Blog of Award-winning authors
ANDREW DORNENBURG & KAREN PAGE
Named one of GourmetFood.About.com's "Top 10 Food Blogs"
Named one of The Fifty Best Links for Epicureans
Named to MUG 400 for "distinctive contribution to life in New York"
“The Master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.”
—Zen Buddhist text
West Bank Cafe's "mac-n-cheese" is actually truffled orzo,
a singular dish worth returning for in and of itself
A smooth-as-silk 2004 Neal Family Vineyards Petite Syrah
graced our table at West Bank Cafe, thanks to Lewis Black
Chef Joe Marcus's richly delicious braised pork belly was
highlight of dinner at West Bank Cafe in NYC
Thursday, January 31, 2008 — The delicious pleasures that we experienced quite unexpectedly the other night all started with CULINARY ARTISTRY, we suppose, which set off a serendipitous daisy chain of connections.
It was our second book that made an impression on talented chef Joe Marcus, prompting him to email us, prompting us to discover his impressive cuisine at West Bank Cafe (WBC) a few years back, prompting us to meet long-time WBC owner and fellow wine lover Steve Olsen, prompting him to invite us to dinner the other night with his lovely and fun wife Janet and long-time-WBC-fixture-who-made-it-very-big Lewis Black, who is such a huge fan of Neal Family Vineyards wines and owners Mark and Margaretha Neal that we were introduced to the smooth-as-silk 2004 Neal Family Vineyards Napa Valley Petite Syrah that blew our minds with its sexy, elegant texture and flavors — especially when accompanied by Joe's equally sensual cooking. Wow!
Lewis Black is at www.LewisBlack.com. As Terry Gross of NPR's "Fresh Air" put it,
"Lewis Black is a playwright, stand-up comic, actor, and a commentator on 'The Daily Show' with Jon Stewart . He's been described as having the mouth of a shock-jock and the heart of a liberal. But his comic rants are targeted at anyone he finds deserving...."
Neal Family Vineyards is at NealVineyards.com. As there are only a reported 140 cases produced of the 2004 Neal Family Vineyards Napa Valley Petite Syrah, we count ourselves as very lucky to have been able to sample it.
Actress Shannon Marie Kerr is at ShannonMarieKerr.com.
West Bank Cafe is at www.westbankcafe.com, and, better yet, at
407 West 42nd Street near Ninth Ave. in Manhattan, where you can experience chef Joe Marcus's cuisine firsthand. Phone: (212) 695-6909. This Broadway hot spot is always filled with theater world insiders. The night we were there,
Tony and Grammy Award- winning "Hair" composer Galt MacDermot was performing with his New Pulse Jazz Band downstairs.
Credit: Kevin Clark
Wednesday, January 30, 2008 — Part I: Our day in New Jersey the other week was capped off by dinner at Cucharamama (see below) in Hoboken. But before dinner, we spent a couple of unforgettable hours in Springfield, New Jersey, home of Wine Library and Wine Library TV, which resulted in today's column "Suited for the Super Bowl" in The Washington Post:
If the two teams competing in Super Bowl XLII were wines, what would they be? Gary Vaynerchuk, host of a popular wine webcast, is as passionate about football as he is about wine, so the question we asked him wasn't rhetorical.
The New England Patriots? "Classic Bordeaux, 1982." The New York Giants? "Cava, which is a major underdog in the sparkling-wine world," Vaynerchuk told us, adding, "But I would root for cava, while I'd never root for the Giants."
Vaynerchuk, 32, is a die-hard Jets fan, as he has made clear to anyone who has tuned in even a handful of times to his groundbreaking weekday webcasts on Wine Library TV (http://tv.winelibrary.com), of which Episode 400 is due to play this month. "If WLTV aired on television instead of the Web, I would now have the longest-running show of all time," he jokes.
Besides hosting the webcasts, Vaynerchuk is director of operations at Wine Library, a New Jersey store that also sells wine online. Though many in the traditional wine world have never heard of him, his unorthodox yet undeniably entertaining way of describing wines (think less "cassis" and "tobacco" and a lot more "Cocoa Puffs" and "Big League Chew") has created a passionate army of a reported 40,000 regular viewers known as Vayniacs, one of whom even created Episode 125 as a tribute to WLTV. Their ranks continue to swell after Vaynerchuk's recent appearances on National Public Radio, "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," "Ellen" and "Nightline."
Vaynerchuk has been called "an underground phenomenon" by Doug Stewart, owner of Breggo Cellars in California's Anderson Valley, whose staff had to work overtime after a rave review on WLTV led to 200 e-mails and 20 orders in less than 24 hours. Rob Newsom, owner of Boudreaux Cellars in Leavenworth, Wash., went a step further and called Vaynerchuk "outside of Robert Parker, probably the most influential wine critic in the United States." And lest anyone think Vaynerchuk is interested in selling wine above all else, one viewer analysis had him slamming two-thirds of the wine on the show -- including some sold by Wine Library.
He's definitely the biggest football fanatic of any wine professional we've ever met. Attending 10 or more NFL games every year, Vaynerchuk knows he's not the only fan who's also passionate about wine. "Fifteen years ago, I would walk past tailgaters and wonder, 'When am I going to see wine instead of beer at tailgates?' " Vaynerchuk recalls. "In the early 1990s, I started to see boxed wines, and by the late '90s, I noticed bottles of Kendall Jackson, Clos du Bois and Meridien."
The real turning point was a 2003 visit to FedEx Field when the Redskins and his beloved Jets opened the season. "I finally saw someone with a bottle of Pride Cabernet," a cult wine, he says. "And last season was out of control: I saw rows of tailgates with nothing but wine. Yes, there were some magnums of Yellow Tail and Woodbridge, but also lots of intriguing Barbera d'Astis, dolcettos and even a Rhone Rebel. It looked just like a wine tasting."
On Super Bowl Sundays, Americans do more home entertaining than on any other day of the year and eat more food than on any day other than Thanksgiving. "Wine has been around since the beginning of time to bring people together. With the Super Bowl being the major social event of the year, the two belong together," Vaynerchuk says.
He is partial to white wines -- "The occasion calls for a raucous time and sudden interceptions, and you don't want to get red wine on your friend's carpeting" -- and recommends white Rhone blends, high-end Albarios from Spain and whites from Greece. He's a fan of the 2006 Leitz Dragonstone Riesling ($15) for its "great fruit and spritz action" that is "very driven by the apple and pears that make this wine a home run."
Among reds, he's keen on New Zealand pinot noirs "that are like the love child of Burgundy and California pinots" and even more passionate about the quality of reds coming out of Portugal's Douro and Dao regions at "ridonkulously low prices."
With ham-and-cheese subs or cheese pizza, you might want to grab a light-bodied pinot, such as one of two light-fruited ones designated Vin de Pays d'Oc: the 2006 Domaine Brunet Pinot Noir ($10) or the 2005 Heron Pinot Noir ($12), which Vaynerchuk and we recommend, respectively. Or as a match with your homemade chili, you could try a riper, spicier 2005 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz ($12).
However, our main picks this week are both carpet-friendly whites. Both do such a great job of cutting through the fattiness that marks the day's typical fare -- spicy chicken wings and snack foods galore -- that we easily could have flipped a coin to make either one our own favorite.
Karen swears by the 2006 Quara Cafayate Valley Torrontes ($9), which, with the fruitiness of juicy, ripe peaches and its crisp, dry finish, was a perfect match for guacamole and even held its own against steak-topped nachos.
Andrew is equally keen on the lively N.V. Segura Viudas Aria Estate Brut Cava , lush with ripe-pear flavors, made in the traditional methode champenoise and a steal at $12, plus a great match for virtually everything on your Super Bowl buffet. Yes, Vaynerchuk calls cava an underdog wine, but this one is a champ, in a league of its own.
TIP: Down These
Here's what to drink with some of the most popular Super Bowl fare:
Chicken wings: sparkling wine; or Riesling, syrah/shiraz or zinfandel
Chili: Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, syrah/shiraz or zinfandel
Guacamole: Champagne, unoaked chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, Torrontes
Nachos: sparkling wine, Torrontes (with white meat), zinfandel (with red meat)
Pizza (pepperoni or sausage): Barbera, Chianti, lighter-bodied zinfandel
Popcorn: champagne or other sparkling wine
Fudge brownies and chocolate chip cookies: Banyuls, muscat, port or PX sherry
For more, visit The Washington Post's Web site here.
Part II: Our afternoon at Wine Library
in Springfield, New Jersey:
The three-story home of Wine Library in Springfield, NJ
The view from the 2nd floor of Wine Library's retail store
A shelf talker on the 2nd floor of Wine Library
WLTV host Gary Vaynerchuk customizes the day's chalk board
Mott, the talent behind the camera, closes in on host Gary V.
Gary Vaynerchuk launches into his 20-minute edit-free show
We've never met her, but we love Gary's mom, who made
him this Jets jersey when he was a kid as the family couldn't
afford to buy one;
now, it's framed and on display in Gary's office
Chef Neil Perry with Jacob's Creek winemaker Philip Laffer
Chef Luke Mangan describes his Confit of Petuna Trout
Confit of Petuna Trout, pickled cucumber & ginger, soy &
lemongrass dressing by Australian chef Luke Mangan
2006 Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling
Chef Shannon Bennett describes his Tataki of beef dish
Chef Shannon Bennett's Tataki of beef with soja yuzu
noodle & sweet corn puree
2001 Jacob's Creek Johann Shiraz Cabernet
2004 Jacob's Creek Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon
Chef Neil Perry's Passionfruit pavlova
NV Jacob's Creek Sparkling Rose
Chefs Neil Perry and Shannon Bennett after a job well done
Sunday, January 27, 2008 — Before falling prey to a relapse of our winter colds, we enjoyed a last hurrah over an unforgettable dinner Wednesday night prepared by three of Australia's most notable chefs at the Manhattan residence of The Hon. John Olsen AO, Australian Consul General, showcasing Jacob's Creek wines.
Jacob's Creek is at www.jacobscreek.com.
The dining room at the brand-new Adour in the St. Regis
Our now-infamous Nuvo Vino infrared wine thermometer
Our gorgeous dish of hamachi with paper-thin radishes
The decadent sweetbreads with "egg-in-a-basket" at Adour
A selection of four cheeses including prize-winning Cabot
Our perfectly precise pear dessert at Adour
One of the sexiest chocolate desserts we've ever enjoyed
Pastel macaroons at Adour made for a happy ending....
...as did the exquisite filled chocolates that followed
NOTE: All photos are copyright 2008 A. Dornenburg and K. Page;
please feel free to link to this page, but don't take our photos!
Thursday, January 24, 2008 — Sandy, a dear friend of our dearest friend, just texted us from her BlackBerry:
"Saw the mention about you and Andrew at pre-opening at Adour...David just informed me that he has a reservation there for us on Valentine's Day....what are your thoughts....is it overwrought or comfortable???....hope you 2 are well.....have been to Bar Boulud a few times and like it...couldn't be a better pre-movie spot around..."
Sandy, based on our experience there on Tuesday night, you and David should hold tight to that reservation at Adour, and be prepared for a delicious ride....
We couldn't have been more excited to be invited to join two very dear friends as their guests at Adour this week. We brought along a small token of our gratitude: a very cool Nuvo Vino infrared wine thermometer. No need to contaminate your wine to measure its temperature: Just hold the device an inch from the suface of the wine, and press the button. You'll instantly be able to read the digital display. We demonstrated it to our hosts with our perfectly chiulled flutes of Champagne, and one of our hosts tried it out himself on his glass of red wine, above.
The food at Adour speaks for itself (thankfully, as we're under the weather today and unable to post details at this time); it's every bit as delicious as it looks, if not in our own light-challenged photography, then certainly in that on Adour's Web site, below. The service was some of the best we've experienced in New York City, with pros like service director Yannis Stanisiere as charming and fun as they were on top of every operational detail.
Isn't there anything we'd criticize? Press us, and we'll disagree whether we liked the honey ice cream that accompanied the otherwise perfect pear dessert. And perhaps they could in fact dim the wattage of the bright lights in the wine display cases. But would they keep us from returning? Not a chance..
So anyone else who wishes to invite us to dinner at Adour should know that there's a very cool wine thermometer (along with reasonably pleasant company) in it for them — as well as, we predict, a delicious evening.
Adour is in the St. Regis at 2 East 55th Street, Manhattan. (212)
710-2277. Web: www.adour-stregis.com
Credit: Julia Ewan
Wednesday, January 23, 2008 — Never ones to miss an opportunity to enjoy Peking duck, we celebrated the Chinese New Year a bit early in order to research our wine column in today's Washington Post:
The Chinese New Year (Lunar Year 4706) begins on Feb. 7, ringing in the Year of the Rat. This most important of Chinese holidays, celebrated by one-quarter of the world's population, merits an extended 15-day celebration, and its time-honored food traditions are beautifully enhanced by the right wines.
Chinese banquets are known for offering a range of dishes that represent an array of flavors and cooking techniques, not to mention figurative associations. At New Year celebrations, crescent-shaped dumplings, whole fish and turnip cakes are ubiquitous, respectively symbolizing wealth, abundance and rising fortunes.
On their own, such simple dishes can be as two-dimensional as a slab of red meat. But just as we've tasted how a great steak is elevated by a great tannic cabernet, so we developed a new appreciation for this cuisine once we experienced how Chinese dishes can be elevated by fruitier wines.
During this week's tastings, the single food-friendliest white wine proved to be the N.V. Sokol Blosser Winery's 11th Edition Evolution ($20), a blend of nine grapes creating an off-dry, fruity wine with a clean, crisp finish that managed to hit every note at our table: cutting through richness, enlivening blandness and cooling spiciness. Was this captivating blend the result of luck or intention? We may never know. This month the winery's co-founder, Oregon wine pioneer Susan Sokol Blosser, announced her retirement and handed over the reins of the business to her daughter, Alison, and son Alex.
Almost as versatile was the beautifully balanced, crisp, fruity and minerally 2007 Rudolf Muller Riesling Kabinett ($11), one of the best we've tasted at this price point. Riesling is Germany's most prized wine, and its most prized wine region is arguably the Mosel, from which this one hails, where the slate-based soil contributes rich, focused and minerally flavors to its wines. Attention, lovers of spicy foods, whether Hunan or Sichuan, Indian or Thai: This is one to buy by the case.
Don't be afraid to experiment with other fruity whites. Our favorite match with a mild dish of chicken and pine nuts rolled in single leaves of lettuce (also popular this time of year, because the term for lettuce, sang choy, sounds like the term for "rising fortune" in Cantonese) was the delightful 2006 Kunde Estate Viognier ($23), with its white-pepper nose and ripe, juicy peach flavors. One of our most pleasant surprises was the 2006 Pertinace Roero Arneis ($16), a fruity Italian white with a refreshing leanness that was crisp enough to refresh our palates after fried spring rolls and other Chinese appetizers.
Peking duck is China's most celebrated duck dish; it represents fidelity. Served with thin, crepelike pancakes, this specialty is as much about enjoying the bird's crisp skin as savoring its rich, dark roasted meat. But driving the wine pairing is its accompanying hoisin sauce, a sweetened and fermented soybean paste flavored with garlic, chili peppers, vinegar and spices. Although drier and even tannic reds such as cabernet sauvignon can work with duck by itself, the presence of hoisin sauce demands a fruity wine. Fruitier reds, such as merlot, syrah/shiraz and zinfandel, and even fruitier whites, such as Gewurztraminer and Riesling, also complement Peking duck, but we find ourselves reaching most often for pinot noir.
During our Peking duck tasting, Andrew found his pick of the week in the 2004 and 2005 MacRostie Carneros Pinot Noir ($30). Each sip-and-bite provided different experiences. When bites of pancake-wrapped duck were heavy on the hoisin sauce, they brought out the earthier, Old World aspects of the wine, with its notes of dried herbs and spices including black pepper, oregano and sage. Those lighter on the hoisin allowed the pinot noir to serve as a fruity New World accompaniment, with the lush flavors of black cherries contrasting with the slightly gamy duck.
Though the 2004 is a bit earthier and spicier and the 2005 a bit softer and fruitier, both vintages are excellent. MacRostie was known for its chardonnay before it started making pinot noir in 1992, but it obviously has mastered blending pinot noir grapes from vineyards on both the Napa and Sonoma sides of Carneros to achieve an alluring complexity.
Other pinot noirs to watch for are two fruity delights from the central coast of California: the 2005 TAZ Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($25), and the even more complex (aided by 12 months' aging in French oak barrels), black cherry-dominant 2005 TAZ Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir ($35).
We'll hasten to add that the West's traditional beverage choice for ringing in the new year works equally well, if not better, with these foods of the East. Sparkling wine is always a good bet with a Chinese New Year feast. The 100 percent pinot noir-based NV Gruet Methode Champenoise Rose Brut ($16) from New Mexico, with strawberry notes and a hint of vanilla on the finish, was terrific with our Peking duck: rich enough to stand up to the bird and fruity enough to work with the hoisin. The 2003 Taittinger Domaine Carneros Brut ($25), a delicious pinot noir-dominant blend with a notably creamy finish, recently stunned a tableful of Sichuan-food enthusiasts (including us) with its ability to tame the flames of our spicy razor clams and crispy lamb studded with hot peppers.
Whether you choose to celebrate with a fruity white, red or sparkler, we wish you gung hay fat choy.
TIPS: Asian Pairs
We suggest gathering lots of food-and-wine-loving friends for a big Chinese New Year banquet so everyone can taste a little of everything. But smaller parties may opt to focus on just a few dishes or a single bottle (or two) of wine. In that case, here's where to start.
Dumplings and turnip cakes: blanc de blancs, champagne or other sparkling wine
Whole steamed fish: Riesling
Peking duck: pinot noir, Gewurztraminer
Fresh fruits, such as mandarin oranges: sweet Riesling
Champagne (blanc de blancs): fried appetizers, shrimp dumplings
Gewurztraminer: garlic, ginger, lobster, spicier dishes
Pinot blanc: chicken, shellfish, vegetables
Pinot noir: duck, veal, black pepper-flavored dishes
Riesling: chicken, whole steamed fish, spicier dishes
Read more on The Washington Post's Web site here.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008 — We've never eaten at a Ruth's Chris steakhouse, and we're not likely to after reading the puff piece in this weekend's Wall Street Journal on the ill-informed approach the company is taking to wine and food pairing via an external consultant.
We were all set to write a longer blog on this topic, until we saw that the poster justalittlemoreplease on Chow.com had pretty much already made the key points, which you can read in full here.
Sitting down to the menu at Cucharamama in Hoboken, NJ
The dining room at Cucharamama at 5 pm on Friday
Spiced flatbread was accompanied by seasoned butter in
a Chinese soup spoon at Cucharamama
Rice and cheese croquettes
Spinach-filled empanadas at Cucharamama
Wood-burning oven-baked Serrano ham pizza
Excellent tender pulpo (octopus) at Cucharamama
Sunday, January 20, 2008 — We've long wanted to pay a visit to the Latin American-influenced restaurant Cucharamama in Hoboken, and on Friday afternoon, we had our chance. The sister restaurant of Zafra (whose praises we sang in June 2007), it is located just one block away. Both are the creations of Cuban-born owner Maricel Presilla, who was nominated in 2007 for a James Beard Award as Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic.
Unfortunately, the hour we passed in its dining room were not wholly pleasant ones. We kept looking around to see which staff member's sneakers scuffing the floor kept making such annoying high-pitched noises every few minutes, and when we couldn't determine the source, we asked the young hostess about the sound. "I think it's the alarm...." she said with a shrug. Our table rocked back and forth so much we were starting to feel seasick when a young woman staffer wordlessly crawled under our table to steady it by jamming something under the short leg. It helped, some.
So it says everything about the food that we would return any day, any time, for flavors as deliciously different as those we tasted at Cucharamama. Highlights included some of the most tender octopus we've ever tasted, and our benchmark was already very high after sampling excellent versions both in Spain and at Solera restaurant in Manhattan. The wood oven-baked Serrano ham pizza shouldn't be missed either.
We tasted only one dessert — one that our sweet waiter thought to be the restaurant's best. It just didn't sing for us. Not to worry; there are plenty of other dishes, and even some very enjoyable wine selections (including roses from Chateau Frank and Susana Balbo), that are worth waiting for.
Cucharamama is at
233 Clinton Street in
Hoboken, New Jersey.
(201) 420-1700. www.cucharamama.com
Zen Burger's crispy "ZenChicken sandwich"
Zen Burger's breaded "ZenShrimp" in a basket
Zen Burger's looks-but-tastes-nothing-like-a "Zen Hot Dog"
Friday, January 18, 2008 — The day Zen Burger opened its doors a short stroll away from our apartment, we checked it out. We were curious about this Zen Palate spin-off's approach to fast food, whereby big-chain standards like hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken sandwiches are served up in look-alike versions containing no meat products at all. We're so fascinated, we probably won't stop until we've tasted our way through the entire menu.
But is that a recommendation? Only to those who are equally curious about the role that texture plays in flavor, which we think Zen Burger demonstrates is probably a lot more than the average consumer typically believes.
Zen Burger is at 465 Lexington Avenue (near 45th Street) in Manhattan. (212)
661-6080. Web: www.zenburger.com
Credit: Julia Ewan
Andrew's Pick: Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro
Karen's Pick: Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 — When she waitressed during college at the B.Y.O.B. Dave's Italian Kitchen in Evanston (whose food she still craves!), Karen opened countless bottles of Chianti for customers to enjoy with their veal Parmesan and pizza. Empty bottles lined the walls of the restaurant, and one of the most common was that of Ruffino.
But the Ruffino wines she tasted circa 1980s, however enjoyable with tomato-sauced fare, were nothing like the Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro we recently enjoyed at home, which was so pleasurable that we named it one of this week's picks in our column in The Washington Post. You can read the rest here:
In the middle of winter, few scents can inspire the same anticipation as a big pot of tomato sauce simmering on the stove, perfuming the air with garlic and oregano. We'll use it throughout the week to sauce pastas, eggplant or chicken Parmesan, or homemade pizza. And although the occasion of pouring our hearts into such a painstakingly prepared dinner might once have inspired us to pour one of the best bottles from our wine rack, today we know better.
We learned the hard way that few things are as lethal to a good bottle of wine as a high-acid red sauce.
That's why lovers of marinara, ragu and the like should build a shrine to taly's most famous wine: Chianti. A straightforward, invariably dry Chianti will pair better with red-sauced fare than will other wines many times the price. This wine's popularity is well-deserved: There's no better match with tomato-sauced dishes.
Why? Because of the simple pairing truism that "acid loves acid." While moderate in body, alcohol and tannins, Chianti is high in acid, allowing it to stand up to a red-sauced dish's own high acidity.
Chianti is based on the sangiovese, Italy's most-planted grape and also the primary grape in Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the so-called super Tuscans. Chianti traditionally was a blend of primarily sangiovese grapes with some Canaiolo, plus very small amounts of the white grapes Malvasia and Trebbiano. However, because formerly strict mandates have been relaxed, today you can find some Chiantis featuring nontraditional grapes such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and even some that are 100 percent sangiovese.
The best Chiantis — particularly the "modern"-style blends and those aged in new oak — require care to achieve a balance that allows the wine's characteristic dried tart-cherry flavors and earthy notes (often of coffee, leather, mushrooms, smoke or spice) to shine through. Indeed, Chianti has undergone a renaissance over the past two decades, with the quality of the best Chiantis better than ever.
But choose carefully: If a bottle is labeled simply Chianti, indicating its origins in this district in central Italy, it's apt to be an inexpensive, lighter-bodied, basic wine, meant to be drunk young, that might tempt you to recall the straw-covered Chianti bottles of yore.
Instead, look for wines that also indicate a particular subzone. Chianti Classico, the central zone of the region, between Florence and Siena, is its best-regarded. Chianti has seven other subzones: Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Montespertoli and Rufina. Chianti Rufina is generally thought to produce the best wines outside Chianti Classico, and they are the only others you're likely to see outside Italy.
You can generally expect to pay from $15 to $30 for a very good to excellent Chianti Classico or Chianti Rufina. Keep an eye out for the 2005 Cecchi Chianti Classico ($13), 2005 Fattoria Selvapiana Chianti Rufina ($20), 2004 or 2005 Felsina Chianti Classico ($20), 2004 Fontodi Chianti Classico ($30), 2005 Gabbiano Chianti Classico ($14), 2005 Le Filigare Chianti Classico ($26) and the elegant 2005 Querciabella Chianti Classico ($30).
The term "riserva" on a label — usually only in the best vintage years, so typically alongside a higher price tag — indicates that the wine has been aged for more than two years. The process results in wines that are generally fuller-bodied, with greater complexity, and that can benefit from bottle aging of a decade or longer. A riserva that has been aged in oak barrels can be especially intense in flavor.
Recommended riservas include the 2004 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva ($30), the 2004 Marchesi de Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva ($26) or one of this week's picks (see above).
Ruffino's entry-level 2005 Aziano Chianti Classico ($13) and 2003 Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico ($23; also known as Tan Label) are good values at their respective price points. In its own class is the top-of-the-line 2003 Ruffino Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva ($40; also known as Gold Label), which we opened to accompany pan-roasted game hen with a tomato, mushroom and bacon sauce. The wine's earthiness played off the mushrooms and smoky bacon, while its tart cherry and plum notes meshed with the acidity of the tomato sauce, complementing the sweet white meat.
Upon tasting the 2004 Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva ($27), an effort from the great-grandson of the former owner of Ruffino, we loved it at first sip. However, like the other Chiantis we sampled for this week's column, it was brought to its zenith with food, particularly with the flavors of mushrooms, eggplant and rosemary. Picture yourself walking through a forest gathering red and black berries that had collected those earthy, mushroomy flavors of the forest floor before being pressed: This is the wine evoked by such a reverie.
And any time you'd like to return, just open another bottle of this wine. While you're at it, put a pot of tomato sauce on the stove.
In the Wine Aisle
Some other Chianti winemakers to watch for: Ama, Antinori, Castellare, Castello di Fonterutoli, Isole e Olena, Marchesi Antinori, Monsanto, San Felice, San Giusto a Rentennano and Volpaia.
In addition to its famed affinity for tomato sauce, Chianti matches well with beef, chicken, lamb, pork, steak and veal, as well as cheeses such as Fontina Valle d'Aosta, Gorgonzola, (Swiss) Gruyere, mozzarella, Parmesan, Pecorino Toscano, provolone and Taleggio.
To read more, click here to visit The Washington Post.
Shaking cocktails at a seminar sponsored by Chopin Vodka
Karen pours her cocktail into a carrot-lined glass
The finished cocktail
Our seminar leader cocktail maven Jerri Banks
What were two wine columnists doing at a cocktail seminar at the Hotel Gansevoort last night? Our passion is for flavor — wherever great flavor is found. And cocktails are so hot that it makes sense to stay on top of "2008 Cocktail Trends," the subject of cocktail maven Jerri Banks' seminar sponsored by Chopin vodka.
Flavor combinations featured included:
Chopin vodka w/ red grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur
w/ thyme, lime and carrot
Chopin vodka w/ lemongrass, fresh ginger and green tea
Chopin vodka w/ apple & beet juices, horseradish, and caraway
P.S. Our thanks to our tablemates, including Jeffrey Deasy of AmericanFeast.com, for making room for us at their table and letting us sample their Crushed Pink cocktail when we arrived after it had already been demonstrated.
Cocktail expert Jerri Banks can be reached at DrinkMuse@aol.com.
Our view of the open kitchen at Dell'Anima last night
Make-your-own Bruschette (Five for $15, toast included):
Lily Confit (center), Tuna Rillette with fennel pollen (6 o'clock),
Ricotta (9 o'clock), Chickpea with oregano (12 o'clock), and
Sultana Mostarda (3 o'clock) at Dell'Anima
Lettuce Hearts with roasted olives, walnuts, lemon crema,
and gorgonzola at Dell'Anima ($12)
Two scoops of Capo Giro gelato for dessert: Bittersweet
chocolate on the left, and mascarpone apple at right
Our kudos to Dell'Anima's hard-working kitchen!
Dell'Anima was so crowded last night that it's not like we think they need any more kudos to pack the place even further. But we can't resist. We loved every delicious bite on our maiden visit.
Further, we really loved the (white) NV Lini "Labrusca" Lambrusco Bianco (from Emilia-Romagna; $9/glass) we understand to be the pick of Dell'Anima's sommelier Joe
Campanale (formerly of Babbo), who unfortunately wasn't around last night to hear our raves for offering a delightfully different option to the usual prosecco.
And how is it, by the way, that we'd never tasted Capo Giro gelato before last night? It's worth a visit just to order either the chewy bittersweet chocolate or the creamy mascarpone with heirloom apples. Ordering both is a decadent ending to a decadent night.
Dell'Anima is at 38 Eighth Avenue (at Jane Street), New York.
Credit: G. Martineau
Karen's Pick: Rene Mure Pinot Blanc
Andrew's Pick: St. Francis RED
Wednesday, January 9, 2008 — What's on your mind? With the current surge of interest in both drinking and learning about wine, we'd like to continue to be a resource for you. Let us know what you'd most like to know about wine, and we'll devote a column every few weeks to answering your questions in The Washington Post.
Send your wine (and, of course, wine and food pairing) questions to the Post's editors at firstname.lastname@example.org, and they'll be forwarded along to us. In this week's column "You Ask, And We'll Answer," we take on a couple of the most-recently asked questions of late:
Our New Year's resolutions include devoting more time and space to the questions you ask us about wine and about what to eat with the wines you drink. We're getting a jump on things with the first half of today's column, and we plan to devote one column every month or two to a similar Q and A.
What do you think of the Biltmore Estate wines?
We've been asked that question several times, which makes sense given the popularity of the Asheville, N.C., winery as a tourist destination. A poll last year by Harris Interactive and the American Institute of Architects placed the Biltmore Estate and its Vanderbilt Mansion among the top 10 favorite works of architecture in the nation; the estate also claims that no U.S. winery can top its 600,000 annual visitors.
We recently sampled three of the wines, all of them non-vintage, and the first wasn't particularly promising. The Biltmore Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($14) is described on the winery's Web site as "smooth and fruity." We'll give it that, but not much else. The wine was so lacking in tannin that we had to recheck the label to confirm it actually was a cabernet.
The second wine seemed a little better, at least at the start. The crisp Biltmore Estate Methode Champenoise Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine ($25) has such an unusual — and quite pleasant — fresh spearmint nose and finish that we'd be tempted to try it with Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. However, we'd have to drink it quickly; sadly, the bubbles faded to a mere hint of effervescence in our glasses after just a half-hour.
The Biltmore Estate Chardonnay Sur Lies ($11), on the other hand, was pure pleasure. Full of juicy pear fruitiness and crisp acidity and with a minerally finish that wouldn't quit, this wine is also a very good value. Buy it by the case, and pour it with chicken or shellfish dishes, with or without cream-based sauces.
I'm looking for a fairly inexpensive (around $10 or under) smooth red wine and a crisp — not too oaky or buttery — white wine to serve at my wedding. My fiance and I really like McManis Family Vineyards Pinot Noir [$13] and Fat Bastard Chardonnay [$12]. Do you have any suggestions for a few other wines we can try out?
Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials, and of course we're happy to suggest some other dependable wines at or under the prices of those you're considering.
Among whites, we suggest tasting a few of the following, along with the aforementioned Biltmore Estate Chardonnay Sur Lies: the 2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay ($13), the 2005 Hogue Cellars Columbia Valley Chardonnay ($10) or the 2005 Meridian Santa Barbara Chardonnay ($10).
Among reds, consider checking out the 2006 Cartlidge & Browne Pinot Noir ($13), the 2005 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot ($11) or the 2004 Osborne Solaz Tempranillo-Cabernet ($8).
As you finalize your wedding menu, we suggest that you sample the wines you're considering alongside your appetizer and entree choices. And though you didn't ask for this word of unsolicited advice, on behalf of wedding guests everywhere we'll plead: Please, no dry champagne with your wedding cake. Consider serving a sweet sparkling wine, such as a Moscato d'Asti, instead.
However, to be honest, we encourage you not to underestimate the sentimental value of serving the wines that are among your personal favorites. Consider sharing with guests — via the menu or on a table tent at the bar — a few words about how you and your fiance discovered or enjoyed these wines together. We guarantee that most of your guests would prefer connecting with wines that played a role in your courtship rather than those that happen to be highly rated by others.
* * *
The other night, Andrew was craving a big bacon cheeseburger, while Karen was in the mood for something a little lighter. We compromised by sharing a bacon turkey burger and some fried onion rings. Our respective glasses of wine turned our near-identical plates into two different experiences that were exactly what each of us was craving.
Andrew got his big burger. The 2004 St. Francis Sonoma County "Red" Red Wine ($13) in his glass — a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and zinfandel — went beautifully with his ketchup-laden entree, emphasizing the meatiness of the burger and bacon and the earthiness of the onions.
Karen got her way, too. The 2006 Rene Mure "Tradition" Pinot Blanc ($17) in her glass was perfectly balanced. Its ripe-peach fruitiness filled in the gaps of the naturally lean meat, accented with mustard, while its crisp applelike acidity refreshed the palate after the fried onion rings. The overall experience of the same plate of food was much lighter. The 2006 hits wine store shelves in the coming weeks, but if you see the 2005, grab it; it's slightly softer in flavor, with a delightful caramel aroma.
Sometimes the answer to "red or white?" is a resounding "both."
To read more, please visit The Washington Post here.
The new 2nd Ave. Deli on East 33rd Street near 3rd Ave.
Andrew pours us water, pre-flavored with fresh lemon
Our new favorite potato pancakes in town at 2nd Ave. Deli
Our efforts to visit the newly-relocated Second Avenue Deli were thwarted twice before when we arrived at its East 33rd Street location to find long lines of people awaiting a table. But the third time was the charm when we arrived the other morning to split a plate of our new favorite potato pancakes (sorry, Sarge's) with our long-time favorite applesauce ($13.95, and worth every cent) in the city.
We thought we'd have the place to ourselves, but instead we ended up sandwiched between a table of seasoned wine biz pros on one side and restaurant biz pros on the other. From the snatches of conversation we overheard, we recognized the lingo — if not the speakers — instantly. The wine guys were complaining about the problem of figuring out if a particular wine was even in stock, despite what they were told and despite what it indicated on the computer. The restaurant duo seemed to be dissecting the best practices of chef-restaurateurs like Mario Batali and David Chang with more than just a passing interest.
We probably should have figured it out a lot sooner that the latter table was likely Spotted Pig investor Ken Friedman (whom we were touched took home the smoked fish he couldn't finish for his cat!) and his chef-partner (and Food & Wine 2007 Top 10 Chef) April Bloomfield, but we were honestly far too focused on our potato pancakes and applesauce. They really are that good!
2nd Ave. Deli is at 162 E. 33rd Street (bet. Third and Lexington Aves.), Manhattan. (212) 689-9000.
The Spotted Pig is at
314 W. 11th St., Manhattan. (212) 620-0393. Web: www.thespottedpig.com
Szechuan Gourmet on 21 W. 39th St.
(bet. 5th & 6th Aves.)
Our favorite dish: Crispy lamb with chili and cumin
We wanted to love Szechuan Gourmet, which we visited with a tableful of other Chinese food fans recently. After all, they were very nice on the telephone, saying it was OK for us to bring our own wine (which, to two wine columnists who cringe every time we find ourselves having to pay for wine when we know we've got stacks of the same or better at home, is a big deal). And the bloggers' raves had us stoked for our first visit to this spot that's a mere seven-minute stroll from our apartment.
But, truth be told, we were very disappointed with the appetizers and, in the end, there turned out to be only a single dish we both remember fondly: the crispy lamb with chili and cumin ($14.95).
Still, the memories are delicious enough that they just might be enough to take us back for a second try some day....
Szechuan Gourmet is at 21 West 39th St. (bet. Fifth and Sixth Aves.). (212)
Credit: Julia Ewan
Wednesday, January 2, 2008 — There's no better time to get your wine life organized to benefit your wine-drinking pleasure all year long, as we describe in today's column (as originally submitted) "Make 2008 a Vintage Year" in The Washington Post:
Every January, organizing guru Stephanie Winston's proven advice to us rings in our ears: "Don't try to do it all at once — instead, focus on the two or three surefire strategies that can yield the biggest payoffs." Here are the three strategies that we believe can do the most to enhance your wine life in the months ahead:
- Use your best wineglasses every day. Too often in the past, we found ourselves grabbing thick-lipped glasses — harder to break and easier to clean — that simply don't offer the best experience.
No more. We recently discovered Zalto Denk'Art glassware from Austria (http://www.zalto.us), whose elegant, eye-catching design first piqued our interest and whose dishwasher-safe performance won us over.
Two of Zalto's Universal glasses have become our daily glassware for meals at home. We'll admit that their $56-per-glass price tag would be a lot harder to swallow if they weren't remarkably sturdy, even with their thin lips and long, graceful stems...If we use them every weekday for a year, we'll have upgraded every sip of wine we drink for just a few dimes a day.
A more affordable choice is the attractive Riedel (rhymes with "needle") Vivant glassware, available at Target. At about $10 for each lead-free Tyrol crystal glass, which packs in more than three centuries of glassmaking expertise, it's a bargain. The downside? Riedel still recommends hand-washing its glasses, which is why we think the Zalto glasses are such an impressive breakthrough.
- Have a variety of wines on hand so you're prepared for any occasion. This week, we recommend a half-dozen wines representing the six so-called "noble grapes" (plus two bonus sparkling wines) you'll want in your wine rack to meet virtually any food-pairing challenge.
Cabernet sauvignon: Have a bigger red around to accompany roasted or braised beef, lamb or venison. Check out the 2005 Gallo Family Vineyards Sonoma Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($15), whose nice balance of blackberry fruitiness with firm but not overpowering tannins offers maximum pairing flexibility.
Merlot: When you're looking for something lighter with red meat, go with a merlot, such as the well-balanced 2005 J. Lohr Estates Los Osos Merlot ($15). We zoomed through the better part of a bottle of this jammy wine that tamed the heat of a pasta with a spicy, sausage-laden red sauce.
Pinot noir: Blackstone is raising its game with its new Sonoma Reserve line. We were surprised by how much we enjoyed the 2005 Blackstone Sonoma Reserve Pinot Noir ($19), a full-flavored red blend (with malbec, petite sirah and dolcetto) lush with complex black-cherry flavors and a long, vanilla-tinged finish. It will go with red-sauced pasta, salmon, tuna, pork or lamb. We drank it with a mixed grill of spiced Turkish lamb dishes with a yogurt-dill sauce that played beautifully against the wine's own herbaceous qualities.
Chardonnay: You'll want one that can stand up to cream-sauced pastas or chicken, lobster, pork, salmon or turkey. We recommended Gloria Ferrer's gorgeous Brut sparkler in our Nov. 28 column, and Andrew is just as enthusiastic about the 2005 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Chardonnay ($18), whose light touch of oak didn't overpower pear and peach flavors that were balanced by lemon acidity and a toasty vanilla finish.
Sauvignon blanc: For seafood and salads, try the 2006 Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Fumé Blanc ($13), a blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon and Viognier. Its refreshing lemon and herb flavors make it a perfect match for white fish or shellfish. A quarter of the wine is barrel-fermented in French and American oak, which adds to its complexity.
Riesling: A good Riesling will be your go-to wine not only to complement ham and sausage dishes, but also to cool the flames of spicy Asian or Indian fare. Take your pick of the off-dry 2006 Loosen Bros. "Dr. L" Riesling ($12), the apricot- and peach-noted 2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling ($9) or the apple- and peach-noted 2006 Genesis by Hogue Cellars Riesling ($12).
Dry sparkling wine: If you're like us, the holidays served to remind you how incredibly food-friendly sparkling wine is. The NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Columbia Valley Sparkling Wine ($11) from Washington state is priced to enjoy any night of the week. Made using the traditional methode champenoise, used to produce French champagne, it goes as well with sushi as it does with roast chicken.
Sweet sparkling wine: At the end of the night with — or instead of — dessert, pour a glass of Moscato d'Asti. Check out the 2006 Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d'Asti ($10 per half-bottle), or ask your local wine store about one of the lesser-known producers it might have on hand. The most dessert-friendly wine around, Moscato d'Asti will go with virtually any sweets you serve after dinner. Last-minute guests will be impressed when you're able to pour them a glass at a moment's notice.
- Synchronize your shopping lists for groceries and wine. That way, if you know you're planning several red-sauce dishes, you can pick up extra merlot — and ditto for chardonnay, if you know there are more cream-sauce dishes in your future.
Following these strategies can elevate both what you drink and what you eat to a new level. Taking the time to organize your wine life this month will enhance it all year long.
Tip: Bonus Strategy, especially for Singles and Couples
If you don't usually finish an entire bottle of wine in one sitting, you can extend the life of your leftovers by pumping the air out of the bottle. We've had our Vacu Vin ($10) system — a plastic pump plus a rubber stopper — for more than a decade. It's still best to try to finish wine as soon as possible (i.e., the next night or two) after opening, but we've had pumped bottles remain drinkable as long as a week later.
Because the Vacu Vin system doesn't work on sparkling wines, you'll want to have a few rubber-lipped champagne stoppers on hand to extend the life of your bubblies. We use the chrome kind with two hinged arms that clamp around the neck of the bottle to keep it sealed tight (less than $10).
To read more, visit The Washington Post's Web site here.
Valerie, Gene and Brendan performing "Striking 12" at Ars
Nova in Manhattan two years ago...
...and a year ago at the Daryl Roth Theater in Union Square
Tuesday, January 1, 2008 — Happy New Year! We were indeed happy to end 2007 by catching a performance of our phenomenally talented friends Valerie Vigoda, Brendan Milburn and Gene Lewin's holiday show "Striking 12" last night at The Zipper.
We'd recommended the show to some of our friends in Seattle when they were performing it on the West Coast last month, so Kimberly Brown Seely and her family were able to enjoy it, too!
Here's wishing everyone who is reading this great happiness and health in 2008!
"Striking 12" is at www.striking12.com.
Groovelily is at www.groovelily.com. (Valerie, Brendan and Gene are known as the band "Groovelily" when they're not performing "Striking 12.")
Giant pieces of popcorn hang from the ceiling at Garrett
The giant popcorn popper at Garrett Popcorn on Fifth Avenue
The bins of warm popcorn at Garrett Popcorn on Fifth Avenue
"As fans of Pizzeria Uno know, transferring a beloved Chicago food institution isn't easy....Garrett's, said noted food writers Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page , stumbled in the critical early going in New York (where Dale & Thomas Popcorn does very well) by not offering consistently hot and fresh popcorn. 'We wondered whether it was popped in Chicago and simply FedExed,' they wrote, adding the cheese popcorn wasn't as cheesey or salty as it is here. Could there be a plot afoot to keep Garrett's from further expansion? A Chicago conspiracy to monopolize these delectable treats? New York may be the Big Apple, but when it comes to specialty popcorn, we're the Big Cheese."
— Chicago Sun-Times, "Commentary" page (January 3, 2007)
Sunday, December 30, 2007 — We were surprised to learn the reach of our Blog when an entry we had written was referenced in the Chicago Sun-Times a year ago this week, not in the food pages but on the editorial ("Commentary") page. We hadn't realized at the time how seriously Chicago was taking the matter of how its homegrown Garrett Popcorn was faring with its first retail outlets in the Big Apple.
Although we took care to point out that Garrett Caramel Crisp and Cheese Corn are two of our favorite foods on the planet, we admitted that we were disappointed with its New York debut.
Fast forward to this week's appearances on "Good Morning America Now" and "The Leonard Lopate Show" to discuss Champagne and sparkling wines (which, after all, are great matches with popcorn), which took us to Garrett's Fifth Avenue store. The aroma of freshly-popped corn filled the air, fueled by a steady stream of popped corn shooting out of the popper and into the waiting vat. We ordered a small mix for ourselves, and a small tin to take with — and couldn't wait until we reached the busy registers to sample the hot, fresh and fragrant corn. The true test of how much this experience had improved over the one we'd blogged a year ago was that once we tasted it, we literally couldn't stop eating it.
Our congratulations to Garrett for persevering and bringing the perfect popcorn we've long known and loved to our fair city. We're already planning to ratchet up our workout schedule so we can keep visiting. Whether you're nearer the original in Chicago or considering the New York location on Fifth Avenue, Garrett Popcorn is a must-visit.
Garrett Popcorn is at 46th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Don't miss the Mix, which is on both of our lists of the 100 Best Things We've Ever Tasted. For Karen, it's on the top half of the list!
You can read our latest e-newsletter — distributed today — at http://www.becomingachef.com/newsletter_newyearseve_2008.php
Credit: Julia Ewan
Wednesday, December 26, 2007 — We don't know anyone who isn't thirsty for a few good tips about Champagne and sparkling wines this time of year. You can check out some from us in a series running all this week on "Good Morning America Now" (bet. 9-10 am; click here to view online, starting with today's "What to Eat with Your Bubbly" segment), in an interview with Karen on "The Leonard Lopate Show" (NPR) on Friday, December 28th, bet. 1-2 pm, or in our column "A Sparkling Toast for Every Course" in today's Washington Post:
Until four years ago, we were used to drinking champagne at 12 -- but at midnight, not noon. Then Ruth Reichl, Gourmet magazine's editor in chief and best-selling author of a trilogy of memoirs ("Tender at the Bone," "Comfort Me With Apples," "Garlic and Sapphires") invited us to an all-champagne lunch. It forever changed the way we thought about sparkling wines.
Around her table, we were joined by a dozen heavy hitters in the food world, including restaurateur Drew Nieporent and designer David Rockwell (who worked on Washington's Rosa Mexicano). At the stove was chef-restaurateur David Waltuck of Chanterelle, which has won James Beard awards for outstanding restaurant, service and wine service. With each of Waltuck's perfectly matched courses, our idea of bubblies as simply the go-to beverage for toasting the new year faded. Champagne became fine wine. We were amazed by the range of styles, and their versatility with food, as we tasted our way through a succession of flutes: from lighter- to fuller-bodied, from drier to sweeter and from delicate to richly flavored.
An entire celebratory evening offers even more opportunities to put these so-called grading principles to work and to pair each successive glass with food that will complement it best. Here are some tips from our life-changing lunch featuring Perrier Jouet champagnes, plus ideas for creating your own simplified all-sparkling countdown to midnight at home:
7-8 p.m.: Start with a light-bodied brut (dry) sparkling wine. These are ideal with hors d'oeuvres. At our lunch: Guests were greeted with bite-size herbed beggar's purses and deviled quail eggs, plus shot glasses of chilled beet soup with creme fraiche -- each topped with copious amounts of Tsar Nicoulai caviar. At home: In lieu of caviar and champagne, consider a good-quality American paddlefish roe (at about one-quarter the price) on your blini with Spanish cava or Italian prosecco. Recommended wines: the crisp and refreshing 1+1=3 Cava Brut ($15) or the fruitier Zonin Prosecco Special Cuvee Brut ($10).
8-9 p.m.: Whether you're planning a sit-down dinner or a buffet, serve a blanc de blancs (100 percent chardonnay) around the time of the first course. At our lunch: We sat down to Crazy Salad of Organic Mesclun, Lobster, Foie Gras and Papaya, created to accompany glasses of 1993 Perrier Jouet Fleur de Champagne Blanc de Blancs. At home: Keep the lobster but skip the foie gras. Blanc de blancs is also our champagne of choice with caviar and oysters. Recommended wines: the steely Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blancs ($12) or the rich 2004 Kluge Brut Blanc de Blancs ($30).
9-10 p.m.: With the second course, serve a cuvee (or blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and/or pinot meunier). At our lunch: Our Blue Island oysters with fresh white truffles were accompanied by 1996 Perrier Jouet Fleur de Champagne (50 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir, 5 percent pinot meunier). At home: Enjoy one perfect raw oyster, with or without a single drop of white truffle oil. Recommended cuvees: the apple-y 2002 Argyle Brut ($25), elegant NV Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain ($55), creamy Iron Horse Green Valley Classic Vintage Brut ($30) or complex 2000 DVX by Mumm Napa ($55). Recommended blanc de noirs (100 percent pinot noir and/or pinot meunier): the delicate Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs ($12) or richly creamy Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs ($20), especially with roasted or smoked salmon.
10-11 p.m.: Serve your entree with a rose sparkler. At our lunch: Our squab breast with braised wild mushrooms was matched with the 1997 Perrier Jouet Fleur de Champagne Rose (50 percent pinot noir, 50 percent chardonnay). As they were served, Karen chatted with chef-author Cesare Casella, with the aroma from his signature pocketful of fresh herbs only enhancing the match. At home: Roast a quail or two per person to serve with wild mushrooms -- or opt for lamb, pork, salmon or tuna -- alongside your rose. Recommended wines: the strawberry-noted NV Domaine Carneros Brut Rose ($36), cherry-noted 2004 Kluge Brut Rose ($38) or Roederer Estate Brut Rose ($26), cassis-noted 1997 Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle Rose ($115) or cranberry-noted Schramsberg Brut Rose ($24).
11 p.m.-midnight (and beyond): After dinner, and with dessert, enjoy a sparkler with a hint or more of sweetness. Look for sec (slightly sweet), demi-sec (sweet) and doux (quite sweet) styles. At our lunch: Champagne Perrier Jouet Extra Dry accompanied our tart and impossibly light passion fruit souffle with cilantro and pineapple sorbet. At home: Make a cold grapefruit and pistachio souffle the day before (find it at http://www.washingtonpost.com/recipes) to serve with demi-sec champagne. Recommended wines: the alluring Taittinger Nocturne Sec ($75) with dried fruit-based desserts, the honeyed Laurent-Perrier Demi-Sec ($40), creamy Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec ($39) or even a sweet Moscato d'Asti, with fruit desserts.
Reichl may be fine with apples, but -- as the unforgettable luncheon she hosted convinced us -- you can comfort us with champagne or another sparkling wine virtually any time, with virtually any food.
How Sweet it Is
Champagne's sweetness classifications can be confusing. Because "dry" typically refers to a lack of sweetness in wine, it's counterintuitive that an "extra dry" champagne tastes slightly sweet, but it does. Wine publications use varying standards, but in general, these are the classifications, in ascending order of sweetness:
Extra brut: 0 to 0.6 percent residual sugar
Brut: less than 1.5 percent sugar
Extra dry: 1.2 to 2 percent sugar
Sec: 1.7 to 3.5 percent sugar
Demi-sec: 3.3 to 5 percent sugar
Doux: more than 5 percent sugar
Thursday, December 20, 2007 — Our thanks to photographer David Handschuh for keeping us on his holiday greeting card list! We had the pleasure of meeting David a few years back during a shoot he did of us for the New York Daily News, and we enjoyed a very modest lunch together thereafter at our table. Ever since, we've loved receiving his e-cards — including the one we received today of Times Square's Naked Cowboy (with strategically placed guitar) surrounded by Santas.
Thanks again, David — and happy holidays to you, too!
David Handschuh is an award-winning photographer on the journalism faculty of NYU, and has been nominated several times for the Pulitzer Prize. Web: journalism.nyu.edu
Wednesday, December 19, 2007 — Our season of celebrating kicks off a week early, as Andrew's birthday is exactly seven days before Christmas (December 18). Thanks to all who remembered his birthday yesterday with such wonderful email greetings, which he enjoyed all day (in the midst of a schedule so jam-packed with meetings and other work we ended up having to cancel our pre-theater dinner plans) and night (after strolling home from a Broadway performance of "Cyrano de Bergerac," featuring the amazing Jennifer Garner and one of the stage's greatest actors Kevin Kline).
Whatever you're celebrating this month, we hope you'll discover some new favorite wines to raise a toast with in our column in this week's Washington Post "Just the Stuff for Roasts and Reveling":
Never one to miss an excuse to open a great bottle of wine from his impressive collection, Michael Gelb is the ultimate holiday pluralist. "I celebrate everything," he recently told us. "Hanukkah, Christmas, winter solstice, Kwanzaa and Festivus."
It comes in handy having a friend like Gelb, a former Washingtonian and the best-selling author of "How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci" (Dell, 2000) and "Innovate Like Edison" (Dutton, 2007): He's a proven source for early holiday tips. When we're deciding what to drink for Christmas, we note which wines he enjoyed most at Hanukkah. This year they included a 2005 Kaesler "The Bogan" Shiraz ($56). Gelb characterized the wine, poured with lamb, as "blueberries, blackberries and chocolate cloaked in scintillating purple velvet."
No matter what's on your holiday table -- lamb, beef, ham, turkey, another meat or maybe something vegetarian -- we'll bet it's slow-roasted in the oven this time of year. Roasting creates the wonderful aromas we prize in home cooking, and its bigger, caramelized flavors generally demand bigger wines. This week's holiday picks include wines at two price points, one sane and one a splurge, because there are at least a few days out of the year that we don't like to skimp.
From the first house credited with creating a brut champagne comes the elegantly dry NV Champagne Pommery Brut Royal Apanage ($50). Made from 45 percent chardonnay grapes, it has a floral nose, light lemony-citrus flavors and abundant bubbles that pair particularly well with smoked salmon canapes -- or just as well with our favorite holiday brunch of French scrambled eggs (gently cooked in a double boiler) topped with creme fraiche and caviar.
Just a few hours by car from Champagne, delightful bubbles can be found in Alsace in the form of the NV Lucien Albrecht Cremant D'Alsace Brut Rose ($20), a light-bodied pink sparkler made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes. It boasts bright strawberry fruitiness and lots of rolling bubbles, and it's a fine match with hors d'oeuvres, lighter first courses, even ham or turkey.
One of our favorite wines of the year will be hitting area wine store shelves shortly: the 2004 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Cuv¿e Carlotta Chardonnay from California ($60). Released for the first time in November, this wine was inspired by the grand-cru-style chardonnays that captivated winemaker Robb Talbott 40 years ago. It's unfiltered and features a fascinating parade of flavors: ripe, juicy pears and apples upfront, a minerally middle and a tropical-fruit finish. Named in honor of Talbott's grandmother, this wine would do any nana proud. It went beautifully with roast turkey and baked ham, and we'd also pair it with roast chicken, pork or even lobster. Performing well with the same foods was the 2005 Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay ($20), a lighter-bodied, creamy-textured selection with apple flavors, butterscotch notes and a hint of coconut on the finish.
The clear winner of our beef-only tasting, which included rare filet mignon and braised short ribs, was the 2003 Corison Kronos Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($98) from winemaker Cathy Corison. It took a full 40 minutes for this wine to open up and for its black-cherry fruit, pink peppercorn spice and bitter cocoa notes to show at their best. The next night, we opened the 2004 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($70), which impressed us with its black-cherry flavors plus hints of cocoa and, of all things, Mr. Pibb. (Note to fans of the "Saturday Night Live" "Lazy Sunday" video: "Corison + red meat = crazy delicious.")
Another night, when we blind-tasted a dozen red wines ranging in price from $26 to $116 against roast beef, lamb and portobello mushrooms, the two clear victors turned out to be the night's two lowest-priced wines. The winning 2004 Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($48), with its velvety texture and bright blackberry and black-cherry flavors, soared with and without food. Second place went to the 2004 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville-Napa Valley ($26), whose rich black-cherry flavors with hints of white pepper became even brighter with red meat.
Looking for elegance and complexity in an impressive red to drink now, or one that promises to age into an even more special gift? This year, visionary Bordeaux winemaker Bernard Magrez released his first California wine: the 2004 Bernard Magrez Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($190). This stunning Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot grapes holds the promise of even greater enjoyment in the years to come.
Not in your price range to drink or give? No problem; check out another of our favorite Bordeaux-style blends, the 2004 Barboursville Vineyards Octagon ($40) from Virginia, now in its seventh edition.
Whatever holiday (or, in our friend Michael Gelb's case, holidays) you celebrate this month, it's the perfect time to raise a toast to the roast — and to splurge a little.
Holiday Gift Idea: Michael Gelb's new book, co-authored with Thomas Edison's great grand-niece Sarah Miller Caldicott, Innovate Like Edison
Chef-owner Adam Perry Lang, an alum of Chanterelle, Daniel,
and Le Cirque,
carves our half pig and roast lamb at table
Sides included creamed spinach, sweet potatoes, and slaw
Andrew blows out the candles on his red velvet birthday
cupcake at Daisy May's BBQ on West 46th St. at 11th Ave.
while LAPD Chief Bill Bratton looks on contentedly
Daisy May's BBQ is at
623 11th Ave. (corner of 46th St.)
in Manhattan. (212)
977-1500. Note: No reservations are taken unless you pre-order a half-pig, whole pig, or roast lamb (which is not-to-be-missed). Details can be found on Daisy May's Web site at: www.daisymaysbbq.com
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