Thursday, March 27, 2008

No Swill Zone - Cameron Hughes Lot 26

I’d seen these wines lying around Costco before. Same looking label on the same looking bottles, the only difference being the color of the label, the contents of the bottle, and the “lot”.

Turns out Cameron Hughes does not make wine by vintage or vineyard but by “lot”. See, Cameron Hughes’ wines are made from excess grapes sourced from wineries worldwide and most are a one-time deal. Like a Syrah from the Edna Valley? Buy up because it might be the only one he’ll ever make. Not to worry, most lots are enough that if you like a particular wine you’ll probably be able to get your hands on some. But after that, it’s gone forever.

My particular run in came when we got some clams (farmed in FLA by the way!) at Costco and realized we needed a wine to go with them. With my girlfriend braving the checkout line I ran to the back of the store to pick something out. Again I’d seen these wines at Costco before but never thought twice about them until now when I was hurried, panicked and noticed the $10.99 price tag. It was Lot 26, a Sauvignon Blanc sourced from vineyards in Marlborough, New Zealand.

With wine and mollusks in tow we headed home. Initially we were going to have clams with pasta but my girlfriend felt too tired to cook so it was up to me. Since I’m not a pasta fan I braved to find a different method to make these puppies. I picked up The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen (one of my favorite cookbooks) and sure enough there was a recipe for clams braised in butter with serrano ham. ‘Nuff said.

Clams were made and wine was opened. I didn’t think the wine would outshine the clams, but damn! The wine and clam pairing was horrible, in fact awful. The clams were buttery and salty and smoky and were excellent. The wine blew up with kiwi and grapefruit but drank a little drier than I’d imagined. Together not so good, but we couldn’t stop drinking it. For $11 the quality of the wine was way above its price range. As for pairing it with some smoky clams, it was a bad idea. But given that summer is coming up and lighter meals are on the menu (like clams in broth without Serrano ham and pimenton) it’s a perfect with our Floridian snapper, shrimp etc. Buy this stuff up while you still can. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

My take: get out and buy as much of this as you can but leave some for me!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We're #4!

At least Michael's Genuine is on the NY Times' Frank Bruni's list of the top restaurants outside of New York. Congrats to Michael and staff for showing Miami dining isn't just about 6 1/2 foot tall hostesses in drag and pick-your-meat and add mango salsa to it entrees.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Direct Wine Shipping to Florida in Jeopardy

I knew this was coming up soon. Another sign of the apocalypse or at least another sign that Florida is destined to take as many backward steps possible in making this an advanced and progressive state. Heck, we just allowed evolution to be taught in schools (but only as a scientific theory, which is more than can be said for creationist theory. What’s their proof?).

A few years ago the Supreme Court struck down protectionist laws regarding direct wine shipping. In a nutshell, the Court said that states could not discriminate between in and out of state wineries shipping to citizens within a state. In Florida for example, the few wineries which we have in the state were allowed to ship their product to individuals; however, wineries from out of state were prohibited from shipping directly to consumers and had to go through retailers via distributors. After the Court’s decision Florida had no choice but to open its borders and allow all U.S. wineries the ability to ship directly to Floridians after filing regulatory and tax-related paperwork. This was a boon to Floridians who could now get wine from their favorite wineries regardless of the state in which they’re located.

But now we’re about to pull the typical Floridian ass-backwards move. There a not one, not two, but FOUR bills in the legislature (two in the House and two in the Senate) which impose all sorts of restriction on direct wine shipment. One thing all have in common however is a restriction on the size of the winery where a Floridian can order wine from. The winery can only produce a maximum of 250,000 gallons of wine, which is a heck of a lot of wine. However, with holding companies buying more and more boutique wineries, it gets to a point where even a teeny tiny winery, if part of a big conglomerate, would not be allowed to ship to this state.

Who’s behind all this? Why should so many state legislators care about direct wine shipment? Well, Florida is home to Southern Wine and Spirits (SW&S), the largest wine, beer and liquor distributor in the state (as well as the country). They’re based in Miramar but have distributorships in most major states. So who’s sponsoring these bills? They happen to all represent the districts of Southeast Florida! They’re Representatives Rene Garcia (Hialeah) and Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff (Fort Lauderdale) and Senators Gwen Margolis (Eastern Miami-Dade/Southeast Broward) and Steven Geller (Broward County). Research shows the following donations to each individual’s previous campaigns:
Steven Geller ($500 each from SW&S of Florida and South Carolina, and Gold Coast Beverage Distributors),
Rene Garcia ($500 from Diageo, SW&S of Florida and South Carolina, Harvey Chaplin (founder SW&S), and Florida Wholesale Spirits),
Ellyn Bogdanoff ($6,500 worth of donations from the Food & Beverage industry including 2 donations from SW&S of Florida, SW&S of South Carolina, Gold Coast Beverage Distributors and Florida Wholesale Spirits),
Gwen Margolis ($500 each from SW&S of Florida and South Carolina, and Gold Coast Beverage Distributors).

So there you go. All four bills have been introduced by persons whose districts basically cover Miami-Dade and Broward counties and who have received donations from various liquor distributors. Arguments against direct shipping include the possibility of those under 21 years of age ordering wine and the effect of direct shipping on local distributors who have spent millions setting up legal distribution channels. Counterarguments for both issues are easy. Delivery services are required to have someone 21+ sign for packages containing direct-shipped wine so chances are it’s easier for an underage person to acquire alcohol at their local liquor store than via mail (and what teenager do you know would get drunk on Screaming Eagle or Seasmoke?). As for distributors, the amount of wine ordered direct is so miniscule compared to that any effect on their business would be negligible.

What this bill effectively does is give local distributors the decision as to what you can buy on the shelves of your local wine shop or supermarket. If a winery doesn’t have a distributor in FLA, you’re not going to get their wine. For small wineries this will make Florida off limits because our giant distributors will avoid wineries that can’t fulfill large orders for their retail clientele.

So what can you do if you care? If you’ve read my rant this far you might as well help me fight the power! Write to the introducers of these House and Senate bills, write to your local Representatives, and write to Governor Christ. Lookup information on Free the Grapes (a non-profit organization trying to lift wine shipping bans in all 50 states). Keep Florida from reverting back to a backwards Puritan state. And order some wine from another state before it’s too late!

Gwen Margolis e-mail
Steven Geller e-mail
Rene Garcia e-mail
Ellyn Bogdanoff e-mail

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

NY Times Discovers Rueda

Not that they've just discovered it, but they've devoted an article and a tasting to it. Why should that matter to us? Rueda, a D.O. northwest of Madrid, specializes in crisp whites from the verdejo grape. Being from Spain these wines are very easy to find in Miami. Being easily quaffable, food friendly whites, they'd be welcome during our lovely hurricane season which is just around the corner. Two of my favorites, Con Classe and Basa, were featured. There are tons available at Happy Wine, Total Wine, Xixon and many other wine shops and Spanish food shops. Do yourself a favor keep some of these bottles on hand for as soon as the temps start creeping up.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Dining at Abokado (and yes, I used spellcheck)

I'm usually pretty wary of anything with an intentionally misspelled moniker, 'N Sync being the perfect example. When it comes to restaurants, gimmicky, misspelled names already drop my expectations of a place. Abokado is such a place. Recently opened in the sprawling Mary Brickell Village, where restaurants are popping up much like the weeds and garbage along the unkept streets surrounding it, Abokado sits all alone in a large plaza that will soon house Blu (of the South Miami Trattoria Sole family) and not much else.

We showed up Friday night after calling to put our name down on a wait list. After having to get to MBV from the UES via the Rickenbacker Causeway exit on 95 due to the Calle Ocho 8-K (who the heck does a race on a Friday night anyway?) we still arrived before our scheduled time. There was some confusion and it turned out to be on their part since they neglected to tell us that the entire restaurant, save two tables by the front door and the entire sushi bar, were off limits due to a private event. Why they didn't shut the place down for this event I have no idea, but open and half empty it was and we were given the choice of the worst seats in the house. We opted for the sushi bar, if anything to avoid facing the participants of the private event for which we never found out the occassion.

Menus arrived, drinks were ordered and off we went. The menu focuses on Japanesy preparations with decidedly western influences. Here are the winners and losers of what we sampled:

- Small squid are stuffed with chorizo - loser in that it arrived lukewarm. Squid were tender and not overcooked which is a plus.

- Nachos - this is apparently a signature dish but it needs to lighten up. Basically two shiso leaves are dipped in batter, then seemingly dipped in batter 3 more times before being fried, cooled, and topped with spicy tuny. The breading was just way to much for the shiso leaf. Maybe shiso tacos where the leaf takes the place of a soft corn tortilla would be better?

- Spicy tuna roll - my gauge for how much a place really wants to differentiate itself. Here the addition of baby greens and the thinnest layer of sushi rice I've ever seen hold a roll together makes me think this place does not want to be middle of the road.

- El Diablo roll- crab salad roll topped with spicy mayo and sea bass, torched, then topped with tobiko. Pretty good, then it reminded me of the Dynamite Roll at Shoji, then I didn't like as much because I used to really, really like the roll at Shoji (Chef Chin, if you're out there, we miss you!).

- Forgot the name roll - which is probably a good thing because the roll was unmemorable. It was wrapped in thin soybean paper which added not much. Rest of the roll was fairly flavorless. I only ordered it to avoid ordering the roll wrapped in flour tortilla after the chef insisted that I should try a roll wrapped in something and tortilla was his preference. I don't think I'll get either.

For a newly opened place Abokado had its act together. Service was on and the sushi bar was humming. Rolls are interesting enough but a bit on the pricey side ($8 to $10 for basics, $12 to $24 for more elaborate ones). There's a section of entrees as well (the ususal miso cod, sesame tuna type stuff) that were fairly reasonable. This place won't knock your socks off, nor will it be a neighborhoody place where you can drop by when you feel like it (they already had the dreaded chain-restaurant type beeper/buzzers ready to go). My advice would be to stick to the basics and be selective when venturing into the realm of "fusion".