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

A Napa Cab…from Mendoza??

Well, obviously not. But this has all the traits of a quality Napa Cab without the high price tag… Check out my tasting notes below.

Catena 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, High Mountain Vines, Mendoza

Catena 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, High Mountain Vines, Mendoza:

Better known for their arsenal of Malbecs, this High Mountain Cab from Catena is some pretty serious juice! The nose is super aromatic showing black currant, cola, plum and tobacco notes. It’s a big and coating wine on the palate displaying its youth. Yet the tannins are fairly smooth and the finish is long and dry. The best review I can give is that my wife thought this was a pretty expensive Napa Cab…and she knows her Napa Cabs!

More on this wine:

From Bodegas Catena Zapata comes this rich, dense 100% Caberent Sauvignon that they call “High Mountain Vines.” The grapes are sourced from three of their vineyards at very high elevations; La Piramide Vineyard, 3,117 feet, Domingo Vineyard, 3,675 feet and Adrianna Vineyard, 4,757. The high altitude means brilliant sunlight for ripening and cool temperatures at night for slow, even development of flavors and complexity. The Catena family has been producing outstanding Argentine wines for four generations and they have learned the best methods for handling these grapes. No cold fermentation and a 12-16 day maceration followed by 16 months of aging in French and American oak about 30% new.

Lots to Like About Restaurant North in Armonk

This past weekend was my 39th birthday. To celebrate my final year in the 30s my wife and I decided to go to Restaurant North in Armonk. With a 2 year and 3 month old at home, evenings out are few and far between for us right now, so this was a nice little treat. Established by former Tavern (Garrison) and Union Square Cafe (NYC) alumni, Restaurant North has a farm-to-table motif and has received glowing reviews from critics and consumers alike. I have heard great things from friends and colleagues as well, so it seemed worth giving it a shot.

Instead of writing a lengthy, and possibly somewhat witty, review of the restaurant I thought a chart may be a little more succinct. Below is a list of pros and cons about Restaurant North, with a lot more pros than cons.

Why you should go….
Why you should go elsewhere…
BYO for your first bottle of wine, no corkage! * But you must purchase off their wine list after first bottle. Still a great feature. They take the bottle you bring to the back of the restaurant to open and breathe before serving…I prefer it left on the table.
Lively atmosphere with lots of energy without feeling pretentious. A bit heavy on the salt, almost everything was a little over seasoned.
Menu varies weekly depending on what they have coming in from local farms, lots of selection. Chicken was so salty that had to be sent back, chef bought out another chicken with a little bit of attitude.
Attentive and knowledgeable staff. Dessert was just eh…disappointing.
Super fresh food with a creative menu, yet approachable to a non-foodie.
High quality stemware for wine service.
Prices very fair for a top quality Westchester restaurant.
Nice pace of service, never felt rushed and never had to wait too long.
A complimentary muffin-to-go for your breakfast… nice touch!

So as you can see the “why you should go…” side clearly wins out here as overall it was really a pleasurable dining experience. I wouldn’t say it’s my new favorite restaurant in Westchester, but I would certainly be inclined to go back. The nice part is with apps and flatbreads in the $10-16 range and pastas in the $13-20 range, you can bring a bottle with no corkage fee and enjoy a high quality meal for around $50-60. That’s tough to beat in this neck of  the woods.

So if you’re looking for a solid meal out in the Armonk area, I would certainly recommend trying Restaurant North. But if you are sensitive to salt you may want to ask the server if they can lay off some of the salt in the food preparation, which they are more than willing to do.


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’s The Deal With These High End Chilean Reds?

Recently I had the opportunity to taste some of the “best” wines that come out of Chile. Many Chilean wineries will produce a high end Carmenere red blend that usually includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and possibly some Petit Verdot, Malbec or Syrah. Caremenere was one of the original grapes allowed in the production of Bordeaux wines, but after falling out of favor in France it has found a new home in Chile. It can exude the softness of Merlot, but is typically a little more rustic and spicy. The inexpensive Carmenere wines tend to be dirty and chewy while the high end wines can be super smooth and lush carrying just a pleasant hint of that earthiness.

After tasting a variety of these top tier Chilean reds (such as the Montes Purple Angel, Vina la Rosa Ossa, Errazuriz Kai, Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta and a handful of others) I am left with one reaction… Meh. For you Simpons fans, I need not say more. For the non Simpsons fans, Meh is a feeling of indifference or boredom…a verbal shoulder shrug if you will. Aside from the Clos Apalta, these wines were all just OK. They were rich, smooth and good expressions of the Chilean terroir (a word that encapsulates soil, climate and location), but they also tend to be super expensive! These wines can range anywhere from around $50 to over $100…so for them to just elicit a Meh reaction is frankly not good enough.

For a $50-100 wine I want to be wowed, I want to be excited, I want my taste buds to dance and sing and to praise me for having put something so delicious into my mouth. But most of all I want to feel like I am getting my money’s worth, and at the end of the day I don’t think that’s the case. Granted, I didn’t actually buy theses wines… but if I did I am fairly certain I’d be more than a little pissed off. Having shared some of these bottles with friends and family, most people thought these wines were in the $20-25 range. So to rationalize price tags 2 to 4 times that amount is just not realistic.

So aside from the Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta, which is probably Chile’s finest juice, stick with the value reds from Chile. For $15-20 you can grab some great Cabernet and Carmenere wines from these same wineries that are not that far off from the quality level of their top tier offerings. Some of my favorites right now are The Seeker Cab, Veramonte Primus, the Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre line, Santa Ema’s Reserve & Ampus lines and the Santa Rita Medalla Real line of wines. Remember, just because a wine is expensive doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily great, just that it was intended to be.