Wine Course: Blind Tasting Wine–John and the First Mystery Red

Blind tasting wine is a deductive process. You see, swirl, smell and sip to determine both what it is, and what it is not. In this case, the slightly limpid color fading to orange at the rim, the forward red cherry fruit, cardamom spice, and satin-y tannin were great giveaways to the wine’s varietal, region and even vintage. Watch along and see if you can figure it out the way John did. Why the shades? It’s the Caribbean, mon! Not everyone blind tastes wine at the beach but hey, everything’s better at the beach. Visit the Rochioli website for more info.


Pairing Caribbean Lobster and Williams-Selyem Chardonnay

The last day of local lobster season on Turks and Caicos…we came prepared. Since this is our first ever real vacation (i.e., no business, no kids) in 10 years of marriage, we were not leaving important details to chance. So, while the locally-brewed Turks Head beer is awesome, we brought some wine from our own stash and gladly paid the duties. And when it comes to great pairings, nothing beats barrel-fermented Chardonnay with lobster. Even Caribbean lobster, which is different–more savory and briny than Atlantic coast lobster. Oh, and no claws. But no worries mon because baby got back–these lobsters have huge, meaty tails. My husband John split them right down the middle and grilled them with butter. It was an unbelievable food and wine pairing–the perfect sunset supper to kick off this vacation. Since I packed the wine, I will be putting John through the paces with some “blind” challenges (he loves doing blind tastings) and we will be pairing other island cuisine with great wines so stay tuned. Awesome.

The Tenth Date of Christmas: Breakfast, then Shopping

On the tenth date of Christmas my true love shared with me…an early dating memory. We were dating long-distance, and often met in New York City for breakfast or brunch, followed by shopping. My husband John is a great shopper, even clothes shopping for me, which is of course a real treat! He has great taste and a great eye for what will look good on, even when it’s not on the hanger.  In New York one of our favorite breakfast places was Balthazar in Soho, which is also a great neighborhood for shopping and walking off the calories.

Here in Napa at Christmas season, we hit the historic Model Bakery on Main Street and let the kids indulge in something just a little decadent. We love their breads for a cheese board, and the pastries are to die for.  But if you are visiting in the morning, try a breakfast sandwich on their house-made English muffins, which are truly worth a special trip.

In case you’re wondering what happened to the Ninth Date of Christmas–we took a hiatus yesterday to welcome home friends who’d just arrived home to Napa from college. There were bottles of Schramsberg to be sabered–what fun!

The Eighth Date of Christmas: Remembering our First Date and the Seduction of Cheese

On the eighth date of Christmas my true love shared with me…a “first date” memory. Our first “date” (billed as a “business meeting” about doing a wine TV show–haha) was in New York City at a restaurant specializing in cheese–one of my other fermented-product passions.  My husband John still says, “You had me at ‘smell this’.”  It was a gorgeously-aged, toffee-scented sheeps-milk Gouda which still remains one of our favorites, and it smells as good as it tastes.

So tonight I have acquired some new cheeses to try as well as some favorites, whose best wine partners we know. There are no better cheese and wine pairings than:

Ewephoria or Bollerina (aged Goudas that you can get at Dean & Deluca) or Midnight Moon (available widely at Whole Foods) with barrel-fermented California Chardonnay. We are drinking Ramey Hyde Vineyard but Wente Riva Ranch is a lot less pricey and similar style.

Fleur de Maquis (from Corsica and Murray’s Cheese in NY usually has it along with Dean & Deluca) with majestic Napa Cab – This is OMG and a great foodie gift to a Cab lover. They’ll remember you fondly with every bite and sip.

Spanish Manchego (aged sheeps’ milk) with Rioja Reserva – You can find good Manchego at price clubs and Rioja Reserva is not hard either but worth venturing beyond your grocery store if it doesn’t carry Rioja.

Enjoy this video of our Paris bread, charcuterie and cheese “date”–lovely destinations to add to your bucket list. You could not top our Paris “bucket list” experts Daniel Boulud, Patricia Wells and Dorie Greenspan, nor their recos: Poilane is the Paris bread standard; Gilles Verot is the Paris charcuterie god; and Marie Quatre’homme the cheese goddess.  Look ’em up and pay hommage!

The Seventh Date of Christmas: Swans-a-Swimming (kind of) and Meritage Restaurant

On the seventh date of Christmas my true love shared with me…a “swan date” memory.  How perfect! If you have been to Boston Common in summertime, you’ve seen swans-a-swimming, and way more than seven. When John and I made our foodie travel show Local Flavor’s Boston episode, we did a “swan date” – a relaxing glide on “swan lake” in Boston Common, followed by dinner at another Boston classic–Meritage Restaurant at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Chef Daniel Bruce was doing the Boston Wine Festival basically before there were wine festivals. He has been arranging his menus according to the wine since I can remember.  In short, he’s an innovator, a wine nut, plus an all-around amazing and flexible guy. Case in point: He took us salmon fishing but we caught mackerel–talk about performance anxiety.  But, he took it back to the restaurant, cooked and paired it for us that night.  As you’ll see in this video, we saved face and ate great!

You must dine at Meritage when you are in Boston. Swimming with the swans beforehand is of course optional.

Truffled Eggs for the Sixth Date of Christmas

On the sixth date of Christmas my true love cooked for me…truffled eggs! This time of year around our house, ’tis the season to be truffle (which certainly makes us jolly, too!). The white Italian Alba truffles come in first–it will be black French Perigord truffle season around January. The white truffles are way more expensive, but it’s the holidays and according to my insider sources, it’s a fabulous season–meaning the truffles are abundant and thus not as expensive as they usually are.  Still, to keep this from costing as much as a Michelin-starred dinner, we dollar-cost-average the meal by opening wine from our own stash, and truffling not veal osso buco but eggs (extra abundant on the sixth day of Christmas, right:)?

What wine with truffled eggs?  French red Burgundy wines (made from the Pinot Noir grape) and Italian Barolo or Barbaresco (reds made from the Nebbiolo grape) are the classic matches with truffles. Sparkling wine or Champagne are the classic matches with eggs, and a vintage bottling or a toasty-yeasty style of bubbly is superb with truffles. Bottle-aged, best-quality Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc (think Vouvray or Savennieres), or Riesling all echo the truffle in their bottle-aged bouquets–another yummy option if you’ve got access to them. So many wines, so little time–and too few truffles unless you’re a Twitter mogul. In which case I am available for private somm duty on truffle night ;)!

Enjoy this truffled eggs how-to video with my friend and our local truffle king, Michelin-starred Chef Ken Frank, in his La Toque restaurant kitchen. Ken is one of America’s greatest chefs and nicest guys, so eat at La Toque or the more casual Bank in the Westin Verasa Napa when next you are out here.  And if you can make it during truffle season, it will be the best date you’ve ever had!

The Fifth Date of Christmas: Five (million) Golden Bubbles

On the Fifth Date of Christmas, my true love brought to me…not five golden rings, but a bottle of five million (give or take) golden bubbles–Champagne Krug Grande Cuvee.  Krug is better than bling, at least to me. It’s a special-occasion wine.  Or, it is the occasion. It’s sommelier catnip–we can’t resist it, we want to bathe in it, and we’d drink it anyway rather than drain the tub afterwards.

What makes it so special? For one, Krug barrel ages some of the base wines in the blend (a real rarity in the Champagne region), which gives the wine a signature brioche-y richness. Krug also holds back reserve wines for years to enhance its cuvee or final blend–something all Champagne houses do, but not to the extent of Krug, a bottle of which includes reserve wines that may be decades old. The resulting complexity of the wine is legendary, and quite bewitching.

So the bottle alone is major date material with no other enhancements. But, we have lots to celebrate this holiday season, and this Fifth Date of Christmas: family arriving from out of town, and a new huge screen with 3-D (remember, this date of course includes my husband John). So there will be the perfect hedonistic pairings for Krug: Ewephoria aged sheeps milk Gouda cheese, and truffled popcorn. (With the fruit in the wine, that’s all the food groups, right? C’mon work with me, it’s the holidays!)

In this video, visit Krug with me for a Master Class tasting with Maggie Henriquez, the Prez of Krug herself.

And whether it’s bling or bubbles you prefer, here’s hoping your Fifth Date of Christmas shines, too!

The 4th “Date” of Christmas: Rutherford Grill in the Napa Valley

On the Fourth Date of Christmas my true love brought to me…a lovely early motherhood memory.

It was such a warm sunny day today in Napa Valley that you could have eaten lunch outside on the patio at Rutherford Grill, one of our favorite restaurants here because the food is so satisfying, the people are nice, the prices are great and maybe the best part whether you’re a local or a visitor–no corkage if you bring your own wine. That’s both customer-friendly, and a lovely gesture of support to the local winery community. Since the kids are on the holiday break from school, my husband John took them there for lunch and then brought home one of my favorite menu items–their rotisserie chicken is the best I have ever had outside of Europe.

So it’s a “kid date” for us at home tonight, with rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes drizzled with the chicken jus and a great wine from John’s cellar–the only other place in Napa Valley that I know of with no corkage fee. And instead of cozying up in one of the Rutherford Grill’s Hollywood booths (which were plenty roomy for our kids’ infant carrier seats when they were tiny), we’ll be cozying up in front of the fire at home.  I remember it as though it were yesterday, and that’s really lovely.

The Third Date of Christmas: Pizza–perfected?

On the Third Date of Christmas we got silly–as we always do–with gifts. We get so excited about some of them that we end up busting one or two out per night, well before the big day.  More time to enjoy them, right? This time it’s a Breville pizza maker raving all over its box about the crispy crust you’ll get. We’ve tried everything else (green egg, stone, grill) short of building a pizza oven outdoors. (The folks we know who have them say don’t bother since it takes the entire day to heat. So John has turned his attention to the notion of an outdoor paella pit. Problem is we don’t have enough friends for one of those:)

Will we achieve my idea of pizza perfection, which is Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles? Doubtful. They’ve got the water, flour and method of pizza in Naples, Italy, perfectly reverse-engineered.  The crust is amazing.  The toppings whether traditional or creative are pristine. My favorite, fennel pollen, is a summertime thing so I’m praying for a passable home version of this crusty perfection so we can do a Napa-litan pizza that would do Mozza Pizzeria’s chef-partner Nancy Silverton and all the pizzaioli in Italy proud.

The pairing? Rose, or shall I say rosato, and beer/birra. I personally love rosatos from Sicily and IPA (India Pale Ale-style beers) with pizza. Buon Natale!


The Second Date of Christmas – Sipping Rose (and Remembering Rose Weather!)

On the second date of Christmas, my true love brought to me–a glass of rose and a warm memory. We love classic rose and like most wine lovers, sip and serve it a lot during warm summer weather. But when Napa wine country cools down to Christmastime temperatures, we find ourselves scrounging in the cellar for the last few of the summer season’s bottles. For one, it’s a great way to finish them up–most northern hemisphere dry roses should be consumed the summer following their harvest date. Fine with us! But even better, returning to rose brings back those warm-weather memories, with a bonus: dry rose is an amazing match with something we’d never be able to enjoy in summer: Dungeness crab.

I’d never even have tried it if not for one of our greatest summertime-in-winter “date” memories–Michy’s restaurant in Miami. I wrote in The First Date of Christmas about Chef Linton Hopkins, who just joined the Delta culinary “dream team.” Michy’s Chef/Owner Michelle Bernstein was the original culinary goddess for Delta, and someone I considered a culinary national treasure even before Delta gave me the chance to work with her, which I treasure. Remember the old Food Network–back when real chefs cooked on it? Remember the show Melting Pot? That was Michelle.  (Okay, Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and the Iron Chefs are real culinary pros still on today’s Food Network but otherwise…)

But I digress, when we were busy tasting rose and Dungeness crab–ummm! No, Michelle was not serving Dungeness crab in Miami. That would just be dumb when she has access to the stone crab season and, huh-LO!–conch.  The joy of eating her conch lollipops absolutely dwarfed the most childhood pleasure I have possibly ever taken from a holiday candy cane. Michelle’s husband David Silverman does the wine selections and is a rockstar at it. The delicious roses he served us were a Spanish and a Napa Valley–two totally different taste experiences.  Ours tonight is Pret a Boire (that means “ready to drink” in French) also from Napa, made by the wine goddess Heidi Barrett.

Enjoy this little bit of inspiration to sip the last of your 2012 roses this holiday season–a great pick if you do the traditional (to Italians, at least) Christmas Eve meal of all seafood. You’ve heard of Christmas in July–so how about summer time at Christmas! Then afterwards you can cozy up by the fire with a glass of Port like we did with our Michy’s dessert, and get the best of both seasons.