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!

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week…a good deal?

Maybe it’s me, but it seems the thrill and excitement of HVRW has fizzled. There are certainly some great restaurants participating and I am sure I will probably even check one or two out, but the whole promotion has sort of lost its luster. I remember it being such a huge deal to be able to go and check out these fantastic restaurants for $30 per person for a 3 course meal! But now… I feel like I could take it or leave it. Is it just me? Could be, but in speaking with a few fellow food & wine peeps and restaurant insiders I think this is the general consensus. Here’s my take on why…

There is a noticeable lack of choices and smaller portions for the special Restaurant Week menu items. Yes, I know there are restaurants where this is not the case. But overall you are given an option of 1 or 2 apps, 2 entrees and 2 desserts. I can remember when it used to be 3 options for each course and the portions were just about the same size as the non Restaurant Week menu items. I was pretty disappointed in not only the portion size last year, but the selections offered. If you are going to offer something that is not on the regular menu, don’t serve sole or cod as your fish when you typically serve Chilean sea bass or tuna…not cool.

It also just doesn’t seem to be a great deal anymore. Over the last couple of years I have left the restaurants spending almost as much as I would with a non Restaurant Week meal. Of course there is wine involved which is not included… but there’s more to it than that. The Restaurant Week menu has all three courses included. Very rarely do I get both an app and a dessert, usually it would be one or the other. Or maybe the table would share a couple of apps and desserts. So unless it is a super expensive restaurant, that same $30 would cover an entree and a shared app or dessert. Plus, you get the full size entree when ordering off the standard menu which is really the focus of the meal when dining out.

Lastly, I can’t stand when restaurants participate in Restaurant Week but give you the disapproving nod when you ask to see the Restaurant Week menu. If you are participating, keep that menu in plain sight so everyone can see it. Let’s be honest, it’s the only reason many patrons are coming to your restaurant over the next two weeks, so don’t make them feel cheap by forcing them to ask for the less expensive menu! Again, not cool…

With this said, I have had some  very enjoyable Restaurant Week meals over the last couple of years… namely at Hudson House in Nyack, 42 in White Plains and The TapHouse in Tuckahoe . If you are looking to try out a place that would normally be out of your price range to sample some of their food, then this is a great opportunity to do so. But if you are thinking that you are going to be able to go out for an inexpensive night out just because it’s Restaurant Week, you may want to rethink that plan.

A Different Take on Halloween Wines…

Halloween wine… what does that even mean? It’s not like Thanksgiving or Easter where you are pairing the wine with a specific meal. Although with all the candy the best Halloween wine is probably a really sweet dessert wine like a Sauternes or Port.  In the past I have pointed out some Halloween themed wines (like the PoiZin or the Vampire), but this year I have a different thought process. Allow me to share…

I am thinking about what Halloween will entail this year, which is walking around the block with the kids and our neighbors trick or treating. I figure since we will be hauling a wagon around to hold the goodies and some of the kid’s extra gear, why not put a small cooler bag on there as well and fill it with some adult goodies. So the Halloween wines must be appropriate for walking around on a cool, fall night while possibly indulging in a mini Snickers or two (and by that I mean 10).

The first thing that comes to mind is Zinfandel. The brambly berry, blueberry pie, residual sugar and high alcohol content screams Halloween! These are wines that can warm you up as it goes down and keep you light on your feet with its lofty alcohol levels. They also tend to have a little sweetness to them  making them a lovely pairing with your child’s Kit Kat or Twix. Some of my favorites right now are the 2009 Terra d’Oro, Amador ($14-18) 2009 Brazin, Lodi ($15-20) and for the big spenders the 2008 Rosenblum Monte Rosso Zin is one of the best around, and not terribly expensive at around $30 a bottle.

There are two big areas of Spain producing new world wines with big fruit, dry tannins, high alc and lots of spice… Ribera del Duero and Priorat. Both use the traditional Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes of Spain, but the Priorats add in some of the international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. So while the Ribera del Duero wines are more like a new world version of Rioja, the Priorat wines can be a little more aggressive in terms of concentrated fruit, tannins and alc. Both are perfect for keeping warm while strolling around your block and harassing your neighbors for candy. A couple of my favorites right now are the 2009 Torres Celeste Crianza ($16-20) and the 2005 Roureda Llicorella Priorat from Cellers Unio ($20-25).

Not a fan of reds? Then you need a big, oaky, buttery white to keep you moving on a cold and windy evening in late October. You guessed it, California Chardonnay. These wines are full of all that fall goodness and have the backbone to stand up to those nutty, chocolatey treats. I’m really digging the 2009 Kunde Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley right now…especially for $10-15.  A couple of other favorites are the 2010 Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley and the 2009 Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve, Central Coast (both around $20-25).

So pack up your cooler with some good juice and load it on to the wagon. Sure you may get a few disapproving nods from your more conservative neighbors. But it’s probably just because they’re  jealous of your wine wagon, so be sure to offer them a glass too!

The Wine Cellar at Restaurant R’evolution!

Chefs Rick Tramonto and John Folse’s latest venture Restaurant R’evolution is located inside the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the heart of N’awlins. They selected Wine Enthusiast to handle the design of their 10,000 bottle climate controlled wine cellar.  I had the pleasure of working with Chef Tramonto and his staff in creating this elaborate showcase cellar. I have yet to see it in person, but it looks pretty impressive here. Check out the link below!

R’evolution Restaurant Wine Cellar

Wine Tip of the Day

When ordering a glass of wine at a restaurant that does not specify the winery or producer, see if you can take a look at the actual bottles. For example, if the server says they have a Cabernet, a Chianti, a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc by the glass, you want to find out which winery they are from as typically they won’t all be from the same producer. This way if you recognize (or know that you like) one of the specific wineries offered, it makes your decision of what to order that much easier.

This happened to me last night at Eduardo’s in Mount Kisco, which was surprisingly delicious! I ordered the Chicken Scarpiello and was planning on getting a red wine by the glass. I didn’t really care for the reds they had, but their Sauvignon Blanc was the Villa Maria from Marlborough, New Zealand which I really enjoy. And since I had a chicken dish the white wine ended up complementing the meal beautifully.

Just some food for thought… figuratively ;)

 

 

What am I supposed to do with that bottle?!?

It’s happened to all of us. Somehow or another you get stuck with a magnum of some super cheap wine that you have absolutely no interest in drinking. Maybe your great aunt bought it over as a housewarming gift, or someone who prefers quantity over quality thought because it had Carlo Rossi on the label it was a solid bottle of Italian red and brought it over to your last gathering. So now you have this giant bottle of swill just taking up space on your kitchen counter, and has been doing so for way too long. So what do you do with it? Here are a few ideas.
If it’s a red, try using it to make sangria. Really inexpensive wines tend to be very fruity or sweet. This is a perfect style of wine to use for sangria. Just grab some nice fresh fruit (orange, apple, blackberry, strawberry, etc), triple sec and brandy and mix it all together. If the wine isn’t sweet enough (not bloody likely) you may want to add some simple syrup.  Put it into a big pitcher and you have a party on your hands, and that annoying bottle out of your life for good.
During a trial and error experiment I came up with a great concoction using an inexpensive Pinot Grigio. I was at a party and it was a little early in the day to really start drinking but the hosts were serving magnums of PG and homemade lemonade. I decided to add a splash of the PG to a glass of lemonade…for a goof. The acidity cut right through the sweetness and made it quite refreshing. By the time I was on my third I realized a 50/50 mix was the perfect combination for flavor and texture while getting a little bit of a buzz on too. You could really do this with any light and crisp white wine, which is often what ends up in those cheap magnums.
Use it for cooking! There is a theory that cooking with bad wine will lead to a poorly prepared dish. I buy that to a degree, if it is a key ingredient in the recipe. But if you are cooking up a giant batch of marinara sauce, there is no reason not to use an inexpensive red wine to add some flavor and a hint of sweetness. Same goes for white wine when cooking white clam sauce or even stir fry. However be wary if you let it sit out and turn bad to use as vinegar. Turning wine to vinegar requires a secondary fermentation with a rather volatile bacteria that converts the rest of the alcohol. So while a turned wine can have a vinegar smell and taste, its not something you want to put on a salad. But if you are looking for a vinegar flavor to cook with though then go for it, as the heat from the pan will essentially burn off the rest of the alcohol anyway.
The last option is just to put it over a ton of ice and drink it anyway. I mean, at the end of the day it’s still booze right? ;) The moral of the story is that you don’t have to sit around looking at that nasty large bottle of wine that has been staring you down for the last few months. Open it up, put it to good use and move on to some of your better juice to enjoy with good food and good friends.
Cheers!