Archive | January, 2014

Not the “Pale” Rieder

17 Jan

Castelfeder Lagrein “Rieder”, Süditirol- 2011, Alto Adige, Italy. From Garnet Wines, $15. 13.5% ABV.

Recently, some wines from Italy’s Alto Adige managed to whet my appetite. So  I went looking for additional labels to try from my local NYC wine stores. From the name of this wine alone, I don’t know why, but I was expecting a lighter, brighter, fruitier wine when I purchased this Castelfeder “Rieder”. What I got felt like a full blast of flavor from this Lagrein, proud of its heritage in North-Eastern Italy, the portion where residents identify more as Tyrolean than Italian. To the tasting notes:

Color is deep violet with purple edging. Nose of black plum, cassis, and vegetation.

On the palate, the flavor of plum starts and is followed by gently sour blackberry, with a hint of charcoal on the top palate. Gentle tannins and earth on the medium finish, with floral notes of lavender and violet. Notes of schist, stone, and old wood indicates both the terroir and ancient wine casks for aging. Over several days, the gentle sourness grew in intensity, as did the earthiness, tannins and acidity.

On Days 1 and 2 I loved drinking this alone and it was subtle and delicate with meals, on Days 3 and 4 I was adoring this wine with food as it brought out bigger notes and grew with intensity. This dark, savory, powerful wine was a great foil to the bright wines I tasted recently from the same area. A testament to the great variety you can find from a single region, this lagrein shows similarity to a mature pinot noir early upon opening and acts closer to a cabernet franc after getting air. Fun, flexible, and offering great value in this $15-16 price range, this “Rieder” is one I  want to take over and over again.


à votre santé!


Alto Adige: Northern Italy’s Powerhouse Wines

12 Jan

I recently had an opportunity to get up close and personal with some amazing Alto Adige DOC wines, and I was impressed with the quality, the flavors, and the prices of these wines.  They will have a regular place in my vocabulary and cellar from here on out, and it’s time we looked closely at them. Trust me, you will be glad you did!

AA 1st schava

Cantino Valle Isarco Schiava DOC 2011, Sample Provided by Alto Adige Wines.  ABV 12%. No MSRP listed.

This schiava is bright ruby in the glass with a nose of young cherries. On the palate, very delicate- the softest of the reds I tasted, light with gentle tannins. With balanced acidity and tannins, this wine pairs best with pastas, appetizers or a meat & cheese plate.  This is a tasty and light summer red. Though not easily found,  it is available in NYC through the distributor:

This wine warmed me up for the next three heavy hitters:

Eppan Pinot

St. Michel-Appan 2011 DOC Pinot Noir. Sample Provided by Alto Adige Wines. 13% ABV MSRP $13.

Color: Pale ruby with clear edging. Nose: hints of red fruit, raspberry and cherry blossoms together with a note of old wood.  On the palate; a fresh young blend of blackberry, cherry, and cassis is delicate going down. Harmony is demonstrated by matching young fruit and the right amount of acidity together with supple tannins for a very enjoyable experience.

It paired beautifully, after opening, with basic rigatoni pasta a garlic and olive oil, and side of steamed broccoli. Ideal to cut the garlic from the palate, leaving my mouth refreshed. This would also be a great appetizer wine, with the lush fruit and crisp acidity this is a sommelier’s pairing dream. A very strong competitor against both US pinot noir and Burgundy, I was surprised at how good this wine is for the price, and I kept finishing my tastes early- the bottle was gone far too soon.

In NYC, you can find this wine at Gotham Wines & Liquor .

Galea Schiava

Nils Margreid Galea Schiava DOC 2011. Sample Provided by Alto Adige Wines. 13% ABV, MSRP $19

Color is pale ruby center with garnet notes, translucent with clear edging. A delicate nose of ripe red fruit, ancient wood and a hint of limestone. In the mouth, it expressed more body and depth than I expected, fresh fruit and nice crisp acidity with gentle tannin. Instead of  layers of flavor, I experienced singularity of flavor and location. This wine screams Tyrol, and reminds me of hiking in the mountains and taking an early dinner with thinly sliced meats, a house salad, a side of pasta, and fish. This pairs delightfully with each of those, and is just as nice by itself.

When you buy this wine, whether its for yourself or a friend, don’t stop at one bottle. It goes down so easily, you’ll open it while you’re cooking and finish the bottle before dinner is ready.  It took all the patience I had to save enough to try this with fajitas, stir-fry, burgers, and pasta and this wine went the distance with each one.

In the NYC area, this is available from NJ-based .

Andrian Gewurz

Kellerei-Cantina Andrian Gewürztraminer DOC 2012. Sample Provided by Alto Adige Wines. 14.5% ABV,  MSRP  $16.

Color: pale straw. Nose: a delightfully aromatic wine, slightly perfumed, touch of citrus and jasmine with underlying floral blend.

On the palate, If there ever was a wine that came close to a handmade salted caramel, this might be it. Lychee is the initial fruit, followed by notes of toffee and butterscotch, and an amazing blend of sweetness, acidity, and salinity that made it difficult to put the wine down from either my nose or mouth. Addictive.

This is a 90+ point wine all day long, and it was so tasty that I kept this bottle for a several weeks, rationing tiny sips just to keep reminding myself how delicious it tasted. Every time, the aromatic wine with sweetness and a noticeable salinity just knocked me out. I did several searches for this wine locally and found consistent ratings in the 90-92 point range, prices $20 and under, and limited availability (usually only several hundred cases per year in the USA). So you won’t find it on grocery store shelves, but when you do find this, buy me a bottle- I’m good for it.

Yes, it’s just that darn good. And each of these is something special. Look for wines of the Alto Adige region (also known as Suditirol) to start popping up in the least expected places, on wine lists you love, in your wine stores.  Why? They are a Powerhouse region, providing  solid wines with great value, my friends… this is the next big thing in wine.

à votre santé!

*Special Thanks to Cornerstone Communications!*

Two Buck Chuck

5 Jan

We’ve all tried it: Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s. But is it any good? Is it worth your time?

In spite of the fact that their wine should be called three buck chuck (prices have risen, but that moniker lacks onomatopoeia), I’ve had TJ’s wines at several functions and always deemed them “drinkable”. Ok, but does that mean you should drink it? No, you should drink what you like. Just because you CAN drink it doesn’t make it worthy. Hey, you could drink urine. I would never advocate it, but evidently it’s drinkable (gross!) in a matter of life and death. Thankfully, wine is NOT a matter of life and death.

Shaking off that tangent (and assuming you haven’t closed your browser) let’s consider TJ’s Wine. It’s my firm belief that Two Buck Chuck is an alternative to the $8-11 bottles you might find  in a wine store: every day, drinkable table wine, kind of like how Uncle Ben’s Rice is an acceptable side dish. It serves a purpose, though you probably won’t be writing home about it.

I had a blast reading this article from Thillist by Ben Robinson who convinced pal Sam Lipp, the GM of Union Square Cafe, to casually rate TJ’s wines along with Robinson’s beer-drinking girlfriend while eating pizza. The blithe commentary is a hoot, with the girlfriend’s less-refined opinion carrying as much weight as Lipp’s in the storyline. It’s a fun read for anyone who loves wine, because we’ve all been there at some point in our lives:  just hanging out and drinking whatever is laying around with your friends. Like drinking with your buddies, the notes  get funnier as they go along.

On the other side of the spectrum is S. Irene Virbila’s article in the LA Times which expressed a former appreciation and now a certain disdain for TJ’s wine. But even if these wines are only useful for quaffing at barbecues or for quiet Tuesday night dinners at home, Virbila’s article expressed that in spite of finding a gem, TJ’s wine was truly a waste of time. I couldn’t help but notice that not one of the wines considered was in the generic two-buck-chuck category. Perhaps that was a mistake. But at what point do the best of the generic wines compare to the bottom of the name brand wines? 

Everyone knows that I’m constantly looking for great value in wines. Well, I’ve never seen a decent amarone for under $20. Anatoli Levine (aka Talk-A-Vino on WordPress) shared his position on Amarone from Trader Joe’s which intrigued me. I look forward to tasting his picks, and I’d love to hear more opinions from anyone who has tried these wines!

Just because a wine is drinkable doesn’t make it good or even worth my time. This is why I constantly seek out great value in $8-13 bottles to share with you.  

But if you enjoy it, if the wine gives you pleasure… well then isn’t that worth your time? If you would drink a $9 bottle of every day table wine, why not a $3 bottle from Trader Joe’s if all you want is a basic vin du table?

Knowing that every day won’t be a dinner of delicacy, sometimes you just throw together whatever you have laying around. So maybe we’ve found the perfect solution for pairing a white wine with a box of mac and cheese. In the end, it’s all about finding wines you like, and wines that give you pleasure. 

Corked and UnCorked

3 Jan

It’s a New Year, and a dozen people have reached out to me regarding an NPR article about alternative bottle closures.

Let’s do a quick review on popular enclosures types:

Traditional corks are made from bark of the cork oak (Quercus Suber). Since the cork is stripped from the tree, it is considered a sustainable practice.  Most of the corks in the world come from Portugal and Spain. Traditional corks are key to the development of the high end wines that improve significantly with age, but the inconsistencies of gas seepage on both sides of the cork is a major concern and the cork inconsistencies mean that you have no guarantee the expensive bottle is wonderfully developed and perfectly aged versus having developed into something undrinkable to be discarded.  natural-wine-cork-stopper

Synthetic corks are made largely from plastics (making them recyclable but not biodegradable). They eliminate the possibility of TCA (actual cork taint) and can be useful in specifying an exact amount of gas that can travel through both sides of the cork. As they also maintain the classic cork removal ritual, these may offer the winemaker the best opportunity to replace actual cork as far as aging goes, but there are two major concerns: 1) some suggest that they require vertical, instead of horizontal, bottle storage to inhibit flavor transfer from the plastic, and 2) the concern that the porous nature of the plastic may over-oxidize the wine. syntheticcorks

Screw caps (aka stelvin caps) are aluminum caps with a captured plastic insert against the mouth of the bottle. These provide the best prevention from oxidation of the wine, but there is still public outcry against the use of what is considered a cheapening of both material and process, and in the case of some wines, the inability for bad aromas to escape the wine. So screw caps are currently ideal for wines designed to be enjoyed while young. They are quote commonly seen in wines from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and many German Mosels and Eiswines. screwcap

-The Vino-Seal and Vinolok are trade names for glass & plastic stoppers. Like screw caps, they provide a total prevention from oxidation,  but these enclosures usually cost more to source and require manual insertion. vino-seal-glass-cork-capsule-alternative-wine-closure

-The Zork is an Australian brand name for a modern enclosure that employs a combination of screw cap together with a plastic stopper insert, which can be used for both still and sparkling wines. zork

There we are. So, why the fuss? Let’s put it this way:  

Q: Why all the noise about corks and alternative enclosures?

A: Sadly, because natural corks don’t do their jobs well.

A 2005 study done by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture
demonstrated problems with cork inconsistencies and compared them to alternative enclosures. The study found that 45% of natural corks have varying gas transmission properties! So it makes sense to keep developing improvements for bottle closure, at the same time insisting that the natural cork industry improve their consistency in quality.

At the end of the day, we simply want wine that is GOOD. We want products that are worth what we’ve paid for them, and we don’t wait the wine to be tainted or ruined in any way.

Sure, at small dinner parties, I love the ritual of removing the cork. But I often buy wines with screw caps and have no qualms about using them personally or serving them to my guests. This past Thanksgiving, one of my wines had a vino-seal, and one had a stelvin. As a matter of fact, for bigger parties and events I prefer screw caps over other enclosures to allow for speedy, immediate opening as needed. Imagine having multiple case of expensive wines that had to be entirely uncorked prior to a dinner party, to find that only half the wines were used? The owner has to drink or share the wines or have them professionally re-corked if there is a desire to keep them. Finally, some wines are simply going to be better when sealed by a screw cap, as it will provide a product as exact as possible to the product when it was bottled.

I have found Zorks, Vino-Seals and Vinoloks on bottles I purchased and they worked well; I have never had an issue or complaint with them. But while I have yet to find a screw cap enclosed wine with a street price over $100, I often find older wines that are sealed first with cork, and then dipped in hot wax to provide a total seal…which, just like the screw cap,  prevents gas from moving in our out of the bottle. To make matters worse, removing the wax is often a messy challenge, and I find about half the waxed corks have disintegrated by drying out on the top side. So honestly, if the wine is worth protecting enough to spend the time and money to seal it by hand in hot wax, why not use a different closure and save the end buyers from the mess? wax

Broken Cork 1 CorkTo the traditionalists who decry alternative enclosures, I say it’s time to be practical! I’d rather use any other enclosure method than to open a fine wine and find it either tainted with TCA, oxidized, or to have a crumbled cork ruin the ritualized process of bottle opening and tasting table-side. More important than ritual, is the simple truth that the wine inside the bottle should be what we expect: delicious!

à votre santé!

Cantina Terlano St. Magdalener Häusler, 2011

3 Jan

photo-8Cantina Terlano St. Magdalener Häusler, 2011. Alto Adige, Italy. From Garnet Wine, $17/bottle, 12.5% ABV.

Color is pale violet with garnet edging, a delicate nose of herbs and young red fruit. In the mouth, the acidity cuts across the palate first and then the fruit appears with an evolving finish, allowing this red blend to gently take the taster by surprise. Cherry, young sour blackberry, and some green vegetation are predominant flavors with gentle aftertones of aged wood, stone, and sandy slate. Nice to enjoy by itself, but due to mild tannins this wine shines best when paired with food.

The blended balance of lagrein (15% ) and schiava (85%) grapes makes this wine just sing of its heritage of the Tyrolian vineyards, the high hillsides featuring cold nights, while days are spent in bright sun. While this Häusler is an obvious perfect match for northern italian cuisine, it might shock you in its flexibility, pairing easily with many cuisines and types of food. Subtle, delicious and addictive, it reminded me of pricey red burgundies and made me want to stock bottles of this in my cellar. Try it, you’ll know what I mean.

Here’s a link to the manufacturer’s website, for more information.


à votre santé!

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