Monthly Archives: August 2009

Happy Snaps from New York and DC

News, History – and Cupcakes

5.26pm, New Hampshire Avenue, Washington, DC, USA
So much for that – the hairdresser lost the appointment so change of plan. I went into town to see this museum – the Newseum – which features several hundred years of news history. It’s pretty interesting stuff with 15 different theatres covering everything from sports to civil rights. They also have a program of special Inside Media presentations that they record in front of a studio audience, and I was lucky enough to be there for today’s event where the Washington Post reporter Michael Fletcher spoke about being part of the White House press corps – for both George W Bush’s second term and the current Obama administration. It was a rare opportunity to hear the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes with such a high-profile position.

To top things off, the Red Velvet Cupcakery is just around the corner from the Newseum, so I ducked in there to give the USA capital a shot at the Challenge title. Now to start with – these cupcakes are a bit more expensive – $3.25 – and look a touch smaller than most that I’ve seen around, but they really are pretty. I chose the Southern Belle, red velvet sponge cake with whipped cream cheese frosting. It was very good. Fluffy cake and the frosting was sweet/sour so really quite nice – but folks – it’s still a dead heat between Billy’s and Kara’s for me!

Now I just want to dive back to Manhattan. We’ve got a neat place hiding out on 2nd Avenue between 5th & 6th Street that’s had our Unwooded Chardonnay on for ages called The Mermaid Inn. They have a great raw bar and dining area out front, but it’s the romantic dining out back, then the secret garden out further that’s the best. They spoiled us with tiny choc puddings when we dropped in to catch up, and they give you the fortune fish at the end of your meal. The head or tail or both lift and spin to indicate your immediate fortune, so you get everything with one stop at the Mermaid.

We’ll have a long list of folks we’ll be catching up with come October – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Westchester, the Jersey Shore, and northern New Jersey – good o, because I like the whole lot.

Back to DC. As hot and steamy as it is today (this morning walking around outside was like being in a bathroom that had had the shower running flat out on hot for half an hour), the town has a kind of quiet and sombre feeling to it today; there’s a huge group of folks gathered around the Capitol Building steps waiting for Senator Edward Kennedy’s funeral procession which will be stopping there for prayers before continuing to Arlington National Cemetery, where he will be buried with his two brothers. Quite the most amazing family story.

I’ll leave it there as I’ll have to get packed up and hit the sack early – with a 5am start tomorrow morning and the flight through to Denver.

Museum Muscat and Tim Tams!

8.09am, New Hampshire Ave, Washington, DC, USA
OK folks – I have some serious catching up to do to clear the East Coast decks before heading inland tomorrow to Denver.

I want to start in Brooklyn, at Smith & Vine, with Max & Bartley – one of my most enjoyable trade calls yet in the US! We covered wine, the culinary history of New York City, and all sorts of other interesting topics. What a top place for our wines to live – and just a block down from The Grocery – a lovely seasonal-menu restaurant in an old shop with a little secret garden. The husband and wife chefs travelled the world with their trade and decided to settle in Smith Street. I can see why! They were closed the Monday we were visiting, but we’ll be visiting them in October when we’re back in town for the New York Wine Experience.

Still in Brooklyn – with Carmela, Mario and Domingo at Park Slope Liquors, where we have just about every one of the Y Series wines on the shelf. Again, really nice local people who have had the shop where they are forever, on a tiny park in the middle of an intersection, with the fruit cart man set up just outside the door. Real neighbourhood stuff, and the bananas from the cart were sensational!

Finishing in Brooklyn – across into Flatbush, is a fabulous little cupboard-sized wine shop with the best bottle tags I’ve seen in ages – all with hand-written wine descriptions. If you’re over that way, TB Ackerson Wine Merchants on Cortelyou Road are the folks to pop into – and have a good look around.

Back into Manhattan, I can’t leave without introducing you to Matt Astill, a big blond rock of a bloke who has opened a “pub” in midtown called The Australian (20 West 38th Street between 5th & 6th avenues). He’s really been able to catch the feel of one of our local watering holes at home, and dropping it right into the centre of this huge city – without losing anything in the translation. As soon as you walk in, you’re surrounded by timber paneling and “the long bar”‘ as well as TVscreens full of Australian sports – beamed in live. At midnght tonight they’ll be screening the Saints’ last game of the season against Melbourne. I wish I could teleport myself there for a couple of hours!

Any rate, Matt’s also put in a mezzanine dining section above the bar, and he holds regular wine dinners – and pretty much catches everyone when they’re in town. Just this year he’s already had both Keith Tulloch and Grant Burge, so we’re in good company. We did six wines and Matt’s chef put together six small dishes to go with – and this is what we did:

  • 2008 Y Sangiovese – chilled and on its own – because you can!
  • 2008 Y Sauvignon Blanc – with sticky shrimp and calamari
  • 2006 Bush Vine Grenache & 2006 Barossa Shiraz Viognier – with a lamb chop, veggies  and mash
  • 2004 The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon – with The Australian’s own flaky pastry mini meat pie
  • Museum Muscat – served with two Tim Tam biscuits

Now I’ve run out of time. I have to dive down the street and get a haircut because currently my hair looks like I’ve been pulled through a blackberry bush backwards – but I just want to make a couple of comments on the menu.

The lamb chop was a thin cut loin chop and just seared with a tangy glaze, and the meat pie was absolutely sensational, and better than most of the pies you’d find at home.

I got very excited about the Tim Tams. I’ve been away from home for two months, and I am hopeless about chocolate biscuits! I got quite homesick for a minute – and got an extra biscuit in sympathy from Matt! Little things, folks, make me happy. If you are at all in Manhattan – make sure you drop in and tell them we sent you – they’ll laugh – but they’ll look after you. The Australian is also the home base for the resident local rugby league team – the New York Knights – and is a great place to catch up and get a feel for what it’s like to be at a real local pub. Thanks for having us this time round Matt, and we’ll see ya come October.

I’m not finished with Manhattan yet, but off to get the haircut – back soon!

Rolling into Virginia

7.43pm Dupont Circle, Washington, DC, USA
Just got back to DC after a night out doing a special wine dinner over at Annapolis – much to report when I write a decent catch up in the morning – and a day where we drove down into Virginia.

We ventured right into the green thicket country to do a presentation for our distributor for that state – the family owned Roanoke Valley Wine Co – good timing, seeing as they were having a bit of a team retreat at a beautiful old picture postcard farmhouse near the hamlet of Mineral. Nice folks looking after our wines in a very interesting state that has everything from old-century established gentlemen’s clubs to beachfront towns, rolling green rural areas to bustling cities with great historical stories. I hope I get the chance to come back in the not too distant future.

I know it sounds weak, but I’m going to take the option of an early night and fill everyone in on what we’ve been up to in the morning – after a decent night’s sleep – as we’ve done well of late in a tough arena.

Hey Sportsfans – before I go – a quick update on he fortunes of the Saints. Last weekend they lost their second game for the year, by 5 points to North Melbourne. So our last game of the regular season is this Sunday 30th August against the Melbourne Demons at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground for the non Australian readers – the top football stadium in the country – where the Grand Final is played every year) and it would be nice to go out with a win. So go Sainters, and either way – great season boys! Bring on the finals!!

Also sportsfans, I was lucky enough to go to a game two nights ago at the new Yankee Stadium in it’s inaugural season – to see the Yanks go down to the Texas Rangers 10 – 9 after what was almost a miracle comeback by the Bronx Bombers in the last innings. I do like the Yanks – they’re my baseball team, and 161st Street The Bronx – Yankee Stadium is one of my favourite addresses in New York. With any luck, they’ll make the playoffs this year, and I might get to see one or both of my teams make the last big game of their respective seasons. Fingers crossed, as anything can happen!

See you all tomorrow – have a good weekend!

From the Cupcake Truck to the Old Ebbitt Grill

4.02pm Annapolis, Maryland, USA
Hi all. I haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth – just been really busy. I feel like I’ve been in that old Graham Parker song “New York Shuffle” as we’ve been in and out of the city and up and down the coast like mad things – but like all caped crusaders – eventually doing good!

Old Ebbitt Grill

Old Ebbitt Grill

I came down to Washington, DC, yesterday with Amtrak to catch up with retailers and show our downtown DC distributor team from Bacchus – all really sharp-looking, thinking men, I might add – what we’ve currently got going on in the bottle. We chose the Old Ebbitt Grill (just a block around the corner from one of the most famous addresses in the world – 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – yep – The White House) because it’s where we’ve had at least two wines on ever since I started coming to America in 2001.

Right now we have the Bush Vine Grenache and the Y Unwooded Chardonnay by the bottle, and we were able to take a table in the back bar to show our wines to Troy and the team. These opportunities to spend time with your folks that look after the wines on the ground across the markets are invaluable – because they get to see the wines in perspective, compare weights of various expressions of the same varieties – and ask any questions relating to any wine on the list, vintage conditions, bottling and packaging developments – anything at all really. And it’s also a time that you can just say “thanks a huge amount for looking after us on your ground” to your distributors – many of whom become friends.

One thing I discussed yesterday, which I always enjoy doing, is the background to our organic Viognier and Shiraz, as it’s a great story about how one family in Loxton in South Australia’s Riverland took their whole household and vineyard operation organic to overcome their children’s nasty allergies. Having been certified organic, this vineyard is now well on the way to gaining biodynamic status, and the results in the glass are nothing short of stunning. Honestly, the fruit expression of both varieties from this vineyard are worthy of other regions considered more “cool climate and elegant”. Congratulations, Tony and Pam Barich for the organics! We love taking them out and folks love drinking them. We were in the P Street Whole Foods store yesterday afternoon, and the organic Viognier is a favourite there with the wine department staff – they drink it themselves, so we can’t ask for a better endorsement than that. Great stores too, if you get a chance to check them out – magic range of salads, soups and meals to take home and serve. I vote their chicken noodle soup as one of the best things to keep yourself well – works for me!

But just for a minute I want to go back to New York City. Good thing our gal in the Big Busy Apple – Kelsey – is a fit-as-a-fiddle livewire, because carting a bag of eight wines around Manhattan and Brooklyn on the subway and the buses is no easy task! Especially in the humid heat we’ve had over the past few days. Our Speedie the stamina machine will win New York City and New Jersey over in the end with pure effort, enthusiasm and love of the wines alone! She wore me out just trying to keep up.

As well as taking me on my first trip over to the Jersey Shore, Kelsey dragged me through parts of Brooklyn I’d never seen before – just heard about – Red Hook, Flatbush, Park Slope, Carrol Gardens – I think I could move into some of those brownstone buildings tomorrow! I had been to a couple of places several years ago. The Sheep Station was in a fairly edgy part of town, and it was fantastic to see how well that area is travelling now. In fact, we had to fight our way past Drew Barrymore’s trailer to get into the place – to borrow three bottles of the Sangiovese Rose – as they’re filming “Going All the Way” in that street right now. More about Brooklyn down the track, as I want to introduce you to our Y series fans in Park Slope and The Grocery in Carroll Gardens amongst others.

**Cupcake alert! **

The Cupcake Truck

The Cupcake Truck

I’ve been talking about my International Cupcake Challenge, and now retailers, restaurant folk and distributor reps are volunteering their favouriteS. Around New York City, there’s a really interesting food truck thing going on where top takeaway food – dumplings, tacos, empanadas, bagels, pretzels, kebabs, etc – are served off the back of the truck. Locals talk about The Cupcake Truck. You never know where it’s going to be, but you can find it on twitter (see twitter.com/cupcake stop). Well, after we’d visited one of our downtown retailers, we walked around the corner and there was a weird Taj Mahal looking hot dog stand right in the middle of an intersection where there isn’t usually anything – turns out they were filming a scene for the “Ugly Betty” TV show. Then around the next corner, where we were going to head into the subway to our next job, there was parked The Cupcake Truck! So to be fair, we checked out the Red Velvet and Peanut Butter Swirl. Folks – they are very, very, very good – but I don’t think they break the transcontinental deadlock between Kara’s (San Francisco) and Billy’s Bakery (Chelsea, Manhattan)

I’ve just come from doing a trade lunch in Washington, DC, and was given what the folks there considered the best three options for DC: Red Velvet, Georgetown Cupcakes, and Baked & Wired. I had no idea people had such fixed views on these things! But I have a day off Saturday – so may get to have a look at one of these three.

Back to the current job. I’ll fill you in on Red Hook next installment, as well as the new pub in Midtown New York – Matt Astill’s “The Australian” – and our wine event there, and my sports update. Right now we’re off to The Chop House to get set up for the wine dinner tonight in conjunction with Wine Cellars of Annapolis.

But at least we’re back on the air!

Barossa Folks Catch Up in New York

6.52am, Midtown Manhattan, New York, NY, USA
Wow, I didn’t get near a computer yesterday. Hurricane Bill coming east from the Caribbean is literally blowing everyone’s days out the window along the East Coast. Storms on Friday night disrupted all flights everywhere, and we were delayed out of Boston yesterday morning for three hours. That’s quite depressing when you arrived at the airport at 4.30am for a 6am flight, only to learn that the new departure time is 8.50am – maybe.

Especially seeing as the plan was to drop my gear at the hotel and catch a train straight out to Scarsdale, just north of Manhattan, to do an in store tasting at Zachy’s – a Barossa feature with Yalumba and Torbreck. Good news is that the gods of travel were with us, we eventually flew – through some very lumpy air – to New York, and we set a new world record of 19 minutes in the taxi from Newark Airport to west 40th Street, and I got to Zachy’s only 40 minutes late. Thank goodness we’ve got Kelsey holding the fort as the region manager for New York. There she was doing a sterling job next to Torbreck’s Dave Powell telling the Barossa story. We had a top turnout for August seeing as a lot of folks go away this time of the year, and had a lot of fun swapping recipes with folks as they were tasting through both sets of wines.

Weird thing is, with so many Barossa folk working the trade around the world, these events are often where we catch up with each other – not at home. Would love to report that we all went out and set the Saturday night town on fire afterward, but sorry, all headed for an early night after a huge day. Tragic but true.

Lady Liberty is a Saints fan!

Lady Liberty is a Saints fan!

Never mind, today is a new day, and the list of possibilities with a complete day and night off in New York are endless – haven’t walked the Brooklyn Bridge yet, the Mets play the Phillies at 1pm at their new park in Queens, never tried the ribs at Harlem’s Dinosaur BBQ or been to the Apollo Theatre, and there’s the newly opened High Line where an old elevated railway that ran from midtown to the meatpacking district has been turned into a parkway thing with lawn, gardens and trees – that are surviving against a pretty fierce urban backdrop. So no shortage of interesting stuff to do. Or I might just hang out in Times Square and watch folks get their photos taken with the Naked Cowboy … or the naked cowgirl – who might be his mum, or even grandmum!

And then I’ll have to keep my ear out for the scores from the Sainters game they play in a few hours time – I think the second last game of the year. I ran into Lady Liberty in Times Square yesterday afternoon, and she held the scarf for luck – let’s hope it helps. Go Saints!

Viognier Brunch Hits Boston!

7.46am, Fenway Park, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
It’s all quiet here now, but in a few hours the vicinity of this – one of the last three old baseball parks left in the USA – will be the scene of three days and nights of mayhem as the New York Yankees visit the Boston Red Sox. It continues one of the greatest 100 year rivalries in sports anywhere. I suspect I may end up down here this evening in one of the old sports bars around the park to watch the last half of the game and soak up the atmosphere.

As for yesterday – we did have a big day!

Viognier!

Viognier!

Off to a grand start with Wine Emporium Tremont. Thanks lads for putting on the ties, a very sharp look for a couple of Boston boys. On to our first-ever Viognier Brunch away from Yalumba, where we bombarded 14 people’s palates with Viognier – varying weights, styles and vintages – and the foods that we think go best with them: smoked salmon, poached pears, fresh fruits, eggs benedict and Asian stir fried vegetables. It’s an exercise we’ve done many times with winemaker Louisa Rose at the winery, and this is the first time we’ve attempted it offshore. We did it at Atlantic Fish, and after a moment of chaos at the start with a flurry of platters, we worked through our Viogniers:

We had folks from our distributor as well as retailers, and none of them had done anything like this before, so that’s always good to break new ground. And the Viognier story is much easier to tell with the food flavours, aromas and textures to use as a contrast for the wines. It’s also an interesting progression in palate weights and styles when you have the wines in a row like this, and you can illustrate the differences between regions and between areas within a region – with the Organic in the Riverland, and with a barrel selection within one vineyard with the Virgilius.

Then there’s the Botrytis – should be one of the wonders of the world this, thing. Fancy fruit going mouldy in a good way, and giving you this honey apricot nougat thing with a grapefruit finish. Too good!

After our immersion into our world of Viognier, we’re off to see Maureen at Grapevine Travellers – but not for much longer! She’s off to start her own wine shop, Central Bottle Wine & Provisions, in a neat part of Cambridge over by MIT. Check out their website – they’ve got a countdown to opening, and a neat about how they decided to do what they’re going to do. It’s at www.centralbottle.com. These folks just love wine – they’re tangled up with food via the Blue Room restaurant, and will definitely be worth a visit – just for the mad conversation alone. Thanks for everything at Grapevine and good fortune with the new venture.

Then back downtown to do a staff training at long time supporters, the beautiful steakhouse and grill room Abe & Louie’s. We have the 2003 Signature and 2004 Octavius on the list, so this is what we tasted for the wait staff. Nice folks at another nice address who seem to be holding their own in tough times – doing what they do extremely well – presenting aged (for up to 6 weeks) prime cuts of corn-fed local and Midwestern beef, as well as things like their legendary lump crab cakes in an old world mahogany, leather and brass oasis.

Then to the South End and our last stop on Lindsay’s “nice and relaxed come visit Boston and show some folks some wines” itinerary. The Laurel Grill and Bar is Russ and Sherry Berger’s restaurant. They run a regular program of wine dinners that present four wines to showcase a winery and four small plates of what the chefs think best lights up each wine. We had Sherry at the stoves, and it looks like a good thing for us!

Mind you, to get to the dining room, you have to get past barman Eryl Williams. He’s put together a short list of drinks to get you through the summer, so I was commandeered into one of his Lemon Drops,  a citrus and basil laced combination of vodka and triple sec that was deceptively refreshing … with a kick like a mule. I’ve never been seduced by America’s cocktail culture before, but if I keep running into folks like Eryl, anything could happen! Off to the kitchen to go through the menu with Sherry. We were in very good hands:

  • Smoked salmon tart – more of a smoked salmon salad in a little puff pastry cup – with the 2008 Y Unwooded Chardonnay
  • Nectarine & Pecan Salad with the 2008 Eden Valley Viognier
  • Grilled Cowboy Tenderloin (mini tenderloin strip) with fresh cherry and pomegranate red wine reduction with the 2007 Y Shiraz Viognier. This was the combination of the night. The cherry and red wine slid right into the juicy red black and blue berries on the front palate of the wine – which is a middle weight – and just flew!
  • Raspberry & White Chocolate Kuchen with a berry and pepper sauce with the 2007 Bush Vine Grenache – yep, sounds strange but worked a treat, the cake fluffy and fruit lifted

So finished our big day in baked Beantown – still hot and steamy.

Today we’re in for more of the same, and I’m still going to try and sneak in a visit to Kickass cupcakes. Wish us luck.