Oct 132014
 

It’s Drink Local Wine Week 2014, and we kicked it off with a trip to TasteCamp in Hudson Valley, New York. For those in the know, New York is one of the top five wine producing states in the nation. When most people think of New York wine, however, they would most likely choose the Finger Lakes and maybe Long Island. Hudson Valley wine wouldn’t be high on their list. Well, I’m here to tell you that they make some pretty damned decent wine in Hudson Valley.

Is it the caliber of Napa Valley or Willamette Valley? Well, no, probably not. They still have some growing up to do; ironically, since they claim the oldest continually operating winery and oldest planted vineyard in the country.  They haven’t quite found their identity like the Finger Lakes has with cold climate varieties such as Riesling and Long Island has with Bordeaux varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Cold climate varieties show a lot of promise, as do several hybrid varieties. Cabernet Franc could also be a contender.

That said, they have all the right ingredients. First, they are in the backyard of the biggest wine market in the country. By far, New York City is the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to the wine business. But, because they are so close, Hudson Valley wine has two major advantages: access and price.  Second, they have enthusiastic winemakers who work together to promote the overall Hudson Valley wine community. I was told by Yancey Stanforth-Migliore at Whitecliff Vineyard that they frequently meet with other winemakers to taste and critique their own wines. Third, they’re not afraid to ask for help. Several wineries we visited use outside consultants from the Finger Lakes, Long Island, and beyond. Ben and Kimberly Peacock of Tousey Winery regularly consult with Peter Bell at Fox Run Winery, arguably one of the best producers in the Finger Lakes area. And finally, they aren’t trying to be something they’re not. Unlike many wine regions who emulate Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Napa, by planting Chardonnay and Cabernet everywhere and try to produce “international-style” wine, Hudson Valley wines seem to embrace their uniqueness, whether intentional or not.

The attendees to TasteCamp had the opportunity to taste dozens of wines. The following are some of the standouts.

Millbrook - Hudson Valley Wine

The converted barn at Millbrook Vineyards & Winery.

Millbrook Vineyards & Winery

In 1979, John Dyson, former New York State Commissioner of Agriculture, purchased the old Wing Dairy Farm and converts it to wine production. A few years later, in 1985, Dyson hires winemaker John Graziano and Millbrook Vineyards and Winery is established as a commercial winery. Today, the winery farms roughly 140 acres, which probably places it among the largest in the Hudson River Region.  The winery is a converted barn and is really something to behold. It’s rustic, yet it really works for the area. I liked their Proprietor’s Special Reserve Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc 2012 ($30) and Proprietor’s Special Reserve Hudson River Region Chardonnay 2012 ($25).

Winemaker Cristop - Hudson valley Wine

Winemaker Kristop Brown with a little intro for TasteCamp attendees.

Robibero Family Vineyards

Harry and Carole Robibero purchased their 42 acre estate in 2003, and began making their own wines in 2007. Today, their winemaker, Kristop Brown, is pushing the Robibero family to grow and improve. They are small now, but have plans for gradual grown, and will be planting a new vineyard soon. I liked the New York State Cabernet Franc 2012 ($40) and the New York State Traminette 2013 ($19).

Benmarl Winery

Overlooking the historic Hudson River Valley, it’s 37 acre estate lays claim to the oldest vineyard in America. The winery also holds New York Farm Winery license no.1. Matthew Spaccarelli is Winemaker and General Manager, and he makes arguably the best Cabernet Franc I tasted all weekend. I liked the Seneca Lake Semi-Dry Riesling 2012 ($17.99) and the Ridge Road Estate Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc 2012 (N/A).

Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery

Michael Migliore and Yancey Stanforth-Migliore literally built Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery from the ground up in what was an empty field thirty years ago. They built the winery, they planted the vineyards, and they made the wine. They have a sweet story. They are both avid rock climbers and met each other while climbing the nearby Shawangunk Ridge. The ridge can be seen from the winery, and is the inspiration for the name of the winery. I liked the Estate Bottled Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc 2013 ($22.95) and New York Riesling 2013 ($16.95).

Tousey Winery - Hudson valley Wine

Tousey Winery may be humble, but they make damn good wine.

Tousey Vineyard

Tousey Vineyard began as a family-run enterprise (and still is today) by Ray Tousey. The winery is now run by Ben and Kimberly Peacock – Ray’s daughter.  They are kind of the new kids on the block, but as such they bring a more modern sensability to a pretty traditional area. Kimberly and Ben are young and enthusiastic, and it shows in their wines. Their strong suit is their Rieslings, but they are make reds under a second label. I liked the Estate Grown Hudson River Dry Riesling 2013, Estate Grown Hudson River Riesling 2013, and Estate Grown Hudson River Reserve Riesling 2013. I don’t think the 2013 wines are officially released, hence no prices listed.

Hudson-Chatham Winery

I’ve known owner Carlo Devito for years. He was largely responsible for organizing TasteCamp this year. Quite frankly, he has a screw loose, but you’ll never meet a nicer guy. He’d give you the shirt off his back if you asked for it. But, he’s also a brilliant marketer and built Hudson-Chatham Winery into a powerhouse. His signature grape? Single Vineyard Baco Noir. I kid you not. And it’s good! I’ve had the priviledge of tasting through several vintages and several vineyards. they are really unique and something to seek out.

There were also several creamery visits, a distillery tour and tasting, and some sightseeing around the Hudson Valley, but that is a tale for another post and perhaps another blog.

Oct 012014
 

San FranciscoThe following is an article contributed by Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser. You can read more by Tim at TimGaiser.com.

October marks 30 years that Carla and I have lived in San Francisco.  We moved to California after I finished graduate school at the University of Michigan in January of 1984 initially setting in San Mateo because of the usual periodic housing shortage in the city.  Those first nine months in California can only be described as bleak with the stress of finding a job and living in an apartment with no light and the most alarming vomit-hued shag carpet. The only salvation was a shopping center across the street with a wine shop that we often visited–especially after experiencing the first several earthquakes.  Welcome to California!

We moved to San Francisco on October first of that year finding a one bedroom apartment on Russian Hill with spectacular views of the bay, Alcatraz, and all of Pacific Heights for a mere $650—and it had parking!  FYI the same apartment today rents for over $4K. It was never our intention to stay here for several decades but having two kids meant first finding day care, then pre-school, and on and on through high school in a blur commonly referred to as parenthood.  Contrary to a lot of negative press on the subject both our kids—especially Patrick about whom you’ll read more below—thrived in public schools their entire academic careers.  That being said the range of quality for public schools in San Francisco is just as extreme as in any other big city.  But just as knowing the producer in Burgundy is a no-brainer and mandatory for getting a good bottle, a parent in San Francisco simply has to be an advocate for their kid to get them into the right schools.  With special ed programs, and because our son Patrick is a special needs guy, it’s even more critical that a parent push to get their kid into the right class with the right teacher.  Carla was a champion for both Maria and Patrick and a huge part of their academic success. I will always be grateful to her for that.

When I’m on the road–which is all too often–I tell people I live in San Francisco and get the usual how lucky you are or what a beautiful city or what an amazing place. I invariably agree that yes, it’s all the above.  However, after living here for 30 years I have my own analogy for living in San Francisco that goes something like this; “it’s like dating a gorgeous expensive woman you can never really quite afford.” After thirty years, she—the city—is more expensive than ever thanks to Google and all my new high tech friends who have pushed rents and housing prices to beyond New York levels.  And she’s no fun anymore.  In fact, she’s a complete pain in the ass.  That’s my take on San Francisco.  Want proof? Enter exhibit “A,” a Friday night last summer.

Every second Friday night, the ARC center has a dance for its clients from 6:00 to 8:00.  If you are not familiar, the ARC is a national organization for people with disabilities.  Patrick is currently enrolled in a special program called ACCESS, offered through the unified school district in a space attached to ARC.  He will age out of ACCESS next May when he turns 22 and when he does, he will move right next door into ARC programs. But because he’s on site practically every day now, he knows almost everyone on the staff at ARC, as well as many of the clients.  Needless to say, the ARC dances are big fun for him as well as the rest of the clients and parents. But for Carla and me, the ARC dances also mean two hours to go on an actual “date.”

On that ill-fated Friday evening we parked across from the ARC center on the corner of Howard and 11th streets (a reference that will be important later) and walked Patrick over to the dance.  We then clambered back in the vehicle and headed south on Folsom St. for a wine bar on Mission and 22nd where we enjoyed a glass of wine just weeks before.  Mind you, I knew full well we were taking a major risk.  I’ve lived in the city more than long enough to know what traffic and parking can be like in the Mission on a Friday night. The phrases FUBAR, impossible, and completely screwed come to mind. But we were game, and in serious need of a quality time together, so we set off in what was really just a sub-ten minute jaunt of less than 25 blocks.

Once there, we began the cosmic undertaking of finding a parking place on Mission St. or thereabouts which is somewhere between passing an NFL team through the eye of a needle or a Sauvignon Blanc getting 100 points in the Wine Spectator.  Dear readers, I really don’t have to tell you what happened next–but I will.  We drove around—very strategically mind you—for the next hour trying in vain to find a parking place, any parking place, within five to six blocks of said wine bar.  You might hazard a guess, and you would be correct, that we never did find that illusive parking place.  It was like the city in the form of my uber expensive girlfriend simply didn’t show up for our date—and she wasn’t even returning my phone calls, texts or e-mails.

I have to say that I handled driving around pointlessly for an hour with great patience and aplomb.  After all, if your expectations for success are somewhere near non-existent, even the least shred of success can seem life changing.  But that never happened either.  By now you’re probably thinking that we should have driven somewhere else, parked the car, and taken a cab to the joint.  But really? Seriously?  After all, we now had about an hour to get something to eat before having to retrieve Patrick.

After making the decision to bail on the wine bar, which was really quite easy, we headed back up Folsom street with the intention of finding a place close to ARC, thus salvaging whatever time we had left.  I told Carla to look at “Near Me” on her phone to find restaurants on the way.  But nothing interesting came up and in minutes we found ourselves parking in EXACTLY THE SAME PARKING SPACE we had just used an hour before when we dropped Patrick off.  I am not making this up.  But stay with me because this is where it gets good.

At the confluence of Howard and 11th Streets and across from the ARC building were two restaurants; a Mexican place and a pizza place.  We opted for the latter.  Before going on any further, I have to confess that I am not the person to ask when inquiring about the latest, coolest restaurants in San Francisco.  I travel a lot and eat out a lot on the road, so when I’m home I like to stay home and cook and, as you can imagine, there are more than a few bottles of wine downstairs in my garage.  That said, I was really not in the least informed about the pizza place we stumbled into because, after all, it was on the corner literally crawling distance from the car–and we were hungry, thirsty, and had little time left for dinner.  But this was not just any pizza place; this pizza place which will not be named was one of those establishments certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Naples complete with a special wood burning pizza oven.

After the fact, Carla and I were to learn that there’s usually a line out the door at this place and the restaurant also doesn’t take reservations.  But on this Friday night the restaurant gods in San Francisco smiled on us, if only briefly, and we managed to grab the only open deuce.  Inside, the place was all austere concrete and cinder blocks with the enormous aforementioned certified pizza oven occupying front and center stage.   Quickly I noticed that we were the oldest people in the restaurant and so completely un-hip that we probably didn’t belong there. But screw it, I thought, we were hungry and now only had about 45 minutes before having to head across the street.

Eyeing the menu, I spotted five different choices for pizza offered that evening, all for the mere price of $25 a pie. Mind you, these were single size pizzas. Not a big deal. But then my eyes drifted over to the right side of the menu to the wines offered by the glass.  And here, meine freunden, is where it got interesting.  All the wines poured by the glass were from Campania, which wasn’t a surprise given the origin of the restaurant’s certification.  But more importantly, all the offerings were either orange wines or natural wines. I let out an audible groan. Carla, who has now has a zero tolerance policy for my reaction to poorly constructed wine lists and/or less-than-adequately trained servers, immediately responded with a terse, “Now what?” I told her about the wines by the glass.  She responded with something like, “Oh, it’s probably fine.” But I knew better.  I’ve tasted enough of both categories to be a fervent believer in modern winemaking technology and to be just as unappreciative of chemistry projects masquerading as commercially sold wine.  More on that later.

Soon the server took our order.  I can’t recall which of the five pizzas I chose, but I clearly remember ordering two glasses of an Aglianico from a producer I’d never heard of.  The wine arrived quickly in two of those thick, heavy, and dense tumblers normally used in chain restaurants or bar fights.  Dismissing the fact that I was paying $13 for a glass of wine served in a something resembling a weapon, I put my nose in the glass.  Immediately all my internal wine flaw alarms went off.  If seven alarms is max in the firefighting world, then I was at nine alarms, meaning the wine had more than one serious flaw. Said Aglianico not only displayed a monumental level of VA—somewhere between floor varnish and Sherry vinegar—it also had an extreme level of brettanomyces. The combination made my eyes water, and when I went to comment about the tragic condition of the wine to Carla she just gave me the eye.  So I sipped the wine in pained silence, trying to imagine the less than hygienic conditions under which the wine was made.  I’m reasonably sure that the winemaker and his/her tribe probably had the best of intentions, but this was beyond the term “cellar palate” where one loses olfactory sensitivity because of working in a single wine environment for too long; it was more like “stable palate.”

Fortunately, the pizzas showed up just as I drained the last wicked drop of Aglianico.  I wanted another glass of wine—any wine but the Aglianico.  I chose the other red offered by the glass, only to learn from the server that they were sold out of it.  However, the restaurant had just gotten a new vintage of Piedrosso from her favorite producer that day and would we like to try it.  Of course!  After all, it had to be better than the previous wine.  I was wrong.  The Piedrosso arrived in moments in the same big clunky glasses and when I put my nose in the glass I literally saw the color brown.  The Piedrosso for anyone keeping score was the single most flawed glass of wine I’ve ever been served.  It displayed staggering levels of Brett and was oxidized—and it was spritzy!   It was as if the wine was still trying to sort itself out in the bottle after many tortuous years, hence my previous comment about natural wines as chemistry projects.  For the record, the pizzas were delicious–absolutely top shelf–even if they were a bit pricey.  Total cost of dinner, including 20% tip and tax: $124.  Experience of tasting “natural” wines: priceless.

Allow me a moment on my soapbox.  Regardless of the kinds of wines you feel best suit your menu, you as a professional buyer have an obligation to have a clue about what clean, well-made wine is and to offer your guests sound, well-made wines that are good values.   That’s the deal, and absolutely no exceptions, including orange and natural wines.  Further, in keeping with my Mom’s sage advice that it takes all types to fill up the freeways, I would be the first to admit that there’s room for just about everything in the world of wine.  But let’s not confuse unusual with flawed.  There’s a big difference.  And while it’s been interesting to watch the orange/natural wine camps, I’m also beginning to think that maybe it’s about time they had some kind of certification so the rest of us in industry know what the hell they’re doing—even if what they’re doing results in completely flawed wine.  After all, there are certifications for organic and biodynamic wine.  Why not for natural wines? I rest my case.

So, on that Friday night my latest date with the uber expensive girlfriend, otherwise known as San Francisco was—what a surprise—expensive, rushed, and agita-inducing.  Oh yes, she was completely unkempt for the occasion.