Summertime Refresher: Gin and Tonic

August 17, 2015

The dog days of summer are upon us, and in Washington that means days hotter than two native black squirrels making love in a wool sock. So what’s one to do when the temperatures are hot as hell and the air is thick as a sauna?

My solution is to head to the pool with a refreshing cocktail in hand.

One of my favorite poolside elixirs is one of the simplest: a timeless gin and tonic with garnish. After all, there is a reason why July is known as Gin & Tonic Month.

While this may sound boring to some, nowadays there is a wide variety of gin styles and flavor profiles available in your local spirits store. You could spend the rest of the summer mixing G&Ts without a dull moment.

First, let’s talk a little about gin, which is essentially a spirit distilled from juniper berries. This gives it its signature “piney” flavor.
Gin started off as an herbal medicine in Holland, where it was known as genever (the Dutch word for juniper). Genever, which is being sold again, had a sweeter flavor and a darker color than the gin we know, because it had a high percentage of malt wine.
When Dutch Prince William of Orange and his wife, Mary, became King William III and Queen Mary II of England, Scotland and Ireland, they brought gin with them. However, the British tempered the sweet taste of the gin, creating the style known today as London or dry gin.

In the 1700s, the British government allowed the unlicensed production of gin. Very cheap, it became wildly popular, sparking a period of history known as “gin madness.”

The gin and tonic came about when British colonists in tropical areas, such as India and Africa, took a daily dose of quinine to prevent malaria. At that time, tonic water contained a high level of quinine. The gin masked the bitter taste.

Gin became popular in America during Prohibition, when bootleggers figured out they could make a cheap version by mixing grain alcohol with other flavors in a large vat (hence the term “bathtub gin”).

Today, gin has morphed into an artisanal spirit. Distillers experiment with different botanicals, such as cucumber, orange peel, elderflower, almonds and poppy. These gins have a less prominent juniper flavor, which is what many folks dislike about the spirit.

One of my favorite “neo-gins” is Bluecoat. Hailing from Philadelphia, it has soft and earthy juniper notes, finishing with a citrus twang. It also has a slight hint of coriander. This is my go-to for a G&T.

Arguably the most popular of the new gins is Hendrick’s. Its cucumber notes took the sprits world by storm a few years ago. Even traditional gin makers have jumped on this bandwagon. Tanqueray now produces Tanqueray No. Ten, with hints of grapefruit and orange, and Rangpur, with the essence of lime.

Whatever your style, there is likely to be a gin to go with it. If you’re a classicist, stick with a traditional dry gin, like Bombay. If want a slight twist, try Old Tom, which is a little more full-bodied with a tinge of sweetness. If you’re a retro person, mix it up with Bols Genever. For the truly adventuresome: Why not enjoy the season sampling as many as you can?

You may also want to experiment with gourmet tonic waters such as Q or Fever Tree. And don’t limit yourself to the typical lime garnish. Use your imagination and pick a fruit or a spice that will compliment your superb choice of spirit: cucumber, berries, thyme, blood orange, ginger root, a sprig of mint…

Jody’s Gin & Tonic

3 ounces Bluecoat gin
5 ounces Q tonic
Garnish with an orange wheel and serve
in a collins glass.

Cocktail of the Month: Peru Meets Bolivia

May 21, 2015

Anyone who follows my column knows about my love affair with pisco, which started when I lived in Peru. Little did I know then that pisco has a Bolivian partner-in-crime called singani.

Peru and its landlocked neighbor, Bolivia, share many things, including the Incas, the Andes, alpacas and altitude. When it was part of the Spanish empire, the area that became Bolivia was known as Alto (Upper) Perú.

Many folks regard Bolivia’s national liquor, singani, as a variation of Peru’s pisco, but there are distinct differences. While it’s true that both are technically brandies forged from grapes, singani differs from pisco because it is made from one specific varietal: white Muscat of Alexandria grapes. Singani hails from the Bolivian Andes and can only be produced within its appellation or specified landmark boundaries.

According to singani.com, distillation began in the 1500s when settlers began producing wine. The affluent residents of Potosí, a silver-mining town that was one of the richest cities in the world in its day, began to ask for a stronger drink with which to celebrate. In the community of Singani, a distilled spirit was produced for the wealthy. “Singani” has been in production ever since.

I got a chance to sample singani last autumn when I was traveling through Bolivia. In La Paz, I met up with one of my dearest Peruvian friends, Miguel Luis Roque, a musician who had been staying and playing in Bolivia for several months. During his time traipsing throughout the country often referred to as “the Tibet of the Americas,” Miguel had developed an appreciation for its native spirit.

Singani has a smooth taste and a hint of sweetness similar to pisco. However, Miguel wanted me to appreciate the subtleties of my newly discovered elixir. He insisted on doing a side-by-side comparison between singani and a bottle of pisco I had brought from Peru. When weighed against one another, I found singani to be a bit drier, with a slightly spicier flavor.

After sampling each straight up, we mixed them both in a traditional Bolivian cocktail called the chuflay. Technically a highball, a chuflay consists of singani mixed with lemon soda (or sometimes ginger ale). It’s usually served in a collins glass, garnished with lime.

This cocktail was a breeze to make. In the corner stores, we found a super-tart carbonated lemonade drink sold in liter bottles. This beverage was an excellent complement for the tangy flavor of the grapes, and the tender spiciness of the singani gave it a bit of a zesty aftertaste. It was as refreshing as breathing La Paz’s 12,000-foot mountain air.

I later learned that singani is free of methanol, which accounts for its smoothness. It also contains no congeners, which can contribute to hangovers. I appreciated this fact when I got up four hours after our tasting session to go mountain biking on Bolivia’s notorious highway of death.

For a long time, the only way for Americans to enjoy singani in their home country was to bring it back in their suitcases after a trip to Bolivia. However, according to websitesinganiusa.com, Ace Beverage in Washington is the first place where singani formally went on sale in the U.S. Movie buffs will be interested to know that Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh has begun producing his own brand of singani (Singani 63) that can be purchased online.

The traditional toast when drinking singani is “La vida es buena” (“Life is good”). I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment on the joyous day when I spent the night reminiscing, not only with close amigo Miguel but with my Lima-based travel partner (and Miguel’s former music collaborator) Lowell Haise Contreras. Cheers!

The Chuflay

1.5 ounces singani

4 ounces lemon soda or lemonade

Add singani to a collins glass, then add lemon soda. Garnish with lemon or lime.

Cocktail of the Month: The Spirit of Africa

April 23, 2015

Africa is an exotic continent with an unbridled spirit: a place full of starry-eyed dreams of safari, mystifying native people, endangered animals, spectacular sunsets and thrilling sojourns across savannahs filled with breathtaking vistas.

On my first trip there, I came across a striking elixir in Kenya with a bold label that truly caught my eye. The label prominently featured a massive elephant with mammoth tusks staring at me with its ears alert. The brown bottle with a golden cord tied around it blended seamlessly into the background display, featuring images of the sun going down on a dazzling landscape, with elephants silhouetted across a sky tinged with orange and gold.

A tagline proclaimed it: “Amarula – the spirit of Africa.”

I would later see this alluring liqueur on sale throughout Africa, from the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to the safari dreamland of Tanzania, from the rollicking beaches of Ghana to the colorful deserts of Namibia.

Amarula is a cream liqueur (similar to Baileys), forged from the fruit of the marula tree. In Africa, the tree is also known as the elephant tree because elephants are very fond of its fruit.

There is also an ancient African legend about the elephant and the hare. According to African.org, a hare helped an elephant during a time of drought. To thank him, the elephant presented the hare with a tusk. The hare buried it in his garden and then enjoyed the wonderful fruit in times of famine. From then on, the elephant is said to be looking for his tusk as he devours the fruit from the marula tree.

Marula trees grow abundantly in the wild and are found in South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The fruit, the size of a small oval plum, has a golden-yellow skin and a soft, citrus-like flavor, but with a creamy nuttiness.

Amarula liqueur is made in South Africa. The technique is very similar to the process of making wine, for which South Africa is also known. Like grapes, the fruit is crushed with the skins. Next, the pulp is transported to Stellenbosch, South Africa’s famed winemaking town, where it is fermented, distilled and then left to age for two years in oak barrels, where the additional flavors of vanilla and spices are imparted. Finally, it’s blended with fresh dairy cream to give it its thick, velvety consistency.

The rich and creamy final product is often served on the rocks as an aperitif or after-dinner tipple. Many of the cocktails made with Amarula are thick and heavy. For a dessert-like indulgence, it is mixed with coffee or other sweet liqueurs and ice cream.

The best Amarula mixture I’ve sampled came from an outdoor restaurant along the beachfront road in Cape Town’s hip Camps Bay neighborhood, where fashionable young locals hobnob on Sundays. It was a brisk early-spring afternoon, just before sunset. I was sitting on the patio, lazily enjoying the sublime view.

My drink arrived in a classic martini glass, looking a bit like an old-time brandy Alexander. A combination of Amarula, vodka and Cointreau, it was a pleasant pre-dinner treat. The orange liqueur enhanced the orange flavor of the Amarula, while the vodka provided an extra kick, preventing the drink from becoming too heavy. It was a lovely way to cap off a day of touring Africa’s celebrated southernmost coast.

There are more noble reasons to imbibe Amarula than the exotic taste. The brand is involved in many projects to help the people and wildlife of Africa. Being true to its majestic elephant mascot, the Amarula Elephant Research Program tracks elephant movement rates and ranging behavior. Amarula has also partnered with the Kenyan Wildlife Service.

Another unique community project the company sponsors is the tassel program, which helps formerly unemployed women by hiring them to make the tasseled cords that adorn every bottle of Amarula.

You don’t need to fly to Africa to sample this unique elixir. Amarula is available in many local liquor stores.

Swinging Safari
2 1/2 shots of Amarula
1 1/4 shots of Cointreau
1 shot of vodka

Mix all three ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with an orange peel.

The Lesson of Terroir

April 22, 2015

The story of how I, a wine amateur, ended up preaching the gospel at the Wine Bar on the second floor of Bistrot Lepic is not worth telling.

I tasted. I looked through books. I looked up grapes and regions and appellations. I asked questions of the French crew and received choice words, such as ‘inky’ and ‘sauvage.’

After one hectic Sunday night, the manager decanted – sniffing it in a big glass with satisfaction – a Pic Saint-Loup. He poured me a glass and I swirled it, and within, magically, was the manure from the manure spreaders of my childhood, along with the shale-y underground on which everything in our part of the world grew.

Each time we taste a wine we get that lesson of terroir. This is what makes wine enjoyable – not to hoard, but to sample; to understand the earth a wine comes from, the weather, the slopes, the soil and its minerals; a sampling of the DNA of a particular place, its creatures, its flora, the traditional local dishes.

I decant a Madiran for two French gentlemen and they savor it along with a venison fricassée, singing its praises with Gallic pride when I pour. A lady, a sommelier, orders a Bandol. She tells me she only decants vintage bottles. “Really?” I reply. “I would decant a young pinot or even a Beaujolais,” I say. “Beaujolais, I cannot stand Beaujolais,” the lady says, and we chuckle.

A venerable vigneron from a small town in the Languedoc, in excellent shape well into his seventies, brings a rosé and a red for a wine tasting. I asked him about the vintage. “Every year is good in the South of France,” he says, and he smiles.

For all my homework regarding French wines not of the modern style, I have a new crush: a varietal exotic to me, with a long history, a grape not easy to handle. I’ve been hearing how every seafood restaurant in New York is pouring Greek white wines. There have been whispers about the Xinomavro grape, dark red wines of northern Greece.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I’m breaking out of my own routine, discovering the beauty of something new, beautiful, different, earthy and enjoyable with just about everything, sipping this foreign beauty in new company.

Cocktail of the Month: Searching for Livingstone

March 26, 2015

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

On Nov. 10, 1871, journalist and explorer H. M. Stanley muttered these words to David Livingstone in a small town on Lake Tanganyika in East Africa, giving rise to this still-popular quotation.

The quote has dubious connotations, as it describes Stanley’s words upon completing a long and treacherous journey in search of Livingstone, one of the most popular explorers of the 19th century. When he spotted the only white man, the legendary question was posed

Livingstone, who had a near-mythical status in Victorian England, was on the forefront of a period of geographical discovery that led to the colonization of Africa.

Throughout Africa today, monuments of Livingstone abound. His name is attached to many places, including the city of Livingstone, Zambia, where he became the first European to visit Victoria Falls. Even a cocktail bears the name of the British hero.

I stumbled upon this by accident. As a cocktail nerd, whenever I travel to a new place, I Google the city name along with ‘cocktails,’ in an attempt to find the top local watering holes.

When I Googled ‘Livingstone’ and ‘cocktail,’ I didn’t find any lounge recommendations, but I found a number of sites with recipes for the Livingstone cocktail. My interest was piqued. I wanted to try this new cocktail, but the websites seemed to disagree on its ingredients.

The ingredients were sometimes listed as Mount Gay rum, orange juice and tonic. To me, a drink made with Barbados rum did not seem fitting for an African pioneer.

Another site had a photo of a drink looking much like a 20th-century cosmopolitan made with pomegranate syrup. I didn’t picture Livingstone hanging with the “Sex and the City” gals.

The recipe that came up the most was a drink similar to a classic martini, made with gin, vermouth and sugar syrup. This timeless combination was something I could imagine as a colonial drink.

I decided to take the search into my own hands when I landed in Livingstone last September. However, I quickly found that the hunt for the Livingstone cocktail in Livingstone was almost as challenging as Livingstone’s search for the source of the Nile.

I started with the bar at my hotel, Fawlty Towers, named after the John Cleese Britcom. Since my expectations were formed by the antics of Basil Fawlty and Manuel, I wasn’t too surprised when the staff hadn’t heard of the drink. They recommended some nearby places.

My first stop was Zambezi, a happening African joint. No luck. I headed to a long stretch of nightspots. I dutifully tried them all: cafés, outdoor bars, a seafood restaurant and even an Italian restaurant. Dr. Livingstone’s cocktail was nowhere to be found.

Finally, I upped the ante and headed to the Royal Livingstone Hotel, the ritziest place in town. I assumed they must serve the cocktail that bears the name of their hotel.

The Royal Livingstone exudes colonial elegance with its stylish design, graceful lobby and well-designed lounging areas. The expansive grounds around the hotel are home to a number of safari animals. I caught glimpses of zebras and giraffes on my taxi ride there.

Since it was early in the day, the refined bar was empty. I was handed a thick menu of drinks. Surely Dr. Livingstone would make an appearance soon. But once again he was absent. I quizzed the bartender, who brought me his supervisor. I was told that at one time they had a cocktail called the Livingstone, but they no longer served it. I asked him if I could order it. He eyed me suspiciously and said he would have to check.

He returned with a recipe for the elusive elixir and began to whip it up. Its ingredients were puzzling to me: mint muddled with a double of Jameson, apple juice topped off with soda water. A drink named after a British national hero forged from an Irish whiskey?

The drink was surprisingly interesting. The mint complimented the vanilla undertones of the Jameson, while the apple juice provided a hint of sweetness.

However, it seemed a bit heavy to be drinking after a warm day on safari, so I decided to compare it with the gin version I found online.

For the next round, I requested the bartender to mix a recipe I took off the internet. This drink was light and refreshing, and the London gin gave it a bit of regal twang. Here was a cocktail that could inspire new adventures.

After downing my drink, I found myself doing just that, hopping a boat from the hotel’s marina to visit the top of Victoria Falls and take a swim to the very edge in the Devil’s Pool.

Thank you, Dr. Livingstone, for the liquid courage!

Cocktail of the Month

February 11, 2015

As we kick off a new year, the phrase “out with old, in with new” is often heard. I decided to follow this advice during my recent journey to Singapore.

As a cocktail geek, whenever I’m in Singapore, I always make a pilgrimage to Raffles, the birthplace of the Singapore sling. While Raffles will always have history and a colonial elegance, the Singapore slings have a lost a bit of their magic, as throngs of tourists, cameras in hand, belly up to the bar for these now mass-produced tipples.

It’s time to let go of the past, I thought, and time to find a new cocktail spot in the lion city. A friend suggested I try Ku Dé Ta, a rooftop hotspot located in the Marina Sands resort. This ultra-lux restaurant/bar/lounge provides stunning 360-degree views of the city from the 57th floor of its waterfront location.

While the venue was impressive indeed, the handcrafted cocktails made an even more striking imprint. The menu, created by mixologist Knut Randhem, features a selection of tropical-tinged coolers, each one light and fresh, which pair to perfection with the food and climate.

I start off with their most popular drink, the Storm Cooler, a mixture of vodka, passion fruit, honey and raw Persian licorice powder. While licorice in a drink may seem out of place in Southeast Asia, I am reminded that Randhem hails from Norway and Denmark, where this flavor is more common. The result is quite remarkable.

“Very refreshing,“ says Mae Ng, Ku Dé Ta’s marketing executive. “It’s a sweet cocktail but not too overbearing.”

I couldn’t agree more. While a drink forged from sweet passion fruit and honey could easily turn into a sugary jumble, the Storm Cooler finds a perfect balance with the piquant licorice powder, which gives it a sassy kick.

This cocktail would be the ideal accompaniment to watching the sun set from the Skybar’s breathtaking patio. It’s served with large ice cubes, which melt slowly in the humid climate, keeping the flavor profile intact and not watered down.

While the drink’s ingredients combine flavors of Scandinavia with a tropical flair, its moniker comes direct from Denmark. It is named in honor of a Norwegian sailor who saved a man from the sea near Denmark. The sailor later opened a beach hotel, one of the oldest in Denmark, where Randhem has worked during the busy summer season.

The second drink I sample, named after Christopher Columbus, is a cultured mixture of Tahitian limes, Madagascar vanilla, pineapple, Spanish orange, vodka and sage. Given all its exotic flavors, I try to imagine if Columbus had made his way to Asia – instead of stumbling upon the Americas – if this would have been a cocktail he brought back to Europe.

While pineapple is usually found in sweet drinks, this super-cool drink is wonderfully tart and brisk, based on a classic cobbler. The key is the sage, which imparts a zesty tang that compliments the tart lime and muddled pineapple.

This unique combination was the brainchild of Randhem. “Pineapple works well with dry flavors like sage,” he says. “It breaks up the sweet fat flavor of the pineapple and opens it up.”

The last drink I try is the Honey Rose Daiquiri. To the customary ingredients of rum and lime, Randhem adds honey and rosewater to give this standard an exceptional spin. I really enjoy this drink, because as in a well-made daiquiri the taste of the rum shines through as the other flavors harmonize perfectly – like the backup girls in a Ray Charles song.

Randhem custom-blends the rum at Ku Dé Ta in order to achieve the desired flavor profile for his cocktails. The daiquiri is typical of many of the cocktails on his menu. “I like to take something that people are used to and present it in a completely different way,” he says. “I like to have lots of fun with odd flavor combinations.”

Randhem’s modern take on cocktails makes for a stimulating experience, just right for a new year. When I return to Singapore in March, I’ll be heading straight to the bay for a delicious liquid treat at Ku Dé Ta.

Courage and Grace in a Glass: House of Mandela Wine Collection

January 16, 2015

The name Mandela immediately recalls the former president of South Africa, Nelson
Mandela. The face of the fight against apartheid symbolized courage and grace in adversity.

The world mourned his death last year. But the House of Mandela – a wine label created by his daughter and granddaughter – lives on, drawing inspiration from his humanity and compassion.

Mandela’s daughter, Dr. Makaziwe (Maki) Mandela, and her daughter, Tukwini Mandela, traveled to D.C. last October to present their wines. Brought to Washington by Heritage Link Brands, their U.S. distributor, the South African Embassy and the South African Board of Trade, Makaziwe and Tukwini introduced their current releases to wine enthusiasts, journalists and VIPs at a dinner at the City Club of Washington and a luncheon at the South African Embassy.

The daughter and granddaughter duo embarked years earlier on their ambitious venture to bring the world fine South African wine. What made this idea even more remarkable was that no one in the family had any idea how to grow grapes or make wine.

What they did have was a love for their land and a strong sense of family and tradition, stemming from a long line of kings and chiefs. Their connectedness to the land translated well to wine making. The mother and daughter conceived of the House of Mandela to bring the world the beauty of South Africa in a glass.

Using sustainable growing methods and, in some cases, Fairtrade-sourced grapes, the House has produced two collections under the House of Mandela label. The Thembu Collection is the entry-level line, named after their tribe. The Thembu people are known for their hospitality. Fittingly, this line of wine is very drinkable and approachable. The second line is the Royal Reserve, a higher-quality, higher-priced line.

The wine dinner at City Club featured some standouts, many of which are available in the D.C. area. Enjoy!

Brut NV Sparkling Wine
This “Méthode Cap Classique” is a blend of the traditional grapes of Champagne, but with Petite Meunier replaced by Pinotage. Mainly Chardonnay, with 33 percent Pinot Noir and 12 percent Pinotage, this wine could be aged for up to three years. The first pressing of the juice, aka the “cuvee,” and the best juices from the harvest are used. The second fermentation process takes place in the bottle as with traditional Champagne.

Thembu Collection Chardonnay 2012
Produced from grapes grown in the Western Cape, the juice is initially fermented in stainless steel tanks. It then spends time in French oak. The oak aging provides a richness that is not heavy, but can be felt in the mouth. Upon tasting this Chardonnay, I immediately detected apple flavors. It was served with a butternut squash soup, making a superb pairing.

Royal Reserve Chardonnay 2009
Next, we were served the Royal Reserve Chardonnay 2009, representing the classic house style of their best wines, at a higher price point. It was pale yellow with tinges of green. Citrus and lime aromatics were both on the nose and detected as flavors on the palate, along with some pleasant minerality. This wine paired well with the prawns which it accompanied. It will go nicely with any shellfish dish.

Thembu Collection Shiraz 2012
The entrée course paired this Shiraz with a petite bobotie tartlet and frikkadel. Bobotie and frikkadel are traditional South African meat dishes similar in consistency to meatballs. The wine’s blackberry and dark plum flavors, along with a hint of black pepper notes, complimented the savory spices of the meat. This wine is medium-bodied and lends itself well to meat dishe. It is quite drinkable now, but has nice aging potential (up to 10-12 years, I would say).

Royal Reserve Cabernet 2008
The keywords here are spice and structure. This Stellenbosch blend is 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 percent Shiraz and 3 percent Mourvèdre. Look for hints of sandalwood along with black fruits. It is very drinkable now, with aging potential up to 10 years.

Discover House of Mandela wines at these and other establishments in Washington, D.C.:

Rodman’s 5100 Wisconsin Ave., NW
Bell Wine & Spirits 1821 M St., NW
Salt & Pepper5125 MacArthur Blvd.

Wines and BBQ


Washington, D.C., is a backyard BBQ-grilling-cookout town. If there’s any little sliver of grass available in the city, folks are out throwing down a blanket on it for a picnic. Those with backyards have set up a grill and are cooking out on it or on their patios.

A perusal of neighborhood backyards will result in finding everything from space defying little picnic table top grills to massive stainless steel Viking outdoor built-ins gleaming bright in the sun. Beside most of those grills you will be sure to find long neck bottles of beer in tubs or kegs of beer. But what is the wine lover to drink?

Pairing a good wine with grilled foods or picking one to bring to a cookout can sometimes be a daunting task. The thought of trying to find a white wine to stand up to grilled meats or a red that won’t be too heavy in the summer heat can stump many. Fear not! Here is a list of food and wine parings that will make your next cookout a breeze.

There is a rule of thumb when pairing wine and food to pair simple wines with simple foods. That piece of advice goes a long way when it comes to finding the right wine to serve at a cookout. But this adage doesn’t mean you should sacrifice quality. It means you don’t have to serve a very complex wine with your hot dog or hamburger. So relax. You don’t have to look for anything fancy unless of course, you want.

The second rule to remember is that it is sometimes easiest to pair wines from a country with foods and flavors that come from the same region. Let’s say you are going to grill Italian sausage. A good wine to go with them would be Chianti. Chianti is from Italy. An Italian wine with Italian sausage. What could be simpler? Chianti is made primarily from the red grape Sangiovese. Sangiovese is very food friendly. Look for a Chianti Classico or Superior.

If you are throwing some “shrimp on the barbie,” ice down a bottle of Oregon Pinot Gris beforehand. Pinto Gris is made
from the Pinot Grigio grape. However, Pinot Gris is richer and spicier. You will experience more citrus flavors and floral aromas.
The richness will complement the smokiness of grilled flavors of the shrimp without over powering the delicate minerality of the meat.

Red Zinfandel is a truly American wine. It is generally not produced anywhere else in the world (however, the same grape is used in Italy to produce Primitivo). So, it is apropos to pair it with BBQ short ribs. The tangy smoky sweetness of the meat with marry well with the earthy, dark cherry, and pepper flavors of this wine. Red Zinfandel is medium bodied so it will stand up to the hearty flavors of the smoky grilled meat.

And speaking of meat what backyard grill master would dare to throw a cookout without a good old flame kissed hamburger? Grilled beef and red wine are a match made in heaven. But when it is ground and put between a bun with cheese, ketchup and mustard, it can be a tricky food to pair with a wine. Look to another very food friendly red wine, Rioja to complement a burger. Rioja is from Spain and it is made from the temporally grape. While Rioja has enough structure and weight to stand up to the fire charred beef and strong flavors of the mustard, it has enough milder tannins. And its traditional flavors
of berries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, and herbs will enhance the flavors of a simple burger well.

Don’t forget to cool off your reds before serving. 10 minutes in the fridge before serving should do it. Happy grilling and pairing!

ENO WINE BAR


I arrived shortly after its opening one recent Saturday eve. I was greeted warmly by the staff and encouraged to explore the newly opened space that is now Eno Wine Bar next to the Four Seasons Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Not many patrons or guests from the Four Seasons had ambled in yet.

Immediately, I noticed the warm wood décor. The classic Georgetown townhouse has been completely transformed into a sleek modern exposed brick space. Apparently the building is a great upgrade from a former jewelry store and a one-time doctor’s office. The second floor provides more seating and the center of this floor is cut into an atrium to showcase the massive “exploding barrel” sculpture suspended from the ceiling. People sitting at the bar look up into the shattered staves of a reclaimed oak wine barrel turned into art.

With eight wines on tap, more than 25 wines by the glass, more than 200 bottles presently in its international cellar, with the list continually growing to 500 bottles ultimately, there’s plenty of variety at Eno.

Looking at the wine menu, I was greeted by a page of cleverly named wine flights with titles like “50 Shades of Gris” and “The Other Washington.” There is also a “Cheat Sheet” in the back of the menu that describes a hand full of popular varietals and their classic characteristics to help beginner wine drinkers. What a brilliant and refreshing idea for a wine menu.

Feeling assured that the wine evening was off to a good start, the first dilemma arose. Which cleverly named flight would I choose? I decided to begin with the “Float Like a Butterfly” on the recommendation of Fabienne, the most charming knife-welding Frenchwoman I have ever met. She was running the bar that night. The name of the flight suggests that the wines in it are light in style. The first in the series was a pinot noir from Biggio Hamina Cellars in Willamette, Oregon. It was pleasant and light with a slightly oily or lanolin like mouth feel. Classic pinot noir cherry flavors were there as well.

As I chatted about wine with Fabienne, she deftly sliced charcuterie, cheeses and wonderfully fresh baguette and brown breads with her large knife for orders that steadily picked up as more guests flowed inside. I moved on from my “Float Like a Butterfly” flight, but the favorites of the trio were the Mondeuse from Franck Peillot in Bugey, France and the nebbiolo from Laretti. Mondeuse is not normally seen on wine lists here and it was chosen for its acidity and fruit to go with charcuterie. It expressed hints of cedar upon tasting. The Laretti Nebbiolo is from Piedmont, Italy, and Eno saved the best for last in this flight. The color is beautiful deep purple. Rose aromas abound. A simply delicious wine.

The next flight chosen to sample was the “Jefferson’s Heirs.” This flight’s theme features medium-bodied Virginia wines. A 2011 Cabernet Franc from Tarara Winery in Leesburg started off the line up. It encompasses all the best qualities of cabernet franc (soft tannins, understated finesse, red and black fruit flavors). It also has a bonus-a hint of mocha. Second favorite wine in the flight was the 2009 Lovingston, a merlot based blend. It tastes rustic with a mixture of blackberry notes and hint of tobacco. A pesky fruit fly tried to share this wine with me and seemed to enjoy it, too. Third was the Sangiovese Reserve from Barboursville Vineyards in Monticello, Va. This classic Italian varietal is done well at Barboursville. It has a pleasant “dusty” (think smoky) cherry nose and red fruit flavors with soft tannin.

The final wine flight was “The Other Washington.” This flight was the fullest bodied of the red wine flights. The wines hail from Washington State. They are made exclusively for Eno by Dusted Valley Winery. The flight is comprised of a cabernet sauvignon, a Rhone-styled blend dominated by grenache and a merlot based Bordeaux styled blend called Columbeaux.

Fabienne encouraged me to stay for small plates, featuring brioche grilled cheese sandwiches with duck confit and deviled eggs. And I was tempted by the extensive cheese and bruschetta flights. Everything on the menu looked so equally tempting, I could not narrow down the choices.

But when you go be sure: 1) NOT to skip out on the Chocolate Flight and pair it with “Three Kings” dessert wine flight, featuring sherry and Madeira, 2) sit at the bar and gaze up at the “Exploding Barrel” and 3) tell Fabienne I sent you. Enjoy. Cheers!

Cocktail of the Month

January 14, 2015

Without a doubt, winter has arrived in our nation’s capital. Whether it’s a Georgetown preppie clad in cashmere and Burberry plaid or a hipster walking down 14th Street with boot socks, fringed jacket and infinity scarf, everyone in the metro area is bundled up and trying to beat the cold.

My December visit came as a shock to my body. As a D.C. expat living on a tropical island, I am accustomed to temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit. While dressing in layers and pulling warm clothes out from my storage bin helped my plight, I found a more jovial cure: hot cocktails to soothe the soul and defrost my frozen bones.

On the weekend before Christmas, I felt like I was turning into a snowman while shopping at the outdoor holiday market downtown. Fortunately, a remedy was close by. Across F Street, Nopa Kitchen + Bar features a diverse menu of winter-warmer cocktails. I sampled three of their hot tipples, each one completely different.

The first was called Nopa’s Punch, their version of mulled wine, a Northern European winter staple. Served hot, this beverage is usually made with red wine, various mulling spices and citrus fruits. It is often enhanced with another flavored liquor such as schnapps or brandy.

It immediately took me back a few years, when my partner and I strolled through the Christmas market in Belfast, Ireland, admiring the local crafts, riding a Ferris wheel and taking a break from Guinness as we stayed cheerful with a soothing glass of spiced hot wine.

Nopa’s version starts off with a good quality red wine. Beverage Director Jesse Hiney says that doing so is important because the flavor comes through in the finished product. The wine is mixed with a spice mixture, Granny Smith apples, orange, lime and Becherovka, a Czech liqueur spiced with ginger and cinnamon.

The result is a drink that is a bit bolder, with a more pronounced spicy flavor than most of the mulled wines I have tried. It is served with a gluten-free ginger cookie that echoes its snappiness. Hiney says he has received many compliments from European customers accustomed to drinking mulled wines, who call Nopa’s version especially nice.

Nopa also offers a classic hot toddy with a striking twist. The base liquor for this drink is a cardamom-infused bourbon that dominates the flavor. According to Hiney, whole cardamom pods are left to infuse in bourbon for a month. The whiskey is combined with lemon juice, spiced apple syrup, honey and hot water, then topped off with an amaretto meringue made by Nopa’s pastry chef, Jemil Gadea.

The final result tasted like a hot lemon meringue pie from an exotic land, the cardamom flavor shining through. The fluffy topping merged seamlessly into the hot liquid, with the amaretto and spiced apple syrup tempering the strong spicy flavor.
Finally, for a truly decadent treat, one should not miss Nopa’s adult version of hot chocolate. Starting off with 65-percent, single-origin Ecuadorian chocolate, this delicacy is served with a choice of liqueurs including Frangelico, Grand Marnier and Kahlua. By using superior chocolate, Nopa has created a delectable and incredibly rich dessert in a glass.

Hiney suggested I sample it mixed with Patrón XO Café Incendio, a liqueur forged from arbol chiles, Criollo chocolate and Patrón tequila. This newly created spirit magically combines the flavors of spicy and sweet with a touch of heat. When used in Nopa’s hot chocolate, the result is extraordinary.

It comes served with a light and pillowy homemade marshmallow, a special touch. The marshmallow easily blends into the rich and thick chocolate, giving it a smooth, silky finish.

By the time I had sampled all three of these warmers, my body had thawed. I had shed my alpaca poncho and faux fur jacket. I was ready to face the bitter chill and carry on – full of cheer – with my holiday errands. Readers can sample these cocktails at Nopa Kitchen + Bar, 800 F St. NW.