Monthly Archives: December 2009

Octopus and Zinfandel

Frank Bruni, the former restaurant critic for The New York Times, is still terrorizing restaurant employees. 

For the January 2010 issue of Food & Wine, Bruni pays a visit to Le Bernardin to see if he can make sommelier Aldo Sohm crack under the pressure of a cantankerous diner making ridiculous beverage pairing requests. 

The article notes that chef Ripert and a few other employees were in on the game, but that they hadn’t informed Aldo.  Sounds like a great plan, though I’d be really surprised if  Aldo didn’t know who Bruni was.  Recognizing critics (especially those from the NYT) and working at top NYC restaurants go hand in hand.  Nevertheless, World’s Best Sommelier vs. World’s Worst Customer is worth checking out.

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Great with bacon and eggs?

We already covered sparkling rosé for the holidays, but don’t forget about sparkling red.

To be honest, I usually can’t stand the stuff.  Sure, I’ve had a quaffable Lambrusco before, but most of the sparkling Malbec and Shiraz I’ve sampled have been too cloying or too heavy or simply out of balance.  That all changed tonight.

Majella's 2005 Sparkling Shiraz

We had a great lineup for our sparkling wine class – Cava, Prosecco, Deutscher Sekt, Rosé Champagne and more, but this sparkling Shiraz was the surprise hit.  100% Shiraz from the Coonawarra region of South Australia and while clocking in at 14% alcohol, this wine was surprisingly elegant.  The aromas were classic Syrah – black fruits, violets, spice and sausage.  It’s aged on the lees for 48 months and they use vintage port as the dosage.  If you have no idea what this sentence means, click here.

The tasting notes from the producer’s website suggested that it would “great with bacon and eggs”.  While it would be a versatile wine and a fun addition to a holiday party, it might be a little much to start your day with.  Someone from that part of the world responded to my concern in class by saying that bacon and eggs are a common thing to have for Sunday supper.  I’ll drink to that.

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This milkshake brings all the drunks to the yard

...damn right, it's better than yours

For all of you sticklers out there, this is actually a float and not a milkshake, but I couldn’t resist the title.  This adult “milkshake” is delicious and ridiculously simple – 2 scoops vanilla ice cream, 2 ounces bourbon and root beer to taste.  Typically I don’t care for root beer, but maybe I never had it served the right way.

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Rosé face off

Pink and bubbly – very rarely can you go wrong, holiday season or not.

Tonight, we pitted 2 rosé Champagnes against one another.  Richard made dinner and these are his tasting notes.  Alberto was the creative director behind the photos.

1st up - Louis de Sacy. Those bubbles are relentless.

R: Light bodied with wild strawberries and interesting Provençal herbs – not lavender flowers, but lavender leaves and thyme.  In a blind tasting I may have said this was a Cremant from Provence, but then again, it did have the elegance of a Champagne.

The oldest house in Champagne, dating back to 1584

The second rosé was from Gosset.  R: Slightly more full-bodied than the Louis de Sacy, this wine showed an unexpected salinity and a more crisp acidity.  The salinity and the acidity were positives for me, making it more food friendly.  There were some wild strawberries here, too, but not as intensely so.

Neither Champagne made it much past appetizers, so debating the food friendly nature of these two could be called into question.  To be fair, the appetizers were homemade gougères and a natural partner to rosé Champagne.

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“Taking the ale train”

If you’re in NYC this weekend and free from office parties and the glorious mess of holiday shopping, you should drink beer. 

My friends over at Tasting Table put together an article on easily accessible (but not as obvious as the 2 in Brooklyn) breweries to visit.  I visited Blue Point over the summer and they had an incredibly gracious tasting program.  I enjoyed a Captain Lawrence Pale Ale with my meal last night at Back Forty – crisp, refreshing and plenty of pine notes to get you in the holiday spirit.

All Aboard!

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Insti-age

Last night at Holiday Cocktails with Nils and Dave a curious bottle was passed around the room filled with what Dave dubbed “insti-age”. 

brown insti-age with clear (!) Laird's in the background

For a previous event, Dave had put some bourbon in his rotary evaporator in order to separate out the alcohol and and non-volatile compounds from the oak flavors – in essence, creating wood-less bourbon.  This was a pretty unique spirit, as by law bourbon must be aged in new, charred barrels.  He proceeded to make a wood-less bourbon and clarified apple juice cocktail that was completely clear and packed quite a punch. 

The bourbon separating trick was repeated with Laird’s, which explains why the bottle in the picture above is clear (it was also 130 proof – who needs that added water?).   At Dave’s suggestion, the class played around with adding the insti-age to the “unoaked” Laird’s to see how the flavor changed.

adding insti-age to my cup of Laird's

After 10-15 drops, my Laird’s tasted like Scotch.  Sounds odd at first, but makes complete sense because the volatile oak compounds are absent from the insti-age, therefore mirroring the used barrels in Scotch whisky production.

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Cryoextract this

Cryo=very low temperatures, similar to the current NYC forecast. 

Cryoextraction is a fascinating and controversial way to make sweet white wine. 

Freshly picked grapes are held overnight in a special cold room, usually around 21°F.  The freezing point of the grapes will depend on their sugar content – only the less ripe grapes will freeze.  This means that when the grapes are pressed, the juice will only be coming from the non-frozen, ripest grapes, whose chemical composition has remained unchanged.  The colder the grapes are kept, less, but richer juice will be obtained (and vice versa).  The producer can manipulate the quantity and quality of the wine.

In essence, this process artificially replicates the conditions necessary to produce icewine.  Some notable producers, including Chateau d’Yquem from Sauternes, practice this method, opting for control and consistency instead of the wrath of mother nature. 

For true icewine production, the grapes are frozen on the vine.  This requires a deep frost with temperatures as low as 18°F.  The harvest is usually done between 5-8 am (sounds fun) and yields grapes with concentrated sugar, acidity and extract.  German producers started making eiswein in the 1960s and by the 1980s the majority of the country’s top producers joined in.  Today, you can also find icewine in Austria, the United States and Canada. 

Last night in Fundametnals of Wine class we did a side by side tasting of these two wines:

wine showdown: cryoextraction vs. true icewine

On the left is Pacific Rim’s Vin de Glacière, a single vineyard Riesling from Columbia Valley, Washington and on the right is Mission Hill’s Riesling from Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, Canada. 

Both are 2007 and 100% Riesling, but the Pacific Rim is “of the icebox” as its producers say, while the Mission Hill is a true icewine.  Both were golden in color and luscious in body, but the class overwhelmingly preferred the Mission Hill, favoring its aromas of honeyed pears, its more substantial weight and its complexity. 

To be fair, there is a substantial price difference between the two wines – both bottled in 375 ml, the Pacific Rim goes for $14, while the Mission Hill goes for $59.99.  I could enjoy either with spicy food, a stinky blue cheese or as a substitute for dessert.

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