More than just Icewine in the Finger Lakes

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Given the crazy cold winters in the Finger Lakes wine region of upstate New York, it was no surprise to find a wide range of seriously good Icewines. Along with Niagara, this cool climate region is making a name for itself with wines made from frozen grapes. What did surprise me, however, was the variety of other dessert wines such as vin doux naturel, port and late harvest wines. What are these wines? What do they taste like? Are they any good? Find out more in my article here.


Friendly Faces of the Finger Lakes

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Spend even a short time in the Finger Lakes wine region in upstate New York and you quickly realize that it’s not just the bucolic landscape or the fresh-from-the-farm produce or even the impressive wines that make this place so special. What ties it all together and what will lodge a visit firmly in your memory is the people. New York’s largest wine region comprises more than 130 wineries spread around the shores of four main lakes (out of 11 total), but after five days of traveling and tasting through the area, what quickly became clear is what a tight-knit, collaborative community it is. They lend a helping hand when needed, collaborate on making wine, and when 250 wine bloggers invade their vineyards, what do they do? Welcome them with open arms, serve them delicious food straight from the farmer’s market and generously share their wines. Here are some of the friendly winemakers who opened their doors for the 2015 Wine Blogger’s conference.

Ventosa Vineyards

Ventosa owner Lenny Cecere with his 2011 Lemberger on the night it won the Governor’s Cup award for best New York wine. At 28, Jenna Lavita, Ventosa’s winemaker is the youngest to win this award.

Leidenfrost Vineyards

Liz Leidenfrost is the third generation of this winemaking family.

Three Brothers Wineries & Estates

Erica Paolicelli poured this light, bright Riesling from Three Brothers.

Standing Stone Vineyards

Along with her husband, Tom, Marti Macinski makes a lovely lineup of wines including this Gewürztraminer ice wine.

Anthony Road Wine Company

The sage of the Finger Lakes? Certainly one of the most gregarious hosts we had. John Martini, owner of Anthony Road, knows how to captivate a wine tasting audience, and the wines are great too.

Hazlitt 1852

The handiwork of John Santos, vineyard manager, ends up in this fine bottle of Hazlitt’s Cabernet Franc.

Fox Run Vineyards

Owner Scott Osborne (top left) and winemaker Peter Bell (bottom right) treated our group of 50 to a winery tour and lunch with wine pairings. Peter’s not-so-secret passion is port made in the Australian, rancio style. This tawny is outstanding.

Hearts & Hands Wine Company

Tom Higgins and his wife, Susan (sadly not shown, she’s lovely), focus on Pinot Noir and Riesling. Their dedication shows in this white Pinot Noir Polarity.

Hermann J. Wiemer

They pulled out all the corks when our small crew stopped by unannounced for a tasting. Fred Merwarth (top right) makes an outstanding range of wines that include single-vineyard Rieslings, sparkling Chardonnay (I highly recommend the 2009), Pinot noir, Cabernet franc and botrytized dessert wines. Katie Cooke, assistant winemaker and Oskar Bynke, estate manager, (lower left) kept the wines flowing.

Dinner from Dano’s at Hazlitt 1852

That chef Dano Hutnik was a ballet dancer in Vienna was just one of the many surprises of our dinner at Hazlitt 1852. That seafood stuffed cabbage could be so delicious (paired with Gewürztraminer) was another. Alas, our Russian napoleons were served without a pirouette, but they were still delicious.

Sweet Wines for Summer

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Follow this link to and check out my article on great dessert wines for summer.



A Wine Revisited

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In the summer of 1923 Lord Sebastian Flyte entices his friend Charles Ryder to escape the confines of Oxford and spend the day at his family’s estate. “I’ve got a motor-car and a basket of strawberries and a bottle of Chateau Peyraguey — which isn’t a wine you’ve ever tasted so don’t pretend. It’s heaven with strawberries.”

From the BBC’s adaptation. Aloysius guards the wine.

Evelyn Waugh, one of Britain’s most acclaimed novelists and author of this scene from Brideshead Revisited, was known for creating some of literature’s wittiest characters, many of whom had a glass of wine or a cocktail in hand. Waugh was a knowledgeable oenophile so his selections are both informed and precise, lending scenes that extra bit of authenticity. So why, of all the wines in the world, did he send his two main characters off on a picnic with a bottle of Chateau Peyraguey? It’s an intriguing choice.

Throughout Waugh’s stories you’ll find clarets, champagnes and burgundies, but his true passion was for dessert wines, a taste he acquired during his student days at Oxford in the early 1920s. In an essay titled “Drinking” he writes: “We tried anything we could lay our hands on, but table-wines were the least of our interests. We drank them conventionally at luncheon and dinner parties but waited eagerly for the heavier and headier concomitants of dessert.” Port, sherry, Tokaji, he loved them all. “We were not ashamed (nor am I now) to relish sweet wine. Yquem had, of course, a unique reputation. Starting to drink it in a mood of ostentation, I was led to the other white Bordeaux.” By that he means Sauternes, the luscious, golden, dessert wine made possible by a little gray fungus Botrytis cinerea, aka noble rot. Which brings us back to the Chateau Peyraguey. Waugh doesn’t send Sebastian and Charles under an elm tree with a bottle of Dom Pérignon or Romanée-Conti; they’re bestowed with sweet Sauternes.

A perfect pair

But why Chateau Peyraguey? It’s an unusual choice since the wine hasn’t existed as such since 1879 when, following the death of the owner, a family squabble split the property in two and became Clos Haut-Peyraguey and Chateau LaFaurie Peyraguey. Given the fact that Waugh wrote the novel in 1944, long after rupture, what was he up to? There were plenty of other Sauternes chateaux he could have chosen. Did he simply use his creative license and shorten the name for convenience, or did he intentionally send his characters picnicking with a bottle that was a half-century old?

Plausibility for the latter comes in the next chapter of the book when Waugh endows Sebastian’s family estate with a wine cellar stocked with old vintages (which the two proceed to drink their way through the following summer). It’s a minor detail but a telling one that exhibits not only Waugh’s knowledge and taste in wine but also his skill as a writer. With a single bottle he encapsulates one of the book’s main themes. The scene is set in the aftermath of World War I when Britain is reeling from the loss of so many young men. The devastation has left no family, rich or poor, untouched and upended many of society’s traditions. Sebastian mourns this lost innocence and yearns for an earlier time. Here then, is a bottle from before the Great War, before the carnage, a golden, sweet wine still in possession of its youthful charms and virtue.


Of course, there is no way of knowing Waugh’s intentions, (he died in 1966). It is, however, still possible to have a picnic of strawberries and wine made from same plot of land as the Peyraguey. Clos Haut-Peyraguey and Lafaurie-Peyraguay are readily found in good wine stores and are an extraordinary value at $40 per half bottle. Both properties sit near the famed vineyards of Chateau d’Yquem, a half-bottle of which is never under three figures. This prime real estate earned the original Chateau Peyraguey the status of Premier Cru Classé in the 1855 Bordeaux classification, and the two current chateaux have been able to keep that same ranking. It’s one step below the top classification of Premier Cru Classé Superiore, whose sole occupant is Yquem.

Both properties have recently come under new ownership with promises to bring their wines to even greater heights. Clos Haut-Peyraguey was purchased in October 2012 by Bernard Magrez, who owns numerous wineries around the world, including Château Pape Clément, Château La Tour Carnet and Château Fombrauge. The 12-hectare vineyard is planted with 95% semillon and 5% sauvignon blanc on gravel, sand and clay. Wine destined to become the grand vin is fermented in oak and then aged in oak barrels (50% new) for 18 months. The winery’s long-time cellar master, Anthony Defives, continues to make the wine even in his new role as estate manager, so the style is unlikely to change dramatically.

The only vintage I was able to find in New York was 2005, a year with near-perfect conditions for both the dry reds and sweet whites. A long, dry summer, was followed by heavy rain in September, which is just what those tiny Botrytis spores needed to flourish. And flourish they did. Botrytis is one of the first scents to spiral out of the glass, closely followed by honey and caramel, dried apricots, and chamomile. A bright acidity keeps it light on the palate and is accompanied by flavors of caramelized pear, prunes and more honey. It’s a gorgeous, complex wine. Recent vintages to look for include 1995, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Lafaurie Peyraguey was acquired last year by Silvio Denz, who added the 36-hectare property to his collection of Saint-Émilion vineyards such as Peby Faugeres and Faugeres. He purchased the vineyard and its postcard-perfect chateau (parts of which date to the 13th century) from the French energy company GDF Suez, which had acquired it in 1984 and subsequently modernized the facilities, renovated the chateau and installed climate controlled cellars. Denz also owns the crystal company Lalique and had a special engraved bottle made for the 2014 vintage.

A bottle of Lafaurie Peyraguey from 2006 showed much less botrytis than the 2005 Haut-Peyraguey, but was a denser, more concentrated wine. It’s made with 93% Sémillon, 6% Sauvignon blanc, and 1% Muscadelle, fermented and aged in oak (40-70% new) for 18 to 20 months. Here the flavors lean more toward baked apples and quince, with dried figs, honey and caramel. The presence of oak was also more noticeable. The vintage had been a difficult one with many grapes spoiled by bad rot and very little Botrytis. Producers had to be vigilante in the vineyard to salvage what harvest they could. Such are the perils of making Sauternes. Given the challenges, this is still a very good wine, with enough acidity and concentration for it to age for decades. Top vintages include 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2009.

Don’t forget the strawberries.




Summer Beach Reads: Top Books on Fortified Wine

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After this interminable, bone-chilling winter, has the approach of summer ever been so welcome? I’m guessing it’s pretty unanimous, at least on the East Coast, that we’re all eager to burn our parkas and head to the beach already. Now, what to read? With the growing popularity of fortified wines, a new crop of books has been published (some updated and reissued) on sherry, madeira and port. Whether you’ve been meaning to finally get your amontillados straight from your manzanillas or want some guidance on buying vintage ports these are the best reference books available. And, while you’re honing your fortified wine knowledge you might as well enjoy a glass of what you’re reading about. Here then are the best books on fortified wines along with recommended pours.


Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes (2014)                                         by Talia Baiocchi                                                                                      Ten Speed Press, $24.99

Even if you never read a word of Talia Baiocchi’s guide to sherry just perusing the gorgeous photos is likely to inspire a craving for a glass of fino if not trigger a sudden urge to check airfares to Spain. It’s an eye-catching book, a lovely little object d’art whose presence in anyone’s drinks library will signify its owner as very au courant on the wine scene. It is, however, also a book worth reading as it happens to be chock full of useful information about the different styles of sherry and how each is made. You can also read about the history, towns and bodegas, as well as find recipes for cocktails and a few southern Spanish dishes.

Baiocchi is the editor of the online drinks magazine PUNCH and writes from a personal vantage point with a fun, lively tone. My only quibble is with the cocktail section. I know all the mixologists are doing it these days, and she has enlisted the help of some of the best bartenders out there, but I confess that I’m a purist. Sherries are delicious wines in their own right, and it pains me to think of them mixed with rum or tequila among a myriad other things. It’s maybe not as cringe-worthy as mixing Coke and Chateau Latour, but close. Perhaps by integrating it into the current cocktail craze more sherry will be sold, but I don’t think it does sherry’s reputation any favors in the long run. That aside, this is a well-researched enjoyable book and well deserving of its nomination as a James Beard award finalist.

What to drink: Fino Inocente from Valdespino, $23.99 (750 ml); Barbadillo Manzanilla Solear En Rama Primavera, $15.99 (375 ml).


Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla: A guide to the traditional wines of Andalucia                                                                                                    by Peter Liem & Jesús Barquín (2012)                                    Manutius, $29.95

Ever wonder which strains of yeast make up the flor in biologically aged sherries? How about the calcium carbonate content of Jerez’s albariza soil? Then this is the book for you. Not all the information in this book is that technical, but the content is definitely targeted toward serious oenophiles, sommeliers and those in the trade. Published two years ago, this was the first new sherry book to come out in a decade and was received with universal praise and a sigh of relief “at last.” It’s a thorough and authoritative exploration of the history, wines, soils, and bodegas of the Jerez region. What the book lacks in color photos, it more than makes up for with in-depth information.

Although Peter Liem gained a following for his expertise on Champagne, he has been an extraordinary champion for sherry and is a co-founder of Sherryfest, an annual tasting event in New York, San Francisco and Toronto. His co-author, Jesús Barquín, is one of the principals of Equipo Navazos, a relatively new sherry label (basically a negoçiant that buys individually selected aged wines from bodegas), which has developed a cult-like following. Together they bring both a breadth and depth of knowledge to the subject. If you have a serious interest in sherry this is a must.

What to drink: Equipo Navazos La Bota de Amontillado #37, $67.97 (750 ml); Bodegas Tradicion Palo Cortado VORS, $99.95 (750 ml).


Madeira: The Mid-Atlantic Wine (2014)                                                    By Alex Liddell                                                                                              Hurst & Company, $29.95

Hard on the heels of the recent sherry renaissance comes the revival of yet another fortified wine that also spent decades languishing in the back of liquor cabinets everywhere: madeira. As with sherry, up-to-date publications have lagged behind the wine’s popularity and are therefore pretty scant. Thankfully, Alex Liddell has revised and reissued his thorough, authoritative book “Madeira: The Mid-Atlantic Wine,” which was first published in 1998. Liddell began his career in academia and brings a scholarly approach to the subject. The result is a thorough, meticulously researched book.

The island of Madeira, situated in the Mid-Atlantic, provided the perfect stopping off point for ships sailing to North and South America, the Caribbean, Africa or points further east such as India and the Spice Islands. Madeira wine became a popular commodity. It was, in fact, the very act of shipping wines on long, hot journeys that created the style of Madeira wines as we know them today. Liddell not only tells this story wonderfully, he also delves into the soil, grapes, viticulture, vinification and the producers. There is enough basic information here to entice the amateur enthusiast but it also has the level of detail for professionals.

What to drink:  Blandy’s 1998 Colheita Sercial, $54.99 500 ml.; Broadbent 10 year old Bual, $39.99, 500 ml.


Port and the Douro (2013)                                                                             By Richard Mayson                                                                                       Infinite Ideas, $50

Whether or not you are a long-time port collector or struggle to discern an LBV from a colheita, Richard Mayson’s “Port and the Douro” is an indispensable guide to the region’s fortified wines. He’s been in the wine business for more than 30 years and written numerous books on port, madeira and the wines of Iberia as well as making his own wine in the Alentejo region of southern Portugal. The last few decades have seen a lot of changes in the Douro and Mayson has been there chronicling every development. In this third edition we’re brought right up to 2011.

Mayson begins with the fascinating history of the region, which was originally settled by the Romans, and the beginnings of the Port trade, which flourished as a result of war between England and France. He provides a thorough description of the numerous grape varieties allowed in Port as well as the viticulture and vinification processes. He provides information on some of the major quintas and for those with a deep interest in vintage ports, he provides an invaluable account of vintages from 2011 back to 1844.

What to drink: 2008 Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port, $19.00, 750 ml; Quinta do Noval Black, $19.97, 750 ml.

Tawny Port: When drinking with a 20-year-old is not only legal, but recommended

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In the latest issue of Wine & Spirits magazine a report on top restaurant wines found that when it comes to dessert wines the most popular after-dinner tipple is tawny port. In fact, all but two of the top ten were tawnies. This may reflect the fact that this style is a particularly attractive by-the-glass option for restaurants in that an opened bottle will keep for at least a month and these wines don’t require decanting (both good reasons to stock up at home too). But practical considerations aside, tawny ports, specifically those that have been aged for a decade or more, are a delicious way to cap off an evening. Much lighter in body than young ruby’s or mature vintage ports, tawnies have nutty, caramel-like flavors that pair well with a wide variety of desserts such as apple tarts or chocolate mousse, while their sweetness makes them an excellent choice with cheese. And although we tend to associate port with winter weather and a roaring fire, you could also do as the Portuguese and sip them in the summer, slightly chilled, all on their own.


Of all the styles of port tawnies perhaps are the most challenging to make and are the most reflective of their shipping houses. They begin their lives the same way all ports do with red grapes crushed and vigorously macerated. Usually the best grapes are used, often from the same batch used for vintage ports since this style’s long aging requires firm tannins and high acidity. Grape spirit is then added to the must to halt fermentation, resulting in a sweet, intensely fruity wine with between 19 and 22% abv. Different houses halt fermentation at different times to obtain their own distinct level of sweetness (the earlier grape spirit is added the sweeter the wine). Wines destined to become tawnies are then aged in large wooden casks for the first few years and then transferred to smaller wood pipes. These are well-seasoned, neutral barrels not intended to impart any flavors to the wine. Instead, their purpose is to allow slow, controlled exposure to air over time. This gentle oxidation along with evaporation concentrates the sweetness and flavors and transforms the wine’s bright fresh fruit into more developed dried fruit, cinnamon, caramel and nuttiness. The color fades from bright purpley red to brownish amber, or tawny.

Tawny vs. Tawny

IMG_1889Not all tawny ports are created equally. It’s not uncommon to see generic “tawny” ports without an indication of age. These wines, however, have usually spent no more than a few years in barrel and are often blended with white port to replicate a true tawny. Those aged for seven years in barrel are labeled reserve tawnies and although a few good examples exist these are attractive mostly for their low price. Top quality tawny ports give an indication of age on the label: 10, 20, 30, or 40 years, which represents an approximation of the age of the component wines (they are blends of vintages). Each shipper aims to maintain a house style and may use anywhere from 10 to 50 different wines. One element of some tawnies is called “Duoro Bake” and refers to wine that has been aged in barrels kept in the hot, sunny Duoro valley rather than the cooler, coastal village of Vila Nova de Gaia. The higher inland temperatures cause more evaporation and quicker aging and give more pronounced “rancio” or carmelized flavors.

The longer the wine spends in barrel the deeper the concentration, the more developed the flavors and, of course, the more expensive it becomes. About 1- 2% is lost to evaporation every year (3% in the Duoro). Ten-year tawnies average around $20 per bottle retail, while 40-year tawnies are around $140. Hitting the sweet spot of a full array of tawny notes at a reasonable price are the 20-year tawnies, considered by many port aficionados to be the pinnacle of tawny ports. The style exhibits the transition between the vibrant fresh fruit of its younger self and the more mature, developed nutty notes and are slightly sweeter than the 10 year olds. Of those eight favorite tawnies, five were 20 year olds. Here then are some recommended 20-year tawnies and the restaurants where you can find them.


Recommended 20-year-old tawnies and where to drink them by the glass:

Ferreira “Duque de Braganca” 20 year old Tawny Port. Elegant and rich with distinct notes of walnuts, toffee, dried cherry and orange peel. $69.99 retail, $22/glass at Gramercy Tavern, 42 E 20th St, New York, NY 10003, (212) 477-0777.

Fonseca 20 year old Tawny Port. Fonseca may be known for its vintage ports, but its 20-year tawny is top notch. This wine was my favorite of the three for its smooth and silky texture and its complex notes of stewed plums, dates, dried cherries, and candied pecans, which lingered for a good long time.  $49.99 retail, $18/glass at Aldea, 31 W 17th St, New York, NY 10011, (212) 675-7223.

Taylor Fladgate 20 year old Tawny Port. This wine took top honors as the most popular dessert wine. Although I preferred the other two, this is still a delicious, bright and refined wine with notes of raspberry jam, dried cherry, and cloves. $50.97 retail, $20/glass at Bar Boulud, 1900 Broadway (at 64th Street) New York, NY 10023, (212) 595-0303.








Fortify Your Blizzard Survival Kit

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Will the snow ever end? It’s all the East Coast is talking about. Personally I love a good winter storm­ and how the whiteness (while it lasts) brightens the skeletal trees and the city becomes a little less frenetic. Cold, snowy nights like these call for an extra dose of something to take the chill out, like an oloroso sherry. Sherries have made a comeback in the last few years, but while finos and manzanillas have drawn most of the attention olorosos remain mostly out of the spotlight. In fact when I went searching for a bottle in my local shops there were few to choose from.

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Made from the courser base wines, olorosos are often more textured and fuller bodied than finos and amontillados. While they still make for a fine apperitif, the style lends itself to pairing cold-weather fare such as stews or game dishes. Oloroso means “fragrant” in Spanish and these are potent, hearty wines, usually a dark amber color with nutty, dried fruit flavors. This comes from aging entirely oxidatively in barrels with no time spent under a layer of flor (yeast), which is how finos, manzanillas and amontillados are aged. Over the years some of the wine evaporates, concentrating the flavors and increasing the level of alcohol, which can range from 18 to 24%. This may leave an impression of sweetness although most oloroso wines are dry. A truly sweet oloroso will have had some Pedro Ximenez added and labeled a cream sherry.

This oloroso comes from a former almacenista, who used to sell his wines to big producers such as Gonzalez Byass, but now bottles them under his own name. The bodegas of Gutiérrez Colosía are found in the coastal town of El Puerto de Santa María and therefore feel the influence from the Atlantic winds. The saline quality of this oloroso is prominent, but is accompanied by notes of toasted walnuts, raisins, and a touch of iron. And, since it has already been exposed to oxygen, once it’s open it’ll keep in the refrigerator for a couple of months.

Gutiérrez Colosía Oloroso dry sherry, 750 ml, 18% abv, $34.99.