Monday, December 28, 2009

Viva Italia

Apparently this was the year for me to buck the trend of Asian food over the holidays as I found myself at another Italian restaurant on Saturday night. Clearly it's fated that I get to know and appreciate Italian wines a bit more.

Giotto's is a restaurant around the corner from me that I've been wanting to try for quite some time. It's always packed and as one might expect it's a BYO so obviously it's been calling to me! I've tried to go before but I haven't been able to get in (perhaps I should try making reservations rather just dropping by, eh?). Saturday night when we could actually get a table, we had to jump on it. Who cared if it was my second night of Italian in a row? It's the holidays - live a little!

Before heading to the restaurant, my friend and I stopped at a local wine store and after a brief "discussion" with a member of the staff about the placement of their Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, we ended up a bottle of Villa Antinori (brand, not a grape varietal) blend and a Vino Noble de Monetpulciano (grape varietal and as you might suspect, a very close relative to Montepulciano D'Abruzzo).

Villa Antinori has been an Italian label I've relied upon since my friend, Pam, introduced it to me several years ago. Their standard red table wine is a lovely, aromatic and hearty blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese (the key grape in Chianti) and smaller quantities of a few other grapes. Bright fruit with a medium finish and slight tannins. It's a great wine to eat with a variety of foods. I enjoyed it with balsamic glazed scallops while my friend paired it with one of the largest Ribeyes I've ever seen.

We have yet to drink the Vino Noble, but as soon as we do, you'll be hearing all about it.

And for those wondering, Giotto's did not disappoint. For those in North Jersey, I recommend a visit.

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Last night I ventured into New York City to meet a fellow member of the tribe for a not so Christmas dinner. Thanks to Open Table, I was able to determine which restaurants would be open. I was so proud of my methodology and I'm such a foodie geek that I actually created a spreadsheet of the various restaurant information. As ridiculous as this sounds, it actually came in handy because we knew exactly where we were going as we headed into the cold, windy night.
We ended up at Trattoria Dell'Arte, which I'd heard good things about, but had never visited. The place was packed, the service was very friendly and the food was quite good, though a bit pricey. They have an extensive list of wines by the bottle. Their lists of 1/2 bottles and wines by the glass are short, but they are good lists that cover a range of tastes.

Since I've been trying to learn more about Italian wines and find ones that are a little more accessible to my palette, I chose the Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, an Italian varietal I've enjoyed before. Montepulciano D'Abruzzo is a wonderful vairetal for someone like me who has trouble with the more acidic,"dustier" and more structured Itlaian wines. I can appreciate these wines, but I have a hard time truly enjoying them. Montepulciano D'Abbruzzo, on the other hand, is just fun in a glass. Lower acidity, light tannins and a lot of bright, young fruit. The Dario D'Angelo Montepulciano D'Abruzzo did not disappoint. It went down very easy and I did not complain when the bartender refilled my glass (without my even ordering it).

If you're looking for a nice, easy Italian wine to drink with or without food, or you're like me and wine lists at Italian restaurants scare you, just look for Montepulciano D'Abruzzo. You won't be disappointed. Plus, it's usually one of the better values on the menu. Mangia!

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A very Gary (Farrell) Christmas

Last night I had some friends over to celebrate a not very Christmas-y Eve. Of course wine was involved. I wanted to start with something a little lighter so I went with one of my favorite whites - Erath Pinot Gris. Medium bodied with a lot of refreshing acid and wonderful fruit flavors of apricot and a hint of pear.

We then moved on to our first red - Benton Lane Pinot Noir - another excellent value. For those who've been keeping up with their reading, it's the wine I enjoyed at a family dinner a few weeks ago. Dry cherry yumminess.

Though it was late in the evening, I was able to "twist" my friends' arms and convince them to go for a 3rd bottle. This is where we decided to take it up a notch and I uncorked a bottle of Gary Farrell's 2006 Carneros Pinot Noir that I'd picked up in Sonoma this past June. Gary Farrell's labels are pretty standard and boring so rather than include a picture of the bottle, I attached a picture of the view from Gary Farrell's tasting room. This is what they should put on their label because it's one of the best views in Sonoma.

Pinot Noirs from California tend to have a lot more of a cooked fruit nose and taste as the grapes are grown in a warmer climate than in Burgundy or in Oregon. This turns some people off, but when done right, I find it tasty and warming. Gary Farrell's Carneros Pinot Noir has a nose and a palette of stewed plums and it's absolutely delightful. Luckily my friends are lightweights because I still have a glass left to enjoy later today (after I get back from the movies of course)!

I hope all of your holiodays are as merry or as Gary.

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Alli M., Sommelier (seriously?!?)

Yesterday I found out I passed the Intermediate Certificate from the Wine and Spirits Education trust (the wine class I was blogging about a few months ago). Apparently I can now officially call myself a sommelier, though what this class made me realize is how much more I have to learn and how easy it is to gain the title of sommelier.

That said, these feelings won't keep me from throwing out this term now and again to impress as needed!

We'll see how haughty I'm feeling when I'm in the midst of trying to pass the Advanced Certificate this spring.

Until the next sniff, sip, quaff, tasting, class, or random opinion,


Alli M.

Vanity Wine Labels - not so much

I attended a wedding at a fancy hotel this weekend and they were serving their own label that was made for them from a winery in Sonoma. The label did not specify the winery. I tend to be a bit weary when it comes to wines made specifically for a venue or an already existing brand. I have a theory that the grapes used in these wines are those deemed inferior for the previously existing labels the winery makes. It's even more suspect when the winery is not mentioned on the label.

Unfortunately the wine at the wedding did nothing to change this point of view. The Merlot was a thin fruit bomb and represented the reason why Milo didn't drink any "f***in" Merlot in the movie "Sideways." The Cabernet was slightly better but still had way too many spice flavors (tasted more like nutmeg than anything else) leading me to believe it was over-oaked like most "value" Cabernets from Napa/Sonoma. The upside is that I was able to focus all of my attention on the dance floor, which is really how it should be at a wedding!

Up next I'll be sharing my opinions on wine gifting for the holidays...A little late, but better late than, well, who am I kidding, my five regular readers would have already asked me anyway....

Until the next sip, sniff or quaff (or latest wine opinion/frustration),


Alli M.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Another good value to check out

Last night my family and I were at a restaurant and as usual, they handed the wine list to me. It's always a bit daunting choosing a bottle for a table of people, but I know my parents are fans of Pinot Noir and I saw Benton Lane on the list so I decided to go with it. Benton Lane makes a lovely, dry pinot with some nice cherry notes. Moreover, at approx. $20 a bottle, it's a really good value. Of course we paid $55, which is (sadly) a typical markup you get at restaurants (and the reason I love frequenting good BYOs).

That said, if you see it on a list or in the store, it's worth a try.

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Happiest of Holidays

That about sums it up for me*

*Of course I say this as someone who celebrates Christmas with some good Indian food and a movie or two (as far as I'm concerned, Indian pairs a lot better with wine).


-Alli M.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bad Blogger, Bad

I've been a complete lazy bum. I've been involved in all sorts of wine activities the past few weeks and haven't made any time to type them up. Rather than give a short synopsis of each activity, I'll write about my experiences over the next few entries. Since I have no big dinner plans this week, I could use the material.

Saturday night I corked a bottle of Four Graces Pinot Noir - a wonderful, layered wine that tastes more like a French Burgundy than an American Pinot. Gamey, dry and with a slight hint of plum and berry. It's something I probably would have hated 10 years ago when I was first getting into the big, bright and jammy California wines. I absolutely love it now. Through the WSET class, I found that I have a real taste for gamey red wines. It has to be the Francophile in me!

If you get the chance to pick up a bottle of Four Graces, Pinot Noir, go for it. For $25, it's an absolute gem. And their Pinot Gris is also quite good.

Tomorrow I'll tell you all about putting together a gift case of wine for my friends' wedding.

Until then,

Alli M.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Busy few weeks

Unlike my last lapse in posting, I've had plenty of wine experiences over the past few weeks. I just haven't had the time to write about them. So, without further preamble, here are my last few weeks of wining, dining and whining.....

Last weekend, a few friends and I went down to Philadelphia for a "foodie tour." Our first stop was 10 Arts by Eric Ripert. SO disappointing. Terrible ambience and so-so food (would be a "good," but for these prices, you shouldn't consider this food good). The worst part was the wine list. Plenty to choose from, but at 300-400% markups, why bother? This has changed my perception of Eric Ripert as one of the "genius" chefs of today.

The next day we stopped at Tria for lunch. Tria is a local Philly wine bar with two locations. I've now been to both and they're wonderful. Plus, any place that has Torrontes on the menu is a winner! Torrontes is a lovely white grape out of Argentina that you're going to be seeing a lot more of over the next few years.

The following Sunday I had dinner at Raymond's with a friend of mine. For those keeping track, I've mentioned Raymond's a few times because it is one of my favorite local BYOs. I brought a bottle of Chateau Tour Prignac 2005 from the Medoc region of the Bordeaux. From my wine course I now know that Bordeaux blends from Medoc are more Cabernet dominated. It was a lovly bottle with a lot more fruit on the palette than I expected and it surprisingly went really well with the trout I ordered. If you can find it, definitely worth the $22 I paid for it!

This past Thursday was one of my book club meetings. We read "My Life in France," Julia Child's account of her years developing "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" with her good friends Simca and Louisette. Guess who picked the book? We ate a local French BYO, mais oui (or as we'd say, "but of course"). I brought a bottle of Domaine De La Pertuisane Le Nain Violet 2004 from the Languedoc region (Grenache, Carignan, Syrah). Though you can usually drink wines from the Languedoc young, this felt a little too young. Good thing I have a few more bottles laid down!

And my wine drinking of the past few weekends was capped off with a tasting class of Spanish and Portuguese wines at Amanti Vino. We tried 7 differet wines and of those, my favorites were the Lavradores "Tres Bagos" 2005 and the Infantado Vintage Character Port NV. Both are from Portgual. "Tres Bagos" is a red table wine that has grapes from 15 different growers in the Douro region of Portgual. It has a gamey nose with lots of black fruit (blackberries, black currant). It drinks like it smells - earthy and dry with a nice hit of fruit. And for $16, you'd be crazy not to give it a shot if you find it. The Infantado is a wonderful port with all of the silky, sweet textures and flavors you'd hope to find. Made me crave a little water cracker, brie and fig jam sandwich.
Before I leave, I have one request of my faithful readers (all 5-6 of you). Please help me pick which pie to make for Thanksgiving. I'm making two pies - one will be apple and I don't know what to make for the second pie. My mom doesn't like pumpkin and my dad doesn't like "anything with that many calories." I'm open to suggestions. Ideas?
Until the next sniff, sip or quaff (or several daysof sipping),

Alli M.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

WSET Intermediate Final

I already miss my wine class! Last night I took the final for the Intermediate Certificate of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. In 4-6 weeks I'll have my results and if all goes well (meaning if I answered at least 55% of the questions right), I will receive my Intermediate Certificate. Apparently, this means I could call myself a sommelier. Scary when I think about how much more I have to learn. But let's not get ahead of ourselves...T minus 42 days until I know.

And T minus 2-3 months until I start the Advanced Class. 5 Months. Loads more blind tastings. Exponentially more difficult. Looking forward to it.

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,

Alli M.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Tasteful Experience indeed

Hey all! I know it's been a little while, but I just came from one of the best wine events and I can't wait to share it with you.

A few weeks ago, one of the instructors of my wine class, Sharon, was promoting A Tasteful Experience, a charity event that her wine store was sponsoring along with several ofthe best restaurants in New Jersey. After reading the list of restaurants participating (most notably CulinAriane whose chef, Ariane, appeared on Top Chef Season 5 and Passionne whose chef, Michael, was a winner on Food Network's Chopped), I knew I was in. Plus, my favorite wine store was hosting AND it was for a local charity. The only way there could be more reasons for me to buy a ticket was if they were giving away massages at the door - though the swag bag I received with my upgraded VIP ticket came pretty close.

I could write a short novel on the 3 hours I spent tasting and drinking, but I'll keep it to the highlights so as not to bore you (or make you jealous).
Favorite Foods:
-Pork loin with apple and walnut chutney from CulinAriane. Thanks to some sound advice from Will, the other instructor of my wine class, I paired it with a 1987 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Rioja. It was like a celebration in my mouth.
-Butternut squash soup with hazlenut creme fraiche from Table 8. Table 8 is one of my favorite places in Montclair and unfortunately I don't get there often enough. This soup was like eating silk made of squash with a touch of nutmeg. Most people ignore the soups at tasting events like think I steered at least 10 people to the Table 8 booth.

Favorite Wines:
-The afore-mentioned 1987 Rioja. Bright fruit, but not jammy with some subtle oak and dust. I went back for 5 pours.
-2006 Groffier Chambolle-Musigny "Les Sentiers." 1er Cru Burgundy. Yum. Perfectly balanced earth and fruit.
-30 year Casa de Santa Eufemia Reserve Especial Blanco Port. White port. Elegant, nutty, oaky. I think I introduced at least 15 people to this port.

Of course the least expensive of these is $90 per bottle. Figures.

Favorite Moments:
-Sharon acting as a personal sommelier for a few other members of the class and me. I think I figured out who I want to be if/when I grow up!
-Slipping my favorite wines to Chef Michael of Passionne. I hope he remembers me the next time I stop in for a meal!!!!

All in all it was a great night and I learned even more about wine. Slowly but surely, my palette is developing - though that means I'm appreciating less fruit forward and more restrained and old world (e.g. dusty, gamey, earthy) styles. Hopefully you can learn to enjoy these wines with me.

This Friday I'm heading down to 10 Arts by Eric Ripert in Philadelphia to have dinner with 4 fun women and I'm sure I'll have some good wine moments to share.
Unil the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

WSET, Class 7 (Final Class)

Tonight was my final class in the Intermediate series for the Wine and Spirits Trust. I've really enjoyed the class and I have learned a great deal. I'm sad to see it come to a close, though I'm not necessarily looking forward to next week's final exam!

So what did we do in our final class? We ended with the spirits portion of the class. Suffice it to say, I prefer the wine portion. Luckily we also did sherries and ports and I love good port.

To give you the highlights would mean trying to explain the difference between the Pot Still process of distillation and the Continuous Still process of distillation. Unfortunately I haven't studied enough to go through that. Other highlights included the look on my classmates and my face as we tasted vodka, gin, scotch and whisky in the same way we've been tasting wines. We had sniff vigorously and roll it around our tongues as we would a wine to try to pull out the flavors. I'm sure this would have been lovely for whisky connoisseurs, but this was a room of wine fans!

One other thing I learned tonight - gin is essentially vodka infused with juniper berries and often other botanicals.

This weekend I'm off to another wedding and hopefully I'll have some good wine to write about. If not, I'm sure I'll be drinking something good in the near future!

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pairing, shmairing. At least the dinner was fun.

This past Friday I attended a 7 course tasting dinner (I know I said 5 in my previous post, but with the Amuse and the "Surprise" Amuse, it turned into 7). My friend, Laura, was the sous chef to her boyfriend, Joshua, the head chef. They provided the menu a few days beforehand and I was going to pair each course with wine. Well that was the plan at least.

The menu was on the light side - oysters, peppers, fish - so I decided that I'd go with a lot of white varietals. This can be daring because people tend to have a red bias when pairing wine with food.

This was the plan:
Course 1, "Surprise" Amuse: Sweet white wine
Course 2, Oyster Amuse: Sparkling white wine (Parigot)
Course 3, Spinach and Leek Frittata with Black Truffle: Sparkling white wine (Parigot)
Course 4, Beet Salad: Sparkling white wine (still Parigot)
Course 5, Stuffed Pepper: Pinot Noir (Four Graces, good, simple classically jammy)
Course 6, Red Snapper with Miso Glaze and Heirloom Quinoa and Black Sea Bass with Cilantro and Celery Root puree: Pinot Noir (Four Graces)
Course 7, Chocolate Pot de Creme with Pumpkin Gelatto and Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream: 10 Year Old Tawny Port (Taylor's)

Here's what happened:

Due to traffic, it took me over 1 1/2 hours to get to Joshua's. By the time I got there, they'd already opened a bottle of Champagne. Unfortunately a sweet white does not do well after something as acidic as a sparkling white (or most still whites). My strategy to prime the taste buds and wow with the delicate sweet white was out the window. Hopefully Joshua and Laura can enjoy the extra bottle I left them in the fridge (ideally with some good cheese). So we ended up drinking a lot of sparkling and really, what's wrong with that? Of course the upside is that we all reached for the sweet white to cool our palettes when we bit into the habanero topping the beet salad.....

Then, when we got to the red, another guest wanted to open the red table wine he'd just picked up in Napa so we went with it. The only problem is that red table wines from Napa are usually much bigger and oakier than Pinot Noir so it basically kills the flavor of the Pinot. At least the port worked out well with the Pot de Creme!

Well, I learned my lesson. Next time I pair I'll send out the list ahead of time and explain the pairings. I'll also leave more time to get to my destination. Friggin' tunnel traffic.
That said, it was still a really fun night with some excllent food and even better company. When you have that, does it really matter what you're drinking?

Joshua, Laura, Pam, Micah and Jeff - Thanks for being great dinner companions. I hope you all had a wonderful Halloween weekend.

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Friday, October 30, 2009

WSET, Class 7

I'm sorry I haven't posted in over a week. My attention has been focused on my beloved Phillies and the World Series. You'd think that the tension of each pitch would drive me to drink more, but I've been taking out my stress on my nails and not my wine refrigerator.

Though it was Game 1 of the Series, I made my way to class as I've been doing each Wednesday for the past several weeks. Plus, it was sparkling and sweet wine. Who would want to miss that class?

Before sharing the highlights, there is one thing every wine fan needs to understand. The only wine that can be called Champagne is a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France. I know this is truly snobby, but I really do not like when people refer to a non-Champagne sparkler as Champagne. I know this is supposed to be wine for all and all for wine, but there are some things I can't abide!

So what new things did I learn this week? The highlights:

-There are two methods for making sparkling wine: the traditional method and the tank method. The traditional method is a lot more labor intensive and thus a lot more expensive. Not surprisingly, champagne or sparklers made this way are generally considered better and are often more expensive. That said, I have seen $20 bottles made in the traditional way. The way to tell from the label is to look for the words Cremant or Methode Champenoise. Spanish Cava is also made using the traditional method. Most Italian sparkling wine is made using the tank method.

-Almost all champagne on the market is non vintage. Very rarely do they actually have years they can consider vintages. 1996 was a huge vintage and 2002 was the last vintage released.

-There are several different types of sweet wine and several different ways of making them. The most highly regarded dessert wines (Sauternes, Tokaji, Austrian and German BA and TBA) are made from grapes that develop Botrytis which is known as the "noble rot." Technically the grapes are diseased, but Botrytis tends to add a lot of wonderful tropical and nutty flavors to the grape. Also, it's very risky and labor intensive because it means leaving your grapes on the vine a lot longer.

Tonight I'm starting off a 5 course meal with a French sweet wine. The wine was made with grapes that developed Botrytis.

Of course we will be pairing several other wines throughout the meal so check back in the next day or two!

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

WSET, Class 6

Tonight was our class on Italy, Spain and Portugal. It's very hard to cram 3 wonderful wine regions into one class, but we managed to do it (it's a good thing Will, our instructor for the evening, is a really fast talker).

I've enjoyed Spanish and Portuguese wines and though I haven't been the biggest fan of Italian wines, I'll always give them a chance. Unfortunately tonight I did not love the Italian wines we tried (too much dust). That said, I still learned a bit and I'm guessing if we had tried a Nebbiolo, I would have enjoyed it.

So what did I learn outside of the tasting?

The highlights:

1) The cool climate in Northern Italy makes for higher acidity in the wine which is why it pairs so well with food - particularly those with tomato sauces, which are highly acidic.

2) Primitivo is likely the same as Zinfandel, though they have testd the DNA and they may be slightly different. Why they need to DNA test grapes, I do not know.

3) When Pinot Grigio is planted elsewhere and called Pinot Gris, it's usually aged longer on the vine and has more body.

4) On Rioja, the words Jovan, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva refer to how long the wine has been aged in oak. Jovan translates into young wine and means the wine has not been aged in oak at all. Then it goes up from there.
On Saturday I'll be doing an organic and biodynamic wine tasting with friends.

Until then,


Alli M.

Monday, October 19, 2009

New Hampshire foliage - gorgeous; New Hampshire wine - not so much

This past weekend I was in New Hampshire for a wedding. Several of my friends were also there, including Jen VB, a regular reader and sometime commentator. As we drove through a blaze of fall color, we stopped to check out a local "winery" with our friend, Shawna. And by "winery," I mean someone's cluttered basement, complete with exposed insulation and other detritus, that doubled as a tank room and a tasting room. Apparently folding tables aren't just for poker.

We knew this wouldn't be a Napa-type experience, but we didn't realize it wouldn't even be close to your local lemonade stand until we pulled up the driveway and weren't sure which split level held the "award winning" (as advertised on their sign) wines. We parked, looked around skeptically, and then found the sign: "Go to the side door for great: WINE." (Note the colon usage.) They over-promised.

It turns out the side door led down into a basement and as we descended the stairs I swear I could hear the theme from Jaws playing as random scenes from various horror movies flashed in front of my eyes. Were we sure the door didn't lock behind us? Luckily, the only things mutilated were our taste buds.

There's really no need to go through the various wines we tasted. JVB declared the supposed award-winning Noiret to be "blech-blech." What's frustrating is that I really would love for some great wineries to develop in unexpected places. Everything, though, tasted like oak pulp with some pepper additives.

Then again, I can't feel too bad that the wine was terrible because the winemaker was a condescending jerk who seemed bothered that we were there. Moreover, it's a little creepy to wine taste when you're worried that Leatherface will be jumping out of the corner.

So the wine was awful, but the experience was quite memorable. Some day, someone in the Northeast will make a red wine that I love. Until then, I'll keep bumbling around and stopping into wineries in random places because you never might get a good story and, even better, a good glass of wine.

Until the next sniff, sip, quaff or random non wine country visit,

Alli M. and Jen Vb

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

WSET, Class 5

I drank the equivalent of less than a glass of wine tonight and yet every time I picked up my glass I seemed to spill. Every swirl, every sip, every time I picked up my glass, I seemed to add to the growing pool on the table. Though I made a mess, the upside is that I still smell the remnants of my class in my notebook and I can't complain. At this point I'm just getting a little yeast and oak and I'm really enjoying it.

So what are these remnants made up of? Tonight we learned about Syrah, Grenache and Riesling.

The highlights:

-Syrah grapes are a lot like Cabernet grapes. They're both small and thick skinned and grow best in cooler climates. And both do well aged in oak.

-On the other hand, Syrah and Grenache are very different grapes. Syrah is tannic, thick skinned and has a lot of black fruit on the palette while Grenache has high alcohol content, thin skins and a lot of red fruit on the palette. This is why they're often blended - they balance each other out. Grenache smooths out the tannins in Syrah and makes the wine more immediately drinkable while Syrah helps tone down the alcohol in Grenache. Mouvedre, another grape is often added to Syrah and Grenache blends because it's not as expensive to cultivate and it adds spice to the blend.

-2007 Rhone vintage is legend-(wait for it)-ary. I cannot wait to pick up several bottles of Chateauneuf du Pape from 2007. Chateauneuf du Pape is one of the best regarded areas in the Southern Rhone region and it's one of the reasons I am so into wine.

-Riesling, like Chardonnay, is incredibly expressive of its "terroir" and the climate in which it was grown. Case in point - we tried an Australia Riesling next to a German Riesling (from one of the best regions - Mosel) and they were extremely different. The Australian Riesling had a palette that reminded me more of a Sauvignon Blanc.

This weekend I'm heading up to my friends' wedding in New Hampshire. Though New Hampshire isn't a wine region, I expect to be enjoying several varietals and hope to have something share after the weekend.

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Syrah, Petite Syrah, Petite Sirah, oh my (but who really cares - they're all yummy)

I honestly can't tell you the difference between Syrah, Petite Syrah and Petite Sirah, but I know there's a difference. Moreover, a couple of different wine varieties have been called Petite Syrah (or Sirah), further complicating matters.

But here's what I do know - I've had a few Petite Syrahs over the year and I've generally enjoyed them. They're usually priced right because they're not one of the better known varietals, but they tend to exhibit some of the same blackberry, mocha and coffee flavors you get from the heartier red grapes.

This past Friday, I went to dinner with a couple of fellow wine lovers and after perusing the exhaustive list and asking our server, we ordered a bottle of Stag's Leap Petie Syrah. All I can say is yum. Dark ruby, blackberry nose and wonderful fruit, coffee and a little bit of spice on the palette. As we savored the wine with our meals we all discussed picking up a few bottles for our home wine coolers. I've already checked it out and I found that one of my local stores carries it for under $30 a bottle - much better than most decent California Cabs.

So the next time you're at a restaurant and there's a Petite Syrah on the menu - take a chance. I think you're going to like what you find. Plus, it's wine. I's not like you're making an irrevocable decision.


Until the next sip, sniff or quaff (this Wednesday),


Alli M.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I've got to stop dropping $100 every time I go into a wine store....

Or I need to get a raise. Or better yet, win the lottery so I can drop $1000 every time I walk into a wine store. This should really be a picture of a money vine and not a money tree!
Until the next sip, sniff, quaff or lottery win,
Alli M.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

WSET, Class 4

Tonight's class was all about the classic Bordeaux grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc (also grown in the Loire Valley). Like last class, we tasted French wine and then the American interpretation (or as those in the know would say "old world vs. new world").
As one who has primarily developed her palette on "new world" wines, I have a much easier time identifying and understanding American wines. That said, I love good French wine so as usual, I had a blast at class. Plus, I know my palette is slowly (very slowly), but surely learning.

So enough about me and my learning. On to the highlights:

-Tasting two styles of the same grape side by side (or "contextual tasting" as I call it) is the best way to go. It makes it so much easier to discern the different scents on the nose and the flavors on the palette. And it's just plain fun (for wine geeks like me, that is).

-The California climate makes it really easy to grow almost any type of grape whereas the French climate is a bit more challenging. That's why you'll hear of bad vintages of Burgundy or Bordeaux, but you rarely hear of bad vintages of Napa or Sonoma or Santa Ynez.

-Bordeaux is in the Southwest of France and is known for several appelations primarily split between two zones - the left bank and the right bank of the Gironde estuary. Wines from the left bank (Medoc, Haut Medoc, Graves) are Cabernet Sauvignon dominated while wines from the right bank (Pomerol, Saint-Emilion) are Merlot dominated.

-Sancerre does not have notes of honeysuckle (see, I told you my palette takes the short bus to class!).

It's been a busy 3 days of eating, drinking and more eating and drinking and I appreciate you reading along with my adventures!

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What pairs best with "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?"

Earlier tonight at my book club we conducted a blind wine tasting. Everyone brought a bottle of wine in a brown paper bag and we numbered each bag. We had 8 wines in all - 2 whites and 6 reds. In between discussing "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" we tasted and took notes.

Unfortunately I didn't take notes after the wines were revealed so I can't recall everything we tried, but here's the rundown:

Bogle Chardonnay - Wendy N. - our fearless hostess (and maker of yummy tortellini)
Argentinian Torrontes (don't know the producer) - Laurie D. - the great trickster

Firesteed Pinot Noir - Rachel K. - those of us who know RK are sooo not surprised
Italian Montepulciano (with some Sangiovese blended in) - Kathy
Glass Mountain Syrah - Alli M. - this was my "joke" of the evening - I think this wine is crap
Ravenswood Red Zinfandel - Joanna R. - sorry I confused this with my crap Syrah but at least it paired well with the cake
Niepoort Twisted Douro - Alli M. - I had to bring something halfway decent, though this was not a big hit
and a Cabernet Sauvignon that I can't remember - Genna W. - Sorry I didn't love it

I successfully identified three of the wines. Apparently I have a talent at picking out over oaked Chardonnay and over oaked Cabernet Sauvignon. Good thing I'm taking classes! Then again I did nail the America pinot noir.

It seemed like the favorites were the Torrontes and the Pinot Noir (and when the flourless chocolate cake came out, the Red Zinfandel - which usually goes well with rich chocolate). For those who've never had Torrontes, it's a lovely white wine that has a nose like a riesling but with a drier, more structured palette. Plus, you can find a good bottle for $15 or less so I highly recommend giving it a shot.

As for the book, that was received a little less favorably. Most felt that "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" was too similar to the original and that the zombies added nothng to the plot. Since I've never read the original, I can't really comment. I enjoyed the book, but the best part of book club isn't the reading. Reading the book is just a good excuse to get together for some good conversation, great food and the occasional blind wine tasting.

Until tomorrow night's class,


Alli M.

Monday, October 5, 2009

How to blow a few months worth of grocery money and enjoy every minute

As most of you know, my favorite way to enjoy wine is with a good meal. So although this is a wine blog, I must share my latest dining experience with you because most who enjoy good wine appreciate good food as well. And if that's not you then a) you're missing out and b) you'll just have to wait until my next posting!

This past Sunday, my friend and fellow foodie, Sharon, and I went to Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, New NY ( Blue Hill is a highly regarded "farm to table" restaurant that is known for its tasting menus. All the food is seasonal and grown or or raised locally. There is also a Blue Hill in New York City that sources its produce and meat from the local area, including Stone Barns.

Blue Hill's menu consists of a list of seasonal ingredients and you choose from a 5 course or 8 course meal. On Wednesdays and Thursdays they offer a 3 course meal and on Sundays it's a 4 course meal. Upon taking your order, a member of the wait staff will ask if you have any food allergies or do not like a certain food. The chef will work around whatever you don't like or cannot eat.
From then on, you just have to put yourself in their hands and enjoy because you will not be disappointed. I was worried that Sharon over-promised and set my expectations too high, but I've never invoked the phrase "Oh my God" so much in my life (I know there are a world of dirty punchlines here, but there's really nothing more to say).
At this point I'm sure you're thinking - o.k., just get to it. But when it comes to food porn, a little foreplay is necessary.

The down and dirty:

Bread: A crusty loaf of rosemary, onion sliced deliciousness topped with fresh butter
-We knew we should have held off, but we each had a few pieces

Amuse Bouche: Mini beet sliders with goat cheese and mesclun greens on a warm sweet bun and a Blue Hill "V8" consisting of a blend of multiple vegetables with a touch of pepper and an herb we couldn't make out
-When we asked our server about the herb and the bread she revealed that the herb was coriander and the bread was a financier bread (a sweet bread often used in desserts)
-I now need to cook with coriander more often
-If they offered a Blue Hill "Bloody Mary V8," I would drink it by the gallon

Appetizer: Frittata wedge made with purple potato and topped with a thin slice of pancetta
-Savory and yummy in an excellent 3 bite portion

1st Course: Salad greens with pistachios, quince berries (I think) and tarragon dressing topped with a soft boiled egg that was coated in almond flour and flash fried
-Normally I don't like eggs with a runny yolk, but this was exceptional
-We guessed that they'd somehow flash fried the egg but when our server explained the process, it was explained so delicately and interestingly that it was like hearing about someone's artistic process
2nd Course: Butternut Squash ravioli
-One of the best things I've ever eaten in my life. I still feel guilty that I could only eat 3 out of the 5 because I was stuffed at this point.

3rd Course: Pork Tenderloin
-Between the food, the wine and the whole experience, I was exhausted, giddy and a bit dazed at this point so I don't remember exactly what this was cooked in and served with. I remember it being terrificly tender and perfectly prepared. I couldn't eat more than 2 bites because I was pretty darn full at this point and dessert was pending.

Dessert: Plum cake with Rosemary ice cream and Quince paste
-Though I love plums, I don't like desserts made out of plums and admittedly I was a bit relieved because I could barely take another bit of anything. The rosemary ice cream was quite nice, especially when mixed with the quince paste. It was a really elegant sweet and savory pairing.

For those of you counting, we received a bit more than just the "4 courses" which is why it's not just a tasting menu but a true experience.
Of course I enjoyed this with a lovely wine. I barely got through page 2 of the wine list when my eyes lit up and I said, "ooooo, they have Schramsberg sparkling rose," which is one of my absolute favorite sparkling wines. Most people are a little suspect of pink sparkling wines, but Sharon was game, which is why I'm friends with her (among many other really good reasons - Sasabune, WWSD, My wannabee Irish obsession).

What most people don't realize about sparkling wine is that a good dry one, like Schramsberg, pairs nicely with a lot of foods. Until we got to the pork, this held up with all the food we ate. Actually, the food was so amazing that even if I were drinking Manishewitz (L'Chaim), this would have been one of my favorite meals of all time.

In case you're wondering -- Blue Hill takes reservations no more than 60 days out and you can make reservations via phone or on Open Table.

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

WSET, Class 3

For the first time, I'm disappointed to say that I haven't been doing enough homework. My palette is still behind (or "on the short bus" as I like to say), but we all know I will continue to work on it. Plus, I found that side by side tastings seem to help because like so many other things, tasting is contextual (food, other wines and I swear, mood, can definitely change the taste).

Tonight we learned about the classic Burgundy grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We then tasted 2 Burgundy Chardonnays and a Burgundy Pinot Noir side by side with their California counterparts. Tasting the same type of grape from two very different climates intepreted in by two different winemakers was a great learning experience. The nose was so much easier to discern as were the flavors. I'm still not getting everything I could or should from the glass, but I'll somehow find a way to soldier on and study up.

Other than the side by side tastings, here are the other highlights:

-Chardonnay can grow almost anywhere and it can be made in several different regions. On the other hand, Pinot Noir is the most fragile, thin skinned grape. It ferments quickly, punctures easily and has to be handled with a great deal of care to be made into a good wine.

-When it comes to Burgundy wines, there are 4 levels beginning with Bourgogne Blance or Bourgogne Rouge (meaning the grapes are from anywhere in Burgundy), from there it goes to Villages and then the name of the town or area the grapes are from and the next level up is Premier Cru and then Grand Cru. Beyond that, I can't tell you a lot more about Burgundy because it's confusing as heck and well, I was drinking wine during class tonight.

-Malolactic fermentation happens naturally in the winemaking process and it's what happens when malic acid becomes lactic acid. Red wines always go through the process while white wines don't always complete the process. It all depends on how much lactic acid the winemaker wants in the white wine. The more lactic acid, the creamier the texture.

Until the next swirl, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

75 Great Years and 4 Great Wines

This past Saturday my family celebrated my dad's 75th birthday (I can only share his age because he doesn't look 75). My mom planned a dinner at one of my dad's favorite restaurants that also happens to be a great BYO. I had the pleasure of picking the wine.

As there were going to be 12 people and I didn't know everyone's palette or what they would be ordering, this proved to be a bit of a challenge. I decided to start with pinot noir. Not only does my dad love pinot noir, but it also pairs nicely with a wide variety of food.

My obvious choice - Merry Edwards. Merry Edwards' pinot has a classic nose and palette - lots of jam and pepper with a hint of spice.

From there, I decided to go a bit bolder and spicier and chose a few bottles of St. Supery's "Elu," which is their meritage. A meritage is what we Americans call our Bordeaxu style blends. The blend primarily consists of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France and usually 5-10% of Petit Verdot and/or Malbec. I chose St. Supery's because it's always been a favorite of mine - it's spicy, but not overpowering and you still get a lot of fruit on the nose and in the glass. Plus, I had recently picked up a few bottles of 2000 that would be well aged and perfect for an occasion like this.

So that left the whites. My mom requested that we start with a toast so we needed some sparkling wine. I don't know a great deal about sparkling so I consulted my friends at Amanti Vino. They recommended Domaine Parigot Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs. To round out the whites, I chose Bridlewood's Viognier. Viognier is a classic white grape from the Northern Rhone region. Since Bridlewood does a lovely job with Syrah, another classic Rhone grape, I assumed their Viognier would be quite good and it didn't disappoint.

All in all, the wine was a success. My parent's and their friends have an obvious bias, but they all told me I did a good job. Moreover, a few of them who "never drink champagne" really enjoyed the clean, crisp, acidic and slightly creamy Domaine Parigot. The Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, St. Supery Elu and Bridlewood Viognier were all enjoyed as well.
Then again, I don't think anything was enjoyed as much as the celebration as well as my dad's reading of the poem "Hmmm" from the book "I'm Too Young To Be Seventy: And Other Delusions."
Until my next swirl, sip or quaff (I'm thinking Wednesday's class),
Alli M.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

WSET, Class 2

Class #2 and just as fact filled and enjoyable as Class #1. Last night we learned about vineyard conditions and the impact of weather. We also learned about how wine is fermented as well as what some label designations mean. It was all somewhat technical but I was fascinated.

I suspect that not all of you are as wine geeky as me so, like last time, I'll stick to the highlights:

1) Way too many things can go wrong when making wine which is why I stick to studying it and drinking it. Kinda like how I was an Art History major in college - I can't draw for anything, but that didn't keep me from judging someone else's work!

2) More than anything else, the way a wine is harvested drives the cost of the wine. This is why there's no way an inexpensive red Cabernet Sauvignon was aged in actual oak. Most likely an oak flavor or oak chips were introduced to the wine. Makes you want to save up for the $50 bottle, right?!?

3) The word "cuvee" on a wine label means that the winemaker thinks that the wine is particularly special. This designation is made at the discretion of the winemaker. So hopefully the winemaker isn't an egotistical blowhard who thinks every wine he/she makes is a cuvee.

4) There's a difference between a wine that is oxidized and a wine that is "corked." I still can't explain the difference, but I do know a wine that has been oxidized smells like rotting prunes and raisins while a wine that has been corked smells tinny and metallic. I personally have a much easier time discerning an oxidized wine.

5) My palette is still way under-developed and I'm pretty sure I'm jealous of my classmates, David and Lynette, who seem to be able to pick out all the crazy smells like crab apple and green pepper and asparagus. I may struggle with getting asparagus out of a noseful of wine but at least I'm still quick with the snappy comment (and I'm glad that David and Lynette have such good senses of humor). I look forward to the day someone calls me out for picking up the scent of tar or lemon chiffon or fine Italian leather in my glass of wine.

Saturday night is my dad's 75th birthday and I'm "coordinating" the wine so you know I'll be talking about some yummy pinot noirs this weekend.


Alli M.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

WSET, Class 1

As some of you know, I had my first WSET class this evening. WSET stands for Wine & Spirit Education Trust and for the next 8 weeks I'll be working towards my Intermediate Certificate in wine and spirits. It doesn't really certify me to do anything but be a bigger wine snob. Obviously I've been looking forward to this class since I signed up weeks ago.

Boy do I have a long way to go! We started off the class by doing a tasting exercise where our instructor had doctored the wines so that we could pick out the key characteristic highlighted (Acid, Tannin or Alcohol). The wine tasted awful, but it was a great exercise - even if I guessed every wine wrong.

Without going through the entire two hour class, here are my key learnings:

1) My palette is a bit behind and it might require summer school or at the very least, lots of extra credit work (which I'm totally o.k. about).
2) Sweating mouth = Acidity

3) If you think a wine is sweet, pinch your nose while you're tasting it and if you still think it's sweet, it likely is a sweet wine.

4) Wedding cake usually doesn't taste good when eaten with champagne and champagne usually doesn't taste good when served with wedding cake. The reason is that most champagnes served are Bruts which means they're quite dry so when consumed with the cake, the champagne will be puckering and the cake will taste too sweet. So save the champagne for the toast and the appetizers.

5) There are over 1,000 grape varietals in Italy but I'm not going to have to learn all of them.

I'm not sure I can wait a week for class 2, but I'm sure I'll be "studying up" between now and then. I never thought I'd be so excited for homework.

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Real Book Clubs Don't Drink Crap

In my last post I railed against Seven Daughters for their weak wine and their even weaker website. One of the aspects of their website that really annoyed me was targeting their wines to book clubs and "girls nights in." The irony is that I'm in two book clubs myself (one of which is coed) and in both clubs we take our wine (somewhat) seriously. In other words, we drink quality wine.

And tonight was no exception. My Hoboken book club got together at Joanna's to discuss our latest book "Julie and Julia." Naturally, Joanna (a phenomenol cook) made Bouef Bourguignon which meant we would be drinking a good red Burgundy (not to be confused with Ron Burgundy) and to contrast some Oregon Pinot Noir (pinot noir is the primary grape in red Burgundy wines).
Suffice it to say, I'd been looking forward to this evening since we scheduled it - but the best was yet to come. When I arrived at Joanna's, our resident new mom, Robin, was there along with her cute new baby. What a pleasant surprise to finally meet Robin's adorable baby girl. Moreover, Robin brought another surprise - a bottle of Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, one of my favorites. The five of us who were lucky to show up on time or early made quick work of the smooth and jammy Merry Edwards.
From there we moved on to a bottle of Four Graces pinot noir. A little tighter and oakier than the Merry Edwards, but still a nice, medium bodied, fruit forward pinot noir. Fruit forward sometimes gets a bad rap, but who doesn't like a little fruit in their wine?

Unfortunately, we didn't get to the bottle of Burgundy until after we were done with dinner, but it was still a lovely bottle. It was a ruby, dry, structured and somewhat smokey Drouhin Cote De Beaune. It wasn't as heavy as other wines from Burgundy I've had, but it worked well because it didn't shock the tongue after the more medium bodied wines we'd just had.
And it kept getting better because the coordinator of the group, Wendy, showed up with a kickass port - Taylor Fladgate 10 year. A few years ago I had the good fortune of visiting Taylor Fladgate and I've loved their ports ever since. Their 40 year old is like liquid silk melting down the back of your throat. Yes, it's that good. But the 10 year is pretty darn smooth, sweet and luscious itself. So, yes, it is totally justified to call it "kickass port." We had it with Joanna's "Reine De Saba," also known as Julia Child's awesome, yummy chocolate cake. O.k., it's not widely known as that but I'm thinking my book club would agree with my assessment.
All in all, it was a wonderful night filled with a little discussion, a lot of laughs and even more food. Most importantly, we drank good wine the way it is meant to be drunk - with good company.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the book - most seemed to like it though many found Julie to be annoying and a victim of TMI. I personally liked the movie better. Plus, I thought the discussion around what you would name a street was more interesting (one day I am determined to live on "Awesome Road" or "Dude Avenue").
Here's to next month's meeting! And if anyone has any advice on what pairs with "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," I'm all ears....

Until tomorrow night's wine class,

Alli M.
p.s. Mousume - As always thanks for being a good sport while representing the entirety of the U.K.

Monday, September 14, 2009

One disappointment, One revelation

A few weeks ago I was perusing a wine store and came across a wine called "Seven Daughters," a red wine blend made from 7 different grapes. Seven Daughters red is 50% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet France and then 2-11% of 4 other grapes: Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignane and Sangiovese. A classic Bordeaux blend is primarily made up of Merlot/Cab. Sauv./Cab. Franc. I love this blend and I had high hopes for "Seven Daughters."

I took the wine to a BYO with my afore-mentioned friend, Pam (afore-mentioned for those who have been reading my blog). Unfortunately my expectations weren't realized! The nose was weak and the wine didn't have a lot of flavor. After 30 minutes in the glass, the mid palette and finish were a bit smoother, but all in all this is not something I'd get again.

Plus, I checked their website this weekend and their brand positioning annoyed the crap out of me. I wasn't sure if they were trying to tout an interesting brand or trying to start their own book club. Really quite ridiculous. At the risk of actually helping promote them, please check out their website ( and let me know if you can figure out how a 750ml bottle of wine and "on the go" work together? It's like a website of horrible marketing buzz phrases meant to appeal to "today's modern woman." Except it reads like Don Draper's attempt at understanding a woman in 2009. And if you don't know who Don Draper is, please start tuning into "Mad Men" on Sundays at 10pm on AMC (a wonderful show I'm happy to promote).

On the other hand, after dinner, Pam and I made our way to our friend, Laura's, for a little "girl's get together" (no books or on the go accessories needed). Laura had recently returned from Milan and brought back a bottle of Pinot Nero, an Italian white wine I'd never tried. What a lovely surprise! The nose was pleasant, but did not give away the wonderful fruit that coated my mouth on my first sip. It was a beautiful, round, thicker than expected white with a lovely hit of pineapple on the finish. I will definitely be looking for this varietal again.

Of course I had to do a little research on Pinot Nero and what did I find? Wouldn't you know - it's the Italian version of Pinot Noir - one of my favorite varietals! It's found primarily in the Northern regions of Italy - Alto Adige, Venezia, Veneto and Friuli (I had to look these up - I can't name all the Itlaian wine regions). Apparently, like Pinot Noir, Pinot Nero is usually red, but it has been made into white wines as well as sparklers.

So, wine, like most things, is all about trial and error. Pinot Nero is one I'm looking forward to trying again.

Until the next sip*,

Alli M.

*The next sip will likely be this Wednesday, September 16th, when I start the Intermediate WSET wine course. I look forward to sharing my experiences with all of you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A good old standby with a good longstanding friend

I hope everyone (all 7 of you) had a relaxing and/or fun-filled and/or crazy Labor Day weekend. Mine was quite relaxing so it was good for my soul but not so much for my blog. However, I had one nice memorable wine moment to share.

Friday night I had dinner with my long, lost friend, Catherine, whom I had not seen since the birth of her son, Gabriel. The best thing about recently pregnant friends is that they're usually craving sushi as much as I am so off we went for our raw fish fix. Despite the upcoming long weekend, it had been a very busy week for me so I was really looking forward to enjoying a glass of wine with dinner. As soon as I saw the Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc on the menu, I was sold.

Cakebread used to be one of my favorite labels. I loved their Cabernet Sauvignon and though I'm not the biggest Chardonnay fan, I always found theirs to be nice, juicy and more restrained than most of the overoaked, buttery stuff coming out of Napa. However, in the past several years I think they've grown too big too fast. I now find their Chardonnay to be typically overoaked and overpriced and their Cabernet, while still good, is also a bit overpriced.

On the other hand, Cakebread's Sauvignon Blanc remains consistently good and a great value for the price (I've seen it in my local Costco for right around $20). Their Sauvignon Blanc is classic - a little citrus and grass on the nose and some grapefruit and melon on the palette. It's a lovely, light white wine with a little acidity and some nice fruit. It goes really well with fish - raw or otherwise. it too soon to eat sushi again? I wonder if we can convince some winemakers to find a grape or create a wine that reverses the effects of mercury....Just an idea!

Until the next glass, Cheers!

-Alli M.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Vino Volo Follow Up

A few weeks ago I wrote about my horrible day being stuck in the airport and referenced how I never visited the wine bar, Vino Volo.
My friend, Lisa, chimed in to give her own review and here's her take:

"I have hit a couple of the Vino Volo locations. In every spot I was impressed with the wine list, happy with the temperature of the wine I drank, and loved the atmosphere which was successfully separate from the rest of the airport. However, I found the people (young, blonde idiots) working there to be annoying in all three locales. The only thing they knew about wine was how to get drunk middle-aged men to buy more."

With this business model - good wine, young waitresses upselling wine - I'm guessing they'll be around for a long time. The next time you have some time, or get stuck, in an airport with a Vino Volo, it sounds like it's worth checking out.


Alli M.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Maryland Wine: Better than New Jersey wine (but that's not saying much)

As mentioned in my previous post, this past weekend I took off for my annual girls' weekend. Each year we pick a different beach on the East Coast and this year it was the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I've been wanting to visit this area for quite some time and when I found out that they also had a local winery, I thought, "Even better, now I know what I'll write for my next post."

Admittedly, I was not expecting much from Maryland wines and as much as I would love to say that the St. Michael's Winery proved me wrong, the wine has a looooooooong way to go. I took a bunch of notes at the winery, but rather than bore you with all the gory details, I'll just share the key points:

-What is up with almost every one of their white wines having a nose of cat urine? Have they been hanging out with the New Zealanders (a.k.a. "Kiwis" - like the bird, not the fruit)?

-Concord grapes = Manishewitz. These grapes are wonderful to eat but they're little sugar bombs and should not be used for anything other than Manishewitz wine and White Zin drinkers who think they are wine drinkers.

-The free cheese they served us at the tasting was quite good - especially the truffled one.

-They gave away logo'ed glasses with each tasting which many of the California wineries used to do but no longer do. I wish all wineries did that because whether the wine was good or not, it's a nice memento of the visit. Plus, it's a good way to brand.

Luckily we had stocked our rental house with enough good bottles of wine that by Friday evening our wine tasting was left well in the past.

Oh, and for those who enjoy good beer, we visited the local brewery. I didn't take any notes, but if I had, I would have written: If this brewery succeeds, then there's no way that Chris*, who is a masterful home brewer, won't be successful.
*Chris is my friend, Grace's, fiance.

Thanks to Amy, Amy, Wendy, Trish, Irene, and Grace for indulging my note taking. I'm glad my "outdoor voice" proclamations about the urine nose didn't get us kicked out into the rain.

Until my next sniff, swirl, sip and quaff,

Alli M.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Past few weeks

I'm sorry I've been lax about posting lately. The summer has just flown by! I've had a few "wine moments" over the past few weeks so in the interest of time and keeping your attention, here are the highlights:

-Went to the Mohegan Sun a few weeks ago and enjoyed dinner at Todd English's Tuscany. My friend, Lisa, and I wanted to stay on the light side because we had hours at the poker table ahead of us. We chose a Pio Cesare Moscato D'Asti and I learned it was pronounced "Chez-uh-ray" and not "Say-zar-ie." After 20 minutes they told us that they were out of the Moscato we wanted. They gave us a Prunotto Moscato D'Asti that they explained was much more expensive and thus better. The Prunotto was quite good but when I looked it up on later, I found out the Prunotto was about $3 more at retail than the Pio Cesare!

-This past weekend my friend, Pam, and I went to Passionne (a local French favorite of mine) and split a Foxen Rhone style blend. The wine was excellent but way too spicey for my choices. I have to stop bringing big reds to restaurants when I know I'll be ordering seafood. This is a terrible habit of mine.

-Tasted at the Wine Library this weekend. Didn't love any of the wines and one of them, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, had the cat urine nose I last picked up from a Chardonnay in Sonoma. At least the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are known to sometimes have this nose. They need to work on that.

This weekend I'm off to my annual "girls weekend" and I'll be bringing several bottles of wine so hopefully I'll have some fun reports for you.
Take care and Happy Thursday,


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What is the rule that says that wine served at large company gatherings has to suck?!?

After my Monday flight debacle, I finally made it down to my company's annual sales meeting. I was hoping I'd have some fun new wines to talk about but I haven't tried anything yet that I've wanted to write about or even learn the name of.

This is not a new phenomenon for me. I've yet to go to a company-wide event where my wine choices haven't been a thin, tasteless merlot or a sticky, burnt cabernet sauvignon or an overoaked, butter soaked chardonnay. I know that these are popular grape varietals and so it can be a little tougher to find truly good, value merlots, cabernet sauvignons or chardonnays, but why can't any hotel or convention center seem to want to even try? Or why don't they try some of the more unique varietals. The wine is usually "free" for the attendees so even if they raise an eyebrow and look at the waiter or bartender weird, they're going to try the wine.

Just my two cents. For this trip I'll be sticking to my vodka soda with a twist of orange. Not as refreshing as Moscato D'Asti, but good luck finding that at a company event (or Camenere or even Riesling or half decent Pinot Noir).

Have a lovely afternoon and stay cool.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Yes, I'm actually not feeling up to drinking wine

Due to Continental airline's greedy, misleading ways, I've been stuck at Newark airport for the better part of the day. Although I wish I had an "airlines suck and Continental is right up there" blog right now, I write about wine, so I'll stick to the topic at hand.

Earlier today on one of my many walks between different gates (FU Continental Airlines), I noticed that a wine bar, Vino Volo, had opened at Newark airport. Supposedly there are now 9 of these in various airports across the U.S. I've been tempted to check it out, but in between trying to get on standby flights to Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale or Miami (and I don't even like Florida - oh and FU Continental Airlines), I haven't had a chance.

Moreover, I still have a slight fever that I picked up this weekend. So between the Advil, Cold Eeze and my sheer exhaustion of being here since 6am (FU Continental Airlines), I have no desire to drink anything right now. Bummer - for all of us - though mostly for me. Generally I like to believe that alcohol kills all bacteria but I think at this point it would just make me tip over. So here's to my Venti decaf coffee (yes, I'm so lame I can't even fathom regular coffee right now) and hopefully a new posting that actually talks about wine in the not too distant future. One day I will try Vino Volo and gladly write about it.
Until then, Continental Airlines can go screw themselves. Ahhh, that felt good.

Cheers and happy travels to all.

-Alli M.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Of course I saw "Julie & Julia" this past weekend - like you had to ask?

As my fellow foodies and wineys* know, "Julie & Julia" ( opened this past Friday so my friend, Rachel, and I just had to see it. The reviews have been good, but not great. However, we both LOVED the movie and laughed out loud at several parts. I could go into a lot of detail, but you should just go see it yourself. Plus, this isn't a movie review!

Most importantly, as Rachel and I had expected, the movie left us craving wine (and lots of butter). That left us with only one option - Bin 14, a wonderful wine bar and bistro in downtown Hoboken (Bin (14) There, Loved That).

As soon as we sidled up to the bar, Rachel said, "We just saw 'Julie & Julia'" and I added, "So we need two glasses of a medium bodied French wine." Our bartender poured us a structured, tight Cabernet Franc, but it was a bit too dry for me to just be sipping without food. Rachel liked it and stuck with it, but I moved on to an Australian Shiraz that the bartender recommended.

I've been weary of Australian Shiraz because value Australian Shiraz became really popular several years back and as it goes with popular wines, was over-planted. For the past few years the market has been flooded with a lot of tasteless crap. However, the good people at Bin 14 know their stuff so I trusted I'd be getting something good and they were on it. I had a glass of Omrah Shiraz 2005. The nose was jammy with a lot of blackberry. The first sip was a little surprising as it was quite spicy, but then I got a big hit of fruit that lingered through the mid palette. It was a joy to sip as we replayed our favorite moments of the movie.

At some point Rachel made it on to her second glass which ended up being a Lange Pinot Noir. Lange (out of the Willamette Valley in Oregon) is one of my absolute favorite Pinot producers and I cannot believe I didn't see it on the menu. Of course I was excited that I could order it for my second glass. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that chasing pretzel bites and fake cheese sauce with a good Australian Shiraz = seriously bad heartburn. Or at least it does for me. So I had to forego the second glass. Bummer. Now I know what I'm ordering the next time I'm at Bin 14!

Please go see "Julie & Julia" and stop by your own local Bin 14 after or plan to have a bottle ready for when you get home. It's would be way to cliched for me to say Bon Appetit, so I'll just leave it at....


Alli M.

*If the term "winey" has not yet been officially coined, I'm taking credit.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time

To be honest, I'm not the biggest Led Zeppelin fan, but given that it's been almost two weeks since I last had any wine, starting with this famous line from "Rock and Roll" just felt right.

Tonight I met up with my friends, Stacy, Wendy and Chris for dinner at Passionne (, a local French restaurant. Those who know me know that French food is among my favorite kind of food and I particularly love pairing French wine with French food. I was in a red mood so I packed a few bottles of French Bordeaux and off I went.

When I arrived at Passionne, I found that Chris had also brought a bottle of Four Vines red zinfandel. Though I expected it to be a bit spicy for the seafood I was planning to order, we had the waitress cork the zinfandel because, well, I was curious. The wine was a great, big zin with wonderful spicy pepper and a nice oak finish. Too bad it paired terribly with our shellfish!!! Ironically, Stacy, who wasn't drinking, ordered the fois gras appetizer which worked really well with the zin (or at least the bite I had worked well and I'm not a big fois gras girl). In any event, we learned our lesson and after working our way through the zin, we moved on to one of the Bordeaux I brought - a 2005 Chateau Duplessy.
I picked this up a few weeks ago at The Wine and Spirit Company of Greenville, Delaware (, one of my favorite stores near my hometown of Wilmington. I was intrigued by this bottle because most typical Bordeaux blends are made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc with a little Petit Verdot or maybe another grape for blending. This wine has the traditional Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet France, but also contains 10% Malbec, which is one of the original Bordeaux blending grapes but is rarely used now by Bordeaux wine makers.

Once corked, this had the jammy yet restrained nose of a typical Bordeaux wine and it was pleasantly smooth and juicy on the palette - or as Chris remarked, "chewy." This definitely would have tasted a bit more rustic and oak-y had we not had the big zin before it but it was nice to have something very mellow after the mouthful of spice. And, it went really well with Chris' chicken and Wendy and my scallops as well as two of the cheeses that came on our dessert cheese plate.
All in all, it was a lovely evening with wonderful friends. Though we made a slight mis-step with our initial wine, we more than made up for it with the Bordeaux. But isn't that what wine tasting and pairing is all about -- learning what doesn't work as well as what works?!? At least it is for me. Not all of us can be Robert Parker -- YET.

Cheers and Happy Weekend,
Alli M.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Nothing to wine about.....

Oh the horror! I haven't had any wine in over a week so I haven't been posting. Sorry to my loyal readers - all 3 or 4 of you.

This past Saturday I had a nice dinner out, but it did not involve any alcoholic beverages, let alone wine. However, the food was so good that I barely even noticed. On Saturday night, my friends, Trish and Mike, and my brother, Matt, and I met up for dinner at Habana Outpost ( in the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn, NY. I enjoyed a flavorful, fresh chicken burrito and a spicy, literally mouth-watering corn on the cob.

If I would have paired my meal with anything, it would have been a cold glass of Riesling - likely a sweeter Spatlese or maybe even just a Kabinett. Kabinett is made from the least ripe Riesling grapes and produce the lightest style of wine with a low alcohol content (8-10%). Spatlese is made from Riesling grapes that are picked later and have a little more flavor. The sweeter Spatlese tends to pair very nicely with spicy foods. The sweetness and/or the lower alcohol content would have been refreshing with the spice of the corn.

Either way, now I know what wine to sneak into Habana Outpost next time I'm there.

Until the next glass (or the thought of the next glass),


Alli M.