A very good friend of mine is getting married this Fall who posed a wine pairing conundrum: which wine to serve? While there are endless possibilities, her situation had a couple of caveats:

1) The venue for the reception does not allow any red wine to be served, because the space is actually lined with white marble.
2) Oh, lamb is on the menu, so that white wine should pair well with that too…
3) … and there will be around 300 guests, so it has to have an excellent price to quality ratio.

The issue is a common one, I think, and we actually challenged ourselves in an office tasting two years ago that I wrote about on snooth, in which we paired whites wines with barbecue and red wines with fish … with great results. But on a value level (witAThinahout compromising quality, of course), it poses another level of difficulty.

It is easy enough to find a white wine that behaves like a red wine–but only at a certain price point. Wines with great, red wine-like structure, like a Savennières or a Ramato-style Pinot Grigio from Friuli, are not inexpensive, typically starting at around $30 on the retail shelf. Not exactly ideal for a larger crowd of 300.

The solution came after brainstorming with many of my restaurateurs and retailers. More off than not, the answer that came back was Assyrtiko from Greece (pronounced Ah-sere-tea-koh).

And why not? They do serve lots of lamb in Greece, so why not choose a Greek white? Grown on the poor soils of a volcanic crater-island, Assyrtiko offers richness, minerality, smoky, haunting flavors, making it a wine that really does lend itself well to red meat (and it works, we had it with meatloaf last weekend to test it out). And there are several good ones on the market: Athina, Argyros, Gai’a, Sigalas. Try it for yourself. And if it piques your interest, you can find out more about Assyrtiko and other Greek wines here or in a recent article by Eric Asimov.

This week we had the privilege of having a Q&A and casual lunch with Greg Lambrecht, the inventor of the wine preservation gadget called Coravin that I blogged about last December. Since I have been using this device in the NYC market almost daily, I thought what else is there to know? Turns out quite a bit.  IMG_2221

The story of its development is fascinating. Before inventing the Coravin, he invented lots of medical devices, such as better, more comfortable ways to administer chemotherapy to patients (and not surprisingly, many of these medical devices had needles). When his wife became pregnant with their second child, he needed a way to tap into his wine without committing to the consumption of an entire bottle. The approach in developing this wine saving device was truly scientific as well, with lots of trial and error. Nitrogen was apparently a runner up to argon, but at the five year mark of tasting control samples, the wines under nitrogen didn’t hold up. Under argon? No detectable difference between a new and ‘accessed’ bottle.

Our office wine room is littered with Coravin’d bottles that did not, in fact, stand the test of time. It was necessary to sample any bottle before taking it out (the latest turned bottle was a Dupont Tissanderot Mazis-Chambertin 1996, sigh). So here are some tips for how to have this NOT happen:IMG_2224

  • First, it is essential to clear the needle of air and/or wine before EVERY use, otherwise you are introducing oxygen to that bottle. You can watch a demonstration here.
  • Second, throw away the yellow needle and spout protectors. Keeping them on creates the perfect environment for microbial spoilage, which can also be transferred to the wine resulting in a slow death.

Lastly, besides Greg being so absolutely likable, there is still a lot of excitement about the Coravin and the product is about to go international. I even had a few of my buyers attend this seminar and they got to play with it first hand. Greg does admit that in his years of developing the product, he never even considered that his biggest supporters would be in wine distribution.

Sarah Ford, Beverage Director at Aquavit, tests out the Coravin.

Sarah Ford, Beverage Director at Aquavit, tests out the Coravin.

We all know the basic four when it comes to tasting: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. In fact, these four have been the unchallenged quartet since the days of Aristotle and Plato.

To this pantheon has now been added Umami (introduced in the 19th century), which is now generally accepted as the ‘fifth’ taste. Umami can most simply be described as savory, and is often encountered in the world of tasting saké. (Check out the Umami Information Center to learn more).

It is apparently MUCH more complicated than this, however. An article in today’s New York Times now suggests there may be way more than five, for example: “fattiness, soapiness and metallic”. Scientists now not only recognize additional receptors on the palate previously unknown, but also that there may be additional receptors in the intestine. Moreover, the majority of these taste receptors are operating on an unconscious level. This has helped us steer clear of poisonous foods as well as to recognize what is nutritious. Based on these tastes, we are either “thrilled or repulsed”.

It’s a fascinating topic, and humbling to know how little we understand about taste. And now off to breakfast!

 

Wine consumers in New York should be aware of what is happening in Albany right now that could greatly affect Cork Taxthe cost and choices of the wines they can drink. The legislation is called ‘At-Rest’ and it means that wine needs to be warehoused in New York state at least one day prior to sale to restaurants and retailers. The problem is that all mid- and small-size distributors warehouse their wine in New Jersey, which is closer to the port where wine arrives from abroad. Only the two largest distributors, Southern and Empire warehouse in state, and so no surprise, they are the ones pushing hard for this bill. In fact, they have collectively donated more than $500,000 to Governor Cuomo and Senator Jeff Klein (and a few others up north) to get this nonsense passed. Why? Because they want to crush the competition, and they will do so by any means in order to increase their own profits.

This is a bill that solves nothing but could be detrimental to many. Not only will many of the smaller guys potentially go out of business (my company included), but consumers can expect far fewer choices at much higher prices, as much as $7 a bottle! It has all the makings of a fairy tale, in which a big bad wolf with sharp fangs preys on innocent grandmothers, but it is indeed a very real threat.

So what can you do to bring about a happier ending? Go to Stop the Cork Tax and tell Albany to put ‘At-Rest’ to rest, for good.

Do you have a Savvy Drinker in your life? Here are some fun gift ideas that are a little off the beaten path:

1. Hario Mizudashi Cold Brewer (ritualroasters.com), $25. ritual-113_largeThis slow, cold brewer takes about 18-25 hours per batch, but for those who don’t mind the wait, it delivers a rich, low acidity cup of chilled joe that is perfect for cocktails–or when summer comes back–iced coffee!

2. DIY Cocktail Bitters Kit (uncommongifts.com), $30. A perfect gift for the mixologist that likes to start from scratch, seriously. Geeky enough for the aficionado but easy enough for the novice, this kit as everything you need to make your own artisanal bitters.

3. Tea Infuser Travel Mug (momastore.org), $20. It’s high time that the tea drinker was also considered for needing beverages-on-the-go. Simply add your tea into the the double-walled diffuser, and hit the road while your tea steeps. This elegant cup was featured in MoMa’s 2010 exhibit “Counter Space”, which focused on items that revolutionized the kitchen. BPA free, microwave OK, dishwasher safe, all good things.Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 8.01.34 AM

4. Wrought Iron Handbag Wine Cork Art Cage (homewetbar.com), $26. Are homeless corks taking over your life?? Here is an artful home for them, though admittedly more for the ladies. But don’t worry guys, you can also get one in the shape of a boot, bottle or … slot machine?

5. A Rare Tea: Phoenix Ginger Flower, 2 oz (inpursuitoftea.com), $29. This exquisite Chinese tea is from Wu Dong Mountain in the Guangdong Province. This hand-twisted tea is noted for its “heady, honey-sweet aromas” and “deep flavors of ripe melon and citrus.” (Side note: 2 oz of tea will deliver about 25 8-oz cups.)

6. Dave Wondrich’s “Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, A Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar“, (amazon.com), $20. Honestly, I think the title says it all… It is a truly great read from one of the leading voices in the mixology scene.

7. Rabbit Wine Stoppers (containerstore.com and elsewhere), $5 each. These colorful wine stoppers preserve what you can’t finish in that bottle (if that ever happens!). May not be exciting in their own right, but paired with a bottle of that favorite something, it makes a deliciously practical gift.malort-flask

8. Letherbee Malört (slopecellars.com), $38/Liter … but also available in 200ml flask size for under $30. Swedish for wormwood, this obscure liqueur from that beloved Chicago trio has been getting a lot of attention for its range of flavors, and not always pleasant ones! So give that hardcore mixologist in your life the “Malört face“, the perfect gift for those who savor the more unusual things in their glass …

9. Whiskey Stones (thinkgeek.com), $20-30. Want the chill of ice in that drink without the dilution? These soapstone (mined in Vermont) cubes manage just that and travel well in the carrying bag, included. Your choice of package of 9 or 18.

10. And finally, the World Atlas of Wine (iTunes.apple.com), $25. This comprehensive tome from wine superstars Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson now comes in an interactive version for the iPad. For me, the best parts are the maps of all wine regions, which include not only topographical detail of all appellations but also locations of key producers. And so much easier to carry around than the physical book!

Please share any other ideas for the holidays … and good luck with the shopping!

Critics rave about the 2005 vintage in the Rhône Valley and the 2010 vintage in Chablis, but how about that 1700 BCE vintage in the wine region of Canaan? The New York Times reported a few weeks ago that the world’s oldest wine cellar had been discovered at the Tel Kabri site in northern Israel. AmphoraThe findings were on a  palatial scale, as archaeologists unearthed around forty large amphoras that had traces of acid associated specifically with wine–the equivalent of 3000 bottles of red and white wine! This is the largest and oldest cellar found to date, and it may not have been the only cellar in this Canaanite palace.

But perhaps more impressive is that this ancient culture seems to have had a taste for an early form of glühwein (pronounced GLOO-vine): wine mixed with flavorings such as honey, cinnamon bark, mint and juniper berries (maybe that vintage wasn’t actually very good!). Sadly the building and presumably its inhabitants were destroyed by ‘some violent event’ but glühwein certainly lived on, although it is now more commonly associated with the Austrians and Germans — especially around the holidays. You can still make it today by following this simple recipe, and when you do, raise a glass for those ancients!

The holidays came early this year with my purchase of an exciting new gadget called a Coravin, a new wine preservation system. This is a small device you can use to tap into a wine without removing its cork, that is, it’s as though the bottle has never been opened. This clever tool was innovated by Greg Lambrecht, a man who just wanted to have a glass now and again without needing to consume the whole bottle. It is also a useful tool to test whether that special wine is now ready to drink (maybe it needs a few more years?). You can now sneak a taste and eliminate the guesswork.

While it was designed for the wine collector, I believe it has had an even greater effect on the wine industry itself. For my part, I can sample high end wines to my retail and restaurant accounts without worry (and therefore sell more wine too). Prior to my purchase, I would never have dared sample that Dupont-Tissanderot Mazis-Chambertin 2006 without having at least twelve appointments! Now, no problem.

Sommeliers benefit because they can now pour a much broader range of wines without concern of spoilage. So in finer, more cutting edge restaurants, like Lafayette, it is now possible to find a high end wine like Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Côte Rôtie poured by the glass. Retailers, too, can also sample their customers on a wine before its purchase. This game-changing gadget has been affectionately nicknamed the ‘mosquito’, as there is indeed something a little vampiric about it!

My new toy

Here is how it works:

You can use it on any bottle with a true cork, NOT screw cap and definitely not sparkling wine. Simply pull the needle down and clamp it around the neck of the bottle. The needle should be resting right on top of the cork, and there is no need to even remove the foil or dressing.

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Once fastened, push the needle into the cork. As the needle is quite sharp, it doesn’t require much physical effort to penetrate the bottle.

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Hold the bottle upside down with the spout positioned over your glass and quickly press the button on the handle (it doesn’t take much, maybe a second). As wine leaves the bottle, argon gas goes inside the bottle in its place.

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Once you upright the bottle again, the wine will cease to pour. While holding the clamp, simply pull the needle back out and the injected cork heals itself. The argon inside the bottle perfectly preserves the wine and has no effect on its flavor. You could ‘coravin’ (now also used as a verb) that wine to the last drop over a couple of years (or potentially longer) without compromising it … Brilliant!

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The one drawback is the high price tag of $300 and, at $10 a pop, those argon canisters are not cheap either. Each argon canister is screwed into the handle base, a design not unlike a whipped cream canister, and each is good for about 60 one-ounce tastes or 7-8 generous glass pours. So it’s really NOT ideal to use it on a bottle you intend to finish that evening (or even the next day) and certainly not on a wine under $15. But if this sounds like the right tool for you, find out more about it here.

On Monday evening, I put my pairing guidelines to the test (place, structure and flavor) posted earlier this week.   All the wines worked very well with each course and participants were amazed at how much the wine changed after trying them with the different courses. Flight two was especially fun in that a white wine worked with meat and a red wine worked with the creamy risotto … it was a fun and delicious evening, to say the least!

Here was the line up:

FLIGHT ONE.

Trio of ceviche: tuna and watermelon, scallops and avocado, wild salmon and oysters.

Viña Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2012. A lively, crisp wine from the home of ceviche (Casablanca Valley, Chile). Intense aromas of lime, grapefruit and pineapple with crisp acidity that is typical for this variety. 

Pionero Mundi Rias Baixas Albariño 2011. This aromatic white wine comes from the northwest corner of Spain (known as Green Spain for its Celtic and maritime influences). Seafood dominates the cuisine here! 

Other wines that could worked with this course: Dry Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley or South Africa, dry or off-dry Riesling, northern Italian Pinot Grigio (Alto Adige), Vermentino, Prosecco, or a rosé with vibrant acidity.

* * * * *

FLIGHT TWO.

Long Island duck breast with English peas risotto, white asparagus and crispy leeks.

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Ca dei Frati Lugana 2012. The Veneto is the capital of risotto, so I went with the local white made from Trebbiano di Lugana, which was aged on the lees for six months for added weight and flavor.

Domaine Chaponne Cuvée Joseph Morgon 2010. This Beaujolais cru is made entirely from Gamay, a lighter red with lighter tannins, but great acidity and lots of berry, cherry flavor.

Other wines that could have worked with this course: Viognier from Northern Rhône, Gewurztraminer, dry Furmint, any of the Beaujolais Crus, unoaked Pinot Noir, Barbera from Piedmont, Valpolicella Classico (Corvina), Bardolino, Grignolino, Tempranillo roble (lighter style), premium Lambruscos, Cabernet Franc from Loire Valley (Saumur, Anjou Rouge, Bourgeuil), Zweigelt from Austria.

* * * * * 

FLIGHT THREE.

Roasted Colorado lamb loin with Spring vegetable succotash and rosemary jus.

Kir-Yanni Ramnista 2009 (Xinomavro). A wild red from one of Greece’s best winemakers, this grape is often described as a stylistic cross between Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, it ages beautifully.

 Domaine le Galantin Longue Garde Bandol Rouge 2000. This is a personal favorite of mine for roast beef and lamb. Made from a blend of old vine Mourvedre and Grenache from southern France, made only in select vintages. 

Other wines that could have worked with this course: Cabernet Sauvignon, Northern Rhône Reds (Côte-Rotie, St-Joseph) Merlot, Tuscan Cabernet Franc, Aglianico from Southern Italy, Agiorgitiko from mainland Greece, Blaufranksich, Douro reds (Touriga Nacional).

There is only one real rule: If you like a food and wine pairing, it works. If peanut butter and Sauvignon Blanc tickles your fancy, go with it. Simple as that! (But you might want to get friends something else to drink … )

In fact, there are some simple ‘guidelines’ that can help you navigate this complex, often daunting, task of wine and food pairing. And knowing some of these basics can also get you away from that old adage that you can serve only white wine with fish and red wine with meat. One has far more options than that.

Here they are:

ONE: PLACE. Is there a traditional food for that wine region? Chances are high the local wine will go very well with that! Oysters with briny Muscadet sur Lie, elegant Pauillac with roast lamb, Chianti with pasta e fagioli

TWO: STRUCTURE, or how the wine ‘feels’ in the mouth. This gets into the real ‘science’ of food pairing, and includes acidity, sweetness, weight (or body), tannins.

  • Acidity in food should be matched in the wine.
  • Acidity can cut through lighter, fatty dishes like salmon, cream sauces or pork tenderloin.
  • A wine should be as sweet or sweeter than the food (and by this I mean sugar, not fruitiness).
  • Off-dry or sweeter wines pair great with spicy foods.
  • Match weightier dishes with weightier wines (and vice versa).
  • Or don’t. Contrast a weighty dish with a lighter wine (or bubbles), just make sure the wine is intensely flavored if you do.
  • Tannins require meat.
  • Avoid tannic wines when eating salty or spicy foods.

THREE: FLAVORS (which are really aromas). This is the most subjective of the three guidelines, but one can get more creative here!

  • Contrast your flavors (Sweet and sour, salty and sweet, savory and sweet)
  • Or don’t. Match them: Echo a flavor in the food: a peppery note with a spicy wine.
  • One of my favorites: pairing with cilantro? Pick a wine that has lime and citrus notes in it … delicious.

I will actually be putting this all to practice for members of the distinguished Lotos Club tomorrow evening … stay tuned for the menu and what worked.

Ligurian feast

This week I had the pleasure of pairing up with Jordan Zimmerman, the Education Director at Murray’s Cheese, for a consumer event at City Winery. My job was to select Greek wines; hers was to find the right cheese for each one. All the results were amazing, but here are three of my favorites and why they worked:

Pairing one: TEXTURE
The Wine: Moraitis Sillogi 2010. A blend of Assyrtiko and Malagousia from the Cycladic Islands, with crisp acidity and notes of honeydew melon, ripe apples, white pepper and a hint of minerality.
The Cheese: Hudson Flower: Sumptuously creamy sheep’s milk cheese from upstate with a bloomy, herbaceous rind–lemon thyme, marjoram, rosemary and more.

What worked? The zesty brightness (ie. acidity) of the wine harmonized perfectly with the dense, almost buttery texture of this cheese. Wines with higher acidity tend to refresh the palate when eating richer, fattier foods. In the same way, sparkling wines achieves the same effect: bubbles and paté, anyone?

Sillogi

Pairing two: BALANCE
The Wine: Semeli Mountain Sun Red 2010. A mainland red from the Peloponnese made entirely from Agiorgitiko. Bright notes of ripe, dark cherry, plum  and a hint of mocha with a spicy finish and although this isn’t a big wine, it does have some tannic backbone.
The Cheese: Ossau-Iraty Vieille. A granular cheese from the Pyrenees with rich, nutty and grassy flavors.

What worked? This pairing worked because this wine and cheese were balanced in both weight (eg non-fat milk versus half and half) and intensity of flavors. Neither was overpowered by the other.

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Pairing three: FLAVOR
The Wine: Kiryanni Ramnista 2007. This wine, made from Xinomavro, showed beautifully, with lots of flavors unfolding on the palat: blackberries, dried cherries, tea leaves, smokiness.

The Cheese: Madaio Calcagno. Made from the milk of sheep grazing on Sardinian wild herbs and aged in stone caves in Campania– a truly Mediterranean cheese– with a wealth of flavors.

What worked? These wines achieved balance in the broad flavors and level of complexity. Flavors can be either complementary (matching citrus notes with fruit in a salad) or contrasting (chutney and roast tenderloin). For this pairing the intertwining flavors really elevated the sensory experience.

KIR - Ramnista

All this said however, any wine and cheese pairing is successful if you like it. And when it comes to pairing, the fun is in the trial and error… Even a bad match can be educational!