Monthly Archives: December 2014

How Bad Is Your Champagne Habit?

SparklingFerrariGlasses.jpg

New Year’s Eve has arrived! Did you meet all your goals for 2014? No matter. You can reiterate them again on the first of the year, with a fresh glass of bubbles in hand: Make more money and cut back on carbs (or will 2015 be the end of an allergy return of gluten?), booze, and podcast binges.

Since Champagne and sparkling wines have long been the de rigueur drink of choice for New Year’s Eve (and for the days of recovery after), this year — as long as you don’t saber off the bottle tops — you can keep precious CO2 (fizz) trapped in the wine for almost a week, with a little life-support from a Genesis system.

SaberTime

But before I delve into my review of the Genesis and whether your Champagne habit justifies its $500 cost, here are a few bottle recommendations — some favorites from 2014 — worth seeking out for tonight’s toast.

Deal Disguised as a Splurge
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Brut, 2004, $129
This historic Champagne house produces an exquisite, exceptionally priced vintage tête de cuvee from Chardonnay grapes sourced exclusively from grand cru sites.

Good Value Champagne
Champagne Deutz, Brut Classic, NV, $42
Well-priced, lesser-known label owned by respected house Louis Roederer. So good, it was once the private-label Champagne of Morrell’s Wine Shop, which still carries the brand.

Italy’s Finest
Ferrari Perle, 2007, $38
This sparkling wine house out of Trentino, Italy, does what Champagne can, but for a lot less money: It makes long-aged, layered, elegant, and lively wines, including this vintage bottling, for half of what a Champers would run. The Ferrari entry-level NV Brut is a particular bargain, too, at around $20.

Grower and Organic
Pascal Doquet, Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru, $59.99
From a producer/grower who has diligently converted his vineyards to organic, a rarity in Champagne. This bottle is a blend of those organically farmed grapes from premier crus in the southern Côte des Blancs.

Back to the Genesis…

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The Genesis, created by Napa Technology, is the first at-home, single-bottle wine preservation and dispensing system, designed for both still and sparkling wine. You may recall the big hit from last year, the Coravin, which — at one-eighth the size of the Genesis (akin to an oversized Rabbit Corkscrew), and for $200 less ($300 v. $500) — seems like the hands-down winner when compared with the Genesis, until you factor in the former’s incompatibility with bubbles.

The Coravin system inserts a slim needle into the cork, dispenses inert gas and draws out wine like a feasting mosquito, all while keeping the cork intact and the bottle fresh indefinitely. It can’t be used with Champagne, however, due to the air pressure in the bottle; hence the reason you (debatably) need a Genesis, too.

Genesis uses a proprietary technology called IntelliCork: Once the wine’s real cork is removed, the user places the bottle into the system (designed to sit on a kitchen counter and tuck in just below most cabinetry), so oxygen can be removed and replaced with “WineGas” before the bottle is topped with a special cork. Still wines save for two months; sparkling wines earn five extra days.

The product is composed of a silver base and black plastic casing, giving it the appearance of a giant, skinny coffee maker; it comes with two corks for still wine and one for sparkling, plus two canisters of WineGas, which is enough to preserve and pour 24 bottles.

After assessing the machine, I found it easy to use and capable of keeping my sparkling wine frothy. However, I’d recommend buying the Coravin if you like to sample wines over a longer period of time than two months, have space restrictions, and your bubble preservation needs range from minimal to the point of novelty.

But — and this is a big but — for regular drinkers of expensive, pressurized wines, i.e., Champagne (who are you, and can we be friends?), then Genesis is the only product on the market that can squeeze a few more sunsets from the bottle.

And for drinkers who wish to sample and save several sparkling bottles at once, they will need to invest in a few more specialty corks which cost a hefty $59.99 apiece. (The system only comes with one sparkling wine IntelliCork.)

Perhaps greater than for the home user, I see the practicality of restaurants investing in the system: They can offer a greater number of better-quality selections of sparkling wine by the glass, and do double duty preserving still wines, too.

The upgraded Genesis Pro, thus, is designed for tasting rooms and restaurants, costs $899, and comes with 10 IntelliCorks and enough WineGAS to preserve 40 bottles.

If your go-to sparkling is Freixenet (not that there’s anything wrong with it), the Genesis probably doesn’t fit into your budget, but it does give you something to aspire to when making your 2015 resolutions.

Happy New Year!

May 2015 bring you peace, prosperity and good wine.

Where to Buy:

Genesis: $499 plus shipping, is sold at GenesisPreserve.com, Amazon.com, WineEnthusiast.com, and NapaStyles.com

The Wines:

Chambers Street Wines, 148 Chambers Street, 212-227-1434
Flatiron Wines, 929 Broadway, 212-477-1315
Astor Wines, 399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500

 

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Your Guide to Cru Beaujolais, Plus Where to Buy it and Drink it in NYC

BeaujolaisBottles

If last week’s article on Cru Beaujolais piqued your interest, here’s my guide to the Crus, plus where to buy it and drink it in NYC.

Despite burgeoning quality, the Cru Beaujolais category remains relatively unknown to the general consumer, thus prices hang terrifically low. Skip the $11 Nouveau and other entry-level stuff. At twice the price, you get five times the complexity, structure, and balance, plus all the fruit, with Gamay grown in the granite and schist soils of the Crus.

Winemaking methods significantly affect flavors, and range from the region’s hallmark carbonic maceration (fermenting whole berries in closed tanks to produce a light, fruit-forward style) to Burgundian methods for more serious, structured wines (e.g., destemming the grapes). Interest in organic and biodynamic farming is growing, with a number of fine producers tipping into the natural winemaking category. As younger generations — and energized, historic families — pay closer attention to the attributes of their land and seek quality over quantity, Cru Beau will continue to be a category to watch.

The following list of villages includes expected characteristics in flavor and structure of the wines, with inevitable generalizations. Like anywhere, producer matters. Try to remember a handful of names (producer or region) or just ask your retailer or sommelier for assistance (find our three fave shops and restaurants, below).

The Ten Crus of Beaujolais
Brouilly Wines can vary greatly; it is the largest and most southerly of the Crus. Generally, expect soft and fruity wines with mineral notes. Producers: Georges Descombes, Domaine de Vissoux (Chermette), Jean-Claude Lapalu.

Chénas A small appellation, the wines are hard to find in the U.S. Known for red fruits, earthiness, and a heavier body/tannins. Sandwiched between Juliénas and Moulin-à-Vent. Producer: Domaine Piron-Lameloise.

Chiroubles The high altitude contributes great acidity to the wines, which can be tart in cool years, or fresh, perfumed, and bright in sunnier ones. Producers: Daniel Bouland, Damien Coquelet, Cret de Ruyere.

Côte de Brouilly Small appellation in Brouilly on the slopes of Mont Brouilly. Structured wines with strong mineral character, cherries, and firm tannins that allow it to age. Producers: Chateau Thivin, Terres Dorées (Jean-Paul Brun).

Fleurie Floral (think violets), rich, and round, some can be elegant and feminine, others more masculine. Prices higher than most. Producers: Sunier, Chateau de Fleurie (Barbet), Clos de la Roilette (Coudert), Potel-Aviron.

Juliénas Full-bodied, sturdy wines; sometimes rustic; can age. Flavors lean toward raspberries, cherries, and spice. Producers: Clos du Fief (Michel Tête), Pascal Granger.

Morgon Slightly less powerful than Moulin-à-Vent; mineral-laden wines come from the slopes of the Cote du Py. Known for a group of producers called the “Gang of Four,” protégés of natural wine pioneer Jules Chauvet: Jean-Paul Thevenet, Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, and Guy Breton. Chamonard deserves to make it five.

Moulin-à-Vent Most powerful, tannic (for Gamay), and structured of the Crus, with classic fruitiness. Ages well. Producers: Jean-Paul Brun, Diochon and Domaine de Vissoux (Chermette).

Régnié The newest Cru, wines often have a soft, round, and spicy profile with light tannins. Generally drunk young to enjoy the strawberry and cherry notes. Producers: Charly Thévenet, Guy Breton, Descombes, Chateau de la Pierre (Barbet).

Saint-Amour Northern tip of Beaujolais with limestone soil similarities to southern Burgundy. Intense red fruits and florals with well-integrated tannins. Producers: Domaine des Billards (Barbet), Chateau des Rontets.

SaintAmour

Where to Buy
When you’re ready to stock up on a few bottles or even a case of wine, you’ll find the investment in Cru Beau is minimal; the finest bottles fall predominantly around the low- to mid-twenties price range. Sadly, producers are hardly paid what the wines are worth (in fact many are struggling), but until (or if) the market corrects, it’s a buyer’s paradise.

Chambers Street Wines (148 Chambers Street, 212-227-1434) Owner David Lillie pointed out several selections: Roland Pignard, Tradition, Morgon, 2012 for $22: “Certified biodynamic, it’s a beautiful wine showing complex red and black fruits with saline minerality.” Chignard, “Les Moriers,” Fleurie, 2012 for $26: “from very low yields…it has gorgeous raspberry, wild-strawberry and violet aromas and a beautiful light- to medium-bodied palate with bracing acidity.”

Flatiron Wines (929 Broadway, 212-477-1315) The Cru Beau evangelists at Flatiron have a diverse array of bottles, like the elegant and earthy Michel Tete, Clos du Fief, Juliénas, 2011, showing savory beef bouillon and fruity cherry notes for $23, and Jean-Paul Brun’s bright, mineral-driven, raspberry-laced Domaine des Terres Dorées, Cote de Brouilly, 2012 for $22.

Astor Wine & Spirits (399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500) Cavernous and competitively priced, Astor carries a handful of options, including the dense, floral, cassis-imbued Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie, 2013 for $22, and the vibrant and taut, cherry-soaked Domaine Des Billards, Saint-Amour, 2011 for a mere $20. A no-brainer.

Where to Drink
Cru Beau is a growing darling of sommeliers citywide. Three wine directors who love the stuff weigh in on their favorites.

Partner and beverage director at Racines (94 Chambers Street, 212-227-3400), Arnaud Tronche particularly enjoys:
Chateau Thivin, Côte de Brouilly: The wine has amazing purity, minerality, plenty of fruit, and can age.
Marcel Lapierre, Morgon: Round, joyful with bright fruit; it’s a classic Morgon.
Guy Breton, Régnié: Earthy with dark fruits; dense, complex, and age-worthy. A minimal amount of sulfur is added.

Sommelier at Claudette (24 5th Avenue, 212-868-2424), Seth Liebman’s list includes at least one wine from all 10 Crus.
Chateau des Rontets, Saint-Amour, 2011: A pretty wine; very soft and beautiful with a nice center of character and structure. It is organic and “natural” in that they do not add any sulfur.
Joseph Chamonard, Le Clos de Lys, Morgon, 1997: The wines from this Chateau…are nothing short of heart-stopping. The 1997 vintage is terrific, though lean and focused with high acidity. It demands your attention.
Jean-Claude Lapalu, Croix Rameaux, Brouilly, 2012: Not to be confused with Lapierre, Lapalu makes wines with guts and strength; they are great drinking and deserve global attention.

Lelañea Fulton, wine director for the Dirty French (180 Ludlow Street, 212-254-3000)highlights:
Damien Coquelet, Vielles Vignes Chiroubles, 2012: The stepson of Georges Descombes, he makes a mean Chiroubles Vieilles Vignes.
Stephane Aviron, ‘Côte du Py, Vielles Vignes’ Morgon, 2011: An old-school vigneron, his Crus drink much like Burgundies.
Pascal Granger, ‘Grande Réserve,’ Julienas, 2009: Granger produces wines of deep dark fruit and amazing structure. They are powerhouse wines.

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Tasting the New Frontier of Chilean Wine with MOVI Chile

GarageWineCo.Grapes

Lately, I’ve heard rumblings through the drinks media that a new breed of Chilean winemakers have been fighting to disabuse us all (consumers, trade, and journalists) of the notion that wine from this slender, rugged South American country is innocuous juice produced from a few grapes, in a few regions, by several large-scale producers for the mainstream, value-oriented market (or premium Cabernet, red blend consumer). Last night, I discovered one such group during a tasting of the wines of MOVI Chile.

Chile stretches like a gaping black hole in my drinking resume – I usually forget to consider Chilean wines when selecting a bottle for dinner probably because I don’t stock any in my wine fridge, and I’ve rarely written about the country chiefly because I can’t recall ever having a coup de foudre moment — that lightning bolt-to-the-heart, in love with a bottle, butterflies-in-the-stomach reaction — with any of the wines. But my exposure, thus far, has been limited to a few big brands, so I’ve been on a quest to find boutique producers in the NYC market. They have to exist, right?

My travels around the world repeatedly teach me that the U.S. market never depicts the full and rich picture of a country’s wine industry – there’s always a renegade group (often several) on the ground, somewhere, making gutsy wine, testing new terroir frontiers and uncommon grapes, and pushing against conventional boundaries of both viticulture and style. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to visit Chile (for wine anyway) to survey the scene on the ground.

Well, ask and ye shall receive. Utilizing the power of social media to query contacts about wineries that might fit the aforementioned category, within an hour, my question had been answered: a colleague connected me with Derek John Mossman Knapp of Garage Wine Company via Facebook. Serendipitously, his group, MOVI Chile, would be hosting the last NYC tasting of the year on December 2nd at a West Village restaurant near my house.

Credit: Garage Wine Co.

Photo Credit: Garage Wine Company

MOVI stands for Movement of Independent Vintners. The group has 24 members, and was founded by 12 of them in 2009. The members are: Acrobata,  Armidita, Attilio & Mochi, Catrala, Clos Andino, Corral Victoria, Erasmo, Flaherty, Garage Wine Co., Garcia Schwaderer, Gillmore, Kingston, Lagar de Bezana, Laura Hartwig, Meli, Merino, Peumayen, Polkura, Rukumilla, Starry Night, Trabun, Villard, and Von Siebenthal. (I don’t yet have a list of who is imported where.)

The MOVI manifesto, subscribed to by all members, pledges to make wines on a small, human scale (not by specs for a supermarket) that tell a story and share the personality of both the soil and maker.

One stated goal is to “seek emancipation for independent vintners, to free them from the constraints of the volume driven suppliers and offer them the opportunity to be artisans without need for scalability.” However, their objective doesn’t involve lambasting or repudiating the current Chilean wine industry paradigm – there’s no question that it has helped focus a measure of international attention on the country — but to expand it and “complement it by providing breadth of choice”.

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By marketing themselves together, they harness the power and resources of the many to showcase the talents of the individual, and the farmer/winemaker can worry about the business of crafting wine, without wearing the additional hats of public relations rep, marketer, and salesman.

One representative from the group, Charlie Villard of Villard Wines, flew to New York to host the tasting of nearly twenty wines – almost every winery selected one wine for the event. An intimate group of local media and industry gathered at cozy, Latin-fusion restaurant Comodo for three hours of appetizers, wine, and discussion.

While the wines were not assessed in a flight format (as implied by the excerpts I’v scanned below), MOVI sought to introduce three broad concepts by which tasters could consider their wines. The first  idea, “The New Chile,” presented wines from recently explored terroirs and/or less mainstream grapes.

The New Chile Map

The second, “The Classics – Reloaded,” showcased red blends from historic regions, re-interpreted without “corporate constraint.”

Classics Reloaded map

The third concept, “Old is the New ‘New’ in Maule and Atacama” highlighted old, bush-head vines from soils farmed for centuries, only recently reinvigorated.

Old is the New New map

I tasted through most of the line-up, and finally had my coup de foudre moment with Chile. Let’s hope lighting strikes twice.

Here are my ten favorites from a stellar line-up of wines, in order of tasting. Apologies for the lack of bottle shots, but I didn’t have my camera with me last night. (All images provided by MOVI.)

  1. Meli, Riesling, Maule Valley, ’14: Striking peachy, stone fruit nose. Tropical notes on fruity palate. Lots of bright acid with a chalky, mineral finish.
  2. Sofia, Pinot Noir, Casablanca, ’12: Savory with black and red cherry nose. Hint of Elmer’s glue that blew off. Dried herbs, mineral tinged, good tension; fruit and earth in equipoise; the slightly charred wood finish makes me crave roast lamb.
  3. Villard, Pinot Noir, Casablanca, ’12: Deep, fresh black berry and a leafy herbal note on nose. The aromatics pop out of the glass! The palate smacks with fruit and vitality. Juicy, spicy, alive. The kind of Pinot I’ve been hearing about in Chile but hadn’t yet tasted. Lots of layers but very approachable. Could be a high-brow consumer hit.
  4. Attilo & Mochi Tunquen, Pinot Noir, Casablanca, ’12: Bright red fruit nose; classic Pinot aromatics. Hints of floral potpourri and spice notes on palate. Dried orange peel and brown baking spice. Quite elegant, fresh, and medium-bodied with a clean finish.
  5. Gillmore, Cab Franc, Loncomilla Valley, ’10: Berry fruit cough drop – like a Ricola on the nose. Herbs and deep, fresh black and blue fruit. The herbal note is a cross between eucalyptus and mint. Unusual. Medium bodied, with light, well-integrated tannins.
  6. Garage Wine Company, Cab Franc, Maipo, 2012: A complex, evolving nose. Floral with cherry, fresh pizza herbs, a savory leather note, hint of tobacco and spice. Medium body, good acidity, and integrated, slightly dusty tannins with a touch of grip. Really delicious.
  7. Trabun, Syrah, Cachapoal Valley, Requinoa, ’10: Aromas of a dusty, herbal tea shop in Chinatown. Ground, dried ginseng, layered over a black fruit, liqueur-like core. Nose belies palate which is all fruit with less nuance. Soft finish, could use more definition. Should be an attractive wine to many palates.
  8. Starry Night, Syrah, Maipo Valley, ’11: Pop of vibrant cassis and dark fruit on nose that nearly blows out my olfactory glands. Quite confected with a candied, smoked bacon edge. Ripe and rich and dense, but softens out and fades a little too fast.
  9. Vultur, Petite Sirah, Colchagua, ’12: Minty edged nose with confected black and red fruit. Very voluptuous on front palate but falls away softly on the finish, leaving a little tannin lingering behind. In like a lion, out like a lamb.
  10. Caballo Chileno, Carmenere, Maule, ’12: Herbs, spice, sandalwood, dried green peppercorn, and cherry. An intriguing nose. Palate offers additional hints of dried floral notes. Would love to taste this with grilled portobellos or roast duck.

 

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