Friday, July 31, 2009

A wine consumer's precise guide: taking it green

Green Wines Today In California over 5% of the state’s total plantings of wine grapes (over 12,000 acres) are now certified organic by third party organizations like California Certified Organic Farms (CCOF). In a recent study of organic growers in Napa Valley, I found that percentage to be closer to +7%. Some industry analysts have it that over 90% of vineyards on the West Coast are now farmed sustainably, with or without any certification. The days of routine, rampant use of chemicals, it seems, are long gone, and practices like cover cropping to establish organic mulching and foster beneficial insects, and canopy management to minimize mildewing and other diseases, have become pretty much standard practice in the U.S. and around the world. All this is good news, but the fact of the matter is that the most prestigious organic growers -- like Napa Valley’s Frog’s Leap and Rubicon, Chapoutier and Ostertag in France, and Alois Lageder in Italy -- have never aspired to “save the world” agendas. They grow green for their own reasons; and the reasons you should drink their wines are ultimately the same as that of any other wine: because they are among the finest, most distinctive wines in the world, precisely because they are made from clean, healthy vines bearing the most expressive grapes.

Are Organic Wines More Expensive? According to the findings of Mark Neal of Jack Neal & Son, who over the past twenty years has steadily converted his vineyards to become the largest grower of certified organic grapes in Napa Valley (over 1,900 acres), it is a myth that farming organically costs more than farming conventionally (with chemicals) or sustainably (synthetic products applied only when necessary). The cost of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides more than offset the cost of the increased labor organic farming requires. If anything, the reason why many of the finest organic and Biodynamic wines seem pricey is because it is no coincidence that many green conscious producers are also among the best producers, working ultra-premium properties and applying handcraft techniques. Be as it may, there are perfectly fine, delicious organic wines to be found in virtually all price categories, from $10-$20 to $200-up, and from all over the world.

THE BASIC CATEGORIES Buying organic wines can be problematic, since certifications vary, and not all producers bottle their wines with any sort of organic indication on their labels. So for the concerned consumer’s information, here are the definitions of the basic types of organic wines to be found in your specialty stores and restaurants, followed by a list of some of the finest wines of their type that I have tasted over the past six months. Wines Made From Organic Grapes These are wines made from grapes farmed completely without the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers, soil fumigants, or other chemicals. In the U.S. certified organic grapes must meet standards established by the USDA’s National Organic Program NOP. In California even stricter standards are set by CCOF; stipulating requirements such as no bio-engineering or iodizing radiation, and encouraging the use of composting, cover cropping and beneficial insects. In France, and 79 other countries other than the U.S., an estimated 70% of the organic certification is administered by ECOCERT. In Italy, organically grown wines are labeled with the designation Viticoltura Biologica; and in Spain, Agricultura Ecologica. In Oregon, organically grown wines come with the seals of Oregon Tilth; in Washington St. the seals will say WSDA Certified Organic. In New Zealand, the leading certififying organization is Bio-Gro, and in Australia it is Australian Certified Organic.

Organic Wines In the U.S., Organic Wines must not only be made from 100% organically grown grapes, they must also be vinified totally without the use of added sulfites. The NOP specifies that even naturally occurring sulfites (found in every wine, organic or not) must be under 10 parts per million in an Organic Wine. Wines Made From Biodynamic Grapes Biodynamic wines are not only farmed organically, they must meet even higher standards of sustainability by following specified preparations that help connect the “dynamic” relationship between everything in the universe, biological and spiritual. Most of these principles are based upon the homeopathic farming methods established by an Austrian philosopher named Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s; and today, certified internationally by Demeter International (in the U.S., governed by the Demeter USA; and in France, by Biodyvin). While some of the specific preparations utilized (but never followed blindly) in Biodynamic viticulture seem strange (like the burying of manure stuffed cow horns in the vineyard, and teas mixing teas in water in a fashion to create a "vortex"), contemporary proponents are very comfortable with most of the practicalities, which produce bottom line results; such as use of on-site produced compost to enrich soil, horsetail to suppress mildew, horn silica to enhance leaf photosynthesis, the emphasis on ecosystem diversity, incorporation of animal life, and even cultivation according to “natural” cycles (i.e. solar and lunar calendars).

Biodynamic Wines Biodynamic Wines must be made from Biodynamic Grapes, while meeting higher standards of vinification defined primarily by use of natural (rather than cultured) yeasts, zero additives (like sugar, tannin and acid “adjustments,” and bacteria to start malolactic fermentation), limited use of added sulfites (for dry wines, less than 100 parts per million), and discouragement of oxygenation. Vegan Wines Wines meeting vegan standards must be vinified without the use of animal products; particularly filtering and fining agents such as egg whites, casein (a milk protein used to soften wine), gelatin (removes bitter phenolics) and isinglass (derived from fish swimbladders). Instead, vegan wines are typically clarified by non-animal products like bentonite clay.

EXCEPTIONAL ORGANIC & BIODYNAMIC WINES Look for the following certified organic or Biodynamic wines (many of these available online), in which you will also find the intense, exciting expressions of terroir and grape possible when wines are grown and vinified as such: Whites Frog’s Leap, Rutherford/Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (California; organic grapes) Ceago, Clear Lake Sauvignon Blanc (California; Biodynamic) Quivira, Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc (California; Biodynamic) Saracina, Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc (California; organic grapes) Patianna, Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc (California; Biodynamic) Source-Napa, Gamble Vineyard Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (California; organic grapes) Holmes, Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand; organic grapes) Pircas Negras, Torrontés (Argentina; organic grapes, vegan) Paul Dolan, Mendocino Chardonnay (California; organic grapes) Del Bondio, Napa Valley Chardonnay (California; organic grapes) Sky Saddle, Harms Vineyard Napa Valley Chardonnay (California; Biodynamic) Porter-Bass, Russian River Valley Chardonnay (California; Biodynamic) King Estate, Domaine Pinot Gris (Oregon; organic grapes) Domaine Leflaive, Macon-Verze (France; Biodynamic) Pierre Morey, Meursault (France; Biodynamic) Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre (Loire River, France; organic grapes) Francois Chidaine, Montlouis Clos du Breuil (Loire River, France; organic grapes) Nicolas Joly, Savennierès Les Clos Sacres (Loire River, France; Biodynamic) Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau, Vouvray (Loire River, France; Biodynamic) Domaine Ostertag, Pinot Blanc Barriques (Alsace, France; Biodynamic) Zind-Humbrecht, Pinot Gris (Alsace, France; Biodynamic) Alois Lageder, Benefizium Porer Pinot Grigio (Alto-Adige, Italy; Biodynamic) Meinklang, Grüner Veltliner (Austria; Biodynamic) Dirling, Riesling Grand Cru-Spiegel (Alsace, France; Biodynamic) Marc Kreydenweiss, Gewurztraminer (Alsace, France; Biodynamic) Ca’ del Solo, Muscat (California; Biodynamic)

Reds Paul Dolan, Mendocino Zinfandel (California; organic grapes) Quivira, Wine Creek Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel (California; Biodynamic) Tres Sabores, Napa Valley Zinfandel (California; organic grapes) Ceágo, Redwood Valley Camp Masuit Merlot (California; Biodynamic) Neal Family Vineyards, Rutherford/Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (California; organic grapes) Freemark Abbey, Sycamore Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (California; Biodynamic) Tres Sabores, Perspective Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon (California; organic grapes) Casa Barranca, Arts & Crafts Red (Central Coast, California; organic wine) Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Marcien (California; Biodynamic) Quintessa, Napa Valley (California; Biodynamic) Rubicon Estate, Napa Valley (California; organic grapes) Clos Roche Blanche, Touraine Cabernet (Loire Valley, France; organic grapes) Nuevo Mundo, Cabernet/Carmènére Reserva (Maipo Valley, Chile; organic grapes, vegan) Pircas Negras, Malbec (Famatina Valley, Argentina; organic, vegan) Organic Vintners, Mendocino Pinot Noir (California; organic grapes; vegan) Casa Barranca, Laetitia Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir (California; organic grapes) Alma Rosa, La Encantada Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (California; organic) Sokol Blosser, Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (Oregon; organic grapes) Cooper Mountain, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Reserve (Oregon; Biodynamic) Maysara, Jamsheed McMinnville/Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (Oregon; Biodynamic) Alois Lageder, Krafuss Pinot Noir (Italy; organic grapes) Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-Les-Beaune (France; organic grapes) Marcel Deiss, Burlenberg (Alsace; Pinot Noir; Biodynamic) Weingut Michlits, Pinot Noir (Burgenland/Osterreich, Austria; Biodynamic) Kawarau Estate, Central Otago Pinot Noir (New Zealand; organic grapes) San Vito, Chianti (Toscana, Italy; organic grapes, vegan) Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico Riserva (Italy; organic grapes) Meinklang, Zweigelt (Austria; Biodynamic) Organic Vintners, Tinto (La Mancha, Spain; organic grapes, vegan) Bodegas Iranzo, Vertvs Tempranillo (Spain; organic grapes) Mas Estela, Quindals (Emporda, Spain; organic grapes) M. Chapoutier, Crozes Hermitage Les Meysonnieres (Rhone Valley, France; Biodynamic) Gemtree, Tadpole McLaren Vale Shiraz (Australia; organic grapes) Ventura, Syrah (Lontué Valley, Chile; organic, vegan) Beckmen Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley Purisima (California; Biodynamic) Domaine de Villaneuve, Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Rhone Valley, France; organic grapes) Marc Kreydenweiss, Perrieres (Costieres de Nimes/Rhone Valley, France; Biodynamic) Rose Elizabeth ROSE, Napa Valley Pinot Noir Rose (California; organic grapes) Sparkling Pizzolato, Prosecco (Italy; organic grapes) Jeriko Estate, Mendocino Brut (California; organic grapes) Domaine Carneros, Brut (California; organic grapes)

Wine & Health : Wine as a Sexual Medicine

Skeptics who are not yet convinced about the health benefits should try wine as a sexual medicine, if they can believe the findings of the latest study suggesting that levels of sexual desire are higher in women who drink red wine in moderation compared to teetotalers or those drinking liquor.

The research was reported in the Journal of Sexual Medicine last week and was carried out by a team of (who else, but!) Italian doctors.

One theory put forward by these researchers who carried out the study is that the anti-oxidants found in red wine may improve sexual functioning by increasing blood flow to key areas of the body by widening the blood vessels, cautioning but nevertheless suggesting a potential relationship between red wine consumption and better sexuality.

The project, supposed to be the first of its kind examined red wine intake and the sexual function of 800 sexually healthy women between the age group of 18-50, at the University of Florence. They were split into three groups- one group drank one or two glasses, another group drank less than one glass and a third group didn't drink at all. Those drinking more than two glasses of wine were excluded from the study.

The participants answered a questionnaire called the Female Sexual Function index used by the doctors to assess sexual health of women. It includes 19 questions with a total score ranging between 2- 36, with higher scores meaning better functioning.

Those who drank one or two glasses of red wine a day scored an average of 27.3 points. Those who drank less than one scored 25.9, while non-drinkers scored 24.4.

According to the report published by the London Telegraph on Sunday, the findings are even more striking because the red wine drinkers were, on average, older than the other two groups, and age is generally associated with a declining sex drive.

#winelover tasting notes

Vintage – 2012
Variety – everybody who loves wine
Body – a strong, connected community that expresses itself through open minded social media and “real life” conversations and events
Color – red, white, rosé… all races, faiths, and nationalities
Terroir – soil rich in wine knowledge and story sharing, with roots around the globe
Nose – powerful sense of open social interaction, spreading wine love and interest
Mouth – English is our language. In an effort to be a truly open community, involving as many people as possible, this is the language our community uses for all postings
Style – soft and generous. Interesting conversations among fellow #winelovers, so please share your experiences. However, please be aware this is not a forum for spam or posting “link only” articles.

Our community exists to promote the love of wine through digital media, social and educational events, as well as a wide array of information sharing. Come one, come all, to share your food pairings, tasting notes, blog posts, and web articles. Invite your friends, family, neighbors, and workmates. And make sure you attend a #winelover hangout when one happens near to you. It’s an amazing experience that may change your #life!
We are people from around the world sharing a, invested in social media to facilitate greater communication, education, and promote wine based business for all facets of the wine industry, from vineyard to glass.

Join us… Enjoy us… Walk on the wine side!

Founder of the #winelover community – Institute of Masters of Wine candidate.  Combining his passion for wine with social media, he is judge at international wine competitions, wine educator and communicator – – – Twitter: @thewinehub

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mix & Match

No themes were in place this past wine wednesday, although a visit from my friend who works for TGIC imports would prove to be a mix & match of tastings from all over! TGIC imports a fantastic portfolio of international & domestic flavors. We tried the Montes Chardonnay Alpha from Chile. The fruit and finish on this wine was just delicious! Bright pear & apples, and a bit creamy with just enough minerality to balance it out. I will continue drinking this one through the summer!

I introduced a New Zealand Sauv Blanc that I found at Trader Joe's. It was an experiment buy but the bottle, and packaging seemed to say "Try Me!"

I think I may have enjoyed it the most, it was true to the New Zealand Style. Pale green hue, very light, but extra zesty. Lots of lime, peaches and grapefruit, with a great dry finish. I was pleasantly pleased for it's $9 price tag.

We finished our whites out with the Cosecha Tardia Late Harvest Chardonnay. This pick was part of our TGIC portfolio, from Argentina. "Late Harvest" implies the use of overly ripe grapes that adds more sugar to the wine. Really cool to taste because while it's structure was a full bodied chard, it's late harvest quality made it round out like a Riesling. A fantastic choice for an after dinner apertif.

A highlight out of the TGIC portfolio was the Kaiken Ultra 2006 Malbec from Argentina. Most of you know I am a bit partial towards a good malbec. The fruit in this bottle just bursts out from the glass to your mouth. Ripe dark blackberries, plum, dark cherries and spice all c
ome spilling out with a lightly tannic, fresh aromatic bouquet! A MUST TRY!

For more on TGIC wines visit

AUSTRALIA could become a "Third World wine producer"

AUSTRALIA could become a "Third World wine producer", with the prospect of losing all the huge gains made since the 1980s, the nation's leading wine commentator warns.

Winemaker, author, critic and wine show judge James Halliday issues the warning in his latest Australian Wine Companion 2010, launched today.

In the book Mr Halliday writes that the global recession, wine glut, exchange rate fluctuations, drought and the prospect of climate change is making the "future of the Murray Darling almost impossible to predict".

"Out of these and other issues, the view has emerged that the annual crush should be permanently reduced by up to 400,000 tonnes ... so 46,500ha have to be removed" he writes.

However, he said if the annual crush was cut while record low inflows into the Murray Darling became permanent, the worst case scenario would emerge.

"We (would) have removed 45,000ha from cool regions and suddenly find the Murray Darling's capacity has been permanently crippled.

"In this nightmare scenario all of the massive gains the industry has made since 1985 will evaporate, and - in wine terms - we would be a Third World producer."

Speaking to The Weekly Times this week at his Yarra Valley home, Mr Halliday said while he was unconvinced about the science of climate change, the continuing drought did not bode well.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Great Reason to Celebrate

Mark Anthony Brands and Santa Rita Wines wanted to throw a party – a launch party of one of their lines of wine that was getting a label redesign. So, on Thursday July 23rd, iYellow Wine Club, Le Germain and Mark Anthony Brands got together to celebrate the re-launch of the Santa Rita 120 line of wines. The venue was the very interesting and eclectic Thrush Holmes Empire, located in the Queen West Village area of Toronto and is the studio space dedicated to Thrush Holmes gallery of paintings. As you are walking along Queen towards the gallery, you are greeted with a very unassuming silver exterior with “THE” as the only word appearing on the building and three strips of neon lights to signify the entrance. Inside, the space is simple – a great way to showcase the artwork of Thrush Holmes – and you can hear a DJ playing around the corner making the atmosphere lively, entertaining and, obviously, a great place to re-launch a great wine.

As we walked through the door, Angela Aiello greeted us and said “You have to try the 120 Sauvignon Blanc – it’s AMAZING!” So, since that was pretty much right in front of us, we grabbed a glass and headed for it – Angela was right. The aromas and flavours were mostly grapefruit and lemon but with slight hints of tropical fruit and herbs. The winemaker had added in 2% of Semillon which is the likely contributor of the tropical fruit flavours of pineapple, mango and papaya but it was not overpowering and just added a slight complexity to a standard Sauvignon Blanc. Although the term “fruit bomb” tends to be associated with fruity red wines, this white wine could easily qualify for that term and at a price of $10.45 (Cdn) a bottle, it is a definite steal. The 120 Cabernet Sauvignon – the other wine being re-launched this evening – was another powerhouse of flavours and aromas. Berry fruit, leather, cloves and vanilla are almost perfectly balanced and meld together into an elegant finish. The Cabernet Sauvignon was a 2007 vintage and, based on what I tasted, I would give it another 6-9 months to reach optimum balance. Also priced at $10.45 (Cdn) a bottle, both of these wines are readily available at a variety of LCBO stores in Ontario.

Now, not only did Mark Anthony Brands bring along the 120 line of wines for the re-launch, they also brought along a few rare treats for us to enjoy. A couple of wines from the Reserva line, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Leyda Valley and a great red simply named Triple C were among the tops for the evening. The Reserva Sauvignon Blanc had this amazing yellow colour, which the white walls of the gallery picked up beautifully, with a very faint green hue around the rim of the glass. The aromas were citrus and passion fruit with a slight herbal hint as you start to sip the wine. The flavours are super concentrated and there is a pleasant acidity winding its way through the palate giving it freshness, firm structure and a lingering finish. At the other end of the white wine scale we find the Reserva Chardonnay which was an incredible combination of tropical fruit, grapefruit and then an underlying backbone of vanilla and hazelnut. This Chardonnay is elegant, wonderfully balanced, ready to enjoy and incredibly complex. Both wines in the Reserva line are priced at $13.95 (Cdn) a bottle and are readily available in a variety of LCBO stores in Ontario. From the Floresta line of wines, the truly interesting wine of the evening was a Sauvignon Blanc from the Leyda Valley. Leyda Valley is one of those newly discovered gems in the Chilean wine scene (much like Prince Edward County is to Ontario or Lodi is to California) and is located between the city of Santiago and the Pacific Ocean. Within 12 kilometers of the Pacific Ocean, the area has a cool enough climate, with maritime influences and summer breezes, to make it an exceptional area for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Riesling. The Sauvignon Blanc shows that perfectly with strong citrus notes, floral, kiwi and gooseberry. It is elegant and concentrated, crispy, zingy and, quite simply, reflects the best that this particular grape can be. This particular wine is a Vintages release through the LCBO and is available at $19.95 (Cdn) a bottle.

Although most of the outstanding wines of the evening were white wines, there was one particular red wine that stood out for any of us lucky enough to try a sip of it. Triple C, which is a combination of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, is an interesting take on a red blend. From the Maipo Valley in Chile, this wine shows intense aromas of black currants, flora, tar, chocolate, vanilla and a little bit of cloves. Although the palate is strong and intense, it is also elegant in its structure, has great balance and a wonderfully persistent finish. Only available through Private Order with Mark Anthony Brands, this wine is worth every penny of the $49.95 (Cdn) price per bottle.

Now, to compliment these wines, Angela Aiello worked with Mark Moffatt from Le Germain to come up with some delicious little appetizers to pair with the food. Two of my favourite combinations were a mini potato rosti topped with tomato, onion and cheese and a mini lemon meringue tart. The Potato Rosti worked beautifully with the Floresta Leyda Sauvignon Blanc and the mini Lemon Meringue tart was a perfect pairing with the Reserva Chardonnay.

Just an author’s note to end this – If you are not in Ontario, Santa Rita wines is distributed to 70 countries around the world. All you need to do is visit and click on World Distributors to find an importer near you.

Friday, July 24, 2009

And the top 5 quotes are...

Thanks for the participation! I really appreciated your help.
Here are the top 5 quotes (votes here, by e-mail, OWC, etc) in the order that they were voted (from more to less):
1) Small people talk about things, average people talk about ideas, and great people talk about wine. – Peter Lanberg
2) Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them. - Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
3) Always carry a corkscrew and the wine shall provide itself. - Basil Bunting
4) Wine improves with age. The older I get, the better I like it. – Anonymous
5) What is better than to sit at the end of the day and drink wine with friends, or substitutes for friends? - James Joyce
We will only make T-shirts of the 2 top quotes and we need a little extra help from you...
Vote in only 1 quote this time please.
Thank you so much again!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Quote for the new T-shirt. Please vote!

We are creating a new T-shirt for TWH and we need your help to decide which quotes we should use. Choose the ones that you like the most (up to 3 please).

1) Alcohol, if taken in sufficient quantities, can give one the illusion of drunkenness. – Oscar Wilde
2) I have enjoyed great health at a great age because every day since I can remember I have consumed a bottle of wine except when I have not felt well. Then I have consumed two bottles. - Bishop of Seville
3) She gets to keep the chalet and the Rolls, I want the Montrachet. - Anonymous
4) What is better than to sit at the end of the day and drink wine with friends, or substitutes for friends? - James Joyce
5) When asked what wine he liked to drink, he replied, "That which belongs to another." - Diognes Laertius
6) When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading. - Henny Youngman
7) My grandmother is over eighty and still doesn't need glasses. Drinks right out of the bottle. - Henny Youngman
8) I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day. – Frank Sinatra
9) Consuming wine in moderation daily will help people to die young as late as possible. - Dr Philip Norrie
10) Always carry a corkscrew and the wine shall provide itself. - Basil Bunting
11) Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut. - Ernest Hemingway
12) Wine improves with age. The older I get, the better I like it. – Anonymous
13) I spent ninety percent of my money on wine, women and song and just wasted the other ten percent. - Ronnie Hawkins
14) Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them. - Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
15) Small people talk about things, average people talk about ideas, and great people talk about wine. – Peter Lanberg

Or... you can suggest one…

Your help is greatly appreciated.

Thank you so much!

Friday, July 17, 2009


Since you are a True Wine Lover (you have to be, if you are a member of The Wine Blog's audience) and live somewhere between New York, Boston and Philadelphia, you owe it to yourself to attend the legendary "TANGLEWOOD WINE AND FOOD CLASSIC".
Created and run by "Wine Legend" Denis Toner and his wife Susan, who also run the Nantucket Wine and Food Classic (always in May), the yearly event is so popular most seminars normally sell out. The most popular event and one not to miss is the Grand Tasting (300 wines and food from thirty restaurants and vendors), which tales place from 12-4pm on Saturday, August 8th
Please visit or find the Tanglewood link at to see the complete August 6th to August 8th schedule.
Tanglewood is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
You never know who you may run into at Tanglewood, including James Taylorand Arlo Githrie.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Words are hard to describe the praise and admiration I have for Adam Strum and his staff from the Wine Enthusiast, for staging "TOAST OF THE TOWN", New York's true premier consumer food and wine event.The lavish event took place at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater,named after the philanthropist, who donated $100 million dollars to Lincoln Center.The setting was majestic. Lincoln Center is a cultural mecca that is visually and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The grandeur of the room was only equaled by the fantastic musical sounds of the Global Village Artists Jazz Quartet, whose music was played throuhout the evening. I am from New Orleans, originally, and am keen on jazz quartets. The band was so good, they could play jazz seven nights a week in New Orleans French Quarter (Vieux Carre).Something about the music made me thirsty, so,I waundered aimlessly searching out the vendors for a beverage that fit the New Orleans music that was playing in my mind. Imagine finding a lone vendor generously pouring my favorite and once outlawed alcoholic beverage, Absinthe.The drink fit in perfectly with the music and my evening began.The music intoxicated me, as well as the smell of freshly prepared food. I had to prepare myself for the five hundred plus wines that were being poured, so, unlike my industry trade wine tastings, I wasn't forced to spit tonight.I needed food in my stomach to give me strength to try the hundreds of wines that await me this enchanted evening.Where to start?Well, the Diver Sea Scallop over Caviar Mousse from Tribeca's Thalassa restaurant (179 Franklin Street) was a perfect warm-up. Thirty of New York's finest restaurants prepared their wine matching 'signature dishes' for this event.I only have twenty-nine more restaurants to go.Throughout the evening I sampled food that would make Julia Child smile.The true standouts were Kellaari Taverna's(119 West 44th) Fire-roasted Baby Lamb Riblets; Brasserie Cognac's (1740 Broadway) Lobster Bisque; Allegretti's (46 West 22nd) Sardines 'In Soor' a la Riveria mixture; Center Cut's (44 West 63rd) Steak Tartare with Brandt Beef Tenderloin; Tolache's (251 West 50th) Tacos of Braised Brisket, Tomatillo Salsa and Avocado and soon to open, Accademia di Vino (1081 Third Avenue) Etruscan Farro Salad.

The evning was tastefully choregraphed to expand your palate through food and wine, while socializing between bites and sips. Now was the time to venture into the "World of Wine".With over five hundred wines ahead of me, I had to figure out how to navigate the wine scene efficiently.With over fourteen hundred people attending this event, the logical approach was to talk to my neighbors and get recomendations. What I pleasently learned was the crowd was wine savvy and knew,decriptively, about the wines they recommended. What I also learned was that this event has more wines that are affordable to the consumer than many of the events that only sample the higher end wines. Many attendees told me that they attend this event, specifically,so they can taste all of the wines that they have interest in and make a decision whether to buy the wines or not. All of this without buying a single bottle of wine.I admire that approach. It makes the price od admission a true bargain.I started my quest with a glass of Cristal champagne, from the recommendations I received. Small bubbles and a nutty, elegant flavor made this 'Cult Classic' a true crowd pleaser.Normally, my approach is simple: Sparkling wines first, followed by whites, roses and reds. After this I search for ports and dessert wines. If I am still standing, I will end the evening with a spirit like limoncello or grappa.The choices at the TOAST OF THE TOWN fit that bill.There were so many wines that stood out and were affordable that I believe the best way to share this information with you is to list the vineyards that consistently produce excellent wines, rather than specific anmes and vintage years that I tasted. These are the wineries I liked the most, both for value and quality:

Abadia Retuerta - Batasiolo - Beaulieu Vineyard - Berberana - Bodega Norton - Bonterra - Brancott - Campo Viejo - Castello Banfi - Chateau de la Gardine - Clos de Tart - Clos du Bois - Cloudy Bay - Domaines Ott - Gloria Ferrer - Hess Collection - Joseph Drouhin - Louis Jadot - Marques de Riscal - Masi - Rocce delle Macie - Santa Sofia - Sequoia Grove - St. Francis -Sterling - Tedeschi - Tranchero - Wente - Zonin

Choose any of the above wineries and I am sure that you will find a wine you will like, both for price and quality. All of the vineyards produce excellent wines and information about them can be found at your local wine shop or on the that I have had so many wines, it was time to move towards spirits.As I stated earlier, at the end of meals I like to drink a glass of Linoncello (always store the bottle in the freezer) for digestion, as was the case at the TOAST OF THE TOWN.Laird and Company (NJ) poured Casani Linoncello, which was absolutely wonderful. My relatives are from the Isle of Capri, own a restaurant named La Capannina , and once exported Limoncello to the states years ago. That is the reason why I like Linoncello so much.And what goes with Limoncello? Desserts,of course.being the glutton that I am, I couldn't pass up dessert. I had quite a few choices,but, my favorite dessert was the mini-cupcakes from the Cupcake Shop in Manhattan.To top all of that off and to end the evening, I had a decadent cup of Serendipity's (225 East 60th) famous Frozen Hot Chocolate.I was in Heaven!!What a night to remember.!!One that I will remind my readers to experience in 2010.TOAST OF THE TOWN is money well spent.I can't wait until next year, so, I can ask you "WHAT WINES DID YOU LIKE?'.
Posted by Philip S. Kampe 'Cheesy Concepts'

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Organic wine & food matching: Neal Cabernet Sauvignon & braised lamb with mint gremolata

“When I told my dad we were going to take the company organic,” says Mark Neal, “he drove over to Sonoma and came back with a tray of rotten apples and peaches and said, ‘this is how our grapes will look when you grow organic.’”

Not to be dissuaded, Mark initiated the transition of vineyards owned or managed by Jack Neal & Son – established in 1968, and at nearly 1,900 acres, the largest single vineyard management company in Napa Valley – from conventional to organic grape growing in 1984. Jack Neal passed away in 1994, but not before seeing most of their vineyards accredited by California Certified Organic Farmers (i.e. CCOF) by 1991.

Today, with over 1,800 acres of vineyards fully certified, Jack Neal & Son is by far the largest grower of organic wine grapes in Napa Valley. About 1% of these grapes go into wines bottled under the family’s own label, Neal Family Vineyards (the winery established on Howell Mountain in 2001). Otherwise, the Neals work vineyards for no less than 60 growers, supplying grapes to some 72 wineries.

The sheer size of the Neals’ operation begs the questions: can any vineyard in Napa Valley be farmed organically; and if so, why not? currently puts the total acreage of grapes planted in the Napa Valley AVA at 43,000; just over 7% of which now has some sort of organic or Biodynamic® certification. “I honestly don’t know exactly why more growers in Napa Valley aren’t organic,” says Neal. It can’t be the cost, because when Mark Neal tracked eight of his vineyards transitioning from conventional to organic farming between 2005 and 2008, he found that “in seven of the eight ranches, the costs of organic farming were lower than conventional farming by an average of $6,000… the ‘high cost’ of organic farming is a myth.”

Like others, Mark Neal was motivated early on simply because “I found the idea of synthetic, possibly harmful residue on grapes and vines unsavory… it’s always been a health concern for my family and for our employees. But really, organic is also simply better for the environment, and I don’t think that on the whole there is any argument over the fact that organic practices tend to enhance the inherent and distinctive aspect of vineyards.”

“Like organic foods,” says Neal, “organically grown wines simply taste better, which is why French organic wines, for example, show up consistently among the top ten best wines in any region, being cited in magazines as the most innovative, interesting and personalized products around.”

The Neals produce elegantly scaled Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah, but their true forté is Cabernet Sauvignon, which are world class across the board. Among their stable of seven Cabernet Sauvignons are two each carrying Howell Mountain and Napa Valley AVAs, and one each from Rutherford, Mount Veeder, and Atlas Peak. Our Organic Wine Match of the Day, the 2005 Neal Family, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (about $45), is a modern day 100% varietal classic: a seamless, velvet textured blend of Howell Mountain, Rutherford, Atlas Peak and Mount Veeder grown fruit. The feel of the wine is thick and viscous, with layerings of sweet black fruit, cedar and peppermint, tinged with smoky, pungent, mocha espresso-like qualities.

There are few things that go as naturally with a smooth Napa Valley style Cabernet Sauvignon like the Neals’ as lamb and mint; since both gamey and green-leafy sensations mingle effortlessly with eucalyptus qualities inherent in the grape. Lamb is expensive, but a great resource for recipes utilizing lower priced cuts of meat is Molly Stevens’ All About Braising. Since you need to buy the book to reap Stevens’ wisdom, for now you might make do with this online recipe for braised lamb shanks with mint gremolata and spring vegetables provided by Bon Appétit.


Ignore the Name and Try this Wine: “B I T C H,” the Wine by Philip S. Kampe

You can’t help noticing the bottle on the shelf. With a pink neck and bold black label emphasizing  the word, “BITCH,” it’s had to ...