New York

Whitecliff Vineyards TraminetteIt has been unseasonably warm this fall so far. The end of September, and 80 degrees or more… while the weather may not be exactly seasonal, it has meant that those summer wines get a chance to shine a little longer. Between this climate and my ongoing “eat local, drink local” kick, a ton of New York wines have made a debut at my table. Today’s wine, a grape I only discovered this past year, is a summer favorite that should last anyone with an adventurous palate well into autumn, if not beyond.

New York has several AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas), of which I consider five to be important right now: Hudson River, Finger Lakes, Long Island, Lake Erie, and the Niagara Escarpment. The Hudson River region, a lovely valley that has been designated as a National Heritage Area, is home to the oldest vineyards still active in the state, and produces excellent Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir, among other things. The Finger Lakes region is now internationally known for its Riesling and Gewürztraminer, and I put it at the top of my list of New York AVA’s. Long Island has a maritime climate that is ideal for Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Lake Erie is still dominated by bulk production for grape juice; however, some serious artisanal wineries are beginning to crop up, putting forth delicious whites and reds for those willing to hunt.

Today’s wine, the 2012 Whitecliff Vineyards Traminette, is a Hudson River native. A hybrid based on Gewürztraminer that is brand new on the viticultural landscape, having only been crossed in 1965, Traminette’s standout features include excellent quality and character, high yields, partial resistance to several fungal diseases, and cold hardiness superior to its parent. In case it isn’t obvious, I just love this stuff. In the glass, a nice pale straw color, with perfumed aromatics and a floral palate. I noted delicate aromas of lychee, orange blossom, baking spice and dried rose petals. It finishes bone dry, and is a great companion to Asian fare. At $16 a bottle, you really just have to find some and see for yourself.

I don’t often get the chance to review wine bars on either side of the Brooklyn-Manhattan divide… mostly because I forget to record what I eat or drink. Sheer enthusiasm wins out over journalistic devotion every time. That said, once in a while a wine bar is so good, so utterly suited to my tastes in every way, that it earns a title I only bestow once a month:


Yes, it’s time for Grape Aide’s first-ever post about a wine bar that merits this elite accolade. Living in New York means having such a glut of choices, so many of which are so far beyond anything else available in the US, that when something stands out, I pay attention. Every month, I select, arbitrarily, the year’s best food and wine spots in the city, based on carefully honed metrics: how much I like the food, and how much I like the wine. Maybe I have a short attention span, maybe not, but this month The Bodega is my Destination of the Year.

The Bodega wins out, for now, for one reason: its sandwiches. Oh man. These are sandwiches crafted with the kind of care Schubert put into composing Mass no. 2; however, unlike the Mass in G, which took a week to compose (I know, right?), a sandwich at The Bodega will only have you waiting for about 20 minutes. If you live anywhere near Bushwick, and by anywhere near, I mean within three states of New York, pay a visit.

We’re talking transcendent sandwich goodness, people. Transcendent, $8 sandwiches with transcendent names, like “The Coppa Feel” (La Quercia coppa, blue cheese, cornichons, lemon aioli), “Jive Turkey” (oven-roasted turkey, cheddar, pickled jalapeño, tomato, lemon pepper aioli), and “The Vegetative State” (pickled artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, jalapeño hummus). Precursors to these bready bundles of delight include a ridiculous selection of small plates priced at $4 (favorites of mine include pickled lavender asparagus, paté, soppressata, mixed olives, etc.). I have not eaten a single item on this menu that left me wanting in any way.

You’ll enjoy these sandwiches in what is perhaps the best dining environment in any borough. Every seat in the place is comfortable, and the decor is retro without being steam punk; bunches of hanging Edison bulbs, however, are very steam punk without being stupid. Trendy, not derivative. The staff members are quite happy to taste you through whatever wine or beer catches your fancy. And this place has the most freaking awesome music of any restaurant, wine bar, bar or club I’ve ever been to, anywhere. Every time I go there on a date with my girlfriend, I’m that guy, phone in the air, Shazam-ing every damn thing I hear. Too cool.

And the pairings! 14 exceptional microbrews on tap, and a rotating wine list of 14 select wines, white, red, sparkling, and rosé, all nicely delineated by region, grape varietal, and style. For this post, I’ll profile the wine that made The Bodega my Destination of the Year of the month: the Diogene Dolcetto, produced by the cooperative Valli Unite in the Tortonese hills, is an extremely good value. Ruby red in the glass, with really pretty floral notes – think roses – and tart, juicy cherries. Springy acidity in the mouth give this wine a vibrant texture, and it finishes dry and has decent length. So: stop by, kick back with a carafe of this wine and any sandwich you prefer, and enjoy the bounty of Bushwick. Cheers.

With Thanksgiving just finished, I thought I’d dash down another quick entry about one of my favorite New York State wines, produced by a pioneering family I have written up before: the Franks. Dr. Konstantin Frank, responsible for developing many Vinifera grape varietals and hybrids, such as Seyval Blanc, on New York soil. Their wines are always of high quality, consistently delicious, and remain good values from the Finger Lakes region. As it also happens, I find these wines perfect for the holiday season: they are generous, have some depth, but don’t crowd out anything else on the table. This wine, in particular, demonstrated some of its aging potential when I opened it while trying candidates for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. It has come a long way, to say the least.

In the glass, the 2008 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling is still a pale straw color, tinged green. The first swirl elicits aromas of summer peach, flint, and a touch of pear and petrol. In the mouth, this wine reveals an almost viscous texture balanced to incisive acidity, demonstrating great focus at this price point. In this 2008 vintage, we can easily observe the Riesling transparency: that sense that the fruit, each singular element of its personality, is right there. Finishes nice and smooth, with more soft peach notes, and some really interesting honeyed notes wreathed with a touch of smoke. 12% ABV; heavier than most German takes on what is essentially a Kabinett. I would pair this with… yep, turkey. Or possibly glazed pork loin with potatos and steamed vegetables. $16 nabs you a delicious Thanksgiving. Do it.

Since I’ve been gone for a while now, I wanted to return to this blog with something different. Something flashy. Here, then, my adoring readers, is my announcement: as soon as possible, I will get serious about this forum. Soon, I will move from trashy to classy. From Omega to Alpha. From Shikai to Bankai. From ham to turkey… yes, ladies and gentlemen, from text to video. ASAP. Soon, you will be my adoring viewers. I will join the grand ranks of the blogcasters, keepers of streaming opinionated video, Real News, and made-up vocabulary.

But for now, a humble review of Jadis, a fine establishment in the Lower East Side. Service is prompt and friendly, and the lighting is proper – dim but not dark. Wood tones and brick, and they’ve used the space perfectly; you’ll never feel crowded no matter where you’re sitting. I especially like the back room area. One issue: the kitchen in the front is problematic, as it sometimes introduces a bit more noise and bustle than is probably appropriate for the setting most of us look for in a wine bar. However, this place is great overall, and low prices mean high value. They have a decent selection of reliably tasty wines, many by the glass or carafe, and their bottle list has the diversity you’d expect from a New York wine bar. I had two glasses of wine during my stay, and my tasting notes follow:

2009 Saint Urbans-Hof Riesling, Mosel –
Almost definitely a QbA, adorned with clean peach and slight lychee fruit aromas on the nose, not much else. Softer than I prefer, but well-balanced. Light body. A touch of mineral and a lingering finish for such a light body. Unassuming and pleasant. Nice on its own.

2009 “La Petite Perriere” Sauvignon Blanc, Loire –
Pale straw color, with the typical Loire nose: steely mineral, some grass, smoke, herbs, lemon zest. In the mouth it is zingy with acidity, showing more citrus fruit and some melon. But the oomph is not there. Lacks midpalate, and while light it does not quite dance. Still, good for the price no doubt. Quick finish. Paired damn well with crab cakes.

In short, if you’re in the area, stop by Jadis. I’m sure it will be worth your while. I found the food to be decent, the staff friendly, and the wine affordable while still decent in quality. And look for my crazy video wine blog… coming soon.

Riesling is, as I repeat constantly, my beloved grape. A Riesling’s haunting flavors, piercing acidity, the beauty of Riesling grapes on the precarious slopes of the Rhine, the delicate shimmer of a Riesling… nothing compares. Germany, of course, remains the source of all the best Rieslings (although Austria and Australia both produce wines that occasionally force me to drop my jaw). That said, New York’s showings are becoming increasingly satisfying! I love the wine that is the subject of this post: the 2008 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling.

Dr. Konstantin Frank merits special attention. He was, after all, the first winemaker in New York State to adopt the Vitis vinifera grape, and produced delicious wines nearly from the get-go, at that. Many years after his initial debut of the traditional European grape species, Dr. Frank continued to have detractors – now, thankfully, those objections have been washed away by the profundity of his descendent’s wines. His grandson, Frederick Frank, runs the family business with an extremely talented band of winemakers, specialists with a global perspective. All this, and seeing the place means you get a trip to the Finger Lakes!

Their 2008 Dry Riesling is the first wine I have tried by this producer, having read many articles about the quality of their lineup. Let me make an account of why it is beautiful. This wine is beautiful because it is a crystalline pale straw tinged with green in the glass. This wine is beautiful because of its lemon-lime citrus and green apple aromas accentuated by slate stone and floral notes on the nose, followed by a steely mineral mouthfeel. This wine is beautiful for its strident acidity, piercing the faithful like lightning. Definitely on the mean side in that regard, but the mineral and apple fruit makes it balanced to my tastes. Great snappy finish. Pair this wine with pork chops, or fresh lobster or crab. Pair it with oysters. Pair it with itself. $14.

Pinot Noir: the grape that makes the fabled wines of Burgundy. Unmatched in sensuality. Layered, aromatic; bemusement in a bottle. Sometimes. Sometimes, it just produces decent, tasty wines we can love casually, much like Mallomars.

The 2007 Silver Thread Pinot Noir, the first produced by this fine maker in upstate New York, falls somewhere between those two extremes. In or out of the bottle, it in no way resembles a Mallomar, but also reaches for humbler goals than the grand cru Burgundies people like me wish they could try, if only once. I hope not to offend the hordes of Mallomarian faithful with this statement. Anyone who adores the fine Mallomar can leave this posting content in the knowledge that I would love to walk the hills of La Romanée with a whole box in hand.
Moving on: I found this wine to be tuna or hibiscus red in the glass, with coppery undertones, decent clarity. Aromas of lilac and cranberry to dark cherry, jammy fruit, with earthy and herbal notes in the mouth. Lovely acidity, good balance, with very soft and subtle tannins, as expected from a cool-climate Pinot. Medium finish, with a nice texture and lingering fruitiness. Pair with roast turkey or duck, or herb-encrusted veal. Or Mallomars. $22.

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.