The wine shopping – a short guide for beginners
Good wine shops for a passionate wine connoisseur can feel like a sweetshop for a curious toddler. People like me know exactly what I mean when I am saying this. There is so much excitement, so much impatience, so much fun and I can spend significant amount of time to look, to read and enjoy the conversations with the owner or the sales people, who most of the time know what they are selling. This experience and joy could be very alien, if you are not a wine expert. Hence, I have decide to bring clarity and create a basic wine shopping guide for beginners, if you consider yourself as a virgin wine shopper.
- Identify the occasion you are buying wine for. Is it a special occasion or is it an everyday dinner?
- Make sure who you are going to share the wine with, or who you going to buy the wine for? Women prefer lighter wines, men heavier. You have a choice. Share these two points with your wine merchant and he will guide you, if you don’t want to put more effort into the wine shopping, but if you do, please continue reading my post?
- Once I know what type of audience I will have for my gathering, I would structure the shopping – always some white and always some red should be available for the guests. In my everyday life I always start with white to investigate my next move and my gut feeling and then continue with red. You don’t have to do that, but consider 40%:60% (white:red), when buying wine for a party.
- Geography: The shelves in any wine shop would be arranged most of the time by country of origin and they do drill down into complexity and heavy weight wines. Sometime the “artillery” is hidden in the dark, good wines like dark corners.
- If you go to the French section – you need to be very knowledgeable. French labels are the most complex and if you are not professional you will be struggling to understand them. I will give you some very, very basic tips on 4 main French wine regions: France invented the Champaign and if this is something your pallet enjoys – you need to look for Burgundy as a label – which most of the time means good Chardonnay – these are wines like the Chablis, Merusault, Pouligny-Montrachet – suitable for a spectacular start of the evening. The whites on the french shelves can be overwhelming, but I recommend to focus on Loire Valley, where a bottle of Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume will be an amazing choice, if you like Sauvignon Blanc or fresh and zesty light wines. If written Bordeaux – you are looking at the Queen of all blends – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This is the shelf, where you would go to choose a special occasions wine, meaty wines, expensive wines for people who love wine. You will have a risk free party with great names like Saint-Emilion or Medoc. Your french tour can continue with another worldwide favourites – Cote Du Rhone region, where you can’t go much wrong with a delightful bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which is lively beautiful red made from Crenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Similar to Bordeaux these are full bodied wines, suitable for meats and cheeses. Tour De France in wines can take more than a lifetime and I promise you loads of excursions here on my blog, but this can be a good introduction for now.
- Spain – The White Spanish varieties are much cheaper in the shops across the world, than the french, but can be tricky to come across a white with a real character. One of the best whites from this country is Albarino (Rias Baixas region). The challenge with this wine for me is that you can pay a lot more here for what is a cheap pleasant table wine in Spain. My advice, when you get to the Sunny Spain shelves is to go for Rioja, the region known for its wild fantastic reds. If you would like a spectacular Flamenco Dance in your mouth – this is your choice. Most of the time the combinations are between Syrah and Grenache, which is as classic as Cabernet and Merlot. Cheaper or expensive with the Rioja you will feel the warmth of a fantastic Spanish winemaking techniques.
- Italy – This is not an easy one. Italy is famous with vibrant chatty wines, the biggest producer per capita in the world and also Vatican City is famous as the biggest consumer per capita in the world. So … approach with attention. There are classic choices like Pino Gris from Veneto region, which is pleasant enough, but you will feel like having met an ex lover, who didn’t put enough effort to be remembered. Italian reds are much more impressive and you can go into a close relationship for ever. One of these reds is Barolo and Barbaresco, both made from the Nebbiolo grape, that can’t be grown anywhere in the world but in Piemonte region in Italy. The second best Italian red, again high end of the market bottle, is Brunello Di Montalcino from Tuscany, made from a grape called Sangiovese. This wine reflects a region full of complexity, sophistication and extravaganza.
My wine shopping manual will become too long if we go through all the shelves, but I suggest you look at a few more exciting regions: The New World – Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (Marlborough). Shiraz from Australia (Barossa Valley), Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon from California (Napa or Sonoma) and if you touch on South Africa – you can experiment, the wine making process is a replica of the French tradition, but they have their own signature wine, which is called Pinotage, very much close to Bordeaux style wine. At the end of our world trip up and down the wine shelves I want to mention one of my favourite wines – the elegant, smooth, beautiful and passionate Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina.
Taste my plain wine list and let me know what do you think? I hope you will find at least one bottle and fall in love, so next time when you are shopping …you will no longer be a virgin!
Brian is one of those guys who can talk for hours about his passion, and this is not the accounting career and the MBA in finance he once was pursuing, this is food, sustainable seafood, connecting with likeminded young restauranteurs and clients, creating new experiences.
“The days of fancy places and fine dining are no longer on the agenda for the New Yorkers” People like going out and have real, unpretentious experiences, good food and time for conversations with friends and family. But this doesn’t mean we don’t need to be innovative and exciting.” – point out Brian.
Probably that is why Brian has chosen to work together with Todd Mitgang. Todd is famous in NY, he is one of these celebrity chefs from the TV programmes, he has a huge smile and great presence. Todd is convincing you straight away, that his efforts is labour of love and passion. He is eager immediately to give you his best shot, even if this means to show you how to open an oyster.
“A good restaurant owner has to partner with great chef”- Brian shares with me – “This is the best recipe I can give to anyone who wants to be successful in this business, not only in Manhattan, but all over the world. It is like pairing fresh sea food with the right white! Seafood lovers would know how this can taste”.
So is there a real difference between the East Coast and the West Coast Oysters?
Yes there is and that is why I went on this tasting mission. Price wise very much depends on where you are. If you order oysters in NYC, you definitely pay much for those coming from the West Coast. The expensive transport and overnight shipping of fresh seafood add much more than just a taste. This is one of the reasons the East Coast oysters are more popular.
Whether they are better, I am not sure, depends on your pallet, I definitely prefer the West Coast Oysters.
Chef Tod has suggested me to try 5 different types of Oysters.
The East Coast Oysters are generally slightly cheaper – around $3 each, smaller as a size and lighter as a taste. I tried:Great Gun (Moriches Bay, NY) – They are salty slightly sweet finish, almost average as taste, similar to the ones we buy in London, coming from our South East coast.
Black Duck Salt ( Hog Island bay, VA) – – these have more prominent salinity and their finish is creamy.
Point Lookout ( Chesapeak Bay, MD) – Delicate creaminess, hints of green freshness, cucumber .
Malpeque ( Prince Edward Island, CAN) – These have delicate finish and they are the briniest of all that I have tried from the East Coast.
From the West Coast oysters tent to be bigger, tastier, slightly chewier, definitely more character, more expensive up to $4 each.:
I recommend Totten Inlet (Puget Sound, WA) – probably my favourite of all, very creamy, but mild as a taste.Neptunes Choice – (Hood Canal, WA) – My second favourite – very luscious, complex with long briny finish, some people don’t like the way they look, as they are bigger than average and not easy to eat in one go.
The truth about this seafood is that it is very difficult to pair, because oysters have a hint of umami and choosing wine is a challenge.
Nevertheless, the wine world has settled on arranged marriage with white wine:
Best for me are the light whites – Champagne, Italian Prosecco, good French Muscadet or Sauvignon Blank.
Oyster can be very exciting and you can really make a great fun of it by trying oyster shucking techniques and oyster eating demonstrations for newbies at home or in your restaurant.
Thank you Brian and Todd for the memorable tasting and great time in your amazing Crave Fishbar.
And one tip …please don’t put souses before knowing how hot they are, this can be very chilli experience…
A native of Bayside, Queens, Brian Owens grew up in the Manhattan pubs and restaurants his father owned, winding his way through every aspect of the business from the kitchen to the host stand. His ability to plumb the moment for current trends while keeping an eye on “what’s next?” has made Crave Fishbar a local haunt as well as a dining destination.
While pursuing an MBA in Accounting from Hofstra University, he started working with his uncle, first at the Midtown lounge One51 and later launching another project in Chelsea, Suede. At the tender age of 24, Owens opened the Gallery Lounge at The Gershwin Hotel.
When he met chef Todd Mitgang, Owens knew they had a hit on their hands with Crave Ceviche Bar and its distinctive menu of global ceviche. After the tragic crane accident, Owens was determined to reopen in the same neighborhood and Crave Fishbar was finally born in July, 2012.
Executive Chef Todd Mitgang is the creative force behind the innovative, sustainable seafood menu for which Crave Fishbar has come to be known. With over a decade of culinary experience in a multitude of gastronomic settings, Todd brings great variety and bold flavors to his food.
Todd graduated from the University of Buffalo before enrolling at the French Culinary Institute. After a stint as Executive Chef at Lisenda (now Ruby Room) in his native Roslyn, New York, Todd accepted a position at the Soho’s critically acclaimed and consumer-popular Kittichai in 2004, where Mitgang’s work with Executive Chef Ian Chalermkittichai played a major role in forming some of Mitgang’s signature flavor profiles.
He then met business partner Brian Owens in 2007 and they opened Crave Ceviche Bar in Midtown Manhattan. When the restaurant was tragically destroyed in a crane accident in 2008, hopes were high that Crave would return to the neighborhood as soon as possible. The team however, was not able to immediately find a new home and Todd went on to consult for various projects in New York including Cascabel Taqueria before opening his Montauk seafood shrine South Edison in 2010.