It was great to be back in the Big Apple, today. The weather was warm in the mid-60’s. The sun was shining. And the streets were not really too full of people. I parked around 20th and 6th Ave, and went to a tasting on 18th. When I left, I drove up 6th Ave to 42nd street and then across to the West Side Highway to get back up north. All in all it was a very pleasant day with little traffic to deal with, and it was actually a pleasure to have to take my time up 6th Ave, and just take in the city a little.
There is this interesting feeling I get when traveling - again. Something a lot of people have not done much of the past two years. But I have had the opportunity to start to travel a bit over the past few of months. First, I went down to Florida to visit my dad at the beginning of March. Just a quick weekend where we got to spend a few minutes together and get caught up face to face. We talk every week, but I hadn’t seen him in about a year, and that was enough.
Next, I went to Barbados with my wife about 3 weeks ago. This was a long-delayed vacation for us – just the two of us. Our kids are either done with or in the middle of college, and we are essentially empty-nesters at this point. We were supposed to do several trips in 2020 (in fact, I had four work and pleasure trips lined up that year - all were cancelled!), and one of those was going to be our first real no-kids kind of trip in about 25 years. That was cancelled. Barbados was great. We visited a rum distillery, coconut farm, sailed, drove on the left-side of the road, drank daiquiris on the beach, ate local food, and snorkeled everywhere. Really a great adventure. See my other post for full details.
Last week we ventured up to Maine to see our son. He lives in Portland and rides his bike around the city a lot. We did as well. We like to bike Portland as there are great trails, lots of bike lanes, and most people are pretty bike savvy. Plus, there is great food, drinks, the water is everywhere, and to top it all off we had absolutely perfect weather. We met his new puppy, celebrated a birthday, hit the farmer’s market, drank Kombucha, and ate local cheeses – all fantastic stuff. Again, see my other post for full details.
And that brings me back to NYC…
Today was the Skurnik Grand Portfolio tasting. An annual trade show for the wine and spirits industry in and around New York. I attend as we are customers of Skurnik in CT, as well as of many of the wineries who may often be repped by other agencies in the other states I work in. Skurnik’s portfolio is one of the best all-around lists as they are well connected and obviously the New York market brings a lot of clout. Today’s tasting was not quite to the level of the past, but it was great to be there, see old friends, and to just be at a Grand Tasting again – first one in about 2 ½ to 3 years for me; definitely the first time I have been in the city since Covid hit, over two years ago.
There was plenty of wine to taste, of course. And one of the things that really is important for me as a buyer and an educator in the wine business, is to make and retain the personal connections with folks in the industry. I do not get to travel the world every year, but I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting many, many winery people who then travel to places like NYC for an annual tasting, and this gives me the opportunity to reacquaint with them and check-in on the new vintages/wines, local news, events, etc. I also rely on these shows to make the connections that can be used for scheduling events and interview opportunities, as well as some travel time occasionally. There is more business done than simply tasting a lot of wine.
That said, I did of course taste.
Some of my highlights from today, are…
Randall Graham / Bonny Doon Vineyard – and why not? I have been buying and selling Bonny Doon wines for years, and I even did an event with Randall back about 10 years ago. He was in NYC today and even remembered coming out to do an event for me in Hartford. What struck me, was the absolute dedication to continued value and deliciousness. I am not sure why I am surprised though – that has always been his way.
Wines tasted include:
Bonny Doon Vineyard Picpoul 2021, Arroyo Secco - Central Coast
Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc, 2020, Central Coast
Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare, 2021, Central Coast
Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant, 2020, Central Coast
Bonny Doon Vinayard Le Cigare Orange, 2021, Central Coast
I am not really sure where to start or which to highlight – they are all delicious. I loved the new Rose. The Picpoul is so tasty. The Cigare Blanc and Red are fantastic. The Orange is super cool and easy to drink. My suggestion is to just buy the wines – they are fantastic values made by a rock star winemaker who has been both an inspiration and dedicated tactician for many years, but also one of the more inspired climate activist and forward thinkers in the industry, Randall is great and so are his wines.
Little Peacock Imports – focusing on wines from Australia. I have had some of these wines in the past, but today was a lot of fun to taste a collection of wines that really just each showed personality and uniqueness, without being over-the-top serious – kind of like most Aussies that I have met. I am a fan of the Tiny Paradoxes wine – especially the McLaren Vale Shiraz. Juicy and just serious enough to warrant another glass. Also, I was inspired by the Best’s Great Western Riesling 2021. Just racy and refreshing and singularly laser focused on tart and refreshing acidity. Rarely do we see a wine like this in the US, and I love this style. The women at the table (Yasmin and Fana) were great to meet and taste with - here they are showing off the wines...
Sashi Moorman – almost too many labels to keep it all straight, but Sashi is an extremely talented winemaker who works in multiple states and with a number of people who are noted in their respected fields – especially Raj Parr. Some of the wine names he is responsible for include Sandhi, Domaine de la Cote, Piedrassasi, Evening Land Vineyards…
There were several options from each of the wineries above, and for me the new offering of the Sandhi Pinot Noir was probably the more interesting. I have had a challenge selling DDLC and Sandi Chardonnay in the past, but I think the Pinot Noir was outstanding. I prefer Evening Land’s elegance, but the Sandi was delicious. I also had a couple vintages of the Piedrassasi and it was far better than any bottles I have had in the past. Kind of a quirky wine, this is essentially a hands-off winemaking project that produces lovely, deeply flavored red. When its great – its great. I have had otherwise, though.
Turley – table hosted by Christina Turley - Larry Turley's oldest daughter and head of sales for the winery.
My choice in all of the options from this well sought after and well-regarded winery – was (again) Juvenile. The least expensive and by all accounts least complex wine just makes me want to drink another glass every time. The other wines tend to be a bit over the top. They are all great, don’t get me wrong – Petite Syrah is delicious – it’s just that I am getting older and l often like my wines a bit simpler. Honestly, just buy what you can if you can – these are hard to get wines from historic vineyards. The reputation is well deserved.
Robert Biale – a fan favorite – and I am the fan
Black Chicken Zinfandel. Not sure of the history and the story here? Look it up – Napa Valley history. Biale Black Chicken Zin has been a go to for me on wine lists for many years. Love it, and today proved why – the wine ROCKS! If you can find them, check out the Royal Punisher Petite Sirah or the R. W. Moore Vineyard Zinfandel – each worth exploring for.
And while we are talking about Zinfandel, you might as well check out the Martinelli wines – again, if you can find them. I love the Bella Vigna Pinot Noir and the Vigneto di Evo Russian River Valley Zinfandel. I carry on my lists and these wines are just fantastic. If you can hunt down some Giuseppe & Luisa Zinfandel 2020 – it will be worth the hunt. This is an historic, establishment type producer that every enthusiast should know.
The around the corner was Anthill Farms. I have always been a fan of these well-crafted Sonoma Coast wines. In particular, I am a fan of the Sonoma Coast 2020 Pinot Noir and the 2020 Peugh Vineyard Chardonnay. Did I mention these are from the Sonoma Coast? Just hits your palate on the spot you want it to and taste great on both counts.
And next to them was Failla. The Anderson Valley 2020 Pinot Noir – yup! That’s the one. Give me more please. Actually, anything is great, but give me the simple, blended Pinot Noir and I am happy.
That brings us to Ramey Wine Cellars
And today, it was Dave Ramey behind the table with his daughter pouring for us. I have said it before and I’ll say it again – Dave Ramey is the best winemaker in Cali – especially from an historic point of view. These wines prove again and hold the line to confirm he has been making consistent wines year in and year out for decades. The thing is though – these wines do not stay static in style. Dave has a winemaking philosophy, but that is just a starting point each year. The wines follow their path with his process, but ultimately come out as they were destined to be. Now don’t get me wrong, the wines all have a guidance of style that is familiar every vintage, but Dave has figured out how to consistently express terroir and vintage, all while using oak. The wines are stunningly delicious every year. My fav is the Claret. I go to this tasting each year to see and taste with two people: Dave Ramey and James Cahill.
Hi, my name is Charles Bieler, and I make wine everywhere.
Charles is great and I have known him for more than 20 years, now. This is the guy that had a pink Cadillac he used to drive around in (like from coast to coast) promoting Rosé when Rosé wasn’t really a thing (if you can imagine such a time in the US). He did this while wearing a pink tuxedo, and getting anyone who would listen, to listen, taste, and buy his Rosé. Charles also has an extensive collection of associates and wine projects that range from classically styled Provence Rosé, to kegged wines from everywhere, to Cotes du Rhone, to Finger Lakes wines, and least not - some great stuff from Washington. Always great tasting, and always well worth the money.
Just buy some Rosé already - summer is coming.
When Steve Doerner is behind the table, just say yes, please, and take whatever he puts in your glass – it’s all world-class. Steve has been winemaker here since 1992, and before that he was at Calera for 14 years – my Pinot Noir worlds collide!
Jefferson Cuvee Pinot Noir is always the way to go, but if you are lucky enough to find some of the single vineyard wines then just go for it. Oh, and that Rosé...
James Cahill of North Valley
I have known James for quite some time now, and he is just one of the nicest guys around. At this point I consider James to be a bit more than an occasional acquaintance, but a very good industry friend and someone who I am eager to catch up with once or twice a year. We are always happy to talk about kids, life, wine, whatever. He was winemaker at Soter and has recently taken over the North Valley label as his own project. I have been a big fan along the way and happy to taste any and all wines from Jame’s collection. I didn't take a picture of Jame's wine - we were talking so much - but if you click this link you can see a video of us discussing wine a while back.
Although there was ample opportunity to taste Italian and French wines, I didn’t really get a chance to go through many tabels. The tables were crowded and I have limited patience for lines. The two though that were really standouts for me were the Sancerre (Chavignol) based producer Pierre Martin, and then the great wines of Paolo Conterno from Barolo.
The Pierre Martin Sancerre – and keep in mind that Sancerre is like non-existent at certain price-points, right now – taste like really freaking good Sancerre. Three options: Sancerre, Sancerre Les Cules de Beaujeu, Sancerre Les Monts Damnes. Mineral and stone driven wines that were a pleasure. Basic Sancerre delivers great food and racy wet-stone laced acidity. The Les Montes Damnes – beautiful. Sancerre Rose and Rouge (Pinot Noir, btw) are each great selections, as well. Chavignol is the place to BE!
Paolo Conterno Vini – what a place to finish.
I got some coffee and left after this one. It was just a great point to call it a day and wrap the tasting. Mr Conterno was pouring today, and each of the wines were fantastic. I go back to the fact that I often really appreciate the simple wines at the beginning of the line, and here was no exception.
The 2021 Langhe Arneis A Val’ is one of the best I have had of this grape. Clean and juicy with just the right balance – it was very refreshing, while still being a little different.
And the Dolcetto d'Alba L'Alto is crazy good.
Then the Barbera duo was absolutely a dream to taste.
And then the Barolo lineup was fantastic. Two 2018 Barolo – Riva del Brie and Ginestra. Each solid with tannins, but approachable. 2013 Ginestra Riserva was special to taste. Paolo Conterno style is a guarded, older, and more classically founded winemaking style. But I think this actually translates to today's world very well. We have young Somms and children that need to taste wines like this. In order to place today's wines into context of what "authentic" and "classic" mean, you need to experience wines in that manner and of this caliber. Here is your opportunity, please take it.
As I said, I felt it an appropriate place to conclude and took my leave after these fantastic wines.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With over 25 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.