Without fail as soon as someone finds out I am a 'wine person' they will turn to me and as serious as you please, will ask me THE question. The one that I have heard with all too increasingly frequency. "What is your favorite wine?"
As if it isn't hard enough to explain to someone what I do for a living, now they want me to choose one wine or one grape variety or one region as my favorite. The hardcore fact of the matter is that I don't really have a favorite. Gasps of shock followed by dead silence and the sound of crickets chirping in the distance.
I could no sooner pick a favorite wine then I could pick a favorite food. No one ever asks anyone that question, do they. Ah, you're a foodie . . . what's your favorite food. Maybe they do ask that question, but I've never heard it.
For me personally, wine has almost always been something to enjoy with food. Oh, sure, at my house we do drink plenty of it without food but usually that is after the food is gone. It seems that there are more and more folks interested in pairing wine and food so I hope that someday when I explain to someone that my favorite wine depends greatly on what I am eating that they will understand. After all, shouldn't everyone delight in the magic that happens when wine and food get together and provide a sensory experience that is truly memorable?
Believe it or not, even wine and food bloggers, even the ones who do this out of passion, love and 'just for fun' occasionally suffer from writer's block. I am not certain if its the gorgeous early arrival of Spring weather here in Tampa Bay. The arrival of Spring always comes with the threat of Summer around the corner. Something in the air just tells you to slow down and enjoy life and take everything less seriously, because soon it will be much too hot to be outside or have the windows open. It's this time of year, when you can enjoy grilling and dining outdoors with friends.
Whatever the reason for my personal struggle with writer's block, I am glad that it doesn't involve 'drinker's block. I have been swirling, smelling, and sipping some awesome wines and look forward to sharing my favorites with you very very soon.
It's not often that I find myself with free time on a Saturday afternoon, but a recent Saturday found me with an empty calendar. A happy coincidence found good friend, Chris Fairchild (Wine Manager at Total Wine in St. Petersburg) teaching an introductory class on Bourbon. How could I resist an opportunity to step outside of my wine 'box' and learn something new about a topic I know virtually nothing about.
Stepping into the classroom at Total Wine, takes me back to my Sommelier School Days. Long tables covered with white paper (in order to get a sense of the true colors of the beverage being sampled), set with water, pens, spill buckets, tasting mats, class materials, and of course the best part, lots of glasses to be filled.
Although the classroom seems very serious, and almost intimidating, once class started all of that was forgotten, as Chris launched into his presentation and the first flight of four Bourbon's was poured (a total of 8 Bourbons were tasted). Immediately the room began to fill with aromas of vanilla, caramel, honey, oak, and cedar.
I have long been a fan of comparative tastings with wine, in my opinion the very best way to learn about wine and expand your palate. I found the Bourbon tasting at Total Wine to be no different. Tasting Bourbons at several price points ranging from $12 to $30 plus, is a great way to get a sense for the different qualities and subtle differences that make up one of America's classic spirits.
Chris has a great calm and friendly demeanor that makes the topic very approachable and although extremely knowledgeable (and certified) presented the class without any trace of a condescending tone, that is sometimes all too prevalent in the beverage industry.
At $25 per class session, this is a great affordable way to learn about wine, beer or spirits in a non crowded, classroom setting. The calendar for classes may be found on the Total Wine website at www.totalwine.com.
I should also mention that Total Wine has several option to build custom tastings for your events under the "Book Our Room" category. The next time you want to learn something new, give them a call!
Sometimes it's so easy to get carried away. You are standing at the meat counter picking out the perfect steaks and it is so easy to be so enamored by your selection that you want to adorn it with all kinds of crazy spices and sauces. One thing that I have discovered over my years in the kitchen is that sometimes more is really just more. I like to think that pairing wine and food has given me a bit of restraint when selecting exactly what to do with any given protein. Especially when wine is involved. The other night I opted for some beautiful fillets, rather than my usual choice of bone-in ribeye steaks. Even though these fillets were beautiful it did seem that they were calling for some accessories.
A quick search of the internet and I was able to find some inspiration for a flavorful compound butter. Compound butters or "Beurre compose" are mixtures of butter and supplementary ingredients. Primarily they are used to enhance flavor in various dishes, in a fashion similar to a sauce. The great thing about compound butter is that they are much easier to assemble than a sauce, require basic prep skills, and are assembled prior to the meal. They also freeze wonderfully, have many uses, and most importantly are generally full of wine friendly ingredients such as fresh herbs, citrus zest, roasted or fresh garlic, cheese, and in this particular case -- olives. I make the butter ahead of time, earlier in the afternoon, and give it some time to firm up in the fridge. Then once your steaks are grilled, simply top them with a generous knob of butter and let it melt onto your steak. Voila! Instant sauce.
Wine pairings for tonight's meal! Cercius from the Rhone Valley and Turnbull Old Bull from the Napa Valley
ACID - One of the four tastes of wine. It is sometimes described as sour, acidic, or tart and can be found on the sides of the tongue and mouth.
Source: Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, Kevin Zraly
I really love when someone sends me a bottle of great juice. I love it even more when I can share it with someone else in a way that makes them hunt the bottle down relentlessly and purchase it for themselves and friends. That is the true joy in finding a great wine, sharing the experience with others and anxiously awaiting their feedback. These are the moments that give the greatest joy as a wine person.
When I recommended this wine to a good friend the last week, he immediately went out and researched where he could buy some for himself. To no avail. So, he contacted the wine sales rep at the restaurant where he worked, ordered a case and talked some fellow wine geeks into sharing the case. Now, he’s been drinking it and loving it all through the holiday weekend. That is the reward for his determination.
The Concannon Conservancy Crimson & Clover is a blend of 50% Petit Sirah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 10% Zinfandel from the Livermore Valley appellation in California. The wine was made by John Concannon as a tribute to his father, Jim, and presented on his 80th birthday earlier this year. Jim Concannon is considered the father of American Petite Sirah. A grape that has recently risen to the very top of my hit list.
In addition to the nod to their proud Irish heritage and the deep red color of the blend, the name Crimson & Clover seems a perfect fit for this wine. It is the fifth wine in the Conservancy portfolio. Conservancy wines are sourced from vineyards who have placed their lands in a legal trust to protect the land from urban development.
For more information about Concannon Vineyards click here
For winery tasting notes of Crimson & Clover click here
Have you had a wine that was worth tracking down lately? Share your story
I love sparkling wine. When the cage is removed, the cork is popped, and the glasses echo softly with effervescence, my mood is instantly improved, no matter where it started. Which is why it is a tragedy to reserve sparkling wine for only special occasions. Life's not always easy, and isn't every day worth celebrating. Especially, when you can find a great wine for under $16.
I've been a fan of Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines for quite some time. For me, they have always offered a great product at an affordable price point. Wine that leaves you satisfied, knowing that the value met or exceeded the dollars spent.
The Sonoma Brut is a blend of Pinot Noir (91.2%) and Chardonnay (8.8%), which has been hand-harvested from their vineyards in Sonoma. Gloria Ferrer has over forty different varieties of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, planted on 340 acres, giving them incredible diversity and allowing them to blend this wine to their precise style specifications.
I loved the pear and floral notes (decidedly feminine), crisp and citrusy acidity, toasted nuts, all backed by a well-balanced and creamy finish.
Do you have a favorite sparkler? Do you have a favorite time to drink sparkling? Share your story.
I have never been one to seek out organic wines, but I have to admit that I like the warm fuzzy feeling that purchasing one without effort gives me. I know that we all should be making an effort to go green, recycle, and generally lessen our carbon footprint. While for some people this is a way of life, and admirable, for me it is usually just a happy accident.
The weather has been unseasonably warm here in Tampa Bay and so I was searching for a white wine that would not overpower my selection of appetizers for New Year's eve, prior to popping the cork on some sparkling wines. I was serving a baked brie topped with a quick saute of shitake mushrooms and fresh herbs. Immediately I thought Chardonnay from France. But alas, most of the selections on this particular shopping trip were a bit pricey.
The bottle on this wine caught my attention, as well as the labeling. The thing that really spoke to me though was the shelf talker's claim of vinification in concrete tanks. It just so happens that one of my favorite Chardonnay's (Mer Soleil Silver) is also vinfied in concrete tanks brought over from France. I just new I had to try this.
I found this blend of Grenache Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc from the Costieres de Nimes region, located in France's Rhone Valley, enchanting. Crisp with an intriguing and not overwhelming nose. The kind of wine that you can't quite figure out in one or two sniffs. It may take several bottles over time to decipher all of its subtle notes. All of this and that warm fuzzy feeling from buying organic, makes it a purchase that I will be making again.
Cercius is a joint project between Michael Gassier, Philppe Cambie and Eric Solomon. For more information checkout their website.
I took one last look at my reflection in the window, and tousled my short hair-do back into place, as I walked in. The receptionist smiled at me and stated enthusiastically 'you are the most convertible chic I know.' I have been the owner of a convertible car for quite some time now. It all started with the Jeep Wrangler, followed by a series of small, yet fun and not too serious sporty numbers. Perhaps reflective of my personality. For me, there is nothing like driving around with the sun shining on you and the wind blowing in your hair. However, often the summer sun in Florida is beyond brutal, and the humidity can wilt even the toughest survivalist. So, while the rest of the country anxiously awaits Spring, it seems that here in Tampa Bay we have been blessed by its early arrival.
It was on one of these unseasonably warm Spring evenings that I decided to stop by Alesia's for dinner on the patio. I've been hearing all the best kind of buzz about the French Vietnamese menu. As well as the wine list. Since it appeared in a recent article of the 50 best places to dine in Tampa Bay, I knew I had to check it out personally.
Located on Central Avenue in St Petersburg (74th Street N), the patio is so lovely, that it makes you forget its proximity to the street. My dining companion and I were greeted by our server and offered a small dish of perfectly crispy shrimp chips. The first time I have ever tried these crispy delicacies, and already I am completely and totally in love. We perused the wine list and opted for a bottle of the Atmosphere Rose from Provence, France. Patio dining always makes me think of Rose, and the extreme versatility of its food pairing potential makes it a great call for an evening of adventurous and spontaneous dining when anything on the menu could call your name. Taking a moment to peruse the remainder of the wine list, left me smiling. Thoughtfully selected, not the usual suspects and affordably priced by the establishment.
We started with Summer Rolls, shrimp, rice vermicelli, fresh mint, and chicken wrapped in rice paper and served with a hosin peanut dipping sauce. The ingredients were fresh and I found myself wishing I had ordered more of these.
We also tried the pot-stickers, pan-fried dumplings with Chinese chives and ground pork, served with a soy-ginger dipping sauce. The shape of these pot-stickers clearly indicated that they were handmade, which I appreciated. Also, the shape gave them a bit more surface area for crisping up in the wok.
Although I was intrigued by several items on the menu, I find it almost impossible to resist the traditional Vienamese soup - Pho. Pho is a vietnamese noodle soup with fresh herbs, an intoxicating combination of spices, and in this case, thinly sliced beef.
With a nod to the French influences on the menu, I had to try the Croque Monsieur (now available only on the lunch menu). Dubbed the best grilled cheese sandwich ever due to its use of the best damn grilled ham and cheese ever (Gruyere), and its topping of sauteed mushrooms. It smelled of dairy fresh butter as soon as it neared the table.
Alesia has a great selection of desserts, among them the most beautiful crepes with a choice of fillings. On this night though I found the bread pudding calling my name. Light, fluffy, hints of almonds, served piping hot with a side of lusciously creamy ice cream. The portion size was perfect to satisfy my sweet tooth, and yet leave me feeling just guilty enough.
In summary, it was the perfect night of food and wine, on one of the best and romantic patios in the Tampa Bay area.
I am looking forward to an extended Spring time here in Tampa Bay, with many more return visits to Alesia.
Alesia is located at 7204 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, Florida
For more information www.alesiarestaurant.com
I walked in the door and was immediately greeted by not only the hostess, but the usual bustling electricity of the happy hour crowd at Roy's in Tampa. This evening there seemed to be just a little something extra in the air, probably due to the fact that Roy's in Tampa had once again been listed as one of the top 50 restaurants in the area. With over 11 years in the Tampa Bay area and a reputation for excellent food and service, I still find it amazing that you can throw a stone and find people who have not yet been to Roy's for dinner.
I am always impressed that no matter how busy it is, the management team, waitstaff, bartenders, kitchen staff, and chefs, all seem to have such an excellent handle on things. I never doubt that its going to be a great meal and that the service will be top notch. Although the entity that is Roy's is a fast moving ship the captain and crew run it with an air of efficiency and calm that never makes you question the condition of the seas ahead.
I particularly love sitting at the bar and having one of Roy's signature cocktails and just taking in the scene. Of course, there has always been a soft spot in my heart for restaurants and at Roy's its the best of both worlds. All of the activity of the bar with the backdrop of the open kitchen. Beautiful cocktails and wine, complemented by some of the most stunningly prepared and plated appetizers, sushi, and sashimi. Just ask any server how fresh the fish is at Roy's and they will explain how they get their fish.
It was time to leave the bar area and get to serious business. Tonight I was here to taste the Winter Prix Fixe menu.
Every season (Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall) Roy's offers a 3 course meal which focuses on seasonal ingredients. Recently they announced the launch of the Winter menu. As if I need an extra reason to visit once a quarter.
Fortunately as a guest of Roy's I did not have to make a decision on the menu items and was fortunate enough to try all the dishes. This is not a menu you should try alone, bring friends!
The selection of appetizers includes: Duck Confit and Roasted Mushroom Flatbread, Grilled Pear Salad with a Ginger Orange Sage Vinaigrette, or a Korean Soup with Braised Short Bread. Now that I am reflecting on this meal, I realize that I could have made a meal of just the appetizers. Since the appetizer sampling included so many flavors I opted for one of my favorite sparkling wines (available on the glass list - the Moet & Chandon "Imperial" Champagne). Make no mistake, about the food pairing ability of Champagne.
With glass of Champagne in hand, I proceeded to be delighted by crispy flatbread, bright and lively salad, and a soup that was at once hearty and light (how do they do that?). I could have ended the meal right there and been completely happy, but I had main courses to investigate.
The Winter Prix Fixe features Shisho Crusted Salmon, Boursin Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast, and to my delight a Grilled 14-oz Bone in Pork Chop (I love Pork!). Not only does Roy's cook these proteins perfectly, but they also offer some of the season's finest ingredients and sauces paying careful attention to the theme of Winter. Not an easy task in Florida. Nonetheless side items like a caramelized onion polenta, potato pave, mustard seed and scallion spaetzle, and fennel sauerkraut, bring to mind all of my favorite winter ingredients from a lifetime of memories, but with new, fun, and delicious twists.
As always I am impressed with the care that goes into the preparation of these ingredients. You may think that it's just a pork chop but I was informed that this pork chop is lovingly brined, smoked, sous vide, and grilled. That's a lot of love, and it shows. A great wine pairing for any of the items on the Winter Prix Fixe is the Meomi Pinot Noir. I also enjoyed the Lyeth Meritage and found it to be a fantastic partner to these menu items. Slightly more full-bodied than the Pinot without overpowering.
The desserts, always stunning, include Roy's famous molten chocolate cake and a seasonal addition of a pear tart (hooray puff pastry) with a salted caramel sauce.
In short, it was another fantastic evening at one of Tampa Bay's favorite restaurants.
Don't miss the Winter Prix Fixe, it's an incredible value at $36.95 per person. My advice, bring a friend or two so you can try everything.
My name is Jodi Fritch a/k/a tampawinewoman, and I am obsessed. I am obsessed with great wine, beautiful food, and the amazing way that it brings even complete strangers together.