Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Hamptons Style Wine & Burger Combo

In celebration of the Mayans being wrong and the end of the 2012 year, my wife and I decided to head out and treat ourselves to a amazing meal at the only speakeasy in East Hampton. We kept hearing about this locals’ secret hangout in one of the most prestigious and upscale restaurants in the entire area; the 1770 House.

Until recently, I had only known about the 1770 House as a place for those with Amex Black Cards, and never patroned the restaurant.  But a colleague of mine explained about this locals’ secret hangout that had the old speakeasy feel with probably the best burger I would ever have.  Challenge accepted.

As we descended the “hidden in plain sight” stairs in the foyer, we found this wonderful, dimly lit, wooden bar with exposed wood beams across the ceiling and a small, 4 person corner bar.  Immediately, we went into restaurant mode and grabbed the wine list and started our search.  What wine would pair up against supposedly the best burger around?  It had to be loaded with intensity but elegant enough not to overpower the meat.  But what would work best?

Then, as if the Moses himself parted the black ink sea on the menu, we saw the 2005 La Rioja Alta Vina Alberti Rioja Reserva.  Talk about a truly sexy Tempranillo.  If you have never had the ability to jump into this bottle, I highly suggest it. Hailing from the premier region in Rioja called La Rioja Alta (this is the only winery that is named after the actual region the winery is in – no one else can ever do this again), this Tempranillo is one that should not be missed.

Quite simply, these are some of the finest Riojas that can grace your cellar: complex, refined, classic but without compromising fruit intensity and to reiterate: wines that speak about where they come from. 
–Neal Martin of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

But before we get more into the wine, I almost forgot to talk about “the burger even cows would eat.”  I have to admit that I was expecting a burger that was good, but nothing monumental or legendary.  I was wrong!  WAY WRONG!  This is, hands down the best burger I have ever had.  I’m going to say, I ordered my burger with the gruyere cheese, grilled mushrooms and bacon (as was suggested by Rick, the bartender) and I would suggest that when you order nirvana when you go.  A perfect 60/40 of lean meat and fat (a highly unusual blend but AMAZING), this perfectly cooked hunk o meat (yeah, that just happened) was divine.  Rich and flavorful with a perfect balance and no noticeable fat anywhere.  Just rich, red meat.  Yum!

Ok, now back to the wine.  Rioja is a region that screams Tempranillo and Tempranillo blends.  Winemakers generally make their wines with the three noble grapes of the region; Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano.  The other two are usually used in Reserva and Gran Reserva cuvees however the best cuvees are 100% Tempranillo.  La Rioja Alta’s 2005 Reserva is just that; both 100% Tempranillo and the best cuvee! This cuvee just opened up perfectly.  Layered wonderfully with bramble (this is by far one of my favorite “wine jargon” words out there as it means earthy, crap-like smells – bramble really does sound better) notes and dark red cherry fruits.

As the marriage of wine and meat met in my mouth more of the wines seductive layers started to emerge and she took control of the evening for a bit.  The tannins were extremely silky and became almost none existent once they came in contact with protein in the meat, making a purely gorgeous wine.  That little touch of pepper was a perfect compliment to the earthy mushroom/gruyere mixture making this a marriage made in heaven.

If you are searching for a perfect pairing, sneak yourself into the basement speakeasy of the 1770 House in East Hampton and start with an order of the burger (preferably with the mushrooms, gruyere and bacon).  Then pair that up with the 2005 La Rioja Alta Rioja Reserva and prep yourself for greatness.  You will not be disappointed.  You will actually finally have an undisputed “the best thing I ever eat and drank” story.  Plus, if you happen to be there on an evening when Rick is there, be prepared to add some wonderful humor to your evening. You will most likely see me and my wife at the bar doing the same.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Lagunitas IPA

Tonight, my wife and I went out to use a gift card she had received from her boss for a local restaurant, and I rekindled my love affair with a beer I haven’t had in quite some time; Lagunitas IPA.  If you are unfamiliar with this San Francisco area based brewery, now is the prefect time to become addicted to one greatest west coast breweries ever!  Started back in 1993, Lagunitas Brewery is the brainchild of several friends who all descended upon Petaluma, California to fulfill a lifelong desire to make their own beer.  And their result is one of the greatest and most sought after groups of beers in the nation.  Lagunaitas’ style is making supercharged ales.  Their beers are loaded with hops and malts but are balanced and smooth. 

So, as we were out for dinner tonight, I was running through my usual internal debate about what beer to have with dinner, when I noticed a new beer to the list that I realized, I haven’t had in almost a year.  The debate was over and I went for the Lagunitas IPA.  I truly love this beer but I really think that the beer brewing geniuses at Lagunitas put it the best; “ruthlessly delicious…homicidally hopped for drinking enjoyment.”

Make sure, if you ever see any (ANY) Lagunitas beer on a beer store’s shelf or in a bar or restaurant, order it up immediately and enjoy your newest obsession in the world of adult beverages.  Now, I am back to another one, and hopefully you get to one soon.

Naked Breasts & Champagne

I recently published an article via ( that I feel is perfectly fitting for the biggest party of the year that is right around the corner; New Year's Eve!  Enjoy.

No, you didn’t read this wrong. Before the world was used to traditional
Champagne flutes that are used every New Years Eve, every birth, every promotion and in every strip club, the world was used to drinking out of a glass that had a more voluptuous nature to them. Or at least they thought it had a voluptuous nature to it.
The rumor had it that the original coupe glasses were molded after Marie
Antoniette’s (Queen of France in the late 1700s) left breast so that she could have her court toast to her good health. The truth is that this glass goes back further than Marie
Antoniette but the fiction is much more intriguing then the fact. But how did something as interesting and sexy as creating a glass for Champagne molded after a monarch’s left naked breast make it’s way into the world’s rumor mill? Easy, it’s partially true (shocking that history misconstrued a partial truth as fact).
Let me explain. Marie Antoniette was a bit of a unique woman with a strong belief in a back-to-nature view of life and made her subjects follow suit. In doing so, Marie actually had milk bowls fashioned from her left breast and it is from here that the story was most likely twisted up with the Champagne coupe.
Marie was a touch kinky. Truly she was. Her milk bowls were fashioned (most likely as supportive as Victoria’s Secret but nowhere near as comfortable) to be part of her “Pleasure Dairy” which was when her and her subjects ran around pretending to be milkmaids. They would frolic around, churn butter, dispense milk and dance in her rustically designed chateau in Versailles.
It was this act, along with her widely known obsession with the sexual practicings of Venus and Bacchus, that most likely caused the confusion of the history of this great glass. Although the truth isn’t as interesting as the myth, give me the myth any day of the week as sex generally trumps truth. So raise a coupe glass and enjoy the myth.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

To Screwcap Or Not To Screwcap...That Is The Question.

I know that most people have a stigma about wine when it comes bearing a screwcap but I have a wine that will help put your issues to rest.  First off, let's dissect why a winery would use a screwcap (known as a Stelvin closure).  Traditional cork comes from either Portugal (mainly) or Spain and is shaved from cork trees once the tree turns about 25.  After the first stripping, the tree is stripped every ten years until the tree dies when it turns 200, although the first 2 strippings are usually too poor to use for quality level cork.

Now let's think about the wine world in the last 20 years and how some many new regions are making quality wines, requiring quality corks.  Since the demand is so high for cork, more trees are being shaved prematurely and therefore the end result, the wine, suffers.  With this explosion of crappy cork on the marketplace, compressed and plastic corks started making an appearance.  If you have been the happy recipient of a plastic cork, you know how hard it is to pull out of the bottle, but what you may have not known, the wine tends to suffocate as plastic doesn't breathe.  The cheaper the wine, the higher possibility  of a plastic cork.

Well, with this increasing usage of subpar cork, the investment in Stelvin (the name of the brand) closures, seemed like the best possible alternative.  Usually, a screwcap is thought of as a true indicator of a poor bottle of wine (ie, Gallo, Franzia, Carlo Rossi, etc.) but a Stelvin is a different style of closure that actually helps a wine age without having to be laid down on it's side.  If you think about it, a cork allows a wine to age because it's porous and allows oxygen in, allowing the wine to breathe.  If you open a young bottle (the year you drink it is close to the year on the label) and notice that the longer it's open the better it tastes, it's because oxygen has oxidized the juice and, effectively, aged it.  Like all living things (yes, wine is living and breathing), wine does die and it's a truly sad thing to behold.  So, the Stelvin company decided to take the screwcap world to the next level with a neutral liner inside that helps preserve the wine.

Enough schooling and textbook talk and let's talk vino.  The wine that sparked this post is one that I brought home from my favorite region in the world for wine; Burgundy France.  The 2010 Domaine Laroche Bourgogne Blanc Tete de Cuvee is the perfect under $20 bottle of Burgundy.  See all the info about this wine here (

Thursday, November 8, 2012

First Date Wine That Can Equal SEX!

One of the most difficult parts of the dating world for me when dealing with a first date scenario is not the actual asking the other out, or deciding what to do, but when a meal is part of the equation (and when is it not on the first go around on the dating table) and deciding what wine to have to truly impress. I want to make a lasting impression in every aspect of this first meeting and generally try to not let something so small as the wine backtrack me. But what to choose?

The choice of the wine is the hardest part of all of the first date meal scenarios. Do I choose red or white? Do I throw in a rose wine? How expensive do I go? $10? $50? $100? And when I walk into the liquor store (if the dinner is at home), do I trust a recommendation or do I choose on my own knowledge? If I’m at a restaurant, do I trust the sommelier or do I again go with my gut? My goal here, if you remember, is to make sure there is a second date and the right bottle makes all the difference. So where to begin? 

Most people are firm believers that the “right” wine must be paired with the “right” food. I believe in a different philosophy; A good wine goes with anything, it’s all about the moment. The food helps but isn’t truly important. 

Let’s start with a dinner at home example, shall we? What do I go with? I personally like to be different. I don’t just want to pour a Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. I want something that my potential partner may have never had. But I have to make sure I don’t seem like I’m cheaping out. Basically, no brand name wines (if you can think of a brand of wine, don’t buy it) and no trendy grapes (ie: Malbec or Montepulciano) because people associate both with a certain price point (inexpensive). Instead I like to pick something relatively unknown to my dinner partner and allowing me to use the history of the wine as an ice breaker if the conversation goes dull. I always need to have a backup, just in case. 

If I am going for a white, I will generally either go for a white Rioja from the Rioja region of Spain (made from a grape called viura) or an Italian grape called Falanghina from the Campania region of Italy. The white Rioja is a little more full bodied (similar to Chardonnay without the oaky mess some can have) while the Falaghina is more citrusy and floral and acidic (more akin to Sauvignon Blanc but not as grassy or as acidic). When the situation calls going for a red wine, I prefer to go to Italy and get a cannanou (grenache) from the island of Sardinia. This is more full bodied and tannic style of a wine. For a lighter/medium bodied wine, I love to get a Bourgogne (red Burgundy aka Pinot Noir), which is much more elegant and a layered. I like to do a little research on the wine if I want to and have small bullet points about the wines that I can drop slowly throughout the dinner. 

These wines generally will all retail under the $20 mark allowing me to save but be creative and impressive. If you are looking to save money here, ask yourself if $20 is worth the price of coitus? If you want to be cheap about the end game, go to the local bar and find a partner at 3am and enjoy your penicillin. Otherwise, open your wallet and pull out an Andrew Jackson and have an amazing evening and some amazing wine. 

Now what happens when our first rendezvous is out at a restaurant? Well, this requires a bit more thought and finesse. The first and most important rule here is don’t cheap out!  Never go for the cheapest bottle on the menu. If the restaurant’s sommelier is worth their salt, they will sprinkle in treats at the $40-$50 range. 

If I am going for whites, for a litter white, I will search out a Cheverny from the Loire Valley region of France, which is made from Sauvignon Blanc. For a more full bodied white, I will search out a Godello from the Galicia region of Spain as this wine is very similar to chardonnay but has a very unique and intriguing character. When searching out a red, I love going back to France and Spain. For my more medium bodied reds, I almost always go for a Chinon (100% cabernet franc) from the Loire Valley of France while with more full bodied reds, I head to Verona, Italy for a Valpolicella (which is a blend of three indigenous grapes) and very similar to the monster wine Amarone, without the price tag. 

To make sure I am not caught off guard or come off underprepared, I try to research the restaurant and get a copy of their wine list. This allows me to try and figure out a few possible wines that might work for the mood because, as you remember my personal motto, the wine must match the mood, not the food. All this requires about 10 minutes of work, max!

While all of the previous information is helpfully, please remember that this is not scripture. This is not meant to be taken as the end all, be all. This is one man’s opinion based on experience and track record. Substitutions are always allowed but the premise should always be the same; affordable but off the beaten track wines that allow you to make this dinner hopefully end with a wonderful breakfast. That is the goal here, right? There is a reason that Bacchus, the god of wine, is also the god of ritual madness and ecstasy.  All these things tend to go hand and hand. He might even be the god of safety words, but that’s another story, for another writer, for another day. In the meantime, when you meet that “dinner guest” of yours, make sure you don’t come off boring and dull in your wine choice, otherwise you will be going home alone. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Is that ice in your beer?"

This was a question that I received today from one of the other daytime drinkers that was lucky enough to escape the real world for a few hours in what we call happy hour. I was a little surprised at the question but that was mainly because I forgot what I drinking. I had grabbed a drink from the bartender that not two years ago I would have never even thought about ordering at any bar regardless of happy hour; a cider!

I always thought of hard ciders as rich, cloyingly sweet drinks that guarantee headaches yet a new brand became available and someone forced me (actually forced) to try some and ever since, I have been a fully convert. Crispin is the name of this new treat and it's an apple cider that is gluten free and has a nice 5.0% ABV to it. The best (and probably only way) to have this perfect year round drinker is over ice, making it overly easy to drink.

So, back to the bar and my fellow boozers at happy hour(s), I found myself holding myself back from jumping up on my stool and shouting like a soapbox preacher, and instead calmly and cooly insisted that my comrade in this battle of the booze have a Crispin. After his first sip, I could tell that his desire to jump up and Reverend Al Sharpton everyone's ass in the bar about the joys of Crispin was on the tip of mind. Another great convert.

I now challenge you to go out and try something new, different and amazing. And do it over ice! You won't be disappointed.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Everyday White Burgundy!

I have always been a fan of wine but there is one region of the world that I truly love and will always be ready for a bottle or two; the wines of Burgundy France.  Burgundy is home to two of the most amazing grapes ever, Chardonnay for the whites and Pinot Noir for the reds.  The bottle that was fortunate enough to make it's way out the liquor store and into my glass is none other than the 2010 Domaine Laroche Bourgogne Blanc Tete de Cuvee.

Domaine Laroche is a stellar house based out of the Chablis region of northern Burgundy.  This particular Bourgogne Blanc (the literal translation is White Burgundy) is made from grapes that Laroche sources from the south of Burgundy in an area called Maconnais, made in a style of Chablis.  When I say that, I mean clean, crisp and minerally.  No oak whatsoever.  This wine also uses a Stelvin closure (or screwcap but we will discuss this more in a future post) which I just absolutely love.

This great under $20 bottle is exactly what you would expect from a house of impeccable pedigree, such as Domaine Laroche.  The nose is loaded with bright stone fruits and hints of lime and citrus that are wonderfully layered.  The palate is where this deal of a wine shines.  The palate is balanced and crisp with elegant pear and apple notes and a slight touch of lime blossom.  The finish is wonderfully smooth and soft, making for a perfect everyday Burgundy (yes they do exist) and worth every penny!  Happy drinking.