Posted on March 26, 2013 by Andrew Harwood

After working for a year and a half in Hungary and France, I was ready to come home.

I loved my life overseas, yet yearned for cheeseburgers, pizza, and fries with ketchup (not mayonnaise). After a long day at the winery, I wanted a cold Schlitz, not a shot of Palinka (plum brandy) or Pastis. California was the obvious choice. The Golden State boasts millions of acres of vines, sunshine almost year round, and great food. It also holds title as the undisputed epicenter of wine production in the U.S.

Through a succession of chance meetings, I landed at Limerick Lane Cellars in Sonoma County. Michael Collins, owner and founder of the property, showed me a side of wine that I had yet to fully comprehend.

In Hungary, for example, winemakers were eager to discuss the production methods for their prized Aszu, a decadent dessert wine that tastes of caramel, almonds, and apricots. Weather, on the other hand, was always the topic du jour in Bordeaux. Here they need sufficient sun and rain (and all at the right times) in order to ripen grapes yielding a wine with sufficient body and flavor. Michael, however, liked to talk about dirt.

While I expected Michael to give me a tour of the equipment, tanks and barrel room on my first day at work, I was in for quite a surprise when he led me directly out to the vineyard.

"The clay is rich and deep here where we stand," he started, continuing with "the two acres up on the southwest slope have about fifteen inches of loam atop the bedrock, the plot directly behind the winery has a Boron deficiency . . ." His words all referenced soil variations, yet the message was about the wine.

To make good wine, you need good grapes, and to grow good grapes you must have the right soil. After thirty years on the land, Michael knew how the vines of each parcel were affected by the soil: small berries with ripe tannins on the slope, abundant crops of large clusters in the back, late-ripening high acid berries behind the winery . . .

Yes, producers in every region must consider all the factors that work together to make a wine. These include but are not limited to the grape variety, production method, soil, and climate. Yet of all these factors, most producers have a first love, and that will likely always be the lens through which they see their final creation once it makes it to bottle. For Michael, that just happened to be the dirt.

Although I eventually left the winery to move to New York City, an appreciation of soil and its importance in shaping wine stayed with me. It can be a difficult thing to grasp for we do not really see it, we see only the topsoil. Yet this top layer, as with many things in life, often tells us little about what lies beneath. Labels, furthermore, do not list vineyard soil characteristics, nor would we want them to. But the next time you're thirsty, pull the cork on your favorite bottle, take the time to taste it, pay attention, and let the wine do the talking.


Read this article on Littleviews Travel!

Continue reading →

Standing out in a crowd...

Posted on March 26, 2013 by Andrew Harwood


What is it that makes anything or anyone stand out in a crowd? Is it as simple as being different, colorful, or one of a kind? When it comes to wine the answer is a resolute no.

In order to stand out in a crowd, a wine must possess not only qualities found nowhere else, but also flavors and textures that are the result of a unique combination of soil, climate, and people that we call terroir.

The French, for example, have been striving through trial and error for thousands of years with different vineyards and grapes to find the right marriage between grape and site. And the French have produced great partners, such as the Chenin Blanc grape and the Coulee de Serrant Vineyard in the Savennieres region in the Loire Valley. Why? Because the wines that come from this vineyard have flavors and textures that are found nowhere else. Try as people may, these wines can not be recreated in any other place.

The Chenin Blanc grape is planted in South Africa, California, and a few other places around the world. Yet, the forces of climate, grape, and, very importantly, soil, have come together at the Coulee de Serrant vineyard to forge a product of nature that stands out in the crowd.

If I may be so bold, whether or not one actually enjoys the taste of this particular wine is beside the point. Yes, we drink wine for pleasure. But this wine is about so much more than just the flavors, aromas, and textures it provides to our sense of taste, smell, and touch.

So many products that we consume today are mass produced, commoditized, if you will, into a "one size fits all model." This is not necessarily bad, as commercialization gives people wide access to reasonably-priced, consistent products. Wine is no different. There are mass-produced wines that fit the bill for many occasion, especially after a long day at work, when we like knowing exactly what to expect from our drink - bottle after bottle, year after year.

All this said, there are occasions when we want a wine to appeal to our intellect as well as our taste buds. The wine produced from the Chenin Blanc grape at Coulee de Serrant Vineyard (mentioned above), as well as a number of others from around the world do just this. Consider, for example, the Gruner Veltliner grape in the Wachau in Austria, the Tannat grape in Madiran in Southwest France, and the Negroamaro in Puglia in southern Italy, to name a few.

What makes each wine unique is that they all have a story to tell; a story about the soil, vines, and the people who tend them. Each of these stories is unique, having no counterpart anywhere else in the world. Even if these wines are not to our exact taste, they can and should be appreciated for their individuality.

To really swoon, however, you should find a wine that speaks to your mind and palate. How do we find these? Tasting and more tasting.

As you begin to identify what your palate prefers, as well as understand the styles commonly found around the world, you become better equipped to spot a wine that stands out in the crowd. I should add that if I were stranded on a deserted island for the rest of my life and could choose but one wine, the Coulee de Serrant is it.

Why? Because it tastes so good . . .

Read this on Littleviews Travel!

Continue reading →

Where do you go for that special bottle?

Posted on March 26, 2013 by Andrew Harwood


 One of the eternal joys of New York City is that no matter where you live (or stay in a hotel), there is always one of everything right around the corner; a grocery market, a deli, and a dry cleaner. Add to that list, a wine shop.

Nobody in New York ever has to walk more than a few blocks to pick up a bottle of chilled New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a dark, robust Australian Shiraz. Yet sometimes the corner liquor store just won't do. Whether it's an occasion to celebrate or just a rainy Tuesday night, there are times when you want to venture beyond your four block radius and find something unique.

So, how does one locate a good place to buy wine? Moreover, what are the qualities that make a wine shop great? Here's a simple guide:

+ Ask around: And don't be afraid to ask! But better yet, take brief notes so you can refer to the answers later.

+ Really listen to what's being said: A store that sells wine is selling much more than intoxicating liquid. It's also in the business of telling stories about people's lives; the people who grew the grapes, the people who made the wine and put it in the bottle. Therefore, look for a shop staffed by a friendly, knowledgeable sales team who know as much about the vineyards as they do about wine classifications.

+ Ask about the grape: If you are new to wine, let the staff know. Here are some ideas that can help you communicate:

  • Have the salesperson suggest two wines made with the same grape but from different countries. This will help you become acquainted with regional styles, while you learn about a particular classification.
  • Or let the salesperson suggest a wine he or she likes (eliciting as many details as possible) and then buy it and a bottle from a different vineyard to see if you can detect the differences.

+ Taste test at home: Once home, cover each of your bottles so you can't tell which is which. Taste both and write notes. Compare what you're experiencing to what you learned in the wine shop. See if the salesperson's description matches your perceptions.

+ Evaluate the salespeople as well as the wine: The staff at a good wine shop will not only help you learn, they will be eager to do so. I recommend 67 Wine & Spirits on 67th and Amsterdam and Warehouse Wine & Spirits on Broadway one block west of Astor Place as good places to start.

+ Be adventurous: Break away from what you usually drink and try something new. A shop that aims to differentiate itself from the pack will carry all the standard bottles, plus a cornucopia of unique and interesting offerings.

+ Put a wine shop to the test: Walk in and tell the salespeople what you usually drink (like Merlot, for example). Tell them what you usually look for in a red wine (such as full-bodied, fruity, etc.), then ask them to suggest something entirely new that still fits your tastes. An educated salesperson's excitement over describing new wines and regions will be contagious.

+ Invest small change: And don't think you have to spend a fortune. Ask the salespeople to suggest something under ten dollars as well as another bottle around fifteen. Try these bottles "blind" (as described above) to determine whether the little bit of extra money was well spent. Work your way up a budget, not down it.

+ Pull corks: This has been and always will be the best way to learn about wine and to discover what truly moves you. Buy, taste, observe.

  • Stick to one type of wine for a while, but buy it from different vineyards to see how they compare.

    Crossroads on 14th between fifth and sixth is a virtual treasure trove for the adventurous wine drinker, even if the staff is a bit surly at times (but if they were too friendly, you'd be suspicious, especially in New York). And remember, there is all too often a disconnect between price and quality.

+ Taste wine in the shop: A great wine shop offers tastings (many free), where you can sample recommendations. Take advantage of these opportunities, but don't feel pressured to buy.

  • Union Square Wine & Spirits at Union Square frequently advertises free tastings in their new salon (top picture) as does Astor Wines & Spirits at Astor Place. These are especially good places to try if you feel shy about asking salespeople for a sample.

+ Attend wine classes: Going to a wine class is a great way to exchange information with others, plus learn more about the subject. Some classes provide the means to let you buy what you taste, while others are simply advisory.

More information on wine shop tastings and wine classes can be found on my site, www.NYCWineClass.com, as well as on www.LocalWineEvents.com, and www.FunWithWine.com.

All of this said, the main goal of wine tasting, of course, is about enjoying the experience. But you might remember that I began this article by saying that wine is about people - those who grow and harvest the grapes as well as bottle it. As you become at ease selecting wines from various vineyards, learn more about them on the web (if they have a site) and consider visiting them when you're traveling near their area.

Read the article on Littleviews Travel!

Continue reading →

Why is wine so confusing?

Posted on March 26, 2013 by Andrew Harwood


 Why is wine so confusing? Does selection intimidate you? If yes, you are not alone!
Most people have been to a wine store or a restaurant and been absolutely overwhelmed and intimidated by the sheer variety and number of selections offered. Herein lies the problem: too many choices.

I, personally, can't get enough of it. But wine is my life, my profession, my passion. I remember being in college as my friends were slugging back Milwaukee's Best, while I was at home comparing and contrasting Almaden's Mountain Burgundy to Carlo Rossi's Hearty Chianti. Granted, a humble beginning, but I was on a budget.

Ten years later, I now love to read about up-and-coming regions and to compare and contrast, for example, the styles of different producers within one tiny region of Spain, or from one specific commune in Bordeaux. It is not practical, however, for most people to read about every producer, vintage, region, and production method out there. So what is the solution?
Discover Your Palate

Many people know when they like a wine. The difficult part is understanding why. What do you like about it, and how do you communicate your feelings? Is it light or full bodied? Is it tannic or not? What are tannins anyway? Is it fruity or sweet? Do fruity and sweet mean the same thing? Furthermore, if you try and like a Chianti, does that mean you will like all Chiantis?

All these questions can be answered by tasting, and then tasting more. Yet tasting is not enough as you must pay attention to what you are tasting. Even better, in my opinion, is to learn with comparative tastings.

Consider the Chardonnay grape. It is grown in Napa Valley as well as in a region in France called Chablis. Tasted side-by-side, you may think they have little in common, yet they are both made with the Chardonnay grape.

In general (but not always), Chardonnay grown in Napa tends to be fuller bodied and more fruity, while the Chablis wine tends to taste drier, with higher acid and flavors that favor mineral and stone as opposed to fruits. When you taste them side-by-side, you easily begin to get the idea of full body versus light body, and fruity versus mineral.

From such tastings, you may form a preference, or you may like them both, simply wanting one or the other depending on the occasion or your mood. Does this mean all Napa Chardonnay is full bodied and fruity while all Chablis is bone dry and tastes of liquid rocks? Not necessarily. Often yes, but not always. So what is the next step?

Find a Good Store

Knowing regions like Chablis and Napa can certainly serve as a guide. Yet there are exceptions. There are Chardonnays from Napa than can be dry, firm and steely, while there are Chablis that are fruity and full bodied.

What is even more important is knowing the style of wine you like. With this, you can enter a store, or a restaurant, and speak with the staff, letting them know the type of wine you want.

If you request something dry and crisp, then you may frequently be given a Chablis, or a Sancerre from the Loire Valley in France, or a Gruner Veltliner from Austria.

Pay attention to the recommended wines and you will likely see trends emerging with regard to regions and the styles they produce. But beware, you just may find a Napa Valley Chardonnay or two that blow you away with its mineral, liquid stone, and crisp, clean acidity.

Be open to possibilities and then, make note of them.

Read this on Littleviews Travel!

Continue reading →

Scroll to top