Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom... Why I like wine: Reason #1

Frequently I am asked to explain why I like wine so much... why not tea, mystery novels or modern art? Well, there are many reasons why I love wine, so I thought I would devote a few entries to explaining my interest in, enjoyment of and passion for wine.

If you live in (have lived, or even visited) New York City, you know that the pulse of the city is beating far above a resting heart rate. Try crossing through the Times Square subway station at rush hour or navigating the streets of Midtown, Chinatown or Broadway St. and you will feel the frenetic energy of the city. The city's fast paced, high energy reputation draws people from around the world, but only some (often the native New Yorkers) really thrive in this environment. The rest of us just try to hang on for the ride. If we are lucky find ways of coping and adapting so that eventually fast and frantic begins to feel normal.

Recently though, I have noticed that I have been operating at such a high speed that I often swear I have that Zoom, Zoom, Zoom jingle from the Mazda commercials running through my head. I zoom to the store before the rain hits. I zoom through the closing subway doors, zoom up to class before the lecture begins. Then I zoom back down to my apartment, like a rat scurrying through innards of the city, I zip through my same route, up the same staircase, into the same subway car, through the same passageway, down the same avenue and into my building.

Today I was so focused on getting home as fast as possible I found myself slamming into the turnstile at the subway station. I was in such a hurry that I forgot the all important step of swiping my card. After the initial shock of realizing I was not exiting but rather entering the station, I looked around quickly to make sure that no one else had noticed, then whipped out my card, swiped and hustled along. Back safely at home, with the zoom, zoom's fading away, I pulled out a bottle of Pinot Grigio that I had opened the night before, poured a glass, sat down, sipped and everything started to slow down.

Wine begs its drinker to enjoy a slower pace of life. The ritual of having a glass of wine at night, after a long day allows me to unwind and gives me the opportunity to focus on nothing else but the colors, smells, tastes and textures of the wine. When I have a glass of wine I allow myself to enjoy each sip. And then I take the time to write down everything I taste. I suppose I could slow down with a cup of tea, a mystery novel, piece of artwork, yoga or any of the other activities that people engage in to unwind and de-stress. But I have found that wine is the one that works for me. What works for you?

Tasting Notes:
2005 Vila Marija Pinot Grigio, Slovenia. Light golden color. Herbaceous, with a slight spice. Bitter notes but with a touch of honeysuckle. Not very fruit forward but clean and has good acidity and minerality. $13.99

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

5 Friends, 5 wines, 5 countries

Last week I sprinted home 20 blocks on an unseasonably warm evening and wearing rather uncomfortable heels in order to host a wine and cheese party for some of my friends. I asked each friend to bring a wine. It could be red or white but had to be $10 or less. Upon arriving, my friends handed over their bottles and I put them into paper bags numbered 1 through 5. We conducted our tasting which was interspersed with lots of talking and eating.

I came to several realizations during the evening. First, I realized that I have managed to accumulate more wine knowledge than I thought I had. Being constantly surrounded by people who know a whole lot more about wine than I do has caused me to consistently feel behind the ball...rather than on it. Yet, when I actually think about it, I've actually picked up a lot information in the past year about wine making, grape varietals, wine growing regions and of course wine consumption. What I hadn't realized until this night, was that reading, writing, watching and blogging about wine has given me a whole new vocabulary for which to describe the things that I already actually knew about wine. So instead of saying, I like this wine; it tastes good. I can now say, I like this wine because it has ripe fruit flavors, soft tannins, a silky smooth mouth feel and long finish. I'm not actually tasting anything different in the wine, I just have the language that enables me to more accurately report my experience.

The wine community's use of language (barnyard? cat pee? foxy?) has been widely debated. And, as I have said previously, I do think that descriptors can be taken too far. I also firmly believe that while having the shared language to talk about wine enables you to communicate your opinions in a vivid and specific way, it does not necessarily allow you to enjoy the wine to a greater extent. I saw this to be true as my friends sipped their way through the five wines.

We used a form that I made to write down our notes and scores for each wine. Then at the end of the tasting we ripped off the paper bags and found out the identity of each wine. At first I thought it rather remarkable that no one chose the same grape variety and no one chose a wine from the same country. But when you think about the diversity of wines (even the affordable under $10 variety) it actually is quite plausible. Moreover, if you factor the distinct personalities of the wine buyers into the equation the wide range does make perfect sense.

Tasting Notes

2006 Fairvalley Chenin Blanc, South Africa - Crisp, dry white wine that has the grassy quality of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc quality. Citrus notes, with a relatively short finish. 8.99

2005 Costentino Winery, "The Novelist" Meritage (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon), California. Think of words that convey richness: Creamy, buttery, vanilla (balanced with good fruit and acidity) - this wine fooled me into thinking California oaky Chardonnay. If paired with a triple cream, this would make a milkshake in your mouth. Yum! 9.99

2006 Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina. Bonarda (also known as Charbona) is a grape that most likely originated from Italy and is doing very well in South America. It had good fresh juicy red fruits, with soft tannins and medium finish. This wine was unassuming but very drinkable and could go with many different kinds of food. - Dr. Vino liked this wine too! 5.99-9.99

2005 Monte Degli Angeli Monferrato Pinot Noir. This had the most open nose (are you imagining wide nostrils because I am) of the bunch - classic young Pinot smell, which quite honestly, I may not be able describe very well, but I think of a sweet jammy bouquet with a touch of earth. A rather light, astringent wine, but still lively and fruity. It had more depth than most other inexpensive Pinots that I have tried. I liked it a lot on the first day and not quite as much on the second. 7.99

2006 Oxford Landing Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Shiraz (30%), South Australia. This was the most tannic wine of the bunch. Bitter, vegetal and rubbery tires. I want to try this wine again because I think it may not be a good bottle. $8.49

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why is my tongue purple?

Last week I veered off of Walling Road and onto the fundraising/event planning path. It was quite a bumpy path and one that I hope I will not be heading down any time soon. Nonetheless, I was able to raise money for NYC kids and it appeared that all who attended had a good time. But in the weeks leading up to the event (Pong at Porky's: Play for Public Schools), I did a whole lot of stressing and not a lot of wine writing. So, this little anecdotes comes from a few days ago...
My parents were in town toward the end of September and purchased two bottles of wine for me - both at a reasonable cost and both red. Though they were from different continents and hemispheres, they were told that the two could be compared in a taste off (at least for value and flavor). Upon receiving these two gifts, I had every intention of cooking up a delicious meat sauce and hosting a small dinner party with one or two other couples. Of course, the days went by and things got more and more hectic as the day of the big event approached. I decided that instead of opening the two bottles simultaneously, I would just have to experience them on their own.
The 2006 El Seque Vinedos De Seque was opened. I was especially excited about this wine because I spent a semester in Alicante,,where it was produced, during my junior year. I poured a very judicious amount into my glass - there was just too much to do and I needed to be able to read for class, write and take notes, start research email guests and plan out the details of my party. I took a sip, swishing the wine as the wine pros do - all around my tongue to the back of my throat, in front of my teeth, coating my palate. I swallowed and tried again. This was certainly a big wine. After a few more sips my glass was gone and I went about my tackling my to do list.
About 15 minutes later I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I looked strange; something was wrong. I stared and realized that my lips had a strange hue to them. I smiled and my teeth had a slight blue cast. I opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue... purple! My tongue was dyed a deep indigo. I had a sudden flashback to the days of devouring candy with names like "blue razzberry."

Now I know that it is quite common for people to get the red wine teeth (when your teeth lose their pearly white sheen and become a little gray). This was not the same thing. This was on a whole other level.... and I had only had a few sips! I was so preoccupied with the color of my tongue that I forgot the think about the flavors of the wine. I decided to wait until the next day to do another test. And of course the same thing happened. I have to wonder, what is it about this wine that made my tongue, my teeth and my lips take on a purple hue?

Tasting notes:
Strong, full bodied, well structured wine that was better on the 2nd day after opening. Slightly leathery, with good black/purple berry flavors. This wine is made from a blend of Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvingon, Syrah and Tempranillo. Did you know that Monastrell is more commonly known as Mouvedre? This wine would NOT be good for the following events: first dates, weddings, gallery openings, schmoozing parties, business dinners. It would however be fine to have on a night in, with a steak, a burger or lamb. $11.99

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sonoma in New York: the Chick and the Hen, the Zin and the Zen

I would never have guessed at the time that I created this blog and conceived the idea of writing from the perspective of a both California native and a New York resident, that months later, I would be sitting in the heart of Manhattan, eating a winegrape that was freshly picked off a vine from the Dry Creek Valley. Thanks to Dr. Vino and Larry Levine (of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission), I got to experience a bit of Sonoma right here in New York City.

Jim Murphy (of Murphy-Goode) guided us through a tasting of the recently Fed-exed grapes starting with Pinot Noir, which has the "chicks and hens" characteristic (smaller and larger grapes in the same cluster). We moved on to Chardonnay, Syrah, Zinfandel, and finally four different samples of Cabernet from four different Sonoma County regions. We learned that the we can expect very good things out of the the 2007 vintage from California. Apparently, beginning of the summer was quite warm, which caused some concern among the wine community. However, a cool period came later in the summer that allowed for phenolic ripening. This fancy term basically means that the cooler weather allowed the grapes to get to their full flavor maturity, before the grapes ripened fully and the sugar content became too high. When grapes can achieve their full flavor potential, the wine that they produce is better and more complex.

There was at least one person in the group who didn't get the message, and she did the classic asking of the question that had just been answered - an enduring phenomenon that I have experienced both as a teacher and a student. So let me be very clear. 2007=GOOD YEAR, especially for Zinfandel, as Joel Peterson, the man behind one the of the three reliable R's (Ravenswood, Rosenblum and Ridge) reported. Joel should know, after all, he has been making wine for 31 years and has passed on his great grape gene to his son, Morgan, who has recently started his own winery (Bedrock Wine Co.)

What did the grapes taste like?
Wine grapes in general are smaller and have larger seeds and thicker skins than the table grapes that we get from the grocery store. These grapes were deliciously ripe and sweet (25+ Brix which means they were well past their wine making prime). Each variety had its distinct flavor, with Zin being the overwhelming favorite of the group.

Then came Chef Bruce Rie-Zen-Man. He brought along all things Sonoma: Mt. Tam Cowgirl cheese, Liberty Duck, duck confit, melon, prosciutto, salumni, and mushroom duxelle. He gave us a lesson on the weight of wine and food as well as the six elements of food tastes and four elements of wine tastes.
Food: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Hot and Umami
Wine: Sweet, Acid, Bitter, Alcohol

We were given permission to play with our food as we mixed and sprinkled our way through various food pairings. Each element that we added, whether it was salt, coffee grounds or lemon, changed both the flavor profile of the food and the interaction of that food with the wine. My friend and I thought that the duck with salt and Cabernet pairing was very metallic and unpleasant (I'm pretty sure I made that face a baby makes when they're fed something "icky"), but mysteriously no one else in the crowd had that experience.

The night finished with a reception that gave us a chance to try even more food and wine pairings and gave me the chance to talk to the Sonoma county natives about the valley, Walling Road and the ever changing face of Healdsburg.

If you want to experience a little of Sonoma and you can't get in your car and drive there, click on the picture and look through the lens of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission's live web-camera. Just make sure you don't visit after dark if you want to get a glimpse of the vines.

Tasting Notes:
Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc (vintage?)
A floral herbacious (and yes... there was some cat pee) nose. Concentrated flavors of blossoms and citrus, but with a slight vegetal flavor at the end.

2006 Alexander Valley Winery New Gew├╝rztraminer
Very aromatic nose of honesuckle, honeydew and sweet, ripe pears. A spritzy wine with slight fruit and a quick bitter almond finish.

2004 DeLoach Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
Classic Cabernet - intense and rich, good fruit, licorice and also some leather and smoky qualities. Not good with salty duck breast!