Archive | December, 2012

Going Out On a High Note

31 Dec


Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône Réserve  2010 (From Mayfair Wine on Union Turnpike, Queens $9/bottle)

Color: Ruby center edging in garnet. Nose: red and black plum with violet, touch of spice.


On the palate this wine shows boysenberry  and cassis up front with loads of pepper, some earth, notes of oak, clove, and limestone on the finish. Nice balance, medium body, shows more depth than many young wines. Great value. An impressive blend of grenache,  syrah and mourverdre grapes to develop a tremendous wine at this price and age. Consistent work from a talented winemaker whose  stable includes Chateau Beaucastel and La Vielle Ferme. If you like French wines, don’t miss out on this one- it’s a great deal at this price and shows very well compared to wines priced at double this.


Check out more about Famille Perrin’s wines here.

Here’s to a great 2012 send-off, and looking forward to an amazing 2013 with my readers and fellow oenophiles.

à votre santé!


Pop The Cork!

28 Dec

I find it interesting that many of the emails I’m getting right now are ads for champagnes. It’s that time of year, when everyone celebrates with a bottle of bubbly. Of course, we also serve champagne at major life events- births, marriages, wakes, and other large celebrations.

So why don’t I feel like opening a bottle of champagne this year?

Perhaps it’s that I’ve learned not to follow into the trap of champagne. Sure, I can enjoy a good champagne. If you’ve read deeply into my blog, you might have seen my first “aha!” moment about wine, with Dom Perignon’s 1982 Vintage.

Sadly, those amazing vintages are few are far between. There are several great champagnes out there, but much of what I find doesn’t move me. Too dry, too lifeless, too simple for my tastes, for anything less than stellar- and stellar champagnes are very pricey, even by my standards.

Pair of champagne flutes making a toast.

If you are in agreement, then it’s time you do what I did, and rediscover prosecco and cava. Prosecco (from Italy) and Cava (from Spain) are the current climbing trends that are making huge gains in market sales while champagne slips another 5% of sales this year. 

I’m not the only one noticing this. Our friends in the UK are as well, as I started to do some research on the topic.

Why prosecco? Why cava? You ask. “WHY NOT?” They answer back. It’s all in the buyer’s control. We’re noticing and making choices with our wallets. Cava and Prosecco are largely inexpensive (many bottles from as low as $7-30) that drink very well, with critics scores from the 80’s to 90’s. Moreover, they aren’t as painfully dry- hence that old Italian practice I see of people dropping a sugar cube into their champagne glass (with or without the Angostora bitters and brandy that make a champagne cocktail).

So, it tastes better, it’s cheaper, it’s not as pretentious, and it’s fun to drink? No wonder people are buying it!

In this day and age, people are finally realizing that there are great options out there in sparkling wine that just as viable as champagne, and we’re taking the plunge. I find these days I am gifting cava and prosecco in the same way I’m gifting rioja and tempranillo wines- to introduce friends and family to today’s great values in wonderful wines.

Now- if you’re going to splurge, then why not- drop the $$ on a serious champagne and enjoy? It’s tough to beat a great vintage from a great house- champagne is hard to make, a painstaking process- hence the price tag. And there are some expensive bottles out there. Looking for some pricey gifts? I found a few: From the ’96 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay ($1,995 at Southeby’s Wine) to the 1970 Dom Perignon Oenotheque ($2,495 at Sherry-Lehman) to the  Roederer Cristal Rose ’04 which garnered a score of 98 points from Wine & Spirits Magazine ($525 at Zachy’s Wine & Liquor). Any of these would make a champagne lover giggle with delight, if you have the disposable income to part with.

Just for fun, here is a link to ten of the top most expensive champagnes on the market.

After you’ve enjoyed that, when you go down to your local wine store, as the clerk to show you the cava or prosecco sparkling wine that offers incredible value, and pick some of that up for New Year’s Eve. You’ll be delighted and amazed at how good it is.

Whatever cork you choose to pop on New Year’s Eve, I hope you enjoy it, and drink responsibly, using a designated driver.

à votre santé!

Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy

25 Dec

Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz, South Australia, 2009, $41 (online from $33-55)

This is a thick wine, slow on the pour with an inky purple color. The nose is powerful black fruit with some vanilla and oak, no floral notes at all.  The mouthfeel is viscous with jammy black plum, blackberry, and licorice -all powerful agents. The finish has clove, spice box and a hint of black pepper. The alcohol is quite high in this wine (16.5%), so do be wary with your consumption as it may take you by surprise.

BlueEyed Glass

I found the wine slightly unbalanced: the tannins are subtle and the acid is controlled in comparison to the upfront flavors: you don’t sense structure of the wine as the fruit invades your palate. But being clear, this is a pleasure to drink, and was my choice for a dinner with an unusually wide group of entrées from steak to sea bass to a spicy seafood pasta in tomato sauce, and the shiraz stood strong on its own with each meal, complementing them.

A minor concern: from the first glass it heavy with sediment from the first glass, as the server insisted upon performing “the Mollydooker Shake” as instructed on the back of the bottle. I took a moment to check out Mollydooker’s website, which instructs that the 2009 should not have been shaken past 2011, hence the sediment issue.

Blue Eyed Label

In spite of that minor issue, we all enjoyed the Blue Boy Shiraz with dinner and I found this wine delicious and fun, and a good pairing for the varying dishes served. It is indeed pricey and has been consistent for several years with 92+ ratings.  I’d love to see this wine go head-to-head with Jason Moore’s Modus Operandi Valhalla  and Vicarious wines at a blind tasting- as these bottles immediately came to mind upon tasting the Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz. Hmm. Maybe I’ll have to do this myself. In the mean time,

à votre santé!

Sonoma’s Forest Glen Chardonnay and Portugal’s Cepa Pura Fernao Pires

19 Dec

Forest Glen: 2009 Chardonnay, Sonoma, CA. $7.50 / Wine Room of Forest Hills.

Pale yellow-green in color. Lemon and green apple aromas with a touch of gentle wood from barrel fermentation. In the mouth, the pear, fig and apple flavors match with good acidity, showing balance. What felt tight in the mouth left a creamier, lasting finish that was pleasant and would go easily with appetizers, white meats or a cream sauce. Nice for the price. I was told it is entirely organic/biodynamic by the store proprietor, but have not found any data to support that on the web.


Cepa Glass

Cepa Pura: 2011 Fernao Pires, Quinta do Montalto, Lisboa, Portugal. $8 / Astor Wine, NYC

Light straw color. Citrus nose with a hint of sand and slate. Quince, pear and creamed honey are forward in this fresh, simple but unpretentious and well-made wine sporting a nice, dry finish. A solid vin du table that would easily pair with salads, shellfish,  calamari,  chicken, or by itself. The acidity marries the wine with the food on the palate, cuts through the protein and makes you slow down the process to enjoy the pairing more. I don’t see many Fernao Pires wines on the shelves in the USA but this is a tasty Portuguese white that could easily be a staple in households if it gained popularity in the USA, comparable to white wines costing twice as much.


à votre santé!


14 Dec


Not the wine, no. It’s me, the writer. I’m in a conundrum. “Why,” you ask?

I have no clue what to drink.

Seriously, I have bottle after bottle staring me in the face. Four on the buffet (including a lovely gift bottle), a partial mixed case on the floor I have yet to sort or empty, much more in the “about to drink” cabinet on this floor, more caved below in the cellar.

And no clue what to open.

Don’t freak out. Freaking out isn’t pretty.

Freak Out
See? I told you,  freaking out isn’t pretty!  (OK, this is a staged picture from a show I was working on back 2010 but I think it’s hilarious nonetheless, and makes my point.)

I’ll figure out what to drink very quickly sooner or later, as soon as I decide what to eat. Then, it’s easy! Right? Well…that depends too.

No everyone knows what to drink, no matter what they are eating.

A friend (I promised to protect their identity, I’ll just call them”Snidely Whiplash.” Whoops, awfully masculine. Oh well.) Anyway, this friend admitted that they actually enjoy drinking wine with dinner, but  doesn’t know enough about wine to know what to order at a restaurant or what to bring home, so Snidely orders and buys beer instead. I took some time to explain that once you’ve enjoyed a wine, you ask what grape it is, and start with that -if you feel bold, ask the region, more bold you ask the year, and maybe you even make a note in your smartphone/pad/tablet/good old fashioned notebook, or have one of your two personal assistants start keeping track for you.

“That’s too much information,” said Snidely. “I’m more of a guy who’d ask for red or white, but whenever I just say red or white, at a restaurant, when it comes, it tastes godawful. But if someone like you orders wine and I taste it, it’s usually amazing. Like this stuff here,” as he looks into the depth of the Napa blend I’ve poured, “this stuff is pretty good.”

I explained to Snidely that the reason he likes the wines I choose is because I’ve considered what it will pair with, and made a complementary choice. Whether it’s beef, chicken, sandwiches or tofu, chinese food, BBQ, French, Malaysian or Southern Fried Cookin’, you have choices to make.

Or you can ask your friendly server, or the sommelier or wine director if you’re in that level of establishment, for their opinion. “I don’t feel comfortable asking about that,” said Snidely.

I quickly reminded him of the last time we’d been out to dine, and he inquired about a very specific side dish because he  knew what he wanted to accompany the main dish and didn’t like the other options. “You are educated in what you like and dislike,” I explained, “and you can share that with the staff, after which, being informed of your preferences and desires, allows them help make good suggestions to provide a meal you will enjoy. Or you can simply say, “What wines do you have that would go well with this dish?” when you order your entree’. Simple, right? ”  

“OK,” said Snidely, dismissing me and shoveling a fork towards his maw. “Are you done yet? Because the food is getting cold,” he says, mouth half full of cajun spiced salmon.

He snickers. “Gotcha. Pour me some of whatever you chose.”

By the way…I finally decided what to drink.

à votre santé!

McManis Family Vineyards Syrah 2011, Ripon CA

11 Dec

McManis Family Vineyards Syrah, Ripon California 2011, $8/bottle Astor Wine.

Features a purple color with violet edges and a blackberry/cherry nose. Blackberry and cassis rule the palate with a followed by vanilla, a hint of oak and licorice on the tight finish with very modest tannins. This is a jammy and acetic wine that can pair well with lighter fare or spicy food as a good complement; a nice little domestic syrah. A good option for the budget wine buyers looking for value and consistency.


While I have little knowledge of Ripon Valley (central CA), I’ll be looking for other wines from this area.

Here’s a nice resource for other central valley wineries from a website called “Crazy About Wine”, that lists McManis and other wine producers from the central CA area.

à votre santé!

Questions & Answers: Petite Syrah

9 Dec

A friend emailed me the following question, which I figured might be a useful addition to the stream of wine reviews. I hope you enjoy!

“JvB, Question: What is petit sirah? Follow Up: Why is it so delicious?” -Julia (lawyer & wine lover from Long Island, NY)

Great Question, Julia. Here’s my take on the grape, and its character.

“Durif” is the original name for the grape we call many things: Petite Syrah in France, here in the USA and in Australia it’s slightly adapted to petite sirah. The ‘e’ at the end of petite is correct form with either syrah or sirah.

This is a grape strain that was cross-bred in the Rhône valley of France in the 1880’s between the grapes Syrah and Peloursin, with the specific intention of being impervious to a mildew strain that was killing off entire syrah crops in the region.  The attempt was only partially successful as while the petite syrah grape is resistant to one form of powdery mildew, it succumbed to another grape disease known as gray rot. To make matters worse, the surviving grapes were considered to be of sometimes dubious quality by the region’s winemakers. But what was viewed as a failure in the moist Côtes du Rhône was a huge success in the drier areas of California and the Victoria region of Australia and is popular in arid vineyards in other locations such as Israel, Arizona, Washington to name but a few.

WHY the name? Well, the word ‘petite’ in the name refers to the small grapes on the vine, which have a high skin to juice ratio.


WHY is it so tasty? Great question. So here’s answer version one, from a technical standpoint: When given long maceration, it can be very tannic- which, then aged in new oak, gives off a nose of melted chocolate, among other delicious aromas. The fully fermented and aged wine is often very dark purple to black in color,  “inky” as it were, with blue and black fruit flavors dominant on the palate with herbal and black pepper notes. It blends well, can be drunk young or aged to great depth and complexity, and with good acid and tannin provides a great opportunity to create a full, well-rounded wine with lots of character. As a blending wine, it’s often used to make a well-rounded wine by adding length to the finish, and charm or depth to the palate. It pairs well with game and red meats or spicy foods.

OK, why does it taste so good, from a NON-TECHNICAL standpoint?  Well, a wine that has an herbaceous and fruity nose with blackberry, blueberry and black plum flavors, notes of spicy black pepper, an elegant mouth feel, and a long, charming finish that recalls toasted oak and melted chocolate- who wouldn’t like that?

I hope this answers the question to your satisfaction. I have to say, I’ve been tasting two gentle whites for the last two evenings, but I think I may have to open a bottle of petite sirah!

Here are a few links for your continued reading enjoyment:

Top Petite Sirah Best Wines Ratings Prices

Best American Wines $15 & Under: Syrah & Petite Sirah

Petite Sirah Wine Reviews and Prices | WineAccess Search


à votre santé!

First Impressions

5 Dec

We are taught that presentation is important.  The Dress For Success, and Make a Good First Impression mentality permeates almost every culture. But not wine? Sure, it’s all over the bottle- sometimes it IS the bottle, but it usualy starts with the label. When you see your favorite label on a bottle, what is your reaction? (Mine is a look of pure joy.) What about the label from a wine you found tainted with TCA? Not good, one would expect. (Shudder)

With all we pay attention to in tasting and rating wine, does a label really matter? It must, if some wines make their sale purely on visual appeal, which may be the only shot a winemaker gets to put a taste into the buyer’s mouth. As a matter of fact, the marketing gurus will argue that the LABEL is the most important impression of the winemaker, long before the bottle is uncorked- because as a consumer, you have already bought the product.

This article from the Daily Meal is what got me started thinking about how I don’t really like wine labels of a certain type (animals) but prefer art or abstract designs. Could you imagine hiring tattoo artists to design your labels?

I adore some crazy looking labels. Ignoring the salivation I get when seeing a classic label from a historic chateau, my (current) favorite labels are both from Orin Swift, a small winery by David Pinney. Check out his labels from Papillon and The Prisoner wines- they have names pulled from classic entertainment, which endorses it in your mind to start. But then you see the killer images:

Papillon Prisoner Bottle Shot Pretty interesting stuff, right? It’s certainly got more character than a plain beige label with a bland “classic” sounding name from Napa with no image to lock firmly in your mind. After seeing the label and drinking the Papillon in a restaurant, I knew I would remember that bottle in a second,  -and I did- when I next saw the wine in a store.

This article from the Daily Designer demonstrates the label design as part of packaging concept. And some of these are amazing, I’d buy them based solely on label.

Finally, I give to you my holiday gift:  a link to 30 of the coolest wine label designs, which has a little something for everybody, and may provide for you that amazing, previously unimagined holiday present for that special someone in your life. Do check ‘em out, you will enjoy them I promise!  I love the idea of the Boarding Pass Shiraz concept for your frequent fliers, the Rorschach Test bottle for your shrinks and counselors, The Return Of The Living Red for your Walking Dead fans, the gas can designs from Mini Garage Wines for your grease monkeys, the B Frank wine where you get to write your own label- the list goes on and on. And let me know if you buy something, or find something ELSE that you think is super cool!

à votre santé!

Qualcosa di vecchio e qualcosa di nuovo (Something Old, Something New)

3 Dec

Two Montepulciano Wine Reviews!

First, a bang-for-the-buck you will enjoy that is easy to find:

Citra Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2010

Billed on their label as America’s #1 Montepulciano (according to Neilsen 52-week Rating ending 4/2/11,) $8/bottle, I found this locally at The Wine Room of Forest Hills.


A light ruby color throughout, the nose has red and black fruit with some pepper. Cassis, black cherry and blackberry dominate the palate with hint of  spice and a bit of sulfur on the dry finish. I paired this for a family dinner with meat loaf and we finished the bottle in record time. At such a low price it offers a good deal. Seen available online for as low as $4/bottle it may be useful to know that the 2009 is the highest-rated vintage to date.

Here’s our second wine, a hard-to-find but mind-blowing treat:

Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 1997


The 1997 has a garnet color in the glass with the edges just starting to brown. Very notable nose of aging red fruit, dusty rose, and oak. In the mouth, this is a stunning wine, great balance of elements with reserved red and black fruit, moderate acidity and tannins, this offers a velvety experience similar to those of Margaux fame. The finish lingers with perfectly red plum and raspberry, saddle leather and earth.  $30/bottle, rare.

Dei Wine

Some Backstory for procuring the ’97: I purchased this when NYC’s Chambers Street Wines offered the remains of a private cellar “ready to drink” via internet. I scoured the offering, came up with ten bottles I wanted, and managed to procure five of them when I called. The kicker for me was the offering had bottles ranging as low as $15, with most in the $20-40 range. Of the bottles I bought, all are rated 90 points or above, have great reviews, and had hit the mark for prime time to consume.  I’m quite happy with this approach and will keep my eye peeled for similar offerings in the future, and for Dei Vino Nobile Riserva Montepulciano in general which usually sells in the high teens for recent or current vintages and routinely scores 91 from Robert Parker or  James Suckling. I plan to buy and cellar some more of this and see if I get similar results!

à votre santé!

%d bloggers like this: