Saturday, January 02, 2021

Vacationing Around the Island

A Spooky Manhattan for 2021!

Hello friends, far and near. Here's hoping your 2021 is off to a decent start. I mean, 2020 set a pretty low bar, but what can you do.

Since we couldn't travel this year, the Sweet Partner in Crime and I tried our best to recreate a version of a culinary-themed vacation here at home. Our "Island vacation" was around our stove, but we still managed to have a pretty good go at it.

If you'd like to follow along, I've got a Twitter thread of our various meals and recipes going here.  

If Twitter isn't your thing, you can read all the tweets in a single page at this link

I think we've done pretty well for ourselves. We are so very fortunate!

Cheers! Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Georgia on my Mind – Lost Eden Red Blend


No, not the one that will be the center of the political universe for the next six weeks or so. Today we are off to the country of Georgia, just north of Turkey on the Black Sea – the bridge between Europe and Asia on the edge of the Caucasus Mountains.

Unlike the state of Georgia, with a climate utterly unsuitable for growing vinifera grapes (but their peach wines might be fun) – the nation of Georgia has one of the longest traditions of winegrowing in the world. Evidence of wine growing in Georgia dates back some 8,000 years to sites near the country’s capital, Tbilisi. The origin of the word “wine” itself may stem from here. There is a word in classical Georgian, “Gvino,” which means something that “rises, boils or ferments.”

Georgia has a fascinating winemaking technique – a technique listed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage roster. In this technique, after the grapes are pressed, the juice is placed into large teardrop-shaped pots called “qvevri.” Each of these pots can be used for as long as a hundred years. The qvevri are then set in large holes in the ground and surrounded by gravel to protect the pots from shock. Smaller qvevri are used for fermentation, while the larger ones are used for storage. 

Georgian Qvevri -- Trust me, they're pointy.

At the end of fermentation, the dead yeast naturally falls down into the pointed tip of the qvevri, allowing the clarified wine to be separated from solids and drawn off. Wines are then either bottled or pumped into other, clean qvevri for further aging. No tanks or barrels are used in this traditional process – which is still the case in at least part of the production of the bottle of Georgian wine that I had the opportunity to try recently thanks to a visit from Drinkerbell, the Wine Fairy: Lost Eden 2018 Red Blend.

The Lost Eden wine comes in one of the more interesting bottles I’ve seen recently. Lost Eden uses a glass stopper at the top of the short neck which tops this black bottle wreathed in a vinous relief pattern. It’s cool lookin’, gotta say. Even though the wine is marketed as a red blend, the wine is made 100% from a grape varietal called Saperavi. In Georgia, wines can be marketed as blends if the grapes are sourced from different vineyards, even if they're all the same varietal.

Astute fans of the Vine might remember that I wrote about Saperavi as part of a writeup on Moldovan wines a few years ago. As I wrote then, “Turns out ‘Saperavi’ translates from Georgian as “paint” or “dye,” and I was a bit shocked when from the bottle poured squid ink!” – which is also the case with the Lost Eden. In creating this blend, more "modern" techniques are combined with the traditional qvevri production. As winemaker Lado Uzunashvili put it: “My goal with the Lost Eden Red Blend is to find the perfect balance between modern and traditional Georgian winemaking practices. Bringing the two sides together illustrates the quality as well as the evolution of winemaking in my country.”

Even though this wine checks in at 13% ABV, don’t let the light alcohol fool you. This is a girthy wine. I found it to be really fruit forward. Lots of cherry and blackberry flavors power up from the first sip, and the wine is toothcoatingly rich. Plenty of tannin lingers beneath the fruit. The finish is a little smoky and somewhat fruit-sticky. The Sweet Partner in Crime said it reminded her of an Aussie Shiraz, while I thought it was like a petite Petit Sirah. Either way, I wouldn’t consider it a “light” wine by any means.

This style of wine probably wouldn’t be for everyone, but if you are hosting a traditional Thanksgiving dinner (which I sincerely hope you’re only doing with the nearest and dearest in your bubble this year!) – the big fruits here would accompany turkey and stuffing, serving the same purpose here as the cranberry sauce – to provide a fruity counterpoint for many of the other flavors.

This is a wine for folks who are feeling a bit adventurous and like big, bold flavors. The wine’s quite reasonable in cost, too. If you can find it available, it will probably set you back $18-20.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Stay safe!

Monday, November 16, 2020

When it rains, we pour -- A look at Chateau Peyrassol Rose

Was a soggy few days last few days here in Happy Valley. Typically, I’d be dipping deep into richer reds as the chill of winter starts to come on, but I’m not going to pass up an opportunity to continue my passionate advocacy for Rosé All Day just because the weather’s getting colder.

Honestly, I have no issue with rosé during the winter months. As an aperitif, I’d prefer to drink rosé than many whites when a chill is in the air, especially if I’ve got some meats and cheeses to snack on.

Drinkerbell, the wine fairy, brought along a bottle of Château Peyrassol 2019 Côtes de Provence Rosé during the soggy slog of last week. This bottle from Provence is a lovely reminiscence of summer, as well as a darned good food wine.

The Chateau itself has a fascinating history. Founded in the 13th century by the Knights Templar, the Chateau originally was a major way station for pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land (we will avoid subsequent discussions of the Crusades, however). After the French Revolution, the land was acquired by the Rigord family, where the wives ran the winemaking aspects of the estate through the following couple of centuries. Philip Austruy purchased the property in 2001 and revamped the winemaking operation.

Made from grapes from the oldest vines on the Chateau’s property, this blend of Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache, Ugni Blanc and Rolle (the last is better known as Vermentino), is a pale, rosy pink in the glass. The freshness inherent of a lot of Provence rosé hops right out of the glass at first sniff with aromas of lemon, orange blossom, and peach. These flavors carry straight through to the crisp, pleasant palate.

One criticism I have of some rosés is that they try for “fresh” and land on “acid bomb” instead. Not the case here. This wine has great balance between acidity and round mouthfeel. The finish is fresh, clean, with a lingering citrus flavor. Such a nice wine to just sip on, honestly.

As I mentioned, we tried this with a charcuterie board of salami, Marcona almonds, and Manchego cheese and it made a lovely companion to the starter. The chicken for dinner, roasted with a paprika-based spice paste, was a bit too assertive for the delicacy of this wine (Luckily, we had a nice bottle of Beaujolais in reserve!) – so if you’re having it with food, I’d probably stick to fish or a lighter meat preparation.

Or, you could pop and pour it in front of a fire and imagine how good it will feel once the weather warms and we can start being outside again. We’re going to need these kinds of reminders to get through the winter together in one piece.

This wine retails for $18-22. If you’re interested in spending a little more on a nice bottle of rosé, it’s certainly in that category.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Mosey over to Moser for some Italian bubbly

Hello friends! How you holding up out there?

Ringed by the Dolomite Mountains in northeastern Italy, the Trento growing region has proved over the last hundred years or so to be fertile ground for growing grapes to produce sparkling wines. In the mid 1980’s, the growers in this region began organizing themselves around sets of oenological standards.

The result of this organization bore fruit, pardon the pun, in 1993 when the Trento region received DOC status in Italy. As a refresher, DOC is short for Denominazione di Origine Controllata – which refers to the aforementioned standards.

DOC (and its fancier cousin, DOCG) have now been subsumed under the broader “DOP” category – and is still used for familiarity’s sake. However, the winemakers saw an opportunity to broaden their brand, and Trentodoc was born.

The grapes used to make Trentodoc sparkling wine —Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Meunier—are harvested by hand, and the “base wine” ages slowly in the bottle on the lees from a minimum of 15 months for a Brut to a minimum of 36 months for a Riserva, and upto 10 years for more refined and mature Trentodoc wines. Trentodoc is available as a white or rosé wine as Brut, Millesimato, and Riserva.

The other major production difference between Trentodoc and many other Italian sparkling wines like Prosecco is the method of carbonation. Most Italian sparklers use the Charmat Method for carbonating, which involves carbonating wine in tanks. Trentodoc sparklers exclusively use what is termed Metodo Classico, which is the same as the Methode Champenoise used in Champagne. In these wines, the wine is carbonated in the bottle while being periodically turned, and the expired yeast is disgorged at the end. (For a more detailed explanation, see here.) Wines made in Metodo Classico tend to be have more balanced flavors and have more carbonation than their Charmatted cousins.

Thanks to a well-timed visit from Drinkerbell the Wine Fairy, a bottle of Moser “51,151” Trentodoc Brut arrived at my door. After election stress, work from home craziness, and not a little cabin fever from lockdown, the Sweet Partner in Crime and I wanted an evening to kick back – and how better to do that than with bubbly, I ask you?

This wine’s nomenclature is an homage to Francesco Moser, a champion Italian cyclist, who held the world “hour record,” which refers to the distance ridden from a stationary start over the course of an hour. Moser rode 51.151 km in his record run. Along with his cycling prowess, he worked in his family vineyards from his youth and, in 1979, along with his brother Diego, established the Moser winery near the village of Gardolo di Mezzo.

We cracked the bottle as the skies darkened in State College. (This means that both of us had left our respective workstations a little bit early this time of year.) Sitting back in our “evening chairs,” we had our first few sips. This 100% Chardonnay sparkler has a lightly fruity nose with some very pleasant floral aromas and a little toast on the back end. The mouthfeel is round and full, with lots of refreshing bubbles. Not as much of that toast and yeast lees flavor carries through to the midpalate, but there’s a collection of fruit: pineapple, mango, and pear. The finish is zippy and cleansing, settling back into a little bit of fresh bread at the very end. All in all, it’s just a super pleasant sparkling wine.

As we got closer to the dinner hour, I manned the stove and put together from some fresh crab ravioli from another central PA institution, Fasta & Ravioli Company, done in a simple white wine sauce. The wine’s flavors married particularly well with the rich shellfish, playing off the meatiness while cutting through the sauce’s butter. While crab is an obvious pairing, shrimp or lobster would be nice. I also tried a little bit we had left over the next day with some braunschweiger on a saltine – a flavor craving I picked up as a kid – and was actually a pretty nice match. While I know liver sausage may not be everyone’s cup of tea, any sort of pâté would be lovely alongside.

I’ve long been a fan of these Metodo Classico wines, if you’ve followed here long enough. They’re excellent budget-friendly substitutes for many Champagnes, and the Moser is no exception. You’ll find this for around $25, which is well-priced for a bottle of this quality

Monday, October 19, 2020

Nyetimber -- Bubbles from Great Britain

Hello, friends.

These are quiet times around the vineyard, but as we round the horn into the beauty of fall around here, I’m starting to feel like there’s some light around the corner.

To celebrate, or at least take a breath before, what I’m hoping may be the beginnings of the piercings of this veil of negativity we’ve been under for what feels like forever. I want to share with you Nyetimber 2013 Blanc de Blancs, a sparkling wine from…England?

Yes, England. You read that correctly. While the English are better known for their fondness for pounding bottle after bottle of Claret (red Bordeaux to the rest of us) there’s not been a real emphasis on wine production among our friends across the pond. However, as our global climate warms, some areas which would have been too cold to produce vinifera grapes consistently are now finding themselves fertile ground for grape growing. The total area under vine in England has almost quadrupled over the last decade, largely in the south of England along the English Channel.

Enter Nyetimber. With vineyards spread across Sussex, Hampshire, and Kent – the three counties in the southeast corner of the U.K. – Nyetimber was the first English winery to grow the three primary varietals which comprise Champagne: Pinot Noir, Petit Meunier, and, of course Chardonnay.

The Nyetimber estate takes its name from Nitimbreha – the name of the valley in which the first vines were planted nearly 900 years ago, according to a reference in the Domesday Book. The main sparkling varietals were planted much more recently – only over the last 30 years or so, and those wines were largely consumed locally or elsewhere in the EU. With England’s departure from that European body, I imagine these wines will begin appearing in US stores much more frequently.

Thanks to a well-timed visit from the wine fairy (thanks, Pia!), the Sweet Partner in Crime and I had the opportunity to build part of an evening around our first experience with English bubbly -- which I must say was very pleasant. This 100% Chardonnay spends about five years on its lees, so I readied myself for a Champagne-like experience. What I got was quite different.

The nose of this Blanc de Blancs is somewhat yeasty with a nice backing of lemon and apple blossom. My first sip was refreshingly bracing. Crisply layered green apple flavors and flint ride a wave of tight bubbles like a breeze off the Solent. The texture was fascinating – I’ve never felt the bubbles of a sparkler on my teeth as tightly as with this wine. The slow-to-build finish exits with some toasty vanilla and a bit of a return of the yeast from the nose.

 I found the Nyetimber to be less rich and creamy as a lot of Champagnes, but that is certainly not to its detriment if your taste for sparkling runs more to the invigorating. I thought it was incredibly lively and would make a fabulous aperitif when we get back to having dinner parties again. Since this wine has such a lovely palate-cleansing effervescence, I expected it would make a good food wine. No disappointments there.

Lobster Rolls and Bubbly

In landlocked central Pennsylvania, one might not expect to find good seafood, particularly shellfish. However, in Lemont, just outside of State College, sits the beacon that is Maine Bay and Berry, an absolutely essential stop for us these days. MB&B makes weekly runs to various New England stops to bring wonderfully fresh fish back to us in Centre County. One of their signatures, not surprisingly is lobster, and we adore their lobster rolls – which are light on mayo and heavy on flavor.

Since the basic rule of food and bubbly is “get a little fat in your mouth,” we had the Nyetimber alongside our lobster rolls with a side of potato chips. Once we dug in, I don’t think there was a coherent word that passed between us – just some guttural yummy noises. If you have a chance to try the Nyetimber with shellfish – and I imagine it would be astoundingly good with oysters – do so.

The Nyetimber is a special occasion wine – this bottle is available for around $40-55, depending on seller and quantity, but I imagine that price will descend. There are also some less-expensive cuvees from the estate available. There's also a fun feature where you can enter a code from the label to see the precise date when your bottle was...well...bottled, riddled, and disgorged.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Raleigh Wine Shop -- well-deserved kudos

My friend James Voltz owns the Raleigh Wine Shop -- a wonderful store in NC which any of my friends in the Triangle area should get to know. James a certified sommelier -- and trust me, if you're looking for a transcendent wine experience, let his conscience (and his incredible palate) be your guide.

The RWS was just named one of the Top 50 Wine Education programs in the country by Wine Enthusiast. James has maintained a strong business in these recent days, partly through his commitment to an educational mission for oenophiles. What makes the RWS special, though -- James is an epidemiologist by training. He's set up his house rules, deliveries, staffing, tasting, and guidance with COVID prevention protocols strictly in place. And guess what? Turns out people want to be safe while  they're getting their wine!

Check out the Raleigh Wine Shop at -- and if you stop in, tell 'em The Naked Vine sent you!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Proof of Life -- And a Big Box of Rosé

Hello, friends. It’s been awhile.

Honestly, I’m not sure how to restart here, so I’m just going to ramble for a bit.

I intended to have a lot to say this year – was going to revamp things a bit and try to reboot the ol’ blog – but I started a new job at Penn State in October, which drew a lot of my energy, as did the day to day grind of surviving the reign of Der Gropenfűhrer.

2020 rolled around. The Sweet Partner in Crime and I decided to try to reset our respective livers. We more or less successfully completed a Dry January. Admittedly, we cheated a couple of times for special occasions (hey, Holly!) – but we managed to keep to the spirit of things.

Honestly, Dry January wasn’t as tough as I feared…at least for the first two weeks. We whipped up a supply of mocktails that kept us going, but I’ll tell you – the last week or so, until we staggered soberly across the finish line, were a real slog, because there were just some times that a glass of wine would have been perfect. We made it.

I lost some weight. I gained it back. I lost more. I weigh the same now as I did when I was half my current age. I started meditating regularly, which has been revelatory. Charlie and Rosie are still wonderful pups. The Sweet Partner in Crime was named a Fellow by the leading national organization in her field.

Then came COVID.

We went into our homes and, by all indications, started drinking our collective faces off.

Well, except here in Pennsylvania. Because of the crazy liquor laws – beer stores stayed open, but wine & liquor stores were all shuttered. Wine started getting in short supply around these parts. The grocery stores ran out quickly.

Thank goodness for our friends who drive the delivery trucks. Scott, our UPS guy, has been a godsend. Pennsylvania is a much easier place to ship to than our former address.

Which brings us to the actual wine content you’ve come here for, right?

As we were getting hard up for any kind of juice, particularly rosé -- I decided to venture onto Groupon and pull the trigger on a deal I saw for an inexpensive 15 bottle case. I’m happy to report that my experience with Splash Wines was highly positive. My order came with three bottles each of a selection of five rosé:

  • Midnight Black Rose (Italy -- Trentino)
  • “Rosé All Day” Beaujolais Rosé (France – Beaujolais)
  • Maison Williams Chase Rosé (France – Provence)
  • Domaine Jacourette Rosé (France – Provence)
  • Mazzei Belguardo Rosé (Italy – Tuscany)

Ah...good to have you back at the homestead...

Seeing a raft of Italian and French pinkness looking back at me from the box filled me with hope. My major worry when I ordered this grab bag was that these inexpensive wines wouldn’t really be “rosé-ish” – meaning that they’d be overly fruity, slightly sweet, and somewhat heavier in body.

Not the case here at all. I’m not going to do detailed tasting notes on these selections. All of them are fine. Do any of them have flavors that leap from the glass to choirs of angels and transcendent goodness? Of course not. But are they, as a whole, light and crisp with enough flavor to be interesting, perfect for sipping while contemplating (or trying to avoid contemplating) both the excitement of a real social change in this country and the terror of the inevitable pain that will follow as the dying mule of racism kicks back hard? You betcha.

We’ve tried all five of these by now in various contexts. They’re perfectly food-friendly, pull and pop wines that aren’t just plonk. After shipping, the price was about $5/per bottle. At that price point, who’s to complain?

My friends, we’re a long way from the end of our various national turmoils. The levels of dumbassery we keep seeing are only going to increase as people demand that lockdown be lifted so other people can be forced to wait on them. Political ideology is no match for epidemiology, so no matter where you are – be safe, listen to and embrace the experiences of people who don’t look like you, and wear your damned masks.

And, of course, vote against anyone running for office, incumbent or challenger, who won’t do those things. Because not to put too fine a point on it -- they don’t care if you die.