Santorini WinesDuring the first half of our recent cruise – which began in Athens and then took in a number of the Greek Islands before visiting several ports in Italy and disembarking in Rome – my permanent dining partner and I had ample opportunity to sample a variety of outstanding Greek wines.

There is absolutely no question that the wines of Greece are difficult to spell – and even more difficult to pronounce – but they are, on the other hand, extremely pleasing to both the palate and the pocketbook…. But the real difficulty with Greek wines has always been finding them. Seeking them out usually required a road trip to specific specialty shops in Greek neighborhoods. Now, thankfully, they are carried in numerous fine wine shops in equally numerous locations. Listed below are several Greek varietals and wineries that may be of interest. I have personally tasted all the wines noted… and all (with one exception) are available through Pennsylvania State Stores.

Santorini Assyrtiko 20182018 BOUTARI ASSYRTIKO SANTORINI: The Boutari family has been producing wines from Greek varietals since 1879. Since that first vintage, the family has become a pioneer of Greek wines, now crafting wines from six different regions, utilizing grapes that are grown nowhere else in the world.

Boutari has been named International Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits magazine 19 times; only five wineries in the world have received the award more times. Achievements such as developing the modern style of Santorini wines to reviving lost varietals have garnered praise from the wine press and spawned a generation of high-quality Greek wines.

And nothing could be more indicative of Boutari’s winemaking prowess than the 2018 Assyrtiko Santorini, their benchmark treatment of Greece’s iconic white wine grape (as I discussed in a previous article, Assyrtiko originated from the Cyclades Island of Santorini, but is now planted to most Greek wine regions, becoming, in terms of quality, one of the most important native varietals).  Wine critic Jeb Dunnuck bestowed a whopping 96 points (100-point scale), noting: “It’s deep, rich, medium-bodied, and concentrated on the palate, with perfectly integrated acidity and a monster of a finish. It’s pure class.”

Exhibiting a bright yellow color in the glass, with beautiful aromas of exotic and citrus fruits, this is a zesty, refined wine with an intense minerality and fabulous finish. Highly recommended. $31.99.

 

Mylonas Assyrtiko 20192019 MYLONAS ATTIKA ASSYRTIKO: Located in the city of Keratea in Attika, far down the peninsula that extends south from Athens, the history of Mylonas Winery goes back a century and has been passed down from father-to-son for three generations. Now run by the Mylonas brothers – Antonis, Tasos, and Stamatis – they work with local grapes and experiment with new varieties in this emerging region. In this part of Attica, Savatiano is actually the most famous grape. But the story here is quite different…

About twenty years ago, or so the story goes, before Santorini was recognized as a world class wine production site, mainland winemakers would buy grapes from the island to bulk up their production, Stamatis Mylonas found some Assyrtiko grapes mixed in with the red grapes he was using to produce his rosé. He was curious and journeyed to Santorini to acquire some vine cuttings… And the rest, as they say, is history. Today, the Assyrtiko is hand-harvested, fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel tanks, spends about three months on the lees, and yields wines of true concentration, character, and finesse.

The 2019 Mylonas Attika Assyrtiko, for example, received 91- and 92-points from Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits, respectively.  This is a superb wine, with excellent body, an appealing creaminess, and a lingering clean finish with a subtle salty spin. As K&L Wine Merchants noted: “This expression of Assyrtiko calls to mind the wines of Santorini but at a much more inviting price.” $15.99.

 

Alpha Estate Malagouzia 20192019 ALPHA ESTATE MALAGOUZIA: Alpha Estate is not a new name to the premium wine trade, as wine writers Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and Robert Parker are all enthusiastic fans of this top-quality Greek winery. Established in 1997 by viticulturist Makis Mavridis and oenologist Angelos Iatridis, Alpha is recognized as one of the pioneers of modern Greek wine. The winery combines international with traditional grapes and has its own nursery developing colonial selections. The winery is so state-of-the-art it can direct underground irrigation to specific vine roots and change the air in its wine cellars three times a day.

Located at a very high altitude in the sandy Amyndeon plateau in northwestern Greece, Alpha is particularly famous for its Xinomavro, a complex, collector-worthy red that is often compared to the far more expensive Barolo and Nebbiolo wines. But Latridis also excels with his red blends and, given the climate, quite naturally with white wines.

His Sauvignon Blanc is the most sought-after in Greece and his Malagouzia, specifically the 2019 Alpha Estate Malagouzia, is nothing short of pure delight. The “Turtle Vineyard” Malagouzia is a single-vineyard white that is completely the product of stainless-steel fermentation. In the glass it exhibits a straw color with an explosive-expressive nose and touch of flintiness. Light and lively on the plate, there is a slight effervescence with Riesling-like qualities and a touch of subdued spice similar to a Gewürztraminer. A positively lovely wine, the 2019 Malagourzia received a 90-point rating from both Robert Parker and Decanter magazine. $18.99.

 

Domaine Skouras Zoe 20202020 DOMAINE SKOURAS ZOE: Located in Nemea on the Peloponnese Peninsula, Domaine Skouras was founded by George Skouras, who was graduated from the University of Dijon with a degree in oenology. After working for a number of wineries in France, Italy and Greece, he finally fulfilled the dream of setting up his own small wine-making facility in Pyrgela in 1986. This was quickly followed by the creation of a boutique winery in the Nemea Appellation area, in the village of Gymno.

The Domaine Skouras and its associates cultivate the local grape varieties of Agiorgitiko, Moschofilero, Rodhitis, and Kydonitsa, as well as the foreign varieties such as Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. Many of the vintages produced are everyday wines, while others are unique & innovative (and rather pricey) varietal combinations that are rare, limited, and terribly difficult-to-find.

The wine I sampled from this producer was the 2020 Domaine Skouras Zoe, an intriguing white blend of 60% Roditis and 40% Moschofilero, two grapes that are probably not terribly familiar to most wine lovers. Roditis is a pink-skinned grape traditionally grown in the Peloponnese region of Greece. Today, it is most commonly blended with Savatiano in the making of Retsina, a famous (or infamous) Greek wine infused with pine resin. Moschofilero is an aromatic white grape with a pink/purple skin, spicy flavor, and excellent acidity.            The result is a wine with a complex aroma of fresh flowers, a luxurious texture rife with flavors of citrus fruit, and a marvelous acidity that moves across the palate to a clean, refreshing finish. The price is pretty refreshing as well… $13.99.

 

Nasiakos Agiorgitiko 2019 (2)2019 NASIAKOS AGIORGITIKO: The vineyards of the Nasiakos families lie in the heart of the two largest and most important wine regions of Greece. One is in Mantinia in Arcadia; the other – the highest point on Nemea – in Corinth, Peloponnese. Leonidas Nasiakos is the viticulturalist, winemaker, and producer of the wines that bear his name. Under the Nasiakos label, 6,500 cases of wine are produced from the indigenous appellation varietals such as Moschofilero and Agiorgitiko. Nasiakos wines have been rated by publications such as Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine & Spirits for over 15 years, with ratings from 87 to 93 points.

Of particular importance is Agiorgitiko, the most widely planted red wine grape in Greece. It is one of the more commercially important indigenous varieties; and it can exhibit a wide range of characteristics, from soft to very tannic, depending upon factors in the growing and winemaking processes.

The 2019 Nasiakos Agiorgitiko is most definitely of the latter persuasion… In the glass, mesmerizing aromas of vanilla, blackberry, and currant quickly capture your attention… carried over to invitingly ripe fruit flavors on the palate. This is a wine with a surprisingly light – almost ethereal – touch. It goes down as smooth as silk and is also marvelously food friendly. A lovely wine on all counts. $15.99.

 

Boutari Kretikos 20162016 BOUTARI KRETIKOS RED: As noted above, the Boutari family has been producing wines from Greek varietals since 1879 and has become a pioneer of Greek wines, crafting vintages from six different regions, utilizing grapes that are grown nowhere else in the world.

… And the 2016 Boutari Kretikos has helped to set the quality standard of Cretan wines worldwide. Kretikos, which means “originating in Crete,” is a carefully selected blend of 60% Kotsifali and 40% Mandilaria, both indigenous grapes. Kotsifali – Mandilaria blends are quite common in the red wines of Greece, but particularly so on Crete, the southernmost and largest of the Greek Islands. Such a beneficial blending brings together the aromatics, sugars, and corpulence of Kotsifali with the strong color, acidity, and tannins of Mandilaria.

Both Kotsifali and Mandilaria are most often blended with other varieties, as neither is famed for the quality of its wines when vinified as a single varietal. Only the very finest vineyard sites can produce complex and balanced wines from either grape alone… but combining the two is quite a different story. Kotsifali – Mandilaria blends can be aromatic, complex, colorful, and beautifully balanced.

It is not certain at what point in history Kotsifali and Mandilaria were first deliberately blended, but the benefits are quite apparent… as the 2016 Boutari Kretikos Red clearly demonstrates. This beautifully balanced wine features a brilliant ruby color, pleasant aromas of red fruits, velvety tannins, and a lingering finish. It also has a decidedly earthy note, which I very much enjoy. I also enjoy the price tag: $8.99. Snatch it up while you can.

 

Zacharias Assyrtiko 2020One closing note: Since we have been discussing Greek wines, please do not overlook the extraordinary 2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko, which I mentioned in last month’s article as one of my favorite white wines of 2021. Hailing from the Peloponnese Peninsula, the 2019 Zacharias Assyrtiko recently received 91 points and was included in the “Top 100 Best Buys of 2021” by Wine Enthusiast (but is impossible to find)… The good news, however, is that the 2020 is even better.

Just be aware that this is the one wine that is not available through Pennsylvania State Stores. The best price I discovered online is $12.99 per bottle (plus shipping) from Central Wine Merchants in Flemington, New Jersey.

 Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

{ 0 comments }

Volvér

300 South Broad Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

(215) 670-2302

http://philadelphia.volverrestaurant.com/

Volver - InteriorTo the immense satisfaction of Philadelphia area foodies – this writer included – chef/owner Jose Garces’ Volvér, which was closed for an extended period due to the Covid pandemic, has now reopened. So, if you are contemplating a visit to the Kimmel Center and seeking a suitable pre-event dining venue, this fine restaurant should, once again, be at the very top of your list of possibilities.

One of the reasons for this, of course, is the fact that Volvér is located right in the Center itself; which, I can tell you from bitter experience, will save you an unbelievable amount of hassle… Instead of rushing from here to there following a hasty dinner – like hoofing several blocks in less-than ideal weather – you are already “there.” The only thing you need to worry about is getting to your seat on time.

Volver - BarBut there is certainly more to dining here than just convenience… Volvér, which opened its doors in April 2014 and was first reviewed by this writer in November 2018, continues to serve up innovative, seasonally-driven cuisine that is subtle in both preparation and presentation. Many would undoubtedly consider the portions here on the diminutive side… but since most of the restaurant’s patrons are headed to a performance at the adjoining Kimmel Center and, therefore, not up for a heavy meal, discretionary ingestion might be considered the better part of peristaltic valor. The à la carte menu is just right for spirited mix ‘n match grazing; and the three-course pre-theater menu, priced at $56.00 (plus beverages, tax & gratuity), also has a good deal to recommend it.

Volver - Shrimp ToastsWhile perusing the menu, why not soothe your restless gastronomic spirit with a creative cocktail – The Brown Derby (Old Grandad, grapefruit, lemon, and honey) is quite intriguing, as is the Rose Gold (Tito’s Vodka, rosemary, passion fruit, and bitters) – and one or more of the “Snacks.” During a previous visit, the Deviled Egg filled with silky duck liver mousse spiked with Pedro Ximénez Sherry clearly stole the show. More recently, the Shrimp Toast (pictured) – sesame, scallion, and karashi (Japanese hot mustard) mayo – acquitted itself equally well.

Volver - Seasonal Greens SaladAs you move on to the “Small Plates” (appetizers), the seasonally changing options currently range from the Snapper Tartare adorned with young ginger, Champagne cream, black olives, Meyer lemon, and poppy seeds to the almost too clever bowl of Milk & Cereal – bacon, glazed chicken, thyme marshmallows, puffed rice, white asparagus, and wild mushrooms – which tastes nothing like what you wolf down for breakfast. My nod, however, goes to the rather innocuously sounding Seasonal Greens Salad (pictured): assorted greenery (mostly peppery arugula) awash with wafer-thin slices of Granny Smith apples & kohlrabi tossed with an exquisite creamy Champagne vinaigrette and crowned with a bonnet of tangy radicchio. Deceptively simple… and utterly sublime.

Volver - Market Fish - BarramundiOver the course of our numerous visits, my permanent dining partner and I have sampled an interesting variety of the restaurant’s entrées. Memorable choices have included Ricotta Gnudi, gnocchi-like dumplings made with ricotta cheese instead of grated or milled russet potatoes. A lighter, pillowy dish in contrast to the often denser, sometimes chewy gnocchi, Volvér’s ethereal rendition was simply extraordinary. The Barramundi (pictured), a sweet, succulent, meaty white-fleshed fish with a clean mild flavor that is similar to halibut, was also quite exceptional… The filet arrived at table swimming in a sensual sea of celeriac emulsion and truffle jus with wild mushrooms and a tiara of watercress playing strong supporting roles.

Volver - Crispy ChickenThe current list of main courses offers such options as Roasted Lamb Chops with eggplant escabeche and Filet Mignon “Philly Style” with caramelized onion purée, toasted sourdough, red wine braised shallots, and alpine cheese fondue. All that sounded a bit too heavy for my dining partner, who decided to give the Crispy Chicken (pictured) a try. This included such accompaniments as a stout braised thigh, bacon lardons, wild mushrooms, and potato purée. As you may observe from the photo, the kitchen won’t win any prizes for presentation on this one, as it looks like all the constituents had been dropped into a bowl from ten thousand feet… It was, however, as my dining partner would attest, quite tasty.

Volver - Trout Meuniere 2My choice during our most recent visit was a long-running menu staple, the Rainbow Trout Meunière (pictured), which I’ve enjoyed on several other occasions. An intriguing presentation, the beautifully sautéed filet was accompanied by braised lentils, Brussels sprout leaves, lemon butter, and horseradish. The fish itself was uniquely flavorful but not too trout-y; and while the embellishments may strike one as slightly on the quirky side, they were delightfully complementary and not at all intrusive.

Like other menu items, desserts vary with the seasons. Past sweet endings have included such treats as the St. Honoré, a salted caramel tart garnished with maple marshmallow & candied peanuts, Orange & Pistachio Parfait, and Chocolate Choux, a chocolate éclair with dark chocolate cream.

Volver - Old-Fashioned Chocolate CakeOur most recent visit offered up a Brown Butter Choux Puff, Beignets with sweet milk coffee, macerated banana, and black sesame and Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake (pictured) contemporized with coconut meringue, pecan gelato, and maple tuille. This was my dessert of choice and it did not disappoint.

One final note: This season, Chef Jose Garces is hosting rising star, minority chefs from around the Philadelphia region for six-week residencies. The Chefs in Residency program places selected chefs’ signature dishes on the menu for 6-8 weeks each, alongside Chef Garces’ French-inspired presentations. Throughout each residency, Volvér will raise funds to support the inaugural line-up of chefs and their current and/or future projects. Donations can be made, similar to tipping a server, when the dinner check is presented. The Garces Foundation will match up to the first $5,000. The matching Grant will be donated by the Garces Foundation, which offers medical and educational resources to the hospitality community…

 Chef Phila Lorn; Date of Residency: December 2, 2021 – January 17, 2022

Chef Jezabel Careaga; Date of Residency: January 26 – March 13, 2022

Chef Jennifer Zavala; Date of Residency: March 16 – May 1, 2022

Chef Alex Yoon; Date of Residency: May 4 – May 31 2022

Chef Dane DeMarco; Date of Residency: June 1 – July 1, 2022

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

{ 0 comments }

Wine 3I tasted an interesting variety of wines in 2021, including several outstanding vintages during a recent sojourn to Greece and the Greek Islands. Of those, 5 white and 5 red are particularly recommended. My favorite red wines of 2021 are listed below.

Please note that prices quoted are approximate, depending upon where the wines are purchased; and, of course, all are subject to change. The prices in states other than Pennsylvania can vary significantly from retailer to retailer. So, it would certainly be to your advantage to spend some time surfing online for the best price point.

 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 20162016 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre (Italy): Allegrini is the most aclaimed winery in the Veneto region of northeast Italy. The family has been involved in winemaking for over six generations, playing a major role in the Valpolicella Classico area since the 16th century… However, it was Giovanni Allegrini, patriarch of the modern estate, who developed and perfected major innovations in the art of wine. He was among the first to question local viticultural techniques, revolutionize accepted practices, and emphasize quality.

While Amarone is Allegrini’s claim to fame, fortunately the winery also produces several other vintages that are of excellent quality – and also a good deal less expensive… The 2016 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre, for example, is a blend of 40% Corvina Veronese, 30%Corvinone, 25% Rondinella, and 5% Sangiovese. I’ve sampled this wine on numerous occasions; and it is a perennial favorite, remarkably consistent from year to year. Elegant and well-balanced, it possesses a long velvety finish and silky tannins. Readily available through PA State Stores, this highly-rated vintage is a bargain at $19.99.

 

Chad Alexander2019 Chad Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (Oregon): Winemaker Chad Alexander’s name is probably not terribly familiar to most readers… perhaps because his is a negociant label that was launched during the economic crisis in 2009 to take advantage of inventory that had backed up at prestigious wineries and to protect the brand of the maker. Wineries bottle their new wines in “shiners,” that is, wine bottles without label or branded cork. Mr. Alexander offers a price on the entire lot that is substantially higher than the depressed bulk market but still dramatically less the intended retail. These “shiners” are then bottled under the Chad label.

Wines of this quality are generally found in bottles that are twice the price… That’s because what’s in the bottles IS twice the price! And the fact that these wines have made appearances in upscale restaurants like The Odeon and Bar Boulud in New York City is a testimony to their superior quality.

The 2019 Chad Pinot Noir, for example, is the very essence of Oregon Pinot. On the nose, black cherry predominates, along with a beguiling touch of spice. On the palate, this is pure Pinot, vibrant & complex, with an abundance of berry fruit flavors and soft, silky tannins. The finish is smooth, long and elegant.

This is an outstanding wine… an equally outstanding price point. The lowest listing I’ve seen online is $19.99 per bottle (plus shipping) at Central Wine Merchants of Flemington, New Jersey.

 

Don Melchor 20182018 Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile): “This is amazing.” So wrote wine critic James Suckling after bestowing an unheard-of 100-point rating. A consistently highly-praised wine year after year, the iconic 2018 Don Melchor is particularly polished, harmonious, and downright delicious. Produced from 181 lots covering 151 different vineyard parcels, this is only the second time that the blend has included all four Bordeaux varieties on the estate – 91% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot.

As winemaker Enrique Tirado has noted: “The wine manages to produce that unique sensation you only get from great wines and great harvests.” I have personally tasted this wine and, thankfully, I still have two bottles left in the cellar. It is spectacular… there is simply no other word for it.

It is currently available through PA State Stores at $119.99.

 

Ken Forrester - Pinotage2018 Ken Forrester Petit Pinotage (South Africa): Indigenous to South Africa, Pinotage is a grape crossing of Cinsaut (called Hermitage) and Pinot Noir. Acutely aware that Pinot Noir struggled in South Africa’s climate, scientist Abraham Perold decided to cross it with Cinsaut, a very productive species. His goal was to create a wine that was as delicious as Pinot Noir but that grew as well as Cinsaut. The results, however, were somewhat mixed. The Pinotage grape was extremely dark in color and the wine it created quite bold in character… It was nothing like its progenitors. Plagued with difficulties from the very beginning, what winemakers failed to realize was that while Pinotage was a very easy wine to make, it was an extremely difficult wine to make well. Fortunately, however, in the last 15 years, thing have begun to change for the better.

… And the 2018 Ken Forrester Petit is the quintessential well-made Pinotage. It is decidedly fruit forward but with an intriguing, earthy quality. As Forbes food/wine writer John Mariani noted: “A very good price for a splendid ‘little’ Pinotage whose elements are impeccably blended in an unoaked version of the varietal.” And speaking of price… a mere $11.99 at your local PA State Store.

 

Stoller Winery - Owner Bill Stoller2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (Oregon): I first tasted the 2018 in the Purser’s Pub at the Inn at Perry Cabin during a trip to St. Michaels, Maryland, and was immediately impressed. This is simply a lovely wine from start to finish. In the glass, it is a bright ruby color; and the equally bright nose is alive with the aromas of red fruits. It is soft and elegant on the palate, with smooth silky tannins and a long ethereal finish.

Wine critic James Suckling bestowed 92 points and called the 2018 Stoller “their finest release under this estate label.” And wine writer Gus Clemens added: “Stoller is doing something right, and we get a very approachable superb expression of Willamette Valley pinot at a fair price and a fair chance of finding it.”

And speaking of price… The 2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir will cost you $27.99 per bottle in Pennsylvania State Stores… On the other hand, it is available online from The Wine Buyer in Wayne, New Jersey, at $18.99 per bottle. This is where I purchased my six bottles, and the shipping was only about $16.00. So, this is one instance in which you can save a bundle by shopping online.

Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

{ 0 comments }

Favorite White Wines of 2021

by artfuldiner on December 23, 2021

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Breaking News, Wine

Wine 3I tasted an interesting variety of wines in 2021, including several outstanding vintages during a recent sojourn to Greece and the Greek Islands. Of those, 5 white and 5 red are particularly recommended. My favorite white wines of 2021 are listed below.

Please note that prices quoted are approximate, depending upon where the wines are purchased; and, of course, all are subject to change. The prices in states other than Pennsylvania can vary significantly from retailer to retailer. So, it would certainly be to your advantage to spend some time surfing online for the best price point.

Grgich Hills Chardonnay 20172017 Grgich Hills Estate Grown Chardonnay (California): Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, a native of Croatia, was the winemaker behind the iconic 1973 Chateau Montelena, which triumphed over the French at the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976. And while you may not be able to sample the original 1973 Chateau Montelena, a bottle of which now resides in the Smithsonian, you can still discover why Mike Grgich has come to be known as the King of Chardonnay.”

His 2017 Grgich Hills Estate Grown Chardonnay, which recently received 93 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, is a wine that is easy to love. It is medium-bodied, rich & sumptuous, and decidedly elegant on the palate. Reminiscent of a fine white Burgundy, it is available from various sources online at a fraction of the price. Retailing in the $35.00 – $45.00 range, the lowest price I’ve seen online is $34.00 per bottle (plus shipping) from Nicholas Wines, https://www.nicholaswines.com, in Red Bank, New Jersey.

 

Ken Forrester2018 Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc (South Africa): South Africa grows more chenin blanc than the rest of the world combined. The best South African wines are produced in the Stellenbosch region, just 25 miles east of Cape Town… And, located on the slopes of the scenic Helderberg Mountains, the vineyards of Ken Forrester Wines are considered by locals and wine lovers as the home of chenin blanc. The man himself, affectionately known as “Mr. Chenin Blanc,” who has become the ambassador for South Africa’s most widely planted varietal, seems a little bit larger than life and just as dynamic as the grape he so fervently champions. No wonder his wines were chosen to be served at Nelson Mandela’s 85th birthday party.

The grapes from Mr. Forrester’s 2018 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc are sourced from 40-year-old vines picked by hand. The wine is barrel- and tank-fermented and left on the lees for nine months, employing 20% new French Oak.

This is a very attractive wine, youthful and delicately textured. Full-bodied and complex, but not overpowering, it has a very satisfying mouthfeel and soft, lingering finish… And, given its outstanding quality, this wine is also quite reasonably priced, retailing around the $15.00 mark. It is available through PA State Stores via special order only for $15.29. The lowest price I have seen online is $12.99 from Joe’s Canal in the Mercer Mall, Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

 

King Estate Pinot Gris 20182018 King Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Gris (Oregon): Wine writer Matt Kramer of The Oregonian considers King Estate the benchmark producer of pinot gris (aka pinot grigio) in the country. While the winery also makes pinot noir and limited amounts of chardonnay, it is mainly credited with bringing the pinot gris grape varietal into the national consciousness… And the 2018 King Estate Pinot Gris is a particularly first-rate example of the winemaker’s art. “This baseline Pinot Gris really shines in this vintage,” the Wine Enthusiast noted, bestowing 91 points and an Editors’ Choice designation. Its juicy fruit flavors and marvelously fresh acidity lead the palate to a long, elegant finish. It is also available from a variety of sources; particularly PA State Stores at $21.99 and Total Wine, Claymont, DE, at $18.49.

 

Tiefenbrunner Muller Thurgau2017 Tiefenbrunner Feldmarschall von Fenner Müller-Thurgau (Italy): I first tasted the 2018 Tiefenbrunner while dining at Vetri Cucina in Philadelphia. And, as previously mentioned, I was so impressed that the moment I returned home I began an online search to see where it might be available for purchase.

Unfortunately, the 2018 was nowhere to be found. I was, however, able to secure four bottles of the 2017, which was even more highly rated – 96 whopping points from the Wine Enthusiast and listed as #14 in their Top 100 Wines of 2019 – and, as one wine writer noted, it was “a stunner from swirl to finish.” In addition, wine critic James Suckling referred to it as possibly the “best Müller-Thurgau in the world”; and the renowned Gambero Rosso Wine Guide awarded it with a coveted Three Glasses prize. This is simply a fabulous wine – elegant and delicious – and well worth seeking out.

The wine’s retail list price is $45.00, but I’ve seen it priced as high as $60.00 per bottle. The best deal thus far discovered online is $43.98 from Central Wine Merchants in Flemington, New Jersey, which is where I managed to secure my four bottles.

 

 Zacharias Assyrtiko2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko (Greece): Assyrtiko is Greece’s most striking white grape. It originated from the Cyclades Island of Santorini, but is now planted to most Greek wine regions – from other Aegean Islands to Macedonia, Central Greece, and down to the Peloponnese – becoming, in terms of quality, one of the most important native varietals. It produces mainly dry white wines, some of which are aged in oak, but a number of rich and sumptuous sweet wines as well.

Dry Assyrtiko wines tend to appeal to those who – like this writer – are drawn to unconventional, intense styles of whites that emphasize texture and density rather than fruit and oak. During our recent trip to Greece and the Greek Islands, I was fortunate enough to sample a number of Assyrtiko wines from various producers. And while they differed slightly, depending upon the terroir of their place of origin, all displayed a stony minerality and citrusy freshness that made them extraordinarily food friendly.

The 2019 Zacharias Assyrtiko, which hails from the Peloponnese Peninsula, received 91 points and was included in the “Top 100 Best Buys of 2021” by Wine Enthusiast. I tried desperately to secure it online, but it was not to be found… So, I settled for the 2020 Zacharias, which turned out to be, in my opinion, even better. The list price is noted as $15.00. However, the best price online is $12.99 per bottle (plus shipping) from Central Wine Merchants in Flemington, New Jersey.

A fabulous wine… at an equally fabulous price. Don’t miss it!

Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

{ 0 comments }

2021 Restaurant Redux – Part 2

by artfuldiner on December 15, 2021

in Uncategorized

For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of five (5) of the eleven (11) restaurants reviewed during the year 2021.

Inn at Perry Cabin - ExteriorINN AT PERRY CABIN (September), 308 Watkins Lane, St. Michaels, Maryland, (410) 745-2200, https://innatperrycabin.com: During the latter part of June, my permanent dining partner and I were fortunate enough to escape pandemic blues for three wonderful nights at the Inn at Perry Cabin, which has long enjoyed the reputation of being the top hotel on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Inn basically offers guest three dining options: Stars, their gourmet restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Purser’s Pub, offering a menu of locally-inspired small plates, as well as a collection of rare whiskeys and bourbons; and the High Tide Pool Bar, which we did not visit. We found Purser’s to be the perfect spot for a late lunch, afternoon snack, or relaxing libation in the midst of a busy day. The couches and high-top tables are exceedingly comfortable, the service is attentive and personable, and the food quite good. Stars, on the other hand, is something of a mixed bag. Breakfasts served on the restaurant’s outdoor patio are excellent… But the cuisine at dinner has significant ups and downs. Given the picturesque setting – and the picturesque prices – it simply isn’t all that it could be… or should be. Interestingly enough, if you check out Stars’ reviews on Social-Media, Yelp and Tripadvisor, for example, even those people who soundly trashed the restaurant had nothing but praise for the Inn itself. And my dining partner and I feel much the same way. My criticisms of Stars’ cuisine notwithstanding, we would gladly return to the Inn at Perry Cabin at a moment’s notice.

 

JG Sky High Lounge - ViewJG SKY HIGH LOUNGE & RESTAURANT (November), 1 North 19th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 419-5059, https://www.jean-georgesphiladelphia.com/jean-georges-sky-high/: To the extreme disappointment of the area’s culinary cognoscenti, Jean-Georges Philadelphia, located on the penultimate 59th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in the Comcast Technology Center, remains closed due to the pandemic. The rumor that the restaurant would reopen this fall has, unfortunately, not come to fruition…. In the meantime, situated one floor above, adjacent to the hotel’s reception area, its more casual sibling, JG Sky High Lounge & Restaurant, continues to run at full throttle. The menu, as you would undoubtedly surmise since the restaurant is located within hotel precincts, runs the gamut – from Caviar to Pizza; Crusted Prime Beef Tenderloin to Cheddar Bacon Cheeseburger – and everything I’ve ordered has been attractively presented and incredibly delicious. Popular menu favorites include such items as Roasted Salmon caressed by a flavorful lime-corn broth and Parmesan Crusted Organic Chicken served with artichokes and an addictive lemon-basil sauce. Most recent samplings have offered up an exceptional Zucca Pasta bathed in a light tomato sauce with smoked bacon, slices of jalapeño, and peppery arugula and an exotic Artichoke Tagine, a slow-cooked savory stew adorned with kumquats and Persian cucumbers… The restaurant also features an intriguing collection of cocktails and a select list of wines by the glass… And the down-home desserts are worth saving room for.

 

Orangery - ExteriorORANGERY: TUSCAN CUISINE GLEN ISLE AT (December), 130 South Lloyd Avenue, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (484) 401-5554, http://www.orangeryatglenisle.com: Tucked away in Glen Isle, a bit of bucolic bliss just off bustling Business Route 30 on the western fringe of Downingtown, the Orangery is very much a world apart… Drive down a narrow gravel lane and park your car in an unpaved lot next to the stone ruins of an old daily barn. The restaurant itself, a stately stucco mansion, is quite cozy. In a very real sense, the Orangery defies description; and your ultimate opinion of the restaurant will very much depend upon your expectations going in. If you’re anticipating a Michelin-starred experience, you’ve come to the wrong address. With a few exceptions, the homespun Tuscan cuisine, though generally quite good, is hardly memorable. If you have never dined at the Orangery, it is, in my opinion, worth a visit. Given its pastoral setting and homey, unpretentious food and service, it is a delightfully restful step back in time that will do infinitely more to soothe the soul than appease the appetite. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.

 

Seasons 52 - Tomato FlatbreadSEASONS 52 FRESH GRILL & WINE BAR (June), 160 Norrth Gulph Road, Suite 101, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, (610) 992-1152, www.seasons52.com: Part of the Darden Specialty Restaurant Group, there are currently 42 Seasons 52 locations in the United States. But don’t let corporate convolutions fool you… Good things are happening here. The menu changes four times per year, with the seasons, and the kitchen strives to feature healthy and flavorful ingredients at their seasonal peak. As I mentioned eight years ago in my initial review, if Seasons 52 has a signature dish, it is undoubtedly their irresistible flatbreads – and nothing that has transpired in the interim has changed my opinion. The kitchen also does a good job with soups and salads. But as the restaurant’s culinary strengths remain the same, so do its weaknesses… namely, its entrées. It’s not that the main courses aren’t good; for the most part, they are. They simply are not as good as a number of other presentations. Desserts – or Mini Indulgences, as they are called here – are right back on track. And the restaurant’s top drawer wine list – a recipient of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence – remains another high point.

 

Vetri Cucina - Sweet Onion Crepe 2VETRI CUCINA (July), 1312 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 732-3478, https://vetricucina.com: Tucked away in a stately townhouse – the former home of Georges Perrier’s late, great Le Bec Fin before it moved to its Walnut Street location – Vetri Cucina, which opened its doors in 1988, remains the distinguished flagship of chef/restaurateur Marc Vetri’s restaurant empire. The interior is sedate and sophisticated; the service young, personable, and extremely knowledgeable with regard to both menu and wine list.

The food…? Unfortunately, something of a mixed bag. Appetizers – specifically my dining partner’s Squab en Croûte with rhubarb agrodolce and my Sweet Onion Crepe (pictured) surrounded by a pool of truffle-infused parmesan fondue – were absolutely superlative… ditto several pasta dishes and the positively decadent desserts. On the other hand, the Dover Sole for Two, the special entrée of the evening, was an absolute disaster. In addition to being drowned in a surprisingly viscous sauce overwhelmed with radish slices and a surfeit of capers, the filets were decidedly rubbery, a sure sign of overcooking. Not the kitchen’s finest hour.

Then there was the wine issue… Two white wines offered by the glass were particularly noteworthy… But the $35.00 price per glass was nothing short of outrageous. Couple this with the disappointing Dover sole, and the fact that the check for the evening, including tax & tip, came to over $400.00, and you can understand my mixed emotions.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

{ 0 comments }

For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of six (6) of the eleven (11) restaurants reviewed during the year 2021.

Antica - Interior 2ANTICA ITALIAN RESTAURANT (February), 1623 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, (484) 770-8631, http://www.anticapa.com: Owned by chefs Josh Friedberg and Gent Mema, also proprietors of the popular Il Granaio restaurants in Glen Mills and Phoenixville, Antica’s three light & airy dining areas come replete with soothing colorations, a rustic stone wall, and framed prints by Andrew Wyeth, Chadds Ford’s favorite artistic son. Originally a BYOB, the restaurant now sports a liquor license, offering its patrons a compact selection of wines by the glass and bottle, brews, and an interesting inventory of specialty cocktails. Entrées include a combo of old-fashioned Italian comfort fare – such as Veal Parmigiana and Pasta Pomodoro – as well as piscatorial pleasures like Sautéed Salmon and Grilled Whole Bronzino. Homemade desserts include favorites like Cannoli, Tiramisu, and Bundino di Pane, the Italian version of bread pudding. For my money, however, nothing quite tops the considerable charms of the kitchen’s luscious Lemon Cream Cake.

Awful Arthurs - ExteriorAWFUL ARTHUR’S SEAFOOD COMPANY (September), 402 South Talbot Street, St. Michaels, Maryland, (410) 745-3474, https://awfularthursusa.com: Visited while staying at the Inn at Perry Cabin on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (see separate review), Awful Arthur’s is a super casual eatery featuring indoor/outdoor seating and a bustling authentic oyster bar that serves up more than nine varieties of oysters, as well as clams, shrimp, mussels, crab legs, crawfish, and their famous steamed  seafood platter. Whatever your piscatorial preference, you will undoubtedly find it here. Starters tempt the palate with the likes of Blackened Tuna Bites, Day Boat Scallops wrapped in bacon, Shrimp & Grits, and the incredibly rich Lobster Mac & Cheese. Entrée-wise, try the first-rate Fish & Chips and Lobster Roll. Desserts – all made in-house – are on the homey side but well worth saving room for… If you’re a seafood lover, and happen to be visiting St. Michael’s, Awful Arthur’s is the place to go.

Bas Rouge - Dover SoleBAS ROUGE (September), 19 Federal Street, Easton, Maryland, (6410) 822-1637, http://www.basrougeeaston.com/: The flagship of New York energy mogul Paul Prager’s BluePoint Hospitality Group, Bas Rouge isn’t the kind of restaurant you expect to find in Easton, a sleepy little burg on Maryland’s Eastern Shore… This is Old World dining at its most gracious. The décor is reminiscent of a grand 19th century Austrian bistro. Executive Chef Harley Peet and Chef de Cuisine Phil Lind present a stylish & innovative take on Viennese & European classic dishes… and their presentations are nothing short of extraordinary. Currently entrées run the gamut from Wild Turbot to Pappardelle with braised duck ragu to Chicken Ballotine to Veal Roulade with parsnip purée, shaved Brussels sprouts, and truffle jus.

The night of our visit, it was Dover Sole (pictured) that was presented rolled, gently sautéed with herbed emulsified melted butter, crowned with pickled vegetables & toasted hazelnuts, and surrounded by potato and green asparagus purées – and it was simply spectacular. Desserts, courtesy of pastry chef Jim Hutchinson, continue the kitchen’s excellent work. Dining here is not an inexpensive proposition. But, trust me, it is an incredibly satisfying experience – and then some. Worth a journey.

Baxter's - SundaeBAXTER’S AMERICAN GRILLE (May), 14 Paoli Shopping Center, Paoli, Pennsylvania, (610) 296-2699, http://www.baxtersinpaoli.com/: Tucked away in the Paoli Shopping Center, Baxter’s is a neighborhood happy-tappy cum sports bar serving up an eclectic mix of comfort fare, pub grub, classic sandwiches, and a limited number of entrées. One glance will tell you that this place isn’t exactly the Ritz… but neither is it pretending to be. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for a burger, brew, or just some laid back comfort fare, it’s definitely a place to consider. After all, man doesn’t live by fie gras alone. Like restaurants of similar ilk, the dishes Baxter’s does best are those that require the least amount of creative fuss. “Classic Sandwiches” are usually a good bet. The Traditional Turkey Club is quite good… ditto the Classic Bacon Cheeseburger. The Fish & Chips and Home-Style Meatloaf, on the other hand, proved to be disappointments. Of the dessert choices, which round up the usual suspects, the Brownie Sundae (pictured) is clearly the way to go. Very old-fashioned… but also very good, very rich, and very suitable for sharing.

Blue Elephant - InteriorBLUE ELEPHANT (October), 152 East High Street, Pottstown, Pennsylvania, (484) 949-9084, https://www.blueelephantbar.com: Ensconced in the stately bank building at the corner of High and Hanover Streets, the Blue Elephant is the newest entry in the Wine Signature stable, a restaurant group owned by Win and Sutida Somboonsong. The creation of the Pottstown restaurant, however, was completely overseen by the couple’s daughter, a graduate of Cornell University’s hospitality program. The restaurant’s interior is striking – high ceiling accentuated with long draperies, gold mirrors, various forms of greenery, 30-foot-long quartz bar, series of comfortable velvet & leather booths, and flowing marble fountain – the cuisine less so.

Appetizers such as Rock Shrimp in crispy tempura batter, Dumplings, and Zucchini Fritters seasoned with Japanese spices are a high point. Entrées, on the other hand, are generally disappointing. Even traditional Thai favorites such as Drunken Noodles and Crab Fried Rice fail to deliver the goods.

Indeblue - Spinach ChaatINDEBLUE (August), 205 South 13th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 545-4633, http://www.indebluerestaurant.com: Indeblue made its debut in Midtown Village in 2013 – and has been wowing palates ever since. Not only is it Philadelphia’s top-rated Indian restaurant, it is also one of the top-10-rated Indian restaurants in the United States. What chef/owner Rakesh Ramola does best is artfully mix and match traditional flavors with dishes that push the Indian envelope… And push the envelope he does. Consider his extraordinary Spinach Chaat (pictured) as Exhibit A. Crispy fried spinach is teamed with shallots & chopped tomatoes and finished with an irresistible combo of sweet yogurt and tamarind chutney. The result is an app that is so incredibly delicious and texturally appealing that it is simply off the charts. Entrées include such intriguing possibilities as Seafood Coconut Rasam, a South Indian soup with an addictive spicy-sweet-sour stock utilizing coconut & mint; Catani, chunks of boneless chicken breast swimming in a lusciously creamy sauce of basil, tomato, and garlic; and Baigan Rasedar, an appetizing casserole of eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, and Rai, a Hindu spice made with black mustard seeds. Desserts, such as Pumpkin Ice Cream with Crumble, Coconut Gulab Jamun, and Caramelized Mango Kheer are not to be missed… ditto the array of innovative cocktails. So be sure to try the Indebluetini, composed of citrus, vodka, mango, cardamom, and lemon or the Maharani, offering vodka, rosewater Cointreau, lemon, and orange peel.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

{ 0 comments }

The Orangery

Tuscan Cuisine at Glen Isle

130 South Lloyd Avenue

Downingtown, Pennsylvania

(484) 401-5554

http://www.orangeryatglenisle.com/

Orangery - Entrance SignTucked away in Glen Isle, a bit of bucolic bliss just off bustling Business Route 30 on the western fringe of Downingtown, the Orangery is a secluded little restaurant retreat that has continued to charm and delight patrons from the moment of its debut in September 2011.

It is very much a world apart… Drive down a narrow gravel lane and park your car in an unpaved lot next to the stone ruins of an old dairy barn. Then a brief jaunt to the restaurant itself, a stately stucco mansion, which is also the residence of head chef Sabrina Lutz and her husband, Paul. The 40-seat main dining room, an enclosed sunporch, is quite cozy… On the other hand, in warmer weather, you may wish to take advantage of the restaurant’s comfortable patio to dine alfresco.

The Orangery is open Thursday – Saturday with one seating only at 6:30 p.m. The set menu of Tuscan cuisine changes fortnightly, so the menu my dining partner and I recently enjoyed – along with twenty-two other members of her community – may be different from what you will experience. This will, however, give you some idea of what to expect…

Orangery - Sweet Pepper CrostiniOur five-course meal commenced with Sweet Peppers Crostini (pictured), which was really something of a misnomer. The word crostini in Italian means “little toasts.” This generally describes canapés consisting of small slices of toast adorned with some sort of savory topping. However, what was served here was a rather large thick slice of Italian bread that was definitely not toasted… On the other hand, the topping of delightfully seasoned roasted sweet red peppers was so utterly delicious that no one – especially this writer – was about to quibble over semantics.

Orangery - CapreseNext on the agenda was the Caprese (pictured), an Italian salad comprised of slices of fresh mozzarella & tomatoes interspersed with sweet basil leaves. It is generally minimally seasoned with just a pinch of salt and extra-virgin olive oil. And, as you will notice, like Pizza Margherita, it features the colors of the Italian flag: green, white, and red.

There are many variations on the theme, of course; but the less convoluted, in my opinion, the better. And this is a particularly nice presentation… artfully yet simply arranged with a splash of balsamic reduction adding a sweet/tangy kick to the proceedings.

Orangery - Butterfly Pasta PrimaveraRegardless of what the main course may be, the menu always includes a pasta course. The evening of our visit it was the Butterfly Pasta Primavera (pictured). This is also commonly known as bowtie pasta, but more properly as Farfalle, the name being derived from the Italian word for butterflies. The versatile bowtie shaped noodle originated in the Lombardy & Emilia-Romagna regions of northern Italy and is best with lighter and creamy sauces.

Interestingly enough, while the restaurant prides itself on the presentation of authentic Tuscan cuisine, pasta primavera is an American dish invented in the 1970s. While the actual invention of the dish is contested… In 1975, or so the story goes, New York restaurateur Sirio Maccioni and his two top chefs flew to the Canadian summer home of Italian Baron Carlo Amato on Robert’s Island, Nova Scotia. They began experimenting with fish and game, but the Baron and his guests requested something different. So Maccioni then mixed butter, cream and cheese with vegetables and pasta and brought the recipe back to New York City. The fame of pasta primavera may be traced to Maccioni’s restaurant Le Cirque, where it first appeared as an unlisted special before it was made famous via a 1977 article in the New York Times by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey, which also included a recipe for the dish. Pasta primavera is now widely recognized as one of the signature developments of American cuisine in the 1970s.

Unfortunately, the presentation encountered here was quite disappointing and, culinarily speaking, the weakest part of our meal. For starters, in the midst of a five-course meal, unless you happen to possess the appetite of a starving yak, the portion size was entirely too large. Secondly (as you may note from the photograph), it was not terribly attractively plated. In addition, the primavera portion – namely, the vegetables – was nearly conspicuous by its absence. And, perhaps most importantly, the dish was woefully under-seasoned. In point of fact, it was completely bland. At the very least, a generous sprinkling of parmesan would have mitigated the situation significantly.

Orangery - Chicken Scaloppini 2Conversely, the main course, Chicken Scaloppini embellished with lemon and capers (pictured), was quite good. The chicken was nicely presented, perfectly prepared – incredibly moist and tender – and the lemon sauce irresistibly flavorful. My only quibble here… I thought the organic green salad with asparagus and parmesan cheese a rather odd, and not particularly well-chosen, plating companion. My preference would have been for a wild rice pilaf and a nicely arranged green vegetable (perhaps the asparagus, sans superfluous greenery), both of which would have made more appropriate accompaniments.

Orangery - Ricotta CakeThe desserts – at least one – prompted a number of oohs & aahs from several members of our dining group. The Ricotta Cake, a classic Italian delicacy, was quite nice. The consistency of ricotta cake is slightly denser than that of traditional cake; and its texture has often been described as somewhere between regular cake and cheesecake. And that was true of Orangery’s version as well. Soft, moist, and buttery, it was simply garnished with powdered sugar and strawberry purée.

Orangery - Affogato al CaffeBut the expressions of delight were reserved for the Affogato al Caffè. Originally invented in Italy, the word “affogato” may literally be translated as “drowned” in English. And this is a very apt description, as affogato is simply a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream “drowned” in espresso. While the recipe of affogato is basically standard in Italy, numerous variations exist in European and American restaurants.

Occasionally, for example, coconut, berries, honeycomb, and multiple flavors of ice cream are added. A biscotto or cookie may also be served alongside. We were fortunate enough, however, to enjoy the unadulterated Italian version, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Well… not quite all… My dining partner doesn’t care for coffee. ☹

In a very real sense, the Orangery defies description… And your ultimate opinion of the restaurant – whether you love it or hate it – will very much depend upon your expectations going in. For example, if you’re anticipating a Michelin-starred experience, you’ve definitely come to the wrong address. The food here is homespun Tuscan and, with a few exceptions, it is quite good, though hardly exceptional. Service is on a par with the cuisine – meaning it is decidedly not professional. Servers are young, friendly, well-meaning, and accommodating… unfortunately, they appear to be completely unfamiliar with the complexities and subtle nuances of fine dining.

Orangery - ExteriorIf you have never dined at the Orangery, it is certainly, in my opinion, worthy of a visit… but neither for the food nor the service. Given its pastoral setting and homey, unpretentious ambiance, it is a delightfully restful step back in time that will do infinitely more to soothe the soul than appease the appetite. Just keep the above-mentioned caveats in mind and you will probably not be disappointed.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

{ 0 comments }

Thanksgiving - Wine ChartIf you happen to consult the Internet for assistance with regard to choosing wine(s) to pair with your Thanksgiving dinner, you soon realize there is absolutely no shortage of suggestions… approximately 5,190,000 to be more specific… And the sources couldn’t be more diverse. They range from individual wineries and wine stores to periodicals like Wine Spectator, Food & Wine, Town & Country, Woman’s Day, and Oprah Daily to blogs like Pioneer Woman, Reverse Wine Snob, and Spruce Eats (that’s their nifty little wine chart).

… And while the art of pairing wine with food – as I’ve mentioned on several occasions – is very much a matter of personal preference, there are several fairly safe amalgams, both white and red, that may help to alleviate your oenological conundrums. With white wines, the pairing priority is finding vintages with well-balanced acidity (over-oaked chardonnays, for example, need not apply); your best bets, therefore, are Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio. When it comes to reds, you want to seek out wines with fairly subtle tannins that will support the flavors of the food rather than overpowering them. And the winner is…? Without doubt, Pinot Noir.

Riesling is a white wine that may be either bone dry or incredibly sweet. And whether hailing from Alsace, Germany, or Washington State, it is absolutely the top pick for pairing with Thanksgiving dinner. Its innate flavors and clarifying acidity give it a significant pairing edge with items like sweet potatoes, turkey, and spice-laden or herb-filled stuffing.

Trimbach Winery 4My choice to accompany your Thanksgiving dinner would be the 2018 Trimbach Riesling from the Alsatian region of France. The Trimbach family has been producing wines in the tiny hamlet of Ribeauvillé since 1626; and, across 13 generations, their wines have always been well-structured, long-lived, fruity, elegant, and beautifully balanced. In addition, bottles remain in their cellar for several years before reaching the marketplace, so as to ensure that the wines will be both ready to drink upon release and also hold great aging potential. The 2018 exhibits a beautiful straw color with green tinges at the periphery. On the nose, the characteristic petrol-mineral combo is unmistakably present and accounted for. And on the palate, it assaults the senses with a bone-dry refreshing acidity that continues through to the long, lingering, mouthwatering finish. Currently on sale through PA State Stores at $17.99.

However, if you really want to splurge for your Thanksgiving feast, I highly recommend the Trimbach 2011 Cuvée Frédéric Emile, considered, year after year, to be one of Alsace’s greatest Rieslings. This is also available through PA State Stores at $72.99… and, trust me, it is worth every penny.

Sauvignon Blanc is also considered an excellent wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. This white wine grape is widely cultivated in France and California. The best of French wines made from 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc are produced in the Loire Valley at Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. It is also grown in Italy, eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa.

Its crisp tartness and herbaceous aroma and flavor make it an obvious choice for the Thanksgiving table… But I do have one caveat. While the Sauvignon Blancs of New Zealand have developed a tremendous following recently, they have simply become almost too citrusy (read here grapefruit-y) to pair very well with foods – especially with the variety of foods served on a chilly Thanksgiving Day. No, these wines are best enjoyed for their own merits on a warm summer’s afternoon.

Ken Forrester Sauvignon Blanc 2018I do, however, have one suggestion… South Africa produces consistently fine wines in a variety of categories that may be purchased online through Cape Ardor, https://cape-ardor.com/, the largest exclusive boutique wine retailer of top international wine. However, if Sauvignon Blanc is your choice for the Thanksgiving Day table, be sure to check out the many possibilities and prices at https://wineshop.cape-ardor.com/sauvignon-blanc-c98.aspx. I have ordered a number of items from Cape Ardor, so I can personally vouch for their promptness and reliability.

On the other hand, if you’re not particularly disposed to put up with the possible hassles and the extra expense of shipping, I highly recommend the 2018 Ken Forrester “Petit” Sauvignon Blanc, which is also from South Africa, but is readily available at your local State Store for a mere $12.99 per bottle. This is really a marvelous little wine, tart, crisp, and clean yet without that off-putting grapefruit-y overdose.

If you would prefer Pinot Grigio with your Thanksgiving feast, you certainly can’t do any better than those of Elena Walch. Located in northeast Italy, bordered by Lombardy in the west, Veneto on the East, and Austria on the north, Elena Walch is a leading estate in the Alto Adige region and is also considered one of the finest in Italy.

Elena WalchThe 2020 Elena Walch Pinot Grigio was recently rated 90 points by Wine Enthusiast and 91 points by James Suckling. This is a wonderful wine, with a very nice mineral-salty richness and crisp acidity on the palate, an excellent depth of lemon/lime flavor, and a long, crisp finish. Marvelously versatile, it will marry well with the variety of foods that often grace the Thanksgiving table. Currently priced at $15.99 at PA State Stores, a dollar of two less from a number of sources online.

… And if you’d like to go a bit more upscale, the 2018 Elena Walch Pinot Grigio Vigna “Castel Ringberg” is an excellent choice. It is mostly made in stainless steel tanks, but approximately 15% is fermented and aged in wood in order to provide more heft and depth of flavor. Currently available online through the Wine Library in Springfield, New Jersey, at $20.99 per bottle.

Pinot Noir is a traditional favorite at the Thanksgiving table. Its subtle, earthly undertones and often mushroom-inspired flavors surround the fresh fruit features and tend to complement the variety of flavors present at the Thanksgiving Day meal.

Here are my suggestions of the moment… The 2019 Chad Pinot Noir Willamette Valley is smooth on the palate and the pocketbook. It is the very essence of Oregon pinot. Aromatically, black cherry predominates along with a beguiling touch of spice. The taste is vibrant and complex with an abundance of berry fruit and soft, silky tannins. This is an outstanding wine at an outstanding price point. The lowest listing I’ve seen online is $23.50 per bottle (plus shipping) at Nicholas Wines, Red Bank, New Jersey.

Hamilton Russell Winery - Anthony & OliveHamilton Russell Vineyards is one of South Africa’s most prestigious wineries. Located in the beautiful Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven & Earth) Valley appellation adjacent to the picturesque fishing village of Hermanus, it is also one of the most southerly wine estates in Africa and one of the closest to the sea. Anthony Hamilton Russell and his wife, Olive (pictured), winemaker Emul Ross, and viticulturist Johan Montgomery are completely dedicated to expressing the personality of Hamilton Russell Vineyards’ terroir in their wines. Diminutive yields and intense worldwide demand keep the elegant, highly individual, estate-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in very short supply.

However, the 2019 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir is unique… as it is the only HR Pinot Noir to be made with purchased grapes, as wildfires tainted the estate’s own fruit. This is a cuvée of the three Hemel-en-Aarde Valley sub-regions… “and all the better for it,” notes wine critic Tim Atkin, who bestowed a whopping 95 points on the 2019 vintage. “A fine effort in very trying circumstances,” chimed in Decanter. And that’s putting it mildly… Vinous said it much better: “Given the trauma suffered this vintage, this should be considered a success, not least because it still seems to bear the imprimatur of Hamilton Russell.” A simply fabulous wine and a wonderful complement to your Thanksgiving table.

The 2019 vintage is available online from Empire Wine, Albany, NY, at $42.98. However, if you would prefer, the 2020 vintage (also highly rated) may be purchased online through Shoppers Wines, Union, NJ, and Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, Wayne, NJ, at $34.95.

King Estate Inscription Pinot NoirThe 2019 King Estate “Inscription” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a relatively new brand introduced by the King Estate. About half the grapes in this wine come from King Estate’s own vineyards, with the balance from acclaimed vineyards located throughout the Willamette Valley. The grapes were hand-sorted with each lot and individually fermented in small batches. Stainless steel fermentation with daily punch downs and pump overs were followed by malolactic fermentation. The wine was then aged for 8 to 10 months in French oak, approximately 30% new barrels, before the final blend was made. The Wine Enthusiast, bestowed 90 points and an Editors’ Choice designation describing the wine as classy and affordable. And, yes, it is very affordable. The average U.S. retail price is $18.00 per bottle; $18.99 per bottle at Total Wine in Claymont, DE. Once again, however a little online shopping can yield a number of bargains: $14.99 at Marketview Liquor, Rochester, NY; $14.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange, Ballston Lake, NY.

I first tasted the 2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir in the Purser’s Pub at the Inn at Perry Cabin during a trip to St. Michaels, Maryland… And I was so impressed that the moment I returned home I ordered six bottles online. This is a beautiful pinot noir: bright ruby red in color and an equally bright nose alive with the aromas of red fruits. Soft and elegant on the palate, its smooth, silky tannins move you along to a long, light ethereal finish. Wine critic James Suckling bestowed 92 points and referred to the wine as “their finest release under this estate label.” The 2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir will cost you $27.00 per bottle in Pennsylvania State Stores… On the other hand, it is available online from The Wine Buyer in Wayne, NJ, at $18.99 per bottle. This is where I purchased my six bottles, and shipping was only about $16.00. So, this is one instance in which you can save a bundle by doing a little searching online.

Tesselaarsdal WinemakerThe 2018 Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir was produced by Berene Sauls, a protégé of the aforementioned Anthony Hamilton Russell, who founded the Tesselaarsdal Winery in 2015. Hamilton Russell also financed the project. Ms. Sauls is a descendent of the freed slaves of South Africa, who were bequeathed the land of former East India Company settler Johannes Tesselaar in 1810.

This is a downright elegant wine, silky smooth on the palate with engaging aromas of red fruit. Aged for nine plus months in 100% French oak barrels, the 2018 Pinot Noir is graceful and completely enjoyable at the present moment but still age-worthy. The lowest price I have seen online is $44.93 at the International Wine Shop, Westport, CT. The perfect complement to your Thanksgiving table. Trust me, this is a wine you will definitely want to seek out.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

{ 0 comments }

JG Sky High Lounge & Restaurant

1 North 19th Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

(215) 419-5059

https://www.jean-georgesphiladelphia.com/jean-georges-sky-high/

JG Sky High Lounge - ViewTo the disappointment of the culinary cognoscenti, Jean-Georges Philadelphia – located on the penultimate 59th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in the Comcast Technology Center – remains closed due to the pandemic. Rumor has it, however, that the restaurant will reopen sometime in October, serving a dinner tasting menu only.

In the meantime, situated one floor above, adjacent to the hotel’s reception area, its more casual sibling, JG Sky High Lounge & Restaurant, continues to run at full throttle. Especially in the evening, the bar attracts a younger, boisterous crowd of tipplers, while the all-day menu caters to a contrastive coalescence of local city dwellers, hotel guests, curious tourists, and assorted gourmet gadflies in search of the latest gastronomic thrill ride… All fetchingly garbed, I might add, in everything from designer sartorial finery to gimme caps, shorts, and sneakers.

JG Sky High - Bacon CheeseburgerThe menu, as you would undoubtedly surmise since the restaurant is located within hotel precincts, runs the gamut – from Caviar to Pizza; Sushi to Guacamole; Rigatoni with Meatballs to Vegetarian Moroccan Tagine; Roasted Salmon to Pepper Crusted Prime Beef Tenderloin. There’s a little of something for everyone – including a fabulously delicious Cheddar Bacon Cheeseburger with creamy Russian dressing, yuzu pickles, and extraordinarily crispy French fries (pictured).

There are a number of ways to get things started here. You could, of course, should your wallet be feeling particularly flush, take the Caviar route… one ounce Osetra with warm blinis & chive crème fraiche ($120.00)… or, somewhat less expensive, companioned by egg toast with herbs ($48.00).

JG Sky High - GuacamoleOn the other hand, infinitely more interesting – as well as more moderately priced – my permanent dining partner and I highly recommend the Warm Asparagus, an appetizer we have thoroughly enjoyed on several occasions. Garnished with summer mushrooms and sprinkling of herbs, the perfectly prepared spears arrive at table swimming in an irresistible palate-pleasing vegetable vinaigrette. The Wagyu Cheese Steak Spring Roll also has a great deal to recommend it… as does the Burrata. On one occasion, adorned with a tangy Meyer lemon jam; on another, strawberry compote and basil. Most recently, however, the Guacamole accompanied by Sungold tomato salsa and warm crunchy tortillas (pictured) proved to be a light and eminently sharable prelude to our meal. The guacamole was appropriately chunky of countenance, turning rich and creamy on the palate, with the salsa adding a nice touch of heat to the proceedings.

Perhaps at this juncture I should mention that in less than one week’s time my permanent dining partner and I had managed to pay two separate visits to JG Sky High Lounge & Restaurant: Friday evening dinner with another couple; and luncheon the following Friday in the company of my dining partner’s daughter. Which, due to the brevity of the menu and the fact that we had been to the restaurant on several previous occasions, made for some interesting choices entrée-wise.

JG Sky High - Zucca PastaFor luncheon, I couldn’t quite bring myself to indulge in the Rigatoni with Meatballs – which sounded more than just a little on the heavy side and, because of my somewhat delicate constitution, the unwelcome invitation to peristatic perplexity – but decided instead on the Zucca Pasta (pictured). Zucca, which means “pumpkin” in Italian, are shaped like tiny ribbed cups; and, in this instance, are bathed in a light tomato sauce awash with bits of smoked bacon, slices of jalapeño, and peppery arugula. A very, very nice presentation… and beautifully seasoned.

JG Sky High - Roasted SalmonFor dinner, the Roasted Salmon (pictured) also turned out to be a fortuitous choice. I rarely order salmon in a restaurant, as this is a fish I generally prepare at home – with what seems nauseating regularity – so I much prefer to sample some other representative of piscatorial pleasure when I’m out and about. However, this particular incarnation turned out to be even more intriguing – and delicious – than its bare bones description would have led me to believe. It swims to table encrusted in an ethereal amalgam of herbs and seasonings, companioned by a corn/scallion succotash, and gently caressed by an exquisitely flavorful lime-corn broth.

Jean-Georges - Parm Crusted ChickenEven though I’ve made mention of the Parmesan Crusted Organic Chicken (pictured) in my previous review of both Jean-Georges Philadelphia and JG Sky High, it is certainly worth pointing out once again. Because, as I previously discussed, among the items appearing on both restaurant menus, it strikes me as the most notable… And, trust me, it is that good. So good, in fact, that during our recent dinner/lunch caper, my dining partner ordered it for both meals.

Yes, I know, chicken doesn’t sound terribly exciting… but this dish has absolutely everything going for it. The exquisitely seasoned parmesan crust provides a perfect textural counterpoint to the tender, succulent fowl, while artichokes and a downright addictive lemon-basil sauce are positively superb in their supporting roles.

JG Sky High - Artichoke TagineThe Artichoke Tagine (pictured) also deserves mention. This is the current vegetarian entry on the menu, and it is quite good, indeed. A tagine or tajine is a Berber dish, named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. It is also called maraq or marqa. Algerian and Moroccan tagine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, typically made with sliced meat, poultry or fish, but also with vegetables and/or fruit. Spices, nuts, and dried fruits are also utilized. In this instance, the artichokes are companioned by kumquats and Persian cucumbers.

The tagine pictured may not look like much, but it is alive with flavors. The kumquat’s contribution is decidedly citrusy, while the diminutive Persian cukes add a mild, sweet flavor. Common spices include ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron. Paprika and chili are used in vegetable tagines. This particular rendition is served with a side of mint couscous, which add immensely to the enjoyment.

JG Sky High - Warm Cherry Pie The down-home desserts – with items like Warm Cherry Pie garnished almond milk sorbet (pictured) and Chocolate Layer Cake tempting your sweet tooth – continue to be a high point and, most assuredly, worth saving room for. However, my dining partner, who is something of a dessert maven, maintains that the fabulous sundaes are the real sleepers here… And who am I to argue? She certainly was right about the Salted Caramel Sundae, which we sampled on a previous visit. The combo of creamy salted caramel ice cream, candied peanuts & popcorn, hot fudge, and whipped cream proved to be utterly irresistible.

JG Sky High - Strawberry SundaeAnd the Strawberry Sundae (pictured), currently gracing the menu, is every bit its predecessor’s equal. Constructed on a foundation of strawberry ice cream & strawberry sorbet and adorned with miniature meringues and all the usual trimmings, it is definitely a winner on all counts. But for a special treat, do what we did… order the sundae to share and also the Cookie Plate – chocolate chip, shortbread, almond, and fudge – to go with it. An incredible combo!

As I mentioned in my initial review, in addition to the excellent cuisine, the restaurant also features an intriguing collection of cocktails and a select list of wines by the glass. A few favorites include 2020 Boschkoof Sauvignon Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa; 2018 Produttori di Gavi “Il Forte” Cortese, Piemonte, Italy; and 2013 Dumol “Wester Reach” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California.

 While Jean-Georges Philadelphia remains closed, the JG Sky High Lounge & Restaurant offers diners a tasteful and “tasty” alternative… and the perfect perch from which to enjoy the spectacular view.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

{ 0 comments }

Fattoush Mediterranean Cuisine

182 Lancaster Avenue

Malvern, Pennsylvania

(484) 568-4465

https://fattoushhealthydining.com/

Fattoush - Interior 2As I mentioned three years ago in my original review, Fattoush is one of those little gems that seems to operate under the radar… and not a great deal has changed in the interim. Hidden away in a nondescript little strip mall, this restaurant doesn’t look like anything special from the outside; and the interior, awash with unadorned tables and minimalist décor, isn’t much of a turn on either.

However, looks can be deceiving; and, in this case, they most assuredly are.  The strictly utilitarian surroundings belie the fresh, vibrant, made-from-scratch Mediterranean (Lebanese) cuisine that continues to surprise and delight. Add downright moderate prices and the fact that you may BYOB… and you have a recipe for a marvelously enjoyable evening at table.

Fattoush - Fattoush SaladThere are a number of excellent appetizers from which to choose, including several absolutely first-rate salads. Tabbouleh, for instance, is a luscious Middle Eastern salad combining tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgur, and onion. Horiatiki is a traditional Greek salad consisting of romaine lettuce, kalamata olives, cucumbers, tomato, and feta cheese. A generous sprinkling of oregano provides the perfect seasoning while all the components are gently tossed with a light dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. For something a bit different, there’s always the Fattoush (pictured), a traditional Lebanese salad comprised of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, green peppers, radish, and pomegranate splashed with olive oil & lemon juice and spiked with sumac, a deep red spice with a zippy lemony flavor.

Fattoush - MezzaFor my money, however, there’s really only one way to start things off; and that’s with the incomparable Lebanese Mezza (pictured), a shared platter comprised of many of the traditional usual suspects: Hummus and Baba Ghanouj (popular apps made with ground chickpeas & smoked eggplant, respectively); Falafel (deep-fried spiced balls of ground chickpeas & fava beans) topped with tahini sauce; Kibbe (Lebanese meatballs stuffed with spiced beef, onions, and nuts); Stuffed Grape Leaves; and, of course, plenteous portions of Pita Bread for dipping, etc. The grape leaves may strike many as old hat. May be… but they are still quite delicious and incredibly superior to representatives I have sampled elsewhere. Both the Hummus and Baba Ghanouj exhibit an incredible depth of flavor (my dining partner prefers the former; I, the latter), and the Falafel and Kibbe are irresistibly seasoned.

During several previous visits, my dining partner and I have sampled a number of the house special entrées, of particular note are the Shawarma. This refers to a method of meat preparation where cuts of spiced & marinated lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, or mixed meats are stacked in a cone-like shape on a vertical rotisserie. As it rotates and the outside cooks continuously, thin slices are shaved off. Shawarma is one of the world’s most popular street foods, especially in countries of the eastern Mediterranean, western Asia, and northeast Africa.

Fattoush - Samke HarraShawarma may be served as a wrap or on a platter with various accompaniments. At Fatoush, both the Beef Shawarma and the Chicken Shawarma are wrapped in very thin Lebanese pita bread. The former is garnished with lettuce, tomato, parsley, onion, and tahini sauce; the latter with lettuce, pickles, and garlic sauce. The Beef Shawarma Platter is served over rice with Fattoush salad and tahini sauce; the Chicken Shawarma Platter is served rice with Tabbouleh salad and homemade garlic sauce. Both versions beguile the palate with winning combinations of tastes and textures… But even more interesting, in my opinion, is the Samke Harra (pictured). Pan-fried flounder is served on a pillow of rice and perfectly seasoned slices of sautéed zucchini, topped with diced tri-colored peppers, nuts & onion, and finished with a sensual tahini sauce.

During our most recent visit, we both decided on chicken wraps… but with slightly different ingredients and seasonings… My dining partner chose the Zaatar Chicken Wrap on Lebanese Bread sided by Fattoush salad. Zaatar is a spice that is a staple of the Lebanese table, a blend of savory dried herbs like oregano, marjoram, thyme, and toasted earthy spices such as cumin and coriander, along with sesame seeds and salt. The most important ingredient, however, is sumac, which adds a marvelous tanginess to the diced chicken breast. Other key ingredients include feta cheese, tomato, and cucumber.

Fattoush - Greek Chicken WrapMy wrap of choice was the Greek Chicken, also on Lebanese bread with an accompanying cucumber salad (pictured). It wasn’t quite as zippy as the above-mentioned Zaatar, but still nicely seasoned with a combo of interesting flavors provided by spinach, feta cheese, tomato, and, of course, typical of Greek salads, olives.

As you have undoubtedly noticed, the portion sizes here are very generous. So generous, in fact, that our server noted that those diners who, like us, order the Lebanese Mezza to start, often elect to share one entrée rather than order two… Certainly something to keep in mind.

And that brings me to another item of interest… In my first review, I was rather critical of the service, which I noted could be, at times, on the flighty side. During our most recent visit, however, it was excellent – both knowledgeable and attentive – from start to finish. Hopefully, it will continue in this vein.

Fattoush - Bread PuddingMy second gripe concerned dessert – or the lack thereof. On one previous visit, we enjoyed the Homemade Baklava, which was quite good indeed. On another occasion, dessert was conspicuous by its absence… nothing, zippo, zilch. The kitchen had nothing to offer… which to me in an absolute no-no. During our most recent visit, however, we were faced with an abundance of riches… Not only did my dining partner enjoy another go at the Baklava, but I assuaged my sweet tooth with the kitchen’s fabulously decadent Bread Pudding (pictured).

With first-rate service and the two excellent homemade dessert offerings, the restaurant seems to have done a bit of fine tuning since our previous visit – and that makes this little gem even more recommendable. The food here is of impeccable quality, made from scratch, and nicely presented… In addition, as I mentioned at the outset, prices are exceedingly wallet-friendly. The most expensive item on the menu tops out at a mere $19.99… Just don’t forget to BYOB.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

{ 0 comments }