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.


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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Biodynamic Syrah, Naturally (from Chateau Maris)

By Christopher Matthews

Before going to our friends’ house for a Boxing Day gathering during the holidays, I stopped by Sipperly’s, our local wine shop upstate, for a gift bottle of wine.

As I’ve mentioned before, the store’s layout is chaotic, but if you can get past that, the selection isn’t bad, and the occasional gem turns up.

Looking up on a top shelf, apparently their (unidentified) organic section, an unusual forest green label with the clear wording “Biodynamic Syrah” caught my eye.

Chateau Maris' Natural Selection "Biodynamic Syrah"

Chateau Maris’ 2011 Natural Selection “Biodynamic Syrah”

I reached high and grabbed the bottle for a closer look. Turns out, it was produced by Chateau Maris, an ueber-organic/biodynamic domain from the Languedoc region of southern France — specifically in Minervois La Liviniere (one of my favorite appellations) — whose wines I had sampled before and enjoyed (like their “Old School Red”). At just $14.00, I asked the store’s wine buyer what she thought of it.”You’ll love it,” she said. “It’s a gift,” I clarified. “Then they’ll love it,” she assured. It was also the last bottle, but they had more on order. I resolved to come back for one myself… Continue reading

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New Zealand Value: Mud House Wines

By Christopher Matthews

When considering “value wines” for holiday imbibing — highly drinkable wines with attractive price/quality ratios — New Zealand (NZ), especially its copious, often palate-rocking Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs (SB), deserves to be in the discussion.

About the size of California, NZ has only 4.5 million people, but it’s the world’s 13th largest producer of wine, the majority of it (mainly Sauvignon Blanc) geared to export. In fact, at a holiday reception the other day, I was speaking with a newly arrived New Zealand diplomat who expressed amazement not only at the number of NZ wines available in New York City wine shops (entire shelves of SB in some cases!), but also their bargain prices relative to the domestic NZ market. More often than not, I have a screw top NZ SB in my fridge for everyday drinking, based on the dependable quality at a fair price, like Brancott ($12.99) or Oyster Bay ($13.99), both of which are nationally distributed.

Another widely available label that needs to be the value conversation, however — and not just for SB — is Mud House.

Mud House's Woolshed Vineyard

Mud House’s Woolshed Vineyard

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Dutch’s Spirits Takes Shape in Pine Plains

By Christopher Matthews

Dutch’s Spirit’s, a farm distillery in-the-making in Pine Plains, NY, located on the very same grounds where infamous mobster Dutch Schultz bankrolled an elaborate Prohibition-era bootlegging operation, is nearing (physical) completion.

Dutch’s Spirits @ Harvest Homestead Farm

Last weekend, on the 82nd anniversary of the Federal raid that shut down Schultz’s illicit underground booze factory (disguised as a turkey farm), the folks at Dutch’s Spirit’s threw a party for “family and friends” — and the supportive local community — to celebrate the progress to date. And while it wasn’t a “grand opening”, it was a good advertisement for where they are headed, i.e. a farm-based distillery with a tasting room, a farm-to-table eatery, a historical site with an amazing story (and “bunker” archeology) and a major agritourism draw for the area.


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