Wine down

vinovolo_image.jpgIt’s about time something good happened on the concourse.

Yesterday, on my way to gate C-1 at Washington’s Dulles airport, I stopped in at Vino Volo. These wine rooms have landed at half a dozen airports, and I hope they become as ubiquitous as airport Starbucks stands. Vino volo, loosely translated from Italian, means wine flight. And I’m sure you’ll agree that flying, or waiting to fly, is infinitely more enjoyable when you can pass the time in the company of some good wine.

Sip in, or carry out. A thoughtfully written wine list includes crowd pleasers like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but also offers an opportunity to taste lesser-known grape varieties like Virginia’s Norton and Majorca’s Callet. A menu of small plates allows you to pair like a pro, savoring selections like Braised Pork Tacos or Smoked Salmon Rolls while you wait to make your connection. Whether you order a tasting flight or a single glass, you’ll love the comfy living room feel of these welcoming wine sanctuaries.

Finally, flying has become civilized once again. Cent’ Anni!

Instant kitchen

cia.jpgCan an instant gratification junkie happily coexist in the kitchen with a partner who embraces the Slow Food movement?

Absolutely. If the CIA has anything to do with it.

At next month’s auction benefit for the Vintners Hall of Fame Dinner in Napa, the high bidder will walk away with an Instant Gourmet Kitchen, comprised of 80 essential items of cookware, bakeware, cutlery and tools. Makeover and Make a Difference will assist the winning bidder, at no charge, in donating their old unwanted kitchen items to a deserving charity, creating a second wonderful donation as part of their winning bid.

Those who like it slow will adore the rondeau, suitable for sultry braises, while the digital instant read thermometer will quickly satisfy those in a hurry.

If you can’t bid, you can still click to get your own Instant Gourmet Kitchen. What a fabulous way to outfit the kitchen at a vacation home. $5000.

Luxury pours

fn_cabchard.jpgQuality. Uniqueness. Exclusivity.

Those were the characteristics that wealthy Americans were asked to consider when naming the best premium brands of wine and liquor. Their responses to the Luxury Institute’s survey are, undeniably, right on the money.

Champagne: Dom Perignon

Tequila: Patron

Scotch: Macallan

Wine: Far Niente

Vodka: Grey Goose

Gin: Bombay Sapphire

Cognac: Grand Marnier

Rum: 10 Cane

Whiskey: Woodford Reserve

So, what’s in your glass?

Mussel up

mussels-at-gigis.jpgSix more months. That’s how much longer the mussels will be really good. Until next September, that is, when mussel lovers will once again embrace the nine consecutive months that contain the letter “R,” an easy way to remember the best time to order mussels.

Mussels are like the nursery rhyme: “When they’re good, they’re very, very good, and when they’re bad, they’re horrid. Well tonight, I had the very, very good ones. Chef George Telles’ Prince Edward Island mussels with tomato, onion, garlic, and chourizo, in a white wine sauce. With plenty of crusty bread to mop up every bit of that fabulous sauce.

The occasion: Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivee! Yes, another wine dinner, this one at GiGi’s in Boca Raton. Actually, the mussels were paired with a Macon-Villages from Mommessin, a producer that also does a Beaujolais Nouveau. And yes, we did have plenty of Beaujolais as well. But thankfully, we didn’t have the Nouveau with all five courses.

After two Beaujolais Nouveau wine events today, I’ve had enough to last me a while. But those mussels! Next time I have a craving for mussels, I’ll go back to GiGi’s. And hopefully they’ll serve them with pommes frites, so I can pretend I’m in France. Or at least Belgium.

Wine without rules

2007.jpgHappy New Year!

You’ll have to wait 45 more days to watch the ball drop at Times Square. But you can get a head start on the revelry by celebrating New Year’s today. Because today we celebrate the New Year for wine.

Every third Thursday of November, the first wine of the vintage is released. And it’s always Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine made from the Gamay grape in the Beaujolais region of France. Just as we give special recognition to the first baby born in the New Year, the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau is always cause for celebration. Because only 12 weeks ago, the grapes that make up this wine were still on the vine. It’s just a baby.

Think back to your first kiss. Sweaty palms and nervous giggles. That sense of anticipation. Chances are you still remember the sweet feeling that washed over you when your lips finally met. Beaujolais Nouveau is like that. It’s fresh and juicy. Uncomplicated. Soft and supple. And ready now.

Georges Duboeuf, known as the King of Beaujolais, describes the taste of his 2007 vintage: Crisp and delicious flavors of red cherry, fresh plum and sweet pomegranate.  It’s a red wine that drinks like a white, a perfect choice for those who normally reach for a white wine. Pair it with anything from Thanksgiving turkey to Chinese take-out. Just put a little chill on the bottle first—15 minutes in the fridge will do the trick.

Duboeuf has been jetting Beaujolais Nouveau to America for 25 vintages. His labels are always fun and a little bit funky. And his wine is always approachable. At $10.99 a bottle, it’s a great excuse for a party.

To fete the 25th anniversary, Duboeuf has created a commemorative poster featuring labels from all 25 years. To snag a poster or a tee sporting the label lineup, visit winewithoutrules.com. Better yet, enter the How Do You Do Beaujolais Nouveau YouTube Video Contest. The best video wins a cool $2,000.

Velvet rope restaurant

3120151.jpegNo sign. No street number. No doorman.

The only way to find the entrance is to look for the velvet rope flanking the unmarked doors discreetly adorned with double J handles. Even when you pass through the doors, you’ll have to part a velvet curtain in order to reveal the dining room. Inside, your host, Austrian-born chef Johannes Fruhwirt, will be there to welcome you to his private dining room.

Johannes’ eyes twinkle with excitement. He’s been expecting you. You and only a few other guests. You see, there are only 32 seats in his dining room. It doesn’t feel like a restaurant, really. It’s more like being in a private home. Until recently, even the phone number was unlisted.

It was a pleasure having Johannes create our dining experience. I love doing that wherever there’s a great chef in the kitchen. I wouldn’t tell a musician what to play when I go to a concert. I wouldn’t tell an artist what to paint. So why dictate my menu choices to a chef when I can instead put myself in his capable hands and allow him to perfectly orchestrate my evening?

There were six of us, and we were there to celebrate. Johannes graciously permitted me to bring a couple of bottles of wine from our cellar—a ’97 Mauro Veglio Barolo Castelletto and a ‘98 Dolce—which we supplemented with a couple bottles from his excellent wine list. John, our host, found a bottle of ’03 Reynolds Family Winery Stag’s Leap District Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon on the list, which he insisted we try as a nod to my husband who had just helped him wrap up a big case. And I found a fabulous Austrian Riesling to start: an ‘03 Brundlmayer Riesling “Stein”, which delighted Johannes and got the night off to a great start.

The Riesling was a knockout pairing with our first course, Belize Conch Ceviche with Pineapple Salsa. The conch was sweeter and more tender than the conch you generally find on South Florida menus, and richly colored. The wine carried us happily through the second course, Mangrove Snapper with Marscarpone-Crayfish Riesling Sauce, another winner.

The Cabernet proved a worthy match for our next course, Brandy Lacquered Duck Breast with Wild Rice and an Apricot Ginger Glaze. The Barolo, which we had our waiter open when we arrived, was beautiful with Johannes’ Lamb Rack with Autumn Veggies and Rosemary Barolo Sauce. I did call ahead and chat with Johannes about bringing an older Barolo, so I suspect he sauced the lamb accordingly. If not, it was a happy coincidence.

I had also asked Johannes if he was doing foie gras, and when he said yes, I immediately pulled a half bottle of Dolce, a late harvest Sauterne-style wine from Napa, to enjoy with the much anticipated fois gras. Johannes’ classically simple preparation of Fresh French Foie Gras seared with Onions and Sea Salt elicited several moans of pleasure from our party—all mine.

Dessert followed, and I did have a bite or two. But he had me at the fois gras. And what better ending to a completely fabulous meal than the last seductive sip of Dolce—liquid gold from Napa Valley.

Start your engines

newsevents_maryandcar_12.jpgWine lovers will get all revved up about Lot # 8 at Auction Napa Valley, scheduled for June 7-10. Experience time travel times two with this clever offering, designed to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Spottswoode Estate. The winning bidder will drive away with 125 bottles of Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon—five bottles from each of Spottswoode Winery’s 25 vintages. Reminding us to savor the journey, Spottswoode owner Mary Novak is packing the wine in an electric car that’s an identical copy of the one she drives around town.

The car tops out at 25 miles per hour and comes in the same color as Spottswoode’s most sought after wine. Your friends will be green with envy.

Great call

refereeSo, who decides what’s fabulous?

I do! And because I’ve been identifying fabulous finds for years and years, you can trust my recommendations. Mostly, we’ll dish about food, wine, travel, and spas. Because that’s what I know best. On occasion, we’ll go off topic and talk about completely fabulous finds in other areas, like shopping, shoes, and Shih Tzus.

Don’t touch that dial…