Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Livin' the "Rosé Lifestyle of Provence" on Miami's South Beach with wines of Château D’Esclans!

If you have yet to partake in the “Rosé Lifestyle” this summer, don’t fret – there’s still time! These casually elegant, refreshingly dry, pink wines are de rigueur in regions, from the South of France to South Beach during the sultry Summer months for good reason. They are light, versatile, easy to drink, and make the transition from yacht to nightclub seamlessly. In addition to being fashionable, rosé wines represent one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. wine market.

Although many different wine making regions produce dry rosé wines, Provence is widely regarded as the “gold standard.” Provence is the site of France’s oldest vineyards and the only place in the world that specializes in making rosé. The quality of these wines has greatly improved in recent decades with newly instituted wine making parameters imposed by the quality-control system, or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), involving geographical boundaries, allowable grape varieties, and maximum yields, to name a few.

Setting the bar for rosé wines is Château D’Esclans, which, ironically, comes with an impressive Bordeaux pedigree. The owner of the recently revitalized Château D’Esclans, Sacha Lichine, is son of the late Alexis Lichine, one of the 20th century’s most influential figures in French wine. In addition to make a wine that was “worthy” and consistent with his family’s heritage, Lichine enlisted the help of world-renowned winemaker and Bordeaux native, Patrick Léon, previous winemaker for Château Mouton-Rothschild and Opus One. Recently, I had the chance to sit down with National Fine Wine Director for Shaw-Ross International Wine Importers, Paul Chevalier at South Beach’s La Marea Restaurant to sample the four rosé wines of Château D’Esclans.

The Château D’Esclans “Whispering Angel” Côtes de Provence Rosé is the first level, representing the most affordable and accessible of the four. A blend of Grenache, Rolle, Cinsault and Mourvedre vinified in stainless steel to preserve the crisp, fresh flavors. Chevalier emphasized that all of the Château D’Esclans rosés are produced with “zero percent sugar” in the spirit of Provence. Again, these pink colored wines are not sweet! The 2009 “Whispering Angel” was a pale, crystalline pink in color with light aromas of berries followed by flavors of strawberry and spice with a clean, mineral finish. Retailing for around $19.99, this wine was light and refreshing and seemed ideal for pairing with summer fare ranging from shellfish to BBQ or frankly, nothing at all.

The Château D’Esclans “Esclans” Côtes de Provence Rosé is the second level and is a blend of Grenache and Rolle (otherwise known as Vermentino). The grapes are from 30-50 year old vines and are partially vinified in stainless as well as demi-muids (500-600 liter barrels) which impart an added level of complexity and structure to the wine. The 2008 vintage was light salmon in color with a lively bouquet of berries and spice. This wine had a creamier mouthfeel and more persistent finish and featured hints of dried cherry and white pepper. Retailing for approximately $35, this wine will pair nicely with a variety of cuisines yet is also perfect by itself.

The third level is the Château D’Esclans “Les Clans” Côtes de Provence Rosé  made from the free-run juice of Grenache and Rolle grapes that hail from 50-70 year old vines. The juice is then vinified in 600-liter demi-muids for 6 months using Burgundian style bâtonnage. As Chevalier explained, there are only “seven barrels for the world,” making this wine, together with its $75 price tag, a bit out of reach for most. The 2008 “Les Clans” Côtes de Provence Rosé had an elegant creamy, mouthfeel that was reminiscent of a Burgundian Meursault with hints of strawberry butter, freshly baked popovers and toasty oak and a long, buttery mineral finish. The “Les Clans” paired wonderfully with Pan Roasted Diver Scallops and Foie Gras with Shiro Miso Bliss Maple Syrup Glaze and Sweet Corn Succotash prepared by La Marea’s Chef, Gonzalo Rivera Jr. The richness of the scallops and foie gras harmonized beautifully with the flavors and weight of the wine.

Fourth is the pièce de résistance, the Château D’Esclans “Garrus” Côtes de Provence Rosé, the crown jewel of the Château D’Esclans collection. With only “three barrels for the world” and a $100 price tag, even the most affluent rosé-lovers are vying for allocations to stock their mega yachts. This wine is produced from Grenache and Rolle hand picked from 80 year old vines. The free-run juice is then vinified in 600 liter demi-muids for 8 months using burgundian style bâttonage. The 2008 “Garrus” Côtes de Provence Rosé is rose petal pink in color with concentrated aromas of raspberry and spice followed by a creamy, rich expression of beautifully balanced fruit, minerality and oak. This deliciously elegant wine paired nicely with a Pan Seared Striped Bass with Creamy Cauliflower, Muscat Grape and Baby Brassica Salad.

With the dedication to quality, variety of price points and sheer number of offerings, the wines of Château D’Esclans represent an interesting paradigm shift in the production and consumption of this often dismissed style. These wines offer a fabulous opportunity to embrace the “Rosé Lifestyle” before summer is through, whether it’s sunning yourself by your backyard pool or aboard a mega-yacht in the Côte d’Azur!


Friday, August 6, 2010

Where Bacon, Chocolate and Neiman Marcus Collide: Mo's Bacon Bar!

I must confess, I am a die hard bacon fan. Thick cut, applewood smoked, Canadian, etc... you name it, I like it! Same goes for chocolate AND shopping. When I actually found one item that combined all three of these fabulous things, well needless to say, I was a happy girl!

Lately, it seems I have been running into bacon in many different incarnations (i.e. candied bacon, bacon ice cream, bacon doughnuts - delicious, by the way). While I was recently having lunch at Mariposa, Neiman Marcus' signature restaurant, I came face to face with Mo's Bacon Bar by Vosges Haut-Chocolat and I just had to try it!

Retailing for just under $8, this intriguing bar is a blend of applewood smoked bacon, alderwood smoked salt and deep milk chocolate (45% cacao). The inspiration for the combination came from Vosges founder, Katrina Markoff's early experimentations with chocolate chip pancakes, maple syrup and bacon at the tender age of six. I have to say, the girl has quite a palate! This may come as no surprise given she attended Paris' famed Le Cordon Bleu and worked with the amazing Adria brothers of El Bulli prior to founding Vosges Haut-Chocolat as as way for consumers to Travel the World through Chocolate and experience other cultures through indigenous spices, flowers, fruits and the obscure.

While the bar was indeed quite tasty, a little bit went a long way! The flavors were very rich and the bar actually lasted a few days which is somewhat unusual in my house. These exotic chocolates would make fabulous gifts for the foodie(s) in your life and are a fun way to experiment with unique flavor combinations, but, for just under $10 a piece, I might just stick with a more wallet-friendly chocolate for taming those everyday cravings! If you've had the chance to try one of these decadent bars, I'd love to hear your comments.

Bon Appétit,

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Top Shelf Wine Tasting" at the Rustic Cellar in Boca Raton!

Nothing like a “Top Shelf Wine Tasting” to make a girl smile – well, maybe a sale at Saks but it’s close! The Rustic Cellar, a local wine bar in Boca Raton, Florida recently hosted such a tasting featuring a variety of special selections. Located in the heart of Royal Palm Place, this wine bar offers an extensive wine selection with more than 300 hand-selected vintages from across the globe and a fabulously cozy atmosphere to sit, relax and enjoy your favorite glass. This establishment focuses on small production, low-case lot wines with an affection for domestic vintages, including Spring Mountain Cabernets, Oregon Pinots, Sonoma Chardonnays, and Washington State Merlots.

Appropriately, the tasting began with Champagne, the Krug Grande Cuvée to be exact. Unlike most Champagne houses, the wines used for Krug Champagnes undergo primary fermentation in oak barrels, resulting in a very distinct, signature style. The three main Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir all play a role in this delectable “multi-vintage” offering. This particular cuvée is an assemblage of as many as 50 wines, 20 to 25 separate crus, and 6 to 10 reserve vintages that is aged for at least 6 years before release. With a beautiful golden color and aromas of toasted brioche and white flowers, this wine exhibited delicious flavors of candied citrus, ginger and toasted hazelnut – elegance in a glass and the perfect start to the tasting.

Second was the 2007 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay from California. I know, California Chardonnay, eek, right? However, Newton’s approach to winemaking is based on old-world techniques including natural fermentation and bottling without filtration. This sublime 100% Chardonnay is fermented with wild yeast native to the Carneros vineyards and bottled unfiltered to both preserve the natural fruit essence and foster the wine’s unique aroma and flavor. Aromas of crème caramel, butterscotch and vanilla preceded flavors of baked apple, caramel, honey and Butter Rum Lifesavers with a nice mineral finish. After sampling this unique, well-crafted wine I understand why it is often referred to as “the red wine drinkers white wine.”

Next was Newton’s 2005 “The Puzzle,” a wine crafted to represent the finest expression of its Spring Mountain Estate. Much like finding the right pieces to a puzzle, the winemaker hand selects fruit from 112 separate vineyard blocks and assembles them to create a multi-faceted blend. To preserve the true character of each parcel, the fruit remains isolated by vineyard block for natural fermentation and barrel aging. This heady blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, and 4 % Petit Verdot was a deep ruby, violet color with aromas of juniper, rosemary and spice. Bold flavors of blackberry, black licorice, and earthy tobacco were followed by a long, lingering mocha finish. For a California red wine, I have to say, this wine had a dearth of fruit, exhibiting mostly herbal, earthy notes.

Our second red of the evening had a true Napa pedigree, the 2005 Heitz Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Heitz Wine Cellars is a small, family-owned winery that has been producing exemplary wines from the Napa Valley for three generations. The Heitz family has built a reputation for excellence and earned oodles of accolades for its wines every year since 1961. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon offering was crafted entirely from estate grown grapes and had an alluring bouquet of ripe black cherry and delicious flavors of cassis, spice cake and milk chocolate. It was a beautifully balanced wine with firm tannins and a persistent, lovely finish.

Our final wine of the evening was a Spanish stunner, the 2006 Numanthia Termanthia. Bodega Numanthia was originally founded in 1998 by the Eguren family, native of Rioja, to create the best wine of the Toro appellation. Tinta de Toro (aka Tempranillo) is the single grape variety used in the region that is situated in northwest Spain in the Castilla y Leon region, close to the Portuguese border. Grapes from low yielding, 120 year old, pre-phylloxera vines were used to produce this wine that has consistently garnered 94-100 point ratings from Robert Parker since its release. This wine was inky and deep purple in color with rich, complex aromas of dark fruit, espresso and smoldering spice. On the palate it was larger than life with dense tannins and sexy flavors of smoky blackberry, cocoa and truffles with a long, lingering finish. It is a very unique and exceptional wine and the perfect one to end our evening.

Cheers to The Rustic Cellar and LivingFLA.com for a fabulous wine tasting event that rivals a sale at Saks any day of the week!

The Rustic Cellar
409 SE Mizner Blvd.
Boca Raton, FL 33432

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Four Star Fourth Celebration at 32 East in Delray Beach!

Now I may not be very good at math, but I do know that Summer + BBQ + Zinfandel = delicious! This Fourth of July, I had the chance to experience this edible equation first hand at a "Family Style Zinfandel & BBQ" dinner in honor of this most American of holidays. Acclaimed Chef Nick Morfogen of 32 East in Delray Beach played against type to create a down-home, Midwest-inspired meal for guests who brought bottles of Zinfandel to pair with the delicious offerings.

The evening began with a "Global Tasting of Rosé Wines" including a variety of delicious rosés from around the world paired with passed hors d'oeuvres including Lemony Shrimp Fritters with Chipotle Mayo and House Smoked Fish Dip with Pickled Jalapenos. The dinner menu included a salad of Summer Lettuces with Bing Cherries & Candied Walnuts in Zinfandel Vinaigrette followed by Smoked Pork Butt, Spicy Baby Back Ribs & Grilled BBQ Chicken with Baked Beans, Yukon Gold Potato Salad and a delicious, vinegar-based slaw. Guests arrived toting bottles bearing names like Turley, Biale and Seghesio. As a fan of Zinfandel, it was nice to see this grape getting some respect!

In addition to the rosés, our table enjoyed a bottle of 2005 Peter Franus Napa Valley Zinfandel and a 2006 Turley Hayne Vineyard Napa Valley Zinfandel with dinner and the 2006 Four Vines Paso Robles Zinfandel Port paired with a dessert of "Red, White & Blue" Brownie Sundae with Raspberry Coulis, Blueberries and Vanilla Ice Cream. The Peter Franus Zin was the standout wine of the evening, leaving everyone wanting more once the bottle was gone!

The flavors of the Zins complemented Chef Morfogen’s menu beautifully, and at $50 per person, this event turned out to be a great value and something a little different from Delray Beach's premier dining establishment. Cheers to 32 East for a Four Star Fourth of July Celebration, I'm already looking forward to next year.