Meringue Kisses

Put off that New Year’s resolution to eat healthier for a little bit just so you can enjoy these delicious meringue kisses!  Light as air with a nice crunch, these cookies can almost pass as a guilt-free treat.

This recipe from my mom has always been a hit with family and friends.  Just be careful when sharing these cookies with others — they’ll demand you make them again!

Here’s what you’ll need:

4 egg whites
1½ cups sugar
¼ tsp. salt
one 12-oz. pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
2 tsp. vanilla

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Cover cookie sheets with brown paper or parchment paper.

Beat egg whites, salt, cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Drop a teaspoonful of batter on paper for each cookie.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until cookies lift easily from paper.  Allow to cool before removing from trays.

If you like an extra crunch, you can add ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans.  Just fold these in when you fold in the chocolate chips.

AG Pick: Nora da Neve Albarino 2005

I think I have found my favorite Albariño.  Of the Albariños I’ve tasted recently, the Nora da Neve stood out as being on another level.  One reason for its delicious taste?  Oak.

Haven’t tried an oaked Albariño before?  That’s not surprising.  Hardly any winemakers in Spain use oak with Albariño for fear it will dominate and overpower the delicate flavors of the grape.  This Albariño may be the exception — or perhaps the start of a new and tasty trend.

Nora da NeveThis white wine comes from the Bodegas Noras winery in Rías Baixas in the far northwest corner of Spain.  This region is well known for its Albariño and has been growing this varietal since the 12th century.

Bodegas Noras’ goal is to show Albariño at its most expressive.  Although Albariño is an Atlantic varietal, it loves the sun.  The grape can only reach its full potential when harvested fully ripe, which is achieved by careful vineyard and vine management, leaf control and selection of grapes.

The Nora da Neve Albariño was fermented and aged for seven months in French oak barrels.  This gives the wine concentrated and ripe fruit flavors and the lush, buttery mouthfeel of an expensive Sonoma Chardonnay.

This wine is rich and complex, which are two words I don’t usually use to describe an Albariño.  Aromas of citrus, pear and white flowers introduce flavors of orange, white peach, vanilla and a hint of minerality.  The bright and refreshing palate culminates in a supple and smooth finish that will make you crave another sip.  Medium-bodied with good acidity, this atypical Albariño is very well-balanced.

Enjoy this wine now with seafood, salads or light pasta dishes.

A bottle of the 2005 Nora da Neve Albariño costs around $23.

Best Bites in America's Busiest Airports

If you’re flying this holiday season, don’t feel like you have to grab an unhealthy and unappetizing meal at the airport.  Food & Wine magazine recently released its Ultimate Airport Dining Survival Guide, a list of great places to eat in some of America’s busiest airports.

airplaneIf your travels take you through Miami International Airport, Food & Wine recommends La Carreta, the airport location of the well-known Cuban chain.  You’ll be able to enjoy a cafecito and medianoche any time of day in Terminal D, post-security.

In Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Food & Wine recommends Paschal’s Restaurant for classic southern cuisine (Concourse A food court, Concourse C food court and Atrium Main Terminal), and the sushi restaurant One Flew South, Atlanta’s first upscale airport restaurant (Terminal E, near Gate G6).

Traveling through New York City?  LaGuardia Airport offers limited food options after you pass through security.  Food & Wine recommends you eat pre-security at Figs, Todd English’s NY outpost of his Boston pizzeria.  Figs is located in the food court at the Central Terminal Building.

John F. Kennedy International Airport has many more food options, especially if you’re flying JetBlue.  Of the nine full-service restaurants in Terminal 5, Food & Wine recommends Aeronuova, an Italian restaurant created by New York City chef Mark Ladner.  Non-JetBlue travelers can check out Bonfire, Todd English’s Mexican-style steakhouse (Terminal 2).  For a pre-flight glass of wine head to Vino Volo, a wine bar that also serves small plates (Terminal 8, Gate B7).

Food & Wine magazine also has dining recommendations for airports in Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, Newark, Charlotte, Portland, Philadelphia, Houston, Austin, Dallas, Seattle and Washington, D.C.  Click here to see the full article.

AG Pick: 2006 Pier Asnas Langhe Rosso

With the many varieties and styles of Italian wine, it’s hard to know how to pick out a good bottle.  Fortunately I had some help finding the 2006 Pier Asnas Langhe Rosso.

I heard about this Italian red from Michael Bittel, wine connoisseur and owner of Sunset Corners Wines & Liquors in South Miami.  Michael, whose longtime passion for wine is evident in every story he shares about a bottle or tasting experience, made me thirsty for a sip of the Langhe Rosso with one vivid email.

Try to resist this description:

Langhe Rosso

“Like many wine lovers there are certain memorable wines that are benchmarks in our appreciation of the grape.  Unique moments that when experienced just snap back the head and make one simply think.. WOW!  This is what it’s all about!  These wines are rare and epiphany moments that are etched in our wine experiences forever.  I do not use the term loosely — I’ve had only a handful of such wines in my lifetime.

“1971 Von Simmerin Hochheimer Domdechaney Spatlese, 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc, 1996 Bryant Family Cabernet, 1983 DRC Montrachet are all included in this list.  The first, and usually only time, I had these wines the angels sang, the lights grew brighter and I was buzzed!  Not from the alcohol but from the ecstasy of the experience.  About two months ago it happened again.  To say I was surprised is a mild understatement, because it wasn’t an expensive wine.  So I drank it again.  It blew me away again!  Then I bought a case for my own cellar and drank it again!  I love this wine!  What’s more, every person whom we recommended the wine to has come back and said how extraordinary it is!”

Want to know more?  The 2006 Pier Asnas Langhe Rosso is from the Piedmont region in northwest Italy.  It’s a blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Petit Verdot from hand selected estate-grown grapes from the family’s vineyards in Treiso, Neive and Barbaresco.

The wine is special because it’s really the first high quality wine from the Pier estate.  For years the winery had produced wines with mixed results, until skilled winemaker Dante Scaglione (formerly of Giacosa) came on as their enologist and consultant.  He saw a lot of potential in the estate’s terroir and tradition, and with hard work was able to produce this delicious wine.

This red has the delicacy and finesse of a fine Pinot Noir, with pleasant red fruit notes that are reminiscent of a good Merlot.  It has an intense, fruity bouquet and a warm soft touch on the palate with elegant flavors of cherries, raspberries, plum and a hint of spice on the lingering fruit finish.

Here is Michael’s take:

“If you are looking for big heavy over the top reds, this isn’t for you.  But if you are looking for the kind of power that can come from delicacy, from intensity of flavor, from uniqueness of complexity, this wine is overwhelming!  I love it!  It’s not from a famous estate, it hasn’t been reviewed, it has no points, but it has our unqualified recommendation.  And the truth is I almost hope you don’t buy it. I’ll drink it all myself!”

Michael is not only a great storyteller, he’s a great salesman — his pitch for the Pier Asnas Langhe Rosso certainly worked on me!  And now I’m passing along this wine, suggesting you give it a taste.

Sunset Corners sells the 2006 Pier Asnas Langhe Rosso for $29.99.  Michael guarantees that once word gets out about this wine it’ll cost much much more.  So buy a bottle to drink now and a couple to enjoy later!

Sunset Corners Wines & Liquors is located at 8701 SW 72nd Street in Miami.  For more information call (305) 271-8492.

Exploring Italy's Marche Region

Though every region in Italy produces wine, some regions tend to hog the spotlight.  Tuscany immediately comes to mind for its Chianti and Brunello, as does Piedmont’s Barolo, Lombardy’s Pinot Grigio and Veneto’s Prosecco.

The Marche region is not as familiar to me.  Had you asked me a few weeks ago to name a varietal from this area I wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer.

Marche regionI recently had the opportunity to learn more about the Marche region (pronounced mar-kay), at a wine dinner hosted by the Institute for the Safeguard of Wines from the Marche Region.  The consortium was established by national law to promote awareness of the Marche and ensure the protection of wines in the region which have been granted designation of origin status.

The Marche is on the central eastern coast of Italy, on the Adriatic sea.  Just look to the east of Tuscany on a map and you’ve found it.

The Marche’s main white grape is Verdicchio.  This varietal produces dry white wines of the same name that are fresh in flavor and high in acidity.  They make good pairings for light pasta dishes, salads and seafood.

VerdicchioOf the two I got to taste, I really liked the 2006 Villa Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC ($20).  It is 100% Verdicchio and spent three months in used French oak barrels.

The wine is pale straw yellow in color with green reflections and has inviting aromas of ripe lemon, orange zest and white flowers.  The taste is crisp and refreshing, with flavors of green apple, citrus and a hint of honeysuckle that end in a clean finish.

Other white wine varietals grown in the Marche include Vernaccia, Lacrima and Maceratino.

CumaroThe Marche produces a number of high quality red wines as well.  At the wine dinner I enjoyed the 2005 Umani Ronchi Cumaro Conero Riserva DOCG ($45).  It’s 100% Montepulciano, a grape which is also grown in the Abruzzo region just south of the Marche.  The Conero Riserva is ruby red in color with red fruit on the nose.  The palate is filled with juicy blackberries, cherries, plum and a lingering hint of spice.  Gripping tannins give the wine a nice texture.  This wine makes a good pairing for braised red meat and game.

Though I didn’t get to taste an example at the wine dinner, Sangiovese is also grown in the Marche region.

I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to wines from the Marche but now that I know a bit about this region I look forward to tasting more!  Besides, isn’t it more fun to go off the beaten path rather than sip a ubiquitous Super Tuscan?

AG Pick: 2007 Juan Gil Monastrell

For Spanish red wine drinkers, Monastrell may not be as popular as Tempranillo but it definitely makes a delicious wine. If you enjoy red wine from France’s Côtes du Rhône region there is a good chance you’ve tasted Monastrell. There (and in the United States) this varietal is called Mourvèdre, and it is often blended with Grenache and Syrah.

Monastrell produces big, bold red wines that can be high in tannins and alcohol. Mixing it with other varietals helps to soften the wine and give it additional structure.

If you’re new to Spanish Monastrell, pick up a bottle of the 2007 Juan Gil Monastrell. This comes from Jumilla in southeast Spain. The wine is 100% Monastrell, which preserves this varietal’s wild and untamed characteristics. Twelve months in French oak barrels adds depth and texture.

When you pour yourself a glass you’ll immediately notice its striking dark cherry and purple color. On the nose are powerful aromas of red berries, black plum and smoke. The palate has juicy flavors of blackberries, currants and cherries that are enhanced by notes of dark chocolate, tobacco, black pepper and cedar. Ripe tannins give the wine a firm yet velvety mouthfeel, making for a long and pleasant sip.

The wine is high in alcohol at 15 percent. You’ll notice this if you try to drink the wine right after pouring it. I recommend decanting the wine or letting it open up for several minutes in the glass.

This full bodied wine demands a rich food pairing. Serve the Juan Gil Monastrell with grilled and stewed meat dishes, hearty mushroom and chicken dishes and game meats.

For its flavor and structure, the 2007 Juan Gil Monastrell is a great value at $14 a bottle.

More Red Wines | White Wines | More Under $20

Prelude by Barton G: Delicious Dining in Three Acts

Haven’t seen the new Barton G. restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami?  It’s tucked away inside the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.  But don’t wait until you have tickets to a show — dining at Prelude by Barton G. is an experience that is much more than an opening act.

PreludePrelude achieves the harmony that you look for in a restaurant.  There’s delicious food, a great wine list and with three courses for $39, it’s a great value.  Combine these with the chic and soothing decor (you’ll be mesmerized by the images of large jellyfish floating across flat screen TVs), and you’ll want to dine at Prelude often.

PreludePrelude is a rarity in Miami — it’s easier to get a table after 8pm than it is to dine earlier.  As it caters to the pre and post-theater crowd, Prelude gets busy around 6pm and again after 10pm.  If you’re seeing a show book your reservation right away since the restaurant will get sold out before the theater will.  And thanks to the prepaid reservations, you won’t be stuck waiting for the check when the curtain is about to go up.  Even if you’re not dining on a deadline, attentive servers keep the meal moving along efficiently.

Downtowners will want to make Prelude their new wine bar.  From Champagne to sweet and fortified wines, there are nearly 100 wines to choose from.  Best of all, every single one is available by the glass.  You can even order a tasting size or a half glass.  If you do decide to order a bottle you’ll be glad to know Prelude’s prices are lower than most other Miami restaurants.  I enjoyed a lush and complex 2005 Bordeaux for $48 a bottle.  If the wine list is a bit intimidating, just take a look at the dinner menu.  Each dish has a suggested wine pairing.

Prelude offers a three-course prix fixe menu (two courses for brunch and lunch).  If you’re not in the mood for the standard appetizer, entree and dessert you have the option of choosing any three menu items (two menu items for brunch/lunch).  If you would rather order à la carte, be sure to arrive after 8pm.

beef carpaccioFor an appetizer I recommend the Beef Carpaccio, which is sprinkled with a shallot-infused olive oil and served with coarse salt, pepper and horseradish mustard on the side so you can season it however you’d like.  Pleasing to both the palate and the eye is the Tuna and Roasted Beet Salad.  Red and yellow beets Tuna and Roasted Beet Saladare arranged to look like a checkerboard, and the tuna is topped with a sweet and spicy mix of ginger syrup and jalapeño emulsion.

For an entree I couldn’t get enough of the Duck Confit.  It’s moist and tender and served on a savory bed of braised green lentils.  Fish fans will want to try the Seared Red Snapper, which is topped with a lemon caper butter sauce and served with eggplant, zucchini, fennel and squash.  Our server raved about the Goat Cheese Tortellini, house-made and filled with chèvre, red onion and chives, topped with a red pepper cream, roasted red pepper strips and asparagus tips.

Cookies and CreamBe sure to save room for dessert — the appetizer and entree portions are fairly big but the desserts are huge.  And they’re so rich and delicious that you won’t want to stop eating though you’ll likely have to.  I loved the PB&J, which is a big scoop of grape jelly gelato between two peanut butter mousse pyramids that are topped with macadamia praline glaze and chocolate ganache.  Just as good, if not better, was the Cookies and Cream, a chocolate chip cookie bar topped with mini marshmallows, caramel, brownie pieces and glazed pecans, served with a house-made crème fraiche ice cream pop.  Just thinking about how tasty these were makes my mouth water!  I’m looking forward to my next visit to Prelude so I can try the Crazy for Chocolate, a triple chocolate cupcake with a chocolate buttercream and truffle filling, covered in chocolate ganache and topped with a cherry.

As a downtown resident, I’m thrilled to have Prelude within walking distance of my home.  It’s my new go-to place for an enjoyable multi-course meal or a nice glass of wine.  Really the only thing I can complain about is that Prelude isn’t on Open Table, which would make it easier to check the table availability between 8pm and 10pm.

Don’t let its location fool you.  Prelude by Barton G. is definitely worth a trip even if you’re not seeing a performance.  It actually may be better if you don’t have tickets — that way you won’t be tempted to miss the first act.

Prelude by Barton G. is located on the second floor of the Ziff Ballet Opera House in downtown Miami’s Arts and Entertainment District.  Lunch and brunch are offered from 11am to 2pm on matinee performance days; the dinner and bar menu is offered from 5pm to late on Tuesday through Sunday.

Reservations can be made by visiting arshtcenter.org/prelude or calling 305-357-7900.  For more information visit preludebybartong.com.

It's Time for Wine: Carneros Wineries Celebrate Passport Weekend

It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that will be featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Part I : Adastra, Ceja, Cuvaison, and Donum

There are a couple of places in the United States where one appellation traverses across county lines, but none more famous than Los Carneros (these days almost universally referred to simply as “Carneros”), which runs through the southern portions of both Napa and Sonoma counties. Quite cool as a result of its proximity to the San Pablo Bay (an extension of the San Francisco Bay), Carneros has rightfully gained notoriety as a world class region for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, which are traditionally best grown in this type climate.

Once a year many of the Carneros wineries join together to present a “Passport” weekend, where for one price the consumer can visit all participating wineries and sample whatever wares are being poured. This year, everyone seemed to be pouring 6-8 bottles of some of their best juice, which gave us a great opportunity to evaluate not only some of the wines, but the wineries and staff of the places we visited (even with 6 hours it was impossible for us to get everywhere, given our penchant for serious evaluation and less serious schmoozing).

Adastra
Only open to the public a few times a year, we love tasting the wines of consultant winemaker Pam Starr in the old barn on the Adastra property with co-owners Chris Thorpe and Edwin Richards. As we mentioned to Chris and Ed, we have never known Pam to have a miss on any wine she has created, whether it be for Adastra, her own Crocker & Starr label, or any other house. Our visit this day did not change our opinion.

Recommended:
2006 Proximus Pinot Noir ($56): One of the best wines we tasted during the day, it is full of elegant, dark fruit and offers a long finish. Quite complex for a Pinot, the wine spent 15 months in 80% new French oak, and the grapes were all certified organic.
2006 Estate Pinot Noir ($40): Shows the characteristic Carneros smoke and earth, along with the winemaker’s signature long finish this time bolstered by some spices.
2006 Proximus Chardonnay ($56): Lost our notes on this one, but have a big star beside the name of the wine on the Passport flyer. That means we liked it more than just a little.
2007 Regulus Pinot Noir ($40): The Regulus shows what a good winemaker can do with a light to medium bodied wine. The fruit is surprisingly bright, and there is a wisp of clove that dances on the strawberries.
2007 Ed’s Red ($15): An amazing $15 wine comprised of Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot. Concentrated flavors abound, with anise and pepper. It is fun to find something at this price that is really worth drinking.

Ceja
It is always a pleasant trip to the Ceja property, where the Ceja family does all it can to make you welcome and to learn about their wines. On this day, we found Amelia greeting guests, Pedro supervising the construction of a second Bocce ball court for the winery’s guests, and Ariel overseeing the wines. Winemaker Armando had done his job earlier in the day, and during the previous week, as the Valley was in the midst of harvest.

We have long enjoyed the nice line of wines here, but were a bit disappointed that only 3 were being shown this day.

Recommended:
2007 Vino de Casa Red ($20): An interesting blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Syrah, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this super priced wine shows cherries and plums before mocha takes over and finishes the journey.

Cuvaison
Long a standard (by time, if not necessarily by wine quality) in upper valley Napa, this winery has opened a modern tasting room and winery in Carneros. For some reason, the administration and management seem to have the winery running on the wrong hospitality gear. Recently, we learned of the winery’s refusal to carry guide books or magazines for their guests. On this day the there were other actions by those in the tasting room that were questionable for those on a winery’s front line. Cuvaison is not really showing the face a winery (any winery) wants to show to the public.

Recommended:
2007 Pinot Noir Robert Nicol Vineyard Wild Horse Valley ($32): A nice wine with good fruit, a long finish, and a gentle price point.

Donum
We say it simply – when you add together staff, hospitality, and wines, Donum emerges at the top of the class in Carneros (maybe tied with one or two others), and as one of California’s great Pinot Noir houses. With the support of owner Ann Moller-Racke, winemaker Ken Juhasz is turning out fabulous wine after fabulous wine. While the estate used to make only one bottle under the Donum label (superb even at $65-80), and several more under the Robert Stemmler label ($35-45), you can now choose from four different Donums (though you might say more since some are available in various vintages).

On Passport day, national sales manager Frieda Guercio joined Ann in making certain that everyone was not only well versed on the Donum line, which was open on the table for sampling, but that Stemmler was remembered, too. One of our favorite Donum people, Lynda Handley, was unfortunately absent, but you will “meet” her when you call to order your wines after reading this.

Recommended:
2007 Carneros Chardonnay ($50): We get so caught up in the fabulous Pinot Noirs here that we sometimes forget they make a Chardonnay of great complexity. Meyer lemon and apple pie co-exist perfectly with a hint of oak and smoothness throughout. The price of all the Donum line is not inexpensive, but the quality allows the winery to command what is competitive for such wines.
2007 West Slope Pinot Noir ($70): A candidate for the best Pinot Noir we tasted this year. Wild berries and spices are all over this one, with smoke and earth showing up at just the right time. Complex and serious, it lingers on your mind as well as your palate.
2007 Carneros and 2007 Russian River Pinot Noirs ($65): No, they don’t have the same flavor profile just because they are listed together. But the prices are the same, and one is as good as the other. The Carneros perhaps exhibits more secondary descriptors (earth, smoke, and wood) than does the Russian River, which invites you to experience black cherries, red plums, and strawberries before enjoying a little forest floor.
2008 Carneros Pinot Noir: Out of the barrel and spectacular.

Continue to Part II: Etude, Highway 12, Merryvale, Patz & Hall, Saintsbury, and Schug

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November.  Click here to read earlier columns by the Preisers.

AG Pick: Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles 2007

When you try this red wine from Jean-Luc Colombo you’ll be buzzing about it too!

Meaning “the bees,” Les Abeilles comes from France’s Southern Rhone Valley. It is a Grenache-based blend that is velvety smooth and easy to drink.

Balancing out the flavor and texture of the Grenache are Syrah and Mourvèdre which provide structure, finesse and zesty spice notes.

In the glass, the wine is intense ruby-purple in color and has seductive aromas of berries, black currants and bay leaf. On the palate are lush flavors of blackberries, boysenberries and plum, with herbal notes of rosemary and thyme. On the spicy finish is a hint of black pepper and licorice. Well-rounded tannins and bright acidity make for a delightful sip.

The fruitiness of Les Abeilles makes this wine enjoyable on its own, though it’s rich enough to pair with lamb, pork, duck and cured meats.

A bottle of the 2007 Jean-Luc Colombo Côtes du Rhône “Les Abeilles” costs $12.

More Red Wines | White Wines | More Under $20

Mulling Spices: A Fall Favorite

One of my favorite flavors of fall is hot apple cider.  It tastes even better when made with mulling spices.

mulling spicesThe mix I enjoy each time the weather gets a little cooler is Williams-Sonoma’s mulling spices, which come in a decorative tin.  This time of year you’ll often be able try a cup of hot apple cider made with these spices in their stores.

If you don’t want to pay $10.50 for Williams-Sonoma’s mulling spices, you can make your own.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 cinnamon stick, broken up into small pieces
1 tbsp. whole cloves
1 tbsp. whole allspice
1 tsp. orange zest
1 quart apple cider

Combine spices and put them in a tea infuser (or similar).  Pour apple cider into a pot, add tea infuser and gently simmer on the stove for 15 to 20 minutes.   Remove the spices before serving the cider.

If you want to give the cider an extra kick, add a shot Brandy.  With a cinnamon stick as a garnish, it’s a delicious treat on a chilly afternoon or at a holiday party.

You can also use the spice mix to make mulled wine.  Just swap the apple cider for 1 quart of red wine and add sugar to taste.

Besides giving extra flavor to apple cider and wine, this spice mix gives your home a nice fall scent.  Just one sniff will put you in a festive mood.