Astor Center: Nofowineaux Ventures into Manhattan September 3, 2019

https://www.astorcenternyc.com/

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Astor Center, right around the corner from Astor’s excellent liquor store, is a well-organized and set up venue for learning about wine.  We’ve taken a couple of classes there, and always learn something new.  For example, did you know that on Crete they train the vines to grow in a circle, to conserve moisture and protect from the sea breezes in a semi-arid climate?  Next time you are in a wine store, see if you can find a bottle of Cretan wine with an illustration of circular vines.

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The array of tastes.

The classroom is set up as a two-tiered semi-circle, facing the teacher’s desk and an overhead screen where she can show maps, etc.  When you enter, you see glasses of wine set up at each place, plus water, and, in this case, a basket of bread and a little slate with three cheeses.  The cheeses were there to illustrate how food and wine complement each other, a concept with which I heartily agree.

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We learned that Piedmont is an ancient wine-growing region, with its own unique grapes and set of growing conditions.  For example, the hilly topography means that the best grapes are grown on the upper slopes, where you have the best drainage, and so on down the slope. 

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A map of the region.

We enjoyed all the wines we sampled, which means that the following list will be useful to us when we are in a wine store, wondering whether or not to buy a particular Piedmontese wine.  I’ll just check my own blog!  The prices are ones given to us by Astor as their regular prices, though on that night we could have bought any of them for 20% off.

1.        Gavi di Gavi, La Merlina, 2018     $18.96

Made from the cortese grape, the only white of our tasting was refreshing on a warm night, crisp but with some richness.  I smell wet rock and green apple, and taste citrus at the end.  The rich robiola cheese complements it.

2.       Pelaverga “Basadone,” Castello di Verduno, 2017     $23.96

With a chuckle, Tess Rose Lampert, our teacher, notes that this is a “purported aphrodisiac.”  Maybe because it is a light red, without a lot of alcohol to weigh you down?  It is dry, with a taste of fresh berries, and no tannins.  It is mouth-watering, which is an indication that it has some acidity. Pelaverga is the name of the grape.

3.       Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato, Crivelli, 2017    $24.96

In this case, ruchè is the name of the grape, and its presence in the name means the wine is at least 90% made of it.  Tess suggests that this is a nice wine to serve chilled in hot weather, and that it would go well with duck or venison or mushrooms.  It is dry, with tastes of blackberry and other dark fruits, with medium tannins.

4.       Barbera d”Alba “Castle” Barale, 2017   $17.96

I’ve had Barberas before, and Tess tells us that this is a fairly consistent varietal, with acceptable bottles in the $15-20 range, and really good ones for $30.  This is another mouth-watering wine, with cherry tastes that remind me a bit of merlot.  Tess adds that it is a crowd-pleaser, and goes well with pizza, lamb, and even chili.

5.       Barbaresco “Ovello,” Gigi Bianco, 2014   $54.96

Decant this wine at least an hour before you plan to serve it, she tells us.  Made from the Nebbiolo grape, which is, we learn, the most important grape of the region, grown on the best spots, this is a dry, slightly tannic wine with a complex flavor.  She discusses the texture of the wine with us, which she describes as silky and rich, and recommends serving it with similarly rich food, such as beef tartare or home-made pasta with a meat sauce.

6.       Barolo “Ravera,” Cagliero, 2012    $64.96

Another wine made from the Nebbiolo grape, this leads me to venture the opinion that they both have a smell somewhat like licorice.  No one disagrees.  Barolos tend to be expensive, but she cautions us that because of that, more and more of it is being made, so be careful to buy it from a grower.  Delicate and complex, this doesn’t have a lot of fruit, and is somewhat austere.  Tess says it can age a long time. 

7.       Moscato d”Asti, De Forville, 2018   $14.99

Unlike all the other wines, this one isn’t poured until just before we drink it.  It is a dessert or aperitif wine, with an aroma of honey and a sweet, peachy taste, a bit frizzante.  Tess advises it is good with something salty and crunchy.  I wouldn’t buy a bottle of it, but a glass might be nice with a dish of salted nuts.

Diliberto Winery: A Trip to Sunny Italy February 2, 2019

Diliberto Winery:  A Trip to Sunny Italy                   February 2, 2019

https://www.dilibertowinery.com/

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The murals help you imaging you’re in Italy.

To celebrate Groundhog Day, we decided to take a trip to Italy—or at least as close as you can get on the North Fork.  We love the décor at Diliberto’s winery, where the trompe l’oeil effect of the murals reminds us of sitting in a café in a small Italian town’s main square, one of our favorite activities in Italy.  The sounds of Italian opera or pop music and the video on the screen over the piano showing scenes of the Italian countryside add to the immersive effect, a nice antidote to the recent sub-zero wind chills we’ve experienced.

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Note the sign on the “building”: Trattoria Diliberto.

In addition, the room was filled with the delicious scent of freshly made pizza, which every table but ours was enjoying.  The kitchen is almost as big as the tasting room, and they have a pizza oven where they make thin crust pizzas as well as other Italian treats (no outside food allowed).  The only problem with the pizzas was that I had trouble smelling the wines over its aroma.

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The screen shows “Visions of Italy,” a series of flyovers of Italian cities and countryside, originally produced for PBS.

The tasting room is quite small, but in the summer they have a sizeable outside area, as well as a plastic-enclosed porch for mild days.  No big groups allowed, and, most emphatically, no children. In the winter, they are only open on Saturdays and Sundays, but check their web page, since on some Sundays they feature “Sundays with Grandma,”  which involves a four-course Italian meal and live music.

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There are real roses on the tables, a classy touch.

The menu has five wines, and oddly offers three tastes for $16, or $6 per taste.  Our server, who was simply a server, with not much to say about the wines, first asked if we wanted to do two $16 tastings, until we pointed out that there were only five wines.  “Oops,” she said, “I forgot we don’t have the rosé any more.”  So we paid $28 for our five tastes, which were delivered to our table all at once, in nice little round-bottomed glasses.  She did come back to our table periodically to check on how we were liking the wines and offer us some water.

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Our panoply of tastes–we had already taken a couple of sips of the chardonnay.

Now that the prognosticating groundhogs haven’t seen their shadows, perhaps soon we’ll be enjoying some warm, Italian-like weather.

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  1. 2017 Chardonnay $32

This is a lightly oaked chardonnay, which spends five months in oak barrels, so it is not too butterscotchy.  The taste reminds me of thyme honey, which is herbier than clover honey, plus a touch of lemon.  Not bad, but not a style of chard I particularly like.  My husband says he could see it as a summer sipper on the deck.

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  1.  2017 Sauvignon Blanc                $30

We like the pretty bright yellow color of this wine, which is steel fermented.  It’s a pretty typical North Fork sauvignon blanc, with crisp green apple and lemongrass flavors, a good oyster wine.  By the way, you may notice that the prices are a bit high here. My guess is that, as such a small winery, they lack the advantage of larger scale places, which can distribute the cost of winemaking over more bottles.

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  1. 2014 Merlot $32

In general, I think Diliberto does better with his reds.  This merlot is rather light, with lots of that typical cherry flavor and some tannins.  It is served a bit too cold.  According to the menu, it is aged just one year, in a mix of new and used French oak, which might account for why it seems so light.  It seems not quite balanced to me, though it would be a fine wine to have with pizza, especially one made without tomato sauce.

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  1. 2016 Cantina $30

A cantina is usually a bar, or an informal kind of restaurant, and this wine would go fine in such a place.  A blend of 50/50 merlot and cabernet franc, it combines the cherry and pepper tastes of the two, with some hints of blackberry.  Though it has more body than the merlot, I find the finish evanesces, though the menu says it has a “smooth, lingering finished” (sic—we used my pen to correct our copies).  It’s another perfectly fine wine, and again would go well with pizza or pasta.

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Even the labels are a nod to the Dilibertos’ Italian heritage.

  1. 2015 Tre $42

If I were ordering pizza and a glass of wine, this is the one I would get, even though it is $17 per glass.  As you might guess from the name, this is a blend of three grapes:  65% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon, and 15% cabernet franc.  It has a lovely dark color and an aroma of tobacco, spice, and candy.  It tastes good, with cherry and dark chocolate flavors and enough tannins that I think it could age some more and be even better.  It could even stand up to steak or lamb chops.

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They also lead tours of Italy.

Reasons to visit:  you like a small, intimate setting; you want to pretend you are in Italy; you like listening to opera while you sip; you appreciate a child-free setting; the Cantina and the Tre; you want a thin-crust pizza for lunch.

 

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The grounds include a room for overnight stays.

Diliberto Winery: Sal’s Place April 16, 2016

http://dilibertowinery.com/

A view to the vines, still pretty bare.

A view to the vines, still pretty bare.

Hang out in Diliberto’s tasting room for more than about ten minutes and you are likely to meet Mr. Salvatore Diliberto himself.  He may emerge from the kitchen with a dusting of flour on his shirt from the thin-crust pizza he makes or enter from the cellar, where he has been guiding a barrel tasting.  We’ve been there enough times that he recognizes us, so he sat down at our table to chat for a few minutes.  He’s a friendly guy, and passionate about his wine-making.

The room feels like a piazza in Tuscany--almost.

The room feels like a piazza in Tuscany–almost.

He also loves Italy, as you can tell from the moment you enter the cozy tasting room (augmented by a semi-enclosed outdoor patio) with its trompe l’oeil murals of a “Tuscan hill town” and its sound track of Italian pop music or opera.  Scenes from an aerial film of Italy are projected on a flat screen TV over the piano which is sometimes used for performances of live opera, on occasion sung by Sal himself.  In addition, he guides tours of the Campania region of Italy.  We think it might be fun to go on one of his tours, as we have enjoyed several cooking demos he has given in the tasting room.

It's fun to look over at the video and try to identify which town is being shown.  Oh look, that's Siena!

It’s fun to look over at the video and try to identify which town is being shown. Oh look, that’s Sienna!  A marble quarry?  Pisa and its Leaning Tower!

Your wine tasting, which is brought to your table in attractive round-bottomed glasses, is accompanied by a snack of your choice from the menu.  We had olives and cheese and crackers.  You can choose three wines for $13 or five for $21.  There are six wines on the menu, so we opted to share a tasting of five, which today did not include the rosé.  We also noted that glasses of wine are $10, so if you wanted to come for a lunch of pizza and a glass of wine you could have lunch for $37—which we saw two twenty-something couples doing (note that the winery is adults-only, no children allowed).  Not a bad deal for the North Fork.

Snack!

Snack!

  1. 2014 Sauvignon Blanc   $29

We like the pleasantly flowery aroma and dryness of this steel-fermented wine.  It is lemony with nice acidity, and tastes better once our snack arrives and we drink it with the provolone and crackers.

The line-up

The line-up

  1. 2014 Chardonnay $30

This oaked chard is described on the menu as “buttery,” and we agree.  In general I prefer un-oaked chards, but this one is nice.  You can smell the vanilla from the oak casks, and the wine is a bit sweet, so we think lots of people would like it.  I would not advise eating olives with it, however, as the two tastes do not enhance each other.

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  1. 2013 Merlot $29

Soft, is the first word I think of to describe the aroma of this rather typical merlot, and green is what I think of the taste.  It’s a bit thin, a bit tannic, and overall just okay.  We notice some sediment in the glass, and would like to ask Sal about it, but he has disappeared into the kitchen from which two freshly baked pizzas soon emerge.

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  1. 2014 Cantina $27

If you think of a casual red and white checked tablecloth Italian restaurant, you will be right on track for the taste of this wine.  We like it, and think it would pair beautifully with pizza or pasta.  The aroma has a slight note of hay or grass, the taste of this mixture of half merlot, half cabernet franc is more rounded than the merlot by itself.  My husband says “balanced,” and I agree, though he disputes my thought of sweet stewed prunes for the taste.  It goes great with the cheese.  We buy a bottle.

  1. 2013 TRE $37

Tre means three, and there are three grapes in this Right Bank Bordeaux-style wine:  65% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon, and 15% cabernet franc.  At first we’re not bowled over, but actually as the wine sits we like it better.  Perhaps it needs more aging, as the menu suggests.  We smell black cherry, but the taste lacks depth.  Not bad, but not worth the price.

Array of bottles

Array of bottles

Reasons to visit:  a calm, pretty room in which to sip wine or enjoy lunch; the sauvignon blanc and the Cantina; the pizza; snacks; you can pretend you’re in Italy; Sal.

View to the patio

View to the patio

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