Incoming: Westchester’s Premiere Wine & Food Event!

So it looks like spring has officially sprung here in Westchester, and it’s about time! Aside from the warmer weather, flowers blooming and summer closing in, it’s also the most anticipated time of year for the foodie and oenophile contingency. Why, you may ask? Easy…because in it’s sixth year running, Westchester Magazine will once again host the county’s most elaborate culinary extravaganza boasting an extensive arsenal of wines as well as an impressive list of Westchester’s finest dining venues for their 2016 Wine & Food Festival. For this year’s installment they have changed up the format a bit with what appears to be a much more focused yet expansive event configuration.

null

 

 

 

 

The Festival starts on Wednesday June 8th with a fashion/shopping themed event at Bloomingdale’s which leads into Thursday’s Burger and Beer Blast at the Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla. Here, over 30 local restauranburger-blastts will compete for the coveted Blue Moon Best Burger Award. Think of this as a block party on steroids as there will be tons of great brews, stellar burgers and bar bites, wine, booze and some of the most notorious food trucks in town. These are worthy undercards which lead up to the weekend’s main event of wine tastings and pairings.

Friday night’s ‘An Evening With Westchester’s Tastemakers’  is clearly the belle of the ball this year.  Hosted at the lavish Ritz Carlton in White Plains, it will feature a truly special wine list along with Westchester’s finest restaurants and chefs preparing two signature dishes each specifically for the evening. Such restaurants as Campagna, Crabtree’s Kittle House, Purdy’s Farmer and The Fish, Sonora, Tarry Lodge, The Inn at Pound Ridge and of course The Xaviar’s Group, home to Westchester’s Star Chef Peter Kelly, will be featured among a number of Westchester’s finest eateries. But what good is all this delectable food without the perfect wines by their side? That’s where well-known wine guru Kevin Zraly comes into the picture.

tastemakers

Kevin has narrowed the evening’s list down to 20 stellar selections for this salacious walk around tasting including sparkling, white and red wines from around the world. Some of the wines offered will include Louis Roederer Cristal and Taittinger Vintage Champagnes, Dominus, Domaine Zind Humbrecht Gewurz, La Jota Merlot and Chateau Certan de May to name a few. The goal here is to pair up each scrumptious bite with an ideal wine in order to complement its flavors and texture. Not an easy feat, but Kevin has been doing this sort of thing for many years so I am sure it will be quite the ‘palatable’ sensory experience from start to finish.  It’s not an inexpensive evening for $125 a ticket ($175 for VIP, which is really the way to go as it gives you early entrance to move around with ease), but when considering the quality of food and wine being offered, it’s a pretty serious value.

grand-villageIf your hangover subsides by late Saturday morning then the Saturday Grand Tasting Village is well worth attending. It costs less per ticket than Friday’s festivities and will have 3X the amount of restaurants and wineries struttin’ their stuff back at the Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla. There will be chef demonstrations all day long with lots of local celebrity chefs as well as members of the NBC Today Show. Plus, for an extra few bucks you gain access to the Connoisseurs Tent where Kevin will be pouring some higher end juice and sharing his extensive wine knowledge with those attending. Sure, it will be a bit more crowded than Friday night’s Tastemaker event, but having attended this in year’s past there is always a fairly open flow and an energetic vibe to the Saturday Grand Tasting Village.

For more info and to buy tickets check out the official website for this year’s event, see you there!

Westchester Magazine’s 6th Annual Wine & Food Festival

Cheers!

Wine Pairing Dinners Bring Out A Restaurant’s Best

Over the last several years, these special wine pairing dinners have become all the rage. It used to be that only the top eateries in NYC or Westchester would hold such prestigious events, and from what I recall they were all extremely expensive. It would seem the point of those dinner events was to not only offer a 5 or 6 course meal while pairing up each course with a special, and perfectly matched, wine, but the restaurants were also looking to turn a nice profit on the night. And why wouldn’t they?? These were small gatherings with superb dishes featuring sought after top tier wines. This traditional high end version of the wine pairing dinner certainly still exists, but a new generation has recently emerged.  Now those of us that can’t drop $500 on a single meal have ability to indulge in an enjoyable culinary experience as well.

I recently attended one of these dinners at The TapHouse in Tuckahoe where Moet Hennessy teamed up with owner Chris O’Brien and Chef Kevin Bertrand to try and put together a fun and well thought out wine pairing menu. It seemed a good way to sample a handful of MH’s somewhat approachable wines in their portfolio with some new and innovative culinary dishes prepared by the TapHouse team. They were able to get a little creative and curate some dishes that they may not typically offer on a high-end gastropub type menu. I’ve been to a few of their beer pairing dinners which are always a blast and provide an interesting perspective in matching up beer and food, but this was their first wine pairing dinner. In short, these guys knocked it out of the park from start to finish, especially at a mere $65 a head!

0420161915a_resized

You could tell from the opening course that this was going to a be a seriously sick menu starting with tokyo style diver scallops in a jalapeno infused strawberry water with a beautiful watermelon radish. The scallops were delightfully light yet meaty, and the bright strawberry flavor paired wonderfully with the Domaine Chandon Rose Brut bubbles. Pairing any food with sparkling is never easy to do, but these guys nailed it as the DC rose came to life after just a  mere taste of the scallops.

 

0420162103b_resizedThe other highlight of the meal was the roasted loin of venison served over celeriac puree with a corn grits risotto and black currants. The venison was tender, full of flavor and cooked to perfection. They chose the 2013 Newton Unfiltered Napa Cab for this course, and as Yoda would say… chose wisely, they did! The tannins were surprisingly supple for such a big and fruit forward wine, and of course the venison helps smooth it out as well. But the genius combo was the black currant side that when tasted along side this anything but subtle Cab, just popped with flavor and cassis goodness. A great way to finish the main courses leading into the closing dessert finale.

I won’t go into every course here, although it is worth mentioning there was not a bad dish or wine to be had during the evening. So for the $65 price tag there were 5 dishes served (where the portions were ample enough) and 4 really solid wines with 1 standout killer wine in the Newton Cab. So as a couple you could enjoy an entire meal out for $130 (plus tax and tip) where the service is fantastic and the dishes are craftfully prepared specifically for this event. I don’t know about you, but there aren’t too many places these days you can get away with a full quality meal, with wine, for under $150 a couple.

So if you see any of these special wine paring events at your local favorite restaurants it is probably worth checking out, as it can be less expensive to attend one of these dinners than dining off the standard menu on any regular night. It is also becoming more common for these dinners to be a way of marketing and promoting, where the restaurants aren’t as concerned with turning a big profit on the night, but more concerned with getting a good word out about how dynamite their restaurant can be. I can’t promise they will all be as good as this one at The TapHouse, but in the end you should be on the right side of an evening where the owner and chef are hopefully trying to do everything they can to please their customers and keep them coming back for more.

Wine Ratings vs. Vintage Ratings

Wine Ratings

If you are familiar with wine ratings in general, you already know they are often used to try and communicate to the consumer the quality of a specific wine or vintage. However, ratings are in no way a clear indication that you are going to enjoy a wine. Many wines will have varied ratings from numerous wine publications and media outlets, meaning there is no science to this but more of an art.  For example, the recent 2013 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir recently received a 95 Pt Rating from one highly regarded wine publication, and an 89 from an equally highly regarded wine publication. A 6 point differential is a pretty big spread! That being said, wine reviewers are judging wines on overall quality, aging potential and any flaws a wine may have. So ratings are probably still the best overall indicator of quality. However ratings can come in a couple of different forms, either on the wine itself or on an overall vintage from a specific location.

A wine rating is pretty self-explanatory.  A wine is sampled (hopefully in a blind tasting) by a reviewer and that reviewer determines the score on the 1-100 scale (or 1-20 in certain publications like Decanter) based on appearance, aromas, palate and finish. The higher the score, the better the wine (theoretically). Often a reviewer will specialize in rating a specific region(s) so that they can really focus on the intricacies of the different wines they taste. However, it is important to remember that since there are so many wines in the world, not all of them get reviewed.

However an entire wine region is also rated by many publications on the overall quality of the juice being produced from that particular year from said region. Moreover, there is much research during the growing period of each vintage in every important wine region to make some early predictions on how the vintage should fare. For example, the 2013 vintage in Napa was being touted as one of the greatest vintages since the iconic 2007 vintage, so it was no surprise when Robert Parker gave that Napa Vintage 2013 a 98 Point Rating. That is not to say that every 2013 Napa Cab is a 98 point wine. More that with the overall quality of that particular vintage, the level of quality in wines produced within that vintage should be higher than most other vintages.

Can bad wines be made in good vintages? Sure… Can great wines be made in poor vintages? Absolutely! 2000 was notoriously one of the best vintages Bordeaux has ever seen, yet it was equally bad in Burgundy. Yet I have tasted a number of 2000 Burgundy wines that showed as much delicacy and elegance as form the highly acclaimed 2009 and 2010 vintages. And remember, a rating is still just one person’s evaluation and opinion. The best way to find out which wines and vintages are best suited for you and your palate is to keep trying new and different wines from different years. If you find a professional wine reviewer that has the same palate as you do, than you probably want to watch out a little more closely for his or her wine and vintage ratings as you may find some of your new favorite wines by doing so.

Cheers!

(This post was also featured on Wine Express with a few edits for their needs, take a look below!)

Wine Ratings vs Vintage Ratings

Easy Easter Ham & Lamb Wine Pairings

Let’s keep this short and sweet, as Easter is just a couple of days away. The classic Easter meal usually features one of two meats, Lamb or Ham. Luckily each of these options has one wine that pairs perfectly with it practically regardless of how it is prepared.

Ham and Pinot – A typical glazed Easter ham has both sweet and savory flavors, along with a touch of salt. So the idea is to match it up with a wine that has high acidity, low tannins and lots of fruit. So a lighter Zin, Rhone or Chianti could work, but West Coast Pinots are really the way to go. Seaglass from Santa Barbara is a great value option and Nielson (by Byron) from the Santa Maria Valley is a little heartier and will cost a few bucks more, but it is full of expressive cherry, raspberry and peppery spice goodness. However if you can get your hands on some juice from the mad genius Rick Moshin from his extensive and ecletic line of Russian River Valley Moshin Pinots, then you are in for truly a heavenly Easter meal.

 

Don’t like Reds? Then Riesling will probably be the best pairing option. You know how apple, apricot, and pineapple are ideal partners for ham? Well, the same goes for the wine.  The apple and tropical flavors contrast perfectly to a salty ham while the bright acidity and light style keep the sweetness levels in check. Wilim Riesling from Alsace is bone dry and an ideal option, especially for around $15. But if you like a hint of sweetness and more body you may want to go with a Spatlese from Mosel. However my favorite white pairing is the Eroica Riesling from Columbia Valley, Washington. Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen partnered up to create this beauty and for around $20 I dare you to find a more luscious, balanced and yummy Riesling anywhere.

Lamb and Cab – Lamb is full of flavor, fat and if it is grilled will have some smoky character too. You need a big boned, tannic wine to stand up to a meat like that. If you are grilling it, the Bordeaux route is preferable as the terroir driven nature of those wines accentuate that grilled, smoky flavor. My favorite value Bordeaux right now is Chateau St. Barbe 2011 as it is a big wine with loads of minerality and a fruit filled, long, dry finish. Best under $20 Bordeaux out there, hands down. Chateau Talbot offers a lovely, classic Bordeaux experience, but will be at least double the Barbe price.

California Cabs will work just as well, particularly if you have a thicker cut and are roasting the lamb. McMannis offers a solid value Cab for under $15 and the new vintage of Twenty Rows 2012 Napa Cab is surprisingly stellar for around $20, as I have not been a fan of past vintages.  But the ’12 Peju Napa Cab is off the hook delicious with oodles of big, dark fruit, vanilla and spice. It ain’t cheap at around $50, but it is certainly guaranteed to please your entire Easter crew.

 

MTK Tavern Has Put It All Together

If you are  into the local Westchester rock music scene, than MTK is already on your radar. Since their doors opened in May of 2012, when they took over and completely renovated the old Katie Mac’s location, MTK has been all about music. During their early stages, it was mostly local bands coming in on the weekends, with a weeknight performance here and there. But now, there are some great bands hitting the stage just about every night. And while local favorites such as Exit 5 and Monster are still killing it, MTK has really spread its wings in terms of attracting top talent from all over the Northeast.

     

As a former wannabe metal guitarist, I thoroughly enjoy watching a great, small venue live rock show… which is exactly what MTK offers. But what I’m even more thrilled about is their menu situation which has taken a huge turn for the better. I remember walking into MTK during their first few months of business for lunch and being a little confused. There was this classic long, wood bar with great brews on tap and a stage in the distance, letting you know this has the potential to be a scene as the night rolls around. So I figured I’d grab a burger or some wings… but that wasn’t what the menu was about. Instead of traditional pub fare it was more tapas style, with some nice selections for sure, but it just didn’t fit the scene. It seemed pretty pricey and a shade too fancy for a local bar. For some time their music presence continued to gain steam and the bar remained solid, but they struggled with their food and menu identity. But alas, MTK has finally arrived to where I had hoped they would be.

 

 

 

 

The menu now is one simple page with a handful of apps (including several cool sauce options for the  wings like truffle oil and parmesan), a few salads and traditional bar style food. Burgers, quesadillas, sandwiches, fries and a very fancy plated deviled egg dish are all available and quite good! This makes all the sense in the world to me, as the draw of MTK are the tunes and the bar atmosphere. The food has to be solid and simple without taking away from the main draws, which is exactly what they have accomplished. And with so many new restaurants opening up lately around MTK (Little Drunken Chef, Winston, The Turk, etc.) there is no need for them to compete on the food front. They are being themselves… a little bit of an indie rock, Brooklyn style bar in the heart of a suburban city adding some vibrancy and energy into the town, and they are doing it right. As a bonus the staff is extremely attentive and offers an enjoyable patron experience. Oh, and there is a fantastic back lounge area  fully equipped with sofas and comfy leather chairs, ideal for parties as well.

Here’s  a little sample of a typical Saturday night at MTK, pretty rockin’ for a suburb bar filled with old folks like me 😉   Exit 5 at MTK

Hope to see you there!

Some New Wines To Try in 2016!

Already caved and broke your New Year’s resolution? Not to worry, I have a new one for you that’s going to be much easier to adhere to and a hell of a lot more fun.

Most of us fall into the same routine when it comes to drinking wine, we stick with what we know and have always enjoyed as comfort and consistency remain the most important factors. But what if you never tried a Napa Cab or an Italian Pinot Grigio for the first time? How could they eventually become your favorites??

2010-Robert-Mondavi-Winery-Napa-Valley-Cabernet-Sauvignon                      

It’s like my man Daniel Tiger says: ‘You gotta try new food ’cause it might taste…. GOOOOOODDD!!’ (If you have kids under 4, you know the song) If you don’t try new and different wines, your palate may never experience the multitude of unique aromas, flavors and textures that are out there in the wonderful world of wine. So here are a few examples that are somewhat off the grid for most wine drinkers but have a lot to offer and are steadily improving in quality and exposure.

Finger Lakes Pinot Noir

The Finger Lakes region has produced some fantastic expressions of Riesling and Chardonnay among other white varieties over the last few years. But the reds have been a little light and green due in most part to the immaturity of the vines and the colder North East climate. Well guess what… the vines are getting older and the winemakers have learned the intricacies of the land and climate leading to a much needed overall improvement of the FLX reds. Some stellar Pinots have been crafted from certain producers such as Anthony Road, Fox Run, Heron Hill and Hearts & Hands.  My favorite is the 2013 Lust Pinot from Inspire Moore. It displays true Pinot fruit character balanced with well integrated toasted oaky notes and lovely dark spices. It runs around $25-30, but is on par with Pinots from better known regions at the same price point.

 

Tuscan Syrah and Malbec

Chances are you’ve probably tasted and enjoyed a Super Tuscan wine in the course of your wine drinking era… but I’ll bet it didn’t have Syrah or Malbec in it! Super Tuscans are typically blends based on the Sangiovese grape. A quick history note… they emerged from rogue, yet talented, wine producers that did not want to follow the regulations in Chianti and HAVE to use primarily Sangiovese in their wine. Nowadays most Super Tuscans will still have Sangiovese in the blend even though it is not mandated,  but they may choose to just utilize Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (styled after the iconic wines of Bordeaux) either in a blend or single varietal wine. But because there are no restrictions on what grapes can be used, winemakers started to experiment with other international grape varieties, including Syrah and Malbec. When done properly, these can be intense, seductive and downright delicious wines! The 2011 Vie Cave Toscana, Maremma (Antinori) is sleek and racy made with 100% Malbec while the 2009 Regini di Renieri is dark, brooding and complex produced from only Syrah. Both are examples of serious, ageable Tuscan juice and will run about $30-35.

                             

Greek Assyrtiko

I too once treated the wines of Greece similarly to The Phantom Menace of the Star Wars Trilogy and did my best to avoid them. But as of late I find myself specifically seeking them out, particularly the Assyrtiko white wines from the island of Santorini. This indigenous grape is mostly planted in the volcanic rich soil on the island imparting healthy amounts of minerality and acidity with some great citrus and floral components as well. The Claudia Papayianni 2013 Ex’arnon is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Assyrtiko and is as light and refreshing as it is crisp and floral. A true expression of the region and great value for around $16 and makes a great pairing for any chilled seafood dish.

Seven Wines to pair with the Feast of Seven Fishes

Seems like this post has seen a lot of activity over the last few weeks, so I thought I would update it with some new wines for this year. These selections are similar in style to the wines as the original post but includes some of my recent favorites with current vintages..enjoy!

Westchester Wine Guy

The holiday shopping frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has come and gone, and everyone is probably a little lighter in the wallets because of it. So now that most of the materialistic aspects of Christmas are in our rearview mirror, its time to focus on what is truly important this season…family and friends coming together to celebrate this most joyous holiday. My family partakes in the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve, and it is always one of the most memorable meals of the year. I generally have the honor (and the pressure) of selecting the wines to go with the meal…talk about stress!

The traditional fishes that are served in the Feast are Calamari, Scungilli, Baccala, Shrimp, Clams, Mussels and some type of big fish (usually a snapper, sea trout, tuna or large shellfish like lobster or crab). However over the years the rules…

View original post 510 more words