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.