Negronis and Strippers

From pop-up bars to Spanish superstars, another week of intoxicating events

Living Loaded book party…Kim Crawford pop-up wine bar…Spanish wine aristocracy…Trompe l’oeil eggs with cava at Graffit


This week the elite Spanish winemakers descended on Manhattan (last week it was the Italians, the “Brunello Bunch”). Some ultra-serious wine events took place—as well as some less serious heavy cocktailing.

At the new Theatre Bar in TriBeCa, I drank Negronis (made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, Campari and bitters) while watching a stripper take off  layers right down to her pasties. This was a signing party for a friend and kindred spirit whose new book was published by an imprint of Random House. Living Loaded: Tales of Sex, Salvation, and the Pursuit of the Never-Ending Happy Hour chronicles Dan Dunn’s life as Playboy magazine’s nightlife columnist, a job that requires drinking for a living. I can certainly identify. Two Negronis later, I was off for a bite of Korean food to coat the stomach for the after-party a few blocks away. The party attendees were expected to live a night out of the Living Loaded book. Thankfully, I managed to keep close to my three cocktail limit (truth be told, took a sip of the fourth) unlike my friends who suffered greatly the next day. You know who you are. Luckily the Loaded book spells out hangover cures. Of course when I go over my limit, when I return to my building, I am known to kiss the doorman (Eric from the Ukraine).

Fashion Week was in full swing at the tent at Lincoln Center and, wouldn’t you know it, a wine brand linked up with the fashion event. So off I went—with a gold VIP card—to the pop-up wine bar of the New Zealand winery, Kim Crawford, right in the center of the Mercedes Benz entry tent. First I caught the Milly fashion show, 15 action-packed minutes of models in fur vests over ruffled dresses, bright red pants, and billowing long sequenced skirts. Afterward, I stopped off at the Kim Crawford bar to taste Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($16) which had wonderful aromas and classic Marlborough tropical flavors, and Spitfire 2009 ($19), another sauvignon blanc made from grapes in small parcel vineyards, more structured and with wonderful mouth-feel. I found the Kim Crawford Pinot Noir 2009 ($22) a winning affordable wine—fragrant and aromatic with notes of red fruit, a light to medium body. I next tasted Rise and Shine Pinot Noir ($33), from grapes grown in Central Otago, the new benchmark region in New Zealand for amazing pinot, which was richer in style and equally lovely. There was a lot of hoopla around the pop-up bar because the brand also linked up with hottie Patrick Duffy who posed for the cameras in an open shirt revealing a buff chest.

A big-deal wine tasting event from “the superstars of Spanish winemaking” was held at the four star restaurant, Per Se (sadly there turned out to be no food component) and was moderated by Spanish wine expert, Doug Frost, who astonishingly holds both the Master of Wine and Master Sommelier titles. The winemakers hailed from a relatively new organization called the Grandes Pagos de Espana (translated roughly into Great Growths of Spain—i.e., the top wine estates of Spain). Unlike France, Spain doesn’t have a classification system that identifies First Growths or Grand Crus. The event started with a seminar and panel with three of Spain’s notable winemakers and tables full of crystal glasses, 12 in front of each journalist. I wish this event could have taken place at night when I could actually drink and swallow some these top wines rather than just swirl and sip (my daytime rule—and that of all professional wine tasters).

The legendary Carlos Falco, of the Marques de Grinon winery, was one of the panelists. From ancient lineage dating back to the 14th century and holding the highest title in Spanish nobility, Grande de Espana (obviously I have a thing about noble titles), Falco was the first winemaker to break with Spanish tradition and use French varieties in his blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, etc.). He planted Cabernet Sauvignon in 1974 and it was sacrilege at the time. All wine regions have definite laws governing what grapes they can use in a blend—as antiquated as that sounds—and using French grape varieties in a Spanish wine was a real scandal. The highlight of the seated tasting was his Emeritus 2005, which had syrah in its blend, a concentrated dark fruit velvety wine.

A question was posed about alcohol levels of some of the Spanish wines and Doug Frost pointed out that while “high alcohol levels are much vilified among the wine intelligentsia,” Spain’s wines, having the right balance and mouth feel, are not alcoholic in perception. Another outstanding wine was Mauro VS 2006, from the Castilla y Leon region made from 100 percent tempranillo (the key Spanish variety) from 80-year-old vines. It was 14.5 percent alcohol but felt rich and balanced. We went on to taste wines from the 23 small producers of single-estate wines of the Grandes Pagos in the main dining room of Per Se. I looked and looked but there was no sight of the small cones stuffed with salmon tartare and crème fraiche, chef Thomas Keller’s little signature amuse which he first started serving at French Laundry. The cava we tasted would have paired so nicely with the cone.

That night in keeping with the Spanish theme, I dined at a new Spanish restaurant, Graffit, on the Upper West Side where the chef Jesus Nunez is cooking some El Bulli style food—deconstructed sangria, savory tapas, and Iberian cured pork rolls. The sommelier has stocked his list with top-flight cava and wines from Rioja, Priorat and Ribera del Duero. The trompe l’oeil egg and vegetable dish was as delicious as it looked yet offered a big taste surprise: What appeared to be egg white was actually made of puree of cauliflower, yet the real yolk stayed runny. (How did Jesus do it?) It was paired with the house cava, which like any sparkling wine, works well with eggs (think eggs Benedict with a Mimosa). It’s high time New York gets an innovative exciting Spanish restaurant like this, when it seems as if every week we have another Italian restaurant showered with stars. (This week Ai Fiori, an Italian-French Rivera hybrid, got three New York Times stars.)

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