Wine Tasting Dinner Party

wine

A wise man once said, “The only club I want to be part of is a wine club.” I’m not sure which wise man said this, or when he said it, but I’m sure a wise man said it. Or maybe it was a woman.

Special Delivery For Wine Esquire

These wine clubs are popping up all over the place and it seems like a pretty fun concept. Bright Cellars was created by two MIT grads who developed an algorithm[1] to determine which wines you should try based on your flavor preferences.[2] I took my quiz and let them know which kind of chocolate I preferred[3], how I take my afternoon tea, my go-to drink (when the wine has run out),[4] my ideal wine pairing and how adventurous I am when it comes to food and wine. They then paired me up with a few samples, so I decided to have a little tasting party to check them out.

Husband and I planned out a menu and chose three of the bottles to sample. We started with a cheese spread of Cranberry White Cheddar[5] and a stinky Raclette[6].

Wine and Cheese? Yes, please!

The hors-d’œuvres were paired with the 2016 Cameron Corner Verdelho from South Eastern Australia. Melon and citrus on the nose led to a mouthful of herbal green grass. Well balanced, medium bodied, an excellent wine for sipping with cheese. It turned the cranberry cheddar into a mouthwatering explosion. Verdelho is traditionally a Portuguese grape varietal, but it migrated to Australia in the 1820s. Australia is producing some great wines with this grape at attractive price points.wine

During a brief eating interlude, where husband and I had to finish making the next course[7], the 2014 Zinsane Zin was opened to allow it to breathe a bit. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, we[8] took the roasted butternut squash and apples out of the oven, scooped the insides into the blender, poured in some chicken stock, added a dash of cinnamon and pressed purée. After it had attained the desired consistency, it was transferred to a soup pot to let it simmer on medium for a few minutes before serving. Garnished with a smattering of freshly chopped parsley and Voila, we had a soup course!

wine zinfandel
Oh, you fancy, huh?

The Lodi Zin was unexpectedly on the heavier side, but it was a great pairing with the light and healthy soup[9]. A touch of nutty coffee, definitely full bodied, it countered the sweetness of the soup to make it a well-balanced pairing. This was a great example of Lodi doing really interesting stuff with Zinfandel.

For the finale, Husband had been cooking My Mother’s Sauce[10] on low all day. The cast-iron seared meatballs and sausage were added just two hours before dinner to finish cooking. Doing my fair share, I went out in search of homemade pasta to serve it with. I’ve discovered a lovely little place near our new digs[11] called Pasta Vita. I opened the doors and angels started singing.[12] I was greeted by row after row of homemade gourmet takeout and fresh made pasta and ravioli. Hello dinner! I went with ricotta and spinach,[13] which turned out to be a hit.

wine shiraz
Love me some homemade ravioli, especially when I’m not the one home making it!

We’d opened the next wine during the soup to get that ready for the main course. The 2015 Talbingo Hill Shiraz, also from Australia, was a great pairing. Leather on the nose with a touch of cherry sweetness on the finish. Almost like a cherry tobacco. Dry with some chewy tannins. It met its match with the heavy red sauce, fresh ravioli and pork/veal/beef meatballs.

All in all, three good bottles, served with three great courses, if I do say so myself.

Receiving a case of wine in the mail is like having Christmas on a Tuesday. Opening presents is always fun, no matter the season, and when there’s wine inside it’s even better. If you’d like to get in on the fun, my friends at Bright Cellars are offering friends of Wine Esquire 50% off your first shipment. Go through this link to take your quiz and select your personally paired wines and a $30 credit will be added to your order. When you try it out, let me know what you think!

wine

Cheers wine friends, until the next glass!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] Pretty sure this has something to do with math. #smart
[2] Overachievers.
[3] Dark please, preferably with some almonds. #healthnut
[4] Mimosa, obvi.
[5] Which I served with cranberry almond crackers. God I’m good. #snackmaster
[6] Turns out Raclette is typically used for melting. We just spread it on apple slices. As long as you can get past the smell long enough to get it in your mouth, you’ll be a happy camper.
[7] Because making soup is no big deal, right?
[8] By “we” I do mean Husband, but I was supervising and providing general kitchen direction.
[9] Although our dinner guest did suggest that next time we may want to add some heavy cream to the soup to thicken it up a bit. Not sure he’s part of #fitfam.
[10] The recipe comes Straight Outta the Bronx. Super authentic Italian American. It’s the best. I’ve been clandestinely dipping illicitly broken off bread chunks into this sauce while it cooks since I was old enough to clandestinely break bread. I’d give you the recipe, but … #whathappensintheBronx ….
[11] Oh yea, we moved. Packing and unpacking in less than 30 days is now on my resume under “Skills.” Now that we’re settled, we’re loving the new place.
[12] Sort of like what happened on my visit to Château d’Yquem.
[13] And a basket full of other goodies, like stuffed peppers, parmesan risotto, and a healthy sampling of fresh baked cookies that I really did mean to share with everyone. #oops

Aussies in NYC

Sometimes I have really great ideas. Driving into New York City, by myself, during rush hour, on a Friday afternoon, did not happen to be one of them. I’ve never driven into the heart of Manhattan before, at least not by myself. Now that I’ve done it, though, I think I can pretty much conquer the world. If you find yourself having to do this, I found that blasting classical music helps to keep tempers calm[1].

But let’s get to the important stuff. Like why I was driving into NYC, by myself, during rush hour, on a Friday afternoon. It was because I was on my way to meet with Paul Smith, winemaker at Wirra Wirra Vineyards in McLaren Vale, Australia. I’d met Laura at the Wine Bloggers Conference out in Lodi earlier this year and she works for Negociants USA, an Australian-focused wine negociant and distributor[2]. They brought Paul in to New York to do some tastings and events, and I was lucky enough to meet up with him before he got back on a plane to head back Down Under.

Wine Esquire & Wine Maker
Wine Esquire & Wine Maker

Our meeting was supposed to be at 4 p.m. I had snuck out of the office[3] left work early to drive in to the city and when I left, Waze told me I’d arrive by 3:00[4]. That would give me enough time to check in to the Library Hotel, freshen up and make my way to Flinders Lane, an Australian restaurant in NYC. Well, time passed and the traffic increased, and soon my ETA was 4:45. I let Laura know I’d be a wee bit late, but they were very understanding. My arrival time ended up being around 5:30[5]; I was a bit stressed, but once I arrived, caught up with Laura, met Paul and started tasting the wine, all was well again in the world.

Flinders Lane NYC
Flinders Lane NYC

Paul described Wirra Wirra’s McClaren Vale as the place where the vines meet the sea[6], and told me that Wirra Wirra roughly translates to among the many “gum” or eucalyptus trees.

Aerial view of Wirra Wirra vineyards on the edge of Gulf St Vincent
Aerial view of Wirra Wirra vineyards on the edge of Gulf St Vincent (C) Wirra Wirra Vineyards

Founded in 1894, the winery was started by an eccentric cricketer named Robert Strangways Wigley. His wine business lasted until the early 1920s but then fell into disrepair after his death. Cousins Greg and Roger Trott revived the vines and began making wine again in 1972 after rebuilding from the ground up. Since then they’ve become a household name in Australia, with their Church Block red blend becoming the number one by-the-glass wine in Australia[7].

Wirra Wirra Lineup
Wirra Wirra Lineup

As you may have guessed, the Church Block vines are grown around a little church; with such a long running history, it has become a tradition for families to come to the winery each year to taste and purchase each vintage. The blend of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot spends 15 months in a mix of French and American barrels. The result is a luscious, smooth and velvety juice. The nose on the 2013 Wirra Wirra Church Block is almost flowery, the mouthfeel is gorgeous,[8] and at $21.99, it’s not going to break the bank. So far so good, Wirra Wirra.

The medieval trebuchet
The medieval trebuchet

The storytelling that accompanied the wine was top notch and next up was the 2014 Catapult Shiraz. With a drawing of a catapult on the label, I knew the story was going to be good. Founder Greg Trott had the brilliant idea to build a medieval trebuchet, or catapult, for a very important and serious purpose: to hurl wine bottles at neighboring wineries for a bit of good fun[9]. He figured that if he built one, so would his neighbors, and they could build a bit of a tourism draw to the catapulting wineries of the McLaren Vale. Surprisingly, none of his compatriots thought it was a good idea and the plan never materialized. His Wirra Wirra successors, however, revived the idea[10] and built a three story high Catapult in 2010. While no wine bottles have been flung[11], watermelons are tossed with regularity[12].

The 2014 Catapult Shriaz was lovely. A bit of raisins and berries with a slightly spicy finish. A gentle and delicate Shiraz that was a very easy drinker. Interestingly 1% of the blend is Viognier, which may play a part in the delicacy of this wine. Paul told me how these grapes are pressed before the tannins get too hard and then spend 12 months in French oak.

I asked Paul how he got into winemaking, and another enchanting story ensued. He started out as a young man wanting to be a sheep herder[13], so he packed his bags and moved far away from home. Paul tried to get into vet school but didn’t have the grades, he also didn’t have the money to get home. His friend found him a job with Francois Jacquard, a well-respected Australian winemaker, pruning grapes before the harvest. His friend told Francois that Paul knew what he was doing, which was a bold faced lie. After observing Paul’s work for a bit, Francois took him aside and said, “You should be called Edward Scissorhands, you cut everything!” From there, Francois took Paul under his wing and taught him to prune. Paul fell in love with the agricultural process and wine has been part of his life ever since.

Dead Ringer
Dead Ringer

We tasted several more wines, including the Dead Ringer Cabernet, one of their flagship lines. A delicate nose, definitely not a fruit bomb. A hint of tobacco with dark, deep plum fruit and nice chewy tannins. Great texture and structure. Leathery with a long finish. This wine spends 18 months in a blend of new and old French oak. The history of the name Dead Ringer peaked my lawyerly interest. This line of wines started out in 1989 being called Angelus, and it is still known this way in Australia[14]. But Château Angélus in Bordeaux took exception to the similar sounding name once it made its way over to mainland Europe. Lawyers were hired, a cease and desist letter was sent, and Wirra Wirra’s Dead Ringer was born, because it was a proverbial “dead ringer” for the wine formerly known as Angelus[15].

We wrapped up our tasting and said our goodbyes. Laura and Paul were both flying out early the next day and I was tired from my strenuous journey. I headed back to my lovely abode at the Library Hotel.

Tea and Chocolates ... Yes Please!
Tea and Chocolates … Yes Please!

I was able to catch the tail end of their evening reception in the Reading Room with free flowing wine, bubbly, cheese and sweet treats. My inner book nerd went crazy for the hotel’s collection of 6,000 books, organized according to the Dewey Decimal System. Each floor of the hotel is a Dewey Decimal category, and each room features a collection of books on a unique subject.

We stayed in the Money Room, appropriately placed next to the Law Room. Bookmarks Lounge, the hotel’s rooftop bar, overlooks the New York Public Library and served up lovely bubbly concoctions that Younger Sissy and I thoroughly enjoyed.

Library Hotel MontageA trip to the Library Hotel simply wouldn’t be complete without a book nerd photo shoot in the rooftop lounge. Sissy found an old edition of Mark Twain and we had a ball.

#BookNerd
#BookNerd

Thanks so much to the Library Hotel for hosting us!

Welcome to the Library Hotel
Welcome to the Library Hotel

Until the next glass, wine friends!

Cheers!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] It didn’t, however, help with the sweaty palms.
[2] The girls from Negociants USA hosted what I heard was a wild Aussie wine tasting after-party back at their house during #WBC16. Unfortunately, my lameness factor was on high though and I missed it. #SleepyHead
[3] #lawyerlife
[4] It also told me that I’d only have to make TWO turns off the West Side Highway in order to get to the parking garage. TWO. Not TWENTY TWO. TWO. #RushHourReDirect
[5] This may have slightly exceeded the “Fashionably Late” concept.
[6] Officially added to the Wine Bucket List.
[7] The folks at Wirra Wirra like to say it’s the “one church that unites us all”. #cheeky Over the course of our wine tasting, it quickly became apparent to me that having fun at Wirra Wirra is a top priority for everyone, winemaker included.
[8] Their website suggests pairing the Church Block with “Beef, mushroom and red wine pie.” WHAT IS RED WINE PIE AND WHY HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF IT BEFORE?! Don’t worry, I found a recipe. You’re welcome. Husband will be making this for dinner in the very near future. I’ll let you know how it goes.
[9] Such a good idea.
[10] With some inspiration from this crazy English Lord who likes to muck about by catapulting flaming pianos and CARS on his estate. What?! #NBD

[11] Something about dangerous broken glass … #liability.
[12] A tour of the vineyard will apparently reveal random divots here and there, evidence of past watermelon tossing.
[13] This in itself is so awesome.
[14] The name Angelus, of course, had its own history. Back in the 80s, a Wirra Wirra winemaker had swapped a few cases of wine for a ¾ ton bell that came out of a church in Adelaide. They hung the bell at the vineyard to signify the start to the work day.
[15] ANOTHER twist to the story is that in China, one of Wirra Wirra’s bigger markets, the wine is known as the Golden Bell, because apparently anything with “Dead” in the name won’t sell. #InternationalBusiness

What a Weekend!

IMG_7144If you ever have the chance to go on a Rosé yacht cruise on a gorgeous summer night, I would highly recommend taking advantage of the opportunity! We arrived in the Big Apple[1], found our hotel, downloaded the Uber app[2] and headed down to Pier 40 to board the Hornblower Infinity Yacht. We were greeted by a long line of humans snaking through a concrete parking garage slew of happy people ready to get their Rosé on!

IMG_7226As we stepped onto the yacht we saw tables upon tables of chilled Rosé! I was a very happy camper. I thought I’d take notes on some and give you a synopsis of what I tasted, but it turns out that when you start drinking lots of Rosé it’s hard to keep things straight[3]. So my notes consisted of “buy this,” and “buy a case” and that’s about it. Once I get my shipment in, I’ll give you the low down, bottle by bottle.

For now, you’ll have to settle for my ramblings on a superb McClaren Vale Shiraz. Happy Sunday!

________________________________________________
To:                  Alleged Blog Readers
From:              WineEsquire
Date:               June 28, 2015
Wine:              2008 Descendant of Squid Ink Shiraz
________________________________________________
IMG_7236Notes of leathery chocolate cherries greet me on the nose. This is absolute liquid velvet. Medium bodied; rich and full of flavor. A long spicy finish. The color is a powerful ruby with some nice legs. I let it breathe for approximately 10 minutes and I have a feeling this is going to keep going strong for the rest of the night. While the 2008 may not be easy to find, I’d recommend getting any vintage you can, trying a bottle now and holding another for a few years. That’s my plan at least![4]

Cheers!

Wine Dossier
I’d had this wine at a restaurant a few years ago and instantly went to buy as many as I could find. Unfortunately, I was only able to secure three bottles and this was the last of them. It was even better than it was two years ago, so I’m glad we let it sit.

The producer is McLaren Vale III Associates located in McLaren Vale, South Australia, an area which is a self-described melting pot of winemakers and beach goers. Sounds like heaven. This particular line of wines is made from grapes from the Squid Ink vineyard and made in the “older style” though they don’t explain what that means. It’s 100 percent Shiraz[5] and spent nine months in seasoned American oak.

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] Roughly two hours later that I’d planned. #traffic That meant no dinner beforehand. Thankfully there were some delicious snacks on board.IMG_7227
[2] We were “Nubers”. Get it? If you’ve never Ubered before and want to give it a try, download the app and enter code reginav96ue for a free ride up to $20. Yea boi!|
[3] And tough to take nice pictures too…
[4] According to their website, the 2013 has won several awards, so I’d say that would be a good place to start.
[5] a/k/a Syrah, remember?

Australian Hooky

I may or may not have played hooky today.[1] I know, I know, this is a public blog, and some people at The Firm know about it. But you know what, I’m ok with it. I legitimately woke up with serious pains that rendered me unable to stand, but they went away around 11 a.m. Instead of heading into the office, I spent the rest of the day basking in the glorious sunshine.[2]

I am a firm believer in mental health days. If you don’t take some time to just be, to relax, to smell the roses, you’ll go crazy. Husband and I are always hosting or going to events[3], and we both have very time consuming jobs[4], so time is scarce. Even though part of the day was not so pleasant, it was nice to take it easy and go slow. I’ll be that much more productive tomorrow because I’ve had a chance to decompress.IMG_5607

This was my first bottle of Penfolds. I first heard about them a few months ago when they were featured on the cover of Wine Spectator. Due to its price point, I bought this as a “throw away” wine, you know, a cheapo for when friends are over and you need to serve everybody just one more glass. I ended up opening it tonight on a whim, and I’m very happy with my selection.

_______________________________________
To:                  Alleged Blog Readers
From:             WineEsquire
Date:               April 16, 2015
Wine:              2012 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet Review
_______________________________________
I get some wood and fruity jam on the nose, maybe it’s blackberry.[5] The first sip had a bit of spiciness to it, yet it’s smooth with very little tannins. The color is a beautiful garnet that swirls to reveal some pretty spindly legs. This wine is not overly complex but it is very drinkable. I was left with a very mellow but spicy and fruity aftertaste. Perfect for a nondescript Thursday night and Season Three of Once Upon a Time on Netflix[6]. This retails near me for about $10.99 but you IMG_5612can get it online for even less. Since this is such a steal, you should go buy some and let me know what you think! I’ll definitely be exploring more of what Penfolds has to offer in the future!

Cheers mate!

Wine Dossier
The Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet is a red blend of 66% shiraz[7] and 34% cabernet[8]. Penfolds has been making wine since 1844 and owns numerous vineyards mostly in and around the area of Adelaide in southern Australia. According to their website, the Koonunga Hill wines are the “introductory level” Penfolds wines, explaining the affordable price point. The bottle tells me I should get notes of “rich dark berry, chocolate and spice characters enhanced by subtle toasty oak nuances.” I make it a point not to read reviews or even the bottle label before I start drinking so that I can come to my own conclusions without influence or bias. Given that, I think I was pretty spot on! Cheers to me and my advancing nose and palette!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] I still billed several hours’ worth of work; I just did it in jeans.
[2] By basking in the sunshine, I mean responding to emails on my laptop. You don’t ever really get away completely, but I would rather have been outside that at my desk!
[3] Which I thoroughly enjoy approximately eighty seven percent (87%) of the time.
[4] Hello fellow lawyers.
[5] In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a bit stuffy today; probably the change in season. I am not complaining. Spring is amazing.FullSizeRender6
[6] I know, I’m behind a season. I just finished Season 4 of Walking Dead but now I don’t know how to get Season Five! Help!
[7] There’s the spiciness.
[8] There’s the blackberry jam.