Auction Napa Valley 2014 – A Video Sneak Preview!

Auction Napa Valley 2014 is fully underway, and the buzz, bidding, wine and food are amazing. I’m hosting a video series all weekend that you can follow on, but wanted to give you a sneak preview of the excitement, and of the exceptional bond between the Napa Valley Vintners and the local community – my community – that the Auction supports.

This is the 34th year for Auction Napa Valley hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners, with $150 million raised to date for local community grant recipients supporting our most vulnerable friends and neighbors. The vintners’ focus is health care and youth education. Free health care clinics, family counseling, pregnancy and early child health services, preschool programs, and more, receive the auction proceeds within a few months of the auction’s conclusion.

The entire community of vintners, great chefs and restaurateurs, local food purveyors and businesses, contribute time, money, goods and services to make it all happen. As a mom and a somm, it makes me proud to be a part of this community, and more than eager to do my part hosting this video series that brings the energy and message of the auction to the world.

Speaking of the world, our global neighbors get heavily involved, too. This year’s auction features lots with amazing wines and experiences supported by Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany, New Zealand, Australia’s McLaren Vale, Bulgari jewelry, Mandarin Oriental, Fairmont and Four Seasons hotels throughout the world, the Miami Heat, the New York Mets, the NFL, and so many more generous, iconic names.

Even folks who can’t be here, can e-here;) The e-Auction features hundreds of lots with amazing experiences, wines and collaborations that bring the like-no-other hospitality of the Napa Valley to life, and give you a great excuse to support the auction and treat yourself with a taste of our very best.

Thanks to everyone supporting this event, and I hope you’ll stay tuned in to the action. And let me know what you think? I’ll be posting updates to social media as well, and would love to hear a comment from you.

To Celebrate the 2014 James Beard Awards: My TV Dinners with Sara Moulton and Ina Garten

As we gear up for the 2014 James Beard Awards, I am honored to be nominated for Outstanding Host in the Broadcast category, alongside Sara Moulton and Ina Garten (wow). I’m also inspired to reminisce a little about some of my shared TV times with these amazing women.

Sara Moulton was the original food TV host. With her ground-breaking program Cooking Live Prime Time, she artfully exhibited how a true pro can share the spotlight and warm the kitchen with genuine foodie banter that teaches, tantalizes and entertains in perfect proportion.  She helped her guests (even the shy ones) shine, all the while teaching and trailblazing with fascinating personalities and emerging talents that had a story and a viewpoint worth sharing. It was a great recipe.

I have been lucky to be on-screen and in the kitchen with all of the great Food Network-era TV chefs—important word there in my book–and will cherish the laughs, memories, mishaps (that’s live TV:) and learning forever.  No one’s ever topped Sara for her authenticity and confidence to let it roll as if you were really there in her kitchen. I love you Emeril and you are on a par. I adore this picture of the two of you as young kitchen mavericks.

Sara I loved being your recurring Master Somm guest. We shook up martinis, blended up smoothies and paired up everything from French bistro classics to native American tribal cuisine. Do you remember the kitchen towel fire that we had to douse on the fly with with a glass of red wine (the show must go on)?

Ina Garten was launching her cookbook Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, and our Beloved Borders bookstore tapped me to host an episode of Borders Kitchen with her to promote the book.

I remember the aura of the just-finished culinary barn at her Hamptons home.  We’ve all visited it through her TV shows and on arrival I decided it’s what foodie Heaven must be like. I remember the crisp blue collared and cuffed shirts awaiting the Contessa’s arrival for wardrobe and makeup, and the very mild-mannered and self-deprecating Ina herself.

“I’m not a trained chef,” she said, explaining her painstaking process of testing each recipe for her books with multiple iterations of real-world kitchen equipment.  Like all home cooks, she’d been there—totally bewildered as to why a carefully-followed cookbook recipe developed by a chef in a professional kitchen came out completely wrong in a home kitchen using civilian gear like a GE stove and your wedding gift Revereware pots and pans. I respected that a lot. We had a blast cooking and chatting, and I hope I will be able to re-connect with you in person at the Awards.

Thanks for the memories, ladies and a toast to you both! I am honored to have been nominated with you.

Coravin: Wine by the Glass (or Blind Taste :) Without Pulling the Cork

Have you checked out Coravin? It’s a tool that let’s you pour a glass (or blind taste, as my husband John likes to do) without pulling the cork on the wine bottle. Pretty cool.  It does the job by extracting the wine through a surgical-type, uber-thin needle that penetrates the cork without compromising it.  As the wine is extracted, the empty space freed up is filled with argon gas injected from a canister in the Coravin’s handle.  Argon is an inert gas (meaning it won’t react with and advance the deterioration of the wine).  It is also heavier than air, thus blanketing and protecting the surface area of the wine that would normally be exposed to air and oxygen in an open bottle, or beneath the cork of a closed one. Years ago at Windows on the World we used argon gas to preserve our opened wine-by-the-glass bottles at the end of service.  Spargeing each bottle and refrigerating ensured the glasses poured the next night would be as fresh as those served the first. Collectors can now enjoy a glass or a taste of their bottles to check their “readiness” or just stretch out the bottle over multiple occasions–the producers say the wines hold in unopened condition for at least a few weeks.  We are going to experiment ourselves with some bottles from my husband’s collection (I’m in his cellar in the video) and see what we learn. Master Somm candidates should start a Club Coravin–have one of the devices in your restaurant so you can do relevant practice blind tastings, and then sell the rest of the bottles by the glass over several weeks. Think how many of your wine-loving regulars would love to get the day’s email or Tweet knowing you’ve opened something super-cool, and are now offering it by the glass!

Wine Course Blind Wine Tasting Practice: John and A Mystery White

Monday morning quarterback time: If you saw John’s blind wine tasting below you know he got the grape right-yay! The best thing about blind tasting with someone (especially a Master Somm or other seasoned taster) or  video-taping your tasting, is you can evaluate the play-by-play for what went right and wrong. Since everything in our house is about the kids, food and wine or sports, here’s our “play-by-play” analysis.

Blind wine tasting takes a lot of practice to get good, and if you don’t take it too seriously, it can be fun! So here’s another game of “beach blanket blind tasting” from the Caribbean, mon. John got the varietal here based on the opulent fruit profile, golden color and–important one, evidence of barrel fermentation and aging, namely, butter, vanilla, toasty or sweet spicy notes. If you think about it, very few white wines other than Chardonnay classically see barrel fermentation and aging. In fact, I can only think of one example–the white wines of Bordeaux (both dry styles like those of Pessac-Leognan, and the sweets of Sauternes and Barsac)–and wines made in that model such as Robert Mondavi’s Napa Valley Fume Blanc and Far Niente’s Dolce sweet wine. But keep me honest on that – leave a comment if you think of another classically barrel-aged white. And let us know what you think. What clues did John miss that would have led him to the right region?



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!