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 to this day.

 

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—not to mention hefty price-tags. 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 subsequently excel—at one or the other, a few excel at both.

 

Cliff Lede, located in the Stag’s Leap district of Napa Valley, 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.

 

History of Cliff Lede

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.  While it’s true that geographically speaking, Florida is the most Southern state in the Continental U.S. and Miami the most Southern metropolitan city, 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

3 Outdoor Dining Spots in Montauk

Don’t let summer pass you by without hitting the beaches in Montauk for a weekend getaway. As the summer playground for well-heeled New Yorkers, this year some of the top chefs have taken up residence in the East End. Here are some of our favorite dining spots:

 

BEACH HOUSE GRILL @ Montauk Beach House 

New executive chef Salvatore Olivella is causing a stir at the Montauk Beach House with his specialty, Roman Style Pizza, as well as some delicious summer grilled dishes. Guests will appreciate the sophisticated take on delectables like the Thin Crust Focaccia and Whipped Ricotta, Tuna Tartare with Mango Guacamole, and Hawaiian Style Short Ribs. If pizza is what your palate needs, try the Pizza Truffata with caramelized onions, mixed Italian cheese, and fresh truffles or Pizza Diavola with fresh mozzarella, Brooklyn pepperoni, spicy honey, and red pepper flakes. Don’t miss Wednesday pizza happy hour with half-price pies! Pair with cocktails like the Mezcalita Cocktail (Illegal Mezcal, Ancho Reyes, agave, fresh lime juice, and a chili salt rim0, Montauk Make Out (Don Papa Rum, pineapple juice, cream of coconut, and fresh-squeezed orange juice), Frose, and a selection of MTK Brewery beers, wine, and Spiked Seltzers. For more information visit www.thembh.com | IG: thembh

 

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Ruschmeyer’s

Ruschmeyer’s has been a staple in Montauk, and this year the iconic restaurant and hotel have over 10,000 square feet of social distancing dining space.  The dining area has 27 tables spaced 15-feet apart ensuring that current social-distancing guidelines are enforced. The Mediterranean-inspired menu by Executive Chef Giuseppe Lentini and Enzo Lentini of Ruschmeyer’s is included fresh Montauk Calamari, Shrimp Cocktail, fresh local oysters, artisanal pasta and the only loaded lobster roll in Montauk. A wood-burning oven provides Neapolitan pizza, topped with their in-house made mozzarella.

 

 

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Join Ruschmeyer’s for some amazing weekday specials:

Tuesday’s – Taco Tuesday- Buy one get one free margarita from 5-10:30PM

Wednesday’s – Italian Family Style Dinner- $19.95/person, enjoy spaghetti and meatballs and a complimentary bottle of rosé for the table

Thursday’s – Family Style Steak Night- Includes steak and appetizers served family-style for $50/person

Sunday’s – Lobster Bake – Including 2-pound lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, fresh corn and potatoes for $75/person

For more information please visit: www.ruschmeyersmontauk.com | IG: ruschmeyersmtk

 

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BACKYARD RESTAURANT at Solé East

Solé East is offering breakfast, lunch, dinner & a tapas-style poolside menu under the direction of self-taught Executive Chef Adam Pitré. With a focus on seasonal cuisine, the menu features fresh, natural ingredients and sourced organic meats, locally farmed vegetables, and fresh catch from the Montauk local fishermen.  Reservations can be made on Open Table. For more information please visit www.soleast.com | IG: soleeastmontauk

Greetings From Kentucky

Our Tips for Perfecting the Mint Julep and Drinking It in Style

Looking to throw a derby party with mint juleps that people will actually remember? We have simple advice–go big or go home. Don’t buy any old whiskey, don’t cut corners on the ingredients and don’t serve Kentucky’s favorite cocktail in solo cups. These tweaks to your usual routine will have your guests looking forward to next year’s shindig.

Continue reading

Take Your Tequila to the Garden Party

 

Tequila sometimes has to struggle with its brawling-bikers-under-a-hot-sun reputation. Rarely do people write on their garden party invites, “tequila drinks being served.” Which is a shame, because even though a shot of tequila may be the drink of choice for those wearing leather jackets in July, this base spirit also plays well in a variety of cocktails, from traditional numbers such as the Margarita to lighter and less-known summer fare that pairs tequila up with intriguing ingredients.

 

One such lesser-known tequila recipe that’s getting more popular by the minute, and one that’s perfect for backyard gathering when the mercury has risen up the thermometer, is the Green Garden from Paul Abercrombie’s wonderfully green cocktail book “Organic, Shaken and Stirred.” The Green Garden mixes organic Blanco tequila with a cucumber-infused syrup (if your own garden isn’t overflowing, pick up English cucumbers – what Abercrombie suggests using here – at a local farmer’s market), a hint of lime and Italian sparkler Moscato d’Asti. The end result is a drink that doesn’t sacrifice anything in tequila taste, but one that also stays light on its feet. Because even a biker doesn’t want to be weighed down by their drink when the summertime dancing starts.

 

Green Garden

 

1-1/2 ounces organic blanco tequila

1/2 ounce Cucumber-Infused Organic Simple Syrup (recipe follows)

1/4 ounce freshly squeezed organic lime juice

1 ounce organic Moscato d’Asti

Several edible organic flowers (such as small roses or lavender blossoms)

 

1. Combine the tequila, simple syrup, and lime juice in an ice cube-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously, then strain the mixture into a chilled martini glass or champagne saucer.

 

2. Add the Moscato d’Asti and garnish with the flowers.

 

Cucumber-Infused Organic Simple Syrup: Juice one English cucumber (leave the skin on for flavor and color). Place the juice in a small glass bowl with an equal volume of Organic Simple Syrup (see below) and 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed organic lime juice, and stir to combine. The syrup will keep, in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for up to one month.

 

Organic Simple Syrup

 

Makes 2 cups

 

1 cup organic granulated sugar

8 ounces water

 

1. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. The syrup can be stored, in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for up to one month.

 

Recipe Copyright 2009 by Paul Abercrombie, “Organic, Shaken and Stirred,” The Harvard Common Press; photo copyright 2009 by Jerry Errico

Inman’s Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir

If you read my article on Ehlers’ Rosé—made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc—then you may recall my affection for new world rosés. Yes, the classic Provence style, driven primarily by Grenache and Cinsault (Syrah and Mouvedre to a lesser degree), will likely reign supreme for a long time—both in terms of market cap and perceived authenticity (what a rosé should taste like in most people’s mind). And in the dog days of summer this style of rosé is usually what I look for too. But rosé as a segment of the wine market is unique in its sheer size and endless possibilities. Remember, you can make rosé out of almost any red varietal—from a single varietal or a blend of several. This is why the number of rosés on the shelf of your local wine merchant has probably grown over the years. They are everywhere and constantly evolving.

One varietal that has proven to work well for rosé is Pinot Noir. However—and this is key—it depends on the region. You don’t see many rosés coming out of the Côte-d’Or in Burgundy, for example. Yet this region is world famous for Pinot Noir. So why so few rosés? Rosé needs very ripe, bright fruit to achieve the kind of flavor profile that people have become accustom to—in my opinion. That’s not to say some earthiness is not also a key factor in making quality rosé. Provence has both, but it’s the warm climate in the south of France that is paramount. When I think of wine regions of the world that have the kind of soil to grow world-class Pinot Noir but also have plenty of sunshine, California and Oregon come to mind above all other regions. Particularly California.

Established in 2000 with the planting of their Olivet Grange Vineyard in the heart of the Russian River Valley, Inman Family Wines is the result of Kathleen Inman’s love of Pinot Noir and the soil that produces it. Since her first small vintage in 2002, she has been an ardent supporter of non-interventionalist winemaking practices, ignoring the critically acclaimed riper-style and leading the movement towards more subtle, nuanced wines with a sense of place.

 

The 2019 Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir, OGV Estate is no exception to these practices and reflects the winery’s success with “intentional” or “direct-to-press” rosés. Some rosés are made as a by-product of red wine by bleeding off some of the juice early in the production process to create a higher ratio of skin to juice, which concentrates the resulting wine. Whereas rosés made “intentionally,” rather than simply by drawing off the free run juice, tend to have greater complexity and structure because the entire grape is used.

 

As you might expect this wine has flavors of a classic rosé as well as the alluring, delicate flavors of a premium Russian river Pinot Noir. Strawberries and raspberries intermingle with stone fruits (peach and apricot)—held up with great minerality. This wine is indeed a result of the “direct-to-press” approach with good complexity and layers of flavor that last a while on the finish.

 

 

 

 

 

Tales From a Chocolatier

Located high in Utah’s Wasatch Mountain range in the heart of the Rockies resides a small chocolate 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

The Lovely Lillet

Like many delicious aperitifs, digestifs, liqueurs, and other items in bottles, Lillet was underutilized for many years. In those somewhat barren times (and here I’m talking about, oh, the early 1960s through about the turn of the century) many of the more intriguing mixtures fell a bit off the cocktail map. Continue reading

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

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

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

12 Wines To Try This Holiday Season

This has become an annual column for me and one I really enjoy writing. I find this food and wine pairing fun to write about because it can be a challenge.  Yes, old man winter’s wrath may queue the obligatory Bordeaux or Cabernet from many an oenophile’s wine cellar, but not necessarily on the fourth Thursday in November with turkey and gravy or in late December with a Christmas Ham. Nor do these muscular reds ingratiate themselves with any particular harmony with those potato latkes during the 8 days of Hanukah. Indeed, the various cuisines that we celebrate with during the final month and a half of the year are not necessarily a great match with the wines we might otherwise think to drink this time of year. To be fair, not a lot of wines, in my opinion, are an obvious match with turkey and gravy.  But I’ll try. 

2018 Sidebar Kerner Mokelumne River, ($25) 

From acclaimed winemaker David Ramey, Sidebar is the only winery to make a 100% Kerner wine in California. Kerner, an aromatic cross between Riesling and Trollinger (known as Schiava in Italy), with origins in Germany, shows well in this dry, aromatic and acidic bottling—an ideal white wine for offsetting heavy meals.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2016 Eroica Riesling ($22) 

Riesling is one of the most misunderstood wines out there, often thought to be overly sweet. The fact is, Riesling can be sweet but also bone dry. Offering sweet lime and mandarin orange aromas, this CSM Riesling is more in the middle and could match with a variety of foods. It will pair with your turkey and gravy but also with those sweet potatoes. 

2018 FEL Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley ($25)

FEL, a second label from Cliff Lede Vineyards—one of my favorite Napa wineries—produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris from the Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast. A blend of fruit from three different vineyards (Wiley, Hein and Klindt) located in the “Deep End” of Anderson valley near the town of Navarro, this wine is heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean allowing for bright citrus flavors and refreshing acidity. Pinot Gris, if done right with plenty of acid (some can be flabby), can be a great match with myriad cuisines from Thai to Indian to oysters on the half shell.   

2016 Inman OGV Estate Pinot Noir ($70)  

Kathleen Inman made her name in wine at the Inman estate, the 10.45- acre Olivet Grange Vineyard (OGV) located in the Santa Rosa Plain neighborhood of the Russian River Valley. The site was planted by Kathleen in 2000 and has always been farmed organically to encourage a healthy ecosystem and soils.  The OGV Pinot Noir is complex, with great aromatics. The wine’s bright red fruits—strawberries and red cherries—and complex savory components reflect the full depth and nuances of the vineyard. California Pinot Noir is a no-brainer with your Thanksgiving feast—it’s fruit forwardness a better match with all those flavors than Burgundy in my opinion. Just make sure you get one that is balanced with plenty of earthiness (terroir) to keep the fruit in check. The Inman Pinot Noirs do this in spades. 

2016 Tasca d’Almerita Tenuta Tascante Contrada Rampante Etna Rosso DOC  ($50)

If you read my article “A Winemaking Renaissance in Sicily” then you know how fond I am of Sicilian wines these days. I think they represent a value in terms of price-to-quality that is hard to match on a world stage. The vineyards of Contrada Rampante are characterized by volcanic formations of different lithological characterization but belonging to the same time period as Contrada Pianodario (between 15,000 and 4,000 thousand years). Rampante, one of the four Contrade in which Tasca d’Almerita works, is located at an average elevation of 740 meters a.s.l., between the communes of Passopisciaro and Randazzo. This is as food-friendly of a wine as I have had in some time. Bright red fruits, spice and an earthiness almost reminiscent of a classic French Burgundy are in abundance, framed with sharp acidity that keeps everything in check throughout its long finish. This wine would go great with richer pasta dishes, like pappardelle with bolognese but because of it’s lighter body can easily work with Thanksgiving turkey, gravy and all the fixins. 

2018 Tasca d’Almerita Tenuta Capofaro “Didyme” Salina IGT ($26) 

Sicily, like mainland Italy, does not get enough recognition for their white wines, sans Pinot Grigio which is almost too popular and takes too much of the spotlight. The fact is Italy has a ton of white varietals, many of which are wonderful food wines. The Malvasia fruit for the Didyme is harvested at the ideal stage of ripeness and immediately vinified. The result is a dry and savory wine with good acidity. Didyme shows notes of aromatic and floral herbs, which recall the Mediterranean characteristics of the Island. The wine is named Didyme, the ancient name for the island of Salina, because it captures the essence of the island’s terroir. So often we talk about terroir in red wines but whites have it in equal amounts and I love a white wine that has equal amounts fruit and terroir and plenty of each. 

Chateau Des Jacques Moulin a Vent (Louis Jadot) 2016 ($27)

Depending on your level of wine interest, you’ve either never heard of Gamay or you’re tired of hearing about it—particularly in reference to it being the perfect Thanksgiving wine. Then add in the common confusion (mainly among Americans) that surrounds Beaujolais—namely it being grouped together with the folksy Beaujolais Nouveau wine that is released the third Thursday of every November—and Gamay can be a bit confusing. But there is no denying it is an elegant, highly versatile wine, if you pick the right producer. It also happens to be a favorite choice among sommeliers—however much that counts for you. I’ve gone with Louis Jadot here because its extremely consistent, highly available and in general a classic example of the Gamay grape. This Beaujolais offers a fleshy texture and greater longevity than any other Beaujolais cru. Its exceptional structure supports vivid red fruit aromas and crushed flowers with good minerality. 

Alban Central Coast Viognier 2018 ($30) 

Alban Vineyards makes what many consider to be the best Viognier in California. As one of the original Rhone-style wineries in the United States, Alban has helped to bring Viognier out of obscurity, claiming its rightful place in the American wine drinker’s lexicon. This white Rhone varietal is full-bodied, fresh tasting, with nice balance, depth and concentrated flavors. Remembered for its complex aromas hinting of apricot and peaches, this wine is just the right amount of floral with low to moderate acidity. Their cool climate location and use of malolactic fermentation helps to counteract the high acidity, high alcohol and over-luxuriant flavors that Viogniers tend to be chastised for. The 2018 J Rickards Viognier ($28) from the lower Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma is another fine choice. 

Tensley Colson Canyon Vineyard Syrah 2018 ($45) 

Tensley describes the 2018 vintage as a cool one that “gave the grapes plenty of time to hang on the vine to develop flavor and texture.” I would agree. It’s a great example of cool climate Syrah and my preferred style. Warmer climate Syrahs from places like Napa and Lake County can sometimes be overripe, too high in alcohol and lack balance. Not the Tensley Syrahs.  The Tensley Colson Canyon delivers the up-front fruit you would expect in a California Syrah along with spicy, meaty, and peppery qualities that beautifully balance it out. Also of note, if you’re into scores. Their 2017 Colson Canyon scored 95 points with Wine Spectator and made #14 on its Top 100 List. The 2018 could be better though!

Mi Sueno Chardonnay, Los Carneros 2017 ($42)

Chardonnay is a classic pairing with the typical Thanksgiving meal. The key is finding the right style of Chardonnay. Turkey may not be known for its wine pairing ability but there is plenty of richness in a Thanksgiving smorgasbord—from the gravy to the buttery mashed potatoes to the stuffing and all the flavors it absorbs. Therefore I like to go with a full-bodied Chardonnay but one that is still Burgundian in nature. Mi Sueno’s Los Carneros Chardonnay achieves this balance. Their Chardonnay also owes some of its rich elegance to a wild yeast fermentation, and 18 months of aging in 30% new French oak. This stirring of the lees and a secondary 100% malolactic fermentation lends a plush texture to the wine. A platinum-hued color begins the experience and follows with aromas of guava, white peach, lemon zest and wet stone. The flavor echoes the nose and reveals additional flavors of pineapple, lemon custard and green apple delivered with a mouthwatering, bright acidity.

I also like the Mi Sueno story. Husband and wife team Lorena and Rolando Herrera started the winery in 1997 as a side project while Rolando was assistant winemaker at Chateau Potelle. The brand represents the couple’s love story as well as the culmination of Rolando’s journey from being an immigrant dishwasher at Auberge du Soleil to his becoming director for Paul Hobbs Winery and eventually winemaker more than a decade later, before giving 100% of his time to his own winery.

The 2018 Pfendler Vineyard Chardonnay ($42) is another example of a full bodied California Chardonnay with a Burgundian backbone. Lemon curd, nectarine and crème brule on the nose, and framed by good minerality, it’s a great example of Petaluma Gap (Sonoma) Chardonnay—one of my favorite regions. 

Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG ($50)

Amarone della Valpolicella—the most prestigious red wine of the Veneto region in Italy—might seem a little too muscular for turkey and stuffing but I think it can be a match made in heaven (especially with all the other side dishes) if it’s a well balanced Amarone from a good producer. The four brothers who started Tenuta Sant’Antonio dedicate their primary Amarone to their father, Antonio Castagnedi. The best grapes from different vineyards are selected for this wine and are brought to the winery’s drying room to undergo the appassimento process. After at least 3 months of drying, the grapes have shriveled and lost much of their water, while retaining their sugar, flavor, and other components. Once fermented and aged in new barrels, the Amarone is a powerful wine, yet fruity, fresh, and clean. 

“Amarone is a wonderful complement to Thanksgiving meals because it will hold its own against the many flavors at the dinner table,” says Armando Castagnedi of Tenuta Sant’ Antonio. I agree. And once the meal is over it is the perfect wine to retire to the couch with and watch a little football. 

The Sleepy Hollow Cocktail

Don’t be fooled (and don’t, for gosh sakes, lose your head over it) by the fact that the first two items in this ingredient list are fresh products and not spirited liquids, or by the fact that the ingredient directly following them is a sweetening device. The hefty helping of gin in this drink does indeed give it quite a kick. Continue reading

Serious Summer Whites

It’s easy to crave simple and refreshing white wines in the summertime as the mercury rises. In fact, I am all about crisp, clean and refreshing wines this time of year—especially as a cocktail or apéritif before dinner. There is nothing like that $15 bottle of Sancerre that you discover at your local wine shop and stockpile, by the case, for the rest of the summer. But then there are times when you want something a little more complex Continue reading

Herbal Remedies

One of the greatest elements of summer is the garden–may it be on a rooftop or balcony, in a backyard or wherever else the sun shines. There’s nothing like grabbing a ripe tomato from your garden and putting it directly into a salad. But summer’s spoils are not just relegated to the dinner table. Continue reading

Noshing On Nantucket

Nantucket is believed to mean “far away island” in the language of the Wampanoag Native Americans and that is just what it is to most – a unique and beautiful vacation destination. While the island is, indeed, revered for it’s breathtaking beach vistas and rich American history, Nantucket is also home to a number of notable eateries and bars. Continue reading