WineStudio: Finding the Thrill with Farnum Hill

August was a busy month for me. Delayed graduation parties, work, and birthday celebrations for family members took up all of my time. Then, it was suddenly September 1st. However, one thing I did make time for was food and drink because that’s what matters to me as a single twenty-something. Luckily, I have friends who are also single twenty-somethings, and they help me drink away my day appreciate a nice bottle of wine.


Last month, it wasn’t just wine I was sipping on; it was also cider from Farnum Hill. My experience with cider before this had fallen into two extremes, the sugary waterfall of alcoholic apple juice that is served in most restaurants stateside and the dry, tart, intense sidra of Spain. The former is hardly worth a mention here, but the latter has been my basis for all good cider since 2013. As a study abroad student in Oviedo, many of the other college kids with whom I spent my time abroad ditched sidra early on in our experience in favor of a red wine/coke/rum mixture called calimocho. Admittedly, I did partake in this disgusting mixed drink more times than I can remember, but I was all about the potent sidra they poured in most restaurants as I’ve never been one to go after subtle.


Unsurprisingly, when I heard that the August #WineStudio was going to be about FH cider, I was on top of that faster than a frat boy on a keg stand. I was pumped. If you’ve been following this blog for a few months, you’ve probably caught on that I participate in PROTOCOL Wine Studio’s monthly Twitter sessions regularly. For those of you not in the know, #WineStudio is part instruction and part wine tasting, with discussions touching on wine producers, culture, and what wine means to us imbibers. I like to try new things, and I enjoy learning about new sips as well, so #WineStudio is perfect for me. Also, I think being one of the younger participants gives me a different point of view from some of my fellow #WineStudio bloggers. Usually that just translates to me asking newbie questions, but every so often it’s a good thing.


Of course, part of the way we learn is through tasting and bouncing ideas off of one another. So, one night in early August I shared my first bottle of Farnum Hill with my uncle as we watched Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, a movie no one should see more than once. Still, alcohol tends to dull the pain of Jar Jar Binks and cheesy dialogue.


For this particular evening, I chose the bottle I was most anxious to try, the Semi-Dry Cider. Made from the 2014 crop and featuring apples like Esopus Spitzenberg and Wickson, this felt the most autumn-y to me. It was weighty yet crisp, reminding me of a wet orchard. With the acidity clocking in at .73%, it was the most acidic of the ciders, though with Farnum Hill the acid translated as bitterness, not tartness. Lacking this mouth-puckering quality, the satisfaction wasn’t as immediate as the Spanish cider I was used to, but the lingering quality of the drink meant that the flavors stuck with me in a good way.


The Extra Dry Cider was next, and it was the one bottle I was forced to drink alone; I lead a hard life. This one was less heavy than the Semi-Dry yet more complex. Here, “extra dry” meant there was zero residual or returned sugar in this baby, and that translated to a cider that was hard to pin down; there was just so much to it. Fruity, citrusy, and not the least bit sweet, this one was the one that highlighted how apple flavor is to cider as grape flavor is to wine, and if you can’t figure out what that means, you’re probably drinking two dollar wine that is closer to grape juice than it is to anything I want in my body. This was my favorite of the samples, and I’d imagine it’s for the drinker who appreciates something off the beaten path yet avoids anything too crazy like shark baiting.


The most approachable of the ciders was the last one I tried, the Farmhouse Cider made from the 2013 crop of early-ripening bittersweet apple varieties.By this point, I learned that a white wine glass was the best way to appreciate these ciders, particularly when it came to appreciating the aromas. Here, baking spices and farmy scents came through, which probably sounds gross, but was as if your grandma was making a pie near a corn field. Good for beginners, this golden yellow cider offered up a clean flavor underscored by a slight tart bitterness. However, don’t let what I’ve written here fool you, this bottle was still very intense. It was no Angry Orchard, so don’t pick it up thinking so; pick it up anticipating something deviating from the standard that you are probably used to and you’ll be set for an enjoyable experience.


To finish off the tastings, the Extra Dry Perry offered up a still option. Pouring a pale greenish-yellow into the tulip beer glass with which I was experimenting, this was a subtle, lush, smooth option that made for easy drinking. It was floral and lingering and wholly distinct from any beverage that’s ever been in my mouth. Even after I finished off the bottle with a friend of mine, I didn’t know what to think. Did I like it? Did I want to drink more of it? Was this something I really needed to spend my afternoon worrying about? For me, all the answers were ‘yes.’ Still, if you’re new to cider, I wouldn’t recommend starting off with a perry because it’s for you shark baiters out there.


I’ve participated in a handful of #WineStudio discussions at this point, and this one has been one of the most informative ones yet. So many people (myself occasionally included) just lump cider in with beer, but it’s so much more than that. It’s got a different production process, highlights complex flavors, and has as many distinct styles as wine. Also, number one rule about cider apples: they are not eating apples, though my rebellious little self still wants to try one.


Despite being so big with our Founding Fathers, cider kind of got screwed over during Prohibition, and it’s one beverage that just about everyone needs to learn more about now. It’s a fun area for me to uncover, and I plan on spending more time exploring it. While the cider discussion is over for #WineStudio, a bubbly one began the other night and continues every Tuesday this month at 9pm east coast time, so join me for the ride!

These ciders were kindly provided to me by the companies listed above, but all opinions are my own. 

Posted in Cider, WineStudio | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Thirsty Thursday: Cran-Apple Chill

Back in December, my mother came home from the liquor store with a bottle of cranberry sweet wine in her hand. I’m sure I raised an eyebrow or made some biting quip about it before I tucked it away in our basement to never be looked at again. Eventually, running low on wine and wanting to have a drink of something easy, I opened this baby up. I took a sip of it, and it was basically cranberry juice, only sweeter. So, instead of drinking it like a wine, I decided to use it as a base for some cocktail experimentation, and I came up with this. It’s definitely a drink that’s sugary, meant for summer, and best appreciated in a mason jar. It could easily be transformed into one big punch for a big gathering, too. Either way, this is the lazy man’s cocktail that’s great for when you’re craving simplicity.

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Cran-Apple Chill

Yield: 1 cocktail

3 oz. cranberry wine (preferably from St. James Winery)

1 1/2 oz. Calvados

1 oz. homemade sweet and sour (recipe here)

1 1/2 oz. tonic water

1. Fill your glass up with ice. Measure out ingredients and layer them into the glass. Stir gently with a straw or swizzle stick. Enjoy.


Posted in Cocktails, Recipe, Thirsty Thursday | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Dinner at The Food Market (Baltimore, MD)

It’s probably time for me to start subscribing to AARP The Magazine. As of two weeks ago, I am now twenty-three. With that comes maturity, knowledge, and the fear that in two years I will probably have to start lying about my age. Also, that I was able to pick any restaurant I wanted to for dinner with my friends.


What I didn’t know was that my birthday also marked the beginning of Baltimore Restaurant Week. Two weeks before my birthday, I signed on to OpenTable to pull up available reservations at The Food Market, only to discover that my options fell before six or after eight-thirty. Saturdays are generally busy, and with Restaurant Week going on, it was doubly hard to find a reasonable dining hour that was still open for four people. Luckily with one click I was able to secure my 8:45 reservation and rack up some more OpenTable points, too.

Although I had all my ducks in a row before the evening began, it did start off a bit bumpy. Some things had nothing to do with the restaurant, like twisting my ankle on the way there. Others could have been prevented, like being seated twenty minutes after our reservation time. However, we had some drinks to keep us entertained while we waited around the bar.

Finally, we were taken to a table in the front window, which provided a slight respite from the noise. With an industrial look, the shiny silver surfaces were pleasing to the eye, but also amplified every sound in the place. It was okay for me and my group of twenty-somethings, but would be off-putting to anyone who wants to use an inside voice to hold a conversation. We quickly realized that the noise level hurts the waiters the most, as ours did everything but stick his ear up to our mouths to hear what we were saying. Once he discovered we were there for Restaurant Week, he seemed to shut down a bit, making the service even more impersonal. It never got better.

Though those downfalls were significant, the food fell on the opposite end of the spectrum. Wanting to celebrate the summer, I went for the Farm Fresh Tomatoes. Light and fun despite heavy ingredients like EVOO and goat’s cheese, this plate was all about layered simplicity. There was creaminess from the oil and cheese, acid from the tomatoes, and herbaceous from some chimichurri. It felt special, yet was still a dish I could easily eat every day.

After going for food that was delicate to start, I order substance with my second course. The Pork Chop was big enough for two and evidence that Baltimore’s Restaurant Week is still a deal. Textured on the outside, pink and juicy on the inside, the chop came out perfect and was enhanced by the additional elements on the plate. As the chef clearly understands, the only thing that makes pork better is more pork, especially when it comes in the form of prosciutto. To offset the big savory parts of the entree, fresh peaches and peppery arugula also came along for the ride. Bright and best appreciated when all aspects of the dish made it onto my lucky fork, it was good enough that I had to force myself to stop and take leftovers before I had to roll home.

As with any Restaurant Week menu, dessert ended the evening. Before that could happen, my table and the table next to us had to scream an off-key rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ while I blew out a candle. I was mortified, but that was soon forgotten with my first bite of the Heath Bar Bread Pudding. It was warm, filling, and not too dense, so that all of our full bellies were able to relish in it. If it had been appropriate to do so, I would have just stuck my face right into this dessert and eaten it like that. It was the perfect ending to a meal that I would say highlighted elevated standards. All the food you loved as a kid, taken to the next level.

Even though The Food Market was not all gold, I would be willing to go back and give it another go. There was care put into these elegantly simple flavors, and with some tweaking on the front of the house, this restaurant could seamlessly fit in with my favorite spots around town. I hear people in Baltimore talk about The Food Market all the time; if given some time to grow, I wouldn’t be surprised if people all over started gushing.
The Food Market
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Posted in Baltimore, Dessert, Farm-to-Table, Food, Maryland, Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Dinner at Petruce et al (Philadelphia, PA)

Never let a German pick out a restaurant. I learned this the hard way when The Wine Getter picked out a lunch spot for us to try in Philly. I had offered up some suggestions, but graciously went with his choice, much to my later disappointment. I should have known the meal was going to be awful after he told me he doesn’t like sauerkraut. Clearly, the man lacks taste. Fortunately, I was able to dull the pain of this meal later that evening with the tastiest dinners I’ve had in Philly.

Petruce et al. was on my list from the time it opened, and I finally had the opportunity to dine there with my buddy, Rex, a couple of months ago. As Rex and I usually do, we ordered a few things to split because we both we need to try everything. We also like drinking, so that helps us get along swimmingly. Before we even ordered though, we asked for advice from our waiter and the uber-helpful beverage director, Tim, on what to order and what to pair with each dish.

In celebration of the warmer weather, we began with the Hamachi, a fish with a depth of flavor that makes you wonder why everyone’s always talking about salmon. This yellowtail, served raw and just above room temperature, had a distinctly Eastern flair as it was adorned with peanuts, cucumber, and ginger- light yet distinctive flavors to highlight the fish. To sip, Rex and I each had a glass of the 2013 ‘Dragonstone’ Riesling from Leitz Weingut. With mild sweetness and a nice minerality, this was a classic, solid pairing for the fish that came across as dependably delicious.

As I am someone who likes to get my daily fruits and veggies in, we opted for the Sweet Potato as a second course. Slightly daring and delicious, this was wholly different than any other sweet potato I’d had before. Served alongside creamy avocado, tomatillo, and queso fresco, this dish was heartier than the former and not quite as exciting, but still better than the average vegetable course you’ll get in Center City. This was no orange mush topped with marshmallows. If Thanksgiving sweet potatoes were New Jersey, these sweet potatoes would be Williamsburg, Brooklyn. However, the cider that was paired with the dish did make it feel a bit like a holiday- one that I’d be willing to celebrate more than once.

To finish off the night, we went for the Pork Shoulder, which put all other pork shoulders to shame. Featuring long hots and lemon preserves, this plate was all about how foods that fall on opposite ends of the flavor spectrum can come together to be something great. If I were a pig, I’d be insulted if I didn’t end up at Petruce. It had (and I mean this in the least insulting way possible) the texture of scrapple when made well. It was crispy on the outside and tenderly meaty on the inside. There was an addictive difference in texture. I loved it, but then Tim came out and changed the whole course of my night.

Presenting us with a bottle called Sour Bikini made by Evil Twin Brewing, the handy-dandy beverage director explained that this was an unconventional choice, but one that he thought would be better than another Riesling. Sipping the beer on its own was like getting punched in the face by a lemon, and it was so darn good. I would have had three. Maybe six. For those of you who don’t like your beverages tart enough to make your upper lip disappear forever, the pairing of this beer with the pork really mellowed out the intense flavors of both. The sourness cut through the sweetness and richness of the dish to create one cohesive element. It was the most masterful pairing of the night, and one of the best pairings I’ve ever had.

Before I went to the restaurant that evening, I stopped by my old standby,, to grab a cocktail or two before dinner. While speaking with the guy sitting next to me and the men mixing cocktails behind the bar, they all gushed over Petruce. It was like they were fangirls talking about Comic-Con. Never before have I just mentioned the name of a place and received such jealous stares and words of praise. No one could say enough good things, and one guy even said he’d join me if he could. It wasn’t just that they enjoyed the food and attentive service at Petruce, it was that they respected everything about the restaurant. After one meal there, I joined them in their adoration.

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WineStudio: Going All the Way with Rosé

When I turned twenty-one, I intended to be taken seriously, and that meant eschewing standard boxed wines, bottles with kangaroos on them, and anything that wasn’t a broody red. Rosé was an easy casualty because I was never that fond of it in the first place. Overly sweet, cloyingly tropical, and pretty pink- those are the three things that used to come to mind when discussing Rosé. It wasn’t White Zin bad, but it was pretty gosh darn close.


I’ve changed my tune a little bit since then, and if there were any doubts left in my mind, the latest #WineStudio run by PROTOCOL Wine stamped them out. Entitled ‘Rosé Sheds Its Blush and Gains Its Sophistication,’ the June session was all about the bad reputation Rosé has, how that perception has changed in recent years, and how winemakers are providing consumers with bold Rosé that showcases the range this controversial wine actually has. Rosé is no longer just something to choke down at get-togethers in July, and in order to highlight that, we were able to try some great wines to go along with the educational sessions.


First up was the wine that I was admittedly most excited to try because it was from Slovenia, a region with which I had no previous wine experience. After a few e-mails where I kept calling the importer ‘Kathy’ instead of ‘Katy’ and a phone call where I asked for ‘Sarah’ to process my payment instead of ‘Sue,’ I was able to have the wine delivered to me in Maryland- a state that is better than Pennsylvania as far a wine laws go, but not by much.



Imported by Old World Vines, this 2013 Damski Rosé from Erzetic Winery was made with 100% Merlot and was 100% different than any wine I’d had before. Sure, with the pink label and the word ‘damski’ involved, it felt girlier than most wines I go for, but I was willing to give it a go anyway. Pouring a pale orange into the glass, the soft, refreshing wine was dry, gave off aromas of light berries, and tasted herby in all the best ways. It was one of those wines that pairs well with others and at $23.95 a bottle, one that would be great for anyone interested in exploring different wine regions or Rosé in general.


Of course, we couldn’t talk about Rosé without discussing American Rosé, which probably has the worst reputation of all. Moving on to California, the 2014 Rosé from Donelan Family Wines was subtle yet complex. Comprised of 55% Syrah, 29% Grenache, and 16% Pinot Noir, this wine from Sonoma County was fleshy pink in color. On the nose it was exotic, but not overly tropical, with light mango coming to mind. However, where it really got interesting was on the palate. With great balance, a light kick of acid to it, and springing to life when paired with the sashimi I had for dinner, this was a bottle I dug. Sporting a $25 price tag, I think this one is perfect for sharing over a meal with people you like.


Last up for this month all about Rosé was a blend of both worlds: a wine from the Russian River Valley made by a Frenchman. The 2014 Rosé of Tannat made by Y. Rousseau Wines was fermented in stainless steel barrels and aged for 5 months on the lees with no stirring. For those of you who don’t know what that means, I’ll move on to the good stuff. Though some would describe the color as salmon, my sister and I both agreed it looked like rose-gold in the glass. Another thing we agreed on was that the bouquet was enticing with aromas of pink berries and citrus. While she wasn’t able to pick out the individual notes, it was interesting that she liked the smell since she usually describes wine as smelling like grapes. Juicy with a silky mouthfeel, the promise made by the aromas followed through in tasting. There were only 275 cases produced with bottles going for $24, and I’d suggest scooping this one up right away to either share with others or selfishly enjoy all on your own.


Whether you’re a Rosé lover or dubious about this wine that everyone whips out in the summer, I’d recommend giving these a whirl. The great thing about them was that they were all different and showcased Rosé in new and exciting ways for me. The best aspect of #WineStudio is that it gives everyone interested in wine the opportunity to learn about wines that may have a bad reputation or may not be well-known among the masses. For those of you who haven’t participated yet, the July session began this past Tuesday and will continue to take place on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET. We’ve moved on from Rosé to the wines of Chile, and I can’t wait to discover more about an area often solely associated with reds. Just search for the #WineStudio and jump in! Everyone (except for me) is friendly.

These wines were kindly provided to me by the wineries/importers listed above, but all opinions are my own. 

Posted in Wine, WineStudio | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Movie Review: Red Obsession

I’ve slowly been chipping away at my large Netflix queue as I make my way through 365 movies in 2015. From mindless entertainment like Grace of Monaco to the overindulgent classic Cleopatra, I’ve seen a little bit of it all, including the occasional food documentary.

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Most recently I dived into the 2013 documentary directed by David Roach and Warwick Ross, Red Obsession. Too advanced for wine newbies and too superficial for people who are passionate about wine, Red Obsession is a movie that misses the mark and will likely be forgotten among the many wine documentaries that have come out in recent years.

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It isn’t all absolutely terrible though. The topic itself is interesting: Bordeaux wine prices skyrocketing due to Chinese interest in French wine. This is a big topic with a lot to unpack. There are a lot of questions that come along with it. Why Bordeaux? Why did the Chinese billionaires even decide wine was worth their time? How does this all impact Bordeaux sales in places outside of China? What happens when Bordeaux has a bad year or the Chinese move onto something else? Most of these questions are thankfully addressed in the documentary, though with a running time just a little over and hour, they are not all answered sufficiently.

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Also, who can deny that Russell Crowe as a narrator makes the entire film sound more intense? Heck, homeboy could be talking about Bronies and make it sound like the most serious documentary ever made. To complement his rich, manly voice is the cinematography. The shots, particularly those of vineyards, are stunning and help bring one into the movie. The visuals are one element that really save this otherwise drab film and kept me from hitting the ‘off’ button before the film was over.

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From the little bit of good in the movie, we move on to the bad. To many of the Chinese people interviewed, nothing beats Bordeaux, and it’s so coveted that the purchasers pay millions of dollars for bottles they never intend to open. Buying wine, especially at that cost, and never opening it is baffling to me, and this point is the perfect opening for the filmmakers to delve into the mentality of the Chinese. This isn’t just an issue of wine; the topic opens up so many psychological, economical, and cultural questions. We get a bit of an explanation that these buyers want pricey Bordeaux to showcase their power and wealth, but this big topic is really unexplored. For a film that’s supposed to be about how the Chinese are impacting the wine industry, the Chinese seems like secondary characters.

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Part of the reason why the filmmakers don’t spend enough time on the people buying this wine or the economics behind it seems to be that what they’re really trying to do is pimp out Bordeaux. After a while, the interviews that praise the majesty of this wine and discuss the history become grating. Sure, it’s an important area for any wine enthusiast to learn about, and it’s great to hear a discussion about terroir versus the soul of the winemakers, but that’s not the movie for which I thought I was signing up.

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Red Obsession tackles a topic that should be interesting and enlightening for anyone interested in wine, but it devolves into a huge ad to drink Bordeaux. By failing to consider how this red obsession began in China and the larger implications of this, the takeaway of this film becomes ‘Bordeaux is amazing; people like to buy it; and maybe the interest will plateau though the wine will always be well-regarded.’ At the end of this movie, I’m not sure who the intended audience is, but I know it’s not me, and it’s probably not you either.

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Thirsty Thursday: The Cherry Picker

Summer is upon us, and with that comes a plethora of tasty fruits and veggies. While they’re great on their own, I think the best usage of the abundance of fresh produce is to use or mimic it in a cocktail. Thus, one day while messing around with the booze we already had in the house and craving a refreshing drink for the ninety degree weather outside, this cocktail was born. The Luxardo measurement is given in a range for those of you who want more cherry flavor to the drink! I went with 1/2 oz. and could taste it, but for you cherry lovers out there, more might be better. It’s really just a riff on a French 75, but The Cherry Picker sounds so much more exciting, no?

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The Cherry Picker

Yield: 1 cocktail

2 oz. Langley’s gin

1/2 oz.-1 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice

1/2 oz. simple syrup

4 oz. dry sparkling wine or Champagne

2 cherries, preferably Luxardo (optional)

1. If you know early on that you’ll be making this cocktail, stick shaker in the freezer a few hours ahead of time to get it well chilled.

2. Take your shaker out of the freezer. Fill up the shaker and martini glass with chipped ice to keep them chilled while assembling your cocktail.

3. Measure out and pour gin, Luxardo liqueur, lemon juice, and simple syrup into shaker. Cover shaker and shake well for five to ten seconds.

4. Dump ice out of martini glass. Strain liquid into glass. Top off with sparkling wine. Garnish with cherry if desired. Enjoy.

Posted in Cocktails, Recipe, Thirsty Thursday | Tagged , , | 9 Comments