San Francisco

Golden Gate BridgeOne of my dearest friends lives in San Francisco (yes… it would be the legendary Premila), so I am fortunate to visit the city regularly. Since San Francisco has the luxury of a vast supply of fresh and locally produced and sourced food and wine, the tasty possibilities are infinite. You kind of can’t go wrong here. That being said, I do have my go-tos and am asked frequently to list them. Et voila:


Blue Bottle Café

1 Ferry Building
+1 510 653 3394
Blue Bottle is for those who truly appreciate all of the passion that goes into a superbly prepared cup of coffee. Amateurs, please stay home. It helps to minimize the queue.


Bourbon and Branch

501 Jones Street
+1 415 346 1735
This chic speakeasy is a sassy place for sexy cocktails before or after dinner. Head toward the hidden back room. Reservations are required.

Press Club

20 Yerba Buena Lane
+1 415 744 5000
If pressed for time and a trip to Napa/Sonoma can’t be squeezed in, this is a convenient wine tasting room “teaser”. Each area is marketed by visiting vintners who have hands-on knowledge of the vinification of their wines and the story of their winery. Generally speaking, the staff are incredibly knowledgeable. Sadly, I’ve not seen the kind of foot traffic required to keep this great concept going. Consequently, over the years, it seems that there have been fewer visiting vintners.



1 Mission Street
+1 415 543 6084
A little upmarket, but if you fancy a more casual dining experience, just belly up to the bar. The food is divine and consistent. I love this place.

Hog Island Oysters

1 Ferry Building
+1 415 391 7117
East coast v west coast? I’m all over oysters from the west coast – those briny, creamy, succulent bivalves. Get the Kumamotos and ask for guidance on their other fresh options.


Noe Valley/Mission
1320 Castro Street
+1 415 285 0250
I’m a sucker for flavorful Spanish tapas. Contigo is easy, fun and adorable.


560 Divisadero Street
+1 415 864 8643
Meals are extremely fresh while being very mindful of sourcing. This place is always packed and the cocktails hold their own. Random, but they are obsessed with Mas de Daumas Gassac (Grand Cru of the Languedoc), which I get. You’ll notice this as soon as you crack open the wine list.


Tartine Bakery

Noe Valley/Mission
600 Guerrero Street
+1 415 487 2600
Make sure you hit the gym to burn off all of that butter because once you catch a whiff of what Tartine has to offer, you won’t be able to resist. On many an occasion, I have done a quick stop here before the airport to grab a little treat for later.


Michael Recchiuti Chocolate

One Ferry Building
+1 415 834 9494
Since I first discovered Mr. Recchuiti’s chocolates (10+ years ago when the stores for the Ferry Building were still in the tented Farmer’s Market across the street), I have never left the great city of San Francisco without carting away these insanely delicious confections. Peanut butter pucks are my absolute fave, especially now that I’ve relocated to Europe and they don’t quite get the symbiotic relationship between peanut butter and chocolate. Fleur de sel caramels are a very close number two.


“I love Scotch. Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch.” – Ron Burgundy circa 2004

As written by Christine Berenger for Bordeaux Index.

For the longest time, I never cheated. It’s true. I was exclusively a wine woman. But one day, our friends Steve and Ira gave us a beautiful bottle of Lagavulin. Dr. Evil descended upon us that very night, my friend.

With our new found enthusiasm for the single malt, we visited Angel’s Share, one of our favorite date-night cocktail places in New York. This super chic speakeasy is tucked away within unmarked and hidden doors of a random Japanese restaurant. Their cocktails are sublime and, if applicable, served with the most perfect ice cube (the search for the perfect ice cube, ahh… another obsessive and never ending quest of ours, but I digress). At the urging of one of their bartenders, we discovered one of our absolute favorite whiskies to this day – Yoichi. Yes, it is Japanese and yes, it is amazing.

Maybe we are weirdoes or maybe we have a problem, but like wine, our whisky thing seems to follow us wherever we go. Our honeymoon in Venice – check. Late nights in Miami and Vegas – um, check. Many, many nights with friends in London and New York – check. That fabulous single malt is always there.

Over the years, there’s been lots of muttering within my family about whisky. So, we decided a formal tasting was long past due. Fresh off their trans-Atlantic flights to London, we hit The Whisky Tasting Room in Marylebone for a sampling of single cask Scotches. If you are in the London area and have a special place in your heart for whisky, I highly recommend a visit. Their selection is impeccable, as is their enthusiasm for the single malt.

As with wine, whisky preferences are very personal. My friend Kristen’s mom (Carol) packs a Scotch “traveler” with her whenever she goes to someone’s home for dinner to ensure she has exactly what she wants. (I get it Carol).

Over the years, we’ve tasted lots of beautiful whiskies, and so, without further ado, here are some of our go tos:

From Japan:

Yoichi 15 yr. old – gentle delivery of elegant and complex flavors; ginger, spice, sweetness, nuttiness; bliss

From Scotland:

Isle of Skye

– Talisker – retrained and easy peatiness, with some fruit and honey; smoke on the finish


– Macallan 17 yr. old – butterscotch and graham crackers, nuttiness


– Dalwhinne 18 yr. old – spicy, prickly with sweetness on the end
– Oban 15 yr. old – honey, caramel, nuts


– Lagavulin 1994 – peaty, smoky, with brininess and candy on the finish


– Springbank 12 yr. old – complex, smoky, salty butterscotch


– Auchentoshan 1999, 11 yr. old – light, rounded, smooth and sweet with sandalwood and honey; perfect for summer

Spreading the Wealth from your Cellar

As written by Christine Berenger for Bordeaux Index.

Watching any Woody Allen movie about New York will confirm that true New Yorkers are known for their OCD and a never ending quest for the “best”. Hey, I can make fun of myself and my people. All of our friends back in New York are either perfectionists when it comes to cooking (one even went to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America), heavily involved in the restaurant industry or are neurotic disciples of websites like Tough crowd, right? But, it’s our shtick and we love it. So here we are, across the pond in our new London digs. What to do?

Only week two into our London adventure and still sleeping on our air mattress, we received an email from our friend Seb asking us if we’d like to participate in a dinner club for oenophiles that his friend Guillaume organizes. Serendipitous, right?

“Problem”: There’s some nice vino in your cellar which you are itching to crack open. You have friends in the same camp. Oh… and you all love good food.

Solution: Create a dinner club and do it right. Be organized. Based on the menu, decide and distribute the wine pairings in advance. The venue can be a restaurant (on one of their less busy nights if you are bringing your own wine) or rotated at one another’s home.

Result: There I was in a sea of Frenchies enjoying a fabulous food and wine pairing at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. It goes without saying, from start to finish, my food experiences here are always rock star. And, those mashed potatoes… I don’t even like mashed potatoes and I find myself licking the spoon every time I’m there. Truth be told, I’ve given serious thought to licking the plate as well, but my southern Louisiana upbringing reminds me that this is a no-no.

Foie gras, port reduction and parmesan foam
Ruinart Rosé NV, Champagne
Red currant and strawberry flavors, pleasant acidity… yin to the yang of the foie gras

Crabmeat with fennel mousseline and tomato jelly
Domaine Vincent Dauvissat, Chablis Grand Cru, Les Clos 2004
Elegant green fruit with a bit of white flowers… fabulous with that tomato leaf essence

Mackerel on thin tart with parmesan shavings and olives
Domaine Trimbach, Riesling, Cuvée Frédéric Emile 2004, Alsace
Steely, but mineral driven… balanced the brininess of this dish; loved this

Pan fried fillet of red mullet, pissaladière and sauce vierge
Beaux Frères, Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir 2006, Willamette Valley
Robert Parker’s joint venture in Oregon and the new world contribution; dark berry, some bacon flavors… great with the anchovies from the pissaladière, but drank a little too early; will improve in time

Free range quail with foie gras and truffle mashed potatoes
Château La Conseillante 2002, Pomerol, Bordeaux
Château La Conseillante 1996, Pomerol, Bordeaux
Verticals are always an experience; the 1996 was a little bit past its prime; I preferred the dark berries and earthiness of the 2002

Fresh and candied strawberry tart served with lime cream cheesecake and rose ice-cream
Yves Cuilleron, Les Ayguets 2007, Condrieu, Northern Rhône
I’m such a fan of Yves Cuilleron… just an über cool and talented winemaker; tropical and nectar flavors… delish; will continue to improve with age

Photos are courtesy of Guillaume Raffy.

New Position

I want to thank everyone for your overwhelming support and encouragement on this sublime journey. It is inspiring for me to experience the exchanges with so many people from around the world who also share my enthusiasm for good wine and food. Recently, I accepted a position with Bordeaux Index in London as a portfolio manager to develop an investment fund with investment grade wine as the underlying asset class. This new endeavor merges my background in finance with my passion for and education in wine. I will continue to write, but my articles will be the property of Bordeaux Index. I will attach links for these the articles on my website. I hope you will continue to enjoy reading about my discoveries in food, wine and travel.



A Quick Weekend in Santa Barbara Wine Country (and LA)

For years, several of my friends from the Los Angeles area have been enamored with the wines of Santa Barbara. They’ve allowed me to sample their stash, but many of these wineries are smaller production, so the wines don’t always make it out of California. Recently, my husband and I decided to do a quick jaunt to Santa Barbara wine country to delve a little further into what this region has to offer.

Quick Primer on Santa Barbara County Wine Country:

Santa Barbara County experiences warm days and very cool nights, along with fog and breezes from the Pacific Ocean. There are five distinct wine regions within the county:

  • Santa Maria Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) – As the northernmost region of Santa Barbara County, it enjoys extremely complex soil conditions and diverse mesoclimates, allowing for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to thrive. Santa Maria Valley was the first officially approved AVA in Santa Barbara County.
  • Santa Ynez Valley AVA – This AVA has very cool temperatures, becoming warmer toward the eastern parts of the region. Therefore, varietals vary from the fog and cool loving Pinot Noir in the west to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which flourishes in the warmer temperatures in the east. Some Italian and Rhône varietals also prosper in this AVA.
  • Sta. Rita Hills AVA – This is a relatively small appellation of approximately 100 square miles located within the western corridor of the larger Santa Ynez AVA. The ocean fogs usually burn off by mid-morning, with a few hours of sunshine, followed by winds. The influence from the Pacific along with the sedimentary soils found in Sta. Rita also creates an ideal location for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
  • Los Alamos Valley – This region experiences warm days and cool nights. Wines from this area will be indicated on the label as “Santa Barbara County.”
  • Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara – The varied soils and terrain of this region are best suited for growing Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc; however, Syrah and other Rhône varieties also do well in this region.

Maybe I wasn’t accustomed to having a burn on my palate when I tasted Pinot Noir, but of the wines we tasted, I found many to be a little too high in alcohol (15%+). Generally speaking, I tended to favor the Chardonnay from this region over the Pinot Noir (although I did enjoy some really lovely Pinots). Unfortunately, given our time parameters, we weren’t able to make it to all of the wineries on my “to do” list, but of those that we were able to visit, there were three that stood out. I have listed my favorites below.

Richard Longoria Wines

2935 Grand Avenue #B (tasting room)
Los Olivos, CA

During his student days at Berkeley, Rick (Richard) Longoria experienced the wines of Sonoma and Napa. “Not knowing anything about the business… Rick decided to take a year off before entering law school, and traveled to South America…. It was during this trip that he came to realize that his heart was not in law, but rather [with] the possibility of working in a winery. When he returned, he sent dozens of inquiries to wineries looking for work. He got lucky and was hired as a rookie cellar man at one of his favorite wineries…” Rick shared with me that over the years, he continued to work on his craft of wine making, and in 1982, they [he and his wife] “started the brand as a part time endeavor. Then, we both gave up our day jobs to focus on making the business our sole source of income.” Longoria was born and they haven’t looked back.

Longoria excels among their peers. These wines exhibit elegance, finesse and a balanced degree of minerality. When savoring their wines, you will personally experience their quest for excellence. Rick disclosed to me, “My philosophy of winemaking is based on my belief that wine is a food, and as such, its greatest role is to accompany meals. Wines should therefore be made in a way that respects the uniqueness of each grape varietal, each vineyard site and the vagaries of each vintage. They should also be made to be well balanced so that the wine does not overpower the food. When one of my wines is paired with a meal and the food and the wine are both made more interesting and enjoyable as a result, then I have succeeded as a winemaker.”

The winery averages just about 3500 cases annually. The vineyards are located in Sta. Rita Hills and their wines are a must try on your visit to Santa Barbara.

Chardonnay Cuvée Diana
from Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, the oldest vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills and Rancho Santa Rosa

  • 2007 (ST 90, $36): fresh peaches, honey and smoky minerals with a nice balance of richness and acidity
  • 2008 (WE 94, $36): pears with maple syrup and nutmeg, honeysuckle, balanced acidity and weight, honeysuckle

2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa ($45): black and red berries with a hint of brett and vanilla; nice weight with silky tannins; one which seemed to fly under the radar, but one to watch

2007 Fe Ciega Vineyard (ST 91, WE 93, $54): cigar and sage spices; smooth but intense tannins; strong acidity

Foxen Vineyard

7200 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA

When I polled my friends who had lived or are currently living in the Los Angeles area as to their Santa Barbara wine country faves, Foxen was at the top of each list, time and time again, as was Foxen’s rustic, but very endearing tasting room. Foxen recently added on a new, state-of-the-art, solar paneled tasting room, which is where I tasted their wines on my visit. I was a little bummed as I had been looking forward to experiencing their former tasting room, which had been lovingly described to me as “rustic as hell and looking more like a place you go to get pumpkins in October than a tasting room.”

Winemakers Bill Wathen and Dick Doré, otherwise known as the “Foxen Boys” like to say, “if you don’t know FOXEN, you don’t know Dick . . . or Bill.”

Bill’s background includes a degree in Fruit Science, specializing in vineyard management from Cal Poly University. In 1978, he became “a vineyard manager at Chalone Vineyard, where he was mentored by California wine pioneer and Chalone founder, Dick Graff. It was here that Bill learned traditional French winemaking techniques and appreciation for great Burgundies. Graff’s influence inspires Bill’s winemaking philosophy to this day.”

A man after my own heart, Richard, having “worked as a banker in the late sixties and seventies, quit his nine-to-five job and moved his family to Europe… Over the next year and a half, Dick traveled the back roads of France, Italy and Spain, where he developed his love of wine.” Dick eventually returned to his native Santa Barbara County, where he crossed paths with Bill and forged a partnership in making wine together. Dick’s wife, Jenny, is involved in the business as well, running marketing efforts in California and Florida.

2008 Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard UU (WS 91, $32): tangy citrus, grapefruit and green apples with some floral aromas

2008 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard-Block N ($52): blackberries and wild berries with some spice


5175 East Highway 246
Lompac, CA

In 1978, Walt and Mona Babcock sought “retreat from Walt’s dental practice and the rigors of being restaurateurs… Their search led them to purchase 110 acres of land on the western edge of the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, [which] at that time the area was considered a fledgling wine region. This inspired and prompted the Babcocks to plant a 25-acre vineyard in 1980. By the end of 1983, various notable winemakers had purchased Babcock fruit and made compelling wines… In 1984, Walt and Mona Babcock decided it was time to seize the opportunity to produce their own wine.” Armed with a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry from Occidental College, and working toward his master’s degree in food science, with an emphasis in oenology at UC Davis, their son Bryan entered the picture and has been making Babcock’s wine since 1984.

I was pleasantly surprised by their $30 Grand Cuvée, which we had with one of our meals.

2008 Grand Cuvée ($30) crème brulée, pineapple, pear, with balanced richness and some acidity

Melville Winery

5185 East Highway 246
Lompoc, CA

Sad to say, I wasn’t able to make it to Melville this time around. However, it came very highly recommended by many, so I thought I should include this winery in the article. Perhaps next time?

Visiting Santa Barbara and short on time?

Many of the wineries of this region are too small or too removed to have their own tasting rooms, so they opt for presence in the town of Los Olivios. It is a charming, quaint little town. Jokingly, my friend Karl stated the proximity of so many tasting rooms in Los Olivios enables people “do their own pub crawl.” It depends on what your shtick is, but if you are staying in town, it is an elegant solution to sampling wines of the region without the rock-paper-scissors exercise to see who gets the driving responsibilities.

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café

2879 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441

Not only does this place have a decent selection of wines, but the cafe is also a pleasant place to have lunch.

Note: For planning your wine trip to Santa Barbara County, this particular website was very useful: Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association

A Burger in Santa Monica… I digress

While this article highlights some of the wines of Santa Barbara County, I feel it imperative to share this little nugget. If you happen to be in LA area, don’t miss having a burger at Father’s Office. As you can see from the photo, we hit their Santa Monica location after watching the sunset on the beach with a lovely glass of wine from Foxen.

Father’s Office

1018 Montana Avenue
Santa Monica, CA

Run, don’t walk. This possibly one of the best three burgers in my life. My husband says it is his top burger…caramelized onion, bacon, Gruyère, Maytag blue cheese and arugula.

“London Calling”

“You’ve come a long way baby,” Virginia Slims campaign slogan.

My criterion for a good food city is one that has amazing food at every price point. Here are some examples that quickly come to mind: New Orleans – you can get a po-boy at a gas station and it’s actually really good (no lie); New York – how easy is it to get a great slice (pizza)? Full disclosure, I consider both of these places to be home.

I visited London recently and benefited from the culinary explosion which has been going down there over the past few years. True, London has been home to food institutions such as River Café for many years. [A little background on River Café: It is the brain child of Ruth Rogers and Rose Grey (who unfortunately passed away this year) and it later provided us with extraordinarily talented chefs such as April Bloomfield (Executive Chef of one of my absolute faves of all times and a truly special place for me for many reasons- The Spotted Pig) and Jamie Oliver.] However, when I first started dating my husband, and we were doing the NY-Heathrow route back and forth, I felt London did pricey well, but found a dearth of quality mid-point restaurants.

This is by no means my “end all, be all” London list and it definitely includes some “fancy” places, but I truly hope to experience more of what London has to offer soon. Enjoy.



Charlotte Street/W1
33 Charlotte Street
Fino offers great tapas and Spanish hams. Maybe it’s because I’m ‘Merican and really great Spanish ham is more difficult to come by in the States (thanks FDA), but the the lomo was one of my favorites. The garlic gambas and grilled squid – um, we got seconds on both. Fino is a perfectly simple, not too flashy setting with great food.

The Providores & Tapa Room

109 Marylebone High Street
Think “Kiwi” dishes with a dash of Asia. The portions are smaller sized, making this gem of a restaurant a wonderful experience to sample a variety of dishes without feeling too full. It also proudly showcases what New Zealand can do in the wine world, especially in the Pinot Noir genre. Contrary to what I read from other reviews prior to going, I found the service to be lovely.


La Fromagerie

2-6 Moon Street
Cheese, glorious cheese… New Yorkers, think a subdued version of Murray’s Cheese. There is a sit down area for amazing for lite bites such as cheeses, charcuterie, salads and tarts OR visit the cheese room to take treats home.

The Beehive

126 Crawford Street
Don’t bother with a menu. Just get the Côte de Boeuf and thank me for it later. (Thank Seb and Laurence too). The Beehive also has a decent beer selection.

L’Autre Pied

5-7 Blandford Street
This is one of the most reasonably priced tasting menus I’ve had in a while. The chef is an absolute perfectionist and I can’t wait to go back. The presentation was gorgeous and elegant. It has one Michelin star and was voted the best new restaurant by Time Out in 2008.

Club Gascon

57 West Smithfield
This is possibly our favorite restaurant in London. On our layover to Nairobi, we took a car one hour + into the city to have lunch here just because. Does that make me a freak? They have a foie gras menu. Who does that? Add this as a course to your meal. If they have the sort of crystallized grapes with the grilled foie gras, be certain to have it. It’s heavenly and you will fantasize about it long after you’ve left. If there are morels in any dish on the menu, wave that in as well. This is a special occasion kind of place. Everyone who has dined here upon our suggestion told us it was his or her favorite dining experience in London.



287 Upper Street
Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli Jew, Sami Tamimi, an Arab from East Jerusalem and Noam Bar, who spent time in a Buddhist Monastery… how can you possibly go wrong with this combination? Maybe they can team up and teach the rest of the world how something beautiful can be created by differences? A healthful, elegant and unadulterated approach to Mediterranean cooking, Ottolenghi boasts wonderful and flavorful salads, breads and pastries for consumption on premises (only at their Islington location) or take away. I perused their cookbook Ottolenghi: The Cookbook… absolutely fantastic.


If there’s one thing the Brits have done well – it’s their importation of fabulous curries. Yes, my British readers, importation. But, we understand the desire to stake your claim. It’s good stuff and if you didn’t claim the curries as your own (wink wink), you’d be stuck with mushy peas, roasts — but you do fish and chips, some cheeses and beer really well. To my other readers, if you didn’t hit at least one Indian restaurant while in London – even if you’re not that much of an Indian food fan – you might get castigated as an Anglophobe. The Brits take “their Indian” very seriously.

Bombay Brasserie

South Kensington/SW7
Courtfield Road
If you’re seeking a scene, this is not the place. However, if you want the real deal in terms of Indian cuisine, this place is just solid and offers an experience from all regions of India.


15-17 Blandford Street
This is more upscale or “fancy” Indian, but the lamb curry… HELLO – I can’t wait to go back.



15 Berkeley Street
I have no idea how Nobu has done it all these years with multiple locations globally, but they have consistently achieved grande dame status of chain restaurants. If it is a scene you seek, this is the place. Drinks, dinner, scene… you really can’t go wrong. You might even see a few starlets having sakitinis.


37 Charlotte Street
The skewered meat and seafood were tender to the touch and very flavorful. The sushi and sashimi were fabulously fresh. Roka is a decent scene just for drinks as well. My only criticism would be that they sometimes try to turn tables too quickly by bringing out everything at once. Beat them to the punch by stating in advance that you want them to bring your food out in courses.

Special thanks to Laurence, Seb and Domenico for their suggestions. We can’t wait to try the others on your short lists.

1990 Burgundy Grands Crus Tasting, Burgers and BBQ

Tough to be me…  I was invited to a tasting of 1990 Grands Crus at Bar Boulud hosted by Jason Hyde from Acker, Merrall & Condit Company. Alongside a vivacious cast of characters with a deep love for Burgundy, we shared and discussed a few of these very coveted and pricey 20 year old wines while having an extremely vocal and passionate debate over our top picks for BBQ and burgers in New York City. Nothing seems to go down in New York without a little friendly competition, so after each flight, we went around the room and voted for the best. The “winners” are denoted below by a star.

The result of ideal weather conditions, the 1990 vintage of Burgundy is hyped, highly sought after and considered by many to be one of Burgundy’s more successful vintages. Overall, while I enjoyed the wines immensely, I found the fruit to be a little more on the stewed side, rather than fresh, which is right on par with the vintage and the heat of that summer.

Flight 1: Chambolle-Musigny

  • Jacques Frederic Mugnier Musigny (auction price $700-1000) red berries and minerality, sweetness, cabbage
  • Vogue Bonnes-Mare (auction price $300-500) mushroomy, but tended to fade quicker than we thought it should
  • *Hubert Lignier Clos de la Roche (auction price $500-700) WS 92/RP 95, wild strawberries, very round, cabbage on the nose

Flight 2: Gevrey-Chambertin

Flight 3: Gevrey-Chambertin/Vosne-Romanée

  • Armand Rousseau Mazis Chambertin (auction price $200-300) strawberries, molasses, stewed fruit
  • Roty Charmes Chambertin Vielles Vignes (auction price $500-700) cherries, classic
  • *Mongeard-Mugneret Grands Échézeaux (auction price $200-250) classic Vosne spice on the nose; palate showed plenty of richness and depth; There was a little bit of old world funk that took a while to blow off for this one, but once it breathed, it was so lovely and my favorite of the flight.

Flight 4: Vosne-Romanée

  • Gros Frères Richebourg (auction price $250-350) cherries, stewed fruit, dusty
  • Domaine Emmanuel Rouget Échézeaux (auction price $550-750) cherries, earthy with a little old world funk (which I love)
  • *1991 Domaine de la Romanée Conti Échézeaux (auction price $550-650) WS 93; smooth with raspberry, plum and currant notes; I get the price and the hype, but not everyone can swing this. It was a special treat.

These wines were such a special treat and I’d like to thank Mike once again.

And now… my two cents worth on Burgers and BBQ

For those who are curious to hear my top burger and BBQ picks in NY, I realize that I can’t leave you hanging. I am reluctant to put down my NY faves for restaurants because there are so many that I love; however, this is a true slam-dunk for the burgers, so I am rolling with it. Hands down, my vote for the best burger in New York is the The Spotted Pig, with the second prize going to The Burger Joint – completely different experiences, but both worth every morsel. And for BBQ, I enjoy MANY places in NY, but I would do a cartwheel if someone shipped me ribs from Corky’s in Memphis (with a side of mustard slaw). And… I have to say that when I make “my own” recipe, (well, not really my own – and a different style altogether), there have been friendly fights for the last rib.

Chinese-Hawaiian “Barbecued” Ribs
Gourmet Magazine, May 2003
¾ cup sugar
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup Sherry, medium-dry
1 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 ginger, (1-inch) cube peeled fresh, smashed
3 lb baby back pork ribs (3 racks), do not cut apart

Stir together sugar, soy sauce, ketchup, Sherry and salt in a bowl until sugar
is dissolved. Pour marinade into a roasting pan, then add garlic, ginger, and
ribs, turning ribs to coat with marinade. Marinate, covered and chilled,
turning occasionally, at least 3 hours.

Wines of Greece – No longer so “Greek to me”

Summertime is here. Grill masters abound. Greek wines are perfect for backyard grilling extravaganzas. Feel free to invite friends over as these wines won’t break the budget.

Recently, I shared with three different friends that there were some lovely Greek wines that I thought they should try. Unanimously, I received the same response… a puzzled look, followed by a smirk and a “sure, right” comment.

I have had the opportunity to peer into the MW (Master of Wine) bag of tricks and I became intrigued to learn that Greek wines were part of their shtick. So, when I was extended the opportunity to attend an extensive presentation on Greek wines with a comparative tasting of these wines to international varieties, I hopped right on it.

Here’s the deal. Even in our current economic climate, people are not going to give up wine; however, consumers are by far more sensitive to prices than they were a few years ago. Wine is consumed in two ways – by itself or with food. People love food. People love food and wine together. Some wines stand on their own. Some wines perform best with food. Do as the Greeks have done for over 4,000 years. Consume their wines with good food and conversation. Oh, and did I share that most have a $20 or lower handle?

With over 350 indigenous varieties that are not genetically linked to any other varietals in the world, the wines of Greece are truly unique. While Greek wines are distinct and not directly comparable, this forum gave people a side-by-side comparison with other more popular international varietals, so if someone liked some of the characteristics of “X popular varietal,” then they might also enjoy a glass of “Y Greek varietal.” The tasting was lead by Doug Frost, one of three people in the world who is both MS and MW. He is true lover of Greek wines. I tried quite a few of these Greek wines, but the ones I thoroughly enjoyed (and plan on buying for myself) were made from the following two varietals – Assyrtiko and Xinomavro. Doug described these two varietals as “the divas,” which I concur as being a good descriptor.  Here’s the secret decoder ring. If you enjoy the austerity, acidity and minerality of a Chablis or Riesling, you might fancy an Assyritko. If you like the dustiness and earthiness of Barbaresco (Nebbiolo) or Brunello (Sangiovese), you might want to try Xinomavro.

Greek Wine Classification

Before we get into the goods, it’s important to know what we’re looking at. (For those who are starting to hear Charlie Brown’s teacher, feel free to skip to the next paragraph.) Greek wines comply with EU legislation. There are two main categories:

(1) Quality Wines Produced in  Specific Regions (V.Q.P.R.D.)

  • O.P.A.P. – wines that are equivalent to V.D.Q.S. (Vins Délimités de Qualité Supérieure)
  • O.P.E. – wines that are equivalent to A.O.C. (Appellation d’Orgine Contrôlée), which is only used for dessert wines

(2) Table Wines

Since their O.P.A.P. are the highest tier and reasonably priced, these are the wines I am going to discuss.

Assyrtiko – Greek Diva #1

I first tried Assyrtiko 11+ years ago when I visited Santorini for the first time with my partner-in-crime Premila. Fresh off our arduous day of  experiencing the landscape of white washed churches against that gorgeous Greek blue water, we were tasked with the difficult decision of which wine we would have to watch the sunset over the caldera. This wine goes exceptionally well with food. It can be very acidic (pH of 3, so even higher in acidity than what you’d find in Mosel) while also having fairly high alcohol levels (13-13.5%). It’s usually one or the other in the wine world, but not both. Assyrtiko is grown throughout Greece, but Santorini is its original home. These wines scream Greek Islands on the palate… briny, sea air combined with crisp, fresh citrus and minerality from the volcanic rock. It will go really well with marinated and grilled seafood, chicken and lamb dishes (with yummy tomatoes… mmm).

They don’t trellis their vines. Rather, they twirl the vines in a basket-like fashion to protect them against the winds and extreme heat. I hope this is not blasphemous, but think crown of thorns for a visual. With the extreme conditions, wine growers are lucky if they yield 12 Hl/Ha. For comparison, this is similar to yields from Château d’Yquem. Phylloxera requires at least 5% clay on the soil to be viable. Since there is no clay here, these vines are phylloxera free. The low level of potassium in the soil means the grapes naturally have a low pH. The volcanic soil absorbs any and all the humidity it can get, which is primarily from the sea, creating that minerality of Santorini wines.

I also learned Assyrtiko ages fantastically, so I plan on trying a little experiment of my own.

  • Estate Argyros Assyrtiko, Santorini 2009
    Founded in 1903, Estate Argyros is now run by the 4th generation Matthew Argyros along with his father Yiannis Argyros. Yiannis is “considered one of the best makers of dry white wines in Greece and his estate won the Wine & Spirits Magazine 100 Best Wineries in 2005 and 2006.” Their vines range in age from 50-300 years old. Yiannis crafts his wines alongside with oenologist Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, of GAI’A fame.
    Tasting notes: $27, 13% alcohol, These vines are 50-60 years of age. Green apples with briny ocean air, citrus overtones, relatively high acidity, crisp and fresh
  • Gai’a Thalassitis 2008
    A joint venture of Leon Karatsolos and Bordeaux trained Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, Gai’a was founded in 1994. Yiannis has become one of Greece’s most honored and vocal oenologist.
    Tasting notes: $27, 13% alcohol, These vines are 70-80 years of age. Bone dry, delicate honeysuckle, yeasty, crisp mineral finish
  • Domaine Sigalas, Santorini 2008- click here to purchase
    Tasting notes: RP 90, $23, 13.5% alcohol, Peachy, ripeness and richness, minerality from the volcanic rock

Xinomavro – Greek Diva #2

Xinomavro is the dominant grape of Northern Greece. With etymology that seems more like a rock band than grape, the name Xinomavro is the combination of the Greek words for acid and black. As with Assrytiko, its fair red sister Xinomavro is also acidic. As a result, winemakers often hold bottles back, releasing them with a little age in order to mellow out the acidity. Stellios Boutaris from Kir Yianni and Domaine Sigalas shared “There is no question that Assyrtiko and Xinomavro are the two divas of the Greek vineyard… as for Xinomavro, I feel greater affinity to its juice rather than water(!!!). I can tell you that we have discovered  only  30-40% of their potential.”

Temperamental and unforgiving, Xinomavro is affected significantly by the weather, so the vintage for Xinomavro matters more than most other Greek varietals. Think scents of black olives and tomato leaves with a Xinomavro. Anyone who loves a good tomato knows exactly what I am talking about when I say the smell of the tomato leaf and vine. For our tasting, they put the Xinomavro next to a Barbaresco (Nebbiolo) and a Brunello (Sangiovese). Some also compare its taste to a Pinot Noir. But then again, Xinomavro is its own thing.

  • Boutari Grande Reserve 2003
    Requirements for Grand Reserve Red are: 4 year aging (minimum: 2 years in barrel, 2 years in bottle).
    Tasting notes: Tobacco, cherries, tomato leaf
  • Kir Yianni Ramnista 2006
    The grapes are lower pH range (higher in acidity), the soil is lighter (which maximizes the aromatic intensity) and the blocks are close to a nearby forest (where the more humid mesoclimate leads to a more tempered ripening pace).
    Tasting notes: $25, 14.5% alcohol, Hints of sun-dried tomato, black olive, sandalwood and some violets
  • Alpha Estate 2006 – click here to purchase
    Tasting notes: $18, Richness on fore palate, tea leaves and black olives
  • Happy early Father’s Day to all of those weekend warrior grilling machines out there.

    Sources: All About Greek Wines and the National Interprofessional Organization of Vine and Wine of Greece.

Sonoma County and the Green Acres Contingency

“Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream?” Pretty Woman, circa 1990

Why do people do what they do – both personally and professionally? I’ve always had a mild fascination with this topic.

Winemakers tend to be very passionate people. I thoroughly take pleasure in asking them why they do what they do. Inevitably, they are doing what they love and therefore, are very happy people. Recently at the Sonoma County event in New York, I enjoyed some brilliant wines, but my favorite part of the evening was hearing how some of these winemakers turned their dreams into reality.

This article is dedicated to all of the people out there with the courage to ask the difficult question “What makes you happy?” and the tenacity, spirit and passion to make it happen. Here’s to you. And here’s to second acts. “What’s your dream?”

Sonoma County and the Green Acres Contingency…

How can you not fall in love with a winery that emphatically states: “No wimpy wines… if your favorite color is beige, you should probably drink something else.” Most know Ravenswood for their delicious Zinfandels. Some know Ravenswood’s head winemaker Joel Peterson as “the Godfather of Zin.” Joel Peterson shares, “I like Zin because it’s a tough old bird. Treat it with the respect it deserves and it soars.”

In the seventies, Joel was “educated as a clinical laboratory scientist with a degree in microbiology.” He worked “full-time in cancer immunology research at a San Francisco hospital while dabbling in wine on the side.” In the Peterson family, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Joel’s mom, a nuclear chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project, helped Alice Waters to edit her first book. His dad had a passion for wine, frequently organizing wine gatherings at his family’s home. Joel’s first wine education began at the tender age of 10 at one of his father’s tastings when he was told to “shut up and spit.” Of course his dad watched closely to make sure Joel did in fact spit. Joel stopped the dabbling and took his passion full throttle. He and his business partner Reed Foster founded Ravenswood in 1976.

2007 Old Hill – click here to puchase: ST 94, $50, 76% Zinfandel, 24% mixed blacks; cocoa, black plums and raspberry preserves, black pepper with lingering minerality

Landmark Vineyards
I was able to spend some time with Damaris Calhoun, whose grandmother, Damaris Deere Ford started up this winery after visiting the region on a trip post her divorce in the seventies. (Ms. Ford remarried recently- congrats). Ms. Calhoun shared a few stories with me about her grandmother (who sounds like a real pistol). Her grandmother instantly fell in love with Sonoma on this trip. She was very concerned about the land being subsumed by the nearby urban sprawl, so she sought to protect it by developing the land into the winery that it is today.

The winery has been owned and operated by the family for three generations. Ms. Calhoun explained, “My parents (Michael and Mary Deere Calhoun) have been running the vineyard since 1992.” Ms. Calhoun has been running their northeast sales for almost three years.

Agriculture coursed through this family’s blood far before Ms. Ford purchased the winery. Ms Calhoun added, “My grandmother’s commitment to agriculture has deep roots in this country.” Ms. Ford’s great grandfather was John Deere. The names of many of their wines serve as a tribute to her family’s commitment to the land and farming. Ms. Calhoun shared, “There is Steel Plow Syrah, Grand Detour Pinot Noir– the town in Illinois where John Deere invented the steel plow— and Damaris, who was John Deere’s wife… The latest news is that we are going for our organic certification with our estate vineyard.”

In 1993, the family worked with world-renowned consulting oenologist Helen Turley and winemaker, Eric Stern. Under Eric’s direction, Landmark’s wines have garnered amazing reviews. In my opinion, these Chardonnays are underpriced for their value.

2007 Overlook Chardonnay, Sonoma County – click here to purchase: ST 90/WS 92, $24.99, (81% Sonoma County, 11% Santa Barbara County, 8% Monterey County), crisp green apple with orange blossom, wonderful yin and yang of acidity and creaminess, elegant minerality

2008 Landmark Grand Detour Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast – click here to purchase: RP 90, $40, (blend of five Sonoma Coast vineyards), cherries with chocolate and coffee; round, velvety texture

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery
In the early seventies, after moving to Sonoma County to study Political Science, it didn’t take long for the wine bug to strike Gary Farrell. He became fascinated with wine, learned from pioneers in the region, worked in local cellars and then started to make his own wine. “After working for more than 20 years in wineries owned and maintained by others, I realized a lifetime dream of moving into my own new winery just in time for harvest of 2000. With the experience I garnered from working and visiting other wineries, I dreamed of how I would set up my own facility.” The rest is history.

After spending 3 years working alongside Gary, Susan Reed was promoted to head winemaker in 2006. Susan arrived in Sonoma in 1981, working her way up from lab technician to head winemaker prior to working with Gary. These wines are extremely elegant and were some of my favorite wines from this event.

2007 Russian River Selection Chardonnay, Russian River Valley– click here to purchase: $28, custard, baked apple, hazelnut, with some nutmeg. After I was done tasting (and spitting), this is the one of the ones I savored at the end of my day. I truly enjoyed this. The wonderful acidity balanced it all.

2007 Russian River Selection Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley – click here to purchase: $38, cherries, plummy, leather and earthiness, nice weight with some spice on the end

Papapietro Perry
Ben Papapietro, head winemaker, worked for the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, making wine as a hobby in his garage for 17 years. Ben met his future partner Bruce Perry through working at the agency. Bruce quickly joined Ben in making wines in his garage. Bruce’s wife Renae, a “New York girl with brains and chutzpah” added her marketing expertise to the mix. Ben’s wife, Yolanda, who used to be an insurance broker, now handles distributor relations. Together, the four of them own this endeavor. They set out to make wines that are, in Ben’s words “Authentic, not pretentious. Confident, but not too serious. Humble. The winery is an extension of my home and personal hospitality.” Papapietro Perry handcrafts their wines from 10 single vineyards in the Sonoma area (Pinot Noir and Zinfandel).

2007 Leras Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: $49 bing cherries, plum, cassis and smoke; velvety on the palate with hints of minerality

Meet Bill and Betsy Nachbaur. Bill was a lawyer for 30 years and became obsessed with viticulture. Betsy worked in the banking industry for 21 years. Many trips to wine country later, the Nachbaurs bought Alegria Vineyards and made it happen. At first, they sold their grapes, but in 1994, they decided to produce their own wine and Acorn Vineyards was born. “Every wine is a field-blend, following the ancient tradition represented in the mixed planting that is our original 120-year old vineyard. Every wine is made by co-fermenting multiple varieties.”

2006 Axiom Syrah – click here to purchase: (99% Syrah and 1% Viognier, so made in Côte Rôtie fashion, it won the Gold Medal at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair) $33, intense berries, tobacco, mocha

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Mitchell Photography and

Toro, DO and Bodegas Numanthia

It’s a rainy Monday morning. In lieu of the grind, would you fancy taking a virtual whirlwind visit to the wine region of Toro, Spain, along with sampling slivers of melt-in-your-mouth Pata Negra, Spanish cheese, and then, topping off your experience with some of your favorite champers? Um, hello, happy Monday to me…

A little bit about Toro, DO

Toro is a Spanish Denominación de Origen (DO) created in 1987 for wines in the province of Zamora, which is in the northwest of Castilla y Léon, and west of Ribera del Duero. The sandy soils of this DO protected many vines from the phylloxera crisis of the 19th century, which decimated most of the vines of Europe. (Phylloxera is pest which feeds on the roots of grapevines.) As a result, Toro still has a number of very old vineyards with pre-phylloxera Tinta de Toro, which is the primary grape of this region. Although Tinta de Toro and Tempranillo are used by most interchangeably, Tinta de Toro is considered to be an acclimatized clone of Tempranillo. Of the 19,800 acres (8,000 HA) planted in Toro, only 13,500 acres (5,500 HA) are allowed to be used in the production of these wines. Interestingly, about half of the grapes used in the production of Toro (2,500HA) are still from pre-phylloxera rootstocks, with the residual vines grafted onto more resistant rootstocks.

The temperatures of this region vary greatly, ranging from 98.6°F (37°C) in the summer to 12°F (-11°C) in the winter. Temperatures can change drastically from day to night (diurnal temperature), varying from 98.6-68°F (37-20°C) in the summer. If not monitored carefully, the extreme heat can result in very high levels of alcohol. The DO allows up to 15% alcohol levels, but expect levels around 13.5%. With these climatic extremes, extraction must be precise, otherwise the results are wines with overpowering tannins and super high alcohol content. Permitted varietals include Tinta de Toro/Tempranillo, Garnacha/Grenache, White Verdejo and Malavasia.

Bodegas Numanthia

Bodegas Numanthia exudes the true potential of what Toro wines have to offer. The estate was founded in 1998 by the Eguren family and is now run under the direction of Manuel Louzada. I was able to spend some time with Manuel and learn more about these wines and the region.

“Numancia is the name of an ancient Spanish city that resisted Roman occupancy for over a hundred years. The city stood for its tenacity and resistance,” stated Manuel. Rather than relinquish control of their beloved city and become enslaved by the Romans, the inhabitants of Numancia preferred to die than to surrender, so they burned down their entire city. He added, “We named our wines after these cities as a tribute to their tenacity and the ability of the vines to survive the extreme local climatic conditions and phylloxera… Like Numancia, when I first visited the vineyards in Toro, I was totally impressed to see these ancient vineyards [that were] over a hundred years old, [had] resisted the Phylloxera and, year after year, [had] struggled with the extreme natural conditions of the region (limited rainfall without irrigation, extreme temperatures and very poor soils) to deliver a very, very low yield yet with incredible concentration and magnificent expression. And then I tasted Tinta de Toro wines: the beautiful dark purple color, the richness and the complexity in the nose and finally, the natural sweetness, the creaminess and density in the middle palate and the enormous tannic structure, yet with the elegance of the perfect ripeness… I fell in love with Numanthia and when I was offered to come from Argentina and take care of the winery I, of course, said  ‘yes’.”

With the bold tannins of Tinta de Toro, these are wines to enjoy (in some instances) 20-30 years from now. Manuel added, “I have been in this business since I was 4 years old and I am now 40 years old. What I have learned is that wine must generate pleasure and emotions from the beginning. We tell our people, the goal here is to make one of the best wines in the world.”

“The berries are like little bombs of flavor. Harvesting, selecting the grapes and crushing must be precise. We hand harvest and hand de-stem. We also do fruit crushing.” Side note: For those who get a quick visual of “I Love Lucy” in Italy crushing grapes… It is by far more hygienic. The workers wear neoprene boots and pants. Manuel continued, “In the case of Termanthia, these grapes come from our vineyard Teso Los Carriles where the age of the vineyards is between 120 and 140 years old. The grapes at the winery are selected and de-stemmed by hand, taken into oak vats of 800 and 1,600 Kg and then crushed by feet (“pigeage” by feet) twice a day during 8 to 10 days (duration of the cold maceration). It takes around 45 minutes to submerge the skins in the must.” (Must is freshly pressed juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit.)

2007 Vintage:

For many vineyards in Europe, 2007 was plagued with a deluge of rain. For the Toro region, because Tempranillo is harvested early (“temprano” means “early” in Spanish), the grapes were saved from the onslaught of rain and the 2007 vintage resulted in very elegant wine.

The Wines:

all 100% Tinta de Toro
2007 Termes – click here to purchase: WS 88, $23, vines are 30-50 years old; lively, nice plummy fruit, tobacco, sandalwood and cinnamon; I truly enjoyed this and thought it was a great price point.

2007 Numanthia: WS 92, $50, vines are 50-120 years old; blackberries, cassis, currants, pencil shavings and black pepper; I’d let this one age a bit. I’d love to try it in a few years.

2006 Termanthia – click here to purchase: ST94/WS 95, $140, vines are 120-140 years old; currants and wood, with some balsamic, sandalwood and truffle notes; intense and long finish. I’d age this one as well.