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Pop Culture

The Best Bubbly in the Air

March 14, 2012

Virgin Atlantic debuted a glamorous champagne coupe as part of their new Upper Class meal service that began March 1.


Last time I flew on Virgin Atlantic, I remember catching a glimpse of the champagne bar in Upper Class as I trudged to the back of the plane. Now there’s even more to envy: Virgin Atlantic’s new meal service offers retro luxe champagne coupes to serve their Champagne Lanson Black Label.

“We’re very much about trying to make a unique experience,” says Sarah McIntyre, a Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman. “People associate glamour with Virgin Atlantic and champagne comes hand in hand with glamour.”

They’re not the only airline flying high with champagne service. Each year, Business Traveller Magazine give their Cellars in the Sky awards to the airlines with the best wine lists. The magazine rates the quality and diversity of wines offered in business and first class flights.

When the 2011 awards were announced last month, Qantas Airlines’ wine list took the most awards, including best First Class Sparkling – and why not when they’re pouring 1999 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne?

Wines served by Cathay Pacific like the 2008 Vincent Girardin Puligny Montrachet Vielles Vignes were ranked highly. And Brazilian carrier TAM’s 2012 wine list turned heads with pours like Champagne Drappier La Grande Sendrée in first class and Drappier Carte d’Or in business class. And airline sommelier Arthur Azevedo has trained flight crew in matching wines with foods too. Maybe someday they’ll pour some Brazilian bubbly on flights.

The magazine rated 250 wines that were entered into the competition by 53 international airlines.

Food + Recipes, Pop Culture

Smoked Brown Sugar Crème Brûlée for #LetsLunch

February 10, 2012

Many popular songs about the seductive quality of sugar inspired this Smoked Brown Sugar Crème Brûlée including D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” and Flo Rida’s “Sugar.

Food is tied up in so many metaphors, but probably the most evocative of all are about sugar. The taste of sweetness is something all babies crave. And no matter how old we get, we never lose our fondness for sugar. Our sweet tooth just starts to crave different forms of satisfaction.

The first song about sweetness and love I remember was “Sugar, Sugar” (1969) by the Archies. It has a delightful bubblegum pop quality; what’s not to like about lines like “You are my candy girl and you got me wanting you.”

I was just 5 when the Rolling Stones first asked “Brown sugar, how come you taste so good?” in their classic song from the Sticky Fingers album. As soon as I was old enough to tune my boom box to rock music on WLS, I knew Brown Sugar was naughty, what with the slave owner taking advantage of the women he owned and the double entendre equating brown sugar with Black women and taste with, uh, tasty things. This was the kind of song my parents would not want me listening to, which of course made it more appealing.

The 1987 rock anthem “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard left me indifferent. The lead singer sounds like he wants to make noise more than love. Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Lips Like Sugar” from the same year is reserved and sad, a song more about longing and a passing encounter with a woman who floats like a swan across the water. If you caught her, she’d have “lips like sugar… sugar kisses.”

R & B artist D’Angelo tells the story of a girl from Philly named Brown Sugar in his 1995 song of the same name. The sexy hook is the best part: “I want some of your Brown Sugar, oh oh oh, oooh.” And there’s something appealing about the way Baby Bash & Frankie J brags about his girl, asking “Suga, suga how’d you get so fly?”

But my favorite of all these is Flo Rida’s song “Sugar” (2009) which mixes an infectious, candy-coated beat with funny lyrics and an even more humorous video of his Novocaine-induced daydream.

For my sugar-inspired dessert, I started with Alton Brown’s flawless crème brûlée recipe from the Food Network Site. My ramekins got left behind when I moved to Oakland, so I baked them in heavy-duty ceramic coffee cups I snagged at the thrift store down the street. And instead of topping the finished custards with vanilla sugar, I used a 50-50 mixture of vanilla bean infused sugar and Smoked Brown Sugar from The Smoked Olive.

Smoked Brown Sugar Crème Brûlée
1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup vanilla sugar
6 large egg yolks
2 quarts hot water
1/2 cup Smoked Brown Sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for another use.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Pour the liquid into 6 (7- to 8-ounce) ramekins (or cups). Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the crème brûlée is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Remove the crème brûlée from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the smoked brown sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Allow the crème brûlée to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Adapted from Alton Brown of The Food Network.

Drinks, Lifestyle, Pop Culture, Sparkling Wine

Toast the Year of the Dragon with Iron Horse’s Chinese Cuvée

February 9, 2012

Iron Horse Chinese Cuvée was created to celebrate the Year of the Dragon.

It’s early February, and we’re about two weeks into the Year of the Dragon. According to the Chinese astrological charts, dragons are ambitious and dominant, passionate, creative and prefer to live by their own rules — know anyone like that? Many Chinese families plan to have children this year, because it’s the most auspicious year for a baby to be born.

Iron Horse Vineyards in Sonoma is especially excited about their new Year of the Dragon baby, a very limited bottling called the Chinese Cuvée. Created for export to China, only a lucky in the US few will get to taste this new wine.

Come toast the Year of the Dragon with Iron Horse President Joy Sterling and taste the new cuvée at a dim sum and party from 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday Feb. 11 at Press Club. After the party, head outside to view the Chinese New Year Parade, which dates back to 1860 and is one of the last illuminated Chinese New Year parades. Sponsored by Southwest Airlines, it starts at 5:30 p.m. and passes near Press Club.

Sterling says their winery has a historic connection to China. “The Clintons served Iron Horse at the State Dinner for President Jiang Zemin at the White House in 1997,” she said.

That history led Chinese wine importer Jaguar Wines to approach Iron Horse about making a special cuvée for export to China. The wine’s gold and red label has both English and Chinese and is adorned with a dragon on a fan at the bottle’s neck.

“My family and I are very proud that we have created a top quality American wine that is now an export success story,” Sterling says.

The number 8 is considered especially lucky in Chinese culture, so 8’s were attached to the Chinese Cuvée wherever possible. Of the 1,000 cases made, 880 were shipped to China and the remaining ones are available here in the U.S. The bottle sells for $98 — in numerology, the sum of the digits is 17, which in turn add up to make 8.

The wine is predominantly Pinot Noir from the 2007 vintage. Its dosage — the final mix of wine and sugar added to sparkling wine to determine the level of sweetness — was designed to make it perfect for pairing with soy, chilies and other savory flavors in Chinese cuisine.

“It never ceases to amaze me that four milliliters can so dramatically change a wine,” says Iron Horse Winemaker David Munksgard. “Dosage can affect color, aroma, weight, finish. It is like the seasoning in cooking. We had Chinese cuisine in mind with the Chinese Cuvée.”

Lifestyle, Pop Culture

Drink to Your Health: Studies Show Bubbly & Red Wine Good For You

January 9, 2012

Enjoyed in moderation, red wines like this sparkling shiraz can help prevent diseases like breast and prostate cancer, according to scientific studies.

Booze of all kinds gets villfied in January, as if it’s the (fill in the name of your favorite tipple here)’s fault that we drank too much of it over the holidays and gained weight or started the new year with a horrific hangover.

So in the interest of equal time, I thought I’d highlight some of the scientific studies showing that drinking in moderation is good for your health.

Most people know that red wine is good for your health. But did you know that champagne and sparkling wines have health benefits too?

A 2009 study conducted at the University of Reading in the UK found that polyphenols found in champagne raised nitric oxide levels in the blood vessels, keeping them relaxed. This is important because increased blood flow helps prevents any blockages which can lead to strokes or other problems.

A new wine health study by Cedars Sinai Medical Center reported on Science Daily found that moderate red wine consumption may reduce one of the risk factors for breast cancer. The 36 women in the study drank 8 ounces of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay for 30 days and then switched varietals for the next month. The study found that the Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers had elevated levels of testosterone along with lower levels of estrogen, which has been found to foster the growth of cancer cells. The doctors believe plant chemicals in the skin and seeds of red wine grapes cause the beneficial effects.

And men shouldn’t feel left out either: a 2003 study found that the red wine antioxidant resveratrol may help inhibit the growth of prostate cancer. The study by researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas found that a glass or two a day should do the trick.

Many people start the year with a month-long liquor fast to give their livers a break. But we needn’t bother, according to a report from the British Liver Trust covered by the BBC. Instead, it’s more effective to give the liver a little break each week, by skipping alcohol for a few days.

Pop Culture

Uncorked: Discovering My A-ha Moment with Champagne

December 8, 2011

An a-ha moment is when something becomes very clear to you. Kind of like the ideas in  Oprah’s back page column “Things I Know for Sure.”

During the recent Mutual of Omaha campaign to capture real people telling their own stories, I talked about the a-ha moment on the way to my becoming The Bubbly Girl. I remember being in Aspen for the Food & Wine Classic and sitting with a group of people at Nobu. One of managers at the restaurant asked me “why Champagne?”  I think I felt put on the spot a bit; it’s not often a stranger asks you to defend your chosen avocation. But I realized, “why not Champagne?”

I love wines with bubbles. I like the way there’s a sense of danger associated with opening a bottle, if you don’t handle it right. It’s like an implied message that this is special stuff and you have to respect it. The physical properties of a méthode champenoise wine force you to observe the ritual of chilling it, not shaking it up, holding the cork carefully so it doesn’t fly off in your face. Even an expensive bottle of Bordeaux doesn’t have that kind of power.

Then there’s the moment when the cork leaves the bottle – either with a pop or soft sigh. Either way, that bubbly is talking to you, loud and clear. Other wines speak once you get them in the glass and start to taste, but bubbly can make a statement before you take a single sip.

And then there are those bubbles, those magical and mesmerizing streams of tiny pearls that erupt once champagne or sparkling wine is poured into a flute. I love the way they a release a stream of memories; maybe it was the Sunday afternoon bubbly with a boyfriend or girlfriend,  the Dom Perignon at a wedding, the prosecco and prosciutto on a trip to Italy or the before-dinner champagne with a friend who’s not with us anymore. Thinking back, those moments were all happy ones, and that glass in our hand connects us to all those bottled up good feelings.

Plus when it comes to food-pairing, bubbly just happens to be the best category of wine in the world. I like the idea of  bringing more happiness to people’s lives, especially when it’s something as simple as opening a bottle of bubbly.

I think we have – or can have – a-ha moments all the time. Maybe even every day. We just have to be paying attention to that little voice inside that tells us “this is not for me” or “yes, this is what I want to do”

So what’s your a-ha moment?