Bella Donna Daiquiri

On this day in 1876, Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call…”Mr. Watson – Come here – I want to see you.” were the first words spoken on his newly patented invention… and the rest, they say, is history.

In honor of this auspicious occasion, we have the Bella Donna Daiquiri, a curious libation that is sure to start bells ringing…


1-1/2 ounces Gosling Black Seal Rum

1-1/2 ounces Amaretto

½ ounce Lemon Juice

½ ounce Cold Water

¼ ounce Simple Syrup

Shake well with crushed ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Rim the glass with grated cinnamon.

*Shamelessly borrowed from the book 365 Days of Cocktails, by Difford’s Guides

Domaine Les Grands Bois



Well, history may be repeating itself… And this could be a great thing. Back in 2000, the 1998 vintage was being released from the Rhone, specifically the Southern Rhone and the surrounding regions of Côtes du Languedoc, Côtes du Roussillon and Provence. The wines were magical, especially the Rhone-based wines and they have proven, with almost twenty years of aging to be truly superb. At the time, we bought over a hundred cases of these wines. They were incredible values and have all stood the test of time, especially the Châteauneuf du Pape wines.

Early indicators are that the 2015 vintage, slowly coming to market this year is showing remarkably similar characteristics. The downside is that many of the properties that were outrageous values in 2000 have become quite pricey. This is not the case for one such estate, Domaine Les Grands Bois. In 2000, we scooped up several cases of their Cuvée Gabrielle, which was then retailing for $11.99 pre-discount. Recent sampling shows a wine that has become more complex and more refined, but is still strong and worthy of enjoyment.

Recently I was offered the 2015 Cuvée Philippine and it is stunning. The wine is showing all the characteristics of the 1998, perhaps with just a hint more blackberry jam. At $17.99 pre-discount the wine is a tremendous bargain. Yes, the price represents a 33% increase in price, but over 19 years that increase translates to less than 1.7% annually, which is far below the average cost of living increase…

Domaine Les Grands Bois is a small (approximately 110 acres) property with vineyards in several prized appellations. The winery itself was started in 1920 by Albert Farjon in Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes, just outside of the city of Orange. Albert was a farmer at heart and spent most of his time cultivating the vineyards, understanding the importance and distinction of an estate-owned property. Today, the property is owned and operated by Albert’s niece, Mireille and her husband Marc, together with their three daughters, Philippine, Gabrielle and Eloïse.

The vineyards of Domaine Les Grands Bois are spread over seven communes, located in Sainte Cécile les Vignes, Lagarde-Paréol, Suze la Rousse, Tulette, Cairanne, Rasteau, and Travaillan. The properties are at an average altitude of 400 feet with a wide-variety of soil types, consisting of clay-limestone, red stony clays, and large granitic pebbles. The soil types are critical to a slow, even growing cycle, by storing heat during the day, and releasing that energy at night to keep the vines warm. Additionally, gravelly alluvium and soft, moderately moist sandy clays are also found, which promote excellent drainage and prevent rot.

The overall climate is Mediterranean with very little Summer precipitation, and extraordinary sunshine. The Mistral, the often-gale-force wind that blows through the region, is a factor, which is managed through appropriate trellising and pruning.

The winery produces nine bottlings from several important appellations: Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne, Côtes du Rhône Villages, Côtes du Rhône, and Rasteau. Many of the bottlings are cuvées named for the proprietors and their children. The wines are all a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Carignan, although they lean heavily (55%) towards Grenache. Over 75% of the vines date back to 1950, with a small percentage dating back to 1902, making most of the crop Vielle Vigne, or “Old Vines.” Vineyard management is meticulous and harvesting is performed by hand.

The winery itself dates to 1929, but was extensively renovated and updated in 1990, with the introduction of stainless steel fermentation vats, concrete aging tanks and barriques for extended maturation.

The 2015 Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Philippine is a Côtes du Rhone Villages and it is a monster of a wine. With dark, jammy fruit and forceful, but integrated tannins, the wine will age beautifully. If a recent taste of the 1998 is any indication, buying several cases would be the way to go. And at $17.99 pre-discount, the wine is a tremendous value.


Hemenway’s In Providence



We recently had the pleasure of visiting Hemenway’s in Providence RI, a place billed as “a Providence Seafood Classic.” It was a Saturday evening and the place was hopping. The space is an open design with a very high ceiling. Thus, the noise level is extreme, to the point that trying to hear our server explain the specials was nearly impossible. While the noise was a bit of a detraction, it did not diminish our overall enjoyment of the venue.


We started with a brace of cocktails… Given the look of the bar, our hopes were high. Therefore, we went the classic route – Negroni, Sidecar and Moscow Mule. The Negroni was well-made, although Carpano Antico was not available. The Sidecar was also well-made, including the proper sugar-rimmed coupe. Balance-wise, I prefer Sidecars a little heavier on the Triple Sec. This one was a trifle bitter. The Moscow Mule was, in a word, just wrong. The cocktail was fine but the signature copper mug was missing. Was it a total deal-breaker? No, but if you are going to serve one of the most identifiable cocktails of the last century, please have the proper “glassware.”


We went with a few of the classic starters. Bacon & Scallion Wrapped Scallops with a soy-ginger dipping sauce were very good. I prefer the bacon a bit less crispy, and the scallions seemed to be AWOL, but the soy-ginger dipping sauce was a nice touch. Crab & Lobster Cakes with roasted chili & citrus aioli, and a fresh herb & radish salad were moist, plump and flavorful. The Caesar Salad with focaccia croutons, and Grana Padano cheese was classic, fresh and enticing.



For a seafood restaurant, only one of us had a seafood main course. The balance were steaks and they were superb. The 8 Oz. Angus Filet Mignon accompanied by yukon mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, and a red-wine demi glaze was tender and juicy, cooked to a perfect medium. The 12 Oz. Certified Angus New York Strip accompanied by parmesan-truffle steak fries, sautéed spinach, and a sauce bordelaise was exceptional, again cooked to a perfect “Pittsburgh style.” All of the sides were tasty, as were the sauces. The seafood main course was a Chilled Seafood Medley Salad consisting of shrimp, crab, lobster, Jeffery’s greens, feta cheese, shaved red onion, toasted pistachios, orange supreme, and drizzled with a preserved lemon vinaigrette. The Medley had quite possibly the largest jumbo shrimp I had ever seen and was stuffed with oodles of the other listed ingredients. It is clear why Hemenway’s earned their moniker as “Providence Seafood Classic.”


We finished with some artistic sweets. Warm Toffee Cake with a pear and cranberry compote, cinnamon raisin ice cream, oat crisp, and a warm toffee sauce, was delicious and so appropriate given the freezing temperatures outside. The Bourbon Pecan Tart with whipped vanilla sauce, candied pecans, and chocolate whiskey ice cream was also yummy and appropriately comforting.


We also enjoyed a nice bottle of 2015 Château Montmirail Cotes du Rhone which was reasonably priced and paired wonderfully with the steak. My one complaint – accuracy in the wine list… For starters, the wine was listed as a Vacqueyras… Not a big deal, but CDR is not Vacqueyras, despite being adjacent to one another. Also, the listed vintage was 2013, not 2015… again, not a big deal, but I think the 2013 would have been drinking better than the 2015… Completely understand that restaurants can only serve what is available…

Overall, Hemenway’s was a great evening out. The things that mattered most – food and service were impeccable. Ambiance was lacking and beverage service was on par, but not quite perfect. Value-wise, while the meal was not inexpensive, it was certainly worth the price. We’ll be back, probably on a week night to see if that reduces the noise and makes the space a little more intimate.


Baldies Craft Pizzeria


After reading a lot about Baldies Craft Pizzeria in Lakeville, MA (, we decided to take a trip… It’s about 35 minutes south of us on  Route 495 in my old stompin’ grounds… And it is never too far to travel for the promise of great food!

Arrived at 6:30 pm on a Thursday… crowded… we called ahead and even though they only accept reservations for parties of eight or more, they took our name, so the wait was manageable – 15 minutes, tops.

Overall, first impression… clean, open, inviting but not overly cozy… exactly what I expected for a pizzeria. Less noisy, given the crowd, which was a pleasant surprise.

Our waitress was friendly and engaging, and she took great care of us. One complaint – she was very slow… In fairness, not sure if it was her, the crowd or the kitchen. Or possibly a combination. In any event, I did think that two hours for a straightforward dinner for three was a bit much, but again, it could have been a combination of factors.

Ordered cocktails… Negroni and a Margarita. Nixed the Negroni – no Campari… actually, the bar staff never heard of the drink… A bit of a concern, especially given the fact that the Negroni is no longer an obscure cocktail… Margarita was fine. No salt on the rim, but the cocktail was well-balanced.


Ordered wine… 2014 Capostrano Montepulciano – excellent and at about twice retail, the price was very reasonable. Perfect with the cuisine.

The food, which was ostensibly the reason for the visit… generally very good to excellent.

The Burrata was exceptional, rich and complex.


The Calamari was okay – breading was a bit heavy and there were no tentacles and the rings were extremely small. Main dishes were all very tasty.


The Pappardelle Carbonara was incredibly creamy without being overly eggy.


The Steak Tips were cooked to order, which included NOT having the Chimichurri Sauce on the tips by request. Mistake. The marinade is a sweet, smoky marinade, which needs the acid of the Chimichurri to balance the dish. Do not forgo the sauce.


The Pilgrim pizza was very good, but a bit unbalanced… Ricotta with Mascarpone, caramelized onions and a drizzle of cranberry aioli. Everything was great, except the aioli was a bit too sweet, which, when combined with the sweetness of the onions and Mascarpone, unbalanced an otherwise great pie. Perfectly thin crust, by the way.


We finished with a few desserts, which ranged from excellent to mediocre. The Apple Cobbler with vanilla ice cream was terrific. Served warm, the abundance of fruit without much pastry was a welcomed finish to a filling meal. The Chocolate Lava Cake was mediocre at best. The cake itself, which was supposed to be molten, was served warm but it was bone dry and over-cooked. We did try to order the Pistachio Gelato but they were out.


So, overall, we found Baldies Pizzeria to be very good. The interesting specials (Duck Breast, Seared Scallops), which drew us here, seem to be a weekend feature, so we may brave the crowds and try a Friday/Saturday evening. Judging by the quality of the main dishes, the specials promise to be terrific.

Value-wise, we felt it was okay. All-in, including tip, the bill was $152. For three that averages a bit more than $50 per person. Adding in the drive, the brief wait and the slowness of the service and the value decreases. You can get away more cheaply and we left with three doggy bags, so there is another meal from the trip.

Bon Apetito!

The Oxford House Inn



A recent trip up north resulted in a surprise dining experience that was worthy of commentary. The Oxford House Inn is a lovely, quaint historic property in Fryeburg, ME, which is worth the trip if you are seeking fine food, superb service and abundant romance. As taken from their website:


The Oxford House Inn, a Western Maine Bed and Breakfast and Country Inn, offers visitors to the Mt. Washington Valley and Maine’s Western Lakes Region four beautifully appointed guest rooms, a fifty seat gourmet restaurant, and JONATHAN’S, a granite-walled pub.  Built in 1913 by renowned architect John Calvin Stevens, the stately Mission style architecture, stunning sunset mountain views, exceptional food and warm New England hospitality have established The Oxford House Inn as a dining and lodging destination.


And the writer does not lie… Our evening at the Inn was one of the more memorable evenings of late.


Our entrance into the Inn felt more like being welcomed into one’s home, with a comfortable parlor setting to greet weary travelers. Within moments our hostess checked us in and sat us in a hopelessly romantic table adjacent to the imposing stone fireplace, one seat being a lushly appointed, fixed reading nook.



Given the wintry mix outside, a brace of cocktails was in order. Of note, the Perfect Martinique was a well-balanced, refreshing rendition of this pre-prohibition classic. For starters, the Calabrese Salad with fresh Burrata Mozzarella was an enticing palate teaser. The Clam Chowder with Bacon was a creamy, comfort-food masterpiece, filled with plenty of goodies.



Entrees were the Grilled Filet Mignon and the Seared Bulgogi Glazed Duck Breast, both cooked to perfection. The Filet was served with Blue Cheese, Date & Caramelized Onion Stuffed Rosti Potatoes, Broccoli, and a Zinfandel Port Demi-Glace. I asked for “black and blue” and to my delight the meat served “black and blue…” be still my beating heart. The Duck Breast was served with Scallion Sticky Rice, Thai Veggie Slaw, and Bok Choy Kimchee. Again, the Duck was requested as “medium” and it was served “medium.” Both dishes showed balance and restraint, while still enlivening the taste buds appropriately. The chef touts the use of local, fresh ingredients and it shows in the quality and freshness of the dishes.


We finished with a pair of desserts, Apple Beignet and Warm Indian Pudding. The Beignet had a sweet apple filling, mulled cider caramel, and a cinnamon sabayon. Light and fluffy with a mélange of spicy, goodness. The Indian Pudding was served with smoked almond brittle, and rum raisin hard sauce. If there was one negative to the evening it was the Indian Pudding. The Pudding itself was perfect, earthy and deeply flavored with a pleasant interplay between sweet and sour. Unfortunately, the almond brittle and run raisin hard sauce were so sweet that they trounced the delicacy of the Pudding… In their individual components each was interesting, but together they clashed terribly.



With dinner we had to order the Black Pearl Mischief Maker, a Shiraz-Mourvedre blend from Paarl South Africa. The interesting hook? The winemaker is a Fryeburg native, Marylou Nash. A fun connection and actually a very nice wine, which went perfectly with our entrees.


Service was impeccable. Friendly, professional and well-timed, with just the correct amount of attention. We have already started planning our next visit, which we hope will involve staying in one of the beautifully appointed rooms upstairs.

Pink Gin



Pink Gin is long thought of as a drink invented and favored by the officers of the Royal Navy, consisting of Plymouth Gin (the Gin of choice by Her Majesty’s fleet) and Angostura bitters, a known curative for sea sickness. The name derives from the light, pinkish hue gleaned from the addition of the Angostura bitters. The actual recipe is one jigger of Plymouth Gin to one dash of Angostura bitters, topped with water and garnished with a lemon twist. Variations are fairly simple – adding more bitters to intensify the grip, washing the glass with bitters (out) instead of adding the dashes directly (in) and using tonic water instead of fresh water to top up the cocktail all create subtle riffs on a consistent theme. The use of Plymouth Gin is important because it is more floral and considered almost “sweet” in the mouth as opposed to traditional London Dry Gin. I’ve had Pink Gins with both styles of Gin and my preference is definitely Plymouth. I have not tried Navy Strength Plymouth Gin (57.5%). One can only imagine what that might do to this straightforward potion.


In the spirit of ready-made cocktails, the folks at The Bitter Truth have concocted their take on the Pink Gin. A lovely salmon rose color, traditionally aromatic nose with a slightly sweet flavor, the BT Pink Gin is more a flavored Gin than an actual Pink Gin. No matter, the ease of being able to pour out one’s cocktail without any fuss is greatly appreciated.


So, if you are looking for something quintessentially English, then mix up a Pink Gin and say All Aboard!




Barolo Chinato

Herbalism, the treatment of illness using plants, is where the history of modern medicine begins. For many millennia, people developed a deep understanding of which plants provided relief from a variety of maladies. Creating tinctures, tonics, balms and salves using the leaves, bark, and roots of plants was integral to society’s well-being. The practice of herbalism continues today and is a thriving market.

No people were more involved with herbalism than the Italians and careful attention to the number of digestifs available at your local wine & spirits shop is a testimony to this fact. The sheer number of Amari and Liqueurs is staggering.

One that stands out from the pack is Barolo Chinato, a potion that steeps the bark of the cinchona tree to create a magical and pleasing elixir, believed to have many beneficial medicinal properties. The cinchona tree is native to South America and extractions from the bark were first used by the Quechua people of Peru and Bolivia to treat a variety of illness, including malaria and arthritis. The primary compound present in these extracts is quinine, found as the sharply bitter flavor in tonic water. Quinine has been a recognized treatment for malaria going back to 1820, although the compound was taken off the primary treatment list by WHO in 2006.

The importance of quinine as a medicinal treatment in Italy was pioneered in the 1650’s by Pietro Castelli, the distinguished Roman physician, and botanist. Pietro wrote over fifty pamphlets extolling the virtues of quinine, including recipes for a variety of bark extracts. In characteristically frugal Italian fashion, enterprising winemakers in Piedmont seized on an opportunity to use Barolo wine that was too old to be sold at market as viable table wine. Taking guidance from Dr. Castelli, Barolo producers leveraged non-viable table wine to steep cinchona bark and other flavor ingredients to produce a digestif/elixir that harnessed the curative properties of quinine in a flavorful drink. And Barolo Chinato was born!

While there are several Barolo Chinato wines on the market, the original pioneer was Giulio Cocchi, patriarch of the producer that bears his name. Casa Giulio Cocchi was founded in 1891 in Asti and has truly been a trailblazer for this almost cult-beverage. Giulio was the first producer to establish “authorized retailers” where saleable product could be tasted by a curious public. Recognizing that the flavors of many of his products were new and quite distinctive, as well as having medicinal benefits, Giulio set about creating a global distribution network that spawned outposts as far west as Caracas Venezuela. Thus, the most well-known Barolo Chinato and the wine by which all others are measured is Barolo Chinato Cocchi.

It should be noted that, like many Amari and Liqueurs on the market today, their flavors are not for everyone.  This is especially true for Barolo Chinato. While the wine itself is sweetened to make it more palatable, the overriding flavor characteristic is quinine. Because quinine is so evident, there are folks who definitely scratch their heads upon taking a sip, wondering why anyone would make such a wine…

It is a truism of wine and food pairing that the wine should always be sweeter than the food served. For this reason, Barolo Chinato finds a perfect partner in bittersweet chocolates and cocoas. The pairing is so noteworthy that in 2007 Cacaococchi was founded to promote the research and production of luxury chocolates that utilize Barolo Chinato as an essential ingredient.

Unfortunately, like anything that purports to have medicinal qualities and that is produced in a unique and labor intensive process, the cost is not cheap. Average retail for Barolo Chinato Cocchi is approximately $50 for a 500ml bottle. However, digestif wines are meant to be sipped in small quantities after a meal, so the bottle should satisfy for several seatings.



Musings on the Vine: 2015 in Review

I’m not often one to share statistics, but I wanted to say thanks to all my followers and to those folks who merely stopped in for a casual read. Wine and spirits are a passion for me and nothing gives me more pleasure than to share that passion with you!

We have lots of things tee’d up for 2016, so stay tuned for another exciting year with Musings on the Vine!

Happy New Year!


The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,400 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Napa versus Bordeaux – Part VI

Back in May of 2013 we had the fifth installment of our version of the Judgement of Paris:

As predicted in that post, we conducted match-up number six and have the following to report.

The sixth installment took place on November 14, 2015, matching a comparable set of eight wines. The results were as follows:

By Wine
Wine 1st 2nd 3rd Total
(3 pts) (2 pts) (1 pt)
1986 Silverado Vineyards 2 3 1 13 pts
1986 Forman 1 0 3 6 pts
1987 Mondavi Reserve 1 1 0 5 pts
1985 Caymus Special Select 3 0 1 10 pts
1986 D’Angludet 0 2 0 4 pts
1989 Cos Laboury 3 4 1 18 pts
1989 Grand Mayne 2 2 2 12 pts
1982 Haut Batailley 5 1 2 19 pts
By Region
Napa Valley 34 pts
Bordeaux 53 pts

Well, as you can see, France took the prize this time around fairly handily.

So after six installments, the results stack up as follows:

France’s lead is back to 4 – 2 in overall wins. Point-wise the French have 202 points to Napa’s 174 points, a widening margin.

A few observations are in order… In this installment, the wines were from closer vintages, which definitely helped the French. The US wines were all very good, but showed their age. On the contrary, the French wines were drinking marvelously – mature but not tired – vibrant with layers of complexity.

The US wines included a Wine Spectator 100-point wine – the 1985 Caymus Special Select and while it garnered a handful of first place votes, the wine was decidedly average.


One of the most touted, or should I say “hyped” vintages is represented with the 1982 Haut Batailley – Robert Parker was made famous by this vintage and interestingly, he did not think much of this wine. He last tasted the wine in 1995 and felt that it might last another 7 – 8 years. Our results suggest that the predictability of aging potential is still more art than science… For me personally, I was thrilled with the quality of the two 1989 Bordeaux wines – both were from the first futures I ever bought!


Where does it go from here? Well if history repeats itself, I imagine a seventh match-up in 2017, either in April, or October…

Should be fun, as usual!

The Bijou Cocktail

I struggle with Chartreuse, the French herbal liqueur, made by Carthusian monks at their monastery in the Chartreuse mountains near Grenoble. The monks have been making Chartreuse since 1737 according to a recipe given to them in 1605 by François Annibal d’Estrées. It is composed of distilled alcohol aged with 130 herbs, plants and flowers, and has a strong, herbaceous quality, as well as a healthy percent alcohol. The challenge with Chartreuse is the 130 herbs, plants and flowers. Finding the correct mix of ingredients to blend and balance with the heady mix already present in Chartreuse is akin to the quest for the Holy Grail. I have yet to find a cocktail containing Chartreuse that I truly love. Mind you that doesn’t stop me from searching… remember, great rewards are given unto that brave knight who quests for the Grail!

Enter the Bijou cocktail, a mix of Gin, Vermouth, and Chartreuse. In French, the term “bijou” means “jewel.” The cocktail is said to have been invented by Harry Johnson, one of the forefathers of the classic cocktail and one of the earliest documenters of the craft in his 1900 tome: New and Improved Bartender Manual. Actually, the Bijou stands out as one of the oldest recipes in his book, itself dating to 1890.


The cocktail is presumably called Bijou because it combines the colors of three jewels: Gin for diamond, Vermouth for ruby, and Chartreuse for emerald. An original-style Bijou is made stirred with ice as noted by Harry, but I really prefer my cocktails shaken with crushed ice, so that is my preferred method.

On the palate the three components come together nicely to make for a refreshing and balanced cocktail. The herbaceous quality of the Chartreuse actually finds a nice foil in the sweet, figgy Vermouth, while the Gin lends a clean, refreshing bite on the aftertaste. Quite pleasant indeed.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Bijou cocktail…

2 oz.  Gin

1 oz. Green Chartreuse

1 oz. Sweet Vermouth

1 dash Angostura Orange Bitters

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake to chill. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with an lemon twist (preferred).