Long Island wine

I am always looking for expressive, leaner wines that aren’t dominated by over-extracted fruit and excessive levels of alcohol. One can find these wines in Europe, of course, but in California it’s a rather tall order. Another place to look is the North Fork of Long Island, about two hours from New York.


I recently became more familiar with the wines of Shinn Estate Vineyards, which, in only a decade, has become one of the area’s leading properties and uses mostly organic farming practices. That’s David Page, one of the owners,  in the photo above. For an in-depth look at Shinn, take a look at my latest column on MSNBC.com.


Lamb and an Australian red

Pan-seared lamb chops seasoned with oregano were the centerpiece of our dinner tonight, which meant that a hearty red was in order. Instead of picking a new release I decided to go for something with a couple of years or so of bottle age.ross

From Australia’s Barossa Valley, Ross Estate’s 2003 “Lynedoch” did the trick. Ripe but still firmly tannic, this blend of 40 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent cab franc and 20 percent merlot is aging well and is probably not even in its prime. It cut through the lamb like a sharp knife, showing notes of cassis, blackberry, dried cranberry and coffee bean. Afterward, I enjoyed a sip or two with some dark chocolate. It’s a big wine (with 14.5 percent alcohol) but well balanced with enough acid structure. Imported by Southern Starz Inc., Huntington Beach, California. Not sure of availability at this point  or price.


California pinot gris



Pinot gris, or pinot grigio as it's called in Italy, has firmly established itself as one of California's "other whites," and for me it can offer a pleasant and useful alternative to the ubiquitous chardonnay.

If you haven't tried the variety in a while, the 2008 Pinot Gris from TAZ Vineyards in Santa Barbara County is a good way to get reacquainted. Medium-bodied and focused, it has tastes of pear, pineapple, a touch of white pepper and minerals on the long finish. About $15.

Top-value nebbiolo


Nebbiolo, the great red variety from Italy's Piedmont, is best known for its expressions in Barolo and Barbaresco, which typically require years of aging before the rattiwines are truly accessible. It's possible, however, to find more approachable nebbiolos that can be enjoyed in their youth.

One of them is Renato Ratti's excellent 2007 "Ochetti" Nebbiolo d'Alba. It's only moderately tannic with notes of dark cherry, earth and cedar. It's also a top value at about $20. Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York.


Dumb wine labels

Dumbing down a wine label so that it says almost nothing about, uh, wine, is usually a good indication of what you're likely to find inside the bottle. So, when I read on a label recently that wines from a certain California brand "express clip_image002the fun, vitality and sunshine of the California lifestyle" my antennae went up. A label, let’s say, like the one I asked my 10-year-old son to draw to illustrate my point. The merlot from this California brand, it turned out, was soft and generic and did nothing for the variety's image. The lesson here, which I've learned time and again, is that cute labels and "fun" descriptions often mask not-so-great wines.