Here is a weekly sampling of some of the interesting — good or bad — libations that the New York Cork Report team has encountered over the past week.


Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor: La Trou Du Diable La Saison du Tracteur
As you may glean from some of the contributions below, a few NYCR folks were together (with some other folks) on Sunday for some food and libations. When a good friend from Quebec offered to bring some local saisons for the gathering, we ran with the theme tasting more than a dozen versions. Some were super-citrusy. Others were vinous and densely complex. Others were expensive and pretty ‘out there’ with strawberries and white pepper used in the brewing process.

This Quebecois saison is more traditional than several we tried, but it was my favorite because of its combination of citrus-spice-earth-funk aromas and flavors — just what I want from a saison — with a dry barnyard-y finish.

We had a huge spread of New York and Quebec cheeses, cured meats in many forms, tarte flambee, bacon-cheese quiche etc. and I was reminded just how food friendly saison is.

I love hoppy beers as much (or maybe more) as any craft beer guy, but it’s kinda nice to drink beers like these — they refresh the palate and nudge you to take another bite and another sip.

dawsonEvan Dawson, Managing Editor: Castello di Neive 2007 Barbaresco Santo Stefano
This is beef stew season, so we made beef stew, which of course required Nebbiolo. If that sounds like an excuse to open Nebbiolo, it’s half-true. But the beef stew was soul-coatingly good.

I only wish I truly came to love Piedmont maybe a decade sooner, when the wines were much more affordable. This is a straightforward Barbaresco, very well made, if not memorably so. And it’s a $50 wine. (I picked up two bottles on super clearance at a local store for $20 apiece, and it felt like stealing.) The market is willing to pay more for Nebbiolo, so it’s now difficult to find very much Barbaresco for sub-$35. Thank goodness for Produttori.

But this is not a rant about prices. This is just a brief, simple post to note the pleasure that can be derived on an 18-degree evening. Yes, we love rose on a sun-crushing evening. But the warmth emanating from big-but-restrained reds is unique and thrilling.

silverJim Silver, Business Editor: Hess Select North Coast 2012 Sauvignon Blanc
California is rich in places to buy wine you may know. Target, the Arco gas station, all the grocery stores, the Walgreens, even a Home Goods type of store had a wine section. Imagine (my NY friends’ are aghast) a white wine being marketed in the same ice case with fresh seafood. Oh my — the horrors! This can only lead to either much higher alcohol abuses or much higher success rates with food and wine pairings. You decide.

Lately, I’ve been on the job hunt here in CA naturally. It’s hard to expect anyone to discuss high-level executive winery positions when the radio is only playing Jingle Bell Rock and Blue Christmas though. So to bide my time I’ve been exploring cheap(er) wines, and since my bank account is only flowing in one direction, the timing is excellent! Even amongst the most commercial and familiar big brands we’re all used to seeing, there are still odds and ends that are truly interesting.

Did you know Target sells 3L boxes of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir under their name (made by Trinchero) that are really, really drinkable for less than $20? (Lenn’s head just exploded. Sorry Lenn.)

On a more terrestrial level, here is the Hess Winery’s Sauvignon Blanc from the North Coast (which usually means a lot of Lake County fruit) bottled under screwcap for all of $7.99. While it lacks the oyster shell, minerally character so regular in the eastern sauvignons, it replaces it with a fresh cut mango and tart Meyer lemon citrus, and still has the zippy freshness you’re hoping for, like I was when I took it to the beach for a picnic on Sunday.

New York doesn’t see a lot of wine labeled with Lake County as the appellation (most of it being blended) but I was simply rocked to the core by a negotiant’s petit sirah this week too, a Castle Rock with the Lake appellation. Thick, black, dense, teeth-staining and perfectly fruity and even a touch long. Not so complex though, but the kind of wine you could age for 10-12 years successfully. Ready? It was also $7.99. That’s ridiculous.

campbellGibson Campbell, Beer Correspondent: Hillrock Estate Distillery Double Cask Rye Whiskey
I picked up a bottle from this Hudson Valley based estate-distillery a short while back and have to give it a shout-out before the bottle quickly vanishes.

According to their website, Hillrock is “The first USA distillery since before prohibition to floor malt and hand craft whiskey on site from estate grown grain.” Scanning through the site, the pictures of the transformed mansion and floor malting facility were fascinating and impressive. This particular spirit was distilled from organically grown estate rye and double matured in oak casks. The second aging is done in American white Oak casks that were seasoned two years before assembly, allowing the bitter tannins of new oak to soften before filling.

The result is a beautifully rich rye that is anything but harsh.Vanilla and clove meld together on the nose for a potpourri like aroma. The floor malted rye brings in a good spice mid-palate that is framed by a viscous mouthfeel and mellow but long finish. The slight sweetness and oak influence round out the spirit well. Fetching around $110 a bottle, this rye is not as modest on the wallet as it is the palate, but makes for a good splurge bottle or gift.

myersKatie Myers, New York City Correspondent: Uncouth Vermouth Butternut Squash Vermouth (Dry Vermouth) Batch #7
Bianca Miraglia makes her creative and inspired vermouths at Brooklyn’s Red Hook Winery. This is the last of butternut squash batch #7, but never fear — the next batch is on the way in January.

It’s a delicate vermouth that’s surprising given the hearty nature of its infusion. It’s great for sipping or cocktails, but I prefer it on its own. If you’ve never tried vermouth (as was the case for many who I shared this bottle with) it’s a great introduction to the fortified wine. Serve chilled.

trzaskosTodd Trzaskos, North Country Correspondent: Vino Don Vagabundo – Hair of the Dog – Gaysville Crush Club 2013
It was a busy weekend with plenty of wine. It started out with running a tasting at a local wine shop Friday evening, then Saturday hauling the 2013 autumn harvest ferments from barn to basement ahead of the deepening cold, and Sunday, a nearby holiday party, walking distance just down the road from us. It was not, however, a weekend of assiduous tasting notes, so the record is a bit slim. The tasting at the store was well received and participants picked up bottles as one would hope. Fast forward to Sunday night where among other wines, a couple of the bottles we’d sampled Friday, had been purchased and opened by our host.

Quite a bit of red wine was consumed by the party including the little Rioja and a Portuguese from Tejo province that had started the weekend at the shop, as well as some California cabernet sauvignon, a merlot, a meritage blend, and a bunch of our homemade club wines. All serviceable and pleasant, but nothing that made me stop and wonder.

What did pique my attention, was when our host came up from the cellar with the third bottle of the Don Vagabundo, saying “hey, they keep asking for more and are going to clean me out.” Maybe it’s a neighborhood thing. Each year for the last three, that we’ve made this “second run” wine, it has tended to be the crowd favorite. To my palate, when compared to the reserve run that precedes it, it is the lesser wine. Approachable and easy, without any real aging potential, but who am I to contravene the consumer.

After the first press of the combined skins from the carmenere, malbec and syrah, we poured a pail of Merlot juice on the pomace allowing the ferment re-ignite, a la the northern Italian ripasso process. The wine is named for our neighbor Don, whose house was wiped out two years ago during the Irene floods. That first year, the wine was called Don Fuego, as we burned the remains of the structure. Last year it was Don Fluvio, as the rebuilding commenced. And this year, the Don Vagabundo now that he is settled. You see, in the early days after the flood, Don slept in our front porch, with his dog, and with the two other dogs who he had been baby sitting while their owner was away. We asked Don to come inside, but he was content with his situation, and now a couple of years later, has given a rescue dog a home by sharing his own new one.

gortonMichael Gorton, Long Island Correspondent: Goose Island Craft Brewers 2013 Gillian
Would you spend $35 for a 750l bottle of beer? Hard to say, but what if I told you that this beer is so rare, it barely is seen outside of Chicago, let alone in New York. I would, especially if you were getting together with some beer and wine geeks, some industry folk, the editor of this blog and a few contributors and a very tall Quebec-ian who is also a writer. I think you would too.

Goose Island may have lost some of its cred when it sold out a few years ago. Some thought that it would be the end to the craft beer giant. But based on this, I think this beer is what one would expected from a craft beer leader.Gillian was one of many, maybe a dozen or so Belgian farmhouse style beers we tasted though over the weekend. Some of you may know them as saisons. A top five style of mine for sure.

This was in the middle of the pack and it defiantly captivated all of us who were indulging.Inspired by an amuse bouche that is prepared by the wife of one of the brewers, Keith Gabbett that combines strawberries, honey and white pepper, Gillian, formerly known as Scully fits nicely into the “Sisters” lineup.

But really about the beer, it poured a beautiful golden color, which completely threw me off, because the nose packed macerated strawberries, citrus, bready, yeast and a fair amount of brett. I would have thought the color would have been more red tinted. It smells a bit like a Lambic style. The palate brought more brett and more citrus and strawberry. The finish was mostly white pepper. It was clean, refreshing, a hint of sweetness and balanced. It had a bit of a sourish style palate.

Some of the other comments from the group were that it was “wine like”, “tastes like something I have had before, but I am not sure what.” There was a lot going on with this beer. I am very glad that my beer guy hooked me up with this bottle. I might have to go back and see if he is willing to spare another bottle or two.

Was it worth the $30? Yes, if you consider what went into it and who I was drinking this with, it was well worth it.

prichardLindsay Prichard, Finger Lakes Correspondent: Casa Marin 2010 Laurel Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
Most people think of the country of Chile as a producer of hearty, red wines like Carmenere and its cousin Cabernet Sauvignon. But thanks to a rich geographic diversity the country also produces several fine white wines as well. Earlier this year my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys, both of which produce exceptional Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines.

One of the wineries that we visited was Vina Casa Marin near the town of Lo Abarca on the Pacific coast of Chile. The winery is run by its founder, Maria Luz Marin, and her family, and is nestled among vineyards that blanket the surrounding hills.

Following a tour of the vineyards and winery we had a chance to taste several of their wines including a distinctive Sauvignon Blanc that is produced from estate-grown grapes. It was my favorite among the wines that we tasted during the trip so I made it a priority to find some when we returned to the U.S.

Last weekend we hosted a wine tasting and I included a 2010 Casa Marin Laurel Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. After pouring the wine I was anxious to get my nose in the glass to reconnect with the unique blend of vegetal, citrus and faint sulphur (“cat’s pee”) aromas. I was not disappointed. Asparagus and fresh lemon were the predominant initial flavors that came through along with some salinity (due to the close proximity of the vineyards to the Pacific Ocean) and flinty notes. The first taste reminded me of our morning walking among the vines in the picturesque Lo Abarca hills.

It was a fun wine to enjoy with good friends and a perfect way to share memories of an unforgettable experience.