Not All Wine Competitions Are Created Equal


Just like the best athletes in the world are awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at the current Olympics in Rio, the best wines of the world can also receive similar awards at various wine competitions. However with the Olympics, you know that it is the best showcase of talent which is why those medals are so hard to earn and precious to the athletes’ who find themselves victorious. When it comes to wine competitions, it may not always be clear. Of course winning an award of any kind at a wine competition is an accomplishment, but not all wine competitions are created equal. Some are more like the Olympics while others are more like a regional qualifier.

WIne Olympics

For example, it only makes sense that wine competitions held in locations closer to certain world renown wine regions are going to draw a larger number of both higher quality wines as well as top tier judges. The same would go for competitions that are held in meccas of culinary and hospitality establishments such as New York, Los Angeles and London. These bigger and more prestigious competitions will also have a more rigid system of evaluation to ensure that there can be no favoritism based on brand or region, and implement a full blind tasting method. They would also make sure that those evaluating the wines were wine professionals who taste wine (to some degree) for a living, and not just collectors or people that simply enjoy wine. So it only makes sense that it is much more difficult to earn a medal or award from competitions such as the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition or the Decanter World Wine Awards than from smaller, more obscure event such as the Arizona Republic Wine Competition or even the Idaho Wine Competition… and yes, those do really exist!

So much like finding the right wine reviewer to follow that shares your palate when it comes to ratings and scores, it is also a good idea to check out the specific wine competition in which a particular wine was awarded a medal. It certainly won’t determine whether you will enjoy that specific wine, but it can give you an idea of what other similar wines it had to beat out in order to win that medal.

Red, White and Blue Wines for the 4th!

Yeah, that’s right… blue wine. I know, I know…. I had the same reaction. But why? How? And, why? It seems some entrepreneurial producers in Spain thought it would be a clever idea to craft a blue colored wine targeted at the all encompassing market of the millennials. Apparently it is a blend of Spanish red and white grapes which gains its color from anthocyanin, a pigment found in grape skins, and iodine that is extracted from the Isatis tinctoria plant. It is reportedly a sweet, young refreshing style of wine meant to pair with sushi and nachos with guac. Having never tried this blue wine before I cannot offer any opinion on the quality or value… but I can say that my expectations are fairly low.

Now for the REAL 4th of July recommendations! Is it me, or did it get super hot super quick to start the summer? I feel like the Chardonnay season came and went and I am
already reaching for more refreshing white options. While Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are always popular, as an overly broad generalization, they tend to seem a little too simplistic (sorry Santa Margherita and Brancott fans). As of late I find myself reaching for that dry style of Riesling from a multitude of regions as well as Chenin Blancs from the Loire and South Africa. The nice part about all of these wines is that they typically offer a solid value.

The Fox Run Rie2015 Den Chenin Blancsling (Finger Lakes) is a staple in my house over the summer months, and the bone dry Willm Reserve Riesling (Alsace) is a tremendously food friendly wine to pair with all kinds of shellfish and chilled seafood starters. The Painted Wolf ‘The Den’ Chenin Blanc is crisp, tropical with just a hint of oaky notes, and their Pinotage from the same line is pretty stellar as well. The Sauvon Vouvray (Chenin Blanc grape) is a value superstar every vintage with its floral character and subtle honey notes, and can actually gain complexity with a few years of age. The best part… all of these wines are under $20.


Red wines that are suitable for the 4th, and the summer in general, need to be grill friendly that can pair up with anything from burgers and dogs to filet and lobster surf & turf. That means they have to be versatile, hearty and food friendly (which typically means they need a good dose of acidity). Let’s not forget that it’s hot out there… so some lighter, thirst quenching reds (which can even be served slightly chilled) are integral to any successful July 4th BBQ. I get made fun of all the time for my infatuation with the Seaglass Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, but it remains the best Pinot under $15 for my money. This is one of those lighter style wines that can benefit from a few minutes in the fridge before opening,  accentuating the lively acidity and bright cherry and berry fruit.

I find myself leaning towards the Northern Rhone wines during the grilling season. The smoky and meaty style of Crozes Hermitage and Saint Joseph wines (Syrah based) complement just about any sort of beef you decide to toss on the grill. The Jean Luc Colombo Crozes ‘Les Fees Brunes’ is a stellar under $25 option while the J.L. Chave Saint Joseph ‘Offerus’  is solid just about every vintage and can be found for just a few bucks more. Of course if you are feeling saucy and looking to splurge on something, how about a Cote Rotie for the 4th this year? E. Guigal, Vidal Fleury and St. Cosme are all quality producers and their wines come at a somewhat ‘value’ price under $80. Top tier Cote Rotie wines are easily $100 and up so yes, $50-75 is considered a value for this particular region.

But if you want to keep it simple and patriotic for the 4th, grab some California Zin and Petite Sirah. Both are as American as you can get when it comes to grape varieties, and are big enough to stand up to just about any of your standard BBQ fare. They can offer various spices and boast a firm tannic character to offset those fatty and saucy pork and beef dishes. Zichichi (Dry Creek Valley) is one of my perennial favorites for both varieties, but they are not the easiest to come by. On the Zin side, I always find the Terra d’Oro wines exude great complexity and character without breaking the bank both at their entry level as well as their old vine single vineyard higher end offerings.  Of course if you are from the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ camp, then seek out one of the many Zins from Turley. They range from the entry Juvenille level up to several single vineyard options, all opulent and killer! As far as Petite Sirah goes, Handcraft has a nice one out for under $15 that will certainly please the palate. But for about $40 you can find the Stag’s Leap Winery P.S. which slams you with dark berry, peppery spice and is flat out tasty juice. Talk about a wine that screams out for BBQ ribs and wings! But this is a big boy for sure, so give it a little time to show it’s true colors…none of which are blue😉




Another Successful Westchester Magazine Wine and Food Festival In The Books!

Year after year the Westchester Magazine crew puts together one of the most elaborate culinary events in Westchester, and 2016 was no different. From Peter Kelly winning his 4th Burger Bash title, to Kevin Zraly pulling together a fantastic portfolio of wines to taste over the weekend to top Westchester chefs offering delectable bites for all to enjoy… this may have been the best #WMFAW to date!






While Saturday’s Grand Tasting Village was the most attended, featuring 60+ restaurants and 200+ wines… and of course Kathie Lee and Joy of NBC’s Today, Friday night’s Evening With Westchester’s Tastemakers was certainly the star of the festival. Hosted at the beautiful Ritz Carlton in White Plains, the evening featured 60 top notch wine selections served alongside dishes prepared by 20 of the finer restaurants in the area. Highlights on the wine side included the 2012 Dominus, 2012 La Jota Merlot, 2010 Chateau Certan de May, 2010 Chateau Lassegue 2012 Louis Jadot Volnay and Nuits Saint Georges and of course the Comtes and Cristal were rather outstanding as well. Check out some photo 0610161745b_resizedhighlights of the evening as well as the list of fine chef’s that participated in this year’s event… already looking forward to next year!                            FotoJet Collage 1                    0610161746_resized     









An Evening WithWestchester’s Tastemakers Participants

Michael Abruzese, Polpettina
David Amorelli, Harvest on Hudson
David DiBari, The Cookery
Scott Fratangelo, L’inizio
Eric Gabrynowicz, Restaurant North
Kennardo Holder, The Ritz- Carlton, Westchester
Robert Horton, An American Bistro
Kyle Inserra, Polpettina
Michael Kaphan, Purdy’s Farmer & the Fish
Peter Kelly, X20 Xaviars on the Hudson
Ethan Kostbar, Moderne Barn
Glenn Vogt, RiverMarket Bar & Kitchen
Jay Lippin, Crabtree’s Kittle House

Andy Nusser, Tarry Lodge

Leo Pablo, The Inn at Pound Ridge
Rafael Palomino, Sonora
Christian Petroni, Fortina
Michael Psilakis, MP Taverna
Andy Shilling, BLT Steak
Michael White, Campagna
Bobby Will, Saltaire Oyster Bar

Incoming: Westchester’s Premiere Wine & Food Event!

So it looks like spring has officially sprung here in Westchester, and it’s about time! Aside from the warmer weather, flowers blooming and summer closing in, it’s also the most anticipated time of year for the foodie and oenophile contingency. Why, you may ask? Easy…because in it’s sixth year running, Westchester Magazine will once again host the county’s most elaborate culinary extravaganza boasting an extensive arsenal of wines as well as an impressive list of Westchester’s finest dining venues for their 2016 Wine & Food Festival. For this year’s installment they have changed up the format a bit with what appears to be a much more focused yet expansive event configuration.






The Festival starts on Wednesday June 8th with a fashion/shopping themed event at Bloomingdale’s which leads into Thursday’s Burger and Beer Blast at the Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla. Here, over 30 local restauranburger-blastts will compete for the coveted Blue Moon Best Burger Award. Think of this as a block party on steroids as there will be tons of great brews, stellar burgers and bar bites, wine, booze and some of the most notorious food trucks in town. These are worthy undercards which lead up to the weekend’s main event of wine tastings and pairings.

Friday night’s ‘An Evening With Westchester’s Tastemakers’  is clearly the belle of the ball this year.  Hosted at the lavish Ritz Carlton in White Plains, it will feature a truly special wine list along with Westchester’s finest restaurants and chefs preparing two signature dishes each specifically for the evening. Such restaurants as Campagna, Crabtree’s Kittle House, Purdy’s Farmer and The Fish, Sonora, Tarry Lodge, The Inn at Pound Ridge and of course The Xaviar’s Group, home to Westchester’s Star Chef Peter Kelly, will be featured among a number of Westchester’s finest eateries. But what good is all this delectable food without the perfect wines by their side? That’s where well-known wine guru Kevin Zraly comes into the picture.


Kevin has narrowed the evening’s list down to 20 stellar selections for this salacious walk around tasting including sparkling, white and red wines from around the world. Some of the wines offered will include Louis Roederer Cristal and Taittinger Vintage Champagnes, Dominus, Domaine Zind Humbrecht Gewurz, La Jota Merlot and Chateau Certan de May to name a few. The goal here is to pair up each scrumptious bite with an ideal wine in order to complement its flavors and texture. Not an easy feat, but Kevin has been doing this sort of thing for many years so I am sure it will be quite the ‘palatable’ sensory experience from start to finish.  It’s not an inexpensive evening for $125 a ticket ($175 for VIP, which is really the way to go as it gives you early entrance to move around with ease), but when considering the quality of food and wine being offered, it’s a pretty serious value.

grand-villageIf your hangover subsides by late Saturday morning then the Saturday Grand Tasting Village is well worth attending. It costs less per ticket than Friday’s festivities and will have 3X the amount of restaurants and wineries struttin’ their stuff back at the Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla. There will be chef demonstrations all day long with lots of local celebrity chefs as well as members of the NBC Today Show. Plus, for an extra few bucks you gain access to the Connoisseurs Tent where Kevin will be pouring some higher end juice and sharing his extensive wine knowledge with those attending. Sure, it will be a bit more crowded than Friday night’s Tastemaker event, but having attended this in year’s past there is always a fairly open flow and an energetic vibe to the Saturday Grand Tasting Village.

For more info and to buy tickets check out the official website for this year’s event, see you there!

Westchester Magazine’s 6th Annual Wine & Food Festival


Wine Pairing Dinners Bring Out A Restaurant’s Best

Over the last several years, these special wine pairing dinners have become all the rage. It used to be that only the top eateries in NYC or Westchester would hold such prestigious events, and from what I recall they were all extremely expensive. It would seem the point of those dinner events was to not only offer a 5 or 6 course meal while pairing up each course with a special, and perfectly matched, wine, but the restaurants were also looking to turn a nice profit on the night. And why wouldn’t they?? These were small gatherings with superb dishes featuring sought after top tier wines. This traditional high end version of the wine pairing dinner certainly still exists, but a new generation has recently emerged.  Now those of us that can’t drop $500 on a single meal have ability to indulge in an enjoyable culinary experience as well.

I recently attended one of these dinners at The TapHouse in Tuckahoe where Moet Hennessy teamed up with owner Chris O’Brien and Chef Kevin Bertrand to try and put together a fun and well thought out wine pairing menu. It seemed a good way to sample a handful of MH’s somewhat approachable wines in their portfolio with some new and innovative culinary dishes prepared by the TapHouse team. They were able to get a little creative and curate some dishes that they may not typically offer on a high-end gastropub type menu. I’ve been to a few of their beer pairing dinners which are always a blast and provide an interesting perspective in matching up beer and food, but this was their first wine pairing dinner. In short, these guys knocked it out of the park from start to finish, especially at a mere $65 a head!


You could tell from the opening course that this was going to a be a seriously sick menu starting with tokyo style diver scallops in a jalapeno infused strawberry water with a beautiful watermelon radish. The scallops were delightfully light yet meaty, and the bright strawberry flavor paired wonderfully with the Domaine Chandon Rose Brut bubbles. Pairing any food with sparkling is never easy to do, but these guys nailed it as the DC rose came to life after just a  mere taste of the scallops.


0420162103b_resizedThe other highlight of the meal was the roasted loin of venison served over celeriac puree with a corn grits risotto and black currants. The venison was tender, full of flavor and cooked to perfection. They chose the 2013 Newton Unfiltered Napa Cab for this course, and as Yoda would say… chose wisely, they did! The tannins were surprisingly supple for such a big and fruit forward wine, and of course the venison helps smooth it out as well. But the genius combo was the black currant side that when tasted along side this anything but subtle Cab, just popped with flavor and cassis goodness. A great way to finish the main courses leading into the closing dessert finale.

I won’t go into every course here, although it is worth mentioning there was not a bad dish or wine to be had during the evening. So for the $65 price tag there were 5 dishes served (where the portions were ample enough) and 4 really solid wines with 1 standout killer wine in the Newton Cab. So as a couple you could enjoy an entire meal out for $130 (plus tax and tip) where the service is fantastic and the dishes are craftfully prepared specifically for this event. I don’t know about you, but there aren’t too many places these days you can get away with a full quality meal, with wine, for under $150 a couple.

So if you see any of these special wine paring events at your local favorite restaurants it is probably worth checking out, as it can be less expensive to attend one of these dinners than dining off the standard menu on any regular night. It is also becoming more common for these dinners to be a way of marketing and promoting, where the restaurants aren’t as concerned with turning a big profit on the night, but more concerned with getting a good word out about how dynamite their restaurant can be. I can’t promise they will all be as good as this one at The TapHouse, but in the end you should be on the right side of an evening where the owner and chef are hopefully trying to do everything they can to please their customers and keep them coming back for more.

Wine Ratings vs. Vintage Ratings

Wine Ratings

If you are familiar with wine ratings in general, you already know they are often used to try and communicate to the consumer the quality of a specific wine or vintage. However, ratings are in no way a clear indication that you are going to enjoy a wine. Many wines will have varied ratings from numerous wine publications and media outlets, meaning there is no science to this but more of an art.  For example, the recent 2013 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir recently received a 95 Pt Rating from one highly regarded wine publication, and an 89 from an equally highly regarded wine publication. A 6 point differential is a pretty big spread! That being said, wine reviewers are judging wines on overall quality, aging potential and any flaws a wine may have. So ratings are probably still the best overall indicator of quality. However ratings can come in a couple of different forms, either on the wine itself or on an overall vintage from a specific location.

A wine rating is pretty self-explanatory.  A wine is sampled (hopefully in a blind tasting) by a reviewer and that reviewer determines the score on the 1-100 scale (or 1-20 in certain publications like Decanter) based on appearance, aromas, palate and finish. The higher the score, the better the wine (theoretically). Often a reviewer will specialize in rating a specific region(s) so that they can really focus on the intricacies of the different wines they taste. However, it is important to remember that since there are so many wines in the world, not all of them get reviewed.

However an entire wine region is also rated by many publications on the overall quality of the juice being produced from that particular year from said region. Moreover, there is much research during the growing period of each vintage in every important wine region to make some early predictions on how the vintage should fare. For example, the 2013 vintage in Napa was being touted as one of the greatest vintages since the iconic 2007 vintage, so it was no surprise when Robert Parker gave that Napa Vintage 2013 a 98 Point Rating. That is not to say that every 2013 Napa Cab is a 98 point wine. More that with the overall quality of that particular vintage, the level of quality in wines produced within that vintage should be higher than most other vintages.

Can bad wines be made in good vintages? Sure… Can great wines be made in poor vintages? Absolutely! 2000 was notoriously one of the best vintages Bordeaux has ever seen, yet it was equally bad in Burgundy. Yet I have tasted a number of 2000 Burgundy wines that showed as much delicacy and elegance as form the highly acclaimed 2009 and 2010 vintages. And remember, a rating is still just one person’s evaluation and opinion. The best way to find out which wines and vintages are best suited for you and your palate is to keep trying new and different wines from different years. If you find a professional wine reviewer that has the same palate as you do, than you probably want to watch out a little more closely for his or her wine and vintage ratings as you may find some of your new favorite wines by doing so.


(This post was also featured on Wine Express with a few edits for their needs, take a look below!)

Wine Ratings vs Vintage Ratings

Easy Easter Ham & Lamb Wine Pairings

Let’s keep this short and sweet, as Easter is just a couple of days away. The classic Easter meal usually features one of two meats, Lamb or Ham. Luckily each of these options has one wine that pairs perfectly with it practically regardless of how it is prepared.

Ham and Pinot – A typical glazed Easter ham has both sweet and savory flavors, along with a touch of salt. So the idea is to match it up with a wine that has high acidity, low tannins and lots of fruit. So a lighter Zin, Rhone or Chianti could work, but West Coast Pinots are really the way to go. Seaglass from Santa Barbara is a great value option and Nielson (by Byron) from the Santa Maria Valley is a little heartier and will cost a few bucks more, but it is full of expressive cherry, raspberry and peppery spice goodness. However if you can get your hands on some juice from the mad genius Rick Moshin from his extensive and ecletic line of Russian River Valley Moshin Pinots, then you are in for truly a heavenly Easter meal.


Don’t like Reds? Then Riesling will probably be the best pairing option. You know how apple, apricot, and pineapple are ideal partners for ham? Well, the same goes for the wine.  The apple and tropical flavors contrast perfectly to a salty ham while the bright acidity and light style keep the sweetness levels in check. Wilim Riesling from Alsace is bone dry and an ideal option, especially for around $15. But if you like a hint of sweetness and more body you may want to go with a Spatlese from Mosel. However my favorite white pairing is the Eroica Riesling from Columbia Valley, Washington. Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen partnered up to create this beauty and for around $20 I dare you to find a more luscious, balanced and yummy Riesling anywhere.

Lamb and Cab – Lamb is full of flavor, fat and if it is grilled will have some smoky character too. You need a big boned, tannic wine to stand up to a meat like that. If you are grilling it, the Bordeaux route is preferable as the terroir driven nature of those wines accentuate that grilled, smoky flavor. My favorite value Bordeaux right now is Chateau St. Barbe 2011 as it is a big wine with loads of minerality and a fruit filled, long, dry finish. Best under $20 Bordeaux out there, hands down. Chateau Talbot offers a lovely, classic Bordeaux experience, but will be at least double the Barbe price.

California Cabs will work just as well, particularly if you have a thicker cut and are roasting the lamb. McMannis offers a solid value Cab for under $15 and the new vintage of Twenty Rows 2012 Napa Cab is surprisingly stellar for around $20, as I have not been a fan of past vintages.  But the ’12 Peju Napa Cab is off the hook delicious with oodles of big, dark fruit, vanilla and spice. It ain’t cheap at around $50, but it is certainly guaranteed to please your entire Easter crew.