Learning blind tasting from NYC’s top sommeliers, for a good cause!

Recently I attended a fantastically fun wine event, Glass by Glass-NYC, which was essentially a blind tasting workshop where participants got instruction and tips from a cadre of NYC’s top sommeliers while having a fantastic lunch at Picholine.  Even better, the event was a fundraiser for a nobler purpose – support of the Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship at NYU, which cultivates talented students putting their energies into changing the world.  The event’s keynote speaker, Susan Davis of BRAC, observed that the recipients of Reynolds scholarships and Fellowships are like young wines – bright, with outstanding qualities, and most of all, with the potential to achieve great things if given proper nurturing.  You can read more about the program’s Changemakers here, detailing achievements that vary from fighting human trafficking, to using modern business methods to create wealth and fight poverty, to supporting fair trade fashion.

And what about the wine tasting part?  I had an amazing time, learning a lot from great somms from top eateries including Jean Georges, Tribeca Grill, ‘inoteca and many more.  One great tip:  to help you determine the level of a wine’s dryness or sweetness, lick your gums after tasting – you may find telltale residual sugar there.  Another: when checking the rim of a red wine, if the color of the meniscus is neon bright, there’s a good chance it’s malbec, which I’ve otherwise found notoriously difficult to pick out in double blind tastings.

As with any good blind wine foray, I had moments of encouraging success, and others filled with confidence-shattering missteps.  My biggest triumph:  correctly identifying a Greek assyrtiko.  The low point?  Loudly declaring in front of two somms from Per Se that if the wine I was tasting then was not a Napa cab, I would leave.  Of course, the wine was a Chilean carmenere.  Did I mention that blind tasting is a humbling experience?  Per Se sommelier Michel Couvreux was nice enough to let me stay, and Jordan Salcito from The Lion was nice enough to assure me that my error wasn’t that bad because Bordeaux grapes have a lot of overlap.  I think she was being charitable.  What nice people these sommeliers were, and not snooty at all, contrary to popular misperception.  Thanks also to others like Sean Kerby from Tom Colicchio’s new Riverpark, for sharing their secrets to blind tasting, and most of all, organizers Evan Lambert and Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer.

If you get the chance to attend future installments of Glass by Glass, jump at the chance – it’s such a great time, awesome wines (my faves included Bessards Delas Hermitage, a Jadot Pommard Grand Epenots, a Markus Molitor Wehlener Sonnenuhr kabinett, a Marc Morey Chassagne Montrachet, the 2005 Reserve de la Comtesse, a Pio Cesare barbaresco, and a Phillipe Melka cab) and people, and a chance to do some good for society as well.  Most of all, I’m thankful that the event opened my eyes to the whole social entrepreneurship movement – the Reynolds Fellows who were in attendance certainly convinced me that your $$ supporting these kinds of ventures will pay dividends throughout our society for many years to come.  Please check out these links below and support what you can!

Here’s a listing of a number of social entrepreneurship links: http://www.nyu.edu/reynolds/news_events_resources/links.html


Guest post: A beginner’s guide to fortified wines

Today’s post is a sponsored guest post brought to you by the folks at everywine.co.uk.  I’m pleased to bring you this post because it covers territory that I’d like to learn more about myself: fortified wines.  Enjoy!  -Alan

A beginner’s guide to fortified wines
When a distilled spirit is added to a wine, the end product is a fortified wine. The process of fortification originated in times when spirits were added to wine to preserve it, but, fortuitously, some unique and delicious drinks were created in the process – drinks that are still enjoyed all over the world today.


Madeira wine
The history of fortified Madeira wine began on the island of Crete in the 13th-century, when sweet red wine from the vines of Candia was hugely popular. The descendants of these vines appeared later on the island of Madeira, which was turned into a vineyard in the 15th-century. When the wines from Madeira were shipped to Asia, neutral grape spirits were added to stop the wine from spoiling. The intense heat that the wine was subjected to on its journey led to a remarkable improvement in its flavour. Today, Madeira wine is heated to 60 degrees for a long period before it is eventually bottled and sold as a versatile, robust, fortified wine.

As for the taste of Madeira wines, they can range from very dry to sweet but are mainly knows for the complex flavours and aromas.


Made by adding brandy to white wine, sherry originates in the town of Jerez in Spain. Within the European Union, all wine labelled as “sherry” is produced within the Sherry Triangle – an area in the Spanish province of Cadiz, between Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. Sherry has been popular all over Europe since the 16th-century, with references to it such as “good sherris sack” having been made by popular playwright William Shakespeare.

Commonly sherry is described as having a rather sweet taste although it is possible to get a more dry tasting sherry if preferred.


Vintage port is produced in Portugal’s Douro Valley and enjoyed the world over. Red wine production in the region dates back many hundreds of years, but it was in 1678, when French wine imports to Britain ceased, that the British turned to Portugal for an alternative. English wine merchants added brandy to the barrels of Portuguese wine before sending them back to Britain, where their popularity was mixed. Fast forward to the mid-1900s and Portugal was delivering three million gallons of port per year to Britain, with a number of vintages declared.

Port tends have a heavier, sweeter and richer taste than other wines.


Vermouth is classed as a fortified wine but is also known as an “aromatised” wine. Sugar, herbs, spices and flowers including cardamom, cinnamon, marjoram and chamomile are added to white wine to create different types of Vermouth, including the bitter dry vermouth and the softer sweet vermouth. An early recipe is credited to the Italian Antonio Benedetto Carpano, who was inspired by German wine flavoured with wormwood.

A first look: 2010 Bordeaux Tasting Notes

This past week, I attended a Cercle Rive Droite de Bordeaux tasting that gave me my first look at some 2010 Bordeaux barrel samples, with about 25 wines from Right Bank appellations like St. Emilion, Pomerol and their nearby satellite regions like Lalande-de-Pomerol, Lussac St. Emilion, Puisseguin-St. Emilion, Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac.  Some of you may know that, in the wake of all the hype about 2009 Bordeaux being a great vintage, perhaps a “vintage of the century”, that the owners of many chateaux have been proclaiming the 2010s to be even better – and frankly, almost every chateau representative (most of them owners/winemakers) I talked to said exactly that.

So, the question on many wine drinkers’ minds is, is 2010 really as good as, or better than 2009?  My preliminary answer, at least based only on the merlot-dominated wines that I was able to sample is…. close, but not quite.  However, I would put one significant qualifier on that statement – if you tend to like the classical style of Bordeaux more than the ripe and powerful style of vintages like 2005, 2009 or 2003, then the 2010 vintage may be just the thing for you.

To make some preliminary assessments of 2010, I feel this vintage nails the right balance between ripeness of fruit and structure for a classically styled vintage – somewhere between the styles of the 2000 and 2006 vintages for me – slightly better than 2006 perhaps but not quite up to 2000’s level based on the wines I tasted.  In fact, the best comparison may be the 1989 vintage, but I never tasted that vintage in its youth, so the comparison is based on a projection of where I think 2010 may end up in maturity.  In any case, the 2010s succeed where the 2008s fall short in my opinion – showing a plummy but fully ripe acidity and tight structure that I prefer to the tarter plum flavors and coarser power of 2008s.  Indeed, many of the chateaux were pouring the 2008s as well, and in almost all cases I rated the 2010 versions more highly.

Many chateau owners pointed out to me that they harvested later than ever in 2010.  Although this no doubt helped them get to full phenolic ripeness on their fruit, nonetheless the 2010s feel less ripe than the 2009s, which may be a relief to those who found the 2009s overdone.  Many of the wines, to me, showed a slightly cool character, manifested by the profile of the fruit, the occasional herby/leafy/underbrushy notes, and sometimes a peppery spice (the last of these perhaps helped along by oak as well).  Tannins were definitely more noticeable than in the 2009s, but not insurmountable at this point.  It will be interesting to see if these characterizations hold true in the Left Bank wines as well.

My top 2010 wines for the day were Magrez Fombrauge (tightly structured with excellent fruit) and Clos L’Eglise (Pomerol) for opulence.  In the value category, I liked Ch. Gaby, Ch. Fontenil and Ch. Guibot de la Fourvieille from satellite regions.  Wines that seemed to be in an awkward or reticent phase included wines I have generally liked in the past, like Ch. Rol Valentin and Ch. Fleur Cardinale.  A few strong performers from last year’s tasting, including Ch. La Fleur de Gay, La Vieille Cure and Fleur de Bouard, were disappointingly not present this year.

Here are my full tasting notes on the 2010s; wines tasted from 2007-2009 vintages will appear in a separate post soon.

2010 Bordeaux

2010 Chateau Fayat (Pomerol) – This name may be unfamilar to a lot of people; this relatively new label resulted from the combination of two older estates in Pomerol, Chateau Vieux Bourgneuf and La Commanderie de Mazeyres; I was told the first vintage under this chateau name, taken from the owner’s family name, was 2009.  Cassis, licorice and oak showing on the nose.  On the palate, quite good, with dark fruits, and definite tannin showing; cooler climate feel compared to 2009 barrel samples.  90

2010 Bon Pasteur (Pomerol) – nose quite reticent despite coaxing; palate is fairly dense and concentrated – a bit tannic but not hugely so.  Has powerful fruit and a bit of pepperiness.  Returning to the nose, a slight perfume emerges.   Has a smoothness to it that I like; full, even more dense than the 2009 Fayat.

2010 Siaurac (Lalande-de-Pomerol) – Showing a bit green on the nose, smells like a classic-styled bargain Bordeaux; on the palate, similarly classic in style, with more tannin showing than in the Pomerols tasted before this.  Not as round or pretty as the Bon Pasteur or Fayat, has a leaner and greener style that comes off as a tad harsh.  87-88.  The 2010s thus far show as cooler in feel than the 2009s for sure.

2010 Chateau le Prieuré (St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé) – riper immediately on the nose than the Siaurac, with dark-fruited slightly perfumed fruit and coffee aromas and a bit of a licorice feel on the nose.  Has power on the palate, with quite a bit of tannin and some bitterness on the finish.  Fine for what it is.  88-89

2010 Vray Croix de Gay (Pomerol) – Shows roasted coffee on the nose, with sweetish, dark fruits and some acidity indicated by the nose.  On the palate, powerful with sweetness to the full, dark fruit – this wine has body.  Captures Continue reading

A few upgrades to the site

I’ve now added “Subscribe” and “Share” buttons to the site, so that you can subscribe to be notified whenever there are new posts to The Amateur Wino, and share posts that you like with other people on your social networks, by email, or however you prefer.  You’ll find the Subscribe button on the upper right of the page; Share buttons should appear at the end of each post from now on.  Please test these features out – it’s the best way to make sure you don’t miss all the latest tasting reports on new vintages, emerging regions, outstanding wines and any new content on The Amateur Wino! 🙂

Also, I’ve added Category links and Tags to make it easier for you to find all of my posts that relate to a particular grape or region, wines that pair with particular foods as well as wines that have particular attributes, like “minerality”.  You’ll find these a little further down the page on the right hand side; I hope these features help you get more out of this site!