Friday, December 26, 2014

Wines to Ring in the New Year

By Liza B. Zimmerman


I have never been a big fan of going out for an extravagant meal to fête the end of the year. It is so much nicer to celebrate at home and drink indulgent wine with a nice roast or a stew. Last year we made guinea hen, paired with copious amounts of rosé Champagne, and previous years have included steak and the occasionally the obligatory turkey (forgive my lack of enthusiasm).

Regardless of what you eat, in or out, sparkling wine is always a great way to kick off the evening. I adore classic Champagnes like Gosset, as well as festive sparklers such as Lambrusco. There are also many other great bubblies, often at a more affordable price point, from which to pop the cork on New Year’s Eve.

The Gruet family in New Mexico also makes some sensational and classically well-balanced sparkling wines. They may be tied for some of my favorites with Cremant d’Alsace and from the Loire Valley. There’s no doubt that many cool-climate, French winemaking regions are putting out some dynamite bottles.

On the less expensive, but still so enjoyable side, are Prosecco and Cava. These Italian and Spanish versions, respectively, may not be made in the traditional Champagne style but offer great flavors to start a meal or pair with food.

What to Serve with the Meal
A little red meat as a main course is always a great way to celebrate a new year. Those bitter vegetables and slow-roasted squash won’t mind these pairings as well. A big, fruit-forward red is always a crowd pleaser.

California Zinfandels have the alcohol level and sweet tannins to break down some of the animal fat on a lamb shank or pork roast. American Bordeaux-style blends will also step up these synergies with more acidity and complexity if you are making a stew. In my mind, there’s almost nothing better than a paprika-infused beef stew on a cold night.

If you are focusing on a more vegetarian or less meat-focused, a lean red with higher acidity would be ideal. A little Chinon, or any bright red from the Loire Valley, would fit the bill. So would a pale and tight Austrian red such as Zweigelt or Sptäburgunder. Some of the truly Old World-style Pinot Noirs from Oregon might work as well.

To End the Evening
A little off-dry Moscato with bubbles wiggling their way up to the top of the glass is always a diving way to end an evening. The Rhône Valley’s Muscat Beaumes du Venise aren’t a bad finale either. Otherwise perhaps a little Fernet Branca to finish the New Year on the right foot?


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.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Wines for Under the Tree

By Liza B. Zimmerman


Whether you fete your holidays by a tree, a Menorah or a Kwanza Bush, there are so many wines to enjoy. Joyful evenings are often best celebrated with a little bubbly. Most Proseccos and Cavas are showing better than ever at great price points, as are French sparkling wines from regions such as Alsace and the Loire Valley.

California makes an abundance of balanced and creamy sparklers, many from French houses and Oregon and Washington are also towing the line. Major corporate powerhouse Chateau Ste Michelle in Washington continues to produce some of the best sparkling wine for the price point. Lambrusco, from Italy, is rich in tannins, makes the tongue tingle and pairs so well with plates of holiday meats and cheeses you may want to lay out for appetizers.

Herbaceous Wines for the Season
With all the foliage that can deck the house as we move into the new year, wines with herbal notes almost put all the aromas in synergy. Crisp Sauvignon Blancs (some of us love whites when the heat is on or spend the last months of the year in warmer climes) has brambly notes. Some of my favorites are from the Loire Valley or Chile. Bordeaux is also making some smashing Suavignon Blanc-based wines, many blended with Semillon.

If you are serving cocktails for the holidays a dash of bitters in almost any drink does wonders for its aromatic profile. Many classic gins as well as Genevers also have abundant aromatics that can be touched off by just a hint of tonic, citrus or water.

Lush and Fat Wines for Feasting
If the end of the year is a time for you and your loved ones to pull out some stellar vintages and have an over-the-top celebration, may I suggest an older vintage from Tuscany or Piedmonte? Barbarescos always know how to bring to the party, while their lower-key cousins may keep it more understated and classic. Classic Tuscan wines and great Bordeaux are always great to serve and older vintages of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon can be exciting to taste if they have been well cellared.

Holiday celebrations are never bad times to break open those old bottles of Port and Madeira (your guests will be taking about your party for years to come). Later in the evening is also a great time to pull out those Magnums or even larger format bottles that put smiles on everyone’s faces. They could be Champagnes or classic reds. You could also wrap up the evening with great dessert wines—from Napa to Bordeaux there are abundant  choices—or even a little round of Fernet Branca to fortify the stomach for the new year.

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.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Cocktail: Reckless Originality

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

There is a haunting quality of artisan eau de vie that brings me to the table again and again.  Perhaps that’s why you drink eau de vie after a meal.  It is a digestive and it is meant to help you digest a good meal. 

In the brilliant little book: The Craft and Culture of Artisan Schnaps, the author Kirk Ross brings you to the table filled with marvelous anecdotes about this most unknown way to finish your meal.   He calls it the Schnaps Culture and for good reason.  Schnaps is good for you because it has enriched the native habitat in both Germany and Austria. 

There is a rather long word for what Schnaps do for digestion in a cultural sense of the word.  It is called Verdauungsschnaps.   This long word simply means digestive Schnaps.  The word you may be most familiar with in English is the French word, digestif.  According to the author, this is the same thing. 

Verdauungsschnaps is the opposite of an Aperitif!  An Aperitif is meant to stimulate your appetite, whereas the Verdauungsschnaps is for after a meal.  In other words, you drink Schnaps after the work of eating is done and digestion needs to be stimulated.  To put yourself into the historical context for drinking such important liqueurs, you must first imagine a time without electricity or refrigeration.  That time is easily forgotten in the modern vernacular.  As Americans, we have forgotten the bad old days when water was poisonous and most food could kill you.  Products in the “bitters” world were originally used for water purification and also to heal the gut when food poisoning was not an uncommon affliction.   Most people walked around in a constant state of pain from eating rotten food.  This wasn’t a surprise with the lack of sanitation in kitchens and in the fields.  Vinegar based Shrubs were not used just for pleasure, they provided a marvelous way to rid the body of food borne illness.  The same holds true for Schnaps, except Schnaps are not metered out like bitters, drop by precious drop- they are imbibed in small thistle shaped glasses, packed full of alcohol and bursting with fruit flavors.  They are as much a part of the culture of Austria and Germany as the wines that grace dinner tables.  Schnaps are an essential part of enjoying a filling meal because they help you pass food through the digestive tract.  Very important indeed!

In 250 AD, St. Florian was born in the Roman city of Aelium Cetiumin.  His first and most famous task was to organize the local firefighting brigades.  (He is known to this day as the patron saint of firefighters)  The long and the short of his life are well known.  He was persecuted for his religion and ended up becoming a martyr for his cause, which created a need to celebrate his life in a holiday, known as St. Florian’s Day in Europe.  This day of heavy eating and drinking is traditionally finished with a few shots of Schnaps to help digest the heavy food.  Some of these foods include bread, eggs, lard and of course Schnaps!

Schnaps play into the word “religious experience” more often than not because many of these festivals take place in the colder months where a nice flask of Schnaps tucked into the pocket of a pilgrim offers powerful warming along with healthy digestion of the traditionally heavy foods.  Whatever the case may be for Schnaps, they are part of the social thread and have been popular for hundreds of years.  Schnaps are indeed a way of life and they are certainly part of the Germanic culture. 

Schnaps and their cousins- Eau de Vie are life giving potions because they work!  Schnaps are not about getting drunk, nor are they purely about digestion.  What they are- is a way of life.  Schnaps are cultural and because they are part of life, Schnaps are edified as essential in life itself. 

If you can find a copy of The Craft and Culture of Artisan Schnaps I recommend it highly.  Not as a mere metaphor for drinking, but as part of a greater good, the appreciation of life.  White Mule Press in Hayward, California is the publisher of this marvelous little book with just under eighty pages… That certainly makes it little!

One of my favorite Schnaps- or as it reads on the label, Eau de Vie is produced by Clear Creek in Oregon.  This magnificent “tree-spirit” is no more than a couple of ingredients.  Brandy, fresh off the still is infused with freshly picked buds of the Douglas fir tree, long known as a flavorful and colorful medicinal in folk practices.  The Douglas fir possesses magical qualities and flavorings.  It becomes essential when added to the classic Gin and Tonic, made with Barr Hill Gin from Vermont and something like the Q-Tonic water from Brooklyn, NY. 

The Douglas fir Eau de Vie is added drop by drop as if you are adding bitters to heal your aching belly.  This marvelous liquor can also be enjoyed alone in a snifter with a lemon zest coating the rim and a large hand cut ice cube. 

The combination of citrus to fir tree essence is most beguiling indeed. 

I also like to add an ounce or so of the Clear Creek Eau de Vie of Douglas fir to a portion of Casa Noble Reposado Tequila.  In this case the lightly smoky and citrus tinged Tequila is made slightly green and even more aromatic and haunting with the addition of the Eau de Vie. 

I suggest trying it soon because this is a most marvelous and complex way to bring the high quality of Casa Noble Tequila to an even higher level. 

Reckless Originality
Ingredients:
1 oz. Eau de Vie of Douglas fir
2 oz. Casa Noble Reposado Tequila
1 oz. Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
1 oz. Jasmine Simple Syrup from Royal Rose in Maine
3-4 drops Bitter Truth Orange Bitters
Lemon Zest

Preparation:
Chill a Snifter with ice and water- when well chilled, pour out the ice and prepare your drink
To a Boston Shaker filled ¾ with ice:
Add the Casa Noble and the lime juice with the Jasmine Simple Syrup
Cap and shake hard for 15 seconds or so
Rub the lemon zest around the rim of the pre-chilled snifter
Pour the Douglas Fir Eau de Vie into the pre-chilled snifter
Top with the Casa Noble Tequila and Jasmine Simple Syrup that you’ve shaken in the Boston Shaker
Garnish with another lemon zest, pinched over the top to reveal the citrus elements essential to this digestive. 
Dot a couple (or more) drops of the Bitter Truth Orange Bitters over the top to finish…..


Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

About Warren Bobrow
Author of: Apothecary Cocktails-Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today- Fair Winds Press- Beverly, Massachusetts. Apothecary Cocktails was nominated for a Spirited Award, 2014 Tales of the Cocktail.  His forthcoming book, Whiskey Cocktails will be released October 14.  Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails follow with publication in spring ’15.  Warren is a master mixologist for several craft liquor companies.

Warren consults about mixology and spirits, travel, organic wine and food.  He’s written for web-blogs and magazines like: Williams-Sonoma, Whole Foods: Dark Rye, Distiller, Total Food Service Magazine, Beverage Media Group, DrinkUpNY, Edible Publications, Foodista, Serious Eats, Mechanics of Style and Beekman1802.  He was in the Saveur-100 in 2010.

Warren is a former, mostly self, trained cook from the pot sink on up.  J&W and ACF were thrown in for good luck.  Warren was the former owner/co-founder of Olde Charleston Pasta in South Carolina: *Dissolved his business after Hurricane Hugo in 1989* - to a career in private banking, (nearly 20 years; “a very grand mistake”) to this reinvention in 2009 as the Warren he's finally become.

Warren is available to do highly personalized, interactive mixology events, local, national and international.
PS: Warren's second book, Whiskey Cocktails is on the market now!
Contact: jockeyhollow@gmail.com

Monday, December 1, 2014

Wine and Truffle Pairing

By Liza B. Zimmerman


What do you pair with the most expensive mushroom in the world? While truffles are grown all over the world, some of the best white ones come from the truffle market in Alba in Northwest Italy. What grows together goes together is never a bad rule and at a recent lunch in New York Celebirty Cruises’ executive chef John Suley paired a $20,000 hunk of mushroom with a handful of Piedmontese classics: Arneis and a 13-year old Barolo.

The funk and earthiness of Piedmonte reds always work well with the layered umani flavors of truffles. Barberesco would also stand up to the challenge, while it might be a spicier match, as would Dolcetto. Chef Suley will have time to play around with the pairings, as the remaining truffles will be featured on a handful of upcoming cruises.

Creamy dishes, like the stellar risotto chef Suley made at lunch, need those somewhat acidic wines to cut through the lushness of the truffles. Aged wines or those not too tannic to begin with would also be my first choice. Oftentimes the best pairings with Italian food are simple, notes Suley, so there’s no need to overthink it.

French Pairings
Truffles, more black than white, are also found in the South of France. So hearty and tannic wines like Cahors and Madiran will stand up to truffle-strewn dishes. Black truffles, according to Suley, are a little earthier. These classic Southwestern wines will also highlight the depth and intensity of meat-based dishes, such as veal cheeks or beef stew. I might also go well with a rougher grain like Polenta, which is generally served in cooler climes in Italy.

These rougher and more intense flavors of the black verisons can stand up to a younger wines with a more tannic flavor profile. Powerhouse Bordeauxs, Suley adds, are good for both black and white truffle pairings.


A California Twist
Truffles have been grown stateside for a number of years, in places like Oregon and the Napa Valley. Both the European classics and the up-and-comers are featured every year in the epicurican bacanal that is the Napa Valley Truffle Festival.

So a handful of domestic wines can also highlight the flavors of both black and white truffles. Chef Suley says in terms of Califonria wines, he would start with Pinot Noir and scale up into Pinot Noir. The funky, earlier Pinots from California with a more moderate alchol level would do the trick. A good example would be Heron’s delicate and balanced Pinot Noir with an alcohol by volume of 13 percent.

I often find California Cabernents’ tannins to be too strong to work well with delicate umani flavors that come from truffles. California Bordeaux-style blends, with the added softness of a touch of Merlot or the dustiness of a hint of Cabernet Franc can help soften the wine’s style so it supports, rather than overwhelms a truffle-inspired dish. Washington’s Cabernet Sauvignon and those coming out of Chile at a higher-price point would also do well with the aromatic profile that truffles lend to dishes.

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.