Monday, November 26, 2012

Rioja: A True Sense of Place

There is so much to say about this magical place, but I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking.  We
spent our first few days in Barcelona, then traveled cross country by car to Rioja.  It felt as if we were driving back in time as we approached LaGuardia,  medieval fort where our little hotel was contained.  Once we arrived, it was already dark and we were exhausted but the kitchen was still open (not a suprise in Spain as dinner is typically served at 9pm).  This first meal in Rioja was our most memorable.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Adore J. Lohr!

So Ben and I had the privilege of going to a wine tasting dinner featuring J. Lohr Vineyards, hosted by Mt. Airy Liquors, at Brick Ridge Restaurant in Mt. Airy.  We had been to Brick Ridge once before when we moved to Mt. Airy and enjoyed the food a lot but found it to be a bit pricey in general.  At $58 a person, this particular tasting dinner was well worth the price.  We were served five amazing courses with five different wine pairings that I will describe below.

J. Lohr Vineyards are located in Monterey and Paso Robles, CA.  They use sustainable farming measures, have a 3 acre solar photovoltaic tracking system that helps to conserve electricity, and conserve more than 900,000 gallons of water annually!  

Course 1:  Duck sausage with a blueberry mustard paired with the 90 pt 2010 Wildflower Valdiguie.  This pairing was a match made in heaven.  The bright ripe cherry on the palate really emphasized the sweetness and acidity of the food.  The wine could stand up well on its own I believe...very quaffable.  I had never heard of the Valdiguie grape, but apparently it is often mistaken for the Gamay grape, used in Beaujolais. 

Course 2:  A stack of a fried green tomato, salmon terrine, and scallop was paired with the 2009 Carol's Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine was fresh and herbacious with a tinge of juniper and grapefruit on the nose.  The pairing with the salmon in particular was gorgeous.  This particular wine is also special to the J. Lohr family and is named after the late Carol Lohr (the founder's wife).  Two dollars earned off every bottle is donated to help provide mammograms for women in need.

Course 3:  An appetizer of sage sausage and cornbread paired with the 90pt. 2009 Falcon's Perch Pinot Noir.  The wine had a touch of smoke on the nose and was very well balanced and supple.  It was such a cozy pairing when combined with the appetizer.

Course 4:  The main dish was a bison croquette, boar brisket, and venison steak served over mashed root vegetables paired with a very hearty, inky 2008 Tower Road Petite Sirah from J. Lohr's Paso Robles Vineyards.  Being that I am not a meat person, I had a hard time with this dish.  But I can say that my husband really enjoyed it.  I can, however, speak for the wine and say it was one of those full bodied, masculine delights that you don't even mind staining your teeth for.  It reminded me of a berry pie.  Loved it!

Course 5:  Dessert!  We had an apple and apricot gellee with mouse and an apple/ginger cookie with the 2006 Late Harvest White Riesling.  This was heaven in a glass...well two glasses really as the dessert itself was served in a martini glass.  Both the gellee and the wine were rich and sweet and now that I'm talking about it, I am craving more.  The wine was like a golden fruity nectar!

Overall the entire dinner was put on so nicely and I really plan on keeping an eye out for more events like this in the future.  It was a little pricier than our average evening, but the value and the presentation was worth it.  I just can't say enough good things!



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Finger Lakes trip: Oct. 2011

So Ben and I just got back from the NY Finger Lakes and had such an amazing time.  Fortunately, it is only a 5 hour trip for us so its a vacay I think we are going to be taking commonly.  There are so many things to see, eat, smell, taste and do (pleasure central!) that I had to keep telling myself, "you don't have to do it ALL now, there will be other visits."  So I will give the rundown on what we did do and what it was like.  I'll do sort of a photo journal type thing to keep it organized.

Day 1:
View from Dr. Franks

We woke up early on Saturday to drive the 5 hours to Keuka Lake (the chromosome shaped lake).  Our first stop was Dr. Konstantin Frank's winery.  This was an essential stop as Dr. Frank was the dude that put NY wines on the map by planting and successfully growing European varietals (vitis vinifera).  Being that it was Columbus day, it was quite busy.  Even so, we were still whisked away to a tasting area pretty quickly.  I thought maybe we would be rushed along in the tasting, but that wasn't true.  We were given lots of info and plenty of time to savor.  Our personal favorites were the dry Riesling and the Chardonnay.  If you like very austere, crisp, lightly Chardonnay, then this one is for you.  We also really loved the Pinot Noir.  They had some tasty sparklers as well if you are in the mood.

Next, we headed to Heron Hill Winery which is the next logical visit after Dr. F's, being that it is so close.  This winery was gorgous and also has a cafe connected to it, though we opted for a picnic on the hillside.
Heron Hill
They had a few very drinkable wines, but nothing that completely knocked my socks off.  I thought the Blaufrankisch (Lemberger) was interesting, but I have a hard time spending more than $25.00 on a wine unless its pretty special.  We did get a bottle of the Eclipse Red (Bordeaux Blend) which Ben really liked. 

Our third stop was Keuka Lake Vineyards, which is a small farm winery that does limited production wines.  They keep the best of the grapes grown on the farmstead for their own wines and sell the rest to other producers.  We loved the dry Vignoles!  Though the place didn't look impressive, I thought it was worth the pit-stop there.

On the other side of Keuka Lake was Ravines Wine Cellars.  Due to the fact that this was our last tasting stop for the day and the pours were generous, this one is a little blurry for me.  We did not do the food and wine pairing because there was a bit of a wait for that, but I would come back again and choose that option.  I thought the wines here were great QPR's (quality per price ratio).  They had dry whites that really represent the region.  The Riesling and the Sauvignon Blanc were winners in my book.  They really represent what NY Finger Lakes wines are all about.
Ravines Wine Cellar

Pearl, lakeside at the Viking Motel
After doing our tastings we decided we better figure out where we were going to stay.  My recommendation is obviously to plan this ahead.  We decided to live on the edge and find either a camp site or motel once we got there (on one of the busiest weekends of the season).  We got lucky and found a vacancy at a motel resort called Viking Motel.  The rooms weren't anything amazing, but it was right on the water.  They had bonfires every night.  They also have a hot-tub and pool.  Plus they are dog friendly!!  At $100/night, this fit the bill for our purposes.  Though if you want something a little nicer, there are lots of adorable b&b's and great rental homes on the lake.

That night we had dinner at The Switz, which was chosen b/c of how close it was to the Viking.  The carry local wines there (though honestly I forget what I had...).  The food was fine, but if you want gourmet I'd go somewhere else.  We liked that it overlooked the water, though b/c of that it was pretty crowded.

Day 2:
We decided to head over to Seneca Lake for the 2nd day of the trip and our first visit was the Sunset View Creamery in Odessa.  We really wanted to pick up some cheese curds for the rest of the tastings.

Our second stop was Silver Springs Winery, which Ben and I really enjoyed.  The winery itself isn't much to look at, but the wine was great.  This was the first winery where the reds really were the highlight.  John, the winemaker, did a nice job of describing each one.  The 04 Cab Franc and the 08 Cab Sauv were among the best in my opinion.  I thought the Pinot Grigio and Riesling were kind of kick ass too, but the reds were killer so that's what we got.

Finger Lakes Distilling
Next we decided to visit a distillery, as per Ben's request.  I am not much for hard liquor so we split the tasting at Finger Lakes Distilling.  In other words, Ben tasted 80% and I tried the remnants.   He loved the Seneca Drums Gin and the Maplejack Liqueur.  I thought the cherry liqueuer was good (like cherry pie!).  The building was gorgeous.  We also picked up a jar of lavendar asparagus that had been pickled in hard cider.  Those lasted all of one day and they were gone.

Stop number four was Atwater Vineyards.  This was not one we had planned on, but the location on the water drew us in.  I thought the wines were pretty decent.  The Riewurtz (Riesling and Gewurtztraminer blend) was worth trying, as well as the Chardonnay Ice Wine.  It was certainly worth a visit.

Our last visit for the day was for lunch/dinner at Rooster Fish Brewing in Watkins Glen on southern tip of Seneca Lake.  This place was GREAT!  They had so many great beers to choose from and a lot of vegetarian options on the menu (which you know I love).  The Firehouse Blonde and the Dark Nut Brown Ale rocked.  Though the other two that I like are not online and I forget the name.  Both were Belgian style...and that's all I remember.

At this point we headed back to the Viking and hung out on the water.  They had a bonfire and we got some hot tub time.

Day 3:
This was our last day so we really didn't do a whole lot.  We needed to get on the road since Ben had a presentation the next day that he needed to practice.  We decided to make a few last stops though after having some breakfast at a cute diner called Crooked Lake Ice Cream Parlor in Hammondsport (tip of Keuka lake).

First we went to Shtayburne Farms for some more cheese curds.   They had a large variety of cheddars and curds in many flavors.

Hermann Wiemer Vineyards Fermenting Tanks
Stop two was Hermann Wiemer Vineyard.  I'm really glad we snuck this one in.  They had some very classy wines here.  The family has been making german style wines for over 300 years so of course this place had a lot going for it.  In fact they were recently named in the top 100 wineries in Wine and Spirits Magazine in 2011.  I thought the Riesling was pretty perfect and the Gewurtztraminer was super mouth watering and racy.  Next time visit I will bringing more money to spend here!

Our final destination was the first organic winery in North America, Four Chimneys Organic Winery.  This was a miss as far as I'm concerned.  I was curious and it seemed promising.  The barn that it is in is very cool.  You can see the ax cuts and tell that it was hand made.  But the wines were disappointing.  If you like very foxy sweet wines, then it might be for you.  Their big cellar is the Eye of the Bee which is Concord grapes that are sweetened with honey...PASS.  Another disappointing thing was that they did not serve wines in glasses, but rather in plastic cups.  If they are trying to go green, this seemed counterproductive.  It was still fun though.

Final thoughts...
You simply can't have a bad time here!  Even if you aren't a wine lover, this place has a lot to offer.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

To Cork or Screw

A topic that seems to be of heavy consideration for wine consumers these days is the choice between wine with screw caps or corks.  Its definitely a debate worth looking into, and is a huge decision for a winery to choose what type of bottle closure they use.  The usage of true cork is one that carries with it a great deal of tradition and there are a great deal of consumers that would never consider buying a bottle that doesn't use cork.  However,there have been many concerns about TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) which is the compound that gives wine a musty flavor. 

According to Christian Butzke, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Food Science at Purdue University, "wine can be spoiled for many reasons unrelated to cork or TCA."  There are a variety of reasons a wine could be spoiled: contamination of wine processing equipment, oxidization, airborn molds, etc.  Dr. Butzke goes on to say, "The habit of blaming cork may explain why estimates of TCA contamination based on anecdotal evidence range from 2 percent to 10 percent and above.  But a large and growing amount of hard evidence concludes that the incidence of TCA has dropped precipitously in recent years and is commonly measured at less than 1 percent of wines sealed with real cork."

So...with this being said, I think that most people should not be too worried about corks 'ruining' their wine.  But because of the misconception about corks, a lot of wineries are turning to alternative closures such as synthetic corks and screw caps.  We are beginning to see a lot of new world wines, in particular, switching to alternative bottle closures.  France is still pretty traditional in their wine making techniques, so it would be pretty rare to see them using anything but cork (but we love them for their tradition though!).  Anyway, below I have outlined the pros and cons to each type of closure.

Traditional Corks:
Pros:  They are traditional and provide a nice solid seal.  Those who like to smell the cork can do so.
Cons:  They contain TCA and can possibly contaminate the wine.  Also, they can dry out and crumble.

Synthetic Cork:
Pros:  There is no need to worry about TCA contamination in the wine.  Another benefit is that aesthetically it looks very similar to the traditional cork and you can still use your corkscrew to open and get that lovely "pop" affect.
Cons:  The seal is not as good as a true cork and can lead to oxidization in the bottle.

Screw Caps:
Pros:  These wines are easy to open and a perfect seal. 
Cons:  People like to pop corks, and for those traditionalists, unscrewing a bottle of wine can make the experience a little less special. 

Another cool invention I have seen that is becoming popular are "Zorks".  They are a type of closure that you can peal and reseal and have a small reusable cork inside.  The company is in Australia, and I have seen them in a few different Aussie wines lately. 

So now that we have seen some of the pros and cons to each choice, I will go ahead and insert my opinion here.  I think for me personally, it doesn't rightly matter what type of closure a bottle has.  If I have an interest in the wine, I am going to get it, I am going to open it ("pop" or no "pop") and I am going to enjoy it. 

But what are your thoughts fellow wine lovers?


Monday, March 21, 2011

A Wine Pairing Struggle for Vegetarians

My husband and I have recently gone vegetarian since watching the documentary "Food Inc".  I highly recommend this film, but only if you are open to the idea that it might seriously change the way you look at processed meat in the U.S.  But anyway, this blog entry is not meant to be a rant on my disgust with all the terrible food available to us Americans.  I instead want to discuss what I find to be a challenge in my wine-drinking venture.  Its gosh darn hard to pair wine with a vegetarian meal.  I mean we battle with this every weekend.  There are some dishes that are a piece of cake.  I mean its easy to pair a nice Merlot with a Pizza or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with a cream based pasta.  But other things are tricky.  Why?  Acidity in wine helps to cut through the animal fat in meat dishes.  Also, tannins tend to soften when paired with heavy proteins.  I love a nice big red wine, but its tough to get that protein element in the food to really knock it out of the park.  I've been reading some suggestions which I'm really curious to try.  I was reading some suggestions that adding nuts to food can often help in pairing oaky wines to food.  Good!  I freakin love nuts!  Also, they suggest adding cheese and cream to dishes for more acidic wines.  Even BETTER!  Also, I read that Beaujolais and Pinot Noirs go well with most meals due to the fact that they are low in tannins.  Kevin Zraly posted a suggestion for some of my favorite Spanish wines...anything with mushrooms.  Well, anyway I do hope to hear some of your suggestions on vegie pairings to try....or NOT try.  Thanks again for reading! 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is Wine Better if I spend more $$$?

I often find myself hearing about certain types of wine and wanting to try them, only to find out that the price per bottle is well over what I feel comfortable paying.  For example I have been wanting very much to try a nice Sauterne wine from Bordeaux but cannot bring myself to pay the 50+ dollars for a bottle that will supply me with one day of enjoyment.  Am I missing out?  Should I allow myself to splurge and try these allegedly lovely wines for special occasions?  Is a 50 dollar bottle of Sauterne 5 times more delicious and satisfying that a $10 Sauvignon blanc from New Zealand?

The truth is that price is not generally proportional to quality or level on enjoyability in wine.  In fact I find that most of the fun comes in finding great QPR (quality to price ratio) wines.  Its like uncovering a secret treasure or beating the system of wine hierarchy.  It's SO satisfying!  So if price isn't proportional (per se), why are some of the wines you see so stink'n expensive.  There are several factors that can really tag on the $$$'s:  quality of soil, decreased yield produced, popularity, aging, and certain vintages with better weather.

One way to taste the pleasures of a certain area without putting down a pretty penny is to know a little about the specific appellation.  For example: say you are in the market for a nice chardonnay from France but don't want to spend too much.  Instead of getting the Pouilly-Fuisse, which is a popular white chard from Burgundy, you might just go down a level in price by selecting the Macon-Villages and get a perfectly nice wine.  I also think a good way to find hidden gems is to purchase wines from regions that are not as widely popular in the US.  You can get some AMAZING wines from Spain for dirt cheap.  Also, some of the wines from Chile and South Africa are making some waves.  My husband and I just had The Wolftrap (blend of Syrah, cab sauv, and viognier)  from S.A. and it was phenomenal!  The important thing always is to just keep trying different things.  Don't fall into the rut of just selecting the same old Yellow Tail wine you always get.  You will find each wine you try starts to develop its own personality and that's the fun of it, right?

The thing to remember about wine is that it IS fun and doesn't have to be expensive.  But if you do have the money, well hey....go for it!