Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cellar 58, East Village, July 18

New York City night life scenes change constantly, as all who live here know. Restaurants come and go, bars open and close, and new venues flicker about the neighborhoods; at times, it is hard to keep track of which destinations are still, in fact, destinations at all, and which ones have just become vacant lots for lease. Just yesterday afternoon, Lyndsey and I went to a barbecue place we heard was stupendous, only to find that it was closed for good. On the other hand, this also means that there are constantly new locations to visit, more excellent food to try, and a nightlife that we can reinvent any way we please, every weekend.

As a result, I embarked on a "foodie discovery" mission last night while walking around near 2nd Ave. and E 4th St., after spending the earlier part of the evening catching up with a friend. Normally if I visit this area, I go to Wine Bar, which is a perennial favorite. Because I was on the prowl for new spots, however, I decided against, and instead moseyed right across the street to Cellar 58!

I was immediately welcomed with grand enthusiasm at the door by the owner. She was not only hospitable and friendly, but also exuded an earnest desire for her guests to enjoy their food and wine. Italian exchanges between staff, phenomenal music, and perfect lighting complement a great wine list and what looks to be a delicious menu, making Cellar 58 a solid response to Wine Bar and a distinct presence on the street. Instead of Wine Bar's "date spot" atmosphere, Cellar 58 remains warm and sophisticated while also adding a touch of rusticity that I found really comfortable - the wood tones, oddly evocative (provocative?) artwork, and again, that low lighting that defines my favorite New York establishments. With this many things going right on only their third day running (they opened Thursday)... outdoor seating was the only thing I saw missing, and that is apparently on the way.

I ordered two glasses of wine from the wonderful girl at the bar, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pecorino, both by the same Italian producer, both $7 a glass. The Sauvignon Blanc was an interesting transplant, lacking the minerality and whipcrack acidity of a Sancerre and also missing the exuberant tropical fruit and grassy character of a New Zealand Sauvignon, but was still quite tasty. Straw gold in the glass, slight herbal notes paired to citrus zest, with more citrus fruit in the mouth; some crisp acidity, but also a strange quality I can only compare to the unique spiciness of a Gewürztraminer. Medium finish.

The Pecorino, on the other hand, was truly different. Two major phrases that come to mind now are "cat pee" and "foxy" - both in a good way. It was a deeper gold in the glass than the Sauvignon, and had lemon-lime fruit on the nose with a hints of ginger and nuttiness, leading to a full-bodied, well-balanced wine effuse with foxy fruity character, more hazelnut notes and a touch of mineral in the medium finish. It was actually a challenging wine the first time around. Overall a pleasure.

Pecorino merits an aside. The grape was brought back from the brink of extinction when it was rediscovered growing in the wild in the Marche region; it was already known in the wine world, but thought long extinct. Local growers initiated a movement to reconstitute this grape's presence in the wine world, and now numerous good examples can be found. Farmers apparently noticed that sheep liked to munch on it on their way to pasture; thus the grape's name, according to one popular story. Wines made from Pecorino are produced in Marche, Ambruzzo, and Umbria, among other regions. I would pair this wine with soft cheeses - particularly goat cheese, and white fish dishes like halibut sautéed in olive oil, lemon juice and (of course) white wine.

Anyhow! Go to Cellar 58. It's at 58 Second Avenue between 3rd and 4th St. I enjoyed myself there, as I imagine most people will.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Truro Vineyards, Cape Cod, July 2009

When we last visited Truro Vineyards, we went quite by accident. Lyndsey and I were vacationing on a pleasant campground near North Truro with friends of ours when we happened upon the winery. As I recall, we were driving to the campsite for the first time when we noticed the sign for Truro Vineyards on Rt. 6. Intrigued, we took a break from our trip and proceeded on a tour of the vineyard and winery, followed by a tasting of most of the wines being produced, all 2005 or 2006 vintages: Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay, barrel-fermented Chardonnay, their estate-grown version of the same, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and their flagship, a "Triumph" blend in the true Bordeaux style - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. While decent, these wines demonstrated the raw youth of the vineyard itself, and were not particularly integrated, balanced, or memorable overall.

This year, however, the situation proved quite different. Whichever cause was most to praise - improved equipment, more mature vines, higher quality sources for grapes, or simply better handling - the wines we tasted here just this past weekend while on vacation were remarkably more intense, more focused, and more polished than they were a mere two years before. The 2007 Cabernet Franc and 2006 "Triumph" blend in particular held my attention, while Lyndsey was very pleased with the unoaked 2007 Chardonnay. And with that said, on to my tasting notes:

2007 Truro Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay: A pale gold in the glass, good clarity. Shows wonderful green apple and citrus notes on the nose, with hints of vanilla. More apples in the mouth, with tropical hints like guava, and definite vanilla. Moderate aging in oak has left this wine crisp and refreshing, more like a Burgundy from the Mâcon-Villages than what I expect from domestic Chardonnay, let alone a new producer in Cape Cod. Delightful; Lyndsey's favorite! Enjoy now with grilled swordfish or trout. Or cod. From Cape Cod. $15.99.

2007 Truro Vineyards Estate-bottled Chardonnay: Also golden in the glass, slightly deeper in color than the unoaked, with juicy green apple, pear, vanilla and butterscotch aromas, followed by a rich, soft mouthful of layered apple and toasty vanilla, and a long finish. They definitely let the small American oak barrels have their say in fermentation and aging, and this one comes across more like a California wine than the first. Quite tasty, although I prefer my Chardonnay in its lean, mean (Chablis) iterations. Slam this sucker down with any pasta with a buttery cream sauce or lightly herbed roast chicken. $15.99.

2007 Truro Vineyards Cabernet Franc: This wine is apparently the signature varietal produced by Truro Vineyards, and I do see why. I found it the most distinct, focused and delicious wine of the bunch. None of the juice for this wine is sourced; the grapes are handpicked before being turned into wine using the traditional Loire approach - crushing and fermenting in open vats for maximum color, flavor and tannin extraction, followed by 20 months aging in American oak. A lovely pale ruby in the glass, notes of ripe red berries, vegetal earthiness, and a touch of violet. In the mouth this wine shows good balance, with a fruit core of dark cherries and redcurrants against firm tannins leaving a briary impression, lively acidity, and a touch of graphite or pencil shavings toward the finish, which was just plain wonderful. My favorite wine of the visit; pairs well with roast beef, venison, or duck. $15.99.

2006 Truro Vineyards Maritime Red: Much improved from its last showing in 2007, this wine made us pause; Lyndsey and I both decided after just moments that we enjoyed it. This is the proprietary winemaker's blend of 64% Merlot and 36% Zinfandel, fermented in open vats and then aged 18 months in American oak barrels. The result? A fruity workhorse that shows garnet red in the glass, wafting aromas of juicy red candied cherries, currants, and black pepper, with more red and darker fruit in the mouth that get swept up in a tannic rush to a long finish. Spicy. Versatile. Try this one with a whole bunch of hearty pasta dishes, grilled steaks, or maybe sausage and mushroom pizza. $16.99.

2007 Truro Vineyards "Triumph": This is their premiere presentation, the flagship wine, the Meritage, the Claret, the Cantos. Bold, yet elegant. Refined, yet racy. Tasty, yet tasty. A Bordeaux-style blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, aged 18 months in American oak. Clear ruby in the glass, with rich aromas of blackcurrant and plums on the nose, leading to a mouth rich in supple tannin and dry black fruits like cassis against a backdrop of almost tangible smokiness. Pairs with filet mignon, herbed roasted lamb, or hard cheeses. $19.99.

One final note, however: stay away from anything with a "Lighthouse" name; those wines are actually in lighthouse-shaped bottles, and are meant for casual (read: tourist) consumption.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Espiral Vinho Verde, 2008

Vinho Verde: crisp, light, fresh, possessed of low alcohol and lots of mineral, usually with a hint of effervescence: nothing better at a picnic table or the beach in summer, especially if you've value in mind. I have reviewed other Vinho Verde wines here before, so I will pass on the background and cut to the chase, except to note that this wine is produced in the Minho region in the far north of Portugal.

I bought this wine, the 2008 Espiral Vinho Verde, at Trader Joe's Wine Shop in Union Square. My conclusion is the same as many others': buy this wine by the case. At $3.99, you simply will not find a better bargain. A sun-bleached straw color in the glass, the nose features aromas of lemon and other citrus zest, leading to crisp lemon-lime fruit braced by killer acidity in the mouth. Nearly tart in its acidity, but attractively so: lean and cleansing, a great companion to shrimp barbecued in a lime-based marinade, or light fish dishes like sole, basa, or halibut.

Grignolino "Poggeto," La Casaccia, 2008

This is the first Grignolino I've ever tasted, and I must confess an immediate fondness for the varietal. Wines made from Grignolino are fairly rare here in the United States, with only a few examples being produced domestically (Heitz being the one example I can name). In general, they tend to produce wines that are surprisingly earthy and tannic, because of the low proportion of juice in the grapes and an abundance of pips, or seeds. Hailing from Piedmont, this particular wine is produced from 50-year-old vines, and the resulting intensity far exceeds my expectations based on the price.

In the glass, the 2008 "Poggeto" is a clear pale cherry in color, and the nose shows bright, fresh strawberry and raspberry fruit with white pepper and hints of leafy vegetal notes. The mouthfeel has great tannic grip for an everyday red, and is also shockingly bracing, with such crisp minerally acidity that the red fruit core seems wrapped in razor wire... in a good way, of course. Complete with notes of tar and roses, and a nice finish, this wine belongs on every table at least one night out of the year. Pair with antipasti or roast beef. $12.