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.

The Land of Limoux: It’s Not Just for Sparklers Anymore

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The Languedoc-based Limoux region claims the distinction of being the first to produce a sparkling wine back in 1531. In fact, famed monk Dom Perignon is credited with visiting the area and bringing back the knowledge to Champagne. Unfortunately for Limoux, the Champenoise have been more assertive in their public relations campaign over the past several centuries, which is why Méthode Champenoise is much more familiar to the average consumer than Limoux’s Méthode Ancestrale.

However, despite Champagne’s better brand recognition, Limoux is now dialing up the volume on its message to market its wines. In this regard, a rooftop tasting held this month provided an opportunity to renew old acquaintances and make new friends.

The event kicked off with Limoux’s bubbles. For centuries, it was the Blanquette de Limoux and its Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale that dominated local production. These two wines earned appellation status in 1938 and harness the Mauzac grape’s floral and apple aromas. The Méthode Ancestrale wines undergo only partial fermentation and thus retain some sweetness on the palate.

Much more recently (1990s), the region added a Crémant de Limoux to its sparkling line up, which favors Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc over the indigenous Mauzac and requires a minimum of nine months of lees aging. In spite of its late arrival to the scene, this newer sparkler accounts for 40% of sparkling wine production in Limoux.

Priced below $20.00, the Limoux sparklers offer up great value for every day drinking with several different styles from which to choose, including drier, sweeter and rosé options.

Even more au courant, Limoux has diversified its portfolio with still whites and reds. While the whites focus on oaked versions of the same varieties as those employed for sparkling wines, the reds (which must include at least three different grapes) bring together an unusual mix of Bordeaux (Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon) and the Rhone Valley (Syrah and Grenache). The still wines are a relatively small percentage of total production and are priced accordingly.

TASTING NOTES

Delmas Blanquette de Limoux Cuvée Memoire Brut Nature 2010, $16.00
This wine is vinified in old oak barrels and sees 8 months of aging on the lees, with fresh citrus and apple aromas and flavors.

Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2014, $13.00
Thanks to a chance discovery many years ago, St. Hilaire was our house sparkler for a long time, providing us with affordable bubbles on a regular basis. Notes of Apple and apple peel greet the nose; fresh and lively with medium+ length on the palate.

Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé NV, $15.00
This wine spends 12 months on the lees, showing aromas of berries and herbs. It is dry, yet slightly fruity and slightly yeasty on the palate with long length.

Antech Crémant de Limoux ‘Heritage 1860’ 2013, $19.00
A more serious sparkler, this wine is dry with citrus and yeast aromas and flavors; fresh and clean on the palate.

Sieur d’Arques Toques et Clochers Limoux Blanc Terroir Autan 2014, $17.00
This 100% Chardonnay offers up floral aromas with a rich palate of pear, apple and a balanced use of oak; long length.

Château-Rives Blanques Dédicace Limoux Blanc 2012, $21.00
Produced from 100% Chenin Blanc, this wine displays yeast and floral notes on the nose with a lovely richness and roundness on the palate.

Domaine de Baron’arques Limoux Rouge 2012, $39.00
Barrel aged in a combination of 50% new barrels and 50% first and second use, this Merlot-dominant wine blend provides berries, black fruit and herbal notes joined by earthy and oaky flavors on the palate.

Michel Capdepon Limoux Méthode Ancestrale Fruité NV, $16.00
Even though the wine’s residual sugar level is at 95 g/l, this wine is beautifully balanced with floral and apple notes on the off-dry palate and finishes cleanly.

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

Rose dreaming on a winter’s day

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Certainly, a bottle of bubbly makes any occasion special – an instant upgrade from blah to ta-dah! It can brighten days and elevate moods as evidenced on a recent vacation.

Specifically, on said vacation, we were asked to wait in the restaurant’s lounge while they found us a table for dinner. About 15 minutes later, the manager brought over two complimentary glasses of Cava for us, immediately ensuring happy guests, made even happier when we were ushered to the best table in the house only a short while later.

And, every evening at 6:00 PM, the St. Regis Bahia Beach continues the tradition of sabering a bottle of sparkling wine to mark the transition from day to night, as the sun sinks below the horizon and the coqui frogs begin their song.

Moreover, if looking at the world through rose-colored glasses brings a change in attitude, just imagine what a glass of pink-hued, sparkling wine can do for you in the middle of a dreary winter!

Thinking pink, a recent tasting brought together a beautiful range of salmons, pinks and pale reds, all bursting with bubbles and imbuing the day with beauty and brightness.

Thankfully, while a winter vacation might be just a dream, enjoying a glass of sparkling rosé wine just requires an easy trip to your local retailer. Here are a few options to get you in the mood.

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Mionetto Prestige Gran Rosé (SRP: $14.00)
While not technically a Prosecco, since it is both a rosé and a blend of Raboso and Lagrein, this wine hails from the same area where Prosecco is produced. Medium salmon in color, this fresh and fruity wine offered up berry, floral and cotton candy aromas, with a slightly off-dry palate (fittingly, since it is labeled Extra Dry).

Mionetto Luxury Cuvée Sergio Rosé (SRP: $19.00)
Much darker hued than its fellow rosé from Mionetto, this deep pink wine displayed aromas of roses, cherries and strawberries on the nose, all of which persisted on the off-dry palate.

Ruffino Sparkling Rosé (SRP: $15.00)
Ruffino is a well known Tuscan producer, but they have begun to branch out to other Italian regions and recently released this sparkling wine made from the Glera grape of Prosecco fame. It has a pronounced nose of floral and red fruit (raspberry and strawberry) notes, joined by a hint of cotton candy on the slightly off-dry palate.

Cavas Hill 1877 Rosado Cava (SRP: $13.00)
A blend of Garnacha and Monastrell, this Traditional Method sparkler hails from Spain and was deep salmon in color.  Notes of ripe, dark berries and a hint of earthiness dominate both the nose and palate.

Alfred Gratien Brut Classique Rosé Champagne (SRP: $65.00)
Light and ethereal, this pale hued rosé Champagne presented classic yeasty, bready/brioche notes with a touch of strawberry and minerality on the brightly acidic palate, culminating in long length.

Pieces of the Puzzle: Putting Together a Glass of Champagne

2015-11-05 15.04.50Once upon a time (also known as several years ago), we found a scrap of plastic film that read, “Assembly of Dust. Some Assembly Required.”

Not knowing what it was or what is meant, it was one of the strangest and most confusing things we ever found on our kitchen counter. After much scratching of our collective heads, we finally identified the scrap as having come from the wrapper of a music CD that a houseguest had opened earlier that day. (It turns out that Assembly of Dust is the name of a band).

The creation of Champagne is truly like that moment – perplexing and puzzling – with lots of assembly required. In fact, lots is an understatement as evidenced by a recent visit from winemaker Régis Camus of Champagne House, Piper-Heidsieck.

During his trip to New York, Camus offered up a unique glimpse into this creation process, known as assemblage, with a tutored vin clairs tasting. A vin clair is a still wine (not sparkling) that has been produced in anticipation of making the blend that will ultimately be bottled for the secondary fermentation; in essence, each vin clair is the equivalent of a single puzzle piece.

Within the Champagne region, there are hundreds of puzzle pieces to be considered. First, there is grape variety; the permitted grapes include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Then, there are the approximately 100 different crus (top vineyards) from which the grapes are sourced. Third is a Champagne House’s Reserve wines – wines saved from previous vintages (and kept distinctly by individual vintage). And finally, there is the time that the wine is aged on its lees as the last piece of the puzzle, which is dictated in part by law (a minimum of 15 months for non-vintage and three years for vintage) and by house style, which typically exceed the minimums.

After each harvest, the winemaker and his team start with a blank canvas as the grapes are brought to the winery. Each parcel is fermented separately into wine, becoming the multitude of puzzle pieces – or vin clairs – available to the team. Their mission, which they choose to accept each year, is to taste through the individual wines and build the puzzle based upon the given vintage.

There is no printed box to follow, instead, the “picture” for these puzzle pieces comes in the shape of a bottle – the bottle of the wine produced the year before (and the year before that…). More specifically, the goal is to replicate the house style for each of the House’s wines. By achieving this goal, consumers can be sure that each and every time they buy a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV, it will taste precisely the same.

At Camus’ tasting, we were given five different samples that had been part of the 2014 assemblage for the Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV: Chardonnay Avize Cru 2014, Pinot Noir 2015 Verzy Cru, Pinot Meunier 2014 Ecueil Cru, Chardonnay 2009 Avize Cru and Pinot Noir 2008 Verzy Cru.

As in working to piece together a visual puzzle, each vin clair provides a sought-after characteristic that helps to shape the resulting wine; each piece adding something that would be missing without it. For instance, the Chardonnay 2014 Avize Cru was particularly prized for its structure and tension as well as its freshness, fruit and minerality. Meanwhile, the older Chardonnay provided more pronounced minerality and was richer, giving some needed depth to the final blend.

In all, the 2014 assemblage contained 55% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Meunier, representing approximately 110 different puzzle pieces, inclusive of 10% Reserve wines. It’s enough to make one dizzy (and that’s not accounting for the alcohol). However, the vin clair tasting did offer some insight into this complex process and gave me a renewed respect for these master tasters.

I prefer to leave the assembly to the Chef du Cave and drink the finished product; perhaps it will sustain me as I pour over my next 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

NB: At the conclusion of the formal tasting, we had the opportunity to enjoy several of Piper-Heidsieck’s Champagnes along with passed canapés. Given the informal format, I didn’t take tasting notes, but I was especially fond of the Rosé Sauvage and the prestige cuvée, Rare Millésime 2002. I may even have been willing to pose with the latter bottle’s laser cut label worn as a tiara.

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
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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.

A Time and a Place for Hungarian Wines

2015-05-13 13.34.49It’s easy to get lost on the shelf. Depending upon the wine shop, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of wines all eagerly vying for attention and hoping to catch the consumer’s eye.

It’s challenging enough to stand out in the sea of Merlots or Cabs or Chardonnays. But how does a Hungarian wine make its mark, especially when – at least in one sad, but true story – it is relegated to the sake section?

Admittedly, the number of imports from Hungary is relatively small compared to those from other countries and consumer recognition is even smaller, so it can be complicated to know where to merchandise these wines. But, that shouldn’t stand in the way of getting great wines into the glasses of obliging consumers.

Although some consumers might be familiar with Hungary’s Tokaji Aszu dessert style wines, more recently, a new wave of Hungarian wines are being brought to the U.S. market. One campaign seeks to promote dry Furmint wines, the same grape responsible for Tokaji, but equally capable of producing food-friendly, crisp whites.

Another project in this regard comes from a collaboration between Hungarian producer Bognar-Vin and Monika Elling of Foundations Marketing Group (FMG). In addition to pulling from her Hungarian background, Monika has the experience and savvy to understand the U.S. wine market as well as what does and doesn’t work, and has parlayed her intelligence into this new crop of wines.

Her partner, Bognar-Vin, is among the largest family-owned wineries in Hungary, with several different brands under the corporate umbrella. They also produce cordials. After achieving success in other export markets, Bognar-Vin’s BGV brand is its first American launch.

The pair debuted the new collection in New York in May. The wines are well made, market friendly and represent a perfect combination of pleasing the palate at an appealing price point. The eye catching labels delight rather than dumb down 2015-05-13 13.12.45or insult the wine drinker, while the wines themselves are full of fresh fruit and are well balanced.

While I enjoyed all of the wines I tasted at the lunch, the real standouts for me were the Jazmin 2014 sparkling wine, BGV Kekfrankos Rose 2014 and the BGV Cabernet Franc 2013.

Unfortunately, word on the street is that this partnership has since dissolved. Perhaps it isn’t quite the time for Hungarian wines (or at least not these Hungarian wines). But, if these examples were anything to go by, there is certainly a place in the market for them when the time comes…