Gaskins’ Got It Going On

By Christopher Matthews

In the micro-hamlet of Germantown, in southern Columbia County (NY), Gaskins is a pulsing farm-to-table boîte in the middle of a small, but vibrant, business district.  As its second anniversary approaches, this “tavern” has clearly hit its stride, a welcome harbor for locals, and a culinary destination in its own right.

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My first impression two years ago was less than favorable.  Continue reading

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Blaye Bargain: Chateau La Croix St. Pierre

By Christopher Matthews

Mention Bordeaux to someone, and chances are that Blaye does not come to mind. Perhaps it will in the future, as this large district within the greater Bordeaux wine region, a.k.a. Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, is a source of good value wines.

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A case in point: the 2015 Chateau La Croix St. Pierre.  Continue reading

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Champagne Collet: Stylish Bubbly

By Christopher Matthews

Champagne is a big deal in the US, which is the second largest market outside of France for the iconic French bubbly (the UK remains first). And not only does it comprise over 20% of the total American sparkling wine market, but it also had its best year in the US since 2007 in 2015 (some 20.5 million bottles sold), growing at a 7% clip per annum. C’est les bon temps!

While the big global brands — e.g. Moët et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, G. H. Mumm — still dominate the US Champagne landscape, the small “grower” Champagnes, made by vignerons who once just sold their grapes/wines solely to the big houses, have captivated sommeliers and cognoscenti alike, giving added impulse to the category. Between these two extremes lies Champagne Collet, a medium-sized, cooperative producer, and a historic house in its own right. At a recent event at Ai Fiori in Manhattan, I had an opportunity to taste through Champagne Collet’s US portfolio, and my conclusion is clear: these fine wines need to be better known in the US.

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Continue reading

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Peak Etna Value: Barone Di Villagrande Rosso

By Christopher Matthews

Of the many favorable spots to grow grapes on Sicily, the most compelling district for me is the Etna DOC, in the shadow of Europe’s tallest — and very active — volcano. Endowed with mineral-rich volcanic soils, intense sunlight and cooling sea breezes and altitudes, the cinematic foothills of Etna produce some stunningly good wines from mostly local varieties, namely Nerello Mascalese (red) and Carricante (white).

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Mt. Etna in the distance

Recently, at Ester Wine and Spirits in uptown Kingston, NY (which, BTW, has a nicely edited selection), I was drawn to an attractively labeled Etna Rosso that I had never tried before, from Barone Di Villagrande. When I brought it to the register for purchase, the wine dude on duty said: “Oh my god, this wine is so good.” My expectations rose… Continue reading

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Bordeaux Chateaux “Punching Above Their Weight”

By Christopher Matthews

Bordeaux Chateaux that “punch above their weight” was how Wine Media Guild (WMG) member Mark Golodetz framed the WMG’s recent, annual Bordeaux walk-around tasting and lunch, held at Il Gattopardo in Manhattan. As the traditional member-sponsor of the Bordeaux event, Mark arranged for the following chateaux to participate this year: Chateau Smith Haut Lafite (Pessac-Leognan); Chateau Branaire-Ducru (Saint-Julien); Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste (Pauillac).

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His theme implies the Chateaux in question are somehow underrated, presenting a source of Bordeaux value, something wine writers, collectors and consumers (!) are always hunting. Whether these houses are undervalued can be debated, and they are certainly well-known and highly regarded in their own right. But what the event really drove home, in spades: the compelling overall quality of the wines presented, from current releases, to older vintages pulled from private cellars.  Continue reading

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HV Cider Benchmark: “God Speed the Plough”

By Christopher Matthews

In the ongoing craft (hard) cider renaissance in the Hudson Valley (HV), a structural impediment (and irony) exists: there aren’t enough cider apples to go around.

While culinary/dessert apples are widely available — New York is, after all, the second largest apple growing state in the US — many of these varieties, like Gala, Honey Crisp or Golden Delicious, just don’t make for compelling ciders, with their high sugar, low acidity, linear taste profiles and scant tannin. And even for American antique varieties that were good for cider back in the (pre-Prohibition) day, such as Baldwin or Golden Russet, they can fetch top dollar at farmers’ markets as eating or cooking apples. Combine this with a lean year for HV apples, e.g. in 2016 (due to a late frost), and a ever-more crowded cider field, and you get a scramble for the more suitable cider apples.

Enter Elizabeth Ryan, whom I ran into recently at The Corner, in Tivoli, NY. Elizabeth is a HV farming hero who, for over 30 years — way before it was cool — has pursued sustainable and organic agriculture in her various orchards and fields (primarily Breezy Hill Orchard and Stone Ridge Orchard), has been a founding member of numerous green markets across the region and a first mover in the craft cider comeback in the HV, with her Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider operation.

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Elizabeth Ryan

I informed her of my own cider activity and interest, and asked her about the region’s shortage of cider apples. She acknowledged the situation, but asked me if I had tried her “God Speed the Plough”. Continue reading

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Italian Elegance: Lugana Wines

By Christopher Matthews

For wine lovers, Italy’s incredible regional diversity and myriad grape varieties – many of them indigenous, and some produced only in certain Italian locales – are the gifts that keep on giving. But that’s what also makes Italian wine difficult sometimes for American consumers to grasp, and explains, in part, the US love affair with Italian Pinot Grigio – it’s easy (in more ways than one)! Given this dichotomy, it’s important to highlight quality Italian wines that are less well-known on these shores, offering character and value.

Clearly one such precinct: Lugana, a northern Italian Denominazione (DOC) tucked in between the provinces of Brescia and Verona, on the south shore of Lake Garda. Based on mainly dry white wines produced from the Turbiana grape, the region’s wines showed extremely well at a recent Lugana event in Manhattan at La Pizza Fresca, hosted by the Lugana Consortium. These wines are worth knowing.

lugana-doc-region Continue reading

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