Booch in yer Bouche: Taste-testing Kombucha

I won’t forget the day when my neighbor carefully peeled off a layer of rubbery slime from her fleshy live culture, handed it to me in a jar with a splash of cool tea, and encouraged me to home-brew this stuff called kombucha (thanks).  She claimed it was a miracle drink, yet after weeks of entertaining this fermented tea “experiment,” I decided, nah. All this trouble for something that just isn’t creating miracles. Nor, did it taste any good. I prefer my tea with cream and sugar, not microbials, thank you.

Now, ten years later, with grocery stores featuring fermented products, such as kefir and kimchi, kombucha, a sweet-tart effervescent tea brewed with a culture of yeast and bacteria, is fast-becoming a drink that is moving from the natural food isle to the mainstream. I decided to give it another try, but this time, I’d purchase already-made kombucha.

I coaxed my husband, Craig, to partake in a kombucha tasting. Surely, he can remember our kombucha trials back in the day. He was patient and open-minded, almost methodical.  He would handle the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) with extra clean hands and prepare just the right amount of tea, before securing the cheese cloth over the 8-quart, food-grade bucket.  After fermentation, he’d carefully peel off the  “friendship” layer that had grown over the week, and try to pawn it off to friends, just like our neighbor did to us. He stills gets the shakes to think that we’d actually offer what he calls “SCOBY’s placenta” as a gift of health.

I also grabbed our friend Kirk Peterson, who is like the ultimate tasteBUD.  If he were one of the X-Men, he would be “Olfacto,” with his hyper-sensitive olfactories effortlessly tearing apart and exposing subtle smells and flavors in their futile attempt to hide in food and wine.  For sure he’d enlighten us.

So, we knew that kombucha had been passed around the globe from culture to culture (pun intended) as an elixir, claiming to provide a string of healthy perks, from aiding digestion, to promoting vitality.  None of them are at present scientifically verifiable, however. We wondered why kombucha was becoming so popular. Perhaps it was all in the taste.


First up was Health-ade’s  Original. (Calories: 30-40/ bottle Sugar: 2-3 g/bottle Alc: < .5%)

Contained in an old-time pharmaceutical bottle, the kombucha tasted like a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar.  It also smelled slightly of bruised apples, was lightly carbonated, and wasn’t too different from the home brew we used to make.  We also tried the pomegranate-flavored version, which tasted similar to the original, but with a sour cranberry-esque aspect.


GT’s, Classic-Original(Cals: 60/bottle; Sugar: 4 g/bottle) which requires an ID at checkout for its elevated alcohol (higher than .5%) , was darker in comparison to Health-ade. It was more aromatic, with a powerful odor of fresh fermentation, higher fizz and acid, and overall more flavorful.

GTs classic originalAlways hoping for the flavored version to be better,  we also tried GT’s Strawberry Serenity, which is made of raw, organic kombucha and strawberry puree.  Personally, this drink didn’t take me to any California strawberry farm.  Kirk described it best, “The bruised strawberry character to the framework of the Original honestly seemed out of place, like the last sad basket of strawberries at the market no one will buy.” Ouch!



Moving on,  we then tried Kevita (Cals. 35/bottle; Sugar 8 g/bottle; Alc. < .5%).  This brand does not offer an original flavor, so we tasted two flavored ones, the first of which was Lavender Melon. It definitely smelled like a lavender sachet and it was somewhat sweet on the palate, thanks to the addition of stevia, but, “it was rather artificial tasting for an “all natural” type of product and it tasted eerily like Grape Zotz – those fizzy candies you used to eat as a kid and forgot about until just now.”

Kevita LavenderMelon

Finally, we tried Kevita’s Pineapple Peach.  Tasting quite sweet, we also found that the flavors were very much at home against the backdrop of kombucha. In terms of being the most accessibly-flavored, this was clearly the winner of our tasting. Nothing like saving the best for last.KeVita-Master-Brew-Kombucha-Pineapple-Peach

So, do we like our tea with cream and sugar, or perhaps with a dose of live bacteria?  Let’s be honest.  We like fermented things, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, miso – all good – but all fermented things considered, we prefer fermented grape juice.

Las Vegas Epicurean Affair – A Delicious Soiree

The Las Vegas Epicurean Affair is without a doubt one of the premier events to attend in Las Vegas to satisfy your inner gourmand.  It takes place one night a year in the most gorgeous setting – the Palazzo pool deck – and guests are treated to the most delicious soiree featuring nearly the city’s most renowned chefs, along with 80 restaurants, nightclubs and beverage purveyors.

Photo: Erik Kabik
Photo: Erik Kabik

This year, on May 26, more than 2,300 guests mingled under the stars on the most perfect night and enjoyed tastings of dishes and specialty cocktails from the illustrious restaurants of The Venetian and The Palazzo, including AquaKnox, B&B Ristorante, B&B Burger & Beer, Carlo’s Bakery, Carnevino Italian Steakhouse, db Brasserie, Delmonico Steakhouse, Hong Kong Café, Lagasse’s Stadium, Lavo Italian Restaurant, Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro, OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria, Public House, SUSHISAMBA, Table 10, and Tao Asian Bistro; as well as other local celebrated restaurants both on and off the Strip, including The Capital Grille, Carmine’s, Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant, Hash House a Go Go, Il Mulino, Katsuya, Origin India, Shake Shack, Texas de Brazil and Triple George.

Photo: Erik Kabik
Photo: Erik Kabik
Photo: Erik Kabik
Photo: Erik Kabik

In addition to culinary delights, live band The Lift with special guest star Corinne Zarzour entertained the crowd while synchronized mermaids the Water Beauties put on a show in the main pool.

Photo: Erik Kabik

Proceeds from the evening will fund NvRA’s educational and scholarship programs, including ProStart®, a national high school culinary skill and restaurant management program.

With so many amazing restaurants in Las Vegas, this event will give you a taste of the best the city has the offer.  Then, go back and make a few reservations at your favorite picks!

Top Italian Wine Lists in Las Vegas

Sipping through Italy is as simple as selecting from the top Italian wine lists in Las Vegas: B&B Ristorante, Carbone, Costa di Mare, Ferraro’s and Carnevino Italian Steakhouse. Ambitious in their endeavors, each one offers wide-ranging diversity, plunging deeply into Italy’s favorite food: wine.  These lists are the products of imagination, energy, resources, dedication and passion for Italian wine. Below is a SMALL snapshot of wines cultivated for you, along with virtual tastings that are best enjoyed with a glass and fork.

  1. B&B Ristorante
    B&B Ristorante Las Vegas Love and Relish Blog

Marchesi di Gresy “Gaiun-Martenenga” Barbaresco, 1996
Giacomo Conterno “Monfortino Riserva” Barolo, 1958
Ca’ del Bosco “Cuvée Prestige” NV, Franciacorta
Poggio di Sotto, Brunello 2004

Tip: An all Italian and Champagne list with the most comprehensive offerings of Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, and Super Tuscans in the city, as well as selections from every major wine producing region in Italy.

Pairing: Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco “Vorberg Riserva” 2012

“Nestled in the northeastern corner of Italy in Alto Adige, storybook vistas and vineyards are framed by the Dolomite mountain range. Pinot Bianco reaches its pinnacle of expression here. Smooth and silky in texture, it seduces you with peach, citrus, and white flower aromas that give way to delicate musk, mineral, and cedar flavors. Tremendously age-worthy and astonishingly versatile, it can be enjoyed by itself, or with B&B’s warm lamb’s tongue with chantrelle mushrooms and a three-minute egg.”

Kirk Peterson
– Kirk Peterson, Beverage Director, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, Las Vegas.


  1. CarboneKen Fulk - Carbone - Red Room credit-Douglas Friedman SM

Capezzana, Ghiaie Della Furba, Toscana, 1988
La Scolca, D’Antan, Gavi,  2004, Gavi 2004
Cantina Fratelli Pardi, Sacrantino di Montefalco, 2009
Donnafugata, Ben Rye, Passito di Pantelleria 2013

Tip: The wine list boasts rare old vintages of great wines ranging from Super Tuscans going as far as the 1930s, to Recioto’s from Veneto going back to the 1960s. The list also offers small, esoteric biodynamic producers from not so well known Italian regions.

Pairing: Lunae Bosoni, Etichetta Nera, Vermentino, Colli di Luni DOC 2014
What a great expression of Vermentino. Grown in this unique region stuck between Liguria and Tuscany, right on the Ligurian Sea, which reflects in the glass with bright and pleasant notes of fresh morning sea breeze, brings great complexity to otherwise powerful aromas of just ripe green apple, quince skin and acacia, still fresh and vibrant with no oak influence. Have it with Carbone’s Caesar Salad, and don’t forget the marinated anchovies.”

– Hristian Iliev, Lead Sommelier, Carbone.


  1. Costa di MareCosta Di Mare Wynn

Castello CONTI Boca, Piemonte, 1989
Punta Crena ‘Ca da Rena’ Pigato, Liguria, 2014
Antinori ‘Solaia’ Toscana, 1985
Benanti ‘Serra della Contessa’, Sicilia, 2011

Tip: In addition to its unique and diverse wine list, Costa di Mare features one of the most memorable Italian after-dinner Italian drink selections in town.

Pairing: Vodopivec Vitovska 2010

“Vitovska is a white grape from the Carso appellation of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. The wine has a light, amber color with an orange tint, aromas of peach, pear and slightly oxidized apple with smoke, in the mouth it is dense, with weight, yet not heavy, honeyed yet dry and full of mineral flavors. Vitovska makes a very fascinating food wine that will make you wonder why you never heard about before! Pairs very well with our grilled Langoustines- Scampi vivi imperiali alla griglia, finished with some extra virgin olive oil!”

– Miklos Katona, Wine Director, Costa di Mare.

  1. Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar
    Ferraros Las Vegas Love and Relish Marisa Finetti

Giacomo Conterno, Monfortino Riserva, Barolo, 2008
Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Brunello, 2007
Passopiciaro, Guardiola, Nerello Mascalese, Sicilia, 2012
Tenuta San Leonardo, San Leonardo, Trentino, 2007

Tip: Ferraro’s offers an excess of 200 different Barolo and Barbaresco – many of them as verticals of the best producers of Piemonte, including Giacomo Conterno, with eight vintages from Cascina Francia and Monfortino.

Pairing : Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia, Barolo, 2008

“The star vintage in the last decade is the 2008, which has integrated tannins, leather, cigar box, sour cherries, beautiful balance and a long finish. Should wait a few more years before drinking, and will go well with coniglio brasato (braised rabbit).”

Gino Ferraro Las Vegas Love and Relish blog
– Gino Ferraro, Owner Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar.

  1. Carnevino24400815255_db3524d15b_z

Produttori del Barbaresco “Ovello” 2008
Vietti “Villero Riserva” Barolo, 2004
Bellavista “Gran Cuvée”, Franciacorta, 2008
Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 1974

TIP:  With its vast number of options from Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, and the rest of Italy as well as selections from other parts of the world, Carnevino is also home to one of the most extensive collection of Amari. In addition, the cocktail program offers a dedicated Farmer’s Market cocktail, which showcases the freshest ingredients of the season.

Green Goddess Chimichurri Sauce Recipe

In Argentina, grilled meats hardly go without chimichurri “green goddess” sauce.  I love the versatility of this sauce because besides also being a fantastic marinade, it tastes great on a crunchy green or tomato salad, and is also delicious on grilled flatbread, even over eggs in the morning 🙂

The tart acid and slight heat in the sauce brighten up the grilled meat and just keeps you coming back for more. This recipe should be enough for dinner for 4 people or 3 lbs. of flat iron or skirt steak.

2 cups Italian parsley
6 cloves garlic
1 tsp lemon
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup or more olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh oregano
1/4 cup fresh spearmint or mint (optional)
1 tsp crushed red pepper (or more)

Combine all ingredients in a blender to make a paste.  I like my sauce a little thiner than Italian pesto sauce.

Marinate 2-3 lbs. skirt steak or flat iron steak over night. Reserve the other half for serving.  Remove the steak approximately 30 minutes before grilling.  Grill to medium rare. Watch the meat just disappear!  Enjoy!


Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen showcases Sonoma County wines

Could I have chosen a favorite wine that night?

“No favorites…” I was reminded by Dry Creek Kitchen’s wine director Rolando Maldonado.  As if each bottle of wine was a child of his own, not one would be singled out.  Of course, he’s right.  Every bottle and varietal is so perfectly suited to certain foods and/or occasions. But, the selection of Sonoma County wines he showcased paired so harmoniously with every dish, I tended to exclaim, “I love this!  They go so well together, perhaps my favorite!”

Wine Director, Rolando Maldonado

I hadn’t been to Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, CA in 10 years.  But, last week I had the opportunity to dine there again with two close friends during a work trip.  I loved it then, and I love it even more now. We met Rolando, who maintains Dry Creek Kitchen’s focus on all-Sonoma County wine selections. Rolando honors the traditions and people of Sonoma County by offering bottlings of passionate producers, burgeoning varietals, and well-loved classics. In collaboration with Dry Creek Kitchen’s chef, Rolando creates pairings that highlight the flavors and ingredients of Sonoma County to deliver truly memorable dining experiences.  Below are visual highlights from the evening. Delicious food.  Delicious wine.

Dry_Creek_Kitchen menu

The setting: A cold, rainy February night in the charming town of Healdsburg.  After tromping through soft, rain-soaked vineyard soils while witnessing unusually early bud break in neighboring Geyserville, I was ready to drink some wine.

Cut to: Interior of Charlie Palmer Dry Creek Kitchen, with a staff committed to gracious conviviality, the atmosphere is welcoming, natural, and elegantly California wine country.

Dunstan Rose_Dry_Creek_Kitchen_Healdsburg
Dunstan’s rosé of pinot noir 2013. 99 cases produced. Lucky to have tasted this gem!
Surprise appetizer with foie gras
Front Porch rosé of grenache/syrah from Russian River valley
Front Porch rosé of grenache/syrah from Russian River valley
Quivera Dry Creek Valley Grenache 2012
A product of Hank and Maggie, Skewis pinot noir 2013
Risotto with parmesan trio
Syrah-braised Sonoma lamb shank with Brussels sprouts, turnips, celeriac espuma, lobster mushrooms, and rosemary lamb jus
Special that day – beet-infused tagliatelle
Martinelli's Muscat of Alexandria coats the mouth with rich honeysuckle, mango, lychee, passion fruit, vanilla and sweet spices. Delish.
Martinelli’s Muscat of Alexandria coats the mouth with rich honeysuckle, mango, lychee, passion fruit, vanilla and sweet spices. Delish.
Portalupi dessert wine to finish the evening.
The one I was calling my "favorite." 2014 UNTI Cuvee Blanc - 50% vermentino, 40% granache blanc, and 10% Picpoul. Only 490 cases produced. I'd love to taste it again. A trip back to Healdsburg, I guess.
The one I was calling my “favorite.” 2014 UNTI Cuvee Blanc – 50% vermentino, 40% granache blanc, and 10% Picpoul. Only 490 cases produced. I’d love to taste it again. A trip back to Healdsburg, I guess.

Studying wine by smelling, tasting, and doodling

Let’s face it.  I’m no Joan Miro. Which is why I’m always so impressed by the creative and artistic abilities of others.  But lately, I’ve been making the attempt – to sketch while I sip.

Here I was, taking notes of the many different wines along the way, when I suddenly started to notice that words on paper alone weren’t actually helping me remember what it was that I had tasted.

Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux 1985, from dad’s cellar, enjoyed on what would have been his 80th birthday (1.4.16)

I can usually recall the occasion and the company with which the wine was shared (“A toast to new friends!”)  I also typically remember the food that accompanied it. (“Remember that incredible pot roast we made…?”) But after a while, some of the basic information just starts to fade (“What was the name of the producer again?”)

A delicious gift given to me by my client, T. Lawyer.

So, one day I started sketching the label alongside my notes. Oh,  I don’t spend too much time on it (as you can see).  But, it seems to be just enough time to take notice of a few key visual characteristics.  This helps me remember.  My olfactory and gustatory senses are working all the while, of course 🙂

Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige is one of my favorite sparkling wines. Shared on Christmas 2015.

You see, unlike a sommelier or a wine merchant who handles bottles upon bottles day after day,  I only get to see and/or taste a wine sometimes only once.  And, I’ll also add that the wine app that allows you to snap a photo of the label wasn’t helping me too much, either.

Christmas gift from friend K. Peterson. Had this wonderful producer just a week earlier (Albe). Both yummy.

So, if you see me take out my little red notebook, don’t judge. I’m studying wine by smelling, tasting, doodling … and now remembering!  It’s old school, but it works.

Opened during a bocce ball tournament with brother- and sister-in-law Chris and Jen. We had Italian wine, too!

A preview of Premiere Napa Valley 2016

For two decades, Napa Valley’s top winemakers have auctioned futures of innovative, one-of-a-kind wines for the unique portfolio of wines known as Premiere Napa Valley. This day-long extravaganza of barrel tastings, lunch, and bidding takes place on Saturday, February 20, 2016, with a full week of parties and educational tastings leading up to Premiere.  What a week it will be!PNV-3866

Proceeds from the event support Napa Valley Vintners nonprofit trade association in their efforts to promote, protect, and enhance the Napa Valley appellation. In 2015, an arousing display of uniformly passionate bidding on a range of unique wines resulted in a new record $6 million fundraising total for the Napa Valley Vintners. Premiere Napa Valley las_vegas tasting
As a preview to the 2016 event, Napa Valley Vintners brought six winemakers to Las Vegas in November to offer Premiere Napa Valley barrel samples and a panel discussion led by Master Sommelier Lindsey Geddes.  Held within the grand arches of Charlie Palmer Steak Las Vegas‘ dining room, along with trade professionals and buyers, I had the opportunity to taste the current releases and barrel samples, as well as hear from the following vintners/winemakers (you can search all the 2016 lots here).

Jimmy Kawalek, Ancien Winery
Ancien Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Ancien Winery, 2013 Los Carneros Pinot Noir

Michael Honig, Owner, Honig Vineyard & Winery
Honig Vineyard & Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Honig Vineyard & Winery, 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

Steve Reynolds, Winemaker, Italics Winery and Reynolds Family Winery
Italics Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Italics Winery, 2012 Coombsvile Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Reynolds Family Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Reynolds Family Winery, 2010 Stags leap District Cabernet Sauvignon

Premiere Napa Valley panel_barrel_tasting_las_vegas

Premiere Napa Valley wines 2016 barrel tasting_las_vegas
Matt Wood, Newton Vineyard and Domaine Chandon
Newton Vineyard, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Newton Vineyard, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon


Premiere Napa Valley_newtonMichael Scholz, Winemaker, St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery
St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, 2012 Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

The Culinary Institute of America is home to the 2016 Barrel Tasting and Auction.
The Culinary Institute of America is home to the 2016 Barrel Tasting and Auction.

The experience in Las Vegas was just a small sample of what Premiere Napa Valley will bring in February in Napa, but an exciting representation of the quality and diversity of the Napa Valley AVA. At Premiere, the wines will be previewed and then live-auctioned before an invite-only audience of licensed wine buyers. These wines are truly unique from year-to-year and may be a varietal blend, or a single vineyard expression, a delicious and artistic collection of sub-appellations, or a remarkable vintage.

The bidding has begun at Premiere Napa Valley 2015 auction.

This year marks the 20th anniversary.   And, for those around the world that cannot join, an online auction will be unveiled, offering 25 lots featuring unexpected varieties and early release date wines in 60, 120 and 240 bottle lots.

Premiere Napa Valley auction tools of the trade.
Premiere Napa Valley auction tools of the trade.

I consider myself fortunate to experience this on February 20, 2016, and I can’t wait to share more when that time comes!

Select photos: Bob McClenahan for Napa Valley Vintners

Warm Up With Gingered Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash soup is just one of those things we associate with fall and winter.  It’s hearty and delicate at the same time, savory,  and absolutely delicious.  It’s no wonder it becomes a favorite in our kitchen. While I’ve tried many versions, this is the recipe I stick to.  I adopted it from a chef at Lake Sonoma Winery in Dry Creek Valley about 15 years ago.  They were serving it with Russian River chardonnay on a chilly January day.

butternut_squash_Soup_recipe_loveandrelishblogpeel butternut squash - love and relish blogWhat makes this soup so awesome is its two secret ingredients – ginger and coconut milk.  Both Asian-inspired additions transform the traditional, mellow butternut squash soup into this aromatic and flavorful winter warm up that’s simply hard to resist.   The ginger adds the spice element and the coconut milk makes it silky and distinctly creamy, without it being too heavy. Serves 4-6

1 large butternut squash (peeled and cut into large pieces)
2 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1 small onion (cut into quarters
1 small carrot (cut into large pieces
1 celery rib (cut into large piece)
2″ knob of ginger (peeled)
3 cans chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
salt for later adjustments
Garnish ideas:  fresh chives, fried sage leaves, sour cream




How to:
Sauté butternut squash, onion, carrots, ginger, and celery in oil and butter over medium heat until onions become golden brown.  It’s OK if the butternut squash gets a light touch of browning.  It just adds to the savory element of this soup.  Add the chicken broth and simmer until all ingredients are soft – approximately 35-40 minutes.  Cool slightly, then puree in blender.  Return puréed soup into original pot and keep at low heat.  Add coconut milk and stir until blended evenly.  It’s important to keep the heat low-medium.  You don’t want to boil this soup, or milk solids with appear.  Once thoroughly heated, taste and make adjustments by adding salt, if necessary.  Garnish and serve immediately.  I prefer fried sage leaves.

If you love it, make sure to come back and comment here!


Unearthing amphora wines in Las Vegas

In Georgia, old kvevri are stacked next to the monastery where the wine is made.

Archeologists have traced the origins of wine-making back to 8,000 years ago to the country of Georgia.  Wine was produced – and continues to be produced today – using clay vessels called kvevri. Essentially, fermentation of red and white wine in clay involves prolonged contact with the skins.  In wine circles, the term “amphora” is commonly used to describe this style of wine.

It goes something like this: perfectly mature grape bunches are placed into kvevri that are sunken into the ground, a stone lid secures the top, then it’s opened the next spring or summer to skim the finished wine from the grape bunches that have accumulated at the bottom.

Georgia has been producing natural wines like this, without the use of chemicals, foreign yeasts, or filtration long before it became a stylistic trend. In the last decade, however, winemakers in other parts of the world, especially Italy and Slovenia, have embraced this ancient way to making wine, and they deserve some attention.

Jars in the wine cellar at Azienda Agricola Cos,Acate
Jars in the wine cellar at Azienda Agricola Cos, Sicily, Italy.
gravner svinamento ms50-70 lev_MG_4378
Josh Gravner, of Friuli, Italy, opens a Ribolla 2014 amphorae at the end of the whole skin contact period.
gravner svinamento ms100-70_MG_4302
Graver’s Ribolla 2014 direct from the amphorae.

While amphora wines can be made with red or white grapes, the wines made with white grapes end up with an attractive orange hue.  Typically, these wines have more body and structure than a normal white wine, and may even have noticeable tannins, due to the time spent with the skins.  When in Las Vegas, try them at the following places listed below.  The sommeliers  have provided the dish they’d pair with each one:

Josko Gravner Ribolla Anfora,  Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy  2003
Taste at:  Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, Manadrin Oriental
Pair with: Roasted Tomato “Provencal”Ratatouille of  Vegetables, Diced Baby Squid, Saffron Fish Soup

Sommelier’s Notes: “This is a super complex dish with the earthful flavors from the ratatouille, the “sweetness” of the squid, the saffron brings the lightly aromatic flowery thing. All of these you would find in something like Gravner’s wines. Just a whole lot going on.” – Will Costello, Master Sommelier/Wine Director,  Twist by Pierre Gagnaire @ Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas

COS Pithos Bianco, Vittoria, Sicily, Italy 2012
Taste at: B&B Ristorante, The Venetian
Pair with: Grilled Octopus with Fagioli Marianati and Spicy Limoncello

Sommelier’s Notes: “The COS Pithos Bianco has the delicacy to compliment seafood while offering the power to stand up to the flavorful char on the octopus, as well as the spice of the limoncello vinaigrette.” – Kirk Peterson, Beverage Director, B&B Hospitality Group, Las Vegas

Josko Gravner, Ribolla Anfora, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy 2005
Taste at
: Bazaar Meat, SLS
Pair with: Whole Turbot, Josper-Roasted with Olive Oil and Salt from La Coruna, Spain
Sommelier’s Notes: “The Turbot is a large flat fish found primarily in shallow waters close to shore, it has bright white flesh, a delicate flavor and can have a slightly oily texture.  The texture of the fish provides contrast while the simplicity of preparation of the Turbot compliments the flavors of the seafood and wine pairing.”  – Chloe Helfand, Lead Sommelier, SLS Las Vegas

A few more producers:

Luigi Tecce, Campania, Italy
Frank Cornelissen, Etna, Sicily
Adega José de Sousa, Alentejo, Portugal

An evening with Champagne Taittinger

Rose.Rabbit. Lie., a modern supper club inside The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, was given three distinct names that would convey a unique meaning to each person who entered. Unlocked by three simple words, the name acts as a personal riddle or prophecy. The unique logo is in a shape of a key, which loosely conveys membership and exclusivity, while the three turns in the key coincide with the triplet name and intertwines dining, drink and entertainment concepts.
It’s a place of curiosity, discovery and participation.rose.rabbit.lie Taittinger_Tasting_Las_Vegas_Rose.Rabbit.Lie.Kobrand.Wirtz

Such was the case on that September evening in Las Vegas at a Champagne Taittinger tasting event held at Rose.Rabbit.Lie.  I was invited by Peter Johnston, Director of Sales, Fine Wine Division, of Wirtz Beverage Nevada, to experience Taittinger in a social setting among an intimate group of about 40 influential wine professionals.

Taittinger_Tasting_Wirtz_Las_Vegas_Kobrand_Champagne Inside a cozy, walnut wood-paneled lounge bar called the Study, a relaxed ambiance set the tone for a convivial vibe.  Live music, light bites and good company created a unique communal setting to taste and discover Taittinger’s more casual side.

Champagne Taittinger (pronounced tet-ahn-zhay), is one of the few remaining family-owned and operated Champagne houses. The estate is one of the three most extensive in the Champagne region of France, with vineyard holdings of 752 acres, including prestigious Grand Cru vineyards in the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims regions. Unlike most large houses, Champagne Taittinger relies primarily on estate grapes for its portfolio of Champagnes.

Taittinger is situated above miles of chalk tunnels and cellars. These 4th century Roman cellars once belonged to the Benedictine monks of the abbey of Saint Nicaise and are perfect for the slow ageing process required for great Champagne.

Unique to Taittinger are the higher proportion of Chardonnay in its wines that gives Taittinger its signature style  – elegance, finesse, and delicacy. This has earned the House worldwide recognition and accolades over the years.  Also, the time devoted to aging the wines before release – most often greatly exceeding the legal requirement – is a practice that has become a Taittinger hallmark.

What we tasted that evening:

ttg_Brut_LAF_btl Taittinger Brut La Française
A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier wines from at least 35 villages. The high proportion of Chardonnay (40%) is unique among fine non-vintage Champagnes. The presses are located in the vineyard for immediate pressing of the fruit after the manual harvest, and the resulting must is cold fermented under temperature-controlled conditions. After resting until the end of winter, the wine is blended, and then the final cuvée undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle in Taittinger’s cool cellars. The aging of Brut La Française on the lees for almost 4 years more than doubles the legal minimum of 15 months. This extra time in the cellars allows the wine to reach the peak of aromatic maturity, and the result is a delicately balanced Champagne, known for its consistently excellent quality.

ttg_Folies_btlLes Folies de la Marquetterie
This single-vineyard cuvée is produced exclusively from grapes grown at Les Folies, a Taittinger-owned vineyard with a south/southwest exposure in the heart of the Champagne winegrowing region. A green harvest ensures that the final harvest has optimum sweetness and aromatic maturity. Only wines from the first pressing are used and each plot is vinified in small volumes, with certain lots in large, old oak casks. Slow aging for five years in bottles brings the flavors of this Champagne to perfect harmony.

ttg_Comtes_Rose_btlComtes de Champagne Rosé
The Comtes Rosé is made from 100% Grand Cru grapes and produced only in exceptional years. The Chardonnay grapes come from the most renowned vineyards of the prestigious Côte des Blancs, and the Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims. Only juice from the first pressing is used in order to ensure the structure and long aging potential that is so essential to this exceptional Champagne. 12% of the Pinot Noir is blended in as still red wine.


ttg_Comtes_Blanc_btlComtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs
Produced only in exceptional vintage years and intended as the ultimate expression of the Taittinger style, this wine is composed entirely of Chardonnay grapes grown in the top vineyards of the prestigious Côte des Blancs. Only the first press juice is used. A small proportion (5%) of the blend spends three to four months in new oak barrels, enhancing the intrinsic qualities of the final blend. Prior to disgorgement, the Blanc de Blancs is aged for 10 years on the lees in 13th-century chalk cellars that were once the property of Saint Nicaise abbey.

Many thanks to Wirtz Beverage Nevada and Kobrand Wine & Spirits for a night of “curiosity, discover and participation” with Champagne Taittinger