Wine and other spirits

Don’t Whine about Thanksgiving, Get Some Advice about Thanksgiving Wine

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Longtime readers (oh, the faithful, I thank you) may notice a change to the layout of Stay at Stove Dad. I’ve freshened the design and made it mobile friendly, so I hope it’s easier to use. One thing that hasn't changed, however, is an awareness of my limits as a father. My darlings Nina and Pinta remind me every day! So when it came to picking wines for the big Thanksgiving holiday, I knew enough to ask around. I checked with my friend W. R. Tish, a father of two and a certified wine expert, for some advice this year. Here’s what he has to share. I found it very reassuring. Happy drinking!

Here’s to Thanksgiving, Our National Wine Holiday

With Turkey Day fast approaching, a chorus of call-outs can be found all over the Web, and in stores, on TV… for wines that belong on the Thanksgiving table. Lucky for us: It’s all pretty good. 

Yes. Most all of the heapin’ helpings of T-giving wine recommendations bobbing to the surface of the Great Wine Sea are in fact excellent. 

Without fancy 90-point numbers, with critics and consumers alike recognize that the Thanksgiving spread, whether classic or modern, is an exercise in controlled food chaos (stuffing and yams and cranberries — oh my!). And for the most part, wine advice has followed suit. Merchants and writers are promoting flexible strategies and relative abandon. 

Perhaps more ironically than ever in this politically haywire year, the unifying force behind Thanksgiving wine is… Diversity.

You’ve got your bubblies and rosés and Rieslings. You can pick a Pinot or three—Noir, Gris, even Grigio. Chenin? Sure. Chinon. Double-sure.

Then there’s Bojo (as in Beaujolais, Nouveau or Cru) and Chardo (as in Chardonnay—steely or oaky okay).

And Gee-whats-her-name-er. Yes, Thanksgiving is the holiday where if you bring Gewürztraminer, someone will cheer.

Plus reds galore to be poured without fear: Zin, Syrah, Shiraz, Grenache, Tempranillo…heck, you can even unscrew a Merlot without flinching.

I do believe we’ve reached a tipping point. People get it: Thanksgiving is open season, a solid green light to drink whatever you want—and/or to experiment. Think about it: what really does not go with Thanksgiving’s peaceful riot of flavors? 

Actually, there are some red-wine flags. You can leave your trophy Napa Cabs in the cellar, I’d say. And heavy Italian reds.  What else doesn’t fit… wines from Turkey? Butterball Vineyards? If it’s grape-based and fermented, there’s probably room for it at the Thanksgiving table circa 2016.

All things considered, I think the time has come to declare Thanksgiving America’s wine holiday. Time to put the Fruit of the Vine right up there with turkeys and pumpkins and pigskins. Let’s make it an annual cork-popping celebration of good taste, of course, but even more importantly, of Diversity.

Tish’s 2009 T-giving Top 10

Here are some perennial greatest hits from T-giving at my house, where we have had anywhere from 12 to 20 guests:

            ◦           Beaujolais Cru. Bojo Nouveau is feeling sooooo 20th century. Go for the real deal. Morgan, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Ven

            ◦           Off-dry Riesling. A fruity foil to sweet and tart and gamey flavors alike; and pleases Aunt Tillie from the get-go.

            ◦           Rosé. Because everyone’s drinking it. And it does flatter turkey.

            ◦           Pinot Noir. This is the one wine that is splurge-worthy.

            ◦           Bordeaux. Humble Bordeaux, that is. Nothin’ fancy.

            ◦           Rioja Reserva. Like BDX, a quiet crowd-pleaser, and worth stepping up to the Reserva level.

            ◦           Buttery Chardonnay. Never fails to keep someone happy.

            ◦           P-X. Nothing says hola! to pecan/pumpkin pies like Pedro-Ximenez.

  1. W. R. Tish is the Managing Editor of Beverage Media, and develops wine tastings via his website Follow him on twitter @tishwine

Beyond Bubbie Recap: Why We Need to Eat and Drink Together

I spent a lot of time this week getting ready for the presentation I did last night for the Beyond Bubbie performance, at the 92Y Tribeca. It was a great night of intense stories about grandmothers and food, and I was honored to have shared the stage with David Sax (Save the Deli),  Mo Rocca ("My Grandmother’s Ravioli"),Carla Hall ("The Chew"), Joan Nathan (a New York Times contributor and cookbook author), Jake Dell (of Katz’s Deli), Alan Richman (a GQ food correspondent), Judy Batalion, and Cantor Shira Ginsburg (of Bubby's Kitchen.)

My grandmother was someone who became a widow at a somewhat young age, in her late forties  (the age, as I put it last night, that women these days are just first starting to think about becoming mothers). She died when I was just out of high school, and I didn’t remember much about her, other than that she found it hard to cook for one person. I didn’t know what that meant when she told me that—I was just a kid back then, after all—but I came to realize, in talking to my brothers and sisters and mother about what they remembered about her, that she was lonely, and she could have used a good meal, some good company, and a good conversation, along with, perhaps, a good cry, and certainly a good laugh.

I wish I could have given that to her. The best I can do is do that for my wife, my girls, my family, and my friends. Cooking is about so much more than just the food. It’s about the meal, the company, and the good times and bad times. Food is not just the fuel of love, it’s the fuel of conversation, communication, and intimacy. Give yourself the luxury of sitting around the table for a while. You don’t have to make anything fancy. You just have to be there, and listen.

Of course, it helps if you make something like a pot of gumbo and a loaf of fresh cornbread, which is what I did the other night for a little dinner party. And I served a bottle of Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordon Reserva, from 2006. The bottle was sent to me by a publicist, and I’m happy to say that it was quite tasty. It had a rich feel and a balanced depth that belied its low, circa $15 price. But don’t take my word for it, take the Wine Guys word. Here’s their little video about the bottle


The Strange Case of the Pinotage

Recently, I received a gift credit to Lot18, a specialty wine-sale site. I like wine well enough. I have my tastes, and they lean towards Spanish reds and New Zealand Sauvignon blancs. Partially this is because of cost, and partially this is because of cost. Let’s just say that I’ve become very good at finding cheap wines that don’t embarrass the palate. If I had my druthers, of course, I’d be drinking Brunellos on weekdays and first-growth Saint-Émilion on Saturdays. Or vice versa. I think you get it.

So about that gift credit to Lot18. It was for $50, and I was excited to use it. I thought I might pick up a nice bottle of Bruenello, but with shipping charges, etc, and their policy of pairing wines, there wasn’t much I could find for $50. So I held on to it, until they ran a promotion, with a mixed batch of four or six wines for something like $40. I leapt at the chance. I didn’t really care what I was getting. I trusted them to send me something half decent.

Half is about right. I opened one the other night, a 2010 Pulpit Rock Pinotage. I don’t think I’ve ever had a pinotage before, and I doubt that I’ll be rushing out to have one again. The first night I opened the bottle, I found it sharp and strange. It was cutting on the tongue, and almost, I would have to say, a bit bubbly, but not in a Champagne dreams kind of way. The wine did improve by the following night, so maybe all it needed was a little air, and I started to wonder, “what is this pinotage.” Later, I discovered, according to

Pinotage is a red wine grape that is almost exclusive to South Africa, although many South Africans shun the variety because of its polarizing, 'un-European' flavor profile and the care it requires both in the vineyard and the winery.

Created in Stellenbosch in 1925, Pinotage is a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. The 'Pinot' half of the name was given priority because of the prestige associated with Burgundy's great red grape. The 'age' part was taken from the end of Hermitage, one of several local names for Cinsaut; its position at the back end of the crossing's name reflects Cinsaut's lowly status compared to Pinot Noir.

Santa Maria and I don’t drink all that much wine around the house, but when we do, Nina and Pinta take a great interest in it. Maybe I should say that they take a great interest in whatever it is that I’m drinking. They always want to taste it, and I often let them put their finger in the glass. I've also started to teach them how to sniff the wine. That first night, taking their cues from my reaction to the wine, Nina inhaled and said “It smells like a Sharpie marker.”   

Labor Day Special: Tequila Ginger-Ale Cocktail Recipe

I don’t usually traffic in cocktail recipes, but as summer winds down, I have to share one that I fell head over heels for back in July. I wish I could take credit for it, but like all the sweet things in my life, it was initiated by Santa Maria.

In recent years, she’s made a tradition of whipping up homemade ginger ale for our nieces and nephews during our annual treks to the Jersey shore. This year, I brought a nice bottle of tequila on that trip, to make margaritas, and I did  but they were pretty terrible. Perhaps it was because all I could find was cut-rate Triple Sec at the local supermarket, or perhaps it was because I had never made them before. Either way, there was no way I was going to try and make them more than once. 

So the night Santa Maria poured the homemade ginger ale for the little kids, I dressed mine up with a nice shot of tequila. Instantly, I had a cocktail worthy of the swankiest, hippest, newest, club around. As you roll into Labor Day, think about making one for yourself. Leave out the tequila, and you have a great drink for the kids. My nine-year old nephew from Western PA called the ginger ale, “stinkin' good.” I think you’ll agree, especially if you goose yours up with a good tequila.

Tequila Ginger-Ale Surprise

You'll need:

  • Sugar
  • Limes
  • Fresh ginger
  • Seltzer
  • Tequila (optional)

Start with a simple syrup. Take 1 cup raw organic sugar and dissolve it one cup of water. Do this by heating the water (and boiling if necessary) until the sugar is suspended in the liquid. You'll have more simple syrup than you need, and the extra can be stored in the refrigerator.

To make a big batch, for say eight people, juice 5 limes and chop (don't grate; this is important) about 3 tablespoons of fresh ginger. 

In a glasses with ice, mix each drink as follows:

2-3 tablespoons of simple syrup

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon chopped ginger

Top with seltzer to taste. Add a shot of tequila, and you have a proper cocktail. The chopped ginger is fun to chew on, too. Kid love it (without the alcohol, of course). Making the drinks this way allows you to customize the flavor for each glass. Some may like it little sweeter, so add more simple syrup. Others may liken it a little stronger, so add more tequila. You get the idea. Have fun. 


New Year's Money Saving Tip: Buy Wine by the Case

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I’m always looking for ways to improve my behavior. Also to save money. In recent years, I switched from a credit card that gave me airline miles when I used it, to one that gives me cash back. After I became a father, I simply wasn’t travelling much. Cash, on the other hand, speaks for itself.

Recently, I read a new book, “The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things With Money," by Carl Richards, and it is full of sage advice, and great drawings. Richards makes a number of good suggestions, and if you’re looking for a book to help get your financial bearings in the New Year, it’s a good place to start.

I have my own bit of financial advice: If you’re looking to save money on wine, buy it by the case. Most stores will offer ten to fifteen-percent off when you do this. I also find it handy to have a few extra bottles of wine to have on hand, in case I need one for a hostess gift or to bring to a family gathering. And if you're not sure what bottles to buy, find a trusted store and ask the staff for suggestions. You probably won't go wrong.

What money saving ideas do you have around the kitchen? If you have ways of economizing, I'd like to hear them.

Late Autumn Sangria Recipe

In my item about Progressive Dinners, a month or so ago, I mentioned that I would post some of the great recipes for the food and drink that was served that night. In the holiday spirit, I present a recipe for Sangria, served by a dad who used to be a professional chef, so he knows what he is talking about. It's an autumnal recipe, and even though the temperature is dropping, trees are lighting, and carolers are out, it is still autumn. He does mentions glüwein, or mulled wine, in his intro, though, so I'll have to see if he has a recipe for that. It might be more appropriate for the coming months (and if you have a good glüwein recipe, be sure to let me know).

Autumn Sangria

Sangria is a great way to use bottles of wine that have been opened but not finished. A wise restaurant will use all of the opened by-the-glass bottles from the previous day to make a house sangria or similar punch e.g. glüwein, resulting in consistently fresh wines by-the glass (I hate it when I get served a glass of wine in a restaurant that was clearly opened days ago.) This is an autumn adaptation of the Spanish classic.

Many sangria recipes specify wine varietals, but due to the amount of sweeteners and adjuncts, I feel that this is irrelevant. The only exception is over-oaked wines, which I feel are inappropriate for all occasions.

The purpose of making sangria is to use the ingredients at ones disposal; including, but not limited to, the season and one's preferences. The following recipe is only a framework from which to work. The crucial ingredients after the wine are the sugar, orange juice, and citrus to provide a balance of acidity and sweetness.



  •       Approximately one 750 ml bottle of red wine (mixing in some white wine is fine too)
  •       1 cup spiced simple syrup (see below)
  •       1/2 cup orange juice
  •       1/2 cup brandy
  •       1/4 cup Triple Sec
  •       2 juice oranges, cut into thin half slices
  •       1 lemon, cut into thin half slices
  •       1 red apple, halved, cored and cut into large dice
  •       1 red pear, halved, cored and cut into large dice
  •       1 cup sparkling apple cider (can substitute Sprite)

Combine all the ingredients, best if allowed to macerate overnight. Add the sparkling apple cider just before serving. Serve over ice.

Spiced Simple Syrup

  •       2 cups water
  •       1 cup sugar
  •       1 cinnamon stick
  •       ½ teaspoon whole cloves
  •       1 teaspoon whole allspice
  •       5 whole star anise
  •       2 slices fresh ginger
  •       Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

To make the spiced simple syrup

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by half. Allow to cool and strain.

What I'm Drinking Now: 2010 Frenzy Sauvignon Blanc

Part of our hurricane preparations involved buying a bottle of wine. It was the day before the big storm, and already the rain was starting to come down. I was in a hurry to grab a bottle, so I dashed into Big Nose Full Body and  picked up one of their New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, a 2010 bottle of Frenzy, from Marlborough, for $12.

I was in too much of a hurry to read the store notes, but the clerk told me it had a good and solid New Zealand-ish citrus side to it. I couldn't wait to try it. At home, I took a look at the back label, and what was written there struck a note with me. "Frenzy is a name inspired by the myriad, uncontrollable forces of nature that must fall into place in order to make great wine," it declared. The same could be said, I thought, about raising a kid.

My girls are forever fascinated with whatever I'm drinking. "Beer" they tend to call "beard," having trouble the word, and no matter what is in my glass they want a taste of it. I always let them try it. They put their finger in the glass, and I wonder if they'll ever be able to tell the difference between one wine and another. Maybe someday. For now, I take solace in Pinta's developing senses. I gave her a whiff of Frenzy, and asked her what fruit it smelled like. "Grapefruit," she said, and she was right. Talk about a signature New Zealand wine. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

I'm headed to the beach for the next few days, and will try to post if I can, though I'm not sure how good the Internet access will be. Rest assured, I'll still be cooking. Enjoy the remainder of your summer.



What I'm Drinking Now: Tortoise Creek Sauvignon Blanc “Cuveé Jeanne”


Tuesday, we had an earthquake, and its effects were felt last night. A shelf of dishes came crashing down in the kitchen—the little pin holding the wood must have been loosened by the earth’s recent rumbling. The crockery shattered right around my mother, who was in the kitchen getting reading for a dinner with Santa Maria’s folks. They’re visiting, and Santa Maria cooked her famed Rose Revived Flounder for them.

I had been charged with shopping and getting the wine. I meant to get the fish from Blue Moon, at the Greenmarket in Union Square, but I didn’t get out of the house in time that morning to do so and to get to work at a reasonable hour, so I opted to go to the market in Grand Central Station, near my office. There’s lots of fresh food there now, but boy is it pricey: note to self, always, always buy from Blue Moon.

I thought about getting the wine in Grand Central, too, but after paying through the nose for the fish, I wasn’t in the mood to shell out anything extra for the convenience of getting it there. There are many good wine stores in Brooklyn, and the one nearest to our place, Big Nose Full Body, is small but exceptionally well run. Here’s how I know: they sell good cheap wine. It’s one thing to stock your shelves with expensive bottles of great wine. It’s another to find the ones people can afford on a weeknight that will make them feel like they are at a fine restaurant.

Last night I picked a $12 bottle of 2010 Tortoise Creek Sauvignon Blanc “Cuveé Jeanne” from their shelf. The store notes described as something like “everything you might want in a Sauvignon Blanc.” They were right. It was crisp and citrusy, but well rounded and full. I hear there’s a hurricane coming our way, and I might have to get myself a case before the winds and rains arrive. Who knows what Mother Nature will throw at us next.

A Curious and Delicious Brew: Innis & Gunn's Oak-Aged Beer

I was out on Monday night at a couple of parties, including one for "Red Hot + Rio 2," the latest offering from the AIDs fighting group Red Hot. The album features Alice Smith, John Legend, Beck, David Byrne, and countless other contemporary artists interpreting classics from the Brazilian Tropicália movement of the late sixties.

Tropicália mixed blues, rock, psychedelia, folk, jazz, bossa nova, and samba into a revolutionary stew, and the new compilation is a tasty treat. But a strange brew they were serving at the party left a more lasting impression on me: Innis & Gunn's Rum Cask Finish Oak Aged Beer has the lightest, sweetest, most complex taste of any beer I've ever had.

The beer, which is aged in oak casks that have been used to make Navy rum, was an accidental discovery on the part of its producer a few years ago. A Scottish whisky distiller, William Grant & Sons, wanted to make an ale-finished liquor, so it commissioned a leading brewer to make a beer to season the casks that would be used for the whisky. The beer was supposed to be discarded, but some thirsty employee tasted it instead, and realized that they were on to something.

The amber brew is delicate and sophisticated, with hints of vanilla and, of course, oak. There's no trace of bitterness at all. The brewer’s website suggests pairing it with food, like a fine wine, but I disagree.

I was so enthusiastic about the beer that I bought some last night at Bierkraft, and had it with my quick chicken curry. The food overwhelmed the beer, though, and rendered its delicate flavor closer to water than anything as delightful as I had downed the night before. Next time, I'm having it strictly as an aperitif. It deserves a moment of its own.

What I'm Drinking Now: 2009 Natura Cabernet Sauvignon

I’m always shocked when I think about how my life differs from the life my father led. He never cooked for us, but he was always home for dinner. After eating, he would often have to go out again, and at that hour he had a few expressions that I’ll never forget. He would say  “I feel like a yo-yo,” or “I’m at the end of my string,” and I was always very amused, though even at that age I was certain that he wasn’t trying to be funny.

Natura-cabernet-sauvignon1 I’m rarely home for dinner. My job keeps me at my desk until 6 pm, and by the time I walk in the door, the  kids’ dinnertime is long past. Last night, the trains were delayed, and my commute took longer than usual. I arrived home somewhat late, relieved our fantastic babysitter (Santa Maria was tied up with the same commuting problems as I was), and greeted the girls.

Nina told me she was hungry. Typically, at such an hour, there’s a good chance that this is a ruse to spend time with me and to delay her bedtime. She’s a smart child, and she knows that for me, the Stay at Stove Dad, I can’t bear to send her to bed with an empty stomach.

A sure-fire way for me to find out if she’s really hungry is to offer her a vegetable. She eats her greens well enough at dinnertime, but she’s never eager for seconds of them. Last night I said she could have some green beans. To my surprise she said that she would like some—the poor child really was hungry. I steamed a bunch very quickly, buttered them up, and gave them to her. I'm sure my father never did that for me.

Later, after I had experimented with an Asian sauce to dress up my go-to Salmon fillet for my own dinner with Santa Maria, I sat down with a glass of 2009 Natura 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, from Chile's Emiliana. It was in the house because it came with a recent four-pack from our former local wine store, Red, White, and Bubbly.

Their four-packs are always full of winners, but this wine made me nervous. It was made with organic grapes. I love organic produce, but wine is wine. As it turned out, there was no need for me to be concerned: Emiliana is Chile's leading organic wine producer, and for good reason. It was delicious, with a hearty bouquet, a substantial body, and delicious floral and fruit notes. As I sipped the wine, I thought again of my father. He stopped drinking in 1973, but even before then, I’m ceratin he never had a glass of organic wine.