Category Archives: Wine

GQ’s New Rules of Wine

Found a great article today in the October issue of GQ: The New Rules of Wine.  Some of my favorite lines:

*Of course grapes grown in different places taste different; that’s a banality no one disputes.

*…when you open a bottle of rosé champagne, people understand that you are spoiling them.

*Stop giving the wine list to the oldest, richest-looking dude at every table.

*And for the love of God, don’t sniff the cork.

Worth a full read!

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Wines of Brazil

I was invited to a seminar yesterday on Wines of Brazil, featuring 14 wines and Brazilian cuisine (i.e. meat fest), hosted by Evan Goldstein, MS.  I did not go into the tasting with high hopes, but I left impressed.  The presentation was thorough, well-organized, and more importantly, many of the wines were delicious.

We sampled 3 sparklers, 2 whites and 11 reds, including some varietals that were new to me.

Some fun/nerdy facts:


*Vines were first planted in Brazil by Portuguese immigrants in the 1500s.  The first Brazilian wine was produced in Tatuape, São Paulo, in 1551.

*The Italian immigrants started arriving in 1875, many of them settling in the Rio Grande do Sul, which now accounts for 60% of the country’s grape production.

*In the mid-1960s, the multinationals started to come in – Chandon, Pernod Ricard, Martini, Cinzano.

*In the mid-1970s, production expanded toward Uruguay.  The 1980s saw an increased focus on quality.  The kids started being sent abroad for enology courses.  In 1998, the Brazil Wine Institute was formed.


*In the southern hemisphere, Brazil ranks 5th in production.  1 – Argentina, 2 – Australia, 3 – South Africa, 4 – Chile.

*Labrusca vines account for 73% of the plantings.  They use these grapes for jams, juices, concentrates and domestic table wine.

*1/3 of the fine wine production is sparkling (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Glera <Prosecco>, Muscat).  Most sparklers are produced using the Traditional Method, though we did sample a Charmat.

*For still wines, the production breakdown is: 77% red, 22% white, 1% rosé.

*There’s a great diversity of grapes.  Traditional French ones, such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon; Tannat, like neighboring Uruguay; interesting crossings, which I’ll get to in a moment; Italian varietals like Glera, Moscato, Teroldego, Fresa.


*Globally, per capita, Brazil ranks 101st.  The U.S. comes in at 60th.

*Domestic consumption is low, primarily due to high taxes on wine.  Domestically produced table wines are taxed at 52% and sparkling wines are taxed at 63%, while imported wines from other South American countries are taxed at 33%.


*The finer wine regions are surprisingly moderate – averages of 53°F in winter and 71.6°F in summer.

*Soils vary region to region, ranging from granite and limestone in Campanha to Basaltic in the Serra Gaúcha.

*The best vineyard sites have decent elevation – 1500-2500 ft. is not uncommon.

Evan doing his thing. What you may not be able to see on screen is a photograph taken in Pernambuco, of vineyards in 4 different season "states". Through irrigation, forced dormant periods, and other methods, growers have been able to trick these vines into 2 harvests per year.

On to the wines:

My favorite sparkler was the 2008 Cave Geisse Terroir Nature.  62% Chardonnay, 38% Pinot Noir, 12.5% abv, traditional method, only 970 cases produced.  Jancis Robinson is showing this wine at an Expo in Hong Kong at the end of October, as an example of what can be done in Brazil.  No importer for U.S. yet.

My favorite white was the 2010 Lidio Carraro Dádivas Chardonnay.  Dádivas means present/gift.  13% abv.  No ML, no fining, no oak, 8 months lees aging.  Floral, melon and pear notes, great minerality.  Represented locally by Winebow.

Favorite reds:

2006 Lidio Carraro Grande Vindima Quorum.  40% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Tannat, 15% Cabernet Franc.  14% abv.  Lots of red fruit, spice and floral notes.  Refreshingly, no oak.  Arrived in the U.S. 3 weeks ago.  Winebow.

2008 Casa Perini Tannat.  12.5% abv.  Electric purple in color.  Elegant, but still grippy, as you’d expect from Tannat.  These Tannat clones are Basque, as opposed to Madiran.  Peninsula Beverage (Miami).

2007 Pizzato Reserva Egiodola.  The grape is pronounced edge-a-dola and means “pure blood” in Basque.  It was a cross made in the 1950s, in France, between Fer Servadou (Marcillac) and Arbouriu (Lot).  130 acres of it are now planted in Brazil.  Wild berries, white pepper, black tea, with a bite.  13% abv.  Metropolis Wine Merchants.

2008 Cara Perini Marselan.  Marselan is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.  Producers in southwest France came up with it in the 1960s, when they were looking for color and crop.  Only 30 acres or so planted in Brazil.  Soft tannins, wild red fruit, herbaceous, great food wine.  12.5% abv.  Peninsula Beverage.

2007 Don Guerino Gran Reserva Ancellotta.  Ancellotta is an Italian grape.  You can find it in Lambrusco blends in Emilia-Romagna.  You can also find it in the Veneto and in Ticino in Switzerland.  I wrote, “rustic, animal, lovely”.  12.8% abv.  Looking for an importer.

Other tips:

*Castas is the term Brazilians use for varietal/cepage/cultivar.  Uva refers to grapes for eating.

*Saffra refers to the vintage/harvest.

Churrascaria Tribeca doesn't mess around when it comes to meat. Servers circulated with pork sausage, beef ribs, chicken legs, bacon-wrapped turkey, sirloin, prime rib, all on menacing-looking meat swords.


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New Location for Vinyl Wine

The Mikes are moving.  Next door to Starbucks, steps from the 6 train, on Lexington between 96th and 97th streets.  We’ve been helping them get ready.  Soft opening tonight!

The thirsty rockers have come along.

If you’ve been to the old space, you’ll notice this one is quite a bit bigger.

In addition to greater shelf space, you'll also find a piano. Ask nicely, and maybe this guy will play for you.

Wait until you see some of these record covers that adorn the checkout.

Scrubbing the shelving last night. Donkey & Goat's The Stonecrusher made the job more fun.


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Summer wines in Women’s Health Magazine

Thanks to my friend Andrea, I got a blurb in July’s Women’s Health Magazine.

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Summer: before and after

Maryland blue crabs and some boxed love.

The 2010 Les Comptoirs de Magdala Rosé, a Vin de Pays from the Mont Caume region of Provence is my summer go-to wine.  A blend of Grenache and Cinsault, it’s light-bodied, fruity and crisp.  The producer is organic and biodynamic.  Best of all, you get 3L for around $30.   For those of you on the LES, September Wines & Spirits keeps a few of these cold.  Looking for some other boxed wine suggestions?  Eric Asimov just did a piece on them yesterday.  I’ve touched on the From the Tank wines and the Picpoul before.

The aftermath. The wine outlasted the crabs.

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Australia’s most famous soil

A wine trip to Australia wouldn’t be complete without snapping a few photos of the terra rossa soil found in Coonawarra, part of the Limestone Coast.

The thin band of terra rossa sits on limestone. The red color comes from iron impurities in the limestone, which have oxidized, and have turned reddish brown.

Most of Australia’s great Cabernet Sauvignons are produced in this region.  Overall production in the region is 90% red.  All of the early vineyards were planted on this famous red soil, but the region has since expanded a bit.

The soil is friable, well-drained, and imparts special characteristics to the reds planted in it. While Shiraz is king in most of Australia, there are 3 times more Cab vines planted here.

The guys from Majella took us to see the soil after our memorable breakfast.  Our other favorite producers from the region: Parker, Wynns, Leconfield and Penley Estates.

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Summer Chenin Madness

Chris got his hands on some early 90s Coulee de Serrant, and we were all happy to come together for the “vineyard of exception”.  Arguably the best expression of Chenin Blanc, Coulee de Serrant is a monopole (vineyard with a single owner) biodynamically farmed by Nicholas Joly.  Just over 14 acres, the vineyard boasts vines with more than 80 years of age.  Steep slopes, thin schist soil, grapes harvested by horse and by hand – all the makings of a special place in the Loire Valley (and beyond).

For our evening of Chenins, we ended up with 6 wines.  We saved the Joly for flight 2.

Getting down to business.

Wine 1 in flight 1 garnered these descriptions: baked caramel, toffee, crab apple, stony, smoky, higher-than-expected acidity, touch of matchstick on palate, spicy a la horseradish and white pepper.

Chamboureau Cuvee d'Avant Savennieres 2004. 14% abv.

Wine 2 from flight 1: funky peaches, wet wool, dried apricots, toasted marshmallow, textbook lanolin texture.

Huet Le Haut-Lieu. 2002. 12% abv.

Wine 3 from flight 1: clean mushrooms, lemon head candies, just picked apples, floral, beeswax, pineapple, smoky, cotton candy, bright and lively with a long finish.

Jacky Blot Domaine de la Taille Aux Loups "Les Dix Arpents" Montlouis Sur Loire. 2009. Forgot to write down abv. 12 something is my guess.

Time for round 2.  Chris had decanted the 91 and the 93 Coulee 24 hours in advance of our tasting.  I brought the current release, the ’07, and it was decanted for just a few hours prior to round 2.  I announced it during the tasting, and no one seemed impressed, but for the record, I guessed the vintages correctly during round 2.

From left to right, the '93, '91 and '07 Coulee de Serrant. Liquid gold.

A shot of the labels:

The aromas and flavors of these ranged from celery soda to baked apple, but there was a recognizable line throughout.

By this time we were getting hungry.

The first course was corn soup with bacon and chives. The sweetness of the corn played nicely with the fruitiness of the wines.

Chris adapted course 2 to the wines as well.

The plan was to grill polenta, along with other goodies. I suggested ring molds, to keep up appearances.

I was on summer truffle detail. Just the right amount of funk for the line-up of wines.

Plating the main course:

Chris had come across some pine honey. Sweet, with the perfect amount of herbaceousness.

Two of our guests had to leave before the main course was served.

Monster serving of seared scallops, grilled polenta and scallions, summer truffles and pine honey.

As I was finishing up this post, an email came through from Chris, with the subject “coulee redux”:

So I just got home from work.  Exactly one week has passed since I decanted the 91 and 93.  I squirreled a small amount from the tasting, for purely scientific purposes mind you, and have just tasted through the lot of them.  All three are dead as a doornail.  Without exception all three wines showed best at 24 to 48 hour.  The evolution went from closed up upon opening to the shapeshifting chameleon that we all met at the tasting.  Then on to a vegetal phase and finally to very a rich ripe golden fruit phase.  Sorry for any bullshitty language.  Interesting, they are still not quite oxidized.  And for the ringer, I can’t resist, the cuvee d`avant is still showing fantastically and with that I am going to go attend to the last of it.

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6 Tips for Pairing Wine with Food

The first rule of food and wine pairing is that there are no rules. 

Fight Club aside, I can give you some tips.  Before that, however, I’d like to make the point that food and wine pairing should not be a stressful undertaking.  Wine tasting is a very subjective business and pairing, even more so.  Worst case scenario; the pairing is a flop.  Outcome; eat the food first and then drink the wine, or just skip the food altogether, and drink up.

1. Weight class.  You have a better chance of being successful if you match the weight and intensity of the wine with the weight and intensity of a dish.  What influences a wine’s intensity?  Body, tannin, sweetness, alcohol, acidity, olfactory components.  Sounds like a lot, but we can break it down. 

The body of the wine can be compared to the body of milk, meaning having a glass of a light-bodied wine might be like drinking skim milk, while imbibing a fuller-bodied wine could be compared to drinking half and half (not that you’d want to…).  You can equate the body of the wine with how heavy it feels on your palate.  The fuller-bodied the wine is, the more intense it seems to most consumers. 

Tannin is that mouth-drying effect we get from the skins of red grapes used in red winemaking.  More tannic wines tend to be more intense. 

Sweetness in wine can make the wine seem more intense, by contributing to how full-bodied we perceive the wine to be. 

Alcohol in wine also contributes to our perception of the body of the wine.  More booze = more viscosity = fuller-bodied wine = more intense experience.

Acidity is the refreshing, mouth-watering quality of wine that keeps us going back for more and it may make the wine seem lighter. 

Olfactory components can make a wine seem intense.  Does the wine smell fruity? Oaky? Earthy?  Smelling more stuff = more intense experience.

Generally speaking, white wines are more intense than sparkling wines.   The carbonation makes these wines light and lively on the palate – think scrubbing bubbles!  Red wines are more intense than white wines, often because of the tannin component, and fortified wines (think Sherry or Port) are more intense than red wines, because of their elevated alcohol content.

How do you determine a dish’s intensity?  Salads and fish seem ‘lighter’ than poultry and red meat. The difference is not one of calories or protein, but of fat content, which boosts textural richness and perception of flavor.   

Don’t forget to take all aspects of the dish into account.  The cooking method will also dictate the dish’s intensity.  Braising or grilling will yield greater intensity than poaching.  The finishing sauce(s) or seasoning(s) need to be taken into consideration as well.  A light white fish finished with a tarragon cream sauce will need a different wine than a light white fish finished with a squeeze of lemon. 

2. Compare vs. Contrast – two basic ways to attack the pairing scenario.  It can be easy to find comparable flavors in wine and food.  Think about the herbaceous nature of Sauvignon Blanc.  If you are making a lighter dish, finished with fresh herbs, Sauvignon Blanc would be a good pick.  When similar elements are present in the flavor of both wine and food, they tend to balance each other. This is generally a flattering effect, creating a perception of harmony.  Sweet wines do best with sweet foods.  High acid foods do best with high acid wines. 

Going in the other direction, you can select a wine that has opposite qualities from the dish.  Pairing fried chicken with a crisp white is a good example – the acidity in the wine will cut through the fattiness of the fried dish.

3. Regional pairings or “what grows together goes together”.  This one is pretty self-explanatory.

4.  Order of the courses.  When doing a professional wine tasting, whites are tasted before reds, dry wines are tasted before sweet wines and light-bodied wines are tasted before fuller-bodied wines.  A similar rule of thumb is used when creating a multi-course menu – lighter dishes precede heavier dishes and dessert is served at the end of the meal. 

5. Seasonal component.  You should be a seasonal drinker, like you’re a seasonal eater.  It works.  Meaty, braised dishes that we crave in winter will work well with robust reds.  Spring vegetables do better with white wines.  When grilling in the summer, utilize rosé wines or lighter-bodied reds, served with a slight chill.  For the fall, refer to other tips presented here.

6.  Big Players – salt, sugar, spicy heat and fat.  Salt is present in almost everything we eat, in the main ingredients we cook with, and especially as a seasoning.   If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you definitely know what I’m talking about!

Salt triggers salivation, and our food tastes better as a result. Salt can overwhelm the taste buds on the tongue, in particular those that perceive sourness, or acidity. Since all food is salty to some degree, wine will always seem less acidic with food than it does alone. This helps explain why so many of the world’s classic food-oriented wines can seem too sharp or tart on the first sip.  Most are high acid styles, produced by winemakers who assume we’ll pair their wine with a meal, instead of chugging it in front of the tv.

For lower acid styles of wine that may seem delicious alone, this effect is less flattering, as whatever refreshing edge was present in the wine is lost. In general, when pairing wine and food, sommeliers or restaurateurs will choose a style that seems too sharp/tart alone, knowing the perceptions of salt and acidity will balance each other on the palate. 

Instead of making wine seem less acidic, sweetness in food draws dramatic attention to wine’s acidity. Sugar in food blunts the tongue’s ability to perceive sweetness in wine, and vice versa. Typical ‘dry’ wines will seem even drier with sweet foods than they do alone. ‘Off-dry’ or fully sweet styles, may taste ‘bone dry’ if the accompanying dish is sweet enough. 

Pairing sweet foods with the bone-dry classic wines of the Old World (think France, Spain, Italy, Portugal) can be particularly unflattering, like having a sip of orange juice immediately after brushing your teeth.   Most New World styles (think U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Argentina) fare better with sweet foods and sauces, since they are not quite as dry and tend to have riper fruit flavors. Sweet foods are apt to throw most wines out of balance by playing up the wine’s acidity and playing down its sweetness.

Spicy heat in food can be difficult to pair with wine. Think about what you find most often on beverage menus in Asian restaurants.  Beer!   It often works better than wine with the spiciest cuisines, as its average alcohol content is much lower; 4-8% vs. 12-15% in table wine.

The fiery heat of hot sauce or chili peppers creates a mildly painful burning sensation on the lips and tongue, and alcohol intensifies this burn.  Remember when your mom would pour alcohol over a cut or scrape to clean it and it would burn?  Same idea. The higher a wine’s alcohol, the more painful and lingering the spicy heat appears to be.  

Two strategies may be employed in pairing wines with spicy food: choosing lighter-bodied, lower-alcohol wines or choosing wines with noticeable sweetness (a touch of residual sugar).   Sugar helps to tame the burning sensation caused by spicy food.

Fat plays a major role in making the foods we like to eat taste delicious!  Fats and oils have a special relationship to red wines in particular; they minimize the astringent effect of tannin. By drying the mouth of saliva, tannin can limit the sensations perceived by the taste buds and the olfactory center. Fat’s ability to release red wine’s tannic grip on the mouth allows our food to seem juicier and more flavorful.   

Fat in cheeses and meats will soften red wine’s harshness. Tannic wines will cut through the oily mouthfeel of rich foods and cleanse the palate.   Animal fats, like those found in dairy products and meats, are the strongest in countering tannin. The easiest way to remember this tip is to think about the wine list at a steak house.  It’s full of big, fat red wines that will purr like kittens, once paired with a fatty steak.

Oils derived from plants, like olive oil or sesame oil, can achieve a similar effect, but to a lesser degree. However, the oils found in fish and seafood are different in composition, and are inadequate to offset tannin’s drying effect. This is the root of one of the oldest ‘rules’ of wine and food pairing, “white with fish, red with meat”.  While the general principle is sound, there are exceptions: Red wine can be delightful with fish if low tannin wines or fatty sauces are chosen and white wines can be better partners for ‘low-fat’ meat dishes.

What makes a good food and wine pairing?  Well, it depends on your goal.  Are you pulling a special bottle from the cellar that you’d like to highlight?  You’re better off creating a very simple dish that won’t steal the wine’s thunder.  Been slaving over a hot stove all day?  Pick a simple wine that won’t overshadow your handiwork. 

For me,the best pairings are when the food and the wine taste better together than each did on its own.

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A new wine wheel

I use Ann C. Noble’s wine aroma wheel in several of my classes.  Say what you will about it.  Supplying people with vocabulary to accurately describe what they’re smelling and tasting is a great way to get them excited about wine.

On Grub Street yesterday, a new kind of wheel popped up – one to decipher wine labels.

The accompanying article is worth reading.  The teaser line is,  “Without labels of jumping kangaroos, how would we know which wines to avoid?”

Some highlights:

On French labels…”It’s the fancy stuff, and it will taste sort of like dirt, but in a good way.”

On diluted French labels…”Take the French label and remove a lot of the words. Voilà! ”

On graphic design sub-class Pottery Barn…”American wine that tastes like the vanilla-scented candle they always put in those catalogue rooms.”

On nostalgic vacation labels…”These wine labels are sort of ingenious in that they skip over the wine entirely — “Who cares what grape it is! There’s a flip-flop on the label!” — and go straight to the lifestyle you imagine yourself having while you drink it….I have had enough hangovers to know with full certainty that these are cheap wines that taste like hangovers.”


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Yep, it’s good with bacon and eggs

Back in December, 2009, I had a post about sparkling Shiraz.  Last month, I had the opportunity to visit Majella and test the proposed quaffability of sparkling red at breakfast time.

Majella had what has to be the world's largest frying pan set up in the middle of the winery.

I have to include another shot here, just to give you a better idea of the scale of this thing. 

Half the pan was dedicated to scrambled eggs and the other half was dedicated to local bacon, pork and chicken sausages.

The result:

Yes, I was having coffee and wine at the same time. Hey, it was 8:30 am.


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