Riesling’s New York Winning Streak Ends…

By Christopher Matthews

…but probably not for long.

Yet for the first time since 2008, and only the third time since 2000, Riesling was not the grape of the NY Governor’s Cup winner (i.e. the “Best in Show) at the New York Wine and Food Classic on August 11-12, 2015.

The winning wine was Ventosa Vineyards 2011 Lemberger, a peppery Austro-Germanic red grape (also known as Blaufränkisch), which does well in New York’s cool climates, especially in the Finger Lakes, where Ventosa is located (Seneca Lake). It was also voted Best Red Wine and Best Lemberger on its way to the ultimate award.

Ventosa Vineyards, Governor's Cup winner, 2015

Ventosa Vineyards, Governor’s Cup winner, 2015

This qualifies as an upset, given the traditional Riesling/white wine dominance of the Cup! Continue reading

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Unexpected Plums? Clafouti!

By Christopher Matthews

Our ancient red plum tree served as an early muse here at Upstate-Downtown. And we’ve received lots of plum goodness from it over the years. It has, unfortunately, fallen on hard times recently, a victim of “black knot” plum tree disease and (likely) old age (such trees aren’t eternal), making it essentially barren. In fact, I almost cut it down two years ago, but a late burst of new growth from the lower half of the tree put off what I considered would be an eventual coup de grace.

After a brutal winter last year, however, I was pleasantly surprised by a copious bloom this spring, albeit with no expectation of a plum harvest.

Our plum tree in bloom

Our plum tree in bloom

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A Serious Summer Pink (and Other Food/Wine Matters)

By Christopher Matthews

I had tarragon on the brain.

We have a perennial patch of tarragon upstate, and this summer, it has produced like no other year. Normally, I have to constrain Kathryn from pillaging the entire clump in one go, but no such worries with this batch.

Our tarragon patch

Our tarragon patch

One of my favorite summer dishes happens to be roast tarragon chicken, and this was my objective/obsession as I started my vacation week upstate, preceding the 4th of July holiday. And I already had the (notionally) perfect wine on hand: the 2014 La Porte du Caillou Sancerre Rosé from Henri Bourgeois (100% Pinot Noir), a Loire standout, imported and distributed by the estimable Monsieur Touton.

2014 La Porte du Caillou Sancerre Rose

2014 La Porte du Caillou Sancerre Rose

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Ramp Fest Hudson 2015: Gone in a Flash

By Christopher Matthews

On one of the most beautiful days of the year upstate (so far), the fifth annual Ramp Fest, a culinary celebration of “the wild onion of myth and mystery”, took place last Saturday (5/2/15) at  Basilica Hudson in Hudson, NY.

Basilica Hudson

Basilica Hudson

It’s no secret that we’re big ramp fans here at Upstate-Downtown; we always look forward to the event in Hudson, which is spearheaded by Swoon Kitchenbar.

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But whether it was the stellar weather, effective advertising or a snowballing word-of-mouth, the crowd was early, large and voracious… Continue reading

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Cali Vintners Walking the Green Talk

By Christopher Matthews

The severe drought in California is making not only headlines, but also for some tough, long-term choices.

Perhaps this is only a nasty — and lengthy — cyclical drought, and the rains will return, as they have in the past. But that’s not currently evident, and the longer historical record (across millenia) gives little comfort — drought has always been part, in greater or lesser measure, of California’s drama. Accordingly, Governor Jerry Brown has just ordered an overall 25% cut in state water consumption. The New York Times’ recent feature, “California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth”, puts this creeping disaster into stark relief, with indelible images of a verdant suburbia bordered by an encroaching desert reality.

Damon Winter/NY Times

Damon Winter/NY Times

But if California is really going to get serious about conserving water, it must tackle usage in the agricultural arena, where 80% of the state’s water is consumed. Just a small example cited by the New York Times speaks volumes: more water was used to grow California almonds in 2013 than was consumed by all homes and businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles combined.

Agriculture naturally includes Cali’s wine industry, by far the largest in the US, and (if it were a country) the fifth largest producer in the world. But here, the story is far from dire. In fact, California has been a leader and driver in sustainable winegrowing, not least through the efforts and programs of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. To showcase some of the leading Cali wineries and vineyards committed to sustainability, which includes water conservation (among many other factors), the Alliance, together with partner organizations (California Association of Winegrape Growers, Lodi Winegrape Commission, Napa Valley Vintners, Vineyard Team and Wine Institute), has developed The California Green Medal: Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Awards. And on April 13, 2015, the first annual award winners were announced… Continue reading

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An Alsatian April Fools’ (for the Wine Media Guild)

By Christopher Matthews

WMG LogoAt the Wine Media Guild’s (WMG) recent lunch on April 1, 2015 at Felidia, there was no fooling around: the theme was Alsace, featuring the aromatic, earthy and food-friendly white varietal wines it produces so well — a fitting way to kick off a tardy (New York) spring.

The only joke of the day: that these wines don’t receive more recognition and commercial embrace in the US.

Sponsored by WMG member Tracy Ellen Kamens and hosted by Wines of Alsace, represented by Alsace educator May Matta-Aliah (DWS, CWE), the tasting presented a useful snapshot of the current Alsatian wine scene via 15 top producers. Appropriately, it was organized by the region’s primary grape varieties — Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. A selection of Crémant d’Alsace, the good-value sparkling wine appellation of Alsace, was also on offer, including a refreshing rosé sparkler (from 100% Pinot Noir, Alsace’s only allowed red grape) by Pierre Sparr. Continue reading

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Bordeaux Grand Cru “Blizzard” Hits New York

By Christopher Matthews

Monday, January 26, 2015 was the Blizzard That Wasn’t in New York City. While it certainly snowed, and slowed the City down, it was, mercifully, far from the Snowpocalypse breathlessly predicted by media outlets.

January 26 was also the date of the biggest and most anticipated Bordeaux tasting of the year — the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) — which gamely went ahead at Cipriani 42nd Street despite the dire forecasts.

Normally, this tasting is a pulsing free-for-all for the wine trade and media, a chance to taste new releases of iconic Bordeaux producers, with plenty of company — and sharp elbows. But the snowy weather kept a good many away, making it a more relaxed, user-friendly event for those who showed up. For the chateaux reps, who really had nowhere else to go — airports were shut down, the wines already delivered — there was likely disappointment. Still, it afforded more civilized, personal exchanges amid the swirling and spitting. Call it quality time…

2015 Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux, NY

2015 Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux, NY

Amid all the legendary red Bordeaux, however, my focus was, perhaps surprisingly, on the Grand Cru whites. Continue reading

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