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Valentine’s Day Experiences

March 1, 2019 2 comments

Valentine's Day RosesCooking is the ultimate expression of love. This is always true, but even more though on Valentine’s Day, as the whole holiday is all about love – the holiday which exists since about the 5th century – it is really fun to celebrate something so deeply rooted in history.

Our personal love story was simple – yet, probably, equally uncommon – the love at first sight. It took three days since the moment we saw each other for the first time until everything was decided. So you can imagine that Valentine’s Day was always an important holiday for us. At first, we tried to follow to common path, working hard to score coveted restaurant reservation – until the dinner at one of the most expensive, and supposedly, best Italian restaurants in Connecticut, which we left asking each other “what was that???”. That was the end of our “eating out” Valentine’s Day celebrations, and the beginning of the “eat in” tradition.

One of the advantages of “eat in” celebrations is a much better wine program. You don’t need to desperately comb through the pages of the wine list, finding that you can’t afford any of the wines by the bottle you want to drink, and common sense preventing you from getting any of the wines by the glass which can be classified as a “seemingly affordable rip off”. Instead, you can spend hours combing through your own wine shelves, looking for the bottles which you will deem worthy of a special celebration –  and which will also work with the menu you have in mind.

Valentiens Day wines

Martinelli Syrah which you see in the picture was a backup wine in case anything will be wrong with the Pinot. Now it is back in the cellar, waiting for its turn.

Last year’s celebration was about steak and Cab – obviously, I couldn’t repeat myself, so the search was on to find an appropriate protein replacement. Somehow that resulted in the duck breast – and what wine does the duck breast call for? Of course, the Pinot Noir!

Before we talk Pinot we need to talk bubbles. Bubbles don’t have to exclusively narrow down to Champagne. Champagne is a wonderful sparkling wine, perfectly appropriate for any celebration – but the world of wine moved up tremendously over the past 15-20 years. I don’t have any stats to prove this objectively, but I have a feeling in the USA at least a third of all wineries if not half of them produce sparkling wine – if not for the wide distribution, then at least for the wine clubs and tasting room visitors.

I also have to say that ever since I visited the Franciacorta region in Lombardy, Italy, Franciacorta sparkling wines became my go-to choice of bubbles for any special celebrations. In my mind, Franciacorta wines are very consistent, and today, as they honed their production methods to perfection, this translates into the “you can’t go wrong with” Franciacorta wines in general. La Valle was one of my top highlights of that Franciacorta trip and the La Valle Rosé really hit the cord then – and it continues to do now. This 2011 La Valle Brut Rosé Franciacorta was superb – fine mousse, delicious strawberries on the nose with the hint of the toasted bread, and more strawberries on the palate – a perfect opener for our evening.

Now, the Pinot time. Similar to the bubbles, Pinot Noir also enjoys quite a universal appeal around the world nowadays. There some regions, however, which do a better job than the others – and California Russain River Valley is definitely one of them. I tried 2007 Charles Mara Pinot Noir for the first time back in 2010. It was silky smooth and powerful at the same time. I was so impressed with this wine that it became the top wine of the inaugural Talk-a-Vino Top Dozen Wines list. I still had a bottle of 2007, and I decided that it would be a perfect choice for our Valentine’s Day dinner – and the wine didn’t disappoint. Now, 9 years later, this 2007 Mara Laughlin Road Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River Valley became even more round and less “in your face”. Characteristic California Pinot plums and smoke on the nose, succulent dark fruit on the palate with a hint of violets, perfect acidity, perfect balance, lots and lots of pleasure. And it also worked perfectly with the duck.

Let’s talk about the duck. I had it a number of times before, either made by friends or at the restaurant – but duck is rarely my go-to dish. The form of duck I cooked before was either duck legs as part of the Cassoulet or the whole duck as part of the Turducken. I never attempted cooking the duck breast before, so obviously was concerned with the outcome. After studying a number of recipes, I was concerned even more, as a number of commentators complained about rendering duck inedible even after repeated attempts, so I was really not sure about my own success.

I don’t know if it was a quality of the ingredient, Moulard Duck Magret, which I got at our local Fairway Market, or the cast iron pan, a combination of the above, or the beginner’s luck, but the duck breast came out perfectly. I also made a Port (you saw it in the picture above) and berries reduction, which elevated the nicely gamey taste of the duck breast and was a bridge to connect it all to Mara Pinot Noir – all in all, a delicious dinner. Nevermind the paper plate in the picture – everything in life has a story, but this is not the story for this blog post.

There you go, my friends – not a timely share, but still an experience worth sharing. If you still remember, I’m curious to know how was your Valentine’s Day dinner. Cheers!

 

 

Bubbles for the New Year 2019

January 9, 2019 2 comments

I pride myself with not discriminating against any type of wine – white, red, sparkling, Rosé, dessert, fortified, $2, $10, $100 – doesn’t matter.

In theory.

In reality, most of the days, I drink red. And wish that I would drink more white and bubbles. Especially bubbles.

But luckily, we have at least a few holidays in the year, where the only appropriate choice of wine [for me] is bubbles. New Year’s Eve is absolutely The One – bubbles all the way.

As with all the holidays, a little prep is involved – the word “little” is a clear exaggeration, as deciding about the wine is mission impossible around here. However, this year it was easier than usual. Shortly before the New Year day, I received a special etched bottle of Ferrari Trento, the oldest Italian traditional method sparkling wine and one of my absolute favorites (I wrote about Ferrari many times in the past), so it was an easy decision regarding the bubbles to ring the New Year in with. I also wanted to start the evening with some vintage Champagne but considering that nobody was thoughtful enough to send me the gift of Krug Vintage, I had to settle for whatever I already had in the cellar. And then there was a bottle of generic French sparkler (non-Champagne) “just in case”.

2008 Philippe Fourrier Cuvée Millésime Brut Champagne (12% ABV, $29.99 WTSO) was outstanding, just a perfect sip to start the holiday evening right. It had just the right amount of yeast and toasted bread notes on the nose, just enough to enjoy without going overboard. Apple and lemon notes on the palate, round, fresh, elegant, perfect balance – just a beautiful wine (Drinkability:  8+). It was also a steal at the price (seems that the wine is no longer available at WTSO).

The vintage Champagne disappeared in no time, it was still long before the apple would start its slide down in the Times Square, so the generic French sparkling wine was next. The weather outside was far from ideal for the New Year’s Eve (non-stop heavy rain) but it didn’t stop me from the pleasure of sabering the bottle into the darkness – worked like a charm even with the wine glass, unlike the #$%^ (insert your favorite expletive) with the saber at the French Laundry.

The NV Prince d’Estivac Blanc de Blancs Brut Vin Mousseux de Qualite (12% ABV, $13.99 WTSO, Melon de Bourgogne 50%, Ugni Blanc 25%, Chardonnay 25%) was excellent in its own right – fresh and vibrant, with rich mouthfeel, touch of a fresh apple, a bit bigger body than a typical Champagne – delicious in every drop (Drinkability: 8). It was also interesting learning for me as I’m not really familiar with “Vin Mousseux de Qualite” designation. It can be used for any French sparkling wine made with the traditional method. I’m assuming with the Vin Mousseux de Qualite designation the grapes can come from anywhere in France, where all of the Cremant wines (Cremant de Alsace, Cremant de Loire, …) require the grapes to be from the defined geographic area – if I’m wrong, please let me know in the comment.

Last but not least the time has come for the NV Ferrari Brut Trentodoc Emmys’ Special Edition (12.5% ABV, $24, 100% Chardonnay, 24+ month on the lees). Ferrari wines generally don’t disappoint, and this one was not an exception – crips, bright, bubbly (pun intended), good minerality, cut through acidity – sparkling wine worth any celebration (Drinkability: 8).

Of course, there was more than just the wine – New Year’s Eve is calling for a full table – here is a fragment of ours.

How did you celebrate the arrival of 2019? What were your bubbles of choice? Cheers!

Thanksgiving with Smith-Madrone, And a Few More Delights

December 9, 2018 4 comments

Holidays are all about pleasure. The pleasure of the company. The pleasure of food. The pleasure of wine. As the very least, they should be.

Let me tell you about the pleasures of my recent Thanksgiving – in one picture:

Turkey with Smith-Madrone wines

If this would be an Instagram, I could end my post here, but in this blog, I can add a few words, right?

Let’s talk about the wine first. Everyone has their ideas as what is the best Thanksgiving wine. Some talk about how difficult it is to pair any wine with the Thanksgiving table, due to the large variety of dishes and often prevalent sweet flavors (this is not universal, of course). I have a very simplistic view of the wine and food pairing – give me tasty food and good wine, and if they don’t work together – no problems, I’m happy to consume them one by one. Difficult or not, pairing is not the focal point of my Thanksgiving wine selection. I really have only one strong preference for the Thanksgiving wines – they should be all American. Thanksgiving we celebrate here in the USA is all about this country, and so the wine should match that. And thinking about American wines, you understand how easy it is nowadays to have all-American wine experience.

How many of you heard of Napa Valley? Okay, I see that look, this was a stupid question, I know. But let me go on. How many of you heard of Spring Mountain District? Okay, I see your facial expression changing to say “hmmm, I’m not so sure”. And the last question – how many of you heard of Smith-Madrone? Okay, don’t feel too bad, at the end of the day it is one of the about 400 wineries located in the Napa Valley, so of course, one can’t know all of them. But – this is why I’m talking about it – this is the winery you might want to get better acquainted with.

Smith-Madrone is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley, started by brothers Stuart and Charles Smith in 1971. Smith-Madrone property is about 200 acres, with some parts of the vineyards planted more than 100 years ago, all located near the top of the Spring Mountain in Napa Valley. The name Smith-Madrone combines the family name with the name of the evergreen Madrone trees, prominently growing at the property. Well, instead of me trying to regurgitate the past and present of the Smith-Madrone winery, let me direct you to this article – it is a good story, well worth a few minutes of your time.

Smith-Madrone wines

When was the last time you had Napa Valley Riesling? If you answered “never”, it could’ve been my answer too – until I discovered this Smith-Madrone Riesling. Riesling is simply not a common grape for the Napa Valley, but Smith-Madrone produces the absolutely beautiful rendition of the famous grape. It might be due to the mountain fruit – all the Smith-Madrone vineyards located at the altitude of 1300 to 2000 feet, with slopes reaching 34%. Sustainable dry farming and winemaking practices also play a role, but one way or the other, the 2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (12.9% ABV, $32) was just delicious. varietally correct both on the nose (honeysuckle, a touch of tropical fruit, lemon, apples) and the palate, which was beautifully balanced with golden delicious apples, a touch of honey and acidity. To make me ultra-happy, the Riesling is sported a distant hint of petrol, which is my pet peeve.

2015 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (14.4% ABV, $40, 10 months in French oak) was equally beautiful. Again, the wines of that styling I call in my book “classic”. A touch of vanilla and apples on the nose, a distant hint of butter, continuing with the same vanilla and white apples on the palate. Clean acidity, noticeable minerally undertones, restrained, balanced – a very classic example of “how to do chardonnay right”.

With the risk of sounding very boring and repetitive, I have one more classic wine for you – 2014 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, $52, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, 70% new French oak, 30% one-year-old French oak for 18 months). How classic was this wine? Bordeaux-classic. The mountain fruit was shining, showing great restraint. This was not an exuberant typical Napa Cab – lean, tight, well-structured, with cassis both on the nose and the palate, the wine was very enjoyable now, and it will be equally or more enjoyable in 30 years.

So that was my main wine story on the Thanksgiving day. The rest was about the food – starting the smoker as 9 am in the 21°F weather (about -6°C), and then watching the turkey slowly getting to the right temperature. The silver lining of that cold weather was the fact that instead of 4-4.5 hours in the smoker, it took about 6 hours to get that big bird to the right doneness – and slower cooking results in more tender and more flavorful meat. A glass of Smith-Madrone Riesling was adding to the cooking enjoyment.

After celebrating Thanksgiving at our house, we went to see our close friends in Boston. What I love about that house is that there are always a few of the older wine bottles laying somewhere on the shelf. You never know what you will find in the older bottle, but that is what makes it fun, isn’t it?

The first bottle I opened was 2007 Tishbi Cabernet-Petite Sirah Shomron Israel (12% ABV, 70%  Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah). Judging by the pronounced brickish, almost orange, color, my first thought was “this probably fully turned”. And it was not! Complex nose of dried fruit and herbs was supported by plums and prunes forward, but balanced palate. Good amount of acidity, tertiary aromas – this was a very enjoyable glass of wine. Only one glass, I have to say – by the time I wanted the second, the wine was gone.

Without much thinking, I pulled another wine, realizing later that I opened another wine from the same vintage – 2007 Marani Kondoli Vineyards Saperavi-Merlot Kakheti Georgia (13.5% ABV). This wine couldn’t be more different from the previous 2007 – dark garnet color, not a sign of any aging, tight, fresh, blackberries and blueberries on the nose and the palate, firm, fresh and young. I’m really curious about how much longer this wine could’ve last.

One last wine to mention – 2010 Massandra White Muscat Crimea Ukraine (16% ABV). Massandra winery roots go back to the old Tsar’s Russia in late 1800, but their cellars hold wines from the 18th century (if you are not familiar with Massandra wines, here is an article by Jancis Robinson). Massandra is best known for sweet fortified Muscat wines, like the one we tasted. To me, this 2010 was most reminiscent of a Sherry, and not necessarily an ultra-balanced one. But then the same Jancis Robinson’s article says that Massandra wines require 45-60 for the full maturity, so I guess the wine tasted within the expectations…

Spring Mountain District in Napa Valley, Israel, Georgia, and Ukraine – not a bad wine play for the holiday, what do you say?

Here you go, my friends. I will leave you with some beautiful wines to look for. And how was your Thanksgiving, if you still remember it? Cheers!

Embracing Inner Dude At Halloween

November 4, 2018 9 comments

I like action movies. Well made action movies it is – those which have a plot and intrigue, and especially those which might keep you on the edge of your seat. Oh yes, and they better be American made movies. Nope, this is not a patriotic statement – Japanese action movies are beautiful (I love Martial Arts), but in 99 out of a 100, the main character dies at the end. In our, American made action movies, the good always wins – yep, the proverbial “happy end” is literally warranted.

And then there are those American movies where the plot is based on pure absurd, and the only supposedly entertaining element is unstoppable, relentless use of the F-word by everyone, including kids and animals – I guess the endless F-word variations are supposed to create serious drama around, well, pretty much nothing.

Okay, okay, you are still reading (if you are actually reading – and I want to thank you for that) the Talk-a-Vino blog so we will be actually talking wine – I’m not turning into a movie critic all of a sudden.

Sometimes I know that the wine sample had been shipped to me only through a UPS or FedEx notification, without any prior conversations with “the source”. So when the box arrived a few weeks ago from Donna White, I got really curious about what is inside, as the box looked quite big – however, its weight really didn’t support the size, so yes, color me very curious. Inside the box, I found the Halloween costume, the bottle of wine, and the note. From the note, I found out that I’m a Lebowski (and everyone I know is also a Lebowski). Which instantly triggered “The Big Dude Lebowski” to come to my mind – without much of the basis, as I knew the phrase but had no idea it came from the movie.

Now you have the movie connection. I found some movie clips on YouTube, and whatever I watched, didn’t give me an encouragement to sit down and spend time watching the whole movie (hence my opening thoughts in this post). The strong association of the word Dude and “The Big Lebowski”, which is an actual title of the movie, even prompted me to do a bit of the research on the meaning of “Dude” – I was happy to see that the word itself has a much longer history and somewhat easy to relate to (from Wikipedia): “Dude is American English slang for an individual, typically male. From the 1870s to the 1960s, dude primarily meant a person who dressed in an extremely fashionable manner (a dandy) or a conspicuous citified person who was visiting a rural location, a “city slicker”. In the 1960s, dude evolved to mean any male person, a meaning that slipped into mainstream American slang in the 1970s. Current slang retains at least some use of all three of these common meanings.” So “The Dude” can exist on its own, without the “The Big Lebowski” parallels.

Okay, so I explained the movie opening of this post, but we still didn’t get to wine – and it is the time to do it. The Dude actually plays an important world in the wine world – as the name of the Australian Shiraz. Two Hands winery from Barossa Valley in Australia produces the wine called Gnarly Dudes, which has the picture of the old Shiraz vines on the label – which looks like, well, gnarly dudes – hence the name and this whole connection between the Dudes and the wine.

I mentioned the Halloween costume in the box, didn’t I? Can you guess what the costume was? Yep, of course, it was the outfit of The Dude himself, exactly as they show it in the movie. My first reaction was: no. Just no. I will not wear this. A few days later, after the initial desire to reject slowly dissipated, the next thought was “well, this is Halloween after all. Why not?

The end result was simple. I wore The Dude’s costume and I opened the bottle of The Dude wine, just as it was envisioned by whoever put this package together. Below, you can see a proof – lame, but my best version of The Dude. By the way, when I was giving out candies in this outfit, nobody complained – and one person even managed to correctly identify the character I was impersonating.

For the longest time, our family tradition is to carve pumpkins for the Halloween. None of us has any carving skills, but once we finally acquired a good pumpkin carving set from the Williams-Sonoma, we managed to achieve the level of the personal content with the results of our carving efforts.

 

And now, let’s finally talk wine – 2017 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz Barossa Valley (13.8% ABV, $30, 100% Shiraz, 12 months in French Oak). The wine perfectly demonstrated its “dudiness”. Upon opening and for the most of the evening, it was simply an okay wine. Here are the notes:
Roasted meats on the nose, quite dominant
Dark, earthy fruit, blackberries, a touch of pepper, noticeable sapidity, overall earthy notes, good balance. This is a food friendly wine.

So in terms of drinkability, it was a 7/7+ wine at the best on the first day. The second day (without pumping the air out, just putting the screwtop back on) brought far more enjoyable wine – blackberries appeared on the nose, and on the palate, the wine clearly added multiple dimensions – velvety texture, round dark fruit, both blackberries and blueberries, sage and violets joined the chorus – absolutely next level wine compare to the first day, definitely an 8 wine (my own 1-10 Drinkability scale, yes). I want to mention that the wine remained equally beautiful even on the 3rd day, and showed a touch “over the hill” signs on day 4. An excellent wine, but you have it either give it some time or look for the one which has some age on it. And yes, forget a few bottles in the cellar for the next 10 years – somehow, I expect you to be handsomely rewarded.

Here is my Dude story for you. How was your Halloween? Cheers!

 

Cooking as an Ultimate Expression of Love, or Early Valentine’s Day Experiences

February 13, 2018 13 comments

I’m always happy to admit that Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. Of course this is a personal statement, and of course, I perfectly understand that I’m lucky to be able to say it wholeheartedly, as this is not a universal truth.

Outside of presents (which is fun), overpriced flowers and cheesy cards (nevermind all the heart-shaped chocolates, I don’t even want to mention those), Valentine’s Day is all about food and wine. Many years ago, we ditched the tradition of oversubscribed and underdelivering restaurants, offering strictly timed moments of celebration in favor of homemade dinners, which also include the whole family.

Valentine’s Day dinners at home offer a lot of pleasure in itself – you get to contemplate and select the menu, and you have an opportunity to touch lots and lots of bottles until you grab the one which somehow, magically, will become “it”. And then you get to cook that dinner, and most importantly, if everything works as you are hoping it will, you get an extra dose of happiness looking at the happy faces around the dinner table. By the way, if you need any wine recommendations for the Valentine’s Day, I wrote a few of them in the recent years – here and here are two of my favorite ones.

This year, Valentine’s Day dinner came in early – we will be leaving for vacation exactly on the February 14th, thus in order to maintain the tradition of family celebration, the dinner had to take place earlier – on Sunday before the Valentine’s Day. And so the next idea was – why don’t we start early on Sunday, let’s say with a nice breakfast?

What is your favorite celebratory breakfast meal? Eggs Benedict is definitely one of my favorites, so that was an easy decision. Smoked salmon is one of my favorite choices for the eggs benedict, so the prep for the breakfast started two days prior, first by making smoked salmon (you can find the recipe here).

This is Valentine’s Day dinner, so we need to up the game, right? What can elevate breakfast better than some crispy bacon? Yep, bacon it is!

Traditional Eggs Benedict are served on top of the English muffin. Truth be told, I don’t like English muffin – not with eggs benedict, not by itself. So my choice of bread? A fresh biscuit. I have friends who can easily whip a batch of biscuits on a moment’s notice, but I have my limits – thus buttermilk biscuits by Pillsbury work just perfectly for me.

Next, we need to make the Hollandaise sauce. It is somewhat of a tedious process, involving a double-boiler and some serious skills – unless you have a recipe from Suzanne, which is very simple and guarantees a perfect result – as long as you follow it precisely. The Hollandaise came out perfect, both taste and texture, so last prep step was to poach some eggs. All you need to do is to get hot water with vinegar to borderline boil (it shouldn’t be actively boiling, so take your time to adjust the heat) in a deep skillet, then carefully crack the eggs, set the timer and voilà. To my shame, I have to admit this is where I failed – I set the timer for 10 minutes (this is what I read in one of the recipes online), and this was a mistake – I completely overcooked the eggs. I believe the right time would be 5 minutes at the most.

Another important step – let the eggs cool off after cooking (ice bath recommended) – I didn’t do it, and as the result, Hollandaise was not covering the eggs properly – oh well, it was still really tasty. So the last step was to assemble the Eggs Benedict – the biscuit on the bottom, then smoked salmon, bacon, egg, and Hollandaise.

Now it is time to make dinner. More often than not, simplicity is your friend when it comes to food. Going the simple route, our Valentine’s Day dinner plan was simple – steak and potatoes.

For the potatoes, we have a recipe where potatoes are thinly sliced on the mandoline, then slices are stacked at the little angle and fried – it is a great recipe except that my fingers and mandoline are not great together, but love requires sacrifices, right?

And for the steak – you can’t beat the simplicity of the pan-fried filet mignon:

Where there is steak, there is also wine. As I mentioned, after spending good 20 minutes going through the different shelves of the wine coolers, I pulled out the bottle which happened to deliver an insane amount of pleasure – 2005 Neyers AME Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

I like to know critics scores for the wines, but only out of curiosity – my buying decisions are not based on those scores at all. Besides, my own take on the wine rarely correlates with the critic’s opinion. Except for this wine – when I read Robert Parker’s description, to my surprise and delight, it was well aligned with the way I perceived it – so here is Robert Parker’s take on this 2005 Neyers AME:

” 93 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

The finest 2005 is the Ame (which means “soul” in French), a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon cuvee fashioned from a parcel of the estate vineyard in Napa’s Conn Valley. Perhaps because of that, it possesses more minerality along with licorice, black currant, and cedar wood notes. Dense, full-bodied, rich, and impressively endowed, with good acidity, tannin, and extract, this 600-case offering will be at its best between 2009-2018. Range: 91-93“.
I would only disagree on one point – “best between 2009 – 2018” – it is 2018, and while the wine was perfect, it will go on for at least another 10 years before it will show any sign of age – but I will not be able to prove it to you as this was my last bottle. Nevertheless – spectacular wine, impeccably balanced. This is the type wine which makes people say “OMG, from now on, I’m not going to drink anything else”.
We need to finish dinner with the dessert, right? So what comes to mind when you look at the egg whites left after you make Hollandaise sauce? Egg whites omelet? Sure, but this is pedestrian. Meringue? Yes, now you are talking! So our dessert of choice was Pavlova of sorts, which is, as I learned, one of the national desserts of New Zealand!
Here you are, my friends – our early Valentine’s Day dinner experience. Happy Valentine’s Day! Cheers!

Happy New Year 2018!

January 1, 2018 9 comments

Want to wish my readers and their families happy, healthy and peaceful New Year 2018, with lots of great experiences, new discoveries, exciting moments, love and laughter with family and friends, and lots and lots of delicious, memorable wines!

 

Christmas at Newport Mansions

December 25, 2017 16 comments

New England has no shortage of beautiful places, full of history and character. One of such beautiful places is the town of Newport in Rhode Island. For as long as I live in Connecticut, Newport is always a “goto” place to visit, at least once a year. While Newport’s history generally aligned with the one of New England, with first inhabitants appearing there in early 1600, it shot up to prominence in the late 1800s, when the town became The Destination for the summer residences for all of the wealthiest families in the USA (you can read about history of Newport here).

While those summer residences were called “cottages”, they are typically known today as Newport Mansions. Just to give you a frame of reference – the biggest “cottage” in Newport, The Breakers, has 125K sq. ft. of total space, out of which about 62.5K sq. ft. are livable – yep, that’s one summer cottage. Each mansion is built in its own, unique style – the architecture, the features, everything was done in the unique fashion with lots of attention to the details.

We always visited Newport during spring, summer or early fall, exploring mansions, walking along the coastline and enjoying delicious fresh seafood. All along those many visits, I always saw the ads for Christmas at Newport Mansions, but somehow, the plans never worked out to go and see it – until this year.

We were planning to visit our friend in California, leaving before Chrismas and coming back shortly before the New Year. But my wife couldn’t take the time off, so we decided to split the vacation into two parts, and first spend a few days in Newport, to finally see the Christmas decorations.

Similar to the visit to Copenhagen earlier this year, the weather didn’t cooperate – almost freezing rain on the way to Newport, and then the rain for the whole Saturday. Well, that didn’t stop us from getting tons of pleasure from the stunningly beautiful mansions. We visited The Breakers, Rosecliff and Marble House – out of these three, The Breakers and Marble House were specially decorated for Christmas; Rosecliff didn’t have any special decorations but was hosting an exhibit of the works of the Pierre Cardin, which was an interesting addition to our program.

From here on, let me simply inundate you with the pictures of beautiful Christmas at the Newport Mansions. And yes, put it on your bucket list – you will not regret it.

Our Saturday morning view:

Newport, RI

The Breakers fully compensated for this:

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The view from the window at The Breakers, usually magnificent, was rather gloomy:

The Breakers

The Breakers

But still, the decor was there:

The Breakers

The Breakers were the home for Cornelius Vanderbilt, railroad magnate – of course a little train exhibit is the most appropriate – and fun!

The Breakers

Rosecliff – in the cake

The Breakers

The Breakers – cake version

The Breakers

The Breakers

Next, the Rosecliff:

Rosecliff

Rosecliff

Rosecliff

Rosecliff

The biggest dancing floor in all of Newport Mansions

Rosecliff

RosecliffAnd Pierre Cardin’s Exhibit:

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin

Sunday morning looked a lot better:

Newport, RI

Visit to the Marble house provided a beautiful ending to the trip:

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House, Cake edition

Marble House

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving Day Experiences

December 3, 2017 5 comments

Thanksgiving is one of my most favorite holidays. It revolves around food. Before you beat me up, of course, it is about family, friends and lots and lots of good reason to be thankful – but still, the food is at the core of this family gathering. This makes me double-happy – I get to spend time with the family and cook my heart out – and let’s not forget the extra bonus – I have a reason to chose special wines.

Since this blog started, there was only one year when I didn’t post about Thanksgiving. Otherwise, I did my best to talk about food and wine experience of this special day, sometimes even with few posts on the subject (you can find those posts here). This year, I had two resolutions for my Thanksgiving dinner. First, it will be simple – which means no Turducken, for instance. Second, I will serve only an American wines – to be more precise, only the wines from California. As Napa and Sonoma greatly suffered from the recent fires, this was only logical to embrace Californian wines to support the people there.

Thanksgiving Wines 2017

First, let me say a few words about the food. Turkey is a cornerstone of Thanksgiving – at the same time, it is hard to cook a whole turkey in really an exciting way. Over the years, we tried lots and lots of different recipes – with stuffing and without, turducken, smoked, deep fried, deboned… Some were definitely better than the others (turducken is typically a standout), and some of those preparations can be very laborious. Thus this year, I decided the smoked turkey is the way to go.

This was not a random decision – earlier this year I discovered so-called PBC (Pit Barrel Cooker), which I absolutely fell in love with. In the past, I had to spend literally a whole day, dancing around my simple smoker, trying to maintain the temperature and still ending up cooking all the food in the oven. PBC changed that dramatically – no need to precook ribs anymore, just start the fire, hang your piece of meat and come back in a few hours to enjoy. Based on all the prior success, smoking the turkey was simply a done deal.

This might be the simplest turkey I ever have done. Buy already brined turkey (many stores sell pre-brined turkey, which greatly simplifies your life), rub it generously with PBC All-purpose rub, start the fire and just hang it inside the PBC – you can estimate the cooking time based on the size, and of course, use the meat thermometer to make sure the turkey is cooked through.

Thanksgiving smoked turkey

Another dish I want to mention is the dessert. I got a recipe from a friend, many years ago – however, it was also a while since I made this dessert. I wanted to find a similar recipe online, just to use it as a reference – but failed. So here is the recipe without the usual ingredients and measurements, as here you can make everything approximately. Let’s call this dessert

Crepes Napoleon with Wine-poached Pears and Cranberry sauce

You will need the following:

  • 4 firm pears, I recommend Anjou, carefully peeled, halved and cored
  • 10-12 crepes (can be more, can be less, depending on how many layers do you want)
  • 1 lb cranberry sauce (canned is fine, fresh is better)
  • 1 bottle of port – you can use red wine too, but then you would need to add sugar.
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Put peeled, halved and cored pears into the large pot, cover it with wine, add cinnamon stick and nutmeg, and put it on the stove. Once liquid started boiling, reduce heat and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let peras to cool off completely in the wine, preferably overnight (when cool enough, put the whole pot into the refrigerator). Next day, thinly slice pears and put aside. You can also reduce the wine for a later use – it is quite delicious.

You can buy crepes or you can make crepes. If you will decide to make them, Alton Brown has an excellent recipe – this is what I used.

Crepes Napoleon

Once crepes are made and cooled off, you are ready to start making the Napoleon! Take a plate you will serve the dessert on. Put the first crepe on the bottom. Thinly spread cranberry sauce. Cover with another crepe. Now take slices of pear and put them around the crepe in a single layer. Cover with another crepe, spread cranberry sauce, cover, put pears and continue the process until you will be satisfied with the overall height of the Napoleon. I recommend a round of pear slices on top with cranberry sauce in the center, but of course, you can make your own decoration. Cover (plastic wrap will do) and put it in the cool place for the flavors to be absorbed into the crepes. Later on, slice and enjoy!

Time to talk wines!

Holiday celebration should start with the sparkling, isn’t it? Finding tasty California sparkling wine is really not a problem. One of my favorite California producers, Field Recordings, offers an interesting selection of the sparkling wines, with most of them packaged in the cans (yes, cans). I had a can of NV Field Recordings Methodé Aluminum Edna Valley (11.9% ABV, 100% Pinot Noir), and it provided a perfect start for the evening – fresh, supple, with good body weight and a nice touch of a fresh bread – definitely was a crowd pleaser.

I wanted to have a full California wine experience, so next, we moved on to Rosé – 2016 Conundrum Rosé California (13.1% ABV). Truth be told, I’m not a fun of Wagner family wines – Conundrum, Meiomi, Caymus – doesn’t matter, they generally don’t work for my palate. So I threw in the bottle of this Conundrum Rosé simply because it was available – I thought we will open it, taste it and move on. Boy, was I wrong. This wine had beautiful strawberries all the way on the nose and the palate, supported by tons of herbs – lavender, mint, basil. Perfect mouthfeel with very good presence, but not overwhelming and with good acidity – this wine was enjoyed to the fullest.

We drink with our eyes first – thus the label on the 2014 Durant and Booth Blanc California (14.6% ABV, $36, blend of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Roussanne, Greco di Tufo) was extremely drinkable and very promising (the label represents the art technique called water marbling – you can read more here if you are as intrigued as I was). I brought this wine from California after attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2017, where this wine was presented to us at the Napa Valley Vintners lunch – I plan to write a separate post about this event).

As you can tell, this wine is made from quite a few grapes, and I’m typically a bit concerned if the chorus will sing harmoniously. Oh yes, it was  – starting from the beautiful touch of butter and vanilla on the nose and the palate, then immediately offering silky plumpness of Roussanne with a gentle touch of butter and tropical fruit on the palate – this delicious wine was gone in no time.

Next, it was the time to move on to the red wines. We started with 2014 Acorn Alegria Vineyards Cabernet Franc Russian River Valley (12.5% ABV, $38, 93% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Petite Verdot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat). All Acorn wines are made from a co-fermented blend of grape varieties which are growing at Acorn’s Alegria Vineyard. This Cabernet Franc had a beautiful open nose with a touch of mint and cassis – the same continued on the palate with more cassis in a smooth, round package, supported by some herbal notes and perfect acidity. It was unmistakably Cabernet Franc, but also unmistakably California Cab Franc, without much of the green bell pepper presence and fruit dominant, but perfectly balanced.

Our last red was coming from the California region I was not really familiar with until now – El Dorado County (it is not only gold you find there, yep). 2015 Boeger Barbera El Dorado (15% ABV) was another wine I brought back from California after the same wine bloggers conference. I tried few of the El Dorado wines at the conference and was not very impressed, so I looked at it as an interesting experiment. Another score! This wine was dense and brooding, with tar and tobacco on the nose, and surprisingly polished dark fruit on the palate with sweet tobacco undertones. To make things even more interesting, I can tell you that we didn’t finish the wine during dinner, so I pumped the air out using the usual Vacuvin, and put the bottle aside almost for 10 days. After 10 days, the wine was still perfectly fresh and enjoyable, which makes me wonder how long this wine can actually age.

Time to finish our Thanksgiving dinner with the dessert. As our planned dessert had cranberry sauce in it, I decided to go with Cranberry wine for dessert. Tomasello Cranberry Wine New Jersey (9% ABV) was a perfect pick for it – good acidity, tart cranberry profile, it played perfectly with our dessert – while the wine was not from California, it still provided a perfect finish for our celebration.

Here we are, my friends. How was your Thanksgiving? Did you enjoy more the turkey, the wines or the company? Cheers!

 

Happy New Year 2017!

January 4, 2017 2 comments

Lots of festivities right around the January 1st prevented this simple post from going out, but – it is still very appropriate to wish all of you and your families happy, healthy and peaceful New Year 2017!

As this blog is about wine, food and life, I wish you lots and lots of amazing experiences – memorable wines, memorable meals, memorable journeys, and most importantly, meeting and spending time with people who truly make you happy.

marani winesI don’t want to spend much time talking about last year, 2016. It was not an easy year for my personal blogging – while there was no shortage in amazing experiences, the writing was not happening as effortlessly and generously as I would want it to be. Oh well, 2016 is a history, no point at pondering at it any longer.

Going into 2017, I don’t think I will be able to reasonably increase the number of posts – I plan, however, to make them more systematic than the last year. I will continue to run the interviews with winemakers – this now is one of my most favorite themes on the blog. I plan to write more regularly about wines we drink during the week. I still have lots to write about from 2016, so yes, you should expect to see those posts from time to time. I would love to bring back the wine quizzes, but I don’t think that would happen. The bottom line is – the fun journey will continue!

new-year-winesHappy New Year, my friends! Cheers!

Celebrate with Ferrari!

December 29, 2016 5 comments

Would anyone argue that holidays are better with Ferrari? Both of eponymous Italian hallmarks of quality would greatly enhance one’s holiday, but one of them – the car  – is a bit less accessible to the general populace, so let’s talk about the one which is – sparkling wine from a beautiful region in the Italian Alps – Trento.

More than 100 years ago, Guido Ferrari recognized the potential of the green slopes to grow world-class Chardonnay. While Chardonnay is an undisputed star of the still white wine, its swan song might be delivered best with the bubbles. Champagne comes only from Champagne, but Méthode Champenoise is successfully used around the world to produce sparkling wines easily rivaling Champagne in quality.

This is what Guido Ferrari set out to do in 1902 – produce world-class sparkling wines – the task which he completed successfully. As Guido Ferrari had no direct heirs, in 1952 he sold the winery and vineyards to the Bruno Lunelli, a friend and wine merchant. Now in the third generation, Lunelli family proudly continues Ferrari traditions into the 21st century.

Earlier in the year, I had a virtual conversation with Marcello Lunelli, a winemaker at the Ferrari winery – you can find that post here. Then during summer I had an opportunity to meet, talk to and taste the wines together with Camilla Lunelli, Managing Partner at Ferrari, who visited New York on the occasion of attending The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards ceremony, where Ferrari was sponsoring The Art of Hospitality Award (it went to Madison Eleven restaurant in New York city). As we combined conversation with the tasting of the wines, I want to share here my brief notes about both the winery and the wines we tasted.

Camilla Lunelli, Ferrari wines

Today Ferrari is producing about 2 million bottles per year. They are working in close cooperation with the network of 500 growers and employ 8 agronomists who work literally around the clock to ensure the quality of the grapes. All Ferrari vineyards are certified organic, which is something not to be taken lightly – think about the work required to convince 500 growers to change their ways, to adapt Best Practices developed by Ferrari and get certified (it took most of the growers between 3 and 5 years to change). Talking about the vineyards, an interesting side note: Trento is a mountainous region, and all Ferrari vineyards are located on the slopes which provide for large temperature shifts between day and night, which is significant for the development of the Chardonnay grapes.

Italy is the biggest market for Ferrari sparkling wines. However, when I asked which market is the next big one after Italy, I got a surprising answer – it is Japan! (Yeah, I knew it is not the US, as Ferrari wines are hard to find in the US stores).

I also asked what would be an interesting food pairing for the Ferrari sparklers, and Camilla recommended Rosé sparkling wine with Pizza (yes, I can see it) and then bubbles with the BBQ, which is something I will need to try.

Okay, let’s get to the wines now, shall we?

NV Ferrari Brut Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $25, 100% Chardonnay) – Delicious. Perfect acidity, lightly yeasty, refreshing, clear acidic finish.

2007 Ferrari Perlé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $38, 100% Chardonnay) – complex nose, minerality, complex palate with musk undertones, full bodied and refreshing

2009 Ferrari Perlé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $38, 100% Chardonnay) – we didn’t taste this wine with Camilla – I recently got a sample of 2009, so it was a good opportunity to include it here. On the nose, fine fizz, mostly closed nose with just a touch of an apple. The palate showed toasted bread notes, restrained, good acidity, tart, very clean and austere. Perfectly reminiscent of a good Champagne, however, too astringent for my personal enjoyment. I would definitely prefer 2007.

2008 Ferrari Perlé Rosé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $59, 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay) – Delicious nose, hint of strawberries, yeast, great concentration, complex, toasted bread, refreshing.

2008 Ferrari Perlé Nero Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $79.99, 100% Pinot Nero) – great nose, plump, open, full-bodied, lots of fruit on the nose, fresh baguette, not just yeast or toasted bread, toasted caramel, butterscotch

2006 Ferrari Riserva Lunelli Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $56, 100% Chardonnay) – the grapes for this wine come from the single area around Villa Margon. This wine is aged in neutral Austrian oak casks. Excellent, seriously complex nose, with a touch of tropical fruit; tremendous palate – roasted meat, super-complex, delicious.

2004 Ferrari Riserva del Fondatori Giulio Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $120, 100% Chardonnay) – the grapes for this wine come from a single high altitude vineyard called Maso Panizza. The wine has the classic nose, great acidity, it just screams “classic vintage Champagne” all the way.

Here you are, my friends – a full range of beautiful sparkling wines, worthy of any celebration you will have. I wish they would be a bit easier to find in the US, but these are the wines worth seeking. Cheers!

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