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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!
This is more of an informative update than a post… lots of great events happening this whole weekend starting tonight! Tickets are still available for some of the events….I’ll be there all weekend and hope to see some of you there! Check out the kick ass restaurants and wines to be featured:
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.
If you’ve ever dined at the TapHouse in Tuckahoe, you know that the food is generally very good with flashes of brilliance. Well if you take all of those flashes of brilliance and offer them in one meal the end result ends up being one of their beer pairing dinners. This installment featured the brews of Lagunitas, a California craft brewery that is not afraid to get aggressive with their hops! Those that have had the pleasure of sampling their well known IPA know exactly what I mean.
For the first couple of pairings they served the Lagunitas Czech Pils which was the least hoppy beer of the night. First they paired it up with a sushi grade tuna wrapped around crabmeat roulade with a caramel soy sauce. The pairing worked pretty well but they immediately followed it up with a blood orange and hamachi ceviche that paired perfectly. The citrus zest in the dish brought out all the coriander and bright acidity in the beer, almost to a point of it feeling effervescent. Great way to start out the meal.
The MC for the night was Mark Sljukic from Lagunitas who was kind of a cross between Sam Adams and The Big Lebowski. He was super passionate about the brew and while he came across as a bit of a stoner, he was a salt of the earth kinda guy who knew his craft, and represented Lagunitas, very well. The next few pairings featured some seriously hoppy brews including their popular IPA, the Hop Stoopid (named for the ridiculous, or stupid, amount of hops used in the brew) and the Maximus which was like their Double IPA. The Hop Stoopid went a little over the top on the hops and didn’t maintain the balance whereas the sweet, malty character in the Maximus smoothed out the hops as to not leave you with that bitter beer face.
For these selections, Chef Kevin went right to the meats serving a spiced pork belly in a lo mein noodle bowl with the IPA, braised veal cheeks over a spiced waffle with vanilla parsnip puree and caramelized oninon syrup with the Hop Stoopid and a smoked lamb loin in a lacquer sauce with the Maximus. All pairings worked out well, with the latter being my personal favorite. However, I feel like the food was really the star of this event as by the third beer I could see some of the people at my table getting a little overhopped. But they didn’t stop there…
The desert course was maybe my favorite pairing of the night as they matched up a chocolate marquise (like a very rich chocolate mousse) and espresso ice cream with the Soco Stout. Both were dark, rich and creamy and really worked lovely together…amazingly even the stout had some noticeable hops but not as aggressive as the previous three brews.
So the moral of the story is this…if you like a hoppy brew, than Lagunitas beers are definitely something to look out for. If you like to eat some creative and really delicious dishes served by an excellent staff in a lovely restaurant setting, than the TapHouse beer dinners are not to be missed! And if you only like to pair your meals with wine, then check out some of my other posts as this would all be a complete waste of time
Nowadays when people throw the word “green” out there, they are usually referring to something being ecologically sound or environmentally beneficial. When it comes to wine, green means something entirely different. Sure, it can refer to a wine being made organically or bio-dynamically, but it is typically a way to refer to wines (usually reds) as being somewhat under-ripe. If you are a Napa Cab drinker and plan on drinking those wines from these two vintages, you should become familiar with this dynamic.
There is a saying that good wine is made in the vineyard, meaning that without great fruit there is not much you can do with the juice. A large factor leading to quality grapes being produced has to do with the weather that particular growing year which is early spring to fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, vineyard location plays a pivotal role and so does vineyard management, but without the right temperatures, rainfall and climate… those vines can be in danger of producing a small amount of grapes and not very quality ones at that.
The last two years have been tough weather wise in Napa, and for a late ripening grape like Cabernet Sauvignon that can mean trouble. When grapes are not ripe enough at harvest they can be a bit green… but what does that mean? It could result in a stalky characteristic, possibly an herbaceous or grassy nature or even reminiscent of a rhubarb flavor. However it comes out, unless it is in minmal amounts it is not very desirable. In these last two vintages, that green effect is going to be tough to avoid in Napa Cabs. Of course the best vineyards and the best winemakers will still be making quality wine, but it may need some aging and there won’t be a lot of it so it will most likely be more expensive than the previous vintages.
So what can you do as a consumer? Taste some of these Napa Cabs from 2010 and see if they suit your palate. This under-ripening of grapes can also give wine a lot of acidity and low tannins which some people prefer. But if you like your Napa Cabs big and bold then you may want to check out some of the Paso Robles Cabs as they seemed to fair better. Or venture out to some of the Rhone wines from 2010. It was a fantastic vintage there and practically all the wines, from the everyday Cotes du Rhone to the single vineyard Chateuneuf du Papes, have been excellent thus far. Think of it as a good reason to expand your horizons or to buy some Napa Cab cellar selections instead of the everyday ones that are usually ready to drink.
Tasting Notes: This Il Fauno has easily become my new favorite Italian wine under $25. When I first tasted this gem I had it pegged as a $50 Super Tuscan, so at half the price this is just a tremendous value. Black cherry and blackberry fruit cascade over the brown spice and chalky tones. Firm tannins, lively acidity, a discernible mineral character and a silky smooth finish make this something to enjoy now but will also age for the next 3-7 years or so. Simply a delight…
More info on Il Fauno di Arcanum 2007 IGT Toscana, Tenuta di Arceno:
The Jess Jackson family purchased the Arceno estate in 1994. Located in he southeast corner of Chianti Classico, it has 223 acres of vines. But unlike most estates in the region the grapes are all Bordeaux varietals; Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an ideal showcase for the remarkably talented Pierre Seillan, winemaker for the Jackson’s Veritas wines as well as his Grand Cru Chateau Lassegue in St. Emilion. Here, Seillan blends 57% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Caberent Franc. The grapes for this wine come from a warmer, well-exposed section of the estate, where the grapes get well ripened and take on a voluptuous quality. Il Fauno is aged for 12 months in 30% new French oak barrels.
If you have seen the movie Sideways, the title should make perfect sense. For those who have not seen it (in which case it needs to be at the top of your Netflix list), the main character (Miles) is a huge Pinot Noir snob. The thought of drinking Merlot while out to dinner enrages him to the point of dropping a well placed F bomb that has become legendary in the cinematic wine world. But I’m here to tell you, Miles is f*#&$^g wrong! There is so much great Merlot out there right now, and from various wine producing regions. Below are my top three in ascending order.
3. Bordeaux – Even though Bordeaux is infamous for it’s Left Bank Cabernet Sauvignon wines (the wines of Margaux, St. Estephe, Pauillac, Medoc, etc.), it is Merlot that is the basis for the majority of Bordeaux wines. St. Emilion and Pomerol wines are almost exclusively made from Merlot and offer some of the best value in the region. Merlot from here is typically soft, floral and even a bit earthy and usually carries a raspberry component along with black cherry flavors. It can soften some of those powerful Cabernet driven blends and can stand on its own when grown in the right areas. So go and find some 2009 or 2010 St. Emilion or Pomerol wines and then tell me you don’t like Merlot.
2. Napa – Good Merlot in Napa is like Cabernet Sauvignon light. It can carry all the same cassis, black cherry and plum flavors but with softer tannins and even some floral notes. It’s typically not as bold or powerful, but can be just as flavorful and alluring. I have to stress that I am talking about GOOD Merlot here, which most of it is in Napa. But don’t confuse this with your cheap California style of Merlot, I am definitely in full agreement with Miles on that one. However I’ll drink Whitehall Lane Merlot for around $20 over most Napa Cabs at that same price point.
1. Tuscany – I have tasted a number of Super Tuscan wines as of late that use Merlot as the main, or even ONLY, grape variety that have been simply stunning (Il Fauno di Arcanum 2007 and Re di Renieri 2009 to mention a couple). The coastal Tuscan influence does wonders for this varietal imparting blueberry and blackberry fruit flavors along with licorice and floral nuances. This was a large factor why these Super Tuscan producers basically told the Chianti DOC to go screw…because they thought they could make better wine by blending Sangiovese with Cab and Merlot, and man were they right!
So try not to be a sheep and hate on Merlot…next time you are at your local wine shop pick up a bottle. Just make sure it’s from one of these three regions and if it’s any of the specific wines mentioned above you are in for a real treat!
Having tasted a lot of juice the past couple of weeks, just thought I would point out a few wines that I really enjoyed and picked up for myself…
Primal Roots 2010 Red Blend, California ($7-12)
Can you say… “VALUE ALERT!” This interesting red blend packs a lot of punch for the price. The soft and supple black currant and floral notes from the Merlot are well balanced with the black cherry and cassis from the Cab and the brambly berries from the Zin. It’s a big wine but not overpowering as it stays smooth on the palate through the finish.
Hanna 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($24-30)
This Hanna Cab is my favorite from the AV region in this price range. It has so much elegance and charm, just a delightful wine. Classic Cab nose with cassis, black cherry and plum aromas. But it carries this floral note that stays with the wine through the finish giving it real complexity. Hints of smoky oak and sweet spices add to the playful balance of this wine.
Invetro 2009 IGT Toscana, Tenuta Renieri ($15-22)
For those that like their Italian wines big, fruit forward and supple…look no further. Brimming with red berry fruit, spice and smoked cedar box this wine is really enticing from the get go. It has nice balance with soft tannins and simply coats the palate. Pair it with a nice piece of beef or a hearty dish of pasta, either way it will not disappoint.
Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($15-22)
Known better for their Zins, this Cab shows a lot of true Dry Creek character. The black fruit core meshes delightfully with the toasty oak, ground coffee beans and hints of eucalyptus. The tannins are firm but supple and the finish has that hint of chocolate from the trace of residual sugar. Comes out of the bottle ready to rock, no need to decant this one.
Belle Glos 2011 Pinot Noir, Las Alturas Vyd., Santa Lucia Highlands ($40-45)
It ain’t cheap but man is it tasty. Usually I like my Pinots lighter and more delicate in nature, but this one is tough to resist. It has the fruit and spice of Pinot but the body of a Cab or Syrah… but what else would you expect from a wine produced by Caymus!
Plan Pegau 2010 , Rhone ($15-22)
Crafted by Laurence Féraud of Domaine du Pegau, Plan Pegau has loads of character and personality. Blackberry and dried herbs are layered over black pepper and savory, meaty notes. Like a baby version of their highly revered Chateauneuf du Pape for under $20.
Saffredi 2007 IGT Toscana Le Pupille ($70+)
Yes, this is a $70+ wine…and no I did not buy this one for myself (unfortunately I don’t roll like that). However this is possibly the best wine to pass these lips in some time and compares to the Sassicaias and Ornellaias of the world that fetch closer to $150+. It is super concentrated with dark berry fruit, sweet spices and a super silky smooth texture. It just dances on the palate and grows in complexity with each passing second it lay there. It finishes long leaving behind floral hints and that lush dark fruit…As Ferris Bueller would say: “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”
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!