Posts Tagged ‘Pinot Noir

One Good Bottle: The Pinot Project

If I had to draw up my list of wine buying rules, these would be at the top:

1. Avoid any Pinot Noir under $25.

2. Avoid California Pinot Noir, unless someone I like and trust has recommended it — and is paying.

3. Avoid drinking anything with the word “Project” in the name.



And yet. One of the nicest bottles I’ve had this month was the inauspiciously named “The Pinot Project,” a wine made from Pinot grapes bought in across the state of California. It’s a well-made, well-balanced wine (no syrupy stuff here, although don’t expect Burgundian complexity) that would go with more or less anything you’d want to eat alongside a bottle of red wine. For $14 no less! The price-quality ratio goes down very easy — particularly if you overlook any long-held assumptions about cheap California Pinot.

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An Evening with Ruinart (Or, Thoughts on Texture and the Competitiveness of Wine Bloggers)

As you may have noticed, I’ve been on a pregnancy-induced blogging sabbatical. It’s been harder to keep up with STBNY during pregnancy than I would have hoped. (In fact, it’s been harder to do everything during pregnancy than I would have hoped, but that’s another matter.) I have made a few exceptions. Late last year I went to a tasting of Tom Seaver’s wines, where I got to meet the great man himself. (Yes, that Tom Seaver. More on him soon, I promise.) And last week I went to a dinner/”sensory experience” for Ruinart champagne. Given that most of my sensory experiences lately have involved discomfort, heart palpitations, back pain, and nausea, a night of champagne tasting seemed like an excellent alternative.

The experience went something like this: following a very pleasant half-hour of chatting with fellow invitees/bloggers and the supremely charming Jean-Marc Gallot, president of Ruinart, we took our places, which were set thusly:

Each of the 8 vials in the box contained a different scent, which, according to the brain trust (nose trust?) over at International Flavors + Fragrances, was present in Ruinart’s Blanc de Blanc champagne. It was our job to identify each of the smells and match them to the correct answer on a pre-printed list of 16 different aromas. Of course, we each had a glass of the Blanc de Blanc to help us along.

With Gallot teasing/encouraging us, we sniffed and scribbled away. Was #2 lemon…or grapefruit? The table arrangements held clues — like this little pot of pink peppercorns:

You’ve heard of blind tastings? This was more of a “blind smelling,” which put our collective olfactory skills to the test.

1. The folks over at LVMH are some damn fine marketers. Ruinart is the oldest continuous champagne house, and one with a slightly below-the-radar profile here in the U.S. This event was the perfect way to position Ruinart as a “boutique” brand, less mainstream than Moët or Veuve-Clicquot, but more accessible than Dom Pérignon or Krug. Gallot is the perfect guy to lead the charge. He has that all-too-rare combination (at least in the wine business) of American openness and French, well, Frenchiness. When I asked him what he liked to drink when he wasn’t drinking champagne he said he loved Bordeaux but…was beginning to really enjoy Burgundy. In New York, where obscurity is often touted as a virtue, and it’s nearly impossible to keep up with whatever the wine hipsters are drinking (“What you mean you’ve never had Grolleau? That was so 2010!”) it’s refreshing to remember that one can very happily stick to the classics. (If one has the budget for it, that is.)

2. Delicacy and simplicity are not the same thing. The chief virtue of Ruinart’s Blanc de Blanc is its finesse. Made from 100% Chardonnay — that’s what “Blanc de Blanc” means — this champagne is definitely on the lighter, crisper, end of the spectrum, which is the style I prefer. I think of champagnes like this as “lacy,” although I’m not sure how helpful that comparison is for anyone else. Nonetheless, it’s fair to argue that most of the smells they gave us were somehow present in the wine itself. I might take issue with the white peach, and I definitely wasn’t buying the pineapple (not coincidentally, the only one I got wrong), but ginger, jasmine, cardamom? Why not? Just because a wine is delicate or subtle, that doesn’t mean it can’t have a lot going on. I think it’s particularly difficult to detect this complexity in champagne, where texture (i.e., those bubbles) rather than aroma/flavor, makes the strongest first impression. Hence my classification of this wine as “lacy.” If that word doesn’t make intuitive sense to you, so be it: but I’d encourage you to pay as much attention to a wine’s texture as to its flavor. This is easiest to do with the extremes — say, sparkling at one end of the continuum and port at the other — but it’s not too hard to detect the silkiness of a good Pinot Noir or the roughness of a too-young Barolo or Bordeaux.

3. Wine bloggers are a competitive bunch. I’ve been to some fancy schools over the years and live in a city filled with Type A personalities, but nothing compares to a roomful of wine writers trying to out-smell and out-taste each other. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps the subjectivity of wine-tasting makes it all the more important that we state our opinions with authority? Or because an evening of sipping champagne in each other’s pleasant company doesn’t feel enough like work, so we have to be extra-serious in our wine analysis? Whatever the reason, I’ll cop to it as much as the next wine blogger. God knows, I’m still annoyed I only got 7 out of 8 right. Do you think I can turn in an extra-credit assignment?

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A Mixed Case: February Wine News Round Up

As some of you may already know, I’m housebound thanks to a fractured foot. The bad news is, I’m on crutches for another week and in one of those damn boots for a month. But the good news is, I’ve had more time to catch up some recent wine news to share with all of you. So here goes:

1. Chilean wines and the earthquake. This weekend’s earthquake in Chile occurred offshore of Maule, one of the country’s wine regions. According to reports I’ve read, (this is one fairly typical) there have thankfully been few casualties, but there has been a lot of damage to the wineries themselves and stocks of wine. Traditionally a source of mediocre bulk wine, in recent years Maule has been shifting to higher quality wines. One can only hope that this earthquake hasn’t set their progress and prosperity back too far. Yes, of course, right now there are much more important things to think about than wine. But once everyone is accounted for and the rubble is cleared, people will need jobs. And money. Which is why I’ll be picking up a bottle (or several) of Chilean wine this week, and I encourage you to do the same. Watch this space for some tasting notes.

2. Pinot Noir (fake). I spend a lot of time defending the wine industry from people who think it’s shady, devious, and out to get the average consumer. Sometimes though they’re right. Take the recent Red Bicyclette scandale. Earlier this month, a dozen wine producers and executives in the Languedoc in Southern France were convicted of selling fake Pinot Noir (it was really a blend of other, cheaper, grapes) to U.S. wine behemoth E&J Gallo, who bottled it as Pinot Noir under the Red Bicyclette brand. Now the US Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is looking into it as well.

3. Pinot Noir (real). I recently discovered that a high school classmate of mine, Serena Lourie, started a winery called Cartograph Wines in northern California. They’re sourcing Pinot Noir from a variety of top vineyards and trying their hand at Gewurztraminer and Syrah as well. They just bottled their first vintage and I can’t wait to try their wines. When I’m not overcome with insane jealousy, I love following their exploits on their Facebook page. (A Web site is coming soon.)

4. Wine in NY supermarkets. New York’s train wreck of a governor, David Paterson, recently re-introduced legislation that would allow supermarkets to sell wine and liquor. A recent poll shows that most New Yorkers support it — and so do I. Yes, it would put the squeeze on some of the small wine shops that I like to frequent. But I’m in favor of anything that makes it easier for people to purchase wine alongside food. After all, we consume them at the same time — shouldn’t we be able to buy them at the same time, too?

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Some Wine Recs from our “Friend-Giving” Feast

As promised, Paul and I had a “friend-giving” potluck, where we invited over a bunch of friends for a pre-holiday dinner. The big draw for us: this was a chance to enjoy great Thanksgiving food without family drama. The big draw for you: we road-tested several wines that I think would go nicely with a variety of turkey feasts.

Some of these wines were guest gifts, and some I purchased myself. Overall, we were more successful with the reds.
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