Tag Archives: Tastings

Mohegan Sun Wine & Food Festival

26 Feb

My nephew is a foodie, personal chef, and an all-around fun guy. After seven years of talking about it, the stars finally aligned and we attended the Mohegan Sun Wine and Food Festival, aka #SunWineFest.

I have to admit, it was a little weird to attend The Grand Tasting as a member of the public, and not a member of the press. (Grand Tasting? That’ll be $95 + Ticketmaster fees, thank you.) But hey, I’m open-minded! How hard can this be?

It wasn’t hard. It was just PACKED.

We arrived at the casino on Saturday about an hour before doors. The line snaked deep into the casino, dispersing like NASCAR drivers after the green light once the doors opened. We moved with intent, but like any battle plan, we constantly varied and updated our crowd tactics. We maintained our goals of sampling carefully, spitting & dumping wine, not over-indulging, and drinking water to stay hydrated. It seemed like we were the only ones who did.

 

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Within an hour, some people were locked into chef-watching mode at the stage, while others were getting loaded from the tasting tables. Some tables served tastes, some poured entire glasses.

I still took tastes, refusing full or even half-glasses when offered. I used the dump buckets. And, in spite of the crowds, I found some friends! Everything from bourbon to port to champagne were being served. On the far side of the ballroom, local foodstuffs were from famed New Haven Pepe’s Apizza to some serious mac ‘n cheese and BBQ. Brisket over mac ‘n cheese- it may not look appetizing, but I stopped and took a picture because this was absolute savory decadence.

 

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In the course of a couple of hours, I found several Connecticut wineries and Sakonnet Vineyard, a Rhode Island winery worth visiting. I enjoyed their winemaker’s white wines, several of which included the varietal vidal blanc.

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I could not say ‘no’ to a sampling of Mumm champagne. The brut is still my favorite of this set, but I would have loved to sample the 1990 vintage or their Grand Cru champagnes. Next time, perhaps.

 

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We tasted Martin Ray (Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA). I enjoyed their chardonnay and rosé of Pinot Noir, both well-crafted, and ideal pleasure wines in warm weather.

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I found several rosé wines I enjoyed. Moment de Plaisir, Chateau Paradis, and Notorious Pink were among my favorites. The Notorious Pink is a grenache rosé and offers delightful strawberry with matching acidity. All of these are solid spring/summer afternoon delight wines to consider in the under $20 category.


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Since the event takes place in Connecticut, it was surprising to see few local wineries. But Preston Ridge did not disappoint with either the Fieldstone white or their rosé which has maintained its homey, northeastern rigidity.

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On our way to the door to take a water break, we stopped briefly to taste a Napa Chardonnay from Stags Leap.

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During a water break, we realized it was getting close to the Elite Cru tasting (Another $115, thank you) and I hoped we would be set up for some top-level wines. I knew immediately that all was well when the line was a fraction of the earlier line. Another not so subtle tell: we were handed purchasing sheets (by bottle or by the case),  along with wine glasses, which demonstrated that the entire experience had just graduated to “the deluxe experience”.

I had little to complain about, when a grand cru champagne was among the first things in my glass.

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And from that point on, we found a slew of familiar friends and classic vines that tantalized my tongue and brought back some tremendous memories:

 

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Not to be outdone, we finished our tasting with three wineries that were new to us, but who offered depth, complexity, and quality. Cloisonne Wines had a fabulous rosé and chardonnay from Napa.

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Fullerton Wines’s Three Otters offered a delicious chardonnay from the Willamette Valley that was only improved by a cutesy label. The wine is quite delicious.

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And last but not least, from the Anderson Valley, The Withers has a label that will catch your eye, and their wines are exemplary. Driven by passion, now exploding into popularity- just watch as this brand grows.

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At the end of the Elite Cru tasting, we were ready for a break. So we gambled for a while, hit a restaurant, then called it a night. If you decide to attend the #SunWineFest, I have some suggestions: 

1) To attend the grand tasting, go early and perhaps NOT on Saturday when it is packed!

2) Alternately, be prepared for the crowd. Make a game plan. Spit, Hydrate, Spit.  

3) If you only want the higher-end wines, then only attend the Elite Cru tasting. Spend five minutes going through the catalog, and hit the tables in the order in which you want to see them. Because you will either fawn over your favorites, or fall madly in love with another, and spend all your time at that table. But you will probably have a blast in that short time. 

Enjoy!

à votre santé!

 

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A Tale of Two Wine Bars

15 Aug

CorkBuzz, Greenwich Village, NYC

In any other city, Corkbuzz would be the hottest ticket in town. In NYC, it’s only a busy, thriving, wonderful resource of wine. We need more places like this, and more Laura Maniecs out there creating destinations that become bigger than size allows, by educating, supporting, and creating more passion.  Beautifully and tastefully decorated, one enters into a sleek wine bar with small tables, long bar top, and chill-out sofas in the front. The back of Corkbuzz offers both group and private tables that appear magically placed in an old-world wineries’ new world tasting table. For cramped NYC spaces, this is spacious and comfortable, yet intimate- as if you’ve been brought into a close friend’s living room.

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The list of available wines (by glass or bottle) changes often but you can preview online with the up to date menus, which I find quite helpful. The wine lists are deeply considered- with only 50 wines available by the glass, you can find any style in a good quality bottle at what I consider a reasonable price -most in the $9-16/glass, with some higher end pours reaching up to $20, and currently the champagne offerings include two $27/glass choices for the super-high end.

Food from executive chef Hayan Yi is designed not only to be beautiful and delicious, but moreover to specifically pair with wines at Corkbuzz. Prices range from $6 for small plates up to $30 for the NY Strip; the largest charcuterie and cheese plates range up to $38 but include very high end, mouthwatering and stunning delicacies that are tough to find.  If you’re a foodie, you’ll find a great selection that matches the time of year and sates your palate nicely. Don’t take my word for it- look online at the current offerings and recent photos.

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Corkbuzz is so much more than a wine bar, and simply calling it such would be an insult in my opinion. They provide wine education, tasting classes, wine events- it is indeed a total celebration of all things wine, and includes education and developing the wine community. Pricing is on the medium to upper range, but the quality of excellent service offsets any concern customers might have about price. Their staff are both incredibly pleasant and knowledgeable about both wine in general and the offerings they have in-house. I was impressed with the speed, knowledge, and intelligence I found from bar to table servers about available product, how wines or dishes paired or compared. Lagrein? They have it. Wines from Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Oregon, Long Island? They have them. And if you’re a novice, this is the place to come to learn and feel comfortable in not knowing- you don’t have to be an MS to enjoy Corkbuzz. But you might feel smarter after you’ve been!

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Tastings A Wine Experience, Downtown Indianapolis, IN

Recently while traveling on business, I had an opportunity to visit Tastings A Wine Experience in Indianapolis.

Upon entering, we were told to “sit where you like” so we chose a quiet area along the back bar which features food service prep.  We walked gingerly through the tables and chairs which were packed much more densely than what is shown in the photos below and the series of wine vending machines. The concept is easy: you put money on a card and then use that card to withdraw 2 oz pours of wines that vary in price. I saw pours ranging in price from $3.50 for two ounces of  entry-level wines up to about $12 for wines that are pretty decent. You can also order wine by the glass and bottle, and spirits and beer are available if you’re not into wine.

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Here’s my $0.02: I liked the concept of Tastings. I had checked the place out online and really wanted to go and experience this approach they had. And so we went, and I found I like it much better as an idea than I did in reality. I found the space both cramped and loud, in spite of the fact that it was less than half full. I pored over the wine list while at the counter, finding too many grocery store variety wines (possible entry-level for first timers?) but eventually found several wines that I was interested in, to note that I found the 2 oz. taste to be quite expensive, perhaps not worth the taste. So I looked back at the menu for glasses of wine, after realizing that most wines by the glass were priced at exactly what I knew the bottle should cost, steeled myself and finally found two California red blends I was interested in. One was considered “wine of the week” and had listed next to price:  “ask your server for price” so I did, and she didn’t know the cost. She returned with the cost: $25/for a glass, so I declined. I finally decided a $17 glass for small-volume California wine producer (Saldo by Orin Swift) that I thought overpriced (a local store carries it for $21/bottle) but something I’ve wanted to try-and it was delicious.  My dining companion tasted Marques de Caceres “Duesa Nai” Rais Baixas Alabarino for $11/glass, this was a good example of the grape but this tasted like the bottle had been open for too long, which is frustrating given that you’re paying basically the bottle price for a single glass.  Also I noted there were few wines over 5 years old in the menu, but recent wine was in high volume: one could taste Chateau Montelena 2010 Cab Sauv for $29/glass, $12/ 2 oz pour, or $70/bottle. Orin Swift’s The Prisoner 2011 was available at $25/glass or $65/bottle. Frankly I was surprised at the cost of the wine for glasses and pours given that the bottles were in dispensers that replace the wine used with argon gas, allowing the bottle to remain “fresh” for up to 60 days.  Perhaps the price of the glasses and pours are simply to offset the cost of the dispensers, which look pricey and very high-tech, and were quite popular among ladies the evening I visited.

Food at Tastings was very reasonable in price and had an array of options from tapas to apps to small entrees.  We enjoyed small pizzas and salads but passed on the cheese plates we saw other diners order nearby; they looked like garden-variety grocery market cheeses at gourmet pricing, though a quick look at the menu demonstrated that they had a wold-wide  selection of cheeses that might not be familiar to the local clientele.

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I regret to say that I was disappointed with the service at Tastings. We started out fine with a waitress who explained quickly how the bar worked and tried to suggest some wines for my dining partner. After our initial order, I couldn’t flag down anyone for water and had to find and pour it myself, expecting a barman to offer assistance at any moment… but nope. When we had a problem with the food order (only half of our order arrived) I mentioned it to the kitchen staff who found a different server to re-confirm our original order, which was quickly (thank you!) fulfilled. I found a fourth server to request our check and make payment, though our original server finally returned, bringing back my credit card receipt and hovering nearby as I wrote in the tip and signed. Curious, indeed.

The wine pricing at Tastings is expensive, made greater by the lack of service so customers are paying a premium without any added value.  Knowing what wines cost and what they should cost in a restaurant, the owners have made a point to charge more than a premium for their products. In case it should appear to the contrary, please understand that I have no problem with a $25 glass of wine, but I’ve previously experienced wonderful value for that price at great wine bars where that $25 pour came from a bottle that costs well over $100 in a store, not $35. A shorter list with greater regions or style choices would make sense instead of listing segments as I found wines grouped evidently for the uninitiated:  “Enticing and Eclectic Whites”, “Enticing and Eclectic Reds”, with regional varietals listed as: Italian, Spanish, German. Hold the phone there. Control, are we missing something? Never heard of Austria? Australia? New Zealand? How about FRANCE? I did a slow walk around the store to find some Aussie wines, and finally a couple of Rhône varietals near a lone Chateauneuf-de-Pape (finally) but felt like someone had missed the boat on wine history.

I’m told they are quite busy after work and I wish them good luck and continued success, while I do hope they will expand their repertoire of wines to include more classic French wines as well as more regional wines.  If you’re looking for a wine/singles bar, this may be the ultimate that Indianapolis has to offer, and it’s a place worth going. Yet I hope they can make some  improvements to the breadth of wines on their already long list of offerings and I hope to experience a higher quality of service than my last experience. If not, I’ll still go back, as the pros still outweigh the cons without a doubt in my mind. When I’m in town next, I will set my sights and return, and hope to enjoy Tastings as I’m sure it is intended to be.

à votre santé!

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