Thursday, July 03, 2014

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Wine of the Week - Raats Red Jasper, 2010



I traveled to South Africa a few years ago and one of the wineries that I had the pleasure to visit was Raats Family Wines in Stellenbosch.  Out guide for the day was co-owner Bruwer Raats, who along with his brother and cousin run the winery and make the wines.

The impression that I had on this trip was of a family winery where care was being taken to support the great varietals of the region they came from (Loire), but to make them definitely South African / New World.  What does that mean?  Chenin and Cabernet Franc are the focus her, but some other varietals are thrown into the mix.  Chenins are often very dry and racy from South Africa and the wines from Raats are in that vein, but have great weight and balance to them.

The reds are based on Cabernet France and this is really where I was taken.  The wines are super smooth and balanced, not weedy or bell peppery,  with the blending of Old and New World style - kind of like South Africa in general, and is probably why I keep coming back to these wines so much.  I like to drink wines that are not over the top with tannin or sweetness, I do like wines that are balanced and showy, but maintain acidity and freshness.  This is a hybrid style that comes from great winemakers in both camps.  In South Africa it tends to be the norm more than the exception as there is a great connection o the European styles of wine making, but also with the more open styles and attitude of the New world regions.
I think at some point we can almost drop the differences as there is such a  cross over of styles in both areas and simple geographical separation just does not work...but that would be a project for another essay.

as stated, though, South Africa bridges the gap nicely for me of these two wine making worlds and is why I find so many great opportunities in the wines of the regions.  Winemakers such as Raats really show this off and I could easily find myself drinking Raats on a very regular basis.

Last night I cracked a bottle of the Japser 2010 red from Raats - this is a blend primarily based on Cabernet Franc (80%), plus smaller amounts of Petite Verdot (7.5%), Cabernet Sauvignon (7.5%), and Malbec (5%).

The nose starts with an interesting mix of plummy red fruits, touch of herbal, plus some red clay and mineral notes.  On the palate the wine is supple, with some firmness from tannins but not astringent, just showing backbone and structure, but very much drinkable.  Finish is medium-plus in length with loads of firm fruit and soft tannins adding support.

My impression for food is that this has some balancing acids that work against the fruit well and will help to pair with pasta or meat dishes.  I would go with roasted or grilled meats as the darker fruit and earth elements will reflect well against the darker flavors in these dishes.

Overall I give this a 2 Check rating (out of a possible three) with extra support on the value side as it retails for under $20.  I am going to be featuring as a seasonal pick at one of my restaurant locations and fell it will do well there as we feature a mix of things from Burgers to Stone Pies, with some Asian and steak dishes thrown in along the way.  Good wine for this, very much like what you might expect from South Africa.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Elayne Duff Visits CT

Last week I had the pleasure of having one of the most exciting and fun bartenders around come in for a special training and then guest bartender appearance.  Elayne Duff, head bartender/mixologist for Diageo, was kind enough to make the trek up to the Hartford area and visit with nearly 70 of my staff for a great afternoon of cocktail building techniques and strategy, as well as some great new items to think about.  She also then gave a few hours of fun and mixing behind the bar for a celebrity guest appearance during happy hour.  It being St Patrick's Day we were busy from the get-go and Elayne was a huge hit with the crowd, some of which were Elayne groupies.
Me and Elayne Duff at Max Fish, Glastonbury

A couple of the really important points that Elayne made to the staff had to do with better understanding of what you are actually doing when building a drink.  The point about tasting all your drinks is a vital one that a lot of bartenders miss.  I don't know too many chefs that will not taste their food as it is conceived and presented, and every component as it is prepared.  Bartenders need to do the same.  This is how you learn what a properly made drink tastes like and learn how balance components in the drink.  Hard to do if you are not tasting.

The other big point she made has to do with understanding ingredients and how they work together.  My monthly focus this month with staff training is focused on service staff and their knowledge of how cocktails are built.  It became apparent from the very first session that a lot of staff, both young and old, had never had some fundamental classic recipes, such as a Martini (gin not vodka), Manhattan, Daiquiri, Old Fashioned, Ward 8, etc.  I started making some of these for my guys and they were really surprised at how good and elegant these drinks were.  Most were also shocked at the Martini and how good it is when made with fresh Vermouth that has not been left sitting in the well for months.

A appreciate Elayne's time and I know my staff really got a lot out of this visit from the feedback that I have been receiving all week.  We all learned a lot.

You can learn more about Elayne and what she does on her website - duffontherocks.com

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Clos Pegase Wines - Balanced Elegance

All wines tasted on Friday March 21, 2014

Clos Pegase is one of those wineries that has been quietly maintaining a reputation for making delicious wines for many years.  Located in Calistoga, but with vineyards in Carneros, the estate wines produced in Napa are the mainstay of the wine selection from this winery.  As I tasted the wines the one thing that became very apparent almost immediately was that these wines are all built on elegance and finesse with a delicious level of fruit that is neither too dry or too sweet.  The hallmark of a well made wine (in my humble opinion) is the balance of fruit, acid and tannin that create a wine that when you drink a glass, you are ready to go to the next one without even thinking.  With the exception of perhaps the Sauvignon Blanc, I could have drank each of these wines straight through.  Food is a good idea as these wines and will only build a balanced experience.  I cannot recommend these wines enough.

I should say that these wines are produced by the same owners of other properties such as Rudd, Girard, Kunde, Cosentino and a number of other labels from California.  The company is Vintage Wine Estates, owned by Leslie Rudd and Pat Roney, and is responsible for a large amount of wine from California, including the Max Cuvee wines sold at our locations.  I had idea of the connection prior to setting the meeting and there really is no other connection to our wines, but I just thought it should be mentioned for full discloser.

Here is a list of the wines and some notes on my impressions...

Clos Pegase Sauvignon Blanc Carneros, 2011

  • mild and mellow style of Sauvignon - much the Cali-style of reserved fruit expression and a touch of herbal note
  • finishes with a touch of pea notes and a little ash/smoke
  • overall a nice style with great balance and a rich feel on the palate, good acids - lovely wine but to me it was just a bit under-ripe on the finish
  • one check, plus, plus
Clos Pegase Charonnay Carneros, 2012
  • Creamy, leesy palate style with French Oak on the nose
  • Smooth and creamy palate style, lovely balance
  • finish is smooth, slightly oaky (expensive tasting barrels) 
  • well constructed and delicious
  • two checks
Clos Pegase Pinot Noir Carneros, 2010
  • ripe red fruit nose
  • soft attack, fresh and easy - good concentration though
  • rich and good on the palate, with weight
  • slightly woody finish with rich balanced fruit
  • two checks
Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Estate, 2010
  • ripe, plum and dark cassis nose - touch of spice on the nose
  • thick and rich taste on the palate, smooth, full fruit - quite good feel on the palate
  • lovely long smooth finish, like this very much
  • two checks, plus


Monday, March 10, 2014

Hennessy Cognac - XO, Paradis, Richard Hennesy

Hennessy Cognac tasting today with representatives from Moet-Hennessy and my local distributor.  We tasted four items just prior to lunch and I was tempted by the rep to follow the tasting into lunch with a bit of Hennessy XO on ice with my Asian noodles - not sure that was happening, despite the fact that these are tremendous tasting items.  Food and Cognac are a challenge, especially straight spirit style.  I have a durable palate, but this is not a typical place for me to try Cognac.  Fortunately I was able to taste through all the selections before we ate, and had a great opportunity to get the full experience. Here are my tasting notes...

Hennessy XO
  • blended (like all of these items) from well over 100 lots of Cognacs with and age range of 10 to 30 years.
  • delicious nose of apples and cinnamon
  • subtle on the palate but with rich flavors good style of caramel flavors through the finish spicy notes, quite delicious 
  • two checks 
  • approximately $175.99 retail (750mL)


Hennessy Paradis
  • blended from eau-de-vies ranging in age from 25-130 years old 
  • Paradis is a protected name, and it was described to me as being protected as an appellation is protected, but I think what it really is is a trademark name - it refers to the old cellar or warehouse for storing the eau-de-vies 
  • deep caramel, wood tones - rich and full on the nose 
  • full, but delicate on the palate with length and supple flavors 
  • some spice and chewy notes on the finish almost citrus-like in the flavors 
  • two checks ++ (this one was my favorite of the tasting) 
  • approximately $689.99 retail (750mL)


Hennessy Paradis Imperial
  • blended from eau-de-vies ranging from 35 to 130 years old 
  • color is a touch lighter than the regular Paradis as this Cognac spends time in older oak that is not as aggressive 
  • aroma is amazing, rises from the glass with beautiful pervasiveness - dried fruits and spices like cinnamon and cardamom 
  • super smooth and elegant on the palate - soft 
  • delicate fruit and spice on the finish - fabulous style 
  • three checks 
  • approximately $3499.99 retail (750mL)


Hennessy Richard Hennessy

  • a blend of aged eau-de-vies from 40-200 years 
  • round smooth classic cognac nose with deep tones of caramel, figs and crushed baked apples, plus loads of toasty wood notes 
  • rich and very smooth on the palate - just glides across - less spice, more richness than the Paradis 
  • finish is very pretty and goes for a long time 
  • earthy wood-like tones mixed in with fruit notes - almost a bit awkward in comparison to the previous lot 
  • two checks + 
  • approximately $3499.99 retail (750mL)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Foundations in Wine for the Industry Professional and Connoisseur

I am very pleased to announce that I will be conducting a new wine class at Manchester Community College this Spring.  Please feel Free to contact me or register with the College for this class.

CUISINE
Foundations in Wine for the Industry Professional and Connoisseur 
From server/bartender to Sommelier, retail or trade representative, to serious wine enthusiast, learn the basics of the wine industry, including wine production, styles, regions, and service, and how to properly taste and assess wine like a professional. Food and wine pairing, understanding the components of wine, and regional overview of major production regions, are covered. The goal is to build a solid foundation of wine knowledge for anyone considering a career in the wine industry, as well as for the avid consumer. 

Instructor: Brian Mitchell is a 20-year wine industry veteran with experience in tasting, recommending, and selling wines from around the world. He is currently the Corporate Beverage Director for the Max Restaurant Group. He holds the Level 4 Diploma from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist in Wine. He has traveled extensively in world wine regions and has been teaching
professional and private wine classes for many years.

CRN 12236 | Fee: $220
2 Saturdays | 3/1-3/8
9 AM-2 PM | GPA GP214
Materials fee that cover wine-tasting for both sessions: $85, payable to instructor at the beginning of the first class.
Students should bring a lunch and munchies to go with the wine-tasting. Please note: You must be at least 21 years old to enroll in the class; IDs will be checked in class. 

Pick up our Credit-Free Catalog or call 860-512-2800 for more information
Phone-in Registration 860-512-3232
(using MasterCard, Visa or Discover Card)
Monday-Friday • 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
www.manchestercc.edu/ continuing