Monday, March 31, 2014

Special Treatment at Vitae

We're getting out less these days. So when we do, we try to do something extra special. That may be something as simple as trying a local restaurant we find it difficult to get into with a small child, or some place like Vitae when we have a night in Manhattan and want to be treated special.

When we first sat down at Vitae, we were a little concerned it was too hip for us. Surrounded by an artfully decorated space, filled with romantic young couples and noisy groups of friends, we felt a bit out of place. But the menu was approachable, and the wine list was interesting, so our cares were quickly forgotten.

It helped that they treat everyone like a special guest. While we contemplated our order, we were treated to an amuse bouche of a sweet butternut squash soup with winter spices, perfect to get the taste buds warmed up for the evening. While we waited on our food, we were served warm rolls brushed with duck fat and sea salt. And before dessert, a grapefruit mint soda to cleanse the palate. These are the little touches that can make any meal something really memorable.

Of course, dinner was great too. A appetizer of spicy pork tacos got things started with a careful blend of heat and flavor. A chestnut pasta was a rich, earthy counterpoint to a crisp glass of white wine, while the duck breast was fatty and delicious, with a fruity red.

Date night can make for a special sauce all its own, turning even the most simple dinner out into a wonderful evening. Finding a great restaurant on your rare night out, however, is its own magical experience.

Friday, March 28, 2014

How-To: Pair Wine with Dessert

While food and wine pairings can be tricky, nothing is quite so difficult as the dessert course. Desserts tend towards big flavors and lots of sweetness that can ruin the palate for the more delicate flavors of many wines, and some heavier red wines have savory flavors that might clash with dessert. But you do have some options.

White Wine: Most light white wines will be overpowered by the sweetness of dessert. But some buttery, citrusy Chardonnays might hold up to more delicate vanilla dishes. And a sweet Riesling can match many sweeter fruit desserts.

Red Wine: With big cherry flavors, some Pinot Noirs might work with red fruit desserts. Chocolate with heavier, earthier reds, like a strong Bordeaux, might work. Cheese with heavy fruity or funky wines like a big Barolo or and old vine Zinfandel can be fun as well.

Sparkling Wine: Despite the fact that they are usually a lighter body, sparkling wines can work well for dessert. The bubbles help cleanse the palate between bites, keeping even the heaviest dessert from becoming too cloyingly sweet.

Port: Chocolate and port wine is a classic pairing, with the strong nutty flavors of the fortified wine being an obvious choice for chocolate.

Ice Wine: For big flavored sweets, nothing quite compares to the rich sweet fruit flavors of an Ice Wine.

Noble Rot Wines: Cheese plates may not be a traditional dessert, but we love them. And nothing works quite so well with a plate of sweet, fatty, funky cheese like a glass of sweet, funky and fruity Sauternes.

Late Harvest Wines: These wines are pulled off the vine at the end of harvest. The extra time of the vine makes them much sweeter, and they pair well with that same cheese plate mentioned above.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Quick Review: Wines at Colonie Brooklyn Part 2

US, NY, Long Island, North Fork, Gotham Project Cabernet Franc 2011
+ // Fruity // Dark Plum, Forest floor, Red apple // Tart cherry, Seeds & stems, Wood, Empire apples // Light

US, CA, Paso Robles, David Bruce Shell Creek Vineyard Petite Syrah 2006
+ // Spicy // Blackberry, Cherry, Petrol // Black pepper, Cardamon, Old cherries // Full

Despite the age difference, the Syrah was dark purple all the way to the edge, while the Cabernet Franc was watery at the edge. We'd normally expect the older wine to be the one with most water around the edge; that's a sign of the aging process. In this case, the David Bruce wine "held up well" to aging.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Did You Know?... About Dessert Wine

Dessert wine isn't just a clever name. It's used to denote wines intended to be drunk with, or sometimes even as dessert. These wines tend to be very full bodied, generally higher in alcohol content, and very sweet. These big, bold flavors don't suit other courses.

Ice Wines: Made from grapes left on the vines until they freeze. This concentrates the sugars and flavors into a single drop of juice, and creates a dense, sweet wine. Commonly made from Riesling, Vidal, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, to name just a few.

Noble Rot Wines: Cold, wet harvests can allow wine grapes to produce a special mold, called botrytis. This dries out the grapes, concentrating the juice, and imparts a funky flavor like a mixture of stinky cheese, nuts, and honey. The most famous of this type might be Sauternes.

Fortified Wines: As some wines ferment, the winemaker adds a neutral spirit like brandy in the middle of the process to stop the fermentation. This keeps the sugar levels and alcohol content high. The styles, however, can range from sweet to dry. Sherry and Port are common examples.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quick Review: Wines at Colonie Brooklyn Part 1

US, NY, Finger Lakes, Gotham Project Empire Builder Riesling 2011
++ // (Very) Crisp // Peach, Stone, Floral // Slate, Green apple, Floral // Light

US, NY, Long Island, Channing Daughters Rose of Syrah 2011
+ // Fruity // Apple, Stone (very light hints) // Cherry, Green apple, Stone // Light-Med

Monday, March 24, 2014

Brooklyn Heights Dinner at Colonie

Brooklyn is a strange place. Small geographically, at less than 100 square miles, it is the most populous county in the US, at about 2.5 million people. It packs diverse ethnic backgrounds and a wide range of urban environments close together. Not far from the new Barclays Center, the sprawling retail buildings and office towers give way to the old Brownstones of Brooklyn. Here, restaurants that have been in the same place for fifty years sit next to newcomers who've only opened their doors in the past few years.

In 2011, the owners of Colonie opened their doors with the goal of bringing great food to the neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights. While nearby neighborhoods were undergoing a culinary renaissance, they felt that a neighborhood known for its amazing historic homes and stunning views of Manhattan needed some quality food. The restaurant embraces history and modernity. Rustic wood tables and exposed brick, contrasted against an open kitchen with a tasting bar watching over the chefs cooking. While we enjoyed our meal, the restaurant filled with a mixed crowd: couples enjoying a romantic evening, families savoring their favorite food, and a party that could have been made up of old regulars from the neighborhood.

Perched at the bar overlooking the kitchen, we enjoyed a meal of fresh spring ingredients. Rare among restaurants focusing on local ingredients, Colonie had a wine menu stocked with glasses of New York wine, something we always appreciate. Pate, leeks, crab: everything we ate worked well with the lighter wines we picked to start our meal. Spring is a great time to remind ourselves that not every food is a root vegetable, and not every wine needs to be a full bodied red.

Possibly our favorite part of the meal was dessert. We shared a Sticky Date Cake with Creme Fresche Ice Cream. Breaking all the rules, we skipped dessert wine and drank a couple of glasses of red wine. After the light dinner menu, the dessert was heavy and filling, and the ice cream was an unexpected salty and savory note.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What Does a Wine Label Mean by DOC?

Like France, Italy has attempted to codify their most renowned and historic wine regions, to protect the brand. "Denominazione di Origine Controllata" translates as "Controlled Designation of Origin", and denotes a wine from a specific region, created in a traditional style from specific varietals or blends. There are over 300 recognized regions, and they make up the most recognizable Italian wines:

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Barbera d'Asti
Dolchetto d'Asti


This doesn't necessarily speak to quality though, mostly focusing on historic wine producing regions. DOCG or  "Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita" or "Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin" is only handed out to a few very specific regions, and is supposed to indicate higher quality traditional wines. A few more recognizable names:

Aglianico del Taburno
Soave Superiore

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Quick Review: Gerard Bertrand Tautavel 2008

France, Sud de France, Gerard Bertrand Grand Terrior Tautavel 2008
+ // Smooth // Mushroom, Ink // Pearl, White Chocolate, Leather // Medium

A nice balance of flavors that cleansed the palate between bites.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Did You Know?... About Tuscan Wines

Tuscany is a region in the middle of Italy, famous for Florence and some of the great wines of Italy.

Chianti: Maybe the most famous wine of Italy,with the old image of the squat bottle wrapped in a wicker basket. Those days, not much was expected from the quality of Chianti, but a loosening of the DOC rules in the 1990s has given winemakers a chance to really show the strength of the Sangiovese grape that goes into that wine. It has a strong cherry flavor, but can end up with a balance of acidity and tannins that can give it equal hints of flowers and leather.

Montepulciano: Another red grape with a bolder flavor, rich in apple and plum notes.

Brunello: The big wine of the region, known for aggressive flavors that often need years of aging to mellow.

Vernaccia, Verdicchio, etc: The white wines of the region can be beautiful, with richness and herb notes, but according to many, it's difficult to discern the difference between the grapes.

Super Tuscans: Some winemakers wanted to deviate from the stringent rules of traditional Chianti. The name was an attempt by winemakers to create a new brand that would allow them to work in their own style. The "style" included everything from minor varations on Chianti to wines closer to a Bordeaux Blend.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Quick Review: Montenidoli Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2011

Italy, Tuscany, Montenidoli Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2011
++ // Smooth // Floral, // Red grapefruit, Apple, Ocean-washed stone // Medium
Great winter white, mineral balances acidity. Mineral flavor is reminicent of salt. Almost effevescent.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tuscany Wine with Winter Soup

Learning about Italian wines in a cold New York winter was difficult. While they make some amazingly big and bold reds, the whites we found seemed to be more light and delicate. Of course, if paired correctly, even a lighter wine can make for a great meal.

Soup. Bread. Hearty vegetables. That's how we eat to survive the cold. In this case, the soup was turnips, pureed with avocado and garbanzo beans. The beans and turnips gave it an earthy flavor with a hint of sweetness from the turnips, while the avocado gave the soup some rich creaminess. Topped with some brussels sprouts fried with bacon, and served with some fresh, hot bread, we were looking at a flavorful meal. But the despite the significant flavors of the dish, we thought the fruitiness of a red might clash with the sweet flavors of the turnips and brussels sprouts.

Montenidoli is situated in an old wine growing region in the hills of Tuscany, in the shadow of San Gimignano. The site was abandoned in the World Wars, but revitalized in the 1960s by the current owners. They specialize in regional grapes, and we picked up their "Vernaccia di San Gimignano", labeled as a "dry white wine". We had never tried the Vernaccia grape before, but we made an assumption that a dry white would give us some of the more grassy notes that might work well with the dinner. In this case, we were wrong, but it worked out in our favor. The wine was floral on the nose, but had a mixture of citrus and fruit backed with a salty minerality that matched the earthy flavors of the meal.

What did we learn about Italian wine this time around? That it can be unexpected, and quite amazing. We definitely have incentive to keep exploring.

Friday, March 14, 2014

How-To: An Attempt to Compare Wine and Beer

Sometimes, a wine drinker ends up at a beer hall. Or a beer fanatic ends up in a wine bar. You might know what to expect from one type of drink, but have no idea about another. Since one is made from fruit and the other is made from grains, the flavors vary pretty significantly (obviously), but there are some common flavor profiles to look for that might help you pick a beer similar to your favorite wine...or vice versa.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Did You Know?... About Barley Wine

In those times of war between Britain and  France, the nobility of England had to find an alternative to the French wine they had grown accustomed to. While wine grapes couldn't grow well in England, they had plenty of ingredients for beer. Barley wine is made in a fashion similar to pale ales, but they add about twice as much grain to increase the sugar content, and therefore boost the alcohol content.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Quick Review: Brooklyn Brewery Monster Ale Barleywine 2011

US, NY, Brooklyn Brewery, Monster Ale Barleywine 2011
++ // Earthy // Floral // Chocolate, Floral, Tropical Fruits // Very Full

This was a crazy beer. Big and bold chocolate flavors, like a stout, but with some sweeter floral and tropical flavors you don't usually get from a beer. And with an ABV of 10.1%, it's nearly as strong as some wines--packing quite the punch. Unfortunately, Brooklyn Brewery no longer produces this Monster Ale.

Monday, March 10, 2014

RiverMarket Bar and Kitchen

Winter in New York City is brutal. It may not be as cold or as snowy as some places, but those long walks through the concrete canyons in the howling wind make each step feel like a mile. To survive the long winter months, you need to find excuses to get away, even for just a little while.

A break in the worst of the cold temperatures, coinciding with a holiday, gave us the excuse we needed. Hoping in a car, we took a drive north into the Hudson Valley. It was still a cold day, but there was some bright sunshine, so we bundled everyone up and found one of the many hiking trails to enjoy a bit of nature. It is always surprising to be reminded that there is so much park land so close to one of the densest cities in the country.

Reinvigorated by the fresh air, we worked up an appetite. While the area has a lot of amazing restaurants, it being a holiday and a Monday meant that most were closed for the day. We had hoped to try Blue Hill at Stone Barns, to see how it compared to their City outpost, but that will have to wait for another day. Instead, we found ourselves at RiverMarket, on the shore of the Hudson in site of the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was surprisingly quiet for a lunch on a holiday weekend, which worked out well for us as we could linger over our lunch and enjoy a drink before heading back into the city.

Rivermarket restaurant, Tarrytown, Hudson Valley

Another restaurant with our shared philosophy of fresh, local produce. In this case, it was American food, comforting after a cold day in the woods. A burger and some potato gnocchi happily warmed our bellies. And the day really seemed to call for a beer, and we're still not quite sure why. Fortified with good food and beer, and a reminder that life does exist under all the snow, we returned to the city, ready to face the rest of the winter.

Friday, March 7, 2014

How-To: Use Spoiled Wine

Sometimes, wine goes bad. Whether an open bottle got left out on the counter after a party, or you discovered it "corked" upon opening, you probably don't want to drink spoiled wine. Given that Americans throw away nearly half of their food every year according to some studies, it's worthwhile to think of ways to use the wine you could easily just pour down the drain.
  • Cook With It: While a wine loses a lot of its most vibrant flavors if it's exposed to air for too long, it can still retain some of its acidity. A half bottle left over from a party can easily be added to a recipe of Coc au Vin or any other dish that calls for some cooking wine.
  • Make Vinegar: Left to it's own devices, an open bottle of wine will turn into vinegar. If you have some leftovers, with the help of plenty of air you can let nature take its course.
  • Use in punch: Freeze leftover wine in ice trays and add a cube to your favorite sangria or other favorite wine-based cocktail. 
  • Give Up: If a bottle is "corked," it develops some pretty awful flavors. The bacteria that causes it makes the wine taste like wet cardboard and mold. The wine is still safe to drink, but probably not too enjoyable.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Quick Review: Vinhos Barbeito 'New York Malmsey' Madiera

Portugal, Vinhos Barbeito 'New York Malmsey' Madiera
++ // Sweet // Caramel, Nut, Buttered Toast // Nut, Honey, Molasses, Grape // Medium

An excellent dessert wine. Imported by The Rare Wine Company. So why call it "New York Malmsey"? That's just a fun "proprietary" name for this wine. In other words, there is little about New York in this bottle.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Did You Know?... About Madeira

Madeira is a group of Portuguese islands in the Atlantic Ocean. It is also the name of a type of fortified wine made there. When Portugal had a globe spanning empire, the islands were a common port of call for shipping. Fortified wine shipped through the route acquired a very unique taste. Before the days of refrigerated shipping, wines stored in the hold of a sailing ship would "cook" on the long sea voyage. Since then, the wine makers of Madeira have learned to recreate that flavor by intentionally heating their wines. This "estufagem" process creates deep, nutty flavored wines, but depending on the grapes used can range from dry to sweet.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Quick Review: Red Hook Winery Riesling 2010

US, NY, Red Hook Winery Riesling 2010
+ // Crisp // Green apple, Vanilla, Lemon // Petrol, Old flowers, Granny Smith apple // Light

Red Hook is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, not too far from where we live. There is no grape growing in this urban environment. Instead, it's likely Red Hook Winery sourced their Riesling from the vineyards on Long Island or up in the Finger Lakes region.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Local Food at Blue Hill

As much as we love wine, we love good food. Living in New York City, we may be a bit removed from the day to day of the wine making industry, but, in exchange, we get to follow a cutting edge food scene.

With our obsession with all things "local," we are always on the lookout for restaurants that embrace  "localvore" food--dishes composed of food from nearby sources. There are various economic and environmental reasons to follow the practice, but for us we simply prefer fresher food. An apple eaten straight off the tree tastes better than one picked, sent to a processing center, then to the grocery store, then on to our kitchen. In terms of wine, although grapes are usually grown close to the production facilities, we still prefer to drink as local as possible in an effort to support the local wine community. Local is simply important on so many levels.

When we heard about Blue Hill, we knew we had to go. Inspired by the farm on Blue Hill Road, they work with farm fresh seasonal ingredients under their "Know Thy Farmer" philosophy. Knowing this, we were willing to try their chicken. This may seem like an odd statement, but we seldom bother with chicken at a restaurant. It's such an ubiquitous ingredient, but chicken is normally bland and dry (or the accompanying sauce or side dish is the star of the show). We're also not wholly comfortable with how chickens are raised on large commercial farms. A farm fresh chicken is a thing of beauty: rich, succulent, and full of tasty juices. Once you have had a well-prepared breast just a few hours past butchering, it's hard to go back. You're reminded of a different time, when things were done more slowly. At Blue Hill, a simply prepared chicken with seasonal vegetables was perfection on a plate, especially with a nice, crisp New York Riesling with bright flavors that made the sweet chicken pop.

White Wine Glass

And that brings us to the other reason we felt compelled to try Blue Hill--local wine. All too often, high end restaurants are afraid to offer any wines from outside France or California. Thankfully this place that celebrates the meat and produce of New York is also willing to embrace the State's wine, offering bottles from several of our favorite producers. To get a glass of great local wine with some great local food is a great night out.