Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lisa's Birthday Dinner

Our friend Lisa's birthday was last week and with our crazy schedule we didn't have time to do anything special for her so we decided to cook her dinner on Sunday night. Kerry wanted to serve bubbly (of course!) and I wanted to serve an Italian red (of course!) so we decided to just drink them both knowing that Lisa would be happy with whatever we opened!

As usual I had a specific wine in mind when I planned the menu. Knowing how much I love the wines and foods of the Bastianich family, our friend Monica from Neat Wines brought 2006 Bastianich Calabrone a few weeks ago. New to their portfolio, the nose alone told me I had to have it. Besides the fact that it is only released in excellent vintages, and that it is a an unusual blend of 40% Merlot, 45% Refosco, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Pignolo, the other thing that makes "Super Friulian" so special is the vinification process. To punch up the flavors and soften the tannins of the Refosco and Cabernet Franc they take 30% of the best clusters of the grapes and hang them in a ventilated hilltop attic for a four to eight week drying period. This appassimento process, similar to Amarone, as well as the aging for 2 years in oak and another in bottle before release, results in a truly special wine (so special it was served to the Pope during his visit to New York in 2008!). Deep red fruits, velvety texture, powerful, elegant, with some delicious spices, cocoa and espresso, notes this needs some robust food!

Enough about the wine, what about the food?? Since I've been on such pasta kick lately, I decided to make some fresh pappardelle and do a Porcini and Pancetta Cream Sauce. And what better to accompany the pasta than a big steak served Tuscan style and a nice salad with heirloom lettuces and mache.

So, the pasta; to make the pappardelle I used my usual recipe for Pasta all'Uovo. Once you roll out the sheets, cut them in half crosswise to make 10 strips about a foot long and 5" wide. Lay them out in trays, in layers, lightly floured and covered with towels. Take one of the strips, and lay it out on a floured board; dust the top with flour as well. Starting at one end, fold the sheet over on itself in thirds or quarters, creating a small rectangle with 3 or 4 layers of pasta.

With a sharp knife, cut cleanly through the folded dough crosswise in 1-1/2-inch wide strips. Separate and unfold the strips, shaking them into long noodles. Sprinkle liberally with flour so they don't stick together. Fold, cut, and unfurl all the rolled pasta sheets this way, and spread them out on a floured tray. Leave them uncovered, to air-dry at room temperature until ready to cook.

The Sauce:

* 3/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
* 1-1/2 cups hot water
* 1 pound pappardelle
* 2 tablespoon olive oil
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 1-1/2 ounces pancetta
* 1/3 cup minced shallots
* 3 teaspoons minced garlic
* 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
* dash of truffle oil
* 3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
* salt
* freshly ground black pepper
* 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
* 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


Place the dried mushrooms in a medium bowl, cover with the hot water, and let sit until reconstituted and soft, about 15 minutes. Drain the mushrooms and their liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl, squeezing the mushrooms to extract as much liquid as possible. Reserve the liquid and roughly chop the mushrooms. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have it ready to go, because the fresh pasta cooks very quickly.

Meanwhile, a little of the oil in a large skillet and brown the pancetta. Remove and drain on a paper towel. Add the rest of the oil and melt the butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the chopped mushrooms, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the reserved mushroom liquid, bring to a boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is nearly all evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cream, thyme, salt, pancetta, dash of truffle oil and pepper and return to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cream is reduced and thick, 4 to 5 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of the cheese and the parsley and stir to incorporate.

Add the pappardelle to the boiling water and cook until al dente, 2 to 4 minutes for fresh pasta. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the sauce, tossing well to coat. Add 2 more tablespoons of the cheese, toss, and remove from the heat. Serve immediately and use the rest of the cheese for garnish on the plates.

And the steak? My version of bistecca fiorentina, the first time we made this was with freshly cut Chianina beef steaks over an open fire in a villa in Tuscany with 8 of our close friends. Although we'll never be able to recreate that special experience, it is still one of my favorite preparations and it always take me back to that magical night.

Grill some fresh t-bones rubbed in olive oil, salt and pepper, they should be pretty rare. While the steaks are cooking, fry a big handful of fresh sage and some rosemary in a good amount of olive oil until the sage leaves are crispy.

When the steaks are done, put them on a cutting board and thinly (1/4") slice the meat of the bone. Put the meat on a serving dish and pour the hot olive oil and herb mixture over to finish cooking and seal in the juicy flavor. Salt and pepper to taste.

Buon Appetito!

Wine of the Moment, 2005 Hope and Grace Cabernet

Charles Hendricks has been part of the California wine scene for quite a while. Since the early eighties he has been making wine for clients such as Viader, Barnett, Regusci, Paoletti and Bacio Divino. His wine making style has created award winning wines coveted by wine collectors and celebrated by leaders in the wine industries. But, as do most winemakers, he always had the dream of producing his own wine.

In 2001, he was given an unexpected opportunity to purchase Pinot Noir grapes from the renowned, Robert Talbott, Sleepy Hollow Vineyards. Having to move quickly to secure these amazing grapes, Charles needed a place to crush and store his new found fortune, and his friend Jim Regusci graciously lent a hand in getting started. Realizing that this is really happening, Charles went in search of a name…he thought of two attributes that he has in life, his daughters, Hope & Grace Hendricks. And his dream became a reality....Today, his production has grown to a total of approximately 2,000 cases, and includes his award winning Chardonnay, Pinot Noirs, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignons.

The fruit for the 2005 Hope & Grace Cabernet comes from one of California's oldest continuously-owned family vineyards in the Napa Valley. The vineyards of the historic Lewelling estate were established in 1864 near the western foothills in St. Helena by pioneer winegrower and horticulturist John Lewelling. His great, great grandchildren still farm a 28-acre vineyard on a portion of the original estate, where they make their own wine and sell their grapes to a handful of quality producers like Charles Hendricks.

This wine is 100% Cabernet and is aged for full 2 years in French oak before release. They only make 950 cases of this and we're excited to have it as part of our lineup in our tasting this Tuesday with Charles Hendricks at Swirl.

Charles' Notes: The 2005 vintage was a bountiful harvest that produced vibrant, fruit rich wines. This is Hope & Graces’ second vintage of 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon from the renowned Lewelling Family Vineyard in the St. Helena, Napa Valley Appellation. Intense aromas of cocoa powder, dark berries and black licorice come forward with the first swirl, followed by undertones of spicy plum, marjoram and lead pencil. Fully textured, the plum and cherry flavors broaden with the sumptuous weight of the wine across the palate. The wine leaves the mouth with the vibrant fruit of the vintage.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wine of the Moment, Hinomaru Jozo Manabita Junmai Ginjo

While I love all of the premium sake in our upcoming tasting this week, the one that stood out the most for me in terms of it's unique flavor and quality was the Hinomaru Jozo Manabito Junmai Ginjo. With a subtle fruitiness, it is complex, rich and smooth with a hint of earthiness. As much as I enjoyed it by itself, I've since had it with food and found it an amazing pairing with fresh tuna. You can taste it on Wednesday and I liked it so much, I've added to our list of sake available at the bar!

Founded in 1689, Hinomaru Jozo has been producing sake for the people of Akita for more than 320 years. Its rich history and loyal fan base have allowed the brewery to specialize in premium production. For the sakes in the Manabito line, this dedication to excellence means the sakes are bottle-aged for an extra year before being released. This unique practice, more similar in concept to wine production, is a source of great pride for the brewery. According to owner Jouji Sato, “the bottle aging prevents oxidation and flavor loss, and preserves our exceptional quality.”

The brewery’s meticulous attention to detail in sake making extends to their rice as well. All of the sake rice used in the Manabito sakes is specially commissioned by the brewery. Amazingly, many of the farmers who spend the warmer months growing rice then spend their winters as brewery workers, turning that rice into sake. The name “Manabito” is taken from a local mountain that overlooks the fields where the sake rice is grown, emphasizing the importance of that essential ingredient to the brewery.

With sakes that are both traditional and refined, it is no surprise that Hinomaru Jozo has been able to survive for such a long time. In fact, the brewery was founded so long ago that it is the only brewery in the country allowed to use the Hinomaru name, which is also the name of Japan’s national flag. After such a long history, Hinomaru Jozo is proud to finally introduce Americans to the essence of Akita found in every bottle of Manabito sake.


Sake Sommelier Linda Noel Kawabata

Fevelo for News

Bronx-born sake sommelier Linda Noel Kawabata found 'soul of Japan,' new career in sake

Monday, November 2nd 2009
Article by New York Daily News
Clem Richardson

Even people who make appointments with her are usually surprised to meet Linda Noel Kawabata.

"I'll come in the door and people will be looking past me for some little Japanese lady," said the Bronx-born, African-American Kawabata.

Blame the mix-up on Kawabata's job as much as her last name. She is a sake sommelier, the U.S. Brand manager for Akita Sake Promotion and Export Council, a consortium of five sake - Japanese rice-wine - breweries.

Two consortium members, Hinomaru Brewery and Suzuki Shuzouten, have been making sake since 1689.

As a sommelier, Kawabata is versed in all things sake - not just which goes with what occasion or which is better hot or cold, but also in minutia like how different types of rice, milling processes and even the containers the sake is stored in affect the final product.

"Sake is the distilled essence of the Japanese soul," said Kawabata, who lived in Japan for more than two decades. "Sake is a part of every important ceremony. Couples aren't considered married in a Shinto ceremony until they take three sips of sake."

As brand manager, Kawabata crosses North America holding tastings for sake experts and initiates alike. She has had several in New York City - the next will be 5 p.m. Nov. 9 at Morrell Wines Bar and Cafe on Seventh Ave. between 48th and 49th Sts.

Scheduled appearances are also listed at aspec-sake.com.

Kawabata gleaned her sake knowledge from mentor John Gauntner, an American and recognized sake expert who has written several books and runs the Sake World Web site (sake-world.com).

But Kawabata came to the subject with hard earned expertise of her own, knowledge that she unknowingly earned throughout her many careers which shared a common theme: "Learn as much as you can from the best people in the field."

It started with how parents Arthur James Noel and Polyanna Noel raised their three daughters in the South Bronx. Kawabata is an identical twin - her sister, an art gallery operator who changed her name to Noel to honor their late father, "has one dimple and I have two," Kawabata said.

Kawabata, then Linda Noel, was an associated health editor for Essence Magazine in the early 1970s when a colleague introduced her to Atsuhiko Kawabata, a Japanese journalist stationed in New York.

"It was like someone struck a match," when they met, Kawabata said, despite his being 20 years older.

Puzzled by how Americans had so much of everything but were still getting sick, Kawabata resigned her position and set out with her husband on a years long quest to find, "somewhere in this world, a formula for wellness," she said.

Their journey took them through Africa, India and Indonesia, ending in Toyko, but only after the Kawabatas spent years living in a farmhouse on Mount Kuju in western Japan, where she taught yoga classes to local farmers.

"Rice was part of the diet everywhere we traveled," she said. "By the time I started studying sake in the late 1990s I knew a lot about the different varieties of rice, so I applied that knowledge to sake."

Atsuhiko Kawabata died in 2000. The couple have a daughter, Hanako, who lives in Charlotte, N.C.

Link to original article: Soul of Japan

Sunday, January 24, 2010

dc 10 does brunch!

High from the Saint’s victory on Saturday, the dc10 celebrated the quite decisive win over the Cardinals with a delicious theme of "brunch". Be it the Saints win, and the euphoria that accompanied it, or the fact that it was brunch and we were all a little sharper, everyone seemed to agree that this was our best yet. The food was taken to another level this weekend as each dish was truly spectacular and thoughts of how were going to top this one will keep everyone on their toes.

We were a full 45 minutes late with our fresh egg ravioli taking more time to assemble than anticipated. But we arrived to a very cheery group (normally we would be severely chastised for being so late!) sipping on Cat and Gabe’s Fiery Fresh Bloody Marys. Rimmed in fennel, coriander and celery salt and made with the fresh juice of 9 different vegetables, fruits and herbs and topped with jalapeno ice cubes, they were a refreshingly spicy start to our day. Served with the amuse of Smoked Salmon Canapés on Rye Toasts with Fresh Dill Hollandaise and garnished with salted capers, they were perfect together and was my favorite pairing of the meal.

Next up was Chris and Treana who were a little tense during their prep time in the kitchen, but when the dish came to the table, we could see why. A take on Japanese brunch of dim sum, they created a Shrimp and Scallion Bun artfully served with a smear of Hoison sauce. Filled with egg, shrimp and scallions, the gently fried, soft, homemade buns melted in your mouth with the hoison adding the perfect combination of salty sweet accents. Admitting that the wine was more of an after thought with all that went into getting the dish right, they served the 2004 Alfred Merkelback Spatlese Urzinger Wurzgarten which ended up pairing quite well with the food.

We had preassembled everything for our dish so all we had to do was basically boil the ravioli, fry the pancetta, brown the butter, plate and garnish. Due to the whole fresh egg yokes in the ravioli, we refrigerated them when we got there, so they were a bit too cold when we put them in the boiling water. I probably should have boiled them a bit longer, but I had to be careful not to overcook the eggs, making the pasta a little more al dente than we would have liked. After plating, we garnished with a drizzle of the butter, a few pieces of the fried pancetta, sea salt, fresh pepper, grated piave cheese and a sprinkle of Kerry’s arugula micro greens. Sunny Side Up Eggs with a Side of Bacon, Italian Style (click here for recipe)! It was pretty cool to see the bright orange egg yoke running out of the ravioli when cut and all of the ingredients paired well together. Our wine was not quite right with the dish as the Ajello Grillo-Cataratto blend from Sicily had a little too much acid to complement the food, but enjoyable none-the-less!

Our hosts, Lucie and Matt went for a Mexican inspired entrée, serving up Scrambled Egg and Blackbean Tacos, Chipotle Mojo marinated Pork Loin with Red Mole`, and delicious sides of Habenero Salsa Fresca, Fresh Fruit with a Spicy Rub, Guacamole, and Queso Fresca. There were so many amazing flavors on the plate, but I think everyone seemed to agree that Matt’s Red Mole was the best any of us had ever had. Served with the refreshingly different Rum Spiked Horchata, Mexican rice milk with a little vanilla, cinnamon and sugar, we were all in gastronomic heaven. Needing to rest our stomachs a bit before dessert, we all rolled into the living room to watch a little of the Dallas/Minnesota game.

Monica and Neal were up next with their Mardi Gras inspired dessert of King Cake Bread Pudding served with “Fun Coffee”. Using a traditional king cake as their base, they prepared deliciously gooey and rich bread pudding topped with purple green and gold sugar and served with a Bourbon and chocolate spiced coffee to give us all a little kick to get through the rest of the afternoon. As full as I was, I ate every bit and even some of Kerry’s, it was a fabulous end to our afternoon!

After 4 hours of eating, drinking, watching football, gossiping and talking about our amazing Saints, we went our separate ways, completely satiated, a few pounds heavier and just a little tipsy. What a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pasta for Breakfast?

Ok, so maybe we've taken our love of pasta a bit too far this time, but when we saw this preparation on iron chef, we knew it would be perfect for our upcoming dc10 theme of "brunch". So here's the deal. We've put our own spin on the recipe and made large ravioli stuffed with the usual ricotta and herb filling, but then topped it off with a fresh egg yoke before covering it with the 2nd sheet of pasta. We boiled them, just like you do regular ravioli and then plated them drizzled in melted butter and a little pancetta. Sunnyside up with a side of bacon, Italian style!

My standard pasta recipe is Lidia Bastianich's from her book Lidia's Italian Table. It is simple, delicate and comes out perfect every time I've made it. I use my Kitchen Aid mixer for the initial blending and then add the attachments when it is time to roll it out. I use farm fresh eggs (the fresher the better) that we buy from Justin Pitts at the Crescent City Farmer's Market when possible.

Make the dough first. I've taken the time to type Lidia's recipe word for word and added photos of the steps. You will have lots of left over dough to make regular ravioli or cut it into fettuccine. Click here for Pasta all'Uovo

I did the dough, Kerry came up with filling and we assembled them together. A fun, albeit a bit stressful, Sunday morning in the kitchen... I think the dc10 brunch was our best event yet!

Serves 12

Ravioli Ingredients
2 medium shallots
10-12 oz. fresh spinach
Freshly ground black pepper
1 stick butter
1 t. freshly chopped dill
fresh nutmeg
10-12 oz. fresh ricotta
12 fresh egg yokes (reserve a little of the whites to brush the edges of ravioli
6 oz. pancetta, cut 1/2" slices
Freshly grated Piave or Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese
Fresh pasta sheets, see link to recipe above

Chop shallots and saute in 1 T. of the butter with a few generous grinds of black pepper and a pinch of peperoncino. When shallots are clear, add spinach and stir until spinach is wilted. Add dill and salt to tasted. Be sure all of the water has cooked out of the spinach, but be careful not to over cook.

Transfer cooked spinach to a cutting board and let cool for a few minutes. Place ricotta in a bowl and grate a small amount of nutmeg in (to taste, and you don't need much). Add cooled spinach and shallot mixture and blend well. Add more salt to taste. If mixture seems to "spinachy" add a little more ricotta. Proportions are not too critical here, you just need to have a good consistency to make the nests for the egg. Taste and add more pepper if desired.

Now you are ready for the fun part! Find a glass or something you can use to make roughly a 5" in diameter circle. Take your sheets of fresh pasta that have been resting for the past 15 minutes, and cut them in half so that each sheet is roughly 6" x 15" (this will make them a little easier to work with). Flour your surface to keep the sheets from sticking. Take your glass and gently mark out 4 ravioli on a sheet. Spoon about 1-1/2 tablespoons of the ricotta mix in the center of each of the four circles. Form the mixture into little, equally shaped nests using a teaspoon or your fingers, their rims have to be high enough to keep the egg yolks from escaping.

Carefully divide the eggs (the egg yolks must stay whole) and gently place one yolk in the center of each ricotta nest. Take one of the unused egg whites and brush the pasta around the ricotta, in order to make the pasta sheets stick together well. Gently place another pasta sheet over the ricotta/egg yolk arrangements and tightly seal each one to avoid any air trapped inside. Stamp out the individual ravioli with your glass or mark and cut with a pasta cutter. Repeat 2 more times until you've made 12 ravioli.

Cook the ravioli in a large pan of salted, slightly boiling water for two to three minutes until just al dente, but with the egg yolks still runny. Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a frying pan and brown for a few minutes if desired. In another pan brown the pancetta. Drain the ravioli using a skimmer, place on a warm dish, then top with the butter, freshly ground pepper, a little extra grated Parmesan and place the pancetta on the side. Prepare for an amazing gastronomic experience!

Pasta all'Uovo - Basic Egg Pasta Dough

My standard pasta recipe is Lidia Bastianich's from her book Lidia's Italian Table. It is simple, delicate and comes out perfect every time I've made it. I use my Kitchen Aid Mixer for the initial blending and then add the pasta roller attachments when it is time to roll it out. When possible, I like to use farm fresh eggs (the fresher the better) that we buy from Justin Pitts at the Crescent City Farmer's Market.

This is Lidia's recipe when using an electric mixer. Her book also details mixing the dough by hand as well as with a food processor.

4 cups unbleached flour
6 large eggs
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. olive oil
warm water as needed

Place all but 1/3 cup of flour in the mixing bowl of a of a heavy duty electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. In a small bowl, beat the eggs, salt and olive oil together until blended. With the mixer on low speed, pour the egg mixture into the mixing bowl. Knead just until the mixture comes together to form a rough dough. If necessary, drizzle a very small amount of warm water into the bowl.

Remove the dough from the bowl and knead using the remaining flour, and more if necessary, using the following method.Once you have formed a rough dough, it is ready to knead. Flour a marble or wooden work surface. Press the heel of one handing deep into the dough, keeping your fingers high. Then press down on the dough while pushing it firmly away from you-the dough will stretch and roll under your hand like a large shell. Turn the dough over, then press into the dough first with the knuckles of one hand, then with the other; do this about ten times with the knuckles of each hand. Use the knuckles of your forefingers especially during this process.

Then repeat the stretching and "knuckling" process, using more flour if needed to prevent sticking, until the dough is smooth and silky, 10-2o minutes. Roll the dough into a smooth ball.Place the dough in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for at least 1 hour at room temperature, or up to 1 day in the refrigerator, before rolling and shaping the pasta. If the dough has been refrigerated, let it stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour before rolling and shaping.

Rolling the dough with a pasta machine (I used the Kitchen Aid attachments). Cut the ball of dough into 6 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a rectangle about 5x3 inches. Lightly flour the pasta rectangles and cover them with a kitchen towel. Set the rollers of the pasta machine to the widest setting. Pass one of the pasta rectangles through the rollers long side first, then pass it though the rollers a second time. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Keep the dough lightly floured-just enough to prevent if from sticking to the rollers. Reduce the width by one setting and pass each piece of dough through the rollers two times. Support the dough with your hand as it comes through the rollers-don't pull it though, or the dough will shrink so it is narrower than the width of the rollers.

Continue working with the pieces of dough in the same order and reducing the width one setting each time until all pieces of dough have been passed through to the proper setting. (Each pasta machine is different. Consult the directions for proper setting of your equipment the type of pasta you are making); the pasta sheets should be about 5-1/2 x 30 inches. Always keep the pieces of dough that aren't being rolled covered with a towel. If you find the dough is very elastic, let all pieces rest for 5 to 10 minutes before continuing. Once all pasta has been rolled into sheets, let them rest, completely covered with towels, for about 15 minutes before cutting them.

Now comes the fun part of deciding what you want to do with these beautiful sheets of dough. Linguine and fettuccine will need another cutting attachment or a hand crank pasta roller. Lasagna, ravioli, papardelle, cannelloni can all be cut by hand from this point.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Fig Report, Week 10

There must be something in the air because the little fig cutting surprised us with not one but two new leaves this past week! Things are looking good so far! It is amazing what a little warmth and sunshine does for all of us...

Sono studentessa di italiano!

I've been wanting to learn Italian for years now. After many Italian language tapes, a conversational class at Delgado, and a few trips to Italy (and more in the future), I've decided it's time to really do this. Most likely the oldest person registered in the Italian I class at UNO, can one learn a new language at middle age? My swiss cheese like memory and crazy schedule will make it challenging, but what the hell? What am I waiting for? Do what you want to do now, who knows what could be coming your way....I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Rocca Delle Macie, Chianti at It's Best

Rocca Delle Macie is considered a young winery when looking at the history of most of their Tuscan neighbors. But in their short 37 years they have managed to become one of the most highly regarded producers in the Chianti Classico region. Founded by spaghetti western star, Italo Zingarelli, the winery is still family owned and operated and produces a stellar lineup of wines.

Located in Castellina in Chianti, they have built their reputation on affordable and approachable Chianti Classico and Riserva, but also produce award winning Super Tuscans including the Ser Gioveto and Roccato. I tasted the whole line up of wines last week with Jimmy Buckle of Palm Bay Imports to chose our wines for our upcoming tasting on Tuesday with Rocca Delle Macie's Vito Candela. Presented with 8 amazing wines, it was hard to narrow it down to 6 for the tasting, but I decided to stick with what these guys do best, Sangiovese. From the light and easy Rubizzo to the seriously structured Roccato, you experience the many faces of this grape from the best production areas in Tuscany.

If I had to pick a favorite from the group, it would have to be the 2005 Chianti Classico Riserva. It is 90% Sangiovese with a touch of Merlot and Cabernet, that spends 2 years in French oak and a minimum of 3 months in bottle before they release it. It's got everything a great Chianti should have; beautiful cherry fruit with a slight tobacco note, a richness in the mouth, nice structure without being overly dry and tannic, the wine over delivers for the price.

But the Roccato Super Tuscan was a huge favorite among the tasters as well, showcasing the classic combination of Sangiovese and Cabernet. One of their premier high scorers with multiple Tre Bicchieri awards under its belt, this shows terrific red fruits with spice notes, cocoa, vanilla and rich fig and coffee.

So there will be something for everyone at this tasting, except white wine lovers will feel a little cheated. Being a classic Tuscan producer, the will only be one white wine, the Occhio a Vento which showcases the Vermentino grape. Call if you are interested in attending, we're limiting it to 40 people and the cost is $12. 504.304.0635, Tuesday 1/20, 6:30pm.

Sake to Me, Baby!

Needing to get the menu set for our upcoming sake tasting and food pairing, Chris Noyes sat down with Chef Dan Esses, Ron and me to taste through the lineup for next week. Hands down the best sake I've ever tasted, these are all new to the market and being brought in by Winebow. We were all blown away by the quality, complexity and individuality of the wines which inspired Chef Dan to come up with an amazing menu. Check it out below, but if you are interested, don't wait too long, we only have 8 spots left...504.304.0635.

Handmade Apple Pork Sausage over Braised Cabbage topped with Pickled Onion paired with Naba Shoten Futsuu-shu

Chef Daniel's BBQ Shrimp over Popcorn Rice paired with Suzuki Shuzoten Honjozo

Crab Salad over Fried Green Tomato paired with Akita Seishu Junmai Ginjo

Smoked Brisket with Spicy BBQ Sauce paired with Akita Seishu Junmai

Fish & Chips, Fried Gulf Fish with Handmade Sweet Potato Chips paired with Hinomaru Jozo Junmai Ginjo

Baked Oysters with Cheesy Mornay Sauce paired with Tenju Shuzo Junmai Daiginjo

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sauteed Oyster Mushrooms

Trying to decided what I wanted to cook to accompany Kerry's chicken dish she prepared last week, I picked up a beautiful clump of oyster mushrooms at Whole Foods. Originally from Asia his delicate white mushroom is ideal for simple preparations that allow its sweet, woodsy flavor to come through. It is now cultivated around the world and is highly praised for its medicinal and pharmacological value due to its high content of statins which help to control cholesterol. So hopefully that help to balance out all of the butter and fat I used for this recipe...

We opened up a 2001 Poliziano Asinone Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to pair with the chicken dish, but it actually worked better with the mushrooms. The wine was fabulous, but it has hit its peak so we better drink that last bottle we've been saving soon!

1/2 lb. fresh oyster mushrooms
2 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, cut into small half inch pieces
2 T. Marsala
1/4 C. water
Salt and pepper to taste

-Separate the mushrooms by hand tearing each one away from the clump.
-Take a large saute pan and add the butter and oil over medium heat until the butter starts to foam.
-Add the pancetta and stir until browned.
-Now add the mushrooms, coat with the butter/oil and turn up the heat to medium high. Once it starts to sizzle, add the marsala and water and cook until mushrooms are softened but still have a bit of a crunch.
-Salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

The Fig Report, Week 9

Just as we have all been hiding under the covers for the last month, not wanting to venture out into the cold, gray days of winter, the little fig cutting has been in hibernation mode. The short days and cool temperatures have made for slow growing but this week we started to see a change as a new leaf is breaking through. Hopefully, in anticipation of the warmer weather scheduled to arrive this week, it has decided it will be safe to come and show its new growth!

My fascination with this little cutting has led me to research the history of figs and I found out it is possibly the most ancient of domesticated plants. The latest archaeological evidence has determined that figs were propagated as early as 11,400 years ago, predating the domestication of cereal grains and legumes by about 1,000 years. At the Gilgal site, in the Jordan Valley near Jericho, they found dried, half eaten figs from trees that could only have survived with the help of human hands. See there is a type of genetic mutation in some species of fig trees that allows them to produce without pollination and the help of the fig wasp. However, the only way these trees can propagate is by taking shoots and planting them in the ground to grow more trees. The fruit found at the Gilgal site was of this mutant variety indicating the earliest origins of fruit orchards.

So I found it pretty cool know that I'm doing what was done thousands of years ago, putting a stick in some dirt and hoping it will grow! So far it seems as if they knew what they were doing!

For the story of how our Sicilian fig cutting came to America, click here: For the Love of Figs

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Wine of the Moment, 2008 Benmarco Malbec

Our friend Liz has been patiently (not!) waiting for me to taste the new vintage of one of her favorite wines. A very frequent buyer and fervent fan of the 2007 BenMarco Malbec, she wasn't sure if the 2008 would be worthy of her adoration. Knowing the history, producer and quality of past vintages, I was confident it would, but nonetheless Liz wanted me to taste it before she purchased her case. So earlier on New Year's Eve day, before the bubbly feeding frenzy began, Lucie Fitch came in with a sample of the BenMarco for us to taste and share with customers. The nose alone told me this was going to be something special, and Liz will be delighted to know that the 2008 is a knockout!

The BenMarco wines are crafted by one of the most talented winemakers in Argentina, Susana Balbo, and her world famous viticulturist husband, Pedro Marchevsky. The winery is a family affair as Pedro’s daughter-in-law is an artist and designs all the labels while Susana’s son is currently a student at the University of California at Davis. One of the wines is called “Crios,” which means offspring and the label depicts two small hands in a big one symbolizing Susana and her two (now grown) children.

Beautiful, deep purple color with perfumed aromas of ripe red fruits and roasted coffee beans. It is lush, full-bodied and fills the palate with loads of chewy, currant jam flavors, bright acidity, and a touch of grip on the almost savory finish. This wine really unfolds with some air so try not to slurp it down in a rush, and it shows why the Argentine people are in love with Malbec. Pedro blended in some Bonarda for greater complexity and to achieve better balance. Pairs well with a wide range of foods including beef, sausages, spiced or grilled pork, veal, medium-strong cheeses, and meat-based pasta sauces.

We liked it so much that I talked Lucie into doing our Friday tasting this week so that all of you could taste it too, along with some of Susana Balbo's other wines from Argentina. Maybe I can convince Chef Dan Esses that he should pair it with a chimichurri sauce on his tapas menu that night....

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate
The 2008 Malbec, which contains 10% Bonarda, spent 11 months in 50% new French oak and 50% first use American oak. Purple-colored, it reveals an expressive nose of wood smoke, cinnamon, incense, and black cherry. Round, ripe, medium-bodied, and savory, this layered effort has a lengthy, fruit-filled finish. Enjoy it over the next 5 years.
Score: 90.

Price: $21

Friday, January 1, 2010

Top 10 Wine Experiences of 2009

Like it or not, New Year's Eve tends to be a day of reflection. As many news publications like to write about the biggest news stories or the best movies of the year, I started reminiscing yesterday about my top 10 wine moments of the past 12 months. This isn't a buying guide nor does it have anything to do with ratings, I'm not even sure if all of these wines are still available, and some of the experiences are not even about a particular wine. These are really just 10 specific, very special moments in time when everything came together and made me pause and say to myself "hmmm! this is why I do what I do..." I've listed them in order of experience, not rating, so they start with our visit to New York last year in January and end with an evening in our home right before Christmas.

1. The first time I tasted an Etna Rosso was in New York for the Italian Trade Commission Wine Conference in January. Invited to a party by our friend Lisa, we needed quick bottle and walked into a little wine shop in the East Village on our way there. To my delight we found a small section of Sicilian wines with an inexpensive 2006 Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso. We popped it open immediately at the party to have with some pizza and I knew I had just found my new favorite grape varietal. A beautiful introduction to the Nerello Mascalese grape, it was lush and easy drinking, with a purity of fruit and hints of dark cherries, tobacco and wild herbs, and an earthiness and texture reminiscent of Burgundy, but is distinctly Sicilian. I was hooked.

2. More of a complete sensory overload of wonderful wine, food and people was our 2009 Tre Bicchiere Wine Dinner at Ristorante del Porto with our friend Antonio Molesini leading the way. Each year we hold this dinner with Antonio that features six of the highest award winning wines of the Italian wine guide, Gambero Rosso, at a top notch Italian restaurant. The combination of amazing wines, delicious food, delightful people and Antonio's humorous presentations made the entire evening a truly unforgettable experience. I can't wait to see what the 2010 dinner will bring!

3. Our introduction to skin fermented white wines came by way of some of our favorite people in the wine world. When our friends Neal and Monica brought us Abe Schoener's 2007 Scholium Project Prince in His Caves to taste for the first time, we were blown away, as we are every time we have had it since then. What we began to call, in very technical industry lingo, the "crazy wine", Abe's wines are known for pushing the envelope and this one is an enigma in itself. An unfiltered, skin fermented Sauvignon Blanc that is aged in new oak fills your glass with a cloudy yellow, viscous juice that looks more like a Belgian beer than wine. It opens with aromas of pink grapefruit juice, but as it hits your palate there are complex notes of honey, minerals and spice with a dry and "tannin-like" astringency at the back end and a finish that never ends. A true wine geeks wine and the start of our love for Abe and his wines.

4. Every once in awhile you come across a truly exquisite wine, one that you can't stop thinking about, whose memory haunts your olfactories and taste buds until you finally have it again. Even in this business where tasting 75 wines a week is the norm, I rarely run across a wine that makes me salivate like this. But knowing my love for Italian wines, our friend Matt Lirette nonchalantly popped the 2004 Cigliuti Barbaresco Serraboella at his house one evening for dinner and I've been thinking about it ever since. In the glass, the first thing that throws you is the color, a rich ruby tone that tells you this is not a typical Nebbiolo. A true "meditation" wine, the aromas are so intoxicating you never want to take your nose out of the glass, but know you need to start drinking or your wine loving friends will finish the bottle before you even have a sip! But the earthy, leather, cherry and tar perfume keep hinting at the treasures that await your palate. And once you do actually take a drink of this exquisitely elegant yet rich and complex wine that coats your mouth with its velvety texture and flavors of violets, spice box, sweet tobacco and dark fruit, you find that somehow it tastes even better than it smells!

5. We were given a very special bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir one day by our new friend James Moises, and wanted to share it with people who we thought would appreciate it. So with a huge piece of freshly caught tuna to grill, we invited our friends Lisa and Karoline over for dinner and popped a stunning 1999 Yamhill Carlton Wahle Vineyard Pinot Noir given to use by James Moises and made by his partner Mark Wahle. It was eye opening to me how amazingly, fresh and elegant yet powerful this wine was with 10 years of age! This particular bottle and my experiences with the Moises Wines from the same vineyard marked the start of my deep appreciation for OregonPinot Noir!

6. Researching wineries our Wine and Culinary Tour of Sicily, I came across a very small producer on the northern slopes of Mount Etna that really got me excited. Frank Cornelissen , who I now affectionately call the "Mad Man of Etna", is doing some really amazing stuff with indigenous varietals and I knew he had to be part of our trip. Cynthia Nicholson, our partner in the wine and food trip visited Frank in the spring and brought back a few of his wines to share with us. I made a very Sicilian dish called Pasta Trapanese and we had Frank's skin fermented white, the 2008 Cornelissen Munjebel Bianco and his amazing Magma with the meal . The pairings, Cynthia's company, the conversation and of course the sensory introduction to Frank's wines (which have become somewhat of an obsession with me...)made it a truly unforgettable experience that we all talked about for months.

7. Kerry and I had the privilege of meeting Clovis Taittinger about a year ago and made an instant connection with the quirky, humble, funny and somewhat shy French aristocrat. So when we found out he was coming back in October, we teamed up with Commander's Palace for a Taittinger Champagne dinner hosted by the man himself. Eating fabulous food in one of the world's most prestigious restaurants, drinking the amazing 1998 Comtes de Champagne with Clovis, surrounded by customers who have all become our friends, it couldn't have been a more wonderful evening.

8. Our Wine and Culinary tour of Sicily could encompass 10 top moments on its own, but if I had to narrow it down, I would pick the beautifully stunning morning we drank wine with Frank Cornelissen on his black lava rock courtyard in the little town of Solicchiata on the northern slopes of Mount Etna. The wines, Frank's passion, and the entire group's appreciation for both made it a really magical moment. Through his practice of extreme non-intervention Frank allows the wines to take a natural course and through taking that course a very distinct quality comes through each and every wine. I can only describe it as an essence of purity and an expression of the grape from a very particular time and place that you taste in every sip and each one of his creations. That particular place is the Etna and is like no other on earth. And Frank's wines are alive with the spirit of this amazing place.

9. Our friend Rachel's mother had just passed away and a group of friends gathered at her house that evening to reminisce and bring closure to the amazing story her life had been. We nibbled on cheese, chorizo, olives and fresh bread as we laughed, cried and hugged each other. I wanted to bring something special to celebrate Patsy, so I chose the 2007 Jean Louis Tribouley Carginan. It was elegant and fresh, a beautiful, soft richness on the palate, yet with a little spicy kick, reminiscent of the woman we came there to honor. It was the perfect wine for the moment and it will forever remind me of Patsy.

10. One Sunday evening recently I decided to cook up some Esses Foods fresh pasta with a little pancetta and tomato sauce I had just made. Our friend Matt Lirette had given me a bottle of a new Etna Rosso (Matt has come to share my love for Nerello Mascalese), that he thought I would like. So we invited our friend Lisa over and popped the 2007 Pietradolce Archineri with the meal. Again, another wine that reinforced for me the amazing things that can come from this grape! A heady perfume of red fruits, baking spices and caramel literally jump from the glass, with lush, almost jammy flavors of plum, raspberries and oranges coat your palate. I called Matt the next day and said that I had to have that wine in the shop! He assures me it's coming....
I find it only fitting that my top wine moments of the year started and ended with Kerry, Lisa and a glass of Nerello Mascalese...

So, while there were times throughout the past year where life was challenging and difficult, it is nice to think back on these moments of joy spent with people I care about and sharing my passion for food and wine. Because a great wine is nothing without someone special to share it with and I am thankful to have a partner and friends who appreciate these wonderful moments just as much as I. I can't wait to see what 2010 will bring! Happy New Year!

90+ Rated Wines? You be the Judge...

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, wine scores sell wine. They’re used as marketing tools when the ratings are high and can kill a wine if they’re low. By their very nature, wine ratings are subjective. Really, what is the difference between a Wine Spectator score of 90 and a Wine Advocate score of 89? Or better yet, a Wine Spectator score of 82 and a Wine Advocate score of 90 on the same wine? A function of advertising dollars, perhaps? So how did this business, and a lucrative business it is, get started?

Ratings were not really part of the wine world before 1978. If they used any scoring system at all, critics in both the United States and abroad tended to use a simple 5-point system. Enter Robert M. Parker Jr. a lawyer turned self-employed wine critic who introduced the 100-point system to the wine world in 1978, when he started a wine buying guide called The Wine Advocate, published every two months.

Easy to comprehend, consumers embraced the 100-point rating system immediately. Under his system, a 96 to 100 is an extraordinary wine, 90 to 95 is excellent, and 80 to 89 is above average to very good. To avoid being influenced by the name or reputation of a winery, Mr. Parker tasted batches of wine together, slipping the bottles into individual paper bags and then mixing them up and rating each one.

His system grew in popularity and “Parker Points” started being used as marketing tools by wine retailers. As others began to see the value of such a simple yet effective system, they adopted similar scales. Enter Wine Spectator who in the mid 1980’s introduced their own 100-point scale to market their publication, while others followed over the next 10 years as both Wine & Spirits and Wine Enthusiast adopted the 100-point systems in the mid 1990’s.

Fast forward to 2009; Wine Spectator’s highly anticipated Top 100 Wines hit the newsstand smack in the middle of the holiday shopping frenzy, and wine ratings have a major influence on retail sales. On the positive side, ratings can give novice wine tasters an objective way to judge wines. On the negative side, ratings have become influential enough to cause wineries to rise and fall on the strength of their published ratings. A very high rating from a respected rating authority can result in a rapid sellout of a particular wine while leaving another high quality wine without a rating, collecting dust on the shelves.

What you need to keep in mind about all of this is that rating wines is absolutely subjective. The points (and even the tasting notes) ascribed to a particular wine are the opinions of the reviewer and reflect the rater’s own tastes, biases, and preferences. In the end, it’s not my opinion or Mr. Parker’s or the Wine Spectator that matters, it’s how you feel about a wine and the enjoyment it brings you that really counts.

At our Swirlin’ Dervish Tuesday, January 12, “You be the Judge” as we feature 6 wines that have been rated 90 or more points by various “respected” wine critics, and all retail for under $20. We’d like you to be the judge and let us know what you think of the wines on the 100-point scale. Make a reservation by calling 504.304.0635.


Related Posts with Thumbnails