The 2017 Rosés Are Coming

Rosé season is coming up gang!

7981_content_roseActually, there really isn’t a “rosé season” per se; that’s just something we created in our collective minds. As if we can’t drink anything pink unless it’s spring or summer and the sun is shining. Nonsense! You probably drink white wine in the winter, right?! And many white wines are refreshing, just like rosé, and can be even lighter on the palate.

What is indisputable is that the new crop of rosés from the 2017 vintage are being released as we speak. Lots of pictures of pretty pink and peachy juice can be seen on Instagram, wobbling down the bottling line. It seems that anyone who has a wine label these days, considers it an obligation to make rosé.

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2017 Long Meadow Ranch Anderson Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir coming down the bottling line.

Now that there is a veritable plethora of rosé options on your local wine retailer’s shelf, how in the world are you supposed to you decide? Besides the obvious strategies of buying by price and label (you know who you are), here are some things to consider:

DRY OR SWEET. Are you looking for a dry rosé or a sweet rosé? Generally speaking, most quality rosés on the market today are dry. If you think you are looking for a sweet rosé, do you really mean sweet, or do you just mean “fruity”?  If you want something sweet as cotton candy, then ask for that.  If you want something with lots of tropical fruit, talk about it that way. If you favor floral, citrus and mineral characteristics, use those words. This will help get what you want.

THE COLOR OF ROSÉ.  It’s tempting to choose a rosé based on color, but don’t put too much emphasis on that. Darker rosés somehow give the impression that they are sweeter (Hey Kool-Aid!), which is not necessarily the case.  More intensely colored rosés do, however, generally have more body because the juice of the grapes spends more time mingling with the skins.  (The skin of the grape is what gives a wine color; in all but a very few cases, the pulp inside the grape is clear.) Grape variety can effect color as well. You would expect a rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon to be darker than a rosé made from Pinot Noir, because the skin of the Cabernet grape is darker. A good start is to think about a red wine grape that you like, and try a rosé made from that grape.

METHOD TO THE MADNESS.  If you want to get a little advanced, ask about how the rosé was made.  In the Direct Press method, grapes are gently pressed until skins from the grapes turn the juice a pinkish color. When the desired color is attained, the juice is transferred to a tank to rest. Direct Press rosés commonly highlight floral characteristics and are delicate and aromatic. In the Saignée method, rosé is produced during the process of making red wine.  At a very early stage in the red winemaking process (2 hours to a full day), some of the juice, which is starting to develop color, is bled off to make rosé. The remaining juice and grape skins will continue on to make red wine. These rosés tend to be less aromatic, rounder, and fruitier in flavor. Some rosés use a combination of the two methods.

DOES AGE MATTER? Rosé wines can age. Let’s just get that out of the way so the wine geeks don’t cry foul on me. There are rosés from the Bandol region of France that age well, Spanish Rioja rosés that age well, and certainly rosé Champagnes that stand the test of time. Most rosés you’ll find in your local store, however, are going to be from the previous year’s vintage (2017), or one year older (2016).  Many of the rosé wines that are built to last will cost you more than $25. The vast majority of rosés under $25 are made to be drunk young and fresh, within a year or two of the vintage date.

Whether you are looking for a wine to sip by the pool, quaff on the porch, enjoy with a plate of salumi and olives, or pair with a more serious meal, there is a rosé out there for you. Cheers!

High on High Street

IMG_0793The first stop on my latest wine road trip was to the home of the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Soon after I arrived and checked in to the Kimpton Monaco, I made my way past the vendors hawking championship gear on Market Street, towards High Street on Market.

High Street on Market is part of the High Street Hospitality Group, which also owns a.kitchen+bar and Fork in Philadelphia, and High Street on Hudson in New York. I have eaten at Fork, which was excellent, and High Street on Market is Fork’s more casual cousin.  High Street is open all day, from coffee and pastries to cocktails and pasta. My memory of Fork was that everything was exceptionally flavorful, so I was ready to have my taste buds roused once again.

I ordered a glass of Folk Machine Chenin Blanc, a Loire-inspired white from Mendocino, California, from the all-American wine list while I looked over the menu. Mineral-driven, citrusy dry white wines are my jam, so this was the perfect choice to fire up my appetite. A lot of things on the menu sounded to me as if they wouldn’t go well together, so I solicited the help of my server. Once he convinced me that it was okay to eat chow-chow alongside wild boar ragu, I was ready to order.  I started with the sunchokes, a dish from the section of the menu called “snacks”.  Sunchokes are one of those things that call to me from any restaurant menu. A root vegetable from the sunflower family, they have an umami flavor and a crunchy bite. These came roasted, with a texture that reminded me of eggplant, with slices of crisp, raw sunchoke mingled in.  Delicious.

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Clockwise: Crispy Broccoli, Pasta with Wild Boar Ragu, Sunchokes

My selection from the “plates” part of the menu arrived with my sunchokes. I chose the Crispy Broccoli with Chow-Chow and Scallion. The dish arrived looking like a giant tempura chia tree but the combination of flavors was so addicting that it was difficult to put my fork down. Chow-chow is a sort of fermented relish and it balanced out the lightly fried crunchiness of the broccoli very well. I took a break from my broccoli to order a glass of red wine in anticipation of my pasta course. This time I chose a spicy Cabernet Franc, in keeping with the Loire-inspired theme, from Ravines winery in the Finger Lakes, NY.

My pasta dish was Burnt Grains Campanelle, which is a bell-shaped pasta made from burnt wheat. The nutty-flavored pasta was dressed in wild boar ragu and parmesan. The dish was really rich, perfectly seasoned, and ridiculously flavorful. I overheard the ladies next to me talking about how their pastas had more flavor than most pastas. If I had heard that at any other time, I may have rolled my eyes, but as I dug in to my Campanelle, I knew exactly what they meant.

You may have noticed that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so I didn’t even deign to look at the dessert menu. Instead I finished my glass of wine and took the long way back to the hotel, to walk off my very filling but heavenly tasting meal.

High Street On Market

308 Market Street Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215)625-0988

On Corked Wine, and Trusting Your Instinct

I’ll try to keep this short. I don’t want to belabor the point, and there’s probably 1,000 articles on the topic already.
Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 12.48.10 PMI had an experience with corked wine this past week that made me question my professional integrity. Actually, I didn’t really question my credibility (I mean, sh*t happens) but I was irritated that I missed that one of the wines in my bag was corked. I was tasting with a restaurant account and the wine director called it out before I could even get my nose out of the glass. I must have had an inclination, because I lingered over the aromas longer than usual, but I wasn’t confident enough about it to speak up. Much of deciphering if a wine is corked or not is trusting your instincts, and that’s where I went wrong. I mean, if I sniffed my half & half a few times because it was questionable, I probably wouldn’t pour it in to my coffee, or yours. Same idea.

In my defense, the wine was only slightly corked. In fact, it probably would have squeaked by some of my other customers. But that doesn’t do anyone any good because a slightly corked wine has zero personality.  Cork taint mutes the fruit aromas and flavors and prevents the wine from being its best self. That means you aren’t going to enjoy drinking the wine and, for me, it means I’m not going to be able to sell it.

If a wine is extremely corked, you should be able to tell right away, by the smell alone. If the wine smells like wet cardboard, damp newspaper, musty basement, or your puppy running in to your arms after coming in from the rain, chances are it’s corked.  If a wine isn’t horribly corked, you might have to taste it before you’re sure. Although it really is more about the aroma, a corked wine will taste flat and lifeless and can confirm your suspicions. You may even get the sense of moldiness on your tongue (blech). Have no fear, drinking corked wine won’t make you ill, it just won’t taste very good.

So, what to take away from all of this? If you’re at a restaurant and think your wine is corked, speak up. Usually the Sommelier or server will confirm your suspicions and get you another bottle. Try not to mistake a wine you just don’t like with a wine that is genuinely corked. That’s not going to help when you get another bottle and it tastes the same.

If you purchase a wine from a retailer and you think it’s corked, return the cork to the bottle and take it back to the store if possible. Honorable shop owners will give you another bottle once they confirm it’s corked. Don’t bring the wine back with a few ounces left in the bottle and claim you kept tasting it to make sure. Not cool.

If you’re interested in what “corked” actually means, the culprit is a compound called TCA. It can be formed when a natural fungi, which is present in the bark of cork trees, comes in to contact with substances that are found in bleaches and other products that are, ironically, used to sanitize and sterilize wineries. If the cork is infected, the wine becomes infected. There is also the possibility of TCA contaminating an entire cellar or winery, finding its way in to barrels and boxes and wreaking havoc.  Depending on who you ask, TCA affects 2%-5% of all wines bottled with natural corks. This means you’re sure to experience a bottle, or a few, in your lifetime.

Of course, there are other faults that occur in wine. Besides cork taint, the other fault you will likely come across is cooked wine. Wine becomes cooked when it is exposed to extreme heat. A cooked wine will smell dull, with more raisiny aromas than fresh fruit, and will taste flat or stewed. If a wine is stored improperly — near the kitchen in a restaurant, in a hot basement of a wine shop, or in the trunk of your car or your hot apartment with radiator heat — it will suffer from heat damage.

At the end of the day, if you think something is wrong with your wine, trust your instinct — just like you would with that sour carton of milk.

Beets and Bigoli in Boston

If you’ve been following along, you may have caught on to the fact that I’m just a little obsessed with trying all the Barbara Lynch restaurants in Boston. After eating at The Butcher Shop and reading Lynch’s book, “Out of Line”, I basically made it my dining mission of 2018. Last week I was able to try No. 9 Park, Lynch’s flagship restaurant in Beacon Hill.

The townhouse space at No. 9 Park is polished, but the vibe is casual enough that you would feel as comfortable elegantly dressed as you would in your best jeans. Me and my best jeans arrived on the Acela from NY, checked in to The Godfrey Hotel, and made my way over to the restaurant. Since I would be dining by myself, I asked for a seat in the bar area and readied myself to study the menu.

The mere thought of dining alone used to horrify me. Since working in wine sales, however,  I have learned to embrace it, even enjoy it. One downside is that I can’t try as many menu items, and narrowing down my order to only a few things on the No. 9 Park menu was going to take all my decision making prowess. My first order of business was finding a wine to sip while perusing the menu, and I ordered a lively little glass of bubbles from Austria, a Sparkling Brut Rosé of Pinot Noir from Szigeti. A perfect aperitif, the wine was delicious, with red cherry notes and a touch of vibrant spice.

The other drawback to dining alone is that sometimes servers treat you like a pariah that is going to amount to half the check size of a party of two, and therefore half the tip. Not so at No. 9 Park. My server was very welcoming and helpful and didn’t make me feel weird at all (thanks Lee). Glass of sparkling empty, Lee poured me another and we decided that the beet & chicory salad with banyuls vinaigrette and black olive crumble was a fitting accompaniment for my first course. It did not disappoint. Banyuls is a fortified wine made from the Grenache grape in southern France, and the banyuls vinegar gave the dish a slight nutty taste. The black olive crumble was the perfect savory crunch.

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I saved up my carb intake for pasta and couldn’t pass up the Bigoli with peekytoe crab, grilled pepper butter, and lemon panko for my main course. Bigoli is a pasta originating in Venice. It’s a longer, thicker version of spaghetti and, besides, it’s really fun to say (Bigoli, Bigoli, Bigoli).  I felt like moving on to red wine, and when I saw that the pasta sauce was also red (from the red peppers), I decided on a lovely Bourgogne Rouge from Tollot Beaut.  The Pinot Noir’s herbal notes paired well with the earthiness of the Bigoli. The wine was also the only thing that that kept me from devouring the Bigoli without taking a breath.

I could easily have had another glass (or 2) but decided to call it a night and contemplate my meal and the day ahead. I still have four more Barbara Lynch spots to try, but Ill be back to No. 9 Park for the tasting menu, and a bottle from the extensive wine list, of that I am sure.

No. 9 Park

9 Park St, Boston, MA 02108

(617) 742-9991

http://www.no9park.com/

Discovering the Boston Dining Scene; The Butcher Shop

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 10.26.51 PMMassachusetts is one of my biggest markets for wine sales, so I have been spending more time in Boston than when I was a Connecticut high school kid kicking around Faneuil Hall. My main objective when in town is to visit restaurants and fine wine shops in hopes that they will find a place on their list or their shelves for my selection of California wines.  Selling wine all day can make a girl seriously hungry, so my secondary objective is exploring the local restaurant scene for some well earned drinks and dinner.

Having lived in New York City for 25+ years, I have a high standard for dining out; it’s what we do best in New York. The first restaurant that opened my eyes to the possibilities of Boston dining, was a bit of a lucky break. On a bitter, shivering cold Saturday night in December, my friend snagged us a last minute reservation at The Butcher Shop. I was so busy working and hosting wine tastings that I didn’t even research the place, which is totally unlike me. I honestly wasn’t expecting anything special, focusing solely on the chance to catch up with a good friend. But just walking in to The Butcher Shop on a cold winter night makes you feel welcome and cozy, and warm to the core.

The various cuts of meat, sausages, and salumi are on display in retail cases — this is an actual butcher shop after all — and there is a giant butcher block in the back where guests congregate to wait for their tables. After a glass of wine at the butcher block, my friend and I were seated at a high top table and promptly ordered a selection of pate and terrine, accompanied by a few more glasses of wine.  Keep ‘em coming, it’s Saturday!

Terrine is absolute heaven to me, and we enjoyed our selections fully, with a deliciously crusty baguette, before even thinking about ordering a main course. I didn’t feel that hungry but ended up ordering the prime sirloin, medium rare, served with fingerling potatoes and sautéed spinach. Our server may as well have put my plate back in rotation after I was done, because there was not a trace of food left on it. Simple, perfectly prepared and delicious food served in a causal atmosphere — my favorite way to eat. This place had my heart.

Next visit, I will dig deeper in to the wine list, which is extensive and covers old and new world regions, but mostly old world. This time, we opted to go by the glass and try some of the nightly specials. The good news (and believe me, this is not generally the case) is there are plenty of exceptional options available by the glass.

The footnote to all of this, is that I started reading Barbara Lynch’s book, “Out of Line: A Life of Playing with Fire” about a week after this memorable experience at The Butcher Shop. I hadn’t realized at the time that this was one of Lynch’s restaurants. It all started to come together as I tore through the pages of the book, and I vowed to try more of Barbara’s restaurants during my visits to Boston.

I have since been to No. 9 Park, another Barbara Lynch restaurant, and am attending a book club to discuss “Out of Line” in a few weeks time. More on that later, but for now I suggest you don’t miss the food and wine experience at The Butcher Shop if you find yourself in Boston. Special shoutout to my friend Deb for taking me there!

The Butcher Shop

552 Tremont Street

Boston, MA 02118

www.thebutchershopboston.com