Last night on the way home from work an idea for a cocktail popped into my head. I like dirty martinis very much. I like perfect martinis very much. Why not combine them and make a perfectly dirty martini? When I got home I tried it out to see if it would work. I made a perfect martini with:
1 oz Bohane Gin (an irish gin that is very balanced)
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Dry Vermouth
That’s a perfect martini. Then I added to it
1/2 oz of olive brine
All shaken with ice then served up and garnished with 3 olives
It was perfectly dirty and delicious. I texted my friend, Sal who has mad bartending skills and told him about it. His first question was, ‘Did you use vodka or gin?’ I was more than a little offended. ‘What do you take me for?!’ I responded. He knew from my response that I had, of course, used gin.
Vodka is a neutral spirit. It is distilled to as high a level as possible to, by definition, lose the congeners or flavors of its base ingredient. When making a cocktail, it brings nothing to the party. It takes on the flavors that are added to the cocktail. It’s like the tofu of spirits. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you need a clean slate on which to build the flavors of your cocktail. But there can be a stigma around using it for craft cocktails. A true martini is made with gin. A vodka martini is also known as a Kangaroo.
My perfectly dirty martini had just a slight hint of sweetness from the sweet vermouth, a whole lot of botanical savoriness from both the dry vermouth and the gin and a nice layer of briny saltiness to add to its complexity. It had a lot of dimension to it and was chilled and refreshing. It was perfect
Something rather stunning happened while I was wine tasting in southern Oregon with my husband last week. We were in Applegate Valley just west of Medford and south of Jacksonville and came upon a biodynamic vineyard and garden by the name of Cowhorn. It was off a narrow country road and only marked by a small sign that we missed the first time we went by. I’m really glad we eventually found it, because what happened in that tasting room is still hard for me to believe.
My husband hates dry white wines. He’ll smell them and like the fruit and floral aromas. But when he tastes them he gets a flavor of ‘witch hazel.’ It must be the minerality of white wines. But it happens with all dry white wines including biodynamic white wines. He won’t drink them.
So, when we sat down in the tasting room of Cowhorn and I saw two dry white wines on the tasting menu, I thought this won’t go well. When he smelled the Spiral, a Marsanne, Viognier, Roussane blend, with aromas of apple, stone fruit and lemon, he loved the aromatics, as he often does. Then he tasted it and said, ‘Oh, no.’ ‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘You don’t have to drink it. Thanks for giving it a chance.’ He just looked at me as if utterly defeated. ‘That’s not it,’ he said. ‘I like it! It tastes clean on the finish! No witch hazel. This is a dry white wine I can drink!’ This was the first time in almost 30 years of marriage that he was enthusiastic about a dry white wine. I was stunned. Then he put his nose in the Viognier with aromas of honeysuckle and pineapple. He loved the smell. And when he tasted it, he still loved it! It tasted clean.
All the wines we tasted at Cowhorn were stunning. But the whites were breakthrough wines for my husband. Maybe it’s the native yeasts. Maybe it’s the vineyard soils, Maybe it’s the exceptional wine making skills of the winemaker. I don’t know. But I’m very glad that we can both have a glass of Spiral with our grilled tuna in lemon caper sauce tonight.
We often hear about food-friendly wines. A wine like Pinot Noir that pairs so well with bœuf bourguignon., mushroom tart, turkey, salmon and beets is very food-friendly. Likewise, an off-dry Riesling is perfect with Chicken Curry, Stir fry, any Thai food, brats and pork chops with apples. Both of these wines are very food-friendly because they have great acidity. And acid plays nice with lots of different food elements, such as spicy, acidic, and salty.
But what we never hear about is foods that are wine-friendly. I was thinking about this the other night while I was enjoying mushroom ravioli with a red sauce along with a really nice Tempranillo finished in American Oak from RoxyAnn Winery in Medford Oregon. It was a delicious pairing. The wine was very savory with notes of cristp red fruit, leather, dill and spice. Its savoriness was so good with the mushrooms and tomatoes. But, then, I thought, Mushroom ravioli with red sauce is also really good with Chianti, Barolo, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Right bank Bordeaux and Bardolino. It is definitely a wine-friendly food.
RoxyAnn began as an orchard over 100 years ago. The tasting room in located in the original horse barn on beautiful grounds. Along with some lovely southern Oregon wines to taste, there is often local art displayed. When I visited last week I saw some great art pieces made by a local blacksmith, while I tasted a Pinot Noir, a Merlot and a Claret. All RoxyAnn wines all lovely and balanced, but the Tempranillo was definitely the standout and so good with mushroom ravioli.
Last fall my 21 year old son told me that he was my son. Up until then, he had been my daughter. A few months later he told me he was getting married. Last night he asked me to create a signature cocktail for the wedding. My mind went immediately to Pineau des Charentes
Pineau des Charentes is a liqueur made from Cognac and unfermented grape juice. Sometimes the juice is from one of the white Cognac grapes such as Ugni Blanc, Colombard or Folle Blanche. Sometimes the juice is from one of the red Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. The story of its origin is that back in the 16th century a winemaker put some unfermented grape must into what he thought was an empty barrel. The barrel, however contained some Cognac, a brandy with a high enough alcohol level that it would keep the natural yeasts from fermenting the grape must. What he found in the barrel a few years later, was not the fermented base wine he was expecting, but rather a delightful blend of unfermented, sweet grape juice and Cognac, nicely aged in barrel.
I will be making my son’s wedding cocktail using Braastad Pineau des Charentes which is made with Cabernet Franc juice. It has a lovely, nutty rancio flavor with notes of dried apricots and figs along with subtle baking spices. It is sweet but the rancio flavor keeps it from being cloying.
Because my son likes tiki drinks, I will be blending the liqueur with some tropical flavors The three options I will test are as follows;
2 oz. Pineau des Charentes
2 oz Pineapple juice
¾ oz lime juice
½ oz Orgeat syrup
2 oz Pineau des Charentes
4 oz Ginger beer
¾ oz lime juice
2 oz. Pineau des Charentes
2 oz. Banana Puree mix
¾ oz lime juice
½ oz orgeat
A friend of mine recently said something very wise. He said, ‘The worst thing that could happen is for your kid to follow the path you want and expect them to follow. Because that means they are just doing what you want and expect and not listening to their own voice. The best thing we can teach our kids is to listen to their own voice.’ He is right. They have to follow their own path, even if and especially if it is not the path we expected.
I was able to try several great cocktails while in New Orleans recently, but my favorite was the Sazerac that I had at Brennon’s. Some people make a Sazerac with rye whiskey, or half rye, half cognac. But the original and best Sazerac is with all cognac.
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 sugar cube
2 oz good Cognac
dash of absinthe (to wash the glass)
Muddle bitters and sugar cube in mixing glass. Add cognac and stir with ice. Give the serving glass an absinthe rinse. Pour cognac into glass Garnish with an orange slice
What did I love more; the cognac or the absinthe? Both have a subtle floral aroma that is intoxicating. On another night out, to find out which was more alluring I ordered a classic
The Side Car
1 ½ oz Cognac
¾ oz Cognac based orange liqueur
¾ oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
Stir together with ice and serve up
Delicious, but maybe a little rum would make it taste even richer, which brought me to another classic;
Between the Sheets
¾ oz rum
¾ oz Cognac
¾ oz orange liqueur
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
Stir together with ice and served up. Very tasty, but maybe missing something. Then it hit me like light and wonder, it needed an absinthe rinse and maybe a little less booze So, I created;
Light and Wonder
¾ oz rum
¾ oz Cognac
¾ oz simple syrup
¾ oz lemon juice
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash of Absinthe
Give the serving glass an Absinthe wash. Put all other ingredients in mixing glass and stir with ice. Serve up
Could this get any better? Well, I do like Bourbon. I haven’t come up with a name for this last iteration of the Cognac cocktail. Twisted Sheets, maybe, or The French Cowboy?
¾ oz Bourbon
¾ oz Cognac
¾ oz Cognac based orange liqueur
¾ oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Absinthe
Give serving glass an absinthe wash. Combine other ingredients in mixing glass with ice and stir. Serve up.
What I’ve learned over the past few months is that Cognac cocktails are delicious and an absinthe wash makes them a garden of delight. Whether it’s Twisted Sheets or The French Cowboy, it’s all about the flowers.
While pairing the right wine with the right food can be complicated, it can also be very rewarding, and when it is just the right wine, it can be a lifelong fond memory.
There are the classic pairings such as a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon with a steak, a Chateauneuf du Pape with lamb, an Amorone with Ossobuco, an off-dry Riesling with a Thai curry or an Albarino with a seafood paella. Then there are pairings that are so spot on, they become indelible memories. I have had two of the latter recently.
A few months ago we were having chicken piccata. I wanted something citrusy and aromatic and remembered many years ago having a Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend from Pine Ridge that was both. I knew I had liked it then I wondered if I would still like it. It was indeed as citrusy and aromatic as I had remembered it and absolutely perfect with the chicken piccata. The Pine Ridge blend is not an expensive wine by any means, but it is clean and fresh and very aromatic and was in this instance a perfect pairing.
Last month I was having seared scallops and decided on the Reverdy Sancerre to pair with it. I was expecting it to have a bright acidity and a nice chalkiness that would play well with the richness of the scallops. Indeed it did, again, perfectly
Both dishes needed a little acidity from the wine. Acidic foods, like the piccata, do well with acidic wines. Rich foods, like the scallops also do well with acidic wines. Acid is foods’ friend. These two pairings were particularly stunning.
What are some perfect food and wine pairings that you’ve had lately? Have you had any that have surprised you?
Some wines are so complex, so dense with aromatics, it becomes difficult to describe them. They leave one overwhelmed to the point of speechlessness. Sometimes it is easier to describe where the wine has taken me. It is a forest; a dense forest, a dense cedar forest with aromas of red cherries, blackberries, mint, fig, graphite, lavender and rosemary. The tannins are grippy. The acidity is delightful. Chateau Beau-Séjour Bécot, 2015 doesn’t just sing. She dances. The acidity dances through the dense forest, as my mind tries to keep up with cacophony, the symphony of aromatics.
Chateau Beau-Séjour Bécot is a premier Grand Cru Classé There are several Grand Cru in St. Emilion, but Beau-Séjour Bécot is a Premier Grand Cru Classé, one of only 18. It is a well deserved rank for this beautiful wine. The blend is 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is aged in 85% new French oak At seven years old, the fruit is still quite present and demanding attention while the tertiary aromas are growing louder themselves. It is a dense and lively wine that eludes description.
For years when the kids were little, my husband and I had an ongoing disagreement. I felt very strongly that the family, especially the kids, needed a dog. My husband did not share this opinion. One day just before leaving for a business trip I broached the subject again. Our kids were still in grade school but fast approaching the teenage years. ‘How do you get through the teenage years without a dog?’ I asked him. ‘I can’t say ‘no’ to you forever,’ he responded. I took that as a ‘yes’. He left for his trip and the kids and I headed to the Humane Society.
When we adopted Jazzy, a Border Collie/German Shepherd mix, she was a year and a half old. We would become her fourth home. That should have been a clue to me that I was taking on quite a challenge. The kids loved her. She had so much energy! But she didn’t act like a dog. She didn’t get excited when we came home from being out. She showed no eagerness at meal times. She didn’t even bark when looking out the window. It was as if she had been so abused and neglected, she wasn’t submissive, she was affectively flat. Somewhere along the way she had shut down and stopped being a dog.
The first thing I did after bringing her home was sign us up for obedience training. We would learn together. Our trainer noted immediately her hyper attentiveness. ‘She’s the first dog to notice anything new coming into the environment,’ out of a class of about 30. He also noted that she hadn’t been treated well, neglected, abused. ‘At this point,’ he told me, ‘she could go either way.’
I spent hours with her every day, exercising and training her. She learned very quickly but her bad behavior found new expressions almost daily. It was like whack a mole. I’d train her to not eat the couch cushions and she’d swipe food off the counter or break the fence or tear up my daughter’s stuffed animals or eat my shoes or run away. In short, she was a big challenge and I began to understand why she had been returned to the Humane Society so many times. My husband suggested perhaps I had bit off more than I could chew. Perhaps he was right. But thankfully my friends, I’ll call them Nancy and Shelly because those are their names, convinced me that if I gave up on her she would surly be euthanized. I knew they were right, so I kept working with her. I read every book I could find on dog training, I continued to take her to obedience school, I walked her twice a day for an hour each time, and in between, we worked on commands.
I knew from the beginning she was smart, athletic and high energy. But it took about six months of full time training before her personality began to come out. It turns out she’s also very sweet and loyal. She follows me around the house like a stalker. At first it was a little creepy, but now I’m hurt when she doesn’t. She was the nanny dog to both kids. She used to sneak out of her own bed during the night to sleep with the kids going from one to the other as if to make sure everyone was okay. She was a noble challenger to my husband. Early on in her time with us, he was playing rope tug with her. He had recently hurt his knee, but not enough for anyone to notice, anyone, but Jazzy that is. She picked up on his slight weakness immediately and began pulling to that side. That was the moment she won my husband’s respect.
She had a bad habit of running away, taking every opportunity she could. I came to realize that she didn’t really want to leave us. She wanted us to chase her. It was a big game running through the streets of the neighborhood. When I finally decided to not chase her, but sit on the front step and wait for her instead, it only took about five minutes and she came ambling back looking a little disappointed that I hadn’t participated in the game. One time my son noticed that the gate was opened. It had snowed the night before and he could clearly see her footprints going out into the neighborhood and then coming back in. By the time he discovered all this she was home in her yard. We still don’t know how she got the gate opened.
She was never socialized as a puppy, so she never learned to get along with other dogs. There have been a few dogs that she has played with over the years. There have been a few that she has walked with, as well. But she views most dogs as adversaries and doesn’t seem to need their companionship She especially dislikes small, white dogs. Harley up the street incurred her wrath after a few years of barking and lunging at her when they passed in the park. One day, she had had enough. She got loose (she’s very strong) and went after him. ‘Oh, please don’t kill him,’ I thought. She didn’t kill him. Instead, she rolled him on his back and stood over him looking as proud as a great lioness. Another little white dog, Toby also used to lunge and bark at her. One day as we passed in the park she backed out of the collar of her harness and ran out the front of the harness. (As my friend commented, she must have been up nights thinking about how to do that). Again, I said my silent prayer, ‘please don’t kill him’. She did not. She ran at him three times then head butted him. He has since stopped barking and lunging at her.
As little patience as she has with other dogs, she has incredible patience with her charges, the kids. While my daughter was still in grade school, she and her friend decided that what Jazzy needed was a makeover. Her expression says it all. Shortly after her ordeal she bolted out her dog door and removed everything, including her collar. When I went out to retrieve it all, I found her collar hanging from a low branch of a tree.
Jazzy is the smartest, strongest and bravest dog I know. She was worth all the time and effort we spent training her. While not particularly friendly to strangers or dogs, she loves her family fiercely. She still follows me around the house. At 14 ½ she has slowed down quite a bit. We still go for walks every day, but they are more like ambles. She still plays every once in a while, but not nearly as much as she used to.
I’m writing this now while she is still with us so that when the day comes that she is no longer here I can just tell you simply that she is gone and you will understand how much she meant to our family.
February 24, 2022
On February 3rd of this year we had to say a final farewell to my beautiful Jazzy. She was struggling with hip pain and quickly losing her interest in meals and walks. It was a very hard thing to do, but to keep her alive would have been cruel and selfish.
Five days after, on February 8th a beautiful rainbow appeared on the wall pointing down to where her dog dishes used to be. We had removed the dog door, so that would possibly explain the appearance of the rainbow. But on February 10th another rainbow appeared on the wall near where she sat when I played the piano. Those light rays had to make two sharp turns to appear on the living room wall from the backdoor. I haven’t seen the rainbows since.
When we bring a dog into our homes and our lives, we set a schedule. Dogs love schedules. They learn to know when to expect things. Jazzy never wore a wrist watch, but everyday at 5 pm sharp no matter where I was in the house, she would come find me and stare at me. Sometimes she would ‘tap’ me with her paw. Even though she couldn’t tell time, as far as I know, she always knew when it was dinner time. After she was fed, she would stand by me as I made dinner in the kitchen, hoping to catch a scrap. On mornings when I wasn’t up by six, she was by the bed, again staring and then the ‘tap’. By 9 am she was staring again. That was our walk time. In the afternoon she liked to lie on the deck and sun herself. At night she’d lie on the couch in the family room while we watched television. And by 9 pm, there came the stare. It was time to get ready for bed. She wouldn’t go to bed until she knew we were going to bed. Of course, she was waiting by the garage door to greet us whenever we came home. She learned the kids schedules and knew when it was time to get in the car to pick them up from school or a lesson. In between all that she followed me around the house, a constant guardian. At the park by the school we would do three laps. At the park down the street we would practice ‘sit, stay, come’ and ‘fetch’. We did all these rituals on a schedule to make Jazzy feel secure and a part of the pack. And it did. But what I didn’t realize is how much those small, daily rituals bound me to her. I miss her everyday at 6 am and 5 pm and 9 pm. I miss her in the late afternoon when I look out at the deck. I miss her while I’m making dinner, and every time I walk through the garage door. I miss her when I drive by the park down the street and the park by the school. All those small rituals created a fabric of our daily lives that held us together in a conversation-less bond. It’s true with any relationship; it’s the small, daily interactions, that in life don’t amount to much at all, but when they’re gone, they mean everything.
Today Sierra Wine Guy, as he is want to do, threw out a crazy and controversial idea; ‘wine and chocolate pair well together.’ As I’m sure he knew it would, that simple statement got a lot of strong reaction from the wine community, a chorus of disagreement.
The other night two friends at work asked me if I would be making buckeyes anytime soon. I was a bit surprised that they would ask. ‘The football season is over. Michigan beat the Buckeyes.’ They looked at me blankly, then one asked, ‘What school in Michigan?’ I was mildly shocked. ‘The University of Michigan. It’s a huge rivalry. Surely, you know that!’ They both shrugged, ‘We’re from the west coast.’
As anyone from Ohio knows, Buckeyes are a delicious sweet that are only made in the fall during football season. The recipe is passed down and can only be shared with people who were born in Ohio and whose mothers were also born in Ohio.
Possibly, a Banyul, Brachetto d’Aqui, or ruby Port, all sweet red wines, will pair nicely with a chocolate dessert. There are people who pair Cabernet Sauvignon with milk chocolate and claim they like it. Perhaps they do. But considering that the sugar in the chocolate will leave the Cabernet completely flat and lifeless tasting, I sincerely doubt that they really enjoy that pairing.
Can a person who isn’t even aware of the great rivalry between The Ohio State University and the University of Michigan truly appreciate the sweet deliciousness of a buckeye? It’s a matter of perspective. Can a person truly enjoy a pairing of chocolate and dry red wine? That is also, possibly a matter of perspective. Our palates, just like our places of origin and varying life experiences can give us all very different perspectives.
The real question is, is there a wine that pairs well with buckeyes?
Have you ever had a wine that stopped you in your tracks; a wine that made you feel like moving, or talking or thinking about anything but the wine in front of you would be sacrilege? Of course, you have, once in a while. Maybe a few times in a lifetime. And, generally, those wines have been Old World, most likely from Italy or France. And they’ve probably been aged quite a long time, maybe even decades!
Tonight, the wine that made me stop in my tracks was none of that. It was New World, from California, Napa, Howell Mountain and made by Mia Klein. Cimarossa, Riva di Lavante, 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. Each sip was full of ripe black cherries, cedar, vanilla, dried flowers, spices, graphite, bell pepper, and dust. Each sip was lush, complex and intense. Each sip was structured and firm. Subtle it was not. But beautiful, balanced, integrated, it was.
Once in a while it’s nice to have a wine that rather than inspiring conversation, inspires reflection. This was not a wine to discuss. It was a wine to savor.