City Winery

Tastings that Rock at NYC’s City Winery

When you think Led Zeppelin, you think rock and roll, amazing guitar solos and wine, right? Well, maybe not the wine part.

But if you think about how you would describe Led Zeppelin’s music, it’s not far from how you would describe wine. In talking about songs like “The Ocean” and “Heartbreaker” you can use words like tone, texture and harmony – the same words you can use for wine. Jimmy Page’s raw riffs are rich and jammy like a full-bodied red; Robert Plant’s screaming vocals are more like a white that’s tingling with acidity.

Just as you would enjoy a nice bottle of wine, the songs of Led Zeppelin are meant to be savored. Could you really pair beer with such legendary songs as “Stairway to Heaven?” I think not.

City WineryThis concept (plus a few bottles of wine) led a trio of wine enthusiasts to come up with the idea for a Led Zeppelin wine pairing, complete with a Led Zeppelin tribute band. The place: City Winery in Manhattan, a newly opened winery, restaurant and live music venue created and owned by The Knitting Factory founder Michael Dorf.

As someone who was a Led Zeppelin fan before becoming a wine fan, I thought this sounded like a really cool idea for a wine pairing event. Great music and great wines, what could be better?

City WineryEarlier this month I joined more than 200 other Led Zeppelin and wine fans for The Great Led Zeppelin Wine Pairing.

The tasting was led by its entertaining creators: restaurateur Joe Bastianich, wine writer David Lynch and writer and musician Mike Edison. Mike was especially engaging throughout the evening, sharing his own experiences with Led Zeppelin’s music (some that involved not so legal pairings). But it was tribute band 6 Foot Nurse who really made the experience. The three-man band stayed true to Led Zeppelin’s sound. Lead singer and drummer Scot Coogan was amazing to watch and nailed Plant’s singing style.

City WineryWe kicked off the evening appropriately with a glass of champagne. The dry and toasty Henriot Brut Blanc de Blancs NV was paired with “The Immigrant Song.” The jolting acidity and minerality were a nice match for Plant’s primal screams.

The next song, “Misty Mountain Hop,” was paired with a 2006 William Fèvre Chablis. Besides the song’s title evoking images of the cool hills of Chablis, the opening riff has a sharp tingle of acidity that demands a white wine. I really enjoyed drinking the Chablis, which had great flavors of honeysuckle and white peach and of course, good acidity.

Led Zeppelin wine tastingThe mood mellowed a bit for the third song, “What is and What Should Never Be.” We were invited to taste the soft fruity extract of the bass line with a 2005 Truchard Carneros Pinot Noir. The voluptuous texture of the California Pinot, with flavors of blueberry and herbs, was nice to sip while singing along.

Next came “Black Dog,” paired with the 2007 Padrillos Mendoza Malbec. The wine was selected both for its ink-dark color and its personality, in sync with the thumping and hard-edged tune.

“Black Dog” was followed by an epic song that was paired with an epic wine: “Kashmir” and a 2001 Fontanafredda Barolo Serralunga. Our wine guides described it best — like the song, the wine unfolds over time to reveal new nuances and is almost orchestral in its complexity.

6 Foot NurseThe tasting ended on an exciting note for both the music and the wine. Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian joined 6 Foot Nurse for “Whole Lotta Love,” which was paired with a 2004 Château de Sales Pomerol, my favorite wine of the evening. The song starts out hard and tannic but takes on other dimensions with time, just like a delicious Bordeaux.

What impressed me about the wine pairing (besides the fact that it was by far the coolest wine pairing I had ever been to), was the high quality of the wines. I really enjoyed each wine and would definitely drink them again.

Fortunately for us in the audience, the music didn’t stop when the wine was gone. While 6 Foot Nurse played on, I ordered a glass of a spicy Côtes du Rhône which I enjoyed with a crispy mozzarella and fresh basil flatbread. It’s one of several flatbreads, which along with an assortment of cheese, salumi, light bites and shareable plates make up City Winery’s Mediterranean-inspired menu. If I wasn’t already on my seventh wine I would have picked out a bottle from the 500 or so wines that make up City Winery’s list.

City WineryAppetite sated, I decided to explore the winery. Besides the extensive list of boutique wines, the live performances and the unique wine pairings, this is what makes City Winery stand out from all other wine bars in New York City (and most other cities). Here, in the middle of SoHo, you can make your own wine.  You or a group of friends purchase a barrel (each starts around $7,500 and yields about 250 bottles), and City Winery supplies the varietal of your choice, sourced from internationally renowned vineyards in the United States and South America. From crushing to bottling, you can work as closely as you’d like with the wine specialists. The barrels are stored in a climate-controlled area inside City Winery. During the six to twelve month aging process you can sample your wine at barrel tastings.barrels

Peering in at all the barrels and singing along with the band’s final song, I couldn’t help but think about what it would be like to make my own wine. For now I’ll have to leave the winemaking to the experts. But hey, we all dream about becoming a rock star in some way.

City WineryCity Winery is located at 155 Varick Street in New York City. To see the upcoming events visit citywinery.com.

Cooking with Lavender

I love the smell of lavender.  Dried lavender, lavender soap, lavender moisturizer, lavender black tea, I have it all.  My most recent lavender purchase: a lavender cookbook.

lavenderThe Lavender Cookbook by Sharon Shipley is filled with recipes that incorporate this great smelling herb.

Never tried food made with lavender?  You’ll be surprised at how good it tastes.

From appetizers to meat and seafood, from drinks to desserts, you’ll give new and delicious flavor to your everyday cooking.  Recipes in The Lavender Cookbook include such tasty sounding dishes as grilled lavender halibut in banana leaves, lavender lemon buttered carrots and lavender apple rhubarb crisp.  Take a bite and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to the south of France.

The Lavender CookbookThe recipes call for dried culinary Provence lavender buds, which have a mild lavender flavor and a nice floral note.  Other lavender varieties can taste too bitter and perfumey.  You can find culinary Provence lavender with other packaged herbs in the fruits and vegetables section of the grocery store.  If you grow your own lavender, the cookbook has tips for harvesting and drying it.

The Lavender Cookbook by Sharon Shipley is available at bookstores and online for $17.95.

AG Pick Under $10: 2006 Dante Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

If you’re looking for a red wine to please a variety of palates, pick up a bottle of the 2006 Dante Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.Dante Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Lighter in structure than many California Cabs and fruit forward without being overly fruity, this wine is very versatile.

On the nose are ripe red and black fruit flavors and rose.  Juicy red cherries and blackberries fill your mouth, complemented by hints of cedar and cinnamon at the end.  The warm finish lingers after the fruit is gone, though the alcohol isn’t as overwhelming as you may think it would be in a wine with 14.9% alcohol.  Low in tannins and with a good acidity, this wine is very easy to drink.

The Dante Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is great for parties.  Not only is it affordable, but it can pair with a variety of foods.  Drink this with pasta, chicken, heavier fish dishes and red meats.

The 2006 Dante Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon costs around $9.

Take a Bite Out of Bulldog Barbecue

This Memorial Day weekend leave the barbecuing to the pros.  It’s the perfect time to check out Bulldog Barbecue, the North Carolina-style ‘cue restaurant of Top Chef season 3 contestant Howie Kleinberg.

Howie KleinbergIf you’re looking for a greasy and gritty barbecue joint, this isn’t it.  You won’t smell like smoke when you leave and you won’t be in pain hours after you’ve eaten.  Bulldog Barbecue is more like barbecue for city folk — which in my city folk opinion, is not necessarily a bad thing.

The restaurant has the feel of a down-home barbecue spot with some modern elements thrown in.  From your table that’s covered in butcher paper you can look into the open kitchen, or sit at the stainless steel bar for a closer look.  Drinks are served in mason jars.  The food arrives on paper that resembles newsprint.  There’s a wall caddy with a roll of paper towels at each table so you don’t have to ask for extra napkins, and two different sauces to add extra flavor.

Bulldog Barbecue is one of those restaurants where your eyes become much bigger than your stomach when you look at the menu.  You can’t help but order more than you can actually eat.

wingsTo start, try the white chili made with turkey and white beans.  If you like chicken wings be sure to order the smokehouse wings, served with a buttermilk-blue cheese dressing.  They’re much more moist and fresh-tasting than the wings I’ve had at other restaurants.

The tough choice comes when you’re trying to choose your main dish.  With baby back ribs, BBQ chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket, skirt steak and more, dine with friends so you can share.

bbq platterKleinberg’s brisket is a mix between Texas brisket and Jewish brisket.  It’s so tender you can cut it with a spoon.  Order the brisket on its own or as a slider, which you assemble yourself on a potato roll.

On Top Chef Kleinberg was notorious for cooking pork, which did not always get positive reviews from the judges.  Whether you were a fan or wanted Kleinberg to pack his knives and go, you won’t be surprised to see pulled pork on the menu at Bulldog Barbecue — and you’ll be glad to know it’s really tasty.  The pork is lightly smoked and served in a tangy vinegar-based sauce.

If you’re in the mood for seafood, try the shrimp and oyster po’ boy.  The shrimp and oysters are coated in cornmeal and gently fried so you can actually taste their flavor.

For side dishes, the burnt end beans are truly a guilty pleasure — sweet with pieces of brisket and crispy fried onion strings on top.  I also enjoyed the mac and cheese which is thick and creamy.  The coleslaw and cornbread were a little dry for my taste.

If you’re not into barbecue there are several salads to choose from (but what’s the fun in that?).

To wash down everything get the homemade lemonade.  It’s just the right mix of sour and sweet.  The waitstaff are generous with refills, offering you one before your glass is empty.

s'more pieIf for some reason you still have room for dessert, try the s’more pie.  It’s a giant serving of rich chocolate cake on a graham cracker crust, with a giant dollop of marshmallow on top that’s toasted with a blow torch.  Just a few bites and you’ll feel like you ate enough chocolate for a week!

Prices are on the expensive side for a barbecue place (entrees range from $14 for pulled pork to $22 for skirt steak).  If you don’t want to pay that much for barbecue, go to Bulldog’s new happy hour.  From 5pm to 8pm, Monday through Friday, you can order sliders for $1 each (a choice of pulled pork, brisket or chicken) and get beer and wine at half price.

If you want to have a barbecue at home without firing up the grill, order the “Bulldog in a Box.”  It’s a complete take-out meal for four that includes a choice of meat and a side dish, as well as fresh roasted corn on the cob, coleslaw and corn bread for $50.

Be sure to bring a big appetite to Bulldog Barbecue — you’ll need it.  But if you can’t finish all your food at least you can take it home in a doggie bag.

Bulldog Barbecue is located at 15400 Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami.  It’s open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, from noon to 10pm.  For more information visit bulldog-bbq.com.

Photos of Kleinberg and BBQ platter by Michael Katz.

River Lounge & Club 50: Downtown Miami's Newest Hot Spots

Who wants to deal with traffic on South Beach when there are new bars and lounges opening up all the time in downtown Miami?  For a fun evening out, skip the ocean and head to the river.  Right on the Miami River you’ll find River Lounge and Club 50, the latest in the downtown/Brickell nightlife scene.

River Lounge

River LoungeRiver Lounge is located on the ground floor of the Epic Hotel on Biscayne Boulevard Way.  Thirty-foot windows and an outdoor seating area offer direct views of boats cruising along the river.  Since its packed opening party, River Lounge has become the place for young professionals to meet for a post-work drink or to party all night.

River LoungeIf you’re bored with your usual cocktail be sure to check out River Lounge’s creative drink menu.  In it you’ll find tempting tipples like the Blushing Geisha (sake, TY KU citrus liqueur, sour mix, fresh lime juice and simple syrup), Amante Picante (tequila, cucumber slices, cilantro, fresh lime juice and a dash of green Tabasco), and the Jalisco Sidecar (Hennessy VS Cognac, Patron XO Café tequila, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup).  My favorite is the Brazilian Passion, a caipirinha made with passion fruit puree.

If you’re hungry head up to the 16th floor to Area 31.  The Mediterranean-influenced menu features some of the freshest seafood in downtown.

Club 50

Directly across the water from River Lounge is the towering Viceroy Hotel.  At the top you’ll find Club 50.  Half indoor bar, half outdoor pool lounge, it’s sophisticated without being pretentious.

Club 50If you’re looking for a great view of Miami, this is the spot.  West-facing windows making Club 50 the place to be just before sunset.  While watching the lights of the city come on you can sip one of Club 50’s signature cocktails and nibble on light fare.

The pool area is open only to Viceroy guests and residents of the adjoining Icon Brickell during the day, but at night it’s transformed into a club with a DJ spinning music.  Windows on all sides let you enjoy being outdoors without worrying about the wind.

Club 50Club 50 wins the prize for having the bathrooms with the best views.  Large windows let you peer down towards Brickell Key and the water.  Even if you don’t need to visit the restroom, it’s worth checking out before you leave.

When you’re ready for dinner, head to Eos on the 15th floor.  Award-winning Chef Michael Psilakis modernizes dishes from his native Greece with a menu that includes Mediterranean and Asian influences.  The lobster and sea urchin risotto is out of this world.

With River Lounge and Club 50 within a short walk of each other, you’ll just have to decide on which side of the river to begin your night out.

River Lounge is located inside the Epic Hotel at 270 Biscayne Boulevard Way.
Club 50 is located inside the Viceroy Hotel at 485 Brickell Avenue.

AG Pick Under $15: 2005 Secreto Sauvignon Blanc

The label on Secreto Sauvignon Blanc will catch your eye but it’s the taste that will have you pouring a second glass.

Secreto Sauvignon BlancThe 2005 Secreto Sauvignon Blanc from Viu Manent is made with grapes from the Colchagua Valley in Chile.  It’s 85% Sauvignon Blanc.  The other 15% is a secret — you’ll have to ask the winemaker if you want to know what it is (but don’t expect an answer).

If you usually shy away from Sauvignon Blanc, this is the wine that will show you what delicious flavors the grape can offer.  On the nose are aromas of tropical and citrus fruit.  The taste is a bright mix of lemon, grapefruit, pineapple and honeydew melon with gentle mineral notes and a hint of white pepper.  Zesty acidity lingers in your mouth and gives the wine a nice structure.

Pair the Secreto Sauvignon Blanc with seafood, pasta, salad or fruit.  It also is a perfect wine for an outdoor picnic.

The 2005 Secreto Sauvignon Blanc costs around $12.

A Rum For Your Lifestyle

After three days of sipping rum with experts, mixologists, collectors and people who enjoy a good cocktail at the Rum Renaissance Festival, it’s clear that rum is more than just a drink — it’s a lifestyle.

What exactly makes a rum right for your lifestyle?  That of course depends on your taste.  As UK Rum Ambassador Ian Burrell said during the festival, the best rum is what’s in your glass.  Or in your next glass.

Whether you prefer rum with soda or on the rocks, there’s a rum for you.

Rum is made from fresh sugar cane juice, sugar cane syrup or molasses.  Beyond the raw materials, the taste and quality of rum is affected by the methods of fermentation and distillation, the aging process and in some cases, the blending used to create the final product.

White, silver, clear or crystal rums are aged for a brief time and are often filtered to remove color.  With these rums the taste of alcohol dominates the flavor, making them more suitable for mixing in cocktails.  If you’re looking for this type of rum try Flor de Caña Extra Dry 4 from Nicaragua or 10 Cane from Trinidad.

Gold or pale rums are aged in barrels for several years, which adds color and flavor.  These rums are used in cocktails in which a stronger flavor is desired, or they can be sipped on their own.  Try Botran 12 from Guatemala or Brugal Añejo from the Dominican Republic.

Dark or black rums go through a longer aging process and are more flavorful than gold rums.  Like gold rums they are often used in cocktails and can also be enjoyed on their own.  Try Gosling’s Black Seal from Bermuda or Cruzan Black Strap from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Premium aged rums are what I find the most interesting to drink.  With these rums the unique flavors of the liquor and the skill of the master blender really shine.  Premium aged rums are meant to be sipped, like a cognac or scotch.  Serve them neat or on the rocks.

When looking for an aged rum, keep in mind the number on the label may be misleading.  The number could be the age of the youngest rum in the blend or the oldest, or it could be the average age of the blend.

If you’re new to drinking aged rums, a great place to start is with Atlantico Private Cask from the Dominican Republic.  A blend of 15 to 25 year old artisanal aged rums are aged again in private casks which give the rum added complexity and flavor.  I found this rum very easy to drink.  It has mellow flavors of tropical fruit and caramel without the fiery finish that other rums have.  Atlantico Private Cask tastes great with fresh lime juice or in cocktails.  At around $35 a bottle it’s more affordable than cognac, but not so expensive that you won’t want to use it in mixed drinks.

Another great tasting aged rum is Zacapa Solera 23 from Guatemala.  Zacapa makes their rum with juice from the first pressing of sugar cane.  After distillation, the rum is aged at facilities that are 7,500 feet above sea level.  The cool mountain air reduces the evaporation that occurs during the aging process.  The rum gets additional flavors from being stored in casks that previously held bourbon, sherry or Pedro Ximenez.

Zacapa Solera 23 is a blend of rum aged from 6 to 23 years.  It’s sweet and smooth, with flavors of vanilla and spice.  My husband who is a cognac fan was converted into a rum enthusiast after a few sips.  A bottle costs around $35.  One step up is the elegant and refined Zacapa Centenario XO, a blend of rums that are at least 25 years old.  A bottle costs around $100.

For a slightly more full-bodied rum try Zaya Gran Reserva from Trinidad.  The rum is distilled five times and hand blended with three to five rums, then aged in oak barrels for at least 12 years.  Well-balanced with flavors of dried fruits, the rum has a long and smooth finish with a hint of spice.  A bottle of Zaya Gran Reserva costs around $30.

Sure rum tastes great in mojitos and tropical drinks.  But try an aged rum on its own and you’ll be impressed with its unique and complex flavors.

For more information on rum check out Robert Burr’s Gifted Rums Guide.

Rum Renaissance Kickoff Party

If your only real experience with rum is drinking daiquiris or mojitos, you’ve barely scratched the surface of this spirit.

From light to dark, flavored to spiced, the flavors of rum can vary greatly.  At this weekend’s Rum Renaissance in Miami you’ll have the opportunity to try them all.

Atlantico rum partyLast night the rum celebration kicked off with the Atlantico Rum VIP Party at 8oz Burger Bar.  Atlantico is an aged rum from the Dominican Republic, made by blending small batch aged rums.  The blend is then put through two more aging processes before it is bottled by hand.  Click here for more on Atlantico and my recommendations for aged rums.

8oz’s mouth-watering mini burgers and short rib grilled cheese sandwiches were served with three different rum cocktails.  I usually go for beer when I’m eating burgers, but found the cocktails to be a very tasty alternative.

Atlantico rum partyMy favorite cocktail of the evening had Atlantico Private Cask aged rum with blackberry juice, lemon juice, simple syrup, allspice and a sprig of rosemary.  The bartenders put on a great show, using lighters as they sprinkled the allspice to release more of its flavor.

The rum cocktail was refreshing with just the right amount of sweetness.  It’s what I’d want to drink while sitting by the pool.

The main event of the Rum Renaissance is the Grand Tasting on Saturday at the Shore Club.  You’ll be able to attend seminars and sample rums (as well as Cachaça) from many countries and territories in the Americas and Caribbean.  Tickets are available at the door for $50 (cash only).

For more information visit rumrenaissance.com.

Cool Down with a Caipirinha

Caipirinhas are the perfect summer cocktail.  Part sour, part sweet, caipirinhas are replacing mojitos as the hottest drink in South Florida.

caipirinhaThe caipirinha is the national cocktail of Brazil.  Only recently has it been gaining popularity outside the country.  It’s a fairly simple drink: Cachaça (made in Brazil from fermented sugarcane juice), fresh lime juice and raw sugar.

It’s very easy to make.  I like mine extra sour so I use an entire lime for each drink.  Cut the lime into wedges and put it in a rocks glass with 2 teaspoons of raw sugar.  Muddle the lime and sugar.  Fill the glass with ice and add 1 to 2 shots of Cachaça (I like Leblon Cachaça, available at many liquor stores).

You’ll find caipirinhas at bars all over South Florida, including versions that use other fruit juices like passion fruit or pineapple.  Beware of those who try to pass off caipirinhas made with rum or vodka.  They’re tasty, but it’s just not the same.

My favorite caipirinhas are at the Sunset Lounge at the Mondrian Hotel on South Beach.  Their caipirinhas are made with raw sugar from Hawaii and crushed ice.  If you like a bit of spice, try their Chili Passion Caipirinha, made with sriracha.  Sip one outside by the pool just before sunset for great views of the downtown Miami skyline.

Try a caipirinha and it’s sure to become your new favorite cocktail.  Saúde!

Wine Unveiled: Weekly Blind Tastings

Looking to improve your knowledge of wine and meet other wine aficionados in Miami?  Then keep your Monday evenings or Tuesday afternoons open for blind tastings at The Wine Shoppe on South Red Road.

blind tastingHosted by owner Ozzy Riverol, the blind tastings are led by sommeliers Tim Knapp and Scott Carter who created Unveiling Wine to share their passion and knowledge.

Tim and Scott launched the weekly Tuesday blind tastings in the spring and recently added a second blind tasting on Mondays at 6:30pm.  The cost of the wines is split by the people who attend and will never exceed $15 — the larger the group, the better and more expensive wines you’ll get to taste.

The tastings are ideal for both the novice and the expert.  If you’ve never gone through a blind tasting before, it’s a great way to understand how to describe a wine.  You’ll learn the different flavors and characteristics of a varietal, which will help you when selecting a wine from a restaurant’s menu or buying bottles to drink at home.  If you’re more experienced, it’s fun to see if you can correctly identify each wine.

The atmosphere for the blind tastings is fun and relaxed; jeans are appropriate attire, as is any range of wine knowledge.  In this informal setting you can test your palate and learn about different varietals without pressure.  And you’ll leave the tasting looking forward to the following week, when you can get together again with your new friends.

I went to my first blind tasting on a Tuesday in May.  Ozzy selected the four wines (two white, two red), so that Tim and Scott could do the blind tasting with the group.  Ozzy was careful to keep the bottles hidden from us, covering up the bottles of white wine in bags and pouring the red wine into decanters.

blind tastingFor the first 15 minutes we evaluated the wine on our own.  Using a tasting grid from the Court of Master Sommeliers as our guide, we wrote down observations about the wine’s aromas, flavors, structure and style, eventually coming to a conclusion about the grape type and where it was from.  At the end of the 15 minutes, we chatted about our findings.  Once we shared our guess about the varietal and country, Ozzy revealed the bottle.

The first wine was a crisp, lemon-lime Albariño from Spain.  The consensus on the second wine was that it was a Chardonnay, though we were split on whether it was old or new world.  Ozzy revealed the bottle to be a 2006 Leese-Fitch Chardonnay from California.  It had great tropical fruit flavors and gentle toast — light and elegant compared to other California Chardonnays that are over-oaked monsters.  Even better was the price tag: $10.  On the red side we tasted a spicy Pinot Noir from California’s Russian River Valley and a full-bodied Vin de Pays d’Oc, a juicy Cabernet from southern France.

wine bottlesWe were having such a good time at the blind tasting that we decided to open a couple more bottles.

If you can’t make the blind tastings, it’s still worth a trip to The Wine Shoppe.  They have a great selection of wines, many of which you won’t find at other wine or grocery stores in Miami.

The Wine Shoppe is located at 1706 South Red Road in Miami.   The blind tastings are held Mondays at 6:30pm and Tuesdays at 11:30am.  Space is limited to 12 people so be sure to RSVP early.  For more information or to RSVP, email Ozzy at ozzy@the-wine-shoppe.com or call (305) 267-9921.

For more information on Unveiling Wine visit unveilingwine.com.