Blind tasting 16 rosé wines

Following almost two years living in the Napa Valley, I was finally invited to Spottswoode. Alas, I never tasted a drop of Spottswoode wine, but I did sit across from Beth, the owner, and it was an amazing experience to listen to her feedback.

The reason I sat at the tasting table in this historic family estate in St. Helena was to blind taste 16 rosé wines. The event was coordinated by Claire Ducrocq Weinkauf, a French native who grew up in Auvergne and moved to Calistoga with her husband, winemaker at Spottswoode. Claire is the owner of Calistoga’s Picayune Cellars & Mercantile, and I love her rosé.

Tasting in groups of four wines, there were about 8 wine tasters who sniffed, swirled, sniffed and sipped to decide whether each rosé was Old World or New World, hipster-worthy and within price ranges of under $15, $16-$25 or over $26 a bottle. We graded by number and discussed the wines of each grouping.

The million dollar question remains: Is rosé is a wine to take seriously or is it a pool wine … a flavored beverage? Could rosé be food-pairing-worthy and serious competition among whites and reds? Well, one factor is certain: rosé wine has piqued as a summer trend for 2017. My guess is that the strong will survive, and out of 16 tastings, I’ll share with you my shortlist of five worthwhile rosé wines to sip past summer.

#1 – Azur 2016 – New World, Hipster, over $26 blend of gamay, Grenache and barbera grapes.

#2 – Terrebrune – Old World, established, over $36 a bottle

#3 – Miraval – Yes, this is the Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt rosé – Old world, $16-$25 a bottle, soft on the palate and good minerality.

#4 – Picayune – made with syrah, Grenache and barbera grapes, priced $16-$25, New World and hipster

#5 – Hogwash – New World made with Grenache grapes with alluring aroma and taste

Remember, rosé all day!

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Cordially yours in Utah

I first tasted Alpine Distilling spirits at a “Meet the Makers” event in Salt Lake City, Utah, during the inaugural Salt Lake City Food and Wine Fest held inside the Park City Culinary Institute, incredibly, located in Salt Lake City. From there, I headed to Park City and while dining at 350 Main, located at, well… you guessed it… 350 Main Street, I noticed Alpine spirits on the drinks menu and was happy to discover strong support for local businesses.

The distiller, Robert S. Sergent, Jr., greeted me with enthusiasm, kindness and generosity, offering me a cocktail I simply had to taste, made with his preserve liqueur — a blend of black tea, blood orange, ginger, raspberry and lemon — and his products are all kosher! Although I am not a regular consumer of spirits (I usually stick to wine), I trusted Robert’s recommendations on tastings, especially when he revealed his expert culinary past and education in Louisville, Kentucky, the mecca of grand spirits. This floral-forward cocktail tasted fresh, clean and worthy of a space on my shelf above my wine rack in my home. Due to the high altitude and void of a designated driver, I stopped at one sip and moved on to sip his single-malt whiskey, with a burning finish of a true spirit, and a taste of the vodka. 

In addition to a culinary past, Robert was a leader in the corporate sector, at Johnson & Johnson and the National Football League. But he wanted something more, as he states in his bio: “I wanted to create something from scratch that I am passionate about, teach my kids the value of hard work, and give back to the community we love.”

The next time I see Alpine spirits on the menu, and when I can enjoy a passenger’s ride, I will definitely order a cocktail; in the meantime, I turned to Crepe Suzettes drizzled with caramel and crowned with a dollop of bourbon-infused whipped cream as my “safe” consumption before my drive to Park City.

While the chefs kept busy, more than 30 guests mixed and mingled with the event’s numerous featured local distillers. Among the various liqueurs, single malt whiskeys, vodkas and mixed cocktails showcased, the event, titled “Meet the Makers”, singled out one Park City distiller named Rob Sergent, Jr., whose artisanal Preserve Liqueur, made with black tea, blood orange, ginger, raspberry and lemon, was especially memorable (and Kosher, too!).

Below, please enjoy the Ginger Berry Spritz recipe when you can relax, sit back in a lounge chair and soak in a sunset.

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Ginger Berry Spritz

3/4 oz Preserve Liqueur
Muddled fresh huckleberries and mint
4 dashes Lavender Bitters
Splash of Ginger Beer
Top with Pierre Sparr Cremant d’ Alsace Brut Rose
Serve chilled on the rocks in a white wine glass.

The wines of BottleRock Napa

Since I was only 6 years old during Woodstock, it is obvious that I didn’t attend this historical music festival. So, the next best hippie chic music experience I deem close to what I’ve heard regarding Woodstock is #BottleRock Napa, a 3-day musical playground with culinary chef demos, and yes… lots of wine. The event is, after all, in the Napa Valley, and it draws in 150,000 attendees in a 3-day period.

Coppolla bubblesInspired by a cloud of soap bubbles from the tent of Sonoma-based Coppola Winery, my first stop was in front of the tent for Domaine Chandon, where I happily sipped Chandon Rosé bubbles. I wasn’t even concerned about the plastic cup it was served in…it was that good.

A walk in the nearby Wine Garden, is where I sipped Napa Valley white wine, Dissonance. I was told this is the label of Foo Fighters, ‘so I couldn’t wait to sip this rock star wine. But, unlike the awesome rock band’s stellar reputation and performance on Sunday, May 28, Dissonance fell a bit short, or sour to describe the taste. It was a bit too acidic; perhaps with a plate of fries. Next time, I’ll try the merlot, which is what Blackbird in French means, and what has put this label on the oenophile map.

I later realizeBlackbird Dissonance Wine Labeld that there were distinct Foo Fighter wine labels for Blackbird Vineyards:

  • 2016 Foo Fighters Rosé | Central Coast, California ($24) Farmed from vineyards along the slopes of Mount Diablo, winemaker Aaron Pott intentionally crafted an elegant, dry rosé to appreciate at every occasion from the mundane to the extraordinary.
  • 2015 Foo Fighters Cabernet Sauvignon | Red Hills, Lake County ($35) Crafted by winemaker Aaron Pott from 2,400 ft. high vineyards in the Red Hills of Lake County, this ten barrel Cabernet Sauvignon commemorating BottleRock 2017 is steadfast in its character.
  • 2011 Foo Fighters Proprietary Red Wine | Napa Valley ($60) This four-barrel Signature Series Cuvée is hand-tuned to express the lithe structure that only comes from exceptional fruit.

Like missing out on Woodstock, I missed out on sipping these Foo Fighter wines and will always wonder how these small-run labels performed on the palate.

Travel: Montana to meet Merry Edwards

Merry Edwards Winery Toasts 20th Anniversary with a Celebration of Wine, Outdoor Adventure and Gourmet Cuisine.

Remember Missoula, Montana, the setting for that ’80s cult hit, “Twin Peaks” that I’ve since heard is making an updated series? Well, I’ll be heading to Missoula in about a month, and so will you if you decide to fly to Montana’s premier luxury ranch resort, The Resort at Paws Up.

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All 37,000 acres of The Resort at Paws Up is located in Blackfoot Valley in western Montana, and is internationally acclaimed for year-round adventures and stellar culinary events, and for a weekend in March is where you can enjoy the perfect blend of wine, gourmet food, thrilling adventures …and more wine.

The Resort’s first-annual Wine Weekend, this year’s Eat, Drink and Meet Merry event (March 16–18), will allow guests the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the country’s leading vintners. This year’s headlining talent will be Merry Edwards herself.

Much like Paws Up’s successful established weekend events, such as Montana Master Grillers (May) and Montana Master Chefs (September), the weekend retreat will feature top-notch talent, outstanding gourmet menus by award-winning Executive Chef Ben Jones, specialized wine pairings, live entertainment and plenty of adrenaline-pumping adventure. After attending, guests will no doubt be able to impress even the most knowledgeable of their wine-loving friends with sommelier-like expertise.

As part of Paws Up’s inaugural Wine Weekend event, Resort guests are invited to wet their whistle during interactive seminars, educational tastings and wilderness excursions with Merry Edwards and her winemaking partner, Ken Coopersmith. The highlight of the weekend will be phenomenal dinners with expert pairings from Merry Edwards Winery, known for its exquisite Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs.

One of California’s first woman winemakers, Merry Edwards became a household name in the industry soon after she started making award-winning wines in the early 1970s. In 2013, Edwards was inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame, and she also won the coveted James Beard Award for Best Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional in the United States. Edwards was just the fourth woman to be so honored. The Eat, Drink and Meet Merry event corresponds with the 20th anniversary of the founding of Merry Edwards Winery in 1997.

Kick-starting Paws Up’s spring culinary events lineup, Eat, Drink and Meet Merry will be followed by WildFlavor (April 20–23, 2017), a four-day weekend event featuring exquisite menus and cream-of-the-crop culinary talents, including four Top Chef stars. Season 10 winner Chef Kristen Kish and Season 10 runner-up and current contestant Chef Brooke Williamson will be among the featured chefs.

For reservations or more information, call 877-588-6783. The Resort at Paws Up is also on Facebook and Twitter (@Paws_Up) and Instagram (@TheResortatPawsUp).

For more information on The Resort at Paws Up, visit www.pawsup.com or call 800-473-0601. For more information on Merry Edwards, visit www.merryedwards.com, or to schedule an in-depth tasting, contact 888-388-9050.

Psagot, a kosher cabernet

A noble grape is one capable of making high quality wine, is able to grow in a variety of climates outside its indigenous environment, ages well and shows a sense of place while retaining its unique characteristics. Recently, I tasted a perfect example of a successful noble grape: the M-series 2013 Psagot single vineyard cabernet sauvignon, with its grapes grown in the capital of Israel, in the Jerusalem Mountains, 900 meters above sea level.

A waxed coin was stuck on the bottle somewhere, but I couldn’t figure out where because during the bottle’s shipment it had fallen off. I wasn’t sure how this was related until I read the bottle.

“The coin depicted on the front comes from the period of the “Great Revolt” (66-73 CE). The coin was discovered while digging out a cave which would become the Winery’s barrel aging room.”

I quickly realized that I would be tasting tradition. And through the expression of tradition in the history, dusty and dry soil, and methods of viticulture to make this Psagot vineyard, I was ready to taste the kosher, single vineyard cabernet sauvignon aged for 13 months in French oak barrels.

Its dark claret offered an elegant nose of a wine steeped in culture. The deepest berries and a touch of green pepper led way to flavors of an assortment of local and global dark, blackberries. Elements of the French oak barrel were found in the butterscotch elements, and led to the smooth and subtly spicy tannins. According to the winemaker notes, there are flavors of orange peel and mint, with nice notes of citrus and branberry. Although my palate didn’t detect these – and I have never consumed a branberry – I will take his word for it.

To taste this Psagot cabernet sauvignon is about transporting your palate and imagining standing within the mountains of Jerusalem. Warning: You may be unable to resist booking a trip. But, if you’re planning to visit Jerusalem, you can head to the visitor center for a tour takes about an hour and includes wine tasting of Psagot Winery. Visit Psagotwines.com for more information.

A bottle sells for around $63, depending on where you look online.

The glamour of the gamay

Like the ruby slippers of a young girl who, in the turn of a twister wasn’t in Kansas anymore, the colorful French gamay grape awaits in a bottle of Chateau de Nervers Brouilly and Domaine Des Quatri Vents Fleurie, both villages classified. Gamay grapes are a cross between pinot noir and the ancient white gouais, and grown in the most southern region of Burgundy, in Beaujolais…considered by many to be its own appellation. The timing of the new release of gamay wines have the precision known to Switzerland. Every third week of November, a new release of Beaujolais Nouveau is swiftly sold. Many buyers open the bottles for Thanksgiving dinner as a tradition, but almost nobody will put the bottle down in the cellar.

The idea of Beaujolais Nouveau is to taste the grape of the prior harvest, newly released, as a gateway to how a particular vintage will age. This is not a wine to elicit layers of character and perfumes. It is meant to be consumed immediately and offers a straightforward mouthfeel of straight fruit and fine tannins. Its aromatics are without the mask of oak, and for the Fleurie, you’ll get hints of fresh-picked violets; for the Brouilly, cherries and red currants dominate. Both gamay wines are fruit forward, inviting on the palate and pair well with aged cheeses, spicy dishes and tarragon chicken or roasted lamb. Okay, so they both work really well with pizza!

The biggest producer of Beaujolais Nouveau is Georges Duboeuf, who also produces Chardonnays such as Macon-Villages and Pouilly-Fuisse, the former grown in limestone and the latter in clay, chalk. My preference is Pouilly-Fuisse for its Burgundian character and aroma of roasted almonds mixed with verbena. This is a slightly oak-aged wine and expected to age well. The best pairing? Caesar salad topped with lobster, or any light pasta dish, seafood bisque or shellfish.

Finally, wines from Burgundy can be expensive, yet these wines are priced around $20 a bottle. Enjoy the youthful vibrance of these entry-level, Beaujolais wines. Especially at a picnic, and if you’d like…in a sangria.

 

 

The drip on sipping cold brewed coffee

Without the bitter oils and acid finish in a sip of coffee, cold brewed coffee made in the Dutch or Japanese style… in a slow ice-drip, changes the taste to an almost caramel texture coffee experience. I recently tested a new product on the market, Dripo by gosh! and after my initial confusion in why I would want to wait 2-plus hours for a cup of cold coffee, I tasted it and get the idea….sort of. 

At first, the concept was lost on me. I opened the container that looked to be a carton of milk, and inside was a cylinder with three twist off parts. Fortunately, I had a guest staying with me who took charge of the initial testing. Unfortunately, the first go at making this brew took all day. I later realized that she had placed the thin coffee filter on the bottom instead of the top of the grounds, and this caused it to slow down considerably. In fact, I tried it twice and realized that its best to skip using the coffee filter on top since there is a metal filter built in.

The problem for me is that i don’t really like cold coffee, and that’s what I got. Delving deeper into this phenomenon of cold-brewed coffee, I was advised to simply add a bit more coffee grind and then add boiled water so I could taste a cup of hot, yet cold-brewed coffee. The result was a caramel-smooth texture of weak coffee I really didn’t want to continue brewing in this effort-heavy method. Oh, and the cap with the pour-out lid doesn’t work.

Come summertime, I will definitely make another attempt to enjoy this when the thought of drinking a cup of hot coffee is unfathomable. But for now, some like it cold, but I like my coffee hot and brewed in my traditional coffeemaker.

For those who have joined the craze of cold coffee, Dripo by gosh! is sold on Amazon.com at this time for about $30, and is patent-pending. Be sure to hashtag #howyoudripo to share your smooth tales of ice-drip coffee, or visit GetDripo.com, Facebook.com/GetDripo for more information.

Fairy tale of a French wine

In Monte Carlo, rosé is the preferred thirst-quencher for wine enthusiasts. I experienced this in 2015, while sipping on a 2014 Château Les Valentines Rosé and dining at a Michelin-star restaurant in Monaco, seaside at Elsa restaurant at Monte Carlo Beach Hotel.

My travel calexa-at-elsaompanion, Alexa (pictured), shared my joy in the life of a princess, sipping on elegant wines such as this Côtes de Provence rosé, with a cherry blossom aroma complemented by the drifting Mediterranean sea air mixed with the fresh floral breeze. Its notes gave way to a minerality typical of French wines, but this particular rosé was like pouring rose petals into a glass lined with drenched pebbles following a summer morning rain. Its color of pale pink/orange misled my palate into thinking this would be a fragile wine short on structure, but I was wrong. This rosé saturated my tongue with a tannin structure of royal character and elegance.

A year later, I found a 2015 bottle of Château Les Valentines Rosé online through a wine searcher app, and I ordered a few to re-introduce myself to this incredible rosé, a wine fit for a princess. Come summer, I will plan for a special dinner with friends to enjoy sips sure to send me back  in time to my time spent reveling in the good life of Monaco.

Pinots for pairing during the holidays

A Facebook friend posted it best: “This is the Mondayest Tuesday.” My sentiments, exactly during this short work week packed with meetings, resolving work issues and schmoozing with fellow journalists. It seems to have taken forever to get to the biggest meal of the year: Thanksgiving. And now we are well on our way to Christmas.

In the meantime, all I want to do is to curl up with my puppy in front of a roaring fire, sip an elegant wine and binge watch “Once Upon a Time.”

The opportunity to taste some Mendocino wines made by a small California producer with a big label did manage to present itself here and there over the last few weeks. I was happy to taste a series of pinot noirs to figure out and share the best pairing for Thanksgiving.

Everyone wants a new label to bring to the table, and if you can add some table talk about where the grapes were grown and about the producer, even better than gossiping about Aunt Dottie or that nasty ex-husband when the day is supposed to be a lesson in gratefulness and appreciation of abundance in the harvest, friends and family.

Lula Cellars 2013 Mendocino Pinot Noir is my top pick for pairing with a traditional holiday dinner. Only 200 cases were produced, and a bottle with cost $45. Lula wines avoids distribution to keep costs for its artisanal product reasonable, so these wines can only be purchased via the www.lulacellars.com website, in the Lula Cellars tasting room in Anderson Valley, California, or through the Lula Cellars Wine Club.

Whether you select the 2013 Costa Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2013 Peterson Vineyard Pinot Noir or the 2014 Mariah Vineyard Zinfandel, you’ll get a unique structure and taste with each one. For the 2013 Mendocino Pinot Noir, the grapes were harvested from Costa vineyards, which bring forth that earthiness in structure, and with grapes from Peterson vineyards, which give it that deep ruby tone. All around, this is a wine everyone at the table will be pleased to sip, as it is the most elegant, balanced wine that combines elements of the mountainous and coastal region of the Mendocino coast.

Winemaker Jeff Hansen deserves a round of applause. His 30 years as a winemaker/scientist-artist has paid off with a collection of pinots to talk about. Now, who is Lula, you ask? Here’s what you can bring to the table…with your bottle of Lula… Lula is the namesake of the winemaker’s grandmother who was born in 1879 and lived to the ripe age of 89.

Happy Holidays!

For more information on Lula Cellars, visit www.lulacellars.com

Digesting Dracula

Before me, a bevy of beautiful women dressed in second-skin skirts and crisp ironed blouses catch our group’s attention. But my eyes are drawn to those stiletto heels they magically maneuver, and to their perfectly made-up faces…. and those smoke-lined, piercing eyes. These are the eyes of lovely young women, but look deeper and you’ll see eyes that reflect the souls of a vicious past; in a moment’s notice these women could easily rip your carotid artery from your neck.

OK, so my imagination got the best of me in Romania, where all of my thoughts led to a vision of Dracula swooping in to drain the blood of unsuspecting souls.

The women, as it turned out, were gathering for Emirates airline hostess interviews; hence the outfits. We were all inside the historic Intercontinental Hotel where, during wartime, the restrooms were outfitted with secret audio devices for spying purposes. I had to assume these audio bugs were still in place. I didn’t speak until we left the building to browse through an artisan’s market of Transylvanian crafts.

The signature swirls of my cobalt blue Transylvanian ceramic bowl will forever remind me of Bucharest, the final destination we toured through on an AMAWaterways Black Sea voyage that began in Budapest and continued through Croatia, Bulgaria and Serbia, with a last stop in Bucharest. We didn’t make a stop in Transylvania, but neither did Bram Stoker, as it turns out.

While Darlene and I settled in our seats of our assigned tour bus, our imaginations, as well as our obnoxious nature, piqued with every Hungarian accented word spoken by our tour guide.

“Ask him to say it!” I pleaded.

Darlene and I egged each other on to request the tour guide recite, “I vant to suck your blood.”

Obnoxious, yes, but effective once we were overheard by the tour guide. And just like that, a truthful history lesson squelched our visions of Count Dracula, much like an eight-year-old child catching a parent stacking presents under a Christmas tree.

Vlad the Impaler, ruler during the 15th century Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, was also Prince of Wallachia and member of the House of Draculesti. He was known as the protector of the Romanians and Bulgarians north and south of the River Danube. As a fictional author, Stoker’s interest in Vlad the Impaler catapulted into an embellishment that will forever captivate audiences into a belief that vampires exist.

They do not.

Stoker didn’t actually visit Transylvania, or for that matter, Dracula’s castle. He did read his history on the subject, however, and with certain aspects transfused into fiction, Dracula came to life. And death.  And life. And so on.

The white face of Dracula was based on the fact that Vlad was a pale-toned man. The sucking of blood was fashioned after Vlad’s time spent imprisoned in a dungeon where he was tossed a live animal for dinner. The only way to kill it would be for him to use his teeth and severe the carotid artery, hence the image of Dracula sucking the blood from women’s necks.

The Hungarian Beef Goulash served onboard the AMAWaterways river cruise would have satiated Dracula’s hunger for iron-rich protein, with a splash of Schwaben Cabernet Sauvignon to wash it down.

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Hungarian Beef Goulash

Courtesy AMAWaterways

  • 2 onions, sliced
  • ½ cup corn oil
  • 1 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 lbs. boneless chuck roast, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 3 bay leaves

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet; add the onions and sauté lightly. Add the garlic and continue to sauté. Next add the meat, stir well with the other ingredients, and season with salt. Cover and let cook gently until meat browns. Add the sweet paprika, caraway seeds and bay leaves. Cover and cook on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until meat has picked up the flavor of the seasonings. Adjust heat so that the goulash simmers very gently and let it cook for approximately one hour, or until meat is fork tender. Serve over buttered noodles or rice.

Serves 6.