NGW: Cavit Alta Luna Phases Dolomiti 2009   3 comments

Here’s where the snob in me starts to emerge.  I see the name Cavit and my instinct is to turn the other way.  I associate the name with cheap magnums of “party” wine.  But for parties at some else’s house.  Recently, a guest of ours brought a magnum of this stuff– the Cavit Pinot Grigio– for dinner.  I certainly did appreciate the thought though it was not to my personal taste.  And it probably cost him around $15, which for many people (myself included) is a lot of money for fermented grape juice.  And if you’re not a wine person, you’re not likely to take a chance on a label you’ve never seen or heard of before.  (That’s where this blog hopefully helps to fill in some blanks.)  But there it was, cheap white wine, sitting in the fridge, waiting for its moment. 

But first, an aside. 

A year ago we went to a Food Network event at Bally’s Casino in Atlantic City with friends of ours.  It was a lot of fun, we tasted a bunch of wines, had some decent food and then went to the casino after where Ms. R magically turned $50 into $150.  This paid for some of the stuff we bought– including a very cool, but dangerous five and a half-inch chef’s knife designed by the recently deceased F.A. Porsche.  (You can read his obit by clicking on this link to the New York Times on-line) Yes, THAT Porsche– the guy who designed the Porsche 911.  Like all things Porsche, it looks great, it feels great, but if you’re not careful during use, it will hurt you. 

The knife, known as the 301, fits beautifully in my hand. 

This knife rethinks how a kitchen knife should be held.  A typical knife’s handle rests at the intersection of the top part of the palm and the 4 fingers that wrap around the handle.  Go to your kitchen and try it.  See what I mean?  The 301 by marked contrast rests comfortably and diagonally along the lifeline of my palm and is held in place by the middle through the pinky digits.  The forefinger and thumb then rest against two rounded nubs that protrude from the sides, lending stability to the cutting action.  As a result, unlike any other knife I have ever used, it really does become an extension of my hand.  The connection is seamless. 

From a design perspective, the knife is made of one piece construction.  From the horizontally flat handle, the design narrows and swoops into a vertical blade.  Though not evident at first, that transition is broken by the two rounded nubs that communicate with the hand that it should not move further down the blade.  The package is design genius.  The blade effortlessly slices through anything.  Friends that I have let use the knife marvel at its inventiveness and efficiency.

Looks great and feels great.  But there is a down side– a design flaw which must be mentioned.  The knife is uniquely balanced with more of the weight in the handle and along the top seam of the blade.  This adds to the feeling of connectivity between skin and steel.  However, when placed on a counter top, the knife will have a tendency to roll, Weeble-like,  and come to rest with its blade facing upward.  Yes, take your eyes of the road and it would be easy to slam into something.  Take your eyes off this knife and you are likely to slice into your own skin as I have done.  After a couple of mishaps, I had decided that I did not like this knife.  I have other great choices including two fantastic Shun knives and my old reliable friends from Henckels.  And yet, this is the first knife that I usually reach for in my kitchen every day.  What does that tell me?  That I am now looking to purchase my next one– the larger chef’s knife.  I guess I like to live on the edge…

Back to the Cavit, however.  Another less useful thing we purchased at the Food and Wine Expo was a fruit flavored mix that could be combined with white wine and blended with ice to make what essentially amounts to a wine Slurpee.  Our crew, being a few sheets to the wind at that time, were drawn to the irresistible chemical fruitiness of this concoction like suburban johns to a 12th Avenue whore.  It was ugly.  But I went along and purchased a package of the “mix”.  And there it sat, in the bar, at home, for a year.  I finally gave it to these dear friends of ours as a memento of that trip.

Over the Labor Day weekend, these same friends of ours decided to throw a party and being among the invited, and also knowing what it takes to get a party organized, I volunteered to arrive early to help with the prep.  There it was: the peach-flavored mix.  It was peach colored, if you want to call it that.  Actually, no peach that I have ever seen has this color, but somehow, it is still refered to as “peach” in the crayon box.  We stirred the contents into a magnum of cheap white.  It was god-awful.  We needed more white wine.  “I know,” I thought, “we have this magnum of Cavit Pinot Grigio sitting back at the house and it would be ‘lovely’ with this.”  A quick phone call and it was in Ms. R’s bag en route to party central.  And there, it made its mark.  I was thrilled to make room in the fridge once we got this thing out of there.

So you can see that my expectations for Cavit wines are at a pretty low threshold. 

When I first saw today’s NGW, it was marketed as Alta Luna Phases, by my wine guys.  A good move on their part as I would likely have taken a pass had I seen the Cavit name.  Once I got it home, I just about groaned when I spotted the brand moniker at the bottom of the label.  But don’t be so hasty, Bubba Louie, rating wine is not as easy as spotting good guys from bad guys.  You have to open the bottle first.

From the shadows of the Dolomites in the Italian Alps, this is a winner worth seeking out.   This comes close to a *** rating: **3/4 as Ms. R was saying.  But we don’t give quarter stars.  No matter, at this price, it is now the reigning house wine in the SS household.  That is our highest praise.  I like Cavit, I really do.  Who knew?

Alta Luna Phases 2009Cavit Alta Luna Phases Dolomiti 2009 ($9).  A terrific blend of Teroldego, Lagrein and Merlot, this reveals a sense of place with hints of fecund and dusty earth, touches of cinnamon, sweet spices and bright red cherries.  Yet this might have faltered without what comes then.  Pear tomato emerges setting up a structural acidity tempered  by the merlot tannins.  Are those tannins velvety or silky?  Who cares, try this and make up your own mind.  Rated **1/2

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted September 12, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Buil & Gine 17-XI Montsant 2008   Leave a comment

(Click Here Before Reading)

Did you ever feel that events affecting your life are being orchestrated behind closed doors?  Your fate decided for you.   No, this is not about some corporate or government conspiracy.  Though there are parallels.

Saturday morning on this past long weekend.  We were feeling lazy.  Kicking back we switched on the telly.  What’s on?  The 1934 horror film, The Black Cat, starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.  Old school horror with our morning tea and toast.


Hjalmar Poelzig (played by Karloff) is the quintessence of Evil.  And yet, he brings a humanity to his role so that when he gets his predictable comeuppance at the climax of the film, you still feel a twinge of pity for him.  But just a twinge. 

Before that moment, he takes pleasure in the cat and mouse game he is playing with his guests as they try to make arrangements to leave the Art Deco cage he has built. 

Hey, BK, can I use your phone to call for a ride?

Suuuuuure!  It’s in my office.  Help yourself.

Returning and disgusted, his guest informs him that the phone line has gone dead.  As he stalks off to fetch his wife for a hasty departure, Poelzig, in a giddy schoolboy tone of voice, turns to Vitus (played by Lugosi) and concludes,

The phone is dead.  Do you hear that, Vitus?  Even the phone is dead.”  

(Translation: “I’m gonna f*** them up!”

Did I mention there is a Satanic Ritual in this film?  Drenched in the demonic symbolism — pentagrams, queer crosses, and jewelry in a shape that is a weird intersection between ram’s head and uterus.  And then there is a soundtrack which includes Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565– now a horror genre cliché.

I confess.  This is the first time I have seen this film.  How can that have happened?   

If you’re a Black Cat virgin,  as I used to be, click here to watch the entire film.  If you’ve seen it before, click anyway– you know it’s good.  Go ahead, take the 65 minutes out of your evening and sip on today’s NGW while you’re at it.

Buil & Gine 17-XI Montsant 2008 ($13.50).  Slight red berry tartness. Lighter in body than other Montsant wines.  With a hint of minerality on the finish.  Not overly complex, but still tasty.  Rated **

This is a food friendly wine that was elevated by some braised chicken leg quarters over a vegetable cous cous.  The kind of comfort food you need after a long day dealing with the Hjalmar Poelzigs of the world. 

Black Cat Chicken


  • 4 Chicken leg quarters–thigh and drumstick (See Note Below)
  • 2 Tbsps EVOO
  • 1 large white onion chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper chopped
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • small pinch of Saffron


  1. In a large frying pan, add EVOO and brown the chicken over high heat (do not crowd the pan).
  2. Remove the chicken and set aside.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and saute the onion and peppers in the pan juices.
  4. Once the onion has softened, add white wine and deglaze the pan scraping up the crusty bits.
  5. Add chicken stock, rosemary and saffron.
  6. Return Chick to the pan and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for over low heat for 35  minutes.
  7. Place 1 chicken quarter leg per person on a bed of cous cous in a wide bowl and spoon sauce over top.

Serves 4

Note: We prefer the more expensive free range kosher chicken as it is more flavorful than the mass produced antibiotic and hormone infused birds we find in the market these days.

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted September 5, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Pares Balta Ros de Pacs 2011   6 comments

How big is your decanter?

After last’s week’s soap opera of lust, social castes, marital infidelity, suicide, and the power of curses, today I turn to a lighter more frivolous side.

First, a confession: I am a man that doesn’t mind shopping.  Don’t Judge Me. 

During lunch a couple of months back, a couple of my boys from the office and I went shopping at a local Home Goods store.  Home Goods is the kind of place where you are likely to find bored suburban housewives looking to furnish their suburban palaces with some decorative kitsch.  Also the place, where bored office mates go for some entertainment, apparently.

What were three mates doing there?  Well, um, Home Goods has a small if interesting gourmet and kitchen section.  In the past, I have scored some Le Creuset pie plates, non-stick roasting pans, and the like at very reasonable prices.  And two of us, being the types of guys who don’t mind spending time in the kitchen, we thought to see what was new. 

That day, we scored some Smoked Spanish Paprika which I use in a number of dishes as it adds a layer of complexity to marinades and the like.  But being at Home Goods, we I also toured the tabletop aisle (plates, glasses, soup bowls, etc.) and the adjacent decorative aisle where you would find things like glass vases.  Not that I need any vases.  But it wouldn’t hurt to look, would it?  

As I did so, I came across a large vase in an unusual shape.  Now, as a vase, it was marginal, in my opinion.  But with its tall long neck, flared lip, and bulbous base, it is the perfect shape for a decanter even if it was a bit freakishly Frankensteinesque.  And though large, it is not too heavy.  And I think it should easily accommodate a magnum of wine (like I need an excuse to open a large format bottle)!  Moreover, it being Home Goods, I got it for about $10!

Of course, when I get home with this glass monstrosity, Ms. R, in a fleeting moment of practicality, looks at me, shakes her head, and asks where I planned to store the thing. 

Well, I actually had not thought that part through, to be honest.  But being all over it, she immediately thought that my new “decanter” would make an ideal vase for some sunflowers or other long-stemmed varieties.  Really, a vase?  Why would I buy a vase?


Long stemmed whatevers might be fine for the Bored Housewives of Home Goods (coming soon to A&E).  But this is me we’re talking about.  And while I have vases aplenty, till that day, I had but two decanters.

I’ll show you my decanter if you show me yours.  Never mind, I’ll show you mine since it’s so big I have nothing to be ashamed of. 

As the change of seasons approaches, it’s good to know that we will be prepared to decant whatever wines make it to our table.  However, today’s wine needs no such special treatment.  A Spanish rosé from Penedes for these waning days of Summer and the crisp Autumn days ahead.  Perhaps I will take that smoked paprika and make a nice little marinade for some grilled shrimp…

Pares Balta Ros de Pacs 2011  ($11).  To the eye this hardly seems to be a rosé, this is so dark.  But with juicy, sprightly berry flavors, and a touch of earth on the nose, this is a great example of a rosé that can be drunk year round.  Though made of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, it has vivacious fruit due to its stainless steel fermentation, maintaining pleasing levels of acidity that will have you coming back for refills time and again.  While it does not have the finesse of some Provencal rosés, it represents a unique style that can hold its own with the better rosés in the marketplace.  Rated **1/2 

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted August 30, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

Wine for Hurricane Isaac   2 comments

What to drink before you go out to commune with Mother Nature? 

Whatever it is, if you’re in Louisiana, it had better be damn stong hooch. 

And whatever it was, these folks must have overdosed on it in New Orleans’ (that’s Nawlins’ to the uninitiated) French Quarter before gulping down a few mouthfuls of Hurricane Isaac’s  salty, gritty, wet, sandy essence.

You know, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but this is how you get your very own profile on “1000 Ways to Die”.



Posted August 28, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

NGW: Chateau Lalande Listrac-Medoc 2009   3 comments

Do you believe in the power of curses?


The sun was hot and sweat was trickling down the small of his back.  Felix spotted the young woman, Marcela, in the puny town square one late summer afternoon.  His family, owned much of the farmland surrounding the village and as such he had rank and privilege.  She was brown-eyed and raven haired– but just a girl, really.  Born to a poor family, her eyes spied on him from behind the strands of dark hair that fell across her sun-stained face.  Though she was but 14 years of age, she looked spectacular to him.  And she was smitten, though he was in his mid-twenties.  

As the aristocrat son of the landowner, he did not need to ask permission to court the girl.  In time, she bore him two children, both girls, Merin and Evangelia.  Because of his status, Marcela’s parents Tomasa and Juan, did not interfere.  Girls were married off young then and if she was to be with Felix, at least her station in life would be elevated.  But there was to be no marriage.  And though he did not need her parents’ permission to bed the girl, his parents were not so pleased with the union.  Exercising the power of the purse, they prevailed on him to withdraw from the relationship and he soon went into hiding.  Had he refused, he likely would have become a Latino Ivanhoe: disinherited, poor, excommunicated from the family.

But a line had been crossed and Tomasa, driven by protectiveness of her daughter and perhaps by seeing that her daughter’s status and by extension her own standing in the community, were dissolving right before their eyes, became enraged.  But she could not strike out at the landowners– at least not physically.  They were too powerful.  Instead, she knelt under a large tree and in the presence of Felix’s mother prayed that his family would be denied the sight him just as Marcela had been so deprived.  What she meant by that, no one really knew.

Merin and Evangelia, grew to be pretty girls, much like their mother.  Felix’s family, while never disavowing the girls, did not interfere in their upbringing. 


In time, Felix emerged from hiding and he and his Brother Pedro courted and then married two sisters, Guita and Belica, respectively.  Theirs was a tight-knit relationship and the brothers and their brides moved into two homes that lay next to each other.  Felix and Guita in one and Pedro and Belica in the other.  They were family; but more importantly, they were best friends.   

During the week, , Felix would rise in the morning and after washing with some rough handmade soap, he would shave with a straight-edged razor with a carved bone handle, its finely honed edge scraping off the previous day’s stubble.  He would enter the kitchen where Guita would have his morning cafe con leche, piping hot and sweetened, just the way he liked it, waiting for him.  He would nibble on a buttered soda cracker, gulp down the sweetened elixir and energized, go off to work.  Pedro would similarly do the same in the house next door.

In the evenings, the two households would gather for a meal and talk of the day’s events.  The food was typical– platanos maduros, arroz con habichuelas, carne de cerdo, asopao de pollo, mofongo, arroz con gandules, bacalaitos, ropa vieja.  This was not a light cuisine and despite their daily regimen of work, the brothers were beginning to put on weight.  The sisters, were happy to see it and be part of it.  All that was missing was children.

Guita, of course, knew about Felix’s two children with Marcela.  Didn’t everyone?  That notion that Felix had two children, albeit illegitimate children, in close proximity, weighed heavily on Guita.  Felix’s past life cast a shadow on the house.  Merin and Evangelia were also potential heirs. 

Moreover, in this community you were defined by the number of children you had.  This was also the only real form of social security at that time.  And she wanted desperately to have her own in order to secure her future well-being as she aged.

At nightfall, the two couples, bellies full, would retire to their respective homes, undress, make love and slip into marital slumber.  In the warm tropical air, the mosquitos would arrive to draw out their daily allotment before flying off to feed their own larvae in a dark pool of still water.


Returning home early from work, one afternoon, Felix thought he would surprise Guita and spend a little quality time with her.  They did not have children, though they hoped to start a family soon.  As he approached the house, he thought that perhaps today would be a good day to make more progress on that domestic project.  Ever since he had broken off the relationship with Marcela, he did not really see that much of his two girls, Merin and Evangelia.  And he felt this void in his life.  It was a wound in his life that had not quite healed and now he was hoping that he would have a second chance to heal himself by having a child with Guita. 

As he entered the house, he heard Guita’s voice in the bedroom.  “So, she speaks to herself when I’m not home,” he thought.  Hers was a delicate voice, her laughter was lightly carried aloft as if on hummingbird wings.  He opened the door, and entering the sleeping chamber, he heard a familiar man’s voice.  A stunned silence fell on the room.  Two figures, entwined and frozen by the harsh light of discovery.  Their mouths went arid as the weight of the moment began to crush them.

Felix’s heart sank.  There, before him, Pedro and Guita lying in a nude embrace, their tanned bodies in bas-relief against the freshly laundered taut white sheets.  Of course, he had seen each of them nude before.  But not like this.  The unwanted smell of human perspiration was lingering in the tropical air.  To be a cuckold was shame enough for a man of Felix’s stature and nature.  To receive the horns at the hands of his own brother was impossible to accept.  It was a double betrayal by the two people he loved the most in the world.  He walked over to the tall dresser where his shaving mirror sat on its mahogany stand.  He gazed at his own face– angrily sanguine.  He reached down and picked up the bone handled straight razor.  It felt smooth in his hand.  He gripped it tightly and his knuckles turned white with waves of loathing and nausea.  Guita, looked at him and begged for mercy, but she was too frightened to get off the bed.  She had never seen this expression on his face.  Pedro, swallowed hard and offered a stuttered and hollow excuse as he started to rise from the bed. 

Felix stared them both down for what would perhaps be the last time.  Then overwhelmed, Felix fled the room, tears streaming down his face and a scream choked off in his throat.  He had to get out of that house.  He made his way down to the creek that Pedro and he used to play in when they were younger– images of water fights, skipping stones, fishing for minnows, talk of local girls ran through his head.  And of  Guita– what could she have been thinking to let this happen?  

Arriving at the water’s edge, his heart beating wildly and short of breath, he became aware once again of the shaving tool he held in his hand.  Unfurling the blade from its bony shell, the glinting edge caught the blinding sunlight as it reflected off the water in the creek.  He stared at the blade and a strange smile came over his face.  He pushed the blade into the flesh on his wrist, tearing at the tendons, slicing deeply, the skin opening up, exposing his veins, in a wide red smile.  Warm liquid poured out of him, but he felt nothing except an emptiness.  Sitting on the edge of the creek he watched as the crimson liquid spilled out of him, staining his slacks and streaking down the muddy brown bank, before trickling in and mixing with the current for its downstream journey.  Alone, he let out a small sorrowful cry.  It was the last sound he ever made.


After they interred him, the family never saw Felix again.  They had probably forgotten Tomasa’s words, even if Tomasa and Marcela did not. 

However, now that Felix was beyond anyone’s grasp, the two families settled their old differences.  Marcela and Tomasa agreed that Merin, would be taken in by Felix’s family and raised as one of their own.  Marcela would continue to raise the other daughter, Evangelia, in relative poverty.  However, the girls would continue to see each other and there is no doubt that this benefitted Evangelia as well.  It was a way to acknowledge, Felix’s paternity, which pleased Marcela and Tomasa.  But it was also a way for the Felix’s  family to catch glimpses of Felix’s spirit in the children they should have acknowledged from the start. 

          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

There is not much off a segue between this story and today’s NGW, other than to say that it provided some inspiration as the words started to flow.

This one shows that there may still be good values out there in French wines even from the 2009 vintage.  This has a Cru Bourgeois designation which in a great vintage like 2009, may actually mean something.  Pay attention to your labels.

Chateau Lalande Listrac-Medoc 2009 ($14).  Lovely aromas of crushed berries.  Red and black fruits intermingle with an herbal quality.  Minerally and a little grippy with 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot.  The finish tells us this can age for a few more years with no harm.  It over delivers at this price.  Rated ***

Posted August 22, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Petit Chapeau Bordeaux 2009   1 comment

In Morocco land of Sultans and Scimitars, I was with ID, my then girlfriend.  I was hoping the trip would be more Road to Morocco than Casablanca.  But in truth, I got a little bit of each and a smattering of The Sheltering Sky for good measure.

There is Morocco though a Hollywood filter:  The Road to Morocco, with Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby and the brilliant Bob Hope.  As a little Sybarite-Hipster-In-Training (yes, you know the acronym), with its Hollywood-movie lot scenery, I was taken with the place.   Later, I became enthralled by the place once again during a Casablanca phase.  Darker, yes, but it is not as existentially challenging as Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky– a marriage collapsing amid danger.

Early in the trip, we stopped at a roadside stand to purchase some large amethyst crystals.  Offered some lukewarm mint tea—a staple of Moroccan hospitality– I drank it without thinking about what might be lurking within the dulcet liquid that had not been killed by a good boil.  A day later when arriving at our next destination by rail, I felt a twinge of queasiness in my stomach, within minutes, I had broken into a cold sweat.  Trembling in the 85 degree heat, I grabbed a seat in the station.  Our driver arrived and crammed us and our luggage into a compact car.  Making our way to the Riad al Bartal (our hotel), I could feel the nausea building in unpleasant waves as he navigated the twists and turns of narrow medieval streets choked with pedestrians and motor scooters spewing blue burnt oil exhaust from their tailpipes.  We arrived at the Riad.  Decorated in traditional Moroccan zillij tile work, the place exceeded all of our expectations– but I did not notice that at first.

We were led to our room— and I was feeling some relief in that I was not going to redecorate the hotel lobby in a shades of vomit.  As our driver escorted us to our room, he lit an unfiltered Moroccan cigarette and the fingers of dense smoke reaching deep into my nostrils.  My body shook, as a wave of nausea came on me along with that salty taste that accompanies it.  I was green in the gills as they say.  As he unlatched the door to our room, I pushed past him into the W.C., and made an offering to the porcelain goddess.  “Welcome to Fes!” whispered the goddess. 

Thus, on this our first day in Fes, we decamped to the rooftop of the Riad where I rested under a tent overlooking spectacular views of the mountains surrounding the city underneath a blanket of pristine cerulean blue skies.  Views that were interrupted by intermittent bouts of sickness.  Nothing brings you to the brink of existential alienation like a good puke.  


The next morning I felt well enough to have a breakfast of strong coffee and sweet pastries. 

Morocco is like that—a blend of the sweet and bitter– and I wouldn’t want to remember it any other way.  I should have been paying closer attention to the Road to movie—because it also has that quality—with adventure and danger lurking around many corners balanced by the kindness of strangers and sweet kisses of Dorothy Lamour or was that an overly friendly camel?

Later that day, I felt well enough to explore the medina in Fes.  The medinas in these old Moroccan cities are special places, the centers of commerce and community, stretching back over a thousand years.  A place where you can buy everything you need to run a Moroccan household and get the news of the day.  Rugs, meat, nuts, perfume, dates, olives, pastries, mint tea, leather, knives, cooking pots, tagine crockery, cous cous, herbs, lanterns, woolen pillow cases, milk jugs and local gossip.

We had heard that the Moroccan King Mohammed V was in town entertaining a foreign leader.  This we learned in the first 10 minutes in the souk.

Mohammed’s father was Hassan II, who with his almost mythic ability to avoid assassination had captured the imagination and loyalty of his people.  He had eluded two assassination attempts including an attack on his palace and an attempt to shoot down his aircraft, giving him an air of invincibility.  During the attack on the palace, where nearly 100 guests were killed and more than 125 wounded, the King hid in a bathroom.  When the firing died down, he emerged to find himself face to face with one of the rebels.  Keeping eye contact, he recited the opening verse of the Koran.  The rebel knelt and kissed his hand.  Later when pilots of his own air force attacked his Boeing 727 jetliner, the King, himself a pilot, seized the radio and shouted, ”Stop firing! The tyrant is dead!” — fooling the rebels into breaking off their attack.  Though he probably would not have appreciated the comparison, he was clearly a resourceful guy who had more than a little bit of Bob Hope in him. 

That day in Fes, we found ourselves overlooking a square and were surprised that the dirt paths, and dusty squares of the Medina were being carpeted with a sea of red area rugs—the ultimate red carpet treatment. 

We were informed that Bashar el-Assad, leader of Syria, was also in town visiting the King.  Word was that the King and Assad were going to be touring the Medina together and in an age-old tradition, the merchants laid out one or two carpets in front of their establishments creating a carpeted path for the foreign leader. 

About 30 minutes before the walk through, two men came walking through the Medina with tanks strapped to their backs.  As they walked past, they released puffs of mist from the tanks.  How odd, we thought, what could that be– a disinfectant?  A rose-scented cloud descended on the Medina covering up the less desirable odors of Moroccan commerce– a mixture of tanning leather stench, donkey urine, smoke-charred meat, desert dust, trodden carpets and sweat.  There is nothing like it that I have ever encountered in my other travels.  Then the advance security team came though.  We were identified as tourists, but were cleared because we had fortuitously hired a local guide that day who vouched for us (the only time that we took a guide during the trip).

Shortly thereafter, Assad and his attractive new wife, Asma, came strolling through.  Mohammed V, called away on the business of the Kingdom, did not accompany them.  Given that we were obviously American, we stayed in the entry way to the shop and watched the procession of security personnel, Tyrant, Spouse. 

It’s easy to lead when you are not being challenged.  But strong men, like Bashar Assad are eventually destined to fall.  Recently with the turmoil in Syria, there are rumors that the comely Mrs. Assad has fled the country and for Russia.  And news that high-ranking public officials and Syrian army generals are also fleeing. 

Assad and I made eye contact—but that was it.  Asma made eye contact with ID.  We were just three steps from the two of them. 

Later I picked up a few souvenirs including a blue painted bowl that adorns my house today.  I now call this the Assad bowl because some of the glaze has chipped off.   These days, Assad’s image is bit more than chipped than my bowl and I wonder how much longer he will remain in power before he is ousted.


Travel sometimes takes its toll on us.  Of course, there are the stories of the Mysterious Amethyst Illness and Tyrants in Fes.  Toward the end of the trip, there was a fissure in the relationship with ID.  You go to bed, with errant words repeating themselves in your mind, not sure whether everything is fine and you wake up as the sun starts to peek between the cracks of the shuttered windows knowing that it is over.  That’s just the way it is.  But “we will always have Fes…” and a Sheltering Cerulean Sky.

Today’s NGW wine is a little French number with a gimmicky name.  But no less of a gimmick than a Morocco setting in Hollywood.  If I’m wearing a hat, keep your bowler and give me the Bob Hope Classic Black Cap (see below).

Petit Chapeau Bordeaux 2009 ($10).  This has a rustic quality that smooths out with food.  Green notes with a touch of bell pepper and tobacco notes.  This wine is a blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20 % Cabernet Sauvignon.  The grapes are sourced from the Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux – from a single estate which uses organic practices.  Rated **

The little guy in the photo to the left doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted August 15, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

Pardon the Interruption: NGW: Reserve de la Saurine 2011   4 comments

NGW on a Saturday?  This past week was a rough one for our family.  Two surgeries on Tuesday for Ms. R and my Dad.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t be in two places at the same time.  Everyone is on the mend, but blogging and work did not seem so important.  Though I did carry my laptop with me and have been working on a few posts during time spent in hospital waiting rooms, they just seemed terribly unfinished to publish. 

So here we are on the side deck, an overcast Saturday morning, humidity rising, the cicadas of August scratching out their love songs and everyone is still asleep in the house, except for Jake the Wonder Dog and me.  He is all about the nonverbal communication.  He is unswervingly affectionate and he would love nothing more than to be a lap dog– all 30 pounds of him.  Though he wants to jump up on her, being a pretty smart boy, he has been especially gentle with Mr. R these past few days.  

About Jake.  Several years ago, Ms. R agreed to dog sit a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel for a weekend.  Our daughters loved that dog and had in fact had a short list of the kinds of dogs that they thought we should have.  The CKCS was at the top of the list even before the dog sitting weekend.  At some point we decided well maybe we are ready to have a dog for the girls’ sake.  Thus we found ourselves at the local animal shelter.  Being brought up in households where money was never plentiful, it cuts against our grain to spend thousands of dollars to purchase a pet.  At the shelter there were many wonderful dogs and we actually took a couple out for a walk, but they did not seem quite right for us.  We, therefore, decided to wait.  However, on our way out of the shelter, Ms. R decided to put her name on a waiting list– a handwritten waiting list of all things– for a CKCS.  Right.

Here is a critical difference between Ms. R and me.  She believes in Magic.  I am… how shall I say this… more skeptical.  I thought, “We will never hear from them.”  And that is the last I thought of that.

About six months later– I get a call from Ms. R at work.  The shelter called and they have a CKCS and a pure bred one at that, with documentation certifying his breed.  Would we like to take a look at him? 

Now I have owned several dogs in the past and I know that they require much attention and that they do limit your lifestyle– weekends away are harder to negotiate, etc.   And if they get sick, the costs can be significant.   So I was concerned with this development.  But a CKCS?  What is wrong with this animal that someone would drop him off at the dog pound?  My curiosity was piqued and I figured, why not take a look and we can get it out of our systems, like the last time and that would be that.  Truthfully, I did not want a dog as small as a 12 pound CKCS.

The animal shelter was just a few minutes drive from my office at the time.  We arrived and entered the low slung building next to the incineration plant in town.  It is not a handsome neighborhood, to be sure.    The dog’s name was Brownie, we were told.  He was about 10 months old and his previous owners claimed that their recently newborn baby was allergic to the dog.  Sounded like a strange story to me.  Sounded like they were overwhelmed with puppy and baby at the same time and couldn’t find a shelter to drop the baby off, so Brownie had to go.

The moment Brownie came out of the cages he bounded toward us, happy to see people he could play with.  This was not a small dog– he was about 3 time the size of the CKCS we had sat for.  It did not matter that he did not know who we were.  He literally flew into our arms.  As he did so, I found my self saying, “Hey Jake!  What a good boy! Come here, Jake!”  WTF just happened!?  Before I knew it we had signed adoption papers for an extra-large CKCS– nothing “Cavalier” about him– he’s just too large.  We read somewhere that Cavaliers are the small guys.  He’s just a KCS which suits us just fine.  Even better, the adoption fee was $50. 

I guess I now believe in magic too.  Jake has been a blessing on the house– really just another kid.  He spends his entire day thinking of ways to test us to see whet he can get away with.  Well, at least that is how is seems.  But he also knows to adapt himself to our moods.  And he has taught us his own language of barks and body langauge.  He’s quite amazing really.  

And as Ms. R continues her  recovery, he continues to provide support just by being there.  Just another member of the family.

A few nights ago, I opened this nice little rose.  I am playing nurse these days and after things had calmed down a bit, this really hit the spot.

Reserve de la Saurine du Gard Rose Vin de Pays d’Oc 2011 ($8). Scents of summer peaches and with satisfying acidity and a minerally quality on the finish of this Grenache rose.  A refreshing wine that is easy to come back to glass after glass.  Another terrific value from Languedoc-Roussillon.  Rated **1/2

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted August 11, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Domaine Houchart Cotes de Provence Rosé 2011   6 comments

It’s August and the heat is on. 

I not gonna mess around this week with some crazy story from a past life.  It’s too darn hot.   And when the weather is sizzlin’ hot, as the song goes, Mr Adam for his Madam may be not, but with a few sips of today’s wine, you’ll be all about Snap Backs and Tattoos before you know it!

snapbacks and tatoosSo do as we do.  Get to your local wine merchant– check out their rosés and bring a few home.)  And if you see today’s NGW, get two of them.)  Ring up some friends.  Start up the grill.  Stay up late.  And if you all end up howling the words to Hotel California together at one in the morning (that never happened),  call in sick.   You’ve earned it (and the work will still be there on Monday morning)!

Domaine Houchart Cotes de Provence Rosé 2011 ($12).  A pale salmon pink that is scented with summer fruit orchard and roses with a bit of earth stirred in, this has what you want out of a rosé– strawberries with a touch of mid-summer watermelon.  Balancing acidity and a hint of minerality on the finish.  Built with Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mouvedre; but made to quench your thirst with friends on hot August days.  Rated **1/2 

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted August 2, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Altos de la Hoya Finca Hoya de Santa Ana Olivares Jumilla 2010   6 comments

Arriving in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, a city known more in its official capacity as the seat of government, than as a tourist stop, ID and I had a couple of days there in transit to what we thought would be more interesting parts of the country.  

In search of a restaurant that we had read about, she and I set out from our hotel into the early Moroccan evening.  The sun had not yet set and we found ourselves hopelessly lost as the evening prayers were sung out by the muezzins across the city.  An elderly man in his late sixties approached us.  Wearing westernized clothing– a dress shirt and grey slacks– our defenses were down, we chatted with him.  He claimed to be a now-retired Diplomat.  We were in Rabat, so that seemed plausible.

We looked lost, he remarked.  We were.

As though we could use some assistance.  We could.

He did not know where this particular restaurant was.  Of course not.

But his son surely would.  Naturally. 

Would we follow him back to his flat where his son would help us?  Hmmm. 

Moroccans are always looking for ways to help foreigners.  Whether is was extending dinner invitations that never materialized or guiding us to a brother-in-law who sold Berber carpets.  They give the impression that they are a helpful lot.  It is not from lack of sincerity– rather it is in their nature to provide assistance and guidance.

In the mood for a little adventure and willing to be guided by that adventuresome sense, if not common sense, we assented.  He led us back to his neighborhood.  As he took us further away from the more public avenues of the city, ID and I glanced at each other.  Not sure if we should continue, but not turning heel, she slipped her hand into mine, our fingers entwined, she gave my hand a slight squeeze.  “What do you think?”, she seemed to be asking.  Taking a deep breath, I exhaled and shrugged.  We went with our instincts and continued to follow.

Into a cul-de-sac of apartment buildings he led us.  But his son was nowhere to be found.  Perhaps the boy was up in the flat– he suggested.  Darkened windows all around, no local residents milling about, we still had a chance to turn tail.  Yet our feet pushed forward toward his residence. 

On the left side of the dead end stood the apartment building.  The sun was fading from the sky and an uneasy dusk was settling in around us.  We entered the narrow lobby and were immediately engulfed in total darkness.  A sense of heightened suspicion began to emerge.  In for a penny, in for a pound, we continued on. 

Why do we trust this man we had met a mere ten minutes before?  ID looked at me and I gave the old I’m-not-sure-what-is-going-to-happen- to-us-raised-eyebrow.  Should we be starting to panic?

Up the darkened stairwell we followed. Climbing the first flight and then onto the second flight we continued– each step more difficult than the one before.  Yet our bodies were now determined to see this to the end, come what may, even if our minds were not exactly on board.  Our little procession of three moving deeper into the blacked out void.

At the top of the second landing, a dark wooden door appeared in sculptural relief against the onyx-colored background.  He approached and knocked.  What happened next surprised us. 

If I had to do this all over again today, there is no way I would ever let myself get into this situation.  What the hell were we thinking– entrusting some guy we had just met in a foreign country that we were just visiting for a few days.  Following him away from the more populated pedestrian byways.  I stopped believing his story.  We are in trouble, I am thinking.  What could be lurking behind that door?  As my eyes strained to adjust to the darkness, I could see there was an amber glow coming from the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor.

Faint footsteps becoming louder approached from the other side of the entry.  I could see the shadowy silhouettes of two feet standing on the other side of the door.  Adrenaline pumping into my brain, my heart rate higher than I would like.  The unnerving mechanical clacking of locks, dead-bolts and security chains being undone there in the ebony air where we could barely discern each others’ features.  I am now thinking that we may have to fight our way out of this situation.  The door swung open and yellow rays of incandescent light flooded the landing where we stood. 

The diplomat’s wife stood in the entryway, angelic she was, with a welcoming smile and radiant beams of golden light exploding around the edges of her body.  At least that is the way I remember her. 

We exhaled.

Bidding us in, we were invited to make ourselves comfortable in their Moroccan living room with yellow silk cushions on the furnishings.  She laid out a spread of sweet mint tea steaming in traditional Moroccan green tea glasses.  And  then she brought out some incredible traditional Moroccan sweets– the kind we had seen in the fanciest bakeries throughout the country.  One senses this was not the first time the Mr. Diplomat had pulled this stunt dragging in stray westerners. 

I can’t recall the conversation we had that day, but it was a kind of exchange of resumes.  What he had done, where he had been.  Who we were, what we do and where we were going.  All of this whilst sitting in the Diplomats’ living room on a beautiful golden-yellow sectional sofa done in traditional Moroccan style nibbling on sweet pastry.

Leaving the apartment that night he escorted us out.  His son back from wherever, then took on the task of getting us to our destination.

We never did find that restaurant that night—it had been shuttered and no longer existed.  I think we found another local place to have our dinner, or perhaps we went without dinner, having been fortified by mint tea and Moroccan sweets. 

The history of Morocco is intertwined with those of France and Spain.  Tonight’s varietal is known as Mouvedre in France where in the Rhone it is often blended with Grenache (Garnacha) and Syrah– the GSM blend.  However its origins are Spanish where it is known as Monastrell or Mataro.  Getting onto Spain, here is a well-priced Monastrell from Jumilla in southeastern Spain.

Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya 2010Altos de la Hoya Finca Hoya de Santa Ana Olivares Jumilla 2010 ($8).  Quite faint aromas and red raspberries in the mouth.  This Monastrell, is characteristic of others I have tasted from this region.  With an easygoing fruity acidity, you could do much worse.  It delivers good QPR at this price.  Rated **

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted July 26, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

Mano-a-Mano: Ribeira del Duero Face-off in the Park   10 comments

It does not matter if he’s gay or straight– every man wants to be Bond.  If he denies this fact, he is either lying or he is a complete idiot.  Putting aside the good looks, hi-tech toys, license-to-kill, babes, jujitsu, and uncanny runs of luck in the casino, the key to being Bond is that everything he does is effortless.    That effortlessness makes him easy to envy and emulate at the same time.  Also, having a great wardrobe, fast car, cash to burn and the right comeback for every situation does not hurt.   What guy wouldn’t want that?

But women are different from men, not that we’ve noticed.  And I’m pretty sure that while most women wouldn’t mind being with Bond for maybe a night or two, they wouldn’t want their men to behave like Bond.   Yep, I’m pretty sure that the endless parade of Bond Chicks won’t fly with the little lady waiting at home.    

But that’s what makes him Bond– there is no little lady keeping the home fires burning while he toils away at disrupting the evil plans of criminal masterminds.  As a result he gets a free pass from women when it comes to playing the field.    

Why is the ole noggin’ noodling on about Bond and gender dynamics?

Saturday night we gathered a bunch of friends for a picnic dinner at a park just around the corner from the house followed by an outdoor screening of the first Bond film, Dr. No.  Released in 1962, it was definitely a product of its time.   

While he avoids an office romance with Moneypenny (as usual), he manages to hook up with two other fairly gorgeous women before Honey Ryder shows up in the second half of the film.  Played by the curvaceous, Ursula Andress, he scores with Honey after the closing credits.  If only it were that easy…

Back at the picnic.  It being a Bond film, we needed some bubbly.  My local purveyor was fresh out of Dom Perignon ’55 ($1,200 per bottle), so we requisitioned 4 bottles of Riondo Prosecco ($10 per), instead.  Great on its own or as part of a refreshing Bellini.  (Yes, we packed a little peach puree in the picnic hampers.) 

Since it is a Bond film, you can always count on there being an abundance of scenes featuring cocktails and manner for serving them.      

One scene, in particular, highlighted Dr. No’s poor manners at the cocktail hour.   Offering Bond a Vodka Martini, he described in detail how it was made to Bond’s preferences– you know the drill: shaken not…, lemon peel, yada-yada.  The message clearly conveyed: the good doctor has done his homework in sizing up his opponent.  By contrast, Bond Girl du jour, Honey Ryder, is unceremoniously handed a nearly overflowing glass of red wine without any explanation as to what she was drinking.  While it does efficiently advance the storyline of the script, there are deficiencies in matters of etiquette that may be disturbing to some:

  1. Bond is served first.  In an age of sexual equality, this may not strike many as so bad.  But in 1962, it misses the mark.  But even today, it is always best to provide for the ladies first.
  2. The detailed introduction of Bond’s drink followed by the short shrift given to Honey’s drink rankled at least one of our female guests, who loudly proclaimed in most lady-like fashion: “Who gives a s**t what she’s drinking.”  It did seem like an odd oversight– what could be the harm in giving Honey a vodka martini as well? 
  3. Red wine as aperitif?  And it looked like a full-bodied red at that.  Bold move Herr Doctor, bold move.
  4. How can you drink a glass of wine filled to the brim?  Just try to swirl that sucker around to get a sniff and see what happens to that pretty dress you’re wearing.
  5. Where is Dr. No’s cocktail?  Never trust a man who serves you a drink without taking one himself.  At best you’re in for a dull time; at worst, you might get smacked around a bit at the end of the meal. 

At the end of the dinner, Dr. No serves a Dom Perignon ’55.  When Bond tries to escape, he grabs the bottle with intention of using it to club Dr. No’s guard.  “That’s a Dom Perignon ’55 – it would be a pity to break it,” says Dr. No quietly. “I prefer the ’53 myself,” replies Bond as he takes his seat.   (Note to self: armed guards looking over your shoulder as you are finishing dessert never bodes well.)

Now if I had given Honey a glass of red, she would have had something to remember.  With the grilled steak sandwiches we served, we poured two wines from the 2008 Ribeira del Duero vintage.  Although not an excellent vintage, it is nonetheless given a very good rating by Espavino.  These two comparably priced Spanish contestants come out of the gates with very different styles.  A little bit like 007 and Dr. No. 

Of course, there can only be one winner.  

Vinedos Alonso del Yerro Ribera del Duero 2008 ($19).   Tempranillo.  Check.  Earthy aromas leading to chocolate notes.  Check.  Dark yet understated fruit.  Check.  Finishing with firm tannins.  Check.  This has an emergent elegance that suggests it will get better with more time in the bottle.  Rated **1/2

Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 2008 ($18).  According to the website, this tempranillo is sourced from vineyards that are 15 to 25 years old and carrying the name of the winery, it represents the “heart of the winery”.  A bit more international in style, this guy was a bit more fruit forward.  But the pleasantness of the fruit was marred by an evident use of oak, most likely American oak (as I confirmed later).  And while I would drink this any day, that oakiness is a chink in the armor in a head to head tasting against the Alonso del Yerro.  And so it must take second place, even if I give it the same rating.  Rated **1/2

Back to Honey Ryder:  a girl who just happens to show up on a secluded, radioactive beach in a bikini, with a big knife and some fantastic looking seashells.  The men in our party were in agreement on the qualities that made her a sex symbol in 1962.  Those criteria still apply today.

On reconsideration, maybe Dr. No had it right– hand her a big ole goblet of red wine, coolly avert your eyes from her revealing swimwear, keep your mouth shut unless you have something truly clever to say and see what happens to you.  Just make sure you know where she has stowed the knife.

It’s effortless, you see?

Posted July 24, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Mano-a-Mano, Wine Etiquette