While local breweries are proliferating in the Hudson Valley, wine bars and wine shops are still holding on. Beacon can toast one of its own, the Artisan Wine Shop, established in 2006.
Proprietors Tim Buzinski and Mei Ying So, both Culinary Institute graduates, are an integral part of the community; you might run into Tim at Beacon Pilates or you'll see Mei at the Common Ground Farm weekly pick up. You'll also notice their generous presence with gift certificate donations at various fundraisers and auctions for local groups. Since arriving in Beacon, it's been my go-to wine store for gifts and preparation for the occasional brunch or dinner party; I even knew about the store before relocating up river from its numerous citations as the "Best" of its kind in Hudson Valley Magazine for several years in a row. My limited knowledge of wine is never scoffed at, nor is my inability to recall names when I request a bottle for purchase by describing the label since I rely on my strong visual memory. This becomes a problem when a label changes, which they sometimes do to my dismay. Once Tim graciously reminded me to keep receipts, which always include the name of the wine purchased for future reference, but since I've recently purchased an iPhone app, Memorable Wines, a great $1.99 investment, I hope I've finally overcome this snafu. (I especially like the app since you can store a photo of the label as well as a written and recorded description of the wine.) But, at Artisan, I'm most impressed with Tim and Mei's expert recommendations when I've recited my menu and offered my personal preferences; they've always been spot on, even when matching a wine to my unusual, annual Scandinavian tradition of salted cod for Christmas eve dinner! Weekly tastings on Friday and Saturday have also been a learning opportunity and offer a chance to expand one's repertoire and range of "labels" with the added incentive of a discounted savings. However, Artisan's greatest gift for the naive or well-versed wine lover is the range of courses they offer from Tasting 101 to a focused introduction to a specific wine region to wine-food pairings. I knew the classes existed but there had been a hiatus and so to my delight, I was able to secure the last ticket for a recent Sunday evening event that focused on the Italian wines of the Piedmont region.
We received a color coded map of the region, which explained the Italian wine classification system from table wine to the controlled and guaranteed top-of-the-line "DOCG" selection, a marked placemat and separate list for notes regarding our filled glasses--2 white (Gavi di Gavi, Roero Arneis) and 4 red (Barbera d'Alba, Dogliani, Barbaresco, Barolo) with a price range in the high teens to the fifties. With plates of bread and water nearby to help cleanse the palate, the class proceeded with more information than I could process, but others in the group demonstrated their familiarity with the region, and impressions of the appearance, aroma, taste and finish of each wine. While Tim filled us in on the attributes of each wine and their potential food pairings, we tasted and tested and took our personal notes -- from the citrus/acid of Gavi to the smokiness of Arneis to the cherry-earthy Barbera and musty Dogliani and deep floral Barbaresco and 'cognac warmth' (my words) of my favorite, Barolo.
All the while, Mei and the apprentice/CIA student, Anna, were busy preparing an assorted plate of cheese (available from Homepsun Foods) and toasted hazelnuts so that our second round of tastings would be paired with food. I had my "ah-ha" moment when I realized that my palate shifted to include all of the wines vs. the only one favored (Barolo) without the food accompaniment. I couldn't then resist ordering 3 of the 6 bottles at the reduced rate offered during the class so that they will become treasures for future guests on special occasions.
Some food for thought: There's always an opportunity to learn something new in Beacon. The older we get, the more we need to reach out for life long learning about 'new pastures' that we can be passionate about. I learned that wine is about the food. I always heard that, but finally 'got it' in one evening's tasting. When you take one established interest(being a foodie) with a new one (wine enthusiast), the motivation to expand knowledge and hunger for more information and skill is enhanced. I'd say a class or two at the Artisan Wine Shop should be on every one's "bucket list". If you go with "beginner's mind", you'll be amazed at how much you will learn.
Artisan & Homespun
Picollo Ernesto, Gavi di Gavi DOCG, "Rovereto" 2011 [Cortese] / Toma Piemontese DOP, cow's milk, aged, semi-firm
Reverdito, Barbera d'Alba DOC, Butti 2008 / La Tur, cow, sheep & goat's milks, aged, soft, delicate
Brovio, Barolo DOCG, Garblet Sue 2005 [Nebbiolo] / Gorgonzola Dolce DOP, cow's milk, aged, soft, creamy