Archive for November, 2010

November 30, 2010

Thanks for nominating me for Austin Blog Awards!


I’m thrilled to be nominated for the Best Cocktail/Beverage Blog.

If you like my site, please vote for it here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s_thankyou.aspx?sm=5idd35AH7b51j%2fOmoeOJVbiloOIT9qXwGNJpSpZbCQY%3d.

Thank you very much for your enthusiastic support of this young blog. I’ll do my best to keep making it better with articles about the drinks you want to discover.

Cheers,

Matt

November 30, 2010

Grown up drinks for grown up tastes: PĂ©chĂ© Austin


The mixology movement has hit the country with full force. Cocktail bars specializing in intricate drinks have sprouted up everywhere. Austin, TX is blessed with several gifted mixologists including the folks at Townhouse that I wrote about previously. If you’re hankering for a bar with a broad menu of classic and inventive cocktails and a refined atmosphere, try Péché in the heart of the Warehouse District on 4th Street. One look at the long, narrow room with wood floors, dotted with polished marble tables, wood beam ceiling and the richly paneled wood bar with antique absinthe water spouts, and your mood will instantly melt into relaxation ready to sip a sophisticated drink.   

Beautiful Wife and I went there for dinner recently and we were not disappointed by the focus on excellent drinks. Rob Pate, the owner, sidled up to our table the moment we sat down and asked us if we were interested in cocktails. We had barely glanced at the menu of 50+ concoctions of stalwarts like the Moscow Mule, Bees Knees and the Side Car and twists on the Martini and the Manhattan, when we were presented with the delightful opportunity to have an expert guide help us navigate the fun house.

Rob asked if we knew what we wanted or if we would like recommendations? Beautiful Wife wanted a French 77. Done. I was open to exploration and only gave the guidance that I was in the mood for bourbon. He recommend a Rye-based drink called the “Final Say” and I was game to try something new for an aperitif.

Tip: If you know you are in a bar that really cares about its drinks, put yourself in the hands of the bartender.

The Final Say is a blend of Rye whisky, green chartreuse, lime juice, Maraschino liquor and orange bitters all shaken vigorously with ice.

Look A classic martini glass nestling a misty, pastel emerald with a haze of shattered ice crystals glazing its surface.
Smell Pleasing herbal, lime-zest and a hint of honeysuckle like an embrace after he has been drinking Bärenjäger liquor and she is wearing upscale body lotion from a French salon.  
Taste After the first sip I felt like I was in a British bar car riding on the Orient Express. This is a distinguished drink with lush heather grass tempered by savory lime, and brought to life by the warmth of alcohol. It has a long, sweet finish that obscures the sometimes rough backbone of rye.
Price $10

While Péché has only been open for about two years, Rob is no novice in the restaurant and bar business. His twinkling eyes and complexion ratify a life spent both making and consuming lots of drinks well into the night. He got his start in the restaurant business at the tender age of 15 in summer camp and later worked at the Erwin Center while a student at the University of Texas. He has owned the adjacent Cedar Street bar for several years, but Péché is the first restaurant he has owned.

Now we were ready for dinner. Rob explained that his chef du cuisine, Jason Dodd, has a focus on European comfort food with the same commitment to excellence found in the drinks. He sources his ingredients locally and butches his meats in-house. I ordered a rabbit cacciatore and Beautiful Wife chose the carnaroli risotto with applewood smoked Osso Buco.

We didn’t need to look at the wine list. Rob came back with a bottle of Domaine de la Pertuisane le Nain Violet 2007, a lovely Grenache nick-named the “The Purple Dwarf” from Languedoc-roussillon, France. It was a lovely mid-bodied wine with plenty of fruit and acidity to pair well with both rabbit and pork without obscuring either. Looking at the list later, it’s exactly the bottle I would have chosen, but I was happy to put the decision in an expert’s hands. The food and wine were excellent. Our waiter challenged Beautiful Wife to finish her sumptuous portion of risotto and pork, which she gladly attempted. She declared that it was the best risotto she’s had and would be dreaming of the Osso Buco for days. After dinner it’s time for a nice digestif.

Péché is known as an absinthe bar with nine varieties on the menu. Rob was inspired by drinking a Sazerac in New Orleans, the unique, signature drink made with absinthe. He wanted to bring the distinctive absinthe to Austin to help us enjoy a drink that has long been illegal in the U.S. and widely misunderstood. For my after-dinner drink he chose Germain-Robin Absinthe Superieure, an apple-honey mead brandy-based absinthe made in a small distillery in Mendocino County, Calif. It is served traditionally; mixed with water, but no flame and no sugar to let the full taste come though. 

Look  An elegant Champagne flute filled with the warm glow of breast-milk yellow clouds topped with a creamy ivory mouse. This is an absinthe blanche, meaning it wasn’t infused with botanicals after distillation to give it the traditional green hue.  
Smell Strong nose of anise and fennel with a mild whiff of lemon zest.
Taste The Germain-Robin has a creamy mouth feel and it gently eases into rose and geranium followed by a robust juggernaut of black licorice followed by a velvety junior mint finish. It comes on smoother than Sade and finishes with the cool of a Kool menthol. The haze in the glass will gladly become the haze in your head.
Price $20

I’m embracing the mixology trend. I don’t normally mix complicated cocktails at home because I don’t regularly stock all of the ingredients and don’t have the specialized tools that bring them to life. If you appreciate a well-made drink, whether it’s a classic or a unique original, or you want to have absinthe the way it should be served, try Péché. Grown up drinks for grown up tastes. Stay for dinner. The food is amazing. You can follow their drink specials on Twitter @Peche_Austin.   

What are you drinking?

November 22, 2010

Picking the Right Wine for Thanksgiving Dinner: Shea Wine Cellars 2006 Wädenswil Clone Willamette Valley Pinot Noir


Selecting the perfect wine for Thanksgiving dinner means picking more than one wine. Bubbles are a must on the table, and after that it is a great idea to have an elegant, refined red wine. Try and keep the number of varietals served down to four: sparkling wine, red wine, white wine and desert wine. Also consider keeping the same wine for each varietal so you don’t introduce further chaos to your taste buds. That said; don’t be afraid of selecting too many bottles to have at the ready. Lots of alcohol can be good should you encounter:

Mom: “Do you remember when you were six and you recreated the first Thanksgiving using tooth picks and gum drops? So clever.”

You: “Yeah, you told that story 10 minutes ago. And last year. And the year before that. It wasn’t all that clever. We all learned it in kindergarten art class.”

Mom: “You were so bright. You had so much potential. I suppose if you hadn’t married beneath you, things may have turned out differently.”

Don’t let that dominate the evening. It’s your responsibility as host to keep the conversation flowing in a genial and entertaining way. It’s no secret that alcohol is the key to unlocking the creative story telling generator in your brain. Use it wisely.

A complex menu like what you’ll serve at Thanksgiving calls for a versatile wine. Pinot Noir fits the bill as it pairs well with so many different types of food. Its lush fruit, mild alcohol and soft tannins give it the versatility to pair with red or white meats, and just about any dish you can think of. It is a complicated and sensitive varietal. Don’t be surprised if you find a bottle of your favorite Pinot nestled away in a darkened bedroom, smoking cloves cigarettes, wearing a velvet robe, listening to Passion Pit and reading Anna Karenina by candlelight.

There are only two regions in the world that produce worthy Pinot Noir. Yes, I’m biased. Deal with it. The revered Burgundy region of France produces the standard-bearer wines and for that, they command a king’s ransom for the prestige. The second region is the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Talented winemakers have been producing brilliant Pinot’s in the hills and valleys of Oregon for more than 40 years. The Willamette Valley shares several ties with Burgundy. The both lie at the same latitude, Oregon wine makers select Burgundian Pinot root stock clones and several French houses have set up operations in Oregon.

Many award winning wines from producers such as Beaux Freres, Ken Wright, Bergstrom, Penner Ash, and Raptor Ridge made from grapes grown in the Shea Vineyards typify the Oregon Pinot Noir; bold, spicy and rich with fruit. This has become one of the region’s premier vineyards under the direction of Dick Shea. That’s true for the vineyard’s namesake Shea Wine Cellars, founded in 1996. Not only do the Shea’s have exacting control over the fruit, but they also have a unique method for creating the wine. Rather than using stainless steel, Shea Wine Cellars uses of neutral wooden fermenters, which smooths out the tannins for a longer finish. Wine made in wooden fermenter is rounder and softer than wine fermented in stainless steel.

For Thanksgiving, you have to bust out the 2006 Wädenswil Clone Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. This is Shea Vineyards signature clone. It is a blend of wines made from grapes grown in three blocks of the Shea Vineyards. After the wine is fermented in wood, it is aged 10 months in mix of new and old Burgundian oak barrels. Just enough time to impart a toastiness, but not so much as to overpower the delicious fruit.

Look The envy of a brandy-braised cranberry sauce. If only it could look as rich, deep and dazzling as a Willamette Valley Pinot in full resplendence.
Smell Don’t worry about the glorious smell of roast turkey overcoming this wine. It has an intensity that can take on the most fragrant dish on your Thanksgiving table. As complex as your meal, it has scents of the Oregon hills, lavender, spice, black coffee, molasses and black cherry.
Taste The 2006 Wadenswil is as complex as your Thanksgiving dinner. The first course is an orgy of black cherry, blackberries and plum entwined in lusty embrace with clove, cinnamon and spicy cedar smoke. The second course is the creamy, velvety round mouth feel. And the third course lingers for an incredibly long finish of soft tannins and dark chocolate.
Price $52

Like a catchy song that gets stuck in your head, this wine will wedge itself deep in the folds of your cerebral cortex. You’ll never know what will trigger it, but sooner or later this wine will come back and grab you. The next time you smell the woody earth of wild mushrooms sautĂ©ing in Irish butter, you will get a phantom taste of blackberries and spice that could only be the Wadenswil. You’ve been warned. Drink it with your Thanksgiving dinner, and dream about it the rest of the year.

What are you drinking?

November 21, 2010

Picking the Right Wine for Thanksgiving Dinner: GodmĂ© Père et Fils NV Brut RĂ©serve Premier Cru


Some people get all stressed out about Thanksgiving. First there are the dysfunctional family issues. I’m not getting into that mess. Next there is the obvious challenge of preparing all of those courses of difficult recipes and getting them on the table at the same time. Worrying about over cooking turkey is enough to spike your blood pressure all by itself. And finally the challenge of pairing the right wines with all of those crazy foods is bound to give you an aneurism. What wine goes with Jell-O ambrosia, sweet potatoes, turkey and gravy all in the same meal? Chill out. I’ve got some ideas for you.

In the next few posts I’ll review a few wines that are sure-fire wins for the Thanksgiving table. I won’t cover everything, but will get you started in the right direction. There are plenty of varietals to choose from in red, white, rosé and sparkling categories.  Think of wines that are versatile, not too powerful in either flavor or alcohol and higher in acidity to cut through the fatty foods.

Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles

First and foremost no holiday meal is complete without sparkling wine. If you host a meal without it, you should have your hospitality license revoked. At least do me the courtesy of leaving me off of your guest list. Shame on you! Whether it’s Champagne, Prosecco, Cava or good sparkling wine from any region is up to you. I’m a fan of serving sparkling wine from the U.S. because it’s an American holiday, but you can never go wrong with good Champagne.  

If you’re inclined to go with the French stuff, try Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru.  Godmé is a small producer based in Verzenay, a grand cru classified city since 1895, on the slopes of the Montagne de Reims in Champagne France. The Godmé family founded the Champagne house in 1930 and produces eight sparkling wines in three classifications from grapes grown on 27 acres. They consider their wines Champagne for food.

Buying non-vintage (NV) Champagne is a good way to get quality juice without the destroying your wine budget.  Champagne houses shoot for consistent quality and taste year after year by making a base wine that is a blend from multiple years.  In the case of the Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru, 50 percent of the base wines are at least three years old. The Godmé NV Brut assemblage is: 50 percent Chardonnay, 15 percent Pinot noir and 35 percent Pinot Meunier. They let the brightness of the fruit shine through by fermenting in steal and aging 10 percent in old oak barrels. The result is a lean, dry, gorgeous, concentrated and exceptionally polished wine.

Look The jewel of your Thanksgiving table, sparkling like a lemon chiffon diamond.  
Smell Pear butter spread on a fresh-baked baguette.
Taste This wine has considerable complexity. It opens up with floral hints and moves to a round taste that is both rich and crisp at the same time with apple, ripe pears, apricots and buttered fresh bread. It finishes long, with sweet and gentle smokiness. It is firmly structured with energetic, yet soft effervescence and a creamy mouse. This can take on Waldorf salad and fried turkey with both stems tied behind its back.
Price $45

Don’t get worked into a tizzy when selecting wine for Thanksgiving dinner. Champagne is a sure bet with high levels of acidity and a trifling amount of sugar. These two elements make it the magical match for almost any food that you could dream of serving at the holidays. Now that’s something to be thankful for.

What are you drinking?

November 16, 2010

I Think I’ll Get a Brazillian


No really; a Brazilian red wine. I had an opportunity to travel to Brazil recently and had to try some locally produced wine. Brazil isn’t known as a wine powerhouse, but it is the fifth largest producer of wines in the southern hemisphere after Argentina, Australia, South Africa and Chile. Several of the larger producers have invested heavily in improving viticulture and production techniques. It’s beginning to pay off with wines that are approaching the quality of other South American wines.  

The Miolo Wine Group is one of the prominent wineries in Brazil that is modernizing production and turning out wines that are selling successfully internationally. The Miolo family has poured gallons of dollars into modernizing the cellar with the latest equipment like stainless steel for fermentation, and French and American oak barrels, made in their own cooperage on-premises. While the family has been growing wine grapes for some time, they did not start to produce their own wines until 1994. Renowned winemaker, Miguel Almeida, and esteemed oenologist, Michel Rolland, have been instrumental in improving the quality of the wines and bringing them to prominence.  

Miolo is grows it’s grapes in the Serra Gaúcha region located in the Rio Grande Do Sul, which is dominated by a culture of Italian immigrants. It’s the most important wine region of Brazil accounting for about 90 percent of the country’s total production.

While Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the predominant varietals produced by Milo, I tried a Miolo Reserva 2009 Tempranillo. Here is how it shakes out.

Look Intense ruby red lipstick on a pouting Brazilian model sulking through yet another photo shoot.
Smell Vibrant cherry soda served at a long oak bar with soft vanilla candles burning in the background.
Taste This wine lacks the body to rate with the bodies sunning themselves on Ipanema. In fact it’s thinner and less silky than its Spanish cousins.  Bright acidity gives it a lively bounce. The timid plum and cherry fruit aren’t overpowered by the subtle tannins and stick around for a mid-length finish.
Price Real $27.00 or U.S. $17

It would take more than a couple of glasses of this wine to coax me into dancing a samba in its honor. It’s decent enough to accompany the sound of crashing waves on the beach on a lazy afternoon, but it’s not going to replace the Caipirinha as the drink of choice at the clubs in Cococabana after the sun goes down.

What are you drinking?

November 9, 2010

Where are you drinking in New York? The Long Room Irish Pub


With a name like McGinnis, you can probably guess that I’m of Irish decent. Its true and I do my best to connect with my heritage occasionally even though I’ve only been to the Mother Land once. I even have a shamrock tattoo. Imagine my joy when some friends stumbled upon The Long Room, an Irish gastropub in the heart of midtown and invited me to join them. I felt immediately at home even though I was on the road.

I quickly scanned the dozens of beer tap behind the marble topped bar and spotted a cask ale tap. I had to order it without evenRachel pulling the Devil knowing what it was. It turns out it was a HopDevil American IPA brewed by Victory Brewing Company out of Pennsylvania. What’s the fuss about cask ale? It’s unfiltered, unpasteurized beer that still has live yeast eating sugars and farting carbon dioxide in a secondary fermentation process in the cask. This makes for a much smoother, mellow beer that lets the true flavors emerge.

Because it’s served without added carbonation, the bartender has to manually pull it up with a handpump.  This is an added bonus when you have an attractive Irish bartender like I did. Rachel quipped that she would build big biceps serving too much of this beer. I liked it so much I ordered several. Here’s what it’s like.

Look Shiny penny copper with a creamy smooth head, the kind that gives you a “milk” mustache
Smell Shy nose of citrus and hops doesn’t come on nearly as strongly as it tastes.
Taste This cask pulled beer has low carbonation and is served at room temperature to let the full hops flavor of the IPA to come through. Its starts off floral and citrus, builds to a round, toasty biscuit followed by bitter pine.
Price $8 for a half pint

I would definitely go back to the Long Room. The dark wood, leaded glass, plank flooring, pressed copper ceilings all add to the ambiance of a traditional Irish pub. I didn’t try any of the 30 other beers they have on tap, 40 others they have in bottles or any of the traditional Irish pub food, but I was very pleased with my experience. I had a great time playing bar games with Keith to the mild amusement of the tolerant, smiling wait staff. Check it out when you are in the neighborhood.

What are you drinking?

November 8, 2010

Where are you drinking in Chicago? Bull & Bear


Chicago definitely has a healthy drinking culture, which is a good thing for your humble author. There are liquor stores and bars on just about every block in the city and the bars stay open late. You’re not going to go thirsty there.

I recently had the good fortune of being back in Sweet Home Chicago and my good friend, @kerrierieo, invited me to join her and her friends at the Bull & Bear in River North. The name is a dual play on the two prominent Chicago professional sports teams and the stock market. It’s a sports bar located a short distance from the Chicago Board Options Exchange. On any given night it’s full of financial types downing a few while glued to a game on one of a few dozen TVs. It’s also a hang-out for sports types too. Party boy Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks star that scored the goal to win last season’s Stanley Cup, has been known to frequent it.

Kerri and her friends like B&B for the people watching (i.e. lots of hot guys), solid menu with pub grub like burgers, truffle fries and nachos, but also for slightly nicer entrees like a seared tuna salad. They also like the pajama brunches, which unfortunately doesn’t mean sipping champagne with ladies in lingerie.

Lovely Stephanie pouring a draft at our table

But the real attraction here is the table taps. That’s right, table taps. They have beer taps right in table so you don’t have to wait to be served. Genius! Talk about a great drinking culture. This is the public equivalent of those enormous sectional couches that have the mini cooler and remote control holder built into the armrest. The only thing that could make it better is if they also had urinals under the table so you don’t have to get up to pee. Bull & Bear’s claim to fame is that they are the only bar in Chicago to have this brilliant table tap system.

There were two beers on tap at our table, Bud Light and Goose Island Beer Company’s Matilda, a locally-brewed Belgian style ale. Here is a look at the Matilda.

Look Hazy amber like a butterscotch candy with a mild cream colored head.
Smell Sweet dried grass recently cut and left to molder in the pallid November sun.
Taste Like a chilled glass of run-off from a compost heap. Herbaceous, sour fruit and cedar spice with a hint of caramel on the finish. I’ve never been a fan of Belgian style ales, so my description is decidedly biased. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine beer, but not my thing. I ended up drinking more Bud Light, not just because I could reach the tap without standing up, but because I actually liked it better.
Price $0.75 an ounce or $9 for a 12oz self-poured glass. The taps are metered, so you and the wait staff know exactly how much you’ve consumed. No honor system here.

All-in-all this is a pretty decent place to drink. Why just decent for a place that has serve-your-self-beer-taps built right into the table? Isn’t that enough to give this a Nirvana rating? It should be, but there is an unnecessary air of pretense to the place. Here’s just one example: they have bathroom attendants turning on the faucet and dolling out paper towels, mints and cologne. I gotta tip the guy every time I have to take a leak? That becomes a regulator on the self-administered beer. Need I say more about why this is just decent? At least the company was good.

What are you drinking?