Sunday, December 31, 2006

Last Minute Bubblies Under $20 and Opening That Bottle

I got up early Saturday to make a last-minute appearance on KNSD 7/39's morning show to talk about under-$20 sparkling wines that make great alternatives to champagne.

Here are the four wines I shared:
Blason de Bourgogne Cremant de Bourgogne Cuvee Brut- Sparkling wine from Burgundy France, it’s light and clean with a balance of crisp citrus notes and golden apples. I couldn't find any background on the Brut Cremant, but Blason de Bourgogne is a joint venture by four well regarded producers in Burgundy intent on crafting fine affordable wines. If you can, grab a bottle of the rose!
$8 at Trader Joe’s

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad – Cava is a sparkling wine made in Spain using the same methods as in champagne. Smooth, elegant and buttery, it goes down very easily. Plus it comes in a stunning pewter embellished bottle. If you thought you didn’t like cava, this is the one to try.
$14 at Trader Joe’s

Piper Sonoma Brut – Made in Sonoma by a French champagne house Piper Heidsieck, this wine is bold with toasty, mushroom flavors and aromas tempered by creaminess and rich fruit.
About $12 at BevMo or Trader Joe’s

Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui- Lush, tart-sweet wine with raspberry, rose and cranberry flavors and aromas that make it quite unforgettable.
About $17 at BevMo

We also talked about the right way to open a bottle of champagne, a task that I've noticed makes some grown women cringe. Some guys on the other hand, seem to think it's fun to shake the bottle and see how far they can shoot the cork and the bubbly inside. But since a bottle contains the same amount of pressure as a truck tire, corks can and do cause injuries.

Here's how to ring in the new year without needing an eye patch.
1. Get the bottle cold; 20-30 minutes in ice water or 1 hour in the refrigerator.

2. Remove the foil and loosen the wire cage.

3. Place a cloth napkin or towel and the palm of your hand firmly over the cork.
4. Point the bottle at the ceiling, hold the cork and twist the bottle to open.
You should hear a slight sigh, not an explosion.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Phantom - The Drink, The Drive

Personally, I've always associated Rolls-Royces with Grey Poupon mustard-- at least I think that was a Rolls.

But in yet another burst of over-the-top creativity, New York Chef Daniel Boulud (who brought us the $69 burger laden with short ribs, foie gras and black truffles) found inspiration in a Rolls-Royce for a uniquely luxurious cocktail.

Boulud, who admits he's wild about beautiful cars, was so impressed with the Phantom Black he decided to create cocktail that's equally exquisite and elegant. The result is The Phantom, a curious libation of champagne crowned with a champagne cloud.

Bartender Xavier Herite combines gelatin and the restaurant's private label Cuvee Daniel champagne to make the champagne cloud. In tribute to the Rolls-Royce Phantom Black, the cocktail is served in a mysterious black crystal glass made by Riedel. The Black Sommelier's Blind Blind glass is designed to conceal the color of the liquid so tasters can judge a wine solely on its aroma and flavors.

Most of us will never drive a Phantom, but for a mere $29, we can experience the cocktail from now until late spring 2007 in the Lounge at Daniel.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Recipes seem simple, but they're so much more than sets of instructions for a dish. In between the measurements, they hold a connection to memories of the first time we ate that food, where we were or the person who shared the dish with us.

Being a Bubbly Girl is as much about serving the right sparkling wine as it is about knowing what foods best accompany that wine. I can't think of anything better with bubbly than these Cheddar Cheese Coins, savory little crackers with a buttery cheddar taste and a hint of spice. They're going in my Bubbly Girl book, but since its the entertaining season, I've decided to share them with you now.

The original recipe they're based on came from a rather unpleasant person. But I suppose that shows that everyone has at least one redeeming quality.

Cheddar Cheese Coins
1 pound butter, softened
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated and at room temperature
4 cups unbleached flour
2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon ancho chile powder

Put everything in a large mixing bowl and mix well with your hands or add ingredients to the bowl of an electric mixer and process until well-combined. Working on a lightly floured surface, take a hunk of dough and roll it into a long log about the diameter of a quarter. Wrap log in plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining dough. Put the dough you don’t plan to bake into the freezer. Let the rest chill in the refrigerator for an hour or two.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using a sharp knife, cut log into slices one-eighth-inch thick. Place coins close together on baking sheet that’s been greased lightly or is covered by a Silpat baking mat. Bake for 16 minutes or until the kitchen smells like cheddar cheese and butter. Remove from the oven, the bottoms should be slightly golden. Let coins cool completely before removing them from the pan, or they will fall apart.

© Maria Hunt - All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Oh Jaaames...

I've been so busy lately, I'm probably one of five people in North America who hasn't seen the new James Bond flick Casino Royale yet. It's the story of how James Bond went from regular spy to a licensed to kill 007. In Bond creator Ian Fleming's original 1953 Bond book by the same name, we learn of all of Bond's favorite things: the Walther PPK, martinis shaken-not-stirred and Bollinger Champagne.

Now I know why he's been drinking the stuff for the past 50 years or so; it's probably the most marvelous champagne I've ever tasted. My friend Jan invited me to a champagne and sparkling wine tasting at the University Club in downtown San Diego.

It was crowded, and by the time I made it over to Bruno, the Bollinger rep, he was down to his last bottles. First I tasted the Special Cuvee, which caught me off guard with its striking balance of toasty aged character mixed with golden fruits.

I was still pondering and savoring this wine when Bruno told me to drink up. He wanted me to have the last taste of La Grande Annee. The current vintage of this wine, which is Bollinger's prestige cuvee, is from 1997. I was mesmerized by the most beautiful symphony of flavors: it was like eating buttery golden brioche wrapped around caramelized apricots.

That was a week ago, and I'm still in its thrall.