Monday, March 25, 2013

Cracking Open the Good Stuff – New Kitchen Edition

While the thrust of The Naked Vine is largely inexpensive wines, I’ll admit that I don’t “live on bread alone.” I have a wine cellar, although it’s not some cavernous 3,000 bottle temperature-controlled, hermetically-sealed, heavily-fortified safe room. My closet down in “Le Bistro Below”does provide protection, though, for a few bottles that fall outside my typical price range. While every day wine is good for every day, once in a while, you’ve just got to dig into that special stash…

Nine weeks.

That’s how long the kitchen remodel took. Nine weeks made manageable by the seating area in the Bistro and a makeshift kitchen that we cobbled together using the washer/dryer as a countertop, the utility sink, a steamer, a microwave, a single-element burner, a slow cooker, and the grill. Honestly, we ate pretty well, but we were plenty ready to cook on an actual stove again.

For comparison's sake, a few "befores..."

And what a stove we now have. A big thumbs up to The Howland Group for doing such a wonderful job on the remodel. They were as professional, organized, and on task as we could have wanted. The final product was (at least so far!) everything we wanted.

So...without further ado...

(Pretty cool, no?)

Celebration time, then! We cooked a few meals in the new kitchen to get a feel. Like any new restaurant opening – chefs need to get used to their new equipment, right? It didn’t take long. The Sweet Partner in Crime had done a wonderful job designing placements for our utensils, pans, and prep stuff. Everything in easy reach, especially with the new island. We worked out the kinks and decided to have our “grand opening” meal.

The most important question, of course, was what wine to have. We figured we’d be able to put together a menu around it. We descended to the catacombs and came up with:

Roederer Estate 2002 L’Ermitage Brut

We’d picked up this bottle of bubbly on our 2010 trip to Mendocino County. It ran us around $50 and we intended to open it at New Year’s as a “10 year vintage bubbly” thing, but there was too much Mod Oz tastiness lying around. We decided we’d make it our “next special occasion” wine, and this event certainly qualified.

Late afternoon last Friday, while taking a break from our annual college hoops overdose, we put together a little appetizer plate of items that go well with quality Methode Champenoise sparkling wine. (“Methode Champenoise” is the method for making Champagne…real Champagne…and other high-quality sparklers. Read more about that here.) We had some very salty Parmesan-esque cheese, toasted almonds, some crackers, and some caviar. Yes, caviar. Like I said, it’s a special occasion.

We popped the cork and poured a little. The Roederer is one extremely delicate sparkler. The flavor was feathery and creamy, with a little toasted almond and apricot. Honestly, that’s as far as I’m going to go into the tasting note. It was good. Just really, really good. With our little small bites – I expected it to go well with everything, and it did. But honestly, we thought it was better appreciated on its own.

At least at first.

Emboldened by the new Bosch cooktop, I wanted to overcome one of my personal failings as a cook. I absolutely adore seared scallops, but I’ve never been able to do them particularly well. I can be a pretty impatient denizen of the kitchen, honestly – and I have an irrational fear of burning things. Seared scallops are so tricky. Undercooked scallop isn’t appealing and overcooked scallop tastes like Firestone. I was bound and determined to create a great entrée for the remainder of the bubbles. And with that magical blue flame crusting the little guys perfectly, I felt like Mario Batali’s scrawny second cousin.

Alongside the scallops, I’d put together a can’t miss side – my mushroom risotto. My ancestry may be German & Swedish, but I make as mean a pot of risotto as any non-paisan out there. A little truffle oil, a little of that grated salty cheese, a dash of this, a smidge of that, and a whole lot of stirring yielded one of my best batches ever.

To the table we went, bubbles in hand, lights low in the new kitchen. Gazing at the new architecture, we dug into the little feast, sipped a little bubbly and…

OK. Well, I’m supposed to describe this now? Best I can come up with, although I’m going to sound like a total square referencing a movie made wayyyyyy back in 1994:

We watched Pulp Fiction (yes, it came out in 1994…feelin’ old, buckaroos?) the other day. Recall the scene where Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) goes to the bathroom in Jack Rabbit Slim’s to…er…”powder her nose?” Do you remember her quote when she raises her head?

"I said god DAMN!"

Yeah, it was something like that. I mean, minus the cocaine. It is a pretty bad ass kitchen. And it was a pretty kick ass meal.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming…

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Adventure Mom Mailbag

A few weeks ago, I wrote a review of Seasons 52, one of Cincinnati’s newest restaurants. I had the good fortune that evening to be sitting next to the lovely and talented Nedra McDaniel, better known around the Internets as Adventure Mom. Nedra says that her blog, where she documents her love of “living like a tourist” – is her attempt to inspire people to step outside their comfort zones. From Broadway shows to trapeze classes to underwater hockey, Adventure Mom’s got ideas for new and interesting experiences in spades.

Nedra asked me if I’d be willing to take some questions from she and her readers about wine and wine related stuff. I realized it had been quite a while (a couple of years, actually!) since I’d done a proper mailbag, so without further ado – here’s a sampling of what folks wanted to know:

Adventure Mom: I would like to know the best way to store wine once it's open.

The Naked Vine: The best way to store wine once it's open, honestly, is in the fridge. Wine turns to vinegar through oxidation, and cold slows that process down. Now, if you don't like your red wine cold -- you can just pour it and then patiently stare at it until it gets to where you like it...or (just don't let anyone see you), pop your glass in the microwave for5 seconds and swirl. No kidding. Those VacuVin sealers can work as well -- but not as well as refrigeration.

Raising2tweens: What wine do you suggest for a mom who has had a rough day with a 13 year old girl and an 11 yr old boy? LOL Seriously though... I only like red wine. Can it really go with all meals?

The Naked Vine: There are red wines that go with almost any sort of food -- you just have to be aware of styles. If you're making baked chicken, you probably don't want a big honkin' glass of Australian Shiraz. But a glass of a light red (especially with a little chill on it) would work just fine. In a case like that, an Italian Valpolicella or Chianti -- or a French Beaujolais would be good choices...

Khrys C.: I am really dumb regarding wines. Is there a class I can take that will smarten me up a bit so I can at least have an intelligent wine conversation and know how to choose one I'd like from the vast amount of different wines out there?

The Naked Vine: There are lots of wine appreciation classes out there if you want to get out and about. My personal suggestion (no surprise) is working your way through the Wine School series of articles that I wrote (  as a way to get yourself started.

Daniel V: My wife and I just had our first child and I wanted to order some bottles of wine that I can age and give to her when she turns 21.  So my question is, what kind of bottle of wine would you recommend that will age 20 years and still be good? I was thinking a French Bordeaux like a 2009 Chateau Gruaud-Larose or Chateau Grand Puy-Lacoste. Would you recommend either one of those for this idea or should I consider something else?

The Naked Vine: Now that sounds like a heck of a gift! I think there are a number of ways that you can go with that. Your idea about the Bordeaux is a very good one. A quality Bordeaux should easily age for 20 years, and if that's the sort of wine that you like, then you can definitely go that route.

Some other ideas -- Sauternes and Riesling can age practicially indefinitely. Amarone and Barolo practically need 20 years just to make it to their prime drinkability window. There are, of course, other late harvest style wines that will also last awhile. California cabernet also has a lot of aging potential.

Bottom line -- what sort of wine is your favorite? What will you likely be letting your daughter sip at dinner over the next 20 years, so when she gets to have this little cornucopia for her own -- it's not going to be a total shock to her system. I would think of it more as a time capsule of your current palate that you get to share. I think it's a great thing you're doing!

Daniel V (followup): I live in South Texas (San Antonio) and like most houses here, we do not have basements or cellars. How do I properly store wine (like the present for my daughter) so it doesn’t get ruined over time?

The Naked Vine: this is where it gets a little bit complicated. There's a difference in storage for a couple of years and 20. The enemies of wine are heat and light -- so obviously you want somewhere dark and relatively cool -- and also relatively stable, temperature wise. It's big swings in temperature that really kill wine, so you want somewhere stable. Now, if you're keeping wine for a relatively short period of time (say 5 years or less), an interior closet that has a stable temperature and is dark will work just fine. Fridges will work, too -- but they are notoriously expensive and can be unreliable. I went through three of them before I put my cellar in.

Since what you're planning for your daughter will require decades of storage -- you might be better off investing in an underground cellar. It doesn't have to be fancy, big, or, honestly, even climate-controlled as long as it's not below a place that will be in the sun. The natural insulation from the earth will be enough. You just need a small underground space that you can access easily.

Failing that, there are self-storage places that have climate controlled wine storage. Just depends on how much you want to spend.

Got questions of your own? Send them to Mike at or at

Monday, March 11, 2013

Back to the Biltmore

I’ve written about wines from Biltmore Estate Winery once before. Back in July, I went to a conference in Asheville, North Carolina – home of the aforementioned Biltmore Estate. When I returned from the trip, I found samples of their “Century Red” and “Century White” waiting on my doorstep. While I didn’t have a similar crossing of paths this time around, I recently snagged some samples of their “sweet sipping” collection.

One of these samples was my second go-round with the Century White. The others were a Riesling and a sparkling wine. I’ve not had much of a wine-related sweet tooth these days, but I was bound and determined to give them a fair shake. So, let’s take a little trip to Carolina in our minds. (Perhaps we can swing by the Dean E. Smith Center, where the wailings of demoralized UNC-CH fans still echo through the rafters a after their basketball teams’ twin weekend demolitions by the Devils from Durham…)

Biltmore Estate (NV) American Riesling – My favorite Rieslings are typically those from the French region of Alsace. Alsace Riesling typically has lots of minerality, light body, lean fruit, and a slight alkaline flavor in its dry finish. American and German Rieslings tend not to have those particular qualities, as they’re generally made in a “heavier” style. This offering from Biltmore is a pleasant exception. I found that this wine had plenty of those Alsatian characterics, except they’ve left a little residual sugar to make it more…interesting to the American palate.

The result is a very quaffable, yet still complex white. It’s got some nice floral aromas and a little sweetness on the palate that gets calmed down by an interesting minerality. Melon and peach flavors abound, followed by and a semi-sweet finish. It’s OK on its own, but I tried it with both a spicy Thai chicken soup and a flavorful turkey chili. Both pairings were quite nice. I’d think it would be a nice choice to go with almost anything spicy. ($11)

Biltmore Estate (NV) Century White Wine – My reaction to this one was a bit different the second time around. The last time I tried this blend, I thought it made a pretty decent glass. This time, it wasn’t nearly as friendly with the ol’ palate. I discovered that they’d changed the grape blend. Last time, Gewurztraminer was the primary grape. This time around, it’s Muscat Canelli, which often creates a heavier, sweeter still wine. I thought it was cloyingly sweet and very heavy on my tongue. There’s fruit, fruit, fruit and sugar, sugar, sugar. As our neighbor Minnesota Marlene put it, smacking her lips, “This has got lots of apricot,” and that’s it. (If Marlane ain’t talkin’, it ain’t workin’.) It’s a substantial wine that works with spicy cuisine well enough, but is too heavy to be enjoyed on its own. If you like really sweet wines, perhaps give it a try. Otherwise, give it a pass. ($16)

Biltmore Estate (NV) Pas de Deux Sparkling Wine – Pink is the dominant color of the packaging and there’s a pair of ballet slippers on the label. The back label promised a wine that’s “slightly sweet,” and I saw that it was made from 100% Muscat Canelli. I mentally braced myself for “tooth aching levels of sugar” as I prepared to pop the cork. Sweeter sparkling wine usually says “brunch” to me. As a result, The Sweet Partner in Crime and I decided on “breakfast for dinner” to go alongside: a scrumptious “trout benedict” concoction.  We plated it up, poured, let the bubbles settle – and the Pas de Deux caught me completely off guard. It’s downright tasty. Yes, it’s a little bit sweet, but not overly so. I thought it exhibited some really nice tropical fruit flavors with a surprisingly crisp finish. It reminded me of a more highly carbonated Moscato, and this is not a bad thing in the slightest. I thought it was a fun wine and I’d consider giving it another run for brunch sometime. Nice work. ($19)

Monday, March 04, 2013

Greetings, Cincinnati!

Hello to all my new friends from Cincinnati.Com! I'm Mike Rosenberg, Sommelier for the Common Man, and I'll be your host, guide, and regular cause for eye-rolling here at The Naked Vine.

I've been pecking away at this little corner of the web since a fateful 2006 conversation at the Beer Sellar where my friend Scott made the offhand comment, "You know, it's easy to find a good $50 bottle of wine. I want to know where to find a good $10 bottle of wine."

The recovering English major side of me kicked in, and The Naked Vine was born. I've been fortunate enough to land myself in a variety of print and online forums -- but like the stuff often sloshing around my glass, it's only now that I've managed to swirl my way home. I'm so pleased to be able to share my adventures with my fellow Cincinnati-area wine lovers.

My goal is simple and I state it right up there in the tagline: Wine Advice for the Rest of Us. If you're looking for 100 point scales and tasting notes playing up the glories of "forest floor," "saddle leather," and "cold steel" -- you're in the wrong place. What you will find are easy to understand reviews of wines and useful bits of wine knowledge. Food and I go way back, so I always try to provide some good culinary pairings. Heck, I'll even throw in a recipe or two from time to time.

Basically, my hope is that after reading the Vine, you'll be able to stroll confidently down the aisle of the wine store of your choice, peruse a good restaurant's wine list, or belly up at your favorite watering hole and say with a grin, "I want THAT."

If you're new to wine, I recommend that you start with my Wine School series. (You obviously want to find more recent vintages of those wines if you taste them.) It'll give you a basic background on the major wine grapes and how to approach them. If there are certain wines that you're looking for, check out my tasting index. If you have wine-related questions, comments, or suggestions for what you'd like to see -- please feel free to shoot me an email. I'd also invite you to "like" the Naked Vine on Facebook or follow me at @thenakedvine on Twitter.

I look forward to having you along with me for the good times on this continuing journey. Grab a glass and come along...