I’ve fallen into the hole that no writer wants to fall into: plans to write a million posts, without actually writing a million posts. So this is just a note to say, I haven’t forgotten the blog: I still have plans to talk about my Napa trip last December, as well as veer off wine for a split second to talk about some delicious wine country restaurant finds. There’s also the follow-up tasting to last year’s 21-vintage salute to Cathy Corison wines (this year, we tasted through her Kronos wines). Plus a handful of other ideas swirling in my head! But before all of these, I want to tell you about an interesting winery I heard about last night, as well as the group of women who planned the event. So as they say, please stay tuned…
Wine in Washington, D.C., may be on the verge of getting an interesting moment. It makes sense. As the city’s dining options have drastically evolved and gained national attention, the appetite for more diversity in wine is a logical next step.
The city has always had restaurants with reliable high-end lists, shops to find good wine and places to go have a glass with friends.
Restaurants like The Red Hen, Ripple, Proof, The Partisan, Le Diplomate and Tail Up Goat are great options. While wine bars like Cork, Vinoteca and Eno have served the city’s millennial population well.
But seeking out geekier labels or getting exposure to something less mainstream can sometimes be a challenge if you don’t regularly travel to New York City or actively follow the wine scene on social media.
There’s some renewed hope, however, that may change now that several new
projects have recently been announced.
In journalism, we say that it takes three examples before you can start investigating something as a trend – so now that there are three, it’s time to start keeping track of what’s to come.
- Sebastian Zutant (of Red Hen and their sister restaurant All Purpose) plans to open a
wine bar focusing on natural wine. He already does a lot of that at both restaurants, and has been a strong proponent of orange wines here in D.C. I haven’t seen word yet on
an opening date or location.
- Brent Kroll, who ran the wine program for Neighborhood Restaurant Group (which
includes The Partisan), recently moved over to be General Manager at Proof. But
soon after he started, he announced he’s also planning to open his own wine bar. Springtime in Shaw is what’s been reported so far.
- Just this week, news that Dio Wine Bar, will be coming to H Street NE. Stacey Khoury-Diaz also plans to focus on natural wine, taking inspiration from great New York places for natural wine, such as Ten Bells and Rouge Tomate.
- There are also plans from The Dabney to open a wine bar in its basement.
It’s going to be interesting to see if D.C. can handle this much wine, and whether these establishments will appeal to those of us hoping to tip the city’s wine scene a bit in the geekier direction.
Since New Year’s Eve is always grounds to break out #allthebubbles, I decided to blind my friends with a duo recently sent my way.* I wanted to see how the Brut Sparkling would compare with more traditional bubbles being brought to the party. That included Champagnes like Salon and Agrapart & Fils and some exceptional California bubbles like Ultramarine and Dirty & Rowdy’s Traditional Method Pinot Blanc. I only meant to blind them with the Brut, but in order to keep it a secret, I tin-foiled the label of the second bottle, too.
The 2013 Brut Sparkling held up exactly as you would expect a well-made sparkling wine to show. Its bubbles were interlaced with precise apple and citrus flavors made possible from its 100 percent Chardonnay fruit.The acidity provided an astute structure.
But what garnered a lot of chatter and curiosity among the table-full of impressive wines (including a Ridge Merlot, Corison and Dunn Cabernets, a Quintarelli Valpolicella and a magnum of Lapierre Morgon) was a 2016 Pét-Nat Rosé Syrah (yes, you read that right, 2016! It’s meant to be drunk young). As one friend asked after the bottles were revealed: “Who knew Virginia could make a geek wine!” But Early Mountain Vineyards near Charlottesville did!
Everything from its simplistic contemporary and artistic label, to the cloudy salmon color moving through the bottle like a lava lamp piqued our senses and cerebral curiosities.
Made as a Pétillant-naturel (commonly called Pét-Nat), the winemakers cap off the bottle before it finishes its fermentation process trapping the remaining carbon dioxide, creating those tingling tiny effervescent bubbles. You won’t find a cork in these bottles! The active fermentation still happening in the bottle also contributes to its cloudy appearance.
In this particular bottle, I tasted an interesting creaminess that I don’t usually associate with wine. Redish-pink fruit underneath pineapple flavors with a dash of bubblegum were apparent on the palate. The wine was neither sweet nor bitter. Just fun, drinkable juice that had us all happy to be swirling it around in our glass.
* Full disclosure: These bottles were sent to me as samples from the winery. I haven’t stated a sample policy on this blog yet, but I generally have not accepted them until now to keep all posts here as objective as I can. In the event interesting bottles are offered and worth exploring on this blog, I will share it with friends, and let their reactions speak for the wine as I’ve done here.
I’m long overdue for a post and have much to write about (including a recap from a week-long visit to Napa and Sonoma), but I wanted to get in here before the year ends to drop off this collage of some of my favorite wines from 2016. As easy as it is to bemoan the state of the world, it should be just as easy to keep thinking about the good moments. And that’s where wine fits in. Behind each bottle is a memory, a curiosity, something beautiful, a friendship, an experience. There’s talented artistry under each cork, along with a mystery and too often than not, a lot of smiles and laughter. These were only but a few of my highlights (and in no particular order). Thanks for joining me on this continuing journey, I promise to be back in 2017 with even more wine musings.
If Tuesday night promises to be as topsy-turvy and obscenity inducing as the entire 2016 election cycle has been, then you’re going to need something to drink to make it through a long night of news watching, punditry, state-by-state results and twitter streaming.
But while campaign season is known as the race to the White House, you’ll need to think of this night as a marathon –so hold off on the hard booze right now. Thankfully, wine promotes just the right amount of anxiety-reducing and calming effects to let you make it through
whatever may happen. Let’s be honest, we’re all in need of *something* to soothe our souls.
In a world of no-hangovers and no-limits, here’s how I might pair wines with election night. In reality, I’m just hoping to provide a little inspiration:
Start with something light, low alcoholic and slightly celebratory. It’s better to have some optimism at some point, than none at all. Consider a fun Pet-Nat. In my fridge, there’s a 2014 Cruse Sparkling Valdiguie that has just the right amount of fresh fizziness and bright red fruit. With energy running through its spine, it’s lively and easy to drink.
If Pet Nats aren’t your thing – try a crisp dry white (I recently had a Lieu Dit Sauvignon Blanc which would work well). Bottom line: Now’s not the time to be too
serious with your wine. We’ve got a long night ahead of us!
When results start trickling in and your heart starts palpitating, grab your favorite red – it could
be anything that makes you happy – but seeing we’re unsure of where this night may go, I’d probably stick with something not too heavy. A favorite Pinot Noir or Rhone-style wine might do.
During the debates, I sipped a bottle of A Tribute to Grace Grenache. The combination of red berries and herbs warmed my soul despite the verbal jabs happening on the TV screen. At the very least, just knowingvyou’re drinking something with the word “grace” in the name may
psychologically bring about some calm.
If you want, take it a step further and open up a bottle of Hope & Grace Pinot Noir.
These California pinots consist of lush dark fruit and strong finishes. By this time in the evening, you can only hope with a little bit of grace, that your candidate will have a similar finish (see what I did there?).
For the next bottle, it’s time to get a bit more serious – especially if you don’t know when the final results may be called. If the night is getting rocky, the absolute perfect pairing would be Dirtyv& Rowdy’s Fred & Dora’s Vineyard Petite Sirah, but the 2014 is still too young and a very heavy decant is needed. Take a look at part of its description from the Dirty & Rowdy site, and you’ll see why it might be worth uncorking this on Monday and have it waiting:
“If you keep with it for few hours or visit on day two, the gentle
fruit begins to rise above the graphite and rocky sub-surface and you will discover that even gnarly soils have their lullabies.”
Perhaps the same can be said about the aftermath of this election season?
Or, for something a little more accessible, seek out a bottle with some age on it so that the tertiary flavors and earthiness rise quickly to the palate. You’ll need those to help keep
you grounded, while the older vintage will help hearken back to happier times when election day didn’t quite feel like a doomsday event.
Finally, when the results are in, you have but two choices: Pop some Champagne to celebrate and breathe a sigh of relief, or now’s the time to reach for that hard booze – whatever it will take to get you through the next four years will do!
Twelve vintages ago, Matt Licklider and Kevin O’Connor began making vineyard-driven California wines, seeking lower alcohol and European styles to get away from the bigger-is-better approach that California had become known for. This was seven years before the In Pursuit of Balance team started widely promoting this style and there was plenty of uncertainties of whether local consumers would take to this style. For Matt, then a distributor of European wines and Kevin, the wine director at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, moving forward in this
direction was a gamble.
That gamble is paying off as Lioco wines can now be found as far away as Japan, and are distributed across 30 states within the U.S. The wines, which include Carignan, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah are made of fruit purchased from distinguished vineyards from such places as the Sonoma Coast and Mendocino. With an intense focus on cool climate and picking early enough to retain the fruit’s acidity, these aromatic wines showcase its terroir and are created to pair with food (although for any wine geek, these wines on their own provide quite a bit of intellectual fodder to enjoy on their own).
To show off the wines, Matt together with Andy from MacArthur Beverages hosted a wonderful
four-course dinner at Black Salt in the quiet Palisades neighborhood (Did you hear that California winemakers? Matt hosted a dinner here in D.C.!! It was successful, you should follow his lead 😉 )
Pairings included the Indica Carignan Rosé (Mendocino, 2015) with salmon tataki with pickled melons and citrus aioli (this is one of my favorite rosés and the pairing created a seamlessly fresh experience of flavors):
Estero Chardonnay (Russian River Valley, 2014 ) with Chesapeake chowder (during the dinner, Matt told us he saw the Chardonnay as that bit of lemon you squeeze over your fish):
Cerise Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley, 2013) with duck bolognese (our table of six snuck in a bottle of 2012 Lioco Hirsch Pinot Noir to try side-by-side. The Cerise was full of really bright fruit, while the Hirsch showed off its herbal spine ):
And lastly the Caleta Syrah (Santa Cruz Mountains, 2014) with braised beef short rib (I honestly can’t tell you much about the pairing as the Syrah on its own blew us all away. This is not your typical California Syrah. At 11.9 percent alcohol, the wine can best be described as a yin and a yang: brooding and dense on appearance but with an elegant palate more reminiscent of the Northern Rhone):
I’ve been a fan of Lioco wines for a while, so it was a real treat to have Matt here in D.C. A big thank you to him, Andy and Black Salt for the superb evening! I was at a table with five other friends, and as is usually the case, combing good friends while sharing delicious wine and food, in the presence of talented individuals makes for an evening that will be impossible to forget! Cheers!
(All photos by me)
While catching up on wine news today via Google, I stumbled on this Vice piece on how climate change is impacting the wine industry. It’s not a new story, but it’s always a good reminder at how the elixir that lubricates our meals, or our interactions with friends or becomes a healer in stressful times, is so closely connected to the earth.
But despite the getting-close-to-apocalyptic topic, there’s a stunning image half down the page. Clicking on the Flckr photo credit led me to Mathias Liebling’s page, where I discovered another photo he posted (It’s worth clicking over to it so you can see it in its original size).
Instantly, the vibrant rows of vines, with the lone vineyard worker, took me to a happy place and provided a tiny reminder that there’s so many things bigger in this world than us. A rare moment of zen, if you will. Enjoy!
(Photo of a vineyard in Trentino, Alto Adige, Italy by Flckr user mathias764)
There are two trends NPR readers should know about when it comes to Champagne. First, that French sparkling wine is not just for special occasions anymore. Most people know this, but it’s a worthy and fun reminder that popping some bubbly on a Tuesday night is just as fun as popping it during a wedding celebration. The second, and one I’m a little more excited about, is introducing them to Grower Champagnes (see what I did there with the word “growing” in the headline?).
Grower champagnes are smaller producers who grow their own grapes and produce their own wines, unlike the big Champagne houses (think Dom Perignon, Krug, Veuve Cliquot, etc.) who usually purchase and blend grapes from different vineyards in order to create a consistent product from year to year.
To effectively tell this story, I interviewed David White (of Terroirist.com fame) about his new book But First, Champagne. The book pairs the history of Champagne, with easy-to-understand explanations of how its made and how to drink it, while profiling important producers in the region. As he told me about the grower champagnes:
“Most of these growers, who only account for about 5 percent of overall Champagne sales, eschew consistency in favor of singularity.”
That 5 percent statistic astounds me. The way the wine community talks about a lot of these producers, it feels like that number should be bigger. Instead it underscores how niche those of us obsessed with wine can be. And all the more reason, a broader audience should learn about these delicious wines.
Read the rest of the interview, perhaps while sipping some bubbly, or perhaps as a friend did while listening to the latest Tiny Desk concert with Joshua Bell (which surprisingly sounds better in this video than it did in person).
Last week I had the honor of meeting and having dinner with a man who leads his family’s 120-year-old winery. Among the highlights was this passing comment:
“Italians don’t drink very much wine,” Andrea Cecchi said in his thick yet soft-spoken Italian accent. “Only at dinner,” he paused for a bit, “and lunch.“
There were three of us sitting at the table with him and it made us chuckle. To Americans, that sounds like a lot of drinking, but we understood what he was trying to say. Wine drinking in Italy is very much a part of the meals and embedded in their routines – whereas here in the U.S.,
we’re more prone to drink before dinner, at dinner and then maybe again after dinner. We’ll find just about any excuse to uncork a bottle.
But it’s probably a good thing that Andrea sees Americans as drinking more wine: It’s his business. Together with his brother, he oversees Cecchi Winery, located in Castillino – one of the four municipalities located entirely within the Chianti region. It started four generations ago in 1893 and since the early 1900s, the winery has focused on bringing their wine to international mass markets.
Some of their finest wines come from the premier Chianti Classico DOCG, which
on Sept. 24 celebrated its 300th anniversary as the world’s first designated wine region. To celebrate, Andrea was here in Washington, D.C., to present a magnum of his family’s Cecchi
Riserva di Famiglia Chianti Classico to the Italian Embassy.
Producing wine from these historic grounds was a visible sense of pride to Andrea, as he pointed to the black rooster – the official designation that the wine is from Chianti – on the label of a few of the bottles he brought for us to try.
During dinner we tasted five of his wines: Two from Chianti and two from Maremma, which is southwest of Tuscany (and Florence) and along the Mediterranean coast. Maremma is its own separate wine region, but it’s a common place for Chianti producers to buy more grapes in the years when their Chianti vines don’t yield enough fruit.
The Cecchi Winery is among the leading producers to recognize Maremma’s value not just as a place for extra grapes and started bottling a line called La Mora, which includes a Vermentino and a Sangiovese. They were bright food-friendly wines with wonderful acidity. The Chianti Classico we tasted had more of the rustic charm I associate with traditional Italian red wines, while the Chianti Riserva improved upon the Classico with a beautiful depth. All four wines I’d certainly seek out again and would want to enjoy with a table full of friends.
The fifth wine, called Coevo, is a blend of both regions and composed of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot. It’sdark and brooding with big fruit and big silky tannins that give you a refined elegance. With only 13.5 percent alcohol, it stays true to its old-world traditions yet takes on a new world appeal. And that’s the reason Andrea and his brother began producing this wine. Coevo, which Andrea said translates to “contemporary,” symbolizes their efforts to be a wine of the present among the international market with an eye to the future.
This modern thinking, however, isn’t just about a single bottle of wine. It’s in the fabric of the
company itself. A quick glance at their website shows off their modern facilities, their sustainability efforts and their work in helping the entire Chianti region innovate.
After four generations, naturally Andrea and his brother’s children are destined to carry the company into the future. Right?! No, said Andrea. Only one of them is currently interested in being in the wine business and Andrea said there’s no pressure for the others to join. He’s satisfied that the fifth generation is secure.
“In Chianti, we have a lot of dust,” he said, motioning a sweeping gesture off his shoulders to emulate how it can settle in one place. To be successful, he explained, they need managers who aren’t part of their family, but can work closely with them to help wipe away that “dust” and keep the business moving in a forward direction.
New blog post alert! I originally started writing this for this blog after a couple friends asked me how I know so much about wine. But then the kind folks at the Pouring Points blog at the the Napa Valley Wine Academy liked the idea – so I expanded it and voila!
The truth is – I’m still learning. But I discovered through reading, being active on social media, finding like-minded friends and ultimately building my confidence levels, it wasn’t too difficult to do. So here are some of the tricks and resources I’ve used to jump start my journey. If you’re just starting out, I hope they’re helpful to you, too!