Dark 'n' Stormy Port Cocktails

Pop-up restaurant and a Sonoma winemaker who raises pigs

Heather Munden of St. Francis … Noval Port updated … “What Happens When,” a pop-up restaurant … VinExpo raw statistics


This week brought a wine-soaked St. Francis lunch at the new Bell, Book and Candle at 141 West 10th St., NYC, a roof-to-table restaurant (with organic vegetable garden on the roof). We dined around a big table in the kitchen, where I met a charismatic young winemaker, Heather Munden, who seems to do everything; she keeps bees, makes honey, raises pigs, makes charcuterie, makes cheese, tends a large organic garden, keeps Rhodesian Ridgebacks—and of course, makes the wine for St. Francis winery in Sonoma.

“I used to have a 150-pig ranch,” Heather said. “Now I have a smaller pig farm. I raise them like pets. Honor them.” She said she might spend the weekend with friends and slaughter a pig. Friday night they’ll have pork liver for dinner. Then they’ll make pancetta, blood sausage, head cheese, and even use the tail.  She looked over at the restaurant’s vintage Berkel No. 7 meat slicer from the 1930s. “I could use that,” she said, “for my charcuterie.” (I really couldn’t get over how different we were. Over the weekend I usually go to a museum and a movie or in the summer to some elegant “Champagne and canapés” Hamptons party under a white tent. No pig slaughtering or head cheese in my world.)

We started with oysters from Puget Sound, which went really well with her Sonoma County Chardonnay ($13) with its crisp acidity and melon flavor. Heather makes 22 wines for St. Francis, so the tasting went on and on with Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, even Tawny Port. I enjoyed how precisely Heather personified her wines. Many winemakers personify their wine when they are excusing unfocused or awkward wines. They’ll say that the wine is still a teenager; it needs a few years to calm down. Some winemakers like to categorize their wines as either feminine or masculine wines. Painting a nice image, Heather compared the Old Vines Zinfandel (made from 60- to 110-year-old vines) to the feeling of meeting a very attractive older man who is wearing woodsy smelling cologne and with whom you are considering having an affair (maybe I added on the last part).

The cocktailing goes on and on, even on a Wednesday night when I landed at PDT (Please Don’t Tell)—the secret speakeasy bar at St. Marks Place which you enter through a padded telephone booth, calling the attendant from the old dial phone inside. The esteemed Port company, Quinta Do Noval, which is considered among the top three makers of great vintage Port, has come out with an inexpensive, three-year aged Port called Noval Black ($20) and was launching a line of cocktails.

“We are trying to liberate port from the restraints of its traditional image. Port is really all about hedonistic pleasure,” said the very British Christian Seely, managing director of the Portuguese company, who was in New York for the Noval Black cocktails debut. “It’s frustrating that Port is thought of as the drink for the middle-age male who sips it after dinner with a cigar. Port should be fun; it’s intensely flavorful and hedonistic! Why should it be trapped in that old-fashioned image?”

For 10 years Christian has been thinking about a new context for Port, making it young and smart. So, in 2010 he finally launched Noval Black and now has hired the famous mixologist of PDT, Jim Meehan, to designed Port cocktails.  “There used to be some classic Port cocktails, which were written up in the Jerry Thomas’19th-century cocktail book. There was one combining Port, coffee and a whole egg and also some pre-sangria cocktails. But these new cocktails use Port as the principal spirit ingredient.”

The first cocktail we tried was a twist on the Pimms’ Cup, made with muddled strawberry (which works really well with the Port’s fruitiness). There was a Black Sangria (made with Cognac and Grand Marnier), which was a bit strong for my taste. The winning cocktail was a variation on the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, made with equal parts Goslings Rum and Port, with ginger beer and a garnish of cucumber and a blackberry. Port plays well with Goslings. This was truly balanced and delicious. I could sip these all night—minus any cigars.

From there, my food writer friend and I went to another secret location, a new pop-up restaurant called “What Happens When.” It will be open for a year and change décor and menu just about every month (thus outdoing Park Avenue Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn with its mere four changes a year). The place was full of young, pretty foodies. The short menu was at a prix fixe for $58. We shared a bottle of a fabulous Austrian red wine, IBY Zweigelt, which is an ideal wine that matches with both fish and meat dishes. Zweigelt is like a lighter-bodied pinot noir with a savory edge. I first discovered it while traveling in Austria, but don’t often see it on wine menus in NY. It’s a wine to order when you want the respect of a sommelier or when you want to appear to be an (annoying) know-it-all in the grape variety department. I used to use Gruner Veltliner or Gewurztraminer to show off my varietal savvy but now I slip in Zweigelt or more recently Assyrtiko (from Greece). I haven’t yet graduated to the height of snobbish with Blaufrankisch or Spatburgunder.

At the Four Seasons hotel, I attended a conference both announcing the VinExpo 2011 event—the largest wine and spirits event in the world with 50,000 visitors and 2400 exhibitors in 40,000 meters of stands---which will take place in Bordeaux (June 19-23) and giving results of a 10 year wine and spirits research study with projections into 2014.

After two hours of solid statistics, this fact especially stood out: the USA will be the largest wine market in the world in 2014 with 343 million cases of wine traded here and a 24 billion dollar market!  Other fun facts: China will become the number 7 market by 2014; Italians drink 55 liters per capita whereas Americans drink 13 liters per capita; the biggest exporters are Italy, Spain, and then France; Argentina is the country to watch for growth in finer exports; and the worldwide wine market grows in volume by about 1 percent a year. I took notes on every fact, which made me feel important—like a serious business journalist. I was happy to hear that I chose a growing field.

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