Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Editor: Cave Spring La Penna 2006

CaveSpring_LaPenna_2006 Stateside when we see Cave Spring wines they tend to be made from the riesling grape. If you're lucky you can find a pinot noir or gamay but not often. I had never seen this label before a co-worker brought it back from the tasting room.

La Penna is a appassimento-style red wine that hints at what is possible when Niagara red grapes are air dried, fermented and blended. The blend is 66% cabernet franc, 34% cabernet sauvignon with 85% air-dried fruit overall.

The drying process is done in their naturally ventilated barn which benefits from updrafts and airflow along the limestone cliffs on the Niagara Escarpment. The breezes allow for drying in the traditional Veronese method according to the website.

The aromas are of plum, dark cherry and dried prunes.

On the palate it's as lush and round as any Niagara red I've had with fine tannins and such ripe fruit flavors that it almost hints at a perceivable sweetness.

Don't be surprised if you don't see more and more producers try this style in the region on both sides of the border.


From Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor: Domaine Diochon 2008 Moulin-a-Vent


Last week, I was invited to participate in an online, Twitter-based tasting of four cru Beaujolais wines, including this wine, which is imported by Kermit Lynch.

The theme for this Beaujolais tasting was "The Masculine Side" — which was a strong reminder that it's all about context. None of these wines would have seemed masculine up against most wines, but a couple did show more structure than the "average" Beaujolais.

I learned another lesson that night — or the next night really: We can guess how a wine might develop with more time exposed to air, but we never really know.

The night of the tasting, this wine seemed tightly wound but had a dense core of currant and black cherry fruit, some spiciness and that gravelly/graphite character I love. The acidity was firm though and this wine showed more tannin than the others. I figured it'd soften a bit the next day.

Instead, the structure seemed to step forward even more. And by day three, the wine was well over the hill.

It was still my wine of the night though. Was great with dinner both nights. And wines like this made me wonder aloud why we don't celebrate real Beaujolais the way we do the insipid Nouveau.


From Julia Burke, Beer Editor: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2010

CelebrationaleOn Sunday I bottled my first vintage of my very own wine. If that's not a cause for celebration, I don't know what is!

On the way home I picked up a sixer of this classic hoppy winter ale, which greeted me on a friendly display in the foyer of Wegman's as if to say, "Don't go a step farther. I'm all you need tonight." I came home, cracked one open and set about making chicken chili for two old friends who were stopping by.

The honey-amber-colored, well-carbonated, deliciously hoppy but beautifully balanced ale really hit the spot as I added dash after dash of tabasco to the chili. The beer has just enough chewy spice-cake malt to back up the vigorous hops, placing it head and shoulders above many of the overly-spiced winter ales I've experienced. As we finished our first pints, it occurred to all of us that we actually just wanted wings instead. I went to stick the chili in the freezer for another day, but my friends, being 25-year-old men, insisted they could chow down a bowl apiece before we went out for wings. With the super-spicy chicken and white bean chili the tongue-ripping experience was seamless and welcome after a day of wine.

20 suicide wings later, my sinuses cleared and palate completely shot, I marvelled at the timeless ability of this beer to work its way into the good things in my life, whether marking a special occasion or just an everyday pleasure. Now, and always, it's one of my "classic" beers, and this batch is the perhaps the most exciting yet. Happy 30th Anniversary, Sierra Nevada!


From Ron DiGennaro, Long Island Restaurant Critic: Whitehall Lane Morisoli Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1993, Napa Valley, CA

_1993 Whitehall Lane Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon I personally carried this magnum of the 1993 Whitehall Lane Morisoli Vineyard Reserve Cab back to New York from California nearly 15 years ago. It never left my side, not even while on the plane home.

Truth be known, I had to plead and cajole the winery owners to sell me the 1.5L large format bottle, which they took from their private cellar. So it’s safe to say I had some stock, both emotional and financial, in this bottle of wine.

Which is why I began worrying that I had waited to long to open this beauty. I had been saving it for a special event but somehow it never got opened. Then I called the winery last year and asked when might be a good time to pop it and they were adamant: “Open it now,” they instructed, somewhat aghast. Cause for concern. And still it didn’t get opened.

Until this past Saturday. No decanting, just carved away the wax on top and lifted out a rather damp, red-stained cork.

Virtually no bricking was apparent, which I took as a good sign. Certain wine experts had written that the 1993 was past its prime, but I wasn’t buying it. Besides, my bottle was 1.5L, and the larger format had to be an advantage.

Oh yes, the wine. Sorry.

Immediate aromas of intense eucalyptus, saddle leather and echoes of espresso coffee grounds leapt from our glasses. The wine was black, yet curiously medium to full-bodied, which I took to mean that it might have peaked slightly. On the palate, eucalyptus flavors repeated, as did the dark coffee. Mid plate brought out licorice, a bit of bramble, dark roasted fruit and cedar. I also detected faint barnyard, almost gamey notes. Without a doubt the wine showed beautifully and even if it was slightly past its prime that was fine by me because the complexity and structure were sound and alluring. And, frankly, fun to experience.

For me, and my guests, the wine was well worth the wait. Thank you to the Leonardini family (who took over the estate the year this wine was made) for selling me this gorgeous wine so many years ago.