Sunday, March 29, 2009

Drive: Long, Service: Bad, Food: O.K. Wine: Good

Last night some friends and I met up at "Doris and Ed's," a Highlands, NJ based seafood restaurant known for its terrific wine list. Seafood and wine are two of my favorite things so I just had to visit "Doris and Ed's" though they are an hour away from me.

Since this is not a restaurant or a food blog, I don't want to get into too much detail about the service or food, but both were disappointing. The hostess was not very welcoming (since we weren't a full party when we showed up, she was going to make us stand at the very cramped bar) and our waiter was very, very slow.

When the food did arrive, I was excited to dive into my seafood platter (no pun inended). The lobster tail was perfectly cooked and the shrimp, which were brushed with a slightly spicy butter, were quite tasty. On the other hand, the flounder was limp and tasteless and the scallops were nicely cooked, but also lacking any discernible taste.

HOWEVER, the wine list was quite good. They offer an extensive selection of American whites and reds. They offer several Pinot Noirs, which generally pairs wonderfully with seafood. Moreover, the mark up (from expected retail prices) was only around 100%, sometimes less. I know that sounds high, but 100% is the standard, though lately it seems like so many restaurants are now charing 150-200%. Seeing a markup of "only" 100% nowadays is sadly comforting. Though the cheapest wine on the list is in the $60 range, my guess is that they do that so they can maintain a lower mark up than many restaurants.

At most restaurants, the worst deal on the wine menu is usually the cheapest bottle. That's because they'll take a $10-$15 bottle and charge you $40-$45 for the bottle. They do this so that they look like the quality establishment they aim to be and so that you don't feel like you're being cheap. As the restaurant's wine bottle prices go up, they can't charge the same type of margins or else no one would buy the more expensive bottles. If you're trying to get a good value at a restaurant, the rule of thumb (and of course there will always be exceptions) is to stick with the mid-range priced bottles.

Ultimately I would recommend Doris an Ed's to anyone living near or in the Highlands but for me, it wasn't worth the drive. The wine list is as good as promised, but the rest of the experience just didn't make it worthwhile. Plus, there are plenty of good restaurants for me to try in my neck of the woods....

Later today I'm taking some friends wine shopping so I'll hopefully have something interesting to share later today.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wine Pairing Dinners

Earlier tonight, my friend, Stacy, and I got together with some neighbors of hers to attend a wine pairing dinner at a fantastic local restaurant (Bistro 18, for those of you in or near the Montclair, NJ area).

The dinner was focused around budget Italian wines. Admittedly, Italian wines are among my least favorite. I generally find them a bit dusty and earthy for my taste. Tonight didn't change my mind, BUT, one of the wines we tasted was a Super Tuscan (which is one of the few Italian wines I generally enjoy). This surprised me because Super Tuscans tend to be pretty pricey so I wouldn't expect to have one at a budget Italian wine pairing dinner. It was still a little young and very dry, but for $12.99, it's worth buying a bottle or two to age for a few years: Ciacci Piccolomini Poggio Della Fonte Toscana Rosso 2006.

The other highlight was the Moscato D'Asti, which was served with dessert. Though Italian wines tend not to be my favorite, Moscato D'Asti is one of the exceptions. It's a light, sweet white wine with a little bit of fizz (or frizzante, as the Italians call it). It's generally tastes like syup soaked pears or apples (or for some, a late harvest Riesling) but the fizz cuts the sweetnes just enough to make it a very light wine. Also, it helps that the alcohol tends to be only 5 - 5.5% by volume.

I encourage anyone to try this wine. It's generally in the $10-$20 price range. The one we had this evening was $17.99: La Spinetta Moscato d'Asti Biancospino 2008.

Wine pairing dinners are a wonderful experience for anyone who enjoys wine or food, or ideally both, as I do. Moreover, it's a great way to taste a lot of different wines in the way most wine should be drunk - with food. They also tend to be pretty good values (4-5 glasses of wine and 4-5 courses for anywhere from $50 - $200, and upwards for the real specialty stuff). The dinner I went to tonight was around $75 per person with tax and tip - 5 wines, 5 courses. For the NY Metro/Northern NJ area, that's a terrific deal.

I have honestly never been to a wine pairing dinner where I didn't enjoy myself and didn't come away learning something new. If you have a bad experience with a wine pairing dinner, I'm truly sorry. But don't give up hope. You've got to give it another shot because for anyone who knows wine, loves wine or wants to know or love wine, it's one of the life's truly simple pleasures.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Really? Another wine blog. How unique.

A few weeks ago, I went over to my friend, Laura's, apartment for a night in with some good wine, good food and a few friends of Laura's I'd yet to meet.

Since Laura was picking up all the food and since I am an oenophile, I offered to bring a few bottles of wine. To be perfectly honest, I actually hadn't tried either of the wines I'd brought , but they were suggested to me by trusted sources so I decided to take a chance. Luckily I can still trust those sources because the wines (Casa Julia Carmenere and a Bandol from a producer I unfortunately can't remember) were perfect for the almonds, manchego cheese, soppressato, crusty french bread, olives and hummus we grazed on that evening.

Over the course of the evening, Laura's friends decided that I needed to write a wine blog. they told me I was speaking so passionately about the wine that I should share my thoughts. Clearly they won the argument which brings me here to "Wineocracy."

The truth is that as much of a "wine snob" as I profess to be, I think wine is one of the most accessible hobbies out there. I mean how many hobbies do you know that can cater to $3.00 tastes and $1,500 tastes? I tend not to buy the $3 wine, but I am far, far away from buying a $1,500 bottle either.

Wineocracy is the wine blog for people who don't rule out any wine but white zinfandel. Hey, even boxed wine can make a great sangria.

So welcome and please let us know - what have you corked lately and why?