Cocktail of the Month: Peep Show

December 4, 2014

Folks who arrived in Washington within the last decade would find it hard to imagine what 14th Street looked like years ago. Today this thoroughfare is D.C.’s mecca for stylish dining, trendy bars and fashionable interior design stores.

Only a generation ago, this street was a seedy offshoot of U Street, dotted with ratty storefronts, questionable establishments and ladies of ill repute. Now it seems that hardly a month goes by without the opening of another chic restaurant. The “in” crowd keeps pouring in.
On the corner of R Street, a sublime nightspot with a welcoming patio pays homage to the corridor’s past. Red Light opened earlier this year with craft cocktails and decadent desserts made by an in-house pastry chef. It quickly became the dessert destination of choice for discerning diners looking for something potable with their sweets.

Making a good thing even better, Red Light recently added a new menu of savory nibbles and plates.

Whether you visit Red Light for something sweet, savory or both, the cocktails are not to be missed. As owner Aaron Gordon gleefully says, “It’s more fun to eat in a bar than drink in a restaurant.”

The sleek interior, with its restrained lighting, gives it a seductive feel. Gordon calls it “subtly risqué.” A local artist made the light fixtures. Meanwhile, the outdoor patio with its pots of fresh lavender gives the joint a European flair: perfect for relaxing and watching the modish clientele of 14th Street stroll by.

Acknowledging the area’s sordid past, many of Red Light’s cocktails have such amusing names as Street Corner Girl, Dirty Shirley and the Madame. In fact, the menu jovially lists them as “burlesque” cocktails.

If you’re looking for a drink that knows how to make an entrance, I suggest you order Peep Show. This delicious concoction arrives at the table with a flaming garnish of fresh rosemary, lighting up the patio and eliciting oohs and ahs from nearby tables. Fortunately, this tipple has the substance to match its flamboyant style.

The Peep Show cocktail combines ginger beer, bourbon, lemon and Pimm’s No. 1 Cup liqueur to create a supreme mixture with an herbal twist. Pimm’s is a mahogany-colored gin-based spirit made from liqueur, fruit and spices.

The sweet bourbon mingles well with the spicy ginger beer, while the Pimm’s and lemon give the drink an extra herbal edge. Peep Show is garnished with a rosemary stick and cucumber, a twist on the traditional serving style for a Pimm’s and lemonade cocktail – with a slice of cucumber or a sprig of mint. The rosemary is seared to help pop its fresh flavor.

The concoction is served in a metal cup, paying homage to the Moscow Mule, a classic ginger-beer cocktail served in copper mugs.
While Peep Show is the most popular cocktail at Red Light, do not overlook the other choices. Gypsy Eyes is a delicate effervescent mixture of vodka, crème de violette, lemon and Prosecco. A more hearty choice is the Mata Hari, a spicy combination of vindaloo-infused whiskey and fruity apricot liqueur. With a drinks menu as varied as the menu of snacks and sweets, Red Light offers cocktails for every taste.

Peep Show

1.5 ounces Pimm’s
1.5 ounces bourbon
1 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce ginger syrup
Muddled cucumber
Dash Angostura bitters

Top with ginger beer and garnish with a sprig of burnt rosemary.

Readers can sample the Peep Show and other cocktails at Red Light, 1401 R St. NW (on the corner of 14th Street).

Cocktail of the Week: Roasted Pumpkin Spice Margarita

November 19, 2014

Pumpkin, along with apples, cinnamon and cloves, is one of the classic flavors of fall. The mere mention of this orange squash invokes images of the autumn harvest, jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.

The incorporation of seasonal flavors and ingredients into our food and drink has made pumpkin a shining star once the leaves begin to change. Imbibers have a wide choice of delicious pumpkin beers and themed cocktails.

Some of my favorite pumpkin ales come from Schlafly in Saint Louis and Dogfish in nearby Delaware (where they spell it ‘punkin’). My only issue is that many of these beers start appearing in stores and on menus in late August and early September.

While a pint of Weyerbacher imperial pumpkin ale is fantastic on a brisk afternoon while admiring the colorful foliage, I have trouble enjoying spiced ale during D.C.’s Indian summer days – when temperatures continue to hover in the 80s. Even though Halloween is the first pumpkin holiday of fall, it is not uncommon for some of the pumpkin beers to be sold out and replaced by winter brews.

Thankfully for those who enjoy pumpkin cocktails, the selection usually remains constant through Thanksgiving.
If you like to have your pumpkin cocktail and beer in one, the Copperwood Tavern in Arlington, Va., is offering a fall-themed version of the classic flip cocktail (a heated mixture of beer, rum, egg and sugar). Copperwood’s version is forged from Cruzan rum, egg and pumpkin syrup, topped with Port City porter.

While pumpkins are usually associated with Americana, there is no shortage of international cocktails to try. For example, Daikaya, a traditional Japanese ramen shop in Chinatown, is offering a spiced pumpkin mule cocktail made with fresh pumpkin, cinnamon, clove, ginger, turmeric, lemon and bourbon.

Spanish hotspot Estadio is serving a pumpkin slushito, a mixture of scotch, pumpkin puree, black tea, lemon and beer.
A surprising one, and the most refreshing tipple I uncovered this year, is El Centro’s pumpkin margarita. At first, the idea of altering this warm-weather favorite with pumpkin seemed a bit odd, but the key to this drink is its subtleness.

Instead of using a pumpkin puree or syrup, El Centro infuses the tequila with roasted pumpkin and spices. “We like infusing tequila,” GM Joshua Gray said. “It’s fun to play around with different flavors.”

I sampled the tequila infusion on its own, and its flavor reminded me of being enveloped in a cozy poncho on a cool night in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Bartender David Constantine shared my approval. “I’d drink it straight,” he said.

The flavored liquor is mixed with agave nectar and freshly squeezed lime, then served in a pint glass with a cinnamon-sugar rim.
The result is a light and aromatic drink. The fall spices blend with the slightly peppery reposado tequila, adding some zing to the Mexican staple. The cinnamon-sugar rim adds a perfect amount of spice/sweetness to balance the tartness of the lime.

Unlike some heavy autumn elixirs, this pumpkin drink would be refreshing year-round. I just may be making pumpkin margaritas next July!

Roasted Pumpkin Spice-Infused Tequila

1 750ml bottle Sauza Blue Reposado

1.5 stars of anise

1 teaspoon cloves

1.5 half-sticks cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/16 teaspoon ground allspice

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 29-ounce can pumpkin puree

Crush spices together using a mortar and pestle. Fold spice mixture and sugar into pumpkin puree. Spread flat onto a sheet pan lined with wax paper. Roast at 250 degrees for 30 minutes. Place cooked mixture into cheesecloth and tie tightly. Place cheesecloth-wrapped mixture into a glass mason jar. Fill with tequila. Let sit 5-7 days, agitating daily. Strain mixture.

To make a margarita, mix tequila with agave nectar and fresh lime and serve in a glass with a cinnamon-sugar rim.

Readers may sample the pumpkin margarita at either of El Centro D.F.’s locations: 1218 Wisconsin Ave., NW, and 1819 14th St., NW.

Chilling Out for the Rest of the Summer

August 7, 2014

One of the most unpleasant aspects of summer in D.C. is the heat and humidity, which makes getting around town without looking disheveled a struggle. While summer 2014 has yet to reach the point of unbearable, the possibilities that it will during August and September are likely. In an effort to remain cool, calm and collected, we pulled together a list of the best chilled drinks Washington has to offer.

Located at the Georgetown Waterfront is one of Washington’s top restaurants, Farmers Fishers Bakers (3000 K St., NW; 202-298-TRUE), known for serving American fair with a farmhouse feel. While it’s food menus are expansive and gluttonous, brunch is to die for. So is its drinks menu made with homemade sodas and syrups and the freshest and often times local ingredients. Perfectly suited for the hottest summer day, try the super light and refreshing Organic Cucumber Delight, made with American Harvest Organic Vodka, ginger-flavored liquor Domaine de Canton, a splash of lemon juice and served with a cucumber slice and balled cantaloupe.

Since opening in Georgetown and at its original location on 14th Street, Richard Sandoval’s El Centro D.F. (1218 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-4100) is known as one of the District’s most popular Mexican restaurants with a lively nightlife scene. Whether you’re seated for dinner or there for cocktails, its margaritas are some of the best in town. Served by the glass or in half or full pitchers, go for the Traditional Margarita, made with Sauza Blue Agave Tequila, fresh lime and agave nectar, or add fruit flavor with fresh mango or strawberry purée. Or heat things up while still chilling out with the Spicy Margarita, a mix of Serrano pepper-infused tequila, fresh lime agave nectar and chili-ginger.

New to 14th Street is Tico (1926 14th St., NW; 202-319-1400), at the southwest corner of U Street, impressing Washingtonians with its American fair influenced by Mexican and Spanish cuisines. Pull a seat up to the bar and order the Hibiscus Margarita on draft. Instead of Triple Sec, Tico uses Patron Citronge and pairs it with 100-percent Blue Agave Tequila, lime, lemon and its namesake hibiscus. Served with salt on the rim, the lemon and lime produce a strong tart taste that pairs well with the floral component of the hibiscus.

For hot summer days when you’re looking to grab a cold drink with a colleague during or after work, visit The Hamilton (600 14th St., NW; 202-787-1000) and order its White Peach Sangria. Hint: go for the pitcher if you and your plus one plan to each have at least two. Made with Spanish Cava sparkling wine, OYO Stone Fruit Vodka, white peach purée and tarragon-infused syrup, it’s bright color, fresh aromas and sweet taste will have you ordering it well into the fall.

After a Saturday or Sunday stroll at Eastern Market, visit Ted’s Bulletin (505 8th St., SE, 202.544.8337) and add a kick to your dessert with one of its regionally-famous adult milkshakes. Their selection comes in a variety of flavors and best during summer is the Twisted Coconut that pairs vanilla ice cream with coconut rum and your choice of key lime pie flavored coconut rum or bananas foster flavored banana rum with crunchy shavings of toasted coconut. Not a fan of coconut? Try the Buzzed Berries, made with vanilla ice cream, raspberry schnapps, rum, and fresh blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.

For the next time you’re poolside or on the patio looking to enjoy something refreshing, open a bottle of Moët Ice Impérial, champagne meant to be enjoyed over ice. Available at 1 West Dupont Circle Wine & Liquor, Barrel House Liquor Store and Sherry’s Wine and Spirit, its best served over three ice cubes in a large cabernet-style glass. Dress it up with fresh mint leaves, lime zest or red fruits, and you’re set to chill in the summer sun.

Should you want to go the non-alcoholic route, locally hand-crafted Thunder Beast Root Beer is a crowd-pleaser for both the young and old. It boasts maple and butterscotch flavors with notes of honey and botanicals on its finish. Pick up a six pack at Relay Foods in D.C., Virginia or Maryland. [gallery ids="101824,139269" nav="thumbs"]

Wines for Your Own Bastille Day Fête

July 2, 2014

Those of us looking for yet another excuse to celebrate independence will round out our July holiday revelry by observing France’s Independence Day equivalent, La Fête Nationale – aka, in the U.S., Bastille Day – on July 14.

The French among us (and the French at heart) look forward to enjoying some French food and wines to celebrate the storming of the Bastille in 1789 on that day.

In France, there will be firemen’s balls, parties and picnics at Versailles. And, of course, those parties and picnics will include wine. Here are some suggestions to help you enjoy your own celebration of French freedom this month – right on our own true-blue U.S. soil – with wine.

Drink Bubbles

Many Frenchmen and Frenchwomen celebrate Bastille Day with red wine. But Washingtonians usually prefer something lighter in the middle of July. Any occasion instantly becomes a celebration when a little sparkling wine is served. Audrey Hepburn said, “Paris is always a good idea” – and so is something bubbly!

You can never go wrong with a bottle of true Champagne from France, like a bottle of Bollinger. If you want to take your celebrating to a higher level, go for a bottle of traditional vintage French bubbles like Bollinger Grande Année 2004. Bollinger always gets high marks from wine raters. (Most of the big Champagne houses usually do because of the high standards of quality and consistency.) Bollinger’s 2004 vintage doesn’t disappoint.

But if your celebrating gets a little out of hand – and someone decides he or she wants to celebrate the storming by shaking up the bottle and spraying it at your party guests like they have won the Tour de France – you might want to encourage use of a non-vintage bottle, one that costs less than Grande Année 2004 at $130.

If you want to try a French sparkling wine that is just as festive and delicious, as well as a little different, try Lucien Albrecht Rose Cremant d’Alsace Non-Vintage. The coral/light pink/salmon color will entice you. It’s made of 100% Pinot Noir, after all. But it is bursting with refreshing strawberry and red plum flavors.

I opened of bottle of it about two weeks ago and couldn’t finish it, so I put a stopper on it and put it in the refrigerator. Two weeks later, I remembered it and pulled it out for a taste, just knowing that it had since gone flat. Normally, Champagnes and sparkling wine turn flat after several days, even with a Champagne saver stopper on the neck. However, this bottle still had fizz and finesse – not sparkling like the day it was opened, but a pleasantly surprising amount. Longevity is a definite plus for a sparkling wine.

Go for Bordeaux…But Bordeaux Blanc

The Pessac-Léognan region produces some of the best dry white Bordeaux. Most whites of the region contain 70% Sauvignon Blanc, expressing a range of floral and perfume aromas and honey, citrus, lemon, grapefruit, mineral and spice flavors. The best white wines from the region can age for decades. Try Château de Fieuzal Blanc 2004, 2012 or 2013.

Party with Beaujolais…But Not Nouveau This Time, Please

Do you still want a red wine to toast independence here and in France, but even the thought of something heavy on the palate when it’s 90 degrees outside makes you sweat? Then try a traditional Beaujolais. Made from the thin-skinned Gamay grape, Beaujolais has the flavor profile of a red wine, with its red-berry fruit flavors, without the tannin or the heaviness of heartier reds.

I always think of Beaujolais as a teenager. The wines, like the kids, show some signs of maturing but don’t take themselves too seriously. They are great picnic, BBQ or outdoor party wines. The region is best known to Americans for Beaujolais Nouveau, but you will find more complexity and sophistication venturing beyond the fruity, banal Nouveau.

Producing wines since 1859, the House of Louis Jadot is almost as old as the French Revolution. The Morgon Ch. des Jacques 2011 shows promise for easy drinking up through 2015. And at approximately $19, you can stock up for your next year’s celebration. Tip: Get hold of some 2009 while you’re at it if you like this style of wine.

*Shari Sheffield is a wine, food and lifestyle writer as well as a Wine Educator and speaker. She can be reached at or on her website:*

Cocktail of the Month

GOOOOAAALL!!!!! It strikes once every four years – World Cup fever.

People from every corner of the world (even America) are glued to their television sets watching soccer (or football everywhere else in the world). Sports fans gather at parties or bars for festive celebrations, employees call in sick and in many countries workers get the day off to watch their teams compete.

This year’s Cup has already proven to be an exciting one, with surprising upsets and underdog victories in the first round. What also makes the 2014 World Cup special is that it is being held in what is arguably the most football-crazed nation in the world: Brazil.

I witnessed the madness in Brazil 12 years ago, the last time they took the World Cup crown. I was staying in an eco-resort, deep in the Amazon. Even in the very heart of the jungle, we would pass by fishermen’s shacks with Brazil banners proudly displayed.

For the semi-final match, the resort basically shut down except for three televisions outside, where everyone gathered to watch the game. Since the match was being played in Japan, it started around sunrise. This early-morning start had no impact on the Brazilians’ party spirit. They gathered with gusto and served free glasses of cachaça (yes, I did imbibe at 6 a.m.).

Four days later, the scenario repeated itself, except I was overnighting in Manaus, the capital city of the northern state of Amazonas, before my flight back to the States. When Brazil knocked off Germany for the championship, the entire city erupted into one big party. The streets were filled with revelers and this continued all day and night. Luckily (or maybe unluckily) for me, the airport was still open and I returned to the States, where Brazil’s triumph barely merited a mention.

Almost as closely associated with Brazil as soccer is cachaça, a Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane. While most rum is produced by distilling molasses, a byproduct of refining cane into sugar, cachaça is forged from fermented cane juice. One and a half billion liters of cachaça are consumed annually in Brazil. The liquor has a fiery flavor tempered with a hint of sugary sweetness.

The most popular way to enjoy cachaça is the caipirinha, considered the national drink of Brazil. The cocktail is a combination of muddled lime, sugar and cachaça served over ice.

Cachaça was first consumed in the mid-1500s by slaves on sugar cane plantations in the country’s northeast. The name caipirinha is derived from the Portuguese word caipira, which refers to someone from the countryside, loosely meaning hick or country bumpkin. This is coupled to the -inha suffix, a term of endearment denoting little or small (as in the nicknames of famous footballers Paulinho and Ronaldinho).

Similar to its Cuban cousin the mojito, the caipirinha is created from muddled limes, making for a fresh and citrusy drink. There are two keys to the traditional Brazilian recipe: one, using superfine sugar, which dissolves much better than regular sugar; and two, muddling the sugar granules with the lime wedges, so that the oils are extracted from the lime zest, enhancing the aroma and flavor.

The result is a super-refreshing elixir, perfect for a hot afternoon of watching football. No matter what team you support, give a nod to the hosts of this year’s tournament with a caipirinha toast.

The Caipirinha


2 ounces cachaça

.75 ounces fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon superfine sugar

1 peeled lime (quartered)


First, peel the skin of a lime, cut the flesh into eighths and muddle in a mixing glass with simple syrup. Add the rest of the ingredients with ice and shake vigorously. Dump with shaken ice into a glass and serve. Sprinkle with a dash of sugar on top and garnish with a lime wedge.

Cocktail of the Month

June 4, 2014

No matter where you go in Indonesia, you will see them. A small storefront with a counter, a vendor on the street. They are dispensing drinks of an odd consistency: most of them thick and gooey, like globs of brownish mud. These curious potables can be purchased at one of the incalculable number of jamu shops that fill this island nation.

Jamu is a traditional herbal medicine from Indonesia, dating to ancient times. While little known in the States, jamu is widely used by locals. Indigenous healers, or dukuns, were the original jamu practitioners, but now it is more widespread than CVS in D.C.

A mixture of plants, leaves, seeds, herbs, bark, spices, fruits and flowers, jamu is purported to cure everything. It can treat diabetes, lower cholesterol, eliminate body odor, improve sexual stamina, cool the body, cure arthritis and even provide harmony within your family. The list goes on and on. Depending on the ailment, a different combination is prescribed.

Commercially prepared jamu is widely available, but most prefer to have it freshly made at a shop, where they can get a custom blend. It comes in tablets, powders and teas, but is most commonly consumed as a drink. Sometimes it is served in a combination of these.

My first jamu experience came courtesy of my friend Henry Kunjuik, who runs three jamu shops in Denpasar, the busy capital of Bali. Over the course of my nine months in Indonesia, Henry has treated me for a leg infection, hangovers and cuts and scrapes.

Henry comes from Padang, a region of Sumatra famous for its spicy food. He has been practicing jamu in Bali for more than seven years. He and his older cousin learned to make jamu from a master jamu guru in Java. Henry works at one of his stores and has taught his younger brothers how to run the other two.

Located on a busy thoroughfare, his main store opens around 4 p.m. every day to provide a relief for tired souls coming home from work and looking for a pick-me-up. He stays open until 1 or 2 a.m. In the meantime, his shop becomes a gathering point for a truckload of friends he refers to as brothers.

The typical jamu order is a customized combo of a thick, freshly prepared natural smoothie with a shot of juice or tea and a tablet on the side. The most popular requests can be ordered from a menu, divided into jamu for men, jamu for women and jamu for both sexes. An average serving costs about 8,000-12,000 rupiah (72-94 cents), depending on the mixture and the type of egg used (duck or chicken).

Jamu Pegel Linu, which relieves muscle fatigue and helps one get a good night’s sleep, is the most frequently ordered item on the menu. Customers can expect to wake up the next morning rested and ready to go. “You work hard all day, then you’re so tired, “ says Henry. “Then you drink jamu before you sleep and when you wake up you much feel better.”

When I ask Henry for an analysis of the natural ingredients, he recites a list of Indonesian words. While some are familiar – like ginger, citrus and turmeric – most of the words can’t be deciphered by Google’s online translator. In Indonesia, words vary not only from English, but from one island to another.

Two of the ingredients common to most jamu drinks are egg and honey. It is generally believed in Indonesia that when mixed together they increase stamina. (If you want to make jamu at home, you will have to have most of the ingredients shipped to you, since they are native only to Indonesia. You can also order commercially made powders online.)

Henry mixes up a concoction to relieve my insomnia and teaches me to drink like a local. First, he whips up a thick sludge using a mixer mounted to the counter. I watch as he cracks an egg into a cup and throws in various powders, Beras Kencur –a locally produced juice infused with herbs – and a special honey only made and sold for jamu.

After a series of whirs and clanks, Henry pours a thick goop into a glass. He offers me a sample first. It’s bitter and medicinal, a bit like Jagermeister. He rims the glass with lime and squeezes the remaining juice into my glass, which adds a pleasant citrus flare.

My prescription is served on a plate, along with a sunny glass of Henry’s handcrafted ginger tea, a tablet of commercially made jamu and a piece of candy for dessert.

I am instructed to chug the jamu and chase it with the sugary tea. The smack of the sweet and spicy ginger provides a lovely contrast to the herbaceous jamu, washing down the slurry with a refreshing twist. I finish up by taking the tablet with the remaining tea and skip the candy.

Maybe it’s the power of suggestion, but I begin to feel invigorated almost immediately. When I go home that night, I ease into a soothing slumber.

Alsatian Spring: Six Delicious White Wines for the Season

May 9, 2014

The seconds are literally counting down to spring as I write this. . .tick, tick, tick. Washington is
sitting on the edge of its seat, waiting for the new season to usher in warm breezes and sunny weather.

Washingtonians have been dreaming of the day when the weather will break, allowing for the leisurely enjoyment of a delicious glass of white wine. Spring always makes me think of fragrant and luscious white wines. Specifically, Gewürztraminer and Riesling from the Alsace region of France come to mind. Below are my annual Wines for Spring recommendations, featuring the off-dry to dry Alsatian Gewürztraminer and Riesling.

Enjoy a glass and toast the end of Washington’s “Winter of Discontent” – whenever that happy
day arrives. Cheers!

Hugel & Fils Gewürztraminer

2010 $22

This white wine from Alsace, France, will display a slight green tinge in the glass. Only in Alsace will you experience the true heights and expressiveness of this grape varietal. This Gewürztraminer is a fine entry-level example of a spicy, dry and
well-balanced wine of the region.

Hugel & Fils Gewürztraminer

2010 $25

Look for pale yellow colors with flecks of green once you pour this in your glass. This wine, from older vines than the first Gewürztraminer on the list, is made under stricter standards. Consequently, it shows more elegance and finesse. Upon tasting, you might experience flavors that remind you of orange peel and mango. It is highly aromatic with lots of floral scents emanating from your glass. See if you can catch hints of rose and orange blooms. Though it is a dry wine, its lushness and acidity make it refreshing. Drink this wine young or let it sit for a year or two. Drink it alone, as an aperitif or (if you wish to pair it with food) with lobster tail or tandoori chicken. varietal. This Gewürztraminer is a fine entry-level example of a spicy, dry and well-balanced wine of the region.

Domaines Schlumberger Gewürztraminer Kessler Grand Cru
2008 $30

Domaines Schlumberger has been family-owned and family-run since 1810. Biodynamic and sustainable farming practices have been employed in this premier cru. One thing you will definitely notice is this dry wine’s body, meaning its weight in your mouth. It has more substance then most of the wines listed here and could never be called thin. The richness of the fruit balances well with its acidity.

Domaines Schlumberger Gewürztraminer Kessler Grand Cru

2008 $28

Minerals and citrus fruit flavors abound in this Riesling. This wine is a beautiful golden color. It is dry, but expresses nice fruit
flavors. Drink now and through 2015.

Domaine Weinbach
Gewürztraminer Cuvée

2011 $45

Thoughts of spice, apricots, banana and candied orange rind come to mind when tasting this off-dry Gewürztraminer. Aromas of lychee and caramel will draw you into your glass. You might experience a slight oily or petrol impression, but these are classic notes in Alsatian wine, adding to its complexity. This wine can be drunk now or held for up to five years in your cellar.

Trimbach Riesling Cuvée
Frederic Emile

2009 $62

No list of Alsatian Riesling recommendations would be complete without a mention of wines from one of the most prestigious houses: the family-owned Trimbach. While known for Rieslings (there are four), the house also produces Gewürztraminer. The Rieslings are classically dry with apricot, pineapple and mineral flavors. I recommend any of the bottlings. Explore, but
do try the Cuvée Frederic Emile. It is an elegant, expressive, steely Riesling, a wonderful example of what the house –and region – produces.

Shari Sheffield is a wine, food and lifestyle writer as well as a Wine Educator and speaker. She can be reached at or via her website:

A Quintessential Experience

April 23, 2014

Well, if you were despairing that you won’t get a chance to experience the swanky new Georgetown Capella hotel’s $3,500-per-person “Once In A Lifetime” wine dinner that was postponed indefinitely, you are in luck! There’s a new opportunity to visit the hotel for something special.

Executive Chef Jakob Esko and the hotel’s Grill Room restaurant have announced their revised wine-dinner concept. On May 8, guests will take part in a quintessential experience featuring the wines of Quintessa winery of California and food pairings handpicked by Chef Esko. Capella plans to host several wine dinners throughout the year.

The Quintessa estate, located in Napa Valley, is a favorite of the hotel’s sommelier, Will Rentschler. In addition to its stellar reputation for producing amazing red wines, Quintessa prides itself on sustainable growing methods. This excellence in producing wonderful tasting wines, as well as environmentally conscious organic farming, has endeared Quintessa to many a lover of fine wines.

When I spoke to Rentschler and Esko about the upcoming event, their excitement to share the winery’s new releases – and show how well they complement the cuisine of the Grill Room in an intimate setting – was evident. Quintessa’s own Larry Stone, wine director and educator, will be on hand to highlight what makes each of the wines a standout.

Chefs usually create food, with wine just an accompaniment. However, this night will be different. Chef Esko has designed four great seasonal dishes around the Quintessa wines. At the dinner, you will be led through four food and wine courses:

Quintessa Illumination

Sauvignon Blanc, 2012

Paired with diver scallop carpaccio, served with cucumber, radishes and soft goat’s cheese.

Quintessa Proprietary

Red Blend, 2010

Paired with herb-roasted quail, served with rosemary and potato gnocchi, chorizo and parsley.

Quintessa Proprietary Red Blend, 2005

Paired with bison strip loin, served with wild mushroom ragout, black truffle and spring peas.

Faust Cabernet

Sauvignon, 2011

Paired with dark chocolate Black Forest cake roll.

Capella’s Grill Room typically showcases creative seasonal dining. Diners enjoy views of the picturesque C&O Canal, with outdoor seating available.

The Quintessa Wine Dinner four-course menu is priced at $180 per person (excluding tax and gratuities). To make a reservation, call 202-617-2424 or visit

Think of the Grill Room’s upcoming wine dinners as “Once in a Couple of Months” wine experiences. Once you have had your fill tasting the new Quintessa releases, why not head back to the hotel’s Rye Bar for a nightcap, go up to the rooftop infinity pool and look out over Georgetown or check in to one of the 49 luxury guest rooms and suites? You’ll make it your own quintessential evening. Cheers!

Shari Sheffield is a wine, food and lifestyle writer as well as a Wine Educator and speaker. She can be reached at or

Cocktail of the Month

February 13, 2014

Naming cocktails after current events is nothing new, especially in a wonky city like Washington. Whether it’s an election, scandal, debt ceiling, snowstorm or government shutdown, there is always a cocktail commemorating something in D.C.
Two of my favorites in recent years have been the “Binders Full of Women,” a Mitt Romney-themed election tipple from the Mt. Vernon Square bar and restaurant The Passenger, and BLT Steak’s “Gun to a Snowball Fight,” named after the 2009 incident in which a cop in plainclothes pulled a gun during a snowball fight on U Street.

What about naming a cocktail after an international court ruling? This occurred in Peru last month after the International Court of Justice gave Lima economic rights over a slice of Pacific Ocean maritime territory in a 100-year-old dispute with neighboring Chile.

The new elixir, called the La Haya Sour (The Hague Sour) after the Dutch city where the ICJ is based, is a variation on the Pisco Sour, Peru’s national drink. According to Agence France Presse, the cocktail was unveiled on the eve of the country’s Pisco Sour Day.

Peruvians are so crazy about pisco, they have not one, but two national holidays commemorating their flagship spirit: National Pisco Sour Day (the first Saturday in February) and National Pisco Day (the fourth Sunday in July). The official website of the Peruvian government has a link to a site called “Pisco es Perú.”

According to AFP, which interviewed the drink’s creator, bartender Javier Perez, the concoction’s intense blue comes from a dash of Curacao, to “give it the color of the sea.” Says Perez: “It’s a drink that pays tribute to The Hague ruling in favor of Peru and that puts an end to border problems with Chile.”

Naming a pisco drink after Peru’s court victory is a double smack in the face for Chile. Peru and Chile have been fighting for decades over who invented pisco (a grape brandy produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile). Both countries also claim the Pisco Sour as their national drink. While it may sound trivial, the debate can become fierce between these neighbors.
There is actually a town named Pisco in both countries, so each can lay international claim to an “appellation of origin,” a direct link between the product and the land. This is similar to France, where Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy can only be labeled as such if they’re produced in those specific regions.

The Peruvian city by that name dates back to 1574, while the Chilean town was given its moniker in 1936, when then Chilean president Gabriel González changed the name of La Unión to Pisco Elqui. Many believe the name was only changed in an attempt to steal the Pisco name from Peru.

In 2013, the European Commission ruled that Peru will be recognized as the original home of pisco. The decision established the Peruvian village of Pisco as the geographical origin of the drink and protects the country’s right to claim its provenance in the European market.

The rivalry between these two nations goes back to the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), which pitted Peru and Bolivia against Chile. During the conflict, Chile invaded Peru, occupying the capital, Lima, and delivered a crushing defeat to its Andean enemies. Peru, which lost the territories of Arica and Tacna, fared better than Bolivia, which lost its entire coastline to Chile. Tacna was returned to Peru in 1929.

Some Peruvians say that Chile stole the production of pisco during these years of disputed borders.

“Chile, they try to claim everything from Peru as their own,” says Lowell Haise Contreras, a musician from Villa María del Triunfo, a district of Lima that was on the front lines during the 1881 battle for the capital. “Pisco, ceviche, empanadas. . . . They don’t make anything of their own, so they try to take credit for the great creations of Peru.”

As for me, since I consider Peru my second home, I have to side with the land of Macchu Picchu.

La Haya Sour (The Hague Sour)
1 egg white
3 ounces Peruvian pisco (I prefer Macchu Pisco)
1 ounce lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup
½ ounce blue Curacao
Angostura bitters
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the first five ingredients. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds, then strain into a cocktail glass. Top with a few drops of bitters. Garnish with a lime.

La Cusquenita Linda

January 17, 2014

Peruvians are crazy for pisco. Not only is pisco, a grape brandy produced in Peru, the country’s national liquor, there are two public holidays celebrating its virtues. National Pisco Sour Day is celebrated during the first Saturday of February and National Pisco Day on the fourth Sunday of July. So one afternoon as I wandered the touristy corridor of Cuzco between the Plaza des Armes and San Blas, I wasn’t taken by surprise when I strolled by a storefront identifying itself as the Museo de Pisco (Pisco Museum). It seemed perfectly logical in this tourist mecca for a pisco museum to exist.

With its walls filled with diagrams, graphs and maps explaining the pisco-making process, distillation equipment on display, and a vast collection of bottles behind the bar, I was ready to spend a cultural day communing with this local elixir. It didn’t take long, however, to deduce that the Museo de Pisco was actually a bar disguised as a museum. This revelation did not sour my visit in any way.

While not official guides, I quickly realized that the bartending staff here had an encyclopedic knowledge about pisco and were eager to educate a gringa about their country’s pride and joy. Not only was I given a primer on the distillation process, but barman Ruben Dario educated me about the specific grape varietals used for pisco and the difference the each grape imparts on the finished product.

The bar stocks more than 40 brands of pisco, each of them with their own unique qualities. After asking several questions about the merits of different types, another bartender, Joe Rojas Garcia, was kind enough to offer me a taste of some of his favorites. As a resident of Peru, I had been drinking pisco for nine months at this point, but I had never taken the time to explore the subtle differences in various varieties.

While I was familiar with the most popular cocktails, pisco sour, Maracuayo sour (made from a local fruit), and Te Macho, (pisco and coca tea), I was instantly intrigued by the bar’s extensive cocktail menu.

Overwhelmed by all the choices, I asked Joe what he recommended. In a flirty move, he suggested the Cusquenita Linda, literally translated, “pretty little lady from Cusco.” The cocktail is a mixture of pisco, cassis, lime and aguaymanto juice.

Aguaymanto is a fruit native to Andean region of South America, also known as the capegooseberry, golden berry or Incan berry. It has a tart, yet slightly sweet, flavor. Herbalists have used it as a folk remedy for diabetes, inflammation and asthma.
Not being a fan of sweet drinks, the fruit mixture intrigued me. The red-orange drink was presented in a martini glass with a cheery star fruit garnish. The mixture of sharp Aguaymanto with the piquant blackcurrant flavor of the cassis and sour lime proved a fitting foil for the crisp, clean and tangy flavor of pisco. The overall result was a sublime and unique tipple that was captivating and refreshing at the same time.

As I savored my cocktail, a tour group arrived, and I was able to absorb another education lecture from their guide, as well as sip on a free sample of pisco punch, mixed with lime and pineapple, offered to the group. I also watched as another bartender prepared one of the many pisco infusions made in-house, which include morado (purple corn), eucalyptus, chili pepper and ginger.

It would be easy to spend an entire afternoon or evening at the Pisco Museum, engaging with the friendly staff and sampling the many delicacies. This year, Peru’s National Pisco day falls on July 28. Wherever you may be on that day, celebrate it with a South American pisco treat.

La Cusquenita Linda
2 oz Pisco
2 oz Aquaymanto juice
¼ oz Lime juice
¼ oz sugar
1 oz crème de Cassis
Mix ingredients in a shaker with ice, then pour into a martini glass. Garnish with star fruit. [gallery ids="101372,153206,153204" nav="thumbs"]