Wines of Carpineto

by artfuldiner on June 17, 2020

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Opinion, Wine

Carpineto Winery 2Casa Vinicola Carpineto was established in 1967 by award-winning winemaker Giovanni Sacchet and Antonio Mario Zaccheo in the small historic settlement of Dudda, in the township of Greve in Chianti. The aim of the partnership was to become a high-quality producer of Chianti Classico. This focus on quality in the Classico region was uncommon in the 1960s, as Chianti was more famous for its large-scale production and “fiasco” straw basket-wrapped bottles.

Carpineto has since expanded beyond Chianti to other well-known Tuscan regions. It currently has five estates, two in Chianti Classico and one each in Maremma, Montepulciano, and Montalcino. Over 90 percent of the wine produced is red, 65% of this being “riserva” wines that are aged three or more years before their release date. Sangiovese is easily the most important varietal, dominant in Carpineto’s most prestigious wines, which include Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

The winery also has a range of single-vineyard selections and proprietary blends, including several Super Tuscans. Cabernet Sauvignon plays a significant part in these wines, while Chardonnay is the most represented variety in its limited selection of white wine.

Carpineto Winery - Caterina Sacchet, WinemakerCaterina Sacchet is the eldest daughter of co-founder Giovanni Sacchet. After graduating from high school, she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps. She received a degree in Enology and Viticulture from the University of Florence and then went on to gain more experience in the field by working abroad to achieve an international understanding of winemaking. Today she plays an important role in the family company as head winemaker, following the wine making process from vineyard to table.

 Carpineto is widely regarded as one of the quality leaders of Italian winemaking, exporting the majority of its wine production to over 30 countries worldwide. Their winemaking style is to deliver wines that are full-bodied, complex, and fruity in character, with a round, supple tannin structure and long, persistent, clean finish. Despite their approachability upon release, their red wines are designed for long cellar aging of twenty years or longer.

I have tasted numerous wines from this fine producer over the years and have yet to be disappointed. The Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva is particularly noteworthy. Luckily, I have one bottle of both the 2010 and the 2013 remaining in my cellar, as these years are now difficult – if not impossible – to obtain. The former received 93 points from the Wine Spectator and was awarded #26 on their Top 100 Wines of 2015; the latter was even more highly rated and was placed at #11 in the WS Top 100 of 2018. Fortunately, the 2015, rated 92-points, is still readily available from various sources online.

Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva 2015Carpineto’s most recently reviewed wine is their excellent 2015 Chianti Classico Riserva, which received 94-points from the Wine Spectator. According to the review, while the aroma is reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon enhancing the Sangiovese, it is actually Canaiolo with splashes of Mammolo and Colorino. This wine has excellent body, structure, and balance and is well worth seeking out – especially since it is so readily available through Pennsylvania State Stores. In point of fact, I have purchased several bottles of this wine in Wegmans, which has certainly upgraded their selections of late. The price is more than reasonable at $25.99.

The 2015 Chianti Classico Riserva is also available online at a significantly reduced price – as low as $17.99 from several sources – but bear in mind that you also must pay for shipping.

Cheers!

Be Safe

TAD

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Restaurants ReopeningI’m sure that most people – this writer included – after weeks of confinement, social distancing, and picking up curbside orders to go, are looking forward to getting back out and having dinner in their favorite restaurant once again.

But for those anticipating the hoopla of restaurant grand reopenings, prepare yourselves for disappointment. When restaurants in our area do begin reopening their dining rooms, patrons will be confronted with servers wearing masks and/or gloves. Diners themselves may also be asked to wear masks, removing them to eat and drink. And how will guests feel about dining out if they must submit to temperature checks at the door?

Sound appetizing…? Not particularly. As Kim Severson of the New York Times put it: “Is the urge to sit in a restaurant so great that customers will endure an experience that is more like a trip to the dental hygienist? Will they risk infection, even in a place with the safest protocols?”

Restaurant Reopening 2Meanwhile, restaurant owners have their own problems to contend with… Like keeping patrons spaced at least six-feet apart, using disposable menus, stocking single-serve condiments, sanitizing and re-sanitizing after customers depart, and trying to figure out how to maintain social distancing for employees in the tight confines of commercial kitchens.

Then there’s the not insignificant matter of finances… State governors are currently mandating that reopening restaurant dining rooms may only operate at 50% of capacity… some as low as 25%. Needless to say, opening doors with that limited capacity will probably not allow most restaurants to remain in business for very long, unless they can supplement their razor-thin profit margins with a second source of revenue – namely, alcohol. Which means, unfortunately, that many of the 300 independently-owned BYOB restaurants scattered around the Philadelphia area could very well be facing extinction.

On the other hand, even if establishments find it economically feasible to reopen – and remain so – there is certainly no guarantee that members of the general public will feel safe enough to show up in sufficient numbers to sustain restaurant recovery.  As of the end of April, according to a survey by SAP’s Qualtrics, the employee management software company, 68% of Americans said they would feel uncomfortable eating at a restaurant. These misgivings may change in the coming months, of course. However, at the present moment, I must confess that I’m not terribly keen on the idea myself.

Restaurant Image, GeneralBut according to Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, “Building up the courage to return to restaurants may be one of the most essential elements to returning to normal… Restaurants can serve as a confidence bellwether for Americans who are dipping their toes back into normal society.”

True enough. And “Reopening is the way forward, there can be no doubt,” writes Chris Westfall in a recent article in Forbes. “Here’s hoping that we do so safely and in a way that protects small business owners, workers and the folks who just want to grab a little dinner. In reaching for prosperity, pub owners could get crushed in the process. Because, right now, restaurants have more than bad Yelp reviews to consider. A lot more.”

Bon Appétit?????

TAD

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Azaya 2017 ImageFinca Azaya is an estate bottled wine made from 100% Tempranillo grapes grown in the low-yield vineyards of Spain’s Bodegas Valduero, a family winery founded in 1984 by Gregorio Garcia Álvarez. It is the result of an environmentally friendly, handcrafted method of production, which avoids the use of chemicals and irrigation. The 2017 Azaya has spent 14 months in American & European oak, plus an additional 12 months aging in the bottle.

In the glass, the result is a wine that’s ruby red in color with captivatingly complex aromas of ripe fruit. It’s easy on the palate; rich, yet softly textured. There’s plenty of power here, but it’s kept in check with a beautiful balance of intrinsic fruit and profusion of fine tannins.

You would expect a wine of this caliber to receive high marks from the critics… From one source, however, the praise was entirely too effusive. At the 2019 Decanter magazine’s World Wine Awards, the 2017 Valduero Finca Azaya not only received 97 points (100-point scale) but was also declared one of the “Best in Show,” a distinction only awarded to 50 of the 16,500 wines tasted during the prestigious event.

With all due respect to the 280 distinguished judges from 30 different countries – including Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers – and recognizing that wine preferences are extremely subjective, as I mentioned at the outset, the 2017 Azaya is an excellent, highly enjoyable wine… but it is not, in my opinion, a 97 pointer.

When you move into the 95 – 100-point range, you’ve entered the sanctum sanctorum; your breathing (or you should be) the rarefied air of truly outstanding, classic wines… The 2017 Azaya is not a classic wine, by any stretch of the imagination. It is, however, an exceedingly comfortable wine; a wine I’d be happy to curl up with as my “go to” libation on a daily basis; a wine that complements and holds its own with a wide variety of foods. By the way, if you happen to check online, with the exception of Decanter, the wine in question is rated in the 89 – 91-point range. And that seems to me to be right on target.

Suckling, James, Wine CriticThis episode with Decanter strikes me as yet another example of the recent tendency on the part of writers and critics to seriously overrate wines. And there is no doubt that the chief perpetuator of this inflation is James Suckling, late of the Wine Spectator, now an independent wine critic. Mr. Suckling has parked himself at the high end of the oenological Richer scale and seems content to remain there. Just last year, for example, he bestowed a whopping 99 points on a particular Italian white wine that was, in my opinion, not even close to that lofty appraisal.

And I’m certainly not the only one who has noticed this unfortunate trend. A couple of years ago, for example, a contributor to Wine Berserkers, the world’s largest & most active online wine community, posed a rather interesting question: “Are you getting irritated by James Suckling’s scores?”  The implication being that they were entirely too high.

The responses were equally intriguing… Several responders simply said they ignored his scores and recommendations completely… Another referred to him as the persona non grata of wine critics… Others noted that, on average, Suckling’s scores were four to six points higher than they would have bestowed. The major bone of contention, however, seemed to be the fact that many retailers use his scores exclusively, even though particular wines have been judged (with lower scores) by a number of other reviewers… And therein lies the real annoyance, as one responder put it. Points sell and the Suckling sells points. His scores get top billing because they are always highest. The higher the point score, the faster the wine sells. “Thus, many retailers use (Suckling) for their daily email blasts.”

I, personally, have learned from bitter experience never to accept the Suckling’s scores at face value. In other words, I would never consider purchasing a wine based upon his rating alone – no matter how high it may be. As a matter of course, I start out by mentally deducting 5-6 points from his score… Then, if a wine looks interesting, other critics have given favorable reviews, and the price is right, I might decide to give it a try. Other than that, forget it. He simply isn’t reliable.

Wine Library, Springfield, NJBut I digress… Back to the subject at hand. The 2017 Valduero Finca Azaya may be overrated at 97 points; it is, however, fortunately for us, still a very good wine, a very comfortable wine… and, in this surrealistic time of “social distancing,” a very comforting wine. It’s also young, exciting, lively, and downright sensual. If you’re a red wine lover, this is a vintage that’s easy to cozy up to, a wine that’s perfect for everyday quaffing or that special occasion – especially at such a reasonable price point. Order the 2017 Azaya, as I did, from the Wine Library in Springfield, New Jersey, https://winelibrary.com/, and it will only cost you $19.99 per bottle (plus shipping).  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Cheers!

Be Safe

TAD

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Firebirds Collegeville 2Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, 51 Town Center Drive, Collegeville, Pennsylvania, will be offering a special Memorial Day weekend “Grillin’ Feast” featuring their in-house butchered and smoked meats.

Each grilling package will include the following: Smoked Chicken Wings (6), Full Rack of Baby Back Ribs, Large BLT Salad, Cider Slaw, Potato Salad, Fresh Watermelon, and Fresh Baked Cookies (8)

 Burger Feast (Serves 3-4), Half Pound Burgers (2), $39.95… Beef Filet Kabob Feast (Serves 3-4), Hawaiian Beef Filet Kabobs (2), $59.95… Ribeye Feast (Serves 3-4), 14oz. Ribeye Steaks (2), $69.95… Filet Mignon Feast (Serves 3-4), 9oz. Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon (2), $79.95… Salmon Feast (Serves 3-4), 8oz. Salmon Fillets (2), $49.95.

You must pre-order by Wednesday, May 20th, and pick up on May 22 – 25, between 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon. Orders may be made by calling (484) 902-1850 or online at https://firebirdsrestaurants.olo.com/menu/collegeville.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe

TAD

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Stage Left - Hirsch Zoom Wine DinnerOn Friday, May 29, 2020, 7:30 p.m., Stage Left Steak in New Brunswick, New Jersey, will host a special zoom wine dinner featuring the iconic wines of Sonoma County’s Hirsch Vineyards. Special guest of the evening will be Jasmine Hirsch, winemaker and general manager.

Hirsch Vineyards Zoom Wine Dinner Menu…

First Course: Crab Vichyssoise with Saffron Aioli & Crab Cakelet Garnish; Wine Pairing: Hirsch Vineyard Chardonnay 2018

Second Course: Jamon Iberico de Bellota with Pecans, Parmigiano & Dried Cherries; Wine Pairing: Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir “The Bohan-Dillon” 2017

Third Course: Cassoulet with Confit Duck Leg; Wine Pairing: Hirsch Vineyard “San Andreas Fault” 2017

Dessert: Chocolate Chip Cookie with Cinnamon Ice Cream Sandwich

Wine three-pack: $189.00 (serves up to four people); Dinner $69.00 per person

For more information, or to make reservations, please call (732) 828-4444 ext. 213 or email Reservations@StageLeft.com.

Stage Left will deliver or participants can pick up the food and wine the day of the dinner. Simple heating instructions come with the dinner.

Participants then meet at the computer at 7:30 p.m.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe

TAD

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333 Belrose Mother's Day BreakfastSurprise Mom with breakfast on Mother’s Day… 333 Belrose Bar & Grill, 333 Belrose Lane, Radnor, Pennsylvania, will be offering a delicious Mother’s Day special breakfast to go.

Please check out the complete Mother’s Day menu, https://www.333belrose.com/mother, and call (610) 293-1000 or email kelly@333belrose.com to place your order. Orders may be picked up Saturday, May 9, 2020, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Just heat up Sunday morning and serve to Mom!

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe

TAD

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Creed's - ExteriorStarting Friday, May 8, 2020, Creed’s Seafood & Steaks, 499, North Gulph Road, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, will resume offering curbside pick-up and gift card purchases Monday – Saturday, 12:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

The new “Curbside to Go” menu will feature mouth-watering bistro fare, a selection of Creed’s signature favorites, fresh family-style meals, and the opportunity to bring out your inner chef with home cook packages.

Check out Creed’s “Curbside to Go” menu at http://creedskop.com/menu/#to-go-curbside and call (610) 265-2550 to place your order.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe

TAD

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A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines - ExteriorHaving just returned from a wine tasting jaunt to South Africa, I was totally surprised to open the April 30, 2020, edition of the Wine Spectator and discover a South African wine prominently listed as one of their “Highly Recommended” selections in the month’s Buying Guide.

The description of the A.A. Badenhorst 2016 Kalmoesfontein White Blend was positively glowing – plus it had also garnered a whopping 94 points (100-point scale) from both the Spectator and Wine & Spirits – so glowing, in fact, that I did something I almost never do… I ordered half a case sight unseen… and untasted. Not a good idea.

A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines - 2016 White BlendFortunately, however, all was well. The wine more than lived up to its significant hype. So much so that I immediately ordered another six bottles! A blend of Chenin Blanc, Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Sémillon, Viognier, and Colombard, the 2016 is an opulent vintage filled with exotic flavors and a marvelous acidic backbone that keeps its complex elements in perfect harmony. This wine is similar in structure to the DeMorgenzon Maestro, another highly-regarded South African white wine blend that I’ve mentioned in several previous newsletters. The Badenhorst, however, exhibits a bit more body and depth; and it also carries a higher price tag. (Listed in Wine Spectator at $43.00, but it’s available online around the $30.00 mark.)

A.A. Badenhorst Family WinesA.A. Badenhorst Family Wines is a small wine producer in the Swartland region, a large wine-producing area about 40 miles north of Cape Town in the Western Cape of South Africa (My traveling companion and I spent most of our time in the Stellenbosch region, which is located approximately 31 miles east of Cape Town).  Former Rustenberg winemaker Adi Badenhorst (pictured) and his cousin, Hein, bought the Kalmoesfontein farm in Swartland in 2008. The farm has 69 acres of mostly old bush vines, planted in the 1950s and 60s on granite soils. Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, and Grenache make up the majority of the vineyard; other grape varieties are brought in from other vineyards in the area.

The Badenhorst winery uses traditional winemaking methods. All fruit is whole bunch-pressed and fermented in old oak casks, concrete vats or open wooden vats, depending upon color and variety. The red wines then undergo long post-ferment macerations, before aging in 4,000-liter casks.

A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines - 2016 Red BlendThe red wine from this producer that I would highly recommend is the A.A. Badenhorst 2016 Kalmoesfontein Red Blend. This wine is also very highly rated, receiving 92 points from the Wine Spectator and 91 points from Antonio Galloni’s Vinous. It is a blend (often referred to as a “Southern Rhone Blend”) of 71% Shiraz, 13% Grenache, 11% Cinsault, and 5% Tinta Barocca (a Portuguese red wine grape that is grown primarily in the Douro region with some plantings in South Africa).

This is an enticing wine, dark & brooding in the glass with intense floral and black fruit aromas. On the palate, it is medium-bodied with prominent hints of bitter cherry and pomegranate.

There’s plenty of backbone here, as well as dusty tannin… but there’s also a nice shot of acidity to keep things mouthwateringly fresh. I agree with the critics that this wine would benefit from a couple of years in the cellar to allow all the elements to completely come together. That being said, however, it is quite approachable now; and if you enjoy dense wines with plenty of depth, this one should certainly appeal. According to Wine Spectator, 200 of the 291 cases made were imported.

As of this writing, the Pennsylvania State Stores are still closed. In this case, however, that is not a concern, as these wines are not available from that source. The two major sources online are Bedford Wine Merchants, https://www.bedfordwines.com/, Bedford, New York: White Blend $32.99; Red Blend $31.99 (plus shipping)… and Saratoga Wine Exchange, https://www.saratogawine.com/, Ballston Lake, New York: White Blend $31.94; Red Blend $31.94 (plus shipping). Since prices and shipping charges are nearly identical, the choice is pretty much up to you. I personally prefer Bedford, as these people are extremely prompt and really know their stuff.

 Cheers!

Be Safe

TAD

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Earlier this year, as is their custom, both the Wine Spectator and the Wine Enthusiast published their Top 100 Wines of 2019. In case you missed these highly anticipated events, or don’t subscribe to either periodical, I’ve listed just the top ten from each magazine…

Wine Spectator Wine of Year 2019Top Ten Wines of 2019, Wine Spectator: 1) Château Léoville Barton St. Julien 2016, Bordeaux, France, $98.00… 2) Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2015, California, $125.00… 3) San Giusto A Rentennano Chianti Classico 2016, Italy, $36.00… 4) Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Reserve 2016, California, $150.00… 5) Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley L’Ermitage 2012, California, $48.00… 6) Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016, France, $107.00… 7) Ramey Chardonnay Napa Valley Carneros Hyde Vineyard 2016, California, $65.00… 8) Château Pichon Baron Pauillac 2016, Bordeaux, France, $176.00… 9) Penfolds Shiraz Barossa Valley RWT Bin 798 2017, Australia, $150.00… 10) Viña Almaviva Puente Alto 2016, Chile, $130.00

Wine Enthusiast wine of year 2019Top Ten Wines of 2019, Wine Enthusiast: 1) Nino Franco NV Rustico Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Italy, $20.00… 2) Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Sonoma County 2017, California, $39.00… 3) Domaine de la Janasse Vieilles Vignes Red 2016, France, $114.00… 4) Grosset Polish Hill Riesling Clare Valley 2018, Australia, $52.00… 5) CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja 2011, Spain, $88.00… 6) Adriano Marco & Vittorlo Basarin Barbaresco 2016, Italy, $29.00… 7) Massican Annia White Napa Valley 2018, California, $30.00… 8) Quinta do Vale Meão Douro Red 2016, Portugal, $99.00… 9) Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Auslese Grosse Lage Mosel 2017, Germany, $44.00… 10) Austin Hope Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2017, California, $50.00

As you undoubtedly noticed, these wines tend to be somewhat expensive, especially those noted in the Wine Spectator. In addition, it is not unusual for many of these wines, especially the more highly-rated varietals, to be difficult to find, in extremely short supply, or simply unavailable.

I’ve sifted through the lists in both magazines and come up with several from each that I think will have a wide appeal, will be readily available, and also be more reasonably priced…

 

Wine Spectator Top 100 2019Suggestions from the Wine Spectator

Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2016, Italy, Number 54, $30: I’ve tasted several vintages of this particular wine, and it is consistently excellent. This is the estate’s entry level Vino Nobile, produced mostly from Sangiovese blended with smaller portions of Colorino, Canaiolo, and Merlot. The wine is aged in a variety of oak casks for 18 months. 16,000 cases made.

Cambria Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley Katherine’s Vineyard 2017, California, Number 61, $22: Jess Jackson’s widow, Barbara Banke, and his daughters, Katie Jackson and Julia Jackson, are the proprietors of this Santa Maria estate. The wine is aged in 15% new French oak, which retains the fresh fruit and minerality but also bestows a rich, creamy texture. A marvelous wine at a great price point. 40,000 cases made.

Tania & Vincent Carême Terre Brûlée Le Blanc Swartland 2018, South Africa, Number 65, $16: Vincent Carême hails from the Village of Vouvray in France’s Loire Valley, the spiritual home of the Chenin Blanc grape. However, South Africa continues to make some of the finest Chenin Blanc in the world… and at a fraction of Vouvray prices. Volumes in 2018 were the lowest since 2005 because of drought, but the wine shows marvelous balance and great complexity. A steal at approximately $16 per bottle. 2,200 cases imported.

Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2017, Sicily, Italy, Number 83, $24: The Planeta Winery helped put Sicily on the world wine map in the 1990s. Their Vittoria winery, located on the southern coast of Sicily, is one of the six properties spread across the island. The 2017 Cerasuolo is a 60-40 blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato. 8,000 cases made.

Cantina Terlano Pinot Grigio Alto Adige Tradition 2018, Italy, Number 87, $25: Northern Italy’s Cantina Terlano is a cooperative that consistently produces a high-quality range of more than 20 different bottlings each vintage. The co-op comprises more than 10 grape growers farming about 400 acres of vineyards in the foothills of the Dolomite Mountains. This entry level wine is enriched by blending a variety of fruit sources and six months’ aging on the lees. 9,167 cases made.

 

Wine Enthusiast Top 100 2019Suggestions from the Wine Enthusiast

 Elena Walch Vigna Castel Ringberg Pinot Grigio Alto Adige 2017, Italy, Number 41, $28: The philosophy of her wine estate is dedicated to its Terroir – the idea that wines must be the individual expression of their soil, climate, and cultivation in the vineyard. I’ve sampled numerous wines from this extremely reliable producer and all have been top-notch. This is an elegant Pinot Grigio with fresh acidity and rich flavors. A winner in every respect. An Editors’ Choice selection.

Elk Cove Estate Pinot Blanc Willamette Valley 2018, Oregon, Number 57, $19: Founded by Pat and Joe Campbell in 1974, Elk Cove Vineyards is one of Oregon’s historic family-owned wineries. Tucked into the foothills of the Coast Range Mountains, the tasting room offers spectacular views of the surrounding vineyards. Second-generation winemaker Adam Campbell produces excellent single vineyard Pinot Noirs as well as aromatic Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Riesling. The Estate’s 2018 Pinot Blanc is juicy and succulent offering up intense flavors of lime, grapefruit, and apple. An attractive wine at an extremely attractive price.

Léon Beyer Gewürztraminer Alsace 2017, France, Number 66, $28: Léon Beyer is one of the oldest Alsatian family owned estates, founded in 1580. Owner Marc Beyer, 13th generation along with his son, Yann Léon, and a team of twenty members run the day-to-day operation of the Estate. The farming is sustainable; and the winemaking is traditional with the use of modern techniques. The 2017 Gewürztraminer is rife with pear, peach, and lemon aromas; and the palate, juicy but light, moves to a refreshingly dry lemony finish.

Raats Family Old Vine Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch 2017, South Africa, Number 67, $25: Raats Family Wines are specialists in the crafting of exceptional wines from Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Located in the Stellenbosch area east of Cape Town, the wines are produced from old vineyards and have earned an international reputation for quality. Their 2017 Chenin Blanc is a benchmark wine dominated by a fleshy and generous mouthfeel with hints lemon and orange. A marvelous Chenin Blanc that is well worth seeking out.

Sebastiani Merlot North Coast 2016, California, Number 71, $18: Samuele Sebastiani, a laborer from Tuscany, came to America in 1904 and began making wine in Sonoma. He built the business from one 501-gallon redwood vat to an operation of millions of bottles per year with multiple varietals. His grandchildren could not agree on the future of the business and sold the winery to the Foley Wine Group of Los Olivos, Santa Barbara County, in 2008. The 2016 Merlot is an indication that the winery has maintained its tradition of excellence…. This is a well-balanced, concentrated, full-bodied wine with a core of ripe black fruit and firm tannins. A solid wine at an appealing price point. An Editors’ Choice selection.

 Cheers!

Be Safe

TAD

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Avlós Greek Cuisine

258 Bridge Street

Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

(610) 455-4110

https://avlosgr.com/

Tucked away in the space that was Restaurant Majolica for over a decade, Avlós is the latest addition to Phoenixville’s burgeoning restaurant scene… Unfortunately, just after its debut, Avlós had to close because of the restrictions imposed as a result of the Coronavirus. Hopefully, when the restrictions are lifted, the restaurant will be reopened.

The interior is minimalist but attractive, boasting the warmth of an exposed brick wall and sea of white tablecloths. And, like its predecessor, the restaurant is also BYOB. The cuisine here isn’t the best Greek food it has ever been my pleasure to ingest; but it is certainly authentic, well prepared & presented, and generally quite good.

Avlos - Melitzanosalata w PitaThe festivities begin with a complimentary basket of pita bread… And it’s certainly no accident that these diminutive triangles are just perfect for dipping into the kitchen’s various sauces and starters. Tzatziki is undoubtedly the most familiar, a soothing combo of strained Greek yogurt mixed with cucumber, dill, garlic, salt, olive oil, and tincture of lemon juice. Just right for setting up your appetite… As is the Melitzanosalata (pictured), a simple but tasty dish of mashed roasted eggplant, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice. And although the word is literally translated as “eggplant salad,” here it is presented as a dip/spread.

Avlos - Soutzoukia SmirneikaAnother “must try” item among the mezze (small dishes) is the Dakos. This is barley rusk (double-baked bread) drizzled with olive oil and topped with grated/crushed tomatoes, feta cheese, capers, and Greek oregano. Think of it as bruschetta Greek-style and you won’t be far off the mark. An excellent starter. But even more spectacular is the Soutzoukia Smirneika (pictured), Smyrna meatballs that were first brought to Greece by refugees from Asia Minor. These are superlatively seasoned with cumin & garlic, and then served up with tomato sauce and splash of Greek yogurt.

Avlos - Grilled VegetablesThe Grilled Vegetables were something of a mixed bag. The slices of eggplant and zucchini were perfectly cooked and nicely seasoned. Unfortunately, the scallions only succeeded in adding a touch of color. Improperly trimmed, they were as fibrous and tasty as rubber bands.

The two salads listed on the restaurant’s menu strike me as something of an anomaly. The Kritiki, a citrus salad, is usually comprised of watercress and orange segments, but these elements are not mentioned in the description. The Politiki is a Greek cabbage salad adorned with tomato, cucumber, carrot, red onion, parsley, and ladolemono, a dressing of lemon and olive oil. I find it rather odd, however, that apparently Avlós does not serve Horiatiki Salata, the classic Greek salad made with tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, feta cheese, olives and typically seasoned with salt & oregano and dressed with olive oil. I always considered this item to be de rigueur in all Greek establishments… Perhaps it is occasionally offered as a special. Still, rather strange.

But there was nothing the least bit odd about the special soup of the evening. Avgolemono  (pictured), a mainstay of Greek cookery, is a chicken and rice soup flavored and thickened with egg yolks and touch of lemon just before serving. The end result was a beautifully textured, silky-smooth potpourri with a delicious lemony finish. A benchmark effort.

Avlos - MoussakaEntree-wise, the ultimate test of a Greek kitchen, in my opinion, is the Moussaka; and Avlós passes with flying colors. Their rendition (pictured) features eggplant, potatoes, and a lamb meat sauce topped with a thin layer of béchamel sauce and is presented as an individual casserole… And, I should hasten to add, the kitchen is to be thoroughly commended for not overdoing the béchamel. This is a lavishly rich sauce; and, if too enthusiastically applied, has been known to wreak havoc. In this case, less is definitely more.

Avlos - Kota StifadoMy dining partners’ Kota Stifado (pictured) was also first-rate. Stifado generally refers to a type of Greek stew that is prepared with onions and tomatoes. In this instance, the dish incorporates kota, chicken; and the moist boneless breast is combined with pearl onions, pasta, fresh tomato sauce, and sprinkling of thyme. This is a relatively simple dish, but one that works marvelously well.

Other main courses range from Amanitus Giouvetsi, a one-pot traditional Greek casserole, to street-wise Souvlaki – pork skewers served with lemon potatoes, tzatziki, onion, and pita – to charred Lamb Chops with herb-scented bulgur. There is also Psari, a fish of the day… the ubiquitous branzino the night of our visit.

Avlos - GalaktobourekoAs for desserts… Interestingly enough, Baklava, that classic Greek dessert, was conspicuous by its absence. Kadaife, however, a baklava-like denouement – shredded dough filled with chopped nuts and cinnamon and topped with a honey/sugar syrup – was present and accounted for and quite good. The nod as my favorite Greek sweet ending, however, would undoubtedly go to the Galaktoboureko (pictured), a rich, creamy semolina custard in filo coated with sweet syrup (pictured). Delightfully decadent and loaded with calories… but simply impossible to resist. Also available is the Kormos Chocolate Mosaic, a chocolate biscuit dessert in the shape of a tree log, which we found rather dry and uninteresting.

There is no question that Avlós makes a welcome addition to the growing ethnic diversity of the Phoenixville dining scene. The restaurant still has a few kinks to work out; but, given its newness, that is certainly understandable.

The food is of excellent quality, the price is right, the welcome is warm, and the service is enthusiastic and knowledgeable… Just don’t forget to BYOB.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe

TAD

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