08/03/12 1:41pm

The marked difference between the way Americans and Europeans experience wine became apparent to me when I first attended VinItaly, Europe’s biggest wine trade fair, in 1997. Unlike the typical wine event I’d attended here, where each producer served wine samples from behind a bar to ambulating tasters, in Italy attendees were treated like guests, invited to sit comfortably, eat a little snack and chat while tasting.

When I returned recently to Europe (this time to Moravia and Venice) I again found the attitude toward wine as a welcome part of everyday hospitality, but also found that the new glorification of gastronomy has, in some places, corrupted the old and charming ways.

In Czech Moravia, traditional generosity survives in abundance at the home of Radek and Lida Nepras. Radek, a dissident under the communist regime that ended in 1989, is one of Moravia’s leading vintners. Under a vine-covered pergola, he served an Alsatian riesling (not wanting to be just a promoter for his region, but a true host) with Lida’s special crêpes, filled with brandied cherries from their orchard. After leading us on a hike to the 12th-century castle above their vines, Lida made us soup from spinach just picked in her garden and traditional schnitzel with potato salad. Radek offered us two of his own wines, a dry riesling and a pinot blanc. Food and wine were all extraordinary, but instead of drawing attention to them, we talked of other topics: the Bronze Age cup and bracelet he had found while cultivating his vines, her uncle’s research into Paleolithic times, my plans to visit the caves up north.

The next night, I enjoyed an equally memorable evening with another Moravian family that also incorporated wine and food seamlessly into our activities. On a grassy hilltop with a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside, our host took his two young sons (ages 5 and 7) into the nearby forest to gather firewood while his wife started a fire “Survivor”-style. Soon, a small group of us roasted corn and chunks of fresh local goat cheese on pointed sticks while kids cavorted with kites and a soccer ball. From good glass stemware, we guzzled wine made by students at the local enology school while eating chunks of speck bacon, crisped in the flame and dripping with luscious fat, on chunks of buttered bread. We also cooked short, plump sausages that had been cut at either end so that, as they cooked, they opened like blooming lilies. Salad, melon and chocolates completed the meal, followed by a sing-along under a blazing sunset.

On to the tiny island of Mazzorbo, in the Venetian lagoon, where the Bisol family, owners of one of Italy’s most prominent prosecco houses, has created Venissa, a much-touted “destination” restaurant and guest house in an ancient vineyard. Excited to see the dorona grape they rescued from extinction, and to taste locally inspired food of chef Paula Budel, I expected it to be the highlight of my trip.

Ah, the folly of great expectations.

Venissa is pretty enough, if you only look at the vineyard and bell tower, discount the burlap and imitation-Ikea décor and ignore the mosquitoes. Though artfully presented, the food did not merit its haut cuisine prices. For $45, an insipid little appetizer of raw bass deserved a squirt of lemon and my chunk of flounder should have been boned. A “glass” of wine contained about an ounce. One had the curious feeling of being in a temple of gastronomy where the high priest of a maitre d’ would rather be home watching soccer.

Surely the Bisols must be lauded for their effort, but the place was missing the very thing I had found in Moravia: warm hospitality, a generous spirit and that old European way of incorporating wine and food into a joyful experience. Maybe the change is a result of cable TV shows turning chefs and winemakers into celebrities; maybe it’s a result of too much money at the top of the world’s economy or maybe it was just a case of the place having supercilious management.

Whatever it was, that’s the last time I seek out a hot spot for wine and food. Give me some fire-roasted speck, a chunk of chewy bread and a quaffing of new wine; add to those pleasures some interesting conversation with lively people, a rising moon or a sunset — now, there’s the quintessential gastronomic experience. And (minus the ruined castles), we can replicate that here.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

07/19/12 12:46pm
07/19/2012 12:46 PM

On June 28, I attended a tasting for winemakers sponsored by Bouchard Cooperages, representing French tonnelleries (cooperages) Cadus, Damy, Vicard and Canadell. This tasting demonstrated subtleties in flavor and style lent by oak selected, seasoned and “toasted” according to the techniques of individual coopers seeking a particular “je ne sais quoi” to differentiate their barrels from others.

Today’s barrel makers are more like chefs than carpenters: barrels are used increasingly for finely nuanced flavors. What consumers want from a barrel has changed; it used to be “bang for the buck” with big woody flavors but now, less is often more when it comes to oak influence in wine.

Wooden barrels probably originated with Celts in the Balkans around 350 B.C., becoming common wine transport vessels in Roman Gaul by the third century A.D. Made using techniques adapted from boat building, with wooden staves heated, bent and bound with hoops, these were more useful (but more expensive) than fragile clay amphorae. Large barrels were used for fermentation; small barrels holding 30 to 60 gallons became standard for transport and also for aging fine wines that deserve the extra quality derived from time in wood.
Almost all wine barrels used today are crafted from oak. European oak is tighter-grained, and thus less aggressively extractive, than American oak. American barrels cost about $350 vs. their French counterparts costing $750 to $1,000. Per bottle, that’s about $1 vs. $3.

The rough inner surface of oak catalyzes the harshest tannins in wine to complex and mellow, while the wood, seasoned and charred, adds flavors like vanilla, nuts, dust, coffee, chocolate, smoke, lead pencil, bourbon, burnt toast, cedar, coconut, butterscotch, pie spice or turpentine.

The use of wood to flavor chardonnay in particular offers an example of how the public’s expectations have been formed and changed in the past 20 years. The signature white grape of Burgundy, chardonnay was cultivated by medieval monks and elevated to elite status there. Because oak barrels could be made easily in this region and used for both fermentation and transport, all white Burgundies were, for centuries, made in oak and hence bore distinctive oak flavors.

In the 1970s, when California winemaker Robert Mondavi wanted to make premium French-style wines that were different from the ubiquitous redwood-fermented California jug wines, he introduced French oak to his winemaking arsenal. From then on, French oak began to define premium American wines.

Pretty soon the French tonnelleries, who made a few thousand barrels a year from trees planted by Louis XIV and Napoleon, began offering designer barrels. As new wineries all over the world clamored for these barrels, coopers began also sourcing wood from Hungary and Russia, refining their techniques as barrel prices soared. Even Spanish winemakers who for centuries preferred American oak have adapted to suit critics’ taste for European oak, deliberately cultivating big Parker scores.

Since the 1990s, some critics and consumers have rebelled against overblown oak elements commonly used to obscure high alcohol levels and unfermentable sugars in warm-climate chardonnays. Many former chardonnay drinkers have switched to unoaked wines like pinot grigio or sought out unoaked chardonnay.

But oak still plays a key role in the finest wines, both red and white. Used judiciously, it lends complexity, character and finesse, balancing fruit, acidity and alcohol seamlessly. This was evident in the Bouchard tasting. A Bavard Puligny-Montrachet 2007 Premier Cru, aged in Cadus “medium toast” barrels, had great dimension, with oaky vanilla aromas just hovering over the fruit. A Fichet Puligny-Montrachet 2008 Premier Cru aged in Damy “long toast” wood from Allier smelled more distinctly of toast and caramel, though that classy Burgundian chardonnay still appeared with vibrant acidity. Two red wines (Ch. Gruaud Larose 2008 from Bordeaux and Domaine Courbis 2009 from the Rhone) in similar barrels from Cadus and Damy revealed consistency in the two coopers’ styles, with Cadus being more subtle — and less spicy — than the Damy.

A tasting of Villard 2009 Viognier from Condrieu showed how well this fruit benefited from the spiciness of Vicard oak from Nevers, but the Chateau Giscours 2000 Margaux, also in Vicard barrels, revealed a drawback to barrel aging: it suffered from brettanomyces infection and smelled like Band-Aids.

These were expensive wines. For vin ordinaire, many vintners now use oak “chips,” infused like tea bags. These add flavor, but not finesse. Ultimately, the added cost of fine barrels has to be justified by the price of the wine.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

06/08/12 11:40am
06/08/2012 11:40 AM

It’s June again, the glorious “days of wine and roses.” As a winemaker and wine educator, I’m often asked if rosé wines are really made from roses. It’s understandable that some think that, especially when a wine has some aromatic kinship to rose petals.

It has been customary, since ancient Persians planted vines, to adorn the perimeters of vineyards with roses. Even today, in Bordeaux’s Haut Medoc, growers distinguish their properties by planting signature rose varieties at the ends of each row. And perfumers do use rose petals to make their scents. But in wine, even where there are plenty of rose petals handy, the flowers don’t go into the wine.

Sorry to destroy any romantic illusion, but rosé wine is simply any wine that is rose (French for pink) in color. Pink can be loosely interpreted to range in hue from magenta to copper. Since most color is extracted from the grapes’ skins, it will depend on both the characteristic color of the grape variety and skin contact during fermentation. White and red wines can be blended to make pink; sugar is often adjusted to smooth over any defects. Because rosés encompass such a vast and ill-defined array of wines, until the past few years they have been grouped together as wines of little interest or importance.

Many who began drinking careers with pink Mateus, Boone’s Farm or “white” zinfandel have since avoided alcoholic pink drinks. For wine, as sophistication (or snobbism) increased, the tolerance for astringency did, too. No more soda pop wines, please!

In an assault on this anti-rosé sentiment, about 10 years ago a group of dry rosé winemakers led by Jeff Morgan (a Napa winemaker whose career began on the North Fork) joined forces as the “Rosé Avengers.” Whether it was their influence, or the social pages showing rappers embracing Domaine Ott (a rosé from Provence in a female-shaped bottle), suddenly rosé — especially dry rosé — became acceptable.

The quality of rosé wines is dictated, in part, by how much a producer can sell it for. In the days when no one would pay up for it, winemakers had to use the lowliest wines, blended and sweetened, to make the bulk of their rosés. But today, as fans clamor for shimmering, refreshing, even phenolic pink wines, more effort can be made in the vineyards and wineries to refine pink wines to a new standard of quality.

Several of Long Island’s winemakers have honed their rosé-making skills to serve the popularity of dry rosé. Even after increasing production, Wölffer Estate’s cold-fermented rosé sells out by autumn. Croteaux makes only “rosé on purpose.” This year, they have 12 pink beauties, including one based on sauvignon blanc, one sparkler and their new Elite Rouge rosés, more similar to claret, the historic Bordeaux wine.

In calling its eight pink wines “rosati,” Channing Daughters signals their Italian style. All are small-batch fermented from varieties ranging from syrah to lagrein. They present a study in pink worthy of any seeking a lesson.

Among other notable Long Island rosés are a plush, juicy afternoon rosé from Corey Creek and Pellegrini’s equally fruit-driven (happily well-priced) East End Select Rosé. Bedell Cellar’s stylishly complex Taste Rosé was made aromatic by a splash of syrah; Mattebella Rosé is delicately tantalizing and Sannino’s Bella Vita Snow Merlot hides its big flavors behind a blushing hue.

Marjorie’s Rosé from McCall is intricate and fragrant; it’s 100 percent pinot noir, as is the Lenz Blanc de Noir, a favorite of mine for its dry, Champagne cuvée quality and refined bottle age. These are joined for pure refreshment by Lieb’s delightfully taut Bridge Lane Rosé.

The joys of sipping summer wines were, alas, far too fleeting for poor Ernest Dawson, the English poet who coined the term “days of wine and roses” in his 1896 poem “Vitae Summa Brevis”:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Dawson’s dream ended when the young girl he had pursued for the past seven years (since she was 11 and he 23) married the tailor who lived above her father’s restaurant. Dawson’s consumptive father died of an overdose of chloral hydrate, after which his mother hanged herself. Not surprisingly, Dawson, who also penned the words “gone with the wind,” caroused his way to an early grave.

You may take that as a moral, or keep on smelling those roses.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

04/08/12 7:00am

Chile and Argentina are both defined by their shared border of the Andes Cordillera, that jagged mountain chain that runs down the spine of southern South America and affects the two countries in climate, history, politics and attitude.

On the Chilean side, the mountains are omnipresent. The country is so long and so narrow that the Andes seem to both protect and isolate the Chileans. On my recent jaunt to witness Harvest 2012, South American-style (discussed in part in my last column here), I got the sense that Chile has emerged from the domination of Spain, Peru, military juntas, aristocratic cabals and dictators to become a peaceful, prosperous, democratic nation. A week visiting Santiago and surrounding countryside gave me the snapshot impression of Chile as a laid-back, cheerful, generous place with many stray dogs.

Flying over the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza was worth the whole trip. Though the flight lasts barely half an hour, the view of the cordillera from above brought a lifetime’s worth of vivid images.

From the moment I exited the plane, I felt a different ambience in Argentina. The Andes are just as dominant as they are in Chile, except that between the mountains and the sea, Argentina’s lands are vast. Although her history is in many ways similar to Chile’s (both honor Bernardo O’Higgins, the illegitimate son of the Irishman who represented Spain in Peru, as a hero), Argentina feels far more touched by European influence. Argentines are serious about business.

In Buenos Aires, after their independence from Spain in 1816, the citizens replaced most traces of their Hispanic heritage with grand Parisian-style buildings, Italian parks and English railroads. Still speaking Spanish, they became fully international.

Argentina’s wine industry has also been distinctly influenced by European winemakers, especially in recent years, as some notable French vintners have taken advantage of Argentina’s recent financial crisis. My own interest in Bordeaux wines, and my curiosity about the globalization of wine, prompted my visit to a DiamAn­des and Atamisque, both owned by French producers and about an hour from Mendoza in the Uco Valley, where Argentina’s best vineyards are located.

DiamAndes, owned by the Bonnie family that also owns the Grand Cru Classé Chateau Lamartic-Lagravière and Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt in Bordeaux, is part of a new 2,000-acre vineyard development called Clos de los Siete (enclosure of the seven). World-renowned wine consultant Michel Rolland convinced seven of his Bordeaux clients to invest here, with him, creating separate wineries plus one joint winery that makes a keystone brand, Clos de los Siete.

Each winery is a stunning architectural statement, making the whole Clos an eerie mixture of ultra-modern glass, steel and concrete, set against a backdrop of the soaring Andes. The land is brilliant green wherever irrigation feeds the vines and landscaping, but quasi-desert on the periphery. Every winery in the Clos makes use of the most contemporary innovations, including micro-oxidation, sorting tables, large oak fermenters to augment stainless steel and inert gas presses.

Atamisque is similar, but also has its own nut and fruit trees, plus trout ponds, to make the farm sustainable.
Like the Maipo, Colchagua and Casablanca valleys of Chile, the Uco valley in March is a balmy paradise. Huge birch and eucalyptus trees form allées along dusty roads that pass vast orchards and vineyards, often marked by roses, sunflowers, hibiscus and other brilliant flowers. Although these new wineries are intended as tourist magnets, they are gated and require appointments. Most people come with tour groups, a good idea since (as I found, driving around in a tiny Chevy) road or route signs are scarce. But getting there is half the fun and, once at the wineries, the welcome is extraordinary.

I enjoyed spectacular five-course lunches at DiamAndes, Atamisque and Mendoza’s fine restaurant, Azafran, where I learned that “rare” beef is cooked medium-well in Argentina, and that Argentines are brownie-obsessed.
As for the wines, they were more California than Bordeaux style. Even with the guidance of Michel Rolland, Argentina’s winemakers must adapt French techniques to fruit ripened under a brilliant, blazing sun. Altitude and cool nights preserve acidity here, but some of the nuances of Bordeaux are absent. They succeed well with aromatic Viognier and voluptuous Cabernet, Syrah and Malbec.

French oak dominates their wines, but that may change as new Argentine laws preventing foreign imports (like French barrels) and taxing exports at 35 percent affect how wines are made and marketed. It’s a new worry for Argentine businesses.

Fortunately, they can’t tax the tango.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

02/04/12 12:00pm
02/04/2012 12:00 PM

Valentine’s Day is a delicious day to celebrate love. For those who have been blessed with a charming and romantic partner, it’s not difficult to find a way to spend Feb. 14 together. A huge industry is ready to reinforce your every passionate instinct by selling you roses, chocolates, Champagne — even diamonds. I can suggest a roster of appealing wines, too, depending on your pocketbook and proclivity, from insincere Prosecco to hearts a-flutter Côtes de Nuits burgundy to seal-the-deal Roederer Cristal.

But what if Valentine’s Day is difficult for you? If you are on your own, without a honey, this can be the loneliest day of the year. One solution is to get together with friends and drown your sorrows with beer. Another, if you are a true homebody who prefers an evening with your pet to a night out at Applebee’s, is to mellow out chez vous in sweet harmony with your furry, feathered or scaly pet companion. You’ll have a good time; the pet can watch you, and you won’t have to share the bottle because pets don’t drink alcohol.

Here is a guide to what type of wine to choose depending on what sort of pet you have, including specific suggestions from local wineries and/or faraway vineyards.

Cats
1. A sweetheart kitty who follows you around trilling: Raphael’s full-flavored but youthful 2010 Sauvignon Blanc; Guy Saget’s Les Perrières (Loire).

2. An irascible, hair-raised, skittish kitty: Peconic Bay 2010 Dry Riesling, with plenty of zesty acidity but enough enticing aroma to calm everyone down; Ravines Finger Lakes 2010 Riesling.

3. An old tomcat who would rather not sit with you but will just this one time: Grapes of Roth 2004 Merlot, dark and tenacious and extremely lovable despite its challenging character; Ridge Vineyards California Zinfandel.

4. A soft and purry cat who will sit on your lap but is somewhat elitist: Bedell Cellars 2007 Musée (Bordeaux blend), if you can find it, or a Chateau Beychevelle 2005, which is as velvety as your cat but far more expensive.

5. A playful kitten who will entertain you no matter what you drink: Channing Daughters 2008 Cuvée Tropical, a blend of chardonnay and muscat that reflects the playful nature of the winemaker, Christopher Tracy, or a light Prosecco, like Valdo Brut from Italy. It’s fizzy, fruity and not too, too sweet.

6. A fat, indolent Persian window-sitter: Pellegrini Vineyards’ Vintner’s Pride Finale, an “ice” wine made of gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc, with the kind of satisfying sweetness that will help you fall gently to sleep; Vignobles Dauré, Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls (south of France) which has similarly sybaritic qualities in a dessert wine.

Dogs
1. A panting, wag-tail retriever: fresh, enthusiastically citrusy Castello di Borghese 2010 Chardonnay or Domaine William Fèvre 2009 Chablis (as energized as the pooch).

2. A protector dog, like a bull mastiff or German shepherd: There aren’t any Long Island wines I know of leathery or tough enough for this, but how about an earthy Napa cab like Chappellet? Or an insurmountable red blend, Orin Swift’s “The Prisoner”?

3. A jubilant, gamboling and uncontrollable Irish setter: frizzante sparkling merlot rosé from Croteaux or an aromatic Crémant d’Alsace sparkler like Lucien Albrecht’s Brut Rosé.

4. A wise, humorous standard poodle: the joyfully effervescent Sparkling Pointe Brut or the sophisticated but also joyful Pol Roger Champagne.

5. A hyper-blissful, peppy Jack Russell terrier: the lean, delicate and searingly fresh, disarmingly honest Macari Vineyards 2010 Early Wine or the Alto Adige Abbazia di Novacella Gruner Vetliner.

6. An old, faithful Labrador: choose the steady, reliable, fully satisfying 2007 Leo Family Red (mostly merlot) or the tummy-warming Château de Beaucastel from Châteauneuf-du-Papes’ sunny slopes.

Birds, Turtles and Fish
1. Tweetie Bird: This bright, cheery oiseau needs an equally happy wine: Lieb Cellars’ Pinot Blanc or Schloss Johannisberg German Riesling.

2. Turtle: The theme here is “slow and steady wins.” I choose Martha Clara “Bernie’s Rose,” a nice sipper even if it does have a dog on the label.

3. Goldfish, swimming mesmerizingly in a circle: Laurel Lake’s spicy 2007 Cabernet Franc will help you meditate with the fish.

4. Assorted tropical fish: If they’re frisky, try Palmer Vineyard’s lively 2009 Gewürztraminer; if languid, drink the blowsy St. Jean de Minervois Muscat.

5. Piranha: Do you have one? Really? Then get a bottle of Channing Daughters’ bizarro fortified “Pazzo.” If you can’t find it, try any big ol’ Australian shiraz.

6. Japanese fighting fish: No wine. Go for the LIV potato vodka. And btw, this is why you don’t have a girlfriend.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

01/22/12 12:02pm
01/22/2012 12:02 PM

Twenty years ago, Long Island’s wineries went into virtual hibernation during the winter months. Visitors who ventured here might find shuttered doors with a shivering winemaker behind them, or be invited into a dark tasting barn by a trio of cats.

Today, the wine scene has become positively lively after Christmas, with many interesting and alluring events planned to attract new visitors and reward returning friends.

Some of the changes were prompted by increased interest in the wines themselves. When international wine lovers fly into JFK, they often turn east to visit the wineries before inevitably going west to Manhattan. They need more to do once they get here than to follow a circuit of tasting bars.

During February and March, visitors now have many options to explore the region’s wineries while being entertained by top-notch musicians. The Long Island Wine Council in alliance with East End Arts and the Long Island Convention & Visitor’s Bureau have created Long Island Winterfest, with a series of “Jazz on the Vine” performances and other promotions. This year, on any given weekend from Feb. 11 to March 18, as many as six different wineries will host musicians ranging from Papo Vazquez Pirates Troubadour to Jazz on the Half Shell; from Nilson Matta Brazilian Voyage to New Mo Swing. Given the various layouts of the participating wineries, the experience may vary from cabaret to concert style, with intimacy given by the sharing of wine with friends.
The band Jazz on the Half Shell warns, “If anyone refuses to dance, we will take them home and make them wax the amplifiers” — so come prepared to groove if you attend that one. For a full schedule of Winterfest happenings, go to liwinterfest.com.

Besides Winterfest, several wineries offer interesting activities in tune with their particular styles. For example, on Fridays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Shinn Estate, you can see into your future with a palm reading by Joan Bernhardt, or go to Borghese’s rollicking open mic night with Cowboy Kevin from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Sherwood House has its own series of enticing evenings, including a cozy fireside winter wine dinner with winemaker Gilles Martin and chef Bennett Brokaw on Jan. 28 and a Valentine’s “Fond of You” fondue party on Feb. 11.

Wölffer Estate Vineyards has its own musical series of Candlelight Fridays, offering mulled or chilled wine, cheese/charcuterie plates and mellow music. Seeing a need to bring younger tasters into the fold, this Sagaponack winery has also created the Hidden Cellar Society – Millennial Wine Club “for ages 21-35 at heart.” Offering wine education and “pick-up” parties at Wölffer and meet-ups at local bars, the Hidden Cellar is social networking at its enthusiastic, energetic best. Photos of these events are on Facebook and ,yes, you can participate even if you are over 35 (as long as you don’t mention your “senior moments”),

Appealing more to mature wine sippers, but just as much fun, is Diliberto Winery’s Sunday Dinner with Grandma, a series of authentic Italian Sunday midday dinners accompanied by live opera music in Diliberto’s bellissimo Jamesport tasting room. Having tasted the Dilibertos’ cooking and heard Sal sing, I can vouch that it is an experience not to be missed at any time of the year.

Knowing that people are less mobile in the cold months, many wineries are taking their tastings west up the island or into Manhattan. Only for media and trade, but a preview for consumer events to come, is the Long Island Merlot Alliance’s Merlot Focus, an invitation-only comparative tasting of 2007 merlots from several regions, including Long Island, on Jan. 26 at Chef Tom Schaudel’s new restaurant, Jewel, in Melville.

Keith Luce, chef-owner of the renowned Luce & Hawkins restaurant in Jamesport, brought wines from Jamesport Vineyards, Lieb Family Cellars, Bedell Cellars, Macari Vineyards and Paumanok Vineyards to a special dinner at Manhattan’s James Beard House on Jan. 25. These pairings with local specialties like McCall Ranch Charolais beef and braised duckling-sauerkraut pierogi are sure to have enticed tasters out to the East End to explore further when summer returns.

If anyone needs more motivation to visit or just drink local wines, note this accolade: The Wall Street Journal’s panel of judges tasted more than 800 American wines blind to discover the best of the best. Among the top 12 was Long Island’s own Paumanok Vineyards’ Semi-Dry Riesling 2010. And that’s worth a jazz salute in any season.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

12/17/11 3:33pm

Every year in early December, the Wine Media Guild of New York’s monthly luncheon tasting features prestige cuvée Champagnes, the best of the best French Champagnes. This is always the year’s most popular tasting. Hosted by “Champagne for Dummies” author Ed McCarthy (himself, no dummy at all), this group of journalists (myself included) loses all its usual professional restraint in enjoying these uniquely enticing wines.

Last year, one of my favorites among the group, Brian Freedman, was giddy not only from the wines; he was also expecting the birth of his first child at any moment. This year, he was ready to celebrate again: It was his daughter’s first birthday. She already has a discriminating palate, favoring dry, complex red wines (tasted from Daddy’s finger). Cheap merlot makes her scream.

My own delight in the wines can be sensed from my notes, below. I only felt like screaming when all three courses at lunch featured salmon: smoked salmon with mayonnaise; pasta with salmon in cream sauce; roasted salmon on whipped potatoes. But no Billecart-Salmon Champagne! And this was a $65 lunch at Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s famous eatery. Maybe the chef was tippling, too.

As for the wines, any one of these would make an outstanding contribution to Christmas or New Year’s. In order of tasting:

1. 2002 Ayala, La Perle d’Ayala Nature, $150. A light and elegant style: nutty, pure, austere, sophisticated, delicious.

2. NV Alfred Gratien, Cuvée Paradis, $130. From a small house with a particular style. To me, it was tightly wrought, with a singular acidity, quite phenolic, definitely a food wine.

3. 2000 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, $130. Scrumptiously delicious, with floral, lemon aromas. Very pure, like looking into a deep pool and seeing a reflection of someone more beautiful than oneself.

4. 2002 Perrier-Jouet, Fleur de Champagne, $165. Too soft for my taste; designed for movie stars, I suppose. Slightly herbaceous. Like a friend who will gossip behind your back.

5. 2002 Piper-Heidsieck, Rare, $180. Ed McCarthy was impressed with this but I found it to be a repressed old lady in satin and pearls. Dickens’ Miss Havisham?

6. 2004 Louis Roederer, Cristal, $200. The hip-hop world’s favorite. I didn’t want to love it but was enchanted. Of all the wines I tasted, it was the most exquisitely balanced, full of complex, perfect harmonies; a vivacious wine with the intricate quality of a Bach sonata. Forget hip-hop.

7. 1998 G.H. Mumm, Cuvée Rene LaLou, $175. I was disappointed by the bubblegum quality of this august bottle.

8. 1998 Gosset, Célébris, $160. Ed McCarthy thought this wine was still young, but I found it somewhat oxidized. However, I did enjoy its perfumed, walnutty aroma and delightfully creamy mouth feel.

9. NV Laurent-Perrier, Grand Siècle, $120. A monolithic, clumsy, yeasty entry. It lacked distinction.

10. 1999 Deutz, Cuvée William Deutz, $175: This brand is owned by Roederer. Many at the tasting loved it, but I found it tired, with a distinct bruised apple aroma that put me off.

11. 1999 Pol Roger, Cuvée Winston Churchill, $200. I am a huge fan of Pol Roger’s wines. This is Pol’s flagship (battleship?), carrying Churchill’s blessing. It had a nuanced yeastiness, slightly reductive in a yin-yang dynamic with its clean, bright and fresh side. The finish was a bit sweet for me, but I suppose Winnie needed that to offset the aftertaste of his cigars.

12. 1995 Bruno Paillard, N.P.U., $240. This was not to everyone’s taste, but I found it round and vibrant, full of life, with a distinctive butterscotch and cream quality.

13. 1995 Charles Heidsieck, Blanc des Millénaires, $190. Always a great wine. This one had chardonnay blooming all the way to the bank, with a delicious, tangy approach and a huge, broad finish.

14. 1995 Henriot, Cuvée des Enchanteleurs, $150. Truly enchanting; a rich, opulent wine in gorgeous balance, cushy like a pasha’s pillow. We all tried to steal the last bottle for our tables.

15. 1999 Pascal Doquet Grand Cru, Blanc de Blancs, $80. In this context, an incredible bargain. This brilliant wine, by a pioneering biodynamic grower-producer, has a distinctively deep flavor and high energy, wonderfully textured and creamy. It’s a paean to Mother Earth.

16. 2004 Nicolas Feuillate Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs, $40. This was not part of the lunch; it’s from one of Epernay’s best and largest producers, sent to me as a sample. Accessible for its price and lovely, fresh lime and pear aromas; highly quaffable.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

12/02/11 11:51am

While I was leafing through the December issue of Food & Wine magazine, an image of a pretty Gwy­neth Paltrow lookalike in an ad for Rutherford Hill Napa Valley Merlot caught my attention. The woman is posed with her chin resting on her hand (referencing Rodin’s “The Thinker,” no doubt). With bare neck, arms and shoulders, she wears large sparkly earrings, false eyelashes and a dinky little ring on her right hand. We can’t see her left hand to know if she is married or engaged. In a separate image, we see a bottle of the Rutherford Hill wine.

The text of the ad reads, “If he brings the Rutherford Hill it’s a yes.”

So I asked myself, “yes” to what? She’ll go to the movies with him? She’ll marry him? She’ll sip the wine while she texts her girlfriend? Or … well, she is already half-naked, after all.

Down at the lower outside corner, next to the image of the wine, the ad reads, “It’s a sure thing.”

But I’m not convinced that she would be so easily tempted by a bottle of California merlot, even Rutherford Hill, which has been an important producer of Merlot since 1976 and has 8,000 oak barrels of wine aging underground.
Rutherford Hill is owned by Terlato Wines International, one of the largest wine companies in the world. They must spend millions of dollars on advertising; surely they know that women buy more wine than men, so why is this woman waiting to see what “he” brings before deciding “it’s a yes”?

I’m glad the Terlatos are so confident. Good luck with that. But I can’t blame them for trying to get an angle on how to influence wine consumption. Marketing wine ain’t easy. Tasting wine has been shown to be an “ambiguous experience.”

According to two scholars who reported on their experimental wine tasting in the latest edition of the Journal of Wine Economics (Vol. 6, No. 1, 2011), “most people do not prefer expensive wine [to cheap wine]” when they taste them blind. Yet this experiment indicated that when women who are told ahead of time that a wine they are about to taste is expensive, they will rate it higher than when they tasted it blind. If the woman in this ad knew that the Rutherford Hill costs only about $25 (not cheap, but not expensive either), she might have been less eager about it.
All of us are influenced by “consuming expectancies.” Although I am not immune to being influenced by brand or price, I like to think that I can detect quality. Influenced or not, I offer you a brief 2011 roundup of some wines (cheap and expensive) I’ve tasted that are worth remembering.

From Long Island, a few of many to try:
• Palmer Albariño: first of this variety planted on Long Island — the grape of northern Spain, equally suited to our maritime climate, with intricate fruit aromas.
• Coffee Pot Merlot: winemaker Adam Suprenant’s personal take on this svelte, harmonious Bordeaux grape.
• McCall Pinot Noir: luscious red berry aromas, exciting expression of this classic grape, with serious aging potential.
• Peconic Bay Riesling: Great purity with wonderfully fresh acidity.
• Borghese Chardonnay: shows the best of unoaked chardonnay, dynamic and luscious.
• Lenz Cuvée: Long Island’s answer to Champagne; an intricately complex, distinctively dynamic sparkling wine, properly aged on fine lees.
• Macari Sauvignon Blanc: shows what can be achieved by assiduous attention to soil quality. This SB is full of life, beaming energy in the glass.
• Paumanok Petit Verdot: Deep as a bottomless pit, with beautiful blackberry/cassis aromas and addictive flavors.

More recondite international picks include:
• Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina, Italy: Shows that modern techniques can bring brilliance back to grapes with a legacy. This wine had an intriguing herbaceous quality, layered onto pineapple and hibiscus aromas.
• Regis Minet’s 2009 Pouilly-Fumé Vieilles Vignes, Loire Valley: Here is a sauvignon blanc with extreme complexity, beautiful fruit, odd minerality and intriguingly long finish.
• Reisten Pinot Blanc 2010, Moravia: supple, gorgeous — all finesse.
• Les Deux Rives Corbières Rosé, from the south of France, but not sun-baked. It’s lively, fresh, with pretty red fruit aromas and even a touch of plum. Not at all sweet, not at all harsh.
• Champagne R. Pouillon Cuvée de Reserve shows every attribute of first quality champagne, with far more character than the bigger houses offer in their anchor wines.
• Muller-Catoir Haardt Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2009 has a delicate citrus and pear aroma with a hint of white flowers. What makes this wine outstanding is its incredible elegance, and its evolution in the mouth, which goes on and on — lovely!
• Peay Vineyards, Pomarium Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2009: A favorite California pinot. Spicy, peppery, full of fruit and intriguingly complex.
• Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge Cuvée des Cadettes 2005: like the shower of Danae. Imagine a languorous woman on a velvet sofa, suddenly invaded by an intensely stimulating deluge of sensation.
• DiamAndes Gran Riserva 2007, Argentina: Whatever French winemaker Michel Rolland did here, it worked. This wine is delicious. A Parkerized wine? Yup. But delicious.

Say “yes”? I’ll leave that to you.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.