Tag Archives: Wine

Richmond Plains and Te Mania, Nelson, New Zealand

SteveGill Last week, I posted about my visit with Brian Bicknell of Mahi Wines. After our boat excursion on the Marlborough Sounds followed by an impressive wine tasting at his cellar door, I took off for a weekend in idyllic, low-key Nelson to spend a few days with the wine community out on the far northwestern tip of the South Island, not far from renowned Abel Tasman Park. My first stop in Nelson was with the team from Richmond Plains and Te Mania, owner and sales director Lars Jensen and winemaker Steve Gill.  Initially separate wineries, Te Mania and Richmond Plains eventually merged, retaining individual labels, but converging ownership and winemaking. Gill, who has been there since 2009, was my steward that morning. I had sent out a request prior to arriving in NZ suggesting to winemakers eager to break from the traditional winery tasting format, that I was keen to get outside into the sunshine and do something active, if convenient. Taking me up on the offer, Steve planned a picnic of local fish, spreads, crackers, and cheese, plus all the wines for tasting, to take out on a morning bike ride along the Nelson/Tasman Great Taste Trail. BikePathThroughFields Signature Wines and Prices:

  • Richmond Plains Sauvignon Blanc NZ$ 25
  • Richmond Plains Pinot Noir NZ $25
  • Te Mania Sauvignon Blanc NZ$25
  • Te Mania Reserve Pinot Noir NZ$ 35

 What philosophy guides your viticulture and winemaking? My philosophy is that wine is a magic blend of pleasure and healthiness. Organic viticulture and oenology means that our wines are healthy for the environment and for drinking. I have had winemaking experiences around the world (California, Burgundy, Alsace, and the Mosel) and have learnt that if you have a great site and healthy vines you will make great wine that is unique.  Biodynamics: I have always felt that there is a spirit and energy in everything and that respecting this increases the positive energy in life.  Richmond Plains was the first in NZ to make certified Organic/Biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)?  Having our wines judged in wine competitions where a judge spends minutes tasting the wine. It’s like trying to know someone through speed dating; wine should be experienced with food over an evening.  It’s the difference between shaking hands with someone, followed by a quick chat, and spending the evening with someone. We have been very successful with wine competitions but I wish they didn’t exist as wine should not be a competition, it should be a celebration!  What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing/winemaking in your region? The benefits are that we have the highest sunshine hours in NZ, a cool climate that makes crisp refreshing whites and aromatic elegant Pinot Noir. Another benefit is the two distinct soils types (Waimea river gravels and Moutere Clay) which produce wines that reflect these soil differences.  An ironic drawback is that we make amazing wine from so many different varieties that we haven’t a single variety for which we are recognized. This has resulted in a recognition for aromatic wines which spreads from Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Noir.  Another drawback is that we are a small region with artisan family owned wineries that struggle to get exposure when competing with large, Marlborough, foreign-owned wineries with big marketing budgets.

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 What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? Pinot Noir. With increased vine age and viticulture/winemaker experience, there are consistently exciting wines coming from the Pinot Noir regions. And they are great value!  How do you think Americans (or the outside world) perceive NZ wines? Where the hell is NZ? They make wine there??? (only joking!) I think that most Americans know we produce great Sauvignon Blanc, though there is a growing realization of how good our Pinot Noirs and aromatic whites (Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer) are.  What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Least?  California or Oregon are my favorites: amazing, friendly people, great food, beautiful places — shame the wines are so expensive! I love all wine regions as there is always something special about the place, people, or wines that is worth discovering. My least liked wine is Australian Shiraz that has added tannin, acid, and sugar.  It tastes artificial and that is not good for you.  Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Pinotage, and it deserves its bad reputation!  What do you drink at home when relaxing?  I have eclectic tastes and like constantly trying new wines from around the world.  Currently I am drinking a lot of really delicious Alsace whites (Binner, Boxler, Meyer Fonne, Bott-Geyl, and Paul Blanck).  How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? I spend as much of my spare time with my two-year-old son Theo who is pure joy to me.  Also I am very committed to a local 700 hectare bird sanctuary. I am a pest trapper and love hiking through the wonderful Kiwi forest. We are fund raising to build a pest-proof fence if anyone is interested in contributing? Brook Bird Sanctuary Nelson.  If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be?  I would love to travel with my wife and son around Tuscany. I have been a few times before with my wife, but I think my son would love Italy at his age at the moment. Give one surprising fact about yourself. While at University getting an honours degree in Neuroscience, I was in a punk band called Leper Sweetheart!  

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Winemaker Albie Koch of De Toren, Stellenbosch, South Africa

De Toren Albie Koch with Milo

In light of Nelson Mandela’s passing and the publication of my article on his vinous legacy, I decided to offer South African winemakers a channel through which to share their stories. I interviewed a handful of winemakers and winery owners regarding their thoughts on Mandela’s influence on the industry and the mood of the country as it mourns this week. We also dig into the challenges of their respective regions, the foods they like, and everyone’s favorite, winery dogs.

A brief background on De Toren Private Cellar:

Emil and Sonette den Dulk left the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg in 1991 to seek the beauty and serenity of the Cape winelands. They stumbled upon what Emil refers to as “a little piece of heaven” in the Polkadraai Hills, with the magnificent Stellenbosch Mountains as backdrop. It was here that they established De Toren Private Cellar. With the help of specialists from the University of Stellenbosch, Emil set out to carve a niche for his boutique estate by creating South Africa’s first five-varietal Bordeaux blend, the now legendary Fusion V. The current winemaker is Albie Koch.

Albie, where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Vryburg (Kalahari), South Africa, and I now live at De Toren in Stellenbosch.

How did you get into the wine business?

Out of curiosity. How does one grow grapes and make something so enjoyable!

We all witnessed around the world, the passing of Nelson Mandela this week. Do you feel he made a contribution, either directly or indirectly, to the wine industry?  What is the mood around the country right now?

Nelson Mandela lead us out of the apartheid era and into the opening of international markets. This lead to an explosion of our wines being exported to all over the world. Yes, he most definitely contributed to the wine industry. Currently the country is in deep mourning and in a somber state. The world needs more leaders like Nelson Mandela.

What are the challenges of making wine in your region?

Stellenbosch is blessed with all aspects: weather, diversity, and sunshine! Our biggest challenge each season is also the most appreciated thing in a season–wind. Wind ( southerly wind here has a nickname: The Cape Doctor)  at the wrong time (flower stage) can have detrimental effect on your crop, but then wind during the season (southern winds are cool) is the air-conditioning in our vineyards, which gives us the cool climate.

Have South Africans’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years?

South Africans are becoming true wine consumers and are now opting to explore the higher-end of wines, not just the bottom.

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

In the past, the overseas markets were flooded with low-quality wine from South Africa, thus S.A. was not recognized as a high-end producer. If you look at the ratings and weigh them against some French and California bottles, however, one will see that we are a wine producing country that can punch in the same weight class as these highly-rated wines. We should be taken seriously!

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected?

I do not know about understood or respected , but underestimated is definitely Malbec. The Malbec we can grow in South Africa is awesome! Just ask the few that have tasted our Malbec.

What do you drink when relaxing at home? 

I tend to drink more of our fellow winemakers wines from South Africa, and on the odd occasion, will have French or US wines. My every day drinking wine: Chenin Blanc from South Africa. We have some wonderful examples of stunning stuff.

What types of food do you enjoy?

Because our weather is so great we tend to prepare our food outside on a braai (barbeque), whether it is steak or fish. Anyone that has had a braai with a glass of wine, overlooking False Bay on a clear summer evening, will tell you there are probably very few things that can beat that feeling.

If you could be traveling right now, where would you be?

Kalahari/Botswana. The tranquility of the bush can be found nowhere else. Believe me, nowhere else.

DeToren CellarExterior02

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Nelson Mandela and His Vinous Legacy in South Africa

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If you missed my article in yesterday, here’s a second chance to read it. Interviews with South African winemakers to follow throughout the next few days, including comments on the recent passing of Nelson Mandela and his role in expanding and improving the wine industry.

Throughout the week, South Africans will gather to grieve en masse the loss of Nelson Mandela. A courageous statesman, Mandela began his political life as a young Soweto lawyer steering the resistance against apartheid, only to be imprisoned for twenty-seven years for his labors, later emerging to become president. Undoubtedly, his post-release navigation of the country away from the shores of a civil war into a peaceful, thriving, multiracial democracy will be regarded as his greatest achievement, and one for which he won the Nobel Prize.

However, Mandela’s leadership had other positive ripple effects — for example, it helped expose the local wine industry to the outside world, forcing improvements in viticulture and winemaking practices. Thus, this week we pay tribute to his extraordinary legacy through a missive exploring South Africa’s wine country.

The Cape wine industry is considered New World despite the arrival of vines via the Dutch in 1655. The industry’s three and a half centuries of production were as fractured as the country’s politics, and in several key instances, mirrored the nation’s political movements. Setbacks included the devastating wrath of phylloxera, a rash of overproduction, restrictive quotas, and a significant knock-back in the form of international trade sanctions in the ’80s as protest against apartheid. However, many credit Mandela as having influenced, both directly and indirectly, the Cape Winelands’ transformation into a modern New World industry. Authors and South African wine authorities Elmari Swart and Izak Smit expound upon Mandela’s impact:

This rather unsophisticated local market, when compared to international markets, did nothing but limit the winemaker’s scope for creativity. It was only after Nelson Mandela’s release from political imprisonment and the subsequent elections in 1994, that serious international focus fell on the South African wine industry. Mandela’s support for South African wines formed a necessary political stepping stone for the true emergence of Cape wine. Mandela toasted his 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Cape wine. –The Essential Guide to South African Wines

I journeyed to South Africa two years ago and fell in love at first sight — it was easy to see for what Mandela was struggling to keep free but intact. The unrivaled drama and grand cinematic beauty of the Cape Winelands — rumpled terrain, mist-shrouded peaks, and endless green velds — coupled with the gravity of her complicated history, a country that’s collectively endured the peaks and troughs of joy and sorrow electrified my senses and left an indelible stamp on my spiritual passport.

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In addition to the scenery, the wineries themselves impressed. The charming architecture often reflected the classic Cape Dutch look, but several were über-modern, full of glass and steel; all capitalized on the dramatic views, gardens, and countryside greenery available to them. Perhaps my deep captivation hinged on the fact that the gap between my expectations and the actual degree of sophistication was so wide. After all, the country’s modern wine industry was still nascent, begun not long after dismantling the apparatus of apartheid.

Overall, the wines were of reasonable price for good to very good quality (although only occasionally sublime). South Africa is associated with Chenin Blanc — also called Steen, but the name’s use is dwindling — and Pinotage, but the Rhone and Bordeaux blends stood out, and varietal bottlings of Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay deserve consideration.

Unfortunately, frequenting South African wine country is made difficult by a very long flight — 17-hours direct from JFK to Jo’burg, then another two-hour flight to Cape Town — so most of us may ever only taste her vinous fruits on our shores. To that end, a few months ago, I gathered nearly 40 bottles from our local market to suss out the best of what’s available here at home. Many bottles were samples, some I purchased and a few I pulled from my personal collection (those are still available in our region).

I gathered a panel of 20 friends and colleagues. We made boerewors sausage, peri peri shrimp, bobotie, lamb sosatie, and chakalaka, attempting to marry the spirit of South African foods with the wine.

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We tasted poorly made wines, a number of classic styles (e.g., oak-aged Chardonnay), and several killer bottles. However, a large percentage of the wine we sampled sat firmly on the right side of safe, offering broad mainstream appeal to international tastes while lacking maverick spirit. As the industry is still young, it is likely on track to have a second wave of winemakers with a renegade approach that’ll bring more cutting-edge wines to market. Perhaps the movement is underway now — it’s hard to know without being on the ground, and the interesting, small production stuff isn’t often exported (a major selling point for traveling!).

My resulting list of 10 picks, with input from all tasters, is Chenin Blanc- and Stellenbosch-heavy, in part because those wines showed the best, but also because we had more of them in the sample pool. These 10 wines are by no means meant to suggest the top in our market (we didn’t taste everything), and they shouldn’t discount the fact that wonderful wines are made in other regions like Constantia, Swartland, Franschhoek, Elgin, etc. But they are good and provide a range of price points to suit your wallet.

It’s also worth noting that the Mandela family has entered the wine business, producing a line under the name House of Mandela. Makaziwe (Maki) Mandela and Tukwini Mandela, respectively daughter and granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, came to New York in October to show their Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Sauvignon Blanc. I haven’t tasted the wine, so I cannot comment, but it appears Mandela’s wine legacy will continue, at least for a few more generations.

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Kanonkop Pinotage 2010, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, $35 
The finest Pinotage I’ve ever tasted. Smoke, red and black berries, an edge of minerality, and a full-body with decadent, silky mouthfeel. Will convert Pinotage detractors.

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011, Stellenbosch, $15
Made by a Chenin specialist, this bright, citrus-scented, tropical fruit-filled wine, with obvious but carefully integrated oak, shows a hint of nut and spice on the finish.

Raats Original Chenin Blanc 2011, Coastal Region, $14 
A great value for under $15 — I’ve found it for close to $10! The wine is refreshing and lively with pineapple, crisp apple, and floral notes. Thanks for keeping this one out of oak.

Cape Grace Chenin Blanc 2011, Western Cape, NA,
Loaded with tasty white fruits like apples, peaches, and pears plus a kick of honey and guava, too. Bright, cheerful wine.

Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Stellenbosch, $29 
The winery sits nestled high on the slopes of Helshoogte Pass, the altitude providing concentrated flavor and fresh acidity to this dark berry-, plum-, cocoa-, and fig-saturated wine.

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Thelema The Mint Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Stellenbosch, $39 
The panel favorite, I found this bottle hidden in a cabinet — another taster tried to save a final glass for herself. Notes of mint lace the classic Cabernet flavors in this balanced wine, but just enough to provide interest without overwhelming.

Rudi Shultz Syrah 2010, Stellenbosch, $30
A rather big, meaty wine with smoked-bacon, mocha, anise, blackberry, and pepper, made by a next generation winemaker who is also winemaking for Thelema.

Excelsior Chardonnay 2012, Robertson, $9 
Super value, enjoyable white plumped up with 3 percent Viognier, showing peach, apricot, and pineapple — a perfect aperitif wine.

De Toren Fusion V 2008, Stellenbosch, $50
I drank this post-panel, but it probably would’ve been a contender for the top prize — after all, it is the winery’s premium bottling. A concentrated, elegant, well-made wine, like drinking crushed velvet, showing hints of leather and tobacco interspersed with dark chocolate and blackberry. A wine for angels, the producer writes. I agree.

De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc 2011, Stellenbosch, $35
A “high-achiever” if you follow scores, this solid wine spent almost a year snuggled in new and older oak, but the mouthwatering acid and citrus, acacia honey, and stone fruit notes remain intact. SRP is $35, but I have seen for $25.

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Where to Eat in NYC:
Madiba, 195 Dekalb Ave, Fort Greene, 718-855-9190. On Sunday, December 15, at 6 p.m., the restaurant will be screening the funeral from Qunu, South Africa, with a prayer and live performance by the South African Allstars.

Where to Buy in NYC: 
Chelsea Wine Vault, 75 Ninth Avenue, 212-462-4244
Union Square Wines, 140 Fourth Avenue, 212-675-8100
Astor Wine and Spirits, 399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500

 

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First Days in Sydney, September 13-14

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5 Reasons to Visit Lake Chelan

I got a taste of Lake Chelan, Washington before the Wine Bloggers Conference in the Okanagan Valley this past June. Here are 5 Reasons I recommend a visit to this remote-ish part of the country, as posted on Fodor’s today.

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A 55-mile long sliver of water called Lake Chelan sits nestled at the base of the North Cascades mountain range in Washington. Located three hours northeast from Seattle, this out-of-the-way region has been known to city-dwellers for decades as a summer getaway spot, but has only recently made its national debut as a trek-worthy destination. And for what? Wine, of course. The pioneers of the nascent, ten-year-old industry took vinous cues from their cousins in the north—the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia—and concluded that if the Canadians could make robust reds and zippy whites another three hours further north in a similar climate, so too could they. There is more to do around Lake Chelan than drink wine—actually lots—but a visit to the vineyards makes for a good beginning to any trip.

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VINEYARD VISITS

Launch your day at Vin du Lac WineryOwner Larry Lehmbecker produces a variety of wines, including a particularly good Riesling and Cabernet Franc. The property sits perched above the lake, and tastings can be enjoyed outdoors on the patio. Stay for lunch to sample their bistro fare. Next, pay a visit to gregarious couple Rob and Donna Mellison of Mellisoni Vineyards. Forget jockeying for position at annoyingly crowded tasting bars—the Mellisons bring the wines to you while you’re literally barefoot in the grass, reclining in their Adirondack chairs. The lake view is so expansive you’ll feel like you’ve been painted onto a life-size canvas. And the wines are stellar, too.

Every party needs a little sparkle, so take yours to Karma Vineyards to taste fine bubbly wines produced in the style of méthode champenoise(the way the French make it in Champagne). Tour their cave, and then hitch a ride up the hill on the Karma trolley for another incomparable Lake Chelan view. For a small operation making impressive wine, visitNefarious Cellars; the bright, crisp Riesling and plummy-floral Syrah stood out amongst their peers. Wrap up your afternoon with a tasting atVentimiglia, founded by Ron Ventimiglia, a tile-setter-turned-winemaker. Open during the summer until six pm Thursday through Sunday, Ventimiglia puts out a serious line-up that includes flavorful Pinots and Syrah.

Insider Tip: To make for a full day of wine touring, designate a driver or hire a limo. If you’re partial to a guide with a boisterous personality, hire the best-named chauffeur in the world, Danger Russ; someone will definitely go home with a cork-necklace that night.

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AFFORDABLE TRANSPORTATION—IN A SEAPLANE

Chances are, you’ve never gone wine-tasting in a seaplane. Not only is it unusual, but it sounds frighteningly expensive. Yet, Chelan Seaplanes, a local family-owned company with a 41-year safety record, regularly transfers tasters from downtown Lake Chelan on a de Havilland Beaver floatplane and delivers them to Rio Vista Wines, a winery with an enviable riverside location. The 10-minute scenic flight provides glimpses of the Columbia River, the iridescent turquoise lake and vineyards strung along the hills. After your hour-long tasting at Rio Vista (try the Malbec and Tempranillo), climb back onboard for your return flight home. For an aerial view and glamorous arrival, $69 round-trip is a bargain.

Insider Tip: If traveling with a group of six, charter a plane for the day. Hit the winery before heading towards Canada for a flightseeing tour of the North Cascades, home to over 300 glaciers. Each seat on the plane is equipped with a headset and intercom for your pilot to narrate points of interest along the trip. And in their words, “if there is a landable lake or body of water, we can charter you from here to there.” Sounds like a challenge.

DAY TRIP TO STEHEKIN

Lower Lake Chelan, where most of the vineyards are located, is dry and arid rather than wooded wilderness. To satisfy your inner woodsman, head to Stehekin, located at the convergence of four protected areas, including North Cascades National Park and Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. There aren’t any roads—a visit to this “town” (fewer than 100 people live here year-round) requires entry via foot, flight or boat. Chelan Seaplane (see above) charters flights for day trips, or seize the opportunity to get on the water and float into town on the Lady of the Lake ferry. At the boat dock, rent a bike and ride through the community, or a kayak to ply the nearby glacier-fed waters. Of course, hiking is a major attraction, and there are trails to keep you occupied for days should you decide to stay over and camp or rent a log cabin.

Insider Tip: For a “taste of Stehekin,” ride your rental bike two miles up the valley road to the Stehekin Pastry Company. Owned and operated by the Courtneys, the original family to settle this remote area, they bake a mean cinnamon roll. Next, head over to The Garden to meet Karl Gaskill, the village organic farmer, and score some of his honey and homemade goat cheese. Remember to pack the honey in your suitcase; it’s considered a liquid and the crack airport security staff nabbed mine from my carry-on. Finally, have a true cowboy dinner atStehekin Valley Ranch, featuring a limited menu of nightly specials and a chance to hang one-on-one with a Courtney.

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LAKEFRONT LODGING

To get the most out of the lake, stay on it. Unlike most resort towns where a beachfront view costs as much as the plane ticket, the properties around Lake Chelan serve up affordable water views, often from your private balcony, steps from the lake’s sandy shores. Our favorite is Campbell’s Waterfront Resort. Both family-owned and family-friendly, you get a reasonably-priced, spacious room without sacrificing style or charm. The resort has a pool, spa, and on-site dining at The Pub and Veranda, a popular spot with an open-air atmosphere overlooking the historic downtown. A few others to try: Wapato Pointand The Lake House at Chelan.

Insider Tip: While you are on the lake, take the opportunity to paddleboard and kayak, both popular water activities. If you are staying at Campbell’s, you can fish right off their dock—just pick up a license at Kelly’s Hardware, a half-block from the resort. Also, every Wednesday, Campbell’s offers a fishing class for kids. If you want a fishing guide service or boat rental, speak with the front desk or check their websitefor resources.

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SMALL-TOWN PRICES, DIVERSE DINING

The “finest” dining in town, Andante offers classic Italian dishes. In general, however, the region sports a down-home, casual approach to living and eating, so embrace the vibe. Head for the hills, or rather, head for Blueberry Hills in Manson for a breakfast of overstuffed fruit-filled pancakes and crepes or eggs-benny. They have a U-pick farm next door, so load up on blueberries and strawberries for the 15-minute drive back to Lake Chelan. Another Manson option, Cannella Kitchen defines “homemade” and “farm-to-table” dining; during the growing season, Adrianne and staff farm and harvest most of the vegetables they serve. No liquor license yet, but fingers-crossed for craft cocktails starting in August. Back in Lake Chelan, if you are hunting for pizza, locals swear by The Local Myth, and to satisfy those with a meat-tooth, the Winemaker’s Grill at Wapato Point Cellars has earned acclaim for its selection of dry-aged steaks. For a dose of Italian fare with great views and house wines, try Sorrento’s at Tsillan Cellars.

Insider Tip: From May to October, Lake Chelan Winery throws a nightly BBQ in the vineyard featuring ribs, chicken, and salmon paired with house wines. Kids have free rein to run around the vineyards and play kickball, keeping them happy and busy while you relax.

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FREE TRIP ALERT: British Columbia Wine Tasting Adventure Giveaway

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I am giving away a free trip for two to visit the beautiful wine region of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada, compliments of the Oliver-Osoyoos Wine Assocation.

How do you win?

First, follow my blog ChasingtheVine. Then tweet me a photo @chasingthevine of you and a bottle of wine somewhere other than your house or a restaurant. Yes, go outside, get on your roof, show me your view. Go to a mountain, shoot it standing in a fountain. Take a bottle to the Top of the Rock or underground on the subway. The most creative location-based shot will win and be featured on my blog. Tweet to @chasingthevine and use #showmewine. Enter as frequently as you like. Contest open from Monday June 24, 2013 until Monday July 22, 2013. Winner announced that week.

Why should you go?

  1. Gorgeous  Wineries & Wines: 200+ in the region, and you can hardly find the wines in the States
  2. Stunning Scenery: lakes, mountains, valleys, vineyards
  3. Outdoor Activities: paddle-boarding for water babies, hiking for mountain lovers
  4. Seriously Friendly Canadians
  5. Local and Organic Food: Similkameen Valley holds title of “organic capital of Canada”
  6. Okanagan Wine Festival in the Fall: October 4-14, 2013

Trip Includes:

  • Travel voucher ($800 value)
  • Dinner for 2 at a member winery restaurant ($150 value)*
  • Lunch for 2 at a member winery restaurant ($75 value)*
  • Car rental ($125 value)
  • 2-night stay for 2 at a local hotel ($400 value)*
  • Private winery tours and tastings ($200 value)

*Exact details regarding restaurants, hotel, and wineries involved will be confirmed once the Oliver-Osoyoos Wine Association knows when you plan to visit.

This contest is restricted to those of eligible drinking age, who hold a valid passport (and can travel internationally), and are legally able to leave the country (sorry, but no criminal records please!) The award has no cash value, and is non-transferrable.

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Pairing Wine and Food: Why Burnt Ends and Châteauneuf-du-Pape Will Stoke Your Palate

Manzanilla and Fino Sherry with Iberian tapas from Tertulia, NYC

Last week, I opened a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape to drink with takeout from Fletcher’s BBQ. I wasn’t really thinking about the pairing, although perhaps “big red and big food” subliminally guided me to pair the Southern Rhône with charred hunks of meat. I’ll leave the review of Fletcher’s to our food experts, but I can say authoritatively that a bite into a burnt end after sipping that wine resulted in a heavenly smoke-and-spice combo reminiscent of a campfire crackling with fat drippings.

This got me thinking about food pairings, which don’t have to be complicated and shouldn’t evoke sitting for the New York Bar Exam. Ignore all those articles offering recipes with esoteric ingredients and overly precise pairings with wines you can’t find. Instead, arm yourself with a few easy concepts to elevate your daily dining from mundane to divine — because eating BBQ should always be a transcendent experience.

Here are the basics:

Match Weight and Body

Heavy foods like a lamb stew or rib roast call for a full-bodied wine, so reds are the usual choice. But the key here is body, so a big white like an oaked California Chardonnay, might be a better match than a daintier red such as Zweigelt from Austria. The same rule applies to lighter foods. Generally, fish is complemented by more delicate wines, so many whites fit the profile, but so can light-bodied, low-tannin reds, thereby debunking the myth “white with fish, red with meat.” Also consider your sauce: fish smothered in lobster and cream is no longer delicate (nor low-fat.) Example: Dolcetto and Cioppino (fish stew with tomatoes)

Marry Flavor to Flavor
Flavor intensity is not the same as weight. A potato is heavy but low on flavor, whereas asparagus is pungent but not hefty. Chardonnay can be full-bodied but low in flavor; Riesling is a lightweight wine with intense flavor. Intensity in both the wine and food should be equivalent, or else one will overpower the other. The cooking method also plays a role in flavor intensity; for instance, steaming versus roasting versus smoking. Example: Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Burnt Ends/BBQ

Pair Acid with Acid
Drink a tannic red wine with a salad dressed in vinaigrette to experience the ultimate food-and-wine clash. Sadly, this combo often leads people to think they don’t like the wine, when in fact the pairing was the problem. Sour flavors in food dull the wine, so you need a lot of acid in your vino to keep things refreshing. When dining, be mindful of acidic ingredients like tomatoes, lemons, limes, apples and vinegar. Example: Sauvignon Blanc and Ceviche

Try Sweet with Sweet
Dry wines can become mouth-puckering and tart when paired with food that possesses even a smidgen of sweetness. Sweet food is best with wines of similar sweetness, whether it be a honey-baked ham with sweet-potato mash or pears poached in red wine. Example: Moscato d’Asti and French Toast with Fruit

Fat and Protein Like Tannin
Most of us non-vegetarians are familiar with the mouthful of magic that occurs when combining a meaty, marbled steak and a powerful, highly tannic red wine. The tannic effect softens when it reacts with the protein and cuts the fat. However, leaner cuts with high protein content, like a tri-tip, don’t need as aggressive a wine; try a Malbec instead. Example: California Cabernet Sauvignon and Grilled Ribeye

Oily and Salty Dislike Tannin
Tannic red wine and an oily fish like mackerel can result in a metallic taste, while tannins turn bitter with really salty foods. Acid cuts through oil (think of an oil and vinegar salad dressing), and salt benefits from the refreshing zip of acidic wines. Salty foods also work well with sweet wines; consider how well pretzels dipped in chocolate or prosciutto and melon go together. Example: Champagne and Potato Chips or Truffle Salt Popcorn

Heat and Sweet
Spicy food is a category ripe for disaster when paired with a high-alcohol or dry, tannic red wine. You’ll start a five-alarm fire in your mouth as alcohol fuels the effect of spice. Instead, lower-alcohol wines with a touch of sweetness keep the heat in check. Example: Off-Dry German Riesling and Sichuan Cuisine

Regional Wine with Regional Food
Try pairing wine and food from the same countries/regions. The locals probably spent centuries perfecting their cuisine, so follow their lead. Example: Manzanilla Sherry and Spanish Tapas

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Where I am going- Harvest East End

HARVEST EAST END

Let’s make a list of our favorite things: Wine (Always #1). Food (Close 2nd). Sunshine followed by Sunset. Charity. Tented events held in the Hamptons. Yes, that sums up the potentially fabulous event on Saturday, August 25th, 2012 from 6-9 pm in Bridgehampton that is Harvest East End.  Nearly 40 wineries from Long Island will showcase 200 plus wines, including unreleased barrel samples; 30 restaurants will provide tastings of their latest creations; and all of this bounty will be offered in the spirit of charity to benefit East End Hospice, Group for the East End & Peconic Land Trust.  A few tickets are still available online and at the door for $150. See you there!

Sunset over Long Beach, Sag Harbor (another favorite!)

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Untapped Regions – Australian Riesling

Part of the purpose of this blog is to highlight places I have been and wines I drank there. But there are literally hundreds of regions in which I have yet to step foot; so if I can’t get to the wine, let’s bring the wine to me.  After a long spell this winter without a plane ride or road trip—4 months is an eternity—I was feeling stranded on the not-so-deserted island of Manhattan, and was thus inspired to create a series on Untapped Regions.  The goal of this series is twofold:  taste through a place I have not personally visited by gathering 8-10 representative bottles, and highlight a region that is generally overlooked by the current wine consumer or marketplace.

I take cues for my wine selection from the season.  The stands at the Union Square Greenmarket are swollen with ramps, spring garlic, asparagus and rhubarb; the typically dingy city air is fragrant with blooming lilacs; the vivid hues of orange tulips and yellow daffodils, planted in Abingdon Square Park, are electrifying—for once, a wise use of taxpayer money. Yes, folks, the fleeting season of Spring is upon the city to tease our senses before slipping away for another year.  I plan to make the most of this perfect time in New York by celebrating with a review of Australian Rieslings, for my inaugural Untapped Region exposé.

I specifically chose Australian Riesling because the Aussies produce them in a crisp, citrus-y, high-acid, desert (not dessert)-dry style with serious ageability; and because Australia has completely fallen off the American wine drinker’s radar.

Come out, come out wherever you are…

Australian wines were prolific in the American market for many years, but in the last decade, they have virtually disappeared from the shelves from many wine stores, notwithstanding the soulless mega-brands like Penfolds, Jacob’s creek, Wolf Blass, Lindemans, Rosemount (you can thank Foster’s for many of these) and the most popular slop, Yellow Tail.  If you don’t believe me, go to your nearest wine or liquor store and you can probably count on one, maybe two hands, the number of non-mega-brand wines that they carry.  In fact, it is kind of eerie.  I took the picture below from a medium-size, highly regarded wine shop in Manhattan.  I have tried to disguise the photo, as my point is to merely highlight that there are only 14(!) wines from Australia, and only one (top left corner) is a Riesling.  It happens to be the most expensive one available in our market, and one that I taste during this trial.  There are double the number of wines from the south of France, located next to the Australian section, encroaching on Aussie shelf territory.  Jeesh- no love for our winemakers down under.

So, what happened in America (because the Brits and Europeans are actually drinking this stuff)? Two things: Yellow Tail for one, and the blown-out style of Shiraz, for the other—both of which flooded our market. “Cheap and cheerful” as a marketing platform for Wine Australia dulled our palates to their products; they tried to corner the market on affordable wine, and as a result painted themselves into a discounters corner.  At the higher-end of the spectrum, too many wines were made in an overripe, alcoholic and over-oaked style (I am referring to Shiraz), that blasts taste buds and doesn’t go well with food.  What Australia failed to do was distinguish its wines regionally—think Napa Cab or Burgundy Pinot.  Wine drinkers will believe in the value of the product when certain factors are promoted—a sense of place, that the wine can’t be recreated anywhere else; specialization in producing a few varietals really well; and a history of wine production: the vines in Southern Australia are phylloxera free and many Riesling plantings are up to 120 years old—Pewsey Vale has been producing for 164 years!  Australians have made wine for more than a century, so I can’t believe it is all bad down there.

Riesling by the Region

Clare Valley and Eden Valley are the iconic regions for Riesling production, both located in the driest state of the driest continent in the world. The miracle of water!  Clare Valley is north of Adelaide and West of Barossa, in a high altitude pocket.  Riesling is the dominant varietal and nearly every winery makes one.  Eden Valley is located in the Barossa Zone (known for big Shiraz), but has a cooler climate and higher elevation than Barossa Valley, making it perfect for the varietal as well.

Unfortunately, because of the backlash to the perceived crappiness of the Australian product, specialty importers shuttered their shops and gave up on the U.S. market.  This means less diversity of wines from boutique and medium-size wineries, making it harder to find great breadth of examples of Clare and Eden Valley Riesling.

The bright side…

Because Australia’s market share in America has declined, there are actually great deals on the wines when you can find them, especially online.  I sourced from 3 sites since each one had more than a bottle or two in their inventory, and I didn’t want to pay shipping 9 times from 9 different stores. I found Wine.com, Sherry-Lehman and K&L Wine Merchants to have enough to fill my need.  I believe I tracked down a good cross-section at multiple price points and vintages.

The players:

2006 Pewsey Vale “The Contours” Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia

2010 Pewsey Vale Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia

2011 Pewsey Vale Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia

2010 Dandelion Vineyards, Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling, South Australia

2008 Wakefield Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia

2008 Mesh Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia

2007 Loomwine Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia

2010 Grosset “Polish Hill”, Clare Valley, South Australia

2007 Frankland Estate, Isolation Ridge Vineyard, Frankland River, Western Australia

Drink this here…

In addition to tasting the wines and offering my impressions, I will also suggest travel pairings.  It may seem unusual, but if you are like me, you appreciate a little travel titillation with your wine.  A girl can dream, can’t she?

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