BYOB in MIA

You don’t have to pass on wine to save money while dining out.  Skip the restaurant’s pricey list and bring your own bottle instead!

wine glassesMany restaurants offer corkage fees for diners who bring wine from their personal collection.  This fee covers the service and use of wine glasses, as well as some of the revenue lost from the restaurant not selling its own wine.

If you’ve never brought your own bottle, here is proper BYOB etiquette:

  1. The wine you bring should be rare or unique (especially if you’re going to a fine dining restaurant), and definitely not on the restaurant’s wine list
  2. After the sommelier or waiter opens and serves the wine it is polite (but not required) to offer him or her a taste
  3. Your tip at the end of the meal should include the estimated price of the bottle, minus the corkage fee

When you are seated you’ll want to place the bottle on the table as a heads-up to the waiter.

As a general rule of thumb, you don’t want to bring your own bottle of wine to a restaurant with a great wine list unless the wine is extremely special.

Some restaurants may waive the corkage fee if you purchase a bottle from their list.  Restaurants may also limit the number of bottles you are allowed to bring.

Want to plan your meal?  Here is my guide to which Miami area restaurants are BYOB friendly:

$10 and Under
The Burger and Beer Joint
no corkage fee

1766 Bay Rd, Miami Beach
(305) 672-3287

Miami’s Chophouse
first bottle free, $20 for second bottle
300 South Biscayne Blvd, Miami
(305) 938-9000

Bali Café
$5
109 NE 2nd Ave, Miami
(305) 358-5751

Fratelli La Bufala
$10
437 Washington Ave, Miami Beach
(305) 532-0700

Imlee Indian Bistro
$10
12663 South Dixie Hwy, Pinecrest
(786) 293-2223

Pilar
$10
20475 Biscayne Blvd, Aventura
(305) 937-2777

$15 Corkage Fee
94th Aero Squadron

1395 N.W. 57th Ave, Miami
(305) 261-4220

Abokado
900 S. Miami Ave Suite 133, Miami
(305) 347-3700

Barolo Ristorante
444 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach
(305) 532-5511

Barrio Latino
3585 NE 207 St, Miami
(305) 692-4455

Canyon Ranch Grill
6801 Collins Ave, Miami Beach
(305) 514-7474

CVI.CHE 105
105 NE 3rd Ave, Miami
(305) 577-3454

Dolores But You Can Call Me Lolita
1000 S Miami Ave, Miami
(305) 403-3103

The Gastropub at Jake’s
6901 Red Road, Coral Gables
(305) 662-8632

Timo
waived if you also buy a bottle from their list
17624 Collins Avenue, Sunny Isles
(305) 936-1008

$20 Corkage Fee
Balans
901 South Miami Ave, Miami
1022 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach
(305) 534-9191

Capital Grille
maximum 2 bottles
444 Brickell Ave, Miami
(305) 374-4500

Eos at Viceroy
485 Brickell Ave, Miami
(305) 503-0373

Mamajuana Cafe
225 Altara Ave, Coral Gables
(305) 443-0505

Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink
130 NE 40th St, Miami
(305) 573-5550

Ortanique on the Mile
278 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables
(305) 446-7710

Pacific Time
35 NE 40th St, Miami
(305) 722-7369

Red Fish Grill
9610 Old Cutler Rd, Coral Gables
(305) 668-8788

The River Oyster Bar
650 S Miami Ave, Miami
(305) 530-1915

Restaurants that offer a $25 corkage fee
Andu
Area 31 at Epic Hotel
Atrio at Conrad Miami
Au Pied de Cochon
Bourbon Steak (maximum 2 bottles)
Chef Allen’s
China Grill
DeVito South Beach
Emeril’s Miami Beach
Escopazzo
Fratelli Lyon
Kobe Club
Michy’s (maximum 2 bottles)
Nemo
Oceanaire Seafood Room (maximum 2 bottles)
Shoji Sushi
Solymar
Sra. Martinez (maximum 2 bottles)

Know a restaurant not on the list that is BYOB friendly?  Send an email to tips@amateurgastronomer.com.  If a restaurant isn’t on this list it may still allow you to bring a bottle, just be sure to call first to find out the policy.

Epcot food wine fest

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2009 Part 2

Continued from Part 1

During my weekend at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival I ate and drank my way through six continents!  Here are my favorite dishes and drinks:

Paris, France
I had tried the escargot at previous festivals so this year I skipped the snails and tried the braised short ribs in Cabernet with mashed potatoes.  The meat was tender and extremely flavorful in the red wine.  With a bit of the potatoes, it was a delicious bite.

I paired the short ribs with a 2007 red Bordeaux from Château Mezain.  With delicate flavors of cherries and blackcurrants it was a nice accompaniment to the meat, and a wine I would definitely drink again.

Tokyo, Japan
Skip the food stand in the Japan pavilion (unless you’re craving a spicy tuna roll or a California roll).  The real treat is inside the store, where you can try a variety of sake.  Last year I discovered a fun sparkling sake, this year I had a glass of vintage sake.

The Tenryo Koshu is aged for three years.  It is medium bodied and extremely smooth with layered flavors of dried apple, melon and nougat.  The sake was one of my favorite discoveries at the festival, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for it at restaurants and wine shops.

The United States
At the American Adventure Pavilion it’s all about beer.  Samuel Adams serves up a variety of their brews and has free seminars about their history and the art of brewing.

At the seminar you get to taste four of their beers: Boston Lager, Sam Adams Light, Octoberfest and the 14th Anniversary Festival Beer.  My favorite was the Octoberfest, which has notes of caramel and toffee balanced out by a slight bitterness from German hops.  A close second was the 14th Anniversary beer which has a nice fruitiness from blackberries and orange peel.  Though I tend to stay away from light beers, Samuel Adams’ version is surprisingly flavorful.

Melbourne, Australia
I couldn’t decide which of Australia’s main dishes sounded better so I tried both!  The seared barramundi was served with blistered cherry tomatoes and topped with arugula and lemon oil.  The flavor of the tomatoes went really well with the fish.  It actually inspired me to make my own version with halibut a few days after I returned home from the festival.  The lamb chop was even more flavorful, in a yummy red wine sauce that I hope to replicate the next time I cook lamb.

Cape Town, South Africa
I remember South Africa being one of my favorites from last year’s festival and this year it didn’t disappoint.  I started with the mealie soup, which reminded me of corn chowder.  Full in flavor and packed with corn and crab, the soup was hearty and satisfying.  I could have easily had another cup, in spite of the 80 degree weather.

Next I went for the seared beef tenderloin.  Served on top of a sweet potato purée with a tangy mango barbecue sauce, it was another winner.

Of course I couldn’t visit the South Africa marketplace without getting a glass of Pinotage, the country’s signature varietal.  The Fairview Pinotage was a nice match for the beef tenderloin, with deep red fruit and earthy flavors.

New Delhi, India
I love Indian food and have been craving it ever since my favorite downtown spot closed (I miss you Taste of Bombay!).  Though there was only one entree offering at the India marketplace it was quite tasty — a rice and lentil crêpe with a potato and onion filling.

I paired the dish with a crisp and refreshing Chenin Blanc from Sula Vineyards.  This winery is located about 100 miles northeast of Mumbai and makes an impressive variety of reds, whites, sparkling and dessert wines.  Sipping the Chenin Blanc made me want to explore more of their wines.

I ended my trip to India on a sweet note with a chilled mango lassi.  It’s like a mango smoothie only better, with a nice creaminess from yogurt.  It’s a delicious dessert if you’re in the mood for something fruity and not too heavy.

Barcelona, Spain
The Spain marketplace is a must visit for the wine, especially if you’re not familiar with Spanish varietals.  Here you can try Cava, Albariño and Verdejo.  Last year I enjoyed the Poema Cava Brut, a dry and creamy sparkling wine with a hint of pear and toast.

This year I tasted the Bodega Don Olegario Albariño alongside the Poema Verdejo to compare their flavors.  Though the Verdejo was aromatic and soft with notes of white flowers and tree fruit, I preferred the Albariño with its light and crisp peach and apricot flavors.

Buenos Aires, Argentina
If it has chimichurri, I want to try it.  So I made sure to save room for the grilled beef skewer with chimichurri and boniato purée.  The grilled beef was tender and full of flavor, and I couldn’t get enough of the chimichurri.  It’s a must-try dish unless you’re not a fan of garlic because this chimichurri packs a punch.  But you’ll definitely want to try one of the Argentine wines.  The beef was great with a glass of the Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec, and I’m also a fan of the Torrontes.

Santiago, Chile
If it’s a hot afternoon and you’re craving something cold and refreshing, head to the Chile marketplace for the rock shrimp ceviche.  Served chilled in a tart tomato-based sauce, it hit the spot in the 80 degree weather.  It was even better with a glass of the Emiliana Natura Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine has fresh citrus flavors with a hint of herbs and minerals on the finish.  It’s a perfect wine to sip on a hot afternoon and at $10 a bottle it’s a great deal too.

Montreal, Canada
My favorite fish of the entire festival had to be in Canada: maple glazed salmon served on top of lentil salad.  The salmon was cooked perfectly, with a nice crust from the glaze.  The lentils were so good I could have easily eaten a bowl of just them.

After the salmon I enjoyed a glass of Château des Charmes Merlot.  It was more full-bodied in flavor than I expected of a wine from Ontario, with silky flavors of cherry and cassis.

The New York Wine Adventure
After the Canadian Merlot I moved a little farther south on the map (but just a few steps away at Epcot), to try some wines from New York State.  I started on the North Fork of Long Island with a glass of the Lieb Cellars Bridge Lane Merlot Blanc.  The wine is pale in color because the juice has no contact with the skins of the grape.  It has fresh raspberry and strawberry flavors with well-balanced acidity.

Next I moved to the Finger Lakes for a taste of the Red Newt Cellars Circle Riesling.  It’s semi-dry and aromatic with tangerine, apricot and citrus notes.  Both are wines I would drink again.

Wellington, New Zealand
Though the lamb chop in Australia was a worthy competitor, my favorite lamb dish of the festival was the lamb slider.  It was a big chunk of meat served on a bun with a dollop of tomato chutney.  The lamb was moist and well-seasoned; it was hard to resist getting a second one.  I tried it with a glass of Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon, a pleasant mix of cherry, raspberry, cedar and tobacco flavors.

Cork, Ireland
I ended my tour in Ireland with the lobster and scallop fisherman’s pie.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  Underneath the creamy potatoes were big chunks of lobster in a yummy sauce.  I accompanied it with a glass of Bunratty Meade.  The honey wine had a hint of sweetness and nice spice on the finish.

Of course I had to try the dessert, warm chocolate lava cake with Bailey’s Ganache.  It was every bit as good as it sounds, rich and indulgent with a warm and gooey center.  It’s a must for any chocolate fan.

If you’re counting, I visited 12 countries.  Not bad for one weekend!

The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival runs through November 8th.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2009 Part 1

I’m back from my gastronomical adventure around the world!  Around the World Showcase at Epcot, that is.

From September 25th through November 8th, Epcot is transformed into a paradise for food and wine fans for the International Food & Wine Festival.  Besides going on the rides you can explore countries on six continents through their food and drinks.  It’s not just the countries in the World Showcase — this year more than 25 booths feature the cuisine of more than 20 countries.

I had been looking forward to this year’s festival for quite some time and mapped out my plan of action weeks earlier.  First I’d get a glass of Champagne at the festival welcome center.  Then I’d start my eating tour in France, which has always been my favorite Epcot country.  I studied the menus in the festival guide so I wouldn’t miss any food or drinks.  Lamb chops in Australia were a must, as was the warm chocolate lava cake in Ireland.

What I love about the International Food & Wine Festival is that it is set at such a fun place.  Epcot has always been my favorite Disney theme park and I still get that giddy feeling when I pass through the gates.  Even though I’ve visited several of the countries featured in the World Showcase I still get a kick out of visiting Epcot’s versions.  And with newer rides like Soarin’ and Test Track, Epcot has some of the best rides of all the Disney theme parks.

At the festival I’m reminded of the excitement I felt when I was a child, while being able to enjoy grown-up treats.  It may not have the sophistication or selection of other food and wine festivals, but it’s the one I look forward to most all year.

From the friendly cast members to the attention to detail, there’s a certain charm about Walt Disney World that you just don’t get at other theme parks.

Of course like all good things, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is expensive.  With food and drinks ranging between $3 and $7 a pop on average, eating your way around the world adds up quickly.  I recommend purchasing a Disney gift card that you can wear on your wrist and use for charging all your purchases.  It’s less annoying than taking out your wallet all the time, and it helps you keep track of how much you’re spending.  The gift cards can be purchased and refilled all over Epcot.

One thing I missed were the wine walkabouts from previous festivals.  At these walkabouts you would purchase a wine passport and then sample a variety of wines from a single country.  This year’s Beer Hop follows a similar format with a variety of international brews, but to me it wasn’t as interesting a selection.

I also would have liked to see more wines from the United States.  I enjoyed the New York Wine Adventure because it showcased some of the state’s delicious wines, but it would have been nice to see other states.  And not just California or Oregon — an up-and-coming winemaking state like Virginia would be perfect for the American Adventure pavilion.

But enough about the festival itself, it’s time to move on to the food and drinks!

Next: Part 2 of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

AG Pick: 2007 Williams Selyem Central Coast Pinot Noir

Williams Selyem makes my favorite Pinot Noir in California.  Period.

That’s really all I need to say about this Russian River Valley winery.  Since my first taste of their Pinot several years ago, I have been a devoted fan.  No matter the vineyard, each bottle I’ve opened has been incredibly delicious.  It’s the kind of wine that makes you smile and go “ahh” after every sip.

Just like with Champagne, it’s impossible to be sad when you’re drinking a Williams Selyem wine.

Williams Selyem Pinot NoirThough I’ve written about Williams Selyem a couple of times in the past, I was inspired to write about the 2007 Central Coast Pinot Noir after opening a bottle last night.

This Pinot Noir comes from the Vista Verde Vineyard located a couple of miles southeast of Hollister, near the small town of Tres Pinos in San Benito County.  It is barrel aged for 11 months and was released in Spring 2009.

This Pinot is so fun to drink because there is so much going on in your glass.  Your first smell of the cloudy, raspberry-red wine will get you excited for the flavors to come.  On the nose are aromas of fresh strawberry preserves, pie cherries, truffles, cardamom and spice.  The palate expands with flavors of cherry, pomegranate, raspberry and stewed rhubarb that are interwoven with notes of root beer, cola, fennel and morel mushrooms.  Rich and slightly aggressive tannins help to carry the balanced acidity that follows long into the silky finish.

Winemaker Bob Cabral says this is probably the best Central Coast he has assembled in 11 vintages.  Though I haven’t tasted enough of Williams Selyem’s Central Coast Pinots to be able to comment, I can say this is an exceptional wine.

Williams Selyem makes a variety of Pinot Noir that generally range from $30 to $60.  A bottle of the 2007 Williams Selyem Central Coast Pinot Noir costs $34.  Williams Selyem also makes Zinfandel, Chardonnay and late harvest wines.

Though you’ll occasionally find Williams Selyem wines at boutique wine shops, the easiest way to buy a bottle is to join The List.  Signing up is free.  After a 9 to 12 month waiting period you’ll be able to purchase their wines.  The longer you are a member of the list, the larger your allotment of wine.  I’ve been a member for just over a year and look forward to the emails about the latest releases.

Speaking of, my latest shipment should be arriving any day now!

Labels for the Home Cook

If you’re looking to add that personalized touch to your homemade goodies, check out these Chef’s Medallions from Felix Doolittle.

chef's medallionsEach personalized medallion features a charming watercolor image created by Massachusetts-based artist Felix Fu.  It’s a simple and elegant way to decorate items you have baked, canned or preserved.

Sending a homemade gift for the holidays?  Place a medallion on it as a perfect finishing touch.  Twenty 1.25″ in diameter self-adhesive labels cost $25.

chef's medallionIf you prefer rectangular labels, Felix Doolittle also makes personalized Baker’s Labels, great for just about anything in your kitchen.  Five 2¾ x 4 self-adhesive labels cost $10.

Once you fall in love with Felix Doolittle’s whimsical watercolors, you’ll be glad to know they come on a variety of paper goods, stationery and labels.  I’m a big fan of the small note cards, which I’ve been using for years.

For more check out www.felixdoolittle.com.

AG Pick Under $20: 2007 Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia Tardio

Kick off the weekend with something sweet!  My pick for a sweet sip: the 2007 Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia Tardio.  It is a late harvest wine from Argentina made from Torrontés grapes.

Familia Zuccardi TardioNot familiar with Torrontés?  Just like Malbec is Argentina’s characteristic red varietal, Torrontés is the country’s characteristic white varietal.  Torrontés produces fresh and aromatic wines that are meant to be enjoyed young.

Tardio is the first late harvest Torrontés I’ve tasted and it made me a big fan.  Pale gold in color, Tardio is sweet without being overly so, and is not syrupy like other dessert wines.

Aromas of stone fruit and white flowers introduce flavors of apricots, figs and orange peel with luscious notes of honey woven throughout.  Silky in mouthfeel with balanced acidity, the wine has a long and complex finish.

Enjoy Tardio with fresh fruit, dessert, or on its own after a satisfying meal.

A 500ml bottle of the 2007 Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia Tardio costs $16.

Highlights from the Grand Tasting

If you’re looking for more wines, beers, spirits and small bites than you could ever hope to taste in one afternoon you’ll find it at the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s Grand Tasting.

Grand TastingThis year’s event featured an impressive selection of familiar labels and brands as well as new or less well-known ones.  I had a great time revisiting some of my favorite wines from the South Beach Wine & Food Festival like Grgich Hills (their delicious whites and reds are always well balanced and complex), and discovering new treats like the fruity and floral Ume Blanc from Choya.

Here are more highlights from the Grand Tasting:

Chalk Hill 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and 2006 Chardonnay
Chalk Hill winesThe Russian River Valley winery showcased these two along with their great tasting Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but I was really drawn to their white wines.  The Sauvignon Blanc ($28) has ripe flavors of honeydew, lime, white nectarine and pineapple, with a refreshing and crisp finish.  The wine is 100% barrel fermented and aged on lees which adds depth and richness.  The Chardonnay ($40) is elegant in taste and structure.  It is barrel fermented with native yeasts and bottled without filtration.  Aromas of honeysuckle, ginger and white peach introduce creamy and complex flavors of pear, jasmine and a slight flintiness.  Rich and full-bodied with a satisfying finish, it’s a really pleasant wine to drink.

Pascual Toso MalbecPascual Toso 2007 Malbec
At $10 a bottle, this ripe red from the Maipu Valley in Argentina’s Mendoza region is a great deal.  It’s deep ruby red in color with aromas of rich red and black fruit.  Flavors of blackberries, black cherries, mocha, violet and white pepper culminate in a long and well-rounded finish that has just a hint of caramel.  Velvety soft in texture, this bold wine is a great match for grilled steaks and roasts.

Red wines from Cosentino Winery
I had tried Cosentino wines at a previous tasting and enjoyed all of them immensely.  Their simply named wines let the complex flavors speak for themselves.  THE ZIN 2006 ($30) is 97% Zinfandel (over 70% old vine) and 3% Petite Sirah, with grapes coming from Lodi, the Russian River Valley and Sonoma County.  It’s exotically spicy and rich, with intense flavors of blackberry and black pepper.  The CIGARZIN 2006 ($26) is a lush old vine Cosentino winesZinfandel blended from Lodi and Sonoma grapes.  Like THE ZIN, it’s aged for more than a year primarily in American oak.  This red is rich and well structured with a core of ultra-ripe blackberry and boysenberry with notes of cherry, clove and pepper.  The finish displays dense layers of boysenberry jam, cocoa powder and coffee.

FRANC 2006 ($22) is a spicy and smooth Cabernet Franc.  Flavors of ripe plum, black currant and clove are followed by sweet tobacco, cedar and a shot off tannin on the smooth finish.

The Poet 2005 is a delicious splurge at $75.  It’s a Meritage from the Napa Valley with 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec.  The Poet is rich and well balanced, with tart cherry and currant flavors up front and notes of spice, minerals and pomegranate that evolve into a long, spicy finish.

Red wines from South Africa
Spice Route PinotageSouth Africa is producing a lot of fun red wines right now.  By fun I mean bright, upbeat and fruit forward wines that are easy to drink and go well at barbecues and other social eating events.  One of the first red wines I tried at the Grand Tasting was the 2007 Spice Route Pinotage ($20).  It’s one of the tastiest Pinotages I’ve tried, with extremely muted leather and gamey notes that can turn many non-South Africans off to this varietal.  Full bodied with flavors of plum, blackberry and boysenberry jam, the wine has a hint of cedar and vanilla from 14 months in American oak barrels.  The fruit is balanced out with firm Wolftrap red blendtannins.

The fun extends to the blends — and I had a lot of fun tasting the 2008 Wolftrap ($11).  It’s 68% Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre and 2% Viognier (this white wine grape is added to smooth out the tannins and bold flavors of the Syrah and Mourvèdre).  Silky in texture, this wine is full of black fruits and berries with a hint of violet and spice on the finish.  Both reds are big in alcohol, with about 14.5%.

Golden Sun Pumpkin Pie cocktail from Tommy Bahama
As a fan of pretty much anything that contains pumpkin, I couldn’t resist trying this cocktail made with Tommy Bahama rum.  It’s a tasty fall treat, sure to spice up any gathering.  Here’s the recipe so you can make it at home:

Tommy Bahama rum cocktails1 ½ parts Tommy Bahama Golden Sun Rum
1 part pumpkin spice syrup
splash of cream
graham cracker crumbs
cinnamon stick

Shake Golden Sun Rum, pumpkin spice syrup and cream over ice and strain into a glass rimmed with graham cracker crumbs.  Garnish with a cinnamon stick.  For more seasonal cocktails like the Apple Pie Martini and the Peppermint Martini visit tommybahamarum.com.

And while we’re on the topic of pumpkin-flavored drinks, Blue Moon was offering a taste of its seasonal brew, Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale.  Made with the flavor of vine-ripened pumpkin it’s full bodied and smooth, with a hint of clove, nutmeg and allspice.  It wasn’t overly sweet like other pumpkin brews I’ve tasted; overall I found it refreshing and enjoyable to drink.

Choya Ume Blanc
Ume BlancThis wine is made from Japanese ume fruit (pronounced “wu-meh”), which is similar to apricots and grows on trees.  Gently sweet with an elegant touch of acidity, the Ume Blanc reminded me of a Riesling but with more white floral notes.  It’s a great aperitif or can be enjoyed with fresh fruit or desserts.  Like a sweet riesling it’s low in alcohol, containing 7%.  A 500ml bottle costs about $15.  If you can’t find it at your local liquor store, try an Asian market.

For more articles from the New York City Wine & Food Festival click below:
Bubbles and Bivalves at the Oyster Bash
Tour de Beef at DeBragga and Spitler
Organic Wines for Less than $20

Organic Wines for Less than $20

Organic wines can be confusing.  Some are labeled organic while others are not, and the definition of what makes a wine organic can vary among winemaking countries.

In general, organic wines are made from grapes that are free of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, and they don’t have added sulfites.  Most wines have a small amount of sulfites as a byproduct of fermentation, though additional sulfites are often used to preserve the wine.

For a wine to be certified organic in the United States it must be made from organically grown grapes, contain no added sulfites, and have information about the certifying agency.  If a wine does not have the USDA seal but indicates it is made with organic grapes or organically grown grapes, it can include added sulfites.  In other countries with organic regulations, organic wines must meet the standards set by a government agency.

Further complicating the concept of green wines are the terms “sustainable” and “biodynamic.”  Sustainable winemaking attempts to lessen the carbon footprint of the vineyard.  Instead of man-made chemicals, growers use natural fertilizers and cultivate plants that attract animals and insects that are beneficial to the vines.

Biodynamic winemaking incorporates the concept of organic farming with a broader worldview.  A biodynamic vineyard is thought of as a living system that is closed and self-sustaining.  Many things are done by hand, including harvesting grapes or plowing the vineyard (sometimes horses are used), and winemakers only use indigenous yeasts.  Throughout the year growers will treat the soil to enhance its life.

The best way to tell if a wine is organic is to read the label.  Or you can save yourself the trouble and look for one of these great tasting green wines:

2008 Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia Organica Torrontés ($11)
Organic
Malbec is to red wine in Argentina as Torrontés is to white wine there.  This wine is floral and crisp, with an explosive bouquet of rose, orange peel, lime, white peaches and aromatic herbs followed by ripe flavors of citrus, peaches and a spicy finish.

2008 Leth Grüner Veltliner ($17)
Organic
This lush white from Austria has ripe peach and buttery apple flavors with a long spicy and creamy finish.  A slight effervescence makes this a fun wine to drink.  Like most Grüner Veltliner, this is a very versatile wine and can pair with seafood, shellfish, spicy dishes and Asian cuisine.

2008 Aguaza Sol-E-Cic-O Almansa ($12)
Sustainable
This is a white blend of 50% Monastrell, 25% Verdejo and 25% Sauvignon Blanc.  It’s intensely silky with notes of green pears, banana, ripe lime and a hint of spice from the Monastrell.  It’s a perfect wine for a sunny afternoon.

2005 Old River Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ($18)
Organic
This is a medium-bodied blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Cabernet Franc from California’s Mendocino County.  Smooth and well-balanced, this red has compelling aromas of dark fruits and earth.  Flavors of cherry, plum and strawberry are enhanced with a hint of vanilla from 8 months in new French oak.

2007 Finca Luzon Verde ($9)
Organic
This red wine is made from 100% organic Monastrell grapes.  For a wine that costs less than $10 it has quite a big taste.  It’s a bold and peppery red from the Jumilla region in southern Spain, bursting with black currant, spice, smoke and vanilla.

2007 Paolo Scavino Rosso Vino da Tavola ($18)
Organic
This Italian red is 40% Nebbiolo, 25% Barbera, 25% Dolcetto and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Aromas of currant, cherry, mocha, pepper and smoke introduce a concentrated flavor of red berries and black pepper.  Good acidity and smooth tannins lead to a ripe finish.

2006 Jorge Ordoñez Muscatel Malaga Seleccion Especial #1 ($17)
Sustainable
This dessert wine is sweet without being syrupy, with flavors of honey, jasmine and tropical fruits balanced out by a lively acidity.  375ml

I tasted these wines at the Organic Wine Party: Green Wine Demystified at the Chelsea Wine Vault, part of the New York City Wine & Food Festival.  All the wines can be purchased at Chelsea Wine Vault or ordered online at chelseawinevault.com.

Tour de Beef at DeBragga & Spitler

For years I’d heard the term “dry aged” mentioned at steak houses but wasn’t too familiar with what it meant.  As someone who likes to use the freshest ingredients available when I cook, I didn’t understand why you’d want to eat a piece of meat that had been left out for a month, sometimes more.  Of course the hefty price tag when compared to an already expensive steak didn’t help.

It wasn’t until I finally tasted a dry aged steak that I fully appreciated its appeal.  The steak was rich in taste and almost creamy in texture, with a tangy, nutty flavor that reminded me of blue cheese.  Simply put, there’s no comparison between the taste of a traditional steak and a dry aged steak.

Once I got hooked on dry aged beef, I wanted to learn more about the process.  At the New York City Wine & Food Festival I had the opportunity to get an inside look at the dry aging facilities at DeBragga and Spitler, one of the Meatpacking District’s few remaining meat purveyors.

DeBragga and Spitler was founded in the early 1920s as the Brooklyn Hotel Supply Company by three men who were experts in quality meat.  In the mid 1930s the company moved to Washington Street, an area that would later be called the Meatpacking District.  In 1948 the company incorporated under its present name by Farmar DeBragga (the son of one of the three founders) and Paul Spitler.  Trained butcher Marc Sarrazin joined the company in 1954 and became its president in 1973.  His son Marc John Sarrazin took over in 1992, and it’s he who led my tour.

Marc began the Tour de Beef by explaining where the meat comes from.  All of the beef cattle are naturally raised on farms around the country.  They are grass-fed and hormone and antibiotic free.  DeBragga keeps track of every piece of meat that enters its facility with a tag that shows where it came from, when it was slaughtered and how much it weighs.

We then stepped inside the first cooler for an overview of the aging process.  All beef spends some time between slaughter and cooking to improve its taste.  This time can range from a couple of days to a couple of months.

The majority of beef in the United States is “wet aged,” a process that is more cost, time and space efficient than dry aging.  The meat is placed in a vacuum sealed bag which allows it to retain moisture and prevents weight loss.

Dry aging works best with high quality meat that is well-marbled.  The meat is hung or placed on shelves in rooms kept between 34°F and 38°F.  Over time, moisture evaporates from the meat and enzymes break down fat and connective tissue.  This helps to tenderize the meat and intensify its flavor.

Because the meat loses moisture during the dry aging process it shrinks in size; the meat must also be trimmed of its outer layer before it can be sold.  These, coupled with the extra time investment, account for the higher price of dry aged beef.

After the aging lesson came a true feast for the eyes.  Marc took us into the aging rooms for a look at the millions of dollars of meat in various aging stages.  As I walked by the rows and rows of beef, I was reminded of a cheese cave.  The temperature and humidity are similar, as is the subtle yet alluring earthy and gamey smell.  Seeing the process first hand gave me a new appreciation for dry aging.

To get a nice flavor and texture, Marc recommends dry aging beef for at least 28 days, though it can be dry aged for up to 75 days.

DeBragga and Spitler supplies dry aged beef and other meat products to well-known restaurants in New York City and around the country.  They have a number of superstar chefs as customers including Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert, Laurent Tourendel and Tom Colicchio.  In Miami you can dine on DeBragga’s dry aged steak at Gotham Steak at the Fontainebleau.  And for the home chef you can order a variety of beef, pork, poultry and more online at debragga.com.

Before leaving the cooler I had a chance to check out the biggest chunk of Japanese Wagyu beef I’ve ever seen.  Want to know why Wagyu is so expensive?  Just take a look at the picture above.  The meat is so marbled it’s nearly white!  The fat gives the meat a buttery taste and texture.  American Wagyu is less marbled than Japanese Wagyu (and less expensive) because it comes from cows that are a crossbreed of Wagyu and Angus cattle.

After the tour came the best part — a taste of DeBragga’s wet aged and dry aged beef.  Both were tender and delicious, but the creamy and nutty flavor of the dry aged beef won me over by far.

Bubbles & Bivalves at the Oyster Bash

Nothing sets a celebratory mood more than Champagne.  And it’s even better when it’s paired with raw oysters!

Enticed by this delicious combination, I eagerly looked forward to the Oyster Bash at the Standard Hotel, one of the 2009 New York City Wine & Food Festival‘s Saturday events.  The afternoon of indulgence featured free-flowing Champagne and a nearly endless supply of oysters.

Four chefs served their favorite oyster preparations, using oysters farmed by cultivators from the northeast and Canada who were on hand to chat about their craft.  You could try the chef’s preparation or grab an oyster directly from the person shucking them.

After enjoying a glass of Champagne, I decided to start with a Beau Soleil oyster prepared by Sam Talbot.  Known for both his good food and good looks on season 2 of Top Chef, Sam seemed to have mostly women coming back for a second and third oyster (I’m sure serving an aphrodisiac didn’t help).

Sam served the oysters on the half shell in a spicy pomegranate juice topped with pomegranate seeds and thyme.  The crunch from the seeds and the spice from the pepper was a great contrast to the slippery smooth texture of the oyster.

Next I tried Rhode Island oysters prepared by Franklin Becker, the Executive Chef at Abe & Arthur’s Restaurant.  The plump oysters were topped with what appeared to be a tomato and fruit salsa, which made for a light and refreshing bite.

Offering a more savory preparation was Alexandra Guarnaschelli, the Executive Chef of Butter Restaurant.  Bits of chorizo added a nice meaty flavor to the Long Island oysters, which were served alongside a shot of clam chowder.

It was hard to top the duo of oysters offered by Christian Zammas from the Stewart House in upstate New York.  The first oyster presentation was a true tribute to the Big Apple.  The oyster was sprinkled with white balsamic vinegar and apple vodka made in upstate New York, and topped with a thin slice of apple, also from upstate.  It was salty, tart and sweet all at the same time, with a crisp finish.

This would have been my favorite oyster of the bash had I not tried Christian’s second preparation, which looked more fit for a college dorm room than a Champagne fête.

The preparation attracted lots of attention from bash-goers including Duff Goldman from Food Network’s Ace of Cakes, who attended with several members of the Charm City Cakes crew.

Using what would best be described as a gastronomic gravity bong, Christian lit a mix of black pepper and apple and pomegranate tea.  He filled a small glass bulb with the smoke, which he placed over a raw oyster.

To eat the creation you lifted the bulb and inhaled the smoke before slurping down the oyster.

It was a unique sensory experience, with the lingering aroma from the smoke adding a nice fruity and spicy taste to the cool, slippery oyster.

After another glass of Champagne and several more oysters, it was time to leave the party.  And because I believe you can never have too much of a good thing, I had even more oysters a couple of hours later at dinner.