As you may have noticed, Eric Asimov's column (and blog post) today focuses on merlot. He even mentions a locally produced bottling -- Lenz 2000 Old Vines Merlot, which I think is one of the best to be had (though pricey at $55 or so). His blog post highlights mainly California merlot, which if you ask me is like talking about the fresh seafood in Indiana.
Remember this: Merlot is not dead. She just doesn't live in California.
Living on Long Island and writing so much about its wines, you'd expect me to be fully in merlot's court, but the fact is that there is a lot of bad merlot being made here as well.
On second thought, maybe "bad" is the wrong word...bland, boring and uninspired may be more accurate. And this is obviously subjective. There are obviously people buying and enjoying these wines, or no one would bother to make them.
As Eric says, "Bad merlot will most likely always be with us." But we certainly shouldn't write off the variety based on the stuff that I often describe as "This tastes like red wine. Nothing more. Nothing less." Don't even get met started on over-oaked, over-manipulated renditions from the left coast.
It's certainly not like merlot is the only variety that has been bastardized, over-manipulated or dummied down to the point that any and all varietal character is gone. I'm not going to name names, but certain states probably have many wine drinkers convinced that chardonnay tastes like a two-by-four slathered with butter. Should we hate chardonnay becuase of those flabby ridiculous wines? I think not. Sorry ABCers. Let me open some unoaked chardonnay for you. You'd you probably have no idea what chardonnay actually tastes like.
Should we loath the syrah-heavy blends of the Rhone Valley because of the simple, jammy and sweet shiraz bottlings with cute labels from down under? Not a chance.
Merlot, in this sense, is like any other wine grape -- you have to taste through a lot of rocks to find that little gem. But hey, people like rocks and you're one of them, drink on. There's no room for snobbery here. Drink what you like. But let's not bash an entire variety shall we?
Okay, the end of my little rant. Looking for a gem of a merlot? Get your hands on any of the following:
You have to hand it to Stormhoek, a South African winery -- when it comes to marketing, they certainly march to the beat of their own drummer. Marketing disruption they call it.
Instead of using any of the traditional methods for getting the word out about their wines, they have decided to provide wine for 100 Geek Dinners throughout the United States to introduce them to the U.S. market. These dinners will be hosted by the people behind the best blogs, forums and websites around.
And, as you may have guessed already, I'll be hosting one of these dinners, along with my in laws, at their 18th Century home in Schoharie, NY on May 20.
Take an old house, add some fresh wine (I understand they have Budweiser-esque "drink by" dates on certain whites), throw in a bunch of wine lovers and what do you get?
A Stormhoek Geek Dinner...and a whole lot of fun.
Check back the week after the party for a full round up.
We finally did it. I just put my application in the mail to join The Golden Earthworm Organic Farm's 2006 CSA program. We're actually sharing a share with some friends of ours (Matt and Tara), just to see how we like it and to make sure we don't have too much food. Matt, who used to live in the Hudson Valley has some experience with CSA programs up there and he seems to think that sharing a share will be more than enough for us.
I'd like to thank our local Stop & Shop grocery story for making this move neccessary. Their produce is beyond awful -- flavorless, often well on its way to spoiled and just plain disgusting.
This summer, instead of being forced to eat cardboard-like vegetables...we'll get fresh, organically grown produce. I can't wait.
Despite what so many winemakers might lead you to believe, rose wines, also known as "blush" in some circles, needn't (and I'd argue shouldn't) be sweet and syrupy like the ocean of ubiquitous white zinfandel coming out of California.
As Beau would say -- Real Men Drink Pink. I drink rose, partially because I have to review all the local renditions but also because I enjoy many of them. I particularly like the ones made locally from cabernet franc grapes. But more on that another day.
Wolffer Estate 2005 Rose ($14) is made in a dry style but is sure to appeal to white zin and more serious wine drinkers alike. More salmon-orange than pink, the nose reminds me of fresh picked peaches and red cherries.
Made with 48% merlot, 39% chardonnay, 7.8% cabernet franc and 5.2% cabernet sauvignon, it's fuller on the palate than I prefer, but fine acidity and a gentle zing of CO2 bring some balance. Flavors similar to the nose — peach and cherry — are joined by a discernable lime character on the finish that makes this wine a good pair for Caribbean or even lighter Mexican fare. Fish tacos anyone?
The inclusion of 39% chardonnay seems rather unique, but Wolffer's winemaker, Roman Roth, makes that decision in most years to bring acidity to the wine.
To kick off the journey over at Wine Sediments, I tasted some excellent sparkling wine from Westport Rivers in Westport, Massachusetts. I expect that I'll taste a wide range of wines (grapes, styles and quality) throughout this virtual tour, but our first stop couldn't have been better.
Hey guess what? I'm not the only one talking up New York wine.
I finally got my latest Wine Spectator in the mail (a hearty thank you to all the local winemakers, fellow bloggers and readers who apparently get theirs before me and alerted me to the New York-heavy content this month) and I think the New York coverage, spearheaded by Mitch Frank (who I happen to know reads LENNDEVOURS and who I've met in person recently) is nicely done. Mitch is a great guy and writer, and I for one am glad to have him covering the NY wine scene for WS.
Now on to the scores given to NY wines.
First, let me say that I think they did a good job of pulling many of Long Island's best wines out and highlighting them, including the small-production 2003 cabernet sauvignon from Roanoke Vineyards. For that young a wine to score so well with all of the 2001s just shows its potential. I expect the 2004 grand vintage chadonnay from Paumanok to improve dramatically in coming years as well.
But the fact that not one wine (not one) from New York state garnered at least a 90 score seems to supports the locally held belief that there is a ceiling for scores from the WS. That's why so few wineries are represented -- I'm guessing that several wineries didn't bother submitting samples because of the percieved ceiling.
I know that WS does all of its tastings blind, but if I'm not mistaken, they are aware of the region they are tasting. To me, that isn't truly blind and makes it easy for a publication to artificially lower the ratings of a particular region. I'm not saying that there is or isn't a pre-determined score that local wines can attain from WS, but I've tasted some of the wines that they give 90-92 and they can't hold a candle to the best Long Island wines. Period.
I've written before about the wide range of cabernet franc styles one will find while touring Long Island. Some are light and fruity, some are spicier, some are hefty and brooding...but all are aromatic, which is one of the things I like most about this variety.
If you've visited Long Island's North Fork or been reading LENNDEVOURS very long, you're already somewhat familiar with Raphael. Not only do I enjoy their sauvignon blanc, merlot and beautiful tasting room and grounds, winemaker and managing director Richard Olsen-Harbich contributes to this blog.
Oh, and you could say that this Raphael 2004 Cabernet Franc ($18) is a preview of my own bottling, because I have a feeling my wine will have a similar style.
Fermented 100% in stainless steel (at 70 degrees) this ruby-colored wine offers the aromatic qualities you'd expect...fresh red cherry, violets and subtle herbal qualities.
The palate is light bodied and fresh, with cherry flavor that leans toward cherry soda (without the sugary sweetness of course) because of its tongue-tingling acidity. The tannins are low and I'd recommend drinking this wine within the next few years, preferably with food. I can probably even handle a slight chill, making it a nice wine for summer parties and grilled foods.
Where are the Long Island BYOB restaurants? I never really thought much about this until Nena and I visited our friends Paul and Sara in Philly, the land of BYO resturants. We had a great dinner at Azafran and what a joy it was to bring our own wine.
Both are awesome, by the way. Great food. And not corkage fee at all.
Do any of my local readers know of any? Please share.
I'm particularly interested because, as you all know, I love Long Island wine and so few restaurants, even those in Long Island wine country offer good local wine lists. And if they do have good bottles, most of the markups are ludicrious (considering I know the wholesale prices that are the maximum the restaurant paid).
She discusses the influx of money into the Long Island wine region and feels that it's a natural part of Long Island's progression as a wine region. The 33 year old region is simply growing up if you ask me.
As you may or may not have noticed, April was an extremely busy month here at LENNDEVOURS. Beyond the home rennovations and busy day job, I was also working on an exciting wine/writing project...one that I still can't talk about. The combination led to far too few New York wines being tasted and reviewed and far too few posts about the happenings and trends in the local wine industry.
But, the final deadline for the big project was yesterday, and I look forward to getting back to my usual at-least-once-a-day posting schedule. I've got a lot of wines to tell you about, so get ready.
Saturday, I fired up my smoker for the very first time. Her maiden voyage if you will.
Around noon, with my spare ribs trimmed, slathered and rubbed, I fired up the chimney starter and got the charcoal and wood chunks (hickory) ready in the bottom of the Weber.
I'll tell you what, I obviously don't have a lot of experience with different smokers, but this thing is almost fool-proof. Once I had everything set up (talk about mise en place...lots to do preparing for a smoking session), it was largely mindless. With the water pan (which holds a gallon of water) keeping the temperature fairly constant, I didn't have adjust the vents much at all.
And as you can see here, I was right in that 225-degree sweet spot and was there for much of the six hour cook.
I will admit, shamefully, that I'm not usually much of a rib eater. Perhaps it was just the vast amount of bad, largely meatless ribs I've had in my life. I have always said that chicken is a much better vehicle for bbq sauce (when you're eating ribs that are thing on meat, it's all about the sauce, right?). But, by inviting John and Al over for the BBQ, I had some experienced rib lovers on hand. Plus, Nena loves em too.
Robert of WhiteTrashBBQ fame gave me some basic recipes and guidelines for cooking using the Weber, but of course I changed the rub recipe some because I just can't help myself. I used less regular sweet paprika and added Spanish smoked to make up the difference. Instead of onion flakes, I used some dried minced shallots I had on hand. And I omitted the cayenne because my guests have tender tongues. At right you can see the ribs just before they went into the smoker.
Again, once everything is set up and the smoker is closed, it's really pretty easy. I checked it once an hour (just the temperature, I did a good job of fighting my incessant urge to open and peek inside), did three hours on the smoker, took them out, wrapped them in foil with a little apple juice, bourbon, dry rub mixture, and cooked them like that for two hours, and then for one last hour without the foil before serving.
The finished product, I'm proud to say, looked great and was deemed "very very very good" by our guests.
But, just as with any other cooking endeavor, I wasn't completely satisfied (and never will be).
So, what will I do differently the next time?
First, I'll track down some apple, peach or cherry wood. I didn't read until after cooking that few use hickory by itself and I can see why...it resulted in a bit of a raw wood flavor I think. No one else seemed to mind though.
Secondly, I really want to use some different stuff in the rub. While tasty, I think some other spices (allspice, cumin and cinnamon) would really be interesting. I can't help myself...I never make anything the same way twice (which is good and bad of course).
As for drinks...I picked up a few bottles of bargain zinfandel (12-bucks or cheaper). The best was Gnarley Head Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel ($12). I didn't take notes, but it was definitely the best of the lot...intense, peppery and delicious with the 'cue.