Archive for December 2011

New Year’s Eve   Leave a comment

Once upon a time, in my family, New Year’s Eve was the most important day of the year. 

Now, of course, NY Eve comes one week after Christmas Eve and I should point out that our family tradition in those days was to open presents at midnight on Christmas Eve.  (That’s technically Christmas morning, right?)  What then made New Year’s Eve so special for us was the stark contrast to Christmas Eve one week before– it was just like Christmas Eve, same people, same place, same food, same songs, a prayer or two, but no gift giving distractions.  Just La Familia.  And that made it better and more meaningful than Christmas.  I can still remember being hugged and kissed while Guy Lombardo’s Orchestra played a syrupy Auld Lang Syne in the background. 

There was the mystery of what the future would bring once the clock struck 12.  There was a remembrance of the past.  There was my Abuela (grandmother), Francisca (better known as Sica), normally a quiet, somewhat introverted person, crying hysterically, apparently because the holiday reminded her of the people in her life that had passed on.  We as children did not fully comprehend what was going on as we watched her break down wailing as the clock approached midnight each year.  Her sons and daughters would all rally around her and get her off to bed.  And then at midnight, the entire family would gather in the living room and a hug-and-kiss-a-thon would commence.  Everyone hugging and kissing everyone else.  It was dizzying.  I don’t know how I survived the onslaught of parents, aunts, uncles, cousins of every stripe descending on me in a tsunami of midnight smooches.  It was magical.  One big happy family.

Of course, families are not as unified as we might see them through the lens of childhood.  How I long for that feeling of unity my family had back then.  It was not always perfect.  Hell, it was never perfect.  But it felt right.  And it was my grandmother who held us all together.  The year my Abuelo (grandfather), Arturo, died, we all braced for the worst from Sica.  New Year’s Eve came, the clock struck 12, the ball dropped and NOTHING.  Not a peep from the woman.  Nobody ever asked her why.  Perhaps she had shed as many tears as she could that year and there was nothing left in the tank.  Perhaps she was focused on what her life would become in Abuelo’s absence.  We dared not ask.

The food was amazing– pasteles (meat stuffed plantain dumplings) and pernil (a garlicky roast pork shoulder)– the classic dishes of a Puerto Rican Nochebuena (literally, the “Good Night” or Christmas Eve) and Nochevieja (the “Old Night” or New Year’s Eve).  There was no wine, save for the Manischewizt, which, Abuela, had one small glass of on each of Nochebuena and Nochevieja.  And there was always beer and rum for the men and coquito (think of it as coconut flavored egg-less Puerto Rican Egg Nog with a touch of Bacardi to act as a “preservative”) for the women.  My cousins and I always managed to sneak a taste of coquito or the Kosher wine when no one was looking.  The fact that the wine was Kosher (and probably not meant to be used to celebrate Christmas) was ironic, but ultimately it was of no real consequence to us– it was just one of those things that happens when different cultures clash in a New World.  For my Abuela, the key is that the wine was very sweet, just the way she liked it.

The past few years, Ms. R and I have shared Nochevieja together– sometimes with her mother and our two daughters as we will do tonight.  Her family’s traditions are different from mine.  At midnight, it was her father’s tradition to eat one green grape for every month of the year just passed.  Not sure why that is, but I go along with it. 

Personally, this has been a difficult year, no question about it.  We have made mistakes.  But we have also done good things, including raising some funds to battle pediatric cancer and contributing to a local shelter for pregnant women.  We have been there for our daughters providing support and cajoling them as needed.  And despite the challenges of 2011, we have much to be thankful for, including the strides that our children have taken in defining themselves.   

The year Abuela died, the fragmentation that had been bubbling under the veneer of family unity erupted.  It would never be the same again.  That’s what sometimes happens in families, I guess.  But I still have the memories.  And so I find myself doing as Abuela did– looking back at the past– with a tinge of sadness for what has been lost.  But I am also looking forward with optimism. 

May you all have a Wonderful Nochevieja and a very Happy New Year wherever you may find yourself today.

Posted December 31, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

No-Guilt Wednesday Wine: Domaine des Entrefaux Juveniles Crozes-Hermitage 2008   Leave a comment

This little guy doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  Here is this week’s $15 or less offering. 

No-Guilt Wednesday is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank, eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love. 

Now and again, we come across a wine that challenges the status quo.  This one doesn’t just throw down the gauntlet– it takes a few swipes at your head first.  Think overripe Australian Shiraz and imagine the anti-Shiraz.  This is that. 

Not that I love overripe Australian Shiraz– but the pendulum went too far in the opposite direction.  Still as a wine to study, it does have a certain allure.  And that counts for something– knowing what we do not like and why we do not like it informs our palates.  That works in relationships, and it works in wine. 

Juveniles Crozes-hermitage 2008Domaine des Entrefaux Juveniles Crozes-Hermitage 2008 ($12) 12.5%.  This 100% syrah was specially produced for the Juveniles Wine Bar in Paris.  One of my suppliers got their hands on some cases of this from what they refer to as “a small, ambitious importer”.  A hint of saffron and herbs mixed with a cedar forest like quality on the nose.  Alternating notes of sun-dried tomato, black pepper and tart fruit.  The palate pushes toward an acidic finish.  Although there are some interesting flavors here, the lack of balance is disappointing.  Now, some folks reading this might actually like this wine.  And while this is not my favorite style, there are still reasons to savor this experience.  So don’t take my word for it– I say, take this girl for a spin with the top down and then tell me why I am wrong.  Still if I had to choose this or a big overripe Shiraz– I’m driving this one home.  She is not like every other girl on the block…Rated * 1/2
 I’m sure the Gauntlet is around here, umm, somewhere…

Posted December 28, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

These Cows Are Not Happy   Leave a comment


One of the things I love best about California is tri-tip.  Advertisements may claim that the happiest cows come from California– but not these cows.  These ladies got f**ked over pretty well– sorry, gotta have your tri-tip.

Don’t know what that is?  The tri-tip roast or steak (also called a triangle roast) is the 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pounds of meat that sits at the bottom of the sirloin. The first time we had this was at a family cookout in Santa Barbara about 5 years ago.  Thinly sliced, flavorful, unknown– at least to us.  And later on a trip to Dry Creek Valley, we had this at the Wilson Family Winery.  Sorry to say, Familia, Wilson’s tri-tip was better. 

First thing we did was look for it when we got back East.  No luck.  Crap– worse than that– blank stares.  No more, the local Trader Joes now carries tri-tip.  Made that little discovery just yesterday.  Normally, I don’t buy my uncured meats at TJs (though they normally have a decent selection of charcuterie). 

Having never cooked tri-tip, but being proficient at most cuts of meat, I thought, this should be easy.  I started with a dry smoked paprika based rub.  But after a little internet research, I was reminded that not only does it have a rich flavor, but also tends to be lower in fat than most other cuts, meaning that it can dry out faster.  A good marinade should be able to solve that little problem.  But there it sat in the fridge with my dry rub all over it.  Easy solution to that– I make a quick dressing of EVOO and cider plus red wine vinegars.  Poured into a zip lock over the dry rubbed tri-tip, back to the chiller and we’re off to the mall for a quick Xmas Recon Mission.  Arriving home, removed it from fridge and brought to room temperature before cooking. 

How to cook?   You could roast this in the oven and that would be just fine.  But grilling is so much better, right?  Yeah, Baby.  I know it’s December 23rd– but the temperature was mild enough to fire up the Ducane for what MAY be the last grilled meal of the year.  But what the hell– the Winter Solstice was two days ago and the days are getting longer, right?

Cooking tip– the key to getting this right is to get a high fire sear on the tri-tip before reducing the heat to medium low for slower cooking.  Now normally, I don’t bother with this, but I strongly recommend use of a high quality meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the tri-tip to ensure proper cooking of this cut of meat.

Grilled Connecticut Tri-Tip Sandwiches


  • 1 Tri-Tip Steak (1 1/2 to 2 1/2 lbs)
  • Soft Steak Sandwich Rolls
  • One Large White Onion cut longitudinally into thin slices
  • One Orange or Yellow Bell Pepper sliced into thin strips

For the Dry Rub:

  • 2 Tbsps. Kosher Salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsps. Sweet Smoked Paprika
  • 1 Tbsp. Dried Thyme
  • 1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tbsp. Freshly Ground Black Pepper


  • 2/3 cup EVOO
  • 1/3 cup apple cider and/or red wine vinegar


  1. 3-6 hours before cooking, grind up the Dry Rub ingredients with a mortar and pestle and massage into the tri-tip.  Pease the tri-tip in a gallon sized zip lock bag
  2. Whisk together the Marinade ingredients and pour over the tri-tip and  refrigerate until 1 hour before grilling at which point it will be removed from the fridge and brought to room temperature.
  3. Preheat the grill on highest temperature
  4. Remove the tri-tip from the zip-lock bag, but reserve the marinade liquid as you will use this to baste the tri-tip during the grilling. 
  5. Sear the tri-tip and turn heat to medium-low.
  6. Periodically, turn the trip tip and brush on the reserved marinade.
  7. Once the tri-tip reaches a temperature of 155° remove from the grill and rest on a cutting board for at least 10 minutes.   The temperature will rise a few more degrees and you should end up with a just medium cooked piece of meat. 
  8. While the meat is resting cook the onions and bell pepper in a table-spoon or two of the marinade until they carmelize slightly
  9. Cut the tri-tip across the grain into thin slices.  Assemble your sandwich and dress with the carmelized vegetables.  

© Sybarite Sauvage 

What to drink with that?  Easy, we’ve got California on the brain– DCV, in fact.  Can we drink anything other than a Wilson Wine tonight?  I don’t think so. 

Wilson Family Winery Diane’s Reserve Zinfandel 2006 ($48) 16%.   I was given an allocation of this a couple of years back when I still a member of the Wilson wine club.  I remember thinking when I first had it that it was just a bit too strong and the fruit a bit too ripe and concentrated.  So, the two remaining bottles of the stuff got cellared.  Time could only help it, I thought.  An abundance of berries with a touch at times of peppery spice.  The perfume was not particularly impressive, though it was pleasant enough.  The finish had sufficient structure to support the front end fruit.  I think that with a little further development in the bottle, this may get better.  The issue I continue to take with this wine is that the heavy concentration of fruit and the high alcohol level lead to a loss of elegance.  It is still a very good wine– but I wonder what could have been if there had been just a little more restraint…  Rated ***

My original review of this in October of 2010 follows:   Very concentrated big zin at 16% ALC.; a hearty concentration of fruit for slow sipping; wonder if this one a bit over extracted.  Although 16%, it did drink very hot.  Rated *** October 8, 2010

Critical considerations aside, the Wilson was a great pairing with the Connecticut Tri-Tip, though Ms. R received an education about the downside of 16% alcohol when she crashed on the sofa last night in the middle of Patrick Stewart’s performance in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Posted December 24, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Uncategorized

No-Guilt Wednesday Beau Pere Cellars Merlot 2008   Leave a comment

This little guy doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  Here is this week’s $15 or less offering. 

No-Guilt Wednesday is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank, eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.  

It was a late night by the time we settled down for the evening.  Given the holiday insanity, we did not eat well during the day.  We wanted something more, something that would take us into bedtime and hold us till we dozed off.   Nothing fattening, something flavorful.  Something that would caress the Merlot, throw its soft legs over it and get caressed back.  Something that would set our tongues tingling.  Something we could make in about 35 minutes. 

Make no mistake, saffron is an expensive ingredient.  However, there is no substitute for it.  It raises the game of this simple little almost vegetarian/vegan braise.  (you could go full vegetarian and substitute vegetable stock or even slightly salted water for the chicken stock in the recipe). 

Saffron Braised Cauliflower


  • 1 Head of Cauliflower (separated from the stem and sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices)
  • 2 Tbsps. EVOO
  • Chicken stock (depending on the size of your pan, enough to almost cover the cauliflower)
  • 1 small 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp. Paprika
  • 1 pinch of Saffron
  • 2 tsps. of Red Wine Vinegar


  1. Heat up the EVOO in a large pan and saute the cauliflower over high heat until it starts to brown at the edges.
  2. Introduce the Chicken stock to almost cover the cauliflower and add tomato sauce, paprika saffron.  Stir to incorporate the ingredients.
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar and taste the broth.  (The recipe call for two teaspoons of the red wine vinegar, but this is really a matter of personal taste and can be adjusted as you like it.  But like salt, it’s easy to over do it.  You can always add more, but you can’t take it out once its in there.)
  4. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cover for 10 minutes.  The cauliflower will soften and absorb the flavor and color of the broth.  Remove the cover and reduce the saffron sauce.
  5. While this is simmering, prepare cous cous  For the cous cous remember, 2 parts liquid to 1 part cous cous.
  6. Once the cauliflower is tender, serve at table alongside or on top of cous cous.

Serves 4

Beau Pere Cellars Merlot 2008Beau Pere Cellars Merlot 2008 ($12).  Back to the Napa Valley today we have a nice little wine with a fair amount of complexity for its $12 price tag– and a merlot to boot.  A perfume of sweet spice, earth and butterscotch filled our  glasses.  Drinking beautifully now, dark fruit, soft tannins and velvet-like on the palate.  Rated **1/2





Posted December 22, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

No-Guilt Wednesday Wine: L’Ameillaud Vin de Pays Vaucluse 2010   Leave a comment

This little guy doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  Here is this week’s $15 or less offering. 

No-Guilt Wednesday is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank, eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.  

Last week, I was a little late in publishing the Wednesday Wine.  This week, a little early.  It all balances out in the end, right?  I couldn’t wait to share this little find– and we need wines like this now, especially as we head into the teeth of the holiday season.  Today’s offering begs for a lightly breaded fried calamari with fresh squeezed lemon and a spicy garlic aioli.  It reminds me of warmer days (that seem so far away at the moment) when a glance, a wink and the soft brushing of bare knees under the cafe table promise an afternoon of conversation and pleasure. 

Domaine de l'Ameillaud Vin de Pays de Vaucluse 2010L’Ameillaud Vin de Pays Vaucluse 2010 ($8).  This blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Carignan is another winner from Vaucluse .  Slightly funky wet stone notes dominate the nose to start.  But these soon yield to savory herbal notes hinting at sage and thyme and spices.  On the palate, these vibrant herbal elements are carried forward to complement the blackberry and blueberry notes that lead to an almost stone-like minerally finish.  If you want to taste what terroir is about this is a very approachable example showing off the impact on flavor of the clay, limestone and alluvial soils found in the vineyard.  Nicely balanced by the tannins and acid, this is a crazy good value at this price.  Rated **1/2



Posted December 13, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

Mano-a-Mano Italian Style: Bussola Ca’dellaito Ripasso 2007 v. Argiano Non Confunditur 2009   Leave a comment

I grew up not too far from Philly and in the 1970s the rivalry between Frazier and Ali was electric.  Part of it was the fact that Ali represented, at least to my young mind, the anti establishment with his brashness and his refusal to accept military service.  These all rubbed me the wrong way at that time  (in time I came to accept  what he stood for– but that came much later).  Frazier, by contrast, represented the opposite.  Determined, yet quiet, preferring to let his actions speak for him.  Frazier, the working class hero from Philly.  Frazier, always pushing forward, taking swings at the elusive Ali.  The first fight between these two, billed as the Fight of the Century, was won by Frazier.  I was thrilled.  The universe was still in balance.  Of course, that would change later when Ali won the next two fights with Frazier.  I learned that they are each great in their own way.  

While we have now lost Smokin’ Joe, we still have the memories of those days when he and his brash nemesis made us all choose sides.  Frazier or Ali?  Who you chose said much about what you valued not in the battle within the ring, but in the social battles outside the ropes.  We were fortunate to live through those moments when such things mattered.  Perhaps we are living through those moments again today.  But I look around and don’t see the same clear symbols of that cultural dialectic that were embodied in these two individuals.  RIP Joe Frazier. 

Bussola Ca'dellaito Ripasso 2007

In the spirit of those battles of yore, today we look at two fine Italians.  One a little bit flashier Valpolicella and one just as interesting if a bit more conservative Super Tuscan blend.  Both are go-to wines in this price range.  In the end, we give the edge to the Valpolicella, but it was a split decision and on another night the Super Tuscan may win out.

We have written about the origins of the Super Tuscan movement in the past:

Valpolicella, not so much.  Lying within the region of Veneto in Northern Italy the region has become known for producing Amarones and a variation on the Amarone called Ripasso.  The emergence of Ripasso (literally meaning “repassed”) has resulted in the production of an intriguing group of wines.  With this technique, the pomace of leftover grape skins and seeds from the fermentation of other wines (notably Amarone) are added to the batch of Valpolicella wines for a period of extended maceration. The additional nutrients provided by this supplement feeds the remaining fermenting yeasts resulting in an increase in the alcohol levels and intensity of the wines.  It also adds additional tannins, glycerine and some phenolic compounds that contribute to a wine’s complexity, flavor and color.  An alternative method is to use partially dried grapes (of the kind that would be used to produce Amarone), instead of leftover pomace, which contain less bitter tannins and even more phenolic compounds. 

Bussola Ca’dellaito Ripasso 2007 ($18).  The smell of mushroom and earth enraptured from the first sniff.  And then the fruit, glorious friggin’ fruit, dances an insistent tongue tango wrapping its sensuous acidic leg around your torso before you realize that you don’t quite know how to tango.  So you fake it– the payback on the back-end is so worth it.  This a very nicely balanced cuvee of Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella with a nice finish and is a real steal at this price.  Rated ***1/2

Argiano Non Confunditur 2009 ($17).  Less insistent on the nose than the Bussola.  Less fruity and more savory.  Yet it pushes forward with a momentum all its own.  This Tuscan Beauty takes you to that dark back corner of the club where magical and sometimes strange things can happen.  Emergent dark fruit from the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah stays with you.  Tannins round this out.  Having tasted prior vintages of the Argiano Non Confunditur, I can say that I enjoyed this as much as the 2007– maybe a little bit more.  I am also pleased to see that they have backed away from the screw tops used for the 2008 vintage.  Rated ***

Here are some tasting notes for prior vintages:

Argiano Non Confunditur (2007).  Big nose that included black licorice notes and initially graphite/pencil shavings on the mid palate; later opened up beautifully and went from **1/2 to ***40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot and 20% Syrah.   Rated *** December 17, 2009.

Argiano Non Confunditur (2008).  40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot and 20% Syrah. Depth of expression that still impressed, though the effort is not as strong as the 2007; showed some herbal qualities; now in a screw top.  Rated **1/2  February 12, 2011.

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Posted December 10, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Mano-a-Mano

No-Guilt Wednesday Wine: Les Traverses de Fontanes Vin du Pay d’oc Cabernet Sauvignon 2009   Leave a comment

This little guy doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  Here is this week’s $15 or less offering. 

No-Guilt Wednesday is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank, eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.  

A little late for Wednesday?  Perhaps.  Do I feel bad about that?  No.  From the northeastern part of the Languedoc, we get today’s offering.  According to the distributor, although the property lies within the boundaries of the appellation Pic St-Loup, the production from the vineyards is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape varietal that is outside of the constraints set for the A.O.C. in the Languedoc. This means that in lieu of getting an A.O.C. cru status, the wine can only take a Vin de Pays d’Oc designation.   Do we care?   Seriously, did I just ask that?  Screw that– what’s in the bottle Monsieur? 

Chateau Fontanes Cabernet    2009

Les Traverses de Fontanes Vin de Pays d’Oc Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($12) 13.5%.  Although not particularly aromatic, this little biodynamically farmed beverage says, “Drink me in the afternoon before you get really serious about your wine.  Still there are undeniable notes of underbrush and herbs d’ Provence.  But they do not overwhelm.   Is less more?  The Limestone and clay soils that yield this fruit do come through.  Light to medium bodied on the palate with red cherry notes, it’s simple, yet pleasantly simple in a girl next door kind of way– freckles and all.  Medium tannins and a clean, yet short to medium finish.  Rated **

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Posted December 9, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday