I love discovering new things. Like a grape called Portugieser. Which is not from Portugal. In this case, it’s in a bottle of red wine from Hungarian producer Gere Atilla. I got it at a tiny and charming wine shop in the East Village with the slightly un-google-able name of Wineshop.
I’d like to think I could describe it in a most succinct fashion, but I’m going that job to leave the importer, Blue Danube Wine:
Gere Portugieser is nearly devoid of tannin, feather light, and takes a chill nicely.
2016 Gere Attila Portugieser
A couple other things that make the Gere Atilla a friendly red is it’s sealed with a screw cap and a modest 12.5% alcohol.
Though this is a wine from Hungary, drinking it made me feel very New York. I recall going to the original Terroir wine bar in 2011 (also in the East Village) for happy hour. For happy hour there was not one but TWO Hungarian white wines available by the glass, which floored me. Naturally, I drank both. Anyway, now keeping my eye out for more intriguing red wines from this country.
Probably/definitely blasphemous, but I liken the task of finding a Pinot Noir 15 bucks or less to that of the quest for the Holy Grail. So when I picked up a bottle of Les Deux Moulins Pinot from the Loire Valley, I had a bit of trepidation.
Though I was cautiously optimistic, because I had enjoyed the Sauv Blanc from this producer. And, I like the label. Which is important to me. Not gonna lie.
Les Deux Moulins Pinot Noir (2016)
This is definitely everything I want in an inexpensive Pinot Noir. I got it from my close-by shop, Grapepoint Wines, for $15. (Wine-Searcher shows it for $12, but with only one seller I imagine there will be some fluctuation between the two prices.)
Since it’s fermented and aged in stainless steel, this is a Pinot Noir that’s a fresh, easy-drinking delight. If you need a red wine to chill down for the summer, this would fit the bill mightily. (Though you’ll find me drinking it in the shade.) Very tasty stuff.
Joining a small group of scribes at this meal was Nicole Carter, the chief marketing officer and director of winemaking for The Hess Collection. (Now that’s a busy person.) One thing she said about Chardonnay, and Napa Valley wines made from this grape in particular, struck me. “You have to deliver that texture,” said Carter.
I couldn’t agree more. The texture you get from oak is what makes most Chardonnay special. And though the Hess Collection Chardonnay spends nine months in oak, only 19% of the barrels are new. You do get a touch of luxurious toastiness. The real pilot of the ship, however, is the used oak delivering alluring texture.
Let’s talk about price. For $22, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single vineyard Chardonnay from Napa Valley with this kind of deft oak treatment. I am not sure what could hold a candle to it. This would be a great glass pour option for a restaurant.
Let’s take a look at the vineyard where it comes from, Su’skol:
What would it take to get you to love oak and Chardonnay again? Or just like it?
I just went down an internet rabbit hole reliving the Pepsi Challenge ad campaign of the late 1970s and early 80s. It was a blind taste test of a small cup of Coke and one of Pepsi. The latter did surprisingly well. So well, that Coke ended up coming out with the infamous “New Coke” formula.*
Why did Pepsi do so well? Because it’s sweeter. And that hit of sweetness makes it stand out versus Coke. Now if you had to drink a bottle (yes, see the commercial…everyone’s drinking glass bottles!) of Pepsi versus a bottle of Coke, that sweetness would become tiresome and cloying.
If you are interested in marketing and advertising, there are numerous interesting articles about the Pepsi Challenge:
I started thinking about a recent blind wine tasting I was invited to attend put on by Washington’s Col Solare. Six bottles of powerhouse Cabernets and Cabernet-based blends from Washington, Napa, and Bordeaux.
First I’d like to say this was an informal and informative exercise, not The Judgement of New York. We did rank each wine on personal preference but it wasn’t about “winning” or “losing” but rather a conversation-sparker. And yes, you can quibble about the vintage chosen (2014) and the “readiness” of the wines and the quality of the vintage in each of the three locales (blah blah blah), but the 2014 baseline was chosen. Would it be better if the each wine had x years of age and selected from x/y/z vintage that evenly reflected quality? Yeah, but that would be quite the undertaking and subjective yet.
Great to get perspective on Red Mountain, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Washington wine from Col Solare Winemaker Darel Allwine and Consulting Winemaker Bob Betz MW.
Of course, I knew in my heart of hearts what my preference would be. Bordeaux on top, Washington somewhere in the middle, and Napa bringing up the rear. Well, I got Washington right but the Bordeaux selections were on the bottom and Napa was on top. Huh? Who am I?
Here are the six wines:
The photo is the order in which they were poured. My preference below and alcohol levels in parenthesis:
Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (15.2%)
Schrader Cellars Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Saugivnon Oakville (14.5%)
Col Solare Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain (14.5%)
Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley [87% Cab] (14.5%)
Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac [65% Cab] (13.5%)
Château Rauzan-Ségla [56% Cab] (13.5%)
Was I surprised that Caymus was my favorite? Hell yeah. But after tasting all these big, tannic wines, its sweetness and fruit was a relief…and made it stand out. Was this the Pepsi Challenge at work? If I had to drink a glass of it versus one of the Bordeaux how would I feel? All I know is it tasted damn good. (BTW the group’s numero uno wine was Insignia. This happens to be my mom’s favorite wine. She’d be very disappointed in me.)
While googling “Pepsi Challenge” I came across this very interesting article from Felix Salmon (from 2009), “Tasting Wine Blind.” It brings to mind some of the points I wrote about concerning the anxiety surrounding this exercise. Salmon discusses how sweetness stands out and subtlety, by its very nature, not so much.
Things shifted a bit when we had lunch and revisited the wines. I reached for the Insignia, because it reminds me of mom and our trip we took to Joseph Phelps. Drinking it alongside some amazing food at NoMad, specifically this mushroom and egg dish, was revelatory.
Back to Salmon (the person not the fish):
In any case, the various different factors which go into the enjoyment of a wine are so multitudinous that when you try to eradicate them all in order to allow different wines to compete on a level playing field, you at the same time eradicate much of what makes a wine so enjoyable in the first place.
Pure pleasure is not the point of blind tasting, rather evaluation and exercise over enjoyment. That’s ok. Especially if it helps overcome, question, or acknowledge preconceived notions about a region, a grape, or a style of winemaking.
*I also recall conspiracy theories that Coca-Cola deliberately introduced New Coke to spark outrage and had already planned to torpedo it and (re)introduce Coca-Cola “Classic.”
It was my birthday and you know I was going to drink something sparkling so I headed to see my Seattle pal (we worked together at Bottlehouse for years) Carson at Scampi. He started me off with a glass of Murgo Brut Rosé (2015).
First let me begin by saying the wine list at Scampi is really fantastic. As a solo diner, I explored the by-the-glass selections. I took a mini-Sicilian tour starting with this rosé, diving into a white wine made from Carricante (Mt. Etna), and finishing up with a red blend.
Murgo Brut Rosé 2015
Yes, I know. I am not drinking this out of a Champagne flute. Rather a fancy Zalto glass. This sparkling rosé is 100% Nerello Mascalese, a grape you’ll find in reds from the Mount Etna region of Sicily. (The still red wines are fantastic, too.) The first thing to notice about this wine is the color. This is no pale pink sparkling rosé. It has some meat on the bone and is very savory and complex. But it doesn’t lack for refreshment. It was really great with the mackerel crudo, a rich, meaty fish. That is a pairing I suggest, any heartier seafood. But really, the Murgo Brut Rosé, can handle everything from grilled vegetables to a meaty burger.
Wine-Searcher has it listed for an average price of $19, which makes it a screaming deal.
Also a quick shout-out to the Mortellito Calaniuru. It’s a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola, like a Cerasuolo di Vittoria but not from that designated wine region. The label is killer and so was the wine.
Pétillant-Naturel wines, charmingly shortened to Pét-Nat, are some of the most fun wines out there. The (ancestral) method to its madness is that the wine is bottled (usually with a crown cap, like a beer) while still fermenting. Carbon dioxide, one of the byproducts of fermentation, gets trapped in the bottle. The resulting wine is a frothy, fizzy delight.
They can be quite volatile, so open them slowly. (I’ve learned the hard way.) Pét-Nats are also risky to make because you’ve already bottled it while the wine is still doing its thing, so the results can be…unexpected.
Pét-Nat is one of the wine world’s preeminent pleasure-givers, period. Recently I tasted a bunch at an event called “Wild Yeast.” Here are three that stood out. First two are Italian, the third from (yes) Vermont.
Fizzy Pét-Nat TrioLa Staffa “Mai Sentito”
Mostly Vermentino, from Italy. (What I can find online says it’s 100% Vermentino but the guy pouring it said it was 70% Vermentino/30% Garganega. See the label above.)
This was really cool. Hard to tell due to the picture, but it’s in a bottle that seemingly made for a German wheat beer. The wine is composed of Corvina, a red grape that’s a big component in Valpolicella and Amarone.
I really like the wine descriptions on Massimago’s website. If you pick a wine and scroll to the bottom, you’ll find suggestions to enjoy each with:
feasting on dreams
the magic of waiting
Paired with a sparkling rosé made from Corvina, I find the latter most evocative and lyrical.
Ci Confonde Rosé
Finally, I got to say hello to Deirdre Heekin, winemaker/grape farmer (and more) from La Garagista in Vermont. She was nice enough to invite me to this tasting. I ran though her lineup of wines and the fizzy rosé, the Ci Confonde, was my favorite. It’s made from Frontenac Gris, and tasted like roses (the flowers). With a little grip on the finish, the Ci Confonde makes for a pretty amazing food wine.
You can also find great deals on Loire Cabernet Franc made in a manner to drink right away. I (re)discovered this at a recent Loire Valley wine tasting.
Cave des Vignerons de Saumur Red and Rosé Cabernet Franc ($13 SRP)
I sold a ton of this co-op wine, particularly its Chenin Blanc, when I was working at the QFC in Seattle. The red, I had spaced a bit. These wines transported me to a happy Loire Valley place of delicious wines at great prices. The rosé, also from Cab Franc, is going to the top of my list for a case buy. Interesting to note that both come from the same parcel, Les Pouches.
Serving Loire Cabernet Franc
Of course the rosé is best well-chilled but also don’t be afraid to stick the red in the fridge for like a half hour. Especially when you’re dealing with a drink-now type of red wine. As far as glassware goes, I like to keep it informal with tumblers, juice glasses, or enamelware.
I am so guilty of excessively using exclamation points. If you read the “About Me” section of this very blog, I even confess/brag about it. I refer to my predilection as deploying an “overabundance” of them.
“An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
In this crazy day and age of texting and social media, not using an exclamation point can come across as sarcastic, cold, or detached. You type “Congratulations[flurry of exclamation points]” rather than “Congratulations.”
In The Guardian, Elena Ferrante, author of the excellent 4-book series Neapolitan Novels, takes on the exclamation point, saying:
“Of all the punctuation marks, it’s the one I like the least. It suggests a commander’s staff, a pretentious obelisk, a phallic display. An exclamation should be easily understood by reading; there’s no need to insist with that mark at the end as well.”
“But I still think that ‘I hate you’ has a power, an emotional honesty, that ‘I hate you!!!’ does not.”
I highly recommend reading the whole column because it makes serious points about language, meaning, and power.
Inspired by Ferrante, I would like to talk about a wine. This is much less weighty matter, but here I go.
I like this wine. It’s really good.
Siete Red (No Exclamation Points)
First of all, I dig this label. So. Much. I am very tempted to finish a sentence about it with a punctuation mark that would convey an exuberant mood. Furthermore, I might repeat the use of this mark three to five times for maximum impact.
The Siete Red is from Rioja. It’s a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, and 10% Mazuelo. The grapes are organic, which is great. Due to no oak being involved, this Spanish wine is very welcoming and open. But the Siete is beyond pleasant, with a little bit of earthiness that leads to a spicy, fruity kick of a finish.
Who wouldn’t love to bring this wine to a party because it just looks so cool? Everyone would pour themselves a glass. Additionally, it’s not too pricey. I got it for 14 bucks at Dandelion Wine.
I am a huge fan of Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. Many bottles are in my Hall of Fame, including one that’s probably in my Top Ten reds, ever. It’s a rising star on another continent, in a different guise, and what might seem a surprising state. Yes, Washington. Enter the Seven Hills Winery Rosé.
Recently I was invited to lunch with Casey McClellan. He holds the dual titles of winemaker and founder at Seven Hills Winery. We started with a white and progressed on to a flight of reds, but I have to admit I was most excited about the rosé.
2017 Seven Hills Winery Rosé
Mostly Cab Franc, with a touch of Petit Verdot and Malbec, this rosé has the flavors I adore in Cabernet Franc. Specifically, herbal notes, a little bit of olive, a certain savory quality. This wine has a distinct Cabernet “Franc-ness” that sometimes can be muted in a rosé, or certainly not as prominent as in a red wine.
During that lunch at Union Square Cafe, a serendipitous food and wine pairing happened. The (pictured) salad of cara cara oranges, fennel, pine nuts, and ricotta salata was not just stunning to look at and to eat. It was also about as ideal of a match you can get with a wine.
I also enjoyed the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, which has a dollop of Sémillon for richness and roundness. It’s also, interestingly enough, partially aged in oak barrels with acacia wood tops and bottoms. The 2016 Walla Walla Valley and the 2014 Seven Hills Vineyard were a Merlot duo worthy of praise. The combination of Seven Hills, McClellan, and Washington is a hallmark for this grape. Finally, we took a quick trip to Red Mountain to enjoy the robust 2014 Ciel du Cheval.
One of the many nice things about going to free tastings at wine shops is getting to try something you normally might not come across. Like a Bordeaux with a ubiquitous, old-school label on it. Enter the Chateau Cantelaudette.
It was being poured at Dandelion Wine and I ended up taking a bottle home. Why?
2014 Chateau Cantelaudette Graves de Vayres Cuvée Prestige
It’s 100% Merlot and if you’re turned off by that grape, the nice thing (in a strange way) is that it doesn’t say “MERLOT” on the label. So if you have an open bottle lying around you can just tell people to “try this great Bordeaux I got for under 20 bucks.” (‘Twas $19 at Dandy.)
It’s aged half in neutral oak (not like Swiss neutrality, but rather vessels used enough that they don’t impart oaky flavor) and half in stainless steel. Based on this, the Chateau Cantelaudette is a perfect medium-bodied wine. A nice combo of fresh fruit and some stately mannerisms in the glass.
The wine is imported by Polaner Selections, located in Mount Kisco, New York. (This is where The Thuse had its HQ when I started there, BTW.) I kind of like the company’s all-caps motto/call-to-action on the back of the label: OPEN YOUR MIND AND TASTE. Pretty good advice, especially if you have preconceived notions about a wine, a region, a producer, or a grape.