Tag Archives: Italy

MY YEAR IN WINE – 2016

2016 was a year of travel for Dorianne and me. Since we sold our home in early 2015, we have been on the road. 2016 found us in the U.S. and Europe, on a Mediterranean cruise, and in the Middle East. We traveled in 8 states and in Spain, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Poland, England, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Malta. There were wine experiences everywhere. Here are some highlights and “bests” of a very interesting year:

MOST INTERESTING WINERY VISITS:

In July, we went for a day of wine tasting in Rhonda, Spain (LINK). I blogged about it at the time. What made it special was the beauty of the countryside and the fact that it is such a small wine region. You can read about it at the link.

 

Merecouri Estate, Korakohori, Greece (LINK). We visited during a cruise at the port of Katakolo. This is a very interesting winery and vineyard, where the 4th generation of the family is making some good wine. The tour is fun, lots of history, even a museum. The tasting is good – 4 wines and cheese and other snacks. One of the better cruise-related winery tours I have been on. I had a chance to speak to the current patriarch of the family, Christos Kanellakopoulo about wine making techniques. Some of their wines are exported to the U.S.

BEST WINE EXPERIENCES IN A RESTAURANT:

Osteria Barberini, Rome, Italy (LINK). This gem of a restaurant on a very narrow side street near the Spanish Steps and the Piazza Barberini, was both a revelation and a great find for Dorianne and me. We were arriving in Rome from Lyon at about 8:00 pm, and I looked at Trip Advisor for something near our hotel off the Via Veneto. I made a reservation via email for 9:15 pm, as that was the only time available; a good thing, as our flight was late. When we arrived, they were turning people away from what turned out to be a very small restaurant seating about 36 people in three small dining rooms.

And the food! They specialize in truffles, black and white, and we had three wonderful meals there (we went back two more times). A small but well-selected wine list of mostly Italian wines was also a highlight. Here are the wines we had there:

 

‘l’Institut’ Paul Bocuse Restaurant-école at Bellecour Lyon-Centre, Lyon, France (LINK). This restaurant is part of the Bocuse culinary school. It is beautifully designed and everyone there is a student or a teacher. The food is exquisite, the atmosphere is modern and very classy, and there is a very nice wine list with relatively low markups. We had a fabulous meal there, which I blogged about (LINK).

 

TOP FIVE WINES ENJOYED:

I’m limiting this list to just five, but there were many more – hundreds actually. These sort of separated from the herd for one reason or another.

  1. 1994 Harlan Estates, Napa Valley, CA, enjoyed in Agoura Hills, CA
  2. 2012 Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet, Gevery-Chambertin Symphonie, Burgundy, France, enjoyed in Macon, France
  3. 2009 Firriato Quater Rosso, Sicily, Italy, enjoyed in Rome, Italy
  4. 2005 Diamond Creek, Gravely Meadow, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA, enjoyed in Pismo Beach, CA
  5. 2003 Gruppo Matarromera Bodega, Cyan Prestigio, Castilla y León, Spain, enjoyed in Granada, Spain

 

BEST OVERALL WINE EXPERIENCES of 2016:

Sharing wine with good friends – or new acquaintances – is, to me, the best part about enjoying wine. This year we had many chances to do just that, and a few of them stand out as very special.

We opened the year with two nights in Pismo Beach, CA, at the mid-century gem, the Kon Tiki Inn with two other couples. Wine tasting ensued, both in terms of bottles brought and a tour of some of the Edna Valley wineries, just west of Pismo Beach. Great meals, and a wonderful two days. We will be repeating the experience again this January 1-4.

Sharing a very special case of wine with my good friend Richard Clark in the early part of the year was very special. Richard received a gift case of selected top-of-the-line wines from California, France, and Italy from his employer for Christmas. One of my top five wines, the Harlan Estates was in that case, along with many other gems that could also have qualified.

Wine dinners in Cambridge, England and in Macon, France with friends that we made through Dorianne’s interest in chamber music were also very special. Wonderful wine, wonderful food, wonderful conversation, and wonderful music ensued.

Two meals with good friends in Rome – one at a great wine bar, another at their beautiful apartment – featured wonderful Italian wines and, again, great food and conversation. You can see Francesco perusing the red wine list at the legendary Rome Wine Bar – Enoteca Ferrara (LINK).

Just this week at Roam-Miami, where we are staying for most of the winter, Dorianne and I hosted a wine tasting and presentation for other guests and their friends. We sampled four varietals/blends – one of each from the Old World and the New World. There was some very nice French and Spanish cheese and dark chocolate; and a glass of Cava to get things rolling. It was a great evening of fun and some of the young people attending learned something about wine.

While there is still some time left in 2016, I am also looking forward to 2017. Our plans include visits to Mexico, Canada, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, California, Oregon and possibly, Washington state. Summer will take us back to EuropeIreland, Scotland, then to France, where we intend to find an apartment in Lyon to be our new home base. Of course, we never know where serendipity will intervene. I will keep you informed.

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.

WINE HISTORY IN DOWNTOWN LA?

On a trip to Olvera Street (LINK) (LINK) in downtown Los Angeles, across from the iconic Union Station, one finds not only links to the earliest settlements in the area and its Hispanic heritage, but vestiges of some of the earliest California wine production as well.

Wine was introduced into California by the Franciscans in the late 18th Century. By the early 1800s, there were a number of vineyards around the Los Angeles pueblo, where Olvera Street sits. Olvera Street was originally called Calle de las Vignas or Vine Street, because of the many wineries there.

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Later, French immigrants began to make wine using cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc from France in the Los Angeles area and shipping it to northern California. Later, Italian immigrants joined the party on what is now Olvera Street.

Several of the restaurants on the street are housed in former wineries, including El Paseo Inn (LINK), where Dorianne and I had lunch. See the photo of the sign over the door. But, alas, there was no wine in sight, so we settled for an appropriate local beverage – a Cadillac Margarita.

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Nearby is the Avila Adobe (LINK), where two large grapevines grow. Over 150 years old, these vines were recently determined to be a hybrid of a native California grape and a European grape. They are related to the Vina Madre, or the mother grape, at the San Gabriel Mission (LINK).

 

So, winemaking in California pre-dates the Napa-Sonoma area by quite a bit. It was fun to explore the historic area of downtown LA, and then to go home and have a glass or two of California wine.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

CREATING A STARTER CASE OF WINE

On a recent visit to New York to visit our daughter, Grace, we decided to purchase a starter case of wine for her and to set up an account at a wine shop. There are a number of very good wine shops in Manhattan, as you might imagine. We chose Union Square Wine Starter case -USQLogo_WBShop (LINK) after some online and in-person research, because of proximity to Grace’s school, a good selection of value-priced wines, and free delivery in the city when you purchase $95 or more worth of wine.

Grace, at 22, has developed a pretty good palate. She has been to France a few times and enjoys French wines very much, especially Bordeaux blends. My thoughts in filling the starter case were to take that preference into account and expand her experience a bit with reds, plus add some whites and rosès since summer is just around the corner. I also wanted to keep the prices under $25, being mindful of the budget of a starving aspiring Broadway star.

After discussing our goals with some of the sales staff, we (Dorianne, Grace and I) began to fill the case. I wanted to find some French wines that she would like first, which we did – one Bordeaux red blend, a Pomerol, two Sancerres, a Burgundian Chardonnay, and a wonderful rosè from Tavel, the only French A.O.P. that produces Au Bon Climat only rosès. To this, we added a reliable California Pinot Noir from, a favorite of ours; a nice Oregon Pinot Noir to  compare to the Au Bon Climat; a wonderful Rhône-style blend from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles; a Spanish Tempranillo blend; an Italian Barbara d’Asti and a Nebbiolo from Langhe; and an Australian Shiraz.

Here is the list:

Starter Case Chart
There is nothing here from Germany or eastern Europe, no New Zealand or South America, etc. Fortunately, Grace has a long future to explore these and other options as she chooses.
Now, you can argue with any or all of these selections, but this starter case was built with some preferences in mind. That is the idea – you decide the parameters of the selections and then you find the best representatives of those parameters based on availability, price, and certain intangibles. Our bias was toward France, with an additional parameter of expanding outward from there and focusing on the Old World with some New World representation as well. That is a lot to cover in twelve bottles.

Starter case -USQ
Union Square Wines and Spirits Shop

My suggestion to her was to make tasting notes of each wine as she drinks it and then replace bottles with a balance of things she likes and things she would like to try. Having a set of preferences helps when she is at a restaurant or a party and there are a variety of options. She already knows to steer clear of the bulk wines and the cheap “critter wines” that populate lots of party bars among people her age (and, unfortunately, people my age as well).

To create your own starter case, for yourself or for your children, my suggestion is to begin where you, or they, are. Start with what you already like and populate part of the case with those wines, then expand outward from there. The value of a good wine shop is that they will have staff who can make good recommendations – something you will not get at most supermarkets or places like Target and Costco (with some exceptions).

I can’t overemphasize the importance of finding a wine store employee or owner who you feel comfortable with. I was recently in an independent wine shop in Baltimore that stocked many wines with which I was unfamiliar. When I asked for recommendations from the owner/manager, he told me that he could only help me with Kosher wines; “That’s all I taste,” he said. No one else in the shop had tasted any of the non-Kosher wines! Interesting business model.

A good wine shop staff member will be of great assistance, especially when deciding what to add to your own preferences. He/she will have the experience needed to make recommendations that are very similar to those, or that are different enough to give you a new tasting experience. Good wine shops will also have tastings that you can attend to expand your wine experience.

It is important that you be clear about what you want. Don’t let the sales staff give you a wine that you are not interested in, or one that is too expensive for your budget.

Keeping these things in mind, creating a starter case can be a really great experience. Your comments, as always, are appreciated.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

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

SO MANY WINES, SO LITTLE TIME

Please pardon the lack of originality in the title of this post. It was the best I could do under the circumstances. You see, I am trying to experience as many aspects of the world of wine as I can, and there just isn’t time for creative blog title development.

In fact, there isn’t time to write this blog post – but I am devoted to you, my dear readers, and that devotion shall not wane. But communicating with you like this is eating into my wine exploration and experiencing time. Just so you know.

The reason for this post is the fact that there is just too much.

Too much wine, too many varietals, too many producers, too many pairings, too many restaurant wine lists with too many wines listed, too many wine blogs, too many wine books, too many tasting rooms, too many regions, AVAs, AOPs, appellations, districts, domains, too many wine terms, tasting notes, words in those tasting notes, too much chemistry, too many vineyards with too many terroirs, too many wine apps.

How is a wine lover to keep up?

Wine - Poster - Tonights Forcast

One answer, the one that I like the best out of the options that I have thought about, is that one cannot and should not even try to experience it all. Can’t be done anyway, so give up that ambition, my friend. Let that sphere of wine experience shrink down to a manageable size. Perhaps you give up on the nether regions of Eastern Europe, the vineyards to Thailand, maybe even China. Take a pass on the wines of Malibu, Michigan, Maryland, and definitely, Florida. You aren’t going to taste them all, travel to them all, anyway. And even if you could, how much enjoyment or appreciation could there be in tasting five hundred wines in a weekend?

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Now I say this as a wine lover who has a preference for exploration. There are many other kinds of wine lovers. I know one who drinks only one wine 95% of the time – Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay (LINK). That’s it. As for me, looking back over the photos I have taken over the past year, I have probably had 250 to 300 different wines, not counting wine tastings; you have seen many of them here and more on my Twitter feed (@JimLockardWine). And in that, I have had a few dozen wines more than once. So I get that there is a range of behavior in the wine lovers’ universe. My Kendall-Jackson loving friend probably does not care too much about this post. But she is an anomaly, isn’t she?

Take last night. We are staying with friends in Cleveland for a week. Last night was to be a birthday celebration for family friends of our host. One of the guest is a former wine columnist (yes, Ohio has wine columnists), and a another, their daughter, is currently taking the Certified Specialist of Wine course (LINK) in New York, where she lives. In preparation, our host, a wine lover himself, took Dorianne and I to the best local wine storeWhole Foods – where we purchased a mixed case, Italians for last night, and some others for the rest of the week.

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Part of Last Night’s Line-up

I had a great conversation with the other wine lovers (and a heightened level of wine lover they were to be sure). And I found that while we shared some common experiences and areas of knowledge, that for the most part, our experience and knowledge were different. This is, of course, to be expected. And, it tells me that there is no such thing as someone who knows even close to everything about wine. So we all have to operate within a chosen personal sphere of knowledge and experience that we create ourselves, either on purpose or by default.

So what does this mean for you, treasured reader? Simply that you have dominion over your domain of wine knowledge and experience. So choose what you love, follow your nature (an explorer or a few wines that you return to over and over); include travel or stay at home; talk about the wine at a meal or talk about other things; download half a dozen wine apps or none at all; explore those small wine regions or stick with Napa and Bordeaux; opt for the top shelf at your wine retailer or the bottom shelf, or stay resolutely in the middle.

Wine is, after all, about the enjoyment of life. It is best when shared with friends and family, and it is best when sipped alone with a good book or a beautiful sunset. It is a social lubricant and a solitary muse. It can be the reason for travel, or a small part of a larger purpose. It is a living, breathing thing that can add to the quality of your life, as long as you do not overindulge.

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Enjoying Wine with Friends

So do not feel pressured to go beyond your own comfort zone in your experience of wine. (Well, maybe a little bit from time to time.) You are not going to know or experience everything anyway. And no matter how broad and deep your knowledge and experience is, you will meet people who know things that you do not, and who have tasted wines that you have not.

My advice is to find your wine sweet spot, explore that thoroughly, and then branch out from there in a way that suits you best. And have fun in the process.

What are your thoughts?

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

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AN ITALIAN OASIS IN OAXACA

Dorianne and I are spending a month in Oaxaca, Mexico. We knew coming in that this culinary capital, known for molè sauces, chocolate, and coffee was not wine country. The drinks here are mescal and cerveza. Indeed, we have had some wonderful meals, both in the city and out in the pueblos, where indigenous people make amazing foods.  But wine – not so much.

There is a large supermercado near our Colonial Reforma AirBnB.com house that has a wine section featuring a few South American and Mexican wines, plus a smattering of French, Italian, and Spanish bottles – all at the lower end of the spectrum.  The U.S. is represented here by Gallo. You don’t really find fine wines here, but some decent bottles are available if you know where to look. Better restaurants feature Mexican wines, but the local cuisine, driven by spicy molès, salsas, etc., does not pair well with wine for the most part. Beer (cerveza) is just fine for most cocina oaxaqueña meals.

And, I was, truth be told, growing a bit weary of the local cuisine after two weeks of nothing  but . . .

T2015-11-27 18.56.15hat is why we were so happy to discover Ristorante Italiano Epicuro (no website, LINK to FB page), an oasis of fine Italian dining with a small, but welcome list of Italian wines – a regular list and an artisanal list with a total of about 30 wines. Stepping in off of Calle Guerro into number 319 one is transported, if not to Italy, to a sophisticated setting that could  be in any major city. The decor consists of light green walls, very high ceilings, with a portion that has a retractable roof for this climate, scenes of things Italian on the walls, and nicely appointed tables. There are not a lot of restaurants in Oaxaca that are not oaxaqueña, so there are really few guidelines for how to handle the mix of cultures in terms of food and decor. Ristorante Italiano Epicuro goes purely Italian on the food and a more general upscale look on the decor.

Our good friends Richard Clark and Mary Stec were in town visiting for a few days. They used to own a gourmet chocolate business and sourced their chocolate and molès from Oaxaca. It was their last night with us in Oaxaca, so we went for dinner early – before 7:00 pm, so the place was nearly empty.

Our waiter, Juan Carlos, a veteran of the high-end Los Angeles restaurant scene (Valentino and others), greeted us warmly and masterfully guided us through the evening. Chef Valter Epifania is from Genoa, and knows his way around the kitchen. He came to our table near the end of the meal. We also met Eder, the owner, who came to Mexico from Italy six years ago and opened the restaurant a year later.

We ordered two bottles of wine from the smaller “artisanal wine list.” All were under 600 pesos, or about $35 U.S. at the current exchange rate of 16.8 pesos to the dollar. The most expensive bottle on either list was an Italian Cabernet Sauvignon on the main wine list for 820 pesos, or about $48 U.S.

Our first bottle was a 2010 Il Gargaiolo Chianti, 85% Sangiovese & 15% Merlot. It was very dry and tight at first, but it opened up after a while. I would say that the Merlot added a richness to the Sangiovese. A decent, but not a great wine.

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Next we opted for a 2013 Francesco Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and organic wine. Aged in stainless steel, the wine had a sense of terroir and a decent balance of dark fruit, with leather and chocolate overtones. Dorianne was the only one of us who preferred the Chianti to this wine.

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The menu is purely Italian, with first courses, pastas, and secondi (not the terms on the menu). A complimentary eggplant appetizer (deliciously rich) is provided. We also received a sampling of their ice cream dessert after not ordering dessert. When Dorianne could not eat that due to allergies, a pear poached in red wine was substituted by the chef for her. Very nice!

We shared a pulpo carpaccio appetizer that was delicious and reminiscent of the pulpo in Spain. The octopus for this dish was sourced in the Gulf of Mexico we were told.

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Pulpo Carpaccio – Delicious!

Then, Dorianne opted for a seafood pasta for her main dish. Mary and I ordered the rib-eye steak made with Ecuadorian beef; Richard had the special of the evening – rack of lamb.

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Ecuadorian Beef Rib-Eye Steak
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Seafood Pasta
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Pear Poached in Red Wine

All of the main courses were excellently prepared and delicious. We remarked that this quality of Italian dining in the US would command a much greater price. The bill, with tip, was just over 2440 pesos, or under $150 U.S. for four of us, including two bottles of wine!

Richard and Mary have left, leaving Dorianne and I to return to this Italian Oasis a few times in our two remaining weeks in Oaxaca.

 

 

 

THIS JUST IN: ITALY MOVES AHEAD OF FRANCE AS LARGEST WINE PRODUCER

As reported on Euronews.com (LINK), and International Business Times (LINK)Italy is now the largest wine producer in the world, surpassing France.

From IBT: Italy’s projected wine production is up 13% on the previous year and 5% on the average for the past five years, for a total output of 48.8 million hectolitres (1,289,159,610. gallons [US, liquid]), figures submitted by member states to the EU Commission in mid-September show.

Lack of rain and a heatwave have instead caused a 1% contraction of French production, which relegated the country at the second place with 46.4 million hectolitres (1,225,758,317 gallons [US, liquid]). The world-famous regions of Beaujolais and Bourgogne were among the worst affected and wine lovers with a taste for local bottles could face a price rise in the coming months, according to Les Eechos newspaper.

Italy and France have long been the sole duellists for the title of world top wine producer, both in terms of quantity and quality. However, 2015 has arguably been a particularly favourable year for the Italians after Ferrari (Trentodoc) won the prestigious sparkling wine producer of the year award.”

Spain is in third place with 36.6 million hectolitres ( 966,869,707 gallons [US, liquid]).

FOODIE PARADISE IN AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam (LINK) is a great city for food and wine. Over the past three days, with one more to go, Dorianne and I have had amazing meals. With so many pleasures and options, wine is not the only thing that they focus on in this international city, of course. There are world class beers and spirits and, of course, marijuana to salve the human need for altered states. But where the wine is the focus, they do it very, very well.

Guts & Glory (LINK) is a very small restaurant (about 40 seats inside, another 16 outside) in Amsterdam near the Rembrantplein (Square). Dorianne and I went for lunch on a Sunday. We walked into a foodie and wine haven.

The plan here is to make an entire menu around one item – fish in summer, pork in winter, beef or fowl in other seasons – and offer up to seven courses based on treatments of that item. It is summer, so we opted for three courses of fish.

I asked our server, Liselore, about the wine list and was directed to Ricardo, the sous chef and wine expert. He reviewed the list with me and suggested pairings. We opted to buy by the glass to get the best pairings with each course.

Our first course, after an amuse bouche of seaweed broth, marinated North Sea Shrimp, and deep fried Nori, was a very unusual sea bass ceviche with onions, sweet potato sauce, wheat nuts (deep fried!) avocado paste, and some crispy lime foam (yes). The wine pairing was a sparkling Pignoletto Frizzante Bio DOC `13, Corte d’Aibo (LINK), from Bologna, Italy. The dry sparkler went perfectly with the ceviche.

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Pignoletto Frizzante Bio DOC `13, Corte d’Aibo
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Amuse Bouche of Delights
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Sea Bass Ceviche.

Next, we had skate with Italian Brocollini, onions, anchovies, and other delicacies. The pairing was a Friulano Vigna del Torrione Bianco DOC ‘12 La Sclusa, (LINK), from Friuli, Italy. I had begun to wonder if Ricardo was only recommending Italian wines, but the next course settled that. By the way, the Fruliano was a perfect match for the skate dish, with little acidity, a nice oaky flavor, and more minerality than fruit in the flavor of the wine. It also had a deep golden color. A very unusual white wine.

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Friulano Vigna del Torrione Bianco DOC ‘12
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The Skate Course.

The third course was very different – a cod cake nestled in a steamed beignet with pickled cucumbers, onions, black beans and lime aioli. The pairing with this one was a Villa Wolf Pinot Noir ‘13, Ernst Loosen (LINK), from Pfalz, Germany. The German Pinot Noir, of which we had had several on our cruise up the Rhine River this past week, was one of the best I’ve had, with a bit more body than most German reds, plus a floral sense on the nose. It, once again, paired wonderfully with the cod dish. Nice work, Ricardo!

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Villa Wolf Pinot Noir ‘13, Ernst Loosen
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Cod Cake Course

The wine list (LINK) is pretty extensive for such a small place, with wines from the Old and New Worlds. Here is the team – Michael Randag, Guillaume de Beer (Chef/Owner), and Ricardo Russo (Sous Chef/Wine Guy). Not pictured is our server, Liselore Tieshers. A great group!

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Michael Randag, Guillaume de Beer (Chef/Owner), and Ricardo Russo (Sous Chef/Wine Guy).

Guts & Glory was a very good preparation for our visit to NOMA in Copenhagen later this week.