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I WENT TO LUNCH this week at Capital Grille on 42nd Street, a wonderful steakhouse with a Fortress of Solitude feel and plenty of business people taking their time Don Draper-style. I was meeting with Robert Skalli, the president of the Skalli Family Estates which produces both Rhone Valley Skalli wines in France and St. Supery wines in Napa Valley, along with Emma Swain, the CEO of St Supery.


The lunch was scheduled to run through recent releases from both labels, and we were fairly certain to enjoy both a fantastic lunch and a joyous wine experience. However, this time, through a combination of luck and experience, I managed to so perfectly pair my wine and food choices as to elevate both components and remind myself there is an art to perfect pairings.

St Supery has gone through a number of changes in the past year: Longtime CEO Michaela Rodeno retired in June, 2009 (and Swain took over the post after departing Sebastiani Vineyards). The company also welcomed back winemaker Michael Scholz, who had worked for the winery from 1996 to 2001. The winery itself, located in the Pope Valley and Rutherford regions of Napa, is relatively new, having been forged from the ground up in 1982 by Skalli. "Before we planted the Dollarhide Ranch vines, there were cows on the land," says Skalli (the Skalli estate wines in Languedoc were founded in 1961).

The tastings were typical, running through three whites (St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Virtú 2009 and St. Supery Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc 2009), three reds (Skalli Grand Vins du Rhone Chateauneuf du Pape 2007, Skalli Grand Vins du Rhone Cotes du Rhone 2009, St. Supery Élu 2005) and one dessert wine (St Supéry Moscato 2009). All pleasant and crisp. Scholz's interest in drawing out pineapple notes to augment the grapefruit notes commonly found in the Dollarhide SavBlanc grapes, and bring back the earthy "funk" also found these grapes is welcome. The finishes on the whites are clean and crisp, while the reds are long, with mild, approachable tannins even as young as they are.

Three wines in particular stood out for me on the sheer magic of the food pairings. Capital Grille produces flavorful steaks, lamb, burgers and other dishes, with a clean, elegant presentation:

St. Supéry Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc 2009 / Blue Point Oysters
"The Pope Valley is very good for Sauvignon Blanc, because there are good changes in the temperatures between day and night," says Skalli. "You have very warm days and very cool nights." The 2009 SB ($35) marks the return of winemaker Scholz's appreciation of the natural "funk" the Dollarhide SB grapes possess. The grapes for this wine are from Parcel 5 at Dollarhide, which CEO Swain says tend to be the most pungent grapes on the ranch. Scholz took the grapes and barrel fermented 14% of them in new French oak, then put that back in steel for a month to accentuate the musk, white cheese and fresh beef notes that overlay the natural grapefruit and pineapple citruses also found. On the mouth it is round, meaty and rich, almost like a bold red. You still get the tropical overtones that the Dollarhide SBs are known for, along with mild butter and bacon grease notes. 
 The moment I tasted this wine, I craved oysters. I asked the wine manager to bring us each one oyster (as we had a lot to look forward to). They had Blue Points on hand (real, salt-driven blue points out of Great South Bay), and the pairing was sublime. The tropical and cheese notes of the wine rounded wonderfully, allowing the fermented notes to complement the brininess and shininess of the oysters and bring additional complexity to each bite. If I could change one thing it's that I think an even bolder oyster, like a Malpeque, would work even better. (At Capital Grille, the St Supéry Dollarhide 2004 lists for $138 per bottle (about $70 retail). I wish we'd taken the time to sample that one as well to cast the differences).


Skalli Grand Vins du Rhone Chateauneuf du Pape 2007 / Beef Carpaccio
This blend of 60% Grenache (70-year-old vines), 20% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre is a classic CdP. In fact, Skalli says his estate represents 10% of all CdP, producing about 100,000 cases each year. "For me, the Rhone Valley wines in France are wonderful," he continues. "The Bordeaux in a restaurant are so expensive. You can get a nice Cote du Rhone for €60, where you can't even touch Bordeaux for that."
Set aside the fact that Cote du Rhones generally don't match Bordeaux in depth and complexity, Skalli's got a point: Why pay through the nose if what you want is a nice wine with dinner?  The Skalli CdP ($40) is still young, with a dominant alcohol nose, but there is also a mild earthy humus and sweet fruits on the end. On the mouth, it is round, with well-balanced tannins, mild pepper and floral notes.
As luck would have it, I'd ordered the Beef Carpaccio on a bed of fresh arugula (how very '90s, I know). Again the dish paired perfectly and both wine and dish complemented each other. The hard edges of the wine's youth (I'd let this sit for another five years) mellowed, and its fruit and spice notes were drawn forth. Others had great luck with the St. Supéry Élu 2005 we also sampled, a blend that evokes sweet red fruits, black cherry and black pepper, with a nice tannic finish. Also elegant (but in need of aging): Limited Edition Dollarhide Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.


St Supéry Moscato 2009, North Coast:
 The coup de grace (in terms of pairing) may have been the Moscato. Dessert wines are, more or less, meant to stand on their own. Pair them with white cheese and pears, maybe a little honey. But I was in the mood for Créme Brulee, so I ordered one. "Créme Brulee and the Moscato pair beautifully," said Skalli. He was right. Rather than an overload of sugar-on-sugar, the dessert brought down the sugar of the Moscato, giving it a warmth and roundness and cutting the acid. Suddenly it was all banana and peach, warmth and coffee. I passed the Créme around and insisted everyone try, and I think most (at least) were suitably impressed. 



Though these are French wines (or California wines with a French sensibility), they marry food the way Italian wines do. They drink well enough on their own, but are elevated with just the right combination of spices, textures and tones. I would also venture to say that, for the most part when pairing, here the situation calls for like-with-like: Acids with acids, pungent with pungent, tropical with tropical. The Cabs will stand up to lamb or Argentine beef. They might overwhelm the sweeter Wagyu. The whites might dominate a Tilapia, but oysters and lobster - C'est Magnifique!

 
 
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I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS unusual mash-up: Giorgio Gucci (grandson of THE Gucci) is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his Giorgio G branded fashion line with the launch of four limited edition premium Cognacs. Emperor Brands, the parent company behind the Cognac, is throwing a party to celebrate in the form of a charity gala called "Night of Italian Glamour." At the event, Gucci will receive an "Entrepreneurship Award" from...Emperor Brands. Meanwhile, the often reticent Mickey Rooney will walk the red carpet with reality stars from Real Housewives of New York City and Bravo's Exposure. Will he recognize these "actors?" I'm not certain.
Guests will have the opportunity to sample (and buy) the Cognacs, or enjoy Champagne and a variety of Emperor's Brand vodkas. If you opt to purchase, the Cognacs run between $1,000 and $3,000 a bottle, depending on vintage, according to the company.
Read More on the event and the cognacs here: The Emperor's New Booze

 
 
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French Chef Thomas Keller and the new BMW ActiveHybrid 7.
THOMAS KELLER--the brains and brawn behind Napa Valley's French Laundry and NYC's Per Se--and I have met a few times, though he wouldn't know me from Adam. Each time, he's been gracious and familiar, a Bill Clinton of the culinary world in terms of making you feel important. At this year's James Beard Media awards, Keller won the General Cooking award for Ad Hoc at Home (Artisan Books 2009). Congratulating him, he thanked you and shook your hand like you gave him the award.

That's how I always feel at his restaurants: Welcome. In on the recipe and the plan for the night. His food is inventive and modern, sure, but always flavorful and approachable with a sense of home. It's comfortable. It's luxurious (the prix fixe dinner at Per Se runs about $300 before wine, taxes and gratuity), but considering the many courses, including multiple amuse bouches. It's actually a pretty good deal.

Thus, it's no surprise that Keller has partnered with BMW North America for an enhanced "guest experience" at The French Laundry. Beginning this month, guests can take advantage of a concierge service featuring the new BMW ActiveHybrid 7

The arrangement is a perfect marriage. The two (Keller and the BMW) announced their engagement, according to a press release, at the BMW Championship at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, where Chef Keller was a guest at the tournament. Both Chef Keller and the ActiveHybrid strive to pair luxury and earth-friendly pragmatism. Keller sources local ingredients (often to the point where area farmers deliver fresh ingredients to The French Laundry's kitchen door), while the ActiveHybrid 7 combines an electric motor with BWM's 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V-8 and a new eight-speed (yes eight) automatic transmission. Zero to 60 in 4.7 seconds? Are those your taste buds when you sample Chef Keller's Herb Roasted Rib-Eye of Snake River Farm's Beef "pain Perdu," or BMW's acceleration rate?

“As a BMW owner for more than 32 years, I’ve always appreciated the brand’s attention to precision and detail because my very first vehicle was a BMW 320i,” said Keller in a press release. 

“The number one hobby and interest of BMW customers is fine dining, which makes a partnership with Thomas Keller and The French Laundry a natural fit,” said Tom Kowaleski, Vice President Corporate Communications, BMW of North America, in that same release.


To celebrate, Keller and his team have introduced a special "BMW-inspired" dish to The French Laundry's menu, featuring Four Story Hill Farm Apple Fed Pork Loin with Bratwurst, Braised Red Cabbage, Apple Dumplings and Grain Mustard Sauce, all reflecting BMW's Bavarian roots. The dish was made available the evening of the BMW-French Laundry pairing.

Frivolous? Not likely. Think about Napa / Sonoma diners who've been sampling the area's wines all day. Think about French Laundry diners, who are enjoying a wine or beer pairing with each course. Unusual pairings are in Kellar's blood. I once dined at Keller's Per Se for a beer pairing with Brooklyn Brewery (where I had the opportunity to savor the extremely limited piece de resistance Reinschwiensgebot or "Bacon Beer." Brewmaster Garrett Oliver crafted this complex concoction specifically for the meal, and Keller's staff paired it specifically with the above-mentioned Rib-Eye. No mere trifle this. Keller knows what he's doing when he pairs Odd Couples. We look forward to the ride. 

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Keller has introduced a special BMW-inspired dish.
Images: TOP: Jim Sully / Newscast via BMW. BOTTOM: Thomas Keller Restaurant Group via BMW
 
 
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Kimatni Rawlins in a sweet ride at the TAG Heuer 150th Anniversary Party.
ON THURSDAY, September 2, luxury sports watch company TAG Heuer completed the U.S. leg of its year-long 150th anniversary celebrations with a private party at an estate in Amagansett, Long Island in the Hamptons. It was the evening before Hurricane Earl was supposed to land on the island, and no one was certain we'd have a drench-free evening. In fact, the weather, which had been so hot and humid for so many days, was instead ideal: Warm and vernal with no hint of an oncoming tropical storm.

Braving the weather, an intimate crowd mingled on the expansive lawn with celebrities like Weeds star Mary-Louise Parker, R&B neosoul artist Maxwell, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model Hilary Rhoda and Gossip Girl moody boy Ed Westwick (many fans were surprised to find the young actor speaks with a British accent). The highlight of the evening, for watch fans, was TAG Heuer patriarch Jack Heuer (the great-grandson of founder Edouard Heuer) arriving in a branded, customized all-electric Tesla Roadster to present a new breakthrough watch: The TAG Heuer Grand Carrera Pendulum. TAG claims it is the first mechanical watch to use magnetic fields, rather than a crystal, balance wheel and hairspring, to regulate oscillations. 


"Thus, it's not really a quartz watch at all," said Jean-Christophe Babin, global president and CEO of TAG Heuer, who introduced Heuer and the new watch. "Jack has traveled the world with this watch, in the TAG Heuer Tesla, which itself has traveled 33,000 kilometers on this odyssey. Thank you Jack, for returning to the company ten years ago to teach me the watchmaking business. Thank you with all my heart."


The drink of choice was Veuve Clicquot Champagne (a sister company through LVMH), though basic cocktails and beer were also popular. Not everyone loves Veuve, but I think its lemony brightness works well paired with a balmy summer evening wandering out on an estate's lawn across Hamptonian fields and Mansions and ponder the beauty of it all. It's an eminently drinkable Champagne with little or no bite, and it made the three-hour return to Manhattan all the more beable before the storm.


I'm not able to show off my celebrity Red Carpet pictures yet of Mary-Louise Parker and Ed Westwick (there's a possibility Getty Images is buying them). But I am able to show you a shot I took of Automotive Rhythms publisher Kimatni Rawlins looking fine in the TAG Heuer Tesla (above), and another of Westwick checking out the same car (below). Too bad the Teslas weren't in our gift bags. 

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Actor Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl) checks out the TAG Heuer edition Tesla.
Image: Robert Haynes-Peterson copyright 2010
 
 
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    Haynes-Peterson

    Robert Haynes-Peterson is an editor and writer based in New York City. When not exploring the vineyards of Mendoza, the distilleries of Cognac or the resorts of Hawaii, he can be found pursuing the next great meal or cocktail wherever he's landed.

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