Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits
When I saw this in Gourmet magazine several months ago, I knew I had to make it. I knew it would be fabulous and the rest is history.
What I didn't know is I would decide to make these Individual Grape and Vin Santo Cakes on a day when temperatures outside would climb to 90 degrees. It was a little hot from the oven, but oh well. It was worth it.
Now you are saying, what is Vin Santo?
Well, it's one of my favorite Italian dessert wines originating from Tuscany. Vin Santo does have a dry version but I prefer the sweet. Made from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, I love sipping Vin Santo while dunking almond biscotti into the wine. This is the classic way to serve it. You have to try it.
Vin Santo can be pricey as the grapes are hand-picked, hung from rafters in a building and dried. Once dried they are pressed and the juice fermented in caratelli (small-cigar shaped barrels). After fermentation is complete the caratelli are sealed and placed under the winery roof for aging....for a long time. The result, is an amazing nutty-nectar that warms you as it goes down.
"I think the increased number of 1920s themed parties caused the current economic crisis. There I said it." - Alexis Brodey
I love old timey things. I even love the term old timey. Whenever I hear it, everything turns into sepia tone and rag time music starts playing. Then my iPhone rings and I realize I need to update my blog and twitter. I'm happy I wasn't born in the 30's but I enjoy many things about it. Mainly the influx of bars that seem to embrace that old timey feel. Did Mad Men have something to do with this? Probably. I'll be the first to admit prior to watching Don Draper I never had an Old Fashioned. I now love Old Fashioneds. I even make a really good Old Fashioned.
Since I'm not the biggest drinker, I never really want to visit a random Hollywood bar and order a gin and tonic that tastes generic. I tend to stick to very specific bars that do very specific things. Let’s say I want a tropical drink. Easy, I go to Tiki Ti in Los Feliz. The bar’s been open since 1961 and challenged Trader Vics for the best tiki bar ever (and won). Currently I’m really into bourbon. This led me to the great bar SeVen Grand on 7th and Grand downtown.
SeVen Grand is a mix between an old timey bar, a hunting lodge, a gentleman's club and a place where stockbrokers hang out after ruining peoples lives. They have over a hundred types of whiskey and really great bartenders. My favorite bartender is a guy who I refer to as "Last of the Mohicans" because he has an indie mohawk.
If you spent three days driving throughout the Central Coast wineries, from Santa Barbara to Los Pasos, you could not have sampled a fraction of the wines you could have in an hour at Wally’s 8th Annual Central Coast Food and Wine celebration. The event benefits the Michael Bonaccorsi UC Davis Scholarship Fund and the endowment at Allan Hancock College for students who want to pursue careers in Viticulture and Enology. There were over 55 wineries serving 150 unique wines you could sniff, swirl, taste and savor. It was like wandering from room to room in one of your favorite art museums only to discover another gallery filled with astonishing paintings you’ve never seen before.
In addition to such luminaries as Au Bon Climat, Qupe, Melville and The Hitching Post, to name a few, there were dozens of small hands-on wineries. Hard to find wines whose producers grow their own grapes, ferment them, and even drive to local wine stores to sell them. You could chat, query, and get a deeper appreciation of what goes into making unique wines in a market increasingly dominated by wine consultants and corporate ownership. Although the Central Coast is known for its distinctive Pinots and Chardonnays there was a healthy dose of Syrahs and Grenaches. These grapes are poised to make the same kind of impact in California that Cabernets did in the 90’s and Pinots in the 2000’s.
Los Angeles is a very large and fractured city. Most people, myself included, tend to play where they live because commuting is such an
unknown quantity. Sure you get used to leaving yourself plenty of time
to get where you're going, if you have to be on time or actually respect
the people you're meeting. SigAlert.com is practically your best
friend. So, even though I love a good wine bar, the opening of Sonoma
Wine Garden late last summer escaped my attention. I can hardly be
blamed for not knowing. It's in Santa Monica and I live in the San
Fernando Valley two diametrically opposed areas. When I got an
invitation via Twitter to attend a tasting put on by Vibrant Rioja (more
about them later) at the aforementioned SWG, I was excited and
intrigued. A new wine bar, how cool. Then I became slightly concerned. A
new wine bar in the Santa Monica Place Mall?
Well, this recently completely remodeled mall is pretty upscale and far from the usual suburban nightmare, being 2 blocks from the beach and mostly open air. Once I went to their website, I realized this place had real potential. When I arrived, any doubts were immediately put to rest. Being a "wine garden" most of the seats are outside on the roof of the mall, in a setting that is both classy and cozy. Sort of like the patio of most of our dreams. While you can't exactly see the ocean, its presence is felt, which they cleverly temper with several outdoor fireplaces and enough heat lamps to make sure no one ever even has the chance to catch a chill.
“So, Gary, what was your favorite wine of the night?”
It was about 11:15 and dinner had been over for about forty-five minutes, but no one had left the table.
Our guests had been drinking water and nibbling on three types of chocolate in a desperate attempt to get back in driving condition before heading home. It was at this point that I thought we should hear which of the nine wines we served were the favorites.
“I liked the Pigato and the Gattinara but the Sforzato kept getting better and better. Maybe that one.”
The dinner was in part my personal graduation exercise after completing a fairly intensive Italian wine class given by the North American Sommelier Association, which is the only United States Sommelier Association affiliated with Associazione Italiana Sommelier, Italy’s premier sommelier society. My wife, Peggy, had talked me into taking the course because of an ever growing interest in Italian wines that took hold after a trip to Tuscany about two years ago.
From the NY Times
When Thomas Jefferson embarked on his grand tour of France in 1787, he claimed the journey was for his health. A broken wrist sent him 1,200 miles south from Paris to take the mineral waters at Aix-en-Provence, and on the way he planned to fulfill his professional obligations as America’s top envoy to France, researching French architecture, agriculture and engineering projects.
But when he chose to begin his three-month journey in the vine-covered slopes of Burgundy, Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, became suspicious. “I am inclined to think that your voyage is rather for your pleasure than for your health,” she teased him in a letter.
In fact, Jefferson’s five-day visit to the Côte d’Or — a region famous even in the 18th century for its extraordinary terroir — was not accidental. After spending more than two years in Paris establishing diplomatic relations with the court of Louis XVI, Jefferson, a lifelong oenophile, had tasted his share of remarkable vintages. Now he was keen to discover the vineyards and cellars of Burgundy, and to study firsthand a winemaking tradition that stretched back to the 11th century.
“I rambled thro’ their most celebrated vineyards, going into the houses of the laborers, cellars of the vignerons, and mixing and conversing with them as much as I could,” Jefferson wrote about the winemakers in a letter posted during his trip.
When we think of pairing wine with soup, we often think wine only complements thick, meaty stews or soups...and sometimes that is right on. However, when it comes to making the perfect pairing, it's really what's in the pot that determines the perfect wine match.
With earthy flavors, like spices, herbs and tangy tomatoes, you want a wine with good acidity. When it comes to sweeter veggies like onions, squash or carrots, you'll need a wine that is more rounded and lush with fruity flavors.
Clam Chowder: Not all wines are equal here. A luxuirious soup like clam chowder, has a briny taste of the sea and it begs for a citrusy zest of a wine like our Pinot Gris. This wine's lemon and lime accents easily cut through the silky, rich broth and starchy potatoes in the chowder. It's heaven. Some Rieslings might also work well here.
Chicken Soup:For a soup that blankets us in warmth, it begs for a wine that is as weighty as winter itself. A buttery, oaked Chardonnay works wonderfully with chicken and vegetables, while the hints of vanilla spice from the oak complements the herbs.
I'm obsessed with wine bars. Or I guess I should say, finding the perfect wine bar. Every trip we take usually revolves around this odd quirk. However, it was not a priority on this excursion to Chicago. We only had one day in the city and I initially had other plans. Plus, the places I wanted to go were too far away from our hotel. Or so I thought. Traffic ruined my morning itinerary, so we ended up grabbing a quick snack and then just walking along Michigan Avenue window shopping, trying to overcome the minor hangover from the night before. With no thought of wine on my mind what do we come upon? ENO, a quaint little bar in the InterContinental Hotel, that specializes in wine flights, cheese and charcuterie. Believe me when I tell you I was going to resist, until they mentioned their Blind Tasting challenge. After a decade of serious education and tasting, I felt sure I could come out a winner...and so we sat down.
The challenge is pretty simple: they give you a flight of three reds or three whites and you have to determine grape variety, new vs old world, country, region and the age of the wine (1-3/4-7/7-10/11+). Two Bonus Points if you actually guessed the wine. The more you get right the cheaper the flight becomes. With a total of 21 answers per flight we felt confident we could get at least 8 right, which would knock $8 off the flight. If we got lucky and answered 21 correctly the flight would be only $5.05. We took the challenge very seriously, but were quickly humbled.
Because our holiday parties tend to revolve around themes and menus of yesterday (I blame my house, it’s terribly 1950s to the extreme, and no, I wouldn’t change a thing), I wanted to experiment with a category of drinks that are probably better suited to Patagonia rather than Sunny Southern California: hot cocktails.
Regardless of the outside temperature though, sipping a hot cocktail accomplishes two things: it warms your hands and tummy and makes you incredibly drunk. What’s not to enjoy about that? Besides, we can all sit around sipping cider or cocoa all the time, can we?
Here are 4 hot cocktails that will definitely be featured at my next shindig, no matter what the weather’s like. The suntan lotion, however, will be strictly optional.
The more wines you try, the more you'll develop your palate-it's that simple. And how you try them makes all the difference. I know when you see wine tasters doing a lot of curious slurping it seems like a highly mysterious activity...but it's not. Swirl, sniff and spit, that's all it is. So why do we swirl? What are we looking for exactly? What is acidity? Tannin?
The first step in wine tasting is to fill your glass until it's about a third full. Take a good look at it. Tilt it slightly against a white background or hold it up to the daylight to see the range of colors from the center to the rim. Older red wines start to fade at the rim with a browny, tawny color. Red wines from hotter climates and gutsier red grape varieties have the deepest colors.