A quick conversation at the bar at Craigie on Main produced this low tech answer to the spherical ice cube. These are our first attempts. Tomorrow we will make them a bit larger and garnish them with a tasty libation on two.
A quick conversation at the bar at Craigie on Main produced this low tech answer to the spherical ice cube. These are our first attempts. Tomorrow we will make them a bit larger and garnish them with a tasty libation on two.
We were working with young coconuts at the same time we were playing with carbonated cocktails. One thing led to another and the result was carbonated coconut water, fresh from the shell. The effervescence really carries the aroma of the coconut, like sea breeze on a tropical island. While this is just a glass of carbonated coconut water the pathway is now clearly defined and we are excited about creating and consuming our upcoming discoveries.
We have added one more class to the our schedule at Craigie on Main. Cocktails, both the craft and consumption, have always been fascinating subjects for us. The use of aromatics in great drinks, either as a supporting flavor or as an accent note, is the focus of this convivial workshop Tuesday evening at the bar. Tastings of food and drinks are part of this workshop.
Ideas in Food and Craigie on Main will be hosting a unique seminar focusing on: Aroma at the Bar
Call Craigie On Main at 617-497-5511
to make your reservation.
$100 per person
(Credit card is required upon reservation)
Tuesday July 27, 11pm
Aromas are highly complex messages being decoded by our brains. Although humans no longer need their sense of smell to survive, it is an integral sense in experiencing many of life’s pleasures. We will discuss aroma in the context of modern mixology. Looking not only at spirits themselves and how we combine them, but also at the use of complimentary and contrasting aromas that help us create, enhance, and even amplify aroma and flavor in cocktails.
Recently we've gone through a bit of a beer phase. While we always appreciate a well crafted brew, our normal beverage of choice is wine. The recent streak of warm weather inspired us to see what great beers were available in our neck of the woods. Of course instead of discussing one of the many fine local breweries today we're highlighting Allagash Brewery in Portland, Maine. One way or another we always seem to be drawn back to that beautiful little treasure trove of a state. Although not especially known for it's food and drink (other than seafood of course) there is a lot to be found here for the enthusiastic foodie.
Take a look at their website for the full story. We'll just note that Allagash focuses in on Belgian style beers and their myriad permutations. Belgian beers to my mind are notable for their soft, almost creamy texture, intense layered flavors, and sipping quality. These are beers to be savored not to be used as hot weather thirst quenchers. They pair beautifully with food and are equally happy to stand alone. Belgian beers encompass a wide range of styles.
The beers crafted at Allagash are all bottle conditioned. Bottle conditioning is a process where the beer is dosed with yeast and candi sugar before sealing the bottles so that a final fermentation period takes place during storage. Because of this the beers can appear cloudy and have sediment but don't let that deter you. A little yeast goes a long way in terms of flavor. Bottle conditioned beers that are stored properly can age in your cellar for several years. This is a good thing because ounce for ounce really good beer can be as expensive as wine, a fact which can surprise the novice when they get to the checkout counter. Allagash offers a series of barrel aged beers that are absolutely delicious and definitely worth exploring. They are only available in larger 750ml bottles, which makes sense because the larger bottles are believed to age significantly better than the small ones.
Belgian beers are marked by an abundant creativity within their essential parameters. There are Abbey and Trappist style ales, strong golden ales, lambics, witbiers, brown ales, amber ales, pilsners, saison, and a variety of seasonal offerings. With enough research you can find exceptions to every rule and the only constant seems to be a quest for flavor. Malt is the backbone of Belgian beer and as with grapes, there are different varieties that are best suited to specific types of beer. Different sugars are also employed with the malt or during bottle conditioning depending on the style of the beer. Candi sugar is made with a superheated sucrose solution that is deeply caramelized to add more complex flavors than a simple granulated sugar would. There is a variety of yeast strains that can be used alone or in various combinations to produce Belgian style beers. Finally the type of hops you choose will have a profound impact on bitterness levels and the final flavor of the beer.
Unsurprisingly Alex and I saw the words "barrel-aged" on the label and immediately reached for the Allagash. We tried the Confluence and the Interlude. To our taste the lighter style and fresh, citrusy flavor of the Confluence was perfect for this time of year. The beer was balanced and flavorful with a lingering fruity finish. The Interlude was a spicy complex beer that seemed more like a fall beer than one for the warmer weather. It was bigger and more complex on the palate, inviting us to savor the long, soft finish. It had weight on the tongue and a slightly mouthwatering quality that probably came from the barrel aging. It would be a great choice for food pairing and actually an Allagash dinner would be a lot of fun, perhaps something we can do in the near future.
Now that I'm expecting, I've had to get a bit more creative with beverages. Juices are recommended, although high in calories. Caffeine should be limited, as should artificial sweeteners. Sparkling water, actually sparkling drinks of any kind, are dehydrating. More often than not, these days I'm either drinking water or half juice/half water. I've never been a milk drinker, no matter how healthy it may be for the baby, and everything else seems to be empty calories or added chemicals. It's a little frustrating because on these increasingly hot and humid days, a long cool drink is one of life's small luxuries.
So recently I've taken to drinking herbal teas. Yes, there is a list of herbs to avoid, and no I'm not going to talk about them here. I am going to talk about Rishi Tea. I first tasted Rishi at Woodberry Kitchen. They had the Sweet Mint, Organic Botanical Blend. I have to say that the tea was amazing. I poured the first cup and the scent literally wafted across the table. It was surprisingly rich and full flavored on the palate. The mint flavor was intense and the tea actually tasted sweet, even though there was no actual sugar to be detected at the tip of my tongue. The tea itself is a blend of peppermint,cardamom and licorice root with natural oils of basil and clove. Most of the Rishi products are certified organic and fair trade. While I haven't tasted any of their other teas yet, I fully intend to. They should be just what I need to get me through the sticky season with refreshing, full flavored libations.
One of the best things about heading down to Baltimore is hanging out with Spike and Jay. They are always full of passion and extremely entertaining to boot.
Jay's primary specialty is coffee, although that's certainly not the only thing he's known for, and he was our right hand man for the dinner last week. Along the way he created a really cool coffee beverage, using Counter Culture Coffee for a menu pairing. You can read about it here. There's even a recipe.
Spike and Jay are both serious coffee fanatics, although Jay is the barista of the two. He taught us a lot about coffee in a very short time and reminded us what a difference the details make in that very first sip of the day. He is also responsible for introducing us to beans of Counter Culture and that was a gift in itself. They roast some serious coffee beans there. I will never look at Starbucks the same way again.
Even when your sick or stressed from dust and construction and your palate isn't at its best, sometimes you open up a nice bottle of wine (or two) anyway, to treat yourself. We've started construction on the basement. For those of you who are new, there was a flood in the basement that rainy day in August, which has since been declared and actual disaster in Queens. We need to replace all of the flooring and paneling and while we're at it, they're putting up a new ceiling too. The guys are fitting us in, so it's mostly a weekend a project, which began last Saturday. Unfortunately during the demolition stage, where they were yanking down all of the old paneling, unbeknown to anyone the tarp separating the basement from the rest of the house fell down. So there was a fair amount of dust flying about the main floor. I was just getting over an annoying bout of something flu-like and the allergic reaction that ensued set me back quite a bit. There was so much dust that even Alex had a reaction and he's not one to have allergies of any kind. On the bright side, we've cleaned up the mess and work is progressing in the basement.
Since we had to move everything stored in the basement out, our modest wine collection is now spread out between the dining room and our bedroom. It's new home will be in a wine storage unit in the basement, for now though it's on display upstairs. On the bright side, we're becoming a reacquainted with our liberated cachet of bottles. It's depth tends to be more vertical than horizontal, relying heavily on a number of wineries where we are on the mailing lists, rounded out by strategic purchases here and there. We know what we like and so if we choose to invest in a few bottle worth saving, we want to know that we'll enjoy them upon opening.
One of the things that we're realizing is that special bottles can make an occasion. They don't always need to be saved for the "right moment" because it may never come. Instead they should be utilized whenever you'd like to make a moment special. To kick off our dinner party with the readers, we cracked open a magnum of Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut to ease everyone into the evening and create an air of festivity. The Italian bubbles took us from cocktails to the table. This was followed by the Hall Sauvignon Blanc, which we discovered last year at Taste3 when we had dinner in their amazing cellar. It's become a house favorite, surprisingly lush and juicy against the mouthwatering acidity inherent to Sauvignon Blanc. The next wine was a magnum of 1999 ZD Pinot Noir which we purchased at the winery many years back. We were saving it for a special occasion and this one fit the bill admirably. It was delicious, it's dark brambly flavors of roasted raspberries and sweet spices pairing equally well, yet to different effect with the cock's combs, veal breast, and the burrata. We finished up with a Jackson-Triggs Vidal Ice Wine. Although we did not pair wines with every course for this meal, we did choose ones that we felt matched well with our food and utilized some large format bottles for their spirit of generosity and their convivial air.
The beauty of wine is that it is meant to be drunk and to be shared. Pulling dusty bottles out of the cellar reminded us that they were meant to be savored with good company. Last night we celebrated a Sunday evening at home by opening a 2004 Peter Michael Sauvignon Blanc and a 2003 Ramey Diamond Mountain District. Perhaps it was foolish to open such bottles when our noses and palates were not at their best. I can firmly say that it was worth the experience. We still swirled and sniffed and luxuriated in each small sip. If we missed a few nuances so be it. We had the bottles in our collection, simply waiting to be tasted. Now I realize that not everyone has a closet full of wines to choose from. On the other hand, most of us have a bottle or two or three stashed away for that perfect occasion. That moment is sooner than you think. The wines last evening made a simple dinner something special and there is no price tag for that.
In my experience the majority of people tend to fall into one of two camps when it comes to pairing wine with their Thanksgiving dinner. The choices tend to be either a a very light, young wine or something a bit darker and more mysterious. Surprisingly the lighter choice is often Beaujolais Nouveau, while the more substantial partner for turkey is frequently American red Zinfandel. In restaurants and in wine shops around the country, these two wines fly off the shelves in November. Although both pairings work, in my humble opinion there is a better choice. That choice would be Pinot Noir.
Beaujolais Nouveau is released for sale on the third Thursday in November. Although it can be shipped prior to that date, it cannot be sold until 12:01am on that third Thursday. This unusually early release date for a wine has been exploited to its full potential, with release parties scheduled around the globe each year. The date's proximity to Thanksgiving combined with the wine's fruity, easy-drinking nature and relatively low price point, is probably a large part of why it has become a standard Thanksgiving wine. It is fermented from 100% Gamay grapes from the Beaujolais region of France. It's early release date is due to it's fermentation process known as carbonic maceration. The grapes are placed in stainless steel tanks and covered with a layer of carbon dioxide and allowed to ferment naturally. As fermentation occurs, the grapes swell and burst their skins, releasing their juice. The wine that is produced from this style of fermentation is light and fruity, with low tannins and a faint hint of nail polish. It is a frivolous wine, meant to be consumed within a year and suitable for friendship, laughter, and easy drinking.
The next obvious choice for turkey day is red Zinfandel. I myself drank it for a number of years and sold it to many happy customers for their holiday celebration. The Zinfandel grape, known in Italy as Primitivo, has been documented in the United States as early as 1834. Originally prized for it's ability to produce easily and in quantity, in the last few decades it has developed into a major varietal in the California wine scene. Although it was more commonly known for producing White Zinfandel, the last twenty years has seen a major rise in the production of quality red Zinfandel wines, with higher levels of acidity, firm tannins and rich, earthy, jammy flavors. These flavors actually bring to mind the famous pairing of turkey and cranberry sauce, with some deep herbal notes that could echo those found in the stuffing. It's a combination that is popular because it works. Some notable producers of red Zinfandel include Ridge, Turley, Elyse, and Seghesio. The very best Zinfandels have a restrained, elegant style and intense flavors, rather like a trained military combat assassin in a designer tuxedo at a fancy dress ball. Just a few weeks ago we opened a bottle of 2003 Aida Zinfandel. It was a major splurge and so amazingly delicious that we actually postponed dinner so that we could fully savor a glass before pairing it with food. It had that crushed velvet mouth-feel that I tend to associate with Vineyard 29. Although still very young, it was very approachable in the glass with dark fruit, brambles, marjoram, licorice and a hint of dark chocolate. In short, it was a beautiful representation of what this grape can be when it reaches its full potential.
Of course, after a glowing review like that, how could I possible suggest something else? I do love my red Zin., it's just that I prefer something a bit leaner and more elegant with my bird. Hence my choice of Pinot Noir. The very best ones are full of lush berry flavors, dusty low notes, firm yet soft tannins and nervy acidity. They can be savored on their own or bring out the natural meaty essence of the turkey and the green, herbal notes of the vegetables without stealing the show completely. California makes some beauties, these are big intense Pinots that are impressive young and also develop and mature as gracefully as Paul Newman or Clint Eastwood. Some of our favorite American Pinot Noirs are produced by Papapietro Perry, Hartford, Ken Wright, and Williams Selyem.
This rum is one of my favorites. Confession time, I ripped this photo off of their website because I wasn't happy with an of my pictures. So, hopefully they won't mind because part of its charm is the straw basket wrapping. It's a totally superficial element and it doesn't let you see how much rum is left in the bottle, but what it does do is remind me that I'm savoring something that reminds of summertime, relaxation and the Caribbean--even if this particular rum is produced in Guatemala. It's a state of mind, reinforced by it's rich scent of brown sugar and it's deep amber hue. This is a rum to savor and not meant for the blender.
I was first introduced to the idea of a sipping rum many years ago on my honeymoon. We had a beautiful meal at Gramercy Tavern, at the end of which, the sommelier recommended some aged rum as an after dinner drink. I was intrigued, rum to me meant pina coladas, daiquiris and rum punches. Meyers rum had long been a secret bar weapon of mine, floating on top of a juicy pink punch it gave the rink that special something that elevated it into something a bit more complex and savory than your average light and dark rums.
So I was ripe for his suggestion that evening. He delivered a deep amber liquid in a crystal snifter and when I swirled and took my first sniff I was hooked. The first sip burned like a good cognac although the flavors were vastly different. Redolent of burnt sugar and spice, it was lighter, fruitier, and more floral than I expected. It reminded me of a thunderstorm on the beach, the smell of the rain and the smoke from a wood fire. I have been a convert ever since.
My current staple at home is the the one pictured to the left. The Ron Zacapa Centenario is aged for 23 years and it's slightly sweet flavor makes it perfect for the end of a meal. So this chilly October evening, I'll be sipping some dark rum for dessert and remembering hot summer days and clear blue water, lightning storms and campfires near the water. It's not just the flavor, it's the whole experience.
Have you ever noticed how often the characters in the Harry Potter series drink pumpkin juice? At every feast in the dining hall, Harry, Ron and Hermione are drinking pumpkin juice. I noticed it because it's something that never would have occurred to me. Pumpkin juice? Anyway, with fall and Halloween and an abundance of squash in the pantry, we decided to see what the fuss was all about. An enormous Hubbard squash was waiting for some love. We cut half of it into steaks and juiced the other half. We sealed the steaks and the juice in a bag and cooked them at 180 degrees in the immersion circulator until the squash was tender and toothsome. Then we strained the juices and chilled it for making libations. Tonight's result is a play off a Dark and Stormy. After tasting, we both agreed that the pumpkin (okay, okay, squash) juice called for rum. Ginger and squash are an inspired match so we took two ounces of Appleton Estate Rum ( no Gosling's in the house at the moment) and poured it over ice. We added two ounces of squash juice and topped it off with four ounces of Reed's Extra Ginger Brew, a dry, intensely spicy soda. The reviews were mixed, everyone agreed that it was refreshing and well balanced but in the end, it all came down to the squash juice. Either you like it or you don't. But if we served it at Hogwarts I'm sure it would be a smashing success.
It's much too early to be drinking martinis, but somehow my work is never done. Poor me. I tasted the white chocolate consomme again this morning to decide what kind of alcohols to pair with it. The consomme is actually quite intense in flavor, sweet and soft on the palate and there's no mistaking the flavor of white chocolate. The curry leaves had faded into more of a background flavor, teasingly ethereal unless you happen to know what you're tasting in advance. Since I didn't have any curry leaves to muddle into the drink I decided not to highlight that combination. Instead I decided to play up the chocolate aspect balancing the consomme with Ketel One vodka for it's sharp, clean flavor and a bit of Tuaca to round out the sweetness of the chocolate.
Tuaca is an Italian liqueur based upon cask aged brandy with added flavors of citrus and vanilla. It also has some wonderful caramel and butterscotch notes and added a nice complexity to the drink. If you don't have the white chocolate consomme you could make this drink with some frothy white chocolate milk. For that you just bring eight ounces of milk, whatever kind you prefer, to a simmer and pour it over 4 ounces of chopped white chocolate and a few grains of salt. Whisk until the mixture is fully incorporated and frothy and either chill the milk or add the liqueurs and serve warm. The warm version would be perfect on a stormy evening paired with a roaring fire and good conversation with someone you love. Chilled and made with frothy white chocolate milk it would be equally indulgent as an apertif or as a dessert. The consomme makes it lighter with more straightforward flavors but making it with white chocolate milk brings it home. It's all up to you and your pantry to make the perfect sip.
White Chocolate Martini
2 ounces white chocolate consomme or white chocolate milk
1 1/2 ounces of Ketel One Vodka
1/2 ounce of Tuaca
Combine in a shake with ice. Shake vigourously and strain into a martini glass.
While we're talking about cocktails, our recent house drink (at our house, not the Guest House) is a rum and passionfruit concoction. So for those of you who like rum...
Pyrat and Passionfruit
Squeeze the lime quarter in the bottom of a small shaker and add the piece of fruit to the container. Cover with ice and add the liqueurs. Shake well and pour into a rocks glass.
With the emergence of the white chocolate consomme we began the avalanche thought process and ended up in the bar, in theory being able to turn the bar and cocktails on their heads. The first thought is, yes a white chocolate martini which is crystal clear. Next is one based on pumpkin juice and gin. Then, as thoughts and ideas are happening I get an email, again from Sean who has just made carrot cake consomme for a new sorbet. Now what if we used that consomme as the base for a cocktail? Yes, that would be quite good. Alright, lets break down a few more walls. Would an artichoke and brown butter broth mix well as a cocktail? Or what about a hot buttered rum made with brown butter consomme. If we made clear chocolate mint water, think about the holiday libations. Along those lines what about clear eggnog for a lighter version of the traditional holiday belly bomb? Umeboshi, Galliano and tequila could make a great light cocktail on the rocks. The doors have opened again. What's in your cocktail?
Earlier this month when Alan and Barbara were out here, we had the first informal meeting of their trip over at their house. After the meeting was over, Alan pulled out a bottle of 1983 Petrus for us to drink as we caught up on what had been happening for the last few months. It was a very good wine but it was not quite the experience that I had been expecting. Alan took one look at the wine in the glass and said that the wine had already peaked and was heading downhill. He advised me to mark down the rest of the 1983 Petrus because it wasn't going to last much longer. His deduction was based upon the fact that the rim had faded to a burnt orange color. In his many years of wine drinking and collecting (more years than I've been alive), this occurence had always signalled a deterioration in the quality of the wine. I have not been able to drink as many older wines as I'd like so I can't accurately confirm or deny his opinions. Although I have tasted older wines that had not yet faded to orange at the rim which were much more vibrant and balanced than this particular bottle of Petrus. But is that like comparing apples and oranges, to make a judgment call based solely upon the appearance of the rim? The conversation did led to some other thoughts on wine.
Over the years when Alex and I have come across a bottle that we especially enjoyed we would buy a case or a six pack of the wine to put away. This way we could enjoy the wine's evolution over a period of years. In my experience the quality and character of wines in a case can vary widely. For example, when I worked at Sherry Lehmann I received a case of Gruaud-Larose. The bottles in the case ranged from flabby and jammy to lean and refined. It was like drinking two entirely different wines except that they came packaged in the same wooden case. Generally speaking no two wines in a case are exactly alike and that is part of the wine's allure. I mentioned this when Alan suggested marking down all of the Petrus because I didn't necessarily believe that because one bottle was past it's peak, that the rest of them were as well. After all, the wines in the KG cellar weren't even from the same case and the storage conditions are slightly better at the Guest House.
When I worked at the wine store the accepted theory on flawed wines was that they tended to occur in batches. So, if one bottle was returned the odds were that the entire case was off. In fact, when bottles were returned the distributors were informed so that they could red flag a particular wine and let the retail outlets know that there could be issues with that particular wine. If you follow the theory and you buy a case of wine, if the first bottle is flawed you may want to return the rest. Now, I am either a glutton for punishment or an eternal optimist because last year we bought a case of wine from a winery as one of our house wines (at home) and the first bottle was flawed. We tossed it and moved on. The second bottle was fine. The third and fourth bottles were corked. The fifth and sixth bottles were good, the seventh, eigth and ninth were corked. At this point I didn't want to call the winery because I felt kind of silly for opening all these bottles over a period of months. A smart person would have just cut their losses and returned the wine several bottles earlier. Two of the remaining three bottles were good and after much debate I sat down and e-mailed the winery about my experience. I did not ask for a refund or replacement, I just wanted to let them know what happened. The winery actually replaced the entire case which I felt was above and beyond the call of duty although I certainly appreciated the gesture. The question remains, if you buy in quantity and do not open the wine for months or years, what do you do if the first bottle is corked?
Speaking of flawed wines, corkage has been less of an issue in Colorado than secondary refermentation. I have opened more sparkling wines that were meant to be still here in Colorado than anywhere else in my life. It's a terrible thing to see a vibrant luscious wine metamorposize into something fizzy and devoid of flavor. It makes me think that the altitude is a factor but I haven't been able to get any confirmation on that either way. I enjoy unfiltered wines and it's a calculated risk but I can't help but wonder if the problem is as widespread at sea level?
So, if anyone out there has some insight we'd love to hear it. In spite of our responsibilities in the wine room and developing the wine list, I don't get to taste as often as I'd like. Wine is an ever-changing landscape and I always seem to be slightly behind on my homework. It's one of those topics where I know I know I've forgotten more than I'll ever remember. It is fascinating subject though, one of the few that you can study and experience at the same time. Perhaps the constant questions are just part of it's intoxication.
Over the holidays we had a quite a few interesting guests. One that stands out in my mind was a lady who came in with a group to celebrate a birthday. It was a party of eight and it didn’t seem as though they were the kind of people who normally eat out at fine dining restaurants. This is an observation, not a condemnation. They were very excited to be with us but seemed somewhat uncomfortable in their surroundings. We did our best to set them at ease and to ensure that they would enjoy their evening. Once they were finally settled, one of the ladies turned to the server and asked for a bar book. She was offered a cocktail list and firmly refused it. “No, no, I want one of those books that lists all of the different drinks in it.” Flummoxed, the server went to retrieve a book of cocktails from behind the bar. She presented it to the lady who proceeded to sit there perusing the book while her companions looked over the wine list. Eventually she called the server over and ordered a slightly unusual fruity cocktail.
“Let me find out if we can make that for you.” The now slightly panicked server came back into the kitchen with the book checking to make sure Alex was out of earshot. I looked up from the dishes I was plating.
Sharply, “What are you doing with that book?”
“Um, the guest requested it. She wanted to choose her own drink.”
“Did you offer her the list?”
“Of course I did. She wanted an actual BOOK. I couldn’t talk her out of it.”
“So, what did she order? Do you need me to make something?”
“She ordered a Bananarama!”
“A Bananarama! I’ve never even heard of a Bananarama. And we don’t have the ingredients, I mean, I’ve never even heard of a Bananarama!”
“Okay, when I finish these plates I’ll go out to the bar and talk to her. I’m sure we can come up with something.”
“She’s not at the bar.”
“She’s not at the bar? Where is she?”
“At The Table.” Slowly, “She wants her Bananarama with her dinner.”
“With her dinner?”
At this moment Alex walks in from the dining room. “What’s with Table 2? And why is there a bar book in here?”
I turned to the server, “Go find out her second choice.” The server fled. Alex had a minor meltdown, which thankfully no one heard. The customer had White Russians with her tasting menu. It didn’t matter. She wasn’t there for the food. She was there for the opportunity to order a very expensive, specially made cocktail. We obliged her to the best of our abilities at the moment. Why? Because this is a Service Industry and that’s just one of the many services we offer. We may not always like it but we always have to find a way to make it work.
As long as you’re making this, you might want to garnish the glass with vanilla or lime salt and a wheel of banana.
1 oz crème de bananas
1/2 oz orange liqueur
1 dash bitters
1 oz light cream
Pour the crème de bananas, orange liqueur, bitters and light cream into a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice cubes. Shake vigorously, strain into a martini glass, and serve.
We spent the morning doing wine inventory. You don’t realize how cold the wine room is until you've spent a few hours there. A special thank you to Shanda who came in to help out. Alex tends to get cranky on inventory days. Fortunately he doesn't really let it rip when there are witnesses around. We were able to get the bulk of the counting done without him; we just pulled him in towards the end to move cases around. Those wooden cases are pretty but they weigh a TON. Most of our 2000 Bordeaux is still in it's original wooden cases (old terminology from my days at Sherry Lehmann) and we check each one to make sure that no little mice have pried them open and absconded with any bottles. Not that it has happened yet but the fact that everyone knows how thorough we are doesn’t hurt the cause.
One of the nice things about doing inventory is the memories that arise from the bottles. Each wine tells a story and many of them remind me of stories of my own. The Italians remind me of Martha's Vineyard where I had my first opportunity to create a wine list at an Italian restaurant and certain California wines take me back to our honeymoon in Napa. Now there are so many memories that an overview of the wine room is a stroll through my personal history.
Tonight we opened a bottle of 2002 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant. It's a blended red wine based upon the varietals of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and grown and produced in California. It’s a big red, rich on the palate, firm tannins, high in alcohol, loaded with fruit and oak and relatively inexpensive. As Alex opened the bottle he was immediately taken back to a dinner in the Hudson Valley several years ago with me and my mom and some very poorly cooked shad roe. It's not his favorite memory (because of the food) although he did enjoy the wine and the company that evening. On the other hand Bonny Doon wines always remind me of culinary school and a table service instructor who was huge fan of the Rhone Ranger. Each of her first year classes was lectured on the beauty of the dry rosé with the Vin Gris de Cigare held up as the perfect example of a warm weather quaffing wine. The flying saucer on the inside of the label was an added bonus.
As I slowly savor my glass of wine this evening, more memories float to the surface, spanning different varietals and vintages of Bonny Doon. I'm surprised to realize that it has been years since I've sipped one of Randall Grahm's wines. I can't be sorry about that though, because the time lapse just makes tonight's experience that much more enjoyable. There are too many wines in the world to drink the same thing every day, but revisiting an old friend from time to time is never a bad thing.
In keeping with the holiday spirit we put together a decadent and celebratory cocktail, the Truffle Margarita. Actually, any good margarita is a reason to celebrate. Our cocktail is a blend of Corazon tequila which we marinated with a touch of maple syrup and summer truffles for several months. The tequila has taken on the earthy flavor of the truffle and similarly the truffle is now spiked with tequila. We sliced the truffle and float it in the cocktail proper, while the drink is a blend of yuzu and lime juice, honey and the truffle spiked tequila. We use black salt from Hawaii to garnish the glass for those who like a salted rim. Enjoy the holidays!
One of the nice things about working for someone who loves wine is that occasionally we get to try wines that we might not otherwise have access to. Some time ago, Alan was cleaning out his wine cellar up at the house and he gave us an assortment of older bottles that he felt needed to be drunk relatively quickly. All of them were over twenty years old and their condition ranged from clearly over the hill to still relatively vibrant and drinking well. Cleaning out our wine closet today we came across what must be the last of these bottles, one we didn’t realize that we still had. It is the 1978 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, Musigny, Cuvée Vielles Vignes and we decided to open it this evening. The wine is approximately 27 years old and has been in our back hallway for well over a year so we didn’t get our hopes up. The foil cover came away from the cork grudgingly and the cork itself was black with age, sediment and mold.
We wiped the cork and carefully eased it out of the bottle. A quick sniff reassured me that it wasn’t corked and we slowly decanted the wine. About two thirds of the way into the bottle the sediment swirled into view and we chose to work with what we had decanted and the leave the rest in the bottle. The wine itself was surprisingly vibrant, it’s color that of only slightly faded red roses, slightly translucent but still with good extraction. There was some fading from the core to the clear rim but it did not have the light orange hues that I was expecting. The nose was earthy and ethereal with a hint of barnyards and roses. The wine itself was surprisingly acidic with a strong backbone holding up it’s delicate flavors. The tannins were soft but definitely still present and the flavors displayed roses, raspberries, newly turned earth and the faintest whiff of cigar smoke. The finish lingered with the dusty flavors of brambles and dried rose potpourri. The wine itself was surprising in both its structure and its flavors, an unexpected boon for a chilly autumn evening.
Alcohol has become something so taboo in our society that I hesitated before writing this. It's on every medical form these days. Right underneath the question "Do you smoke?" is a question about whether or not you consume alcohol. If the answer is yes, you are further asked how many drinks you normally consume in a week. It's one of those sticky moments when even the most virtuous of us are tempted to lie. Just as there are many smokers who check the non-smoking box there are those of us who indulge in the occasional beer or cocktail and who enjoy a nice glass of wine with dinner who sit there frozen in the headlights, pen in hand, wondering how many drinks they should admit to. What exactly is an acceptable number of drinks per week? The very presence of the question indicates that alcohol is a negative. Prohibition may have ended, but public censorship of our actions remains alive and well.
In a kinder, gentler time, the cocktail hour was a daily indulgence and it still is in some parts of society. It is that time period at the end of the work day and before dinner when people come together to relax and enjoy one another's company. The slow savoring of an alcoholic beverage is part of the process. The slight sting against your tongue reminds you to sip slowly and is generally accompanied by a gentle loosening of the shoulder muscles as the tensions and petty grievances of your day slowly slip away. Of course there are those who overindulge and have three or four stiff drinks in the time generally needed for just one. But there are also those unable to pass up a buffet table or a shoe sale or a tantalizing bit of gossip. People who dabble in excess will always exist, they seem to be the reason that many of society's restrictions and taboos are created. Responsible indulgence is another thing entirely and I see no reason why I should be penalized for a neighbor's inability to know when to stop.
Let's move back to the cocktail hour. In the summertime I tend toward gimlets, usually vodka and on the rocks. In my younger days I enjoyed them in a martini glass straight up but now I appreciate the chill of the ice as well as the slow dilution that melting brings over the trendy beauty of strong spirits in a V-shaped glass. Tonight with the weather turning colder I reached for the gin. I rummaged in the fridge and found some lemon citrus olives and crafted a sharp, slightly salty, dirty martini. It was a drink that I scoffed at in my youth, dilute high quality spirits with olive brine? But again, age has had a mellowing effect and I enjoy the interplay of the soft and slightly herbal notes of a good gin with the fruity saline effects of the olive brine. The olives (3) in my glass could masquerade as a vegetable, bar snack and drink rolled into one. The slow shifting of the ice tinkles in the glass with a mellowing effect on my psyche. The sun has sunk below the horizon and the mountain landscape is outlined in deep shades of blue. With the dogs at my feet and my husband at my side the cocktail hour tonight is everything that it was meant to be and more.
1-1/2 ounces of your favorite gin or vodka
2 teaspoons of lemon citrus olive brine
3 large olive
Fill a short (rocks) glass with ice cubes. Pour the gin over the ice, follow with the brine. Drop three olives into your cocktail and swirl the glass several times in your hands. Sip slowly and enjoy.
We belong to a few different wine clubs. They are good for us for a variety of reasons, we can get a discount at wineries that we enjoy, we get pleasant, quaffable surprises in the mail, they help expand our horizons and keep us abreast of any developing trends. As the major wine and beverage buyers for the restaurant we try to stay abreast of new styles and developments in the liquid world without losing sight of old favorites. Unfortunately, when things get busy we can't always devote as much time as we'd like to that portion of our responsibilities. Wine clubs help us to try new things and discover wines that we might not necessariy find on our own. The most recent addtion to our collection of wine clubs is the the one sponsored by Porthos. Porthos is a wine store out of California and has one of the most flexible set-ups that I've seen. There are two different payment levels; you can choose shipments of two or four bottles and you can choose a combination of red and white wine or red or white wines for your shipments. They choose the wines for you, all out of California, (they say that you will be contacted by a "wine concierge" to determine your tastes but we have not experienced that yet) and their guarantee states that if you do not like any of the wines they will replace it free of charge. You can also stipulate whether you want to receive them monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly. We recently received our first shipment and the first thing that I was struck by was the information packet accompanying the wines. They send a full page of information on each wine with tasting notes, food pairings and a bit of background including why they chose that particular wine. The sheets were very entertaining and informative and although we may not agree with all of the pairings I loved reading about them from a different point of view. It was actually a lot of fun and the first wine that we tasted, Three Saints Pinot Noir was quite delicious and had a great story. It was actually quite reminiscent of Burgundy in it's earthy aroma but had the fresh juicy flavor of true ruby grapefruits which encompassed their total profile from the aromatic rind to the pithy outer skin and the juicy refreshing tang of the inner flesh. It was surprising and emminently quaffable with the big flavors and extraction so distinctive to California wines. We are looking forward to tasting the other wines in our shipment and trying some new wines that we might not have tasted on our own. So, if you have any interest in joining a wine club and do not want to be married to one winery in particular, may we suggest Porthos. You might learn something new and taste something worthwhile, we have.
We recently invested in an electric wine chiller. It’s something that we’ve considered purchasing for a while and now that summer’s almost over, we finally took the plunge. Over the years we’ve slowly amassed a small collection of wine. We both prefer aged wines to their youthful counterparts and have found that even a single year’s worth of cellaring can allow a wine to evolve into something more balanced and complex upon the palate. We see wine as an investment in our own enjoyment. There’s nothing better than to tuck away a few bottles of a particular vintage and pull one out every so often and taste it’s changing flavors and textures as it softens and matures. Harsh edges become smoother, acidity declines, fruit flavors bloom and ripen, the passage of time can do glorious things for a wine. Of course, there is such a thing as too much age and wines can become flabby and soft, colors leaching away into transparency, fruit flavors withering into a watery shadow of their former opulence. Like anything else, aging wine is a balancing act and a bit of a gamble. A corked bottle or a weak wine will not improve with age and that dreamily anticipated bottle could end up a disillusion. Fortunately many of today’s wines are built to last. Considered drinkable upon bottling, a bit of patience will usually reward you tenfold.
I have to admit that I have always been of a mind to save the best of anything for last. As a child I would eat around the choicest bits on my plate, trying to ensure myself a spectacular finish. More often someone else would reap the benefits of my strategy as I would be too full to finish. It was a hard lesson and one that I still fall victim to at times. I love the idea of savoring the best bites but it is very difficult to serve them to myself first. I am the same way with wine. I love to buy and tuck away bottles of enduring richness and character but I am hard pressed to pull them out of the cellar again. Beyond that I tend to squirrel away the best bottles in the deepest recesses of our wine closet so that we are unable to reach or remember them, much less drink them. Fortunately Alex is not of the same temperament and he will dig through my barricades to find a hidden treasure if the occasion seems to call for it. He tends to think any leisurely evening alone at home together (which does not happen as often as we’d like) is an occasion worth celebrating and thus defeats my parsimonious tendencies.
One of the best things about our new wine chiller is that it eliminates the need for planning ahead. White wine by necessity tends to call for advance planning since the desired temperature cannot be reached at the drop of a hat. This being the case we normally have a “house wine” in our refrigerator, these consist of tasty quaffable wines that are not too expensive. Some recent house wines have included the 2002 Truchard Roussanne from Napa Valley. It is a wonderful juicy wine with a medium acidity, a syrupy palate and flavors of marmalade, granite and honeysuckle. Also tasted recently was the 2002 Alban Central Coast Viognier which has a rich golden color and a lively palate with a backbone of acidity and stone fruit that made our mouths water. The 2003 Peter Franus Sauvignon Blanc, from Sonoma, was unusually rich for it’s varietal, medium bodied with grassy undertones to its gooseberry and passion fruit characteristics. The “special” white bottles get pulled out less often than the red ones because by the time we think of it it’s too late. But last night Alex excavated a 2001 Peter Michael “La Carriére” and put it in the wine chiller. It was simply amazing. The color was a deep gold and it was incredibly rich and full bodied on the palate. The very first sniff told you that it was something special and when it hit the palate it didn’t disappoint. It had a rich butterscotch flavor with layers of caramelized bananas, sweet spices, roasted lemons and a smoky background. It was a sipping wine of the highest order and it will last for years. But thanks to Alex I didn’t have to wait that long to enjoy it.
The phrase boat drinks has kept my attention since I first saw it employed in the movie Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead. Ironically, they talk of boat drinks, a sense of freedom, while being in Denver, Colorado, a land locked city. I am similarly land locked, longing for the smell of salt air and in the breeze and the refreshing and intoxicating boat drinks. Being in the southwest, where margaritas rule the roost, (I happily oblige to drink them) boat drinks are an after thought. Yet, while growing up on the coast exposed to salt air and clam shacks, rum punches and dark and stormies defined summer. These were boat drinks, refreshing and inebriating. Sure, the hot summer days could wear you out, but two rum punches carried their own weight as well. The combination of boat drinks and salt air are both olfactory and sensory remembrances of the sea, hard work, family, friends and freedom.
A wave of memories floods over me as I sit in the summer's heat and drink that dark and stormy. What is even better is that these are fond memories.
We were turned onto an interesting product, Edelsaurer T Noble Sour vinegar, a drinking vinegar. It arrived with some nut oils (pine and walnut) we had been waiting for. Upon tasting the vinegar I immediately thought of a martini. My thought was most likely influenced by the ice wine martini we saw being served over the weekend. Ideas obviously come from everywhere. The drink, a splash of the drinking vinegar, gin and several drops of walnut oil.
Other thoughts for the drinking vinegar are with foie gras, drizzled over ice cream, served from an atomizer and spritzed on tomatoes.
Five years ago we were married. What better way to Celebrate our time together by looking forward and backwards at the same time. We leisurely drank a 1995 Billecart Salmon Blanc de Blancs Champagne to reflect, dream and spend time together. The richness and maturity of the sparkling beverage just goes to show that when nourished and cared for great things get better with age.
We're at home in the kitchen, making tonight's dinner and sipping wine. I probably shouldn't admit this but we're drinking Nando Asti, non-vintage of course. I have no idea where the bottle came from. Did we buy it? Did someone give it to us? I vaguely remember commercials from childhood for Asti Spumante but amazingly, I don't know that I've ever tried it. This one is actually off-dry, with flavors of honey and over-ripe pears, a faint mintiness in the background, tiny bubbles and a light straw color which is slightly darker than your average non-vintage champagne. At first sip the sweetness was startling but it sort of grows on you. It feels more like a cocktail than a sparkling wine, perhaps it's the sugar. I am partial to the occasional demi-sec, after cheese and in lieu of dessert, Clicquot and Schramsberg make nice ones but they are a bit more subtle than the Asti we are sipping at the moment. It's a warm, sunny afternoon after a thunderstorm, with hummingbirds on the deck and elk scattered throughout the backyard. Right now, this Asti is perfect.
We tasted a new (for us) Sauternes the other night and it was drinking so well that we decided to share. It is quite young, a 2001, and on the lighter side which is probably what makes it so delicious right now. We were not familiar with the wine although I'm sure that many others will be. The wine was a 2001 Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey. I don't know who's carrying it at the moment but if you're in NYC I would suggest calling Sherry-Lehmann, if they don't have it they can probably find it for you.
The other evening we were served a sparkling rose in a pinot noir glass. Not only that, but the wine was decanted to remove some but not all of the effervescence.
Who does this? I have never seen this before and how dare they ruin my ideology of how sparkling wines should be served!!!
Except it was marvelous, the aroma, taste, flavor, mellowed bubbles, even the action of decanting a sparkling wine. Sure, champagne flutes are sexy. The thought which I had yet to have was does that mean that is the only appropriate glass for drinking sparkling wines. No!!
In fact, now at home I have been doing rigorous tests drinking champagne from red wine glasses to see if the experience I had at the restaurant was a fluke. It was not, and I like drinking champagne from a pinot noir or syrah glass; I can swirl and sniff and taste without dainty pretensions or truly the thought of sloshing champagne from the traditional flute.
While the aesthetic and tradition dictates the necessity for drinking sparkling wine from a flute true taste and really comfort prove otherwise.
Thus, another question comes to mind, who writes the rules of food and wine, and when we break them or deviate from the normal what is the worst that can happen? If thought, insight and a bit of chance or luck are applied to food and wine, not just a need to follow the lemmings a great evolution may take place; of course there is always a chance for failure--just ask the lemming who failed to jump off the cliff and decided to live another day.
The balance and integration of flavors in cocktails and also in cooking is not a simple science. Discovering or unearthing combinations is an art as well as an accident.
We enjoy the pleasures of combining alcohol in cooking as well as in prepared cocktails, and many times it is the simplest of combinations which have been in our face for years which finally trigger a spark or idea which we may run with.
For instance, margaritas, tequila citrus based drinks are normally in my hand when eating spicy well seasoned herbal foods. They work. Consequently, our work with Steve Stallard at blis caviar has continued to stretch our imagination and the flavoring or roe and beyond. Similarly, we were looking for an alternative to the traditional spicy cod roe Aki is fond of. Hence, we talked with Steve and he was willing to give it a shot. The creamy rich roe would provide a balance to the complex tequila and melony-spicy habanero. We handed the idea to Steve who then used his own talents and insight to flesh out the ingredient. Upon completion, Steve noted that in order to fully capitalize on the roe's complexities and flavors, we would have to finish or manipulate the roe to present it at its zenith.
While I begin discussing matching flavors and digressed to another roe story the principal applies. We are searching for ingredients which naturally combine or are naturally combined to guide or influence our cuisine, both liquid and solid.
For instance, what about a cocktail, vodka based that used dulce de leche rather than milk, and added wattle-seed extract in lieu of a coffee liquor...or could we then just as easily apply these flavors to a chocolate truffle? And to stretch, we could acidify the dulce de leche, make a cure for hamachi with coffee, vodka, salt and wattle-seed and then serve coffee cured hamachi with milk vinaigrette, garnished with young chicory.
Go big or go home. We went home and realized that cocktails do not have to be full size to pack extreme satisfaction. We took our cocktail menu and shrank it so guests torn between several drinks may now try an array of tastes and sensations without becoming drunk. Our miniatures are not shots rather just several sips of a full sized drink. Imagine the possibilities; not for making money but a tasty experience.
After spending the afternoon uploading photography a well deserved libation was in order. Being in the Southwest, a margarita comes to mind, in our case with the help of the calamansi lime. While orange in color, this deceptive piece of citrus packs the punch necessary to deliver the goods. Current plans include infusing tequila with this jem as well as patron citron to create a well balanced libation.