In recent years, Brooklyn's become synonymous with culinary trailblazing. Pickles? Chocolates? Ice cream? Salsa? Mayonnaise? The borough's producing high-end versions of all these pantry staples, while challenging palates on the spectrum from familiar comfort foods to completely foreign cuisines. Given the burgeoning DIY attitude and homegrown pride of the borough, it makes plenty of sense that eventually someone would attempt wine.
I first became aware of Brooklyn Oenology a few years ago at a large wine tasting event. I was intrigued by the concept of wine being made in Brooklyn as it felt like the one agricultural frontier still untapped in the borough, and after tasting through, I was rather impressed by the results. I soon learned it was spearheaded by a woman, Ali Shaper, which piqued my interest even further. It stayed on my radar and eventually I had the opportunity to meet her and learn about BOE in depth.
Like many people I've met in the wine industry, her route was rather circuitous. She graduated from college with an engineering degree; however, after working for a while in the industry, she realized the passion wasn't there and quit her job. From there, she started working in a tasting room in a vineyard in the Hudson Valley, which led to various positions in the wine and hospitality industry, from which her entreprenuerial spirit formulated the seedlings for BOE.
She produces wine in a commercial winery out on Long Island, which she likens to renting time and space in a commercial kitchen, a common practice for chefs and bakers. Currently BOE does not grow their own grapes but instead purchases them from other vineyards around the state, much like a negociant. She says this allows her to purchase the grapes she wants and produce the exact style of wines she loves.
In 2010, she opened the BOE tasting room in Williamsburg, which is not only a showcase for wine but a communal meeting place and event space. What's unique about BOE is the concept of terroir goes beyond the soil here and instead is thought of as New York culture. She proudly serves wine and beer from other winemakers, strengthening community ties. Bottle labels for BOE are designed by local artists and the shelves proudly display foodstuff from local food artisans. New York culture is the essential sense of place, not the plot of land where the vines grow.
Down the road, she has plans to purchase a vineyard plot and start growing her own grapes, an evolution for BOE. For now, though, the wines shine and tease of the palate with the potential of what's to come.
Photo courtesy of brooklynoenology.com
BOE Shindig White, 95% Vidal Blanc, 5% Riesling, Finger Lakes, 2011
Vidal Blanc, also known as Ugni Blanc or Trebbiano, was a prominent player during the Finger Lakes trip, which had a range of hits and misses so we approached this wine like a frenemy. On the nose, a light ginger essence gave way to pineapple an minerality. On the palate, this snappy white was reminiscent of a Vinho Verde; green apple, lime and a hint of sea salt tingled with medium acid but finished rather quickly. This is one easy drinker.
BOE Chardonnay, North Fork, 2010
This chard was aged in old French oak, so it was mercifully free of uber-oaky tones. Instead, our noses were caressed with sweet cream, butter and a little bit of pear. The palate showcased some of these tones as well but an almond nuttiness tempered the dairy. Medium acid and medium body gave this wine some structure and was one of the rare chardonnays that I wasn't mad at.
Tousey Winery, Rebellion Rose, Blaufrankisch, Hudson Valley, 2012
Good ole Blaufrankisch, or Lemberger, as many of the Finger Lakes wineries called it. This was a little more lush than some of the leaner ones tasted on the Finger Lakes trip. I'm interested to know if it's the Hudson Valley soil, or the vinification, that made the difference. The nose was tart and juicy with aromas of cranberry and dark cherry. Drinking it, Thanksgiving came to mind with the sweet n' tart profiles and acidic berries. The underripe green notes that often come through in a Lemberger weren't there, but the lighter style body and medium acid were still present.
Thirsty Owl Pinot Noir, Finger Lakes, 2010
Thirsty Owl was a winery that came to our attention while on our trip but as we didn't make it over, this was a great opportunity to try one of the wines. Like many of the pinots we saw in the Finger Lakes, it was translucent in color. However, the lack of pigment belied the flavor in the glass. On the nose, a little bit of plum, earth and a horse-y funk rode around with some green pepper. On the palate, the plum came through along with some branches and a hint of mocha. It was very light bodied and could be a good summer red.
Roanoke Vineyards, Marco Tulio, Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc, North Fork, 2010
On the nose, prune, plum and ketchup made an appearance on the boldest red we tasted. However, cherry shyly appeared in the beginning of the tasting, only to be strong-armed out of the way by the riper fruits. Medium acid and medium plus body, this wine was definitely California dreamin' when it was made.
We finished the tasting with Atsby Armadillo Cake Sweet Vermouth, Long Island, NV. Spirits are definitely not my area of expertise, but this vermouth, which can be drank straight or mixed for cocktails, imparts the flavors of whatever it was infused with; in this case, it was botanicals and citrus, which gave it a semi-sweet herbaceousness, versus a honeyed sweetness.
Keep tasting, friends....