Friday, November 30, 2012

Holiday Gifts to Sip and Use

Emeril Lagasse is the latest celebrity chef happy to winnow down the ever-expanding world of wine choices for you before you decide what you really like or what pairs well with your food. The Food Network star chef has "curated" a wine sampler collection that is being sold on, coming after similar sampler collections by other celebrity chefs (Curtis Stone) and celebrity sommeliers (Rajat Parr). Emeril's Holiday Party Sampler and his Everyday Sampler each contain small sample bottles (1.7 ounces or less than half a glass of wine in a typical restaurant) of two white wines and four reds -- all high-quality such as Napa's Patz & Hall and Dry Creek Vineyards in Sonoma -- and have suggestions for what foods to pair with the wines. Example: a duck confit panino from Emeril's recently released cookbook is suggested with Fess Parker's Syrah. The tasting samplers may be a great holiday gift for those who aren't able to visit wineries for tasting, who want the convenience of wine arriving at their front doorstep, or who just enjoy exploring different wines without having to pay for and drink a whole bottle. Emeril's Holiday Party Sampler $39.95 and Emeril's Everyday Sampler $32.95. also has wine-by-the-glass samplers, a great idea for controlling wine appetites!

I thought I was drinking red hots when I tasted SinFire, a cinnamon whiskey from Hood River Distillers in Oregon ($17). If you or someone you're shopping for loves spicy/sweet flavors or Red Hots in particular, this is a unique gift -- great for cocktails. For tamer appetites, Hood River Distillers Pendleton 1910 Canadian whiskey is also a good choice ($40).  

One of my favorite wines to serve during the holidays is a French-style (meaning dry) rosé wine -- it's so pretty on the table and the combination of fresh, bright fruit flavors and crisp acidity goes well with a variety of appetizers and holiday dishes. The St. Francis Winery 2011 Sonoma County Rosé blended from  Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, is a winner for the holiday table. ($20). Another wonderful choice is the 2011 Scalabrone Rosato from Tenuta Guado Al  Tasso in western Tuscany. Red berry flavors and a palate-cleansing liveliness. $19.

Newly available in the United States from Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits is Enza Prosecco, a lovely Italian bubbly with pronounced flavors of pears and apples. This was tasty on it's own but would meld well in a variety of champagne cocktails for the holidays. At $14.99, it's a bargain.

 Nice stocking stuffer for a beer drinker/dog lover -- or yourself: The Pop Tag is a stainless steel keychain/beer bottle opener that you can personalize with a hand stamp so you and/or your friends will never be caught unequipped. The  Pop Tag also comes in a version for your pooch - ID tag & bottle opener in one. ($14.99).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Photo credit: Telluride Tourism Board/Ryan Bonneau 

If you haven't been to Telluride, Colorado, you may not know that it is a town of almost year-round festivals; the Telluride Film Festival, Brews and Blues Festival, and Bluegrass Festival are but a few of the better-known ones. There are so many busy weeks filled with exuberant fun fests to attract visitors to this remote Southwestern Colorado ski town, that a local threw up his hands and petitioned for a "Nothing Fesitval," which ends in a naked bike ride through the charming town's main street. I don't know about you, but I don't call that "nothing."

I went to Telluride at the end of last month for the Telluride Wine Festival hoping to discover some good Colorado wines. Alas, I arrived a day after the only event that focused on local wines, so was able to taste wine from just one in-state winery, Guy Drew Vineyards, located in southern Colorado near the New Mexico border. I quite liked the Unoaked Chardonnay ($16) and Pinot Gris ($18), and enjoyed talking to Mr. Drew, an impassioned vintner. More than a few of the Colorado residents I chatted with at the festival said they preferred California wines to their own state's. But the Colorado wine industry, like those in most other U.S. states, doesn't have the distribution, name recognition or track record of the mighty California wine industry. Someday, it may.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Eastern Townships, Quebec

 I had never heard of the quiet, rural area east of Montreal known as the Eastern Townships before I visited in late June, but I went there in search of the local wine. 
 What I found was much more.
 The farm-to-table and locavore ethos is very strong in the Eastern Townships, or Cantons-de-l'Est, an area sprinkled with lakes, mountains and hamlets that serves as a convenient getaway for harried Montrealers.
  Everywhere I visited, from a chocolate shop and museum, the Musée du Chocolat de Bromont, to Bleu Lavande,  a picturesque lavendar farm, a commitment to local products was evident. Even cheese made by resident Benedictine monks from the Abbaye de St-Benoît-du-Lac, was incorporated in dishes at local restaurants, such as Le Hatley, the fine dining room at the Estrimont Suites & Spa.

 One of the greatest commitments of all is being made by the vintners establishing wineries and growing estate wine grapes in the Eastern Townships. I had the pleasure of visiting Domaine Les Brome, situated on a hillside of Mount Brome with views of Lake Brome and the Eastern Townships. European-styled wines are made from a variety of grapes the vintners here are still experimenting with to see what grows best in the local climate and soils. Domaine Les Brome's dry Vidal, Seyval Blanc/Chardonnay blend and Baco Noir were especially good.
 With more vineyards than any other area in Québec Province,  the Eastern Townships area even has an official wine route that links 16 vineyards in Brome-Missisquoi with five in Dunham, where Québec's first vineyards were established in the early 1980s. The small towns brim with antique shops, artists' studios, French-style cafes and Victorian architecture, so there is plenty to do and see.
 A recently established network of cafes, The Cafés de Village des Cantons-de-l’Est, akin to the cafés de pays in France, requires members to emphasize local products, such as produce, coffee, beers and wine.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Wines That Love Oysters

You've probably enjoyed Champagne with oysters, maybe a California Sauvignon Blanc, a French Sancerre or perhaps a dry Chenin Blanc. But if you have not tried Muscadet from France's Loire Valley with oysters, you should.
Below are four Muscadet (pronounced moose-kah-day) wines I paired with both raw and cooked oysters. They were all great companions for both the fresh-from-the-sea flavor of the raw oysters and those I barbecued or baked with spinach and cheese. All of these wines come from an appellation called Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine, which is situated in the western Loire Valley. And all of them are made sur lie, a winemaking process that results in a creamier, deeper tasting wine than if the grapes had not gone through this process. But these wines are still subtle, fresh and a perfect match for the brininess of the oysters. And as an added plus (in my book, anyway) all of these wines have a low alcohol of 12%.

2010 Domaine de la Garniere Muscadet Sevre Et Maine. $11.99. Available in New York.
2010 Savion Muscadet Sevre et Maine. $11.99. Available in Texas, New York, New Jersey, California and other states.
2010  Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet Sevre et Maine, $11.99 and available in Florida, Colorado, Massachusetts and other states.
2008 Les Clissages D'Or Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Guy Saget Estates. $12.99 and available in Washington, Colorado, California, New York and New Jersey.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Oysters By the Bay

For a City by the Bay (and the Pacific Ocean), you might think San Francisco would have quite a selection of oyster bars, but I only know of about half a dozen, including the venerable Swan Oyster Depot (one of the oldest restauarnts in the city) and one at the stunning Waterbar on the Embarcadero.

But now there's a new one on Fisherman's Wharf. At the flagship location of the Boudin sourdough bakery, there is a wide takeout selection of breads and other baked goods and a casual cafe downstairs. But upstairs, there is an impressive restaurant, Bistro Boudin, site of the new oyster bar. At the pretty, marble-topped bar, several raw (Drake's Bay, Hama Hama, Marin Miyagi, and Kumamoto) and two baked oysters (Rockefeller and barbecued), plus half a dozen specially-selected wines to pair with the oysters, are offered. A King Estate (Oregon) Pinot Gris was a lovely match for the Drake's Bay oysters from Point Reyes. A slight sweetness emerged when the wine blended with the briney shellfish.

The adjacent restaurant, with its classy decor and views of the bay, stands out among the mostly tired fish palaces of Fisherman's Wharf.  If you are enticed to order further, consider some of Chef Misael Reyes' innovative specialities like Sourdough Tortilla Tacos with grilled Rock Cod, spicy grilled shrimp or Dungeness Crab and a Dungeness Crab and shrimp pizza.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Culinaria in San Antonio

San Antonio's annual Culinaria festival: The first-ever food truck event on May 17, 2012 offered lots of food trucks gathered in one place. The trucks, such as Rickshaw, Duk Truk and Say-She-Ate, dished up Duck Fat Fries, !ndian pocket pies, Thai spiced hot wings, Akaushi beef sliders, BBQ (of course), crepes, gourmet burgers, and beer and wine!  Long lines, because it was so popular, but good food and good fun.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rosé Roundup

A rose is a rose is a rose, as Gertrude Stein wrote, but a rosé can be even better. This spring and summer, when  you want the refreshing quality of a white wine but with more weight and more flavor, choose a dry, French-style rosé. They don"t have to come from France-- wineries all over the world are making wines in this style. The French region they are most identified with, Provence, is enjoying record sales right now. So if you want to be trendy, embrace chilled dry rosés this spring and summer. If you just want good wine, enjoy this style of rosé anytime, all year round, like I do. Below are several I recommend after recent tastings. Following them are some unorthodox, but interesting, pink products I came across while looking for rosés, a rosé Port and a rhubarb liqueur.

2011 Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon, Mulderbosch, South Africa, ($12) was a delightful find as it is the first rosé I have ever tasted from South Africa. Yummy red fruit, crisp with a firm acidity and a sturdy weightiness in the mouth are the hallmarks of this wine. 12.5% alcohol.

2011 Halter Ranch Rosé: Paso Robles, California. ($16). This southern Rhone Valley-style rose is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and a Picpoul Blanc (a white grape). It is similar to wines from Tavel in Provence. It is a deep pink wine with flavors and aromas of red cherry and raspberry. Superbly dry with a wonderful silky mouthfeel. Alcohol is high at 14.1%.

2011 Prieure de Montezargues Rosé, Tavel, Provence, France, ($25.99).  From the land most associated with this style of wine, this is a blend of Grenache (both red and white), Cinsault, and several other Rhone varieties, it has a moderate alcohol of 13.5% and a palate-cleansing acidity. Perfect with light summer foods.

2011 Chateau de Jau, Jaja de Jau Rosé, France, ($9.99).  Made from 100% Syrah, this is a robust rosé. A little spice, a lot of weight in the mouth, and a deeper color than most rosés, this wine will convince rosé-shy, red wine imbibers that a dry rosé is worth drinking.

2011 North Coast Dry Rosato, V. Sattui, Napa Valley, ($21.75). Almost-red in color, this is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignane and is more hearty than light.  Red fruit aromas and flavors of raspberry and strawberry plus a classic acidity makes this wine a nice warm weather sipper. A moderate 13.5% alcohol.

JCB Cremant De Bourgogne Rosé, No 69, Boisset Family Estates, France ($20). Just watching the abundant tiny bubbles in this pretty sparkler rising in your flute is enjoyable, but when you taste the crisp, fruity, yeasty wine made from 100% Pinot Noir, the enjoyment heightens. Lovely color. A celebratory wine for a party or just a leisurely weekend brunch. Great quality for the price.

Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut, France ($99). For special occasions or when you want to make a splash, this pricey Champagne is impressive because of its razor-sharp focus, crisp acidity and aromas and flavors of cherry, strawberries, red currants. It is a blend of grapes from ten different crus considered among the finest in Champagne, and cellared for at least four years, both of which account for the high price.

Narello Mascalese Brut Rosé, Valdo, Italy, ($14.99). This dry rosé prosecco is a blend of two Italian grapes and has a low alcohol of only 12%. Light, refreshing with a zippy acidity, it would do well as a summer sipper alone or with seafood, paella or salads.  Served it at a ”Ladies Night” gathering and everyone was enthusiastic!

Lucien Albrecht Brut Rose ($20). One of my favorite wines, this is a cremant (French sparkling wine) from Alsace in northern France (not the Champagne region). It tastes like a high-end, celebration wine, but is moderate in cost and alcohol. The beautiful rosey tint looks good on any table, summer or winter.

Rhuby, a rhubarb liqueur, 40 proof, ($35). In U.S. stores by June, 2012. Sweet and tart, smooth and silky, this was delicious straight over ice. Made by adding organic Swedish wheat vodka, natural spring water, sugar and bourbon vanilla beans to juiced Swedish rhubarb stalks, it is free of chemicals, preservatives and additives. The makers of Rhuby recommend it in Margaritas, Daiquris, or Mojitos, or mixed with any sparkling wine. For a lighter drink, mix this pale pink liqueur with soda water or lemonade.

Croft PINK, rosé Port, 40 proof ($19.99). From one of the oldest Port houses in Portugal, this rosé Port is made from the same six grapes used in its traditional Port. The drink has aromas of ripe, red fruits, and tastes of berries and citrus. Drink it chilled, on the rocks, mixed (with jasmine iced tea, for example), or add to sangria.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk

Last month, I stayed at a great family-run inn, Hofsas House, in Carmel-by-the-Sea where I went to experience the new Carmel Wine Walk. Eight tasting rooms within six blocks of each other in the central shopping area (it's hard to call it "downtown" because it's more like a village center) are sprinkled among the curio shops, art galleries and European bistros and bakeries that make Carmel so charming. Among the wineries from the Monterey appellation with tasting rooms are Scheid Vineyards, Figge Cellars and Caraccioli Cellars. Each tasting room is different; for instance, Figge Cellars shares space with an art gallery, Vino Napoli is a combination tasting room/wine bar/Italian cafe, and Caraccioli looks like a swanky bar and broadcasts football games on its flat-screen TV.

Hot off the presses are passports (available from the Carmel Chamber of Commerce for $30) that give tasters a $10 tasting at each of the eight stops on the walk.

The Hofsas House was a lovely place to stay that was convenient to the center of Carmel. Owner Carrie Theis, who could not be a more gracious host, is brimming with tips, help and ideas for how to enjoy a stay in Carmel. She has even arranged for guests to pick their continental breakfast trays up in the small front lobby so she and her staff can interact with them Many of the rooms have ocean views, fireplaces and are dog-friendly. And the Hofsas House has some great packages this year such as the "S'mores Package" that includes all the ingredients for S'mores, a fire bundle, beach blanket and flashlight to take down to the beach and make your own bonfire. Throw in that special bottle of wine you picked up while tasting on the Carmel Wine Walk and you have a recipe for a perfect evening.