Tag Archives: Wine

Wines for Valentines

12 Feb

wineWhoever came up with that catchy phrase about ‘the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach’ was mostly right. Add wine into the mix and you’ve really got it made. This is especially true when sipping these spectacular wines that come from premiere producers with stellar pedigrees. This fabulous list, made exclusively for me for you, was created by Carol Berman, founder of Class in a Glass and Take Home Sommelier. I’ve known her for years and have always trusted her smart picks. Romance begins at the table. Where it ends, you decide.
Franciacorta wines are going to be the next big trend in the sparkling category. This amazing, elegant blend of Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay will make your heart beat faster! Average retail price $35.00

Romantically pink and quite gregarious! It seduces sip-by-sip. Average retail price $23.00

Voluptuous and insouciant. Average retail price $24.00

From one of the most masterful wine makers in the Rhone region, Chave’s seductive, gripping blend of Syrah and Grenache, Mon Coeur is appropriately named (my heart). Average retail price: $22.00

Valentine red in color and enticingly sweet, tart and lively! Average retail price: $16.99 (375ml)


And here’s a Valentine from me: A recipe for Insanely Simple Chocolate Mousse. Adapted from my book, Cooking 1-2-3, it is virtually fool proof, and good for fools in love.

Insanely Simple Chocolate Mousse

10 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup brewed espresso, at room temperature
5 extra-large egg whites

Chop chocolate into small pieces. Put in a heavy saucepan with espresso. Over very low heat, melt chocolate, stirring constantly until smooth; cool slightly. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff. Slowly add the slightly warm chocolate mixture, beating on low for a moment, then folding gently with a flexible rubber spatula until thoroughly incorporated. The whites will deflate dramatically but the mixture will become smooth and creamy. Do not over-mix. Spoon mousse into four wine glasses. Refrigerate several hours before serving. Serves 4

Waiting for Godello: The New Wines of Spain

16 Mar

Photo Credit: Harold Heckle

There’s a “new kid” on the wine trail. After hawking other importers’ wines for 30 years, Gerry Dawes is now selling his own discoveries. And discoveries they are!

Gerry Dawes, a wine expert’s expert, is particularly smart about Spain’s food and wine scene, and takes America’s top chefs to Spain for their own edification. He’s been prowling Iberia for ages, discovering gems of restaurants and small wine makers who have utterly no interest in selling to you, me — or even to Gerry at first, until he proves himself professionally savvy enough to merit at least a conversation. A conversation with Gerry usually is a conversion.

This week I attended a tasting of 20 wines he’s just brought in from Spain. They’re being touted by chef gurus like Jeremiah Tower and Dan Barber, and gobbled up so quickly by restaurants such as Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Picholine, Petrossian, Paul Grieco’s Terroir Tribeca and by topflight wine shops, such as NYC’s Chambers Street Wines and Nancy’s, that about half are already sold out.

The tasting was held at Despaña Soho, a Spanish café, gourmet shop and wine store (Despaña Vinos y Mas) in New York’s Soho district, along with a parade of splendid tapas from Despaña’s kitchen. The tasting of wines began, unexpectedly, with the reds, followed by a few rosados, a half-dozen whites, and a last sip of a late harvest moscatel (Aliaga Moscatel Vendimia Tardia 2010).

Gerry is garrulous and endlessly funny, but when it comes to wine he’s a fanatical traditionalist: wine should taste like where it came from, and wines shouldn’t be manipulated into big alcoholic bruisers crammed with “jammy” fruit. He’s not a fan of what has been called the world-wide “Parkerization” method of vinification. Put differently, he’s a fan of old-fashioned wines made the old-fashioned way. “Great wine is made in the vineyard,” he says, “not in the winery.”

For proof, we tasted five different reds from the Ribeira Sacra region of Galicia, each in its own way a star, but each notably different from the other. A tasting companion seated next to me was so stunned by a Toalde Tinto (“tinto” means red) with a big barnyard nose and well-tamed fruit, that he fumbled two idioms in this malapropism: “It knocked me onto my socks.” Well, I suppose for twenty-five bucks, a wine probably should do just that — except these days you’d have to shell out twice that amount for something French or Italian that approached this gem.

To prove this was no fluke, we then tried four different Albariños made by four growers who are part of a small group making singular artisan wines. They were so radically different from each other — each displaying its own form of greatness — that you’d never guess they came from the same small patch of geography. “These people aren’t making wine to fit a pre-conceived mold,” Gerry says; “they’re letting their own localized wild yeasts work their individual alchemy.”

What “The Spanish Artisan Wine Group — Gerry Dawes Selections” stands for is rather simple: Relatively low alcohol, little or no oak, generally hand-harvested grapes, real corks, avoidance of over-ripe grapes and over-extraction in the winery. If you’ve grown up drinking California “fruit bombs,” these Spanish artisan wines may be a revelation. The truth is that many California growers today also are working to crank back the excess fruit and alcohol that many gastronomes complain are antagonistic to food and sobriety.

Speaking of sobriety, we were kept sitting upright by stunningly great platters of jamón Ibérico, crunchy salt cod croquettes, Spanish tortillas filled with sweet peppers and garlic and dabbed with smoked paprika aioli, and a cheese that was new to almost all of us: Torta de Queso Canarejal, a soft unpasteurized, ewe’s milk cheese, produced by the Santos family in the province of Castilla-Leon. Made with milk thistle rennet, the cheese which comes in a four-inch round, about two inches thick with an edible rind; it resembles an extremely zaftig camembert. You slice off the top and inside there’s a creamy, spoon-able voluptuous cheese that you scoop up with breadsticks. All these, and vastly more, are specialty products sold by Despaña and also served in its friendly café with communal tables.

Senor Dawes also has a passion for rosado (rosé to us) — not the “blush” wines and white zinfandels that give rosés their bad name, but light, elegant Spanish versions that you just keep on drinking. As he says, “No one’s ever seen a group of people drinking roses where everyone wasn’t smiling.” We had two, both retailing at $13.99: Aliaga Lagrima de Garnacha from Navarra, made only from unpressed grapes, and Hermanos Merino Catajarros Cigales Rosado, a mix of two red grapes (tempranillo and garnacha) and two white grapes (verdejo and alvillo). The latter had a slight spritz, and lots of body without being weighty; it is an unmitigated bargain and will become our house pour for the summer. If I can lay my hands on some.

For me, the most exciting flavors came from the Adegas D. Berna Godello 2012 Valdeorras with 13% alcohol, retailing at $24.99. Despite a stuffy nose, I was able to detect notes of white peach, dry lychees, sake, guanabana, and unripe pear! Gerry was delighted. Godello is a white variety of wine grape grown in Galicia, a region of northwest Spain. It’s the wine world’s new vacation spot.

You won’t find these small-batch wines at your local Costco, but the good news is that in addition to New York, Dawes is working on distribution in New Orleans, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and both Northern and Southern California. In the not too distant future then, my prediction is that grape varieties with names like mencía, garnacha, and godello, will join the more familiar tempranillo and albariño on restaurants lists and in our wine glasses at home. After all, this is what we what to drink alongside our favorite tapas.

I should note that between wine shipments, Gerry Dawes runs amazing gastro-tours to Spain, sometimes with great chefs, and often with just-plain-folk who want to really dig into the food, wine and culture of the country. These tours are as unique as his wines; to learn more, you might click here.

Food Lover’s Guide to Wine

30 Nov

According to USA Today last week, the purchase of wine has gone up 14% this year and, for the first time, people are buying more wine than wine glasses! Good news: Smart public and better wine glasses. Another sociological shift is that people are buying more “experiences” (self-care, self-improvement) and products with more “prestige.” That’s a perfect fit for wine, and good news for Carol Berman, who runs Class in a Glass wine-tasting programs all over the country. It’s also good news for the authors of the Food Lover’s Guide to Wine (Little, Brown and Company), written by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. Just named one of the five best wine books of the year by the Wall Street Journal, the book addresses a curious public’s need-to-know as they experience and buy more prestige wines.

Their mission? To encourage more Americans to switch from their typical beverage of choice (i.e. a soft drink, like Coke or Pepsi, which is what a majority of Americans enjoy with their evening meal) to a glass of wine with dinner — so one of the most important features of the book is a list of 150+ wines under $15. For just a dollar or two more per serving, everyone can enjoy something healthful and delicious that will make their dinner taste much better.

One of the book’s special features is an A-to-Z reference of more than 250 different wines and their flavor profiles. You can see, at a glance, how to pronounce the name of a wine (a stumbling block for many novices), can anticipate what the wine is likely to taste like (who knew that an Austrian riesling might have a hint of kaffir lime), learn how to serve it, discover the wine’s most notable producers, and, most importantly, learn what foods to enjoy with it. Perhaps this is the team’s greatest wish for you in, what may be, their best book yet.

The book begins with a brief history of wine in America, which parallels the history of the United States itself. Few know that the settlers at Jamestown in the early 1600’s were commanded by the King to grow grapevines, in the hope of developing a wine industry that would give England a cheaper source of wine than France or Spain. And few know that we are drinking the passion of our forefathers — from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson — in a shared love of wine and wine-making.

In a frenzied and scholarly approach to this vast subject, the four-legged team scoured the country for the best sommeliers from coast to coast — representing restaurants such as Blue Hill, CityZen, Daniel, The French Laundry, The Inn at Little Washington, Manresa, No.9 Park and Spago — where they gleaned insights and secrets from dozens of cellar zealots who cumulatively represent decades of training and on-the-job experience. Like scientists in a sexy lab, they distilled all the knowledge into a chart of essential knowledge — that would generally take a lifetime to learn. I loved the “insider info” and relished some unexpected food and wine-pairing notions: Cashew chicken with Chinon (an idea from Virginia Philip at The Breakers), or an almond-thickened tomato gazpacho with a sparkly Cremant d’Alsace from Agape (a match made by Belinda Change at The Modern).

Their top ten secrets about how to get more pleasure from wine include attributes that sound like “mindfulness” to me, including perceiving a wine’s character, using your judgment, and sharing the experience. And as someone who has composed menus, instead of music, during my 35-year career for legendary restaurants such as the Rainbow Room, Windows on the World, and the Hudson River Club, I particularly loved the kindred sentiment from Richard Olney in The French Menu Cookbook (1970). “Wine’s principal role is to give pleasure, and that role is best played at the table in the context of a menu; when the two are carefully chosen, the wine and the food enhance each other, each subtly altering the other.”

Page and Dornenburg, who have also written The Flavor Bible and What to Drink with What You Eat, humbly admit, however, that you can never know it all and feel excited to learn something new about wine every day. Why not crack open a bottle and take a peek into their book on YouTube? Imagine what George Washington would have to say about that.

One-Minute Food & Wine Pairings

31 May

Last night, I surprised my husband by saying that “cocktails” would be served at 6 p.m.   As this is not our usual practice, it brought some unexpected anticipation.  I totally forgot what I had promised and at the stroke of 6, Michael said, “Oh, I thought we had something planned.”   “Oh yes” I said, and quickly scampered to the kitchen.  In one-minute flat, I prepared a feast!  I opened the jar of taramasalata I had sequestered in the fridge, dug out the last five large caperberries from an almost-empty container, sliced a hunk of feta cheese and plucked fresh thyme leaves from my window box.  With it I served glasses of icy cold fino sherry.  It was the PERFECT match!   So here are 15 more ideas for those spontaneous, companion-pleasing times — or, for unexpected guests.  If you have made any similar discoveries, please do let me know!

Here are some one-minute sips and bits:

Champagne with hunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano and small black grapes
Sake with iced clams on the half shell and wasabi crackers
Vodka with smoked salmon and buttered dark Russian bread
Ouzo with stuffed grapes leaves and pistachios
Raki with watermelon and feta cheese
Off-dry Riesling with prosciutto and melon
Rose wine with spanakopita and kalamata olives
Beaujolais with hungarian salami and oil-cured olives
Sweet vermouth with bresaola and sesame grissini
Bourbon with a variety of chilled oysters and unsalted pretzels (my husband’s idea)
Dry marsala with fennel, pecorino, crusty bread for dipping olive oil
Prosecco with affettato (selection of Italian salumi) with slices of warm focaccia
Sauternes with pâté de foie gras and brioche toast


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