Monday, November 10, 2014

Amarula Cream: The Spirit of Africa Parties in the U.S.

Amarula Cream Perfect for the Holidays-$25

By Dwight Casimere

Amarula Cream liqueur is the perfect guest at any Holiday party. Launched in South Africa in 1989, it quickly became an international sensation, becoming the second largest cream liqueur in the world, with sales in over 160 countries. Its been available in the U.S. since 1994, and is now enjoying a bit of a revival. A recent introduction in New York's famed Harlem got the party started at a dance party in historic Striver's Row, featuring the Harlem Swing Dancers (photos below).

Amarula Cream is produced from the fruit of the Amarula tree. It's a small, yellow, thick-skinned fruit that only grows from uncultivated trees in sub-Saharan Africa. The flavor is distinct, making it a sophisticated indulgence enjoyed by both discriminating connoisseurs and folks who just like a plain old good tasting drink. Everywhere it is served, Amarula quickly becomes the life of the party. It can be served neat, over ice, or as an ingredient in a variety of cocktails. Many compare it to Bailey's Irish Cream, perhaps the only cream beverage to exceed Amarula in terms of global sales, but the flavor is much more delicate and exotic.

Amarula Cream is created through a unique production process that in many ways mimics fine wine production.  Hand-harvested marula fruit is fermented into  wine which is then double-distilled into a clear spirit that is then aged in French oak barrels for two years, The oak imparts  characteristics of baking spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and toast, which are valued flavor components of the world's great wines. Add to that the distinctive, delicate citrus flavors of the marula fruit and the finest fresh cream, and you have the makings of an international flavor sensation. Amarula Cream was awarded Gold at the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWCS), in Verona, taly, in which I have been a judge for the past two years. The marula fruit is harvested in Limpopo province in South Africa, then distilled and bottled in Stellenbosch, South Africa's premiere wine growing region. No wonder it tastes so good!

Here's a few recipes for cocktails using Amarula Cream.

Amarula Brown Elephant
2 oz Amarula Cream
3 oz milk
3 oz Coca Cola
Pour Amarula Cream and milk into shaker with ice. Shake and strain into tall cocktail glass filled with ice, top with Coca Cola and stir gently. 

Amarula White Nile
1 oz Amarula Cream
½ oz Cointreau Liqueur
½ oz Crème de Cacao
Add all ingredients into cocktail shaker, shake and strain in to Martini glass. 

Amarula Fiery Dusk
2 ½ oz Amarula Cream
1 generous scoop vanilla ice cream
1 tsp fresh chopped chilli
Whole chilli or vanilla pod for garnish
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker or blender and shake or blend until smooth. Pour into a martini glass filled with ice, garnish with a whole fresh chilli or a vanilla pod.

Amarula Brandy and Cream
1 oz Brandy
1 oz fresh cream
½ oz Amarula Cream
In a cocktail shaker add Brandy, fresh cream and Amarula Cream, shake and strain in to glass filled with ice. 

Amarula Martini
1 oz Amarula Cream (30 mL)
½ oz Gordon’s London Dry Gin
Dash of bitters
Lemon zest for garnish
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice shake and strain in to a Martini glass. Top with dash of bitters and garnish with lemon zest.

 Amarula gets the party started on Striver's Row in New York's famed Harlem
 The marula fruit grows exclusively in South Africa

 Amarula is instantly the life of the party!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

New from Trentino, Italy: Cliffhanger Pinot Grigio-$12

photos: vineyards high in the Italian Alps above Trentino, Italy
Winemaker Lucio Matricardi-Mezzacorona Vineyards

New from Italy: Cliffhanger Pinot Grigio from Trentino-$12

The Dolomite Mountains high above Trentino, Italy produced some of the most exquisite, delicately flavored Pinot Grigio grapes in all of Italy. The steep terraces and ledges in the high mountain vineyards in what is lovingly called "the Italian Alps," produce grapes of uncommon depth and flavor, due to the unique mico-climate of crisp, dry air and the cooling breezes from the Adige River. The melting glaciers at the higher elevations combined with the warm sun during the daylight hours, are the basis of a wine with rich character and structure.

"The wine gets its name because of the unique growing area, with the vines literally hanging from the steep cliffs of the Italian Alps, said winemaker Lucio Matricardi.

"When you taste even the unripened grapes, you already start to get the complex aroma of flowers and the beginnings of the fresh melon and white peach flavors that make this wine so special," he gushed. Cliffhanger is the latest wine entry from Gruppo Mezzacorona Wines, producer of a distinguished and diverse portfolio of high quality, Italian wines from the Italian Alps to Sicily.

"We're in a very unique and coveted position, Matricardi explained, "because we aren't just producers and bottlers, we also own and cultivate our own vineyards and grapes. We have more than 26,000 acres under vine, so we can take on the responsibility of developing grapes that are of the highest standard. As a major grower, we see ourselves as having the responsibility to grow the best possible varieties using biodynamic principles."

Slightly yellow in color, with a green hue, Cliffhanger truly displays outstanding flavor and balance of crisp fruit, and bright acidity that makes this a great companion with all types of food, from seafood, such as grilled Grouper,  sauteed scallops, and fresh oysters, to a variety of appetizers, from stuffed mushrooms, to Caprisi crustini with fresh Mozzarella and ripe cherry tomatoes. The Holidays are coming and at just $12 a bottle, it would be prudent to buy a case and have a few bottles now and save a few to grace the Thanksgiving table. Cliffhanger goes great with Roast Turkey!  
 Cliffhanger Pinot Grigio
 Vineyards high above Trentino with the Italian Alps in the background
 Below: with winemaker Lucio Matricardi

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Madeira: "The Immortal Wine" Takes U.S. By Storm

One of the world's most amazing wines expects you.

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--"Madeiera is immortal." That pronouncement was made with conviction by  Rui Falcao, a celebrated wine writer, as he led a Master Class on Madeira wines, sponsored by the Madeira Wine Institute at the Millennium Hotel, 1 United Nations Plaza.

"You can taste a Madeira that is more than a hundred years old, and it will still be as vital as when it was first released. I've tasted wines from as old as 1712 and they were delicious. The key word for Madiera is 'acidity.'"

Sommeliers and wine writers were the beneficiaries of the special afternoon session, held as the inaugural event of the Madeira Wine Institute's national tour, which included New York, Chicago and San Francisco, to reacquint the wine drinking public with one of the world's most amazing wines.

As the wines were poured, with their rich, distinctive burnished tones, like the color of Stradivarius or Guarneri violins, a perusal of the tasting sheet revealed the treasures that lie before us; D'Oliveiras Terrantez 1977, HM Borges Sercial 1979, Justino's Colheita 1995, Blandy's Colheita Malmsey 1996,  Henriques and Henriques Single Harvest Boal 2000 and Barbeito Single Harvest 2003.

Maderia is a wine that is synonymous with history. Produced in the Madeira Islands off the coast of Portugal, its history dates back to the Age of Exploration when Madeira was a port of call for ships heading to the East Indies or the New World.

Madeira is a fortified wine in which neutral spirits, made from cane sugar,  were added to prevent spoilage. On long sea voyages, the wine was kept in large open barrels on the ship's deck, exposing it to extreme heat and the sun and the ship's movements, which enhanced the flavor of the wine. When unsold shipments of wine would return to port, the producers became enraptured with its delightful transformation and thus, Madeira wine, as we know it today, was born.

The winemaking methods today are considerably more sophisticated, but no less time and labor intensive. The wine is fermented and then heated to temperatures as high as 140 degrees Farenheit (60 degrees C). The wine is also deliberately exposed to a considerable degree of ozidation. Distilled spirits used for stabilization were later replaced with brandy.  This unique process creates an unusually robust wine that can withstand the test of time.

"Madeira is not only an integral part of world history, but of American history as well."
Falcao asserted. "Maderia wine was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was already a favorite of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.  Franklin even mentioned it in his autobiography and Adams wrote to his wife about the magnificent properties of Madeira."

Madeira is a time and labor intensive wine, which also makes it even more precious. "No
one goes into the Madeira production business to make huge amounts of money. In fact, the opposite is true. If you want to make a small fortune in the Madeira industry, start with a large one," Falcao joked wryly.

Later that evening, at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's flagship restaurant, the 3 Michelin starred Jean-Georges at the Trump International Hotel and Tower at 1 Central Park West, near Columbus Circle, the Madeira Wine Institute presented a wine pairing dinner overseen by Rui Falcao  and Paula Cabaco, President of the Madeira Wine Institute, along with the Jean George culinary team, headed by Executive Chef Mark Lapico and Sommelier David Morris. This was, without question, the best wine pairing dinner I had ever attended.

Madeira wines are tricky to pair with food because of their tendency to present themselves as "sweet" wines that, at times, appear to be overpowering. A closer examination, however, reveals the contrary. The wines, because of their high acidity, make them a perfect compliment with food. Even those that seem to have a sweet inital taste, turn out to have a somewhat dry finish because of their high acidity. Thus, the dinner at Jean Georges proved to be a revelation.

The first course, Caramelized Foie Gras with Fresh Fig Infused with Spices was paired with two Madeiras; H and H Verdelho 15 Anos (years)   and Blandy's Malmsey 10 Anos. While the Malmsey was the sweeter of the two and would seem the most likely to pair with the fresh figs that dominated the dish, the drier H and H Verdelho won the day hands down. This is a dish that you would normally pair with an off-dry Reisling or a Sauterne, but Falcao and company showed how a Madeira can more than adequately fill the bill.

The next course, an exquisite Black Bass Crusted with Nuts and Seeds and a Sweet and Sour Jus, a JG favorite, was paired with Barbeito Ribeiro Real Verdelho 20 Anos. This was a match made in heaven with the wine perfectly matching all of the flavors in the dish, from the nutty crust and similar flavor notes in the wine to the interplay of sweetness and spice with the dish's earthy mushrooms and tiny, sweet onions careening off of the mandarin orange and dried apricot notes of the Madeira.

The next course was almost sensory overload, with a Muscovy Duck Breast topped with my secret passion, cracked Jordan Almonds and an irresistable Amaretto Jus. I asked to take this dish home, to savor in solitude, as I could not account for the sensory exclamations that might ensue from its public consumption. Justino's Colheita 1995 was served as the accompanying wine. I savored it on its own, and found it a complex wine, worthy of meditation.

Dessert of melted chocolate cake, ice cream and assorted cookies and floating islands was paired with HM Borgas Malvasia 14 Anos. The final wine of the evening, D'Oliveiras Boal 1968, was savored on its own, a fitting end to an exquisite dining experience.

If there were any question that Madeira is a wine to be paired with food, it was resoundingly answered in the affirmative.

 Wine expert Rui Falcao leads the Master Class
 A Stradivarius and (below) Guarnari violin with their distinctive burnished wood tones
 A Sommelier attending the Master Class
 Lisa Williams Marketing Manager, AIDIL Wines and Liquors
 Paula Cabaco, President Madeira Wine Institute with Virginia Geraldes Feitoza, Product Manager, AICEP Portugal Global
Erica A. Seed, Principal, Haus Alpenz LLC (l)
A sampling of Madeira
 Anthony Volpi, Northeast Key Account Manager, Premium Port Wines, East Rutherford, NJ
 JG Sommelier David Morris (r), with wine expert Rui Falcao at the wine pairing dinner
 Black Bass crusted with nuts paired with Barbeito Ribeiro Real Verdelho
 Caramelized Foie Gras with Fresh Fight and H and H Verdelho 15 Anos and Blandy's Malmsey 10 Anos
 A selection of the night's Maderia offerings
 Humberto Jardim, Managing Director, CEO, Henriques and Henriques Madeira
 Dwight Casimere with Andrew F. Bell, President and CEO American Sommelier
 Participants at the exclusive wine pairing dinner at Jean-Georges, Trump International Hotel
 Muscovy Duck Breast topped with cracked Jordan Almonds, paired with Justino's Colheita 1995
 Dessert was paired with D'Oliveiras Boal 1998
 Dwight Casimere with Rui Falcao
 H and H's  Humberto Jardim at the JG dinner

 A nighttime view of Columbus Circle and the Trump International Hotel and Tower

Friday, October 10, 2014

Molino Grassi, Europe's Leading Brand of Organic Flour, Arrives in U.S.

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

 Dwdight Casimere with Silvio Grassi, found and owner of Molino Grassi

 Master Chef Ezzio Rocchi prepares his mouth-watering focaccia bread

Organic flour from Molina Grassi and an assortment of delectable breads made from it

The elegant design showrooms of Urban Homes in New York's chic Chelsea design center was the setting for a food festival-styled presentation for the "First Time In New York!" presentation of Grano Del Miracolo by Molino Grassi.  Mionetto Prosecco was poured as Master Baker Ezzio Rocchi created a panoply of mouth watering pastry and bread treats from this newly discovered ancient Italian grain. Molino Grassi Grano del Miracolo is Europe's leading brand of organic flour. Expect a roll out across the United States when it will soon be available at a specialty grocer near you! 

The message is simple and clear. There's a new grain in town! Grano Del Miracolo by Molino Grassi is new to the United States. It creates a a unique line of flours for baking fesh bread, pizza dough, and focaccia that is different than anything currently available. The flavor and texture are beyond compare.  Officials from Molino Grassi recently arrived in the United States to hold a tasting event, complete with Mionetto Prosecco and a renowned chef to create delicacies, accompanied by Proscuitto Toscano (DOP) ham. 

The grain gets it name from its enormous height, which can reach more than 6 feet tall. It is one of the most popular grains in the Italian regions of Sicily and Molise, dating back to the 19th century. It was abandoned in favor of more standard-processed modern wheat. Enter Silvio Grassi, founder and owner of Molino Grassi, and his vision of creating a grain rich in phosphorus and iron, yet with a gluten that is more digestible, compared with modern wheat gluten now used in most bread, pizza and pastry production.

"People who may have been avoiding food products with gluten in them, may find breads made with Molino Grassi, more agreeable," said Area Manager Giacomo Baldi.

"We don't follow any of the standardized agricultural practices in growing Grano Del Miracolo," said Area Manager for North America and Chef Consultant Giacomo Baldi.
"The grain gets its name from its sheer size and superior quality. It is truly a "miracle grain" as the name implies. Grano del Miracolo is grown without pesticides in the hills surrounding Parma, Italy. Its grown in perfect soil  conditions and then processed by Molino Grassi. This type of grain sharply contrast with other modern varieties of genetically modified wheat, which is commonly used in most bakery products here in the U.S."

Besides the story of the creation of the grain, the story of Molino Grassi is also one of family. The company has grown through three successive generations, to create a continuing cycle of growth, development and innovation that the Grassi's are now willing to share with the world. Their forward-looking innovations and techniques have made Molino Grassi a grain product that improves year after year.

Agricultural diversity is the key to the superiority of Grano Del Miracolo. "We're helping to save the environment and the land, using less invasive farming techniques," Baldi said, "By preserving and rediscovering traditional grain varieties,like Grano del Miracolo that had been lost for years, we're working to improve the environment and provide our customers with a unique experience that provides breads, pizza doughs and even Kosher baked products  that are healthy and taste absolutely fantastic!"

 Master Chef Ezzio Rocchi and his marvelous focaccia bread

 Proscuitto Toscano (DOP) is sliced by hand
 Breads made from Organic Molino Grassi flour
 Area Manager for North America and Chef Consultant Giacomo Baldi leads an informal tasting session at Urban Homes design studios in Chelsea, New York City

Below: Mionetto Prosecco DOC

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wine of the Week-BDP (Baglio di Planetto) Nero D'Avola 2012-$14

Wine reviewed by Dwight Casimere
Sicilian vineyard photos by Dwight Casimere

Baglio di Planetto 2012 Nero D'Avola ($14), is a wine that speaks to the history and culture of  Sicily. A unique island paradise in the middle of the Mediterranean and Italy's most southern outreach, it is a world unto itself, with a winemaking tradition that predates the arrival of the greeks in 750 B.C.  For years, Sicily was known as a producer of fortified Marsala and inexpensive bulk wines. Enter the 1990s and a new breed of forward-thinking winemakers who started a Sicilian Renaissance in winemaking. 

 Count Paolo Marzotto moved to the rustic hills and valleys of Sicily, forgoing the financial and familial comfort zone of the Veneto to undertake a new winemaking venture. Armed with a firm desire to create a "Sicilian Chateau" wine which retained the character of the island's indigenous grapes, he used  used winemaking techniques that combined tradition with forward-thinking ideas. Chief among them was developing protocols to preserve the environment while protecting the grapes and the integrity of the wine. The result was a product that rivals anything in the premium wine cellars of Europe, yet, it is uniquely Sicilian.

Nero D'Avola i the poster child for indigenous grapes. Often compared to Syrah, it has a unique capability to display a ripe, dark fruit character while maintaining a nice balance of acidity that makes it a delightful accompaniment to Sicily's local cuisine of tuna, swordfish, fresh herbs, capers, couscous, olives and eggplant.  It is truly a wine that goes best with the "Mediterranean Diet." There's a marvelous dish of stewed eggplant, onions and olives called Caponata, that just cries for this wine. 

Google it. I'm sure you'll find a terrific authentic recipe. Every place I had it in Sicily was different, yet its ubiquitous throughout the region. You can't go anywhere and not have it served. It sort of like gumbo in my family's native New Orleans. Everyone makes it, but no two are exactly the same. 
BDP Nero D'Avola 2012 is a wine with a fresh, fruity taste that is destined to be paired with food. It is rich with the flavors of jammy dark fruit and a hint of freshly  baked blackberry pie. The longer it stays in the glass or breathes in the bottle, the better it tastes. Nero D'Avola is a hardy, local grape. Handled properly, especially if it is fermented in temperature-controlled cold vats, it maintains a balanced acidity which is marked by very smooth tannins. In the hands of the Marzottos and their skilled team of winemakers, the resulting  wine is a magic carpet ride. Even though its not a prized vintage wine, it should be treated as such. Try decanting it and serving it in your best Riedel glassware, and you'd be amazed at the flavor results.  There's a lot of palate appeal in this wine. I had it with my own Sicilian version of Pasta Carbonara, in which I substituted a very mild fresh plum tomato sauce for the usual Parmesan cream sauce and added native Sicilian oregano, olive oil and capers that I brought back from the island of Pantelleria. The flavor pairing was stunning! Abbondanza!