Dining at Home

With the recent downturn in the economy, dining out seems like an unnecessary splurge for most evenings. Additionally, with a cellar full of wonderful wines, dining at home is the perfect excuse to invite over some friends and break open a great bottle of wine. Happily, we have had the good fortune of serving as both hosts and guests in this manner.

A Monday night in February found us at a dear friend’s home where the goal of the evening was to enjoy some wines from her cellar. The celebration began with a glass of Mumm Brut Cordon Rouge, paired with cheese and crackers and shrimp cocktail. The salad course was served with a Rochioli Chardonnay 2006 (Russian River Valley, CA), which displayed beautiful elegance despite its full body.  A trip to Napa in 1998 included a stop at Opus One, with both Opus One and Overture (Opus One’s second wine) heading home with her as souvenirs. Based on our recommendation that the Opus One 1997 would likely continue to age, she opened the (non-vintage) Overture, which was a perfect foil for the filet and mushroom dish she had prepared. Our own contribution to the evening was a Forster Kirchenstuck Riesling Auslese 1994, which was unfortunately flawed, likely due to poor storage conditions prior to our own purchase at a silent auction. Instead, the hostess opened a Hermann J. Wiemer Johannisberg Riesling Late Harvest 2001 from the Finger Lakes to pair with dessert (fruit pie) and the Trentadue Chocolate Amore from California, lest anyone still be in need of any wine. All in all, it was a terrific evening of good food, good wine and great friends!

My Life in Wine PR: We interrupt this wine event for Tyra Banks

Back in February, I was working on a special wine luncheon featuring two winemakers from Napa Valley held at Porterhouse in the Time Warner Center. I was looking forward to the event, but as it turned out, I was unable to attend afterall.

I arrived at Porterhouse early that morning to set up, but as I had to leave prior to the event start time, I asked a friend to fill in for me. As the guests began to file in, I headed out to the town car waiting downstairs. My husband had already been picked up at our home and as I joined him in the car, we sped off for our adventure.

We arrived at the studio and were whisked upstairs to a green room, one of many, to get settled. My sister arrived shortly thereafter. Then, we began a long wait, punctuated by frequent visits from the various producers and assistant producers who came to prep us for our television appearance. Finally, I was sent to hair and makeup, which was a lot of fun, as I excel in neither of these talents. Next, I was rushed to the stage to take my seat next to Tyra.

Our brief segment went by in a flash and all too soon, they were calling cars to take us home. Rather than end the day on a rather anticlimatic note, we chose to return to the Time Warner Center, where our friend had just finished up with the winemakers’ luncheon. We headed her off at the pass and enjoyed a light, but lovely, late lunch at landmarc, where we shared half-bottles of the Caymus Conundrum and a Seghesio Zinfandel.

We had been advised that our show would air in March, but each week we diligently checked Tyra’s website to no avail. Just when we were beginning to think that the show would never air, they called to give us the good news… we would appear on May 27. You can catch our appearance online.

California Here I Come

With the holiday season in the rearview mirror, we bid goodbye to Santa Claus and say hello to another Santa, Santa Barbara. We’ll be visiting this wine region in April with my family to celebrate my father’s birthday. In deference to him, I won’t reveal his age, but it is a milemarker, hence this big family vacation.

Like much of California, winemaking in Santa Barbara began during the Missionary period and then stagnated during Prohibition. While its modern period of viticulture began in the 1960s, it certainly came upon the world scene with the launch of the movie Sideways. During my last visit to the region, I was much too young to drink (~12), so I have no reference point, but I am looking forward to getting to know some of these wineries first hand.

Also part of the area is the town of Solvang, which was recently featured in an episode of the Girls Next Door, and a place I do recall from that childhood visit long ago. Solvang is an authentic Danish village that looks like you stepped out of reality into a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. Fortunately, the big, bad wolf is no where to be found.

I’ve already visited the  Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association and requested (and have already received) their touring map, which will help us plan our travels. My parents have taken care of the accommodations (we are renting a house), plane tickets have been purchased and we’ve booked a birthday dinner at bouchon, which has a terrific list of local wines, 40 of them available by the glass. The only thing left to do is to select which wineries to visit.

We had the pleasure of meeting Steve Clifton of Clifton Brewer and Palmina at the Long Island symposium back in August, who hails from this region, so we hope to visit with him or at least visit the tasting room to enjoy some of the wines he didn’t bring east with him.

Unlike my previous visits to wine regions, where it is generally just my husband and myself, we will be  traveling as a group of six. The consequences are that it will be more challenging to agree upon which wineries to visit and I think we may need to make reservations in advance given the size of our group.

We arrive in Santa Barbara on April 18, which coincidently coincides with the annual Vintners’ Festival, held at River Park in Lompac. The main festival doesn’t start until 1:00 PM on Saturday and we are scheduled to arrive at 9:30 AM, so it should be doable. The only issue will be whether we can stay awake since we have a 6:00 AM flight from NYC.

Other festivities are held at the various wineries throughout the weekend. Tickets for the main festival are $75.00/person and a “Vintners’ Visa” which permits its holder to have the tasting fees waived at up to 12 wineries over the four-day period, is $35.00/person. They offer a designated driver Vintners’ Visa at $25.00/person, which is a bit confusing. While I laud their efforts in advocating responsible drinking and abstention from drinking and driving, I’m not sure why someone has to pay not to drink. 🙂 Likely they provide the driver with some sort of nice recognition, but nothing is specifically stated on the website other than price.

Santa Barbara is highly regarded for its Pinot Noir wines, but certainly isn’t exclusive to this grape. Yet the cool climate, thanks to the maritime influence of the Pacific, truly creates beautiful wines from this variety. Not surprisingly, Chardonnay also does remarkably well here. Inland, where the climate is warmer, one will find some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. And, the aforementioned Palmina specializes in Italian varietals.

Within Santa Barbara County are three AVAs, which sound like a line-up of Christopher Columbus’ ships: Santa Ynez Valley, Sta Rita Hills and the Santa Maria Valley. A fourth area, , Los Alamos Valley, is not an official appellation, but it is a well-demarcated area within the region.

The Vintner’s Association has outlined six different wine tasting routes, but I don’t think we’ll hit them all in sequence. I have much more research to do in deciding where I want to go and then, of course, run it by the committee. Regardless of where we go, I am sure we will taste lots of wonderful wines and I am very much looking forward to the trip.

Lovely Wines from Languedoc-Roussillon


Collioure, France

On a wet, blustery autumn day, I packed up my things and headed off to the South of France. Well, I headed out to a tasting of wines from Southern France located across town, but, for a few hours I was transported to the sun and warmth of Languedoc.

Held at Fig & Olive, the Sud de France tasting was organized by Teuwen One Image on behalf of client La Maison de la Region Languedoc-Rousillon. Having actually been in the Languedoc some years ago, I was familiar with the region and very much looked forward to the tasting.

Spanning along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the region is located in the Southwest of France, stretching from the Spanish border to just West of the Rhone Valley. Much of the climate is tempered by the Mistral. This wind is so strong that driving along the highway during our visit, we could feel the car shake. It is a large, geographic area and includes ~30 different appellations, along with a vast number of Vin de Pays and simple table wines. Previously, this was a region known for quantity and not quality, but things have changed significantly over the past several years.

While most of the international grapes are grown here, the region is primarily known for red grapes Syrah, Carignan, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Grenache, frequently blended together. Among the white varieties are Viognier, Picpoul Blanc and Roussanne.  Dry and fruity roses are also produced as are fortified dessert wines. The majority of these wines are well priced, offering great value under $20.00 and many under $15.00. The most expensive wine represented at the tasting retails for $48.00, but this truly was the exception rather than the rule.

I did not get to taste all of the wines at the event, but did taste through seven of the ten collections presented, which was simply a matter of navigating the crowd, not an indictment on the producers I missed. As always in these walk-around tastings, my notes are limited in their detail, but a few did stand out, which I starred in my book.

I particularly liked the Chateau Les Ollieux wines from Frank Johnson Selections. The estate had been family owned for many generations, but due to French inheritance laws and their resulting tax bills, it had to be sold. Fortunately, a nearby neighbor was the purchaser, keeping the wines under a similar regimen. From the Corbieres AOC, the two wines available for tasting were the Rouge Cuvee Tradition 2005, a blend of 33% Syrah, 31% Grenache, 31% Carignan and 5% Mourvedre and its reverse counterpart, the Rouge Cuvee Francoise Cartier 2001 (40% Mourvedre, 30% Carignan, 15% Grenache and 15% Syrah). The Tradition had medium+ tannins with red fruits and meaty notes, while the Francoise Cartier tended toward black fruits and leather.

I also liked many of the wines from Henny & Francois Selections, which focuses on natural and organic wines. The Chemin de Bassac Vin de Pays de Cotes de Thongue “Isa Blanc” 2007 is a blend of 33% Viognier and 67% Roussanne with a very floral nose. On the palate, the wine has good acidity with citrus and floral notes. As a certified organic producer, no man-made chemicals are used in the production of its grapes.

From Pasternak, the Chateau d’Aussieres Vin de Pays d’Oc Aussiere Rouge 2006 (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Merlot) was a nice example of integrating indigenous grapes with higher profile grapes. It showed bright red fruit with notes of underbrush, providing some complexity in the wine.

Overall, these are wines that are very accessible, especially given the economic climate and should be more easily available on retail shelfs and on restaurant lists. If you are not familiar with the wines of this region, it’s time to give them a try.

Cotes de Roussillon, France

Cotes de Roussillon, France

Wine Media Guild Lunch – Sipping Champagne with Ed McCarthy

newyears-009In December, I attended my first Wine Media Guild lunheon as a full-fledged member, having ben voted in by the membership a few days prior. I graciously thank Marisa D’Vari, Robert Simonsen and Louisa Hargrave for their sponsorship, which is greatly appreciated. The luncheon’s theme was Vintage Champagne and we had the good fortune to hear from Ed McCarthy, one of the noted experts on the subject. Formerly an English teacher, Ed is now the author and co-author of numerous wine books, including, “Champagne for Dummies.” He explained that his defining wine moment was with Krug Champagne, when he discovered that, “Champagne is more than just bubbles.”

We began by warming up our palates with two non-vintage Champagnes, before moving on to the main event. Vintages represented were 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003 as were a wide range of producers, both large and small. Vintage Champagnes are those Champagnes made in especially good years (aka vintages), when the grapes stand on their own and communicate something special. Conversely, non-vintage (NV) Champagnes are the product of a blend of wines from different years, which provides consistency from year to year. Accordingly, once you determine your preference for a particular producer’s house style, you know you can rely on the wines to deliver the same qualities every time you taste it.

The sole 1995 wine was from Henriot, its Cuvee des Enchanteleurs Brut. Ed described it as big, sturdy and full-bodied and added that this was a Champagne house to watch as they are making wonderful wines. He also noted that while 1995 was a good year with ageability, it wasn’t as good as 1996. Although he described the 2000 vintage  as good, but not great, it was the 2002 vintage that Ed really advocated. He explained that it was a much maligned vintage, but to him, it is the best vintage since 1996 and thus the one to buy now to hold. The 2003 vintage was the year of the heat wave that swept through Europe, resulting in extremely ripe grapes with much lower acidity than usual. However, this does not mean that some producers didn’t make good wines in 2003. As an example, Ed pointed out the Louis Roederer Brut 2003.

All in all, there were 19 vintage Champagnes, most of which I enjoyed greatly. However, at an average price of $100.00, these wines will seldom if ever find their way into my cellar. Fortunately, price did not necessarily dictate preferences.

The least expensive wine on the table was the Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc de Blancs 1999 at $40.00, but its lower price was not reflected in the glass. The wine was dry with ripe, lemon fruit and full-bodied with a creamy mousse. Blanc de Blancs refers to the fact that the wine is produced exclusively from white grapes (Chardonnay), while Blanc de Noirs are produced from one or a blend of the other two permitted grape varieties, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, both of which are red grapes. Nicolas Feuillatte is a cooperative (in fact, the region’s largest), rather than a privately owned Champagne house, with the grapes purchased from its grower-members.

The big ticket item of the day was the Perrier-Jouet “Fleur de Champagne” Blanc de Clancs 2000 at $300.00, but this turned out to be the most controversial wine at the event. When I first tasted it, I found the nose to be unpleasant and several people wondered aloud whether it might be corked. However, once seated for lunch, Ed was quick to point out that there was nothing wrong with the wine, but admitted that it is idiosyncratic, which would account for the mixed reception. He described it as very citric and very lemony.

Regardless of cost or preference, I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to taste these wonderful wines and to learn from Ed.

Wine Gift Set – Product Review

I was recently sent a wine gift set by Forte Promotions, a company that sells customized promotional items. The set, manufactured by Cutter & Buck, is handsomely stored in an attractive, (faux?) leather case, making a nice presentation for a gift. The inside is lined with a houndstooth fabric and the accessories are each nestled in their respective places.

The three-piece set arrived just prior to the holidays and was put to work soon after when a friend visited us on Christmas Day bearing a gift of wine (the best kind of gifts and the best kind of friends ;-)) The stainless steel corkscrew was adequate and is outfitted with a knife, which can be helpful for cutting the foil capsule. Upon removing the cork, the pourer, also in stainless, was placed in the neck of the bottle. We found the pourer, while stylish, to be difficult to use, resulting in some wine nearly missing its mark. Finally, the drip collar (again, stainless steel) was a poor fit, slipping down the neck of the bottle, limiting its functionality.

Accordingly, while this wine accessory set makes a good entrance, we were quick to exit it from our kitchen.wine-gift-set

Sex, Wine & Chocolate

On December 10, I had the delight of presenting a fun and festive tasting event with Judith Steinhart and Traci Schiffer, featuring wines provided by Alexander Valley Vineyards and Banfi Vintners. Titled Sex, Wine & Chocolate, we explored the sensual aspects of these three pleasures in life.

As the wine educator, I lead the wine tasting, accompanied by my friend Traci who works for Godiva Chocolatier and is very knowledgeable about chocolate and its creation. Accordingly, we were able to provide both wine education and chocolate education during the tasting.

Each wine was paired with two different chocolates, graciously donated by Godiva. This gave each participant the opportunity to taste how the wine and chocolate changed depending upon the individual pairing. The featured wines included the aptly named Temptation Zin from AVV and Banfi’s Brachetto d’Acquis. The first is an easy-drinking Zinfandel, part of their Wicked Weekend trio of Zinfandels, which also includes the Sin Zin and Redemption Zin. The wine has berry and cocoa aromas and flavors that permit it to pair with chocolate despite its dry nature. Brachetto is a lovely grape from the Piedmont region in NW Italy that creates a beautifully ruby-hued, sweet sparkler with notes of raspberry and strawberry. The third wine tasted was Duck Walk’s Aphrodite.

Dr. Steinhart has long been a respected health and sexuality educator and brought a wonderful approach to the tasting, framing it within the context of the sensual world. She further provided education on enhacing one’s sex life with an emphasis on being in the moment.

Overall, the event was extremely informative and a whole lot of fun. We look forward to future presentations, which will only get better. Perhaps you can join us next time.

IWC Diploma of Wine & Spirits Holiday Party

Mary Ewing-Mulligan, Tracy Ellen Kamens and Ian Harris

Having completed my Diploma of Wine & Spirits in July of this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the International Wine Center’s annual holiday party/Diploma Graduate Dinner in early December. The event was held at I Trulli restaurant and was kicked off with a lovely Champagne reception with passed hors d’oeuvres. I enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with a number of colleagues with whom I been out of touch more recently. I also had the chance to meet several new people as well.

Upon being seated, a formal introduction of the new Diploma graduates was made by Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW (President of the International Wine Center), with each person invited to come up and have their photo taken with Mary and Ian Harris of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, visiting from London. Each graduate was presented with an engraved paperweight.

Diners had the option of Barolo-braised Beef Cheeks or Merluzzo Pan-seared Hake Fillet for dinner and, while the Beef Cheeks was the hands-down winner at my table, I just couldn’t bring myself to order it. I usually try to be adventurous in my eating, but, unlike Sweet Breads, the name Beef Cheeks just isn’t very appetizing to me. It actually looked delicious when it was served, so I was a little sorry, but the fish was quite good, so either way I had an enjoyable meal.

The white wine on offer was the 2007 Orsolani Erbaluce di Caluso ‘La Rustia’ and the red wine was a 2003 Carettlo di Montegrosso Barbera d’Asti ‘Ruleja.’ In addition to these two wines, each table was filled with a collection of wines brought by the table’s attendees, with each collection naturally varying. Lisa Donneson of Bouke wines sat next to me and had brought her wine portfolio to try. I especially liked her white blend, which marries Chardonnay (40%), Pinot Gris (32%), Sauvignon Blanc (18%) and Gewurztraminer (10%). The rose was nice, but I think I would have preferred that it be served at a cooler temperature. I never got around to trying her red wine because I was anxious to taste the Pio Cesare Barolo on our table, with no offence meant to Lisa, of course. Later on in the evening, a debate about whether or not one of the red wines (I think it was a Pinot Noir) was corked or otherwise faulted (possibly reductive) took place at our table. Regardless, it was a great evening and a fabulous event. I look forward to celebrating with my fellow DWS holders next year.

My Life in Wine PR: The Importance of Being Ethical

While I consider myself to be an ethical person, the ethics of my role in public relations at the wine importer for which I work, never occurred to me. At least not until it hit me head on.

One of my first tasks required that I send out a save-the-date to a pre-selected list of press members — some of whom are also members of the Wine Media Guild. Upon its receipt, I received an e-mail from one of the WMG’s officers who expressed some concern about my newly bestowed membership and my status as a public relations agent. I think I quelled the inquirer’s fears with my explanation, but it did underscore the ethical issues involved, many of which I had not considered prior to taking on this new job.

On a public level, I am keeping the name of my employers mum, although I have admittedly told a few people one on one. And, of course, some people know by virtue of having received the invitation mentioned above.

But, more importantly, I think that my actions as a wine writer need to be considered carefully in the months ahead, especially regarding the wines I discuss. I generally don’t do wine ratings on this blog, but I do write about and recommend wines through my monthly newsletter. Accordingly, I plan to avoid including wine recommendations from my present employer’s portfolio for the period during my employment. I don’t feel that writing about an event I attend under the auspices of my employment is unethical, as long as I am clear and upfront about that fact and the stated purpose of the event. Perhaps others disagree?

As a wine writer and journalist, I endeavor to be fair and open-minded in my writing and reporting and thus, the notion that I might engage in unethical behavior is anathema to me. To that end, I will be more alert to the possibilities of unethical behavior in an effort to avoid any such inappropriateness. However, I am confident that I can be objective in my writing despite my temporary PR position and hope that my colleagues will share that confidence.

My Life in Wine PR: Settling In

So, I’ve settled into a certain rhythm with the new job. Well, at least as much of a rhythm as one can get given the vageries of public transit. I leave my apartment at 8:00 AM, rush across the street to catch the M60, disembark at 125th and Madison to meet up with the Metro North train, whereby upon arrival I board a shuttle bus, which takes to me to my final destination is a corporate park. Fingers crossed, the trip runs 1.5 hours, but the return has taken as long as 2.5 hours door to door — not fun. Consequently, I’ve been rather exhausted at the end of the day and have thus been lax at writing. I’m thinking about getting a Net ook to improve my productivity en route, but have at least mastered the art of Facebooking from my phone in the meantime.

Once at the office, things aren’t too bad. My colleagues are very nice and helpful as I start to get the hang of various projects. Among my responsibilities, I need to track ratings, reviews and other press received by the importer’s wines and brands and share them with the marketing team and others in the field. I also help with sending out press releases, invitations to events and samples. Overall, not surprisingly, the goal is get these wines into the hands of influential members of the media who, we hope, will enjoy the wine and communicate favorably about it.

The power of the press is particularly evident as we look to share these reviews with the wine-buying public. Almost as quickly as the reviews are printed, the company is designing shelf-talkers in an effort to get these ratings side by side the wines in retail shops across the country. Other opportunities to capitalize on these scores come when a publication advises the producer or importer that one’s wine(s) have been favorably reviewed in an upcoming issue. Many of these publications offer the option of doing a label insertion, whereby the wine’s label will appear in print (and/or one the web) alongside the printed score and review. Of course, in most cases, there is fee involved, blurring the line between editorial and advertising. However, the scores are printed regardless of whether the option of doing a label insertion is taken. Sometimes, the publication will print a label or bottle shot on their own volition without the wine company having to pay any money, but this approach seems to be done less frequently by the big scoring magazines than others. All in all, it is really not that big of a deal; magazines and other publications are, after all, in the business of making money. But, as seeing this side of the business was new to me, I found it somewhat interesting to learn the truth.

On a side note, my new-found employment has provided me with a new answer to the age-old question, “What’s in a name?” Apparently everything. When I arrived at the office on day one, the IT person was setting up my e-mail and signature file. As he typed, I noticed a spelling error and brought it to his attention that there was no “e” in my first name, but it was too late. My e-mail id had already been established as tracey.kamens@companyname.com and the id was also my login for the computer, server and all thing technological with this company. It’s been very weird to have to remind myself to purposely misspell my name on a daily basis.