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!


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.

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.