Welcoming 2012 Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir. Captivating, delicate and elegant. From a winemaker’s perspective, it is also complicated, finicky and expensive. While Oregon has the ideal climate and soil for this varietal, meticulous care and maintenance are equally essential to the grape’s success. Another requisite, however, is quite inscrutable: personality of the winemaker. I’ve mentioned in my post on Zinfandel how we often find the character of a wine reflective of it’s maker. While the philosophies and practices of producing Pinot Noir can truly bring out the grape’s best qualities, they are not easy to master. An example of a true craftsman, someone who understands the land and can capture an ideal expression of Pinot Noir, is Ken Wright. Along with some of the original winemakers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, he has helped create a reputation for quality Pinot Noir that, as the International Pinot Noir Celebration website tells us, “put Oregon on the map internationally.”

Ken-WrightWhile prime vineyard zones in the northern Willamette Valley were established in the 1970′s, Ken Wright was a pioneer in starting the boutique winery Panther Creek Cellars in 1986 by producing vineyard designated bottles. He was also extremely involved in the establishment of sub-AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in northern Willamette Valley in the late 1990′s, writing the application for the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA. “His ideal is to define the area in such a way that a consumer can buy a wine made by an unfamiliar producer from a familiar AVA and have some sense of what to expect,” outlined in an article on Appelation America‘s website.

Ken Wright also revolutionized the Oregon wine industry by conceptualizing the use of acreage contracts in the region in 1988, which would greatly affect the production and quality of future grapes. In an interview with Wright, featured in the Oregon Wine Report in 2002, these gave owners the right to control and reduce crops, which Wright discovered was essential to influencing the ripening process of the fruit. Although this was far more expensive, it “delivered higher quality fruit and…It gave the grower consistency of income so they could start looking at longer term investments in their vineyard…”


Yamhill-Carlton AVA scenery

Ken Wright Cellars, which Wright runs with his wife, Karen, was established in 1994 and its philosophy is simple and beautiful: “Minimal handling of wine is essential to preserve what it is, a gift of nature.” Wright and his wife are not only passionate about the land and the wine industry, they also play an active role in the local community.

While Oregon is an overall unique and excellent wine-growing region in itself, 2012 was also a wonderful year for growers. According to the 2012 Vintage Report by Wine Spectator: they had “Storybook weather,” [according to] Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem. “The Pinots are not fruit bombs. They have a nice balance. It’s hard to imagine improvements.” We’ve chosen to bring in six different 2012 Pinot Noirs that will really knock your socks off! Please read below for the winery’s descriptions of these very special bottlings.


1. Bryce Vineyard- in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, where soil is Sedimentary – Willakenzie. The vineyard site is at 300 ft elevation at a south, southeast inclination. It is floral and spice focused, with brambly red fruit, distinctive minerality and warm spices of clove and anise.

2. Canary Hill Vineyard- in the Eola Amity AVA, where soil is Volcanic Rock – Jory/Nekia. The vineyard is at 450-550 elevation at an east inclination. It is fruit focused, with a modern structure, light tannins and bright acidity. Red and blue fruit- juicy red plum, pie cherry, and marionberry.

3. Freedom Hill Vineyard-  in the Costal Range AVA, where soil is Sedimentary – Bellpine. The vineyard is at 450 elevation at a southeast inclination. It is floral and spice focused, with brighter acidity than most sedimentary sites. Red fruits, lush mouthfeel, juicy strawberry, watermelon, with hints of leather & fresh turned earth qualities.

4. Guadalupe Vineyard- in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, where soil is Sedimentary – Willakenzie. The vineyard is at 350 ft elevation on a south inclination. It is floral and spice focused, very forward and attractive in its youth with a depth of flavor of raspberry, black cherry, mulberry and five spice.

5. Shea Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, where soil is Sedimentary – Willakenzie. The vineyard is at 450-600 ft elevation on a south inclination. It is floral and spice foscused,  with blue fruit, blueberry, black currant with delicate anise and cola notes.

6. Tanager Vineyard- in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, where soil is Sedimentary – Willakenzie 350-400 ft elevation at a western inclination. It is floral and spice focused, youthful, fresh balanced blue fruits such as cassis and blueberry.

I, personally, can’t wait to try these wines! I’ll be adding my feedback once I do.

Cari Saluti,



The latest and greatest from Rosenthal Wine Merchant

IMG_20140408_223916 (1)Yesterday, Rob, Greg and I joined Micheal Caine of Rosenthal Wine Merchant for a lovely dinner and wine tasting at the Union League Cafe in New Haven. We shared some fantastic French-inspired cuisine, good laughs and really impressive wines. Here is a highlight of some of our favorites that we will soon carry in store:


Micheal Caine sharing beloved wines and stories about them

Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium Lazio Bianco 2012- a traditional blend of Malvasia, Verdicchio, Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes from central Italy. Volcanic soils, warm climate and extensive contact with the grape skins create a rich, complex wine with a gorgeous display of citrus and tropical fruit, a creamy
mouthfeel and an earthy undertone. Would be perfect for a variety of spring vegetables such as asparagus or artichokes. The texture and weight will stand up to cream sauce or a rich seafood dish fantastically.

Jean Dauvissat Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillons” 2009- the entire dinner table was “wowed” by this wine, a truly complex and special white Burgundy. According to Rosenthal, “Vaillons is perhaps the most typical “Chablisien” with its clear reference to the Kimmeridgian subsoils … an intensely mineral wine chabls_vaillons_rosenthal copywith a persistent finish.” Layers upon layers of complexity truly remain on your palate and compliment a variety of dishes including a delicate trout dish we enjoyed at the restaurant.

Tellus Vinea Bordeaux Rouge 2010- This is the ideal Bordeaux under $20. Described as a “baby Pomerol’, this wine’s primarily Merlot composition (90%) gives you an all-enveloping experience for your palate. What is better, the tannins grasp and hug your tongue, “like a Mourvedre”, according to Micheal. Friendly, fun and affordable- what’s not to like?

DeForville Barbera d’Alba 2012- This outstanding wine struck us all, as it has in past vintages, for its remarkably full body, lush fruit, subtle earthiness and preciseness. It is a true character. I loved it with my steak and the Bearnaise sauce that accompanied it, complimenting the tarragon in the sauce rather than clashing with it.

Another favorite is the cherished Paolo Bea Montefalco Sagrantino Secco “Pagliarino” 2007, showing just as beautifully as the 2006 vintage we currently carry in the shop. Ripe notes of fig and prune and a subtle green, herbal quality are accentuated with hints vanilla and a long lasting finish.  The passion of the winemaker is clear in the wine’s structure and style: determined, robust, focused. Great with rich second course dishes such as roasted duck or rack of lamb.

What more is there to say? Fantastic wines, wonderful food, good company…there is nothing better in life.




Welcoming Spring on your dinner plate (and in your glass)


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It’s been a long, hard winter, and I’m sure we all share the same sentiments–thank goodness it’s finally over! Our last snow storm this past Monday hit us all by surprise; as we muttered obscenities under our breaths, cursing New England weather, we’re equally passionate about embracing the warmer months. There is no better way to welcome spring than by beautifying our dinner plates with fresh, seasonal produce and some wine to pair it with!

As a locavore, I appreciate this interactive map by Epicurious that, by month and state, provides a list of peak-season produce and recipes with each specific ingredient. While Connecticut is replete with spinach, nearby states are already welcoming lots of asparagus, peas, carrots and rhubarb, among other seasonal delights in the produce aisle.

For this blog I’d like to provide you with an array of spring dishes, wine pairings included, for your next spring get together. Pick and chose as you please!

pea and proscuitto crostini

Starter: I love Martha Stewart’s Everyday Living Minted Pea and Proscuitto Crostini recipe. Fresh mint freshly enhances the sweetness of delicate peas, contrasting savory saltiness of the prosciutto and complimentary grassy, velvety hints from fresh extra virgin olive oil. Pair with our Tascante Buonora Carricante, from Sicily, providing a complex bouquet of wild flowers and honey on the nose, yet a medium body and dry finish. The beautiful acidity and minerality from volcanic soils will compliment the rich flavors of the appetizer, without over-weighing your palate. If you like bubbles, try our La Vida al Camp Cava Brut: fun, flirty bubbles with notes of citrus and a dry, yet full mouthfeel will perfectly match appetizers while appropriately welcoming guests with flair.


First course: BBCGoodFood’s Asparagus, Broad Bean and Smoked Salmon Pasta recipe brings together some of my favorite ingredients of all time. Broad (also known as fava) are another fantastic spring addition that add a beautiful nuttiness to an overall gorgeous dish. I love the flavor of fresh asparagus and the depth of a salty smoked salmon in pasta; add smooth and decadent crème fraîche and bit of nutmeg for depth and complexity, and spiral al dente pasta grabbing the sauce and ingredients, and voilà…yummers!! What better than a rosé as a clean, refreshing accompaniment? Try our Commanderie de Peyrassol Cotes de Provence compliments with mellow notes of stone fruit and a slight herbaceous quality to suit the overall savory presence in this dish.

Second course: Talk about ideal spring meals, you can even get outside and grill for this fun Jerk Pork Tspring pork tenderloin recipeenderloin with Pineapple Salsa recipe from Food & Wine Magazine’s website. Tangy, sweet pineapple deliciously enhances a three dimensional umami-hot-fragrant jerk pork. Light, yet tantalizing, this meal would be the perfect companion for a glass of white wine from the Alsace region of France. I suggest Zinck Gewurztraminer: dry, with exotic aromas of lychee fruit and hints of spice, talk about a match made in heaven.

Side dishes: A spring slaw by Epicurious will provide a refreshing crunch, pleasant flavor and colorful presentation to your second course. Celery, Apple and Fennel Slaw would accompany pork beautifully, and the Red Chili and Pecan Slaw presents a light, Thai style marriage of fresh cabbage, tri-colored peppers, chili, lime and cilantro that would perfectly comprecipe_fried-artichokes-tahiniliment a grilled salmon. For a warm side, you can add this Cooking Light Grilled Asparagus Rafts dish to the grill. If you’re making the pasta recipe, Fried Artichoke Hearts with Taratur Sauce by Saveur Magazine adds a Middle Eastern flair using tahini and lemon to create a decadent sauce to one of my favorite spring vegetables.  Regardless of your decision, a bottle of Gobelsburger Gruner Ventliner is ideal for both Asian style dishes in addition to asparagus or artichokes, offering a juicy yet dry finish that will keep you sipping.

Dessert: Rhubarb is making it’s debut this month- oh the possibilities! I suggest Rhubarb Shortcakes by Bon Appetit Magazine, roasting rhubarb in red wine, sugar and vanilla bean and fantastic a la mode. Go with a lovely sparkling to keep things fun and compliment the tartness of the rhubarb. My pick is Perlage Prosecco Valdobbiadene Riva Moretta, with notes of lemon, pear and green apple and an enticingly dry finish with a mineral zip. Another nice option is our Duc de Romet “Prestige” Brut, a lovely Blanc de Noir that will wow your guests without breaking your budget.


Have I left you hungry? I sure am! Enjoy, and please report back to us on the reselts. Buon Appetito!





Seize the day with ZIN MADNESS!


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Time to let loose, West Hartford. Spring has sprung, and we’re going to welcome it with a bang. Tomorrow, we will hold our 13th annual Zin Madness tasting event, showcasing six of our favorite [red] Zinfandel wines from Northern California.

Drinking California Zin often reminds me of a particular winemaker I befriended during my work in a tasting room in California. He was a retired circus performer and actor; loud, boisterous, eccentric and wildly inappropriate. His positive attitude was contagious. I like to say the 16% abv Zinfandels he produced were a mirror of his personality; the wine certainly had the same effect on a crowd.

The classic California Zinfandel can have a light-hearted and sunny sentiment that will rub off and remind you, carpe diem. To be enjoyed young, in the spirit of the fun-loving California lifestyle and to honor the wine’s history. Zinfandel fans know it is the American name for the Italian Primitivo grape varietal grown in the hot climate of the Puglia region of Southern Italy. However, it was only recently that researchers found the grape, called Tribidrag, truly originated from the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, and its history goes as far back as the 1400′s. Last year, the San Francisco Chronicle highlights the exciting discovery in History underscores Zinfandel’s new tack. Author Jon Bonné discusses: “…Zinfandel’s current state: A bit more ripeness is often in order. Even Ridge’s Paul Draper, the icon of restraint with his Geyserville and Lytton Springs wines, asserts that ‘if Zinfandel is not in the 14 percent range, it won’t have the fruit that gives it its real quality and interest and delight.’ “


As a European table wine, the tradition is to enjoy it, not to cellar it. There are those who beg to differ. Forbes magazine featured an article featuring Famous Napa winemaker Joel Peterson, arguing that: “The wine world is changing. Now we are seeing a mode of pull back to a more claret-like style… Zinfandel is a funny grape and no two zins are the same. All of my single vineyards are under 15% alcohol. Zin can age very well…but it has to be made with aging in mind.” Touché!

Featuring some incredibly diverse wines, you can decide which style suits you. Come on into the shop to taste and we’ll take your vote. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Cari Saluti,


Wine by Everyday People: California’s new breed of winemakers


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Who doesn’t know and love the 1968 hit “Everyday People” (Sly and the Family Stone)? Let’s make it our theme song for this week’s blog post.

Now that I have you singing, I’ll bring into topic the new wave of California wines which are not only taking the world by storm, they are also really, really good. Why? To start, they are made by [everyday] people who are truly passionate about wine.

In Kevin Zraly’s book, Windows on the World: A Complete Wine Course, we learn that “In 2002, Francis Ford Coppola…paid $350,000 an acre for vineyard land in Napa. In 1970, the average price per acre in Napa was $5,000.” Now that you understand you must have a lot of money to own a winery today, you might wonder how on earth it would be possible to produce California wine without being rich. Here’s where I bring in the concept of a négociant, as defined by Collins English Dictionary, “a wine merchant or wholesaler; specifically, one who buys grapes, grape juice, partially fermented or finished wine from others and sells the wine produced under his own name.”

The modern day négociant in California can take two very different approaches, in my opinion. Let’s begin with the two buck chuckers (yes, I’ve impetuously coined a term for them). A serious entrepreneur seizes an opportunity to sell “leftovers” from high-end boutique wineries and creates a sort of anonymous blend; which can be very enticing to wine lovers looking to save money, and to be free from concern that their grapes are not, so to speak, up to par. Can anyone see a problem with this scenario? While it may supply a demand, I believe it removes a very important aspect to the wine: a soul.

Let’s now turn to the second category, those often named California’s new breed of winemakers. This is an individual or group who has lived and breathed wine by virtue of experience (because who can not fall under the spell of a fascinating wine?) Without strictly defining these folks, they have fairly the same objective: to create something they really, truly love, sans ego driven undercurrents or aims to make millions (bottles or dollars).

jon-bonne-new-california-wine-600x336Jon Bonné, wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, published last year’s book  “The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolutionary Taste.” In the LA Times article Who are the new California winemakers? No more hedge fund operators with cash to burn,  Bonné’s book is featured and this article’s title speaks for the itself. In his book, he highlights:

“New California’s winemakers share…an enthusiasm for lessons learned from the Old World, but not the desire to replicate its wines, a mandate to seek out new grape varieties and regions and, perhaps most important, an ardent belief that place matters.”

No longer can we view California wine the same. It’s as dynamic as it’s identity, a progressive melting pot of opportunity and change. Factor in an earnest work ethic, a respect for the land and its history, and you’ll find our aforementioned friends: the new breed of California winemakers.

Here’s where I show off a little bit. At West Side Wines, we take great pride in carrying an array of California wines from this new style of négociant, wineries offering fantastic prices and made with utmost care and attention. Some of these producers include Slingshot, Broadside, Robin K, Owens and Vaughn and Pinot Project. Last but not least, there is Banshee and its 2nd label Rickshaw.


According to their website, “Banshee Wines was founded by three friends from the Midwest and East Coast who shared a passion for wine and a lifelong dream of owning their own winery.” Rickshaw‘s slogan is People Powered Wines’ and they offer an affordable line of wines that also make you feel good, because they donate 5% of their proceeds to charity.

Please visit this page on our website for more information regarding these fantastic wineries. And if you are able, we’d love to see you tomorrow at our tasting with Doug Rankin of Missing Link Wines, from 2:00-6:30 PM, where we will showcase our selection of Banshee and Rickshaw wines.

Cari Saluti!


Welcoming Italian Organic Wines from Perlage


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The countryside of Farra di Soligo

Today is a wonderful day. I arrived at work with a smile from ear to ear to discover that a new, beautiful set of bottles are on our shelves from Perlage Winery, based in Farra di Soligo, Italy, in the heart of Valdobbiadene Conegliano DOCG territory (AKA my old stomping grounds!) I also happen to have a fun connection to the winery, since worldwide marketing manager and house Sommelier Erika Gallon is a very good friend of mine.

The most exciting thing about Perlage is that it has been groundbreaking in its campaign to bring the world a selection of fine quality certified organic wines. Here are some ways Perlage goes above and beyond to promote environmental sustainability:

  • The vineyards of the hills are “disetanei”, meaning of different ages. They live a physiological life, not an industrial one, all in the respect of the cycle of the nature.
  • Vegetal compounds are used for the fertilization of the vineyard, and a low quantity of copper is added.
  • Solar panels heat the water and the electricity for the entire cellar comes only from renewable sources.
  • In the bottling line, electric motors have been replaced with new low consumption materials.
  • The rinsing machine of the bottling line allows to reuse the water through an innovative filtering system.
  • Most bottles have switched to screwcap: the bottle is easier to open, eco – friendly and recyclable!
  • Parties and events use cutlery and dishes made with Mater-B, a new generation of bio-plastic made from natural raw materials.
  • The catalog is produced with recycled paper

ImageNow, let’s talk vino. We’ve brought in Perlage’s Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio and Prosecco DOCG, all made with organic grapes. I’m most excited about the Prosecco, since it is one of my favorite styles of wine and Riva Moretta is a wonderful representation of the DOCG territory from 60 year old vines. Fruity, clean and fresh notes with a medium finish that is reminiscent of the calcareous soils it grows in. Great as an aperitif, with lighter meals or as a fun sparkling wine for a friendly gathering, the quality and length of bubbles is what gives this winery its name (borrowed from the french term perlage.) Perlage also suggests a fun recipe for Mushroom Puff Pastry that you could serve as an hors d’oeuvre at your next gathering. The pinot grigio from Veneto is dry, harmonious and velvety. Try pairing it with a traditional Roman style Spaghetti alla Carbonara such as this recipe suggested on Saveur.  Lastly, The winery’s Sangiovese offers a juicy, medium bodied red that would match wonderfully with hearty first courses such as this recipe for pasta bolognese featured on Epicurious.

Come on in and find these lovely wines in our Sulfite-Free/Organic Wines Section! Thanks for reading.



Bombs away!


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Image“In wine there is wisdom. In beer there is freedom. In water there is bacteria.”

We can thank Benjamin Franklin for popularizing this old German saying, giving us further justification to enjoy a special adult beverage this evening. With this spirit, I’d like to discuss our underdog here at West Side Wines: beer. We carry a selection that reflects the mastery of the craft and are a fun alternative to wine for pairing with meals.

As you browse our beer cooler in the shop, your back faces a great little nook of Bombers, or 22 fl. oz. bottles, appropriately coined “Bombs Away!” We are very excited to receive two new Ancient Ales in this section from the esteemed Dogfish Head Craft Brewery that captivate the very freedom of creativity in craft brewing. Master brewer Sam Calagione’s ambition to create quality, small batch American craft beer contributed it’s explosion in popularity in the U.S.

First, the new Chateau Jiahu recreates a fermented beverage found in northern China 9,000 years ago. Featured on NPR in this feature, we are excited to bring in this truly unique concoction. With the help of an archaeologist, the brewery uses actual ancient strains of yeast found on the site, blending “orange blossom honey, muscat grape juice, barley malt and hawthorn fruit” and “the wort is fermented for about a month with sake yeast”. Dogfish Head compares it to a citrusy sauvignon [blanc] that can be matched with Mexican and Indian cuisines, spice cake and oranges.

The other special brew, Birra Etrusca Bronze, is a collaboration with Roman brewers in Italy to captivate ales the Etruscans were drinking, based off samples from 2,800 year old tombs. Using “two-row malted barley and an heirloom Italian wheat”, “specialty ingredients include hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chestnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey. A handful of whole-flower hops are added, but the bulk of the bitterness comes from gentian root and the sarsaparilla-like Ethiopian myrrh resin.” The brewery parallels this beer with malbec, suggesting a pair with spiced pickles, marinated olives or hearty beer bolognese,

Please, feel free to come in and ask our staff about their favorite meals they pair along with these lovely brews.



Let’s make a pizza!


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A typical pizza in Italy: tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto di San Daniele. It’s fantastic!

The weekend is here, folks, Happy Friday! Even if the weather is dreary, you can find plenty of opportunities to stay entertained in the kitchen. One of my favorite ways to get friends or family together is to have a pizza party (with plenty of wine, of course). Skip the takeout, impress your guests-and yourself-by making it homemade! 

If you want to make it extra special, I suggest this recipe for homemade pizza dough by Bobby Flay, or you can ask your local pizzeria for some. Once you have the dough rolled out to a desired thickness (or super thin like we have it in Northern Italy), and the oven is preheated, you can let your guests decide on the toppings. Need some inspiration? Browse recipes and tips on this Food and Wine guide. One of my personal favorites for the winter is with porcini mushrooms, gorgonzola and speck. Greg won’t stop raving about the Pizza with Shaved Asparagus and Robiola featured on the Food Network.

Need some ideas for wines to pair? Some fun Italian favorites include a light and fun bardolino, old world montepulciano d’abruzzo, or bright and delicious chianti classico.

Are you hungry yet? Feel free to comment and share your experiences- we’d love to hear your favorite pizza recipes and West Side Wines to accompany them!

Buon Appetito! 


Ciao, amici!

Hello dear West Side Wines friends, 

Ciao! I’m Monika, new to the West Side family and would like to introduce myself. I’ve recently moved from northern Italy, but originally hail from north of Boston. My passion for wine and gastronomy come from a eclectic mix of cultural heritage, travel and a sweet combination of coincidence and luck. I started my formal wine training in the Central Coast of California and in the past eight years have managed to experience the joys of the harvest, the complexities of import and export and a myriad of stories and faces behind some truly beautiful and captivating wines.


Harvesting Glera grapes in Valdobbiadene, Italy for the latest Prosecco vintage

To say I’m psyched to join the team here at West Side would be an understatement! The amount of enthusiasm, knowledge and devotion among my colleagues is truly humbling and inspiring. I’m looking forward to representing this fine establishment and starting a new and exciting adventure with you all. Please visit this site soon to read our latest news. Thanks for reading.

Warm Regards, or as we say in Italy, Saluti!



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