Running with the Bandits

Because the Negress doesn’t often get to show her unalloyed brilliance at her day gig, she was pleased to offer the idea of a story on alternative wine packaging to the powers that be at Dying Media. They took her up on it so she got busy. Sort of. Not right away. Jonathan Reynolds, Lee Remick’s cousin, once said all writers could easily answer the question, “How are you not writing?” The Negress entertained her visiting sister, cursed the Greeks who are working on her Never Ending ceiling project, wondered why her commitment to baseball is waning and watched some of the Stanley Cup finals. Somewhere in the middle of all of this was a trip to the outskirts of Boston to eat herself senseless and celebrate a young man’s calling to the Torah. Good people and Chateau d’Yquem were involved. Also a Nobel Prize winner. And a visit by a college friend and her Mom.

Anyway, Game 3 of the Stanley Cup found the Negress cracking open the 2006 Bandit Pinot Grigio. The Bandit wines come in Tetra Paks and offer a full liter of wine goodness, plus less packaging and a lighter carbon footprint. The Pinot is lightly fruity and very drinkable but should not be served what I have come to call “American cold.” I popped that puppy after about 20 minutes in the fridge, and it was lovely. So was the Penguins victory.

Of course, more research was necessary so I drove down to my ancestral home of Washington DC to visit my cousin Leslie and her fiance, Chef Charley. There will be a family dinner this week and I brought some classier wine for that, but also additional Bandit boxes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Well, we drank the Bandits and some more wine after that. Our consensus was that the Cabernet was more structured and lightly tannic, which adds up to drinking immediately. The Merlot was youthful, fruity and, to this palate, wasn’t as impressive as the Cabernet. If you like immature, fruity reds, it’s a hit. The Chardonnay awaits my return to Jersey. More about that later unless I can find some other ways not to write.

Crafternoon at Potter Craft

You can’t drink all the time, now can you? Last week, the Negress journeyed to Random House to visit with the men and women who produce the Potter Craft imprint of craft books. We got to fondle proofs and finished books, eat a lovely lunch and chat with other craft writing and publishing types. It was a drop-in buffet event, which was perfect because you could spend as much time as you needed there without trying to slither out of a sit-down event. My knitting screeched to a halt with the delivery of several baby hats, but the itch is strong now to pick up the needles and fly. After all the Mason-Dixon knitters have inspired me, Kaffe Fassett has overwhelmed me (his use of pattern and texture is truly artful, but trying to make one of his pieces would be a lifelong event for most of us. Call it aspirational.) and the seamstress who made the iPod friendly gloves made me smile. All of the offerings blended nostalgia, wit and deft patterning. The Potter gang share their wizardry in a blog that their authors share. The Negress is trying to come up with wine pairings for knitting projects. Any suggestions are welcome.

Wine Blogging Wednesday #45 Old World Riesling (sort of)

With this month’s charge for Wine Blogging Wednesday, I was almost stumped. I’m between Old World Rieslings at the moment and one of the New World ones I have would certainly lend credence to the assertion that much of the New World Riesling is craplike (can you say Grapefruit Bomb?). I will be gifting those wines to the uninformed at various intervals. So what to do for this virtual tasting? Why cut corners of course. Taking a cue from the Walla Walla Wine Woman, I bent the rules until they needed chiropractic intensive care. Jamesport Vineyards, a lovely little winery on the North Fork of Long Island released a Late Harvest Riesling in 2003. I’ve been caring for it with cool temperatures, light handling and waiting for an occasion to uncork this puppy. WBW gave me the excuse I was looking for. It smells woody and honeylike and the color is a deep gold. It’s actually pretty light on the palate as dessert wines go, but the finish is smooth and lovely, like my skin used to be. Anyway, this wine should be served colder than I am drinking it right now (about 55 degrees and rising) so I’m going to let it chill in the fridge for a while and then sample it again.

Enough time had passed for me to pop the bottle out of the fridge and try some more. It’s more luscious cooler and deserves slow sipping. How am I going to feed myself with this one? Probably a veggie burrito but some time will pass between wine and food so don’t count this as a pairing.

International Wine Center Advanced Certificate Class One

In a tiny classroom on the 12th floor of a nondescript building on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, I’m being baptized by fire. I decided to take the WSET Level 3 certification because I like to learn things, I might want to change jobs at some point and my Tuesdays were open for the next three months or so. We dug right into to EU wine labeling and gradations, then tasted six wines, each of which was poured to teach us something. As Linda Lawry, the imposing and impossibly correct instructor, said, “You will not go home from this class telling your friends about the fabulous wine you’ve had. All of the wines we pour are perfectly fine, but they each illustrate something you need to learn.”

Things we learned; the difference between ruby and garnet; how fino sherry can taste like some weirdly oxidized white wine if you’re not looking for sherry; how Pedro Ximenez sherry tastes like molasses with a hint of coffee; how an older Barolo looks compared to a new Pinot Noir; how oaky California chardonnay all tastes exactly the same to me; how sauvignon blanc can get the job done even if it’s not particulalry special.

I’m taking a study break to prepare for Wine Blogging Wednesday. More about this whole lifelong learning business later.

La Rioja in New York 2008

When the first day of four tasting sessions of La Rioja New York kicked off at the Astor Center Monday afternoon, the 36-seat room was occupied by about 10 people. The Rioja honchos had arranged for overflow seating in the anteroom to the tasting amphitheater but it wasn’t needed. They even had a closed circuit hookup for the overflow. No need again. The tasting area did fill to capacity by about 5 p.m. but most of the day was fairly quiet. The whole shebang repeats Wednesday for trade and press. If you’re either, both and interested, you can register here.

Anyway, six chefs from Spain ended the festivities with some tapas featuring Serrano ham, red wine “caviar,” cheese-filled potato puffs and good bread and olive oil. They posed for a photo op in the Gallery kitchen before plates of the little dishes were brought out. Before the assembled fell upon the tapas as though they were coming off a hunger strike, there were four separate tastings of wine and olive oil (!). No, the Negress isn’t talking salad dressing but a couple of pours of extra virgin olive oil in wine glasses for us to sniff and dunk bread. The oils –Rihuelo Puesole Extra Virgin from the Arbequina variety of olive, and the Almazara Extra Virgin Organic — were light and flavorful and smelled a bit of fresh tomatos.

Preceding the oils in the tasting was a hodgepodge of wines that didn’t fit into the previous three groups. The Rioja isn’t known for its whites and the Leza Garcia 2006 isn’t going to change that. A 100 percent Viura barrel fermented wine, it’s fruity and pretty nondescript. Vina Gravonia from R. Lopez de Heredia is aged for four years and fined with egg whites, which is pretty unusual for white wine anywhere. it had more structure than the Garcia but wasn’t overwhelming. Another oddity in the batch was Bodegas Riojanas Vina Albina Semi Dulce 2005. A blend of 90 percent Viura and 10 percent Malvasia de Rioja, this off-dry was comparable to a Kabinett Riesling with more honey on the palate. Rounding out the Island of Misfit Wines tasting was a pair of organically produced Tempranillo-heavy reds. The Navarrsotillo Noemus 2007 tasted like a sweet, frisky puppy; all big feet and ungainly motion. It might grow up to be something special but right now it’s a little too odd and sweet to do much of anything. The Navarrsotillo Magister Bibendi Reserva 2003 was decidedly more mature and showed some aging potential with loosening tannins and fruity structure.

There were 25 more wines poured in three earlier tastings. The standouts were Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Gran Reserva 1998, a beautifully structured blend of Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano with dark fruit and touch of licorice. The Bodegas Riojana Vina Albina Reserva 2001 needed time to open up in the glass, but once it did, it presented some reserved tannins with hints of plum and bacon.

The tasting leader was Juan Bautista Chavarri, the official winemaker of the La Rioja Government Winery. He didn’t pass judgment on any of the wines, but did suggest that a winemaker who could make a decent wine from the 2003 vintage deserved high praise indeed (because of the fatal heat that summer, a lot of 2003 European wines are like grape juice after a killing spree — hot, disheveled and disoriented. If you like that sort of thing, well, it’s the sort of thing you like).

Anyway, tomorrow it’s off to the International Wine Centre to learn all about tasting. No scents allowed. If you have to ask why, you are not ready for the class.

Every journey begins with a single glass

On Tuesday I start my study for the IWC Advanced Certificate. Why do this? In the past year or so that I have embraced the wine life, I soaked up as much knowledge as I did plonk. But I want more — knowledge, wine, opportunities, you name it. So the fun begins on Tuesday night. Before that, I’m going reveling in Rioja on Monday as I expand my database of Spanish wines. What else have I imbibed lately that stands out? Well thanks to the Alliance Francaise, I found a Loire Valley biodynamic wine that is decidedly craveable. Nicolas Joly Savenniere Blanc Clos Coulee de Serrant 2004 is an explosive chenin blanc that lingers on the palate and is just plain thrilling. If burying crap in a cow horn leads to this kind of wine, call me a believer.

From the home cellar, I’m trying a 2006 California Sauvignon Blanc called Go Figure. Gary Fisch, owner of Gary’s Wine and Marketplace, has three stores in New Jersey, fulfills online orders and also has a tiered wine club system. After touring his newest location, a 24,000 square foot store with temperature controlled storage for orders, a a full-on charcuterie (the Serrano ham was lowing in my ear), we press sorts were given a bottle of this store label wine. Fisch buys from producers he has relationships with and offers the bottling to club members. Think designer wear with the label cut out at an outlet and you have the idea. In keeping with the use of Fisch’s initials for these wines, let’s just say Go Figure leaves a Good Feeling.

I’m participating in this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday since Old World Rieslings are something I enjoy. Before then, I’ll post some of the highlights from La Riojana tomorrow.