Monthly Archives: October 2009

Rhône vs. Barossa

Two legendary winemakers behind two world-renowned properties came together for a joint wine dinner last week at Tribeca Grill.

ak with winemakers

David Powell and Daniel Brunier

David Powell is behind Torbreck and Daniel Brunier is behind Vieux Télégraphe and the two men could not be more different – their backgrounds, their demeanor and their wine making style.  Daniel is the 4th generation in a family that’s been making wine for 110 years; David started Torbreck in 1994.  Daniel was quiet and reserved while David was larger than life.  My two favorite quotes from the evening capture their personalities well.

“If you don’t make a wine you like, you’re not a real winemaker.” -Daniel

“Don’t share me a good idea or I’ll try to steal it.” – David

Tasting the wines side by side was like the classic exercise old world vs. new world.  Daniel’s wines were elegant, earthy and restrained while David’s were rich, lush and in-your-face.

Both were delicious and it was incredible to see the range that these two producers could achieve using the same Rhône varietals – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and so on.

My favorites of the night were the 1995 Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape (dark cherries, coffee and cloves); it sang with the braised shortribs and the 1999 Torbreck RunRig 1999 (concentrated with black fruits and leather); it stole the show with the artisanal cheese course.


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Decanting Champagne?

Yesterday I attended a class at the Astor Center that explored decanting Champagne with Régis Camus, winemaker for Champagnes Piper Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck, Maximilian Riedel, the CEO for Riedel Crystal North America (he’s the 11th generation of the family) and Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, MW.


Before we got to the decanting, we experimented with different glasses, trying the house Brut and Rosé both in Champagne flutes and white wine glasses.


The Champagne in the white wine glass won every time.  It was rounder, fuller, smoother and more aromatic.  The glass shape impacts where the wine hits your mouth – with the flute, it hits at the tip of the tongue and with the white wine glass, it hits just behind the tip of the tongue, causing the wine to flow more evenly over your palate, allowing you to get more from it.  It’s also quite a bit easier to fit your nose inside a wine glass than a Champagne flute and smelling is often the best part.  The next time I serve Champagne at my house, my guests will be in for a surprise.

Here’s a video detailing the decanting of the 1995 Blanc des Millénaires.


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Taste of the tropics

You gotta love a hotel that has a beer drinking contest as one of its activities.  Nestled among feeding the iguana, water aerobics and parents’ night off, it was the one item on the activity board that really caught my eye.

balashi beer logoIt wasn’t a simple chugging contest.  The local beer of Aruba, Balashi, was poured into 8 oz. cups and we were given straws (stirrers, really) and instructed to set our cups on the table, to put our hands behind our backs and to slurp from our straws as quickly as possible.  Sadly, I’m out of practice when it comes to drinking games and I tied for second, losing to the guy who everybody would’ve put their money on had this contest drawn any bettors.

The prize was a 6-pack of Balashi and the winner graciously shared his bounty with his fellow contestants.  There are a few interesting tidbits worth mentioning about Balashi.  It’s only available in Aruba, Holland, Curaçao and Bonaire and it’s made from desalinated water in a factory that can bottle 15,000 bottles per hour.  This same factory also manufactures and bottles Malta, Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite and Tropical cherry, pineapple, grape and orange sodas.

While pretty much everything tastes good when you get away for a couple days, this is the beer that I’m still thinking about:

Amstel BrightAlso with limited availability, Amstel Bright is crisp, clean, refreshing and citrus-y – a zippier, tastier Corona.  Salu!


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One of my beer heroes…

…is coming to teach at my school!

brooklyn-breweryGarrett Oliver, the brewmaster from Brooklyn Brewery and award-winning author of The Brewmaster’s Table, will be leading a beer-tasting and hands-on cooking class on Friday, October 23 from 6-10 pm. 

You’ll sample 5 Brooklyn brews, including Local 1 and Local 2 and get to try your hand at a few dishes such as Spicy Curried Crab Cakes and Fettuccine with Lobster, Chorizo and Peas. 

You all know I’m a wine nerd, but sometimes a beer is just better.  After taking this class, you’ll be able to explain why.  Sign up now.

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Vintner’s Wildberry Harvest

While I was still sleeping this morning, an email arrived from a friend living upstate requesting a cocktail idea featuring Finger Lakes Distilling’s Wildberry Vodka.   She’s involved with a benefit this weekend and wanted to get some more exposure for a local product.  She needed the cocktail to be easy; something she could pre-batch and pour.

Coincidentally, I’ve been searching for a good fall cocktail using the Wildberry, too.  Over the summer it contributed to a killer lavender lemonade, but sadly, it’s time to move on.  Fall and berries don’t really go hand in hand the way apples or pumpkins do.  My first thought was cranberries and I did make a tasty Cosmopolitan, but I thought I could do better. 

My next thought was harvest time, which led me to grapes, which then led me to white grape juice – Welch’s white grape juice made from Niagra grapes to be exact.  Interestingly enough, some of the grapes used to make FLD’s Wildberry vodka are Niagra.  I was very tempted to call my new concoction “The Chicken and the Egg”, but it would involve quite a lengthy explanation and not everyone shares my goofy sense of humor. 


8 oz. of white grape juice is the equivalent of 2 servings of fruit

Vintner’s Wildberry Harvest
2 oz. Wildberry vodka
4 oz. Welch’s white grape juice
0.5 oz. Cointreau (could sub triple sec if you’d like)
0.25 oz. orange juice (makes the flavors pop, gives the needed acidity)
0.5 oz. simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake, strain and serve up in chilled vessel.  Garnish with grapes – my first choice would have been white (or green), but red was all that was on hand. 

This grape juice is sweet and intensely grape-y, but the drink is well-balanced.  It reminds me of being a little kid, playing in the fallen leaves and coming back inside for a glass of grape juice.  Funny how what we consider refreshing changes as we get older.


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Malbec, Carmenere, Torrontes, oh my!

The Recreational Division at The International Culinary Center is hosting “Discover the Wines of South America” on Wednesday, October 28 from 7-9:30 pm. 

You’ll learn about terruño (Spanish for terroir), sip some Argentine sparkling wine, dabble in a little blind tasting and impress your friends with your new-found knowledge about “hot” new grapes, regions and producers from South America. 

Best of all, your instructor, Liz Caskey, has lived in Santiago since 2001, so you’ll get the scoop from an insider.  She started her own boutique travel firm and in addition to running her business, she’s worked in many kitchens, vineyards and cellars and is a food/wine/travel writer for international publications as well as her Eat Wine Blog.

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Fermentation, take two

You may have heard malolactic fermentation described as a secondary fermentation.  While it never precedes the primary, alcoholic fermentation (sugar+yeast=alcohol+CO2+heat), it’s not a true fermentation.  The process is carried out by bacteria (lactic acid bacteria), not yeast.  It is sometimes shortened to MLF or to the French la malo, and it is the conversion of malic acid to lactic acid. 

Malic comes from malum, Latin for apple and this type of acidity is found in nearly all fruits and berries.  It’s used commercially to acidify food and beverage in industrial processes.  Lactic acid is named after lactis, Latin for milk and is one of the milder acids found in wine. 

Is it a good thing?  Well, that depends.  If you have a wine with excess acidity, like a red wine from a cool climate, then yes.  It can also add additional flavor and complexity to both red and white wines as well as prevent the process from happening later on once these wines are bottled.  If, however, you have a wine from a warmer climate or a hotter vintage and you want to preserve its zip, then no. 

Some grapes, especially Chardonnay, take better to it than others.  Producers of Riesling or Chenin Blanc usually avoid it (through maintaining cooler temperatures and using sulfur dioxide), even though these grapes are naturally high in acidity. 

So, what can you expect if a wine’s undergone the process?  A rounder, fuller mouthfeel – some would say buttery.  The buttery-ness is from diacetyl, which is a by-product of the process.  If the diacetyl is not kept in check, it can be overpowering in the wine, even coming across as rancid butter.  Some winemakers think that if the malolactic fermentation happens while the wine is in the barrel, the fruit and oak flavors will be better integrated.

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New sommelier competition announced

Top SommThe Guild of Sommeliers just announced a new U.S. Wine Championship.  Master Sommeliers will be the judges and the competition will follow the service standards outlined by the Court of Master Sommeliers. 

It’s $25 and you have to be 21, an American citizen and some sort of wine professional.  There’s an online testing component as well as regional competitions before the grand finale. 

Here are the dates to know:

10/6/09 registration opens
11/15/09 entry deadline
1/23/10 online testing begins
March-June 2010 regional competitions
August 2010 championship

For more info and to sign up, click here.

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Tickled pink

Sounds more exciting than “vinified pink”, don’t you think?  As promised, it’s time to talk about winemaking and I thought rosé would be a fun place to start. 

Let’s back up for a moment, though.  Whether you start with grapes that look like this:



Or like this:


Spätburgunder aka Pinot Noir in Germany

The juice and pulp of all grapes are clear, meaning the color in wine comes from the skins of the grapes. 

If this is a new concept to you, it might be helpful to think about Champagne.  The pink stuff aside, most of the Champagne we see on the market is white.  Two of the three permitted grapes for Champagne production, however, are red (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier).  The winemakers are careful to quickly separate the liquid from the grape skins, preventing any color from being imparted into the juice.

So, what to do when you want wine whose color falls somewhere between a white and a red?  Here are a few options:

1. A short maceration of the juice with the skins.  For our purposes, you can think of maceration as skin contact.  Technically speaking, it’s the extraction of phenolics (think tannins and flavoring compounds) from the grape skins, seeds and stem fragments into the juice and it’s affected by temperature, agitation and time.  The soak usually lasts 2-3 days, depending on the style the winemaker is going for – the longer the skin contact, the more darkly colored the rosé will be.  The skins are then discarded and fermentation proceeds as for a white wine.

2. The Saignée method – French for bled or bleeding the vats.  In this process the winemaker will collect free-run juice from just-pressed dark-skinned grapes after a short, prefermenation maceration.  Coincidentally, this concentrates the remaining red wine, imparting more tannin and color because the ratio of liquid to grape solids has been reduced through bleeding the vats.

3. Blending.  This is just as it sounds – blending finished red wine into finished white wine.  You’ll get a pink wine, but you won’t get the nuances achieved through maceration.  Believe it or not, Champagne is one of the few controlled appellations where this is allowed.  I guess the thought is that the second fermentation and resulting carbonation will provide enough interesting character to the rosé. 

I’ve also read that pink wines can be made by using charcoal treatments to remove the color from red wine.  This makes me a little suspicious – if the winery doesn’t want to sell it as red wine, why would I want to drink it pink?


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