Highlights from the Grand Tasting

If you’re looking for more wines, beers, spirits and small bites than you could ever hope to taste in one afternoon you’ll find it at the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s Grand Tasting.

Grand TastingThis year’s event featured an impressive selection of familiar labels and brands as well as new or less well-known ones.  I had a great time revisiting some of my favorite wines from the South Beach Wine & Food Festival like Grgich Hills (their delicious whites and reds are always well balanced and complex), and discovering new treats like the fruity and floral Ume Blanc from Choya.

Here are more highlights from the Grand Tasting:

Chalk Hill 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and 2006 Chardonnay
Chalk Hill winesThe Russian River Valley winery showcased these two along with their great tasting Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but I was really drawn to their white wines.  The Sauvignon Blanc ($28) has ripe flavors of honeydew, lime, white nectarine and pineapple, with a refreshing and crisp finish.  The wine is 100% barrel fermented and aged on lees which adds depth and richness.  The Chardonnay ($40) is elegant in taste and structure.  It is barrel fermented with native yeasts and bottled without filtration.  Aromas of honeysuckle, ginger and white peach introduce creamy and complex flavors of pear, jasmine and a slight flintiness.  Rich and full-bodied with a satisfying finish, it’s a really pleasant wine to drink.

Pascual Toso MalbecPascual Toso 2007 Malbec
At $10 a bottle, this ripe red from the Maipu Valley in Argentina’s Mendoza region is a great deal.  It’s deep ruby red in color with aromas of rich red and black fruit.  Flavors of blackberries, black cherries, mocha, violet and white pepper culminate in a long and well-rounded finish that has just a hint of caramel.  Velvety soft in texture, this bold wine is a great match for grilled steaks and roasts.

Red wines from Cosentino Winery
I had tried Cosentino wines at a previous tasting and enjoyed all of them immensely.  Their simply named wines let the complex flavors speak for themselves.  THE ZIN 2006 ($30) is 97% Zinfandel (over 70% old vine) and 3% Petite Sirah, with grapes coming from Lodi, the Russian River Valley and Sonoma County.  It’s exotically spicy and rich, with intense flavors of blackberry and black pepper.  The CIGARZIN 2006 ($26) is a lush old vine Cosentino winesZinfandel blended from Lodi and Sonoma grapes.  Like THE ZIN, it’s aged for more than a year primarily in American oak.  This red is rich and well structured with a core of ultra-ripe blackberry and boysenberry with notes of cherry, clove and pepper.  The finish displays dense layers of boysenberry jam, cocoa powder and coffee.

FRANC 2006 ($22) is a spicy and smooth Cabernet Franc.  Flavors of ripe plum, black currant and clove are followed by sweet tobacco, cedar and a shot off tannin on the smooth finish.

The Poet 2005 is a delicious splurge at $75.  It’s a Meritage from the Napa Valley with 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec.  The Poet is rich and well balanced, with tart cherry and currant flavors up front and notes of spice, minerals and pomegranate that evolve into a long, spicy finish.

Red wines from South Africa
Spice Route PinotageSouth Africa is producing a lot of fun red wines right now.  By fun I mean bright, upbeat and fruit forward wines that are easy to drink and go well at barbecues and other social eating events.  One of the first red wines I tried at the Grand Tasting was the 2007 Spice Route Pinotage ($20).  It’s one of the tastiest Pinotages I’ve tried, with extremely muted leather and gamey notes that can turn many non-South Africans off to this varietal.  Full bodied with flavors of plum, blackberry and boysenberry jam, the wine has a hint of cedar and vanilla from 14 months in American oak barrels.  The fruit is balanced out with firm Wolftrap red blendtannins.

The fun extends to the blends — and I had a lot of fun tasting the 2008 Wolftrap ($11).  It’s 68% Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre and 2% Viognier (this white wine grape is added to smooth out the tannins and bold flavors of the Syrah and Mourvèdre).  Silky in texture, this wine is full of black fruits and berries with a hint of violet and spice on the finish.  Both reds are big in alcohol, with about 14.5%.

Golden Sun Pumpkin Pie cocktail from Tommy Bahama
As a fan of pretty much anything that contains pumpkin, I couldn’t resist trying this cocktail made with Tommy Bahama rum.  It’s a tasty fall treat, sure to spice up any gathering.  Here’s the recipe so you can make it at home:

Tommy Bahama rum cocktails1 ½ parts Tommy Bahama Golden Sun Rum
1 part pumpkin spice syrup
splash of cream
graham cracker crumbs
cinnamon stick

Shake Golden Sun Rum, pumpkin spice syrup and cream over ice and strain into a glass rimmed with graham cracker crumbs.  Garnish with a cinnamon stick.  For more seasonal cocktails like the Apple Pie Martini and the Peppermint Martini visit tommybahamarum.com.

And while we’re on the topic of pumpkin-flavored drinks, Blue Moon was offering a taste of its seasonal brew, Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale.  Made with the flavor of vine-ripened pumpkin it’s full bodied and smooth, with a hint of clove, nutmeg and allspice.  It wasn’t overly sweet like other pumpkin brews I’ve tasted; overall I found it refreshing and enjoyable to drink.

Choya Ume Blanc
Ume BlancThis wine is made from Japanese ume fruit (pronounced “wu-meh”), which is similar to apricots and grows on trees.  Gently sweet with an elegant touch of acidity, the Ume Blanc reminded me of a Riesling but with more white floral notes.  It’s a great aperitif or can be enjoyed with fresh fruit or desserts.  Like a sweet riesling it’s low in alcohol, containing 7%.  A 500ml bottle costs about $15.  If you can’t find it at your local liquor store, try an Asian market.

For more articles from the New York City Wine & Food Festival click below:
Bubbles and Bivalves at the Oyster Bash
Tour de Beef at DeBragga and Spitler
Organic Wines for Less than $20