Monday, September 30, 2013

Wine and International Cuisine at Junoon

With European food, there is a long history of pairing food with wine. If you know a bit about wine, it's not impossibly difficult to pick a wine to match your meal at a French restaurant. But for more international cuisine, it can be a bit tricky. Thankfully, we have the old standby of Riesling to meet all our adventurous dining needs.

While European dishes may develop some complicated flavors in their sauces, many Asian dishes rely on a depth of spices seldom seen in Western cuisine. At a quality Indian restaurant like Junoon in Manhattan, a dish may simmer in a dozen spices, including hot peppers. Riesling offers simple, crisp flavors that can't compete with the flavors of a spicy meal. Even better, that hint of sweetness from the grape will often soothe the heat from the spice.

In the cavernous restaurant, we sat down amid the trendy crowd, feeling like we were having dinner in the middle of some big party. Amid it all, a handful of plates drifted across our table, a wide range of flavors to match the bottle of Riesling we'd ordered to share. Against the spicy shrimp, we saw the real benefit of Riesling, as the sweetness of even a semi-dry can play well with heat. With chickpeas though, the wine could have stood to be a bit more dry to counteract the fattiness of the beans. The wine was far too big for the lamb in light sauce, but offered a nice sweetness to match the sweetness in the cauliflower steak.

It's tough to match a bottle of wine to multiple courses, and even more difficult when you aren't as familiar with a cuisine. At a time like this, you can always fall back on what you are familiar with. We like to be adventurous with our wines, but sometimes the meal is adventure enough.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Quick Review: Channing Daughters Blaufrankish 2008

US, NY, Long Island, Channing Daughters Blaufrankish 2008
+ // Smooth // Petrol, grass, dark fruit, chocolate covered coffee beans // Earthy, chocolate, coffee, tart fruit, tobacco // Medium

A complicated wine! Enjoyable.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why Can't You Find This Year's Red Wine?

When looking to buy wine, you may notice that almost all of the red wine is older than the white wine on the shelves, even from the same winemaker. That is because most red wine spends more time aging in barrels before the winemaker bottles it and releases it for sale.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Quick Review: Heart and Hands Pinot Noir 2011

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Heart & Hands, Pinot Noir 2011
+ // Smooth // Earth, Cedar, Cherry // Cherry, Cinnamon, Stone // Med

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Hard Pairing: Beets and Wine

It's harvest time again. The fall brings the last of the great produce for the year. We love restaurants that focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients, but we also love to cook those same ingredients at home. If you are looking to use up a lot of fresh vegetables, you have to be creative in your recipes, and even more creative with you wine pairings.

Of all the difficult ingredients, there may not be many more complicated than beets. Earthy, almost dirt flavored, but with a strong sweetness as well, there aren't many flavors like it. Shredded and mixed with a few other ingredients, like radishes, carrots and basil, beets can be used as a substitute for ground beef in things like meatballs. Served up with some beans and lettuce in a tortilla, and you have a hearty vegetarian burrito.

In this case, we really only had one option to drink with dinner. Searching for something "like for like" (the recommended way to pair wine with food), we needed something earthy, with a hint of fruitiness. So we went with a cold climate Pinot Noir that had a balance of ripe cherries and deep stone and earth flavors, with enough body to match the big flavors of the fresh vegetables. A perfect time for one of our favorites from the Finger Lakes. And it just emphasizes how you can create perfect pairings to match fresh, local produce with local wine.

Friday, September 20, 2013

How-To: Use the Internet to Read a Wine Label

Old World wine labels can be confusing. Even if you understand the language, you still need basic knowledge of the historical wine regions to know what grape is being used. That's because most European labels simply give you the region name, but that alone is enough to indicate what types of grapes are grown there. Don't have that kind of knowledge? Just ask the internet. A search for any given region will turn up dozens of webpages (not to mention a Wikipedia entry) that list the most common grapes grown there. As long as you can figure out the region, let your smartphone to do the rest.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Quick Review: Punot Final Malbec

Argentina, Punto Final, Malbec
+ // Fruity // Raspberry, Leather // Vanilla, Spice, Raspberry // Full

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Did You Know?... About Argentinian Wine

Argentina is the fifth largest wine producer in the world. Vineyards flourish in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, with Malbec being the most renowned varietal produced in the country. For white wines, the most well regarded is the Torrontes grape. There are a large number of wine producing regions within Argentina, but the largest is Mendoza, followed by San Juan and La Rioja.

Due to the elevation of most of Argentina's vineyards, the phylloxera infestation that destroyed the vitus vinefera vines throughout the rest of the world hasn't found a foothold here. Along with Chile, which also has vineyards in high altitudes, Argentina is one of the few places that non-hybridized grapes can still be found.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Monday, September 16, 2013

Cuisine at Hecho en DUMBO

Somehow, it always surprises us when we end up eating Mexican cuisine. Maybe it's because the country seems stuffed full of Mexican restaurants that try to convince us that rice, beans, and tortilla can be combined in enough different ways to make up a couple of dozen items on the menu, but, when we find ourselves in a restaurant that uses carefully crafted, slow-cooked sauces to complement a menu of interesting dishes, it always leaves us happily surprised.

Hecho en DUMBO, which means "Made in DUMBO," is not actually located in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn. The chef got his start there, with a small pop-up dinner in a cafĂ© there, but now he's managed to find a permanent space in Manhattan's Lower East Side. Using fresh, local ingredients, he is making small shared plates influenced by the cuisine of Mexico City.

Small plates and local ingredients. How could we resist? We found ourselves there for an early dinner, fighting our way past the happy hour crowd at the bar to a table in the back. Another benefit of Mexican Cuisine? The margarita menu. Instead of pages of the usual sugary, fruity slush concoctions one finds in most Mexican restaurants, here the cocktail was simple and focused on the tequila. Like a good whiskey, tequila can create some dark, complicated cocktails, which can be a great way to sit and ponder a dinner menu. After such a hearty drink to start the evening, we wanted a hearty dinner. So instead of sharing a few small plates, we decided to share one giant plate, piled high with meat. The Parridilla Yucateca is a house specialty: a plate of half a dozen different grilled meats, with a little bit of cheese. We ordered a salad of garbanzo beans to make it a healthy dinner, and a Malbec to drink, because what other choice is there for a pairing with a pile of meat? It was amazing. Hearty, smokey, meaty goodness filling the table in front of us, paired with a wine that always manages to hold its own against the strong flavor the grill, while bringing a balance of spice and fruit of its own.

Like finding a great wine from an unexpected region, it's wonderful to be reminded that good food isn't about some stereotypical interpretation. Good ingredients, careful preparation, and the deft hand of a skilled chef are universal to all cultures, and can give us amazing dishes in every corner of the world.

Friday, September 13, 2013

How-To: Know If You Are Drinking Too Much

Due to the possible legal ramifications, that's not a question we are comfortable answering.

Thankfully, over at Forbes they've looked at some of the recommendations from more official sources.

Of course, its not a simple answer. Hopefully you can find that balance point of enjoying your wine, without adversely effecting your well being. Thankfully, as the guidelines show, there is some leeway.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Quick Reviews: Fox Run "Lake Dana" Riesling 2010

US, Fingers Lakes, Fox Run Vineyards, Riesling R10 "Lake Dana" Vineyard, 2010
++ // Crisp // Peach // Peach, stone, mineral // Light bodied

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Did You Know?... About Winegrowers

It may not figure into our every day wine buying habits, but it's good to remember that not all winemakers grow their crops themselves. There is a long tradition of winemakers who leave that to skilled farmers, and focus their efforts on the crafting of the wine. For the most part, it doesn't mean much, but if you read your labels closely, sometimes you can find wines from two different winemakers made from grapes sourced from the same vineyard. This is a great chance to compare the natural tendencies of the grape and the terrior of the vineyard to the methods of different winemakers.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Quick Review: Wines at The Forge

We couldn't go wrong - the wines were exceptional at The Forge.

US, CA, Napa Valley, Sterling "Three Palms" Merlot 2008
++ // Fruity // Bright ripe fruit

Fr, Bordeaux, Chateau-Bel Air, St Emillon
++ // Earthy // Tart Fruit, Earth,

US, CA, Ravenswood Zinfandel "Teldeschi" 2008
++ // Fruity // Cherry, Berry, Pepper // Medium-Full

Monday, September 9, 2013

Vacation Adventures at The Forge

We spend a lot of time in New York, but when we do get a chance to get away, we don't change our habits much. Good food, good wine, and always looking for something new. When we end up at the resort hotels in Miami's South Beach, we find a bit of a mixed bag. With a handful of excellent restaurants under one roof, we have options, but over the course of a long vacation, we can get bored of the same few choices.

Thankfully, hidden behind a non-nondescript storefront on a quiet retail street not far from Collins Avenue, there is a wonderful option. The Forge is an historic fixture of Miami, a steakhouse from the earliest days of the Miami resort scene. After a major renovation in 2010, it has re-invented itself as a high quality farm-to-table restaurant with a unique menu for the area. Thankfully, through all the changes it has maintained its world class wine menu. Taking advantage of the renovation, they even made the wine more approachable, with an amazing Enomatic system dispensing a wide range of self-served wines by the glass.

We enjoyed a winter menu without the bone-chilling cold of our home city. The winter dishes meant we could pick some bold red wines. A beet salad with Gorgonzola and  pumpkin seeds worked well with a fruity Merlot. The fruit notes of the Bordeaux were unexpectedly well balanced against the popular crab claw dish, as the mustard sauce brought a spice that pulled out the sweet fruit of the wine the match the sweetness of the crab flesh. The main courses were big and bold, and needed to be paired with bigger, more aggressive wines. A venison steak piled with smoked mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, and juniper berries was suited to a big, fruity Californian Zinfandel.

The Forge was a great change of pace. The hotel restaurants are great, and convenient. But for us, a menu that never changes from year to year can grow wearisome, so to find a great restaurant with a focus on seasonal ingredients is just what we need to make a vacation that much more special.

Friday, September 6, 2013

How-To: Enjoy Wine in the Fall

With Labor Day past us, it's time to move away from the hot, lazy days of summer to the cool days of fall. Summer is great, with chilled glasses of white wine enjoyed in the warm sun, but there are reasons to enjoy the fall as well.

  • Harvest: Its time for grape growers to harvest. And that means Harvest Festivals.
  • Grape Crushing: Once the grapes are in, its time to crush them for the juice. Some wine makers will even let you help.
  • Red Wine: For months, its been too hot outside to really enjoy most red wines, but with the temperatures dropping, it is finally time to break open some of those heavier red wines that just seemed a bit too much.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Coolhaus Ice Cream Sandwich

Sometimes, we do actually consume something other than wine. On a recent trip through the neighborhood, I stumbled across the Coolhaus Ice Cream truck. Ice cream sandwiches, with flavors based on architecture puns, how could I pass that up? They offer a selection of ice cream and cookie sandwich flavors that can be mixed and matched to order. I went with the Potato Chip & Skor Bar Cookie with Guinness Ice Cream. Sweet flavors, with a hint of chocolate, paired with a range of savory flavors, and a trace of saltiness -- the very perfect combination. The crunch from the Skor Bar and chips were a nice textural counterpoint to the creaminess of the ice cream. It was a perfect treat for a warm fall afternoon.

My goal is to try all of the available combinations. Is this even possible?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Quick Review: Weingut Haug Johanniter 2010

Germany, Lindau, Weingut Haug, Johanniter 2010 (Kabinett, Trocken)
+ // Crisp // Vanilla, Grapefruit // Grapefruit, Butter // Very Light (almost effervescent)

Recommended by a wine shop clerk, in Lindau itself, on our 2011 trip to Germany. Nice that the shop recommended something local.

Monday, September 2, 2013