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February 8, 2012 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Rise of Kosher Wine: Kosher Food & Wine Experience 2012

The tasting season is upon us here in ole’ New York. And while there are plenty of opportunities to taste a array of wines from around the world, there is one opportunity to discover a rising class of wines that are making palates perform double-takes: kosher.

On Monday, February 13th, head to Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers to take part in the 2012 Kosher Food & Wine Experience (KFWE). The lineup of vintners may have you stroking your corkscrews, murmuring, “I didn’t know they made a kosher wine!” The likes of Laurent-Perrier, Rothschild, and Goose Bay will be pouring and unsurprisingly you’ll be able to taste through the Baron Herzog wines, but may indeed be surprised by the latest vintages.

In Napa, some of the valley’s most coveted and expensive fruit is making its way into wine bottles that are kosher, and the result is a kosher wine renaissance. I dare say you may already be hooked on one of these wines and not even know it’s kosher! Go then, good connoisseur and see for yourself, for I will make a prediction: the next cult wine to take the cult wine-seekers by storm may be a kosher one.

And note: good wino, for you may have heard of manischewitz. Well, wine does not have to be manischewitz to be a kosher wine. To make manischewitz-type wines, the wine is typically “boiled,” which then classifies it mevushal.

And if you’re looking for a really fantastic explanation of what makes a wine kosher vs what makes a wine mevushal, read what Covenant Wines wine maker Jeff Morgan has to say about it. He’ll be at the KFWE pouring on Monday, so say hello but don’t tell him I sent you because I’m Sicilian. The tastings begin at 6:30pm!


February 3, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

From Slow Wine to Speed Tasting

Slow Wine 2012 NYC

“No thank you, I think I’ll have a beer,” said my shadow to me. “Six more weeks of winter,” I said to no one there.

This particular week, the wine trail has lead me to Over-Done-It-Land, but in high fashion! Beginning with Slow Wine, a movement by the Slow Food folk to showcase wineries they “particularly like for the way it interprets Slow Food values (sensory perceptions, territory, environment, identity).”

All the vintners featured at the Slow Wine Tasting were Italian and so it was at the Metropolitan Pavilion on Monday, January 30th that I tasted my way through Piedmont, Chianti and Chianti Classico. I’m a tried-and-true lover of California wines, but the young Nebbiolos and Chiantis gave my west-coast palate a run for its money. Many of these wines were showing clean, bright noses with complexities that will most certainly develop with more time in the bottle. I was particularly struck by the lack of “animal” or “barnyard” qualities in many of the Piedmontese wines. It’s no secret that Italy has had to clean up its act.  A little over a decade ago it was next to impossible to fine consumer magazines talking up “good value” and “Italian” in the same issue. The tides have changed.

Reality check: the Slow Wine event was similar to other pavilion-tasting extravaganzas, done many times over year after year. Trade, press and consumers show up, get checked in and bounce around the room often without much care for any linear narrative tasting. I’ll say this: from a consumer standpoint, there’s great value if you’re a connoisseur studying to achieve the title of Sommelier through an accreditation. Suddenly there’s 400 wines for you to taste through and develop sense memories for. If you’re a retailer it might be a good opportunity to discover a new brand. If you’re press you might find that undiscovered vintner or client if you’re on the other side of press. However…

I really have to ask: what’s in it for the winery? They commit to many of these tastings, often paying to participate and supplying wine. I have yet to see the right balance of value + reasoning at events like this. Perhaps I need to organize one of these pavilion tastings, eh? Show everyone how it’s done! And make it worth a vintner’s time. Keep your eyes and ears pealed for a Noble Rot inspired airline hanger tasting extravaganza.

Slow Wine aside, I enjoyed one of the best chicken dinners of my life with an avid connoisseur who lives in a princely palace in DUMBO. We’re not talking BBQ chicken or herb-roasted spit-fire grilled chicken, we’re talking his own classified, “transvestite” chicken. Don’t let the name deter you. It was one of the best chickens I ever did eat. And, dang, I can’t remember how he prepared the bird – which was likely his intention as he poured, glass after glass of these absolutely brilliant wines:

PNX is a label that only members of the Mondavi club receive. #sogood

Robert Foley's "The Griffin" one of my favorite wines.









Abe Schoener, winemaker extraordinaire! 500ml, fanciness.

And more Abe...Chuey it was and served at cellar temp, just right.









And Wednesday, I had the privilege to audit a tasting group of some of NYC’s top Sommeliers (from Oceana, Eleven Madison Park, Corkbuzz, Del Friscos, etc) as they practiced for the advance certificate exam. Because these chaps typically work lunch service or have to prep for dinner service at their perspective haunts, the group meets at 9:00am most Wednesdays. And proceeds to blaze through 12 wines. The test goes like this: in front of you are six glasses of wine; three white and three red. You have 25 minutes to run through every detail of then you can, from color, clarity, a laundry list of criteria about the nose, the wine on the palate to the final test: Name That Wine! + the region and the year from whence it was born unto fermented grape juice!

I was humbled by the experience. The array of wine-speak vocabulary was overwhelming and impressive and the best part: they really know how to have fun and make fun of themselves. Favorite quote: “The wine is total schlunk!” and across the room: “I hate that I know what you mean when you say schlunk. I know exactly what you mean!”

I only captured the first six we tasted through, and I was allowed to sample the wines too while each candidate was administered the test exam. A great, great week for tasting some stunning wines and for reminding me why at the end of the day great winemakers prefer a cold brew.














Saumur Champignyo!

January 22, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Quintarelli of Valpolicella (1927 – 2012)

Ca' del Merlot

There is Amarone. There is Amarone della Valpolicella. And then there is Giuseppe Quintarelli. The Italian Wine legend passed away in the third week of January 2012 at the age of 84. Wine writer Jay McInerney writes a good and succinct account of Quintarelli’s accomplishments, and I encourage the read.

In short, GQ mastered the Veneto. He elevated Valpolicella, a wine-producing region whose bottles are often disregarded in the spectrum of great wines, to the level of Superiore. His Amorone, is “near-mythical” according to the Italian Wine Merchants in New York City, where I have purchased a few bottles of Quintarelli in my lifetime. And I agree. The bottle pictured above is a blend of quite a few Italian varietals but mostly featuring Corvina, a grape known to produce a mild fruity, high acid wine with hints of almonds.

The 2000 Ca’ del Merlot (“house of the black bird”) I shared with a friend one fine afternoon – a chap who was used to drinking $10-$15 wines without regard for varietal, vintage, region, or much else – but knew he enjoyed sippin’ on the vino. I figured if I was going to entice him to break out of his shell, I would need to show him what wine can be, and a Quintarelli I knew would do the trick. One sip of any of his bottlings and the amatuer non-chalant taster is instantly propelled to curious connoisseur.

The secret lies in GQ’s quality control. A perfectionist in grape-selection who also mastered the art of appassimento or to raisinate the wine. Grapes are laid out to dry typically on straw mats or crates and left for 120 days or more. This process concentrates flavors and sugars. After that, the secrets of fermentation and barrel storage, bottle aging, etc become… part of the mystique of GQ’s wines.

The Ca’ del Merlot produced the desired effect: we were speechless. In fact, we drank most of the bottle in silence. (Also we were in a library church tennis match golf game skip it).

In truth, I can distinctly recall moments when I’ve had the chance to savor GQ’s wines. Think about the power of our sense memory (sense of smell) and how a particular scent in the air can transport us miles and years away in an instant. Giuseppe’s wines create instant, permanent memories. Four years after my first Quintarelli, I can see my wife (then girl-friend) and I shaking our heads in disbelief over the complexity and sheer enjoyment we were experiencing the first time tasted these wines. And two years have passed, but I can see clearly the expression on my friends face when he had his first sip, and how his expression magnified at the second sip. I can see minute details: the sun shining in our apartment, I can feel the leather of the couch I was sitting on, see the color of the wine, remember the nose of it and how the juice felt in my mouth: round, full, generous, succulent, aromatic, berries, spice, nuts, a lingering fluid finish that goes on and on.

How fun is that?! What other beverage (aside from Yoohoo) has the ability to do that?!

And so, here’s to the memory of a winemaker who leaves us with more than just a superb wine – he leaves a world of happy memories, perhaps mythical at times, but nonetheless a wealth of stories to share. That’s worth so much more than the price of a bottle of wine.


January 12, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Bloomberg’s List – a Reminder of Prohibition

And in this the January of 2012, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Duke of New York City, The Earl of West and East Sides, set out to on a crusade:

Limit the sale of alcohol in New York City! Pardon?

According to yesterday’s New York Post exclusive, the Mayor’s office and the city Health Department’s Partnership for a Healthier New York City have set out to, “Reduce the exposure to alcohol products and bar advertising and promotion in retail and general (trains, buses, etc.) settings (stores, restaurants, etc” in New York City.”

For the time being, one of the goals of this initiative is most alarming to the libation community: “…reducing alcohol retail outlet (e.g. bar, corner store) density…”

Let’s discuss: Firstly, this statement needs a bit of clarification and for good reason. Bars, corner stores and retail shops in New York, are for the most part are privately owned small businesses, family-run, dedicated to serving a desirable product to their community.

If the Mayor wants to talk about outlets that perpetuate alcohol abuse, maybe he should first talk to the idiots responsible for Prohibition. Of course that movement had it’s merits, which I don’t need to discuss. Go read “From Demon to Darling” by Richard Mendelson if you want to debate the good and bad of Prohibition, but the fact remains and is the oldest vicious cycle on the books: take it away, hide it, force it elsewhere and you create more of a problem (booze, drugs, sex, M&Ms). To this day, I will devour an entire accessible over-sized bag of M&Ms because my mother used to hide them.

The solution to alcohol abuse is not to close down small businesses (bars and retail outlets) in New York or to limit the sale in restaurants and corner stores. Now wait! Could we use a bit of vetting? Maybe. But let’s define what kind of libation-based establishments provide a good presence and which are in existence for the mere sale and distribution of swill to abusers! And not every liquor outlet situated behind inches-thick bullet-proof glass need be shut down. Some of those outlets are run be devoted folk who are trying to present alcohol as a treat to enjoy over a meal, or with friends and doing so in areas where people regularly demand they hand over their enjoyable products under threat of frightening devices (guns, knives and amateur hip-hop dancing).

We’ll also have to define abusers. Who is abusing alcohol, Mr. Mayor? And why? Again, I direct you to History. And I ask you to consider the American adolescent vs the European adolescent and I blame your father, grand-father and great-grand father for not adopting a more European-centric mentality toward alcohol. For Christ’s sake! There was a religious group posting billboards in Upstate New York a few years back demanding the drinking age be raised to 25! What kind of a world have your fore-father’s created?!?! Agh!

To be clear: I’m not poking fun at underage drinking, which of course is never a good thing if it is for abusive reasons (and drinking Yellow Tail is abusive to your system, believe me). But is the solution to close down and ban limit establishments that sell alcohol? To offer “$$$” to advocacy groups who will do your dirty work of encouraging communities to close down every joint in these here square miles that houses vagabonds and devil-drinking mixologist-sommelier booze-hounds?!

Will you repeat History Mr. Mayor?! Or will you learn from Hamlet and Ophelia’s mistakes? Two young lovers, crossed with the curse of an elixir they knew not how to treat. Had that been a properly mixed cocktail, they might still be alive today.


January 2, 2012 2 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Out With the Old [World], in with the New [World]

"The Idea of Order at Key West" by Wallace Stevens

On this beautiful sunny second day of the year Twenty Twelve, I pause momentarily to savor my last sip of Old World wine. That’s right: I’m never drinking another drop of Old World wine again. Ever. Said Jonny Cigar, to no one there.

The sun here in New York is beating down a dry heat over this lovely city abounding with parks, vineyards, orange orchards, apple orchards, plum orchards, walnut trees, banana trees and beaches that expose aqua blue ocean surfs.

Perhaps it is Twenty Twelve or possibly I’m reminiscing of Old New York, long before the Indians inhabited its hills and the pilgrims plundered the Indians. Longer even before New York looked like New York – when it was a tropical paradise millions and millions of years ago, part of Eurasia or Europa. I remember those days fondly, ya know?

The photo of Steven’s poem is merely to suggest that I do not understand Inhuman or the veritable Ocean, but feel confident enough to proclaim that:

Old World wine is silly, okay?

New World wine is not silly. It’s a combination of all these words: Delicious, delightful, delovely, delirious, delectable, disposable, deplorable and at times existential.

That’s right folks, you heard it here first: Out with the Old, and in with the New [wines].

Never, ever, as long as you all shall live will I ever drink another New Old World wine again. Someone has to take a stand, ya know? It’s a new year and already resolutions are alive with promises like this one from Matt Lewis (@brooklynbaker): “wine budget must be less than food budget this year.”

That line is enough to give me a small self-induced heart attack. In retaliation of nothing in particular, I’m declaring war on Old World wines and with good reason.

Good Reason(s):

  • Many Old World Wines are confusing.
  • Many Old World Wines smell like a barn floor or horse that’s been i’th’rain too long methinks.
  • Many Old World Wines are trying to be like New World Wines.
  • I can’t afford the Old World Wines I might like to try – might!
  • I can’t speak the language of many Old World Wines and hence, cannot understand them.
  • The market for well known Old World Wines is competitive and I’m not all that competitive unless we’re talking iPhone Pool and my wife. Then, it’s “go time.”

Okay. I’ll probably drink a couple Old World Wines at some point in time this year. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large and contain multitudes.

And now for something completely different: Photos of the wines I had the pleasure of drinking this Holiday Season.

Left to Right: Delicious and we had two bottles, didn't actually drink, I think we drank this one, delectable was the Vin Santo. All wines hail from the cellar of Mr. Brad Wells who happens to be the father of my wife. Mr. Wells has shared numerous bottles of wildly delectable Old World Wines. Whenever in his house he pours something outrageous, hard-t0-come by and honestly aged - never a dull moment for the palate.

Pol Roger 1999. We def drank this. I drank most of it because it was very good. Mr. Wells is not a huge bubbly fan, never has been, and hence, there was more to go around. Wowy wowy yum.

The Nightcap. On the rocks. I was just one years old when this rummy made it to bottle.

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