Come and Dine at Downton

wine and Highclere Castle

As you may know from previous posts, Husband has partnered on a number of projects with Lord and Lady Carnarvon[1], owners of Highclere Castle, aka the Real Downton Abbey. This means that we periodically get to visit our friends across the Pond and enjoy time in their wonderful home. The stunning Castle is like a step back in time. Walking in for the first time, I was astounded to realize how well I knew the interior of their home – it’s because virtually all Downton did was remove their personal photos. All the furniture is theirs!

Lady Carnarvon is now opening her home to the public and wants YOU to come and dine at Downton too! She’s running a contest for the month of February in order to raise money for PBS. All you have to do is throw a FABULOUS dinner party, inspired by Highclere and Downton Abbey, raise some funds to donate and enter to win. The winners will be flown to the UK, courtesy of Viking River Cruises, stay the night at Highclere[2], and enjoy a FABULOUS dinner party with Lord and Lady Carnarvon[3].

Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle lit up for a dinner party!

Husband and I are planning our soirée now[4] using recipes from Lady Carnarvon’s latest book, At Home At Highclere. We made her famous chocolate pots for Thanksgiving and they were a huge hit! There’s recipe ideas on her blog as well. Let me know if you’re going to enter and we can chat about party planning!

Chocolate Pots
Lady Carnarvon’s Chocolate Pots

Now on to arranging a menu and wine pairing! Until the next glass!

wine and Highclere Castle
I needed some vino inspiration!

Lawyer Footnotes

[1] Highclere Castle Cigars, which are now available throughout the US, Highclere Castle Gin, which is getting ready for production, and a Highclere Castle Distillery, which is in the works!

[2] Perhaps in Lady Mary’s room where poor Mr. Pamuk died from utter bliss?!

[3] Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m pretty sure that Wine Esquire should be on the guest list for this event. #ToDoList

[4] Fascinators will be required. Obviously.

Highclere Castle
Dressed up for dinner at Highclere Castle

What to Drink: Thanksgiving Edition

There’s a few important things coming up on the calendar:

  1. T-Minus TEN days until Turkey Day[1]
  2. T-Minus ELEVEN days until Black Friday[2]
  3. T-Minus FOURTEEN days until Cyber Monday[3]
Because Bubbly is always a good idea! (c) Vinley Market
Because Bubbly is always a good idea! (c) Vinley Market

There’s a lot to do to prepare in the coming days, arguably the most important of which is deciding which wines you’ll be pairing with your Thanksgiving Feast[4]. I’ve teamed up with Vinley Market to discuss what wines go best with turkey, Grandma’s Stuffing and Aunt Mary’s Sweet Potato Casserole. I’m thinking that Zinfandel, Rosé and Riesling should all be making appearances. And if you’re not hosting, you should probably bring a bottle of bubbly![5]

Check out my Thanksgiving Wine Pairings and let me know what you’ll be drinking this Turkey Day.

And while you’re at it, get 10% off your wine order at Vinley Market with coupon code WINEESQUIRE10.

Until the next glass, Cheers!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] That means its T-MINUS TEN days and a few hours until 24/7 Christmas Music! YAY
[2] Also, another day off work. #score
[3] Is your Amazon Wish List ready? Mine is. #alwaysready
[4] Or Friendsgiving Feast, as the case may be.
[5] Obviously.

Place Setting Goals (c) Vinly Market
Place Setting Goals (c) Vinley Market

Island Tasting Round 1: Cuisinart

Get ready to settle in for this epically long post. I promise you, if you make it to the end, it’ll be well worth it.[1]

File Mar 17, 1 27 01 PMWe landed in paradise a few days ago, and I was open to whatever amazing possibilities awaited me. Given the cold, gloomy rain where we came from, every moment here is one to be savored and enjoyed. Last night kicked it up a notch in a way that’s almost indescribable, but I’m going to try my hardest.

Husband’s family and I have been coming to the island of Anguilla for 50 years,[2] and we seem to be stuck in a few ruts in terms of where we go once we land. Trying something new doesn’t always go over well with my travel partners who are incredible creatures of habit. Now, I’m all about going to my favorite restaurant when we get here, but bring on the new experiences, the new chefs, the new beach bars; show me the beaches I’ve never seen![3]

File Mar 17, 1 26 28 PMLast night we entered the world of the CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa, a place we must have passed a hundred times in the past but never ventured in. We took a tour with Davida and Devon, taking our golf cart around the massive property. Ocean view suites here[4], hydroponic garden there, then there was the world class spa, Japanese restaurant, infinity pool and beach bar, complete with Justin the singing bartender[5], having a grand old time.

File Mar 17, 1 25 41 PMOur tour wrapped up and we were delivered into the beautiful open air lobby where Chef Jasper met us to prepare us for dinner. He explained that each Wednesday he prepares a private Chef’s Table for parties from 2 to 16 guests, using the freshest and best of what he has on hand that day. Each of the eight courses are described on the menu by just one word; the preparation method and accoutrements are left up to the chef’s interpretation. We had about an hour before the extravaganza began, so naturally we opted for some pre-dinner refreshment; Husband with a rum punch, I with some bubbly[6]. The service was impeccable[7].File Mar 17, 1 24 45 PM

Time passed quickly, with the sun setting and the crowd beginning to get lively. We ended our “first course” with a dram of the house-infused ginger rum, which gave us the first inkling of the exceptional experience that was to come. The rum was fresh, bright, almost creamy. Perfection!File Mar 17, 2 01 45 PM

Natalie came to get us to let us know that Chef was ready for us; she would be our server that evening and would attend to our every need[8]. The room was beautifully set, with a perfect view of Chef’s workspace, complete with candles and flowers romantically adorning the table.

File Mar 17, 1 24 21 PMWe were formally introduced to Chef Jasper Schneider, a native New Yorker who came to Anguilla in 2013[9]. Since then he’s been handcrafting the cuisine at Cuisinart with a passion that vibrantly comes through in his creations. Cuisinart’s head sommelier, Bernel Richardson, had exquisitely paired each of the eight courses with wines equal to their food counterparts. A native Anguillan who found himself pouring wine several years ago, wondering what the deal was with all this expensive nectar; Bernel told us how he’s honed his wine skills and abilities through extensive tasting and travel, and now realizes what the fuss is all about.File Mar 17, 1 23 49 PM

The meal began with an aperitif cocktail concocted by the bar manager; fresh picked sage and tomatoes muddled with Tanqueray, tomato and lime juice, simple syrup and angostura bitters. A deliciously refreshing way to cleanse the palate before we set sail.

File Mar 17, 1 23 29 PM If we’d only had the first course, this would have still been one of the best meals of my life. A bed of Arctic Char graced the bottom of our bowl. It was topped with freshly chopped radishes and chives, sprinkled with a few oyster crackers and a very healthy dose of caviar. Thank you. End of story. I was done. This was only my third experience with caviar, but each time I experience it, it reinforces my belief that it should be a staple of my diet[10]. This beautiful first course was paired with the fine, delicious bubbles of a Brut Ruinart Champagne, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier[11]. The rich salt of the caviar met its match with the silky soft char; mixed with the bubbles, it was heavenly. Like I said, I would have been perfectly satisfied if the meal stopped right then and there.

Before we get to the second course let’s talk about the butter. Yes, the butter. Flown in up to four times per week on the daily Air France flights into St. Maarten, direct from Brittany, France. Hand-crafted especially for Cuisinart, according to Chef Jasper, the dairy farmer he deals with does INSANE things to butter and yogurt. A perfectly round pat of this most delicious butter sat between Husband and I, and it took all my willpower not to steal it and devour it on my own. Each course was also paired with a different bread, hand-made in house, and the sweet, salty butter added an extra layer of heaven. God I love bread and butter[12].

File Mar 17, 2 02 32 PMSalad course came next, and every bit of what appeared on our plates had been handpicked by Chef that morning, grown on the grounds in the hydroponic farm; basil boils, nasturtium leaves, and a whole host of other veggies I’d never heard of, complete with a local “cherry” a literal hybrid of a cherry and a tomato, with the tiniest pit seed inside. This garden snapshot was paired with the 2014 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. I got a bit of vegetable on the nose, then it opened up to be a fruity mix of melon, peach and kiwi with a hint of a stone minerality, typical of this style of wine. Perfectly crisp with the devastatingly fresh greens, which were topped with a French strawberry vinaigrette. File Mar 17, 1 23 10 PM

File Mar 17, 1 22 24 PMNext came white asparagus from Europe, cooked in brown butter and lemon, expertly dabbed with a healthy helping of basil gel. Perfectly crunchy, just the way asparagus should be. Bernel paired this with a 2013 Campogrande Orvieto Classico Santa Cristina which hailed from Umbria, our favorite Italian haven, so of course we loved this juice. A blend of Procanico[13], Grechetto, Verdello, Drupeggio and Malvasia[14], the wine was perfectly light with a hint of citrus, it let the asparagus and basil gel shine. This course went with the house ciabatta; Cuisinart’s head pastry chef, Collin Yearwood, has perfected the art of bread making by lowering the temperature and cooking it longer. I piled on another scoop of butter and savored the fresh baked loaf.

File Mar 17, 1 22 51 PMNext came the diver scallop. Oooo the scallop. Fed-Exed down from Maine earlier that day, it was one of the largest, freshest scallops I’ve yet to encounter[15]. Chef Jasper’s secret is that he cooks them only on one side. It literally melted in my mouth. Served atop a small bed of horseradish and dill that had been infused into grapeseed oil, it tasted like a fresh garden with the heartiest of scallops. We sipped on a 2014 Château de Maligny Petit Chablis as we enjoyed this meaty delicacy. A clean Chardonnay with a touch of oak, with notes of melon and apple.

File Mar 17, 2 56 02 PM
Yes. That is a truffle shaving.

When I come to Anguilla I eat snapper. Snapper with peppers, snapper with rice, snapper with lemon. I’ve had it all. But until last night, I’d never really had snapper. The snapper served next was perfect. Fresh from the ocean outside, it was served with a smattering of whole hazlenuts. On top was a thick layer of shaved black truffles, then literally drenched in a black truffle sauce, and on top of the entire plate, the healthiest round of fresh black truffle shavings I’ve ever had. Ever[16]. Again, the fish was cooked only on one side, giving it a perfectly caramelized top with an untouched underbelly. I looked over to Husband and told him to look away while I licked, literally licked, the sauce off my plate. Exquisite.

File Mar 17, 1 22 04 PMWhile you can’t really compare any of these courses to the other, the snapper was a show stopper. Bernel knew it and so he paired it with a showstopper of his own, a 2001 St. Supery Dollarhide Estate Chardonnay. Hello heaven. Well balanced, the color of deep golden hay. Opened up with tropical fruits, yielding to a bit of yeasty bread on the finish[17]. The consistency was heaven, thick, smooth, it coated your whole mouth. Bernel shared that this was his Last Bottle of this vintage, and knew that it would be a special addition to the meal. He was so right.

By this time I needed a break and Bernel showed me to the little girl’s room[18]. I didn’t really think the meal could continue on its upward trajectory, one course after another, exceeding my expectations, introducing my mouth to another unique experience. I figured we’d begin our descent after our break. Well that was stupid of me. Because next came the pièce de résistance, the course I’ll remember until the day I die. Foie Gras. If you read me on the regular, you may have gleaned that I’m a fan of this stuff, but this took it to a whole new level. After my first taste, it gave me goosebumps and I had to close my eyes to take it all in[19].

File Mar 17, 2 29 26 PMChef Jasper had reduced maple syrup into rock powder form[20]. The duck liver was encrusted with the powder, together with pickled shallots. This was incredible. The most succulent, perfect, wonderful, orgasmic foie gras plate I’ve yet to devour enjoy. Bernel sucker punched us by pairing this delight with a 2009 Château Roûmieu-Lacoste Sauternes. As with all the other Sauternes I’ve sampled so far in life, spicy mustard prevailed, and it was a perfectly lovely complement to the dish.

File Mar 17, 2 02 47 PMOur final course before dessert, or so we thought, was interrupted by a surprise course that came out of left field. Irish steel cut oats, yes the kind you eat for breakfast. Chef reduced these with a rich mushroom stock, more decadent black truffle shavings and what must have been a pound of shaved pecorino cheese. The result was a thick, hearty, divine scoop of porridge. It was like magic; one of the most intense foods I’ve ever tasted[21]. Bernel paired this with the first red of the night, a J. Vineyards Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley[22]. The Pinot was a perfect choice, as the perfect lightness of the wine allowed the deliciously opulent oats to overtake your senses.

File Mar 17, 2 30 49 PMFinally we reached the final food course which was described only as “Ribeye” on our tasting menu. This was a beautiful cut of meat that had been house dry-aged for 28 days; it was accompanied by a parsley puree, and a homemade Worcestershire sauce aged for 2 years. The steak was perfectly pink with caramelized edges, crisped to perfection. And then there was the wine. A 2010 Shafer One Point Five Cabernet from Napa’s Stag Leap district. Bernel had decanted this before the meal started; it was one of those deep ruby garnet Napa Cabs that make me tick. It had that Cabernet nose I know and love, with tannins that made you chew. Direct quote “This is why I drink wine.”

File Mar 17, 1 19 51 PMNow I could barely stand, let alone continue eating, but I do regret not finishing every bite of the ribeye. That being said, I ALWAYS have room for dessert. But we were in for another surprise course with Collin’s “Hazlenut Pre-Desert” a sweet, nutty, satisfying poof of deliciousness. Intensely flavorful and satisfying. We kept drinking the Cab, not only because I never wanted to stop, but because the deep wine went well with the airy palate cleanser[23].

File Mar 17, 2 02 58 PMAnd then we arrived to what was really our last course. Collin’s Lemongrass Coconut parfait accompanied by a shot glass of ginger lemongrass and lime tea, which reminded me of a sweet lemonade. The merengue chip was a breath of fresh air. The whole plate balanced out the previous nine courses[24]. We couldn’t have asked for a better ending, not only did it satisfy my ever-present sweet tooth, but it cleansed us in a way that eliminated any hint of over-fullness[25].

File Mar 17, 1 19 26 PM
Collin, Wine Esquire and Bernel

We ended the evening with hugs,[26] laughter and a quick visit to Bernel’s wine tasting cellar room, where he brought out Cuisinart’s extensive wine list and showed us some of his hidden gems.

File Mar 17, 1 18 52 PM

I just can’t say enough about this experience; one of the most memorable and delicious of my life. Cheers, bravo and thank you to all who made it possible, and to all of you, dear alleged blog readers, if there’s anyone still reading!

Until the next tasting[27] au revoir!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] Or at least I hope you think so.
[2] It hasn’t quite been 50, more like 16, but Husband’s estimation seems to grow each time he tells someone new.
[3] I try to sneak in some new places each time, but God forbid if it’s a dud!
File Mar 17, 2 41 11 PM[4] Walking into the suites was beautiful; I haven’t felt air conditioning like that since we got to the island, a refreshing twist since I’d just blow-dried my hair, another island first, and was almost reduced to a puddle.
[5] When we walked by, Justin was literally climbing the pole in the middle of the bar, singing to his captive audience.
[6] Per usual.File Mar 17, 1 25 10 PM
[7] Not knowing what to expect, I came armed only with my iPhone, a phone charger booster and some lip gloss. #amateur Given our debriefing, it became clear I was going to need something to write on. We asked the concierge for a pad and paper and when one did not immediately present itself, they put a makeshift pad together for me, stapled neatly along the side, appropriately delivered in a legal sized manila folder. #lawyerlife
[8] Husband recognized her from past trips to other restaurants, and it turns out that we’d seen her at the beach earlier that day.
[9] He’s always on the lookout for pumpernickel bread and bagels from home in case you’d like to bring him a treat.
File Mar 17, 2 03 13 PM[10] Not sure how that would affect things like cholesterol levels, but I’m sure it’d be fine. I’m willing to take the risk.
[11] I’d never heard of this varietal; Meunier is apparently one of three main grapes used in the production of Champagne and represents approximately one third of the vines planted in the region.
[12] #carbaholic
[13] Also known as Trebbiano.
[14] Yea, these were pretty much all new to me.
[15] Chef works with and swears by the variety and freshness of their products.
[16] My notes say INSANE! Complete with all caps, exclamation point and underline.
[17] Again, my notes say INSANE! By this point my ability to take notes was slightly deteriorating…
[18] Since we’ve been coming to Anguilla, I’d say at least 75% of the faucets I encounter have only one working handle where water comes from one side of the spigot; water pressure is also hard to come by. Not so at Cuisinart where both water spigots gave forth strong streams of the clear stuff.
[19] My notes here say TOP. EVER. ONE. OMG. Not sure what all of that means, but clearly this was good.
[20] This by itself is culinary genius.
[21] As I side note, by this time, I’d finished off the butter. I think I may have had more than my fair share, but Husband didn’t seem to notice. All’s fair in love and butter.
File Mar 17, 1 18 30 PM[22] That’s in California.
[23] If you refer to a dessert as a palate cleanser, it means there’s no calories
[24] God, we’re gluttonous.
[25] Not that there could possibly have been any over-fullness after that extravaganza. #sike
[26] I always get huggy after drinking for hours on end.
[27] Which is happening tonight. Stay tuned.

Ringing in the New Year

Private Chefs are the way to go. After our magical Christmas Feast with Chef Bill, I wasn’t expecting to have the private chef dining experience repeated again so soon; sometimes you just have to go with the flow and see where life takes you.

File Jan 02, 12 23 29 PMWe arrived at our destination, a locally renowned historic mansion. This 1920s Italian-Renaissance-Revival masterpiece is this corner of the world’s very own Downton Abbey. We were donned in our black-tie finery; Husband in his tux and I in my Lady Mary-inspired gown[1]. Our friends are antique mavens and their incredible home is filled with treasures and finery, the likes of which you only see in museums. We began the evening in the grand salon, flanked on either end by roaring fires and a violinist serenading us in the background. To start we sampled a pomegranate champagne punch served, of course, from an antique silver punch bowl with matching silver cups.

Before dinner we noshed on a charcuterie spread of Mangalista Pork, bred by a former Wall-Street financier on his Mangalista farm in New Jersey. Ugly little suckers with curly hair and massive waist lines, but their high fat content leads to amazing cuts of meat.[2] After experiencing a piece of straight lardo, literally the lard of the Mangalista, it was time for dinner[3].

File Jan 02, 11 28 22 AMWalking into the dining room literally took my breath away. I was expecting Lady Grantham to come around the corner with her cane wondering what had taken us so long. The table was set for twelve. Each place setting included our own salt and pepper cellars, antique glassware for days, a bud vase of fresh flowers, and a wine rinser. The fire was roaring behind me, the hot air balloon chandeliers were aglow, and we were surrounded by a set of four of the most beautiful paintings I’d ever seen; four massive depictions of the muses of games: dice, chess, dominoes and cards.

File Jan 02, 11 27 14 AMThe first course was a butternut squash puree soup, served from a silver pitcher, topped with the faintest drizzle of burnt brown butter and topped with homemade croutons. I’m a huge fan of starting with soups and this did not disappoint. Savory with a hint of sweet, I could have munched on those croutons all day. This was perfectly paired with a Kistler Chardonnay[4]. Thick and oaky, a chardonnay that could stand well on its own, but was even better enjoyed with this course.

File Jan 02, 11 27 53 AMWe moved on to the plat principal of rack of lamb medallions. These were served with the help of our host’s newest antique acquisition, a set of sterling silver lamb chop sleeves. Who knew such a thing existed, but it was quite fun to eat the medallions using the sleeve instead of a knife and fork. We had undeniably stepped back in time. The lamb was accompanied by a serving of wild rice and cranberries, three types of kale, each separately sautéed in garlic loveliness, and vine-ripened tomatoes slow roasted overnight for twelve hours. Truly Divine.

File Jan 02, 11 33 04 AMThe wine pairing for the main course, hand-selected from our hosts’ wine cellars, was a 2001 Chateau Lynch Bages Pauillac. A majestic Bordeaux that did the juicy lamb medallions justice. It was rich, flowery and deep, everything a Bordeaux should be[5].

Our lamb escapade was followed by a salad course; a bed of the freshest, crispest greens, crowned with a hearty helping of freshly pressed sunflower oil. The oil was smooth and clean with just a hint of saltiness. A flawless palate cleanser before the cheese course.

File Jan 02, 11 43 18 AMYes, there was a cheese course. The cheese cart[6] came around the table, stopping at each place as our server prepared us a dish of all the cheeses we cared to taste.[7] I went to town[8]. I had some of the creamy Le Crémeux du Mont-St-Michel, a taste of parmesan, a bite of manchego, and a few others I can’t recall just now[9]. It was rounded out with a spattering of toast points, a sprig of grapes and a wee glass of 1997 La Fleur Baron Sauternes. Yes, a 1997 Sauternes. Epic. Simply epic.

File Jan 02, 11 50 08 AMJust when I thought it couldn’t get any better, out came the Bûche de Noël, or the Yule Log. A traditional French delicacy served at the holidays, it’s a spongy cake rolled and iced to resemble an actual log or branch. Let’s just say that WineEsquire was a happy camper.

After all that food and wine, we were all were feeling good. As the final touch to the meal, out came individual servings of Underberg[10], a German digestif made from a blend of aromatic herbs[11]. File Jan 02, 11 33 25 AMIt reminded me of a potent Amaro with a touch of black licorice, akin to Sambuca. The bottle tells you it will make you “feel bright and alert” and it really worked. I was able to escape that feeling of lethargic fullness and we were ready to continue on our journey to the New Year[12].

We settled down in our quest to 2016 with another round of drinks. I kept the party going with a glass[13] of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé and its delicately fine bubbles, while Husband moved to his staple beverage, Onyx on the Rocks.

File Jan 02, 11 26 07 AMTime passed quickly and before we knew it, it was just minutes to midnight. Another round of champagne was poured and we gathered round the fireplace. We wrote what we wanted to let go from 2015 and threw it into the fire, then we threw a grape over our shoulder into the yard[14]. Kisses were exchanged and the New Year arrived! This was a remarkable way to ring in the New Year, and not one any of the guests will soon forget.

File Jan 02, 11 26 32 AM2015 was a magical time; we went on adventures, we drank some great wine, and I started this little blog. I am so excited for this new year and all it will bring. Cheers to happiness, love and good wine in 2016!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] Complete with a backwards necklace a la J. Law at the 2014 Oscars. My own creation. #fashionista
[2] @hartfordista and @nickcaitophoto, if you haven’t sampled this yet, it’s right up your alley. #CHARCUTAPALOOZA2016
File Jan 02, 11 34 59 AM[3] The lardo was exquisite. It was like eating a sinfully flavorful piece of melted bacon fat. #caloriefree
[4] I’ve truly failed as a wine blogger because I didn’t even get a photo of the bottle.
[5] I confess I did not pay attention enough to any of the wines that were served. With all the stimulation, it was hard to stay sober take it all in.
[6] A legit, glass, roll-top, two-layer cheese cart. It was epic.
[7] My inner food blogger is kicking myself for not getting a photo of the cart. Oh wait, I’m not a food blogger. When you’re knee deep in this much food and wine, it’s hard to concentrate on photos and taking notes. My main concern was figuring out how to roll the cheese cart to a private place so I could eat it all. By myself. #priorities
File Jan 02, 11 59 25 AM[8] Diet starts today. #fitfam
[9] Husband awkwardly exclaimed as I was handed my cheese plate, alarmed at how many I was tasting. Hmph, I told him. It’s not every day you get a cheese cart rolled around to you.
[10] You’ve got to go to their website and watch their video. It’s full of hilarious wholesome German cuteness.
File Jan 02, 12 00 25 PM[11] One of our host’s favorite beverages, he came around to collect the caps which he will send in to collect another Underberg Tall Glass for his collection. The going rate is 96 caps, he has at least four. #dedication
[12] At this point it was about 9:30 p.m. and I’m not gonna lie, I could totally have gone to bed. But I made it to midnight #likeaboss.
[13] Or two.
[14] Someone said we needed 12 grapes, referring to the Spanish tradition of eating one grape at each stroke of midnight to ensure prosperity in the coming year. Somehow this turned into throwing a grape into the yard. Just go with it.