Restaurant Files: Omakase Experience at Nobu Las Vegas

July 23, 2016 1 comment

As a bona fide foodie, I heard the word “omakase” many times. I had a vague idea that this is the term for the Japanese multi course meal, but that was all I knew about it.

During recent trip to Las Vegas, I stayed at the Caesars Palace, and had to walk every day past Japanese restaurant called Nobu. Nobu is a restaurant empire of the world renowned Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, so temptation was building – and I succumbed to it.

I had no reservation, of course (getting reservation for many Las Vegas restaurants is mission impossible), but as in most of the Japanese restaurants, you can often score seat in the sushi bar – exactly where I ended up.

In absolute majority of cases, I prefer to taste lots of different dishes at the restaurant instead of having a lot of one – thus going for the tasting menu was a natural choice. I decided on Nobu Signature Omakase, which consisted of the 8 different courses. And to make the experience complete, I also took the suggested sake pairing course, so every dish was accompanied by a different sake.

Now, there was a bit of a challenge for a foodie. As I was sitting at the sushi bar, all the dishes we handed over by the array of sushi chefs. Each dish had a long list of ingredients, and between the overall noise (high), the pronunciation and the fact that all those chefs were busy, I couldn’t possibly capture the names of the dishes, nor the ingredients. Practically same thing was happening with the sake – names and descriptions were given very quickly, and short of asking to spell out the names, there is a limit to how many times one can repeat “excuse me, what did you say is the name of it”?

As the result, I had to play an internet sleuth, looking for pictures and using my rough notes, trying to figure out what exactly I was eating and drinking. While doing this, I found an interesting reference for many Sake terms – here is the link. Below you will find an overview of my experience – mostly in pictures, with some slivers of the names of the dishes and some of my impressions. Here we go:

Very first dish, handed down to me very quickly, was Deep Fried Fish Salad, served with Onigoroshi sake, aged for 10 years with the sounds of classical music (supposedly helps sake to mellow out)- nice, crisp, very refreshing. Salad was tasty, however not amazing.

Fried fish salad at Nobu

Fried Fish Salad

Next up was Sashimi Salad with Lettuce Handrolls, which was served with a bit of a sweeter sake (nope, no idea about the name) . Vegetable roll was a masterpiece of flavor, I would eat it at any time. Tiny fried shrimp – wow. Salmon – spectacular.

Sashimi Salad with Lettuce Handrolls
Next dish was Chef’s Sushi Assortment, which was served with with Hokusetsu Onigoroshi “Devil Killer” sake (with a bit of a spicy finish).
What I appreciated about the dish is that all the sushi pieces already had soy sauce and wasabi – exactly in the amount as Chef intended. Tuna was phenomenal. Picked ginger – wow. Great flavor on everything. Fried crunchy rice with caviar – delicious.
Assorted Chef Sushi

Next course was a Chef’s Sashimi Assortment, served with Hokusetsu Junmai sake. A pure wow dish, start to finish. Green ball you see in the picture is pickled Japanese peach – used to clean the palate, and it was delicious. Perfect sake. Toro Tartar with Wasabi Miso Sauce was divine – just give me a bowl and leave me alone. Yep, close the door, I said. All in all, one spectacular dish.

Assorted Chef Sashimi

This was the end of the “appetizer” round, and the next two dishes were rather en entree style.

First, Black Cod Miso, which was served with Nobu ‘The Sake’ TK 40 sake from Nobu’s private stock. The sake was super complex and delicious. The cod was full of flavor and was melting in the mouth. Great dish.

Black Cod Miso

Black Cod Miso

Next dish was Beef Toban Yaki, with beef sautéed in sake in ceramic cooking vessel (Toban). It was an okay dish – large sprout-like mushroom was a bit difficult to chew. However, the meat meat was tender and tasty.

Beef TobanyakiLast dish was Miso Soup, served in traditional Japanese style without a spoon. I was a bit surprised with the soup served in a standard black and purple plastic jar, commonly used at any simple Japanese restaurant. Soup was good, but again, nothing stood out about it. And yes, I didn’t think I should take a picture of it.

I was unable to capture the name of the dessert, nor the name of the dessert sake with fruit which was served together with it. Both were delicious, so the Omakase experience was finished on the high note.

There you go, my friends. A delicious, truly delicious experience, which I would be happy to repeat at any occasion. If you would have an opportunity to experience Omakase dining at Nobu, I can’t recommend it high enough. Cheers!

Nobu (at Caesars Palace)
3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Ph: (702) 785-6628
http://www.noburestaurants.com/las-vegas-caesars-palace/experience/

Nobu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Few Memorable Wines

July 21, 2016 2 comments

As wine is a daily beverage at our house, the supply of it should be regularly renewed, to support that [tasty] habit. I really make an effort to stay in under $15 range for that daily enjoyment (yep, I’m a cheap bastard like that), so this is how most of the wines are acquired.

But then, of course, the are special occasions (like Monday, for instance – it happens only once a week, right? – okay, kidding), which require special wines, so I’m always on the hunt for the interesting wines, whether through the mailing lists (for those that you must have, like Turley or Carlisle), specials at the store or online (thank you, Universe, for the WTSO and Last Bottle). Those special wines disappear inside the wine fridge, and I have lots of fun trying to remember where is what, as I have no record keeping system of any sort, to ensure maximum frustration when looking for a specific bottle.

Few memorable wines

And then there are days when it is really appropriate to jolt that memory, and moreover, force oneself to make a decision about what bottles deserve to be opened, to celebrate the occasion.
We had a good occasion to celebrate very recently, with the group of close friends, so the bottles were pulled, opened and savored. And memories were created.

Here is what we drunk, more or less in this order:

2013 Carlisle Grüner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard Sonoma Mountain – Carlisle is one of my absolute favorite wine producers in California, who makes a range of single vineyard Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Syrah wines, all representing an outstanding value (most of the wines are under $40). Best way to acquire Carlisle wines is to be on the mailing list (you can sometimes get lucky with the store, but this is quite difficult). While most of the Carlisle wines are red, they also produce few of the whites, which are delicious. I had the same 2013 Grüner last year, and it was great. With another year of age, it became amazing – yes, the star Austrian white grape can grow in California, and very successfully. The wine showed a backbone of herbaceous flavors, but elevated with the bright white fruit and perfect balance. Can’t find you a generic reference, as the wine was rather unique – but if you will ever see a bottle at the store, don’t miss your chance.

Next up was 2010 Peter Michael Belle Côte Chardonnay Sonoma County – what can I tell you? Peter Michael is one of the most coveted producers in California. Just to give you an idea, Peter Michael wines were served at the White House dinner when Queen of England was visiting – not a bad reference, what do you think? To say that the wine was delicious would be an understatement. Fragrant, tongue-coating, luscious and layered. Layers were intertwining, going through all classic Chardonnay elements of vanilla, golden delicious apples, very distant hint of butter, and back to vanilla. This is definitely a special occasion wine – it also manifests in the price ($90) – but then there is always that special moment worth it, you know?

You can’t have a party today without Rosé, can’t you? Of course not. And that Rosé must be special too. Which is easy with 2011 Antica Terra Erratica Rosé Oregon. I came across Antica Terra after tasting their Phantasy wine at a restaurant (it was my wine of the year in 2012). Antica Terra is a very interesting winery in Oregon, with the winemaker honing her skills under none other than Manfred Krankl of the Sine Qua Non. If only Antica Terra wines would be a bit cheaper… Well, let’s go back to that Rosé. It was a full power wine – there was nothing subtle there – but instead there was a perfect parade of the fresh, juicy cranberries and ripe strawberries, with spices and mineral notes – outstanding.

Remember I thanked Universe for Wine Til Sold Out (WTSO)? Had a reason to thank them again after opening the bottle of 2005 Domaine des Monts Luisants Les Genavriéres Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru. Technically, I have an insatiable thirst for the Burgundies – but the problem is that most of the inexpensive ones rather disappoint – and expensive ones – well, I don’t get to drink those. This is where WTSO comes to the rescue – I got this bottle for $50 – of course this is not cheap, but it is special occasions we are talking about here – and this is much better than its retail of close to a $100 or so. The wine was absolutely stunning – bright, sweet, ripe and savory cherries, whole bouquet of herbs, firm structure, clean acidity and perfect balance. A wow wine for sure.

And then there was Leviathan. If you are a wine geek, that name might have a meaning for you. In case it doesn’t, let me try another approach. Ever heard of Screaming Eagle? The most cult out of all cult California Cabernet Sauvignon wines? Until a few years ago, Screaming Eagle wines were made by Andy Ericsson. Leviathan was actually one of Andy Ericsson’s own projects, which was considered for a while to be a second label of Screaming Eagle – which is incorrect, as the second label of Screaming Eagle is the wine called Second Flight. This 2007 Leviathan California Red was outstanding – dark, brooding, with classic flavors of cassis and mint, layered and complex. I decanted it for an hour, which was the right move – but still, this wine is just a baby and needs to rest for a while. Luckily, I do have a second bottle, and even luckier, I have no idea where it is hiding from me, so it is safe for a while.

I hope you see a clear progression here – Grüner, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Rosé, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon – we are increasing the depth and concentration with every next wine. So what would you continue this line up with, just for the finishing touch? I’m sure there are few options here, but my decision was … California Zinfandel.
Not just any Zinfandel, but Carlisle – which means lots of dark power. This 2012 Carlisle Zinfandel Montafi Vineyard Russian River Valley was almost a natural continuation of Leviathan – dark berries, sage, round and smooth – it is amazing how Carlisle wines don’t give out the alcohol level of 15.9% – you don’t even think about it until you look for it on the label. Delicious.

And now, to round up the evening? Port! Last year I was lucky to visit Quinta do Tedo, a winery in Douro valley which was founded by the Bouchard family of Burgundy fame. I brought back a few wines, and this 2010 Quinta do Tedo Late Bottled Vintage Porto was one of them. The wine was perfectly delicious – sweet fruit but not a tad hair over the balance – you have a mouthfeel of garden fresh berries, with their natural sweetness, and nothing extra. This was a beautiful finish for our special evening.

I’m glad we have special days in our lives, so we can have such memorable celebrations. I had a bit of time to reflect on this stupendous group of wines, and I figured that I actually had a favorite – that Burgundian wine was simply flawless – I don’t know if the wine was at a peak, will it further evolve or will it start to decline – but what I had was spectacular.
I would like to leave you with this, my friends. What were your memorable wines as of late? Cheers!

Solitude: In Quest for Unattainable?

July 19, 2016 6 comments

Solitude. An interesting word, isn’t it? Is it something good or is it something bad? Let’s see what the dictionaries think of solitude:

definitions of solitude

If we think of solitude as a feeling of isolation, this clearly doesn’t sound good. We, humans, are social creatures. We want to connect, communicate, love, laugh, interact. Feeling isolated is really opposite to feeling connected and engaged, so let’s leave it as that – feeling isolated is not what we want, so this is not the solitude we want to talk about.

Rock cairnLet’s then talk about solitude as the “state in which you are alone usually because you want to be“. Every once in a while, our connected sensors become overloaded. Too many things to do, too many tasks to finish. The new things which must be done arrive without any regard to the things which we are still doing. We are going somewhere all the time, without even understanding the direction, or what is even worse, without understanding of why we are going there.

Solitude is our way out. Have you ever been up in the mountains, where there are no other sounds outside of gentle murmur of leaves and muted whisper of wind? How does it feel? Or may be instead of the mountains, you prefer to stand by the ocean, listening to the dreamy sounds of the slowly pulsating waves? With every wave gently crawling up the sand line, the tension becomes less, the mind becomes clearer, and our energy replenished.

The challenge is that unless we are a lucky few, most of us can’t just magically happen to be by the ocean or up in the mountains when we need it the most. And to take things further to the dark side, most of us now live in the constant state of over-socializing. Think about all the tweets we have to respond to, facebook statuses and instagrams to like, snapchats and periscopes to watch. If we thought we were overloaded before, how can we describe our state now? The state of solitude, which we need for our own well-being, is more ephemeral than ever before. Yes, it is literally unattainable.

While we are talking about life, this is a wine blog after all. Tell me the truth – you knew that I will turn it all to the wine, didn’t you?

Vineyards

How does the wine relates to the solitude, you ask? To begin with, think about the wine while it is being made. We are seeking solitude by the ocean or up in the mountains – but have you ever stood between the rows vines on a quiet day, without talking or looking at your phone? Did you feel relaxed and restored just by standing there? wine cellar

Or have you ever stood in the middle of the dimly lit cellar, breathing the wine smell and admiring the silence, thinking about the wines, quietly and patiently laying there? The wines spend month and month in that perfect solitude, left to themselves, to age and mature, before they will see you again.

And then there is may be the best and easiest moment of solitude any wine lover can experience at any time. Yes, wine is meant to be shared, and it is wonderful when you are in the company of the people who share you passion. But think about that moment when you take a sip of wine, and for that exact moment, the world stops, it doesn’t go anywhere, it becomes quiet. You are left one on one with that wine. You ponder at it. You reflect. You are one on one with yourself, in your moment of solitude, brought to you by that sip of wine.

I remember being in the Rioja seminar, and listening to our guide talk about his experience sharing the bottle of 80 years old Rioja (from 1922) with the group of friends (also wine professionals). He said that they poured the wine and had a sip, and the table was quiet for the next 5 minutes. Nobody wanted to say anything. Everybody were transposed. And they were in their moment of solitude.

Let me leave you with that. Have you ever found your moment of solitude in the glass of wine? I hope you did, and if not – don’t worry, it will come. Just give it time.

This post is an entry for the 26th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC26), with the theme of “Solitude”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel

Expanding My Wine Map of Argentina

July 11, 2016 4 comments

Let’s start with the question: name winemaking region in Argentina, other than Mendoza. You have 5 seconds. Fine, take 10. Your time is up! Hmmm, no answer, huh?

May be I couldn’t hear and you said “Uco Valley”? That would be a good answer, though Uco Valley is a high altitude sub-appellation in Mendoza. But don’t feel bad; as a bare minimum, it makes two of us – Mendoza was the only appellation I knew in Argentina until a few weeks ago.

salta mapThen I was offered to try a few Argentinian wines from the appellation I never heard of – Salta, located all the way up in the northwest. In addition to unknown appellation, the wines were coming from the high altitude vineyards – not just high, but the highest in the world. I’m always interested to learn about the effect of extreme conditions on the grapes and wines. Poor soils and lack of water make vines to work hard, which is then manifested in flavor. High altitude usually means a large difference in day and night temperatures, which makes grapes to concentrate flavors. So yes – new region and high altitude vineyards – I’m definitely game.

The wines I got to try were produced by two wineries, both part of Hess Family Wine Estates collection. Wine production at Bodegas Colomé dates all the way back to 1831, when the winery was built high in the Andes Mountains. The pre-phylloxera Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon vinies were brought in directly from Bordeux in 1854, and they still produce fruit today, which is used for the Reserva wines. Today, Bodegas Colomé sustainably farms highest elevation vineyards in the world, including Altura Máxima, located at the 3,100 meters (about 10,170 feet) above sea level (mind boggling, if you ask me).

The second winery, Amalaya, is much, much younger – it was founded in 2010 as a project by Bodegas Colomé, with the idea to grow more than just signature Malbec and Torrontés, but the other old world varietals as well (like Cabernet Franc, for instance). It was built high up in the desert, where nothing was growing before. I like this quote from the winery web site, I think it explains well the philosophy behind it and explains the colorful labels: “Amalaya means «Hope for a Miracle» in native language. the miracle is revealed from the heart of the Cafayate desert in a mystical and magic way, in order to provide us vines with excellent quality. The holistic circle embodies the fertility of the «pachamama» or «mother earth».”

I had an opportunity to try Malbec and Torrontés wines produced by Amalaya and Bodegas Colomé – below you will find my tasting notes:

2015 Amalaya Malbec Salta Argentina (13.9% ABV, $16, 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, 5% Syrah, 5,900 feet above sea level)
C: Dark garnet, practically black
N: black truffles, ripe plums, touch of cinnamon, licorice, warm, inviting
P: lighter than expected, medium body, a bit of back burn on the palate, under extracted?, unbalanced. After 2 days, the wine leveled out and became more balanced, with dark core.
V: 7- initially, 2 days after opening – 7, wine improved.

2015 Amalaya Torrontés/Riesling Salta Argentina (13% ABV, SRP: $12, 85% Torrontés, 15% Riesling, 5,500 feet above sea level)
C: light straw pale, just a touch darker than water
N: exuberant, intense, lots of ripe tropical fruit, guava, mango
P: crisp, clean, good acidity, good balance, grassy notes after warming up
V: 7+, very good, refreshing wine

2013 Colomé Estate Malbec Salta Argentina (14.9% ABV, SRP: $25, 100% Malbec, 4 high altitude vineyards from 5,600 to 10,100 feet)
C: dark Garnet, practically black
N: intense, ripe fruit, plums, cherries, touch of roasted meat
P: polished, silky smooth, fine grain tannins, dusty mouthfeel, tar, dark restrained fruit, needs time to open,
V: 8/8+, good aging potential

2015 Colomé Estate Torrontés Valle Calchaquí Salta Argentina (13.5% ABV, SRP: $15, 100% Torrontés, vineyards altitude from 5,600 to 10,100 feet)
C: straw pale
N: lightly perfumed, restrained, touch of tropical fruit, hint of lemon
P: continues to be restrained, elegant, fresh clean and balanced, touch of white fruit with good acidity, good structure
V: 8, elegant white wine, definitely a next level for Torrontés, great QPR

As you can tell from my notes, these were good wines. Would I claim that I clearly saw the effects of the high altitude? No, not at all. To make such an observation would probably require a tasting (blind) of seemingly similar wines, produced at the different altitudes – may be someone will come up with such a tasting, that would be cool. In any case, these were interesting wines and I’m glad I had an opportunity to try them. Have you had any of these wines? What are your thoughts? Cheers!

And This Is Why I Love Spanish Wines

July 7, 2016 7 comments

Yes. Confessed uncountable number of times, in this blog and everywhere (want proof? Click here, here, here, here or here).

I love Spanish wines. Never tried to hide it, so no, there is nothing to look for in the closet.

Spain is one of the so called “Old World” wine countries, with biggest grape area plantings in the world and one of the highest volumes of the wine production. But of course this is not the reason for my high sentiment towards Spanish wines.  What is important, however, that if we will take 10 random wines produced in any country, in about the same price range, I will find the most of the wines to my liking out of those hypothetical 10 among Spanish wines – compare to any other region. Another equally important point for me is the value – Spanish wines offer one of the best values in the world; not only that – they are possibly the best QPR wines in the world. For example, if you will compare 1964 Rioja, which is still perfectly drinkable today and still can be found for less than $150, to majority of the wines of the similar age but from the other regions, most of them will not come anywhere close in the amount of pleasure they deliver, never mind the cost.

And then we have to talk about innovation and drive forward. Spanish wines are not standing still. Styles are changing, wine quality is improving, new and unexpected grapes are made into delicious wines. To make this conversation more practical, let me share with you some of my recent Spanish wine encounters.

Today, Albariño needs no introduction. The star white grape of the Rias Baixas region in Northern Spain is known to produce wines with explosive acidity and profile of salinity, which makes them an ideal companion to oysters and anything seafood for that matter. While Albariño wines are generally very good, there is one word I would rarely associate with them – finesse. Or at least I was not, until I had an opportunity to try these two Albariño.

2014 Bodegas LA VAL Albariño Rias Baixas D.O. (12% ABV, SRP $17, 2 month sur lie) had greenish/straw pale color; intense and open nose of minerals, wet stone and lemon. On the palate, the wine was plump with invigorating acidity, intense lemon finish, crisp, fresh – excellent overall (Drinkability: 8).
2014 Viña Moraima Albariño Rias Baixas D.O. (12.5% ABV, SRP $19, 7 month sur lie) had light golden color. Nose was very unusual, with candied lemon, intense, tropical, guava notes. On the palate, the wine showed remote hint of sweetness, full body, round and layered with hint of salinity, good acidity. This was definitely the next level of Albariño, thought provoking and different. (Drinkability: 8)

As you can see, Albariño is really starting to deliver on the next level, and I can’t wait to see how far it can go. What is interesting, however, is that all of the best Spanish white wines – to my knowledge, of course – are made from the indigenous varieties – Albariño, Godello, Verdejo and Viura would be the “major four”. The situation is slightly different for the reds, where the local stars, Tempranillo and Garnacha, are joined by the international best, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Going back to the whites, outside of some experimental plantings, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are nowhere to be found in Spain, yes? Well, that would be my statement as of the month ago, but not anymore.

Enters Hacienda de Arínzano. Having tasted recently Hacienda de Arínzano Rosé, which was outstanding, I know that Pago de Arínzano, first Pago (highest denomination of quality in Spain) in Northern Spain, can produce excellent wines. Still, this 2014 Hacienda de Arínzano Chardonnay Pago de Arínzano DOP (13.5% ABV, SRP $19.99, 100% Chardonnay. 12 month French oak barrels – 30% new) far exceeded my expectations. From the first smell the wine in the glass was screaming “Chardonnay” – touch of vanilla, hint of golden delicious apples, just classic Chardonnay. The palate reaffirmed the “classic Chardonnay” impression – fresh, open, creamy, with perfectly balanced white fruit, vanilla, distant hint of butter, perfect amount of acidity – a delicious world-class Chardonnay which I would be glad to drink at any time – and almost a steal at this price. Drinkability: 8+.

Rioja Beronia ReservaWe talked about new wines and new styles. Let’s talk about quality now – well, not the quality per se, but let’s talk about changing mindset. If you would ask me “should I open 5 years old Rioja Reserva”, my immediate answer would be “absolutely not – give it at least another 5 years to enjoy it fully”. By law, Rioja Reserva has to spend at least 1 year aging in the barrel, and most of the producers age it for much longer, so the resulting wines typically should be given ample time in the bottle to evolve. But once again I was proven wrong. I opened the bottle of 2011 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva (14% ABV, SRP $21, 94% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano, 2% Mazuelo, 18 month in barrel, 20 month in the bottle) and was absolutely blown away. Concentrated nose of dark fruit, cigar box and eucalyptus was supported by bright, dense, perfectly structured palate, with dark fruit and touch of sweet oak. This was definitely one of the best PnP (Pop ‘n Pour) wines I ever experienced, and a nice surprise. Drinkability: 8+

Coto de Imaz Rioja

I want to mention one more beautiful Rioja wine – this one with a bit more age on it. I like it when I have a reason to open a nice bottle of wine, which otherwise would be still laying down and waiting for the “perfect moment”. The special reason was my son’s high school graduation, and as he was born in 1998, this was the first 1998 bottle I pulled out of the wine fridge (well, I’m not telling all the truth – this was the one I knew the exact location of).

To begin with, I was impressed with the state of the cork on this 18 years old wine – it was perfect, showing literally no age on it whatsoever. 1998 Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva (13% ABV, 100% Tempranillo) still had enough freshness on the nose, with the notes of ripe plum, and the palate had ripe fruit with the distant hint of sweetness without any tertiary aromas, good acidity, medium to full body and excellent balance. I’m sure this wine would go on happily for many years. Drinkability: 8+

Okay, we are done here. Do you think I explained my passion for Spanish wines well enough? Great wines, great values, great QPRs, and lots and lots of pleasure – what is not to love? If you had any of the wines I mentioned here, I would love to know your opinion. Until the next time – cheers!

Daily Glass: Not Your Mother’s Pinot Grigio

July 4, 2016 16 comments
215px-Pinot_Gris_close

Pinot Gris grapes. Source: Wikipedia

Of course I don’t know your mother, and of course I don’t know her wine preferences. But assuming a general motherly image, cue in a hot summer day, I would make a pretty safe bet that refreshing beverage in the glass in her hand is a white wine. Continuing playing it safe, I would expect that white wine to be very easy to drink, unoffensive and simple, so traditional Pinot Grigio (think Santa Margherita) would perfectly fit the bill.

Now, what do you think would happen if after crushing the grapes, the juice will be left in the contact with skins for, let’s say, 24 hours? Yes, of course Pinot Grigio is a white wine, at least typically it is. But to give you a little hint, take a look at the picture of the grapes – this are not random grapes, these are exactly the Pinot Grigio grapes – or as they are known throughout the most of the world, Pinot Gris. Gris here stays for “gray”, this is how we can perceive the color of these grapes.

With this little hint – what do you think now about that juice left in contact with the skins for 24 hours? If you said that you expect it to gain some color, you are absolutely right. Here is an example of an end result for you:

Attems Pinot Grigio RomatoIsn’t it beautiful? The 24 hours of skin contact gave this wine this orange hue, which technically makes this wine a part of the “orange wines” craze. I don’t have an intention of getting into the “orange wine” debate, but I can tell you that it is not only the color which is different here. Before we talk about the taste of this 2014 Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato Venezia Giulia IGT (12.5% ABV, $18, 100% Pinot Grigio, stainless steel and barriques), let me give you a short explanation about the name of the wine and its color, from the winery’s web site: “Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato continues a tradition of the Republic of Venice, since “ramato,” or coppery, was the term that referred to Pinot Grigio in contracts. A special vinification practice led to the use of this term: the must remains in contact with the skins for 24 hours and this practice gives the wine a very distinctive coppery hue“.

It was not only the color which was different. The wine had a nose of intense honey, but the palate was dry and crisp – if anything, reminding a lot more of a great Provence Rosé with a hint of strawberries and an onion peel. An excellent and thought provoking wine, whether for the hot summer day or for any day when you crave a nice glass of wine. Drinkability: 8.

That’s all I have for you for today, my friends. White, Rosé, Orange, Red – enjoy whatever is in your glass and happy Independence Day for those in the USA. Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Off The Chart Experience at Portside Tavern in Hyannis

June 29, 2016 4 comments

Poolside TavernYes, I love food. This never been a secret in this blog. And yes, I get overly excited when I come across really tasty experiences.

Concept of “food” is multidimensional. At home, tasty food and family (and friends) around the table is usually all you need. Mix in a bit of ambiance and a glass of a good wine, and you got a great experience, right there.

When it comes to visiting the restaurant, you need a bit more than just food for the great and memorable experience – good service is important; another element which is near and dear to me is cost. This is not even the “cost” in the absolute terms – it is more the perceived value which matters, the infamous “price/performance” – an amazing burger for $20 might be a great experience, and tasteless, rubbery steak for $15 will not be the one.

As you can see in the title of this post, I want to talk about “off the chart” experience. The source of this exuberant designation was our recent visit at the Portside Tavern in Hyannis on Cape Cod (love weekend getaways, even with 5 hours in traffic). To go along the lines of a great experience in the restaurant, I was with the family, food was amazingly tasty, service was great, and the value was unbeatable – that’s all.

Ken Wright CellarsFirst, of course, was the wine. Don’t get me wrong – the restaurant also offers full bar with interesting cocktails, but my attention was on the wine list, which offers lots of great options, both by the glass (most of the wines priced in $7 – $12 range), and by the bottle (prices starting from $30 and some even for less). I couldn’t pass by the 2013 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Willamette Valley for $50 – talk about value – even if you can find this wine in retail, which is not easy, it will cost you at least $25, so I consider $50 at the restaurant to be a great value. After a bit of the breathing time, the wine was gorgeous, dense and powerful, with the signature Oregon aromatics of earth and cocoa.

Next, there was a pure indulgence from start to finish. Chowder (Local clams, new potatoes, applewood smoked bacon, cream) was not too heavy, not too thick, very well balanced in flavor.
Watermelon Gazpacho (Sweet basil drizzle, whipped feta) was different and refreshing – outstanding on any hot day, light, and again, very tasty.

Watermelon gaspacho
One of my favorite ways to cook chicken wings is to slow roast them at a low temperature (say 215ºF or so) – they develop great flavor and then easily fall off the bone this way. I was happy to find the same style chicken wings at the restaurant  – Confit Chicken Wings (Choice of harissa, rhubarb BBQ, or sweet basil sauce – we chose BBQ sauce) were super-tasty and the chicken wings were literally melting in the mouth. Continuing to deliver a great dining pleasure was Poutine (House cut fries, cheddar curds, foie gravy) – love this interpretation of French fries. This rendition was on par with best of the best I had in Quebec – flavor, texture, cheese, gravy – everything was just spot on. Finishing our divine appetizer experience was perfectly executed Mac & Cheese (Gemelli, local cheeses, buttered crumbs) – again, very tasty.

Our main course dishes were equally delicious. Chicken Risotto (Asparagus, prosciutto, baby tomatoes, balsamic reduction) was very well executed, great smokey flavor, nice contrast of balsamic, very tasty. Half-Pound Burger (Caramelized onions, bacon, garlic aioli, tomato jam, brioche) had an excellent fresh beef flavor, was cooked as requested and overall was very enjoyable.

Cuban (Braised pork, ham, Gruyere, dijon aioli, house-made pickle, grilled french bread) was done exactly as I like it – good amount of meat, flat pressed bread, great combination of flavors – one of the best Cuban sandwich experiences. It was also served with a side of Wedge salad (one of the available choices), which is one of my favorite salads any time I see one. Grilled BBQ Chicken Pizza (Bacon, red onion, cheddar) was delicious, good crust and again, great flavor combination.

As you can imagine, we were absolutely full at this point. But considering how good all the food was, we had to try at least one dessert. After back and forth, we settled on Double Chocolate Cookie (Vanilla Ice Cream), which was more resembling a chocolate lava cake, and was instantly devoured with the help of four spoons.

Double Chocolate Cookie at Portside TavernThere you have it, my friends. If travel will take you to Cape Cod, make sure not to miss Portside Tavern – and then leave me a thank you note here. Cheers!

Portside Tavern
72 North Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
Ph: 508-534-9600
http://www.theportsidetavern.com

Portside Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Files: Fun Evening at the Sign Of The Whale in Stamford, Connecticut

June 21, 2016 2 comments
Sign of the Whale entranceWhat makes the restaurant visit “fun”? Good company and good conversation? Check. Good food? Check. Good drinks? Check. Good music, preferably live? Check. The view? Would be nice. Check.
Okay, now that we have the magic formula, I have a place for you, where you will be able to mark all of the above check boxes (well, you are in charge of your own fun company – can’t help you there) – Sign Of The Whale restaurant in bustling Harbor Point neighborhood in Stamford, Connecticut.
From the moment you walk in, you are greeted by spacious and noisy place – the noise is a sign of any happening restaurant where people like to stop by after a day of work, have a drink and discuss… whatever they feel like discussing. And let’s talk about that drink. The restaurant offers nice selection of cocktails. We had an opportunity to try a few – Raise the Roof (Silo Barrel Aged Gin, Apple Bite Cidre, black walnut bitters served over ice) was nice and refreshing (gin’s aromatics was somewhat dialed down though), Strawberry Mule (Leblon Cachaça Rum, lime juice, agave nectar, strawberries, ginger beer. Strawberry Garnish) was very pleasant and Spiked Fall Tea (Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka, Cranberry vodka, lemonade, sugar rim, lemon garnish) packed a nice punch.
I have to also mention the wine list at the Sign of the Whale. While it is rather on the short side, it sports an excellent selection of the interesting wines. I had a glass of 2013 La Galope Rosé Côtes de Gascogne – fresh, tart strawberries profile with great acidity. Another wine which I liked very much was 2014 Insurrection Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Blend South Australia – balanced fruit, overall nicely restrained and well complementing our steak (see below).

And then, of course, there was food.

Our selection of the appetizers started from the Shrimp Skewers (old bay seasoning) – perfectly cooked, excellent flavor profile.

shrimp skewers at the Sign of the Whale

Coming right after was Seafood Tower (clams, shrimp, lobster, two types of local oysters) – presentation alone makes you salivate profusely.Lobster and shrimp had perfect texture, and oysters were delicious.

Our dining experience continued with Chopped Kale Salad (Tuscan and Baby Kale tossed in sesame vinaigrette, topped with oranges, avocado, fennel and cucumbers) – to say that it was one of the very best kale salads I ever had would be an understatement – perfect balance of flavors with crunchy texture; sesame vinaigrette was simply spot on. Next arrived Ahi Tuna (Ahi Tuna tossed in soy ginger sauce, served over avocado cream, topped with yuzu aioli, and served with wonton chips and wasabi) – again, excellent flavor, very tasty.

Two more appetizers were completing first part of our dinner. Lobster Minis (Claw, tail and knuckle meat, lightly mixed with mayo, lime, lemon, and blood orange) were texturally good, however, the flavor was lacking for my taste. Fish Tacos (Haddock fried in tempura batter, with pineapple, apple and pickled red onion) had nice crunch on the fish, and apples with pickled onions were providing nice refreshing component.

Not to be outdone, our main course followed, starting with Seafood Cavatelli (Little hollow pasta shells, tossed with Lobster, shrimp, chopped clams and capers in lobster cream sauce), which I can describe in one word – delicious.

Our next dish, 16 oz Bone-in Rib Eye (Grilled, served with caramelized onions, Parmesan steak fries, sauteed spinach, chickpeas, shallots and house steak sauce) was easily everyone’s favorite at the table. Here my description will be even shorter – wow. Perfectly executed steak, triple-fried (!!) potatoes were amazing, house steak sauce was perfect, so all together was simply a wow.

Our last main dish was Pan Seared Atlantic Sea Scallops (U-10 scallops served with vegetable orzo pasta salad, finished with a Blood orange beurre blanc) – it was perfectly executed both in presentation and the texture of the scallops, but what spoiled the dish for me was the amount of salt on top – just too much.

Along the way we also had a pleasure of listening to the Chef Brian Murphy who came to check on us a few times and use the moment to talk about our delicious experience:

Chef Brian Murphy , Sign of the Whale

Chef Brian Murphy , Sign of the WhaleAnd now, let me  present to you the desserts! Remember I told you that today we are talking about concept of fun at the restaurant? So to make sure it is fun all the way, how about some adults desserts? Yep, you got that right – these would be the desserts which also have an addition of so called “adult beverages”. And I don’t know if any other place can do it better that the Sign of the Whale – even presentation of those adult beverages is an art form.

From the Tidal Wave Drinks menu, we had The Blue Whale (Smirnoff Vodka/Coconut Rum/Blue Curacao/Pineapple Juice/Sprite) and Old Man’s Orange Potion (Smirnoff Orange Vodka/Triple Sec/Orange Juice/Sprite) – tell me if you think those are not the fun to share:

More exciting desserts followed, like Ice Cream sandwiches, Adult Root Beer Floats and Seasonal sorbet. And for my ultimate happiness I can tell you that the regular coffee was excellent, which is more of a rarity nowadays.

You know what is also great at the Sign of the Whale?  The outside seating on the roof deck! Here is what you can see if you will wait until it will get dark outside:

Roof Top at the Sign of the Whale

harbor Point vew from Sign of the Whale

View from the roof top of Sign of the WhaleI hope I gave you enough reasons to go and check Sign of the Whale on your own. And if you will not – well, it will be your loss… Cheers!

Sign Of The Whale
6 Harbor Point Road
Stamford, CT 06902
Ph: (203) 883-8282
http://www.signofthewhalect.com/

Sign of the Whale Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Expanding My Wine Map

June 18, 2016 2 comments
Czech wine regions. Source: Wikipedia

Czech Republic wine regions. Source: Wikipedia

We all have our own versions of the wine maps. This is how we learn about wine, and this is what makes it easier to understand it. “Oh yes,of course – France makes famous wines. California? Absolutely, yes, very famous. Italy? Bellissimo! Spain? Yes, I had a few of those. Australia? I heard about Yellow Tail, right?”. I’m simplifying, no doubts, but I’m sure the picture I’m presenting here is quite fitting lots of wine consumers (no, I’m not talking about you, wine geeks and bloggers).

My wine map would be a bit wider than that – I’m not bragging, but I seek new and different grapes all the time, and with this you are destined to try the wines from Turkey, Greece, Georgia, Croatia and many, many other not-so-well-known places. Nevertheless, my wine map has also plenty of white spaces, and I’m glad to use any opportunity to fill those up.

Last week the opportunity presented itself in the form of the tasting at my favorite local wine store, Cost Less Wines. I was told to stop by to taste the wines made in the Czech Republic. You see, to me, “wine” and “Czech Republic” in one sentence sounded almost like a misnomer. A while back, I visited the Czech Republic (which was known as Czechoslovakia back then), and I can tell you that beer is the very first thing which comes to mind when I think about the Czech Republic – Pilsner, anyone? Well, but it is a free tasting, so after all – why not?

The first wine which was poured was 2014 Templar Cellars Komtur Ekko Pinot Gris. I have to honestly admit that I became a convert after the very first sip – creamy, medium bodied, clean, well structured, with perfect balance of white fruit and acidity – it was on par with the best Oregon Pinot Gris wines, which is my personal hallmark of quality for the Pinot Gris. With such a great start, I was really eager to listen to the explanations.

It turns out that the wine had been produced in Moravia – this is how the area is called – from the beginning of the last millennium! Moravia is centrally located in Europe, for the Romans to use it as their base – and of course wine was part of the culture for them. Templar Cellars proudly shows 1248 on their label – this is when the actual cellars had been built, and this is where winemaking traditions are taking their roots. The wine, of course, is perfectly modern, but I love the medieval look of the labels and even the bottle design – you can read more about Templar Cellars here.

As you can see on the map above, the wine production in the Czech Republic is concentrated in the area down south – that is the Moravia we were just talking bout. Bohemia, up north, also has a bit of the winemaking activity, but it is of course known as a beer capital. Despite the seemingly unimpressive size of winemaking area in the Czech Republic, do you care to guess how many wineries it has? I will give you a little time to think, but whatever you think, take it higher. Yep, and higher.

What if I would tell you that the Czech Republic has about twice as many wineries as we have in the US, would you believe me? Well, it appears that the Czech Republic has about 18,000 wineries. Yes, many of those are simply “Mom’s and Pop’s” operations, but still, they are the independent wineries. Don’t know about you, but I was duly impressed with what I heard.

I was even more impressed after trying two of the red wines. 2013 Templar Cellars Komtur Ekko Pinot Noir was clearly a cold climate Pinot Noir with juicy cranberries at the core and perfect acidity. It is very different from a Pinot Noir from California or Oregon, much lighter, really crispy and crunchy, but with enough body weight to stand up to a powerful cheese or some spicy fish.

2009 Vino z Czech Ludwig Cabernet Moravia was even more interesting. Cabernet Moravia is its own grape, first created in Moravia (hence the name) in 1975, and it is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Zweigelt. It tasted like a classic Cabernet wine, with cassis, mint and eucalyptus, but also with an oversized herbal component. I actually like this line from the official description: “it incorporates all of Cab Franc’s leafy herbaceousness and Zweigelt’s tart, cranberry flavors in a refreshing wine”. Of course as an extra bonus, I’m adding a new grape to my collection.

There you go, my friends – a new region and new delicious wines. I truly love the endless learning opportunities the world of wine is offering to us. Have you ever had wines from the Czech Republic? What were your recent wine discoveries? Cheers!

New and Noteworthy: Two Classic Regions, Three Classic Pairs

June 4, 2016 4 comments

I tend to abuse certain words in the conversation, especially when talking on the subject of wine. As you might easily guess, one of such words is “Classic”. I use this word in hope that it is the quickest way to convey my impressions about the wine. For instance, the words “Classic Red Bordeaux” or “Classic White Burgundy” would most likely paint a quick and vivd picture for the most of oenophiles to imagine how the wine actually tastes. While the wine is produced all around the world, such a broad stroke reference can be only applied to the well known and well referred to regions – saying “Classic Red Bio-Bio” (wienmaking region in Chile) or “Classic White Valais” (winemakiing region in Switzerland) would be an empty sound for majority of the wine lovers.

Looking past the regions, we can also apply the word “classic” to the grapes themselves. There are probably 15-20 grapes which can be easily referred to in this way – “classic Cabernet Sauvignon” or “Classic Sauvignon Blanc”, for example, would give you quick pointers to how the wine might taste like. Yes, “Classic Bobal” or “Classic Resi” will leave most of us with no information at all.

As this is not an epistolary exercise on the applications of the word “Classic” in the wine world, let’s get closer to the subject at hand, and talk about few wines in the practical terms. Today I want to talk about 2 classic regions and 3 classic grapes – for sure for those regions. So the classic regions are: California and Oregon. Would you agree that it is easy to refer to these two world renowned winemaking regions as “Classic”? I hope you are nodding. And for the grapes, I also hope you would share my “classic” sentiment – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from California Napa Valley – aha, I see you smacking your lips. And Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from Oregon – need I say more?

Talking about the wines from Oregon, the Pinot Noir is of course an uncontested king of the Pacific Northwest of the USA. Commercial Pinot Noir production in Oregon started in the 1960s, and then from the beginning of the 1990s, Pinot Noir from Oregon needed no introduction anymore. With Oregon Pinot Gris, you might argue with my “classic” designation, however, today, you will practically not find a single Oregon winery which will not produce Pinot Gris. Oregon Pinot Gris has its own, easily recognizable style and character, so in my mind, Pinot Gris wines are the “classic” element of the Oregon winemaking.

Thus let me present to you the first two of the “classic” pairs – Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from two wineries in Oregon: Willamette Valley Vineyards and Pike Road Wines.

Willamette Valley Vineyards was established in 1983, planting Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay vines where blackberries and plums were growing before. The original Estate vineyard spans 53 acres at the 500 to 750 feet in elevation. Today, Willamette Valley vineyards farms more than 250 acres of vines, including one of the oldest in Oregon, Tualatin Estate, which are all LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) certified. I had a pleasure of trying Willamette Valley Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wines earlier in the year, so here are my notes:

2014 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon (12.4% ABV, SRP: $16)
C: straw pale
N: white stone fruit, touch of grass
P: hint of candied lemon, white stone fruit, nicely round, refreshing, good acidity, medium to full body
V: 7+/8-, very pleasant

2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.7% ABV, SRP: $30, retail: ~$20)
C: beautiful Ruby
N: fragrant, fresh, cranberries with touch of cherries, sweet raspberries
P: wow, lots of fresh fruit – cranberries, raspberries, fresh, super-clean, touch herbal, great restrained finish
8+, one of the most delicious Pinot ever, perfect.

Our second Oregon winery takes its name from the Pike Road, which winds through the hills of Yamhill-Carlton AVA. This is the second winery for the Campbell family, who founded Elk Cove Vineyards in 1974. Pike Road takes advantage of 5 generations of the farming experience, including 40 years of tending the wines.

Pike Road Wines Oregon

Here are my notes:

2015 Pike Road Pinot Gris Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, SRP: $15)
C: pale greenish color
N: tropical fruit, candied lemon, fresh, intense, inviting
P: crisp, clean, perfect fresh acidity and white stone fruit, creamy. Outstanding.
V: 8-/8, delicious white wine, perfect year around and superb during summer

2014 Pike Road Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, SRP: $19, 10 month in French oak barrels)
C: dark Ruby
N: delicious. Touch of sweet fruit, open, inviting, raspberries, herbs, super-promising, wow
P: soft, layered, silky, spices on top of traditional smokey profile, triple-wow
V: 8+/9-, wow, totally unexpected and amazing. I know Oregon Pinot delivers, but this far exceeded my expectations. Might be the best QPR for Oregon Pinot Noir in existence. Love rustic labels too.

Our last classic pair comes from the classic of the classics, none less than Napa Valley, and it is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Artesa winery. Artesa winery is located in Carneros region of Napa Valley. While Artesa recently celebrated is 25th vintage, their winemaking traditions go way, way, way back – say by another [almost] 500 years. How come? Artesa winery was founded by Codorniu Raventós family from Spain, which takes its winemaking heritage 17 generations back to the 1551. Artesa sustainably farms 150 acres of vines, all Napa Green Land certified, and produces a range of wines, starting with a few sparklers and finishing with another Napa classic – Cabernet Sauvignon. Two wines which I had an opportunity to taste are the new Estate Reserve release from the winery:

Artesa Napa Valley

2013 Artesa Estate Reserve Chardonnay Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, SRP: $40)
C: light golden
N: touch of vanilla, hint of butter, white fruit, intense
P: touch of butter, green apples, good acidity, medium to full body, vibrant and balanced
V: 8-, a classic Chardonnay

2013 Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir Napa Valley (14.4% ABV, SRP: $40)
C: dark garnet
N: warm, inviting, sweet plums
P: round, polished, present silky texture, touch of smoke, more plums, minerality, restrained
V: 8-, nice, smooth and restrained

There you have it, my friends – some new and interesting wines worth seeking. And whether they will hit the “classic” note for you – it is entirely your decision. Cheers!

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