Category Archives: Wine Bars

Wine Wednesday: Fiano d’Avellino from Terredora + Aaron Neville

For my birthday this year, I did a number of different things, among them I took two dear friends to see Aaron Neville at City Winery.

I love Aaron Neville. I have since I was in high school and college. My dream had always been to see him sing with his brothers at Tipitinas. That never did come to pass but I did get to see him here in New York and boy he was worth waiting for….

I’ve seen some great concerts at City Winery – Pete Seeger, Aaron Neville, the Blind Boys of Alabama. I admit I usually go for the concert not for the food but this last time I enjoyed my meal and I always enjoy the wine. Stephanie Johnson who I went to through the Wine & Spirits Education Trust with at the International Wine Center has done a great job with their long list.

We had a Fiano d’Avellino DOCG from Terredora. It was perfect, full of fruit, minerality great acidity, honey, almond and toasty notes and it was also very well balanced.

Terredora is a very well known winery from that region. They started making wines in 1994 and use all of their own grapes, not always the case in Campania. The winery is located in the Irpinia region at 650 meters above sea level. The Fiano come from the Sabato Valley.

The wine rests on its lees for seven months which makes it much more interesting and complex. I would age it for a few years as well as drinking it now. A great wine to have on any given wine Wednesday.

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Filed under Campania, Concerts, Italian regions, Italian wineries, italy, Memorable Events, Wine Bars

South African Chenin Blanc From Joostenberg- A Summer Treat

Let me start by saying Chenin blanc is my favorite international white wine grape. It is versatile yet recognizable, fruity but also filled with minerality and I think the sexiest white grape around. Of course there are many indigenous white grape varieties that I admire from Viognier to Vermentino but Chenin blanc, grown in many places is always representative of that particular terroir. Anyway, I’m just partial to it.

I’ve had a number of Chenin blanc’s from South Africa as this post illustrates but I had never had this one from Joostenberg until recently.

The winery is located in the Muldersvlei area near Stellenbosch and Paarl. It was bought by the Myburgh family in 1879. The current owners are the 5th generation to run this farm. In 1999 Tyrrel and Philip Myburgh began selling Joostenberg wines both locally and abroad instead of selling grapes to the local coops as they had done previously.

The winery is organic and full organic certification is imminent. They plant Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Touriga Nacional and Mourvedre.

This wine, which I tasted at Kaia, a great relatively new wine bar on the East side of Manhattan with my friend and fellow Italophile, Carmel D’Arienzo of Bella Vita Living, Arbonne and Villa Concierge, was a perfect blend of fruit and acidity with a hint of sweetness and floral notes on the finish. The floral notes surely come from the 5% Viognier that is added to this blend.

The blend is interesting because the Chenin ferments only in stainless steel while the Viognier fermented in oak barrels. Both rest on their lees for four months before blending, giving a great nutty toasty flavor to the wine. This year, for the first time, 40% of the Chenin Blanc underwent “natural fermentation,” without selected yeast in order to bring a bit more texture and minerality to the blend.

I really liked this wine and thought it was the perfect Summer treat. As some of you know, I am partial to South Africa and consider a wonderful South African woman in wine, Ntsiki Biyela, a friend. She’s the winemaker at Stellekaya. She actually made me very happy two weeks ago on my birthday when she told me that a journalist from an important New York based paper read about her on a blog and then interviewed her for the paper. She was thrilled to be interviewed and I am happy to think that I may have contributed to getting her more press, even if only indirectly, this time.

Full disclosure dictates that I let people know that I did some PR work for the winery after I met and interviewed her last year. She’s a fabulously interesting woman and her wines, although she doesn’t yet make a Chenin are well worth trying.

I first learned about South African wines at the Society of Wine Educators conference I attended in 2009. Wines of South Africa gave the key note address and provided amazing materials to the group. I used them to write an article for Gourmet Retailer at the start of 2010 and the rest is history. I saw today in my email that my friend/colleague in the wine world Tracy Ellen Kamens from Grand Cru Classes will be teaching a seminar at this year’s conference. I’m sorry to miss it. Tracy has a lovely blog and also sends monthly newsletters from her wine school. I am sorry to be missing this year’s seminar.

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Filed under South Africa, Wine Bars, wines, Women in Wine

Italian Restaurants in NYC: Tarallucci e Vino – A Growing Brand In NYC, Fontanavigna Pallagrello Bianco from Terre del Principe

Tarallucci e Vino is owned by two Italians from Abruzzo who are very well versed in the culinary scene in New York. I have the pleasure of knowing only one of the owners, Luca Di Pietro but not the other, Pepi Di Giacomo. Oddly enough, Luca’s wife went to the same graduate program as I did in Bologna although not at the same time. I met Luca through a mutual friend, Alberto Paderi from Alta Cucina and GD Cucine and that first encounter at the bar at Tarallucci e Vino on 18th Street opened a new world for me. Or better, showed me where to find Italy in New York. Since that day, tutto e finito a Tarallucci e Vino, meaning everything has ended well.

I spend a considerable amount of time at Tarallucci. I teach Italian there to a lovely student once a week. We generally have the whole wheat honey croissant and cappuccino. The staff is lovely and always makes us feel at home.

I also meet people at Tarallucci for a drink and in fact, held a meeting there last week with the New York Chapter of Women for WineSense board members. We stayed briefly but I am sure the restaurant has some new fans.

I have been to the 18th street restaurant, the one on East 10th Street and now even the one on Columbus and 83nd. I’m still missing a trip to the SOHO Alessi shop on Greene Street. Each of these locations has a slightly different vibe but each is rigorously Italian. I can say unequivocally that the espresso and/or cappuccino at Tarallucci is among the best in the city if not the best in the city.

I did a long piece on Espresso bars for an Italian magazine a few years back which you can find here and have basically searched high and low in the city looking for that elusive perfect cup. I must say, I find it every time that I go to Tarallucci. That’s not the only reason to go there though.

I love the croissants in the morning, the quiche at lunch and anything off the dinner menu. The restaurant hired a new chef last year, Riccardo Bilotta who is doing great things. Essentially, I feel at home at Tarallucci and I trust that whatever I order, I will enjoy.

Being as much if not more of a wino than a foodie by trade, I also scrutinize the wine list each visit to see if anything new has been added or removed. One of my favorites is the Gragnano from Cantine Federciane

I always order that when it is on the menu. This last visit though, I tried a new wine for me, a Pallagrello Bianco Fontanavigna from Terre del Principe. The owners of Terre del Principe helped to bring back this indigenous variety in Campania as well as Pallagrello Nero and Casavecchia. Apparently, these plants were in existence pre-Phylloxera time, according to the importer Artisan Wines.

The wine itself was exquisite with apricot and peach notes, lovely acidity and minerality. It was somewhat full bodied and enveloping on the palate. I loved it. I’m trying to stay on the recommended one drink per evening suggestion of our surgeon general but that wine made it quite hard for me. As do many others :).

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Filed under Italian Delicacies, Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian recipes, Italian regions, Italian Restaurants, Wine Bars, wines

New and Old Wine Friends

It was lovely to get together with people from the International Wine Center the other night to celebrate those who have recently achieved their Diploma in Wines & Spirits.

I saw many familiar faces and some I hadn’t seen in many years. One person in particular, Uwe, was a particular find. We were in class together some years ago. I am never sure where the time goes but I am happy for the chance meeting again and to read his lovely blog about Riesling, Der Kellermeister.

While some, most notably the owner of Terroir, I have been a late comer to love Riesling. I guess it is important just to get there, even if you are late to the party.

Steve Miller, a German wine expert and a fabulous teacher at the International Wine Center brought this amazing Riesling from the Saar to the dinner. It was a big treat.

Today at lunch with a friend, we split a great Riesling from J.J. Prum. I’m trying to catch up for lost time but I think I have my work cut out for me. Luckily, there are people who know much more about the topic than I do who can show me the way….

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Filed under German Wines, Memorable Events, Travel, Wine Bars, wines

An American Icon- Pete Seeger at City Winery To Support Relief For Gulf Coast

I was on my way out on Thursday when an email caught my eye in my inbox – Pete Seeger will be playing at City Winery to support relief efforts in the Gulf by the Gulf Restoration Network the email said. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Everyone knows who Pete Seeger is and what a wonderful, giving and inspiring man he is at 91.

Pete Seeger at City Winery

I was so touched and pleased to be able to see and hear him and to sing along to his songs. He played “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “If I Had A Hammer” and a new song that he’s just written about the spill. “Drill Baby Drill…Spill Baby Spill”, written in response to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. I couldn’t believe my good fortune so a big thanks to City Winery. My parents were and are avid fans of Pete Seeger from the days of the Hootenannies many years ago. I went to sleep listening to Peter, Paul and Mary sing “If I Had A Hammer” for the first 5 years of my life I think. I loved that record. Seeger is just so great in so many ways I can’t begin to express them here. His work on the Hudson River with his sloop the Clearwater, for example, has changed life for all New Yorkers who use the River. What an accomplishment. Yes, he wasn’t alone but his fortitude has inspired so many people. Including, my favorite singer—-Bruce Springsteen. I love his album called the “Seeger Sessions” when he plays a tribute to Pete Seeger and his music.

Proceeds from the event went to the Gulf Restoration Network and Global Green, . Both non-profits support workers and fisherman along the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to the Florida Panhandle. They showed a video of many of the Fisherman who have lost their livelihoods. It was heartbreaking. I hope every donates something. City Winery is also holding concerts tonight and tomorrow to benefit the Gulf.

There were so many fabulous musicians singing last night that they are too many to mention, one really struck me though, Julie Gold. She wrote a song I love but haven’t thought of in maybe 20 years “From a Distance.”
. This version is by Nancy Griffith.

Three Cape Ladies

While listening to these artists sing for the Gulf, I slowly sipped a nice South African Wine called Three Cape Ladies.. The wine was from Warwick Estate. This family owned winery is well known for the Bordeaux style blends. This wine was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Pinotage. I’m fond of blends from South Africa as any readers of this blog know. All in all, it was one of those memorable evenings that make you smile. I hope they raised a lot of money. The house was packed so that’s a good start. If you are in New York City this evening with no plans, head on over to City Winery to support a good cause.

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Filed under Bruce, Memorable Events, South Africa, Travel, Wine Bars, wine stores, wines

Women in Wine: A Chat With Stellekaya’s Ntsiki Biyela

I met Ntsiki Biyela, a 30 something South African winemaker who was born and raised in Kwa-Zulu Natal, about a month ago during her visit to promote Stellekaya’s wines in the United States. Ntsiki is one of only two or three black female winemakers in South Africa but that isn’t the only reason that she’s so remarkably interesting. It’s because she’s a young, dynamic, great winemaker. She’s also a very talented communicator and actually convinced me to take a second look at Pinotage, a grape that I have never been partial to, to be quite frank. I spent many hours chatting with Ntsiki over the course of an afternoon and during a dinner that was organized at Braai, a South African restaurant owned by the same people that run Xai Xai, the well known South African wine bar.

Ntsiki joined Stellekaya in 2004 and was at first assisted by Peet Le Roux. She’s been making the wines on her own since 2005 and works at times with consultant Michael Carmichael Green. Her 2004 Cape Cross won a Gold medal at the Michelangelo Awards. It was the first gold medal won by a black winemaker in South Africa and it was her first vintage.

Stellakaya is owned by Dave Lello and his wife Jane. Stellekaya, located in Stellenbosch, came out with its first vintage in 1999. Stellekaya means home of the stars, a combination of the Italian word for stars, Stella and Kaya, an African word for skies. That’s how Dave sees his winery, an African winery that makes wines in the European tradition. Stellekaya currently makes about 10,000 cases a year from these noble grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Pinotage and Sangiovese.

Ntsiki makes two lines, the Fusion Collection and the Eclipse Collection. I tried a number of the wines and was quite partial to the Fusion Collection, a series of blends made from the same base, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a touch of a different grape added to differentiate each of the three wines.

The Cape Cross which is Ntsiki’s favorite is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a small percentage of Pinotage. She made me a convert as well. She called Pinotage a spoiled child that wants to grab all the attention. That is if you let it. The trick, she noted, was to keep it under control and not allow it to dominate the blends. Ntsiki looks for balance and integrity in all of her wines and it seemed to me she was right on target with the Cape Cross and other wines.

Both Dave and Ntsiki spoke about how Pinotage is misunderstood in the United States because we have only gotten poor examples that have green bell pepper notes. Pinotage, they said, needs to be trained on a trellis and not grown on a bush vine the way many producers grow it. Stellekaya also allows its’ grapes time to cool after harvest and then lets them go through a cold maceration for 3 to 4 days. The grapes go into open fermenters and the cap is punched down in a traditional method. Stellekaya uses a wooden basket press and matures its’ wines in French oak barriques. Most of the wines are matured for 12 to 22 months in barriques and then spend an extra few months in the bottle before being released into the market.

Ntsiki also makes two other blends in the Fusion collection, one with a touch of Sangiovese and the other with a percentage of Cabernet Franc. The Sangiovese blend is an homage to Dave’s love for Italy where he proposed to his wife. Ntsiki said she was still discovering the potential of Sangiovese. She was quite surprised she noted at how deeply colored her 2009 vintage of Sangiovese has turned out. This wine, called Hercules 2006, spent 10 months in French oak. It was somewhat different than other similar blends I have had with Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It was deeper and richer with chewy tannins but still a hint of Sangiovese’s acidity came through. I am sure that I would not have been able to place the wine in a blind tasting.

My favorite wine of the three was the Orion 2005 made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. I am very partial to Cabernet Franc in general and Ntsiki’s treatment of it was exquisite. This wine truly impressed me and had me asking for many more glasses despite its high alcohol level, 15%. Perhaps it was because it was so amazingly well balanced but I didn’t get the kind of heat I usually do in a wine of that level. It was beautiful with layers of flavors and nuanced aromas of tobacco, chocolate, cedar, herbs and spices. Ntsiki said she had been looking to make a wine like Orion, “one that is full and big but that is accessible. One that speaks to you and gives you everything, all the character, balance and integrity that you could want.” I also tried their mono-varietal wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, both were good but I found the Merlot to be more my style. An easy drinking wine, it went very well with the food served at Braai.

In addition to discussing Ntsiki’s wines, we spoke a bit about what it was like to be one of the only black female winemakers in the country. “I was recruited to study at Stellenbosch and was given a scholarship by South African airlines. I moved 1000 miles away from home, from my grandmother who raised me as if I was her daughter and from everything I knew,” Ntsiki said. “I have been in Stellenbosch for 10 years now, 6 years with Stellekaya but Natal will always be home to me. There have been many changes in Stellenbosch over the last years. Many more black people now attend the University. There were five black women in my class but only two of us are now winemakers.”

Despite being a bit of her element, Zululand only got electricity in 2004, when she first came to Stellenbosch, Ntsiki said it has thus far been a great journey. “Stellenbosch is a great place to make wine. There are no problems with the climate. Sometimes you get a heat wave but not that often. We also have great soils,” she added.

I didn’t get to taste it but Ntsiki also makes a Shiraz. “It’s not at all like your typical Shiraz. Yes it’s big and peppery but it is also smooth and elegant with beautiful colors. Ntsiki has a long history with fermenting juice and used to make her tribal drink in Zululand, stirring a pot for many hours at a time when she was growing up. The drink she was making was a traditional beer made from corn and sorghum. Ntsiki who lost her beloved Grandmother in recent years told me a funny story that underscored just how extraordinary her choices have been.

While fermented drinks are part of the tradition in South Africa as is beer, some areas such as Zululand are not awash in wine. When Ntsiki’s grandmother first tasted her wine apparently she didn’t say anything but the second time she laughed and said that’s much better. “She always encouraged me to be the best I could be. If I am strong today, it is because of her,” Ntsiki said. “Dave is a great boss. He doesn’t micromanage me which is very important and it makes me want to do even better,” Ntsiki added.

Last year, Ntsiki was named Women Winemaker of the Year. “I feel blessed and I think this is going to be a great year,” she added. Ntsiki said that 2009 was a great harvest despite a heat wave and that she had high hopes for the vintage.


Filed under Restaurants, South Africa, Travel, Wine Bars, wines

Is Wine By The Glass The Best Option? Not Always Clear What Is In The Glass

I often order wines by the glass when I go out. Why? Certainly you pay more than you should for a wine by the glass, likely the entire cost of the bottle to the restaurant or even more than the cost of the bottle. That said sometimes I want just a glass of something or I want to try a different wine than the person/people I am with, and sometimes I think the price by the bottle is outrageous.

Unfortunately what I have noticed with greater frequency is that even at established restaurants, wine bars and music venues in New York City, bartenders think that if you order wine by the glass you don’t care what you drink. Over the weekend, I went to a music venue which purports to be much more than that and was served a wine by the glass that I didn’t order.

The bartender probably figured that I wouldn’t notice the difference. When I mentioned it to the waitress, she graciously apologized and comped me a glass of wine which she poured at my table. However, I am sure she didn’t complain to the bar.

Why I am writing about this? I know first hand that this practice happens all over the city, maybe all over every city, and I can understand why as well. That’s not the point though is it. This is much like the brunello scandal on a small scale. Many people knew that Brunello was made with grapes other than Sangiovese but ignored the practice because it was common knowledge. The American customer however who was paying a fortune for Brunello complained loudly that they wanted only Sangiovese in the glass. We know what happened there but the point is something else. If you pay for one thing, people shouldn’t switch what is in the glass thinking that you won’t notice.

As a wine writer, blogger and publicist, I also think this is terrible for brands and that producers should speak up. Say I order a wine by the glass from a producer and the bartender switches the wine because he/she needs to finish something they already have open. If I hate the wine and then write about it, that damages the image of the wine in the eyes of the consumer. Even if I don’t write about wine but just consume it, if you give me a wine I didn’t order and perhaps don’t like, then you’ve just cost the wine producer a client.

This long rant is essentially just a call to have restaurateurs and their bartenders be more aware that the customer needs to be served what they have ordered. These practices only go on with the knowledge of the owners so it is up and down the line that this needs to be addressed. I will not go back to that music venue again and if I do, I will inform the sommelier, also someone I know, what the is going on there, assuming that they are unaware of what happens when they aren’t present. This is totally unacceptable and should be called out in my view.


Filed under Restaurants, Wine Bars, wines