Category Archives: Wine Review

THE HARLEM WINE SCENE – IT’S CHANGING

We stayed at Daughter #1’s Harlem apartment while in town for two weeks to celebrate daughter #2’s graduation, so I thought I would explore the rapidly changing wine and restaurant scene south of 135th Street. The past few years have seen a number of new restaurants and wine shops open here. Many are worth a visit.

The NYTimes recently did an article on Harlem’s French Renaissance (LINK) – and we ate at four of the restaurants featured there. Also, there are some good wine shops which are bringing a greater appreciation for wine to the area.

Harlem is changing, and relatively fast. Real estate prices in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn are driving younger people here to more affordable housing. With that influx come two things – the dilution of the African-American Harlem culture and the rise of gentrification. The newer restaurants reflect these two things, and the area is not without some tension as a result. But crime is down, there are more shopping and dining options, properties are being renovated, and there is some good in that. This transition period between what Harlem was and what it is becoming, is a time for pioneers to try new things. And the restaurant and wine scenes are full of pioneers.

WINE SHOPS

I visited three wine shops during my stay. There are others, and my apologies for not finding and exploring them all. As readers of this blog know, I am an advocate of local wine shops and using the expertise of the staff in selecting wines to purchase. These shops have that expertise, if not great depth of selection from any region. If you want greater depth, the amazing shops of lower Manhattan are not that far away.

BTL (LINK) at 311 W 127th Street, has a connection with Maison Harlem bar and restaurant across the street. Run by French expats, both establishments offer French wines (and others). BTL is offering value-priced wines for the most part, and has a few New York wines in stock along with selections from the Old and New Worlds. I purchased a nice Gigondas red and a New York Finger Lakes Chardonnay here.

The Winery (LINK) at 257 W 116th Street has a few hundred bottles in stock (and a sister store in Tokyo). There is a temperature controlled case with high-end wines – the best selection of this level of wine that I saw, and cubbies with a bottle displayed upright and others laying down behind it – each with a good description of the wine displayed. There are wines from the old world and the new, decent selections of each in a variety of price ranges. Weekly wine tastings are a good way for locals to learn about less well-known wines stocked here or to expand their palates a bit. Eric White, the manager, brings a wealth of knowledge about his wines and the wine world in general – and selects the wines for the weekend tastings with care. I was very impressed with this shop, and found a couple of very nice Italian wines to take home.

Harlem Vintage (LINK) on Frederick Douglass Blvd. at 121st Street has been in business for over 7 years. Owner and former Wall Street exec Eric Woods stocks a variety of interesting wines – some I knew and many I did not, from the Old and New Worlds. We had a good conversation and Eric shows a good knowledge of the wines he stocks and the wine world in general. Like the other shops, there is a good variety of countries and regions to choose from, but little depth from any of them, which likely reflects a good assessment of the wine-purchasing public in the area at this point.

RESTAURANTS/WINE BARS

Expect high mark-ups on bottles and glasses of wine in Harlem – meaning it’s like most of Manhattan. Using my Delectable App (LINK), I found markups as high as 400% to be common. Corkage fees run to $35 and higher.

Barawine (LINK) at 120th Street and Malcom X Blvd (Lenox Ave) is a gem. Beautifully designed, with a small wine bar, common table, and a few smaller tables in front, and a larger dining room in the back. The wine list is more than adequate, the staff knowledgeable and efficient, and the experience there was very positive. We were there for brunch, and the menu is French with a few twists. Food is very good.

Vinateria (LINK) is at 119th and Frederick Douglass Blvd (8th Ave). Again, nice design – exposed brick and dark woods. A Eurocentric wine list of moderate size with some wine specials listed on a blackboard. There is a bar on the side of the front space in the L-shaped dining room. The food was very good, the staff knowledgeable, the wine mark-ups pretty high. We had dinner here with daughter #1 and her husband. It was very enjoyable.

Chez Lucienne (LINK) north of 125th St on Malcom X Blvd., Chez Lucienne pre-dates the more famous Red Rooster next door. The space looks older, with white tile walls and a small bar on the side of the long room; white table cloths. This place has some age and wears it well. The wine list is short, with some decent selections, leaning toward French with a few New World selections. The menu is more toward classic French dishes (coq au vin) which are done well. The staff is friendly and efficient. I inquired about corkage fees here and was told it was $35 per bottle.

Maison Harlem (LINK) at 127th and St. Nicholas is part bar part restaurant. The front of the space is a large fully-stocked bar; the back has about a dozen tables and shares space with the kitchen. Décor is old rustic wood. On one visit, a while ago, there was a jazz trio playing in the restaurant space. This visit, for lunch, was less crowded. Owned by two French expats and linked to BTL across the street, Maison Harlem offers well-prepared food, a moderate wine list, and a great casual atmosphere.

This is just a taste of what is available in Harlem now, as far as the wine scene goes. I am sure, that with continued increases in real estate prices in the area due to demand, that the old Harlem will continue to disappear and something new will emerge. This is a good time to visit, as the transition is still relatively early in its process. Manhattan is one of the world’s great cities, and Harlem is an essential element of what it has been and is becoming.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

RETURN TO SOUTHWEST OREGON

Dorianne and I are spending three weeks in Southwest Oregon, and wine tasting will be part of the experience (of course!). We were here just about a year ago (LINK).

Our first two winery visits were to 2Hawk Winery (LINK) in Medford and Ledger David (LINK) Wine Tasting Room in Central Point. Both are part of the Rogue Valley AVA (LINK).

2Hawk was within walking distance of where we were staying for the weekend in Medford. The tasting room, winery, and the family home are all on the 23.5 acre estate, where many of the grapes are grown – others are sourced from other vineyards in the area. The tasting room, completed in 2012, is very nice, following historic California architectural styling and using a variety of rustic building materials, both local and imported.

When we arrived, the two “flagship” estate wines were sold out. We tasted their 2015 Viognier and Chardonnay – the Chardonnay is estate grown. Both showed good balance and nice fruit from the nose through the finish. The Viognier was especially nice – in the French style. The reds, a Malbec and a blend, were less impressive, and made us wish those flagship reds had been available, especially their Tempranillo. We also tried their rosé, made from Grenache. A very nice wine. We purchased bottles of the Viognier and Grenache Rosé.

Later in the week, I visited Ledger David Cellars tasting room without Dorianne, but with three friends. The tasting room is a small, but nicely appointed space in Central Point, a small town north of Medford that does not appear the be the central point of anything.

At Ledger David I had one of those amazing experiences where pretty much everything turns out beautifully. A good group of friends, a nice atmosphere, a very high caliber staff, and some amazing wines constellated in that couple of hours – along with some very nice chocolates!

Let’s cut to the chase – the wines. At worst, the Ledger David wines I tasted were better than average. At best, they were superb; all are estate grown just north of Ashland. Production is just 3500 cases, 11 varietals, on about 40 acres of vineyard (some fruit is sold).

White varietals: Chenin Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc

Red varietals: Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Malbec, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot

We explored beyond the basic tasting list and were ably guided by Scott Oakley, something of a tasting room legend in the Rogue Valley, and a relative newcomer to Ledger David. Scott is one of those people who was born to work in the hospitality business, and would be equally at home in a Michelin Star Restaurant. Our experience was made more amazing because of his efforts to ensure that we had the best possible experience. But I digress.

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Scott and Alecia in the Ledger David Petit Tasting Room

The wines, whether white or red, were superbly crafted, well-balanced, and each had its own character. The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, as an example, fell somewhere between French and New Zealand Sauv Blancs. It was grassy, but neither heavy on citrus nor on green fruit. There was a hint of minerality and a generous mouthfeel. A nice wine for summer and it will be excellent with oysters. The 2016 Viognier was very nicely crafted, with hints of pear and apricot and a floral nose. This is a very impressive white wine – the winemakers of this area are doing very nice things with Viognier.

The reds at Ledger David were varied. We tasted six reds, and each was unique – to me a good sign of a relatively light touch indicating the winemaker lets the fruit speak for itself. If I were a 100-point scale person (which, as a rule, I am not), I would place all of these wines in the 89-95-point range. I have not checked to see if anyone has done this. One of the wines, a 100% Petite Verdot, was nearly gone, down to 6 bottles (4 when we left), so I won’t critique it other than to say it was unique, full bodied, and cried out for a rack of lamb.

The other reds, mostly blends, were excellent. I purchased a few bottles of a wine called Epitome of ThreeTempranillo, Sangiovese and Syrah – an Old World tour, that was very nice. It’s only available at the tasting room.

Reds that are available via the website include a 2014 Dark Night blend, a 2014 100% Tempranillo, a 2014 100% Cabernet Franc, a 2013 Orion’s Nebula blend (did not taste this one), a 2013 Sangiovese, and a 2014 Sublimus blend. Of these, the Cabernet Franc and the Sublimus blend stood out for me.

We left with a number of bottles and will enjoy these wines over the next few weeks (I can’t take more than a couple with me to our next stop!).

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The Rogue Valley area wines are showing some maturity, a very good sign that the wines produced here will take their place among Oregon’s best over the next few years.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

Follow me on TWITTER: @JimLockardWine

TWO WINERIES TO VISIT IN SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Recently, Dorianne and I visited two very impressive wineries in Santa Barbara County with friends. The purpose of the trip was to scout locations for a wine tasting tour to benefit a non-profit organization. We tagged along to be of any possible assistance!

The first winery, Presqu’ile Vineyard & Winery (LINK), is located in the Santa Maria Valley AVA (LINK) near the Bien Nacido vineyard in northern Santa Barbara County. A family run operation set on a beautiful 200 acre  vineyard property and boasting some amazing architecture, Presqu’ile (pronounced press-KEEL; it means penninsula) focuses on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. The beauty of the tasting room, cave, and winery seem beyond what one finds at a vineyard & winery operation producing only 1600 cases per year.

Matt Sobczak, the Tasting Room Manager, conducted our tasting. The wines that we tasted were very good, even exceptional in the case of the Chardonnays; and the Pinot Noirs were a close second. The Sauvignon Blanc was also very good. The 2013 Steiner Creek Vineyard Chardonnay was particularly good, with a rich mouth feel, ample green fruit on the nose and palate, and a pleasant finish. We bought a bottle to share with some cheese and snacks after the tasting, and several of us bought more to take home.

The 2014 Presqu’ile Vineyard Chardonnay is also beautifully crafted and should please those who love the traditional California-style Chardonnays in a slightly less oaky, more modern form.

Dieter Cronje is the wine maker at Presqu’ile. We did not meet him, but I will laud his talents in crafting Burgundian-style wines with a California influence. Presqu’ile wines can be ordered from their website (LINK) and the winery is worth a visit and not far from other wineries off the 101 Freeway.

Our next stop was Pence Ranch Vineyards & Winery (LINK), along Route 246 West in Buellton, California in the Santa Rita Hills AVA (LINK). As I have noted before (LINK), the Santa Rita Hills AVA is unique in that the mountains and valleys run east to west due to a geological anomaly – the AVA is on land not connected to the North American Tectonic Plate. The Pence Ranch property is relatively narrow and runs north from Route 246 West, just west of the part of Buellton made famous in the film, “Sideways.”

Josh Hamilton was on duty in the small, but nicely appointed tasting room (open only by appointment for now). There is also another area adjacent to the tasting room that can accommodate more visitors. Pence has a relatively small production, under 1500 cases, and is expanding into a second label for restaurants. The Pence labels represent depictions of images of freedom and coins from the founding of the United States.

For our tasting, Josh poured the Pinot Noirs first, then the Syrah, and only then the Chardonnays. The reason for this is that the Pinots are elegant by California standards, as is the Syrah. The two Chardonnays are rich and fuller-bodied, yet still retain a sense of elegance. So, this unconventional tasting pattern – reds first – makes sense at Pence Ranch Winery.

The wines at Pence are exceptionally well-crafted. The Pinots are a bit spicy and peppery, but hold their soft fruit on the nose and in the mouth. They are very well-balanced and will work sipping alone, with light cheeses, or with foods such as salmon or vegetarian dishes.

The Chardonnays, both single-vineyard as are the Pinots, are rich yet very smooth. There is an oakiness present, but it does not dominate. The mouthfeel has a nice viscosity and there are many layers to both wines – great complexity here. All the Pence wines (LINK) are well-crafted. Get your hands on some if you can! We took away several bottles.

I am a huge fan of Santa Rita Hills wines, where the Burgundian style has been carried forward by such local legendary labels as Sanford, Clos Pepe, Ken Browne, LaFond, and others. Pence is establishing itself among those names – they produce Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that reflect the Santa Rita Hills terroir very well.

I really didn’t find anything to complain about at either winery. The price points are a bit high, but they make sense when you understand the size and the quality of the operations at both vineyard/wineries. Both Presqu’ile and Pence are wineries worth your time if you are in the Santa Barbara County wine regions. And if you can’t visit, you can order their wines to enjoy at home.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

 

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

A RETURN VISIT TO PASO ROBLES

Earlier this week, Dorianne and I spent a couple of days in the California Central Coast Wine Country with friends. We stayed at the KonTiki Inn, a mid-20th Century gem in Pismo Beach. Don’t try to reserve a room at the KonTiki online – you can’t. They have a website (LINK), but you can’t reserve there or on the other online hotel sites. It’s very retro, very well maintained, very inexpensive, every room has an ocean view, and it’s very comfortable.

On Monday, we drove up to Paso Robles and visited three wineries. The first was Peachy Canyon (LINK) on Paso’s West Side. The tasting room is picturesque – they have been around for a while, since 1988 – and their wines are very drinkable. There is a nice selection of clothing and wine stuff in the tasting room shop. The $10 tasting fee is waived with a two-bottle purchase. Peachy Canyon is known for their Zinfandels, but their whites are also worth a look, as well as their other reds.

Next, we went over to Paso Robles’ East Side, to Sculptera Winery & Sculpture Garden (LINK). This was my first visit to Sculptera, even though I have been to Paso Robles many times. The first thing that you notice about Sculptera, after passing through the vineyards, is the amazing front sculpture garden. Here is a sample of what is there – there is another garden behind the tasting room.

Inside, the tasting room is nicely appointed, with more sculptures, including miniature versions of some of the larger sculptures. At this point, my suspicions were aroused – how often does an impressive winery and tasting room that clearly cost millions of dollars produce mediocre and overpriced wines?

Well, Sculptera is not in that category. The wines were uniformly excellent – so much so, that all three couples – all knowledgeable about wine – ended up joining the wine club. As I write this, two cases of their wines are on the way to our temporary residence, Roam.co (LINK), in Miami. And the tasting room staff was knowledgeable and very good at what they do. Their wines are priced from the low $20’s to $60.

Several of the wines on the tasting list (8 wines) were exceptional, including the first one poured, the newly-released 2015 Viognier, one of those whites that hits your palate and you instantly know that it is exceptional; it has everything you want, a rich bouquet – floral with hints of minerality; a slightly viscous mouthfeel; lots of green fruit and levels of complexity; and a smooth and very pleasing finish. At $26 retail, this wine is a bargain. Other highlights were the 2013 Pinot Noir, which was peppery and earthy, but the fruit held its own (yes, a good Pinot Noir from Paso Robles); the 2014 Primitivo (and the 2013 Primitivo Reserve, which was not on the list, but was poured for us), a big wine that also showed complexity and balance; the 2012 Merlot, also nicely balanced; and the two blends we tried, 2013 Figurine (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Primitivo, & 13% Merlot), and the 2013 Statuesque (38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Syrah, 28% Petite Syrah). There is also a second label called Héroe Wines, which are also very good as well, and they honor the workers who produced it on the labels, front and back.  So many good wines.

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The Gang at Sculptera’s Wine Tasting Room

Our final stop was at Cass Winery (LINK), where we had lunch from their excellent kitchen. We did not do a tasting here, but had glasses of wine with lunch. Cass produces very good Rhône-style wines, and their whites – Rousanne & Marsanne and the blend they make with them are superior. It is a great lunch spot with indoor and outdoor seating and a very convivial atmosphere in the tasting room.

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Paso Robles is one of the most interesting wine regions in California right now. There are some wineries that have been around long enough to develop some great wines, there are some who are very nearly at that point, and there are a lot of very innovative things happening with interesting varietals and new viticulture and wine making techniques. A great place to visit.

The next day, we drove south to the Bien Nacido area and the Santa Rita Hills AVA to visit two very interesting wineries – more about that in the next post.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

WINDING THROUGH FRANCE – BITS AND PIECES – AND AMAZING WINES

As I write this, I am aboard Celebrity’s Silhouette cruise ship heading toward Athens. We embarked at Rome’s Civitavecchia Port a couple of days ago. I blogged about the cruise ship wine experience (LINK) a while back while on the Silhouette’s sister ship, the Equinox. It’s pretty much the same experience as then.

So, let’s look at my recent all-too-brief trip through France. Ten days, split between Paris, Mâcon, and Lyon. The purpose of the trip was to look at a property near Mâcon, which we did; deciding to focus on Lyon instead. But more about that later.

We took the train from London to Paris via the Chunnel – a very nice experience. First class tickets were about 80 euros each. It was a smooth and comfortable ride.

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A Paris Morning – Looking toward the Eiffel Tower through Place de la Concorde.

Our first night in Paris, we went to the legendary Willi’s Wine Bar (LINK), where we had a very good dinner and some very nice wine. We opted for a 2014 Domaine Mee Godard Morgan Grand Cras, which was very nice and on the less expensive side of the wine list. Our young waiter recommended it after I told him what I liked and my price range. Morgan means the Gamay varietal, which is the backbone of all of the Beaujolais reds. This wine won’t amaze you, but it delivered what I wanted to go along with my duck at Willi’s.

Our second evening was a dinner at a friend’s apartment in St. Germain-des-Prés. We took along two bottles of 2012 Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet Gevery-Chambertin Symophonie Pinot Noir, from a favorite Burgundian tthat accompanied the beautiful French roasted chicken and vegetables perfectly. This is a very nice mid-range Burgundian red.

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I should mention that it is considered improper in some places in France to bring wine as a dinner guest – the sense being that no French household would be without so essential an item. However, we checked with our hosts first to get their okay. One of them, John Baxter (LINK), is the author of several excellent books about Paris, including his new one about St. Germain-des-Prés, the first in a series about Paris neighborhoods. His Book An Immoveable Feast, a Paris Christmas is a particular favorite of mine.

The next morning, it was off to Mâcon by TGV High Speed Rail. Another smooth and quick ride. While staying with friends in Mâcon, we ate in most days, so the wine story here is about a small wine shop that I found in Cluny, a monastery town northwest of Mâcon. We had a very nice lunch at L’Halte de l’Abbey Café with a nice house wine. Then, at the wine shop, we realized that the shop owner, Bruno Berthelin, had been at the café, and discovered that he had sold them the house wine. Small towns. Au Plaisir Dit Vin stocks over 350 fine wines, champagne and accessories. Twenty years as a passionate Wine Merchant, a profession that he prefers to describe as acting as a sense awakener, Bruno  like to share the delights of wine with customers.

We purchased six bottles that he recommended, all local Mâconnaise and Beaujolais wines, that proved excellent over the next couple of dinners and lunches.

Then it was onto Lyon, the second largest city in France, which feels much smaller than Paris. We fell in love with Lyon. It is very much like Paris in the downtown and old city, but without the iconic tourist sites that make the city so crowded. And, Lyon is the culinary capital of France, the place where most Parisian chefs are trained. In three nights, we had excellent meals for lunch and dinner. I will highlight one.

Our highlight was a dinner at ‘l’Institut’ Paul Bocuse Restaurant-école at Bellecour Lyon-Centre (LINK), where students of the Paul Bocuse Culinary Institute run a restaurant as part of their training. It is a relatively reasonably priced way to experience a Bocuse restaurant – and it was excellent. Here are some photos.

Surprisingly, the wine list is very reasonably priced – with only a few bottles topping 80 euros. Most are in the 40 to 55 euro range. There is a tasting menu of 8 courses including wine or you can order ala carte. We chose the latter. The service was very good (a little nervousness here and there), and the food was beautifully prepared. We felt that we got a real bargain at about 220 euros with gratuity (and we had an 80 euro wine).

Ah, that wine. They were out of our first choice, another Gevery-Chambertin Pinot Noir. A 2013 Jean Fery & Fils Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Damodes Pinot Noir, was substituted (at a lower price to match the Gevery) it was the essence of Burgundy. Great from nose to finish, it was an impressively well-crafted wine. Simply beautiful. It made the evening even more perfect.

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We plan to return to Lyon early in 2017 to explore the possibilities of living there. First, the rest of this cruise, a week in Rome, and three months in Miami. Stay tuned!

 

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

AUSTRALIAN WINE TASTING IN LONDON

I was invited to an industry-only tasting in London yesterday. Titled “Artisans of Australian Wines,” it featured 43 labels being introduced by 15 British distributors. Held during the day at Cargo, a trendy nightclub in the Shoreditch area of London, the event was both fun and very interesting.

I had heard of exactly none of the 43 labels before the tasting. Indeed, most are smaller producers who do not export to the U.S., and who are just trying to break into the British market. I spent about 3 hours exploring, tasting, speaking to the people pouring (sometimes someone from the winery/vineyard, but most frequently someone from one of the distributors). I did not taste everything (there were at least 200 wines), not even close. But I will give you my impressions of what I did taste and who I did meet. And I will list all of the labels at the end of the blog post, in case you happen across any of them.

General impressions: there were some very nice wines here; in fact, most were very good or better. That would make sense, as they had been vetted by the distributors. Australia has no restrictions on who can grow what grapes where, and no blending rules, like there are in France and Spain, therefore, there is a great variety of both the varietals grown and the blends that are produced. There were a couple of wines that did knock my socks off, but only a couple. That said, pretty much all of these wines could have a place in my cellar or on my table or both.

So with my apologies to those labels that I did not get to taste (mostly in that really crowded section in the front room), let’s see what I did taste.

Adelina and VineMind Wines: The winemaker, Col McBryde was here pouring wines from his two labels. He produces about 2,000 cases/year and has been exporting to the UK for 6 years. Of most interest to me are his Rieslings, one from each label – both nicely balanced with minimal residual sugar.

Yangarra Estate: Nicely polished, well-crafted wines from a producer owned by Jackson Family Wines of California. Winemaker Peter Fraser (Australian Winemaker of the Year for 2016), has crafted two wonderful McLaren Vale Grenache wines from single vineyards. The 2013 High Sands Grenache is of particular note.

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Chalmers Wines: Kim Chalmers, daughter of the owner, was pouring the Chalmers Wines at the tasting. I tasted four of the ten Italian varietal wines (3 labels) on hand – a 2014 Vermentino, which was one of the best whites I tasted all day – smooth, velvety, with green fruit and a hint of minerality on the finishsimply excellent. The 2013 Fiano, a varietal I had not previously encountered, was like a younger sister to the Vermentino in character – which makes me think that the winemaker has a large influence on the wines. The red, I tasted, a 2015 Nero d’Avila, was well-structured but young – it needs some time. The 2016 Schioppettino, under the Chalmers Project label, was tannic and bold, with red fruit and a strong finish. Another varietal that is new to me.

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Castagna Wines: The father and son team of Julian and Adam Castagna were presiding over their table with aplomb. Their Rhône-focused vineyard & winery deliver the goods. Their wines were consistently well made and nicely balanced. I tasted 8 of 9 wines available (choosing not to taste their Shiraz Vermouth). Standouts were the 2016 Rousanne, bottled a week ago, and already moving toward becoming a great white wine. The highlight, however, is their 2008 Sparkling Genesis Shiraz-Viognier, a dark red sparkler that delivers great taste and can be paired with just about anything, including meat. This is an amazing wine.

Bill Downie Wine: Apparently, Bill Downie is fairly well-known in Australia as a producer of small quantity, high quality wines. The lone representation of his work, sitting at the end of a table where about 5 other labels were being poured by distributor reps, would have been easy to overlook – in fact, I did on my first pass. Only after reading about it in the catalog did I return to try the 2015 Riverland Biodynamic Petit Verdot. This was my favorite wine of the day. I liked everything about it – the nose was beautifully balanced, inviting you to taste, the mouthfeel was like velvet, with red and black fruit, some leathery tones, and a smoothness that carried into the finish. If I could have purchased a case, I would have. Be on the lookout for this wine.

 

L.A.S. Vino: Aside from good marketing and design (something that was in abundance here – no doubt a reflection of the assistance that a good distributor can provide) this winery makes some good wine. I only tasted the 2013 ‘Portuguese Pirate’ Margaret River Blend made with Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao, and Souzao grapes. I cannot honestly attest as to whether this blend is on a par in style or quality to a similar blend in Portugal, but I can say that this wine is of very high quality and would be an excellent companion to a leg of lamb, a steak, or a good cigar. Think smooth, a bit jammy (but not too much), and rich in black fruit. Very nice.

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Vinteloper Wines: This Adelaide Hills winery is operated by winemaker David Bowley, who was present and pouring. I tasted three of his excellent wines, two Pinot Noirs – which were nicely crafted and very good, especially his 2012 OPN Lenswood Pinot Noir, a single vineyard beauty. We had a good discussion about Pinot Noir, and I told him about some of the great Burgundian style wines coming out of the Santa Rita Hills AVA in  California.

Bowley’s other wine, the 2015 ‘Urban Winery Project #3’ Shiraz/Malbec comes with a story. This nice table wine is the result of a project that Bowley undertakes every year at harvest time. He moves parts of his winemaking operation to a city and, for one month, opens the operation to the locals, who can do everything from stomping grapes to blending wines. It is a great marketing idea – and a great way to invite people into the winemaking process. Kudos to David Bowley.

Sami Odi Wines: Two wines from this small producer were available for tasting – both are a bit unusual in packaging and presentation. The distributor rep, a very nice young woman, spoke so fast that I did not get a lot of information from her (my issue, being an American – she was speaking The King’s English after all). But the wines were very good – a ‘Little Wine #5’ Syrah and a 2014 Syrah ‘XIV’. The former comes from a vineyard with vines planted in different years. Both bring out the best aspects of Syrah.

Chaffey Bros Wines: Producing in the Barossa and Eden Valleys, Chaffey Bros make a number of wines. I would say that their strength is in their whites. I tasted 5 of 7 wines available. Their Rieslings were very good, the best being a 2015 Tripelpunkt Riesling, with fruit from three vineyards – dry with a hint of sweetness, floral notes, and smooth finish – what I like to see in a Riesling. Of interest is a true field blend, called 2015 ‘Düfte Punkt’ with Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Weißer Herold (Kerner). The field blend was nicely balanced – not a great wine, but of interest because of the willingness to experiment.

S.C. Pannell/The Other Wine Co.: Side-by-side on the tasting table, these wineries bring good tasting wines at value price-points. I tasted the 2014 S.C Pannell Adelaide Hills Syrah (McLaren Vale)  – very rich, even for a Syrah, almost jammy; but nice red and black fruit notes with chocolate and slate later on. Long finish. I tasted the 2015 The Other Wine Co. Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris (before the Syrah) – a decent table wine with notes of lemon grass and pear.

Again, I did not taste them all – my bad – but suffice to say that there were a range of good quality wines on display. Aside from a growing tendency to call Syrah by its original name, instead of Shiraz, the most remarkable thing about this group was the winesgood quality and individual character. The UK wine market will be looking up thanks to these Aussie newcomers.

As promised, a list of all of the producers present:

Lethbridge Wines      Deviation Road           Adelina         VineMind           Yangarra Estate     Mac Forbes          Chalmers     Gembrook Hill     Teusner        Eden Road        Ruggabellus   Eperosa        Strenua        Ochota Barrels       Jamseed Wines        Luke Lambert Wines           Timo Mayer        Delinquente Wine Co.      Si Vintners       Patrick Sullivan Wines           Xavier          Gentle Folk Wines           Castagna      Jauma        Bill Downie      La Línea           L.A.S. Vino              S.C. Pannell         The Other Wine Co.         Chaffey Bros                     Bellwether          Vinteloper           Bremerton Wines   The Pawn Wine Co.     smallfry        BK Wines Massena           Sami Odi           Byrne             CRFT            David Franz                     La Violetta           Ministry of Clouds

You may be seeing some of these labels in your area soon.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

THE KRAKÒW WINE SCENE

After spending twelve days in Ukraine, the ten days we spend in Kraków, Poland (pronounced crak-of), were a real lift. I am thoroughly enchanted with this charming city and I found the wine scene to be a bit enigmatic. We ate in about 15 restaurants and had wine about ten times. We also had some beer  (Piwa) and some vodka. This is a vodka town.

Oh, the wine is there alright – there are wine bars, wine cellars and a decent range of wine lists at various kinds and levels of restaurants, from a few basic bottles to something resembling a full list (the most I saw outside of one enoteka was about 3 dozen selections). So we had a range of wine experiences, from pretty awful to drinkable to very nice. I will hit the highlights below.

Poland is a part of the European Union, so wines from other EU countries can be accessed pretty easily (meaning without excessive duty fees). So there were French, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian and even some German wines here and there. There was also a smattering of New World wines – mostly mass producers from South Africa, Australia and South America. The few U.S. wines were, well, sort of an embarrassment (think Suter Home). We did see a Blackstone Zinfandel as the lone U.S. representative on a wine bar wine list.

The Polish wines we tried ranged from drinkable to very good. There is a relatively small number of mostly small producers in Poland (LINK), and their growing season is a bit shorter than Hungary’s, so white wines are generally the best bet, with a couple of exceptions.

A RESTAURANT WITH A NICE WINE SELECTION

Restaurant Padrè (LINK) a the fringe of the Old Town is a classic Polish restaurant. Located in the 16th century basement of a Greek Orthodox Church (but not connected to the church), this is one of the better restaurants in Kraków. The kitchen is excellent, the ambiance is first-rate, the service is great, and they have a well-constructed, if small, wine list. We had an excellent 2013 Chateau LaReyne Prestige Malbec from Cahors, France (which my photo of has disappeared) that was the biggest surprise on any wine list we saw in Kraków. It was the usual, dark, inky, rich and delicious Cahors (LINK).

A RESTAURANT WITH VERY GOOD ITALIAN WINES

Bianca Restauracja (LINK), next to the Cathedral on the main Old Town Square, is a wonderful restaurant with a great all-Italian wine list (LINK). We had a lunch and a dinner here and there was nothing amiss with either experience. We had wines by the glass with lunch. But with the amazing dinner, we had a 2013 Pojega Ripasso – Guerrieri Rizzardi Valpolicella (LINK) made from 45% Corvinone, 45% Corvina, and 10% Rondinella, Molinara, and Merlot, that was simple wonderful. It was the highlight wine of the week. Rich, fruity, beautifully crafted with hints of the earth, it was a perfect accompaniment to our dinner. If you are going to be in Kraków, plan to visit Bianca Restauracja.

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A WINE BAR WITH LOTS TO OFFER

Just two blocks from our Kraków hotel, The Hotel Maltański (LINK), was the wonderful wine bar/café, Enoteka Pergamin (LINK), a great spot that we visited four times during our ten-day stay.

The first level features outdoor seating on a pedestrian street with immaculate horse-drawn carriages coming by every few minutes. Inside is a front kitchen for charcuterie, cheeses, soups and salads, with large display cases for the wares. Farther back is a dining room with a second kitchen behind that. Downstairs is a special events room, a cigar lounge, and a special tasting room.

The food here is very well prepared and presented – everything from international cheese platters to pizzas to main dishes like duck – it was all very good. The wine list is the most extensive we saw in Kraków, with lots of international wines and a good number of Polish wines. On one of our visits, we tasted a number of Polish wines with Polish cheeses and ham. The white wines were generally very good to excellent. The same with rosès. The reds were a bit more of a challenge, although we found a couple of good ones.

One winemaker stood out – Winnica Płochockich (LINK), from Glinek Polski – we liked a red (Remare), a white (Lumini XV) and a rosè from them. We bought a bottle of the Remare and the Lumini XV to take to England to share with friends.

Our regular server, Magdalena, is young, but gaining knowledge about wine. She guided us through the menu and the Polish wine world. At one point, on our final visit, the owner send us some Veuve Clicquot Champagne. The Enoteka is a must-stop for wine enthusiasts in Kraków.

 

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

 

THE KIEV WINE SCENE

We spent 12 days in Ukraine earlier in the month, mostly to attend a conference. But the first long weekend was in Kiev, the capital city of 4.5 million along the Dniepper RiverKiev is in a deep economic funk, although, as usual, there are some who are doing quite well. Most restaurants that have a wine list have a few Ukrainian wines along with a couple of selections from Italy, France, and/or Spain. Our hosts had laid in a few cases of inexpensive Spanish wine for our stay.

The highlight of our time in Kiev, food and wine-wise, was a visit to the Kanapa Restaurant, on Andreevskiy Spusk, 19. Billed as featuring “molecular” Ukrainian cuisine, it is more about very good food served beautifully – most does not fit the description of molecular. That said, the place was very good. There is both a wine steward and a cheese steward on the premises.

 

There were five in our party, so we had three bottles of wine, plus digestifs. Two of the bottles were Ukrainian and the middle bottle a Barbera from Italy. Also, when he learned that I was a wine blogger, the steward brought three Ukrainian wines to taste – including a nice rosè – and the great Ukrainian Pinot Noir mentioned below.

The Ukrainian Cabernet was very light and very young. The Barbera D’Alba from Pelissero, was average – nothing special (I have a theory about western European wines shipped to eastern Europe – they rarely are very good). But the Ukrainian Pinot Noir was something special. Smooth, with red fruit, a hint of minerality, and medium tannins, the wine could have been from Burgundy (in the middle of the pack there, but still . . . ). Had we tried this one first, we would have stayed with it.

There are some higher end restaurants in Kiev with good wine lists, but overall it is not a wine destination. Perhaps as their wine making skills improve and the climate warms a bit, that will change.

4 DAYS IN NEW YORK – WINE AND FOOD

Dorianne and I went to visit our daughter, Grace, who attends CAP21 (LINK), a musical theater conservatory in Manhattan. During our four night stay, we sampled a few restaurants and had some wine experiences, including setting Grace up with a starter case of wine. The restaurants we chose were generally under the radar – not the high-end, but places that interested us and fit our budget. They were generally reasonably priced, actually a bargain, for New York City, but a couple would be considered expensive in other places. Wine was of course on our minds in making our selections. Here is a brief overview of our experiences.

We arrived on Saturday and went to see Grace’s end of the year performance at CAP 21 in the Village. I had made reservations for the three of us and her boyfriend, Kyle, at ŌTTŌ, Mario Batali’s Enoteca and Pizzeria (LINK) on 5th Avenue near Washington Square Park. It was a “meet the parents” dinner, so we wanted something special. While not really expensive, ŌTTŌ is a great experience and has the largest list of Italian Wines that I have ever seen – well over three hundred choices. The three of us arrived before Kyle and we had a glass of wine in the Enoteca in front. We were poured tastes of any by-the-glass wines we wanted before we chose by a very knowledgeable barman. The food was very good in this noisy bustling place. We were seated next to a group of 36 (at two long tables), so that may have affected the noise level. Our wine was a 2011 Soleado Nero d’Avila from Sicily; very tasty – spicy and full-bodied. The service was excellent. I would definitely return.

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Grace and Kyle Holding Up Pretty Well at the Meet the Parents Dinner.

On Sunday, Dorianne was at a workshop at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, so after Grace’s Sunday performance, we took the subway over to Park Slope and met her at Cafe Dada (LINK), a funky wine bar with Hungarian ownership. We had dinner reservations later on a few blocks away. Cafe Dada features a number of wines, several from Hungary, so we had a 2014 Peter Benedek Cserszegi Fűszeres, a crisp and refreshing white, with some appetizers. Cserszegi Fűszeres is the varietal (LINK), which was dry with hints of fruit and minerality. It was a bit unusual, but very refreshing.

Then it was on to dinner at Rose Water (LINK), on Union Avenue nearby. Our party of 6 included some friends who live in BrooklynRose Water is a tiny little place with a small kitchen just off the entryway. They offer a seasonal menu of locally sourced foods and everything was delicious. The wine list is one of those that is carefully chosen due to minimal storage space – but with a nice selection of wines that fit the menu well. We opted for a 2015 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare Rosé, since people were getting a variety of dishes. It was a perfect choice (and there were five other rosés on the list). If you are in or near Park Slope, make arrangements to eat at Rose Water.

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On Monday, we met Grace when classes ended and headed over to Union Square Wines and Spirits (LINK), from the top-ten list of New York Wine Shops in the Village Voice (LINK). As readers of this blog may know, we took Grace to France to taste wines when she graduated from high school. The idea was to educate her palate so that she was not tempted by the cheap, crappy stuff at college parties. It largely worked, and she gets wine as well as any 22-year-old I know. So a mixed case of mid-level wines was selected at this excellent wine shop, she opened an account, and the wine was delivered two days later. I will blog about the idea of a “starter case” and the contents of this one in a future post.

Monday’s dinner was just the three of us and we chose Maison Harlem (LINK), just a couple of blocks from Grace’s apartment. The Harlem food scene is really taking off, and this place is near the front of that procession. A funky, laid-back place with definite French accents (including the owners, Samuel Thiam and Romain Bonnans and some of the staff). The food is excellent and the vibe is very friendly. There is a bar in the front that gets very lively, and the dining room in the back with live music on this night – a very competent jazzy trio. The wine list is short but interesting. We had a wonderful meal. The owners were sitting at the next table, so it was a nice experience interacting with them (like one of them showing me his smart phone with my minutes-old Tweet about the place). They also own a wine shop across the street.

Except for one thing. Our server brought the wrong wine. I have been on a bit of a Cahors Malbec kick for a few weeks, and they had one on the menu. I ordered it, pointing to the listing as I did so. The wine was brought, but not shown to me, and when given a taste, it tasted very good and looked like a Cahorsdark and inky. But when the bottle was put on the table (I was not shown the label first), it had an all black label, which seemed strange. When I examined it, it was an Argentinian Malbec. By this time the server had gone and the wine tasted fine. When told about it later, he apologized and offered to change the wine, but we decided to keep the wine we were served. Otherwise a great experience; and I could have asked to see the label (but I should not have to).

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Mid-Century Decor with Wine Bottles at Amelie Wine Bar

Our final wine-related meal was Tuesday’s lunch. We went to the Amelie Wine Bar (LINK) on West 8th Street, literally a block from ŌTTŌ closing the circle as it were. This little gem of a place offers really tasty food and an eclectic wine list in a mid-Century modern decor. It is very lively at night, there were only a few people there at lunch. There are dozens of wines by the glass, mostly French, but many others as well. We all opted for French wines. The servers are knowledgeable (here, too, most have French accents), and the food was exceptional. I opted for the burger and it was the best I have had in years. There is also a San Francisco branch of Amelie Wine Bar.

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Bread, Wine, and Goat Cheese rolled in Pistachio Nuts 
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Dorianne and Grace happy at Amelie Wine Bar
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How Our Check Came at Amelie Wine Bar

We closed our visit with a Broadway Show – School of Rock on Tuesday evening, and jsut snacked before the theater. As always, New York is an amazing place with a dazzlingly large array of possibilities. We chose well, I think, and I know that we missed so much.

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C’est la Vie!

As always, your comments are welcomed. And, if you would follow this blog and share it with others, I would be most appreciative. You can also follow me on Twitter at @JimLockardWine.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

A DAY IN NORTHERN SANTA BARBARA COUNTY – THREE WINERIES

I love the Santa Barbara County AVAs. Not only do they produce great wines, have lovely scenery, and a host of great winemakers and tasting rooms; they are easily accessible from the Los Angeles area.

On Tuesday, Dorianne and I were joined by Mary Stec and Richard Clark for a day trip to Santa Barbara County (LINK). We visited three wineries and had lunch at Industrial Eats in Buellton. Mary is a home chef and runs a cooking school & is a weight-loss coach (LINK) (LINK); Richard is the winemaker for the Conejo Valley Wine Co-op (LINK to previous post).

Our plan was to visit two wineries in the Santa Rita Hills AVA (LINK), have lunch, then visit two wineries in the northern section Stana Ynez Valley AVA (LINK), north of Los Olivos. The Santa Rita Hills are known for Burgundian varietalsChardonnay and Pinot Noir; the northern Santa Ynez Valley is Rhône varietals – especially Syrah, but also Mouvedre, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, and Cinsault.

A late start and a few other things shifted out plans a bit, but we made the most of a magnificent sunny day in the 80’s.

Our first stop was Babcock Winery (LINK) along Rt. 246 near Lompoc. Babcock has been around for a while and they make some excellent wines, with Pinot Noir leading the way. Our tasting room host Jamie showed the four of us through two different tastings, one featuring their estate fruit, the other wines sourced from elsewhere in the Santa Rita Hills AVA. Babcock’s new and updated tasting room is filled with their wines mixed with places to sit, antiques and other items, some of which are for sale.

Babcock’s strongest suit is their Pinot Noir. They produce several estate wines and a blend of several vineyards. All of them drink well and show excellent craftsmanship, balance, and quality. We purchased a bottle of their 2013 Radical Pinot Noir, which showed the most character (to us) and will age well. We will be laying this one down for a while. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is notable as well, as is their Backroads Red BlendBabcock offers tours and you can have events there. It is a great winery to visit.

The next stop was lunch at the wonderful Industrial Eats (LINK) in the warehouse area of Buellton (of “Sideways” fame). This artisanal eatery also features a number of local wines on tap for $9 a glass, beer, cider, and more. You eat at common tables and can watch the pizza maker use the brick ovens.

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Menu Wall at Industrial Eats

As we were leaving the restaurant, we noted that the tasting room next door, Alma Rosa, showed the proprietors to be Thekla and Richard Sanford, well-known pioneers of the Santa Rita Hills. Richard is in the Vintner’s Hall of Fame. It turns out that I did not know that Alma Rosa was the Sanfords’ (relatively) new wine operation. So, our plans changed and in we went.

Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards (LINK) has been around since 2005. Like most in the Santa Rita Hills AVA, they specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, also producing Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and a Pinot Noir-Vin Gris Rosé. They have two levels of tastings, so each couple had one of them. The wines here are uniformly well-crafted and each has unique characteristics. There are five Pinot Noirs (three are single vineyard/clone) and two each of the Chardonnays, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blancs. We purchased some of the La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Gris and the Clone 667 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir. We would have purchased more, but our wine locker is nearly full (really).

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The Tasting Crew at Alma Rosa
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Rena of Alma Rosa Wine

The tasting room staff included Rena, who is both knowledgeable about the wines and the process and very outgoing. This small wine tasting room is really lovely (and you can have food sent over from Industrial Eats to boot!).

Next, it was on up the 101 Freeway to Zaca Mesa Road near Los Olivos. Our destination was Andrew Murray Wines (LINK) and their new facility at the former Curtis Winery which was purchased and added to the Andrew Murray operation a few years ago. Long known as the producer of the best Syrahs along the Central Coast, Andrew Murray has expanded into some additional Rhône varietals plus a few others since taking over Curtis. Our tasting was a reminder that these are truly exceptional wines. Highlights of the tasting were, of course, the Syrahs, especially the 2013 Thompson Vineyard Syrah, and the 2014 Watch Hill Vineyard Syrah. Both had nicely balanced fruit and minerality, a beautiful bouquet, and a smooth finish.

Also notable were the 2014 Estate Grown Cinsault, and the 2013 Curtis Vineyard Mourvèdre. Both were very well crafted and balanced with minerality and fruit that alternately competed for your attention. We bought some of the Cinsault. And finally, the 2015 Espérance Rosè, a light and crisp rosé made of nearly 100% Cinsault. It results in a surprising rich and flavorful rosé reminiscent of the wines of the Tavel A.O.P. (LINK to previous post) in the Rhône Valley. This is one of the best rosés I have had in some time. Richard and I took a case of this beauty home. Well – it was on sale and I will find the space!

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That was our day – we headed home with wine in the trunk and some great memories that will be rekindled each time we open a bottle.

And a reminder – our amazing Wine Tour of the southern Rhône Valley and Provence (including Tavel) still has some space left. Visit (LINK – Deluxe Wine Tours) to get all the information and to register.

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Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard