01 July 2015

Dinner at Goldsmith's in Memphis, July 1, 1914

While nosing around on some sites about Memphis history, I found a particular curiosity well-suited to this here blog. Historic-memphis.com had a series of photos of the old Goldsmith's department stores, and buried within that set was a menu from exactly 100 years ago.

Goldsmith's was founded in Memphis in 1870 and was a local institution until 2005 when the name was completely absorbed into the Macy's chain. I got a lot of dress shirts and school clothes from their stores when I was a kid, and still remember getting sweaters for Christmas in those white boxes with the embossed lids.

The menu is from a celebratory dinner for Jacob Goldsmith, one of the founding brothers (and the lone survivor at the time) who was 64 in 1914. The brothers were from Germany and immigrated to Memphis after the Civil War. The dinner does not reflect German, Jewish, or Southern cuisine, and frankly seems a little bland. In fact, I can say with authority that I have had more spectacular meals on airplanes (minus the cigarettes and cigars).

Of course, not everyone from that era was having the epic 1912 last dinner for first class passengers on the Titanic. While now we might adore our roughly chopped and heavily seasoned roasted Provençal vegetables, at the time, this was a classy dinner for high society in our little river town. The Haut Sauterne wine was likely not a fine Bordelais dessert bottle but rather a domestic white blend of French-American hybrids.

The more I look at the menu, the more it reminds me of fine dining and weddings and my grandmother's flower society gatherings back in the 80s. French nouvelle cuisine and California modern hadn't hit Memphis yet, and things like stuffed tomatoes were considered pretty fancy. I'm thinking that next year I ought to recreate this menu in full for a dinner party. Who's up for some planked white fish?

12 June 2015

Writing About Barefoot Wines for Nomacorc

Here's my latest piece for the Nomacorc, a short piece on Barefoot Wines and the need for a better appreciation of everyday table wines in the United States. Check it out! The piece also features the freelance work debut of Bella, current dog intern here at Benito Wine Reviews.

I realize the blog has been a little quiet, but I've been busier than ever writing freelance as well as technical writing at the day job. But fear not... I have many reviews to release over this summer. Stay tuned!

26 May 2015

2012 Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc

My latest column for Snooth is up with a focus on Brazilian food:

Brazilian Cuisine is Begging for Wine

Oddly at the time of writing I did not have any Brazilian wines on hand, but a couple of weeks later one showed up for review. I did a lot of my article research at Brazil Flavor here in the suburbs of Memphis, and they were excited when I finally showed up with a bottle from the home country. It was much better than a lot of the wines that I had at a class in New York in 2013.

Vinícola Salton has been around since 1910 and is the first modern winery in Brazil. Best known for their sparkling wines, the winery produces around 20 million bottles a year including still wines under 50 different labels.

2012 Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc
Campanha Gaúcha, Brazil
100% Cabernet Franc
$15, 13% abv.

Excellent Bordelais characteristics with a focus on green pepper, leather, and touches of black cherry. Smoother and less tannic than you'd expect from the grape and age with a medium body that softens gracefully over the course of an hour. Quite delicious and one of those bottles that would be absolutely perfect for bringing to a blind tasting.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

18 May 2015

Twig Wine for Nomacorc

My latest piece for the Nomacorc Blog is up, a short piece on a bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo often referred to as "twig wine". It's a fun bottle that I've enjoyed over the years and I was glad to share it for this assignment.

Twig Wine: Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

13 May 2015

Markus Wine Co.

Markus Wine co. is a side project of Borra Vineyards in Lodi, California, run by Borra winemaker Markus Niggli. Niggli is from Switzerland, and given the dizzying number of grapes that we tried over that week, I asked him over dinner if he was growing any Chasselas. The laughing answer was "no". Apparently it's not a good fit for the region, and demand is decidedly low here in the US. However, the winemaker is producing some milder, lighter, European-style whites that once again change everything that you think you know about Lodi wine.

The labels featured on this series are the result of a collaboration with Michael Leonard and the University of the Pacific in Stockton. I'm particularly fond of the pure text design of the Nativo, because that's how I'm wired. All three of these wines can be purchased from the Borra website.

2014 Markus Wine Co. Nuvola
Lodi, California
100% Gewürztraminer
$19, 13.2% abv.

Dry and herbal with touches of honey. I know that sounds odd but it is possible for a wine to have some of the aromas of honey without the sweetness. Outstanding with a tuna salad sandwich on a croissant during these mild spring days.

2014 Markus Wine Co. Nativo
Lodi, California
75% Kerner, 19% Riesling, 6% Bacchus
$19, 13.1% abv.

Hurrah! I get to try another new grape for the first time (or the first time I've logged it). Bacchus brings me to 195 on the life list, and this particular bottle was light and floral with a touch of lemony acidity. I enjoyed it with a simple appetizer of steamed shrimp, lightly seasoned.

2014 Markus Wine Co. Joey Insieme
Lodi, California
95% Torrontes, 5% Riesling
$19, 12.8% abv.

Light citrus aromas pop up with a mild body and a slightly mineral flavor. Much more depth as it warms up. My favorite out of the three, and a unique expression of the Torrontes grape. Highly recommended with a large platter of raw oysters.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

01 May 2015

Repost: The Mint Julep

A timely repost for Derby Day tomorrow...

On Cinco de Mayo this year, I went out and had margaritas and Mexican food with Julia and some friends, but that afternoon I had to make a certain cocktail. The event was the Kentucky Derby, and the cocktail was the classic Mint Julep.

I've written about this cocktail many times before, but I don't think I've ever shown one in my nickel-plated brass julep cups. I love these things, but so rarely get to use them. Click on the photo for the bigger version and you can see the thousands of tiny drops of condensation clinging to the metal. Enjoying it through a whole bouquet of fresh mint is also a really wonderful sensory experience.

I achieved a perfect Mint Julep thanks to one special ingredient: a cup of ice from a nearby Sonic Drive-In For those not familiar, it's a fast food chain where you drive up to a parking space, order through a speaker, and if you wish, eat your meal there after it's delivered by a young woman who may or may not be on rollerskates. Sonic is decent enough when I'm in the mood for it, but they have this rough little pelletized ice that is just amazing for the Mint Julep, which is really sort of an adult snow cone.

As much as I enjoyed my classic cocktail, I looked around at my ingredients and thought I could try something fun yet profane. I used Buffalo Trace Bourbon for the former, and have found it to be a reliable performer in one of my other favorite classic cocktails, the Manhattan. Could I have a peanut butter and chocolate moment here?

Benito's Manhattan Derby
2 oz. Bourbon
1 oz. Sweet Red Vermouth
Fresh Mint
Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged Old Fashioned Bitters
Bourbon-soaked Cherry

Muddle the Bourbon and Vermouth with fresh mint and small pieces of ice. Add more ice and shake thoroughly. Fill a tumbler with ice and add a few drops of a good quality dark bitters. Pour the cocktail over the ice and bitters and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint and a cherry. (I like to get a jar of maraschinos, drain out the red corn syrup, and replace it with Bourbon. Leave it in the fridge for months.) While I don't think this cocktail will ever catch on, it was a lot of fun and tasted great. It's less sweet and somewhat smoother than a Mint Julep, and I'm now wondering which of my 20 different bitters would best improve that cocktail...

19 April 2015

Interview with Susannah Gold

Susannah Gold works in New York City in the public relations and marketing world of wine for Vigneto Communications. In addition she blogs at Avvinare, named for the Italian verb that means rinsing your glass and preparing it for wine service.

I first met Susannah during the Snooth PVA Awards weekend two years ago in Manhattan. We didn't spend a lot of time together, though I apparently got too loud during the Ribera del Duero presentation while we were arguing about kosher wine and there was a memorable moment with a Brazilian Tannat at the Saturday night party. I was a little overwhelmed during that trip, but have developed a lot of great friendships and professional relationships with many of the people I met that weekend, and since then it's been great to get to know Susannah better and learn about her fascinating history.

BWR: Tell me a bit about working as a financial reporter in Italy. If you were in Milan in December 1996, we may have briefly crossed paths 
near the Duomo or Galleria.

Susannah: I was in Milan in December 1996 in fact, a period of time I remember very well. I lived in Milan for 10 years and was a reporter for 4 of those years. I loved being a reporter in Italy because I am very interested in Italian politics and economics. It’s a very complicated country in many respects and there are so many layers of it to understand and analyze. Everything about Italy interests me, truth to tell.

BWR: Everyone that I know who has spent some time in Italy has a magical 
food moment, something that clicked and let you know that you weren't
 in Kansas anymore. Hot crespelle in a café, seared octopus on the 
Ligurian coast, or even a few roasted chestnuts from a street vendor.
 Did you have such a transformative experience?

Susannah: I have had many food moments in Italy that have been outstanding, starting from my first pizza on a side “street” in Venice overlooking one of the canals when I was 15 and with my parents but my real ah moment was when I was 20, living in Dijon, France and visiting Italy with my Mother, a sculptor and Art Historian by trade. I fell asleep in the train and when I woke up I was looking out at the Borromean islands rising in the mist from Lago Maggiore. That was the beginning of my real love affair with il bel paese.

BWR: We talked a bit about biodynamics in NYC with fruit days, but I'm
 curious to hear your four favorite seasonal wines, what you crave in
 spring, summer, fall, winter.

Susannah: Yes we did have that conversation about the biodynamic calendar. In the Spring I tend to crave white wines or a good French or Spanish rosé while in the Summer, Vermentino is always a favorite as is sparkling wine which I crave and drink all year long. Fall I like to drink wines with more body that pair with great fall foods like pumpkin, squash, turkey, etc. In winter, I am interested in a heavier red largely to pair with meat dishes or root vegetable ones. Again, sparkling wines are a passion in winter too. I also really like a touch of sweet wines throughout the year.

BWR: Was wine a part of your family dinner table growing up? If so,
 what was poured and what did you like?

Susannah: Wine was part of my family life growing up. I don’t remember when we started but during that trip as a 15 year old, I was most certainly already interested in wine. My Dad made wine in the basement of our house with our next-door neighbor who was Sicilian. He also once bought the contents of a liquor store that he owned as a real estate investment. We drank Louis Jadot, Ruffino, Chianti, Macon Village. I also remember a lot of Lancers and Mateus in the house. I liked it all if memory serves.

BWR: What is the one bottle or the one region that you've always wanted 
to try but have not yet had the opportunity?

Susannah: There are so many regions I would love to visit that I haven’t yet, in many countries, but if I had to pick one, it would be Pantelleria and the night harvests at Donna Fugata. I love Ben Rye that they make there and that is an experience that I haven’t yet had. I would also love to visit Salina again and see the CapoFaro resort of Tasca d’Almerita

BWR: Congratulations on the birth of Niccolò! A dear friend of mine
 recently had a baby and I was wondering if you experienced any changes 
of sense of smell while pregnant--a lot of experiencing wine involves 
training your nose with non-wine items: sniffing lime peels and
 jasmine blossoms and things like that. Has anything changed in what
 appeals to you, or what you can now discover in a glass

Susannah: During my pregnancy I was very good about alcohol of course but you are right you have a heightened sense of smell and can really pick out aromas that you might not have otherwise. When I was pregnant the wine I missed most and that appealed to me during that time was sparkling wine. I’ve always had a predilection but it was even more pronounced during pregnancy.

BWR: I'm also curious how you plan to introduce your son to wine, since
 it will be part of the family business. When he's old enough to start
 having a sip with dinner, what would you like for him to try first?
 Are you planning on setting aside anything like Madeira or Barolo for
the long haul?

Susannah: I imagine like most novice drinkers, he will probably appreciate something with a bit of sweetness like a moscato. I am thinking a lot about what I want to lay down for him. I have also toyed with the idea of buying futures from this vintage, 2014. Madeira is a good idea as is Barolo.

Many thanks to Susannah for participating in this interview series. You can follow her at Avvinare.