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.

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.

Is Your Favorite Wine…Toxic?!?!

The simplest, yet most confusing, answer is…possibly. However let me start by saying that this arsenic controversy only seems to pertain to the least expensive, most highly produced California wines and if you are drinking a good amount of it. I’m not going to dive into all the details regarding the actual lawsuit, but if you are interested Forbes has an article with a run down of the situation…see below.

Arsenic And California Wine…Do You Need To Worry?

But the basics of the lawsuit (remember, it is still just an allegation) state that many inexpensive wines in California have higher than acceptable levels of arsenic. You can check the link below to see if any of your favorite wines are on that list:

Full List of Wines Named is Arsenic Lawsuit

What is arsenic? It is basically a metal that is found in various natural resources, namely soil and water, but can also be a result of certain forms of manufacturing. So if proper care is not taken during wine production, or the soil or water used is not the best quality, then it seems reasonable that elevated levels of arsenic could be found in cheaply made wines that don’t utilize the most thorough production methods.

So then the question comes down to how toxic, if at all, are the wines you enjoy on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? If you find that your favorites include some of California’s most frugal selections, then it is possible that there are increased amounts of arsenic in that juice (we won’t know for sure until the lawsuit lends definitive results). But no need to panic until this is all resolved by the powers that be. In the meantime, there is an old saying which states “Life is too short to drink cheap wine”… I think that is fairly applicable to ALL wine drinkers right about now.

How To Do A Steakhouse On A Budget

There are few culinary delights that can surpass that of a top tier steakhouse dining experience. From the seductive aromas of grilled beef and butter that are taken in at first entry to the last sip of port enjoyed with that decadent chocolate lava cake, they offer something  utterly satisfying that few other restaurants are able to do. But all of this hedonistic enjoyment can cost a pretty penny. The better steakhouses will charge $45+ for a cut of beef, and that normally does not come with any sides…just a piece of meat on a plate. Once you factor in all the starters, the trimmings to accompany the steak, not to mention that big Napa Cab, a few desserts, espressos and after dinner drinks, the bill can end up totaling the same as your monthly mortgage.

But does a steakhouse meal have to be that exorbitant? In a word…Nope!There are some very simple ways to cut a few corners in order to still enjoy all that a quality steakhouse has to offer while keeping the expenditures down. It’s all about efficiency.

The first pitfall for many is the allure of the seafood tower…as it clearly rocks. However they really are over the top when you consider all the crustaceans they load them up with.  You may be better off just ordering your favorite shellfish for yourself. Whether it is a half dozen oysters or a shrimp cocktail platter, the amount it will cost for the individual appetizer will be significantly less than the per person cost of an overindulgent seafood platter tower. The ever popular bacon appetizer can also suck you in as they are fantastically delicious, but super pricey for what is usually a single strip serving. And let’s be honest, you are about to dive into a giant, juicy piece of meat… do you really need more meat as an app?

The biggest unnecessary expense in most steakhouses is that of Napa Cabernet Sauvignons on the wine list. Why you may ask? Because they are effing delicious and make for a perfect pairing with grilled meat…plus they are sort of a status symbol to some, particularly those trying to impress clients or first dates. These establishments are well aware of this and will mark up those wines more than others. I find that CA Merlot and Zin, as well as the Cotes du Rhone and Spanish selections offer the greatest pairing value without skimping on quality, depending on the producer and year of course. But without question they almost always carry significantly lower markups. A good rule of thumb is to go with the second least expensive wine in any given section of the wine list, although even if you get the cheapest bottle they are typically not pouring swill at any of these fancy joints.

One place you don’t want to skimp out is on the steak. The main reason you are probably dining at a highly rated and expensive steakhouse is to enjoy that perfectly cooked piece of dry aged beef… so go for it! However there is no need to add that lobster tail for the surf and turf effect, or even those few grilled shrimp on the side. Remember, shellfish ain’t cheap. If you choose to order side dishes, you want to stick with two sides for every four people. So an order of creamed/grilled spinach and hash browns is more than enough for a table of four. Again, the steak is the star of the show so let that bad boy shine!

If you have ever actually looked at what jacks up the bill at the end of the night, more often than not it ends up being beverages of all kind. Of course the wine and booze are the biggest culprits, but the fancy coffees and all the accoutrements are no slouch. I love a double espresso with Sambuca as much as anyone, but in a steakhouse that one little luxury can run up to $20. Stick with the regular coffee and split a dessert or two instead of going overboard with the port, cognac and oversized dessert platter. Or skip the dessert and coffee altogether and enjoy the last course in the luxury of your own home.

Bonus Wine Tip: Ask the server if they have any by the bottle wine specials. Many times these steakhouses have an older bottle they may need to move out in order to make room for a new vintage. If they have a few loose bottles that are no longer on the menu and don’t have a listed price, you may get lucky and score one of those older Napa Cabs or Bordeauxs at a bargain price.

So get out there and enjoy some of those fantastic steakhouses that Westchester has to offer, as there are certainly many to choose from.

Salute!

 

Think While You Drink!

I know that may sound like an oxymoron to some, so allow me to elaborate. My colleague and I curate and teach a wine education and tasting program for our internal staff . It’s meant to provide not only a basic overall knowledge of wine, but to learn how to taste and utilize all of your senses. Granted, we start the class at 5:15 so there are some that are just looking for a drink after a long day of work. But as I was reminding everyone that we are “tasting” not drinking, I inadvertently came up with a catch phrase that I like to iterate as much as possible during these classes… that everyone should be “thinking while your drinking”.

brain

That doesn’t mean you should be figuring out your dinner plans or performing high level mathematics while sipping on some lovely juice. It means that you should be examining the wine to some extent in terms of its aromas, flavors, mouth feel, texture, finish, length, possible food pairings and most importantly…if you are enjoying it and why or why not. It is easy to predetermine whether you think you will enjoy a wine based on the grape, region or even price. But we try and present  classic examples of each grape variety produced in different regions to really determine its characteristics and how it can vary from region to region and why that may be. So by actually experiencing various wines from all over the world, everyone is beginning to figure out their own palate without being influenced by stereotypes or predisposed opinions.

For example, this week we took on Riesling…a very polarizing grape as most people either love it or hate it. Regardless, there is a general connotation out there that Riesling is sweet. Guess what, not so much! Of course there are many sweet Rieslings and some are even meant to be dessert wines. But they can also be made in a dry, crisp style and have very little residual sugar. In German wines you will often see Kabinett or Trocken on the label, which will note that it is in fact a dry Riesling. It was great to see some people come into the class “knowing” they didn’t like Riesling, but by the end of the class enjoying some of the selections that they weren’t aware even existed.

https://i2.wp.com/truevin1.w14.wh-2.com/foxrun/WineImages/Dry-Riesling-13-220x500.jpg

So by thinking while you’re drinking, you start to take into account all the different characteristics that make a wine what it is. How intense the aromas are on the nose, what kind of fruit aromas and flavors are present, how much oak was used and what kind, how acidic or tannic a wine is, what kind of food would make an enjoyable pairing and of course if you find a particular wine pleasing. After all a wine can be well made, expensive and have a 95+ rating…but if it doesn’t itch you where your scratchin’ than all of that don’t mean a thing.

Cheers!