Three Summer Wine and Cheese Pairings

Perfect wine and cheese pairing for summer.Add a little elegance to a summer afternoon with simple pairings of complex cheeses and delicious wine. The incredible selection of high-quality wine and cheese that is available today makes it more compelling than ever. Here are some straightforward tips for excellent food and wine pairings.

The first thing to do is find a reputable cheese shop with a knowledgeable staff. Try Antonelli’s Cheese Shop on Duval Street, Henri’s Cheese & Wine on South Lamar Boulevard, Central Market or Whole Foods Market. Not only do these places know their stuff, they specialize in helping customers find exactly what they want.

One of Austin’s shining stars in the cheese world is Cathy Strange, the global cheese buyer for Whole Foods Market. Strange has an incredible resume that is studded with accreditations such as membership in the Cheese Importers Association and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. She serves as a judge for the American Cheese Society competition, the World Cheese Championships and the British Cheese Awards and is the new world president and an ambassador for the Guilde des Fromagers de Saint-Uguzon. The lady knows her cheese.

Strange leads a team of 147 certified cheese professionals at Whole Foods Markets. The company has a passion for excellence in cheese with a goal to have one certified cheese pro in every store. Currently, there are 206 employees seeking to become certified by studying things like cheese making and proper cheese pairings with wine and beer. These folks take exams every Thursday, testing their knowledge of the composition of milk, how to properly transport cheese, food safety and the microbiological nuances of cheese.

Why? So you don’t have to. With more than 700 types of cheese in the Whole Foods downtown store, it’s incredibly helpful to let the cheesemongers guide the experience. That’s exactly what we did with picking our perfect pairings for summer. Austin Woman suggested European white, rosé and red wines, and Strange expertly selected excellent European cheeses that will bring out the best in the wines.

Domaine Pichot, Vouvray 2012 with Mons Camembert

Domaine Pichot is a classic vouvray made with 100 percent chenin blanc. Unlike some vouvray wines from the Loire Valley of France that have a little residual sugar, this wine is dry with opulent floral aromas. Domaine Pichot has rich golden raisin, light pineapple and green apple flavors balanced with a hint of honey, chalky minerals, bright acid and a big, round finish that eases across the palate like a silk camisole. It sells for $17. Mons Camembert from the area of France north of Normandy is soft ripened in a traditional style. It has a distinctive smell of green cooked vegetables like Brussels sprouts or cabbage.

“That is a clear marker for Normandy-made cheese,” Strange says, noting the best way to enjoy the cheese. “The rind is edible, made with a penicillin mold that has a mushroomy, earthy flavor. Try the paste first so you don’t overwhelm your palate. This Camembert has tangy acidity that cuts through the butterfat. Chew the cheese, letting it coat your tongue. You will get flavors coming up the back of your mouth and in to the nose.”

This is a wine and cheese pairing made in heaven. The crisp acidity of the vouvray balances the creamy fattiness of the cheese. The wine mellows the vegetal qualities in the cheese, letting the salty grass and hay flavors open up while the earthy flavors of the Camembert brighten the fruit flavors in the wine. It’s a gorgeously choreographed dance on the tongue.

Miraval Rosé, Côtes de Provence 2013 and Capricho de Cabra 

Miraval rosé is made in Southern France by the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel fame in partnership with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who own the 1,200-acre estate.

“Angelina picked out the distinctive bottle,” Strange says.

This is a gorgeous Provençale rosé with beautiful pink cotton-candy color along with floral and pronounced fruit aromatics. The light-bodied wine tastes of fresh strawberries and lemon zest with a hint of spice on the finish. It is priced at $25. Strange recommends goat cheese with this delicate rosé.

“Rather than fresh chèvre, I picked an aged cheese,” she says. “It ripens from the outside in, leaving the middle of the paste, which is called chalk, firm and gets creamier next to the rind.”

Capricho de Cabra from Murcia, Spain, is made with milk from Murciana goats and is one of the highest protein cheeses in the world. It has a marvelous creaminess with a nutty, buttery cream flavor tinged with a slight brininess and a citrus finish. It’s a mild cheese that’s not very “goaty” and is a real crowd pleaser. The goat cheese is like a velvet pillow with the wine. The berry flavors of the rosé become more pronounced in the luscious creaminess, which also mutes the acidic citrus edge of the wine. This makes for a soft, sensual pairing.

Rollone Monferrato Rosso 2011 and Fourme d’Ambert 

Rollone Monferrato Rosso comes from the cool climates of the Piedmont region in Northern Italy. This fruity blend of 75 percent barbera and 25 percent pinot noir has a bright cherry and cedar aroma. Serve it with a slight chill to bring out the funky earthiness and mushroom essence layered on top of juicy cherry, dried strawberry and plum flavors. The mild tannin and high acid make it a particularly food-friendly red. It sells for $23 at Whole Foods.

Fourme d’Ambert is raw cow’s milk blue cheese from the Auvergne region of France. It is known to be one of the oldest cheeses in France, along with Roquefort. Blue cheeses take awhile to age and don’t start getting blue for four to six weeks. The proteins in blue are a little slower to break down, age slowly and get creamier the longer they age. Fourme d’Ambert is a natural rind cheese that is creamy and light.

It is a mild blue, not too spicy, and buttery with white mushroom flavors. With the wine, this mild blue brings out warm, raisin flavors. The cherries taste ripper and sweeter, which Strange describes as tasting “like a gourmet cherry lollipop.” The cheese enhances the aged earthiness of the wine yet lets the brightness of the acidity shine through.

Tips for buying and enjoying cheese

  • Shop for cheese just how you shop for vegetables. Buy cheese close to the time you want to enjoy it. Don’t let it sit in your refrigerator too long. Knowledgeable cheesemongers at good shops can recommend the optimal ripeness of the cheese. Some cheeses are ready to eat today, some in a few days, but shouldn’t be kept more than that.
  • Cheese made with cow’s milk is typically rich in gold color. In contrast, goat cheese is whiter in color, as the goats are better able to digest beta carotene.
  • When entertaining, choose cheeses that are crowd-friendly like creamy gouda and sharp cheddar. Your cheesemonger can recommend varieties that are pungent, or not, to suit your taste.
  • Pineapples, apples and pears are great with cheese because the acidity and texture lifts the creaminess of the cheese to clean the palate. Seasonally available tropical fruits and melons are also a great accompaniment to cheese, as they don’t overpower and don’t linger in the mouth.
  • Take your cheese out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before guests arrive so it warms close to room temperature. Cheese is a fermented agricultural product, and the taste will evolve a little as it warms up.
  • Serve nuts with the cheese. If you have blue or luscious cheeses, choose nuts with skins, like almonds. The bitterness of the skin will accentuate the cheese. If you are serving mild, creamy cheese, select Marcona almonds or other skinless nuts.

This story was originally written for and appears in the June issue of Austin Woman Magazine.

Disclosure: Whole Foods Market provided samples of the wine and cheese for this story.

What are you drinking? 

Arro Brings Excellent French Wine to West 6th Street

This week the new Arro restaurant hosted a series of soft openings before its official opening this Saturday. This casual French joint from the good folks who brought us 24 Diner, Easy Tiger, aka ELM Restaurant Group, is whipping up quite a buzz and landing lots of juicy reviews from salivating bloggers and journalists.

If you read this blog, you know damn well it’s not a food review site. The good news is that Arro has a kick-ass, all French wine list put together by Master Sommeliers, Craig Collins and Devon Broglie. West 6th is far better known for its bro bars and beer taps than for wine, with the exception of the stellar retail shop, Austin Wine Merchant. Arro is set to change that with a solid list.

Broglie and Collins assembled a line up of wines that will appeal to insouciant drinkers and serious wine aficionados alike. The list features 10 sparkling wines and Champagnes with five by the glass with prices starting at $10. Beautiful Wife and I started with Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé – Simonnet Febvre  to go with our mussels and vegetable tart starters.

The white wine list has some of my favorite varieties from all over France. I had a hard time choosing from the 22 bottles and seven wines by the glass of Savignon Blanc, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Marsanne, and Chardonnay. Luckily the brilliant Collins helped me choose the 2011 Domaine des Aubuisières “Cuvée de Silex” Vouvray to go with my Vol-Au-Ven with crawfish.

The red list made me hyperventilate with eight wines by the glass and 28 bottle selections from all over France. We were pouring over the Burgundy, Rhone and Bordeaux wines ranging from $10 to $14 by the glass and wanted to try them all. Collins paired the 2009 Maison Deux Montille Soeur et Frere Bourgogne with Duck Confit. Deelish.

I’m a huge fan of dessert cocktails and wines. The sticky sweets get me misty. Arro has a delightful Cordial Cart with all kinds of seductive after dinner drinks to pull you deeper into your seat. I chose a glass of 2009 Perrin Muscat Beaumes de Venise to go with my Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme. The Port-like wine was just the thing to seal the deal.

Beautiful Wife and I will be back many times to eat the delectable French chow from executive chef/partner, Andrew Curren, and more importantly, to work our way through that incredible wine list.

Disclosure: our meal was provided at no charge, but we paid for our wine.

What are you drinking? 

Join me for Sommelier Cinema, My Dinner with Andre

The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema continues its popular pairing of film and wine in Sommelier Cinema. As their site so eloquently explains, “Sommelier Cinema is our series that invites guest experts to curate a wine flight to a film that makes you want to drink.” How awesome is that? It’s so awesome that I have to join the fun to host the next one.

  • What: a screening of the cinematic My Dinner with Andre hosted by me. I’ve chosen three wines and one liqueur drawing inspiration from the beverage and food selections the characters made at a French restaurant in the film. These drinks will be served during the movie along with a selection of cheeses from Antonelli’s Cheese Shop.
  • Where: Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, 320 E 6th Street, Austin, TX
  • When: Wednesday, October 5, 2011, 7pm
  • How much: $26. Buy your tickets here.

What are we drinking?

For the first wine, I selected a French sparkling wine to replace the “Spritzer” that Andre has as an aperitif.

Charles Bove Brut NV

Not all French bubbly is Champagne. This zippy non-vintage sparkler is made from Chenin Blanc grown in the Loire Valley and made in the traditional method.

Look This bubbly is very light yellow with a lively string of bubbles racing to the surface.
Smell It has aromas of green pear and lemon followed by dusty stones.
Taste A fine note of yeast is quickly followed by honeydew melon balanced with pert acidity and coarse fizziness. This light, food friendly wine has to be a hell of a lot better than a spritzer.

 

For the second wine, we have Sancerre to accompany the first course ordered by Wally and Andre, Terrine de poisson (fish pâté), and potato soup.

Château de Sancerre 2010

This is a lively Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley made by the Société des Produits Marnier-Lapostolle, which also produces of Grand Marnier liqueurs.

Look Pale straw color with bright clarity.
Smell A nose of kiwi, grapefruit rind, daffodil and flint meld in an understated and pleasant aroma.
Taste This Sancerre has fresh red grapefruit and tart peach flavors with a long finish easy going. The crisp acidity would cut through the fatty pate and the creamy soup. It’s not overly complex and doesn’t get in the way as the conversation in the film gets deep and multi-faceted.

 

For the third wine I chose a Burgundy to pair with the cailles aux raisins (roasted quail with raisins). What goes better with wild fowl than Pinot Noir?

Domaine Danjean-Bertroux Bourgogne Domaine du Moulin Neuf  2009

Made by up-and-coming wine maker Pascal Danjean, this is a balanced old world Pinot Noir that pairs well with a variety of meals.

Look Light bodied, glistening like a shiny black cherry skin.
Smell Bold scent of perfumed vanilla, cherry pie and violets greet you with a grin.
Taste Wally and Andre’s conversation kicks into metaphysical high-gear during their main course. This wine’s flavors of earthy cherry and plum fruitiness with a dusting of bitter cocoa  and minerality followed by mild tannins would keep them grounded.

 

For our final selection, I chose the obvious. We’re having an Amaretto to join Wally with the same desert drink that he orders.

Luxardo Amaretto

This Italian liqueur is made from almonds grown in Avola in southern Sicily. It’s recommended to drink neat at room temperature after dinner.

Look Honeyed amber lazily clinging to the sides of the glass.
Smell Marzipan and chocolate covered candied cherries in almond syrup.
Taste It tastes just like it smells. It’s like biting into a liquor filled cordial with the almond sugar oozing out of the middle.  Oh what a sweet desert to enjoy after a cerebral dinner.

 

Join me for this engrossing film and for a selection of delicious drinks.

What are you drinking?

Starting with wine at Chefs Under Fire

The Austin/San Antonio regional semi-final of Chefs Under Fire was held tonight in Austin. The final battle of the chefs will be held on October 16 at the AT&T Executive Center. What am I doing blogging about a foodie event? It opened with a VIP reception hosted by Bill Elsey, who was recently crowned Best Sommelier in Texas at TexSom. How could I miss that?

Bill is no stranger to food and wine events. Not only does he host them at work as the director of sales at Duchman Family Winery, but he also attends them as a fan. He and Diane Dixon, co-founder of Keeper Collection, the organizers of Chefs Under Fire and Somms Under Fire, met  through a wine tasting group hosted by the  Wine and Food Foundation of Texas. They hit it off and he was officially invited to host the pre-event VIP tasting after he won Sommelier of the Year at TexSom.

Here is what Bill poured tonight.    

Étoile Brut, Domain Chandon

This easy going sparkler is aged sur lees (on the yeast) for five years giving it a nice mellow, nutty flavor.

Look Slight straw with steady stream of bubbles
Smell It has a delightful scent of French bread and green apples.  
Taste A great way to start an evening with fresh, vibrant flavors of toast, green apple, nutmeg and hint of citrusy, zippy effervescence. Crisp, light and delightfully ready to wakeup taste buds for a night of fine food.

 

2009 Château de Sancerre

Fairies delivered this delightful gem from the Loire Valley with pixie dust and dreams. Have you ever met a fairy? No? That’s because they’re understated, and not all up in yo grill. The same way this Sauvignon Blanc is compared to its New Zealand or California cousins.

Look Late morning sunshine, bight and pale yellow shimmer in the glass.
Smell A nose full of kiwi, lemon, daffodil and limestone greet you and beg you to take a sip.
Taste Vivacious citrus sunshine slides across a slate slab with nice acidity and pep to greet the palate with a sassiness balanced with subtlety. Fruit, balanced with acidity and minerality. Pert, crisp and ready to go.  

 

2009 Dolcetto d’ Alba

(OK, I didn’t get the producer. Shame on me. Sorry, but I got caught up in the festivities)

Look Royal amethyst purple shimmering and inviting.
Smell This puppy has a distinctive nose of cranberry rolled in soy and balsamic vinegar. Fruity and tart.
Taste Light and chipper cherry pit with pecan and vanilla.  

 

No matter whether you are preparing award winning food, or if you are simply preparing a quick dinner, these three food friendly wines will hit the spot.

Chefs Under Fire pitted excellent, up and coming chefs in a competition to see who can make the most excellent dish from a list of ingredients disclosed at the start of the competition. I’m so glad I wasn’t put in that place. I just stop by and enjoyed the wine. Thanks Keeper Collection for another amazing event.

What are you drinking?

Wine for 4th of July Picnics: Red, White and Rosé

There is nothing more traditional than celebrating Independence Day in the U.S. with a picnic. Whether you’re the type to grill burgers, hot dogs and chips or the type to serve cold poached salmon with an heirloom tomato salad, one thing is for sure, you need something cold and delicious to drink with it. Here are three food friendly wines that will feel right at home on a picnic blanket.  

Santero Bessi Rosso NV

Bessi is the girl next door with doe eyes and little zippy secret. She’s light on her feet and best served cold in the hot sun. She never met a picnic she didn’t like. This soft sparkling sweet Italian non-vintage red isn’t fussy and won’t complain about being packed in the cooler next to individually wrapped American cheese slices. She’s a great accompaniment to cheese or savory and spicy snacks before you dig into the main course.

Look Bright ruby red with a burst of effervescence on the initial pour. Wave your sparkler in one hand and your Bessi in the other.   
Smell A summer fruit salad with tart blueberries, cranberries, dried tobacco and hibiscus petals.
Taste Bessie is sweet sassy fizzy fun like fruit punch with a bite. It tastes almost exactly like it smells with an abundance of tart cranberry mellowed by tobacco. While this is a sweet wine, it’s not syrupy. It has just enough acidity and that light bubbliness to keep it from being cloying.  
Price $10

 

Try Bessi with watermelon dipping wedges. Here’s a simple treat to start off your picnic:

  • Cut chilled watermelon into 1 ½ inch wedges
  • Dipping sauce:
    • Juice of two fresh limes
    • ¼ cup cold water
    • Pinch of salt
    • Pinch of red pepper flakes

Stir it up, dip, eat. Yum.

Urki Txakoli de Getariako 2009

Txakoli is a Basque word pronounced (CHA-koh-lee), but I like to call it (Texa-koh-lee) for obvious reasons.  This precious Spanish gem is a high acidity and low alcohol wine from the Getariako Txakolina protected Designation of Origin on the northern Atlantic coast. It’s a slightly more sophisticated sister to the Portuguese Vinho Verde. Txakoli is traditionally served as an aperitif with tapas. It’s also well suited for a splendid picnic with chilled shrimp, raw oysters or grilled fish. Make sure to have an ample supply because it will go fast.   

Look The first Pale yellow ray of sunshine on a hot July day, with tiny bubbles sporadically streaming to the top.
Smell Soft jasmine and stone scents mingle with lemon zest and cut apple.
Taste A bite of fresh, crisp green apple, backed by dusty limestone minerality. It’s light and bouncy with a long lemon zest finish.
Price $19

 

I want to drink this with a big pile of ceviche while lying on a blanket next to the lake. Here’s a recipe from Bon Appetite for Scallop Ceviche.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound bay scallops, quartered
  • 1 cup (about 12 whole) cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 green or red serrano chiles, seeded and minced (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
  • 1 cup finely diced red onion (1/2 medium red onion)
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • Salt to taste
  • tablespoons finely shredded unsweetened coconut flakes

Preparation

  • Combine all the ingredients in a nonreactive bowl and stir to mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 16.
  • Spoon the ceviche into small (4-ounce) glasses and garnish with cilantro

Commanderie de Peyrassol 2010 Côtes de Provence

What would summer be without a cold, crisp rosé? It’s the long relaxing exhale in the midst of your day dream day lazing about in the sun. If you’re going for rosé on the 4th of July, why not get one from the birthplace of the varietal, France. The Knights of Templars started making wine at Commanderie of Peyrassol about 800 years ago. That’s plenty of time to refine a craft and turn out excellent wine. The 2010 vintage is fresh, fruity and ready for fun. This is one food friendly wine. Try it with fried chicken, grilled vegetables and even ribs.

Look A classic rosé, delicate rose pink, with good clarity.
Smell Commanderie de Peyrassol is delightful with a lilac, strawberry, lemon zest gentle nose.
Taste Fresh biscuit, strawberries, lemon good minerality, crisp with an easy finish. Food friendly
Price $20

 

Do you have a big fat buttery Chardonnay on the wine rack ready to take to your picnic? Leave it sitting right there. This 4th of July celebrate independence from your regular wine while you celebrate the independence of our country. Give these three wines a try and let me know what you think.

What are you drinking?

Size Matters: How to Make an Impression at Holiday Parties

I’m a huge proponent of going to as many parties as possible during the holiday season, particularly the parties that have full, hosted bars. There are plenty of parties at friends’ homes to attend as well. When you attend a private party, you should always bring a bottle of something to augment the host’s supply, whether they need it or not. It’s a nice gift if it isn’t served.

This holiday season, why not make a positive impression by bringing an over-sized bottle of wine to your next party? The holidays are all about excess and I know you are in the holiday spirit, so go for it.  Stand out by presenting your host with a Magnum, Jeroboam or even a Rehoboam or festive Champagne or red wine. You can’t go wrong.

There are several sizes of wine bottles. There is absolutely no reason to bring an ordinary bottle to a festive event when you can do more. Here’s a handy reference guide for you.  

Volume (liters) Ratio (bottles) Name What it means
0.1875 0.25 Piccolo It means “small” in Italian, and is also known as a quarter bottle, pony, snipe or split. It is the common size served when you order bubbly by the glass. To me this is just a novelty. Why in the hell would anyone embarrass a perfectly good wine by putting it in something so unfulfilling? The only reason to take these to a party is if you have a car-load of ‘em and you’re using them as stocking stuffers.
0.375 0.5 Demi It means “half” in French., so its cleverly known as a half bottle or split. It is a reasonable size if you want a little wine with dinner by yourself. These are completely useless at a party and will no doubt cause you to be seen as “half” a guest.
0.750 1 Standard This is your normal bottle that you see everywhere. Legend has it that the size was based on the amount an average Frenchman could consume at lunch without being too impaired to return to work. If you are absolutely common and ordinary in every way, bring this size bottle. “Oh look honey, Mr. Average is here to bore the hell out of us.”
1.5 2 Magnum The double bottle. These are relatively easy to find and affordable. It’s just big enough to make a good impression when you walk into a party. It says, “I’m not messin around here.”
3.0 4 Jeroboam Oh yeah, the “Double Magnum.” It is named for a Biblical king and has kingly dimensions. If you tote this bad boy into a party, you’ll definitely get invited back next year (unless you sleep with the host’s significant other).
4.5 6 Rehoboam This beast is about as big as you can get and still feasibly carry it to a party and pour from it without making an atrocious mess. We’re talking about an entire ½ case of wine in one bottle here. It’s also named for a Biblical king. Walk into a party with this, and you’ll be king.

There are several other sizes of wine bottles going all the way up to the 40 bottle Melchizedek. You’re not going to find the ultra-large size bottles unless you special order them. These are the bottles you see as ornamentation at fine restaurants and wine shops. Call your favorite wine shop ahead of time to see what they have on hand in a large format bottle. Your friends will love you for it.

I recently did this with a Magnum of Domaine de Mourchon 2006 “Grande Reserve” Cotes du Rhone Villages. The winery is on top of a hill in the village of Provencal Seguret, located in southern Cotes du Rhone. It’s a fairly new winery, founded in 1998 with existing vineyards. They make three lines of wine, and the “Grand Reserve” is a blend of Grenache and Syrah from old vines.

Here is what you can expect.

Look The rich purple of an advent candle burning for Christmas.
Smell The makings a fine fruit cake with nutmeg, toasty cinnamon, fennel, raspberries and plums simmering on the stove.
Taste This wine is a holiday feast of jammy black cherries, currant, white pepper and carpaccio. Its medium body moves from fruit to earth before a mid-length finish of smooth tannins.
Price $38 (or $20 for a standard 750 ml)

This is a respectable wine and downright jolly in a large format bottle. So what’s it going to be? Will you be remembered as the guest that brought the huge bottle of fantastic wine? Or will you be forgotten?

What are you drinking?

Grown up drinks for grown up tastes: Péché 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?

Picking the Right Wine for Thanksgiving Dinner: Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve 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?

Special Occassion Wine, 2005 Chateau Franc La Rose

When I was single and I had a big date, I used to put on special underwear. You know, the nicest pair in the drawer. Ever since I’ve been married, I just buy all special underwear, because, well every night could be a big date.

As an aside, this reminds me of the proper way to shop for lingere. Men, you do know how to shop for lingere don’t you? Go to the best shop you can afford. Ask for a sweet sales person to assist you. Have her select the sauciest number possible – I’m talkin ’bout one that would raise Monsieur Eiffel from the dead. Once she finds the right one, rip it from her delicate perfumed grasp and toss it to the floor. Survey it for a moment laying prone on the rug, then declare, “That looks  perfect. I’l take it.”

OK, back to the topic. Now when it’s going to be an exceptional night, one with a reason to celebrate, I pick a distinctive wine. What could be better than a classified red wine from Bordeaux, the most celebrated wine region in the world?  Last year I grabbed a several 2005 bottles to hold on to as it was a pretty good vintage. The sad thing is I can’t seem to leave them alone. I keep drinking them.

Last night we decided to celebrate one of life’s important moments and opened up a 2005 Château Franc La Rose Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. It is produced by Jean-Louis Trocard, a family that has made wines since the year 1620. Saint-Émilion is the oldest area of Bordeaux and produces arguably the heartiest wines in the region. This particular wine is a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc grapes grown on 40 year old vines. It’s aged for 18 months in new French oak to round out the tannins.

My mouth was watering as I decanted the Château Franc La Rose. This is special underwear wine.

Look A royal amethyst ring of deep garnet with ruby edges.
Smell Intense woody, cocoa, spicy and bold blackberry. Fleshy enough to put a nice curve in her most special underwear.
Taste After the anticipation brought about by the wine’s heritage and the luscious nose, I expected an audacious, rich wine. What I tasted wasn’t the dark blackberries and cocao. It was more like reserved raspberries and the saline peck of meaty blood. A much less voluptuous wine than I expected, although it had the courtesy to have a long, vanilla and oak finish.
Price $28

It turns out that this was decent underwear wine. The kind you wear when you’re not exactly sure you’re going to get lucky, but think it might be a possibility. For the money, I think I’d buy a different bottle the next time.

What are you drinking?

Discover the Right Bottle at Austin Wine Merchant

Trying to select a bottle of wine to accompany dinner can be daunting for even experienced wine drinkers. Walk into the wine section of an average grocery store and you’re confronted with hundreds of labels from producers all over the world. Now walk into a wine shop and the selection explodes. It’s impossible to know all of the producers you like even within one region. Can you imagine if you had to have that kind of comprehensive knowledge for a test in school. No way. How can an average mortal be expected to find the right bottle for dinner? Let’s not even talk about finding the right wine for a special occasion dinner with someone you are trying to impress.

Here’s an idea – go to a wine shop with incredibly knowledgeable, unpretentious and attentive staff who are eager to match your preferences with a great bottle of wine. There are shops like this in every town. In Austin, one that you can count on for fantastic advice is the Austin Wine Merchant. This shop on W. 6th street has been demystifying wine buying for schleps like me since 1991.

This isn’t a wine mega-store, but they have a fantastic selection. Co-owner, John Roenigk, and his staff choose wines with an eye for what customers will enjoy at prices that make sense. How do they know what customers want? They keep track. You can let the Austin Wine Merchant keep your purchases in a database. The next time you visit, they can make recommendations based on what you like the last time. It takes the guessing out of it.

I overheard John counseling one customer, “Do you really want to buy a $15 Burgundy? I’ll tell ya, the best $15 Burgundy is a Côtes du Rhône.” That’s the kind of help that makes the difference between having some wine and having wine you like.

I talked to a couple of customers in the store about what they like about the shop. They drive out of their way because they learn something new about wine every time they visit. They like the large selection of small producers and old world wines that are priced competitively. They admitted that they were initially intimidated by the higher-end appearance and assumed it must be an expensive shop full of trophy and first growth wines for oenephiles. They were pleased to see that despite a serious approach to wine and some higher-end selections, this is a store that caters to casual and expert wine drinkers alike. Oh, and they love the wine tastings held every Saturday from noon to 3:00 p.m.
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What do I mean by “serious about wine”? The first thing is that keep the entire shop chilled to 65 degrees F and at a constant humidity. Take a coat if you plan to shop for a long time. This is one big wine cellar. They also arrange wines geographically by appellation within regions. That might not be unique, but it sure is helpful.

After watching John dish out advice to several customers. It was my turn to let him find a nice bottle for me. I bought two right away. I intended to review those wines, but, uh, Beautiful Wife and I liked them so much we drank them in one sitting with a fantastic dinner. I didn’t take the time to write a single note. I guess I’ll have to go back and buy more.
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