Wines from Portugal

11/12/2017 1:29 PM

Wines from Portugal

Portugal has been on my wine radar from the very start. Having roots in two of Portugal’s former African colonies, I consider it to be my Fatherland.

When I became a wine buyer, I made it a point to stock a diverse Portuguese selection to express the breadth of their national product. Sea Grape has also been very active in ViniPortugal tastings to further spread the gospel. One morning, I received an invitation to the Tejo wine region; I was overcome with immediate joy. There is nothing more unique than visiting a country as a wine professional and this trip was truly unforgettable.

Along with a large group of writers, bloggers, sommeliers, importers, restaurateurs, and retailers, I traversed the Atlantic on a six-hour booze-free flight. Upon arrival we quickly drove through the saturated green landscape of Lisboa towards the historic city of Santarem. Rife with colorful tile facades, gothic churches, artful geometric stone roads, and cute, old ladies, this place was gushing with charm.


Santarem is located in the heart of the Ribatejo wine region which in recent years, was shortened to Tejo, to better position itself on the global market. The Tejo has a generally mild climate with regular rainfall and is situated at the end of the Tagus River where the land is fertile and rich in winemaking history. Following the tour, we ended up in the municipal garden atop a fortification built in the Middle Ages. As the sun set in front of us, we had the most stunning view of the river winding through the landscape below. These are the details that help bridge the space between the wine in the glass and its place of origin. With our senses suitably primed, we were more than ready for an evening of wining and dining.


We tasted through about 20 wines and as with any large group, our preferences varied. We were most impressed by a single vineyard, Fernao Pires by Monte Cascas. A pricey white wine vinified from the most complex local varietal, meant to rival the whites of Burgundy. My favorite red was a blend to indigenous Portuguese grapes, Trincadeira and Castelao, produced by Enoport. The Vinhas Altas paired best with the meat plates, because of its lengthy acidity, balance, and youthful vigor. I also found the wine very approachable. At 7 Euro, it effortlessly outperformed the rest at its price point.


The next day, we visited the largest vineyard in the region. The expansive estate of Quinta da Alorna, founded in 1723, is located in the Charneca terroir of Tejo. Charneca is a sub-region made up mostly of sandy and stony soils, which prove to be the least fertile of the three sub-regions but perfect for wine growing. Vines always produce the best fruit when they suffer and are forced to reach deep down for precious water stores. Alongside the wines from Alorna, we tasted wines from Quinta Casal Montiero and Fiuza. The whites from Charneca from all three wineries were fantastic, the Arinto and Fernao Pires blends were great values and can rival any Sauvignon Blanc at $10-15. The reds, from the unoaked to the Reserve lines, were very international in style; albeit well-made and worthy, they didn’t really communicate the essence of the land. What did drive the group crazy in love was Quinta da Alorna’s dessert wine. The Abafado five years is made with 100% Fernao Pires and aged in old barrels. Striking a perfect balance of acidity and sugar with aromas of honey, figs, and nuts, this wine was made for the holiday season. Sea Grape will have it on the shelf for $15, so don’t miss out on this new discovery.


The last day was by far the most decadent. We spent it with the Countess of Casa Cadaval who, on top of making excellent wines, are the oldest breeders of Lusitano horses in the world. Casa Cadaval was where I finally encountered the most exceptional red of the trip. The Trincadeira Preta 2009 elegantly expressed the terroir of the Leziria sub-region and the Tejo as a whole. Showing bright red fruit up front, followed by spicy herbaceous notes, it exemplified restraint, while being balanced and well structured. I can’t wait to put this one on the shelf for the West Villagers to share in our delight. After the tasting, we sipped on rose wine and nibbled on local sheep’s cheese while watching a gallant display of their world-class beasts. The night ended in Lisboa where Vinhos do Tejo Wines chartered a yacht for their grand tasting dinner. A breathless waterfront tour that capped off a very memorable week; I’m still catching my breath.

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Warm Village, Cold Wine

7/28/2017 1:28 PM

A month into summer and we’re already pining for fall. New Yorkers are clutching iced coffees, flocking “out east,” and rejoicing in all that is air-conditioned. Oh, and we love very cold dry white wine. Every season, I am drawn to a particular region, style or varietal. Not in that eureka sort of way but more so the “where the heck have I been” way.


This time, it came in the form of Pinot Blanc. The somewhat overlooked [white] sheep of the Pinot family shines along the latitudes between 47.5-49.5 degrees in Central Europe. A fellow wine pro referred to it as the “mayonnaise” of white wine, meanwhile toting the greatness of Pinot Gris. Yes, if traditionally made, Gris could be more complex with a broader flavour profile but those wines are rare and taste better in the fall. On the other hand, with ease, Pinot Blanc is an oasis in the sweltering heat. It has been mistaken for Chardonnay and is generally vinified and aged without oak. Grown under the right conditions and supervision, this grape expresses taut acidity with slight minerality nuzzled in a pouch of fresh white petals and soft fruit. Chilled and served at 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit, they are easy to enjoy and are downright refreshing!


Early this spring, I tasted the Joseph Cattin Pinot Blanc from the Alsace. The Domaine prefers lower yields to ensure the best quality fruit and they allow the climate to work its magic in the vineyards. The grapes are harvested by hand and pressed slowly to harness all of its goodness. From a region revered for its dry whites, Cattin’s offering is delicate and well-balanced.


Every summer, we are inundated with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio. There is no shortage of it, but we do dig tasting the marginalised whites of the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Adriatic, and the occasional wildcard. One day, Mark Lightfoot came through the door trumpeting a producer he was keen on. From the Pfalz River in Germany, he broke out Weingut Geissler’s Pinot Blanc Kabinett Trocken. So, we gave it a shot and were impressed. Fresh and not too light, it shows touches of honeydew, grapefruit and an intense minerality.


Rounding up the European selection is a wine produced by the distinguished wine maker Christof Hopler from Burgenland, Austria. Hopler’s wines express an idea of clarity, balance, and finesse. The Pinot Blanc sees the slightest bit of oak that acts as a foundation to the ripe juice and fresh citrus; a wine of true quality. A perfect accompaniment after sunset, make sure to have a lobster roll nearby.


All of these tasty critters are available at Sea Grape Wine Shop 512 Hudson St in the West Village ranging from $16-$20.

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Bargain Wines

7/28/2017 1:27 PM

Everyone likes a good bargain. Everyone has a go-to wine. A bottle that consistently delivers each and every day at a reasonable price is a big deal for the budget savvy. Naturally, we follow the path of least resistance, which promises zero stress and all pleasure. The concept of cheap yet enjoyable table wine is nothing new. However finding one that doesn’t give you a raging headache or loaded with additives is a whole new ball game.


In Italy, France, and Spain, it is easy to come by an exceptional €3 bottle. Yet in the United States, it’s near impossible. There are many factors that lead to this on both macro and micro-economic levels. EU countries have far more expansive wine growing regions. These countries each generally double our production and therefore corporate investment and government support is larger in scale. Simultaneously, the United States is drinking these countries under the table leading to a greater demand for export wine. There are also many grower cooperatives that share resources to produce wine at lower costs. Wine is also being shipped in bulk, think one giant bag of wine inside shipping containers, and bottled domestically contributing to even lower prices for foreign wine. EU wineries also sell direct to restaurants, cafes, and the general public. All these factors help reduce the bottle cost for local consumption and also shows up on our shores to sell to you at $5-$10, because the middle-men need their cut too.


In 2002, America unearthed its French bistro equivalent. The Bronco Wine Company (the 4th largest US wine producer) bought the dwindling label of Charles F. Shaw while resuming cultivation on the largest vineyard acreage in the United States. Along with the ever soaring glut of California juice and exclusive distribution to a grocery chain, Charles Shaw completely changed the winescape, “extreme bargain” wine for the masses.


In a 2009 New Yorker article, Fred Franzia (co-founder/wine royalty) was very candid on how they go about business at Bronco. Like the capitalist shark that he is, he waits until wineries have no other choice but to sell him their bulk wine at a $1 a gallon. The wine is then blended into whatever Bronco is producing and doctored up with sacks of chemical wine product to create a semblance of cohesion. There is a long list of fake powders one could add to wine. From color, tannin, and oak flavor to copious amounts of sugar and acid. This is all done without the requirement of ingredient labeling because the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not have our interest in mind. There is a certain and real dark side of the wine force. To add injury to insult, in 1993, Bronco Wine Co. was federally indicted for misrepresenting cheap grapes as premium Zinfandel and Cabernet grapes, and fined $2.5 million. However, when you make half a billion a year in sales, that’s peanuts.


The infamous Two Buck Chuck available at Trader Joe’s is now $3-4 but that’s still an outstanding price considering our choices. Ask any New York sommelier or wine buyer if they would sell or drink it and you’ll get the same reaction, “[heck] no.” On the palate, this wine isn’t winning any bronze medals but with such an attractive price, the populace seem not to notice. Americans in general are drinking more wine but we are far behind the rest of the world when it comes to discerning good and bad table wine. In a society raised on high fructose corn syrup and the ultra-processed, it’s plain to see how this plunk is acceptable.


At a recent dinner party, the hostess tested my wine chops by presenting me with a glass of red and asked if I could guess its origins. My first reaction was a cheap Chilean Cabernet, but I didn’t trust the glint in her eye. “Is this Two Buck Dump?” I replied. Stunned and sufficiently entertained, she revealed the bottle to be Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon. I immediately drained my glass into a Solo cup and poured some goodness from Sicily. Point of advice, stop by Sea Grape and spend a couple more bucks on our everyday value wines made with a bit more integrity. After all, we do drink to health.

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Friends of the Grape Program

4/30/2017 10:59 PM

Terms and Conditions

Your pals here at Sea Grape are excited to introduce our loyalty program. As of January 23rd, 2012 everyone enrolled in our program will begin earning points towards a $25 gift reward. For every dollar you spend you will earn one point . Once you reach 250 points you will automatically receive a $25 voucher.

Play by the rules and we'll all be smiling fools:

1) To obtain a Friend of the Grape card please stop by the shop at 512 Hudson St. You could either fill out a short registration form or ask us to plug you into the system.

2) After the first transaction your points will begin accumulating, present your card or state your name at the beginning of each transaction and once you reach 250 points a screen pops up and we'll hook you up.

3) Reward points do not carry over to the next reward cycle. ex . 240 + 20 = $25 reward and 0 pts not $25 reward and 10 pts.

4) The $25 reward can only be used for one transaction. Apply it towards a few bottles or snatch up that $22.99 bottle you've had your eye on.

5) Reward points cannot be used in conjunction with our half- & full-case discounts. Reward vouchers cannot be combined to achieve a larger reward amount.

6) Spirits purchases are not eligible for the "Friends" program. Wine only.

7) Loyalty cards and credit are not transferable.

Thank you for joining.

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