Time for Bubbles!

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I love drinking sparkling wine all year round for any old reason, or no reason at all. But on New Year’s Eve, when the clock strikes midnight, it’s nearly obligatory to raise a glass of something sparkly. The question is, what to pour? These days there are so many options it’s possible to find a good bottle at any price point. While the grand marques of Champagne still dominate the wine store shelves, in recent years they’ve been joined by cava, prosecco, crémant, sekt, pét-nat, Franciacorta, Moscato d’Asti, and the ever-increasing number of grower Champagnes. The Alcohol Professor website has all my recommendations to get the New Year off to a delicious start.

Here’s to a happy 2016!



Sweet Wines for Summer

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Follow this link to and check out my article on great dessert wines for summer.



The Sweet Taste of Spring

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Trick your taste buds into thinking it’s warm outside with these three spring desserts and wine pairings

Forget the forecast for snow and bone-chilling temps this week, the calendar says it’s spring. So while we may be still wrapped up in wool sweaters, there is no reason not to, at least culinarily, embrace the new season while we wait for Mother Nature to catch up. (All recipes are at the end).

Moscato d’Asti with Lemon Friands

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With its blend of orange blossom and peach, this bright, refreshing, medium-sweet sparkler from Oddero is like spring itself in a glass. In recent years, Moscato d’Asti has enjoyed a surge in popularity thanks to certain rap artists who took a liking to it. While celebrity-endorsed wines would normally be something I’d steer clear of, Moscato d’Asti from a good producer, served with the right food in the right setting, can be an absolute pleasure. These are crowd-pleasing, uplifting wines perfect for brunch, with appetizers, or a light dessert like these lemon friands.

As its name implies, this semi-sparkling wine hails from the Asti region in northwestern Italy, home to its more famous cousin Asti Spumante. Both are made from the Muscat Bianco grape and fermented in a stainless steel tank under pressure. But whereas spumante is made into a full sparkling wine with alcohol levels of around 7.5%, Moscato is a slightly less bubbly frizzante with a maximum alcohol level of 5.5%. Oddero is a well-known Piedmont producer of traditional, long-lived Barolos, but a small portion of their vineyard is dedicated to Moscat bianco, from which they make small batches of their Moscato d’Asti. 2012 Oddero Moscato d’Asti, (750 mL), $21.99.

Ruster Ausbruch with Frozen Orange Muscat Mousse and Mangos

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Few areas in the world have the right conditions for the growth of Botrytis cinerea, the magically transformative fungus responsible for making luscious dessert wines, such as Sauternes. One of these regions is along the west coast of the Austrian lake Neusiedl near the town of Rust not far from the Hungarian border. Here the shallow waters moisten the western winds off the Pannonian plain, which almost guarantees a yearly harvest of these nobly rotten grapes. Ausbruch means to “break out” and is thought to refer to the fact that only botrytized grapes are picked (i.e. ones that have broken out from the bunch), but etymologically, it is related to the Hungarian word Azsú, which means dried, and is a term used for the Hungary’s sweet, botrytised Tokaji wines. In fact Rust used to belong to Hungary, and it is likely that Tokaji and Ausbruch wines came about around the same time, in the early 1600s.

Traditionally, these wines were made from Fermint grape, but today many of the wines are blends of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Welschriesling and Traminer.  The grapes are picked individually, which sometimes requires a half a dozen passes through the vineyard. The grapes are then gently pressed and fermented with native yeasts in either stainless steel or oak vat. This can take up to four months. The wine is then aged either in large oak vats (classic) or in small french oak barrels. With such concentrated, complex flavors and a vibrant acidity, these stand among the world’s best and most long-lived wines. You’re unlikely to find any dating from earlier than 1945, however, as the Russians occupied Rust during WWII and drank every last bottle. Feiler-Artinger is one of the region’s top producers. This Pinot Cuvée is made from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Neuburger and Chardonnay. It was aged in small oak barriques for 18 months and tastes of apricot, honey, and orange zest with slight woody notes. At 16 years old, this wine is still in its youth and would easily keep for your great grandchildren to enjoy. But it’s drinking so well right now that I doubt it would last long in anyone’s cellar. 1998 Feiler-Artinger Ruster Ausbruch Pinot Cuvée, 375 mL, $31.99.

Sparkling Demi-Sec Rosé with Panna Cotta and Balsamic Strawberries

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From the appellation of Bugey in far eastern France comes this unusual sparkling rosé from Lingot-Martin. Gamay and Poulsard grapes are used for these wines, which reflect the area’s proximity to Burgundy to the west and the Jura to the north. The Cerdon vineyard, one of only three named vineyards, consists of two south-facing slopes surrounding the village of Cerdon. A particular feature of this area’s sparkling wines is that they are made using the méthode ancestrale. This process differs slightly from the méthode traditionnelle, which is used to make Champagne, in that following primary fermentation in stainless steel tanks, a second dose of yeast and sugar is not added before bottling. Instead, fermentation is halted before all the sugars have been converted to alcohol, and the wine is then bottled with the remaining yeast. Secondary fermentation still occurs in the bottle, but the resulting sparkling wine is medium sweet. This particular wine was made for this dessert. It’s an ideal match in weight, sweetness (the wine is only just slightly sweeter), and flavors, with the acidity and bubbles providing a perfect foil for the panna cotta’s creaminess. NV Lingot-Martin Cerdon Pinot Cuvée, 750 mL, $18.99.


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Lemon Friands
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
1 C + 2 TBSP confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/3 C all-purpose flour
1 C ground almonds
5 egg whites
1 TBSP finely grated lemon or orange zest

Heat oven to 400° F. Melt butter and allow to cool. Brush muffin pan with melted butter. Sift flour and confectioner’s sugar together. Stir in ground almonds. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites gently until light and frothy. Fold them into dry ingredients. Pour in remaining butter and lemon zest and stir well. Put greased muffin pan on cookie sheet and fill 3/4 full with mixture. Put sheet and muffin pan in center of oven for 10 minutes. Remove and turn out friands onto cookie sheet. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes more. Should be golden on top and firm to the touch in the center. Remove sheet from oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Invert each one onto wire rack. When cool, dust with confectioner’s sugar. Store in airtight container.

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Frozen Orange Muscat Mousse and Mangos (Adapted from the recipe: Almond Cookie Cups with Sauternes-Poached Apples and Frozen Sauternes Mousse (which is also delicious) on Epicurious)
For mousse
3/4 cup sweet dessert wine (such as Sauternes or orange Muscat)
1/2 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 cup chilled whipping cream

For Almond cups
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) finely chopped toasted almonds

Make mousse:
Whisk wine, sugar and yolks in medium-size stainless steel bowl until well blended. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom to touch water) and whisk until thermometer registers 170°F and mixture is thick enough to fall in heavy ribbon when whisk is lifted, about 5 minutes. Remove from over water; whisk until mixture is cool, about 3 minutes. In another medium bowl, whisk cream until medium-firm peaks form. Fold cream into wine mixture in 2 additions. Cover mousse; freeze until firm, at least 4 hours. (Can be made 4 days ahead; keep frozen.)

Make almond cups:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set 2 small custard cups or ramekins on work surface, bottom side up. Stir first 4 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Mix in almonds. Separately drop 2 level tablespoonfuls batter onto prepared baking sheet, spacing 6 inches apart. Using moistened fingertips, press each to 2-inch round. Bake cookies until deep golden (cookies will spread to about 5-inch diameter), about 7 minutes. Let cool on sheet until set enough to lift without tearing, about 1 minute. Using metal spatula, lift hot cookies 1 at a time and drape over cups, gently pressing to cup shape; cool. Remove from cups. Refrigerate baking sheet 2 minutes to chill quickly. Repeat with remaining batter, making 2 cookies at a time. (Cookies can be made 4 days ahead. Carefully enclose in resealable plastic bags and freeze.) Place 1 almond cookie cup on each of 6 plates. Fill each with scoop of mousse. Top with freshly cut mangos.

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Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries (from Ina Garten)
1/2 packet (1 teaspoon) unflavored gelatin powder
1 1/2 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
2 pints (4 cups) sliced fresh strawberries
2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated lemon zest, for serving
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin on 1 1/2 tablespoons of cold water. Stir and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the gelatin to dissolve. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup of the cream, the yogurt, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds. Heat the remaining 3/4 cup of cream and the 1/3 cup of sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Off the heat, add the softened gelatin to the hot cream and stir to dissolve. Pour the hot cream-gelatin mixture into the cold cream-yogurt mixture and stir to combine. Pour into 4 (6 to 8-ounce) ramekins or custard cups and refrigerate uncovered until cold. When the panna cottas are thoroughly chilled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, and pepper 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving. Set aside at room temperature.

To serve, run a small knife around each dessert in the ramekin and dip the bottom of each ramekin quickly in a bowl of hot tap water. Invert each ramekin onto a dessert plate and surround the panna cotta with strawberries. Dust lightly with freshly grated lemon zest and serve.