A Taster's Journey is a newsletter on food, wine and travel. After 15 years of studying, tasting, teaching, and selling wine, I created this newsletter to not only share my passion about wine, but of food and travel as well. Each month I hope to share wines that I am drinking, food that is in season, restaurants that I have enjoyed, and places I have traveled. Enjoy!"


Champagne & The Oscars

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

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

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.


January 30th, 2013

The temperature is warmer today in NYC, and the fruit and vegetable vendors have returned to the streets. That’s excellent news because I need strawberries. These vendors have multiplied in recent years; and they can now be found all over Manhattan.

Fruit Vendor in NYC

I was spoiled when I lived in Santa Barbara because the strawberries were grown locally and always tasted delicious. In NYC, supermarkets dominate the produce landscape; and they all promote one brand of strawberries – Driscoll’s. I think they are overpriced and tasteless. I am going to continue to buy my strawberries from the street vendor. He typically offers better quality at a bargain price.

Why strawberries in January? I eat them daily for breakfast, but why not serve them for dessert with an aged balsamic vinegar.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Pistachios

January 25th, 2013

The other day I made a Pumpkin Ravioli with a butter sage sauce. An easy dish that’s made with ravioli, butter, sage, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. This simple dish is in dozens of cookbooks, so I won’t bore you.

But did you ever think that one more ingredient could make a great dish extraordinary? I believe in “less is more”, but I don’t think we are over doing things if we add 5 ingredients rather than 4. When I was buying Pumpkin Ravioli the other day from Rana Pastificio in Chelsea Market in NYC, my wife Nora suggested I add the pistachio nuts that we had in the pantry.  Brilliant.

Pumpkin Ravioli

I was amazed how adding a little nutty crunch transformed this dish into something special. What’s lurking in your pantry that could transform tonight’s meal?

Buon Appetito.