Wines for Valentines

wineWhoever came up with that catchy phrase about 'the way to a person's heart is through their stomach' was mostly right. Add wine into the mix and you've really got it made. This is especially true when sipping these spectacular wines that come from premiere producers with stellar pedigrees. This fabulous list, made exclusively for me for you, was created by Carol Berman, founder of Class in a Glass and Take Home Sommelier. I've known her for years and have always trusted her smart picks. Romance begins at the table. Where it ends, you decide.SPARKLING CA'DEL BOSCO, PRESTIGE BRUT, FRANCIACORTA, LOMBARDY, ITALY Franciacorta wines are going to be the next big trend in the sparkling category. This amazing, elegant blend of Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay will make your heart beat faster! Average retail price $35.00

RAVENTOS I BLANC, BRUT ROSE 'DE NIT', CAVA, PENEDES, SPAIN Romantically pink and quite gregarious! It seduces sip-by-sip. Average retail price $23.00

WHITE CANTINA TERLAN, PINOT BIANCO RISERVA, VORBERG, ALTO ADIGE, ITALY, 2009 Voluptuous and insouciant. Average retail price $24.00

RED J.L.CHAVE, CÔTES DU RHONE, MON COEUR, 2010, FRANCE From one of the most masterful wine makers in the Rhone region, Chave's seductive, gripping blend of Syrah and Grenache, Mon Coeur is appropriately named (my heart). Average retail price: $22.00

DESSERT ALBA VINEYARD, RED RASPBERRY DESSERT WINE, MILFORD, NJ Valentine red in color and enticingly sweet, tart and lively! Average retail price: $16.99 (375ml)


And here's a Valentine from me: A recipe for Insanely Simple Chocolate Mousse. Adapted from my book, Cooking 1-2-3, it is virtually fool proof, and good for fools in love.

Insanely Simple Chocolate Mousse

10 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate 1/4 cup brewed espresso, at room temperature 5 extra-large egg whites

Chop chocolate into small pieces. Put in a heavy saucepan with espresso. Over very low heat, melt chocolate, stirring constantly until smooth; cool slightly. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff. Slowly add the slightly warm chocolate mixture, beating on low for a moment, then folding gently with a flexible rubber spatula until thoroughly incorporated. The whites will deflate dramatically but the mixture will become smooth and creamy. Do not over-mix. Spoon mousse into four wine glasses. Refrigerate several hours before serving. Serves 4

Tastes of the Week

April 30 through May 7, 2012 Embedded in this week of extraordinary tastes was a "gourmet safari" conceived by my friend and colleague, Rashmi Uday Singh from India. Rashmi writes for The Times of India and the Robb Report and was intent on discovering the newest, coolest, trendiest restaurants in the city to write about. It began one beautiful night when Rashmi met me for the 100th birthday celebration dinner at Benoit NYC (more about that later).  We hightailed it to Salinas to experience the imaginatively delicious food of Chef Luis Bollo, who hails from San Sebastian, Spain, considered by many to be a gastronomic mecca. We drank the essence of spring from the end of our spoons with the chef's Gazpacho de Temporada, silken from green tomatoes, cucumber and spring onions.  Then on to a signature offering of Rossejat Rapida , crisped noodles cooked like rice, and studded with chicken, fava bans, chorizo, cockles & saffron aioli.  Deep intoxicating flavors and a compelling texture from this unique method of cooking pasta. Dessert was a mesmerizing portrait of white and dark chocolates topped with manchego foam. I want to go back just to eat this!  From there we went to RedFarm to sample most of the menu, including an awesome sampling of the city's best dumplings -- including the first-rate Pan-fried Lamb Dumplings -- from chef Joe Ng, and what has to be the world's most beautiful salad!  Take a look at the RedFarm website!

The 100th Anniversary dinner at Benoit Here is the beautiful menu, linking the past with the present. Duck foie gras terrine with toasted Parisienne brioche (prepared by Alain Ducasse and Philippe Bertineau); Spring vegetable "pot-au-feu" in duck consomme with fleur de sel (by Chef Michael Anthony); Olive-oil poached east coast halibut in brodetto di crostacei (by Chef Michael White); Larded filet of beef with crispy bone marrow (by Chef April Bloomfield), and an amazing Nougat glace of pistachio ice cream and passion fruit (prepared by Alain Ducasse and Jerome Husson.) I will be writing more about this -- my past memories at Benoit in Paris and the meaning of the new "French restaurant" today -- on the Huffington Post.

A wonderful inexpensive lunch at Aldea:  How do they do it?  A beautiful three-course menu for $24.07. Rustic pork & duck terrine with muscat wine gelee and market greens, skate wing "a la plancha" with slow-roasted cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and caper-butter emulsion, and walnut date cake with mint-infused citrus, vanilla sauce, and lemon sherbet (loved seeing the word sherbet on a recherche!)

Another beautiful lunch, also reasonably priced at Ciano:  My lunch market menu consisted of a crisp, ultra-fresh Shaved Vegetable Salad with mixed greens, fennel, peppers and ricotta salata, penne with ragu of braised veal, prosciutto and smoked pecorino, and a sorbet of Bosc pear with biscotti.  Perfect.

Lunch today? At my house...with wine expert Carol Berman. We're having a fanciful salad of ten-spiced yogurt chicken, moroccan carrots, blue cheese, charred red peppers and a garam masala vinaigrette. Homemade wine cake (made with lemon, red wine and rosemary.)   Wonder what we'll be drinking?  Maybe fresh mint tea with mint pulled from my window box.  (Although I do have a nice bottle of gewurztraminer chilling right now.)

Enjoy your own tastes of the week.  Be mindful and enjoy!

Food Lover's Guide to Wine

According to USA Today last week, the purchase of wine has gone up 14% this year and, for the first time, people are buying more wine than wine glasses! Good news: Smart public and better wine glasses. Another sociological shift is that people are buying more "experiences" (self-care, self-improvement) and products with more "prestige." That's a perfect fit for wine, and good news for Carol Berman, who runs Class in a Glass wine-tasting programs all over the country. It's also good news for the authors of the Food Lover's Guide to Wine (Little, Brown and Company), written by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. Just named one of the five best wine books of the year by the Wall Street Journal, the book addresses a curious public's need-to-know as they experience and buy more prestige wines. Their mission? To encourage more Americans to switch from their typical beverage of choice (i.e. a soft drink, like Coke or Pepsi, which is what a majority of Americans enjoy with their evening meal) to a glass of wine with dinner -- so one of the most important features of the book is a list of 150+ wines under $15. For just a dollar or two more per serving, everyone can enjoy something healthful and delicious that will make their dinner taste much better.

One of the book's special features is an A-to-Z reference of more than 250 different wines and their flavor profiles. You can see, at a glance, how to pronounce the name of a wine (a stumbling block for many novices), can anticipate what the wine is likely to taste like (who knew that an Austrian riesling might have a hint of kaffir lime), learn how to serve it, discover the wine's most notable producers, and, most importantly, learn what foods to enjoy with it. Perhaps this is the team's greatest wish for you in, what may be, their best book yet.

The book begins with a brief history of wine in America, which parallels the history of the United States itself. Few know that the settlers at Jamestown in the early 1600's were commanded by the King to grow grapevines, in the hope of developing a wine industry that would give England a cheaper source of wine than France or Spain. And few know that we are drinking the passion of our forefathers -- from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson -- in a shared love of wine and wine-making.

In a frenzied and scholarly approach to this vast subject, the four-legged team scoured the country for the best sommeliers from coast to coast -- representing restaurants such as Blue Hill, CityZen, Daniel, The French Laundry, The Inn at Little Washington, Manresa, No.9 Park and Spago -- where they gleaned insights and secrets from dozens of cellar zealots who cumulatively represent decades of training and on-the-job experience. Like scientists in a sexy lab, they distilled all the knowledge into a chart of essential knowledge -- that would generally take a lifetime to learn. I loved the "insider info" and relished some unexpected food and wine-pairing notions: Cashew chicken with Chinon (an idea from Virginia Philip at The Breakers), or an almond-thickened tomato gazpacho with a sparkly Cremant d'Alsace from Agape (a match made by Belinda Change at The Modern).

Their top ten secrets about how to get more pleasure from wine include attributes that sound like "mindfulness" to me, including perceiving a wine's character, using your judgment, and sharing the experience. And as someone who has composed menus, instead of music, during my 35-year career for legendary restaurants such as the Rainbow Room, Windows on the World, and the Hudson River Club, I particularly loved the kindred sentiment from Richard Olney in The French Menu Cookbook (1970). "Wine's principal role is to give pleasure, and that role is best played at the table in the context of a menu; when the two are carefully chosen, the wine and the food enhance each other, each subtly altering the other."

Page and Dornenburg, who have also written The Flavor Bible and What to Drink with What You Eat, humbly admit, however, that you can never know it all and feel excited to learn something new about wine every day. Why not crack open a bottle and take a peek into their book on YouTube? Imagine what George Washington would have to say about that.