“Aketta roasted crickets and cricket powder are a flavorful, resource-efficient and nutrient-dense way to ingest edible insects”, according to the...chirpy...folks at Aketta (sorry, I couldn’t resist). The first time I read that sentence, I had a tough time getting past the words: “ingest edible insects.” I once swallowed a grasshopper when I was five, but that was on a dare. And, like I said, I was five. Why would sensible adults, grown-ass people like you and me, put an insect, live or dead, in our mouths and chew it? Nevertheless, that was the assignment. More specifically, the assignment was to open the packets, taste the damn crickets, then try to decide what kind of wine to pair with them. That’s the kind of important consumer-oriented work we do here at ILTG, folks – and believe me, we’re not paid enough for jobs like these. I still can’t get my wife’s words out of my head right now: “A cricket is just a cockroach that sings at night!”. OK, so I lied. I once tried chapulín (dried, pulverized grasshopper), but it was on the rim of a very tasty margarita, and that irresistible flavor overwhelmed any insect-y aftertaste. I sampled the chapulín by itself, and it wasn’t bad: salty, crunchy, perhaps a faint hint of dried grass. Same with the crickets. Keep in mind that you’re not just chomping on an unadulterated bug here – these little mofos come in flavors like Texas BBQ, Sea Salt & Vinegar and Sour Cream & Onion. The coatings tend to dominate, so keep that in mind when you pair them with wine. (And, really, who wouldn’t want to?) The Texas BBQ works perfectly with a gutsy Zinfandel. I’d go with something classy from Turley ($78, BUY) in Paso or Davis Family Vineyard, which makes a superb old vine zin sourced from Russian River vineyards. Sea Salt & Vinegar seems like a natural fit for something a little more exotic, such as a manzanilla sherry, with its salty notes picked up from the maritime climate along Spain’s southern coast. Valdespino’s Deliciosa would work like a charm. Sour Cream & Onion is buttery, creamy and a little spicy. You could go with an old school chardonnay to match the butter – Rombauer ($36, BUY) would be the ticket. Sour Cream & Onion is also the flavor that allows the snack’s essential cricket-ness to come through a bit in the form of grassy, herbaceous undertones. I’ve got the perfect wine for that: a bottle of Merry Edwards’ fabulous Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Really, I can’t think of anything better than a glass of this superlative winemaker’s magic white wine to wash down a heaping helping of crickets. Learn more about Aketta and their deep catalog of cricket foods on their website.
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We all know and adore Taco Tuesday. It's that day where our local cantina serves up deals on some amazing Mole Poblano or Tinga de Pollo. Even a basic, quality-made tortilla stuffed with meat, cheese and sauce will often do the trick. In any event, we stuff our face accordingly. All of that spicy excellence will definitely need a beverage. Instead of a Mexican cerveza or margarita, how about switching it up with some wine? And not just any vino. You're getting suggestions from someone who has, literally, been voted the best sommelier in America: André Hueston Mack. André Hueston Mack Let's see what Mack has to say on the matter: Taco Tuesday is one of my favorite nights of the week! Growing up in Texas has made me very fond of Mexican food and my go-to wines have always been from the region of Alsace! Their rich, opulent whites tend to have lower alcohol that defuse spicy flavors and marry well with the diversity of spices found in Mexican cuisine. I like 2014 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht 'Zind' which is a blend of Chardonnay and Auxerrois grapes from one of the domaine's top vineyards, Clos Windsbuhl. Aromatic with great acidity and structure, which bodes well with tacos with just a slight kiss of sweetness to foil spiciness.Rioja is a very hot region and tends to make very alcoholic wine that can amplify the spiciness found in food. I'm a big fan of contrast so for something like a casual Taco Tuesday I would opt for an lofty old Rioja maybe from the 80's or 70's where time has allowed the wine to mature. My favorite is 1975 Bodegas Riojanas 'Monte Real' Grand Reserva. Bonus After uncovering some solid taco wines, Mack started waxing poetic about other pairing scenarios as well. Like any superb sommelier, Mack also knows his spirits. So we posed another hypothetical: what would you bring to a friend's birthday when she's really into wine, scotch and cigars? Sounds like my type of woman! It's her birthday so I would go all out - but not on all three items. I would only select one and drill down. My mother always told me that, when shopping for a birthday gift for someone who has similar interest, buy something that would make you jealous.So, hands-down I would opt for Scotch. And not just any Scotch... Enter Silvano Samaroli, founder of Italian bottler and importer of Scotch whisky, Samaroli, which are some of the most sought after whiskeys in the world. Although I'm a huge fan of all of his cask strength whiskys, I would select the 1983 Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky for the birthday girl to ensure one of the best birthday experiences ever! André Hueston Mack is an ardent wine educator who has hosted seminars and lead panel discussions at top industry gatherings across the United States, including Aspen Food & Wine Classic and Newport Mansions Food and Wine Festival. Mack was the first African-American to be named Best Young Sommelier in America by Chaine des Rotisseurs. He was a sommelier at Thomas Keller’s renowned French Laundry before helping open Chef Keller’s three-Michelin-starred Per Se as head sommelier. Mack now produces wine in Oregon’s Willamette Valley under his own label, Mouton Noir, sold all over the world. Sean Davis via VisualHunt / CC BY-ND
Champagne and caviar. Champagne and oysters. Champagne and whatever’s on that little silver tray they’re passing around. That’s so Downton Abbey! How about taking off the tux and pairing your champagne with a bucket of popcorn instead, or maybe some deep-fried morsel of heaven or a big, steaming slab of meat? We did some investigating about unusual yet rewarding ways to match up your uncorked New Year’s Eve libation with food. Turns out the monocled world of Champagne is crawling with cheeky iconoclasts who are pairing it with everything except road kill. Who knew? Curveball Pairings A fun curveball pairing recommended by Wine Folly is Champagne with mac and cheese, which is catching on at gastropubs up and down the West Coast. “But consider a softer creamery cheese with flavor such as smoked gouda”. “The Champagne needs to be acidic enough to cut through the cheese without being so strong as to ‘turn’ the cheese.” The great thing about Champagne from a foodie’s perspective is that it contains high levels of acid and very little sugar. Those qualities help bring out a wealth of flavors so they can match up with a huge variety of foods, from mild meats such as poached sole and baked chicken to highly spiced Indian and Thai cuisine. (That’s where the bubbles help – they bring down the heat.) What the experts are saying Elise Losfelt, a young winemaker with Moët & Chandon, toured America last summer promoting her classier-than-thou product. Usually the august French house presents its bubbly like it's the latest Louboutin, but this year the message was more proletarian: Champagne, the people’s drink! One of the themes Losfelt hammered on was pairing bubbly with heavier meats. “(Our champagne) has the presence and maturity that goes with meat or fish – veal, for example; or lamb could be nice.” Trend-savvy California mixologist Jenny Buchhagen senses a sea of change in the way people are pairing Champagne. “I’ve noticed that younger people are drinking Champagne at the beginning of their meal and to start the night off.” There’s been a down-home twist to the trend, too, Buchhagen says. “Our sommelier thinks that the best pairing with Champagne is potato chips. People are trying that quite a bit.” Speaking of somms, a good one should be able to artfully match up bubbly with food throughout a meal. Why not start with a prosecco (the Italian sparking wine) to go with your light appetizer, then go with something heavy for the entrée – some Australian sparkling Shiraz such as Mollydooker’s Goosebumps ($50) to match with that pork belly – and a Ruinart Brut Rosé ($80) to wash down your strawberries and ice cream? I can’t think of a better way to mark the calendar's passing than ending your New Year’s Eve meal with this stunner from France’s oldest Champagne house. Oh yeah, about that popcorn you’re thinking of having with your bubbly – slather it with truffle butter. It’s the perfect blend of crass and class.
Eat Tomahawk Steak, Drink Red Wine So you’ve decided to drop an obscene amount on a tomahawk steak, every hipster’s current protein du jour. They're everywhere these days. Whatever happened to vegetarians? You’ll probably want to cut a couple of corners to make sure the meal doesn’t send you straight to Chapter 11 – those hunks of cow flesh with the caveman-bone handle can set you back between $100 and $200. But the big question is what are the best cabernets to pair with that steak that won't break your bank (more than the steak already did!). You want to go traditional with this meal, so only the best cabernets will do (or red Bordeaux, but it’s harder to find bargains from that rarified region). Here are five great bang-for-the-buck cabs that will stand tall next to that tomahawk. 5 Best Cabernets to Pair with a Tomahawk Steak Kunde 2013 Estate Sonoma Valley $22 Total steal that if brought to a wine snob's house they'd give you a nod of approval. From a widely respected winemaker, this gorgeous cabernet is dark, rich, and multi-layered, and 2013 was almost as great a year for Sonoma as it was for Paso. It was aged for 19 months in small French oak barrels, which translates into a multi-layered taste profile. You’ll get a big hit of black currant, cinnamon and raspberry, and underneath it all the unmistakable backbeat of strawberry. The finish is complex memorable. (3.7 star rating on Vivino!) Canvasback 2013 Red Mountain $36 From the people that make the iconic Duckhorn and Decoy wines come Canvasback. Washington State makes big reds, especially this hot, dry little area, and Canvasback’s cabernets is a good representative of that state’s style. They use 100 French oak in this blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent merlot. You’ll get blueberry, cherry, licorice and a little plum on the nose, then savory herbs and spices that give way to tannins that are pronounced but not overpowering. (4.0 star rating on Vivino!) Newton 2013 Unfiltered Napa Valley $44 For the manly men. It may grow hair in various places. Wine critic guru Robert Parker gave this old-style beauty 91 points. It’s unfiltered, so those who prefer loamy, big-boned cabernets will love it. It’s a touch higher in alcohol than normal for a cabernets, which brings out the fruit. (4.3 star rating on Vivino!) J. Lohr 2013 Hilltop Paso Robles $26 2013 and 2014 are both shaping up to be classic years for Paso Robles Bordeaux blends. This elegant wine from one of the biggest producers in California shows the usual finesse of winemaker Steve Peck. It’s a typical Paso cabernet, with a touch of merlot and petit verdot. It’s got more fruit flavors than a Napa cabernets, and softer, more elegant tannins. (4.0 star rating on Vivino!) Peirano 2012 “Heritage Collection” Lodi $11 I know what you're thinking - "Lodi?". Keep your eye-rolling to a minimum. This wine is a four-star gold winner at the Orange County Fair (yeah, now what!). The grapes are from an old-vine (meaning the vines are over 30 years old) from an underrated region. It looks sexy: rich, inky and dark. The first sniff reveals raspberry and blackberry, and you get those toasty notes that many people love, too, along with white pepper and oak. Dry, but not offensively so. A world-class bargain at $11. (3.5 star rating on Vivino!) Watch Chef Marc Forgione demonstrate how not to F*** up cooking a tomahawk steak.