Sunday, September 26, 2010

Martinelli Moves to New Jersey! O.k., not really, but for one night, I can pretend....

Earlier this week I attended a wine pairing dinner featuring wines from Martinelli, a boutique Sonoma winery. I had been looking forward to this dinner because it was to take place at CulinAriane, one of my favorite restaurants in town. As some of my foodie friends might know, the head chef and owner of CulinAriane, Ariane Duarte, was a contestant on Season 5 of Top Chef. I'm completely biased, but I still believe she should have won!

As always, her food did not disappoint, and neither did the wine. Without going through the wine line-up and menu because it will just make me sad that I can't eat like that every night (for both my wallet and wasitline), I'll highlight my favorite pairings.

The pairing that made the dinner for me was the 2008 Vellutini Ranch Zinfandel served with seared Australian venison in a savory cherry sauce. I do not eat venison often because it can be very gamey and though I like this note in wine, I don't like gamey tasting meat. However, this venison tasted like lean, succulent beef that was perfectly cooked and sauced. The notes in the cherry sauce worked perfectly with the blackberry notes and spice in the Zinfandel. The wine was silky and smooth and the full body of the wine was an excellent complement the heft of the meat.

I didn't think I could fit any more wine, let alone food, in my system, but I soldiered on. I recognize the sacrifice it takes to deliver a good entry to you! I paced myself through the cheese course (paired with a syrah) because two of my favorite things were on the menu for dessert.

Dessert consisted of the 2008 Jackass Hill Muscat Alexandria served with a nectarine tarte tatin. The tarte was excellent, but I could barely manage a few bites. The muscat, with its honeysuckle and fleshy stone fruit notes was the prefect complement to the dessert but it was also easy to sip on its own. After the dinner, I ordered a few bottles and I'm looking forward to sharing this muscat with friends.

This was the first pairing dinner Martinelli has done in the tri-state area. If you should get the opportunity to attend a Martinelli pairing dinner and/or see a bottle of theirs on the shelf, grab it. You will not be disappointed.

Until the next sniff, sip, quaff or tasting dinner,

Alli M.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Snob No More (I'm Trying)

Though I often call myself a wine snob, I've never actually considered myself a snob, but I was recently exposed. At a wine tasting a few weeks ago, I was picking on a popular brand of mass market wine (that may be named after a color and a part of an animal).

A few of my fellow tasters responded that I was looking at it all wrong. One explained that he used to feel the same way but that he now looks at mass market wines as "gateway wines." He believes that mass market wine drinkers will eventually start seeking out product with more complexity and refinement. While that remains to be seen, the other tasters were right to call me out.

This point was reinforced last night at Joanna's (of Joanna and Tim - the ultimate hosts). Our friend Rachel brought a red blend that she proudly described as a "fruit bomb." It was a little too much for me, especially after the dry, spicy Zinfandel I'd just had, BUT, it seemed to be a real crowd pleaser. Plus, it was a little better than most mass market blends I've had so maybe there is something to the "gateway wine" argument. Either way, it's a good reminder that when it comes to something as subjective as wine, "to each his own."
I'm hoping to introduce you to some new grapes and new wines, but when it comes to wine, there's only one rule - if it tastes good to you, drink it.

Until the next sniff, sip, quaff or discussion of my snobbiness,


Alli M.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why settle for cheap beer at your tailgate?

For those keeping track, yesterday I went to Gary's Wine and Marketplace in Wayne, NJ to try the just released Jets Uncorked, a Cabernet Sauvignon made specifically for the Jets organization.

The verdict: like the 2009 Jets themselves, it was surprisingly good (and for my J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets friends - this is no knock - I know that few of you expected to do as well as you did last year). The wine was made at Girard winery in Yountville, CA. Girard has a good reputation for making solid, mid range wines. I actually find Girard's Cabernet Sauvignon way too oaky for my taste, but the Jets Uncorked Cabernet Sauvignon had a lot less oak, allowing the currant and cherry notes to come out. It had a nice finish; a bit too spicy for my taste, otherwise pretty good. I could see enjoying this with a nice, juicy burger at a tailgate.
At $34.99, I think it's about $10-$15 more than you should spend for a comparable Cabernet. However, if you're a wine fan and a Jets fine, or even just a wine fan, it's not a bad choice. Actually, it's kind of like Mark Sanchez (the Jets quarterback) himself -- a little young, not a ton of complexity, perhaps a bit pricey, but enjoyable and good. Plus, right now it's on sale for $27.99.

Unfortunately I can't say the same about my beloved Eagles starting quarterback. I'm just hoping he can get past something resembling a $2 Buck Chuck White Zinfandel (yes, Charles Shaw makes a White Zinfandel).

Until the next sniff, sip, quaff or need to crawl deep into a bottle to get past some serious emotional damage due to football,


Alli M.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

L'Shana Tovah, Italian Style

Earlier tonight, my friend, Wendy and I, celebrated the Jewish New Year at a new neighborhood favorite of hers: Accademia di Vino on Broadway on the Upper West Side.

Since it was a New Year's celebration, the occasion called for a bottle of wine. I considered ordering a Nebbiolo from the Langhe region, which is always a safe bet for me. However, they can be a bit big and since we were planning to start with salad and vegetables, I wanted something a little lighter.

Truth be told, Italian wine lists usually intimidate me. I've worked hard to get better educated about Italian wines over the past few years, but even then, there are just so many varietals and regions, good lists tend to be overwhelming. So I did what anyone should do in this situation -- I asked our waitress who seemed to be extremely well versed on the wine list. She recommended the 2006 Giacosa Fratelli Barbera D'Alba and it was a great suggestion. Like a solid Barbera D'Alba should be, this had a lot of berry notes on the nose and in the palate. It had some nice acid and a medium body and wasn't as dry or tannic as Italian wines can be. It went down nice and easy.

More importantly, I was really happy that my "wine pride" didn't get in the way of me asking for some advice. Ultimately, I was directed to a better bottle than I would have picked on my own. All in all, that's what it's all about. Whether you find a new favorite or someone finds it for you, the result is the same. So no matter how much your learn or know about wine, never be afraid to ask someone who might know more or have a better perspective.

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Good wine. Great news. What a nice start to the school year.

Good evening Wineocrats! We're already 7 days into September and this is my first post for the month. I could claim some sort of Labor Day Weekend break, but that doesn't excuse September 1st or 2nd. What a complacent wine snob I've been....

The good news is that I more than made up for it this evening and this past weekend. In fact, I have so much to share that I'm going to break up the past few days of tasting into two different posts.

Earlier tonight I attended a tasting of three of Marchesi de Frescobaldi's wines. We began with the 2005 Castel Giocondo Brunello de Montalcino. As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I tend to think of Italian wines as having a dusty, earthy quality. This characterization is not always fair, but for some reason it's what first comes to mind when I think of Italian wines. Luckily, I'm often pleasantly surprised (and often very wrong). As soon as I sniffed the Castel Giocondo Brunello de Montalcino, I got a nice nose full of blackberries with some secondary herbal and slightly oak-y notes. One taster felt the wine was too oak-y, but I believe it was well balanced. On the palate, I tasted a good bit of the black fruit, some sweet spices and a little bit of the oak. The wine was very dry with a good deal of acid and tannins which indicates it could age nicely. Yet there was something missing. As I eyed the salumi plate, the immortal words of Jenna Maroney from the show 30 Rock kept running through my brain, "Me want food!"

However, I wanted to get a sense of the other two wines without food so I restrained myself from wrestling the meat and cheese plate and moved on to the 2007 Lucente and the 2007 Luce. These wines come from Marchesi de Frescobaldi's Luce vineyard, which initially started as a partnership with the Mondavi family in 1985. These wines seem to be made for a more American palate. The 2007 Lucente is a blend of Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. I initially loved the nose. It seemed to have a nice blend of fruit, oak and a hint of the gamey quality I love. However, on subsequent sniffs, I couldn't get anything but oak. Once I took a sip, I found the wine to be nice enough, but nothing special. A bit jammy with too much oak. And as much as I like Cabernet Sauvignon, I felt it overpowered the rest of the blend.

I found the Luce, a Sangiovese and Merlot blend, a lot more enjoyable. The nose and palate were full of dried cherries with some herbs and some oak on the finish. This wine was a bit smoother than the previous one, though not as substantial or seemingly as complex as the initial wine we tried.

Plus, I was eager to get back to the Brunello while introducing myself to the various dry cured meats on the table. I tried a piece of prosciutto and it was good, but a little too delicate for the wine. I then went for a piece of Genoa. Bingo. The acid and fruit of the Brunello perfectly cut through the oily saltiness of the Genoa. After adding a few pieces of Paremsan to the mix, it was time for me to take one last sip, make my final comments and find my way to the elevator.

As good as the wine was, I think the best part was when someone from The Wine Spectator told me I seemed to know what I was talking about. Or maybe it was when I came out of the tasting to find an e-mail from my instructor, Will, telling me that I'd passed my Advanced Wine and Spirits Education Trust Exam - WITH MERIT!

I was tempted to run back up and grab the rest of the Brunello to celebrate. Instead I decided to come back hear to share the moment with you. Yes, I'm pretty sure I made a poor choice on this one.....

Well, until tomorrow when I continue my tales of sniffing, sipping and quaffing,


Alli M.