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An Insider's guide to restaurants, wine, spirits and culinary travel

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                artesa: Spanish roots, napa style

European joint ventures in Napa are hardly new. A parade of vintners established wineries in the Golden State beginning in the 1970s, and some---like Opus One---were sensations from the beginning. The sparkling wine brands had a rougher time of it. While there was no disputing the quality of Mumm Cuvée Napa or Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, sparkling wine simply didn’t occupy the same place in the American lifestyle as it did in France. Most of them survived, but many were forced to shift at least part of their production to still wine.

The Spanish winemaking family of Codorniu Raventos started to acquire vineyard parcels in Carneros in the 1980s, and opened Codorniu Napa in 1991. While they encountered the same resistance to sparkling wine as their French counterparts, their solution was more drastic. They rebranded the property as Artesa (Catalan for “handcrafted”) in 1997, and brought their 17 generations and 460 years of experience to bear on producing Carneros Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Their style took a significant leap forward with the arrival of Ana Diogo-Draper in 2013. Originally from Portugal, Ana had moved to Napa in 2005 to work at Rutherford Hill. She was promoted to winemaker in 2015, and brought an Old World sensibility to the creation of wine from New World fruit.

As recently as a decade ago, it was commonplace to hear Napa winemakers declare they were “trying to create” a Bordeaux-style blend or a Burgundian Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. The emphasis was always on forcing a round peg into a square hole, in taking the available fruit and crafting it into a preconceived version of what you wanted the wine to be. Like most European winemakers, Ana believes that wine begins in the vineyard. This has become a cliché in California recently, but remember the old joke about deathbed conversions: the problem with them is that sometimes the person actually recovers.

Diogo-Draper uses classic techniques to bring out the best in her raw materials: she closely monitors the grapes throughout all stages of the growing process, harvests at night to preserve freshness and acidity, sorts by hand on arrival at the winery and ferments with wild yeasts whenever possible. She is fortunate to be working some of the highest-elevation land in Carneros: vineyard blocks located on steep hillsides at the end of the Mayacamas range, with a variety of soil types that produce highly concentrated fruit

The result of this approach and technique are wines that are vastly improved since her arrival, combining the breed and intensity of Spain with the freshness and approachability of Napa.

                            artesa tasting notes

The nose of the 2015 Artesa Estate Vineyard Chardonnay ($40) is fresh and compact, yielding aromas of citrus, vanilla and cinnamon with coaxing. The wine enters the mouth with a crisp edge of spice, displaying considerable depth in the mid palate: flavors of lemon melon and hints of butterscotch are nicely balanced by good acidity. The palate imprint is firm and the finish is long, with reverberations of baking spices, toffee and pepper. With sharply defined flavors and a solid acid structure, this represents a distinct leap in quality from what Artesa was doing a decade ago.

The 2015 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir ($40) exhibits intriguing aromas of ripe red fruits, earth notes, anise and clove on the nose. The wine is electric and forceful on entry, announcing its presence with flavors of crushed red berries, minerals and good acidity. Those flavors are amplified through the mid palate and onto the finish, which is long and mouthwatering. In all, this bright and vibrant wine is a good match for everything from salmon and tuna through red meats.

                        glass half full: 8/16/2017

A roundup of the most interesting food, wine and spirits stories on the web (because even Al Gore, who invented it, doesn't have time to read them all)

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                the phenomenon of fernet branca

Some believe Fernet Branca to be a hangover remedy, and others regard it as a cure-all. If you had an upset stomach and an Italian grandmother, it was administered to you as a child. Fernet is one of the most popular drinks in the exploding cocktail culture, which is baffling to the rest of us: The forbidding potion is an amaro, a bitter, black spirit, and its taste has been described as “licorice-flavored Listerine.”

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                altaneve: prosecco goes uptown

Wine is a vocation that inspires second careers. When David Noto founded Altaneve and dedicated himself to making the planet’s finest Prosecco in 2013, his timing was impeccable: global sales of Prosecco had just surpassed Champagne for the first time, and they remain higher today. Even so, Noto had a steep mountain to climb. For many American consumers, the popularity of Prosecco was built on price. The wine was firmly planted in the $10-15 category, selling for one-third of the average NV Brut Champagne.

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                              four roses, five decades:
      the al young 50th anniversary special edition

In and around Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, Al Young is a legend. He came to Four Roses in 1967 and has been there ever since. During his five-decade career he has served as production supervisor, distillery manager and (since 2007) as Brand Ambassador. In that role, he spends most of his time on the road educating consumers, retailers and restaurant personnel. “There’s always a fresh crop of bartenders to teach the Four Roses story to,” he says. He’s also the brand’s unofficial historian: his book, Four Roses: The Return of a Whisky Legend, came out in 2010 and is in its third printing.

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what do tulips, wine and the kardashians have in                                          common?

Tulips were introduced into Holland toward the end of the 16th century. They became popular, then trendy, and mania soon set in. The flowers were bought and sold on futures contracts, and prices escalated to the point where a single bulb fetched the equivalent of ten times the annual salary of a skilled worker. In 1637 the tulip craze collapsed as mysteriously as it began, and the Dutch economy was in ruins.

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                  grand central oyster bar, NYC

If I ever get to Heaven (which seems increasingly unlikely), I suspect it will look a lot like the Grand Central Oyster Bar. There will be a raw bar with people shucking more than a dozen varieties of bivalves. Dozens of varieties of fresh fish will be available daily from all parts of the country. There will be a formal dining room, a saloon, and a series of counters facing an open kitchen, all housed in a building of incomparable beauty.

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                        a primer on vietnamese food

                                                                  By Ken Schechet

This is the last in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, who has been eating his way through Asia

I have been to Vietnamese restaurants in the United States, France, and several Asian countries.  I recently spent two weeks eating my way from one end of Vietnam to the other and quickly realized that before I got here I had absolutely no clue what Vietnamese food was all about.

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                                 hanoi street food

                                                                      By Ken Schechet

Eating his way through Asia, our correspondent has reached Vietnam. Here is his report on the street food vendors of Hanoi.

Like many foodies I have a Tony Bourdain addiction.  I have followed him through three networks, actually ran into him filming in a butcher shop in Tuscany, and have seen every show he’s done from his favorite country, Vietnam.  According to a recent New York Times Magazine story he seriously considered moving to Vietnam, specifically Hanoi, a few years ago.  So Vietnam went to the top of my bucket list and I finally got there recently.

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                              singapore street food

                                                                    By Ken Schechet

This is the second in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.

Singapore is probably the most food obsessed place I’ve ever been.  It is a constant topic of conversation.  Cab drivers ask you where you’ve eaten.  It’s a place where WTF stands for “Where’s the Food”  (I didn’t make that up.  It was on a billboard.)  Being a major trading and banking center there are no end of fine restaurants, but what Singapore is famous for is street food.

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                              singapore food wars

                                                                  By Ken Schechet

This is the first in a series of dispatches from our correspondent Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.

If you’ve ever been to South Philadelphia and are a foodie, you have probably been to the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue where the two signature cheese steak joints, Pat’s and Gino’s, are directly across the street from each other and staring each other down constantly.  Of course, you need to try them both.  Rivalries like these are so delicious to me, on so many levels, that when I heard about two similar situations in Singapore I had to see them on a recent visit.

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                     great wine for under $15?

It’s not a typo, oxymoron or stupid question. There’s a lot of very good wine at very low prices, but discovering it is a challenge---particularly when you’re strolling the wine aisle of your local supermarket or beverage superstore, staring at a tsunami of unfamiliar labels.

The answer is Mark Spivak’s Affordable Wine Guide to California and the Pacific Northwest, available as an e-book for $7.99. The book profiles 43 producers and contains hundreds of wine reviews, and gives you a clear-cut view of the good and the bad. The criteria are simple: What does the wine taste like? What kind of food does it go with? Is it worth the money?

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