A French Restaurant Goes Alcohol-Free

images-2 It’s hard to believe that a fine French dining establishment would make the decision to go alcohol-free (no wine? Mon dieu!) But for celebrity chef Alain Ducasse, who has 25 restaurants around the world, his latest has opened up in Qatar–in the center of the Museum of Islamic Art–at a tip of the Arabian Peninsula, where alcohol is forbidden fruit. (In Qatar, alcohol is only allowed in hotels for foreigners.)

While the restaurant has only been open for a half a year, something about the formula of alcohol-free fine dining may not cut it in Qatar. According to a recent article in the New York Times, it’s easy to get a reservation at Idam restaurant, and not even a third of the 60 seats were filled one evening in June.51520_494488157278833_494487450612237_50302_464_b

Initially, Christian Julliard, the executive chef under Alain Ducasse was not so sure about this wine-free restaurant idea, but according to the Times article, he’s been won over. “Now after two years of working without wine,” Julliard said, “it’s another vision: more light, you concentrate on the food and not the wine.”

The team at Idam has apparently been doing a lot of research in juice bars in an attempt to come up with non-alcoholic beverage options. Even Ducasse’s sommelier and chef teams in Paris are trying to develop “mocktails” that are tasty enough to compensate for the lack of alcohol.

It’ll be interesting to see how this alcohol-free dining experiment pans out. I don’t know about you, but if I were to drop $200 for a seven-course tasting menu, I might like a sip of something, as they say in France, avec alcool. What about you?



Multiple Theories Behind Clinking Glasses

clinking glassesI’ve always found it fascinating that no matter where you go in the world, people clink their glasses and simultaneously voice their linguistic equivalent of “Cheers!” It’s “A la votre,” in France; “Prost” in German; “Na zdravi” in Czech, “Kanpai” in Japan, “L’chaim” in Hebrew. (For a list of how to say “cheers” in 50 different countries, click here.)

But why does this tradition even exist? And what’s its origin?According to a recent post on the Bottlenotes website, there are several theories behind the genesis of the clinking custom. They are:

1.During the Middle Ages, when deception and mistrust were commonplace, people would clink glasses so that wine would spill between cups, insuring that one reveler was not attempting to poison another.

2. The sound of glasses colliding would scare away evil spirits hovering in the midst. As written on Bottlenotes: “Many societies all over the world, including ours, practice some kind of noisemaking to scare away demons–bells rung on a wedding day, shouting on the New images-1Year–and perhaps the clinking of glasses was meant to serve the same purpose.”

3. Some believe that the wine experience is meant to satisfy all five senses–it’s color, scent, body and taste take care of four–and that clinking takes care of the fifth.

4. Clinking is meant to be a symbol of the time when everyone at a gathering drank from the same goblet. While everyone now drinks from her own glass, the tradition is a nod to the time when passing one cup around was a chance to bring people together–a sort of group bonding exercise.

Do any of these ring true to you, or do you have another theory about why we clink glasses? If so, let us know…

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Valentine’s Day: What to Drink with Your Chocolate

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but at some point in the last 17 years, Valentine’s Day became more of a holiday about which red, tinsel-covered chocolate I’d buy for my kids, and less of a Cupid-filled one for my husband and me (I like to believe we don’t need a Hallmark holiday for that, anyway).

Although romance has a time and a place in our everyday lives, I do recall a particular time when my husband and I went away for a weekend in search of something a little more special, surrounded by the vines and wines of California’s Napa Valley. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out quite like we’d expected.

After a lazy morning and breakfast at the inn where we were staying, we ambled into town to rent bicycles to fulfill our romantic mission of visiting wineries on two wheels. It turned out that the only bicycle available was a tandem bike, for two. We took it. Sounds romantic–perhaps for the couple where one partner does ALL the driving–but it quickly turned into a rather memorable nightmare.

“You’re going too fast. Can’t you hit the brakes once in a while?” I yelled from the rear.

“Stop braking!” my husband retorted with frustration. “We’ll never make it up the next hill if we don’t get any speed.”

With each winery, and each tasting, the fighting got more intense (I’ll admit, I was probably the more vocal complainer). By the afternoon, we were hardly speaking to one another. But then, we arrived at a winery where wine was not the only thing on the tasting menu.

Chocolate. They offered each visitor a bowl filled with rich, dark chunks of mouth-watering chocolate to taste with their mouth-watering Zinfandel. Everything in me got a little lighter, smoother, mellower (no more yelling on the bike; now I let him do the pedaling, the breaking, all the work). It’s been more than ten years since that Napa trip, and I still remember the chocolate melting on my tongue, washed down with the spice of the full-bodied wine.

I was hooked. Not on the wine, but on the pairing of the two, and it seems I’m not alone.

While doing some research, I came across numerous articles and websites featuring the dangerously sexy combo of wine and chocolate. The different types of Green & Black Chocolates (70% dark is a personal favorite) are featured on About.com. And you can get some good tips on pairing wine and chocolate on The Daily Sip.

The chart below, from The Nibble.com, was taken from a survey in which they asked readers, “What Do You Drink With Chocolate?”

Here’s what readers drink
with chocolate…
…though quite a few said they drank…(continued in
the next column header)
“Absolutely nothing! Great chocolate must be enjoyed on its own.”
  • Armagnac
  • Banyuls or Maury
  • Beaujolais
  • Beer
  • Bourbon
  • Brachetto D’Acqui
  • Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux/
  • Champagne
  • Cognac
  • Framboise (Bonny
    Doon Dessert Wine)
  • Hungarian Tonka
  • Jurançon
  • Late Harvest
  • Liqueurs: Anisette,
    Cointreau, Grand
  • Marsala
  • Mas Amiel
  • Muscat/Moscato di
  • Pinot Noir
  • Port: Ruby, Tawny,
  • Riesling
  • Rum
  • Sauternes
  • Setubal
  • Sherry: Cream,
    Fino or
    Pedro Ximinez
  • Single Malt
  • Vin Jaun
  • Vin Santo
  • Zinfandel
Non-Alcoholic Nominations
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Water
  • Sparkling Water
  • Milk

Valentine’s Day or not, romance or not, there’s always chocolate AND/OR wine…

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Wine and Serenity on Superbowl Sunday?

cgon175l-1I don’t know about you, but my Sundays (and some Saturdays) since September have been filled with football. I have a husband and a son who are fairly smitten with watching overgrown boys run around a field in any type of weather throwing and chasing a ball, and then falling upon one another to retrieve what seems to be as valuable as the Hope diamond, ignoring that they are potentially crushing someone else’s–or their own–skull.

It is commonplace on these long weekend afternoons for my two boys to sit on our family room couch, snacking on thick, extra dark pretzels (paying no attention to the crumbs and salt bits that fall in between the couch cushions), tossing a football and tackling one another or our dog during commercials–and drinking. If my twelve-year-old is feeling really hyped up for the event, he’ll ask if he can have a soda–usually saved only for special occasions in our house–while my husband opts for a cold Saranac Black & Tan, his beer of choice on these special game days.

When game time begins and all players–and viewers–prepare for the coin toss (or on some days the pre-game show needs to be screened first), that’s my clue to take to the living room. I’ll usually curl up on the couch, with either a cup of tea or a glass of wine close by–book, newspaper, and laptop at the ready for at least four hours of quiet time (save for the occasional shrieks coming from the next room).

Once in a while, my husband will gently request (“quick! come fast! hurry up!”) that I come and join them to watch a replay of some player running 40 or 50 yards down the field and then doing some kind of tribal dance in the end zone (that’s actually my favorite part). I oblige for the sake of my son–wouldn’t want him to think that his mom isn’t a woman with varied interests.

And then, I retreat to my corner in the next room. Happy. My husband chugs his beer and my son his soda, and both scream at the TV. I sip my wine (or tea), cozily engaging in my reading and/or writing. So, in truth, it turns out that football days are not so bad. This coming Sunday is the almighty Super Bowl. There will probably be a lot of noise coming from our house as of 6:30 pm EST when the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers take to the field (full disclosure: I had to ask a friend who was playing). I may hide out at a neighbor’s house. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll put down my book, opt for a beer, and relocate to sit with the boys, pretending that I actually care.


Hollywood Goes Winemaking

SOMM posterSome friends recently told me to go see “SOMM,” a feature documentary that follows four sommeliers as they get ready to take the Master Sommelier exam—a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world. According to The New York Times, the exam is so difficult that fewer than 200 people have passed since 1969.

On our blog, we’ve interviewed Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, the fourth woman and among only 30 people in the U.S. to ever attain the international title of Master of Wine (MW), one of the highest standards of knowledge in the wine industry.

So it seems that lately, winemaking and wine smarts are trending, and even the celebs are getting into the wine game. It’s been a long time that Frances Ford Coppola has been making wine in Napa, but here’s a list of some actors, musicians, and athletes that are not just drinking it, but are also involved in making and selling it.

  • Drew Barrymore at Barrymore Wines in Italy
  • Adrian Grenier in Paso Robles, California
  • Ramona Singer in Italy
  • Antonio Banderas at Anta Banderas in Spain
  • Nancy Pelosi at Zinfandel Lane Vineyard in St. Helena, California
  • Olivia Newton-John at Koala Blue Wines in South AustraliaDrew Barrymore holding wine bottle
  • Dave Matthews at Blenheim Vineyards in Virginia
  • Madonna at Ciccone Vineyard in Michigan
  • Wayne Gretzky at No. 99 Estates Winery in Canada
  • Fergie at Ferguson Crest at Santa Ynez Valley, California
  • Joe Montana at Montagia Wines in Napa, California
  • Andrea Bocelli in Italy
  • Kurt Russell in California
  • Sting in Italy


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