5 Thanksgiving Wines From Carneros (Or Close)

“Thanksgiving Wines” has become an annual favorite of mine to write. I enjoy the challenge of trying to find wines that pair well with a Thanksgiving meal—and informing my readers of my choices—because, quite frankly, not many wines do. This Cabernet will go perfect with some turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole…said, no one.

 

Of course, big reds like Cabernet would not be the varietals I would look to in this situation, but even some subtler reds or whites can be a difficult task for this once-a-year feast.

 

I tend to favor American Chardonnay because Thanksgiving is an American holiday and while Chardonnay may not be a match made in heaven for this cuisine, it works about as well anything else. And since I don’t think Chardonnay pairs all that well with much, why not use it in this instance. The key is to find a Chardonnay that has good minerality with little oak and only a small percentage of malolactic fermentation. There is no reason to have a fruity, oaky, butter ball wine with your marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes. It’s too much. And favor soil (terrior) over fruit. The more Burgundian your chardonnay is, the better.

 

I also enjoy some white Rhone varietals with this meal as well as Sauvignon Blanc, but I would advise the same as with Chardonnay—look for minerality and acidity, over round, oaky, buttery wines.

 

If you go with a red, Pinot Noir from California or Oregon (again, we are going domestic on this holiday) is always a safe bet. Syrah and Zinfandel, which have lighter tannins, can also work provided they are cooler climate ones. Warmer climate reds from places like Paso Robles, for example, can run very high in alcohol and brix (sugar) levels which can put you to sleep on your father-in-law’s couch a little sooner than you anticipated.

 

So with that in mind, for this 2021 iteration I am focusing on the cool climate, under-appreciated Carneros region of California (with one wine from nearby in Napa Valley). I love the range and variety of wines that come out of the Carneros region. Situated on the southern border of both Napa and Sonoma and just north of the San Pablo Bay it has a sort of “goldy locks” climate with hotter temps to the north in Sonoma and Napa and cool air coming off the bay to the south. While most of the region is known for cooler climate varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, there are micro climates in Carneros that allow for the growing of myriad varietals—Syrah, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and even Riesling.

 

Ok, enough of the foreplay. Here are my 2021 Thanksgiving wines:

 

 

2018 Bouchaine Las Brisas Vineyard Riesling ($38)

As I mentioned, Carneros has a wide range of varietals that can grow in the region. One of these is Rielsing—a varietal that thrives in southern Germany and Alsace, France and is beloved by many somelliers for its complexity and food friendliness. But Carneros has cool enough sites for this grape and the Las Brisas Vineyard is one of the most suitable in all of California due to the fact that the region is often covered in fog until mid-day. The Las Brisas Riesling from Bouchaine showcases beautiful floral notes, white peach and tangy apple notes with just enough acidity to compliment your turkey with gravy as well as your sweet potato pie.

 

2019 Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc ($22)

More and more Napa Valley wineries are experimenting with non-Bordeaux varietals and I love that. While not quite as many micro climates as Sonoma there are still plenty of micros and soil types in Napa to allow for all sorts of varietals, including most of the Rhone varietals.

 

The Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc comes from the Somerston Estate in the Napa Valley, a 1,682-acre property with 244 acres of hillside vines, located in the east of Pritchard Hill. When done correctly, white Rhone wines have a lovely bouquet of stone fruits (particularly peach) and white pepper with floral notes and minerality that I love. This Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc is no exception, with intriguing floral aromatics, ample acidity, and flavors of peach, apple tart and Crème Brûlée on the finish.

 

2018 Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Carneros Pinot Gris ($24)

I consider Etude to be one of the forefathers of the Carneros region. Established in 1982, the winery has been a top Pinot Noir producer for decades. And while Pinot Noir still dominates Etude’s varietal lineup, the winery actually produces quite a few different varietals and blends including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Rose and even a sparkling wine—and they’re all good.

 

Etude’s Pinot Gris— grown at their Estate “Grace Benoist Ranch” vineyard—has actually become quite popular (a staple on many menus in Northern California) as it’s extremely consistent, food friendly and varietally correct. This classic Pinot Gris offers solid acidity with aromas of pear, apple, stone fruit and white flowers on the nose. Delicate notes of spice, citrus and peach dance on the mid palate while classic Carneros minerality lingers on the long finish.

 

Ram’s Gate Estate Pinot Noir ($85) 

Located at the epicenter of three of Sonoma’s greatest AVAs, Ram’s Gate’s estate vineyard borders the Sonoma Valley to the north, the Sonoma Coast to the west and Carneros to the east, and is the proverbial “Compass Rose” of Sonoma. Like most of the region, the signature morning Carneros fog rolls in off the San Pablo Bay and the wind-rich location creates a “temperature controlled” impact on the estate that is ideal for Pinot Noir.

 

This wine erupts with a bouquet of cherry, tobacco and clove on the nose. Subtler, classic Pinot Noir notes of strawberry, anise and holiday spices come through on the palate. This wine should work with anyone’s version of a Thanksgiving feast, whether you fancy white or dark meat; sweet potato pie or classic mashed potato with butter; peas or a green bean casserole.

 

2018 DuMol “Hyde Vineyard” Carneros Chardonnay ($75 – $90)

If you read my “Talking Turkey—With Wine” article from last year I covered another “Hyde Vineyard” Chardonnay. If it seems redundant for me to cover another one this year, that’s fair. But the truth is, Carneros is currently making arguably the best Chardonnay in California (Aubert, Donum, Tor and Hyde de Villaine all make world-class Chardonnay here) and the superstar Hyde vineyard is probably the best of the best, turning out high quality Chardonnays on the most consistent basis. So why not touch on it back-to-back years.

 

DuMol’s “Hyde Vineyard” Carneros Chardonnay has lots of pineapple (tropical fruits are indicative of this vineyard) elegant floral notes, and lemon zest on the nose with wonderful acidity and limestone minerality on the long, long finish. The wine is extremely complex with integrated acidity and flavors that unfold fluidly. It should go wonderfully with your Thanksgiving meal but can also be relished afterward while you settle into a football game or talk politics with family and friends.  Your only issue with this wine will be finding a bottle of it, but if you do, it’s worth the price.

 

Enjoy your Turkey Day and be safe!

 

 

 

 

 

Fried Chicken & Champagne at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc

If dining at a Keller establishment is a must, two other options exist in Yountville. Ad Hoc is much less expensive than the Laundry but still gets stellar reviews for its four-course menu of ever-changing selections featuring local ingredients.

 

 

Keller opened Ad Hoc in 2006 as a casual dining venue to showcase the American comfort food of his childhood. The name Ad Hoc literally means “for this purpose,” and derives from Keller’s original purpose for the restaurant—to temporarily fill a space while his team developed a different restaurant concept. Yet from the start, Ad Hoc was loved so much by the locals and visitors to the wine country alike that it stuck around and is now one of the most popular restaurants in the valley.

 

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The daily-changing four-course menu, featuring classic American dishes like fried chicken, pot roast and barbeque, is handwritten nightly on chalkboards throughout the restaurant. All courses are served family-style to increase both the conviviality of the Ad Hoc experience and to further recreate the casual comfort of home. The wine list also features many of the local vintners—many of whom can be seen frequently dining at the low key restaurant.

 

 

 

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St.
Yountville, Calif. 94599
(707) 944-2487

America’s Most Coveted Shellfish

Move over Maine lobsters. An even more revered, more sought after New England shellfish has stolen the culinary spotlight for a few fleeting months. Fresh-caught Nantucket Bay scallops – arguably the best and most coveted seafood in America – are now arriving at select restaurants and seafood shops throughout the country, and they won’t be here for long. Continue reading

A Magnificent Merlot

After being one of the most popular kids at the party in the 90’s, Napa Valley Merlot took a hit to its reputation in the 2000’s. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly the reason as the quality did not suffer. If anything it got better.

 

The 2004 movie Sideways certainly did not help. In perhaps its most famous scene, the main character Miles, who adores Pinot Noir and seemingly loathes Merlot declares before a double date evening with his best friend Jack, “I’m not drinking any f—ing Merlot.” After that Pinot Noir sales went up and Merlot went down in the US and that remained the trend for many years. Yet in reality Merlot was already stumbling. I know because I spent many a Saturday or Sunday in Napa during this time and could see with my own eyes that the interest in Merlot among the wine tasting crowd was waning.

 

Some will point to the fact that California Merlots used to be too one dimensional, intended for blending or for making a very quaffable wine that appealed to a wide range of people albeit in a simplistic if not monolithic fashion. My personal theory is that Merlot took a back seat to Cabernet from a perception standpoint during the late 90’s and early 2000’s—a unique period in US history when a lot of money was being made (and later lost) and people based their opinions more on what they read or heard versus what they actually experienced or tasted. From expensive technology stocks to expensive wine, perception played a big role during these hifalutin times. Commanding higher prices and receiving higher scores from the critics (namely Robert Parker and Wine Spectator), Cabernet was king in California.

 

This superficial period also happened to conveniently coincide with some stellar Cabernet vintages coming out of Napa and Sonoma, thanks in part to favorable weather and a mini winemaking renaissance of sorts which further helped solidify Napa Valley on the worldwide stage—along with its most high profile varietal—Cabernet. Combine these factors with the advent of the Internet—which allowed wine geeks like me to keep tabs on exactly which wines were getting the top scores—and it’s no surprise that Napa Cabernet, the most expensive and highest scoring in California, took off in popularity.

 

But Napa Valley Merlot—which has been thriving in the valley for as long as Cabernet—never faltered in quality during this time. In fact, while not a lot of people were paying attention it just better. And people are starting to take notice. At least I am.

 

I recently tried a Merlot from Sullivan Winery in Rutherford (Napa) and it blew me away. I can easily say it is one of the best wines I have had from Napa, of any varietal. It’s important to also point out that I tried this wine without knowing the price. No matter how unbiased a wine writer or critic attempts to be, it is inherently impossible not to have the knowledge of price effect our thinking or judging. In this case I was not surprised to find out after I had relished in a glass for twenty minutes that it commanded a hefty price. It’s justified in my humble opinion.

 

2018 J.O. Sullivan Founder’s Reserve Merlot ($250)

 

Consisting of 80% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Petit Verdot, the 2018 J.O. Sullivan Founder’s Reserve Merlot is actually more of a “right bank” Bordeaux style than a straight up merlot. And I love that. Aromatically, this wine has distinguished earthy qualities rooted in the typical notes synonymous with “Rutherford Dust” leading with notes of graphite, tobacco leaf and cocoa, along with an unforgettable fruitful essence that emerges from the glass. On the palate, the seriousness of the wine becomes apparent. Broad, structured and coating, the wine maintains an old-world finesse, with freshness and bright acidity. Layered, nuanced and complex, flavors of raspberries, rhubarb, crushed herbs and wet stone minerality meld together seamlessly, leaving a prolonged and satisfying finish. The polished, yet complex tannin structure gives the wine an invitation to cellar.

 

 

Distilling in NYC

Manhattan‘s first and only legal whiskey distillery since prohibition has opened. 

 

 

 

Great Jones Distilling Co. opened to the public on August 21st, 2021 in the downtown NoHo area of New York City. With 28,000 square feet set over four floors in a distinctive building that was built during the prohibition era, the stunning distillery offers guests the chance to explore a working distillery.

 

 

 

The massive venue encompasses a fully functioning distillery, educational tour and tasting bar experiences, and numerous thoughtfully designed drinking and dining venues including an underground speakeasy and full restaurant debuting this fall. 

 

 

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Try out the Great Jones Distilling Co. 100% New York three signature whiskeys – Great Jones Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Great Jones Four Grain Bourbon, and Great Jones Rye Whiskey.  With special attention to ingredients, the grain is sourced from the Black Dirt region in Warwick Valley, NY where the air, climate, and rich soil impart a distinctive flavor profile.

 

 

For more information or to book, greatjonesdistillingco.com.

Oysters and Beer in the East Village

While the space inside this East Village eatery may be small, Upstate offers one of the largest assortments of east and west coast oysters available in NYC. From the Long Island Sound to the Puget Sound, Upstate’s friendly and knowledgeable staff will be happy to guide you through their vast medley of shelled delicacies. Whether you prefer briny, coppery, milky, or floral – or haven’t the faintest idea what any of that means – they’ll help you mix and match over 20 oyster varieties with their similarly impressive selection of craft beers. Come during Happy Hour, and $12 will get you a pint and six oysters. And if that’s not enough to entice you, Shane Covey, Upstate’s genial and gracious owner, will swing by at the end of your meal and give you a piece of whiskey cake made by his wife.

 

upstate

 

95 1st Ave
New York, NY 10003

Dining Departures—Best Airport Terminals for Foodies

The Best U.S. Airport Terminals To Be Stuck At 

Delays at airports are not as woeful as they used to be. That is, if you are lucky enough to be stranded in a choice terminal replete with the type of trendy dining and watering-hole options that rival our very cities. If you find yourself in an airport for an extended period of time this coming holiday season—or any time for that matter—hopefully it’s at one of these terminals.

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5 New Places to Visit This Summer in NYC

New York City is back in full force, and brand new bars, restaurants, and lounges are popping up all over the city. Here are 5 brand new chic places to add to your list for the summer:

 

 

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POPULAR at The Public Hotel 

In a collaboration between Ian Schrager, Peruvian Chef Diego Muñoz, and Michelin-starred chef John Fraser, Popular at The Public Hotel brings to life a menu Latin culture at its finest. Opened in June 2021, POPULAR, which means “of the people,” offers a culinary tour of the many styles and traditions of Peru, showcasing made-to-order Ceviches, wok-fried dishes to wood-fired specialties.

“Never before have two chefs of such world-renown collaborated to bring a luxurious, multicultural, culinary experience to New York City,” says Schrager. “I have long been impressed by Chef Diego’s innovative cooking, which spotlights Peru’s healthful cuisine that effortlessly marries indigenous, European, and Asian influences. His ‘live’ Ceviche program, where guests watch their dishes being freshly made, brings excitement and theatricality to the experience. I truly believe that Pisco is about to step into the limelight and Chef Diego creating our Pisco cocktails really takes them to a new level.”

 

 

 

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WRITING ON THE WALL 

The Lower East Side’s most exclusive new lounge and cocktail bar is hiding in plain sight on East Houston Street and Avenue A. A new venture from 29MONROE Hospitality that opened in March 2021, the energetic vibe features a resident list of amazing DJ’S, Handcrafted cocktails, and tropical bites.  Don’t miss The Roaring 20s signature cocktail made with Louis Roederer bubbly, Ketel One Vodka, muddled blueberries, and fresh mint or the Mont Blanc Cake. wotwnyc.com

 

 

 

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CASA LIMONE 

Take a trip to Southern Italy with a visit to elegant Casa Limone. The first NY restaurant by Monte Carlo Hospitality Group, Michelin- starred Chef Antonio Salvatore from Monaco’s favorite Rampoldi highlights the flavors, sights, and scents of Basilicata, Italy. Don’t miss the meatballs, Frittata Casa or Carpaccio di Polpo.

 

 

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THIEF 

Opened in June 2021, Theif is the first solo venture from John McNulty (Katana Kitten, Swine and Cocktail Kingdom). The 50-seat quaint neighborhood spot is inspired by the 1980’s NYC graffiti, art, and music scene. Boomboxes and spray paint line the bar, as well as small craft producers for both spirits and wine.  Don’t miss out on the Friesling (Frozen Riesling), truffle grilled cheese, or Vegan Mini Corn Dogs.

 

 

 

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ELECTRIC BURRITO
From Alex Thaboua and Will Wyatt of Mister Paradise, comes Electric Burrito, a SoCal style eatery inspired by Thaboua’s upbringing in San Diego. Find a variety of burritos, tacos, nachos, house-made sodas, and orange sauce for sale (a staple of any San Diego burrito). Electric Burrito is also committed to sustainability, re-using waste from tomato salsa, bacon fat and more in creative ways. Electric Burrito is located at 81 St. Mark’s Place.

A Versatile Vermentino

For whatever reason, when talking about Italian wines many people think of red wines—Barolo, Brunello, Barbaresco, Super Tuscan. Yet Italy produces 17 different white wine varietals—more than any other country—with a variety of styles and characteristics that can work with almost any cuisine. One of these varietals, which tends to fly a bit under the radar, is Vermentino. Considered to be one of the most important white wines produced in Italy, Vermentino, if done right, can be one of the great food wines. It’s perfumed nose and rich minerality make it a great match for light summer meals from fresh fish and produce, to light pasta dishes with olive oil and herbs to a simple burrata salad.  It can also stand up to heavier dishes such as Gnocchi with mushroom sauce, Bouillabaisse or even a classic Chicken Piccata.

 

Produced mostly on the island of Sardinia, Vermentino is generally light in body yet is quite complex with alluring aromas of peach, white pepper and lemon zest. On the palate, Vermentino can have a slight oiliness to it but is otherwise dry and crisp. What I love most about a good Vermentino is the mineral and saline characteristics. Wine, after all, is made from fruit off a vine that is grown from the earth’s soil. And while a wine’s bouquet may greet you, and its mid palate may strike up conversation, it is the earthiness, the soil, the terrior of the wine that lingers on the finish, leaving an indelible mark in your wine memory bank. Subsequently, it is also what makes a good food wine.

 

2020 Surrau “Limizzani” Vermentino Di Gallura DOCG (SRP: $16)

 

Located fifteen minutes from the stunning Costa Smeralda in the northeastern corner of Sardinia, Vigne Surrau is home to the only DOCG on the island of Sardinia—Vermentino di Gallura DOCG.

 

This 100% Vermentino is a blend of fruit from all of Surrau’s estate vineyards and was fermented and aged in stainless steel. The 2020 Limizzani is quintessential Vermentino with a bouquet of spice, crushed flowers, white peaches and apricots that lift up out of the glass. The perfumed nose leads to more stone fruits, pepper and lemon zinger, followed by crushed stones and a viscousness on the palate that is typical of Vermentino. The round, supple mid palate finishes crisp and clean.

 

Surrau’s 2019 “Sciala” Vermentino di Gallura Superiore DOCG (SRP: $27) is wonderful as well with similar characteristics, but I actually preferred the lower priced Limizzani, without knowing the price difference. At $16 a bottle the Limmizzani is a great wine to buy several bottles of or even a case of and enjoy throughout the summer with fresh seafood, pasta and other summer fresh dishes.

 

Great Rosé from…Napa Valley?

 

When it comes to fine wines and gourmet foods, we have a tendency as consumers to put things in a geographic box. Only the small Champagne region in northern Burgundy can produce world-class sparkling wine, right? Only the cold waters off the coast of Maine are where quality lobsters are caught, right? And great rosé only comes from Provence right? Wrong.

 

Italy and Spain produce myriad styles of wonderful rosé and rosato. So does South Africa and Argentina. And so does Napa Valley. “Wait, Napa Valley,” you say. Renowned for their Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet and Merlot (and word-class Sauvignon Blanc which never seems to get its due recognition) Napa Valley not only makes great rosé but is perfectly positioned to be a rosé producing machine if it really wanted to be.

 

As it is, many Napa wineries make a rosé but few seem to promote them or sell them on the retail market much. Don’t expect to see many in wine stores or on restaurant wine lists outside of Northern California. They are typically reserved for club members and tastings at the winery. In my article Napa Nuances from a couple years I quipped about Sauvignon Blanc that, “for a long time, it played the role of warm up wine—a palate cleanser or amuse bouche—before the featured wines.” Similarly, rosé is the wine a tasting room manager greets you with when you first walk in. It’s a “greeting” wine.

 

Due to its unrelenting popularity, however, I expect this to change. Yes, rosé will still be a greeting wine at many Napa wineries, but I would expect to see more of them on wine lists and on the retail market in the future. Why? The simple explanation for this prediction is that a) rosé remains ultra-popular in the US (and is no longer just a summertime attraction) and b) Napa Valley has the means to produce a ton of it. While Rhone varietals such as Grenache and Cinsault and Mouvedre remain the choice for many Rhone and Provence style rosés, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon can make for wonderful rosé too and these varietals are abundant in Napa Valley—with plenty to spare.

 

I can’t speak for every winery in Napa but typically higher-end wineries will “drop” a lot of fruit or declassify certain barrels they don’t consider to be of high enough quality to make it into the final wine. This “extra” fruit can be used in myriad ways. It can be sold to negotiants. It can used to make a blend or second label that’s only sold at the winery. It can be used internally as “practice fruit” to test new blending techniques. And it can certainly be used to make rosé—great rosé. Considering that most rosé wines are relatively inexpensive, the “leftover” fruit that goes into many Napa rosés—while not quite up to snuff for the $60 Merlot or $80 Cabernet—is more than sufficient quality-wise for the more whimsical, low key rosé.

Here are several Napa Valley rosés I like. Each one is made from different varietals resulting in different styles.

 

Sullivan 2020 Rosé (Merlot)—$35

 

If you like Provence style rosé but wish they were a bit more bold. With brighter fruit. And a bit fleshier. With more structured tannins. This is your wine. Like most Napa producers, Sullivan excels at red Bordeaux varietals, making some of the finest Cabs and Merlots in the valley. Like many producers in Napa, their rosé started out as fun thing to do—essentially a “greeting” wine. Boy is it good though. Their 2020 rosé is a light pink/salmon color, similar in color to the classic roses from Provence. In the glass, floral aromas and citrus notes of Meyer lemon, tangerine, white peach and limestone emanate. On the palate layers of strawberry, orange and lemon curd unfold with a lot of complexity for a seemingly simplistic wine. Acidity and minerality are abundant on the clean, crisp finish. This wine could be enjoyed with just about anything from shellfish to BBQ.

 

Swanson Vineyards 2020 Rosato (Sangiovese)—$24

Swanson has had their rosé for about as long as anyone in Napa—though it’s actually a Rosato, made in the classic Italian style from Sangiovese. While I haven’t actually looked this up, I know I had it circa 2001-2004 when I visited the winery, so that’s sufficient for me. I loved it then and love it now. This wine is light red in color (not pink), with a bouquet of strawberries and rose petals on the nose. On the palate it opens with red fruits (cherries, pomegranates and ripe strawberries) moving toward mellower watermelon and stone fruits on the finish. Despite its darker color than some of the other rosés on this list, this Rosato is very crisp and refreshing and can be enjoyed with any number of foods.

 

Frank Family 2020 “Leslie” Rosé (Pinot Noir)—$50

 

This new wine from Frank Family is a tribute to Proprietor, Leslie Frank, inspired by her love for Provençal rosé and the “good life.” This rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir, sourced from the cool pockets of Napa’s Carneros region, including their family-owned Lewis Vineyard located along the shores of the San Pablo Bay. Layers of strawberry, white peach, apricot and orange creamsicle on the palate unfold with wet stone and a hint of lemon zest on the finish. This is a wonderful sipping wine for any occasion, with or without food.

 

Gamble 2019 Rosé—$28

 

A blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot and
2% Merlot, Gamble’s rosé sounds like a classic Bordeaux style blend. And it is. Only it’s a rose. A bouquet of cranberries, grapefruit and crushed flowers dominate on the on the nose. On the palate, watermelon gives way to cherry, strawberry and lemon zest. The finish is long and refreshing with good acidity and minerality. Enjoy this wine with just about anything, including Asian food or rich seafood dishes like a homemade paella.

 

 

Raw Bar Hopping – 8 Great Oyster Bars in NYC

In the book The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky writes “before the 20th century, when people thought of New York, they thought of oysters.”  Though that sentiment along with New York’s oyster population has diminished over the past two centuries with the city’s drastic growth, oysters are currently making a strong comeback in Mahattan via the Oyster Restoration Research Project. Continue reading

2017 Gamble Family Vineyards Paramount

As we move into the middle of spring and the weather across the US (and northern hemisphere) begins to warm up, it is only natural for people’s wine tastes to change.

Rosé reasserts itself after a long winter’s nap and white varietals begin to fly off the shelf too. For those that prefer red wine, regardless of the weather or occasion or food pairing, it seems only natural to favor the softer, more delicate varietals, like Pinot Noir. But if you love Bordeaux varietals and simply will not be satiated with anything else when there’s juicy meats coming off the grill, you might find a nice Bordeaux style blend from Napa Valley to be the perfect fit.

Blends, which typically include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (and to a lesser degree Petite Verdot and Malbec) can offer the ideal balance in a red wine and they pair nicely with grilled meats, barbecue and other stuff you might be cooking as the weather warms. Also, blends from the new world typically offer brighter fruit than their French counterparts which further helps them pair nicely with a variety of foods, including your Memorial Day smorgasburg of burgers and sausages and steaks.

I was lucky enough to recently try the 2017 Gamble Family Vineyards Paramount ($90), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot sourced from the Gamble family’s vineyards in Oakville and St. Helena and it was delicious.

Greater than the sum of its parts, the final blend for the 2017 Paramount was drawn from fruit grown on nine different vineyard sites stretching the length and breadth of the Napa Valley. With the intention of allowing each variety to express its unique terroir and character, Winemaker Jim Close ferments each wine separately. At the core of this blend is Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon from Gamble’s Knoll-top vineyard and St. Helena Cabernet Franc, which harmonizes with Oakville Merlot from just below Gamble’s Family Home vineyard and Petit Verdot grown on the slopes of Mount St. Helena.

Of course, high pedigree vineyard sites don’t magically make great wines. You need a great wine maker—which they have—as well as a keen understanding of how to farm the land and yield great fruit…responsibly. At the heart of the winery’s regenerative farming approach is owner Tom Gamble, a third-generation farmer, who purchased his first vineyard in 1981. Over 20 years later, he started Gamble Family Vineyards with the goal of celebrating the distinct Napa Valley terroir he had come to know and love. A strong believer that wine is a gift from the earth, Tom takes a holistic approach when caring for his vineyards and the surrounding land.

The 2017 Paramount is deftly balanced—bold yet approachable—with just enough oak and the kind of soft tannins you expect from a top tier Napa Valley blend. Dark fruits—raspberries, black currants, plum—explode out of the glass, giving way to mocha and vanilla notes on the long, long finish. This wine has just enough acidity to make it a wonderful food wine, yet is soft enough to enjoy on its own or casually with some hard cheeses and charcuterie.

Still prefer white wines this summer? Gamble also makes one of the best Sauvignon Blancs in Napa Valley. Their Heartblock” Sauvignon Blanc ($90), while pricey for the white varietal, is a benchmark for quality Sauvignon Blanc in Napa Valley.

Top 5 Steak Houses in the US

Let’s face it. There is nothing quite like a high quality steak house. However, with so many to choose from around the country—including many of very average caliber—it can be difficult to find the best. Pursuitist has made it easy with this short list of the best places to go for a juicy, mouthwatering steak cooked to perfection by amazing culinary teams.

1. CUT – Beverly Hills

Wolfgang Puck is credited with redefining fine dining in America. Indeed, the award-winning Austrian-born chef and celebrated restaurateur has built a vast restaurant empire with locations around the world, beginning with his flagship Spago, which opened in 1982 (famous for its haute cuisine pizzas), and later Chinois and Postrio Bar & Grill, among many others. His trademark dishes have revolutionized the culinary industry.

In 2006, Puck opened CUT, a sleek, innovative and contemporary steakhouse complete with a lounge called Sidebar, located in the Richard Meier-designed Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel in the heart of Beverly Hills. After only one year in operation, the restaurant earned a coveted one star ranking from the Michelin Guide–no small accomplishment.

CUT continues to innovate at this stunning Four Seasons property. In 2016, the inviting CUT Lounge opened as the new bar and lounge experience formerly occupied by Sidebar. The ‘Rough Cuts’ menu offers the best bar snacks in the world, along with creative cocktails, in a relaxing and cosy environment. Try the New York Sirloin Steak Skewers, Maple Glazed Pork Belly, and the delicious Tempura Fanny Bay Oysters.

With its unique combination of service and design, the award-winning CUT Beverly Hills and the new CUT Lounge tops our list as the best steak and culinary destination in the US.

2. Smith & Wollensky – New York

Since its founding more than 30 years ago, The landmark Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in New York City has beef as its cornerstone, concept and reputation. Smith & Wollensky dry-ages and butchers its USDA Prime grade beef in-house to ensure unparalleled quality, tender texture, and outstanding flavor. On average, Smith & Wollensky is aging 7-12 tons of beef at any given time.

Smith & Wollensky is best known for its USDA Prime, dry aged steaks, but the prime rib is mouthwatering as well. The menu offers many options beyond the signature exemplary steaks. Guests can select from a variety of market-fresh seafood, poultry, and lamb. also, such as the shellfish bouquet. Meu standouts include the shellfish bouquet, creamed spinach, hashed browns and the coconut cake. The restaurant’s Great American Wine List offers over 550 selections from all across the country with a special section devoted to Undiscovered Gems, which are lesser-known wines of outstanding quality.

 

The Top 5 Best Steakhouses in the US2
Smith & Wollensky

 

3. The Prime Rib – Washington, D.C.

The Prime Rib was founded in 1965 in Baltimore, Md. by famed restaurateur Buzz Beler and his brother, Nick. The restaurant was designed to evoke the elegant supper clubs of 1940’s Manhattan. The restaurant is a throw-back to the good old days with its tuxedoed waitstaff, live music nightly, and convivial and romantic atmosphere. The restaurant, which is beautifully decorated with fine art and fresh flowers, is famous for its thick chops, fresh seafood and the plethora of delicious side dishes from which to choose. Its wine list is equally as extensive.

The Prime Rib opened its second location in 1976 in Washington, D.C.The restaurant has become a power meeting spot for the who’s who of Washington elite. The restaurant’s third location was opened in Philadelphia in the city’s historic Warwick Hotel in 1997.

 

4. Peter Luger Steak HouseNew York

Peter Luger

Peter Luger Steak House is a bonafied New York institution, has served the finest of steaks. For 26 consecutive years, Peter Luger has been the number one steak house in New York, according to Zagat’s, and its customers have included a host of celebrities, from Alfred Hitchcock to James Cagney and Robert De Niro.

Peter Luger Steak House offers only the finest USDA Prime meat available. The selection process is crucial and is done only by members of the family who visit the wholesale markets on a daily basis. Just as famous as its steaks are Peter Luger’s side dishes. Be sure to order the sliced tomato topped with Luger’s own sauce, creamed spinach, onion rings and the special German fried potatoes. The Peter Luger Steak House Old Fashioned Sauce is delicious and available for purchase. Keep in mind that most of Peter Luger’s dishes are large enough to serve several people.

 

5. Strip House – NYC & Las Vegas

Strip House NYC

Executive Chef, John Schenk, is renowned for his culinary skills and is often seen on The Today Show among other national news programs. Schenk keeps the menu fresh at the eclectic restaurant offers an innovative menu featuring select cuts of beef that are charred to perfection accompanied by decadent sides, an extensive wine list and delectable desserts. Be sure to try its signature New York Strip Steak accompanied by the restaurant’s delicious creamed spinach with black truffles followed up by its famous 24-layer chocolate cake.

The restaurant’s name is a double entendre that relates to both the delectable strip steaks as well as its seductive, yet sophisticated decor. The interior was designed by David Rockwell and offers a clubby yet striking atmosphere with deep red leather booths. The walls are adorned with black and white images of women that pays hommage to the female form. The collection was photographed by Studio Manasse in Vienna in the early 1900’s.

 

This article was originally published on Pursuitist. Republished by permission. 

Angels, Devils and a Turkey

Belles and beaus are readying their bells and bows for the premier event of the South: the Kentucky Derby. And amid the horses and hoop skirts, that oh-so-Southern cocktail, the mint julep itself, is poised to make its annual gallop through the world consciousness. A genteel concoction of sugar, water, ice and mint; founded upon that most Southern of spirits, bourbon; the mint julep is to the South what the martini is to the North. (See Our Tips for Perfecting the Mint Julep and Drinking It in Style). Continue reading

Yardbird—Bringing the South to South Beach

When someone brings up “The South,” it’s a safe bet they won’t mention Miami’s South Beach neighborhood.  It’s true that geographically speaking, Florida is the most Southern state in the Continental U.S. and Miami the most Southern metropolitan city. However South Beach is more likely to conjure up cultural associations with places like NYC or LA.  Yet, this is where you will find one of the country’s most successful new restaurants that has taken Southern cuisine to task. Yardbird.  Continue reading

The Right Way to Open Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Not all food and wine traditions—like grilling certain meats, decanting certain wines, or “popping” the cork off of a champagne bottle—results in a better product. Champagne is supposed to open with a bang, right? Not necessarily. In fact a huge celebratory “pop!” is actually a sign that it was opened by an amateur. Experts contend that a bottle of champagne opened with skill will make only a very small popping sound, or perhaps none at all.

Here is how to open a champagne bottle like a pro:

Chill thoroughly – Properly chilled champagne will fizz and/or froth over less
Towel dry the bottle – if there’s condensation to ensure a good grip and prevent slippage
Cut the foil – using a knife, only tearing with fingers after you’ve scored the foil.
Tilt and aim – Tilt the bottle to 45 degrees and aim it away from yourself, others, and anything breakable (like windows)
Hold the cork down – with one hand while twisting open the wire cage with the other
Twist the bottle – with one hand while continuing to hold the cork down with the other
Listen – for the sound of air escaping to signal that the bottle is open. There may also be a small cloud of gas.

The pop can be fun when among friends in a party atmosphere but if opened gently and quietly the champagne will have more bubbles and taste better. As the old saying goes “The ear’s gain is the palate’s loss.”

Once you’ve successfully opened the champagne the next step is pouring it. For the best results make sure the bubbly has been chilled to the proper temperature, 46º F – 57º F depending on age, and then further preserve the bubbles by using a ‘beer-like’ technique and pouring the liquid down the side of a tilted champagne flute.

 

How to Open Champagne

 

This article was originally published on Pursuitist. Republished by permission. 

How To Cook Steak Like a Professional Chef

Learn how to make perfect, restaurant quality steaks at home. Restaurant chef secrets are revealed in this how-to segment that teaches you how to make the best steaks. Featuring Lobel’s Steaks of NYC and wine from Robert Mondavi of Napa Valley, enjoy an easy culinary creation for a gourmet meal at home.

Ingredients:
Steaks – Lobel’s American Wagyu Ribeye Steaks Recommended
Sea Salt
Fresh Pepper
Olive Oil
Wine – Robert Mondavi 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Recommended

Step 1:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Step 2:
Open a bottle of wine.

Step 3:
Let the steaks come to room temperature.

Step 4:
Lightly brush the steaks with olive oil on both sides.

Step 5:
Sprinkle steaks with sea salt and cover with fresh ground pepper.

Step 6:
Turn burner on high heat. Pre-heat dry pan for 2 minutes. Place steaks in pan.

Step 7:
Don’t flip-flop the steaks. With tongs, check to see if a crust is forming after a few minutes. If so, turn the steaks over once and repeat the process.

Step 8:
Place the pan containing the steaks into the oven. Enjoy more wine.

Step 9:
After two minutes, take the pan out of the oven. Check the steaks with a meat thermometer. Desired temperature for medium rare is 125 degrees F.

Step 10:
Take the steaks out of the pan. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes so the juices settle before eating. Plate, garnish and and enjoy your steak.

About Lobel’s Steaks:
For five generations, the Lobels have been purveyors of fine meats dedicated to the highest standards of quality and personal service. These standards have made their butcher shop an institution in New York City, where the family’s Upper East Side store enjoys a devoted clientele comprised of celebrities, prominent business executives, and others who value the highest quality prime meats and attentive service. Learn more at: http://www.lobels.com

About Robert Mondavi Winery:
The Robert Mondavi Winery is recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in the wine industry. From the introduction of cold fermentation in stainless steel tanks and the use of French oak barrels in the late 1960’s, to collaboration with NASA using aerial imaging to understand the health and vigor of the vines in the 1990’s, the Robert Mondavi Winery has always been at the forefront of wine industry technology. Their innovations, such as gentle winemaking techniques to increase wine quality and natural farming to protect people and the environment, have led to fundamental changes in the industry’s approach to winegrowing. Learn more more at: http://www.robertmondavi.com/

Tales From a Chocolatier

Located high in Utah’s Wasatch Mountain range in the heart of the Rockies resides a small chocolatier company—with huge arms —that produces some of world’s best chocolate.  Meaning “by hand” and “they love” in Italian, Amano prides itself on sourcing only the world’s very best cacao beans and ingredients. Continue reading

Kid Friendly Restaurants in NYC’s Times Square

When you think of all the restaurants in the theatre district, there surprisingly aren’t that many kid friendly restaurants in Times Square, or at least not the kind we typically like. There are a lot of upscale and fine dining restaurants in Mid-town, and then there are a lot of big chains and theme-style restaurants. But if you’re like us and don’t want to head to Applebee’s or Olive Garden, and certainly aren’t taking your wild childs with you to fancy Le Bernardin, what are you left with? There is a lot of sifting to be done in the mighty Times Square area to find the right place to eat for you and your family.

Here are 8 great kid friendly restaurants in Times Square to help you plan a pre- or post- theatre meal if you’re visiting the city or seeing a show.

 

Carmine’s

This always-popular Italian is a NYC institution and is great for big groups. It’s all about family-style sharing, so bring your appetite along with friends and the kids, and get down to business. Antipasto platters, garlic bread, any pasta you desire and their delicious chicken parm will leave you fully satiated and ready to take on a Broadway show! 200 West 44th Street, New York 10036/ 212.221.3800

Shake Shack

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Times Square would certainly not be complete without a Shake Shack! Considered by many to be the best “fast” burger in the city, eating at this Danny Myer chain is a win-win for kids and adults alike. Apart from their mouth-watering burgers and fries, their shakes are insanely good as well, especially the caramel and malted vanilla flavors. 691 8th Avenue, New York 10036/ 646.435.0135

 

Virgil’s Real BBQ

For years Virgil’s has been a well-known NYC BBQ joint. And after dealing with the masses of Times Square you just might be in a little need of some comfort food! Think pulled pork, bbq chicken, hush puppies and mac ‘n cheese. Make sure to book a res, and come hungry. 152 West 44th Street, New York 10036/ 212.921.9494

Havana Central

Who knew that this lively Cuban night spot had a kids menu? I certainly didn’t – last time I was there was over mojitos before a Dead show! But they do, and with lots of games to keep the young ones occupied. My older daughter had chicken fingers while my younger one had a heaping plate of rice and beans, followed by brownies and chocolate filled empanadas with whipped cream and ice cream. It’s their new favorite place to eat before a show. 151 West 46thStreet, New York 10036/ 212.398.7440

 

Patzeria Family & Friends

If you’re looking for pizza, try this low-key family-run restaurant. A bit of a hole in the wall, but Broadway posters all around make it fun. And sometimes a slice of pizza is just what you need. Pastas and other dishes on the menu as well. 311 West 48th Street, New York 10036/ 212.245.4343

 

Junior’s Restaurant

Photo: TripAdvisor

This famed Brooklyn restaurant – serving the “best cheesecake in New York” – has an outpost in Times Square and has a full menu beyond cheesecake, including things like wings, hummus, potato pancakes, salads and soups. And my favorite kind too – split pea soup. 1515 Broadway, New York 10019/ 212.302.2000

Ellen’s Stardust Diner

Ok, so the food may be overpriced for what it is – diner food – but how can one resist the singing waiters at this swinging retro 1950’s style diner? Known as the Stardusters, the singing wait staff, many who continue onto Broadway, are sure to entertain the kids and keep them at bay – half the battle while eating out as a family. People come back to this hopping diner again and again for a reason – it’s just so much fun. 1650 Broadway, New York 10019/ 212.956.5151

Becco

For a more upscale experience, but not necessarily so that you can’t bring the kids, try this popular Italian restaurant. With items such as lasagna and spaghetti on the menu, as well as paillard and pan-seared salmon, there’s something for everyone. A nice little retreat from the Times Square chaos outside.

35 West 46th Street, New York, 10036/ 212.397.7597

Coq au Vin

A Hot French Classic for a Cool Night

Some say that Coq au Vin dates all the way back to the times of Julius Caesar, whereas others are quick to point out that the earliest known recipe was found in a cookbook from the 1860s. This classic dish—often served during the colder months—is the very definition of French comfort food. Continue reading

Power and Elegance

Bordeaux style blends from Napa Valley have always been a favorite of mine. Whether it’s a left bank style (heavier on the Cabernet Sauvignon), a right bank style (heavier on the Merlot and Cab Franc) or somewhere in the middle, the concept of blending varietals together to make a more rounded, complex wine has been around for a long time. The French championed the style a couple centuries ago in Bordeaux—more out of necessity than preference, since their climate does not always yield ripe enough fruit. Thus blending was needed to smooth out the edges and soften the tannins. Napa’s trailblazer vintners were initially reticent to blend because they did not want to copy the French—nor did they need to. Thanks to its warm climate and consistently sunny days during most of the growing season, a lack of ripeness is rarely a problem in Napa. But the practice eventually took hold nonetheless. Joseph Phelps is considered by many to be the first winery in Napa Valley to practice the technique, back in the 1970’s. Their flagship wine “Insignia,” considered the first Bordeaux-style blend in Napa, remains one of my favorite wines.

 

Of course, many producers in Napa Valley still prefer to make 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and excel at it. Caymus Special Selection and Shafer Hillside Select are two of the most revered Napa cabs on the market, with international name recognition and cult-like status. Thanks in part to ideal vineyards plots, perfect soil and a long growing season—these producers can make world-class red wines that consist of 100% Cabernet, yet with decidedly soft, plush tannins and layers of complexity that might easily be mistaken for a blend. While most Napa wineries tend to concentrate and excel at one or the other, a few excel at both.

 

Cliff Lede

Located in the Stag’s Leap district of Napa Valley, Cliff Lede Vineyards is one of these producers that has mastered both. They make blends—namely their “Claret” and “High Fidelity” labels. And they make Cabernet—though depending on the label and the vintage it could be anywhere from 85% to 100% Cabernet, give or take a few percentage points. All of their wines, even their Sauvignon Blanc, are extraordinary in my opinion. Before I delve more into their wines, let’s take a quick look at the winery itself and it’s rather short, yet successful history in Napa Valley.

 

 

Cliff Lede Vineyards was established in 2002 by Canadian born Bordeaux enthusiast, Cliff Lede, following the acquisition of a sixty acre estate in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. With a focus on producing wines from estate vineyards, Lede tapped David Abreu, considered the best viticulturist in Napa Valley, to replant the vineyards. Lede decided to name each vineyard block after some of his favorite rock songs and albums—from “My Generation” to “Dark Side of the Moon,” creating what is known today as the Cliff Lede Vineyards “Rock Blocks.” In 2005, a state of the art, 25,000 square foot winery and cave system was etched into a hillside overlooking the estate vineyards. Winemaker Christopher Tynan crafts Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, with the flagship, Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from the steep eastern hillside portion of the estate.

 

Stag’s Leap District

Ok, so what makes these wines special? After all, Napa Valley is home to a lot of great producers. For me, it’s the balance, complexity and polish of their wines. And while winemaker Christopher Tynan deserves a lot of credit, even he would probably agree that the vineyard plots Cliff Lede lays claim to in the Stag’s Leap District play a major role in the final product.  There are 16 AVAs in total in Napa Valley and each one has different characteristics. Yet, while the differentiating characteristics of these AVAs can be debated, it is hard to argue against the notion that Stag’s Leap District Cabernets have distinctively softer, silkier tannins than their neighboring AVAs. This is what SLD Cabernets are known for. Power and elegance.

 

Situated in southeastern Napa Valley, along the Silverado Trail, about five miles north of the city of Napa, the Stags Leap District is only about a mile wide and three miles in length. This makes it is one of the smallest AVAs in Napa Valley. And given its southern location in Napa Valley, it is also one of the cooler AVAs, resulting in a more subdued style of Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

Micro climate

Often referred to as a “valley within a valley,” the district is bounded on the east by the towering Stags Leap Palisades, to the west by the rolling hills and Napa River, to the north by the Yountville Cross Road, and to the south by low-lying flatlands. These landscape features lend the district its clear physical identity while a unique set of topographical characteristics make it ideal climate for growing Cabernet.

 

Says the Stag’s Leap District Winegrowers Association, “The rock facades of the palisades reflect the heat of the sun onto the vineyards below, causing temperatures to rise more quickly than in neighboring vineyards. As afternoon draws to a close, the hills funnel the cool, marine air flowing north from the San Pablo Bay through the Stags Leap District corridor. The cooling effect of this breeze, coupled with nighttime air drainage off the mountains and hills, means lower nighttime temperatures. This allows the grapes to achieve an excellent balance of acid and sugar and also minimizes the threat of frost. The end result is a longer growing season of warm days and cool nights—perfect for late-maturing varietals such as Cabernet.”

 

Cliff Lede currently produces a total of 10 Cabernet and Bordeaux-style blends. While all of them are muscular enough to stand up to a steak or lamb chops in the heart of winter they are also very elegant wines that can be enjoyed anytime of year with a wide array of cuisines. Below are my notes for the three wines I tried.

 

2017 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District

The fruit for this Cabernet (88% Cabernet Sauvignon,5% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc) was sourced from the hillside terraces of Cliff Lede’s Poetry Vineyard, Twin Peaks Vineyard estate which surrounds the winery, and a few neighboring vineyards in the Stags Leap District. The wine is composed of small lots from their best blocks, representing a diverse range of carefully selected clones and rootstocks. This wine is also rich in soil diversity ranging from Poetry’s volcanic origins, to the ancient riverbed alluvial soils of Twin Peaks, further contributing to the wine’s complexity. Great wines are indeed “made in the vineyard.”

 

 

The 2017 Stags Leap Cabernet has vibrant aromas of crushed flowers and dark fruits (blackberry, dark cherries) intertwined with chocolate, spice box and cassis. The wine has tremendous depth and layers of flavors that build into a long opulent finish that is framed with great minerality and loamy soil that personifies the SLD terrior.

 

 

2017 Dancing Heart Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District (Rockpile Vineyard)

89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, and 1% Malbec. The fruit for this one is sourced from Lede’s Poetry and Twin Peaks Vineyards. The Cabernet Sauvignon is planted in shallow volcanic soil and farmed to low yields, resulting in good structure with plush tannins and tremendous concentration.

 

This wine announces itself a bit more on the nose than the Stag’s Leap Cabernet, wafting with a bouquet of dark berry fruits, lavender and cocoa. Wonderfully complex with minerals and slate/graphite on the finish.

 

2017 Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District

 

The Poetry Vineyard, carved into a steep west-facing hillside, reaches from the highest elevations of the Stags Leap District appellation to the valley floor. This vineyard, designed by David Abreu specifically for Cabernet, draws its uniqueness from shallow, volcanic soils atop fractured shale. Due to the stressful nature of the site, planted with high vine density and farmed to very low yields, the vines develop slowly and produce small flavorful berries.

 

A blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot the bouquet on this one is loaded with black currants, crushed flowers, stone and cherry liquor. On the palate it has a complex medley of spices, tobacco, licorice, currant, dark cherries and even hoisin. The long finish includes cigar, dried cherries and warm slate.

 

Talking Turkey—With Wine

“Thanksgiving wines” has become an annual piece for me. I enjoy coming up with a list of food friendly wines that pair nicely with turkey and gravy and stuffing and sweet potatoes and green bean casserole (insert traditional sides) because, quite frankly, not many do. My general rule is, don’t overthink it…and stick to white wines.

 

What do I mean by don’t overthink it? When you have family and friends over (though this year may be different) and you are in charge of the wines it’s perfectly normal to want to offer some different choices, including something that may not be on your guest’s radar. Albarino or Riesling for example. But do these wines really match well with turkey? Not in my book. Sometimes the obvious choice is the best. Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb? Not Stonewall Jackson.

 

So what is the obvious choice? I always favor American Chardonnay. Why? Well, first off, because it’s American. This is our holiday after all. Yet ironically, it pairs nicely with Thanksgiving cuisine. Why do I say ironically? Because I don’t think Chardonnay pairs all that well with much. And yet it pairs well with a meal that doesn’t pair well with much. Go figure. But there are other reliable choices other than Chardonnay. Plenty in fact. Here is is my 2020 lineup:

 

Gary Farrell “Ritchie Vineyard” Chardonnay 2017 ($60)

Simply put, this is one of the best chardonnays I have tried in a long time. And being 2020, of course I tried it on a virtual wine tasting session via zoom call. A wine writer on the call made what I thought was a very astute comment about this wine, saying that it had a “lean mid-palate.” But he meant it in a complimentary way. And I knew right away what he meant. In addition to the wonderful stone fruits, lemon curd and limestone minerality that this wines exhibits, the lean mid-palate creates a sense of even-flow and gracefulness that allows the fruit to fully shine as the wine slowly unleashes all its splendor right up through the long finish.  This is a wine you can certainly enjoy on its own but it is a food wine through and through.  It’s California fruit meets Burgundian acidity and minerality. It’s opulent yet practices restraint. It’s a Chardonnay that people who aren’t particularly fond of Chardonnay will still like.

 

Ram’s Gate “Hyde Vineyard” Chardonnay 2018 ($70)

Usually when I think of famous vineyards in Napa and Sonoma I think of vineyards planted for Cabernet. There are many. But Chardonnay has a few too. And the Hyde Vineyard in Carneros—who’s soils its namesake Hyde family has been working since the late ’70s—is one of them. The cool Carneros winds here lead to slow and steady ripening allowing for complex and exquisite flavor development, with more of a Burgundian framework. The Ram’s Gate Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay is no exception.

A medley of the two clones—Robert Young and Musqué—produce a mineral-driven, austerely elegant chardonnay (similar to the Gary Farrell Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay in this sense) with white peach, apricot and lemon zest. Partial malolactic gives lovely texture in the mid-palate while the chalky soils drive saline and minerals on the finish.

Says winemaker Joe Nielson, “Hyde Vineyard is one of those cherished places in California where heritage, hard work and terroir come together to produce a wine that has incredible depth, richness and precision—hallmarks of not just a complex wine, but a delicious addition to your favorite meals.”

 

Gamble Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2019 ($28)

Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes to people’s surprise, actually thrives in Napa Valley (the chardonnay on the tasting list at a Napa Valley winery is likely from Carneros or Sonoma and not from their actual estate). Yet for a long time, it played the role of warm up wine—a palate cleanser or amuse bouche—before the featured wines. Not anymore. Across the board, vintners are no longer making Sauvignon Blanc for a little extra cash flow. They are investing it in big time—from farming, to specific clones, to barrels and concrete eggs.

 

One such producer is Gamble Family Vineyards. While their “Heart Block” is a benchmark for Napa Valley Sauvignon block (and commands a $95 price tag) their regular Sauvignon Blanc at a more palatable $28 is a wonderful wine, composed of four distinct Sauvignon Blanc clones:, Sauvignon Musque and 530, which originate from the Loire region, and Preston and 316, which originate from Bordeaux.

 

Truchard Vineyards Roussanne 2018 ($28)

This white varietal has been traditionally associated with the Northern Rhône, where it is blended with Marsanne to make white Hermitage wines. Like a lot of varietals that originated in France, it can also thrive in California, provided the right soils and microclimates are present. Carneros has exactly this, with cool (enough) temps, volcanic rock and ash soils and gently sloping vineyards—like it’s Northern Rhône brethren.

 

Floral aromas of pineapple, honeysuckle, and jasmine, with highlights of brioche and vanilla. The mouth is crisp, with clean flavors of fresh pear, honeydew melon, and lychee. Bright acidity provides a lengthy finish of citrus, mineral, and spice.

 

Robert Sinskey Pinot Blanc Los Carneros 2016 ($92 1.5 L Magnum)

 

 

This one might seem like a bit of a wild card. And yes, it’s only available in 1.5L Magnum format (and .375L split) but that shouldn’t be a problem for a Thanksgiving feast. I say wildcard, because at first glance a Pinot Blanc may seem a bit light for your average Thanksgiving meal. On the contrary, Pinot Blancs from California tend to be a bit “bigger” than those from Alsace or Italy. And not everyone’s turkey lunch or dinner is dominated by heavy gravy and buttery mashed potatoes. If your Thanksgiving meal is on the lighter side, this could be a perfect match.

 

Truthfully, when it comes to white wine, Robert Sinskey is more known for their “Abraxas” white blend, which includes Pinot Blanc but also Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurtz. I like the straight Pinot Blanc more though. It has been one of my favorite white wines from the sunshine state since I first tried it about 15 years ago.

 

The bouquet on this wine never disappoints. Aromas of fresh cut flowers, honeydew melon and even a little allspice jump out of the glass. Stone fruits (peach and apricot) and Meyer lemon are joined with white pepper and crème brule on the long finish—framed by great minerality.

 

 

 

 

Nomad Hotel Library Bar

Best Library Bars

Ah, the library bar. An urban oasis steeped in history (quite literally). Vintage, deep-seated armchairs, mahogany shelves and leather bound books ease the soul, while a single malt scotch calms the nerves after a long day of work. Ron Burgundy’s kind of place. My kind of place. Continue reading