11.06.2014

Sips: A nice crisp pinot noir from New Zealand




Let’s face it: good under-$20 pinot noir with real varietal character, complexity and balance is hard to find. From New Zealand, Nobilo’s 2013 Icon Pinot Noir from Marlborough solves the problem. This widely available wine has an average price of $19 on Wine Searcher, with many retailers listing it for a good deal less. It has notes of black cherry, plum, blueberry and a typical and pleasing New Zealand pinot earthiness. Nicely integrated oak and refreshing acidity complete the picture.  It matched well with sliced London broil and will pair with lots of other dishes, from salmon to pork chops to roast turkey. An excellent choice for the Thanksgiving table. Try serving it slightly chilled.

7.25.2014

A wine made when Nixon was President reminds us how sexy 'old' can be


As a critic, I get to taste many hundreds of wines each year and sometimes get invited to events, many of them involving wine regions, wineries or importers presenting their latest releases. Sometimes the wines are memorable and I write about them; sometimes not.

One of the more unusual experiences of this kind came not long ago when I was invited to stop by Morrell & Co., the well-known New York retailer and wine bar just across the street from my  office in Rockefeller Center. The occasion was an updating of the store and bar and a chance to taste a few wines. There was a rosé from Provence, a red Bordeaux and a California chardonnay. Good wines, but hardly the stuff of which memories are made.


Fortunately, there were more wines to taste. There, on the counter, sat three very large bottles that towered over the others around them. Each was a Barolo, the famous wine from the region of the same name in Piedmont in northern Italy. Not only that, they were from the 1970s -- a ‘79, a ‘76 and a ‘70 to be precise. They represented an unusual chance to go back in time.
 
Wine is all about connections -- to those with whom we enjoy it and, for me, connections to wines themselves and their histories. The most interesting and vital of these old Barolos was the 1970, which was clearly a very good vintage for Barolo.

To put the year it in context, Richard Nixon was president, the Beatles broke up and the computer floppy disk was introduced, all of them relegated to history long ago. In Barolo, on the other hand, Giacomo Borgogno would make a wine that would remain vibrant for decades to come, the 1970 Barolo Riserva “Antichi Vigneti Propri.’
The nebbiolo grape attains its greatest expression in Barolo and the wine is made for aging, gradually losing the strongly tannic character of its youth and evolving, in the best vintages, into a transcendent experience in which fruit and wood and sense of place become one.
As I stood at the counter, David Johnson, Yung Leung and Jura Almeida carefully poured small quantities of wine from the big bottle, which held 3.78 liters and would cost more than $500 today, into a decanter for aeration. Then they poured a half an inch or so into our glasses. The color was light brick red; the aromas conveyed red fruit, roses and cedar.

This is the kind of wine that makes you want to talk about it with anyone around you, and I found myself doing just that – describing how it was still very much alive after all these years, with vibrant acidity, still-firm tannins and beautiful fruit.

With each small glass I found myself focusing on something different: in one glass an emphasis on the secondary tastes of leather, meat and beef bouillon cube; in another hints of raspberry, blueberry and a long, mineral-driven finish.

We all had the sense on this evening that we were tasting something unique, something that could not be replicated. I found myself transported back to another era, thinking of the images and the history of the time, and in my glass, enjoying something old that was still very much alive.

7.11.2014

In the under-$10 wine crapshoot, an impressive Spanish white


In the middle of summer, I crave fresh, lighter white wines, preferably with little or no oak but with good complexity and a price that will permit me to buy plenty of them to have on hand to sip with weekend lunches, before dinner or with the fresh fish and shellfish. 

With those requirements, I tend to gravitate to the wines of the lesser-known appellations of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, which can still offer excellent values. One of them is  Avelino Vegas’s 2013 “Abadía Real” verdejo-viura blend, a $9 Vino de la Tierra from the large Castilla y León region of northwest Spain.

In the classification hierarchy of Spanish wines, Vinos de la Tierra are a step below  Denominación de Origen wines, but as this one shows, they can over-deliver on quality for the price, which is exactly what I’m looking for. With modest alcohol of 12 percent, the wine is both easy to drink and interesting, with pear, white peach, tropical fruit and subtle vanilla notes. An impressive summer value. Imported by Spain Wine Collection, Congers, N.Y.


12.05.2013

Prohibition ended 80 years ago today

It was on this day back in 1933 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt ended Prohibition after roughly 14 years. Take a look at this old newsreel on the announcement that includes some classic images showing how authorities tried to enforce the ban on alcohol.


Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

1.11.2013

Sips: From California, Donelan's Kobler Vineyard Syrah

I've been thinking a lot in recent weeks about a growing trend in California winemaking -- a return to more modest and elegant wines that still have great fruit concentration but with lower levels of alcohol. Some of this has to do with weather conditions, some with vineyard location and some with a winemaker's decision on when to harvest grapes (the longer they hang the higher the sugar and resulting alcohol levels).

You may have read about an excellent Dry Creek Valley zinfandel from Dashe Cellars that I reviewed in my column on NBCNews.com. Its alcohol is a modest 13.7 percent. Another superb wine in this more modest style comes from Donelan Family Wines in Sonoma, which produces a line of vineyard designated wines, mostly syrahs, but also a pinot noir, a chardonnay and a rousanne-viognier blend.

One of Donelan's syrahs, the 2010 Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah from the Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, is among the  most beautiful California syrahs I have tasted, a wine of retrained elegance, wonderful balance and gorgeous fruit. And here's the kicker: the alcohol level is a mere 12.8 percent, a function, to some extent, of the cool 2010 vintage.

What does this mean in terms of what you'll experience in the glass? This is a wine that is at once complex and effortless to drink, a wine that easily invites you to take another sip, to pour the next small glass. Sip again and repeat. Aged for two years in French oak, none of it new, the wine is plummy with raspberry and blackberry notes. There's some spice here as well, along with cinnamon and touches of licorice and white pepper.

The wine reminds me more of the northern Rhone than California, but is, hopefully, another sign of a broadening return to leaner times in California winemaking. The suggested price is $45. Recieved as a press sample.




1.09.2013

Swirls: A wine to support equality for gay Americans


These days, making wine is often about creating a concept, for better or worse. The store shelves are loaded with bottles depicting everything from animals to cars and trucks to those that donate part of their sales to research on various diseases. And now, a new concept -- a wine billed by its promoters as "the first wine created in support of equality for gay Americans."

It's called Égalité, and it comes to us from Biagio Cru & Estate Wines, an importer based in Rosyln, N.Y., that says it will donate part of the proceeds to organizations that promote quality for gay Americans.

Égalité is a sparkling wine, a Crémant de Bourgogne from France with a suggested price of $24. A press release says that it's the product of "exhaustive research by Biago Cru as well as input from the gay community." A focus group helped develop the name and label.

Part of the strategy, not surprisingly, is to capitalize on moves by an increasing number of states to  legalize same-sex marriage, and Biagio Cru calls its wine "the perfect touch for weddings, engagements, anniversaries, galas, and all celebrations." And it hopes, of course, that the wine will have broad appeal beyond the gay community.

          

12.07.2012

Sips: A classic California cabernet sauvignon, to drink and gift


Beyond Bordeaux, California became synonymous long ago with great cabernet sauvignon. That said, it’s also true that memorable California cabs don’t come inexpensively -- unlike Bordeaux, where it’s still possible to find notable cabernet and merlot blends for $20 or under.

And yet price alone is no guarantee that a California wine (or one from anywhere else) will be interesting, as I discovered the other night when I opened a $60 cabernet wine from a celebrated Napa Valley winery and found it one dimensional. The opulent California fruit was there but not much else.

Fortunately, that wasn't the case with Hanna Winery's 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This superb $39 wine made from 100 percent cabernet has beautiful complexity and balance with a delicious blackberry and black cherry core and undertones of fennel seed and even fresh fennel, giving it a nice licorice note. Ripe tannins round out the picture in a wine that, despite its youth, is drinking very well now. It's a natural for steak and lamb, and as a serious wine for a holiday gift that won't completely break the bank. Available on Hanna's website and elsewhere. Received as a press sample.

11.30.2012

Sips: Marqués de Cáceres’s superb 2011 “Deusa Nai” Albariño



Marqués de Cáceres is a big producer based in Spain’s Rioja region, but the winery, it turns out, also bottles a terrific wine from Rías Baixas in Galicia in the northwest corner of Spain. This is white wine country where the most important grape is the indigenous albariño, which is either bottled as a single variety or blended with others. Marqués de Cáceres’s 2011 “Deusa Nai” Albariño is made exclusively from the variety and is among the best of a dozen or more albariños I’ve tasted this year. It’s a wonderful wine for fish and shellfish or on its own as an aperitif. Pear and grapefruit tastes are accented by floral and mineral notes and a touch of vanilla. The price is about $14 and although production is limited (about 6,600 cases), the wine appears to be widely available based on a check of Wine Searcher.