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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In a collaboration betweenIan 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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 →
If you’ve lived in California then you probably know how much the Pacific Ocean affects the air temperature. Coastal towns and cities can experience temperatures that are routinely 15-20 degrees cooler than locations just a few miles inland, and this juxtaposition is at its starkest in the summer. [Top Photo: Cathleen Evangelista]
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 →
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/
The rows of Cabernet Sauvignon stretch as far as the eye can see. This is my first visit to California’s Napa Valley and like most first-time visitors, I am hopping from one storied winery to another, packing in as many tastings as I can in two days. But Napa isn’t just about wine. Continue reading →
As one of America’s most outstanding female chefs, Stephanie Izard knows how to inspire, captivate, and cook up a storm. The first woman to win on TV’s “Top Chef,” she’s also the chef and owner of the acclaimed Girl & the Goat restaurant in Chicago specializing in nose-to-tail whole animal cooking. Continue reading →
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 →
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 →
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.
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.
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.
“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:
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.
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 →
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 →
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
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.
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
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
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.
The term “shoulder season” is most commonly used in the travel business, referring to a period of time between the high and low seasons of a vacation destination. In the wine world, a similar transitional period exists when the changing of the seasons can cause our preference in wine to change. Continue reading →
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.
Inman Family Wines
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
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.
How do you make a million dollars in the wine business? You start with five million. That’s an old saying in the wine business—and probably a dozen other businesses that people dream of making a living in (the restaurant and hospitality businesses to name a couple). Continue reading →
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 →
San Francisco is one of the country’s best dining destinations for endless ethnic tastes, progressive Californian cuisine and mad Michelin-star skills. Just a few miles south of San Francisco, the talented culinary team at Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay had a thought: Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.