I blinked and all of a sudden November is over. Traveling, a busy social calendar and Thanksgiving kept me from writing, yet provided ample opportunity to taste new wines and revisit familiar ones.

Over the past couple of weeks there were the 1978 Gaja, the 2007 Toulouse Pinot Noir served at Thanksgiving, and several 2009 Beaujolais Crus just because they are so delicious. I visited several new wine bars, including Olivino in Brooklyn, which though small in square footage left a big impression.

I purchased more than a few bottles to add to the EuroCave, including some 2003 Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne, Orin Swift’s 2009 The Prisoner, a 2008 Giacomo Conterno Barbera Cascina Francia and a couple of 2005 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici.

Looking back, my November represents the typical adventures of an oenophile – constantly tasting, finding, buying, exploring and sharing.

Like wine experimentation, Noble Rot has been a way for me to further my journey and to share some of my passion. After 12 months I’ll be ending this blog.

Of course, just because the bottle’s empty doesn’t mean it’s time to stop drinking.

McInerney’s Hedonism

Wine lovers just might all be “Hedonists in the Cellar.” I picked up Jay McInerney’s book of the same title on the return leg of my holiday in London after devouring “Eating Animals,” which just might have turned me semi-vegitarian, if there is such a thing.

But I digress.

I’m midway through McInerney’s compilation of essays, and while I knew it had been in circulation for years, it wasn’t until reading his bimonthly column in The Wall Street Journal that I felt compelled to pick up a copy – yes, even at 12.99 pounds for a paperback.

But let’s get to the heart of this post. There many similarities between my world and this novel. First, McInerney compares Condrieu, a white from the Rhone, to Gauguin, the artist whose exhibit I had just viewed at the Tate Modern in London. McInerney also quotes Sergio Espisito, the proprietor of Italian Wine Merchants in New York, in his passage regarding Amarone.

The writer merged his passions for literature and wine, quite like Noble Rot’s author. McInerney’s eloquence forces me to cling to his every word. And while I might disagree with some of his preferences, particularly those from California, I can’t help but respect the writer and wine connaisseur, no matter how much he tries to refute the latter title he has been awarded.

The book is a quick and educational read. Learning about different producers from various regions makes me want to seek out the wines and sample them myself. And perhaps I will. But first, I’ve got some more reading to do…

Shopping around

As a female, by default, I am programmed to love to shop. The past several years, however, I’ve shifted my focus and cash deployment toward wine. Trust me, splurging is not a word reserved solely for couture.

But unlike Bloomingdale’s, Saks or just about anywhere on Madison Avenue, there are few wine shops I come across that wow me.

I love Italian Wine Merchants because, in a very rustic ambiance, there is sophistication. Only one bottle of each offering is displayed on the shelves and all inventory is stored at cellar temperature underneath the showroom.

Moore Brothers is less fancy and has a cellar-like feel to it. However, it’s the kid-friendly play zone in the back of the store that I find pretty cool. I’ve witnessed plenty of parents rushed out of wine stores by bored children. In fact,  30 years ago I might have been one of them (yes, hard to believe). Moore Brothers offers hope, or at least a few more minutes of uninterrupted browsing.

While in London this past week I discovered Philglas & Swiggot. The independent wine merchant has a charming and inviting exterior on Northcote Road in Battersea/Clapham – moreso than the Oddbins across the street.

I’ve frequented many wine shops in London, as you might imagine, but this one seemed most comfortable to me. The shop temperature was appropriate for the bottles that filled the shelves, which were simple and easy to navigate.

The floor is organized by region and I was pleasantly surprised to find many Italian, California and French producers that I not only am familiar with, but also tend to seek out – many of which I had not previously encountered when living in London. The store sells an array of decanters, books and wine paraphernalia, as well. And if I didn’t have a flight to catch, I could easily have lost myself in there.

It’s a place I’ll revisit on another trip; I’m sure it will still be there. In fact, Philglas & Swiggot has been around for years. Of course, my friends who are aware of my wine-spending habits will attest it’s probably a good thing that I only just discovered it.

Preferential treatment

It’s official. The temperature has dropped and summer is over. Without even thinking about it, my preference for wine has changed. I’m veering away from the bright, red cherry fruity wines that would suit warm summer and autumn days. My eyes glaze right past menu selections of crisp, dry whites that offer hints of peach or grass on the nose.

Apparently, I’m not the only one thinking this way. Eric Asimov’s Nov. 1 New York Times column, “A Sturdy Red for Winter,” is a testament that there are winter selections to be had from Provence, the notorious region by the sea known for its rosé.

Asimov recommends reaching for Bandol, which is made from mourvèdre grape. The varietal is not indigenous or unique to the area, as Asimov explains, but it expresses a rich wine with characteristics of tobacco, licorice and leather, as well as supple tannins.

Such weightier wines pair well with the meals associated with autumn and winter, including braised meats and stews. It’s no surprise that as our bodies crave warmer, comfort foods, our palates follow suit.

I’m not familiar with Chateau Pradeaux, which Asimov mentions, but ironically Bar Boulud was pouring the producer’s 1994 Bandol “Cuvee Longue Garde” by the magnum last night. I didn’t make it to the bar for a taste, but I’ve added the wine to my list to try this winter.

Big Personality, Big Impact

Not long ago, a couple shopping in the wine store where I work on Saturday afternoons mentioned that they frequent Wine Library, a Springfield, New Jersey-based store from where owner Gary Vaynerchuck hosts his online wine show. The program is called Wine Library TV. I’ve not commented on him prior, partly because I’m not sure what my opinion is on Vaynerchuck’s approach to wine.

Vaynerchuck’s personality is as big and bold as a 14%+ California Cabernet. He’s widely known in the wine world for his selections, but also for his branding and social media mastery. He took a small liquor store in New Jersey and put it on the map.

Through his Internet program, self-dubbed The Thunder Show, Vaynerchuck brings wine into peoples’ homes in a very stripped down, laid back style. With over 900 episodes and book deals as well as wine sales, he’s getting through to people.

This month’s Food & Wine magazine features Vaynerchuck in a Thanksgiving themed column entitled “A Wine Folk Hero’s Holiday” and I can’t resist reacting. In recent years wine has become an everyday enjoyment and less  an intimidation. Perhaps Vaynerchuck is partially responsible. His success is evident by his following, which is telling: he is someone to listen to. The son of Russian immigrants has accomplished an amazing feat, both from an entrepreneurial standpoint and in the demystification of wine.

With that said, his picks for Thanksgiving dinner might be worth checking out: 2007 Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon Les Chiens-Chiens, 2006 Donatiello Russian River Valley, 2007 Guy Breton Morgon Vieilles Vignes, 2006 De Ponte Cellars Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and NV Pierre Peters Cuvee De Reserve Brut.

An Eruption From Sicily

In the past few years I’ve noticed Sicilian wines erupting more frequently on restaurant and bar menus. One of my favorite Sicilians of late is the Murgo Brut, which is a sparkler from the Mount Etna region made from the Nerello Mascalese grape. For years I’ve enjoyed Nero D’Avola, which is a local grape yielding dark purple fruit flavors.

A big fan of the indigenous Nerello Mascalese varietal, I was excited to try the 2007 Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Etna Calderara Sottana that I recently purchased. The bottle contains some Nerello Cappuccio as well, though I’m not certain of the split.

Both grapes are native to the Etna region, which is in the eastern part of Sicily and home to one of the largest, active volcanoes in Europe, if not the world. Mount Etna is the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. The volcanic soils provide mineral-laden and tasteful characteristics to the wines from the area.

I opened my Tenuta with some cheese, prosciutto and figs after a long day of work and on a rainy, humid autumn evening in New York. It seemed to be the perfect ending to the day, though I can see this wine tasting as wonderful on a cold winter night. There are some lovely deep plum and cherry notes on the nose and palate, as well as some well-structured tannins.

Supposedly there only is a small quantity of the 2007 Tenuta produced, so don’t wait to find yours on a restaurant wine list.

What’s old is new again?

Extracting the cork from an old bottle of wine can be challenging and the usual corkscrew often will be too harsh for what will be a soft, moist closure that is prone to disintegration. With that in mind, I had the Ah So ready to use when opening the 1961 Giacomo Borgogno Barolo.

When I removed the foil wrapper, however, I was surprised to find a clean, and seemingly solid and dry cork. The Ah So would not be required; a standard wine key worked just fine.

After some inquiry I learned that the bottle was reconditioned, meaning that it was uncorked, decanted, topped off, and put back into the bottle and sealed once again. In fact, apparently all of Borgogno’s old wines sold in the U.S. were manipulated in this vane in 2007.

The wine definitely was more vibrant than other old Barolos I’ve had, and even the appearance was more youthful than the expected tawny hue old wines generally carry.

It’s hard to believe that a traditionalist winemaker such as Borgogno, who ages his wine in Slavonian oak instead of barrique, would condone a practice that seems untrue to the art of winemaking.

I stood in front of the reconditioned wine with mixed emotions. I felt duped and that there was something disingenuous about the creation in front of me. The realization had left a bad taste in my mouth.

That is until, of course, I took one sip of  the Borgogno.