Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What We've Been Drinking

So I thought I'd ask the staff here at Windsor to share some wines that they've been taking home and drinking lately. Since it's my privilege to write this column I get to go first:

Michael: My choice for a killler wine that I've had recently is Ottin Pinot Noir Vallee D'Aoste 2008 ($29.99). I'm not messing around, this is a wine that can pull you out of a bad day, make you feel good about the world, and remind you that mankind is capable of producing beautiful things. A great and unique expression of pinot noir that has a wonderful balance of tangy raspberries and savory meaty, brothy notes.

: Steininger Gruner Veltliner Sekt 2008 ($29.99) Anyone who knows my wine tastes knows that I am partial to sparkling wines that are rich and creamy. I don't often get these qualities from champagne, but I do from this sparkler and that's why it's my current favorite in the store. This bottle helps dispel the myth that only the grapes pinot noir and chardonnay make quality sparkling wine, and it's priced the same as the most inexpensive of true champagnes.

John: Domaine Guillot-Broux Macon-Chardonnay "Les Combettes" 2008 ($24.99) When Michael asked us to pick a wine we liked, I immediately chose the Guillot-Broux Macon Chardonnay Combettes 2008. I'm lucky. Michael is like my personal sommelier, he knows my tastes and picks out wines for me that he knows I'm going to like. Occasionally, however, for whatever reason, some wines stand out above others. Still I was a bit daunted writing about it, since like many wine neophytes, I'm better at knowing what I like than giving adjectives to describe it. When I told Kevin, who used to work here but now works at a wine shop in Rhode Island, he knew the wine well and excitedly wanted to write my description for me. Jason, who also used to work here, went further and actually wrote the following: "Brine and butter. A beautiful acidity dances over beds of rose petals, and limestone chalk blows from a dusty road". Say what? Let me just humbly say, it's delicious! I defy anyone who says they don't like Chardonnay to taste this and draw that same conclusion. It's like a creamsicle in a glass. It's $24.99, which is a bit pricey, but well worth the treat! Cheers!

Domaine Baron "Cot" Touraine 2008 ($14.99). I am really digging this wine right now because it reminds me how much more there is to malbec than jammy, in-your-face, Argentinian fruit bombs. This is a classic representation of how the French approach differs from New World counterparts. It introduces an herbal, earthy tone that is distinctly more subtle than most other malbecs AND it only costs a couple dollars more. A steal.

Domaine S├ębastien Dampt Chablis 2009 ($21.99). I love this wine because it is a textbook representation of its class. I like it when a wine is exactly what it is supposed to be. Classic village level Chablis is supposed to be flinty, minerally, elegant, and ready to drink with a plate of oysters or some country pate with cornichons and crusty bread. That is exactly what this wine is -- Chardonnay in one of its most fresh, elegant, and food-friendly expressions. If you were to look up Chablis in the dictionary, the Dampt Chablis would be there, with a plate of oysters next to it. That is why I love this wine.

Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner "Im Weingebirge" 2008 ($30.99). During my first week at Windsor Wine Merchants, Mig (Michael) told me that Austria has the best wines that most people have never heard of. Nikolaihof's gruner vetliner offers a refreshing, rich and creamy body, which are my favorite characteristics in a white wine. It has a smooth acidity and is very"mineral."

Devois de Perret Coteaux Du Languedoc 2009 ($11.99). Big task for me in my fledgling time at Windsor Wines. I'm going to pick the Devois because I've had it a few times and I find it to be a good strong-bodied French wine. I also feel this to be a nice bottle to bring to a gathering of friends.

So it's interesting that we have two chardonnays and two gruner veltliners among the bunch, one of them a sparkler! Check one of these wines out, they're great.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Welcome to the good old days!

Things change. You always hear stories about how great things were in the past. First Growth Bordeaux was $15 a bottle, Cotes du Rhones were $6, great Chianti was $10.... some of that is true. At a wine shop in which I worked in the mid-80's, we sold a nice Petit Chateau Bordeaux for $3.99, this for a classified, respectable everyday bottle of red, not some bulk jug wine. Of course Burgundy always seems to be the holy grail, and prices for good Burgundy have always been on the higher part of the curve at any time in the market. I'm looking at a wine catalog from 1997 and the prices for village Gevrey-Chambertin are in the $40 dollar range, a Premier Cru at that time would cost you around $60. Given that context, 14 years ago, that's a pricey bottle of wine. Even so, look closely and prices have increased, but not all that much.

What has changed, for the better, is quality and consistency. Shopping for affordable red Burgundy in the past was like rollerblading in a minefield. Yet, the experience of having superb pinot noir was so thrilling that for most wine lovers it was worth the risk. If gymnastics can be an apt analogy for wine, then red Burgundy is like trying to walk on a balance beam. The beam is so narrow, the aromas and flavors of pinot noir having to be so precise as to deliver expression and true varietal character that it's hard to stay on the beam. Wobble and fall of one side and you're in "overpriced, austere stingyland", fall off the other side and you're in "juicy, flabby, jammy I-don't-taste-like-pinotland". Only red Burgundy could accomplish this, and even today it's much the same. The wine world knows this, wine merchants are always advising customers that you have to be very picky and that there's a lot more bang for the buck if you look elsewhere. These conditions not only keep prices high, but a lot of winemakers rest on their laurels, making mediocre wine and knowing that there are customers who will still pay for it. Typically if you found a wine that had the "goods", you'd run around the city purchasing bottles at various wine shops, trying to relive the elusive experience.

In the last few years of buying wine for the store, we would jump for joy when we found a quality red Burgundy that we could sell for under $20 . We would excitedly show these wines to our customers and they responded with the wines selling very well. These wines are often a basic wine from a good producer with the vines being near a famous village, categorized "Bourgogne", or a wine from a lesser known area like "Givry", "Irancy", or "Auxerre". These wines have always been hard to find.

What has seemingly changed is that recently we are finding a lot more of these affordable Burgundies. I don't know the reasons why, I can only speculate the possibilities of better winemaking in reaction to the global marketplace, more competition and choice from importers here in NYC, or maybe even global warming has something to do with it. What I do know is that we should enjoy this and take advantage of the opportunity to drink and explore these wines. Will the trend continue? I don't know except to say..

Welcome to the good old days!


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Unknown Italian Gems under $20

We all know some of the great and famous wines and regions of Italy; Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico from Tuscany, Barolo and Barbaresco from the Piedmont, Amarone from the Veneto. Quality everyday wines like Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Valpolicella are also well known. With such a long tradition, the reputations of these wines are well deserved. Additionally, there are other areas of Italy that have equally long winemaking traditions and that produce wines of fantastic quality. These wines, and the grapes they are made from, are not as well known but offer remarkable quality, personality, and value. Here are some real Italian Gems that we sell for less than $20:

Montalbera Grignolino D'Asti ($17.99) - from Piedmont, grignolino is a light bodied, pale red with woodsy aromas, tangy red fruits, and has more tannin and structure than you would think of from a wine that looks like rose, our friend who imports it likes to have it with lamb.

Gumphof Sudtiroler Vernatsch ($17.99) - from Alto Adige (Sudtirol or South Tyrol) in the northeast, the grape vernatsch is also known as schiava, it's very light with a savory meaty undertone and absolutely delicious.

Occhipinti Alea Viva ($19.99) - from Lazio, the grape is aleatico and it's grown on the shores of a volcanic lake about one hour north of Rome, very expressive aromas of fresh red berries and flowers, the wine is light but has bright acid and present tannins to give balanced grip in the mouth, it reminds me of good pinot noir from Beaune mingled with rose petals.

(picture location: United Meat Market, Windsor Terrace Brooklyn)

Colli di Serrapetrona Collequanto ($16.99) - made from a rare and historic grape in the Marche called vernaccia nera, it's a wild and spicy red, smells of cinnamon, tastes of sappy red fruits and cranberry, it's one of my very favorite unpretentious and unique wines.

Vestini Campagnano Casavecchia ($15.99) - this "old house" is made from the uncommon indigenous varietal named casavecchia, from Campania in the south near Naples, the wine is full and dark, with tangy plums, and shows the minerality of the volcanic soils in the region.

Statti Gaglioppo ($17.99) - from Calabria in the deep south, the gaglioppo grape here is medium bodied with ripe and spicy cherry fruit, a perfect foil for tangy tomato sauce, pizza, it even has enough sappy ripeness to handle a little peperoncino heat.

I wish you the pleasure of trying one of these wines, "alla salute".