Category Archives: What I Drank

What I Drank – Brotherhood Winery, Pinot Noir, 2010

The mighty Hudson River as backdrop

A fall weekend in the Hudson Valley inevitably leads to two things: apple hoarding and wine tasting. This year, my annual visit led me South-West of the river near Washingtonville and Warwick, and consequently, to Brotherhood Winery.

I am generally disappointed in the Hudson Valley wineries as a class. I have been to most of them several times, but they fail on an annual basis to improve their game. Yet, whenever I’m in the region, I can’t help but follow the grape trail like a brain-dead zombie. At least there are a handful of reliable wineries where I can get my fix when in desperation mode (on vacation and must…go…wine tasting). Benmarl and Millbrook are perhaps the most serious about their winemaking mission.

Due to low expectations, I had eluded this little corner of the valley for the last ten years. This time around, with obligations in the area, I figured I would check out the self-proclaimed Oldest Winery in America.

Brotherhood, established in 1839, earned the title of Oldest since the winery was able to operate continuously throughout Prohibition. Let’s see: wealthy owners + corrupt politicians = exemption from the rules; in Brotherhood’s case, they were making holy wine (ironically out of an unholy alliance). Now they produce an enormous array of wines including a wine-ish product, commissioned by NJ Housewife Teresa somebody, called a Fabellini (talk about unholy!)

Various wines and wine-like products at Brotherhood

The tasting room is vast, and can probably accommodate loads of tour buses. Visitors are asked to purchase a ticket and a chalice before they can drink—choose wisely: $5 buys a tiny, flimsy plastic cup like you find in your dentist’s office, or $7 gets you a souvenir glass. I ponied up the extra two bucks for the glass glass since I don’t drink wine from the same vessel that delivers a fluoride rinse. The manager—or better, the winemaker—should make a push to remove plastic from the tasting experience; it is insulting to their visitors and embarrassing to the winery.

If you can’t tell by now, I was pretty skeptical. However, the experience turned a corner upon meeting the very knowledgeable and friendly JoAnn at the tasting counter. We bonded immediately over her equal degree of mortification over the cup fiasco. She poured us through their line-up of dry wines and explained only the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were grown in the Hudson Valley; the rest of the grapes were purchased from the Finger Lakes or Long Island. In fact, that is the model most wineries follow throughout the Hudson Valley. All in all, the wines were perfectly acceptable and reasonably priced for what they were and for NY State. Their Pinot Noir stood out from the pack, however, due to its price point at $14.99. Below are my notes.

Soft fruit flavors of strawberry, cherry and raspberry are complemented by a pronounced earthiness from wet leaves, mushroom and baking spice on the finish. Good acidity adds structure, and the wine, surprisingly, bears a faint resemblance to an AOC Bourgogne. No new ground is broken here, but for $14.99, this has to be one of the better, inexpensive Pinots in NY State. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I bought a Pinot Noir for that price, and still finished the bottle.

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What I Drank – Domaine de Cébène, Les Bancels, Faugères 2010

Domaine de Cébène–a rising star!

No matter how many wines regions I try, there is always another waiting to be discovered, and France is particularly replete with appellations.  Take Faugères in the Coteaux du Languedoc in the South of France.  The appellation has only been around since 1982, but Faugères is now considered an unofficial cru of sorts for the region (meaning some think it is better than others), known mostly for its reds made from Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache.

This small appellation due north of Béziers is only about 5000 acres, and it would have been a blip on my radar, had not a local restaurant been willing to take a chance and serve this little-region-that-could by the glass.  What makes Faugères unique is that it sits on a schist-load of rock. No, seriously, the soil is 350 million year old schist (a metamorphic rock derived mostly from clay, that flakes and breaks easily). For winemakers, particularly the French, this translates into terroir.  Another attribute of Faugères, so I read, are the like-minded, quality-driven winemakers that dominate production.

Enter Domaine de Cébène.  The founder of the winery is Brigitte Chevalier, a former export manager in Bordeaux, who began making wines from others’ grapes, before purchasing her own vineyard in Northern Faugères.  First, let us applaud that Brigitte is a female owner/winemaker. I hope one day we needn’t give special kudos to women in the biz, but as it stands, there are a lot of dudes dominating the industry. Second, her wines have received a lot of acclaim in a short amount of time–a woman who knows her schist.  

Brigitte produces several wines, one of which is the Les Bancels, or “terraces”, made from Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. I purchased the 2010 vintage from Garagiste for $18.99, after a write-up promising I would be in-the-know for this rising artisanal star.  Honestly though, I had kept an eye out for anything Faugères, after drinking that first, intriguing glass a few weeks prior. How did it go?

Les Bancels tastes like a dance through the wild herb-strewn, summer fields of the South of France, where blueberries, cherries and bramble fruit ripen from the endless sunshine.  Lots of ready-to-be picked fruit up front, with a spicy, peppery finish and minerality (the shist terroir?) throughout. The wine is balanced by good acidity and smooth tannins.  There is a little alcoholic heat that can be tempered by an ever-so-slight chill on the bottle.

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What I Drank – Baxter, Oppenlander Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Mendocino 2009

Baxter Oppenlander Pinot 2009

Glorious Mendocino, I am in love with your wines. Readers, keep an eye out, because my next several posts will include winery profiles, favorite bottles and a run-down of my visit there a few months back, including where to stay and what to eat. Although Mendo and the wines of the Anderson Valley are on the cusp of discovery, it is still a quiet, delightfully rural, forest and fog-filled fairy-tale of foraged food, pure and fresh wines and intriguing winemakers.  Can you tell I have a crush?

I landed my bottle of 2009 Baxter Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot direct from the winemakers by tracking the Baxter family down at their rustic, ridge-top home/winery in the Anderson Valley.   I will be posting a separate profile on the winery, so just a brief note on their story here. Baxter is a young husband and wife team, Phil Jr. and Claire, led by Phil Sr., between them carrying 50 years of winemaking experience (mostly Phil Sr.’s).  They produce single vineyard Pinots from the surrounding lands, and production is tiny.  The Baxters practice restrained winemaking and use neutral French oak for maximum purity of fruit.

It is often opined that wine tastes better at the source than it does once you get home—perhaps the result of the rose-tinted lenses we sport on vacation coupled with too many glasses of wine. Not true in this case.  I tasted the ’09 at the winery and although found it delicious, I thought it a touch shy.  What a difference 9 months makes (no, I have not since had a child).  This bottle was assertive with vibrant red raspberry and cherry fruit; layers of sexy tannins, smooth like the silk purse of a Chinese Empress, yet full of finesse from the mountain air acidity. Hints of savory earth and wild herb, followed by a lightly spiced finish; a heartbreaker for sure, particularly at $60. 

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What I Drank- Valsacro Rioja “Dioro” 2005

Valsacro Rioja “Dioro” 2005

Valsacro Rioja “Dioro” 2005 made the sale rounds several months back, showing up at drastically reduced prices on Lot 18, Wine.com and my go-to guy, Garagiste.  With a suggested retail of $50-$60, but offered at the crazy tariff of $19.99 by Garagiste, I felt compelled to give it a try.  I don’t care much for scores, so I relied on the detailed winery and tasting notes to convince my trigger finger (or rather a left-click of the mouse) to order a bottle.  Valsacro Dioro is still available on wine.com for $24.99, as well as a smattering of other smaller shops for $19.99, found using wine-searcher.

Dioro is the premier bottling out of the new Valsacro winery, built by the Escudero brothers in the Baja region of Rioja.  The brothers, once under the tutelage of their father, broke free of his small, traditionally minded bodega in order to pursue their own modern-style of winemaking.  The Dioro is a blend of Graciano, Tempranillo, Carignan and Garnacha, and is the result of a rigorous grape selection process, followed by 12-14 months in the winery’s best French oak barrels.

I love the vibrant, inky-purple depths of color in my glass; we wine drinkers sometimes mistakenly believe deep color will reveal intense flavor, but in this case, the foreshadowing was dead on.  The palate is dense, sexy and velvety-smooth, with traces of smoked meat, pepper-spice and a cornucopia of black fruits.  Juicy, balanced and heavenly if you can get it for $19.99. 

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What I Drank – Changyu Dry Red Wine, Vintage Unknown

Changyu Dry Red Wine (non-vintage?)

I planned to write a simple tasting note on the single bottle of Chinese wine I drank in China, while providing background info on the producer.  While looking up the winery Changyu, however, I came across a few random pieces of info on the ‘nets that struck me as comment-worthy.

1. Changyu winery just celebrated 120 years of wine-making. What?  Maybe they were fermenting Snake Wine, but I highly doubt they have been producing Bordeaux-esque, barrel-aged wines for ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY YEARS.  Well, I looked it up and YES, technically the winery and cellar were built in 1892, but they had a hell of a time producing anything worthy of consumption. In 2002, the French Castel Group teamed up with Changyu to create the first professional Chateau in China.  I guess I should retract my affront and at least give them credit for being first in trying to establish a vineyard in a non-wine drinking country (at the time).  And if that didn’t blow your mind, how about this:  Changyu is now the 10thlargest wine producer in the world!  So many new (scary?), random facts learned today. Here come some more…

Napa Town?

2.  Changyu winery announced plans at their 120th anniversary gala to build a wine theme park, twice the size of Monaco.  This “Winetropolis” would include such delights as a “wine-themed tourist town”, a vineyard, a shopping street, wine spas, bars and a chapel. Yikes. Having just returned from China and seeing the utter destruction done by the domestic tourism industry to both the natural environment and China’s ancient cities, this scares the crap out of me.  Seriously–the whole country is going full-Disney.  Why can’t domestic tourists embrace the natural beauty of their country?

Evening blight-show in center of Lijiang

Imagine putting up fluorescent, multi-colored high-beams all around El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, then holding a nightly song and dance show at the base of the mountain, set to David Guetta, using workers bused in from Appalachia, forced asked nicely to prance around in fake Native American garb, all while selling out of tickets to this disaster EVERY NIGHT; followed by a mass migration to the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, recently converted into a ginormous, disco-lit karaoke barn. This is the city of Lijiang, China.

3. A French Sommelier, while at the dubious 120th Anniversary tasting, apparently declared he was “glad to see that Changyu can produce great white wines, red wines, sweet wines and brandiesall different products but all at a very high level. They compete very well with the French wines.”  Seriously? Who is this Sommelier Pierre Barthe, and what on earth is he drinking in France?  Apparently an independent British wine consultant feels differently: “it (Changyu) has yet to improve quality in both its vineyards and winemaking.”

Oh, well. The world is officially insane. And with much ado about nothing, here are my tasting notes:

The wine draws a blank on the nose—very little aroma.  There is some perceptible, pleasant red fruit on the palate, but nothing I could pick out of a gang in a fruit line-up.  The wine has obviously had some oak treatment, reminiscent of a brown paper bag—possibly oak chips. The tannins are dry, a little scratchy but not totally offensive.  Amazingly, this is NOT the worst wine I have ever had.  For what it’s worth, we finished the bottle.  Of course, my standards may have been lowered inadvertently as a result of the sh!tty-Chinese-beer-fatigue-syndrome I was suffering from at the time.

Drinking some Changyu on the balcony in Lijiang

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What I Drank- d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab, Viognier/Marsanne Blend, 2009

I love Viognier, so to continue my theme of tasting Australian vinos, I decided to throw this nugget into my imaginary wine.com “basket” since I was already paying a flat rate for shipping, and online shopping is make believe anyway—until the bill and box show up. The d’Arenberg is actually a blend of 72% Viognier and 28% Marsanne, similar to styles found in the Southern Rhone of France. Mmmm—getting excited for this one.

First, a few winery facts, if you care: d’Arenberg vineyard was founded in McLaren Vale in 1912 by a teetotaler, crazy enough.  The winery is well-regarded in Australia, and their wines are prolific in the U.S., at least more so than other Aussie producers. The name The Hermit Crab has a two-fold origin: first, deriving from a shortening of “Hermitage”, the region in Southern Rhone known for the Marsanne varietal; second, honoring of the little crustaceans that once crawled the floor of the region, millions of years ago, in the old-timey days of Australia.

Hello, aromatics! One of my favorite sensual enjoyments from a glass of wine is the sniffing. I am like a dog to another’s behind, gathering data and pleasure from the aromas.  Yea, bad imagery, but the analogy works. My nose is blasted by juicy pears, apricots and peaches so ripe you really should make a smoothie with them. The palate builds upon that, with layers of citrus pith, grapefruit, almond, spice and the slightest hint of tropical deliciousness.  Fairly full-bodied with a touch of oak, this is a marathon wine—two days later, tasting just as fragrant and vibrant as the first.  Not life-altering, but could be enthusiastically enjoyed on a summer weekend.  $17.49 from wine.com.

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What I Drank- CADE Napa Cabernet Cuvee 2008

Photo by Lauren Mowery

I find California Cabernet Sauvignon a delight to drink, but we don’t consume it very often at home.  I tend to cook fish, chicken and pork during the week, which results in choosing a lighter-bodied and less tannicor whitewine as a pairing.  Plus, many of the Napa Cabs we store are too expensive for the casual mid-week imbibe.  Maybe by the time I retire, I will have stockpiled enough Napa Cab in my future cellar that I can be more carefree about pulling one when I like, but for now, $60 bottles are for very special occasions.

This year for V-Day, my husbandwho hates to cookdecided that for his annual battle with the kitchen (reserved for special occasions such as this), he would sacrifice a feta and red pepper stuffed beef tenderloin roast.  Time would tell if my service as reserve sous chef would be called upon (this was usually indicated by swearing and dirty looks directed at the meat); meanwhile, I took the opportunity to relax and open a  2008 CADE Napa Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon I had picked up last summer, direct from the gorgeous winery perched on the side of Howell Mountain.

THOUGHTS:

My eye candy quota is filled by the delightfully vibrant ruby-red core and magenta rim of the wine.  The ambrosial nose beckons for a deeper sniff of cassis and sweet black fruit, and my first sip reveals a more feminine, less muscular palate than Cade’s Howell Mountain cousins. A concentrated collection of black raspberry, blueberry and blackberry fruit is laced with wintry baking spices, cocoa powder and the slightest hint of leather.  Plush tannins linger on the long finish, and are perfectly paired with a bite of juicy, medium-rare steak, compliments of the chef.

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