“These things are boring as heck if you’re alone, unless you make friends as soon as you get here,” said my very new friend, Greg, at the fifth annual New York Wine Expo last Saturday. Greg and his bubbly wife, Charmaine, (“like Champagne, but with a different beginning,”) had adopted me at the Magner’s Irish Cider tasting station.
At the Magner’s station, I learned about Greg’s diet (“I eat the same thing every day, I eat beans and vegetables at every meal, and I only drink on Saturdays–I’m a Saturday alcoholic”), his interests (“My wife and I love to travel and we’re thinking of starting a blog,”) and that he was a longtime veteran of giant tasting events, like the New York Wine Expo, which featured 130 wineries representing 12 countries and about 4,000 attendees. “Buy your tickets half-off months in advance,” Greg advised. “The beer tastings are great, because everyone likes beer, from your blue-collar guys up to senior executives. Wine tastings are for smart people who like wine, so no one gets as crazy.”
I also learned that Magner’s Cider, the only Irish Cider distributed in the United States, recently released Magner’s Pear. Both the original version (distilled from apples) and the pear version are fizzy and delicious, but Magner’s Pear is smooth and fresh, distilled from 100% pears, and available for purchase at Manhattan Beer Distributors in the Bronx and at select New York City bars. An ideal option for Saint Patrick’s Day refreshments, in my opinion.
Even though I didn’t meet Greg until almost the end of the Expo, which lasted from 2-6PM on Saturday, I can’t say that I was bored at all. I was slightly overwhelmed by the nearly 4,000 people who attended the event, but I was also energized by the sense of excitement in the crowd and among the vendors, who were distributed among six different pavilions representing their geographic provenance: South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, Finger Lakes, Portugal, La Mancha (Spain) and Greece. Ed Hurley, the show’s director, said that consumers appreciate the international flair of the show–he described it as a “one-stop shop” for tasting a broad variety of different wines.
The Expo truly was a feast for the senses as well as a guided tour around the globe. I started my tour close to home at the Finger Lakes Pavilion, featuring New York State wineries known for their Rieslings and dessert wines. John Iszard, a representative from the Fulkerson Winery in Dundee, New York, shared with me a few samples of Fulkerson’s newest release, the William Vigne Label.
Vigne was one of the first-ever Wall Streeters, calling the Financial District his home back in 1619. At that time, Manhattan was known as New Amsterdam and was owned by Dutch settlers trading in beaver pelts from the Dutch West India Company. William Vigne ultimately left his Manhattan home for an upstate retreat, and his ancesters created the Fulkerson Winery.
The Vigne selections I tasted at the Expo, the 2010 Dry Riesling and the 2010 Juicy Sweet Riesling, were both excellent. The sweet Riesling won a silver medal this year at the Winemaker Challenge III and a Double Gold Medal last year at the NY Wine and Food Classic. You can drink the William Vigne Label at Momofuku Ssam Bar in NYC.
If you’re considering a trip upstate to explore the Finger Lakes Wine Trail, Mr. Iszard suggested the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, a AAA Four Diamond luxury resort overlooking Seneca Lake.
As much as I enjoyed sampling New York’s own wines, it was thrilling to travel to Europe and sample my way through two of my favorite Mediterranean countries: Italy and Greece.
As any Italian wine-lover knows, start and end your wine journey in Tuscany. Calling on my college Italian major, I spoke to Mr. Riccardo Baracchi, winemaker and in Italian, and he shared with me the details of his agricultura, located in Cortona, Tuscany. If you’ve read Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun or seen the movie version, you will probably recognize Mr. Baracchi, a close friend of Ms. Mayes for over 20 years. Mr. Baracchi and his wife, seen above at the Expo, are featured on the cover photo of Ms. Mayes’ forthcoming book on Tuscan cooking.
Mr. Baracchi grows grapes and olives on his majestic Tuscan estate, Il Falconiere, a Relais & Chateux resort and spa featuring a Michelin-starred restaurant. Once the home of a renowned Tuscan poet, Antonio Guadagnoli, the seventeenth century villa is filled with modern appointments. For the lover of the outdoors, great food and wine, and European rustic luxury, Il Falconiere offers the perfect escape. The resort is very much a family business, in true Italian style–Riccardo and his son, Benedetto, manage the wine and olive oil business, while Riccardo’s wife Silvia oversees the cooking at the restaurant.
For the first time this year, Greece sponsored a pavilion at the Expo. I was lucky enough to speak with buoyant personality Yumilka Ortiz, from the New Wines of Greece, who described herself as the “Willy Wonka of Greek wines”—that’s because all of her wines were sweet Muscats. Yumilka traveled through Greece as a student during the summer of 2005: “Backpacking in Greece changed my life,” she said. “In Santorini I saw the most breathtaking sunset (Thira), I broke bread with locals and felt embraced aside from the language barrier- how could I not also fall in love with Greek wine? It was inevitable…and a trip worth a lifetime!”
Happily, you don’t have to travel to Greece to get a bottle of N.V. Muscat de Limnos, a sweet white wine from the Northen Aegean Island of Lemnos. Yumilka describes it as spicy, with a citrus undertone on the palate, and floral and aromatic on the nose. It was my favorite of all of her bottles.
An exciting development at the Expo for 2012: the release of a mobile app allowing guests to record exactly which wines they sampled. It’s a clever way to make sure guests don’t forget the names of their favorite bottles, especially as they get tipsier and the afternoon gets later. Many of the guests, like Greg and Charmaine, seemed equally as content to chat and mingle as to discover new favorite wines. As the sun set over the Hudson River outside the glass windows, and guests began to trickle out, it did not seem that there was a more perfect way to spend the afternoon than here at the Javits Center.