Looking on the white side

Say “Spanish white wine” and I tend to think Albariño. But lesser-known whites are drawing more attention lately and therefore becoming easy to find in stores and on menus.

Two days in succession I tried two different [non-Albariño] Spanish whites at my local wine bar, Bin 14. They’re simple wines, dry and light—fitting for warm, late-summer weather. A few thoughts about them:

Ermita de Nieve Verdejo 2011 – This wine is produced in Rueda, a long-established wine center in Spain’s Castilla y León region, some 80 miles northwest of Madrid. The area is situated on a flat plateau with a relatively high elevation, making for favorable growing conditions—cool nights, sunny days; similarly, cold winters and hot summers.

Ermita de Nieva produces Verdejo exclusively, fermenting it in stainless steel barrels. It drinks dry and crisp. On the nose, the wine is softly grassy but on the palate the grass is dominated by citrus—maybe lime, some say grapefruit.

28 - Verdejo, Rueda

Ermita’s Verdejo is widely available in retail stores for around $10. I spotted another Verdejo, Viña Gormaz from Bodegas Garci Grande, at my neighborhood supermarket, priced similarly.

C.V.N.E. Rioja Monopole Blanco 2012 – Most Riojas are Tempranillo-based reds, but whites—made from the Viura grape, called Macabeo elsewhere in Spain—are gaining in popularity. (FYI, the Rioja region is a bit farther north and slightly east of Rueda, but the areas share a similar climate.)

28 - Viura, Rioja Blanco

This Rioja Blanco, produced by Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España, evokes light seafoam and stone on the nose. There’s a bit of minerality on the palate but scant fruit. It retails for $12 to $14. Shop-Rite’s wine department stocks two Rioja Blancos at the moment, Royal 2010 and Diamante (semi-dry) 2011.


A winery grows in Brooklyn

Make that three wineries, and counting, in New York’s hippest borough.

wine tasting

Urban wineries—in most cases, facilities where juice from regionally-grown grapes is blended and bottled as well as sold in on-site tasting rooms—are a booming phenomenon in cities around the country. According to Visit Urban Wineries, there are urban wineries in 20 states and Canada. Seattle and Portland are in the vanguard of the trend but locavore-friendly Brooklyn is not far behind.

My research has turned up Brooklyn Oenology (BOE), the oldest of the three (established 2006), and Brooklyn Winery, both in Williamsburg, and Red Hook Winery in, well, that neighborhood.

All three produce small-batch, craft wines and offer them for sale through their websites—although tasting first, which you can do here, is not a bad idea. In fact, Brooklyn Winery appears to depend heavily on its wine bar business; the space is a decent size and food is also served. BOE and Red Hook Winery feature more traditional tasting rooms.

BOE and Red Hook wines are made exclusively from New York State grapes—that is, mostly from Long Island’s North Fork and the Finger Lakes. Brooklyn Winery’s whites tend to be sourced from Finger Lakes vineyards but their reds look to come mostly from California; their online descriptions are quite specific about appellations and production methods.

Prices? For all three producers, they fall mostly in the $20 to $35 range.

I got turned on to Red Hook with their 2012 Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc blend at Bin 14 in Hoboken, but I don’t see it listed as available on Red Hook’s site. Next up: a field trip across the East River to investigate.


photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdbaywinefoodfest/3653839577/, http://photopin.com, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Lot 93 from 90+ Cellars

Better late than never to worthy discoveries. I tried my first wine from 90+ Cellars earlier this summer: a friend had brought one of the company’s Sauvignon Blancs to a backyard barbecue.

But was it the Lot 64 from northern California’s Lake County, or Lot 2 from New Zealand? I didn’t know enough about 90+ at the time to pay attention. Either way, though, it was nice and, I was told, not expensive.

Later I read up on 90+ Cellars’ story; they’ve certainly garnered great publicity since launching in the recessionary days of mid-2009. Looking for great wines at decent prices, the Boston-based company’s founders sought out highly-rated wineries with unsold product that were willing to have their wine bottled under the 90+ Cellars label, at prices (mostly under $20) below what the original winery names could have commanded.

90-plus Chardonnay (2)

A search on their website turned up 156 retailers and/or restaurants in New York City that offer 90+ wines, from Acker Merrall to the Tribeca Grand Hotel to Bobby Van’s Steakhouse. (You can also purchase the wines from 90+ Cellar’s shopping website.)

In Hoboken, the small but well-stocked Garden Wine & Liquor sells a wide array of 90+ varieties. Garden Wine owner Phil said they’ve proved a huge winner for the store, so he displays them prominently near the entrance.

The reds on recent offer included a Malbec from Lujan de Cuyo, a Pinot, several Cali Cabs, a Bordeaux, and more. Among the whites: that Lot 2 from New Zealand, a Pinot Grigio from Trentino, “French Fusion White” from Languedoc.

For $15, I took home a bottle of Lot 93, a 2012 Russian River Chardonnay, 700 cases made.

What did I think? In the glass, the wine is quite pale, implying Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. The nose suggests mineral, citrus and a hint of cheese. It’s a high-alcohol Chardonnay (14.5%) but doesn’t drink like one. I enjoyed the first sips, but the wine didn’t hit its stride until it had opened up for half an hour. 90 points? I’d give it 89.

Neighborhood favorites, part 2

When my friends recommend wine shops in their respective environs, I pay attention — even when their recommendations are geographically distant. And, as much as the product and the prices, what friends like about their local wine stores typically revolves around the proprietors and how they make their stores distinctive.

As I’ve said before, discovering and exploring independent bookstores can be similar to the experience of browsing and buying from delightful local wine shops.

Here are a few more favorites to note, courtesy of friends in different places. NOTE: the websites of Keife & Co. and The Wine Shop do not provide comprehensive search engines for their inventories; that is, you have to visit in person!

D.C. area:

Finewine.com – in Gaithersburg, Maryland. This store is a recent find of my friend Marsha. The layout of the not-huge space – “very cool,” she said, without traditional shelves and racks – impressed her, as did the broad and interesting selection.

Scrolling through Finewine’s summer specials on their website, I note many labels, even some varietals, that I rarely, or never, see in my go-to retailers in the metro NY area. Calder Charbono from Napa, for instance. Several wines from California’s Tres Sabores winery – including their Por que no red blend and Sauvignon Blanc VYD. Mt. Monster Limestone Coast Chardonnay from Australia. Syrah and Chardonnay from South Africa’s DeMorgenzon.

Marsha reports that Finewine’s staff is excellent and makes “spot-on”suggestions.


Keife & Co. – Long-time New Orleanian Eleanor and her husband Jay give a shout out to this relative newcomer to the city’s downtown/warehouse district. They love the store’s unusual choices from, for instance, the Basque region and Croatia.

“We have found several reasonably priced wines of quality that we would not have found at any other wine store here,” Eleanor writes. “It is a family-run business of two married couples who travel together to find and import their wine selections.” In fact, the store closes up in August for a scouting trip to Europe.

Need snacks with those bottles you’re buying? Keife & Co. also offers an exclusive assortment of charcuterie, cheese, olives and, Eleanor adds, “of course, chocolate.”

Charleston, SC:

The Wine Shop – Sandy sings the praises of Charleston wine merchant Debbie Marlowe. She’s been in the wine biz for more than 25 years, and has owned this store since 1995. According to Sandy, Marlowe “has a gift for finding great values in wine, and also for knowing what her customers like and what they typically spend.”

Marlowe’s personal touch extends to leading winery tours for clients. My friend was the beneficiary of one such tour in Santa Barbara in 2011, which included a private visit to Dierberg Vineyard.

Mourvèdre by another name

I’ve drunk two Spanish reds in the past week and, coincidentally, they’ve both been 100% Monastrell. How odd is that?

Maybe no longer odd at all, given the growing trend among winemakers in Spain’s hot and arid southeastern region to bottle Monastrell unblended. Traditionally a blending grape in the Rhône (for reds) and Provence as well as in Spain, Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) characteristically yields wine that is vibrantly fruity, tannic and high in alcohol.

Reds of such weight and intensity are not everyone’s choice for August drinking. Not so for me, however, as daily life presents such a spectrum of moods, meals and occasions that I can’t restrict a wine to a particular season.

Some impressions of these recent pours:

Juan Gil Monastrell 2010 – I love this wine! I originally found it at Giannone Wine & Liquor soon after it opened its Hoboken store earlier this year ($13.50). I’ve subsequently seen it at Hoboken Vine and Jersey City’s Buy-Rite ($13.99).

Juan Gil Jumilla

The grapes for this wine are cultivated in Jumilla, in Murcia province, under extremely dry growing conditions. The wine is aged 12 months in French barrels.

This Monastrell drenches the mouth with intense red fruit. Not a subtle sipping wine, the Juan Gil provides a dense immersion experience.

Vinos Sin-Ley “M” 2011 – Basque-style tapas restaurant Tertulia in Greenwich Village was featuring this wine by the glass last week – at $15 a pop, unsurprisingly overpriced (given that a bottle retails for the same or slightly lower amount).

“M” is produced in Yecla, a town (and D.O.), also in Murcia, that abuts Jumilla. This expression of Monastrell is less dense and less fruity than the Juan Gil, nevertheless a versatile accompaniment to flavorful Spanish dishes.

Neighborhood favorites

Garden Wine

When Hurricane Sandy’s voracious flooding forced Hoboken’s Garden Wine & Liquor to close for a month for rebuilding and repairs, patrons posted their declarations of fealty on the window: they were going cold turkey and wouldn’t shop anywhere else until the store was back.

Not every wine shop engenders this degree of affection and loyalty from customers, but I’m guessing most of those that do are one-off neighborhood spots. They may not offer the expansive selections of bigger stores but they give good value and great customer service, and often have a specialty that sets them apart from others in their towns.

Garden Wine, at 7th and Park, occupies a modest corner space but Phil, the shop’s hands-on proprietor, is proud to stock the growing line of “90+” varietals (more about 90+ in future posts), along with a decent selection of standards. And he delivers locally!

Here are a few stores mentioned by friends in various places as their neighborhood favorites:

Washington Liquors – an unassuming storefront on Hoboken’s main drag, it gets a rave from my neighbor Beth, who says the owners are super-knowledgeable. Bonus: impressive diversity of beers on offer.

Vino di vino the go-to wine shop for many in Newton, Massachusetts (there’s a second location in Brookline). Their daily tastings are a big draw, and make it easy to find something new to take home.

80/20 Wines – my dear friend Linda swears by this Pueblo, Colorado, shop, where 80% of the wines sell for under $20.

Vine and Table – my cousin Priscilla recommends this combo gourmet food market/wine store in Carmel, Indiana. It’s the place to find the elusive Kokomo Wine!

Care to give a shout out to your neighborhood wine store?

The joys of browsing

Wine store shelves_2724326932

For me, wine stores are like bookstores: I relish the best of them for the hours of browsing potential they offer.

While physical bookstores are getting scarce (new-book retailers have died off in the county where I reside and no longer exist here), thankfully, wine shops are plentiful.

When a new one opens nearby, I check it out. When I travel, I seek out stores that come recommended. Home or away, I am invariably lured into a shop I stumble upon, curious to investigate its offerings.

I browse for pleasure and for information, for discovery and for comparison. I look at prices and watch for deals. I note the breadth of selection by region. What do they have today from Spain? Here, their South American section; it looks a little thin. Over there, the inevitable Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve – but are they pushing it? No, they seem to be promoting Piedmont reds. This store is selling Chateau Montelena’s 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay but the one across town still stocks the 2009.

When in London I’ve enjoyed popping into the Nicholas shop on the nearest high street, to peruse the French labels unlikely to show up on U.S. shelves. In Cambridge, Central Bottle always reminds me of the number of wines I haven’t heard of. For sensory overload, Italian-style, Manhattan’s Italian Wine Merchants is the place to linger.

A store can be hushed and library-like; modern and minimalist; cramped or cavernous; outstanding or mediocre – it can hold my attention and renew my delight that the world of wine has so much to offer.

If you’re going for the lowest price, yes, online shopping will generally meet that objective. But then you miss the whole point of browsing.

photo credit: Simply Rikkles, Photopin.com, Creative Commons

Recommended reading

“The most informative and interesting wine emails on the Internet.” Indeed they are.

So does Chambers Street Wines bill its email communications program, and I can vouch for it.

Just in the past week I’ve gotten emails on new domestic arrivals; new arrivals from Macon, Beaujolais and Burgundy; a 2012 Fleurie from Alain Coudert; and an array of 2012 Muscadets and other Loire wines from a variety of producers.

And they’re not the usual labels you see elsewhere. That’s because Chambers Street specializes in bio-dynamic, natural and organic wines. Those terms are not interchangeable but together they convey that most of the product offered here has been produced with less chemical and mechanical intervention than is the norm for mass-produced wines.

Many of the producers represented on their shelves make their wines in small quantities. For instance, Chambers Street’s new bottles from California include the – how’s this for a name – Field Recordings’ 2012 Jurassic Park Chenin Blanc Santa Ynez, just 40 cases made.

Also, from Mendocino, Salinia Wine Company’s 2012 Sun Hawk Farms Louisa Smith Love & Collarbones, an intriguing blend of the vineyard’s whites and reds (23 cases made). Chambers Street describes it as “piquant and silky” and “innovative and alluring.”

From Long Island’s North Fork, “paying homage to Friulian winemaking method and tradition long before it became trendy” is Channing Daughters’ 2006 North Fork Meditazione, an orange wine.

The Chambers Street store, in Tribeca, is a fine space for browsing and its staff boasts a very high wine IQ.

But for delightful reading that opens the mind to many wine discoveries from around the world, sign up on their website for Chambers Street’s emails. Do it now!

Join the (wine) club? Part two.

Yesterday I started thinking and writing about wine clubs, with which I lack personal experience. I’ve gotten oodles of introductory offers over the years, and their initial shipment deals always look enticing. Today, in fact, a mailing from Laithwaites offers 15 bottles (representing 9 different reds) for $90 ($69.99 for the wine plus $19.99 shipping).

But surely not all wine clubs are created equal, and I have lots of questions. For instance:

Most importantly, are the wines – often labels that are unfamiliar – decent and do delightful discoveries abound?

  • How good is a club’s customer service?
  • Are the tasting notes discerning and well written, and any extra goodies that come along (wine openers, etc.) well made?
  • Once you get beyond the teaser-rate initial shipment prices, are club wines a bargain compared to retail prices for similar quality?
  • Would wine-snob friends be happy with the offerings if given a gift subscription?

So far, the best consolidated location I’ve found to compare and contrast wine clubs that are not specific to a particular winery is E-wineClubs.com. They’ve reviewed and ranked 30 clubs, but the reviews appear to be from 2011.

For winery-operated clubs, fresh market intelligence will be generated this year, thanks to a survey just announced by the Wine Market Council – a winery-dominated trade association that tracks U.S. wine consumer attitudes and behavior. But survey results will be targeted to club sponsors rather than consumers.

Wine club members, past and present, please weigh in! What are your caveats? Your recommendations? Help the rest of us navigate through this expanding universe of wine clubs.

Join the (wine) club? Part one.

I have no personal experience with subscription-model wine clubs. I have feared that selections will be disappointing, that I could do better making my own choices. At the same time, I know many clubs offer labels not typically available to retail buyers and at prices that can be attractive.

So maybe I’m wrongly biased and, if I picked the right club(s), I’d broaden my vinicultural horizons immeasurably.

Most wine clubs are one of two types: winery-sponsored clubs, through which a particular producer can deliver bottles, often those for which it can’t get retail distribution, directly to consumers; and unaffiliated clubs that source from multiple producers.

In the second category, a few clubs are associated with non-wine brands (e.g., Zagat, New York Times, Wall Street Journal) and some offer a specialized selection (kosher, sparkling wine, non-U.S., for example). NOTE: the Zagat and WSJ clubs are supplied by the same retailer, New Jersey-based The Wine Cellar.

Most clubs give subscribers some options – setting red versus white preferences, adjusting the delivery frequency – and make it easy to cancel at any time.

But clubs have pitfalls, notably around shipping: many are restricted in the states to which they can ship, and I can’t discern a coherent pattern to the limitations. For instance, Zagat ships to Massachusetts residents but Cellars Wine Club cannot. Wine of the Month Club apparently ships by wagon train to Massachusetts, as its site warns those residents to expect three- to five-week delivery times. The New York Times Wine Club notes that, in Indiana, it can ship only to certain ZIP codes. Utah and Pennsylvania residents (among others), you’re pretty much out of luck.

Tomorrow I’ll have more to say – and to ask you, dear readers – about wine clubs. In the meantime, does anyone have a wine club shipping story or lesson to share?