ICE and USHG have paired up to offer Understanding Wine: a unique wine course led by James Beard Award-winning Wine Director and Master Sommelier, John Ragan. The course is based on the same insider educational curriculum taught to all USHG sommeliers, and ICE’s Content Manager Caitlin Raux had the chance to tag along on this 10-part voyage into the world of wine.

By Caitlin Raux

“Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.” It’s a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche and not exactly what you’d expect to hear from a sommelier trying to sell you on Riesling. But when that sommelier is Paul Grieco, described by the New York Times as the “high priest of the American Riesling revival,” you can bet your Bordeaux you’ll start questioning your own convictions — especially if you’re still a non-believer in Riesling. Paul, a sommelier at the TriBeca winebar, Terroir, was the guest presenter at Week 6 of Understanding Wine, a 10-part series of wine classes led by USHG Wine Director and Master Sommelier John Ragan. Sporting a mechanic’s shirt and a long goatee, Paul’s wine preferences seem as irreverent as his fashion choices, but spend some time soaking in his Riesling gospel, and you just might become a believer, too. I myself started to see the light by the end of the evening.

white wine USHG

 

Every Tuesday night, a roomful of food and wine lovers like myself gather at ICE to spend a few hours smelling, tasting and learning to talk about wine. Each week, the focus shifts to new regions or grapes — Wines of Italy; Burgundy and Bordeaux; New World Wines, etc. — and a different local wine expert joins the class: Kyungmoon Kim, sommelier at The Modern, and Jenni Guizio, Wine Director at Maialino, to name a couple. On this particular week, a post-work meeting had me doubting whether I would be able to make it. But I’ve come to look forward to this weekly wine ritual — you don’t have to twist my arm to get me to enjoy eight delicious wines. I hustled to make it just in the nick of time and settled into my seat with the half-glass of sparkling wine that greeted me as I entered. When I flipped open our course binder and discovered that the night’s theme was The World of Riesling, I sighed quietly and sunk into my chair, wishing that the meeting would have gone long. I felt about Riesling the way I do about cole slaw — sure, I’ll take it if it’s in front of me, but I’d never order it. It’s too sweet, so I thought, and just not my thing. 

Hoping for the best but prepared for the unremarkable, I joined my classmates on a voyage through Riesling vineyards in Germany. “Riesling is the most glorious white grape in the world,” Paul proclaimed. Boom. But what about those white wines from France we tasted a couple weeks back, made with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc? We began swirling, smelling and tasting, to see if he could convince us on the grape’s merits: versatility, yumminess (his word, not mine) and potential to express its home turf or terroir.

The first three wines, all from the Mosel region of Germany, shook my wine world. I thought Rieslings were supposed to be cloyingly sweet — these wines were anything but, and super versatile. Though produced in nearly identical conditions — same grape, same vintage (2015), same producer, same vineyard — the grapes of each wine were picked 10 days apart. John explained that the difference in ripeness accounted for the huge variation between the wines. All were high in acidity (that thing that makes your mouth pucker and water after a sip), but completely different in terms of intensity: from light and elegant (“Kabinett” style) to dry (“Trocken”) with intense orchard fruit flavors.

USHG Understanding Wine

Understanding Wine tasting chart

As we headed southwest to the Alsace region of France, I started to convert — I started to become a fan of Riesling. According to Paul, whereas German Rieslings are characterized by unbridled acidity with the potential for residual sugar, Alsace Rieslings are all about the power (read: alcohol). Wine 5 — a 2005 Brand Grand Cru Riesling from a third-generation producer Albert Boxler — was downright yummy. I couldn’t have put it better than Paul, who described it as “fully ripened grapes in a glass.”

From there, we flirted with comparable grapes — Gewürztraminer from France and Grüner Veltliner from Austria, while slurping up cold sesame noodles flecked with spice, courtesy of the hit restaurant, Untitled — a perfect pairing for the fruity, aromatic Gewürz. We nibbled and listened as Paul filled us in on the winemaking history in Austria. Austria was enmeshed in a grape juice scandal back in the 80s, when several winemakers were caught adulterating their wines with diethylene glycol — yup, that’s toxic — a trivia tidbit that prompted Paul to ask the class, “What’s your favorite scandal?” “The OJ scandal!” chirped the aspiring somm in the front row. We were six wines deep at that point and emboldened by sprightly white wine. “Let’s scale it back,” Paul joked, and we forged on.

Our Riesling guide, Paul

Our final wine was far less scandalous than the Juice (the football player, that is) and far more crowd-pleasing: a reasonably priced 2015 Bründlmayer Riesling from the Kamptal region of Austria. My tasting notes read: high acidity, dry, only a touch sweet — love (underlined). By this point, Paul had won me over. Best part, with the low alcohol levels of all of the wines, I had no semblance of a hangover the following day. Now that’s a happy ending.

If you’re an aspiring sommelier or a wine lover looking to take your wine knowledge to the next level, register for Understanding Wine.


By Caitlin Raux
 

It’s not easy to remove the intimidation factor from wine. Save for sommeliers and connoisseurs, most people get a little squirmy when it comes to talking about wine — a fact that makes wine buying a challenge. Dustin Wilson, master sommelier and co-founder of Verve Wine, wants to make wine more accessible to everyone. With both an online and brick and mortar presence, Verve Wine aims to educate customers and help them buy, order and enjoy wine with confidence. ICE is excited to welcome Dustin as one of the featured participants in the next First Fridays at ICE on April 7. In anticipation, we chatted with Dustin about his path to Verve and picked his brain for some seasonal wine recs.

Dustin Wilson MS

When did wine shift from a hobby to a career path for you?

I would say it first became a hobby when I was living in Maryland. I was working at a steak house and I got really interested in wine from being around it on a regular basis. So I started reading and studying it and tasting more often. But it wasn’t until I moved to Boulder, Colorado in 2005 and started working with Bobby Stuckey at Frasca’s Food and Wine that I realized that there was potential to work as a sommelier and have wine as a career path. Bobby is a master sommelier and he was my first mentor.

You’re a master sommelier also, right?

Correct. I passed the exam in 2011.

I’ve heard it’s a pretty intense test, to say the least.

It is indeed.

Tell me about preparing for that. What was the training like?

The majority of it is self-taught, so you don’t go to class for it. In order to get good, you need to have a great support system of wine people around you who are also pursuing it. It would be incredibly difficult to prepare for it on your own, without guidance. It took me basically from the time I started pursuing it until I actually passed, so a five year process.

Five years!?

Yes. It’s a lot of studying. You know, leading up to the time when I passed, I was putting in a solid 3-4 hours of study time on days that I was working. Then on days off it would be another 8-12 hours of study time. Tasting all the time, studying all the time with my group. It was definitely all-encompassing. I didn’t have a lot of free time.

After working as a sommelier for some time, you started Verve Wine. Can you share a little more about Verve?

Verve is a place to learn about, discover and buy wine online. We also have a physical store in Tribeca. We focus on small, artisanal producers from all over the globe, but we’re very particular about the producers that we carry. We like family owned estates that very much respect their land and make wines that are true to their sense of place. So it’s a process of curation — finding great wines from all over the world at different prices, everything from ten-dollar picks to those that cost thousands of dollars. We really wanted to create a place that makes finding and learning about wine accessible for a lot of people. That’s our main focus — making wine accessible and making it fun without dumbing it down. Also we make sure we provide top quality wines.

I was checking out your website and, like you said, it does seem very accessible. I work in food so I found the tool where you can search wines by food pairings very useful.

Exactly. We realized that people like to shop for wine in various ways. Some people go in and know exactly what they’re looking for. Some people are looking for a particular grape or region. Other people look for wine to go with a certain type of food. There’s also an “occasions” feature, so if you’re looking for wine for brunch versus Valentine’s Day or Thanksgiving, we put together curated lists of wines that fit each occasion.

And that’s just the website! Do you also do in-house wine education?

Yes. We host tastings pretty often and they cover a wide range of topics. Sometimes we do a casual tasting — like on Thursdays, we open up a couple of bottles from a region and people can come, taste and we talk with them about the wines. Other times, we’ll invite winemakers or sommeliers and host on a seminar where we taste through their wines or a specific region and talk more in-depth about it. This Friday we have Richard Betts, another master sommelier coming in to do a tasting of a wine he makes plus some other wines that are similar to his. We want people to come to the store to learn and taste, not just buy.

It seems like all the master sommeliers know each other. Do you guys and girls all hang out and open magnums together? 

Sometimes. It’s definitely a small community of people. At this point I think there’s only around 230 worldwide. We tend to all know each other. I am buddies with some of them and we get together on a regular basis. We’re always supportive of each other in our respective endeavors. A lot of us got to know each other through the process of studying for the exam. Some of my best friends are guys I took the master sommelier exam with.

That makes sense. Circling back to the First Fridays event you’re taking part in at ICE — The Craft of Food, Wine & Chocolate — do you have any pairing suggestions for wine and chocolate?

It depends on the type of chocolate. If you’re having a bitter, dark chocolate on its own, I like something called Banyuls. It’s actually the name of a place in southern France that makes a really delicious fortified wine — kind of similar to port but a slightly different flavor and texture to it that I think works really well with bitter chocolate. Let’s say you’re having a chocolate truffle or something with caramel or fruit inside — I’d recommend this interesting wine from Austria that’s a sweet wine, late harvest made from a grape called Zweigelt. You definitely want something that will match up with the sweetness of the chocolate. The pairing would change depending on the other flavors with the chocolate, if any. If you’re having a chocolate with peanuts or almonds, you might want a vin santo from Italy.

That seems counterintuitive to me. I would think you’d want a contrast in flavors — like if you have a creamy chocolate, you’d want an acidic wine. 

All of these wines actually have a lot of acidity. Because they’re sweet, they need to have a lot of acidity; otherwise the wines would feel cloying and overly rich. But if you were to pair a dry red wine with chocolate, it would be a clash because the chocolate, which is so sweet, would make the wine taste even drier. You don’t want a wine that’s sweeter, you just want to match the sweetness.

Since it’s Spring, can you give us a pairing for a seasonal meal, such as roasted chicken with spring vegetables?

Chardonnay from Burgundy handles itself really well. It tends to be lighter, brighter and fresher than a California Chardonnay, for instance. That would be great with roasted chicken. For spring dishes, especially at this time of year when the sun is starting to come out and things are warming up, I’d recommend crisp, bright, more mineral-driven whites. Things like Gruner Veltliner, Albariño, etc. Sancerre can definitely be a great spring wine, especially with something like roasted asparagus. That goes really well Sauvignon Blanc.

Thank you, Dustin. We’re looking forward to seeing you at ICE soon!

Learn more about First Fridays at ICE.

By John Ragan — USHG Senior Director of Operations and Master Sommelier 

John Ragan MS teaches Understanding Winea 10-week, in-depth course developed in collaboration between ICE and Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG). As USHG’s senior director of operations and master sommelier, John works with each of USHG’s restaurants to evolve their exceptional wine programs. 

We’ve all been there: You’re sitting down to a high-stakes dinner — maybe you’re meeting the in-laws, closing a deal or just trying to make a really good first impression — and someone hands you the wine menu. Ordering wine in a restaurant can feel a little intimidating, especially if you’re making decisions for a group. But with a few key tips and guidelines under your belt, ordering a great, versatile bottle with outstanding value can be a breeze.

John Ragan

John Ragan

I’m not fluent in wine speak. How can I effectively communicate what we’re looking for without seeming like I don’t know what I’m talking about?

Don’t try to use language you’re not comfortable with. Restaurant professionals have heard it all and good restaurants can decode your language and translate that into good wine. Use the words you’d normally use to explain what the wine smells and tastes like to you and it helps if you can contrast what you’re looking for with what you’re not looking for. For example, whether you say soft vs. heavy; light vs. full-bodied; or delicate vs. rich – you’re going to get your point across.

I’m ordering in front of a group. How do I gracefully communicate my budget to the sommelier?

If you want to be discrete, you can always point at a wine in the menu and say “something like this.” But if you’re comfortable with a little more transparency, I find you’ll always get a better outcome by being clear and direct. If you tell me you want a great red for $65, that’s game on for me. Most sommeliers like that challenge and will rise to the occasion. When you name the target price explicitly, you’re speaking a universal language and you can’t go wrong. But if you ask for a “midrange” wine, a server might interpret that as $80 when you meant $60. Now you’re speaking a subjective language that could lead to misunderstandings.

Understanding Wine

I’m ordering steak, he’s opting for fish and she’s a vegetarian. What can I order that will please everybody?

If there’s one overarching element that will make just about any dish taste good, it’s acidity! Grapes grown in cooler climates (whether red or white) have a higher natural acidity and tend to keep the wines crisp and more refreshing. Next time you have a mixed table, don’t focus on red or white but rather something with great acidity to keep everyone happy. Cool climate grapes to look out for include Chenin Blanc and Gruner Veltliner for whites, and Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley in France for red. And don’t miss reds from Sicily — though it’s a warmer climate, the high elevation of those vineyards can produce remarkable acidity in the wines.

Why do people swirl the wine when a taste is poured in the glass?

When a bottle is opened, especially if it’s a few years old or more, the wine’s aromas aren’t immediately accessible. Swirling a glass of wine opens up the aromas. But don’t shake the wine excessively. Three loose turns should do the trick.

I really want to hit it out of the park. What are some amazing pairings that will impress my dinner guests?

A few classic pairings have truly stood the test of time: lobster and Chardonnay, white truffles with Nebbiolo and foie gras with Sauternes — these pairings never disappoint. But sometimes the best pairings are unexpected — great wines with simple, soulful foods can produce memorable “a ha” moments. A great Chablis with fresh oysters (ideally near the source!) is a pairing that really drives home the seabed terroir of the wine. A mature Chianti with a great pasta Bolognese will transport you to Tuscany for the price of a nice bottle. My favorite pairings happen when a few great ingredients can conjure even greater complexity from a wine and vice versa.

Ready to take your wine knowledge to the next level? Click here for more information on ICE + USHG’s Understanding Wine course.

By Caitlin Raux

On a Friday evening in November, when the weekend held the promise of a just-ordered ShackBurger, I nabbed a seat in ICE Director of Wine Studies Richard Vayda’s course: Great Holiday Wines for under $20 and over $50. Armed with an open palate, I tasted nearly a dozen wines, from sparkling rosé and viognier to rich red and sweet fortified; two of each, one a (relative) bargain, the other a splurge. While we swirled, sniffed, sipped, and nibbled, I gleaned some grape wisdom — about wine varieties and my own tastes. In the spirit of holiday giving, here are five surprising takeaways from my wine course at ICE.

Wine Course at ICE

  1. Catalunya makes impressive under-$20 sparklers. The moment you utter “sparkling wine,” everyone’s mind zooms off to the famed region of France: Champagne, where due to a combination of tradition and soil, the best sparklers in the world are made, so they say (especially if “they,” like my wine course companion, happen to be French). But at $18, a Catalunya-grown Brut Reserva Rosé made by Marqués de Gelida was a delicious steal. Really, I was tempted to steal the bottle (but I didn’t, of course). Medium-bodied, refreshing and with a faint aroma of ripe cherries, this wine is the perfect choice to kick off any holiday dinner.
  2. There’s a world of white wine outside sauv blanc and alby: Meet viogner. To be honest, when it comes to white wine, I tend to stick with my tried-and-true arsenal — sauvignon blanc from New Zealand and albariño from Spain. So when Richard said we’d be trying two viogniers, I was pumped to expand my list of white wine go-tos. When I realized that my preferred viognier — La Linda Viognier from Mendoza, Argentina — was the bargain bottle ($13), I felt happy as a girl with new pajamas. Light and not too sweet, like a fresh, herbal tea with hints of lemon, it’s the kind of bottle to stock up on before any holiday party.
  3. Blind taste testing opens your mind + palate. The good thing about blind taste testing is that your usual proclivities go out the window. My own love affair with Spain, a place I called home for two years, means love at first sight whenever I see a label from the Iberian Peninsula. As we swirled and sniffed the three rich reds, I could identify a young wine, a middle-aged wine and an old wine, with a distinct red-orange color. Unlike white wine, which gains color, red wine loses color as it ages. The older wine, which turned out to be from Rioja, the renowned Spanish wine region, did not make me as weak in the knees as I anticipated. I preferred the 2012 Châtaeu d’Arcins Cru Bourgeois from Bordeaux to the 2001 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial from Rioja. Either my palate isn’t refined enough to appreciate the nuance of this aged red or I just don’t love the stuff — either way, my preferred bottle ($14) was considerably more pocket-friendly than its Spanish counterpart ($80).
  4. Blonde ports have more fun. Or more aptly stated, I have more fun drinking these light-colored port wines. Port is a fortified wine produced in the Duoro Valley of northern Portugal. Before this class, the luscious, dark red-purplish port, Graham’s Six Grapes Porto ($20), said older and better to me. Think again. Like red wine, port wine loses color with age. The lighter colored 20-Year Old Tawny Port made by Taylor Fladgate ($50) had a rich, nutty flavor, probably due to its extra years in the barrel, and was much more to my liking. I guess I’m more a peanut butter than a jelly girl when it comes to port. Fun fact: Tawny is generally enjoyed as a dessert drink — but as Richard would tell you, there are no hard-and-fast rules to wine drinking, so you can drink it throughout a meal if you like. Had the pours been larger or the bottles left with us, I could have sipped the Tawny all class long.
  5. I am not a “super smeller” – but I can still identify over 1000 smells. Super smellers, for better or worse, can identify over 6,000 smells. That’s an exhausting amount of olfactory stimulation. I pity the super smellers in the East Village on a steamy summer morning. But it certainly helps them to enjoy a glass of wine — after all, appreciating wine is more about smell than taste. Though I can’t identify over 6,000 smells and am still trying to expand my vocabulary beyond flowery, bright … strawberries!!, this class proved to me that I know more about the nuance of wine than I previously thought. In fact, the average person can identify at least 1,000 smells. The more I taste, the more I articulate, and the more I can appreciate. Bottom line: taste more, talk more and always enjoy.

Ready to take your wine knowledge to new levels? Click here to register for a wine course at ICE.


By Richard Vayda — Director of Wine & Beverage Studies

To ensure that you make the best “pour” decisions this holiday season, I’ve put together a list of picks that will fit any festive feast. Below are my recommendations, choices that are built on conventional wine wisdom but vary depending on your personal preference.

The recommended wine for Thanksgiving turkey seems to always be Beaujolais, a wine region in eastern France. Like liquid cranberry sauce, wines from Beaujolais exhibit tart strawberry and other fruity notes — plus the acidity balances with rich sauces that often accompany our sacred bird. Instead of buying a simple Beaujolais, why not try a Cru Beaujolais (“Cru” meaning a vineyard or group of vineyards of recognized quality) from one of the northern villages of the region, such as Broilly or Juliénas.

Recommended:

  • Michel Tête Domaine du Clos du Fief Cuvée Tradition, Juliénas, France

Recommended Wines

Prefer something a bit richer or more savory? Try a Pinot Noir, which happens to be a perfect match for heartier stuffings. To keep it American, head to Oregon for lighter, earthier versions. If you prefer more ripe fruit flavors, a northern California Pinot would be a better choice.

Recommended:

  • Montinore Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR

While rich and buttery foods pair well with Chardonnay, salty foods also love a touch of sweetness. Why not try a local Riesling from the Finger Lakes? Personally, my holiday meal plans features goose, so for a little more richness and spice, I might jump to a Finger Lakes Gewurztraminer.

Recommended:

  • Grgich Hills Chardonnay, Napa, CA
  • Frank Konstantin Semi-Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, NY
  • Eminence Road Farm Winery Elizabeth’s Vineyard Dry Gewurztraminer, Finger Lakes, NY

Lest we forget: celebrations call for bubbles. Sparklers — especially rosés, are flexible wines that pair with a variety of foods. Champagne, of course, is a reliable choice, but U.S. winemakers are producing fine sparkling wines all around the country.

Recommended:

  • Gruet Brut Rosé, Albuquerque, NM
  • Domaine Carneros Cuvée de la Pompadour Brut Rosé, Napa, CA

Don’t let dessert stand alone — a semi-sweet or sweet bubbly wine always works, but for something richer, a ripe Muscat would be a nice choice. The stone fruits, orange and floral notes of a California Muscat might just be the perfect cap to your meal.

Recommended:

  • Quady Essensia Orange Muscat, San Joaquin Valley, Madera, CA

The reality is that the Thanksgiving spread contains dishes with a multitude of tastes and flavors, so a selection of wines might be required. Let your guests have fun making their own match — after all, what could be more fun than sipping your perfect pairing surrounded by the ones you love?

Want to order wine like a pro? Click here to check out ICE’s wine and beverage courses.


By Richard Vayda—Director of Wine Studies

Recently, in the first session of my Introduction to Wine class at ICE, a student posed the question that plagues many new wine drinkers: “What makes a wine good or great?” The question was more than fair, considering we had spent the evening tasting a variety of wines and noting the worthy qualities of their differing characteristics. Light, heavy, young, old, dry, sweet—could they all be good? Well, the short answer is yes.

Wine Studies NYC Institute of Culinary Education

Before delving into a more detailed look, first we have to recognize that one’s sense of taste is quite personal and subjective. Likewise, context—when, where and with whom we taste a wine—plays a critical role. From there, we also need to make a distinction between assessing a good wine vs. a great wine. For now, let’s take a look at a few things to examine in determining if it’s a good wine.

Does the wine look the way it should?

Most wines are vinified to be clear, which can be an initial indication of their stability. Not that a cloudy or powdery wine is always bad, but you should ask: should this glass look this way? If it isn’t clear, it might be an intentionally unfiltered wine or come from a small, rustic producer. Additionally, wines should generally look their age. Young wines usually have a brighter, lively color, where older vintages, wood-aged varieties or wines made from riper, raisin-like grapes will have deeper, mellowed hues

Does the wine smell the way it should?

Are there any off-odors on the first smell? Did you get a whiff of mold or rotten egg? Again, young wines should predominantly showcase fresher, vibrant smells, while older and wood-aged wines may offer some earthier notes suggesting time and decomposition. We also want to look for correct grape varietal characteristics—for example, apple or pear notes in Chardonnay and dark berries in Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine Studies Tasting NYC Institute of Culinary Education

Does the wine taste the way it should?

Taking into account the grape variety, point of origin and age, how does it feel and taste in the mouth? Most young whites should have a bright or assertive acidity. Young reds, on the other hand, may feature assertive tannins. Older wines typically offer a softer, rounder, smoother mouth feel. These are all widely ranging sensations, but all can be correct and good. Finally, pull some air over the wine in your mouth—how do the flavor and finish continue and expand the experience?

Does the wine fit in the context of the current situation?

A good wine should be appropriate to the moment. Is it right for the time of day, occasion, food and company? Are you at a casual summer lunch or an elaborate holiday feast? Will the wine serve as a quiet accompaniment or a central point of conversation to wine-savvy friends? We all have our favorite wines, but a good wine choice for a particular moment may not be your go-to favorite. Even the most ardent drinker of robust reds has to reconsider wine choice when eating fresh clams on a hot day!

Does the wine represent a good value?

This is yet another subjective question, but it’s an issue that influences the equation significantly. First, one person’s view of an inexpensive bottle may be another person’s definition of luxury. Then, we also have to be realistic as to what represents a value from a particular region or producer. A wine that may be considered high priced from one area or winery might represent a bargain price point from another!

Limiting how much we spend, however, doesn’t mean that we have to skimp on “good.” For example, if the occasion calls for a sparkling wine—or you just feel like having something bubbly—you don’t need no need to buy French champagne. Many other regions make great sparklers, so why not try a North Fork Long Island brut?

Richard Vayda Wine Studies NYC

So, returning to my intro class, all the wines we tasted that evening were good examples of what those wines should have been—and, therefore, great teaching wines as well. In the end, most of us are just looking for a little enjoyment from our wine, and enjoyment can be hindered by over-thinking the bad vs. good vs. great question. In the end, the only real way to develop your sense of what makes wine good or great is, quite simply, to drink more of it.

Ready to put your palette to the test? Click here to learn about wine studies at ICE.

 

By Carly DeFilippo

Juliette PopeIn the restaurant business, December is one of the busiest times of the year, especially at such iconic restaurants as the legendary Gramercy Tavern. That’s where ICE Culinary Arts alumnus Juliette Pope works her magic, as the Beverage Director for both the restaurant’s “tavern” front room and formal dining room. With wines by the glass that range from $10-28 and bottles that span every corner of the globe, Juliette knows a little something about pleasing every palate at the table. So when it came to creating our guide to holiday drinking, we knew there was no better expert.

What criteria do you look for when pairing wines with a holiday menu? 
The phrase “holiday menu” suggests many things: a large group of people, diverse tastes, varied dishes, serious imbibing, cold weather and a celebratory atmosphere. So don’t aim too high in terms of price tag. Think more in terms of wines with high impact—a lot of flavor, some semblance of luxury and appealing to a broad range of drinkers. Most importantly, don’t geek out too hard on specific pairings unless you know your audience to be gastronerds.

Outside the context of a meal, are there any interesting or unique bottles you would recommend as gifts?
As far as broad categories, here are a few ideas:

  • Madeira—Take a refreshing and interesting break from more standard Port. Madeira is beautiful with cheeses and desserts and on its own—pungently nutty, rich flavor, incredible complexity and length, and racy acidity that keeps you coming back for another sip. On the modest end, I’d recommend the Rare Wine Company line. For the higher end, 30-50-year old options, opt for those from winery D’Oliveira, which aren’t cheap but a bargain for such aged, long-lived wines.
  • “Grower” Champagne—Skip the Yellow Label (which is in every holiday basket already) and ask advice at a good local wine shop on small-production “grower Champagne”. These wines are made from fruit grown entirely on the maker’s property, as opposed to the sourced fruit that the big chateaux must buy to fulfill demand. They tend to be wines of character—sometimes quirky, but usually classic—and much better value than brand name Champagnes at every price level.
  • Large-format beers—For the budding beer geek in your world, these are great to consume now or even to age for a few years (if it’s a maltier, high-alcohol brew).

Curious to learn more about your personal beverage preferences? Click here for wine, beer and mixology classes at ICE.

By Carly DeFilippo

Some of us are just born with the industry in our blood. Tony Trincanello started off as a busboy at 16, and by age 20 was already staging at a winery in Veneto, Italy. After graduating from ICE and externing at the legendary Le Cirque, Tony launched a successful catering company, worked as a wine consultant and eventually became the Food & Beverage Director at Santa Monica’s Huntley Hotel. His latest venture, The Roost at LA Farm revitalizes one of the region’s classic culinary landmarks.

Tony Trincanello 1

Tony poses with his daughter in front of The Roost’s iconic mural.

What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE?
Before enrolling at ICE, I had already been in the service industry for some time. I started out as a busboy at 16 in my uncle’s restaurant, and by age 20 had my first stage in Italy at a winery in Veneto, working in the vineyards and the restaurant. That was really when the bug bit me. Upon returning, I moved to New York City and started working as a bartender and server in some notable restaurants, while also staging in the kitchen to learn and get a feel for it. I just knew early on that I wanted to know about every side of the business.

Where was your externship, and how did it impact your career?
My externship was at Le Cirque and Osteria del Circo. I had known the Maccione brothers for a while and knew I could learn a great deal just by being around them (and Sirio!) in their element.

Photo Credit: LeCirque.com

Photo Credit: LeCirque.com

What have you been up to since graduating?

Immediately after graduating, I started a catering company out of my apartment which became pretty successful. We were doing multiple events each week, from small dinner parties to weddings for 300! After a time, I was no longer seeing eye-to-eye with my business partner, so I decided to see how the “other half lived.” I was hired as a wine consultant for a small, French, family-owned import company. I learned a great deal there, but I longed to be back in the action of day-to-day restaurant operations

I moved to Los Angeles as part of the opening management team for Craft, which is where I met my current partner, Chef Johnny Keenan. I left Craft after about a year and half to open the acclaimed, if short lived, Cache with Chefs Josiah Citrin and Nyesha Arrington. After Cache closed, I took a job as the Food & Beverage Director of The Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica. That’s when Johnny and I reconnected and started looking for opportunities of our own, which led to The Roost at La Farm.

The Huntley Hotel — Photo Credit: LifeofLuxury.com

The Huntley Hotel — Photo Credit: LifeofLuxury.com

Are there any accomplishments, awards, etc. of which you are particularly proud?
My proudest accomplishment is, first and foremost, my daughter, Madelena, who just turned one. But professionally, it would be my certification as a Level 3 advanced sommelier.

Take us through a typical day in your working life.
A typical day begins at about 5:30 am with a quick surf session (I did move out here to live on the beach!) or a trip to the gym. Then I’ll play with my daughter for a bit and head to the restaurant around 10. There, I’ll meet with Chef Johnny, go over the menu changes for the day, reservations, events, check on staffing, then execute a busy lunch service. At lunch service, I’m on the floor almost the entire time, making sure tables are bussed and food is served efficiently. Then I try to sit for quick lunch with Chef and our other partner Laura—but I often get interrupted by someone trying to sell me a new bottle of wine!

Then, before the dinner service, we go over menu changes, service notes and I’ll usually open up a bottle for the staff to taste and discuss. Dinner starts with a pretty busy happy hour in the bar/lounge, so I’ll usually get behind the bar to help out and try out some new cocktails or wines on our guests. Then I’m back to working the floor, talking to guests, selling wine and helping out wherever I’m needed. (I usually just describe my job as a glorified busser!) But, in truth, even when I’m helping bus, it’s because that’s a more natural way to interact with guests, rather than bouncing from table to table asking the hollow question “How is everything”? Then I sit down for dinner around 10, finish the bottle we opened before our dinner shift and head home around midnight. They’re long days, but this is the life I’ve chosen.

Where would you like to see yourself in the future?
I hope the future brings our restaurants to a point where they are running perfectly, even when the chef and I aren’t present. That way we can sneak out for a round of golf once in a while.

How would you describe your “culinary voice”?
Our culinary philosophy is to always keep it fresh. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but we do want to be able to introduce a new ingredient or wine—whether it’s something our guests have never had or an old classic that they should try! But most important is welcoming everyone as if they’re visiting us in our home. I always tell my staff that we are hosting 50 different dinner parties for our friends every night.

Click here to learn more about ICE’s Culinary Management program. 

By H. Asuncion, Understanding Wine Student

After drinking 80 glasses of wine I’ve come to this conclusion: wine goes with everything, even burgers. Yes…burgers.

wellesley wine press

Photo Credit: Wellesley Wine Press

The revelatory burger and wine pairing was Frog’s Leap’s Shack Red, a blend expressly designed to pair with the Shake Shack “Shackburger,” and was just one of the many surprises I experienced during ICE’s groundbreaking new wine course, Understanding Wine. This 10-session program, developed in partnership with Union Square Hospitality Group, focuses on getting to know your individual palate, learning to respect the diversity of wine and taking the risk of trusting yourself and your own taste.

Each Tuesday evening we were supplied with a bottomless barrel of expertise and knowledge, overseen by John Ragan, master sommelier and wine director at USHG. Over the course of 10 weeks, John was our seasoned guide on a tasting tour of the world’s major wine regions (an overview of the full 10-week curriculum is available here).

We explored “old world” wines, including the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France, including a vintage 1988 French Bordeaux by Château Doisy-Védrines. From there we tasted newer styles of production Spain and Portugal, as well as various sparkling varietals. One evening, our glasses jetted to California to explore its famous Zinfandels. On another, we learned to challenge our perceptions of Riesling (heads up—not all of them are sweet).

“One of the biggest takeaways from the class is developing an open mindedness,” said Ryan Fissell, an Understanding Wine alumnus who works in the technology industry, “[Before the class] I wouldn’t look at [wines from] Spain or Portugal—I was so California-centric. This class has taken away that fear—I now know what I like and what I don’t like. I’m so much more objective.”

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To that point, the course’s expert dialogue never came from one single perspective. Each week, John shared the floor with a fellow wine industry leader—be it ICE’s own Wine Program Director, Richard Vayda; Jeff Kellogg, wine director at Maialino; Mia van de Water, wine director at North End Grill; Christopher Tracy, winemaker and partner at Channing Daughters Winery and even CEO and founder of USHG, Danny Meyer, who stopped by one evening to tell his wine story, one that starts with his father bringing his travel business home—to the family’s St. Louis, Missouri, dinner table—in the form of an exotic bottle of wine. These personal perspectives were enlightening, offering multiple starting points and various paths by which to discover the nuance of our own palates.

Legendary NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer pays a visit to Understanding Wine students.

Legendary NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer pays a visit to Understanding Wine students.

What’s more, the class seamlessly blends work and play. By lesson two, student Rachel Spring summed it up with a new catchphrase: “Tuesday is the new Friday.” In truth, learning about wine under Ragan’s guidance felt more like an evening out than a traditional class. One evening, the staff of Blue Smoke stopped by with pulled pork sandwiches. On another occasion, Maialino’s Executive Chef Nick Anderer supplied paninis to pair with Italian wine. “When you break it down by the hour,” says class graduate and banker Susan Ellis, “this has been one the most affordable things I’ve done in New York.”

wine pairings

For our final class, we explored the power of pairings with the help of an eight-course tasting menu prepared by ICE Chef Instructor Sabrina Sexton. Alongside Sexton’s elegant dishes, Ragan served wines that represented different pairing strategies: matching color with color (red meat with a red wine), amplifying flavors (spicy Zinfandel with spicy barbecue), balancing strong tastes (port with Stilton cheese) or selecting complementary textures (a creamy Verdicchio with oysters).

Yet our final takeaway was far from exact science: “What do you like?” It was a wisdom that too many novice wine drinkers take for granted; the perfect wine, in every situation, is one that makes you happy.

Summer Wines Recommended by Understanding Wine Students

legras and haas2010 Legras & Haas Rosé Champagne

Tart, crisp and effervescent, this bubbly rosé was an overwhelming favorite by many in the class. With a strong aroma of red fruits on the palate, it’s the perfect pick for a dinner party, pairing well with dishes that feature the flavors of strawberries, cherries, currants and raspberries.

Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier

Producer: Legras & Haas

 

vouvray2006 Philippe Foreau Vouvray

This dry white impressed students and, like the rosé, was mentioned as a favorite by many. Full of orchard and stone fruits with some citrus and almost tropical elements, it has a notable minerality and well-balanced acidity. Pour this in your glass when you need something to cut through a dairy-heavy summer dish.

Grape: Chenin Blanc

Producer: Philippe Foreau

 

verdicchio2011 Sartarelli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Tralivio

This wine is bright and light, with orchard and citrus notes on the nose and some herbal and strawberry flavor elements. A slight prick of acid and creamy texture makes it an ideal bottle to enjoy with oysters.

Grape: Verdicchio

Producer: Sartarelli

 

For more innovative beverage courses at ICE, click here.

By Chef Ted Siegel, ICE Culinary Arts Instructor

In 2005 the New York Times published an article by Frank Bruni (then restaurant critic and editor of the “Dining In/Dining Out” section) about Roman cuisine. The article’s overall message was: “nothing new is going on in Roman cuisine!”.  After a recent trip to Rome my wife, Cheryl, I am happy to report that this is still true.

This might be a slight overgeneralization; there are a handful of Roman restaurants doing “modernist cuisine-molecular gastronomic” spins on traditional Roman cooking. However, most Romans find the modernist trend oxymoronic, referring to this type of cooking as “all smoke and no roast!”.

Fortunately, Roman cooking and the culinary traditions of Lazio (best described as a rustic and pastoral cuisine based on meat and vegetables) has not changed too much since Etruscan sheep herders occupied the banks and mud flats of the Tiber river, as far back as 800-750 B.C. Hallelujah for that!

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Seafood risotto

During our trip to Rome, Cheryl and I thoroughly immersed ourselves in its cuisine, enjoying the glories of traditional “cucina alla Romana. Below is an recount of some of our more noteworthy meals, as well as a list of restaurants that one should not miss if traveling to the “Eternal City”:

HOSTERIA da FORTUNATO (12 Via Pellegrino): A very tiny neighborhood trattoria serving traditional Roman home cooking that is popular with locals. If you go, you will likely see a group of women sitting at a corner table hand-rolling, cutting and shaping all the sublime house made pastas.

Their iconic Roman fritti misti of vegetables and meatballs in a delicate batter is a must-have dish. As for the pasta, try any number of the variations of strangolapreti (“priest stranglers”), a very traditional hand rolled pasta dumpling that is particular to the central Italian regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. The story of how this pasta got its name goes back to the middle ages. Roman catholic prelates would gorge themselves on this simple pasta made water and durham flour until they choked, hence the name.

The variations on strangolapreti that we found deeply satisfying were caccio e peppe, carciofi e gunaciale (artichokes and  smoked pork cheeks- both basic staples of the Roman kitchen) and alla carbonnara. The house-made sheep’s milk ricotta ravioli in a luscious butter and sage sauce (“burro e salvia”) is also a must-try.

HOSTARIA COSTANZA (63 Piazza del Paradiso): This beautiful restaurant is actually built into the cellar of an ancient Roman amphitheater that dates back to the height of the “glory days” of the Roman Empire. The walls of the restaurant are still the original brick work from this archeological masterpiece.

Our dinner began with a perfectly-executed classic: carciofi alla Romana (large globe artichokes simmered in a broth of white wine, olive oil and herbs). The pastas were also fabulous. Worth a return visit were the tonnarelle con bottarga e seppie (square-cut spaghetti made on-premises served in a sauce of baby calamari indigenous to the Mediterranean and bottarga, which is the salt-cured roe of grey mullet); a simple grilled branzino (Mediterranean sea bass); and finally, trippa alla Romana (tripe braised in tomatoes and mint with pecorino alla Romana, a dish that pays homage to the marcelleria – the butchers of the Roman slaughterhouses whose cuisine has dominated the Roman culinary landscape since ancient times. They cooked with a strong emphasis on offal, because that was all they could afford).

Fortunately for us, we arrived in Rome just as puntarelle – a variety of wild dandelion greens – started appearing in the Roman vegetable markets (puntarelle has a very short season from late winter to early spring). Puntarelle is traditionally served with a dressing of red onions, anchovies, lemon and olive oil. Needless to say, we enjoyed the version we had at Costanza.

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RISTORANTE La SCALA (58-61 Piazza della ‘Scala): Ristorante la Scala is located in Trastavere, a very quiet, residential neighborhood southeast of Vatican city. We stumbled into La Scala serendipitously after a day of touring the Vatican. We were so fond of this local restaurant that we dined there twice. Weather permitting, sitting outside in the outdoor dining area affords one an authentic experience with a view of the beautiful church of Santa Maria della ‘Scala.

Being in Rome at the height of truffle season gave us an opportunity to indulge in the truffle menu of La Scala: burrata di bufala with black truffles and rughetta (wild arugula); light as air potato gnocchi with scarmorza (smoked mozzarella) and black truffles; fried artichokes with black truffles, fonduta and guanciale; and finally, sheep’s milk ricotta ravioli in an unctuous butter sauce showered with truffles.

Other dishes worth not missing are the tonnarelle pasta with zucchini flowers and cherry tomatoes, as well as the carciofi alla guidea (artichokes simmered and fried in olive oil), one of the truly great dishes born out of Rome’s Jewish “ghetto”, dating back 2500 years. For dessert, try the crema di zabaglione con fragola (sabayon cream with wild strawberries).

HOSTERIA GRAPPOLO d’ORO (80-84 Piazza Cancelleria): This is another favorite where we had two wonderful meals. This restaurant has a clientele of largely local regulars and would fit right in in a New York City neighborhood. While the décor is modern, the cooking is in keeping with traditional Roman gastronomy.

The delicious house antipasti tasting plate features a modern take on a molded panzanella salad, mille-foglia con burrata e alici (a very light pastry layered with buffalo milk burrata and marinaded white anchovies), pan fried oxtail meatballs with salsa verde, a croquette of baccala and potatoes and an eggplant-ricotta polpette.

The orechiette pasta with broccoli and potatoes was not the usual mess of broccoli flowers and potatoes swimming in olive oil. The vegetables had been cooked down to form an incredibly light, yet slightly coarse puree, bound by a light broth emulsified with a little olive oil. The execution of this dish showed the true skill of the kitchen. Further, d’Oro’s rigatoni all’ amatriciana with a copious garnish of crisp guanciale was one of the better versions of this classic Roman pasta preparation we had during our trip (pasta all’ amatriciana, carbonara and caccio e pepe make up the “holy trinity” of Roman pasta preparations).

For the second course, we sampled stinco di maiale (pork shank braised with chestnuts and beer), guancia di bue brasato (beef cheeks braised in red wine and carrots) and abacchio scottadito alla griglia (the Roman classic of grilled baby lamb marinated with herbs, garlic and olive oil—whose title implies that when you pick up the grilled cuts of lamb, you burn your fingers while eating them!).

CENTRALISSMO “WINE BAR” (15-17 Via Santa Maria in Via): This wine bar and restaurant near the Pantheon gets mixed reviews. However, we had an excellent platter of fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with anchovies and mozzarella, as well as a memorable plate of fried olives. For the primi we enjoyed a very creditable spaghetti caccio e pepe and bucatini all ‘amatriciana. Given the fact that Centralismo is a wine bar, we drank one of the more unusual wines on our trip: Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine from the Emilia Romagna region.

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Potato gnocchi with scamorza (smoked mozzarella) and black truffles

 PIAZZA CAMPO di FIORE

I would be remiss not to mention the Piazza Campo di Fiore, which is one of the truly great food markets in Europe with a wonderful salumeria. Worth visiting is Antica Norcineria Viola. If you are passionate about Italian salume – such as cured hams, salami and anything else that pays homage to pigs – this establishment is a must visit. If you find yourself fortunate enough to wander in there, try the testa, which has a beautifully silky and refined texture.

WINE

The wines we drank were too numerous to mention, but a few were truly memorable:

  • Barolo chinato: A late harvest Barolo made from the Nebbiolo grape in the region of Piedmonte.
  • Merlino: A wine from Trentino-Alto Adige which is produced from the Lagrein grape variety that is grown in the region’s Vigneti delle Dolomiti wine district and is classified as a fortified wine
  • Viscola Querciantica: A wine from the Marchese region in Southern Italy that is pressed from the juice of sour cherries.

GENERAL TIPS

As far as Roman hospitality, we found the service in all the restaurants mentioned above to be warm and welcoming. Most of the Italians we met spoke English as a second language (some more fluent than others) or at least made an attempt to communicate in English.

Be aware that unlike in other places, restaurants in Rome will charge extra for bread, which is automatically brought to the table and is generally of poor quality. (You will not be asked if you want it or not, so don’t be surprised by the surcharge when you get the bill. If you decide not to have bread, inform the wait staff when they bring it to the table.)

Thinking of traveling to Italy? Consider a hands-on cooking experience in the picturesque heart of Umbria, led by ICE Chef-Instructor Gerri Sarnataro. Click here to learn more.