Words of Wit, Wisdom and Wonder on Wine & Spirits

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reaping Rich Rewards at Harvest East End II

Swarms of fruit flies notwithstanding, the sophomore Harvest East End Wine & Food Festival held under a huge tent at Mecox Farm in Bridgehampton this past saturday evening was once again a triumph in ways too numerous to list, but suffice it to say the Long Island wine community presented itself in a flattering and positive light that portends great things for the future. Plus, more than $30,000 was raised for local charities.

Grazers and imbibers under the tent at Mecox Farm in Bridgehampton

Long Island wine--especially tastings of the astonishing 2010 vintage--and local food created and served by some of the East End's most notable chefs were the star attractions, but it was the gathering itself that brought smiles to the huge crowds in attendance. The sense of community and cohesion wrought by the weekend-long Harvest East End events is easily the best thing that has ever been created for a wine and food community growing by leaps and bounds despite a sluggish economy and consumers still worried about their future. But none of this really mattered on this weekend--this was a time to rejoice, share gossip and laughter, learn about all things wine and food and just enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

 Bedell's "Gallery" Chardonnay, consistently one of Long Island's best

Virtually all of the nearly 50 Long Island wineries were represented at the Festival and some of the area's best young local restaurant chefs were on hand to personally serve oversized "bites" of their specialty dishes, most of which were made with locally sourced seafood, cheeses, vegetables, lettuces and, in at least one case, beef. How terrific is it to walk around with a generous pour of Channing Daughters' well upholstered 2010 Lagrein, McCall's rambunctious new Pinot Noir Rose and Bedell's rich and buttery "Gallery" Chardonnay while pairing it with a roasted tomato and beet soup, ricotta tartlet or fluke crudo? Some thoughtful wineries even brought small oak casks and served tastings of their 2010 vintage with a wine thief--offering a barrel-tasting experience for the uninitated. 

 Russell McCall poured his outstanding Pinot Noir and new "Marjorie's Rose" from the Pinot Noir grape.

Celebrated winemakers like Christopher Tracey from Channning Daughters, the inestimable Roman Roth (who is largely credited as the brainchild of  Harvest East End) and Russell Hearn, star of Pellegrini and his own labels, Suhru and T'Jara and maverick Russell McCall, winemaker and pasture-raised beef purveyor, snaked through the crowded tent chatting up friends and fans and comparing notes with chefs like The Riverhead Project's Greg Ling, Southfork Kitchen's Joe Isidori, Noah's Noah Schwartz and rock & roll chef and East End elder statesman Tom Schaudel, among many others.

TRP's Greg Ling, a young chef who has winning ways with seafood and heirloom tomatoes.

Egos were checked at the door as everyone celebrated the landmark 2010 vintage and the bounty of sustainable local food sources popping up on the East End like mushrooms in a cow pasture on a dewy morning.  Perhaps best of all, the the live auction of Long Island wines and "experiences" raised $31,000 for charities such as East End Hospice, Group for the East End and the Peconic Land Trust.

The Suhru (acronym for Sue and Russell Hearn) bottlings showed the great variety in wines made on Long Island

“We are proud to be able to raise money to benefit the land, environment and people that make the East End of Long Island a great place to make wine," said Roth.  "We salute our generous auction donors and bidders, and talented auctioneer, Charles Antin.”

Seeing everyone gathered in one place and catching up, feeling good about being part of something truly special in some small way made this writer proud to call the East End home, at harvest time and throughout the calendar year.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lunching and Learning with Giovanni Bonmartini-Fini of Barone Fini

Giovanni Bonmartini-Fini is holding court at a small round table tucked into a corner at Felidia, celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich’s swank Italian restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side.  Descended from Italian royalty--Bonmartini-Fini is actually a Count—the slim, debonair de facto head of Barone Fini, his family winery, is regaling guests on such topics as the history of Italy, true Roman cuisine and the trials and tribulations of running an international business within the parameters of Italian tax laws.
            But the last thing Bonmartini-Fini wants to talk about is ink; as in printer’s ink, a business that has successfully grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade, earning him a small fortune.  “There’s just no glamour in it,” Bonmartini-Fini confesses.  “It’s boring.”

Giovanni Bonmartini-Fini
What isn’t boring to Bonmartini-Fini is winemaking, specifically Pinot Grigio, which Barone Fini produces two: a Pinot Grigio Valdadige and a Pinot Grigio Alto Adige.  And while his winery also produces a palatable Merlot, it is the white wines that excite Bonmartini-Fini, made from relatively young vines in the Trentino region of northern Italy planted about 30 years ago.  Both Barone Fini Pinot Grigio bottlings are D.O.C, which means the wines were produced in specific regions according to traditional Italian winemaking standards.  Generally, D.O.C. is a mark of excellence and top quality. Bonmartini-Fini says the key to the complexity and complex aromas and flavors in his wines stem from the earth itself.

“Our vines are planted in dolomite gravelly soil,” says Bonmartin-Fini.  “You can actually see bits of shell in the soil from ancient sea beds that once covered the ground. Pinot Grigio requires rich, minerals in the soil, along with good drainage, but it is a sturdy and tough varietal and very forgiving of any mistreatment”

Easily one of the most interesting and complex Pinot Grigios I've ever tasted
            Though the soil in the Trentino region where Barone Fini makes its wines may be rich with minerals, and soaked with natural spring water from rains in the lofty Alto Adige, Bonmartini-Fini insists it is the clean simplicity of his Pinot Grigios, with the grapes hand picked and lightly crushed (Valdadige is fermented in stainless steel tanks, while Alto Adige sees three months of wood casks) that makes them special.
            “We’re not talking about big wines here,” he says while swirling a glass of his 2009 Pinot Grigio. “These are food wines, made to be enjoyed with food while young. I like them best when they are fresh and crisp.”
            According to Bonmartini-Fini, his Barone Fini Pinot Grigios as well as his Merlot are purposely made to be medium-bodied, without harsh tannins or high alcohol content.  He says he follows advice once given to him by a wise Italian winemaker: “Don’t let nature take control, you take control.”  And Bonmnartini-Fini, whether it’s black ink or the golden hue of his Barone Fini Pinot Grigios, is clearly in control.

Tasting Notes:
Barone Fini 2009 Pinot Grigio Valdadige
Bright and citrusy, with faint lemon/lime and floral aromas that repeat on the palate, opening to flinty, well rounded juiciness that finishes clean with a hint of lichee and green apple. Nice balance of acid to fruit.

Barone Fini 2009 Pinot Grigio Alto Adige
Zesty and unusually concentrated. Wild flowers, herbs and ripe pear aromas rise up from the glass, not unlike a fine Viognier.  On the palate are mineral and all-spice notes with a hint of raw cashews.  Medium to full-bodied, it finishes long and satisfying, with creamy lemon curd flavors. 

Barone Fini 2009 Merlot
Light to medium bodied, with a fruity, bright cherry nose. Clean and bracing on the palate, with hints of plum and cassis. Not particularly tannic but has decent structure nonetheless, with a smooth, velvety finish that brings chocolate cherry notes to the fore.