City Winery in New York and its kosher wine program
So, what is the City Winery? Why would you want to make a winery in the middle of a city, far from where the grapes grow, heck really far from where the grapes grow, like a different continent away! To be honest I did not get into all that with the Michael Dorf, Chief Executive Officer or David Lecomte, Chief Wine Maker. However, the basic premise of the City Winery, in the words of Dorf; In summary, our brand is starting to represent the image of being the highest-end experience combining a culinary and cultural offering. We are paying attention to our image from the time the consumer connects digitally through their onsite visit to the reputation and memory which lives on.
I had the chance to go there earlier this year, for the City Winery and Jewish Week kosher Wine Tasting. Though it is not the first time I ever visited the winery and each time I visit I was always impressed by its simplistic beauty. That is not to say that the event hall/winery is plain and boring, rather it is lovely and urban, even slightly rustic, but all of its innate beauty is not brazen and in your face. Rather, the winery is as subtle in its innate beauty as many of the wines that are available in the winery.
The winery makes wine – every year, they import either juice or grapes and make the wines, 80% non-kosher and 20% kosher (and that number is growing). They make some crazy good kosher wines and they are available only at the winery. I did not get the chance to taste these wines before, other than a few barrel tastings with Yanky Drew two years ago. So, it was great to taste these wines at the wine tasting – more on that soon.
The winery is a crush winery – which makes wines for the wine lovers, allowing them to buy partial parts of a barrel or an entire barrel, and it allows them to be part of the wine-making experience. The entire effort is overseen by the head winemaker – David Lecomte, a Frenchmen in NY, with a love for wine and all things winemaking. Yanky is the associate wine maker and the cellar rat for the kosher wine barrels.
“We’ve had the luxury of buying our grapes from the best terroir in the country. For example, we’ve been getting Cab and Merlot from Napa Valley, Pinot Noir from Sonoma and Russian River, Syrah from Mendocino or Paso Robles,” says Dorf. The winery gets grapes from all over California, Oregon, and as far as Argentina!
However, wine is not the only part of the City Winery, Dorf is also a famous music promoter and that is the second arm of the winery – music. The intimate setting allows for small, close-knit interactions with musicians that come to the venue to rock out or jazz out and enjoy the crowds of music fans, drinking wine made at the winery and beer made at the winery. It is a dual armed business that makes for a great combination of good times and libations – what more could anyone ask for?
When Dorf opened City Winery in 2008, the goal was clear – it was to merge the two passions that made him tick; wine and music, in a setting that would enable the two ideal to mingle and merge into a holistic whole. The makeup is truly unique, on the top floor you have the clear subject matter that Dorf is well versed in – music. Your eyes are pulled immediately to the large center stage, one that is surrounded by small tables that allow for an intimate setting, where the likes of Lisa Marie Presley or Diane Birch can be found on any given night. The small venue allows for a close and relaxed event, but also the chance to truly soak in the music – rather than the noise of those around you. Clearly, this man knows what he is doing when it comes to music.
But do not sell this winery as a mere gimmick to push music, that would be offensive and downright incorrect! Nope, Dorf knows his way around aesthetics and layouts! Read through his encyclopedic post on the design of City Wineries, scattered around the country, and you will find a person with a sharp degree of detail, from the minute to overall architectural design! The deft uses of bottles on the stair case down to the winery along with the bar that blends into the setting – are all great examples of how the winery is lovely while drawing you to its quiet beauty slowly, as you sit and enjoy the music and wine.
Wait, there is wine too!!! Are you kidding me? Yup, while the upstairs is dedicated to the world of sound, with a quiet nod to the underworld, the downstairs is a oenophile playground! The winery specializes in three aspects of winemaking. First, is the ability for anyone off the street to make wine with the help of Lecomte and his associate winemaker Ben Riccardi. For kosher wines, Yanky Drew is also involved. They are all part of the staff that helps the private barrel owners through every step of the winemaking process. If the barrel owner wants to do it all by himself, he is allowed to a certain point. If he wants to leave it to Lecomte, Riccardi,and Ben – that is also an option. In the end, what the private barrel owner gets, is a great bottle of wine that he/she was deeply involved with, all while not leaving the island of Manhattan!
The second part of the City winery – is its hand crafted wines that are for sale at the store. These wines are made in the typical manner, grapes are flown in, fermented, pressed, aged, and ultimately bottled for purchase by the wine club or anyone who wants some during, before, or after an event. Finally, the most intriguing and state of the art aspect of the city winery, is the steel wines.
The City Winery makes many wines that are barrel and age worthy, but that is not always what their patrons want! They want easy drinking, yet complex wines that are accessible now and not in an hour or two, after the event or show is over! To meet this growing and focused market, the City Winery has devised a wine program that “bottles” their wines in pressurized steel tanks, where the wine is then served from taps on the first floor! This very cool and innovative approach, gives the customers what they crave, while not undermining the city winery label or allure.
To make this all happen, you need a winemaker who is as comfortable around the vineyard as he is comfortable around barrels and grapes. A native of the Rhone Valley, Lecomte earned his degree in Viticulture and Winemaking from the University of Davaye in South Burgundy, plus a Master Degree of Enology and Winemaking from University of Montpellier. Lecomte began his wine career at M. Chapoutier Estate as a vineyard worker at the age of 22. He has since worked at other wineries in France (Delas & Fils, Cave de Tain L’Hermitage and Colombo), China (Beijing Dragon Seal), and three wine regions in the United States (Virginia – at Afton Mountain Vineyard; Long Island, NY – at Premium Wine Group, and most recently in California – at Herzog Wine Cellars).
What coaxed Lecomte to the City Winery was in-congruent concept of making high-end wine in a not so advantageous location. The location is on one side of the continent, which for the most part is not where the high-end wines are produced. Further, you have a “wine cave” that is controlled, but is still in the middle of an urban location. So you have trains rolling above, city air abounds, and yet the wines come out with clear control and quality.
As always, the wine starts in the vineyards and to make sure they control – what they can control, Lecomte is often visiting the vineyards, that line the left coast of the US and the right coast of South America! Control over the manner that the vines are managed and kept, is so important. Lecomte cannot control what happens when the grapes are shipped – beyond the time of picking, the shipping crates, and the company. Beyond that it is in the hands of man and that is not always the best option! To make up for this major issue, Lecomte’s has long-term contracts with growers around the country and South America, down to vineyard blocks. Further he hires local people that he can trust to assure him that the vineyards are being tended to in the manner that he desires. Beyond that, he makes trips to the vineyards throughout the year. In the end, it shows in the wine that he creates! It blew me away that the quality was so high for a wine whose main ingredient was picked a week or more before it was actually pressed! Impressive to say the least!
When it comes to winemaking, there were some clear aspects that kept coming through. Oak is not a hammer or spice to Lecomte! His wines are classically styled, without New world gimmicks or overly extracted or overly ripe fruit. The wines are complex, extracted and balanced at all times. The only real time that was not the case was the 2012 Bonarda, which was the first time I ever tasted the grape and may well have been more of an issue with me than with the wine.
The kosher wine program is much like the non-kosher wines made at the winery. There is the private barrel option, where you or a group of your friends can go in for a barrel of wine. There is also a list of kosher wines that are made by the City Winery for public purchase, they can be found here.
We tasted through a few of the kosher wines (from barrel and bottle) – these were my leanings, overall impressed, and wine with a consistent graphite, oak, butterscotch, and minerality characteristics. The wine notes below start with the wines we tasted rom bottle at the City Winery event. Follwoing the event, we had a chance to barrel taste some of the wines, and those are denoted below, without a real score, other than my feelings about them. The wine notes follow below:
2009 City Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Obsidian Ridge – Score: A-
This cabernet is classic in nature and rich and lovely, but a bit expensive. The nose explodes with graphite, mineral, blackberry, dark cherry, and nice ripe fruit. The mouth is big and aggressive, with concentrated and layered fruit that is tart, zesty, and ripe raspberry, cassis, black plum, all wrapped up in nice sweet cedar, and crazy mouth coating tannin. The finish is nice and long with chocolate, tobacco, crazy butterscotch, and an aggressive attack of fruit, nice ripe and controlled body, good balancing acid, and vanilla. This will be a broken record but this wine may show a fair amount of acid one that needs time to settle, so do not be shocked when you open this wine expecting a nice fat California Cabernet. This is a ripe and bright Cabernet that is nice and edgy now, but if you want a bit calmer of a wine – wait a year or two.
2010 City Winery Cabernet Franc, Alder Springs – Score: A-
This is a nice green and balanced Cabernet Franc, a good example of what a ripe and balanced Franc can be. The nose on this wine is ripe with green fruit, green notes, mounds of graphite and mineral, herb, and bell pepper. The mouth is lovely with crazy gripping tannin, rich and layered green notes, ripe raspberry, plum, mineral core, great balancing acid, all wrapped up in almost no oak influence, other than in the rounded mouth. The finish is long and earthy, with chocolate, slate, zesty fruit, zesty ripe strawberry, and cherry linger. This is a broken record already (and just wait), this wine has a fair amount of acid and edginess, and yes live with it. This is not a wine that I would expect to be around in four or five years, but in a year the tannins will calm and the acid will integrate better with the wine’s body. Bravo a nice lush green and red wine with a good acid and mineral core!
2011 City Winery Pinot Noir, Oregon Hyland Vineyard – Score: B+
This wine was the only of the six City Winery wines that I tastes that I was not so impressed with, though it is a nice wine all the same. The nose on this ruby colored wine is filled with coffee, toffee, forest floor, and dried currants. The mouth is weird with an attack of zesty fruit, soft tannin, and dirty and round mouth, with strawberry, Kirshe cherry, with almost peach flavors. The finish is long and mineral with controlled oak, bright and crazy acid, vanilla, light toast, and hints of tar linger. This wine shows crazy acid, but it is not a wine that I think will improve greatly, though it does need a bit of time to settle and integrate to hide its current lacking.
2009 City Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Bettonelli Vineyards – Score: A- ++
This may well have been the best Cabernet at the Jewish Week tasting – without question (though for full disclosure, Royal was pouring a better Cabernet – by a touch; the 2010 Covenant Cab, but I did not taste it again). The wine’s nose is super rich in mineral, graphite, but showing great control, along with blackberry, raspberry, and blackcurrant. The mouth on this full bodied, layered, and ripe wine with concentrated fruit – but shockingly controlled and finessed, with ripe cassis, black plum, sweet cedar, and mounds of fine tannin that are mouth coating and caressing. The finish is long and perfectly balanced with nice mineral, tobacco, chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch, cedar box, and crazy zesty and tart fruit. This wine made me stand up and take notice, for its insane finesse, mineral core, and balancing acid, that if I removed the first three characteristics, I would have sworn it was an Israeli Cabernet. Bravo and what a difference it is between flat/fat/flabby/overly ripe Israeli wines and this one. Also, this wine differs greatly from its younger brother (2010 vintage), which shows less finesse and more sledgehammer.
2010 City Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Bettonelli Vineyards – Score: A- ++
This vintage is more comparable to a mad sledgehammer wielding man, which is so very different than its younger brother, which is more comparable to a professional ballerina to the nutcracker in a china shop. The nose on this wine shows more mineral than its 2009 vintage – which is hard to imagine; in and of itself. The mouth on this wine is rich, massive, and layered, and yet aggressive, but still showing finesse, with blackberry, black plum, without zesty fruit, that has massive mouth coating tannins, and all wrapped up in sweet cedar. The finish is long and spicy, that is balanced with good acidity, with far less mineral on the finish, nice crazy black pepper, nice malted chocolate, tar, tobacco, and nice ripe black fruit. This wine is the one that I have tasted this whole year that tastes as controlled, finessed, yet massive and layered and concentrated as the 2010 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon – BRAVO! This wine is ready to go now and is integrated perfectly without burning acid that needs to settle.
2010 City Winery Syrah, Alder Springs Vineyard – Score: A- ++
WOW this wine is as close to the Shirah PTTP and the Brobdignagian Syrah as it gets, because the grapes used for these wines are sourced from the same area. The nose on this purple black wine is shocking – BLACK and as opaque as it gets. The nose is rich and ripe with roasted meat (AKA dead animal), graphite, charcoal, licorice, toast, and spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is big, aggressive, black and blue and red wine with a layered and rich attack of good ripe boysenberry, blueberry, blackberry, cassis, pipe tobacco, all wrapped up in sweet ripe fruit, sweet cedar box, mouth coating tannin, and ripe chewy black plum. The finish is long and rich with tobacco, tar, chocolate, and mineral – BRAVO! This is a big, ripe, round, aggressive wine with black and blue fruit, with nice notes of tar and roasted animal – very similar to other Cali Syrahs – with good acid, though the only City Winery wine that showed obvious in your face acid.
2009 City Winery Riesling Shmiesling – Score: A-
Lovely nose of petrol, grapefruit, oily notes, fig, melon, and Asian pear. The mouth on this medium bodied wine seems bulkier with lovely petrol and oily notes, along with more ripe fruit, more grapefruit, lemon, kiwi, along with light residual sugar. The finish is long with white chocolate, lemon rind, vanilla, peach, and apricot. The wine is unique from its overall nice body, oily texture, and ripe fruit.
2011 City Winery Cabernet Franc, Alder Spring – LOVELY!! (Barrel Tasting)
This wine is a SURE buy unless something has gone really wrong! The nose is filled with lovely green notes, ripe red and black fruit, blackberry, plum, tobacco, and a crazy amount of graphite. The mouth on this rich, round, and medium plus bodied wine is captivating with lovely concentration of ripe and sweet but controlled fruit, with butterscotch, black cherry, crazy black plum, currant, with what I can only describe as rich butter notes. The finish is long and green with core acid and core minerality, along with chocolate, tobacco, and bell pepper and asparagus.
2011 City Winery Syrah, Alder Spring – Score: Very nice! (Barrel Tasting)
The nose has even more graphite, with crazy spice and ripe blackberry. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich with blackberry, blueberry, cassis, black plum, all coming at you in layers of ripe and concentrated black and blue fruit, butterscotch, nice mineral, and nice oak. The finish is long and mineral with chocolate, searing tannin, mineral, nice green notes, black pepper, spice, charcoal, and fruit. This is a wine that is very different from classic Syrah wine. This wine is so mineral, butterscotch, and green driven that is makes for a unique Syrah experience.
2011 City Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County – Score: Very Nice! (Barrel Tasting)
This wine is unique because it shows both candied fruit and lovely aromas from a lush green garden, with ripe fruit, quite a conundrum. The mouth of this full bodied wine is has mounds of green notes, bell pepper, along with an attack of searing tannin, along with an almost oily body that comes from the ripe fruit, chocolate, and coffee notes all coming together. The finish is long and ripe with more green notes, saline, rich butterscotch, tobacco, all washed down with more green notes. This wine is a contradiction is motion, ripe almost fruit but showing rich green notes! Crazy wine and yet one that I have no idea in which direction it will settle down into.
2012 City Winery Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina - Score: Nice! (Barrel Tasting)
The nose screams classic Malbec leanings with roasted meat, green tea, blackberry, plum, and tar. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich and ripe with serious tannins, sweet notes, all balanced with nice acid, tart fruit, along with roasted animal, blackberry, mineral, and earth. The finish was not that long with more earth, mineral, charcoal, spice, and animal notes.
2012 City Winery Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina – Score: Not for me (Barrel Tasting)
This wine did not do it for me – the wine was all over the place, tannic, and overly sweet candied fruit
2012 City Winery Petite Verdot, Chalk Hill – Score: Nice! (Barrel Tasting) – Score: Very Nice!
WOW what a crazy nose! The nose is redolent and perfumed with blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, plum, along with ripe black and blue fruit, with good roasted animal and loamy earth. The mouth on this full bodied wine is so out there that it will shock people, but really impressed me with deep earth notes, along with screaming tar, and layers upon layers of ripe and concentrated blue and black fruit, all wrapped up in caressing mouth coating tannin, light saline notes, and more ripe fruit. The finish is long and salty, with more animal, mineral, chocolate, coffee, and crazy attack – impressive.
Posted on October 9, 2013, in Kosher Red Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged Alder Springs, Bettonelli Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chalk Hill, City Winery, Hyland Vineyard, Malbec, Obsidian Ridge, Petite Verdot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Syrah. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.