Tips For Choosing Wine From A Wine List

If you lack confidence when ordering wine from a restaurant’s wine list you are not alone. You should never be intimidated by wine because wine should be fun and an opportunity to learn. Keep it simple and don’t get caught up in what you don’t know but have an open mind to any interesting suggestions that are offered. While many people fall back on the same old selections or point to a bottle and hope for the best, you can do better with a little preparation. Here are a few tips I learned from a sommelier that will help them find you the best wine for your dining experience.

First and foremost, be honest and engaging when asked about your preferences. Tell them the body and style you like because a restaurant invests a lot of money to have a sommelier help you make the wine selection process more enjoyable so take advantage of their knowledge. Here’s a tip that will get the best wine available for the price you want to pay. Simply point to a bottle on the list with the price you are willing to pay and say “I have had (wine name) before but I would like to try something different”. This will let the somm know what you are willing to spend and they can guide you to a bottle in that price range. After you make your selection the somm will retrieve your bottle from the cellar and open it tableside. They will present the cork to you but this is purely ceremonial and there is no need for you to either touch or smell it. Next, they will pour a small sample for you to taste. This sample is for you to check for flaws not to see if you like the wine. If it is acceptable give them a small nod and they will begin serving your dining companions with you being served last. One last tip, during your initial exchange ask your sommelier if there are any wines they are excited about. This allows them to share hidden gems now that they know you share their love of wine.  

Photo by Ray Piedra on Pexels.com

Food Truck Wine Pairings

 

After reading an article recently about pairing wine with food truck fare I suddenly realized the perfect synergy that food trucks have with the wineries they visit. The eclectic menu items provided by the ever-changing food truck line up at wineries offer a unique opportunity to experiment with wine and food pairings that is simply impossible to achieve in a brick and mortar restaurant.

The following suggestions are only a starting point so I urge you to be creative when composing your pairings. The mind-boggling variety of food choices offered by these vendors provide winery goers an exciting range of dishes and cuisine to explore.

Every item will be accompanied by a Pennsylvania-made wine and one that is widely available and value-priced because remember you are being served your food through a window of a food truck.

BBQ & Grilled Meats: Without question these are the menu items on which the food truck industry was built. When you order from these trucks you need a wine with some backbone to stand up to the flavors of grilled meat, smoke, and sauce. These two bottles fit the bill nicely.

Fero Vineyards & Winery Estate Lemberger http://ferovineyards.com or Zuccardi Q Malbec

Pierogies: This Polish specialty is a comfort food favorite in Western Pennsylvania. Pierogies are most commonly filled with either potato, sauerkraut, or cheese but they can be filled with any number of unusual stuffings. A sweet option to the traditional savory ones is Prune Lekvar. A testament to how beloved pierogies are in the fabric of the community is that the Pittsburgh Pirates hold a pierogie race at every home game. I suggest pairing them with South Shore Wine Company Grűner Veltliner http://enjoymazza.com or Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewűrztraminer

Pizza: You can get anything from an authentic Neapolitan pie to the latest trendy gourmet creations seen on Instagram from a food truck these days. High temperature brick ovens have become the norm in food trucks so it calls for an equally impressive wine to complete your pizza adventure. Try Ripepi Winery & Vineyard Zinfandel http://ripepiwine.com or Menage-A-Trios Pinot Noir

Tacos: A mainstay of the food truck culture on the West Coast, taco trucks have developed a loyal following in Pennsylvania. When it comes to variety and originality you can always find something good at taco truck. I recommend selecting a Rosé or Blush. Consider these wines when doing your pairings. Greendance Isabella http://greendancewinery.com or Château ď Esclan Whispering Angel Rosé

Mac & Cheese: These trucks have filled a niche that has blossomed into one that provides choices not found in the mainstream trucks. When you have the chance please try some of what they are serving up because I think you will be happy you did. My wine picks here would be Narcisi Riesling http://narcisiwinery.com and Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.

Chicken: Chicken is a blank canvas for the chefs in a food truck. They paint masterpieces using broad strokes of flavor and style. To keep up with their always evolving flavor palates you must pair them with wines that can handle a broad spectrum of spices and preparation methods. These wines are well-suited for that challenge. Winslow Winery Vidal Blanc http://winslowwinery.com and Bogle Vineyards Merlot

Seafood: Seafood themed food trucks offer more than just fish sandwiches. They run the gambit from lobster rolls to sushi. While not as numerous as other cuisine focused trucks, when you find one it will likely be a memorable alternative to standard food truck grub. These two wines are sure to please. Bella Terra Chardonnay http://bellaterravineyards.com and Cantina Zaccagnini Pinot Grigio

My last word to you about pairing wine with any food, not just food truck food, is to trust your instincts because you just can’t make a mistake. So get out there and get the most out of what the wine world has to offer.

Take Me To Church

Kagor is traditionally a fortified dessert wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Saperavi, and other varieties of red grapes in the coastal area surrounding the Black Sea. Kagor was originally made for the Russian Orthodox Church as a sacramental wine. Finding American-made Kagor can be very challenging and finding a well-made one is like finding the proverbial “Needle in a haystack”.

Jim Baker owner/winemaker at Chateau Niagara is making an award-winning Kagor from his estate-grown Saperavi. When I say award-winning, I mean that Jim brought home a medal for his Kagor from the prestigious Saperavi World Prize competition held in the Black Sea city of Tbilisi, Georgia plus numerous other awards. While Jim doesn’t fortify his Kagor, he does ferment it up to 15% ABV.

Opening the bottle is just the beginning of enjoying your Chateau Niagara Kagor, there is a method to tasting this unusual and extraordinary wine. I could attempt to explain it but I think there is no one better suited for the job than Jim Baker, so here is how to experience all that Chateau Niagara Kagor has to offer in Jim’s own words.

“Take a taste and swirl around once or twice in your mouth, coating all the taste buds and then stop. Let the wine take over. It will take you a journey, with flavors rising and falling. You want to go until they stop changing, and for most people it’s more than a minute. After that take a bite of a good chocolate truffle and when that is partially melted, taste the wine again, swallowing both together. They effect will be almost immediate with a burst of cherry cordial flavors.”

I asked Jim why he decided to grow grape varieties that are associated with Eastern Europe and make classic Eastern European wines from them. Here is what he said:

“We decided to make the Kagor as part of our Eastern European wine series. We discovered a number of little know Eastern European wines that we thought were pretty cool, and would allow us a little niche to specialize in. This includes a Hungarian Bulls Blood, our Saperavi, a Georgian style skin-fermented Riesling Chardonnay blend called Du Monde, and our Kagor. We planted a new Romanian grape last fall called Feteasca Neagra, but we will be calling it by the way cooler English translation of “Black Maiden”!”

Chateau Niagara will be doubling the size of their Saperavi vineyard to just over an acre of this versatile grape.

If you are interested in trying Jim’s Kagor or any of his other wines they can be found on his website http://chateauniagarawinery.com or by visiting the winery at 2466 West Creek Rood Newfane, NY. Please call before visiting. (716) 778-7888

Kagor 2017 Photo Credit: Chateau Niagara Winery
Saperavi Rose 2019 Photo Credit: Chateau Niagara Winery
Saperavi 2018 Photo Credit: Chateau Niagara Winery

Far From The Shallow

Let’s play a game. Close your eyes and imagine your favorite Italian winemaking region. Next, conjure up images of its beautiful landscapes, vineyards, and signature architecture. Finally, remember how wonderfully the wine reflects its terroir and expresses the true characteristics of the land. Now, open your eyes and tell me was it Alto Adige? No, then let me tell you about this spectacularly grand alpine province which includes parts of the Dolomites and is also known as South Tyrol. This enchanting Italian wine region is nestled between Switzerland to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria to the east.

 Alto Adige is home to Elena Walch wine estate. The Elena Walch wine estate is among the elite of Italian

The Walch’s ( L. to R.) Julia, Karoline, and Elena.   Photo Credit: Elena Walch

wine producers and has been the standard-bearer for quality and innovation under the guidance of Elena Walch and now her daughters Julia and Karoline. The estate’s philosophy toward winemaking has always been defined by its dedication to the land and terroir. Elena Walch wines are a direct expression of their soil, climate, and care in the vineyard. The disciplines of sustainability and care for the land are strictly adhered to and passed down to future generations. Julia and Karoline Walch have steadily advanced and evolved the viewpoint of their mother since taking over as General Managers of the estate in 2015. 

I recently had the opportunity to ask Karoline Walch about how they are carrying on that commitment to excellence and how you can taste it in their wines.

Elena Walch wines have always been faithful to the ideology of respecting the land and the environment so your wines are a direct reflection of the terroir. How do you see your commitment to that principle manifest itself in your wines?

Since the beginning, my mother wanted to produce wines that are a true reflection of a single site. Our two most important single vineyards are the Vigna Castel Ringberg and the Vigna Kastelaz, both very distinct and unique sites. With a combination of limestone soils and its microclimate given the lake influence, the vineyard Vigna Castel Ringberg is farmed sustainably to best adapt to the characteristics of the site. It is finally the salinity and depth that distinguishes it from many other wines within that category. The Vigna Kastelaz, on the other hand, is one of the very few vineyards facing completely South, and hence, benefitting from very sunny and dry growing conditions. Not only, it is extremely steep and due to its proximity to the Mendola mountain ridge, the temperature fluctuations are huge. This allows us to develop the primary aromas to the full spectrum, yet retaining the acidity. Not surprisingly, this is our icon site for Gewürztraminer. Finally, to further highlight the importance of those two vineyards, since 2014 our wines that grow on those two sites, carry the prestigious denomination of Vigna –  It is an additional mention of a smaller geographical origin and designs the smallest historical/geographical unit of a vineyard. Every single Vigna must be officially admitted and registered within the regional government. It expresses the ultimate thought of terroir philosophy with the idea of a parcel wine from an exact plot and hence having a historical or traditional name.

How does your state-of-the-art fermentation cellar help you in accentuating all the unique terroirs of your diverse vineyard sites?

Our estate’s philosophy is inherently connected to terroir – the idea that the wines are an individual expression of the vineyard’s soil, climate, and cultivation. We start with quality in the vineyard, but the way the grapes are handled at the winery is an important step in how the finished wine expresses its sense of place. Our new, high-tech cellar allows us to be flexible and adjust to the requirements of both single vineyards and individual varieties. 

With the new cellar, there are three important changes: the option between whole-berry or whole-bunch fermentation; the strict use of gravity to process the grapes as gently as possible; and four different points of quality control before the grapes reach the fermentation tanks. The aim is to create wines that have more structure, more fruit, and soft, supple tannins with great aging potential while being more elegant and refined at the same time. KW

Elena Walch set sail into uncharted waters when she built her winery on the idea of producing the highest quality wines that are terroir-driven and sustainably grown. Her daughters, Julia and Karoline, are continuing the journey she started but are always adding their own contemporary interpretation to their winemaking.

We can talk about how Elena Walch wines express their terroir and how producing wine sustainably can be tasted and experienced in a tangible way but it is impossible to truly understand what Elena Walch wines are like without tasting them for yourself. I feel quite confident that after reading Karoline Walch’s perspective on how she approaches making wine that you have a desire to taste her wine just to see for yourself why it is so special. The only question that remains is which one to try first. Luckily for us, Elena Walch wines are superior wines so you can’t make a mistake. Since Alto Adige is the northernmost region in Italy the Germanic grape varieties tend to be prevalent but that is to be expected since it is so close to Germany that 70% of its population speak German while only 25% speak Italian. Elena Walch is known for its white wine, which includes their popular Gewürztraminer and “Beyond The Clouds” but their reds are also top-notch.

When I explore a wine region I am always curious about the wine made from its indigenous grape varieties. When I looked at Alto Adige, Schiava caught my eye. Schiava is an indigenous grape varietal often associated with the region. Schiava typically produces an aromatic light but acidic red wine that is highly versatile when it comes to food pairings. Elena Walch Schiava is a solid choice because it ranks high in quality and taste for this varietal. Elena Walch Schiava 2019 has a cranberry color, mild tannins, and bright acidity with flavors of red fruit and Schiava’s signature tinge of bitter almond on the finish. It is best when served between 60-65ͦ F/16-18ͦ C. This wine pairs well with Mediterranean fare and pasta. 

Elena Walch wine estate is only one of the extraordinary wineries in the Alto Adige region of Italy that are

eager to share their enchanting culture and remarkable wines with you.  

Photo Credit: Elena Walch

Organic, Natural, or Biodynamic?

Confused by what the difference is between natural, organic, and biodynamic wine? Well, you are not alone. The growing trend toward natural, organic, and biodynamic wines has created a marketplace in which an informed consumer stands a much better chance of buying a product that fulfills their desire to live a “greener lifestyle”.

In my opinion, the best way to feel confident that you are purchasing a natural, organic, or biodynamically produced wine is to buy it from a producer you trust. Before you decide on which production practices best suit your needs let’s look at an overview of each method. You must keep in mind that there is no clear-cut distinction between practices and there is often an overlap between terms describing them; the qualities are not interchangeable between methods. 

Organic wines are separated into two categories in the U.S. The first is wine certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture using strict regulations. The U.S.D.A. guidelines require the grapes to be grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and all ingredients added to the wines must be certified organic. No sulfites may be added to these wines. Only wines that meet these strict rules may display the U.S.D.A. certified organic seal. The second category contains wines made from grapes that were grown using organic farming methods. Wines in this category were made using organically grown grapes and may or may not have been made following organic winemaking methods. 

Biodynamic wine is made using the principles of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. I think of biodynamic practices as embracing a holistic approach toward viticulture. It observes farming methods based on a specific astronomic calendar. An example of this would be only harvesting grapes on days designated as “Fruit” days or only pruning on “Root” days. Biodynamic farming isn’t only dependent upon the calendar but is similar to organic in that it only allows for the use of organic fertilizers and bans the use of any type of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or any synthetic chemical intervention in the vineyard. Biodynamic wines are, however, permitted to contain sulfites. It is these small differences that can cause confusion when comparing whether a wine is organic, biodynamic or both. A wine designated as organic doesn’t mean it is also biodynamic or a biodynamic is always organic.

Natural wine or low-intervention wine, as it is often called, is fermented spontaneously by its native yeasts. As the name implies they are, for the most part, unmanipulated and never filtered or fined. By not filtering these wines they appear cloudy because of the solids left suspended in them. Due to the minimal amount of intervention by the winemaker these wines have limited stability and should be treated accordingly. If a winemaker doesn’t want to go through the regulatory process of having their wine certified as organic they can just skip the process and label it as “Natural”.

This is why I strongly suggest when you are looking for a wine to purchase in this segment of the market it is always a good idea to buy from a producer you know and trust.

A Wrinkle in Time

I just received an interesting email from my good friend Steve Casscles. You may recognize Steve from his many articles about wine grapes or his book “Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the U.S. and Canada” available on Amazon.com. Steve is a winemaker at Sabba Vineyard in New York’s Hudson Valley. He wanted me to share the exciting news with my readers that Sabba Vineyard has embarked on a new project and is offering a very limited quantity (about 20 gallons) of wine made from heritage wine grapes. Steve and Sabba Vineyard owner Abby Youghabi have worked tirelessly at preserving these and many other heritage grapes so they can be enjoyed by future generations. Anyone interested in purchasing these unique wines can go to sabbavineyard.com and click on “Order Now” to view the wines or use this link: http://sabbavineyard.com/s/order At this time they are offering:

 

-Baccchus Marion –  a Ricketts Red variety developed in the Hudson Valley in the 1870s  a flinty red variety, medium body, but a true wine grape developed in the 19th century (which was unique then) $25

– Baco Blanc – as steely and flinty white with fruits of soft lemons and green apples.  The variety is used a lot in Cognac and Armanac to make brandy. $25

– Pallmer Noir – a chance hybrid Steve found at his farm.  A big Malbec kind of wine.with lots of vinifera in its genetic makeup. $25

White Russian

If you have visited this blog you know I am a big fan of the Georgian wine grape Saperavi. I have written about it often here and in print publications, websites, and online magazines. There’s another ancient Georgian white grape that is extremely widespread in that region whose wine I have also become fascinated with and that is Rkatsiteli. Rkatsiteli is a pale-skinned cold-hardy Vitis vinifera wine grape that can trace its origins as far back as Saperavi and like Saperavi it is considered to be one of the oldest wine-producing grapes in the world. Rkatsiteli is widely planted in the Caucasus Region, the area that connects Europe and Asia. While its acreage is considerable it is far less than it occupied during the Soviet-era when quantity was valued for the mass production of wine. The main reasons for the popularity of Rkatsiteli in that part of the world are that it has a strong resistance to cold temperatures while retaining a good level of acidity in hot growing conditions and versatility in the cellar where it can be made into anything from table wine to sparkling wine and everything in between. Rkatsiteli can be found outside of the Caucasus in China and the United States. You can find it being grown as Rkatsiteli in the northeastern U.S., mainly in the Finger Lakes Region of New York and also in Virginia. In China, it is being grown and produced as Baiyu.

Rkatsiteli is made in many styles and types of wine but it usually displays a light body and high acidity. Since Rkatsiteli is made into such a wide variety of wine by a diverse community of winemakers and cultures I will focus on the Rkatsiteli wine made on the East Coast of the United States where it is taking on the characteristics of each unique terroir it encounters. 

Like Saperavi, Rkatsiteli was first planted in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York by the legendary Dr. Konstantin Frank where it continues to be grown and made into a classic style of Rkatsiteli by his family at the Dr. Frank Winery in Hammondsport on Keuka Lake. When you taste Dr. Frank Rkatsiteli 2019 the first thing you will notice is Rkatsiteli’s signature acidity and a lean body upfront but the flavors tropical fruit and pear come out on the finish. This wine is a nice light-bodied white wine now but will improve with time in the bottle.

McGregor Vineyard is one of the two vineyards that grow Rkatsiteli in the Finger Lakes. McGregor is most recognized for its iconic Saperavi blend Black Russian Red but their Rkatsiteli is one of their most popular and exclusive wines with only 41 cases produced in 2019. McGregor Rkatsiteli 2019 is a light wine perfect to drink at a festive gathering or on a picnic with friends because it has refreshing acidity and a long finish filled with fruit flavors.

Horton Vineyards in Gordonville, Virginia began growing Rkatsiteli after losing vines to the bitter Winter of 1996. Horton Vineyards Rkatsiteli 2017 displays aromas of nectarines and Meyer lemon that when combined with its prominent minerality and acidity renders a fresh-tasting wine that you can enjoy alone or pair with lighter fare. 

As fall gives way to winter and our tastes turn to more full-bodied reds don’t forget about Rkatsiteli. My suggestion to you is to buy a couple of bottles to save for next summer because it will be here before you can say Rkatsiteli.           

They Shoot Horses Don’t They?

Well, if they do they would be missing out on all the hidden value this economically priced Cabernet Sauvignon from the Horse Heaven Hills A.V.A of Washington has to offer.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon has been a workhorse vintage after vintage when it comes to providing value in a varietal category that can easily become overpriced due to the hype that often surrounds some well-known producers.

Photo Courtesy: Columbia Crest

This is a bold Cab that opens with oak on the nose and follows with flavors of dark fruit and vanilla that are complemented by supple tannins in a lingering finish. Vintages of this wine have received critical acclaim from the likes of Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. Its malolactic fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels then the wine is blended immediately after fermentation. It is aged in new and older French and American oak barrels for 12 months.

Year after year, vintage after vintage and grape variety after grape variety Washington State has moved its wine quality and value forward without fail. Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon has taken its place in the wine market as an enjoyable Cab that can be easily found and purchased for $15 or less.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Invitation to my The Vintner Project Article

I am happy to announce that I am the newest contributor to The

Photo courtesy The Vintner Project

Vintner Project. http://vintnerproject.com The Vintner Project is an effort to make the sometimes confusing world of wine more approachable to consumers globally by offering a personal look at wineries, their wine, and the people that make them unique. It is a diversified collection of voices and points of view that bring all the wine regions and winemakers stories together so readers can explore and learn about segments of the winemaking community that might not be covered by the mainstream media.

Founded in 2018 by Nelson Gerena and Kiril Kirilow, The Vintner Project has developed into a dynamic cutting edge media outlet

The Vintner Project founders Nelson Gerena and Kiril Kirilow Photo courtesy vintnerproject.com

for news and insightful content for wine lovers worldwide.

Check out my article about the intriguing Austrian red wine grape Zweigelt and the versatile wine it makes. See why Zweigelt is often called the “Ultimate picnic wine”. Click here to go to my profile and my article vintnerproject.com/learn/zweigelt-austrias-little-known-signature-red-grape/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing the Zweigelt Waltz

When a vintner is considering adding a new variety of wine grape to their vineyard the thought process involved in choosing which vines they eventually plant can be very tedious and time-consuming. The most important consideration when making that decision is the vine’s compatibility with their growing conditions but it’s not the only factor to study when making a selection. Of all the other variables probably the most important influence on a winemaker’s decision to grow a particular grape is their belief they can make a premium wine from it. Winemakers often begin their search for that “perfect” match in wine regions around the world that are similar to their own and are producing quality wines from the grape under consideration so they can use them as a guide.

Zweigelt (pronounced TSVYE-gelt) is beginning to attract attention from growers in the northeastern United States and a few Canadian vineyards in British Columbia and Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. Zweigelt is a cool-climate Austrian hybrid red grape developed in 1922 by the hybridization of two Austrian grapes, Blaufrankisch (Lemberger) and St. Laurent. Zweigelt is the most extensively planted red wine grape in Austria. It is a very fertile grape that requires intensive leaf control and yield regulation because of its prolific yields. Zweigelt is a good choice for growers as an insurance grape because it’s bud break is later in the spring than many other varieties when the danger of a killing frost has passed and it ripens mid-season before most of the bad weather that damages the crop later in the harvest. These are some of the reasons why the acreage of this red grape has increased substantially in Austria between 1999-2015 but has now stabilized in recent years. Zweigelt displays characteristics from both of its parents. Blaufrankisch makes a bigger, bolder and deeper wine while St. Laurent is described as being fresh, agile, and akin to a Pinot Noir but with more muscle. Zweigelt is generally made into a dry, medium/light-bodied wine with low tannins and medium/high acidity but can also be made in a sweet style or ice wine. In the glass, it has a violet/reddish color and flavors of red cherry, raspberry, black pepper, and chocolate with a spicy floral aroma.

Zweigelt is a fresh light wine that pairs well with a wide range of food, making it a great picnic wine. It is common to find Zweigelt as a varietal but it is also widely used in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to yield an Austrian spin on the classic Bordeaux blend. It is frequently blended with Blaufrankisch to double down on its Austrian lineage.

The great thing about wine is that there are so many completely different wines to explore. With that in mind, I suggest when judging a new wine grape don’t base your impression on a single bottle because with these unusual wines every winemaker has their own vision for the wine. It is a good idea to try as many samples as possible before forming your opinion. If you would like to taste an American Zweigelt consider trying one made in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York by Rob and Kate Thomas at their Shalestone Vineyards. http://shalestonevineyards.com