Wines for Your Thanksgiving Feast

January 17, 2014

Thanksgiving can be D. R. A. M. A. Trying to choose “the perfect wine” to go with your Thanksgiving feast can
?add to that drama. Trying to find a single wine to please everyone from grandmother to the newly minted drinking-age college boyfriend your daughter has brought home is a challenge. With all the meal preparations required, quite frankly, don’t you always have enough to worry about planning this holiday meal? Stuff the bird before cooking or after? Cranberry sauce with whole berries or none? Sweet potato soufflé or candied yams casserole? And let’s not even get into the seating arrangements that must be con- sidered ensuring that a family kerfuffle doesn’t erupt … again … seconds before the bird even hits the table. Thus, turning your Thanksgiving into your own Bravo reality TV series. Why stress yourself out with what wine to serve?

One tip I give to quickly calm down those responsible for securing the wine for the Thanksgiving meal: Pick one red and white wine. It’s so simple it often gets overlooked. You will invariably have guests at the table who will pull a face and whine dramatically: “I only like white” or “I only like red.” Serving at least one type of each will put a cure at least to that issue.

But, of course, you can go all out and turn Thanksgiving into an opportunity to try multiple wines in one setting. This can be fun and wine will rarely be wasted because of the number of people who will be trying them, if you host a large Thanksgiving meal for family and friends. It is also a chance to explore bottles you might not normally try and discuss.

Another way to totally obviate the pressure of choosing the right wine is to ask each guest to bring a different type of grape varietal (one brings a Chardonnay, one a Merlot and so forth). You can also assign each guest to bring a bottle from a different region. This will result in your own informal private wine dinner right at the Thanksgiving table.

However, if you choose to select the wines yourself, here are a few recommendations for food friendly wines that will pair well with multiple dishes and please the cast of characters seated at your table this year. When the curtain closes on the meal you’ll be able take a bow for your role as “Grace Under Thanksgiving Wine Pressure.” Cheers!

Sparkling
Choose your favorite Champagne or for a French sparkling wine that is reasonably priced. Try the Blanc de Blanc from Duc De Raybaud available at local Whole Foods, under $17.

Riesling
A less dry Riesling will go well with salty, sweet, and spicy foods. Its apple/citrus flavors and balanced acidity won’t over power your turkey. And, it will go with the pumpkin pie. Try Bonny Doon’s California Riesling or Rosemount Estate Diamond Traminer (Australia), approximately $10.

Pinot Gris
This floral white wine has a hint of smoke, apples and creamy texture with all the character of a chardonnay but has more fruit flavors. Try King Estate Pinot Gris, $12, or J Russian River Pinot Gris, $17, approximately.

White Blend
Try Perrin Cote Du Rhone Blanc, 2011 under $17. The Vioginer and Grenache Blanc take the leading role as the predominate grapes in this blend. Marsanne and Roussanne play supporting roles which makes this wine’s lemon flavors and floral notes heavenly at this price point.

Pinot Noir
DeLoach Russian River Pinot Noir $21, has cherry and plum flavors that pair well with herbed stuffing and dark meat without overpower- ing the rest of your dishes.

Syrah
Kunde Syrah costs approximately $16. Syrah can be light or tannic with a lot of structure. This light style Syrah, aka Shiraz, has peppery notes and a spicy edge along with lightness.

Merlot
Markham Merlot from California is very smooth and food friendly. If a crown roast or lamb will be served at your Thanksgiving meal. It has structure but is fruit-forward. It is also velvety with chocolate notes.

Sherry
Sherry is a fortified wine and as such is higher in alcohol usually around 15 percent. It can be drunk with the meal, as a dessert wine, or after dinner. Try Tio Pepe Fino with its pale golden color. It has fresh bread and almond aromas. The palate is very dry and complex.

Cocktail of the Month

January 15, 2014

As Washington – and much of the United
States – thaws out from one of the biggest
cold spells in recent memory, I
have been relishing my new tropical home on
the tranquil island of Bali. Enjoying an average
daily temperature of 85 degrees and a 10-minute
commute to the beach, just looking at the cold
weather on CNN sends shivers down my spine.
But if you can’t move to Polynesia, one of
the best ways to bring the beach to you is with a
tropical umbrella drink. While a hot toddy may
warm your soul, nothing quite says sunshine and
happiness like a tiki bar.

The original tiki bar was Don the
Beachcomber, created by Ernest Gantt in 1933
in Los Angeles. (Author Wayne Curtis tells the
story in “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of
the New World in Ten Cocktails”). Gantt, who
had spent much of his youth rambling about the
tropics, rented a small bar and decorated it with
items he’d gathered in the South Pacific, along
with driftwood, nets and parts of wrecked boats
scavenged from the beach.

Gantt stocked his bar with inexpensive rums,
available in abundance after Prohibition, and
invented an array of faux-tropical drinks using
fruit juices and exotic liqueurs. His bar became
incredibly fashionable, attracting celebrities and
prompting Gantt to legally rename himself Donn
Beach.

The other iconic tiki bar was Trader Vic’s,
founded in 1934 in Oakland, Calif., by Victor
Jules Bergeron, Jr. Originally called Hinky
Dinks, Bergeron’s small bar and restaurant
soon morphed into a Polynesian-themed spot
with tropical drinks. It was renamed Trader
Vic’s at the suggestion of Bergeron’s wife, who
thought it would fit because her husband was
always involved in some type of deal or trade.
According to Curtis, Bergeron admits he swiped
the tiki concept from Gantt.

Both bars expanded to multiple locations,
sparking a nationwide craze that spawned dozens
of imitators, all rushing to replicate each
other’s colorful tipples.

Gantt was a talented mixologist who crafted
complex drinks with lengthy ingredient lists,
including multiple rums, homemade syrups and
fresh fruit. But as more tiki-themed bars opened
and Trader Vic’s turned to franchising, the
intricate cocktails became watered-down and
simplified.

Perhaps the most duplicated tipple is the
quintessential tiki drink: the mai tai. Both Gantt
and Bergeron claimed to have invented it, but
their recipes vary wildly. The name is derived
from “Maita’i,” the Tahitian word for “good.”
Though it later fell out of fashion, the mai
tai was one of the most popular cocktails in the
1950s and ’60s. It featured prominently in Elvis
Presley’s chartbuster movie “Blue Hawaii.”
In their heyday, tiki bars were popular places
to celebrate a big occasion. Trader Vic’s at the
Washington Hilton was a hot spot for power
lunches. It was a favorite of Richard Nixon, who
had a fondness for mai tais.

According to Curtis, a mai tai was the first
thing requested by Patty Hearst, the Symbionese
Liberation Army kidnap-victim turned conspirator,
when she was released on bail in 1976.
Eventually the tiki bubble burst. With
scores of cheap imitators and poor locations,
the Polynesian fad began to lose its luster. None
of the original Don the Beachcombers are still
in existence and Trader Vic’s has only a few
remaining outposts. Perhaps the trend’s last
stand came in 1989, when the ever-brash Donald
Trump closed the venerable Trader Vic’s in New
York’s Plaza Hotel, calling it “tacky.”

Tiki crawled back into the spotlight over the
last decade and a half as retro-hipsters embraced
its kitschiness. Its comeback has continued with
the recent cocktail renaissance. Modern mixologists
have begun to uncover some of the original
tropical recipes with their multi-layered rum
profiles, fresh juices and handcrafted syrups.
The craft tiki cocktail movement arrived in
full force at the Georgetown waterfront in 2009
with mixologist Jon Arroyo’s extensive list of
authentic cocktails at Farmers Fishers Bakers.
Imbibers can sample homemade mai tais based
on the recipes of both Bergeron and Gantt.
Another option is Hogo, a Caribbean-themed
rum bar on 7th Street, NW, featuring highend
island cocktails. The man behind Hogo,
launched just over a year ago, is Tom Brown,
a partner in Washington’s craft cocktail palace
The Passenger.

So when the January frost is nipping at your
nose, remember the words that Donn Beach
would tell his customers: “If you can’t get to
paradise, I’ll bring it to you.”

Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai
1 1/2 oz. Myers’s Rum
1 oz. Cuban rum (use a medium-bodied rum such as
Appleton or Barbancourt)
3/4 oz. lime juice
1 oz. grapefruit juice
1/4 oz. falernum syrup
1/2 oz. Cointreau
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Dash of Pernod

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai
2 oz. aged Jamaican rum
.5 oz. orgeat syrup
.5 oz. orange curacao
.25 oz. rock candy syrup
Juice from one fresh lime

For both drinks: Shake everything with ice and
strain into a double old-fashioned glass full of
crushed ice. Garnish with pineapple spear, lime
shell and a sprig of fresh mint.

Cocktail of the Month

December 5, 2013

When one thinks of liquor and Japan, sake immediately comes to mind. With its history dating back to the 700s, complex serving etiquette and array of fancy drinking vessels, this fermented rice wine is synonymous with Japan.

But during my recent excursion to the Tokyo area, I discovered another beverage that is booming in popularity in the land of the rising sun. Sh?ch? is a distilled beverage, mostly forged from barley, sweet potatoes, wheat or rice.

It varies in alcohol content from 20 percent to 25 percent and sports a crisp dry taste comparable to vodka or arrack. Multiple-distilled sh?ch?, which is generally used in mixed drinks, may contain up to 35-percent alcohol. The main difference between sake and sh?ch? is that sake is brewed, whereas sh?ch? is distilled.

Sh?ch? originated in Kyushu, the most southwesterly island in Japan, where it has been drunk for centuries. In recent years, its popularity has surged. According to the Japan Times, sh?ch? had long been thought of as being “cheap and nasty.” But as premium brands emerged and it was discovered by a new generation, the last two decades have seen triple-digit growth in sales. Trendy bars specializing in sh?ch? began popping up all over Tokyo.

Once considered stodgy, sh?ch? has been embraced by younger drinkers. Kimiyoshi Utsugi, a Tokyo resident, says he drinks sh?ch? every day. “My father always drank sake, but I drink sh?ch?,” he said. “The younger generation believes it’s much better for you.” Kimiyoshi says there is less sugar in sh?ch? and it won’t make you fat.

The way sh?ch? is served depends on the quality. According to Kimiyoshi, if it’s of good quality, it’s drunk neat or on the rocks. Brands of lesser quality are mixed with fruit juice, tea, lemon or cola.

The most popular sh?ch? cocktail is ch?hai (pronounced Shoe-High), which is a mixture of sh?ch? and lemon juice topped off with club soda for a fizzy finish.

Douglas Ford, my fun-loving host during my holiday, introduced me to the ch?hai cocktail. After a traditional Japanese dinner, we stopped by Wesley’s, one of his preferred watering holes for a nightcap.

We were in Fujisawa, an industrial city a short distance from his home in Kamakura. While the city lies about 46 kilometers south of Tokyo’s city center, to me it felt like part of the L.A.-type sprawl of Japan’s capital city.

As we walked down a dark side street near the train station, we stopped at a narrow doorway that opened to a steep flight of enclosed stairs. Nothing from the street level indicated that anything at all was located in this dim building. But sure enough, once we ascended we arrived in a small cozy den of eclectic regulars. The walls in this dive bar were plastered with marker graffiti and a collection of posters and customer photos. It reminded me of CBGB’s meets Cheers.

The true highlight of Wesley’s is the owner Kagefumi Yoshimora. Yo-Chan, as he is known, is an adorable bespectacled man with cute fuzzy eyebrows and a matching mustache. He becomes an instant friend with all his patrons. Not to be missed are the special nights when Yo-Chan plays guitar with his jazz band.

Doug suggested that I try Yo-Chan’s special version of ch?hai. My drink, a bright yellow concoction, arrived in a handled beer mug. The flavor was bright, refreshing and effervescent. The pungent lemon shined while being softened by the fizzy soda. The sh?ch? added an invigorating bite.

After a 90-plus degree summer day, this tipple is a perfect way to quench your burning thirst. Be forewarned, Yo-chan’s ch?hai packs a punch. After a frustrating day plodding through airports, his cocktails went straight to my head on my first night in Japan. After asking for his recipe I discovered why his ch?hai is so lethal: there is an approximate 5-1 ratio of sh?ch? to mixers.
Ch?hai is not just popular in bars. It’s commonly found as a canned pre-mixed drink in supermarkets, convenience stores and even vending machines in train stations. Popular beverage companies like Kirin (beer) and Suntory (whiskey) produce their own ch?hai canned drinks.

While pre-mixed versions may be a convenient option, some of my fondest memories of Japan are huddling around the cramped bar at Wesley’s, cooling down with a glass of “high test lemonade” and listening to Yo-chan jam with his mates. Domo arigatou.

Ch?hai
150 ml Sh?ch?
30 ml Lemon Juice
Pour in a beer mug and top with club soda.

Cocktail of the Month November 6, 2013

November 6, 2013

I can hear the faint rumble of the ocean over the chill sounds of a mellow reggae beat. The cool sea breeze laps at my hair as my partner and lounge in an oversize bean bag chairs with a candle lit between us. Brightly colored paper lanterns glimmer in the dark as they hang from the large ketepeng tree. In the night, I watch the glow of the moonlight as it catches the waves that slash on shore. I can smell the salt in the air and the feel sand between my toes, as I sip on a cool cocktail.

Welcome to the JAJ beach bar on located on the Double Six beach in Legian on the tranquil isle of Bali, Indonesia.
What feels like a dreamy paradise, is actually quite a simple concept. JAJ, which is short for ?Jing a Jing? is not much more than a crew of three or four with a makeshift bar under the trees.

The beaches of South Bali are lined with these so-called beach bars. While not bars in the standard sense, these gathering spots usually consists of a cooler or two, filled with soft drinks and beers, beach chairs, umbrellas and some Indonesians hosts, happy to entertain you with jokes, guitar melodies and magic tricks, while you soak up the sun and surf. Each little place is like a mini ?Cheers? where everyone knows your name.

But JAJ has managed to take the concept a little further. They have cashed in on in on the natural beauty of Bali, postcard-worthy sunset every night and the magical sea – to create a serene and blissful atmosphere. Lounge chairs, romantic lighting, a high quality sound system and a small menu of beachy cocktails add to the island vibe. The bar opens at 4 p.m., about two and half hours before sunset and stays open until about 1 am.

The main man behind the bar is Irvan Blueocean who says he has been working on the beach for more than half his life. Irvan has been a fixture here since 2000 playing guitar, renting beach chairs, giving surf lessons and mixing drinks. Whether you just want a simple tumbler of Johnny Walker, a classic mojito or a tropical creation, he will mix it up for you with a smile. Irvan and the others who man the bar call themselves ?the crew of happiness.?

The name of the bar itself is an acronym for happy. ?Jing a jing? which is a Balinese translation of the Indonesians phrase ?sik a sik ? is derived from the word, Asik, which means to enjoy yourself.

Most of the drinks on the cocktail menu are fairly simple, but what makes them special is Irvan?s special mixer that he calls ?jungle juice.? A secret blend of fresh tropical fruits including pineapple and sweet orange. It?s bright and crisp flavor make a refreshing tipple that mixes in harmony with the sunny setting.

For me, my favorite tipple to enjoy here is a freshly-forged mojito, sans sugar. For this Irvan will grab a handful of green mint leaves from a basket and muddle them together with limes. Topped off with rum and club soda, this brisk and chilly cocktail is perfect for someone that doesn?t like sugary drinks. But if you prefer your elixirs on the sweet side, that?s no problem either, Irvan will customize it to your taste.

A popular choice is the bar?s namesake cocktail, the Jing a Jing Sunset. It is a fruity concoction of Absolute vodka, ?jungle Juice,? lemon and grenadine. The combination provides a refreshing burst of flavor, reminiscent of the original tiki drinks that were made by hand, before pre-made mixes became the norm. The red grenadine, combines with bright yellow juice to form a drink with the brilliant hue of an island sundown. Ask for this drink with rum instead of vodka and the result is a cocktail similar to a Mai Tai.

As the drinks and conversation flow, the Irvan dispenses tidbits of joyful advice, like ?Make the world green,? ?Love your life? and ?It?s all good,? as he jokes with the happy bunch of fellows that gather here. Whether you chose to indulge or not, it?s hard not to leave JAJ in a better mood than you came with.

**JING A JING SUNSET**
2 jiggers vodka (1.5 oz each)
1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
4 oz fresh fruit juice
1 teaspoon grenadine
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into glass full of ice. Enjoy (Jing a Jing!)

Soju

October 10, 2013

In Korea, drinking is a social art. It is enjoyed in groups, at business dinners, family celebrations and nightclubs. When people get together they often will join in for a bottle (or two or three or seven) of soju.

Soju, a rice liquor made in Korea, is the most popular spirit in the land. It is uniquely identifiable with Korea.The clear liquid has a smooth, crisp and somewhat bitter flavor. While most soju ranges in the 20-25% alcohol content, it’s potency can vary from 10% up to 45%.

While I spent most of my time in Korea, unwinding in a Buddhist monastery in the tranquil Songnisan Mountain National Park, I set aside three nights to explore the bustling fashionable metropolis of Seoul.

Curious about soju, I ask Joon-Tae Kim, my amiable host at my guesthouse in the trendy Hongdae neighborhood, for some recommendations on the best place to try Soju. Knowing that I had arrived solo, his first question was “Where are your Korean friends? ” Unbeknownst to me soju is a social tipple. He told me it would be so sad for me to drink it on my own.

Since I didn’t have a Korean posse in place, I asked Joon-tae to give me a soju tutorial. The first thing I learned is that whenever people are gathered together, usually they are joined by soju.

Drinking soju is a way of social bonding in Korea. “If I drink with you, you are my friend,” Joon-tae tells me. “When going out soju is main ingredient for a good time,”

But soju is not just for social calls, it is also an important part of a business encounters. Whether you are meeting with a client, negotiating a deal or connecting with your colleagues after work, soju is usually included. “It’s good for business relationships,” Joon-tae tells me. “It makes for a more dynamic atmosphere.”

So what to do if you don’t like soju and you’re out with your boss? Drink it, because according to Joon-tae, drinking itis a symbol of politeness.

Korea has some strict rules for drinking soju, he informs me. Some are related to their culture of respecting their elders. Generally the younger person serves the older person.

If you are receiving a glass of soju, you hold your glass with two hands, with your left palm on the bottom and your right hand around the glass. If you are pouring a glass for others, always use two hands.

It is considered rude to drink in front of your elders. You must turn to the side, so that only your profile is seen, and cover your mouth and glass with hands.

After all this formality one would think that you might sip your tipple gracefully like a fussily preparedcup of tea. This is not the case; you are expected to down the glass in one shot. And then most likely the glass will be quickly refilled. An empty glass is considered bad thing. But you never pour your own glass and you never fill a glass unless it is completely empty.

With the younger generation of Koreans, many of these rules are relaxed. Soju is often served mixed because its bitter taste is not as palatable to the youthful crowd. A popular cocktail is a slushy blend of soju with fresh fruit such as strawberry, lemon or kiwi.

My first stop on my soju adventure is Hosi Tam Tam a barwith a bohemian French theme, where I order a bottle of Jinro, the most popular brand in Korea. We drink it straight up. The liquor is potent, but not as strong as a shot of hard liquor. It is bitter and dry. I am glad to have a palate cleanser of crackers nearby.

Next it’s off to Soju Has, achic nightspot. Plush red velvet couches fill this hip lounge. We sample soju mixed in a blender with papaya. Our pitcher looks like a juicy daiquiri from the tropics. The fresh fruit masks the bitterness of the soju, but a hint of its flavor shines through giving the drink a good balance. Plus there is little sugar added which allows it to avoid tasting like a cloying sweet cocktail one would find at an Ocean City beach bar.

As the pitcher winds down, so do I, as I have an early flight to Tokyo. I won’t be experiencing a marathon round of soju drinking, that Joon-tae tells me is fairly typical. But before I turn in for the night at the guesthouse, I say farewellto my newly-minted sojufriend. [gallery ids="101492,151735,151738" nav="thumbs"]

Celebrity Vintages

September 26, 2013

There is a story that Dom Perignon, a blind monk and master winemaker for the monestary in Champagne opened a bottle of their regular still table wines that had been aging in their bottles in the French caves. Upon tasting the bubbles created from the accidental second fermentation that had taken place, Perignon called out, “Brothers come quickly! There are stars in our wine!” Today, the wine world is experiencing stars in wine in a new way. Instead of just drinking wine, stars are becoming winery and vineyard owners or licensing their names to become the face of wine brands.  Here is a list of surprising celebrity and politico owners, some of whom are making some pretty good wine. Some even in our area.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

The star couple own a vineyard in France and produce a Provençal rosé called Chateau Miraval Rosé. They purchased the South of France estate in 2008 for reportedly $60 million. The wine is packaged in what is a traditional Champagne bottle and is made primarily of Grenache grapes.  It is said to be a really serious wine. According to the McArthur’s Wine in D.C. website, it retails there for approximately $21.

Mario Andretti

Race car driver legend Mario Andretti has traded in the literal fast lane for the rolling hill vineyards of Napa Valley, Calif. His 42 -acre estate vineyard grows pinot grigio, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and merlot. The winery also produces a moscato and red zinfandel. Prices range from $26-$85. 

www.andrettiwinery.com

Nancy Pelosi

The former speaker of The House doesn’t produce actual wine but she along with her husband own two vineyards in Napa Valley that produce grapes for wine making by other area wineries.

David and Victoria Beckham

International footballer (soccer) star David Beckham surprised his celebrity wife with the gift of a Napa Valley, California vineyard in 2008. Of course the winery produces a bottling named after his wife Victoria aka “Posh Spice,” the former Spice Girl.  However, sorry Becks fans, the vineyard is private and only produces wine for the Beckham family and their friends.

Dave Matthews

Front man of his self-named chart-topping Dave Matthew’s Band set up shop in his beloved hills of Charlottesville, Va.  His vineyard and winery are named Blenheim Vineyards. The estate has a long historical linage including being a resting stop on George and Martha Washington’s journeys through Virginia. The winery produces cabernet franc, viognier, chardonnay, and merlot in the $18-$22 range.  

www.blenheimvineyards.com

Donald Trump

“The Donald” purchased the Kluge Winery at a foreclosure auction and renamed it — what else? — Trump Winery. Located in Charlottesville, Va., his tasting room is only a minute’s drive from Dave Mathew’s Blenheim Vineyards. Trump produces sparkling rose?, viognier, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and red table wines ranging from $16-$40. 

www.trumpwinery.com

Jeff Gordon

Wine enthusiast and four-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion, partnered with a winemaker and began producing his Jeff Gordon Collection wines. Gordon sources his grapes from vineyards and his winemaker makes the wine at a winery facility.  The Gordon Collection produces chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet blend. 

www.jeffgordonwine.com

Senator Mark Warner

Growing grapes for Ingelside Vineyard is a side venture for former Virginia governor and current U.S. Senator.  Warner owned a Rappahannock County farm, 50 miles from Richmond, where he devotes 15 acres to growing viognier, chardonnay, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and sangiovese grapes for Ingleside.  In turn, Ingleside produces a private label for Warner that he has donated to charities.

Fergie

Solo artist and member of the chart-topping hip hop group Black Eye Peas owns a winery in Santa Ynez, Calif. with her father.  The Ferguson Crest six acre estate produces viognier, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and of course, a wine called “Fergalicious”- a blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, grenache and merlot.

www.fergusoncrest.com

Madonna
Like Fergie, Madonna owns a winery with her father. Ciccone Vineyard and Winery is located in the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan. They produce riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot grigio, chardonnay, pinot noir, and cabernet franc. 
www.cicconevineyard.com

Cocktail of the Month: El Capo

September 25, 2013

The Negroni is my go-to cocktail. As a person who abhors overly sweet drinks, the Negroni (a mixture of Campari, gin and red vermouth) is the polar opposite of a sugary tipple like a pina colada. I just love its herbaceous bitter, tangy taste. Campari, an Italian bitter aperitif , an infusion of herbs, aromatic plants and fruit in alcohol and water. It is characterized by its dark red color.

While those with a sweet tooth sometimes complain about the medicinal taste of the bitters, there’s something about the way the sharp orange of the Campari, melds with the botanicals of the gin with the vermouth bringing the two together in sweet harmony.

A classic cocktail, dating back to the early 1900s in Italy, variations of this cocktail abound. In Peru, I have tasted the zamboni a takeoff with pisco substituted for the gin. The spicy edge of the pisco made this satisfying variation. At New York’s Saxon & Parole I tried the Champagne Negroni, which was the traditional recipe topped with champagne. It gave the drink a lighter texture and bubbly edge similar to the standard Campari and soda. And just to be cute, it was served in old-fashioned soda bottles.

During my last visit to Bandolero, Georgetown’s temple to Mexican spirits, I was intrigued by the El-Capo, a Negroni-style drink on their menu. In their South-of-the-border rendition, mezcal was substituted for the gin in the timeless recipe.

I had to ponder a moment. the idea of tequila in a Negroni, did not sound appealing at all to me, I imagined that the piquant flavor the agave would clash with the powerful Campari. Then I gave some deep thought of the possibility of mescal, a spirit I learned to love after spending a month the Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca last year.

While both are Mexican spirits distilled from the agave plant, mezcal differs because the agave is roasted in an oven before the distillation process. The cooking of the agave, must like the process of making Scotch, departs a complex smoky flavor to the spirit. This could be interesting, I thought.

Bartender Matt McHale, a mescal enthusiast, described the El Capo as one of his two favorites cocktail at the bar. (The first being the award-winning Jesus Malverde, another tipple made from mezcal) He described the El Capo, which translates from Spanish into the captain, as a “Smoky Negroni.”

McHale was eager to satisfy my curiosity. I watched as he carefully crafted the drink, and stirring it, the way a proper Negroni should be made. The results did not disappoint, the smoky edge of the mescal stood out strong but was tempered buy the herbal bouquet of the Campari. The mixture exulted in an earthy, woody taste. A dash of Laphroaig Scotch gives this drink an extra punch of smokiness.

While Campari can be overpowering in many drinks, the El Capo is a very balanced cocktail. “The Campari is there,” says McHale, “But it’s not the whole drink.”

While Bandolero has quite an extensive list of tequilas and mezcals, McHale adds that it is great place to get a well-crafted cocktail, with any spirit. “We have a little something for everyone,” he says. So whether you decide to sail with “the captain,” or imbibe on the original Negroni, both are superb options at Bandalero.

El Capo

1.5 ounces
.5 Campari1 oz Carpano Antica
Splash of Laphroaig Scotch
Pour ingredients into a glass or shaker, stir, serve in an old fashioned glass.

Vino Volo Lands at Tysons


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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