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Archive for the ‘4-Star’ Category

Holy Kale!?

Kale…isn’t that for garnishing plates?  I don’t know about you, but I never considered including kale on my shopping list.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a grudge against this green cabbage – honestly! It’s just one of those green leafy vegetables that I passed en route to the romaine lettuce or mixed greens.  Maybe a side effect of my upbringing:  salads consisted of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, Ba-Cos and French dressing.

But on one magnificent day, on a jaunt to Whole Foods with my brother-in-law, life changed:  he made the most delicious kale salad for my wife and me!

Checkout this out!

A kale salad mixed with beets, carrots, crumbled bleu cheese, quinoa, walnuts and topped with an Asian Ginger Vinaigrette (I like this one) - freakin’ delicious!!  Since that day, I’ve been hooked and make this salad quite frequently now.

To accompany this healthy goodness, I recommend a sensational Riesling…and I’ve got the perfect one for you!

Made from 100% Riesling, the 2010 Lucien Albrecht Reserve Riesling from Alsace, France is a delicious mouthful of dried apricots, sour apple, and almond with the swagger of flinty Alsatian terroir (plant roots are parked in part soil and part bedrock to give it that twang).  Wildly incredible wine with this kale salad!

4 Stars out of 4 for the 2010 Lucien Albrecht Reserve Riesling (Sample, MSRP: $15 US).

A huge thank you to my brother-in-law for introducing me to the world of kale and for broadening my salad horizons.  Lookout okra – you’re next! :)


You Have to Start Somewhere

As the saying goes, “everyone has to start somewhere.”  This past Friday, after a long week of absolutely gorgeous weather here on the Eastern Seaboard, I was thinking that this would be a great way to officially start the weekend: 

Living lovely on the deck.

I do have to say, I love…LOVES me some caviar!!  Now, now… I know what you’re thinking, but to be completely honest with you, this is just some tasty and cheap roe that gets the job done for my tuna fish wallet.

This simple slice of Icelandic heaven consists:

  • Table Water Crackers
  • Cream Cheese
  • Cheap Caviar
  • Add in some fresh mozzarella balls on the side, and you’ve got yourself a Friday night party on the deck!

To celebrate this beautiful Eastern Spring evening and appetizer, I thought I’d lock lips with a few east coast sparklers:  two exquisite bottles of bubbly from New York’s Dr. Frank Wine Cellars.

Pioneered by Dr. Konstantin Frank, this Finger Lakes winery has earned a reputation for producing outstanding Rieslings and sparkling wines that adhere to the classic French “methode champenoise.” 

The first was the Chateau Frank Blanc de Blancs (2006) (Sample, MSRP:  $29.99 US).

This sparkling wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, and was aged for more than three years before its release.  When my wife and I released it into our glasses this past Friday night, it was like a fruit pie being swept up into a twister of teeny-tiny bubbles:  rich and toasty with notes of pear and ginger.  Absolutely delicious from start to finish!  Highly recommended with a little (or a lot) of my little caviar snack!  4 Stars out of 4 for the Chateau Frank Blanc de Blancs.

Our second sparkler was the Chateau Frank Célèbre Rosé (NV) (Sample, MSRP:  $20.99 US).

Unlike the rich, big mouthful style of the Blanc de Blancs, this bubbly is more of an easy-going deck wine to enjoy with family and friends.  Made with 100% estate grown Pinot Meunier grapes, it offers an orchard of raspberries and strawberries for those that prefer a sweeter style sparkler.  By the second glass, we were longing for a giant piece of pan-seared salmon to go with it!  3 out of 4 for Chateau Frank Célèbre Rosé (NV).

If only every weekend could start out this way!

Fall Back

We also have a great spirits section, shop today!

I have no idea what to call the fall feast that went down at my good friend Bruce’s house.  In a nutshell, it was a nosh-up of towering proportions that can only be summed up in one word – EPIC.

While the kids were running rampant, dancing and roasting marshmallows around the bonfire, and elbowing one another to get the most candy from the broken piñata, there were several adults having some fun of their own! 

Supervised, of course! :)

Every kid for themselves!! 

Earlier this year, I received several samples from brothers, James and Mark Blanchard of Blanchard Family Wines.  Located in Healdsburg, California, Brothers Blanchard operate a small family winery that produces and sells hand-crafted, limited production wines – only 1500 cases to be exact.  I took a real interest in their personal journey into the wine business, and thought it would be fun to share their wines with friends.

Our first selection on this beautiful, chilly fall evening was the 2009 Blanchard Family Sauvignon Blanc (Dry Creek Valley) (MSRP: $20 US).

Our group of tasters described it as being “citrusy, tart, possessing a grassy New Zealand-esque quality to it with very good acidity.” A few detected an “oniony” quality.  However, the group was unanimous and rated the 2009 Blanchard Family Sauvignon Blanc (Dry Creek Valley) 3 Stars out 4.

Onto the delights that had us all practically licking our bowls and plates all night long!

First up… Arugula, Apple, Pear with chopped Pecan and crumbled Blue Cheese Salad topped with an Apple Cider Vinaigrette.

I paired this simple, yet terrific salad with what turned out to be one of the favorite wines of the night – the 2010 Blanchard Family “Peoria Pink” Pinot Gris (Russian River Valley) (MSRP: $30.00).

2010 was the inaugural vintage of the Blanchard Family’s Russian River Valley Pinot Gris.  Its special name “Peoria Pink”  is inspired by the wine’s color, which is a light pink.  Another thing worth mentioning is 20% of all sales from 2010 Blanchard Family “Peoria Pink” Pinot Gris go to breast cancer awareness.  How great is that!?

Here’s what people were saying about the 2010 Blanchard Family “Peoria Pink” Pinot Gris (Russian River Valley)“Nice body, citrusy, sexy color! Great match with this salad!  Medium acidity and good structure.”  Tasters were split – some gave it 3 Stars, while others (including me) gave it 4 Stars out of 4!  Overall, it was a crowd-pleaser.

After finishing the 2010 Blanchard Family “Peoria Pink” Pinot Gris, we headed into hedonistic ecstasy when bowls of homemade pumpkin soup made their way out to the dining room table.

This soup, I tell you, was absolutely INCREDIBLE!!

I asked my friend Bruce to share some of his insights, secrets and tips for making this bountiful bowl of orange goodness, and this is what he had to say:

“In preparing the pumpkin soup, I found out very quickly that pureeing pumpkin is not as easy as it sounds.  Seems like it should be simple, right?  Place pumpkin in the blender/food processor; turn it on and instant pumpkin puree –right?  WRONG!  As it turns out, pumpkin is too dense to puree on its own, at least in my blender.  So my brilliant solution was to blend the pumpkin with chicken stock (the soup’s other base ingredient).  The trick, as I learned after much trial and error…and cleaning up pumpkin splatter on the walls, cabinets and ceiling is to have the right pumpkin to chicken stock ratio.  Oh yeah, two other notes: 1) Don’t lift the blender lid to peak in as pumpkin is being pureed unless you like wearing pumpkin and 2) Don’t wear a white shirt while trying to puree pumpkin.”

Thanks Bruce for sharing!

Now where were we?  Oh yeah, here’s the killer recipe for that pumpkin soup:


  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 5 cups cubed, peeled, chopped fresh pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley and fresh chives
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chives
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups milk or heavy cream


  1. Cut pumpkin into small pieces.
  2. Heat the chicken stock and the other ingredients *(minus the 2 cups of milk and/or cream)   on the list in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes uncovered.
  3. Puree the fresh pumpkin in small batches (1 cup at a time) using a food processor or blender and stir in with the other ingredients in the large pot.
  4. Return to pan and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat to low and simmer for another 30 minutes, uncovered. Finally, stir in milk/heavy cream. Pour into soup bowls and garnish with fresh chives and parsley.

I’d suggest pairing this soup with a Chardonnay; but if you’re an ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) person, give it a go with a Viognier or Dry Riesling.

Our next course was Alaskan Copper River Wild Salmon from 2 Sisters Alaska Seafood.  Nothing like the real deal!

Check out the thickness of this salmon!

My pal Bruce used this recipe Salmon en Papillote from Julia & Jacques.

While he was on the fish station, I was in charge of cooking the side dish that he selected, which was a Herbed Quinoa Pilaf with Vegetables courtesy of

*Note: You may want to deviate a bit from the recipe and add more vegetable stock, butter and other interesting spices that you can find in your buddy’s spice rack to really make this recipe pop!!  Just a suggestion.  :)

We downed it all – “deadliest catch” and “ancient Peruvian grain” – with a couple of Oregon and French Pinot Noirs.

And were we done yet?  Heck no!  After going to Alaskan heaven and back, we had to have some beef, right?  In the words of Sarah Palin, “You Betcha!”

So we did.

Yup, we were gluttons for punishment!  This delicious Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Basil-Curry Mayonnaise is courtesy of Food Network’s resident hottie, Giada De Laurentiis.

We had such good fortune with the first two wines from Blanchard Family Wines that we decided we’d give it a go with both the 2008 Blanchard Family “Amber Monique” Syrah (Russian River Valley)(Sample, MSRP:$25) and 2009 Blanchard Family “Red Scarf Blend” (Sonoma County) (Sample, MSRP:$26.50).

The 2008 Blanchard Family “Amber Monique” Syrah (Named for Sylvia and James Blanchard’s daughter) packed a good punch of cherry-vanilla, black pepper, dark chocolate and light smokiness.  The group was divided on the 2008 Blanchard Family “Amber Monique” Syrah; some awarded it 2 Stars, while others gave it 3 Stars out 4.

Our last wine of the night from the Blanchard brothers was the 2009 Blanchard Family “Red Scarf Blend” (Sonoma County).  This wine was created to honor the men and women of the MH-53 Pavelow helicopter.  10% from all sales of this wine is donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, whose mission is to provide full scholarship grants and educational and family counseling to the surviving children of special operations personnel who die in operational or training missions and immediate financial assistance to severely wounded special operations personnel and their families.

The 2009 Blanchard Family “Red Scarf Blend” consisting of Cabernet, Syrah, Sangiovese and Zinfandel was a very successful mission with the entire group.  We found lots of explosive black fruit and a long finish that complemented every last bite of Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Basil-Curry Mayonnaise.  The group again was split, yet again; some awarded it 3 Stars, while others gave it 4 Stars out 4.  Another great wine for a great cause.  Note:  This is a very limited wine – get it while you can.  

And what would a dinner like this be without dessert?  For those that could hang, it was lights-out with Fresh Figs with Mascarpone and Warm Spiced Honey.

Night, Night…

I’m Hooked On You And I Got It Bad

If someone were to ask you, “What’s the best red wine under $20 that you’ve tasted so far this year?” – could you easily come up with a hands-down favorite without giving a second thought?  In my quest to uncover one of (my) life’s little mysteries, I asked myself this very same question…

While looking in the rearview mirror, I sure have tasted a hell of a lot of wine in the under $20 category during 2011 – most of which have been fairly good.  But if I had to pick only one extraordinary bottle of wine that without question has left a lasting impression on me and my taste buds since the very first sip, that wine would have to be the 2009 Domaine Saint-Amant Grangeneuve.

The 2009 Domaine Saint-Amant Grangeneuve (>$20 US) is a beautifully crafted blend of 60% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 5% Viognier.  It’s suitable for everyday drinking, yet has the moxie to grace a white linen-covered table at the finest restaurants. 

The winemaker says, “the Grenache will release in your mouth silky, velvety plum and cocoa flavors.”  There’s really nothing to add to this description except the fact that this red wine from France’s Beaumes-de-Venise AOC (wine region) just flat out kicks serious ass at this price point!

A big THANK YOU to John Ryan at Ryan’s Wines & Spirits for sharing this magnificent discovery with me!

4 Stars out of 4 for the 2009 Domaine Saint-Amant Grangeneuve (>$20 US).  This wine is a winner:  scoop it up by the pallet until it runs out!

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