Easter and Passover Wines

From our tasting on Thursday March 26, 2015……

Today’s wines were chosen for upcoming religious holidays, when family and friends gather. Certain foods are traditional at each holiday—brisket or roast chicken at Passover, lamb or ham at Easter.  Red, white, and rosé wines can each play a role at the table.

All kosher (“pure”) wines are made according to Jewish laws.  Only observant Jews may handle the harvested grapes, must, and wines; all substances used in winemaking must be kosher; and a trained rabbi must oversee the entire winemaking process.  Kosher-for-Passover wines may not come into contact with any grain, dough, or bread; this affects yeast selection—only naturally occurring or kosher yeasts are used.  Wines labeled mevushal were flash-pasteurized and can be served by Gentiles or non-observant Jews without losing their kosher status.  Kosher wines made in Israel must adhere to Biblical agricultural laws: the vines must be at least four years old, vineyards must lie fallow every seven years (there are ways around this), nothing but grapes may be grown in the vineyard (no olive or fruit trees), and 1% of the wine is poured out to commemorate the 10% reserved for priests and Levites during the days of the Temple in Jerusalem.

We’re pouring two whites.  A local favorite, Ryan William Dry Riesling 2012 hails from Ryan’s vineyard on Seneca Lake.  Soft but bright, with citrus, apple, and mineral aromas and flavors supported by balanced acidity, this is a great partner for an Easter ham or a chicken dish.

Baron Herzog Chardonnay 2013 from California’s Central Coast is gently oaked and kosher for Passover.  The Herzogs were winemakers in Slovakia for over a century, making both kosher and non-kosher wines.  Forced to flee in 1948, the family arrived in Brooklyn and worked for a small kosher winery.  In 1985, they moved operations to California. The winery uses sustainably farmed grapes, and the cellar crew are Sabbath-observant Jews.  This is a fine complement to roast chicken.

Red Feet loves rosé, even if there’s still snow on the ground.  It pairs well with food (ham, vegetable, and chicken dishes) and drinks well on its own, as one sip of Château Laulerie 2014 pink will show you.  The wine is a blend of Cabernet and Merlot from the French region of Bergerac, made from the estate’s younger (5-15 years) vines.  Half the juice is press wine, half saignée, and the wine rests on the lees to add roundness and depth.

For those who plan on lamb or beef for the holidays, we offer an Old World-New World contrast of Merlot.  Ch de Grandchamp Montagne-Saint Emilion 2011, from Bordeaux’s Right Bank, is Merlot dominated. Grapes were fermented in tank and aged in both tank and oak to create an elegant, balanced wine with dry berry fruit and a nuance of pepper.

Richer, rounder, and all Merlot, Airfield Estates Runway Merlot 2012 from Washington showcases a New World style—juicy, spicy blackberries and plums and hints of chocolate and black olives.  The second fermentation took place in barrel, as did ageing.  Odds are you’ll prefer one style to the other, depending on your food.

–M.P. Rouse

Signs of Spring

From our Hang Time tasting Thursday, March 19, 2015……

Tomorrow is the first day of spring, but you wouldn’t know it just a few miles out of town.  This is the winter that just won’t quit—there are still piles of snow in many places, and there’s nary a crocus in sight.  But the days are getting longer, robins have been sighted, and rosés are appearing, so there’s hope.

We’ll start out tasting with two whites.  The Öko Pinot Grigio 2013, made from organic grapes harvested by hand and fermented with natural yeasts, offers some complexity.  Pinot Grigio is an all-purpose, easy drinking white wine, a good choice for a mixed group.  Öko’s balanced pear, citrus and mineral notes lead to a long, tart finish.  Pair this with white fish, salad, or a cheese plate.

Amp up the aromas and flavors—try Hay Maker Sauvignon Blanc 2013.  This Kiwi bargain is zingy and more refreshing than a water park in August.  Its bright, grassy, lemon, gooseberry, green melon, and mineral aromas and flavors definitely suggest spring (or even summer!).  Light but intensely flavored, this is another good partner for seafood or salad; it would also pair well with spring rolls or other Asian food.

Sheldrake Point Vineyards Rosé is one of the first we see each year, and even though production increases annually, each vintage sells out.  The 2014 is, as always, 100% Cabernet Franc.  The color is a festive salmon, the aromas are floral (think rose, cherry blossom, and lilac), and the flavors are strawberry and raspberry.  Dry and zippy, this is a local treasure to serve with salmon, ham, salad, or nothing at all.

This is the first tasting in a long while where the reds are outnumbered by the “other” wines.  The Loire Valley brings us our first red, a graceful Cabernet Franc from Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame: Dom. L’Enchantoir “Le Pied à l’Etrier” 2013The wine comes from organic grapes fermented with natural yeast and bottled unfined.  Perfectly ripe dark fruits with smoke and pepper notes are supported by silky tannins.  This is a lighter bodied, food-friendly sip, a good partner for recipes using fresh herbs, say on pasta with onions, olives, and garlic; enchiladas are good, too.

More full-bodied, La Berta Sangiovese di Romagna 2013 comes from north of Tuscany and is made by famed Chianti producer Fèlsina, owned by the Poggiali family.  The estate practices biodynamic viticulture, though they are not certified.  Sangiovese is a higher acid grape with moderate levels of alcohol, making it very food friendly.  This is a wine that loves tomato-based sauces, whether they’re on pizza or pasta.  It’s a good partner for comfort foods like meatloaf, puréed bean soup or minestrone, and roast chicken.  It can partner lighter blue-veined cheeses as well.

–M.P. Rouse


Green Wines (Environmentally Friendly)

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, March 12, 2015…

Around March 17 each year, Red Feet does a tasting of green wines.  It’s not a nod to Portugal’s vinho verde; rather, it’s a focus on sustainable, organic, and biodynamic production. Red Feet marks these wines with green tags. Sustainable is an unregulated term in most cases, though some regions (New Zealand; South Africa) have rules in place.  It refers to social, environmental, and economic practices that keep the land and its people going strong.

The term “organic” in the US market is regulated by the National Organic Program, whether products come from the USA or elsewhere.  Wines labeled “Made from Organic Grapes” must contain at least 70% organically grown grapes (most contain more), and no agrochemicals may be used in the vineyard.  The certifying body must appear on the label.  In addition, no more than 100 ppm of sulfites may be added.  It takes three years of “clean” to certify a vineyard. It’s an expensive process, and many producers balk at the cost and the paperwork.  In marginal climates (like ours), growers may face the choice of losing certification or losing a crop, so they don’t certify, even when they use organic practices. When a wine is certified organic, 95% of the content is organic, there are no flavoring agents and no sulfites are added.

Organic production is about what a grower doesn’t do; biodynamics focuses on what a producer does.  It’s based on the 1920s writings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (founder of the Waldorf movement), who laid out principles and practices.  The vineyard is seen as a living entity; when it is healthy and balanced, it produces living wine.  What might be called agricultural homeopathy awakens the plants, soils, and microorganisms.  Cosmic rhythms, variously favoring roots, leaves, flowers, and fruits, determine the best times to perform certain tasks; tinctures and composts are applied to soils and plants. The European organization Demeter is the primary certification agency, though others exist.

Our whites are both organic.  Ransom Pinot Gris 2013, from Oregon, offers pear, clover, and sweet lemon aromas.  The palate is vibrant with melon, almond, and mineral notes and an energetic finish.  The Ch. de Montfaucon Viognier 2013 is more exotic, with banana, apricot, and mango aromas, a round texture, and citrus and flower flavors.  Pair these with fish and shellfish or fancy salads.

The reds come from three countries. Algueira Mencía 2013, from northwest Spain, is made from biodynamic grapes grown on steep schist terraces.  Its pomegranate, cherry and pepper nose leads to a focused, crunchy, slightly grippy palate, a fine food wine.

Castorani Cadetto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2012, made from organic grapes, is spicy, dark-fruited, almost chocolaty, and loves grilled meats and Italian food (especially if mushrooms and tomatoes are involved).

France’s Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Rouge 2013, from an iconic estate in Herault that’s been naturally farmed for over 1,000 years, is an aromatic blend that offers spicy red berries and garrigue with a long finish.  Pair this slightly rustic wine with winter soups, mixed grill, Moroccan spices, or a hunk of Cheddar cheese and pretend you’re in the south of France!

–M.P. Rouse

Mediterranean Wines

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, March 5, 2015…..

The last time Red Feet toured the Mediterranean was over three years ago, so it’s time to leave the ice and snow of New York and revisit this land of sun and mild climate.  We’ll stop at European destinations on our tour, and sample wines, some off the beaten track.

We’ll start on an island in the mouth of the Rhône River 15 km from the sea, where a former Parisian wine merchant established Domaine Isle Saint-Pierre in 1927.  He raised vines and sheep (which conveniently provided fertilizer), and the tradition continues today.  Most of the vineyards were replanted in 1972, and today the estate is farmed organically. The 2014 Blanc is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and aromatic Muscat.  This wine is fresh and bright, delightful on its own or paired with seafood, chicken, or fresh stir-fries.

Continuing eastward, we pause in Corsica at the Maestracci-Raoust estate in Calvi on the northwest coast.  Although part of France, the island is closer to Italy; these ties are reflected in its language, culture, and winemaking.  E Prove Blanc 2013, named for the local mesoclimate, comes from the Vermentinu grape.  The cellar is located in a former olive oil production facility with walls so thick it needs neither heating nor cooling.  This is a Vermentino (the more common name) with very complex aromas and flavors and superb harmony.  Pair with grilled fish, pasta, pesto, or mild coconut curry.

Again moving east, we hit the toe of Italy’s boot, Calabria.  Here we’ll sample the Librandi Duca San Felice (vineyard) Cirò (place) Rosso Classico (best of the place) Superiore (½-1% higher alcohol) Riserva (extra age) 2011, made from the local Gaglioppo grape.  Though this grape can produce rustic, unsubtle wine, this is neither.  Figs, sour cherries, and tobacco aromas lead to substantial, spicy flavors on a silky frame. Pair with mushroom dishes, Espagnole sauce, roasted meat, or gyros.  Librandi is a fourth-generation family winery.

The heel of the boot is next, with a stop in Puglia for Castello Monaci Liante Salice Salentino 2013.  The grapes are harvested by hand before dawn to avoid the intense heat; fermented in tank, and partially aged in oak. The result is a rich, spicy wine with ripe fruit and good balance, a good partner for sausage, roast meat, and aged cheese.

Our final stop is Nemea in Greece, where Hercules killed the lion.  Oktana Agiorgitiko 2013 is a fun wine, made from the grape named for St. George.  It offers small red fruits and smooth flavors, bright and fresh (no oak).  This can be lightly chilled and served as an aperitif or paired with a wide variety of Greek foods, from salads to heartier dishes.

This was a quick look at wines from the northern half of the Mediterranean, with their promise of warmer days to come!

–M.P. Rouse

Venture to the Foot of the Andes

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, February 26, 2015…


South America produces a lot of wine—more than 3 billion liters in 2013.  Argentina makes the most, followed by Chile (both ahead of Australia), Brazil, and Uruguay.  Peru and Bolivia produce tiny amounts, but most stays at home.  We’ll focus on the two leaders.

South America, unlike North America, did not have indigenous grape varieties; instead, colonizers brought European vinifera cuttings as early as 1541 to Chile and over the Andes to Argentina.  Although both were making wine by the 1550s, Argentina developed commercial wineries first, in the Andean foothills around Mendoza.  Adapting Inca methods, early winemakers mastered irrigation techniques (necessary in this hot, dry region) and produced robust wines able to endure long transport to consumers in the more developed east.  Chile had it a bit easier—ample water from Andean snowmelt made for a fruit-grower’s Eden.  The dry heat in both countries means there are almost no pests or diseases, and no need for fungicides, pesticides, or herbicides.  Even though not certified, many wineries are organic.

Following Argentina’s independence in the 1820s, waves of immigrants from France, Spain, and Italy brought new varieties, new vineyard and cellar techniques, and a strong wine-drinking culture. The result was an exciting mix of grapes, wines, and styles.  Political and economic decline worldwide in the 1920s crippled both wine production and consumption, and domestic conditions remained shaky until the mid-1990s.  Wineries looked abroad for new consumers and hard currency.  Drawing on their strengths, producers replanted heavily with high-quality varietals.  The warm, dry climate, long growing season, ungrafted vines, and well-developed irrigation all played a part in the rebirth. We’ll taste the major white and red grapes.

Somewhere between Viognier and Gewürztraminer, Crios Torrontés 2014 is floral, fruity, and energetic with a rich mouthfeel.  It’s a great partner for crab, shrimp, and Asian food.  Tikal Patriota 2012 blends Malbec and Bonarda to produce pleasure in a glass, with mixed berry fruit, big, bold, and balanced. Vistalba Cortes C 2012 mixes Malbec and Cabernet; the result is an expressive, spicy wine with cedar, cassis, and black cherry notes to partner grilled meats and spicy pasta.

The mid 19th century saw major changes in Chile’s wine culture as well.  The economy prospered; it was fashionable for wealthy families to build country estates and produce wine in the French style.  With the onset of phylloxera and powdery mildew in France, there was a steady stream of “refugees” who had the know-how to run these estates and make wine.  Despite centuries of Spanish dominion, France most influenced Chile’s wine industry.  Cabernet, Merlot, Carmenere, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc are the main grapes.  The 1980s saw Chile enter the world stage as a major wine producer.

   Cono Sur is an important producer, and the Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2013 shows why.  Tropical and citrus fruits combine with toasty notes and balanced minerality to produce a good partner for seafood and pasta.  While Carmenere is Chile’s “own” red, Cabernet is also important, and Cigar Box Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013 lives up to its name.  Its tobacco notes enhance plum, blueberry, and cherry touched with oak spice and supported by fine tannins.  Pair with the burger of your choice.

–M.P. Rouse

Teach your Children Well (Multi-generational wines for Ithaca Loves Teachers Week)

From our Tasting Thursday, February 19, 2015…

Today’s tasting honors teachers of all sorts, whether they serve in schools, homes, or workplaces.  It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child, and teaching and learning are life-long processes, so thanks to all of you out there!

People have been making wine for millennia, passing on their knowledge and skills by word of mouth and example.  Even today, a vineyard that’s been in the same family for over 300 years is not that rare, though its wine may not be available commercially.  Today, we’ll look at families that span three generations or more of winemaking and a relative newcomer that focuses on teaching.

Rudolf May Sylvaner Trocken 2013 comes from Franken in Bavaria, where the Sylvaner grape reaches its greatest expressions.  Some of the vineyards have been in the family for over 300 years; a new winery was built in 1999. The entire family is involved in the work—grape growing, winemaking, bottling, and marketing.  Eldest son Benedikt is doing a stint in Australia after passing his viticultural exam and working in German wineries.  Second son Jakob is studying the business end of the trade.  

    Gianfranco Alessandria took over his small family property upon the death of his father; the family couldn’t afford formal education, but he learned at his father’s side.  The family sold most of the grapes, but a cousin convinced him to keep the best and make his own wine.  He did, and won Italy’s highest award for his first release of Barolo.  We’ll taste the Barbera d’Alba 2013, from organic vineyards and bottled unfined and unfiltered.  His daughter Vittoria now works with him as he did with his father.

Fausto Maculan was born in the room he uses as an office.  The family winery was founded in 1947 by his father, and he started working there at 13.  His father enrolled him in enology school the following year, and he graduated with honors.  He’s been tireless in improving the practices of his region, and his daughter Angela is following in his footsteps.  The Brentino 2011 is made from Bordeaux grapes with an Italian sensibility.

Jean-Charles Cazes acquired Bordeaux classified growth Ch. Lynch-Bages in 1934 and ran it until his death at age 95.  His grandson Jean-Michel took over the helm in 1972, but retired from daily operations at 65.  Looking for other projects, he purchased vineyards in Minervois in Languedoc, replanting and renovating the properties.  His son Jean-Charles works with him; both are businessmen knowledgeable about vines and wines rather than actual winemakers.  L’Ostal Cazes “Estibals” Minervois 2012 is truly expressive of its terroir, as one would expect from those with a strong sense of tradition and excellence.

The Porcupine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is made at the site of one of South Africa’s oldest wine farms (1784) and brought up to date by a group of investors.  The winery is involved in conservation efforts and started the Franschhoek Literacy Festival, raising money for local schools and libraries.  It also sponsors the PhD research of Christy Bragg on the feeding and movement of the local crested porcupine featured on the label.

Behind every bottle there are men and women with a story to share!

–M.P. Rouse

Seduce Your Sweetheart

From our Hang Time tasting, Thursday, February 12, 2015…

Red Feet wasn’t able to snag an interview with Cupid this time of year because the weather hasn’t been kind to a half-naked cherub flying hither and yon.  We’ll go it alone again this year with some suggestions for Valentine’s Day libations.

Bubbly is always a good thing, and pink bubbly even better at chasing away winter blahs. Lamberti Rosé Spumante NV will perk up your spirits, with its coral color, rose petal and tropical fruit aromas, delicate mousse, lively flavors, and long finish.  This is a great way to start or finish a night on the town!

When it comes to whites in winter, bold flavors are called for, and Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc 2013 fits the bill.  It’s a blend of four Rhône varieties: Grenache Blanc for its rich mouthfeel, Viognier with its floral and tropical aromas, and Roussanne and Marsanne for structure.  Honeysuckle, apricot, and candied grapefruit aromas lead to peach, lemon zest, and minerality on the creamy palate, and a long, clean finish.  Pair this with lobster or bright fusion cuisine for a special dinner.

Red wine can be delicate or robust.  Carlton Cellars Seven Devils Pinot Noir 2012, from Oregon, is an example of the former.  It’s bold for Pinot Noir, layered and beautifully balanced with both red and black cherries along with hints of smoke and raspberry tea.  It’s a good partner for fruit-glazed pork tenderloin (try mixing orange juice, pomegranate syrup, honey, and soy), salmon, or oven roasted root vegetables.

On the robust side, there’s the Triton Tinta do Toro 2012, a hearty Tempranillo with deep, smoky, dark fruit flavors and a rich texture.  It invites pairing with well-seasoned red meat (beef or lamb), especially grilled; rich, savory curries; and marinades with balsamic notes.  Both these wines are welcome for that special Valentine’s Day dinner.

Our final offering is a sweet surprise with amazing aromas and flavors—St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.  For a delicious aperitif, try a classic St. Germain cocktail (2 parts each bubbly and sparkling water, 1.5 parts liqueur, served in a tall glass with a twist of lemon), or La Rosette (St. Germain and sparkling rosé garnished with a strawberry, served in a flute).

Valentine’s Day is not just for lovers; in Finland, for example, it’s called “Friends Day,” a time to celebrate all those who are dear to us.  And there’s nothing wrong with a little self-indulgence on a Saturday night, either. Enjoy these delectable treats or ask Red Feet staff to suggest other seductive libations to suit your Valentine.

–M.P. Rouse

New European Arrivals

From our Hang Time tasting, Thursday, February 5, 2015…

New wines are arriving at Red Feet as vintages change and we taste new products.  Our wines are a curated collection, representing grapes, styles, and places.  Today we’ll taste some of our newer European inventory.

We’re pouring two new whites.  Germany is particularly known for Riesling, but most of what we see in the US comes from the Mosel or Rhein regions.  Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Estate Riesling 2013 comes from the warmer, dry Pfalz, an area with flat or gently sloping vineyards.  The wines are uniformly dry, with a richer, more full-bodied style than those of the river valley.  This wine comes from the most famous estate in the region; it’s also the largest privately owned one as well as the largest biodynamic producer.  It’s lush, dry, and fruit driven, with notes of spring flowers and fresh apricots on a steely frame.  Pair with citrus lobster and asparagus, orange chicken salad, or an apricot tart.

The Dom. Bott-Geyl Pinot d’Alsace Métiss 2012 is an unusual blend of four Pinot varieties: Blanc, Auxerrois, Gris, and Noir (fermented white).  This, too, is an old (1795) family estate farmed biodynamically.  Vineyards are planted with sélection massale rather than a single clone of each grape, adding to the complexity of the wine. The wine is rich and tart, with peach, apricot, orange rind, passion fruit, light florality, and minerality dancing around each other.  Try it as an aperitif or pair with steamed fish and ginger or tempura.

Each of the three reds comes from a different country.  Portugal’s Tons de Duorum Douro 2012 is a three-grape blend from two of the country’s leading winemakers.  Vineyards in the Douro are perched on steep terraces overlooking the river and are harvested by hand. This wine offers notes of strawberries and blackberries, round tannins and would be a good partner for moussaka, duck confit, or stir fried rice noodles with soy, pork, and shrimp.

The south of France is home to another partnership of two who produce the Dauvergne-Ranvier Luberon Vin Gourmand 2013, a blend of Syrah and Grenache from an appellation between the Rhône and Provence.  Made from vines averaging 50 years old, this is a deep purple wine with aromas of black cherry, plum, and currant amplified in the mouth. The palate is firm, with ample tannin and good acidity, making this a good partner for cassoulet, Turkish food, or rustic bean and lentil dishes.

Cellers Unió Señorío de Convey Priorat 2012 is the second wine we’ve tasted recently from this producer co-op in Spain’s northeast.  This is a bit of a wild wine, with earth and black fruit aromas, even a bit of licorice; wild berries, raisins, oak, and minerals join in on the palate.  Wine from Priorat is hard to find at this price, and this is a good introduction to the style.  It’s good with aged and hard cheeses, beef, lamb, and oxtail braised with prunes.

–M.P. Rouse