Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Terrace View - Tuscan Reds, It's Not Just Chianti

Tuscany, or "Toscano" in Italian, is the iconic home of cities like Florence and Siena. Also iconic are it's more famous wines like Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. What some folks don't realize is that Chianti is a region, and that Chianti Classico, Chianti Colli Senesi, or Chianti Rufina are just more specific parts of the area. Montalcino is also a place, a small town on a hill, with it's wine being labelled Brunello di Montalcino or Rosso di Montalcino depending mostly on how long the wine was aged. Naming the wines by using the place of origin is a way of categorizing the wines and distinguishing where they come from without mentioning the grape varietals involved. What all these Tuscan reds have in common is that they are all based on the sangiovese grape. You will see some other red grapes in use here but the major player for most all is sangiovese, even if it goes by different local names like brunello, sangiovese grosso, morellino, and prugnolo gentile.

As for flavors, we usually find wines showing a range of bright to dark cherry and berry fruit accompanied by a crisp, tangy acidity. Sometimes there is a nice forest floor, balsam or underbrush note, like a walk in the woods. There is a tremendous amount of wine that comes out of the region and it's hard to generalize. Some wines are light and simple seeing only stainless steel tanks and others are more serious with aging in oak barrels being common. The percentage of new oak varies a lot as well and that means you will find a big variety in the oakiness of the wines. Bottles labelled Riserva see a longer time in wood and bottles before being released.

Another term to be familiar with is "Super Tuscan". This usually refers to wines that have a larger percentage of grapes in the blend that are not sangiovese, most often cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah. Since these wines don't follow the rules for making Chianti or Brunello, they cannot be labelled as such. Some of these bottles are excellent, and a few have become quite famous (and expensive too).

So the next time you are looking at our Italian section, you'll notice a lot of different wines from Tuscany. I sometimes say that Italy isn't a nation, but really a collection of different regions. As for wine, you can think of Tuscany as it's own country, with it's own winemaking culture and traditions. Chianti is just a part of it.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Terrace View - The Adventure

Wine is an adventure, one thing I love about it is that you can always learn and discover new things, no matter how long you have been drinking wine or how many wines you have tasted. Sharing this journey and spirit of adventure with customers is one of the best things about the job and it's fantastic when a customer is open and willing to get on board.

Here's a great quote from importer Kermit Lynch, "If you are looking for values, look where no one else is looking." Not just values in a cheap wine sense, if you look for the more uncommon things you'll find more distinct expressions of regional personalities and the quality to price ratio will be better because excellent wines from these places are less expensive than mediocre wines from famous grapes and regions. I mean, who wants everything to taste the same? Oh, and you will find deals too.

My advice is not to be locked into drinking the same thing or the same types of things all the time. It's not really that much fun. I say that if you like wine you should discover the undiscovered and have a sense of adventure! Here are a couple of strategies.

Try a wine from a totally unfamiliar country or region like a red from Austria, Croatia, or the Italian Alps. Maybe a wine from Uruguay?

Try an unfamiliar grape from an established region. I'm thinking of something like a grignolino from Italy or a lemberger from the Finger Lakes. Have you ever had a welschriesling, silvaner, or timorasso in your glass?

Try something you completely don't even know. How about a grolleau from the Loire Valley in France (or even a rare grolleau gris), maybe a blaufrankisch grown in southern Spain, even a carignane from California or  a malvasia frizzante from Italy?

Remember we taste everything before we put it on the shelf. We don't like to sell bad wine and if you can sense that we are honestly excited about a wine, even if you've never heard of it, go with it. Take the wine trip with us!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Terrace View - Wine and Microbes

Did you see Nicholas Wade's recent article in the  November 25 NY Times about wine and microbes?

If you did, you might be as perplexed as I was. The basic idea expressed here is that researchers in the US have scientifically determined that specific fungi and bacteria that grow on the skins of grapes can have a determining factor in terms of how a wine smells and tastes. Furthermore, these characteristics can be specific to region and can help to prove the French concept of terroir.

One of the researchers actually said this, "The reason I love this study is that it starts to walk down a path to something we could actually measure," Dr. Mills said. "There are high-end courses on terroir, which I think are bunk. Someone has to prove that something about terroir makes it to the bottle, and no one has done that yet."
Really? Terroir is bunk? Winemakers, wine lovers, and scientists in California are just coming around to the idea that every little factor involved in the vineyard and the winemaking process counts? That this still has to be proven? Doesn't the fact that Chablis and Meursault taste completely different from each other while also showing regional traits, even down to the specific vineyard, count for anything? What about winemakers who don't manipulate and filter, and use the yeasts, bacteria, and fungi on the grapes to their advantage, making beautiful individual wines by having a natural fermentation? What about the winemakers who have mold on the ceilings of their caves and will not remove it? Do we have to have a definitive study of the mold? Of course not, because these winemakers know that the personalities of the wines living in those caves for years, or even decades, will be shaped in part from that unique environment.
This is what makes wines different, honest, and totally interesting. What's next? Will wine supply companies offer prefabricated wine additive kits where you can order Hermitage or Barolo microbes? I'm always disappointed when some winemakers feel that they have to control everything. Why do we have to measure everything in order to believe it? I can see that works by Picasso and Dali are different, I don't have to put a paint sample under an electron microscope. 
With wine, one can taste it. 


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Terrace View - Thanksgiving 2013

For wine pairings, Thanksgiving is famously challenging. It's not that wine doesn't go with turkey, it's that with such a large meal and with so many different dishes most folks aren't sure which way to go. Add to that the many guests and family members with various tastes and choosing the right wine can be even more confusing. My simple strategy is to serve several wines that are food flexible and non-fatiguing. Here are some ideas that can help to make your holiday meal more successful.

Favorite Thanksgiving Reds - My favorite reds for a Thanksgiving meal are pinot noir and gamay. These wines tend to be lighter in body with good acidity. That means that they will go with a wide range of foods and can have a nice palate cleansing effect, functioning in a similar way as cranberry sauce. If you'd like to have an American wine for this American Holiday consider Atwater Pinot Noir from the Finger Lakes or a nice affordable California pinot like Beau Pere Pinot Noir. For gamay look to France for good Beaujolais.

More Reds - Other reds to consider are medium bodied without too much oak aging. Good choices are barbera, zweigelt, and Bordeaux if it's an a style that not too heavy and extracted.

Whites - For whites I like to go full-bodied. It's a good occasion to try white Rhône varietals either from the US, France, or Australia. An earthy grüner veltliner is also a nice choice as is unoaked chardonnay.

Apple Cider - This is a great choice and nicely historical, hard cider was a significant beverage in colonial America. Try one of the dry ciders from West County like the Pippin or Catamount Hill Orchard or one of our Spanish offerings. 

Wine for the Family Fringes - This holiday meal is one in which you'll likely have some people consuming wine that don't typically drink it. It my family it could be someone like my aunt or grandmother. In these cases I like to offer something that's easy to drink, and a little sweetness doesn't hurt. Try one of our fun sparkling wines like the dry and fruity 50º Sekt Rosé or the sublimely sweet Bartucci Bugey-Cerdon.

During Thanksgiving week we'll make thinks easy by having some of our favorite choices stacked on the floor so don't worry about remembering all this stuff.  As always, if you have any questions just ask!

Happy Thanksgiving,

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Terrace View - My Wine is Bad! What to do?

So you arrive home with your newly purchased bottle of wine, pull the cork or twist off the cap, pour a little in your wine glass (which is completely clean and dry, of course!), swirl, have a whiff and a sip and then... ooh my... you think "something's wrong with this, what do I do?"

Well, you can call us, the number of course is 718-768-2291, and we can give you some info. If you have the energy, you can put your shoes back on and return the bottle. We will pretty much always exchange the bottle for you, excepting some special circumstances. You just need to return the bottle and the wine to us if you think it is off, sorry as we can't do exchanges for empty bottles.

In a practical sense it's also good to know what can go bad with a bottle of wine so here are some of the things that can happen.

The wine is corked - It's true, a small percentage of wines are ruined by a chemical in the cork called TCA. If this happens there will be a smell akin to old, wet, musty cardboard. What to do? Return the wine to us and we'll give you another bottle. Another bottle from the same case is usually works out just fine. You don't even have to return it right away, in the next few days is okay but if you wait awhile it's good to have a receipt with you because we might not remember the original sale.

Reduction - This happens to a wine which has been for a long time in an environment that has an absence of oxygen. The best way I can describe a reductive smell is that it comes off as dirty and excessively sulfurous, like a mineral spring, or burnt rubber. What to do? In many cases the reduction is just in the nose and the problem is solved by oxygen so either decant the wine or pour a decent amount into a few glasses, swirl vigorously, and wait 15 to 20 minutes to see if the smell goes away. If the wine is severely reductive the palate will be affected as well so if the wine doesn't smell and taste better after some time and you are unhappy, return the wine to us. 

Volatile Acidity - Called "VA", it's caused by bacteria in the wine creating acetic acid. This is a normal part of fermentation and we notice VA when it's excessive in a wine. For VA you can think acetone, so the aromas are similar to shoe polish or nail polish remover. What to do? Unlike the two previous conditions, aeration or exchanging one bottle for another won't solve the problem, all the wines from that bottling production will have VA. It's subjective and kind of a personal threshold thing, one person may really dislike the wine and another may think it's interesting. I don't think we consistently sell any wines that have excessive VA so it's not a big problem, although you may encounter one at some other shop or restaurant.

One more thing, remember my joke in the beginning about your wine glass being completely clean and dry? There's truth here. If your glasses have been sitting in your cabinet for a long time they will pick up a "cabinet smell" which will ruin the nose of your wine. You might think those stems are clean but they are not. Before using a glass, give it a quick whiff, it should have no aroma. If it does you can quickly clean the glass with dish soap and rinse with hot water. Remember to let the glasses cool before you use them. Alternately, if the glasses are relatively clean, just leave them out on the counter until there is no odor.

I hope all this helps!