they were serving fish but it wasn’t fish sticks, it was the whole fish with the head on it and I didn’t even know how to eat it! And after that there was a little cheese platter, and you could pick your piece of Camembert and I got to the end of the line, and they said. ‘Monsieur would you like red or white?’ And I realized they had little splits of red and white wine and I can’t remember if I took the red or the white. But I sat down and tucked into the celery remoulade and someone showed me how to eat the fish, and I drank the wine and that was my religious experience, my epiphany. That one meal changed the course of my life.

FB: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the wines you make at Covenant?

JM: I want people everywhere, especially in America, to drink more wine on a regular basis and you can’t do it if the only good wines you can find cost a fortune. Our wines are not cheap – our Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon is regularly about $90-100 retail but we also make a wine called The Red C from different vineyard sources that is just as good in a different way at $44. We also make a really delicious Sauvignon Blanc, and I believe that white wine should start every meal, at about $22-24.

The reason our wines are so expensive, especially the Covenant wines, is that the cost of growing or buying grapes in Napa Valley is like the cost of doing business on 5th Ave. in New York City. We pay, on average, $10,000 a ton for Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the greatest vineyards in Napa. Our wine prices reflect the cost of making the wines. This year, we also made a Zinfandel that will be about $35, a Pinot Noir that will be $45 and a Syrah that will be around $40.

So there ya have it, folks! Kosher wine is making a comeback!

Want to know more? Visit CovenantWines.com. And many thanks to Jeff Morgan.

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.

My Modern Love Reject

Haloo from the Finger Lakes, dear readers!


Purty, aint it? There will be lots of fun wine stuff to come! But for now, I wanted to share with you a very personal and non-wine related essay I wrote for the infamous NYT’s “Modern Love” column that was (drumroll!) summarily rejected! However, a wonderful little blog called Modern Love Rejects has decided to publish it. So head over and enjoy the essay and the blog if you are so inclined! Cheerseses!

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”

11 Warming Winter Wines

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!


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

California Drinkin’

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.

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: