Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Learning About Perrier Jouet As I Leave France

A previous engagement kept me from accompanying the rest of my group to Epernay on a visit to the Perrier Jouet Champagne House.  Epernay had been a classic stop on my October trip to France so I was familiar with this champagne filled city, but wanted to learn more about this brand and its history.

Though the wine and spirits giant Pernod Ricard now owns Perrier Jouet, it still bears the legacy of the family it came from in 1811.  The house includes extensive caves which housed many fine champagnes, as well as Italian prisoners during the war.  Most of all, it is filled with tradition founded by Pierre-Nicolas Perrier and Rose Adelaide Jouët on Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, now home to an abundance of champagne houses. 

Before I left France, I did have a chance to sit with Cellar Master Herve Deschamps who told me about what makes Perrier Jouët stand out from the rest, “It’s a family work ethic,” he said, “to preserve the quality and maintain the same style.”  The vineyards, which are owned by the company, are known for not only their quality, but their consistency.  “When you have a good location,” acknowledges Deschamps, “it’s easy to make good wine.”

Herve Deschamps began learning how to make Perrier Jouët in 1983, when he began working under Andre Bavaret.  He says Bavaret was “like a father” to him and he worked with him to learn how to make his own blend.  Deschamps still gives most of the credit to the grapes the house owns. With these grapes, Deschamps is able to relay on “the chardonnay, with a touch of pinot meunier, to marry the chardonnay to the pinot noir.”
In addition to the introduction of Daniel Ashram’s legacy artwork for the Bi-Centenaire of Perrier Jouët, a cellar in the champagne’s house has been set apart with 100 magnums of Fleur de Champagne 1998. They are stored under the best possible conditions, awaiting their opening in 100 years.
Every trip to France is filled with discovery for me as it is a country so rich in the history of wine – and champagne.  I am grateful I had a chance to celebrate with Perrier Jouet and I look forward to returning to France soon.  Until then, Au revoir…

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, Perrier Jouet – Paris Style

To say the Perrier Jouet Anniversary Gala was over the top would be an understatement. Beaux-arts de Paris was filled with exquisite photographs of everyone and every time of the champagne. As we walked along through the gallery, we were all dressed to the nines and then some.  I had meticulously picked out a long black dress with a white beaded lace top and a graduated overlay over the black jersey bottom which fit in perfectly and it was certainly the perfect setting to sip Champagne.

The evening included the picture of French elegance herself, actress Catherine Deneuve and her son, actor Christian Vadim, as well as model Jeri Hall and her daughter Georgia May Jagger, who is currently following in her footsteps as a model, and actor Alain Delon. Also on hand was Pernod Ricard royalty, including Chairman Lionel Breton and Cellar Master Hervé Deschamps, and the executives of the company's U.S. distributor, Southern Wine & Spirits.  I was honored to be one of only a handful of journalists invited and took in every moment.

After the cocktail hour, the curtain rose to reveal the magnificent tables laden with beautiful fresh white flowers, just like on the unmistakable Perrier Jouet bottles. The waiters brought out the first champagne – the soon to be released Belle Epoque 2004, a fast favorite of mine – in unison to the music.  We were treated to stunning footage of the house history and the unveiling of Daniel Arsham’s masterpiece as we sipped the Belle Epoque 1998, served from magnums like those which will be encased in the art.  A musical performance by British artist VV Brown topped off the evening. 

The only thing that wasn’t spectacular was the food – at least not for me.  Once again, Chef Jean-Louis Nomicos chose to ignore his advance notice of those with allergies as well as vegetarians.  We were simply told he had no time to make anything else besides his fish-filled menu that also included a tough piece of poultry that no one could quite define.  I did enjoy the ice cream in raspberry sauce and was not about to let the one chef in France I don’t like ruin and truly magnificent evening put on by Perrier Jouet, the staff of whom did everything possible to try to fulfill our needs.

After the gala, we were off to the after party at Pershing  Bar (the one in Paris, not the treehouse in Champagne). It was full of beautiful views and I finished my evening with a final toast to Perrier Jouet’s 200th birthday.

Photos by Jean Picon, with the exception of the picture of Catherine Deneuve and Christopher Vadim, from Celebrity Harcourt.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Discovering Hemmingway and Perrier Jouet Anniversary Surprise

After a disappointing dinner at Les Tablettes de Jean-Louis Nomicos, Paris once again showed me its magic. Or, more accurately, Perrier Jouet did.

We went from dinner to a place I had yet to go to in Paris, even though it is one of the most famous – especially in the cocktail world. It was more or less the “home” of the infamous Ernest Hemingway. The bar that bears his name is in the Ritz Carlton and it was nothing like I expected. In what would probably be referred to as a “hole in the wall” if it were any place else, this tiny room holds no more than two dozen. What it lacks in stature, however, it makes up for in elegance and in some very creative cocktails.

Our group was treated to a selection of highly priced (around 30 Euros a drink) concoctions by the gracious representatives of Perrier Jouet, who understood our need to have a little break from the bubbly.  I actually tried three of the mixtures, favoring the first, Serendipity. It was a combination of Calvados Pays d’Auge le Compte (an apple brandy), with Apple Juice, Champagne, and a bit of sugar, though it wasn’t at all sweet. I followed it with a Highland Cream, the bar’s version of their own Bailey’s Irish Cream – Scotch Whisky, Coffee Liqueur and Cream.  It was tasty and certainly not as strong as the one drink I didn’t finish.  The Ritzini was a martini made of Fresh Ginger Root and Absolut Vodka, which had gone through a three month maturation.

Needless to say, I slept well my first night in Paris and in the morning I was ready to head to Galerie Perrotin for a first look at the Perrier Jouet anniversary creation by Daniel Arsham. The contemporary artist, an American, was commissioned by the house to produce something unique and memorable for the champagne’s 200th anniversary and he certainly did. It’s a beautiful resin piece, full of carvings representing the company’s trademark flowers. Actually, it is two pieces, equally beautiful together or apart, but part they serve a special purpose. Each holds a magnum of champagne and, in a testament to the legacy that is Perrier Jouet Champagne, one is to enjoy now and the other is to be passed on and enjoyed in 100 years.

The art was to be unveiled at the anniversary gala and then the 100 pieces – all numbered and hand signed by Arsham – would be sold. The cost of ownership of this piece of history and art is $10,000 Euros, Each comes with two magnums of 1998 Belle Epoque Champagne, chosen because the house believes the year points out the consistency of their champagne and has a good capacity for aging well. Also included in the selection is a Life Journal so that you may pass along your thoughts on the champagne (or anything else you wish) to the recipient of the other half. I must say, it was quite impressive and, if I had $10,000 Euros to spare, I would be in line to purchase one.

After looking through some more of the museum’s very modern art, we headed to lunch at Stella Maris.  It more than made up for the disappointing meal at the Les Tablettes de Jean-Louis Nomicos the night before. Unlike that chef, who has no tolerance to people with allergies and -- despite having a restaurant with a full menu -- thought it alright to throw some steamed, unseasoned vegetables on a plate as a substitute – Stella Moris provided an excellent meal and wonderful substitutes to the fish.

We all started with some tasty cheese puffs before I had a wonderful Foie Gras and Ham en crust and then perfectly cooked Beef Cheeks in a delicious sauce. I also had my first Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Rose (2002) at Stella Moris, which is a nice mix of floral and fruity, and the driest of the champagne’s offerings. We finished the meal with a marvelous dessert that was a unique combination of Crème Brulee and Meringue before it was time to head back to the Westin Hotel to get ready for the Perrier Jouet 200th Anniversary Gala at Beaux-arts de Paris.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Welcome to Paris with Perrier Jouët

With the exception of an April trip to Canada, I hadn’t planned on leaving the country for awhile, but when one of your favorite champagne companies asks you to go to a three day celebration in Paris, what do you say?  I said yes, of course, and began my journey from Champaign (Illinois, that is) on Saturday.

With spring just around the corner, there were no weather delays to deal with and my flight to Chicago went off on time.  I settled in at the Admirals Club with a few hours to wait before my American Airlines flight. I spent a short time at the bar, enjoying some low cal nutrition (before my French feasts) from the hummus appetizer with a glass of a crisp Seaglass Sauvignon Blanc. I made a mental note to fit the Santa Barbara wine region into my schedule sometime soon. Before I knew it, the announcement came for my flight and I headed to my first business class experience on American in years.

After 16+ hours to Australia, the flight to Paris was a breeze, made even easier by American’s premium product. The seats were large and comfortable with enough position choices to keep everyone happy. The wine selection was outstanding for a plane, and included two chardonnays (one oaked, one not, the latter of which I enjoyed with dinner); Nicolas Feuillate Champagne; Groom Lenswood Sauvignon Blanc (my pre-main course choice); Chateau Grand Destieu Cabernet Franc; Freenarj Abey Merlot; Emilio Lustau Sherry; and Graham Vintage Port (my after dinner choice).

The food was the best I’ve had in the air in ages, with a Marinated Cheese Antipasto and Red Thai Curry Chicken.  I could not eat the Smoked Salmon and Herb Marinated Shrimp appetizer, but was told it was very good.  It couldn’t have been as good as dessert – Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with hot fudge and nuts!  I hardly had time to watch “Burlesque” and “The King’s Speech” and catch a few hours sleep before my breakfast was being served, a Cream Cheese & Chive Omelet with O’Brien Potatoes, Filet Mignon slivers, fruit and a croissant.

My exit from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle was quick and easy. Pernod Ricard had a driver waiting for me and I was quickly off to the Westin Paris, a fairly new hotel that mixing old Paris with 21st century modern.  It’s in Vedome, a section of Paris I had not stayed in, near the Place de la Concorde.  I had a quick nap and was off to the Perrier Jouët luncheon to mix and mingle with my hosts and fellow journalist.

Lunch was delicious, but the highlight was a first taste of Belle Epoque 2004, Perrier Jouet’s newest baby. It’s light and refreshing and I cannot wait until its summer release in the United States.  I didn’t get to linger with it for too long as I had a massage appointment at Six Senses, which certainly represents the modern side of this hotel. This Pierre David designed compound is composed of “cocoons” rather than rooms and my Holistic massage definitely put me in a relaxing comfort zone.

I spent the afternoon taking in Paris, a city I could never tire of.  I walked up to the Place de la Concord, through the park, and all the way up the Champs-Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe. By the time I got back to the hotel, I was ready to put my feet up for the night, but I only had a short time before we were off to the other side of Paris, for dinner at Les Tablettes de Jean-Louis Nomicos.
Jusqu'à demain (until tomorrow)…

Spa photo courtesy of Six Senses.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Off to Paris!

I've been enjoying a bit of time at home to catch up on stories, but that's almost over.  Tomorrow I travel to Paris for a whirlwind three days celebrating the 200th anniversary of Perrier Jouet Champagne.

The last time I was in France, I spent my time in Champagne & Burgundy and didn't even make it to Paris.  I won't have much time to look around this trip, but it's going to be quite an exciting experience.

I begin my adventure with my first stay at The Westin Paris, where I'll be enjoying the Six Senses Spa before my yacht cruise on the Seine River. Then, it's a preview of contemporary artist Daniel Arsham's new exhibit at the Beaux Art Museum, where I will be attending the black tie 200th anniversary of Perrier Jouet Champagne Gala! I will also get to spend sometime learning about this champagne and may even sneak in some talks with a few of the celebrity attendees.

Of course, you can expect lots of photos and details, so stay tuned!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Checking Out Chicago’s Latest & Greatest

I try to take one big trip and one quick getaway each month. I often do the latter in Chicago, about two hours from my home. Even though I’ve been in the Midwest over two years now, I never have a problem finding something unique to do in the Windy City.

I started my latest Chicago adventure with a Chef’s Table event by The Local Tourist.  My friend Theresa Carter does a wonderful job with these events, which include everything from seven course formal meals, to pizza and wine pairings -- like the one I attended at Red Flame Pizzeria.  This restaurant/wine bar has many wine selections are reasonable, wide ranged and many are available by the glass.

The Chef’s Table event is a great way to network for business, or make new friends, while tasting food that Chicago’s Local Tourist will stand by.  At Red Flame we had a Brushetta Trio for a starter, followed by a selection of pizzas (including the veg HEAD, with wild mushrooms, spinach, roasted garlic, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and the crazyFLAME, four cheeses topped with arugula salad).  We even had a dessert pizza called S’mores -- flame-cooked dough topped with chocolate spread, graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips and marshmallows!

The food was great at Red Flame, as was the wine, the favorites of which were Otto’s Constant Dream Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Budini Malbec from Argentina, The Velvet Devil Merlot from Washington and Grayson Cabernet from Napa. I tried to pace myself because there was plenty more food and drink to come on this trip, starting with lunch at Rock Bottom Brewery with my friends from Edible Ink PR.

The brews at Rock Bottom (there were nine on the menu) have won over 125 major awards and vary from “I’ll be back Winter Lager” to “Drink Me India Pale Ale.”  You will also find a great cocktail menu that includes martinis, margaritas and some house specials.  We had a selection of starters – loved the Ballpark pretzels, brushed with ale and served with a spicy spinach cheese dip – and then I had a tasty turkey burger with their delicious macaroni and cheese.  The menu is huge and has a selection that would please anyone.

Rock Bottom was just a few short blocks from my hotel for the night, the Trump Chicago. I had seen it tower over the city in its own little conclave, but this was my first time inside. I have to say I was extremely impressed.  I see a lot of five star hotels, but the attention to detail here is just amazing.  You feel it immediately when you walk in to face the concierge, not the front desk.  The area is large and welcoming, and they will pretty much take care of anything you want, from walking your dog (the Trump has its own dog walk), to getting your bottled water inside your room. (And, speaking of bottled water, I loved the way the valet brought my car back cleaned out and with fresh bottled water!)

My room was not a suite, but it was very large and had a kitchenette.  I also marveled at the enclosed shower and tub area. I had the pleasure of taking a tour around the property with the Sales & Marketing Director, Robert Prohaska.  The Spa Suites are wonderful, located on the floor with the extensive gym and spa, so you can keep the relaxation going in your room’s soaking tub when you finish your treatment.  The extras in these rooms (as well as the family suites) are amazing, especially the warmer for neck and eye wraps that comes with your nightly turndown service. I am scouring my schedule for some time for a more extensive look at these rooms! If you don’t have the opportunity to stay at
Trump International Hotel & Tower® Chicago
, I suggest you at least come for a drink at ReBar, meal at Sixteen or, in the spring through fall, The Terrace, where you have breathtaking views of Chicago that include the fireworks over Navy Pier twice a week.

I had a magnificent breakfast at Sixteen, but I didn’t eat dinner there.  That was at one of my other favorites in Chicago, Palmer House Hilton.  I had stayed at this classic hotel a few months ago, but this time I was there to check out the Regional Wine Journey Classes at their Lockwood Restaurant.. They are led by Manager Sasa Sinanagic, who takes patrons through a different wine region each time.  I had come for Spain and Portugal, two areas I was eager to learn more about.  I wasn’t disappointed in the lesson or the wine that Sinanagic chose.

It’s only $25 to taste a selection of wines while you learn about the areas they are produced in. It’s always a small group so there is plenty of interaction. Sinanagic is very open to questions and was more than happy to provide those who wanted with some tasting lessons.  A big hit was the Portuguese Vino Verde, with citrus and green apple notes, this wine is only $24 in the restaurant.  Spain’s Orballo Albarino, full of tropical fruit like pineapple and melon, was also very good.  We were also introduced to wines that many in the group didn’t know, such as Tempranillo and Grenache. Sinanagic believes, “We owe our guests to better educate them to understand wine and food.”

As for the food, you won’t get any complaints from me.  I was in the mood for something a bit lighter and Lockwood Restaurant knows how to do even that in style.  The Butternut Squash and Apple Soup was flavorful and not too heavy and the Black Truffle Risotto was divine.  For more information on Lockwood and the Regional Wine Journey Classes, visit the website or call (312) 917-3404.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Delicious Find in Coconut Grove

It’s been many years since I took a ride down to Coconut Grove, a former “it” place in Miami that has lost a bit of its thunder to South Beach.  My main purpose for this trip was to check out the Mayfair Hotel and, more specifically, its Spartico Restaurant.

There were a  number of hiccups during my stay at The Mayfair and I hope to return soon for a more complete visit of this popular hotel, but everything went more than smoothly at its new restaurant, Spartico.  It’s not often I get to taste and hear about every aspect of a restaurant (with an acclaimed chef) so this experience was a real treat for me.

I started in Spartico at lunchtime with Jonathan Eismann, the hotel group’s consultant.  Chef Eismann is best known as the executive chef/owner of Pacific Time and is involved with a number of other restaurants in the Miami area.  Eismann is also one of the few chefs who has participated in all 10 South Beach Food and Wine Festivals.  This year I got to taste one of his great dishes at the Bubble Q event last week, the tender and tasty baby lamb chops. 

The vision of Jonathan Eismann for Spartico was to “do something somewhat revolutionary – a casual restaurant in the lobby of a four diamond hotel.”  Eismann consults on the menu, the recipes and the food orders (locally produced cheeses are a must here, as are high quality ingredients), and Chef Walter Dilibero makes sure everything is delivered in the quality that is expected in a restaurant of a hotel of this caliber.  The one thing that Spartico doesn’t have that you would associate with a restaurant in a top hotel is high prices. The menu is affordable to anyone, with pizzas and pastas in the $10-$15 range, and entrees just a few dollars more.

For lunch, we sampled the Wood Fired Roman Style Pizzas, which had a thin crust in the base, but enough flake in the top to satisfy this former New York pizza lover who loves to (as you should) hold pizza in hand. The sauce was not too sweet or spicy so it overpowered the fresh cheese.  The Margherita (with Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Cheese & Mascarpone Cheese) was even better sprinkled with small bites of Apple-Smoked Bacon, for a little sweet and salty combination.  A four-cheese Margarita without tomato, which I’ve known as “white pizza” was also great, with enough cheese to satisfy, but not too much to be rich.  The pizza size was perfect for two to have for lunch, with drinks or as an appetizer to dinner.

I left the restaurant and checked out the view from the Rooftop Pool and Cabana Club, which has its own bar. It was a beautiful day and I wish I had some time to lounge on one of the pool side "beds" with a drink in hand, but I decided to window shop in Coconut Grove a bit before going back to my spacious suite. It wasn't long before I was back at Spartico with my daughter Sam to meet with Del Mendez, the Head Bartender for Mayfair Hotel & Spa.  Mendez’s job for the evening was to make me a drink in each of four categories – Pear Vodka, Bacardi Rum, Limoncello and Coconut Vodka.  He fulfilled his duties quite nicely!

Our first selection was a San Pera, made with the Grey Goose La Poire (Pear Vodka) and Germain Elderflower Liqueur, then topped with some Prosecco.  It was fruity and flavorful without being too sweet.  Next was the Mojito, mixed with Fresh Mint Leaves,Sugar, Lime Wedges, Bacardi Superior Rum and topped with Club Soda.  I’m not a big Mojito drinker because I am allergic to citrus, but Sam said it was the best she’s ever had.

The third drink was El Paradiso and it combined Grey Goose Vodka, Campari, Limoncello and Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice.  I  had to rely on Sam for this one too and she gave it the thumbs up as a good mixture of sweet and sour, leaving it a bit tangy.  The final drink was mine to thoroughly enjoy.  The Cocochino mixes Ciroc Coconut Vodka and Tia Maria with a touch of Half and Half.  It’s also got a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.  I loved the sweet and spice and it was nice to have a drink that was creamy, but not rich with heavy cream.

As soon as we finished the drink tasting, our table was ready with our first course, a Caprese Classic with Fresh Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Olive Oil and the Freshest Basil I’ve had in ages.  It was followed by two pasta dishes:  Harry’s Fettuccine Alfredo, which had Garden Peas, Italian Ham, Parmigiano Cheese &  just the right amount of Cream; and Spaghetti Bolognese  in a Marinara Sauce, which benefitted from the use of flavorful Ground Veal for a perfect mixture.

We took a little food break to enjoy our glasses of Sterling’s Sauvignon Blanc before the entrees arrived.  I am not a big steak eater, but the sliced Tuscan Grilled New York Sirloin had enough Roasted Garlic, Cracked Pepper and Fresh Herbs to draw me in. The Chicken Parmigiano was also full of fresh flavors and not filled too heavily with cheese.  Sam loved the Salmon, with enough butter to hold in the zest, but not too much that it was greasy.

After serving us the perfect meal, Chef Walter Dilibero finished with the perfect desert -- Warm Bittersweet Chocolate Bomb.  There couldn’t have been a better way to end my week of food and wine in Florida.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Food & Cocktails Research in South Beach

It may have seemed like I had more than enough to eat and drink while covering the South Beach Food & Wine Festival, but it’s my job and I had to keep up the work during my last day in South Beach.

I’ve recently started working as a cocktails writer for AOL’s Slashfood (the section will be introduced soon) so I needed to “research” some assignments.  Today’s task included flavored rum and my friends at Cruzan suggested that the News Café would be the perfect place to “investigate.”

I met with Al Serrano, the News Café’s Beverage Manager to talk about the restaurant.  It’s got a perfect location on Ocean Avenue, directly across from the beach. The place was packed at lunch time, as Serrano says it often has been during the restaurant’s 22 years in this spot.  The unusual thing about this place – in addition to the variety of tropical drinks that can even be ordered inside coconut cups – is that it is open 24 hours a day.  In the style of diners I am used to in New York, the huge menu covers everything from eggs to grilled salmon and includes quite a bit of Middle Eastern fare.

The drinks at the New Café are filled with organic juices and he often uses Cruzan Rums because he feels the flavors work well with and without mixers.  I tried the Electric Banana, a delicious mix of Cruzan Banana Rum, White Cacao, Crème de Banana, Amaretto and a bit of cream. 

I decided to take advantage of my last beautiful day in South Beach (other than humidity, I’ve actually enjoyed more than a week of sun-filled days in Florida) and walked the 23 blocks back to the Riu, where I caught up on some work before meeting my friend Susan for dinner.  We had a reservation at The Royal at The Raleigh Hotel so I could check out what John DeLuci, who just took over as chef there, had to offer.

I was instantly impressed with the wide range of choices at The Royal. Even though the menu itself was rather small, it contained beef, poultry, fish and vegetarian choices, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients. Chef Deluci, who is renowned for his New York restaurants, Waverly Inn and The Lion, gave us some difficult decisions to make so we decided to ponder them with a few cocktails.  The drink menu is also imaginative and I enjoyed the Aleksandra, Stoli Vodka, ginger, fresh mint, Baoiron, passion fruit and homemade simple syrup.  It was great, not too sweet, but very flavorful.  Susan ordered the Sofia, Russian vodka, squeezed lime, orange blossom, bitters, mint and cucumber foam, and was very happy with the choice.

After days of barbecue at the Food Network festival, I decided it was time for a vegetarian meal so I ordered the Cucumber Soup, which was perfectly creamy without being too rich.  For a main course, I had the Macaroni and Cheese with Black Truffle Oil.  I thought the macaroni was perfectly cooked, the cheese tangy and not overdone, but the dish was a bit too salty from the truffle oil.  We shared perfectly cooked fresh carrots, which worked well with my dish and Susan’s Fresh Grouper, which she found to be delicious, as was her Stone Crab appetizer, served with cocktail sauce and a Shallot Vinaigrette instead of the customary mustard sauce.

Dinner was enjoyed with a recommended Leth Grunier Veltmer Reserve Steingradt from Austria.  It was my first experience with the region (I have had very few Austrian wines, but hope to change that this year).  It’s a very food-friendly white, a light cross between a Pinot Grigio and a Sauvignon Blanc.

We spent so long trying to decide on a dessert that Restaurant Manager Sam Morney brought us three choices, served with individual pots of great coffee.  The Cheesecake with Pineapple and Cranberry Sauce was served in a Mason jar and a perfect mix of tart and sweet.  Susan declared the Salt Caramel Ice Cream with the Cinnamon Dessert “the best she ever had,” and – though cautious when I read about it – thought the Basil Sauce for the Molten Chocolate Cake worked well.

After dinner, I spent my last night at Riu South Beach because the next day I would be heading to another of Miami’s neighborhoods – Coconut Grove – for my stay at the Mayfair Hotel & Spa.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cruzan Into the End of South Beach Festival

I was invited by Beam Global to a party at the Presidential Suite of The Royal Palm to launch the new Cruzan Strawberry.  Considering this was the middle of the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, I knew that I was obligated to attend as many parties as I could, so Lynn and I were one of the first to arrive.

Cruzan flavored rums are known for their genuine taste and the strawberry is no different.  Whether you are sipping it on ice, mixing it into a cocktail or pouring it on strawberry shortcake (one of the offerings), the latest flavor is definitely a keeper. Of course, while I was checking out the new I also needed to make sure the old was as good as I heard, so I tried the Mango and Black Cherry flavors (separately) with club soda, Coconut with Pineapple Juice and the Pineapple by itself over ice.  I can confirm that they are all good!

We headed back to the Riu South Beach for a good night’s sleep before Sunday’s final day at the Food Network Festival.   I was at the Whole Foods Market Tasting Village for a preview on Friday and I was heading back there for the final day to catch anything I might have missed.  I also had an interview set up with Professor Barry Gum. While I plan on making a full story out of my conversation with the esteemed professor of FIU, the benefiter of the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, I would say the delightful and dedicated (he’s been teaching wine for more than 30 years) Professor Gump was a pleasure to talk to as he doled out the beer his students had produced during the semester.

After the interview, I stopped by the T-Fal tent to sample pasta with Emeril Lagasse’s Vodka Sauce (it definitely doesn’t taste like it came from a jar), a cheeseburger cooked on the chef’s grill and some crispy fries made the healthy way in T-Fal’s ActiFry (impressive). I picked up a bottle of Fiji water and cooled off with it as I passed the cooking demonstrations and headed over to the set-up of The Cosmopolitan, Vegas’ newest offering. There I had some yummy Pink Sangria (blush wine, crème de cassis, simple syrup, soda water and basil leaf), a turkey meatball and some bruschetta before heading into check out some wines and spirits.

There was no way I could pass up a Godiva sign and the Raspberry Chocolate Infused Vodka was well worth a stop. I then went from Diageo vodka to their wine products, stopping at Rosenblum (a favorite since I had a private tasting in August) to see what was new.  Winemaker John Kane gave me a taste of the Rosenblum Cellars Sonoma Zinfandel and I highly recommend this 100% Zin from the Russian River Valley and Northern Sonoma. It’s fruit filled with just enough spice to make it a signature Zinfandel, but not too much that it over powers the dark fruit.  I also tasted the 2008 Rosenblum Cellars Mount Rooso Reserve Zinfandel, a good deal at about $40 and a little more complex and sweeter than most Zins, from an interesting combination of old and new oak (both French and American).

It’s been awhile since I was at Sterling Vineyard so I also stopped by that table to see what was new.  The Sterling Vintner’s Collection Meritage (54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec) was excellent, full of ripe red fruit and a bit of vanilla from 12 months in new and old oak. I also had my first taste of Chalone Vineyard (Monterrey County) Pinot Noir, not quite as dry as most Pinots and a bit lighter.

My next stop was to taste NuManthia, a Spanish wine that was a  full-bodied red, fruit forward with some spice in the finish.  I would definitely put it in the fine wine category, in contrast to my next sampling.  It was my first tasting of Absolute Wild Tea and – especially with a bit of cucumber – it was very good, and nothing like a sweet tea vodka.

I didn’t make it to Penfolds when I was in Australia and I loved their Chardonnay, flavorful but not overly oaky.  I wasn’t a big fan of their Riesling, though, which seemed to have picked up a bit too much Adelaide dust and was way too earthy for me. I had a short time back at the Riu to shower, change and get up my taste buds and appetite for Guy Fieri’s Farewell Beach Bash at the Gansevoort.  It was not at all what I expected – in a good way.  The place was packed and the food and music had a few different offerings, including a selection of Pizza, Wines That Rock and Tito's Vodka. I also got to keep up with the vegetarian motif with a Grilled Cheese and a small ganache covered treat from Misha's Cupcakes.

Everyone knew when Guy appeared on stage by the roar of the crowd. His appeal is wide-ranged (and I also happen to know he’s a nice guy, no pun intended).  He mixed up a large batch of tequila drinks, poured some shots and gave out some autographs, while we all continued to party the final night of the South Beach Food and Wine Festival away. 

Although the official festivities  ended on Sunday, my time in Miami did not. I still have more bars, restaurants and hotels to check out, and of course I will share my findings.