The Zoo Biscuits: A Group Of Winemakers (Not Children’s Cookies) Defining The New South Africa

fullsizerender-1In the February issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine, I have a piece about a group of micro-négociants (meaning, they purchase fruit instead of owning vineyards, but not at a massive scale) calling themselves the “Zoo Biscuits,” which is what South Africans call animal crackers. South Africa’s wine industry goes back to the 16th century, but it’s only since the end of formal Apartheid that winemakers have been able to travel and do international business, so it’s an exciting time for that industry at this very moment. The Zoo Biscuits, who number about ten different winemakers who are also good friends–some even went to college together and were roommates there–are sourcing grapes from some of the country’s cooler vineyard sites, and they have a non-interventionist approach that results in deliciously drinkable wines. They are also making an effort to show younger generations of drinkers that wine can be cool, fun, approachable, and also really good. W&S is only in print, so grab an issue at your local bookseller, or at Whole Foods. Print’s not dead! Cheers!

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Just Another Excuse To Write About Paris

au-passage-paris-2016I am desperately in love with the city of Paris. If I could do really anything in my life, I would move there to write a novel, and I don’t care at all if that sounds like a cliché. To substantiate it a bit, I do think that France right now is a really interesting place, but the reasons for that aren’t exactly positive: the country as a whole is in a difficult moment, with extremely heightened racial tensions and the constant threat of terrorism on the heels of severe attacks. I have wanted to live in Paris ever since I was 20, and while the romance of the city may have been part of that desire and still is, along with its incredible culinary scene, the complicated nature of that country appeals to the writer in me. And maybe I’m just a nostalgic sap, like everybody else who read A Movable Feast after high school and dreamt of being a poor writer in Paris, ideally minus the poor part.

Well, I’m not sure how I got onto such a serious note, because the point of this blog post was to share my latest Vogue.com article, on the vibrant nighttime scene at Paris’ little neo-bistros. These restaurants are helmed by young and talented chefs and sommeliers, and they have incredible atmosphere. Each time I go to Paris, I manage to try one or two new places, and I fall more and more in love with the city’s dining culture.

Read the article here. And thank you for putting up with my eternal bohemian disposition (it drove my mother crazy for eighteen years). But it persists: the other day, I pulled out the novel I finished in 2014 while I was waiting tables at Reynard–the job that led me to fall in love with wine–and I found myself wondering when I would be ready for my second attempt. And what the setting would be, for me to write it.

Writing About Women In Wine

Arianna Occhipinti, who I shared some pizza and Cerasuolo with in Sicily this fall
Arianna Occhipinti, whom I shared some pizza and Cerasuolo with in Sicily this fall

Recently, PUNCH (one of my fave websites about booze) published a really thoughtful essay on how female winemakers are portrayed differently than their male counterparts. Specifically, the author is talking about so-called “rebel” winemakers, who are working independently (no corporate funding), and often making low-intervention, natural wines.

The author is pointing out that, when it comes to female winemakers of this ilk, instead of calling them rebels, the focus is on their community-building efforts, or “an intense focus on their own projects rather than an attempt to fit themselves into a larger, more epic narrative — a sense of being not so much anti-establishment as not-of-the-establishment.”

Two of my articles are linked in this piece; one, a round-up of natural wine restaurants across the country, which included bottle recommendations from their wine directors, is called out as an example of how rarely female winemakers are acknowledged — because only one of the wine directors chose a wine made by a woman. This, of course, has nothing to do with my writing, but I will just say that I don’t really think wine directors focus very much on the gender of the winemaker, as much as how the wine actually tastes, its price point, and so on. When you see an amazing film, you’re not more impressed by it if it was made by a woman, right?  Read more

A Baker/Blogger/Butcher-Turned-Author, Plus Cocktail Craziness At NYC’s Betony

Last week, I wrote on Eater Drinks about the cocktail program at Betony, in NYC. It really goes above and beyond most restaurant bar programs, partly because general manager Eamon Rockey devotes so much time and energy to crafting each ingredient in every cocktail — but also because he personalizes every drink, to an incredible extent. There is so much emotion, whimsy, and storytelling in each cocktail at Betony — including the delicious non-alcoholic versions.

Betony is certainly taking the lead on this kind of approach to cocktails, but I am also seeing this personalized, hyper-artisanal style popping up at other restaurants, certainly at the fine dining establishment Restaurant Latour, in New Jersey, where I dined this weekend and met mixologist Stephen Thomas.

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Much like Eamon, Stephen makes cocktails out of his wild imagination, using hints of classic recipes but taking them in very contemporary directions. Stephen’s drinks program also features an incredible array of locally distilled spirits. Plus, he’s a talented sommelier, who poured for us many beautiful and unique wines from Restaurant Latour’s cellar — one of the country’s largest and most impressive collections. At dinner, we did not get to drink the Romanée-Conti, but we did have a 1947 Napa Valley wine and a 1914 Madeira.

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At lunch in the Tavern, the more casual restaurant at Crystal Springs, the resort where Restaurant Latour is located, I had a Riesling from Alba, a New Jersey winery — pas mal!

Freshly posted on Food Republic is my profile of butcher-baker-blogger-author Cara Nicoletti, who is a real inspiration for me both on the page, where she elegantly weaves between memoir, essay, and food writing, and in the kitchen, where her recipes challenge me to try new techniques.

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I’ve been making Cara’s Breakfast Sausage since I received the advanced copy of the book, and honestly I don’t know why every single person out there does not make their own breakfast sausage from scratch because it is so easy and delicious. Get her book, Voracious — it comes out tomorrow and is a great read.

Dear Harper’s: I really hate this article, here’s why.

I understand, roughly, what you were going for. Let’s make fun of the rich, and their excesses, hahaha, by sending a writer who has a degree from a top university (specifically, Oxford) to dine at obscenely expensive restaurants and make fun of how ridiuclous they arefor a magazine read mostly by privileged people — because we (the intellectuals) aren’t that kind of privileged people. We’re the good kind of rich, you know, because we publish a thoughtful magazine.

In fact, let’s send this writer to restaurants that normal people, who work in the food industry and actually love food and appreciate how it can be elevated to an artform — an artform which, yes, at times is excessive and outlandish — save up for months to be able to eat at. Because it’s really not just rich people who want to eat at these places, Harper’s; they aren’t just for the 1 percent. And if you think that, then it’s a miracle that you can appreciate Picasso, or Richard Serra, or certainly Jeff Koons.

Sure, the world of food gets really weird, sometimes. It is totally understandable that any diner would be disappointed with these high-end meals on any given night, because they do aim more for bravado than simple, basic flavor. Hell, I’ll take pasta shells with homemade pesto any night of the week, but I still made sure to eat at wd~50 before it closed because I understand that food is an art form, and that top-performing chefs influence all of us and our daily diets. Remember that line in The Devil Wears Prada when the exec chews out her naive new employee, who thinks fashion doesn’t matter — by explaining that the color of her crappy sweater would not exist, were it not for high fashion? Read more

What We Talk About When We Talk About Wine

This New Yorker piece by the writer Bianca Bosker raises some interesting and important questions about how wine tasting notes are written, and the general vocabulary used to discuss wine. Bosker’s research shows that it’s basically impossible to objectively describe a wine’s taste, because words like “minerality” are debatable in a scientific sense (although I personally find it very useful, and I can tell you with one sip whether a wine shows minerality), and because descriptors, like all linguistic artifacts, are culturally-shaped and can change over time (as is the case with wine, of course). Read more