This week’s empties

Time to take the empty bottles to the recycling bin!

Vintus Blanc sec Gascogne 2013
Someone (I don’t remember who, if it was you, let me know) brought this bottle over when we were having a party. It didn’t get opened that night and I put it in my cellar for another occassion. Normally, these are wines that are consumed very young and usually as an aperitif.  Well, this bottle stayed in my cellar 9 months longer than I wanted it to as I was abstaining from consumption during my pregnancy. I wasn’t expecting much when we popped the cork to accompany scallops with mushroom risotto.

Oh Bacchus, was I wrong! The sauvignon blanc was still highly aromatic in the grapefruit, lime range. The color was a muted, pale gold. The acidity had calmed to be pleasingly fresh. The colombard‘s maturity offered baked apple and mineral notes. There was only a hint of sulpher, which is incredible for a wine of this style, at this age. It’s obvious, to me, that this wine was cold fermented to maintain the freshness and avoid the need to use too many stabilizers. There wasn’t a back ticket, but if I had to guess, I’d say this was around 11 -11.5% alcohol. If I can figure out where to buy this wine, I would absolutely stock up on it.

High quality cork from Ch. Petit Gravet Ainé, St Emilion Grand Cru,2007.

Chateau Petit Gravet Ainé, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 2007 SUPERSTAR OF THE WEEK

I recently discovered this chateau during an open house weekend in Saint Emilion. The property, as well as two other St Em properties, is owned by Madame Catherine Papon-Nouvelle. Madame Papon-Nouvelle accquired her passion for viticulture alongside her father. When she inherited the family domain, she quickly set about converting them all to organic agriculture.  PGA consists of two sandy hectares where generally we have clay and limestone. For this reason, the vineyard is planted predominately to cabernet franc with a remainder of merlot where the tradition is opposite on the Right Bank.

She’s been given outstanding reviews for 2009, 2010, and 2012 and has been able to keep the prices reasonable. These vintages are known as exceptional years, but are nowhere near ready to drink. That’s why I chose to take home a 2007, which is a classic vintage and drinking well right now, and which would allow me to judge the character that is there during a typical year. I was not disappointed.13256504_816570745142082_4645535287763485664_n

The first aromas made me think of something from the Left Bank, a testament to the higher concentration of cab franc, but then the telltale minerality of Saint Emilion mingled its way out of the glass. The palate was velvety, full-bodied and packed with flavors of the ripe cherries, raspberries, and blackberries we get from the vines on the sun drenched south side of town. There were slight floral and cacao notes and that Saint Emilion mineral that grips at your tongue and holds you captive.  There was considerable sediment. Cellar potential is another 2-3 years. It definitely classed up a simple steak and sesame broccoli dinner.

I’m going to be paying much closer attention to this pioneering lady in coming years.


Domaine de la Perruche Saumur-Champigny Vielles Vignes 2014

Pizza night! Didn’t feel like thinking or cleaning the dishes, so I popped a frozen pizza in the oven and selected a bottle I found in Tours (Loire Valley). I knew that this was a sage bet because the wines of this region are are typically intended to be consumed young; they are largely “buy now, drink now” wines. That means that they’ve not been macerated very long or left in oak barrels for more than a few months (if at all). This keeps the tannin from becoming too powerful.13310590_819823978150092_4672036003200771987_n

After the kid went down for the night, so did this 100% cabernet franc.  It offered aromas of raspberry jam and violettes. The color was an intense ruby with violet reflects.  The body, medium with a silky texture and a palate of fruit des bois (berries found on vines) and pencil shavings. The finish was 4 seconds. A very harmonious wine with a cellar potential of 3-5 years.


Loire Valley Sparklers for the Summer


There are few beverages that personify celebration like Champagne. We love the texure of fireworks on the palate and the tickle in the nose as the froth of bubbles overflows a fluted glass. And don’t you just love throwing down $230 (retail) for a bottle of Cristal? Erh… no. Or… not always. Some champagnes are meant for aging and do have a higher price point because they were crafted as a long term investment, not for pouring on the honeys in your rap video. But  that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money to find some good fizz.

The first step is to look outside of the Champagne region. True Champagne can only come from the viticultural area known as Champagne, but the same process that gets those bulles in the bottle can be reproduced elsewhere, but with more leniency.

In 1811, Jean-Baptiste Ackerman founded the oldest continuously producing méthode traditionnel sparkling wine house of the Loire River Valley.

Loire Valley vineyards with caves tunneled into the limestone cliff. Credit:
Loire Valley vineyards with caves tunneled into the limestone cliff. Credit:

The cool Loire limestone is a perfect terrior for cabernet franc, chenin blanc, and chardonnay. Today, Ackerman’s co-operative vineyards are certified by the International Food Standard and are 100% traceable with a heavy concentration on bio-sustainability.

Ackerman Saumer 1811 Brut Rosé – Under 6€ / $9-18

Crafted from 100% Cabernet Franc (a red grape), this bubbly has a salmon pink color. The nose is yeast roll and peach. The palate is light with red berry notes and a medium fizz with a finish that lags a bit. I served this as an apéritif (no harm adding a few berries) with shrimp cocktail, but finished the bottle with grilled mackerel and curried Basmati.

Ackerman Saumur 1811 Brut Rosé with grilled mackerel.
Ackerman Saumur 1811 Brut Rosé with grilled mackerel.

2 1/2 Stars out of 5


Ackerman Saumer 1811 Blanc Demi-Sec – Under 6€ / $9-18

This is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Demi-sec translates to “half-dry” and that means that this is a wine halfway between sweet and dry. I often suggest this type of wine to people that are looking to develop their palates beyond moscato. The color is a pale gold with green reflects. The nose is of apple blossom and honey and the palate is sweet mirabelle and honeydew melon. The finish has a fuji apple crisp acidity. The bubbles were tight and delicate. I had this with grilled salmon and green cauliflower.

Ackerman Saumur 1811 Blanc Demi-Sec with salmon & green cauliflower.
Ackerman Saumur 1811 Blanc Demi-Sec with salmon & green cauliflower.

The last glass of the bottle was

accompanied by honey citrus tarts with a speculoos crust and the apple acidity really refreshed the palate. I think this one would be excellent with a spicy tikka masala.

Ackerman Saumur 1811 Blanc Demi-Sec paired with honey citrus tart with speculoos crust.
Ackerman Saumur 1811 Blanc Demi-Sec paired with honey citrus tart with speculoos crust.

3 stars out of 5

Chateau Moncontour Vouvray Brut Under $15 (available at Spec’s)

Built by Charles VII in the 4th century, Chateau Moncontour has been admired for its views and its viticultural terroir.

Since 1994, the Feray Family have become masters of the chenin blanc variétal. Their focus has rested with the cremant style, Chateau Moncontour Magnum Brut Non vintage being the most widely distributed of their selections.

Once upon a time, I was hosting a crawfish boil which included some “I only drink beer, because I’m macho” types. I served them this wine in red Solo cups and waited until after they’d quenched the crab boil spiciness to tell them that they were enjoying sparkling wine (…and…gasp…French)! I got myself two new clients that day and one of them ended up drinking esoteric Rhone whites by the end of the year.

Ch Moncontour is a good beer substitute because the carbonation is tight. The body is medium, similar to a well-made blonde lager. The aromas and flavors remind me of fresh apricot kolaches with a green apple crisp on the finish.

It easily pairs with a wide range of cuisine

Chateau Moncontour Vouvray Brut paired with pineapple cilantro chicken salad on croissant.
Chateau Moncontour Vouvray Brut paired with pineapple cilantro chicken salad on croissant.

without being pretentious, making it one of my favorite ‘throw-downs’ for pizza night, take-out sushi, and most recently, Sunday’s left-over rotisserie chicken salad sandwiches.

4 stars out of 5

Variations of Loire Valley sparklers are available all over the States and cost a tad more than the swill they call “California Champagne,” but much higher quality. Remember these terms:

Brut = dry or more acid than sugar, leaving a clean finish

Demi-sec = half dry or balance between acid and sugar

Doux = sweet or a high residual sugar / low alcohol content.

So next time you’re organizing a rap video pool party, skip the Cristal and Dom Perignon and grab a bottle of Loire bubbles. Use the money you save for your Jesus chain instead.  R.I.P. Biggie.

Tournevis Cassis

Evidemment, je suis la responsable de l’heure de l’apéritif chez nous. Hier soir, quand j’ai demandé à Monsieur ce qu’il voudrait, il me dit une vodka orange .  En Amérique, nous appelons ce cocktail un Screwdriver (tournevis).  C’est le cocktail le plus feignant. Il faut même pas une pensée pour mixer vodka et jus d’orange sauf si l’on veut y ajouter des glaçons. Il ennuie les barmans dans le monde entier.

Je voulais respecter son envie, mais j’ai décidé de l’améliorer a ma façon. J’ai donc créé le




Une poignée de glaçons

Une ounce (30ml) vodka

Une demi-ounce (15ml) cassis liqueur

Ajouter tous les ingrédients dans un blender et pulser jusqu’à obtenir une consistance mousseuse.  Verser dans un grand verre et servir.

Tu vois? Simple mais mieux!



Obviously, I’m in charge of the cocktail hour at our house. Last night when I asked Monsieur what he would like, he told me that he was in the mood for a vodka / orange juice.
A screwdriver: the cop-out of the mixed drink world. There is absolutely no thought needed to combine vodka and orange juice except to determine whether or not there will be ice cubes. It bores the heck out of bartenders the world over.
I wanted to respect his preference, but I decided to spruce it up a bit, so I created the
Tournevis [pronounced tour.nah.veese] is the French word for screwdriver. Cassis [Kah.seese] is a black currant berry.


Handful ice cubes

1 ounce vodka

1/2 ounce cassis liqueur

8 ounces orange juice

In a blender add all of the ingredients and pulse until a froth develops. Pour into a tall rocks glass and serve.

You see? Simple, but better!


Baptised in Xocolatl*

According to Aztec legend, the god of wisdom, Quetzacoatl, came to earth with the cacao tree and taught the people how to ferment and drink the fruit of the pods. It was said to induce a euphoria, opening the passage between heaven and earth. 7367740_orig

One holiday season while working 60 hour weeks at the adult pop shop, a friend gave me a tin of Mexican drinking chocolate. The ingredient list was chocolate and canela (cinnamon). The instructions said to empty the entire can into a pan of hot milk, stir until melted and then drink. It was bitter as Jeb Bush’s campaign manager and I wanted to add some sugar to the remainder, but before I could return to the kitchen I was already heading down the rabbit hole. I don’t know if it was because my body and brain were exhausted, but the experience I had could be described as being in the presence of those Aztec gods.
My heart rate felt elevated, my head buoyant. I had to lie down on the bed. I closed my eyes and luminous blues and purples swirled behind my eyelids. I detected tingling in my scalp, arms and feet and a fullness in my belly. I had no anxiety (rare in those days) and a sense of calm. I remember thinking that this is what euphoric must mean. It reminded me of nitrous oxide at the dentist’s office, but without the fuzzy confusion or heaviness. I slept better and woke up more refreshed than a night at a Sofitel.
I spent the next day thinking of reasons this could have transpired; it wasn’t a carbon monoxide leak, I hadn’t added rum or brandy to the mix, there were no drugs in my system, etc. It had to have been this sensation the Mayans and the Aztecs enshrined on their stone walls.

13177047_807450596054097_5621976580879537064_nI think it’s safe to say that a mugfull of mass produced hot chocolate, like NesQuick or Swiss Miss, isn’t going to induce anything except diabetes. That’s because they are packed with fillers and ‘fructose solids’ and have very little real cacao and what it does contain is low-grade (although, I loved those crunchy “marshmallows” when I was a kid). Drinking chocolate shouldn’t be part of your everyday diet, so it’d be a shame to waste that moment (and the calories) on something that leaves you unsatisfied. Invest in quality ingredients. I’m pretty sure the path to enlightenment will not include the phrase “mix with boiling water;” put those packets back on the shelf.

I’ve never been able to recreate that sensation, but I’ve still found several indulgent brands; Cadbury, Ghiradelli, Taza are some that are not difficult to find. I make an effort to acquire artisan productions when I see them. I sometimes make my own.


Bring a pan of water to a boil. Cover the pan with a metal bowl, making certain the bowl doesn’t touch the water. If you have a double broiler – use that, but you probably don’t need me to tell you how to use it.

In the bowl add 250ml (approximately 1 cup) of whole or half fat milk and heat until it begins to bubble slightly.

Sweeten to taste. Reduce heat.

Add 150 grams of chopped 65% (or higher) dark chocolate. Stirring constantly.

Once the chocolate has completely melted, remove from heat.

Pour back and forth from two containers to obtain a frothy texture.


fresh ground cinnamon or nutmeg, raspberry or orange liqueur, coffee liqueur, amaretto or anisette, whipped cream, chili powder, marshmallows, chopped peppermint or cookie pieces, etc.

Drinking chocolate we picked up at the L'Atelier du Chocolat. Bayonne, France
Drinking chocolate we picked up at the L’Atelier du Chocolat. Bayonne, France

By the way: Did you know that dark chocolate contains fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, maganese, potassium, zinc, and selenium?


So there’s that.

*Xocolatl is the Mayan word for chocolate and translates roughly to “bitter water.”

Augustus in the Fudge Room by Jimmy C Lombardo.
Augustus in the Fudge Room by Jimmy C Lombardo.

La Margarita- “that frozen concoction that helps me hang on”

There are almost as many variations of margarita recipes as there are stories of her origin, but a few components are requisite; citrus and tequila sweetened with orange flavor and served icy cold.

A frozen 'Margartia Traditional' at Mi Tierra. San Antonio, Texas
A frozen ‘Margartia Traditional’ at Mi Tierra. San Antonio, Texas

For some a margarita can be delivered in a fish-bowl sized glass with an inverted Corona cerveza peeking out from above the rim and have any number of fruit flavor additives. Nothing wrong with that, but if you can draw your attention away from the chips and salsa, take a look at the bar. If you don’t see bottles of liquor lining the shelves, your sugary cocktail was made with beer or cheap white wine . Restaurants will do this when they don’t have a liquor license. Fine. So what? They can be delicious too, but it irks me when they are called margaritas because they are not.

My first ever margarita was at the famous Arthuro’s in Nuevo Progresso, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Fresh Rio Grande Valley lime juice with tequila puro and a splash of orange liqueur would be served in a rocks glass while you waited for your Arthuro’s plate… or the cabrito… or the quail…or…. Anyway, it spoiled me and made me a purist. Life is too short to drink bad tequila more than once.

The key ingredient is, of course, tequila. Listen, People, get the 100% agave tequila. You’re going to pay for it at the cash register or lying on the bathroom floor at 3am, so just buck it up and buy the real stuff and avoid the pain of mixo brands.

Tequila comes from the agave plant grown in Jalisco, Mexico. It goes by other names when grown and produced in other regions, but let’s stick to the ‘champagne of agave spirits’ for now. The time the spirit is aged defines its category:

Tequila Blanco-Plata-Silver: The purest form of agave distillate is left to settle in stainless steel tanks for up to 4 weeks. It should be clear and colorless and will be the most intense.

Tequila Reposado: Wood barrels (generally American or French oak) are used to impart body and flavor. The spirit rests in the barrel for 2 months to 11 months and will exhibit a golden hue. The palate will be a balance of the agave’s sweetness and flavors from the wood.

Tequila Añejo: Minimum time in barrels (less than 600 liters) is one year. A majority of what we find on the commercial market is 18 months to 30 months. The hue deepens to an amber color and the flavors become much more complex.

If I’m sipping (no, I do not do “shots”), I’m going to prefer a Reposado or an Añejo, but I find it excessive for mixing.

My favorite-for-the-money sipping Reposado.
My favorite-for-the-money sipping Reposado.

Ingredient Numero Dos is citrus juice. Classically, fresh-squeezed lime is the way to go, but some prefer the softer lemon juice (although that is technically a tequila sour). The difficulty arrives when making large batches or when there is a shortage of fresh citrus. In times of ‘citrus crisis’ allowances may be made for mixes. Try to find the most natural possible with the least amount of sugar derivitives.

Speaking of sweetness… if you prefer a mouth-puckering beverage, stop here, but a little balance goes a long way. Some choose to sweeten their juice with sugar or agave nectar while others add to the complexity of the drink with an orange flavor. We can achieve this flavor two ways: triple-sec or orange liqueur. The difference is drastic:

Triple-sec is no longer what it once was. Once upon a time it was a distillate made from the peels of bitter oranges. That is very rare to find now unless you happen to be on the island of Curaçao, but you’re not so what you pick up from the bottom shelf at the liquor store is likely a low-grade molasses distillate with artificial flavoring. Orange liqueur, on the other hand, is orange fruit macerated in a distillate base and then often barrel aged for smoothness. These are going to add a little more to your cocktail (and a little more to the budget to be honest).

Salt or sugar rimmed, fresh strawberries or peach syrup, frozen or on the rocks – your variations are kinda endless as long as you keep the basics. !Salud!

Sara’s Go-To Margarita Recipe:

2 ounces 100% Agave Tequila Blanco

1 ounce fresh lime juice

1 ounce Grand Marnier or Cointreau

Run your used lime along the rim of your glass and gently roll the rim in a mixture of 50% sugar, 50% salt.

Fill a cocktail shaker 2/3 with ice and add the tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur.

Shake well and strain into the rimmed glass. Garnish with two serrano-stuffed olives. Pair with Jimmy Buffett’s “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” album. (I don’t own the rights [MCA 1977], but I am a parrothead!)

Sara's 'Go-To Margarita'
Sara’s ‘Go-To Margarita’

Domaine Chiroulet Vieil Armagnac Resérve 15 ans

For the first installment of “What’s in My Decanter” I was in the mood for Armagnac.

Never heard of it? You’re not alone if you live outside of France, so here is a brief overview:

Brandy is a spirit distilled from a fruit wine. Armagnac and Cognac are both brandies made from white grape wines. The longer a spirit sits in the barrel, the more smooth and complex it becomes, but once it is ‘in-bottle’ the evolution stops. Armagnac differs from Cognac in a couple of ways:

  1. Cognac comes from the village of Cognac in Charente and Armagnac comes from the village of Armagnac in Gascony. This is going to effect the terrior (a sense of place detected in the finished product). The climate and soil are different in the towns so the types of grapes used and the minerality will often be noticable.
  2. Cognac is distilled in pot stills twice where Armagnac is distilled in column stills one time. The more you distill, the more the impurities are removed. Why wouldn’t one want to remove all impurities if possible? Because that’s also where the flavor comes from, otherwise we’d have vodka.

    A pot still at Pierre Ferrand Cognac. Ars, France
    A pot still at Pierre Ferrand Cognac. Ars, France
  3. Cognac is always blended from multiple barrels and (or) vintages to attain a consistant flavor. Everytime Kanye picks up a bottle of Hennessey he knows what to expect. Armagnac artisans tend to prefer creating unique profiles and will often bottle a selection as a vintage (single harvest year). This is why there is less produced and why you are less likely to find a huge selection of Armagnac brands outside of France.

Domaine Chiroulet is situated on the highest point of Armagnac with a south-facing vineyard exposure. They produce both red and white wines and armagnac. Find more information and photos by clicking the link.


Domaine Chiroulet Resérve 15 ans 30-50€

Tasting Notes: The color is a dark amber with orange reflects. On the nose, I picked out orange peel and caramel notes. It has a medium bodied mouth-feel with the perfect amount of heat to tickle your nose on the first sip and the flavors were of toffee, medium roast coffee beans and vanilla. The finish was a long, five seconds.

IMG_2617  <<Still figuring out how to upload videos. Just click the link.

I prefer to drink armagnac out of a champagne flute to take advantage of the delicate nose. And it’s always better paired with a book and a chimney fire!!

3 out of 5 stars

How I do tourism


I hate dusting. I HATE it. Which would be apparent if you were to walk into my house right now. Therefore, when I travel, the types of souvenirs I’m going to search for are not going to be thimbles from the Grand Canyon or shot glasses from Dublin (OK, there was that one Guinness pint glass from Thin Lizzy’s favorite bar I sneaked into my bag, but let’s not go into that).

I’m a foodie. And while kitch souvenirs are sometimes fun and endure the decades, I travel with epicurean pleasures in mind and set a priority on the flavors of my vacations. If I’m in San Fransisco I’ll pick up some fresh sourdough bread to go with my Anchor Steam. If I’m in the Texas Hill Country it’s gonna be Shiner Blonde to wash down my pecans & BBQ (mmmm… Kreutz). Key lime pie + Margaritaville Tequila = Key West Florida.

Here in France there are 375 to 450 types of cheese and each town has their own bread or pastry variation. Same goes for the wines and spirits. The French believe that food should be simple, but pleasurable. The ingredients that come from your area are going to be the freshest and have the best flavors (they were into macrobiotics before it was a thing). It follows that when you are searching out local products, the components are going to pair well together.

So here’s what I do when I visit a new region: I go grocery shopping. I prefer to stop by the local caves, la fromagerie, or the little corner épicerie, but if I don’t have the time (or the budget) I make a run for the supermarché. Yannick laughs at me, but he’s cute so I still share with him.

I spend a few minutes choosing four to six bottles in the wine section by studying their labels. Yannick calls this my theme park – but it’s so much fun (for me, I’m sure nobody else has this quirk)! Sometimes a region is known for only one or two different wines and then I can increase my per bottle budget a bit, but I generally have an ‘under 10€’ rule. The whole concept is local and the locals are NOT going to waste superfluous funds on their everyday bottles. Sometimes I get lucky and find something to store for a few years, but generally, I’m looking for bottles that will be consumable within three years.

And they still collect dust, but somehow I don’t mind wiping down the label if I’m popping a cork that will return me to a vacation memory.



Cheers! A votre santé!

I am a wine professional. I’m supposed to drink with my pinky in the air and then rub in your face that my drinks game is better than yours.  Well, ok, I admit, I went through that stage in my career. We all do because having a big ego is requisite in this field. It takes a long time to prove not only that you know what you’re talking about, but that you have the practical skills to ‘sip n spit’ with the big boys.

Taking tasting notes at a fancy pants event at Château La Pointe. Pomerol, France
Taking tasting notes at a fancy pants event at Château La Pointe. Pomerol, France

Eventually, I became comfortable in my skill set and got over continuously trying to sell myself. ‘Cause ya know what? If I drink a Trockenbeerenauslese Riesling out of an old jelly jar it doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of that wine and if it does for someone else, they are probably ridiculous anyway.

I follow a variety of wine blogs and Instagram accounts myself. Frankly, I’m bored with seeing photos of Château Cheval Blanc and Château Haut Brion. We get it, you’ve got cash and class, whatever. I’m also weary of seeing a wine glass posed in beautiful scenery without any mention of what’s in the glass. All of these accounts seem to be pretentious displays of wealth and access or pretty pictures with no substance. So here’s what I propose:

Even after more than a decade in this industry, I have much to learn. That’s why I was drawn to this profession – I’ll never finish discovering. Another aspect that I love is that I get to transmit this knowledge to others.  I’d like to use this blog as a platform to bring that information to you. I’d like to share with you “ce que je bois” or “what I drink.”

By the way, I don’t limit myself to wine. How boring would that life be?  I enjoy a diverse repetoire of libations, so if you prefer hard ciders or esoteric herbal liqueurs I will get there, I promise.

Cheers! A Votre Santé! Slainte! Tchin! Whatever… bottoms up!


***Aussi, une note pour mes amis francophones: Je suis en train de travailler sur la façon de lier ma version française. Je vous prie d’être patient, je vous jure que ça va venir.