Category Archives: Winery

My Bad Habit

While sharing a little post work drinking session with my fellow weekday warriors, I thumbed through the selection of wines at In Fine Spirits, ny new favorite watering hole. Being a few drinks in, I was at a loss for which direction I should take….cabernet sauvignon? viognier? barbera? I looked to my coworker who gave me a twisted smiley and offered to “take care of it.” In a moment I was handed a goblet of inky red goodness, with one sip I was hooked. It was a Petit Syrah blend from Napa called Bad Habit, aka Wendy Crack.  That’s right, its my new addiction. Since then I’ve returned to In Fine Spirits requesting glass after glass, regretting any substitutes. I even tracked down the vineyard and intended to take a detour during my trip to Napa, but unfortunately it was closed for the day. The owner was kind enough to send me a complimentary bottle of the new 2006 vintage. (YAY!!)  Needless to say this stuff is good. Amazing fruit with a raisiny depth and earthiness that lingers on the tongue. The nose matches giving you hints of the juicy grenache blended in. At about 30 bucks a bottle, this is pretty cheap Wendy crack.

Bordeaux, Finger Lakes, Mendocino, Chile, Spain

Had some good wines recently – the first three we downed at our cabin down in Kentucky on Saturday.

Reignac St. Loubes Grand vin de Bordeaux 2005
Julian and Sandra had been saving this bottle for a special occasion, so I was even more touched that they chose to share it with us. 🙂 Beautiful wine – nice and structured, super smooth. The finish was the stunner, in my opinion, with a resurgent kick of black fruit that lingered on and on. Blend of Merlot and some Cabernet Sauvignon.

Anthony Road Wine Company Rose, Finger Lakes
Jeff pulled this out of his remaining Finger Lakes collection, and I quite liked it. A little tart, and not at all sweet. We drank it cold out of the fridge, but after it warmed up some, it got a little more complex.

Edmeades Zinfandel, Mendocino County 2005
This was a bottle that had been sitting in my fridge for a bit, such that I’d forgotten when I bought it – think I bought it from Sam’s. Julian liked it a lot – in fact, he said that it was one of the few Zinfandels he actually liked. Heh. I thought it was a pretty nice example of a good Zin too – a little on the sweet end, but not overwhelmingly so like the Brown Zinfandel I had. Flavors of raspberry and mocha, with a touch of spice.

Chono Carménère Chile 2005
Paired this with the Katy’s dumplings and rice dumplings for dinner last night – it was I think the lightest red I had left in my fridge. Lots of dark fruit, and a touch of spiciness that complemented well with the chilli sause I liberally slathered on my dumplings. A little tannic on first taste, but it nicely softened as the night progressed and tasted a lot sweeter. Definitely a wine I’d stock up again in my fridge.

Bodegas Hijos De Juan Gil Juan Jumilla 2005
After climbing tonight, Julian, Sandra, Chuck, Roger, and Peter came over for some dumplings and wine. Julian and Sandra brought their bottle of Bodegas Hijos De Juan Gil Juan, a Spanish grape varietal I’ve never tried before (Chuck brought a bottle of Il Cuore, Barbera 2005 and I opened the bottle of John Christopher Cellars Epic 2003 – I’d had both on previous occasions). I liked it a lot – it was much lighter and softer than the other two bottles we had; perfect for a starter wine while we waited for the dumplings to boil. Ton of fruit in the mouth – blackberries?? – and very smooth.

St. Patty’s Day, the Wine Way

In a very miscalculated move, we didn’t buy tickets to the Metropolitan Opera’s live streaming of Britten’s Peter Grimes, mistakenly betting that the seats wouldn’t sell out. Who knew. So, after a hurried cab ride downtown later, I found myself forlornly standing outside the theatre, clutching my brown paper bag of toasted sandwiches I’d picked up for the 4 hour marathon.

Since we were downtown already anyway, we decided to go wine tasting. Just Grapes, right by my workplace, has free wine tasting from 1-4pm every Saturday, so we headed on there. In between sampling the 5 different tastings offered, we enjoyed a good chat with the store manager and the wine distributor. Ah, for a different career change. Anyway, here are my reviews of the wines:

2006 Riff, Pinot Grigio, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy $11
The store’s tasting notes: “The vineyard sources for most of this Pinot Grigio contain a substantial amount of dolomite limestone which has an obvious impact on the wine’s character and style. It is because of the contrinbution that these fossils (limestone) make to the wine’s character that they have been chosen to be incorporated into the label design as a reminder of its geological origin. Simple, with apple, lemon and light mineral character. Light body. Delicate finish. Drink now.” While I wasn’t too impressed with the body and finish (boring, with no obvious flavors or textures), I really liked its nose. I did get the scent of apple and some lemon, and could see it as a delightful cool drink on a sweltering summer day.

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2005 Franz Karl Schmitt, “Niersteiner Hipping,” Riesling Spatlesse, Rheinhessin, Germany $22
The store’s tasting notes: “The estate was founded by Jost-Schmitt in 1546, and has been in family possession since those days. Riesling is cultivated in some of the prime vineyards in Nierstein, including the classic Hipping. The grandfather of the present owner, also named Franz-Karl Schmitt, was renowned for his striving to produce great wines. He was the first to produce Trockenbeerenhauslesse in the Rheinhessen around 1900!” It’s difficult right off the first sip to pronounce that you don’t like sweet wines (which can be really tiring on the palate after a couple glasses), so it was with my experience with this. I prefered the bouquet proffered by the Pinot Grigio, but the gentle sweetness of this riesline was hard to dislike. It wasn’t cloyingly sweet, but the taste lingered on in my mouth long seconds after the liquid had been tipped down my throat.

2006 Rex Hill, Chardonnay, Oregon $22
The store’s tastings notes: “A crisp, yet complex wine, the 2006 Rex Hill Chardonnay represents the sixth vintage of Oregon’s original ultra-premium unoaked Chardonnay. To highlight the wonderful fruit and underlying minerality in some of the Wilamette Valley’s best vineyard sites, we ferment in small stainless steel to retain the fruit’s bright transparency and then age the wines on the lees to achieve a creamy mouthfeel. Aromas of candied citrus, plums, green apple. Good richness on the attack, with broad palate-coating flavors that echo the nose. The brisk acidity adds structure and freshness, focusing the mineral notes, and lengthening flavors.” It was quite exciting to identify the candid citrus (sort of like those sugar covered jelly beans one finds during the Chinese New Year festivities) and the green apple in the nose, but I couldn’t taste the same flavors in the body. I actually found the body and finish to be quite boring, but not achingly so – within seconds, no trace of its ever being there was left. I’m still not sure whether I prefer the oaked, buttery types of Chardonnay… should do a tasting sometime to tease out my taste.

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2006 Paraiso, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California $24
The store’s tasting notes: “Paraiso’s flagship varietal. Wonderful Burgundian character: rich cherry and plum flavors with hints of spice, smoke, and toasty oak. All wrapped by structuring tannins and acidity. Amazingly food-versatile: salmon, roast chicken, beef tenderloin, you name it.” I profess to be quite partial to Pinot Noir, my interest in the grape stemming from a road trip Peirui and I made, oh, two years ago now (!!!). The nose exhibited the characteristics of the grape, but I was quite disappointed by the finish, which I found weak, almost watery. Chatting later with Janel from WineStyles, she confirmed my tasting notes, saying that the area saw too much rain in 2006. Ah.

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2005 Chateau Saint Andrew Corbin, Merlot blend, St. Emilion, Bordeaux, $23
The store’s tasting notes: “Garnet with a violet rim, spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco on the nose. Medium weight with spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco, great structure.” If I closed my eyes and sniffed really hard, I could just pick out the scent of tobacco and cedar, but my god, the blueberries! It just jumped right out at you, unmistakeable and completely in your face. I loved the nose. But alas, the body was almost unbearably tight, the tannins completely sucking out the moisture from my lips. I suspect though, that a few years in the cellar might do wonders for this wine.

It was still early when we were done, and the revellers were still crowding the hundreds of Irish bars in the city. So we made our way over to Randolph Wine Cellars right down the street, and engaged in an entertaining tasting with another distributor.

My notes:

2006 Licia Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain $14
Heh, this tasting was right down my alley, since we tasted both the Albarinos and plenty of Grenaches, both grapes of choice right now. I thoguht the Rias had a very light nose, such that I couldn’t quite place the smell. Or maybe sensory fatigue was setting in already. But even so, I could definitely place the lemony structure in the body and finish, almost akin to lemon juice with a kick. Would be a delicious combination with a lightly sauteed fish – mmm, need to do another canoeing trip down the Wisconsin River this spring…

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2004 Atrea “The Choir,” Mendocino County $20
It’s a rhone varietal blend, with parts of viognier and roussanne. This one had quite a pungent nose of wood and earth. The heavier body would make it an unsuitable pairing with fish, but the distributor suggested heavy aged cheeses.

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2005 Moulin D’Issan, Bordeaux $16
A Bordeaux Superior wine, which doesn’t fall under the 5 growth system, this wine can be found in the Margaux region. Blend of 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot. Lots of bright fruit in the nose, with a little bit of oak. I thought it tasted a little green.

2005 Domaine du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf-du-pape $30
My favorite tasting of the day, very smooth and balanced, with a hint of orange peel and black plum in the nose and body. It’s a blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvédre.

2004 Domaine Raspail-ay Gigondas, Rhone $22
Eh, to be honest, I’ve forgotten the taste of this, and didn’t take down any notes since I was busy enjoying a long conversation with the distributor about how she fell into wines and the various wine trips she’s taken in France (damn the weak USD right now). I do vaguely remember thinking that it was quite delicious though…

My palate was a little tired by this point, but the green clad revelers were still out on the streets, so we decided to continue the celebrations in our own way by making our way over to WineStyles, where Denise and Janel gave us two tastings of “green wines,” wines made the organic and environmentally friendly way. Erm, I don’t have any notes of those tastings either… but I did leave WineStyles armed with a bottle of Australian Grenahce that Janel says would go great with lambshank or spicy fish. Mmm.

We made a pit stop at Binny’s next, but boo, they didn’t have any tastings available. Disappointed but not deterred, we pressed on next to Sam’s Wine. By that time, I think the tastings were already concluded, so instead I tasted some cheeses (and picked up a slab of pate), and a pizza beer (beer brewed with pizza ingredients such as tomato, mozarella etc. very authentic!). And I also got the bottle of El Tesoro (thank you Cristalle!). 🙂

And then, I was done. 🙂

Cafe Too and and Old Vine Zinfandel

Rarely do you find such a win win situation. Cafe Too is part of the Inspiration Corporation and is used as a venue for people to gain basic culinary skills that will make them marketable. So in the end you get high quality food for much less and get to feel good about it. 🙂 What is so great is that they offer a wonderful $20 prix fixe menu that changes each month. That’s right $20 for a nicely made 5 course meal. An additional bonus is that this is also BYOB with NO CORKAGE. Love! The portions are on the small side but with 5 courses you walk away comfortably full.
Bogle Vineyards 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel-$11
I have whole heartedly jumped on the old vine train. A trend growing in popularity, more and more vineyards are featuring wines from older vines, +50 years old usually. The idea is that with older vines less fruit is produced and more subtle flavors come out. I’ve tried a few wines with this labeling and I have found at the very least I have enjoyed the majority of them. This is definitely true for this particular bottle. Sweet, complex and richer than most zins I have tasted, at this price point, Bogle’s Old Vine Zinfandel is a great deal and has become a new house staple. Cherry, jammy, sweet, and fruity to the nose and same on the tongue, it went well with all the dishes served showing great versatility and most importantly drinkability. 😉 I would drink this with anything from a thick steak to a dark bittersweet chocolate cake.

The Dregs: Rosé Wine Apricot Clafoutis

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Inspired by my favorite celebrity chef Mark Bittman’s recent New York Time’s video on clafoutis. I decided to create my own version of this easy French dessert. I had a lot of left over dried apricots thanks to a Costco impulse buy and decided to reconstitute these super sweet fruits with a little rosé wine to bring back the tartness that seems to go so well with a clafloutis. Most claflouti recipes are made with either plums, berries, apples, pears, or cherries, nice fresh tart summer fruits. But I REALLY had a hankering for some after watching this video and being short of clementines at the moment, decided fruit soaked in wine is never a bad option. I chose a rosé since I have had the combination of rose and apricots before and its delicious. Plus I like the added color it gives to the dried apricots. I bet this would taste equally good if made with a fruity floral white, like chenin blanc or viognier, or even a rich dessert wine like sauternes or icewein. Sometimes I am reluctant to cook with the latter though since those bottles tend to get more pricey.

Biltmore Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc de Noir 2006- $11
I bought this bottle on the estate a little over a year ago. They have a surprisingly good array of wines. This particular buy is a really nice fruity refreshing rosé, and went well with the sweet tart apricots. Very floral on the nose, I would not hesitate to drink this with any dessert.

Other suggestions for this recipe that are more widely available are: Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel and Barefoot Winery’s White Zinfandel. Both are very fruity, the latter having a nice burnt sugar caramel finish. The best part is that they are both cheap so “sacrificing” a cup or two for baking is not such a loss.

Rosé Wine Apricot Clafoutis
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Clementine Clafoutis recipe

Butter for greasing
1/2 cup flour, more for dusting pan
3 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pinch salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
1 cup dried apricots
1 1/2 cup of rosé wine
Powdered sugar (optional)

1. Soak apricots in wine, just covering most of them, for 24 hours in a container with plastic wrap or a lid. They will plump up a little and become soft. A lot of liquid should be absorbed and most of the apricots will not be submerged.

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2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a gratin dish, about 9 by 5 by 2 inches, or a 10-inch round deep pie plate or porcelain dish, by smearing it with butter, just a teaspoon or so. Dust it with flour, rotating pan so flour sticks to all the butter; invert dish to get rid of excess.

3. In a large bowl, whisk eggs until frothy. Add granulated sugar and salt and whisk until combined. Add cream and milk and whisk until smooth. Add 1/2 cup flour and stir just to combine.

4. Place apricots (without remaining liquids) in dish. Pour batter over fruit. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until clafoutis is nicely browned on top and center is not too jiggly when you shake the dish. Mark Bittman suggests to test to see if a knife comes clean, but I found this works just as well and doesn’t ruin the nice perfect finish. 😉 Sift some powdered sugar over it and serve warm or at room temperature. Best eaten right away, but can be microwaved next day.

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The Dregs: Cherry Wine Syrup over Ice Cream

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At one point I made the mistake of opening a fruit wine with only two people around to help drink it. The sweetness got overwhelming and both of us gave up after two glasses. 😦 To be honest it really drank more like a liquor. Since then a good portion of the remnants has been haunting my fridge door. Over time I have been using it to enhance fondues and whipped cream here and there. Finally I decided to kill the aging bottle by making a syrup for ice cream, drinks, what have you. I’ve done this with other wines before and it can be done with virtually anything your heart desires, reisling, roses, merlot, syrah…you get the idea. It is super easy and almost not worth putting a recipe down for, but I seem to always forget that this is an option for leftovers. I promise this recipe DOES NOT involve a candy thermometer; actually I don’t even own one. This time I used a cherry wine from Cream Ridge Winery in New Jersey (YES…New Jersey!). It tastes like liquid cherry pie and why I thought two people could drink most of a bottle of it is anyone’s guess. 🙂

Anyways, for the syrup it all starts with sugar, A LOT of sugar….

Wine Syrup
2 1/2 cups of wine
1 cup of sugar (more or less depending on the sweetness of wine)

1. Dump wine and sugar in a sauce pan.
2. Stir together and turn heat to medium-high.
3. Stir, sugar with gradually dissolve
4. Keep stirring, do not let boil just mildly simmer at most
5. Stir
6. Stir some more (about 20 minutes total of stirring usually) until mixture thickens and leaves an open wake when you run the spoon on the bottom of the pan or coats the spoon
7. When the syrup coats the spoon you can stop there or keep going a little longer, depending on how thick you want it. REMEMBER when it cools the syrup will thicken so stay on the thin side of what you want especially if you plan on using it later and storing in the fridge.

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Back to earth: Hearty Reds

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I visited Bin 36 with some friends last Thursday where I tried a “Down to Earth Reds” flight – I was very impressed with the selection. At $14 for a flight of 4 wines, it was not only good value for money, it was also one of the more thoughtful selections I’ve seen put together in a long while. All four glasses of wine offered their own unique aromas and body; fascinating and interesting. I’ll not hesitate to buy any of these wines in a heartbeat; perfect to bring to a party – and my next climbing trip!

Words in italics are tasting notes from Bin 36.

2006 (Grenache / Syrah / Mourvedre), Cotes-du-Rhone, Domaine Montirius, Rhone Valley, France $14: “This complex little wine manages to exhibit plush texture with chewy, dark minerals and fruit.”
-> I thought the nose was somewhat similar to an Oregon Pinot Noir – some damp earth, but softer and also a little sourish, some cherry. Definitely chewy. Hot finish.

2005 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Quattro Mani, Abruzzi, Italy $11: “Elegant and restrainted with earthy currants and hints of cedar.”
-> I LOVED the nose – interesting blend of spices and sweets. Whiff of strawberries.

2005 (Cabernet / Carmenere / Cab Franc) Vina Maquis, Calcu, Colchagua, Chile $13: “This one is all grown up with sophisticated flavors and a mineral driven profile, with dark fruit and dark chocolate.”
-> Lots of oak in the nose; tannic mouthfeel; deep red fruit – blackberries. Sweet fruit with a minerally finish.

2004: (Cabernet Sauvignon / Grenache / Syrah / Mourvedre / Carignan), Mas de Gourgonnier, Les Baux de Provence, Provence, France $19: “Smooth texture, earthy ripe and dark berriers, cassis and a plummy, mineral core.”
-> Loved the nose, though it was slightly maddening because I just couldn’t place the particular scent of spiciness. Thyme, sandalwood, cuimin, liqourice, Chinese herbal shop?!?! I need to pick up a bottle to more intensely sniff it out. Strong tannins in the mouth.