Monday, April 28, 2014

Wines with Which to Fête Your Mother

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Spring and Mother’s Day are right around the corner. Bubbles are always a great way to celebrate. Gruet, made in New Mexico by a French Champagne family, is one of my favorites and a great value. It is also a lot of fun to make your friends guess where it is produced as many people don’t know that wine is made in New Mexico.

Hipster moms might appreciate Lambrusco. Serve it cold and pair it with a beautiful plate of prosciutto as they do in Emilia-Romagna. Don’t ever serve it in a flute if your mom wants to be a modern Italian, there’s a big backlash in Italy these days about how sparkling wine tastes better in a regular wine glass. More classic moms might like a Franciacorta or great Champagne like Gosset.

Outdoor brunches almost always pair well with rosé wines. I like mine on the big and rowdy side such those made from the Bordeaux varietals or even Nebbiolo. There are also some quite good domestic ones made from everything from Grenache and Cinsault to Pinot Noir. I adore Lullaby’s Grenache-based wine made in Walla Walla, Washington.


If I Had Another Mother
I would love to celebrate Mother’s Day with esoteric and acidic wines like Grüner Veltliner and St. Laurent (both Austrian). I can also drink copious amount of Riesling, particularly from Alsace and really like some of the Canadian ones from both British Columbia and Nigara-on-the-Lake, in Ontario.

My mother doesn’t love acidic wines, so we drink a lot of international Sauvignon Blanc together. There are lots of great values, including Lapostolle, from Chile. These generally clean, crisp wines pair well with so many foods and are also great values. We also enjoy a handful of Sauvignon Blancs from California. We can also do damage on Sancerre and other Loire Valley stunners. She is recently also getting into White Bordeaux, which has long been a favorite of mine.

She also doesn’t drink Cabernets at all, except from Chile. I guess there is a certain logic to this as Chilean Cabernets for the most part don’t have that intense varietal flavor—nor are they generally produced in the same way with big tannins and high alcohol—as do many domestic Cabernets.

So we drink a lot of Syrah and love the Rhône red and white varietals. I have gotten her interested in Syrahs and blends out of Washington State and some of the divine blends coming out of South Africa at the moment. Rupert & Rothschild and Vergelegen are classics.

We also love Sangiovese-based wines as they remind us both of my first trip to Italy after I finished high school where she had to stage an intervention to make me drink red wines. I ended up covering the experience for the Wine Spectator.

In the end the best way to celebrate Mother’s Day is just to let yours drink whatever she likes best (and maybe pick up the bill). Or send her a case of wine. Mine is always happy when a little something quaffable and new shows up at the door.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: Byejoe

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

Baijiu, just the very name is mysterious.  But translate it literally from Baijiu to it’s more user friendly name Byejoe, well now, that is something that needs to be explored.  In recent years, with the great influx of immigration from the Far East to Canada and the United States, it stands to reason that the liquor trade would soon follow.  Fortunes have been made here in the United States and these fortunes fuel the fires of thirst from the old country across the Pacific Ocean. 

Byejoe is the product of China, reinvented for the modern American market.  It is firewater, I feel there is no doubt about that, should I call it Chinese Moonshine?  I wouldn’t want to get into trouble.  Byejoe is a vodka-like spirit, in this case distilled from Red Sorgum.  Trendy?  I don’t think a spirit this venerable can be trendy, but it can be repackaged for a younger set.  This makes Byejoe something quite unique in the marketplace.  

Drinking a shot of Baijiu is how you would close a business deal.  This was over the span of several thousands of years.  It’s popular as an aperitif when mixed with  Lillet and a splash of Seltzer water.  I like it as a digestive with a splash of Tia Maria and a hit of espresso coffee.  There are so many things that I can do with this very un-vodka like liquor from the other side of the world.  But have no fear on purity.  The distillate is treated to a scientific formula that is proprietary in nature.  It is sold at eighty proof instead of the hair growing 140 to 150 Proof back in the old country.  I imagine in the wrong hands this could set a small town ablaze. 

At any rate there are two versions of Byejoe.  The first, rolling in at eighty proof is distilled from Red
Sorghum.  This grain makes a softly textured mouthfeel and a delineated long finish from the hearty grain.  Red Sorghum doesn’t need special soil, nor does it need much water.  It is in many respects similar to our rye grain.  Hearty and mouth filling I’d say on the flavor profile.  I couldn’t imagine drinking the 150 Proof version straight, but that’s how the business of business gets done in China.  A drink of this stuff straight up will seal the deal.  Honor actually means something and the idea of a handshake and a shot of Baijiu is unknown in our part of the globe. 

The second version is lighter and aimed at a younger crowd.  I understand that sweet drinks are necessary from a marketing standpoint and so I’ve worked my mind a bit to reveal a cocktail that works to a more adventurous palate.  I want to say that Byejoe is lovely at every age, young or… older.  You can actually drink it very lightly mixed because it is (only) seventy proof and it has such exemplary taste. 
If a field infusion of lychee, dragon fruit and hot peppers appeals to you, than by all means indulge your senses!  And if you are at all interested in gluten free liquors, and Kosher certification, Byejoe is the only Chinese spirit that accomplishes both these requirements. 

Here are two unique ways of serving Byejoe Red and Byejoe Dragon Fire.

Dragon’s Breath On My Earlobe
Ingredients:
2 oz. Byejoe Red
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
½ oz. Freshly Squeezed Grapefruit juice
2 Dashes Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Style Bitters
mere splash of seltzer water
Freshly cut ice spear

Preparation:
To a Boston Shaker- Fill ¾ with ice
Add the liquors and grapefruit juice
Cover and shake hard for 20 seconds

Pour over your ice spear in a Collins glass
Add that splash of seltzer water
Dot with the Jerry Thomas bitters

#15 Ch’ien- Modesty ( from the I Ching)
Ingredients:
1 oz. Byejoe Dragon Fire
1 oz. Casa Noble Joven Tequila
1 oz. Lemon Juice
1 oz. Simple Syrup
3 dashes Bitter Truth Spiced Chocolate Bitters
Pinch of Sea Salt (Fleur de Sel)
Large cubes of hand cut ice

Preparation:
To a Boston Shaker filled ¾ with ice
Pour all the liquors and the lemon juice with the Simple Syrup
Shake hard for 30 seconds
strain into an old fashioned glass with one large cube of hand cut ice
Add the Spiced Chocolate Bitters and sprinkle the fleur de sel over the top to finish

YUM! 

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Karlsson's Vodka

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

To the dismay of many of my readers, real vodka is not made from grain.  No, real vodka is distilled from potatoes. 

Potatoes you say?  Yes the very same tuber that graces your plate as a side for roast chicken or tossed into a stir-fry.  They have a rich history of distillation. 

But why aren’t more vodka on the market made with potatoes?   The answer to that is strictly commerce. 

Potatoes are expensive to grow and even more expensive to distill.  Grain is easy to grow and is quite inexpensive to distill.  However grain does not possess the depth of flavor that potato vodka has.  Potatoes just taste differently in the glass.  Enter Karlsson’s Vodka from Sweden.  Karlsson’s is not made from grain; it is made from an individual crop of new potatoes.  New potatoes have a very distinctive flavor and aromatics.  It is completely different in every from the vodka you may have grown up around.

Karlsson’s Vodka is sharply delineated in the mouth.  The flavor is sweet and sour with a healthy underpinning of earth.  The taste of the place is in every sip, and that place is Sweden.  I can almost taste the sea air bursting from the bottle as I open the handsome squat bottle with images of new potatoes emblazoned on the inside of the label.  If you were looking at the bottle, lit from below, all you see are potatoes!

They say seventeen pounds of potatoes goes into each bottle of Karlsson’s Vodka.  I can’t see how they fit it all in there! It’s really gorgeous stuff. 

I’ve been experimenting with Shrubs as of late.  No, these Shrubs are not grown out in your garden; they are
a part of cocktail history.  Shrubs have been used in one form or another since antiquity.  Shrubs are made up of vinegar, fruit or vegetables and sugar.  They can contain herbs or spices as well.  I’m very fond of how a Shrub will unlock flavor from other ingredients.  They offer a sweet/tart injection of flavor into a mixed drink. 

Karlsson’s Vodka with its sumptuous notes of freshly dug new potatoes is just the perfect vehicle for a Shrub.  The flavor of the potatoes wraps its arms around the sweet/sour notes from the vinegar and the sugar.   Whatever you mix with is your business.  For my cocktail I choose to make a cucumber Shrub, knowing that you can do in all in just about a week.  Cucumber is just gorgeous in a Shrub with potato vodka. 

Apple Cider Vinegar is the basis for this Shrub as is Demerara sugar.  Each flavor will exemplify itself with this lush and flavorful Swedish vodka.  There really is nothing else like it on the market unless you are traveling to Poland. 

I’ve taken Karlsson’s Vodka and created a cocktail named A Mysterious Piece of Machinery.

This unique cocktail includes a small portion of cucumber Shrub made of vinegar, sugar and slightly fermented cucumbers.I’m sure you will find this very easy to make.

For the Cucumber Shrub
Ingredients:
4 European Cucumbers cut into coins about ½ inch wide
1 cup Demerara sugar
1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar

Preparation:
Cover the cucumber coins in sugar
Let sit at cellar (50-55 degrees) for three days
Cover with Vinegar and let set at 50-55 degrees for another three days
Mash the sugar and vinegar infused “Shrub” through a sieve
Bottle this Shrub and further age in the refrigerator or in a cool place for up to a month

For the Cocktail (A Mysterious Piece of Machinery)
Ingredients:
2 oz. Karlsson’s Gold Vodka
1 oz. Cucumber Shrub
1 oz. Sparkling Water
3 drops Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters

Preparation:
To a cocktail mixing glass, fill ¾ with ice
Add the Karlsson’s Gold Vodka
Add the Cucumber Shrub
Mix to combine
Strain into a short rocks glass over 1 ice cube only!
Add the Sparkling water
Dot the top with the Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters

This isn’t your typical flavored vodka made in a science lab!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Dead Rabbit's Irish Coffee

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer


It’s rumored that Irish coffee was invented in the 1940’s as a curative against the cold and damp of Ireland’s westernmost reaches.  Joe Sheridan was the barman at the Shannon Airport bar where the lumbering, Pan Am flying boats from America would disembark after a rough ride across the pond.   It’s highly plausible that the combination of steaming hot coffee, warming Irish Whiskey, thickly whipped Irish cream (higher butterfat content than normal cream) and dark brown sugar would have found its way into the bellies of most travelers.  Anyone who traveled to fragment of Ireland during the early days of commercial air travel would have clamored over themselves to warm up their bones with a drink.  Any drink after a jarring plane trip during these early halcyon days of air travel.

I think drinking Irish whiskey woven into an Irish Coffee when imbibed in the morning may make the remainder of the trip a boozy affair indeed.  An Irish Coffee is always a fine way to begin a trip to the far-away continent of Europe.  You don’t need a flying boat for your next Irish Coffee!

Knappogue Castle is a lovely Irish Whiskey that I’m hoping you’ll be trying before too long.  It’s a single malt Irish Whiskey, a luxurious way to an end if you’re mixing it into an Irish Coffee.  Knappogue Castle comes in three varieties; one- the blazingly delicious 12 year old version is just gorgeous in an Irish Coffee.  The butter notes from the cask is achingly delicious when woven with good black coffee, dark brown sugar, loosely whipped cream and the essential scraping of nutmeg.  I’m not just advocating that you go to your store and actually ask for an expensive bottle of Irish Whiskey for your Irish Coffee, I’m demanding it.  Keep in mind, life is short and a bottle of Knappogue 12 year will enhance and enrich your experience.  It’s important in my opinion to drink as well as you are able to afford.  There is nothing for me at least; more disappointing than individuals who have never tried Knappogue Castle and they complain about the price, yet they drink Scotch Whiskey that costs several times as much.  It’s truly up to you. 

I think an Irish Coffee with Knappogue Castle is memorable, because of the quality of the ingredients. 

Knappogue Castle also comes in a Sherry Cask finished 16 year- single malt Irish Whiskey as well as the gorgeous Twin Wood, 14 year old expression.  I might not dilute them into an Irish Coffee, but if you want to, by all means, please do so.

The Dead Rabbit, located down on Front Street in New York City is my choice for the best (at least the most authentic) Irish Coffee that I’ve enjoyed in recent memory. Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarr co-owners of the Dead Rabbit (named after the Dead Rabbits, a street gang from the days of yore) will make you an Irish Coffee that is so good, you’ll think it was the best you’ve ever imbibed. 

Sure, I had a Café Espana in Portland, Maine up at Hunt and Alpine that was electrifyingly good, but the one at the Dead Rabbit took my attention by its simplicity and grace.  Thank you.

Now I cannot tell you which Irish Whiskey to use in your Irish Coffee, but I must street that the quality of the coffee is only superseded by the high butterfat content of the whipping cream.  It’s essential to buy something organic and heavy in nature. 

If you are using whipping the cream you better not ever think about buying that stuff in a can.  Throw it out now.  Don’t do it.  NO.

Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarr will find you. 

Whip your own cream with the best heavy whipping cream you can buy.  That is a non-negotiable.
Your Irish Whiskey for this salubrious slurp is up to you, but I’d make sure to use Knappogue Castle 12 year.
Dark Brown Sugar?  Absolutely.

The Irish Coffee
Ingredients:
Really good Irish Whiskey- like Knappogue Castle 12 year
6 oz. hot coffee- it better not be decaf…
3 – 4 oz. softly whipped cream, you’re not making butter-cream icing for a cake, whip only to very soft peaks, no more
1 tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar – Essential.  Something happens with the sugar and the whipped cream. I cannot explain it, but without sugar the cream just melts into the coffee and your drink is ruined!

Preparation:
Preheat a glass mug with boiling hot water.. throw out when hot
Add the Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey to the preheated mug
Add the hot coffee
Add the sugar
Gently spoon the whipped cream on top…

Put a straw through the cream and sip up from the bottom
slàinte

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Glendalough Poitín: Revival of a lost spirit!

By Catherine L Luke


Poitín is as true and original an Irish whiskey as the heart and soul of the people who have kept it alive despite all the reasons it might have disappeared forever. The making of poitín is an old tradition that was once passed from father to son for a long, long time.  Recipes and reputations were crafted throughout generations of its distillation.  Over time, poitín gained many admirers and a good name.  People all around Ireland learned how to make it.

In 1661 King Charles outlawed the making of poitín.  It would remain illegal for over three-hundred years.  Once its ban was in place, families who decided to continue distilling in remote locations out of the prying eyes of the law.

This wasn’t an easy route.  British tax men and their armies found and stomped out small distilleries.  At a time communal fines were introduced whereas the entire communities were fined if a still was found within the townland.  There were shoot-offs and many tales of struggle, defeat, and courage in defense of this expression of heritage.  In the end, poitín is still alive and kickin’, so one must believe that despite much adversity, poitín and its people have won.

One of the few spirited crafters supporting the health of poitín is Glendalough Poitín, from the Glendalaugh Valley in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin.  Glendalough Poitín is the work of five Irish guys who grew up hearing the stories of the famed spirit.  They’ve put their efforts into to reviving and perfecting a very old recipe. 

That old recipe has, as of very recently, made its way to the U.S. market.  I had the chance to talk with Donal O’Gallachoir, one of the local guys behind of Glendalough Poitín.  Donal gained experience in the whiskey industry while working  for large whiskey brands, but made a decision to leave that behind and veer towards bringing back craft and independent distilling to Ireland.  He says there for a long time there was a focus on one mainstream style of Irish Whiskey from a couple of large distilleries, we want to take it in another direction to show the old craft style of distilling in Ireland and bring back some of these stories and this heritage. This, in part, is what convinced Donal and his friends that it was time to bottle and sell their own.

Donal and his partners were inspired by a local hero, St. Kevin.  St. Kevin was born into nobility, though left
the path that was expected of him to move to the woods where he lived as a lover of freedom and the natural world .  St. Kevin’s independent spirit drew people to him.  He fell into the role of leader of the people who had followed him to settle the glen.  There, St. Kevin became a monk and it is in these monastic settlements where the birth of distilling happened. His image is found on Glendalough Poitín’s bottle as his legend embodies all that is important to the brand.

And how about the recipe?  Much of its magic is in the technique.  Its base includes potato, barley, and Irish sugar beet.  Batches are made slowly and small.  They are batched distilled in a small pot-still, lending a unique character to each batch.  Three poitíns are made- two clear, and one aged in sherry oak casks.  Aging of the clear styles takes place in Irish oak casks that once held dry goods.

Glendalough is best served straight.  But for the cocktail-lover, it can do many things.  Donal says that it’s hard to mask the flavor of poitín, but easy to compliment it.  Here he has shared a few recipes created by a two talented mixologists during a Dublin cocktail competition.

“The Monk” (By Michal Lis, Gibson Hotel)
Glass: coupe glass
1 1/2 oz Glandalough Poitín
1/4 oz Fratelli d'Italia Amaretto
1/2 oz Luxardo Maraschino Cherry Syrup
3 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters
Garnish: orange peel & Maraschino cherries

*Shake and strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish.  A little orange zest over this one is a nice touch.

“Dubliners” (By Edvinas Rudzinskas, 4 Seasons Monaghan)
Glass: Champagne coupe glass
1 oz Glendalough Poitín
1/2 oz Irish whiskey
1/2 oz Monin Gingerbread Syrup
1/2 oz Fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz egg white
Garnish: Cinnamon stick, vanilla pod, and orange peel

*Put all the makings into cocktail shaker and dry shake or whip.  And afterward, shake with ice (if you dry shake first, it’s better for your egg white foam).  Then double strain into chilled champagne coupe glass.  Garnish it with cinnamon stick, vanilla pod, and orange peel flowers, if you have the wherewithal.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Catherine lives in Brooklyn, and has worked in the wine industry in Napa Valley and NYC. She is certified by the WSET, as well as the school of "wine in real life".  Understanding the patchwork of little-known Italian regional wines, dishes, and customs excites her most of all. She (sometimes) muses on her blog GrapesofCath.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Maple Syrup Sazerac

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

The maple syrup is just started to drip from the trees here in Northwestern, New Jersey. 

That’s my favorite time to get in touch with friends of mine who tap their own maple trees.  You see, the first run- in my opinion is the best for making cocktails.  I probably won’t put this nearly clear liquid over my pancakes because it lacks the deep, woodsy smack of long boiled syrup. 

The first run should be frozen into ice cubes!

The cocktail that reminds me most of springtime is the Maple Syrup Sazerac.  Similar to the textbook version of the Sazerac only in the word, Sazerac- this concoction includes both maple water ice cubes in the glass (horrors!) and a few teaspoons of dark amber maple syrup in the recipe.

Bookers Bourbon, rolling in at something north of 130 Proof is my choice for the base spirit.  There is no messing around with Bookers.  This is strong stuff.  Everything that I read about Bookers is true.  Cask Strength means trouble in the wrong hands!  Even the company recommends cutting this bourbon whiskey with some water.  In the case of this Maple Syrup Sazerac, the water is from a maple tree!

Carpano Antica makes headway into this cocktail, but not too much, just enough to wash the
inside of the glass.  There is a haunting sweetness about Carpano.  Perhaps this elegance of herbs and wine, aged in venerable barrels gives Carpano the edge over other Italian Sweet Vermouth.  I’m certainly not going to compare Carpano with anything available on the shelf in a supermarket, alongside cooking wine.  Carpano is ultra elegant and a little bit goes a long way as your essential go/to in this Maple Syrup Sazerac.

The bitters are also of utmost importance.  I’ve grown extremely fond of the Bitter Truth Creole Bitters.  Stained a vivid orange/red color, they emulate in color the famed Peychaud’s bitters, but possess a deeper, more aromatic nose.  Watch out for your white bucks, spill some of these bitters on them and the stain will be permanent!  Bitter Truth Creole bitters come in a lovely bottle that should be at the front of your bar!

The real maple syrup element is essential.  Don’t let me catch you using a corn syrup alternative, stained hideously by caramel coloring and sweetened with chemicals that vaguely imitate maple syrup. 

This is just not done. 

First of all, you should make friends with someone who taps their own maple trees.  Trade him some of your perfectly seasoned firewood that he will burn to heat his evaporator.  He might give you a pint or two of his first run maple water.  Then, later in the season maybe he’ll give you a taste of his darker colored syrup.  Maybe, if you offered to make your friend a Maple Syrup Sazerac with Booker’s Bourbon and Carpano Antica in addition to his syrup.  Well, that would be very nice.  This drink needs dark amber syrup to become otherworldly. 

You’ll see why in the end result.

The first thing that you need to do is take the first clear run of maple sap and cut it by ½ with pure, spring water.  Freeze that precious liquid overnight in a silicone ice cube tray.  I like the 2x2 ones for this cocktail. 

The next day you will have your maple ice, all ready for the Maple Syrup Sazerac.


Maple Syrup Sazerac

There are many ways of making a Sazerac.  Some are made in the classic method with Absinthe.  This Sazerac from my twisted mind filled with seasonal flavors takes a dog-leg to the right with the addition of the ever stylish, Carpano Antica in addition to the usual Absinthe.  I use them both because this drink really takes off with the herbal depth maintained in both ingredients. 

The maple syrup in this cocktail must be what is now named Grade A, Dark Amber.  It used to be called Grade B, but the powers that be in the maple syrup world thought grading something a B meant not as good as Grade A., but I digress. Grade B, stylistically, was perfectly suited to cooking and cocktails.  It has a dark and robust flavor. Cooking Maple syrup is not dainty in any way. 

Ingredients:
2 oz. Booker’s Bourbon
¼ oz. Artemisia-Bugnon Distillery "La Clandestine" Absinthe Superieure (for the float)
½ oz. Carpano Antica (for the wash)
½ oz. Dark Amber Maple Syrup
Six shakes Bitter Truth Creole Bitters

Preparation:
Wash a cut crystal glass out with the Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth from Italy (pour the Carpano into a glass and wash it around, coating all interior surfaces)
Add one large cube of the maple water ice to the glass, set aside to cool down nicely

To a cocktail mixing glass add some bar ice – no more then ½ filled, please

Add the Booker’s Bourbon
Add the Dark Amber Maple Syrup
Add the Creole Bitters

Stir to cool and combine, about thirty times

Strain over the cut crystal glass with the maple water ice
Float the Absinthe over the top with a bar spoon

Serve with a long twist of lemon
Serve this to your friend who gave you the syrup- and then make one for yourself!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rhône Reds

By Liza B Zimmerman

I cannot think of a better pairing for most fatty meat dishes or a more welcoming red to sip by the fire than a Rhône red. From the intensity of Cornas and the lush balance of Gigondas to the super values of the Côtes-du-Rhône in the South, I adore their tannic, spicy and peppery intensity. Every time a restaurant serves me a fatty duck or fruit-influenced venison dish and doesn’t pair it with a rustic Rhône red my disappointment is almost palatable.

I was first introduced to the value side of the Rhône Valley with Jaboulet’s Parallèle 45. It was the affordable red of choice at one of my favorite Syrian restaurant in the Village that no longer exists. Even if they have taken my Kibbe away, I can still enjoy these fruit-packed reds at home or on a picnic. M. Chapoutier's Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche is also a delicious bargain. Both these corporate Rhône-producing kingpins have the size and scale to make great wines at superb prices.

The High End of the Region
On visit to Jean-Luc Colombo’s vineyards in Cornas on a miserable rainy day more than a decade ago, I came to understand why the great reds of this region come in at big-ticket prices. As Mr. Colombo himself stood out on a wind-whipped vineyard and showed how small the parcels of land can be in Cornas and how little they can yield—in the wrong harvest—I truly understood why these wines command such hefty prices. I still have a lot of affection and respect for Colombo’s wines, although some might consider them too modern.

If price weren’t an object I would probably drink a lot of Yves Cuilleron’s wines from Cornas and Côte-Rôtie. They also make wine in Saint-Joseph, an appellation that is often too tight and dusty for me. Come summertime I would pour endless rivers of Tavel rosé, made mostly from Grenache grapes, at lunch and as an excuse to have a bite or a glass on someone’s balcony or up in wine country.

Party Games and More
Let’s not forget what a stellar job many California producers, particularly in and around Paso Robles, are doing with Rhône-grape based wines. Tablas Creek’s Côtes de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas have long been favorites. L’Aventure’s Optimus is a lush blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvginon and Petit Verdot. Owner Stephan Asseo is quite a character and tells great stories of how he ended up in Paso Robles, when he couldn’t afford to buy land in Napa, and did enough experimentation with local soils before he spoke a word of English to keep the realtors amused.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is one of the Rhône’s greatest appellations and it is challenge for even the biggestwine geeks to remember all the 13 grape varieties that are allowed to be used in the blend. When I was studying for the WSET Diploma—the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine—which I proudly completed more than a decade ago, we were afraid of being asked to name them on an exam. Playing, “Who can name all the 13 varieties in Châteuneuf-du-Pape?”  is also a great party game to indulge in if you run in wine-geeky circles.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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