Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wine of the Week-Puklavec and Friends Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio Blend-$10.99

A versatile wine that goes with the tastes of Summer

by Dwight Casimere

Be a little adventurous and discover a terrific versatile wine for summer that is surprisingly affordable. Puklavec and Friends Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio Blend is only $10.99 and is a delightful blend of bright, refreshing fruit, such as Meyer lemon and a hint of green apples, with the aroma of passion fruit and orange blossoms. The wine is underscored with a surprising pepperiness, that you characteristically would find in a Gewurtztraminer, that makes it especially compatible with most things you'd serve at the summertime table, like pasta salad or Cobb salad, grilled salmon and just about anything asparagus. They've been making wine in Slovenia, the former Yugoslavia, for thousands of years, going back to the time of the Celts and Illyrians, which predates the Romans. Today, Slovenia  produces more than 50 million gallons of wine annually, most of it consumed right at home. Only recently has the wine started to make its way to this country. Most of the wines you'll see from that country are white wines. The wines are premium quality and surprisingly, are priced well below comparable wines from many other European wine producing countries, making them an outstanding value. Try Puklavec and Friends Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio Blend the next time you have friends over for a backyard barbeque, you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Below: Puklavec and Friends Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio Blend ($10.99) with Caprese Pasta Salad topped with Asparagus

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Leader of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo in Italy is Masciarelli Tenute Agricole

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

 Marina Cvetic Masciarelli of Masciarelli Tenute Agricole
 The wines of Masciarelli Tenute Agricole

Villa Gema Montepulciano D'Abruzzo DOC 2008-$85 is poured from the decanter. The wine is capable of aging for 40 years and is aged up to two years in French Oak barrels

NEW YORK--From the very beginning, when Giani Masciarelli established the Masciarelli Tenute Agricole in 1981, the goal was always to produce high quality wines that showcased the culture and traditions of the extraordinary Italian wine region of Abruzzo. When he met and married Marina Cvetic in 1989, he made his wife the marketing director and vineyard manager. She quickly played an integral part in propelling the company toward its current success.

On a recent trip to the U.S., Marina stopped by the midtown Manhattan offices of Colangelo Pr, headed by wine marketing guru Gino Colangelo to conduct a personalized tasting for a small group of wine journalists. The tasting featured wines representative of two of the estate's four wine lines, including Villa Gema and Marina Cvetic. which Giani lovingly named for his wife,who now is in full control of all Masciarelli operations. In addition to overseeing a yearly production of more than 2.5 million bottles of wine, Marina is also active in producing Extra Virgin Olive Oil. She also is promoting wine tourism, or "ecotourism" at the winery through the purchase and restoration of the Castello di Semivicoli, a baronial mansion from the 17th Century which is located on the property. It serves as the site of tastings, art shows and musical events at the winery. Marina has received numerous awards, including "Businesswoman of the Year 2006" by Abruzzo Impresa magazine and "Woman of Wine and Life" from the Golosario of Paolo Massobrio and the Merit Mention as "Grand Officer" of the Italian Republic in 2013. 

Enough with the resume roundup. Time to move onto the wines, which are excellent. 

Villa Gemma Bianco Colline Teatine 2014 ($28) is a white wine made from two indigenous varietals, Trebbiano D' Abruzzo and Cococciola, and a healthy dose of Chardonnay. Fermented entirely in stainless steel tanks, this is a surprisingly big wine for a white. Gushing with intense ripe fruit flavors and a very floral nose, the wine has a juicy cornucopia of fruit flavors, including ripe banana, green apples and a hint of jasmine. Sushi, or its Italian cousin, Crudo and pretty much any type of seafood, especially firm, fleshy white fish, are best with this wine. I tried it with Bronzini, a fleshy white sea bass, common in Italy and becoming increasingly so among fishmongers here in the U.S. Cooked on the the open grill with copious smoke from a hickory log, it was a flavor delight.

Marina Cvetic Trebbiano d'Abruzzo Riserva DOC is 100% indigenous Trebbiano D' Abruzzo and, according to its namesake, a stunning example of what the trebbiano grape is all about. Fermented in new oak barrels and then aged for at least 18 months in barrels over yeast, this late harvested wine has a richness and complexity that can only be achieved with wine that is aged 'on the lees.'

It has a hip-hop dancer's bouncy step of crisp acidity and bright fruit, with hints of Papaya, ripe Georgia peaches, orange blossom honey and wild lavender. Try that grilled fish again with this wine or some fine aged Stilton and you'll get a clearer picture of what it'll be like to sip a glass while lunching at the Castello during you next eno-trip.

Villa Gemma Cerasuolo D'Abruzzo DOC 2014 ($14) is the real steal of the whole lineup. The name Cerasuolo translates literally to 'cherry color,' and that's exactly how this 100% Montepulciano grape beauty looks. It gets its distinctive color from brief contact with the red grape skins during fermentation process. The wine is like drinking a bouquet of of bright red roses. Drink it chilled alone or with just about anything that rings your bell for a good summertime meal. Pasta and Pizza also make for a dynamic pairing. Don't bother taking it down to the cellar. This one is meant to be drunk fresh and young. Marina calls it the "wine of the future." It's uncomplicated, easy to drink and affordable. On top of that, it just plain tastes good.

Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d' Abruzzo DOC San Martino Rosso ($27) gets us back into more serious enophile territory. Its at the top of the line that Giani Masciarelli named for his wife and it says everything there is to say about the region of Abruzzo and one of its more historical native grapes. Produced since 1997, the wine is pure Montepulciano through and thorough, with all of the characteristic intense fruit on the palate, including ripe bananas, Golden Delicious Apple and white wildflowers. Break out the grill with this one. It's great with Char-grilled steak or lamb chops or ribs right off the grill. Throw in an ear of corn and some grilled veggies brushed with garlic and olive oil and you've got one heck of an Abruzzo-style lunch. Abbondanza!

Gino Colangelo's fancy curved Riedel decanter got a workout with the $85 Villa Gemma Montepulciano D'Abruzzo DOC. Another 100% Montepulciano wine fermented and aged all in French Oak for up to two years, this is a big, elegant wine with personality. A late harvest at the end of October ensures ripe, luscious fruit that drips with flavors of ripe black cherries, blackberries and a hint of licorice. The finish is long and polished with a strong spine of 14.5% alcohol and soft tannins. This is a big wine that can keep in the cellar up to 40 years. The juice spends a month on the skin, giving it an almost India-ink color.  A wine this powerful almost demands your undivided attention. Some Mozart or early Boz Scaggs, depending on your taste in music,  and a nice Cuban cigar (they're practically legal now) would make for a perfect evening outdoors by the fire pit.

Various views of the Castello di Semivicoli, the vineyards and the inn where frequent eno-tours are conducted.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Bordeaux Within Reach-Second Label Wines Offer Drinkability with Affordability

Bordeaux on a Budget Need Not Sacrifice Quality

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--The Bookmark Lounge of the cozy Library boutique hotel in Midtown Manhattan was the setting for a tasting of some exquisite second label wines from the Bordeaux region of France. Presented by the fine wine retailer Millesima the wines presented a flavorful and affordable alternative to the illustrious, but pricey wines of the famed Bordeaux.  Hortense Bernard of Millesima USA was on hand to personally pour the selection in fine Christofle stemware.  Second label wines are made by the same winemakers as their pricier cousins, but the difference is in the grapes and the aging. The vines are younger, and therefor fruitier, and the fact that they are aged less, makes them drinkable now, rather than having to hang around in the cellar for 10 years or more to achieve drinkability. With price tags well below the $50 mark (most hover in the $35 range), its a way to revel in the delights of one of the world's most coveted wine regions without taking out a second mortgage.   Some of the names may be familiar to fine wine lovers. Its nice to know that you can drive a Ferrari on a Camry budget. All of the wines presented had distinctive characteristics. All were food friendly, but perfectly delightful all on their own. Here's a rundown of the wines and my tasting notes. 

Domaine de Chevalier, L'Esprit de Chevalier Blanc 2011 ($31.99). Born in the Pessac-Leognan, a region known for both its white and red wines, this wine is a tribute to the estate's first wine. L'Esprit de Chevalier means the spirit of the knight. Derived from younger vines that are hand selected and then barrel aged, the wine is surprisingly complex for a white wine, with great balance and elegance. This was one of my personal favorites because of its pronounced fruit and silky smooth finish. Great with sushi, shrimp or a simple Dover Sole pan sautéed in brown butter, lemon and garlic and a touch of tarragon.

Another of my favorites was Chateau Sociando Mallet, La Demoiselle de Sociando Maillet 2008 ($32.99). The Chateau is an unclassified estate in the Haut-Medoc, but this wine delivers far beyond its lowly pedigree. A blend of Cabernet and Merlot, the wine is made from grapes that are all hand-harvested then fermented in stainless steel tanks and concrete takes before being aged in oak barrels. The result if a rich, full-bodied wine with a fresh, bracing taste and long finish. This is the perfect accompaniment to a Dry-Aged Prime Steak, grilled meats or sliced cold meats and assorted cheeses, or just savoring singularly. The wine is good to go now, but, unlike many second labels, it can be set down for aging, but I doubt that anyone will actually do that, its so good right now!

Chateau Talbot, Connetable de Talbot 2008 ($31.99)-This wine has a good deal of pedigree and history behind it. Produced at one of the largest estates in Haute-Medoc, the estate is perched on the banks of the Gironde, Europe's largest estuary, on the prestigious Left Bank. The estate is named for John Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsberry, the Constable-Governor (or Connetable) of Guyenne, which encompasses the Bordeaux region. The wine is very easy to drink, with some nice red berry flavors that make it ideal with summertime grilled meats, such as a marinated skirt steak or grilled leg of lamb with rosemary. It would also pair well with red sauced pastas and pizza. There's a lingering taste of cherry jam that gives it a bright finish and a hint of coffee and smoke that gives an otherwise simple wine a bit of complexity. I also liked this one with a bit of soft, ripe Blue cheese.

Chateau Prieure-Lachine, Confidences de Prieure-Lichine 2008 ($35.99). The estate is located on land that has been producing elegant wines for eight centuries. Containing mostly Merlot grapes, the wine has a sophistication and elegance far beyond its price. First produced under the direction of Alexis Lechine, the famed negoitant, this second label wine comes from the same vineyard and benefits from the same harvesting and vinification techniques as the first growth wines. Second  year barrels are used in aging, but get a little punch from aging 40% of the wine in one year old barrels. As a result, the wine is somewhat soft on the palate, but still has a great deal of complexity.  The wine is a classic blend of 50% Cabernet, 45% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. Coming from younger vines and with aging in a combination of old and new barrels damps down the flavor amps and softens  the tannins.This makes it really approachable to the casual wine drinker and an easy accompaniment for just about anything served at a summer garden party or al fresco dinner.

I saved the absolute best for last. Chateau Nenin, La Fugue de Nenin 2002. The origins of Chateau Nenin date back to the 19th Century and is a favorite of the British Royal Family. Famed consultant Michel Roland is part of the winemaking team and the wine displays his artful hand. Chateau Nenin is a real star of Pomerol on the Right Bank. The wine is young, but has character and finesse. A blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc, this is a silky classy beauty that would be welcome at any dinner party. 

 A word about Millesima.  It is Europe's leader in online sales of fine wines and their cellars in Bordeaux contain an astounding 2.5 million bottles. They also have a store in New York City. The wines are readily available. Look for them in a fine wine shop near you.
Hortense Bernard, General Manager, Millesima USA
(Above and Below) The second label wines of Bordeaux

Wanda Mann, Black Dress Traveler blog
Wine writers enjoy the wine and atmosphere at the Bookmark Lounge at The Library
The enclosed rooftop terrace at The Library
Hortense Bernard of Millesima