Over the years, I have seen customers go for long periods of time focused on one region or one grape variety. Or, to a greater extreme, they will consume the same wine for months before trying another bottle and possibly transitioning to another wine where another streak of familiarity will begin. The adventure easily disappears, the excitement dissipates. That’s not necessarily the case at Appellation. As anyone who has ever shopped here knows, we’re constantly bringing in new wines, drawing attention to lesser-known and esoteric viticultural regions, corners of the world where natural producers are growing interesting, often indigenous grapes and making wines reminiscent of the soils, climates, and hands that create them.
Starting on October 1st, everyone is focused on Halloween. Decorations adorn store windows, costume party e-vites are sent. A holiday that I always thought was meant for the enjoyment of children has morphed into a national party, but I for one can’t fully embrace the hoopla. My mind is already on Thanksgiving, that holiday in November that everyone likes to forget, so busy are we with Halloween parties and Christmas decorating preparations. But why? Thanksgiving is a day dedicated to appreciating our blessings while we share rich, delicious food with friends and family who we might not see that often the rest of the year.
Vermouth!—wait, I’m sorry, did you just cringe? Are you reliving bad memories? An inextricable component in some of our most-beloved classic cocktails (Manhattans, Martinis, and Negronis, to name a few), the misunderstood drink draws wincing reactions from most of us. Plus, as a solo performer over ice, we stare dumbstruck at waiters in Little Italy who offer vermouth as a post-dinner digestif or cautiously laugh every time our Spanish friends have a glass before their meal. Almost certainly, your tiny bottle of vermouth occupies an inglorious position at the back of your home bar, complemented by a coat of dust. What gives? Why does this much-maligned “mixer” get such a bad rap?
Tucked away between two mountain ranges in northern Mendocino County, just east of the iconic redwoods and two hours north of the Golden Gate Bridge, California’s Potter Valley is a world away from the more famous Napa when it comes to winemaking culture. Gone are the giant corporate producers, the gleaming tasting rooms, the well-oiled tourism machine. For many in this one-stoplight town, these amenities are hardly missed. What’s lost in shininess is gained in value. Though there are certainly excellent small producers in Napa and Sonoma as well, good values there have become few and far between—the regions’ relative international fame jacks up demand, which in turn skyrockets prices. For now, Potter Valley is different.
Shiraz or Syrah? Same grape, so many different expressions. And where does Petite Sirah fit into the mix? (Hint: it’s an entirely different grape.) Most people think they know Syrah, but in many cases there's more to learn. Given all the different pseudonyms and styles, it's no wonder confusion abounds! No matter what you call it, no matter what style you’re buying, Syrah has a long and complicated history. Despite the popular myth, this grape does not come from the city of Shiraz in Iran.
If you’re anything like me, you love dining out. Exploring New York City through its restaurants—whether we’re talking holes-in-the-wall or Michelin-starred establishments—is a fantastic way to get to know the five boroughs a little more intimately. From the Village to Williamsburg to the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue or Jackson Heights in Queens, menus create their own sort of map. And if, like me, you always ask for the wine list, you’ve probably noticed a recent trend: wine programs highlighting domestic producers who work with Old World varieties and lower-alcohol, higher acid, less extracted styles.
The popular wine regions of Spain and Italy have much in common. These highly acclaimed viticultural areas are renowned for producing rich, earthy, medium-to-full bodied reds, often with significant oak influence. Think Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello in Italy, or Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Priorat in Spain. The danger here, is that some people never explore further and end up convinced that reds from Spain and Italy are always rich and opulent. What happens, then, if it’s hot out, or you prefer lighter-bodied reds, or you’re making a dinner that won’t hold up to a powerful bottle? Never fear!
Born as an all-purpose medicinal remedy in Switzerland’s Neuchâtel in the late 19th century, the proprietary concoction of one Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, absinthe—an anise-flavored spirit macerated with wormwood, fennel, anise, and a broad variety of other botanicals—rose to great popularity in 19th and 20th century Europe. This is especially true in France, where it famously became the chosen spirit of artists, writers, and intellectuals. Not limited to the Bohemians, absinthe also found widespread popularity among the working class, sought after equally by housewives and even French soldiers, who first encountered la fée verte (the “green fairy”) as a field remedy for malaria.
With entry level champagne, I sadly find that at best you have entry level quality. Economics of scale make it possible for the larger houses to produce champagne at lower price points; it's just that uniqueness, value and taste are given up in exchange for the brand of the region. When life is full of reasons to celebrate, we want (and deserve!) inexpensive sparkling options that are both delicious and fun. The scenario plays out in the store all the time—“I’d like a nice bottle of champagne, but I’m looking to spend less than $30”—and of course I experience it myself as a consumer.
When you work long enough in the industry, you taste a lot of wine. Esoteric varieties become your norm, and you continually search for a new, rare bottle in which to fall in love. We have seen it with our customers too. You’ve done Gamay. Vermentino’s a household name. Semillon? Pshhh. But worry not, my picky friend: I’ve got good news. Something different to try, something delicious, something unique: Weingut Wimmer-Czerny’s 2014 Roter Veltliner from the Wagram.