Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

Champagne & The Oscars

Friday, February 15th, 2013

The 85th Academy Awards is Sunday February 24th and I’m hoping for a great show. I’ll be cheering for the cast of Silver Linings Playbook; they were all sensational.

The Oscars are a celebration and what better way to enjoy it than to toast with a glass of Champagne. Although “Champagne” must officially come from the Champagne region of France, I’m referring to all sparkling wines. Champagne doesn’t have to be served with caviar; it goes equally well with egg rolls or popcorn.

So what bubbly should you serve on Oscar night? I have asked 4 friends, each with over 20 years of experience in the wine industry, to suggest a favorite or two…

Phill D’Ancona picks Taittinger ($50), a true classic from the Champagne region, which not only tastes great but it’s also sophisticated. He also likes a more budget friendly option, Carpene Malvolte Prosecco ($15) from northern Italy.

Taittinger Champagne


Tom Clare recommends Iron Horse ($30), a standout from Sonoma County. Iron Horse has been served at the White House for the past 5 consecutive presidential administrations.

Winnie Burwell thinks that color is important for the Oscars;  and therefore suggests two roses.  Calixte Cremant d’Alsace Rose ($20) from the Alsace region makes stunning wines and won the gold medal at the Effervescent du Monde 2011. The second is  Maso Martis Brut Rose ($35) from northern Italy.

Bill Malloy selects an Italian wine with very sleek packaging, but promises a high quality experience as well. His choice is Voga Sparkling wine ($16) from the Veneto. This wine is sexy and would be great for Oscar night.

I am going to start my Oscar night with an appetizer of goat cheese, thyme, pink peppercorns, and a crusty bread; here is the recipe from Bon Appetit.

Thanks to our wine aficionados; these are some terrific options for the award show.  Enjoy and Cheers!



Gigondas & Vacqueyras

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Gigondas and Vacqueyras are two AOC wine regions in the Southern Rhone region of France. Although these wines are not the most famous from that region, they are some of my favorites. These wines feature the Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre grapes; with Grenache being the predominant grape. A typical Gigondas would have 80% Greneache, 15% Syrah, and 5% Mourvedre.

I love these wines because they are robust, well-balanced and reasonably priced ($20-30). The Syrah gives the wine excellent structure, while the Grenache softens the wine with bright fruit. The result is a medium to full bodied wine that can age reasonably well, but can be enjoyed early. One standout from Gigondas is Chateau de Saint Cosme. Although they make several single vineyard wines which are more expensive, their standard Grenache is about $30.  You can read more about the winery here.

Vacqueyras is located just south of Gigondas, and it received AOC status in 1990. Vacqueyras would normally have more Syrah than Gigondas. One wine from Vacqueyras that I enjoy is Domaine Le Couroulu.

Bottle of Domaine Le Couroulu

Domaine Le Couroulu is a blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, and 10% Mourvedre, and costs about $20. This estate was named after the Curlew bird; which is depicted on their wine label. Although their label is quite playful, the wine making is quite serious. This wine is spicy, bold, and very well made. It’s a great value; and I’d certainly recommend it with any hearty dish.


Cooking with Mike Colameco

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Chef Mike Colameco taught a cooking class last night at the Viking showroom in NYC. This class is part of a series sponsored by the 92nd Street Y. Last night’s focus was on One Pot Winter Dinners.

Chef Mike Colameco

Mike started his career as a chef in the ’70’s, and his first job was at The Four Seasons restaurant in NYC. Currently he is hosting “Mike Colameco’s Real Food”  on PBS, “Food Talk” on WOR Radio, and is the author of “Mike Colameco’s Food Lover’s Guide to New York City”. He certainly has a few years of cooking under his belt, but that’s not why he is such a good teacher. He has the perfect temperament with such a warm conversational manner. He intentionally does not hand out recipes because he prefers that the class focuses on technique. He wants everybody to understand how to make substitutions based on what is available at the market, and not follow a fixed recipe.

There were about 40 students in class, and it was a demonstration rather than a hands-on class. At first I thought that this would not be very effective, but in hindsight I think you can learn more. In a hands-on class you are too busy peeling carrots and focusing on just one aspect of the meal, rather than seeing the big picture. I thoroughly enjoyed the class; and learned a few things.

He prepared two dishes last night. The first was lentils with root vegetables and merguez sausage.  Merguez is a spicy sausage that can be found at Pino’s Prime Meats on Sullivan Street and occasionally at the Union Square Farmers market.The lentil dish included celeriac, carrots, onions and turnips. So simple. Start by sauteing the onions for a few minutes and then add the root vegetables. After 5 minutes or so he added lentils and water (use twice as much water as lentils). Cover and cook for 35 minutes. After the first 25 minutes, add the sausage on top of the vegetables to steam (sauteing the sausage would add more flavor, but that’s one more pot). When almost finished add chopped parsley on  top. The dish was both healthy and hearty, and got a big kick of spice from the sausage.

Hearty Lentil Dish


The second dish was cod over a bed of steamed vegetables. You could substitute any white flaky fish like halibut or hake. The key is to saute some vegetables like onions and bok choy.You can substitute other watery vegetables like Napa cabbage. Add garlic, ginger, and soy sauce to give the dish an Asian flair. For the last 10 minutes of steaming, add the fish on top of the vegetables (the cooking time of the fish will vary depending on the thickness). Add chopped cilantro just before serving.

The class last night was fun. Everyone enjoying drinking wine and sampling the tasty two dishes. I certainly recommend these classes with Mike; and I will take another class in a couple of months. There are 5 more classes this Spring, held the last Thursday of the month. Here is a link to the class schedule.

Provence – a Few Gems in the Luberon

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

A friend asked me the other day what he should see on his upcoming trip to Provence. Looking back on my 6 weeks there, my fondest memories were not the typical Top 10 attractions listed in guide books, but were a few unique and charming experiences that reflected the local color and everyday life. I would certainly recommend…

Lunch at Le Bistrot du Paradou is a must; it’s located about 15 minutes south of St. Remy. The first time I drove up to this restaurant I could smell the lamb chops before getting out of the car; but I didn’t have a reservation. But I returned and fell instantly in love. The restaurant has a casual atmosphere with a fixed menu; like eating in somebody’s home. You get three extraordinary courses plus a never ending cheese course. I think the waiter brought the cheese platter by 3 times; and yes it’s that good. You will be there most of the afternoon, and mostly likely make friends with everyone seated around you.

Lourmarin was the town I kept returning to for its farmers’ market, restaurants and  boutiques. The farmers’ market was held every Friday morning, and I went every week. The truck selling olives and tapenade was spectacular.  We also got to know the woman selling raspberries; they were always perfect.

Truck selling Tapenades

Cheese was another highlight of the market. You can buy some excellent goat cheese in NYC, but they pale in comparison to those sold here. I have never seen such an extensive selection. In fact the market sells just about anything you would need for dinner: vegetables, herbs, chicken, sausage, wine, and even flowers for the table. But the vendor that really caught my attention was the one selling tomato tarts with the flakiest pastry crust…delicious. After the market I enjoyed lunch at L’Oustalet; their soups were a standout. Although Lourmarin is a small town, you won’t be disappointed with their boutiques.

Oppede-le-Vieux (not Oppede le village) is a historic village with a mix of a few very fashionable residences (Ridley Scott lives here) and crumbling ruins.

Notre Dame d’Alidon

This village has a long history dating back to the Middle Ages. In 1274 the Popes took control of the town followed by the Barons d’Oppede in the 16th Century. In 1793 an earthquake decimated the town, but you can still see the remains of the spectacular chateau. Notre Dame d’Alidon,  a Romanesque church, is still however surprisingly intact. The setting is breathtaking. You will be able to enjoy the scenery, soak up the history, but not have to share it with the tour buses.

My favorite experience in the Luberon was lunch at Castelas, a working goat farm at the top of the mountain in the middle of nowhere. It is located up a dirt road outside the town of Silvergues, miles from civilization. Although I hear they serve dinner, we went for Sunday lunch. As we entered the stone gates I saw picnic tables set up and goats roaming everywhere.

Tables at the Goat Farm

Actually later in the afternoon the pigs were let out, so I hope you like animals. Plastic pitchers of wine were set on the table and the platters of food just kept coming. Waiters brought grilled vegetables, meats, sausages, and of course cheese. You feel like you are on the top of the Alps with true “farm to table” cooking – amazing.


Provence is a place that exudes quaintness and color. Visit a few of the smaller hill towns like Menerbes, Bonnieux, and Saignon and wander the cobblestone streets.

House in Saignon

The local architecture is gorgeous. Many homes are made of stone with terracotta roofs. In contrast, their doors and window shutters are often painted in pastels. These greens, blues, and yellows will catch your eye, and hopefully warm your heart.

Outstanding in the Field – Ojai

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Last week I went to an event organized by Outstanding in the Field at Earthtrine Farm in Ojai, Ca. What a hoot! Outstanding in the Field is a group started in Santa Cruz, California by Jim Denevan. The concept is to hold dinners in the fields of farms, ranches and vineyards. These dinners celebrate local farmers, fishermen, winemakers, and other artisans and their products. This year they will hold about 90 dinners in over 25 states. You can visit their website here.

Our event was held at Earthtrine Farm run by BD Dautch & family. BD is a fixture at the Santa Barbara’s Farmers Market offering the finest organic produce.  They grow a wide array of herbs, fruit, and vegetables.

Farm Table

Farm Table

As you arrive at the event you are greeted with wine and appetizers. The wines were from Cantara Cellars  (website); a small family run winery owned and operated by Chris & Mike Brown. They served a crisp Albarino and a lively Tempranillo; two great choices for a sunny afternoon in the field. Four great appetizers were served. My favorite was a carrot pancake with creme fraiche, fried garlic, and carrot tops; it was so tasty.

We then went on a tour of the farm. BD discussed what he was growing, the typical hurdles he might encounter, the micro-climates, and his passion for keeping everything organic. It was interesting how he utilized the growing area between the rows of citrus; the shade from the trees provided the perfect environment for some crops.

BD discussing his farm

BD Discussing his Farm

After the short farm tour it was time to head to the table.

Time to Eat

Time to Eat

The feast was prepared by local chef Rachel Main of Main Course California. The first course was chilled lettuce soup followed by Earthtrine vegetable kimchi with lettuce and red basil. The turnips on this dish were amazing; it was candy for grown-ups. The first two courses were paired with a Chardonnay and a Syrah Rose respectively. The Rose paired really well with the acidic kimchi dish.

Serving Rose

Serving Rose

The main course was a Baja Yellowtail served with tempura Japanese turnips. These turnips were spectacular; but I seem to find anything in a tempura batter delicious. The side dish combined carrot puree and grilled sprouted broccoli. The carrot puree was my favorite dish of the evening; rich with layers of spices. We got the recipe; but we are still trying to recreate the flavors we tasted at the farm. I think there were 2 key elements that made this dish fabulous; the quality of the carrots and that they were roasted prior to pureeing. The carrots were from Dave Pommer, a local farmer from Santa Rosa. I would recommend seeking out his carrots.

Baja Yellowtail

Baja Yellowtail & Tempura Turnips

Carrot Puree & Broccoli

Carrot Puree & Sprouted Broccoli

I encourage you to check out Outstanding in the Field; odds are they will be holding a dinner near you. I had so much fun at this event I will definitely go again.