I generally avoid holiday-related wine posts, and I do it for a number of reasons. First of all, every information source on the planet considers it to be their duty to produce some piece of writing with wine recommendations. And then for someone who drinks wine all the time, the holidays are not so much of a special occasion to have a reason to open a bottle of wine. Oh well – somehow I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the wines for the Valentine’s Day, hence this post…
Pink. Red. Extreme. Commercialized beyond belief, still increasingly so year after year. Heart-shaped to the point of insanity. There are many things which turn people away from the Valentine’s Day, and I can understand that. However, I take this holiday as an extra opportunity to celebrate love and life. All you need to do is to find your way – ignore pink paraphernalia, ignore meaningless cards, ignore conveyer belt – style experience at the restaurants – and celebrate love and romance as a pure meaning of this holiday.
Let’s agree that we will celebrate love and romance in our oenophile’s way, and let’s talk about wine – without wine on the table, celebration is … just another boring dinner, right? By the way, when I said “felt compelled” in the opening of this post, this was not entirely true. I also had a pleasure to be a guest at the Off the Vine Radio Show, talking with Benita and Latisha about … you guessed it – Valentine’s Day wines – thus as you can imagine, I gave some thought to the subject (and then yes, “felt compelled”). In case you have a bit of time, you can listen to that episode here.
What can I tell you about wines for the Valentine’s Day? First of all, if you have a plan already, it doesn’t matter what I have to say. If you have some specific celebratory dish in mind, and have a pairing ready – it doesn’t matter what I have to say. But if you are still thinking how to make this holiday special, then let me share my thoughts with you. But remember – drink what you like. The wine for the Valentine’s day doesn’t have to be pink, and it doesn’t have to be sweet. It has to be something which will give you pleasure – as simple as that.
The wine for the Valentine’s Day should have balance and it should have finesse. While thought provoking is good for the wine, on Valentine’s Day you should focus on romance and not on deciphering the complex flavors. Go after balance, finesse and simplicity. This is why I would never suggest, for instance, the natural wines of Frank Cornelissen or Jean-Pierre Robinot, or the dark magic of Randy Dunn with his Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – those wines will drain you emotionally, and it is a wrong angle for the Valentine’s day. Thus let’s talk about balance and finesse.
First wine I want you to consider is Champagne. As the very least, it can be an Italian Sparkling wine from Franciacorta or Trento, or some of the California sparklers. Prosecco, Cava and many other sparklers are simply not consistent enough, so for the Valentine’s Day, go with classic – remember – balance and finesse. For the Champagne, my choice would be Bollinger, as I think it is one of the finest non-vintage Champagnes, with lots of finesse. Ferrari from Trento and Bellavista from Franciacorta in Italy would definitely my next choice. But – I don’t want to forget California – Roederer Estate L’Ermitage, Schramsberg Rosé, J Cuvée 20 or any of the Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines would live you with a happy smile.
Moving on, let’s talk white wines. As we are looking for the balance and finesse, I have a few recommendations for you – and you might be surprised with these. For this holiday, I want you to step outside of your “usual circle”. My first recommendation is for the white wines of the Rhône valley in France. Yes, Rhône is mostly known for their reds, but the white wines there are equally stunning. For instance, try to find Domaine Saint Préfert Cuvée Speciale – I called this wine once “a symphony in the glass”. But in general, look for the Clairette or Grenache Blanc wines from Southern Rhône, or Marsanne/Roussanne from the North – those wines are often not easy to find, but they will deliver lots of balance, finesse and pleasure.
Let me give you a few more suggestions – equally difficult to find, but worth looking for. Viognier from Washington is a white wine worthy of celebrating love and romance with. Look for Mark Ryan or Willis Hall – their Viognier is nothing short of stunning. To close on the whites, here are 3 more rare beauties. First, 2 Sauvignon Blanc from … Italy: Gaja Alteni di Brassica and Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia – stunning balance and finesse. And the last one – Ken Forrester The FMC. You can’t go wrong with either one of these wines – go, start looking, you don’t have lots of time.
Now, we arrived at the red wine junction. Looking for the balance and finesse will dramatically reduce our choices. I would say, let’s go for Pinot Noir. I will limit my recommendations to this one grape only – and here is why. We are looking for the balance and finesse, right? Think about Cabernet Sauvignon from California – what would be the first word or words you would use to describe those wines – probably “big and powerful” – and this is not what I’m looking for suggesting the wines for the Valentine’s Day. Same goes for many Merlot, Syrah and Grenache wines – never mind the Petite Sirah. Even with my beloved Rioja – there are few wines, which will deliver that exact balance and finesse – La Rioja Alta Reserva Especiale would be definitely the one – and I highly recommend it. But for the Rioja – and then for Barolo, Brunello and even Super-Tuscan – as a general class, the probability of running into “big and powerful” is a lot higher than finding “balance and finesse”.
Talking about Pinot Noir, I wish I would recommend some of the classics to you – yes, the Burgundy – but unfortunately, my exposure to the Burgundy is way too limited, so you will need to ask your trusted wine merchant for the advice. Next up – California and Oregon. For the most of the time, California Pinot Noir will deliver exactly that – balance and finesse. To give you a few names, go look for Siduri, Loring Wine Company, Calera, Drew, Copain, Laetitia – but there are many others and it is hard to go wrong with California Pinot Noir. Oregon would be also a perfect choice – look for Adelsheim, Chehalem, Antica Terra, Evening Land – finesse is a middle name for the Oregon Pinot, so you will not be disappointed. And last but not least – don’t forget the New Zealand! Pinot Noir from Central Otago, Marlborough and Martinborough are typically well balanced and round, perfectly fitting our quest for finesse. Look for the wines from Craggy Range, Mt. Difficulty and Amisfield among the others.
Dessert time! People often underestimate how bad the dessert wines can be – one sip of the cloying, single-sugar-note wine would ruin the experience of an amazing dinner. You really have to put a lot of care in selecting the dessert wine which will have balance and finesse. Of course I would like to recommend Sauternes and Barsac wines for you, but again, my personal experience is very limited. I’m sure you can’t go wrong with Château d’Yquem – if you can afford it, go for it! What would be a bit easier to find (and afford) is a Port. Not just any Port – balance and finesse, remember – so go for a nicely aged Tawny, 20-, 30- or 40-years old. As Port ages, it loses power, and becomes fragrant and sublime, guaranteed to deliver lots of pleasure. Look for Rozes, Graham, Quinta do Noval – lot’s of excellent choices. Then of course, the king of the dessert wines – Riesling. For the special experience, I would only recommend to go to the BA and TBA levels – you know, the stuff which always comes in the small bottles. You see, it is very hard to mass-produce BA or TBA level Rieslings – you can’t harvest enough grapes at those sugar levels – thus it is hard to go wrong with BA or TBA Riesling from any producer. And the last recommendation for today – an Icewine. Not any Icewine, but I want to recommend my personal favorite – Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine. This wine is vibrant, perfectly balanced and has lots of finesse – I guarantee you will finish your Valentine’s Day dinner on a high note with this wine.
Here you go, my friends – in the quest for the balance and finesse, these are some of my personal recommendations to enhance you Valentine’s Day experience. Let me know what do you think about my suggestions and feel free to provide your own. Happy Valentine’s Day and cheers!
Drinking wine is a sensual experience. Okay, I can’t speak here for all the people who drink wine at one time or the other – but I’m sure that this selectively
crazy passionate group, oenophiles, would wholeheartedly agree. Once the wine goes into the glass, of course the color matters first – but color is mostly a technical characteristic. The color can tell you what to expect – for instance, if a Chardonnay has rich golden, yellow color in the glass, you should prepare for the worst (the wine which will be well past prime). Or if a red wine looks almost black in the glass, get ready for the tannins encounter. Still, the most pleasure you can get from the color alone is to get excited – “look at this beautiful color!” type excited.
Your hedonistic pleasure starts with the smell. Technically, it starts and ends with the smell, as our taste buds don’t go beyond 4 (or 5) basic tastes, and even when you take a sip of the wine, it is still the sense of smell which leads you to the strawberries in that sip – but let’s not get technical here, we are talking about the pleasure. Yes, you start with the smell – it is the smell which takes you away and makes you go “wow”. It is the smell which grabs your attention and captivates you, and forces you to smell that wine again, and again and again. It is the smell which builds up the excitement and expectations of the first sip.
The first sip afterwards is a moment of truth – if you are lucky, the taste will match the smell and will take you to the oenophile’s heaven, at least for a moment. It doesn’t always work like that – more often than not, the excitement built by impeccable aromatics instantly dissipates after the first sip. But when you are in luck, this is how the wine memories are created.
What prompted this post was my undoubtedly lucky experience few days ago with two wines in the row, delivering that incredible combination of aromatics and taste. Sorry, I’m getting overly excited here, but the smell of the 2013 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley ($15) was, in a word, spectacular. In the New World renditions, Sauvignon Blanc is very aromatic more often than not – but it would be typically aromatics of grapefruit and lemon, Here, from the get go, the glass was exuding with the aromas of the fresh cut grass and cat pee. Yes, I know that many people jump when the cat pee descriptor is used, but anyone who had owned a cat would perfectly understand what I’m talking about. And yes, cat pee is a known classic profile of Sancerre, the most classic Sauvignon Blanc of all. So this wine had it all, clean, bright and present on the nose – and the palate was beautiful, medium to full body, with fresh cut grass and touch of lemon peel. Definitely an outstanding example of California Sauvignon Blanc, now squarely engraved in my memory, right next to the Honig and Mara White Grass, which are always California Sauvignon Blanc staples for me. Drinkability: 8+
And then there was 2011 Antica Terra Ceras Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($75). I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the winery – you
can should read interesting stories on Antica Terra web site on your own. But this wine… Talking about attractive color, the wine was ruby with the light pinkish hue in the glass. And then the first smell… It was surreal. Here is where I fail as a wine writer, as I can’t give you the right set of words to describe the impressions from this wine. The smell had everything in it – the cranberries, forest floor, herbs and mushrooms – light, delicate and seductive, saying “and now, let’s take a sip…”. The palate was a natural, precisely fitted extension of the smell – all the same component, now packaged together. More cranberries, shallots and truffles, sage and lavender, minerality and whiff of the forest floor, effortlessly rolling off your tongue, delicate and present, with perfectly noticeable, silky texture and needless to say, perfect balance. This was for sure one of the most sensual wines I ever had. And yes, if you want to take this tasting note as an example “look at another moronic wine review” – I will still stand behind it, as this wine delivered lots and lots of pleasure. Drinkability: 9/9+
There you have it, my friends – two wines which will be etched in the memory for the very, very long time. I wish you all to have lots of sensual wine experiences and memorable wines. Cheers!
As you probably noticed, the number of posts on Talk-a-Vino is down very significantly. There are many reasons for that – different workload from my day time job, few time consuming projects we tackle at home, and of course the plain familiar writer’s block. Yep, the writer’s block – when there is lots running in your head, and you have a great difficulty to put something out on the “paper”. I tried to address the last one using the wine, I would hope specially made for such an occasion – the wine called Writer’s Block and made by Steele Wines in California. I first saw this wine mentioned in the blog I follow, called Mrsugarbears, and as you might see in my comment to that post, “Must. Find. This. Wine” was the first thing I said. I found the wine, and I got the Cabernet Franc and Grenache to try, out of the vast variety of the wines under that “Writer’s Block” label (you can see the full line of wines here).
We opened the 2011 Writer’s Block Cabernet Franc Lake County, California (13.8% ABV, $17) – it had eucalyptus, tobacco and fresh leaves on the nose. Palate was showing a medium body, tart blackberries, green bell peppers and more tobacco. On Friday, the characteristic cassis showed up, which made me happy while finishing the wine. Not sure it helped with my writer’s block, but I will gladly drink it again. Will try the Grenache next time. Drinkability: 7+
Let’s get back to that Friday. In the morning, the shipment of Horsepower Syrah arrived. I’m not sure how I managed to get on the list for this first release of super-highly allocated wine – but somehow I did, back in May. The wines comes from the legendary Christophe Baron (Cayuse, No Girls), from the tiny vineyards in Walla Walla Valley, all farmed sustainably and biodynamically (here you can read more about Horsepower Vineyards).
Okay, so it is all great, but not my main point here. I got a shipping notice from UPS at the beginning of the week, and then I got shipping delay notice from UPS, saying that the wine would be delivered only on Monday, which would be a problem as I’m traveling again next week, and there would be good chance that nobody would be able to sign for the wine during the day. This is why the delivery on Friday was so exciting that I even decided to share it in this post. This was also the first wine I received wine in the nice wooden box – so here are some pictures for you.
The next event on Friday was a really a double pleasure. At the beginning of the week, I connected to the
@TheVineWineClub on Twitter, and then I got a note about possibly joining a radio talk show about the wine. Really? Yes, I can talk wine, I actually love to talk wine, so I said that I will be glad to do it – and it instantly happened, right on that Friday. At 3 PM, I was a guest at the regular radio talk show called “Off the Vine Radio Show with Benita and Terricinia“, hosted as you can tell from the name, by Benita and Terricinia. The theme was about the sparkling wines, so to support the conversation I decided to open a sample which I recently got – Ferrari Perlé from Trento in Italy. I almost feel guilty talking about Ferrari wine just matter-of-factly – the winery was founded by the Guido Ferrari in 1902; he was responsible for bringing Chardonnay grape into Italy, and he can be pretty much considered a father of Italian Méthode Champenoise wine industry. Full range of Ferrari sparkling wines is nothing short of spectacular and again, it really deserves it own coverage in a separate blog post.
This 2007 Ferrari Perlé Trento DOC, Italy (12.5% ABV, $35, 100% Chardonnay) was absolutely delicious – fine mousse, delicate aromas of apple and hint of toasted bread, perfect balance on the palate – apples, yeast, toasted bread, acidity – just very classic wine, making you say “ahh” after every sip. Drinkability: 8+
And the radio show – it was fun all the way! Benita and Terricinia were great hosts, very knowledgeable about the wine, so we definitely had a fun conversation (I really hope I didn’t overstepped my boundaries by talking to much)! I’m not going to recite our conversation here, but if you got a bit of time, here is the link for you for the broadcast. And if you will actually listen to the program – let me know (honestly!) what you think.
And the last highlight of the day – Port and Madeira tasting!
The tasting was focused on the Graham Port wines, one of the oldest Port houses in Portugal. There were 4 different ports presented in the tasting. The first one was really special, produced in the total quantity of 500 cases (less than 300 cases imported to US). This port was produced as part of the “Six Grapes” line, but for the first time in more than 100 years, it was done using the best grapes from 2011 and 2012 vintages, which were both simply outstanding vintages (some are saying that 2011 was one of the two or three very best over the last 100 years), and this is something never done before. You can read the full story here. Well, for what it worth, here are my notes:
Graham’s Six Grapes Old Vines Port ($34.99) – young and aggressive. Needs some time to mellow down – it has a sharpness of young fruit which still needs some polishing when it comes to the Port wine. After a bit of the breathing time, will perfectly finish a meal.
2011 Graham’s Vintage Port ($75.99) – again, this is the port from the amazing vintage, so it needs a lot of time to develop. Young bright fruit, blueberries and blackberries, firm and powerful body, excellent balance. Give it a 20 years, it will show what it is capable of.
Graham’s 10 Years Old Tawny ($27.99) – delicious. Dried fruit all over – figs, apricots, touch of hazelnut. And I love the bottle’s look and feel – this is a new packaging for this port which I think makes the wine shine even more.
Graham’s 20 Years Old Tawny ($45.99 – great price!) – make it double delicious. More dried fruit, nuttiness all the way, extremely complex. Thought provoking and might make you forget all the world troubles if you will be left alone with the bottle. My favorite from the tasting.
Last but not least – Blandy’s Malmsey 10 Years old Madeira ($23.99 – an amazing QPR) – a bit of sweet fruit on the palate, lots of complexity between nutty and salty profiles – delicious all the way.
Here we are, my friends – one eventful Friday. Writer’s blog, be bone – I can’t deal with you. Cheers and have a great week ahead!
Time is running out… Write!!!!!
Originally posted on the drunken cyclist:
Today is the start of basketball season for both the boys and I have agreed to coach both of their teams–no I never claimed to be all that bright, so I am getting ready to run out the door. Before I go into the zoo that will be the first game ever for Sebastian, I thought I would remind you about this month’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.
This month’s theme, chosen by last month’s winner, Talk-a-Vino is:
- The Challenge is open to anybody and everybody. It helps if you have a blog, but that is certainly not a requirement (contact me if this is the case).
- Write a post based on this month’s theme: “Friend”.
- The post should be at least tangentially related to wine (after all, it is the name of the challenge).
- The post should be more or less around 1000 words (I routinely violate this rule…
View original 311 more words
No, I didn’t lose it. The title of this post actually makes sense. To the date, I had the wine from the bottles of all forms and sizes. I had the wine directly from the stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. I had the wine dispersed by the machine. I had the wine from the keg. Yes, I had a boxed wine (and it was just fine). But – until yesterday, I never had wine from the can.
Yesterday I did. The Fall club shipment from one of my absolute favorite wineries, Field Recordings, included a can of wine. Not just any wine, but once again, one of my most favorite wines, Fiction (my personal wine of the year in 2011). When I saw a notice about the upcoming club shipment, which included a picture of the can, my first though was – hmmm, interesting. Really curious to try it.
Wine shipment arrived last week. After I opened the box, first thing I noticed was that the cans appeared a bit wrinkled. You know, when you hold the can of beer or any beverage, the surface is typically very smooth under your fingers – this was not the case, with the tiny, but noticeable ups and downs, the wrinkles (may be there is a better term to describe it, but I hope you got my point). Okay, it is the content what matters, right? It is obvious that the wine in the can is not intended to be stored or admired for the long time on the shelf – with its appearance it technically says “drink me now”.
Talking about cans, I had two other interesting observations. First, the can was 500 ml in size (somehow based on the picture I was expecting the full 750 size). And then instead of the short story which appears on the bottle of Fiction, the can’s “back label” contained the following tasting note: “Heady aromas of blueberry pie, luxurious suede couches, ham paninis and unlit menthol cigarettes. Firm tannins anchor flavors of grilled meats, cherry cola, sweet carob and black licorice chews, all cased up together conveniently in a cigar humidor. Drink tonight“. An interesting description, don’t you think? As I also got a bottle of Fiction, I was relieved to see the old a familiar story on its back label…
Okay, let’s get to “it” – let me tell you what I though about the wine. 2013 Field Recording Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles (14.9% ABV, $10 for 500 ml can, $18/bottle, 20% discount for catalog members; 31% Zinfandel, 26% Tempranillo, 15% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 8% Touriga Nacional) – in a word, the wine was delicious. It took about 10 minutes for the wine to open up and round itself up in a glass (I didn’t dare drinking it straight from the can, I think it would eliminate half of the pleasure – but feel free, of course). I didn’t find grilled meat or suede coaches in the wine. But it had beautiful, ripe blueberries and sweet cherries, some vanilla dusting and may be a touch of mocha and sweet oak, all impeccably woven into a tight bundle of pleasure, sip after sip. This wine was on par with all the previous releases of Fiction, sans the aromatics. I couldn’t find the mind-blowing aromatics the 2010 Fiction was showing, but nevertheless, this was a silky smooth and delicious wine which I would gladly drink again. But I would honestly prefer to pour from the bottle. Drinkability: 8-
Did you have the wine in the can? What do you think about the wine you had and the concept as a whole? Cheers!
I like to celebrate grape holidays in a close proximity of my wine fridge – there is always a good chance that I have a good bottle of the appropriate celebratory wine. So if I would’ve been next to my cellar for the #ZinfandelDay, I would be able to chose between Turley, Carlisle and St. Francis – not too shabby, right? Only I wasn’t. I was traveling, so it was the whole different game.
Once again, I was in California. As it was mentioned many times in this blog, when I’m in a close proxomity of Trader Joe’s which sells wine, then Trader Joe’s it is. So I went to Trader Joe’s and bought 3 different Zinfandel wines – two of the Trader Joe’s own labels, and Ravenswood. Literally next door to my hotel, on my way back, I saw a store called Grocery Outlet, which I never heard of before. So I had to stop by and check it out. Interestingly enough, the store also had a wine section with the number of very interesting bottles, with prices starting from $2.99. When I saw another Zinfandel at $5.99, it was also quick and easy decision. And now, there were four.
Below I will share with you my notes on the wines, which ranged in prices from $4.99 to $9.99. Some of the takeaways were quite interesting, as I tasted the wines over a few days, but I will let you read through my notes as they are. And there was one more Zinfandel to mention. Here we go:
2012 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel Vintners Blend California (13.5% ABV, $7.99) – Crushed red fruit on the nose, touch of earthiness. Palate is a little thin on the finish, first showing a burst of dark fruit and smoke, but again, the finish was disintegrated with sharp acidity. This was the end of my notes on the first day – as you can see, I didn’t really like it. At the end of the second day, however, the wine showed a lot more round, integrated and balanced – dark fruit, spices and touch of herbs (sage). Drinkability: 7+
2013 Trader Joe’s Zinfandel Growers’s Reserve Paso Robles (13.5% ABV, $4.99, made with organically grown grapes) – Touch of fresh berries on the nose. Smoke, clean fruit, blueberries and blackberries on the palate. Clean, simple, easy to drink. Opened up even more at the end of day 3 (!) – smoke, sandalwood, round with nice open complexity. My favorite out of the 4. Drinkability: 7+/8-
2012 Trader Joe’s Reserve Zinfandel Lot #92 Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $9.99) – dark fruit on the nose with touch of blackberries. Hint of smoke and roasted notes on the palate, blackberries, restrained, somewhat round, but need more substance. This was the end of the day 1 – an okay wine (I’ve been nice here), but not anything interesting. At the end of the day 3 (!), very noticeable tannins came out with smoke and dark fruit, overall much better than before. Needs time? Drinkability: 7-/7+ (on day 3)
2009 Parallax Zinfandel Amador County, Sierra Foothills (15.1% ABV, $5.99 at Grocery Outlet) – touch of fresh blueberries on the nose, just a touch. Round, clean, blackberries on the palate. Touch of earthiness. Finish somewhat lacking, need more complexity – this was an initial assessment at the end of the day 1. At the end of the day 2 – nice complexity, spices, lots of blackberries, very noticeable tannins. An excellent steak wine, good balance, more dark fruit. Very impressive. Drinkability: 8-
So what do you think? A very interesting experience, if you ask me. It took these wines a few days to change and open up – the biggest winners were Parallax Zinfandel and Ravenswood, which improved quite a bit, from barely drinkable to pretty much delicious. And the most interesting wine was probably the least expensive Trader Joe’s Grower’s Reserve Zinfandel, which tasted fine from the very beginning and even throughout the three days. Considering its taste profile, it would make it a perfect Thanksgiving wine, as it will match a wide range of flavors.
Well, to top it all off, I need to include one more Zinfandel here. On the exact #ZinfandelDay, we had dinner at the 71 Saint Peter restaurant in San Jose, and as you can imagine, I wanted to start the dinner with the Zinfandel, just to properly acknowledge the holiday. Out of only three Zinfandel wines available on the wine list, 2012 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel Paso Robles (14.5% ABV, $22 winery, $45 at the restaurant) was highly recommended by the staff. You know, when you drink the wine in the restaurant, you don’t have a luxury of playing with it for 3 days to see what will happen… The wine had ripe blackberries on the nose, and was dark, firm and concentrated on the palate, and also had some nice black fruit. I think it would open up more if it was given a chance, but it was gone way too quickly, so in the interest of fairness, I will not rate this wine.
There you have it, my friends – my [mostly value] Zinfandel experiences, with some interesting outcome, when even the inexpensive wines can evolve and surprise you. How was your #ZinfandelDay? Cheers!
I don’t know what you think based on the title, but the premise of this [short] post is simple. The Wondering Gourmand has a permanent monthly feature in his blog, called “Beer Versus Wine Pairing Challenge”. In that challenge, you are given a choice of a dish, and you are supposed to come up with the wine or beer (and don’t forget the cider!) pairing suggestion which then gets voted for.
As a lucky winner of the September challenge, I had an opportunity to come up with the new dish for the challenge, and my suggestion was … deviled eggs! So now you can suggest a choice of pairing, and may be then get a lucky challenge of coming up with the next dish suggestion. Here is the link to the official post – use the comments section in the Wondering Gourmand post for your beer versus wine recommendations.
Stamford, the town where I live, is a vibrant, “alive”, modern city, with no shortage of the restaurants (according to the Trip Advisor, Stamford, a city of about 123,000 has 390 restaurants – I believe that accounts for McDonalds “restaurants” as well, but still). And nevertheless, when I think about new interesting restaurants or when I’m asked to recommend a restaurant in Stamford, I almost start mumbling – especially, if the request is for the new restaurant. I can easily recommend places in Norwalk and other towns near by, but Stamford is always a challenge. This is why I was very happy when I was invited to yet another bloggers dinner at the new restaurant in Stamford, called Gastro Bar.
I like it when the name of the restaurant becomes part of the experience, as it builds anticipation. Think about it – when you are planning to visit a restaurant called “Corner Cafe” – does it create any level of expectations and excitement? Not unless you do the research and figure out what people think about it and what is served at such a restaurant. At the same time, when you hear the name “Gastro Bar”, such a name right away creates a feeling of excitement, as it hints at the upcoming gastronomical experience.
Gastro Bar is located in one of the busiest restaurant enclaves in Stamford – Columbus Park. From the street you walk into the nicely decorated space – it has charm, but doesn’t overwhelm. The front wall of the restaurant is pretty much made out of glass, so even while you are inside, you have a feeling of the open space and feel connected to the street outside. Bar is very substantial, and looks very appropriate for the place which has the “Bar” as part of the name. As usual, we started our visit from a few drinks. The cocktails list was small, but the drinks were outstanding. Slow & Low (Slow & Low whiskey • muddled oranges & lemon • ginger beer) had delicious fresh orange, very refreshing. Gastro Mule (Hendricks Gin • pineapple juice, triple sec • St. Germain • Rose wine) was my favorite – I really don’t like sweet cocktails, and this was a perfection – very tasty and again perfectly refreshing. Wine list had a good selection, mostly focused on California and Italy. We ended up choosing 2011 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – the wine was rich, with dark fruit and tobacco notes, beautiful depth and excellent balance; this was definitely a spot on selection for our dinner.
And then there was food. We started with the Fried Calamari (Smoked Aioli) which had a very good texture. Next appetizer was Oysters (Crispy oysters, avocado, pureé, grapefruit & radish), which were deep fried and served in a very unique way, with avocado and grape fruit. We had two pizzas, which were more of a tart style, with a very think and crunchy crust. Fig Pizza (goat cheese, 10 year balsamic, prosciutto, arugula) was delicious with large chunks of prosciutto and fig wonderfully balancing the goat cheese. Mushroom Pizza (mushrooms, bacon, fontina) was outstanding, with each ingredient contributing its own flavor profile, and every bite been cravingly delicious.
Up next – Salmon Tartar (Jalapeños, shallots, crispy potatoes, cilantro) – perfectly salmon, perfectly clean profile with nice heat in the back and textural contrast of crispy potatoes. Brussel Sprout Salad (Shaved Brussel sprouts, truffle oil, lemon juice, crispy risotto cake) was also very tasty, a nice combination with risotto cake. Fried Quinoa (Mango Chutney) had perfect balance of flavor and was quintessentially Mediterranean, very much resembling falafel – and it was very tasty in cobination with the mango chutney. Artichoke-stuffed Portabello Mushrooms also had an excellent balance of flavor, with artichoke complementing and extending the mushroom flavor. Albondigas (lamb meatballs, pomodoro, baby kale) had a clear lamb profile, and the dish worked perfectly with the Cabernet Sauvignon we were drinking. Crab Cake (arugula, fresh tomato, cherry pepper sauce) finished our appetizers selection, and what finish this was! Beautiful presentation, and the freshness of the crab cake was on par with the best crab cakes I had in a restaurant in Chesapeake Bay, made from the freshly caught crabs. Even thinking about this crab cake makes me salivate…
Out entrée started with Panzotti (butternut squash, toasted almonds, brown butter), delicious homey pasta, a perfect comfort food. Baked King Salmon (horseradish, beets, whipped potato, braised celery) was outstanding all the way. While salmon was perfectly cooked, for me the stars of the dish were vegetables – sweet beets and braised celery were just spectacular.
Then Chef Fernando Gomez showed up to personally present the Paella:
After all this food, I’m very glad that dessert was of a reasonable size. The Cheesecake had very nice density – not too hard, but not easily falling apart either. And as I like all the things coffee, the Espresso Crème Brûlée was just a wow finish to this outstanding meal with its clear coffee profile.
As usual, a big thanks to the Executive Chef Fernando Gomez, and I’m also glad that I had an opportunity to include into the picture our tireless guide to all the culinary extravaganza – Lin Kavanagh.
We are done here, folks. I hope I didn’t make you too hungry. And I’m also glad that Stamford now has restaurants such as Gastro Bar, where classic perfectly mingles with innovation and creativity. Cheers!
Disclaimer: I visited restaurant as a guest of the management. All opinions are my own.
Gastro Bar Stamford
78 West Park Place
Stamford, CT 06901