Xaviars in Piermont Doesn’t Suck…

Obviously that is putting it mildly as Xaviars is one of the premier restaurants in not only Westchester/Rockland, but all of New York. I had the pleasure of dining there recently with my wife and friends to help celebrate my 40th (which sort of does suck), so I thought I would share the highlights.

First off, this place is tiny. With a mere 40 person capacity, I’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinners for more people than this dining room can hold. Of course that’s what adds to the undeniable charm and character of Peter Kelly’s flagship restaurant. The service is excellent as you would expect, that is unless you want to know exactly what is on the tasting menu for that particular evening…that took a bit of prying. However after some interrogating I was able to finally break down our waiter and get the scoop.

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The main menu consists of 6 appetizers and 6 entrees, with no two dishes alike. The 5 course pairing is the nightly call of the chef to select a shellfish, seafood, poultry, beef and dessert dish from their menu and pair each of them with an appropriate wine. An extremely cool way to sample the entire menu, however not a great option if someone in your group may not enjoy some of the riskier menu items. So instead we just went a la carte and tasted each other’s dishes which worked out wonderfully.

While everything that came out of that kitchen was excellent, the appetizer highlights for me were the Aji Amarillo Chili Crusted Yellow Fin Tuna Crudo and the Chittarra with Jumbo Lump Crabmeat (could have been a half portion of pasta as the main meal too). As for the entrees, I thought the Hummingbird Ranch Honey Glazed Belle Farms Duck Breast was the clear standout while the Duet of Berkshire Pork and Coriander Crusted Wild Salmon were not far behind.  If there was one small flaw it had to be with the Herbs de Provence Roast Rack of American Lamb as the portion could have been heartier and the lamb chops swayed a little too far towards the fatty side. But of course I am nitpicking as it was still quite delicious.

Instead of trying to pair each course with a wine by the glass, we decided to order a bottle we all would enjoy. The wine list is fairly approachable both in size and cost. We found a 2010 Neyers Del Barba Vineyard Zin from Contra Costa County for $50 which is less than double the retail cost making it a great deal. Dare I say it was Zintastic with lots of black fruit, peppery spice and balance deeming it an extremely food friendly option.

The by the glass selection was slightly limited but every wine offered was certainly a quality option and with a fair price tag boding well for those that selected the tasting menu. It was also nice to see a NY State Finger Lakes Ice Wine Riesling from Wagner on the dessert menu… solid local juice and a wonderful way to end the meal.

So you have to figure you’re gonna get banged over the head for a meal like this, right? Not the case! With apps ranging from $15-20 and entrees from $30-39 it is not all that outrageous. Plus, if you book it through Groupon Reserve you can get another 15% off the total bill…including wine! To pay that kind of price for a true culinary experience like this is a pleasure. So I would highly recommend the next time you have the right occasion to venture across the TZ (yeah that part sucks), head to Xaviars in Piermont as it is really a worthwhile dining experience.

Cheers!

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!

Check out these Summer Whites!

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Just thought I would share a few tasting videos I have done over the last couple of weeks on some great white wines to enjoy while the summer is still here…Cheers!

Riesling Spatlese 2010 Schloss Vollrads, Rheingau

Joseph Carr 2011 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

Coda di Volpe 2011 Irpinia, Donnachiara

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Look What Just Popped Up in Mt. Kisco… A Kick Ass Steakhouse!

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As you may or may not know, Mt. Kisco is chock full of great restaurants and more are popping up all the time. There are the old school staples like Lexington Square Cafe, Crabtree’s Kittle House (technically Chappaqua but close enough), Cafe of Love, Eduardo’s and La Camelia. But over the last year or two, some newcomers have impressed as well such as Village Social, The Rose Room (the old F.A.B location), Westchester Burger Company and MTK Tavern. But the latest restaurant opening has by far been the most impressive and just what the doctor ordered for Mt. Kisco…Blackstones Steakhouse.

It is situated in that cool, sort of speak-easy, underground location across from O’Connors Public House on Main Street. Upon entering, there are beautiful wine display racks that flow throughout the first floor leading into the large bar dining area. The ambiance is on the tranquil side as you are somewhat secluded from the activity on Main Street. The only downside of the location is parking can be a little challenging.

Having tasted most of the appetizers from their extensive menu I can say that nothing has disappointed. However if you are with a group of people (6 or more) there is no reason not to go with the seafood tower. This decadent chilled platter is loaded with fresh shrimp cocktail, lump crabmeat, lobster, oysters and clams. Each item on the platter is tastier than the next and there is plenty of everything to go around. Best to pair this up with the Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ….an absolute no brainer.

As for the meat, it’s tough to go wrong with any of their prime cuts (although I would avoid the veal chop). As a NY Strip fan, I think theirs ranks with the best in the area in terms of quality, preperation and presentation. It’s cooked and served on the bone and sliced up beautifully with just enough butter on the plate to keep it hot and moist without drowning in it as certain steakhouses tend to do. I like my steaks cooked rare plus, a new temperature I learned about, where the steak is bloody red on the inside but brought just to the point of being warm…and they nailed it! They have the Napanook Cabernet Blend from Napa (Dominus’ 2nd Label) for around $80-90, a great value at that price and a perfect accompaniment to a steak of this caliber.

So the bottom line is this… the service, ambiance and decor is all what you would expect from a high end steakhouse (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that this place is not cheap). But more importantly, the food has been really top notch both times I have had the pleasure of dining there, having nothing to do with the fact that both meals were on someone else’s dime ;)  So if you are tired of eating at the same old steakhouses that Westchester has to offer you may want to give Blackstones a visit.

Cheers!

Some BBQ Wine Tips For The Grillin’ Season!

Now that we are in the thick of summer grilling season, you’ve probably overheard conversations about a wine being a “good BBQ wine”. But what makes a wine better than others for a BBQ? After all, it’s not like you’re tossing the bottle on the grill! For me, there are 3 characteristics that a wine has to possess in order for it to qualify as BBQ-worthy.

1) For a white wine, it needs to have crisp acidity and lots of citrus and/or tropical fruit flavors. With the heat we’ve had this summer, I’m not looking for a white that will weigh me down like some of the big, oaky Chardonnays tend to do. I want something light on its feet and refreshing to help cool down on these hot summer days. So typically I will reach for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Vouvray or even a dry Riesling (not all Rieslings are sweet people). Plus, these wines typically make great pairings for chilled shellfish and seafood salads which always seem to find their way to the appetizer course before the grillin’ starts.

2) For a red wine, it’s gotta have enough structure to hold up to those typical grilled meat dishes (steaks, ribs, burgers, etc.) as well as enough tannins and spice to stand up to various BBQ sauces. Lighter wines like Pinot are good for openers, but they will get overpowered by most BBQ menus. So for me, BBQ reds are all about big fruit, gripping tannins and zesty spice that you will find in California Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, Rhone Reds (CDP, Gigonadas, Cotes du Rhone), Priorat and Mendoza Malbecs. Sure I’ll grab a Napa Cab here and there, but only if I know that nice piece of NY Strip or Ribeye is coming off the grill.

3) It needs to be affordable! There are very few BBQs that offer a fine dining experience. Meaning you are typically drinking out of plastic cups on a hot summer day and probably even mixing in some beer, sangria or those fruity summer cocktails. So BBQ wines are all about having fun and hopefully finding an enjoyable pairing somewhere in the mix. Plus these BBQs can sometimes carry some big crowds, and there’s nothing worse than cracking open something really nice and finding an empty bottle when you go to get your first taste of it!

The last “X” factor in selecting a BBQ wine is this… make sure its a wine that suits your palate. If you are going to have family and friends ransacking your home while you slave over a hot grill all day for them, the least you can do is drink some juice that you like! Pairings don’t mean a thing if the wines don’t mesh with your palate. Below are some of my favorite selections for the BBQ season, use in good health!

Whites  (all under $20)

Brancott Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ

Sancerre La Reine Blanche, Dom. Jean Reverdy et Fils

Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley, WA Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen

Vouvray Sauvion

Conundrum (Caymus) White, CA

Reds (all under $20)

Terra D’oro Zinfandel Amador, CA

Cotes du Rhone Villages Cuvee Centenaire, Domaine La Grand Ribe

McMannis Petite Sirah, CA

Vall Llach “Embruix” Priorat

Bodega Norton  Malbec Reserva, Mendoza

Premium Selections (over $50)

Napanook (2nd Label Dominus) Cabernet Blend, Napa Valley, CA

Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block Syrah Santa Ynez Valley, CA

Are Your Favorite Wines…Flawed??

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Here’s something that may shock you…some of your favorite wines may have faults to them. Does that mean that your palate is so dull that you are drinking and enjoying awful wines? Not at all. Wine faults can come in all shapes and sizes, and in minimal or trace amounts they can even add favorable components to a wine.

Take Brettanomyces (commonly referred to as “Brett”) for example. This strain of bacteria has been known to infect certain barrels of wine and sometimes even entire wineries. At its worst it can impart an overwhelming barnyard or manure characteristic on a wine that provides the sensation of having just completed a 5 mile horse trot. Clearly, this is undesirable and a fault in said wine.

However, in small doses it has the ability to add subtle hints of earthiness and terroir that can enhance the complexity of a wine and come off quite pleasing to certain palates. But is it possible for a wine to technically have a fault, however slight it may be, and still be considered a high quality wine? The answer is yes it can. Which then raises another interesting question…where is the line that the wine crosses over from enjoyable to flawed?

The answer to this is one is a little more intricate. What may come off as a favorable aroma to one person could be disagreeable to another deeming the wine unsuitable for consumption. This doesn’t occur just with Brett either. Cork taint, technically known as 2,4,6-trichloranisole or TCA, occurs when the cork in a bottle has somehow been infected and is renowned for leaving wines with a musty or moldy smell. This is why a waiter will offer the host of the table a small sample of the wine to make sure it isn’t “corked” before pouring it for the guests.

Yet there are some wine drinkers that perceive the slight “corkiness” in a wine as an enticing secondary characteristic from the oak and find it pleasurable.  Many are rather sensitive to this flaw and will deem a wine unacceptable at the first hint of TCA. But that doesn’t mean the end consumer will not enjoy the wine if the flaw is ever so faint.

So yes, there is certainly a line where a wine goes from slightly flawed to spoiled. But where it lies is supremely determined by the individual wine drinker that is tasting the wine.

A Weekend of Wine and Food…Westchester Style!

If you missed out on this past weekend’s festivities at the Ritz Carlton in White Plains…shame on you! In its third year, Westchester Magazine hosted a fantastic weekend full of culinary events loaded with lots of great juice and some of Westchester’s best restaurants. If you were there, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Check out my article from the Wine Enthusiast Magazine website for all the highlights and plenty of reasons to mark it on your calendar for next year!

Westchester Magazine Wine and Food Weekend Highlights