Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

New York State of Wines

Over at Brooklyn Winery, we recently launched a new wine list that features New York state wines that I’m particularly fond of (and luckily for me, so are our customers). This was my first time working as a consultant for a wine list, so, if you feel like it, check out some of my thoughts at the Brooklyn Winery blog on what when into planning the list: an angry rant on NYC wine bars that don’t feature New York state wines.


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My class this week at Brooklyn Winery is on wines from the film Sideways. I thought I’d share some of my experiences traveling through “Sideways Country” at the Brooklyn Winery Blog. I hope to sip pinot with some of you in class …

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Toronto to London by Train

Aside from the usual gigs and deadlines, a new place has kept me from the blog for a minute: Brooklyn Winery. For a long time now, I’ve wanted to work in the restaurant industry as a passion project, and to enhance my critical skills as a wine, food, and restaurant reporter. Brooklyn Winery was advertising part time positions of which wine knowledge was more important than experience carrying a tray, so I went for it and they haven’t kicked me out yet!

I joined the team at Brooklyn Winery — an urban winery and wine bar — back in April, and since then I’ve gained valuable knowledge in many areas: service, wine making, New York’s wine regions, distribution, and yes, carrying a tray (not as easy as my colleagues make it look!). I’ll have a feature in Wine and Jazz Magazine this fall on Brooklyn Winery wine maker, Conor McCormack, and I continue to devote my attention to the wines of New York, Michigan, and Ontario. I hope you enjoy this story on some of Toronto’s restaurants which are highly devoted to their countries wines.

As wine shops go, it’s not much to look at, just a mid-sized store with a Walmart-like plastic toy aroma. There are shelves of spirits, beer, and wines separated by region.

But browsing here at Toronto’s LCBO (Liquor Control Board Ontario) on King and Spadina, with its fine selection of Canada’s VQA wines, and Crush Wine Bar’s Monday night one-dollar-corkage-fee just down the street, gives me a warm feeling: I’m about to share an experience with my good friends Julien and Jia, who are new to Toronto and Ontario’s wines. And Crush Wine Bar has one of Canada’s finest sommeliers, Mark Moffatt, authoring their list each week with well-balanced wines full of finesse from all over the old world. But we won’t have any of those.

Toronto is hip. Its fashion district, enhanced by models and celebrities – a by-product of Toronto’s film industry – gives it electricity akin to the more lime-lit cities of New York, London, or Paris. But a country’s fine wine industry also adds sex appeal to their largest city’s culture. So while Canadian vintners continue to search for their identity in both the wine regions of British Columbia, with a climate similar to Washington state, and Ontario, a pen pal of New York’s Finger Lakes, eventually the latter will primarily focus on cooler climate varietals (pinot and gamay noir, chardonnay, riesling). And that’s mainly what we focused on.

I arrived on Sunday, the third of July and just two days after Canada’s independence day, to many closed restaurants with the weekend’s festivities still going strong. But my friends’ building in the entertainment district has its own restaurant, Canteen, with a nice by-the-glass list.

Jason Bangerter, formerly of Auberge du Pommier, is the executive chef of Canteen and its fine dinning counterpart, Luma, of Oliver and Bonacini restaurants. Canteen, on the ground floor of the new TIFF Bell Lightbox building (a Toronto film festival venue), is a casual café, market, and bakery — perfect for a downtown power-meal. We began with a still rosé from Featherstone (a winery on the Niagara Escarpment). With mellow acid, fresh strawberries, red licorice and cherries on the finish, it was fitting for our evening of summer sidewalk dining.

We ordered various pastas and poultries, so we went with what Jancis Robinson affectionately calls “liquid chicken,” pinot noir. The 2009 pinot noir from Mission Hill – a massive Berringer/Mondavi-like operation — in the Okanagan Valley, is dark ruby with a bouquet of tart raspberries, balanced with minerals and flavors of bacon fat on the mid palate, and finishes with a medicinal fruit feel. While dessert was served, I opted for one last glass: the 2009 Malivoire gamay, from its vineyards along the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation. I have long been a fan of the Niagara gamays. Beaujolais in style, this complex gamay has a tangy smoke on its bouquet, with a jammy thickness in body, and mint on the finish.

Prior to arriving in Toronto, I reached out to my colleague at Wine and Jazz Magazine, the Canadian wine writer Natalie MacLean, asking about restaurants that would have extensive VQA wine lists. Her response brought us to lunch the next day at Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill. As an aperitif and initial accompaniment to our oysters, we sipped a sparkling rosé, the Henry of Pehlam Cuvée Catherine Brut Rosé: crisp, dry, and it lured my friends Julien and Jia directly to the LCBO after lunch to purchase some for their home. Julien and I went for mussels next, and I chose a chenin blanc from Cave Spring Cellars, of the 2008 vintage. Golden straw in color, with vanilla and green beans on the bouquet, this medium bodied white has a honey-weight to it, with a delicate sweetness of candied almonds on the finish.

While Julien and Jia purchased their sparkling rosé, we decided then that dinner would be with Crush Wine Bar and their one-dollar-corkage-fee. I chose the 2008 pinot noir from Cave Spring. Glasses of sparkling wine always begin a meal (sometimes even breakfast), when Julien and Jia are at the table, so we stuck with Cave Spring and their 2006 Dolomite Sparkling Brute. With lots of bubbles on the eye, and a thick texture of yeasty-bread and sea salt, the wine drank beautifully but was a touch too warm – always a risk when ordering by the glass, though it shouldn’t be. Charcuterie, Bison Tartare, and main courses accompanied the pinot noir, with its sneezy white pepper and red fruits on the nose. If you have ever doubted that Niagara can produce pinot noir, I can assure you this wine from Cave Spring is an Oregon-dian success.

I left Julien and Jia at Toronto’s historic Union Station the next morning and departed for Bayfield, via London, by train. Bayfield is a 19th century Victorian resort town and home to my friends Ted and Kathleen McCintosh, sommelier and chef respectively, and passionate philanthropists of all things Canadian-food-and-wine.

I’m not sure why, but many colleagues and friends involved in the New York City wine industry act as if they wish the wines from places like Canada would fail in comparison to their old world darlings. But perhaps I’m equally as guilty of having a bias in wanting the wines to succeed when I taste them. Alas, all I can do is leave you with this final paragraph, and ask that you consider this image when you taste wine from not just Canada or other up and coming regions, but from anywhere.

During my afternoon in Bayfield, Ted poured a rosé from Tawse and a reserve pinot noir from Flat Rock (Niagara), followed by a reserve pinot noir from Le Vieux Pin (Okanagan B.C.). I make it to Bayfield only a few times a year to visit with Ted and Kathleen, and cherish the time we spend sharing wines from the U.S. and Canada. We sat outside on the patio of their gastro-pub, the Black Dog. We talked about wine, food, cities, sports, music, work. The wines of course had acid levels, alcohol levels, stem contact, color, weight, body, oak age, tannins, long finishes, all of which you may fully understand, but ultimately don’t matter. And if you have to ask what does matter, then you’ll never understand wine.

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"Brix," of Bowers Harbor Vineyards (photo courtesy of savoringsarah.com)

“Great Lakes, Great Times,” the highway signs promised on the way into Michigan from its neighbors — Indiana, Ohio, and in certain places even from the south, Canada — for most of my life. For the last few years, and perhaps more appropriately, “Pure Michigan,” has been the state’s motto. Because while the lakes remain great, the times have been better. But one thing that has never been better are the wines of Michigan.

We are all familiar with the heartbreaking tragedy that is Detroit. Less well known is Michigan’s bustling wine industry, which, I can only hope, might one day help stimulate the state’s economy through increased oeno-geekism, while simultaneously providing an elixir to Michiganders during the darker times.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Michigan,” wrote Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times in a 2010 Diner’s Journal blog entry. “It has what I imagine to be a thriving wine country.” And while Mr. Asimov’s thoughts were focused on the award-winning rieslings of the Old Mission Peninsula AVA, don’t ignore the red wines of the mitten state, including those of Bowers Harbor Vineyards.

As you pull up to Bowers Harbor Vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula, near Traverse City in the north western part of the state, Brix, a 110 pound Berenese Mountain Dog, will give you a friendly greeting and may even rest at your feet while you sip wine. The tasting room is a rustic old horse barn turned winery, and the people of Bowers Harbor are eager to teach you about their wines and Michigan wine country.

I recently tasted the 2896 Langley: a blend of 65% cabernet franc, 32% merlot, and 3 % cabernet sauvignon, from the 2007 vintage. (Langley is the single vineyard designated to wine maker/proprietor Spencer Stengenga’s grandfather, and 2896 is the address of Bowers Harbor.) With a complex bouquet of strawberry preserves, licorice, ginger, mint leaves, and tasting of spicy green pepper notes on the mid palate, this midwestern American wine could easily be mistaken as old world — perhaps a byproduct of French oak barrel aging and the studying of French wine-making by Mr. Stengenga.

While 2006 proved to be an elegant vintage for Bowers Harbor, tasting room manager Kristy McClellan assured me that 2007 has been their best vintage to date for reds:

“We don’t make this wine every year, but 2006 and 2007 were great. We individually taste each barrel and come up with the wine after a few blending trials. The 2008 vintage will be the first time the blend has been predominantly merlot.”

The 2896 Langley can be found in the $40 to $50 price range — not an easy sell to those looking for value, but well worth it to experience the potential that is Michigan’s red grape terroir. Bowers Harbor also produces a pinot noir from Dijon clones, and a sweet red table wine called Red Wagon Red. But if you want to try excellent wines at recession prices, Michigan can deliver with its whites. Bowers Harbor produces a variety of chardonnays, dessert wines, a gewürztraminer, a rosé made from cabernet franc, and of course, rieslings.

At $14 the BHV Estate riesling from 2009 is a beautiful golden color, with green apples, melon, petrol, and figs on the nose, with a syrupy thick body, though not without great acidity. Well balanced lime and cilantro flavors make up the finish. Northern Michigan’s climate is ideal for a number of different styles of rieslings.

“The fruit doesn’t ripen too quickly because of our cool nights, so we get a wonderful quality while maintaining superior levels of acidity,” said Ms. McClellan. “Lake Michigan’s surrounding water extends our growing season for the late harvest styles, but for the BHV Estate riesling we pick on the earlier side to keep its bright fruit characteristics.”

The Bowers Harbor gewürztraminer, also from 2009, is straw fading to green in color, with tropical fruits and floral aromas on the nose: banana, pineapple, roses. It’s an off-dry, low acid wine on the palate, with a bitter back end of citrus peels to balance it out.

“Our gewürztraminer is very popular. We’ve made it more on the dry side in the past, but to be honest, the ones that balance with a little sweetness seem to better please our costumers,” Ms. McClellan tells me.  “Telling them to pair it with Thai or Chinese dishes helps them put an image in their mind as far as a use for such a unique wine.”

It’s still tough to find Michigan wines outside of Michigan, but that is changing. A recent night out at the New York City wine bar Castello Plan, in Ditmas Park Brooklyn, confirmed it: the Blue Franc (100% lemberger), from Shady Lane Cellars, a Michigan winery from the Leelanau Peninsula, is featured on the menu. “We used to serve it by the glass too, and it sold great,” bartender Justin Walsh told me.

I remember the first time I saw a sparkling wine from Gruet of New Mexico on a menu and thought, “huh?” Gruet is now served in close to 5,000 restaurants across the country. I’m not asserting the same will happen for Michigan wines, but with wineries like Bowers Harbor Vineyards producing well balanced red and white wines full of finesse, I can at least feel confident telling people that Michigan does indeed have great lakes and great wines.

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Check out my new post at the Wine and Jazz magazine blog on Peconic Bay: a Long Island winery with a very cool live music series. This coincides with my new project to feature wines from Michigan, Ontario, and New York. (Below are some photos of some summer concerts at Peconic Bay.)

I’m off to France tomorrow — Paris and Dijon, and maybe a mystery location yet to be determined. I’ll definitely have some cool stories to share from my time in both Paris and Burgundy, with none other than It’s About That Time contributor,  hot shot sommelier Anthony Minne!


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Wine Critic Antonio Galloni

Wine critic Robert Parker’s assignment of Antonio Galloni to cover new vintages of California for the Wine Advocate has the whole internet wine world blabbing. It’s About That Time reader Raja Elachkar shares his view below of Eric Asimov’s New York Times response to the news:

Asimov is so full of it. Parker’s influence has waned? People are less interested in Bordeaux? Nobody told me that. Is this why prices of Bordeaux continue to soar higher?

Serious wine buyers ask only one question: What is the RP rating? That’s it. But many critics like Asimov continue to take shots at him.

Asimov covers dozens of wines a month. The bloggers do the same, maybe a few a week (most of them with a different agenda — to sell wine, or advertisement typically). In the Wine Advocate, you get extensive coverage of about 1000 different wines per issue, or every other month (no promotions, kickbacks, or any wine to sell, etc). Only pure, unbiased opinions. It’s time for the NYT to get rid of Asimov and get somebody more relevant.

Incidentally, Parker will continue to cover CA; Galloni will provide more coverage of CA, and together they will cover more wine in CA. Below is a copy of the letter I received from eRobertParker.com:

Dear eRobertParker.com Subscriber:

I am thrilled to announce that Antonio Galloni will have expanded responsibilities for The Wine Advocate and www.eRobertParker.com as of February 1, 2011. I would like to take credit for my powers of persuasion over recent years in trying to convince Antonio of the virtues of covering additional wine regions, but if truth be known, the writing was always on the wall that his enviable talents and passion for this field would ultimately prevail, and the beneficiaries are the world’s wine consumers.

Antonio will continue to focus on the wines of Italy as well as Champagne, but two new areas of responsibility for Antonio will include the red and white Burgundies of the Côte d’Or as well as the crisp white wines of Chablis, and the wines of California. These vast regions will benefit from the increased depth of coverage, as will all the major wine regions of the world.

Additionally, sectors that merit dramatically more attention but have not had sufficient coverage, including Beaujolais and the Mâconnais (now economically as important as the Cote d’Or and Chablis) will be put under a microscope by David Schildknecht, who will continue with his other areas of responsibility but will be freed from covering the Cote d’Or and Chablis.

I will turn to something I have long played around with in The Wine Advocate but have rarely had enough time to do. Older readers may remember the vintage retrospectives called “What About Now?” With Antonio turning his attention to California, I am going to begin a series of horizontal and vertical tastings of perfectly stored California wines that will give readers insight into how they are developing. It has been a long-term ambition of mine to include more reports on older vintages, and this change will allow me to do this not only in California, but also to increase the older vintage reports for Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley.

In all other respects, the staff assignments at The Wine Advocate remain identical. I hope all of you share our great enthusiasm for the fact that Antonio Galloni has finally taken the plunge and will be devoting most of his time to his wine writing career, a job for which he seems particularly well-suited and sure to excel.

All the best in wine and life,
Robert M. Parker, Jr.

P.S. The Wine Advocate writer assignments are:

Robert Parker – Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, older vintages of Bordeaux, Rhône and California wines

Antonio Galloni – Italy, Champagne, Chablis, Côte d’Or, California

David Schildknecht – Germany, Loire, Beaujolais and Mâconnais, Eastern U.S., Austria,
Eastern Europe, Languedoc-Roussillon, Jura

Jay Miller – Oregon, Washington, South America, Spain

Lisa Perrotti – Brown – Australia, New Zealand

Neal Martin – Critic-at-Large overlapping all areas, plus specific reviewer of South Africa

Mark Squires – Bulletin Board supervision and occasional articles on Israel, Portugal, and Greece

And the NYT headline gives you the impression (perhaps Asimov’s hope) that Parker is retiring. My interpretation of Parker’s eNews letter (the same one that Asimov read) is that he is praising Galloni by giving him more work. Parker will be covering more older vintages of CA and Bordeaux. I did not get the impression at all that he will be working less or retiring (from one end, he will cover less CA, on the other end he will cover more older vintages of CA and Bordeaux). I for one am very excited to see this: how the older wines will develop and what the new ratings will be (as in last year with the 1990 Bordeaux vintage).

People like Parker never retire (I see it in businesses all the time), the ones that are truly passionate about their work never walk away.

Raja Elachkar


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New York Finger Lakes Wine Country

Two weeks of touring the east coast with the Hot Club of Detroit, two conferences, and multiple video and print assignments for Wine and Jazz Magazine have helped me to stay warm so far in 2011, but I’m glad to be back at the blog. And I want to share with you an idea for a project I’ve begun that I’m particularly excited about.

Readers of this blog know that I like to drink local. Over the holidays, I sipped the 06 Chardonnay from Wyncroft — a Michigan winery — while dining at Michael Simon’s “Roast,” in downtown Detroit. It was there that I came to the decision to turn my focus on wine at this blog, Wine and Jazz Magazine, and any other publications that may welcome my writing, to the wines and the people behind them from the much talked about regions of Michigan, Ontario, and New York.


Because I feel a connection with those regions: I was born and raised in Michigan, my family has a summer home in Ontario, and I currently live in New York. It feels natural for me to want to drink and learn everything I can about these wines and their regions. I’m sure many of you will agree that these emerging wine regions are exciting to watch develop, but at the same time you may feel the wines lack value for what they are. But, would you order a bowl of minestrone in New England because it was a little cheaper than the clam chowder? No, you’d order the chowder. And you could probably find a low priced wine from Chile or the Southern Rhône Valley while dining at a restaurant in Napa, but would you really choose that sleeper of a wine over a locally produced gem to save a few bucks? Not if you’re at my table.

(I know I just basically, like, compared Michigan to the Napa Valley, but I don’t care.)

“The best Michigan wines are among the finest in the country,” wrote wine educator Kevin Zraly in his book, American Wine Guide. And, in my opinion, the same goes for the best wines from New York, and our neighbor to the north.

And the enthusiasm for this project from the producers I’ve reached out to from these regions has been overwhelmingly positive. Check back soon for reviews of wines from Peconic Bay, a Long Island winery; Heron Hill, a Finger Lakes Winery; and Wyncroft, a Michigan winery whose wines have made their way on to the menus of Chicago’s Charlie Trotter’s, and Iron Chef Michael Simon’s Roast.

I have trips planned to visit each of these regions this summer, and look forward to reporting on the wines and culture I experience while there. And by no means will I totally abandon reporting on wines from the rest of the world. Next month I will be speaking at a jazz conference at the University of Burgundy, and traveling with me will be my friend and colleague, sommelier Anthony Minne. He and I will be sure to share our wine-and-music-trouble-causing-adventures from Paris and Burgundy with you.

In the mean time, I urge you to seek out the crisp, mineral driven red and white wines from Michigan, New York, and Ontario. And if you do try one, drop me a line at paulbradymusic@gmail.com, or leave a comment here to let me know how you liked, or hated it.

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