Vino Volo Lands at Tysons

September 25, 2013

From the moment you walk up to Vino Volo at Tysons Galleria, you immediately feel transported from Metropolitan D.C. to the middle of wine country by way of rustic wood and rosemary bushes. Upon entering the venue, the feeling only grows.

Vino Volo at Tysons opened Sept. 19, launching the shop’s second urban location. However, you’ve probably spotted the wine bar-restaurant and boutique shop at a number of airports across the country, as their 30th location opens in LAX this week. The fused bar and shop is no stranger to the D.C. area. Its first location opened in Dulles International Airport in 2005 and its first urban location in Bethesda, Md., in 2012.

“Our most loyal customer base is in D.C. area,” said Sarah Evans, Vino Volo’s marketing specialist. “They were the ones asking us to move out of the airport.”

Doug Tomlinson founded Vino Volo in 2004. As a management consultant for Deloitte and one who often traveled through airports searching for a good glass of wine to enjoy with colleagues, Doug found a gap in the market where guests were being underserved.

“I have always had a passion for wine, and believe there is nothing better than opening a great bottle to share with love ones,” Doug said.

He wanted to bring wine country in the airports to give travelers a chance to relax and enjoy wine.

“Our goal is really ‘wine country casual’,” Sarah said. “Whether it’s California or Tuscany, we try to take the best of wine country from all over and bring it to our locations.”

Vino Volo is derived from “Wine Flight” in Italian. The wine bar specializes in hand selected flights of wine that include tastings of three paired wines each served at 1/3 of a glass. The flights are presented on a metal tray with a description under each glass giving details of the wine including where it was made, the specific grape and description of flavors along with Vino Volo’s signature taste graph.

The shop caters to a growing demographic as it expands out of terminals. From the most experienced to those just discovering wine, Vino Volo serves anyone who has a passion for wine.

At Vino Volo Tysons, Virginia wines and Maryland cheeses highlight the menu, along with other small plates including salads and roasted cauliflower. The restaurant also has dinner plates and pizza. According to Sarah, sourcing local is important to Vino Volo. The shop strives to give customers the experience of wine country, while focusing on smaller, lesser known boutique wineries, without stepping foot outside.

Wine flights and selections change seasoning in the shop, with Thanksgiving table wines right around the corner, and celebratory sparklers when the New Year arrives.

Each location’s staff selects the wines, and Vino Volo also has a national sourcing manager.According to Doug, the teams at each store work hard to cultivate relationships with local wineries, often making trips to taste wines and meet winemakers on location.

A quarter of the wines listed on the menu are the same at every location for consistency. Sarah ensures that all the staff are equal opportunity wine drinkers and will try anything. Doug’s current favorite is a pinot noir from Dumol, a small winery in California.

“Our goal is to become the world’s favorite wine destination. Our guests are always asking for a Vino Volo in their home airport or neighborhood, so we plan to continue opening them in North America and beyond,” Doug said.

Vino Volo will be expanding to airports in Monteral, Austin, Boston and Columbus, Ohio in the coming months.

With rapid growth, and a heart for the D.C. area, it’s easier than ever to find your way into a Vino Volo shop. Welcome to wine country in your own backyard.
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A Summer-Opening Virginia Wine Country Guide

September 12, 2013

In need of some hot fun in the summertime? Here are some fun and different wine events coming up to get you out in the countryside and explore the ever-expanding Virginia Wine Country. According to www.virginia.org, Virginia boasts to have more than “200 wineries and counting.” So, why not take a day trip, visit some of these and bring a picnic basket?

‘The Paradise Springs
Winery Experience’ Production Tour and Tasting
Billed as the winery’s “signature experience tour and tasting.” You will get the opportunity to learn how wine is made. The tour consists of the property’s historic log cabin, vineyard, and production facilities. You will cap the tour off with a full tasting of their wine portfolio. Tour and tasting experience is held every Saturday at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and every Sunday at 3 p.m. Cost is $25 per person and includes a PSW etched glass.

Paradise Springs Winery
13219 Yates Ford Road
Clifton, Va. 20124
www.paradisespringswinery.com

Hartwood’s
Anniversary Celebration
Celebrate the 24th anniversary of Hartwood Winery on June 2, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pack a picnic and the pets and enjoy live music, tours and wine tasting. There’s even a moon bounce planned for your little ones. $15 for adults; children are free.

Hartwood Winery
345 Hartwood Road
Fredericksburg, Va. 22406
Phone: 540-752-4893 ?
www.hartwoodwinery.com

Tailgate Thursday with Eli Cook
Head to Stinson Vineyard’s Tailgate Thursday summer music series. Local blues legend Eli Cook plays summer long each Thursday as you grill on the lawn of the vineyard. Admission is free, grills will be provided for you to cook your own picnic fare. Meats from Timbercreek Organics can be purchased by call-ahead ordering. Dogs and children are welcome. Make sure you try their Rose and Meritage red wine. Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. May 23 through August 29, 2013.

Stinson Vineyard
4744 Sugar Hollow Road
Crozet, Va. 22932
Phone: 434-823-7300
www.stinsonvineyards.com

Friday Nights Under the Stars
What could be more romantic than a wine dinner under the stars? Head out to AmRhein Wine Cellars winery in Bent Mountain, Va., on the second Friday of each month, May through September, and you can do just that. Wine will be paired with an appetizer and a three-course dinner. $75 per couple; $37.50 per person. Reservations required. 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

AmRhein’s Wine Cellars
9243 Patterson Drive
Bent Mountain, Va. 24059
Phone: 540-929-4632 ?
www.amrheins.com

16th Annual Cajun Festival at Breaux Vineyards
Breaux Vineyards hosts its 16th annual Cajun Festival June 15. Taste wines, shop from local craft vendors, or join a hayride all to help celebrate the vineyard’s Cajun heritage. Little Red and the Renegades will perform from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and the Dixie Power Trio from 2:30 to 6 p.m. Kids can enjoy clowns, balloon art, face painting and hayrides. No dogs or picnics are allowed. Cost is $16 in advance and $20 at the gate.
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Tastes Great, More Filling: Guide to Washington Area Wine Dinners

August 15, 2013

Type “Wine Dinners D.C.” into an Internet search engine like Google, and a surprising number of hits come up. You wouldn’t have guessed it, but Washington, D.C., and Georgetown are wine dinner havens. Consider yourself lucky to have a wide range of multiple course dinners paired with various wines for each course available to the area diner. Essentially, that is what a wine dinner is: a dinner thrown by a host or a restaurant consisting of different food courses paired with wines set at fixed price. Sometimes, the menu is offered to individual parties as part of a regular dinner service menu, and other times, it is a special event held in a private room of the establishment.

I had the opportunity to spend a pleasant evening at one such private wine dinner at 901 Restaurant and Bar on 9th Street, NW, several weeks ago. Washington state based winery Saint Michelle had dropped by to show off some of their latest offerings. 901’s Chef Thomas Hall paired them with his new wine dinner menu. My dining companion and I were the first to arrive in the private dinning room featuring a long table set with many place settings. This is usually the case at a private wine dinner with a host or wine educator. Attendees usually sit at one long table in sort of a family dinning room table manner. This setup facilitates talking among the attendees who may not know each other. As we waited on the other unknown guests to arrive, 901’s dashing bar manager, Dean Feddaoui served us some perfectly chilled sparkling wine. Soon, we were joined by some bubbly 20-something-year-olds from a local event company. Once all the introductions where made and they took their seats, the conversation turned to food and Washington’s booming restaurant scene.

These girls were foodies, and we soon were discussing weekend-long girlfriends’ food road trips and debated who made the best hot sauces (Frank’s, Krystal or Tabasco). When Fran “Pineapple” Schmitz (and yes, that’s the name that’s actually on his business card), Saint Michelle’s business development manager, took his place at the head of the table and began discussing the night’s wines, the conversation ceased. Everyone was eager to taste, not talk.

We were first served the white wines as Pineapple told us about the history of the wineries, the terroir of its north Western American vineyards and basic wine tasting techniques. Once the Ste. Michelle Pinot Grigio as was served, we discussed the classic characteristics of Pinot Grigio and Pineapple Schmitz instructed us to look for pear and apple aromas. The chef paired it with the first course “Tuna Two Ways.” This dish was beautifully presented and consisted of versions of two of 901’s tuna appetizers. The standout among them is the yellow-fin tartare with Japanese aioli and crispy wontons. This Pinot Grigio paired nicely with the Asian flavors and will also go well with South Western fare.

Other notable wine and entrée pairings were Citrus XO Shrimp with lemon, sesame oil and dried chili threads paired with Saint Michelle’s Gewurztraminer. The sweet “jelly doughnut without the jelly” flavors of the wine were a great foil to the spicy hot “chili threads” that adorned the shrimp. Another menu and wine pairing standout is the Hoisin Duck with Asian Five spice, glove and apple paired with their Artist Series wine. The artist Series red is a Cabernet blend that just begs to be drunk with food.

If the wine dinner concept appeals to you, here are some more wine dinners in the District, to check out:

Nage Bistro
1600 Rhode Island Ave., NW, 202-448-8005
American/Seafood
Wednesday, Thursday & Friday chef tastings
3-course tasting $40 add wine pairing for $15
4-course tasting $45 add wine pairing for $20

City Zen
1330 Maryland Ave., SW, 202-787-6006
American
6-course meal, vegetarian option available
$85 per person

Komi
1509 17th St., NW, 202-332-9200
Greek/Mediterranean
$135 per person, $70 extra for wine pairing

Proof
775 G St., NW, 202-737-7663
American
4-course tasting menu with wine pairings, $95 per person

Equinox
818 Connecticut Ave., NW 202-331-8118
American
chef’s tasting menu
4-course with wine pairings, $95
6-course with wine pairings, $125

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Cocktail Of The Week


Folk heroes exist in every culture. Their fame, or sometimes notoriety, varies.In the United States some of our mythical figures like Davey Crocket or Daniel Boone are lauded for their pioneering character. Others like Billy the Kid or Calamity Jane capture the outlaw spirit of the Wild West. In Mexico one the most infamousfigures is Jesus Malverde.

Malverde, a bandit from the northernMexican state of Sinaloa, is often compared with the British legend of Robin Hood. Known as “the Angel of the Poor,” or “The Generous Bandit” Malverde was known to steal from the rich and give to poor, making him popular among the region’s underprivileged highland residents. Due to his renegade reputation, Malverde has also been adopted as the patron saint of drug traffickers and is often dubbed the “nacre-saint.”

While Malverde is not recognized by the Catholic Church, Mexicans pray to him for help or healing. Busts, necklaces and scapulars featuring Malverde’s thick bushy mustache and trademark white shirt and black tie are seen throughout the country. In shrines in Culiacan and Mexico City, Malverde’s followers line up to give homage.

Washingtonians looking to pay their respects to Malverde have the unique opportunity to toast him with his own self-named tipple. At Bandolero, M Street’s latest hot spot, one of the best cocktails on the menu, and perhaps one of the best agave-based drinks in DC, shares it moniker with the celebrated Mexican outlaw.

The Jesus Malverde, created Bar Manager Sam Babcock., is an astonishingly refreshing mixture of mescal, lime, cilantro, agave nectar, cucumber and Pork Barrel Hellfire Bitters.

In a case of which came first, like the chicken and egg, Sam confirms that this delightful drink was born before its name came about. He was researching Mexican gangsters when his interest was piqued by the story of Malverde. And since he had already created a badasscocktail with a cool green hue, he realized that his new drinkliterally fit the Spanish translation of the surname Mal (bad) Verde (green).

Imbibing in Babcock’sluscious concoction is a multi-layered experience for your taste buds. “The smokiness from the mescal and the spice from cilantro and the bitters really play nicely with the fresh cucumber and agave, “ Sam says, “ it starts off nice and fresh and clean tasting with a little bit of sweetness and finishes with a nice little punch from the smokiness of the mescal and the heat of the bitters.”

For me sampling this cocktail is like taking off on airplane, the flavor starts rolling down the runway with the first breezy sip and then really takes off with a bracing smack from the liquor and bitters. The peppery Pork Barrel Hellfire Bitters are produced locally by DC mixologist Owen Thompson, of America Eats Tavern.

While Bandoleer’s cocktail list concentrates heavily on tequila and mescal-based drinks, Babcock would like to stress that Bandolero is an excellent spot for craft cocktails of all spirits
“It’s not just a tequila bar where you go to get shots, he says . “We do lot of craft cocktails with tequila and mescal, but I want people to know that they can come in here and my bar staff will be able to make any cocktail regardless of what spirit it is.” In fact, Sam recently updated the drink menu to include a wider variety of classic cocktails. He has also added a few new gin, rye and pisco drinks, just to switch things up a bit.

So the next time you seeking a little irreverence with your cocktail, make a toast to a Mexican desperado at Bandolero.

Jesus Malverde

1.75 oz mescal
1.25 oz. cucumber juice
.5 oz fresh limejuice
.5 oz agave nectar
2. sprigs of cilantro
4 dashes Hellfire Pork Bitters

Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Double strain, pour into glass and garnish with the sprig of cilantro.
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Cocktail of the Week


The Suffering Bastard is a curious name for a drink that I’ve seen on numerous menus in Tiki bars and Chinese restaurants. Aside from the humorous moniker, I never really gave this drink much thought. But like many popular cocktails, there’s a story behind this concoction, which belongs to a man named Joe Scialom, who was perhaps one of the world’s most famous bartenders.

The Museum of the American Cocktail and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the author of five books on vintage Tiki drinks and cuisine, recently hosted a lecture, “The Suffering Bastard: Joe Scialom, International Barman of Mystery,” at the Occidental Grill.

Berry’s research began after reading Scialom’s obituary in the New York Times, in 2004. He tracked down Scialom’s daughter Collette and recorded his fascinating story.

Scialom, who was educated as a pharmacist, was born in Egypt in 1910. While working as a chemist for Lever Brothers in the Sudan, he began applying chemistry principals to mixing drinks to entertain his colleagues. Here he found his calling and set out to become a bartender. His career began at the opulent Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo, which was one of the most celebrated hotels in the world. Shepheard’s welcomed royalty, heads of state, and famous celebrities. Scialom, who spoke eight languages, dazzled the elite guests from near and far. He counted Winston Churchill, Charlton Heston, Charles de Gaulle, Conrad Hilton, and Egyptian King Farouk among his many guests.

During World War II, the hotel served as an unofficial officer’s club for the British and became an informal press club for war correspondents. When there was little news from the war, the media
wrote about Scialom’s amusing antics.

Due to wartime supply shortages, drinks were being mixed with poor quality alcohol, and guests began complaining of headaches. In response, Scialom created the “Suffering Bastard” as a hangover cure. According to Berry, the original recipe for the Suffering Bastard consisted of “Black market gin from South Africa, stolen British army-issue brandy, a homemade lime cordial, bitters brewed by a druggist across the street, and ginger ale from a Greek merchant of dubious character.”

The hotel bar, which was now referred to as “Joe’s Bar,” even featured a chart prescribing the number of Suffering Bastards needed to relieve a hangover based on its severity.

Another amusing anecdote that Berry shared involved Scialom making gallons of the Suffering
Bastard for a hungover British army that fought the battle at El Alamein. When the British won, the ever-present foreign correspondents reported Scialom’s hand in the victory.

Following these reports, the Suffering Bastard became internationally known. Trader Vic’s was the first to copy it. Then it began showing up at Tiki bars everywhere, even though the recipe was nowhere near Scialom’s original. According to Berry, Trader Vic’s version was very similar to a Mai Tai. Scialom was the consummate host at Shepheard’s.

When the hotel was destroyed, during the course of the civil unrest of the Egyptian revolution of 1952, Scialom continued to serve drinks and was one of the last to leave.

But Scialom’s popularity did not go unnoticed by the Egyptian authorities. They were suspicious
because he mingled consistently with so many important people. He was imprisoned as a spy and then later expelled from Egypt by President Gamal Abdel Nasser. While Scialom’s illustrious
bartending career continued in Puerto Rico, Havana, and New York, it was his time at Sheapherd’s Hotel that cemented his place in cocktail history.

The Suffering Baststard
Courtesy of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry
1 ounce gin
1 ounce brandy
1/2 ounce Rose’s lime juice cordial
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Ginger beer

Add gin, brandy, Rose’s, and bitters to an ice-filled glass. Fill with ginger beer. Stir. Garnish with orange slice and mint sprig.

Ingredients to make the Suffering Bastard may be purchased at Dixie Liquor in Georgetown. Scialom’s story will be published in Berry’s upcoming book, “Potions of the Caribbean: Lost Cocktails from America’s Playground”. For information visit www.BeachBumberry.com or www.MuseumOfTheAmericancocktail.com. [gallery ids="99208,99209" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the Week: Yes,We Canton!


This year’s inaugural season will be one of the quietest in years. The Obama-Biden inaugural committee has announced that it is cutting back on the number of inaugural balls. There will be just two official parties plus a concert honoring military families. The cutback on festivities is meant to reduce government spending and the amount of security and law-enforcement personnel needed. This will be the lowest number of balls in the past 60 years.

If you aren’t one of the lucky elite that will be spending the evening of Jan. 21, dancing and toasting with the first family, there will be dozens of unofficial balls and parties and no shortage of restaurants and nightclubs looking to cash in on the influx of celebratory visitors.

Several D.C. hot spots have led the way with inauguration-themed drinks. Just steps from the White House, the Hamilton is offering two potables to honor our nation’s 44th President. The “Perfect 44,” a variation on a classic Manhattan, features FEW Bourbon from Chicago. If you’re Donald Trump, you may want to order the Executive Punch, made with rum from Obama’s birthplace of Hawaii, along with a slice of humble pie.

Penn Quarter’s Brasserie Beck is serving an Obama-tini cocktail with a Democratic blue hue. This festive drink is forged from Ketel One vodka, Hypnotiq liqueur, and a float of blue Curacao. Nearby at D.C. Coast, the drink-du-jour is the Sparkling Second Term made with Averell damson plum gin, Leopold Brothers New York apple whiskey, lemon bitters and a splash of bubbly cava wine. This refined sparkler is served in a cinnamon-and-sugar-rimmed Champagne flute.

If these cocktails sound a bit too stuffy for you, swing by Hill Country Barbecue where they will be offering $1 POTUS-pop Jell-O shots all day Jan. 21.

Many folks, going with the subdued nature of this year’s festivities, will choose to host soirees in their homes. In additional to the décor and menu, one of the most important elements of any Obama-themed fiesta will be the choice of cocktails. Toasting the Commander-In-Chief with a sparkling wine or Champagne is a given, but a signature tipple is a special added touch that will make your party memorable.

One of the most obvious choices to serve is the classic El Presidente cocktail. While technically a Cuban creation, this full-flavored rum cocktail includes Curacao, vermouth and grenadine. Another clever choice is the retro Blue Hawaii tiki drink. This concoction made with blue Curacao, pineapple juice, sour mix and either rum or vodka, pays both homage to the Democrats with its color and Obama’s Hawaiian roots.

My choice for a private party would be the “Yes, We Canton,” an opulent sparkling sipper created for Obama’s first inauguration by D.C. celebrity mixtress Gina Chersevani. It was the star cocktail at the Peace Ball in 2009. I was first introduced to this dignified drink at a presidential drink seminar, sponsored by the Museum of the American Cocktail. The stellar ingredient in this cocktail is Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur. Forged from baby Vietnamese ginger, Cognac. Tahitian vanilla, Provencal honey, and Tunisian ginseng, Domain de Canton adds an exotic and a dash of winter warmth and spice to this mixture of pineapple juice and sparkling wine. Elegant and easy, this recipe can be multiplied and served as a punch, freeing up time for the busy host or hostess.

No matter what your plans may be for the inauguration or political affiliation, on Jan. 21 let’s all raise a glass to what we hope will be four years of peace and prosperity.

Yes, We Canton!
½ oz pineapple juice
½ oz Domaine de Canton
2-3 oz. brut sparkling wine or Champagne.
Serve in flute. Can also be made as a punch.

Cocktail of the MonthAugust 7, 2013

August 8, 2013

**VINCENT: Did you just order a five-dollar shake?
MIA: Sure did.
VINCENT: A shake? Milk and ice cream?
MIA: Uh-huh.
VINCENT: It costs five dollars?
MIA: Yep.
VINCENT: You don?t put bourbon in it or anything?
WAITER: Nope.
VINCENT: Just checking.**

Movie aficionados will recognize this conversation from Quentin Tarantino?s 1994 cult favorite ?Pulp Fiction.? Hit man Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta, is taking out his boss?s wife, Mia Wallace, played by Uma Thurman, for a night on the town while the big man is away. Vincent is questioning the high price of Mia?s choice of beverage. While he does later recant after sampling it, ?I don?t know if that shake?s worth five dollars but it?s pretty damn good.?

Well, if Vincent would have lived through the movie, he would have been able to indulge in an adult milkshake that bears his name at the Satellite Room bar near the 9:30 Club in D.C. The ?Vincent Vega? is a creamy vanilla shake, spiked with Bulleit bourbon. Although Vincent may have gone into sticker shock at the $10 price tag. Yes, prices have risen since 1994. But just like the movie, the same shake can be ordered without alcohol for only $5.

Adult milkshakes have been one of the hottest trends in D.C. in recent years, a perfect have-my-dessert- and-cocktail- too treat, for the area?s scorching summers. These concoctions are basically your cherished childhood treat boozed up with liquors ranging from rum to Kahlua to cr?me de menthe.

[Ted?s Bulletin](http://tedsbulletincapitolhill.com/) on Capital Hill started the trend. Their Baileys caramel macchiato will make you wish that Starbucks could add a lethal shot to their frappuccinos while their white Russian shake, would probably earn the approval of ?the Dude.? If fruit is more your style, Ted?s offers the buzzed berry forged from raspberry schnapps and rum.

In Adams Morgan, the weekend gathering hub, the [Diner](http://www.dinerdc.com/) has four adult milkshakes on its menu. The apple bottom is creative mixture of Sailor Jerry?s rum, vanilla ice cream whipped together with apple pie. The peppermint shake combines, cr?me de menthe, with ice cream and crushed candy canes. But perhaps the most interesting concoction merges the adult shake trend with the ?bacon in everything? craze. The bacon bourbon float takes and old-fashioned brown cow (or root beer float) spikes it with Jim Beam and tops it off with fluffy head of whipped cream covered in freshly made bacon bits.

I recently indulged on the Diner?s bacon bourbon float for a late-afternoon pick-me-up. The D.C. heat index was 105 degrees. I had spent two painful hours at the dentist, and I was looking for something satisfying, cooling and numbing at the same time.
Like so many other bacon foods, it may sound strange, but the hearty salty smoky bacon, merges well with the spice of the root beer, with the bourbon lending a sweet, oaky and powerful bite. My companion Dan Breen, a Baltimore-based artist and music promoter, gave it a thumbs up as well.

[The Satellite Room](http://satellitedc.com/) has the longest list in town, with ten celebrity-named ice cream elixirs. In additional the Vincent Vega, customers can say ?cheers? with the Norm Peterson shake, made with Murphy?s Irish stout or an ?Absolutely Fabulous? Patsy Stone made from pineapple, coconut, orange and nutmeg with Captain Morgan spiced rum.

If you are looking to give your childhood treat an R-rated makeover many of these ice cream cocktails can be easily made at home with a blender, a pint of Haagen-Dazs and your favorite spirit. Get creative, or use a popular cocktail as a guideline. For example, for a pi?a colada mix together rum, pineapple juice and coconut ice cream.

**If you would like to replicate the Diner?s sinful treat, here is a simple formula:**

Add two ounces of bourbon to a parfait or pint glass. Add one large scoop of vanilla ice cream slightly softened. Fill the glass with your favorite root beer. Cover with a generous dollop of whipped cream. Sprinkle generously with bacon pieces. ?

Cocktail of the Month: Mezcal Part II, Creamy Cocktails

May 9, 2013

Cream liqueurs have been popular for decades. The most well known is Irish Cream, a mixture of Irish whiskey, cream, sugar and other herbs and flavors. Bailey’s, introduced in 1974 was the first on the market. It was followed by, among others, Carolans, Brady’s and Saint Brendan’s.

Many people are fond of Amarula, with its eye-catching exotic elephant label. Amarula uses a distillate of fermented South African marula fruit, cream, black tea and spices. In the Caribbean rum creams are the rage. Jamaica likes to brag about Sangster’s original Jamaica rum cream liqueur while St. Croix produces Cruzan Rum Cream.

During my recent travels through the mezcal-crazy Mexican state of Oaxaca, I was not too surprised when I encountered a wide variety of mezcal-based cream liqueurs. You may remember from last month’s column that mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant, a type of agave, similar to tequila.
As I was hitching from Mazunte Beach, along the Oaxacan Riviera, to the nearest commercial town, San Augustine, I noticed the collective transport truck passed a mezcal distillery. When my local bodega in town ran out of mezcal, I decided to take a ride back to the tienda and investigate.

During a scenic ride along the coast in the back of the truck, my thirst was raging from the hot afternoon sun. As I spied the spray-painted plywood sign outside the shop, I yelled for the driver to drop me off. As I walked toward the small shack, I didn’t see anyone on the premises, except for a friendly dog.

I ventured further down the gravely path towards a table lined with bottles of various colors and flavors. My next reaction was one of disbelief. Not only was there a plethora of bottles on display, there was also a sign offering, “Pruebas Gratis” (free samples) while the owner was sound asleep in a hammock.

My first thought was, “Am I in heaven?” I briefly considered loading up my backpack and catch the next truck out of Dodge, but considering how bad that could be for international relations, I timidly helped myself to a sample glass from an open bottle and woke the man who was clearly enjoying his afternoon siesta.

The owner sleepily wandered over to the table and began to give me a half-awake lecture on the different flavors of mescal creams in his collection I started off with a coffee flavor, which tasted like a white Russian with a smoky kick. The next was a minty green-colored pistachio which did not translate well. The powerful mezcal overwhelmed the delicate pistachio. My next selection, banana, went down with a sweet easy slide, like a frozen daiquiri at a swim-up bar.

The samples kept coming. There were two coffee varieties – mocha and cappuccino. While very rich, they were also heavy on the sweet side. Coconut cream, with its nutty creamy texture, made me long for some pineapple juice. As though he could read my mind, the proprietor immediately poured me a sample of a pina colada that was decadent but strong.

A brightly colored purple mixture followed. Cloyingly sweet, grape, cream and mezcal is not a flavor combination that I wanted to continue imbibing. The lines of bottles on the table seemed to be expanding. So, I knew I was going to have to cut my tasting flight short, before I forgot my way back home. I capped off the afternoon, with a taste of Oaxaca kiss, a pink tropical fruit punch flavor, reminiscent of a TGIF’s blender drink.

I thanked the owner, who had spent the last half hour entertaining me as he wrapped my purchases — a bottle of coconut cream to be enjoyed from my hammock at my beachfront cabana, mocha as a gift for my Peruvian shaman who loves his coffee with lots of sugar and a bottle of aged mezcal for nighttime fiesta on the beach.

While mescal is often noted for its high alcohol content, mescal creams are generally low-proof, averaging between 12 and 18 percent alcohol. Their strikingly pleasing flavor make them a perfect after-dinner treat. Some folks like to enjoy them over ice cream for dessert. Mezcal creams are not widely sold in the USA, but they can be purchased online. Relíquias de Oaxaca, (www.mercadoreliquiasdeoaxaca.com) has a huge selection that includes, maracuya and guanabana (tropical Latin American fruits) pina colada and coffee varieties. [gallery ids="101285,149564" nav="thumbs"]

Luxury in a Glass

April 9, 2013

The email’s subject read, “Invitation to a Champagne Conversation with Krug and Louis Vuitton.” I blinked at my computer screen and read it again. Yes, it did indeed contain the words invitation, Krug, champagne and Louis Vuitton. I thought I was surely dreaming. Krug and Louis Vuitton together, in one setting? I was all in!

Days later, on a rainy, cold January afternoon I slipped into the cozy environs of Quill at The Jefferson Hotel. Along with an exclusive group (less than a handful) of D.C. food and wine tastemakers, I was treated to a conversation and tasting by Krug and Vuitton. We were called together to discuss the current state of luxury. The two luxury brands are companies held under the LVMH Corporation and partially owned by Christian Dior. LVMH owns numerous luxury labels including Moet, Hennessey, Thomas Pink, and Fendi. Vuitton and Krug epitomize luxury brands that are evolving to capture the hearts of the contemporary luxury lover.

Krug’s ideal demographic consists in part of the 35 to 50 year-old entrepreneur (male or female) who doesn’t know about wine but wants the best and wants to be shown it without much fuss and fluff. They are contemporary and optimistic. They have savior faire and a joie de vivre. So does Krug champagne.

I often talk about styles of wines in relationship to human personalities. To me Krug represents contemporary freshness and finesse. The flavor profile of a Krug champagne is lemon or citrus, fresh bread, almond and richness without sacrificing freshness.

Their entry level, standard release, non-vintage champagne (basic level) is called Grande Cuvee. This retails around $150. Why the higher price for a non-vintage standard release champagne? It is a higher quality entry-level bottle than other champagnes. All of Krug’s champagnes are “prestige” and come from the harvest’s first pressing, i.e., the best juice. Also, it takes seven years to bottle Krug non-vintage champagne. Grande Cuvee can also include still wines from great harvests from 20 years ago. This particular afternoon the Grande Cuvee did not disappoint with its classic citrus, honey, and almond croissant flavors. I was delighted to see that Quill lists Grande Cuvee by the glass, (one of the few, if not only, place in the city that does).

Quill also provided wonderful accompaniments for the champagnes we tasted. We were served shrimp cocktail with horseradish crème fraiche, cheese plates with sweet “wine pearls” and seasonal fruit chutney; and local charcuterie. All are currently available on the Quill menu.

When we tasted the rosé, my mind reeled at the thought of how good it will taste when it ages. Krug’s rosé is the only prestige rosé champagne that blends wines from all three traditional champagne grape varietals. The use of all three grape varieties gives Krug rosé a richness unlike any other. It releases raisin on the nose and has a refreshing finish.

That stormy afternoon, we also had the opportunity to taste a quite appropriate treat in light of weather, the latest Krug vintage release. The 2000 vintage is affectionately named, the “Gourmandise Orageuse.” Krug indicates it means “stormy indulgence.” The climate in Champagne, in 2000, was unusual and chaotic. Hence, the grapes produced an extraordinary Krug vintage. Apple flavors and acidity make it very drinkable. However, the 2000 reflects the chaos of the climate the grapes were grown with a resulting rare style and elegance. But, isn’t that why we seek luxury? It provides a little needed comfort and elegance in our sometime chaotic, stormy contemporary world. Cheers to Krug! And cheers to you! Enjoy

Fire and Spice-Cognac: a Distilled Wine

February 1, 2013

Some people, around this time of year, may have the idyllic vision of themselves sitting in a high back chair by a fire, a cashmere throw over their lap, snow falling outside, and a snifter of fine cognac in their hand. But what is cognac? And why do we sip it?

Cognac is distilled white wine made in Cognac, France. The wine is made from ugni blanc grapes. It is a thin and highly acidic wine, but when distilled, it is perfect for making brandy. This brandy is distilled again in the Cognac region and “cognac” is born. Just remember: Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac.