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Vinho Verde – Gulp By Gulp

As a friend is fond of reminding me — Long before Snapple, long before homogenized milk and long before there were Polynesian cocktails with tiny umbrellas, there was wine.   Wine.  The mere mention of this “fermented grape juice with an attitude” may conjure up images of romance, sophistication and stogy men in tweed talking wine geek speak.   Thankfully though, some wine you just don’t need to think about.  Some wine you just drink.  No you just don’t drink, you gulp.  Enter Vinho Verde.

Although the literal translation of Vinho Verde is “green wine”, to the Portuguese, the translation is closer to “young wine”. While the description can apply to both red and white wine, generally we think of Vinho Verde in its white wine form.

Young, fresh, slightly petillant, slightly fruity, low in alcohol with a piercing acidity that can take off the enamel from your teeth.  (This is not a negative!).  This is Vinho Verde.

Vinho Verde is produced in the northern area of Portugal and occupies approximately 15% of the country’s viticultual area. The climate can best be called mild and quite wet.  (It is this cooler climate that results in wines low in alcohol and high in acids.)  Authorized grapes that can legally be used to produce the wine vary, but most are made from local grapes that are difficult to pronounce.  Azal, Loureira, Trajadura, Alvarinho.  Yep, these varieties do not come off the tongue as trippingly as Chardonnay, but all you need to remember is Vinho Verde. Most versions will set you back no more than $7.99.

The wine is not only a “summer helper,” it is also affectionately known by this author (confirmed after a Tuesday AM tasting in the New York office) as “what food don’t I go with helper.”  Think fish and shellfish anything, cold sandwiches, light chicken dishes, salads, cheeses.  Did I leave out any food group?  Ah yes, even a Big Mac with its special sauce would be a great partner.  Call me too colloquial, but there are some wines you don’t need to talk about.  Some wines you just drink.  Vinho Verde is a wine to drink.

Low alcohol, No Need to Spit: A Tasting of Vinho Verde

  • Casal Garcia 2012: 9% alcohol.  Pale straw color.  Initial impression of slight residual sugar gives way to seething acidity in the finish. Touch of spritz, slightly floral in the nose.
  • Gazela 2012: 9% alcohol.  Pale straw color.  Aromatic nose of lemon and resin.  Fuller and softer on the palate.  Slightly petillant with crisp acid in the finish.
  • Quinta da Aveleda 2012: 10% alcohol.  Pale color.  Touch more alcohol in the nose.  Less floral, more neutral in the nose. Crisp and slightly bitter finish.
  • Alianca 2012: 9% alcohol.  The fruitiest and sweetest of the bunch.  Aromatic nose reminiscent of the Muscat grape.

Wine-Friendly “Ice Cubes”

I have known Anthony for at least 15 years, though as he reminds me, old souls probably made wine together alongside Pliny the Elder near Mt. Vesuvius. Our trip to Catalonia with the Wines from Spain team might not have been our first meeting, but it was definitely when we hit it off, laughing ourselves silly on the bus every day, and just about everywhere else.   - Michael
Wine-Friendly “Ice Cubes”

By Anthony Giglio

Practically every wine-loving American I meet — even those who say they don’t know much about wine — is sure of one universal “truth” that couldn’t be farther from it: Red wine should be served “room temperature.” What does that mean? And who said so?

Poking around in old British wine books from the Victorian era, I can only surmise that imagine that our wine-loving forefathers, taking every viticultural word from Europe as Gospel, embraced the idea of “room temperature” from men wearing wigs and capes in freezing-cold London. Before modern heating, few homes reached today’s “average” room temp of 72°, except during summer months. Especially in London.

But ask any sommelier worth his or her spittoon what the proper serving temperature is for red wines, and they’ll tell you between 55° and 65°. Where’s the disconnect? It seems to be a translation error:  somewhere along the line, “cellar temperature” morphed into “room temperature.” Proper wine storage is around 55°— “cellar temperature” — which also happens to be a great temperature to serve light-bodied reds, like Pinot Noir, Gamay/Beaujolais and Cotes-du-Rhone. The maximum serving temperature for the most full-bodied reds is 65°, well below modern-day room temperature. All red wines of all body weights taste best when served in between those two numbers.

What does all this mean? You can chill your wines easily in an ice bucket filled with both ice and water for about five or ten minutes. Despite what you’ve been told, it will not spoil the wine. However, adding ice cubes to the wine will dilute it, and that’s where grapes come in handy. They make the perfect “ice cube” for wine.

I’ve taken to offering frozen grapes to guests in an ice bucket when entertaining on warm summer nights. Wine snobs might snicker at the sight, but they are practical, efficient, edible, and, most importantly, they don’t add water — or color — to the wine.

It’s as simple as buying red and green table grapes at your local market, plucking them, washing them and then freezing them. They make great snacks, of course, but they also make the best “ice cubes” when it seems too hot to drink wine. Now you can. Red. White. Delicious.


7 Tips for Planning a Wine Vacation

Beyond the question of what I’ve been drinking lately, the next most popular one I get is: my wife/partner/friend and I are going to a wine region – what should we see while we’re there?

It’s quite convenient that most classic wine regions are located no more than an hour or two from a major city.  In San Francisco?  It’s a quick trip to Napa Valley and Sonoma.  Love Champagne?  Great! The region is only an hour and a half from Paris.  Want to explore the hills of Tuscany?  Rent a car, it’s only 45 minutes from Florence.  While it’s great to savor a bottle of wine that transports you to a specific place, there’s no substitute for visiting that place.  So with that in mind, here are some tips on how to plan a memorable wine trip, whether it’s a day in wine country or a week at that villa you rented in Tuscany.

  • 1. Do your research

There is so much fantastic information on the web to help you plan a wine vacation.  For starters, you can look at trade bureau websites (for example, Napa Valley and Sonoma in California, New York’s Long Island Wine Council, or for regions in Chile, Spain, Australia, or nearly any other other wine region in the world).  These will help you familiarize yourself with the regions and wines in areas you will be traveling, and will also include a phone number and email to contact for more information.  There are many companies that will offer their services – generally at a significant expense – to plan your wine itinerary for you.  With all the resources available online, you’ll most often be better off doing the research yourself.  You’ll probably derive more enjoyment from a customized experience based on what you’ve learned yourself, plus you’ll save money that is likely better spent on bringing home a few extra bottles from the highlights of your trip!

  • 2. Plan early

While you can easily just show up at a large Napa Valley winery like Robert Mondavi and hop on a tour, if you dig deeper you can find hidden wineries with smaller, more artisanal productions off the beaten path.  Plan early and it can often be the owner or winemaker who actually gives you the tour.  If you’ve ever been to Napa before, you know: it’s fabulous, it’s expensive, and it’s touristy – it’s like Disney World.  So, while it can be worth the trip, next time, consider Sonoma, where more personal experiences await.  Just look up my friend Clay Mauritson of Mauritson Vineyards – if you plan early you can arrange some very special experiences.

  • 3. Don’t forget to eat

Just because it’s called “wine” country doesn’t mean your need forego wonderful food!  The duo of food and drink can go hand in hand on your vacation, just as they would at your favorite restaurant back home.  Many wineries are home to fabulous farm to table restaurants, or at the very least they can give you recommendations for their favorite in-the-know haunts.

  • 4. Don’t drink and drive

This of course applies anytime alcohol is involved, but in particular, people tend to underestimate how sipping your way across wine country over a full day can sneak up on you. If you don’t have a designated driver in your group, consider taking a chauffeur service from vineyard to vineyard.

  • 5. Don’t buy wine at a vineyard if it’s available locally

While it might go against common sense, a wine at retail will generally cost less than buying it at the winery.  There are times, though, when even large producers found in stores across the country will offer certain bottlings that can only be purchased at the winery.  For example, at Rodney Strong vineyards, this well-known producer of Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and more, crafts an awe-inspiring Malbec that can only be found at the vineyard.  In those cases, for sure, take home a bottle or a case!

  • 6. Choose a region whose wines you are already passionate about

While discovery is of course part of the excitement of a wine vacation, this does not mean you need to spend a week in a region whose wines are mostly unfamiliar to you.  Even in the best known regions, places where you think you know and have tried it all, there are sure to be hidden places and discoveries along the way that will deepen your appreciation for the region, and provide exciting experiences.

  • 7. If you have a strong relationship with a wine shop, tell them about your trip

I’ve talked before about the importance of developing a good relationship with salesperson you trust at a wine shop you frequent.  There are many reasons for this, and one of them is the help they can provide when you’re planning a trip to a wine region.  They most likely have relationships with a number of the wineries where you plan to travel and can both give you tips on where to visit, and hook you up with deals you wouldn’t normally come across.

There’s a lot that can go into planning a wine vacation, but now more than ever, with the resources available online and more wineries catering to the visiting public, it’s possible to put together a trip that can be a deeply enriching experience, and one to remember.

What Size Ice Cubes Should I Use In A Cocktail?

With the rise in attention to cocktail mixology in recent years, it sometimes astounds me how long it seems it has taken people to catch on to the importance of the right ice cube.  It may sound mundane, or overly picky – it’s not!  Ice exerts incredible control over a cocktail.  The size, the shape, how quickly it melts, affects not only the temperature, but the taste and texture of the drink, and changes it over time.

So what size ice cubes are best for which cocktails?  It’s actually pretty simple.  The smaller the ice cubes (and even more so with crushed ice), the faster they melt, and the faster they get your drink cold.  This is because more of the surface area of the ice is exposed to the relative warmth of the liquor and mixers it’s sitting in.

So for cocktails that need to get very cold very fast – fruity cocktails, mint juleps, margaritas, and that sort of thing – small ice cubes or even crushed ice are perfectly fine.

On the other hand for cocktails where preserving the taste and texture of the liquor is more important, and you want the drink chilled but not heavily diluted – say a bourbon on the rocks – the bigger the ice cube the better.

Now, this is simple enough at a good cocktail bar where they have a variety of ice cube sizes – or if they’re really taking their time, perhaps even block ice to customize the cubes.  But if you’re at home, chances are your ice cube size has been determined less by choice and more by whatever size trays your freezer came with, or whatever your icemaker spits out – and they’re usually way too small for a liquor-heavy drink.

This $8 investment will change your life!

Don’t be held back!  It is so worth investing in a couple trays that produce a larger cube, or even these ice ball molds that have long been popular for serving whiskey in Japan.  You’ve got your botantical-infused vodka, you’ve splurged on the perfect cocktail glasses, now complete the equation and get yourself the right ice cube – it makes a world of difference.

In Search of the Best Calf’s Liver in NYC!

Fegato alla Veneziana, or Venetian Calf’s Liver, a classic dish of Venice.

Having completed my journey in search of the best soup dumplings in New York, I’m now off on a fresh quest – for the best calf’s liver in the city!

Now, there’s probably some portion of my readers who are groaning, asking why I would voluntarily submit myself to what they consider more of an ordeal than a tantalizing culinary excursion.  But I know, too, that there’s some number of you who are completely in my corner on this!

Liver, in general, is not a universally beloved food, to be sure, and different preparations receive varying levels of respect.  Foie gras, of course, is celebrated as a peak of culinary refinement, whereas chopped liver, that omnipresent dish in every Jewish grandmother’s home, finds itself (unjustly!) low on the epicurean totem pole.

But calf’s liver, as it is generally served, comes not from French or Jewish cooking, but primarily from two European cities: Vienna, Austria, and Venice, Italy.

The Viennese edition traces its roots to the 19th century, and has been popular ever since.  This dish finds fried calf’s liver accompanied by shallots, mushrooms, and often bacon (because why not bacon?!).

As for the Venetian version, with origins going back to Roman times, when the liver was generally served with dates instead of onions as is now common, Fegato alla Veneziana, or Calf’s Liver Venetian Style, is a classic dish of the city.  Here, thinly sliced calf’s liver is served alongside a hearty pile of sautéed onions.

Hemingway at Harry’s Bar, circa 1949, although, perhaps more likely waiting on a liquid refreshment than on calf’s liver…

Today, many say the best calf’s liver in Italy is served at Harry’s Bar in Venice, a classic in itself, a favorite of Ernest Hemingway, and birthplace of the Bellini! Now, of course, Harry’s Bar was founded by Giuseppe Cipriani, whose family name now graces a number of restaurants around the world, including a couple here in New York, so… will Cipriani win out here in NYC when it comes to the best calf’s liver?  Or will some unexpected underdog take the title?

Stay tuned and find out!

Making Love… Even Better… With Food

10 Bites that Will Ignite Your Love Life!

There’s nothing that can set our appetite for love on fire quite like those certain sensuous foods – the ones that send our passions into overdrive!  The word aphrodisiac gets tossed around a lot, and some suggestive edibles can get by on looks alone, but there’s a whole world of food and drink out there with the scientific evidence to back up the claims.  Some of them go without saying (chocolate, anyone?!), while some might take a little coaxing, but all of these foods are guaranteed to spice things up on a steamy night – beginning with one that will do so literally as well as figuratively!…


1. Chile Peppers

There’s nothing like a few hot chiles to turn up the heat on an evening!  The capsaicin in chiles that is the source of their spicy flavor also raises your heartbeat and body temperature, making them quite literally a way to get hot and bothered real quick…  In addition the effect of the heat on your face, and the notable lip pout it produces is said to closely mimic a certain sexual glow, putting you in the heat of the moment before you even get started!


2. Asparagus

The Vegetarian Society recommends feeding asparagus to your lover by hand, and while this might earn you some curious looks in a restaurant setting, there is history and science to back up the vegetable’s place as an aphrodisiac: In 19th century France, grooms were provided with several servings of asparagus at dinner to increase potency.  Today, we know the vegetable is packed with nutrients, including vitamin E, that assist in hormone production, making asparagus – hand-fed or not – a smart addition to any romantic meal!

3. Garlic

Now, I know garlic breath may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to getting in the mood – the solution here, of course, is to make sure you and your partner are on an even playing field by both ingesting some of this root vegetable, which has been known to produce “extraordinary stamina and unbridled energy.”  Seems like a worthwhile tradeoff!


4. Pomegranate

Pomegranate may have only recently found popularity here in the U.S., but it’s been heralded as an aphrodisiac throughout the eastern Mediterranean for millennia, with its crimson seeds and juice savored as a love potion throughout history.  And while they may not have known it back then, there’s good reason for its reputation – researchers have found the pomegranate juice can lift testosterone levels by up to 30%, and has a frisky effect of men and women alike.


5. Chocolate

Well, this one’s a bit of a no-brainer!  There’s good reason for all those chocolate marketing campaigns dripping with sexual innuendo: chocolate has a reputation as an aphrodisiac going back to the days when the Aztec ruler, Montezuma, reportedly would consume up to 50 cups of chocolate elixir before visiting his harem.  Aside from the mere sensual sensation of savoring dark chocolate, studies have shown that chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which releases the same pheromones that fill the air during our most intimate moments – well, that’ll do it!

6. Eggs

Aside from their historical status as a symbol of fertility, there are plenty of reasons cooking up some eggs can be a boon to your sex life.  Eggs are high in vitamins B5 and B6, which are known to balance hormone levels.  What’s more, the most coveted eggs of all, caviar, are packed with protein and have a high zinc content, which is essential for blood flow and testosterone production – not a bad way to start your morning!


7. Oysters

Speaking of zinc, one of the best known aphrodisiacs, oysters are packed with it.  Oysters have a long history as a acclaimed libido booster – in fact, Cassanova supposedly consumed 50 of the bivalves each day, for this very reason.   As an added bonus, the sweet/salty taste of oysters is said to mimic pheromones, just another reason to slurp down a dozen of these potent creatures at your next romantic dinner!


8. Basil

While most of us associate basil with Italian cooking, it seems that its history goes back further, to Asia, and that by Roman times, the fragrant leaves has already developed a reputation as symbol of love.  That’s most likely due in no small part to basil’s litany of libido-lifting nutrients and it’s ability to promote circulation and heat up the body, in more ways than one!


9. Bananas

Well, a certain physical aspect of the banana likely requires no explanation when it comes to the world of romance… but there’s more to this tree fruit than it’s shape when it comes to setting the mood.  Bananas are full of those all-important B vitamins, as well as Potassium, a key component to hormone production.  It’s not hard to see why, in Islam, the banana is believed to have been the “forbidden fruit,” or why the tree’s sap is still sipped today in Central America as an aphrodisiac!


10. Uni (Sea Urchin)

It’s not difficult to understand why uni has been celebrated by the Japanese as an aphrodisiac throughout history – after all, on the literal side of things, it‘s actually the sex glands of this spiky sea creature that end up on our plates.  While there are some that recoil at its briny flavor, it’s diet, full of kelp, actually lends itself to a taste that leaps with umami, the vaunted fifth taste sensation, and quite a sexy quality in itself!


And what to drink with all of these foods?  But, of course, Champagne!

It’s hard to think of anything that begs romance more than a glass of Champagne.  While it has many of the same potent qualities found in red wine, Champagne packs a little something extra – those bubbles!  For one, just thinking about each sparkling sip is enough to send a tingle running through your body, and in fact, those tiny bubbles have been scientifically shown to elevate your mood.  And what’s more, the fizz in Champagne allows its effect to reach your bloodstream faster than still wine, right in time for your just desserts – Salute!

Not Your Grandfather’s Lambrusco

Ah, Lambrusco, that fizzy wine derided by an entire generation as “wine soda-pop.”  For years since you took America by storm in the 1970s and ‘80s, you’ve gotten no respect, but it seems, finally, your time may have come!

While many people may remember Lambrusco from those years when it suddenly became the most popular imported wine in the country, and producers found themselves cutting corners, and more, on quality to keep up with demand, Lambrusco has a history that goes back far beyond “Riunite on ice… that’s nice!”  Though admittedly, the commercial is a classic…


The term Lambrusco describes both that style of wine, and the family of grapes used to produce it.  Originating primarily from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, evidence points to Lambrusco as a source of enjoyment dating back to the Etruscans, and the Romans marveled at the grape’s high yields.

The wine’s slightly fizzy (or more romantically, frizzante) character these days is generally produced by the Charmat method, in which the wines go through secondary fermentation in steel tanks – a less labor and time-intensive process than the method traditionelle, employed by the producers of Champagne and some other sparkling wines – one of the cost-cutting measures employed to keep prices down.

Today, Lambrusco is at a crossroads, and for the open minded wine lover, this is a good thing!  Because there is still something of a stigma attached to the style, prices generally remain highly affordable.  At the same time, a new generation of winemakers is doing some wonderful things to revive the style, with a new twist: While the inexpensive Lambruscos of previous decades were fell in to the dolce classification, and were sugary sweet, many winemakers are now creating secco, or dry, Lambruscos, that bear only mild resemblance to their 1980s counterparts, and many are delightfully enjoyable and refreshing.

The Lini Winery’s family of Lambruscos

One of my favorite producers of Lambrusco is the Lini Winery, a fourth generation winery that has been producing the style since they were founded in 1910.  The winery produces a variety of Lambruscos, including white, rose, and the classic red.  The Lini Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso, a blend of 90% Lambrusco Salamino and 10% Ancelotta, is an absolute delight, with brisk bubbles and a ripe berry flavor.

Possibly the best thing about Lambrusco?  It pairs beautifully with the foods of Emilia Romagna, where it originates – the birthplace of Parmigiano Regianno, and home to some of the best prosciutto, pancetta, coppa, and salami in Italy.

But my favorite pairing for summer?  Try Lambrusco with a juicy steak, fresh off the grill.  The relatively low alcohol content makes it a great choice for the hot, summer months, and at a backyard barbeque, there’s nothing more refreshing than a light, bubbly, and yes, perfectly respectable, Lambrusco!


11 Things You Want to Know About Pisco

A Pisco Punch

By Francine Cohen

With Inti Raymi (the ancient Incan celebration of winter solstice) coming up on June 24th (remember, countries south of the equator have winter in the months of June and July), National Pisco Day on July 27th and Peru’s Independence Day on July 28th now seems to be the perfect time to learn a little something about this delicious, but little known spirit.  For the purposes of sounding REALLY smart at your next cocktail party, or when you sit down at a bar, here are 11 little things you’ll want to remember about Pisco; the pure distilled clear grape brandy that is the national spirit of Peru.



1)   You can thank the taxman for it. 

The Spaniards first introduced grapes to Peru in 1560 for the church’s Mass wine production.  When winemaking took off and the government started thinking they could fill their coffers with revenue from wine tax money enterprising Peruvians with vineyard holdings in Ica, Peru who were busily producing 81 million liters of wine for export switched their winemaking to Pisco distillation beginning in the early 1600s in order to avoid taxes levied on wine leaving the country.

2)   Pisco was first mentioned in writing in 1613.

By a vintner who was so in love with Pisco that he mentioned it in his will.

Muscat – one of the grape varietals used in Pisco production

3)   Americans first tasted Pisco in 1830.

Pisco’s first noted landing in the United States is in 1830 and was embraced warmly by the people of San Francisco, the city that made the Pisco Punch – one of Peruvian cocktailing’s four pillar cocktails – famous on American shores.  Pisco Punch became a signature cocktail for the city until Prohibition, but with Prohibition well behind us, this delicious concoction of pineapple and Pisco has enjoyed a vibrant revival.

4)   Pisco is made from only eight different grape varietals.

Albilla, Italia, Mollar Negra, Negra Corriente, Muscat, Quebranta, Torontel, and Uvina.

5)   Smelly or not?  The grapes are classified as either aromatic or non-aromatic.

Aromatic: Albilla, Italia, Muscat, and Torontel.  Non-aromatic: Mollar Negra, Negra Corriente, Quebranta, and Uvina.

Pisco originates from of of these five regions of Peru (map:

6)   In order to be classified as Pisco the spirit must be made from one of the approved eight grapes in one of five regions in Peru.

Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua or Tacna.

7)   Pisco styles include: Puro, Acholado, Mosto Verde

Acholado style Pisco is a blend of two or more Pisco grapes; Puro Piscos are made from only one variety of grape; and the Mosto Verde style describes a Pisco that’s been distilled using a method that directs that the fermentation process is interrupted halfway.

8)   Pisco is all grapes.  All the time.  Grapes, and nothing but grapes.

With all of these styles, one thing remains constant to protect the purity of Pisco; there is a mandate that grapes are the sole ingredient in the bottle and the Pisco be distilled to proof.  That means that no water or any other substance may be introduced to the production process, and this includes the resting period as Pisco rests in non-reactive vessels, rather than aging in wood like some other spirits.

9)   Much as America has her signature cocktails, so too does Peru.  They have four pillar cocktails: the Chilcano, El Capitan, Pisco Punch and the Pisco Sour.

All four signature Peruvian cocktails have also found a place on bar menus.  Easy to find and enjoy are the: Pisco Sour, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, Pisco and Angostura Bitters; Peru; the Chilcano – a simple mix of Pisco, lemon juice, ginger ale, and Angostura bitters; Pisco Punch – which mixes pineapple and Pisco, and the El Capitan – a spirited combination of Pisco and vermouth.

A Pisco Sour

10)  The Pisco Sour was not created by a Peruvian.

Victor Morris, an American bartender, was living in Lima in 1916 when he created this.

11)  Pisco enjoys two national holidays in Peru.

February 28th is National Pisco Sour Day.  The fourth Sunday in July is National Pisco Day.






Francine Cohen is the founder of INSIDE F&B (  She writes about, and consults to, the food & beverage & hospitality industry.  She has never met a cheese she didn’t like but she has had some cocktails that needed some work. You can reach her at


Unexpected Sparklers

While Champagne may be the king of sparkling wine, the sparkling story does not stop there.  Nearly every country has at least one distinct style of sparkling wine, and many have more than that – and many of them come at a great value.  Whether it’s a Spanish Cava or a sparkling wine from the desert climate of New Mexico, there is tremendous and growing diversity in the world of sparklers.  So while certain occasions may call for Champagne, many of the other options on the market are quickly gaining traction with consumers who have realized that great sparkling wine doesn’t always mean shelling out big bucks – now that’s reason to celebrate!

Here are 8 unexpected sparklers to light up any occasion…


Cristalino Brut Rose NV (Penedes, Spain) – $8.99

This Cava comes from the Catalonia region of Spain, where the style was first produced in the 1870s.  Here, the grapes used produce Cava are grown on foothills and other elevated sites, away from the region’s warmer coastal climate.  While Cava production began, essentially, in an effort to imitate Champagne, it has over time truly grown into its own as a proudly and distinctly Spanish sparkler. Often a bit earthier than its French counterpart, Cava is regarded today as a great value, and one of the iconic styles of Spain.

Cristalino Brut Rose is produced using Pinot Noir grapes from the Jaume Serra vineyards, in the Catalonian wine growing region of Penedes where they were founded in 1943.  This Cava presents itself with scents of raspberry and cherry on the nose, and flavors of strawberry and cherry in the mouth, and a clean, crisp finish.  It pairs well with fried appetizers, but also stands up beautifully on it’s own as a celebratory sparkler.


Schoenheitz Cremant d’Alsace (Alsace, France) – $15.99

Cremant d’Alasace is the appellation for sparkling wines from the Alsace region of France, the nation’s second largest producer of sparkling wines, behind, of course, Champagne.  The region is distinct for its pronounced German influence in both its culture and winemaking, owing to its location near the German border.  While a number of styles are produced in the region, Cremant is the fastest growing, with production increasing 20-fold over the past 30 years.  These wines, like all those produced in France, are created using the methode traditionelle, which includes allowing a minimum of nine months for maturation to increase complexity.

Schoenheitz Cremant d’Alsace is produced from vineyards in the Munster Valley of Alsace, where the slopes are often so steep that they cannot be worked by tractor.  Thus, many of the grapes to produce this wine’s 1000 or so cases annually are hand-harvested, and dedication this process requires shows through in this sparkler.   Made from 90% Pinot Auxerrois and 10% Pinot Blanc grapes, this wine has a well developed and complex nose of wild fruits and cream, and an aromatic palate.


Sanzay Saumur Brut NV (Loire Valley, France) – $14.99

A key growing region in France, the Loire Valley is known both for the quality and diversity of wine produced there, the majority of which are white wines.  Saumur, a mid-sized town, sits in the heart of the region on the southern banks of the Loire River.  The area’s geology, atop a mound of tuffeau, a porous sandy rock, lends itself well to not only growing sparkling wine grapes, but for allowing sparklers to mature: miles of underground cellars have been cut through the rock, creating a perfect, climate-controlled environment for the process.

Sanzay Saumur Brut comes from the Sanzay winery, located on 27 acres in Varrains, a commune of the Saumur appellation just southeast of the town of Saumur.  Here, winemaker Antoine Sanzay produces a number of small-production, sustainably produced wines, including this Brut, made of 85% Chenin and 15% Chardonnay grapes.  A wine with fine bubbles in abundance, Sanzay Saumur Brut has a fruity nose and is fresh and supple in the mouth.


Spiropoulous Ode Panos Brut 2012 (Peloponnisos, Greece) – $19.99

Amidst the rugged geography of Greece’s Peloponnese Peninsula sits the appellation of Mantinia, where this sparkler is produced.  One of nation’s most respected appelations, Mantinia is a high-altitude region surrounding the resort town of Tripoli, where vineyards more than 2,000 feet above sea level are not uncommon.  The climate, as one might expect, is thus cooler, and more continental, despite its proximity to the Aegean Sea.  While the appellation has only been recognized since 1971, winemaking in this distinctive region has taken place for several thousand years.

Like most wines in the region, Spiropoulous Ode Panos Brut is comprised of a single grape: Maschofilero, an aromatic grape that bears some resemblance to Alsatian Traminer and Muscat.  The producer, Domaine Spiropoulous, has been making wines in the region since 1870, and sits at 2,130 feet above the Aegean, producing 7,300 bottles annually of this sparkling wine from its 150 acre vineyard.  This crisp Brut is pale yellow in color, with lasting bubbles.  Both the nose and palate revel concentrated, aromatic flavors of apples and bananas.


Ricci Curbastro Franciacorta Brut NV (Lombardia, Italy) – $34.99

While Lombardy is a populous and well-known region of Italy, it produces relatively few wines of note – Franciacorta is one of those rare exceptions.  Regarded for producing the finest sparkling wine in Italy, the area sits in the hills just southeast of Lake Oseo.  While Moscato d’Asti and Prosecco have long been the go-to sparkling wines from Italy, Franciacorta has, in the last 50 years, distinguished itself by producing sparklers that nearly mimic those of Champagne.  And while the area still produces only 1% of the wine output of that French region, it is clearly a region with a great deal of growth ahead.

Ricci Curbastro Franciacorta Brut is grown and produced on an estate with an 800 year winemaking tradition.  With 68 acres under vine, the winery produces a number of expressive Franciacorta sparkling wines.  This one, in particular, is made from a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Blanc, and 10% Pinot Noir, and fermented first in stainless steel vats, and then secondly in bottles, which remain stacked for a minimum of 30 months.  A brilliant, straw yellow color wine, this Brut is floral and yeasty on the nose, with a smooth, creamy palate, despite it’s dry flavor, and a long, balanced finish.


Gruet Brut NV (New Mexico, USA) – $14.99

While New Mexico may not be the first state one thinks of when considering wine from the U.S., it is actually, in a way, the cradle of the nation’s viticultural history.  It was here, in 1629, that the future nation’s first vineyards were planted by Spanish missionaries for religious purposes.  While viticulture essentially disappeared from New Mexico for several centuries, by the 1970s, vineyards were beginning to once again sprout around the state.  And while the desert climate lends itself to a short growing season, New Mexico is now producing a variety of wines, and is well suited to grapes used in sparkling wine production.

Trained in France, it seemed unlikely that Gilbert Gruet would end up producing wines in New Mexico, but after a trip to the state in the early 1980s and meeting a group of fellow Europeans producing wines there with success, he decided to relocate his family there in 1984 to found Gruet Winery.  Since that time, the winery has grown rapidly, and now produces 125,000 cases of wine annually, including nine varieties of sparkling wine.  The Gruet Brut is the winery’s flagship wine, and is crisp and full-bodied, with very fine bubbles.  A bouquet, dominated by green apple and grapefruit flavors, is followed by a toasty finish, the result of 24 months on tirage.


Val de Mer Cremant de Bourgogne NV (Burgundy, France) – $16.99

Cremant de Bourgogne describes the appellation of white and rose sparkling wines from the vast Burgundy region of France.  Sparkling wines were first produced here in the early 19th century, and many of those original vineyards are still in operation today, which combine with newer wineries in the area to produce more than 13 million bottles of sparkling wine each year.  Terroirs around the region vary widely, with cool, chalky soils in the north, and a warmer climate with granite soils in the south.

The name Val de Mer translates loosely to “Valley of the Sea,” and is a reference to the to geological history of the land on which the winery sits, which was once, in fact, a seabed.  Val de Mer is a small winery, operated by one of the region’s best known producers, Patrick Piuze.  This particular wine, produced from Chardonnay grapes, is light bodied, and has aromas of green apple, as well as an oyster shell minerality, owing to the land’s oceanic origins.


Lini Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso (Emilia-Romagna, Italy) – $14.99

Lambrusco describes a collection of grape varieties used to produce the sparkling red wines of the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy.  Emilia-Romagna is one Italy’s largest and most prolific wine regions, with more than 136,000 acres under vine, and is divided into numerous DOCs, including Reggiano, which is the origin of this particular wine.  Most reknowned for its sweet Lambrusco-based wines, the wines of Reggiano are largely crafted to pair with the local cuisine, including Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and are often balanced in ripeness and body, and complemented by a refreshing acidity. Lambrusco wines have gone from a relative obscurity in the 1980s to one of the most popular Italian styles in the U.S., today, and while some might say this has diluted the wine’s reputation, there are still many excellent examples to be found.

Founded in 1910, the Lini winery is the producer of this Lambrusco.  A fourth generation winery run by winemaker Alicia Lini, they offer a variety of sparkling wines produced using the Charmat method, involving secondary fermentation in steel tanks over a period of three months.  A blend of 90% Lambrusco Salamino and 10% Ancelotta, this sparkler has pleasantly brisk bubbles and a ripe berry flavor.  With a bright acidity and loads of fruit on the mouth, this wine is a perfect compliment to the foods of the Emilia region.

Phoenix Doesn’t Fly

I’ve long been a fan of Irish whiskey and Tullamore Dew is a favorite of mine among them.  And apparently I’m not alone these days.  After sagging sales for decades, Tullamore Dew has seen a surge in popularity, with sales doubling to 850,000 cases per year over the last ten years.

It’s not that the whiskey itself is any different – it’s that people are finally catching on to just how good it really is.  It’s by far the smoothest Irish whiskey I’ve ever tasted – like a smooth, mellow, complex cognac, only Irish and much less expensive, selling at the same $30 a bottle as most popular Irish whiskeys.

With all that said, I’m not sure why Tullamore Dew has taken this long to catch on with the public (they’ve been around since 1829!).  I’m pretty sure some of it has to do with what must be one of my favorite ad campaigns in recent times…

Love this ad!  It tells a story and captures a feeling that is truly the essence of the brand and the experience.  In other words, it makes me want (another!) Tullamore Dew.  Just like the beverage itself, it’s smooth and full of surprises.

With its rise in popularity, the makers of Tullamore Dew have also joined a trend that many brands have taken up in recent years, which is adding a reserve or special bottling to their product line.  In this case, it’s Tullamore Dew Phoenix.

These special bottlings are sometimes better – they are always more expensive.  In the case of Tullamore Dew Phoenix (around $60), I’m sad to say, it is only the latter.

With Phoenix, Tullamore Dew has abandoned all that makes the original product so special: it’s a harsh, one note whiskey that forgoes the mellowness of the classic for thoughtless punch to the throat.  To say it another way, you wouldn’t make an ad like the one above for Tullamore Dew Phoenix, at least if you were being true to the product (which is what makes the ad itself so wonderful).

So, at least in my book, Phoenix doesn’t fly.

Luckily, the original Tullamore Dew is still around and as good as ever – and getting easier to find.  So if you haven’t tried it, next time you’re out with friends and everyone around you is sipping Jameson or Powers, shake things up a bit and order yourself a Tullamore Dew.  And if your friends don’t get it, show them the ad – or for a tactic more dramatic and mysterious, start singing the song from the ad while reverently gazing at the glass in your hand.  Your friends might think you’ve gone off the deep end, but surely they’ll want to give Tullamore Dew a try, and when they do, they’ll understand.  And by the end of the night, they’ll all be joining you in song!

The Micro-Production Blockbuster!

“The Nuts”, by No Limit Wines – a micro-production blockbuster with only 40 cases (yes 40 cases!) produced.

No Limit Syrah, “The Nuts”,
Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard 2009 (Edna Valley, California)

It’s awesome when you have a chance to taste great wine, and even more awesome when a friend helped create it: I’ve known Cliff Korn, the owner of No Limit Wines, since the age of 12.  In fact, I was blessed to be at his wedding just a few months ago.

No Limit is a small production winery based in California’s San Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, whose grapes are harvested from a biodynamically farmed vineyard in the nearby Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo County.

I’ve had the opportunity to taste No Limit’s “All In” on a number of occasions and am a huge fan.

But I’ve only recently had the chance to sample No Limit’s latest release, “The Nuts” – this wine is crazy, and will appeal to new world and old world fans alike.  ”The Nuts” hails from the Sawyer Linquist Vineyard, one of the most famous vineyards in Edna Valley.  Crafted by No Limit winemaker Ethan Linquist, the son of legendary winemaker Bob Linquist, this is a full-throttle Syrah loaded with jammy fruit and excellent structure.

My good friend, and No Limit owner, Cliff Korn, right at home in his stomping grounds.

If you haven’t caught on, No Limit bases all their wines around a poker theme (Cliff is a major poker enthusiast), and “The Nuts”, a term for the best possible hand in the game, is a can’t-lose proposition – a memorable wine for wine geeks and poker fanatics alike.

No Limit harvests their grapes on “fruit days,” based on the Biodynamic lunar calendar.  When they arrive at the winery, the grapes are stomped by foot (a process called pigeage, as demonstrated by Cliff in the photo at right!), then cold soaked to allow the color, flavor, and tannins to develop, before being transferred to barrels.  In the case of “The Nuts”, the barrels are at least 50% new French oak, where the wine will spend about 3 years developing its complexity, before the winemakers’ instincts tell them the juice is ready to bottle.

Now, I referred to this wine as a micro-production, and I wasn’t exaggerating.  In fact, only 40 cases (yes, 40 cases!) of The Nuts is produced each year!  But if you play your cards right, you can pick up a bottle at Acker Merrall & Condit, here in NYC – or give them a call at 212-787-1700, or email Jessica, who will send your selections straight to your door – trust me, you’ll be glad you did!  At $80, a bottle is well-worth the splurge!


Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard in California’s Edna Valley, where the grapes used to produce No Limit’s wines are harvested on “fruit days”, based on the Biodynamic lunar calendar.

Some Bacon and Pancakes with My Bourbon!

I have to admit, I came to the tasting table late on this one.  I’m usually ahead of the curve!  Some folks say I define the curve!  This one, I missed, but rest assured, I’m quickly making up for lost time…

I had heard about Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon, but I’d never tasted it.  That changed two weeks ago at the Savor Dallas Wine, Food, and Arts Festival.  Oh, did I savor Dallas, and after I sampled this Knob Creek variety, I savored it throughout the entire weekend.  Now it has a permanent space in my home bar.

The original Knob Creek, a winner in its own right, came on the scene in 1992 as a small batch brand produced by the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, Kentucky, and immediately made a splash in the high end bourbon market.  Their maple-infused version was released last year.

This isn’t necessarily a bourbon you would sip all night long – though, be my guest, maple syrup fiends!  It is, however, a perfect dessert bourbon or, for the daring among us, the perfect breakfast bourbon!

The traditional flavor of Knob Creek remains beautifully intact, complimented perfectly by just the right amount of maple to make you swear there’s a hot stack of pancakes sitting in front of you.

Which gets me thinking… why not?  Heat up a bowl of your favorite maple syrup with a shot of this bourbon in the mix, and pour over pancakes.  I can’t think of a better way to start the day (or end the night!).

Or, for another late night indulgence – romantic or otherwise – grill up a half pound of top quality bacon (in my world bacon is one of the 5 major food groups) and pour yourself a shot of Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon.  No rocks, no water, no fancy cocktails.  Just dip that bacon in the shot glass, soak up as much maple bourbon as you can, and drink up that shot bite by bite!

I’m a big fan of traditional bourbon, and good old non-maple Knob Creek is a favorite, but for a dessert bourbon, or one worth sneaking into the diner for a little something extra with your pancakes AND BACON!!,  Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon can’t be beat!

Could Be My Favorite Meal of the Year!

I feel blessed that my work in wine and food allows and requires me to travel to all kinds of exotic destinations around the globe.  But while each event and each new destination holds something special, not every location is necessarily exotic or full of glitz and glamour.  For instance, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

It’s certainly not that I’ve ever had anything against Lancaster, it’s just not the sort of town that one thinks of when dreaming of culinary destinations.  Although it is home to Central Market, one of the best and oldest farmer’s markets in the country.  A weekend in Amish country, perhaps.  A perfectly lovely corporate event and a relaxing time amidst the rolling countryside, sure.  A knockout meal prepared by a local chef?  It seemed a bit of a long shot.

And yet, two weeks ago, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I had my best meal of the year.  (So far!)

It began with a recommendation from Nick Chapman, the development director of The Janus School, who told me of a local restaurant that I should “check out” during my time there.  Being unfamiliar with the local culinary scene, I was happy for any recommendation, and quickly decided to give it a try.

Ma(i)son sources their ingredients locally, including many from their own garden.

The restaurant, is called Ma(i)son, which incorporates the French word for “home,” (Maison), with the name of the family that runs is (Mason), and the name is more than a clever play on words: Chef/owner Taylor and sous chef/owner Leanne Mason live above the restaurant, and have crafted an experience in which each meal feels like an intimate dinner party in their home.  True to form, Ma(i)son has a BYO policy, so like any good guest at a dinner party, I set off for a bottle of wine to bring along for the meal.

Since Pennsylvania is a controlled state, the only options are the state stores. This search turned out to be something of a lowlight of the experience – I inquired at the local wine store as to whether they had a reserve section, and the answer was “yes.”  At this point, the sales associate simply took me around the store, pointing to every bottle that had the word “reserve” on the label!  Most were priced at under $10 and were commercially acceptable – at best.

I did find some sleepers in the Zinfandel section.  Lodi is producing some great versions and when I spotted the Seven Deadly Zins I knew that all would be good.  And it was.  The wine was fruit forward and jammy – jammy but not sticky.  This wine had structure.  This wine had grip.  But enough wine geek speak. Now back to the food…

Ma(i)son bills itself as a farm-to-table urban cookery, and while the “farm-to-table” label gets thrown around a lot these days, Ma(i)son takes it seriously.  Lancaster is a town in the midst of a region with a rich agricultural heritage, Taylor and Leann take full advantage of their environs, procuring local ingredients from across Lancaster County, including their own garden.

The menu, tailored to suit each week of the local growing season, is updated in chalk on a blackboard.

But it’s one thing to start with fresh ingredients, another entirely to end up with a meal that does them justice.  Here though, Ma(i)son truly excels, offering a short menu, revised in chalk on a blackboard each evening, comprised of simple but brilliantly prepared offerings suited not only not the season, but curated to each specific week of the regional growing season.

On this particular evening, I managed to try nearly everything on the menu, and the highlight was as unexpected as the meal itself: handmade burrata.  Burrata, if you’ve not tried it, is essentially a cheese made from mozzarella and cream.   When it’s not prepared and eaten fresh, as is generally the case outside of Italy, it’s nothing to get excited about.  When it is prepared and served straight from the kitchen, which is generally the case in the Apulia region of Italy and, apparently, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, it’s an absolute delight.  The burrata at Ma(i)son fits firmly into the second category, with local cream flowing perfectly from its mozzarella encasement.  Quite simply, it was the best burrata I’ve ever had.

The pheasant and smoked pork pie, prepared with root vegetables from the Mason’s garden, was equally dazzling, as were the other menu courses, including razor clams, grilled escarole, and pan-roasted Cobia.  In each case, the chef’s philosophy of creating simple dishes that showcase and maintain the integrity of the ingredients shined through in every bite.  I left Ma(i)son, frankly, stunned by the experience.

Burrata – the best I’ve ever had – at Ma(i)son (Photo:

I can say without hesitation that in a larger city, chef Taylor would be a renowned and celebrated superstar.  What makes the discovery of this brilliant culinary artist all the more exciting for me, though, is just how unexpected it was to find him at work in the relative seclusion of Lancaster.

While the anticipation of a great meal in a city or a restaurant that is acclaimed for those kinds of experiences is a wonderful thing, my greatest joys in food and drink seem to always emerge from the least expected places, and Ma(i)son, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania certainly fits the bill.

Add this restaurant to your bucket list! Plan a weekend around this meal.  Book a stay at a lovely bed and breakfast, take a bottle of wine that you truly adore.  Maybe this is the time to open that great bottle!  Spend the morning at Central Market, take a tour of the Amish Villages and start your night with a killer bourbon cocktail at Pour (Ask for Lee and have him mix you up anything with bourbon!). If you are feeling decadent ordered the fries rendered in duck fat.

Then walk up the block and enter Ma(i)son.

Ma(i)son is located at 230 N. Prince Street, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 5-11pm

Join Me for the Best Food & Wine at Sea!

Join me for some of the best food and drink at sea (or on land, for that matter) this Memorial Day weekend aboard the Schooner Stephen Taber, sailing from Rockland, Maine!

Tickets available HERE!

This will be my third year aboard the Schooner Stephen Taber, and I could not be more thrilled to be back.  There is nothing better than a full weekend of great food and wine at sea (fresh lobster anyone?!), and this historic sailing vessel is the perfect setting for just such a experience.

Launched in 1871, the Stephen Taber is a National Historic Landmark, and the oldest documented sailing vessel in the United States.  Each year, from Memorial Day through the fall, Captain Noah Barnes, his wife, Jane, and the rest of the schooner’s crew sail the beautiful Maine coast, continuing a legacy reaching back nearly a century and a half, and enthralling and enchanting all those who come along for the ride.

Wine tasting aboard the Schooner Stephen Taber

This Memorial Day weekend, you can join me aboard the Stephen Taber for four breathtaking days as we taste through fresh, local seafood and the fantastic wines of Dry Creek Vineyard, whose owners, too, profess a love of sailing that shines through in the wines they produce.  Inspired by his fondness for the sea and vision to bring Loire Valley-influenced wines to California, Dry Creek founder David Stare has been producing award-winning wines in northern Sonoma County since 1972.

Like my past experiences on the Schooner Stephen Taber, this year’s event is sure to be one to remember, and I truly hope you’ll join me in sharing the experience.

As you might imagine, these events tend to sell out quickly, so get your tickets today!

Fresh lobster – one of the perks of sailing in Maine!


Wine, Dine & Chocolate
Aboard the Schooner Stephen Taber
Starring Michael Green
Featuring the wines of Dry Creek Vineyards
May 22-26, 2014
Departing from Rockland, Maine
Tickets Available Here

Wine and Food Pairing: Three Easy Steps

Wine and Food Pairing: Three Easy Steps

  • Drink what you like.  Always a great place to start.  If you are fond of full-bodied California Chardonnay or lighter wines from Beaujolais, consider drinking it with your meal.  Throw out the wine and food rulebook and drink what you like.  I have found pleasure in drinking most any wine that I am fond of with good food and good company.
  • Match the weight of the food to the weight of the wine.  A simple concept.  Lighter foods tend to pair well with lighter wines.  A light fish dish, or a simple salad paired with a light crisp white such as Pinot Grigio or Muscadet usually works well.  Conversely, full-bodied dishes such as veal stew or a New York Strip steak work well with richer wines
  • Be adventurous!  We often enjoy the restaurant experience because it gives us the opportunity to explore new flavors and tastes.  The same can be true when selecting a wine to go with your meal.  Go wild!  Go crazy!   If you’ve never tasted a wine from Rioja, a Pinot Gris from Alsace, or a Pinotage from South Africa and you see it on the list, you might well consider it as a selection.

Most importantly, have fun!

Dynamic Duo: What’s the Best Wine with Chocolate?

The common theory: Chocolate is a strong ingredient that will overpower the nuances of many wines, rendering many sweet wines drier than an Alto Adage Pinot Grigio.

Reality: Chocolate can work with wine. Work in an acid ingredient like a berry coulis to tone down the sweetness factor and serve a straightforward not overly complex dessert wine that is high in alcohol to give the pairing added power. The complexity of an expensive dessert wine will get lost with most chocolate desserts.

Taste test: Try a PX Sherry, a non-vintage Port or a Malmsey Madeira and get your just desserts.

Be adventurous: If you serve a bitter chocolate (like the dense and decadent Scharffen Berger 82%) with a high cocoa content, pull out your favorite fruit forward Shiraz, Cabernet or Zinfandel. The pairing works very well and it allows you to bite into that truffle while finishing off your dinner wine.

Que Syrah, Shiraz! 10 Things You Need to Know

Syrah grapes in Napa Valley, California

Syrah? Shiraz? Whatever you choose to call it, there’s no denying the meteoric rise of this grape over the past couple decades.  And I hope you’ll join me at Murray’s Cheese on April 4th for “Harmony of Wine and Cheese: Syrahs of the World with Michael Green,” where we’re sip through some of the best this grape has offer (and of course, some spectacular cheeses to match!).

In the meantime, here are ten things to know about one of the world’s most popular varietals:

1. First and foremost, yes, Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape!  The grape rose to popularity as Syrah in France, and is known as such there and throughout most of Europe.  In Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada, however, it’s widely called Shiraz.  Why? No one is exactly sure, but it may refer to the city of Shiraz, in Iran (where was once rumored to have originated), or it may just be that the original spelling got lost in translation.

2. While today many people associate the grape with Australia, and increasingly other parts of the world, its original rise to prominence arose from wines made in Hermitage, in northern Rhone, which were a favorite of America’s most prominent early oenophile, Thomas Jefferson.

3. Shiraz, in Australia, got its start at the Sydney Botanical Gardens in 1839.  In that year, James Busby, the “Father of Australian Viticulture,” transplanted a number of cuttings there from Europe, and today it is the continent’s most widely planted red grape.

4. If you haven’t noticed, Syrah has become quite popular!  While the grape has been enjoyed for centuries, it has achieved its most widespread popularity in recent years, breaking into the top 10 most planted varietals in the world during the past decade.

Syrah found its first prominence in the wines of Hermitage

5. … Yet, until recently, it was a tough grape to find.  After its initial popularity in the 19th century, interest in Syrah died off, and by the late 1960s, only 6,700 acres of Syrah plantings existed in France.  A new group of wine writers, beginning in the 1970s, rediscovered and began to publicize the grape, and by the late 1990s, 125,000 acres were planted with Syrah in France – a number that continues to grow.

6. Wines made from Syrah tend to be powerfully flavored and full-bodied.  More expensive varieties generally contain high concentrations of tannins, and are best after some aging, though many Syrah-based wines on the shelf today are intended to be perfectly drinkable with tonight’s dinner.

7. While Syrah and Shiraz mean the same thing, Petit Syrah is an entirely different grape, created in 1880 as a cross between Syrah and a grape called Peloursin.

8. Syrah is also popular as a blending grape.  While its recent rise to fame has been largely based on it use as a singular varietal, it is commonly blended with Grenache, in wines such as Cotes du Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  In Australia, it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.

A terraced vineyard, planted with Syrah, in northern Rhone

9. Syrah made its first appearance in a United States vineyard in the 1970s, when a group known as the “Rhone Rangers” began experimenting with plantings in California.  Today, Syrah is also being planted widely across Washington state.

10. Like all grapes, the flavor of Syrah is dependent on the climate in which it is grown.  Cooler climates produce a spicier, full bodied wine, with strong, peppery notes, whereas Syrah grown in a warmer climate will generally produce a more mellow wine with hints of plum.

Now that you can talk Syrah (or Shiraz!) like a pro, come join me at Murray’s Cheese on April 4th for the real fun, tasting through wines from around the world made with this wonderfully versatile grape.  And while you’re at it, brush up on your cheese knowledge, too!

Join Me to ‘Savor Dallas’ this Spring!

I am thrilled and honored to be a speaker and guest at this year’s 10th Anniversary edition of Savor Dallas, a celebration of wine, food, spirits and the arts in the Big D!  (Tickets available now at

Dallas has truly come into it’s own as a world class food and drink destination in recent years, and one of the reasons – and an awesome way to celebrate – is Savor Dallas.

Let me tell you, this is not your ordinary food and wine festival.  This is truly a fete of the city and all of its epicurean and artistic delights – with tastings and events set in sprawling gardens, art spaces, and music halls, all in the midst of Downtown Dallas, and I could not be more excited to take part this spring.

The festival, which runs from March 20-22, 2014, kicks off with a wine and food tasting, featuring many of the city’s top restaurants, that takes place via a private stroll through 66 lush acres of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden.  While it may still be freezing up here in NYC, it is most certainly springtime in Dallas, and this promises to be an event full of color, aroma, and flavor!

Savor Dallas at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

On Friday, March 21st, the festivities move on to Dallas’ bustling Arts District, where festival-goers can savor sips and tastes from top area restaurants, all while exploring amazing venues like The Nasher Sculpture Center, The Meyerson Symphony center, and the Plaza of the Cathedral at the Arts District, followed by a wine dinner at the Omni Dallas Hotel, hosted by their excecutive chef, Jason Weaver.

The International Tasting Panel at Savor Dallas

On Saturday, you’ll find me at the Winemaker Tasting Panel, where I’ll be co-moderating a tasting with some of the top winemakers in the Lone Star State, including Ralf Holdenreid of William Hill Estate, Sergio Cuadra of Fall Creek Vineyards, and Dr. Richard Becker, owner of Becker Vineyards.  This event, at Bob’ Steak and Chop House at the Omni Dallas Hotel is going to be an absolute blast, and I can’t wait to see you there!

From there, head over to the ever popular Reserve Tasting, and finally, to the blowout extravaganza of the festival, the International Grand Tasting, on Saturday evening.  This event features dozens of chefs from the Dallas/Fort Worth area and 400 premium wines, spirits, and craft beers.

Dallas is a city that holds a special place in my heart, and having the opportunity to celebrate it’s offerings in the culinary and art world and beyond at Savor Dallas is such a treat!  Head to their website, and get your tickets today for what promises to be an a thrilling weekend of wine, food, spirits, and the arts – see you there!

Savor Dallas tickets available now at

Reading Italian Wine Labels: An Introduction

For thousands of years, the land that we now know as Italy has been at the center of the global winemaking industry. Thanks to a climate that’s ideal for growing grapes and a heritage dating back to the ancient Roman times, Italy has brought us cherished creations such as Prosecco, Pinot Grigio and of course, Barbaresco.

Picking the right Italian wine, however, can be challenging if you’re not sure what exactly you’re looking at. With so many choices in a typical wine store, you’ll want to make sure you understand what the label says before you head to the checkout counter. That’s easier said than done, though. To English-only speakers, the many foreign words and values displayed in a bottle can be rather confusing.

If you’re relatively new to wine selection and Italian isn’t exactly your second tongue, this guide is for you. We’ll walk you through the parts of a typical Italian wine label, we’ll let you know what each one is saying and we’ll give you a heads-up on what to look for when buying. Let’s get started:

Brand Name

Typically positioned in the label’s front-center part, the brand name should be the most prominent detail of any wine label. Italian law mandates bottlers under its jurisdiction to make the brand name’s text the largest, so this should be the words that are easiest to spot at first glance.

In most cases, wines are named after the geographic regions where the grapes are grown and harvested. It’s a wine industry tradition that has persisted for centuries across the world and Italy is no exception. However, there are caveats to this practice: wines from Italy’s central region of Tuscany are usually named after the estates that produced them. Tuscany is a big, open piece of land where many vineyards have been situated for a long time. Winemakers have to name their products after their estates to distinguish them from their neighbors, which helps buyers tell if a bottle is from a bottler they trust.

A vineyard in Montepulciano, Tuscany

Producer’s Name

Not printed quite as prominently as the brand name but equally important is the producer’s name. This can be displayed on the main label or in another label usually found at the bottom of the bottle. It’s preceded by the text imbottigliato da, which means “bottled by” in English.

Producer names matter because some of them have several centuries’ worth of good reputations that they want to protect. A wine maker’s reputation is usually a good barometer of the wine’s overall quality, so look up which names are most recognized for the type of wine you’re getting. The longer a bottler has been in business, the greater his reputation usually is.


A wine’s appellation refers to the region where the grapes that were used to make it were harvested. Based on that information, a wine label reader can get an idea about the kind of climate the grapes grew in, what variety of grapes were used, what other ingredients were added, and what processes were applied. Regions usually carry a culture of winemaking with their names, making it easy for wine connoisseurs to get an idea of what the drink will taste like.

A wine’s region may or may not coincide with its brand name. Winemakers that name their product after their region are usually either the only producer in that location or they’re the biggest bottler by far. When a location has several vineyards that supply similar amounts of produce to the market, the wines are named after the estates that grew the grapes. Wine aficionados will often say that wines named after estates are usually better than wines named after regions. The more specific the naming convention, the higher the quality and the price is – or at least that’s the notion.

Vintage Date

In wine parlance, vintage refers to the date when the grapes that were used for a wine were harvested. As you may know, the older the wine, the better it gets. Checking the vintage year of the wine you’re looking at will help you gauge how far it has matured.

There are a couple of caveats when it comes to vintage dates. First, there are non-vintage (NV) wines that put together juices from different years to control the flavor. NV wines are usually considered to be of lower quality than vintage wines because of the relative ease of creating them.

Second, some Italian wines were known for inaccuracies in their vintages in the past. Legislations have since been passed and enforced to compel winemakers to state the correct vintage dates for the benefit of the consumer. When shopping for Italian wines make sure to do your homework on reputable bottlers. These are companies that abide strictly by the law, so you can be sure that the year on the label is spot on.

A bottle with the easily identifiable DOCG label


Italian wines are grouped into three main categories according to quality. These groups are legally mandated and are subject to government regulations:

DOCG – Stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita which means that the wine was made under strictly controlled procedures and its top tier quality is guaranteed. Not just any bottler is allowed to produce DOCG wine. Careful inspection of elements such as grapes used, yield limits, maturation conditions and other factors have to be certified by the Italian government for a wine to be officially given the DOCG status. Each bottle of this grade of wine is assigned a serial number as a countermeasure to bootlegging operations. This is elite-level Italian wine, so expect to shell out some serious money when you take one of these bottles home.

DOC – This is the category where the majority of legitimate wines made in Italy fall under. This grade of wine passes stringent regulations and processes set by the Italian government. The very best winemakers can transcend this status and get upgraded to DOCG, but for the most part this is the class where all the good (not great) ones are in.

IGT– Standing for Indicazione Geografica Tipica, this classification was introduced in the early 90s to recognize quality wines that did not use traditional grape varieties sanctioned by Italy’s DOC and DOCG laws. This rating does not, by any means, suggest poor quality. It only means that the producer used non-classic methods to create the drink. Most wines that fall under the IGT umbrella are judged according to their appellation.

The position of this information in Italian wine labels can vary but knowing these three simple acronyms should be enough to give you a cue once you spot it.

Rows of wine bottles in Enoteca Regionale del Barolo in Cuneo, Piedmont

Country of Origin

This one’s the easiest to decipher among all the text in the label. If you encounter the word Italia near the bottom center part of the label, it’s from Italy. It’s important to know that this is a declaration of where the wine was made, but not necessarily of where the ingredients are from.

Not to worry, though. Most Italian wines use grapes grown in their own locales and most of it comes from Tuscany.

Alcohol Content

The amount of alcohol in Italian wines (and most European wines) is relatively low compared to what Americans are used to. In Italy, an alcohol-by-volume (ABV) rate of 13.5% or higher is usually found in DCOG wines. You can drink a fair bit and still not get too tipsy. However, you’ll want to exercise caution with dessert wines and those with residual sugars. These drinks can get make you lightheaded pretty fast and if you’re not careful, you’ll have a major hangover the next day. Bottom line: look for the percentage in the label and drink in moderation.


The size of the bottle may not always give you the best idea of how much wine there is in it. Italian wines usually come in 750mL bottles, but you can scale up to 1.5L, 3.0L and 6.0L for big parties. This number will be displayed in the main label, but some bottlers have it embossed in the glass bottle itself.

Alright, that just about sums up all of the common info that you’ll see in a typical  Italian wine label. Keep these and mind and get some practice when you look at the displays in your local wine store. The storekeeper should be able to tell you if you’re right with your reading or you need a little more practice. Ciao!

About the Author

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She’s a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients. For more on Priscila and her work, connect with her on Google+.

Cru Bourgeois: The Bordeaux You Should Know! (and why…)


For most, Bordeaux can be intimidating and daunting given all the talk about sticker-shock. However, if you discount the 60 or so top big name chateaux and the luxury Cru Classes, there are some wines from Bordeaux that offer tremendous value for the money – they are deliciously known as Crus Bourgeois.

Although the Crus Bourgeois have had a long history, here’s what you as a wine-lover really need to know:

1) What’s a true Cru? A true Cru Bourgeois is produced on one of eight prestigious appellations in Bordeaux (Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis en Médoc, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe) and has satisfied the strict  annual quality control procedure. All wines meeting these criteria proudly display the Cru Bourgeois (CB) logo and authentication sticker (since the 2010 vintage).  Meaning if you have any doubt – look for the sticker on the bottle! If they don’t make the cut, they can’t be called a Cru Bourgeois.

2) This ain’t no “Petite Chateaux”! Crus Bourgeois offer diversity and excellent value compared other wines in the $20-50/bottle range (the average price of a bottle of Cru Bourgeois is about $25.50). More importantly, as the wines are made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, they are fantastic to drink now – as I did (see below) – or can be cellared to be savored later. So stock up.

3) They’re here for the asking! At this point over 50% of these wines are distributed in the U.S. so why not try one? Here are two of my favorite 2010 vintages, which are perfect for tonight:


Chateau La Tour de Mons (Margaux) 2010 | SRP: $36

For a Margaux, this is unbelievable, especially for this price! Run! Get some!

  • 55% Merlot
  • 36% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 4% Cabernet Franc
  • 5% Petit Verdot
  • Terroir: Graves Garonnaises et Argilo-calcaires
  • Alcohol Content: 14%
  • Production: 151,000 bottles (2010)
  • Importer: Monsieur Touton


Chateau Senejac (Haut-Médoc) 2010 | SRP: $24

A cherished memory! I had this label YEARS ago and it’s a favorite still! Balanced, elegant, and so Bordeaux. Has a fabulous long graceful finish and an impressive future.

  • 48% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 37% Merlot
  • 11% Cabernet Franc
  • 5% Petit Verdot
  • Production: 200,000 bottles (2010)


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Wine Labels – What is A.O.C.?




Wine Alert! February 2014


I return to you this month with two wines that come from what is truly one of the great producers in Piedmont.  Paolo Scavino is a fourth-generation winery, founded in 1921 by Lorenzo Scavino and his son, Paolo.  Today, the winery is run by Enrico Scavino and his daughters, Enrica and Elisa, who produce approximately 120,000 bottles each year from 23 hectares in the Barolo area.  Their passion for terroir and viticulture shines through in each wine they produce, and the two I’ve chosen this month are great examples and truly not to be missed!

Here are my February Picks:

Paolo Scavino Langhe “Sorriso” 2012
(Piedmont, Italy)
SRP:Price: $17.99
OMG Price: $14.99

Paolo Scavino Langhe Nebbiolo 2011
(Piedmont, Italy)
SRP:  $24.99
OMG Price $19.99

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit, call 212-787-1700 or email Cliff Korn at

Also, remember this pricing is only available through February 28th, 2014.

Read more about these wines are why I adore them! … 

Paolo Scavino Langhe “Sorriso” 2012
(Piedmont, Italy)
SRP:Price: $17.99
OMG Price: $14.99

This is the only white Scavino produces, and it’s a winner!  Fresh, with real personality, it’s a unique blend or Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier.

Appellation: Langhe DOC
Region: Piemonte
Village, crü: Castiglione Falletto (Altenasso), La Morra (Bricco Manescotto)
Varietal: Chardonnay 40%, Sauvignon blanc 40%, Viognier 20%
Altitude: 210-220 mt
Soil: calcareus, marly
Farming system: guyot
Planting year: 1997, 2009
Plant density: 4800 vines per hectare
Viticulture: grassing on the rows intercalated with tillage during the fall and spring, done by hand between the vines. Average yields of 50 Hl/ha
Harvest period: harvest by hand, normally on the first decade of September
Vinification: soft press, no maceration, fermentation in stainless steel at 10°C, no malolactic fermentation. Natural tartaric stabilization
Aging: 6 months stainless steel stainless steel.


Paolo Scavino Langhe Nebbiolo 2011
(Piedmont, Italy)
SRP:  $24.99
OMG Price $19.99

Nebbiolo is the grape that makes Piedmont’s famed and collectible Barolo and Barbaresco, but this is a Nebbiolo that is killer drinking right now and will not break the bank.

Appellation: Langhe DOC
Region: Piemonte
Village, crü: La Morra (Bricco Manescotto e Annunziata)
Varietal: Nebbiolo 100%
Altitude: 260-300 mt
Soil: limestone mixt to sandstones
Farming system: guyot
Planting year: Bricco Manescotto (1960-1968), Annunziata (1997)
Plant Density: 4700 vines per hectare
Viticulture: grassing on the rows intercalated with tillage during the fall and spring, done by hand between the vines. Average yields of 40 Hl/ha
Harvest period: harvest by hand, normally on the first decade of October
Vinification: destemming and light crushing. Maceration and fermentation in stainless steel with temperature controlled and indigenous yeasts; malolactic fermentation in barrels; natural tartaric stabilization
Aging: 6 months barrels, 1 year stainless steel

So, there they are!   My two Wine Alert picks for February.  To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700 
or email Cliff Korn at

The Ultimate Chinatown Soup Dumpling

I knew Michael had been on a quest for the best soup dumplings in city for a while now.  It had come up in conversation for the better part of a year, here and there, in stories of wanderings through the crooked streets of Chinatown.

In fact, my first soup dumpling experience was with Michael at Joe’s Shanghai (the original Flushing location) about a year ago, after a video shoot with our mutual friend and karate board-breaking world champion Leif Becker.  Obviously, I was about 10-15 years late getting on the soup dumpling bandwagon, but I was eager to make up for lost time, devouring 12 in that first sitting.  This brilliant and potentially explosive concoction from Shanghai was right up my alley.

I’ve long been a prolific eater of dumplings, partially by choice and partially due to the proximity of the Streit’s Matzo factory, where Michael and I have been filming our documentary film for the past year, to a great 4-for-a-dollar dumpling spot, C&C Prosperity Dumpling, on the Lower East Side.

But much as I love a traditional dumpling, I crave soup dumplings on an entirely different level.  So when Michael invited me on a soup dumpling hop through Chinatown to help uncover the best of the best, I was all in.  Here’s the breakdown…

Shanghai Asian Cuisine – An exquisitely divey place for soup dumplings

Our first stop was Shanghai Asian Cuisine (14A Elizabeth Street). Having not had soup dumplings since that first encounter a year ago, and having not eaten all day, I was ready to be blown away, and Shanghai Asian, a perfectly divey little spot on Elizabeth Street, did not disappoint.  These were the thinnest-skinned dumplings of the night, and being a bit out of practice, I made the novice error of breaking the first one, losing precious soup.  Once I composed myself enough to get an undamaged dumpling in my mouth, I understood why this place is consistently rated one of the tops in the city for soup dumplings.  The soup-to-pork ratio was perfect, not overly doughy, and the soup was very flavorful.  Michael was also quick to order a side of scallion pancakes, which, he informed me, would be the best I’d ever had, and they were.  They were pure, fried, crispy deliciousness – apparently this place finds anything  resembling dough to be a waste of time, and they certainly make a convincing case.

A beautifully composed – if slightly doughier – soup dumpling at Shanghai Asian Manor

Next, it was around the corner to Shanghai Asian Manor (21 Mott Street).  Having the same owners as Shanghai Asian Cusine, the dumplings here bore many similarities, with the main difference being a somewhat thicker skin – apparently a slightly less dough-averse attitude prevails here.  They were once again delicious, and in the moment, I actually rated them slightly higher than those at Shanghai Asian Cuisine – a point of contention between Michael and I – though the disagreement here would not last (more on that later…).  Because somehow insensibly I feared I wouldn’t be full at the end of the journey, we also ordered a plate of pan fried noodles with beef, which was excellent, with the perfect combination of fried crispiness on top and sauce-soaked noodle below.  As far as décor, Manor is slightly more upscale in a very relative sense, although prices were similarly low.

No point in showing (or eating) mediocre dumplings – stick with the excellent egg rolls and other dim sum at Nom Wah Tea Parlor.

After a quick halftime drink at Apotheke, it was on to our third stop, next door at the nearly 100 year old Chinatown mainstay Nom Wah Tea Parlor (13 Doyers Street), which, Michael tells me, has been updated by a younger generation of owners for a bit more hipster appeal, though the look is still decidedly 1970s diner-ish – which is just fine by me.  This place may serve some great dim-sum, and the double-size eggrolls we had were truly fantastic – but for soup dumplings, look elsewhere.  The ones here are prolifically doughy, with extremely bland soup.  And, though I should have probably been grateful at this point, they only come four to an order.  Unheard of!  Eight dumplings for around $4-5 seems to be the industry standard around here, so half that number of inferior dumplings at the same price point hardly makes for a bargain.

Joe’s Ginger, home to my 16th and final dumpling of the night.

At this point, both Michael and I were reaching our limit, but we rallied for one more round of dumplings, this time at Joe’s Ginger, a spot with the same owners as Joe’s Shanghai.  Unfortunately, while my introductory dumplings at Joe’s in Flushing had been fantastic, these were mediocre at best.  Once again, very doughy, and while the soup was pretty tasty, there was just too much pork to really taste it.  And while randomly the cast of Real Housewives of Some Place or Other seemed to be enjoying themselves at the table next to us, at this point in the night, we were both too full to finish off a full order of sub-par dumplings.

So, the verdict?

Michael and I initially disagreed on the top dumpling.  Maybe I was just starving at the start of the night, but despite the truly awesome flavor, I found myself craving more dough during the first round at Shanghai Asian.  But slowly, as the dumpling count mounted, and the dough got progressively thicker with each restaurant, I found myself thinking back very fondly on those light, more delicate dumplings.  In the end, we both agreed, Shanghai Asian Cuisine takes the top spot.

Not that either of us, I’m sure, are done with the quest for the perfect soup dumpling.

- By Michael Levine

Michael Levine is a New York City-based documentary filmmaker, whose soup-dumpling capacity is apparently 16.  He has been worked with Michael Green on numerous projects over the past year and a half, including directing the feature length documentary, Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream, about the last family owned matzo factory in America, on New York’s Lower East Side, which Michael Green is producing.

The Wine I Enjoyed the Most – December Winner!


Join my monthly contest, “The Wine I Enjoyed the Most,” for a chance to win a $100 wine gift certificate!  Tell me about the wine you enjoyed the most in 200-300 words and email me your entry.  It doesn’t have to be an expensive wine, and it may well not even be the “finest” wine you ever tasted – just a wine experience that you can’t stop thinking about.  Our next contest ends January 31st, so start typing!  And keep sipping!


And here is last month’s winner! Daniel Curtis has won a $100 wine gift
certificate. Read Daniel’s story on the wine he enjoyed the most!

I was fortunate enough to grow up with a generous father who was always steadfast in his intention to instill in me an appreciation of quality over quantity.  To him, that meant the finest fruit bombs coming out of the Napa Valley.

One of the first wines I remember tasting was Opus One (tough life, I know).  It’s impossible not to love what is in your glass when it has Bill Harlan, Ann Colgin, or the Jackson Family’s stamp on it…but it was not until I had the opportunity to study in Ferrara, Italy that I discovered that I myself actually had a passion for wine.

As a 20 year old student I was hardly able to enjoy the cult equivalents of the Napa greats that my father had taught me to enjoy, so I had not yet discovered the wines like Sassicaia and Ornellaia.  But was I was on my own—and each wine that I tasted was my own discovery.  I had a Eurail pass in my back pocket and a little leather notebook for collecting my tasting notes and perceptions about how each wine fell perfectly into the context of the place that it came from.  I marveled at the crisp Gavi di Gavi’s in Piedmont (La Scolca’s is still one of my favorites white wines), I fell in love with the earthy dark fruit of Sagrantino di Montafalco coming from Umbria, and was amazed to realize that when I took a whiff of a handful of Tuscan earth, it had the smell of the chianti in my other hand.

During my travels my favorite wine that I had discovered was “Pietro” the reserve blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Syrah by the Le Filigare winery in Chianti.  I liked this wine so much I had to bring it home to my father.  “Wow” is what he said when we drank it together.

I had picked a wine for my father and he loved it…that was a proud moment for me.  It’s the moments like those which make me understand why wine has been at the heart of celebration and relationships for thousands of years…and why I’ll keep continuing the tradition.


Daniel Curtis handles partnerships and develops new business for Robb Report Magazine and its family of international platforms.  As Robb Report celebrates the finest achievements in luxury products and experiences, Daniel focuses on connecting discerning connoisseurs with the brands that meet their level of authenticity and taste.  With a particular passion for wine, spirits and cigars Daniel has recently launched Robb Vices, an eNewsletter, online, and event based platform devoted to indulgences in the way of dining, drinking, smoking, and adventuring well.  Originally from Malibu, California Daniel has spent the greater part of the last decade based in New York City.


Remember, my next monthly contest ends January 31st, so email me your entry and tell me about the wine you enjoyed the most for a chance to win a $100 wine gift certificate!

What’s the Best Wine with Popcorn?

You might see me wax poetic about classic pairings like foie gras and Sauternes or oysters and Muscadet. (I’m not a snob, honest!) But today’s pairing is more comforting and somewhat out of the box. Let’s start with your favorite Netflix film. If you want something with a food and wine theme, think about Sideways, Bottle Shock, the Godfather or one of my all-time favorites — Babette’s Feast.

First, cook up some popcorn. Melt the butter and drizzle it on the glorious popped kernels of corn. Salt as needed. Now, what to pair with it? Okay, skip the soft drinks, please! Beer? Save it for schnitzel night. Water? This is popcorn, not the Mohave desert. What about something more celebratory?

Try this: Grab your favorite sparkler – Champagne (if your wallet allows), Prosecco (perfect with Godfather – either Part One or Two!) or Cava – the Sparkling wine from Spain. The crisp and refreshing flavor profile of the sparkler is a glorious contrast to the crisp of the popcorn mingled with the salt and greasy butter.

If you want something a bit sweeter, make a Bellini or a Kir Royale. Or just top it off with a few splashes of St. Germaine.

Or would you prefer to just pop and pour? Try a Moscato d’Asti — one of my favorite dessert wines on the planet — and costs less than seeing an IMAX film in 3D! Turn off your cell phone, pop the cork, and enjoy the film!

If you enjoyed this post, we think you just might like this one, too!…

Beyond Champagne – Sparkling Sensations!

The Health Benefits of Wine

Across international headlines, we’ve certainly heard a lot lately about my favorite health food: wine.  Without a doubt, wine adds dimension and texture to everyday life. But wine as a fount of longevity?   Hey, sign me up!

From French Women Don’t Get Fat to the famed 60 Minutes reports on wine and health, the anecdotal evidence along with the latest findings on resveratrol (the wonder compound scientists have isolated as the miracle worker in wine), continue to suggest wine lovers live longer with fewer health problems.  Preventative medicine or junk science, any way you slice it, the resveratrol buzz from the scientific community supports what I’ve been preaching all along:  in moderation, wine is pure pleasure for every day and every occasion.

And there’s good news for lovers of this grape elixir, even if they’ve resolved to count calories in the New Year.  Rest assured that my daily dose of wine won’t weigh heavily on my conscience — For all of its glorious flavors and hues, most wines come in just under the 100 calorie mark. When the alternative is sipping water or cola with my supper, why skimp on satisfaction?

Now, as the resveratrol buzz bubbles on, people are asking what I think of fad supplements touting the power of wine in tablet form. I’m no doctor, but I do know this:  I’ll take my medicine by the glassful any day over popping a handful of pills.

When it comes to health, I make all of my toasts with wine. Wine has its place in a healthy life – with any meal, uncorked alone or in the company of friends. Cheers to enjoying the benefits of a lifestyle punctuated by wine.  As the French say, a votre sante!

If you enjoyed this post, we think you just might like this one, too!…

Wine-Friendly “Ice Cubes”

Home Bar Essentials


There are increasing opportunities out there for enjoying creative, well made cocktails, with the number and profile of  bar chefs, celebrity mixologists, and speakeasy concepts on the rise.  And while going out for a drink experience at a special place, crafted by a bartender at the top of his or her game is extraordinary, you can bring some of the same excitement into your home, and most probably it will cost you less than the $18 (or more) per drink you would pay at many cocktail bars.  While a gin and tonic is easy enough to create at home (all you need is a highball glass, gin, tonic water, and the right sized ice cubes), you can get very creative when you have the proper tools…

Boston Shaker

I could go on and on comparing the merits of one style shaker over the other, but suffice it to say that my preference lies strongly with the Boston shaker, for it’s utility and simplicity.  A Boston shaker set consists of two pieces: a mixing glass (often with measuring marks), and a metal tumbler.  That’s it! You can add a strainer if you like, but to me part of the fun is the delicate precision of pouring through the crack between the two vessels without letting the ice slip through.  The whole operation takes some practice in fact, to perfect the art of shaking the two containers like mad without letting loose all ingredients in your living room, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it makes for quite a performance.


To be a great at-home bartender is like being a well-trained pastry chef: it’s not only about the ingredients, but about measuring them properly.  While experimenting with different amounts of one ingredient or other is part of the process, once you’ve got the quantities right, you’ll want to be able to replicate the result again and again.  So a jigger, with measurement markings, is essential.

Bar Spoon 

While the fun of shaking up a cocktail can’t be denied, there are some drinks that generally better off stirred rather than shaken. These are generally drinks that don’t have viscous ingredients like fruit juice, simple syrup, or egg whites – drinks whose ingredients mix easily need simply be stirred.  A bar spoon is made specifically for this purpose, with a length that allows you to stir to the bottom of any glass, until the drink is well chilled and ready to drink.


Most drinks made with fresh fruit or herbs, like mojitos and mint juleps, will require a muddler to be made properly.  A muddler is essentially a pestle, a wooden stick used to mash the ingredients in the bottom of the glass, usually with just a little bit of liquid to make the process easier.  Muddling releases the flavors in the fruits and herbs and ensures that the cocktail sees the full benefits of the ingredients.


It’s certainly possible to be intimated by the incredible variety of styles of bar glasses available to the home bartender.  There’s really no need to go overboard.  Rocks glasses are a great serviceable piece of barware for most cocktails, and most of your other needs can be fulfilled by adding a few martini and highball glasses to your set.  Beyond these, you’ll likely be taking up space with glasses that you’ll rarely, if ever, use.

You can certainly purchase all your home bartending essentials separately, but if you’re starting from scratch, it’s generally easiest to just pick up a home bartending kit like this one, which will have all the tools you need to start mixing like a pro in the comfort of your own home.

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 What Size Ice Cubes Should I Use In A Cocktail?

All Wines Need Not Be Great – Some Wines Just Need to Be Good

“All wines need not be great.  Some wines just need to be good.”

Read this mantra and sip.  Then read again and sip.

It may be unexpected, coming from a guy who’s made his career – his life, really – out of the experience of wine, but it is one of the adages I live my life by.  And here’s why: I think too many people think that for a wine to be worth tasting, worth drinking, it has to be a mind-blowing experience in its own right.

I understand that 12% of Americans drink 90% of the wine in this country, meaning most people reserve wine for special occasions, and on those occasions, they’re looking for a wine to match.  And trust me, as someone who tastes through hundreds of wines each month, when a wine that’s truly awesome presents itself, it’s certainly a moment to savor and remember.

But honestly, do we really need our every experience with wine to be mind-blowing?  Don’t we sometimes just need to relax, get comfortable, and sip something that doesn’t necessarily put our sensations into high gear?

The joy of wine is in its diversity, in the fact that you can find a wine to pair with any experience.  Just as you try to avoid pairing your meal with a wine that will overpower the taste of the food you’re eating, perhaps we need to give more weight to how wines pair with our moods, our needs in a particular moment.

We all have guilty pleasures, whether its awful reality tv, cheap Chinese food or whatever else allows us to rest our overworked brains and bodies.  We need that!  If more among us were open to thinking of wine in the same way, perhaps more of us would be drinking wine a bit more regularly, feeling a little less anxiety when choosing a wine, and experiencing the little pleasures an “everyday” wine has to offer.

Sometimes you want high art, sometimes you want a Guy Fieri marathon, and sometimes a good wine is good enough.

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Wine and Food Pairing: 3 Easy Steps

Corks are Flying! How to Open a Bottle of Champagne

Carefully! There are 9 atmospheres of pressure in a bottle of Champagne. That is more pressure that the tire of a London double-decker bus or a baseball being shot from a pitchers arm at 90 miles an hour. I found this instructional video on You Tube on how to open a bottle of bubbly. I like the video except I omit one step – I don’t take the metal cage off of the bottle. When you keep the cage on, it creates more friction and makes the bottle opening much easier – and safer.

Fast fact: How many bubbles are in a bottle of Champagne? Zero? Guess again. 49 million!

Here’s to You! How to Make a Perfect Toast

Depending on its performance, a toast can be either the inspiring instant of the evening, or a cringe-inducing disaster. To help you avoid the latter, I’ve put together some tips to make your stand-up moment a stand-out moment – in a good way!

How to Make a Toast

1. Rehearse.
2. Wait until everyone has a drink.
3. Stand up.
4. Shut the music off.
5. Speak loudly.
6. Look at the person/people you are toasting to.
7. Hold the glass and raise it at the last sentence. (More drama!)
8. Then take a sip and hopefully everyone else will do the same!
9. Shakespeare wrote: “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Keep it brief, funny or touching depending on the occasion.
10. Always look someone in the eye when clinking your glass – otherwise there can be consequences…

My Favorite Food & Drink Holiday Gifts

I’m making a list and checking it twice! Here are some of my go-to gift idea for the wine, spirits, and epicurean lover:

1. Worth the Splurge: A gift certificate to one of the best Relais and Chateaux in the world, Blackberry Farm. 6 star service, glorious rooms and mind blowing food, this luxury hotel and resort is located on a pastoral 4200-acre estate in the Great Smoky Mountains.

2. Perfect Openings: While there are many corkscrews in the marketplace, form meets function in this handcrafted corkscrew from Laguiole. One of a kind, these pieces have a stag horn finish and are crafted with meticulous French mastery.

3. Southern Hospitality: Like your drinks shaken with a “southern meets Brooklyn” flair? Check out the Mason Cocktail shaker! Eric Prum and Josh Williams have created a vintage shaker that is a must have for your next mint julep.

4. Stocking Stuffer: Cabernet drippings on your tablecloth, new blouse from Saks or your Hermes tie? Many tips at your disposal. Vinegar, baking soda, peroxide and prayer! I am a big fan of Wine Away Stain Remover.

5. Decant! I am a decanter collector and I always serve my wine from a decanter – the “go to top flight” company for stemware and decanters is Riedel and while one of my favorite decanters is more expensive than a piece of Brooklyn Street art it is art! Young or old, red or white, ost wines can benefit from a bit of air and the decanter looks so great on the table. I think famed winemaker Christian Moueix says it best: “I prefer to decant wines, both young and old. It is a sign of respect for old wines and a sign of confidence in young wines. Decanting old wines, just a few moments before they are served, helps to ensure that the wines’ clarity and brilliance are not obscured by any deposit that may have developed over time. Decanting young wines several hours before they are served gives the wine a chance to bloom and attain a stage of development that normally requires years of aging.”

And, when in doubt, you can always gift a bottle of your favorite wine or spirit!

The Season calls for Eggnog!

Check your Lipitor at the door and try these two eggnog recipes. Definitely adds spirit to the holidays.

Easy – very easy: This straightforward and delicious recipes comes from my dear friend and colleague Sara Moulton:


• 2 pint(s) premium-quality vanilla ice cream
• 1/2 cup(s) rum, cognac, or bourbon (add more to taste)
• Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg


1. Place the ice cream in a large covered glass or stainless-steel bowl in the refrigerator to thaw.
2. Once thawed, stir in the rum or desired flavoring and nutmeg. Blend well. Serve cold.

More intensive: I love this recipe from epicurean colleague Alton Brown. So many layers of flavor!


• 4 egg yolks
• 1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
• 1 pint whole milk
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 3 ounces bourbon
• 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 4 egg whites


In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Add the milk, cream, bourbon and nutmeg and stir to combine.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
Whisk the egg whites into the mixture. Chill and serve.

Cook’s Note: For cooked eggnog, follow procedure below.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, over high heat, combine the milk, heavy cream and nutmeg and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and gradually temper the hot mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Then return everything to the pot and cook until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F. Remove from the heat, stir in the bourbon, pour into a medium mixing bowl, and set in the refrigerator to chill.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. With the mixer running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the chilled mixture.

Party Trick! Wine In A Blender


Ah, the perfect romantic evening: a warm, home cooked meal on the table, candlelight, the sound of an electric blender screaming at eighty decibels on the counter…

Okay, it may not be traditional, some may even call it sacrilege, but it’s come time to accept that as absurd as it sounds (until you’ve tried it), pouring a wine in a blender and hitting the puree button can be a quick and effective way to aerate your favorite bottle.

I’ve mentioned before my love of decanting – the elegance of a sleek decanter, a work of art really, on the table, taking the time to let oxygen permeate the wine, both mellowing its tannins and bringing to life its full aroma and flavor.  I’ll never claim that putting wine in a blender presents a Zen equivalent, but for practical purposes, you may be just as well off with a KitchenAid as with a Riedel.

Hyperaeration, as sticking wine in a blender is properly called, has started to gain some popularity, if not full acceptance, in recent years, and I recently decided to put it to the test myself.

I had company at home, and my friend found that the wine I poured for us was a bit tannic for his taste.  Now, ordinarily I would have seen this as the time to reach for a decanter and pass some time as the wine slowly aerated.  Instead, I suggested a radical experiment in electric hyperaeration.  Luckily, my guest was of a similar mindset – incredulous but openminded…

I pulled the blender off the shelf, poured in the contents of the bottle and, setting aside any sense of gentility, hit puree and held for about 30 seconds, watching the wine scream around the cylinder.

Okay, so Riedel wins for elegance! But for the thrill of speed and drama, the electric blender just might have an edge…

When it was all over and quiet had returned to the room, I poured two new glasses from the blender.  The result?  The wine had changed – dramatically!  And in just the way you would expect from an hour or so of traditional decanting.  My guest loved it.  I’ve tried it several times since with different wines, and the results seem to be pretty consistent.  Hyperaerating works!

Now, all this said, I would never suggest a blender as a direct substitute for a real decanter.  If you’re looking for a peaceful, relaxing moment with a bottle of wine, this is most definitely not it.  But!  For dramatic excitement or as a party trick to astound your friends and puree every bit of pretension from a room, or at home in a pinch, I have to say, there’s nothing like your favorite bottle of wine and an electric blender to set the mood.



If you enjoyed this article, I’ve got a feeling you might also like…

The Deal on Decanting

I love decanting wine. Red, white, sparkling, fortified. I decant everything. I love the look of a decanter. I love the feel of a decanter. Actually, I collect decanters. To me, they are art meets function. But why decant a wine too begin with?

The Wine I Enjoyed The Most – November Winner!


November 2013 Winner, Sara Skolnick

Join my monthly contest, “The Wine I Enjoyed the Most,” for a chance to win a $100 wine gift certificate!  Tell me about the wine you enjoyed the most in 200-300 words and email me your entry.  It doesn’t have to be an expensive wine, and it may well not even be the “finest” wine you ever tasted – just a wine experience that you can’t stop thinking about.  Our next contest ends December 31st, so start typing!  And keep sipping!


And here is last month’s winner! Sara Skolnick has won a $100 wine gift
certificate. Read Sara’s story on the wine she enjoyed the most!

My dad has owned a wine store since long before I was born, yet for some reason, I spent years ignoring wine rather than embracing it.  It was my very small way of rebelling, I guess.  By my early 30s, I discovered what I was missing and began my own journey of wine appreciation.  It’s been a journey with a lot of learning by trial and error.

I love finding wines that I can get truly excited about and I’m slowly gaining a better understanding of whether a meal will taste better with a glass of Sancerre or glass of Riesling.  I’ve travelled to vineyards from California to France, in part to improve my wine education, but mostly for the fun of it. Yet somehow my dad and I never really talked about wine or shared our love of wine together.  That is, until a few months ago when he came into NYC to have dinner with me.


Sara and her father, Harv

It was a gorgeous summer night and we wandered around Central Park briefly before stumbling upon an Italian restaurant with an outdoor patio.  My dad suggested that we share a bottle of wine with dinner… it would be the first time that just the two of us shared a bottle together.  We discussed what kind of wine we were both in the mood for and, though our choices didn’t seem to overlap, he looked at the long Italian wine list (mostly jibberish to me) and came up with what he thought would be a good “compromise” and a good match for our mussels and pasta.  We both absolutely loved the wine he picked and it was perfect with our incredible meal and lively conversation.  I wish I could remember the name of the wine.  All I remember is that it was white, Italian and delicious.

More important than the wine’s name, though, was that it was the first time my dad and I connected over our mutual love of wine and I think that made it taste even better.  My knowledge of wine is still miniscule compared to my dad’s but I continue to absolutely love the learning process.


Sara Skolnick works as a theatre producer in New York City, where she has lived for the past fifteen years. She currently serves as a producing consultant for Grove Entertainment, working on a wide range of musicals in development including Tuck Everlasting and The Blonde Streak. She worked for eleven years at Broadway Across America, most recently serving as VP of Production/Director of Development, producing and developing projects for Broadway and the road. She is passionate about new musical development and oversaw Broadway Across America’s commissioning program for new theatrical artists which helped develop numerous new musicals by up-and-coming composers, lyricists and bookwriters. Prior to that, Sara worked in the industry for several not-for-profit theatres including The Roundabout Theatre Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Westport Country Playhouse. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in Comparative Literature and Theatre & Drama. She grew up in Weston, CT and currently lives on the Upper West Side.


Remember, my next monthly contest ends December 31st, so email me your entry and tell me about the wine you enjoyed the most for a chance to win a $100 wine gift certificate!

Are Wine Ratings Overrated?

I try to see humor in most every aspect of life and with a critic’s nose to the glass and pen in hand – comedy can follow. Even I – an experienced taster who often samples upwards of 200 wines each week will begin a tasting note that is structured, clear and purposeful. Example: This Muscadet is light bodied, fresh clean, crisp and dry with a slight aromatic quality. By the end of many tasting sessions, only a star or a check and words such as “buy”, or “pass”, “sucks”, or “good” mark my often illegible notes. Ah, the myth and reality of the seasoned wine professional! Not satisfied with descriptions that evoke fruit, flowers and various edibles, some wine critics have summoned descriptive powers that certainly add color to their copy but often do little to enlighten the casual wine drinker or enthusiast. One of my favorite wine notes – penned by a friend and colleague of mine – Terry Theise — is so celebrated – that it was reprinted several years ago in the New Yorker. Let me set the scene, this man is talking about German wine Riesling:

“These are astonishing, vivid, undeflected, radiantly, seethingly alive on the palate, not just larger than life, but larger than reality. Drinking them I have been moved to every emotion under the sun: wonder, sadness in the face of such utter beauty, frustration when the wine was so celestially multi-faceted I couldn’t assimilate all the flavors, shattering excitement at the sheer electricity, helpless yielding at the total seductiveness, tears of gladness, sorrow and almost rage at one wine special wine that was so fiercely beautiful I felt I couldn’t rise up high enough to meet it.” Incidentally, this quote was followed by an editorial insertion “Quick, Terry: take an Alka-Seltzer!”

It is hard enough to put sensory experience into words; it is quite another thing to understand them and most importantly for other folks to understand them.

Take for instance the word dry. Often one person’s perception of dry is another person’s idea of off-dry or fruity — or gosh forbid, sweet! Form a sentence about a wine and you have probably alienated most folks around you. Ah the language of wine. So subjective, so bloated and so inadequate. Wine speak has gotten comical to the point of absurd. With an insider’s tongue that often befuddles, bemuses and often alienates the very drinkers we are often trying to embrace.

A wine review might contain the words “jam packed tannin staining fruit with surreal amounts of extract.” Huh? It gets worse. Several years ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article whose title was something to the effect, “If your wine smells like a dirty hamster cage, it might not be a bad thing.” The article again puts forth the idea that the language of wine has gotten way out of hand, and if we continue in the direction we are going, we will soon be describing aged Syrah as smelling of Sumo Wrestlers thighs. So if the words are getting out of hand, why not try the numerical approach, another popular trend in wine reviews and ratings. Following bloated language is a score that usually rates the wine from 1 – 100 points.

What, for example, does a 96-point wine really mean? Imagine if we rated art numerically. “I give the Venus de Milo 75 points, with points deducted for each missing arm.” Or the next time you are ready to order some fish at “restaurant tres cher”, the waiter recommends his 99 point salmon in a buerre blanc sauce. The tuna is listed as an 87.

Putting comedy aside where does that leave the average consumer or even the wine enthusiast? Wine has inspired us to develop systems to create it and so it seems reasonable to attempt to develop a system of expression to understand it. These systems can vary and frankly, whether you find it as simple as I liked it or I didn’t like it (and you can answer why) or if it more complex as to have you more fully verbalize, your response must be honest clear – at the very least to yourself. Or you can do what I sometimes do. Sip, savor, smile and never say a word.

Photo of wine glass courtesy Flickr Creative Commons. Photo credit: Mr T in DC.

The Cheese Course

I love cheese!  I dream about cheese!  I eat lots of cheese. (Usually while drinking lots of wine, cocktails or beer!)  And my friend Jackie Gordon even sings about cheese.  I have been blessed to teach classes at Murray’s Cheese with a roster of awesome cheese teachers and cheese lovers!  I asked Jordan Zimmerman, director of education at Murray’s, to respond to the most frequently asked questions about cheese!  Here you go!  Read the post and buy some cheese!

What is cheese?

Scientifically, cheese is the mass of protein and fats that are separated from the whey of cultured, fluid milk, coagulated using rennet, and manipulated in a variety of fashions to produce a desired texture and flavor before consumption as a food. Less scientifically, cheese is the carefully controlled spoilage of milk. According to author Clifton Fadiman, Cheese is “milk’s leap toward immortality.” We like Fadiman.

How is it made?

All cheese starts as fluid milk. In modern cheesemaking, we pour milk gathered from the animal, pasteurized or unpasteurized, into a large cheesemaking vat and begin to gently heat the milk. We then add starter cultures, little dried bacteria that begin to nosh on the milk sugars and acidify the milk. Once the milk reaches a certain acidity, we add secondary cultures—little strands of bacteria with exceptionally long, scientific names—which act on the proteins and are responsible for the bevy of flavors in, and the final style of, the final cheese, as well as the mold that will be expressed as the cheese ages (the blue mold in blue cheese, for example, is a secondary culture). After the secondary cultures comes rennet, a coagulating agent that sticks together the proteins and fats in fluid milk and turns the liquid into what looks like a giant vat of milk Jell-O. Cheesemakers then cut the giant, singular curd, into much smaller, much more plentiful cheese curds which releases the whey, or the liquid, part of the curd. The cheesemaker then drains the whey and transfers the curds into cheese forms,where they take the shape of the final wheel. Different styles of cheeses require a variety of “tweaks” to this process, but this is the basic premise.

What makes one cheese taste different from another cheese?

Although all cheeses are an amalgamation of four basic ingredients—milk, cultures, rennet, and salt—there are a variety of factors involved in a particular cheese’s final flavor. First is the quality of the milk used the produce the cheese, which itself encompasses myriad factors: the type and breed of the animal, the type of feed the animal is eating, and the environment surrounding the milk collection and storage. One of the biggest sub-factors of this category is the terroir, or the terrain present in the location when and where the animal is feeding. For instance, if a herd of Brown Swiss cows graze in fresh spring fields in the Alps, they will ingest all manners of clover, wildflowers, and wild mountain spices, which will lend a floral, herbal quality to the milk. Beyond milk quality, the recipe the cheesemaker uses—the aforementioned secondary cultures that the cheesemaker adds during the acidification and coagulation processes—account for a huge diversity in esters, enzymes, and good bacteria that act on the proteins in the milk and result in a broad range of flavors. Even after the cheese curds have been transferred into their forms, though, the process of affinage, or refining the cheese, can play a huge role in the cheese’s final flavor. Cheeses washed in wines, beers, or brines, develop unmistakeable funk and rich, orange rinds. Cheeses placed in damp, cool aging caves or other facilities and left to their own devices will often develop a rind of ambient molds, resulting in a damp, cellar-like earthiness, and so on.

How do you taste cheese?

First of all, at Murray’s we believe that tasting is very different from eating. We eat for sustenance—we taste for knowledge, and hopefully, for pleasure. One should taste cheese just like he tastes fine wine—with all of his senses. First, examine the cheese visually. What color is the cheese? Does it have a rind? Is it solid, smooth, crumbly, hole-y? Once we have answered those questions, smell the cheese. If the cheese has been sitting out, exposed to air for a bit, break it open and sniff where the air has not touched the cheese surface. Describe the smell: is it earthy, grassy, or similar to wet stone? Do you get whiffs of butterscotch, toasted brioche, or steamed broccoli? After smelling, take a bite of the cheese, and make sure to get the paste on all surfaces of your mouth—certain areas of taste buds are more sensitive to sweetness, while others are more sensitive to acidity, and others, bitterness, sourness, and umami—together, those form the five (and only five) things the human tongue can sense. In order to taste any other flavors—bananas, caramel, freshly mowed grass—you must do exactly the opposite of what your mother always taught you to do: eat with you mouth open. Breathing in and out while eating forces flavor molecules into the back of the throat and into the nasal cavity, which can detect thousands of other flavors. If you remember none of those, remember this one mantra: it is important to taste a lot of cheese, and to taste if often. Each batch of cheese, even if it is the same recipe by the same maker, will taste different each time. That is the beauty of artisanal products—they’ll always keep your taste buds on their toes.

What should I look for when buying a cheese?

The deliciousness of a cheese is in the details. When you walk into a cheese shop, take look at the cheeses in the case and the state in which they are presented. They should be tightly wrapped and stacked so that no one cheese is crushing another or physically brushing another without wrapping. Cheese should never have pooled moisture between the wrapping and the solid cheese—a sign of potential overaging and poor handling. You should also take note of how the cheesemongers interact with the product. Handling the cheeses with gloves or bare hands are both acceptable, but both necessitate either frequent glove-changing or hand-washing. Make sure hair is pulled back and no one is tasting cheese from their bare hands and immediately handling product (yuck!).

As far as the perfect ripeness of a cheese in concerned, the visual cues vary wildly from cheese to cheese. A good cheese shop will reach for a different wheel of Epoisses the time you purchase for that evening’s impromptu girls’ night in than the time you are purchasing the same cheese on Monday for Saturday’s company soiree. The visual cues of perfect ripeness vary.

How should I store my cheese?

The best way to store your cheese is wrapped in cheese paper. Cheese paper is a specialized product, with one side coated in breathable, wax paper-like plastic, and the other a butcher-like paper, and can be purchased at any good cheese shop like Murray’s or online retailers. If you don’t want to invest in cheese paper, don’t worry. When your cheese makes it home from the shop, unwrap it from any plastic or paper coating given you by the cheese store. Wrap your cheese in traditional wax paper, and place the wrapped cheese in a Tupperware container that leaves enough room around the hunk of cheese for pockets of air. If you go this route, periodically “burp” the Tupperware container to allow the air inside to escape and new, fresher air to enter the container. Cheese does not stop aging after you slice it from a larger block, and a natural byproduct of aging cheese is ammonia (this is exceptionally present on bloomy cheeses, or white and fluffy-rinded cheeses like Brie and Camembert). If you don’t burp the container about once a day, you run the risk of having the cheese reabsorb the ammonia and taste insipid. Whatever way you choose to protect your cheese in your refrigerator, make sure you store the wrapped cheese in your vegetable crisper or similarly airtight drawer. That will ensure that no air is blowing around the surface of the cheese, causing drying of the cheese surface.

What is a cheese course and when should it be served?

Your neighborhood joint may offer a cheese and charcuterie plate under the “Appetizers” portion of the menu, offering you a plate of various cheeses, usually served with sliced meats and or/condiments. You neighborhood Frenchman would scoff, offering you the polite suggestion that you order your cheeses for dessert, not to whet your appetite. Varied dining populations and varied cultures enjoy cheese plates at varied times curing their coursed meals. At Murray’s, we say eat your cheese when you want to eat cheese. The perfect time to order a cheese course is when your palate is clear and you are ready to savor and enjoy—if that is precisely when you sit down to a multi-course restaurant experience, then order your cheeses before your main course; if that is after you quell your appetite with a few plates of greens, meats, and legumes, order your cheese as the grand finale. Whenever the cheese is served, it should be so at room temperature. Room-temperature cheese releases the most volatile molecules responsible for complex flavors.

How do I put together a cheese plate?

At Murray’s we usually start be asking, “Who is my audience?” If these are meat-and-potatoes kind of people, you may want to think of more approachable cheeses rather than mustard-on-broccoli-on-sweaty-feet-flavored washed rindstinkers; alternatively, if these are people who fancy themselves the avant-garde Andrew Zimmern, traveling around the world for fiery crickets on-a-stick and sautéed bulls testicles, you may want to choose more challenging cheeses in order to engage and excited their palates. You can, and should, be adventurous with all plates, but cheese tastings should be approachable in order for the ultimate amount of cheese knowledge to be absorbed.

Move on to asking yourself, “What is my theme?” or “What cheeses most interest me, and what do I want to learn?” Building a cheese plate is all about balance, progression, and focus. For instance, if you are the biggest Francophile this side of Paris, consider building your plate with a French theme. If you count fluffy, friendly goats in your dreams, perhaps a plate that walks through the various types of goats milk cheeses is more your fancy. If you are an equal-opportunity cheese lover and just want to learn and/or teach your friends about cheeses from all over, perhaps go with a “Cheese 101” feel, wherein the regions, milk types, and make styles of the cheeses vary. In fact, all plates should be balanced when it comes to those components. You wouldn’t want to put a 6-cheese plate together that had 4 bloomy-rinded, creamy goats milk cheeses from France, a Swiss, cow’s milk Alpine style cheese, and an American cow’s milk blue—the balance is all off, and the focus is not clear. We often find that choosing cheeses according to a generalized idea or a theme focuses the information and allows for more close comparison and more digestible learning.

Moreover, once the cheeses are selected for the plate, they should be sliced so as to accommodate one ounce of each cheese for each person attending the tasting.That is enough for multiple tastes of each cheese and plenty of discussion,while not overwhelming the belly after tasting 1 or 2 cheeses. One the cheeses are portioned, they should be plated from “mild to wild,” wherein each successive cheese harbors a stronger and more intense flavor. That is to ensure that your palate will be able to detect the softer, more nuanced flavors of the first cheeses, and not be overwhelmed by the bold, spicier flavors of cheeses like Stilton.

Should I serve any condiments with my cheese course?

Condiments should be served at the diner’s/taster’s discretion—a well-constructed cheese plate can shine just as well on its own, but who doesn’t enjoy a little something extra? If you are looking for condiments that will go well with a wide variety of cheeses, think of what all cheese has in common: salty, umami-laden savoriness. Then use a few basic pairing principles to choose your condiments. One of those principles is “like with like,” while another is “opposites attract.” Try saltier components such as marcona almonds, pickled carrots, or grainy mustards to compliment the similar flavors in cheeses. Try single-origin honeys, rich dark chocolates, or fruit preserves to provide a juicy-sweet contrast. When choosing condiments, make sure to also keep in mind the texture of the elements you are pairing—try a melty-smooth triple crème not just with honey, but with honeycomb, or a crumbly, aged pecorino with a melty-smooth spoonable caramel. Stick to general rules, rather than hard-and-fast pairings, and most, importantly, have fun!

10 favorite cheeses that can’t be missed!

  • Brie Fermier
  • VBC Coupole
  • Epoisses
  • Quadrello di bufala
  • Zimbro
  • Challerhocker
  • Ossau-Iraty Vieille
  • Cabot Clothbound Cheddar
  • Roomano 3+ year Gouda
  • Colston Ba

Murray’s Cheese – Store Location/Hours:

-          Grand Central Market
NEW YORK, NY 10017

-          Greenwich Village
NEW YORK, NY 10014

And check out this list of classes at Murray’s Cheese

National Cheese Day is June 4th, but no need to wait!  Say Cheese!

What Makes A Wine Organic?

As the movement towards health-conscious and environmentally-conscious food and drink gains steam, we see more and more wine producers getting on board, producing organic wines, and practicing sustainable viticulture.  It was only in 1980 that the first organic winery in North America went into production – today, there are nearly 2,000 organic wineries worldwide.

The definition of organic wine varies by country, but generally, to be considered organic, the grapes must be grown without the aid of chemical treatment, and chemicals must not be added to the wine during production.  Note, while many people assume this to mean organic wine is free of sulfites, which are used to provide many wines with stability and longevity, in fact wine naturally contains a small amount of sulfites, and organic wines are no exception.

In the United States, there several classifications of organic defined by the US Department of Agriculture, that indicate the degree to which a winemaker follows organic practices.  The most stringent class of organic certification belongs to those wines marked “100% organic,” which means exactly that – all the ingredients in the wine have been grown and the wine itself produced using organic practices.  Wine that carries the label of simply “organic” uses 95% or greater organic ingredients, and wine labeled “made from organic ingredients” can come from as little as 70% organic grapes and may contain added sulfites in small quantities.

Increasingly, some winemakers are going beyond even the organic classification to ensure that their entire farming and production operations reflect a responsible stewardship of the land and concern for the health of the environment.  Sustainable viticulture looks to treat a winery as a self-supporting ecosystem, where natural checks and balances are used to maintain the health and economic viability of the crops, and an effort is made to minimize the negative impact of machinery and production methods.  A vineyard following sustainable viticultural practices may looks primitive – with weeds growing between vine rows, and sometimes even horse-drawn plows making their way through the fields – but in fact, the systems used to maintain sustainability are quite advanced.  After all, a winemaker can only practice sustainability as long as he or she is able to profit from their wines, and sustainable viticulture is proving an increasingly savvy business move as well as an environmentally responsible one for many winemakers.

So, what are some of the best organic and sustainable wines to try?

Being from New York, I may slightly biased, but I know I’m not off base in mentioning Long Island’s Shinn Estate Vineyards as one of the best organic wineries out there.  And not only are their wines oragnic, but the vineyard is also the first on the East Coast to be powered completely by alternative energy.

While organic wine production is growing quickly in the U.S., France is still the world’s most prolific producer of organic wine, and among the best French producers is Chapoutier.  This celebrated Rhone region winery creates wines that are both organic and biodynamic (a particular version of sustainable viticulture).

Turning our attention back to the States, Napa Valley’s Hall Wines are drawing attention both for the quality of their vintages, and for their dedication to environmentally sounds practices, all they way from the way the grapes are grown, to shipping their products in recycled packaging.

The number of organic wineries and those that follow sustainable viticultural practices continue to grow, and quality of the wines they produce is on the rise as well.  It is a welcome trend, and one that is proving that environmentally conscious approach to winemaking and profitability can go hand in hand.

5 Tips to Being A Better Wine Buyer

Even for the most engaged wine enthusiast, walking into a wine shop can be daunting. There are often thousands of selections, labels, grapes, and producers you might not be familiar with. Compare that with the process of buying a tube of toothpaste, for example. You have choices, but not thousands – maybe a dozen. Walk in to a car dealership and it’s a similar situation – the options are fairly limited.  I’ve been there and I know that the seemingly infinite options available in a wine shop can be, quite frankly, simply overwhelming.

So, drawn from all my years of being a wine consultant, entertainer, and marketer, here are some tips that I think will make your wine shopping much more pleasurable, and more importantly make you a more savvy wine buyer…

How to be a better wine buyer

  • 1. Don’t buy a case until you’ve tried a bottle

It seems like common sense, but when faced with what seems like a great deal on a case of wine, common sense can at times go out the window.  While the wine might very well be one you enjoy, and at a great price, why take the chance on a wine you’ve never tried?  Unless you need a case immediately, a much better approach is to first try a bottle.  If it’s your kind of wine, by all means, pick up a case tomorrow!  If not, you’ll be saving yourself money, and not forcing yourself to finish nine liters of a beverage you don’t enjoy.

  • 2. Establish a relationship with a salesperson you trust at a wine store

Beyond the pedigree of a wine shop and potentially the low prices they offer, if you establish a relationship with a salesperson, and he or she gets to know your tastes, you truly have someone in your court.  Most salespeople are passionate about wine and they want to please you!  I recommend that you go into a wine shop and ask them to select several different bottles at a price point that works for you. Tell them what you like, and let them offer up some suggestions.  But please, don’t be afraid to get outside your comfort zone.  Some of the most exciting wines may come from producers, grapes, and regions you’ve never heard of.  Part of the journey of wine, in my mind, is the adventure.

  • 3. Avoid shopping on Saturdays

In the retail world, wine or otherwise, Saturday is the busiest shopping day of the week. If you truly want time to foster a relationship with a salesperson and have a more personal shopping experience, I would suggest you shop during mid morning or lunchtime hours. Come 5 o’clock you will have a flurry of people picking up that bottle for their evening dinner.

  • 4. Cost conscious?  Check the competition on (but do so with caution!)

While it might not make a difference saving fifty cents on your favorite bottle of wine, if you are seeking out established pedigree wines like Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Staglin Cabernet Saugvignon, or Dom Perignon, prices can vary dramatically. is free tool that allows you to type in the name of the wine and, like magic, prices will come up from many different wine shops around the country and even around the world.

But please note, I’m fiercely loyal to the wine merchant that I use, so I will always give them the opportunity to match a price if a competitor has a bottle for less.  Additionally, do not think that if your favorite wine shop is charging substantially more money than the competition, they are trying to rip you off.  Other wine shops may have bought the wine in deeper quantities, or pre-ordered the wine long before it was released. So while wine-searcher is a great tool, don’t overlook that being loyal to a wine merchant goes a very long way.

  • 5. Use geography to look for the values

While at the most basic level a wine’s price is determined by supply and demand, there are certain parts of the world where real estate is more expensive and wine prices will reflect that.  So, rather than seek out a $40 bottle of Cabernet from Napa Valley, try a $20 bottle of Cabernet from Chile (yes, we all know you can find Chilean wine at under $10, but in this case, spend more, it will be worth it)  If you’re a fan of expensive wines from Rioja or Ribera del Duero, check out some of the awesome Tempranillo-based wines coming out of La Mancha – they will truly surprise you.

While wine shopping can indeed be daunting, do everything you can to make it a pleasure, because at the end of the day, wine is a pleasure, and shopping for it should really be part of the experience.

Sara Moulton Shares Her Recipe for…

Thanksgiving Hens -

Rock Cornish Game Hens, a cross between a White Rock Hen and a Cornish Hen are underrated. Maybe it is because ounce for ounce they are a little more expensive than chicken or perhaps it is because they are a little scary for people who are used to chicken in parts. But they are delicious indeed, and their greatest attribute is that they are “mini.” Each person gets his or her own bird. I thought it would be nice to come up with a recipe that mimics the Thanksgiving bird but can be made in one tenth the time. So these birds are stuffed a la Thanksgiving and served with a good old- fashioned pan gravy that you can whip up while the Cornish hens are resting.


Makes 4 servings
Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Total preparation time: 60 to 65 minutes


  • 6 frozen breakfast sausages
  • 2 small onions
  • 4 slices homemade-style white bread, torn into small pieces
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Kosher salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • 4 Rock Cornish hens (1 to 1 1/4 pounds each), rinsed and dried
  • 1/2 cup white wine or vermouth, optional
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F; arrange the frozen sausages in a roasting pan and roast until cooked through, about 18 to 20 minutes. Set the sausages aside until they are cool enough to handle; then slice them into 1/4-inch thick slices. Reserve the pan. Turn up the heat to 475˚ F.

2. Meanwhile, finely chop one onion and coarsely chop the other. Combine the sliced sausages, bread, finely chopped onion, 2 tablespoons of the butter, the sage, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Season the hens inside and out with an additional 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stuff each hen with one fourth of the bread mixture and tie the legs. Arrange the hens on a rack in a shallow roasting pan and drizzle the wine and remaining 1 tablespoon butter over them.

3. Roast the hens for 20 minutes; add the coarsely chopped onion to the pan. Continue roasting for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh joint registers 170° F. Transfer the hens to a platter, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, put the roasting pan on a burner; add the broth and bring to a boil scraping up the brown bits. Whisk together 1/4 cup water and the flour; add to the roasting pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Simmer 3 minutes. Serve the hens with the sauce.­


In January of 2013, when Sara Moulton kicks off her third season as host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals,” it will be the latest milestone in a storied career that stretches back more than 30 years.  As a protégée of Julia Child, founder of the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance, executive chef of Gourmet magazine, Food Editor of ABC-TV’s ”Good Morning America,” and the host of several popular shows on the Food Network during that channel’s first decade, the diminutive chef has made her mark over and over again.  A teacher at heart, Sara’s mission has remained the same for decades:  to help the home cook get dinner on the table.

Sara is the author of several cookbooks including Sara Moulton Cooks at Home (2002), Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals (2005) and Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners (2010).  In December of 2011, she launched “Sara’s Kitchen,” an iPhone app featuring 60 recipes, 60 photos, and ten videos.

                                                                                                         Sara lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

15 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Thanksgiving

Just a sliver for me, thanks! The world’s largest pumpkin pie at 20 feet in diameter.

Some great conversation starters during the holiday!

1.  The first Thanksgiving dinner took place in Plymouth Colony in October, 1621. Plymouth is now Massachusetts.

2.  50 English colonists and 90 Wampanoag Indian men attended the meal.

3.  George Washington advocated for Thanksgiving to be an official holiday on October 3, 1789. But the holiday didn’t become official until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

4.  According to scientists, the tryptophan in turkeys isn’t the primary cause of post-dinner drowsiness. They cite alcohol and the amount of calories consumed instead.

5. More wine is consumed on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year!!!!

6.  The first Thanksgiving was a three-day affair! According to Sarah Lohman, a food historian who works at Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan, “The people who had the ‘first Thanksgiving’ didn’t really think of it as such. It was the end of the first growing season in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the Puritans threw a harvest festival to celebrate. The men went ‘fowling,’ or hunting wild birds. A large group of Wampanoag showed up with five deer. Everyone had a party for three days. They ate and shot guns for fun.”

7.  Thanksgiving wasn’t actually a unique celebration when it occurred. Long before the pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, Europeans, Native Americans and other cultures gathered for feasts to honor the harvest season and give thanks for their food and existence.

8.  The menu was pretty different than it is today. Jennifer Monac, a spokesperson for the living-history museum Plimoth Plantation told National Geographic that the guests probably would have consumed meats like venison, birds, fish, lobster and clams. They would have also enjoyed nuts, wheat flour, pumpkin, carrots, peas and squashes too.

9.  President Franklin Roosevelt is responsible for the modern date of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. He established this in 1940.

10.  About 46 million turkeys were eaten for Thanksgiving dinner.

11.  Minnesota produces the most turkeys in the US. North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, Virginia and Indiana trail Minnesota.

12.  Farmers produced about 768 million pounds of cranberries in 2012. Cranberries are native to America and the biggest producers are Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

13.  The world’s largest pumpkin pie was made in New Bremen, Ohio. Amazingly, this pie was 20 feet in diameter and weighed 3,699 pounds!

14.  The average weight of a Thanksgiving turkey is 15 pounds.

15.  Although the drinks available on the first Thanksgiving Day were not factually recorded, it is likely that the pilgrims drank mostly beer and wine.  I’ll cheers to that!

Will You Unplug This Thanksgiving?

By Thomas P. Farley

The turkey has just come out of the oven, the sweet potatoes are radiating creamy deliciousness and—of course—the perfectly paired wines have been uncorked and decanted. The only thing missing? The people! Dad is watching college football on the big-screen. Janie is texting with a friend. Shep is battling alien zombies on his Xbox. Cousin Trish is scouring Twitter for #BlackFriday deals. Gram is in the guest room, watching The Sound of Music for the who-knows-how-manieth time. And Mom is on Instagram, uploading images of a meal that looks as though it will be cold if everyone doesn’t get to the table soon! If only the Pilgrims could see us now.

The celebration of Thanksgiving has remained remarkably unchanged since its origins in the seventeenth century. After all this time, it’s still about being with family, celebrating our blessings, giving thanks, eating, and then eating some more. And yet, with many of us feeling compelled to remain connected 24/7 (whether through e-mail, web surfing or social media posting), it was inevitable that the cherished trappings of Turkey Day began to face some serious competition from our glowing screens. With this alarming shift in mind, Diane Gottsman of the Protocol School of Texas and I created a campaign called Thanksgiving Unplugged—an initiative aimed at getting families to disconnect before dining.

Diane Gottsman and Thomas Farley, co-creators of Thanksgiving Unplugged

Visitors to Thanksgiving Unplugged’s web site, Facebook and Twitter pages can download a free pledge form, and along with their families, sign on the dotted line, promising to unplug from their devices for the duration of this year’s Thanksgiving meal. If that sounds scary, sign up for our mailing list, and receive an illustrated guide containing conversation starters and activity suggestions for keeping the family engaged and entertained in the absence of electronics. Instead of fixing your gazes on LCD screens or popping in earbuds, you’ll be committing to giving thanks, savoring a good meal and enjoying the company of friends and relatives.

We had a wonderful response last year, and are hoping for even bigger things this year, as we encourage more schools and corporations to come to the table. After Thanksgiving, via Facebook and Twitter, we’re encouraging all participants to share photos and stories of how they celebrated the holiday “unplugged” and how they plan to carry some of the lessons learned from the experience into their lives the rest of the year. I know we can’t rewind the clock on technology permanently, but to Diane and me, Thanksgiving seems the ideal time for all of us to take a step back and reclaim a piece of our own humanity.

Now that the electronics are stowed, who’s ready to join me for a glass of ice wine to go with that pumpkin pie?


Mister Manners Thomas P. Farley is a nationally regarded etiquette expert, author and commentator who conducts professionalism workshops for corporations and universities around the country. For more on Thomas and his work, please visit What Manners Most, and join the conversation with him on Facebook and Twitter.

The Wine I Enjoyed The Most – October Winner!

October 2013 Winner, Chris Struck (Photo by Aliza Eliazarov)

Join my monthly contest, “The Wine I Enjoyed the Most,” for a chance to win a $100 wine gift certificate!  Tell me about the wine you enjoyed the most in 200-300 words and email me your entry.  It doesn’t have to be an expensive wine, and it may well not even be the “finest” wine you ever tasted – just a wine experience that you can’t stop thinking about.  Our next contest ends November 30th, so start typing!  And keep sipping!


And here are last month’s winner! Chris Struck has won a $100 wine gift
certificate. Read Chris’ story on the wine he enjoyed the most!

A few years ago, while working at a wine shop in Miami, I was introduced to what has become my favorite “everyday” Champagne (if one day I can ever afford to drink Champagne everyday): the NV Champagne Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs Avizé Grand Cru RM.

I love this wine for many reasons. One, it retails at only $42, which is a steal for Champagne. Secondly, I am a total blanc de blancs guy: I love Burgundian Pinot Noirs, but tend to lean towards Champagnes that are 100% Chardonnay. Stylistically, this wine is super yeasty: billowing with heady notes of biscuit and brioche; characteristics that I absolutely love in my Champagne. Finally, I love this wine for its scarcity in distribution. Selling the wine in Miami meant that I had a virtually limitless supply of the stuff (several of my paychecks were liquidated in this manner). But here in New York, it is difficult to find (despite having a NY-based importer). As a result, any time I fly to Miami or Miami friends fly up here, a case of Bonville is always sleeping in someone’s luggage. This is truly a beverage that brings people together.

This is the bottle I give friends for Champagne-level occasions (I’m the sort of guy who believes that getting out of bed and facing the day every morning is Champers-worthy!) and this is the wine that I share with students when teaching wine classes (I call it the “gateway Champagne”).

And after crashing with my cousins in Paris for two weeks after the grape harvest of 2013, I wanted to thank them by procuring a bottle of this from a Paris shop for them to sample. I ended up spending an entire day combing the streets of Paris on tips gotten from the Bonville Champange house itself (they, like all good wine producers, had no idea who currently sold their wine). When I finally found the wine, I paid twice as much for it in Paris than I ever had in Miami. The things we do for good juice!


Chris Struck credits his upbringing in a large, hybrid French-Deeply Southern U.S. family in the coastal city of Destin, Florida as what incited his passion for food and beverage at an early age. He began cooking professionally within Chef Tim Creehan’s fine dining group at the age of 14, and supplemented his formal restaurant apprenticeship with self-study trips, cooking and vinifying throughout Europe, to gain greater knowledge of regional cuisines and wines.

A culinary internship at Chef Tom Colicchio’s flagship Craft, while a student at Johnson & Wales University, convinced Struck that New York City was where he needed to call home. Chris later immersed himself in the wine world, working for Total Wine & More and Zimmerman’s International Wine Imports, and gained certifications from the Wine &Spirits Education Trust, the Society of Wine Educators, and the Deutsche Wein und Sommelierschule in Koblenz, Germany. In addition to his current role as Senior Vice President of Sales for Terrell Wines, Chris consults for Connors Davis Hospitality and recently served as Wine Coordinator for StarChefs International Chefs Congress. He is
also completing an Executive MBA in Food Marketing degree at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

Chris enjoys using his food and beverage talents to give back, most recently with his involvement in the Destin Charity Wine Auction Festival and with Give Kids the World, a wish-granting charity for terminally ill children.


Remember, my next monthly contest ends November 30th, so email me your entry and tell me about the wine you enjoyed the most for a chance to win a $100 wine gift certificate!

The Saucy Queen


Michele Northrup, aka The Saucy Queen! has been burning down the competition within the fiery food industry. Her all-natural gourmet hot sauce company has won more than 50 national awards within five years.  She is on fire! Her Intensity Academy product line has created a Spicy Buzz within the Fiery Food industry.  Her line has evolved into a variety of all natural, tea infused marinades, ketchups, dipping sauces & hot sauces.

The concept for the first sauce was dreamt up from a school project. While working in the garden at her sons’ school, Michele, wanted to promote the yield from the garden.

“The vegetable of the week was carrots. We all brought a basket of them home to experiment. I thought the natural sweetness of the carrots would balance the heat of the peppers. I made a few varieties of a carrot based hot sauce. The feedback from the students, staff, friends & family was amazing! I went to the local grocery store looking up & down the shelves & saw there was not anything similar to this sauce. I really jumped right into it without looking back. I figured WORST-case scenario everyone I knew would get hot sauce for Christmas! Now, 5 years later, I am so grateful for this Saucy Life.”

I have asked The Saucy Queen to share some insight on Hot Sauce!  Enjoy the read!  Enter to win a Saucy pack from Michele.  Details at the bottom of the post.  Deadline: November 15th!

Hot Sauce 101

Within the fiery food world, hot sauces come in a wide variety of tastes and flavors from mild to extreme heat levels. Me, I like it on the hotter side but with flavor. Just like no single bottle of wine goes with each dish…I feel the same about sauces. The variety of  blends can be as simple as just peppers with vinegar to complex combinations with an artisan flair. Just as varied as our sauce choices, are individuals heat tolerance or lack there of.  I’ve had folks tell me my mild bbq was too spicy for them. Yikes, that’s the mildest we got! Wimpy tastebuds aside, most can agree that sauces are literally HOT right now!

Let’s explore some of the Saucy Science behind peppers:

  • Capsicum is what makes peppers hot. Capsicum is a colorless, crystalline compound (try to say that 3 times fast!)
  • Water will not help alleviate a peppery kick: try dairy (I’d rather try wine next time)
  • When it comes to heat, size does matter. Typically, the smaller the pepper, the hotter it is. (Yes, I did go there!)
  • Just one teaspoon of hot sauce can provide 100% RDA for Vitamin A. (better just chug the bottle!)
  • Do not take your contacts out shortly after chopping jalapeños (don’t ask or try this at home!)
  • Peppers contain more vitamin C than oranges per volume (just don’t juice em’)

Although heat is important in a quality hot sauce, I feel tasting layers of flavors in the sauce is the key. Anyone can chop up peppers and call it a day, but it takes culinary creativity to balance flavors with a kick. Sauces should enhance our culinary experience, not just drown out the flavor with heat.

Cheers! Here’s to Getting Saucy soon!

Wanna try Michele’s sauces? You can enter to win a Saucy Pack by commenting on the Michael Green Fan Page

Additional Information on Intensity Academy Sauces can be found at:

Saucy Recipe! Chai Pad Thai


Prep Time: 10 mins | Cook Time: 30 mins | Makes: 1 serving | Difficulty: Medium

Once you go Chai Pad Thai….you’ll never order out again! Fresh veggies blended with the Organic tea infused teriyaki sauce is a culinary dream come true!


  • 1 bottle Chai Thai Teriyaki (12oz)
  • 1 lb whole wheat linguini
  • 1 cup snow pea pods
  • 2 cups broccoli
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red peppers
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • optional
  • 1/2 cup toasted cashews chopped roughly


  • Pour full bottle of Award Winning Chai Thai Teriyaki into a 4 qt pot. Reduce at a simmer medium heat by 1/3 or until thickened. Aprox 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, boil linguini 8 minutes until al dente’. Place remaining vegetables into colander and pour linguini and boiling water over vegetables.
  • Place all ingredients together into the Chai Thai reduction and toss with the olive oil. Cook on medium heat for an additional 5 minutes until everything is well blended. Toss and serve hot or cold.

Chai Thai Teriyaki is a two time Golden Chile Winner 2009 & 2010. An amazing stir-fry, roasting, marinade and pad thai sauce!

Twitter: @SaucyQueen
Instagram: SaucyQueen


Smashberry is everything that’s great about its birth place – Paso Robles.  Paso Robles is California’s new Wild West, where young winemakers are making the world take notice of their big brash wines.  Unlike most areas in the world where they grow fine wine, there are not rules about what can grow in Paso Robles, so instead they grow everything.  Smashberry might seem more conventional at first as a Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, but they throw in some Petite Sirah just to SMASH things up.  As the label conveys, this is not a wine for the feint of heart.  It’s a big bold tribute to what Paso Robles does best.

Smashberry is made by the fifth generation farming family, the Miller family, who first planted grapes in Paso Robles in 1973.  Nicholas Miller is a fifth generation farmer in California and this year was named by the Wine Enthusiast this year as one of the Top 40 under 40 Tastemakers in the USA.

I adore this wine and I recently had a lovely opportunity to speak with Nicholas and I can’t wait to get out to Paso to meet him in person!


MG: Why did your family make Smashberry?

NM: Most of the wines our family makes are elegant Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and restrained Cabernets.  Smashberry was the opportunity to pull the rip cord and let loose.  We set out to make a fun wine to bowl people over, and now it’s being high jacked by the fine wine crowd.  Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave it an 88 (unheard of for a Central Coast wine at this pricepoint) and The Wine Enthusiast put it on their list of Top 100 Best Buys for 2013.

MG:  What is the perfect pairing for Smashberry?

NM: The big fruit taste can be the cranberry to go with your turkey, but also great with BBQ, ribs, steak, or cereal in the morning.

MG: Where did the name Smashberry come from?

NM: A good friend, Ray Sodeika, named it – but won’t reveal his inspiration.  When he told me the name, I thought, perfect, that conveys everything we wanted to tell people about this wine.

MG: And when you’re not drinking Smashberry?

NM: Dark beer – love porters and stouts.  I like to browse the craft beer section of stores, because it’s a good reminder of how most people probably feel walking into the wine aisle – totally overwhelmed and no idea where to start.

Note: This wine is ridiculously priced at $14.99!  If you want to try a bottle, call 212-787-1700 or email Cliff Korn at

The Miller family winery in Pasa Robles – home of Smashberry


Wine Alert! October 2013

Going into the fall and harvest time I knew I wanted to select wines that I could enjoy during the longer, cooler nights. Although my process was more involved than I anticipated I think you’ll appreciate my final decisions.  This month’s selections were inspired by my youngest brother and his family, who I recently had the chance to visit in San Francisco. Both wine are from the same vineyard– a rare occasion for me. However, I have different reasons for choosing each of them. This winery might not be a household name but it is probably only a matter of time before it’s more fully-recognized. These selections are certainly worth searching out. They are both balanced and beautifully structured… creamy and yet layered with hand-crafted complexity. They embrace a terroir (a sense of place)  that reminds me why I love Napa (when the price is not vulgar!!)…and family owned vineyards.  These wines rock!  

Here are my October picks:

Truchard Vineyard Roussanne 2012 
(Napa Valley, California)

SRP:Price: $22.99
OMG Price: $17.50

Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
(Napa Valley, California)
SRP:  $29.99
OMG Price $21.99

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit, call 212-787-1700 or email Cliff Korn at

Also, remember this pricing is only available through November 15th, 2013

Read more about these wines are why I adore them! …  

Truchard Vineyard Roussanne 2012 
(Napa Valley, California)

SRP Price: $22.99
OMG Price: $17.50

Five reasons why I love this wine:

  • 1. Napa’s isn’t only about Cab! This Rhone-origin varietal seriously makes that case.
  • 2. Roussanne is versatile and complements the delicious flavors that make up a fall feast.  
  • 3. The creamy texture, aroma and layered complexity make it a go-to if you’re weary of high-end and over-oaked Chardonnay.
  • 4. Hello! The price.  (And it’s from Napa!) 
  • 5. Heck, if you love white, this is one that’s rich and plentiful and can be enjoyed long after Labor Day.


Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
(Napa Valley, California)
SRP:  $29.99
OMG Price $21.99

Five reasons why I adore this wine:

  • 1.  You’re probably enjoying their wine already! The Truchards have been selling their grapes to premiere wineries since 1973.
  • 2.  With a nose of plum, cherry and cassis and a hint of cedar, this would make for a great pairing with a roaring fire or a hearty winter entrée
  • 3.  The earthiness! The clay, shale, sandstone, limestone, volcanic ash and rock in this diverse vineyard. Farming is in the Truchard family and the “terroir” of Carneos really comes through
  • 4.  The genuine authenticity of the winemakers. Cool story *see below*
  • 5.  The price!   And it’s from Napa!

Note: Both of these wines are a nice investment – both drinkable upon release, but will also gracefully age for the next 10 – 15 years.

* That cool story I mentioned… After getting married to Jo Ann, Tony Truchard enrolled in the army as an officer to pay off his medical school tuition. Then in 1972, he received orders to move to South Korea.

At the time, Tony had planned to bring their growing family of five along with him but fate intervened. Jo Ann, who was 8 1/2 months pregnant with their fourth child, slipped on a grape while grocery shopping and broke her knee. Given the circumstances, Tony’s commanding officer, reconsidered and stationed them at a base in Herlong, California instead.

Looking to get away from Herlong, the couple started taking long drives through the Napa Valley. Upon seeing all the vineyards, Tony thought it would be interesting to buy some land, plant a vineyard, and then return to Texas to practice medicine. He used his savings to purchase an abandoned prune orchard in Carneros, a region in the southernmost part of Napa that was mere pastureland at the time. The rest, as they say, is history.

Gerardo Luna: Why Being A Foodie (And Telling the World About It) Is A Noble Cause

Shrimp and Grits

Every new generation brings with them a faster and more powerful way to interact with the world. This generation is no exception. The world is no longer a vast place with unlimited natural wonders to discover, now the world’s boundaries are being redefined every day. When there is a lack of adventure in the physical world, we begin to merge the virtual and the physical.

Perhaps you are one of those people who enjoys taking  pictures of their meals, or perhaps you are one of the ones who thinks that taking pictures of food is just weird, silly, completely hedonistic and useless to society.

One thing is for sure. We all are surrounded by this behavior. And documenting or not documenting, one thing is universal for all of us : WE LOVE FOOD.  In fact,  I have news for you, ready?

Real Tacos

Civilization, as old as it sounds, is a new invention compared to the millions of years prior to agriculture. Around 5,000 years ago the introduction of agriculture allowed us to settle, to invent history (writing skills) and to develop as a community.  In fact the Louvre Museum in Paris holds the stone on which the Hammurabi Code, dating back to about 1772 BC, was written.  The penalty of death for those who waste beer is well explained on this very stone.  Needless to say we still enforce penalties for those beer perpetrators.

We can move up pretty quickly to the industrial revolution, and all the way to the actual information revolution that is our current playground.  Today our social interaction and mental activity explodes with thousands and thousands of interactions and new information coming from every angle and corner.  With that as an introduction, what would you say is your most urgent and important fundamental activity of the day? Checking your email?

Nope… and I’m afraid it isn’t to go check your social media status either.

Red Snapper


The most important single primitive and fundamental act of your day is actually… the most basic, but not less important act of just plain chewing something… that’s right my friend, to feed yourself.   Civilization and human interaction boils down to food. That’s why we go to work everyday. To put food on our tables.

Without the proper nutrients you can’t function. No proper brain activity to check your smartphone, no sex, no peaceful interactions (only possible with a happy belly) and not even anything for you to do on the toilet if you haven’t eaten.

Food is the spark of everything. It has been the case for 2 million years and will continue to be as long as we try to evolve to a state where we don’t kill ourselves. So, judging our current state, we are not doing a good job.  And one of the solutions to this predicaments is, you guessed it… more food!

In a world when there are very few unexplored places, the new territory to conquer is the concrete and steel jungle we live in. We the foodies, are the new explorers, the ultimate adventurers.  The restaurants and eateries along with the best meals we have ever experienced, are the equivalent of the discovery of ancient ruins with piles and piles of gold…or perhaps handmade rice noodles and the best prosciutto.  You get my point.  You my friend are the one responsible to unravel the mysteries of food and its pleasures.

Pouring Champagne

We enjoy taking pictures of our experiences and we love to share those experiences with our friends, to tell everyone that the party of dancing flavors we have in our mouth is just simply out of this world!

But then, you might think, why would people care about an image if they can’t experience what my taste buds are screaming right now?  How come the colors in a picture can’t be as good as flavors?

Trust me… your friends will experience it. They will do that and more and chances are it will happen because of you.  You’ll see, the next thing you’ll know you will be seeing them checking in for lunch in the same place you were and ordering something even tastier than what you had last time you were there. So the magic combination will find its way to happen.  You will notice that color and flavors will bring people together.  Afterall that’s the major social component of food. It brings people together.

Feed them (and take pictures of the process) and they will come, grasshopper.

But the adventure is far from being over, your social media interaction transcends to a higher sharing conjunction. It translates into spreading the news  to food markets, butchers, bakeries, produce markets, festivals, ethnic foods, spices, ingredients, cooking techniques…etc. You name it.

And something marvelous will happen. Something powerful and magic.

Hamburger and Vodka Martini

With that picture you just took, you will actually trigger your friend’s and follower’s desires to go to a produce market to try new things.

You see? You just changed the world again. At least one bite at a time.

You’ll see that the effect of sharing is so powerful, that we are shaping our world without even noticing.  It is food democracy in its splendor, and it’s powerful because it works! You vote with your fork, and social media channels tell the world. It’s an act of combined Magic.

Our foodiness is helping to conserve the rainforest, to make food manufacturers change their production model so they can cater to us, the foodies, with what we are demanding. With our food experience and exchange, we can save them the trouble of market studies.

You’ll see that those who crave flavors, also want to chew with responsibility.

We are telling them plain an simple what we want. And that my friends is powerful!  You get to vote every day of your life!

You can see that now, organic food awareness is obvious for most of us, when perhaps a few years ago it was just a “trendy” consumer habit and not entirely understood. Now we have more and more local fresh markets. We are starting to support our local producers more and more and at the same time, we are witnessing the processed food industry take a more healthy direction.

Red Thai Soup

You can now say that perhaps, kids are getting better nutrition, chronic disease is being stopped, labor rights are getting improved, and many other positive things, but wait…. I forgot…Maybe we are taking this too far…

You thought taking pictures of food was silly right?

What I’m going to tell you is something you already knew all along.  You are powerful beyond all measure.  It’s you with your food habits and education that have the power to change the world and to change it for good.

So please, I hope you understand that this is my way to tell you,  that you have a noble cause.

Go out there and  take more pictures on Instagram, create more Hashtags, increase foodspotting collections, create new and better apps.  The world is waiting for you and your  food experience. And more than ever you have the chance to be a voice in these times. Use it!

Strawberry Pesto Snacks

Regardless of your generation, we all have power like never before. The world as you know it now, can be transformed through food.

Columbus discovered America, because of the need of spices (next time look at black pepper with more respect). Wars were fought over farm lands and herds. The food supply has always been and always will reason enough to change the world.

Today although different, we are the new adventurers. The new explorers.

Don’t waste your opportunity to chew and make a difference. And don’t forget to tell me how good it was and to snap a picture or two of your last meal.  You have to be our eyes and taste buds, when we can’t be in the places you are in.  That’s your mission, be the world’s eyes and taste buds!

Food and Wine to the People!!!  We live in a new democracy, a democracy where we get to vote every day, a democracy where our vote really matters. Don’t let your fork go silent, Go out and make a difference. And please share it! We all want to know!  Because by now.. I hope you know you are not being silly. You have a noble cause.

About the Author:

Gerardo Luna is a Food and Commercial Photographer. He combines his passion for food and photography to create wonderful imagery. Gerardo enjoys talking about food and photography so you can always feel free to reach him:


And enjoy more of Gerardo’s food photography below!


Zucchini with Curry

Thai Soup


Pork Belly and Red Pepper Jelly

Table for Four

Hibiscus Margarita

Double Latte

Mimosa with Fruit

Green Curry

Maduro Beer

Buñuelo and Panacota

The Wine I Enjoyed The Most

Join my new monthly contest, “The Wine I Enjoyed the Most,” for a chance to win a $100 wine gift certificate!  Tell me about the wine you enjoyed the most in 200-300 words and email me your entry.  It doesn’t have to be an expensive wine, and it may well not even be the “finest” wine you ever tasted – just a wine experience that you can’t stop thinking about.  Our next contest ends November 1st, so start typing!  And keep sipping!

And here are last month’s winners! Aaron Silva and his wife have won a $100 wine gift
certificate. Read Aaron’s story on the wine he enjoyed the most!

Aaron Silva: I’ve been in the Coast Guard for 9 1/2 years and my last tour was in Petaluma, CA where I lived just minutes from Napa and Sonoma County. I remember one beautiful afternoon in 2010, my wife and I traveled to Napa, and visited the Hess Collection Winery attempting to learn something about wine from one of the folks working in the tasting room. One of the Merlots we tasted was delicious. We used the word ‘spicy’ to describe the wine. It seemed like we were participating in an unauthorized wine review from the reaction we received from the other guests at the tasting. They went out of their way to ensure we knew that this Merlot was NOT spicy. Ok, we obviously didn’t have a future in wine critiquing, but that single event encouraged us to learn more about wine and avoid awkward situations in the future.

MG: Aaron my friend. After spending several days with you and your wife, I can assure you that there will be more awkward situations!

AS: In 2013 my wife and I took a wine cruise aboard a 140 year old Schooner – The Stephen Taber out of Rockland, Maine.

The Schooner Stephen Taber

Onboard we were fortunate to be introduced to one of America¹s top wine and spirit personalities Mr. Michael Green.

MG: Aaron, no need to spread it on so thick. You’ve won the competition.

AS: Each night, we were afforded the opportunity to watch this man put on a 5 star performance while he educated the crew on the wines we were tasting. One evening we anchored off one of Maine’s beautiful islands, took a rowboat to shore, and had a lobster bake on a beach we had to ourselves.

At the lobster bake we tasted through 8 wines but one wine stood out - a 2010 McCay Zinfandel that was absolutely delicious – coming from someone who has a lot of practice drinking red wines.

MG: Aaron you have had practice in gulping beer. Not wine. That will change my friend. Aaron, you can continue…

AS: This particular wine stood out to me. It had a nice dark color and an oaky bouquet with notes of wild raspberry. While it seemed to be a touch soft, upon entry, the wine had great acidity and became more lively than the nose suggests. It was medium bodied, nicely balanced and had a smooth finish that went perfectly with the lobster, cilantro, and sriracha-marinated steak tips the Taber provided.

MG: Aaron you missed an opportunity here. This wine is “spicy!” You can use that word to describe many Zinfandels so put it in your back pocket.

AS: We all know wine is GREAT, but under the right conditions with the right people, wine can transform an experience into a memory that will last forever!

Thank you Michael for transforming our trip into the perfect memory with the best wine I have ever tasted!

- Aaron Silva


A 27 year old, Masshole Native, Aaron J. Silva joined the Coast Guard
at the ripe old age of 18 years and 33 days back in 2004. He spent the
1st year of his Coast Guard career in Northern California, also known as
wine country. Unfortunately, at the time he was underage and couldn’t
drink legally. He received military orders to a Coast Guard Cutter in
Boston, which required him to get underway for months at a time,
protecting the U.S. navigable waterways from terrorist threats and any
drug trafficking attempting to come into the country. In 2008, Aaron
received orders back to wine country where he partook in multiple
adventures to Napa and Sonoma county vineyards, legally this time. In the
beginning of 2011, the girl of his dreams, Stephany Lopez, moved in w/
him from Waltham, MA to Petaluma, CA. The two love birds were married
just a year and a half later. Aaron and Stephany are now homeowners in
the town of Billerica, MA with their Yorkie and Morkie babies, Petey and
Luna. As Aaron’s Coast Guard career progresses, the Silva’s family
adventures continue, Cheers!

Bringing Back Sunday Supper

Isabel Laessig, better known as “Family Foodie,” is passionate about her family and believes that we can empower our families by nurturing them around the family table.

She is on a mission to Bring Back Sunday Supper around the family table in every home. It starts off as one day a week and soon becomes a way of life.

In this busy world of “hurry-up and get it done” with splintered families who eat too many solitary meals, Isabel Laessig is the voice and inspiration behind FamilyFoodie, a blog promoting her passion to slow families down and connect them by reviving the tradition of gathering around a dining table one night a week—on Sunday. For Isabel, sharing a meal with good food and good conversation is a way to build family bonds. Working with a passionate group of bloggers who share her quest, she launched #SundaySupper with family-friendly recipes. The concept took off, thriving through various social media channels, and earning over two million #SundaySupper weekly followers.

As the mother of four, she realized the impact that Sunday Supper had on her children the day her oldest left for college.

When asked what she would miss most, Alexandra her 18 year old daughter, responded that she would miss the times they spent around the kitchen table.

Isabel is spreading the word of her mission by working with a group of bloggers that are as passionate about #SundaySupper as she is. Every week they blog about a #SundaySupper theme and now reach over 2 million followers with their recipes every week on twitter, facebook, pinterest and instagram.  When she is not on social media, you can find her at her boys’, Ronnie, Reis and Riley, football games.

I am so excited and honored to join our Sunday Supper Team as a drinks contributor!   I l will be sharing my thoughts on food and drink pairings with bloggers from around the world.  Stay tuned!

The Magic of 43

Liqueurs are fantastic for adding exciting flavors to cocktails, and I’ve found one that is liquid gold (literally!). Licor 43 is one of Spain’s most well-kept secrets with a history as unique as its taste.

The first records of the liqueur date back to the Roman Empire, when the Roman Legions were conquering the ancient Spanish city of Cartagena, also known as Carthage. They found an intoxicating elixir that was being produced by the locals using native herbs and spices, 43 of them to be exact. The Romans banned its production and destroyed their facilities, but the locals kept making the drink in secret and it eventually became very popular among high ranking Roman officials, coming back into production due to high demand. Today, the company is owned by the Zamora family and only three members know the recipe for the liqueur, keeping it a closely guarded secret.

Licor 43 displays notes of vanilla and citrus evocative of its birthplace on the Mediterranean.  This smooth combination is delicious on its own but can also be used as a “secret weapon” in cocktails, providing a well-rounded, interesting twist to drinks.

One fun way to serve Licor 43 is also one of the simplest: the “Mini Beer”.  To make the Licor 43 Mini Beer simply chill the bottle of Licor 43 and some shot glasses.  Fill the glass 2/3 with the cold liqueur, then top with heavy cream.  The floating cream creates the look of a tiny lager!  Watch the video here! 

Doesn’t this look awesome!  And the taste is decadent!

These decadent treats are ideal for tailgating and serving at fun cocktail parties – served with sliders they look like beer but taste like a milkshake – a perfect pairing!

Here are some other drinks where 43 adds that special and final touch…

Dark & Stormy 43

Licor 43 adds a smooth vanilla note to this classic tropical cocktail.

  • 1/2 oz Licor 43
  • 1 1/4 oz spiced rum
  • 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz pineapple juice
  • 2 dashes bitters

Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel and a pineapple wedge.

43 Sangria

Add Licor 43 to your next batch of Sangria for a new profile on this classic drink.

  • 1 1/2 oz Licor 43
  • 1 oz red wine
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 oz fresh orange juice
  • 1 dash bitters

Shake well with ice into a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with oranges, apple slices and grapes.

Carajillo 43

A very traditional Spanish drink, Carajillos are perfect enjoyed after dinner.

  • 1 1/2 oz Licor 43
  • 3 oz espresso

Pour ingredients in a glass over ice and serve.

43 Pineapple

This tropical concoction will take you straight to the beach.

  • 1 1/4 oz Licor 43
  • 1/2 oz Luksusowa Vodka
  • 6 oz pineapple juice

Shake and strain over fresh ice in a highball glass and garnish with an orange wheel.

Vin Santo is not from Italy!

Now that I’ve got your attention!…  Vin Santo is produced in Italy, usually in the famed region of Tuscany but its origins date back to Greece Specifically to the island of Santorini.  SANT-orini!  (Get it?!) I tasted a version that was honey in a glass.  A wine that, while you can enjoy it now, will also outlive us all!

The Wine: Sigalas Vinsanto Santorini

The Grapes:  Assyrtiko 75%, Aidani 25%

How is it Made?  Grapes are spread inside nets over the ground, under the sun for about 2 weeks, and undergo natural dehydration. The water evaporates and the sugar becomes concentrated. Fermentation takes place in a temperature controlled environment. When the alcohol level reaches 9% the fermentation stops naturally. The wine then ages in old oak barrels for a minimum of 24 months.

The Price: $53.00

The Taste:  Bright, orange-golden color, amber, as a result of the sun drying process and the extended ageing in the barrels. The nose is aromatic, complex, with scents of dried and sugared raisins and apricots.  The palate shows exquisite structure, acidity and finesse, with a strong, long-lasting aftertaste. Aging potential is unlimited. Try it with strong flavored cheese, sweet dried fruit or chocolate.

The History:  

Vinsanto is the most genuine descendant of the “passon onion”, as were called the sun dried wines in antiquity. The name Vinsanto is a historical name of appellation, one of the few still existing.  Originally, the wine’s Greek volcanic island of origin in the Aegean Sea was named Thira.  During the Byzantine era, the Venetians took control of the island and renamed it Santo Erini, or Santorini, so the wine took the name “Vino di Santo,” declaring its origin, as was the custom – a name which later became simply “Vinsanto.”  Vinsanto was especially prized during those Byzantine years, when the Venetians controlled the trade routes of the Mediterranean.


5 Tips for Selecting Wine for Your Host

One of the worst things about working in the wine world is that when I have friends over to dinner, most are too intimidated to bring me a bottle. They’ll bring dessert or a bouquet of flowers, but never wine. And what a shame! I’m open to trying new things! It’s easy enough to go into a wine shop and ask for recommendations when you know what’s for dinner, but what happens when you don’t know? Here are five down and dirty tips to make you come out smelling like roses. From my friend and colleague, Lori Varsames.

1.    Buy from the Old World: The concept of the big brand is purely a New World phenomenon, and while big brands create big sales, the brand recognition among consumers tends to create awareness about price. If you bring the $5 bottle with the cute little animal that’s on billboards everywhere, everyone will know it cost $5. Fortunately, in this case, European wines are a blur of confusing names to most people.

2.    Don’t shell out the big bucks unless you’re trying to impress: Let’s get real, folks. Wine is a consumable good and…(shhhh!)…very few bottles out there get better with age. So don’t sweat it—there aren’t many people who can taste the difference between a $30 wine and a $50 wine anyway. Remember that taste is subjective, so put the focus on the quality of the selection rather than the price tag. And yes, you can still get a delicious bottle of wine for under $15.

3.    Go for the food-friendly crowd-pleaser: Medium-bodied wines are always the safest bet. Too much acidity might have you reaching for the Zantac and too much tannin might numb your palate. If you opt for white, think of Soave, a Burgundy, or an Alsatian Pinot Blanc. If you are more inclined towards red (a better bet in most cases), consider an inexpensive red from the Loire Valley, a Dolcetto or an Austrian blend.

4.    Don’t be afraid to ask for advice: A decent wine shop doesn’t have to be fancy, pretentious or expensive. It just has to have knowledgeable people and a good selection. Try to strike up a relationship with a salesperson you trust and don’t be afraid to ask for food-friendly wines!

5.    Take a picture on your smart phone before giving the bottle away: There’s nothing worse than having an esoteric name of a winery, cuvee, or grape on the tip of your tongue but not being able to remember it.  If your host or hostess poured your wine, and if you liked what you tasted, this could be your last chance to remember what it was so you can buy it for yourself. Snap a pic, and you’ll have it handy on your phone when you’re out shopping again.

About the Author:

Lori Varsames got her first exposure to wine by leading bike trips throughout France’s wine regions. Shortly after, she got her first job in the business working for Grape Finds, a retail wine concept in Washington, DC.  This set her off on a 14-year adventure in the trade. Today, she is a copywriter and marketing consultant for wineries, retailers, importers and travel companies. You can visit her site and read her blog at

Wine Alert! September 2013

It took me a while to make my September Wine Alert selections but I know it was worth the wait.  This month’s selections are inspired by the 2nd and 3rd largest wine producing states in the US – Washington and New York.   Many of these wines are overlooked by the press, trade and consumers due to their limited distribution but please seek them out! This month I have done that “work” for you!  I found two selections that are aromatic, mouth-filling, complex, understated but ample…lively, creamy……two attractive and memorable wines that don’t hit you over the head with a heavy dose of alcohol.  In short, I love these wines; they have personality.

Here are my September picks:

Shaw Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011
(Finger Lakes, New York)
Reg Price: $16.99
OMG Price: $13.50

Sleight of Hand “The Spellbinder” 2011
(Columbia Valley, Washington)

Reg Price $24.99
OMG Price $19.99

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit, call 212-787-1700  or email Cliff Korn at

Also, remember this pricing is only available through October 15th, 2013

Read more about these wines are why I adore them! …  

Shaw Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011
(Finger Lakes, New York)
Reg Price: $16.99
OMG Price: $13.50

Five reasons why I love this wine:

  • 1.  If you think that all Finger Lakes wines are foxy, lean and insipid, this wine will convert you.
  • 2.  If you think that all cool climate wines are lean with mouthwatering acidity this wine will convert you.  (It’s got the acid for sure, but the mouthfeel is lush and creamy.)
  • 3.  Being a New Yorker it feels good to support the wineries in my state.  (If you live out of state, put some dollars into our coffers!)
  • 4.  Perfect for vegans.  It is vegan-friendly, with no eggs or fish products used in the fining of this wine.
  • 5. I adore well made Sauvignon Blanc!  This one is an under the radar screen stunner.

Note:  I beg you, I implore you…ok I respectfully ask you…do not over chill this wine.  Serve it cool, not ice cold.  It will taste even better!

Sleight of Hand “The Spellbinder” 2011
(Columbia Valley, Washington)
Reg Price $24.99

OMG Price $19.99

Five reasons why I adore this wine:

  • 1.  Washington State is home to some of the finest Merlot in the world.
  • 2.  This wine is supported with some expected and unexpected blending partners. The cepage? 50% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Malbec, 9% Syrah and 2% Sangiovese.  (Sangiovese?!  In Washington?  Crazy!  Love it!)
  • 3.  Cool story *see below!*
  • 4.  I am onboard with other members of the press who are calling Sleight of Hand the next generation of Washington wineries.
  • 5.  In the winemaker’s words: “The fresh red and black fruits are buoyed by bright acids that are the hallmark of the cooler 2011 vintage in Washington State. The Spellbinder has always been crafted with the idea that wine is meant to be paired with food and shared with friends, and this vintage is no different. Although this wine will certainly age gracefully, it is already approachable and will make a great table companion to roasted meats, pasta, and poultry dishes. ”  I agree! 

*  That cool story I mentioned… In July of 2002, Jerry and Sandy Solomon were at the Sun Valley Wine Auction, enjoying the wonderful weather and tasting some incredible wines. They happened upon a table that was occupied by none other than Trey Busch, who was then making the wines for a small Walla Walla winery. Along with the amazing wines, Jerry and Sandy fell in love with Trey’s charismatic personality….so much so that they invited him back to their house the next three years to host a winemaker’s dinner. It was at these dinners that Jerry and Sandy decided to take a trip to Walla Walla. After one visit, they knew that this place was special…the community of winemakers, the historic downtown, and the beautiful Blue Mountains sucked them in. It was then that Trey dropped the bomb on them that he was looking for a partner for a new winery. Who would have thought that a chance meeting at a wine tasting would set in motion what is now Sleight of Hand Cellars.

So, there they are!   My two Wine Alert picks for September.  To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700 
or email Cliff Korn at


Cacao: When Money Really Did Grow on Trees!

A brief look at how chocolate goes from bean to bar by the Divalicious Jackie Gordon 

The first time I saw and tasted a dried cacao bean, I thought, “WHAT? This is where chocolate comes from?!!! It’s a good thing I had the finished product first because I would have never believe it.” The second part that is even harder to believe is it used to be CASH! Money really did grow on trees! WHY NOT NOW!

Chocolate is made from cacao beans. Cacao beans are the seeds of cacao pods which are the fruit of the cacao tree known in Latin as “Theobroma Cacao” meaning the food of the gods. Ask any chocoholic and they will agree the name is quite appropriate.

Humans have been consuming cacao for over three thousand years and I believe that humans initially learned to eat cacao beans from animals. The cacao pods look like small footballs. When you open them up, the seeds are enveloped in this white soft fruit that is reminiscent of bananas. When they’re fresh the seeds are nasty — inedible. Humans and animals would have eaten the fruit and spit out the seeds on the rainforest floor. But after a few days the animals came back and ate the seeds.

The humans would have seen this and thought,”What the heck is going on?” A brave one would have picked a seed and tasted it. It was not too bad. He or she told their friends and eventually we got delicious chocolate.

So what happened? Lying on the ground the seeds fermented and it changed the flavor and made them tastier. I say tastier because they are still a far cry from what we know as chocolate. But back in 1500 BC you ate what you could get. Historians trace chocolate back as far as the Olmecs who preceded the Aztecs and the Mayans as chocolate lovers. They did not know the joyousness of chocolate as we do. They made a bitter drink out of it which they flavored with vanilla and spices.

But it was VALUABLE, these beans were money. For instance 30 cacao beans would buy you a rabbit or a prostitute… From the Mexicolore website: “This list of prices also includes examples such as the following (all in cacao beans): one small rabbit = 30, one turkey egg = 3, one turkey cock = 300, one good turkey hen = 100 full cacao beans or 120 shrunken ones, one newly picked avocado = 3, one fully ripe avocado = 1, one large tomato = 1, one cacao bean = 20 small tomatoes, one cacao bean = 5 long narrow green chiles, a large strip of pine bark for kindling = 5… This was in 1545, but the relative idea is there.”  Since the cacao beans were money, you had to be rich to drink it. It was predominately consumed by noblemen and the military.

The Europeans got their hands on cacao the old fashioned way — they took it. The Spanish brought it back to Europe. Sugar was added to it and in the 1800s the Dutch discovered how to extract the cocoa butter from the beans and eventually we got chocolate bars and chocolate bon-bons!.

This poster shows how chocolate is made from bean to bar.  Next time you eat chocolate remember to give props to the brave Olmec who dared to eat the first bean.

An excerpt from ”Chocabaret: a tasting of NY artisan chocolates set to music” with Singing Chef Jackie Gordon

Come to CHOCABARET: Where An Artisan Chocolate Tasting Meets A Cabaret Show. Listen, laugh, learn as you taste bon-bons and bean-to-bar chocolates from New York’s finest chocolatiers matched to songs by singing chef Jackie Gordon. Buy Tickets To Chocabaret, October 20th, 1pm and 4pm at the Metropolitan Room, NYC

Why Write A Wine Tasting Note?

There are really two purposes to a wine tasting note:

  • The first is to communicate the aspects of a wine to another person. Since wine and the sensations of aroma and flavor are so complex, someone that takes on the task of describing it faces a challenge not unlike that of describing a work of art. Describing a great wine so that a person who has never tasted such a “masterpiece” can share the experience could even be equated to describing the work of one of the great masters to a blind person – not easy but possible.
  • The second, and I believe more important, purpose of a wine tasting note is to capture the tasting experience for yourself. If done well, a tasting note read months or even years later should bring back the tasting experience in vivid detail, and let one recall the special and unique elements of that particular wine.

The very act of writing a tasting note also helps one focus on a wine and its characteristics. Over centuries of trying to capture a wine’s characteristics with the pen, people have utilized styles ranging from poetry and song to very strict cut-and-dry scientific terms.

Fast Fact!  The world’s first wine critic!

Roman Historian Pliny the Elder rated 121 B.C. as a vintage “of the highest excellence.”

Believe it or not!


If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy My Favorite Wine Description – Ever!

My Favorite Burger – Fork and Knife Required

My favorite burger that you can eat with your hands is still Landmarc.  Marc Murphy does an extraordinary version.  The meat is crispy on the outside and flowing with juices on the inside.  The bun is made in house, the fries are some of the best in NY and the side salad cleanses the palate!

But I now want to announce my favorite burger that needs to be eaten with a fork and knife!

This is the Beef Wellington Burger!  Let me whet your appetite:

Lean prime chuck beef from Gachot & Gachot (purveyors to Peter Luger) is mixed with rendered foie gras, finely chopped sautéed shallots and oyster and porcini mushrooms.  Then it is cooled then seared.  Topped with MORE mushrooms, and rolled in puff pastry. Baked in 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes (for medium-rare).  Served with truffle sauce and haricot vert.

Bring the lipitor!

When can I find this burger you may ask!  Read on my friends and fans, read on!

This is the first time in this restaurant’s  49-year old history that they are even offering a burger.

In a city as busy and fast-paced at NYC, it can be easy to forget about the old and focus on the new.  It’s always cool and hit to discover something new and the “hottest” but Manhattan is filled with genuine institutions that deserve to be recognized and celebrated.

Two words: Le Périgord.

A 49-year old classic French restaurant on Manhattan’s Midtown Eastside (far eastside!).  Founder and host Georges Briguet, along with this son Christopher Briguet, set a gracious tone at this haute French favorite, welcoming all to experience fine French dining in a relaxed, yet refined ambience.

Helming the kitchen is Executive Chef Joel Benjamin (Lutece, NYC), who has been with the restaurant for over twelve years. Specializing in classic French cuisine, Benjamin serves original dishes that are unique to Le Périgord, such as his delectable Alsatian Onion Tart, a savory appetizer that leaves one craving for more. Other specialty appetizers include Fricassée d’escargots au beurre de noisette et champignons des bois (escargots in hazelnut butter with wild mushrooms); Foie gras chaud aux fruits de Saison (warm foie gras with seasonal fruits); and La bisque de homard (lobster bisque). For the main course, Benjamin offers more traditional French fare, from Le filet de loup de mer á la Dijonaise (filet of bass with creamy country mustard sauce); to Boeuf Bourguignon (traditional beef Bourguignon); and Foie de veau meunière (calf liver with lemon butter sauce).

Le Périgord, which is named after a region in France, is known for its graceful tableside service of Sole Anglaise meunière, ou grillée avec sauce moutarde (Dover sole, with lemon butter meuniere sauce, or grilled with mustard sauce); Duck a l’orange (duck with orange sauce); and Carré d’agneau rôti á la croûte de thym frais (roasted rack of lamb with a fresh thyme crust). Guests should undoubtedly save room for its irresistible desserts, including Grand Marnier Soufflé, and its legendary “temptation trolley” of desserts which includes timeless favorites as Tarte Tatin, Chocolate Mousse and Floating Islands. Le Périgord’s wine list also pleases all with a fine selection of both old and recent vintages, offered at pricing that is reasonable.

With its comforting, old-world feel, Le Périgord, a Sutton Place landmark, delivers an elegant atmosphere for diners to enjoy superb French cuisine. Spaciously set white-clothed tables, many with banquet seating, make up the lovely main dining room.

According to The New York Times, “Le Périgord has been a dignified presence on the dining scene. It’s a French restaurant the way French restaurants used to be.”  And now you can get a burger!

The burger with all the sides is 18 bucks.

Le Périgord (405 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022; 212.755.6244;
Open for lunch Monday to Friday, and dinner every evening.

Got a burger story?  A burger that I must try?  As long as it don’t start with the letters “Mc” let me know.

For more Le Périgord food porn, scroll down!

Lobster Bisque


Crab Cake


Loin of Lamb


Nice Legs!

Are legs the sign of a well made wine? It’s a question I hear every day – let’s walk you through the facts…

The answer? Nope.  Let’s call that Wine Myth #207!

What the French call the “legs” – and what the Germans call “cathedral windows” – are the streams that flow down the glass once you have swirled the wine around. These are often thought to mean that the wine is especially good. All they really indicate is that the wine is rich in glycerine and/or high in and alcohol and/or has a high amount of residual sugar. Legs are pretty to look at but they give you no indication if the wine is actually good.

If you liked this post you might enjoy Stemless Wine Glasses:  Why I Dislike Them.

Pluot & Pomegranate Matzo Nut Crisp

By Susan Palmer 

Matzo, as I discovered this weekend while making my crisp is truly a hidden treasure.  When forced to eat it for 8 straight days one can get a little, shall we say tired of it.  However in the “off season” matzo, not so bad! Think of it as a really big cracker with endless possibilities.

Today’s matzo talk is because I want to share with you a fantastic documentary I learned about while attending the Food and Wine Conference back in July.  I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Levine, the filmmaker, and Michael Green, the producer (and wine expert extraordinaire).  They discussed the film - Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream and I was immediately hooked.

I grew up in a Streit’s house and I loved hearing about the history of the matzo factory.  Still based in the Lower East Side of New York City, Streit’s is a family run operation.  They refuse to modernize the facility and to relocate despite numerous offers.  Streit’s is rooted in family tradition, and it’s one of the many things that drew me to this film.

Streit’s: Matzo and The American Dream is currently in the editing process but I couldn’t wait until Passover to share it with you! For anyone not familiar with matzo, during Passover we cannot eat leavened bread for 8 days, and instead eat matzo which is unleavened bread made of just flour and water.

You can learn more the documentary at their website and if you are so obliged there is a little donate button too.  Michael and Michael are making this film themselves and I would love to see to the final product released!

With Rosh Hashanah now upon us, I always think about family traditions. When my family gathers we almost always enjoy the same meal – even better when mom cooks some of it! As innovative as we may be in our day to day dinners, sometimes you just need to stick with what works best, what you love and what is traditional.  This is one of the reasons why Streit’s is still standing since 1925 and my family continues to gather year after year.

Pluot & Pomegranate Matzo Nut Crisp  (Print)

Author: Susan Palmer
Recipe type: Dessert, Fruit
Serves: 2
  • 4 pluots, pits removed sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons cane sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 sheet whole wheat matzo, finely crushed
  • ½ cup chopped assorted nuts (such as walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and almonds)
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
  1. Heat your oven to 375 degrees F. Place two individual baking dishes (about 4-5oz in size) on a baking sheet.
  2. In a small bowl toss together the pluots, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch.
  3. In a second bowl, mix together the crushed matzo, chopped nuts, brown sugar and salt.
  4. Divide the pluots between the two dishes – leaving any excess juice behind.
  5. Evenly top with the topping and place the butter on top of each dish.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the topping is brown and crisp.
  7. Let cool for 5-10 minutes and top with pomegranate seeds before serving.
A native New Yorker, Susan loves experimenting in the kitchen using local and seasonal ingredients and adapting recipes to her urban environment.  Self taught, she took her passion for food and created the food blog The Girl In The Little Red Kitchen.  She is the winner of the 2011 and 2012 Brooklyn Cookie Takedown and the 2012 Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown.  In her free time she watches sci-fi, participates in local cook-offs, and can be seen around Brooklyn with her husband and pug.

Wine IN Eggs!

Chef Marc Murphy serves one of the best Eggs En Meurette in the States, at Landmarc.

When I was 7 years old, I began to add eggs and sherry into the blender and push puree. I guess working with my dad at Acker Merrall really rubbed off on me. I was cooking with alcohol at a very young age! While the cream sherry added a dash of sweetness to my omelette, it has not stood the test of time. (That, according to my brothers, is an understatement.)

Thankfully Eggs en Meurette has stood the test of time and has been prepared for centuries. The dish translates to eggs poached in red wine. It originated in Burgundy and I have been blessed to have started my day with many versions before beginning my wine writing adventures on the N74 route.

On the state side, I think my friend and celebrity chef Marc Murphy prepares one of the best versions, at Landmarc. He has graciously shared his recipe with me. Thank you chef!  While the recipe calls for red wine, I prefer to specifically use wine from Burgundy (Pinot Noir grape) or Beaujolais (Gamay grape)

(Serves 4)


2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound slab bacon, cut in large 1/2 inch dice
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cups red wine
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 cup sliced grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
8 eggs
4 1/2-inch thick slices country bread, grilled, cut in half
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large saute pan over medium heat add oil and saute bacon until brown, about 10 minutes. Add onions and garlic, sauté until onions are soft. Add mushrooms and cook until tender. Add one cup red wine and reduce by half. Add beef stock and cook until reduced by half. Add butter and cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in parsley and tomatoes. Set aside and keep warm.

Combine red wine vinegar, remaining cup red wine and 2 cups water in a shallow sauce pot . Bring to a boil, then lower heat and gently simmer.

Crack eggs into individual cups and drop one by one into simmering red wine and vinegar mixture, cooking 4 eggs at a time. Cook eggs 3-4 minutes, drain on paper towel and place on top of grilled bread slices. Top with mushroom mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Terroir – What on Earth Is It?

What on earth is it?

Earth? Place? Soil? Microclimate? Somewhereness? “Earthence”?

There is not one word in the English language that conveys all of the nuances of this holy grail in the wine world….

Leave it to the French…

French terminology has now been adopted nearly world-wide to indicate the unique combination of climate, soil composition and location that is believed to contribute to the quality and character of a wine.

In plain English:

The tastes in a wine that are the direct result of where it is grown.

How do you pronounce it?

ter-wah (think of Catwoman – Ter-wahhhhh)

The debate….

Is terroir an emotion? A ghost? A fantasy? Does terroir even exist? What’s more important, nature vs. nurture?

Terroir: The Long Answer

As with any plant, the soil that a vine is planted in will influence its growth, health, vigor, and production. Most winemakers prefer well-draining, rather infertile soils for their vines. This may seem counter-intuitive, but in order to make quality wines it is imperative. The main component to the final wine’s quality is the vine’s yield of grapes. The viticulturalist seeks to minimize the nutrition, both of water and minerals, in order to stress the vines. This stress causes the vines to produce fewer, more concentrated grapes making for greater flavor and aroma complexity, as well as sugar and acid balance.

By planting in well-drained soils, the vines pull from a more reduced and constant supply of water. Therefore the vines are rarely inundated with water, which prevents over-swelling of the grapes that would make for diluted wines. This water stress encourages the vine’s roots to dig deep and spread out in order to access the deeper, purer underground water sources.

The deeper the roots reach, the more varied soil layers they will be tapping water from, increasing the complexity of the grape and wine composition exponentially.

The soil color, stones, and rocks influence how well the soil will retain heat – which is especially crucial for cooler climate viticulture because it aids in ripening. The darker the earth and the more stones present, the greater the heat retention. In some regions low on sun, the stones are also used to reflect the sunlight onto the vine!

The soil’s acidity will also be reflected in the wines.

Viticulturalists and winemakers have long observed that the soil also contributes to the aroma and flavor profiles, as well as the structure and even longevity, of a wine – and this concept is one of the most important contributing factors that lead to the notion of “terroir”. Terroir is the French term now used internationally to indicate not only the landscape and soil composition of a vineyard, but also factoring in the influences of the local climate, the mesoclimate (that of a specific vineyard plot, which can vary within a few yards), sunshine days, and prevailing winds. In true French romanticism, the winemaker will often ascribe some other factor to his terroir as being the unique differentiating attribute of his vineyard, making his wines impossible to replicate anywhere else. This notion is unquestioningly espoused in most of Europe, especially in France, but is practically absent in most of the New World winemaking lexicons. Only recently have these winemakers begun to embrace the effects of the terroir on the wines produced. New World winemakers were for so long caught up in displaying their personal styles through their wines, but are now beginning to let the wines be “made in the vineyard” with nature’s hand playing the most crucial role in a wine’s personality.

How to Shuck Corn, by a Corn Star

By Nikki Miller-Ka

“Shuck it! Shuck it like it’s hot!”
That is what my friends were cheering as I shucked ten ears of corn in a corn shucking contest sponsored by my local farmer’s market. I did this in a minute!  I entered the contest as a joke after hearing that I’d be up against the city’s mayor. After a hot summer night fueled with corn liquor and the promise of a hangover, my friends decided that I should enter, invite all of our friends and have a cheering section with all of us wearing t-shirts, hats and buttons.

“Shuck, Yeah.”
“Shuck Off.”
“Shuck You.”

And a series of other inappropriate texts about shucking all night long and shucking it “where the sun don’t shine” continued into the wee hours of the morning.

As a young girl, I shucked corn in my grandma’s kitchen but I never had to be fast or remove all of the silk strands.

The day of the contest, I arrived at the market with adrenaline coursing through my veins with intentions to beat the mayor. That was my goal. As I stepped inside the building, my friends were waiting with a t-shirt with my face on it emblazoned with the phrase, “Corn Star” which was the most tame moniker we came up with that corn liquor-fueled night. Along with the shirt, my friend made an over-sized corn stalk made of egg crates, tissue paper and burlap strips. Filled with dried corn kernels, it rattled if you shook it. Overcome with emotion and gratitude, I was more determined than ever to beat the mayor.

I beat everyone! I beat the mayor, all of the adults and half a dozen small children. Unbeknownst to me, I also won $25 and bragging rights until 2014. I was featured in the local newspaper, was a guest on a radio show (my interview starts at the 26 minute mark) where they called me “the Joey Chestnut of corn shucking”, and fans and friends alike keep tagging me in Instagram photos of corn and tweeting photos of themselves eating corn.

All of the shucked corn went to a local soup kitchen and I used most of my winnings to purchase food for Second Harvest Food Bank. I kept $2 for myself and purchased some corn to make Southern Succotash. Nothing says summer more than sweet, fresh corn. Nothing says Southern more than a skillet full of succotash. A mix of vegetables, butter and a skillet showcase the season’s best. Try this recipe because it’s definitely not sufferin’.

Southern Succotash
Serves 8


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, seeded, deveined, and cut into 1/4-inch dice OR 2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into small dice
  • 2 ten-ounce packages frozen lima beans, rinsed under warm running water and drained
  • 3 cups fresh (4 ears) or frozen corn kernels
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, heat oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add lima beans and corn. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Wine Alert! – August 2013

August has been hot!  Literally and figuratively.  This month’s selections are inspired by the summer heat and no AC is required!  In lighter months I tend to steer towards wines that are lighter and more refreshing in taste.  For red wine lovers – no reds this month.  (but please read on!)  For me August is about white and rosé.  These are selections that beat the heat – outdoors or inside.  These are wines that speak to my core belief of “somewhere-ness.”  They speak of place.  They do not taste like they were created in a wine marketing boardroom.   Please keep in mind that these wines are produced in small quantities, so be sure to make haste if you want to try them.   I know it sounds “salesy” but it is true!  The friends and fans pricing is valid until September 15, 2013.

Here are my August picks:

Bodegas Olarra Reciente Rosado
(Rioja, Spain)
Reg Price: $10.99
OMG Price: 9.50

Merlin Macon La Roche Vineuse 2010
(Burgundy, France)
Reg Price $21.99
OMG Price $17.50

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700  or email Cliff Korn at

Also, remember this pricing is only available through September 15th, 2013

Read more about these wines are why I adore them! …  

Bodegas Olarra Reciente Rosado (Rioja, Spain)
Reg Price: $10.99
OMG Price: 9.50

Five reasons why I love this wine:

  • 1.  Great rosé can hail from other regions than Provence and there is no need to spend $50 on a bottle of Domaine Ott!
  • 2.  While Rioja is best known for its reds, there are some killer rosé wines coming out of this famed region.
  • 3.  Tempranillo, Spain’s noble grape, is the backbone of some of the greatest rosés in Spain and the world.
  • 4.  This is a rosé that is DRY, contemplative and complex with flavors of crushed red berry fruit and a clean bright finish.
  • 5.  Price can’t be beat!
Merlin Macon La Roche-Vineuse 2010 (Burgundy, France)
Reg Price $21.99
OMG Price $17.50

Five Reasons why I love this wine:

  • 1.  If you love Chardonnay you need to try this wine.
  • 2.  If you hate Chardonnay because you think that all versions are too oaky and creamy you need to try this wine.
  • 3.  If you think you need to spend $50 plus dollars on a bottle of white Burgundy you need to try this wine.
  • 4.  Glorious notes of lemon and apple with just a kiss of oak.  Delicate and complex.
  • 5.  Reread point #3
Wine Geek Speak:  

Quaternary clay-limestone soil (Bathonian, Bajocian)
Exposure: south to south-west
Altitude: 230-280 m
Slope: 5% to 20%
Grape variety: Chardonnay
Planting density: 8,000 plants per hectare
Average yield: 60 hl/ha
Picking: by hand.
Soil working.
Vinification: Direct, slow (5-8 hrs) pressing of whole crop and very gentle settling.
Battonage: 85% undergoes alcoholic fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats and 15% in oak barrels.
100% malolactic fermentation. Bottling follows 18 month’ elevage and light filtration.
No fining.

So, there they are!   My two Wine Alert picks for August.To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700
or email Cliff Korn at

Peach Blackberry Basil Daiquiri

It’s the heart of peach season here in New York and in many parts of the country right now.  And few things satisfy more thoroughly than a well-made drink using sweet in-season peaches! So when my friend and food blogger, Susan Palmer (AKA The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen) came to me with this awesome recipe, I knew it was a thrill that needed to be passed along…

A native New Yorker, Susan loves experimenting in the kitchen using local and seasonal ingredients and adapting recipes to her urban environment.  Self taught, she took her passion for food and created the food blog The Girl In The Little Red Kitchen.  She is the winner of the 2011 and 2012 Brooklyn Cookie Takedown and the 2012 Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown.  In her free time she watches sci-fi, participates in local cook-offs, and can be seen around Brooklyn with her husband and pug.

Susan Palmer, AKA “The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen”

Peach Blackberry Basil Daiquiri

Peach season has finally arrived and the aroma of a fresh, sweet,
ripe peach evokes fond memories of visiting the local peach farm as
a child.  As delicious as peaches are alone or in a pie, they also make
a fantastic addition to a cocktail.  The sweet and sour flavors play off
nicely in this Peach Blackberry Basil Daiquiri and are complemented
by the anise flavor of the basil.


2oz fresh peach puree
1 1/2oz white rum
1oz lime juice
1/2oz simple syrup
4 fresh blackberries
1 basil leaf, cut into chiffonade


In your cocktail shaker (alternatively use a mason jar with a lid) place the blackberries, basil and simple syrup.

Muddle until the blackberries are just broken up.

Pour in the peach puree, rum and lime juice.  Shake well to combine.

If using a cocktail shaker pour over a glass filled with ice or add ice to your mason jar.

Garnish with lime wedge and additional blackberries.

Strawberry Red Wine Cream Cheese Brownies

Nikki Miller-Ka (@niksnacks) is a food blogger, freelance writer and professional cook based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  She is also a new friend.  

She writes about her life as a foodie, culinary professional, and everything seasonal & regional for her blog, Nik Snacks. Bite it and write it. That’s what she does!  Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications in the Southeast. She’s worked as a chef, a pastry cook, a butcher, a baker, and cake decorator. She travels with her grandmother’s cast-iron skillet, ready to cook at a moment’s notice!

How we met – In her own words! :

I met Michael Green during the first ever Food & Wine Conference in Orlando, Florida. We were brought together by a swirl of cream cheese full of spicy red wine, strawberry jam in an award-winning brownie. I entered and won the Dixie Crystals Brownie Dessert Contest with my Strawberry Red Wine Brownie. As part of my prize for winning the contest, I was awarded a full conference pass and my brownie was to be the featured dessert at Sunday Supper during the conference. Before dinner commenced, this loud, dynamic captivating individual took to the stage to teach the room a 12-week wine course in a mere 20 minutes: Michael Green. He filled the room with his voice, his spirit and exuberant personality. He took the room on a wine journey. Armed with selections from the Gallo Family Vineyards arsenal of wines, we learned the 6 S’s of wine tasting: See, swirl, smell, sip, swish, spit.

I did not enjoy the first wine AT ALL. This tart, acidic Pinot Grigio was not anything I was interested in sipping again. Michael asked, ”Is there anyone who did not like that wine?” With all of the confidence in the world, I raised my hand to show my disdain for the wine. Much to my chagrin, my hand was the only raised one. I thought I was being punk’d. I looked around for additional cameras or Ashton Kutcher to jump out from behind someone’s chair. Michael invited me to come to the stage to help with a demonstration. He asked why I did not like the wine and I told him. He offered me a slice of lemon. Excuse me, he offered to feed me a slice of lemon. I accepted, bit the lemon, and sipped the Pinot again. “This is infinitely better,” I proclaimed. And it was. And so has been my life since I met Michael.

And now… the brownie!

Strawberry Red Wine Cream Cheese Brownies

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Bake/Cook Time: 26 minutes

Yield: 12 brownies


Strawberry Red Wine Cream Cheese

  • 8 ounces softened cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup Dixie Crystals Extra Fine Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup reduced Pinot Noir (or other red wine of choice)
  • 1/4 cup sugar-free seedless strawberry jelly
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour


  • 2 sticks of butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups Dixie Crystals Extra Fine Granulated Sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (optional)


Red wine reduction:

  1. Place 1 cup red wine in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 1/4 cup (about 15 minutes).
  2. Place wine in a bowl; let come to room temperature.
  3. Spray with baking spray or lightly grease and dust with flour, a 9×13 in. pan and preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Cream cheese:

  1. Place the cream cheese in a standing mixer and beat until fluffy.
  2. Add 1 egg, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, 1/4 cup red wine, 1/4 cup strawberry jelly and 1 tablespoon of flour to the bowl. Mix until all smooth. Set this aside while preparing brownies.


  1. Mix together the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth.
  2. In a seperate bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and flour.
  3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients by whisking until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips (if using). Pour one-half of the batter into the pan.
  4. Use a knife or an offset spatula to spread the batter into corners of pan. Pour cream cheese mixture over the batter and then pour the additional half of brownie batter over the cream cheese. Swirl the batters together decoratively with the tip of a knife or spatula.
  5. Bake for 26 – 30 minutes. Test brownies before removing from the oven.  A toothpick placed in the center of the pan that is clean with a few moist crumbs is done. If the toothpick comes out completly clean the brownies are overbaked.
  6. Let cool completely before slicing.

The History of the Toast

You may have wondered just what a roasted slice of bread has to do with the practice of offering a toast? The two couldn’t seem more unrelated.

As early as the 6th Century B.C., the Greeks were toasting to the health of their friend’s for a highly practical reason — to assure them that the wine they were about to drink wasn’t poisoned. To spike the wine with poison had become an all too common means of dealing with social problems — disposing of an enemy, silencing the competition, preventing a messy divorce, and the like. It thus became a symbol of friendship for the host to pour wine from a common pitcher, drink it before his guests, and satisfied that it was a good experience, raise his glass to his friends to do likewise.

The Romans, impressed by the Greeks in general, tended to handle their interpersonal problems similarly. It’s no surprise then, that the practice of toasting was popular at Roman get-togethers as well.

The term toast comes from the Roman practice of dropping a piece of burnt bread into the wine. This was done to temper some of the bad wines the Romans sometimes had to drink. (Much later, even Falstaff said, “put toast in’t” when he was requesting a jug of wine in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor.) The charcoal actually reduces the acidity of slightly off wines making them more palatable. In time, the Latin tostus, meaning roasted or parched, came to refer to the drink itself. In the 1700′s, party-goers even liked to toast to the health of people not present — usually celebrities and especially beautiful women. A women who became the object of many such toasts, came to be known as the “toast of the town.”

By the 1800′s, toasting was the proper thing to do. Charles Panati reported that a “British duke wrote in 1803 that ‘every glass during dinner had to be dedicated to someone,’ and that to refrain from toasting was considered ‘sottish and rude, as if no one present was worth drinking to.’ Oneway to effectively insult a dinner guest was to omit toasting him or her; it was, as the duke wrote, ‘a piece of direct contempt’.”

Restaurant Wine Tips & Trends

Throughout the decades, we have seen a change in the way that America eats and drinks.

Today there is a culinary renaissance throughout the United States, as talented chefs, using the world as their pantry, tantalize us with a range of creative tastes and flavors.  And the world of wine also continues to evolve, as winemakers, taking their cue from both the land and modern technology, produce glorious flavors from the vine.  The offerings are varied – from comforting and prolific Chardonnay and Merlot, to more exotic wines produced from such grapes as Muller-Thurgau and Pinotage.  For many, where wine is not the beverage of everyday, it is through dining out that we explore the world of wine.

Welcome to the restaurant wine experience!

We all have our share of restaurant horror stories relating to wine.

Tales of inept waiters, incorrect vintages and price gouging are common – especially in New York where wine is so often sacred to the dining experience.  But the current state of restaurant wine programs, while still much in need of improvement, is a story filled with promise and exciting new trends.

On a macro level, many restaurants no longer view wine lists and beverage programs as an afterthought, but rather as an integral part of the dining experience that can brand the identity of a restaurant.  Restaurants are coming to the realization that wine lovers love destination restaurants that are havens for the enjoyment of wine.  The reality of this trend can take its shape in many forms and fashions with wine programs that are as idiosyncratic as the cuisine.

New York area restaurant patrons are more likely to find wines from Long Island vintners like Bedell Cellars than in times past.

Most important is a newfound understanding of the relationship and synergy of the wine and food experience.  Wines are selected for their compatibility to the cooking style of the restaurant.  And beverage directors are drawing from an ever-increasing list of global selections from such diverse regions as the North Fork of Long Island, South Africa and New Zealand.  Each wine is on the list for a reason.  Perhaps it hits a certain style point or price point.  The wine list, like a food menu, is a finite list of selections that can lead the gastronome on a glorious culinary journey.

Wine trends to look for at a restaurant near you:

  • Fair Pricing.  The price issue has long been hit a sour note for many us.  Our eyes darting to the right hand side of the list long before we look at the selections!  Savvy beverage directors are utilizing varied pricing.  Inexpensive wines may be marked up greater – yet still being quite reasonable – while more expensive selections are priced more affordably to “reward” a wine lover in search of a special selection. To look for: Wine lists that level the playing field by offering a short creative list of wines all at the same price.
  • Creative Organization.  While some restaurants continue to group their wine selections by color and in ascending order of price, other establishments choose to further subdivide their list by region and grape variety.  Or you might come across a progressive wine list where the wines are grouped in ascending order of body and flavor.
  • Quality Pours: No longer are we offered nameless, faceless red and white wines by the glass.  In its place are “premium pours” of higher quality wines.
  • Half Bottles: Half bottles continue to have an increased presence on many restaurant lists and are a wonderful way to sample a range of wines throughout the evening.  Also, if some of your guests prefer white while others prefer red, half bottles are a nice option.
  • Flights:  Wines by the glass and or the half glass are grouped together as a tasting.  These flights can be of wines from a single grape variety such as Chardonnay or a region or country such as “A Taste of Tuscany” or “Le Tour de France”.
  • Wine List on Computer: This gives the restaurant the ability to update selections and vintages on a daily or regular basis if necessary.  No longer will a server tell you that the “we are out of this selection.”
  • Just Desserts: An increased array of dessert wines and fortified wine that can be a splendid way to linger over a wonderful evening.

The Four Noble Grape Varieties

While there are thousands of grapes that can be used to make wine, there are four grapes that are referred to as “noble grape varieties.”  This quartet is known the world over for producing quality wine in many parts of the world.

1.         Riesling

Riesling can produce wines of high acidity and elegance in very cool growing conditions.  Its wines usually show fresh fruit flavors and a zesty character.  Riesling has the ability to produce wines that run the gamut from bone-dry to very sweet but are usually made in dry or semi-dry styles.  It has perfumey aromas with peach and honeysuckle notes and can develop a ‘petrol’ nose as it ages.

Riesling does best in cool climates and is very resistant to frost.  It is planted very widely in the northern European growing regions but is less popular in other areas of the world.

In the right circumstances, some of the finest sweet wines in the world can be made from Riesling that has been affected by Botrytis Cinerea.  This mold attacks the skin of the grape and concentrates the sugars in the grape by allowing the water to evaporate.  This is especially true in the Moselle and Rhine river valleys of Germany as well as the Alsace region of France.  These wines are at the same time:  wonderful, rare, expensive and long-lived.

All French are Great Lovers.

All Blondes Are Dumb.

All Foreign Films are Brilliant.

All New Yorkers are Rude.

All Rieslings are Sweet.

(Sometimes the conventional wisdom isn’t wise at all)

*reprinted from an advertisement for Chateau Saint Michelle Riesling.

2.         Chardonnay

The Chardonnay grape variety is a classic white wine grape grown all around the world. The original fame of Chardonnay comes from its success in the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France. White Burgundy must be made from the Chardonnay grape unless the label indicates it was made from a much less well known grape, Aligoté.

Chardonnay takes oak well, and many higher priced Chardonnays are typically fermented and/or aged in oak barrels. When Chardonnay is aged in oak barrels, it may pick up vanilla overtones in its aromas and flavor.

Chardonnay also ages well in the bottle, though it will not age as long as many red wines. It likes slightly cooler climates (warm days/cool nights) and develops less acidity than Sauvignon Blanc. Some producers put their Chardonnay (or some of it) through malolactic fermentation which reduces crispness and brings out a rich, buttery taste. This usually shortens the life of the wine as far as aging is concerned.

3.         Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is one of the most difficult grapes to grow and make into fine wine.  It is also one of the very best when it is done properly.  It has very specific requirements for its growing conditions.  It needs warm days and cool nights.  If Pinot Noir receives too little heat in the growing season, its wines are thin and pale.  If the growing season is too warm, the wines have an overripe, cooked flavor.

Pinot Noir produces a small crop.  It has low amounts of tannin and relatively high acid levels for a red grape.  Pinot Noir found its fame in the Burgundy region of France where it is the primary grape used for red wines. It is also a major component in the production of most fine quality Champagne and California sparkling wines.  The state of Oregon in the United States appears to be an upcoming growing area with the right conditions for Pinot Noir.  Some promising wines are also starting to come out of New Zealand.  It is known as Spatburgunder in Germany where the cooler climate produces wines that are crisper and lighter than elsewhere.

Strong cherry and strawberry aromas and flavors are often the most notable components in these wines.  The aging potential can range from 3 to 12 years depending on the quality and style of the wine.  Pinot Noir is very versatile in its ability to match up with foods.  Grilled seafood is an especially good match with most wines made from Pinot Noir.

4.         Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is the premier red wine grape in the world.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape in the Bordeaux region of France and has spread to every other major growing region.  The Cabernet Sauvignon grape produces distinctive wines that are tannic and can have long aging potential.  Average aging potential for Cabernet is 5 to 10 years in order to achieve peak flavor.   It is usually blended with other varieties to make wines with increased complexity.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a small dark thick skinned grape that gives average yields.  It needs slightly warmer growing conditions than many other varieties in order to achieve maturity.  DNA testing shows that it is descended from Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.  Cabernet Sauvignon is known in some parts of the world by other names including: Petit Cabernet, Sauvignon Rouge, and Vidure.

The primary taste characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon:  dark cherry, cedar, tobacco, black currant, cool climate growth can give green pepper or olive.  Up to 18 months of aging in small oak barrels before bottling Cabernet is common in order to achieve more complexity.

When you think of the finest red wines in the world, you often are thinking of wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Four Wine Terms Well-Worth Knowing

Four Wine Terms Well-Worth Knowing

  • Acidity: A natural and important structural component of wine. The acid element is especially important in white wine.  It is the element that leaves our mouth fresh and crisp and stimulates the appetite.  Too much acidity in a wine and the wine tastes sour or acidic; too little acid and the wine will taste flat and clunky.  Wines that are high in acidity work very well with foods that are salty, spicy, or fatty.  High acid wines can also work well with foods that are high in acid such as tomatoes or greens. Generally wines that are higher in acid come from cooler climates – where the grapes do not have the opportunity to get as ripe.  Think Champagne, Loire Valley, Germany, New Zealand.  Postive descriptor:  ”This Sancerre is fresh and crisp with a bright snappy finish.”  Negative descriptor:  ”This Vinho Verde is like biting into a lemon – too acidic.”
  • Tannin:  This compound is found in the skins, stems and seeds of grapes and is perceived by the mouth as astringent.  Wine with a lot of oak treatment can exhibit tannin as well.  It is the tannin component that contributes to the structure and longevity of many red wines.  While too much tannin in a wine can offer a very bitter impression, if the tannins are well balanced with the elements of fruit, acid and alcohol, the results can be wonderful.  Tannins bind with proteins, so taking a full-bodied red wine that is high in tannin and pairing it with a protein such as a meat dish, will result in a smoother, more mellow taste.  Positive descriptor:  This Pinot Noir is well balanced with soft and integrated tannins” Negative descriptor: “This Tannat from Uruguay is tannic and is sucking the saliva from my tongue.”
  • Body:  When you talk about the thickness, richness or viscosity of wine, you are referring to a wine’s body.  This is a tactile sensation.  Wines that are concentrated, well extracted, and have high alcohol, will be perceived as fuller-bodied; wines that are lower in alcohol and often those that hail from cooler regions will be lighter in body.  This concept is important when you are thinking about wines to enjoy either on their own or with food.  Positive descriptor: “This Aussie Shiraz is rich and lush with a full body and complex flavors.”  Negative descriptor:  ”This Pinot is light, lean and lacking body.”
  • Oaky:  A wine will exhibit oak when it has been put through some kind barrel treatment. This will often be perceived as toasty and vanilla smells and flavors.  If oak flavors are desired, a fine winemaker will use his barrels judiciously.  Too little oak and the wine may lack structure; too much oak and the wine’s fruit may be masked, resulting in a wine that resembles sipping an oak desk!    If you are looking for a wine with oak flavors, look to American and Australian Chardonnay, most Cabernet Sauvignons, and Rioja wines from Spain.  Positive descriptor: “This Spanish Tempranillo is kissed with just the right amount of French oak and exhibits aromas of cedar and vanilla.” Negative descriptor:  ”I am tasting ANOTHER California Chardonnay that tastes like I am sipping an oak desk.”

These four common terms are good step toward being able to understand and describe the wine you drink.  Of course, those who write about wine for a living have over time conjured up literally hundreds of words (some beautifully descriptive, some a bit absurd…) to describe wine - this list is worth a look!

What Is Taste?


Pronunciation: ’tAst
Function: verb
Inflected Forms: tast·ed; tast·ing
Etymology: Middle English, to touch, test, taste, from Middle French taster, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin taxitare, frequentative of Latin taxare to touch, feel – more at TAX


Transitive senses:

  • 1 : to become acquainted with by experience <has tasted the frustration of defeat
  • 2 : to ascertain the flavor of by taking a little into the mouth
  • 3 : to eat or drink especially in small quantities
  • 4 : to perceive or recognize as if by the sense of taste

Intransitive senses

  • 1 : to eat or drink a little
  • 2 : to test the flavor of something by taking a small part into the mouth
  • 3 : to have perception, experience, or enjoyment PARTAKE – often used with of
  • 4 : to have a specific flavor <the apple tastes sour>

Scientifically speaking…

Taste is the ability to respond to dissolved molecules and ions (as contrasted with the sense of smell which detects airborne molecules). Humans detect taste with taste receptor cells. These are clustered in taste buds. Each taste bud has a pore that opens out to the surface of the tongue enabling molecules and ions taken into the mouth to reach the receptor cells inside.   The average person has approximately 10,000 taste buds on their tongue.

Even more scientifically speaking…

  • A single taste bud contains 50 to 100 taste cells representing all 5 taste sensations (so the classic textbook pictures showing separate taste areas on the tongue are wrong).
  • Each taste cell has receptors on its apical surface. These are transmembrane proteins which bind to the molecules and ions that give rise to the 5 taste sensations.
  • Although a single taste cell may have representatives of several types of receptor, one type may be more active than the others on that cell. And, no single taste cell contains receptors for both bitter and sweet.
  • Each taste receptor cell is connected, through a synapse, to a sensory neuron leading back to the brain. However, a single sensory neuron can be connected to several taste cells in each of several different taste buds.
  • Each sensory neuron responds best to one of the 5 taste sensations.

There are five primary taste sensations:

  • 1. Salty   2. Sour   3. Sweet   4. Bitter   5. Umami

Now that you’re up to speed on the topic of taste, my recommendation would be to put your new-found knowledge to some practical use!

Wine Alert! – July 2013

July has been a month filled with many tastings of beer, cocktails and of course wine!  This month’s selections hail from Italy.  I discovered these selections from a colleague who used to do some work for me several years back.  Now he works for Domenico Valentino Selections - a new importer specializing in Italian wines that scream of place!  And place (a.k.a. Terroir) makes a difference.  These are wines that are distinct, crafted from grapes you’ve probably never tried,  and are perfect for summer drinking. Please keep in mind that these wines are produced in micro quantities!!!! So be sure to make haste if you want to try them.   I know it sounds “salesy” but it is true!  The friends and fans pricing is valid until August 15, 2013.
Here are my July picks!
Erbaluce di Caluso 2011
(Piedmont, Italy) 
Reg Price $17.99
OMG Price $14.50
Paolo Palumbo Lettere
(Campania, Italy)
Reg Price $19.99
OMG Price $15.50

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700  or email Cliff Korn at

Also, remember this pricing is only available through August 15th, 2013

Read more about these wines are why I adore them! …     

Erbaluce di Caluso 2011 (Piedmont, Italy) 
Reg Price $17.99 – OMG Price $14.50
5 Reasons why I love this wine:
1.  It is fresh and clean with loads of character.
2.  It comes in a liter bottle.  33.8 ounces of juice! This trend has become very popular in Austria and now Italians are following suit.
3.  The Caluso area in Piedmont might not roll off the tongue immediately, but they’re proof (were it needed) that there’s more to Piedmont’s wines than just Barolo!
4.  Since 2009, the name Erbaluce di Caluso has been certified and protected worldwide, recognizing the distinct geographical identification.
5.  If you are looking for a wine that has a story and might bring out the wine geek in you, you must try this selection.  The Orsolani family name is synonymous with the local white variety, Erbaluce, and they craft the region’s best!
Paolo Palumbo Lettere (Campania, Italy)
Reg Price $19.99 – OMG Price $15.50
5 Reasons why I love this wine:
1.  It is a red wine with a slight sparkle and a touch of sweetness.  Perfect for the summer.
2.  It is crafted from a unique blend of three grapes:  Aglianico, Piedirosso and Sciacinoso
3.  Lettere is one of two subzone designations in the Penisola Sorrentina DOC. The other is the more famous Gragnano. Lettere is considered superior because its higher elevation produces wines with better structure and more complex aromatic character.
4.  This wine is made for outside grilling.
5.  I will also be loving this wine with Thanksgiving dinner!  

So, there they are!   My two Wine Alert picks for July.

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700
or email Cliff Korn at

A Brief (Hilarious) History of Merlot

If you love Merlot, you must watch this video.

If you hate Merlot, it is vital that you watch this video.

If you love wine and love to laugh, then it is imperative that you watch this video.

If you’re Rex Pickett, you might want to leave the room.

Waiter: My Wine Smells Like a Wet Dog!

Common Wine Flaws

Due to improper production, handling or storage, there are a fair amount of things that can go wrong with wine – most of which should be cause to return a wine if ordering in a restaurant. Quality minded wine merchants will also take back a flawed wine.

How often a wine is flawed turns out to be a controversial question. Some experts estimate that 1 out of every 10 wines they consume is flawed, though I don’t find anywhere near that many wines to be a problem.  In my experience many people who have returned a bottle to me in a restaurant or at a wine shop did so because they just didn’t like the taste of the wine.  (a.k.a. – the wine is supposed to taste like that… you just don’t like it! )

But nonetheless wines can be flawed or off, and

Corked Wine

This is the most popular flaw.  To me corked wine has the flavor of wet, musty cardboard. Once you have really smelled tasted a corked wine, you’ll know what it is — it is not subtle. It is caused by trichloranisole [(TCA) 2,4,6], a compound released by molds that can infest the bark from which corks are made. One theory: you can’t get TCA without chlorine, which is used to bleach corks (for aesthetic reasons). If corks aren’t properly rinsed and dried this problem can occur.  This is the main reason why so many wine producers are looking to screw caps and other cork substitutes for their wine closures.

If you haven’t been “lucky” enough to experience a corked wine (at least for educational purposes), you can buy the odor of the stuff from enterprising entrepreneurs. One advertised business is: The Wine Trader, attn: “Corky,” P.O. Box 1598, Carson City, Nevada 89702.

Other possible flaws:

  • Brettanomeyces (Brett) - Earthy and/or manure type smells caused by the Brettanomeyces strain of yeast. Liked by some (for example particular French wines), disliked by many California vintners. In small amounts, can add “character” to a wine. Too much, and forget it.
  • Dekkera - Another wild-yeast-caused flavor of fresh dirt or cement. Liked by some (for example in some Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone and Italian red wines), disliked by many California vintners. Dekkera can also come from contaminated equipment and barrels.
  • Madeirized - Wine subjected to oxygen or heat through poor storage which ends up tasting like Madeira or Sherry. No fruit flavor left. Off-color.
  • Mercaptan - Smells of garlic or onion or even of skunk. I’m told that this is much of the cause of the “foxy” flavor produced by grapes native to North America. It is said that the term “foxy” came about because there wines were often made from the Fox grape, where the flavor was first seen.
  • Sulfur - Burnt match smell caused by too much sulfur dioxide (used in the winemaking process) and rotten egg smells caused by hydrogen sulfide from bacterial contamination. Depending on what it is, it might go away if you air the wine for a while.
  • Volatile Acidity - Smells of vinegar. May go away if you air the wine for a while.

So, yes, while many times a wine will be returned simply because the consumer isn’t a fan of the style, there are occasions when a wine truly has a production issue that gives it less than appealing taste and aroma.  So, learn the list!  And if a restaurant or merchant gives you trouble when you suggest a wine doesn’t smell quite right, just mention that that you think the wine has been “infiltrated with Brettanomeyces” – it’s tough to ague with that!

My Favorite Wine Description

Wine Importer & Author, Terry Theise

A colleague of mine – Terry Thiese, penned one of my favorite descriptions.  Terry is a respected wine importer specializing in German wines.  He sells his wines to retailers and restaurateurs through a comprehensive book where he shares his tasting notes with potential buyers.  His impassioned wine descriptions are quite famous in the wine industry, and in fact, one of his tasting notes was reprinted several years ago in The New Yorker Magazine.

Let me again set the scene:  This man is talking about German Riesling

“These are astonishing, vivid, undeflected, radiantly, seethingly alive on the palate, not just larger than life, but larger than reality.  Drinking them I have been moved to every emotion under the sun: wonder, sadness in the face of such utter beauty, frustration when the wine was so celestially multi-faceted I couldn’t assimilate all the flavors, shattering excitement at the sheer electricity, helpless yielding at the total seductiveness, tears of gladness, sorrow and almost rage at one wine special wine that was so fiercely beautiful I felt I couldn’t rise up high enough to meet it.”

This quote incidentally, was followed by an editorial insertion “Quick, Terry: take an Alka-Seltzer!”

My Favorite Wine Revealed

Usually it is when I am at a cocktail party or attending another non-industry function that guests find out that I do not design apps for a living, nor am I a lawyer, doctor, or accountant.

I am a food and drink educator – although some people refer to me as an epicurean celebrity, and I am humbled and flattered!

Then it is only a matter of time when I am asked the inevitable question: “What is your favorite wine?”  Sometimes it is couched in a more dramatic and literary tone:  “If you were on a desert island and could only drink one wine, what would it be?”

I hate this question.

While it often serves to validate the questioner’s own insecurity about this seemingly mysterious beverage – will my preference validate their own likes? – I am aware that folks will hang on my words and are expecting an answer.

Having to select – one wine — saddens me on so many levels, and I’ll generally employ some evasive maneuvering to bring the conversation around to something less unnecessarily definitive, and hopefully more useful and, in the end, interesting to the inquirer.

The idea of electing “the best” and selecting #1 is so part of the American culture where we extract the flesh and nuance from sensory expression – art, film, theatre, food, wine — and reduce it to a microwavable ranked sound bite.   Why does there have to be a #1?

Wine has the ability to be so very special — hitting the senses with a hail of flavors and complexity, that to rank it is difficult, pointless and silly.  Unfortunately this is exactly what I am often forced to do.

I frequently taste 200 hundred wines during the course of the week – most are commercially acceptable but forgettable, some are poorly made and I hope to forget them, and a handful are sublime.

The wines I taste professionally are usually evaluated under very sterile clinical conditions – an early morning call, a bright white room, a hard chair, bottled water, a tasting sheet and maybe a Carr’s water cracker.  Rarely do I have the opportunity to spend more than 3 minutes on any wine and rarely do I have the opportunity to taste and savor a wine over time and in the context of place, people and food.  Call it an occupational hazard.

I cherish the times that I enjoy wine when I am not working.   This is the best.  When there is no time constraint; when there is no deadline; when the ultimate goal of tasting is pure in-the-moment enjoyment.

Thankfully well-made wine is not bland as Wonderbread or mass-produced beer – and you will be assaulted with the same “malling of America white bread flavors” each and every time.  Each wine is a journey; every wine can be special and is an opening into the region, the winemaker, history, culture, religion and so much more,

“Come on…”

The cocktail guest interrupts my soap-box mantra and repeats the question. “What is your favorite wine?”

I hesitate for a moment, take a sip of whatever is in my glass and smile ever so sweetly.

“The one I’m sipping right now.”

Beyond Champagne – Sparkling Sensations

There is life beyond Champagne!  When most consumers think of Champagne, they either think of the generic category of sparkling wine, or alternatively of bubblies from Champagne.  These two definitions are not only limiting, but technically speaking are incorrect.

Let’s begin by definition – Champagne is a region in France.  And it is in this famous, glorious northern climate that the classic grapes –  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier – grown on chalky soils, go through a natural secondary fermentation—the Méthode Champenoise.  The result is one of the finest and most famous wines of the world.

But the bubbly story does not end there.  Beyond the Champagne region lie bountiful bubbles — international quality sparklers – from such diverse areas as California, Australia, Germany, other parts of France, and Spain. 

While the names of sparkling wines from these other regions of the world may not be as recognizable as Champagne, this does not mean that they are necessarily inferior in any way to their more famous French cousin.

Spain, for instance, home to some of the most exciting white and red wines of the world, is also a major sparkling wine producer.  In fact Spain is the largest sparkling wine producing country in the world, and turns out some of the most inviting bubblies around, all of which go by the name of Cava.

Cava – again, the word may not be as familiar as Champagne, but it is an exciting and vibrant wine in the sparkling wine world.  Cava IS Spain’s sparkling wine.  It is produced in the traditional champagne method or “Méthode Traditionelle” and is usually made from indigenous Spanish grapes, including Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada.  Other varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are occasionally added in the blend.

While legally Cava can be produced anywhere in Spain, the best and most prolific examples can be found in Spain’s Penedes region, where the uplands of the region’s interior provide the perfect climate for the grapes traditionally used in Cava production.

The grapes used to make Cava grow best in the higher elevations of Pinedes, away from the Mediterranean coast.

Gosh, I love these wines!  I often refer to them as bubbly on a budget or Champagne stunt doubles.  These wines are well priced – usually under $10.00 – ultra food friendly, and easy to enjoy.

Fast Facts: 

  • Cava, like other well-made sparkling wines, is best enjoyed at about 45 degrees.  When served at this temperature, the bead, (bubble) will be preserved and the wine’s firm acidity will shine through.
  • Serve Cava in a Champagne flute.  The glass is elegant and its narrow bowl will help to retain the effervescence.
  • Don’t forget the food!  Cava pairs nicely with foods that are salty, spicy and fatty.  So Pan Asian anything, salsa and chips, fried chicken or classic tapas – all should be wonderful partners with these Spanish sensations.

Sparkling Sensations! 

The following list includes commercially available cava wines. The non-vintage cuvees, often priced below $10.00, represent the house style of each producer.

  • Aria:  Owned by the Freixenet group. Dry and bright with lovely fruit flavors.
  • Cristolino Rose:  Wonderful and elegant.  Fine bead, toasty and red fruit flavors.
  • Freixenet:  The distinctive black bottle.  This is one of the most famous Cavas in the United States.  Fine bead, and medium-bodied.
  • Paul Cheneau: Medium-full bodied.  Long aging on the lees gives the wine a complex toasty nose.
  • Segura Viudas: Dry and crisp, packing a bright array of fruity aromas.

SIP TIP:  Going to a housewarming party?  Skip the $100 bottle of Bordeaux or Tete de Cuvee Champagne and bring a gift-wrapped case of Cava.  Your hosts will remember you every time they open a bottle.


It’s long past time to rethink rosé.  So many people still associate the style with the sticky sweet White Zinfandels that became absurdly popular in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s.  These rosés, often labeled as “blush,” (a marketing term with no historical meaning) sold by the millions of cases, and created a image in the public mind of rosé wines as cheap, sweet, and super-commercial – essentially alcoholic soft drinks.

But the truth of the matter is, most rosés are actually dry!  Yes, I repeat, DRY!  And they are produced in some of the most exciting regions in the world.

Rosé may actually be the oldest style of wine, since the methods used to make it are the first methods known to have been used in winemaking.  While it can be produced… generally poorly… by simply blending red and white wine, this is not how most rosé is created.  Rosé is almost always produced by a limited period of contact between the skin and the juice of the grape after juicing.  That is, the skins of dark grapes are allowed to macerate for usually one to two days – more time than white wines which may see no skin contact, and less time than red wines, which macerate for a much longer period.  The result is the in-between color of a rosé.

Rosés are produced in nearly every winemaking country, but some regions specialize in rosé more than others.  Probably the best-known rosé wine region is Provence in France, where rosé accounts for nearly two thirds of the wine produced.  It’s a natural home for the style, which pairs wonderfully with the region’s Mediterranean cuisine.

Now, some rosés from Provence can be pricey – like the Rolls Royce of rosé, Domaines Ott – especially if you’re just emerging from behind those sweet rosé-tinted glasses. But there are also many regions that produce excellent rosés that sell for a fraction of the cost.  For instance, I’m a big fan of the Cabernet Franc rosés coming out of the Loire Valley, where rosé production also has a long history.

But in my opinion the best bang for the buck comes from Spain’s Navarra region (where rosé is called “rosado”), Grown on less expensive real estate than those from Rioja, it’s pretty easy to find a very good Navarra rosado at under $12 a bottle.  A few to try in this price range are Bodegas Julian Chivite Fran Feudo RosadoArtadi Bodegas y Vinedos Artazu ‘Artazuri’ Garnacha Rosado, or Campos de Enanzo ‘Enanzo’ Rosado.

So, when presented with an opportunity to try rosé, there’s no need to blush!  A dry rosé can be the perfect wine for summer sipping.  Throw the salmon on the grill and serve that awesome Mediterranean tabouli salad with some sliced heirloom tomatoes.  Pair up with a rosé, and experience all that this unfairly maligned style has to offer!

Sommeliers Rock!

My friend and one of the great wine & beverage directors in New York, David Lombardo of Marc Murphy’s Landmarc and Ditch Plains restaurants

There are few people that can have more effect on your drinking and dining experience at a restaurant than a sommelier.

The word “sommelier” comes from French, where its derivation referred, during the Middle Ages, to a court official in charge of transportation of supplies.  And indeed, wine procurement is still an important part of a sommelier’s job, but their expertise ranges far beyond simply making sure the restaurant is stocked with wine.

Sommeliers, also sometimes called beverage directors, even in the narrowest sense are in charge not only of creating a restaurant’s wine list and working with producers and importers to see that those wines are available to restaurant customers, but also serving patrons with expert customer service – making recommendations that take into account not only a customer’s taste and budget, but consider how the wines will pair with each course of the meal.  Often, they are in charge not only of wines, but of spirits and other beverages served at the restaurant.

Very few restaurants can afford a dedicated sommelier or beverage director. If a restaurant has a sommelier or beverage director, they generally also have other managerial tasks.  A great beverage director or sommelier will create a comprehensive training program that instills knowledge to the servers that will be helping with wine at the table.

They will also help you find the perfect wine in your price range.

Have you ever had the experience where you hand your beverage choice off to a sommelier and then when the bill comes, it gives you sticker shock?  This subject matter is near and dear to my heart since it just happened to me at a hot NYC restaurant a week ago.

If you are not familiar with many of the wines on a restaurant’s wine list, give the sommelier something to work with.  Describe a producer, a grape, or a style of wine that you like.  Example: “I don’t know many of the wines on your list, but I think I’m up for drinking a Cabernet Sauvignon – a full bodied version – and in the past I have really liked the wines of Cakebread.” Hopefully the sommelier will understand what you said: the style you’re looking for.

Then, do what I call the MG finger pointing move: take your finger and discretely point to a price on the wine list. Put your finger on a price point you feel comfortable with and say to the sommelier, “something like this.”  This is a great way of describing not only style, but also budget.

A good sommelier can be your best friend when it comes to creating a memorable experience at a restaurant.  By communicating with them, not only about your taste, but discretely about your budget as well, you’ll be ensuring yourself and your dining company a meal accompanied by wines you love, and a bill that won’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

Wine Labels – What is A.O.C.?

The phrase “Appellation Sancerre Controlee” assures you that this wine originated in the Sancerre AOC.

Geography can tell you a lot about a wine.  But how can you be sure a wine is really from where the label tells you it’s from?  This can be a challenge.  Some of the best known and beloved wine regions, for example have seen their names appear on wines grown thousands of miles from that region, in an effort to take advantage of that area’s reputation.  Most famously, the label “Champagne” was co-opted for decades by growers in California and other wine growing regions far from the Champagne region of France to cash in on that region’s standing in the public mind, until finally the French winemaking community passed regulations prohibiting wine producers in other regions from using the capital “C” in labeling their sparkling wines.

French winemakers have long been conscious of efforts of producers, both around the world and within France itself, to take advantage of their many lauded regions’ reputations.  To protect themselves and their loyal consumers, a government bureau, the Insititut national de l‘origine et de la qualité (INAO) has, for nearly 100 years, been developing and enforcing a system to label wines both by quality and place of origin.

This is where the AOC (or AOP – see note below) label comes in.  AOC is an acronym for  Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, which translates in English to “controlled designation of origin”.  It is a classification applied to approximately the top 50% of French wines by quality, and is a way of letting consumers know exactly where their wine is coming from.  There are several hundred regions and sub-regions designated as AOC’s – ranging in size from the 150 square mile Côtes du Rhône AOC to the tiny 9.9 acre Château-Grillet AOC.  Wines from each of those AOC’s that meet quality standards are allowed to use that AOC’s insignia on their labeling.

There are a lot of factors that go into determining what constitutes an AOC, and their boundaries are constantly being reevaluated and revised, but the basic idea is that each AOC has a distinctive terroir – that is, that the various factors geographic, geologic, and climate factors that influence a wine’s taste are fairly consistent across a certain AOC.  In addition, the wines produced in a certain AOC must also be aged, at least partially, in that same AOC to qualify for it’s labeling.

For a wine to receive AOC classification, it must fit a number of criteria:

  • Geography – the grapes used in the wine must be grown within the geographic confines of the AOC.  For instance, for a Sancerre to receive AOC standing, the grapes used to produce it must have been grown in the area defined as Sancerre.
  • Grapes – the varietals used in producing the wine must be ones that have been legislated for that appelation.  Again, using Sancerre as an example, all Sancerre AOC white wines need to be produced using 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and all roses and reds must use 100% Pinot Noir.
  • Alcohol content – AOC wines must meet a minimum alcohol content.  A white Sancerre wine designated as AOC, for instance, must have a minimum alcohol level of 10.5%.
  • Yield per hectare – A winery must not exceed a maximum yield of grapes per hectare.  Again, vineyard producing a white Sancerre with AOC status must not produce more than 60 hectoliters per hectare.
  • Winemaking technique – the methods used in growing the grapes and producing the wine must follow certain guidelines, generally prescribing techniques that are traditional to that area.

A number of other countries have followed the example of the French in creating similar systems for classifying the geographic origins of their wines.  Spain developed its Denominación de Origen (D.O.) system at nearly the same time as the French. Italy’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata (D.O.C) follows similar rules, and Germany, Portugal, Austria, and South Africa each have likeminded classifications for their wines.  The United States was a little behind in adopting the concept, but since 1980, when the first American Viticultural Area (AVA) was designated, the number of AVAs has grown to over 200.

Knowing where a wine comes from can tell you so much about that wine.  Not only climate and geography, but history of certain place have an effect on not only taste, but on the way you experience a wine.  By understanding the labeling of a wine’s georgraphy, whether it’s a French AOC, a Spanish D.O., or a classification from anywhere else in the world, you can more fully understand the wine you’re drinking, and the place and people that have made it what it is.  And that, to me, is as much a part of the experience of wine as its taste.

*Note: the classifications of French wine are constantly under review.  In 2012, the INAO, in an effort to simplify the system, took what had been four classifications of wine quality (AOC being the highest), and consolidated them into three classifications.  As a result, French wines released in coming years will be labeled AOP (Appelation d’Origine Protegee) instead of AOC.  Essentially, the two, AOC and AOP, are held to the same standards – the only difference being that AOP includes a small number of wines that had previously been classified “VDQS”, which was something of a “waiting room” for wines potential AOCs.



Stemless Wine Glasses: Why I Dislike Them

Smudge-free and properly chilled… but for how long?!

I know stemless glassware is all the rage, particularly in homes, these days.  And to some degree I get it.  It’s got a modern yet unpretentious look, and when you’re a bottle and half into the evening, a stemless glass is a little more forgiving of your poor hand-eye-coordination.

But there are reasons why we’ve held our wine glasses by the stem for centuries.  First, if you’ve made the effort to get your wine to the appropriate temperature, gripping your wine glass from the stem assures that the wine will stay as close to that temperature as possible for as long as possible. Stemless glassware is usually made from thin glass, and the heat from your hand very quickly warms the wine, white or red, to a less than desirable temperature.  There’s no wine storage unit, no matter how fancy, that can do battle with your body’s heat.

And second, while I admit wine initially looks great in a stemless glass, if you’re eating with your hands, the effect is short-lived.  Just wait ‘til the grease on your fingers gets all over the cup of the glass.  It’s not a pretty picture.  If you’re holding stemware properly – by the stem! – you’ll never end of looking at your wine through a cloud of greasy fingerprints.

Trattoria glasses: a more smudge-friendly, insulating version of stemless glassware.


Now, if you’re still set on abolishing stems from your home, I’m willing to offer an alternative… Trattoria glasses are stemless, but generally made of thicker glass that will insulate your wine from the heat of your hand more thoroughly.  And they’ve got a simple, rustic look that means a few smudges don’t look out of place.  We’ll say it gives the glass character.  Give these a try, or a more inexpensive but perfectly durable version from Libbey. It’s a time-tested, authentic way of keeping your wine close to the table and off your carpet.

Go Fish!

There are plenty of good oyster happy hours in this city – dozens of restaurants offer $1 bivalves for limited hours on some evenings, and don’t get me wrong, it’s a great deal.  But at Fish, on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village (one of the great food blocks in the area), the owners seem to be truly, blissfully unaware that the city’s harbor is no longer strewn with oyster beds, ripe for the picking.  Did someone forget to tell them that oysters are now considered something of a luxury?  Not the bounty of the poor they were a century and a half ago?  Actually it may have to do something with the fact the Fish is actually owned by a seafood distributor, but whatever the case, somehow, the restaurant gets away with offering their “red, white, and blue” special at all hours, everyday at the week: half a dozen Blue Points and glass of red or white wine or a pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon for $8.  All the time.  Really.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the default wines that accompany the deal are dreadful, but for an upcharge of couple dollars, you can find yourself with a serviceable glass and a half dozen oysters for less than either would cost alone at most restaurants.

This incredible steal should be enough to get you in the door, but if you’re willing to shell out a few extra dollars, there are plenty more reasons to put Fish on your list of seafood destinations.  First, if you’d like to upgrade your oysters, there are a number of East and West Coast options available, including favorites like Malpeques and Kummomotos, at $2 a piece.  But Fish truly hits its stride when you reach beyond its basic raw bar offerings.  Two preparations of cooked oysters – the classic Oysters Rockefeller, and Angels on Horseback – which finds oysters wrapped in double-smoked bacon, horseradish, and cocktail sauce, are both superb.  The lobster mac & cheese and lobster shepherd’s pie are serious comfort food with a decadent twist. and the twin tartar – tuna and salmon – is delightfully fresh and generously portioned.

Freshness is a theme that runs through the menu at Fish.  If the restaurant feels and looks more like a New England seafood shack than you’d expect in these environs, it’s not an act.  Fish owner Edward Taylor (who got his start selling clams door-to-door) is also owns Down East Seafood, a seafood distributor that, aside from supplying a number of other restaurants around New York, brings a fresh haul daily to the restaurant on Bleecker.  So all the offerings, shellfish or not, are extraordinarily fresh and reasonably priced.

Fish’s seafood shack vibe is the genuine article

Fish makes good use of the restaurant’s immediate locale, offering an excellent burger made with beef from Ottomanelli’s, directly across the street.  If you want the best of both worlds, a surf and turf includes, of course, lobster tail from Down East and a 16oz ribeye steak, again sourced from Ottomanelli’s.  But honestly, in these surroundings, it’s tough to have any form of land-based food on your mind.

Fish doesn’t take reservations, which can be tough on a weekend night, but there are plenty of places nearby to grab a drink while you wait.  Or of course, you can always just come by on a afternoon from 12-4pm instead, and spend a couple hours devouring all the steamed blue crab you can eat for $22.  There are plenty of great places to find seafood in this city, but for truly fresh seafood at a great price, Fish is the real deal.

A parting shot: Fish’s Down East Lobster Feast – also a steal, MP, generally around $18.

Shh! It’s A Speakeasy – The Back Room

When it comes to speakeasy-style bars in New York, and especially downtown, there are plenty of choices to be had.  The most recent speakeasy trend in the city is probably a decade old at this point, and number of hiding places getting in on the action has increased steadily during that time.  But one of the more well worn entries into the speakeasy scene (open since 2005, though the space’s history dates back much further) is also still one of the best: the Lower East Side’s The Back Room, which takes its Prohibition era vibe more seriously than most.

For nearly a century, the space that the bar now occupies was in fact the back room of the legendary Ratner’s restaurant on Delancey Street.  Toward the end of that fabled dairy’s reign in the neighborhood, the portion of the restaurant that now houses The Back Room was converted into the Lansky Lounge, a speakeasy spot named after the famous mobster, Meyer Lansky, who was a frequent customer at Ratner’s.  In 2005, after Ratner’s closed, the bar space changed hands, and the new owners (including Tim Robbins), spruced up the joint and immediately had one of the city’s hidden hotspots on their hands.

One enters The Back Room by way of a long, dramatic alleyway on Norfolk Street, just above Delancey, past a sign for the non-existent Lower East Side Toy Company.  Walk up one flight of stairs and through door and you find yourself in a space decked out in 1920s opulence, a spacious (when it’s not packed) main “living room” with a fireplace, comfy period furniture, and walls covered in red velvet.  Then the drinks: the offerings are pretty standard but it’s all about way they’re served: cocktails in teacups and beers in paper bags.  Like I said, they take the Prohibition thing seriously!

The teacups and paper bags are a great touch, but what really makes this place an unexpected gem is the lack of pretension and the reasonable prices to match.  Walking in, I immediately expected what anyone would reasonably expect from a place of this level of swank: cocktails at $15-$18 a pop and the kind of attitude that normally accompanies this sort of place.  Surprisingly, neither of these qualities applied.  Cocktails are extremely reasonable – in the $10 range, and the vibe is laid back and casual.  It may not be 1920s pricing, but it’s certainly rare in 2013 New York.

There may be newer speakeasies in the city, and ones with a more creative cocktail list, but if you’re looking to impress a date without breaking the bank or a cozy, fun, Prohibtion-style time with friends, The Back Room still can’t be beat.

What is Rioja?

If you want to get to know Spanish wine, there is no better place to start than one of my favorite wine-producing regions in the world: Rioja.  Probably Spain’s best known wine region and home to many of the best wines the country has to offer, the wines of Rioja often celebrate one of the world’s great varietals: Tempranillo, which thrives in the clay and limestone soils of the region.  A region with a winemaking history dating back to Roman times, over a thousand years ago, Rioja has been recognized for centuries as the heart of Spanish wine.  More recently, the region was awarded DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada) status, the highest classification available to a wine region, and the first region in Spain to receive such recognition.

Rioja is situated in the northern part of Spain and is divided into three regions.  Rioja Alta, as the name suggests, is the highest elevation region of Rioja, which generally leads to lighter wines.  Rioja Alavesa in the northern part of Rioja has a similar climate to Rioja Alta, but produces a fuller bodied, higher acid wine.  To the east, Rioja Baja sits at a low elevation and bakes in the summer months under a hot Mediterranean sun, producing wine that is deeply colored and often highly alcoholic.  Many of the Rioja wines we find in the store make use of a blend of grapes from all three of the regions of Rioja.

Tempranillo grapes – a defining characteristic of Rioja wine

The varied soils and climate across Rioja sets it apart from most other wine regions in Spain – there is great diversity to the terroir of Rioja wines.  But two aspects of Rioja winemaking give wines from the region a distinctiveness that transcends those variables.  One is the use of oak barrels for ageing, which dates back hundreds of years.  The other is the liberal use of Tempranillo.  While often blended with other local grapes, such as Garnacha, it is Tempranillo that sits at the fore, and gives their distinctive full bodied character.

Traditionally, winemakers in Rioja have given great weight to the importance of ageing, allowing many wines to age in oak for fifteen to twenty years before releasing them, though recently, ageing for that duration has become more rare. Luckily, all Rioja wines conform to a system of classification that allows you to determine just how long a particular wine has been aged:

  • The youngest label is simply “Joven,” meaning “young”, which indicates a wine aged several months at most, possibly not in oak at all.
  • A Crianza has been aged a minimum of two years, at least one of those years in oak.
  • Rioja Reserva is wine that has been aged at least three years – at least one of those years spent in oak barrels.
  • Rioja Gran Reserva has spent a minimum of five years ageing, at least two of those years in oak.

When it comes to Rioja wines, there is so much to experience.  I highly recommend heading over to the region’s trade site which, in addition to giving you more background on the history of the region and the practices of Rioja winemakers, also lists events across the United States that will give you the opportunity to sample some of the best the region has to offer.  Whether you can make it to one or not, it’s certainly worth making the trip to your local wine shop and asking for a few selections that showcase the character that makes Rioja one of the most beloved wine regions on Earth.


Wine Alert! – June 2013

My June Wine Alert has arrived.   I tasted through 211 wines last month and I have selected two that are truly awesome!   These are rad wines that can’t be missed; picks inspired by summer being just around the corner!  You can read about them AND you can taste them!  Through a relationship with the oldest wine shop in America, Acker Merrall & Condit  (and where I got my start working with my dad at the age of 6!) I have negotiated special pricing just for my friends and fans. Just mention OMG! if you want to place an order, but please keep in mind that these wines are produced in tiny quantities so be sure to make haste if you want to try.   I know it sounds “salesy” but it is true!  The friends and fans pricing is valid until July 15, 2013.

Here are my June picks!

Stark Thirst Chardonnay 2011
(Sonoma County, California)
SRP:  $16.99
OMG Price $13.99

La Fenetre A Cote Pinot Noir 2011
(Central Coast, California)  
SRP: $25.99 
OMG Price: $19.99

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700  or email Cliff Korn at

Also, remember this pricing is only available through July 15th, 2013

Read more about these wines are why I adore them! … 

Stark Thirst Chardonnay 2011
(Sonoma County, California)
SRP:  $16.99
OMG Price $13.99

5 reasons why I love this wine:
1.   Stainless steel fermented:  It is a breath of fresh air to savor a wine country Chardonnay that does not taste like you are sipping on an oak desk!
2.   Place makes a difference:  The grapes come from a unique hillside site in Alexander Valley.  The site is at 450 feet elevation – an elevation usually reserved for more expensive Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon
3.   Winemaker also cooks!:  Winemaker Christian Stark is not only a great winemaker but he is also a trained chef.   This is a Chardonnay that is really “food friendly”
4.  Organic and Sustainable:  Grapes are sourced from vineyards that are committed to organic and sustainable practices.
5.  Paying it Forward:  Stark Thirst is a winery that believes in giving back.  A percentage of all proceeds are donated to WaterAid – an organization that brings clean drinking water to those without.

My notes:

Bright, clean crisp and dry with notes of fresh picked green apple and lemon.  Bring on the salad, clambake, anything that swims, and chicken paillard.

La Fenetre A Cote Pinot Noir 2011
(Central Coast, California)  
SRP: $25.99 
OMG Price: $19.99

3 Reasons why I love this wine:

1.  It is a Pinot Noir!  I adore this grape and when it is crafted by rising star winemaker Joshua Klapper it can be thrilling. And it is!  

2.  Think Summer:  This is not a full bodied and overly unctuous Pinot.  It is lighter and more delicate.  Serve it with a slight chill if you want.  This is a wine that can samba with steak on the grill or tango with tuna.

3.  It is a Pinot Noir!  One of the most elusive grapes on the planet and also one of the most food friendly.  

My Notes:

The 2011 À Côté Pinot Noir is the realization of California’s cool-climate Central Coast potential for this finicky varietal. An homage to the delicious Bourgonge Rouge I so often drink, the wine is harmonized to display the characteristics of the diverse but focused cool-climate Central Coast AVA of California. The larger component from Cedar Lane and Mission Ranch vineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVA in Monterey (80%), contributes spice, and red fruit elements. The old vines from Bien Nacido Vineyard and the newer plantings at Presqu’ile add weight and a chewy texture to this balanced Pinot Noir. Drink now – 2018.

So, there they are!  Two rad wines from California!  My two Wine Alert picks for June.

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700
or email Cliff Korn at

Shaken Not Stirred – The Mason Shaker

In my long list of “wish I’d thought of that” ideas, the Mason Shaker just might be at the top.  But then, thinking of it and turning it into a wildly successful and in-demand product are two different things.  My friends Josh Williams and Eric Prum did both!

I love these guys.  They came up with a brilliant product, they’re so passionate about their work, and like myself, they’re UVA grads!  Who could ask for more?

Mason Shaker creators, fellow UVA Grads, and my friends! Josh Williams and Eric Prum

The idea of the Mason Shaker is simple.  Take an iconic piece of southern glassware (the Mason jar) and tool it into a cocktail shaker.  Is there any more appropriate way to pour a mint julep? I think not.

The story goes like this: Josh and Eric are friends from Virginia who moved up to Brooklyn.  Being Virginia boys, they brought their love of Mason jars and bourbon with them.  One day they had a thought: what if they could combine two of their favorite things and turn a mason jar into a cocktail shaker?

They experimented with prototypes for months, and when they had their product just right, they launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the tooling, offering pre-sales of the Mason Shaker as a reward. To say their Kickstarter campaign succeeded would be a gross understatement – they set their goal at $5,000: they received $74,738!

But the Kickstarter campaign was just the beginning.  Josh and Eric’s Mason Shaker is now available on their website, alongside a variety of awesome cocktail accessories, all designed by them.

And don’t think the pair is content to stop at one great idea – they’ve got some great new concepts up their sleeve that you’re sure to be hearing about soon – most likely from me first!

The Deal On Decanting

I love decanting wine. Red, white, sparkling, fortified. I decant everything. I love the look of a decanter. I love the feel of a decanter. Actually, I collect decanters. To me, they are art meets function. But why decant a wine too begin with?

Well, there are two main practical reasons why we decant a wine. First, it’s a way of removing the sediment often present in older wines and some high quality younger red wines. And second, it’s way of aerating, or exposing the wine to oxygen, which brings out the full flavor and aroma of the wine, essentially aging it in a very short period of time. To those two, I would add a third, less functional reason to decant: wine just looks it’s best in a beautiful decanter!

Now, there’s a lot of discussion, none of which has really been proven one way or other, about which wines should be decanted, with some people arguing that certain types of wine can be harmed by the decanting process. From my experience, the only danger is with some older, more delicate wines, whose flavors can break down quickly when exposed to air. In those cases, if you’re going to decant, it’s best to do so right before drinking the wine, and sometimes best to skip decanting all together. Otherwise, I say decant anything and everything!

How do you decant a wine? Well, if you’re trying to reduce sediment, generally the answer is, carefully. You’ll want to pour slowly and watch for the sediment as you pour, to avoid transferring it to the decanter. This can be difficult if the wine has been stored on its side for an extended period of time – a wine cradle can help in this situation to keep you from stirring up sediment while you decant. With younger wines, and wines free of sediment, where the main purpose is aeration, there’s less need to pour carefully, although a nice slow pour will keep the wine from completely blending, which some would say adds to its character. Plus it’s always fun to put on a show and keep your friends in suspense…

So, what kind of decanter should you use? Well, decanter technology hasn’t changed much in the last 300 years, and pretty much any one will do the job you need, so for the most part it comes down to looks! If you’re really looking for a true piece of functional art, Riedel is the way to go. Riedel has a full line of truly gorgeous decanters that are a conversation piece even when they’re not bringing your wine to life. If you’re looking to decant on a budget, you can find affordable decanters online and at most department stores. Whatever your choice, you can’t go wrong with having a decanter (or a collection…) in your home.

Sip Tip! If I’m going to someone’s house who is a real wine lover, I don’t bring a bottle of wine. I bring them a decanter. They will think of you with every bottle they open that is brought to life through decanting, and gives them an experience to savor long after you leave!

How To Make Any Wine Taste Better – For Free!


Simple: serve the wine at the right temperature!

Many people serve their white wines too cold and their red wines too warm.  It may not seem like a big deal, but trust me, it makes a huge difference!

When it comes to the way temperature affects the taste of white wine, think of Coca-Cola served at room temperature versus Coca-Cola served cold. When it is cooler the soda becomes less sticky and sweet.  It is more refreshing.  It’s a similar case with white wine, except that with white wine, it doesn’t get infinitely more refreshing the colder it gets.  We all know white isn’t at its best warm, but serving it too cold will numb your sense of truly smelling the wine and the wine will just taste like acid.  Sort of like biting into a lemon.  For a white wine at any price you are losing the complexity of the wine’s bouquet and mouthfeel.  SO if you don’t have a fancy Sub Zero wine storage unit, follow the Michael Green 15 minute rule.  Take your white wine OUT of the fridge 15 minutes before serving.  The wine will taste better.  See for yourself.

Now, for you many red wine lovers out there, what temperature do you serve your red wines?  From my experience the general audience response is “room…room temperature”

Well if you blessed to live in Manhattan as I am, on the Upper West Side, in a pre-war apartment (so much more character than those cookie cutter buildings that dot the Upper East Side…but I digress) where the heat is on 12 months of the year (okay, pre-war does have its inconveniences!)  room temperature can push 80 degrees.  Serve a red wine at that temperature and the wine will taste coarse and alcoholic…(Not unlike some people I know)

SO, again, if you don’t have a fancy Sub Zero wine storage unit, follow the Michael Green 15 minute rule.  Put your red wines INTO the fridge 15 minutes before serving.  The wine will taste better.  Again see for yourself.

To prove the point, while working for a wine storage unit company (the name of which you might have guessed by now), I brought 50 wine professionals together and served them red wines — blind.  People voted and argued which one they liked better.  Then I revealed their identity.  It was the same wine.  The only thing that separated them was 5 degrees of temperature.  Most people preferred the cooler version of the red wine.

So — temperature talk: The recap!

White wines:  Do not serve them too cold.  There is a reason that poorly made wines often say, on the back label, “serve WELL chilled”.  That way you taste acid and their nastiness is masked. Unless you’re drinking something truly awful (in which case you should probably find something else to drink!), you want to be able to taste the nuances of the wine.

Red wines:  Chill them down in the fridge a bit before serving.  Shoot for cellar temperature – about 58-63 degrees.

Follow these rules and I assure you, wherever you live: Pre-War, Beaux Arts, or on a cattle ranch in Wyoming, your wine will always taste its best, and that, my friends, is the great equalizer!


Wine Alert! – May 2013

My May Wine Alert has arrived.  A bit late but it is here!  I tasted through 167 wines last month and I have selected two that are truly awesome and can’t be missed!  You can read about them AND you can taste them!  Through a relationship with the oldest wine shop in America, Acker Merrall & Condit  (and where I got my start working with my dad at the age of 6!) I have negotiated special pricing just for my friends and fans. Just mention OMG! if you want to place an order, but please keep in mind that many of these wines are produced in tiny quantities so be sure to make haste if you want to get a taste of these very special wines. I know it sounds “salesy” but it is true!  The friends and fans pricing is generally valid until the end of the month but Acker Merrall has graciously extended this pricing until June 15th.

Here are my May picks!

Chave Cotes-du-Rhone “Mon Coeur” 2011
(Rhone Valley, France)
SRP:  $19.99
OMG Price $14.99

Philippe Raimbault Sancerre 2011
(Loire Valley, france)
SRP: $24.99
OMG Price: $15.50

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700 
or email Cliff Korn at

Also, remember this pricing is only available through June 15th!

Read more about these wines are why I adore them! … 

Chave Cotes-du-Rhone “Mon Coeur” 2011
(Rhone Valley, France)
SRP:  $19.99  OMG Price $14.99

3 reasons why I love this wine:

1.   The Rhone Valley is home to some of the richest and earthiest wines in the world.  (This is an MG wine!)

2.   The wine drinks like a $40 bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

3.   Chave is one of the most celebrated producers in the Rhone Valley

My notes:

Great mouthfeel.  Crushed black fruits mingle with notes of licorice, and earth.  A long and lingering finish.  Get me some lamp chops!


Philippe Raimbault Sancerre 2011
(Loiree valley, france)
SRP: $24.99 OMG Price: $15.50

1.  Where can you find a Sancerre from a top producer that is well made, elegant and balanced and is priced under $25.00?  (The OMG price is $15.50!)
2.  Repeat
3.  …and repeat!


Sancerre is not only home to some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world but is also (in my humble opinion) the most food friendly dry white wine. Bring on the oysters and crustaceans!  Or goat cheese, or vegetable tart or anything that swims, or salad nicoise – you get this idea.

Bright, clean, crisp and dry with notes of grapefruit zest.  Makes you mouth pucker ever so slightly and you want to go back and sip again.

So, there they are!  My two Wine Alert picks for May

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700
or email Cliff Korn at

Matzo and the American Dream Come True

A guest column by Michael Levine, director of Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream

Four years ago, I did not know Michael Green, nor did I have any clue that while I was busy DJ’ing on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side in between film work, across the street from me, a matzo factory was busy baking 40% of the nation’s matzo in the middle of the night.

Looking back I suppose I could be forgiven for my ignorance… you hardly expect a major manufacturing operation working out of tenement buildings on the Lower East Side these days.  Generally you’d figure that with no signage and people coming and going at 2am on a Saturday night, this was just yet another entrée into the neighborhood’s speakeasy trend.

But then I walked by in the light of day.  In the summer, the heat generated by the ovens on the ground floor of the factory is unbearable, and the workers, picking matzo from the mouths of the ovens, leave the windows to the sidewalk open in hope of a breeze. From where I was standing, I could hear the grind of machinery coming through the open windows, and out of curiosity, poked my head in to see what was going on.  Seemingly without a second thought, one of the workers spun around and handed me a piece of fresh, hot matzo.

He must have seen the look of utter confusion and astonishment on my face, because he immediately gestured for me to come inside and have a look around.  I took a step through the black iron door to the right of the window and was suddenly transported to another time.  Inside, workers buzzed around 80 year old machinery, adjusting ovens, placing matzo on conveyor belts that snaked through all floors of the factory, down stairs and through windows.  Rabbis looked on from the corners, watching for any errant flake of dough that could threaten the kosher certification of the product.

I didn’t know any more about the Streit’s Matzo factory at that point than what I could see in front of me, but that was enough to tell me I needed to learn more and that there had to be a documentary in their story!

Time passed and I continued working on other film projects for three years – always with the intent of returning, when the time was right, to the Streit’s story.

Last summer, after answering an ad on Craigslist seeking a videographer, I ended up one evening, camera in hand, outside a tent on the boardwalk at the Atlantic City Food & Wine Festival with the person who had posted that ad – the one and only Michael Green.  On a break between his performances, we got to talking about our dream projects, and I brought up the idea of the Streit’s documentary that had been gestating in my mind for the past three years.  Our conversation that evening was brief, but by the end, Michael had assured me that this film will be made – a point Michael would reinforce again and again over the months that followed.

Today, we are three months into shooting, and the story we are capturing is even richer and more inspirational than I could have imagined.

And in the midst of it, we are running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the completion of the film.  It can be a bit nervewracking – we need to reach our funding goal through contributions in a very limited amount of time, or else receive no funding at all.  But people have been rallying, contributing $5 here, $100 there, pushing us toward the finish line.  It’s still a ways off, but it’s in sight, and it’s been both incredibly gratifying and humbling to see people supporting the project as they have.

Streit’s has an amazing story and I am so grateful for the opportunity to get it out into the world.  It’s going to take the support of many, many people, to make it happen, but with the kind of response, the excitement, we’ve been receiving, I know I can take Michael at his word – this film will be made!

I hope you enjoy the trailer, and I hope you’ll consider joining us in our effort.

Thank you,


Streit’s Matzo Documentary

How did I become a film producer?  Serendipity and a true blessing.  Little did I know when I hired Michael Levine to shoot my sizzle reel on that six months later we would be partnering to make a film together!

While we were down shooting last July for the Food Network Atlantic City Wine and Food Festival, Michael told me, over drinks, an idea he had for a documentary.  My first response was “This has been done before!”  He said no.  My response was something to the effect of: Michael I get presented with ideas every week but this one… I need to hear more!

Michael Levine

Michael did an awesome job on my sizzle reel.  He took 14 hours of footage and condensed to a bit over three minutes, and nailed it on the first edit.  It was then that I realized that Michael not only is adept with a camera but is a great a story teller. AKA, an awesome editor.  (Editing.  Perhaps the most underrated category at the Oscars!)

Michael did more work for me.  We built trust and a strong friendship.  We continued talking about the documentary, and in late November I told him that while I don’t yet exactly how I might be involved in making this film, I think I can get you to the starting line.  And we both worked together to acquire the rights to the story and take care of all the non-so-exciting legal matters that would clear the way for him to do what we both wanted to do: tell this story!

It was a late afternoon in November after a lawyer meeting that I approached Michael with a proposal: I cautioned him that if it didn’t feel right, no worries – we have a strong friendship and there would be other work we could do together.

Within 5 minutes a deal was struck.  Michael would direct the documentary and we would both produce.  I felt and feel so strongly that this film will be a game changer that I also told him I want to have the right of first refusal to co-produce his next two films.  Michael agreed.

I told him candidly– I have worked in TV, radio, and print but this will be my first film.  I am a quick learner and I will do whatever it takes to get this film made.  Well, now we are three months into shooting and it has been one of the most joyful experiences of my professional career.

Okay what’s the film about?

The film is called “Streit’s: Matzo and The American Dream,” and it tells the story of the Streit’s Matzo factory on New York’s famed Lower East Side. As a fifth generation family business, and the last family-owned matzo factory in the country, Streit’s produces 40% of the nation’s matzo in four tenement buildings, where it has been located since 1925, using equipment as old as the factory itself. Set amidst the story of the rapidly changing neighborhood they call home, the story of Streit’s is truly an untold gem: a story of food, culture, immigration, history, community, family, and tradition.

And in what has been a thrilling experience in itself, we are now in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds needed to complete the film.  It has been so inspiring to Michael and myself to see so many people – some friends and fans, some who found the project on their own – joining in the effort, becoming part of the team that will see this story through.  Whether it’s been one dollar or one thousand dollars, it’s just been so exciting to see people as enthusiastic as we are to have this story told!

You will be hearing more about this film and more about Michael Levine!


Jagatjoti Khalsa, Creator of Altar Herbal Martini

In the world of wine and cocktails, I think the terms depth and complexity get thrown around irresponsibly.  To find a drink that truly evolves on the palate, where each element works alone and together to create a harmonious and profound experience is a rarer thing that we give it credit for.  Now, to find that kind of experience in a non-nonalcoholic beverage? Almost unheard of.

Altar Herbal Martini is the (extremely) rare exception.  Creator Jagatjoti Khalsa’s concept of ‘considered curation’ understates what he has been able to accomplish with this beverage.  And while you might say I’m biased, in that I have been working with him over the past year to create cocktails based around Altar, I don’t think I am.  I got involved with Altar first, because Jagatjoti is an exceptional person – his passion for the product he’s created is a reflection of his passion for life, and it is always a blessing to spend time with him.  And second, because from early tastings of Altar, it was very clear than the beverage he was creating was something truly special.

Altar is finally on the market, and while I couldn’t be more thrilled for the success they’ve been having, I’m certainly not surprised!  Whether enjoyed on its own or as part of a cocktail with alcohol, each Altar product creates a complete sensory experience that is truly… deep and complex.

I recently had the chance to sit down with Jagatjoti to talk about his inspiration, how he came to develop Altar, and some of the awesome cocktail possibilities the beverage presents.  So, enjoy, part one of my series with the remarkable Jagatjoti, and please, do yourself a favor and try Altar (it’s available at Whole Foods and arriving in new markets every day) – it is truly an experience worth savoring.

Live at Murray’s Cheese!

Well, the headline says “Live at Murray’s Cheese” – as in I’ll be appearing there in person. But trust me, if it was a command, as in “you should live at Murray’s Cheese”, I would take them up on it in a second!

It goes without saying that Murray’s is in unbelievable shop, and I’m so thrilled to once again be guiding a wine and cheese pairing there on June 10th.  The event, “Off the Beaten Path: Rare Wines and Unusual Cheeses,” focuses on hard to find cheeses and  equally rare wines that pair in perfect serendipity.  Wines and cheeses from new, up-and-coming small producers, or that are just in such demand, they’re normally nearly impossible to find… but we’ve got ‘em!

I’ve hosted many wine and cheese pairings at Murray’s in the past, and they’re always so much fun – and well attended, so get your tickets soon!  Hope to see you there…

Corporate Wine Tastings

Michael Green, America’s premier wine and spirits celebrity, with 25 years of experience entertaining and informing corporate audiences worldwide, is pleased to offer customized wine tasting experiences, perfect for your next teambuilding/leadership event, sales conference, client entertaining event, and more.

Why a Wine Tasting?

Wine is the ultimate connector.  It’s a medium through which relationships grow, successes are toasted, and experiences are shared and made more deeply memorable.  By providing your employees and clients with the experience to make knowledgeable decisions about wine, you are offering them both a skill and a gift that will enrich their business and personal lives.  The leveraging power of wine is a powerful tool, an outside-the-box means to practical goals.  With the right talent and guidance, your employees and clients will be ready to take advantage of the opportunities wine presents in their business and personal lives.

Why Michael Green?

No one is more knowledgeable about wine, or the business and pleasure of wine, than Michael Green.  And just as important, no one makes wine as accessible and entertaining!

It has been said that listening to Michael Green speak about wine is like witnessing a sensory explosion!  Having been in the wine business since the age of 6 (really!) and with a background in the performing arts, Michael effortlessly blends a wealth of information and audience engagement into a dynamic, unforgettable experience that is low-pretense, high-impact, and supremely entertaining.

As the wine consultant to Gourmet Magazine for 20 years, a highly sought after personality on national television (Food Network, TodayShow, etc), at major food and wine festivals (Atlantic City, Palm Desert, to name a few), and with 25 years of experience connecting corporate and consumer audiences through food and drink, Michael’s range and depth of experience is unmatched in the industry.

Uniquely, Michael Green understands the language of business as well as he understands the language of wine.  He understands the individuality of each business’ model and message, and crafts customized wine tasting experiences in synergy with thegoals and objectives of your company and your event.

This unique combination of knowledge, entertainment, and corporate experience, sets Michael Green apart.  It is what has kept corporate clients coming back, again and again, for 25 years.

The Event Experience

Your wine tasting experience is a customized event, shaped by a personal consultation with Michael about your business, and your goals for the experience.  Below are a number of programs Michael has offered on a regular basis over the years. Please note, these are not by-the-script offerings, but rather outlines of programs that have been the basis of successful events.

Inspiring Wines by Inspiring Leaders

Great Wine by Great Women

Selling Through the Senses

Wine 101:  Fast Track to Wine Expertise

Power Dining:  How to Maximize Business Dinners

No matter what kind of event experience best fits your needs, you can be sure the Michael and his team will provide the logistics and hands-on planning necessary to ensure a seamless event, with careful attention to your budget and your time. From customized content, to coordinating with the event venue, and using a vast network of winemakers and event professionals at his disposal, you can feelcomfortable that your time will be spent with your audience, rather than worrying about the execution of your event.

A wine tasting with Michael Green is a uniquely impactful experience; one that will leave your audience both immensely entertained and ready to make use of the powerful new tools at their disposal.  We look forward to working with you to develop a event program that will exceed your expectations and create a lasting impression on the audience that matters most to you.

For more information, please contact

Or visit Michael’s website at

A Rising Star on the Wine Scene

Okay, so not all my Momentary Thrills are momentary.  Take the Pain Perdu at Landmarc, for example.  If I have an awesome experience I want to experience it again and again.  The same is true of when I met Gainey Vineyard Winemaker Jeff LeBard at the Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival.  Jeff and I were hosting a seminar together and we had never met before.  Before the seminar began I whispered into his ear – “Jeff, don’t forget to have fun!  You’re great at what you do and this audience needs to know about you.  Just trust me.”  And he did.  The audience had an awesome time at the seminar laughing and learning.  Jeff’s passion came through with every wine we tasted and every story he told.   By the end of the session we were calling each other bro (without holding a bottle of Miller Lite beer in our hands) and we were planning our next journey together.  If I can convince Gainey’s marketing director to let Jeff travel the US with me for a week, I will be planning wine and food dinners for my fans.  And trust me, once you meet Jeff you will quickly become a fan too.  Oh, and did I tell you that his wines are awesome?  Gainey produces some of the best Pinots in the US (when I can find them!) Note to Jeff:  Save some for my friends and fans!

But the Gainey surprise and the wine surprise of the entire festival, at least for me, was his Riesling.  I adored this wine so much I selected it for my April Wine Alert!

A bit more about Jeff:

Jeff LeBard is the head winemaker at Gainey Vineyard and a Central Coast native. He has been making wine for over 16 years and is sickly talented and continues to be a rising star in the region.  Jeff lives in the mountains overlooking the Santa Ynez Valley, with his wife Tracy, daughter Ashleigh, and dog Silas.

In between sips (okay, multiple glasses) of Gainey Riesling, I sat down tolearn a little more about what inspires Jeff:

MG: What is your favorite time of year to be a winemaker?

Jeff LeBard: Harvest.   Although it is the busiest time of year it is actually a lot less stressful than blending and bottling.  The long hours and hard work are complimented by a lot of fun and getting to know winemaking interns from around the world.

MG:  If you could serve your wine to one person dead or alive who would it be?

JLB:  it would be my grandfather.  He was my best friend growing up (he lived next door to my family) and passed away before my career started.  I would love for him to share my pride and passion for wine.

MG:  When you are not working, what are you up to?

JLB: Backpacking, hiking, hunting and fly fishing, pretty much enjoying anything that has to do with outdoor adventures!

MG:  Who are your mentors?

My most significant mentor in my career has been Jon Engelskirger. Aside from all the technical knowledge Jon has given me, he has been very instrumental in my growth as a winemaker and as a person.  He has taught me how to be versatile and to be several different styled winemakers in one.  He has also taught me to make wines that I am proud of and to not make wines for the sole purpose of getting a high score.  Aside from all of that he has become one of my very best friends.

MG:  When you’re not drinking wine, what’s your go to beverage?

JLB: Vodka.  Good vodka tastes like nothing and sometimes that is exactly what my exhausted palate needs :)

Wine Alert! – April 2013

My April Wine Alert has arrived!   I tasted through close to 280 wines last month and I have selected two that are truly awesome and can’t be missed!  You can read about them AND you can taste them!  Through a relationship with the oldest wine shop in America, Acker Merrall & Condit  (and where I got my start working with my dad at the age of 6!) I have negotiated special pricing just for my friends and fans. Just mention OMG! if you want to place an order, but please keep in mind that many of these wines are produced in tiny quantities so be sure to make haste if you want to get a taste of these very special wines. I know it sounds “salesy” but it is true!

Here are my April picks!

Bergaglio Sassaia Monferrato Rosso 2007 
(Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy)
SRP:  $23.99  OMG Price $18.99

Gainey Vineyard Riesling 2010
(Santa Ynez Valley, California, USA)
SRP: $15.00 OMG Price: $12.99

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700
or email Cliff Korn at

Also, remember this pricing is only available until the end of the month!

Read more about these wines are why I adore them! … 

Bergaglio Sassaia Monferrato Rosso 2007
(Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy)
SRP:  $23.99  OMG Price $18.99

6 reasons why I love this wine:

1.   Piedmont is one of my favorite wine regions in the world.
2.   Pier Carlo Bergaglio is one of the most exciting winemakers working in the region today.
3.   This is a wine that I like to call a Super Piedmont (think Super Tuscan and then go North!)
4.  The wine is a unique blend of Nebbiolo (the noble grape of the region and the grapes used to craft the famed wines of Barolo and Barbaresco), along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Barbera.
5.   In most cases, older vines mean better wines.  Many of the wines used to craft this wine are 70 years old!
6.   Micro production – less than 550 cases available for the world.

My notes:

This is an Old World meets New World wine at its best, boasting a bouquet of black cherry, cocoa and blueberry, vanilla smoke, violets, with  hints of cassis and dried fig. The finish is elegant and long.


Gainey Vineyard Riesling 2010
(Santa Ynez Valley, California, USA)
SRP: $15.00 OMG Price: $12.99

3 reasons why you must try this wine – even if you think you don’t like Riesling!

1.   All Rieslings are not sweet.  That is a generalization – right up there with all New Yorker’s are rude and all foreign films are boring!  Not true!  This is a Riesling made in an off-dry style.
2.   Riesling is one of the most food friendly wines on the planet.  What does it not pair well with?  Slab some ketchup on your hamburger or take a bite of pork with applesauce and you’ll see what I mean.   And let’s not forget all Asian, Indian and fried foods…and brunch…and fish and seafood…and bacon…and popcorn…I could make this list much more exhaustive but you get the idea.
3.   If you like Riesling you must try this wine!  You will realize that not all great Rieslings need to come from Germany.

Tasting notes from the winemaker:

Sticking your nose into a glass of our 2010 Riesling is like smelling a freshly baked apple pie that’s been sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg, with bits of pear and citrus thrown in. Relatively low in alcohol, the wine’s bright, off- dry flavors are appley and zesty, with refreshing lime, spice and mineral tones enlivening the finish.  Enjoy it over the next one to two years.

So, there they are!  My two Wine Alert picks for April

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700
or email Cliff Korn at

Charity & Non-Profit Events

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to work with so many awesome charities and non-profits, and it’s truly been a blessing to be involved with so many important causes and to play whatever role I can in their success.

Understanding the limited funding many of these great organizations have to work with, I’ve put a great deal of thought into creating a financial model specifically to help charities and nonprofits get the most out of their event, and the results have been, I’m happy to say, beyond even my high expectations!

In the model I’ve come up with, the cost of a highly acclaimed celebrity auctioneer (me!) is offset by an exciting and alluring auction prize, contributed by me, as well as event consulting hours, donated by my company, Liquid Assets Consulting Group.

Our numerous charity partners include the American Cancer Society, Hudson River Healthcare, World Resources Institute, Infinite Family, The REACH Foundation, LUNGevity, the University Settlement and The Janus School.

So, if you work with or know a charity or non-profit looking to put together an event to remember, read up on some of the details and testimonials below, and get in touch!



Michael Green & Liquid Assets Consulting Group – Charity/Non-Profit Event Model

Here’s how it works:

  • Wine and spirits celebrity Michael Green serves as the live auctioneer for your event. Read Michael’s Bio
  • In an offer available exclusively to charity and nonprofit organizations, his appearance fee is reduced by half.
  • To offset the cost of his appearance, Michael will donate a wine tasting for up to 50 people, to take place in the winner’s home or other venue of his or her choosing. Included are his appearance fee and all the wine for the tasting.
  • Additionally Liquid Assets Consulting Group offers up to 10 consulting hours to help strategize not only your live auction, but the complete event experience

If you’ve held a live auction in the past, you know the auctioneer can make all the difference when it comes to the event’s success. For more than two decades, Michael has built a loyal and enthusiastic following for his energetic and inspiring live performances.

Whether on stage at major wine and food festivals, on television, or auctioneering for an important cause, Michael’s ability to engage and entertain audiences is second to none. And it shows where it counts most: Events he has auctioneered routinely exceed fundraising expectations, to which our clients can attest!…

When we initially engaged Michael, he opened our eyes to the untapped potential of our donor base by providing a memorable and exciting evening. In our first year of working together, he doubled our results from the year prior! But this year, Michael outdid himself. Having just completed our second auction with him, we are proud to report that he helped us to double our results over last year helping us to net nearly $200,000. He has amazing energy and passion for the causes that he works for and he is a savvy fundraising marketer. We can’t wait for next year!

Mary Ann Sullivan
Board Member
All Saints Episcopal School

As for the wine tasting, you can be sure it will be an in-demand item at your auction! Michael’s deeply knowledgeable yet down-to-earth style has made him a favorite on television and at culinary festivals across the country and around the world. The opportunity to have his talent appearance in the comfort of your own home, alongside up to 50 friends (wine included!), is sure to be a hit with your guests.

For additional information on how Michael Green can support revenue generation and additional marketing and public relations opportunities for your organization, please feel free to contact Jennifer Funkenberg at for a complimentary consultation.

We look forward to working with you to make your next live auction event a resounding success and an evening to remember!



Michael Levine – Palm Desert Wine & Food Festival

The Palm Desert Wine and Food Festival

Guest post by Michael Levine

(Michael Levine is a New York City-based documentary filmmaker and president of Rivington Pictures, who has worked with Michael Green on a number of projects, including ‘The Wine Hero’, an upcoming web series, and filmed numerous of Michael’s events.  They are currently producing a feature-length documentary film, which Levine is directing, about the Streit’s Matzo factory on Manhattan’s Lower East Side)


When Michael asked me to join him to shoot video for his trip to the Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival, I was thrilled to say the least.  At the end of a long winter in New York, spent alternating between shooting in the numbing cold or huddled up editing for days on end in my apartment, the idea of doing the work I love in a more hospitable climate surrounded by awesome food and drink was certainly an appealing one.

And the trip did not disappoint.  The weather was gorgeous, there was no shortage of palms or desert, as promised, and the festival itself was a blast.  There was an eclectic mix of food from restaurants and vendors from all around the Coachella Valley, and winemakers from around California.  Michael’s seminars were, always, received with tremendous enthusiasm, and we met and reconnected with some fantastic people, working in the world of food and drink and beyond.

If the festival itself was a teaser for some of the great epicurean offerings the region had in store, our meals out and about in the Palm Desert/Palm Springs area delivered on the promise of that sampling.  Two meals in particular stand out as particularly memorable:


Trattoria Tiramisu

This was meant to be a working dinner, seated in the parking-lot-side dining courtyard of an unassuming little Italian restaurant in a strip mall on El Paseo in Palm Desert.  Michael and I were set to read through a new prohibition-era play he’s written that’s nearly finished, but it became quickly apparent as the first plates arrived that work would have to hold off ‘til after dessert.

It began with the most simple of dishes – a small plate of spaghetti with garlic and chili olive oil, but cooked to such perfection that really, given the tempered expectations we had going in, this one well-produced dish would have been enough to call the meal a success.  But the plates kept coming, – a wonderfully refreshing heirloom tomato salad, and main courses of sand dabs in a buttery white wine sauce with capers, and my entrée: a generous helping of fresh seafood over that same perfectly cooked pasta from the appetizer course.

For drinks, after starting off with a Makers Mark on the rocks, I let Michael make the wine selection – given that he knows a thing or two about such things… and as always, he came through with a winner from a the fairly voluminous list we were offered.  The choice was, I learned, a “Super Tuscan” wine, meaning a blend of several different grapes from Tuscany, and to be specific, a second label 2005 Ornellaia Le Volte – earthy, gripping, and delicious.

As the meal wound down, we finally got down to work, well fed and perhaps a little humbled by the notion that food of this quality was quietly emanating from a little strip mall kitchen in the desert.  But this place wasn’t quite through working it’s charm yet, as our server, who had been helpful and accommodating all night, arranged for a cheese plate and a piece of their namesake tiramisu for our table.  These plates were followed by a visit from the chef/owner, Mario Marfia, himself, whom we thanked profusely for such a fantastic meal, and who informed us he will soon be opening a second restaurant just down the street – reason enough for me to fly back!

In all, it was a great meal, punctuated by great conversation (and vice versa), and a perfect example of how great food experiences, and memorable moments, can emerge from the least expected places.


Copley’s On Palm Canyon

This one was my choice, and it seemed a pretty safe bet: one of the Palm Springs area’s top chefs working at a restaurant on Cary Grant’s estate in the middle of downtown Palm Springs.  And once again, the experience truly delivered on the premise.

This time, Michael and I were joined by his old friend and colleague, Sara Moulton, who, if by chance you don’t know, spent nine years on television at the Food Network, the past several years with a cooking show on PBS and frequent appearances on Rachael Ray, and wrote for Gourmet Magazine (where she and Michael met) for 25 years.  All that and she’s also just a delightful person to spend time with.

The food here was excellent all around.  We started off each with a different salad, Michael with another take on an heirloom tomato salad, Sara with a roasted beet and goat cheese salad, and I with the “unconventional” wedge salad, which offered a much more subtle and complex palate of flavor than your basic wedge salad normally entails.

Main courses were also very satisfying – my venison, a special that evening, was a perfect medium rare, Sara’s ahi tacos in a miso shell looked delicious, as did Michael entrée of duck two ways (a version of which, by coincidence, Sara had presented to audiences at the festival that same afternoon!).

But as good as was the food, it was really the atmosphere and the company and conversation that made this meal so memorable.  We were seated in a lush, palm-canopied garden in the courtyard of the estate, with a fire pit in one corner, tables arranged to provide both and intimate feel and one of community.  Simply put, it seemed like a great, warm, outdoor dinner party at Cary Grant’s house – which is just as awesome as it sounds…

The evening was filled with stories about Sara and Michael’s fascinating experiences at Gourmet, and events that took them all over the world, and some great anecdotes from Sara about her good friend (!) Julia Child.  We spoke together about all the exciting projects we have ahead – and there are many in the works for everyone there.  And while not all that work will take place in the paradise that is the Coachella Valley (I’m back tying this in my tiny East Village studio), the setting provided a perfect moment of reflection and, I think, renewal of the energy that is sometimes tested by the less idyllic surroundings of the city – particularly as a snowstorm was forecast to greet us upon arrival at JFK.

But perhaps we brought a little warmth from Palm Springs back with us, because it was only a few raindrops that met us at the airport on our return.  Certainly, I know I brought back memories of great food and drink, of company and conversation that will continue to inspire me in my work long after my (very slight) desert tan fades, and for that I am very grateful.

Winemaker Steve Rogstad, Cuvaison & Brandlin Winery

I recently had the chance to meet up at Marc Murphy‘s Landmarc restaurant (go for the burgers, stay for the wonderfully curated wine list!) in midtown Manhattan with Steve Rogstad, a California winemaker who’s bringing some new life to two established Napa Valley brands: Cuvaison Estate Wines and Brandlin Vineyard.

In part one of my conversation with Steve, we talked about how he got his start in wine, where he draws his inspiration, and his admiration for the late Loire Valley winemaker, Didier Dagueneau.

Stay tuned for parts two and three where we’ll taste through some of Steve’s work with Cuvaison and Brandlin…

What to Drink with Easter Dinner

What to drink with Easter dinner?  It’s a common question, an excellent question, and a question I can’t answer here. Why? Because I don’t know what you’re eating! Depending where you are or what your taste or family tradition, you could be feasting on ham, on lamb, or just gorging yourself on Peeps!  Still, I want to help…

So, I’m opening up my wine brain trust to my friends and followers.  Email me and let me know what your serving and your desired price point…

Tremendous value: under $10
Luxury: $11-25
Ultra Premium: over $25

… and I’ll send you my pairing suggestion to make your Easter banquet complete.  Whether it’s ham, turkey, seitan, or some other protein, please remember to include the preparation and the full name of the dish.

And just to get it out of the way, Peeps pair lovely with Moscato d’Asti!

Wine Alert!

Starting this month I am debuting Wine Alert where, out of the hundreds of wines that I sample each month, I will select two that are truly awesome and can’t be missed!  You can read about them AND you can taste them!  Through a relationship I have established with the oldest wine shop in America, Acker Merrall & Condit  (and where I got my start working with my dad at the age of 6!) I have negotiated special pricing just for my friends and fans. Just mention OMG! if you want to place an order but please keep in mind that many of these wines are produced in tiny quantities so be sure to make haste if you want to get a taste of these very special wines. Ugh that sounds so “salesy” but it is true!

Here are my March picks:

Curran Grenache Blanc, 2011
(Santa Ynez Valley, California)
SRP: $22, OMG Price: $16.99

Matsu El Recio, 2010
(Toro, Spain)
SRP: $26.50, OMG Price: $19.50

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700
or email Jessica Sullivan,

Curran Grenache Blanc, 2011 (Santa Ynez Valley, California) 

Why I love this wine?
Off the beaten path grape crafted by a pioneer winemaker.

Santa Barbara County’s San Ynez Valley, with mountains to the north and south, provides a unique geographic location for growing certain varietals of grape, including the Grenache Blanc.  The marine fog which passes through the valley each night creates peak conditions for this grape, and the Curran Grenache Blanc is a fantastic example of how geography influences taste.  Rich in fruits, including peach and apricot, and with hints of citrus, this crisp, low acid wine, makes it a great pairing option for seafood, grilled vegetables, and a wide variety of cheeses.

Kris Curran of California’s D’Alfonso-Curran wines, grew up in that state’s San Ynez Valley.  After briefly trying out a career as a veterinarian, she quickly realized her passion for wine, assisting at Cambria Estate Vineyards and Winery, and then Koehler Winery, where she prepared her first release.  After helping turn Sea Smoke into a major success, she turned to her own work and launched D’Alfonso-Curran with her husband, Bruno Alfonso.  Working in California, where a dramatic shift has occurred – with 15-20% of winemakers now being women, where that number was near 0% 20 years ago, Curran has strong feelings not only about the image of women as winemakers, but also as wine consumers.  Commenting on the release by wine giant Beringer of a line of low-calorie, low alcohol wines called “White Lie”, targeting women with messages like “it’s my natural color” and “I’ll be home by 7”, Curran stated, “I find it demeaning.  It’s implying that women don’t have as sophisticated a palate.”  And so, Curran unwaveringly continues to produce bold wines that defy expectations of the women who make them, and who enjoy them.

Matsu El Recio, 2010 (Toro, Spain) 

Why I love this wine?
Five reasons:
1.  Tempranillo is the noble grape of Spain.
2.  Tempranillo is one of my favorite grapes in the world.
3.  Toro is a famous but undervalued region.
4.  The wine is rich in flavor and wonderfully balanced.
5.  The wine label is SO cool!

The wines from Toro are brimming with tradition. Their origins date back to before the settlements of the Romans. In the Middle Ages, they were greatly appreciated, and enjoyed royal privileges which allowed them to be commercialized in towns and cities where the sale of other wines was forbidden.

These wines filled royal cellars and ships that were to sail to the lands of the New World.

During the 19th century, large quantities were exported to France to fill the gap that had been left by the phylloxera plague.

In the 1970s, the first steps were taken to create what was to later become the Toro Designation of Origin, which culminated in 1987, and today, The Regulating Body for the Toro Designation of Origin guarantees over 50 wineries.

Its evolution over recent decades has placed this wine as protagonist of the magma of wine reviews at both national and international levels.

As for this particular winery, and this wine that I’m so thoroughly enjoying, the winery’s name, Matsu, is a Japanese name which means Hope and Wait, a fitting tribute to the old vines from which their grapes are grown.  In fact this wine, El Recio – a Spanish term referring to one who is mature and strong – comes from a selection of 90 to 100 year old vines of extremely limited production, which are naturally cultivated following classic biodynamic techniques.

This is a rich wine with lots of finesse, with an intense nose having notes of chocolate, black fruits and vanilla. In the mouth the taste is striking, being predominantly round and silky, very unctuous with subtle hints of the glycerin. Touches of fruits linger in the after taste as do mineral notes. This is a full bodied wine yet at the same time very easy to drink.

So, there they are!  My two Wine Alert picks for March:

Curran Grenache Blanc, 2011
(Santa Ynez Valley, California)
SRP:$22  OMG price: $16.99

Matsu El Recio, 2010
(Toro, Spain)
SRP: $26.50 OMG Price: $19.50

To place your order with Acker Merrall & Condit call 212-787-1700
or email Jessica Sullivan,

I can’t wait for you to try these wines that I have been enjoying so much, and to bring you new selections each month that will expand your wine horizons. Enjoy!

Tradition and Taste – New Kosher Wines

Kosher wines have a tradition dating back thousands of years, but in this country, that tradition has long resulted in wines based on utility rather than taste.  Having grown up with brands like Manischewitz and other likeminded producers, who created their wines from sweet, Concord grapes and other labrusca varietals grown primarily in the cold climates of upstate New York, we’ve rarely associated the wines we drink during Jewish holidays with anything we would consume year-round.  But this situation has been changing in recent years, with new processes to ensure both Kashrut and taste, a revival in the Israeli wine industry, and in fact producers around the world producing excellent wines from high quality grapes.

To understand the evolution of kosher wines, we need to know a bit about their history and what exactly makes a wine kosher.  The use of wine in Judaism dates back to Biblical times (in fact the Midrash teaches that a wine grape was the forbidden fruit given to Adam by Eve) and almost all Jewish holidays mandate the consumption of wine in one form or other.

And like everything to be consumed during Jewish holidays, and particularly Passover, a strict set of laws governs the wine to be consumed during these times, from the earth to the table.  For one thing, a Sabbath-observant Jew must be involved in the winemaking process from harvest to bottling, and Rabbinical supervision is employed to ensure that this is the case.  Also, the fining agents used must be kosher, and certain fining agents preclude the use of the wine with other foods (for instance, the use of gelatin, an animal product, disallows the consumption of wines made with this additive alongside dairy products.)

None of these regulations, though, necessarily must negatively affect the taste of the final product.  Traditionally, the biggest challenge to creating a fine tasting kosher wine has been the additional requirements placed upon Mevushal wines.  One of the restrictions of most kosher wines is that wines, even if produced as to meet Halacha requirements, become non-kosher if handled by a non-Jewish person.  This has long presented problems in even kosher restaurants, where the waitstaff was not necessarily Jewish and thus could not handle or pour kosher wines for the establishment’s customers.  One way of solving this has been the use of Mevushal wines.  These wines are boiled before bottling, and according to Jewish law, this allows them to be handled by Jews and gentiles alike, without affecting the wine’ Kashrut status.  Certainly, this is a great convenience, but the downside is that boiling a wine tends to greatly degrade the quality of the wine.

And so, the kosher wine industry has long had two major issues that have stood in the way of producing fine kosher wine: the use of inferior grapes, and the degradation of the product caused by the boiling process in order to classify the wine as Mevushal.

But as I alluded to earlier, both of these impediments have, in recent years, begun to lift, through innovation, rather than by diluting the great traditions associated with kosher wine production.  Kosher wines are now created from high quality vinfera grapes all over the world, and a new process of flash pasteurization, whereby the wine is very rapidly brought to a soft boil and just as rapidly cooled back to proper temperature, means that even Mevushal wines are worthy not only for use during Passover and other Jewish holidays, but for enjoyment year-round.

So, as Passover approaches, I’m offering some suggestions for wines that will not only serve their traditional purpose, but might become a part of your collection for the entire year…

Ben Ami Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 (Israel) – Kosher for Passover, Mevushal

On the affordable side, you really can’t do better than this Cabernet Sauvignon produced form grapes grown in the ancient Judean hills.   It’s an easy-drinking wine with floral notes and vanilla flavors.

Beckett’s Flate Five Stones Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, 2011 (Australia) – Kosher for Passover, Mevushal

Another affordable Mevushal wine, this wine presents not only a great example of the growing international reach of kosher wine production, but also a product of exciting flavor and character, with scents of apples, freshly cut grass, and tropical fruit – a great summer wine.

Capcanes Peraj Petita Montsant, 2011 (Spain) – Kosher for Passover, non-Mevushal

Spain is a country with a rich Jewish history and a great winemaking tradition, and this wine is a fine tribute to both.  A rustic, earthy wine with chewy tannins, this is one of the finest kosher red wines produced in Spain.

Yarden Pinot Noir, 2009 (Israel) Kosher for Passover, non-Mevushal

Grown in the high altitudes of Israel’s Golan Heights, this may be the regions finest product made with this delicate grape.  The wine comes with a nose of raspberry and rhubarb, with floral accents and layers of cranberry, violet, and tobacco unfold on the palate.

Baron Herzog Cabernet Special Edition Warnecke Vineyard, 2007 (California) – Kosher for Passover, Mevushal

A world away from the aforementioned sweet, labrusca wines commonly associated with kosher, this is a huge, rich Cabernet, and one of the most satisfying kosher wines available.  It’s wine that improves greatly with age – allow it to cellar for 5-7 years – and rewards with powerful, well integrated tannins, and tastes of vanilla, espresso, currant, and blackberry.


Irish Whiskey 101

St. Patrick’s Day is approaching, and with it as always come visions of frat-packed bars, doling out pitchers of dyed-green beer.  I’m sorry, but 6 drops of green dye in a plastic cup of Coors Lite does not an Irish drink make!  This year, set yourself apart from the guzzling herd by sipping on something far more tasty that will also not leave you with green teeth – I say stick with Irish whiskey!

And while you’re drinking it, impress the drunken hordes around you by knowing a thing or two about it…

To begin with, what is it exactly?  Well, the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 gives us a place to start, telling us, first of all, that it must be distilled and aged in Ireland – seems reasonable enough.  Ageing must take place for a minimum of 3 years in wooden casks, and the resulting spirits must contain less than 94.8% alcohol (which is plenty for most!), produced from a yeast-fermented mash of cereal grains, and that the flavor and aroma of those grains must be present in the final product.  And finally, if the spirits contain two or more distillates, the beverage is referred to as ‘blended’ Irish whiskey.

The whiskeys are generally produced in a continuous still (which is highly efficient at turning out large amounts of whiskey) or a pot still (which is slower but results in a more flavorful product).  In either scenario, what we are left with is one of the smoother types of whiskey in the world, highly drinkable, without the peatiness of Scotch or the sweetness of Bourbon.

Irish whiskey is one of the oldest distilled drinks in Europe, having been produced since at least the 12th century, and Queen Elizabeth I is said to have been quite a fan.  The drink was extremely popular and exported around the world through the end of the 19th century, with 160 distilleries operating across Ireland at that time.

Then, in the first part of the 20th century, several factors combined to nearly extinguish the Irish whiskey industry.  First, Ireland was slow to adopt the more efficient continuous still, which was coming into use around that time, and production of other whiskeys soon outstripped theirs.  Ireland’s War of Independence took its toll in the early 1920s, as it made exportation of the product difficult, and that same decade saw prohibition in the United States, eliminating yet another market.  To make matters worse, cheap moonshine in the U.S. at the time was often described as ‘Irish whiskey’, damaging the product’s reputation.  And finally, World War II left many of the remaining distilleries in ruins.  By the end of the War, only 2 distilleries remained in all of Ireland, and, shockingly, until 2007, there were only 3 distilleries operating there (as opposed to 90 in Scotland)!

The last 50 years or so, though, have seen a tremendous resurgence in the popularity of Irish whiskey.  Brands produced in the three major distilleries, like Jameson, Bushmills, Powers, and Michael Collins, can be found in nearly every bar and liquor store in America (as can plenty of empty bottles in the trash at the end of the night!).  And in the last several years, two additional distilleries have opened in Ireland: the old Kilbeggan Distillery, which first opened in 1757 but had been closed since 1954, and the new Dingle Distillery, the first whiskey distillery built in Ireland in 200 years, which began production in 2012.  The whiskey being produced at these new facilities is still undergoing the ageing process, but keep your calendars open, as Kilbeggan will be sending its first batches in 60 years to retail in 2014.

So, you see, so much more interesting than the origins of green beer! And much more enjoyable too.

Crystal Light Liquid Cocktails

If you know anything about, me, you certainly know of my passion for a well-crafted cocktail, but it’s quite unlikely you know of my weakness for a certain non-alcoholic drink mixer: none other than the fabled Crystal Light.  And that’s why I was so excited when Crystal Light came to me with a new product, Crystal Light Liquid, and asked me to design a line of alcoholic cocktails based around it.  It’s great when two of your favorite things come together like that!

Now, there was a bit of a challenge to this, and one well worth undertaking… You see, in a cocktail with alcohol using a mere mortal fruit juice, like cranberry or orange, you can rely on that juice to take up a good portion of the cocktail in order to provide the desired flavor.  But with Crystal Light Liquid, a single squeeze from the bottle – less than a teaspoon – was all it took.  Now I’m all for a good strong drink, but seven ounces of vodka in a glass with a single squeeze of flavor is, shall we say, a bit intense – this Crystal Liquid is superhuman stuff!  So, to tame down the alcohol content a bit, I looked into additional fruits and fruit juices that would compliment the Crystal Light Liquid flavors and alcohols in each cocktail.  And while one of Crystal Light’s strengths is its potent sweetness, when mixing with alcohol, sometimes you want to balance things a bit.  So, this meant using acids, generally citrus juices, to finish off the cocktails.

And so, with great delight, I share with you below six of Crystal Light Liquid cocktails I created.  And if you’re looking for something with flavor and flair, but without the alcohol, have a look at 6 virgin cocktails (click on ‘mixology’) I created that still have that classic Crystal Light kick.


You don’t have to be from Kentucky to enjoy this fresh twist on a southern classic. Kick off your shoes with this sunny afternoon sensation on ice!


1 squeeze Crystal Light Iced Tea
4oz bourbon
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
Fresh lemon                                                                 (makes 2 servings)


Fill a cocktail shaker with ice
Add Crystal Light Iced Tea, bourbon, and fresh lemon juice
Shake vigorously for 30 seconds

To Serve:

Pour over ice in a rocks glass
Garnish with a slice of fresh lemon and enjoy!


Peach Bellini

Brunch time with the girls but don’t feel like getting dressed yet?  Make the magic happen at home with this dazzling peach bellini.


1 squeeze Crystal Light Peach Bellini
5 oz sparkling wine (such as Cava or prosecco)
2 oz peach juice or nectar
2 tbsp fresh diced peach


Add Crystal Light Peach Bellini to a Champagne flute
Add peach juice or nectar and fresh diced peach
Top with sparkling wine

To Serve:

Make a sassy toast, look someone in the eye,
and enjoy!



Shake up the party with this decadent cocktail that will have them all drinking out of the ‘pom’ of your hand!


1 squeeze Crystal Light Pomtini
2 oz vodka
1 oz orange liqueur
1 oz fresh lime juice
Fresh orange or strawberry


Fill a cocktail shaker with ice
Add Crystal Light Pomtini, vodka, and lime juice
Shake vigorously for 30 seconds

To Serve:

Pour into a martini glass
Garnish with orange or strawberry and enjoy!


Strawberry Lemonade Gin Spritzer

Be a smash hit at the tennis courts when you serve up this dangerously flirtatious fruity gin spritzer – advantage, you!


1 squeeze Crystal Light Strawberry Lemonade
2 oz gin
1 oz fresh lime juice
Fresh Lime
Club Soda


Fill a rocks glass with ice
Add Crystal Light Strawberry Lemonade, gin, and fresh lime juice
Top with club soda

To Serve:

Garnish with a slice of fresh lime and enjoy!


Mango Passionfruit Mojito

When the party’s getting hot, stay cool with this ultra-refreshing cocktail that dances to a Latin beat.


2 squeezes Crystal Light Mango Passionfruit
2 oz rum
¾  oz lime juice
4 sprigs fresh mint
2 tbsp diced fresh mango
Club Soda


Muddle fresh mint with Crystal Light
Strawberry Lemonade in a highball glass
Add diced fresh mango
Fill remainder of glass with ice
Add rum and lime juice
Top with club soda

To Serve:

Take a sip and get out on that dance floor – Salud!


Berry Rum Punch


6 squeezes Crystal Light Blueberry Raspberry
12 oz rum
18 oz orange juice
9 oz grapefruit juice
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries                               (makes 6 servings)


Add Crystal Light Blueberry Raspberry, rum, orange juice
and grapefruit juice to a punch bowl
Add fresh blueberries, raspberries, and sliced strawberries

To Serve:

Pour into rocks or punch glasses and enjoy!

Celebrating Great Wine by Great Women

It’s always exciting to have an opportunity to celebrate innovators in the world of wine, and even more so when they’re also opening doors for others.  I was recently brought on by a major media company to host just such a celebration.  The event, ‘Great Wine, Great Women,’ was a toast to seven women winemakers who have helped break down the gender barrier that has for too long existed in the world of winemaking, and are turning out some amazing products.  From the legendary to the up-and-coming, these women winemakers present a force to be reckoned with.  And our wine tasting proved that their products do, too!

The presentation, to a group of female executives, linked key attributes of these pioneering women winemakers, which have contributed to their success, and which can serve as a model for anyone reaching for success and breaking new ground in their field.  I am always thrilled to be involved in events like these, so please get in touch if you have a group in mind that could benefit from this kind of experience.

Before we have a look at these seven extraordinary women, some facts about women in the wine industry…

  • 57% of the wine in the US is purchased by women, but until recently, women made up only the smallest portion of managerial positions in the wine business.  This has gradually begun to change, beginning in the 1960s, and more quickly in the past two decades.
  • In fact, it was not until 1982 that a female California winemaker, Milla Handley of Mendocino, had her own name on a wine label,
  • In that state, which provides a good barometer for trends in the industry, 10% of wineries have a woman as their made or lead winemaker, a small but rapidly growing figure.  In fact, in Sonoma and Napa, between 20 -30% of wineries fit that category, which many estimate is double to triple the number in 1990.
  • And it’s not that these women are making inroads only at smaller wineries.  In California, approximately the same percentages of male and female winemakers work at wineries that produce less than 1000 cases, and more than 500,000 cases annually.
  • It has long been held that women drink the majority of wine, but production and marketing was the domain of men, with women relegated to lesser positions in the field.  But even long time holdouts on gender front in winemaking have begun to realize that a growing group of bold women have been making innovative and important strides in the field.
  • While it may be some time before gender parity exists in the winemaking business, the unwavering commitment of these women winemakers to their craft is shaking up the paradigm.  In fact, since the mid 1990s, women have made up nearly half the students at the viticulture and oenology department at the University of California Davis, a statistic which points to continued growth for women in the winemaking field.

And now, without further ado, a look at seven women winemakers, past and present, who have offered the world great wine, as well as inspiration to anyone reaching for success…

Winemaker: Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin

Madame Clicquot Ponsardin was a true innovator, not only establishing Veuve Clicquot as one of the world’s premier Champagne houses, but also developing a new bottling process that would revolutionize the product. Born in Reims, France, in 1777 to an aristocratic family, her life underwent it’s first upheaval early when France’s own revolution broke out, forcing her family to break from the Aristocracy to save their lives and their fortune – a move which at a young age taught Ponsadin the importance of adaptability.  At 21, she married a wealthy textile merchant named Francois Clicquot, who ran a side business in wine distribution.  But once again six years later, when she was just 27, trauma struck when her husband died suddenly of typhoid.  Instead of settling into the unhappy life of a young widow, Clicquot upended all convention by convincing her father in law to allow her to run her late husband’s business, and fearlessly focused the company on wine production at a time when international relations were not conducive to wine trading success.  Her commitment paid off.  By 1815, Veuve Clicquot (which translates to ‘widow Clicquot’) was in tremendous demand, and as the trading situation improved, so did the company’s fortunes grow.  As if all this wasn’t enough, Madame Clicquot now turned her attention to an issue that had plagued Champagne producers since the beginning.  Up to this time, the second fermentation of the wine would leave sediment from the yeast in the Champagne to the point where the final product was cloudy in the bottle.  In her cellars, Clicquot cleverly developed a process whereby the fermenting wines were upturned and the yeast allowed to settle at the cork.  Once the sediment had fully collected, the wine near the cork and the temporary cork itself were frozen and removed, resulting in a product that was as clear as the Champagne we enjoy today.  And her product remains, some 200 years later, one of the most beloved and desired Champagnes in the world.

Wine: Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin – Champagne, France

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin is dry and rich with notes of fruit, toffee, and yeast. It manipulates the palate with a slowly growing spiciness.  It’s a classic at any celebration, but also pairs just fine with breakfast!


Winemaker: Kris Curran

Kris Curran of California’s D’Alfonso-Curran wines, grew up in that state’s San Ynez Valley.  After briefly trying out a career as a veterinarian, she quickly realized her passion for wine, assisting at Cambria Estate Vineyards and Winery, and then Koehler Winery, where she prepared her first release.  After helping turn Sea Smoke into a major success, she turned to her own work and launched D’Alfonso-Curran with her husband, Bruno Alfonso.  Working in California, where a dramatic shift has occurred – with 15-20% of winemakers now being women, where that number was near 0% 20 years ago,  Curran has strong feelings not only about the image of women both as winemakers, but also as wine consumers.  Commenting on release by wine giant Beringer of a line of low-calorie, low alcohol wines called “White Lie”, targeting women with messages like “it’s my natural color” and “I’ll be home by 7”, Curran stated, “I find it demeaning.  It’s implying that woman don’t have as sophisticated a palate.”  And so, Curran unwaveringly continues to produce bold wines that defy expectations of the women who make them, and who enjoy them.

Wine: Curran Grenache Blanc – Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara County’s San Ynez Valley, with mountains to the north and north, provides a unique geographic location for growing certain varietals of grape, including the Grenache Blanc.  The marine fog with passes through the valley each night creates peak conditions for this grape, and the Curran Grenache Blanc is a fantastic example of geography influences taste.  Rich in fruits, including peach and apricot, and with hints of citrus, this crisp, low acid wine, makes it a great pairing option for seafood, grilled vegetables, and a wide variety of cheeses.


Winemaker: Veronique Drouhin

Veronique Drouhin grew up in a family with a long and storied winemaking tradition.  Joseph Drouhin started Maison Joseph Drouhin in the Burgundy region of France in 1880, and the company is now in its fourth generation of family ownership, with Veronique in charge as head winemaker, nimbly crafting wines across two continents, as they have recently begun producing wine at a new vineyard in Oregon.  Drouhin’s credentials, aside from her lineage, are impressive to say the least.  She received her National Diploma of Enology from the University of Dijon, and an advanced degree for her work on pinot noir.  It was Veronique who vinified the brand’s first Oregon vintage of Pinot Noir, and named it after her daughter, Laurene, with whom she was pregnant at the time.  Now, with three children, and a booming business, she cites her frequent travels between the growing Oregon winery and her growing family in Burgundy, as her greatest challenge as a female winemaker.  Despite the challenges, she continues to flourish, creating wines for the legendary Maison Joseph Drouhin.

Wine: Drouhin Chambolle Musigny 1er, 2010 – Burgundy, France

While much of Drouhin’s work is in Oregon, she has not neglected the family tradition of crafting wines in Burgundy, and the Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru from their French vineyard is an intense yet charming red that display’s her commitment to her work.  Full of dark fruits and spices, the wine comes on sweet, but finishes firm with a mineral-driven acidity.


Winemaker: Noemi Marone Cinzano

Countess Noemi Marone Cinzano comes from another winemaking family, but it was not until later in life that she decided to try her hand at the family business – the results have been wonderful.  Her bold entry into winemaking came with her 1992 purchase of the Tuscan Argiano estate, which has been producing wine since at least the 1500s.  Here, she honed her craft and excelled, earning rave reviews.  Earlier this year, she shocked the wine world when she announced she was leaving Italy altogether to focus on a new venture, producing Malbecs in the unforgiving climate of Patagonia, thus becoming yet another fearless female winemaker to conquer two continents.

Wine: Argiano Non Confunditor – Tuscany, Italy

The Argiano Non Confunditor is red of distinct character, influenced by the vineyards enviable microclimate of cool summer nights, moderate rainfall, and warm winds. A powerful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Sangioevese, this wine is alive with black currant and cedar flavors that will develop depth over time.


Winemaker: Maria Jose Lopez Heredia

For Maria Jose Lopez Heredia, who, with her sister and father, run the 136 year old Lopez de Heredia Vineyard in Rioja, Spain, leading tour groups on their estate is just as important as tasting the wine itself.  As she puts it, ‘it’s impossible for people to understand the soul of a wine if they don’t know how the grapes are grown.’  While Heredia is widely considered to be one of the most conservative and traditional of Spanish winemakers, Maris Jose Lopez Heredia’s style is anything but – a charming, witty spokesperson for her family’s brand, she has brought new life to Heredia name while carrying on the family tradition of superb winemaking.  Her passion and commitment to her craft, and the joy she takes in sharing her stories with visitors and with the media, surely dispel any notion that a woman could not be in charge of this very traditionalist and acclaimed winery. As she says ‘for us, making wine is a way of life, not a way to make a living.’

Wine: Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Reserva, 2001 – Rioja, Spain

Lopez de Heredia’s wines are known for their wonderful long term aging, and the Tondonia Reserva 2001 is coming along nicely.  Fermented, like all their wines, in 140 year old oak barrels in an even more ancient cellar, this is a rich and very dry wine with firm tannins and a good balance.  This wine is a blend, heavily in favor of Tempranillo, with Garnacho, and Graciano and Mazuelo as well.  The year this grape was harvested came very close to disaster, with an April frost endangering the plantings, but in the end, the quality of the wine that resulted was actually above the winery already high standards.


Winemaker: Diana Snowden Seysses

Diana Snowden Seysses’ experiences show that even coming from a winemaking family is not necessarily enough to overcome the prejudices faced by women trying to make their way in the wine business.  The son of winemaker Scott Snowden, she cut her teeth at the the Robert Mondavi winery in California where, she says, ‘women were not allowed in the winery,’ and she could not advance beyond picking grapes for tasting.  But she was not to be deterred, and continued to gain experience at vineyards around the world until taking the position of winemaker at her family’s Snowden vineyards.  Another woman in charge of plantings on both sides of the pond, Snowden divides her time between her family’s California winery and the winery she runs with her husband, Jeremy Seysses, in Burgundy, France, where she also raises her young son, Aubert.  She is currently working on a major replanting project at her hilly Napa Valley vineyard, which is only accessible by 4X4, to continue to improve viticulture on the land.

Wine: Snowden Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, 2009 – Napa Valley, California

Snowdon Seysses has a strong winemaking philosophy of exercising restraint, to let nature do what it will with the geography and climate of her vineyards, in order the let the site speak for itself through the wine.  And in the case of the Napa Valley Snowden Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, it is a voice that is full of volume.  This is an intensely powerful wine with flavors of dark fruit, tobacco, and licorice, a blend of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, with smaller shares of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.  The year, 2009, provided challenges in form of flooding October rains during harvest, but the work was well worth it.


Winemaker: Anne Le Naour

Anne Le Naour is a prolific young  woman in the wine business, who oversees production at five different properties in Bordeaux as technical director for Credit Agricole in the region.  We’ve heard stories stories of several innovative women working with family wineries, but Le Naour’s case may be even more rare, as she oversees a vast portfolio of vineyards owned by a financial institution, another traditionally male-dominated field.  Le Naour says these challenges often mean she needs to do more to prove herself than others in her highly competitive field, but loves her job, which she calls ‘the crossroads of science and culture.’  She trained in agronomy as an engineer, specializing in oenology, and then spent seven years at the renowned Bernard Magrez Connection, before rising to her current position in 2009.

Wine: Rayne Vigneau, Sauternes, 2003 – Bordeaux, France

The 2003 Rayne Vigneau, Sauternes, comes from a vineyard under Le Naour’s direction, on land that has been growing grapes for with since at least the 17th century.  This wine begins with aromas of apples and dried pineapples, It’s an exciting and lively wine, with intense sweetness and texture, and an extraordinarily long finish, composed of lemon and richness.

Wine and Food at the Movies

I think we can all agree that, as a nation, we’ve gone a bit overboard with taking pictures of what we eat and drink.  I mean, I love that people are so moved by their plates as to record what’s in front of them for posterity, but when I’m stuck at home eating leftovers, do I really have to open up my Facebook and be subjected to taunting Instagrams to remind of what I’m not eating right now?  And watching diners pull out their iPhones at a nice restaurant to document every bite tends to, well, leave a bad taste in my mouth…

But I also think there’s a good reason for our obsession with putting food and drink behind the lens.  The best wine and food imagery, particulary when set to the right story in film, can be downright inspiring.  So, while I’m quite sure fuzzy, poorly lit pictures of peoples’ epicurean feasts will not cease to appear on social media anytime soon, perhaps we can at least learn a little something from the pros…

As someone in the business of enjoying wine, I often get asked if Sideways is my favorite wine film.  The 2004 picture, based on a book by Rex Pickett, created quite a shockwave, not only among the ‘wine elite’ but in the purchasing habits of the entire nation – to answer the obvious question, yes I still drink Merlot!  It’s a fantastic film, and does a remarkable job of balancing wine-geek humor with a compelling story that has great appeal for any viewer.

But honors for my favorite film related to wine and food have to go to 1987’s Babette’s Feast.  This Danish film not only won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film but, like Sideways, affected the wine and foodscapes of the nation and indeed the world.  Almost immediately after its release, and throughout its life as something of a cult classic, chefs and home cooks, inspired by Babbette’s banquet, began trying to replicate one of the greatest meals ever created on film.  Be on the lookout: more than 25 years after its release, theaters and restaurants still offer Babette’s Feast dinner-and-a-movie events from time to time – it’s well worth the experience!

There are plenty of great food and wine movies to go around.  To narrow things down a bit, let’s focus on wine, which seems to take a starring role less often than food, but to no less inspiring effect.  So get your wine and popcorn properly paired, and get ready for some of my all-time favorites:


Bottle Shock

The Earth Is Mine


French Kiss

Dr. No



Corked (a mockumentary, but full of truth none the less!)

From Ground to Glass

Somm (this fantastic doc about four men working to pass the exam to earn the title of Master Sommelier is still playing at festivals and should show up on movie screens later this year)

Shakespeare Wine Quotes

It’s unlikely that any one person has had so much effect on the way we speak as William Shakespeare.  Even those who might read The Bard’s iambic tongue and say ‘it’s Greek to me!’ are using one of his own invented phrases.  Even if your ‘salad days’ had you running like ‘the Dickens’ from his work, you see, you can never hide from his words.

Alas, poor reader, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with wine.  Well, Shakespeare had quite an affinity for the stuff, and his work is filled with wine references, some of which I’ve collected for you here.  So, you see, ‘there’s method in my madness!’…

A man cannot make him laugh – but
that’s no marvel; he drinks no wine
- Henry IV Part 2

Give me a bowl of wine:
I have not that alacrity of spirit,
nor cheer of mind, that I was wont to have
- The Tragedy of King Richard the Third

O thou invisible
spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by,
let us call thee devil!
Othello, the Moor of Venice

Give me a bowl of wine.
In this I bury all unkindness
- Julius Caesar

Come, come, good wine is a good familiar creature
if it be well used; exclaim no more against it
Othello, the Moor of Venice

I am falser than vows made in wine
- As You Like It

The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees
Is left this vault to brag of
- Macbeth

Good wine needs no bush
As You Like It

Come, thou monarch of the vine,
Plumpy Bacchus with pink eye
– Antony and Cleopatra

The wine-cup is the little silver well,
Where truth, if truth there be, doth dwell

Give me some wine, fill full.
I drink to the whole table
- Macbeth

Revisiting the Classic Wine and Food Don’ts

Some Cabernet with Your Eggs?

Are Americans becoming libation liberals when it comes to wine pairings? Are we finally taking a more relaxed approach to wine and food? Many of us have thrown out the rulebook and have loosened our grip on the classic rules of wine and food. No longer are we stuck with the typical pairing of red wine with meat and white wine with fish. We have a more casual relationship with wine and food as we bring to the table a newfound understanding of the personal pleasure associated with the wine and food experience. Lest we forget, the ultimate goal is pleasure. One thing is certain. When you pair wine and food together they change. Hopefully the whole is more satisfying the sum of its parts. How can you go wrong if you drink the wine that you like with the food that you like? The rest is nuance. This gloriously simple and laissez faire approach to pairings serves us well and gives you the opportunity to sit back and play with your food…and wine.

That been said, historically there have been certain pairings — Wine and chocolate, wine and eggs, wine and artichokes, and wine and salad that must be avoided at all cost. These twosomes are a recipe for disaster. Akin to taking nails to a chalkboard, they can make a sommelier shriek in horror and run for a light beer. I say take ‘em on! Wine can work with anything. Let’s toss these out theories quicker than a dull corkscrew…

Pairings: Wine with Salad
The common theory: Salad can be problematic with wine, especially if the dressing has a large amount of vinegar. It will make the perception of a wine’s acidity diminish creating a flabby, course and alcoholic taste in the mouth.

Reality: While vinegar can alter the taste of a wine in a negative way, wine can indeed work with salad. Simply go easy on the vinegar and consider working in an additional protein such as nuts, meat or cheese.

Taste test: Try a wine with good acidity to stand up to the acids in the salad and if there are sweet elements in the salad such as beets on fruits consider a wine with a touch of residual sugar. Chill up a bottle of Beaujolais or German Riesling and you will be amazed!

Pairings: Wine with Eggs
The common theory: There is no theory. Maybe it’s our association with eggs as the breakfast ingredient, but a more logical explanation could be the fattiness of the eggs. Pair a wine with high alcohol and you may be on the road to a wine that tastes overly alcoholic and coarse.

Reality: Wine can work with eggs though the pleasure factor may be increased if you work in additional ingredients like cheese or meat. In fact, there are classic French egg dishes often call for a wine in the recipe – think of the classic Oeufs en Meurette which calls for eggs to be poached with Beaujolais.

Taste test: Open up a crisp white or red wine, preferably one with an alcohol level under at the top 12%, make the hollandandise and make someone happy!

Pairings: Wine with Artichokes:
The common theory: Cynarin. A chemical in artichokes that makes anything you taste after tasting an artichoke taste sweeter. That’s the culprit.

Reality: If you want your wine to taste sweeter, don’t do a thing! If you want to preserve a wine’s dryness, serve a wine with very high acid. Simple as that.

Taste test: Try a Chinon or a Savennieres from the Loire Valley, or a Dolcetto or Barbera from Italy’s Piedmont region.

Pairings: Wine with Chocolate:
The common theory: Chocolate is a strong ingredient that will overpower the nuances of many wines, rendering many sweet wines drier than an Alto Adage Pinot Grigio.

Reality: Chocolate can work with wine. Work in an acid ingredient like a berry coulis to tone done the sweetness factor and serve a straightforward not overly complex dessert wine that is high in alcohol to give the pairing added power. The complexity of an expensive dessert wine will get lost with most chocolate desserts.

Taste test: Try a PX Sherry, a non-vintage port or a Malmsey Madeira and get your just desserts.

Photo of food pairing courtesy Flickr Creative Commons. Photo credit: Joan Nova

April 12 – Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength!

Okay so some of you might be saying, it’s Friday night and it’s not even 9:00pm and Michael is writing his nightcap! I do have glass in hand. A BLTea. If you need to know what that is go to and search the site. I can tell you that it is yummy and that it has bourbon in it.

Hey guys. The day was long enough for me. And satisfying enough for me. It was a day filled with blessings and gifts!

Up at 4am working on Excel. I know what you’re thinking — working on Excel. But this was a special Excel sheet and I will explain later…or maybe over a drink.

Gulped my Green Vibrance, downed my ViSalus Shake and French Roasted a pot of Cafe Bustelo. (I like my coffee strong!)

But you already know that.

Each night I meditate on the three most important things I need to do the next day. Last night I only meditated on one: Be present. Be present all day. And for me that means being a good listener. Or as someone told me: be interested, not interesting.

And I was!

7am call with Leif Becker. The coffee gives me a lift but speaking with one of the most inspiring people I have ever met is a lift in itself and no caffeine is needed.

Leif — if you are reading this, own it! You inspire me to be better. You inspire me to reach my goals. To dig deep. So many people need to hear your message. And they will.

(As an aside — if you are looking for a extraordinary speaker at your next corporate event I would respectfully say — HIRE LEIF BECKER.

Then it was off to breakfast. The walk in the rain and the two subway changes was well worth the trip. Danny Meyer’s Mialino. Great for lunch, awesome for dinner but the breakfast? The calm and understated power breakfast.

And the place was so appropriate for this pow wow! Sara Moulton, Michael Levine and Sarah Schleider! What a trio. We talked food talk, film talk, drink talk.

It was business for sure, but blissful pleasure.

I had the soft scrambled eggs mixed in with gobs of Pecorino cheese. Heaven.

The food rocked. The company rocked even harder!

Altar. I worked on this product and now you can find it at Whole Foods and Dean and DeLuca.

I learned about honey from Sara. Most of it is fake (buy it at a farmer’s market). More on that in another post.

Breakfast done. Hugs. Strong hugs and kisses. The kind where you don’t want to let go!

Michael and I left to go back to his apartment for work. We worked on our documentary for 4 hours. The time went by so fast. I wanted more but our stomachs needed food.

Chicken Kebabs at an east Village joint that Michael loves. 5 bucks a sandwich. fresh and flavorful. Can’t be beat!

Home at 4 and client calls. My clients were so happy today. Maybe it was my giggling being or maybe – probably it was because it was Friday.

Friday – the end of the work week.

For me it is the start of next week. I will be working this weekend. (I say with a chuckle.)

I will be working at least 10 hours a day but as someone told me two weeks ago, I don’t make a living. I make a giving.

Pumped to touch so many people this weekend.

Finishing my BLTea then calling it a night.

Today was filled with so many blessings and so many authentic connections.

I can’t wait for the mystery of tomorrow.



April 4 – Reflections On a 20 Hour Day

Early NIGHTCAP with shout outs to @nathansheffield @familyfoodie @menwhodine @leifbecker It was a 20 hour day on Tuesday and I am feeling it today! A very fulfilling work day on Tuesday, capped off by the 25th Anniversary of the Best New Chefs Party hosted by Food and Wine Magazine. The party was a who’s who of food and wine celebs and it was awesome to have been invited and to connect with old friends. Since Gourmet magazine closed (sadly) several years ago (I worked with the magazine for 19 years) I now get an invite to the Food and Wine party. Thank you Food and Wine! I miss Gourmet. I truly do. But F and W’s edit has improved dramatically over the past few years and I am a real fan of the magazine. So I get to the party 15 minutes early with the director of my food documentary.

He asked me “Why do we need to get there so early?” My response. “Trust me Michael, in 15 minutes you won’t be able to get any food due to the crowds.”

And while the food was awesome – April Bloomfield, Scott Connant, Grant Achetz, where just some of the stars cooking — after 7:15 there were comical crowds and massive lines to get to the food….and the drink. :(

I don’t like waiting for food. I needed to sit. I needed peace, more drink and larger portions.

I had an idea!

I spotted my old friend Terrance Brennan, owner of Picholine and one of my favorite bistros and for any lover of cheese - Artisanal. We hugged, then I asked him for a favor. “Can you get me a reservation at Artisanal, now???!!!”

He said, of course.

4 blocks away and about 10 minutes later, Michael and I had one of the best tables in the house. Gougeres were brought and I already felt relieved.

Nuances of stinky cheese danced in the background as I thought to myself — “Why have I not been back here for 5 years?!”

My night of dining began with the gougeres and a Maker’s straight up on the rocks. Michael had the same. I insisted to our waiter that we go over to the cheese counter and speak to the fromagere directly.

His response? “Of course”

I love hospitality.

While I don’t know his last name, Charlie was one of the most passionate cheese guys on the planet and he selected some cheeses that I had never tasted before. We did feast on one of my favorites – eposisses. Runny, sticky and stinky. My kind of cheese.

The other cheeses were off my radar screen. I can remember the tastes but i can’t recall the names.

Cheeses, charcouterie, mac n cheese, cassoulet, chicken under a brick, tarte tartin. And several Maker’s Marks later, I was in epicurean bliss.

BTW: I am not a spokesperson for MM, I just like the drink when I’m not drinking wine or my or my two go to cocktails — the Manhattan and the Negroni.

(While people call me Michael or “wine celebrity” I also love and teach about spirits and food too.)

I am in the business of epicurean pleasure!

Anyway, I digress.

I came home after a 20 hour day and it was time for some serious sleep.

And I got it.

Now I am having a small pizza and wine tasting party in my home and I sneak away from the low-key festivities to write this post.

Today was calm. Got some good rest. Announced my new selections for my April Wine Alert.

Tip: Do not miss out on tasting these 2 wines. They rock and they are comically inexpensive AND they are produced in very limited quantities. Okay I said it. I will say something else again – I do not get paid to say nice things about a wine. Get it?

Okay, All the info is there!

moving on.

So today was a restful day. Plotting and planning for some exciting news in the coming weeks. That’s all I can say right now. These projects involve food, drink and people I love working with.

Back to my glass of Super Piedmont!

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store!




Martial Artist Leif Becker Talks Wine & Serendipity

You have read lots about Leif Becker on my website and Facebook Fan Page.  Many people ask how we met and what is the connection between what Leif does and what I do.  Read on!

It’s been close to a year since I first met Michael.  It was through a chance encounter that happened while I was putting together my upcoming event, Breaking Barriers.

However, it did not take long for me to realize that in meeting Michael I was receiving the opportunity of a lifetime in learning how to connect food and drink with life!  I’m not sure, but I believe Michael may have seen this as an opportunity as well.  In his constant quest to connect each individual with the right spirit for the right moment, ‘how does an athlete preparing for a World Record event connect with food and drink?’ may just have been the challenge Michael was looking for.

As he quickly became a part of the Breaking Barriers team and entrenched himself in the daily rigors of this event it was always interesting to see how Michael could bring just the right food and drink into any scenario.

It all started when he asked me what I normally take at the start of each day as I prepare for my upcoming attempt at breaking 100,000 boards in 24 hours.  I explained to him that I find a light, high protein meal each morning awakens the mind and prepares the body for an active day.  In no time at all we were both chugging down Green Vibrance each morning and chasing it with a Visalus protein shake over our Skype calls discussing the action items of the day.

However, by the time evening came, and with it the time for reflection upon the achievements of the day, it has always been Michael who knows just what to end the day with.  I would be in way over my head to try and tell you just what bottle of wine Michael would open but I do know it has always been the perfect close to the day’s events.  Whether from Spain, Chile, California, or Italy, Michael always has a region and style for the frame of mind I find myself in.

To say it is just connecting wine and spirit to the day with Michael would be selling it short.  With Michael, it’s the complete experience.

Each time I have the opportunity to get into the city for meetings, there is always the pleasure of visiting just the right establishment for a great breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack.  Whether its Landmarc in the Time Warner Center, Kefi on the Upper West Side or a quick bite at City Diner, connecting the experience of food with life has become an essential part of my day, thanks to Michael.

I have to say that, in meeting Michael, I have truly come to enjoy connecting the world around me with just the right food and drink to compliment each aspect of my day, and have learned that, whatever the occasion, in visiting City Diner you can never go wrong with the Popeye Salad topped with Salmon and a glass of Merlot.

Thanks Michael

It is a good Friday. 3/29/2013

It is a good Friday.

I feel both energized and peaceful.  Finishing off a bottle of the “yet to be named, because it has not been announced yet,” monthly WINE ALERT selection for April. I am truly in a blissful state. The company is soothing.  The wine is both elegant and earthy.  I adore this wine and this friend.

It is amazing what a good night of rest can do for the soul.  For more detail take a look at last night’s Night Cap.  A very challenging day.

This morning started with a fire in my belly! Up at 4am, Green Vibrance drink made, ViSalus Protein shake downed and Café Bustelo was the chaser. (I like my coffee strong.)  Hey it’s my routine.  I know it sounds like Groundhog Day! 

I was pumped and I made peace with the challenges I had yesterday.

I was so excited for this morning.  Breakfast with my friend – and champion martial artist, motivational speaker and well, just an all around solid and spiritual guy – Leif Becker.  You have heard me speak about Leif before.  I am reminded daily of what it a blessing it is to have Leif in my life.  We are both friends, mentors, students and teachers to each other.  Thank you Skype.  Although we Skype daily, seeing Leif in person puts a smile on my face.  His calm and confident energy and positive life outlook is infectious.

Leif – I am so in it.

And then on top of seeing him, we were eating at Landmarc Time Warner Center!  Happiness!  One of the best breakfasts in town.  Leif had the Eggs Benedict, I had the famed Eggs en Meurette and we both shared the…and put this on your bucket list…pain perdu.  Just decadent!  And served with REAL maple syrup.

We talked about life and business.  We talked about making smart choices and doing the right thing.  We left with action steps and goals for the next day.  I find that in life, if you can accomplish three important things in one day, it is a good day.  A productive day and a day to be proud.

I meditate each night.  My meditation?  I clear my head of any noise from the day until there is silence and I can hear my breath. Then I bring into my mind the three most important things I want to accomplish the next day.  These things I can actually see in my mind’s eye.  And these three things are so exciting to me that I bounce out of bed at 4 and generally I finish these three IMPORTANT things by 8 am.  So I guess like the book says, you can work a four hour week.

Actually that is not usually the case – last night as an example – I worked a 20 hour day.  Not complaining about the work AT ALL!  I love my work and I love my job so much — even the words work and job don’t work for me.  I lead a life of passion.  And I am blessed to be passionate about what I do.

I want to be in the moment and continue to enjoy the night but my mind is drifting to tomorrow!  Makes me giggle and a bit nervous.  10am meeting with the Experts Collective.  I was so flattered and touched when I was invited to join this collective  As it says on our website:  The Experts Collective is a group of trusted, authentic and distinct lifestyle experts.  Tomorrow is our monthly meeting. And that gives me a giggle – and makes me joyous! Loads of sharing and lots of information to digest.  These colleagues truly inspire me.  It is nice to have these colleagues and friends only a phone call away.  Fashion, manners, travel, fitness, mixology, finance, relationships and more.  (I am the “wine pro!”)

Experts – You inspire me to be better at who I am and what I do.

Meeting will end at 12 sharp.

Then comes the nervous part.  I am doing the first reading of the second draft of my play, The Secret Manuscript.  Unlike the two table readings  I did after the first draft was complete, no one will attend this reading – except the actors and the stage manager…and me.  I will be the only person in the audience.  I want to hear the dialogue read by the actors.  I want to hear if the changes to the script made the play better.  It is always scary to me when I am writing for other people.  This play is not a private journal.  It is a play that will be produced and I want the world to see.  But tomorrow, I will be the only one listening to what has been written.

Okay I need to live in the moment.  Tomorrow is tomorrow.  Right now I want to be present and in the moment.

A special shout out to people I connected with or people who were in my thoughts today – Amy, Jeff and Jeff and Jeff!, Adeena, David, Donald, Michael, Erica and Scott.



Nightcap – Pensive & Reflective – March 28, 2013

Pensive and reflective as I finish off a bottle of Matsu with a dear friend.  It was a long day and an exhausting day.  The morning started with a fire in my belly!  Up at 4am Green Vibrance drink made, ViSalus Protein shake downed and Café Bustelo was the chaser.  (I like my coffee strong.)
The last sips of the Matsu is even better than the first – rich, fleshy, earthy and inviting.  (I might open a second bottle!)
So back to pensive and reflective.  Today was a struggle.  Client misunderstandings, media appearance schedules changed again and again over the course of an hour, friends going through a rough time.  What can I call it?
Life is a struggle. When you truly understand and give into it, it becomes easier.
So at 4pm I started making calls – calls to clear up misunderstandings, calls to salvage important relationships.  It felt liberating and I felt such a strong connection to the people I was speaking to.
Many of them are  my clients, my vendors and my trusted friends.  E.M. Forester said it best – “only connect.”
That’s what life is about – real connections and meaningful connections.
I am blessed to have carved out a career where I connect people to one another with a beverage that I am so passionate about – Wine.
So tonight I raise a glass and propose a toast  - to myself – for getting through a challenging day.
Challenging for sure, but blessed to be alive and write about it.
Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

A Food Court Fit for The Plaza

For most of us, hearing the phrase “food court” brings to mind suburban shopping malls – junk fuel for the long walk to the Sunglass Hut. But at The Plaza Hotel’s new food court, I guarantee you there is a not a single Panda Express in sight!  Technically speaking, it’s “The Plaza Food Hall,” but let’s not split hairs when we could be enjoying a bounty of the best New York has to offer in classic European style.

The Hall opened last spring and immediate set food lovers abuzz, with its collection of outposts from some of the City’s most beloved eateries.

For the sweet tooth, the legendary La Maison Du Chocolat offers unlimited temptation.  From Paris with love comes a vast array of chocolate treats that will leave you melting.  Be sure to try their variety of decadent ganache, and of course their famous chocolate éclair.

If your sweet tooth is looking beyond chocolate, Billy’s Bakery puts the icing on the cake!  The cupcake craze in this city shows no sign of stopping, and one of the reasons for that is places like Billy’s that are constantly perfecting the art of the tiny frosted cake.

And if the freezing cold outside is getting to you, do as New Englanders do and warm up with a delicious lobster roll from Luke’s Lobster.  From a tiny storefront in the East Village, the guys behind Luke’s have recently expanded to other neighborhoods via restaurants, food trucks, and now The Plaza Food Hall.  Their rolls are packed with top quality Maine lobster – so get your lobster fix the easy way, without cracking shells… you’ll probably still need the bib, though!

For even the the most jaded New Yorker, accustomed to the offerings at venues like Chelsea Market and Eataly, The Plaza Food Hall is welcome and unique addition to the city’s foodscape.

Love is In the Air – And In the Glass!

The crunch of leaves beneath your feet…the smell of burning firewood in the air… winter has truly begun to unfold its white carpet.  And as the temperature drops, and the snowflakes fall, our sense of romance begins to kindle from within.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, here are my picks to fan the flames of romance.  So pull a cork, sit back with a glass, and use these wines to woo your sweetheart.

From the traditional to the non, these selections are sure to send Cupid’s arrow a-flying:

“In the Pink” 

Whether your taste buds are seeking a still or bubbly version, Rosé has seen a virtual renaissance over the past few years.  With sales increasingly dramatically, it’s official:  Rosé is hot.  Despite delivering a range of flavors from the subtle to the powerful, many are discovering that this style is food-friendly and a great compliment to a romantic meal.  And not only that, but everyone looks sexy drinking it!

•  Sparkling versions to look for: Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rose and Cristalino Rose Cava.  For a fantastic still version, seek out a “Rosado” from Rioja or Navarra, Spain.

“Romance with a Pedigree” 

Within Burgundy, one of the most famous wine regions in the world, lies the village of Chambolle-Musigny.  Surrounded by classic vineyards, this town is home to a very special Premier Cru—“Les Amourouses”.  Meaning “the lovers” in French, this vineyard produces a 100% Pinot Noir that is a hauntingly silky and complex wine. The locals will tell you that tasting this wine is like falling in love.  A sure-fire hit with a range of foods and a romantic heritage to back it up, this is the wine to choose when you want to go the extra mile.

•  Producers to look for include:  Joseph Drouhin and Louis Jadot

“Beyond Noveau”

After your Beaujolais Nouveau parties have wound down, and you’ve drunk your fill of that young and fruity wine, treat your loved one to something unique.  To some it may come as a surprise, to others it’s a well-known fact, but the Beaujolais region is composed of ten villages which produce world-class wines.  One of these is the quaint town of St. Amour.  Named after the Saint of Love, this village produces a range of wines made from the Gamay grape.  From light and lean to serious and age-worthy, it is the perfect wine to curl up by the fire with and unlock the romance of the French countryside.

•  Check out one of the most prolific producers in the region: Georges Duboeuf

But despite the dizzying array of choices available at your local wine shop, perhaps the best wine to select is the one you already have a connection with.  Whether it’s the sparkling wine you shared on your first date, or the hearty Zinfandel you sipped after a day on the slopes, your loved one’s face will light up with remembrance as this wine hits the glass.

5 Ways to Make Your Valentine’s Day Even More Romantic

Whether you’re in a 50 year committed relationship or rolling the dice on a third date, Valentine’s Day is the one day of the year to pull out all the stops.  And while convention says this has to mean a dozen roses and a dinner out, I say there are much more creative ways to plan a romantic evening for you and your valentine…

  1. Skip the Restaurant

As any seasoned restaurant diner knows, or should know, Valentine’s Day (along with New Year’s Eve) is what is affectionately called, in the trade, amateur night.  If you dare to dine out, be ready for jacked up prices, a wait of more than an hour (even with a confirmed reservation), and sloppy service.  On almost any other day of the year, a romantic dinner out can be the key to an evening, but on Valentine’s Day, I suggest getting creative in your kitchen.

2.  Seek Out Sexy Foods

Myth or not, there are certain foods that undeniably exude you getting an extra kiss, a cuddle, or maybe even more… Call them aphrodisiacs, social lubricants, whatever you may – these are delicacies made for Valentines Day:

Oysters:  East coast, West coast, no matter where they’re from, these bivalves have for centuries been claimed as a potent aphrodesiac. And now there may finally be research to back it up – oysters are rich an a rare amino acid that has been known to throw amorous hormones into a frenzy.

Chocolate: If you really want to get your just desserts, reach for chocolate. Here’s a sure-fire recipe that’s certain to give you a bang for the buck:

Choose a chocolate with the highest cocoa content you can find, like Lindt Dark Supreme (90% cocoa).  Place one ounce on each of several toasted baguette slices and place them under the broiler for one to two minutes.  Sprinkle on a dash of high quality sea salt, and watch the sparks fly!

Foi Gras: No need for research studies on this one!  This decadent duck-liver treat has an amorous aura all its own.

3. Skip the Roses

Now don’t get me wrong – fresh cut flowers are lovely, but check back in three days and your significant other will be left living with a rather insignificant and wilted reminder of your love.  For some flora with a little more staying power, why not consider a planted flower.  Even if you’re a city-dweller and don’t have the luxury of a landscaped garden, there are some beautiful flowering plants – like hibiscus, for instance – that will thrive indoors.  And if you really believe in eternal love, there’s always the option of a bonsai tree, which, with a little care, will be a reminder of your special day that your great-grandchildren will be watering a hundred years from now!

  1. Food Movies

As we’ve seen, food can be a sensuous experience that sets a romantic mood for an evening.  But why stop at just eating when there are so many fantastic food films that can keep the vibes going even after the meal is done?  To, me, the best of many films that celebrate food is Babette’s Feast and is a must-see for anyone’s who’s not had that experience.  There are also plenty of chocolate-themed films to keep your mouth watering, including Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate.  Then, there are films that, while not centering on food, have some of the most delectable food scenes ever captured on camera – Goodfellas is one that comes to mind (you’ll never think of slicing garlic the same way again!)

  1. Choose a Wine that Fits the Mood

Start with something sparkling, preferably rose.  And note well: most roses are dry – there is more to life than Zinfandel!  Whether it’s a spectacular Spanish Cava like the Elyssia, or a true Champagne like Veuve Cliquot Rose, the bubbles will not only get you in a sparkling mood, but the rose resonates a fabulous color of love to start your evening.  And check out some of my other ideas for picking a Valentine’s Day wine with pop…

Rum Down Under – South Sea Rum

When we think of rum, our thoughts usually turn to the Caribbean, whether Jamaica, Trinidad, or any other of the islands of the region that produce most of the rum we drink.  But a new rum has come into the market and onto my radar from a much larger island nation on the other side of the world.

South Sea Rum has landed on our shores from Australia, and it’s receiving quite a welcome.  A blonde ‘agricole style’ rum, it’s crafted with free-run juice from the first pressing of hand-selected sugar cane from indigenous and sustainable Queensland crops, using environmentally friendly practices. It’s then blended with Australia’s pristine, tropical rainwater and finished in old and new American oak for no less than two years. The result is a rum with subtle notes of smoke and vanilla, that is sweet and creamy on the nose with a long, dry finish.

It’s a carefully crafted product, the work of two friends, Geoff Barrymore and Andy Nye, and in a marketplace full of rum from one small part of the world, they’ve brought us a unique opportunity to expand our horizons and experience something new from the land down under.  Australia is a place known for it’s natural wonder and the purity of it’s natural environment, and South Sea rum is fitting reflection of this land of abundance and beauty.

It may be the middle of winter up here, but it’s summertime in Australia, mate! Find yourself transported with a Freo Mojito, made with South Sea Rum:

Freo Mojito:


1.25 oz South Sea Rum
12 mint leaves
1 tbsp sugar
0.5 oz lime juice
2 oz soda


1. Place mint leaves in bottom of glass
2. Add crushed ice, South Sea Rum, sugar, and lime juice and muddle
3. Add soda water and garnish with mint leaves

Airen – A Taste of La Mancha

What is the most widely planted grape in the world?  Chardonnay?  Guess again.  Pinot Grigio?  Nope.  Have you ever heard of Airen?

Worldwide, plantings of Airen cover 306,000 hectares (760,000 acres), with Spain claiming the majority of that coverage, accounting for around 20-25% of the country’s production. It is grown almost exclusively in Castilla La Mancha, with some plantings in Madrid and Andalusia.

The grapes have a cotton-like bud burst, which is bronze or yellowish in color, with light reddish edge, and not very intense at the tip. The grapes have a trailing growing habit. The leaves of the Airén are average in size and have a pentagonal shape. The grapes are late to bud burst and also late to ripen. They yield about 4.5 to 6 kg per vine. The base buds of Airen grapes are fertile and so can accept very short pruning while still producing acceptable yields.  The grape is also very resistant to drought, which makes it a perfect match for the dry, warm climate of La Mancha.

Primary Airen-growing regions of Spain

Airen produces good aroma wines and moderate acidity.  It has very good qualities for young and traditional wines.

When drinking this wine, think of it as Pinot Grigio meets Vinho Verde. These wines are light, clean crisp and dry, and usually sporting an alcohol level of under 11% which makes them terribly refreshing and a perfect partner to many light dishes, including fish and seafood, as well as young cheeses. I would recommend a serving temperature of 5-7˚C (41-45˚F).

One reason you may not be familiar with the name Airén is that is often sold under many different names, including Aiden, Blancon, Forcallada, Forcallat, Forcallat Blanca, Forcallat Blanco, Forcayat, Forcellat Bianca, Forcellat Blanca, Laeren del Rey, Lairen, Layren, Manchega, Mantuo Laeren, Valdepenas, Valdepenera Blanca, and Valdepenero.

So keep an eye out for this common grape that can be uncommonly delicious.  Here are a few to try…

Expresión Airen, D.O. La Mancha (Bodegas López Mercier)

Latúe Airen, D.O. La Mancha (Bodegas Latúe)

2010 Bodegas Ercavio Mas Que Vinos Blanco Vino de la Terra (La Mancha)

2010 Bodegas Aruspide Ardales Airen (La Mancha)

2010 Vinos Ambiz ‘Normal’ Airen (Madrid)

An Evening with The Black Grouse

Sometimes, new discoveries come about completely by chance, and when those serendipitous encounters come in the form of the form of a deliciously smoky new whisky, all the better!

While taking an after dinner walk through the West Village recently, I came across the launch party for a new product from the makers of The Famous Grouse – no way was I passing up this opportunity!  Not only were some old friends already on their third drink inside, but the space – a new venue by the fantastic The Little Owl – was beautiful and inviting, and they had truly gone out of their way to make the evening memorable, with mixologists performing custom drinks and a calligrapher on hand to record the recipes as souvenirs.

The Black Grouse, the whisky that was the cause celebré of the evening, takes it’s name from a rare bird, and a rare bird this whisky is, indeed.  Described as ‘the darker side of The Famous Grouse’, this is a rich whisky, full of peat smoke, and great on it’s own or in any of the outstanding cocktails we were treated to that evening.

Now me, I love bitters, and the outstanding cocktail of the evening for my tastes was one that included not one, but two varieties of bitters, which I will share in all its calligraphied glory…

Just a beautifully balanced drink!  And props of course to the talented mixologist who made it happen – Frank Cisneros (who you can see hard at work below) has worked at award winning bars all over the city,  and currently spends most of his time behind the stick at the Gin Palace, in the East Village.

A memorable evening with old friends and a great new whisky.  Who could ask for more?

Green, Bourbon, & Country

I am so thrilled to announce a event experience that combines two of my favorite things: bourbon and country music. It’s Green, Bourbon, & Country, a good ole hoedown of a show, hosted by yours truly, where you’ll taste through 6 bourbons (of increasing potency!) and be treated to the musical stylings of rising country star Bryan Glover. It’s a surefire hit for your next corporate sales meeting, client entertaining event, or fundraiser. So book a night with Bookers and Bakers and the rest of ‘em today!

For bookings and additional information, contact

A Window into La Fenêtre

I first met Josh and Alex down at the Suncoast Food and Wine Festival in Sarasota last year.  Both New York born and bred.  They went to Stuyvesant High School so they are smart!  Beyond our new friendship, they own a winery that I’m a big BIG fan of — La Fenêtre.  Enjoy this interview with Josh and Alex and after reading, maybe you’ll want to pick up a case!  Cheers!

MICHAEL GREEN: How did you two come together and join forces to start your winery?

JOSH: I started the winery in 2005 with a sommelier palate, a vision for the wines I wanted to make, and a supposed education in business… While the winery vision was clear and the wines were perfect, in 2010 I realized that my business acumen was not ‘up to snuff’. Alex, who had spent 10 years in corporate finance (and also happened to be my best friend since high school) graciously accepted my request to discuss the finances and see if he could help. What blossomed out of those talks was a business partnership that has been quite successful so far and should continue to be for a very long time!

ALEX: I hope Josh is right about our success – I don’t want to go back to corporate finance.

MG: What is your winemaking philosophy?

J: The philosophy is fairly simple. Most importantly, wine is meant to be accompanied by a meal. In that light, start with great, cool climate terroir and produce wines that respect that terroir. That means balanced alcohol, acidity, body, and richness. These wines are classically styled.

A: Josh is the winemaker, so my winemaking philosophy is to do what he tells me to do.  But only after questioning him relentlessly.

MG: Where did you come up with the name La Fenêtre?

J: The name La Fenêtre (the window) comes from the quote, ‘Art is the window to a man’s soul,’ by Claudia ‘Ladybird’ Johnson. It is our belief that winemaking is art, and an expression of the winemaker that crafted it. Essentially, the window to his or her soul. Of course, we are also reminded where all of our money is going… Out of the window!

MG: What are all of the wines that you make?

J: We make many different wines because of the respect we have for each vineyard’s terroir. It is nearly impossible for us to blend a great barrel, which has so much to show the world… the wines are as follows:


·         Bien Nacido Vineyard

·         Los Alamos Vineyard

·         A Cote ‘Santa Barbara County’

Pinot Noir

·         Bien Nacido Vineyard

·         Presqu’ile Vineyard

·         Le Bon Climat Vineyard

·         ‘Santa Maria Valley’

·         A Cote ‘Central Coast’


·         Alisos Vineyard

·         Bien Nacido Vineyard ‘Z Block’


·         Kick On Vineyard (labeled ‘Santa Barbara County’)

MG: Okay, you love them all.  They are all your babies, but which wine is your favorite to make and drink?

J: I would say Pinot Noir. Making Pinot Noir is like cooking an egg. If you look away for even a second, you can miss the whole thing. It is what makes it so rewarding as well, though it can be quite crushing when it doesn’t turn out well!

A: The great thing about our wines is that they have so much personality so how I get along with them individually truly does depend on my own state of mind when I’m drinking them.  In particular, our single-vineyard Pinot Noirs have that ability to really excite, inspire and even surprise me.  In terms of favorite wines to make, it also has to be Pinot Noir.  There’s more interaction with red fruit during fermentation than with white fruit, so you get more of an insight into each stage of its development.  Of course Syrah is red fruit too, but it’s a tougher varietal – Syrah is like your son who you feel can take care of himself a little better than your daughter, Pinot Noir, who you think you have to watch out for more closely (even if she’s just as capable).  Of course, I don’t actually have children in real life…

MG: When you’re not enjoying your wine, what are you drinking?

J: I like to drink wines from my friends like Au Bon Climat, Qupé , and Deovlet. I also drink beer… mostly Mexican and Belgian.

A: I love the wines of Santa Barbara County, but it’s easy to become myopic when such great wines are so accessible to us.  I try to put our wines in context by drinking wines from other parts of the world; whether it’s France, New Zealand or Lebanon, there’s always more I can learn about wine.  I’m also a big beer guy.  I like many styles of beer but the style I overwhelmingly gravitate toward is IPA.  Something about those bitter, floral hops just makes my mouth water.  Before I got into wine, it was the layered flavors of IPA that were priming my palate for the depth and complexity of the fruits of the vine.

MG: What part of your job do you love the most?

J: I love harvest and blending. Harvest is the most intense time that I actually enjoy. It is the birth of a new vintage. Each time we pick is creating a new relationship between the wine and me. A new puzzle to be solved. Blending is the fruition of the creative process. All of the hard work is rewarded when the wine is blended and can then speak to the world

A: I love that I make something that brings people together.  There is genuine satisfaction in knowing that on any given night, somewhere around the country, people are spending time with friends and family and enjoying it a bit more and lingering a bit longer with one another because they’re sharing a bottle of La Fenêtre.

MG: Which part less so?

J: Bottling. Hands down the worst part of winemaking. It can be exciting, but the logistical mess that is bottling is literally a nightmare! Is the wine ready? Chemistry healthy/correct? Do we have the right number/size/style of corks, glass, labels, capsules? Do we have enough tanks for blending? Just a few of the million points that go into a successful bottling!

A: Accounts Receivable.  Mundane, but true.  Hassling people for the money they owe you is a pain.

MG: If you were to share your wine with one person dead or alive who would it be?

J: I don’t know if I could pick just one person… I want to show these wines to the world! Maybe Claudia ‘Ladybird’ Johnson. Based off of her quote, she understood the pursuit of personal expression, and I bet she would have some great stories to tell after enjoying a glass or two of wine!

A: Maybe this is kind of a cheat and corny, but it’s 2 people – my parents.  At its essence, a bottle of wine is a reason to spend time with people you love.  What could be better than sharing the wine that is the product of my own hard work and passion with the people who have given me love and support for literally longer than I can remember?


New Year’s Resolutions from Dr. Mixologist, Darryl Robinson

As the New Year approaches, I’ve asked some of my colleagues to offer their food & drink-related resolutions for 2013.  And feel free to have a look at my suggestions for your epicurean resolutions for the upcoming year!

In this post, we hear from Cooking Channel celebrity and friend, Dr. Mixologist,  Darryl Robinson

Darryl: 1. To explore/create more dark spirit cocktails

2. Enjoy more varietals of beer

3. Drink wine beyond just dinner and as a stand alone sipper

4. Give more love to low octane cocktails, everything doesn’t have to bite!

5. Sometimes simpler is better, there’s a time and place for high maintenance artisinal cocktails

Michael: Darryl – One of MY New Year’s Resolutions is to shake, stir and hang with you more!


Darryl Robinson, host of the Cooking Channel’s Drink Upgot his start in mixology tending bar for his parents at his childhood home.  He serves as a consultant to many bar and restaurant owners looking to create an exemplary cocktail experience at their venues. He is also an active member of the US Bartender’s Guild, The International Bartenders Association and the Museum of the American Cocktail. He has been featured in the Daily News and Black Enterprise and on


New Year’s Resolutions from Lifestyle and Manners Expert Thomas Farley

As the New Year approaches, I’ve asked some of my colleagues to offer their food & drink-related resolutions for 2013.  And feel free to have a look at my suggestions for your epicurean resolutions for the upcoming year!

In this post, we hear from lifestyle and manners expert, and friend, Thomas Farley

Thomas is a lifestyle and manners expert.  He has taught me so much this year.  Lessons on Unplugging for the Holidays,  Re-Gifting Etiquette, and the importance of a well written (hand written) thank you note.  I am blessed that Thomas is in my life and I have asked him to share his food and drink resolutions for 2013.

Thomas: 1) Do more outer-borough eating. For me, Manhattan will always be my favorite place to dine, but there are so many phenomenal restaurants elsewhere in the city. I resolve to cast my fork farther afield in the coming year.

2) I also plan to more regularly patronize the city’s food truck scene….there is great eating to be had from kitchens on four wheels.

3) The farmers markets of New York are bursting with flavor–and backstories. I’d like to begin buying more of my produce from farmers as opposed to grocers.

4) I need to forge a closer relationship with my local wine merchants, and solicit their recommendations.

5) It’s time I became a bit adventurous with cocktail recipes when I entertain at home. Wine remains my go-to favorite for its cleanness and ease of pairing with food, but I’d like to begin offering fun cocktails during dinner, too.


Thomas P. Farley (a.k.a. “Mister Manners“) is a manners expert, author and commentator who’s been interviewed on matters of etiquette by the Today show, the CBS Early Show, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, People Style Watch, USA Today, CNN, ABC and Nick at Nite’s TV Land, as well as on radio stations across the country. In addition, Farley offers seminars on business etiquette to corporations and schools, and writes a regular column on manners for the New York Post.

New Year’s Resolutions from Celebrity Travel Expert Pauline Frommer

As the New Year approaches, I’ve asked some of my colleagues to offer their food & drink-related resolutions for 2013.  And feel free to have a look at my suggestions for your epicurean resolutions for the upcoming year!

In this post, we hear from celebrity travel expert and friend, Pauline Frommer…

Pauline: 1) To discover a new go-to cocktail. I’ve been having a love affair with The Manhattan for the last two years, but I’m getting restive. Time to try some new libations!

Michael: Pauline —  I have some ideas, but it will require some on the job research and tasting!

Pauline: 2) To eat more bugs. Really. I had ants in Belize last spring and it was delicious (rather minty, actually). And with the way we’re stressing our eco-system, it’s going to be harder to support meat production in the future, so I’m looking to diversity.

Michael: I’ll diversify with you.  I don’t know how the bugs will be prepared but we should be safe with a bottle of bubbly and German Riesling

Pauline: 3) I’ll be in Morocco this spring and really want to take a cooking class there! Looking forward to creating home made couscous

Michael: I took a class in Fez when I was 22.  Awesome experience!

Pauline Frommer is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, newspaper columnist and member of the Frommer guidebook family

New Year’s Resolutions from Celebrity Magician and Friend Ryan Oakes

As the New Year approaches, I’ve asked some of my colleagues to offer their food & drink-related resolutions for 2013.  And feel free to have a look at my suggestions for your epicurean resolutions for the upcoming year!

In this post, we hear from celebrity magician and friend, Ryan Oakes

Ryan: My food and wine resolutions in 2013 are to do two things: take advantage of the weekly farmer’s market a mere two blocks from my home, as well as to learn more about South American wines. Lately it seems some of my favorite glasses have come from Chile or Argentina, and I may try to parlay that into an excuse to travel down there.

Michael: Ryan – Let’s go shopping together!  I will head out to Brooklyn!  As for the discovery of South American wines, I will be doing a class on Chile and Argentina in the coming months.  Come as my guest!


Ryan Oakes creates intriguing illusions for discerning audiences, and his unique brand of mystery melds psychological persuasion and sleight-of-hand to create a truly memorable, interactive experience for his audiences. He’s been profiled in both Forbes FYI and The New York Times and has appeared on The View, Montel, FOX, CNN, The Discovery Channel, The Disney Channel, and ESPN. In 2009, Ryan co-starred in The Real Hustle, a television series about con artists that aired on the truTV network. Ryan is also the spokesman and consultant for a line of children’s magic sets, which are distributed nationally under the Ideal brand. His is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and resides in New York City.

A New Year’s Resolution — Drink More Wine!

Get to the gym more?  Lose weight?  Volunteer more?  AND see your family more often?  These are all great New Year’s resolutions. I, however, prefer my resolutions to be of the vinous and spirited variety. In addition to getting healthier and helping your fellow man, why not commit to expanding your wine knowledge (and pleasure)? Whether you’re a collector with a stocked cellar, a cash-strapped beginner looking for a bottle under $10, or a pro who samples upwards of 200 wines a week (me!) , there are always ways to expand your wine knowledge and enjoyment.

Here are some commitments you can make this New Year to expand your wine horizons and bring new enjoyment to every day of 2013:

  • Open More Wine, and share it with your friends! Although I would never stop anyone from collecting and storing great wines for 20, 30, even 40 years, I’d rather drink it. If you’re having a good time with good friends, why wait? There’s never a better time than now. This year, make a point to always have some good, affordable (or indulgent) wines at the ready, and be generous in opening a bottle whenever the mood strikes you.
  • Understand that all wines don’t have to be great. Some wines just need be good to be perfect for that moment. Although first growth Bordeaux can be amazing and transcendent alongside a four star tasting menu, who says a good Chilean Cabernet isn’t more appropriate for movie night?  For me, whenever I’m invited to a Summer barbecue I bring along a bottle of lightly chilled Pinot Noir from Oregon or Washington state. I could bring something more fiscally impressive, but it just wouldn’t be as appropriate. This year, try to select wines that pair well with your experience, not your budget.
  • Drink local! There are great local wines in every state of the Union that reflect the soil, climate, and dare I say it, the terroir, of their region. This year, when at home try to connect to your roots (literally) by drinking your local wine as much as possible. Travelling? Make sure you sip your surroundings.
  • Explore Organic—the sustainable/organic movement is getting so popular it’s becoming almost impossible to avoid the rack of green wine on display in nearly every wine shop or liquor store. Try going all green this year. Trust me, the wines you’ll discover are diverse, delicious, and ethical. (Granola not included)
  • Visit more wineries. Whether it’s a day trip to the country or an educational mission, wineries are some of the most peaceful and fascinating places on earth. Why not make a point of visiting a local winery in every state or country you visit this year, starting with your own?

New Years Resolution from a Rising Rock Star!

As the New Year approaches, I’ve asked some of my colleagues to offer their food & drink-related resolutions for 2013.  And feel free to have a look at my suggestions for your epicurean resolutions for the upcoming year!

In this post, we hear from rising rock star, Derrick Karg…

Derrick:  I want to eat healthier in 2013. More organic, more vegetables and to continue juicing.

MG:  Derrick – Come on.  Juicing?  I hope you mean fermented grape juice.  Don’t complain that we shared too many glasses of Riesling and Manhattan’s in 2012!

Derrick Karg is a Brooklyn based Singer/Actor/Songwriter and a dear friend.   He came to the city to study acting at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, but upon graduating rediscovered his love and passion for music. For the past 6 years he has played in various bands, toured the US and can currently be seen fronting Derrick and the Black Sea and the New Wave/Hardcore band Get Involved!

Fruit of the Vine

You may have smelled apple, banana and pear in your glass of Napa Valley Chardonnay, but have you ever tasted wines made from these fruits?  Don’t turn up your nose! Though the word wine comes from a Phoenician word referring to the fermentation of grapes, and over 99 percent of the world’s wines come from grapes, practically any fruit (or plant) can be made into wine.  This category of wines might be the overlooked stepchildren for the wine enthusiast, but fruit wines offer unique flavors and a unique spin on fermented juice.  And a look at history finds these wines firmly grounded in the wine world.

Wine historians agree that the first wines, made from figs, dates, and mead (honey) were probably produced in the Mesopotamian Valley about 50,000 years ago.  Often boasting a 30% alcoholic content, these wines were thick and uber-sweet and, and often to mask their frightful taste, winemakers added a wide variety of other ingredients including pepper, oregano, and other herbs to make these wines somewhat drinkable.  China, for centuries has had a long tradition with fruit wines — particularly plum wine — just think of the tasty libation that is often brought to the table along with your fortune cookie.  Fruit wines continued to maintain a fringe vogue throughout history.   Eleanor of Aquitaine sipped wine made from pears, Leonardo da Vinci savored fig and peach wine.

And today, the hobby of producing fruit wines in the United States — particularly in regions with cooler climates, remains very popular.  Why cooler climates?  When wine grapes cannot grow in cooler or colder climates — think Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, folks resort to fermenting whatever is growing in the nearest orchard.   And as wineries see the increased popularity of these nectars, they have responded with some fabulous products often adding this product line to their existing offering of classic grape wines.  Versions can run the gamut from sparkling, bone dry, semi-dry, sweet and fortified.  Depending on the alcohol and residual sugar, these wines can also partner well with a tsunami of foods.  I particularly like bringing out these wines during the holiday season.  Many versions to choose from though these wines remain quite prolific: Bargetto Olallieberry and Mead; St. Georges Spirits Framboise Royale and Chaddsford Spiced Apple Wine.

Wine – Unexpected.

Discovering a new wine can be thrilling.  And the means by which you discover a new vinous pleasure can be as exciting as the wine itself.

Maybe it was dining over at a friend’s house when your adventurous host served an unfamiliar selection.  Was that the first time you tried a Grüner Veltliner?  Perhaps it was when you asked for a recommendation from an impassioned wine merchant.  Is that when you bought your first Nebbiolo? Or maybe it was when you sought the advice of a sommelier when faced some unfamiliar selections on a wine list.  Was it a Tannat from Uruguay that was poured by the glass?

While wine can be as comfortable and familiar as a Chardonnay, some of wine’s most glorious and unexpected pleasures can be found when you step out of your varietal or regional comfort zone.

Part of the occupational “hazard” of my work is tasting dozens of wines each week, often alone – with pen in one hand and glass in the other.  But it is venturing out to wine shops, wine regions, and restaurants, where the endorsements of those around me, or the real world connections and context of the experience lead me to the most thrilling discoveries.

This happened recently when I stopped by Hearth – one of my favorite New York City wine bars.  The list of wines – by the glass and by the bottle – is smart and daring, but it is the enthusiastic staff that makes this wine bar truly special.   I always ask for their recommendations.

“What has excited you lately?” is what I likely said to the bright-eyed server behind the bar.   He pointed me to a white wine – a 2001 Pinot Auxerrois from Alsace, France.  (Full disclosure:  I was immediately skeptical.  I know this grape – not as inspired as the Rieslings and Gewurztraminers that come out of the region.  Adding to my skepticism was the vintage – 2001.  So I am drinking a secondary grape from Alsace with more than 11 years of age – this bottle has a lot working against it!)  But I let the server continue his patter.  “And the producer Rolly Gassmann is one of the great producers of the region.”  (He is.)  The server offered me a taste and I had already prepared to manage my expectations.  A long pause followed as I swallowed and savored the long and persistent finish.  The wine was a revelation.  At once both powerful and elegant with a wonderful palate feel and complex notes of lilac, rose and cinnamon.  I ordered a bottle and subsequently ordered a case for my home.

I can’t wait to introduce this wine to my friends.

Spirited Review: Bourbon the Way It Used to Be

If you like your bourbon strong and with finesse, pick up a bottle of Booker’s Bourbon! It is one of the only uncut, unfiltered, straight from the barrel bourbons available in the market. It was originally bottled by Jim Beam’s grandson, Booker Noe and it is bottled at its natural proof – close to 130! Aged between six and eight years. In the words of Booker Noe himself, “this is bourbon, the way it used to be, the way it was meant to be.” Sip on this! Notice the aroma of smoky charcoal, and then let your palate enjoy the fruit, tannin, tobacco and coffee flavor. Enjoy straight or on the rocks.

Refreshing Surprise: A Perfect State of Bliss

While Freixenet Cordon Negro is one of the largest and most prolific wine brands in the world, It is their Elyssia Pinot Noir Brut that is setting my heart aflutter! “Elyssia” means heavenly or a state of perfect bliss and this rose Cava delivers on both fronts! This Pinot Noir Rosado has an intense aroma of raspberries and blackberries, and delivers crisp yet complex fruity flavors finishing with a lovely hint of sweetness. Pass over the Cabernet with your holiday ham and pick up a bottle of this sensational sparkler. It is delicious and the color is intoxicating.

Bourbon 101: What is it and how is it made?

While it’s debatable about who actually invented Bourbon, it’s not debatable that it’s one of the greatest things around. History tells us that Elijah Craig was the first to make it – he was a baptist minister, so I think that case holds water! But the Craig legend has little credibility and word is a fellow named Jacob Strong was the first to label his product as “Bourbon whisky.”

Now, do you know what the main ingredient is in bourbon?  That’s right, corn. Generally to make bourbon, you’ll use 70 percent corn, 10 percent rye, 10 percent malted barley, and 10 percent wheat. The wheat makes the whiskey softer and suppler on the tongue, so if you’re lonely you can always cook a nice dinner for a loaf of wheat bread and maybe get lucky.

After you grind all that together, you add spring water to make what’s called a slurry, no relation to what too much bourbon eventually does to your speech, it’s only pure coincidence. Then you cook it for about a half hour till it becomes a mash. Then you add the yeast, ferment it, distill it and then my favorite part, the toasting of the barrels. This is where Kentucky bourbon really gets its individuality. The barrels are literally toasted over a fire like you would toast a marshmallow, except you need a much bigger stick and stronger arms. After about twelve minutes the barrel is then burned on the inside to give it a charcoal layer.Then you pour the liquor in, store the barrel on its side and throw it over Niagara Falls… no, that would be a waste of bourbon. You generally age it for at least two years. After that time, someone opens the barrel and has to taste it to see if it’s ready. Can you say “dream job?” Then, if it is, it’s opened, bottled, and shipped to stores, so we can go buy it, drink it and pass out on the floor with a bag of cheetos and no pants!

Now, interesting fact, any alcohol called “Bourbon” needs to, by law, have been made in the United States, and about 97% of the Bourbon produced, comes from its native state Kentucky, specifically Bourbon County.

Follow my next post where I review some of the top bourbons available today!


Unforgettable Maine Schooner Cruise

Guest post alert! I recently hosted an event aboard the Schooner, Stephen Taber, off the coast of Maine. It was a trip I’ll always remember. In a twist, I’m going to let Matt Beckman share his experience with you. He sums up the trip with pictures and panache!

Experience on the Stephen Taber
I would like to thank Michael for giving me the opportunity to share my experience and photos from the trip. My wife and I can’t travel enough; we are always planning the next trip or keeping an eye out for a new destination to add to our list. When we learned about the Stephen Taber from a friend who had been and did some research, it immediately went to the top of our list. The Stephen Taber did not disappoint!

As a fine art photographer, I was