Thursday, November 7, 2019

What’s In Your Glass? Here’s A Look At What We’re Drinking Now

WIYG 110619WIYG? That’s a question we are often asked. Here’s a look at what we’re sipping.

Rabbit Ridge 2014 Allure de Robles, Paso Robles

This Rhone-style blend from Paso Robles is primarily Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre with some other unspecified varieties as well. I picked this up for $12.99 and it outperforms at this price.

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Much deeper in essence than you might expect, with a woodsy flavor and strawberry notes. The wine is barrel-aged, and there is a nice touch of vanilla and oak.

Schöne Tal Cellars 2016 Pinot Noir, Meredith Mitchell Vineyard, McMinnville

This single vineyard Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley is a sensational wine. Priced at $50, it comes from a biodynamic site.

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Minimal intervention and natural fermentation are used. The wine is balanced  featuring gorgeous raspberry flavors stitched together with rustic herbal notes. Our first taste from this winery and it won’t be our last.

Skinner Vineyards Smithereens 2016 Red Blend, El Dorado

Smithereens refers to the blasting used in mines to reach gold deposits. The El Dorado region of California is gold country, and we struck paydirt with this wine.

A blend of 51% Grenache, 31% Mourvèdre, 12% Syrah and 5% Counoise, this is a ripe and delicious wine that I purchased online. It was a steal at $12.99 as it retails for more than $20. The wine has spice notes and rumbling dark cherry and cranberry. A lilting minerality keeps it juicy. A surprisingly great purchase.

Stoller 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills

One of our favorite Willamette Valley wineries, I rarely see Stoller on the wine shop shelves. When I did, I grabbed this bottle for $25. If you can’t visit their winery, the next best thing is uncorking Stoller along with a delicious meal.

This is Stoller’s entry level Pinot Noir, but terming it thus does it injustice. This is a very good Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. It is highlighted with bright red fruit and a taste of cola. Great balance and silky tannins make this an ideal wine for your salmon or pork entree. Aging is primarily in neutral French oak, ensuring that this is a very nuanced wine. While the reserve level Stoller wines will launch you into the stratosphere, this bottle will give you  nice ride up into the clouds.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Ribera del Duero and Rueda Regions Showcase Distinctive Flavors Of Spain

Ribera y Rueda WinesWake up to the possibilities of Spanish wine by exploring the Rueda and Ribera del Duero regions.

Reaching The High Plateau

Hear me, you wine lovers. If your knowledge of Spanish wine is limited to one very popular region, a cavalcade of sensational Spanish wine is passing you by.

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We explored Ribera del Duero and Rueda during a recent wine dinner and an online tasting hosted by Snooth and Ribera y Rueda wines. Rueda and Ribera del Duero are sister wine regions located on high plateaus along the Duero River in North-Central Spain, about two hours north of Madrid. The marketing partnership is sensible, since Ribera focuses on complex red wines while Rueda is known for its distinctive white wines.

Tempranillo is the signature grape in Ribera, where winemaking goes back more than 2,000 years. The DO (Denominaciónes de Origen) was founded in 1982 and there were just nine wineries. Today, there are more than 300. Tempranillo, known locally as Tinto Fino, is a hearty, thick-skinned version of its cousin in Rioja. The grape produces robust red wines.

In Rueda, the DO was founded in 1980 and today has about 70 wineries. Rueda is ground zero for Verdejo, Spain’s number one white grape variety. Wine production dates back to the 12th Century when King Alfonso VI offered lands to monasteries. Wine produced here must contain a minimum of 50% Verdejo. The gravel soils are rich in limestone and iron and yield complex, aromatic fruit.

Spanish-Themed Meal Is A Knock-Out

Our culinary team went into overdrive to pair just the right dishes with our four wines. As part of the online tasting, half the participants were sent wine from Ribera del Duero and the other half received wines from Rueda. We were part of “Team Ribera” but to make sure our dinner guests had a well rounded lineup, I purchased a bottle of Verdejo from Rueda.

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Here’s a glimpse of our menu and wine pairings

Ribera y Rueda menu for SM

Our friend Susan prepared a shrimp dish for openers. As time was approaching for the dinner, I didn’t have the exact name of her dish for the menu card, so it became Camarones de Susana (Susan’s Shrimp in Spanish). The tasty dish was crab stuffed shrimp and was a spot-on appetizer with the Bodegas Garclarevalo 2018 Casamaro Verdejo from Rueda.

Rueda Verdejo and crab-stuffed shrimpThe sandy soils were naturally protected from the phylloxera pest that spread across the region about 100 years ago. The original vines, now 100 to 145-years-old continue to grow and were used in the Verdejo, along with free run juice from younger vines. The wine is 85% Verdejo and 15% Viura.

This is a bright wine, but the acidity is in the background. A lush mouthfeel pairs with refreshing flavors of citrus and peach. Our gang could have easily turned this into a Verdejo party!

More seafood was on deck as we moved into a tasting menu portion of our dinner. We had three small dishes: Pan Roasted Salmon with Tomato Caper Vinaigrette, Salad with Baked Herb Goat Cheese and Pan de Tomate Catalan. This last dish is toasted bread rubbed with garlic and smashed tomatoes. For our pairing we opted for the Bodegas Cepa 21 Hito 2017 Rosado from Ribera del Duero.

Rosé in Spain is called rosado and usually has a bit more body than a typical rosé from France’s Provence region. The Hito is made with Tempranillo and is a pale pink. Red fruit and citrus highlight this wine which has a medium body and was a wonderful accompaniment to the salmon.

Ribera del Duero Rosado and roasted salmon

The Rise Of Ribera Reds

When I visited Spain a few years ago, perhaps the biggest surprise was the brash and bold red wines from Ribera del Duero. Why didn’t I know about them? They were sensational. So I looked forward to our entree which was paired with two very different Ribera reds.

The Green Dragon (my wife and our main chef) really shone with the Braised Short Ribs with Manchego Polenta. She was ably assisted by cousin Betsy, who was in town after attending a conference. The meat fell effortlessly from the bone as the wine reduction sauce melded with the creamy polenta. Wow – and that was before I even tried the wines.

Ribera y Rueda DinnerThe first red was the Valdehermoso 2016 Joven from Bodegas Valderiz. Joven is the Spanish classification for unaged wine designed to be consumed young. This is a biodynamic wine and it is fermented in stainless barrels. This wine has scant tannins to detract from gushers of beautiful red fruit with fresh cherry flavors. Tasty indeed, but our hearty short ribs dish was more ideally matched to our next wine.

The Finca Torremilanos 2016 Los Cantos is 95% Tempranillo and 5% Merlot from biodynamically farmed vineyards. The vineyards are distinguished by the presence of round river stones, or “cantos.”

I was uncertain what to expect since the bottle isn’t listed as a Crianza or Reserva, which indicates minimum barrel aging. I was to learn the wine is aged 16 months in French oak barrels and it brings a true beauty to the wine. One sip revealed a complex wine with beautiful tannins and golden oak notes.  Black cherry and spice round out this perfect pairing for our braised meat dish.

For our finish we had a sweet surprise from our guests Arthur and Mary Branham. Arthur is a winemaker with a sweet tooth. He poured his Barham 2015 Chocolate Raspberry Port to go with our Chocolate Raspberry torte. Bullseye! It hit the mark just right.

Whether you are aiming for a splash of a refreshing white or a deep dive into complex reds, Ribera y Rueda have you covered. The value is outstanding too. Each wine reviewed is $18 or less. Expand your Spanish horizons by sipping wines from these unique regions.

Full disclosure: Some of these wines were received as marketing samples.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Boundary Breaks Masters Finger Lakes Riesling

Boundary Breaks Co-Owner Bruce MurrayThe best Riesling in the US? In our minds it is unquestionably from the Finger Lakes. We visited Boundary Breaks to learn the secret of their Riesling success.

Sprouting Success

Boundary Breaks Wines co-owner Bruce Murray is frank when discussing the rapid ascendancy of his Finger Lakes winery. Boundary Breaks, founded with co-owner and wife Diana Lyttle, released its first vintage in 2013. In this short span of years, their Riesling has collected top scores from Wine Enthusiast, Robert Parker and glowing reviews from the Wall Street Journal.

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“This is a challenging climate,” said Murray during our recent visit to the Seneca Lake tasting room. “You win or lose in the vineyard.” He notes that the ideal site for his vineyard is the true key to success.

The vines are planted close to glacier-sculpted Seneca Lake. The location on the eastern side along with a favorable slope provides extra sunlight for slow ripening of the grapes. Riesling grapes that ripen too quickly are flabby, while the longer hangtime favors acidity – a key to developing balance and complexity.

Highly-rated Riesling from Boundary Breaks

Bruce and Diana have relied on business savvy in addition to a fortunate vineyard selection. Unlike many wineries, they started without a tasting room. Distributors were acquired and that allowed income to be stable. Boundary Breaks currently produces 10,000 cases and is distributed in around 25 states and a couple of foreign countries. “We’re not just relying on people walking through the door,” said Murray.

Those who do walk in the tasting room are impressed. In just three years, Boundary Breaks has grown its wine club to 1,300 members. While business strategy certainly has been key, Murray knows that good fortune is all about their high-quality Riesling grapes.

00001IMG_00001_BURST20190909160030_COVERA Hyper-Focus

“In California, there is a lot more room for error, but not here,” explains Murray. “We focus exclusively on Riesling. It’s easier for us to figure out.”

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Murray considers Riesling the world’s finest white wine. He fell in love while having a Thai meal in a Las Vegas restaurant when he randomly picked a German Riesling off the wine list.

Boundary Breaks offers no less than six Riesling, including a sparkling Riesling and a Riesling ice wine. The Riesling that put them on the map, is the #239 Dry Riesling. Wine Enthusiast has twice named #239 (which refers to the clone number) to its list of the World’s Top 100 Wines. The 2018 vintage has the perfect balance of fruit and acidity. Lime notes mingle with a delightful minerality. It has a trace of residual sugar at 0.7% that adds to its freshness. SRP is $22.95.

Those preferring an even more dry wine can opt for the #90 Extra Dry Riesling with a bright and clean flavor profile. I found the 2017 Ovid Line North Riesling to be outstanding. This is a medium dry Riesling at about 2% residual sugar. It’s balance is splendid and it will appeal to wine lovers of all kinds.

The Reserve Riesling has a slightly sweet finish with a low alcohol of 8%. A true delicacy is the 2018 Riesling Ice Wine, with grapes picked from the vine when temperatures fall below 15oF. It tips the scales at 18.4% sugar and has a $69.95 SRP.

Finger Lakes Moving Forward

Seneca Lake view from Boundary BreaksWhile Boundary Breaks is hyper-focused on the vineyard and the Riesling variety, they produce some pretty darn good reds too. Cabernet Franc has cold tolerance and is the best performing Finger Lakes red.

After reviewing a Cornell University study on Cabernet Franc, Murray decided to change the vineyard procedures to maximize leaf exposure. Through cluster thinning the sun exposure is increased, which reduces pyrazines in the grapes. Pyrazines contribute to an unpleasant green pepper flavor. The 2017 Cabernet Franc vintage is the first for Boundary Breaks.

Currently there are only two acres of Gamay in the Finger Lakes, but Murray sees this as a growth area and one he may explore. “You can sell all the Gamay you can make,” he said.

The region is changing. Unlike some proprietors who bemoan craft breweries and distilleries siphoning away tasting room customers, Murray sees it like a mall, where people go to a destination and may make several different stops.

“The Finger Lakes is going through a change,” said Murray. “The pioneer owners are reaching an age where they are selling or turning it over to a new generation. I think we are also learning what we are good at and what makes us successful.”

Boundary Breaks has a focus on quality winemaking and the results are delicious. Look for their Riesling in quality wine shops, or make a trek to the Finger Lakes.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

France’s Golden Bordeaux Wines A Rare And Sweet Delight

South of Bordeaux lies a region known for sweet and dessert white wines, famed for fascinating aromas and complexity.

Loupiac with spicy Cajun crab dip

Shining A Light On Golden Bordeaux

While the Bordeaux region is primarily known for dry reds and whites, its sweet wines also have garnered worldwide fame. Sauternes is most well-known of several AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) that produce exemplary sweet wines.

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Golden Bordeaux are off-dry and sweet wines produced with Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. The wines have vibrant acidity and flowing aromas that can include mandarin orange, pear and apricot. We recently had the opportunity to taste through a collection of Golden Bordeaux wines hosted by Snooth and Jean Reilly, Master of Wine. The wines came from Sweet Bordeaux, a collection of eight AOC in south Bordeaux surrounding Sauternes. Its vineyards cover 4,400 acres and account for 2% of total Bordeaux wine production. Each year, approximately 9 million bottles of sweet and dessert wines are produced across more than 350 estates.


Varied hues of Golden Bordeaux

Not Just For Dessert

Golden Bordeaux should be served ice-cold. Since you’ll be taking small sips of the wine, it is likely to remain in the glass longer. A nice chill will keep it at the proper temperature.

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Although the impulse is to serve Golden Bordeaux with a sweet dessert, restrain yourself! In France Golden Bordeaux is often served as an aperitif for arriving guests as a special treat. It can also be served with a savory first course or a main course like fish or turkey. If saved for the end of the meal, serve it alone as the combination of a sweet dessert with a sweet wine could be overpowering.

Our first introduction to Golden Bordeaux was the sensational Chateau Dauphine Rondillon Loupiac 2009 Cuvee d’Or. We enjoyed this with a spicy Cajun crab dip. The wine has a superb golden amber color. The wine is affected by Botrytis Cinerea (noble rot) which adds amazing complexity. The grapes come from a vineyard planted in 1910. It gets a year of aging in oak. Citrus and deep honey flavors crescendo into an elegant finish.

We served the Segur du Cros 2017 Loupiac with a spinach and pear salad. The vines average 60-years-old and are grown on hillsides of the right bank of the Garonne River. Lovely aromas of flowers and honey fit well with our salad.

Our herbed dill salmon with asparagus and parsley lemon potatoes was paired with the Chateau de Marsan Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux 2015. This is an 80% Semillon, 15% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Muscadelle blend. A slightly golden yellow, the wine has citrus notes and a wee chalkiness.

Herbed Dill Salmon with Chateau de Marsan

A Harvest Of Flavors

Notable to me – and to Arthur Barham who joined me for the virtual tasting – was the sweeping range of flavors. We tasted 11 wines and they had notes of everything from leather and earth to flowers, nuts and tropical fruit. Part of that is due, no doubt, to the wonderful limestone and chalky clay soil. Taking the complexity to the next level is the noble rot. Botrytis Cinerea fungus attacks the grapes and feeds on the moisture inside. As the water is removed, the sugar and concentrated flavors remain. Harvesting must be done precisely to take advantage of these rare and special grapes.

All the wines were enjoyable, but one more deserves special recognition. The Chateau Les Arroucates Sainte Croix du Mont 2017 is 92% Semillon and 8% Sauvignon. The noble rot berries are harvested by hand. The soil is clay and limestone with fossilized oyster shells from the Tertiary Era.

The flavors range from melon and pear to dried fruit and orange liqueur. Arroucates is a shining example of Golden Bordeaux at its finest: a complex wine that is a cocktail of flavors in itself.

Golden Bordeaux is reasonably priced. You can expect to pay $20 or less for a 375ml bottle or $40 or less for a full size bottle. Treat yourself to this French delight – or pick up a bottle or two to surprise your dinner guests. For more information, see the Sweet Bordeaux website.

Full Disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Trio Of Wines Highlight Fall Flavors

Fall wine trioThe change in seasons requires wine with bold flavors. We uncork three wines to match with our harvest feast.

Three Picks For Autumn

For all our complaining about summer heat in the Raleigh area, we are reluctant to let go of the sunshine and warmth it represents. As the leaves change their hues and days get shorter, we put away the chilled rosé and seek heartier tastes.

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Following a hectic week, I recently traveled back from a conference in Norfolk . At home the Green Dragon (my wife and the Vino-Sphere culinary guru) and her sister were preparing a feast. When I departed earlier in the week, I left three bottles for them to build a meal around. The featured wines were: Cameron Hughes Lot 638 2016 Petit Verdot, Yakima Valley; Dry Creek Vineyard 2016 The Mariner, Dry Creek Valley; and Dry Creek Vineyard 2018 Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg.

Dry Creek Chenin Blanc 3Bringing In The Harvest

The opener was the Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc. Chenin is a great grape variety that we’d recommend for those wanting to break out of the white wine confines of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It is the featured grape in Vouvray, one of our favorite French whites.

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For the food pairing we had a spectacular harvest bisque along with a spinach salad with vinaigrette and strawberries. The bisque was made with butternut squash, sweet potatoes and carrots with a dash of sherry and maple syrup.

The Chenin Blanc, with an SRP of $16, has melon flavor notes with swirling tropical fruit. It has good acidity that is balanced with rich fruit flavors. Stainless steel fermentation keeps the freshness and their is a slight touch of sweetness. Pairing perfection!

Cameron Hughes Petit Verdot


Fall Into The Bayou

As they used to say on the Monty Python show: And now for something completely different… The Green Dragon got busy while I was gone researching what would make a good pairing with Petite Verdot. She concluded that it required food with bold, spicy flavors. What she came up with was a bit of a surprise.

Paired with the Cameron Hughes Petit Verdot was Cajun red beans and rice – something you’d more typically dig into during Mardi Gras. But this was a tasting meal and we weren’t going to let geography stand in the way of an ideal pairing.

We love a bargain on wine. That’s one reason we’ve always appreciated Cameron Hughes. Cameron Hughes is a négociant, with no vineyards or winery. Instead, it buys wine from premier wineries and sells under its own label direct online – without disclosing the original producer.

That’s how they can sell the the Lot 638 Petit Verdot for $15 instead of a $40 price point. Lot 638 comes from the prized Red Mountain region of Yakima Valley in Washington.

Inky dark, this is a smooth and powerful wine that certainly pairs well with spicy food. Delicious plum and blackberry flavors abound. We didn’t want this bottle to end. It’s Cameron Hughes’ first offering of Petit Verdot. We certainly hope to see more in the future.

The Mariner 2

A Spectacular Finish

Just last night someone was asking me to name my favorite wine. I responded that it’s like trying to pick a favorite child – I’ve got lots of favorites. If pressed, though, I would say that Meritage – the American Bordeaux-style blend – is my favorite. Our favorite Meritage is Dry Creek Valley’s The Mariner.

Ninety-nine percent of the work on the wine dinner was done by the Green Dragon and her sister Janine. However, the 1 percent that I contributed was crucial. The Mojo Pork Tenderloin with grilled peppers and avocados was cooked by yours truly. Considering I also grilled the asparagus, oranges and green onions, maybe my contribution was actually 2 percent!

Darkness was coming on, so we lit the tiki torches and candles and sat down to savor a special bottle of wine. The 2016 The Mariner is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. We decanted for about an hour.

The Mariner is a complex, layered wine that retails for $50. Perhaps it was the outdoor setting or the meal we served, but I judge this wine primed and ready to drink now. Yes, it can age for another five to seven years, but it is drinking beautifully now. It’s a limited run wine, with production of 1,378 cases.

My first impression was in the red fruit zone: cranberries and dark cherry. Sipping and swirling reveals a smidge of spice along with dried fruit, mocha and leather. The rising nearly-full moon and the flickering flames of the firepit completed an idyllic scene.

The Mariner is made with hillside vines that average more than 20 years old. Aging is in French and Hungarian oak, 48% new.

While the days of sipping chilled wine under a blazing summer sun might be gone for now, the door has opened for bold flavors and rich reds. Try these three wines to enjoy the autumn season to its fullest.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Finger Lakes Winery Bellangelo Crafting Legacy Of Winemaking Excellence

Villa BellangeloConsidered among the best Finger Lakes wineries, Bellangelo continues to innovate.

Riesling And Then Some

We’ve had a lot of Finger Lakes wine over the years. A lot.

Since first visiting the region more than a decade ago,we’ve visited more than 50 different wineries there and tasted wine from scores more. Finger Lakes wine country is changing. New wineries are popping up and the countryside is now dotted with numerous craft breweries and distilleries.

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When we first started frequenting this picturesque patch of upstate New York, Villa Bellangelo Winery wasn’t yet on our map. In 2015 we visited Bellangelo for the first time during the Wine Bloggers Conference. The stop was memorable for several reasons. First, my wife milked a goat (it was a promotion for a cheese company). While my wife might remember the goat, I remember the astounding Riesling.

Riesling is perhaps the most perfect expression of Finger Lakes winemaking. With crisp acidity and a lilting minerality, the Finger Lakes produces the best Riesling in the United States. And Bellangelo offers about a dozen different bottles.

Chris MissickSomething Is Bubbling

It would be easy to focus strictly on the amazing Riesling at Bellangelo. During our recent visit, though, winemaker Chris Missick wanted to talk about their sparkling wine program.

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“I’m a fan of Limoux,” said Missick, referring to the French region known for sparkling wine with grassy and apple flavors. “It’s different. I prefer a more fruit-forward, hedonistic style – not as austere.”

Bellangelo’s sparkling wines have earned national recognition. Three different methods are used, the traditional method (as used for Champagne), the Charmat (or tank) method usually used for Prosecco and what Missick terms the “modern method.”

Instead of adding sugar, a standard part of the traditional method, the fermentation is stopped at the precise sugar level needed. It is sent through a crossflow filtering machine and then yeast is added to trigger the second fermentation which takes place in-bottle. This modern method, using only natural sugar, is producing beautiful wines and earning the praise of critics.

We tasted three sparklers including the yet-to-be-released 2018 Sparkling Gewürztraminer. Everything is better with bubbly, and its true with Gewürztraminer.  The regular varietal bottling can sometimes be sweet and overly floral. In its bubbly version it is enticing with lively acidity and some citrus and spice notes. The 2014 Blanc de Blanc is another winning sparkling effort, favoring flavor rather than the minimalistic notes of some traditional Champagne.

P1060138Rewarding Riesling

The energetic bubbles extend to the Finger Lakes signature grape as well. We sampled the Gibson Vineyard Sparkling Riesling, which popped with a fruity and fleshy flavor.

Bellangelo first caught my attention due to the variety and excellence of their Riesling. “If you are a painter, you want to make sure you have a palette with many colors,” said Missick. He combines different techniques to paint the exact wine picture he is seeking.

The 2018 Reserve Riesling is a limited production wine with only 40 cases. The fruit comes from the Gibson and Kashong Glen vineyards. The 2018 Kashong Glen Riesling was my favorite, a sculpted wine wrapped in lime and minerality. The 2018 Fût de Chêne gets an oak emphasis with 10 months in the barrel.

Bellangelo continues to innovate and the results are delicious. The winery became the first in the Finger Lakes to produce canned wine with its Can Do line. They also produce the only Chenin Blanc in the region.

P1060128“My vision is to first and foremost make wines that are authentic and delicious,” said Missick. “Authenticity is the only thing that really matters. The wines must speak of the site and region and my personality. Not that it is about me, but anyone who makes wine, you can taste their personality.”

We have tasted and it is authentically good. Bellangelo is a family-owned winery located on the west side of Seneca Lake. The location has a history of grape growing since 1866. Bellangelo features wonderful hospitality, exceptional views and knock-out wines. Be sure to make it a stop on your next Finger Lakes visit.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

October Is A Merlot Celebration – Here’s How To #MerlotMe

IMG_20181004_164036Flip The Script: Merlot Is Amazing

Merlot has gotten a bad rap, but I’m flipping the script. by now wine lovers are well acquainted with The 2004 American movie Sideways. The film features Paul Giamatti as a Pinot Noir aficionado and Merlot hater.

This cinematic effort is credited for having made Pinot Noir trendy in the US and sending Merlot sales into the abyss. Enough already. That was 15 years ago.

Celebrate Great Merlot This Month

Some of the world’s greatest wines feature Merlot (can you say Bordeaux?). Washington State and Napa Valley produce mind-blowing varietal bottlings. If you think that Merlot is a weak-kneed, insipid grape get over it. You are just drinking the wrong bottles.

There is no better time to pop open a bottle of Merlot than October, which is International Merlot Month. For the seventh year, wine aficionados will rally ‘round the hashtag of #MerlotMe, for a month-long, global movement celebrating the Merlot grape. #MerlotMe aims to hit a record number of social posts using the hashtag to reach millions of wine lovers.

#MerlotMe unites those celebrating this lavishly textured, dazzling versatile noble red grape varietal. Wine producers and consumers across the globe will celebrate Merlot online during October with the hashtag #MerlotMe, sharing wines while toasting and tasting at events, in wine stores, restaurants, and homes everywhere.

How to #MerlotMe

Want to participate. Simply get your hands on Merlot! Share online with #MerlotMe. You can visit MerlotMe for the latest on where to taste, recipes, and follow participating wineries for Merlot news all month long. (By the way, this list includes some of the best Merlot producers around!) Visit your favorite winery and mention #MerlotMe for special offers and tastings.

Participating wineries, restaurants and retailers will feature #MerlotMe inspired tasting flights, food bloggers are posting Merlot-paired recipes with #WinePW Twitter chat on Saturday, October 12th at 11 am ET, spotlighting the food-friendly nature of the varietal. Winery tasting rooms in California, Washington and beyond are featuring special tasting flights, reserve and library pours and special pricing in honor of Merlot Month.

Merlot Momentum

In just the last five years the #MerlotMe celebration has generated more than 62 million social media impressions and reached a worldwide audience in more than 40 countries and nearly all 50 states with almost 15,000 social media posts. Check out these Merlot factoids: Merlot is one of the most popular fine wine varieties in the world with more than 720,000 acres planted worldwide. Merlot is the third leading red varietal after Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Blends purchased by Americans today. Merlot is the #1 red most consumed wine varietal according to consumers in a Wine Intelligence August 2018 survey of more than 4,000 wine consumers across all ages and drinking preferences. Merlot led social discussions online versus other varietals during the majority of months over the past year and Merlot received 43% of social mentions during the past year. California Merlot consumption was approximately 19 million cases in 2017 in the U.S., growing from the 2.8 million cases sold in 1994.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Kosher Wine Selections Brighten Fall Season

Kosher Wines For FallThese four kosher wine selections are ideal for the holidays.

An Evolving Wine Category

Once upon a time, kosher wine meant sweetened wine made with Concord grapes. Those times are long gone.

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Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, signals the launch of new products that demonstrate the variety and quality of kosher wines. These are wines that appeal to Jews and non-Jews alike. To kick off the fall season we hosted a special wine dinner with kosher wines spanning three continents.

The Inside Story On Kosher Wine

As mentioned, the quality of kosher wine continues to rise. It is still a wine segment that is misunderstood.

Hello Fall Wine Dinner“When it comes to taste, there’s no difference between kosher and non-kosher wine,” says Jay Buchsbaum, Director of Wine Education at Royal Wine Corp., the top kosher wine purveyor in America. “In fact, many kosher wines are award winning - beating out their non-kosher competitors for top varietal prizes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and rosés as well.

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“There’s a common ‘urban legend’ that wine is rendered kosher after being blessed by a Rabbi – that is incorrect. Actually, for a wine to be made kosher there are strictly supervised purity guidelines that need to be followed from the moment the grapes enter the winery to when the wine is bottled,” adds Buchsbaum.

To be considered kosher, Sabbath-observant Jews must supervise and sometimes handle the entire winemaking process, from the time the grapes are crushed until the wine is bottled. Any ingredients used, including yeasts and fining agents, must be kosher.

When kosher wine is produced, marketed and sold commercially, it will bear kosher certification granted by a specially-trained rabbi who is responsible for supervision from start to finish.

Hello Fall

Fall in North Carolina arrived on September 23. You wouldn’t know if by the thermometer, which was registering sultry temperatures in the high 80s. Undaunted by that, we gathered a group of friends for a special dinner to welcome autumn.

Although we’re not Jewish, we’ve come to appreciate the wines of Israel and the improving quality of kosher wines in general. For our dinner we sampled: Herzog NV Lineage Momentus, USA; Netofa 2016 Latour Red, Israel; Chateau Royaumont 2016 Lalande de Pomerol and Mt. Tabor 2018 Chardonnay, Galilee.

Hello Fall Dinner MenuFor our dinner my wife, the Green Dragon, whipped up a culinary masterpiece. We started the festivities (of course) with bubbly. For the appetizer we had chicken liver paté and spicy eggplant caviar on bruschetta. We popped open the Herzog Lineage Momentus. Once the wire cage was removed, I noticed the cork started inching itself out of the bottle – it should have been a warning. I popped open the bottle and the foaming froth, although quite festive, splashed onto the floor.

A Perfect Bubbly Pairing

Paté and sparkling wine is a spot-on pairing and this was delicious. The Momentus, which has a reasonable SRP of $20, is off-dry. That pinch of sweetness helped make it a perfect pairing.

Hello Fall HighlightsOur next course featured the Mt. Tabor Chardonnay with Cream of Cauliflower & Fennel Soup along with a salad of Fall Lettuces with Pear and an Asiago Crisp. This Chard is unoaked – just how we like it. There are notes of apple and melon and some citrus too. A very tasty wine with an SRP of around $15.

Our next course was a masterwork that required two bottles of red: the 2016 Chateau Royaumont 2016 Laland de Pomerol and the Netofa 2016 Latour Red from Israel. The main course was Pan-Seared Hanger Steak with Porcini Merlot Reduction Sauce & Roasted Fingerling Potatoes. I can only assume that the smashing success of this dish was due to the outstanding way I sliced the potatoes (since the Green Dragon did everything else!).

A Pair Of Reds

The Chateau Royaumont is a Right Bank Bordeaux wine, meaning it is Merlot-centric. In this case, the blend is 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc. It’s outstanding. The body is light with polished flavors of cherry and raspberry. The tannins are dialed back and the Merlot swirls with a silky finish. It’s a complex and balanced wine that retails for about $38.

Netofa has a more robust take on a red blend with its Latour. This is a Rhone-style blend of Syrah and Mourvedre. It has hearty flavors of dark cherry and briar with a foundation of earthy notes. The tannins, enhanced by aging in oak barrels, can stand up well with grilled meats or even wild game. The cost is about $27.

We wrapped up our dinner with assorted chocolates as we sipped red wine. The evening continued as more corks popped open and flames flickered on the tiki torches on the patio. Many thanks to our dinner guests Connie, Cecil, Laure and Jeff who helped us savor and critique these excellent wines.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Castoro Cellars 2015 Zinfandel, Paso Robles

Castoro Cellars 2015 ZinfandelThis California winery takes its earth-friendly commitment to the next level.

Castoro In California

Paso Robles, the fastest-growing wine region in California, is known for Rhone-style blends and big, bombastic reds. So I was intrigued when we received this bottle of 2015 Estate Zinfandel from Castoro Cellars. It would be my first taste of a Zin from Paso.

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Zinfandel styles can range all over the map. There are jammy fruit bombs, often with catchy names playing on “Zin” and on the other end you have sublime Old Vines Zinfandels with nuanced and delicate flavors. Where would Castoro weigh in?

I liked Castoro even before opening the bottle. The winery was established in 1983 by Niels and Bim­mer Udsen. It has more than 1,400 acres of estate vineyards which are certified organic and also SIP certified (which evaluates a vineyard’s sustainability practices). In fact, Castoro is Paso Robles’ first 100% certified sustainable vineyards and winery

The sustainability commitment includes solar power. The winery has 42 solar panels at their Cobble Creek vineyard and even more on the roof of their events room. The coolest aspect of their environmental program is the Sun Powered Summer Concert Series. The con­certs are run com­plete­ly on solar pow­er pro­vid­ed by a mobile solar gen­er­a­tor.

Tale of The Glass

As strongly as we support care for the environment, the wine still must be good. We poured the Castoro and our glasses were filled with a deep midnight purple.

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The wine is 77% Zinfandel, 19% Petite Sirah and 4% Barbera. Petite Sirah adds an inky depth to the wine color. The addition of Barbera makes this an uncommon blend, adding an Italian grape to a mix of Bordeaux and what is thought of as the “most American” grape – although Italy’s Primitivo and Zinfandel are in reality the same.

Only 400 cases of this Zin were produced, a very small production run. The taste, however, is quite big. At 14.5% ABV, it is on par with the alcohol content of some very big Napa Cabs.

In order to allow the wine to settle down, we decanted it. There is plenty of fruit in the glass with jammy flavors of black cherry and earthiness. Although a big wine, it is smooth and the tannins provide support in the background.

At $16 to $20, this is a Zinfandel to savor. You can rest easy knowing your sip is SIP certified.

Monday, September 23, 2019

North Carolina Wines Highlighted During National Tasting Event


IMG_20190906_214011_638NC Wine Country – Almost Heaven

John Denver had a different state in mind when he sang “almost heaven.” While that’s true, wine lovers in North Carolina feel they have a slice of heaven considering  the abundance of great wineries and wine in the state.

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North Carolina has more than 400 vineyards and 200 wineries that spread from the eastern coastal region to the mountains in the west. Wineries include well-known names, like the Biltmore Winery -- the most visited winery in the US -- to lesser known names like Fern Crest Winery in Andrews. The wines are surprisingly good, with a style to please any palate.

September is North Carolina wine month and wine writers in the state and around the country recently participated in an online tasting event highlighting wines from the Old North State. The event was hosted by Joe Brock and Matt Kemberling, also known as the NC Wine Guys.

Eleven wineries took part in the chat by providing samples. We had the opportunity to taste the 2015 GPS from Junius Lindsay Vineyard and the Guilty Red Blend from Windsor Run Cellars.

Grape-To-Glass Winemaking

Junius Lindsay GPSWindsor Run Cellars is a grape-to-glass estate winery in Hamptonville. It's a popular stop on the Swan Creek Wine Trail. Although capturing awards for their estate-grown red and white wines, the offerings are seemingly boundless, with fortified wines, mead, and a distillery that produces 80 to 90 proof spirits.

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The non-vintage Guilty, which retails for $20,  combines Chambourcin and Cabernet Sauvignon into a dry red blend. Chambourcin is a French Hybrid grape that’s become a favorite of ours.

Partnering with Cabernet elevates the wine, which pops with flowing raspberry flavors wrapped in smoky notes. Do we like it? “Guilty” as charged!

I wasn’t familiar with Junius Lindsay Vineyard before our tasting. JLV is located in Lexington, which humbly calls itself the Barbecue Capital of the World. The winery is owned by Michael Zimmerman, who named the vineyard after his grandfather, who started the family farm in 1894.

JLV is unique for their focus on Rhone grape varieties. These grapes are not a focus in North Carolina, in fact, Junius Lindsay is one of only two growers of Grenache in the state and is the only winery that produces a single varietal bottling.

The 2015 GPS is a blend of Grenache, Petite Sirah, and Syrah from the Yadkin Valley AVA. The structure of this wine is impressive, with fine-grained tannins. Grenache has the lead in this blend and the cherry notes come through. There is a bit of spice on the end to lend complexity. This is a great wine to discover and one of the best wines I’ve tasted in North Carolina.

September is North Carolina Wine Month, so there is no better time to seek out, sip and savor NC wine.

Full disclosure: These wines were provided as marketing samples.