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 that 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.