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…

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The Lack Of Consistency in Westchester Dining

The dynamics of dining out in Westchester have changed a bit for me over the past 5 years. While dating, my wife and I enjoyed dining at various restaurants throughout the region. Granted, I’m a bit cheap so we were more likely hit a local comfortable spot then a top rated restaurant. But we certainly enjoyed a handful of meals at some of the swankier, fancier joints as well. Nowadays, it is much tougher to get to those ‘elite’ restaurants as not only do the meals cost a fortune, but the babysitter rates are crushing on the back end. But we do still indulge from time to time, both with and without the kids, and I came to a realization, almost an epiphany, since my last couple of meals out.  I don’t need to be wowed or tantalized by a meal anymore, I just want a restaurant to be consistent with their dishes each and every time.

Maybe it’s me, as my wife tells me  that I can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but is it so hard to just cook the same meal night in and night out? I mean, it’s not like these places haven’t been doing it for years, right? I get it… sometimes the food distributors don’t have as good a cut of meat one week, or a couple of staff members call out sick stressing out the kitchen. So I can stomach a little inconsistency from one night to the next. But to have a supremely enjoyable meal on one visit and then a ridiculously awful meal the next just seems crazy to me… especially when you are paying the same price for it!

I hate to throw restaurants under the bus, so I will leave this Italian restaurant in Westchester nameless. But this place is known for classic Italian food as well as high quality steaks. I was skeptical on the steak aspect, but had heard really favorable reviews from neighbors. So since it was under $30 for the NY strip, I decided to give it a shot. I am not exaggerating when I say it was barely even a small step down from big time steak house quality at half the price. Thick cut, super juicy and cooked to perfection… I was shocked and extremely impressed! Others had lobster that night with the same positive reaction. The kids were thrilled too as they had pasta, chicken fingers and fries… an absolute must if we plan to bring the kids. So this seemed like a home run all around, almost too good to be true as the food and service were both fantastic, the kids were happy and the bill was extremely reasonable. Oh, and they only charged $15 a bottle for corkage fee… another score!

About a week later some colleagues were looking for a reasonable place to go to dinner. I wanted to make sure my senses hadn’t failed me, so I suggested  this newly found gem just to confirm my original take… and BOOM! It was even better this time with the raw oysters and clams tasting super fresh and the homemade lasagna was melt in your mouth good. Not to mention the friendly and personal service only added to the overall dining experience. So that was it, I was sold. This was our new go to place, which was a relief as I can throw a rock and hit it from my house.

But then… it happened. We went back with family on a Friday night and you could tell the place was slammed as it took a long while for our favorite waiter to come and take a drink order… usually a bad sign. I asked if the cuts of steak were going to be as good as usual, which of course he confirmed. So after waiting… and waiting… and waiting, the food finally arrived. What came out was not even close to the same quality steak as my first two visits, it was more like a thin slice of slightly over cooked london broil… not very appetizing. Everyone had sort of the same opinion about their dishes as well. The lobster was pretty tough and the lasagna looked like it was slopped on to the plate by a school cafeteria lady. Disappointment… starts…now.

The problem is that this happens all over with so many restaurants throughout Westhester. I have had wonderful dinners at the top rated steakhouses in the area,  but also ones where I couldn’t believe what they put on the table for a $60 steak. Too many local sushi restaurants suffer from this same dynamic. One week the sushi is fresh and savory but the next it is chewy and fishy… and nothing is more off putting than possibly bad sushi. I know I am not alone here either as I have heard from colleagues and friends that even some of the most highly regarded restaurants in the county, which I have not been able to attend in some time unfortunately, have this same dynamic. Ultimately this inconsistency is what can lead to a restaurant’s demise, as word of mouth goes a long way in Westchester… and once you get a bad rep it is tough to come back from.

Of course I will go back to the aforementioned local Italian steakhouse to give it another shot, because as Meatloaf says …2 out of 3 ain’t bad. But I probably won’t be as excited or enthusiastic to go out of my way to get there as I may have been had that last meal been consistent with the first two. So these days, I find my most enjoyable meals come from your standard bars, grills and Italian/pizza places. Quaker Hill Tavern isn’t the finest restaurant in town, but for my money it is certainly the most consistent in terms of their food and it comes with a lively atmosphere for adults and kids. The same goes for Candlelight Inn, The WBC Restauarants, Gerardo’s, The Tap House in Tuckahoe and Anthony’s in White Plains. So I guess what I am saying is that I no longer care to be dazzled with great food and a fine dining experience. I am much happier with a restaurant meeting my expectations by consistently providing a solid meal to be enjoyed alongside family and friends… each and every visit.

12/23/15 Update: So I went back to said Italian steakhouse for a work event and it reverted back to its original quality. Steak was killer, Italian dishes all went over fantastically and even for a party of 28 the service was excellent. Glad to see that it seems like that one off night was a rare occurrence, but I’m sure there are others that may not give a place another shot after a poor dining experience. Which is why these restaurants need to be consistently on point every dinner service.

A Couple of Recent Wine Enthusiast Pieces

The world of wine storage can get pretty confusing…part of my job is to help wine lovers figure out the best method of storage for their individual needs. Much has to with what is in their actual collection, the bottle capacity and of course budget. But there is certainly much more to it than that. Below are a couple of recent articles I worked on that can help distinguish if a single or dual zone wine refrigerator is best for you, and some pretty stunning cellars that we created over the years. Check it out!

The 411 On Dual Zone Wine Fridges

Cellar With Style

Some Fall Wines To Help Get Over the Summertime Blues

Get over it people…summer’s over. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s time that someone said it out loud. Sure, I’d love to still be kicking up the sand and body surfing the waves, grilling all day long while knocking back some summer brews and crisp, mouthwatering whites like everyone else. But it’s time to face facts, fall is coming and there is nothing we can do about it. Well, almost nothing.

What we can do is start switching gears from all those light and refreshing beverages to some with a little more body, spice and flavor. When it comes to beer, I don’t need to tell you what is on the horizon…can you say, Pumpkin?!?! But for wine, there is a myriad of red and white selections that can make the transition from the dog days of summer into the cool autumn nights and those breezy, foliage filled days a little more palatable.

Chardonnay

While Pinot Grigio and Sauvi Blanc kept you cool and refreshed over the summer, Chardonnay makes for the ideal fall white. With so many different styles ranging from the clean, lean and green apple driven unoaked version to the smoky, oaky and buttery bombs, it can be enjoyed during those warm fall afternoons or those chilly evenings. Having recently visited the Finger Lakes, my two favorite Chards right now both hail from Fox Run Vineyards where they are producing some serious whites. The unaoked Doyle Family Vineyard Chardonnay as well as the noticeably oaked Reserve Kaiser Vineyard Chard are both impeccable for the season and super reasonable under $15 for either option.

Zinfandel

No, not the pink stuff… REAL Zinfandel. There is something about all that blackberry and blueberry pie, brambly fruit and peppery spice that just screams fall to me. Whether opening a bottle for those late season grill sessions, or just enjoying a glass in front of the fire pit, Zin and fall truly make a perfect pairing. Rosenblum’s entire line of Zinfandel is pretty stellar, but for me the Rockpile Vineyard for around $25-30 a bottle is a clear standout. And for about $20-25 you can grab the Decoy Zinfandel (entry line of Duckhorn) which is a true value as it exhibits much of the same flavor profile as the higher end Paraduxx Zin that is twice the price.

2012 Decoy Sonoma County Zinfandel

Northern Rhone

Most people seem to be more familiar with the Southern Rhone (AOCs such as Cotes du Rhones and Chateuneuf Du Pape) Grenache based wines than the Northern Rhone which is a little more elusive and dare I say…mystical? These Syrah based wines (some with a dash of Viogner, yes a white wine, added into the blends) are known to be quite complex yet elegant and typically carry aromas and flavors of black fruit, kirsch, pepper, earth, floral notes and even bacon fat. These hearty and silky wines are just what the doctor ordered to help keep warm and cozy on those crisp autumn evenings.

Certain AOCs such as Cote Rotie and Hermitage are home to some of the most famous vineyards in the world and produce some outrageously delicious, ageable and expensive wines. Yet, there are less elite appellations such as Crozes Hermitage, Cornas and St. Joseph that intrinsically carry similar styles and characteristics at a much more affordable price point. Some top notch producers to keep an eye out for are E. Guigal, M. Chapoutier, Tardieu Laurent, Delas Freres and Saint Cosme.

E-Guigal-Cote-Rotie-Brune-Blonde-2010        wine bottle label       

Port

This may not be an everyday fall kind of wine, but if the right occasion arises a little Port can go a long way. Fortified wines are like getting the best of both worlds, since they are typically a combination of some form of spirit and wine. In producing Port, brandy is added to the juice during fermentation in order to halt the process leaving much of the residual sugar in the finished product… pure genius! Originally it was done so the wine could travel without spoiling, but ever since the chaps over in England were taken with this new style of wine it has become a dessert wine staple. So when you are sitting out in front of the fire on those lovely fall nights making S’mores with the kiddies, the chocolate, dark plum and berry flavors of most Ruby style Ports, particular a Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Porto, make for a decadent accompaniment.

        

So instead of dreading the fading of those summer days, it is time to revel in the emergence of my favorite season of the year. Enough with all of that lounging around, enjoying the pool and beach and golf and… I mean who am I kidding, of course it sucks. But enjoying some of these fall friendly selections will at least soften the blow.

Cheers!