Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One of my favorite ways to relax after a long day of running Swirl is to sit back and read New York Magazine, cover to cover (especially the Approval Matrix which is pure and simple genius). And this week's issue is one that makes me drop everything I'm doing (which includes gearing up for the new season of Project Runway by watching a day long marathon). The Cheap Eats 2008. It’s one of my dining bibles for the rest of the year. The sections on pizza, tacos, and noodles got me thinking. If I'm bringing home a regular slice from Artichoke Pizza (my pizza fave minus the 30 minute lines at 8PM; I skip the overly creamy artichoke style) what am I going to drink with it? Let's put beer and soda aside for now and go to the wine picks. I should first mention that my overall favorites for pairing any type of wine with food are crisp, high acidic whites and lower tannin, lighter bodied red wines. If you’re settling in with a thin, crispy slice with red sauce my wine pick is a Barbera d’Asti or Chianti. Pairing food and wine regionally is a good guideline. The high acidity of tomato sauce requires a wine that is its acidic equal, which Italian red wines tend to have. The light, juiciness of a Barbera matches the sweetness of a tomato sauce. Try the Carlo Giacosa Barbera D'Alba for a nice late summer treat. A Chianti such as the Ruffino Riserva Ducale is a classically deep yet rustic Tuscan wine made from Sangiovese grapes, sans the wicker basket. Noodles with all of its slurpy glory, seem to be all the rage. And like most East Asian dishes, they need something to battle the powerful flavors while being light at the same time. My pick is a dry Riesling from Alsace or Washington State. But when I think of Mexican food, I think fish tacos and nothing less. Pairing fish tacos with wine is challenging, but don’t automatically reach for that Pacifico. Try a tangy, citrusy Vinho Verde from Portugal or Albarino from Rias Baixas.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Today I'm holding a charity Swirl Events wine tasting event for Sakhi, a fantastic organization that provides resources for South Asian women who are victims of domestic abuse. Organizing and running a fundraiser wine tasting for Sakhi was my initial inspiration for Swirl. But this post isn't about that. It's about how a lot of people (including myself very briefly) have the impression that starting and running a wine company is all glamour and fun. They think it's about waking up late, lounging and working in PJs, then spending the rest of the day sipping fine wine with winemakers. Admittedly, some of those things are true (namely working in my PJs). But glamorous--not so much.

This morning starts with washing 65 glasses. By hand. Then drying each of them. By hand. Then it's a quick zip over to a doctor's appointment. But on the way, I have to stop at Pour wine shop to say hello to the owner and drop off some Swirl postcards for potential clients. Next, I (try to) purchase the chocolates I'm pairing with the General Bilimoria Tempranillo. The chocolates aren't there. Or at my back-up spot. So, it's crazy creative time. But it works out. Now the website's down and may not be up till Monday. Blasphemy! Then it's a stop to pick up Drano for the shower. Did I mention the glamorous part yet? (and no, it's not the Drano.)

Well, the "glamorous" part thankfully comes now: I'm writing this while sipping on Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne. Huh?? Well, Carrie Bradshaw smoked cigarettes while writing her column, so me myself and I un-guiltily sip wine and nibble on a plate of Brillat Savarin, a decadent and sensuously creamy cow's milk cheese. And why--you ask--Champagne? I'm not one for saving Champagne for celebrations, but I did wait to open this gorgeous, zippy bottle for a true celebration--my very first bit of glamor.

Yesterday, I was a guest on the Martha Stewart Living Radio show. I spoke about weddings and wine for their Weddings Week. It was live and they give you zero prep. Thankfully, I knew I wouldn't throw up since my nerves prohibited me eating anything all day.

The craziest live listener question I got was whether running wine in a blender would aerate it faster. Hmmm...always something new in wine. But, as it happens, I love being on the radio and there's nothing that feels more natural. So, what's next? Bring me on the show, Martha! Or Oprah, or Rachael, or Meredith. (I don't discriminate when it comes to dealing with influential and powerful women.) I promise to put down the glass and get out of my PJs.

Savvy SwirlGirl

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Shortly after I got the idea to start an in-home and corporate wine party business, Swirl Events, I started testing out wines on much obliging friends. I wanted to see what did and did not go over well and why. In the name of supporting a nascent entrepreneur, my friends gathered and happily conducted “research.” As we tasted the wines, I noticed every once in a while, my friends would struggle to articulate their impression of the wine. I sensed intimidation in not coming up with the so-called “right” answer. And then it happened. The night before, I had watched the George Clooney directed movie “Good Night and Good Luck.” I remember thinking (oh so originally) “this guy (George) has it all. He can direct, act and he’s got a smile that makes you feel like you’re the prettiest girl in the room.” Not that George has personally ever smiled at me, but that’s what I imagined…and still do. We tasted Orin Swift Cellar’s “The Prisoner” 2005 and it came out. “This is the George Clooney of wines.” A retort from one of the men zinged quickly, “No, no, this is the Salma Hayek of wines.” And we somehow knew what he meant. While the conversation at first was polite and academic, it was now like dinner at the Karwa household minus Mom’s famous samosas – everyone loudly and excitedly trying to toss their celebrity into the ring. Characterizing a wine like a celebrity was a much easier and interactive practice. It’s hard to remember those paragraph-long descriptions of wine and even harder to figure out how they came up with them. But the celebrity thing is universal.

Orin Swift Cellar’s “The Prisoner” remains one of my favorite wines and will always be a George Clooney “smooth, suave and surprisingly complex.” And since the men disagreed with me, I give you the option of the Salma Hayek – lush and full-bodied.

To these I add the all-time favorite description for the Thabani 2003 Merlot –the Brittany Spears – starts off great but ends in disaster.

How to Pick a Summer Wine: The Gentler, Lighter Side of Wine

Summer’s soaring temps beg you to step away from heavy Cabernets and check out the gentler, lighter side of wine. When choosing the perfect summer wine for your outdoor engagement party or wedding, think light, crisp, refreshing--and because people tend to drink more in the heat--lower in alcohol. Nothing more prettily suggests summer than a dry (i.e. not sweet) rose. Avoid the simple, syrupy versions and try French roses from the Mourvèdre grape or roses made using the Saignee method for more complexity. Pick wines from countries where you imagine the locals sipping leisurely at sidewalk cafés while basking in the sun, like Spain. A Spanish fave is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Made to drink young, Albarino is a crisp, white wine with intense fruit, lively acidity and generally a lower level of alcohol. It pairs perfectly with summer foods from seafood to grilled vegetables. But you don’t need to swear off red wine for summer. Look for light bodied wines like Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Valpolicella from Italy, both capable of standing up to barbequed foods. And don’t be afraid to put a slight chill on your red wine. It is summer after all!

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain, “Exceptional with Everything” Oh Really?

There's nothing we love more than a challenge. It's in our makeup. We're two women, thirties. One Indian. One Filipina. The first, founder and CEO of a business in the arguably male-dominated wine world. The second, building experience to be a future proprietess of a wine store. Add to this: In New York City. So when presented with the opportunity to play wine and food critic for a night—to pair Rías Baixas Albariño wines, proclaimed to be "exceptional with everything" with Mercat’s offerings —it is impossible and simply against every ounce of who we are, to refuse.

Mercat means “market” in Catalan, the language of the northern Spanish region where owner, Jaime Reixach, is from and where the restaurant’s menu draws its inspiration. The albariños we’ll be drinking also originate from the northern region, and so we’re already anticipating more perfect wine pairings than tragic mismatches.

It’s a beautiful warm Thursday night—and we are tasting two Albariño wines: Alba Rosa from Martinez Serrantes and Pazo San Mauro, both 2006 vintages. We take our time with each wine—assessing them alone and then side by side. At the end, we agree that both are delightful: the Alba Rosa is sparkling with surprising depth while the Pazo San Mauro would bring life to our springtime picnic. Further, we imagine that if each wine were to be personified, they might just be these two ladies, described as such:

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"
This golden blonde hued wine gives an almost effervescent quality that shoots racy brightness into your mouth. It has the usual grassiness and citrus qualities one expects from this wine. The reason why this wine fits Scarlett most is because it has the quality of lightness but comes with surprising depth of character and fullness in body. The comparison would be perfect were the wine to show great legs, but its light-bodied, lower alcohol nature doesn’t allow it.

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”
Cameron would be a fun addition to any springtime outing. Her lightheartedness would make everyone smile and this wine does the same. The light yellow straw color gives way to granny smith apples, peaches, melon, and citrus scents that jump at your nose, smelling like springtime in a glass. This wine begs to be explored further. The crisp and pleasantly tart apple is balanced with pear and makes it the perfect brunch wine.
Now, we move on to the heart of our challenge: Exceptional with everything? Oh really? How do these two beauties handle themselves in company? After the three and a half hours of glorious sipping, chewing, and chatting, among ourselves and the restaurant staff, here are our findings:

No surprise, our lovely wines get along splendidly with their classic and traditional partners: we have raves for the nicely seasoned patatas bravas—not too spicy, not too garlicky—and the padrones/blistered shishito peppers, the char and oil offset by the tartness of the wines. One of us goes wild for the Canelons de Verdura/eggplant wrapped spring vegetables, manchego, and cranberry reduction. And then Chef Lowder sends over Trencat d’Ous/mushroom with salsa verde topped with a fried egg, which again, goes splendidly with our wines. Even the suckling pig/Cochinillo, which we think will surely clash, in fact becomes the surprise of the evening. Like the beauty and the beast, our wines and the pig make an unlikely but harmonious pair.

We ask ourselves for the last time: Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with Everything?

If not for being the gluttonous bottomless pits that we are, we would certainly have answered YES with an exclamation point. But since we order those two desserts—Torrades Sta. Teresa/fried bread with lemon yogurt and Pa Amb Oli Xocolata/bread, olive oil, and chocolate, our answer must be: Almost. These two desserts with our two Albariños — are disastrous.

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with almost Everything.

--Anu Karwa and Marie Estrada

Visit http://www.riasbaixaswines.com for more info on Rías Baixas Albariños from Spain

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