Recapping (and recouping) from Tales

While there is plenty more coverage to come I thought I’d just share a quick update with you all that I have returned to Connecticut after a fantastic trip to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail. Needless to say, my liver has been a bit “overworked” and my arteries are clogged with fried deliciousness. I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

So here’s the quick rundown. I went to New Orleans and, instead of a lousy t-shirt, I came back with:

  • My own copy of Jill DeGroff’s book, “Lush Life: Portraits from the Bar”
  • Not one, but two hats, acquired from the Beefeater Welcome Reception and Ricard Midnight Petanque, respectively. Sadly, I traveled by but did not enter Meyer’s hat shop on St. Charles, much to RumDood’s disappointment (I was on the streetcar at the time…)
  • A beautiful glass bottle etched by hand that at one point contained Mandarine Napoleón XO, a product that is not currently available in the states
  • Visions of chartreuse swizzles a la Mixo House
  • And expanded knowledge on a wide range of subjects, from discussing emerging social media practices to exploring the sense of Umami
  • A plethora of business cards from all the new acquaintances I met and cannot wait to keep in touch with

I look forward to sharing more with you as I recap and detox from this wonderful five-day adventure. But in the interim, I would love to hear from you 1) your favorite memories from Tales and 2) the best thing (swag, spirit, bitters, tchatchkes) you managed to sneak back home in your suitcase.


Countdown 'til Tales

New England’s recent sweltering heat wave (complete with humidity that this desert gal is not quite experienced in dealing with) was certainly great preparation for my upcoming descent upon New Orleans, the unofficially official birthplace of the cocktail. The occasion is Tales of the Cocktail, the spirits industry's premier event for bartenders, bloggers, liquor reps, and brand ambassadors, and enthusiasts, among others to gather and celebrate the culture of the cocktail community.

There is still much more to learn upon my arrival from those veterans who have attended Tales before and – more importantly – survived. I’m slightly afraid for the safety of my liver, but as they say: When in NOLA, do as the N’awlins do or, rather, drink as the N'awlins drink. Selena of The Dizzy Fizz did a great write-up of tips from the pros that have conquered this event before, so give it a read. If you have more tips and suggestions, please get in touch!

Anyways, since I can’t imagine any of you would be interested here in tracking my every move at Tales (plus, that’s what Twitter is around for. No stalkers, please.), here’s what I’m most looking forward to during my NOLA adventures. In no particular order:

  • The Beefeater Welcome Reception for a truly exciting Tales kickoff filled with Beefeater gin cocktails! It’s Wednesday evening at the Contemporary Arts Center , which looks to be a beautiful facility. I’ll be taking off from the CAC to the Elms Mansion for A Promenade of Jubilation, presented by William Grant & Sons
  • Breakfast at THE breakfast establishment, Brennan’s. Oh Banana’s Foster, here I come!
  • Celebrating the spirit of Le Paris at a Spirited Luncheon at Antoine’s. I’ll be there to celebrate French food and, of course, cocktails. I’m excited to for the delicious Mandarine Sour cocktail, featuring Mandarine Napoleon, brandy, lemon juice, Angostura, & eggwhite.
  • And then there’s the Tales Spirited Dinner series. We’re off to Le Meritage to enjoy a great meal with cocktails prepared by Jeffery and Jonathan Pogash.
  • You’ll probably catch me bright and early most mornings grabbing a complimentary cup (or two) of Joe at the Kahlúa Coffee Bar, along with a Kahlúa-inspired cocktail from Kaiser Penguin called “Black Paloma”.
  • Beignets and Po’boys
  • Catching some live music. The Tales After Dark series at Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse has me intrigued, particularly the Brazilian-influenced Chegado.
  • Wednesday is also Steve Raye’s birthday so I’m sure we’ll be hoisting a few glasses to his youth. ;) Join up and celebrate with us!
See you in NOLA!


WSET Advanced Bordeaux and Southern France Class a.k.a. the Perfect Way to Celelbrate Bastille Day

In honor of Bastille Day (or perhaps because it just happened to fall on the same day) we tasted six wines of Bordeaux including a white Bordeaux, a generic Bordeaux, a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, a Cahors, a Haut-Medoc and a Sauternes. Whoo - did I ever need a piece of bread after that one!

So this is the fourth section of the class - for a little background, I'm doing the WSET Advanced home study since there aren't any classes less than three hours away from me and my test is coming up on Sept. 4th in NYC (only seven weeks away!)

Anyway, I learned that hard way that none of my coworkers (including my boss!) are actually interested in discussing what makes the wine what it is - but they are sure interested in drinking it... so I was on my own for the tasting.

Here's a little on what I learned about Bordeaux (OK, some of it I already knew, but it doesn't hurt to reinforce):

There are actually 14 grapes permitted for use in Bordeaux, but in practice only 8 are used (5 in red- Cab. Sauv., Cab. Franc, Merlot, Malbec & Petite Verdot, 3 in white- Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc & Muscadelle) The only grape that is largely used for single varietal wines is Sauvignon Blanc, the rests are generally blends.

Unlike Burgundy, Bordeaux is not known by a plot of land, but rather by chateau - though the size of a chateau may vary from year to year. Despite this fact, no single chateau can receive AC status. This is determined by geographical location, type of grapes grown, yield, etc. AC status is then divided into three categories: Generic (i.e. Bordeaux & Bordeaux Superieuer); District (i.e. Entre-deux-mers, Haut-Medoc); Commune (i.e. Saint-Emilion Grand Cru AC.)

Bordeaux's vineyards are densely planted and the vines are trained along low wires to benefit from the heat the ground absorbs. Bordeaux generally sees long hours of sunshine and high humidity due to its proximity to water. Along the river lies alluvial soils where the lowest appellation wines are generally grown. Fine wines are grown in the well draining gravel soils further from the rivers except Saint-Emilion which is limestone based.

Bordeaux is divided into three sections by the Dordogne and Garonne rivers: the Left Bank (Medoc, Haut-Medoc & Graves) the Right Bank (Saint-Emilion and Pomerol) and the area between the rivers (Entre-Deux-Mers & Premiere Cotes de Bordeaux.) Notably, within the left bank lay the AC communes Saint-Estephe, Paullic, Margaux, Barsac, Sauternes and Saint-Julien; within the area between the two rivers lies the commune Saint-Croix-du-Mont; and within the right bank lay the communes Saint-Emilion, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Saint Emilion's satellites (9), Pomerol and Fronsac/Canon-Fronsac.

Bordeaux original classification was done in 1855 and included the regions of Medoc and Sauternes with the exception of Chateau Haut-Brion, the only first growth to come from Graves. This classification categorized select chateau in categories of growths 1-5, to this day there are only five first growths: Chateau Lafite, Chateau Latour, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Margaux. Sauternes was divided into three categories including first and second growths and one Premier Grand Cru Classes, Chateau d'Yquem.

Since 1855 Graves and Saint-Emilion have developed their own classification systems and additional chateaus are classified under garage wines (small production, concentrated wines) and Cru Bougeois.

I could go in to more detail, but they may be enough for today's mini Bordeaux lesson!

As for the wines we tasted, the white Bordeaux and the Sauternes were past their prime, the generic Bordeaux was, just that, generic, the Cahors promised much in the nose, but was missing structure mid-palate (a shame as it was a 2005!), the Haut-Medoc was good, definitely needed food but showed lots of black currant and structure that demonstrated what Cabernet Sauvignon was intended to be and the Saint-Emilion Grand Cru... that was an excellent bottle of wine. If you want the exact tasting notes, I'll be happy to send them!

Until next time... cheers!



Let's Clean the Gulf - Cocktail Style!

With Tales of the Cocktail fast approaching, I've found as a first-timer that it is easy to get lost in the lust of cocktail parties, seminars, and all-around absorption of all things inspiring of New Orleans. But, I think it's important to keep in mind, heading into this years Tales, the recent devastation of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and how individual's livelihoods have been affected as a result. According to a recent Tales e-newsletter:

In an effort to support a seafood industry that plays such a large role in the culinary traditions of New Orleans, The New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society will be selling a limited edition bar towel during Tales of the Cocktail. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of this bar towel will go directly to oyster shuckers who have recently been laid off due to the oil spill in the Gulf...A Limited edition bar towel will be sold at Tales of the Cocktail, benefiting oyster shuckers affected by the Gulf oil spill.

TLC linen services has donated the towels featuring the creative and inspiring logo posted above. These limited edition towels will be available on-site at the Tales of the Cocktail Gift Shop (Royal Rooms A & B) from July 21-25. The towels will be sold on a donation basis; a minimum donation of $5.00 per towel is requested.


Press Trip to Santorini

As the resident wine gal for the Brand Action Team I get a LOT of travel perks. Despite our remote location in Avon, CT I quite often find myself in major US cities for events and tastings and, oh right, in Europe.

Most recently, I've returned from a press trip to Santorini, Greece, which just so happens to be one of my favorite places in the world.

We had a fantastic group! Joe and Amy Corron Power of Another Wine Blog, Joe Roberts of 1 Wine Dude, Elin McCoy of Bloomberg News, among other publications, were the stars of this trip, each eager to learn about Santorini's unique terroir and flagship grape, Assyrtiko.

We returned this past Saturday, all about five pounds heavier (from all of the food) and with a solid appreciation of the wine culture of Santorini.

Here's a little about Santorini you may not know:

Santorini's soil consists of basault due to a volcanic eruption in 1600 B.C. As a result, it has no clay and imparts unique salient and mineral influence due to the close proximity to the sea. Because there is no clay in the soil Santorini is immune to Phylloxera thus requiring no grafting of the vines and many of the roots of the vines date back to thousands of years ago. The vines are not grown in any particularly orderly fashion and many times several varietals are grown on the same plots. Because of the influence of tourism and spacing issues, plots are sporadically placed throughout the island.

Grapes grown on Santorini are just now beginning to be grown in other parts of the world, but are indigenous to the ialdnd. They include the flagship Assyrtiko grape, Aidani, Athiri and 37 other varieties that make up for very a small percentage of the island’s production.

Because of the intense heat and harsh winds on the island, the vines are woven into a basket as they grow known as the “kouloura” method. The grapes are then grown inside the protection of the basket and leaf covering. Each vine ages to be about 75-100 years old at which time the woven vine generally becomes to large to adequately supply nutrients throughout the rest of the vine. The vine is then cut and a baby vine is attached to the old roots beginning the cycle over again.

The grapes are generally harvested in mid- to late August, which is much earlier than the rest of the world. The island is rather small and hosts only 10 major wineries and, in total, vines cover less than 48,000 hectares making production rather limited.

Santorini is also known for it’s sweet wine, Vinsanto, which by appellation standards can only be named as such if it consists of predominantly Assyrtiko. Only Aidani and Athiri are allowed to be blended with Assyrtiko and it must be done so prior to fermentation. Vinsanto is made from sundried grapes that typically sit in the sun for 14+ days and must be aged at least 2 years in barrel before release. Joe Power absolutely fell in LOVE with sweet wines!

Although many believe Vinsanto originated in Italy, truth by told Vinsanto (vin de Santorini) was originally exported to Italy by Santorini. Although both wines are made through a raisoning method, only Santorin’s Vinsanto is crafted through sundried grapes. In ancient times, Italy imported Santorini’s Vinsanto to use in religious ceremonies such as communion. Italy has, however, developed its own style with the use of other grapes and drying techniques.

Because of their acidity, the wines of Santorini have incredible agining potential. We tasted some Assyrtiko wines from the 1990s and their development was incredible – natural smokey character from the soil coming through, but still hosting the bright acidity, citrus and minerality of young Assyrtiko. Similarly, Vinsanto can age for decades becoming more complex each time.

Overall, the island’s beauty has captivated the hearts of many over the past few decades because of it’s picturesque views and the overall feeling of paradise, but Santorini really is a wine island. The wines from Santorini are often threatened by the increase in tourism as many would prefer to use the land for hotels and other attractions. However, wine is also becoming an importent part of this tourism and in the next few years to come it is estimated production will grow and Santorini’s ancient wine culture will erupt throughout the world.

SO there you have it. Santorini's wine culture in a nut shell. Stay tuned to Joe, Joe, Amy and Elin's posts and columns in the next couple of weeks to learn what thrilled them, shocked them and persuaded them to become true Wines from Santorini fans ;)




BAT Recap: Uncorked Wine Tasting Bistro

July 1st marked the Grand Opening for West Hartford’s newest wine spot, Uncorked Wine Tasting Bistro. You can bet that Constance and yours truly stayed in tune with our beverage industry roots and checked out the new digs in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square over the opening weekend.

Uncorked features over 60+ wines displayed behind the creative WineStation” technology, the first system of its kind of reach Connecticut. All the wines are automated to dispense a different sized pour based on your piqued interests: a 1 oz. taste, a 3 oz. half glass, or a full 6 oz glass.

We started our adventure with a few tastes of whites, but my interest was more heavily tuned to the selection of reds on the menu (surprise, surprise…). I was immediately grabbed by the inclusion of a member of the Layer Cake Wines family, the 2008 Shiraz out of South Australia. It’s not my favorite from the family – I’m particularly biased towards their Malbec out of Mendoza, Argentina – but I happily sipped away at my 3 oz. pour of the Shiraz.

I asked for Constance’s help when picking my last taste of the evening. We landed on a spicy but inviting 1 oz. taste of the 2007 Pinot Noir Revana Vineyard from the Williamette Valley in Oregon. What a great bottle of wine! Both Constance and I were pretty blown away by this Pinot out of the Northwest. Managing Partner David Rudman also has some great things to say about this bottle, which you can read on Uncorked’s blog.

Uncorked has a very nice, quaint feel to it, with a comfortable blend of dining tables, high-top bar tables, and standing room alongside the WineStation systems. Constance and I “ooh”ed over the menu of both artisanal cheese and chocolate offerings, but were too full to indulge this particular evening. In speaking to Rudman, we received confirmation that the worldly wine list at Uncorked is fluid and will likely see changes as it establishes its niche in West Hartford.

My only initial complaint about Uncorked – from a spirits blogger perspective – was that I was not able to order a cocktail unless I was sitting at the bar, so our waitress told me. I was also informed earlier by a friend in the Twitter community that a cocktail menu was in place, but was disappointed to find no such menu on this particular visit. Hopefully next time. Peering at the back bar, it does seem that the restaurant does have a established interest in the craft cocktail scene; bottles not notably seen in West Hartofrd – Aperol and Veev are a few particulars that stood out – were readily available for the enthused cocktailian.

Until next time, Uncorked, we’ll be dreaming about indulging in those chocolates…


Uncorked Wine Tasting Bistro
63 Memorial Road, West Hartford, CT
(860) 216-2620


An Old Style Beer at a Historic Ballpark

Nothing speaks summer in the U.S. like baseball. And, at one of America’s quintessential ballparks, nothing speaks a day at Wrigley Field like kicking back with the local brew, Old Style Lager.

For those of you who have not yet been to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, it is a stunning ballpark. Drenched in history and covered with ivy, it is cherished by loyal fans for its attentiveness to and pride in everything local and everything historic.

Enter Old Style Lager. First appearing in stores back in 1902 – even before Wrigley Field was constructed on Chicago’s North Side in 1914 – Old Style has seen very few changes since. The lager goes through a double fermentation process called kraeusening (pronounced kroi-zen-ing) and is explained on Old Style’s web site as so:

“Kraeusening is an additional step we take in the brewing process that brings extra carbonation and a complex richness to this premium beer. Doubly aromatic and singularly intricate in taste, Old Style now has more body and more flavor with a cleaner finish.”

I got to make my second ever trip (with, hopefully, many more to come!) to Wrigley a few weeks ago and of course imbibed in several Old Style Lagers. And, for my (unofficial) review of it: Will I be drinking this while sitting and watching a baseball game on a beautiful summer afternoon? You bet. Will I be picking up a six-pack to take home for the evening? Probably not. Without the backdrop of Wrigley, and the baseball game, and the soft pretzels, and the sunshine…well, it is a pretty forgettable beer. It’s light, slightly watery, and doesn’t really pack the punch with the hops that I traditionally enjoy in my beer.

With that said, I can still assure you that even with the new premium beer options introduced to Wrigley fans, I’ll still be ordering an Old Style when I catch my next Cubs game.