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 -

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.

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. continuing

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Pecchenino – Quiet Power from Piemonte

I really enjoy it when I get the opportunity to taste wine with the people who make it. You always get the benefit of information that a local rep simply will not have access to or know.  I was a rep for a long time and no matter how much I tried to learn about a wine or winery, there was always some disconnect as I was not from the place it was made.  I find this aspect of wine tasting fulfilling in a very circular way the concept of terroir, which says that wine can only be made in a certain way from a certain place, which holds the keys to the unique variables of circumstance that place has and no other can have.  Many variables including, weather, soil, elevation, and cultural impacts on winemaking are always going to be more or less unique with every winery and even every wine, especially the smaller production wines.  Having the personal connection to help bring forward the social aspects of terroir is much more of what I like to experience.

This week I had the pleasure to taste with Orlando Pecchenino, from Az. Ag. Pecchenino located in Piemonte, Italy.  Typically soft spoken and sincere with wide hands used to work, Orlando’s wines are definitely worth the search and are tremendous examples of a style that I really care for.  Mainly a style that bridges the gap of traditional winemaking, which I like to find more in the texture of the wine, and the modern fruit tones that carry across your palate above the tannins and acids.  Fortunately these fruit tones are not overblown, but rather just enough to fill the palate, create a rich mouth-filling feel, and youthful enough to balance against earthy, meaty flavors.

As these are all reds coming to my market, it is really great to see the progression of styles, with the lesser wines exhibiting the lovely fruit on top and the more serious expressions showing tremendous style, particularly through the long finish on all of these wines.

Four generations of Peccheninos have worked the land, which is primarily in Dogliani (abour 54 acres), with an additional 7 acres in the Monforte area of Barolo.  Focusing primarily in Dolcetto and Nebbiolo, there is no apparent reason to muddle the field (or winery as it would be) with other varietals; really these would only be a distraction to the output of current selection, which is great.
I tasted four wines this week, although I have tasted several others in the past, being equally impressed with the general overall serious quality of these wines on all occasions. 

To start, I had the Siri d’Jermu Dogliani Superiore, 2011 DOCG (single vineyard expression).  Somewhat limited in production size, they only make about 25,000 bottles of this wine, which is actually a shame as it is quite good and we could only benefit from having more of it in the world.  Typical of the other wines in the range, this had a dark but balanced fruit component that hung in the front.  The wine also has a lovely smooth texture and very youthful and delicious flavor profile.  I liked this wine a lot and think that it represents a very good value in Italian wines, and wine in general.  Find it in retail for about $25 / bottle. Buy and drink anytime.

Next up was the Bricco Botti Dogliani Superiore 2010, DOCG (single vineyard expression).  It should be noted that the wines called Dogliani are all made from Dolcetto and do not need to carry the varietal designation as it is considered a superior region and is known by its region, rather than by the varietal combo – similar to Barolo, which is made from Nebbiolo.  These are simply referred to now as Dogliani.  This wine is also juicy smooth and fruit driven, but has an extra dimension with darker, more complex fruits as well as a very good dry, firm finish.  Find it for about $30 in the retail word. Bu and drink as much as you can.

The final two wines tasted were Baroli, one from 2009 (San Guiseppe ) and one from 2008 (Le Coste).  Both wines showed impeccable style and aromatics, which literally jumped out of the glass when the bottles were opened. 

In the San Giuseppe Barolo 2009, which I tasted first, I was impressed by the floral, earthy feel of the wine and the texture of this vintage, which showed more youthful and up front fruits in its expression, but still retained a good degree of texture and deliciousness.  Very good Barolo; buy and drink or hold recommendation.

The 2008 Le Coste (a single vineyard expression), was better, though.  This wine was just a bit more complete and complex.  The texture was more serious” for a drinker that might have high expectations for Barolo.  This wine was a knock out and will be added to our list, shortly.  Loads of earthy complexity without being tired or washed out.  Very high attention to detail with the making of this wine.  I loved the white pepper and the smooth but firm tannins wrapped around generous red fruits throughout the wine.  Definitely a quality wine that shows tons of heritage behind it.  About $65-70, retail price, if you can find this - it is just about sold through in the US market.  Buy and Hold recommendation.

All together these wines are a fabulous selection from a winery that really should be getting more attention.  There was another wine not tasted on this day which I have had in the past and thought was a great value – the San Luigi Dogliani.  All reds and simply a great list, with offerings for those looking for value and those looking for something completely special.

Imported by VIAS

Monday, February 03, 2014

Out at the Farm...warm days and cool drinks

Here is a shot of me working out at one of our Chef to Farm events last summer.  Sitting here with the first of three snow storms coming in this week makes me think how nice it is to be out in the sticky summer heat with the bugs and late sun.  Soon enough, soon enough...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Trapiche Pinot Noir Oak Cask - Value Buy of the Week

It can be really hard to find a great, let alone a great, Pinot Noir that retails for around $10.  For those of us in the trade it gets even more complicated as there has been a mis-direction of what Pinot Noir should actually taste like by the mass-producers that grow Pinot Noir in warmer climates than it really should be and extend cost for this finicky grape by adding other grapes to the blend.  The effect of both of these practices has created a feeling among many consumers that Pinot Noir should be a fuller-bodied and darker wine than it really and traditionally has been.

Going back a few years to the explosion in popularity of Pinot Noir, and we can place this explosion at the point when Sideways came out and all of sudden people stopped drinking Merlot (which had been the favorite up to that point), there was need by producers (mainly in California) to produce a lot more wine. The problem is that Pinot Noir is really a grape that is challenging to grow and to produce to wine.  It has thin skins and so is susceptible to a lot of vine diseases as well as weather issues, such as heat.  Traditionally Pinot Noir is a delicate, finesse styled wine, grown in cooler climates where the growing season is extended and the flavors of the grape are allowed to develop over a longer period of time.  Unfortunately, large producers that produce popular labels in "affordable" prices, grow much of their wine in hot regions in central California, a place not suitable for high quality Pinot Noir - thus it is challenging to find good Pinot Noir to sell at affordable prices and as such I am always on the hunt for a good Pinot.

I recently had the opportunity to try the Trapiche Estate Range Pinot Grigio, which I give a buy recommendation for those looking for good serviceable wine that has proper varietal character and a pleasant overall style.  Along with that tasting I was able to taste through the Trapiche Oak Cask Range Pinot Noir, 2011.  I was equally impressed with the overall style and quality of this wine as it shows proper Pinot Noir varietal flavors and a great smooth feel.  It is delicate yet fruit forward enough for most wine drinkers looking for a great value in Pinot Noir.  Interestingly enough this wine comes from Argentina, a place that is known for some quality Pinot Noir production, but equally for robust reds.  The high elevation of the Mendoza growing region provides both the sunshine needed for achieving full ripeness, but also cool nights to maintain the acidity that good Pinot Noir is known for.

A definite buy recommendation with value on this wine as it is not only quite good from a drinking point of view, but as it only costs about $10-11 retail it gets the additional value wine designation.  Wine buyers can look here for a possible by-the-glass selection when you need a less expensive selection.