Tag Archives: white wine

Winemaker Ken Forrester from Stellenbosch, South Africa

KEN

Yesterday marked the culmination of a weeklong celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life as he was buried in his childhood village of Qunu, South Africa. Continuing my conversations with South African winemakers, Ken Forrester of his eponymous label Ken Forrester Wines, takes a few minutes to share his thoughts on Mandela, the state of S.A.’s wine industry, and why Chenin Blanc is the most misunderstood (but not for long) grape.

A brief background on Ken Forrester Wines:

Situated on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountain, in the heart of South Africa’s most famous wine region Stellenbosch, our vineyards are commonly referred to as the Home of Chenin Blanc and other premium award-winning wines. Over the years our range of top quality wines has received massive national and international acclaim with literally hundreds of awards and accolades over the last 20 years and are broadly available in reputable restaurants and exported around the globe. Ken Forrester’s philosophy has always been to create a range of handcrafted, individually made wines that suitably complement a wide variety of food styles and provide excellent value.

Signature Wines:

  • Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc ($11.99 SRP)
  • Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc ($14.99 SRP)
  • Ken Forrester The FMC ($64.99 SRP)
  • Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest ($54.99 SRP)

Where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Chingola, Zambia, miles from any vineyards or wineries! I am now living in the shadow of the Helderberg Mountain in the region of Stellenbosch right on the Atlantic ocean – the most beautiful place in the world.

 How did you get into the wine business?

Sheer luck–not sure if it was good luck! Passion, passion, passion, careful what you wish for!

The world witnessed the passing and subsequent burial of Nelson Mandela last week. What was the mood of the country and how do you think he influenced South Africa’s wine industry?

With the recent passing of Nelson Mandela and the very extensive world interest and wonderful coverage, it is an amazing time to almost re-live the Magic of Madiba. There have been so many poignant reminders of his canny way, his amazing statesmanship, his ability to grasp a moment and define it for all time. Again, we as South Africans and pretty much all of the world, are reminded about our transition from Apartheid, minority government to the democratic government of today, and the many pitfalls and crevasses on the way, it is truly a modern miracle that we made it happen. And it in no small part rests with the incredible leadership of Mandela, a man often content to allow the younger more nimble members of the flock to lead the way while he, like the good shepherd brought all the flock with him; he was always a shining example of humility and thoughtfulness. Here passes a great man…

Do you think South African wines have any particular reputation in the States that you think is inaccurate?

Yes, too often we are seen as cheap and cheerful “critter” wines – 2 cats, 3 dogs, spotted frog, etc. This is because we are seemingly naïve enough to provide buyers with their request “for the cheapest possible juice”  but this is not what SA is all about; our best wines can stand their ground with the very best in the world and this “cheap wine” perception is unfortunate and inaccurate.

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected?

Chenin Blanc, but its time is coming; more and more quality producers are making great wines from Chenin Blanc.

What excites you most about South African wine right now?

Better quality every year and we’ve got a great new wave of young winemakers!

What do you drink when relaxing at home?

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc or Renegade (a GSM blend).

What types of food do you enjoy eating?

Fresh, wholesome pasta; grilled/barbeque meat; risotto;  and fresh, garden grown salads.

What music do you listen to?

Blues, Jazz, Rock & Roll

Winery dogs?

Yep! Max, Bella and puppies Phantom & Whiskey.  

Puppies

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Cool Wine Aperitifs for the Fourth of July

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I have never been interested in wine-based concoctions. Maybe it’s the purist in me, but wine has natural balance, structure, and flavor–it’s the complete package–so why tinker with it? I am also lazy, and find making cocktails messy and tedious. However, I rediscovered two old friends that, though perfectly lovely on their own, improve tremendously when they’re served as sparkling aperitifs for summer sipping: fino sherry and white port.

Fino sherry is a fortified wine that comes from the southwest region of Spain near Jerez. Throughout Andalucía, both in spring and summer and especially during festivals, the Spaniards guzzle pitchers of a fino-based drink called a rebujito, a spritzer that’s light on alcohol, incredibly refreshing, and the drink of choice on hot afternoons. Bonus: It’s also easy to make.

Portuguese white port has very few followers in the U.S., and that’s a shame. It’s the otherport: a fortified wine made with white grapes instead of red. The Portuguese drink white port with tonic during the hottest months. It’s a cross-generational cocktail–both the hip kids swarming the outdoor cafés in July and older men whiling away time playing cards top off their pitchers with the mixture.

The rebujito and port-and-tonic are Iberia’s answers to heat-easing summer day-drinking. The NYC summer can feel as steamy as a wet T-shirt competition on Nassau Island, but summer on the the Iberian peninsula sees temperatures high enough to melt the landmass off the European continent. So let’s rejoice that we don’t have it that bad and head to Central Park with a few pitchers of our own.

Rebujito

Easy Recipe
Ice
2.5 ounces fino sherry (Tio Pepe is widely available and popular in Spain)
2.5 ounces chilled 7UP (try the Ten-version for calorie-counters)
lemon slice and mint sprig to garnish

Pour sherry then 7UP into an ice cube-filled highball glass, stir gently, garnish.

Better Recipe
Ice
2.5 ounces fino sherry
1 to 1.5 ounces fresh-squeezed lemon juice (adjust for desired tartness)
1 Tbsp. simple syrup
soda water
lemon slice and mint sprig to garnish

Pour sherry, lemon juice, and simple syrup into an ice-filled highball glass. Stir. Top with soda and stir again, gently. Add garnish. (This makes a fairly tart drink. Add more simple syrup for a sweeter version.)

Port and Tonic
Ice
2 ounces white port
4 ounces good-quality tonic water, such as Fevertree (though Schweppes will do in a pinch)
orange slice and mint sprig to garnish

Pour white port, then tonic into an ice-filled highball glass, stir gently, and garnish.

Where to Try:Macao Trading Co., 311 Church Street, 212-431-8750
Where to Buy: Manley’s Wine & Spirits, 35 Eighth Avenue, 212-242-3712

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The Journey? No, the Destination. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

PART 1: Getting There…

The wheels screeched and rumbled, braking, bouncing, striking the runway. Our plane careened forward another few minutes, inertia tugging me against the seat-belt, before coasting to stop at the gate. I peered out the mini-window of the CRJ. Dirty beige plastic framed the striking scene: In the distance sat mountains, stoic, frosted in snow like sifted sugar. Tall pines painted Crayola “forest green” reached beyond my peripheral sight. Fog, stretched like a roll of gauze, gently draped the shoulders of each granitic peak. How lovely, I thought wistfully, taking a mental snapshot. If I lived in Vancouver, this view would greet me when I came home.

But I live in New York City. I had just completed leg one of a long journey home from Penticton, B.C., following the close of the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. Rather than Pacific Northwest grandeur, my friendly flight-hub of Newark welcomes weary homebound travelers with glimpses of central New Jersey’s local highlights: smokestacks and power grids. But I wouldn’t see that view today. My plane landed at midnight.

The trek to-and-from Penticton proved exactly as I imagined: a trek, especially for those on the East coast. Even with a major hub (Newark) and direct 6-hour service to Vancouver (United), an hour-layover followed by a quick 30-minute hop to Kelowna on a small regional plane (Air Canada), Penticton was still another hour-drive further south.  Flying to London is faster.

Truthfully, the travel time and sequence of connections exhausts. I endured first-time flyers holding up the security line for pocket-change; gruff stewardesses, stingy on the soda pour, refusing to give up the whole can as though protecting a baby cub.  My seatmate wore a crinkly, stiff jacket the entire flight. His coat folded like origami each time he moved, scratching my skin. I scrunched my arm for relief from the itchy fabric, nearly bruising my ribs in retreat, while he smothered the armrest into submission.

Sorry Mr. Emerson, but you never endured the United/Continental merger. Unless one is privileged enough to ride the Orient Express from Singapore to Thailand First Class, the joy of modern travel is no longer about the journey, it’s the destination (plus a little anticipation mixed with relief your plane landed)—so it better be good. And British Columbia is that good. The exercise in patience taxation is worth it. That view I would return a thousand times for; the mountain-fog-and-pine-tree postcard through smudged pane that greets you when plane meets earth. And knowing what lies beyond as you pick-up your luggage in a rush to break out of the airport penitentiary: pristine wilderness, genuinely genial people and the alluring wines of the Okanagan Valley.

Part 2: Coming Soon…

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The Lightness of Being Australian Chardonnay

Aussie Chardonnay Tasting

Aussie Chardonnay Tasting @ Corkbuzz

Today’s Topic: Chardonnay from Australia. Writing that took a lot of nerve, so please refrain from grumbling and hear me out. I probably elicited a cask’s worth of groans over my Shiraz post last week; maybe you are wondering how I can now press you to read about Chardonnay. Where are the Hungarian whites? The Romanian Pinots? Even the Australian Pinots! I will be getting to those too, promise.

Remember, the point of this blog is to not just uncover regions and wines you’ve never met, but to revisit categories whose cobwebs deserve to be dusted off. Carrie gave Mr. Big a second chance and they ended up married–yes, I just referenced Sex and the City and it felt icky, but I’m trying to make a point here. Should Australian Chardonnay get another shot at your affection?

As I mentioned in my Shiraz piece, I am in an ongoing Wines of Australia immersion class during which we explore different regions/styles/varieties in each session. This week we sampled Chardonnay.

I admit to never, ever, ever, never reaching for a bottle of Chardonnay, ever. Not when sitting down to dinner at home (truth be told, we eat sitting on the couch, but still) nor for a post-work aperitif with the ladies; not ever at a wine bar with a long list of white Burgundies (value problem in this case) nor when a restaurant only offers a choice of either Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. Well, maybe then, but if that’s the extent of their wine program, I should probably be ordering a cocktail. Simply. Never. Do. I. Drink. Chardonnay.

Now that you know how low Chardonnay ranks on my personal beverage totem pole, here are 5 Australian Chardonnays that I would not only drink if I had to, but would twist open on my couch, sacred place that it is, because I want to. This demonstrates an overarching principle that I too must be reminded of: We have one shot at this life; always keep an open mind.

We tasted through two flights of wines populated with pretty examples of how refreshingly different Chardonnay can be. In fact, one reason Chardonnay is so loved by growers and winemakers is for its adaptability and malleability: Stainless steel; lightly oaked; Mediterranean sun; cool climate. Each unique set of circumstances and choices provides a distinct rendition on a general theme.

I prefer a lightness and brightness in my white wines; imagine the weight of a balloon drifting into the sky and the brilliance of a sunlit diamond. Many of the Australian Chardonnays showed those qualities and were fresh, perfumed, and perhaps most important to consumers, competitively priced. Gone were the heavily oaked, dull palates of many earlier forms of Aussie Chardonnay.

Australia does some other varieties extremely well, in ways that no one else can touch: Inimitable Clare and Eden Valley Riesling, and Hunter Valley Semillon, for example. So, I can’t agree I believe the way to America’s heart should be through Chardonnay, but at least these wines prove they have a place on the wine drinker’s table—or couch.

I have included some tasting notes with each wine. Truth be told, the personalities of each wine evolved so much, that each note is merely a snapshot of a moment in a glass.

  1. Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise Unoaked Chardonnay 2011, Mclaren Vale, SA, $12.00: Refreshing, good value offering mandarin-orange aromatics and peaches and pear on the palate.
  2. West Cape Howe Chardonnay 2011, Western Australia $17.99: Bright and fresh with kiwi, guava and lemony-citrus notes busting out of the glass.
  3. Stonier Chardonnay 2007, Mornington Peninsula, VIC $20.00: Elegant and lively showing ripe lemon and stone fruit laced with minerality. Interesting savory note on finish.
  4. Heggies Chardonnay 2011, Eden Valley, SA $20.00: Jasmine and orange-blossom evolve into ripe white fruits and citrus with an herbal edge. Well-balanced and priced.
  5. Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Yarra Valley, VIC, $35.00: Obvious but lithely applied oak-influence, balanced with bright apple and notes of garden herbs. Delicious.

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Unscrewed: Get Him to the Greek (grape!) Moschofilero

 

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Greek flag fluttering off the back of a ferry

If you missed my post on Unscrewed last week, here is your second chance:

It’s time to add a new grape to your repertoire and order a seemingly unpronounceable variety (see rule #2).

Despite the dreary economic situation, Greece has long been associated with the sybaritic lifestyle, attracting like-minded voluptuaries to places like Mykonos, Santorini, and Crete. Plus, Greek variety names sound seriously sexy rolling off the tongue, so let’s indulge our hedonistic streak and try a glass of Moschofilero (moh-skoh-FEE-leh-roh).

This grape is grown primarily in the high, cool Mantinia plateau in central Peloponnese, and produces dry white wines that are light in alcohol (between 11.5 to 12 percent), but intensely perfumed with wild florals, spice, stone fruits, and citrus notes on a racy, fresh palate.

Greece boasts 6,500 years of wine-making on its résumé. But a lack of international awareness (partially due to the fairly recent revitalization of the industry) means there are undervalued bottles hiding throughout the city’s wine shops. If you ask me, Greek wines are going to be the next big thing, so taste them while they’re still under the radar and cheap:

Where to try:

Moschofilero at The Immigrant

The wine list is quite short at The Immigrant, a very intimate, very dark East Village establishment, but it covers some interesting territory. Although I take issue with its thick-lipped wine glasses — I prefer mine sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel — the Moschofilero is a perfect tipple on a balmy night: fresh, mouth-watering acidity with intense aromatics of pear, peach, and white flowers followed by lingering citrus pith on the palate. Antonopoulos Vineyards, Moschofilero, Arkadia, Peloponnese (Greece) $11/glass

Where to buy: 

Sherry-Lehman carries Boutari, Mantinia Moschofilero (Greece) 2011 $12.95. Boutari is a leader in the Greek wine renaissance and considered one of the best (and biggest) producers, making its wines easier to find in the States. While Uva in Williamsburg carries Nikiforou, Moschofilero (Greece) 2010 at a steal — just $10.

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Australian Riesling Round-Up: The Exciting(?) Conclusion

Wakefield and Grosset Riesling in a bike basket

Australian Riesling Round-Up

I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day every time I wrote an Australian Riesling tasting note.  “Minerals, acidity, lemon-lime, dry as a Brit’s sense of humor”—yes, most of the wines had some or all of these qualities.  If you like this taste profile, try these wines.  I found them to be very good to excellent in quality, and aside from one bottle, extremely reasonably priced.  If any of the wines are sold-out through my links, try wine-searcher to check for bottles around the country, or the next vintage if the one I reviewed is no longer available. Unfortunately, I have looked back on a few bottles I tasted and discovered they are now tapped out completely in the American market.

After tasting 9 Rieslings, I conclude they offer the following:

  • Reliable quality and flavor profile.  Across the board, these wines are very consistent in palate.  For the wine buyer who doesn’t like to purchase brands they don’t know, this is a good thing. I was a little surprised not to find more variation between the wineries or even Clare and Eden Valley, but at least you know what you are getting yourself into if you can’t find the specific bottle you want. This is also good for Australia—their wines need to achieve regional identity to attract more admirers, and this is aided by consistency.
  • Good value.  I found many of these wines on sale, most likely because the American wine drinker doesn’t value them.  Very few people are storming the stores looking for Australian Rieslings, as evidenced by my inability to find them in local shops. I also imagine the casual wine buyer searching online, for say, white wine on sale on wine.com is not aware that for Australian Riesling, older vintages are better—this goes against the norm of white wine; shoppers may be disinclined to order them, mistakenly thinking they are over the hill.  Which brings me to the next suggestion:
  • Look for older vintages.  The fresh-out-of-the-vineyard wines are full of acidity and could use a year or three to even begin to mellow.
  • No need to drop a lot of cash.  You can reap the rewards of Australian Riesling in the lower price bracket, as they are well-made wines.  If you do splurge for prize wines (Grosset), get the oldest vintage you can find or hold it for several years, to really get the most bang for your buck and enjoy the qualities that make aged Riesling special.

I hope this enlightened some of you to the joys of Australian Riesling.  Comments or suggestions are welcome, particularly if you have another bottle to recommend or an idea for the next Untapped Region Series!

Sunglasses reflecting a wine glass in the Hudson Valley

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Pewsey Vale “The Contours” Museum Reserve Riesling, Eden Valley 2006

We have reached the final wine in my Australian Riesling review—Pewsey Vale “The Contours” Museum Reserve from the Eden Valley; the most prestigious bottling in the winery’s narrow line-up.  The winemakers hold this wine back for an impressive 5 years before it hits shelves, making 2006 the most recent vintage available.

You would never believe this juice was bottled nearly six years ago.  The wine exudes freshness and bursts like a citrus-y pop-rock on the tongue:  zippy and bright with grapefruit, lemon, lime and green apple.  As the wine opens and warms, toast and a touch of honey shine through with hints of Marcona almond and key lime pie.  Clearly this bottle can endure many years of wine-ownership, if you have the storage space and the self-restraint.  $26.99 at K&L Wines.

LET’S DRINK THIS IN IBIZA, SPAIN!

Late-nights at mega-clubs, drunk Brits and chicks, Euro boys in tight clothes and party sunglasses—this is the European version of Jersey Shore, and for many first-time visitors to Ibiza, their only taste of summer on the island.  But with a car and a companion, one can discover all the secrets of this intriguing place— hidden, romantic restaurants; the wild, herb-scented shores of the rocky north coast; gorgeous beaches found by following a footpath coupled with curiosity; and historic villages in which the original islanders still reside.  After a day exploring, let’s unscrew a bottle of The Contours, watch the sun set and toast to taking the road less traveled.

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