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What the Hell is Going on Here?

Well hello my friends. It is nice to see you here. As you can see we have made a few changes. We really hope everybody likes this and can get comfortable in our new home. We want to thank all off you again for being so patient the last week while we did this switch. We also want to thank you for your generous donations and words of encouragement. Both are important to all of us who work to bring you Crasstalk. Seriously, no fake.

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Friday Happy Hour

Happy cocktail time, Crasstalkers. It’s been a rough week for some of you, and it sounds like everyone needs to forget about Tuesday. So let’s booze it up, shall we?

Here are three ideas to get you started.

Cilantro and Cucumber Martinis

4 ounces of vodka (the better, the better)

1 inch of finely diced English cucumber

¼ cup of cilantro


Crush the cucumber and cilantro in a mortar and pestle to make as fine a paste as possible. Pour the vodka, cucumber and cilantro paste into a martini shaker. Let it sit for about an hour, then add the ice, shake, and strain infused vodka into martini glasses. Garnish with cucumber and cilantro.

A Gingered Highball-Julep

Chop and crush one tablespoon of fresh mint and six or seven slivers of fresh ginger. Put two ice cubes in a large glass. Add two shots ginger ale and stir vigorously to make a quick infusion. Add two shots “good” bourbon (Basil Hayden or Knob Creek are preferred, but Rebel Yell is good too. Note for the poors: Rebel Yell is cheaper than most bottom shelf whiskeys and it’s the best of the bunch, even served just on the rocks. Note to snobs: don’t knock it till you’re poor enough to try it). Add one drop of bitters and a few slivers more fresh ginger for a crunchy, spicy treat.

Salty Dog

Treat a rocks glass like a margarita glass and rim it with salt. Then add equal parts vodka to pink grapefruit juice.

I’m not going to lie, I just had my first Salty Dog this week, and holy. The salt with the grapefruit juice is incredible. I was on the phone with my mother-in-law while I had my first sip and –- for the first time since we have known each other — I think she thought I was fervently agreeing with everything she said because I said “Yes!” and sighed happily (For the record, I was blissed out and I’m not sure what I agreed to). But let’s not think about any unpleasantness, because it’s Friday, and we all deserve a cocktail.

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”
Dom Perignon during the moment he discovered champagne

What is a better drink than bubbly for this time of year?   Champagne, almost by definition, means celebration.  Given the events of 2010, who isn’t going to celebrate that this year is over on New Year’s Eve?  I know I am certainly going to raise a glass (or bottle) to toast to the demise of this past year.

So let’s talk turkey about champagne.  First of all, champagne is only produced in the Champagne region of France.  If bubbly is made anywhere else, it is generally referred to as sparkling wine.  The primary grapes used in making bubbly are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Neunier – prosecco is a bit different as the Italian grape of the same name is the key grape.  Champagne became famous in France out of necessity.  The Champagne region was too north for grapes to fully ripen for red wine – producing wine that was very low in sugar and high in acidity.  The wines were much lighter bodied and ‘thinner’ than those from their neighbors in Burgundy.  In other words, the grapes and the weather are perfect for making dry, crisp champagne.

It is a myth that Dom Perignon created champagne.  Say what you will about the Roman Catholics today, but Benedictine monks near Carassonne can take full credit for creating this delicious libation as far back as 1531.  Dom Perignon did make some significant improvement to the production of champagne – most notably the characteristic metal wire cage or collar which holds the cork in the bottle during the fermentation process.

There are several ways of producing champagne or sparkling wine.  I’m not going

Riddling Rack

to go into great detail here, but just to give you the basics.  Grapes are harvested and pressed just like any other wine. Bubbly is fermented twice.  The first fermentation produces a wine that is pretty acidic, so yeast and sugar are added for the second fermentation.  True champagne is fermented a second time in the bottle, historically cork-side down in a device called a riddling rack.  Prosecco and other sparklings often have their second fermentation in steel tanks which makes it far less expensive to produce.

Bubbly Terms 101:

Here are some terms to help decipher bubbly labels.

Prestige Cuvee:  Usually the producer’s top range and generally the most expensive of the offerings.

Blanc de Noirs:  A white wine that is produced from black grapes (grapes that make red wine).

Blanc de Blancs: Bubbly that is produced solely with Chardonnay grapes

Rose:  Bubbly made by allowing the skin of the black grapes to sit with the wine for a bit, giving it a pinkish hue.  Occasionally, it also refers to bubbly that has a small bit of red wine added.

NV:  Non vintage, which means that it is from a mix of grapes grown from different years.

Bubbly can have varying degrees of sweetness and here is the order from driest to sweetest:  Brute Natural, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Sec/Dry, Sec, Demi-sec, Doux.

I’m a big proponent of drinking wine in the proper glass.  I’m not so nuts that each

A proper vessel to drink Champagne

varietal needs to have its own custom glass, but champagne really should be put in a glass for champagne.  Use a white wine glass in a pinch, but I prefer champagne flutes.  The ideal flutes are tall, narrow and taper at the top to concentrate the bubbles. The champagne glass, falsely attributed to the shape of Marie Antoinette’s breasts, isn’t ideal because the bubbly gets warm and flat too quickly.  Same goes with flutes that do not taper in at the top.

Before I give you my recommendations, I have to let you know what my preferences are when it comes to sparkling, just to be up front.  I don’t like Demi-sec and abhor Doux.  Momof3 will never, ever, pop for a bubbly like Cristal – it is just too damn expensive.  So with that in mind, here goes.

Retail price: $17 Tribaut Brut

Rated 90 by Wine Spectator, this is a fine champagne and a good bang for the buck.  Lots of citrus, apple with a bit of a yeasty flavor (that is good, btw).  Nice and dry, the way I like it.  Nice, long finish.  Good with food.

Retail: $25.  Piper-Heidsieck.

I love this wine! The bubbles are very refined and creamy.  It is dry without being too crisp.  Notes of apple and bit of berry.  Medium body with a nice length finish.  Rated 89 by Wine Spectator and in my humble opinion, this is under rated.

Retail $10.  Gran Sarao Brut Cava Penedes

Ok, I didn’t talk about Cavas, but this is a damn good sparkler at this price point.  Notes of apricot, tart granny smith apples, bread dough (the yeast flavor) and tiny, tiny bubbles make this a standout.  Nice floral note and a long finish.

Retail: $11 Clara C Prosecco.

I’m generally not a huge fan of prosecco because it has a bit of an aftertaste I don’t care for, but this is a gem.  Big floral nose, mostly rose and wildflowers.  The body is round and full with notes of apple and peach.  The finish is crisp without being too dry.  This is good as an aperitif or with a meal.  YUM.  Clara C’s Rosato is also very fine rose prosecco.

Retail $10-12.  Cupcake Prosecco

If you are looking for something to toast with but aren’t looking to drink a lot of, then this is your bottle. The bubbles are very fine with notes of lemons and a lot of grapefruit (a little too much grapefruit for my taste).  A bit of toastiness in the finish.  It isn’t my favorite, but it is readily available in most markets and it will do a fine job if all you want is something to pop at midnight.

Retail: $20 Chandon Sparkling Wine Etoile Brut.

90 points by the Wine Enthusiast.  Very dry but a silky drinking wine.  Subtle notes of cherries and other red berries, peach and touch of vanilla.  No apple here!

Retail is north of $100.  Perrier Jouet Flowers

Yes, I know I said I’m not into expensive bubbly.  This is truly an exception to that rule if it is a special occasion or an expense account situation.  Rated consistently north of 90 points, this wine is such a treat.  Known for a very rose-based nose (thus the flowers), this wine is creamy with vanilla and a little apple comes through in the finish.  A delight to drink.  I was proposed to while sipping on this wine at the Hotel Chevre-D’or in Eze France overlooking the Mediterranean.  It was perfect for the moment and probably colors my appreciation for this wine.

Retail $10.  Freixenet Brut de Noirs.

I wanted to end on an inexpensive note.  This is the only Freixenet you should by, IMHO.  Very light Cava wine and the salmon color is gorgeous.  Spicy with notes of flowers and sour cherries.  The finish is a bit creamy with a touch of vanilla.  Again, this is a festive wine for toasting, but not for a lot of drinking.

Let’s talk about the ones you want to avoid now.  Unless you are a high school kid, please avoid any sparkling with the following words:  Andre, Duck, and Boone’s Farm.

Champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it.
–  Madame De Pompadour

Stay beautiful this New Year’s Eve!  Salut!

Auld Lang Syne

Whine? No, Wine!

Ms Stabby claims she buys wine by the label.  Ms Stabby, you are a marketer’s dream.  However, I suspect a fair number of people out there do the same.  I have been known to give a wine a shot if the label amuses me as well.  Most of the time I regret it (like you Cupcake!), but I have found a few gems over the years.  I aim to write a weekly column on wine to share my knowledge gained over the years of excessive drinking.  Maybe I’ll throw in some recipes down the road once I educate you Franzia loving goofballs on how to avoid swill.

I’m going to start off this week with one of my favorite red varietals:  Pinot Noir. The Dean of American Winemakers, Andre Tchelistcheff, once said: “God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir.” That is because the Pinot Noir grape is a damn difficult grape to grow, let alone grow well.  It is prone to various rots and mildews and does best in cooler climates with chalky clay soils.  For the vine to produce delicious wine, it must be very low yielding; that is why it is hard to find a good cheap Pinot Noir.  The Pinot vine requires a lot of hand holding with regards to pruning – it is much like an insecure, high-maintenance girlfriend – it needs lots of attention. The grapes are in tight clusters, very dark and shaped like a pine cone.  The wine color should be a very deep garnet color, a hint of brown is acceptable.

So let’s chat a moment about where this finicky bitch grows well.  In Europe you can find some damn fine Pinots in France, particularly the Burgundy region.  However, I am most partial to the Red Sancerre grown in the Loire valley.  If you can ever get your paws on Red Sancerre, back up the truck and load up.  It is pricey, but it is a fabulous red wine that you serve slightly chilled and great to drink in summer.  You can also find some very respectable and well-priced Pinots in Marlborough New Zealand and Tasmania.  Italy also has some Pinots but I think they suck.  In the US, Pinot Noir Nirvana is in Oregon, particularly Willamette Valley.  Please note it is pronounced thusly:  Wi-LAM-it.  Please don’t be a tool and pronounce it WIL-a-mette.  2008 was the best year in history for Willamette Pinots.  Try to get those if you can.  California’s Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Santa Rita Hills (in Santa Barbara) also make some nice Pinot Noirs.  If you find a pinot from pretty much anywhere else, ignore it.  It probably is awful.

Ok, now you know a bit about the grape and where it grows well.  Let’s talk turkey about which ones are fabulous and at what price points.  You can always get a great bottle of wine for $50 at your wine shop, but who wants to pop a $50 bottle on a Tuesday?  Not me.  So below is a smattering of Pinots I like, a tasting note or two on them and what they cost.   Finding a Pinot under $15 of quality is a challenge, but it can be done.  Note, I’m not putting down the vintage on most as I’m choosing wines that have been fairly consistent year over year.  Trying to keep it simple.

$10 and under bunch:


 Block Nine Pinot Noir: I just had this at my neighborhood Xmas party.  Great wine.  Bright berry fruit a bit of cocoa.  Good body with a slight oakiness and wonderful full mouthfeel.  Ms Stabby, it has a pretty label — but I like simple labels.



Bogle California Pinot Noir:  There is some nice Russian River Valley fruit in these Pinot so that helps it out tremendously.  This wine is a bit herbaceous (green tasting), strawberry and cherry.  Finish is long and silky with some oakiness.

Castle Rock Willamette Pinot Noir (only had 2008): This is really one of the few Willamette’s at this price point and it is 2008!  Good every day pinot with cherry and spice, bit of oak and floral notes.  Nice velvety finish.



$10-$15 range

Crossings Pinot Noir Marlborough New Zealand (only tried 2008):  Macerated black cherry is very up front in both taste and smell. Very chewy tannins and by that I mean heavy – worth opening up for ½ hour + before quaffing or use one of those aerators.  Blackberry in the finish.


The Rhone Gang Pinot Noir and Grenache “Le Hold-up No. 08”:  I liked this wine for a couple reasons.  First of all it is unique – this is a Rhone meets Burgundy battle of the wines where we all win. 70% Pinot Noir 30% Grenache this baby was aged in stainless steel tanks.  No oak taste here.  Lots of fruit and bright clean finish.  And it is a screw top!  I love screw tops.  They are like miniskirts – easy access.



42 Degrees South (Frogmore Creek) Pinot Noir Tasmania:  Completely hand picked grapes in Tasmania give this vino a big red cherry and black current nose and taste.  Tannins are integrated (that means it isn’t as heavy tasting – not as much ‘dirt’ taste) and a nice finish.





$15-$25 range
M by Martellotto Pinot Noir Willamette Valley:  Full disclosure – I sell this wine so I am a bit biased.  However, I really do love this wine.  The 2008 vintage is fabulous and I highly recommend you grabbing it if you can get it.  Grown sustainably, it is a wine with lots of berry up front, bit of spice, touch of oakiness and a long finish.  Tannins are easy on the mouth.  This is a wine that you can eat with or without food — an easy drinking wine.  Not heavy, but elegant. Only 2250 bottles produced.


A to Z Oregon Pinot Noir:  90 Points from Wine Spectator.  This should be readily available all across the country.  It needs a bit of air before you drink it or you will miss the raspberry and cherry bomb of flavor up front.  Bit of pepper in there too.  Lighter bodied, less tannic but a nice finish.



Franck Millet Sancerre Rouge:  YES!!!!  Sancerre Rouge is delicious.  Nice nose of cherries and violets.  Big fruit/berry taste, some tannins but not too much.  Serve this baby slightly chilled and you will love me for it. (Sorry no label!)

Walnut City Wineworks Pinot Noir Reserve Willamette Valley:  Ok, another one I sell, but this is exceptional.  If a wine could be the embodiment of elegance this is it.  Walnut City Wineworks are sustainably grown wines from a couple of former Dead Heads.  They are artisan farmers more than anything else.  Big berry and cherry nose and taste up front. Middle and finish are smooth with a bit of tannins, chocolate, spice, lavender and smoke. This is really the standard by which Willamette Pinots should be measured. (There is a non-reserve, but this is so much better)

$25+  (Big range in price here)

Twomey Cellars by Silver Oak Russian River Pinot Noir (I’ve only had the 2007): –90 point wine and it should be because it is pricey.  Lots of berry, rose petals, dried cherries, and cinnamon.  Velvety finish, full body. Awesome.





Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Willamette Pinot Noir: Robert Parker rated the 2007 90 points.  This is one big ass wine.  Bing cherries, pomegranate, cola and berries.  French oak and nice tannins round out this wine.  Delicious.






2005 Nuits St George Murgers Bertagna – This is a wine you save for when you inherit some wealth, get engaged or get access to a nice expense account. (It runs about $115+ and is hard to find).  It is hard to describe how tasty this wine is.  It is everything a Burgundy should be.  Delicious berry and cherry notes, spicy middle, rich and full despite the tannins being a bit subdued.  Oh my God, I love this wine.

In general, the US and New Zealand wines don’t age as well as the Burgundies.  I wouldn’t, in general, buy a Pinot Noir earlier than a 2006 vintage that is from the US or New Zealand, whereas I’d happily buy some in the early 2000’s from Burgundy.

What if you cannot find this at your local wine shop?  I’m a huge purchaser of wines on the internet.  You can get great deals on more expensive wines, even with shipping costs, as tax is eliminated in most states.  Here are a few of my favorite internet purveyors: (Although it will not be tax free in NY as they are in Scarsdale.  Shipping is free though in NYC, Westchester and lower CT)

Any questions about what any of these terms mean, feel free to ask.  Next week, I’ll probably do Cabernet but I am open to suggestions.