Articles in Drinking

Cafe Triode manager Yo Endo pours a glass of wine at the cafe. Credit: Evelyn Iritani

Yo Endo would be the first to tell you he doesn’t know a lot about wine. What he does know is how to sell things. His last job was marketing tennis equipment, which took him to Los Angeles and Las Vegas; great restaurants — and wine, of course.

Today, Endo manages Cafe Triode, a cozy restaurant near the giant Tokyo Dome, home for Japan’s beloved Giants baseball team. The surrounding neighborhood is best known for the ultra-luxury La Qua spa, sporting goods stores, used bookstores and inexpensive restaurants catering to baseball fans and university students.

I stumbled onto the café while looking for a quiet escape from the rain during a business trip to Japan’s capital. Endo took my dripping umbrella and escorted me to a small wooden bar near the back. A hunk of Serrano ham anchored one end of the bar, and soft jazz played.

Women in Japan’s workforce is growing

Traditionally, the after-hours scene in Japan has been dominated by izakaya bars catering to salarymen. Beer, sake and whiskey are the favored drinks, and the vibe is usually loud and smoky or expensive — or all of the above.

Cafe Triode offers moderately priced wine, tasty nibbles and jazz — a perfect place for happy hour with girlfriends. And that’s exactly what Endo is aiming for.

Though Japan lags behind much of the developed world in female employment, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to increase the percentage of women in the workforce. This includes providing more affordable childcare and encouraging companies to adopt family-friendly policies, such as flexible work schedules.

It also means finding a place for those women to unwind after a hard day at the office. “There’s an increasing need for working women to have a girls-only night out for a drink to strengthen their solidarity,” Chikako Hirose, a spokeswoman for Pronto Corp., recently told Bloomberg News. Pronto is reportedly expanding its Di PUNTO chain of wine bars to at least 26 outlets by the end of 2015.

There are other reasons the wine industry is chasing the female market. Women in Japan still make most of the household buying decisions, and they are more likely than men to attend wine tastings and classes, according to a report released last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agriculture Service. Sixty percent of Japan’s wine experts are women.

Old-world wines dominate this market. Although Japan buys wine from 55 countries, just 10 account for about 98 percent of the imported volume, according to the USDA report. Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the favored varietals. Sparkling wine is also growing in popularity, and “wine on the rocks” is being touted as a refreshing alternative on a hot summer’s day.

Endo sees these trends at Cafe Triode, where the majority of his customers are couples or young female professionals. When he first opened his café, his wine list included a range of wines divided by country, varietal and price. But he discovered most of his young customers would spend a long time agonizing over the menu and then end up somewhere in the middle, where they would have just a few bottles to choose from.

Cafe Triode still sells bottles of wine for as much as 19,000 yen ($159) but now offers a large selection of wines for 4,100 yen ($34) a bottle. During my visit, that included two California Zinfandels from Peachy Canyon and Ravenswood chosen by Endo’s wine broker.

American wines are slowly finding a market. In 2013, the United States held an 8.6 percent value share of Japan’s imported wine, up from 7.7 percent the previous year, according to the USDA. But U.S. vintners face significant barriers. A stronger dollar and high import duties push them into a higher price bracket, and Japanese consumers prefer wines with a lower alcohol content than most American wines offer.

By offering a “Reasonable Selections” list representing many different varietals and wine-growing regions, Endo hopes he can encourage wine newbies to experiment. “Everyone finds it very easy to make a choice, and it’s also easy to control the budget,” he said.

Armed with a glass of the house red wine (600 yen or $5), I turned my attention to Cafe Triode’s multi-page English menu, which married two of my favorite cuisines: Japanese and Italian.

Meat platter is most popular on menu

The most popular menu item is the Triode assorted meat platter delivered on a large wooden board with five types of meat (1,950 yen or $16.35). Other tantalizing offerings include dumplings made from fish and shrimp wrapped in yuba (tofu) skin (1,190 yen or $9.98), codfish and scallop pie (1,190 yen or $9.98) and Tajima beef rump steak (1,500 to 1,800 yen or $12.58 to $15.10 per 100 grams). Tajima is the strain of black Japanese Wagyu cattle that produce the famous Kobe beef.

The grilled duck salad from Cafe Triode. Credit: Evelyn Iritani

The grilled duck salad from Cafe Triode. Credit: Evelyn Iritani

Endo, an easygoing man with an impish smile, started me out with a fig paired with a dollop of mineoka dofu. This delicate palate cleanser, made from an ancient recipe developed by Buddhist monks, isn’t tofu. It’s actually made from milk, arrowroot starch and sesame paste. Rich and creamy with just a hint of sesame, I resisted licking the tiny pottery dish and settled on the Saikyo-yaki (Kyoto-style) grilled duck salad (980 yen or $8.22) for my entrée.

Working out of a kitchen the size of my bedroom closet, Chef Yoshimi Imazu quickly worked his magic, preparing paper-thin slices of Parmesan cheese and duck marinated in a sweet white Saikyo miso on a bed of crisp greens.

My visit to Cafe Triode was just another reminder that you can travel well in Japan without breaking the bank. That, combined with that tasty salad, was enough to lure me back one last time before I left Tokyo.

Main photo: Cafe Triode manager Yo Endo pours a glass of wine at the cafe. Credit: Evelyn Iritani

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Pierre and Monique Seillan moved to Sonoma in 1997. Credit: Courtesy of Monique Seillan

This Sonoma wine captivated with scents of gently crushed black cherries mildly seasoned with oak. Its attack was silky and the flavors echoed the wine’s alluring aromas. It was fresh and structured, though the oak gradually became more of a presence, indicating that the wine wanted cellaring.

It was the 2008 Vérité “La Joie,” an obsessively calculated blend of — here goes — 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec. Wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. awarded it 99/100 points and rated the 2007 vintage 100/100. There was another perfect score for “La Joie’s” sibling, Vérité “Le Désir,” a Cabernet Franc-dominated blend. And the third wine of the Vérité trio, the Merlot-based La Muse, garnered 99/100 points.

I do not typically score wines. I write pages and pages of notes. Amid the adjectives for that 2008 Vérité “La Joie” I noted “quite European in style” and “very French.”

So perhaps it’s not surprising that the wines were made by a Frenchman, Pierre Seillan, 64, who hails from the Lot-et-Garonne region south of Bordeaux.

The Vérité project

The Vérité project was the dreamchild of California wine icon, Jess Jackson, who died in 2011. An attorney and self-made billionaire, Jackson bought a pear orchard in 1974, planted grapes and eventually began making wine. In 1982 he created Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay and gave birth to a vinous revolution: Here was a moderately priced wine that trounced the Hearty Burgundies and other jug wines.

Jackson continued to build his empire, which at its height comprised 35 wineries in five countries. What eluded him was a great wine. Then Seillan entered the picture.

The time was 1995. Seillan was managing estates for the Bordeaux negociant Cheval Quincard, when a mutual friend arranged for Jackson’s wife, Barbara Banke, to visit Seillan at one of the châteaux he was directing. In 1996 Seillan visited Jackson and by 1997 the Seillans had moved to Sonoma County.

They wasted no time. Vérité debuted with the 1998 vintage. But, first, as Seillan recalls, “Jess and I explored his different estates, vineyards and properties around California and around the world. I was able to identify and develop new locations in Sonoma County that were the right place for growing very high quality grapes, and matching the terroir to the appropriate varietal and rootstock. I then was able to identify what I defined later as ‘micro-crus.’ ”

The ‘micro’ approach

Seillan has worked with micro-crus for most of his life. “Ever since my grandmother taught me about soils and gardening when I was little at my parents’ estate in Gascony, then my work across Bordeaux, in the Loire Valley, in Tuscany and California. I learned to listen to the message of a particular place from the soil, climate and the vegetation, and to be able to match that to producing the right grapes in the right way.”

Seillan selects the best grapes from roughly a thousand acres of vineyards owned by Jackson to make the three versions of Vérité. The key parcels, well-exposed hillsides ranging from 578 feet to 2,457 feet, are: the Kellogg vineyard, Alexander Mountain Estate, Vérité Vale in Chalk Hill and Jackson Park.

Was the micro-approach uncommon in California? “Yes,” Seillan said. “Viticulture in California is still very young compared to France.”

In 2003, the Jacksons and the Seillans purchased the 55-acre Château Lassègue St. Emilion Grand Cru, and several years later, the 31-acre Château Vignot, also a St. Emilion Grand Cru. And Seillan manages the team at Jackson’s Tuscan properties.

Not surprisingly, the philosophy of micro-cru prevails, from painstaking selection of soils to persnickety parsing of grape percentages for each bottling.

A few favorites

Having tasted more than a dozen Seillan/Jackson wines recently, I had a hard job picking favorites. Nevertheless, I loved the 2010 Château Lassègue. Velvety and nuanced, it was fresh and structured, with notes of licorice blending with those of Burlat cherries. At $90 it’s not out of line for high quality Bordeaux and a lot cheaper than the 2008 Vérités ($390 a bottle). Of the three Tuscan wines, I much preferred the Chianti Classico to the two Bordeaux blends. Made from Sangiovese, the region’s traditional grape, it had a tasty story to tell on its home turf. What’s more, at $30 a bottle, it’s priced at roughly a third of the Super Tuscans.

And there’s a new, nicely priced charmer: Seillan has resuscitated vineyards planted by his mother on the Coteaux de Montestruc, facing the Pyrenees. True to form, he opted to plant Bordeaux grapes rather than those traditional to the region. The results are delectable. The 2012 Bellevue Seillan Côtes de Gascogne VdF, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, is a lip-smacking crowd-pleaser as well as a good value at $30 a bottle. Seillan’s grandma must be smiling.

Main image: Pierre and Monique Seillan moved to Sonoma in 1997. Credit: Courtesy of Monique Seillan

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A hangover cure can help ease the pain next time you over imbibe. Credit: iStockPhoto

Hangover cures — they’re never there when you need ‘em. Not that you (or I) are of in need for yourself — perish the thought.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of post-festive brotherly love, a recommendation or two might come in handy for those who — ahem — might have been on the wrong side of a midwinter indulgence and are looking for a simple restorative mouthful, liquid or otherwise.

The bullshot — boiling beef consommé cooled with a generous measure of vodka — comes well-recommended as the morning pick-me-up on England’s Yorkshire moors in grouse season, while Scotland’s heather bashers consider the oatmeal caudle — runny porridge with cream and whiskey — more geographically appropriate.

Which is not to overlook those who swear by yak butter and hot tea as the antidote to overindulgence in fermented mare’s milk when traversing the Khyber Pass, or those intrepid 19th-century travelers through the wilds of Africa who reported termites toasted in an earth oven as the only way to cure a hangover induced by overindulgence in fermenting baobab fruit.

To each her own.

Soupe a l’oignon

Lunch at Domecq. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

Lunch at Domecq. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald cured a Parisian hangover with onion soup with the porters in Les Halles, the central produce market in the good old 1930s, when men were men and women were — let’s just not go there.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 to 35 minutes

Total time: 40 to 45 minutes

Yield: 2 servings (You should never hang over alone.)

Ingredients

3 large onions, finely sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil or (better yet) goose fat

1 pint beef broth

Salt and pepper to taste

For finishing:

Sliced baguette, toasted

Gruyere or cantal cheese, grated (optional)

Directions

1. Fry the onions very gently in the oil or goose fat in a soup pan until soft and golden but not brown. Stir regularly, allowing at least 20 minutes.

2. Add the beef broth and allow to bubble up. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.

4. Ladle over slices of toasted baguette in bowls. You can also place the bread on top of the soup, sprinkle with grated cheese and slip the bowls under the grill for the cheese to melt and brown.

Katzenjammer

A beef and potato salad is the hangover cure in the new wineries of Vienna. Try to remember to put the meat into its marinade the night before so it’ll be ready in the morning.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Resting time: 3 to 4 hours or overnight

Total time: 15 minutes, plus resting

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

For the dressing:

4 tablespoons seed or nut oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon mild mustard

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:

2 slices cold boiled beef, cut in matchstick-sized pieces

2 cold boiled potatoes, sliced

1 pickled cucumber, chopped

For finishing:

2 to 3 tablespoons beef broth (optional)

1 egg yolk

Chili powder or hot paprika

Directions

1. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl.

2. Dress the beef, potatoes and cucumber with half the dressing. Allow the mixture to marinate for a few hours or overnight.

3. Whisk the rest of the dressing into the egg yolk to make a thick emulsion, dilute with a little beef broth or warm water to a coating consistency and spoon over the beef mixture.

4. Finish with a generous dusting of chili powder or hot paprika. There’s nothing like the fiery capsicums to set a person’s metabolism back on track.

Aigo boullido

An oil-and-garlic broth flavored with sage and fortified with egg yolk and pasta serves not only as a remedy for overindulgence but as cure-all and stomach-settler for pregnant women and babies. L’aigo boulido sauvo la vido (Garlic broth saves lives), as they say in Provence.

Prep time: 10 minuntes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

4 fat fresh garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 sprig of sage

1 level teaspoon salt

5 teaspoons (25 grams) vermicelli or other thread pasta

1 egg yolk

Directions

1. Simmer the garlic and olive oil in 2 cups of water for a half-hour, or until the volume is reduced by half.

2. Add the sage and bubble up until the broth turns a pretty yellow.

3. Add salt and vermicelli and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, fork up the egg yolk in a small bowl, then whisk in a ladleful of the hot broth. Stir the broth-yolk mixture back into the pot so the egg sets in strings. Bon appétit.

Zabaglione

Italy’s version of restorative eggnog — basically, egg and wine combined to make a spoonable fluff — was a remedy long before it became an elegant dessert. No need to cook it if you’re going to eat it right away. The usual strictures on raw eggs apply, but I guess you know that anyway.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

4 eggs

4 level tablespoons caster sugar

4 tablespoons sweet wine (such as Marsala, Madeira or Valencia)

2 to 3 almond macaroons (optional)

Directions

1. Whisk the egg yolks and whites together until fluffy.

2. Sprinkle in the sugar gradually until the mixture is white and light.

3. Continue whisking as you trickle in the wine.

4. Pour into two tall glasses over crumbled macaroons — or not — and eat with a long spoon without delay or the eggs and wine will separate. If this should happen, no need to panic. Simply whisk the split mixture into another egg yolk in a bowl set over simmering water and it’ll cure itself.

Main photo: A hangover cure can help ease the pain next time you over imbibe. Credit: iStockPhoto

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Malvasia vineyards and bougainvillea at the Capofaro estate on Salina

Sicily is famous for its distinctive wines and native grape varieties, particularly those that grow on volcanic soils. Nerello Mascalese, today’s most talked-about Sicilian red grape, only flourishes on the slopes of Mount Etna, Italy’s largest active volcano. The lesser-known Malvasia delle Lipari grows instead on the volcanic Aeolian Islands, where it’s made into a delicious and unique dessert wine that also goes wonderfully with cheese.

Malvasia delle Lipari Passito DOC is made from sun-dried grapes in several versions, from very sweet to drier. It offers orange and floral notes, toasted nuts and rich apricots to the nose and, at its best, enough acidity in the mouth to balance the sweetness and keep it lively and long. The volcanic soils often confer exciting, salty minerality.

The Aeolians are the archipelago that sits between Italy’s “toe” in Calabria and Sicily’s northeastern corner. You reach them by ferry from Messina. The cluster of eight small islands, known as Isole Eolie in Italian, was named for Eolo, the god of wind in Greek mythology. No wonder: The Aeolians are subjected to winds from all sides. The islanders’ rudimentary lifestyle of fishing and agriculture was dramatically captured in “Stromboli,” Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 black-and-white film starring Ingrid Bergman. It was set on the island of Stromboli, another of Italy’s three active volcanoes.

Islands at a crossroads of culture

Contemporary vine-growing takes place mostly on two of the other islands, Lipari and Salina, but the archipelago has long been linked to wine, as professor Attilio Scienza, Italy’s foremost viticultural historian explains:

“These islands played an important role in the history of wine. As Phoenician and ancient Greek ships traveled the Mediterranean, they stopped off here to stock up on food and this allowed for important cultural exchanges.”

Scienza was speaking at Sicilia en Primeur, the itinerant Sicilian wine event that this year was held on the island of Vulcano.

“We know that grapes were grown and traded here: Grape seeds from 6,000 years ago have been found in archaelogical digs on Lipari. Later, in the 6th century, an unusual sweet wine became famous on the islands. It was made when very ripe, sun-dried grapes were heaped into a high mound whose weight naturally pressed the juice from the berries. This wine was known to keep — and therefore travel — well and its fame spread throughout the Mediterranean.”

The family of vines called Malvasia grows throughout the Mediterranean, but the Malvasia now found on the Aeolian islands has a DNA very close to that of the original Greek Malvasia. Despite facing extinction after the phylloxera attacks of the early 20th century, today Malvasia is being made in sweet and dry versions by a score of producers on the islands.

“Mediterranean peoples have a different, more cyclical, history than other Europeans,” Scienza says. “Life on these islands has hardly changed in 3,000 years. Today, this archaic, heroic viticulture can teach us a lot about how to make wine while maintaining the landscape sustainably.” Malvasia vines are often still grown as free-standing bushes, ad alberello, in steeply sloping vineyards. Their long roots reach deeply down; it rarely rains on these islands.

A much-favored vacation destination

The Aeolians offer some of the Mediterranean’s most sought-after holiday destinations, so if you want to explore their viticulture peacefully, it’s best to avoid the August crush. Winemakers have more time in spring and autumn to show their vineyards and organize tastings. Book your visit ahead, as these tiny estates are usually worked by the owners.

I recently visited seven top Malvasia producers, most of whom are situated on Salina. I made my base at Capofaro, the luxurious resort owned by the noble Tasca d’Almerita family whose historic estate, Regaleali, is located in central Sicily. The hotel is surrounded by vineyards, and you can enjoy their fine wines at Capofaro’s restaurant.

The name most often associated with Malvasia delle Lipari is Hauner‘s, who was the first to revive this traditional wine. Carlo Hauner makes fine Malvasia in sweet and dry versions.

Like Hauner, Fenech and Nino Caravaglio are artisanal Malvasia producers who supplement their incomes with the other plant that loves these arid conditions, the caper bush. Their tiny, salted capers — the plant’s flower buds — are famous throughout Italy. You can sample and buy these producers’ delicious wines and capers from their small cellars. Barone di Villagrande is another enterprising estate on Salina that also makes native reds on Etna.

If you go to Vulcano island, make an appointment with Paola Lantieri to visit her lovely house and vineyard. She makes her passito from grapes sun-dried on the vine and on cane racks. The latest addition to the Aelioan wineries is Castellaro, a large, ambitious project on Lipari. Their state-of-the-art cellar and expanding vineyards promise well for these ancient islands’ continuing viticulture.

Main photo: Malvasia vineyards and bougainvillea at the Capofaro estate on Salina. Credit: Carla Capalbo

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Lemon and crab risotto is made with champagne.

There’s nothing sadder than dumping even part of a bottle of Champagne that’s lost its fizz the day after New Year’s. So don’t do it.

If you didn’t remember to stop up your leftover Champagne and put it in the fridge, plan to incorporate the rest of your sparkling into a couple of easy dishes and start 2015 with a burst of creativity in the kitchen. You can rest easy knowing one of the highlights of your holiday revelry did not go to waste.

Champagnes and sparkling wines lose their bubbles at different rates and based on several factors. The warmer the environment, the more quickly the Champagne will release the carbon dioxide bubbles and go flat. Sparkling wines nearly always differ in how much carbonation is in the bottle. But once you’ve determined your Champagne is flat, there’s a bevy of options to save its flavor.

Champagne adds body to marinades, contrast to fruit syrups, subtle nuance to your favorite risotto dish, sweetness to soup. Without its fizz, it has lost that effervescence that made it so attractive in the first place and likely tastes too off to drink by itself, but it is just as versatile and a lovely addition to some of your favorite dishes. Actually, any recipe incorporating white wine would do well with a dose of flattened Champagne, but there can be some lingering sweetness, so be sure to take that into account when choosing how to use it.

Even if you have a bottle that’s been sitting corked in your fridge for a week, you can use what’s left over to give some of your everyday dishes a big, ambitious kick (as in the case of the crab and lemon risotto recipe, below), or just a small dose of surprise (like in Champagne French toast). All it takes to impart the lasting flavor of most flattened Champagnes into your favorite dishes is about a quarter to half a cup of leftover sparkling.

Here are some great dishes to try once your Champagne has gone flat.

1. Lemon Crab Risotto With Mint and Hot Pepper Flakes

Set a saucepan with four cups chicken stock to medium on one burner. On another burner, in a large-mouthed pan, sauté 1/4 cup shallots in 2 tablespoons of butter until they are translucent but not brown. Add 2 cups Arborio rice and 1/4 cup leftover Champagne, stirring constantly. Stir until liquid has evaporated. Keep adding hot stock and stirring until the rice has plumped. When all the stock has been incorporated, stir in 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter and the juice and rind from 1 lemon. Add 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese if desired. Just before serving, stir in 8 ounces of fresh crab meat. Garnish with hot pepper flakes and fresh torn mint leaves.

2. Champagne Syrup

In a saucepan, mix 1 cup leftover Champagne with 1/3 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. Mix in the zest from one lemon plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice. Add one cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for half an hour. Pour over your favorite pound cake, seasonal fruit or raspberries.

3. Sole Poached in Champagne

In a large, non-stick pan, sauté one chopped onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until soft. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of  lemon rind and one finely chopped garlic cove. Lay fish on top of onions. Pour chopped tomatoes and parsley over fish, then pour 1/4 cup leftover Champagne around fish. Cover loosely with foil and cook over medium heat 8-10 minutes, or until fish flakes away.

4. Champagne Salad Dressing

Mix 1/2 cup mild-flavored extra virgin olive oil with 1/4 cup leftover Champagne, ¼ cup white wine vinegar, a pinch of sugar. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

5. Champagne French Toast

Use your favorite French toasting bread (we recommend day-old Challah) cut into slices 1-inch thick. Mix four large eggs at room temperature with 1/2 cup half and half, 1/4 cup Champagne and a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of sea salt. Soak the bread in the egg and cream mixture for one minute and then fry in foamy hot butter on each side until golden.

6. Champagne Marinade for Salmon

Add 1/4 cup leftover Champagne to 1/3 cup olive oil. Mix 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard with 1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves and 1/4 teaspoon thyme and a dash of salt and pepper. Marinate your favorite grilling fish in the marinade for at least two hours and brush with the marinade while grilling.

7. Champagne Soup

In a medium-sized saucepan, boil four cups vegetable stock with five de-skinned and chopped Anjou pears. Add the zest and juice of one lemon and 1 cup Champagne. Cook until pears are tender, about 10 minutes. Carefully puree the soup and stock until smooth in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Add the Champagne, lemon zest and juice and stir until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

Main photo: Lemon and Crab Risotto With Mint and Red Pepper Flakes is an inspired way to use some of your leftover Champagne or sparkling wine. Credit: Emily Grosvenor

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A sparkling selection from Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, paired with salmon. Credit: Courtesy of Domaine Carneros

With every new year comes a resolution or two, so this is the perfect time to make a few changes to your wine-drinking routine. Take the opportunity to uncork (or unscrew) a bottle you’ve seen but haven’t tasted; try a new food pairing; make a detour on your next winery tour. A chat with the owner of your local wine store can get some ideas flowing, and a new cookbook may inspire you in the kitchen. Here are 12 ways to start new gastronomic traditions right now.

1. Drink bubbly with dinner.

Don’t save that bottle of bubbly in the fridge for a special occasion; open it up the next time you order sushi, Thai or even Indian cuisine. Sparkling wine’s naturally high acidity and minerality make it a natural partner with food. And there are so many affordable bubblies now that there’s no reason not to let it perk up a weeknight. Besides Champagne, try a Crémant de Bourgogne or Crémant di Limoux from France; Spanish cava or Italian Prosecco; a sparkling wine from California or New Mexico; or even a sparkling Shiraz from Australia.

2. Buy large-format bottles.

It may seem like a luxury, but depending on the occasion, buying a large-format bottle can actually save you money — and make you the life of the party. Here’s some easy math: a magnum (1.5 liters) is equal to two bottles; a double magnum (3 liters) equals four bottles; and a jeroboam (4.5 liters of still wine) holds six standard bottles. (A jeroboam of sparkling wine is 3 liters, equaling four standard bottles of bubbly.) Sommeliers rave about these larger bottles because they often age better than the traditional 750-milliliter bottle; the oxygen-to-wine ratio in them is far lower, which allows for a slower maturation. More wineries are offering large formats, and stores such as Costco often carry them for the holidays.

3. Try a Rhône varietal from California’s Central Coast.

There are some exciting wines coming out of California’s Central Coast. The terroir is similar to the Rhône Valley, and winemakers are producing reds based on Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache, as well as whites with Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, that whisk you off to France by way of the West Coast.

4. Order the wine-pairing option.

The next time you’re at a restaurant with a tasting menu, opt for the wine pairings as well (usually available for a supplement). The beverage directors and sommeliers work with the chef to create something out of the box, so why not take advantage of their expertise? It’s a chance to get creative and open your palate to new pairing ideas.

5. Try Italian whites.

Sick of Sauvignon Blanc? Try one of Italy’s white varietals. They may be hard to pronounce, but they’re easy to drink (and generally affordable). Falanghina, for instance, tastes like bananas, apples and pears; look for producers Feudi di San Gregorio and Terredora. Vermentino tastes of crisp apples and citrus; producers include Antinori and Pala. And Piedmontese Arneis offers flavors of lemons and apples; look for Vietti. All three pair beautifully with seafood, chicken, pork and anything fried.

6. Try a new wine-and-food pairing.

Break out of the mind-set that classic pairings (for instance, red meat with red wine, white meat with white wine) are your only options. Here are some creative examples:

  • Chicken fajitas and guacamole with still or sparkling dry rosé
  • Beef chili and cornbread with Zinfandel
  • Grilled swordfish with Beaujolais
  • Grilled sardines with Pinot Noir
  • Arctic char over tomato-olive tapenade with Sangiovese
  • Roasted veal chops with Viognier
  • Roasted pork chops and caramelized onions with Chardonnay or Riesling
  • Roasted asparagus with Chianti Classico
  • Roasted cauliflower with sparkling wine

7. Serve a French dessert wine with chocolate.

While Port is a natural with chocolate, try a glass of Banyuls for a change. Banyuls is a Grenache-based wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, fortified (as it has been since the 13th century) with clear brandy and aged for at least 10 months. With flavors of mocha, coffee and dark plum, it’s the perfect complement to any chocolate dessert. Serve it at around 58 F in small dessert-wine glasses. Ranging from $25 to $60 for a 375-milliliter bottle, Banyuls may not be easy to find, but it’s worth the effort. M. Chapoutier and Domaine La Tour Vielle are two to look for.

8. Drink white wine with cheese.

Many consumers don’t realize that cheeses generally taste better with white wine than red. Here are some starter pairings:

  • Goat cheese with Sancerre, Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano with Prosecco or Orvieto
  • Brie with Pinot Gris or Chardonnay
  • Triple crème with Riesling
  • Stilton with Sauternes

9. Try a white wine that you think is sweet.

Many wine lovers stay away from a varietal because they associate it with a characteristic they dislike. Take Rieslings: despite their reputation for sweetness, they’re not all sweet. Rieslings are wonderfully food-friendly whites that deserve a place at the table. Juicy and crisp, dry German Riesling sets the standard, but domestic Rieslings are on the rise, so there are plenty of options at a wide range of prices.

10. Visit off-the-beaten-path wineries.

Do your homework before your next California wine trip. It’s worth seeking out small family-run wineries that may be a bit out of the way. Picturesque Preston Family Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley has a farmstand and bocce ball court in addition to a tasting room. Iron Horse Vineyards boasts an outdoor tasting facility with spectacular views of Sonoma County. Cliff Lede Vineyards may be just minutes from a busy Napa highway, but its sculpture garden, art gallery and specialized wine tastings make it feel like a special getaway. (You can even book at a night at Mr. Lede’s Poetry Inn in the Stags Leap District.)

11. Sign up for wine-and food tours.

You should also check out wineries that do more than just pour a glass of wine. Many in California offer additional activities such as olive-oil tastings or farm tours. Here is a sampling:

12. Join a winery-run wine club.

They’re not just for tourists anymore. Wineries have been honing their club memberships in recent years to make them more personalized, and the rewards can be great — particularly the discounts. If you live within a reasonable distance of the winery to take advantage of their special members-only events, do it. But even if you just receive monthly or twice-yearly shipments, you’ll benefit from such programs.

Main photo: A sparkling selection from Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, paired with salmon. Credit: Courtesy of Domaine Carneros

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Happy New Year. Credit: IvanMikhaylov / iStockphoto

The beauty of New Year’s resolutions is twofold: We make them and, for a few days anyway, we believe them.

If your New Year’s resolution is to eat better, that’s always open to interpretation. At the very least, the resolutions can be kept by checking out just a few of the holiday offerings from Zester Daily. From throwing the right party to getting in the habit of eating something healthy right away, there’s a New Year’s story to help keep any resolution — if only for a few days.

Here’s a sampling of Zester Daily stories to get the year off to a good start. The notes are directly from the contributors. Click on the links for each story.

Food

Arrive in Style With a Perfect Potluck Presentation by Martha Rose Shulman:  Making dishes for holiday potlucks is usually more pleasurable than transporting them to the occasion. There’s always the fear that things will tip over or spill in the trunk.

Alexander Smalls Brings the World to Harlem by Sylvia Wong Lewis: Alexander Smalls’ New Year’s menu is a tip-off to the breadth of the cuisine that his patrons encounter each day at The Cecil, which recently won Esquire magazine’s coveted Restaurant of the Year for 2014.

Japanese Namasu Brings Good Luck in the New Year by Sonoko Sakai: New Year’s is the most important holiday in Japan, and the centerpiece of the annual celebration is what the Japanese consider to be lucky foods.

Ring in the New Year With Simplicity and Health by Francine Segan: This time of year, most of us make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. To jump-start my own plans, and to help my friends who are all making the same resolution, I host a healthy New Year’s Eve party.

Make-Ahead Menu Lets You Party Like It’s 2015 by Carole Murko: New Year’s Eve can be a splendid holiday to celebrate. What with the optimism of resolutions or mapping out one’s desired feelings, it is indeed a time to embrace all that is new in 2015. 

‘Cut Off’ The Old Year With Japanese Soba Noodles by Hiroko Shimbo: In Japan, New Year’s Eve is as important as Christmas Day in Western countries.

For Good Luck in  the New Year, Think Green and Round by Brooke Jackson: Around the world, foods are eaten on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that are auspicious and thought to bring prosperity for the coming year.

Zombie Pizzas With Real Innards for New Year’s by Clifford A. Wright: Since no one watches zombie movies alone, a New Year’s Eve party is perfect. For food in front of the TV, popcorn is easiest, but here’s a fun idea: zombie pizza.

Cheeses to Intrigue and Entice Holiday Guests by Nicole Gregory: If I must eat cheese — and clearly, I must — then I commit to consuming the best cheese in the world. And this means I need to know how to make mouthwatering cheese boards of my own to share with friends and family.

The Healthy Way to Good Fortune on New Year’s by Harriet Sugar Miller: In the 19th century, many African-Americans brought in the New Year with Hoppin’ John — a dish made with black-eyed peas and collard greens, among other ingredients, and thought to bring prosperity and luck.

Drink

9 Essential Questions About Champagne, Answered By Paul Lukacs: For many consumers, this is just about the only time that they buy and drink this particular type of wine. Not surprisingly, they often find themselves confused.

Toast the New Year With Healthy Kombucha by Tina Caputo: One way to avoid starting off the New Year with a blistering hangover is to steer clear of the offending drinks altogether. Another, some say, is to make healthier cocktails, using kombucha as a mixer.

A Spanish New Year’s Toast: Cava and a Dozen Grapes by Caroline J. Beck: Nochevieja, or old night,” as New Year’s Eve is known in Spain, is a celebration that comes with a bit of insurance.

Skip the Bubbly and Ring in 2015 With Hard Apple Cider by Ramin Ganeshram: For some, Champagnes and sparkling wines are too dry. For others, they are headache inducing, and for yet others, they are too high in alcohol. What, then, to do when asked to raise a glass of cheer to ring in the new year?

Trader Joe’s Has Wine Covered at Every Price by Mira Honeycutt: As the holiday party season winds its way toward New Year’s Eve, sparkling wine or Champagne is on many shopping lists.

Main photo: Happy New Year. Credit: Ivan Mikhaylov / iStockphoto

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The classic Italian Negroni. Credit: Francine Segan

Gin, a crystal-clear distilled grain spirit, dates to at least the 1600s and was initially touted as a medicinal cure for everything from stomachaches to gout. Its predominant flavor comes from juniper berries, a fragrant spice that I think is especially suited to winter tastes.

An ingredient in many classic cocktails, gin is one of those spirits that is much better in mixed drinks. In fact, gin is used in more cocktails than any other spirit. It’s a key ingredient in the martini, gin and tonic, Negroni, Gimlet and dozens more.

This holiday season, try a classic Italian Negroni or one of the signature cocktails curated by celebrity mixologist Kathy Casey and the gintologists at Martin Miller’s Gin.

Negroni

Courtesy: Berkshire Mountain Distillers

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

1 ounce gin

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce sweet vermouth

Orange or lemon twist

Directions

1. Pour gin, Campari and sweet vermouth into a mixing glass. Add ice.

2. Stir well with a bar spoon for 40 to 45 revolutions.

3. Strain into a chilled martini cocktail glass.

4. Garnish with orange or lemon twist.

Snow Drift

Snow Drift is frothy and light. Credit: Martin Miller Gin licate frothiness reminiscent of fresh snow.

Perfect for après-ski, the Snow Drift is light and festive with a delicate frothiness reminiscent of fresh snow. Credit: Martin Miller’s Gin

Courtesy: Martin Miller’s Gin

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 ounces (1/2 cup) gin

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cranberry ginger syrup (recipe follows)

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) pasteurized egg whites

1 cup of ice

Optional garnish: candied ginger and fresh cranberry

Directions

1. Combine the gin, lemon juice, syrup and egg whites in a blender with 1 cup of ice.

2. Blend on high until ice is totally blended and drink is frothy.

3. Pour into coupe glasses. Garnish with candied ginger and a cranberry on a toothpick, if you like.

Cranberry Ginger Syrup

Yield: Makes about 20 ounces or enough for 12 cocktails

Ingredients

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

4 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

4 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger

2 cups sugar

Directions

1. Put the cranberries, orange zest, ginger, sugar and 2 cups of water into a small sauce pan.

2. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat for 1 minute then turn off heat.

3. Let steep for 30 minutes.

4. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Citrus Sparkle

Citrus Sparkle includes clementines or tangerines. Credit: Martin Miller Gin rtin Miller Gin

Rosemary is a lovely addition to the natural juniper and other herbal flavors in gin. Credit: Martin Miller’s Gin

Courtesy: Martin Miller’s Gin

Yield:  1 serving

Ingredients

1/4 clementine, tangerine or mandarin

3 ounces (1/3 cup) Citrus Gin Pre-Mix (recipe follows)

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) brut Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled

Small rosemary sprig as garnish

Directions

1. Squeeze the clementine and put it into a cocktail shaker.

2. Add the Citrus Gin Pre-Mix, fill with ice, and shake vigorously.

3. Strain into a champagne flute.

4. Top with champagne and garnish with a small sprig of rosemary.

Citrus Gin Pre-Mix

Yield: Makes enough for about 10 to 12 cocktails

Ingredients

1/2 cup Cointreau

1/2 cup simple syrup

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Directions

1. Combine the Cointreau, simple syrup and lemon juice.

2. Pour into a sealable bottle or jar and store refrigerated for up to 7 days.

Gin Party Punch

This party punch is made with gin and Orange Pekoe tea. Credit: Martin Miller Gin

This punch is perfect for a large crowd and can be made up to four days in advance. Credit: Martin Miller’s Gin

Courtesy: Martin Miller’s Gin

This punch is perfect for a large crowd and can be made up to four days in advance. For a festive look, serve in a large crystal bowl over an ice mold studded with sliced mandarin oranges and pomegranate seeds.

Yield: About 16 to 20 servings

Ingredients

3 Orange Pekoe tea bags

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 bottle (750 ml) Martin Miller’s Gin

1 cup pomegranate juice

3/4 cups fresh orange juice

3/4 cups pineapple juice

1 cup fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Angostura bitters

Optional garnishes: pomegranate seeds, sliced mandarin, oranges, lemons

Nutmeg

Directions

1. Bring 3 cups water and tea bags to a boil.

2. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve.

3. Remove from heat, let steep 10 minutes, then strain and cool.

4. Add the gin, pomegranate, orange, pineapple and lemon juices, and bitters.

5. Stir and chill until ready to serve.

6. Add sliced mandarins or oranges or lemons and pomegranate seeds before serving, if desired.

7. Serve in ice-filled glasses topped with grated, fresh nutmeg.

Main photo: The classic Italian Negroni is made with gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Credit: Francine Segan

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