Saturday, February 27, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
by Dwight Casimere
Fontainebleau Miami Beach was the setting for Wine Spectator’s Best of the Best. Sponsored by Bank of America, it was the premiere gourmet event, which officially opened the 2010 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
After a day that included the Wine Spectator Trade Tasting at the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village in the tents constructed on Miami Beach and a spectacular private luncheon at Quattro Ristorante featuring Pio Boffa of the legendary Pio Cesare wine family of Piemonte Italy.
It was an evening of legendary gastronomy with winemakers and chefs from across the United States and the important wine producing regions of the globe converging in a single place. There were nearly three thousand people in attendance for what many are calling the “Super Bowl” of wine and food.
Bill Kim of Chicago’s Urban Belly laid bare his Korean soul with his Kim Chi soup prepared with fresh Asian herbs and spices.
Fontainebleau Miami Beach’s Kivane Kaymak, pastry chef at Hakkasan, nearly stole the show with his tasty dessert composition. “I’m serving coconut sorbet with a side of coulis and coconut crumble. I’m from Turkey, so I’m used to combining flavors that are both tropical and Asian and a bit Mediterranean to create a different set of flavors. It seemed perfect for the Best of the Best!” I first met Kim when he was Chef de Cuisine at Le Lan in Chicago. At the time, he was just incubating the idea of Urban Belly, in which he expressed his desire to present the home cooked flavors and textures of the food he grew up with in Seoul. Its nice to see him hitting the big leagues at SoBe Food & Wine Festival!
Wen Sian Tan, Chef de Cuisine at Hakkasan created a sensation with his crispy duck salad. The deceptively simple dish revealed a depth of flavor and complexity of texture that caused samplers to linger at his table to discuss preparation methods of this unique dish. The dish belied his experience in restaurants across Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing. It also betrayed the elegance he cultivated during his tenure with The Four Seasons. Kanpei!
Kaymak said his experiences as a restaurant chef helped shape his choice as a special preparation for the evening, “I’ve worked with Emeril for the past six years and I was in New Orleans for 9 years, so that brings a lot of experience with exotic flavors and spices to the forefront. This dish is pretty straightforward with the flavors of coconut and tropical fruit, passion fruit and coconut crumble for texture and a bit of chocolate liquor just for texture and a little depth of flavor. Everybody’s lovin’ it!”
Michael Parollo with Scarpetto Miami was having a ball preparing one of the most popular and delectable dishes of the evening. “Creamy polenta with truffled mushrooms. It’s the signature dish of chef Scott Conant of Scarpetta at Fountainbleau, Miami Beach. It’s all from northern Italy with the roundness of the polenta and the truffles with the fricassee and the Fontina cheese. It makes for a brilliant taste combination that really goes well with the variety of wines being served here.”
It was terrific to run into an old friend from last year’s Aspen Wine & Food Classic, the granddaddy of all food and wine events, Ryan Hardy from Montagna at The Little Nell. His restaurant is a virtual Mecca of handcrafted cuisine.
Stephan Pyles of his namesake restaurant in Houston, Texas took comfort food to a higher level with his Oxtail tamales. “I wrote a book on tamales. One of my four books is strictly on tamales. So I try to do interesting things with them and oxtails are the new short ribs. They’re the ultimate comfort food. Something maybe your grandmother used to make, but nobody likes to talk about it. Now they’ve come out of the kitchen and into the forefront of restaurant cuisine and they make a really great tamale dish Here, I’ve done it in a kind of downscale ‘surf n’ turf’ variation with Hake, which is a Gulf Coast white fish, similar to Sea Bass that has a lot of flavor and firm texture. It really goes well with the fatty texture of the oxtail. I spent a lot of time in Spain where they also eat a lot of Hake. So I smoked it lightly and combined it with the oxtail in a tamale for a really unctuous kind of eating experience.”
No meal is complete without a touch of chocolate at the end. So it was back to another old friend from Chicago, Mindy Segal of Mindy’s Hot Chocolate who presented two delicious hot chocolate ‘shakes’ made with dark and milk chocolate respectively. I remember Mindy from her days as pastry chef at MK and Charlie Trotter’s. Just one sip and you can see why she won numerous awards in her hometown, including the Jean Blanchet Award for Best Celebrity Pastry Chef and Chicago Magazine’s Pastry Chef of the Year. Her latest solo venture, HotChocolate Restaurant and Dessert Bar is a culmination of her 20 years of creativity and passion.
I left the Best of the Best with a couple of bottles of VOSS premium water from Norway under my arm. I gave one of them to my cab driver as he dropped me off at my apartment on Indian Creek Drive, not far from the Fontainebleau. “This is really a touch of class,” he said as he looked at the bottle. That’s about the best way to describe the entire evening.
Celebrity Chef Todd English “got the party started” at the Patron Tequila/MIAMI Magazine opening night After Party to kick off the 2010 Food Network South Beach Food & Wine Festival at the chic W Hotel. With chef’s stations and Tequila bars set up around the massive outdoor pool facing the white-sand beach, local celebrity chefs whipped up their best to pair with imaginative cocktails made with Patron Tequila by some of South Beach’s best mixologists.
Executive Chef Frank Jeannetti Essensia restaurant at The Palms Hotel and Spa Miami Beach weighed in with an elaborate dish. I’ll let him describe: “Chili spiced tuna tartar with avocado…wasabi tobiko accompanied by tuna carpaccio with a lemon truffle vinaigrette cucumbers, lotus root chips and chive oil…something simple!”
Chad Ford of DeVito’s South Beach, the famous actor’s popular Northern Italian eatery, was putting on quite a show. He and his staff were sautéing up a storm! The flames were illuminating the night sky poolside as they cooked up some killer homemade gnocchi in a delicious hand ground pesto sauce.
Jonathan Wright and his staff from the Setai, South Beach garnered one of the longest lines, with their Sous Chef making handmade pulled Buffalo Mozzarella to go into a composed dish of fresh plum tomatoes, arugula, sliced Prosciutto, olive oil, sea salt an fresh ground peppercorns; just the thing for a refreshing Patron mojito over crushed ice!
The battle was on at Marco Ferraro’s station at Wish, Miami Beach between Prosciutto and Serrano ham served on a crustini of fresh bread with garlic, olive oil and machengo and Parmesan cheeses.
A pair of Patron disco dancers writhed to the pulsating beat of the music that provided the backdrop for the nation’s top chefs, sponsors and restaurateurs who flew in for the weekend to attend the nation’s biggest gastronomic bash on the beach.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
by Dwight Casimere
Photos of 2009 Rachel Ray Soundcheck at the Hotel Victor by Dwight Casimere
“Best of the Best” is but one of the events highlighting the 2010 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami, but the phrase also adequately describes the event in its entirety.
With French Ambassador to the United States, the Honorable Pierre Vimont, presiding over a special celebration of the Champagne Region of France and the Cuisine of France in 2010, he will also cut the ribbon opening the festival at the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village where the likes of Rachel Ray, Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, Guy Fieri and other Food Network star chefs will hold court before thousands in a series of cooking demonstrations and Culinary and Lifestyle Seminars.
“For a foodie,” this is the next best thing to Super Bowl,” said one of the festival’s organizers at the headquarters suite at the Loews Miami Beach.
“This year’s festival is bigger and better than ever.” Besides the star power of the Food Network galaxy of celebrity chefs, the Festival has also added an element of social responsibility. The Festival and Southern Wine & Spirits have created an additional dinner event to benefit Haiti. World renowned chef Daniel Boulud and Food Network’s Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto will join South Florida favorite Kris Wessel (Red Light Little River, Miami) at the popular Tap Tap Haitian restaurant, South Beach, to create a one-of-a-kind menu for a limited number of guests. All proceeds will benefit Partners in Health.
“Social responsibility plays and integral role at Southern Wine & Spirits of America and at the Festival itself,” said Lee Schrager, Vice President of Corporate Communications & National Events at Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Inc. and Founder and Director of the Festival.
The most anticipated is the leadoff event, Amstel Light Burger Bash hosted by Rachel Ray and presented by Allen Brothers at the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. The sold out event will feature 27 hamburgers prepared by a culinary team of 120 representing 10 states in a 25,000 square foot tent. Rachel Ray will crown the winning team for the best burger. Over 7,500 lbs of 10 different varieties of ground meat will be used to make up to 48,000 hamburgers. 1.5 TONS of Idaho potatoes will be served as fries to accompany them and 125 thousand gallons of Heinz ketchup and mustard will be consumed along with 7,000 servings of Amstel Light Beer
On the other end of the spectrum, the Festival is pleased to honor one of the most celebrated French culinary icons in the United States, Chef Daniel Boulud of Lyon, France who will be honored at the 2010 Tribute Dinner. The celebration will take place at the Festival host hotel, Loews Miami Beach. Food & Wine’s Gail Simmons, once the special events manager for Chef Boulud’s restaurant empire will host the special tribute. As the French would say, “Bon Appetit!”
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
by Dwight Casimere
A Western Union telegram dated May 26, 1976 changed the history of American winemaking forever. It read: Bordeaux 5/26/76 AM 1:46
“Stunning success in Paris tasting on May 24 STOP Took first place over 9 others with Le Premiere Cru wine STOP Top names in France were the blind taters STOP TIME Magazine to do article Congrats to Everyone Jim Barrett “
That simply worded telegram shook the very foundation of the wine world and changed the face of the California wine industry. What had been the private cache of a select group of eccentric ‘gentleman farmers’ in a remote corner of the world north of San Francisco Bay called the Napa Valley was suddenly thrust onto the world stage. The rest, as they say, is history. I was standing inside the stonewalls of Chateau Montelena on Tubbs Lane in the northern reaches of the Napa Valley in the town of Calistoga. It’s a remote setting, complete with an imposing nearly hundred thirty-year-old castle, a pair of placid lakes complete with Chinese pagodas, charming footbridges and a resident swan.
The event was the basis for the 2008 movie Bottle Shock and the book “Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine” by George M. Taber (Scribner, 2005). The other winners that year were Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars ’72 Cabernet, Chalone ’74 Chardonnay from Monterey county and Spring Mountain Chardonnay ‘73, also from Napa Valley.
“ The winery was built by Alfred Tubbs in 1882, which was a California Senator and wealthy businessman who had traveled extensively to France” explained by Josh Luhn, tasting room manager at the winery. “The actually winery was on a hill behind us and the juice was gravity fed to the building here for barreling and maturation. The second owners then converted the building to a residence, the Wing family, who fled China to come to the United States at the onslaught of World War II. The only thing that’s original in the building, as it’s currently constituted is the stonewalls and the tunnels. Jim and Bo Barrett bought it in 1972 with the idea of making premium Bordeaux-style wine in the Napa Valley.”
Apparently Barrett and his team had gotten it right the first time around!
My tasting experience in the Wine Library tucked away inside one of the tunnels of the stone castle was a revelation. 2005 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($55) was exceptionally brilliant with a bright gold color and a fragrant fruit cornucopia of a nose. There’s only a slight hint of toast from French oak. The rest of the palate is all pears, citrus and white flowers. “The beauty of this wine is that it will change character after ten years and start to reveal something all together different that is closer to the type of layered palate you’d find more in a French wine. You’ll never experience that heavy buttery taste people associate with California Chardonnays with our wines because that breaks down so quickly with aging,” Luhn emphasized.
2003 Napa Valley Cabernet (also $55) was another testament to the art of great wine making and exemplary of the Bordeaux style the winery is famous four. Plums and black currant literally jump out of the glass as soon as it is poured. A round, full flavor with very soft tannins caresses the middle of your tongue and then slides down the back of the throat with a hint of pepper and cassis. I’d love to have this one with prime steak au poivre but sometimes, when a wine is this complex, a bit of Mobier cheese, and a warm fire will make for a cozy accompaniment!
Being a wine writer does have its privileges and one of them is an opportunity to taste Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($135, the bottle). “This was the product of a great growing season with good weather and just the right balance of sun, rain and cool breezes coming across the mountains,” Luhn said. The wine has an opaque density of bright ruby red color and aromas of black cherry and boysenberry jam. “This is where you get to experience the impact of terroir,” Luhn explained. “Our unique soil blend really comes through and gives the wine a strong profile of tannin and that long, desirable finish of layered spice, oak, cherries and mint.”
Potter Valley Riesling 2005 ($25) was the dessert course. It was all honeysuckle and peach cobbler with just a hint of cinnamon and vanilla. “Our chef makes a mean peach cobbler flavored with this one. You can also just pour it over strawberry shortcake or peach melba for a real decadent treat!”
All of Chateau Montelena’s wines are on strict allocation, so I joined their wine futures club to ensure a steady supply of this liquid gold. You might want to do the same at www.montelena.com.
by Dwight Casimere
“It’s a Family Affair!” The opening line of the 1971 hit Sly& the Family Stone song “Family Affair” for Epic Records is the appropriate description of ZD winery.
A pioneer in the Carneros winemaking district, which straddles both Napa and Sonoma counties, the winery is the legacy of the late Norman deLeuze to his family, which is still involved in hands-on operation of the winery.
“Zero Deviation” is the phrase that graces the side of a commemorative glass. The words speak to the origins of the winery, which was the brainchild of deLeuze, who was an aerospace engineer, by trade.
An intimate luncheon for special guests and the media featured a sneak preview of the winery’s auction lot of Petit Abacus, to be presented at Premiere Napa the following day. The luncheon was hosted by Norman’s widow, Rosa Lee, and presided over by winemaker Chris Pisani.
In the garden room setting of Go Fish restaurant’s airy private dining room off St. Helena Highway with the lush mountains and vineyards of the Napa Valley visible outside its picture windows, attendees dined on assorted sushi, lobster rolls and fresh local oysters and scallops while drinking ZD’s Gold Medal-winning vintage Chardonnay, which has graced White House dining tables for the last three decades.
One neat touch, the activity preceding the appetizers was a little wine ‘quiz’, which I later learned is a parlor game played by many at informal gatherings in the Napa Valley. Guests were poured a blind tasting of wines produced by the winery and asked to identify their year of vinification. I, of course, missed them all, but there was lively discussion and banter from the family members and guests familiar with the wines about their various properties and telltale characteristics. It was a lively exchange and very revealing. It really gave an insight into the character of the people who create the wines we love and the psychological sparks that keep their creative juices flowing.
Besides pioneering the Carneros designation, the winery is also one of the trailblazers of organic farming practices dating back to the 1980s. ZD’s Estate Vineyard and deLueze Family Vineyard have been Certified Organic since 1999.
“Our basic philosophy is that we be ecologically sound in everything that we do. We not only wanted to do things better than our previous generations, but we wanted to do things that were smart. What we learned that organic practices are not only beneficial to the ecological, but they’re also smart business practices.
“What you have in your glass are the 2007 Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir and the 2008 40th Anniversary Pinot Noir, both from Carneros. These are both Certifiably Organically grown Pinot Noirs. I’ll let their qualities speak for themselves. They also say a lot about the importance of organic farming as the starting point for great winemaking.
“We’re not only farming organically, but we’re also using solar power. So much so, in fact, we’ve even starting to get credits from it.”
Matriarch Rosa Lee deLeuze was quick to point out that not all of the credit for the success of ZD’s organic practices belongs to the younger generation. “We actually started the organic farming with my Norman, so the project was well underway before the younger generation took charge!”
“This is the identical wine (Founder’s Reserve), that was the Reserve Pinot Noir, which is now no longer, ” said ZD Wines Robert deLeuze, son of the Founder. “This wine is in honor of our dad who loved organic farming and who was a huge believer in what it was all about. He was also a lover of Pinot Noir. So this is in honor of him and his passion for the wine industry and what’s in that bottle.”
Sunday, February 21, 2010
by Dwight Casimere
“Here. Hold these!” Mark Pope, a former pharmaceutical company executive who is now founder and chief executive of the Bounty Hunter, a Napa, California wine shop that specializes in rare and cult wines, shoved a pair of bottles of Beringer Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain to Valley into my lap. Each was worth about a thousand dollars. He had just won them at auction at Premiere Napa Valley 2010, the Napa Valley Vintner’s Invitational Barrel Auction for the Wine Trade, held at the massive cathedral-like Greystone, The Culinary Institute of America, formerly occupied by Christian Brothers Winery. He was on his way to bid on another prime lot of Napa Valley Wine, Shafer Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Stag’s Leap District that eventually went to another bidder for a staggering $42,000.
All of the money raised at Premiere Napa goes to benefit the ongoing educational and marketing programs of the Napa Valley Vintner’s Association and its various charities and outreach programs.
That was just the tip of the iceberg in a single afternoon that would bring hundreds of thousands of dollars in bids from wine retailers, restaurant owners, hotel and resort operators and high-roller wine collectors who came from around the planet to bid on what some connoisseurs believe are the best wines in the world.
“Napa Valley has a unique position in the world,” said Jac Cole, winemaker at Spring Mountain Winery, best known for being used as the façade for the mythical Falcon Crest in the hit CBS-TV soap opera series of the 1980’s.
“I just came back from Bordeaux, where the wines are of a completely distinctive flavor profile. French wines are distinguished by the soil. It can’t be duplicated anywhere in the world. That mineral and limestone flavor that is imparted to the wines can’t be duplicated anywhere in the world. There’s one thing that Napa Valley has that no one else in the world has, a unique blend of intense fruit, a mixture of soils in a very defined area and a combination of cool breezes from the ocean and short, hot bursts in the valley. It makes for a bright, intense fruit profile that we really need to do a better job of promoting. You realize that there are so few places on the planet that have that unique combination of factors that produce great wine, and we’re one of them in Napa Valley. That’s what makes Napa special and why people are coming here to this auction.”
A visit to nearby Duckhorn vineyards, which specializes in Cabernet and Merlot blends, proved why their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Three Palms Vineyard brought a commanding $32,000 at auction, sparking some of the most competitive bidding of the afternoon. Mark Pope of Bounty Hunter won the lot.
“We pride ourselves on being specialists in making great Cabernet and great Merlot. We have a number of collectors who have followed us over the years and are very loyal to our brand and we’re very grateful to people like Mark Pope who have remained loyal to us over the years and supported us,” said winemaker Bill Nancarrow, a New Zealand transplant who has spearheaded Duckhorn’s expansion into new labels like Paraduxx that is designed to attract a newer generation of wine drinker.
Duckhorn Wine Company is a collection of small winery estates focused on site- specific wines of distinction. Co-founded by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn in 1976, Duckhorn Vineyards has spent a quarter century establishing itself as one of North America's premier producers of Bordeaux varietal wines.
At an open house, held in conjunction with Premiere Napa, Margaret Duckhorn was the life of the party. Drinking a glass of its 1992 Merlot, she reminisced about the early days when the winery was establishing its name. “When we started, we made just 800 case each of Cab and Merlot. We didn’t even have a tasting room. Now, we have this sort of hunting lodge motif that makes it feel warm and homey. We’re amazed at how many people have been loyal to us over the years. Also lately, we’re seeing a lot of younger people coming here to the tasting room who say they remember their parents drinking Duckhorn. Now, its like they’re continuing a family tradition.”
The party was flowing with pourings of the barrel offerings for Premiere and savory bites of marinated shrimp and prime been short rib “sliders” with garlic crinkly ‘fries’.
Next day’s barrel tasting and auction was jammed with collectors and trades people chomping at the bit to bid on Napa Valley’s luscious wines. At one point, the bidding was so hot and heavy it brought the auctioneer down to audience level from behind his lofty podium. It wasn’t long before bidding levels exceeded $50,000, even hitting a stratospheric $72,000 by mid-afternoon. It was getting down and dirty!
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Friday, February 12, 2010
Sunday, February 7, 2010
by Dwight Casimere
“The Italian Wine Masters” swept into Chicago’s Hilton and Towers with more than 150 producers from the most prestigious D.O.C.G. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) wine producing regions in Italy presenting a thousand of their best wines.
The first room was dedicated to Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine made from the Prosecco grape, which is the pride of northern Italy. “This is the first time that there has ever been an entire room dedicated to Prosecco, “said Lamberto Frescobaldi scion of the renowned Marchesi de Frescobaldi house of Florence. “We are presenting our Prosecco IGT Brut II Fresco and our DOC Extra Dry Claxa Prosecco as well as our Extra Dry GR 11% Danzante for the first time in the United States.” The sparkling wines were all different, ranging from a classically bone-dry sparkler, which would rival anything from Champagne, to the Danzante, which had a slightly sweet taste. It was a perfect dessert accompaniment or something that could stand on its own as an aperitif. Bravo Frescobaldi!
Luisa Bortolotto, Planning and Marketing Director of Carpene Malvolti, is the spitting image of the Mona Lisa, the subject of the most famous painting in the world by Leonardo da Vinci, which hangs in the Louvre in Paris.
The history of Carpene Malvolto dates back to the 1860s, when Italian patriot Antonio Carpene founded the winery. A staunch supporter of Garibaldi’s Red Shirts, Carpene was a chemist who had a strong belief in the power of science to change society.
An associate of the great Luis Pasteur, he admired Champagne and was convinced that he could produce sparkling wine of the same distinctive character from the Prosecco grape of the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene zone, D.O.C.
“He was truly a pioneer in the use of the Prosecco grape in creating this type of wine. He became a famous enologist who taught others in the region how to grow this grape and use it to make great sparkling wine. In 1924, he put the first label with the word ‘Prosecco’ on the bottle. Before that, he called this wine Champagne Italiano. Then he was obligated to change the name, because the Champagne area reserved the name. So, he changed, and decided to name this wine ‘Prosecco.” The rest, as they say, is winemaking history!
The sparkling wine is made using the Charmat method, which is, as Bortolotto described, is “a shorter way of making sparkling wine. This is a fresh wine. Very easy to drink. It’s also not too alcoholic, being only 11%. It’s nice to drink before dinner or during lunch. It’s very easy to drink and goes with a variety of foods.”
By the way, as of this year, wineries outside of Italy can no longer use the word ‘Prosecco.’ “ The name of the grape has been officially named to ‘Clara,’ Bortolotto proclaimed. We won’t have any more Prosecco coming from the rest of the world because the official name has changed and noone outside the D.O.C. can use it. So you won’t see Prosecco coming from any place else in the world, beginning this year.”
The illustrious history of Prosecco doesn’t stop there. There’s a strong connection to the great American writer Ernest Hemingway, who lived and worked in Rome as a war correspondent for the International Herald. A frequent habitué of Harry’s, the famed bar on the Via Veneto in Rome. It’s where the famous Bellini drink was created, a concoction of equal parts Prosecco and the juice of a freshly squeezed white peach.
Steve Lombardo of Blue Star International Imports, the Chicago-based importer that brings Carpene Malvolti into the country, tells the story. “ The Bellini was created in Harry’s Bar by Sr. Cipriani while he and Sr. Carpene were drinking in the bar late one night. It was after 3 in the morning and they were trying to come up with a new drink so Sr. Carpene simply grabbed one of the peaches that was in fruit basket on the bar, squeezed it into a glass with his bare hands and topped it off with some of the Carpene Malvolti Prosecco and, Voila!, the Bellini was born!” The story has become legend. Hemingway mentions it in one of his articles in the Herald, so, there must be some truth to the legend.”