Twitter: @jstrelitz

Tips on Hosting a Vertical Tasting

Last night we went through a flight of Cabernet Sauvignon from Joseph Phelps (known for the steakhouse sweetheart Insignia) with a mix of wine wonks and neophytes at my first-ever home vertical tasting. Everyone had a great time because we had useful information that sparked good discussion and the star of the night -- the wine -- was well curated and cared for by our generous hosts.

A few tips on how to make a home vertical tasting a success:

  • Keep it small: We had 6 people tasting four vintages. It was plenty of wine per person without requiring more than one bottle per growing year, and four wines spread out over 2+ hours of tasting and noshing allowed for tasters to differentiate between the vintages without muddying the flavors.
  • Decanting & Serving: If you don't have enough decanters, consider using an aerator. Red wines should be opened in advance of the start of the night to 1) give them some time to open and 2) check to see if they are still good. Try to find proper stemware for the wine; we didnt have balloon glasses for all of the vintages, but the ones we did have were smartly saved for the oldest bottle.
  • Order: We tasted an '01, '03, '04 & '05. Our hosts reached out to the vineyard in advance and their experts suggested we taste from youngest to oldest. My thoughts -- that way you don't get spoiled early, but it also allows tasters to see the progression of aging and its impact on the bottled product. 
  • Notes: The four stages of wine tasting are Look, Smell, Taste, Finish. I add a fifth: Talk. Discuss what you are drinking and have paper and pens nearby to take notes. Your memory will get foggy and you'll want to have something to giggle about later when you try to decipher your scribbles about the fourth glass.
  • Inform: Our hosts distributed tasting notes on each vintage a few days before the dinner. While tasting, we noted the flavor profiles and checked to see if our observations matched with the vintner's expertise.
  • Snacks: My favorite part! Everyone contributed food, including traditional pairings like grilled steak and fresh chimichurri, tagliatelle with truffles and goat/cow/sheep cheeses -- I am officially in love with truffle salt, olive oil and goat cheese, for the record. Food gives everyone a chance to contribute to the fun and experiment with pairings (bacon-deviled eggs and sparkling wine -- try it!) and a potluck format takes some of the planning weight off of the hosts.

Special Menu Planning For a M/F Non-Cook But Let's Be Honest, M

I have a friend who contacts me twice a year about helping him plan a special (but not super expensive) meal for his lovely wife, also known as asking "Please Tell Me Exactly How to Do This So I Get Laid & Don't Burn the House Down."

First up, Valentine's Day -- a made-up holiday for which restaurants often develop exotic menus and then (usually) charge twice the price.

It's also a night when I avoid going out to eat. There are so many tasties to make at home, often with the one you love by your side, or at least pouring you wine. And it's that much easier to get naked in your own kitchen. 

Note: Do not try to get naked in a restaurant on Valentine's Day to prove me wrong. But if you do, tell me what happens.

This is the VTD menu I developed this year and actual e-mail I sent today, using simple recipes (he specifically requested steak) that I found online and adding my own notes for the home cook who needs a little direction  ... or a lot:

If having an appetizer and a side are too much, drop the appetizer. I have tips for each recipe, but the recipes themselves are easy to follow. Let me know if you have any questions and leave yourself a few hours to cook. The bruschetta topping can be made ahead, as can the potatoes & dessert if you want more time with the steak.

Bruschetta. Minimal cooking needed. You get to use balsamic in 2 recipes, which ties it all together. Spring for the hot house tomatoes, it's winter and they will have better flavor. Fresh herbs should be available at the grocery.

Ribeye with arugula. A great combination because the greens cut the fat in the steak. Get good balsamic -- at least $10 bottle. It makes a huge difference. The only tweak I'd make to this recipe is you should get a bigger steak or 2 medium-sized steaks. Rib eyes have a decent amount of fat, so also ask that they be trimmed.

Potatoes with carmelized onion and goat cheese. Note: Be careful not to burn the onions. If you do, just throw them out and have potatoes with goat cheese. It's excellent and easy.

Chocolate-coffee cups.  This is basically a rich pudding. You will need small white baking cups called ramekins, and you should be able to find them in a cooking store, such as Crate and Barrel or Williams Sonoma, if you don't already have them. They are useful.  If you cannot find them, use the smallest bowls you have. This recipes makes enough for 4, so just double your pour! Get good chocolate such as Valrhona or Ghiradelhi, which you should be able to get at the grocery store with no problem.

I wish I was there to give you some of mine! Cab Sauvignon is the go-to wine for ribeye, but it can be so expensive. This is what you should consider picking up, all relatively inexpensive:
Côtes du Rhone -- you can find a good one for around $15. Look for a Clos du Mont Olivet Montueil la Levade, Delas Saint-Esprit or Michel Gassier Cercius.
Syrah/Shiraz -- Look for Stump Jump, Smoking Loon, J. Lohr or Jacob's Creek Reserve. You should be able to get a bottle for under $15.


Food Porn: Lobster

People often ask me about my favorite foods, and I have a lot of them. But one edible that I rarely cite is lobster. Now, you know that I adore the crustacean and its glorious insides. I am the first to tout its virtues as a protein, and encourage folks to wait in line for an hour in the summer sun to get a roll at Red's Eats in Wiscasset.

But kids who grow up along the Maine coast are spoiled. Half of our friends (or someone in their immediate family) haul traps for a living.  We learn how to determine their sex (that's male or female, you pervs) in high school bio class.  Our McDonalds locations are among the few in the nation that carry McLobster, and they aren't half bad. 

I am the person who asks what the market price for lobster is, just to grumble when the waitron is out of earshot --"$50? Are you kidding me?" Hell, my father has his own pot colors in Cundy's Harbor, and we can haul traps in our backyard. And very often -- if you are outside of New England, it likely isn't Maine lobster anyway, so what's the point?

My name is Jessica and I am a lobster snob.

Deep breaths. All of this makes me even more proud to announce that this fall I tried, and devoured, a food-orgasm worthy lobster dish that I can now proudly call one my favorite ever small plates: the truffled lobster "mac and cheese" from five fifty-five in Portland, Maine. Torchio pasta, butter-poached lobster and shaved black truffle. Seafood and cheesy  pasta? Not a sin! Nutty, creamy and unctuous. At a table of 14 women, who only two hours beforehand had eaten a three-course meal at my wedding shower, we had four orders and everyone was moaning for more. 

I feel better. Now, if only they delivered to Virginia.


80 whiskeys at the bar...

Went to a media-preview at Irish Whiskey Public House in Dupont last week -- aka the 3-story bar that took over the former Porter's spot.

This is not a shooter bar -- several whiskeys on the menu will set you back $20+ a glass. Makes me wonder how much they spent on that case full of Chris Cooley pottery on the third floor.

The menu, design by Sean McIntosh (Kinkeads, Dean and Deluca) is unlike any Irish pub in the region -- with dishes such as seared hailibut with roasted, woody Chanterelles and (amazing) gnocchi-like potato puffs, corned beef & cabbage spring rolls a $50+ lobster and filet 'surf and turf' option. The gougeres went so fast during the media preview that the chef had to yank them from the opening menu. They require a special tapioca flour that must be special ordered, but they should make it way back onto the menu by mid-January.

An off-menu whiskey worth considering on a VIP night: Tullamore Special Reserve (Private Stock. Bottled in the '40s): $300 per glass. The owners claim it may be one of the last bottles left in the world, from the original Tullamore Irish Whiskey Distillery in County Offaly. Try it while you can. And tell me how it tastes.


The beauty of Pinterest

I started using the design social networking site Pinterest when I was working on greeting card ideas with my partner Doreen Marts. Then, I started using it to get inspiration for my Fall 2011 wedding.  Now, I've happily discovered, it's not only a source of inspiration for food and drinks, but a great way to promote my most recent work. Someone posted a photo I took for my NPR story on healthy cocktails, and before it was brought to my attention, it had already been repinned 1,500 times -- it's now up to more than 2,000 repins, and more than 320 likes -- all from strangers.

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