also known as…

Woman on the Verge of a Glass of Wine

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Rosé By Any Other Name...

I know that I sound like a broken record, always rambling on and on about how much I like rosé, but I just can't help it. You see, one of the most exciting things to me about this time of year is the arrival of the newly released rosés into the market. It reminds me that summer is just around the corner and lazy weekend afternoons sipping rosé in the sunshine of my back patio are not so far away. I'm lucky because I actually have a pretty wide variety of rosés on my wine lists right now, so I'm a little spoiled for choice when it comes to finding one to drink. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the world seems to be in a rosé renaissance right now, with some pretty incredible and well-respected wineries producing outstanding pink wine.

To celebrate the season, our last Monday Larder Wine and Cheese Club featured four rosés from southern France that spanned the regions from Côtes du Rhône all the way down to Cassis. In fact, the highlight of the night, and my new favorite rosé, was the 2009 Clos Sainte Magdeleine, Cassis Rosé. Clos Sainte Magdeleine covers over 20 very special hectares of land that directly face the Mediterranean Sea. Most of its vineyards are planted on terraced slopes of Cap Canaille, an insanely beautiful rock formation that juts out into the water and is actually the highest maritime cliff in Europe. This is an amazingly picturesque area that is like a French version of Malibu's Point Dume, only covered with rows and rows of perfect vineyards. This place is so beautiful that I am dying to go visit just to experience it in person.

The Magdeleine estate itself has belonged to a Greek family named Zafiropulo since 1920, though wine growing in this area dates far back to antiquity. The winery makes only white and rosé wine from vines that average 30 years in age. They farm meticulously, picking and sorting by hand and de-stemming before fermenting and aging the wine in tank for 14 to 18 months. This wine is a blend of 65% Grenache, 18% Cinsault and 17% Mourvedre, a mix that seems to result in the perfect balance of fruitiness and acidity. On the nose, the wine shows notes of strawberry, melon and fully bloomed roses. It is bright and fleshy, bursting with bright red plum, tart acidity and long finish. Though the flavors are vibrant, the wine is clean and crisp, and manages to tame its fruity exuberance with a touch of salty minerality.

Rosé is one of those wines that I feel is under-appreciated in general, and is so often relegated to the afternoon aperitif role. Just like with Champagne, I could easily pair rosé wines with a multi-course meal, skipping white and red wine entirely. In fact, I re-tasted this wine last night with a variety of cow's milk cheeses that we are selling in the Larder at Tavern and was blown away by the wine's versatility. It worked with both the stinky and the mild, playing well off of the funky "animal" character and saltiness of the cheeses.

Fortunately, I bought the majority of the available Clos Sainte Magdeleine for Lucques and Tavern, so if anyone wants to taste it, you know where to get it...that is, if I haven't finished it off myself first.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

If I had a Nikolaihof For Every Time I....

Believe it or not, tasting wine on a regular basis is hard work. I know it sounds crazy, but it's really not all fun and games. I take thorough notes about the wine's color, aromas and flavors as well as the history and people involved in each winery. I have to know about the winemaking process and how each step of that process affects the product in the bottle. I need to speak intelligently about each sip, commenting on the wine's weight, texture and acid levels. ("This tastes good," doesn't quite cut it here.) And I often have to taste wine in the presence of the its maker, which means maintaining a happy face whether I like the wine or not. Frankly, I'm not drinking the wine to enjoy it, or the gentle relaxed feeling that each sip of wine provides. I'm tasting the wine to analyze it, to determine if it belongs on my wine list and whether my guests will like it as much as I do. It's a lot of pressure.

Fortunately enough for me, I get to taste more good wine than bad, making the process that much more enjoyable. Today I was lucky enough to sample the new vintage of Nikolaihof's Gruner Veltliner, Hefeabzig, a wine that I would happily taste each and every day. It helps that Gruner Veltliner holds a special place in my heart. There is just something about the variety's bright savoriness and oily texture that really speaks to my palate.

Nikolaihof is the oldest winemaking property in Austria, and the first biodynamic estate in the Wachau. The property dates back 2000 years, with wine being produced there since the time of the Celts in around 470 A.D. It's a beautiful place with elements of history scattered throughout, like their cellar which was built in what was originally a Roman crypt. The Saah's family that owns and operates the winery takes the biodynamic philosophy seriously, utilizing its principles in their daily lives and crediting it for the consistency of their wines from vintage to vintage.

This wine is nothing if not complex. On the nose, it hints at richness with aromas of potent lime, minerals and salt. But the palate is where this wine really sings. It's amazingly perfumed with touches of white flowers and exotic fruits. The flavors bring to mind bright red plum, bursting with freshness and acidity, alongside savory herbs and rich chamomile. It is complex and layered, heavy on mineral content and elegant notes of white pepper. This wine truly provides a new discovery in each sip.

I don't think I've ever tasted a wine from Nikolaihof that I haven't liked. I try to always have this wine on my list at Lucques, not only because I happen to love it, but because it works so well with Suzanne's cuisine. If every wine I tasted was like this, my job would be a breeze.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Marche to the Beat of Your Own Drummer

I realize that the majority of the posts I've written so far are about white wine. Oh there are a few red essays on my list, but I guess I've got a thing for high acid whites right now. I suppose that it's appropriate for the season as the weather is getting progressively warmer the idea of drinking a cool glass of white just feels right.

The whites that have been on my tasting radar lately seem to all be Italian. In fact, every time I order a glass of wine, or sit down to taste a sample bottle, it just happens to be some interesting little Italian find. It's like the wine tasting stars have aligned and we are in the house of white with Italy rising. Today was indeed more of the same...or stesso as they say in Italian. I was re-tasting the 2006 Fattoria San Lorenzo, Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi, Classico Superiore with my staff at Tavern today as I have just put it on the wine list by the glass. I originally purchased this wine for a flight night that focused on the wines and food of the Marche region in eastern Italy. I and everyone at that tasting loved this wine so much, that I thought I should expose more people to it.

The Marche is a curving rectangular shaped area on what I call, the upper calf of Italy's boot. The region has a varied geography and climate that includes coastal stretches, river valleys and mountainous expanses, and as a result produces high acid white wines as well as rich, robust reds. Verdicchio is the primary white grape variety grown there and in the hands of the people at San Lorenzo, it really sings.

Fattoria San Lorenzo has been passed down from father to son for generations. The grandfather Enrico Crognaletti is a barrel maker and, in fact, used to pick the trees and build the barrels that were used to vinify his own Verdicchio. His nephew Natalino is now at the healm of their winery and vineyards that are located in the nearby towns of Ostra, Ostra Vetere and Corinaldo. This wine has a couple of years of bottle age on it and is a great example of what Verdicchio can become as it matures. It is almost Burgundian in style and reflects the flavors of younger Verdicchio, but with more concentration. It is full bodied and creamy - but not oaky - with a bright straw yellow coloring with green highlights. It shows intense and continuous aromas of ripe fruit particularly apple and ripe pear with complex layers and nutty minerality.

I'm lucky to have so many venues through which I can feature all of the wines that I love. As for this one, it is becoming a favorite at the bar at Tavern. It's a wine that appeals to both the less experienced as well as the seasoned wine drinker alike. Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that no wine is too sophisticated or too "odd" to pour by the glass. I love introducing people to great wines, no matter the variety or place of origin. And although Verdicchio is not all that unusual, anything that gets people to stray from their normal Pinot Grigio wine path is worth the effort.