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the (optimal) wine experience

I often write about wines specifically, sometimes peppering in posts about a particular restaurant that's caught my attention. Individually these are just a couple of 'tools' you can put in your belt on the quest for a fuller wine experience. Because wine, in fact, is all about the experience - who you are with, how your drink of choice pairs with a snack or meal of choice, ambience, service, etc. Any given wine experience may have any one or more of these various components. It is the intersection of parts that creates the bigger picture, hopefully of just plain old fun or (better yet) memorable elation. In my experience, these Moments are not something you can plan. This week I had the great pleasure of joining a local wine colleague at dinner with Marchesi di Barolo's Anna Abbona. Our destination? Somerville's tucked away 'hot spot' Journeyman. I had yet to embark for Journeyman - not for lack of trying (note: they are closed on Tuesdays).  The praise has remained outstanding among my colleagues and so I was all the happier to have the 'excuse' to visit. To say it didn't disappoint is not quite accurate. To say it Exceeded Expectations is closer to the truth: artisanal; attention to detail; hospitality; fresh; inspired; inventive. These are just a few words that Chef/Owners Diana and Tse Wei are beginning to redefine; the bar has been reset - so high in fact, I wonder if someone can top them. "Cambervilleis where it's at.

Journeyman set the stage for an exceptional experience, doing their part (beyond the exceptional fare) by making very clever "beverage" pairings (with Sutton Cellar's aperitif and Cisco Brewing Company's Grey Lady mixed in to the fun of their wine pairing roster). However, meeting the captivating, bright (and also beautiful) Anna was truly a treat. This is a woman who is a crucial part of an elite, fifth generation wine making family in one of the world's most important wine regions: Piedmont. I could wax poetic about her stunning wines (the 2007 Ruvei Barbera d'Alba and 2004 Cannubi Barolo made their presence known during dinner) as their sultry femininity, depth of character, expression of terroir and structure were enough to stop all conversation in its tracks. But I have to say it was her salt-of-the earth nature, openness about her experiences traveling, her insights about emerging wine markets and the focus Marchesi di Barolo will continue to maintain -  amidst ample laughter, her mutual banter and appreciation for the larger Journeyman experience and general frivolity that marked the evening tops in my books.

Indeed, I will happily return to Journeyman, though yes, this particular outing will remain on my Top 10 Boston Evenings for much time to come and it is likely it will never be unseated.

Among the grey-ist of Springs, it is now summer in my book! Thank you Anna. Thank you Diane and Tse Wei. Thank you Kathryn.



back to Alto Adige - with glee!

I've never traveled to Italy for the purpose of wine tasting and so have yet to experience the Alto Adige region personally. Perhaps just through tasting wines from this region I believe it to be one of the most romantic places on earth. The area is uniquely situated between the North and the South, benefiting from the cool air of the Alps and the warm Mediterranean sun. Micro-climates and unique soil types abound throughout. It is a situation that is set up for greatness. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining a few colleagues out to dinner at Upstairs on the Square. My direct colleague and I remember enjoying our respective meals, but really we found ourselves fixated on our wine experience thereafter. And so we did everything we are lucky to be empowered to do: we bought the wine we enjoyed so much and put it on our shelves.

Naturally, as diligent professionals, we hem and haw a bit before we bring in just about any wine. There are only a couple of  'slam dunks' that cross our path every month. And, in the case of our dinner wine,  we're talking about a selection that retails for $50.  This price point is an entirely different playing field. We have to be WOWed. And wowed we were! The Lageder "Krafuss" Pinot Noir is an exceptional wine, and one that I'm happy to fork over the bigger bucks for with some regularity - well, given the right company or occasion as wines of this caliber should be shared.

Last night I had a really good excuse to open Krafuss once again: my best friend's birthday. He had duck with a prune Port gastrique and I had scallops with black quinoa, prosciutto and a citrus salad.  Both worked quite well with the wine, in part because our respective meals complemented different notes in this delightfully complex wine.

Smooth and supple, it delivers a perfumed nose of roses, slightly smoked meats, and a mixture of sweet citrus, ripe cherry, cranberry and mascerated strawberry fruits - and a hint of dried ones as well. The palate translates directly, with a slight accent of orange rind and an underpinning of turned earth coming through as well. It was interesting to see how my meal with the savory prosciutto (smoked meats), citrus salad (orange rind) and black quinoa (turned earth) directed my attention to these notes particularly well in the wine while my friend experienced the dried fruits, including dates, apricots and prunes, in a more pronounced way (prune Port gastrique).

Once again Lageder's Krafuss delivered a true wine experience. It is a wine you keep coming back to, putting your nose in it, tasting it thoroughly as it continues to open and re-deliver happiness. It is one of those rare wines I have no problem pacing myself on, because the experience of it overtime, with food and without, continues to enrapture; I don't want to sacrifice one moment of it!

A few additional fun facts: Lageder has been up to such good for 175+ years. They are wholly committed to letting nature do the hard work, using modern techniques only if  they will further impress the flavor of the terroir and grapes in each of their offerings. And whatever your beliefs, this outstanding vin is also organic and biodynamic. It is part of the Tenutae Lageder line, which gathers fruit solely from their own estate.



rediscovering Italian wines

Now that it's February and I've done a decent job of depleting my in house wine collection, I'm back to buying them. And for whatever reason I can't quite explain, the last few weeks I've found myself bringing home more and more Italian red wines. While there are certainly many 'giving' Italian reds made ("giving" meaning they need very little time to open up as they are fruit forward and generally just kind of easy going) I realized I've inadvertently fallen prey to the over-simplified idea that all Italian red wines go best with pasta, hard cheese or red meats - three categories that I just don't consume through the normal course of things (allergies are to blame!). This perception is certainly perfectly accurate in its own right. Just as there are giving Italian reds, there are others that are less giving. These are much bigger, structured wines that really are most delightful when they are given ample time to open up (let the tannins soften, the fruit integrate with all the other lovely herbal and terciary flavors, etc.) AND when they have a hearty food match to work in tandem with the structure and flavor of the wine. Patience and some forethought about what's for dinner go a long, long way. A decanter never hurts either.

God love them, this month vendors in our network have been bringing both hidden gems and well-regarded, more elite styles of Italian reds by the Tasting Station for us to suss out. One of my new loves? Schiava.

I'm sure I've chatted about Elena Walch in prior posts as she's one of the most highly regarded female winemakers in the world. Her wines hail from the northern Alto Adige region of Italy. I have yet to taste one that isn't well made and delicious. Leave it to her to make and export a grape (Schiava) that almost never leaves the country! Her 2009 bottling of this grape (said Ski-ah-vah) is the only one I've ever tasted; it immediately won me over. My first tasting notes read: "wow! This is a red Burgundy wine lovers delight with an almost Pinot Noir-like levity and texture and a nice focus of ripe cherry and black fruit (boysenberry, blackberry). Love the feminity, florals and subtle Italian nuance."

It's fun to get away from the same old same and enjoy something somehow familiar but new, isn't it? And this one can pair with myriad things, from pork tenderloin topped with cranberry sauce or a mustard vinaigrette, roasted or fire-grilled eggplant and mushrooms with a balsamic glaze, even to tuna steak with a side of garlic roasted red potatoes. Manja!



What to do with left over bubbly? drink it!

Did you end up with a few extra bottles of sparkling wine after New Year's this year? It seems to be the normal course of things - and many people hesitate to do the obvious thing with these wines, what with official "celebrations" behind us. But corks are meant to come out! Here's how I've gone about tackling this delicious, festive, "problem": This New Year the Prosecco of choice for my friends and I was Santome. This is one I'm sure I've blogged about in the past, because it delivers lifted, just tart green apple fruit and lemon zest flavors; it's more crisp, dry nature makes it a good one to make cocktails with if that's your bag, but it is also delicious all on its own. For $12.99 you have no guilt opening bottle after bottle - and if you stick with it all night, you're likely in a hangover free zone. But on December 31st we didn't quite make it through the full case, so I anted up for game night last weekend. Santome was the perfect accompaniment to the deviled egg appetizers I whipped up.

Next, I pulled out the bigger guns in my repertoire...

In my bubbly archives, I discovered I somehow still had one bottle of the 1999 Pierre Morlet Brut. With good friends who enjoy good wine, why not pop a cork? They are meant to come out after all, so what more of an occasion do you need? And this wine had already been in bottle for more than a decade. So as the pork tenderloin rested and the cinnamon scented butternut squash mashed potatoes cooled a little, we popped the cork on this bad boy, too. It had a lovely mousse, with just the right amount of toastiness, red and yellow apple fruits, and a lithe lemon cream texture. A wild accent of hazelnuts mid-palate made this wine a favorite among the group.

After savoring Pierre, we finished our bubbly spree with the very dry, mineral-laced Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut. Another winner, we enjoyed the texture of this wine also, with fine bubbles bringing pear and red apple fruit flavors quickly to bear. This wine was particularly memorable for the previously mentioned minerality - a clean, wet pebble/chalky essence. Delicious vin!

Remember, you don't need an official celebration or Real Occasion to enjoy sparkling wine. It is the most food friendly option available, pairing with every possible food, and delicious all on it's own. As you begin to dig your heals into 2011, I beg you to take sparkling wine with you on your travels more frequently! Why not make an easy night in with friends that much more enjoyable?

How often do you drink sparkling wine?



June Wicked Wines are... GOAL!

And…. We’re off! The World Cup games have started so it is definitely time to uncork a few bottles and celebrate the games. Of course there’s no better way to do that than traveling the world a bit. This month our Wicked Wine tour starts in France, travels to Italy, then comes back to Portugal and ultimately flies south of the equator to the home of the games: South Africa. Who are you rooting for? Which of these picks gets the most points on your tally sheet?



Give thanks for this affordable Pinot!

Terre di Gioia 07 Pinot NeroHow quickly Thanksgiving has crept up on us this year! It seems like we were just talking about how great Pinot Noir is in the fall, in addition to gracing your Thanksgiving table. And yet, the big day is nearly upon us! Not to worry. For a celebratory holiday where more than one bottle is certain to be opened (and Pinot Noir is the darling dinnertime grape), we have trekked to Italy to find a real steal... Head on over to Wicked Local today to get the skinny on this week's Pinot pick!

Are you familiar with Italian Pinot? Which one have you tried?



Wines for Thanksgiving!

Schloss Mulenhoff Dornfelder 07With only one weekend before Thanksgiving remaining, no doubt wine lovers throughout the country will be out and about buying wines for the big event. Indeed, it's up there as far as important wine events go! For your drinking (and reading) pleasure, it seemed prudent to round up a few of my favorite picks for the e-roster. Wheeee!!


2007 Schloss Muhlenhof Dornfelder - This bad boy comes in a 1L size. I hosted a small affair last weekend and it could have easily been the only wine I poured (it was gone WAY too quickly!) - offering great, concentrated red berry fruit flavors (cherries, raspberries) in a smooth, sultry package. Generally speaking, this grape (Dornfelder, that is) is a German red wine phenomenon for those who like a lot of fruit, a bit of "lift" and a welcome bit of earthy, mineral-driven nuance to their wines. No lie, Scholss Muhlenhof's is THE BEST I've ever encountered (so great is my love I'm tempted to buy a full case of the stuff to have on hand "just in case..." this winter). The extra glass the 1L size offers will NOT be wasted.  Only $15!

2006 Bethel Heights Eola-Amity Cuvee Pinot Noir -  A careful blend of 6 different vineyard sites, the  is a tremendous, mouth-filling example of Oregon Pinot Noir. Think of this wine as a smooth, deeply earthy Belgian truffle, filled with cherry and raspberry fruits. Truly a well-integrated, delicious wine worth the gentle splurge. (A winner destined for my own table.) About $31.

2007 Clos la Coutale Cahors - With the (worthy) Malbec craze stemming from the success of this grape in Argentina, many consumers forget Malbec is actually a French varietal. Many more do not know that arguably the best, single bottling Malbecs in France come from the Cahors region – and are labeled simply as such. This wine is  remarkably succulent, juicy and approachable. Enjoy black raspberry and blackberry flavors complemented with fresh strawberries! A touch of earthy rusticity makes this Malbec uniquely French. This one is a "bigger" wine than "traditional" Thanskgiving recommendations and would be a particularly good match for rosemary/garlic encrusted roast hen, or the like. About $17.


Schoenheitz NV Edelzwicker - Edelzwicker means "noble blend". Indeed this wine includes as many as seven different varieties from Auxerrois to Sylvaner. The result is suprisingly coherent and delightfully flavorful. Well balanced, dry Alsatian goodness, this is another wine that comes in the 1 litre size bottle. About $15.

2006 Clos de Rochers Pinot Gris - While Alsace, France has long been the place for rich, but dry Pinot Gris, this Luxembourg beauty beats them at their own game. Ripe pears and yellow flowers abound on the nose and coat the palette while brisk minerality keeps things dry and balanced. This wine is absolutely worth the splurge – and certainly a great conversation topic if the family gets a bit unruly. (This one will also be on my own table!)  About $22.

2007 Anne Amie Cuvee A Mueller Thurgau -Leave it to the folks at well-known Anne Amie Vineyards to deliver an exceptional, if not lesser known, wine. The Cuvee A Mueller Thurgau’s tropical and floral aromas could very easily be bottled on their own and used by aroma therapists to rejuvenate clients. Pineapple, melon and white peach flavors comingle with a perky taste of fresh lemon juice. About $15.


Villa di Corlo NV Grasparossa Lambrusco - Versatile, slightly sparkling, fresh, fruity goodness. Lambrusco is pink - and the best are oh-so-dry. This is a wine for guests who deserve and enjoy a break from the norm. This particular offering shows ripe raspberry fruit backed by a coy minerality. Perfect simply when you want to dazzle without effort. About $17.

Poema NV Brut Cava - Today, if you look for it, exceptional Cava is available at a fraction of the price of Champagne. Case in point: the Poema makes drinking bubbly every day (or in a large party format) oh-so-easy and affordable! This is a fun and versatile bubbly with subtle flavors of peach, pear and warm, toasted bread. A bit of orange rind on the finish adds additional intrigue and nuance. Enjoy this one before, during or after your meal. About $11.

Which one of these is likely to grace your table? Is there another you have in mind for the big day??



October's Wicked Wine Picks!

Oct 09 Wicked Wines - 3 of 4 shownOctober poses a cliche opportunity to pick truly wicked wines. But rather than picking “scary” (seriously out of the ordinary) wines for this month’s line up, we’ve gone a different route. October's wine picks reflect a greater need for something familiar and comforting in a climate-changing time. Better yet, they serve as an escape from the same-old-same, just in case you’ve gotten too set in your back to school routine or forgot to take a vacation over the summer. October is a month to mix it up! And so we have. Pop on over to Wicked Local today to see what fabulousness we've stirred up!



Drinking red after Memorial Day

Lambrusco at Pour Favor's March Wine & Style eventFolks have been coming by the shop with great gusto for warmer temps;  and they have been seeking out red wines for the occasion! No, we're not just talking about "BBQ wines". We're talking about wines to sip and enjoy with or without a meal while you sit on your porch watching the sun go down. Today I'm going to share some lesser known varietals or unique regional offerings (hybrids or blends) perfect for just such an occasion. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is taking this list (or a modified version, as you see fit) to your local shop to see which offerings they have on offer. These are some cool wines to keep your summer fresh - but they aren't necessarily available at every shop. They are, no less, worth seeking out.

Zweigelt. Austrian fruity goodness. Some earth. Often a touch tart. Lively. A hybrid of  St.-Laurent and Blaufrankish.

Dole. A Swiss wine, which blends Pinot Noir and Gamay. Fresh, ripe redberry fruits and cherries. Distinct in its own right, it has a unique identity I think many palates will embrace.

Dornfelder. Some argue this is the new "hottness" out of Germany. Another red berry-fruited wonder, but with a great spice. Terrifically light on its feet - without ever leaving planet Earth.

Gamay. Low tannin, light style red. Very fruity and THE grape in Beaujolais red wines. Seek out Beaujolais Villages offerings to get a bit more depth in your glass (aka a dash of Burgundian earthiness).

Lambrusco. An Italian, frizzante style wine. Vinified sweet and dry - so ask to accommodate your taste or intentions. A lovely spectrum of depth and redberry fruit flavors on the market.

Some of these may be familiar to you as we've bantered about several in the past. But I've been known to get stuck in traditional ruts when on a mission for an aperitif or a lighter style red to accompany a meal on a hot day. So, go on! It's a big bad world of refreshing RED wine out there.  Remember these options and... experiment!

What other reds do you like on a hot day? There are several more out there... please chime in!



Wines with Style

Thanks to Gourmet for their image of The Achilles Project/Persephone!Ever been wary of a "Wines by the Glass" list? Been dubious the wines were opened two days prior to your debut at the bar? Or better yet, ever been overwhelmed by a list that's a real list, offering an ample array of wines you've never heard of?  The bars/restaurants that take their glass pours seriously are a rare and wonderful breed. The trick is navigating their list with style and grace. Not always an easy task! The Achilles Project/Persephone here in Beantown offers more than 20 different wines by the glass. To me, this is the first indicator they are serious about wine. The second indicator is that a good number of the wines on their list are "nerdy" (read: boutique offerings you don't see everyday). Like the boutique shop they run up front, they are focused on being fashion-forward, offering something new for folks to try. And because they are serious about glass pours, they also tend to be on the lookout for any wine that is past its prime, giving customers a greater opportunity to enjoy a "fresh" experience.  Sign me up!

Today I thought it would be fun to go through their "Wine By The Glass" list and pick out a handful of grapes that might cause a customer or two to scratch their head - when really they should be doing a little jig and embracing the list's fabulous uniqueness. Buckle your seat belt!

Lambrusco: This red wine varietal from Emilia Romagna, Italy is something else... Lightly sparkling (frizzante, as the Italians like to say), this wine offers smart red berry fruit flavors, often with just a touch of sweetness eminating from the ripe grapes they pick for this elixir. Think antipasto or anything with a touch of saltiness or lightly fried (calamari anyone?) as a perfect pairing. Or sip it on it's own! It's a real charmer.

Assyrtiko/Asirtiko: This white grape varietal may have different spellings, but to me they say the same thing: crisp, citrus deliciousness. The closest "mainstream" varietal I can reference for new Assyritko drinkers would be Sauvignon Blanc. But Assyrtiko brings additional minerality and even a hint of smoke to the table. This is a probably one of the most well respected varietals in Greece, with its real home in Santorini. Unique, bright goodness in your glass.

Scheurebe: This is one of Germany's best known hybrid varietals, yet it is still somewhat of an orphan.... DNA tests prove that this grape's dad is Riesling, but Mom is still unknown (though previously thought to be Sylvaner). Gotta love a freak! This wine typically offers tremendous floral aromatics and a touch of residual sugar (RS).  Tasting the wine out on the town can be a bit of a gamble, but your bartender should be able to guide you on just how sweet it is (though often enough you'll find they err on the drier side). Very much worth the experimentation, I've found. Often a great match for slightly spicy Asian dishes.

As for the Reds on their list, well.... some of these may be better paired with food than as a "cocktail wine" but it is certainly not everyday you see Austria's own delicious and lightly refreshing test-tube varietal Zweigelt on the roster, let alone a Mencia or a even a Monastrell (the Spanish name for the grape Mouvedre, which is better recognized in French wines). Nero d'Avola is up and coming, thought to be a pseudo Syrah with additional notes of currants, clove and vanilla; I find them more often distinct in their own right and offering far less oomph than Syrah can. But they are often just the thing to scratch the itch at a very reasonable price. Carignane can be wonderful, but I prefer to enjoy it when dinner's up, rather than at the bar with friends. I find it too dry, earthy and edgy without a bit of food on hand.

Any which way you look at it, the key thing is context. Do you want to sip something easy like a bit of Zweigelt while you chat with friends? Do you prefer something more familiar but still adventurous (like an Assyritko) to take the edge off a long day? Or do you crave a bit more body in your wine as you snack throughout the evening? If you're unsure you can either start with a bit of bubbly or white wine to get the ball rolling - and you can always ask your bartender for a recommendation to suit your mood!

Half the fun of wine is where you  are, what you're doing or who you are with. It's worth a touch of experiment; don't you agree?