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More Than Merlot in New York City - Adventures in NYC Wine Tasting

[ NEW YORK, NY - NYC - 4/5/2006 - www.Littleviews.com ]

>>  Discovery, diversity and opportunity, my friends, are the thrilling hallmarks of New York City. Consider that over eight million people from more than 180 countries call NYC home. There are 6,374 miles of streets in this city, supporting nearly 18,000 restaurants, and an unfathomable number of retail stores. Macy's alone (the largest store in the world) has over half a million items for sale each and every day.

Why is it, then, that most of us trudge into the nearest New York City wine store week after week, only to pick up the same old bottle of merlot, pinot noir, chardonnay, or pinot grigio? If we are not adventurous wine tasters amid comforts of our own home, how do we expect to dazzle ourselves (and our friends) when we go out on the town?

Here are some more numbers for your consideration:

    There are over 10,000 documented varieties within the species of grape used to make wine, and while only about 200 of these varieties find their way into the world of fine wine, together they present a picture far more varied, exciting, and, yes, possibly confusing, than the world of the tried and true, overly familiar bottles of merlot.

Let's highlight the excitement in all this choice, while doing a bit of damage to the confusion. Here's a mini-introduction to four out of 10,000 or so available options.

Do you like merlot?

I love merlot. Some of the greatest and most expensive wines in the world are made from merlot. Petrus, the Bordeaux wine that sells for hundreds of dollars a bottle, is made primarily from merlot.

With that in mind, how about spicing up your evening with a Valpolicella? Meaning literally "valley of many cellars," Valpolicella is an Italian wine region in the Veneto (Venice being this area's most famous city).

Valpolicella is a blend of grapes. Corvina and rondinella are the primary stars of Valpolicella, though other grapes can be added to the mix. While Valpolicella can be a light wine with bright cherry flavors, a more modern style produces a rich, round, deep wine that's every bit as smooth and silky as a good merlot.

How will you know which Valpolicella is an example of the latter style? Alas, there's no easy trick to tell one from the other, so make friends with your local wine store guru and ask!

Do you like pinot noir?

Many a wine drinker has mused that "all roads lead to Burgundy," meaning that as your palate becomes experienced, it will come to value pinot noir above all else. Fair enough. But for you and me, still traveling the road to wine-knowledge nirvana, consider trying a Beaujolais.

Like pinot noir, the grape in Beaujolais (gamay) has a lightness that amazes. Like pinot noir, Beaujolais can feature a tart earthy-cherry flavor. Unlike pinot noir, great Beaujolais can be found for under $20.

But beware! In order to find real Beaujolais, there are two things to keep in mind:

  • Beaujolais Nouveau is not the same as Beaujolais. The former is a bubblegum-ish flavored quaffing wine, more a promotional gag than a serious sipper.

  • The reputation of normal Beaujolais has been hurt by the mind-boggling quantities of banal, fruity juice being pumped out of factory-wineries in the region. Find yourself a real Beaujolais Nouveau by seeking out bottles from one of these top ten villages (called "Crus"): St.-Amour, Julienas, Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Brouilly, and Cote de Brouilly.

Do you like chardonnay?

Hey, chardonnay is popular. So popular, in fact, that it's been planted in almost every wine-producing region in the world. But chardonnay's omnipresence doesn't give you license to ignore the other worthy white wines getting dusty on the shelf of your local wine haunt.

Allow me to introduce you to another rich white wine: Chenin blanc.

Though growers in the U.S. and South Africa are beginning to use chenin blanc successfully, you'll find the most profound chenin blancs come from the appellations of Vouvray and Savennieres, both in France's Loire Valley.

Seek these wines out to find some of the most mesmerizing white wines available: big, round, hearty, full of melon fruits, crusty citrus, earth and tea flavors. These are rich wines every bit as interesting and delicious as chardonnay.

Do you like pinot grigio?

Pinot grigio is the quintessentially crisp, easy-drinking white wine of all time. Perfect for just about every occasion (because none of its qualities is too this or too that), it is impossible for pinot grigio to offend. That said, pinot grigio seldom dazzles either.

Next time you're hankering for a light quaffer, how about turning the volume up on "crisp" and trying a Muscadet instead?

Muscadet is also a region in the Loire Valley, and should not be confused with the grape muscat that often produces sweet wine. The grape in Muscadet (known as the Melon de Bourgogne grape) produces a wine screaming with minerality, mouth-watering acidity, and bright citrus flavors. Think lemon and steel. And think of pairing Muscadet with seafood of any kind. For an extra-special treat, however, the classic pairing is with oysters.

Questions or comments?
Stephen Bitterolf
Crush Wine & Spirits

   153 E. 57th Street
   Between Lexington and 3rd Avenues
   New York, NY 10022
   212 980-9463

About Stephen Bitterolf: In addition to knowing his way around a decent bottle of wine, Mr. Bitterolf is an accomplished fine artist, as you will see by visiting www.Bitterolf.org.

Article by Stephen Bitterolf. First published on 4/5/2006. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.

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