To make summer linger

In theory, reds, whites and rosés are all-season wines. But, honestly, dark, tannic reds are more crave-able in the depths of winter than light, acidic whites.

Cote Est

So, while I might serve Côté Est from Jean-Marc Lafage as an aperitif come January—it could be a brilliant way to conjure the sunlight and warmth of summer, just as basil pesto made in August and defrosted in February can do—I’m enjoying it now, as the calendar ticks down to autumn.

Côté Est (East Coast) is a French wine, from the Côtes Catalanes, an emerging designation that suggests Spain (Catalan = Catalonia) but that Lafage is employing for his white Vins de Pays of the Roussillon region in southern France, smack up against the Spanish border on the Mediterranean Sea. No surprise that Lafage is one of the adventurous, young winemakers being attracted to Roussillon, where it’s easier to experiment with grape combinations than many other areas of France.

The wine is an intriguing blend of Grenache, Chardonnay and Marsanne, which may explain that on the nose, one swirl of the glass evokes the sea and seafoam while the next is floral. On the palate, the pale lemon-green wine gives citrus (lime, to me) and unsweetened stone fruit.

Besides being delicious, this gem is not expensive: I paid $11 at Sherry-Lehmann. Long live summer!

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.

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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.

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.

Recently red: Côtes du Rhône

Yes, it’s still summer but that fact hasn’t stopped me from drinking Côtes du Rhône. I’ve happened to open two bottles of Côtes du Rhône Villages over the past week, one a revisiting of a supply I purchased during the colder months, the other a new discovery. They’re both from the 2009 vintage and great values for their quality.

Domaine de L’Obrieu Côtes du Rhône Villages, Cuvee les Antonins, Visan, 2009 – I found this wine at Sherry-Lehmann, lured by the price (around $15/bottle at the time, based on a case purchase) and Sherry’s enthusiastic description: “more structure and darker flavors (think black currant and really dark cherries) than most Rhônes . . . Stunning value from the excellent 2009 vintage.”

Dom de L'Obrieu Cotes du Rhone Vill

Indeed, this wine tastes as dark as its hue. The flavor is dense and earthy; there is no mistaking that you’re imbibing the terroir.

The wine is a blend of Grenache (90%) and Syrah (10%). The label indicates that all grapes hail from the commune of Visan, a distinct Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation.

Beyond its beautiful expression of the earth and the vines, this wine offers another promising story of a youthful winemaking couple, carrying on a family tradition. Ownership of Domaine de L’Obrieu passed from father to son last year, and Jean-Yves Perez and wife Cecile will be able to claim full credit for their 2012 vintage. I look forward to trying it!

If supplies last, this wine is on offer by the case at Sherry-Lehmann through Aug. 31, 2013, for an unbelievable $144.

La Grand Ribe Côtes du Rhône Villages, 2009 – I found this wine in the “Robert Parker Recommends” area of Buy-Rite in Jersey City. The $9.95 price was an irresistible invitation to try it. Now I’m sorry I didn’t buy more, as it seems to be sold out at that store – although an online search indicates it’s readily available elsewhere.

La Grand Ribe Cotes du Rhone Vill

La Grand Ribe, a small producer, grows its grapes organically, and indicates that this wine contains a minimum of 50% Grenache and 20% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre, and a maximum of 20% other grape varieties.

Compared to the L’Obrieu, this wine is less dark and intense, but its Côtes du Rhône pedigree is equally undeniable. The flavors suggest dark fruit, smoke and herbs.

I looked up Parker’s review, which was a rave, calling the wine a “sensational effort” and giving it 91-93 points. Absolutely worth seeking this one out.

Nice Burgundy find

Keens - 13aug13 - Wines by the glass

Kudos to Keens Steakhouse for offering a 2011 Château Génot-Boulanger white by the glass. I tried it the other night before our wonderful (as always) dinner there.

Problem is, Keens’ by-the-glass menu lists it simply as “Génot-Boulanger ‘11.” I did a Bing search the next morning, but the possibilities only expanded.

This Burgundy producer, based in Meursault, makes red and white wines from 32 appellations in the Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune and Côte Chalonnaise. Its website does not reveal which of these were produced in 2011 and have been released.

So, back to Keens: the sommelier Tim told me over the phone the wine is the Mercurey “les Bacs.”

“A beautiful wine,” he said, “and very affordable.”

Indeed, a lovely, medium-bodied Burgundy. Sadly, though, it seems to be difficult to locate for retail purchase.

My favorite rosé

La Mascaronne rose

I’ve played the field this summer, wanting variety and new experiences, but had to come back to my true love. In rosés, that is.

La Mascaronne Quat’Saisons is a gorgeous wine from every vantage point – a stunning pale coral in the bottle; intense berry and flower on the nose; bright berries and minerals in the mouth. It drinks beautifully, alone or with food. Hands down, it’s my favorite rosé.

Produced in the Côtes de Provence, La Mascaronne is a classic provençal blend of Cinsault (70%), Grenache (16%) and Syrah (14%).

Unfortunately for those of us who dallied, the 2012 vintage is going fast, so finding it now may be difficult, as I discovered today. I bought the last two bottles at Buy-Rite in Jersey City ($14.99). Given Robert Parker’s 91-point rating on this vintage, the manager told me, it had flown out of the store. (International Wine Cellar gave it 89 points.)

I discovered La Mascaronne last year at Sparrow’s uptown store in Hoboken. I tried one bottle, loved it, and returned to Sparrow to buy more, rationing it out over a few months. I didn’t find the 2012 at Sparrow this summer (maybe they’d had it but sold out early), but Jeff spotted it on Bin 14’s wine list and we enjoyed a bottle there last week – reigniting my search that led today to Buy-Rite.

I’m rooting for a good 2013 harvest in Provence and wondering how I’ll make it to next summer, when I plan to buy a case of this lovely gem.

Los Vascos: my iconic wine revisited

Los Vascos label (2)

I have much affection for Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon. It was the first wine I learned to seek out for everyday drinking once wine for me graduated from an object of mindless enjoyment to a matter for study and appreciation (see My iconic wine).

But that was some two decades and countless interesting wines ago, and I hadn’t tasted this Chilean classic in several years. Would I still enjoy it?

With some ceremony and great mindfulness – as I wanted to document every detail of the experience for you, dear reader – I opened and served a bottle of the 2011 vintage two nights ago. I’d picked it up at my neighborhood supermarket (Los Vascos is ubiquitous) for the lowest price I’d seen locally ($8.99). I paired it with a pan of bean and chicken enchiladas in mole sauce I’d made that afternoon. Jeff, my frequent partner in wine discoveries, and I compared notes as we went along.

First, pull the (synthetic) cork: it popped nicely. Next swirl, sniff, swirl, repeat: the nose was redolent of earth and pepper. Finally, sip: honestly, the first taste disappointed. While the color was dark ruby, the wine tasted thin and a bit too alcoholic. (This vintage is 14% alcohol.)

But as dinner progressed, the wine transformed into a smoother, deeper pour – proving that even fairly simple wines benefit from the modest oxidation that comes with drinking a bottle in one sitting. (I note that Lafite’s website advises decanting this wine for one hour.) And it complemented the food beautifully.

This least-expensive Cabernet offering of the Domaines Barons de Rothschild’s Chilean estate remains a great value after all these years. My affection is undimmed.

In defense of rosé

>Rose1

Eric Asimov’s “Wines of the Times” column yesterday relayed the apparently pervasive disdain wine professionals have for rosé wines. Asimov does not count himself in this contingent, and expressed appreciation for this wine type in general and for specific bottles he and his sommelier tasting team sampled for the column.

But if the dismissive attitudes of Asimov’s tasters represent the consensus view in the industry, I’d like to offer a counter opinion.

First, there is a reason many wine drinkers enjoy – and some even adore – rosé. Rosés in the bottle are beautiful to look at, so it follows that sipping them is an aesthetically pleasurable experience for many people. (Studies have demonstrated that the color of substances we consume affects how they taste to us.)

Second, the variety of rosés being produced has exploded over the past few years, offering casual drinkers as well as serious connoisseurs a range of wines never available before. Many adventurous drinkers are delighted to explore these new choices, a number of which are priced below $15.

Provence used to hold a near-monopoly on rosé production, and its standard grape blend usually included some mix of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. This southern region of France continues to turn out what are arguably the world’s highest quality rosés but its monopoly has certainly evaporated. This summer’s Sherry-Lehmann catalogue, besides its Provençal selections, lists rosés from the Rhône, Vaucluse and Bordeaux regions of France, along with Argentina, Spain, South Africa, Sicily, Lebanon, Long Island, Napa and Sonoma – and this roster is far from exhaustive.

These new production areas mean that rosé is now being made with red varietals never before associated with this wine type – Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and more.

Is all of this wine great or even good? No, but the same is true for reds and whites.

Do all of the rosés now on offer adhere to a “standard” style? Not at all, given the numerous regional and grape varieties involved. Some wine experts may insist that rosé should fit an aperitif profile, that is, light, with mineral tones. But why must there be orthodoxy? Why can’t a diversity of rosé styles evolve?

Wine makers are responding to consumer demand by producing more of it. A story published last year in Yahoo News stated that Nielsen Company reported a 14% year-over-year increase in 2011 in the U.S. sales, by volume, of rosé, marking the seventh consecutive year of growth.

Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s bad.