Monthly Archives: December 2015

Farmer Fizz For New Year Anyone?

Farmer Fizz – A Matter of Terroir

If you have had any interest in Champagne at all in your life, you probably understand that true Champagne is only made from grapes coming from the Champagne region in France.  All other sparkling wines grown outside of Champagne cannot or should not use the term Champagne.  This is a branding technique the French have used for decades to give their sparkling wine notoriety.

What you may not know about Champagne is that nearly 90% of it is made from the “big houses” such as Roederer and Mumm.   Because the big houses produce such mass quantities they have to buy from any number of the 19,000 Champagne growers in France.  Sometimes as many as 80 different growers may have grapes in that bottle of Champagne.  This has forced the big houses to have a house style that is consistent year after year.  While this consistency is admirable, it lacks what many wine connoisseurs are looking for.  It lacks terroir, or a sense of place.  Terroir is an all-encompassing term that means the land and natural influences control what the wine tastes like more so than humans making the wine.

For centuries French wines have championed the concept of terroir in their wines.  It is what separates the great Burgundies and Bordeaux from the rest of the world.  Yet, in many cases Champagne has not followed suit, at least not for Champagne in the affordable price range.  For those looking for a sense of terroir in your champagne and don’t want to spend $150+, you should give grower Champagne or “farmer fizz” a try.

Bottle Inspection

An example of the involvement and pride the makers of Gaston Chiquet Champagne exhibit.

Grower champagne is simply sparkling wine made in the Champagne region that is produced by the same estate that owns the vineyards from which the grapes come from.  Of the 19,000 growers, only about 25% do this and only about 1% export to the U.S.    Since these wines are only coming from a single grower, they are able to be more terroir focused and artisanal in nature.  These Champagnes are also typically organically grown and released sooner than the big producers due to the high cost of ageing.  While grower Champagnes have become trendy, the marketing budget of these wines are a fraction of the big houses.  Subsequently they still represent a small chunk of the overall sparkling wine market.

A common criticism is that grower champagnes have variable quality, especially from vintage to vintage.  This is true, but many consider this a strength because the wine truly shows the sense of place and purity of the grape.  The large Champagne houses are getting grapes from all over the region, and some may call the mass produced Champagne non-distinctive.  Opinions may vary about the quality of grower Champagne, but I believe many of them are a delight and show the true craftsmanship and special terroir that is evident in Champagne.

If you would like to actually try a grower champagne look for the initials RM that appear before a number on the wine label.  This means Recoltant-Manipulant.  Other initials you may see are:

  • NM for Negociant-Manipulant: This appear on the large Champagne houses that buy the majority of their grapes.
  • RC for Recoltant-Cooperateur: This means a wine is sourced from a single grower, but it is made for him by a co-operative winemaking facility.  While the grower grows the grapes, they often have little involvement in the winemaking process.
  • SR for Societe de Recoltants: This is company set up by two or more growers who share the winery they use to make the wine. In this process the growers have significant involvement in the winemaking process.

Some of my favorite brands are:

David Pehu

David Pehu in his element

Pehu Simonet Grand Cru Brut ($60) made from a Grand-Cru vineyard and tended by four generations.  The land is famous for producing farmer fizz of power, structure and nobility.  It is a deliberate effort that speak of the local traditions, people and above all the land from which it grows.

Gaston Chiquet Tradition 1er Cru ($55) The Chiquet family has been tilling the vineyards since 1746, but started in Champagne in 1919 when two of the brothers started production of Champagne.  Thirty-five years later, half the family went on to start Jacquesson.  Gaston stayed with the original vineyards and passed it on to his son and two grandchildren who now run the business.  Because of the age of the vines, production is low and quality is high!  The family refuses to use the modern high production clones preferring the classic methods.  He also does not use oak aging as he feels the land already gives the wine plenty of body.  This produces a pure and clean flavor that is not too weighty.  “We are not making wines as winemakers” says Nicolas Chiquet.“ We are adapting our methods to the land.”


By |December 21st, 2015|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Christmas Traditions

Christmas is the best day of the year. What can be better than presents, family and good food! Here is a great plan for your day. From morning to night, hopefully this will make your Christmas season great! Try one or try them all—you will enjoy.

Start your Christmas morning with French toast. I love using Flaherty’s Tom and Jerry batter in my French toast. There is usually a little batter left over from the Christmas Eve celebrations. The Tom and Jerry is a great drink that is an upper Midwest tradition. Usually the Tom and Jerry uses brandy and rum to make a great winter warmer cocktail but the spices and rich flavor, make French toast awesome. After you open Santa’s gifts Christmas morning, the Flaherty’s French toast is a great finisher.

remedy Bloody Mary

A perfect Bloody Mary with Remedy

After breakfast is the time to enjoy your gifts. Whether a good book, a new video game or new clothes, Bloody Mary’s will hit the spot about 11:00 or 12. Try a mild mix like Clamato or Remedy Bloody Mary Mix. Remedy is a small family owned operation that has the perfect blend of spiciness and smooth. You can add a little heat with Tabasco, but the Remedy Bloody Mary’s will help your day go perfect! And the extra Vitamin C is always good!

About this time, maybe you want to watch a little basketball or football. The NBA has taken over Christmas day. This year we can watch the rematch of the Warriors and Cavaliers. The duel between Stephan Curry and Lebron James will be classic. Enjoy a good old-fashioned All-American beer with the true All American game. Sam Adams has a great winter beer that will relax you as you watch the game. The Sammy Winter has spices of orange peel, ginger and cinnamon. Not too hoppy, but it is a great bracing winter beer.

Francis Tannahill Dragonfly Gewurztraminer

Tannahill Gewurz – An Apollo Best Buy!

After the game it is time for the main event. Christmas Dinner!! Whether you go for the traditional Christmas ham, delicious prime rib or my personal favorite roast leg of lamb, the perfect wine will make the food taste even better! If Ham is your thing, go for a lively fruity white wine. If you like a sweeter wine, Gewürztraminer or German Riesling will mesh perfectly with the saltiness of the ham. Drier whites to try are Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. For a red wine, Beaujolais or a lighter pinot noir will liven your taste buds. As much as you may like a rich Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux, don’t use it with your ham. The heavy tannins and dry flavors will overwhelm your palate and dry out the ham in your mouth.

Now if you are indulging in a delicious beef roast, prime rib or lamb, the Rich bold flavors of your favorite red wines will thrill you! The rich flavors of beef and lamb scream out for the tannins present in your favorite rich red wines. For a great medium price Cabernet Sauvignon try Greystone Cabernet. Its about $12, has great flavors and is the featured brand at the Culinary Institute of America. All of Greystone wines are made to complement food and are the perfect price point. For a sweeter red that will please even the non-red drinkers, try Donnasaune. A unique wine from Hungary, it is a best seller because it is a touch sweet, without being cloying. People will be amazed at the unique characteristics of this underrated import.

If you have been a good boy, and want to treat yourself, try my Favorite Cabernet. Keenan Cabernet from Napa Valley is the wine that hits my taste buds perfectly. It’s grapes come from the famous Spring Mountain District, use sustainable agricultural practices, and are all hand made masterpieces. It isn’t cheap—but Christmas only rolls around once a year. Give yourself a gift for a change!

After indulging in a delicious traditional dinner, the finale comes along. Dessert!! Christmas cookies, cakes and pies are always a highlight. Of course, Baileys Irish Crème is a must with your after dinner coffee. The original and still the best coffee creamer! If you want to take a walk on the wild side, try the smash hit of this holiday season, Brown Jug Sprits Bourbon Crème. Similar to Bailey’s, but with Bourbon and the unique added touch of Maple Syrup! Delicious!!

Other Favorite sippers that will also help you digest all the delicious foods are the French favorite Chambord (Black Framboise), Italian stalwart Frangelico (Hazelnut) and of course I have to mention my favorite Greek liqueur Ouzo. (Anise). All these liqueurs were made as Digestif’s to help us recover from a big day of indulgence and celebration.

This is a time of year to celebrate the birth of greatness. We should all celebrate and enjoy our families and ourselves. Enjoy all your holiday libations in moderation. Cheers and Merry Christmas!!



By |December 15th, 2015|Spirits Blog, Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Our Favorite Holiday Cordials

The Christmas season is the time of year when we can all become children again and experience a rebirth in both our spiritual and our sensual sides. The Holiday season is the time when we can rediscover our love of classic cocktail and liquors that hearken us back to a magical time in our world. Christmas is when we can indulge in some of the best holiday cheer. Good holiday drinks bring us warmth, friendship and tradition.

A classic Midwest tradition is the Tom and Jerry. This awesome hot drink can warm our souls, and our hearts. What is more relaxing than sitting around the fireplace with a warm mug of thick delicious decadent Tom and Jerry? A Tom and Jerry is a drink made with batter, brandy and rum. The long time Rochester Restaurant, Michael’s was famous for their Tom and Jerry’s. Many families waited all year to get their famous homemade Tom and Jerry’s. To make at home, grab three eggs, ½ teaspoon each of allspice, cinnamon, cloves and 3 teaspoons of powdered sugar. Separate the egg whites from the yolks and beat separately. Fold the yolk and the spices into the egg white. Use this batter in the bottom of your mug. Add hot milk, rum and brandy and you will be warmed to the bone!

I get a little lazy sometimes, (OK, most of the time) so I love the ease and convenience of Flaherty’s Tom and Jerry Batter. Developed n 1947 by The Flaherty family, they have developed a strong following and the batter is delicious! Dollop their famous batter in a mug, add Piping hot milk or water, ½ jigger of Christian Bros. Brandy and ½ jigger of Bacardi Black Rum and you will be amazed! It is delicious and will make any cold night seem a little more bearable! Or for a special treat—try the Flaherty’s in your French toast batter on a holiday morning! Delicious!

Decadence and indulgence is a theme of Christmas. We love to indulge our family and friends with meaningful gifts and thoughts. Part of the indulgence is rich, thick Baileys Irish Crème. The original and still the best–Baileys has been on the market since the early 1970’s and is the best selling crème in the world. Its proprietary blend of Real Irish Crème, Real Irish whiskey and other secret flavors allows us to experience a once in a lifetime flavor! Of course Baileys is great in coffee or hot chocolate, but it makes delicious creamy martinis when added with a premium vodka like SKYY or add cold press espresso for a treat.

Kir Royale Cocktails with lemon twist garnish

Kir Royale Made With Chambord

If you don’t want creamy drinks, don’t worry. There are plenty of decadent holiday cordials that will make anyone feel good. Chambord is delicious elixir of fine French cognac, fresh blackberries and raspberries. Legend goes that King Louis XIV was the inspiration for this delicious libation. No heads were cut off during the manufacture—but there is royal inspiration in every bottle! I love Chambord on the rocks as a velvety smooth sipper. Or add Chambord to champagne for a bubbly masterpiece. However Chambord and vodka shaken in a martini glass is the perfect blend of sweet and strong! Garnish with fresh raspberry and you will be overwhelmed by framboise happiness!

Frangelico is a hazelnut masterpiece from the hills of Piedmont in Northern Italy. Discovered and perfected by Christian monks over 300 years ago, the bottle today hearkens images of the ingenious hermit monk who discovered the elixir. Imagine living the solitude life of hermit monk—you would need a little sumthin sumthin to get you thru the lonely nights! Frangelico is now world renowned for its delicious flavors. Use it in a Tiramisu Martini. Take Frangelico, Good vodka, Irish crème and cold espresso. Shake and strain into a martini glass for delicious dessert cocktail! Or if the black raspberry Chambord sounded good to you, put Chambord and Frangelico in equal parts in a lowball glass. Add ice and top with crème for an excellent after dinner cocktail that will satisfy your need for sweet and nutty!

Tiramisu Martini

The Tiramisu Martini

This is a few of the many holiday liquors out on the market. Other classic liqueurs are Drambuie (Scotland), B&B (Benedictine monk liqueur and Fine French brandy), Kahlua (Mexican masterpiece) Amaretto (Italian Almond liquor) and dozens more.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and enjoy the history and tradition of Christmas drinks. It is a season of decadence and indulgence. But don’t forget the traditions and the happiness of being with family and friends! Enjoy in Moderation and Merry Christmas!!

By |December 7th, 2015|Spirits Blog|0 Comments

Vodka – A True Classic

Vodka is the number one selling spirit in the nation. There are many ways you can sell vodka. You can tell a story of great tradition, you can highlight the ingredients, you can talk up the distillation process, you can sell it as cheap as possible, or you can just make good smooth mixable vodka.

Vodka at its base is a distilled spirit, which is charcoal filtered, and meant to be as indiscriminate as possible. In the old days we were always told that vodka is a colorless, flavorless spirit that is used only in mixing with fruit juices or in a Bloody Mary. Now, however, we have been re-educated in the mystery of how to make good vodka. There IS a huge difference. Good vodka can be a unique experience and can make even the most mundane Vodka and Orange juice spectacular.

The key to good vodka is the grain used in the beginning mash   Basic distilled grains will come out of the distillation process pretty nasty tasting. During the distillation process you get the ‘heads”, “tails” and the “heart” in the distillate. No one wants the heads or tails—we all want the heart! This is where the real flavors and nuances come into play. The heart is the purest part of the distilled product. It has all the flavors, the aromas, and all the pleasant flavors that come from distilling. Good liquors come from the heart. True master distillers know when to pull the good parts out and save them for us commoners. We need to find the masters!

The birthplace of Vodka is Poland (The word Vodka comes from voda—Little water in Polish) and uses potatoes in a big way. Potato vodka is still my favorite. Great Potato vodka like Luksowawa and Chopin are 100% gluten free, distilled to a crystal clear look, and have the creamy mouth feel that I enjoy. Chopin Vodka, in a martini glass, with a whiff of Dry Vermouth and three olives as the garnish is the perfect cocktail!

As an aside, on November 13th, I will be the guest chef at Johnny Mango’s monthly charity cooking show ( Proceeds of the event will go to Syrian refugee relief in the Mediterranean Sea and the rest of Europe.   Chef Johnny will be teaching us how to make great Polish delicacies, while I will assist in some way. I can’t boil water—but I know how to make a great Martini! We will both learn something!!

Marketing of vodka is a huge part of the sales process. It is amazing to see new vodkas come on the market. Flavors are a huge part of the market. Brands like Smirnoff, Absolut, and UV have dozens of flavors and new ones coming all the time. Marshmallow, caramel, salty watermelon, and others are only a sliver of the choices available. Other vodkas strive to create only the best vodka and don’t mess with flavors.

Two newer, true pure vodkas on the market thriving now are Tito’s and Aviv. These two vodkas have taken two different methods to market. TIto’s was started in Austin, Texas by former oilman and geologist Tito Beveridge (yes that is his actual name!). He experimented with his buddy’s and did hundreds of blind taste tests until he came up the perfect distillation techniques. Small batches in copper tanks give Tito’s a smooth mixable finish that is still very affordable!   The packaging is as plain and no nonsense as the process taken in finding the great flavor!

A small company in Minneapolis called Tzaft Imports brings us Aviv. They have created a unique style of vodka using figs, pomegranates, olives, wheat, barley, grapes and dates. The vodka is good and totally unique—but the marketing and packaging are taking the world by storm!! AVIV comes in a unique triangle bottle that has hundreds of secret messages strewn through the bottle. The entire project uses ancient and modern symbolism to create a unique experience and to remind us that we are all interconnected in someway. At the base, the bottle begins as an irregular triangle and tapers to an equilateral triangle at the top, representing the journey to ones perfect character. One side of the bottle is slightly curved, which represents the challenges we encounter throughout our lifetime. This is only a small part of the symbolism present throughout the bottle–try it and discover your own journey!

Vodka at its heart is a simple product—but no other product has such a wide variety of uses, tastes and history! It is a true treasure that is deservedly the number one seller! Enjoy in moderation and Cheers!!



By |December 2nd, 2015|Spirits Blog|0 Comments