The Nutty Persimmon: A Halloween Cocktail in Orange & Black

Persimmon creates a delicious and seasonal orange cocktail for Halloween drinking. A fresh candied walnut makes a spooky garnish.

When it comes to creating orange drinks for Halloween, most people reach for a can of pumpkin. Or more creatively, some sweet potato puree. But both of those are so thick and starchy, they make rather substantial drinks.

I’ve discovered that persimmon is the perfect orange base for a Halloween cocktail. They’re a beautiful hue, persimmons are really coming into season in mid-October and their sweet unassertive flavor mixes well.

Visit Maria’s Good Things for more persimmon recipes.

I paired my persimmon syrup  (created by mixing a cup of organic persimmon puree with a brown- sugar simple syrup) with some preserved fresh walnuts from Harvest Song Ventures. They’re black, soft and sweet,  and often paired with blue cheese or even foie gras. The  baby walnuts do look rather alarming, so  you could say they were decaying eyeballs, spider eggs or something equally gross for Halloween.
The Nutty Persimmon

1-1/2 ounces persimmon syrup
1-1/2 ounces Laird’s applejack (or bourbon)
1 teaspoon walnut syrup
juice of 1/4 lemon
shake nutmeg
shake powdered cinnamon
float of blanc de noirs sparkling wine
1/2 fresh walnut, for garnish

Add the persimmon syrup, applejack, walnut syrup, lemon juice and spices to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well-chilled, then strain into a small martin glass or a coupe. Top with the blanc de noirs and stir lightly. Garnish with the fresh walnut half.

Makes 1 cocktail

Champagne: The ultimate lifestyle & luxury drink for #ChampagneDay

Krug Champagne commissioned a $500,000 hot air balloon as a symbol of the brand's image as a luxurious hand-crafted product.

I love champagne. Its effervescence excites me, its crispness makes me smile and its very aura is appealing. I drink it all, from the little grower champagnes to the Grand Dames. No other drink has the same complex creation, the unique history or the emotional impact.

Today on Champagne Day, I’m sharing a piece I wrote a few years ago about the way champagne is marketed to maintain its unique pop culture status.

Clear morning sunlight is just breaking over the distant hills, but I’ve been sipping champagne for an hour, floating in a hot air balloon at 2,500 feet above the Sonoran desert near Phoenix. A white scarf that recalls the magnificent men in their flying machines is draped around my neck.  The silence is broken by the roar of the propane burners that keep the elegant white balloon with its silvery vine logo afloat.

The occasion? Krug Champagne is flossing its unique brand of bespoke luxury in this $500,000 balloon outfitted with hand-tooled white leather, a mid-fight repast created by a French culinary designer and a pilot with a British accent.

Welcome to the new world of luxury champagne marketing. It’s not enough to tout the tastiness of your bubbly in a competitive industry set at just under $6 billion in 2010 according to trade group Comité Interprofesionnel du Vin de Champagne. Whether with cleverly designed bottles and baubles, super-exclusive cuvées or champagne lifestyle experiences, venerable maisons are busy dreaming up ever-more opulent ways to one-up each other and attract attention.

Veuve Clicquot hired über-designer Karim Rashid to create a curvy pink tête-a-tête style loveseat with an ice bucket built into the center that sold for $10,000. His latest effort is Globalight, a $4,500 limited edition champagne cooler and carrier that keeps your rosé at the ideal temperature while bathing it in soft pink light.

Piper-Heidsieck – which first linked fashion and fizz with a bottle dressed in a Jean Paul Gaultier  red vinyl corset – has dressed Rosé Sauvage in a pink and black upside-down bottle by Viktor & Rolf. Last year they released a Christian Louboutin-designed crystal slipper (which also might be idea for Cristal-sipping). This year’s conceit was a bondage bottle dressed in black fishnets and a mask by Gaultier that cost $285 (at Park Avenue Liquor Shop) if you could even get your hands on one.

Perrier Jouët By and For – a true bespoke bubbly — burst on the scene this spring as the most expensive champagne to date. Celebs Sophie Marceau and Marianne Faithfull have jumped at the chance to be one of the lucky 100 to buy a case for about $98,000. The price includes a trip to Paris for four, “personality” champagne blending with the chef de caves, and lunch at the Maison Belle Epoque in Epernay. If that’s not enough, then consider dropping another $165,000 for the Van Cleef & Arpels anemone flower brooch set with 450 diamonds and 259 yellow sapphires that commemorates the launch.

But by far the most egregious example of the power of marketing is Armand de Brignac champagne, aka “Ace of Spades” that was introduced by rapper Jay Z. A few years ago, the Cattier family had little success selling champagne for about $64 a bottle in the U.S. Their fortunes changed after Cattier Champagne – poured into a shiny gold bottle – appeared in the Jay-Z video “Show Me What You Got.” Now it sells for $300 a pop.

Though the flying Krug room takes champagne marketing to new heights, at least there’s a historical precedent. In the late 1700s when the French balloon aviation pioneers took a flight, they always carried a bottle of champagne as a peace offering since the balloon were prone to landing unexpectedly in some poor farmer’s field.

“That’s the same wine in the bottle and the taste has not changed,” said Rémi Fritsch-Frontages, Krug’s brand director. “What you create around it that makes people see it with new eyes.”

So what’s next? The Krug Formula One race car… the Krug yacht?  Or maybe they’ll follow the lead of Hermès and launch the Krug Kopter.

Make a Bloody Moscow Mule for Halloween

Adding a little grenadine creates this easy Bloody Moscow Mule that's a seasonal Halloween cocktail recipe. The skull vodka bottle makes a great bar prop.

When I got a bottle of the Crystal Head Vodka in the distinctive skull-shaped bottle, I knew it would be perfect for a Halloween cocktail shoot. Since it was released, I’ve seen some tequilas in painted Day of the Dead-style calavera bottles. But they look dowdy next to this perfectly clear gleaming skull.

The Moscow Mule is the only vodka cocktail I drink regularly. It’s like a gingery mojito and it’s super simple to make, since there’s absolutely no muddling involved.

The story goes that the Moscow Mule was created back in 1941 for a promotion by the Smirnoff Company to help market their new vodka. The recipe was released along with special copper-colored mugs.

Holding the cold, sweaty mug in your hand adds to the refreshing experience of the drink. But to see the bloody effect I created by swapping the simple syrup in the recipe for the pomegranate syrup known as grenadine,  you’ll want to make this cocktail in a clear glass.

By the way, that’s not a stain on the front of the cranium, that’s a signature from actor, bluesman and entrepreneur Dan Akroyd who owns the brand! (Off topic, but if you’ve never seen Akroyd in ’80s movies The Blues Brothers or Trading Places – which has a great Halloween story line – go check them out on Netflix.)

Bloody Moscow Mule

2 tablespoons natural grenadine, like Stirrings
1-1/2 ounces vodka
3 ounces ginger beer
¼ ouncd fresh lime juice
1 sprig fresh mint
1 slice lime

Pour the grenadine into the bottom of your cocktail glass. Fill the glass three-quarters with ice, add vodka and lime juice. Stir gently to combine. Top with ginger beer and stir. Garnish with mint sprig and lime slice.
Makes 1 cocktail

Wine Review: Va de Vi from Gloria Ferrer

Va de Vi from Gloria Ferrer is an off-dry sparkling wine that's perfect with sushi and spicy dishes.

People often ask me to name my favorite bubbly. And my answer is always the same: it depends.

I appreciate sparkling wines ranging from the crisp brut nature champagne to the deep dark sparkling shiraz from Australia to the sparkling ice wine from Canada. What I want depends on what food I’m eating.

I found that the right food made all the difference with VA de VI, a relatively new dry (read slightly sweet) sparkling wine from Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma. The first time I tried it, we didn’t connect.

But when I tried it with a variety of Asian foods that might be challenging for other wines, Va de Vi charmed me with its versatility.

Va de Vi is a  golden méthode champenoise sparkling wine with persistent medium-fine bubbles. The winery calls it an “ultra cuvée” crafted from a blend of 89% pinot noir,  8% chardonnay plus 3% muscat and then aged for 18 months. The aroma is quite fruity with hints of golden apple and peach. The golden apple carries through in the flavor, along with toasty bread notes and some deeper hints of cherry and plum.  And while Va de Vi has a hint of sweetness, it’s also got a mouth-watering acidity.

A friend who often shares bubbly with me even though it’s not his thing liked it right away. He said the Va de Vi felt softer than some of the other sparkling wines we’d tried.

The first food I tasted with it was a Japanese seven spice-crusted ahi tuna salad with pickled ginger, avocado and a rice vinegar and soy dressing. The Va de Vi brought out the sweetness in the ahi tuna and ginger while complementing the saltiness of the soy sauce.

I poured another glass with my leftovers from a weekend trip to Mission Chinese Food, where most of the food is laden with Szechwan peppercorn, red peppers and jalapeno for good measure. The Va de Vi was the perfect foil for Thrice Cooked Bacon, a smoky jumble of bacon, salty black beans, chewy tofu skin, bitter melon and healthy dose of chili oil. The wine tamed the spice while lifting the flavor of smokiness of the dish.

I poured the last of my Va de Vi with spicy tuna roll and California rolls with real crab.  Va de Vi was a perfect sushi wine, as it enhanced the flavors of the seafood while softening the edges on the soy and wasabi. – By now, Va de Vi felt like an old friend.  And I was sorry to see it go.

NV Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi Sonoma County Sparkling Wine, about $19

Think Pink & Bubbly for Breast Cancer Awareness

October is National Breat Cancer Awareness Month. Help raise funds for a cure with some pink bubbly and make sure to do your own breast exam.

I never, ever need an excuse to drink brut rosé sparkling wine or champagne. But there’s even more reason to enjoy pink bubbly when it helps raise money for breast cancer research during the month of October.

On October 13, Domaine Chandon presents Pink Party 2011, the winery’s annual fundraiser for breast cancer awareness. This year, the exuberant party has been restyled as “Eve of Hope”, a swank $125 per person fashion show featuring creations by Whitney Port. Port gained name recognition after appearing on The Hills and The City. But she proved she had some fashion cred by working for Diane von Furstenburg before launching her own line Whitney Eve.

Whitney Port is the featured designer at "Eve of Hope," the Oct. 13 Domaine Chandon Pink Party to benefit The National Breast Cancer Foundation. Tickets are $125.Â

Party-goers can expect lots of Domaine Chandon Etoile Rosé  – a subtle rosé with hints of dried cranberry and hazelnut – to accompany appetizers by Chef Perry Hoffman of Etoile Restaurant. To order tickets for the 5:30 to 8:3 p.m. event, call 888-242-6366 or visit

Australian sparkling wine producer Yellowglen is sponsoring a Sparkle for a Cause campaign during the month of October. For every bottle of Pink – their fun and fruity rosé – purchased this month, Yellowglen will donate $1 to the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation.  The company has pledged to donate a maximum of $25,000 to the organization which creates memorable events for people losing their fight with breast cancer.

Neck tags on the Korbel Brut Rosé announce that the winery is donating $1 towards breast cancer research for every new "Like" on their Facebook page.

Korbel Winery is working to raise money for a cure with its Toast Life Foundation. For every new “Like” on the Korbel Facebook Page, the company is donating $1 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, with a maximum donation of $10,000. If you’ve never tried it, Korbel’s Brut Rosé is a dry (as in not sweet) méthode champenoise wine with lots of strawberry and cherry notes, thanks to its blend of pinot noir and gamay grapes.

So spread the word, buy some bubbly and help fund a breast cancer cure. And while you’re at it, take time this month to do a self breast exam– remember, early detection saves  lives!