A Few Wine Tasting Notes…

Just thought I would share some tasting notes on a few wines I have recently enjoyed ranging from good values to simply RIDICULOUS juice!

CAM COLLECTION 2013 MONTEREY PINOT NOIR $18 (found it for $10!)

CAM Collection 2013 Pinot Noir

This is quite forward on the nose with ripe, bright cherry and raspberry fruit aromas , showing hints of black pepper and cocoa. It’s fairly big for an entry level Pinot with the same fruit carrying over to the palate enhanced by notes of clove, smoked bacon and espresso. A lengthy, dry and overall pleasing finish caps off this true value Pinot.  GOOD

 

 

Cune Rioja Imperial Reserva 2011   $35

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This wine offers alluring aromas of black cherry/currant with dark chocolate and smoky oak. It’s a big wine, no doubt… but has good acidity playing nicely with the dense fruit and firm tannins. Opulent and rich, but exhibits some of that old world Rioja feel with the tobacco and mineral character. Will age well over the next decade.  SOLID

 

 

Alta 2013 Quatreaux Red Blend, Napa Valley $60 Retail (available for under $40)

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Quatreaux refers to four of the five Bordeaux grape varieites used in this blend including Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot (no Malbec). It exudes new world Napa fruit including dark berry and cassis with an old world undertone of smoke, earth and roasted nuts. Tremendous balance of acidity, weight and tannins with a long finish that leaves just a hint of baker’s chocolate… I love that!  SOLID! 

 

 

Element Winery 2013 Lemberger, Finger Lakes  $42

If you have not heard of Element Winery yet, let me be the first to put it on your radar.  Chris Bates MS and his team are producing some of the best juice in the Northeast. I wasn’t expecting much from a Finger Lakes Lemberger, but this had a lot going on! Certainly intense with bright cherry, rose petals and spice on the nose leading to a vibrant palate driven by acidity and ripe red fruit. But it wasn’t a pushover, enough body and weight to stand up to some lighter poultry dishes for sure.  GOOD!

Now, for the RIDICULOUS wines…

2008 Léoville-Barton, St-Julien $80

Still bright ruby in color, this is drinking beautifully now but has lots of time left on the clock. Black currant, cocoa powder, espresso beans and graphite aromas on the nose are quite intense and sultry. Its supple and soft on the palate, as the tannins are mellowing with the acidity balancing out the dense fruit. Showing off that classic Left Bank terroir, loads of chalk and minerality on the palate with the dark fruit and cocoa hanging on through the finish. SOLID!

 

2001 Beaulieu Vineyard “Georges de Latour Private Reserve” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon  $90

2001 Beaulieu Vineyard "Georges de Latour Private Reserve" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

From a great vintage like 2001, I was expecting this to still be fairly big and brash. But as a very pleasant surprise this was not the case. Super complex with layers of well developed dark fruit, cassis, oak, roasted almonds and subtle anise notes on the nose and palate. Supple, soft and silky with polished tannins and a long, memorable finish.  I am thrilled I opened it when I did, as I do not see this one improving much further. KILLER

Abacus, ZD Wines, Napa Valley (NV) $500

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This is one of the cooler and more interesting wines made in Napa. ZD basically uses a solera style aging and bottling process including all of their Reserve Cabs from 1992-2015 to make a non-vintage Reserve Cab blend. The result is a wine that has oodles of big, bomby Napa fruit and oak, but has the structure, finesse and elegance of a wine that has seen about 6-8 years of bottle age, so it is fairly ready to drink right away. It could still use another handful of years in the cellar, but it is one of the more impressive cult Napa wines out there. KILLER!

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Columbia Valley, WA  $250

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This is not only the best wine I’ve tasted this year, but possibly one of my Top 3 wines of all time! This stunner is intense on all levels with dense and focused black cherry, plum and black currant fruit on the nose. Beyond the lovely fruit core there are layers and layers of sweet and exotic spices, smoke, sandalwood, lavender, anise, cocoa and vanilla. When you taste this wine, you will understand what all of those fancy wine terms mean. It has harmonious balance, incredible structure, elegance and finesse. It will certainly continue to age and improve over the next decade +, but what a treat to enjoy this wine with good friends over a perfectly cooked steak. FANTASTIC!

 

 

** My rating system is listed below as I prefer to use ranges than exact numbers.

WWG Rating Scale     
100 Points                    =     Perfect
97-99 Points                =     Fantastic
94-96 Points                =     Killer
90-93 Points                =     Solid
85-89 Points                =     Good
80-84 Points                =     OK
79 Points or below     =     No Comment

What To Drink With Your Bird This Thanksgiving

You may want to sit down for this: Thanksgiving is less than a week away! How nuts is that?!? But ready or not, here it comes. Which means not only does your menu need to start rapidly coming together, but so does the wine lineup for the evening. Even if you are not hosting  (which makes life that much easier) you can still have a huge impact on the meal and overall holiday enjoyment by bringing the right wines for your family and friends to enjoy. I mean, who doesn’t love the guy who rolls in with a few bottles of really good juice?! Which then begs the question… what are the right wines to pair with a traditional Thanksgiving meal?

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The great thing about oven roasted turkey and all the trimmins is that there are a ton of wines that will pair well with that type of meal. It just depends on what style of wine you and your crew prefer. The one trick is to avoid any overpowering wines with high tannins. Turkey doesn’t have the fat content of red meat, which typically will bind with those tannins. Instead, the tannins can take center stage rendering the turkey and stuffing as bland as opposed to full of flavor.  So while just about any wine will work, here are some that may complement your meal better than others.

The classic white wine pairing with turkey is Riesling. The low alcohol and high acid can be a refreshing complement to the inherent richness of the meal. I prefer to stick with the drier style (Kabinett) as opposed to those that have a sweeter profile (Spatlese). The 2011 Fox Run Reserve Riesling is a stunning option for under $25, and allows you to drink local! For a real value the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling is consistently solid and goes for under $10 at most retailers.

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If you like your whites a little bigger and bolder then a buttery, oaky Chardonnay or Burgundy may be the way to go. Although be careful of the super oaked options, as even those woody tannins can stifle the richness of the bird. My favorites right now are from Davis Bynum and Byron, but on the value side you can grab the Seaglass Chard from Santa Barbara. It is unoaked, clean and vibrant… a delightfully refreshing option for around $10.

If you Google red wine pairings for Thanksgiving Turkey, the most commonly recommended wines are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Rhone Blends. Pinot is arguably the best option as the higher acid levels, vibrant fruit and peppery spice really bring out the best in just about any poultry dish. The problem in my family is that no one drinks Pinot. They prefer their wines big and opulent and tend to reach more towards a bomby Napa Cab than an elegant red Burgundy. Although I guarantee that bottle of the 2013 Papapietro  RRV Pinot will be in attendance this year for my Turkey Day meal.

2013 Papapietro Perry "Peter's Vineyard" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

So the pairing that usually works best for my crew is a hearty Zinfandel from California… and no, not the pink stuff. It tends to have loads of big, dark and spicy fruit but a little lighter body and softer tannins than Cab. Seghesio is always my dad’s go to, but personally I prefer the Terra d’Oro Zin from Amador for a few bucks less. Forward, rich and ripe with a nice balance of medium to high acid and tannins, this one is always a crowd pleaser.  And if I’m feeling a little frisky, I will break out one of the Zichichi Zins from my stash. Steve Zichichi is a Zin genius and making some of the best Zin to come out of Dry Creek and all of California really. It ain’t cheap and pretty hard to find, but if you can get your hands on any of his juice I highly recommend it.

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The classic Rhone blend consists of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre with Grenache usually taking center stage. Somewhat like Zin, Grenache leans on the lighter side in terms of body with good acid, spicy berry fruit and plush tannins. Blend in some meaty Syrah and a dollup of dark Mouvedre and you have an ideal blend for your Thanksgiving table. Cotes du Rhone Villages wines offer a step up in quality (usually) over the standard CDRs, and still can be found for less than $20.  However they have a hard time standing up to those bigger and more complex Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas wines, which is why those are just about impossible to find for under $40. Some value producers include Barville, Santa Duc and Louis Bernard. But if you are from the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mentality then you can’t go wrong with any of the big dogs such as Domaine de Pegau, Vieux Telegraphe, Chateau de Beaucastel or Chapoutier. Just be sure to give those bigger wines some oxygen before you get start digging into them, or they may come off a little tight and inexpressive.

 

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!

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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.

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.

 

How To Do A Steakhouse On A Budget

There are few culinary delights that can surpass that of a top tier steakhouse dining experience. From the seductive aromas of grilled beef and butter that are taken in at first entry to the last sip of port enjoyed with that decadent chocolate lava cake, they offer something  utterly satisfying that few other restaurants are able to do. But all of this hedonistic enjoyment can cost a pretty penny. The better steakhouses will charge $45+ for a cut of beef, and that normally does not come with any sides…just a piece of meat on a plate. Once you factor in all the starters, the trimmings to accompany the steak, not to mention that big Napa Cab, a few desserts, espressos and after dinner drinks, the bill can end up totaling the same as your monthly mortgage.

But does a steakhouse meal have to be that exorbitant? In a word…Nope!There are some very simple ways to cut a few corners in order to still enjoy all that a quality steakhouse has to offer while keeping the expenditures down. It’s all about efficiency.

The first pitfall for many is the allure of the seafood tower…as it clearly rocks. However they really are over the top when you consider all the crustaceans they load them up with.  You may be better off just ordering your favorite shellfish for yourself. Whether it is a half dozen oysters or a shrimp cocktail platter, the amount it will cost for the individual appetizer will be significantly less than the per person cost of an overindulgent seafood platter tower. The ever popular bacon appetizer can also suck you in as they are fantastically delicious, but super pricey for what is usually a single strip serving. And let’s be honest, you are about to dive into a giant, juicy piece of meat… do you really need more meat as an app?

The biggest unnecessary expense in most steakhouses is that of Napa Cabernet Sauvignons on the wine list. Why you may ask? Because they are effing delicious and make for a perfect pairing with grilled meat…plus they are sort of a status symbol to some, particularly those trying to impress clients or first dates. These establishments are well aware of this and will mark up those wines more than others. I find that CA Merlot and Zin, as well as the Cotes du Rhone and Spanish selections offer the greatest pairing value without skimping on quality, depending on the producer and year of course. But without question they almost always carry significantly lower markups. A good rule of thumb is to go with the second least expensive wine in any given section of the wine list, although even if you get the cheapest bottle they are typically not pouring swill at any of these fancy joints.

One place you don’t want to skimp out is on the steak. The main reason you are probably dining at a highly rated and expensive steakhouse is to enjoy that perfectly cooked piece of dry aged beef… so go for it! However there is no need to add that lobster tail for the surf and turf effect, or even those few grilled shrimp on the side. Remember, shellfish ain’t cheap. If you choose to order side dishes, you want to stick with two sides for every four people. So an order of creamed/grilled spinach and hash browns is more than enough for a table of four. Again, the steak is the star of the show so let that bad boy shine!

If you have ever actually looked at what jacks up the bill at the end of the night, more often than not it ends up being beverages of all kind. Of course the wine and booze are the biggest culprits, but the fancy coffees and all the accoutrements are no slouch. I love a double espresso with Sambuca as much as anyone, but in a steakhouse that one little luxury can run up to $20. Stick with the regular coffee and split a dessert or two instead of going overboard with the port, cognac and oversized dessert platter. Or skip the dessert and coffee altogether and enjoy the last course in the luxury of your own home.

Bonus Wine Tip: Ask the server if they have any by the bottle wine specials. Many times these steakhouses have an older bottle they may need to move out in order to make room for a new vintage. If they have a few loose bottles that are no longer on the menu and don’t have a listed price, you may get lucky and score one of those older Napa Cabs or Bordeauxs at a bargain price.

So get out there and enjoy some of those fantastic steakhouses that Westchester has to offer, as there are certainly many to choose from.

Salute!

 

The Green Era of 2011 Continues…

Below is a post that I wrote in April of last year… and unfortunately for Napa and Sonoma Cab lovers I was pretty dead on! Many of these 2010 and 2011 wines have had some green and herbaceous qualities to them (which can be a pleasant characteristic), while a lot of them have ONLY green and herbaceous qualities which is no bueno!

I have been tasting more of the 2011 wines lately and this “green effect” seems to be much more prevalent and overpowering in most of these wines. 2010 still had some standouts that avoided this overly stalky quality such as Cabs from Hanna, Clos du Val, Sequoia Grove and Pride. But for most of the 2011 Napa/Sonoma Cabs I have sampled so far the vegetal quality has been anywhere from noticeable to overpowering…not what you are looking for from these wines. The Peju Cab somehow avoided it, and Caymus was as consistently solid as ever. So just beware of the vintage when grabbing those Cabs from Napa/Sonoma… I would say the safer bet for now is to stick with the 2010 over the 2011 vintage.

Cheers!

(Below is my original post)

Nowadays when people throw the word “green” out there, they are usually referring to something being ecologically sound or environmentally beneficial. When it comes to wine, green means something entirely different. Sure, it can refer to a wine being made organically or bio-dynamically, but it is typically a way to refer to wines (usually reds) as being somewhat under-ripe. If you are a Napa Cab drinker and plan on drinking those wines from these two vintages, you should become familiar with this dynamic.

There is a saying that good wine is made in the vineyard, meaning that without great fruit there is not much you can do with the juice. A large factor leading to quality grapes being produced has to do with the weather that particular growing year which is early spring to fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, vineyard location plays a pivotal role and so does vineyard management, but without the right temperatures, rainfall and climate… those vines can be in danger of producing a small amount of grapes and not very quality ones at that.

The last two years have been tough weather wise in Napa, and for a late ripening grape like Cabernet Sauvignon that can mean trouble. When grapes are not ripe enough at harvest they can be a bit green… but what does that mean? It could result in a stalky characteristic, possibly an herbaceous or grassy nature  or even reminiscent of a rhubarb flavor. However it comes out, unless it is in minmal amounts it is not very desirable. In these last two vintages, that green effect is going to be tough to avoid in Napa Cabs. Of course the best vineyards and the best winemakers will still be making quality wine, but it may need some aging and there won’t be a lot of it so it will most likely be more expensive than the previous vintages.

So what can you do as a consumer? Taste some of these Napa Cabs from 2010 and see if they suit your palate. This under-ripening of grapes can also give wine a lot of acidity and low tannins which some people prefer. But if you like your Napa Cabs big and bold then you may want to check out some of the Paso Robles Cabs as they seemed to fair better. Or venture out to some of the Rhone wines from 2010. It was a fantastic vintage there and practically all the wines, from the everyday Cotes du Rhone to the single vineyard Chateuneuf du Papes, have been excellent thus far. Think of it as a good reason to expand your horizons or to buy some Napa Cab cellar selections instead of the everyday ones that are usually ready to drink.
Cheers!

Look What Just Popped Up in Mt. Kisco… A Kick Ass Steakhouse!

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As you may or may not know, Mt. Kisco is chock full of great restaurants and more are popping up all the time. There are the old school staples like Lexington Square Cafe, Crabtree’s Kittle House (technically Chappaqua but close enough), Cafe of Love, Eduardo’s and La Camelia. But over the last year or two, some newcomers have impressed as well such as Village Social, The Rose Room (the old F.A.B location), Westchester Burger Company and MTK Tavern. But the latest restaurant opening has by far been the most impressive and just what the doctor ordered for Mt. Kisco…Blackstones Steakhouse.

It is situated in that cool, sort of speak-easy, underground location across from O’Connors Public House on Main Street. Upon entering, there are beautiful wine display racks that flow throughout the first floor leading into the large bar dining area. The ambiance is on the tranquil side as you are somewhat secluded from the activity on Main Street. The only downside of the location is parking can be a little challenging.

Having tasted most of the appetizers from their extensive menu I can say that nothing has disappointed. However if you are with a group of people (6 or more) there is no reason not to go with the seafood tower. This decadent chilled platter is loaded with fresh shrimp cocktail, lump crabmeat, lobster, oysters and clams. Each item on the platter is tastier than the next and there is plenty of everything to go around. Best to pair this up with the Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ….an absolute no brainer.

As for the meat, it’s tough to go wrong with any of their prime cuts (although I would avoid the veal chop). As a NY Strip fan, I think theirs ranks with the best in the area in terms of quality, preperation and presentation. It’s cooked and served on the bone and sliced up beautifully with just enough butter on the plate to keep it hot and moist without drowning in it as certain steakhouses tend to do. I like my steaks cooked rare plus, a new temperature I learned about, where the steak is bloody red on the inside but brought just to the point of being warm…and they nailed it! They have the Napanook Cabernet Blend from Napa (Dominus’ 2nd Label) for around $80-90, a great value at that price and a perfect accompaniment to a steak of this caliber.

So the bottom line is this… the service, ambiance and decor is all what you would expect from a high end steakhouse (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that this place is not cheap). But more importantly, the food has been really top notch both times I have had the pleasure of dining there, having nothing to do with the fact that both meals were on someone else’s dime 😉  So if you are tired of eating at the same old steakhouses that Westchester has to offer you may want to give Blackstones a visit.

Cheers!