Just thought I would share a couple of pieces I co-wrote along with some of the talented writers here at Wine Enthusiast. Some great information on how to decipher if you need a wine cellar/refrigerator, as well as what kind may be right for you, and how to serve all your wines like a pro!
There are few culinary delights that can surpass that of a top tier steakhouse dining experience. From the seductive aromas of grilled beef and butter that are taken in at first entry to the last sip of port enjoyed with that decadent chocolate lava cake, they offer something utterly satisfying that few other restaurants are able to do. But all of this hedonistic enjoyment can cost a pretty penny. The better steakhouses will charge $45+ for a cut of beef, and that normally does not come with any sides…just a piece of meat on a plate. Once you factor in all the starters, the trimmings to accompany the steak, not to mention that big Napa Cab, a few desserts, espressos and after dinner drinks, the bill can end up totaling the same as your monthly mortgage.
But does a steakhouse meal have to be that exorbitant? In a word…Nope!There are some very simple ways to cut a few corners in order to still enjoy all that a quality steakhouse has to offer while keeping the expenditures down. It’s all about efficiency.
The first pitfall for many is the allure of the seafood tower…as it clearly rocks. However they really are over the top when you consider all the crustaceans they load them up with. You may be better off just ordering your favorite shellfish for yourself. Whether it is a half dozen oysters or a shrimp cocktail platter, the amount it will cost for the individual appetizer will be significantly less than the per person cost of an overindulgent seafood platter tower. The ever popular bacon appetizer can also suck you in as they are fantastically delicious, but super pricey for what is usually a single strip serving. And let’s be honest, you are about to dive into a giant, juicy piece of meat… do you really need more meat as an app?
The biggest unnecessary expense in most steakhouses is that of Napa Cabernet Sauvignons on the wine list. Why you may ask? Because they are effing delicious and make for a perfect pairing with grilled meat…plus they are sort of a status symbol to some, particularly those trying to impress clients or first dates. These establishments are well aware of this and will mark up those wines more than others. I find that CA Merlot and Zin, as well as the Cotes du Rhone and Spanish selections offer the greatest pairing value without skimping on quality, depending on the producer and year of course. But without question they almost always carry significantly lower markups. A good rule of thumb is to go with the second least expensive wine in any given section of the wine list, although even if you get the cheapest bottle they are typically not pouring swill at any of these fancy joints.
One place you don’t want to skimp out is on the steak. The main reason you are probably dining at a highly rated and expensive steakhouse is to enjoy that perfectly cooked piece of dry aged beef… so go for it! However there is no need to add that lobster tail for the surf and turf effect, or even those few grilled shrimp on the side. Remember, shellfish ain’t cheap. If you choose to order side dishes, you want to stick with two sides for every four people. So an order of creamed/grilled spinach and hash browns is more than enough for a table of four. Again, the steak is the star of the show so let that bad boy shine!
If you have ever actually looked at what jacks up the bill at the end of the night, more often than not it ends up being beverages of all kind. Of course the wine and booze are the biggest culprits, but the fancy coffees and all the accoutrements are no slouch. I love a double espresso with Sambuca as much as anyone, but in a steakhouse that one little luxury can run up to $20. Stick with the regular coffee and split a dessert or two instead of going overboard with the port, cognac and oversized dessert platter. Or skip the dessert and coffee altogether and enjoy the last course in the luxury of your own home.
Bonus Wine Tip: Ask the server if they have any by the bottle wine specials. Many times these steakhouses have an older bottle they may need to move out in order to make room for a new vintage. If they have a few loose bottles that are no longer on the menu and don’t have a listed price, you may get lucky and score one of those older Napa Cabs or Bordeauxs at a bargain price.
So get out there and enjoy some of those fantastic steakhouses that Westchester has to offer, as there are certainly many to choose from.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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:
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!