And the Secret Ingredient Is . . . Friendship? Who’s Been Screwin’ With This Thing?

I just wanted to give a brief shout-out to Mrs. Wine with Dinner and the rest of the Gourmet Girls for their new-found fame. Not only are they the nicest bunch of ladies you’d ever want to meet, but they sure can cook. Be sure to check out their site which has recipes and info about the girls. You may even want to contact them and set up your own Gourmet Girls Club. San Francisco, CA and Austin, TX have already jumped on the bandwagon.

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Don’t forget to VOTE!

Published in: on April 25, 2007 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Urban Burger Company: I Might Move to Maryland

Having gone to college at the University of Rochester, there are relatively few things that I miss about school — my friends, hockey . . . that’s about it. Oh, and the food. Late night appetizers at The Distillery were always something to look forward to, as was pizza from Chester Cab or dinner at Dinosaur BBQ. But nothing made my mouth water, and does to this day, like a Garbage Plate from Nick Tahou Hots. Now them’s some good eats! If anyone reading this is making a trip to Rochester, I can only plead with you to bring me back a Garbage Plate–cheeseburger patties, homefries, pasta salad, secret sauce, Italian bread, and grease. It does not get any better.

Garbage Plate
It’s a little fuzzy, but it is still a Garbage Plate. Mmmmmm . . . .

When I moved to D.C., I was hoping to find something comparable. Ollie’s Trolley is pretty good, and, believe it or not, I have STILL not been to Ben’s Chili Bowl, but other than that I have searched in vain . . . until now. This weekend, Mrs. Wine with Dinner and I drove up to Rockville, Maryland to help a couple of friends of ours (who are getting married this coming weekend) to paint their new condo. When I walked in, my first words were “Nice place.” Oh, how little I knew. After painting, as a thank you, our friends took us for a walk to the shopping center next door for dinner at a place called Urban Burger Company. I am fairly certain that it is the tip of God’s arrow fallen to Earth.

A brief look at the menu at Urban Burger reveals that it is a monument to three of the four food groups: meat, cheese, and grease. It may not be as, shall we say, rustic, as Nick’s, nor is it as dangerous to visit at night, but man does it produce some high quality, heavenly, artery clogging goodies. Urban Burger was founded by David Calkins and Lee Howard, the men behind Urban Burger’s predecessor restaurant, Urban Bar-B-Que Company. The atmosphere is comfortable, with Navy memorabilia on the walls and two TVs set to ESPN. Even more friendly is the 10% discount given to many community servants, including cops, firefighters, and teachers, as well as senior citizens.

Should you decide to drop in, I insist that you start with the “Slider” Soul Rolls. These are not your typical sliders, they are a ground beef, caramelized onions, and two cheeses wrapped in a crispy shell. As if they weren’t good enough on their own, they come with a bowl of Urban’s Redneck Fondue for dipping. The Fondue is a two meat chili with three cheese sauce. Next time I am there I may order 2 or 3 of these as a meal in and of themselves.

The burgers are also quality and the mac and cheese is to die for. In the final analysis, all you really need to know is that I had cheese with every potion of my meal except for my soda. Folks, it doesn’t get much better than this . . . at least until someone opens a Nick’s in Washington, D.C.

5 Stars
Less than $10.00 main course.

Urban Burger Co.
5566 Norbeck Road
Rockville, MD 20853

Published in: on April 22, 2007 at 1:49 pm  Comments (1)  

Recent Tastings

Rex Hill Vineyard 2005 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 4 Stars, $15.99 per bottle.

Waipara Hills 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 3 Stars, $11.99 per bottle.

Vistalba 2004, Mendoza Provence, Argentina, 3 Stars1/4, $12.00 per bottle.

Chrysalis Vineyards 2002 Locksley Reserve Norton, 3 Stars 1/2, $35.00 per bottle.

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Don’t forget to VOTE!

Published in: on April 19, 2007 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Round 3 in New Zealand: Martinborough, The Lesser-Known Borough

In the interest of shameless self-promotion, don’t forget to VOTE!

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As I mentioned in a prior post, Mrs. Wine with Dinner and I were unable to tour Marlborough on our honeymoon due to a scheduling snafu. While this was a mildly sad development, we did get to tour Martinborough, the lesser-known of the two major wine regions in New Zealand. Martinborough is a lovely region of the New Zealand countryside. The town has grown little despite the growing popularity of its wines — there is no Marriott, no Sheridan, no major hotel chain anywhere near Martinborough. In fact, the town only offers eight or nine restaurants. This shortage of modern conveniences, however, only enhances the experience. There is no better place to get away from it all.

Traditional New Zealand Roses in Martinborough
Traditional Roses Grow at the Ends of Two Rows of Vines in Martinborough

On the way into town we stopped at Palliser Estate before checking into our hotel. Palliser planted its first vines in 1984 before martinborough gained the notoriety that it has today. A tasting there will take you a while, as Palliser produces a large variety of wines. Their most noteworthy were their 2005 Pencarrow Chardonnay and 2005 Estate Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay was fermented in both American and French oak and presents aromas of pina colada, pineapple, and buttery coconut. The palate displays a smooth texture and the oaking does not completely overpower the fruity notes. 3 Stars 3/4, $12.08 per bottle. The Pinot Noir was a medium red/purple with aromas of pine, cherries, and mixed berries. It was well structured with flavors of red berries, oak, and dark chocolate. This wine would benefit from a year or two in the bottle. 4 Stars, $26.99 per bottle. Palliser distributes in the Washington, D.C. area through Bacchus Importers, Ltd., whose information can be found on Palliser’s website.

Palliser Estate
The Crest Outside of Palliser Estate

After checking in we drove to what turned out to be our favorite winery in Martinborough and, arguably, in all of New Zealand. Winslow Wines of Martinborough is a boutique winery that, very sadly, does not distribute or ship to the United States, a point that owner and winemaker Steve Tarring insisted that I make very clear on WWD. Winslow will be the subject of its own entry soon, so I will not go into detail about our visit here. Stay tuned to learn more about a must visit winery if you ever take a vacation in New Zealand.

The next day, our first decision was how best to tour Martinborough in the one day that we had there. Given the rural nature of the surroundings, we chose to rent a couple of bikes from the Martinborough Wine Centre near the heart of the town square. The Wine Centre carries many of the wines from the region as well as other gourmet food products. It also does regular tastings if you want to sample some wines but aren’t up for a bike ride.

Our first stop on our morning ride was Tirohana Estate, a lovely vineyard with its own bed and breakfast. As one might expect from a New Zealand winery, Tirohana’s 2005 Special Reserve Pinot Noir was the gem of the tasting. Purple with a red hue, this Pinot displayed raspberry, tart strawberry, and cedar notes. 3 Stars 3/4, $46.17 per bottle. Like Winslow, Tirohana is a boutique winery and does not distribute in the U.S., but you may want to consider a stay there on your vacation.

After our early-morning visit to Tirohana, the rest of Martinborough began to wake up and we were able to double back a bit to Martinborough Vineyard/Burnt Spur Vineyard. Martinborough Vineyard has a solid reputation in New Zealand and recently won two gold medals at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. A long row of wine bottles behind the tasting counter proudly display the winery’s heritage vintage by vintage. The wines we sampled here, both the Martinborough Vineyard and Burnt Spur Vineyard bottlings, were consistently high-quality, which was somehow fitting given its location just across the street from Winslow.

If forced to pick the best of the bunch, I would have to go with the Martinborough Vineyard 2006 Manu Riesling (sweet) and Martinborough Vineyard 2004 Pinot Noir. The Riesling was a pale yellow with excellent clarity. Aromas of honey, tropical fruits, and floral notes dominated though, with some help from the tasting notes, subtle hints of lime became apparent. The palate was sweet but delicate, with a floral presentation and hints of spice the back end. 4 Stars, $17.76 per bottle. The Pinot Noir — particularly impressive since 2004 was a difficult year in Martinborough due to flooding — had a smoky aroma of cherry and oak with a fruit-forward flavor and smooth texture. This wine will age well for a few years. 4 Stars 1/4, $39.07 per bottle. Fortunately for all of us, Martinborough and Burnt Spur distribute in the United States through The Sorting Table in Napa, California.

From Martinborough Vineyard, Mrs. Wine with Dinner and I biked to the other side of Martinborough proper and stopped at Canadoro. Canadoro has friendly people and some good wines. That being said, if you are visiting New Zealand from the States (or anywhere else) I might actually suggest skipping this one. It is a small winery and, unless you plan on purchasing a bottle or two, there are other wineries in Martinborough better equipped and more willing to entertain tourists. That being said, if you are from New Zealand and can bring wine home with you, or you are willing to buy a bottle or two, there is good wine to be found here. I recommend the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, flush with aromas of peach, citrus, and hints of green vegetables with a dry lemony taste, 3 Stars 1/4, $14.97 per bottle; and the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon — one of the few straight cabernets that we found in New Zealand, sporting chocolate/coffee, cassis, and vanilla characteristics, 4 Stars, $19.25. Apparently a couple of Canadian tourists who beat us to Martinborough by a couple of weeks bought a case of the Cabernet Sauvignon. Our hostess loved telling that story.

And, yes friends, there’s more . . . much more. I mean, tourists have to eat too, right? Something has to absorb all of the alcohol. So Mrs. Wine with Dinner and I hopped on our bikes and rode down the way to Alana Estate for a delicious lunch — bread and cheese for the girl and a venison burger for me — followed by more wine tasting. Continuing a pattern, the 2004 Alana’s Pinot Noir was especially noteworthy, their 2004 to be precise. Aromas of leather and barnyard (in a good way) stood out along with hints of vanilla and black cherry. The palate was fruit-forward with a well-balanced oak influence, 4 Stars, $39.20 per bottle. The more surprising treasure was Alana’s 2006 L’Aparetif, a . . . wait for it . . . early harvest Botrytised riesling. This wine is a soft and gentle one, on the sweet side of semi-sweet, with pear, honey and floral notes and a fruity palate, 4 Stars 1/2, $20.67 per bottle. If you feel like trying for yourself, you can find Alana Estates State-side by contacting David Kunicki at Martin Scott Wines in Lake Success, New York.

Alana Estate
It’s A Beautiful Day for Lunch at Alana Estate

Refreshed and energized by a good meal, we hopped back on our bikes and started heading back toward the center of Martinborough. Fortunately, there were plenty of vineyards on the way back in as well. The first stop on the back end of our journey was Vynfields, a lovely vineyard around a lovely old home where you can sip your flight of wines sitting on the porch overlooking the vines. The whites were good at Vynfields, but the reds ruled. A couple of the best wines we had all day were Vynfields’ 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir and 2005 Mad Rooster. (Yes, Mad Rooster . . . I’ll explain in a moment.) The Reserve Pinot displayed scents of cedar and cherry with nutty notes and a smooth, creamy texture and taste of red berries, 4 Stars 3/4, $45.00 per bottle. The Mad Rooster is made from what the wineries refer to as “Martinborough’s Mystery Grape.” Apparently someone planted it years ago mistakenly thinking that it was a kind of syrah. To this day, no one knows what it is, but it makes some good wine. The Mad Rooster is deep purple in color with cherry, vanilla, and molasses aromas and a bright red berry flavor. This is one mystery worth solving, 4 Stars 1/4, about $24.00 per bottle. Sadly, in order to put your crack detective skills to figuring it out, you will have to visit Martinborough; Vynfields does not distribute in the U.S.

I must admit that even I was beginning to get a bit worn at this point. The problem was that we still had at least two vineyards between us and the Martinborough Wine Centre where we would return our bikes. Oh well, time to cowboy up.

Ata Rangi was the next stop. This 12-acre vineyard was first planted in 1980 by the Paton Family, which still owns and manages the vineyard. Ata Rangi’s selections showed great consistency but, true to form in New Zealand, it was the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc and 2005 Pinot Noir that stood out. The Sauvignon Blanc was pale yellow in color with watermelon, orange, and lemon aromas. The wine begins tart on the palate, but mellows and opens up with delicious flavors of lemon, grapefruit, and watermelon, 4 Stars, $17.11 per bottle. The Pinot Noir has a nose of hay and red fruit and flavors of cherry and chocolate with earthy notes. The tannins are still strong in this wine, so it should probably lie down for 2-5 years to allow the wine to develop even further, 4 Stars 1/4, $42.77 per bottle. Ata Rangi distributes to 48 o fthe 50 States through Rob Prough at Epic Wines. It distributes to New York and New Jersey though Allison Domeneghetti at Domaine Select Imports.

Coming down the home stretch, we pulled our twin bikes into the driveway of our final stop on our self-guided bike tour, Margrain Vineyard. Margrain had a very large selections of wines. So large that, given the time of day and our blood-alcohol levels, we decided that we simply could not try them all. Fortunately, the selection included multiple reds and whites so that we could pick out a selection of 5 or 6 wines to sample. While we enjoyed some of the wines more that others, Mrs. Wine with Dinner and I agreed that the 2006 Gewürztraminer and 2006 Botrytis Selection Chenin Blanc were quite good. The Gewurz was semi-sweet (34 g/L residual sugar) and bright yellow in color with aromas of ginger spice and floral notes complimenting flavors of delicate cherry and lychee, 3 Stars 3/4, $27.09 per bottle. The Chenin Blanc brought delightful honey and apple characteristics, 4 Stars, $25.66 per bottle. Margrain’s U.S. distributor is Jim Drevescraft at Jim Devescraft Selections.

One last note on Margrain. Dear readers, I give you my humble tasting notes in these entries knowing that I have no formal wine training. What I detect, others may not. Maybe I’m wrong sometimes, maybe they are sometimes, but usually it is not a matter of right and wrong, as sensory interpretation is very subjective. That said, I often disagree with winemaker notes. I find that some winemakers try to make their wines sound more complicated or intricate than they really are. Thus, my philosophy is, if you are going to provide tasting notes as a winemaker, be honest and, if you have to time, be entertaining. In the spirit of having fun with wine, I refer you to Winemaker Strat Canning’s tasting notes for his Margrain wines. I particularly enjoy the notes for Mr. Canning’s 2006 Proprietor’s Selection Riesling (3 Stars 1/4), which notes that his Riesling has “[s]trong aromas of lime-wire citrus, rambling jasmine, sun-dew melon, and a perfume by Britney Spears hang[ing] in a haze over the wine’s surface.” Want to hear the scary thing? I actually did smell the perfume, though I could not tell if it was Britney’s.

At long last, our tour was over. We returned our bikes and headed back to the hotel. We tried to pass by our rental car and head in for a nap, but we just could not help ourselves. Having sobered up significantly after a break and some water (and seriously limiting our tasting portions at the last few vineyards) we hopped in the car and headed out to one of the wineries that we missed, Te Kairanga Wines. Hey, it was still 20 minutes before 5:00, you would have fought to fit in one more too.

Te Kairanga is one of the larger estates in Martinborough, located on the outskirts of the town near Alana Estate. You’ve probably seen it in a wine shop or two, as it is one of the largest exporters in the Martinborough region. While its offerings did not always stand up to similar ones from some of the smaller, more focused wineries (honestly, some of that may have had something to do with the amount of wine that we had consumed over the course of the day), Te Kairanga had some solid offerings. Most notably, I enjoyed their 2002 Hawkes Bay Syrah and 2006 Sauvignon Blanc. The Syrah presented aromas of fig and chocolate with a fruit-forward palate displaying some subtle chocolate notes, 4 Stars, $32.08 per bottle. The Sauvignon Blanc had a very light yellow hue with floral and lemon notes with a hint of spice below the surface and clean taste dominated by strong lemon/citrus and gooseberry flavors and nice acidity, 3 Stars 1/2, $12.12 per bottle. Te Kairanga distributes through Winesellers Ltd.

I have two more entries on New Zealand coming up before I can turn back to some local wines and wineries, Omata Estates at the Bay of Islands on the North Island and a more in-depth post on Winslow. Just to sum up my experiences in New Zealand, I strongly encourage anyone looking to take a long vacation to consider New Zealand as your destination. The people are nice and the country is breathtaking. When it comes to wine, you have any number of regions to consider. While Marlborough is the most popular, and certainly a place you should visit, Martinborough is lovely to visit for a day or two and ride your bike from winery to winery . . . not a care in the world.

Palliser Estate
2006 Dry Riesling, 2 Stars 1/2, $12.83 per bottle.
2006 Pinot Gris, 2 Stars 3/4, $18.53 per bottle.
2006 Pencarrow Sauvignon Blanc, 3 Stars 1/4, $12.12 per bottle.
2006 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, 2 Stars 3/4, $15.68 per bottle.
2005 Pencarrow Chardonnay, 3 Stars 3/4, $12.12 per bottle.
2005 Estate Chardonnay, 2 Stars 1/2, $19.96 per bottle.
2004 Autumn Riesling, 2 Stars 1/4, $18.53 per bottle.
2004 Pencarrow Pinot Noir, 3 Stars, $14.26 per bottle.
2005 Estate Pinot Noir, 4 Stars, $27.09 per bottle.
2005 Noble Chardonnay, 3 Stars 1/2, $17.11 per bottle.

Tirohana Estate
2006 Sauvignon Blanc, 3 Stars, $19.96 per bottle.
2005 Pinot Noir, 2 Stars 3/4, $32.08 per bottle.
2005 Special Reserve Pinot Noir, 3 Stars 3/4, $46.33 per bottle.

Martinborough Vineyard/Burnt Spur Vineyard
M.V. 2006 Rose, 4 Stars.
B.S. 2006 Pinot Gris, 3 Stars 1/2.
M.V. 2006 (Sweet) Riesling, 4 Stars, $17.76 per bottle.
M.V. Te Tera 2005 Pinot Noir, 4 Stars.
M.V. 2004 Pinot Noir, 4 Stars 1/4, $39.20 per bottle.
B.S. 2004 Pinot Noir, 4 Stars.

Canadoro Martinborough
2006 Sauvignon Blanc, 3 Stars 1/4, $14.97 per bottle.
2005 Riesling, 2 Stars 1/4.
2006 Riesling, 3 Stars.
2006 Pinot Gris, 2 Stars 3/4.
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 Stars, $19.25 per bottle.

Alana Estate
2006 Sauvignon Blanc, 3 Stars 1/4, $18.53 per bottle.
2006 (Dry) Riesling, 3 Stars, $19.25 per bottle.
2004 Tuapapa Pinot Noir, 3 Stars, $20.67 per bottle.
2004 Pinot Noir, 4 Stars, $39.20 per bottle.
2006 L’Aparetif, 4 Stars 1/2, $20.67 per bottle.

Vynfields
2002 (Dry) Riesling, 2 Stars 1/4.
2004 Pinot Noir, 3 Stars 3/4, $35.00 per bottle.
2005 Reserve Pinot Noir, 4 Stars 3/4, $32.08 per bottle.
2005 Mad Rooster, 4 Stars 1/4, about $24.00 per bottle.
2005 Classic Riesling, 3 Stars 3/4.

Ata Rangi
2006 Summer Rose, 4 Stars, $12.83 per bottle.
2006 Sauvignon Blanc, 4 Stars, $17.11 per bottle.
2006 Pinot Gris, 2 Stars 1/4, $19.96 per bottle.
2006 Petrie Chardonnay, 3 Stars 3/4, $18.53 per bottle.
2005 Craighill Chardonnay, 3 Stars 1/2, $27.09 per bottle.
2004 Celebre (syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon), 3 Stars 1/4, $22.81 per bottle.
2005 Pinot Noir, 4 Stars 1/4, $42.77 per bottle.

Margrain Vineyard
2006 Sauvignon Blanc, 2 Stars 3/4, $17.11 per bottle.
2006 Proprietor’s Selection Riesling, 3 Stars 1/4, $17.11 per bottle.
2006 Gewurztraminer, 3 Stars 3/4, $27.09 per bottle.
2004 Home Block Pinot Noir, 3 Stars 3/4, $34.21 per bottle.
2004 Mad Red, 3 Stars 1/4, $15.68 per bottle.
2006 Botrytis Selection Chenin Blanc, 4 Stars, $25.66 per bottle.

Te Kairanga
2005 Riesling, 2 Stars, $14.26 per bottle.
2005 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2 Stars 3/4.
2006 Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc, 3 Stars 1/4, $12.12 per bottle.
2004 Runholder Pinor Noir, 3 Stars, $9.80 per bottle.
2002 Hawkes Bay Syrah, 4 Stars, $32.08 per bottle.

Published in: on April 1, 2007 at 9:47 pm  Comments (1)