Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summer Wines: Something for Everyone

Even if it doesn’t feel like it, summer is coming upon us quickly. For a lot of people that means jumping to rosé and white wines, for others it means nothing and red wine will be consumed despite the heat and humidity. Both are okay, in fact we have wines to cover anyone’s desire as the weather heats up.

Is it rosé you’re looking for? Why not try one of our current favorites; the Coteaux du Vendômois, made from the little known grape Pinot d'Aunis, is a crisp and dry rose with very little fruit and an abundance of savory mineral flavors. Want something with a little more fruit but a nice peppery bite? Try the rosé from Domaine de la Petite Marie Bourgueil, made from 100% Cabernet Franc. Need something classy and sophisticated? Look no further than the Domaine du Bagnol Cassis rosé. This has it all, beautiful fruit, crisp herbs and the structure to last well into next summer.

Rosé not your thing? How about something local? Shinn Estate Vineyards First Fruit Sauvignon Blanc may be one of the freshest and cleanest Sauvignon Blancs on the East Coast. Need another reason to try it? How about the fact that this is almost a natural wine, utilizing natural yeasts, spontaneous fermentation only a light filtration, this a standout in the honest wine category. Or how about a North Fork Chardonnay that drinks like a Finger Lakes Riesling? The Macari Early Wine is made like Beaujolais Nouveau with a quick maceration and early bottling. It is bright and refreshing and Biodynamic! Want something fuller and bigger but still refreshing? Try Red Hook Winery’s SK Level 1; a blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc, this wine spends extended time on the skins when fermenting giving a rich and dense profile brimming with refreshing apricot and floral notes.

And if you’re one to drink red wine no matter the time of year we have some great options that you can chill, and we often have them in the fridge for you already. You may have tasted the Castelfeder Schiava Breitbacher Alto Adige when we poured in back in April. If not, think rich and medium bodied with light cherry notes and a surprising lightness for the weight it offers. Want something lighter that you can pour down your throat by the bottle? Try the Raisins Gaulois Beaujolais from Marcel Lapierrre. At 11.5% alcohol, this is light and fresh and an easy bottle to quench your thirst without knocking you out on a hot afternoon. Did I mention it pairs well with almost any food: burgers, pasta, spicy Mediterranean, Mexican, Indian, BBQ, Coq au Vin, and eggs (brunch wine). Just one man’s opinion, but it might be the perfect wine. And last but not least, a favorite from last summer, the Slovenian Cviček from Zajc: a wine made from a blend of four red grapes (Blauer Koelner, Blaufrankisch, Portugiezer and St. Laurent) and five white (Kraljevina, Welschriesling, Yellow Plavec, Gruener Veltliner and Stajerska Belina). Known as the national drink of Slovenia, Cviček is always low in alcohol, 10% in this case, and has minimal residual sugar giving it a crisp dry cranberry note with a savory finish and just delightfully thirst quenching.

If for some odd reason none of these struck your fancy, just ask and we can recommend many more that fall in that great category of a “summer wine”. And check the top shelf of the fridge this summer for cold reds!


Monday, May 12, 2014

Sustainable, Organic, Biodynamic, Natural and Lutte Raisonée: The Reasoned Struggle

          You may have noticed the green stars adorning some of the tags in our shop. We use these as a quick way to point out what wines are sustainable, organic, or biodynamic. Recently we added a silver star denoting wines that are “natural” or without any added sulfites. We have a lot of customers asking us for wines of this nature and are always happy to stock and support wine makers who utilize these methods. But inevitably the question arises (as it should) what does it mean to make wine by sustainable, organic, biodynamic, or natural means; and does it make a difference?

           First of all, it’s important to realize that these terms represent different philosophies and approaches to viticulture and wine-making and one is not necessarily better than the other. Let’s start with sustainable wine making as it requires the least commitment, but may offer as many benefits as the other methods. Kendall-Jackson’s blog defines sustainable quite well stating that it, “usually take[s] into consideration the environmental, social and economic aspects of operations and management.  Most sustainability programs have fewer absolute requirements than organic or biodynamic [ones].” While it’s true that sustainability has less strict requirements, it also allows growers to act accordingly when nature challenges the process. A more conscientious branch of sustainable farming has emerged known as lutte raisonée, literally translated as the “reasoned struggle”,  which borrows from organics and biodynamics as well as a relying on a process known as integrated pest management (IPM). The intricacies of IPM are beyond the scope of this simple post, but it is sufficient to say that it focuses on the idea that some “pests” are good for the vines and some not, and there is a balance that should be maintained.
            Organic practices are heavily regulated by a number of different agencies around the world and have strict guidelines for what can and can’t be done when growing grapes. Most of these regulations have to do with what chemicals, if any, can be used on the vines and soil. What a lot of people don’t realize is that these regulations often deal with the viticulture and not necessarily the wine-making process; meaning, for example,  sulfites may not be sprayed on the vines during the growing process, but may be used during fermentation or bottling of the wine. This is not always the case, as every agency has different standards for what constitutes “organic,” but is something to keep in mind when buying an organic wine. Also, it is important to realize that sulfites occur naturally during the wine-making process and therefore, all wine contains sulfites to some degree or another and they can, in fact, be quite useful when used conscientiously.
It is probably the most obvious that these are philosophies on wine-making and
viticulture when examining biodynamics. Jaime Goode defines biodynamics well in his book, The Science of Wine; “key to biodynamics is considering the farm in its entirety as a living system, and seeing it in the context of the wider pattern of lunar and cosmic rhythms.” With even more stringent requirements, biodynamics requires the application of “special preparations to enhance the life of the soil” at key times in the lunar cycle. Some of the practices border on the mystical side of things causing biodynamics to be a polarizing practice in the wine world.

         Finally, natural wine-making doesn't necessarily follow biodynamic or organic practices, although can and often does, but is more focused on the idea of non-intervention.  It is perhaps best described as total control being led by the fruit itself. The winemaker will pick
when the grapes are ripe, weather early, late or otherwise, and allow the wine to ferment on it's own with whatever yeast is present. Often characterized by dramatic changes in wine from vintage to vintage (although good winemakers will produce a good product despite the differences), this is also a somewhat polarizing philosophy in the wine world as it belittles the winemaker's efforts and focuses on the viticulture and fruit almost solely. For a great example of the thought process that goes into natural wine-making, watch this quick video featuring Joeland Christine Menard of Domaine des Sablonnettes.

For a great, although very academic, study of these processes and their impact on the wine, check out The Science of Wine by Jaime Goode. And remember, none of these processes are necessarily better than the others, but all offer a more honest process of wine making than is utilized in the big, commercial wine industry. This is the case because all of these philosophies focus on the quality of the fruit to one degree or another instead of focusing on the economic side of wine and that can only equal a better product in your glass at the end of the night. Enjoy!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Derby Time

We're off to the races! But first, we are going to need to craft the perfect Mint Julep to get in the spirit. Here's Jess's spin on the Kentucky Derby classic:

1. First you need the Kentucky Derby and a big hat... Just kidding! Pick some mint fresh from the garden (or go to J&H next door to buy some). You're going to need around 5-8 leaves, or enough to layer a high ball glass. If you want to go for it and add a little extra mint you can add a little more.

2. Pour some simple syrup on next, about 2tsp or so. This is going to sweeten the deal. Don't know how to make simple syrup? It's just a 1:1 ratio sugar to water, shaken until it dissolves.

3. Now you'll want to muddle that sucker. The key here is to not kill the mint, just enough to lightly release the oils. DO NOT KILL THE MINT! When it gets a little bit darker you've reached the finish line.

4. Here's the part you've been dying for- Whiskey Time! 2-3oz (but seriously 3oz) of Woodford Reserve will add the kick you need. Woodford is the official whiskey of the race, so any substitutes will be cheating and the judges will subtract from your time.

5. Top it off with some crushed ice. If you don't know how to make crushed ice, take some ice and crush it. Stir to your desired cocktailness and garnish with a sprig to release your inner Southern Belle or Gentlemen.

6. Repeat as necessary. Inhibitions be damned, if you aren't yelling "Go, baby go!" at the TV you can just skip right back to step 4.

For a twist on the traditional flavor you can also try mixing in some blackberries or kiwi for a fruitier blend.

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!