5 Simple Rules of BYO

With more and more consumers reluctant to pay the high markups that are inherent to many wine lists, BYO has become more prevalent than ever. Restaurants tend to mark up wines anywhere from 2-4 times the retail price that you will find at your local wine shop, not to mention the mark up from their cost. While the convenience and selection is well worth the price to some, others prefer to select from their own collection then the restaurant’s wine cellar. Below are 5 simple rules to help determine the appropriate scenario to bring your own bottle and some guidelines for restaurant etiquette if you choose to do so.

  • Free is for me! – If there is no corkage fee, than there is no reason NOT to bring your own bottle. Even if restaurants charge a nominal (under $10) corkage fee it still makes all the sense in the world. You could choose to bring a moderately priced bottle and it will still be a lot less at your local wine shop then at the restaurant.
  • Big names = Big Corkage Fees – If you are going to a top tier steakhouse or a popular French bistro, you are probably looking at a corkage fee of $35-75. For these eateries you’re probably better off sticking with their wine list.
  • Make it worthwhile – You certainly could bring an inexpensive bottle, but that would defeat the purpose. Mark ups are typically higher on the reserve selection wines, especially from older vintages, so the better bottle you bring the more you are saving.
  • Tip on the service – The server should provide the same service on the bottle of wine whether it is purchased from the restaurant or not, so be sure to include something in the tip for that bottle. A good rule of thumb is to multiply the retail cost of the wine times 2 or 3 and add that to the total bill before calculating the tip.
  • Buy an additional bottle from the wine list – If you’re dining with a large group, doing this shows you appreciate their hospitality and would like to thank them for it…that is of course if you are enjoying the meal and the experience!

 

Cheers!

Some Serious Spirits at The Catskill Distilling Company

About 100 miles north of Westchester is where you can find the original grounds of the infamous Woodstock festival in Bethel. For those of us that were too young to attend, there hasn’t been much reason to head up that way in years past. But as of late there has been a bit of a renaissance in the area.

Neighboring Monticello has transformed its Raceway into a Casino while boutique art galleries and small shops are popping up left and right. The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts is a great place to see a show or check out the history of Woodstock itself. But most intriguing (for me anyway) is the new kick ass distillery and saloon that opened right across the street from Bethel Woods.

I stopped in the Catskill Distilling Company recently and met with owner and Distiller/Veternarian Monte Sachs. He graciously showed me around the joint and explained the inner workings of his personal grown up playground. The set up is quite impressive including his mashing/milling room, the expedited barrel aging shed and of course his custom made copper still.

My visit was randomly well timed as he was distilling his Most Righteous Bourbon that day, and most righteous it is! It was being collected at the white dog stage…pretty cool to be able to sample it before the barrel aging process (at around 65-70% alcohol!). Following his in depth tour we sampled the finished product next to some other well known premium bourbons that basically dominate the market. While everyone’s palate varies, the Most Righteous clearly out shined the competition with more intense aromas, flavors and amazing balance…not what I expected!

To be honest, all the spirits being produced there really impressed. His Defiant Rye is spicy and oily packed with lemon citrus goodness. The Wicked White Whiskey is their version of moonshine, and while it has a definite bite to it, the six grain spirit is expressive while not overpowering on the alcohol. But my favorite booze in the Catskill Spirit portfolio has to be the Curious Gin. Made with 14 different  botanicals and local juniper berries, it is as lovely, fruity and floral as it is clean, herbal and balanced. It has become my house gin for Martinis and Negronis, and at $20 a bottle it’s very affordable to keep stocked.

You can check out their website to see all their homemade spirits, distillery history and some fun cocktail recipes as well. And if you are ever up seeing a show or checking out the Woodstock Museum at Bethel Woods, this place is not to be missed. Bring the family as the Dancing Cat Saloon (also owned by Monte) is right next door with some good eats and a  solid selection of brews.

Salute!

 

 

 

 

 

My Take on the Coravin Situation

Recently the makers of Coravin put out a press release regarding a handful of bottles that ruptured while their product was being used. Coravin is a device that allows a needle to penetrate through the cork, displacing the air with argon while pouring out a glass of wine, and when the needle is pulled out the cork reseals itself like nothing ever happened. Quite a visionary concept that was all the rage until this bottle breakage issue arose.

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Having tested the Coravin many times here’s my 2 cents. It is an amazing product but doesn’t quite do all that Coravin claims. Their stance is that you can use this and put bottles back in your cellar for months on months without affecting the integrity. I have gone back into bottles after months and while the wine was still ok, it was not all that it should have been. Regardless, it does allow wine consumers to tap into bottles and see how they are aging and allows a restaurant to serve just about any bottle by the glass. So that alone makes this an outstanding serve and preserve device.

So now there are reports of a handful (under 10) bottles breaking after being tapped into by the Coravin, a miniscule percentage compared to amount of bottles that have been “Coravined”. So how can that happen? In one word…pressure. The way the argon is introduced into the bottle is with pressure. So if there is too much pressure in a bottle, and the bottle itself is made of thinner glass and doesn’t have the punt at the bottom guess what can happen?  You got it… crack!!!

But think about Champagne. Those bottles have pressure as well from the secondary fermentation which is what forces the cork out of those bottles. However Champagne is bottled in a much thicker glass so it can handle the pressure appropriately. Most quality wines that you would use a Coravin on also are made of thick glass and I’m sure have not been the culprits in this breakage issue that is all the buzz in the wine community.

My take on this situation is that some wine nuts out there are going Coravin crazy! They are using it on inexpensive bottles of wine when there is maybe only a glass of wine left or so in the bottle. So if you take a thin glass bottle with very little liquid and fill it up with gas, in turn over pressurizing the bottle, of course that bottle will break. I am not saying this is not an issue and yes, Coravin should have tested every facet of the product to avoid this from happening. But if you have one I wouldn’t be too concerned over this ordeal. Just make sure you are using it properly as well as on bottles that can withstand a little bit of pressure. Chances are if you spent $300 on this product you are not bothering using it on very inexpensive wine regardless, so Coravin away!

Some Can’t Miss Christmas Gift Ideas for the Wine Lover…

In case you hadn’t noticed… the Christmas shopping season is in full effect! With Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the rear view mirror, there are only a couple of weeks left to shop. Just thought I would share a few fun new products that we brought in this year that make the perfect gift for the wine lover in your life. The video demonstrations are pretty cool too ;) Just check out the links below:

Origine Reclaimed Wine Barrel Waiter’s Corkscrew

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Vinturi Reserve Red Wine Aerator and Carafe Gift Set

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Wine Glass Writer Metallic Pens

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QuickSilver Special Edition Corkscrew Set

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Good Things Come To Those Who Wait…

I was discussing California wines with a buddy of mine the other night, and he explained an issue with some of the expensive Napa Cabs that he has tasted recently and I think it is a pretty common one. He purchased a bottle of the latest  2011 vintage of Caymus… a well known “Cult” Napa Cab. He opened it with his wife the other night and felt it was just good, not great….and for $70 he was expecting great! So what happened? Is Caymus overrated and not worth the money? Possibly, depending on your palate. But I think there is a different reason for his disappointment, and something that is overlooked by many wine drinkers.

Certain wines, especially big and tannic red wines from California, France and Italy, really need some time to age and evolve before they are ready to drink. These wines can have high levels of alcohol, tannins, acid, oak treatment and concentrated fruit. In a younger stage they can either be overtly over the top and massive (which actually suits certain palates) or they can be out of balance and discombobulated where the body or “mouthfeel” of the wine doesn’t match up with the nose or the finish. When this happens it can leave you with that “eh” kind of reaction to what should be a fantastic bottle of wine.

Caymus is a great example because unlike most of the big Napa Cab names they release their wines rather early. They are putting out 2011 right now while most big names are putting out ’09 or ’10.  If they are releasing vintages a few years back then they have been doing the aging of the wine for you in their own wine cellar. So a 2008 Silver Oak that is just released will be much more approachable (ready to drink) than a younger Cab of the same caliber. Many Italian red wines, like Barolo and Brunello, require up to 5 years of aging before they are even released and depending on the vintage they can still use some time to mature.

Does that mean that all the wine you buy has to be laid down and aged for years before drinking…not at all! Only about 10% of wine on the market is meant for short to long term cellaring, meaning most of the $10-30 wines you typically purchase are ready to drink right away. But some of the more expensive and better made wines will certainly benefit from a few years of aging in a properly climate controlled wine fridge or wine cellar. As the saying goes, patience is a virtue.

Have you been disappointed with a wine recently? We’d love to hear about it!

Cheers!

Some Helpful Wine and…Tantrum Pairings??

I think anyone with young children would agree that sometimes the best way to regain your post-tantrum sanity is with a glass (or even a bottle) of wine. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing that I love more in life than my children…but with a 3 and a 1 year old, I have found that tantrums can come in various forms. There are those which are somewhat mild and subdued and others that have you screaming “serenity now!” ala Frank Costanza by the time they’re done.  Just as certain wines can enhance the enjoyment of particular foods, I like to pair different wines with these various types of tantrums to help make them a bit more bearable.

The Subdued Meltdown: These tantrums can start off as normal requests from your kids such as asking to watch a certain show or possibly making a case to eat a cookie for breakfast. You start off with the rational reasons why this simply can’t happen, and while most times they would accept the refusal and move on…sometimes they just don’t want to let it go. These tantrums can usually be resolved, however they tend to be drawn out and pretty exhausting. I like to pair these tantrums up with either a Pinot Noir or possibly even a white wine option like Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc. These breakdowns stay on the lighter side, so staying with a lighter style wine just makes sense. Plus, the spicy side of Pinot Noir tends to remind me of the spiciness that most kids inherently have in their personality. If it’s a little warmer out I may lean towards a white as even though these are the most mild of tantrums, you can still work up a sweat by the time they come to a halt.

The Shock and Awe: This is one of the most confusing and deceptive forms of tantrums as it has many different moving parts. During a Shock and Awe, you may not realize you are even in the middle of a tantrum until a bowl of cereal goes flying across the room, or there is a rebellious move such as the emptying of a bladder somewhere other than the toilet. I find these require a bit of a bigger wine to come down from…so I usually reach for a Cabernet Sauvginon or Zinfandel after these debacles. All that fruit, oak and spice (especially in Zin) seems to settle the nerves nicely and the higher alcohol levels are quite conducive as well.

The Game-Ender: For those who are in the midst of, or recall experiencing, the terrible twos…this tantrum needs no explanation. From start to finish this is just a complete unraveling of your child where there is no consoling except to let it run its course. These can either end with a well placed time out allowing it to  finish in a somewhat calm manner, or with a complete redirect which is very difficult to pull off. Forget the wine and hit the Booze after one of these bad boys as they are both emotionally and physically draining. And since these Game-Enders tend to go down during the nighttime witching hours, there’s nothing wrong with knocking back a cocktail or two to end the day.

Just remember, these pairings are for after the tantrum has run its course…as trying to enjoy a glass of wine while one of these is going down can only make things worse.

Cheers!

Where To Buy Wine: Online or at Your Local Wine Shop?

Wine is more popular than ever in the US. It recently overtook beer as the most consumed drink in the country and as a whole the US consumes more wine yearly than any other country…lushes that we are. For that reason, wine retailers are popping up all over the place, both on the internet and in your local neighborhoods. With all of the options out there, its hard to decipher where the best place to purchase your favorite wine selections may be.

The truth is that it comes down to the kind of person you are. If you are looking for that personal experience, where you can form a relationship with your local wine guy, then you probably want to find a good local shop. There are many throughout the county, Zachys in Scarsdale being the most well known. But you also have Grapes in White Plains, Dodd’s in Millwood, Suburban in Yorktown, and Mt. Kisco Wine & Spirits up here in Mt. Kisco among many others.

The problem is that many of these wine shops are no longer just shops. The massive beverage depots are more and more prevalent, like the Westchester Wine Warehouse, Stew Leonards and BevMax in Port Chester. You will find a ton of selection at these types of retailers, but you may not get the same one on one attention as the little wine shop around the corner. Of course those little shops will typically be more expensive because they don’t carry the selection or inventory of the larger places. So you can chalk up the premium you’re paying to the hand holding you receive in purchasing your wines.

If you are looking for the best deals out there, forget about the physical stores and hit the web. There are many wine retail sites and flash sites that are selling wines significantly lower than in stores, sometimes really close to cost! The reason is many times they don’t have to take inventory, or because they aren’t paying rent for a physical store front so they can work on tighter margins. Many websites will offer wonderful service as well where you can receive advice and recommendations… but others are as inexpensive as they are because they employ order takers rather than a staff with a working knowledge of wine.

You also need to remember to take shipping costs and delivery time into consideration when ordering online. So be sure when you find your favorite wines on a particular wine retail website to check on the shipping rates. Most will offer free shipping on certain bottle totals, but not all do. If not, it can really add to the per bottle cost when it’s all said and done.

So the moral of the story? You probably want to do both! If you know what you want and are looking for the best deal, then hit the web or one of those mega wine warehouses. But if you are looking for some coddling in your wine decision, then check out your local shop and see if your local wine guy or gal knows what he/she is talking about. Take a recommendation or two to test it out. If he can read your palate, score! If not… you can always email me here and I can see if I can help you make some well suited wine selections.

What’s your favorite wine shop in Westchester?  Let us know!