Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Heller Highwater

Many years ago, at my first sommelier job, I picked an obscure, organic Cabernet from Monterey as my house pour. The distributors had never heard of such a thing, but promised to get me a good "by the glass" price for an obscure product. That wine was Durney Vineyards "Cachaqua" Cabernet Sauvignon, now known as Heller Estate.  The name was the Native American  pronunciation of "Cache Aqua," the Spanish name for "Hidden Waters" as the vineyards are fed by underground springs. 

When I first encountered the Cab, as a waiter, it was sent back by a table as not being "California Enough."


The bartender left it behind the bar for the somm to taste the next day, but forgot to cork it back up. When we arrived the next morning, the entire bar area smelled like blackberries. From that day on, I decanted the wine whenever anyone ordered it by the bottle. The other waiters asked me why I would decant a then-$35 bottle, and I said "Walk by the table in 15 minutes, and you tell me." The cloud of blackberry aroma was evident from five feet away. Imagine a house wine not only doesn't go BAD, but gets better when open for a day or two!

This post is NOT about their Cabernet.

Heller deals in a variety of Bordeaux grapes, from the usual Cab, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, to the more unusual-and-terribly-trendy Malbec. And my personal favorite, and little gem of the Carmel Valley (they use it at Bernardus Vineyards as well....go for the grapes, stay for the spa).

A few years back, I was perusing Facebook, and the good people at Heller, fellow trivia addicts that they are, posted a contest to win a couple bottles of wine. Being an old College Bowl man, I handily won, and picked the two bottles I couldn't get from stores: Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot. I aged them and finally broke into them this year. 

This is a BEAUTIFUL wine with all the things I love about the grape: light earth, mulberries, Geraniol, violets, and on the end, as the wine opens, a touch of roasted game. If ever there was a wine to serve with duck, almost any preparation, or roast pork done with, oh, say, cherries or pomegranate, this IS it. 

$50 AT THEIR WEBSITE....my experience  says I doubt you can find it in stores.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sticky to Them: NotMuscat

NotMuscat wine cocktail.

It's not Muskrat, Muskie, or Muskets either. 
In the last few weeks, many of the guests who have received complimentary "afters" at my current employer, The Federal Food and Drink, were treated to a wine cocktail I make, that I refer to as NotMuscat.

After many requests to sell bottles of this potion, something I'm not legally allowed to do (currently), I've decided to post the recipe. Keep in mind, this is far easier to make in a restaurant than it is at home, and many people may just want to give up and go buy a bottle of Andy Quady's delicious Elysium, the dessert wine which my cocktail is designed to mimic. But if you're throwing a party, and really must have some in large batches, here's the recipe (in a batch sized for home use, as opposed to my smaller bar service batch):


9 oz. Pinot Noir (Trader Joe's/Two Buck Chuck will do)
9 oz. Sangiovese (I recommend Danzante for it's availability and price, although, in a pinch, the Perrin Brothers La Vielle Ferme Rouge Cotes du Ventoux will do quite nicely)
6 oz. Lemongrass Syrup (see recipe)
2 capfuls (about 1 oz.) Rose Water (available at most middle eastern markets)

Combine in a large pitcher or decanter, and stir gently. Bottle in a standard wine bottle, although you MAY have to do some tasting to prevent lack of cork space.

Lemongrass Syrup

3 large blades of fresh lemongrass
5 cups white sugar
1 quart boiling water (preferably distilled or mineral water such as Gerolsteiner or Acqua Panna)

Bruise lemongrass (with a rolling pin or bottle) and chop.

Combine with sugar and toss to distribute. Let it sit at least an hour, if not overnight.

Add boiling water and stir until totally dissolved. Let cool until very warm.

Puree mixture with an immersion blender. Cover and let it rest overnight.

Strain through cheesecloth or a napkin (Bounty paper towels work nicely).

Refrigerate and keep on hand for sweetening anything from yogurt to iced tea.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

In the Nuthouse

No, no, I may be mad, but I'm not nuts.

Although I'm a little crazy for a particular Pinot Noir from one of my favorite producers in Oregon, Argyle. Housed in an old hazelnut processing plant, Argyle has been making delectable Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling, as well as some excellent sparkling wines (ah, for the days when they were the dirt-cheap bubbly, but they've won a few too many awards, and the price just keeps going up!).

The Nuthouse Pinot Noir has always been one of my favorites, and although I miss their more humorous labels, the current label reflects their quality and dedication to the grape. I fell in love with it in 1997 when I was the sommelier at POP in Union Square, and this is their 20th anniversary vintage.

Has it really been that long? I wish I had stored a few cases back then.

Total Wine & More may still have a few bottles lying around, although their website may not reflect actual store inventory.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Bitter Truth

OK, I just tested my batch of Amaro. The herbs have been soaking in grain alcohol for about a month now. After filtering, the color is an odd sort of greenish brown, it smells like jet fuel, and has an acrid, bitter taste that causes your nostrils to flare and tastes like you just licked fresh, hot asphalt.

In other words: It's perfect.

My sevilla orange peels arrived this afternoon, and I added about 8 grams of fresh chocolate-mint from my garden, and 16 grams of peels. I will most likely need to cut the bitterness by diluting with brandy. I'm shooting for something close to Amaro Nardini, with licorice, mint, orange, and a chocolatey finish. I'm using Iris root instead of actual licorice root, as there are several potential health issues from real licorice. And I believe they're using a dark caramel syrup base, probably with black-strap molasses instead of corn syrup.

 I think I'll call it Amaro Nonrico.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Like most good Mad Scientists, you need an island in the middle of the ocean. Mine grows grapes.

Still job hunting in Miami, so after waiting for the workmen to come fix my leaky closet, I headed up to Total Wine and More to drop off a resume. It is a goal of mine to eventually own my own wine shop, preferably on a beach somewhere, and I can think of no better place to learn the retail business end of the wine world than from them. I send people there frequently in various cities by pulling up their store inventory from their website and telling them on which aisle to find the wine they want. Their selection is amazing, rivaling the better restaurants in Miami. And their prices are quite good. Now they need one somewhere closer to Midtown Miami, if not for my OWN commute, for my own shopping. The best wine selection in THIS area is Publix (with second place going to Buena Vista Chocolate and Wine....tiny, but they sell wine AND chocolate! Need I say more?)

Total Wine in North Miami 
Buena Vista Chocolate and Wine, just north of the Design District

Speaking of which, today's purchase was a bottle of Argiolas Costera, which could almost be described as Sardegna's answer to Côtes du Rhône: Mostly Cannonau (Grenache) with a little Carignano (Carignane) and Bovale Sardo (a Cinsault-like wine grape....I'm assuming the sub-varietal is Sardo, since Bovale Grande is usually accepted to be Carignane anyways.). I'm a big fan of Sardinian wines for their spice and mineral, and of  Côtes du Rhône for it's usually humble versions of some of the greatest wines in France. Remember when everyone had a CdR on their winelist instead of the now required Malbec or Merlot? I used one on several of my lists in NYC, and found the placement quite welcome by the true wine lovers. 

Oh, by the way,  Aisle 5, on the right, bottom row.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

I've started running a bit low on my homemade Black Cherry Amaro, and with the recent loss of a gall bladder, I find the potent herbal qualities of the Gentian and Wormwood REALLY help my stomach. I still have quite a bit of my Blueberry Mirto (Gentian and Rosemary) but I find the effects of the more traditional style a better curative. Amazingly so. And that IS what they used it for originally.

Well, that and arthritis, depression, whooping cough, parasites, syphilis, and the plague. 

I also find it quite useful for Manhattans, although those weren't invented until the late 19th Century. 

I based the original batch on a 14th-century Italian monk's recipe, which I dug out of a scanned latin tome on Google Books, doing my best to translate as I went. I ran up to Total Wine & More for a bottle of grain alcohol (although last time I used Kirschwasser, TW&M didn't carry my brand) to start another proper batch.

And because a proper batch of amaro takes at LEAST 3 months to produce, I bought a bottle of a classic, Ramazzotti, to hold me over until then.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Well, here it goes.

Time to go back south for sure now.

4 weeks ago, I gave my notice at Esca Restaurant for multiple reasons. They needed me far more as a waiter more than a sommelier, as I tended to deal well with their lunch regulars and VIP's. Plus, the company's recent restructuring of sommelier pay would put me behind my last such position, and they say you shouldn't move backwards.

Add to those, a recurrent seasonal Vitamin D deficiency, and Florida looks better and better. And then SLAP! Who knew Vitamin D deficiencies cause gallstones?!? Last Thursday at about 1 AM, I had my gall bladder removed rather abruptly. Awww...no more Fritto Misto's! My olive oil use is still OK, but butter is going to be greatly curtailed. I've never eaten a lot of red meat or anything.

As it turns out, Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, and to stay in New York, I'm going to have to take prescription strength doses. I love NYC, but I don't think I love it enough to have to take pills to live here.

Between 3030 Ocean, Michael's Genuine (and associated restaurants, who I ALMOST worked for in 2001), Michy's, MC Kitchen, and a handful of other places, I think they're about ready for me. And I could use the sunshine.