© Jen Murphy
Apple tart at Castello di Vicarello
Earlier in the year I had a chance to spend a weekend cooking with the amazing Aurora Baccheschi Berti at her dreamy 12th-century castle-turned-hotel, Castello di Vicarello, in Maremma, Tuscany. Staying at Vicarello is like staying at fabulous friend’s home with nonstop food, wine and adventure (Aurora’s husband, Carlo, takes groups wild-boar hunting at his nearby lodge, Valle di Buriano. Aurora and Carlo spent years in the textile business and have quite an eye for design. The seven rooms and villas of Vicarello are outfitted with unique antiques, old issues of Art Forum, oversize bathtubs and quirky touches like a zebra-skin rug. But it’s the kitchen that’s truly the heart of the house, and that’s where guests gravitate. Carlo and Aurora, and often their three charming sons, are the perfect hosts, offering up glasses of Brunello and slices of wild-boar prosciutto. Aurora hosts impromptu cooking lessons, and dinners are a two-hour-plus affair. I got a taste of the Tuscan winter on my visit, but Aurora’s just-released cookbook, Tuscany My Way, gives me a chance to recreate recipes from all four seasons at Vicarello. Inspired by the castle’s gardens, the book has more than 100 recipes organized by season, like carbonara withfava beans and apple tart. It’s one of the most transporting cookbooks I’ve seen and the next best thing to a trip back to Tuscany.
Wines Under $20
I had a great time on the fourth hour of Today today, recommending a few super value wines with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. These were drawn from my February column—essentially, tasty wines that are made in quantities greater than 150,000 cases. That's 1,800,000 bottles, which means that they sure ought to be available somewhere nearby. Check out the clip here.
For fun, here are a couple more that have substantial production, but that didn't quite make my 150,000 case cut-off:
2009 Caposaldo Pinot Grigio ($10) Pinot Grigios labeled with the broad Veneto region classification tend to be less interesting than more pricey wines from regions like Friuli and the Alto Adige, but this crisp, lightly spicy white transcends its pedigree.
2009 Kendall Jackson Avant Chardonnay ($14) Though Kendall Jackson's iconic Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay remains immensely popular, longtime winemaker Randy Ullom tweaks his successful model-quite effectively with the first vintage of this bottling. The wine is made solely in stainless steel tanks and older oak barrels (which impart no oak flavors), keeping its lemon-citrus flavors lively and crisp.
I had the pleasure of appearing on the 4th hour of Today this morning with Hoda Kotb, Kathie Lee Gifford and my good pal Leslie Sbrocco, doing a fun 'he-said-she-said' Valentine's Day wine segment. Leslie and I each presented our picks in four categories—for a romantic dinner, for popping the question, for lounging around in a bathtub (!), and for pairing with chocolate—and Hoda and Kathie Lee chose a winner in each one. Check out this clip to see whose choices got the nod...
Raclette Night at Anfora.
I was a little bummed watching the BCS Football Championship last night. For starters, Oregon State lost in the final minutes of the game to Auburn. Even sadder was that the loss marked the end of Monday night football, at least until next season. Luckily, the team at NYC’s Anfora wine bar has found a way to fill my Monday night void. Last night, Anfora hosted its first Raclette Cheese Night. Each Monday, the wine bar will serve raclette in true Swiss style, with heat lamps for melting and plates of bread, boiled potatoes, pickles and charcuterie for dipping. Sommelier Joe Campanale will be pouring unusual white wines, from producers like Jacques Puffeney, to pair with the cheese. I can’t think of a better way to shake off my post-Monday-night-football blues—and get excited for my upcoming snowboarding trip to Switzerland.
© Lois Ellen Frank
The Basics for Tomahawking Champagne.
In Part II of my occasional series, Don’t Necessarily Try This at Home (Part I featured two-year-old vintage eggnog
from Jonathon Sawyer
of Greenhouse Tavern
in Cleveland), I’d like to spotlight tomahawking Champagne
as a potential holiday trend. I first heard about this from Holly Arnold Kinney
, who owns the iconic Rocky Mountain restaurant The Fort
, outside of Denver. Instead of the classic, and dramatic, French practice of “sabering” Champagne
—hitting the bottle neck with a saber at just the right angle so the cork pops off—the Fort uses a tomahawk to do the same job.
In her cool new coffee-table book, Shinin’ Times at the Fort
, Kinney goes into even more detail: “My dad taught his pal Julia Child
how to tomahawk a bottle of Champagne, and later that week, she taught Jay Leno
how to do so when she was a guest on The Tonight Show
.... [but] the bottle Julia used was weak and broke all over the set! Although she grabbed a second bottle and tomahawked it perfectly, NBC decided to use the broken-bottle take to promote the show.”
I wrote about these super-excellent beer journals
last June because I think the idea is just so great—they fit in your pocket, and each page has a spot for all the tasting notes you could ever possibly come up with. I was elated to hear that 33 Books has come up with books for wine notes
), too, because I’m always writing notes on gum wrappers or magazine insert cards that I dig out of the depths of my bag when I’m out. These are a smart way to keep it all in one place. Plus, the wine-colored ink on the covers actually contains some wine from the Walla Walla Valley. These little books would make excellent stocking stuffers or accompaniments to a bottle of wine.
Penguin Corkscrew from Terrain
Last Friday, I kicked off my non-wine-bag-focused wine gift guide
with a wine bag—so today, I present you with something more true to my word.
As an unabashed fan of Anthropologie’s dresses
and latte bowls
, I’ve wanted to head to Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, to visit the company's flagship home and garden store, called Terrain, which opened a couple of years ago. I still haven’t made the trek, but in drooling over its website embarrassingly often, I recently discovered this charming penguin corkscrew
. Give it as a gift with a bottle of rich red wine, like the 2007 La Spinetta Pin Monferrato Rosso
(around $43, find this wine
), a blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo from Piedmont. It's at once sweet, spicy and aromatic—destined for drinking in front of a fireplace.
© The Grand Dalles
The Grand Dalles Dry Riesling
Over the weekend a friend was complaining about how he hates to buy wine online because he misses having someone to discuss the wine with as he's making the purchase. Scott Elder and Stephanie LaMonica, the husband-and-wife team behind the new winery The Grande Dalles
in Oregon, realized other wine lovers may share my friend’s frustration, so on Cyber Monday they kicked off a “Chat with the Winemaker” promotion via Skype. They are answering questions about growing, winemaking, tasting and what foods to pair with their recently released wines
. Customers must buy three bottles of wine as part of the “Holiday Chat Pack”
to participate in the 10-minute Skype session.
© Ariel Fernández of Southern-Press
Ambassador of USA in Uruguay, David Nelson, Gabriel Bialystocki, chef Ben Ford, and chef Toshio Tomita.
I’ve always associated Punta Del Este, on the eastern coast of Uruguay, with glamorous beaches rather than excellent food. But Gabriel Bialystocki, founder and director of Punta del Este’s first ever Food & Wine Festival
, is changing that. Bialystocki has collected an impressive lineup of chefs from the US, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay to participate in the month-long event. Each Saturday, selected chefs will host special dinners for up to 180 people. The dinners will highlight Uruguay’s local ingredients, and each dish will be paired with Uruguayan wines. Bialystocki e-mailed me an update from this past Saturday’s six-course dinner, prepared by Ben Ford of Ford’s Filling Station
in Culver City, CA; Gastón Yelicich of Isla de Flores
in Jose Ignacio, Uruguay; and Toshio Tomita of Nobu in New York City
. Highlights: Ford’s candied fennel, preserved lemon and mascarpone risotto; Tomita’s tuna sashimi in yuzu-soy sauce with jalapeños, with a garlic puree; and Yelicich’s dulce de leche mille-feuilles with chocolate mousse and sabayon cream.
The November 27 finale will be hosted by Argentinean chef Francis Mallmann, who will cook using his trademark seven fires
, and Bialystocki promises to report on all of the delicious details.
Wines $20 to $40
Despite the fact that Thanksgiving is a mere six days away—and the fact that I’m a wine writer—it only crossed my mind yesterday that I needed to pick out some wines for Thanksgiving. My boyfriend, Michael, and I are hosting this year, and it’s just a small group—his parents, my parents and my sister. Seems easy enough to choose a wine, right? Well, once I started to think about it, not really.
See, Michael’s dad really only drinks caffeine-free diet Coke, and his mom can’t have wine. White wine gives my sister headaches; my dad’s palate tends toward Merlot and Malbec; and my mom prefers off-dry Rieslings and Gewürztraminers and (bizarrely enough) Lambrusco (she thinks she doesn’t like red wine, but we can trick her sometimes). So essentially, we’re all going in a different wine direction here.
But then there’s Michael. Michael is a cru Beaujolais fanatic, and this fanaticism will effectively solve the problem at hand (aside from, ahem, the caffeine-free diet Coke)—plus, 2009 was a knockout vintage for the region. There are ten crus or villages in Beaujolais: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à Vent, Régnié and Saint Amour. All have different flavors, aromas and balance, but each will go quite nicely with the Thanksgiving menu thanks to deep, bright fruit and terrific acidity. My sister can drink it, my dad will get the concentration that he enjoys and my mom will get the fruit-forwardness that she likes in off-dry wines (this is how we trick her into liking reds.) And Michael will be beyond happy.
I’m heading to the wine shop with hopes of finding 2009s from Marcel Lapierre, Chateau Thivin and Christophe Pacalet. Oh, and a bottle of savory Donati Lambrusco to start things off.
What’s your problem-solving wine for Thanksgiving?