Photographs: shot glass by Karandaev; bottle by Stoleg
FELIZ NAVIDAD Tequilas that bring the cheer
The world of tequila has blossomed. With its sweet, layered flavors, this Mexican liquor has developed into one of the most expressive distilled spirits. And Fairfield County is home to some restaurants that take tequila seriously. Geronimo Tequila Bar & Southwest Grill in Fairfield and Tequila Mockingbird in New Canaan are two of only forty in the U.S. to be certified by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), the Mexican tequila governing body. Bartaco in Stamford and Westport is also a great source for sipping tequilas. Read on for the 411 on some of the best bottles around.
IN GOOD TASTE Not sure where to begin? We asked two experts to suggest what flavor profiles to look for and what to order next.
GRETCHEN THOMAS Wine and spirits director, Barteca Restaurant Group
It’s quite simple, really. Scotch and bourbon are whiskeys (spelled whisky in Scotland) and are distilled from malted grains, usually barley and/or rye. They are both aged to mellow and to create flavor. That is where the similarity ends. Bourbon, an American whiskey, tends sweet, with caramel and vanilla notes, and is a good introductory “brown spirit” for the American palate. Scotch is made in Scotland, and its nuanced flavors range from elegant to earthy. Peated Scotch is an acquired and beguiling flavor. Sales of these spirits have exploded in the U.S. recently, making them elusive. “As collectible, super-rare Scotch and bourbon became nearly impossible to find—or being resold at ten times their original price—it started to trickle down to where everyday stuff is hard to find,” says Andrew Estey, manager of Fairway Wines and Spirits in Stamford. Case in point: A bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve, 23 Year, goes for $3,000. But you can find a good bottle of bourbon in the $35 range. Below, see what Estey and Mark Abramson, owner of Mo’s Wine & Spirits in Fairfield, suggest you sip.
Made in Scotland
Made of 100 percent malted barley
There is no requirement for type of cask.
The most popular are aged in bourbon, sherry and port casks, which impart a range of flavors.
Made in the U.S.A. (more than 91 percent of all bourbon is made in Kentucky)
Made of 51 percent corn. Rye and barley are also used.
Aged in new, charred oak barrels for at least two years—Jim Beam is aged for four years—and up to thirty.
No additives (such as caramel), except water to dilute the alcohol proof.
When grains are sprouted, then dried
A single distillery (rather than a blend)
Approximately 225 bottles from a single cask will have a one-time-only flavor
Mossy decayed organic matter of coastal regions of Scotland used to fire the kiln to germinate and dry the malt. It imparts smoky, earthy and iodine flavors.
Bowmore Islay Single Malt Whisky, 12 Year Asylum Fifth State Corn Aged Whiskey Mark Abramson
Highland Park Whisky, The Balvenie DoubleWood Whisky, Springbank Scotch Whisky, Glenmorangie Scotch Whisky Andrew Estey
Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, Basil Hayden Mark Abramson
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon E. H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch Bourbon Andrew Estey
Elizabeth Keyser has written about beer, wine and spirits for newspapers, magazines and blogs. She has sat on the Yankee Brew News tasting panel and judged craft and European brew contests.
Rosé is the summer wine. With pretty pastels ranging from blush to peach; crisp, dry, refreshing minerality; and light, berry flavors, rosé evokes dreams of the South of France. And at an affordable price—you can find good bottles from Provence between $12 to $15.
In 2014 imports of Provencal rosé climbed by 39 percent in the United States, and we’re starting to drink rosé all year round. (Count me in.) Rosés with the Côte de France appellation are the classic example of this ancient European wine made with red grapes. But today rosé is vinted all over—France (Provence, Rhône or Loire valleys, and the Languedoc), Italy, Spain, Austria, United States (Oregon, California), Argentina, Chile, South Africa—and shows a range of flavor profiles.
Rosés to Explore
a blend of grenache, rolle and
an Italian rosato from Terre de Talamo
in Tuscany; half cabernet
and half sangiovese.
(14 percent ABV) Betty Swietek, comanager
Bev Max, Stamford
Lieu Dit Rosé de Pinot Noir
Santa Barbara County
Gobelsburg Cistercien Rosé
faint effervescence when first opened.
85 percent Austrian zweigelt and 15 percent St.
Laurent and pinot noir Peter J. Troilo, managing director,
Nicholas Roberts Fine Wine, Darien
Côtes de Provence,
a blend of grenache and cinsaut.
(13 percent ABV)
Mouton Noir Love Drunk, an Oregon pinot noir Jeb Fiorita, owner
Val’s Putnam Wines, Greenwich
Guide to Drinking Pink
TALK THE TALK French—Rosé
TASTING PANEL Strawberry, Cherry, Peach, Citrus, Lime Grapefruit, Stone, Watermelon Rind, Minerals and Green herbs
Red grapes (remember, they have white juice) are crushed, then sit with their skins briefly, no more than three days. The skin color bleeds into the juice.
GRAPES Regional, ranging from 100 percent pinot noir to blends of grenache and sangiovese, with syrah, mourvèdre, carignan and zweigelt
A rosé makes a refreshing spritzer. Muddle seasonal fruit—strawberries, raspberries, peaches or plums— add rosé, ice, and a splash of seltzer.
Rosés range from 11.5 percent to 14 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), and can sneak up on you. My friends and I aren’t ashamed to put ice cubes in our rosé.
FOR BOYS, TOO
Though women have driven the rosé market, “BRosé” is now a thing. Try a Spanish or Argentinean rosato by itself or with whatever you’re grilling.
Rosé also goes with food, from aperitif to dinner. Pair it with cheese, fruit, fish, vegetables, paella, grilled meat. Recently, I’ve enjoyed a glass of Provençal rosé with raw Blue Point oysters at Rizutto’s in Westport, and a glass of Les Valentines with sea bass with Jerusalem artichokes at The Modern in NYC. At the Greenfield Hill Liquor store, I was steered to a bottle of Juliette rosé. I brought it to a friend’s, and we drank it with Mediterranean vegetable soup topped with Parmesan croutons.
Photographs by Julie Bidwell
Above left: The Cotto dining room and bar; right: Elio Filippino wines are among the highlights of Cotto’s extensive wine list.
Since it opened five years ago, Cotto Wine Bar has been a Roman outpost. Urban and contemporary, it boasts a menu that hits collective taste memories of Italy: porchetta sandwiches, Roman fried artichokes and pastas with texture. Tucked in on Bank Street, Cotto today is devoted to Italy’s regional foods. And in an ongoing wine dinner series, Italian vintners will pair Cotto’s dishes with regional wines.
Cotto’s narrow dining room is flanked by a long, white, eat-in bar, where one can order from a 400-bottle wine list or contemporary cocktail menu. A recent dinner with Elio Filippino was a tour of Italy and its regional artisan products, which the winemaker matched with wines from his family’s estate in the Langhe hills of Piedmont in Northern Italy. The barbera, nebbiolo and dolcetto vines are like cousins to the Filippino family, which has been growing grapes since the early 1900s and making their own wine since the 1950s. Their wines are DOC and DOCG certified as having been grown in specific traditional regions.
To begin, two appetizers to share with the table: bright, lemony tuna tartare all’arancia with crisp Sardinian flatbread to scoop up the cool, fresh cubes of tuna and rich, ripe avocado. A board of salumi, thin slices of cured meats, folded, twisted and draped, presented a range of colors, textures, flavors: fruity, meltingly soft prosciutto; smoky speck; tender mortadella studded with pistachios; disks of dry salami and bresaola, air-cured beef. The meats were from Levoni of Castellucchio, in Mantova.
To pair, the Dolcetta D’Alba, DOC “Sori Capelli” 2015, was fruity and light. Made from 100 percent dolcetto grapes, harvested by hand, and briefly aged in stainless steel vats, it’s a wine you could drink every day, says Elio Filippino, whose Italian was translated by a colleague. And with the salumi, “a perfect pairing.”
Pasta was served as a primi piatti, as it would be in Italy, except this is the USA and the chef wanted to show off a little, so three pastas were served, revealing the most important lesson of Italian pasta: texture. Spaghetti chitarra—a fresh pasta rolled and cut on a stringed instrument that gives the strands a square rather than round shape—was made by Pastificio Bacchini in Italy, and the tomatoes that clung to the pasta were filets of Strianese tomatoes, DOP-certified San Marzanos grown in the Sarnese-Nocerino region. Bucatini all’Amatriciana, thicker long strands of pasta with a center hole, was a spicy and hearty Roman tomato sauce made with guanciale, cured pork jowls. To drink with the pastas, Langhe Nebbiolo, which had notes of cherry. It’s aged a year in oak, and another six months in the bottle. It’s a wine for pastas or meat dishes.
The chef couldn’t restrain from serving a third pasta, vongole veracci, little clams imported from Anzio on the Mediterranean Sea outside of Rome, simply cooked with garlic, white wine, parsley and lemon. The clams were served on spaghettoni, a thicker pasta made in Abruzzo using older bronze dies that leave a rough texture on the pasta so that it catches the sauce, which coats each strand.
The secondi had one of the best skirt steaks I’ve ever eaten, with flavors of the grill, against pink, tender beef draped in a Barolo reduction, with sautéed porcini mushroom and black truffle from Spoleto. The name Spoleto called forth a memory of eating grilled lamb chops on an outdoor patio. And Cotto’s second secondi were little grilled lamb chops with those same simple elements of fire and a little salt.
The secondi was served with two wines: Barbera D’Alba DOC “Vigna Veja” 2013, made with 100 percent Barber, a garnet-hued, fruity, high-acid, low-tannin wine, briefly aged in oak. The most special wine of the evening was Barolo DOCG “Castiglione Falletto” 2011, made of 100 percent nebbiolo, aged in oak for two years, and in the bottle an additional year. Filippino noted its “excellent quality,” fruity, elegant, with a structure that could allow for twenty years of aging.
Desserts imported from Amalfi included candied pear and ricotta tart, paired with glass of golden, fragrant, floral Moscato d’Astic DOCG. Perfect for those with a sweet tooth.
More dinners are planned through the year. Check the website for updates.
The world of tequila has blossomed over the last eight years. A shot of jet fuel no more, this Mexican liquor has developed into one of the most expressive distilled spirits, crafted for enjoying its sweet, layered flavors. “Sipping tequila” is another name for good-quality distillations of 100 percent blue Weber agave. The best tequilas are created by cooking the agave hearts—known as piñas—in traditional brick or clay ovens with steam, which breaks down the sugars, creating a distinctive sweet-potato aroma, and round, smooth flavor profiles.
Fairfield County is home to some restaurants that take tequila seriously. Geronimo Tequila Bar & Southwestern Grill in Fairfield, and Tequila Mockingbird in New Canaan, are two of only forty in the U.S. to be certified by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), the Mexican tequila governing body. (Geronimo’s Tim Scott is also certified.) Bartaco in Stamford and Westport is also a great source for sipping tequilas, with a staff that can guide you, says Gretchen Thomas, Barteca’s wine and spirits director. Talk to the bartenders, tell them what you like to drink, and they can suggest a flight that will start you on your sipping journey.
Tequila aged from one to three years
Aged for up to forty-five days in oak barrels
Aged up to one year
Ultra (or Extra) Añejo
Aged more than three years. There’s no limit on aging.
A succulent that grows in semi-arid land
Blue Weber Agave
The species of agave that tequila is made from, also known as agave azul.
An agave distillation that can have up to 49 percent sugars from sources other than agave.
In Good Taste Not sure where to begin? We asked two experts to suggest what flavor profiles to look for and what to order next
GRETCHEN THOMAS Wine and Spirits Director, Barteca Restaurant Group
Yam, vanilla, chai spices, baked apple
TIM SCOTT Co-owner, Geronimo Tequila Bar and Southwestern Grill
Light caramel taste with a hint of vanilla
CASA NOBLE AÑEJO
Aged nose, elegant balance from French oak
CASA NOBLE BLANCO
Fresh agave nose with a natural sweetness
CLASE AZUL REPOSADO
Sweet, rich on the tongue, with background notes of the sherry barrel
DON JULIO 1942
Butterscotch and vanilla, rich caramel and roasted agave
Caramel, butterscotch and vanilla, cooked agave aroma
Matching Tequila with Food
Tequila can be sipped before, during or after a meal. Tequila’s natural sweetness pairs well with spicy foods. Try BLANCOS and REPOSADOS before or with food. AÑEJOS can be enjoyed after dinner, or with dessert.
Above: One more must-try The Breakfast Reuben: pastrami brisket, Swiss cheese and house-made Thousand Island dressing with a sunny-side up egg, all encased in a Portuguese muffin
In what seems like no time, food trucks have become standard fare on main thoroughfares around Stamford’s downtown and Harbor Point. Turn the corner and you’ll run into another one parked near you, offering specialties that satisfy a craving you didn’t know you had. Hard to keep up, for sure, so we thought we’d tell you about the latest generation of trucks out there, each housing one of our city’s own rising culinary stars (to find them, follow them on social media). Though each menu is something worth revisiting—from morning to late night—here’s our take on what you should try first, no matter the time of day.
1. The Brunch Box
2. Nosh Hound
American with Asian Influence
1 The Brunch Box
There’s no better way to start the day than with The Brunch Box’s breakfast sandwich, a bacon, egg and cheese (and tomato and lettuce) with what’s been missing: hash browns and sriracha mayo. Encased in a soft, slightly sweet Portuguese muffin, this breakfast sandwich has got it all in every bite—the protein of egg and cheese, smoky saltiness of bacon, freshness of lettuce and tomato, crunch and comfort of a ring of hash browns, and creamy heat of seasoned mayo. It’s a damn good sandwich you’ll find yourself craving at lunch, too.
There are also healthy options at The Brunch Box, including oatmeal, or Greek yogurt with house granola and seasonal fruit. But an eggs Benedict sandwich at your desk can ease the Monday morning blues, while Lox Box, a smoked salmon sandwich with cream cheese, tomatoes, red onions, capers and dill, can make the transition to lunch a lot better.
To drink, locally roasted Bonjo coffee, brewed by the drip method, is a big draw. Organic lemonade, brightened by fresh mint and ice, is a refreshing option.
The Brunch Box, whose chef/owner JIMMY MARCELLA is a Stamford native, can be found downtown and at Harbor Point from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
2 Nosh Hound
Nosh Hound makes devourable sandwiches and snacks with contemporary, New American and global influences. Its signature is the Korean Cheesesteak, which gives the Philly classic some Seoul with grilled Bulgogi, marinated shaved steak, caramelized onions, American cheese and sriracha mayo on a brioche roll. The Southern Sammie, chicken breast soaked in buttermilk, battered and fried, and layered with Nosh Hound’s sweet pickles, slaw and Cajun-spiced mayo, is one of the most popular sandwiches. You can order either from Nosh Hound’s Lunch or Hangover menus.
This truck’s sides are fun. Churrasco Cali is fried mashed cauliflower nuggets, served with a dollop of spicy, fresh green chimichurri sauce, a sprinkle of Parmesan, and crunchy crushed hazelnuts. Not your usual street snack. And for truffle oil lovers, there are Fungus Fritters, deep-fried potato-mushroom sticks, flavored with truffle oil and served with a lemon-truffle mayo.
Warning: Don’t arrive at Nosh Hound too close to 2 p.m., or you may discover that the Peking Duck tacos (braised duck, sweet hoisin sauce, cucumber salsa and sour cream with scallions) are sold out.
Nosh Hound, started by Stamford native SAM RALBOVSKY and MAYCIE MARINGER, can be found at Veterans Park and Ridgeway Shopping Center several times a week.
With a menu inspired by the Pacific Islands, the Hapa food truck has a strong and original identity. Chef-owner CHRIS GONZALEZ was born in the Philippines, raised in the U.S., and lived in Hawaii before moving to Stamford.
News flash: The Hapa Burger is one of the best burgers in all of Fairfield County. First, there’s the unusual bun, baked a lurid shade of purple as it’s made of ube, a purple yam popular in the Philippines. The roll has a slightly sweet flavor and cushions the burger, a well-seasoned, hand-formed patty of grass-fed beef, and spot-on toppings of pork belly—which adds texture and richness—caramelized onions, cheddar, lettuce and tomato. It’s a juicy burger worth following. Get it with long skinny fries sprinkled with furiake, a mix of seaweed and sesame, and drizzled with spicy-sweet mayo.
The Korean short rib taco and Philippine chicken adobo taco are packed with the soft, flavorful, long-simmered meats. The short rib is topped with purple cabbage slaw, and the chicken adobo with fresh salsa. Tacos are served in a box with a side of sticky white rice sprinkled with furiake.
Something healthy but just as mouthwatering? The poke rice bowl is fresh and colorful, with chunks of marinated yellowfin tuna and topped with pico de gallo, pomegranate seeds, yuzo sauce and trout roe.
Hapa, started by Stamford resident Chris Gonzalez, can be found at Veterans Park, 300 Atlantic Street and Half Full Brewery.
Photographs courtesy of The Brunch Box, Nosh Hound and Hapa
Beer tasting isn’t bogged down by the seriousness of wine tasting. Sure, there’s lots to learn, but it’s fun. Here’s a collection of my favorites along with some from ANDREW FIORINI, general manager at Cask Republic in Stamford and Norwalk, and RYAN SLAVIN, managing partner at Local Kitchen and Beer Bar in Fairfield.
It opens with the gentle sigh of a bottle of sparkling wine. This classic, crisp, complex, balanced brew reveals the beauty of Belgian Farmhouse beer.
Monk’s Café Flemish Sour Ale
Right now, I’m into sours. This Flanders Red Ale has a tart cherry flavor, soft effervescence and a pleasing crisp tannic finish. It’s made from fresh and aged-in-oak beer.
Hazy and alive, and tart with complex flavors and hints of spice (brewed with coriander and salt), this is an excellent bottle-conditioned beer from Germany.
This is a light, citrus-forward, spring saison.
New Belgium Citradelic
A juicy, citrus IPA, with a lot of hoppy bitterness cut by tangerine sweetness
Lawson’s Super Session
A light, crisp, low ABV, with the smaller-scale hoppy bitterness of an IPA
Dogfish Head Festina Peche
A light, mildly tart Berliner weisse brewed with peaches to balance sweet and sour.
This is a sought-after beer. It’s a rich, bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout.
An amber with a citrus-fruit, peppery, dry finish. It is brewed from malted rye, barley and oats.
A pale Belgian-style wheat beer that is spiced with coriander and orange peel.
Uinta Ready Set Gose
It’s organic, delicate and light, with mild lemon tartness and low ABV.
HOW TO TASTE BEER:Look at the color, clarity and foam. Smell it; note the aromas. Taste it: Roll it around in your mouth, note the flavors, weight, body, effervescence. Enjoy. Repeat.
ABV Alcohol by volume
BERLINER WEISSE a Champagne of beers—light, mild, fruity, tart
IMPERIAL STOUT Rich and full-bodied, with coffee and chocolate flavors and high ABV
IPA (India Pale Ale) A hoppy, high-alcohol brew that has evolved since its origin in 1600s England.
SAISON A hazy, fine bubbled, well-balanced beer with complex hints of fruit and bitterness and a dry finish. It is brewed in cool weather in Belgian farmhouses using available grains, hops and spices.
SOUR Fresh beer blended with aged beer to created a tart flavor
STOUT Traditionally English and brewed in warm weather. Use of roasted grains gives it its dark color and coffee and chocolate richness, which replaces the bitterness of hops. Light ABV
WEISS (a.k.a. weissbier, hefeweizen, white beer) A pale, unfiltered ancient German wheat beer, with a bite of clove and coriander spice.
Elizabeth Keyser has written about beer, wine and spirits for newspapers, magazines and blogs. She has sat on the Yankee Brew News tasting panel and judged craft and European brew contests.