Wine Media Guild Explores Portugal

By Christopher Matthews

During its long history, especially during the Age of Discovery, Portugal has been known as a nation of explorers, something that allowed the (then) small kingdom to punch far above its weight for centuries as a colonial power.

Times have changed, and the tables have turned, as Portugal itself, sans colonies and King, has become a hot tourist destination and a country to explore, not least for its vibrant and rapidly evolving wine sector, a big success story of the last few decades, but one the US market should know more about.WMG Logo

 

This was the point of departure for the Wine Media Guild’s (WMG) most recent tasting/lunch — “Exploring the Wines of Portugal” — hosted by WMG Member David Ransom, and featuring Ivan Escalante, a sales rep for Iberian wines for the distributor Wine in Motion USA, at the Restaurant at La Nacional (The Spanish Benevolent Society).

It was an instructive, eye-opening tasting of quality, value…and lesser known, indigenous grape varieties. Continue reading

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NY Craft Ciders Rock the Lower East Side

By Christopher Matthews

November 2-11, 2018, was Cider Week in New York City, a festival of multiple cider events and tastings in bars and venues across the Big Apple, organized by the New York Cider Association. The aim: “to cultivate appreciation of New York’s  orchard-based cider” by showcasing its exceptional quality, diversity and food-friendliness.

If the Lower East Cider Fest (on November 8) in Manhattan was any indication, a major Cider Week tasting of over 30 (mainly) New York State cideries that took place in the historic Essex Street Market, then it was truly mission accomplished.

It was a crowded, youthful scene in the Essex Market, one that should give the craft (hard) cider segment of the industry much optimism. As it is, craft cider continues to grow at a buoyant 35% clip annually, one of the hottest US beverage categories.

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Lower East Cider Fest @ Essex St. Market

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Seriously Delicious: Foggy Ridge’s “Serious Cider”

By Christopher Matthews 

It’s cider season in the Hudson Valley, and I have lately been gathering the materials – and fruit – to make my own (now) annual production. This process has taken me several times to Half Time Beverage in Poughkeepsie which, in addition to being a craft beer and cider store par excellence, is also a good spot for home brewing supplies.

While purchasing some essential items like pectic enzyme and yeasts for my upcoming cider batches, I wandered over to Half Time’s craft cider selection, and was drawn immediately to one of my favorite producers anywhereFoggy Ridge, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

I first tasted some of Foggy Ridge’s (FR) ciders three years ago at a special cider tasting of the Wine Media Guild, and I was greatly impressed. In particular, I remembered that FR’s “Serious Cider” was my favorite, and I spotted it on Half Time’s shelf.

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Seriously good

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2018 Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition: Benmarl Sweeps Top Awards

By Christopher Matthews

One year ago, Benmarl Winery shared the coveted Winery of the Year award (with Tousey Winery) at the 2017 Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition (HVWSC).

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At the 2018 HV competition, held this past Saturday in Rhinebeck, NY, part of the weekend-long 2018 Hudson Valley Wine & Food Fest, Benmarl’s stellar wines made sure there was no “co-” in the Winery of the Year award this year. And it’s easy to see why: not only did Benmarl win Best in Show for its stunningly good, Champagne-like 2012 Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine (which also took Best Sparkling), but it also took Best Overall Hudson Valley Wine (made with Hudson Valley fruit) for its unctuous 2017 “Sweet Sarah” dessert wine (75% Vidal, 25% Traminette), which was also Best Dessert Wine. Add to the list a Double Gold for its 2016 Proprietor’s Reserve Red (vinifera) blend, and its Gold medal-winning 2017 Seyval Blanc (from my panel), and you have a richly deserved result for Benmarl. Impressive.

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Benmarl’s busy booth at the 2018 HV Wine & Food Fest

Still, it was far from a one winery show. Continue reading

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At 2018 NY Wine Classic, Cider Makes Strong Showing

By Christopher Matthews

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At last week’s 2018 New York Wine Classic, the 33rd annual “Oscars” of the NY wine industry, some 853 NY wines competed for medals (Double Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze), the coveted “Governor’s Cup” (Best in Show), Winery of the Year and multiple other Best-in-category and Best-in-class awards. In terms of headline results, Keuka Spring Vineyards’ (Finger Lakes) 2017 Gewürztraminer took the “Governor’s Cup”, and the estimable Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery won Winery of the Year (click here for the complete results).

But an important development in this year’s Classic was unrelated to wine: 71 hard cider entries came from several regions across New York State, including Central New York, Finger Lakes, Lake Champlain, Lake Erie, Long Island, Hudson Valley, Niagara Escarpment, Thousand Islands, and Upper Hudson Valley, reflecting the vibrant – and growing — NY State craft hard cider scene.

There were three categories for cider at the Classic this year: Best Modern Cider, Best Specialty Cider and Best Heritage Cider. Continue reading

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Hudson Valley Cab Franc Takes Flight

By Christopher Matthews

For well over a decade, there has been a growing consensus among winemakers in the Hudson Valley (HV) that Cabernet Franc is the best red vinifera grape variety for the region. As an observer of the local wine scene, I reside firmly in this Cab Franc camp.

Likely a native of southwest France, and the primary red grape in France’s Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc is a parent (along with Sauvignon Blanc) of the more famous Cabernet Sauvignon. It is lighter in body and color than its offspring, and it both buds and ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, too.

Not only does Cab Franc grow well in the HV’s highly variable climate, but it’s also one of the most winter-hardy red vinifera varieties, able to withstand (normally) vine-killing temperatures of -10 F  — a common occurrence in the HV’s often frigid winters. Another important factor is its versatility in the cellar, owing to its relatively lean tannins, medium body, and multi-layered fruit profile – berries, cherries, plums and cranberries – and excellence as a blender. Think cool-climate Cab Franc reds, like Chinon from France’s Loire Valley, with the possibility for bigger, more complex Cab Francs in stellar vintages. Over the last decade, a Cab Franc-based wine has garnered the Best Red accolade seven times at the annual Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition.

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HV Cab Franc

In 2016, this HV Cab Franc “consensus” grew into something more official – the Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc Coalition (HVCFC) – aiming to encourage more vineyard plantings of the Cab Franc grape, and to boost recognition of the HV’s distinctive, “terroir-driven” Cab Franc wines. Continue reading

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Inspiring Bordeaux “Quartet” at the Wine Media Guild

By Christopher Matthews

Normally, the Wine Media Guild of New York’s annual Bordeaux lunch takes place in January, when the Union de Grand Crus de Bordeaux’s (UGCB) show comes through town as part of a national tour. But January’s unpredictable weather — and the harried schedules of producers during the UGCB campaign — led to a postponement from January 2018 to this past Tuesday, a beautiful, sunny day in May in Manhattan.WMGlogo

It was worth the wait.

With thanks to WMG co-chairs Pat Savoie and Charles Scicolone for organizing, our exceptional Grand Cru “ensemble” was composed of  Château Beychevelle (Saint-Julien), Château Guiraud (Sauternes), Château Latour Martillac (Pessac-Léognan) and Château Kirwan (Margaux). Each house brought a range of wines from outstanding vintages (from 1998/2000, to 2015)  for the walk-around, and some older vintages showed up at the lunch, all of which took place at Il Gattopardo.

This focused, manageable tasting/lunch illustrated top-flight Bordeaux’s enduring value: a benchmark for age worthy wines of complexity and finesse, stimulating both to the palate and the intellect, and versatile at the table.

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