Month: July 2013

How to Find the Perfect Wine for You

F&W’s Ray Isle investigates the sommelier strategies that can help you find an ideal bottle of wine all on your own.Image

he Jordan Pond House, in Acadia National Park, Maine, serves lemonade in an unusual way. You’re given a big glass of unsweetened lemonade and a little pitcher of sugar syrup. Then you pour in as much syrup as you want until the lemonade is to your liking. Some people like their lemonade very tart, some people like it very sweet and most people are somewhere in the middle.


Thinking about wine in the same way isn’t such a stretch; like lemonade, some wines are very tart, some less so. In fact, although wine can seem dauntingly complex, it shares a lot of characteristics with other things you eat and drink—sourness, bitterness, sweetness and so on. If you don’t like intensely tangy lemonade, you probably won’t like intensely tangy wines. The problem is, if you’re looking at a list of unfamiliar wines, how do you know which ones you’ll like? You don’t. And, unlike lemonade, you can’t adjust a wine to your taste.


In a restaurant, of course, you can ask the sommelier—a good one can divine which wines you’ll enjoy, even if you don’t know yourself. At The NoMad in Manhattan, wine director Thomas Pastuszak refers to these skills as “the Jedi mind tricks of the sommelier,” a phrase I like if only because it brings to mind an image of Alec Guinness in Star Wars, pointing to a wine list and saying, “These aren’t the Cabs you’re looking for…”


Of course, most people don’t have sommeliers at home. So why not become your own sommelier? With that in mind, I trailed Pastuszak at work, listening to his conversations with customers who asked for help. (Most do; there are about 1,000 selections on The NoMad’s list.) Then I got in touch with Matthew Kaner, wine director at Los Angeles’s Bar Covell, who has his own approach to helping customers make choices.


At The NoMad, many of Pastuszak’s strategies were familiar, such as asking customers about the last wine they had that they really liked; even a novice sommelier knows that one. Other strategies were more akin to translation. One woman described a Pinot Noir she’d loved as being “so smooth, I just wanted to eat it like ice cream.” In my experience, “smooth” is one of the most common (and positive) words used to describe wines by casual drinkers. Unfortunately, it’s also vague. Pastuszak, though, was able to immediately interpret it as meaning “low-acid and low-tannin.” He often let the customers make the final decision, pouring them two wines side by side—a juicy Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and a lighter, brighter one from Burgundy, say—and asking if they had a preference. They always did.


He also used some very basic strategies, like asking customers to “trust me on this.” Pastuszak is a charming, articulate, good-looking guy, withan infectiously upbeat attitude: It’s hard not to trust him. And really, why wouldn’t you? Personality aside, his knowledge is vast. And choosing a wine requires more knowledge than, for instance, ordering a dish. Think of it this way: If you ask your friends whether they like beets, they’ll tell you. They won’t have to puzzle it out or admit that they’re not very beet-savvy. But with wine, casual drinkers probably can’t say whether they like Monastrell from Spain or Central Coast Grenache, even if they know that they like tart flavors, or that bitter flavors make them shudder. When dealing with a 1,000-bottle wine list, a trustworthy guide is handy.


Kaner, one of F&W’s Sommeliers of the Year for 2013, takes trust to a new level. At Bar Covell, which he co-owns, there is no wine list. There’s plenty of wine—a huge selection, in fact. But he won’t tell you what any of it is until you’ve had a conversation with him about your likes and dislikes.


This approach might seem odd, or even a little bit annoying, but Kaner’s logic makes perfect sense: “Hand someone a list with 150 selections, which is what we have at Bar Covell, and immediately, you’re assuming everyone knows everything about all 150 wines. And they don’t. So how can you expect them to make an educated choice?”


What Kaner does instead is ask his customers questions. “I don’t focus on grape varieties,” he adds. “They don’t help. If someone says they want a Syrah, what does that mean? One from Morocco? From Cornas? From Santa Barbara? They’re all distinct. So instead of varieties, I try to think more about wine characteristics.”


That means asking whether someone might prefer a lighter wine or a more full-bodied one, acidic or not so acidic, dry or sweet. “Say you want a red,” he says. “OK, do you want an earthy red? A fruity one? What we do is direct the narrative.”


Kaner sometimes challenges what customers think they want, too. “We had someone come in recently who said, ‘I want a big earthy Cab, what do you have?’ So I said, ‘Why does it have to be Cabernet Sauvignon? That’s only one of thousands of grape varieties.’ After talking for five minutes about why it doesn’t matter what grape it is, I poured him three different possibilities.” He ended up with a Négrette, an obscure red from southwest France. And he loved it.


Instead of getting the customer what he thought he wanted (Cabernet), Kaner listened to what heactually wanted (an earthy, substantial, tannic red). This method showed me that it doesn’t take many questions to narrow down a person’s preferences. So I decided to stage an experiment at home, based on two of wine’s most basic characteristics: acidity (tartness) and body (how lush a wine feels in your mouth.)


First, I invited two of my wife’s cousins, wine drinkers but definitely not experts, over for dinner. I asked them what they liked when it came to tartness—how much sugar syrup they would pour into their lemonade, essentially. Then I quizzed them about body: Did they prefer rich sauces or light ones? Dark- or white-meat chicken? Finally, I had them taste four wines, bottles concealed in paper bags: a high-acid, light-bodied red (Barbera from Italy), a high-acid, full-bodied red (Brunello di Montalcino), a lower-acid, light-bodied red (Pinot Noir from Monterey, California) and a lower-acid, full-bodied red (Paso Robles Zinfandel).


This approach strips away the nuance that makes wine fascinating, certainly. But it worked. The cousin who likes sweet lemonade, light sauces and white meat chose the Pinot as her favorite. Her sister, who prefers tangier lemonade but the same kind of dishes, went for the Barbera. And my wife, who would just as soon skip the sugar syrup in her lemonade but prefers richer foods on the whole, picked the Brunello.


The point is this: Coupled with some very basic wine knowledge (see the chart here), knowing your taste preferences makes it extremely easy to pick a wine you’ll enjoy. And you won’t have to learn any Jedi mind tricks to do it.







Great Frozen Vodka drink for impromptu entertaining on our roof-top throughout the hot Summer months. Your guests are always thoroughly impressed when something so delicious is just waiting in the freezer for them and can be enjoyed at a moments notice.


Frozen Vodka Slush
Recipe Notes: Prepare this recipe a day or two in advance so the slush can freeze and be extra delicious when served. You also may want to double the recipe -yes, it’s that tasty- so pick up 2x’s the ingredients when you’re at the market!

8 cups water
3 cups white sugar
juice of 2 lemons
juice of 2 oranges
one 48oz can of pineapple juice
one 12oz can frozen Minute Maid grapefruit juice
one 12oz can of frozen Minute Maid lemonade
26oz Vodka – I prefer Ultimat vodka

First, make a simple syrup. Boil 8 cups water and stir in 3 cups white sugar. Continue to stir until the sugar incorporates with the water, for about 15 minutes. Let cool.

In a separate bowl, combine the juice of 2 lemons, 2 oranges, 1 48oz can of pineapple juice, 1 12oz can frozen Minute Maid grapefruit juice, 1 12oz can of frozen Minute Maid lemonade and 26oz Vodka.

Once the simple syrup is cooled, add the juice/vodka mix to the syrup. Stir and transfer into an air-tight tupperware container(s) with lid(s). Freeze.

When your guests arrive, stir the slush and fill the glass half-full with frozen vodka slush. Fill the rest of the glass with diet 7-Up. Enjoy!

Dark ‘n Stormy


According to a Gosling’s Rum tale, this drink was invented more than 100 years ago when members of Bermuda’s Royal Naval Officer’s Club added a splash of the local white rum to their spicy ginger beer.  They described its ominous hue as “the color of a cloud only a fool or dead man would sail under.”

  1. 2 ounces dark rum, preferably Gosling’s
  2. 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice (optional)
  3. Ice
  4. 1 candied ginger slice
  5. 3 ounces chilled ginger beer
  6. 1 lime wheel
  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the rum and lime juice and shake well. Strain into an ice-filled collins glass. Stir in the ginger beer. Skewer the ginger slice and lime wheel and garnish the cocktail.


Mojito Time




  • 3 fresh mint sprigs
  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 ounce Simple Syrup
  • 2 ounces Bacardi white rum

  • Ice
  • 1 1/2 ounces club soda, chilled


  1. Place 2 of the mint sprigs, the lime juice, and the simple syrup in a cocktail shaker and press gently against the mint with the back of a spoon to release the oils.
  2. Add the rum and a handful of ice and shake vigorously until the mixture is well chilled, about 20 seconds. Fill a 10-ounce glass with ice and strain the drink into the glass. Top with club soda and garnish with the remaining mint sprig.

What’s similar between Napoleon Bonaparte & James Bond


Napoleon Bonaparte is reported to have had  a weakness to Champange.  When Lord John Maynard Keynes took his last breath, his last words were “I wish I had drunk more Champagne” before he consigned his soul to the almighty. In a nutshell his last words can describe the sentimentality of any champagne drinker.  Nowadays no celebration is complete without popping the bubbly froth of champagne. From winners spraying each other with champagne to people marking any occasion like a promotion by opening a bottle of champagne, this drink is a flawless match and adds grace to a gathering in any celebration because of its vivaciousness and elegance. However, not many people realize that champagne is in fact a sparkling wine with the main difference between the two being that, unlike wine, champagne undergoes double fermentation, once in the barrel and then in the bottle. This allows the carbon dioxide to get trapped in the wine giving those distinctive bubbles. The bubbles in the champagne are also responsible for carrying the alcohol into the blood stream faster. Also, since, classic champagne is only produced in a particular region of France,  it is produced in a far more limited quantity. That is why champagne is one of the most expensive drinks. So, raise a toast with champagne as often as you can, in celebration or not, so that you don’t end up expressing the sentiment of Lord Keynes. Read below for some interesting and amazing information about champagne.


Interesting And Fun Facts About Champagne

  • Champagne is only produced from the French region of Champagne. It is believed that this wine was invented by the Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon. He allowed the carbon dioxide to form inside the bottle, giving rise to bubbles.
  • It is a type of sparkling wine and is distinguished due to the formation of bubbles. A bottle of champagne can have as many as 49 million bubbles. Because of the distinctive bubbles in champagne, it is also affectionately known as ‘bubbly’.
  • The size of the bubbles is one of the factors that determine the quality of the champagne. High quality champagne is denoted by tiny bubbles. Large bubbles are a mark of inferior quality.
  • Champagne should always be drunk in a tall and narrow glass called the flute to confine the bubbles and concentrate the aroma. To enhance the taste and aroma the champagne should be allowed to sit for a few minutes after pouring into a glass.
  • Unlike other wines, champagne does not get better with age.
  • The label champagne can be used only if it is produced in the Champagne region of France. Since the label is copyrighted, similar wine produced elsewhere, using the same technique should be marked as ‘methode champenoise’ to give credit to the procedure.
  • A champagne bottle bears a pressure that is equivalent to the tyre pressure of a double decker bus. This pressure can be reduced to a significant extent by chilling.
  • The grapes that are traditionally used to make champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
  • The champagne ‘coupe’ or goblet is said to have been modeled in the shape of Marie Antoinette’s breast.
  • The cork of the champagne bottle can pop at a velocity of 40 miles per hour and it can even reach to a speed of 100 miles per hour.
  • At a festival in Italy, the world’s largest champagne glass was unveiled. The glass stands at 7 feet tall and can hold about 22 bottles of champagne.
  • A biography of Marilyn Monroe states that the famous actress once took a bath in champagne. Up to 350 bottles of champagne were used to fill the tub.
  • Ian Fleming’s most enduring creation, James Bond, was also known for his love for champagne.
  • On board the titanic, the champagne that was served was Heidsieck & Co Monopole Blue Top Champagne Brut. There is a rumor that some of the bottles that washed ashore several years later had champagne that tasted great.
  • A raisin kept in a glass of champagne will keep rising to the top and sinking to the bottom.