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Guest Post: 5 Wonderful Reasons Why Should Go a Culinary and Wine Vacation for Your Next Travel Getaway

September 7, 2017 2 comments

Today I want to offer to your attention a guest post by Lystia Putranto,  a personal & professional development blogger for BookCulinaryVacations.com. Lystia is a lover of travel, a self-professed foodie, and an amateur cook who admittedly spends way too much time surfing the web.

As the last quarter of the year is around the corner, many of us are taking advantage of this time to plan our next great adventure. If you happen to be a food and wine lover and you’re on the hunt for travel ideas, there’s no better way to indulge in your passions than by going on a culinary and wine focused vacation!

For starters, did you know that by 2015, 77% of leisure travelers can already be classified as culinary travelers? This trend has continued to rise and is predicted to rise even higher in the coming year. So, if you have yet to join in this exciting (and not to mention delectable) bandwagon, it’s about time that you do so.

As a lover of travel, food, and wine, I can personally attest that there’s much to gain and experience through this unique type of holidays. But if you’re not yet convinced, on this post, I’m sharing with you five of the many wonderful reasons why you should sign up for a culinary vacation too:

1.      You’ll Discover New & Exciting Flavors

In order to truly make the most of our travels, keep in mind that we can only grow and enrich our lives by doing something we have yet to try. So instead of setting yourself up for yet another touristy sight-seeing trip, why not try (and taste) something different for a change?

With a new destination comes plenty of delicious local eats & drinks. Through culinary holidays, you’ll get an amazing opportunity to explore a variety of new and exciting flavors through its delicacies and locally produced beverages – and yes, in many sought after destinations such as France, South Africa, Chile, and California, this certainly includes a whole lot of wine!

As you already know, food is almost always much more delicious and authentic when we enjoy it in the country or place of origin. You’d also be interested to know that some local dishes and ingredients are extremely rare and would not be easily found anywhere else in the world so this the time to take full advantage of it.

2.      You’ll Expand Your Knowledge

Looking to deepen your culinary and/or wine knowledge? During a wine vacation, for example, you won’t only be tasting the various wine that the winery produces, you’ll get to learn all about wine far beyond what you would learn in a wine tasting event such as how to harvest grapes as well as the steps of the entire wine production right up to its bottling process.

3.      You’ll Learn How to Prepare Authentic Delicacies

Image credit: Alila Manggis Bali

What makes culinary vacations stand out from the usual “run-of-the-mill” vacations or food tours is that you also get the opportunity to prepare them from scratch yourself! This way, you can learn to recreate them back home. That is the simple yet powerful beauty of a hands-on cooking experience.

As a self-professed foodie, I adore all type of cuisines – but I must admit that Thai food is amongst my top 3 favorites. So, on my last trip to Thailand, I decided to sign up for a cooking class in Bangkok to learn how to prepare authentic Thai dishes such as Tom Yum Goong and Pad Thai.

In the end, not only did I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, thanks to the warm guidance of the school’s professional instructors, I was also genuinely impressed how fun and easy it all was!

As an added bonus, some cooking vacations may include visits to the local markets where you get to purchase the ingredients for your meal or even pick your own fresh produce straight from their own farm. In this case, it’s not uncommon that everything you make is farm-to-table ready, making your holiday that much more special.

4.      You’ll Make New Friends

Image credit: Porto Club Travel Services

Whether you prefer traveling solo, with a partner or in a group, through a cooking vacation, you are bound to meet plenty of new people. This includes both locals as well as other travelers from all corners of the globe. This is your chance to cultivate a better understanding of the diverse culture and languages of the world. Who knows? Perhaps some of the people you meet on your trip may just end up becoming (new) lifelong friends!

5.      You’ll Immerse Yourself in the Local Culture

Image credit: Cris Puscas

They say that travel is the only thing that one can buy that makes us richer. I personally believe this to be true. It allows us to learn more about what our beautiful world has to offer. And there’s no better group of people that will be able to teach us a destination’s local culture than the locals themselves.

Culinary travel allows you to center your trip on cultural immersion – meeting the locals, sampling local cuisines and beverages, and indulging yourself in the local ways of life. It’s an experience that will not only tantalize your taste buds but also one that will open your eyes and mind to a whole new perspective of seeing the world.

Restaurant Files: Tavern 489 in Stamford, CT – Come for Food, Stay for Music and Wine

November 19, 2016 2 comments

If I will describe a restaurant as “classy rustic”, would that make sense to you? Can you walk into the restaurant and feel that time and place all of a sudden changed on you? The modern, fast, noisy city disappeared, and instead, you find yourself in the cozy shack up in the woods?

That’s what Tavern 489 does to you. You walk in and instantly taken by the ambiance – no detail of decor is left to a chance – every element is used to create that tavern feel, the rustic ambiance – and it puts you in the right mood.

We visited restaurant back in May, when it was only opened. Eric Monte, a well-known restaurateur in Stamford, CT and an avid wine collector, put together a special dinner menu for us, with all the dishes paired with the different wines.

And not only the wines. Tavern 489 is the only restaurant in Connecticut which serves Moosehead Lager, the beer made at the oldest Canadian brewery (founded in 1867) – and Moosehead Lager was our first pairing of the night.

Before we get to food – yes, of course, there was a cocktail to start the evening. Tavern 489 is located on the street called Glenbrook Road, one of the oldest streets in Stamford – how you can pass on an opportunity to taste the Glenbrook Mule cocktail (which was very tasty)?

Our first dish was Venison Balls (red wine green peppercorn sauce), served with the Moosehead Lager. The balls were nicely spicy, and the beer was working perfectly with the dish. And what I loved the most was the presentation – perfectly fitting for the tavern food.

Next up was Cold Spring tomato Soup, and we also switched to wine to continue our dinner. Our first wine was 2013 Les Costiéres de Pomerols Picpoul de Pinet AOP – touch of honeysuckle on the nose, clean, simple palate, tart. The wine didn’t work with the soup (how many wines do?), despite the fact that the soup was very tasty. But it perfectly complemented Taunton Bay fried oysters (lemon, tamarind, curry, tomato sauce), which were delicious and again, beautifully presented dish – we eat with our eyes first, and the oysters were a pure delight on the plate.

Remember I mentioned music? So the music has a special place at the Tavern 489 – right in front of the house, and it is live. Tavern 489 brings in many musicians, so all you really need is a glass of wine (or a Moosehead Lager), sit down (or stand for that matter), and get carried away:

Music at Tavern 489The food continued with the selection of the burgers – Bison Burger, Blackened Angus Burger w/Blue Cheese and Tavern Burger w/Pesto Truffle – my favorite was the Blackened Burger – great flavor, and of course it is hard to resist a blue cheese topping. With the meat, the new wine showed up – this time red, 2010 Grand Palais Bordeaux Supérieur – typical Bordeaux nose, green bell peppers, supple palate, good balance. This wine perfectly paired with my favorite dish of the evening – Charred octopus (Kidney bean, tomato, shallots, garlic, parsley, pomegranate chimichurri dressing) – this dish had both perfect finess of flavor, and just a rustic, homey, comfort food feel – simply a wow.

Our main course was a true carnivore dream and a masterpiece in the presentation – Dirty Tomahawk steak – bone-in thick ribeye steak (served with Chef Suggestions – potatoes, broccoli rabe, bacon-wrapped asparagus). Definitely a treat, and if you are into the meat, that is your dish. Another wine was served with this dish –  2012 Shooting Star Blue Franc Blaufrankisch Washington State – generous, rich, brooding – delicious wine overall. The wine was unique and different – how often you get to drink wine made in the USA from the Austrian/German grape such as Blaufränkisch? Definitely a treat – and an interesting story on the back label.

And finally – the dessert – very tasty Chocolate Mousse, light and delicious.

chocolate mousse desert at Tavern 489We had an opportunity to thank Eric Monte and his wife Donna and Chef Regis Saget, and of course to ask them questions, which we did:

Eric and Donna Monte Tavern 489

Eric and Donna Monte Tavern 489

Chef Regis Saget Tavern 489This was the end of our evening of delicious food, music, and wine – and I highly recommend that you will head over to the Tavern 489 and check it out for yourselves. You can thank me later. Cheers!

Tavern 489
489 Glenbrook Road
Stamford, CT  06906
Ph: 203-355-0360
http://www.tavern489.com/

 

Tavern 489 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Obama’s Last State Dinner – Analyzing Wines

October 18, 2016 15 comments

Today the President Obama and the First Lady will be hosting the last (presumably, according to all the notes in the press – but he still has another 2+ months in the office) State Dinner in honor of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and his wife, Agnese Landini.

Yes, this is not typical for this blog to talk about the state dinners, but you know, I’m always curios about the food, and most importantly, the wines which the most powerful man on Earth chooses to serve at such grand events as State Dinners – not sure if the President of the United States personally decides on the wines, but I’m sure he can weight in on the decision.

As this State Dinner will be honoring an Italian PM, it is very appropriate that the food theme will be Italian. What is even more appropriate that Mario Batali, one of my absolute favorite Chefs, will be in charge of this dinner event, working together with the White House kitchen staff.

So far, the Eater provided the description of the event and it is the only web site which posted the dinner menu, including the wines. I took the liberty of copying the menu from the Eater’s web site, so here it is:

First Course

Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Butter and Sage

Wine: 2015 Patina Vermentino “Santa Ynez”

Salad Course

Warm Butternut Squash Salad with Frisee and Pecorino di New York

Wine: 2012 Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese “Napa”

Main Course

Beef Braciola Pinwheel with Horseradish Gremolata and Broccoli Rabe

Wine: 2014 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel “East Bench”

Dessert

Green Apple Crostata with Thyme Caramel and Buttermilk Gelato

Petit Fours Display:
Sweet Corn Cream and Blackberry Cup
Concord Grape Bittersweet Chocolate Leaf
Orange Fig Slice
Pumpkin Cranberry Tart
Tiramisu

Food sounds very delicious, and I’m sure Mario Batali’s work will be flawless. Let’s talk wines now.

Palmina Vermentino 2015 Patina Vermentino “Santa Ynez” – well, to begin with, there is no wine under such name, or at least I was unable to find it. As with my grape explorations, I had to play a “wine sleuth” many times, so in this case, I can only make an assumption that we are talking about the Vermentino wine from Palmina Winery in Santa Barbara county:

2015 Palmina Vermentino “Santa Ynez” ($28?) – the winery doesn’t list 2015 as available vintage yet, and 2014 vintage of Vermentino is sold out. The 2014 vintage is listed on the web site at $28. Overall, Palmina seems to be specializing in Italian varietals, so this should be an interesting wine. Note that the only bottle image available on the web site was from 2013, so this is what I’m using here.

Villa Ragazi SangioveseNext wine comes from another California winery I never heard of – Villa Ragazzi. The web site modestly advertises Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese as the best Sangiovese produced in Napa Valley – may be it is, I will let those who tried it be the judge.

2012 Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese “Napa” ($36) – 2012 vintage is not available at the winery anymore, and according to wine-searcher, there is only one shop in US which offers it at $39. The winery offers 2013 vintage at $36 per bottle – with the total production of 112 cases, I can imagine that this wine is pretty hard to find anywhere.

Ridge ZinfandelThe last wine on the list comes from the one of the most iconic producers in the USA – Ridge Vineyards. Ridge Vineyards needs no introduction to the wine lovers, producing cult Cabernet Sauvignon wine called Monte Bello and the range of Zinfandel wines from the number of appellations in California, plus many other wines.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel “East Bench” ($25 – $30) – 2014 is the current vintage of Ridge East Bench Zinfandel, so all the information is readily available on the winery web site. According to wine-searcher, this wine can be found in many shops, in the price range of $25 to $30.

There you are, my friends – 3 California wines, hand selected for the State Dinner. I’m curious if the sparkling wine will be served before the dinner, and what would be the choices of dessert wines/drinks, assuming those will be served as well – but at this point we can only speculate about those.

Have you had any of these wines? What do you think of the wines, both on their own and as a choice for the State Dinner event? What do you think of intended pairings? Cheers!

 

 

 

Restaurant Files: Mountain View Brasserie in Greenville, NY

September 2, 2016 2 comments

BMountain View BrasserieWe already talked about our day in the Hudson Valley during traditional adults getaway trip (you can read about it here). Culmination point of the Saturday night was a special dinner. I call it “special” as this is something we always spend time preparing for as part of our getaway. Our ideal scenario is to find a restaurant which would do a special tasting menu for our group, and would allow us to bring our own wines which we would pair with the dishes. More often than not we are successful in this plan – this year was no exception.

The Mountain View Brasserie restaurant in Greenville, New York agreed to create for us a special tasting menu, and we came up with the wine pairings for all the dishes. Of course, the challenging part is doing the “blind” pairing if you will – all we have is the list of ingredients in the dish, and the pairing is solely based on our imagination. The good thing is that we usually do this “hard work” together with my friend Zak, who owns the wine store, so we have a good number of wine options. We always make an effort to keep the cost reasonable – talking about this dinner, only one of the wines was $25 retail, the rest were $20 or less.

For what it worth, here is our dinner menu, with the wine and pairing notes, and addition of the pictures. As the idea here was a relaxing dinner with friends and not a blogger’s dinner, all the pictures are taken with the iPhone and, well, it is what it is…

We started dinner with NV Rivarose Brut Rosé, Provence, France (Syrah/Grenache blend) which was nice, round and simple, well supporting the conversation.

Our first dish was Maryland Crab Cakes served with Lobster Sauce, which was delicious and very generous in size. We paired it with 2014 Templar Cellars Komtur Ekko Pinot Gris, Czech Republic (100% Pinot Gris) – I wrote about this wine before, and while the wine was excellent on its own, the pairing was simply outstanding, with the wine nicely complementing the dish.

Our next dish was House-smoked Salmon Napoleon with horseradish cream and gaufrettes garnished with capers and red onion – the dish was interesting, quite tasty, but rather unexpected under the category of “Napoleon”. Our wine pairing was 2015 Notorious Pink Grenache Rosé, Vin de France (100% Grenache), which was medium bodied Rosé, and the pairing was okay, but not mind-blowing (the flavors didn’t fight, but were not enhancing each other either).

Warm Hazelnut Crusted Goat Cheese with Market Greens was more successful as a dish, nice crunch on outside contrasting with the goat cheese acidic profile. We used the same wine for the pairing and it worked perfectly, complementing the dish very well.

You can’t have dinner without salad, right? We had Grilled Portobello Salad with Roasted Peppers, Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, Tomatoes, Spicy Walnuts, Market Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette which was very tasty, but most importantly, it paired deliciously with 2014 Sangiovanni Kiara Pecorino Offida DOCG, Marche, Italy (100% Pecorino). Yet another wine I tasted before and loved, and it was perfectly complementing the salad flavors.

Vegetable Risotto with Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese served with Roasted Sea Scallop was one of the absolute favorite dishes – perfectly seared scallop, working nicely with sweet flavors of corn risotto. Interestingly enough, we missed the sweetness as dominant taste element in this dish (just one word in our defense – corn was not listed among ingredients), and the same wine, Pecorino, didn’t work that well – it was just an okay pairing.

Our next dish was Baked Salmon Fillet with Orange and Olive Butter – again, perfect execution, moist and flavorful fish. The wine, 2011 Portal del Priorat Trossos Tros Blanc, Montsant, Spain (100% Grenache Blanc) was full-bodied, plump and delicious, working very well with the dish.

We were definitely looking forward to the Sautéed Wiener Schnitzel with Spaetzle, and the dish didn’t disappoint – very tasty, perfectly seasoned, delicious sauce. The pairing choice was 2013 Templar Cellars Komtur Ekko Pinot Noir, Czech Republic (100% Pinot Noir), yet again the wine I was familiar with – and I’m glad to admit that the pairing was spot on, with the perfect melding of flavors.

We finished our main course with Roasted Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb Provencal – I’m sure that even from the quick glance at the picture, you would expect that this was a tasty dish, as you can tell that meat was properly cooked – and you would be right, as it tasted appropriately delicious. Equally appropriate was our choice of wine pairing – succulent 2012 Seigneurs d’Aiguilhe, Côtes de Castillon, Bordeaux (Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend) Bordeaux, classic cassis and mint taste profile and classic complement to the lamb – outstanding pairing.

This concluded main portion of our dinner – and before we talk about dessert, I would like to commend restaurant on the smart way to present the tea. Take a look below:

Tea settingIf you look in the middle of the picture on top, you will see a sand clock – what a great and simple way to help you steep that perfect cup of tea? Very thoughtful!

Our first dessert was Warm Apple Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Caramel Bourbon Sauce – I’m sure you don’t need my lame description here, it was simply indulgent. And for the pairing – you can’t beat one of the best and most universal dessert wine pairings – Moscato d’Asti. We had 2015 Cascinetta Vietti Moscato D’Asti DOCG, Italy (100% Moscato d’Asti) – light, effervescent and clean.

Our last dish was Grand Marnier Chocolate Mousse with Fresh Orange Sections – excellent by itself, and pairing very well with  2014 Quady Essencia, California (100% Orange Muscat).

I think this was one of the most successful tasting dinners we put together, so for the next year, we have a very difficult task at hand – but we are up for the challenge. Cheers!

Mountain View Brasserie
10697 State Route 32
Greenville, NY 12083
Ph: (518) 966-5522

Mountain View Brasserie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Files: Omakase Experience at Nobu Las Vegas

July 23, 2016 4 comments

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

Vintage Vespa: Podere Brizio Brunello Dinner

March 28, 2016 16 comments

Brunello needs no introduction for the oenophiles. Quintessential, coveted Italian wines, coming from the heart of Tuscany, made from the signature Italian grape Sangiovese (Sangiovese Grosso clone, to be precise). Brunello di Montalcino was the first area in Italy which received in 1980 the status of DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), top quality level designation for the Italian wines; Brunello are some of the most expensive wines coming from Italy today, with some of the bottle prices exceeding $500 on the release (Biondi Santi, Soldera). Wines had been produced in Montalcino for a very long time, going back to the middle ages – it is said that King Charlemagne frequented hills and taverns of the beautiful region – however, back then Montalcino was known for its white wine, called Moscadello. In the 1600s, the red Brunello started to take over the Moscadello, and today, most of the people don’t even know that the white wines are produced in the Montalcino region,  as it is the powerful reds we all associate Montalcino with.

Podere Brizio WinesPodere Brizio is a relatively young estate in Montalcino, founded in 1996. The estate has about 30 acres of vineyards, practices sustainable viticulture and in the process of becoming certified organic. The grapes are harvested by hand, natural yeasts are used in the winemaking process. Folks at Podere Brizio love the Montalcino history so much that they put “10 Parpagliola coin, coined in 1556 as a symbol of the Republic of Siena in a year in which about 600 noble Sienese families took refuge in the fortress of our town in order to keep the Sienese Republic alive” on the labels of their wines. Podere Brizio produces about 50,000 bottles annually, with the whole production consisting of 3 red wines – Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.

Now, let’s talk about the dinner, which took place at the restaurant called Vespa in Westport, Connecticut. Not only Vespa offers delicious Italian and Mediterranean food, but the restaurant boasts a wine list which has a lot of unique and interesting wines – when was the last time you saw Erbaluce from Piedmont, Cinque Terre Bianco from Liguria, Frappato from Sicily or a “wine geek special”, Rosso del Contadina from Frank Cornelissen, Sicilian maestro of natural wines? Owner Bobby Werhane has special affinity for the uncommon wines and not afraid to put them on the wine list, which of course makes Vespa a perfect food and wine destination for any foodie and wine aficionado alike – and Vintage Vespa is the series of the wine dinners which serves as a testament to that.

Podere Brizio Wines Decanter

The wines made it into the decanters at some point

We tasted through 4 different wines from Podere Brizio – 2013 Rosso, and Brunello from 2010, 2007 and 2001 vintages, so in essence, this was a vertical tasting.  There was one small challenge – the wines were not sufficiently decanted prior to the tasting. Brunello typically are big wines, and they need an ample time in the decanter, or they will not show all its beauty – as you will see from my tasting notes below, this is what happened.

Our dinner consisted of 4 courses. We started with Chicken Liver Pate (Red Onion Mostarda, Toasted Brioche) which had great texture and was absolutely delicious. To my surprise, 2013 Podere Brizio Rosso di Montalcino worked very well with the dish, contrasting the sweet nuances with its tart acidity.

Our second course was Ricotta Cavatelli (Braised Pork Shoulder, Tuscan Kale, Golden Raisins, Toasted Pine Nuts) – again, outstanding, touch of heat and great flavor, hearty and heartwarming (sorry, 2010 was too tight for that, so no pairing notes).

Our main course was Prosciutto Wrapped Veal Tenderloin (Pickeld Sautéed Carrots, Almond Purée) – my notes mostly consist of the exclamation points – wow! flavor! presentation!, so yes, the dish was a treat for the eyes and taste buds alike. After decanting, 2007 Brunello was an excellent complement to this dish, and 2001 Brunello worked very well too.

The desert was outstanding – Coffee Crunch Profiteroles (Mascarpone Cream, Cappuccino Gelato) – imagine a marriage of a classic Profiterole with classic Tiramisu – yep, that was good. And no, we didn’t try to pair the dessert with the wine, we just enjoyed it by itself.

Coffee Crunch Profiteroles at Vespa WestportAll in all, this was one delicious dinner we have to thank the Executive Chef David White for.

I did my best taking the tasting notes, juggling both delicious food and conversations with other guests, so for what it worth, my tasting notes are below:

2013 Podere Brizio Rosso di Montalcino (13.5% ABV)
C: Garnet
N: Tobacco, earthy undertones, violet
P: Clean acidity, medium body, tart cherries, blackberries, tobacco
V: 7+

2010 Podere Brizio Brunello di Montalcino (14.5% ABV)
C: Garnet
N: Violet, raspberries, blackberries
P: closed. Hint of tart cherries, but not much else
V: the wine was not decanted initially – and this is way too young, needed lots of time in the decanter. No rating.

2007 Podere Brizio Brunello di Montalcino (14.5% ABV)
C: Dark Garnet
N: Touch of plums, but mostly closed
P: Plums, nice tannins, good acidity.
V: 7+, needs time – should be decanted for at least 2 hours

2001 Podere Brizio Brunello di Montalcino (14% ABV)
C: dark Garnet, not a sign of age
N: Intense crushed berries, tar, leather, blackberries
P: Fresh tannins, great acidity, open, vibrant, great concentration and structure
V: 8/8+, just started to open, will shine in 5-10 years.

There you have it, my friends. Delicious food + Great wines = Vintage Vespa. Make sure to keep an eye on Vespa (probably their Facebook page is the easiest) so you will not miss the next wine dinner. Or better yet – head over to the restaurant and just make your own wine dinner – I’m sure you will not be disappointed. Cheers!

Vespa Westport
2A Post Rd West
Westport, CT 06880
Ph:(203) 557-9057
http://vespawestport.com/

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

New Versus Old – Is Wine World Upside Down?

March 4, 2016 12 comments

This post is an entry for the 23rd Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC23), with the theme of “New”. 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. We all crave, adore and worship new in our lives. New experience. New restaurant. New baby. New job. New car. New iPhone. New house. New puppy. Add “new” to practically any object, and it instantly becomes something exciting.

The “new” is not limited to the things and objects. New ways constantly appear, and we embrace them wholeheartedly. New technologies and new processes are born every day. Self-driving cars. 3D printers. We store our pictures in the cloud. It’s all new, new, new around us.

We love new so much that “old” becomes almost en expletive. We might attach “old” to the experiences, but not to the objects! Think about it. When you are looking for the used car, the dealer will refer to such a car exactly like that – used. She might even say “almost new” or “gently used”. But you will never hear from the dealer that they want to offer you this old car – unless you are in the market for antiques  – but even then “old” descriptor will be avoided. Or let’s say you are looking for a house. Ever heard agent saying “let me show you this old house“? We learn to be afraid of the world “old”, as we don’t want to get old ourselves.

Ridge Vineyards 60 years old vineTalking about wine world, the word “new” is exciting as in any other aspect of our lives. In essence, the whole wine world is built on the concept of new – ever year  there is a new harvest, and a new wine will be produced from the grapes of that new harvest. New labels are made for the wines. New wineries are founded. New tasting rooms are built. New vineyards are planted. New processes are invented to press the grapes, to ferment them, to preserve wines, to bottle. New packaging (wine in a can, anyone? wine on tap?). New is a most prominent concept in the wine world.

But the concept of “old” is ohh so different when it comes to wines. “Old” in the wine world commands such a respect that we might not find in any other areas of human life. Let’s start in the vineyard. So you planted a new vineyard? Great. Now you need to wait until it will become old, as for the most of vineyards you need to wait at least 3-4 years before they will produce fruit suitable for winemaking. And that vineyard has to become old in the natural way, just by letting the time pass – there is no magic bullet.

To top it off, the older vineyard gets, the better it is. Ever seen the words “old vines” on the bottle? May be viñas viejas? Or how about vieilles vignes? These words mean exactly what they say – that this wine was made from the grapes harvested from the vineyards which had been around for a long time – 20 years, 30 years, 60 years, 100 years. The term “old vines” is typically not regulated, so there is no way of knowing exactly how old the vines are – but often the back label will give you that information. Very often that “age” is also reflected in the price – the older the car, the less it costs – but it is exactly opposite in the wines – the older the vines are, more expensive wine becomes (older vines yield less grapes with higher flavor concentration  = tastier wine).

“Old” doesn’t stop in the vineyard. Lots and lots of wines are aged before they are released – both by law and by the desire of the winery. By law, non-vintage Champagne have to age for a minimum of 15 month, and vintage Champagne for at least 3 years – in reality, most of NV is aged for 2-3 years, and vintage is typically 4-10. By law, Rioja Gran Reserva requires at least 5 years of aging before the release. By law, Brunello Rieserva can be sold not earlier than 6 years after the harvest. Many of the wineries in California offer so called “library releases”, when the wines are aged for you in the winery’s cellar in the ideal conditions. Some wineries in Bordeaux sell their wines only 10 years after the harvest, including First Growth Chateau Latour, which recently declared that “vintages will be released when the chateau believes they are ready to drink”. Let’s go down all the way – how about some 100 year old Para Vintage Tawny from Seppeltsfield in Australia, which is released … yes, 100 years after the vintage date.

It is not that “old” is unquestionable winner in the world of wines. More often than not, “new” and “old” are clashing  – sometimes in amicable ways, sometimes – not so much. One of the simplest “conflicts” – new oak versus used oak. This, of course, is what making winemakinng an art, as there is no hard and fast rule to when to age wine in old oak barrels versus new oak – each has its own benefits. Another form of the simple “conflict” is an internal fight which oenophile endures trying to decide when the wine from her cellar is ready to drink – there is also lots of good bad advice coming from all the wine professionals and the media – and we still are trying to figure that magical moment when the wine is perfectly “old“, or rather “aged” as we like to say, to maximize our pleasure. And then you got all those violent clashes between old and new – think about “traditional Barolo” versus “new style Barolo”. Think about fight for the Super Tuscans, attempts to introduce the new grapes in Brunello, or just any winemaker trying to do something new against the rules of the appellation.

Now, what do you think? Is wine world upside down for the new and old? Is there anything else which humans do where old commands equal or greater respect than new? Cheers!


 

Does the Wine Deserves Second Chance?

January 18, 2016 23 comments

MWWC_logoThis post is an entry for the 22nd Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC22), with the theme of “Second Chance”. 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.

Let me describe to you I’m sure a very familiar situation: the bottle of wine is opened, wine is poured in a glass, you take a sip and … you don’t like it. Too sweet, too acidic, too sharp, too tannic, too “biting” – it is not always that you follow a sip with “wow” or “ahh”. What do you do next? Of course I understand that this question doesn’t have a single answer, as everything depends on the context. And as a side note, it is also implied that the wine is not spoiled – not corked, not cooked, not oxidized – it is simply not to your liking.

Let’s assume that you opened the wine in the comfort of your home. You can simply put the glass aside and decide to wait and see if the wine will change (you of course hope for the better). If this happened in the restaurant, your choices are limited – if you just ordered this bottle out of your own will, in most of the cases you can’t send it back (remember, we said it is not spoiled) – you can ask for the wine to be chilled or decanted, but that is about all you can do. If you are at a friend’s house, you probably have only one choice – to smile and to say that this is delicious, unless you grew tired of that friendship long time ago, so then it might be a good opportunity to end it on a high note.

No matter what setting it was, let’s assume you didn’t get to the point of liking the wine, and now it is in your memory as the wine-I-never-want-to-touch-again. Would you ever think of giving this wine another chance?

Yes, I know. There is such an abundance of wine around us that if we don’t like something, why bother with any “second chances”? It is humanely impossible to taste all the wines produced in the world, so why bother with something which you were done and over with? Yes, by all means you have a point. But is there a tiny little voice inside your head, which says “may be that wine needed more time to open up”, or “may be I was just in the wrong mood”, or “may be my food overpowered the wine”? Do you ever get any of those “may be”s, so you would actually go and try the wine again, just because you are curious?

Lamborghini wineI understand that this is matter of personality and an outlook on life in general, but more often than not, I find myself in the “may be?”, a “what if?” group. This is especially true when it comes to the wines which I open at home. If I take a sip of wine and don’t like it, I often put it aside, to try it on the next day. Or may be the day after next. Or may be even after that. One of my favorite examples is the bottle of 2002 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, which opened up only on the 5th day (the wine was 11 years old when it was opened). When I took a first sip after just opening a bottle, the wine was tannic and literally devoid of fruit – there was no pleasure in that wine. Pumped the air out, put it aside for a day. Next day – literally no changes. And so was the story on the next day, and the next day. But I was not not ready to declare the wine a failure and just pour it out – kept giving it second chances. And the reward came on the day number 5, with layered fruit and delicious, powerful wine.

I have another example from literally 2 weeks ago, when we opened a bottle of 1980 Lamborghini Colli del Trasimeno Rosso (I can tell you that I bought the wine strictly on the basis of the fun name – Lamborghini – a car which I’m sure anyone would be happy to drive at least once). The wine was opened, went into a decanter – and for the whole evening nobody liked to drink it, as it tasted more as brine than the wine. I can’t tell you if I was giving the wine a conscious second chance, or was simply lazy to pour it out. Next day before clearing the decanter I decided to take a little sip – why not? And it appeared that the wine actually developed into delicious, mature wine, with the nose of tertiary aromas and palate full of sweet plums. Not the most amazing wine I ever had in my life, but perfectly delicious, mature wine which delivered lots of pleasure.

I could go on and on with similar examples, but I’m sure you got my point – the wine could’ve been discarded as “bad” and the great pleasure would be missed, if it wouldn’t be for the second chances.

So, what do you think? Do you have any “second chance” wine stories of your own, maybe with the happy ending? Do you think wines deserve their second chances? Cheers!

 

Oversold and Underappreciated Premise of Wine Pairing

November 27, 2015 10 comments

MWWC_logoThis post is an entry for the 21st Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC21), with the theme of “Pairing”. 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.

Let’s start from the mini quiz – is food and wine pairing an art or a science? Or is it neither and the question makes no sense?

I’m sure you can successfully argue both sides, as they do in debate competitions. Technically, cooking process is based on science – heat conduction, protein’s reaction to heat and cold, combining acid and alkaline – we can go on and on, of course the scientific approach to the food and then the pairing can be argued very well. But one and the same dish can be flawlessly composed from the scientific point of view – think about a steak which is perfectly cooked with a beautiful crust – but missing on all the seasoning and having either none or way too much salt – it would require an artistry and magic of the Chef to make it a wow food experience. So may be food and wine pairing is an art after all?

I don’t have an answer, and I don’t believe it is even important. The problem is that in many cases, that “food and wine pairing”, which is typically sought out and praised, is not possible, not universal and even not needed.

Yes, there are rules for the pairing of wine and food. Contrast, complement, balance of the body of the wine with the perception of the “weight” of the food, tannins and fat and so on. The rules work well when you create a tasting menu and pair each dish individually with the very specific wine, based on practical trial and error. However, once you try to extend your recommendation to say “try this stew with some Syrah wine”, that begs only one question – really? And overbearing Shiraz from Australia, or earthy, spicy and tremendously restrained Côte-Rôtie or espresso loaded Syrah from Santa Ynez Valley – which one?

Here is another example, simply a personal one. At a restaurant, my first food preference is seafood – scallops, bouillabaisse, fish – anything. My wife typically prefers meat, and so do many of our friends. Going by the standard rules (white with fish etc.), we are either stuck with water or have to order wine by the glass, and ordering wine by the glass is typically not something I enjoy doing – very often, “by the glass” list is short, boring and grossly overpriced. So instead of trying to pair wine with the food (don’t get me wrong – I like the “spot-on” pairing as much as any other foodie and oenophile), I prefer to pair the wine with the moment – a good bottle of wine which doesn’t match the food is still a lot better than crappy wine which would denigrate the experience.

Still not convinced? Think about a simple situation – old friends are coming for a visit, and you know that these friends like wine. Yes, I’m sure you will give some thought to the food, however, there is a good chance that you will comb your cellar over and over again in a search of the wines to create the meaningful  wine program for the evening, even if the whole dinner would consist of one dish. You will spend time and time again thinking about your friends and trying to come up with a perfect, special, moment-appropriate and moment-enhancing wines.

Wine is an emotional connector. Wine elevates our experiences, making them a lot more memorable. You might have problem remembering what dish you had at a restaurant, but if the bottle of wine made you say “wow” on the first sip, there is a good chance that the special moment will stay in your memory, thanks to that special pairing which took place.

We pair wine with moments, and we pair wine with the people, for good and bad of it. If Aunt Mary comes for a visit, who enjoys a glass of Chardonnay with a cube of ice in it, is it really the time to break out Peter Michael or Gaja Rossj Bass? A Bogle Chardonnay would pair perfectly with Aunt Mary (not that there is anything wrong with Bogle – it is just perfectly priced for such occasions). However, if you know that your friend Jeff will stop by, who you know as a Pinot Noir aficionado, all the best Pinot Noir in your cellar will all of a sudden enter into a “chose me, I’m better” competition. And if none of them will win, the Pinot Noir at near by store will enter the fray. And keep in mind, all of this will be happening whether you will be serving steak, salmon or cheese and crackers…

Yes, when food is well paired with wine, it is really a special experience. But food and wine pairing which doesn’t work is really not the end of the world, it is still just a nuisance – and a learning experience, if you will. When the wine pairs well with the moments and the people, that’s when the memories are created, and that, as MasterCard likes to teach us, is priceless. Let’s drink to lots of special moments in our lives. Cheers!

Wagyu and Wine

October 22, 2015 9 comments

Wagyu and Wine at Capital GrilleWagyu burger, anyone? How about glass of Cab with it? Or may be a Pinot? Luckily, it is easy to solve that dilemma – as long as you have Capital Grille restaurant close by. Until November 22, Capital Grille has a special offering on the menu – 2 styles of Wagyu burgers, which you can pair with either 2012 Justin Isosceles Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles or 2013 Landmark Overlook Pinot Noir, California, all for a fixed price of $25, which I think is a great deal for a lunch with a glass of nice wine.

It is so happened that my wife had a day off in a middle of the week – despite the fact that we both work in the same small town, our schedules never align for two of us to have lunch together during the week. As soon as I found out that she will be off on Wednesday, the plan was ready – lunch at Capital Grille it is!

Before we talk about pairings, let me talk about the wines. 2013 Landmark Overlook Pinot Noir, California was a perfect example of California Pinot Noir – touch of smoke, ripe fruit with good acidity, ripe plums, perfect balance – definitely an excellent wine. 2012 Justin Isosceles Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles (15.5% ABV, 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc) was over the top delicious, ripe, exuberant, showing a touch to sweet to my liking, but still delicious and very palatable wine.

And the burgers arrived. The Cheeseburger was served with Fried egg and crisp onions, and the other burger was served with Gorgonzola and black truffle ( this was my choice, and while I ordered it medium-rare-plus, somehow it had a very limited flavor – don’t know why…). So which wine do you think worked better with which burger?

The result of the pairing was very interesting. Landmark Pinot Noir ended up perfectly complementing either one of the burger, and unfortunately, Justin Cab was somewhat fighting with both. No, there was no competition – but Landmark Pinot Noir still won as a pairing choice.

Or at least it did so for me, so you should use your chance to find out. Head over to the Capital Grille, and let me know which pairing will work for you. Not in the mood for a burger? Go find those wines, as they were delicious. Cheers!