Falling in Love with Loire

After an incredible weekend in London, we arrived in Tours on a dreary and rainy afternoon. Even though the sun was not shining, we immediately fell in love with the landscape of the Loire Valley. Although much flatter than the hills of the Piemontese wine country, the Loire Valley was just as green and lush. Who needs sun when you’re surrounded by nature and wine?

I think we may have found the best bed and breakfast in the Loire Valley. We desperately needed a spot to decompress for a few days. When you live in New York City, “vacationing” in London isn’t exactly relaxing. La Grande Maison, located on a 17th century wine estate near Saumur, was the perfect spot to reboot.

La Grande Maison

The main room of La Grande Maison

La Grande Maison’s pigeonnier at night

La Grande Maison is run by Micaela and Sue, two warm and charming Brits with a passion for wine. We knew immediately that we would get along just fine. We took advantage of their wine tour services, and that decision was a smart one. They have extensive knowledge of wine, the growing process, and the local appellations. More importantly, as non-French speaking tourists, we would have been lost without their guidance.

Exploring the caves of Domaine de la Paleine

Yes, we tried them all!

Wine dinner at La Grande Maison

Wine pairings

We left the Loire Valley with memories that will last for a lifetime. We explored many caves, drank loads of Cabernet Franc, enjoyed delicious meals, and had wonderful conversations with our hosts. Thank you Micaela and Sue. I hope that our paths cross again someday!

New friends

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Crazy for Moscato d’Asti

In my opinion, if there is a white grape that can rival the most popular black grapes of Piemonte (Nebbiolo and Barbera), it is Moscato. Most people will know this grape in the form of Asti, the sparkling white wine formerly known as Asti Spumante. Although Asti is an excellent wine, I prefer Moscato d’Asti. Also made from the Moscato grape, Moscato d’Asti is sweeter and has a lower alcohol content (usually between 5.5% and 8%).

I have introduced many people to Moscato d’Asti over the last few years. The reaction is always the same. “What is this and where can I buy it?” The production of Moscato d’Asti is much smaller than its cousin, Asti. Unfortunately this means it may be a little harder to find, and could be a tad more expensive, though you can usually find a bottle of good quality Moscato d’Asti for less than $20. Look for Moscato d’Asti near the other sparkling wines in your local wine store.

Usually sold with effervescence, this sparkling bottle of gold is sweet with usual flavors of Elderflower and fruit. It is the perfect accompaniment to any dessert. A bottle of Moscato d’Asti DOCG from La Morandina paired perfectly with cupcakes to celebrate my recent birthday!

Springtime Happy Hour

With temperatures near 70 degrees here in New York, it seems as if spring is finally here. Although I usually don’t break out the Arneis until after Easter, this week seemed like a perfect time to drink some Piemontese white wine. Chardonnay may not be the first wine that comes to mind when you think of Italian white wine, but some pretty amazing Chardonnay comes from the Langhe, the area of Piedmonte that is home to Barolo and Barbaresco. I picked up a 2005 Langhe Chardonnay from Brooklyn Wine Exchange and headed down Court Street to pick up some snacks to accompany the wine.

My usual choice for Italian snacks was closed by this time of the evening, so I popped into Union Market to check our their Italian cheese selection. Piedmont was well represented at the cheese counter and Toma Piemontese seemed like the perfect pairing to some Langhe Chardonnay.

Along with some bread and some toasted hazelnuts, this happy hour was a perfect way to welcome spring. The wine was dry and full-bodied and you could definitely tell that it was aged in barrique. The Toma was mild and didn’t over power the wine. After months and months of drinking Barbera and Dolcetto, it was nice to relax with some white wine and enjoy the warm weather. I’m glad that spring has arrived!

Uncommon Reds

Piemonte is famous for Barolo and Barbaresco. Most wine drinkers are also familiar with Barberas and Dolcettos from Piemonte. These are the most common Piemontese reds that you will find in your local wine store. Last night, I visited one of my favorite Brooklyn wine stores, Brooklyn Wine Exchange, and picked up two not so common reds from Piemonte.

If you’ve never visited Brooklyn Wine Exchange in Cobble Hill, go! They have one of the best wine selections in New York City, as well as some of the most helpful staff. Although their offerings may vary from week to week, they always have something interesting. In addition to a couple of Barberas, I picked up a 2007 Croatina and a 2010 Grignolino. You won’t find these varieties everyday, so I was excited to get home and open them up.

The Croatina was beautifully dark and had a nice fruity/floral finish. This was my favorite of the two. The Gringnolino is more delicate and has a light body. My wife preferred this wine. Both were excellent finds and delicious. Thankfully, we didn’t over imbibe and have enough left of both to carry us through the weekend.

I’m falling in love with the wines from Valli Unite. I’ve previously had both their Dolcetto and Barbera. The wines are always interesting, and so are their bottles. Look at that cork!

Simple Food and a Special Wine

My sister invited my wife and I to her Greenwich Village apartment for a classic Italian American dinner party. This was, in fact, her first dinner party. She loves food and wine, but had yet to cross the bridge of entertaining for herself. We were to be her first guests.

She is surrounded by many Italian specialty shops, wine stores, cheese purveyors and even more Italian bakeries. I was excited to see what she put together. We started with stuffed spicy peppers, marinated bocconcini, Piave cheese, rosemary crackers and roasted red peppers. She picked all of these up at Faicco’s Pork Store on Bleeker and they were all delicious. Next came an arugula salad with beets, walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette. Finally, she served a simple lasagna of spicy marinara and ricotta cheese. All of the ingredients were simple, and stereotypically Italian American, but when combined, it was an amazing dinner.

My job was to bring the wine. I stopped off at Le Vigne, an artisanal Italian wine shop on Greenwich Avenue, where I picked up a 2009 Dolcetto d’Alba and a 2008 Barbera d’Asti. Both were excellent wines, but the hands down favorite was a 2006 Carema Classico.  It is no wonder why we loved the Carema best; it is made from our favorite grape, Nebbiolo. We’ve tried our fair share of Barolo and Barbaresco, but this is the first time we tried Carema, which comes from the Northern reaches of Piemonte. It definitely won’t be the last time we enjoy a bottle of this special wine.