Notes and quotes from the Aperitifs seminar, by Andrew Chalk.
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Aperitifs are not widely drunk in Dallas. Brian Cronin, a Master Sommelier with a passion for aperitifs, would like to change that. At the Texas Sommelier Conference he spoke about the variety of forms that this little known drinks category can take from (usually fortified) wine, through herbal infusions of spirits to secret proprietary concoctions.
We tasted seven examples. Below are my hastily constructed notes mainly written in real time as the tasting progressed. Overall, the tasting was very instructive and I would recommend trying some of these before a meal in the near future.
1) Tio Pepe Sherry. Classic dry sherry. Nutty in the nose. Sweet in the mouse with hints of oranges. This can be served with nuts before the meal or with shellfish during it. Lots of opportunities to cook with sherry. Some top chefs, e.g. Heston Blumenthal and Garry Danko are exploring sherry as a flavor ingredient to cooking.
2) Hidalgo Manzanilla “La Gitana”. Manzanilla comes from Sanlucar de Barrameda, about 25 miles from the home of sherry in Jerez. A wonderful seafront town uninfested by tourists most of the year. Manzanilla is similar to fino sherry but the producers proudly assert that it is Manzanilla and not a type of sherry.
This example is lighter than the Tio Pepe. The nose is fainter and the taste has a slight saltiness .
3) Pimm’s No. 1. The ‘cocktail of summer’ in the UK (they have a summer?) but virtually unheard of here. Pimm’s is a blend of Gin and Vermouth so it is no surprise to detect the faint smell of gin in the nose. The taste was a herbal infusion of gin and, if it is not to your taste, be aware that it is not drunk straight in the UK. Rather, it is used as the base for cocktails. We tried “RN 74 Pimms” which adds ginger (and is VERY ginger). Not to my taste, but Google “Pimm’s Cocktails” and a slew of suggestions will follow.
4) Coeur de Lion, Pommeau de Normandie. A wonderful French invention from the northern Normandy region made from Cider and apple brandy (Calvados). The nose is very ripe (e.g. brown) apples. The taste has a slight fruit tartness that prevented the cloying syndrome sometimes present in sweet drinks and those apples again.
5) Gason Rivière, Pineau de Charantes. Same general approach as the previous example. In this case the area of origin is the same as Cognac so the spirit base is cognac and the fruit originates from grape must. Much sweeter than the Pommeau. Hints of Cognac and honey (!) in the nose and oranges in the taste.
6) Punt E Mas. Italy’s proof that you can sell medicine in a bar. Like those exotic Italian digestivos. One glass can last all night. Sweet concentrated oranges in the mouth.
7) Campari, Italy. One of the best known aperitifs in the US and one of the few that has something approaching a mass market. Iridescent red color (don’t serve on a visit to Chernobyl). Vibrant fruit and herbal flavors. Most people prefer it blended with something else (e.g soda).
This morning we talked a lot about wine lists and managing beverage programs. One of the panelists, Joe Spellman, had some interesting things to say about wine by the glass and the current “fetish with half bottles” on wine lists. I attempted to shoot an award-winning video. Instead, I got a poor sound quality video clip of a really nice, smart wine guy making some good points. So, put on your headphones. You know where to put the cork.1 Comment »
Last February, D Magazine devoted a ton of space to cheap eats in Dallas. One of the little nuggets we wrote about is the Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts. Friday night, GO TEXAN Drinklocalwine.com held the opening night dinner there and I was blown away by the food. Andrew Chalk has this to say:
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One of the highlights of this weekend’s GO TEXAN Drinklocalwine.com conference at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts didn’t come in a bottle nor did it talk on one of the panels. Rather, it was the lunch prepared by the students at the school under the light supervision of their instructors. The menu consisted of a three-onion salad that would have passed muster in a three-star restaurant, a choice of either a ham or turkey wrap and a Caesar salad. I had the ham and discovered it to actually be smoked ham accompanied by a selection of vegetables. The subtlety and harmony of the flavors showed that someone put considerable thought into dish composition despite the tight budget constraint imposed by the conference pricing. This report isn’t intended to tell you what we had, but you can’t. Rather, it is to inform you that you can eat this kind of food prepared by exactly the same people, at lunch or dinner four days a week. Here are the precise hours:
Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday
Lunch – 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
Dinner – 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Full details. There is a limited menu available, service is friendly, enthusiasm is off the scale and its BYOB.
Notes and quotes (in shorthand) from the just-completed “Management of a Beverage Program”
*Sommeliers are considered greedy prima donnas that take your money. In reality, they must be an artist, businessperson, and maintain a low ego. Good qualities of a sommelier include—team player, able to do other restaurant tasks, and be physically strong.
*What not to do in a bad economy: panelists are all concerned about “doing deals.” They don’t mean anything if everyone is doing them. When the economy comes back, the customers will remember and think “when the economy is good, you are screwing us.” So, wine programs need to spin programs differently and readjust their long-term and short-term goals. “Think outside the box, lower the cost of sales and increase your volume.” “Engender good will.” “View this time as an opportunity to buy new or lesser know styles or regions.” “Indies should depend on this.”
*“Food writers hammer restaurateurs and sommeliers on wine prices, but don’t hammer spirit prices.” “We are a business and have to make money.”
*Basics of building a wine program. Have ten familiar “core wines” such as Jordan, Cakebread, Silver Oak, Dom Perignon and sell them at a lower price than your competition. You will look like a hero. Customers are familiar with these wines and will feel more comfortable and consider your list as a good value list.
*Developing lists for small indie restaurant. Balance regions and price points and allow the list be a direct extension of your menu and concept. (Some on the panel felt it was essential to have core brands on the list; others disagreed.) “If core wines are 50%, the list is a bummer.” Write your wine list without any wine first. Pick your types of wines and your price points and then develop and map the list with particular wines. This not only helps control your costs, it pairs your wine list with your business model and menu.
*The economy and overpriced wines. There are overpriced wines all over the world and they are in the process of a worldwide correction in prices. The strong will survive, but there will be blood in the streets for others.
*Wine prices follow Wall Street bonuses. People invest in the Bordeaux market based on Wall Street bonuses.
*What do you do if the customer wants to pay a certain price for a wine? If you “eBay” the wine, the customer will always remember. Don’t do it. Use it as an opportunity to find out what price they want to pay for a wine and then guide them to another selection. Usually the people with the most money play this game. “When the Wall Street guys got their $10 million bonuses, they tried to make deals on wine and took it out on sommeliers.” According to the panel, a lot of Wall Street dropped some “sick money” on wine. Those days are gone.1 Comment »
[Updated. Below: Abacus, Al Biernat's, and Nick & Sam's]6 Comments »
Greetings from the Grand Sabine Ballroom at the Four Seasons Resort & Club in Las Colinas. Andrew Chalk and I are here to cover the 5th Annual Texas Sommelier Conference (TexSom) “To The Trade” segment of the conference. Yesterday, approximately 200 wine lovers showed up for tastings and lectures on Pinot Noir, Sake, Austrian wines, Rioja, and wines from Northern Rhone.
As we were sipping and learning, a group of 21 wine professionals were behind the scenes in other banquet room taking tests and competing for the Texas’ Best Sommelier contest. The winner will be announced tonight at the Grand Tasting.
“Management of a Beverage Program” starts in a little while and will be followed by seminars on “Aperitifs”, “Cool Climate Australia”, Texas Wine”, and Napa Valley (Floor vs Hill Side). If you have any questions for any of the speakers, send me an e-mail. Otherwise, there is always Twitter (DSideDish) if you need immediate gratification.