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March 28, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

City friends: It’s time to play winemaker.

Millbrook Vineyards & Winery - Hudson Valley, New York State

Millbrook Vineyards & Winery is a mere stone’s throw from the former farm-land of good old New York City. They are the pioneer grape grower of the Hudson Valley, begat by John S. Dyson in 1985, who also happened to coin the I “Heart” New York campaign we see so commonly attached to car bumpers. At Millbrook it is attached to wine glasses:

Tasting glasses at Millbrook

John was an agricultural genius, and as dairy farms were suffering in the 80’s, John saw the potential to turn the Hudson Valley into a premier farm region known for much more than its dairy farming. Enter: Millbrook Winery.

I recently had the opportunity to visit and taste through Millbrook’s entire portfolio. I was absolutely thrilled by their Chardonnays – which are vibrant, crisp and have a classic cool-climate Chardonnay nose. And their New York State Pinot Noir is alone worth a trip. Speaking of…

We all know just how lovely New York City is during the hot summer months. And if trips to Coney Island and Jones Beach are getting old, how about hop on the Metro North to Poughkeepsie (for those of us without cars) and let a shuttle bus drive you through green mountains toward a winery where you could taste wine, have lunch at the vineyard grill or better yet – cultivate your own vines from bud-break to harvest and take home a case of wine while you’re at it.

Inside Hook has the scoop on a Wine Growing Boot Camp Millbrook is offering — periodic Saturdays from April to July, harvest in October and a final trip in 2013 to bottle.

Winemaker is John Graziano who’ll take you under his wing – and with 25 years of winemaking and growing experience at Millbrook, you could say he is pretty much one with the vines up there. Tell em, “Jonny sent me,” and they’ll put you to work.

Love to see these kinds of displays in the winery.

View of the tasting room.

By the way: Millbrook is part the estate properties also in possession of Williams-Selyem and hence, a good deal of it is available at Millbrook, which is really kind of amazing.

My visit was during one of the only snowy weekends. Was exciting to be amidst vines even though I could see my breath.


March 17, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Hunt for Wines of 1912 & My Personal Let-Down

Day 23, Day 24? I’m not sure anymore. I had committed to 40 Days of Writing. 40 Days of writing the truest sentences about wine, I could muster.

My last post included days 9, 10 and 11, and shows a photograph of my late night note-taking at The Richardson in Brooklyn about the “Titanic” dinner event I’m collaborating on for April 14. There’s a wine-story here, but first, permit me this:

Since that night, it would not be incorrect to say that I’ve been a bit under water with this project. In an effort to pay homage to the spirit of the Titanic, my hope is to create a window into what it might have been like to be a diner aboard the very vessel the world was all-too-gaga over; so the aim is to re-imagine the moments during the last meal when exuberance, ecstasy and the thought of getting into New York a day early, all that…was in the hearts and minds of the passengers.

I offered to call the event 41°North, 49°West – the coordinates where the Titanic hit the iceberg and sank. This was accepted by “Team Titanic” as I’ve come to call them: and though we are a team, I am the Visionary. I am the lone visionary out to sea.

And I have a vision: I have a belief. I believe that if we all believe in the power of persuasion – the power of the imagination – I believe we can spend one evening changing the course of history. I believe we can imagine a world in which perhaps, tragedy is non-existent. This event is for me, the Anti-Tragedy of this century, and I intend to make good  on delivering this vision to the 80 diners who attend.

But to the point: I have failed in my promise to write every day, one true thing about wine. Now… no one is going to fire me. I’m not going to be stripped of medals I never won and if people stop asking for my autograph, it’ll likely be because they never asked for it in the first place. However folk: that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve let myself down.

Matthew Homyak of the Stag Dining Group (based in San Francisco) recently shared this video, of Ira Glass talking about perseverance in storytelling. In it, Ira talks about let-down and persistence as the vehicles for success. And with successful storytellers, there is a common denominator: work, work, work, to the point of breaking and indulging in the ever-elusive necessity to create something better than was just created.

Have I worked as hard as I could? I don’t know. But what constitutes “hard work”? Writing is hard work and not always fun. Sometimes it’s fun. I had a good deal of fun writing “Farm!” a new Jonny Cigar spectacle, however after re-reading it recently, I know it needs a lot of work and that – I’m not looking forward to.

I haven’t solutions to my circumstance, so for now let’s turn to 1912.

In our efforts to re-imagine the last meal aboard the Titanic, our hope is not to replicate the 1912 experience. Rather, we plan to present this meal as it would be presented in 2012. Our only rule was that the wines poured should come from wineries that have been in existence since 1912 or before and were likely poured – very likely poured – in the Jacobean dining room (the name given the first-class dining hall).

And we’ve been successful thanks to a very special wine consultant, who I shall introduce in a separate post. She is a Master of Wine and I am honored, flattered and thrilled that she is working with us to source these wines — the real benefactors will be the diners, which is after all the idea.

The Truest Sentence I Can Write About Wine today is one of familiarity: In wine there is truth.

February 19, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Fine & Raw + Um Segredo + Tempranillo = A Noble First

Photo Courtesy of Underground Eats

What’s in a Supper Club? If you ask The Whisk & Ladle Supper Club, they’ll tell you that they coined the name. In fact, so told me one of the W&L hosts, and I am paraphrasing: No one was using the words “Supper Club” before we began hosting our dinners. If you ask other New York-based dining groups, they’ll think nothing on it and if you ask Grub Street to describe a Supper Club, they won’t define what it is but they’ll tell you that the Health Department is too busy to even consider what a “Supper Club” is up to.

What about Dinner Theatre? Good question! Most certainly not the same thing, though I’ve collaborated in the past with a supper club that promises an, “educational, social and theatrical culinary” experience to unsuspecting attendees.

Most surprising of all is the WikiPedia entry, which only mentions super clubs in the U.S. as a footnote to a happening in Latin America, look:

“In Latin America, Supper Club typically denote underground restaurants, where they’re known as either a paladar or a restaurante de puertas cerradas (locked door restaurant). While technically illegal, they’re built into the culture, and often have higher standards than many licensed establishments. They are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.”

The New York Times has hailed supper clubs as “Anti-Restaurant[s]” and the term underground is used in conjunction with culinary happenings at such a frequency that all history of the “underground railroad” I fear, may well be re-written and confused for a big dinner party.

Q: Alright, JC, what’s the point?

A:  Great question kind Hipster in the back! First a photo, then my response:

Chocolate Bread Pudding with Fine & Raw Chocolate piercing vanilla bean ice cream.

On Sunday February 12th I hosted an event that was indeed a first (for The Noble Rot). Since The Noble Rot’s inception in 2009 I have boasted of our Anti-Supper Club format where there ‘ain’t no sittin’ down.’ The focus has been on wine and the food is there to compliment the wines. The food has always been passed and like a politician kept afloat by a superPAC, I promised we’d never repeal our credo! We’d never sit down! And last Sunday, I flip-flopped. I’m also announcing my candidacy for President of the Unite States of Foursquare and Seven Years Ago When There Wasn’t No Damn Foursquare.

Fine & Raw limited ed. scotch bonbon. Photo courtesy of Underground Eats.

This story of Love, and the Occupying of it (title of the event was “Occupy the Things u Love”), begins last year when David Santos, Chef of Um Segredo a Portugese-influenced Roosevelt Island based supper club, contacted me about a collaboration.

ME: “You’re Spanish right?”
DAVID: “No, I’m Portugese”
ME: “I’ll never go to Roosevelt Island.”
DAVID: “You should, it’s pretty amazing. My apartment is so big it feels like a house in suburbia.”
ME: “So we’ll do a Spanish-inspired Valentine’s Day dinner in Williamsburg. Sound good?”
DAVID: “Sure.”

Mark, a Noble friend on the left. Chef David Santos on the right. Photo courtesy of Underground Eats.

That’s not exactly how it went, but pretty close. Daniel Sklaar, the ChocoFiend of Fine & Raw Chocolates, offered his loft as the base of operations. I was sold when he used the words”scotch” and “bonbon” in the same sentence. It wasn’t clear to me that he had made a scotch-infused bonbon, but that didn’t matter, I simply love word associations. Turned out he did make a limited edition bonbon and we were to give it out as a parting gift to the lucky 25 guests who made it on the list to attend.

You should only buy chocolates from a man dressed as impeccably as Sklaar (he doned this suit as a personal homage to yours truly).

Ramon Del Monte from Tempranillo, Inc. and I had been talking about the necessity of collaborating again and so he came on board the love train. Whenever we serve wines from Jorge Ordenez, the flagship brand of Tempranillo, the quality and consistency of deliciousness is always overwhelming. We tasted through five wines and ya know, I’m now hooked on every one. At the end of this post there are photos of the food and the wines we paired with each dish.

Ladies & Gents & Lovebirds: Ramon Del Monte.

Carla Rhodes, a “rock n’ roll” ventriloquist to the stars brought out her turn-of-the-century friendly, singing, womanizing compatriot: Cecil. Guests were clamoring for more of Carla’s musical numbers and Cecil’s harsh criticism. At one point, he told Carla that she looked like “Shirley Temple on speed,” and multiple times threatened to harm everyone in the house.  The act was just what Valentine’s Day ordered. Look her up.

Carla Rhodes and Cecil. Photo courtesy of Underground Eats.

We poured five Jorge Ordonez wines, sourced from the Wine Exchange in Brooklyn:

  • Bubbles: Marques de Gelida Brut Exclusive 2006 ($15) Brilliant value cava
  • Paired with Crudo: Marques De Gelida Xarello 2010 ($10)
  • Paired with Monkfish: La Cana Albarino 2009 ($17)
  • Paired with Pasta: Cepa 21 2007 ($25) ** my personal favorite of the night
  • Paired with Squab: Avanthia Cuvee Mosterio 2010 ($22) ** will get even better with age, this was young.
  • Paired with Dessert for the Gents: Alvear Pedro Ximenez de Anada 2008 ($23)
  • Paired with Dessert for the Gals: Alvear Pedro Ximenez Solera 1927 NV ($25) ** go to Tinto Fino in Manhattan for this and other sherries/ports. The place will astound you!

So, there you have it: we hosted a sit-down meal for 25. And all were a lovely bunch. Some “regulars” were there (you know who you are) and some new faces who had been trying to make an event happen for a long time. Chef Santos’ professionalism, his composure in the kitchen and ability to handle prepping, cooking, plating 25 portions for a five-course meal while washing dishes in between, keeping conversation light and fun, never breaking a sweat — is unparalleled in this “supper club” scene (in NYC). In fact, I’ll make a bold statement: every single supper club in New York City could take lessons in composure (and portion-size) from David. I told him so and I meant it: I’d work with him again anytime he so desired.

As we round the bend on this one, a tall order is in hand: to define supper club. Luckily, we’re not going to fill that tall order here today. Instead, we’ll just say that the experience of social dining may provide a very hearty rival to the restaurant scene as supper clubs develop and become adults. To boot, two gents from Underground Eats attended our V-Day extravaganza and truly captured the flow of the evening in a well-written and enjoyable blog post. They’re mission to become a source for access to our clandestine dining world may be the start of the growing up process. They’ve provided some photos for this post! Seek them out and perhaps you’ll be the fine owner of the only business card to rival the luxurious design of a Bentley (which they possess).

I’ve a bit of big news to break out as well, which involves an announcement about, “Jonny Cigar,” an idea of the title “sommelier,” a commitment to new dining and wining experiences, and a new business that combines a bit of public relations, a dash of marketing to be stirred with consulting. Details and more coming to an inbox near you in the very near coming weeks. So if you’re not on the Noble Rot mailing list, get on board.

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