Wine and other spirits

Wine Tip of the Day: Six Leading Flash Sites

Deep down, I'm a hopeless romantic—I believe in marriage; I believe in a better future for my children; and I believe it's possible to save money buying wine. I've gone to great lengths to prove the last point. Once, in the time before the Internet, I attended an auction at a hotel on Madison Avenue with a friend, and we dashed across the street to Sherry-Lehmann during the bidding to consult one of Robert Parker's reference works. We came home happy that day.

I'm more likely these days to seek out a good low-priced wine by sticking to my local store and considering terroir. The French term for the effect land has on a given grape is also away to think economically. Broadly speaking the wines of Spain, Chile, and New Zealand are going to be less than those of France.

Now, I just discovered a new way to save on wine. In the past few years, in part because of the recession, wine producers have quietly turned to what are called flash websites to unload excess inventory. These sites "sell wines at deep discounts for short times have become the darlings of many wine lovers," according to the industry trade magazine Wines & Vines, which recently started tracking the sites. The top six, they say, are as follows:

I haven't tried any of these vendors, but the Wines & Vines article has details on the pros and cons of each site. Their appeal seems clear to me though: good deals on quality wines. Has anyone else tried them? I'm interested to hear about your experiences.


What I’m Drinking Now: 2008 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon

Nina picked up on my enthusiasm for my latest wine purchase, and turned the bottle into a little girl. Here’s why.

I’ve lived long enough and bummed around Bordeaux sufficiently to know the name Château Lafite Rothschild, which produces some of the finest—and most expensive—wines in the world, but my regular drinking tends to skew toward less famous—and cheaper—wines. I believe that many delicious wines can be found for less than $20; much less, if you know where to look.

I favor Spanish wines, which don’t have the acclaim and price of French wines, and I like New Zealand for its Sauvignon Blancs. My one higher priced weakness is for a good Brunello di Montalcino, but even there I’m a minor league player, keeping my rare purchases south of $50 a bottle.

My favorite way to buy table wine these days is to go to one of my neighborhood stores, Red White & Bubbly, and buy their four-pack of the month. Every few weeks they package a nice selection at a price point I’m comfortable with, and I usually find a few good surprises.

Lately, though, I’ve been too harried to make even this nominal effort, and I’ve taken to drinking the cooking wine. I can go without having a glass of wine with dinner, but I cannot abide by a kitchen without big jugs of white and red for deglazing pans, splashing in sauces, and otherwise enlivening most dishes.

To buy cooking wine, I walk to a different store, 7th Ave. Wine & Liquor, and head to the lower shelves in the back and grab the biggest bottle of dry cheap white I can find. On the way out, I’ll often look for a bargain red, too. The other day I picked up a bottle of the 2008 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon, from Colchagua Valley, in Chile. I paid about $10.

I’ve never liked Cabernet Sauvignon—it always seemed too aggressive and rough around the edges (at least the ones I was willing to spring for). But this one was different: complex but balanced, assertive not aggressive, and full of rich flavor. I was really enjoying it. I brought the bottle out to the table to have another glass.

As I looked at the label, I noticed a bit of small print at the top: “Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite).” Wow, I thought, am I really having a Lafite with dinner? Sure enough, I was. The French producer expanded into Chile in 1988, taking over an estate where grapes had been planted since 1750, and has been turning out excellent and affordable wines since then.  I went back a few days later for another bottle, and not one to cook with.

What I'm Drinking Now: Campo Viejo Reserva 2005 Rioja

100195l Over this past weekend, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Cooking is very relaxing for me, for the most part, but I can get carried away.

On Sunday, I made pancakes for breakfast, followed by two roasted chickens (and that stunning kale salad) for dinner. On Saturday, I cooked up an old favorite, my red-lentil dhal, for lunch, and then improvised a wild boar and lentil stew for dinner.

Later in the week, I’ll tell the story of the boar stew, which was tasty but fraught; it brought Nina to tears. For now, I’ll share what unites almost all those meals: a Campo Viejo Reserva 2005 Rioja.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m partial to Spanish wines. I picked up this bottle in Pennsylvania over the holiday break, but my in-laws are such relative teetotalers that we never opened it on Christmas night (a blessing, as it turned out, given that I unexpectedly had to drive back to New York City after dinner).

The wine was gentle on the tongue, well balanced, and quite flavorful. It lacked a strong finish, but I found it very delicious. It was also cheap—I think I paid about $12 for it—and I’m recommending it as a perfect everyday red wine. If I didn’t happen to be so tired out from cooking, I’d consider stocking up on a case.

Thanksgiving Postgame Show: The Spanish Wine Tasting

Thanksgiving at my sisters went off without a hitch. The kids careened around her apartment in their stocking feet, enthralled with their older cousin, and no one slipped and fell or lost a tooth.

The food was delicious, too. There was turkey with a fennel and sausage stuffing. Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes—the whole nine yards. All the guests contributed a dish or two. My brother-in-law invited cousins from New Jersey, who brought a tofu marsala (which was so good Santa Maria asked for seconds).

The thing that was on my mind, besides being grateful for all our good fortune as Americans, was the Spanish wines. How would they taste? How would they go over?

A number of other bottles were opened during the evening. One was a 2007 Bordeaux, which proved to be much more popular around the table than the Rioja. I poured the wines. I know. Everyone asked for the French wine over the Spanish. Of course, I chose the Rioja, and I loved it. It was full bodied with hints of licorice. Nice.

The Temps de Flors, the white, was a resounding success. It was crisp and refreshing. My sister loved it, and said that it really tasted like flowers. Funny, I said because it is named for an annual festival that fills the streets of Girona, a city outside of Barcelona, with elaborate floral displays. Perfect.

What to Drink with Turkey: Spanish Wines for Thanksgiving

Though my Thanksgiving duties are minimal, I have still been charged with a few important tasks. The biggest one was to get home in time on Wednesday to take over childcare duties so Santa Maria could make her apple pie.

My other responsibility is to bring two bottles of wine, a red and a white. Because the “What to Drink with Turkey” question can be as vexing as figuring out “What is Dark Matter,” I sought advice from various quarters.

Eric Asimov and the editors of the New York Times dining section had some suggestions. I liked their take on the task (“Stock up on great wine that doesn’t cost much”), but to my mind they overlooked a great source of high-quality, high-value wine: Spain.

Two of my favorite wines are Spanish varietals: Albariño, a crisp and fresh white, and Tempranillo, otherwise known as Spain’s “noble grape,” and the foundation for Riojas.

On my way back from the office yesterday, I risked not fulfilling my first responsibility, and detoured to Tinto Fino, a little shop in the East Village that specializes exclusively in Spanish wines. Kerin Auch, the owner, patiently walked me back and forth in the narrow store and helped me find two bottles that fit my budget and my tastes.

For the red, she steered me towards Muriel Rioja, which she said was one of her store's biggest sellers.

The white was a bit more complicated. As it turns out, the sub-twenty dollar Albariños had just sold out. She raved about the 2009 Pazo de Señorans, but at $28, it was more than I wanted to spend. Asking if I would try something other than an Albariño, she suggested the 2009 Temps de Flors, a mix of Muscat, Xarel.lo, and Gewürtztraminer.

"Xarel.lo?" I said.

"It's Catalan," she replied.

"If you compared it to a French wine, what would it taste like?" I asked.

"I wouldn't do that," she said. "It's more like an Alsatian Pinot Gris."

"Sold," I said.

This afternoon I'll open the bottles and report back on how they taste. If they're anything like the other wines I've had in recent years from Spain, I know I'll be thrilled.


Roast Chicken: We'll Have to Stop Here

Two_roast_chickens I’ve spent a fair amount of time in therapy since becoming a father and a fair amount of those fifty-minute hours have been devoted to discussing how I’m handling (or mishandling) my family responsibilities. Cooking is one of my chief jobs around the house, and it tends to come up frequently.

During a session the other day, after rambling on about the varying states of satisfaction I experience behind the stove, my doctor made a comment. I have a great deal of faith in him. It’s not just that he’s highly educated and that his track record with me has been sterling. He seems to be something of an epicure, to judge from the fancy chocolate bars on his desk and the case of wine that appears periodically just inside his office door. I think I’d find it hard to take advice from someone who doesn’t like to eat.

He said, “You’re making your life too complicated. Just roast two chickens at once and eat the second bird later in the week.” I was shocked. Sometimes, the most obvious truths are the hardest ones to see.

But realizing the truth of one’s experience is never easy. Memory can obscure as much as it can guide. I was more than little skeptical about cooking two birds at once. In fact, I was a bit scarred by history.

Years ago, I helped a close friend throw a dinner party for his birthday. His enthusiasm for food is remarkable and often contagious. For this celebration, he wanted to share one of his favorite new discoveries, culatello, an exotic ham that he had secretly acquired from a producer in a small town in Italy’s Po River valley.

Bill Buford’s powerhouse book "Heat" has a description of what my friend was serving:

Culo means “ass.” Culatello translates loosely as “buttness” and is made from the hindquarters of a pig—boned, stuffed into a bladder, cured, and hung for two years in the damp local cellars. The method is deemed unmodern by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and culatello is forbidden in America. ... I had a plate of it, served with shavings of butter on top. It was a deep red brown, with a light, soft fluffiness—no obvious fat, although obviously fatty—and a piggy intensity I’d never tasted before.

I volunteered to roast some chickens to complete the meal. The guest list was fairly long and we needed a number of birds to feed everybody. I put them in the oven just as the ham was being served, figuring that an hour would be ample time for the three-pound birds.

The butter was shaved and the thin slices of cured pork were passed around. People felt their mouths fill with the divine meat. Wine was poured. Jokes were told. Everyone was enjoying their time around the table.

I went to check on the birds and stuck a thermometer into the first thigh I saw. The needle barely budged: the chickens weren’t cooking. More wine was poured. More jokes told. More butter and ham consumed. I went back to the birds: Still no progress. I did this again and again until it was late.

I was chagrined—all I was supposed to do was cook some chickens and I wasn’t doing it very well at all. I didn’t realize that the aggregate weight of what’s in the oven would have more of an influence on how long something cooks than the individual weight of each bird.

No one really minded, though. Wine and culatello can compensate for any number of cooking failures. Still, the memory lingers, and when my doctor told me that I should just cook two birds instead of one, I expected it to be complicated.

I was wrong. Cooking two birds is no harder than cooking one. I timed them perfectly last night—about an hour-and-a-half for the two pictured above.

So, my therapist gave me a suggestion to make my life easier. Still, I couldn’t just leave well enough alone—I invited Vespucci and his family over for dinner. We had a great time, talking about books and travel and drinking a sprightly bottle of Recession Red that they brought with them. Now most of the chicken is gone, and I’m back where I started. I guess I can discuss that in my next therapy session.

Roast Chicken

  • 1 three-to-four pound chicken, preferably organic
  • one lemon
  • about 1/2 inch of fresh ginger, washed but not peeled
  • two teaspoons dried thyme
  • one chili pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

        Turn oven on to 450 degrees.
        Remove any of the chicken's innards that might be packaged with the bird. Rinse and place it in a roasting pan on a rack, breast side up.
        Wash and cut the lemon in half. Squeeze on half into the chicken's cavity and toss that half inside.
        Roughly chop the ginger and place inside the cavity with the thyme and the chili pepper.
        Squeeze the rest of the lemon into the cavity and place the second half of the fruit in the cavity also.
        Salt and pepper the cavity and skin.

        When the oven is hot, pour about about a cup of water in the roasting pan and place in the oven.
        From time to time, check to make sure the water hasn't evaporated.
        Roast for about an hour, until the temperature in the thigh is at least 165 degrees.

        Notes: If you have a bottle of white wine, I've found it extremely tasty to pour some on the bird every fifteen minutes or so. Also, as stated above, you can         roast two almost as easily as one. Plus, chopped onions, mushrooms, and carrots can be placed in the pan with the bird. They cook up nicely. If doing             this, do not add water to the pan. Douse the bird and the vegetables with wine instead.