Thursday, November 30, 2006

Where’s the HOOCH?
And, enough with the COOCH!

Lately, while innocently surfing my favorite celebrity gossip sites, toying with ideas for my recurring posts “Celebrity Sips,” I’m grossing out!

I now affectionately refer to Paris and friends as "Young Hollywood’s Crack Pack" as they've taken to sporting mini skirts commando, ensuring the world a steady supply of not-so-necessary crotch-shots. Lindsey’s privates hit tabloid headlines twice in the last month - and now Britney has joined in. (Wasn't she on a "classing up my act" campaign??) Ladies, for chrissakes, wtf? Put on some freakin’ panties already!

K-Fed’s former playground holds little-to-no interest for most people… Gawker's title sums it up best “Britney’s Vagina’s Reign of Terror Continues!” Read more in Pink Is The New Blog’s article “Lips Don’t Lie.” And, more in The Superficial's coverage of Brit's lack thereof.

Here’s a little stripper tip for the “unholy trinity”:
Pick up some flesh toned, ultra low-rise g-strings. Though ‘barely there’ they avoid you leaving that nasty little ‘snail trail’ for the poor unwitting soul who may sit down after you. WhoWhatWearDaily has a few suggestions, too.

All I can say after all this yuck-n-muck, is that I need a drink!

*Photos from

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cozy Up at Firefly

Dupont Insiders’ Cocktail Haven, Shhh…

Does the thought of the holiday season send chills up your spine? Fake smiles at company parties, gritted teeth (disguised as a grin) at family gatherings, shuttling around the country to appease the in-laws and spoiled tots screaming, “I want! I want!” at the mall definitely kill the ‘warm and fuzzies’ for me this time of year. Thank God for Firefly!

On my last trip to DC, in October, I stopped in to Firefly twice (in three days) to sample their fall cocktails. The first night, I went with gal-pals SarahC and BabsieD. Let's just say that I enjoyed the sampling so much that I went back the next day to actually take notes. (All in the line of duty, of course.) The charming Mike Hill (formerly Bar Manager at Topaz and Rouge) is now GM of Firefly (Yay, Mike!) and he is draw enough, as far as I’m concerned. However, I have to say, the drinks didn’t hurt. No, they didn't hurt one little bit…

One of the cool elements about Firefly is that the public isn’t always aware of the creative cocktails concocted by Mike and his crew. (He is pictured here with Manager Basheer Murshed and barman, Billy.) It's like I have my own little home bar away from home (only their drinks are much more imaginative than mine.)

Though Executive Chef John Wabeck may not be the friendliest fellow I've ever come across, his food receives much acclaim. I would be remiss not to highlight some of the delicacies available to enjoy with your libations. If drinking works up your appetite, indulge in a small plate (such as duck breast with roasted apples), a medium plate (perhaps the seared rare tuna with creamy garlic sauce and potato gnocchi) or a large plate (try the seared venison medallions with braised red cabbage).

Now, back to the cocktails...

Moshe, Liquid Muse Photographer, East, captured some of the delectable drinks on digital, so those of you not in Washington can “drink” your hearts out. Sipsters in DC, you now have the lowdown on some of the hottest drinks in the District. But, please, I don’t want to have to wait for a table next time I’m in town. Keep it amongst yourselves...

(Courtesy of 'Billy the barman')
1 1/4 oz. Finlandia vodka
1/2 oz. Frangelico
1/4 oz. Godiva liqueur
crushed hazelnuts

Shake and strain Finlandia vodka and Frangelico into a cocktail glass. Pour the Godiva liqueur into the middle of the glass, allowing it to settle at the bottom. Top with crushed hazelnuts. (I had this in place of dessert… mmm…!)

Maple Leaf

(Recipe courtesy of Basheer Murshed, who is transitioning from Firefly to Urbana)
1 1/4 oz. Woodford Reserve
1/2 oz. maple syrup
1/4 oz. freshly-squeezed lemon
soda water

Shake lightly, pour into Collins glass, top with soda water and garnish with lemon.

Sweet Potato Martini
(This photo is courtesy of Firefly’s publicist, Anthony Hesselius)
1 1⁄2 oz. Chopin vodka (potato distilled)
1 oz. sweet potato puree
1 oz. Frangelico
Splash light cream
Splash dry vermouth
Dash Simple Syrup
Dash angostura bitters
Sprinkle cinnamon
Skewered mini marshmallow

Shake vodka, Frangelico, sweet potato puree, vermouth, simple syrup, bitters and cream, pour into a martini glass, s
prinkle with cinnamon and garnish with skewered marshmallows.

Visions of Sugar-plums
(Christmas play on the original champagne cocktail)
1 sugar cube
2 dashes orange bitters
1 oz. plum nectar
5 oz. champagne
1 lemon twist

Shake bitters onto sugar cube and place on bottom of champagne flute. Add plum nectar and top with champagne. Rest twist on rim of glass.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bewitch A Man

Modern Day Witch, Fiona Horne
(and her Lusty Martini)

“You’ve read He’s Just Not That Into You. You’re a member of three Internet dating services, two book clubs and a salsa class… and yet, you are still single. Is spell-casting to get a man any crazier than some of the other things we do?”Fiona Horne

This lady intrigues the hell out of me. I had to meet her for myself. Not only have I held a fascination for the occult since childhood (and cocktail recipes are alcoholic potions, after all) but the thought of “bewitching a man” sounds rather… well, smashingly fun!

Horne is an accomplished author, TV / radio personality, real-life witch and has been featured in both Australian and American Playboy. Yes, she is articulate, mysterious and HOT! So, what the heck would Fiona know about needing to attract male attention? I'd think she shoos it away 24/7.

I got some insight while chatting with this Australian beauty at the kitchen table of the seriously swank Hollywood mansion (overlooking Sunset Blvd) in which she dwells. (After that visit, I am awaiting a book on how to Bewitch a Real Estate Agent!)

A native of Sydney, Fiona, who is adopted, grew up in a strict, Catholic household. She began her investigation into alternative spirituality as a teen, before the days of the Internet. The New Age movement was underway at that time (the 80’s) and she identified with groups looking to create conscious change.

Particularly drawn to pagan practices of the Northern European tribes (whom she explains “lived close to the earth” summoning both feminine and masculine energies) she found that she is genetically related to the people of that region. Some people in that area are modern-day Jews, so Fiona jokes that maybe she is “Jewitch.” Though some young people call themselves “witches” to justify promiscuity or other rebellious acts, Fiona says she came at it from an older spiritual path, maintaining conservative and high morals.

Horne became a popular musical artist in Australia and followed her career to Los Angeles in the 90’s. The band broke up in ’97 but Fiona stuck around. Through the hard times, she clung to her own form of spirituality, and became a mentor for others. She describes her book, Bewitch A Man, as a woman’s guide to personal empowerment, developing mind, body and spirit. Finally applying her advice to her own life, Fiona says that after six years of being single, she is inundated with dates.

She says the inspiration for her book came from the many fantastic women she knows in their 30’s and 40’s who complain about not finding men. Though LA may be a “screwy place to date,” she says that women need to remember a few important truths:
  • A woman has no ‘use by’ date
  • What we think today happens tomorrow
  • Everyone deserves love
Fiona talks a lot about visualization (which is something I strongly believe in, myself!). She also suggests “ritualizing” aspects of life, and points out that it is something we do inherently (lighting candles before sex, for example). She encourages women to ‘bewitch’ their own lives, first, and highlights that all forms of love are sacred. Another strong theme is making every moment meaningful, centering on personal goals and doing so in connection with energy, reminding women that “what you send out, returns three-fold."

The book includes a bit of practical application for novices. A few of Fiona’s spells includemake him call,” “I guarantee this won’t be a one-night stand,” “bring my lover back” and “releasing sadness.” (On the latter note, her chapter on hexing the bastards can come in pretty handy, too...)

Sound like mumbo-jumbo? Tell that to Harvard University. Fiona is one only non-academic invited to speak at their symposium on contemporary witchcraft!

If you want a man in your life for the holidays, or already have one, I suggest picking up Bewitch A Man for yourself. (I keep my copy close at hand…) In the meantime, take a peek at her webiste and charm your friends (or love-targets) with Fiona’s Lusty Martini:

Lusty Martini
Courtesy of Fiona Horne, author of Bewitching A Man

2 ounces vanilla-flavored vodka
1 ounce Godiva liqueur
Splash of orange curacao

Shake ingredients and serve with a chocolate-dipped strawberry on the side. Feed the strawberry to your lover while visualizing a lust-filled evening…

Monday, November 27, 2006

Wine On The Run!

Why Three Thieves Steals the Show...

To truly benefit from this post on Three Thieves wines, you must begin with an open mind. Once again, here is an example of not judging a book by its cover – or in this case, a wine by its box.

Three Thieves Bandit line packaging is merely that - an environmentally friendly cardboard container. The first Bandit I tried was a light, crisp Pinot Grigio. Jason and I enjoyed it with my pasta-and-scallops dish. The wine was superb - good tasting - and in a functional vessel.

Frankly, the more I thought about it, the Bandit boxes are pretty darn convenient. (Who wants to lug glass bottles on a picnic?) And, the individual serving mini-Bandits (called “Bullets”) are simply brilliant. Juice boxes for grown-ups, with a happy little kick. Though White Zinfandel is not my thing, their version isn’t too bad... However, I am much more impressed with the Cabernet, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir.

Additionally, this is a case where I applaud a company for its clever marketing. The Three Thieves logo and wine jugs are adorable, considering the whole Wild West theme. Like the wine, it is fun, fresh, imaginative and easy to consume. Most importantly, the wine is as good, and in many cases better, than a lot of comparable vintages in standard wine bottles. (I shared some of this wine with fellow wine-enthusiasts and they agree!) Read the “legend” behind the wines on the Three Thieves website.

The Three Thieves themselves are: fourth generation winemaker, Joel Gott; Charles Bieler (whose family owned Chateau Routas winery in Provence) and money-guy-turned-Mendocino-grape-grower Roger Scommegna. Their unpretentious and cheeky approach to winemaking is refreshing in an industry that tends to take itself quite seriously. (For example, one of their “promotional items” is a sticker stating ‘I “heart” jugs.’ It is risky to be politically incorrect, to be sure. But, anyone who reads The Liquid Muse knows that scores big with me… folks just need to lighten the heck up!)

If The Liquid Muse has still not convinced you to think in (or out of) the box, also consider that the wine has been favorably mentioned in the Wine Spectator, Food & Wine, Gourmet, USA Today and Saveur’s Top 100, among others…

Parent company, Napa Valley’s Trinchero Family Wines must like to ‘play the numbers,’ as other wines under their umbrella include Folie a Deux and Menage a Trois. I’d say that Three Thieves is a sure bet.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Drink Like the Devil

Terra Cotta’s “Diablo" Margarita

I first came across information for intriguing dining spots at the Tucson Culinary Festival, which took place in October. Terra Cotta was one of the places I put on my “must try” list.

Jason (my husband) and I first went there about a month ago for a Friday night “date.” We sat on the patio,
enjoyed the live music, and dined on the delectable Stuffed Poblano Relleno Platter, featuring two large poblano peppers. One is stuffed with sweet corn rice pilaf and shrimp, and the other (my favorite) is stuffed with adobo pork and sweet potatoes. YUM!

I was also impressed by the bountiful wine selection for which Terra Cotta received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. In another post, I will go into more detail regarding the numerous honors bequethed upon James Beard Nominee and Executive Chef Donna Nordin, and her creations.

Getting to the point of this piece, I must highlight the Diablo Margarita which stands out in my memory of that evening. In fact, that cocktail drew us back to Terra Cotta last night, with out-of-town visitors.

The Diablo starts with El Tesoro Reposado infused with Serrano peppers. According to the bartender, the longer the bottle sits, the hotter the tequila becomes. So, whomever gets the last drink from the bottle cannot be a beginner in the ways of the chili pepper! Grand Marnier is used in place of Triplesec. Of course, lime juice and a salt rim complete it.

Whether in the Southwest or beyond, try infusing Serranos with your tequila and serve your guests a margarita they’ll not soon forget!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Toasting ‘round the Turkey

Still think of Thanksgiving as turkey-and-football day? Then you’re forgetting something – Thanksgiving Cocktails!

Unlike our puritanical predecessors, today’s Americans know that a creative libation adds playful pizzazz to a holiday meal. I love a stuffed bird as much as the next gal, but washing it down with a tasty (and stylish) cocktail renders the meal just a bit more gratifying.

For the fellas: The serious beer connoisseur may grimace at the very mention of seasonally flavored beer. However, even skeptics have had nice things to say about Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale and Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale. Both are available only in the fall, and sell out quickly! Boutique breweries such as Bent River makes a Sweet Potato Ale, and Oregon’s Hair of the Dog Brewery makes a squash beer named “Greg.” The downside is that these are only available in kegs where they are produced. (Road trip, anyone?)

For the ladies: Mix it up! My upcoming “Booze for Broads” ™ coast-to-coast cocktail tastings include “Drinking Like A Man.” Do your own research and try the “Bitter Turkey” made with bourbon. The “Naughty Pilgrim Pumpkintini” will spice up your family gathering. Even grandma will express her gratitude.

Bitter Turkey
2 oz. Wild Turkey Bourbon
Dash of bitters
1 tablespoon cranberry puree*
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
dried cranberries

Shake bourbon, cranberry puree and bitters together, serve on the rocks. Garnish with dried cranberries sprinkled into the glass.
*Cranberry puree: Process 1 cup cranberries with 1 cup simple syrup, until smooth.

Naughty Pilgrim Pumpkintini
(serve chilled or warm)
1.5 oz rum
3 tablespoons sweet pumpkin puree*
.5 oz half & half
Sprinkle of nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon
Cinnamon sticks
Graham crackers

Finely grind the graham crackers in a food processor. Dip martini glasses into crumbs, coating the rims. Mix rum, sweet pumpkin puree, half and half and spices in a martini shaker (or blender). Garnish with a cinnamon stick (optional).
* Sweet Pumpkin Puree: Process 1/2 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin with 1 cup simple syrup, until smooth.
Christmas Comes Early For The Liquid Muse!

Imagine my surprise when I got a congratulatory email from a spirits publicist in New York on my write up in the December issue of Marie Claire.

I was like, “What?
Marie Claire? I think you have me confused with someone else.” She insisted that she had it in front of her, and The Liquid Muse was indeed mentioned in Marie Claire. The next day, I got another ‘congrats’ from a restaurant publicist, in DC.

So, ecstatic little media whore that I am, I sped down to the grocery store, bought a copy and sat in my car, in the parking lot, scouring the pages. And, I found it! I did my own little “touchdown” dance right there in the driver’s seat.

Personal aside: Not only is it gratifying to know that I hit the radar of both Modern Luxury (The Liquid Muse is mentioned in
DC Magazine’s November Nightlife issue) and Marie Claire’s controversial “topless Ashley Judd” and “Elizabeth Vargas breast feeding” December issue BUT I am embarking on my quest for a literary agent and publisher for my first cocktail book… so, the timing could not be better!

Thank you, Marie Claire!!!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Celebrity Sips

James Bond

This is the first Celebrity Sips devoted to a fictional character. However, if there is any fictional, fantastical character to fit the bill, it’s James Bond. From the marvelous mind of writer, Ian Fleming, came the man men want to be and the man women want to… well, you get the picture.

Fleming first created the Bond character in 1953 and wrote numerous novels and short stories featuring him. James Bond exploded into icon status in American pop-culture when first personified by none-other than swoon-inducing Sean Connery in 1962. Subsequent actors portraying British Agent 007 include: George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan.

Today, the world
waits with baited breath and giddy anticipation to see actor Daniel Craig take on the legendary role in the twenty first official film, Casino Royale.

The modern return to classic glamour permeates all levels today’s hip-factor, and epitomized in the way we drink. In honor of Casino Royale, Smirnoff Vodka Cocktail Consultant, Cameron Bogue brings back the original Vesper Martini, named for Bond girl, Vesper Lynd (portrayed by Eva Green). Vodka is a long-standing staple in the world of Fleming-style espionage entertainment. The Bond character first called for a vodka martini at the Casino Royale-les-Eaux in the original novel, Casino Royale, and bottles of Smirnoff Vodka are seen in the first Bond flick, Dr. No, in 1962.

In our recent interview, Bogue points out, “Before Bond ordered his martini “shaken,” cocktails were stirred.” Cameron
indicates that James Bond’s sophisticated and assertive style influenced pop-culture to such an extent that the current generation of bartenders and mixologists shake their cocktails.

So fellas, before heading off to the cinema tonight, stir up a little pre-film fun with Cameron’s version of these classic cocktails, and impress your date. After all, no girl can resist a Bond-man!

Classic 007 Martini
1 1/4 oz. Smirnoff® Vodka
Splash of dry vermouth
Shake well with ice, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Cameron says: “Classic and smooth, just like Bond himself. Master making this martini and it is easy to make your own variations.”

The Vesper
3/4 oz. Gordon’s Gin
1/4 oz. Smirnoff® Vodka
Splash of Lillet Blanc or dry vermouth
Shake well with ice, and serve in a martini glass garnished with a large thin slice of lemon peel.

Cameron says: “The best of both worlds for those enjoy both vodka and gin martinis. Bond ordered his martinis with a lemon peel garnish, but you can also garnish with a maraschino cherry, orange or olive.”

Smirnoff® Modern Martini
1 oz. Smirnoff® Vodka
1/4 oz. Triple Sec
1/4 oz. Pinot Grigio
Shaken, not stirred and served up with flamed orange zest for garnish.

Cameron says: “Many classic cocktails use sherry or vermouth for acid balance. I wanted to use ingredients available in every bar so I decided to try Pinot Grigio. And, flamed orange zest is a classic garnish.”

Thursday, November 16, 2006


How Smart Are You?

I’m about to make your holiday shopping very easy.

If you know anyone... I mean anyone at all... on your Nice (or Naughty) list who indulges in the occasional cocktail, this trivia game is a no-brainer gift idea.

Slick and stylish CocktailSmarts comes in a decorative tin filled with a 'cocktail tips' booklet, score sheets, playing cards and cocktail quiz coasters (upon which to place game-time hydration). I’ve been thumbing through the questions and found myself scratching my head more than once. (I’m trying to resist the urge to read them all before I actually get to PLAY!)

I’m taking this home for Thanksgiving. After a few drink-i-poos and turkey-coma, I see CocktailSmarts as a great way to bond with family (and avoid those “When will you make me a grandmother?” inquisitions…)

See? I got smarter already…

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Modern Mixologist

Tony Abou Ganim

I first learned about Tony Abou-Ganim at my favorite Hollywood sushi spot, Katana when I asked Tom (one of the head honchos there) about their drinks. He put me in touch with The Modern Mixologist who designed the cocktail programs for Katana and sister restaurants, Sushi Roku, Balboa and Boa.

As luck
would have it, not long after that, I arrived in Arizona and Tony was doing a cocktail seminar for the Tucson Culinary Festival. The first thing that struck me about Tony is that his charisma just about bowls people over. His smile, high-energy and genuine niceness enhance his ability to speak comfortably in front of a group, share cheeky anecdotes and impart behind-the-bar know-how. I took a million notes on his version of the “perfect cocktail” (which includes using fresh ingredients, double-freezing the ice and creating balance in the drink).

The most fun part about his presentation, though, was watching the crowd react to him. Tony says that is his favorite part, “I get excited getting a positive reaction. That makes me feel really good, like I’m contributing something.” Tony’s theatrical background surely helps, however his passion for Mixology is what shines through. (btw – I asked him to define that much tossed-around word. Tony describes Mixology as “anything to do with cocktails, spirits and bartending.” Fair enough. If anyone would know, it would be The Modern Mixologist!)

After meeting him in Tucson, I was even happier to attend Finlandia Vodka’s Finnishing School seminar in Scottsdale, two days later, taught by Tony and Dale DeGroff (ie: The Cocktail King, and another of my cocktail idols). For me, The Liquid Muse, rubbing shoulders with these Sipster-style celebrities was inspirational, indeed!

Abou-Ganim says he loves the cocktail’s “glamorous, glorious past” and enjoys showing people that there is more to the cocktail world than “Tom Cruise flipping bottles.” As far as cocktail trends, Tony notes, “As things progress, some stuff gets a little too far ‘out there.’ I like to get creative but I don’t know if people really need a lavender-infused-foam with gold-dust to have a good drink. The trend I’m excited about is re-discovering forgotten drinks.”

Tony’s track record is long when it comes to liquid libations. He started out at Jack Slick’s Balboa Café in San Francisco, after graduating college. In 1990, he helped open the legendary Harry Denton’s. In 1993, Tony headed to New York and worked at Po in the West Village. 1995 saw his return to San Fran to open Harry Denton’s Starlight Room atop the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. There, Tony created his first “Specialty Drink Menu” which included classics such as the Sazarac, Negroni and Between the Sheets. He also came up with original recipes for the Starlight and Cable Car. In 1998, Tony lit up the Las Vegas strip when hand-picked by Steve Wynn to design the cocktail program for the Bellagio. He currently resides in Vegas and is still very hands-on with the beverage line up.

Abou-Ganim has won numerous Mixology awards and his specialty drinks have been featured in several publications including Playboy, Vanity Fair, Wine Spectator and Santé. He has been mentioned in cocktail books such as New Classic Cocktails, The Elegant Martini and Champagne Cocktails. (Imagine how incredibly excited I am that Tony will contribute a recipe to my upcoming cocktail book, as well!)

Tony’s star-quality has sparkled on CNBC, the Food Network and on the Fine Living Network’s “Raising the Bar: America’s Best Bar Chefs.” He is also working on his own cocktail book called The Modern Mixologist, due next year. I encourage you to check out his site. And, keep an eye out for his line of cocktail tools using his initials T.A.G.

Next time you’re in Vegas, belly up to the Bellagio and order a cocktail. The high-roller with the dazzling smile and year-round tan on the barstool next to you might just be Tony, himself! And, for the record, I'm sure he has many faves but one of them, for sure, is the Negroni.
Nuts For Squash!

Urbana’s Six-Course Pumpkin Menu

Luckily, my trip to DC, earlier this month, happened to be over Halloween, when the charming and talented Executive Chef Richard Brandenburg kicked off the pumpkin tasting menu. All I can say remembering the pumpkin-iferous delights is “YUM!”

Though I could have easily stuffed all six courses into my ecstatic belly, I tasted only two. It was lunchtime, and I had evening plans… I tried to be prudent. It wasn’t easy.

The first thing I tried was slivered scallop ceviche atop a cloud of pumpkin puree and arugula. The
pumpkin’s light and unobtrusive taste added just a hint of sweet substance to the delicate, creamy flavor of the scallop. I could have eaten six of that dish, alone. I should have a photo to show you – it is gorgeously presented – but I inhaled it before the other half of my DC team (Liquid Muse Photographer, Moshe Zusman) arrived.

Moshe did get there in time to shoot the roasted quail with savory pumpkin pie - but just barely. The yummy little bird was a succulent accompaniment to the fluffy pumpkin torte. (Just thinking about it now makes my tummy growl.)

I was dying to taste the venison loin and pumpkin ice cream … and I probably should have in retrospect, as I am tempted to hop a plane back to the East Coast just to order that dish! If you go, please, tell me how it is. (And, I want every last, juicy detail!)

Rather than itemize the whole menu, I encourage you to just go and try it for yourself (before November 22). Wine pairings are available – and trust me, they kick butt. I had a perfectly balanced Hofstatter Pinot Grigio with the scallop. After all, Urbana is a wine bar too, and the folks there know their stuff.

But, wait! The fun isn’t over. While there, I strongly suggest you try The Great Pumpkintini! Ok, the name may falter a bit – and I admit that I chose to call it that. Peter Bernsten, the oh-so-stylish GM, flattered my sensibilities by telling me I could name it. (They called it Cider Pumpkintini. I didn’t do much better…)

Maybe we should have a “name that drink” contest! The winner gets a free drink and five-mintues of fame on The Liquid Muse. Any suggestions? E-me or comment below!

The mystery pumpkin cocktail is made with a 12-varietal cider, 10 Cane Rum, and Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, topped with pumpkin foam and topped with carmelized pumpkin seeds. Deee-lish.

So, get thee to Urbana and enjoy the mouth-watering cornucopia of ways to enjoy this seasonal treat. You’ll be thankful not to miss this one!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wines of the World

Following the ‘path of the grape’ with winemaker, Terry Adams

I recently toured the gorgeous Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards with winemaker, Terry Adams, as the guide. (Might I say, that is the ultimate way to tour a vineyard!!) Spanning 1100 acres in Northern California’s wine country, Sonoma-Cutrer’s first vintage was produced in 1981. Adams has been integral to their wine production since the first grape was plucked from the first vine.

A fourth-generation Californian, Adams came to the wine industry with a background in Biochemistry. After several years at the UCLA medical center, he moved to St. Helena, where he made the leap from medicine to winemaking. Terry calls it “a very natural progression,” noting the similarity in the chemistry used in the two fields. (For example, CO2 is regulated in both blood and wine.) With a gleam in his eye, Adams points out, “Blood and wine even have biblical connections.”

Terry sees wine as an expression of its terroire. Foggy mornings and cool nights make for ideal conditions in Sonoma. Rocky with rolling hills (natural drainage) the varying soils include an ancient riverbed and volcanic stones. The Sonoma-Cutrer vines are divided into blocks, or Terry’s “spice rack of wine.” One wine from each block is made and later, Adams individually blends them into the final products. (Over 200 pre-blend chardonnays were made in 2005!) At harvest time, he walks through every wine block tasting grapes. When they are sweet enough, he calls for picking.

Though harvest takes place in the fall, caring for the vines is a year-round endeavor. They are pruned once in the winter, and become active in late March. By spring, “canopy management” begins. Normally, each vine sprouts 2 shoots, each yielding 2 bunches of grapes. Extra shoots are cut off or “suckered.”

A grape goes from bloom to harvest in 100 days. Harvesting happens in about 31 days. Sonoma-Cutrer produces approximately 4000 tons of grapes. (There are about 375 grapes to a bottle of wine). Each fall, twelve crews of twelve people scour the vineyard. Paid by the ton and as a team, they run from vine to vine. Adams notes, “If people walk, they won’t last.” There is even a championship for the fastest pruners taking into account both speed and accuracy. (Last year’s winner is from Sonoma-Cutrer.)

Sonoma also has a friendly rivalry between winemakers. With pride, Terry states, “We do little things differently which make an impact on the wine. We don’t have a lot of secrets, just attention to detail.” For example, Adams cools the grapes before pressing them, believing that cooler fruit has fewer tannins. After an hour in cooling tunnels (at 30 – 40 degrees, Fahrenheit) extra foliage is removed on the sorting table. Finally, the fruit is pressed, yeast is added and within 3-4 days, fermenting begins.

Once blended, the wine sits in 3 year-old French Oak barrels, giving the wine an opportunity for integration and “finesse.” When ordering a new batch of barrels from Burgundy (also the home of the original chardonnay grapes) Adams goes for quality. At 670 Euros (around $800 dollars) per barrel, each one is marked with the barrel maker, the forest from which it comes, and the year the tree was felled. Sonoma-Cutrer also has a traditional earthen-floor cellar, which Adams says “keeps the room alive. It doesn’t feel like a warehouse.”

Asked his favorite Sonoma-Cutrer vintage, the winemaker insists, “Choosing a favorite is like choosing a favorite son. Sometimes, I’m influenced by memories from a particular year.” Terry laughs, “And, basically, I like Chardonnay with everything. A lot of people say they only drink Zin or Cabernet. I get them to taste this…and, they come back.”

The buzz at the moment is about the 2005 Sonoma Coast, the first wine allocated 100% for retail wine shops. (80% of Sonoma-Cutrer’s wines are produced exclusively for restaurants.) A cornucopia of fruit, balanced with acidity, the ‘new kid’ is refreshing and satisfying, with soft edges. Says Adams, “Sonoma Coast is about the fruit from the region. There is a lot of Cutrer inspiration in here… richness, texture, depth. It’s great to sip in front of a fireplace, or talking with friends, and lends itself easily to food. I think I achieved what I envisioned.”

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards is not open to the public for tours, or tastings. However, the public is welcome at the various charity events held at the winery each year:

Croquet Anyone? Each spring, world-class professional croquet players compete on Sonoma-Cutrer’s croquet field. The event, along with a silent auction, benefits the Make A Wish Foundation.

Care for a Mint Julep with that wine? Derby Day raises money for the Council on Aging. A Kentucky Derby simulcast is tied in with an iron chef competition.

Keeping it local. In July, the Sonoma County vintners get together to raise money for local charities. Festivities include a barrel auction and music by “Private Reserve” a local band made up of winemakers, including Terry Adams.

Spending a weekend in California’s Wine Country? Book a luxurious stay at Vintner’s Inn. Giant, fluffy beds, in-room fireplaces, tiled balconies and the sounds of rustling trees and a babbling fountain make this upscale-yet-rustic hotel the perfect transition point from home to heaven (and its just down the road from Sonoma-Cutrer!)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Just Say “No” To The Cosmo!

Ladies, this is a plea to you. The Cosmo is dead. Done. Buried. Forget it. Sex in the City has been in reruns for like, four years or so. It is time to pick up your Manolos, and move on. There is a whole exciting world of libations to explore! (And, to the guys who actually order Cosmos in public, which is alarming unto itself… just stop. Don’t believe me? Maybe the Modern Drunkard will convince you.)

Being a “girl” is not always easy when it comes to ordering drinks. Seriously. I come across an enormous amount of kickin’ cool cocktails and for some reason, at the moment I find myself in front of a fully stocked bar – hundreds of bottles and combinations at my disposal, sometimes, I choke. Freeze. Go blank. I have actually heard myself stammer, “A… a… Cosmo?” (Ok, truthfully, I haven’t actually ordered a Cosmo for a couple of years - but you get my point.)

My default drink these days in the Negroni, which I highly recommend. It is both classic and rejuvenatedly swank. I make it at home mostly because, unfortunately, many bartenders have no f-ing clue how to make a good one. (I was severely disappointed with the sludge served at LA’s Formosa Café, normally a place I like. It, too, is a classic. But, that bartender had no business making a Negroni. They need to either teach the staff the art of that drink, or take it off the menu!)

To try a Negroni at home, check out this LM post featuring San Fran Mixologist, Jacques Bezuidenhout’s recipe. Another Negroni-phile is the Modern Mixologist himself, Tony Abou Ganim. (My profile on Tony is coming soon…)

There are a zillion cool cocktails to discover so I am going to make a point of sharing more on The Liquid Muse. Drinks using gin, bourbon, whiskey and tequila are often overlooked by us, ladies. My theory is that we don’t order them because we are not generally exposed to “manly” drinks. And, I’m about to change all that…

I’ve been planning to implement Liquid Muse Events for a while now. Among those events, will be liquor presentations, especially for women, called Booze for Broads (tm). These educational (and fun!) seminars will take place on both coasts, and often feature guest mixologists.

I’ll post them here, of course, but if you want to be “in the know” please send me an email and I’ll add you to my mailing list. (btw – I will never share your addresses. I hate being spammed, too.)

In the meantime, try a little experiment. When you’re out this weekend, think of something your dad drinks, and order that. Chances are it is in fashion now, anyway. Let me know how it went, and I’ll post it here. (Especially if you have pix!)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Shameless plug...
and Thanksgiving Cocktails

Ok, so do you blame me for being excited about my article on Thanksgiving Cocktails in Rachael Ray's magazine this month? I mean, come on, people, this is totally great.

Rachael Ray is a gal after my own heart. She loves to travel and, like me, eats her way through a new town, judging the place largely on what it has to offer in the way of regional specialties. On top of that, she shares fun recipes with the ones she loves, in her case, the TV-viewing public. In my case, you Sipsters!

Here are a couple of drinks featured in this month's article. I suppose I should encourage you to go out and buy the magazine... hmm...moral dilemma... Well, I'll only share two recipes. You can get the third one from the news stand or on her website...

Apple Pie Shooter
1 oz. Eau de Vie Pomme (apple brandy)
1 oz. apple cider
1 tsp. whipped cream
Pinch nutmeg

Pour apple brandy and cider into a shot glass. Top with whipped cream and nutmeg.

Cranberry Punch (24 servings)
1 liter Finlandia cranberry-flavored Vodka
6 cups white cranberry juice
2 cups cran-raspberry juice
3 cups freshly squeezed blood orange juice
2 cups fresh lemon sour*
1/2 cup Rose’s Cocktail Infusions Cranberry Twist
1 bottle chilled sparkling wine
Sliced orange wheels
1/2 pound fresh or frozen raspberries

Pour vodka, juices, lemon sour and Rose’s Cranberry Twist in a large bowl. Add orange wheels, for decoration. Place a couple of raspberries into the bottom of each wine goblet, or martini glass, fill with punch, top with champagne, and serve.
(*Lemon sour mix: 1 part simple syrup, 1 part lemon juice)

**All of these photos (which are also in the article) came from Rachael Ray's website.