Friday, January 31, 2014

Super Bowl Picks - The game and the wine!

I went into Bevmo to check out some 5 Cent wines. (You buy one for full price and get the second for 5 cents).  While I have enjoyed some success with this deal in the past, I wasn't too inspired with the 5 cent selections on this visit.  Too bad, because this particular topic drives more traffic to www.winefoodjava.com than any other.


With the Super bowl coming up, I needed to find four bottles for four quarters of football.  So here it is - with value in mind - four Super Bowl wine picks from the shelves of Bevmo. Bonus:  I will give you the winner and final score.  The last pick comes from a cool new wine source I have discovered - WineoftheMonthClub.com - "The Original Wine of the Month Club."


First Quarter Score - Denver 10, Seattle 0.

The wine: Paso Creek Cabernet. Perfect pairing with hot artichoke dip and pita bread. Black cherry and vanilla flavors are notable, as is the price - Around $13.00 at Bevmo.

Halftime Score - Denver 20, Seattle 6.

The wine: Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay.  This crisp, oak free Chardonnay will help the red hot chicken wings go down smoothly.  Even without the oak, there is a nice buttery characteristic to the wine.  About $21, but your family and friends deserve it.

After Three Quarters - Denver 23, Seattle 16.

 
The wine:  Ruffino Il Ducale Red Label.  Slide some flatbread pizza out of the oven - Sausage/Green Pepper and a Feta, Avocado and Pesto pie. That should do it nicely and the Ruffino will be just right.  If you are tired of the commercials (how can that happen?) try a little taste test game, comparing the higher priced Ruffino Riserva. I believe the Red Label, at $16.00, performs nicely.  You can't go wrong with the Riserva either, but it will cost you an extra $7.00.

At the end of Regulation - Denver 30, Seattle 30.

The wine: Hall Cabernet from Napa.  By now, the tri-tip sandwiches on garlic toast are being served, so you need something that causes your guests to moan with each sip, after each savory bite of tri-tip.
Hall is full bodied but smooth with rich berry flavors and a little hint of chocolate. Pricey at $48, but every bit as good as $75 cabs.

Final Score in Overtime: Denver 37, Seattle 33.

 
The Overtime wine: Pinot Noir 2009. District 7,  It's a big 7 by Manning that will win it in OT, so this Pinot is just right for that last trip to the food spread.  Good choice if the desserts are coming out, like sweet and creamy carrot cake to celebrate the Blue and Orange win!  Pick this smooth Pinot up from WineoftheMonthClub.com - "The Original Wine of the Month Club"

Get the California Wine Series Membership at Wine of the Month Club.









 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Friendly French - a few observations

Recently returned from Paris and Bordeaux on a memorable food and wine odyssey.  After a few seven course meals, incredible bread, cheese on a frequent basis and artful desserts, I am rightfully concerned about the results of my upcoming physical exam - should get a severe scolding from the doctor. Yet - the French seem healthy - could it be all that fine red wine?  That may save me, because we enjoyed quite a few bottles in both Paris and Bordeaux.


Cheese with every meal? Of course!
Before we left for France, we heard a lot of comments like, "You'll love France, except for the people."  That's a little harsh, but after visiting, I can see why some Americans would leave with that impression.

From our perspective, here are some observations about life in Paris:

Should you try to speak the language?  Most Parisians who have contact with the public do speak some English.  Beyond basic niceties - Bon Jour, Merci - I do not agree with those who say "Do your best to speak French as a tourist. The French appreciate that."   In fact, most French became more arrogant when we attempted the language.

Are the waiters unfriendly?  In the local sidewalk cafĂ© or small restaurant, generally, yes. More like, unmotivated. When 18% is automatically built into every check, why hustle?  Why make an effort to give exceptional service?  Exception:  When you go to a top restaurant, with a five to seven course meal, the service is exceptional.  Another exception: When  you are dealing directly with the proprietor or a family member, the service is clearly better.  Another exception:  When the server is from another European country, like Sweden or Italy - the service is better. Usually, the non-French staff and quick to tell you that they are not French and they are happy to dump on their French counterparts - which only helps to confirm the stereotype.

Wine shops make for a nice afternoon in Paris
                                                                     
Should you drive in Paris?  Only if your life depends on it. Driving is Paris is total madness, particularly in the traffic circles, like the one that surrounds the Arc de Triumph. There are no defined lanes, but five to eight lanes of traffic (plus bikes, motor scooters and motorcycles) all weaving in and out of the circle. It is nuts. In fact, there are an inordinate amount of people walking around Paris with canes and crutches as a direct result of the many car/bike collisions.

Is Bordeaux wine tasting anything like Napa wine tasting?  Put it this way, you won't find any welcome signs in front of Bordeaux wineries.  Everything needs to be arranged (usually through your hotel) so that you can tour a winery with an English speaking guide (usually non French) and have the pleasure of tasting one wine. That's right, just one. Each winery typically produces one Bordeaux wine each year; always a blend, usually about 50% cabernet and 50% merlot.  Fine wine stores are another tasting option - a very good option.

How to burn off the amazing French food:  Walk up the Eiffel Tower (at least to the observation deck). If you are in any kind of shape and do not want to wait for two hours in the elevator line, walk for 45 minutes up stairs to the observation deck level, where you can see the Jules Verne diners perched above paying $300+ a head for dinner - cool I am sure, but not exactly the best value in a town that is already outrageously expensive.

Better choices for dining:  Here are two interesting selections if you plan to visit Paris, both recommended by Parisians we know. le Quinzieme, by Cyril Lignac, is not considered top tier dining, but from our seat at the table, it could not have been much better. The five course dinner was spectacular and artfully prepared. The service was attentive and the price was high, but far from outrageous - $75 a person, with some nice wine. www.restaurantlequinzieme.com - great French fare.

       Ink on squid - messy, but delicious!   
                                                 
 Sgabetti is a perfect spot when you need a break from French cooking. The friendly Italian crew serves up a number of creative Italian dishes, including a melt in your mouth lightly breaded, pan fried veal and a calamari pasta dish like we have never seen.  The ink of the squid was not infused into the pasta, it was poured on like a sauce. Messy, but delicious.

I know the blogs have not been as frequent as late. My work at Gourmet Coffee Service has been keeping me a little too busy for recreational writing - but we have a few blogs in the can, ready to publish, so stick around.

Why are we so busy?  There are some very cool new ways to serve coffee in offices these days, including the new Virtu Brewer, featuring 35 drink choices.  Want to learn more?  Is it time to improve the coffee in your Southern California office? www.gourmetcoffeeservice.com or call us at 800 834-0220

 
Makes 35 Drink Varieties!
 
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Monday, September 23, 2013

Alaskan Cruise on NCL - What you need to know

The beautiful Mendenhall Glacier
By no means are we experienced cruisers.  We prefer highly active California wine and beach trips, but when Norwegian Cruise Lines offered a great Alaskan Cruise deal in early September, we decided to go for it. Since so many of our readers are from California and somewhat likely to take an Alaskan Cruise, I decided to share some things you need to know. Much of it applies to the other cruise destinations as well.

We had not been on a cruise for 10 years. Things have changed a bit. Cruising is a lot more casual than it used to be - at least on NCL.  Here are some things you need to know.

Food - When you are feeding 2500 people, expect mediocrity. NCL delivered on that. I have to believe that a much smaller ship, while it might be pricier, would be well worth it from a dining standpoint.

On the dock, it is like feeding an army - no fresh seafood here
The NCL concept is called "Freestyle Dining." You are no longer required to sit at a big round table with people you are assigned to eat every meal with.  Sit where you want - eat what you want and there are several restaurants to choose from.  The buffet is not just a "late night nosh" as it is on some cruise lines - it is the centerpiece of the dining experience.

As for the restaurants on board, even the ones that add a $10 to $30 per person upcharge, think of  quality as being something between Denny's and CoCo's - where they have steak and it is good, but you won't be taking pictures of it to post on facebook.  No fresh fish, no fresh sushi, but plenty of good salad bar options and delicious grilled chicken. More desserts than you will ever need.

There were a lot of Indian employees on the ship, which might explain why the Indian food was
excellent (at the buffet). The buffet actually inspired us.  Looking at some of the folks who were bulking up at the buffet, we realized we needed to walk about 3 miles around the deck as many times as possible during the trip.

Spa - Get the a package. The head to toe massage was world class and the spa itself was a wonderful
The dramatic Tormented Valley
place to hang out for a couple of hours every day. Very relaxing. For about $100, but you can enjoy total spa access.  Treatments are extra.

Booze Package - If you drink, it is a good idea to sign up for the unlimited booze package. Call liquor and about 15 wines by the glass - $350 for seven days. If you have a few glasses of wine at dinner and enjoy the late night entertainment, it is very east to blow past that number. Also - the gratuity is built in. You do not need a designated driver on a cruise ship.

Casino - Beware. Personally, I am more comfortable gambling under the rules of the Nevada Gaming Commission, as opposed to the swashbuckling, no rules atmosphere on a cruise ship.

 
Big Black Bear snacks on salmon - a common Alaskan sight
 
Rooms - They are tight, but go for the balcony room for sure.  From your balcony, you will see whales and dolphins.

 
Plenty of Glacier floating down the bay
 
Excursions - Pricy, but well worth it, especially if the weather is nice. In rain, I would say most of these excursions would be hell.

We loved the raft trip in the shadow of the Mendenhall Glacier, the White Pass and Yukon Route  Railway and traversing the Yukon Suspension Bridge.  Best of all, watching black bears from suspension bridges in a Ketchikan rain forest was spectacular.

Worth the price of admission:  Glacier Bay. spending several hours among spectacular glaciers - that was priceless. The sight of a glacier calving, thunderously breaking apart (see photo below) is unbelievable.

 
Amazing Glacier Bay