Wash Your Reusable Grocery Bags

If you use reusable bags when you shop at the grocery store, be sure to wash them after every couple of uses.  Though they may be good for the environment the bags can pose a risk to your health.

According to a safety report by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University, the bags can serve as a breeding ground for dangerous foodborne bacteria.  Reusing the bags can lead to the cross contamination of foods.

From an article on the report on FoodSafetyNews.com:

“Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half the bags sampled,” said Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a University of Arizona environmental microbiology professor and co-author of the study. “Furthermore, consumers are alarmingly unaware of these risks and the critical need to sanitize their bags after every use.”

Researchers found that the number of bacteria increased 10-fold when meat juices were added to the bags.  A scary thought, if you’re like the 97% of people studied who say they don’t wash their bags.

Before you switch back to plastic, it’s very easy to protect yourself against these bacteria.  A thorough cleaning in a washing machine or by hand (with or without bleach) kills about 99.9% of the bacteria that may be on the bags.

In addition to recommending that reusable bags get washed, the researchers offered several tips for consumers:

  • Separate raw foods from other food products in the bags, paying particular attention to packaged meats which can leak during transport.
  • Do not use reusable food bags for non-grocery purposes like carrying books or gym clothes.
  • Do not store bags in car trunks because the higher temperature promotes bacteria growth.

To see the full report entitled “Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags” click here.

The Setai Miami Launches Theme Nights

There’s a new reason to head to the super chic Setai on South Beach.  As part of the summer-long celebration of the hotel’s fifth anniversary, The Restaurant at The Setai is introducing a series of theme nights to transport diners to exotic parts of the world.

On Wednesdays beginning August 4th is Flavors of India.  From 7pm to 11pm The Restaurant will feature an authentic four-course Indian tasting menu, with a choice of three dishes per course.  The meal will conclude with a glass of homemade chai tea and petit fours.  Every other month an internationally renowned Indian chef will host the evening and create special dishes.  On August 11th the host chef will be Suvir Saran from Devi in New York City.
The Flavors of India menu is priced at $60 per person, excluding tax and gratuity.

On Thursdays beginning August 5th is Thursday Night Jazz.  Local and national jazz musicians and vocalists will perform under the stars at The Bar & Courtyard.  The live music will be paired with Taittinger Champagne by the glass and bottle, as well as a signature summer cocktail menu.  Kicking off the jazz series on August 5th is chanteuse Stephanie Jordan.  Live music begins at 7pm.

On Fridays beginning August 13th is Dim Sum and Champagne Fridays.  From 7pm to midnight The Restaurant will offer eight plates of signature Dim Sum and new refined additions.  Just as with Flavors of India, every other month a Dim Sum master will host and create specialty dishes.
The menu is $75 per person excluding tax and gratuity, with the option to choose an extended Chef’s Tasting Menu and wine pairings.

Already going on now on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays is Balinese Hour.  From 6:30pm to 8:30pm guests can enjoy the relaxed elegance of The Bar & Courtyard while listening to the enchanting sound of Balinese Gamelan performers.  A special summer cocktail menu featuring Asian-inspired creations is available, and chefs grill complimentary satay.

The Setai is also offering special anniversary rates on suites along with complimentary signature breakfast for hotel guests.

Click here for more information on The Setai’s fifth anniversary theme nights and special rates.

The Setai is located at 2001 Collins Avenue in Miami Beach.  Dinner is served nightly, from 7pm to 11pm Sunday through Thursday and 7pm to midnight Friday and Saturday.  Reduced valet parking is available for diners.  Reservations are suggested and can be made by calling (305) 520-6400 or emailing setaidining@ghmamericas.com.

photo from The Setai’s website

AG Pick Under $15: Chalten Reserva Malbec 2008

Take a break from Argentina’s popular Mendoza wine region and try a wine from Neuquén.  For an introduction, pick up a bottle of the 2008 Chalten Reserva Malbec.

Neuquén Province is located in the western part of Argentina, at the northern end of Patagonia.  To find it on a map, locate the city of Buenos Aires and draw a line due west, almost to Chile.  That province is Mendoza; look just south and you’ll find Neuquén, which also borders Chile.  Neuquén has a cool, dry climate with strong winds and pronounced temperature swings.

This Neuquén winery’s name comes from the region’s highest peak: Mount Chalten.  According to the legend of Patagonia’s indigenous people, the first explorer landed here on the back of a swan.

The Chalten Reserva Malbec — though not necessarily indicative of all Malbecs from Neuquén — is less earthy in smell and taste than most Malbec from Mendoza.  The Chalten Malbec is smooth, silky and fruity, almost reminiscent of Merlot.

On the nose are bright red fruit and berry aromas.  These flavors develop on the palate, with notes of ripe raspberry, boysenberry and plum with a hint of black pepper and licorice at the end.  The wine is medium bodied and feels light and elegant in the mouth.

The wine is high in alcohol at 14.5%, which is noticeable on the first few sips but mellows with time.

Though I prefer more earth in my Malbec when I drink it with steak, you can pair this wine with grilled red meat.  It will also go nicely with duck, pizza, hamburgers and hearty chicken and pasta dishes.

A bottle of the 2008 Chalten Reserva Malbec costs around $10.

Downtown Atlanta Restaurant Week

Starting today, bring your appetite to the heart of Atlanta for Downtown Atlanta Restaurant Week!

The city’s week-long dining deal has expanded to two weeks.  From July 26th through August 8th more than 20 restaurants will be offering three-course dinners for $25 or $35 per person, excluding tax and tip.

Click here for a list of participating restaurants and menus

Reservations can be made by calling the individual restaurants or booking online at OpenTable.com, which has a page for downtown restaurants offering the special prix fixe meals.

Some Open Table restaurants will be offering discount parking at Central Parking locations.  Look for the “parking options” icon when you make your reservation, then print the coupon and give it to the cashier or input a code on the pay station when prompted.

You can also toast to your great meal at a great price with Downtown Atlanta Restaurant Week’s signature cocktail, the Bacardi® Torched Cherry™ Blossom.  Created by Eric Simpkins, mixologist at DRINKSHOP at the W Atlanta Downtown, the cocktail contains Bacardi® Torched Cherry™, dry and sweet vermouth, cherry liqueur and bitters.  The signature cocktail and beverages are not included in the price of the three-course menus.

Click here for more information on Downtown Atlanta Restaurant Week 2010.

Discover Temecula: Thornton, Wiens & Leonesse Wineries

Continued from Discover Temecula: Briar Rose Winery

After my introduction to California’s Temecula Valley at Briar Rose Winery it was time for lunch at Café Champagne.  The restaurant located at Thornton Winery serves contemporary fusion cuisine in a cozy French country setting overlooking the vineyards.  The best part is you don’t have to choose between food and a tasting of Thornton’s wines — you can enjoy a wine flight with your meal.

Thornton Winery opened in 1988 and produces a variety of white, red and sparkling wines.  I went right for the red wines and ordered the Zin Lover’s Flight.  This included the 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel from Cucamonga Valley, the 2007 Huis Vineyard Zinfandel from Temecula Valley, the 2007 Estate Petite Sirah from Temecula Valley and the 2006 Late Harvest Zinfandel from Cucamonga Valley.  My favorite was the 2007 Huis Vineyard Zinfandel, which was barrel aged for 22 months in 41% new American oak and 59% two year old French oak.  The wine had jammy blackberry and cherry flavors with cocoa and spice on the finish.

I also got to try the Sparkling Wine Flight which included Thornton’s NV (non-vintage) Brut, NV Blanc de Noirs, NV Cuvée Rouge and NV Cuvée de Frontignan.  All are made using the traditional Champenoise method.  I like my sparkling wines to be dry, so I found Thornton’s a little sweet for my taste.  Of the four I enjoyed the NV Brut the most.  It is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc with a small amount of Pinot Noir, with notes of golden apple, pear and creamy toast.

While the setting was lovely, the experience was marred by slow and uneven service, though there were only a few other tables filled.  Once I was able to get the attention of a server and order, the sparkling wines arrived flat.  The server was apologetic and brought out a new flight, but I found it odd that the restaurant would send out a poor representation of Thornton’s wines.  I hope I dined at Café Champagne on an off day and that this is not the norm.

After lunch I went to Wiens Family Cellars.  The winery was founded in 2001 by Doug Wiens and his brothers George, Jeff and Dave.

Wiens Family Cellars prides itself on its red wines.  And I could see why, after tasting some that ended up being my favorite from my visit to Temecula.  But first I started with a really nice white, the 2008 Solace.  Bright with nice floral, pear and citrus notes, the wine’s flavor matched the sun on its label.  The blend of 44% Viognier, 41% Chardonnay and 15% Roussanne was partially aged in French oak and on lees, adding creamy flavors of caramel and vanilla.

I then tried a variety of red wines including a Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel and a couple of blends.  My favorite of the single varietals was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was smooth and spicy, with flavors of blackberry and plum.

My favorite red overall was the 2008 Domestique, a blend of 45% Grenache, 26% Syrah, 26% Mourvedre and 3% Sangiovese.  It was a delicious mix of black fruits and earth, with flavors of black currant, blackberries, plum, spice and leather coming together for a pleasing, lingering finish.

I ended the day with a few more whites and reds at Leonesse Cellars.  The winery was founded in 2003 and its name means “village of dreams.”  The tasting room is perched above the vineyard, offering great views as you sip.

Of their white wines that I tasted, my favorite was the 2008 Roussanne, which had delicate floral aromas and flavors of ripe lemon, apricot and honeysuckle.

On the red side I enjoyed the 2007 Cinsaut, 2007 Melange De Rêves and 2007 Limited Selection “Six.”  The light bodied 2007 Cinsaut reminded me of an Oregon Pinot Noir with its fresh cherry and strawberry flavors and a hint of vanilla and clove.

The 2007 Melange De Rêves is modeled after Rhône wines and is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsaut.  It was medium bodied with flavors of ripe raspberries, boysenberries, tobacco and black pepper.

The 2007 “Six” is so called because it is the sixth release in Leonesse’s Limited Selection Series line of wine.  It’s a blend of 85% Sangiovese, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Merlot that was aged in small French and American oak barrels.  It had spicy flavors of plum and black cherry, rounded out by violet and eucalyptus.

I went sweet for my final wine with the 2008 Late Harvest Muscat Canelli.  It was rich without being syrupy, with notes of peach, apricot and honey.

With Temecula being home to more than 30 wineries, I barely scratched the surface during my one day trip.  I definitely plan to return to discover more.

Thornton Winery
is located at 32575 Rancho California Road and is open daily for tastings from 10am to 5pm (6pm on Saturdays).  (951) 699-0099

Cafe Champagne is open for lunch and dinner.  Reservations can be made at (951) 699-0088.

Wiens Family Cellars is located at 35055 Via Del Ponte and is open daily for tastings from 10am to 5pm.  (951) 694-9892

Leonesse Cellars is located at 38311 De Portola Road and is open daily for tastings from 11am to 5pm.  (951) 302-7601

For more information on Temecula Valley wineries visit www.temeculawines.org.

A Cool Way to Chill Your Wine

Forget the traditional boring ice bucket for keeping your wine cool.  Instead, design your own!

Introducing the Nice Ice Cooler, an eye-catching way to keep a bottle of wine, Champagne or vodka chilled.  All you need is water, a freezer and some creativity.

The Nice Ice Cooler is an ice bucket mold that fits most bottles of wine, water and spirits.  To make a one of a kind ice bucket just fill the mold with water, add in optional ornaments like plastic decorations, fruit or food coloring, then freeze it for approximately 24 hours.  Once out on display the cooler will last for about six hours at 70ºF.

Don’t worry about melting ice getting your table wet.  The Nice Ice Cooler has a stainless steel base that stays on to collect the water.

Your unique ice bucket is sure to add pizazz to any party or give a festive feel to dinner any night of the week.

The Nice Ice Cooler costs $24.95 and is available online at WineEnthusiast.com.

photo from WineEnthusiast.com

Taste, Talk and Tweet: Pinot Noir

If you happened to be on Twitter Thursday night you may have noticed an unusually high number of people tweeting about Pinot Noir.

It wasn’t just a coincidence (though I’m sure coincidentally it made you thirsty).  It was a planned “tweet up” several weeks in the making, a unique fusion of social drinking and social media that brought together Pinot Noir fans from around the world.

Participating in this tasting was easy — just pour yourself a glass of Pinot Noir and tweet about it, making sure to include the hashtag #pinotnoir (for Twitter newbies this is a way to group together tweets with a common topic).  You could even add on additional hashtags for the wine’s region such as #WV for Willamette Valley, #RR for Russian River Valley or #NZ for New Zealand.

I joined around 80 Atlanta Pinot Noir fans for a special tasting for the tweet up.  Held at Paul’s Restaurant in Buckhead and hosted by Ed Thralls (@winetonight), Joe Herrig (@suburbanwino) and Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson (@andreawine), the tasting featured 12 different Pinot Noirs from 10 regions.  Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits (@TowerATL) helped organize and promote the event.

Around the room were television monitors showing Pinot Noir tweets from our tasting and others in real time.  Guests could sip a wine, tweet their thoughts, then moments later see their tweet on the screen.

As wine descriptions tend to be long and flowery with run-on sentences about fruit and spice, it was fun trying to write about a wine in 140 characters or less.

I began the tasting with the 2008 Belle Glos Las Alturas from Santa Lucia Highlands ($40).  Here’s what I tweeted:

This wine had all the flavors I love in my Pinot Noir.  It was dark burgundy in color and slightly cloudy, with richly textured layers of black cherry, plum, spice and smoke flavors.  I couldn’t have kicked off the tasting with a more satisfying first sip; this wine ended up being my favorite of the entire tasting.

After my tweet appeared on the monitor it was neat to watch other people’s tweets about the wine, and even spotted a couple of responses to my comments on Belle Glos.

From there I tasted two Pinots from Hahn: the 2007 Hahn Estates Monterrey and the 2006 Hahn Santa Lucia Highlands.  The tasting’s best value at $9, the Monterrey was fortunately lacking in cherry candy sweetness that can make inexpensive Pinot Noirs a not so tasty gamble.  Elegant red fruit was balanced out by black pepper and spice, with good acidity giving it a light and bouncy feeling in the mouth.  Costing about $20 more, the Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot was noticeably more complex, with nice layers of black cherry, boysenberry and a hint of caramel.

Next I chatted with Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson who was pouring a Simonnet Febvre Cremant de Bourgogne NV ($17).  This sparkling wine from Burgundy was pale salmon-pink in color with delicate and creamy flavors of fresh raspberries and strawberries.

In addition to being one of 16 female Master Sommeliers in the world, Andrea has designed a line of stemware called “The One” that was used at the tasting.  With one style for white wines and another for red, the glasses are meant to be the only two glasses you need to enjoy wines at home.  The glasses are made from lead-free crystal and are dishwasher safe.  They are available at Macy’s or online at www.andreawine.com.

Other standout wines from the tasting were the 2008 Laetitia Estate Arroyo Grande Valley ($25) and the 2007 Halleck Vineyards “3 Sons Cuvee” ($40) from the Russian River Valley.  The Laetitia Estate had spicy flavors of cherry cola, plum, pomegranate and sandalwood, with crisp acidity.  The Halleck Vineyards had silky dark red fruit flavors with a hint of oak and a satisfying finish.

One wine stood out because of its unusual name.  The 2008 Mud House Pinot Noir ($20) from Central Otago was the tasting’s only New Zealand wine.  For a wine with the word mud in its name it was surprisingly light and elegant, with ripe cherry and berry flavors rounded out with crushed herbs.

During the online tasting wine fans tweeted more than 2,000 messages about Pinot Noir.

I couldn’t resist getting another taste of the Belle Glos as my last wine of the evening, which I sipped as I sent out my last tweet:

You can follow me on Twitter at @amgastronomer.

All prices approximate

Discover Temecula: Briar Rose Winery

Tucked away in a valley in southern California is Temecula, one of the state’s lesser known wine regions.  While it may not yet have the name recognition of Napa or Sonoma, Temecula is home to more than 30 wineries.  At just 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles and 60 miles north of San Diego, Temecula is waiting to be discovered.

Visitors to Temecula should bring an open mind and an open palate.  There you’ll find family-owned wineries that have fun with nontraditional blends and a wide variety of grapes.  Planted in Temecula are Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals like in Sonoma and Napa, Rhône and Mediterranean varietals like in California’s Central Coast, and a few other varietals from other parts of the world thrown in for good measure.

I started my tour of Temecula wine country at Briar Rose Winery.  The cottage that houses the tasting room is almost as charming as owner Dorian Linkogle.  Warm and welcoming, Dorian spoke about her wines with such enthusiasm that I couldn’t help but like them even before I took my first sip.

Briar Rose produces about 2,400 cases of wine.  All are unfiltered, with no added sugar.

We began with two white wines: the Estate Viognier and 2009 Gewurztraminer.  The Viognier had sweet citrus aromas with notes of grapefruit, honeysuckle and lemon zest on the palate.  If you could drink in the garden setting it would taste like Briar Rose’s Gewurztraminer, which had lovely off-dry flavors of apricot, lychee and rose petals.

As I was enjoying the wines Dorian explained the origin of our fairytale setting.  The original owner worked for Walt Disney and built a replica of Snow White’s cottage for his wife.  Dorian and her husband Les (Briar Rose’s winemaker), bought the property in the early 1990s.  After years of selling their grapes to neighboring wineries they opened up their own winery in 2007.  Briar Rose takes its name from another fairytale, the princess in Sleeping Beauty.

Before moving to the reds Dorian poured me a taste of the 2009 Fumé Rosé.  The wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc that is aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, a process that gives the wine its light pink color.  Light and refreshing it was a great sip on the hot day, with a mix of citrus flavors, dried cherries and not quite ripe strawberries.

From there I tasted a variety of reds: three vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon (2003, 2004 and 2007), the 2007 Katrina Estate Zinfandel, 2004 Petit Verdot and 2007 Cabernet Franc.

I particularly liked the Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  The first had big flavors of cherries, blackberries and plum with gripping tannins that gave the wine good texture.  The Cabernet Franc had a fragrant nose of red fruits and flavors of raspberries and black plum with a spicy finish of cloves and tobacco.

As we were enjoying the jammy red fruit flavors of the Katrina Estate Zinfandel, Les came into the tasting room with a barrel sample of the 2009 Zinfandel.  Cloudy purple-red in color, the wine had flavors of fresh raspberries that will only get better as the wine continues to age in oak.

After finishing with the traditional wines and curious to find out what exactly was a ‘wine lager,’ I asked for a taste of Briar Rose’s Talking Frog Hefe-N-Vine.  It was created by the winemaker as a mix between wine and beer — unusual, but quite tasty.  It’s made from 100% Viognier that was fermented with yeast used to make hefeweizen.  The wine lager had a head similar to beer, with small bubbles like a sparkling wine.  The sweet bread aromas and flavors of apple and honey made for a crisp and refreshing sip.

With its intimate and enchanting setting, along with a variety of enjoyable wines, Briar Rose is the perfect place to kick off an exploration of Temecula Valley.

Briar Rose Winery is located at 41720 Calle Cabrillo in Temecula, California.  Tastings are by reservation only and can be made by calling (951) 308-1098.

For more information on Temecula Valley wineries visit www.temeculawines.org.

Click here for Discover Temecula Part 2: Thornton, Wiens and Leonesse

When a Sour Taste in Beer is Good

Sour is not typically a flavor you look for in beer — in fact, it’s usually a fault with the brew.

But sometimes a sour taste in beer can be a good thing.

This was the subject of a recent article in The New York Times entitled “Sour Beer Is Risky Business, Starting With the Name.”  Writer Lucy Burningham described this unusual style of beer that is popular in Belgium and starting to gain momentum in the United States.

In addition to the not so mouthwatering name, sour beer is not a sure bet for the brewer.  Some batches take as long as three years to develop the tart taste, while others may not develop at all.  Both can be very costly.  Still for many sour beer fans, it’s worth the risk.

From the article:

“I almost regret that we call them sour beers,” said Tom Nickel, owner of O’Brien’s Pub in San Diego. “The word ‘sour’ requires a bit of a leap of faith.” The best of some sour styles, such as gueuze, he said, have flavors like champagne or fresh lemonade. “You may not like the idea you’re drinking sour beer, but your mouth will like it.”

Sour beers get their distinctive taste during fermentation with special yeasts like Brettanomyces and lactic acid bacteria.  For additional flavor the beers can be aged in wood or stainless steel, or mixed with fresh fruit like raspberries or apricots (think Belgian fruit lambic).

Intrigued by the article, I decided to seek out a sour beer.  I picked up a bottle of La Folie, a sour brown ale from New Belgium Brewing in Colorado.  The beer (from the appropriately named “Lips of Faith” series), rests in French oak barrels between one and three years before it is bottled.

Color-wise the beer looked like any other brown ale, though I noticed a slight tart citrus aroma.  I took my first sip — wow, was it sour!  Almost like sucking on a lemon.  Of course I knew the beer would taste sour but I was unprepared for how sour it would actually be.

During my next few sips I was able to pick out more flavors.  The sourness came through first, much like the fruit in a “fruit forward” New World wine.  It was a mix of tart lime and sour green apple.  Beyond the sourness was the distinct flavor of the brown ale, dry with earthy undertones.

Together the flavors made for an unusual and complex treat for the tongue.  It was not a beer I could drink quickly; I took my time between sips.

Despite liking the sour taste of lemons and limes, I wasn’t too crazy about this beer at first — though it did grow on me as I continued to sip.  However I found my mouth tiring from the tartness after a while, and couldn’t finish the entire glass.

Would I drink sour beer again?  Sure, though I don’t think I would order it over my preferred styles.  But I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in tasting something new and different.

From The New York Times: Sour Beer Is Risky Business, Starting With the Name

The Perfect Marinade for Grilling

Planning on firing up the grill for the 4th of July?  Try my simple and delicious marinade that tastes great on lamb or beef.  It’s always a hit with my family and friends — I guarantee yours will love it too!

Be sure to scroll down for some helpful grilling tips.

Here’s what you’ll need:

• 2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
• 1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
• 2 heaping tbsp. Dijon mustard
• garlic salt or garlic powder
• black pepper

Mix together Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and mustard and pour over meat.  Grind black pepper on meat.  Sprinkle on garlic salt (substitute with garlic powder if you prefer more garlic flavor).  Place meat in the refrigerator to marinate, taking it out 15 to 20 minutes before you’re ready to grill.

I recommend marinating the meat overnight, though several hours will do if you’re pressed for time.

Save a few spoonfuls of the marinade to drizzle over the meat when it is served.

Here are some additional grilling tips for steak and lamb:

• Take the meat out of the fridge with enough time to warm to room temperature before grilling.  This helps the meat cook more evenly.
• Preheat the grill on high and start grilling with high heat to sear the meat and seal in the juices.
• Use tongs to turn the meat, not a fork.  Piercing the meat allows juices to escape.  Similarly, do not pierce the meat with a meat thermometer.
• Use your face to test the doneness of the meat.  Using your index finger press your cheek, then your chin, then your forehead.  When you’re ready to check the meat, use your fingers.  Rare will feel like your cheek, medium like your chin and well done like your forehead.
• Once the meat is off the grill let it rest for at least 5 minutes before you cut it, otherwise the juices will run out.

Happy Independence Day and happy grilling!