The Food Lover's Guide to Wine

Italian Cooking Class and a Whirlwind of Winemakers Breeze through Manhattan

There’s been a nonstop flow of winemakers coming to Manhattan to show off their new vintages; among them are Carmenere from Chile, Barbaresco from Italy and Zweigelt from Austria. So many choices can be confusing—as well as intimidating. The solution: The Food Lover’s Guide To Wine (by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg).

The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine is a user-friendly wine reference that decodes 250 different wines, providing the most essential information (pronunciation, grape variety, flavor, texture, food pairings, etc.). It’s the perfect wine course that cuts to the chase and leaves out all those tedious details (like soil analysis, oak treatment and vintage weather reports). This book is the “cheat sheet” that can make you appear as if you’ve studied wine for years.

In a startlingly comprehensive, yet easy-to-read, glossary demystifying every grape variety, under Carmenere (kar-men-AIR), for example, you’ll learn that this Chilean grape is dark red in color; has medium to high tannins; has a fruity flavor balanced by savoriness and can express notes of black cherries, currants, black pepper, chocolate, earth, game and violets; the texture is rich, silky, smooth and soft; and it pairs best with barbecue, lamb, pork ribs.

“We agree with Julie Child and Alice Waters that one of the greatest things about wine is that it makes food taste even better,” said two-time James Beard Award-winners, Karen and Andrew, a married couple who finish each other’s sentences and switch plates and wine glasses at each course at restaurants. Their previous book, The Flavor Bible, was a phenomenal success (selling 140,000 copies in hard cover) as a key reference source for chefs, telling them what foods/ingredients work together. I predict this book will be equally well-received because, as they point out, the United States is now the world’s leading consumer of wine (as of this year) and people want to make educated choices. And besides, who can resist anything that has “lover’s guide” in the title?


It’s not every day that one gets to learn how to make gnocchi, never mind northeastern Italian-style gnocchi. During a card drawing at my friends’ launch party for their new social networking site website, Tripatini (a Facebook for travelers), I won a "cooking class for eight people." This was not your usual cooking class, but one very focused on the food and wines of Italy’s northeast regions: the Veneto, Trentino-Alto-Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia, and Emilia Romagna. The lovely sporty cooking teacher, Kathy Bechtel, whose business (and website) is named ItaliaOutdoors, has chosen quite a niche for herself. She concentrates on one region of Italy and has mastered its food and wine. She leads customized biking, hiking and skiing tours around these most scenic northeastern Italian regions—along with cooking classes and wine tastings.

Gnocchi is messy to make; flour and potatoes everywhere. We managed to roll our dough into long tubes and then cut the tubes into little pillows. We made four different preparations of gnocchi (one with black truffles). During the long effort, we were fortified by Prosecco, tasting and comparing three different brands.

Not being an overly enthusiastic cook, I was more interested in exploring two cases of wine that Kathy brought along for the tasting—wines with typically  unpronounceable Italian names. My favorites were: Baron Widmann Sudtiroler Vernatsch (Schiava) 2009 from Alto Adige, a medium bodied red with berry, spice and herbal flavors and a rare unique bitter finish; and Petrussa Schioppettino 2008—made from an indigenous grape grown near the Slovenian border in Friuli—an enchanting cherry-flavored light red with pepper notes and a definite smokiness. No, we didn’t finish the two cases. Yet, by the time the evening was over, I forgot how to make gnocchi.


How about that whirlwind of winemakers visiting Manhattan this fall? Each brought along some noteworthy wines from around the world. Here are short-take highlights from many exciting tastings:

Andre Leon (pictured to the left) from Lapostolle came to showcase her new vintage of carmenere. Carmenere might well be the next new hot grape because like cabernet sauvignon, it’s full flavored and goes well with all meat dishes, but mainly because it is inexpensive for a food-friendly red. Lapostolle does a number of carmenere cuvees (some as economical as $12), others from single vineyards, a steal at $25.

A 13th-generation winemaker in his family, Thierry Redde of Michel Redde et Fils, which goes back to 1630, came to present his impressive sauvignon blanc. I tasted the Pouilly-Fume ($30) and Sancere ($28), but the true wow wine is his La Marjorum 2005 ($43), a 100 percent sauvignon blanc from the appellation of Pouilly Fume that is only made in great years. It’s from 40-year -old vines and has a remarkably soft texture and a bright unique flavor combining citrus, flint, and floral notes.

Nicolas Audebert—a handsome, French-born winemaker previously making Krug Champagne and now at Terrazas de los Andes winery in Mendoza, Argentina—breezed through town to present the 2007 vintage of Cheval des Andes. Made only since 1999, Cheval des Andes is a joint venture between Chateau Cheval Blanc in Saint-Emilion (Premier Grand Cru Classe A) and Terrazas de los Andes of Mendoza. Cheval des Andes is a luscious purple colored wine with intense fruit flavors (raspberry, black currant) mixed with notes of geranium flowers, tobacco and pepper. Audebert was accompanied by the Argentine chef, Marcos Zabaleta, who cooked up a real Argentinean barbecue, starting with empanadas and progressing to short ribs and steaks.



Young heartthrob winemaker Laurent Sauvage—who lives in one of my favorite cities, Montpellier in southern France—from Skalli Wines brought a luscious Cotes du Rhone La Rabassiere 2009 ($13), grenache/syrah blend which was like a baby Chateauneuf-du-Pape at a fraction of the price.




Charming Aussie David Baverstock, who finds himself for years now in Portugal, presently as chief winemaker for Esporão, held court at Alfama restaurant showing how impressive Portuguese reds can be—and not only the Ports. Portugal’s important grape variety is touriga nacional. Of course Australia first became recognized for its variety, shiraz. So, Baverstock experimented by blending in syrah with touriga nacional (along with aragones) to create Defesa Red ($17), a wine that works with salt cod as well as spicy meat dishes. Esporao recently acquired a new wine property, Quinta dos Murças, in Douro and Quinta dos Murças Reserva DOC Douro ($40) shows off that great terroir (pictured above the sleep planted slopes of the Douro).

Mario Piccini, fourth generation family member and managing director of Tenute Piccini in Tuscany, brought his DOCG Chiantis and Brunellos. The real winner, though, was his Super Tuscan, Sasso al Poggio 2006 ($25), which won Decanter magazine’s highest award in its category. It was just brilliant, with the whole suckling pig our little group shared at Maialino at the Gramercy Hotel.

Young engaging Roman Pfaffl, Jr. from Pfaffl from Weinviertal in Austria brought along contemporary designed bottles with catchy names on the label. Austrian Pepper is his Gruner Veltliner ($14), a citrusy gruner with its characteristic pepper notes. And Austrian Cherry ($15) is a zweigelt variety which is known for its cherry flavors and also its spiciness, like gruner. At another price level, the Pfaffl Altenberg St. Laurent 2004 ($44) had an intense nose and unique flavor of blackberries with a smoky overlay—certainly a wow wine.

Roberta Ceretto of the Ceretto family in Piedmont—a prestigious winery with an art collection and a Michelin-star restaurant in Alba (which I toured several years ago)—came to present her Barolos, Barbarescos and hazelnuts. We started with the Blange Arneis 2010 ($28), an aperitif white with a slight effervescence and which has become one of the most popular whites of Italy. Then I sampled two brilliant wines, Barbaresco Asij 2008 ($43) and Bricco Asili 2006 ($154), from single vineyards, which were paired with a course of snails and lardo and then a pasta with sweetbreads, white Alba truffles and hazelnuts.

Missy Robbins, chef at A Voce at the Time Warner building (certainly one of my favorite restaurants) added hazelnuts as an ingredient in every course. Piedmont hazelnuts grow at the 1500-foot elevations and are three-lobed, bigger, rounder and richer in flavor. There’s a mania in Italy now to use hazelnuts on salads and shrimps and the nuts are becoming as expensive as truffles. Robbins prepared a typical regional dish of stuffed cabbage with rabbit and a sprinkle of hazelnuts, which was paired with Ceretto’s top Barolo, Bricco Rocche 2004 ($252).

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