Monthly Archives: November 2014

Why You Should Drink Cru Beaujolais on Thanksgiving (and Every Day)

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Last week, a Beaujolais disciple emailed to say he would sic Ted Cruz on me if I recommend anything other than ‘merican wines on Thanksgiving, and this guy loves Gamay (and is a Canadian). But at the risk of offending patriotic readers (and inviting that Texas hound to track me down), I am committing to the following statement: Drink Cru Beaujolais on Thanksgiving.

While this is neither the first nor last time you’ll read “Beaujolais goes great with turkey! Stuffing! Football!” it’s a point worthy of unbridled proselytizing: Cru Beaujolais, not to be confused with the basic Beaujolais or the marketing machine known as Beaujolais Nouveau, offers absurd — nay, criminal — value, given its range of expressions, vibrancy of fruit, layers of complexity, food-friendliness, and sheer pleasure for a very, very low price.

Unfortunately, in the short term, any discussion of Beaujolais requires a preface for clarification, like Australian Shiraz. “Yuck,” you say? Exactly. The stigma attached to it — what people think Beaujolais is — and what Beaujolais can actually be are continents apart. Here’s a quick rundown of why.

Beaujolais is a region in central-eastern France (actually, the southern tip of Burgundy) which produces light-bodied red wines from the Gamay grape (Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc, in full). Akin to Nebbiolo from Piedmont (Italy), the wines have an inimitable quality that comes from the unique match of grape to soil to climate, a/k/a terroir. Gamay just doesn’t taste interesting when grown elsewhere (except, perhaps, in a small pocket of the Loire). But unlike Barolo or Barbaresco, the heralded villages of Beaujolais — e.g., Morgon, Fleurie — are foreign, in both name and concept, to the majority of consumers who’ve mostly only known the wine as Nouveau.

In the medieval villages of Beaujolais, a long tradition of celebrating the harvest with freshly fermented wine took place annually in November. The wines were drunk locally and were rarely, if ever, exported. Michele Peters of NYC-based David Bowler Wine, an importer and distributor with a particularly strong portfolio of small-production Cru Beau, reflects on the tradition: “My first experience with Beaujolais Nouveau was in Paris. It was always a fun day and involved trying the newly released wines with friends and noshing on dried sausages.”

But a quaint custom with honest intentions became twisted into a marketing gimmick that would ultimately reduce perception of Beaujolais down to a synonym for cheap, young, mediocre juice celebrated more for the party than the wine (like a vinous vodka). Vignerons were not innocent victims: The willingness of many to compromise farming and winemaking standards for a chance to sit at the global table besmirched their own reputation.

Despite its connotation, the question of whether Nouveau has helped or hindered consumer awareness of Beaujolais remains up for debate. Lelañea Fulton, wine director for the Dirty French, believes “it overshadow[s] Cru Beaujolais and creates an ignorance surrounding Gamay Noir and the terroir of Beaujolais. Like Liebfraumilch of Germany, the extensive distribution of what can’t be seen as anything more than a lipstick wine can have a negative impact on the general public.”

Paul Grieco of New York’s Terroir wine bars, on the other hand, thinks “nothing overshadows the Crus of Beaujolais. Since the majority of us cannot afford the Grand Vin from further north…we can still get our Burgundian fix from the original Burgundian grape, Gamay.”

Peters finds a positive aspect of the Nouveau release each year: “It gives smaller retailers who rely on customer education a chance to teach [them] about the variety of Crus available.”

Which brings us to the 10 Crus of Beaujolais. Wines from these villages sit at the top of the quality hierarchy (of which Beaujolais, the region, has three tiers), each village offering an expression of Gamay considered distinct enough to warrant its name as the appellation. The village names are: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié, and St.-Amour. Immediately below Cru Beau is Beaujolais-Villages, and at the bottom rung sits entry-level Beaujolais.

Why are these wines still relatively undiscovered? First, they are labeled with their village names (although “red Beaujolais wine” is found in smaller print on the label), so consumers need to ask their retailer for help or have a few names memorized. Second, recognition takes time, especially in light of the region’s recent history. Finally, better vintners produce fewer bottles, so it’s harder to find. They are focused on lower yields, less manipulation of the wine, and expression of terroir. This philosophy makes for interesting, soulful wines, but is incompatible with large-scale production.

Peters has noticed an uptick, though, in interest: “Beaujolais sales seem to increase every year at every level, Nouveau, Villages, and Cru. Cru delivers the best value because you can spend $15 to $30 a bottle and keep the wines for years.”

Fulton, too, has seen an escalated interest in Cru. “I have never been asked for Nouveau…I find that our list tends to attract consumers who want to experience different types of Cru and want to discuss it to understand the intricacies of it.”

Cognizance of Cru Beau is inevitable, given its affordability, quality, and utter deliciousness. For Fulton, “there is no other region that can produce Gamay Noir so boldly and beautifully as the Cru of Beaujolais. The amount of variation in the characteristics of the grape varietal from Cru to Cru is immense and stunning.” Sounds like a reason to drink Cru Beau not just on Thanksgiving, but any day of the year.

Here’s my guide to the ten Crus, including where to buy it and drink it around NYC.

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The 2014 Long Island Harvest Through the Lens of Macari Vineyards

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All photos by Carl Timpone

In case you missed my column Unscrewed, here’s a second chance to read about the 2014 Long Island harvest.

For the New York wine industry, nervous anticipation of fall isn’t about the return of fireside cocktails, knee-high leather boots, and felt fedora hats, or tacit permission to eat like a grizzly headed into hibernation. Autumn equals harvest, and depending on the quality of the growing season, which runs right up until the minute each cluster of plump berries is separated from its life-giving vine, that can be a joyous or heartbreaking occasion; a single, severe storm at or before picking can decimate a year’s worth of toil.

As the last grapes of the season were collected, I consulted the family and winemaker at New York’s Winery of the Year (awarded by the New York Food & Wine Classic), Macari Vineyards, for a report on the vintage and the future of Long Island’s 2014 wines. Prognosis: Expect deliciousness.

Winemaker Kelly Urbanik-Koch gave a resoundingly positive weather account: “We experienced a relatively cool and dry summer. We usually receive rain in September and October, and summer humidity is frequently an issue, but this year, humidity was mercifully lacking, resulting in little to no disease pressure in the vineyards.” Urbanik-Koch is one of few female winemakers in the region. She’s also young, at 34, making her a refreshing anomaly in the older, male-dominated Long Island wine industry.

The Macari family has owned and worked the 500-acre waterfront farm in the North Fork since 1963, although the winery wasn’t established until 1996. Joseph Macari Sr. planted the vineyards with his son Joe Macari Jr., fulfilling a lifelong dream that began in a Depression-era basement in Corona, Queens, where he made his first batch of wine.

A shining example of the term “family business,” Macari Vineyards is now run by three generations, including Joe Sr., now 87 years old, and each contributes to its success. Joe Jr. manages the vineyard and cellar teams, while his wife, Alexandra, oversees the tasting rooms and wine club and gives feedback on blending decisions. Their four children — Joe Macari (yep, a third Joe, and also a vineyard manager), Thomas Macari, Edward Macari, and Gabriella Macari — all keep the gears greased, especially during the intense, backbreaking hours required by harvest.

Gabriella, who oversees distribution and marketing, expects the 2014 wines to be elegant and expressive with intense and complex flavors due to a slow and steady ripening season. She said their biggest challenge of the year was being restricted in the amount of experimentation they normally do: “With such gorgeous fruit, we weren’t limited by nature, but rather time. All those healthy grapes kept us too busy pressing to think about anything else. It’s a good problem, but it made for a very laborious year.”

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Adding to the strenuous nature of vineyard work is the Macari philosophy of farming along biodynamic principles, a practice Joe Jr. incorporated long before the concept gained mainstream awareness. “We are by no means certified biodynamic and do not follow it rigidly, but we believe small implications have helped our vines tremendously,” says Gabriella. The family tends a herd of cattle that contributes manure to the composting program. They also keep bees and sell a small amount of honey to local restaurants, the remainder given as gifts to fortunate friends.

Continuing unintentionally ahead of the trend curve, the Macaris produce a low-alcohol Chardonnay they release right after harvest called Early Wine; it sells out quickly every year. (Low-alcohol wines have been a growing category around the country.)

However, it’s Long Island’s classic grape, Cabernet Franc (if there is a designated “classic” yet), that has the family excited about the new vintage.

When young, Cab Franc expresses North Fork terroir with savory herbaceous notes mixed with bright red fruits and refreshing acidity. With age, olive and dried herb notes can develop, while high-quality wines retain balance and acidity, have length, and develop silky tannins, like the Macari 1997.

“We opened our ’97 Cab Franc for a tasting last March at Astor Center and it blew me away,” says Gabriella. “The wine could have held on a couple more years. It’s proof that our wines have world-class longevity, and it is motivation for my family to keep producing the grape as a single varietal.”

For those eager to sample the vintage without waiting for the 2014 Cab Franc, not likely available until late 2017, Macari just released the Early Wine last week. The wine can be purchased in one of its two tasting rooms or on its website.

Fortunately for most Long Island vintners and their fans, 2014 was an excellent vintage. If the best wines age as well as the 1997, made in an average year, then expect remarkable results.

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How to Drink Better Coffee? Treat it like Wine

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A few months ago, I had a conversation with a respected wine journalist and Master of Wine that left me incredulous for this person’s surprising attitude towards coffee. Asked to expound upon the significant parallels between both drinks, a nascent but certainly timely topic, this industry luminary quipped, “The only thing I care about in my coffee is that it is scalding hot.” It wasn’t a joke; it was declared almost indignantly. This writer might as well have told me their favorite beer in the world was Bud Light. Maybe this Mad Men-era opinion was earned after multiple decades in the wine industry, but I like to think not; and if you think this way, you are woefully out of date as well.

How could a wine lover and educator, a connoisseur of flavor and devotee to complexity and origin, nonchalantly dismiss another comparably complex, fragile, and nuanced liquid gift from the earth?

I write Unscrewed, a Village Voice column dedicated to wine, and Filtered, also for the Village Voice, dedicated to New York’s ever-evolving coffee (and tea) world. These two realms share many parallels that wine lovers should appreciate. If you start to look at coffee like wine, you’ll drink better brew.

A Comparison of Coffee and Wine

Species and varietal classifications are key to understanding taste profiles
In the vinous world, grapevines Vitis vinifera (what we mostly drink) and Vitis labrusca (includes the Concord grape, and has earned a reputation for less desirable foxy aromas) are examples of high-quality v. working quality species. For coffee, that parallel is drawn between Arabica and Robusta.

Your local barista sells Arabica beans. She makes espresso with Arabica, pours your V-60 or Chemex with Arabica, serves drip from the Fetco with Arabica.

Robusta is considered a lower quality source. It’s mostly grown in Vietnam (when’s the last time you were offered a pour over originating in Vietnam?) and is used in many commercial blends such as Maxwell House, Yuban, and Folgers, whose cans of ground coffee still sell in supermarkets.

Within the Vitis vinifera subset of wine grapes, there are hundreds of varieties commercially cultivated for winemaking — Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay are a few obvious ones.

Coffee’s equivalent of a “variety” is a cultivar. There are thousands of coffee cultivars within the Arabica species, important ones including Bourbon, Caturra, Typica, and the highly-prized, and priced, Geisha.

Each coffee cultivar exhibits certain, consistent flavor profiles but can still transmit the taste of a place, or terroir, when grown in different regions. Imagine the red berry flavors in a robust California Pinot Noir versus similar red fruits coupled with earthy notes in a lighter German version.

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Terroir matters
I recall a great quote by writer Gabriel Chase. When attributing terroir to the differences between cognac and armagnac outside of distillation, he likened the notion of doing so to inventing a God to explain the unknown.

Terroir (literally French for soil) attempts to reference the precise growing environment (geography, soil, general climate, plus specific weather patterns that vary to year) of a specific area that renders its wine inimitable.

How tightly that is defined depends on the region and grower. Terroir isn’t given much (try zero) consideration in the large, hot swaths of heavily cropped and irrigated industrial vineyards of Colombard and Ruby Cabernet in Central California. In Burgundy, however, very small plots of land have demonstrated very different terroir. One hectare (about 2.5 acres) of Pinot Noir on a high, sunny slope of Morey-St-Denis compared to a neighbor’s bordering land with forest shade and slightly different soil and mineral patterns, can produce dramatically different wines (the hand of the vigneron notwithstanding).

The concept of terroir is new to coffee and just being explored, but there are some commonalities with wine, especially as far as recognition of origin and the flavor expectations that come with it. For example, several Ethiopian regions are now famous enough that many enthusiasts intrinsically understand that Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, or Harar indicate quality when scrawled on a blackboard in their neighborhood coffee shops.

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Sensory Experience: Flavor, body, and acid
Around 200 flavor compounds have been discovered in wine. If you’ve ever been around a professional wine taster assessing a flight of Bordeaux, you may hear terms like cassis, cedar, and graphite bandied about. They’ll also comment on the body: light, medium, or full, and note the acid levels ranging from low to high.

Well, sidle up to a professional coffee cupper or Q grader and listen to the tasting notes they magically pull from a list of almost 500 flavor compounds found in coffee. More than double known to wine!

Just as red Bordeaux wines exhibit certain, consistent characteristics, so to do coffees. For example, recurrent elements found in Ethiopia’s Yirgacheffe (mentioned above) are vibrant acidity, and citrus and floral notes, whereas coffees from Harar often have exuberant fruit aromatics, especially blueberry, apricot, plus spice notes. I can practically taste blueberry pancakes in some of the finest coffees of Ethiopia.

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Wine and coffee quality both begin in the farm
Vintners confess that wine is made in the vineyard, and the same holds true for coffee. Just like seasonal harvesters of grapes, coffee farm workers have to learn how to properly pick ripe fruit, sort the good from the bad, and care for the beans to prevent mold or desiccation. Pruning, spacing, pest management, and watering are among the many considerations for coffee farmers, just like grape growers, to control and optimize, and both are susceptible to flavor variability due to seasonality, as well as devastating weather that can wipe out their crops and livelihoods for the year.

Geography
Wine grapes grow within a certain band of latitudes, the 30th to 50th parallels. Excessive heat shuts down grape development. High humidity promotes disease in the vineyard. Frigid weather kills vines during winter. Grapes need defined growing seasons with moderate winters for dormancy. (Although this notion is being challenged with so-calledNew Latitude wines.)

Coffee, also, has geographically productive limitations. The plant prospers in tropical regions, at altitudes generally above 3,000 feet which provides consistency in temperature, sunshine, rainfall, and also better drainage.

Seasonality
Grapes harvest occurs once a year. The concept of seasons applies to coffee harvesting, too. We all likely expect to drink a cup or two of coffee every morning, but we must forgo the notion that it will be the same coffee every day, unless we drink coffee with a heavy roast or from those aforementioned supermarket containers. Kenya’s crop arrives around late winter through spring whereas beans from Central America should arrive from spring through mid-summer.

Other flavor influencers
Compare the result of stainless steel storage versus new French barrique for wine, to the length of time and degree of heat used when roasting coffee. If a winemaker puts a subtle Pinot Noir for two years in new French oak, that Pinot won’t emerge tasting like fruit alone. If a roasters chars a delicate coffee (one could argue most coffees are delicate when green), until it looks like oily, black stones, you also won’t taste the primary fruit character of the coffee. That beautiful blueberry note found in your Harar? Transformed into toast.

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I could carry on comparing grape mutations, hybrids, and crossings to coffee cultivars; the effect of hand-harvesting versus machines on grapes and coffee cherries; large, commercial farms versus small, estate grown fruit; and add that home brewers should remember beans are perishable and need to be stored properly, like your wine, but you’ve probably got enough to consider. Just remember, that coffee is a delicate product, as Nobletree’s John Moore said, it’s a “miracle it actually makes it to your cup.”

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Four Reasons to Visit Idaho in 2015

If you missed my Fodor’s piece on visiting Idaho, here’s another chance to read it…

Potatoes and skiing summarize the majority of America’s perception of Idaho’s attributes. Although frequently confused with residents of pancake-flat Iowa, located two doors down in the Midwest, Idahoans take no offense to the error—they actually prefer the anonymity, as it keeps the population and prices down and enables a manageable flow of tourism through their unspoiled state. These same reasons, however, make Idaho a vacationer’s paradise: light crowds, fair prices, easy access to the state’s best sites, and a burgeoning wine scene all add to the state’s allure.

BOISE WINERIES AND THE SNAKE RIVER VALLEY

Boise mirrors the state’s national identity as an overlooked destination, but for wine lovers searching for America’s next grape frontier, one only has to drive a mere ten minutes from downtown to Garden City to find it.

This one-time Chinatown was so named because its residents grew vegetables for pioneers.Now, the industrial zone serves artists, breweries, and wineries seeking refuge in the cheap cost of warehouse space, and the East 44th Street building leased by Cinder Winery is no different. Making a name for Idaho Tempranillo, Cinder shares the tasting room with two others boutique producers: Telaya and Coiled, the latter known for its vibrant Riesling. Split Rail focuses on reds nearby in a former auto body garage.

Prefer to taste wine amidst the vines?  Head west to Nampa in the Snake River Valley, the state’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA) just 30 minutes outside of Boise. Most of Idaho’s grapes grow here. Lodging and restaurants haven’t caught up with the nascent wine trail, but most producers have tasting rooms. The region shares similarities with Washington State, so you’ll sample Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Viognier, and Tempranillo. Visit Huston Vineyards, Hat Ranch,Fujishin, Bitner Vineyards (they have two rooms to rent to overnighters), and Sawtooth Winery—plus Koenig Distillery & Wineryfor potato vodka and fruit brandy, in addition to wine.

KETCHUM AND SUN VALLEY

Ketchum displays just enough polished veneer to suit swanky skiers and snowboarders without compromising its authentic country western roots. Winter sports draw the most attention (no lift lines!), but the area offers year-round pleasures (hiking, biking, fishing, rafting), which means hotels, restaurants, and bars stay open.

While Sun Valley Resort has the greatest guest capacity and proximity to the mountain, an ambitious spa and room renovation takes most of the historic lodge offline this winter. An alternate option: the recently refreshed, Alpine-inspired Knob Hill Inn.

Big country breakfasts of fruit pancakes and crispy hash browns fly from the kitchen at the Kneadery, a festive joint festooned in western décor of animal heads replete with suspended canoe. Locals lunch at casual Perry’s for reasonably priced sandwiches stacked high on freshly baked bread; at night, the entire town stalks the hostess atPioneer Saloon in hopes of satisfying cravings for hunks of flame-licked meat and football-sized baked potatoes. Italian Enoteca serves small plates matched with a good wine list inside an urban interior. Swing byCornerstone for upmarket, creative cocktails. Sunny Valley mornings draw coffee seekers to sleek and roomy Velocio for Intelligentsia espressos and pour-overs.

Before leaving town, pay respect to Hemingway’s gravestone in the cemetery behind Knob Hill Inn; he commit suicide in Ketchum.

SAWTOOTH MOUNTAINS

When’s the last time you gazed up at the sky without tweeting about the rainbow arching across it? Unplug from your overconnected life and head three hours east of Boise into the empty Sawtooth Mountains. Locals claim it has the freshest air in the continental U.S., a compelling argument supported by its blue skies, gin-clear lakes, healthy rivers, and pristine wilderness.

There’s so much to do, you might just leave your iPhone behind. Fly fish the Salmon River with Mary Anne Dozer of Silver Creek Outfitters. She’s a popular hire, so inquire early, but any of their guides will get a trout on your line, whether you’re a newbie or adroit angler. Looking for a new rod? Dozer’s husband painstakingly crafts them from bamboo.

Hikers can access a plethora of trails ranging from easy three-mile meadow circuits to strenuous, alpine lake quad busters. The regional trail map outlines the fitness requirements of popular routes.

Soak sore muscles post-hike in one of several natural hot springs. If you spot steam rising along State 75 just north of Stanley, you’ve found Sunbeam Hot Springs.

Trekking to Stanley without floating on the river is sacrilege to those who’ve experienced it, as this two street town serves as the nerve center for river adventures. Embark on a half- or full-day of rapids withWhite Otter, or succumb to the wilderness on a five-day Middle Fork float with Idaho River Journeys or Solitude River Trips.

IDAHO ROCKY MOUNTAIN RANCH

You might actually weep for not discovering Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch earlier when you sip wine in a rocking chair on the porch for the first time. Nestled into the Sawtooths, 9 miles south of Stanley, this meticulously renovated ranch and collection of guest cabins is worth the trip to Idaho alone. Many loyal guests return faithfully each season to partake in the region’s activities while indulging in rustic-luxe accommodations at day’s end.

Hiking, horseback riding, and fly fishing the trout-stocked ponds and rivers keeps Ranch guests busy from sunrise to cocktail hour. Learn to mountain bike or tie a fishing knot in one of the daily complimentary clinics. Late afternoons are for soaking in the guests-only hot springs.

The meal plan includes hearty breakfasts, packed lunches, and dinners that rotate between themed outdoor BBQs and fine dining nights. Log cabins and lodge rooms provide a taste of western rusticity with the amenities of modern life: stone-tiled showers, heated floorboards, hand stitched quilts, and large stone fireplaces stocked with firewood for guests to light each night as temperatures plummet.

 

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