02 May 2012

Ellisa Cooper on Martha Stewart Radio

The link below hosts my guest spots on Martha Stewart Radio.....


25 April 2012

Jamie Baker and I created this little four minute wine primer film.  I hope you enjoy it!

24 April 2012

My Musings on Wine

I have the great fortune of sitting with people who like to drink a glass of wine and want to know more about what they consider to be a complex and mysterious subject.  Here,  I hold the key to understanding.  Wine geeks sit around discussing the ancient granite soils, rainfall and oak treatment, but I am more interested in what the average drinker needs to know in order to better enjoy wine in their lives.

I am also fortunate that most of my friends humor my particular and specific tastes in wine and let me do the choosing.  My preferences are well known - Old World, cold climate, dry, high acid, un-oaked, elegant white wine or bubbles - and my choices are always delicious, I say with a sweet smile and a pure heart.

Imagine my challenge, and the shock of being challenged,when an old friend came to visit whose wine loves are the polar opposite of mine.  The first wine I opened, a perfect example of what I find best in a wine,  Weingut Mathern Old Vines Spatlese Trocken Nahe Germany 2010 had bright acidity and a perfect balance of fruity and stony with just a little weight in the mouth but still only 12.5% . Later in the night I poured the ever reliable Etz Gruner Veltliner 2011.  Both of these wines were deemed "too sharp".

Not having any high alcohol Chardonnays laying around, I switched to red wines.  A Monastrell from Spain was "too leafy".  She didn't like the Tempranillo from Don Manuel Villefane in Argentina, either.  (Granted, both wines would have benefited greatly from a snack of some sort and we were drinking sans food and on nearly empty stomaches.)  I finally found her sweet spot with two California wines -  Syrah from Santa Ynez and another from the Central Coast.

Any girlfriend weekend in NY is necessarily wine soaked. As we talked for hours on end over the many bottles and many meals and "wine-tail" hours, I began to think of the misperceptions that people have about wines, but even more about the misperceptions we have about our own palates and what we like.

My friend informed me, quite knowingly, that she always prefers blends.  I nearly laughed thinking of the dozens of people who've asked me if blends are in some way inferior to mono-varietal wines.  I chuckled again, to myself of course, when her favorite wine of the weekend was 100% Syrah.  Yes indeed. Not a blend.

It's rarer than you'd think that the grape stated on the label is the only grape in the bottle.  In California, you only need 75% of the stated grape - i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot - in the blend.

I wonder how many wines my friend has missed out on judging wines by the standard of BLEND?

30 June 2010

What to drink when it's hotter than it is in Africa

Everyone has their unique sayings to graphically describe the extreme heat we've had these past days in NYC. Mine is: "It's hotter than a whore on dollar day." I have a girlfriend who says it's "Africa hot." So one day recently, I decided to check the temperature in South Africa - yes, I know it's winter there - and found it to be 30 degrees cooler. In Africa!

Through this heatwave, I realized that I needed to apologize to a friend I dine with regularly. He kindly (& wisely, if I may say so) allows me to choose the wine. Without a thought I ordered bottle after bottle, day after day, of white wine. "I promise I'll let you drink red in the fall," was my rather lame excuse. He was much more gracious than I.

In reality, what I LOVE to drink doesn't change much with the seasons, I'm just more amenable to pairing properly when the weather isn't sizzling hot. In my mind, a great bottle of Champagne is the best choice at -8 or 108 degrees. And Riesling is ususally a close second.

But when the weather is cooling down - don't you love that first 50 degree night? - suddenly you want richer food and richer wine.

I've been thinking about this these past days, especially after a long Riesling tasting on a 96 degree day. Residual sugar really slows you down on a hot day. There's something about the heft of the sugar on the palate that is unwelcome, even in the most beautifully crafted wine.

"Refreshing! Mouthwatering!" Those are the descriptors for a hot, hateful day. So how to choose the right wine from the right place for your poolside/beach/hiding in the AC with the blinds down day? Think about how you like your lemonade. More tart than sweet? Mixed with iced tea? Think Sauvignon blanc. Look for wines from France - Sancerre, Touraine or anywhere else in the Loire Valley. The minerality will be prominent and the fruit subtle and tart. If you like your lemonade sweeter or mixed with mango & mint, look for Sauvignon blanc wines from New Zealand. They will be rich with tropical fruits, but still mouthwatering.

29 June 2010

The World Cup of Riesling

It was hot last night. But, I, Decanted Diva, got prettied up for a blind tasting. In honor of that futbol tournament in South Africa, The World Cup of Riesling featured 12 wines from 9 countries all from the single - and most elegant of grapes - Riesling.

I love Riesling so very much. I call her "The Empress of Grapes", because Riesling is equally delicious whether dry, sweet or sparkling. The combination of raging acidity, white fruit and flowers with Riesling's ability to reflect its terrior - often in mouth-coating minerality - makes it a dream grape for my mouth. And yes, I think of Riesling as a woman - a commanding, powerful woman of astounding beauty and grace.

I don't blind taste everyday and it was fascinated by my reactions to the wines. I know what I know about wine and I know it's hard to evaluate wines, but harder still when some of those wines are from places you've never thought about growing & making Riesling. Blind tasting skills be damned!

A wine from Bio-Bio in Chile last night had me thinking Old World because of the intensity of its minerality on the nose and palate. A wine I've had dozens of times from Kamptal, Austria - and which I could have sworn I loved - scored lowest on my tally. The wine I scored highest was not only from the New World - I a proclaimed Old World Girl - but off-dry to boot.

Blind tasting for everyone, I say. Preconceived notions about wines or grapes you love or hate close you off from helping your palate grow. I have a similar problem in that I often love the region, grape or winemaker or his philosophy of winemaking and then I close my eyes to the flaws - like with my Austrian above. Blind tasting takes all that away so that you can examine only your reaction to the aromas and flavors. You may be surprised at what you like!

26 April 2010

The Perfect Kentucky Derby Party

Known throughout the world as "The Run for the Roses" and "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports", the Kentucky Derby is considered the most important horse race in the world.

For Kentuckians, the Derby is part of the holy trinity of holidays after Christmas & Easter. Family and friends gather in fancy dress to a huge feast, cocktails and a little friendly wagering.

My friend and fellow Kentuckian, Gregory Pettit (photo above) and I have hosted an annual Derby fete since 1992 in New York City. Over the years, we've educated hundreds of outsiders to the thrills of ladies wearing hats, Kentucky ham, Benedictine sandwiches and drinking bourbon in the middle of the day.

Hosting a Kentucky Derby party isn't limited to Kentuckians, horse lovers or degenerate gamblers. It's really the perfect sporting event - never more than two minute & two seconds - so your party isn't limited to folks huddled around the television screen for hours.

The Perfect Derby Menu

Country Ham & Biscuits

Salt-cured aged ham is a true southern delicacy. For years before my grandfather passed, I had my family ship his hams to New York for the party. Soaking, boiling, trimming the fat, and baking with a glaze of mustard, brown sugar and cloves in a Coca-Cola bath, de-boning & slicing 16lbs of pork in my tiny New York apartment took two full days. I once had a ham so big I had to use my piano bench to wedge the oven door closed.

There are many options for those of you without a curing expert in the family: Broadbents http://www.broadbenthams.com/ , Penns pennshams@aol.com , and Newsomes http://www.newsomescountryhams.com/ are good options for ordering hams cooked, sliced and ready-to-serve.

Beaten Biscuits, heralding from the days before baking soda and baking powder were readily available, may be traditional, but are too crumbly and dry. Traditional biscuits are fine, especially when made with lard rather than shortening. I make an Angel Biscuit recipe that is the perfect pair with country ham and a favorite among our friends.

Angel Biscuits

5c Self-Rising Flour

1/4 c Sugar

1c Crisco

2pkg Dry Yeast

2TBS Warm Water

2c Buttermilk

Sift Flour & Sugar together & plend in Crisco with a pastry blender

Dissolve yeast in water and let stand for 5 minutes to activate

Add yeast to Buttermilk and mix together

Blend all together, mix well, but do not overwork the dough

Allow to chill overnight

Remove from refrigerator and allow to rise

Lightly knead and roll out then cut with a small biscuit cutter (1 1/2 - 2 inches)

Dredge in melted butter and place on sheet pan

Allow to rise again before baking at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden

Pimento Cheese

Pimento Cheese can be used to make finger sandwiches - crusts trimmed, please - or served with crackers as a cheese dip.

1lb Grated Cheddar (varying sharpness)

1/2c Chopped Scallions

1-7oz jar Pimentos drained & chopped

1/2c Mayonnaise

1/4c Mustard



Garlic Powder


Make "dijonnaise" to taste with Mayo, Mustard, salt, pepper, garlic powder and cayenne

Blend together with grated cheese, scallions and pimentos to desired moistness

Benedictine Finger Sandwiches

1 medium cucumber peeled and seeded

1 medium onion

1-8oz package cream cheese, softened


dash of Tabasco

1 drop green food coloring

Pulse cucumber in food processor until minced & remove

Pulse onion in food processor until minced & remove

Blend into cream cheese

Add salt, Tabasco and food coloring

Serve on trimmed white bread cut into triangles


Bowls of fresh pecans are another southern mainstay. Do not be confused - pre-packaged pecans in supermarkets are not suitable to a real southerner. Go to Bazzinis or the Chelsea Market vegetable market for fat, beautiful, delicious, "real" pecans.

Derby Bars

Kern's Bakery owns the rights to the name Derby Pie, so restaurants now have to get creative when naming this classic on their menus. I'm pretty sure Kern's won't be reading this so I'm using the real name!

For years I made this delicious but dense pie only to have too much left over at the end of the party, but last year I decided to make Derby Bars and we agree that it might be a Nobel Prize winning idea. Every morsel was consumed!

1c Sugar

1/2c Flour

Stir in 1 stick melted butter

Add 2 beaten eggs

1tsp Vanilla Extract

Mix well

Add 1c roughly chopped pecans

1c Bittersweet Chocolate chips

Press your classic pie crust (or Pillsbury from the dairy aisle) into a half jelly roll pan

Pour pie mixture into crust & bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until light brown

Mint Juleps

A classic cocktail of the deep south and THE Derby tradition.

1 part Mint Simple Syrup

2 parts Bourbon*

Crushed Ice*

Sprig of Fresh Mint

Combine equal parts sugar and water and add several lightly crushed mint leaves and bring to just shy of a boil and allow to cool

Mix 1 part mint simple syrup with 2 parts Bourbon pour over crushed iced into a highball or sterling silver julep cup and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint

*Bourbon whisky is mandatory here. Sour mash, Rye, Irish & Scotch whiskies have unique flavors that are unsuitable for a Mint Julep. While some will use premium bourbons, sipping whisky is not necessary. Economy is just fine for the Julep!

Crushed ice can be hard to find. Do not be confused by flaked ice which is used to chill fish. In New York City the only reliable purveyor of real crushed ice is Diamond Ice (212)473-6784. They will deliver to your home on Derby Saturday.

Iced Tea

For your non-drinkers, a pitcher of fresh iced tea garnished with mint served over crushed ice in the same highball glass as your juleps.

Decorating for Derby is a breeze - polish your silver serving utensils, make a few centerpieces of red roses, hang a Kentucky flag on the wall - voila!

The only thing that remains is preparing for your gaming. While playing and paying odds in your home is strictly illegal, a little friendly wagering never hurt anyone. Pick up a couple copies of The Daily Racing Form at your local newsstand. Beware! This is the biggest day of racing in the US and they will sell out quickly.

One the morning of the race, The New York Post will have a full color insert with all of the horses listed with jersey colors, racing history, trainer, stable, etc. Cut each horse's description into individual strips, fold and place in a hat. Your guests can pick a horse randomly for a small wager. For guests who do not keep up with horse racing, this gives them a "team" to cheer for!

My party usually has about 75 guests, so I put each horse into the hat 4 -5 times (depending on the size of the field) into the hat so that everyone can get into the game! At $5 a pop, you can have several $100 winners! It's the high point of the day!

ENJOY your Derby celebration and remember - do not make dinner plans - drinking Bourbon in the middle of the day leads to a shockingly early bedtime!


Coverage begins at 4pm on NBC

18 September 2009

Getting into the Bottle

I have confession. I love wine. I love to drink wine. But what I love most is teaching about wine.

I teach a regular wine class for beginners at a wine store in NY called Bottlerocket. http://www.bottlerocketwine.com/ Most people come because they feel overwhelmed by wine and the hundreds, if not thousands of choices in restaurants, wine bars and wine shops. And what if you aren't multi-lingual? What the heck does it mean when a bottle says "Cahors"?

The truth is, wine is simple. I call this "The Two Things You Need to Know About Wine". All wine is either red or white. Wine is still or sparkling. Wine is dry or sweet. Wine is from either the Old World or the New World. All wine is labled either by its grape or geography.

So first, what is wine? Very simply, it is grape juice whose sugar has been converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yeast is the catalyst. The process is called fermentation.

If you are making a white wine, you press the grapes and allow the juice to run off the skins before fermentation. The color in your red wine comes from the skins which are left on the juice and leech their color into the juice. And yes, almost all grape juice is white (or clear).

Making still wine means that you've allowed the carbon dioxide (a gas) to blow off the fermenting vessel. For a sparkling wine, you trap the CO2, either in the fermenting tank (think Prosecco) or in the bottle (think Champagne) which forms the bubbles in the wine.

Dry wine is a wine in which all (or almost all) of the sugars in the grape juice have been converted into alcohol. Sweet wine is a wine that still has unfermented sugar left in the wine along with alcohol. (Both still and sparkling wines can be either dry or sweet.)

Old World wines come from Europe. New World wines come from places we couldn't get to until Christopher Columbus proved the world was round: The Americas, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand.

In the Old World, wines are generally labled by geography. Each geographical location has regulations regarding what grapes can be grown and used to make its wines. This is largely because of thousands of years of trial and error. The Europeans have figured out what grapes grow best where. So, if you're drinking red Burgundy, the wine will always be Pinot Noir. No other grape is allowed. Drinking white Sancerre? Always Sauvignon Blanc.

In the New World, geography is less important. There are fewer regulations about what grapes can be grown where, mostly because we've only had 500 years experience in winemaking, while the Europeans have about 5000. We're still learning which grapes are best suited to what place. So, it's about the grape in the New World. It's right there on the bottle. New World wines will tell you where the wine is from - California, Australia, Napa Valley, Margaret River - but the grape (or grapes) - Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon - is always listed, too, prominently and second only to the winery name.

Drinking wine is the ultimate sensual experience. Look, smell, taste, feel. What happens when you taste a wine you like? Very simply, the aromas and flavors light up the pleasure centers in your brain and make you happy.

What about a wine you don't like? I always start a wine class with a poll: Where did you grow up?, because regional and ethnic differences can play a roll in what wines you like.

I grew up on a farm where fresh foods - meat from our own livestock, vegetables from our garden, Mom's jams from wild berries, home baked bread - were served everyday. But, I also grew up in the south, where vegetables were likely served "casserole" style (read butter and cream), biscuits were made with Crisco and gravy topped the meat. When asked for a recipe in the south, the answer is usually, "I just added salt, pepper and sugar," (which is the secret to my scrambled eggs that my girlfriend's daughter loves more than any other).

I also grew up in the 70s and 80s, when canned was still in fashion, the hinterlands had few dining opportunities outside "fast food", and ethnic meant Italian. But, then I moved to NYC where you're ashamed to buy anything other than beans in cans, Zagats lists over 50 non-European restaurant categories and I haven't eaten any "fast food" in over 19 years.

Those experiences shaped my palate. As a child, I ate like the average American - salt, pepper, sugar and fat. As an adult, I learned to appreciate a wider variety of foods, because they were available (and ok, I do love to eat beautiful and exciting food).

Almost all of us start out drinking just one wine. One wine that tastes delicious to you, is priced fairly and available at the local liquor store. You drink it over and over again, because it's easy to keep drinking it -until one day, it just isn't as delightful as it seemed before.

(For me, it was a $9 bottle of Nuits-St-Georges -a red wine from Burgundy. And nearly 20 years ago, since you're unlikely to find delicious Burgundy that inexpensively in 2009! I drank that wine night after night until there literally was no more available in the whole city.)

So what now? How do you find another wine to take its place in the endless shelves of wines?

First: Drink what you love.

There is no judgment in wine tastes and anyone who tries to demean your taste is not your friend. If you like white wine, or sparkling wine or sweet wine, drink that.

Find a friendly wine seller. If you've been shopping regularly at a store and no one asks you if you need help or knows what you've been buying or what you like - stop giving them your money and find another store.

You should be on a first name basis with your wineseller. It is his (or her) job to know every wine on the shelf. It is also his job to know you, your tastes, what you like and to suggest other wines that you will like. If this is not your experience, refer to my earlier recommendation and find another wineseller.

Second: Be Adventurous

Here again, your friendly wineseller is invaluable. The wines you've enjoyed before will inform the route of your wine experimentation. If you have been drinking bright, electric white wines, you might not want your first bottle of red wine to be a heavy, inky wine.

Make a committment to yourself to try at least one new wine every week. That new wine might be a grape you love from a different country or something entirely new.

Happy Drinking - Decanted Diva

Next Post: Getting into the Glass