Miss Vicky Wine — With Free Shipping No Less

Miss Vicky Wine — With Free Shipping No Less

I’ve been pressed for time these days, which is one reason why I’m delighted to kill two birds with one stone in this post: supporting one of my favorite wine peeps and offering all you lovely STBNY readers a nice deal. Miss Vicky Wine, who I’ve written about before, is a super-energetic young Frenchwoman who is on a mission to bring her family’s wine to the world — or, at the very least, the U.S.

The wine in question is Fleurie, one of the cru of Beaujolais. We’re not talking bubblegum fruity Beaujolais Nouveau here. Fleurie, and the other 9 crus (=subregions, more or less) of Beaujolais produce fruity, highly satisfying, and highly undervalued wines. Miss Vicky’s 2007 Fleurie fits squarely in this category. Fresh, with subtle fruit and more than a hint of earthiness, this wine practically screams fall. (Keats’ “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” and all that.) It would be great with roast chicken or any straightforward poultry or light pork dish.

It’s priced at $18.80/bottle, and available only online. And if you email me at sasha@spinthebottleny I will send you the free shipping code. And let me know what you think!

In the meantime, check out this vid Miss Vicky (that’s Anne-Victoire to you) made of this year’s harvest, which looks to have been both exhausting and a pretty kick-ass time.

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Guest Post: Orvieto Interlude

Guest Post: Orvieto Interlude

STBNY is beyond proud to present several outstanding guest blogs from Bene Cipolla, one of my favorite culinary and oenological partners in crime. Bene and I have been friends since we were 15 and together have experienced  some serious lows (wine coolers, homemade wine in Naples) and highs (New Haven pizza, anything that’s come out of her kitchen). Bene lived, worked, ate, cooked and drank in Rome for 5 years and goes back to Italy fairly often. Just last month she was in Orvieto and Rome and kindly offered to share her experiences. Read on (and try not to get too jealous).

By now the “eat local” mantra tends to provoke eye rolls given the sometimes shrill proclamations of the locavore movement, but whenever I go to Italy it really does make sense (at least outside the major metropolitan areas, where you can often find a larger selection of products from all
over the country). Best of all, pretty much everywhere you go, you can drink local too.
And so my trip began at a lovely restaurant called Piazza del Popolo with a 2008 Febeo Orvieto Classico Superiore from Cardeto, a producer that’s gained a lot of notice over the past 10 years. It was mid-September and still warm that evening, and I was eager to make the most of the waning days of summer. With its fruity melon notes, the Febeo was a great match for my mood and my antipasto, house-made cured pork soppressata tossed with warm beans, celery and green onion. For my pasta course, local favorite umbrichelli with a pesto of basil, olive oil, fresh tomato and almonds, I enjoyed a 2007 Campo del Guardiano, a single vineyard Orvieto Classico Superiore from il Palazzone whose structure stood up to the slight bitterness of the almonds.
The owner cum sommelier, Tiziana Blasi, who had previously worked at Rome’s top-rated restaurant in the Hilton hotel, suggested an Antinori Nature Spumante Metodo Classico with my secondo, amberjack crudo with a warm broccoli sauce, and while that meant I was veering outside Umbria and into Tuscany, I trusted her judgment. Chef Giustino Volpe, who periodically checked in and chatted with me as he returned from smoke breaks, persuaded me to try his deconstructed tiramisu — dollops of mascarpone cream, coffee gelato, and whipped cream, topped with a chocolate sauce, crunchy brittle and ladyfinger cookies. One thing I love about eating out in Italy is the widespread dessert wine and digestivo selection. I strongly believe that we should all drink more dessert wine. And so I closed out my meal with a Planeta Moscato di Noto, which I’d never had before but intend to have again as soon as possible.
I woke up the next day to a slight chill in the air, and by lunchtime it was raining. I sought refuge in an old grotto turned restaurant with a glass of inky Fobiano, a Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend from standout Umbrian producer La Carraia, which was a nice companion for my local salumi and Chianina beef ravioli with truffled pecorino. Dusk found me at a café huddled with a shawl and a glass of Salviano Orvieto Classico, which was more than decent if not as satisfying as my Cardeto from the previous night. By the time dinner rolled around, at the excellent family-style Trattoria del Moro Aronne, I was ready again for red. I took a look at the brief, simple wine list and chose a Tizzonero from La Carraia, a 50-50 Montepulciano-Sangiovese blend. On the nose it didn’t seem all that interesting, but once I took a sip I tasted notes of dark berries and what Italians refer to as “sottobosco,” or undergrowth. Its earthiness was a fitting match for the tartufo and porcini mushrooms in my umbrichelli pasta and the gaminess of my pigeon “alla ghiotta,” cooked in red wine with hints of vinegar, juniper and rosemary. Too full for dessert, I rolled back to the hotel vowing to eat less at lunch the next day, while visions of Rome danced in my head.

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Is There Such a Thing as a “Wine Genius”?

The other day I got an email from the folks at something called the Everyday Genius Institute. Would I, they wanted to know, be interested in reviewing a video called “Think Like a Genius Wine Master”? Would I ever. And not just because I love getting free stuff (although I kinda do). I wanted to see the video because I was curious to see how they defined a “Genius Wine Master”–and wanted to know if it was possible to think like one. I’ve met a lot of people who are very, very smart about wine. They usually fall into one of the following categories:

The tasting prodigies. These are people who are absolutely brilliant tasters. They can detect faults with a single sniff, excel at blind tastings, and have astounding recall of every wine they’ve ever tasted. The rarest of all breeds, but definitely the showiest.

The walking encyclopedias. No grape variety is too obscure, no corner of the wine-producing world is too hidden for these wine scholars. Impossible to stump, they are rarely shy about sharing their vast knowledge.

Uber-specialists. In the tradition of Isaiah Berlin’s hedgehog, these folks know one big thing. Often, the one big thing they know is Italy, which seems to inspire more specialists than any other nation. (And who could blame them?)

Varsity bullshitters. Alas, the most common of all wine smarties. Bluster and confidence can carry you very far in some wine circles. This is what happened to that guy in your AP English class who never seemed to read anything but still managed to get a 5 on the exam.

The master senseis. Next to the tasting prodigies, these peeps are the toughest to find. They’re incredibly gifted at sharing what they know in a way that excites, educates–and doesn’t intimidate–the beginner. This is the kind of wine intelligence that I’m trying very hard  to cultivate–and that I’d like to see more of in the wine world.

The “Genius Wine Master” at work in this video — Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser — is probably a combination of the tasting prodigy and the master sensei. There’s some truly helpful stuff here, with a comprehensive breakdown of see/smell/sip, as well as a useful disclaimer that context (where you’re tasting, and who you’re tasting with) has a big impact. The advice to make a mental collage of what you’re tasting, picturing fruits and spices and the like in your mind’s eye, makes a lot of sense for visual learners. At $50, it seems a bit steep for information you could find for $20 in a book (or for $0 online) but if you like video learning and don’t mind throwing money at this problem, you could do worse.

My only real objection to the video is the name. I don’t know what a “wine genius” is. As I tried to show above, I think there are different kinds of “wine intelligence,” but the idea of genius when it comes to wine seems facile,  somehow too lofty and too limiting all at once. (The other topics of genius study? Getting straight As, sales, and copywrighting.) When I think of a “genius,” I think of either someone who famously deserves the label–say, Einstein–or else someone who has an extremely specific, limited skill, as in “that guy’s a genius at fixing up old Vespas.” (No offense to Vespa mechanics. Or Einstein.)

What I don’t think of is someone who has devoted countless hours to the endlessly rewarding–and occasionally frustrating–pursuit of understanding what happens when grapes become something else entirely. What do you call that? Passionate amateur? Wine-crazed fool? I’ll take those over “genius” any day.

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Step Away from the Margarita: Great Wines to Pair With Mexican Food

Step Away from the Margarita: Great Wines to Pair With Mexican Food

I admit: my latest Food52 video on matching wine and Mexican food has me feeling conflicted. See, my hard alcohol beverage of choice is the margarita. That limey tang, the earthy, potent hit of tequila…really, it’s unbeatable. Can I really in good conscience recommend pairing Mexican food with wine instead?

Well, yes. Check out my picks for pairing your fave Mexican fare with everything from a juicy Argentine red to a sparkling wine from New Mexico and tell me if these just don’t hit the spot.

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Wine on Ice: Making a Wine Slushie

Wine on Ice: Making a Wine Slushie

During the height of New York’s June heat wave, a few of my Twitter wine friends and I were (half?) joking about creating wine popsicles. Because while I love the summer–and am currently mourning the arrival of cooler weather–I can’t deny that the heat makes it tricky to consume wine.

I was intrigued then to come across this recipe for wine slushies. While I haven’t tried it yet, it looks interesting, and could make a good “last-gasp-of-summer” treat. The recipe suggests Moscato d’Asti or ice wine. I’d definitely go with the former, a happy, fizzy, lightly sweet wine that you can find in the $12-$15 range. (Check out this Moscato d’Asti video I did, with canine accompaniment, for more on what this wine is about. You want to make sure to get Moscato d’Asti, and not Asti Spumante.) I’d also serve it in a wine glass rather than the suggested martini glass.

Whip up a batch and toast (and/or slurp) to the last week of summer.

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If You Like Giorgio, You’ll Love Riesling

If You Like Giorgio, You’ll Love Riesling

Remember those old Designer Imposters “perfume” ads from the 80s? If you like Giorgio, you’ll love…

I always think of those whenever I’m chatting with someone who’s new to wine. I mean, really new to wine, as in “I’ve had wine a few times and think I like it…but am not sure what to try next. How do I know what I like?” If you haven’t tried a lot of wines, it’s tough to get your bearings. To tell a newbie that something takes a little like a Carneros Chardonnay means nothing if you’ve never had a Carneros Chardonnay. Instead, I quiz them about what other beverages they prefer. That way, if they tell me they like Tang, I know they’ll love…well, actually, I don’t know anyone who likes Tang. And frankly I have no idea what the wine equivalent would be. But here are some other ones that are much easier to translate:

Lemonade: Easy–German Riesling, which has that same perfect tension between tart and sweet.

Black tea: Tannic, bitter, and a little earthy, it’s the ideal gateway beverage to Barolo, Barbaresco, or pretty much anything else made from Nebbiolo

Black coffee: Syrah, especially from the Northern Rhône. In my favorite Syrahs I always get lots of coffee notes.

Coke: Rioja. Aging in American oak creates all kind of vanilla and spice notes, hallmarks of the taste of Coca-Cola.

Any Starbucks variation on a theme of coffee and chocolate: Ripe, rich California Merlot with a ton of mocha notes.

Cranberry juice: Pinot Noir (outside of Burgundy), Dornfelder, Gamay. Anything with bright, tart, red fruit.

Water: Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)


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One Great Buy: 2007 Les Aphillanthes Vin de Pays de Vaucluse

One Great Buy: 2007 Les Aphillanthes Vin de Pays de Vaucluse

This 2007 Les Aphillanthes Vin de Pays de Vaucluse is one of the most enjoyable wines I’ve had all summer. And I’d say that even if it weren’t $14.99, a darn good price for a wine with this much personality. (Looks like you can get it for a buck less if you buy from the importer, Weygandt Wines.) Noted Rhône producer Domaine les Aphillanthes makes a number of wines, many in the $20-$30 range, from the traditional regional varietals: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and the like. This vin de pays is their entry level offering, a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Grenache that’s a tad more sophisticated than the your basic Rhône. Sure, there’s the dark fruit and spice that make young, accessible Rhônes such fan favorites, but there’s also some leather and tobacco on the nose and finish. Especially on the finish. A wine at this price has no right to have such a long, compelling finish. But lucky for us, it does. This is a great wine to take you the fall. It’ll play nice with whatever red meat you choose to throw on the BBQ this Labor Day weekend, and will marry perfectly with stews and roasts as the weather turns cooler.

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In Defense of the 100-Point Scoring System. Kind Of.

Want to get a serious wine lover’s knickers in a twist? Just ask him what he thinks of the 100-point scoring system. Nothing is quite so controversial — and ubiquitous — as the 100-point scale. Popularized by Robert Parker, the World’s Foremost Wine Critic or the Scourge of the Wine Industry, depending on whom you talk to, Parker had the clever idea to rate wines according to the 100-point system. This grading tool, familiar to anyone who’s ever passed through the American school system, has guided many a wine shopper — and pissed off more wine professionals that you can imagine.

Look, I don’t pay any attention to Parker points. I find the people who follow him slavishly a little off-putting. But my occasional annoyance at Parker and his acolytes is dwarfed by my chagrin at people who love nothing more than to complain about him. Why so much rage, you guys? It makes me make feel like I need to defend the 100-point system. So here’s my attempt to refute the most popular anti-Parker arguments:

1. Wine is beautiful, magical, transcendent, something so special that it can not be reduced to a mere number. I love wine. I have had my share of magical experiences around great bottles that count among the happiest moments of my life.  But for most of us, wine is an enjoyable beverage. The vast majority of consumers who don’t know a ton about wine are looking for a good bottle that won’t break the bank, and, every so often, a splurge that lives up to its price tag. If the 100-point scale system is helpful in those pursuits, who am I to judge? The world of wine is vast and diverse, and there’s enough room for those of us who take it very seriously, and those of us who just want to have a good time. Imagine if the movie industry operated the same way. It would be like going around to people waiting in line to buy tickets to Eat, Pray, Love, telling them they are boors for seeing the movie just because their local critic gave it three-and-a-half stars, all while waving the latest issue of Cahiers du Cinéma in their face.

2. Robert Parker is evil. Therefore, the 100-point scoring system is evil. If I remember correctly from my 10th grade ethics class, this is what’s called an ad hominem argument. Attacking the man instead of the issue at hand. If we only read books, watched movies, or embraced innovation and technology created by likeable people, the structure of our DNA would be undiscovered, the iPhone wouldn’t exist, and our only entertainment would be an endless loop of Sandra Bullock movies on TBS. (Although don’t get me wrong, I love Sandra Bullock.) This argument is illogical, annoying, and childish. Next.

3. I’m OK with assigning numerical scores to wine, but the 100-point scale is arbitrary. This is the most reasonable of all the arguments out there, even though I don’t quite buy it. Yes, the 100-point scale is imperfect, and damned if I know the difference between a 91 point one and a 92 point one. There’s a certain Scholastic “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” nature to a 100-point scale, but that arbitrariness is inherent in any grading or evaluation system. Does the fact that it’s numerical annoy people? Or does 100 seem like too large a range, in which case does that make Jancis Robinson’s 20-point system only 1/5th as stupid?

4. The 100-point-scoring system is the Worst Thing to Ever Happen to Wine in the United States, if not the WORLD. This is my favorite. We should be so lucky! I can think of plenty of things that are much worse for the wine industry. Insane wine mark ups at restaurants. The U.S.’s anti-consumer three-tier distribution system. French wine subsidies. Anti-alcohol crusaders. Confusing labeling laws. Shall I go on?

5. The 100-point system is the reflection of one man’s tastes. This one is pretty accurate. It’s no secret what kind of wines Robert Parker likes (big, bigger, and biggest), and that he’s not one for subtlety. But I don’t think that’s a huge problem, and here’s why. First, he’s representative of the American palate overall. Yes, we eat too much artificially flavored, oversweetened crap that has wreaked havoc on our taste buds and makes us crave more flavor, more sweetness, more stimulation, more, more, more. But as Americans, we have access to a greater variety of good, intensely flavored food from around the world than pretty much anyone else in the universe. Inhabitants of even a moderately sized U.S. city can probably find some good Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Indian and BBQ within half an hour of their homes–not something you can say about the average European. (But if anyone can tell me about some great Vietnamese and soul food  joints in Rennes, Turin, or Stuttgart, I’m all ears.)  I’d argue that all of these cuisines can work well with bold flavors, so we’re not morons for gravitating towards these big wines.

Second, the problem with Parker’s palate isn’t its existence, but its primacy. Since the 1980s, his palate has been the only one that’s mattered, and the 100-point scale has been the dominant wine rating point of reference. His stamina and talent for self-promotion, among other characteristics, have kept him on top and made it tough for other voices, palates, and evaluation systems to emerge.

But this is America, gosh darn it. We don’t wring our hands about the other guy’s success. We tip our cap, come  up with something better, and work our butts off to steal market share away from him. This is actually happening, albeit incrementally. Wine bloggers are gaining a little traction, although probably not as much as we’d like to think. Some folks are doing interesting stuff with wine badges. Wine retailers are working harder to educate their customers, writing their own shelf talkers instead of relying on Parker points, offering more tastings, and organizing their selections around what foods to match them with or their taste profiles. Olive Garden, the restaurant chain that sells more wine than any other in the U.S., lets patrons try wine for free and organizes its wines by flavor profile, with nary a Parker score in sight. Granted, I don’t eat at the Olive Garden and this is a boring list, but it’s well priced, with accessible wines that probably complement the food they serve.

These may be baby steps, but they’re definitely steps. The quality and variety of wine available right now on the U.S. market in unparalleled. Is the 100-point scale the ideal way to get consumers to drink the best, and most varied, selection of wine out there? Of course not. But let’s move on.  Give the guy his due and come up with something better.

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Italian Wine Week: The Final Chapter

Italian Wine Week: The Final Chapter

Italian Wine Week ended on a strong note. (It also ended a week ago, so I’m taking a very Italian approach to deadlines here. What can I tell you, it’s August.)

I rebounded from my disappointment with the Lupi Le Braje and cracked open a bottle of Lini Lambrusco ($14.99) Monday night. Full disclosure: I have had this wine before (“isn’t that cheating?” my husband asked with raised eyebrow as I popped the cork). Yes, OK, so sue me. I wanted a sure thing–and I wanted to smile. Because it’s impossible to drink this wine without smiling. A fizzy red with bright cherry and strawberry aromas, and more than a touch of earthiness, this wine is incredibly easy to like. The bubbles + substantial acidity have a way of working up one’s appetite, and I’m confident I could conquer even the most daunting plate of salumi with this Lini by my side. This is a terrific, casual red for summer.

Tuesday night I went in for a more refined, but no less satisfying, wine experience at dell’Anima.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Italian Wine Week IV: 2005 Lupi “Le Braje”

Italian Wine Week IV: 2005 Lupi “Le Braje”

Another day, another region, another variety. This time we’re heading northwest from Abruzzo clear on over to Liguria. The grape, completely new to me, is Ormeasco. It’s a local variant on Dolcetto, which hails from Piedmont, inland and north of the Ligurian coast. And the wine is the 2005 “Le Braje” from Lupi ($19.99) a family-owned operation in western Liguria that has earned my gratitude by creating a comprehensive Web site in English. (Granted, I’ve been drinking some fairly obscure wines, but it has been tough to find good information about my Italian Wine Week selections on the Webs so far.)

I’m of two minds about this wine. The nose was incredibly compelling–earthy, dark, with a little leather and black cherry too. It bears no resemblance to any Dolcetto I’ve ever had, which usually feature more accessible, bright aromas. There’s a slight barnyard thing as well. (That means manure, for those who aren’t familiar with this tasting euphemism.) But on the palate, well, there just wasn’t enough “there” there for me. There were some bitter notes up front, which I actually really enjoyed, but then the mid-palate and finish just fell away. I wondered if the fruit had just dried up, as Dolcetto usually produces wines that are meant to be drunk young. But Ormeasco can apparently give more robust and longer-lived wines than its Piedmontese sibling, and the 2005 is, as far as I can tell, the most release. I’m assuming then that this is just the style. Sadly, it’s not the style for me.

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