The Wine Media Guild Sicily Tasting: The White Wines

This article was originally published in “Charles Scicolone on Wine.”

By Charles Scicolone

The Wine Media Guild asked me to host a program about the wines of Sicily. Together with Tom Maresca, another member, we lined up 30 wines for the tasting and lunch. The speakers would be Alessandro Dellascenza of Cru Artisan Wines, a division of Banfi, who would present 7 wines. Somehow, I became the second speaker and was more than happy to do so.

I am often asked where a wine can be bought at retail so in this post I have included the name of the importer/distributer of each wine.

At the tasting and lunch, which took place in April at Felidia Restaurant, we had 9 excellent whites ranging in price from $12 to $41.

The White Wines of SicilyIMG_0218

Grillo “Zirito” 2014 Grillo Terre Siciliane IGT 100% Grillo Feudo SartannaCru Artisian Wines-Banfi $12 The vineyards are in Western Sicily; the soil is volcanic of medium texture, chalk and clay. Traditional fermentation, temperature control with partial skin contact. The wine is aged in stainless steel for 6 months. This is a wine with citrus fruit aromas and flavors and a long, well-balanced finish. Grillo means cricket in Italian.IMG_0216

Grillo “Cavallo Delle Fate Sicilia” 2014 DOC 100% Grillo  Tasca d’ AlmeritaWinebow $20 From the Sant’Anna, Piana Casa Vecchie and San Pietro vineyards at 1,980 feet with a southwest exposure. There are 26 hectares of vineyards and the soil is sand and clay-loam. Training system is guyot, with 1,840 vines per hectare. The vineyards were planted in 2007 and the first vintage was in 2012. The harvest is in September. Fermentation is in stainless steel for 15 days, aging in stainless steel for 4 months.This is a wine with hints of white peach, apricot and pineapple with good acidity.IMG_0224

Grillo Terre Siciliane IGP 2013 100% Grillo, Principi di Spadafora Montcalm$26.99 From the Contrada Virzi Monreale and Palermo areas. The vineyard has a western exposure, at 350 meters with sandy-clay soil. Training system is simple guyot espalier. There are 5,000 plants /hectare and the vineyard is 20 years old. Harvest takes place in mid-September. Fermentation is with selected yeasts at a controlled temperature in cement vats. The wine spends 12 months in the vats and 4 months in bottle before release. This is a fruity aromatic wine with hints of citrus fruit with good acidity and a long finish.

Insolia Terre Siciliane IGT 2014, !00% Grillo Cusumano Tony di DioSelections $11.99 Zone of production Ficuzza, Piana degli Albanesi (Palermo) The vines are 15 years old, the exposure is southeast and there are 4,500 plants per hectare. Harvest is by hand the first 10 days of September. There is a cold pressing with the skins for about 12 hours, followed by a second soft pressing. There is cold decanting and fermentation at a controlled temperature. The wines remain on the lees in stainless steel tanks for at least 4 months and for a time in the bottle before release. This is a great value!IMG_0229

Caselle Etna Bianco 2013 DOC 100% Carricante, Benanti Tradizione Imports$20 Production area on the eastern side of Mt. Etna and the southern side at 900/100 meters. The soil is sandy, volcanic and rich in minerals. Training system is alberello (free standing bush). There are 6,000/8,000 vines per hectare and the vines are 35 and 40 years old. Late ripening grapes picked during the 3rd week of October. Fermentation is in temperature controlled stainless steel vats. Wine ages in tanks for a period of time before being bottled.IMG_0227

Vigna Casalj Alcamo Classico DOC 2014 100% Catarratto Tenuta RapitalaWildman $17 Vigna Casalj is a 25 acre registered cru in the Alcamo Classico, a high-elevation DOC. It is at 2,000 meters, guyot trained vines in sandy soil. Harvest is at the end of September. Soft pressing and cold settling is followed by fermentation using selected yeasts at a controlled temperature and the fermentation lasts for two weeks. The wine remains on its fine lees until March and is then aged for three months in 50hl French oak barrels. This is a crisp full bodied wine that has aromas of sage and tomato leaf.IMG_0225

Nozza d’Oro Contea di Sclafani DOC 2012 Inzolia 72% & Sauvignon Tasca 28%Tasca d’Almarita Winebow $30 The Insolia is from the 8.4 hectare Barbabietole vineyard (clay and calcareous soil) and the Sauvignon Tasca from the 2.25 hectare Santa Tea, training method is espalier. Vineyard (Sandstone and fine sand) elevation 1,650 to 2,300 with a southwest exposure. Harvest is in August/ September. There is cold soak maceration for 18 hours and alcoholic fermentation is for 15 days. The wine is aged for 5 months in stainless steel and for 8 months in bottle before release. The wine has hints of apple, peach, melon and jasmine. Nozza d’ Ora in Italian means golden wedding anniversary. It was created by Count Giuseppe Tasca in 1984 and dedicated to his wife Franca.IMG_0226

Cometa 2014 Planeta 100% Fiano Palm Bay $40.99. Production area Menfi from the Gurra vineyard planted in 1998 and the Dispensa vineyard planted in 1996. There are 4,500 vines/hectare. The grapes are destemmed and crushed; the juice clarified by cold setting overnight and then inoculated with selected yeast. It is fermentation at a controlled temperature in stainless steel tanks for 20 days. The wine is bottled in the second half of February following the year of harvest. This is an elegant, full-bodied wine with a wide range of aromas and flavors. It has hints of pineapple, mandarin, thyme and chamomile with a long finish and very pleasing aftertaste.IMG_0219

Piano Maltese DOC 2014 made from Grillo 45%,Cataratto 45% and Chardonnay10% Tenuta Rapitala Wildman $13. Selected parcels of vines located at 1200 ft., guyot trained on clay soil. The grapes are harvested and vinified separately, the Grillo at the end of August and the Catarratto in the middle of September. The grapes are crushed, destemmed and a cooling of the must and gentle pressing takes place. This is followed by division of the different qualities of the must. Cold settling occurs before a cold fermentation. The wines rest on their lees before being blended and bottled in February following the harvest. The wine has rich fruity aromas with hints of apple, pear and a touch of roasted nuts.

The Wine Media Guild Sicily Tasting: The Red Wines

This article was originally published on “Charles Scicolone on Wine.”

By Charles Scicolone

At the Wine Media Guild’s recent tasting and lunch at Felidia Restaurant, we tasted 12 red wines from Sicily ranging in price from $12.99 to $159.99 for the Santa.Ne from Palari, the only wine in the group not made from native grapes.

Alessandro Dellascenza

Alessandro Dellasenza from Cru Artisan Wines/Banfi spoke the wines of Palari as well as the other wines he presented. I spoke about the remaining wines.

The Red Wines of Sicily


Frappato 2013 DOC Paterno di Vittoria, 100% Frappato Golden Ram Imports NYC, David Rosengarten Selections, $18. Maceration is for four days with skin contact and temperature controlled fermentation. The wine spends one month in steel and one month in bottle before release. This is a well-balanced, aromatic wine with hints of cherry and pomegranate.IMG_0198

Frappato 2014 Planeta, 100% Frappato Palm Bay $21.99 De-stemming followed by 12 days maceration, after racking, malolactic in stainless steel. The wine should be drunk 3 years from the vintage. This is light bodied aromatic wine with hints of spice and red fruit.IMG_0199

Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2014 DOCG Planeta, Nero d’ Avola 60% Frappato 40%Palm Bay $ 23.99. The grapes are de-stemmed and crushed, extraction on the skins and 8 days of maceration. After racking, malolactic fermentation takes place in steel tanks. This is a fruity wine with hints of strawberries, cherries and figs with a long finish.IMG_0201

Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2012 DOCG Paterno di Vittoria 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato, Golden Ram Imports NYC $25. Vinified in stainless steel for 15 days. The wine is aged for 6 months is stainless steel, 6 months in barriques and 6 months in bottle before release. This is a wine with good red berry flavors and aromas with a long finish and nice aftertaste.IMG_0206

Nero D’Avola 2014 Cusumano 100% Nero d’Avola Tony di Dio Selections$12.99. Production zone San Giacomo, Butera. The vines are 14 years old and the exposure south, southeast. Training system is espalier and there are 5,000 plants per hectare. This is a fruity easy drinking wine and a great value.IMG_0207

Nero d’Avola Riserva Sicilia “Don Antonio” 2011 Morgante 100% Nero d’AvolaWinebow $42. The vines grow in white calcareous soils with small amounts of clay at 500/550 meters. Harvest takes place at the end of September. Vinification is in stainless steel at a controlled temperature with 20 days skin contact. Malolacatic fermentation is in stainless steel. The wine is aged for 12 months in new French Allier and Troncais 225 liter barriques, followed by 12 months in bottle before release. The wine has hints of cherry, raspberry and violets with a touch of leather and liquorice.IMG_0208

 Rosso del Conte Contea di Sclafani DOC 2010 Tasca d’ Almerita Nero d’Avola 63% and 37% other red grapes Winebow $70 Production area Palermo, Sicily. The soil is fine clay slightly calcareous and the vineyard was planted in 2002. It is at 650 meters with a south-west exposure. The training system is bush and espalier, with short spur pruning. There are 4,000 vines per hectare and the harvest is in the beginning of October. Traditional red wine fermentation in stainless steel and maceration for 20 days. The wine is aged for 18 months in new French oak, Allier and Troncais 225 liter barriques and ten 6 months in bottle before release. The wine has hints of cherries and herbs with a touch of vanilla and tobacco.IMG_0209

Etna Rosso “Martinella” 2010 DOP Vivera (the winery is 100% certified organic) 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio Montcalm$39.99 Located in Linguaglossa, Contrada Matinell on the northern-eastern slope of Mont Etna. The vineyard was planted in 2003 at 600 meters, volcanic soil with abundant rounded stones. Vertical trellis, spur pruned cordon and there are 5,500 plants per hectare. The grapes are carefully selected and hand picked the first week of October. Cold maceration is followed by fermentation at controlled temperatures for 10 days. The wine is racked and aged in 225 French barriques for about one year. It is refined in bottle for another 12 months before release. The wine hints of sweet red fruit and a note of bitter chocolate.IMG_0210

  Etna Rosso “Rovittello” 2013 DOC 100% Nerello Mascalese BenantiTradizione Imports $20 The countryside of Rovittello, on the north side of Mt. Etna in the commune of Castiglione di Sicilia. It is a single vineyard grown as alberello (free standing bush) at 750 meters. The soil is sandy, volcanic and very rich in minerals. The vines are 80 years old and there are 9,000 vines per hectare. Harvest takes place the second week of October and the grapes are late ripening. Traditional vinification takes place, with long maceration of the must with the skins. After malolatic fermentation, the wine matures in small casks of 225 liters for more than one year and 8 to 10 months in the bottle before release. The wine has hints of red fruit and a touch of vanilla.IMG_0211

Rosso del Soprano (the red from the heights) 2011 Palari Cru Artisan Wines-Banfi $58.99 Made from the same grapes as the Faro below. The wine is aged in one-year barrels of Troncais and Allier oak. It is bottled unfiltered and rests for another year until release. The wine has hints of red berries and spice.IMG_0212

Faro (lighthouse) 2009 DOC PalarCru Artisan Wines- Banfi $99.99 made from 60% Nerello Mascalese, 1% Cor’e Palumba, 2% Jacche 15% Nocera, 20% Nerello Cappuccio and 2% Acitana. The grapes are grown in vineyards located in Santo Stefano Briga (Messina), in sandy soil. After a soft pressing and fermentation with native yeasts in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, the wine is aged in new barrels of Troncais and Allier oak for at least 12 months. The wine is bottled unfiltered and remains in bottle for 12 months before release. This is a complex wine with hints of ripe red fruit, spice, jasmine and a touch of vanilla.IMG_0213

Santa.Ne 2008 Palari Cru Artisan Wines-Banfi $159.99 Made from 100% “A Francisa.” Alessandro explained that over 150 years ago the farmers found a unusually clay-rich plot of land and decided to plant grapes from France. Over the years the vines adapted to the land and the farmers no loner remembered what was planted there. So in dialect they called it “A Francisa”–the grapes from France. It is a single vineyard in the heights of Santo Stefano Briga (Messina). Following the pressing of the grapes and fermentation with native yeasts at controlled temperature the wine rests for 24 months in barrels of Troncais oak and at least 2 years more in bottle unfiltered 2 years before release. The wine has hints of red fruit, tobacco, leather and spice with a touch of vanilla.


This article was originally published in “John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet.”


By Geoff Kalish


    Discovered in the United States by more than just the wine cognoscenti, a number of excellent, sensibly priced Sicilian reds, whites and rosés are now widely available across the country.  In fact, while just a few years ago many restaurant wine lists lumped bottles from Sicily into a “Southern Italian” grouping or as “other,” these same eateries now  provide far more than meager selections of vintages in a separate “Sicilian” category. And retail shops that once rarely carried more than a token bottle of Nero d’Avola, now offer shelves devoted to selections from the island. To gain insight into what the market has to offer, the  NYC-based Wine Media Guild recently held a tasting of more than two dozen of these wines with lunch. The following are which I thought were the six best.


In general, I’m not a big fan of Italian white wines, feeling that many of them are very bland, one-dimensional products made so as not to offend the palate of even the least discerning consumer. On the other hand, of the nine whites offered, I found the 2014 Tenuta Rapitala Vigina Casalj Alcamo Classico DOC ($17) extremely enjoyable.   Made from 100% Catarratto grapes (the most widely planted white varietal in Sicily), the wine showed a bouquet and taste of ripe peaches and pears with undertones of sage and a crisp finish, perfect to pair with grilled tuna and pasta with seafood.


    With so many too sweet, low-acid rosés (rosati in Italian) on the market, the 2015 Tasca d’Almerita  Le Rosé di Regaleali Terre Siciliane ($13) was a welcome find. Made from 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes, the wine had a salmon pink color, a fragrant bouquet of ripe cherries and strawberries, with a fruity taste that was crisp and dry on the finish. This wine makes an excellent aperitif, but it also mates well with salmon or pork.


    The four standout reds were from totally different Sicilian locales. The 2014 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($23), from vineyards outside the town of Vittoria, showed a bouquet and easy-drinking taste of ripe plums and apricots, with a long pleasant finish. This wine goes well with a wide variety of fare ranging from steak tartare to grilled veal chops to pasta with red sauce. 

    The 2011 Palari Rosso del Soprano ($59) hailed from the Messina area and is a blend of primarily Nerello Mascalese grapes (60%) and smaller amounts of five other indigenous varietals. Albeit pricy, the wine is amazingly Burgundian in style with a bouquet and taste of plums and spice and a bit more oomph than many reds from the Côte d’Or but not as overwhelmingly fruity as a number of California Pinot Noirs. Try it with grilled beef or lamb.
A well priced 2014 Cusumano Nero D’Avola ($13), from vineyards in San Giacomo, exhibited a very fruity bouquet and concentrated taste of ripe blackberries and raspberries with a long pleasant finish. Pair this wine with hamburgers or pizza as well as dark-veined cheeses.

    A 2010 Vivera Etna Rosso “Martinella” ($40), from the northest side of Mt. Etna —a blend of 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio–-shows the great aging potential for this category of wine. It has a bouquet and soft taste of plums and strawberries interlaced with exotic spices and a smooth finish with a touch of tannin. Mate this wine with grilled pork chops, ripe cheeses or rich pasta Norma.

And  those consumers who view Marsala as merely a cooking wine should try the Florio Targa Riserva Marsala Superiore Riserva Semisecco ($35 for a 500ml bottle) for a rich, sweet treat with flavors of dried figs and apricots and a vibrant acidity in the finish to enjoy with chocolate or mild cheeses.

Wine Review Online. Com


April 12, 2016 Issue



Trivento, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec Reserve 2014 ($11, Excelsior Wines and Spirits): Yet another example of why Malbec continues to be popular. There’s a lot to like for your eleven bucks, with blackberry, raspberry, cedar spice toasty oak and a savory note on the nose and in the mouth, with enough grip to stand up to myriad food pairings – anything from mixed tapas to a full parilla grill, you can’t go wrong.
89 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

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Robert Oatley, Margaret River (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon Signature Series 2014 ($20, Pacific Highway Wine and Spirits): A fresh, lively Cabernet that’s proud of its terroir, showing plush black fruit, dried herbs, mild earth and soft brown spice. Firm grip suggests a big roast or lamb chops as a food pairing.  It should be fairly easy to find, and it’s priced well below its quality level. Well done!
91 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

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Lucien Albrecht, Alsace (France) Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV ($21): A stunning expression of the sunny slopes in Alsace.  This sparkling rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir using whole clusters in the methode traditionale.  While aromas of strawberry rhubarb pie with a toasty butter crust greet the nose, the palate adds more tart characteristics of fresh raspberry and lemon zest.
92 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016



Mouton Cadet, Bordeaux (France) Rosé 2015 ($12): This Bordeaux showstopper is a blend of traditional varieties including 53% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 27% Cabernet Sauvignon. A rich hue of blush, this lovely wine offers notes of red currant, raspberry and ruby red grapefruit with a touch of faint sage at the end.  Supple fruit on the palate is followed with bright kiss of fleshy lemon and a lingering finish.  This vibrantly fruity rosé would pair well with lighter fare such as grilled salmon with pearl tomato, feta and pearl couscous salad.
93 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016



Bieler Père et Fils, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence (France) Rosé “Sabine 2015 ($13): Everything about this quintessential Provencal Rosé says “springtime!”  A happy blend of rich wild strawberry, cherry, and pomegranate dance in the glass with savory sun-dried herbs.  This crisp, refreshing blend of 40% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cinsault and 3% Rolle offers a supple roundness of texture on the finish.  A definite palate pleaser for the months to come.
96 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016



E. Guigal, Côtes du Rhône (France) Rosé 2014 ($12): Just beyond Provence, the Rhône Valley puts out some pretty powerful competition in the rosé category and famed winery E. Guigal consistently reveals a refreshing expression of the region.  The 2014 Rosé is delicious and delicate, with a mélange of fresh summer strawberries, raspberries and cherry that elegantly funnels into a lingering mineral-driven finish.  A blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, this pretty pale pink number is a perfect partner for outdoor picnics.
95 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016

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August Kesseler, Pfalz (Germany) Riesling Kabinett 2014 ($18, Vineyard Brands): Low in alcohol (just 10%), this peachy Riesling offers medium-sweet flavors with sufficient acidity for balance and structure. Coming from a relatively warm growing region (warm, that is, for Germany), it has a soft, almost lush texture, yet still provides plenty of refreshing flavor, with nothing remotely cloying about it. 90Paul Lukacs Apr 12, 2016

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Domaine Sigalas, Santorini (Cyclades, Greece) Assyrtiko 2015($25, Diamond Wine Imports): Every year, springtime is heralded by the release of a new vintage of Domaine Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko. This is a consistently superb white that ages beautifully but provides a delicious tasting experience even in its youth. The 2015 vintage continues an admirable tradition. The Assyrtiko grapes grown in the volcanic soils and spare conditions of the island yield wines of considerable power and depth. The 2015 Sigalas bottling offers an exotic nose of peach, guava, Rainier cherry, honey, lemon zest and subtle herbs — all underscored by an equally complex palate. The succulent, pure peach, citrus and tropical fruit flavors are backed by hints of honey, coriander, and herbs. The robust and exotic aromas and flavors and enhanced by a rich and creamy texture that allows the finish to linger long and well. Delicious now, experience shows that you can enjoy it for another 5+ years. 95 Wayne BeldingApr 12, 2016

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Galil Mountain, Upper Galilee (Israel) Rosé 2014 ($14): This is historic region offers some beautiful rare finds and this unique blend is no exception.  Showing refreshing acidity and notes of red fruit and rose petals on the palate, this wine is sourced from vineyards in Israel’s Upper Galilee.  Hand-harvested Sangiovese is processed as a “white wine” and later blended with Pinot Noir and Grenache produced in the saignée method.  An exceptional conversation starter for any summer get together.
93 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016

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Tasca d’Almerita, Sicily (Italy) Nerello Mascalese “Le Rose di Regaleali Terre Siciliane” 2015 ($13, Winebow): Cool, moist and juicy, with chaste fruit flavors and a sprightly splash of acidity on the finish, this pretty pink wine is versatile and adaptable to a variety of occasions. Reasonably priced and easy on the palate, sip this rosato solo or pour it at a party, serve it at a picnic or cook-out, toast the recent graduate or raise a glass of it to your mom. Le Rose di Regaliali is definitely a multi-purpose, multi-occasion wine. 90Marguerite Thomas Apr 12, 2016



Villa Gemma Masciarelli, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo (Italy) Rosé 2014($14): This complex and cherry pink rosé is a heftier style than your average rosé, but a welcome addition to the mix.  Made from 100 percent Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes and presents with an intense cherry pink color and a fragrant floral bouquet etched with rich pomegranate and fresh thyme.  A sublime accompaniment to a pizza al fresco.
95 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016



Le Monde, Friuli Grave (Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy) Cabernet Franc 2014 ($17, The Sorting Table): Le Monde is a producer worth seeking out. While situated within the Friuli Grave DOC, their local conditions set them apart from most and yield distinctive wines. In an area mostly known for gravel, Le Monde’s vineyard have a greater proportion of calcareous clay, which seems to endow their 2014 Cabernet Franc bottling with added depth and richness. The wine offers a deliciously ripe and round style. The bouquet shows black cherry, red cherry and blackcurrant fruits with hints of green herbs, graphite and black pepper. The red and black cherry fruit flavors are underscored by savory herbal tones and black pepper spice. The herbal style of the Cabernet Franc is beautifully expressed and balanced nicely by the rich fruit. It’s a delicious Bordeaux-style red that will age gracefully for another 5 years and more. 92 Wayne Belding Apr 12, 2016



Luigi Einaudi, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) Nebbiolo Cannubi 2011($73, Empson USA): Although this vintage has been in the market for several months, it is still available from several sources and only getting better as it ages. The Cannubi vineyard is one of the best sites in all of Barolo and Einaudi’s 2011 is a benchmark for the appellation. The ripeness of the 2011 harvest adds flesh to an already fine wine. The bouquet is forward and complex, with sweet cherry and raspberry fruits enhanced by the classic “forest floor” style of Barolo — tones of dried leaves, flowers, smoke, cocoa, herbs, anise, and baking spices. The flavors are multilayered and rich with the ripe red fruits interwoven with leafy, herbal elements as well as the smoke, vanilla and spice components. Although approachable and thoroughly enjoyable now for its generous fruit, the 2011 Einaudi Cannubi Barolo will develop and improve for another 20+ years in the cellar. 95 Wayne Belding Apr 12, 2016



Palari, Faro (Sicily, Italy) A Francisa “Santa Ne” 2008 ($160, Cru Artisan Wines / Banfi): There are so many things that set this wine above the crowded field. One is its unique personality, including flavors and aromas that seem vaguely familiar yet are hard to pin down. That furtive essence engaging my taste buds, that je-ne-sais-quoi tickling my olfactory nerve — it all seems vaguely herbal and slightly mineral-rich in a damp-earthy way, with a whisper of exotic fruit somewhere in there. And then, just when you might think it’s all over, the wine’s tender yet precise texture grips your senses in the gustatory equivalent of a hug. The word yummy seems too sophomoric for such a sophisticated wine, but on the other hand it may be just the right descriptor for this striking yet unintimidating wine. 96 Marguerite Thomas Apr 12, 2016

Palari, Faro (Sicily, Italy) 2009 ($100, Cru Artisan Wines / Banfi):This wine’s brick-red color and seductive floral and spicy aromas alert you from the get-go that this is going to be an unusual wine, and with the first sip you will be smitten. How could you not love this unusual very dry, very rich wine with its soft tannins and persistent finish? Located in an ancient wine producing area high above the Straights of Messina the 80-plus year old vines are hand harvested. The tiny Faro (“lighthouse”) denomination almost disappeared until Palari’s owner restored his grandfather’s estate in 1990. Made from a blend of native grapes dominated by Nerello Mascalese, plus small amounts of Nerello Cappuccio, Cor’e, Palumba, Jacche, Nocera, and Acitana. 95 Marguerite Thomas Apr 12, 2016

Alessandro di Compreale, Sicily (Italy) Syrah 2012 ($35, Panebianco): When it comes to Sicily, Syrah isn’t my favorite red grape variety — give me Nero d’Avola, Nerello or one of the other fine and distinctive Sicilian varieties any time. But with that said, from its attractive beet-red color all the way through its powerful yet also elegant dark mocha and dried berry flavors to its long lip-smacking aftertaste this is a very successful and satisfying wine. One of its charms is something it doesn’t have: An overly aggressive oak presence, which is a character flaw that brings too many Sicilian Syrahs down to a mundane level as far as I’m concerned. Nor am I alone in this sentiment: “Sicily is becoming the Napa of Italy,” seems a popular refrain these days, and I don’t think anyone means it as a compliment. Yes, I know, many wine drinkers love big oaky red wines, but luckily for those of us who prefer more authentic textures and flavors this is not one of them. 92 Marguerite Thomas Apr 12, 2016



Ferrari, Trentino (Italy) Brut Rosé NV ($30): The only thing more fun than pink wine is pink with with bubbles. Especially this elegant Brut Rosé from Ferrari.  Established over a century ago in Italy’s mountainous northern region of Trentino, Ferrari was recently named Wine Enthusiast’s “2015 Best European Winery.”  This wine is produced in the traditional method and undergoes more than two years of bottle aging on the lees.  Made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this wine is crisp and bright with notes of wild strawberry and raspberry cream and elegantly balances acidity and sweetness with a refreshing finish.
93 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016



Bertani, Veneto (Italy) Bertarose Rosé 2014 ($20): It’s been referred to as the “Rosé of Kings.”  Perhaps because this particular bottling from Veneto is from one of the northern Italy’s most iconic and historic producers in the past 150 years, and bares the royal seal of the Savoia family.  Aromas of cherry and rose petal erupt from the glass with a faint whiff of spice.  The texture and feel is bone dry, racy, and with a little more spice coming through along with a toasted nut character.
94 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016

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Vinha da Defesa, Alentejo (Portugal) Rosé 2014 ($10): For those who love a darker shade of pink, this opulent Portuguese blend of Aragonês (Tempranillo) and Syrah comes from the Alentejo region and offers a deeply structured alternative to the light and delicate vin gris styles of Southern France.  Macerated cherries dominate the nose and palate framed by fresh spring herbs of mint and basil.
94 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016

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Hacienda de Arínzano, D.O. Pago di Arínzano (Spain) Rosé 2015($19): The deeply blush-colored wine is from the first winery in Northeast Spain to receive the prestigious Pago designation due to its unique landscape and climate.  This rosé is made from 100% Tempranillo and offers intense aromas of strawberry, pink grapefruit and white pepper laced with a hint of rose petal.  An excellent wine for a juicy grilled burger.
93 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016


Anna de Codorníu, Catalonia (Spain) Cava Brut Rosé NV ($14):The only thing more fun than pink wine is pink with with bubbles. Especially this elegant Brut Rosé from Codorníu.  Notes of crushed red berries intermingle with underlying minerality and a delicate mid-palate with crisp, fresh powdery berry flavors on to the finish.  An excellent aperitif for the patio.
92 Jessica Dupuy Apr 12, 2016

Castilla y León:


Finca Montepedroso, Rueda (Castilla y León, Spain) Verdejo 2014 ($15, Winebow): Fresh and bright, with the variety’s characteristically crisp flavors and a smooth, supple texture, this Verdejo offers delicious warm-weather drinking. Perhaps because the grapes come from Rueda’s highest elevation vineyards, it has plenty of acidity and shows no sign of fatigue. Still, this is a wine to drink in its youth, meaning this spring and summer.

90 Paul Lukacs Apr 12, 2016

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Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards, Central Coast (California) Pinot Noir 2014 ($18): Here’s a solid food friendly Pinot Noir at a pleasing price.  Medium extraction and well-managed French oak give us a mouthful of cherry, strawberry, cranberry and spice, with crisp acidity that adds a citric note to the long finish.  Salmon or swordfish – get a nice cut with what you saved on the wine.
88 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

Pedroncelli Winery, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Vineyard “Wisdom” 2012($36): With experience comes wisdom, and Pedroncelli will celebrate 90 years of experience next year, likely with a few bottles of this wine.  Fine age-worthy structure, popping acidity, classic Sonoma Cabernet aroma and flavor profile, supple tannins and a lingering well integrated finish show the insight gained over many years.  And you get to enjoy the benefits.  Contains 10% Malbec.
92 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

Niner Wine Estates, Edna Valley (California) Pinot Noir Jespersen Ranch 2013 ($35): There’s a lot going on in this cool climate Pinot Noir.  It opens with leaf and brown spice aromas that morph into deep spiced cherry, raspberry and a mix of damp and dry earth and a note of lemon zest with a slow draft on the glass.  On the palate it’s quite complex, delivering the promise of the nose over lively acidity and finishing long with a citrus note coming forward. A beautiful food wine.
93 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

River Myst Haven, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2013 ($52): A new player to me, and one worth keeping an eye on. This Pinot Noir bottling is a lovely low alcohol mix of earthy minerality, cherry and oak spice aromas and flavors that are are joined by touches of pepper and herbs.  The acidity is very lively and props up the flavors in a lingering finish.  It needs a bit of bottle age to show its full potential, but will come around with elegance and style.
90 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

Freemark Abbey, Rutherford (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($70):Reflecting the general trend with California Cabernets, Freemark Abbey’s wines have become bigger and bolder, showing more extract, sweetness, and overall power than they did when the winery first became famous a generation ago. And for those enamored of this muscular, jammy style, the 2012 from Rutherford offers extremely satisfying drinking. It’s forceful but not overbearing, and has sufficient tannin to reward cellaring for a good five to ten years. Should you choose to drink it young, definitely decant it and let it sit for a good hour or so before serving it. 92 Paul Lukacs Apr 12, 2016

Presqu’ile, San Luis Obispo County (Central Coast, California) Pinot Noir Steiner Creek Vineyard 2013 ($48): A very interesting wine.  Don’t be put off by an initial nose that shows cracked tomato leaf and dusty aromas.  Give it some swirling in the glass to release the dark cherry fruit and brown spice that soften the earthy elements and make for a Pinot Noir that certainly isn’t for everyone, but will please fans of a funky, dusty style.  This would pair beautifully with herb encrusted pork or beef dishes.
91 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

Tuscandidio Winery, South Coast (California) Barbera Estate Grown 2013 ($2,290): I’m surprised that Barbera hasn’t caught on more quickly in California.  Almost all of the examples I taste are well made and quite food friendly thanks to the grape’s natural acidity.  Winemaker Jim Tondelli has a winner in this bottle, with a mix of lively black cherry, leaf and spice that ride the acid wave through a long fresh finish.  This is thoroughly enjoyable now and will have no problem aging another five years.
90 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016


Niner Wine Estates, Edna Valley (California) Chardonnay Jespersen Ranch 2013 ($25): Not many Chardonnays can handle an oak load like this one has and still provide full rich fruit, vibrant acidity and great complexity from start to finish like this one does.  It hits my markers for crisp and creamy, with rich lemon, apple, spice and stony mineral aromas and flavors.  I tasted this alongside a garlic soup with poached egg and croutons with smoked paprika and it really came to life.  Try THAT with any old Chardonnay.
91 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

J. Lohr, Monterey County (California) Riesling “Bay Mist” 2014($10): I always like this bottling from J. Lohr.  It’s fresh and clean, never too sweet for its acidity, and always flavorful, with this vintage showing sweet apple, pear and stonefruit over granite minerality. The finish is crisp and bright – try it with simple fresh roasted cauliflower. That’s what the Monterey Wine Competition judges recommend.
88 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

Presqu’ile, San Luis Obispo County (Central Coast, California) Chardonnay Presqu’ile Vineyard 2013 ($45): Hooray for age-worthy Chardonnay — something that only a few California producers are shooting at these days.  This wine shows a depth and richness that will only improve as the acidity softens with time, allowing the lemon, quince, mellow oak spice and mild herbs to really sing.  Winemaker Dieter Cronje let his Burgundian side show here.  Well done!
92 Rich Cook Apr 12, 2016

Bordeaux Braves Yet Another NYC Blizzard

This article originally appeared in “Upstate Downtown.”

Bordeaux Braves Yet Another NYC Blizzard


By Christopher Matthews

For the second year in a row, the annual NYC tasting of the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux was affected by a blizzard — winter storm Jonas — this time the weekend preceding the January 25th tasting; last year’s was during! While most of the wines had arrived well before the storm, many chateau owners and reps were held up by horrendous travel delays, missing the event altogether. But in true New York spirit, the show went on, with industry volunteers pitching in for the pouring. And Jonas’ aftermath did little to persuade the wine trade from attending the show, which focused on Bordeaux’s 2013 vintage.


On the following day, the Wine Media Guild of New York (WMG) held its annual Bordeaux lunch, drafting off the Grand Cru tasting (the lunch had to be cancelled last year…due to the snow storm!), featuring the Chateaux of Malescot St. Exupery (Margaux), Prieuré-Lichine (Margaux), Phélan Ségur (St. Estephe) and Siran (Margaux).

Both events yielded valuable insights. 

Speaking of weather — and 2013 — this Bordeaux vintage was one of the wettest and most challenging growing years in recent memory, particularly for the earlier ripening Merlot (Bordeaux’s most-planted grape, by the way), which faced heavy September rains — and rot conditions — leading up to harvest. But contrary to some media impressions, as well as audible complaints overheard from the trade at the Grand Cru tasting — 2013 is, in my opinion, far from being a lost vintage.

First, the white Crus of Graves and Pessac-Leognan are again (as in 2012) stellar, and were a personal highlight of the tasting. Racy and bright, with vibrant fruit aromas and flavors of orchard, citrus and tropical fruits – often along with some judicious oak nuances — these whites came through the rainy vintage in fine form. They are world class…and underrated. Some are indeed expensive and collectible, like Smith Haut Lafite and Pape Clement, but many rate as relative bargains. Here’s a short list of favorites whites from the Grand Cru tasting (including the aforementioned): Chateau de ChantegriveChateau CarbonnieuxDomaine de ChevalierChateau La LouvièreChateau Larrivet Haut-Brion; and Malartic Lagravière.


For the wine trade, however, the Grand Cru tasting is really about the reds — the whites are, for many, just a side-show. And 2013 was clearly difficult for les Rouges. At the tasting, I heard “thin vintage”, even “non-vintage”, multiple times.

While I didn’t have time to taste every chateau, I found plenty to like from those I sampled. In the main, the chateaux had to take what nature gave in 2013 (not much!), and most couldn’t harvest at “ideal physiological ripeness” (the predominate mantra these days), if at all. “Terroir”, that interplay between grape variety, a specific place/soil and microclimate, really told the story in this vintage, for better or for worse. And what has resulted, with individual variances, of course, depending on geography, geology, approach and size of bank account (!), are vibrant, medium-bodied wines with elegant fruit and balance, making them excellent food companions, with no need to spend years in the cellar — truly a “drinking vintage”. And, hopefully, these Crus will be priced to move!

More particularly, especially on the Left Bank, the higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in the wine, generally the better. A late, warm Indian Summer benefited the later ripening Cabernet, as long as the fruit survived the September rains, and was then  carefully picked and sorted. Apparently, Chateau Margaux was 99% Cabernet in 2013.Pichon Baron, one of my favorites of the tasting, was 82% Cab (versus 62% Cab in its vineyards). Some locations also had some luck, too, like St. Estephe, which received only a third of the rain that hit Margaux. In fact, Chateau Phélan Ségur — another top wine in 2013 — experienced a “normal harvest” in St. Estephe, and had very little stress with the vintage, according to Phélan’s Managing Director, Veronique Dausse. Location, location, location…

Herewith, my impressionistic highlights from the 2013 reds:

Chateau Pichon Baron, Pauillac (one for the cellar, actually!)

Chateau Phélan Ségur, St. Estephe

Chateau Canon La Gaffeliére, Saint Emilion Premier Grand Cru (a Right Bank knockout!)

Chateau Léoville Barton, Saint Julien

Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac

Chateau Canon, Saint Emilion Premier Grand Cru

Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac

Chateau Prieuré-Lichine, Margaux

Chateau Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux

Chateau Lagrange, Saint Julien


Bordeaux for the table…

At the WMG Bordeaux lunch the next day at Felidia in Manhattan, organized by WMG member Mark Golodetz, there was a walk-around tasting of selected recent vintages from each chateau, followed by older vintages, mostly in large format bottles, at lunch.

Magnum Force!

The four chateaux fall into the lower and mid-range of the Grand Cru pricing pyramid (a range of $24-$46 for the 2013 vintage), which was  Golodetz’s intent. In terms of classification, Malescot and Prieuré are Third and Fourth Growths, respectively (in the1855 Classification); Phélan and Siran are both Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel,  And across the board, the quality of the wines represented was… truly exceptional.

From the walk-around tasting, I was particularly impressed by the 2010 vintage — all four houses brought theirs, and they all showed extremely well; these will continue to improve in the cellar for a long time. Malescot and Phélan brought 2008s, both of which exhibited compelling aromatics, fruit and structure — perhaps this vintage is a bit overlooked? Siran’s 2011 is a complete package, sporting gorgeous black fruit aromas and flavors with firm tannic structure.


The lunch was an embarrassment of riches: famous vintages and mature, balanced wines drinking beautifully, harmonizing with the hearty fare. This is what good Bordeaux is all about, and we had it in spades, one fantastic wine after the other, at fractions of the cost of the First Growths and Super Seconds.

Some indicative highlights (with many omissions): Phélan’s delicious 1990 and elegant2000Malescot’s beautiful 1995Prieuré’s regal 2000; and Siran’s aromatic and amazing 1989. The list could go on…


The Best of Non-Vintage Brut Champagnes

The Best of Non-Vintage Brut Champagnes

The Wine Media Guild’s annual tasting and lunch at Felidia Restaurant of non-vintage Brut Champagne was a greatly anticipated event, thanks to the efforts of Ed Mc Carthy. Ed, the author of Champagne for Dummies, organizes and hosts this event, and this year managed to line up 26 Champagnes so that the guests were able to taste them side-by-side.

Ed Mc Carthy and Michelle D. DeFeo, President Laurent-Perrier

Ed did not begin to speak until he had tasted all 26 of the wines at least once. Ed said they are the standard of the house style and must be consistent from year to year. He also said that the Blanc de Blancs are lighter in style and more Champagne Houses are now producing them. Non Vintage Brut Champagnes are a good value for the money and priced between $35 and $60 a bottle.

The Wines:

Ayala Brut Majeur $40 made from 43% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Meunier. Bollinger owns this company. They only use up to 20% of their reserve wine in the NV. Complex and elegant with hints of apple, pear, bread crust and a touch of spice.IMG_9306

Marion-Bosser Premier Cru Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs $56 This is one of the few biodynamic houses in Champagne. The winery is on the right bank of the Great Valley of the Marne, against the peaks of the Montagne de Reims. The vineyards are all Premier Cru. The soil is chalk. The wine spends three years on the lees. The dosage is 5g/l. It is an elegant Champagne with hints of apple and good minerality. Ed liked it.

Piper – Heidsieck Brut $38 this is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. It is a well-structured wine, fruit forward with hints of pear, citrus and grapefruit.

Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvèe $45 Made from 22% Pinot Meunier, 33% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir. The grapes are a selection from 32 villages vinified separately in stainless steel or in barrel. There is a systematic use of reserve wines from previous vintages from 25% to 48% when needed. The wine comes from the first pressing of the grapes. The wine is aged in bottle on the lees for 3 months. This is almost double the legally required minimum. In all of Bruno Paillard’s Champagne, the dosage is kept very low, 5 to 6 grams of sugar per liter, so as to produce an authentic and pure wine, a true Brut. This is the flagship of the house and must remain true to itself in the good and bad years. One very large tank is used for the assemblage so there will be consistency.  The wine has aromas of citrus fruit, especially lime and grapefruit, that is so typical of Chardonnay. There are also aromas of red fruits like cherry and raspberry, so typical of Pinot Noir. This in one of Ed’s favorites and also mine.IMG_9413

G.H. Munn Cordon Rouge Brut $38 made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The wine has hints of orange peel, almonds and a touch of smoke with a nice long finish.

Lanson Black Label Brut $44 made from 35% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier. It is aged for at least 3 years and the dosage is 8/10g/l. The wine has hints of citrus fruits and a gentle touch of toast.

Perrier-Jouēt Grand Brut $37 Made from 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. It is crisp with hints of citrus fruit and a touch of toast.


Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV $68. Chardonnay is the very soul of the winery with grapes coming mainly from the Cote des Blancs, and Montagne de Reims terroirs. This is a Champagne with nice citrus aromas and flavors with hints of apple and apricot.IMG_9296

Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV $55. This is one of Ed’s favorite houses and one he feels does not get the attention it deserves. It is a blend of grapes from the Cote de Blancs and the villages of Mesnil- sur – Oger, Avize, Chouilly and others. The assembly consists of 30% reserve wine, the percentage can change depending on the vintage. This is wine with hints of orange blossom, honey, apricot and a touch of brioche.

A.R. Lenoble Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru NV $55. Ed said this was one of the few independent and family run houses in Champagne and arguably the best value in the tasting. The 18 hectares of vines are all situated on Grand Cru and Premier Cru lands. The cuvee contains 13% of reserve wine aged in oak barrels for 5 to 8 months. The wine spends 4 years on the lees. This is Champagne with hints of apple, pear, lemon and a touch of toast.

Champagne Brut Reserve Billecart-Salmon NV. Made from 40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. It has tiny bubbles and a fruity delicate freshness.IMG_9294

Champagne Premier Brut NV Louis Roederer is made from 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Meunier from 50 different crus. It is aged for 3 years in the cellar and 6 more months after dègorgement.

Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut Zero Dosage $60 Made from 55% Chardonnay and 45 % Pinot Noir. It is aged for at least 4 years on the lees.

There is less than 3g of residual sugar per liter and no addition of sugar syrup after bottle fermentation. It is crisp with hints of citrus and honeysuckle with nice minerality and acidity. Because it is bone dry, it is an excellent Champagne with food.

Tattinger Brut “La Francaise” $40. This is a blend of 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir from 30 different vineyards. It has hints of apple and lemon with a touch of peach and almonds.

Deutz Brut Classic Champagne $45 made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in equal proportions. It has hints of apples and brioche with a touch of pear and lemon.

Duval-Leroy Premier Cru Brut $50 Mostly Chardonnay from premier cru vineyards in the Cote des Blanc in Vertus where the winery is located. It is aged of at least 3 years and has hints of pear, pastry dough and almonds.

Bethany Burke with Andre Jacquart

Andrè Jacquart Brut Experience Premier Cru $50 Ed said they only make Blanc de Blancs. The Chardonnay grapes are from Premier Cru Vertus (vinified in stainless steel) and from the Grand Cru village of Mesnil-sur- Oger (Vinified in older Burgundy oak barrels). No malolactic fermentation and the Champagne is aged for 5 years on the lees before disgorgement. It has hints of pear and toasted brioche with nice minerality

Leclerc Briant Les Chevres Pierreuses Premier Cru Brut $60. Made from 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier from the Les Chèves Pierruses vineyards in Cumieres. It has 4.5 g/l sugar. Ed said only 3,000 bottles were made and he really liked it. The Champagne has hints of lemon and lime with a touch of cherry, peach and almonds.

Cathleen Burke Visscher with Pascal Doquet and Lamiable

Pascal Doquet Les Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut Le Mesnil -Sur- Oger $54. The winery is in Vertus near Avize. The vines average around 36 years old, the soil is chalky in the Le Mesnil sur Oger. Harvest is by hand. They farm organically and the yields are 20% to 30% less than appellation standards. Indigenous yeast is used. A minimum of 3 vintages makes up the cuvee. The wine usually goes through malolactic fermentation. An average of 50% of the blend is vinified in small, old oak barrels to oxgenate the wine. It is aged on the lees in bottle for over 8 years. Production is only about 6,000 cases. The wine has hints of yeast, marzipan and apple with a touch of lemon.

J P Lamiable Brut Grand Cru Blanc De Noix $50 made from 100% .They farm 6 hectares where the Montage de Reims, Cōte de Blances and Vallèe all converge. Primary fermentation takes place in stainless and enamel tanks to preserve freshness. Maturation is in enamel tanks for 6 months. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation and is aged on the lees for 5 years. It has hints of pear, peach and almond with good acidity and minerality. It is Champagne that can age and goes very well with food.IMG_9292

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve $60 Made from 75% Pinot Noir / Pinot Meunier and 25% Chardonnay. This is full-bodied Champagne with hints of brioche and almonds.

Moēt and Chandon Brut Imperial $40 made from 50% Pinot Noir 40% Pinot Meunier and 10% Chardonnay. It is medium dry with black fruit flavors and aromas with a touch of toast.IMG_9295

Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut $45 made from 56% Pinot Noir, 16% Pinot Meunier and 28% Chardonnay. Ed said it is very easy drinking Champagne with dark fruit aromas but improves with a year or two of aging.

Paul Roger Brut White Label $42 Made from equal parts of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay from the first pressing. Each final blend contains a minimum of two vintages with the youngest components being a minimum of three years old. Average dosage is 12 g per liter. This is a complex creamy Champagne with aromas of fruit and toast.IMG_9291

 Gosset Grand Reserve Brut $60 made from 46% Meunier, 38% Pinot Noir and 16% Chardonnay from Grand Cru and Premier grapes. It is a well full-bodied Champagne, complex in aromas and flavors that will age very well. Ed said that this house founded in 1584 is the oldest continuing wine firm in Champagne. The Gosset family no longer owns it but Ed said it is a Champagne house that should be better known.

Bollinger Special Cuvèe Brut $60 made from 60% Pinot Noir 15% Pinot Meunier and 25% Chardonnay. Reserve wines of up to 15 years in age are added to the base wine and it is aged 3 to 4 years before release. This is a dry, full bodied champagne with rich, complex flavors that become more toasty with age.

Some Top Non-Vintage Brut Champagnes

This article was originally published on

By Ed McCarthy
Dec 8, 2015
Last week, the Wine Media Guild, a wine writers’ group in New York, enjoyed their Holiday tasting/luncheon accompanied by 26 NV Brut Champagnes.  I had chosen the Champagnes, putting together some renowned Champagnes with lesser-known bubblies, including some grower-producer Champagnes.

Non-Vintage Bruts are by far the largest category of Champagnes, comprising about 87 percent of all Champagnes.  Included in the group of 26 were some NV
Blanc de Blancs, a growing category.  If the Champagne is a Blanc de Blancs, it is 100 percent Chardonnay.  NV Bruts are normally made from three grape varieties:  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier.  When the Champagne is made from only Grand Cru or Premier Cru grapes, Pinot Meunier is usually not used.

Among the NV Bruts, I found very few sub-par Champagnes.  Almost all were at least average to very good, with amany truly outstanding Champagnes.  They were markedly dryer than previously, with obviously lower dosage.  I highlight my favorites below, listed in the order in which they were served, along with their approximate retail prices:

Marion Bosser Premier Cru Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs ($54-$57):  This little-known Grower Champagne from the Premier Cru village of Hautvillers is produced by a mother-daughter team.  It is very dry and firm, with lots of flavor, a truly outstanding Chardonnay Champagne.  For me, it was one of the best Champagnes of the tasting.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve ($50):  I was pleasantly surprised by the dryness of Billecart-Salmon.  In the past, its dosage was too high for my taste, but the house has clearly lowered the dosage in the current Brut Reserve.  Its freshness, clean, flowery aromas, and liveliness now put this NV Brut Reserve in the front ranks of NV Bruts–although I do think the price is a bit high for a basic NV Brut.  Billecart-Salmon is now making a zero dosage “Extra Brut” ($56-$60), which is even better than the Brut Reserve.

Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvée ($42-$49):
  Bruno Paillard has consistently been one of my favorite Champagne houses.  Its Premiere Cuvée, with its light body, dryness and elegance, makes it the ideal aperitif Champagne.  I love the style of this Reims-based house.

Taittinger Brut La Française ($36-$45):  Taittinger is another house that has made great improvements in its basic NV Brut.  This Chardonnay-dominated  Champagne is the driest, freshest and most flavorful Taittinger NV Brut I have ever tasted, and a fine introduction for its Prestige Cuvée, Comtes de Champagne.

Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut ($60):  Laurent-Perrier was the first major Champagne house to make a Brut Nature (zero dosage), in 1981.  And thanks to increased ripeness due to global warming, its Ultra Brut is better than ever, a big step up from its basic NV Brut.  The current Ultra Brut is a marvel, with lots of flavor and style, and no trace of excessive acidity, which sometimes dominated the wine in previous, cooler years.  Now, it seems as if everyone is making a Brut Nature.  But Laurent-Perrier was the first, and still one of the best.  By the way, Laurent-Perrier is the largest family-owned house in Champagne, and owners of the magnificent Salon and Delamotte houses.

Deutz Brut Classic ($40-$45):  I have always loved the lemon-rind flavor of Deutz, which is even more noticeable in its Vintage Blanc de Blancs.  Deutz’s Classic Brut is dry and lively, with clean, fresh flavors.  It is consistently reliable, and a favorite of mine.

Duval-Leroy Premier Cru Brut ($53-$55):  Duval-Leroy’s Premier Cru Brut is a huge step up from its basic NV Brut.  It costs about $15 more than the standard Duval-Leroy Brut, but it is definitely worth the higher price.  The Premier Cru, made from vineyards on the Côte des Blancs–especially in Vertus, the location of the winery–has distinctive, lively flavors, strongly influenced by the Chardonnay of the Côte des Blancs, arguably the best Chardonnay vineyards in the world.

A. R. Lenoble Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru ($49-$55):  A small, family-owned winery, A.R. Lenoble is a Champagne to watch.  It is making premium Champagnes, like this Blanc de Blancs from the Grand Cru village of Chouilly (Grand Cru for Chardonnay only) on the Côte des Blancs at extraordinarily reasonable prices.  A better-known Champagne house would be charging more than twice the price.  The Champagne is firm and powerful, typical of Champagnes made from these vineyards.  It should be long-lived.  Arguably the best value of all the Champagnes in the tasting.

André Jacquart Brut Experience Premier Cru ($44-$51): 
 André Jacquart (no connection with the co-operative Champagne Jacquart) is another small Champagne house in the Premier Cru  village of Vertus on the southern end of the Côte des Blancs.  Marie Doyard (granddaughter of the late André Jacquart) is now running the estate.  André Jacquart makes only Blanc de Blancs, with 60 percent of its grapes coming from Premier Cru Vertus and 40 percent from the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger,  André Jacquart’s two NV Blanc de Blancs, are excellent, with the Grand Cru ($72-$78) the more powerful of the two.  But the classy André Jacquart Premier Cru is a fantastic value for the price.

Leclerc Briant Les Chevres Pierreuses Premier Cru Brut ($69):  This outstanding Champagne has returned to the U.S. after an extended absence.  It is one of the most expensive Champagnes in the group, but also one of the best.  This winery’s Champagnes are very traditional and are made to last.  Only 3,000 bottles were made of the single-vineyard Les Chevres Pierreuses from the excellent Premier Cru village of Cumières.  This powerful NV Brut was one of the most stunning Champagnes of the tasting.

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs ($63-$70):  Ruinart NV Blanc de Blancs is the baby brother of the renowned Dom Ruinart Vintage Blanc de Blancs.  It comes in a beautfiul, clear Prestige Cuvée type bottle.  There definitely is a family resemblance, but the Vintage Dom is the more powerful and complex of the two.  Because the NV Ruinart has wide distribution, this has become my go-to Champagne as I travel around the U.S.  Always delicious with a clean, fresh, citrusy taste.  But it’s rather expensive  for a basic NV Brut.

Henriot Blanc de Blancs (55-$60):  Among my Champagne-drinking friends, Henriot is a clear favorite (me included).  I love its style; it is the epitome of class and finesse.  This elegant Champagne, never powerful, emphasizes Chardonnay in its wines.  And so it should be no surprise that Henriot makes an excellent Blanc de Blancs, a delightful, easy-drinking bubbly that one can enjoy any time.

Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial ($35-$40):  Some readers might be surprised that I would include the largest Champagne producer in the world among my favorites.  But the point is, Moët makes an extremely reliable, consistent, well-priced Champagne, now drier than ever.  I chalk it up to the genius of winemaker Benoit Gouez, who has made vast improvements in Moët’s Brut Imperial, the world’s largest selling Champagne. It is fresh and firm, and very flavorful.

Pascal Doquet Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs ($54):  With Grower-Producer Pascal Doquet, we meet one of the authentic great winemakers in Champagne.  His winery is in Vertus, and he owns parcels of vineyards throughout the Côte des Blancs. Including some in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.  Doquet’s Le Mesnil, which is deep, complexly flavored and powerful, is one of the great Champagnes , topped only by his Vintage 2002 Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs.  His price is very low for a Champagne of this quality.  Incredible value!

J. P. Lamiable Brut Grand Cru ($50):  Well to the east of Reims and Epernay is the Grand Cru village of Tours-sur-Marne, home of the gigantic Laurent-Perrier house and the small grower-producer family going back to 1600, J. P. Lamiable.  Here Lamiable makes a very fine NV Grand Cru Brut, 60 percent Pinot Noir, 40 percent Chardonnay.  I find it amazing that these great, complex, powerful Grand Cru Champagnes sell for only $50.  One of  Champagne’s greatest values.

Gosset Grande Reserve Brut ($58-$66):  Gosset, one of the oldest Champagne houses, produces one of my favorite NV Bruts.  Its Grande Reserve Brut, made from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards, is a huge step up from its basic NV Brut, the Excellence (made from purchased grapes).  The Grande Reserve is powerful and intense; its Chardonnay component (43 percent) comes from Côte des Blancs. Vineyards.  It tastes more like a Prestige Cuvée than a NV Brut.  And the price, for a Champagne of this quality, is more than fair.

Louis Roederer Brut Reserve ($40):  I don’t think that there is a more reliable Champagne house than Louis Roederer.  All of its Champagnes are consistently excellent, including Roederer’s NV Brut Premier–which is fresh, vibrant, and powerful.  Part of the reason for its success is its outstanding chef de caves, Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon and its dynamic owner, Frédéric Rouzard.   A great value at $40.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve ($52-$60):  It seems that the Champagnes of Charles Heidsieck have been a well-kept secret, only known to Champagne insiders.  With Champagnes of their quality, Charles Heidsieck’s wines should be best-sellers.  Its NV Brut Reserve, made from 40 percent reserve wines–many of which are more than ten years old, contribute to its powerful, intense, complex flavors.  Drinking the Brut Reserve is like enjoying a well-aged wine.  I do notice the price has increased, but that was long overdue.  Just a great NV Brut!

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut ($60-$70:  It is no secret that Bollinger has long made perhaps the most full-bodied, intensely flavorful NV Brut.  Its style is so unique that it’s usually the one Champagne I can pick out at blind tastings.  But is it my imagination, or do I detect a somewhat lighter-bodied style in the current Special Cuvée?  Perhaps it’s too young.  “Bolly” Champagnes always benefit from extra aging.  It has been too reliable in the past for me to quibble about one tasting, and so, based on its record, I still recommend it.  Its vintage-dated Champagnes, based on my recent experiences, remain amazing.

Summing up, I was delighted at the quality of this group of non-vintage Brut Champagnes.  My old favorites–such as Charles Heidsieck, Gosset Grande Reserve, Bruno Paillard, Henriot, Louis Roederer , Duval-Leroy Premier Cru and Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut–were as reliable as ever.

But perhaps even more gratifying is the number of outstanding NV Bruts, new in the American market, that showed so well.  Many are grower-producers.  Look for names such as Pascal Doquet, Marion-Bosser, A.R. Lenoble, André Jacquart, Leclerc Briant, and J.P. Lamiable when you shop.  I think the success of many of the newcomers is due to a couple of factors:  Their extensive use of Grand Cru and Premier Cru  vineyards, and especially their extensive use of Chardonnay grapes from the Côte des Blancs.  My choice of using as many NV Blanc de Blancs in this tasting was no accident, I can assure you.  I am a big fan of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes.  Actually, I am a big fan of all well-made Champagnes….


Best Non-Vintage Brut Champagne

This article was originally published in “The Fifty Best.”

Best Non-Vintage Brut Champagne

by Geoff Kalish

Against the general appeal of dry, vintage-dated wine, most champagne (the “authentic” stuff from a demarcated area in France) sold in the United States and elsewhere is non-vintage “brut” (slightly sweet bubbly wine). In fact, only about 10% of the production of champagne is vintage-dated.

A large part of the reason for this trend is that because of climatic conditions in the Champagne region (about an hour drive northeast of Paris), only about half of the years in any decade will the weather permit for adequate ripening of grapes to make even “just decent” wine. And while everyone nowadays says they like dry wine, most prefer a bit of sweetness in what they are drinking, especially in the United States. Another reason is that consumers expect that a particular producer’s product will be about the same from year to year, which usually requires blending of wine from a number of different harvests to maintain the anticipated consistency.

pouring champagne into glasses

Like most other champagne, these wines are produced from a combination of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes made by the méthode champenoise, in which after the original wine is bottled a second fermentation to produce the bubbles takes place in that same bottle by the addition of a small amount of sugar and yeast. Also importantly, the wine must age during the second fermentation for at least 15 months to make sure the process is complete. At the conclusion of the process, a small amount of sugar water (dosage) is usually added when the dead yeast is removed before bottling.

These champagnes are generally lower priced than the “vintage” bottlings (made from the harvest of only one particular year), which add to their popularity. But there are so many of these wines with varying styles on the market that consumers often face a quandary in choosing one or two that fit their taste. A sampling of over two dozen brut champagnes was conducted by the Wine Media Guild (a New York-based group of professional wine educators and communicators). All wines were first tasted without food and then during a specially prepared luncheon in Manhattan.

In tasting these wines alone and then with food I found that they could be divided into three groups.
– Those sparklers that were light and elegant and would mate best with fare like shrimp, caviar, oysters, or delicate fish such as dover sole or cod.
– Those bubblies that were rich and fruity and could stand up to the likes of smoked salmon, baked chicken, grilled veal chops or even pasta with pesto.
– And a group of champagnes that were somewhere in between the other two categories, showing a bouquet and taste that was pleasantly mellow and perfect for toasting without fare or for drinking following dessert.

The champagnes are listed alphabetically within each group. Notes follow, with prices listed reflecting typical retail cost for a 750 ml bottle, not including tax.


A.R. Lenoble Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV – $52.
This 100% Chardonnay wine from a small, family-owned independent producer shows a floral bouquet of dried apricots and hints of mint, with a memorable toasty taste and vibrant finish.A.R. Lenoble Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV


Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut NV – $68.
A bouquet and taste of pears and brioche with a vibrant acidity dominate in this blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier.
Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut NV


Deutz Brut Classic Champagne NV – $45.
Fashioned from equal amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, this wine shows a refined bouquet and taste of French toast with an undertone of light honey and a long smooth finish.

Deutz Brut Classic Champagne NV


Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut Zero Dosage NV – $60.
Albeit a bit too austere for my palate, this wine made from 55% Chardonnay without any dosage added, has a bouquet and taste of apples and spice, and will appeal to those who like very dry champagne.
Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut Zero Dosage NV<


Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial NV – $38.
This delicately seductive bargain wine shows a bouquet and taste of ripe apples, peaches and brioche that intensifies as it sits in the glass. The vibrant finish is memorable.
Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial NV


Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV – $37.
Made from 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, this wine was a bit light and too one dimensional for my taste, with primarily lemony notes and a rather short finish.
Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV


Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV – $68.
This 100% Chardonnay bubbly shows a memorable bouquet and taste of just-baked brioche, with hints of grapefruit and a crisp, lemony finish.
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV



Ayala Brut Majeur NV – $35.
Made from a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier, this wine has a bouquet and taste of just picked apples and lemon, with a hint of lime in the finish.Ayala Brut Majeur NV


Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV – $50.
A personal favorite for its quality compared to price, this wine is comprised of 40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay from over 20 different vineyards. It shows a bouquet and taste of peaches and pears with notes of honey and a crisp finish.
Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV


G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut NV – $38.
From a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this wine shows a bouquet and taste of dried apricots with hints of vanilla and a crisp finish.
G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut NV


Henroit Blanc de Blancs NV – $59.
Unlike a number of too-light bubblies made from 100% Chardonnay, this wine shows a fragrant bouquet of honeysuckle and almonds and a lusty taste of dried fruit and exotic spice.
Henroit Blanc de Blancs NV


JP Lamiable Brut Grand Cru NV – $58.
Predominantly Pinot Noir and about 20% Chardonnay this wine shows a bouquet and taste of peaches and dried fruit, with hints of honey and lime in its vibrant finish.
JP Lamiable Brut Grand Cru NV


Marion-Bosser Premieur Cru Extra Brut
Blanc de Blancs NV
 – $55.
Against the trend of blending, this bubbly is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes and aged for three years on the lees (dead yeast). It shows a yeasty bouquet and taste of apples and notes of pears with a long, full finish.
Marion-Bosser Premieur Cru Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs NV


Pol Roger Brut White Label NV – $45.
Composed of almost equal parts of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, this wine is allowed to rest at a low temperature for almost three years before release. Delightfully complex, it shows a bouquet and taste of walnuts and poached pear with a vibrant, lemony finish.
Pol Roger Brut White Label NV


Taittinger Brut La Francaise NV – $43.
Fashioned from 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, this wine has a fragrant bouquet of ripe pears and honey with a memorably smoky taste and a touch of vibrant acidity in its finish.
Taittinger Brut La Francaise NV


Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV – $45.
This wine is made of 55% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier and 25% Chardonnay. The bouquet and taste shows layer upon layer fresh green apples, brioche and lemon meringue with a refreshing finish.
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV



André Jacquart Brut Expérience Premier Cru NV – $46.
This Chardonnay-based wine, produced by a combination of barrel and stainless-steel fermentation compares well to champagne sold for 2-3 times its price. It shows a toasty bouquet and taste with lingering flavors of ripe pears and dried apricots and a long, refreshing finish.André Jacquart Brut Expérience Premier Cru NV


Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvée NV – $45.
Fashioned from a blend of primarily first press Chardonnay grapes with smaller amounts of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this bubbly shows a bouquet and lush taste of apples and ripe peaches, with a refreshingly vibrant acidity in its finish.
Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvée NV


Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV – $58.
This blend of 34% Pinot Noir, 33% Pinot Meunier and 33% Chardonnay is very fruity with a bouquet and taste of ripe nectarines, with hints of pears and a touch of spice in its graceful finish.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV


Duval-Leroy Premier Cru Brut NV – $59.
Made from primarily Chardonnay (70%) with the remainder Pinot Noir (30%), this sparkler shows a bouquet and taste of ripe pears with hints of brioche and brown sugar in its finish.
Duval-Leroy Premier Cru Brut NV


Gosset Grande Reserve Brut NV – $65.
Fashioned from 43% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier, this is a big fruity wine showing a bouquet and taste of ripe baked fruit and toasty undertones, with just enough acidity to balance the flavors.
Gosset Grande Reserve Brut NV


Lanson Black Label Brut NV – $39.
Produced from a blend of 50% Pinot Noir. 35% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier, this wine shows a bouquet and taste of pears and toasted raisin bread, with a smoky finish, balanced by a touch of citron.
Lanson Black Label Brut NV


Leclerc Briant Les Chevres Pierreuses
Premier Cru Brut NV
 – $50.
Made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (60%) and Chardonnay (40%), a fragrance and taste of honey dominates this wine with hints of lemons and lime in its finish.
Leclerc Briant Les Chevres Pierreuses Premier Cru Brut NV


Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV – $40.
This very popular sparkler, made from 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier has a fragrant bouquet of ripe apples and toasty brioche and a smooth complex taste of fruit, oak and spice, with a hint of grapefruit in the finish.
Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV


Pascal Doquet Les Mesnil Blanc de Blancs NV – $54.
This 100% Chardonnay from an organically maintained vineyard shows a bouquet of dried apricots and peaches with a mouthfilling taste of ripe fruit and hints of brown sugar and spice, with a touch of lime in its refreshing finish.
Pascal Doquet Les Mesnil Blanc de Blancs NV


Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV – $36.
Made primarily from Pinot Noir grapes, this sparkler has a fragrant bouquet and taste of pears and citrus with hints of ginger in its vibrant finish.
Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV

Wine writers discover pleasant surprises at a tasting of hard ciders

This article was originally published on “Corks, Caps and Taps.”


Ciders that turned wine writers’ heads

Apple and pear ciders demonstrate at a New  York tasting that they are earning a place at the dining table

By Alan J. Wax

When members of the Wine Media Guild of New York convened recently in the private dining room of Felidia, in Manhattan, there were no elegant Chardonnays to be tasted, no sensual red Burgundies, no coveted First Growth Bordeaux wines and no well-aged Barolos.

No, at this meeting of wine writers, the drink of the moment had nothing to do with grapes. Instead, the scribes sampled a beverage that in recent years has soared in popularity: hard cider. And many of the writers, new to cider, took great pleasure in their discoveries,

Indeed, hard, or alcoholic cider, is among the hottest alcoholic beverage categories in the U.S. The Chicago-based market research firm IRI reported that cider sales soared 75.4 percent over the12 months that ended Nov. 30, 2014 to $366 million, or about 1 percent of the beer market.

Cider, to be sure, is technically a wine, albeit one made from apples, or, in some instances pears and, generally, one of less than 7 percent alcohol by volume. Cider makers typically ferment their fruit juices with natural wild yeasts, yeasts used in winemaking, and occasionally, at least in the U.S., with yeast strains used by Belgian brewers.

In the past, cider was confused with apple wine and was considered a sweet/carbonated drink. Lately, however, there’s been a move to make dry and semi-dry ciders, driven in part by the gluten free movement and the perception that the sweeter taste of cider, with a similar alcohol level to beer, will appeal to women and drinkers seeking novelty. Under U.S. tax regulations, fermented apple and pear drinks may only be labeled cider if they contain less than 7 percent alcohol by volume.

To be sure, cider is not new. It goes back millennia to Roman times. In colonial America it was the beverage of choice until German immigrants brought their beers to our shores, the wine writers learned from event speaker Daniel Pucci, cider sommelier at Wassail, a cider bar and restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Pucci also discussed the cider-making process — and its various styles.

Oliver's Classic Perry, from England

Cider, like its vinous distant relative, can be produced from one or more varietals and in range of styles, often dependent on the traditions of the region where the cider was made. Ciders at this tasting originated in England; Normandy, France, Basque, France; New York, New England, Virginia and California.

And the distinctions are readily apparent.

In the United States, most ciders are produced from culinary apples— the kind you find at your local supermarket, thus producing beverages that tend to be sweet, though there are exceptions. But in Europe, ciders are produced from fruits grown especially for cider making that tend to more acidic and more tannic and largely inedible. Oh, but do they make great quaffs.

At this tasting we had more than 30 ciders to taste, including a few perries (pear ciders), so many were enjoyable, particularly the pear versions. Confession, I skipped those flavored with spices, flowers and hops and by and large favored the European ciders.

My top picks:

Aaron Burr Cidery Homestead East Branch, from Wurtsboro, New York. Made from foraged wild apples, this light gold rendition was dry, spicy and yeasty.

Bad Seed Cider, from New York’s Hudson Valley. A surprising dry, straw-hued cider with a tart apple character that was crafted from culinary apples. A great companion to food.

Christian Drouhin Poiré, from Normandy.  Drouin is known for its Calvados. Without a doubt, my No, 1 pick of the tasting. Made from pears grown on 200-year-old trees, it has a sensual elegance that starts with delicate pear aromas and continues with a flavorful, soft mineral quality.

Etienne Dupont Bouche Brut, from Normandy. Champagne clear, it starts a bit funky and is dry with bracing acidity from start to finish.

Ettienne DuPont Tripel Cidre, fermented three times

Etienne Dupont Cidre Tripel, from Normandy. Fermented three times with Champagne yeasts, including a dosage, this amber cider is made from bitter apple varieties. It’s dry, savory and has quite a bit tannin that makes it seem a somewhat weighty.

Farnham Hill Semi-Dry, from Lebanon, New Hampshire. Mild gold in appearance, this serious cider burst with red apple and mineral flavors. Not as sweet as its name might suggest,

Oliver’s Classic Perry, from Hereford, England. A fruity, off-dry drink that screams out its pear character.

Titled Shed Ciderworks Graviva from Sonoma, California. There’s a tart green apple character through and through this semi-dry sparkler made largely with Gravenstein apples. There’s also a bit of earthy funk and tannin.

One thing this tasting demonstrated: Cider is earning its place at the table.

The Wine Media Guild Does…Cider!

This article originally appeared in “Upstate Downtown.”

The Wine Media Guild Does…Cider!

By Christopher Matthews

It may sound a bit like “man biting dog”, but at the Wine Media Guild of New York’s (WMG) recent October tasting/lunch, the focus was on…cider!

Justifiably so.

“Hard” (i.e. alcoholic) cider is one of the hottest beverage categories in the US, with sales having tripled from 2012 to 2014 alone. Wine producers have been urged to assess the current and future threat posed by cider to their markets, in particular by the artisanal cider revival, driven by smaller craft producers whose ciders offer compelling flavor profiles that can rival fine wines (at lower generally alcohol levels).

Sponsored by WMG members Alan Wax and Carlo DeVito (who also spoke), along with special guest speaker Daniel Pucci, the cider sommelier at Wassail Restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (highly recommendable!), who gave the low-down on the process — and styles — of cider-making, the event at Felidia in Manhattan featured a top-flight line-up of cider producers from across the US (New York, New Hampshire, Virginia and California), England and France.

Among the over 30 ciders (and “perry”, i.e. pear cider) on offer, there was much to like.

Aaron Burr Cidery (NY-Sullivan Co.) showed especially well with its two submissions, Appinette and Homestead East Branch, both exhibiting wine-like complexity. Appinette, a blend of 70% local apples (Idared, russets and Northern Spy) and 30% Traminette grapes, delivers floral and stone fruit notes, with some spice and pleasing bitterness on a long clean finish – excellent for the table. The Homestead East Branch, made of unsprayed wild and abandoned apples foraged in the Upper Delaware River Valley, is herbal and earthy, with excellent acidity. Made in minute quantities – and in high demand from NYC sommeliers – both are fairly dear ($27 per 750ml), but absolutely worth it.

Generating a lot of buzz in the room was Nine Pin’s Ginger (Hudson Valley); several members remarked that it would be great in cocktails, especially in a “Dark & Stormy”. A ginger infusion with a base cider, it’s full-throttle on the ginger flavor, and not for the faint of palate! Nine Pin’s Signature, a refreshing, off-dry and aromatic cider based on McIntosh-related varieties, often graces my fridge upstate.

I also enjoyed Bad Seed’s (Hudson Valley) “The Farmer”, a crisp, straightforward and refreshing cider made with Saison ale yeast.

Beyond New York State, seriously good is Foggy Ridge’s (VA) “Serious Cider”: bone dry and zesty, with citrus and mineral notes and tangy orchard fruit, this cider will also go down well with food – think roast pork chops with sauerkraut. Tilted Shed’s Graviva Semi-dry (CA) sported earthy notes, bright apple fruit and excellent balance on a long finish. Highly recommendable.

Not to be outdone by the American cider upstarts, however, the “old world” participants greatly impressed, especially on the perry front.

A highlight of the tasting was the Chateau Drouin Poiré AOC (France, Normandy), a bright, vinous perry with high tone herbal and stone fruit aromas, finishing clean, off-dry and earthy. Quite a flavor package at around 5% ABV! Another Normandy gem, Domaine Du Pont Bouche Brut, rocked my palate, achieving rusticity, complexity and elegance simultaneously, with Tarte Tatin flavors and great length, the result of the keeving process, which results in naturally sweet, sparkling cider.

An English perry, Shelton Brothers Oliver’s Classic Perry, played back — and amplified — gorgeous pear aromas and flavors. While less complex than the Drouin perry, it’s a full-flavored, hedonistic pear delight.

Here are some other favorites from my tasting sheet:

Wolffer Estate 139 Dry Rose (NY-Long Island)

Warwick Valley Doc’s Draft Original (NY-Orange Co.)

Farnum Hill Semi-dry (NH) — Stilton cheese nose!

Foggy Ridge Older First Fruit 2013 (VA)

Bonny Doon Querry 2013 (CA) — made with quince, pears and apples.

Dupont Cidre Tripel (France-Normandy)

Bordatto Basandere Cider 2013 (France-Basque)

All in all, an eye-opening tasting. While ciders might not be an existential threat to the wine sector, wineries would be seriously mistaken to ignore the growth potential and attractiveness of quality craft ciders.

Inspired by the all the cider excellence, I decided last weekend to make cider from my own  Empire apples (we have three trees), as this year’s harvest has been copious and of excellent quality. I also included some Golden Russets from Montgomery Place Orchards(thanks Talea!) for some extra body and tannin. And it’s fermenting in the basement right now!