Monthly Archives: January 2010

I am all about Riesling, and feel that not enough people share my passion. Glass after glass, this wine proves to be the most delicious and intriguing one I know. It is not reliably fine (perfect terroir and great skill on the part of the maker are needed), but achieves heights of finesse that can leave me dazzled. The key to great Riesling is that transparency, the sense that every nuance of the wine is right there, shimmering like a visible curtain of honeyed air and perfume. Even average Riesling, however, can prove an interesting experience.

This Riesling, the 2008 J&H Selbach Bernkastel Kurfurstlay, is one such wine, showing some good fruit and complexity beyond what I expect at this price. A nice straw gold in the glass, with lively aromas of peach fruit, lime zest, and floral notes on the nose, leading to more juicy peaches in the mouth balanced by quenching acidity. Some nice mineral here, too. Medium finish. I would drink this with baked or glazed pork and apples, or salmon with mango chutney.Or by itself, all evening. $11.


New York State wines have always been at the edge of my consciousness; learning about wine meant reading about the states’ developing wine industry. I learned early about the potential of its cool-climate varietals grown in the Finger Lakes and Long Island, primarily Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Now, as a resident of Manhattan, I see New York wines on lists for wine bars and restaurants all over the city. The time is long past for me to share some of my New York finds.

Silver Thread is a little 10 acre vineyard located in the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York, founded at the eastern shore of Seneca Lake in the 1980’s by Richard Figiel. Due to its eastern location by the water mass, the site enjoys a microclimate where cooling breezes wash over the vineyards in summer and warm air blankets them in winter, extending the growing season while keeping temperatures ideal. Sustainable farming and green technology also feature prominently in the winemaking process: geothermal and solar energy are used for temperature control, and water is gravity fed into the winery from a spring by the vineyard. All of this careful labor results in artisan wines showing minimal processing, and thus exquisite finesse.

Their 2007 Gewurztraminer blew me away. A delicate straw color in the glass with slight green hues, clear as forest spring water in a romance novel. Incredibly fresh aromas of lychee fruit, peach, and hints of roses and spice. Based on the nose, it first comes across as a dessert wine, but it is bone dry in the mouth, richly fruity and a soft mouthfeel but lean with acidity that quivers like a taut wire. Long finish, intense, delicious, mouth-watering. Begs to be enjoyed by itself or with rich poultry dishes, baked halibut or quiches.

I will readily admit to preferring French wine over all others for the most part. No country produces wine as focused, as brilliantly complex, or as delicious as French producers can; especially the right makers, especially in good years. There is clearly room here for forceful debate, and the truth of my statement varies from varietal to maker to region to vintage, but I feel safe making this generalization anyway.

Does this mean that we should not bother to try wines made by, say, Chilean vintners? No! Great wine is made everywhere, just as plenty of awful wine is made in France ( Languedoc-Roussillon has an ocean of it, although good wines abound even there). Removing wine from its global context, and becoming too focused, reduces the richness of our appreciation. As long as it is not an over-extracted, muddled fruit-bomb from a huge conglomerate, I will give any wine from any region a fair go.

And here is a wine to appreciate: the 2008 Cono Sur Pinot Noir, from their “Visión” line. These wines are, according to Cono Sur, a celebration of the various terroirs that Chile can offer, using a wide set of varietals grown in the Colchagua Valley to demonstrate how microclimates express wine in varying ways. I have found the “Visión” wines to be very pleasant overall, and would recommend any as a good bet for value.

Their 2008 “Visión” Pinot Noir, a big step up from the baseline Cono Sur Pinot, is lip-smacking. A gorgeous ruby red in the glass, with excellent clarity. The nose struts out aromas of dark cherry and ripe raspberry, juicy and fresh, with layers of coffee and cocoa just barely peeking through the red fruit. Extremely silky in the mouth, with well-balanced acidity and some earthiness towards the medium finish. This would be excellent with pork chops, baked turkey, grilled salmon, or hearty European soups. $12.

Often in winter I am looking for just one thing in wine: compatibility with food. If I cannot choke down my glass with whatever is on my plate, immediate action must be taken. The cold months make for hearty dishes, full of roasts, root vegetables, and flavors leaning towards umami. As a result, my rotation of wines shifts to the deep end of the color spectrum, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Zinfandel dominating dinnertime.

Not all of my meals are giant grilled steaks, however. Sometimes that lamb just wants a little finesse, a light touch. Sometimes I want blackberry fruit without the bramble pepper of Syrah, or the wall of tannin presented by a tight Cabernet Sauvignon. When those times arrive, I look to Italy for inspiration, due to its plethora of obscure varietals and regions that offer some great values.

A recent glance in that direction provided me with this bottle, the 2006 Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva, from Puglia. Affordable, tasty, the wine is a fine example what a blend of 85% Negroamaro and 15% Malvasia Nera, both southern Italian grapes, can achieve. After the grapes are pressed, the juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks, and this shows itself in the clarity of the fruit. In the glass, this wine is a lovely garnet color. The nose features strong notes of blackberry and dark chocolate aromas, punctuated with some mineral. Soft, lush, extremely supple in the mouth, like a kitten using your tongue as a blanket, but without the fuzz or sharp bits. Dark fruit is backed by some light tannins, balanced acidity rounded by malolactic fermentation, and hints of earth and dried herbs. Medium finish. Begs for roast lamb shank or shoulder. $11.

Most fine wine shops are full of snobs who declare American wine a waste of time, pointing you instead to the most recent bottle in from Chinon, Bourgueil, Naousa, Campania, Bierzo, et cetera. To them I reply: stuff some cheese in that pretentious whine, sir/madam. Now what could inspire me to say such a thing?

Why, the 2007 Bogle Petit Sirah, of course. According to Bogle, this wine is considered their “heritage” varietal. They have been producing it for over 30 years, and a single taste convinced me that popular opinion wins on this one. These days it feels like we need reminding that wines from the United States deserve critical acclaim, that they are not all just flabby fruit bombs lacking finesse. Now by critical acclaim I don’t mean the Bubbatown Farmer’s Market Gold Harvest Medal or some such, but true glowing reviews in the international literature, such as those I find for Ridge’s single-vineyard or Sonoma showings.

Why does Bogle fit the bill? Simple: the wine itself is a brooding, inky reddish purple in the glass, and struts its stuff when swirled. Ripe, juicy aromas of blackberries and plum fruit jump out of the glass, along with hints of spice. In the mouth, this wine is a full-bodied flavor masterpiece, with layers of dark jammy fruit and toasty vanilla oak melding to hints of leather and spice. A bedrock of mouth-coating tannin marches you to a long finish. Pair this with roasted wild game – boar sausages, huge hunks of venison, buffalo steaks, or dry-aged grilled meats. $11.