Wine Happenings. Happening Wines. Only in New York.

Unexpected pairings

Written by Peter Hellman Tuesday, 23 August 2011 12:07

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Wine-wise, it was a lunch that ought to have been at least lightly French-kissed: Held at Porterhouse for a dozen or so journalists on a sultry August Tuesday, it was a pre-launch event for The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, due in November from Little, Brown. The four luncheon wines had been selected by French-born Master Sommelier Roger Dagorn. So which were French? Not a one. And even though steak houses are temples of Napa Cabs, Dagorn had also passed on American wines.

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To ease down the hors d’oeuvres, Dagorn chose Mionetto’s NV “Sergio” Rosé Valdobbiadene, a bubbly that seemed too silky and seductive to be Prosecco as I’ve experienced it. Prosecco once had to be made from the grape of the same name, Dagorn explained, although that grape is actually now called Glera, so as not to confuse the grape with the appellation. “But no more,” he added; this sparkler was made from two grapes indigenous to the Veneto, Raboso and Lagrein.

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At table, Dagorn partnered the simple green salad with a Greek white that was as light as a kite in the breeze: the 2010 Moschofilero from Tselopos Mantinia. The challenge of a generously portioned filet mignon topped by caramelized shallots was met by a power-punching 2009 Petit Verdot from Ruca Malen, a winery in Mendoza. Dagorn said he’d had dinner at Ruca Malen, and fallen for this wine. Compressed and spicy, wielding what the French call “noble” tannins, it was a knockout with the meat.

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Justice Potter Stewart memorably opined that he knew hard-core pornography when he saw it. That’s my feeling about a great wine: I know it when I taste it. And I knew it when, with the flourless chocolate cake, I communed with the Jose Maria Fonseca 2003 Moscatel di Setubal. As a sweet wine, it was every bit as aromatic and elegant as Yquem.

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Elsewhere at Porterhouse, the French wine flag was hoisted high. At a long center table, the publisher S.I. Newhouse was hosting a family luncheon, including many children. For the adults, Dagorn decanted a pair of clarets: Pichon Baron (now called Pichon Longeville) 1928 and l’Evangile 1924. Dagorn kindly offered me a sip of the Pichon from his own tasting glass. Its strength was gone, but not its dignity. I wonder how the Ruca Malen, so potent now, will fare when it’s an octogenarian.

Reverse terroir and the wines of summer

Written by W. R. Tish Thursday, 16 June 2011 08:46

Oh how wine lovers love to wax rhapsodic about terroir. The terroir of a wine’s origin, that is. Soil + climate + exposure + slope + drainage + more, all contributing to a wine’s unique sense of place.

But what of the terroir at the other end of the arc from vine to glass? Where wine gets uncorked (or unscrewed) can be just as expressive of a distinct situation, and arguably even more important. Time + place + people + purpose + food + more. We like to call it reverse terroir—the circumstances via which the wine is released, shared, enjoyed.

Perhaps the most basic example of reverse terroir is the influence that season has on which wines fit best when. Winter is built for hearty reds, and for many, classic Port. Come June in New York, however, it’s safe to say a lot of shiny 96-pointers belong far from the gladdening crowds. Tannins need not apply. High-alcohol reds are as welcome as sunburn. Summer is the time for nimble wines, spry with acidity, energized by fruit, never dominated by structure.

Which brings us to next week’s New York Wine SalonSpring Into Summer walkaround at Astra, celebrating the Solstice on June 21st. We have assembled a cast of prime summer-licious prospects:

Pinot Grigio belongs in any house (or backyard) where crowds gather; we’re happy to be upgrading to a distinctive single vineyard one from Bottega Vinaia. We’ll also be sampling the latest (literally) big thing in NZ Sauv Blanc: Silver Birch. Summer eatin’ demands versatility; witness Lenz Moser Gruner Veltliner from Austria and the mistral-influenced Sella & Mosca “La Cala” Vermentino di Sardegna, both the sort of brisk, breezy but balanced whites that work with diverse foods.

Toward the more overtly fruity end of the spectrum, we’ll be rocking “the original unoaked Chardonnay,” Macon-Lugny “Les Charmes.” Plus Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc. It’s a summer staple; no it’s an icon; no, it’s a classic. OK, it’s just a wine that turns irresistible in its pure-fruity character.

Provence rosé is practically synonymous with June, July and August; we'll be pouring Jules 2010 Cotes de Provence. It’s not possible to fit every summer-ready wine into one event. Alas, we are skipping Prosecco this time, and Albarino, and Portugal’s famous Vinho Verde. Instead from Portugal we have Esporao Reserva, surprisingly rich and round. And for an exotic twist, the spicy, complex Pasetti Pecorino may change the way you think about Italian white wine.

We are thrilled to be pouring two California blends that are brand new to the NY market. Middle Sister “Rebel Red” (Zin, Merlot, Cab, Syrah) tastes like a mouthful of ripe summer berries; Purple Cowboy “Tenacious Red” (Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah) has more of a kick.

Informal summer entertaining calls for crowdpleasers. We have three—from Iberia! Osborne Seven (seven grapes, but who’s counting?) is not wimpy but not overdone; remarkably food-friendly but easy to drink on its own. Alandra, made from native Portuguese varieties, delivers one of the best quality-price ratios you can find. And if your idea of summer party wine is sangria, the new ready-to-drink Opici Sangria is just what a happy host needs: low in alcohol and chock full of both winey fruit and citrus, plus a touch of spice.

Like your summer reds with some guts and gusto? We’ve got a gaggle of grill-ready reds: Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel, Chateau Bonnet Bordeaux Rouge, Carpineto’s “Dogajolo” blend from Tuscany, and Beronia 2005 Rioja Reserva.

The evening would not be complete with a little counter-intuitive drinking and thinking. We’ll be pouring two Ports. Yes, Ports: the sweet, strawberry-accented Croft Pink Port, and Fonseca White Port—dry, delicate and refreshing, with elegant wood-aging notes. Try both straight or over ice.

For those who like a fun, delicious challenge, jump in to two blind tasting contests: “How Sweet (or Not) is that Riesling?” and “How Much Coin for that Pinot?” And for a sweet finish to the longest day of sunshine all year, we will uncork a mystery dessert wine… more proof that we think blind-tasting should be fun, not work. Especially during summertime.

Against a backdrop of summer tunes, sip, nibble and take in the sunset in the amiable company of other wine lovers. Menu of signature Charlie Palmer nibbles includes:

Lobster Corn Dog, Grain Mustard Soubise

New England Crab Pot Sticker with Shallot Butter

Wild Mushroom Truffle Polenta Cake

Foie Gras Mousse, Duck Confit, Brioche Toast

Ratatouille Tartlet with Crumbled Goat Cheese

Charred Beef on Crouton with Horseradish Mousse

Click for tickets, and use discount code WINESDAY to save $7 off the $65 regular ticket price.

NOTE: Wines have been curated by New York Wine Salon because they fit our theme of wines with a sunny dispostion. Specific featured wines have been provided or purchased through a cooperative promotional program. We are pleased to present them as excellent examples of typicity.

Wine, please, not Weiners

Written by W. R. Tish Wednesday, 08 June 2011 10:29

Once again, the New York wine scene has been bamboozled by unsavory politics.

Last week, it was Trump & Palin eating pizza in Times Square with forks and not a bottle of wine in sight. This week, Anthony Weiner—in a scandal that is setting records for awful puns—has diverted undue attention to his undergarments at precisely the time wine-loving Gothamites should be focusing on activities that bring genuine reward, rather than the fleeting satisfaction of watching an erected elected congressman melt under the glare of the Internet.

Indeed, the glare wine lovers need to heed is the glare of the sun, and in turn attention is best devoted to wines built to counter summer heat. When the mercury starts toying with 90 degrees, that is no time to dwell on R-rated digital message exchanges. Put down that smart phone. Step away from the laptop. And while you’re in a purging mood, cast aside all thoughts of opaque purple, high-tannin, high-oak, high-alcohol reds that get high scores from magazines that specialize in wine reviews patently devoid of any real human context.

No, now is the time to embrace the nimble denizens of the wine landscape. Wines you’re not afraid to chill down then chill with. Wines that go with righteous wieners hot off the grill— not congressional Weiners being grilled 24/7. Burgers, too, of course.

Please join us at our next New York Wine Salon event: Spring Into Summer {Wine}! We will be toasting the longest day of the year, June 21, at Astra (replete with spacious terrace), 14 floors above the urban masses, starting at 7:00 pm. We’ll be pouring 20 wines with a sunny disposition to get you set for the months ahead. Quaffable whites like Chenin Blanc, backyard reds from Barbera to Zin, radiant dry rosés, and (mais oui) bubbly. All certain to go with the Charlie Palmer's signature savory nibbles like lobster corndogs, mushroom, truffle polenta cake, ratatouille tartlet, charred beef crostini and more.

Against a backdrop of summer tunes, sip, nibble and take in the sunset in the amiable company of other wine lovers.

Click for tickets, and use discount code WINESDAY to save $7 off the $65 regular ticket price. We promise no sexting politicians will interfere with your wine and food pleasure.

Trump-Palin NYC Wine #FAIL

Written by W. R. Tish Wednesday, 01 June 2011 14:08

As has been widely reported, Sarah Palin steered her “One Nation” bus tour into Manhattan this week, and she shared a pizza in Times Square with none other than Donald Trump.

Yet, in all the media coverage, which even extended to speculation about a comedian’s-dream Palin-Trump ticket, no commentators picked up on what was missing from this testa-à-testa, namely wine.

Famous Famiglia owner Griorgio Kolai told the New York Daily News: “You can't get more New York than that, Donald Trump ordering pizza here.” In fact, they could have gotten much more New York, had they put a bottle of New York wine on the table. Alas, Trump and Palin paired their pepperoni pie with Poland Spring and Pepsi. Not a Finger Lakes Riesling, not a biodynamic Merlot from Long Island, not even a Hudson Valley Chambourcin.

Moreover, in chitchat which probably rarely strayed far from reality TV, the two lifesize socio-politicial action figures neglected to discuss the timely topic of ideal wines to enjoy during summer. “She didn't ask me [to run with her] but I'll tell you, she's a terrific woman," Trump reportedly said as he ushered Palin into the pizzeria on Broadway at 50th St., failing to use that moment to ask Palin what she and Todd liked to drink with mesquite-grilled venison.

Palin appeared equally clueless in terms of seizing the opportunity to talk hot-weather wine. Referring to her tablemate, Palin told reporters, “I approve of his independence. I told him, ‘Don't shy away from speaking out.’” She failed to clarify whether she would also approve of the Donald if he were to serve heavily oaked, high-alcohol red wine as an aperitif at a 4th of July picnic simply because it had gotten a high rating from an American wine magazine.

Meanwhile, the media, despite a collective frenzy to explore every possible angle related to the historic nosh session, fell short in the critiquing department. Yes, the Daily News did a nice job of shaming the erstwhile Presidential hopefuls for eating pizza with a knife and fork. But why stop there? Why not question whether such cutlery-dependent people be counted on to hold their wine glasses by the stem rather than the bowl? And, if put into the position of hosting an alfresco get-together, could either Palin or Trump be trusted to put fresh fruity reds in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before serving outdoors?

Fortunately for New Yorkers, there is a safe haven for celebrating summer wine, without the glare of the paparazzi or the dulling ennui of political windbags. It is New York Wine Salon’s “Spring Into Summer event, scheduled, fittingly, for the summer equinox, June 21, the looooongest day of sunshine all year, at the stylish Charlie Palmer venue Astra, 14 floors about the city. And rest assured that while politicians keep avoiding the tough questions of what to drink from here through Labor Day, we at New York Wine Salon accept the challenge gladly. For more details, click here.

It’s Just Wine, Naturally

Written by W. R. Tish Wednesday, 25 May 2011 15:54


Two days after our Natural Wine Salon, my head is still spinning quite fruitfully. On Monday night, May 23, in the Flatiron district, a panel of five “naturally” inclined wine pros and I took to the stage at the Metropolitan Room to talk about a genre of wine that has proven both slippery and ripe for traction.


Things started a bit slowly, as the early cabaret crowd cleared out, and poor cellphone reception inside dampened some of the live tweeting. But that may have been all for the best, as with 12 wines and five panelists, there was a lot to pay attention to. The audience, 60 strong, included a healthy proportion of wine-traders—a sure sign that natural wine is a hot potato these days.


Our panel, the “Natch 5,” proved up to the challenge of tossing around the potato. In a way, the group represented choir leaders, in that to some degree, each has already carved out a position of being pro-green. Nothing wrong with that: there is enough controversy built in to the varying branches of so-called green wine (organic vs. sustainable vs. biodynamic...) to need a devil’s advocate in the mix. The panelists were selected for their expertise, certainly, but also based on their distinct roles, which ensured approaching the topic from multiple angles. Each arrived with an “elevator pitch” defining natural wine, and an open mind. Inevitably, there was a bit of technical talk, particularly with respect to winemakers use yeasts, sulfites and barrels as tools. Yet I think we kept a foot firmly in the real-world essence of it’s wine, and this is what it tastes like.


We will be snipping some video clips from the evening to post on Facebook (if you’re not “liking” us yet, bust a move!). Meanwhile, here are some of my takes as moderator, organized loosely by panelist.


The Writer Alice Feiring is one of the most literary and provocative wine writers working today, and we are proud to call her one of our own here at New York Wine Salon (with a new Alice review every Wednesday). Her next book, Naked Wine (Dacapo Press) will be published in September. She arrived fresh off a visit to the London Natural Wine Festival. What I learned from Alice: She was first drawn to natural wines by her own palate: in the process of sniffing and spitting hundreds of wines for the Food & Wine pocket guide back in 2000, she discovered, matter-of-factly, that the wines she liked best were the least manipulated. Natural wine for her is not some sort of crusade; rather, it is firmly gounded in what she considers to be the best wines on the planet. Her elevator definition—“nothing added, nothing taken away”—came with a bit of an asterisk as she added on a minimal amount of sulfur as acceptable; but her main tenet, that less is more when it comes to manipulation, stood up quite well, I thought. Alice confessed to growing weary (already? her book isn’t even out yet!) of discussing the idea of natural wine: “It’s really just wine without all that shit put in it.”


The Somm French-born award-winning sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier is as knowledgeable about the growing and making side of wine as she is about tasting. Advocacy of vin naturel is reflected proudly on her wine list at Rouge Tomate in Midtown. Pascaline spoke with ease and depth about wine structure, viniculture and terroir, particulalry with respect to her native Loire Valley, reminding me that in a universe of seemingly endless wine options, a purposefully focused wine program is like a gem we can all share. She is a real natural-wine gatekeeper, who walks the walk (which includes answering the question “what is natural wine?” about 20 times a day). Her elevator pitch for defining natural wine—“grape juice... fermented”—was emblematic of how simple the concept is, if only as a starting point.


The Shaman As co-founder of Jeff Weissler has channeled 30 years in the fine wine biz on both coasts into a website that uses video, text and e-commerce to showcase organic, biodynamic and natural wines and the wineries that create them. We learned from Jeff that sorting out various certifications available to winegrowers does not necessarily make one’s path to understanding natural wine any straighter; technicalities abound and distract. Jeff’s initial elevator-ride definition of natural wine hinged on wine that “tells a story.” He circled back later and referenced Randall Grahm’s notion of authentic wine providing a “signal to terroir.” And his point that our biodynamic Pacific Rim “Wallula” Riesling is a 1,000-case fraction of a winery that sells 200,000+ cases served as a reminder that natural wine is still quite a niche within the niche that is the world of fine wine. Jeff also raised the very germane point that minimally processed wines have a knack for evolving dramatically after being opened—for days, not just hours.


The Merchant After a Columbia MBA and seven years at Moët Hennessy USA, Christy Frank caught “the retail bug.” Her Tribeca-based Frankly Wines is arguably the most New-Yorky wine shop imaginable: it’s about the size of a studio apartment. Christy was positioned to be the pragmatist of the panel. As a retailer, a huge part of her job takes place before wines hit shelves, as she edits the voluminous wine sea into a precious trickle and then has to make sense of it for regular people. In that context, natural wine is one of many genres she translates for New Yorkers on a daily basis. Interestingly, against the trend that is sweeping larger stores, she avoids using “green” signage of any sort at Frankly Wines. In turn, it was not surprising to hear her emphasize that natural wine can and should be defined separately for the casual consumer and the connoisseur/geek. In terms of her impression of how much information consumers really want (and how much they can handle) when it comes to a wine’s “natural” pedigree, she thinks not much. Taste, value, style, etc. are still more tangible and important for most busy New Yorkers looking for fermented grape juice.


The Local Not far from the Big Apple, Barbara Shinn and her husband David Page pay meticulous attention to their North Fork winery and vineyards, which Barbara farms organically and biodynamically. But it’s not just about them: Barbara has been working to establish a sustainable certification program for New York State. Barbara’s contribution to the panel was a revelation. Besides bringing along a killer red, the Shinn 2007 “Nine Barrel” Reserve Merlot, she practically brought along her whole vineyard, inspiring us with anecdotes about the vineyard being an ecosystem and then some. She spoke of dandelion compost, ten-hour-old deer, dousing, and how biodynamics accounts for a vineyard’s place in the cosmos. Her decade of experience has seen extremes, including being told she was basically nuts for trying to farm organically on Long Island as well as receiving a phone call from the Demeter association asking if Shinn Estate Vineyards would like to be considered for biodynamic certification. Barbara defended the use of barrels as a valid tool of natural winemaking, and she shocked many by questioning whether there is any compelling reason that natural-wine producers should organize and promote their wines? “Happy vines make happy wines,” she said, and the good ones are bound to find an audience. Barbara’s elevator pitch included the implicit truth that natural wine must speak of its place/time/grapes of origin; in turn, vintage variation is a necessary part of the equation. She got the biggest audience reaction of the night by suggesting that if all producers were to include ingredients on their labels, many conventional wines would have a hard time fitting them on a bottle.


I’ve gone on for 1,000+ words now without speaking directly to the 12 wines we tasted. And I confess I am a bit chagrined that we failed to definitively answer the question of whether natural wines, per se, actually taste different. So it goes. Answers to big questions are don’t easily fit into small boxes. I will say this: most of the wines rocked. Whites ranged from a complexity-free Cortese frizzante (Valli Unite’s “Il Brut and the Beast”) and the amazingly youthful, acid-backboned 2006 Vouvray of Vincent Careme to the chameleonic Hajszan 11-grape Gemischter Satz field blend (grown in Vienna!) and the clearly style-driven corporate organic effort that is Casa Lapostolle’s California-esque 2008 “Cuvee Alexandre” Chardonnay.


Among the reds, Pacalet’s 2010 Beaujolais-Village was as extroverted a Gamay as I have ever met. Montesecondo’s 2007 Chianti Classico prompted Christy Frank to announce: “This is what Sangiovese is supposed to taste like.” My personal favorites were the Shinn 2007 “Nine Barrel” reserve and the final wine, Bucklin’s 2008 “Bambino,” mostly Zinfandel but with 11 other grapes co-grown and co-fermented. Culled from 10-year-old vines in a 10-acre plot within what may be the oldest wine-grape vineyard in California (Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley), the Bambino spoke eloquently to the fact that making wine naturally in our modern wine world is definitely within reach of vintners who put in the attention and effort.


Having opened the evening with a reminder that today’s Golden Age of wine—with countless bottlings reaching New York—has been made possibly largely by man’s ability to control (i.e., manipulate) vines and grapes. Without added yeasts and sulfites, we would have nowhere near the variety (and, I dare say, quality) of global wines we enjoy. I closed with a short list of monikers that might be used to capture if not fully define what natural wine is... authentic wine, naked wine, super wine, true wine, wild wine, daredevil wine, “natty” wine. Looking back now, I kinda like the phrase suggested by one of our salonistas, immeditately after we called it a night: “natch” wine.


This much I know: natural wine is here to stay, even as it eludes hard definition. We have evolved to a point where, clearly, multiple genres of wine co-exist. Cheap, palatable wine has a place; expensive collectible wine has a place; fun wine has a place; serious wine has a place; everyday wine has a place. Natural wine has a place. It is part of any intelligent conversation about what makes wine worth talking about to begin with. If nothing else, these minimally processed, maximally cared-for wines compel wine lovers to consider the authenticity of all wines they uncork or unscrew. What was added? What was taken away? These questions are valid, important, and for those who love wine, naturally interesting.


We will do more “salon” events in the future. But by no means is every New York Wine Salon event a drink-and-think tank session. Please join us at “Spring Into Summer” on June 21, to celebrate the summer equinox in high style at Astra, as we spotlight wines with a sunny disposition.

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