Le Dinner en Blanc: A (White) Night to Remember

It was a magical evening! Admittedly, some people just won’t get it. My sister is still scratching her head wondering why on earth I dragged a table, two chairs and tons of other stuff for an outdoor feast on the subway during rush hour.

But, for those 5,000 of us who made the list, donning our very best white attire, schlepping everything on public transportation and arriving at the secret location is worth all of the time and effort.

Le Dinner en Blanc (DEB) – The White Dinner – started nearly 30 years ago by a group of Parisian friends who met at the Eifel Tower for a picnic and decided to wear white so they could easily find one another. (Of course it was the French; New Yorkers would have definitely worn black!) Today, DEB dinners are held internationally and 2016 marked the 6th edition of the New York-based event.

I had been on the waitlist for four years and, after seemingly almost getting in last year, was able to swallow the bitter taste left by their multiple server crashes to try again this year. I was literally poised online at 11:59:30 AM for my high noon registration opening. By 12:07 it was official – we were in!

We spent the next week in a flurry of activity – tracking down our preferred options from among the strict specifications regarding tables, chairs, linens, etc. – adding to the already near-daily arrival of Amazon.com and other deliveries to our Manhattan apartment. Our house guest was quite amused. I turned to Pinterest and blogs for wisdom and inspiration and scoured the apartment for anything white, finding napkins, plates, bowls and flatware that fit the bill, along with crystal accents (a vase and votive holders) that would grace our table. I grabbed a framed photo of our recently-departed (white) pup; wisely choosing the less creepy option – leaving her white box of ashes at home. I also raided my craft box for silk flowers and silver curling ribbon. Additionally, we turned to our friend Amazon.com for other table décor that caught our eye: battery-operated tea lights (candles were forbidden) and twinkle lights.

While hubby kept adding to the shopping cart – white linen jacket, white satin bow tie, white driving loafers – I fortunately had a beautiful, white Catherine Malandrino lace-embellished dress in my closet, just waiting for an occasion. I tried to purchase a fascinator to adorn my hair, but the vendor couldn’t guarantee arrival in time for the event, so instead, I decorated my hair with white blossoms bought at the local market. I’ve never been a fan of white shoes, so I opted for my favorite pair of silver sandals; while off-white was strongly discouraged, metallic accessories were welcomed. My big “splurge” was new nail polish in a new pearlized white shade from Opi.

As suggested by previous attendees, we practiced putting together our new table and did a dry run with the tablescape. But one final challenge remained: figuring out how and in what to bring all of our gear to the site (yes, very, very First World problems). We settled on a white plastic hamper from the Container Store and a collapsible luggage cart, all of which worked perfectly when paired with a gaggle of bungee cords. We were ready to go.

On the actual day, we were blessed with crisp, clear weather and a stunning sunset (the event runs rain or shine), thanks to a change from previous years from an August to a September date.

In other U.S. cities, guests are often bused to the final destination, but in New York, participants meet up at one of dozens of meeting sites throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn before heading out via MetroCard to the secret location.

Given everything that we had to carry, we decided to purchase food through DEB’s catering partner (Great Performances, in collaboration with Todd English) rather than bring our own picnic. In addition, as per NYS laws, alcohol must be purchased through the caterer, with Apothic and Moet & Chandon serving as this year’s wine sponsors. We picked the Southern cuisine option and chose to kick off our meal with Moet’s Rosé Brut and selected the MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir to accompany our main course of brisket. We somehow managed to remain spotless – no red wine or barbecue stains despite hubby’s disastrous run in with mustard at Nathan’s only a few weeks prior to the event.

While the event technically doesn’t start until you arrive at the site, the fun begins almost as soon as you step out of your apartment. We immediately attracted attention from strangers on our way to the meeting point and then met other diners on the subway.

Upon arrival at the event, it is a bit chaotic as all 5,000 folks must assemble their tables and set up their food and décor before waving their white napkins overhead as a signal that they are ready to dine. Once underway, live music, fire boats and the usual river traffic up the Hudson River provided additional entertainment to the already festive evening. But, the people watching was the number one attraction, with beautiful outfits, over the top tablescapes and lots of creativity evident everywhere. Overall, we found our friend, enjoyed our delicious food and wine, and danced the night away.

The DEB event itself is $80 per couple, but the actual expenditure is much higher, especially for your first year when you must literally and figuratively outfit yourself. I estimate that we spent $558 (Food & Wine: $$223; Attire: $93; Table, Chairs, Linens, Cart & Bungees: $134; Décor: $30; and Uber home: $78). Of course, experiencing a magical meal under the stars: priceless! But, you still may not get it.

Chili with a side of Chile and SW France

2016-09-14-14-21-40With Labor Day behind us and Columbus Day still several weeks away, we are in the last days of summer as we count down to the Autumnal Equinox. With shorter days, cooler temperatures and busier schedules, dragging out the slow cooker is the perfect way to welcome guests for a relatively easy home-cooked meal.

Accordingly, my husband crafted a New York Beef Chili (from a friend’s award-winning chili recipe) for his cycling race team to gather everyone together to talk about this recently completed season and begin planning for next year. Of course, he turned to me for some wine to share with his teammates and I was happy to oblige.

Such a meal cries out for robust reds, the kind I had been avoiding all summer, but am now ready to relish in my glass. I chose two Chilean wines to accompany his one dish dinner, both of which were red blends.

Mayu Carmenere-Syrah 2014, Elqui Valley, Chile, $13.00
Owned by the Olivier family group, Mayu stems from an ancient Inca name for the Milky Way, literally translating as creek of stars. Mauro Olivier Alcayaga was among the pioneers to plant Carmenere and Syrah in the Elqui Valley, first for other ventures and now for his own Mayu project. There are leather, animal, earthy and musk notes on the nose, which give way to bright, ripe red and black fruit, with a hint of iron on the fruity, medium bodied palate.

Erasmo 2010 Reserva de Caliboro, Maule Valley, $20.00
This organic farm is named for a local farmer, Don Erasmo, who shared his wisdom with the current owner and is situated in the oldest wine region of Chile. The wine itself is a dry-farmed blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot and 5% Syrah from a single vineyard on the ancient estate of la Reserva de Caliboro. Blackberry, dried herbs, slight spice and wood greet the nose and persist on the elegant, yet full-bodied palate.

For good measure, I also opened up a wine from southwest France.
Chateau Peyros, Vieilles Vignes, 2011, Madiran, $16.00
This blend of 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Franc comes from an organic vineyard that is home to a herd of 300 sheep. Situated on a property that dates from the 17th century, Peyros means “stony place” in Gascon and was acquired by current owner, Jean Jacques Lesgourgues, in 1999. This wine is dark and brooding with baking spice, black fruit and bramble fruit aromas and flavors and an undercurrent of earth and smoke. The full-bodied palate is dry with medium acidity and tight tannins, needing more time in bottle to soften. Buy now, but hold.

The two Chilean wines are among the nine being featured at Whole Foods Market stores in conjunction with Wines of Chile USA. Through this unique retail partnership, the wines will be available at 300+ Wholes Foods stores throughout the U.S. The specific wines were chosen to represent the diversity of Chilean wines – regionally and varietally – and were vetted by Whole Foods Market global wine experts Doug Bell and Devon Broglie MS.

The full list of Whole Foods Market’s featured wines includes:

  • Odfjell Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile
  • Vina Errazuriz MAX Chardonnay 2015, Aconcagua Costa, Chile
  • Autoritas Pinot Noir 2014, Valle Central, Chile
  • Boya Pinot Noir 2014, Leyda Valley (San Antonio Valley), Chile
  • Criterion Carmenere 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile
  • Mayu Carmenere-Syrah 2014, Elqui Valley, Chile
  • Erasmo Reserva de Caliboro 2010, Maule Valley, Chile
  • De Martino 2014 Estate Organic Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley
  • Casa Silva 2014 Los Lingues Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley

On a previous occasion, I had the opportunity to taste two other of these wines:
Odfjell Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $13.00
This winery was established over 25 years ago by Norwegian ship owner Dan Odfjell who fell in love with Chile. The business is presently run by his two sons: Laurence and Dan Jr. With a pronounced nose of grassy notes and tropical fruit, this wine displays ripe citrus and peach fruit on its palate, culminating in a very clean finish.

Boya Pinot Noir 2014, Leyda Valley (San Antonio Valley), Chile, $15.00
Created by the Garcés Silva family, Boya is the Spanish word for “buoy” which makes sense given that the Ledya Valley-based vineyards overlook the Pacific Ocean. This is a very nice Pinot Noir for the price, with notes of earth, cherry, mulberry and dried herbs, along with vibrant acidity on the medium-bodied palate.

Both Chile and Southwest France offer up good quality wines for their respective prices and are generally food friendly options worth seeking out.

Always a good idea: Champagne and caviar

2016-07-12 18.12.23At its The Art of Celebrating the Holidays event, Tattinger’s corresponding event booklet proclaimed that, “Champagne is always a good idea.” It’s hard to disagree, especially given that the event also featured a smorgasbord of raw oysters, chilled shrimp and… caviar.

The picture perfect evening, held on the Hotel Eventi’s South Veranda, showcased a lovely line-up of Tattinger’s Champagnes, many of which were matched with a specific caviar from Calvisius.

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Vitalie Tattinger

Welcoming us at the beginning of the seminar portion of the event, Vitalie Taittinger called the marriage of Champagne and caviar “A pure pairing.”

Although the event’s emphasis was on the palate, it was interesting to note the similarities in these two products – both of which require long aging processes and an attention to quality and detail.

As we began to taste through the pairings, John Knierim, National Sales Manager for Calvisius USA, directed us to place the caviar on the back of our hand to enjoy it without the flavor or distraction of the spoon and then crush the eggs on the roof of the mouth to get the full sensation.

An Italian-based company, Calvisius started its foray into farm-raised caviar with the importation of six fish from UC Davis as part of the University’s plan to repopulate the earth with sturgeon. Not surprisingly given its heritage, Calvisius has earned Friends of the Sea certification and follows sustainable fishing practices.

Among some of the fun facts gleaned during the seminar:

  • Sturgeons are older than dinosaurs.
  • The different styles of caviar can be attributed to sturgeon variety as well as egg size.
  • The front half of the egg sac differs from the back half in that the front portion has a much higher fat content.

TASTING NOTES

Champagne Taittinger Brut La Française NV, $60.00
Beautiful aromas of yeast and apple peel with long length.
→Calvisius Caviar Tradition Prestige: From white sturgeon females aged 7 to 22 years, this caviar takes 11 years to produce; salty and buttery, delicate, saline/marine.

Champagne Taittinger Prelude Grands Crus NV, $95.00
An intense nose of brioche and nuts with a fuller mouthfeel than the Brut La Française.
Calvisius Caviar Oscietra Classic: Nuttier and less salty than Tradition Prestige.

Champagne Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006, $199.00
This vintage wine displays lovely citrus and toast aromas and flavors.
Calvisius Caviar Siberian: Produced from a Russian species of sturgeon; sticky texture with slightly salty notes; bold; an intense, yet enjoyable, combination.

Champagne Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2006, $262.00
Also a vintage wine, this offers up berries and yeast, with a hint of peach on the delicate palate.
Calvisius Caviar Oscietra Royal: Differs from the Oscietra Classic since this features eggs from the front 10-20% of the egg sac; very rich and salty.

Not paired with caviar, but also available for tasting that evening were the Prestige Rosé NV ($84.00), Nocturne NV ($82.00) and the newly launched Nocturne Rosé NV ($84.00), due out this holiday season. The Nocturne range are Sec Champagnes with a slight sweetness (17.5 g/l of dosage) that add a hint of sweetness, but are still well balanced.

To purchase Calvisius caviar, see Foody Direct’s website.

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The fries have it

2016-06-16 15.57.23Pairing food and wine can be quite complicated – finding the perfect combination of flavors and textures on both the plate and in the glass that harmonize with one another.

But, it can also be rather simple: salted, buttered popcorn with a glass of Brut Champagne!

Of course, most frequently, the reality lies somewhere in the middle as was the case at the 2nd Annual Southwest Wines of France Gourmet French Fries Competition held in June. The Wine Enthusiast-sponsored event brought together a wealth of wines from Southwest France, a wide swath of land that includes numerous appellations. Here, internationally renowned grapes co-mingle with lesser known varieties. In this regard, Cabernet Franc and Malbec rival Fer Servadou and Gros Manseng in acreage among the top 12 planted varieties. The result of these diverse plantings produce nearly every style of wine from still and sparkling to white, rosé and red.

Frankly, like the simple popcorn and fizz pairing noted above, unadorned French fries are a tasty companion to many wines. But, the assembled chefs brought their A-game to elevate the humble potato stick.

Ricky Camacho, Anejo
Carnita Fries: Confit pork shoulder, poblano lime aioli, garlic crisps, cilantro and pickled onions
Served alongside a selection of dry white wines

Christopher Stam, Spice Market
Thai Fry: Hand-cut French fry with kaffir lime, garlic crumbs, Nouc cham mayonnaise, house made chili sambal, scallions and cilantro
Served alongside a selection of dry rosé wines

Greg Rubin, American Cut
Beef Fat Fries: Hand cut fries, fried to perfection. Tossed with parsley, rosemary salt and dry aged beef fat.
Served alongside a selection of fruity red wines

Pedro Duarte, Sushisamba
Crispy Potato Confit: Chicharrón de pato (duck crackling), black garlic, balsamic, rosemary and sea salt.
Served alongside a selection of 100% Malbec wines

Aaron Lamonica, Seamstress + Belle Shoals
Freedom Fries: Slow smoked brisket folded into a pork based gravy. Kennebeck potatoes blanched twice, topped with grated Midnight Moon Goat cheese, chives and orange zest.
Served alongside a selection of full-bodied, red wines

I tasted through many of the wines and found a few favorites of the bunch.  Most of the wines hailing from this region are well priced, making them an affordable pleasure, whether or not you hold the fries.

TASTING NOTES

WHITES
Alain Brumont Les Jardins de Bouscasse 2011, Pacherenc du Vic Bilh, $15.00

Rich and waxy with nutty and pear aromas and flavors.

Château Tour des Gendres Cuvée des Conti 2014, Bergerac Sec, $16.00
Fresh, with lots of citrus notes; bright and pretty.

Cave du Marmandais Château La Bastide 2014, Côtes du Marmandais, $15.00 Grapefruit, slight oak, toast, rich and round on the palate.

ROSÉS
Domaine des Terrisses Grande Tradition Rosé 2015, Gaillac, $16.00
Pale in color with berries and floral notes.

Domaine de Pellehaut Hamonie de Gascogne Rosé 2015, Côtes de Gascogne, $11.00
Slightly more color, redolent of peaches and plums.

Producteurs Palimont Colombelle L’Original Rosé 2015, Côtes de Gascogne, $15.00
A really lovely wine with floral and citrus notes.

REDS
Domaine du Moulin 2013 Gaillac, $12.00
Complex, yet fruity, with red and black fruit and an herbal undercurrent.

Domaine Guillaman Les Hauts de Guillaman 2012, Côtes de Gascogne, $25.00
Displaing a rich and intense nose, with depth on the full-bodied palate; black fruit and floral notes.

Domaine des Terrisses Grande Tradition 2014, Gaillac, $18.00
Rustic in character, yet fresh and lively, with red fruit and slight bitter note in finish.

Château Flotis Si Noire 2011, Fronton, $24.00
Offers up a really interesting, somewhat funky nose, with concentrated and rich red and black fruit on the palate.

Alain Brumont Château Bouscasse 2010, Madiran, $25.00
Beautiful nose with fresh, spicy, red fruit and tobacco on the palate.

Looking at the world through rosé-colored glasses

2015-mathilde-rose-backMy family and I visited Provence back in 2001. We didn’t know a lot about wine at the time; we just knew that we liked it.

On our first night in Provence, we stumbled across a lovely little restaurant with outdoor dining and knew that we had to join in the fun. We requested a table, sat down and gave the server our simple request: we want what the table next to us is having! A short while later our table was filled with incredible-looking, large grilled shrimp and glasses of rosé wine.

I don’t remember the name of that restaurant or even which town it was in, nor do I have any idea who produced that rosé, but that evening remains perfectly etched in our minds – a rosé moment! It is precisely for such moments that Mathilde Chapoutier crafted her wine (although admittedly, she hopes you will remember that she made it).

Accordingly, I don’t think she took much offense, if any, when I spent more time catching up with my colleague as we gorged on towers of seafood and several bottles of her wine on a summer Friday, rather than peppering her with questions about her background and winemaking philosophy. We were creating yet another rosé memory.

When your last name is so synonymous with wine, it is challenging to stay away from the wine industry. Mathilde Chapoutier tried it for a while, contemplating a career as a shooter (after many years as a successful competitor), but the 24-year old eventually gave in and joined the family business.

Today, as a member of the 8th generation of her family to make wine, she serves as Chief of Strategy and Business Development, a position, which has been quite rewarding. However, she was drawn to the idea of creating something uniquely hers – she wanted to make her own wine.

Her approach has been to create a wine that would appeal to her friends and other similar-minded folks who are afraid of wine or find it elitist. Overall, she wanted, “something simple, elegant and easy to drink.” She has succeeded in spades.

Although her family had previously produced what she refers to as food rosés – such as the hearty, deep pink Tavels – her father, Michel Chapoutier, was decidedly not a fan of Provençal rosé. In his opinion, there really weren’t many good ones in the market.

But, Mathilde was determined to prove him wrong and fought for this project despite his objections, eventually finding the Grand Ferrage estate, situated in the foothills of the Saint-Victoire Mountain. For her first vintage (2014), she purchased the juice, ultimately fermenting and blending the wine to her exacting standards.

Dad saw how receptive everyone was to the wine and relaxed his view. For her next vintage, she purchased the entire domaine, giving her full autonomy over the grapes and harvest as well as production. The wine is now available in the U.S. and ready for you to create your own rosé moments.

Mathilde Chapoutier Grand Ferrage Rosé 2015, Côtes de Provence, France, $24.99 (SRP)

untitledVery light in color, thanks to only a few hours of skin contact, this wine offers up floral and citrus aromas, with a dry and delicate palate with peach and floral notes, culminating in long length.

Domaine Katsaros and Ricossa offer up modern wines for modern times

Although the world of wine has a long and storied history, two recent events – dinner with Evripidis Katsaros of Domaine Katsaros and lunch with Andrea Marazia of Ricossa winery – underscored the ever-evolving nature of the industry.

Domaine Katsaros, modernity in ancient Greece

KatsarosThinking about Greece, images of the Acropolis and other ancient temples might spring to mind –  crumbling pillars as a testament to a bygone civilization. But, despite this legacy of antiquity, there is a very modern bent to the winemaking currently taking place in Greece and Italy.

Instead of meeting Katsaros’ winemaker at a Greek establishment, the invitation promised pizza at Marta, the resident restaurant at the Martha Washington Hotel. Part of Danny Meyer’s empire (aka Union Square Hospitality Group), Marta is known for its wood-burning ovens, which turn out beautiful thin-crust pizzas and tempting grilled meats.

But, before the food was served, the journalists were given the opportunity to blind taste two wines and guess which one was the Katsaros 2015 Xinomavro barrel sample and which… was a Barolo. Like Nebbiolo — the grape responsible for Barolo (among others) — Xinomavro needs a lengthy time to fully ripen and has similarly high acidity and firm tannins. Evripidis further described Xinomavro wines as showing aromas of black fruit, rose petals, olive and tomato.

Interestingly, while the blind comparison didn’t seem to stump the participants, it did illustrate the shared characteristics of the two varieties. Yet, in the end, the Barolo’s significantly more tannic structure and less overt fruit aromas gave itself away. Meanwhile, despite its youth, the Xinomavro was rather enjoyable with its pronounced floral nose, brighter acidity and softer tannins.

For many of the guests, this was a first introduction to both Xinomavro and to Domaine Katsaros. The Domaine got its start in the early 1980s, when Evripidis’ father, Dr. Dimitrios Katsaros, purchased a small estate on the slopes of Mount Olympus. The property was initially intended as a family vacation home, but the area beckoned to him and soon he was buying additional land and planting grapevines on the 2500-foot elevation plots.

At the time, technical information on Greek grapes was non-existent, so Dimitrios looked to a grape with a proven track record: Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet was followed by Merlot, which was originally intended solely as a blending partner for the estate blend. However, they quickly discovered that the grapes were of significant quality to be crafted into a single variety Merlot.

In the early days, Dimitrios made wine only for friends and family, but, by 1985, the winery became official, coinciding with Evripidis’ childhood and adolescence. Having spent his summers watching his father build up the estate, it was a natural fit for him to study bio-chemistry at Bordeaux University, followed by a degree in Viticulture and Oenology from Burgundy University.

Consequently, Evripidis knows his way around French grapes and his contribution in this regard has been the addition of Chardonnay, thanks to his belief that they would get good results from this variety. While many areas of Greece would be too hot for a grape that thrives in Burgundy’s cool climate, the northerly position of Domaine Katsaros’ provides a suitable home with a latitude and weather akin to that of Tuscany. In true French fashion, the Chardonnay is aged in French oak for several months, although Evripidis, who took over as head winemaker in 2008, admits that he prefers less wood than his father, especially in white wines.

However, despite the heavy reliance on French varieties, a subtle shift seems to be taking place, with a new interest in indigenous grapes, as evidenced by the planting of Xinomavro grapes in 2010. And, soon, they will add Robola Kefalonia, a white grape that originated on the island of Cephalonia.

Today, the family-owned winery is still the only one within Thessally’s PGI Krania, and maintains its dedication to using only estate grown fruit even though the vineyards are dispersed among 21 separate parcels. In recognition of their good stewardship of the land, the vineyards received organic certification in 1998.

Overall, the wines were very well made and showed off Evripidis’ skill as a French-trained winemaker. In this regard, although the Xinomavro/Barolo comparison was quite fun, it would be equally fascinating to taste his Merlot beside a glass of Right Bank Bordeaux.

Unfortunately, not only do people really like the Domaine Katsaros’ wines, but they (or at least the grapes that go into them) are a big hit with wild boars; nearly all of the 2014 crop was eaten by the pigs. Thus, it was with some sense of poetic justice that we eagerly devoured the meat-heavy Macellaio pizza (Sopressata, Guanciale, Pork Sausage, Mozzarella and Grana Padano) and the grilled pork loin with the wines. Thankfully, the boar were less destructive in 2015, ensuring that there will be more wine to go around for this latest vintage.

Ricossa wine, co-opting old traditions to create new trends

RicossaAlthough not nearly as ancient as ancient Greece, winemaking in Italy’s Piedmont region – home to the aforementioned Nebbiolo and hence, Barolo – dates back several centuries. Here, traditional winemaking has primarily centered on producing powerful, long-lived reds that take decades to reach their full potential. And, it seemed that such traditions were firmly entrenched.

But, even here, things are shifting. For one, classic wine styles have been evolving since the 1980s as a decidedly different view of Barolo winemaking came to the fore, splitting producers into one of two camps — Traditionalist vs. Modernist.

More recently, in another blending of old and new, the region has co-opted the age-old tradition of drying grapes in service of a new, modern style of Barbera. The newly minted Barbera Appassimento DOC owes a debt of gratitude to Ricossa Winery, which was the brainchild behind the creation of this wine.

The company, part of the MGM Mondo del Vino group, felt that there was something missing from the Piedmontese winescape – wines made in the appasimento style – and specifically targeted the Barbera grape as the beneficiary of this process. And, after only a year of discussions with the Consorzio, this new wine was approved as of the 2014 vintage.

The appasimento style is most closely associated with Italy’s Veneto region – think Amarone della Valpolicella, but, essentially, these wines are produced from grapes that are dried in humidity-controlled, ventilated room, thereby reducing water content and concentrating aromas and flavors in the grape.

Moreover, the specific rules for the Barbera Appassimento DOC are vastly different than those of Amarone. Of note, the drying process for this new wine is limited to four to six weeks, a much shorter time frame than the four months required for Amarone production. Further, there is no wood aging permitted compared to the minimum two years of oak aging for Amarone.

Yet, despite the obvious comparison to the Veneto, the true intent was to express the Barbera grape in a alternate way rather than mimic Amarone, as evidenced by the resulting style of wine. The group was pleasantly surprised at how fresh and light the wine was, finding it to be a great expression of the grape with softer acidity and fuller body than more traditional Barbera wines. Lunch guests also tasted Ricossa’s Gavi as well as its Barbaresco 2011 and Barolo Riserva 2008, which provided a broader introduction to the winery’s portfolio.

Velenosi: Wines of Poise and Passion

VelenosiWhen I was first invited to meet with Angela Velenosi, owner of Velenosi Winery in Le Marche, I was intrigued by her name. Having studied Italian, the word velenosi struck an immediate cord; we had read stories in class about a character named Valentino Valentini who had first gone on a walk through the forest collecting mushrooms and making a tasty risotto with them. Unfortunately, as the tale went, “Ma…spesso i funghi sono velenosi” – but…often mushrooms are poisonous – so Valentino was brought to the Emergency Room. After leaving the hospital a few days later, our dear friend Valentino was treated to a dinner of oysters, but, as was pointed out: “Ma…spesso le ostriche sono velenose” (but…often oysters are poisonous), so Valentino was again rushed off for emergency care.

After meeting Angela Velenosi in person, I am pleased to note that, while Valentino Valentini was quite unlucky, Angela has had a much better track record with her life. This poised and passionate Italian woman has been the driving force behind her family’s wine label, which she founded in 1984 with then husband, Ercole, when she was only 20 years old. The two saw the opportunity, had a good relationship with the local wine community and, perhaps most importantly, a passion for wine. Angela admits that she had very limited knowledge and experience, but clearly had an abundance of conviction, confidence and courage.

Thirty-plus years later, it is evident that her gamble and dedication has paid off. An award winning winery (listed among Wine Spectator’s top 100 wineries in both 2012 and 2013), Velenosi is firmly established in the region today and is the second largest, family-owned estate, with 100 hectares planted in the south of the region and another 48 hectares located closer to the sea in the province of Ancona.

This same fearlessness seems to pervade everything she does. During dinner she revealed that she has run a total of 11 marathons – three of them in New York. Unfortunately, her knees have kept her from continuing this particular passion, but while, marathons are not a part of her life anymore she is still extremely active.

In addition to being a staunch supporter for her own brand, Angela is equally heartfelt about the region and currently serves as President of the Consorzio di Tutela Vini Piceni, a post she has held since 2014.

Admittedly, among Italian wines, at least in the U.S., Le Marche is much less well known, but this region, situated along Italy’s Eastern coast along the Adriatic Sea, has a lengthy history. The only plural among Italy’s 20 regions, Le Marche got its name in 1105 when three border regions were joined by the Roman Emperor Henry IV. (And, perhaps it’s a bit like New York City’s The Bronx in that it is the only region to possess an article.) Within Le Marche, the town of Ascoli dates back to 1000 BCE and was established by the Piceni tribe of warriors. It pre-dates the Romans’ rise to prominence and was known for its iron works and jewels.

Today, Le Marche is home to 5 DOCGs and 16 DOCs, featuring a diverse range of climates, depending upon topography and distance from the coast. The area features various hills and mountains; there are no flat lands to be found. The relatively small region is primarily known for its crisp, refreshing whites and its Montepulciano-based reds. Although Sangiovese features heavily in many of Le Marche’s wines, the Sangiovese in the Le Marche is a different clone than that found in Tuscany. Consequently, these wines share more similarity to those produced in Abruzzo than in Tuscany.

Velenosi produces 20 different wines, from a combination of indigenous varieties (such as Pecorino, Passerina, Verdicchio, Montepulciano, Sangiovese and Lacrima) and international grapes. In general, Angela likes wines that are both ready to drink, but also have good aging potential, a philosophy she applies to all of the wines she produces. With this mind, many of her wines are bottled in dark, heavy glass to keep the light out during the lengthy aging process. Additionally, Angela looks for clarity and purity in all of her wines. As a result, Angela’s wines are anything but poisonous. – they are elegant, well made expressions of the Le Marche terroir.

Eight of the Velenosi wines are exported to the U.S., covering a range of styles and providing an excellent introduction to the wines of Le Marche!

TASTING NOTES
Passerina Brut NV, Marche, Italy
A Charmat Method sparkling wine produced from 100% Passerina grapes, this slightly off-dry sparkler presents light aromas of peach and pear on the nose and palate. It has nice acidity, with a lovely mousse, finishing cleanly and pairing well with food.

Pecorino Villa Angela Falerio DOC Pecorino 2014, Marche, Italy
Named for the tradition of grazing sheep in the mountains, this variety stems from the Italian word pecora, which translates as sheep. The wine has notes of anise, citrus and apple on the nose. The light to medium-bodied palate offers up savory, herbal and vegetal flavors with high acidity and a slight, textural grip.

Verdicchio Querciantica Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico 2014, Marche, Italy
This wine has fresh fruit aromas of peach and almond and is more fruit-forward than the Pecorino, although it is still dry and balanced. There is bright acidity on the medium to full-bodied palate, with flavors of pear, peach and almond.

Lacrima Querciantica Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC 2014, Marche, Italy
An aromatic red variety, Lacrima has thins skins, resulting in a lighter-bodied red, with little to no tannins. The grape’s freshness is deliberately preserved through the use of stainless steel and no wood contact. This wine expresses its fresh raspberry, cherry and plum fruit so vibrantly with bright acidity and beautiful balance.

Brecciarolo Rosso Piceno DOC Superiore 2013, Marche, Italy
Falling within the Rosso Piceno DOC rules, the specific blend is up to the producer, with this wine being a blend of 70% Montepulciano/ 30% Sangiovese, aged in older oak for 10-12 months. The heavy reliance on Montepulciano produces a stronger, darker wine than other Rosso Piceno wines.

Ludi, Offida DOCG Rosso 2011, Marche, Italy
One of Angela’s top wines, Ludi was first produced in 1998, named for the Latin root for play – ludo – a reminder that wine is meant to be enjoyed. It is a blend of 50% Montepulciano, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot, which is aged in new French oak for 24 months. This wine offers up ripe, yet elegant, black fruit with cedar, vanilla and a hint of anise, with finely grained tannins and long length.

Roggio del Filare 2010, Rosso Piceno DOC Superiore, Marche, Italy
Velenosi’s flagship is the Roggio del Filare, literally “fire in the vineyard,” whose name stems from a poem by the Italian poet Carducci, recalling the way that the sun looks on the vines as it sets in the vineyards. This 70% Montepulciano – 30% Sangiovese blend is produced from 50+ year old vines with a long maceration on the skins and then aged in new French oak for 18 months. It is intense, powerful and structured, with beautiful, concentrated black fruit, wood and minerality on the full-bodied palate with very long length.

Visciole Selezione Cherry Wine NV, Marche, Italy
This fresh and delicate dessert wine is produced from a combination of fully-fermented Lacrima grapes to which a wild cherry syrup, known as visciole, is added, causing a second fermentation and ultimately resulting in a wine with remaining sweetness. Redolent of ripe cherries on the nose and palate, the wine is nicely balanced, with enough sugar to marry well with dessert without being cloying.

Marche

The DOCGs and DOCs of Le Marche

Island Wines: Santorini Edition

There is something special about visiting an island. The discrete borders, the intimate setting and the separation from the mainland all conspire to conjure images of serene beauty. It’s why “Island Getaway” makes a much better headline than “Landlocked Getwaway”!

This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting several different islands, either in body (Long Island) or in spirit (Sicilia and Santorini), succumbing to their charms through the lovely wines that capture their essence.

Admittedly, Greece has been the talk of the town lately – what with a collapsing economy and all that. But, the good news coming out of Greece is the quality and diversity its wines. I presented a session on Greek wines for IWAGY back in the spring, which was a great opportunity to refresh my memory on Greece’s regions and indigenous varieties. Then, in June, I was (virtually) off to the island of Santorini with a tasting featuring the wines of this volcanic island.

The volcanic island of Santorini is exactly what one would expect from a Greek island. Vivid photographs of blindingly white stone buildings juxtaposed against the brilliance of the azure sea, central casting couldn’t have done a better job in creating the perfect setting.

Viticulture on the island dates to 3500 BCE, but the island owes its true viticultural heritage to the volcanic eruptions that took place in 1600 BCE. The resulting caldera, volcanic soils coupled with the climatic winds and limited rainfall, require vines to be grown in a unique, basket-shaped trellis (known as kouloura) nestled close to the ground for protection.

Here, producers rely on a mixture of indigenous varieties, most notably the white grape Assyrtiko, which creates crisp, dry refreshing whites that are mineral driven. Other local grapes include Athiri, Aidani and the reds: Mavrotragano and Mandelaria.

There are three appellations assigned to the small island: Santorini (dry whites, which must include a minimum of 75% Assyrtiko, rounded out with Athiri and Aidani), Vinsanto (sweet wines producead from at least 51% Assyrtiko and made from late harvested grapes, which are dried in the sun for about 2 weeks prior to fermentetaion) and Nykteri (originally named for the now-defunct restriction that the grapes be harvested at night (nikta), these dry whites are also produced with a minimum of 75% Assyrtiko, but with the additional requirement that the wines be aged for at least 3 months in oak barrels). Additionally, the luscious dessert wine, vinsanto, is also produced on the island.

ESTATE ARGYROS
This winery, originally established in 1903 by George Argyros, is now under the leadership of the fourth generation in the guise of Matthew Argyros. With 30 hectares of vineyards, the company’s holdings are among the largest on the island.

Argyros Aidani 2014, PGI Cyclades
This wine has bright fruit aromas with flavors of floral and peach.

Argyros Assyrtiko 2014, PDO Santorini
This wine displays distinct minerality and salinity on both the nose and palate, with good acidity and texture.

Estate Argyros 2014, PDO Santorini
This wine was fuller-bodied and more structured due to the barrel influence than the Assyrtiko.

Estate Argyros Vinsanto 1998, PDO Santorini
Aromas of caramel, honey, with a mineral characteristic. On the palate, it is rich, but not heavy or cloying; bright and fresh with a long finish.

Estate Argyros Vinsanto 1990, PDO Santorini
Darker in color than 1998, this wine offered up an intense nose of dried fruits, with a sweet, viscous palate with caramel, honey and fig, balanced by sufficient acidity.


GAIA

Gaia was established by Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos in 1994 and is considered to be a boutique winery. As an internationally trained winemaker, Yiannis is at the forefront of Santorini’s rebirth.

Gaia Thalassitis 2014, PDO Santorini
This unoaked version is pithy and fresh, with chalk and mineral notes throughout.

Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2014, PDO Santorini
A yeasty character pervades the nose and palate most likely a result of the use of natural yeast.

Gaia Thalassitis Oak Fermented 2013, PDO Santorini
This oak-treated wine displays both a fuller body and notes of oak due to the winemaking.


GAVALAS

A true family business, the Gavalas Winery is presently headed by George Gavalas, who fuses his family’s traditions with a modern sensibility in the creation of his wines. In this regard, he has been instrumental in reviving some of the more obscure varieties on the island.

Gavalas Katsano 2014, PGI Cyclades
Floral and almond aromas on the nose give way to floral and pear flavors on the soft palate.

Gavalas Santorini 2014, PDO Santorini
Fresh with citrus and chalk, this is a lovely example of Assyrtiko.

Gavalas Santorini Natural Ferment 2014, PDO Santorini
Yeasty notes are joined by citrus and minerality. Very special.

Gavalas Vinsanto 2006, PDO Santorini
Intense nose with caramel and honey.

 

HATZIDAKIS
Forced to abandon the family vineyards in the wake of the 1956 earthquake, Haridimos and Konstatina Hadzidakis returned to the island forty years later to rebuild, replant and restore their family’s winemaking legacy.

Hatzidakis Aidani 2014, PGI Cyclades
With floral and peach aromas and flavors, this wine is lively on the palate with good acidity.

Hatzidakis Nykteri 2013, PDO Santorini
Fresh, with just a hint of sweetness on the attack. This wine is big and bold with good acidity.

Hatzidakis Mavrotragano 2013, PGI Cyclades
This wine has a deceptively soft start, giving way to its tannic grip and bright plum fruit.

Hatzidakis Vinsanto 2003, PDO Santorini
This wine is extremely fresh despite its sweetness level. It offers notes of honey, fig and quince.


KOUTSOYANNOPOULOS
The Koutsoyannopoulos family has been making wine since Grigoris and Dimitris Koutsoyannopoulos established Volcan Wines in 1880. Today, the fourth generation continues this tradition, under the family name, while still retaining the old logo.

Koutsoyannopoulos Santorini 2013, PDO Santorini
A bit weightier on the palate compared to some of the other examples, this wine still provides lively acidity and lots of minerality.

Koutsoyannopoulos Santorini 2012, PDO Santorini
With a decidedly mineral nose, the palate is more redolent of fresh fruit, namely pear and citrus. One of my favorites of the event.

Koutsoyannopoulos Nykteri 2012, PDO Santorini
Very floral on the nose, this wine offers up citrus, pith and mineral flavors on its complex palate.

 

SANTO WINES
Established in 1947, the SantoWines cooperative presently has 2500 members that support its activities in growing grapes and making wine.

Santo Wines Sparkling 2014
Quite lovely and fresh with a creamy mousse and floral notes.

Santo Wines Nykteri 2014, PDO Santorini
Floral and fruit aromas greet the nose and persist on the palate through the long length.

 

Then, in late June, just as the crisis was really heating up, an unusual event heralded the launch of Agrino.  Promoting the Mediterranean diet, these packaged rice dishes offer flavor and convenience and will, of course, pair well with Greek and other wines. Coming soon to a grocery shelf near you!

Island Wines: Long Island Edition

2015-06-30 16.43.09There is something special about visiting an island. The discrete borders, the intimate setting and the separation from the mainland all conspire to conjure images of a serene paradise. It’s why “Island Getaway” makes a much better headline than “Landlocked Getwaway”!

This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting several different islands, either in body (Long Island) or in spirit (Sicilia and Santorini), open to their charms through the lovely wines that are produced on each.

Close to home (aka New York City), Long Island provides a welcome refuge for city dwellers, with its beaches, farms and vineyards. We returned to the region after a two-year, accidental hiatus, stopping at some of our favorites for a brief refresher and to stock up our cellar, which we were about to deplete as a consequence of hosting our Meet, Meat & Merlot dinner, featuring a selection of aged Long Island Merlots.

The four-course dinner, held at our apartment, was an excellent opportunity to see how Long Island Merlot can develop with time. All of the wines, from the youngest at 12 years old (2003) to the oldest at 23 (1992), proved the point in spades. Between the chaos of cooking an elaborate menu and hosting 11 guests, I admittedly did not take notes on the wines, but the menu and wine selection are listed below.

Tasting notes for the various wines we tasted during our two-day visit to both the North Fork and The Hamptons AVAs are also included below.

Meet, Meat & Merlot Dinner Menu & Wines
Amuse Bouche: Frico Cheese Crisps with Hungarian Paprika

Wild Caught Salmon Sliders with Sage on Crispy Potato “Buns”
Shinn Estate Vineyards Estate Merlot 2003, North Fork of Long Island, USA
Shinn Estate Vineyards Six Barrels Reserve Merlot 2002, North Fork of Long Island, USA

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Coq au Vin 8 Hands Farm Organic Chicken Breast with Cipollini Onions & Mushrooms Lenz Estate Selection Merlot 2001, North Fork of Long Island, USA
Lenz Estate Selection Merlot 2000, North Fork of Long Island, USA

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Beef Wellington Organic Beef Tenderloin with Mushroom Duxelles and Foie Gras in Puff Pastry served with North Fork Squash and Sugar Snap Peas
Macari Vineyards, Bergen Road 1997, North Fork of Long Island, USA
Rivendell, Merlot 1990, North Fork of Long Island, USA
Rivendell, Merlot 1992, North Fork of Long Island, USA

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Dessert
Briermere Farms Raspberry & Peach Pie and
Briermere Farms Gooseberries and Wickham’s Farm Cherries

MACARI VINEYARDS
Macari Sauvignon Blanc 2014, North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $23.00
This wine is fresh and bright, with crisp citrus, a hint of green apple and long length.

Macari Dos Aguas Blanc 2013, North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $27.00
A blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. The intense nose displays aromas of lush pear and tropical fruit, both of which persist on the palate.

Macari Sauvignon Blanc No. 1 2013, North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $27.00 Macari has been actively experimenting with the use of concrete eggs and 60% of this wine was fermented in one. Compared to the regular Sauvignon Blanc, it was much rounder with lots of orange peel aromas and flavors.

Macari Cabernet Franc Lightforce 2013, North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $N/A
This wine was also fermented and aged in a concrete vessel. It was fresher and lighter than regular Cabernet Franc, but still very Cab Franc in its characteristics, with beautiful earth and mushroom notes.

Macari Merlot Reserve 2010, North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $36.00
From the near perfect 2010 vintage, this wine is absolutely gorgeous with rich notes of coffee and black cherry, culminating in long length.

2015-07-01 11.13.40LENZ ESTATE
Lenz Estate Blanc de Noir Rosé 2013, North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $22.00
A light and pleasing rosé with fresh strawberry and slight herbal notes on the nose and palate.

Lenz Estate Old Vine Gewürztraminer 2010, North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $30.00
More floral than spice, this dry Gewurztraminer is quite elegant with nice acidity.

Lenz Estate Malbec 2011, North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $35.00
With intense and concentrated aromas of smoke, mulberry and blue fruit, this wine is more restrained on the palate, with elegant flavors of spice and blue fruit.

Lenz Estate Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $NA
This wine was showing some development with complex aromas and aromas of red fruit, black fruit and some meatiness. On the dry palate, it displayed ripe and concentrated flavors of blackberry, coffee and slight cedar; lovely.

McCALL WINES
McCall Pinot Noir 2012, North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $28.00
This wine offers fresh, bright fruit with notes of cherries, herbs and earth.

McCall Pinot Noir Hillside 2013, North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $39.00
This Pinot Noir is more complex and intense than the entry-level wine, with more meaty and spice notes.

McCall Merlot Reserve 2010, North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $30.00
This pretty and elegant wine displays rich black cherry aromas that pervade the palate as well.

McCall Ben’s Blend 2010, North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, $54.00
Bringing together, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, this Bordeaux-style blend provides velvety tannins and nice complexity with gorgeous black fruit aromas and flavors.
CHANNING DAUGHTERS
Channing Daughters Tocai Mudd Vineyard 2012 North Fork of Long Island (NY), USA, 24.00
A combination of minerality and salinity greet the nose, while the palate is rewarded with apple and mineral notes and long length.

Channing Daughters Rosato di Refosco 2014, The Hamptons (NY), USA, $20.00 This rosé is distinctly herbal with sour cherry and a hint of salinity that lingers throughout the finish.

Channing Daughters Envelope 2011, The Hamptons (NY), USA, $42.00
Produced from 62% Chardonnay, 28% Gewurztraminer and 10% Malvasia Bianca, which were co-fermented with ambient yeast on the skins, this wine offers up pronounced aromas of floral and spice. This wine is rich, with concentrated fruit flavors of floral and pear on the palate.

Channing Daughters Ribolla Gialla 2013, The Hamptons (NY), USA, $35.00
This wine displays rich aromas of honey and marzipan. Its palate is dry with flavors of honey and white flowers.

Channing Daughters Sculpture Garden 2011, The Hamptons (NY), USA, $30.00
A blend of Merlot, Teroldego and Blaufrankisch, this wine spent 22 months in oak and 18 months in bottle before release. It has soft tannins, with notes of cherries, cocoa, and spice, which persist through the long finish.

NB: While I don’t have precise tasting notes, we absolutely adored Channing’s range of VerVino Vermouths.

WÖLFFER ESTATE
W
ölffer Estate Noblesse Oblige Extra Brut Sparkling Rosé 2011, The Hamptons (NY), USA, $54.00
This elegant sparkling wine was very yeasty on the nose, with flavors of berries and cream on the palate.

Wölffer Estate Rosé 2014, Long Island (NY), USA, $18.00
Considered among the official rosés of the Hamptons, this fresh, Provencal-style rose is the perfect wine for summer with its purity of melon and berry fruit and refreshing acidity.

Wölffer Estate Summer in a Bottle 2014, Long Island (NY), USA, $24.00
This white blend offered up ripe, lush fruit with flavors of floral, peach and pear.

Grapes of Roth Dry Riesling 2014, Long Island (NY), USA, $26.00
Produced by Wölffer’s winemaker and partner Roman Roth, this is classic Riesling with citrus, slight pith, mineral, just a hint of off-dry sweetness on the attack.

Wölffer Estate Descencia Botrytis Chardonnay 2012, Long Island (NY), USA, $40.00
A late-harvest Chardonnay dessert wine with medium-sweetness, this wine is beautifully balanced by its bright acidity along with notes of honey, spice and Asian pear, culminating in long length.