Archive for Wine

A Weekend in the Finger Lakes

I know, I know. Every time I get on a roll updating the blog, I suddenly disappear again. Believe me, I’m as tired of the excuses as you are. But this month I endured a series of seemingly endless travels for work (Florence and Singapore, again) and family reasons (Pittsburgh), and I am only now starting to catch my breath. (In fact, I am currently home ailing with a sore throat. I think all this jet setting has finally caught up to me. Cough, cough.)

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But in the midst of all these crazy journeys, at the beginning of the month Jim and I escaped to New York’s Finger Lakes for a weekend. The sparkling lakes and waterfalls, gorgeous green hills, and quiet country roads—along with the local wine, farmers’ markets, and amazing restaurants—were just what we needed before summer said its farewell and autumn appeared at our door.

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Let’s start with the wine. There are more than 100 wineries clustered around the region’s eleven lakes. Winemaking has been a tradition here for over 150 years, with most of the well-known wineries situated around the three largest, oblong lakes: Seneca, Cayuga, and Keuka. With a climate that has often been compared to Germany’s Rhine region, the Finger Lakes are primarily known for cool-weather whites such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer; however, we found that the reds were surprisingly deep and sophisticated. As Jim and I visited the wineries around Seneca Lake, we picked up bottles of Riesling and Cabernet from Standing Stone vineyards, as well as Viridescens and Cabernet Franc from Red Newt Cellars.  The Celsius iced wine from Atwater Estate vineyards was too sweet to resist, and we ended our tour with a few bottles added to the backseat of the car.

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We revived our weary palettes with some delicious dinners around Seneca Lake. Our favorite meal by far was at Dano’s Heuriger, a modern, glass-encased, Viennese-style restaurant right on the lake. We started with some of the unique spreads, all of which were visible in the glass counter near the entrance. The liptauer, a tangy Austrian cheese-based specialty, and the hotel sacher, made from capers, mustard seed, and anchovy paste, were incredibly intense, while the pumkinseed oil spread from my German-themed bento box blew me away with its smooth texture and flavors. As you can tell from the photograph below, the bento box gave me a small taste of everything the heuriger had to offer: fresh, vinegar-laced salads and potatoes, as well as various forms of juicy pork. Jim declared the wiener schnitzel the best he had ever tasted, and we immediately started to wonder if we could justify coming back for lunch the next day.

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Another food-related highlight of the weekend was the Ithaca Farmers’ Market on Cayuga Lake. Here I need to thank Amy Maltzan of the wonderful blog Eggs on Sunday, first for her posts inspiring us to visit her local market, and also for the personal dining suggestions she provided for our getaway weekend. Amy, your farmers’ market didn’t disappoint. I was amazed by the sheer number of small local farmers selling their fruits and vegetables in the wood-beamed hallways of the market.

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From one end to the other, down the side halls and in between, I browsed through piles of garlic, berries, cherry tomatoes, greens, and beans. Jim enjoyed a local cider tasting, and we bought some ham from a cute little butcher called the Piggery, as well as bread and cheese for snacking between wine tastings. I was a little surprised by the absence of fish mongers, and the relatively small number of cheese and meat vendors, but I loved how local crafts such as pottery and wood furniture were included in the market.

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In addition to all this eating, drinking, and shopping, we visited some beautiful natural sights around the Finger Lakes. If you plan to head up there anytime soon, must-sees include the waterfall at Taughannock State Park, and the incredible rock formations in Watkins Glen State Park. The Corning Museum of Glass also deserves a lengthy stop. As you can tell from this post, you certainly won’t go hungry or thirsty during your travels.

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Court Street Strolls: Fat Cat Wines Coming Soon

Fat Cat Wines Coming Soon to Carroll Gardens

As we strolled down Court Street on Saturday night, Jim and I were surprised by the activity going on at a storefront near West 9th Street. It looks like a new wine shop called Fat Cat Wines will soon open on this sleepy stretch of the block. A closer look this morning revealed sleek wooden wine racks and a counter under construction. I don’t usually post tips such as this, but any new, interesting shop on this quiet end of Court Street is always exciting to me. Hopefully the store will carry some intriguing wines. I’ll keep my eye on it and see if I can find out more information.

Fat Cat Wines, 538 Court Street between West 9th and Huntington Streets in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

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Wine Tasting in Sonoma: Bartholomew Park Winery

Sonoma Landscape

 

Days before our olive oil and wine tastings in Paso Robles, and way before that lunch at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, we spent a day wine tasting in Sonoma with Jim’s parents. Our West Coast trip had begun in San Jose, where we had all convened to celebrate the holidays with my sister-in-law and her family. But somehow, even after two days of wonderful food and wine, we still had room for more. So the day after Christmas we hopped in our rental car and drove out to wine country.

After a two-hour, sometimes-scenic drive, we made our first stop at Sebastiani Winery and its impressive tasting room near the center of town. But then we drove down a rustic, tree-lined road to Bartholomew Park.

With its gorgeous grounds, simple tasting room, and knowledgeable staff, Bartholomew Park Winery won us over even before we tried their 2004 Kaspar Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. But peppers sealed the deal. After smelling this wine, I expected fresh green peppers to come pouring out of the bottle–the aroma was that strong. Their flavor in the wine was more subtle but surprisingly enjoyable.

Bartholomew Park’s property has quite an eclectic history. It’s all on their website, but it’s interesting to know that for a period of time starting in 1920 the land hosted a State Farm for Delinquent Women, housing prostitutes, drug addicts, and “wild women.” Long after this excitement (and much more), Bartholomew Park Winery was officially founded by the Bundschu family in 1994. They focus on small batches of handcrafted wines, all of which are available only at the winery and through their wine club.

We did some more driving and wine tasting that day, even going all the way up to Healdsburg to explore their wineries. But we kept talking and thinking about Bartholomew Park. It was those peppers; we just couldn’t forget those peppers.

Bartholomew Park Winery, 1000 Vineyard Lane, Sonoma T: 707-935-9511

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Wine Tasting in Paso Robles

The winding roads, sun-stroked hills, and draping tree branches of Paso Robles, California, were just as I remembered from our first visit a year and a half ago. I relaxed in the car’s passenger seat, taking in the scene while Jim navigated us around one of our now-favorite destinations. But in addition to viewing the area’s natural beauty, we had another agenda for our trip: wine tasting.

Paso Robles Landscape

 

Paso Robles’s warm days and cool nights encourage the production of a wide variety of excellent wines, including Cabernet, Syrah, Viognier, and of course Zinfandel. (We’re not big fans of Zin, but the area is very well-known for them.) As the reputation of the local wines has grown, so has the number of wineries dotting the landscape. During our first trip we explored several of Paso’s family-owned vineyards and chatted with their friendly, passionate winemakers. This year we returned to visit old favorites as well as wineries we missed the first time around. Here are some of the standouts, all of which produce both red and white wines:

Adelaida Cellars: As soon as we arrived in Paso we drove straight to Adelaida. Their vines grow in the limestone soil of the Santa Lucia Mountains, imbuing Adelaida’s vintages with bold flavors and minerality; the winery is actually located at an elevation of 1,800 feet. Picnic tables overlooking the panorama supply the perfect spot for outdoor tastings. Upon entering the small, unassuming tasting room, we were happy to see staff members we met during our first visit. Favorites from our tasting included the Viognier Glenrose Vineyard from 2005, a tart, clean white wine with hints of grapefruit, and the fruity Rhône Style Red from 2004. 5805 Adelaida Road T: 800-676-1232

Hansen Vineyards: A leisurely scenic drive towards Templeton led us to Hansen Vineyards, where the gregarious owner was holding court in the rustic tasting room. We had arrived on a lark, looking to buy a bottle of wine for a friend with the same last name as the winery, but we wound up being pleasantly surprised by Hansen’s strong, peppery Cabernet Sauvignons. After a lively discussion with the owner over which vintage we preferred, Jim selected the 2004. We ended our visit with a picnic lunch in the winery’s sunny yard, and then moved on to our next stop. 5575 El Pomar Drive, Templeton T: 805-226-9023

Maloy O’Neill Vineyards in Paso Robles

 

Maloy O’Neill Vineyards: We visited this small, family-owned vineyard after several disappointing stops at larger wineries along busy route 46E. While Maloy O’Neill has been growing grapes since 1980, the actual winery has been open for only 2 years. Concentrating on handcrafted quality, Maloy O’Neill sells 35 different wines, mostly blends, and makes very small quantities of about 200 cases each. Most can only be bought at the winery or through their wine club. Among the many interesting wines on their list were a 2004 Malbec, an unusual wine varietal for Paso Robles, and the 2005 Enzo, which utilizes a grape called Lagrein, originally found in Northern Italy. 5725 Union Road T: 805-238-7320

Tablas Creek Vineyard: Robert Haas partnered with the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel in France to create Tablas Creek, one of Paso Robles’s best-known wineries. It specializes in estate-grown, Rhône style blends, focusing on the Châteauneuf-du-Pape style. During our first visit to Tablas Creek a year and a half ago I discovered my love for Mourvèdre. Mourvèdre is a meaty, fruity grape often used in blends with other grapes such as Grenache and Syrah. And even though Tablas Creek uses it often in their blended wines, they also produce a 100% Mourvèdre, which I especially enjoy. 9339 Adelaida Road T: 805-238-2083

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The North Fork, Part II: Wineries

long-island-004a.jpgAs mentioned in my previous post, Jim and I spent last Saturday touring the vineyards of the North Fork, cruising around Routes 25 and 48 in the midday sunshine. While Long Island wines have traditionally struggled for prestige, their quality has slowly improved over the years due to renewed interest and investment in the area’s natural resources. We set out to see what the excitement was all about.

Shinn Estate Vineyards, located on Oregon Road in Mattituck, was our wine find of the day. Owned by Barbara Shinn and David Page (who also own the popular restaurant Home in Manhattan), this charming vineyard and its friendly staff immediately put us at ease while simultaneously impressing us with their wines. During our tasting, Barbara Shinn was also manning the counter of the airy tasting room, chatting with customers, pouring tastings, and offering driving and biking directions to weekend tourists. Talk about making people feel at home!

Jim and I shared a flight of three wines for $6.50 (believe me, with a few tastings already behind us, sharing a flight was the way to go). We had heard about Shinn’s 2006 “first fruit” Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon from the friendly folks at Sherwood House Vineyards around the corner, and were floored by its crisp taste of chilled grapefruit; it really woke up our drowsy palettes. The 2006 Rosè evoked flavors of not-too-sweet strawberries for us, and the 2005 “wild boar doe,” both smooth and spicy, amused us with its clever name. 

Other memorable stops of the day included Macari Vineyards, where we prefered their Chardonnay and dessert wines, and Bedell Cellars, whose outdoor patio had the atmosphere of a busy Manhattan bar instead of a low-key stop on the Long Island Wine Trail. In addition to enjoying their gorgeous outdoor space, we liked their Main Road Red vintage as well.

Besides sampling these wines on our tour, we also learned about the differences between steel versus oak fermentation, the benefits of American versus French oak (everyone seems to have an opinion about which is better for the wine, and many do not agree), and at Bedell, how new saplings are grafted onto pre-existing vines. Finally exhausted from tasting and learning, we broke for lunch at the classic Cutchogue Diner, and indulged our hungry stomachs. After a morning of refined wine tastings, my grilled cheese and fries never tasted so good.

Shinn Estate Vineyards (pictured), 2000 Oregon Road, Mattituck  631-804-0367
Sherwood House Vineyards, 2600 Oregon Road, Mattituck 631-298-1396
Macari Vineyards, 150 Bergen Avenue, Mattituck  631-298-0100
Bedell Cellars, 36225 Main Road, Cutchogue 631-734-7537
The Cutchogue Diner, Main Road, Cutchogue 631-734-9056

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The North Fork, Part I: Anniversary Dinners

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This past weekend Jim and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary (That’s right, another year! We still got it!) on the North Fork of Long Island. We rented a fun PT Cruiser to take in the scenery: farm stands selling strawberries, rhubarb, and greens; charming Victorian homes mixed in with newer, more suburban models; leafy trees shading the narrow roads; farms, wineries, and watery marshes. In addition to all this relaxing exploration, we also had two wonderful meals at area restaurants.

The North Fork Table and Inn: With its white walls and tablecloths, hardwood floors, and individual flower pots of herbs atop each table, The North Fork Table and Inn presents a modern yet rustic atmosphere for a special, celebratory meal. Like many of the nearby establishments, this restaurant supports the local farms and fishing communities of the North Fork whenever possible, and also showcases Long Island’s up-and-coming wines. I started with an assortment of roasted baby beets ($14). A medley of yellow, pink, and red beets were smoothly tossed with goat cheese from the Catapano Dairy Farm, as well as crunchy, salty pistachios and a sherry vinegar dressing, creating a intriguing interplay of textures and flavors. My main dish of lavender-seasoned California squab ($34) didn’t overwhelm me with lavender flavors, but the dense meat was sweetly enhanced by fresh figs, tart belgian endives, and a delicate white turnip purée. Jim’s duo of beef ($38), a roasted strip loin and a shortrib streudel, was one of the most creative entrées of this type he’d ever had. For dessert we shared comforting sugar and spice doughnuts, dipping each into warm cinnamon cream ($10) while I finished my glass of Pinot Noir from Castello di Borghese, one of the few wineries we had missed during our afternoon tour. The most embarrassing moment of the evening (because there always has to be one) occurred when our kind waitress, noticing my barely-hidden notepad, offered me a menu as a souvenir. Later on, when I was away from the table, she asked Jim if I was a chef. His reply: “No, she just really enjoys her food and likes to remember it.” And it’s true.  57225 Main Road in Southold, New York  11971  631-765-0177

The Frisky Oyster: Since most out-of-towners desert the North Fork by Sunday night, Jim and I pretty much had the dining room of The Frisky Oyster to ourselves. The low-key lighting, soft, brown banquettes, and abstract raspberry wallpaper, combined with a modern, slightly techno music soundtrack, impart a sleek feel to this Greenport favorite. Mexican and Asian accents influence the restaurant’s contemporary American menu, and help celebrate Long Island’s natural bounty. We started with the tuna tacos ($14), sparkling with the addition of crunchy shaved papaya. The piping hot heirloom tomato fondue with warm goat cheese ($13) had us dipping all the toasted ciabatta we could find and more. My seared sea scallops ($27) went wonderfully with its tangy pea shoot salad, as well as my glass of Channing Daughters Sauvignon Blanc, but the accompanying spring pea risotto cake was a little too heavy for my taste. Jim’s penne pasta with tasso ham, spring peas, and scallions ($24) was both bacony and spicy, his favorite combination of flavors. We ended the meal with a refreshing vanilla bean semifreddo and macerated strawberries, and wondered what to make of the macerated fruit trend we had encountered throughout the weekend. It had appeared the night before as well, in the form of macerated apricots. What was going on here on the North Fork?  27 Front Street in Greenport, New York 11944  631-477-4265

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Book Review: Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass

No matter how much wine I drink, and no matter how much I read about wine, it’s always somewhat of a mystery to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love wine, and feel that I appreciate it, but I wish I just knew more, that I could feel confident in describing what I’m drinking beyond such repetitive words as “blackberries” or “citrus.” 

Natalie MacLean’s recently-published book, Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass, leads the way towards a better understanding of wine through an enjoyable and amusing combination of fact and storytelling. MacLean is an accredited sommelier who first began writing about wine while on maternity leave with her son, and she publishes a free newsletter called Nat Decants through her website.

Instead of writing a didactic treatise on wine and its extensive history, MacLean takes the reader on a series of adventures in the United States and France, exploring different vintages and relaying her personal experiences in the field. As MacLean picks grapes in California, works a day in a New York City wine store, and tours vineyards in Burgundy, she creates vivid and often humorous visions of her adventures while weaving in factual information along the way. In one of my favorite chapters, she visits with the heads of several French Champagne houses, introducing the reader to the surprising fact that many are still women, a legacy from the many widows who took over the vineyards after losing their husbands to war or sickness in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In the midst of her adventures, MacLean describes the differences between New and Old World Wines, talks about how critics such as Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson influence the wine market, and provides helpful tips on pairing wine with food. With her smooth, flowing writing style and easy sense of humor, MacLean makes the wine world much more approachable to any level of wine lover. Both the novice and the more advanced drinker will enjoy the introduction to the world of vineyards, winemakers, and vintages MacLean explores.

Would we really want MacLean to completely demystify wine? I don’t think so. Part of what many people savor about wine is its inherent mysteries, and the joys experienced in personally discovering a previously unknown combination of flavors and aromas. MacLean’s Red, White, and Drunk All Over doesn’t take anything away from this excitement; in fact, it encourages you to go out, grab a glass, and drink a wine you’ve never tasted before.

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