Even though it’s outside of Westchester, Trattoria L’Incontro in Astoria is definitely worth a visit.

This past weekend we celebrated my Father in Law’s 65th birthday at a wonderful Italian Restaurant in Astoria, Trattoria L’Incontro. It is a little out of the way for those living in Westchester, but if you find yourself in Queens looking for a great place to eat without breaking the bank….this is it!

This is the third time we have been in their private party room in the back of the restaurant, and it never disappoints. All of their dishes are made with very fresh and quality ingredients. The food tastes so homemade you would think there was someone’s old Italian Grandma cooking in the kitchen.

On top of the authentic Italian menu (with the homemade pasta dishes definitely being my favorite), they have a rather large, Italian based wine list. Italian wines can be confusing, but we have gone the inexpensive route in choosing the wines for our parties, and have enjoyed what we drank every time.

For this party they poured a Bonterra Charonnay as the white option, an organic wine from Mendocino, CA. It is really drinking well and $30 a bottle was a very fair price (it usally runs about $12-16 in the store). For the Red they poured a Tuscan Sangiovese that I was not familiar with, but it paired nicely with the penne in a fresh tomato and basil sauce.

Lastly, what makes dining here such a pleasure is the service. From the Managers down to the Bus Boys, everyone goes out of their way to ensure that you are enjoying your experience at their restaurant. And if you are looking for a glass of wine before or after dinner, they own the wine bar right next door! Very cool joint with a lot of wines by the glass to choose from. For more info just check out the link below….

http://www.trattorialincontro.com/

What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than at Zachy’s FREE Wine Tastings!

Zachy’s in Scarsdale is one of the most well known and respected wine shops in Westchester, if not the country. They are probably the biggest auction house in the business for collectible wines and have a huge selection of all kinds of French wine in their store. I don’t mention them often because in terms of value, their prices overall can be a little steep.

However, to be at Zachy’s on a Saturday from 12-4 is a real treat. They host a free wine tasting that is by far the best in Westchester. There are different distributors, importers and winemakers there every week and they are always pouring really high end juice. Depending on the day there can be anywhere from 15-30 wines to taste!

Some gems from this past Saturday were a handful of Chateuneuf du Papes (including Domaine Giraud and Roger Sabon) ranging from $35-70 a bottle, a few California wines from Jonata in the Santa Ynez Valley ranging from $50-115 and a couple of Spanish blends that would knock your socks off for about $80 a piece.

I point out the prices because if you’re a wine drinker like me, these bottles are pretty much out of the purchase comfort zone. However, they do run very good sale prices for the wines they are tasting that day.

For example, the Domaine Giraud Tradition Chateauneuf du Pape retails for about $45, they were selling it for under $35. So if you are looking for that special bottle for yourself or to bring to friend’s home, this is a great time to shop at Zachy’s.

But even if you don’t plan on buying anything, that’s fine too. The environment is very comfortable and social without any pressure to buy. It is just a fantastic way to taste some exceptional wines, train your palate a bit and learn a thing or two from the knowledgeable and friendly folks who are pouring the wine. See you there!

A comparison of reviews for a well known “value” wine from Cycles Gladiator

The other night I was looking for something inexpensive to open, as I only wanted a glass of wine and needed the rest for cooking. I found the Cycles Gladiator 2007  Merlot in my stash which I think I paid a whopping $7 for, so that sounded about right.

I remembered reading in one of my wine magazines that one of the older vintages rated pretty high for a wine this cheap, so I was a little excited to take my first sniff and sip. The sniff was pretty good. A little hot (strong smell of alcohol) but it had some nice cherry aromas. It seemed solid for a cheap Merlot, as some can be very sweet and floral.

Next was the sip. At first it wasn’t bad either. It seemed to have decent texture and the fruit carried through from the bouquet to the palate. But on the finish, it had a funny and very distinguishable taste. There was a bitter eucalyptus flavor that almost tasted like cough syrup…hmmmmm.

I thought this was odd, even though some Merlots from the Central Coast can have a pleasant herbal component to them. But this was so prominent that it really was taking away from the wine….in my humble opinion of course.

So I went to check out my two favorite wine review mags, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator, to see what the pros had to say. What I found was quite interesting. To be fair, neither of them had reviewed the 2007 vintage yet, but both had reviewed the 2005 and came up with very different opinions. I posted them both below so you can see how two wine tasting professionals can have completely different tastes, palates and notes that they pull from the same exact wine.

I want to stress again that I am not pointing this out to downplay or put down the professional wine reviewers. They are educated, skilled and have been at this for a long time. My point is to show that EVERYONE has different tastes, no matter how experienced they may be. So my suggestion is if you find a wine reviewer that you notice has the same taste as you, like WWG for example ;) …Follow that man/woman!! He, or she, is probably tasting a hell of a lot more wines than you are, so you’re sure to find out about some great new wines to try!

Oh, and the moral of the story….go for the Columbia Crest Two Vines Cabernet-Merlot or the Blackstone Merlot instead of the Cycles Gladiator.

 

WINE ENTHUSIAST REVIEW

 Cycles Gladiator 2005 Merlot

  • Wine Enthusiast Rating: 88
  • Price: $10
  • Varietal: Merlot
  • Appellation: Central Coast, US, Central Coast
  • Alcohol: 13.5%
  • Bottle Size: 750 ml
  • Case Production: 10000
  • Category: Red
  • Importer: Wimbledon Wine Company
  • Published in Magazine: 7/1/2007
  • Published to Web: 7/1/2007

Reviews:

What an interesting wine this is. Classic California Merlot, soft and rich, with a burst of cherry, raspberry and mocha flavors, and spicy, smoky vanilla from considerable new oak. But the addition of Petite Sirah, Syrah and Cab Sauvignon give it added depth, texture and nuance. At this price, stock up by the case. – S.H. (7/1/2007) – 88

WINE SPECTATOR REVIEW

Merlot Central Coast 2005

Score: 68

Release Price: $10

Region: California

Issue: Web Only – 2008

Review:

Lean and herbal, with muted cherry aromas and flavors and chewy tannins. 10,000 cases made – TF

Make your first New Year’s resolution to try The TapHouse in Tuckahoe!

 

   

Since it’s opening in 2007, my wife and I have rung in each New Year with family and friends at The TapHouse. Not only do we have a blast, but it really is an enjoyable dining experience. This year our crew had the pleasure of eating downstairs in the beautiful wine cellar, where we did our best to clear it out. However with the large selection they have it was a futile effort…but we had a lot of fun trying!

 The TapHouse is a gastropub style restaurant, one of only a few in Westchester, with a whole lot of character, a diverse menu, outstanding service and a vast “craft” beer and wine list that is extremely reasonable. It’s the kind of place you can go with the family for an easy, inexpensive meal, or you can step up your game and get some really quality dishes and pair them with a great bottle of wine.

 If you’re looking to go the inexpensive route all of the apps (the short rib sliders being my favorite), salads and sandwiches are between 7.50-16 dollars. Hell…the Burger (which rocks) is only like 10 bucks!

 But even if you decide to go for the all out meal every entrée on the menu is under $30, which is a tremendous value considering how expensive some restaurants in Westchester can be. Where else can you get a top notch NY Strip Steak for $29?!?

 As for the wine list, it is mainly California driven (which I love!) and there is plenty to choose from. There are of course a number of wines from other areas as well. The managing owner, Chris O’Brien, incorporates a nice variety of styles, regions and price points on the list. There are dozens of options for under $40 and if you are looking to spend a couple more bucks on a special bottle, you will find that the wines only run around 2-2.5 times what you would spend in a store…..which is very rare to see in Westchester!!

I’m not going to review all the dishes as the NY Times has already written a glowing review of the restaurant (just click on the link below).

http://events.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/nyregion/08dinewe.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

 However, I am going to point out a few bottles of wine from the main list that I enjoy and are very good deals. They also have put together a value wine list where everything is $24 and all are quite nice. Oh, and the best deal of all is during their Sunday Brunch when EVERY single bottle of wine is half price. It doesn’t get much better than that!

WHITES

$26-39

Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc, Sonoma                 $28

Moon Mountain Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma            $30  *  Favorite value White

Buehler Chardonnay, Napa                                      $30

Brancott Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough (NZ)       $33

Kali Hart Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands       $39

$40 and up

Trimbach Riesling, Alsace                                         $40

Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay, Russian River          $42

Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Napa             $48

Au Bon Climat Chardonnay, Santa Barbara           $55

REDS

$26-39

Lot 205 Petite Sirah, California                                 $28

Chalone Merlot, Monterey                                         $31

The Big Red Monster (Blend), California                 $35

Pascual Toso Malbec Reserve, Argentina                $36       *  Favorite value Red

Paraiso Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara                            $38

$40-59

Qupe Syrah, Bien Nacido, CA                                    $40

Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa                $44

Vital Vineyards Pinot Noir, Williamette Valley       $51

Wild Oak Zinfandel, Sonoma                                     $55

Clos Du Val Merlot, Napa                                           $57

$60 and up

Ridge Geyserville (Zin Blend), CA                       $66

David Bruce Pinot Noir, Sonoma                         $70

Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa              $75

Dare by Viader Cabernet Franc, Napa                $85  **  Favorite wine on list

Robert Craig “Affinity”Cabernet, Napa              $90

Sbragia ‘Rancho del Oso’ Cabernet, Napa        $150

(Yes this last one is very expensive, but it will run about $60-80 in most stores and is one of the best Cabernets to come out of Napa…..it will run over $200 at most restaurants)