Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wines of the Catalan a fresh, new import from Spain

Mercat a la Planxa is the relatively new glitzy restaurant in the Blackstone Renaissance Hotel on South Michigan Avenue, in downtown Chicago, which features the cuisine of Catalonia, Spain. It was the scene of an eye-opening wine-tasting event, sponsored by Catalan Wines USA.

I first encountered the wines of Catalan at the recent 9th Miami International Wine Fair but had little opportunity to taste the wines as they were inconveniently placed near the food stations in the Miami Beach Convention Center and were in the epicenter of a mob scene. An invitation to visit the wine producers in a more serene environment in Chicago proved to be a golden opportunity to experience these unique, value-priced wines. Adding to the experience was the presence of the winemakers and a sumptuous sideboard of Spanish tapas (small plates), and an assortment of olives, cheeses and cured meats indigenous to Spain and the Catalonia region.

Wines of the Catalan are new to the American market, but, in spite of the unfamiliarity of the wine drinking public, they should quickly find their place. They are young, flavorful, very approachable and easy on the pocketbook. Not one wine I tasted sells for more than $24. Most are in the $10-$15 range. There were even some surprisingly good wines in the $4-$9 category. I’m sure that once these wines start appearing on restaurant wine lists and begin to gain some traction from word of mouth, that will not always be the case.

That reality may be in the distant future. The nice thing about wine is that it somehow dampens any feelings of foreboding, replacing them with a warm, satisfying inner glow.

That feeling of satisfaction permeated my experience as I cruised the tasting tables and chatted with the personable winemakers.

The first stop is the Caves (Spanish sparkling wines) of Canals & Munne where winemaker Oscar Medina Canals awaits with a ready glass of his Insuperable Brut 2006, which was rated 90 points by Europe’s version of Robert Parker, Guia Penin. At roughly $20 a bottle, this was one of the more expensive wines in the room and certainly one of the best. It had a beautiful pale straw color and bubbles that shimmered up the glass like a strand of fine pearls. There was a pronounced aroma of spring flowers and a pleasant taste that filled the mouth with hints of honey, pear and just a hint of jasmine tea. The winery only produces 30,000 bottles of this fine sparkler. Aged 25 months in the bottle, it is an exquisite of the type of care and craftsmanship that goes into Catalonian wine.

My next favorite was Mas Rodo Riesling 2009 presented by winemaker Sergi Silguero. The wine is mind-blowing! If you weren’t reading the label, you would swear that you had wandered into a tasting room somewhere in the Rheingau. Mas Rodo Riesling was, in fact, nominated as “Wine of the Week” in Germany by the newspaper “Hamburger Abendblatt this past Spring. ..Danke you very much! Again, we’re talking small production and tremendous value. At about $15 tops, this pale gold beauty truly delivers with complex aromas and a delicate perfume on the nose. Silky and elegant in the mouth, it is surprisingly well balanced, with enough acid and a long finish that allows it to stand up to food. Paella comes to mind.

There were roughly 30 wines on display and frankly, I couldn’t find a bad one in the bunch, and I went around the tasting tables twice. Needless to say, a long steam bath at the club provided the proper wind-down to a particularly delightful ‘wined-up’ afternoon!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Miami Wine Fair: Truly International

1 & 2 Sunset and sunrise over South Beach, Miami
3. Gjorgji Bogevski and his Bovin wine of Macedonia on his first visit to the U.S.
4. Presenting Champagne Grand Prieur
5. Entrance to the "Versace House", a South Beach landmark, now Villa by Barton G a boutique hotel
6. Celebrants at the Wines of Don Quixote at the world famous Fontainebleau, Miami Beach
7. Dwight The Wine Doctor and Montalvo Wilmot of Bodegas Montalvo Wilmot, Los Cerrillos Estate near Madrid, Spain
8. Executive Chef John McCann and assistant of the Conrad, Miami, prepare Foie Gras and Truffle "Meat Loaf and Mashed Potatoes"
9. David Bernad, President & Founder of the Miami International Wine Festival
10. Opening ceremony of the 9th Miami International Wine Festival
11. A reprise

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Miami Beach—Mourvedre, Vermentino, Vendelho. Those are all the names of grape varieties from the countries of France, Italy and Australia, respectively. They are not names familiar to most American wine drinkers. But, if the organizers of the recent Miami International Wine Fair have their way, they will be a part of the everyday wine vernacular of American consumers.

The 9th Miami International Wine fair brought wine producers from 20 countries who poured nearly 2-thousand types of wine to members of the wine buying public, the media, wine distributors, restaurant owners, sommeliers, hotel food and beverage managers and just about anyone else who could get a badge of admission and hold a glass at what turned out to be the largest wine tasting event of its type ever held in America.

“We’ve made an effort to bring the newest and the best that the world has to offer to excite the American palate and interest in wine,” President & Founder David Bernad told The Wine Doctor. “What we’re hoping this does is put the U.S. on an equal footing with some of the other great wine exhibitions of the world like the London Wine Fair and Vinitaly in Verona. What we have here is the greatest selection of wines ever seen by the American public. With this country now the world’s number one consumer of wine, we’re hoping to take the industry to the next level and make wine a part of everyday life in America.”

Perhaps Wines of Castilla-La Mancha, which hosted a major celebration of the Wines of Don Quixote, Discover the wines of D.O. La Mancha at the world famous Fontainebleau, made the biggest impression Miami Beach. Featuring a dazzling array of Tapas (Spanish small plates) from some Spain’s and Miami’s top chefs of, including Jose Rodriguez Rey of El Bohio Restaurant, Illescas Toledo and Victor Sanchez-Beato of Locum Restaurant, Toledo and Jonathan Eismann, Pizza Volante Restaurant, Miami and Chef Jamie DeRosa, Atlantic Ocean Club of Delray Beach, Florida. Their tapas blended perfectly with a dazzling array of wines, including those from Bodega Palarca, Bodegas Fernando Castro S.L. and Mont Reaga S.L. from Castilla-La Mancha. Many of the wines are still seeking distribution in the U.S. They were represented at MIWF by IBERWINE.

According to Javier Vega of IPEX, the Foreign Trade Institute of Castilla-La Mancha, “we see these wines as a valuable component to the U.S. wine market. These are wines that are value-priced and absolutely right for today’s climate. They are also extremely food friendly and are the perfect accompaniment to a broad range of cuisine. There is no single ‘American food’ anymore. It is more like ‘foods of the world’ and wines of Castilla-La Mancha are perfect in their company.”

Food is an integral part of any wine fair, and the Miami International Wine Fair is without exception. Chef John McCann, Executive Chef of The Conrad, Miami, prepared a succulent variation on a ‘comfort food’ favorite, Foie Gras “meatloaf.”

“We tried to take a well-known down-home, comfort food favorite and kick it up a notch. We elevated the normal meat loaf and mashed potatoes by preparing it with foie gras and truffles.
We’re simmering it down right here in a reduction of beef stock and Madeira wine, then adding in the meatballs made with prime angus beef with the foie gras mixed in, then adding the truffles for added flavor. The mashed potatoes are the golden Yukon potatoes made with extra creamy homemade butter to create an absolutely creamy texture in your mouth. The kind of thing you’d expect with great comfort food with the extra flavor quotient of the foie gras and truffles thrown in for added richness. We sell a lot of it at The Conrad. It’s a real popular dish with our customers. I’d recommend a good, fruity Pinot Noir to go along with it!”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Uncovering the hidden treasures of California's Central Coast

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

1. Morro Rock at Morro Bay-one of the Seven Sisters dormant volcanic mountains
2. Reflecting pool at the entrance to Hearst Castle at San Simeon
3. Fireplace detail in the Great Lodge at Hearst Ranch Winery
4. Dwight The Wine Doctor and Steve Hearst
5. San Luis Mountain above Cal Poly campus in San Luis Obispo, one of the Seven Sisters

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Uncovering the hidden treasures of California's Central Coast

The Wide World of Wine

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

1. Sunset over the Central Coast near San Luis Obispo

2. Dottie Nelson prepares breakfast at The Lodge at Oak Creek Ranch

3. The main room of The Lodge

4. Proprietors Jeff and Dottie Nelson

5. The view from The Lodge at Oak Creek Ranch

Mountains that are sleeping volcanoes, stand like sentinels guarding the land of rolling hills dotted with herds of Angus cattle and fertile fields of luscious, juice-laden grapes. Dancing whales and dolphins rise from the ocean just below the horizon as sea otters loll on their backs, bellies groaning with the swell of eating too many fresh-caught abalone. Sunsets mingle with the damp kiss of fog, forming droplets of dew on a freshly poured glass of sparkling pinot noir. That, as the taste of a warm, freshly baked chocolate cookie glides down the back of your throat. It sounds like a far off paradise, but those are just a few of the sights and sensations experienced on a recent tour of the Central Coast of California, near the city of San Luis Obispo.

“Treasures of the Central Coast” was the theme of this behind-the-scenes look at California’s ‘undiscovered coast,’ which boasts a bounty of exquisite wines, delicious organic vegetables, succulent sea foods and culinary and confectionary wizardry from chefs and artisans who take pride in the bounty of their region.

There was also the splendor of the Hearst Castle and the amazing visual spectacle of a winery that is a sculpture garden that looks like a scene out of the movie “Edward Scissorhands” and another winery that uses the natural marvel of gravity to create wine that has been heralded as the best in the nation.

San Luis Obispo’s Wine Coast Country is a marvel to behold. Arriving after a late-night flight from Chicago by way of Phoenix, and being whisked by car up windy mountain roads, I arrived at The Lodge at Oak Creek Ranch. The one-time Campfire Girl’s camp is located on 163 pristine acres in the foothills above San Luis Obispo. The centerpiece of the property is the humongous wood-paneled lodge with its huge roaring fireplace. With its array of Western bric-a-brac, it looks as if it were once the location for a scene from an old John Wayne movie. As you look around the room and take in the view of the property, you can almost hear singing cowboys strumming away in the distance. The stars above were like a blanket of shimmering diamonds. The outlines of both the Big and Little Dipper and the elusive Milky Way were clearly visible in the night sky which had become my personal planetarium.

My hostess and I shared a late-night repast of Wisconsin Merlot Cheddar and Jewish deli ‘streak-o-lean’ homemade Pastrami that I had smuggled into my carry-on bag for the long red-eye flight from Chicago. Washed down with the remaining dregs of a bottle of hearty Niner pinot noir from a nearby winery, the remnant of a wood-fire cookout of local grass-fed beef followed by a sunset hayride, the welcome snack tasted like filet mignon to this weary traveler.

After a good night’s sleep in the cozy bed rooms of the Lodge’s Red Barn, proprietors Jeff and Dottie Nelson were buzzing away in their huge, farmhouse kitchen, preparing a sumptuous breakfast of fresh locally cured bacon and sausage, homemade breads and muffins and a terrific assortment of freshly made granolas and fresh fruit. It was a cornucopia of the best the region has to offer and a shining example of the culinary riches that lie ahead. The breakfast set just the right tone for the day’s activities.

There was much in store. Sunset Magazine’s SAVOR event brought together the wine and food artisans of this largely unexplored part of the Golden State for a first-ever showcase of the beauty and bounty of this unspoiled region. Celebrity chef Tyler Florence of the Food Network headlined this weekend celebration of the Central Coast’s food and wine culture.

Dwight The Wine Doctor will have more in the coming weeks on this enlightening adventure in the Central Coast.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

BCA Celebrates Diversity in Food & Wine

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

New York—BCA, the Black Culinary Alliance, created a sumptuous display of culinary artistry at its 7th Annual Global Food and Wine Experience: Celebrate Diversity In Food & Wine at the elegant Prince George Ballroom in downtown Manhattan.

Thirty culinary artisans from restaurants, bakeries, caterers, wine and spirits shops and wine and spirits distributors offered patrons a tasting experience that covered the gastronomic globe. Premiere Cru Sponsors included W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Ltd., Southern Wine & Spirits of New York and Damascus Bakery, Inc. Southern Wine & Spirits donated $15,000 toward the continuing work of BCA.

BCA is a nationwide non-profit, educational and networking organization of hospitality and food service professionals, dedicated to providing quality educational and employment for culinary and hospitality professionals of color. The BCA 7th Annual Global Food and Wine Experience allows food and wine connoisseurs to experience the latest trends in cuisine, wine and entertainment, with culinary students working side by side with industry professionals in an exquisite environment.

“A key component of this event is the opportunity for the students to work side-by-side with culinary professionals,” said BCA President & CEO Alex Askew. “We want to demonstrate to our students that there are career opportunities that are up and beyond culinary arts, there’s food research, there’s baking, catering, food and wine television, these are all real opportunities that our students can pursue in the job market.

“The pairing of food and wine is also an essential element of this event. We want to show the synergy between food and wine, which is a dynamic force that fuels the industry. We want to show the contributions that have been made toward building that relationship. We also want to show how diversity has strengthened the industry and to honor those who have dedicated their time and energy to lay the groundwork for future generations.”

The Vision In Wine Award was presented to Bernard Sun, Corporate Beverage Director for Jean-Georges Management LLC. One of the country’s most respected sommeliers, and winner of the 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Wine Service, Sun was recognized, not only for his passion for wine, but for his dedication toward sharing his knowledge with future generations who will take their place in the wine and culinary industry.

The real stars of the evening were the chefs who went all out to present their best. Chef Jonathan Reagan of Creole Restaurant and Music Supper Club in Harlem shared his recipe for Creole Shrimp Ceviche and Sweet Potato Beignets. “The ceviche is considered the best in the city. It’s almost like a chilled gumbo. We start with a tomato base and add shrimp. We flavor it with green and red peppers, green onions and Creole spices. The sweet potato beignets are a family secret!”

Tim Molinari is Executive Chef at Arpeggio restaurant in Lincoln Center. He presented some local seafood paired with seasonal vegetables and one of the wines being poured at an adjacent table. “We’re serving some seared sea scallops from Long Island over a cauliflower puree with a raisin-caper relish. It’s on the menu for the Fall, so we thought we’d give people here some fall flavors and showcase it here. The wine I recommend with it is a light Chardonnay. Caymus Conundrum is a good wine to go with it and they’re serving it here tonight.” Jeffrey Cortez, Sous Chef at Arpeggio added more description, “This dish is delectable, light and flavorful. It’s served as a light appetizer and the flavors are really designed to promote a light feeling in your mouth and get you ready for a really delectable dinner. The main thing is about the food and the flavor. The cauliflower is not seasoned heavily at all. Its lightly sautéed in a little butter and seasoned with just a touch salt and pepper. Its served with the caper relish and then finished with some micro-greens. I would recommend a very light Chardonnay or Riesling. A lot of times you have more success if you keep it simple. This dish proves that ‘simple” is the best way.” Amen! I rated Arpeggio’s scallop/cauliflower creation the Best of Show!

Chef Kavon William Langley of Gourmet Bliss Catering of Yonkers, New York, presented his Award-Winning Black Garlic Prawn Salad with Black Garlic Confit, Spring Greens and Black Garlic Dressing. This was a rich, complex dish that went splendidly with one of my favorite wines, Iron Horse Pinot Noir. Chef Langley is truly a Master Chef in every way. His exuberance and love for food is evident in his imaginative creations. He told the Wine Doctor that he is in the process of writing down his recipes, many of them handed down from his ancestors, in a formal cookbook. I’ll be in line for the first copy!

His motto, “No worries, we are here to take care of you!” is exemplified in the taste of his food.

Chef Jesse Jones of Heart and Soul Catering of Irvington, New Jersey received the title of Ultimate Chef Bergen County in March. One taste of his pulled pork strudel with fresh apricot and rice vinegar reduction with Caroline rice proved why.

No tasting event is complete without dessert and Harlem’s Make My Cake gave it a celebratory finish. With family recipes inspired by the family matriarch, Josephine Smith, affectionately called “Ma Smith”, the family team of Jo-Ann, Aliyyah, Kevin, Dedan, and Khalid turn out delicacies that have become a tradition at many Harlem celebrations. Their German Chocolate Cake, Red Velvet Cake and Sweet Potato Cheesecake are literally, “to die for.” I attended one Harlem birthday celebration where the debate over whether to have German Chocolate or Red Velvet Cake, resulted in a ‘compromise’ of cup cakes of both flavors substituted for the traditional birthday cake. It was delicious example of ‘détante’!

The Wine Doctor finished the evening with a visit just around the corner from the Prince George Ballroom to SD 26, on East 26th off Madison Square Park, the successor to Tony May’s wildly popular San Domenico restaurant on Central Park South, where his daughter and co-owner Marisa May hosted me in the Wine Bar & Lounge to Prosecco and their signature Polenta with wild mushrooms and “Uovo”, soft egg yolk filled ravioli with truffled butter. It was the perfect finish to a delightful celebration of diversity in the culinary arts.