Friday, November 28, 2014

The Power of the Four P's

The Power of the Four P's

Carol Klein's Wine Tasting, Saturday, November 15th

All women, all about food and wine, fun, and camaraderie. Best described with Four P's: passionate, poised, particular, and all around pleasant. The Four P's also happens to be the local's nickname for Ireland's Four Provinces Pub & Restaurant in Falls Church, the main watering hole for all the gals where gossip flies over booze bonding, frivolous fare, and all around fun times! Carol Klein invited me over to host a wine tasting and food pairing seminar, as her girl friends are passionate about wine and even more particular about their food! After providing me with a list of wines, I gave them a list of suggestions to pair with the wines. A number of the women pitched in and made delicious hors d'oeuvres. Below are some of the perfect pairs we discovered on that frigid, fall day.

Perfect Pairs to Share:

  • Endive with fresh chèvre, mandarin orange, and almond slices

Paired with E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2012. A blend of Viognier and Marsanne that truly shows off the Viognier. Aromas of peach, apricot, white flowers and a bit of spice. But truly, the magic here was the orange zest burst followed by smooth viscosity all melding with the Endive crunch and citrus punch from the oranges. Explosion of pit fruits and mouth watering freshness.

  • Salmon creme fraîche on cucumber with sprinkled dill

Paired with Trader Joe's Blanc de Blanc Brut and Ameztoi Getariako Txalolina 2011
The easy pair was the bubbles and the key ingredient: cucumber, which is light, refreshing and aromatic. The effervescence of the sparkling makes for a clean pairing, simply a wash that lightens the oiliness of the salmon, compliments the creaminess of the creme fraîche and swirls the cucumber aromatics around your mouth and dissolves the herb garnish.

The Ameztoi Getariako Txalolina was the unique pairing. I've never had this wine and I still cannot pronounce it! At first, I thought it was Greek, but it's from the Basque country in Northern Spain bordering the Mediterranean. You can taste the sea, plus it's a prickly wine that gives tactile sensations. I wouldn't drink it every day, but I can see it as a perfect spritzer sipper in the dog days of summer, and paired with cucumbers it's a match made in heaven for a palate cleanser, so no need for sorbet.

  • Tandoori Chicken with Cilantro Sauce and Sweet Chutney Sauce

Paired with Errazuriz Carmenere, Aconcagua Valley, Chile 2011. God this was good. Straight up awesome pairing. Carmenere always presents a challenge because of its variety of spices. Some people describe Carmenere's aromas to be an amalgamation of Indian spices like cardamom, turmeric, cumin. Others describe Carmenere's smell as fresh churned earth (not so appealing in my opinion), but definitely cool to gardeners who love digging in the dirt. Depending on the ripeness level and the talent of the winemaker and viticulturist, Carmenere can sing. Errazuriz is top of the line, and for $15-$17 on the shelf, it's a steal. So I suggested we use this for a festive, fall lineup during our afternoon soirée. Due to the Indian spices I've always picked up in Carmenere, I asked the hostess to bring an authentic Indian dish. She brought Tandoori chicken with the dipping sauces. The fruit in the Carmenere nicely complimented the spicy and sweet sauces, which in turn toned down the spiciness of the Carmenere.

  • Trader Joe's dark chocolate cocoa dusted truffles

Chocolate Box Sparkling Shiraz Australia NV
The Sparkling Shiraz proved to be pure decadence. The deep, rich folds of Shiraz juice, layered in
chocolate nuances, raspberry jam, and peppery spice, enveloped the bittersweet tones of the cocoa while the bubbles whipped up the entire magical concoction into swirls of chocolate ecstasy. Plenty of moaning was going on at this point, and only continued to part two:

  • Dark Caramel Chocolate with Sea Salt 

Castello di Amorosa La Fantasia Rosé Napa Valley 2009
Step into pure fantasy for sure with this wine. On the lighter side, but beautiful ruby red in color, slightly effervescent, syrupy sweet but not cloying with just a hint of salt crunch to add texture and accents to the chocolate flavor. Mmmm. Mmmm. Good.

 Thanks ladies, my Four P's crew, for such a wonderful afternoon!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thirsty for Adventure [And Cocktails]? New Series “Chug” Premieres Tonight!

Rum company owner, world traveler, and drink aficionado, Zane Lamprey, travels the globe to explore drinking customs and cultures by tossing back a few with the locals in the all-new series Chug. As he explores the libations of the region, Zane visits watering holes, breweries, distilleries, and wineries. In every episode, he journeys by train to the outskirts of the big cities, chugging off to get a taste of local spirits.
Tonight on the series premiere of Chug: Kuala Lumpur, Zane sets off for Malaysia to experience local libations and soak up soul vibes with interesting people.
Local man Deepak Gill brings Zane to a farm where they harvest a beverage called Toddy from the coconuts of a Toddy Palm tree.
Photograph by Inzane Entertainment/ Melissa Schilling

Malaysia’s Local Drinks: The Toddy & The Lancow

There's a raw beauty inherit in the jungle forests, and Zane quickly realizes he’s in for an experience you can’t get in the States. Zane’s drinking guide, Deep, explains Malaysia’s drinking culture is relatively new. Considered a way station for cultural influences from surrounding countries, which don’t all embrace drinking, Malaysia's drinking culture is growing and evolving. In the village of Banting, Zane finds a true native gem--a drink locals have dubbed the Toddy, named for the Toddy Palm tree from which it’s derived.
Its harvesting method, Zane discovers, is just as unique as its taste. The locals hang pots on the palm tree’s fruit stalks in order to collect the nectar. It’s basically sweet, sugary water until the wild yeast that’s floating in the air and in the pots converts the sugar into alcohol… and Voilà. Fermentation occurs right in the pot as it hangs on the tree. Zane reveals the spirit tastes like cereal and bugs, which happen to be floating around getting their buzz on too!
The drink mongers stop at a local Toddy shop that sells a more refined version of the beverage that’s filtered and chilled. The Toddy now tastes more like a bready version of carbonated coconut water with a reminiscent flavor of cereal and milk. It’s kind of like a beer with yeasty nuances and 5-6 % alcohol content. Zane learns a new word for “Cheers” here in Banting, “Ban Thai!” It translates to “Whack,” and could be for the local tradition of dropping a shot of Toddy into a Guinness. Sound familiar? It’s like an Irish car bomb, but with a Malaysian flair--whack!
While in Kuala Lumpur, Zane and the Chug crew visit the Batu Caves, a famed Malaysian site with magnificent limestone steps leading up to an ancient cave.
Photograph by Inzane Entertainment/ Melissa Schilling
The next stop for Zane is the Batu caves about twenty minutes outside K-L, which houses a Hindu shrine teeming with Macaques monkeys. Here, Zane discovers a Malaysian version of moonshine crafted by an almost forgotten people, the Ibans, who migrated from the Indonesia region to settle on the island of Borneo in western Malaysia. Locals today try to preserve the drinking tradition of the Ibans with the Lancow, named for the farm hut in which the illegal moonshine was crafted in order to hide their 35% ABV concoction from the authorities.

Cocktail Roundup: Popular Cocktails of Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia offers a number of unique libations known to backpackers and tourists alike. The notorious “Bucket” cocktail, most notably consumed in The Bucket Bar at the last stop on the river tubing run in Vang Vieng in Laos, or on the gorgeous white sand beaches of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, is nothing but a child’s beach toy bucket chocked full of Sangsom, Mekong whiskey, vodka or gin, mixed with a version of Red Bull (dubbed M150), and a dash of fruit juice.
Vietnam boasts their beloved brew, Bia Hoi, and it’s a must try for thrifty travelers who dig paying only 50 cents for a liter of beer.
Found in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, Cobra & Scorpion Whiskey tops the libation charts as an aphrodisiac and cure-all-ailments-cocktail for only the most daring. Peppery and spicy in flavor, this whiskey instilled with either a real scorpion or cobra makes for what some might call a revolting drink, but certainly a fabulous souvenir!
Homemade Lao-Lao whiskey puts hair on the chest and is a favorite found in Laos.

Pro Tip: All hangovers can be treated with the delicious fruit shakes found in street stalls all throughout Southeast Asia. But, nothing beats the esoteric and unknown factor that Zane discovers in the jungles of Malaysia.

Don't miss the series premiere of Chug: Kuala Lumpur Monday at 10:30/9:30c for more escapades into the unknown libations of Malaysia.

Yum Seng!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NIAF 2014 Amarone Seminar

National Italian American Foundation 

Amarone Seminar and Gala 2014

NIAF meets annually and is an organization made up of quite astounding Italian Americans who have made tremendous successes of their lives. I was honored to sit as a panelist during their annual wine tasting, representing one of the most renowned Amarone families, Tommasi. The tasting itself was led by Philadelphia's food and wine writer, Brian Freedman. The dynamic panel consisted of wholesalers who rep honorable Amarone families. As we guided guests through a sampling of the Valpolicella region, we discussed the etymology of grape names, the history of winemaking, current statistics of Veneto production levels, and the differences between the 2009 and 2010 vintages of Amarone. The session ended with a tasting of prominent Amarones, such as Allegrini, Tommasi, Tedeschi, and Brigaldara.

Most memorable moment of the event: seeing Joe Piscopo live, listening to John Turturro speak of his family and life accomplishments, or drinking exceptional Amarone...I think I'll go for the latter. But the entire evening was a smashing success!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bastille Review

Bastille gets a face-lift

On an unsuspecting street corner along the northern fringe of Alexandria, locals escape to provincial France…without the exorbitant price tags of airfare and hotel or the hassle of exchanging dollars for Euros.  Providing fine French cuisine in a casual atmosphere, Bastille meets my criteria for restaurant essentials: it not only showcases the talents of two award-winning chefs, Christophe and Michelle Poteaux, but also an interior renovation and the acquisition of a top sommelier from DC’s Old Guard, James Beard award-winning beverage director Mark Slater, formerly of Citronelle in Georgetown.  Boasting inspirational culinary feats at an affordable price, in an atmosphere where you can easily slip in among the regulars, Bastille is what I look for when I decide a restaurant is a true favorite.

Slater’s thirty-plus years of experience helps amplify the culinary power of the husband and wife chef team—an advantage that young sommeliers just can’t top regardless of how many corks they’ve popped. Mark spins yarns of many great vintages with depths of knowledge that enrich your mental journey to provincial France and pique your palate’s imagination. On my very first trip to Bastille, I was seriously pleased with my experience and the food journey.

I recently eased onto a bar stool before realizing my visit coincided with Alexandria’s Restaurant Week. My spirits were immediately dampened, as I don’t tend to like the frenzy surrounding this turbulent week for most restaurants, but my hopes were immediately elevated as the first dish was placed before me.
My meal began with three charcuterie selections, which arrived neatly aligned: pork rillette, house-made bresaola seasoned with marjoram and oregano, and a goose liver pâté topped with Concord grape aspic. The first course could have sufficed as a full meal for me on a casual Monday, but it was Saturday and I ate a light lunch in anticipation of the splurge. When Slater made a point to ask me what my wine preferences were, I demurred: “I trust your judgment.” My trust was rightly placed.  His spot-on judgment created a not-so-ordinary pairing of a Côtes de Provence rosé that shimmered salmon-colored hues in the glass. Most people would raise a brow when pink wine sloshes in their glass next to robust charcuterie; but the pair couldn’t have been more perfect.  My taste buds loved the way strawberry accents framed the savory flavors of the aperitif. The charcuterie itself was delicately aromatic and herbaceous while giving way to sweetness from the rich and fatty meat, just calling for an elegant, fresh, smooth and equally flavored rosé.

The journey through rural France continued with a seemingly-traditional cassoulet consisting of white bean stew, slow-baked pork belly, and duck sausage layered with slices of pan-roasted duck breast, topped with a crispy slab of pork belly that was out of this world due to texture and melt-in-your-mouth flavor. What really sent my mouth soaring was the combination of duck, cassoulet and a robust Bordeaux red wine known as the “bad boy” in French slang. Slater poured “Mauvais Garçon,” a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. The value of this wine speaks volumes of Slater’s talents to source true gems for less, as the pedigree on this regular Bordeaux AOC couldn’t be higher coming from the notorious garagiste, or small-batch wine maker, Jean-Luc Thunevin.

Ending in sweetness, I enjoyed Valrohna pot de crème with orange compote and candied cranberries, paired with Maydie ruby port. The dessert was balanced by citrus notes folded into chocolate decadence; therefore, it needed a wine laced with sweetness and aromatic persistence to stand up to the slight bitterness and aromas of high-quality chocolate. Not ready to end my culinary vacation, I dared to forge on and order a cheese board offering three artisanal selections of a bleu, a triple-crème, and a semi-hard cheese paired with a white burgundy (aka chardonnay). Wow! I was in bliss, because the cheeses were all so smooth and rich and in need of a wine that could contrast the decadence with acidic crispness and minerality while simultaneously presenting a smooth, full-bodied, rich wine.

I departed Bastille in high spirits (and, thankfully, not the designated driver), cloaked in warmth from a heart-warming evening made of the best ingredients, friendly staff, bistro-style dining, and delicious wine. Bastille, you’re an exception in a sea of mediocrity and over-priced indulgences. I’ll be back and ready to sample more of your exquisite offerings.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Valentine's Wines

Fiscally Friendly Valentine's Wines for under $25 Let these wines make a big impression on your crush and not your wallet. Top sommeliers around DC poured out their best recommendations for Valentine's Day wine for under $25 to Lauren DeSantis with Capital Cooking.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cordial Wine Shop in Union Market

Push back against sameness and predictability, a symptom of the wine world these days, go for nourishing your intellect and exploring your soul...I know we all may fall victim to our addiction to "safe" wines, meaning we stick to what we know, we lean toward buying brand name wines, wines adorned with high scores, or a myriad of other factors; but something is growing in the wine biz, and its the grassroots movement to embrace originality from small production wineries (or big), namely wineries that preserve terroir, pureness and uniqueness in their wines. One of the mavericks supplying the wine world with such gems is Eric Rohleder, who just opened his first artisanal wine and beer shop in Union Market. Read more at my posting on Capital Cooking with Lauren DeSantis

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


This Monday, February 4th 7:30pm at Red, White & Bleu prepare for the infamous Valentine's Day wine and dining tactics for your lover, a friend, or just plain old you. Learn what wines you can sink your teeth into when you make that perfect filet mignon followed by sweet bites of dark, aromatic chocolate.

Check out the tasting line-up and the links I've included add some interesting tidbits....Stay tuned for tasting notes to follow after Monday!

Love Drunk Rose, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Chocolate Box Sparkling Shiraz, Australia
Fiddle Town Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel Sierra Foothills, California
Hundred Acre "If you see Kay" Lazio, Italy
The Chocolate Block Bordeaux Blend Boekenhoutskloof, South Africa