Tasting Holiday Wines with Eric Asimov

I have know Eric Asimov, the wine critic for the New York Times, for a number of years and on occasion have been invited by him to be part of the Times’ Wednesday tasting panel. When my friend Suzy O’ Rourke of Cooking by the Book informed me that Eric was going to speak at a tasting and book signing there, I wanted to attend.

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Eric Azimov

The topic was holiday wines and Eric said that he has been at the NY Times for 30 years and really enjoys his job. His enthusiasm and down to earth approach to wine have won him fans all over the world. For this tasting, he had chosen 6 wines from different countries but advised that we should drink whatever wines we preferred. He also gave us some pointers for holiday wines.

According to Eric, when it comes to Thanksgiving many people think of Zinfandel as the “all American wine” but Zinfandel is a big alcoholic wine and should be the last wine served. He said that when he wrote about holiday wines in his column, his suggestion was one bottle per guest. There were many readers that wrote to him and said that this is too much wine for most people. His answer was that just as you do not want to run out of food, you do not want to run out of wine. If there is left over food it is offered to the guest to take home, the same thing should happen with the open bottles of wine.

Eric said that New York City is the capital of the wine world because there are so many wine stores here and so many different kinds of wine to choose from. We should be adventurous and choose wines from different countries made from lesser known grapes. He recommended visiting retail stores and asking for recommendations. If the buyer likes the wines recommended they should built a relationship with the store. This takes away what he called the fear of wine, the fear of making a mistake.

He pointed out that in countries like Italy and France there is a wine and food culture and a long tradition of making wine. Terroir is very important in these countries, the place where the vines are grown. In America entrepreneurs without a long history started most of the wineries and a different type of wine was produced. Most Americans drink wine by itself and do not look upon it as a food.

He also spoke about wine critics and the terms that they use to describe wine. He said that many use obscure terms and descriptions that are way over the top. The consumer tasting these wines does not have the same reaction and this leads them to think that they do not understand the wine.

Eric also spoke about wine scores. If a consumer buys a wine rated 90+ and one that is rated 85 and likes the lower scored wine better, they may question their ability to understand wine. This of course is not the case. Wine scores are very subjective.

The evening was very informative and interesting. For more pointers from Eric, I recommend his book “How to Love Wine – A Memoir and Manifesto.”

Here are the wines we tasted at Cooking by the Book:IMG_6568

Cava Brut Reserve Natural NV Bohigas Eric said that the Cava sparkling wines are made by the champagne method–the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. The winery is located in the Catalunya region of Spain and the wine is made from the Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada grapes. Organic farming is practiced. The soil is clay and limestone and there are 3,000 vines per hectare. The first fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature. The wine is then put into bottles along with the yeast and some sugar is added for the second fermentation, which takes place in the bottle in the underground cellars. The wine remains in the cellar for 24 months before riddling and disgorgement. Dosage of 8 grams of sugar is added. For a Cava to be a Brut it can have between 6 to 12 grams of sugar. This sparkling wine has small bubbles, hints of apples and pears, and a hint of the aroma of brioche.   IMG_6572

Finger Lakes dry Riesling 2013 Ravines. Eric said that the Finger Lakes region had the most potential of any wine region in NYS. Made from 100% Riesling grapes. The Ravines wine cellars rest on a hillside overlooking glacier-carved Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region. It is a small family owned winery. The grapes for this wine were harvested in September 2013 and the wine was bottled in March 2014. The wine has citrus notes and hints of wild flowers, pears and apples.IMG_6571

Etna Bianco Nettaro 2013 Masseria SettePorte Eric said that the area around Mt. Etna in Sicily was making excellent wine, both white and red and he was having an Etna bianco for Thanksgiving. The wine is made from 65% Carricante and 35% Catarratto. The winery is located in the town of Biancavilla on the southwest slope of Mt. Etna, an active volcano. The terraced vineyards are south facing and are at 2,132 ft to 2,296 feet. After the grapes are harvested they are gently pressed. Fermentation takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. Aging is in stainless steel and the wine remains in the bottle for a minimum of 3 months before release. This was a balanced wine with good fruit flavors and aromas and a touch of smoke.IMG_6573

Lambrusco Salomino di Santa Croce 2013 Saetti made from 100% Salamino di Santa Croce. Salamino has tight bunches and thin skins. Eric said Salamino means little sausages. in Italian do to the formation of the grapes. He also said that Lambrusco in this country has suffered for many years because there were many bad examples which were not very good and too sweet. Today there are many good examples of Lambrusco that finish dry and go very well with food. The vineyards are located in the Santa Croce appellation zone of Modena in the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy. They make every effort not to upset the natural organic harmony of the vineyards. The original plantings are from 1964. He stopped using SO2 in 2006 after a gradual reduction year after year. 2007 was the first vintage completely without sulfur.

Luciano Saetti the owner/winemaker begins by de-stemming in the vineyard with a little mobile de-stemmer. There is no press juice here so as to avoid using SO2. Primary fermentation is in open topped steel containers of 100 liters in size. These stainless steel containers are also brought out into the vineyards and the crush is done in the fields in order to preserve freshness. The still wine is bottled with a bit of grape must in order to initiate re-fermentation.  Re-fermentation occurs the following spring and takes a minimum of two months. The wine is hand riddled by turning the boxes and then disgorged using a jerry-rigged freezer. There are red berry fruits with hints of strawberries and raspberries that give the wine a very pleasant fruity flavor. However the wine finishes dry which makes it a very good food wine. The labels are actually made of fabric (looks like black denim) and each bottle has a little paper note under the capsule.IMG_6569

Syrah de Rosette 2012 Benoit Roseau Saint –Joseph- Northern Rhône, France 100% Syrah. Soil is shallow granite. The harvest is by hand and the grapes are left to mature in whole bunches without crushing. Carbonic maceration is done to promote the fruit without extracting the tannins. The wine is aged in large containers half French oak 600 liter barrels and half in steel. It has very nice fruit with hints of violet, cherry, currant and a touch of spice. This was my favorite at the tasting and a bargain at about $20.IMG_6570

Ribeira Sacra “ Mencia” 2013 Algeria made from 100% Mencia grapes. The winery is located on the steep banks of the river Sil in the Ribeira Sacra zone in Spain. Most of the vineyards are on steep inclines and planted terraces. The soil is schist. All the work in the vineyard is done by hand. They practice organic farming but are not certified organic. The vines are 30 to 80 years old and are south facing in the Amandi sub zone. The wine is fermented naturally in stainless steel tanks and there is no oak aging. The wine has nice fruit aromas and flavors with hints of black cherry and a touch of black pepper and smoke.

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