While there’s a lot to like about elegant, traditional wines, California winemakers are breaking with the past by creating a growing number of innovative blends. Recently, I had a chance to sample one such mass-market wine that was so good, one of my guests immediately texted a friend and told her to buy a case of it. At less than $15 a bottle, Apothic Inferno
is a wine to look for – especially now, since it’s limited release and supply is already dwindling since its launch earlier in the Fall.

Apothic Inferno is a great value big red wine, aged in whiskey barrels.
Apothic Inferno is a great value big red wine, aged in whiskey barrels.

Tasted blind, this wine stands out because of its unusual nose. My tasters could not identify it at first. “Baking spice, cinnamon?” No, that wasn’t quite right. “Chocolate and leather?” Maybe. “Could it be bourbon?” asked one taster, hesitating.

Indeed, that was close. Apothic Inferno is a blend of zinfandel, merlot, syrah and petite syrah – aged in whiskey barrels. It brings new meaning to the notion of a “big, bold California red.” This would be an excellent party wine, or perhaps paired with a heavy meat dinner. I also would caution against pouring it side by side other wines: it would overpower just about any wine other than perhaps an inky petite sirah.

And if you are a wine lover who also likes the sensation of a dram of whiskey in your glass, you really luck out with this wine. The winery describes it as a “wine with a whiskey soul.”

This is the latest in the series of Apothic wines, one of the Gallo brands. Winemaker Debbie Juergenson makes unique blends each year. Its standard Apothic Red, a blend of zinfandel, merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon has long been one of the good value wines that I point friends to. Apothic Inferno is another worth buying while you can.

Some Apothic wines are available at Amazon Wine. You can also find it at many local stores via Wine-searcher.com.

Planet_Bordeaux_082516.jpgThe winemakers of Bordeaux, France, want Americans to know that not all of their wines could be a down-payment on a car. Sure, you can spend $1,200 on a bottle of 1981 Chateau Lafite, but what about a wine to drink right now? You say your budget is under $20? No problem. Really.

I just attended a media tasting featuring 12 Bordeaux wines ranging in price from $10 to $25. Every one of these wines was good, and a couple of them were terrific. No offense to the winemakers of the New World, but it’s hard to steer anyone towards a merlot from California, Australia, or South America when wines like this are available and in the same price range. What’s impressive is that these are the normal prices for these wines. We are not talking about bargain bin remainder stock.

Although you will not find “Haut Medoc,” the best-of-the-best Bordeaux in this price range, a couple of these wines would be right at home on any dinner table (but maybe not a White House dinner.) Besides, not everyone likes the complexity of the Cabernet-rich high-end Bordeaux.

Of the wines sampled, here are a couple that I recommend:

  • White: Chateau Lamothe de Haux 2014 Bordeaux Blanc: This $10 wine is a blend of semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle, giving it a sturdier texture and complexity of flavors unexpected in a “value wine.” Slightly off-dry, flavor notes of lemon zest and sweet citrus and aroma of honeysuckle.
  • Rose: Chateau de Lardiley 2015 Bordeaux Rose: The light hue stems from this wine’s limited time — just two hours — on the red grape skins before fermentation. It is a rare rose of cabernet sauvignon, which explains the robust, dry flavor, with notes of tobacco and dark red fruit. Surprising in many ways, including the $15 price tag.
  • Red: Three of the four wines sampled were very good. Choosing just one of them to recommend is not easy. My pick is Chateau Lafont-Fourcat 2014, Bordeaux Rouge. This is a rich, round wine with density and a long finish. Ripe plum, tobacco and berries, soft tannin, medium acidity. This 75% merlot/20% cabernet sauvignon/5% malbec blend sells for $15.




Sacramento likes to call itself the “Farm to Fork Capital” because of its role at the center of California’s enormous agriculure industry. And, in recent years, the fine dining scene in Sacramento has mushroomed.

That’s why the region campaigned (and paid) to host the 2016 International Food Bloggers Conference, which runs July 28-31. I am looking forward to exploring the region, meeting farmers, chefs, and others who are helping bring great food to tables all over the country.

In a clever appeal to the seemingly growing interest (or at least conversation) among some Americans about moving to Canada if a certain person with small hands becomes president, Air Canada has launched a campaign inviting Americans to “test drive” their country now. 

“If you’re thinking of moving to Canada, it might make sense to #TestDriveCanada first. Try things out for a weekend or two and discover beautiful destinations while enjoying great value for your dollar.”
My friends in Canada tell me that immigration offices there have been swamped with inquiries. Many people are finding that although Canada is a very welcoming country, Americans may find that moving there permanently may be about as easy as winning a Stanley Cup.

But I certainly see why it may be tempting.

Air Canada’s “test drive” sale fares are available at http://bit.ly/29EfdC9.

One of the bonuses of visiting the San Francisco area is a chance to go across the bay to Oakland or Berkeley for some of the best barbecue in the United States. I know that’s a tall order, but Everett & Jones, with locations in Berkeley, Oakland and Hayward, stands out from the crowded barbecue field for many reasons.

I first discovered Everett & Jones in 1980, when I was in college at nearby UC Berkeley. My friends and I would walk down to San Pablo Avenue where the family’s Berkeley location had opened. The ribs, links, or chicken are served with a scoop of potato salad – and back then, a couple of slices of Wonder bread. And a choice of hot, mixed or mild sauce. When one of us would ask for hot, the kind people behind the counter would question whether we knew what we were doing. Times have changed and so have my taste buds. I go with the hot sauce all the way. And there’s no more white bread: it’s wheat bread all the way.

But look at this serving of barbecue link sausage that I had a few days ago.


Everett and Jones is one of the only places that I know of that has their own sausage for barbecue. There’s nothing like the texture of fresh sausage made from all kinds of meat that I don’t want to think about.

The ribs, beef and chicken are also quite credible. Each location has a brick smoker with plenty of hardwood to fuel the slow cooking that makes this authentic barbecue.

Especially when you add the sauce.

Everett & Jones’ barbecue sauce is hearty, and peppery, and filling. It is a moderately sweet tomato-based sauce, with hints of fruit for sweetness and plenty of crushed hot red pepper to get your attention. And, it is absolutely reminiscent of barbecue sauces from Alabama, which happens to be where the Everett family comes from.

Probably good that I’m usually 3,000 miles away, but it’s great to enjoy this classic American barbecue place every now and then.

Everett & Jones Barbeque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Michel et Augustin cookiesWhen French bakery Michel et Augustin arrived in the United States in 2014, its founders brought with them what they describe as a “kooky” idea: Invite people to visit, send them away with cookies to share with friends.

It’s not really all that kooky. Lots of businesses grow by giving away samples. But for these people, it’s practically a religion. If you go to one of the monthly open houses at their modern space in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, you leave with a bag, several packages of cookies, and instructions on what to do with them:

“In your hands? 18 cookies to share. There’s 1 for you and 17 for your friends, family, roommates, neighbors, colleagues, grandma, cousins, bus driver, poney club…”

French cookie maker Michel et Augustin welcomes the public to its Brooklyn, NY, home at monthly open houses. Guests leave with bags of cookies.

Odds are, giving one of these cookies to someone will make them a fan. The cookies are really good. Few other baked goods found on grocery store shelves have this much rich butter flavor. Even a commercial baker friend that I shared the cookies with was impressed.

“We want to bake very indulgent cookies,” says Antoine Chauvel, who heads the Michel et Augustin’s sales effort in the United States. “We try to use the best ingredients in the market, very simple ingredients, basic ingredients you can find in your own kitchen – fresh butter, wheat flower, intense chocolate. No weird chemicals.”

Decadence like this is not cheap: a package of eight cookies sells for $7 or $8. And the company has found some grocers reluctant to stock their products because their cookies have a shorter shelf life (about five months) than cookies with highly processed ingredients.

So far, Michel et Augustin cookies can be found in supermarkets in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut Tri-State area, including Fairway, Gristedes, Westside Market, and CVS stores. The company’s dark chocolate and lemon meringue squares also are sold at Starbucks stores nationwide. (For an interesting account of how the Starbucks deal happened, check out this article from AdWeek.)

“If they like the cookies, they will tell their friends,” says Chauvel. “We believe in word of mouth.”

Perfect pickles in 30 minutes from Doug Levy on Vimeo.

Although pickles have a history as a “slow food,” a way to extend the life of fresh vegetables long past their harvest, sometimes there’s a need for pickles right now, not after days or weeks of curing in brine. Enter kitchen chemistry, or “molecular gastronomy,” and you can have real pickles in about a half hour.

The process actually is quite simple. Using a whipped cream canister, you can force the brine into the vegetables in minutes instead of waiting for the brine to be absorbed organically. Food grade nitrous oxide pushes the brine into the vegetable cells without influencing the flavor, same as it does when making whipped cream.

The process works, and works well, for just about any kind of pickles. (The technique is also quite useful for other infusing flavors in other recipes, too, such as quickly marinated meats or flavored spirits.)

A few words about equipment you will need:

  • A whipping siphon. Any whipping siphon will work. Consider purchasing one that is intended for both hot and cold use. The one I have cost about $35 on Amazon.com (affiliate link.) You can also buy a kit that contains a whipping siphon and small packets of agar-agar, xanthan gum, and gelatin for various other molecular gastronomy kitchen fun.
  • Nitrous oxide cartridges. Kitchen siphons use either carbon dioxide (CO2) or nitrous oxide (N2O,) depending on what you are making. CO2 is used for carbonated beverages. N2O is for infusions, including fast pickles. There are many different brands of cartridges on the market. Cheaper ones are from China or other Asian countries. Others are from Europe and claim higher levels of purity. Here is an article on a website that sells cartridges that gives a good overview.  I bought 50 from Amazon for about 50 cents each (affiliate link.)

Here’s the recipe to follow.

Fast pickles using whipping siphon
Print Recipe
Using a whipping siphon may not be intuitive, but the same process that infuses cream with air also can be used to force brine into cucumbers or other vegetables to make real pickles in 20 minutes. This recipe is adapted from http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/quick-bread-and-butter-pickles.
Servings Prep Time
4 30 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
10 minutes 20 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 30 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
10 minutes 20 minutes
Fast pickles using whipping siphon
Print Recipe
Using a whipping siphon may not be intuitive, but the same process that infuses cream with air also can be used to force brine into cucumbers or other vegetables to make real pickles in 20 minutes. This recipe is adapted from http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/quick-bread-and-butter-pickles.
Servings Prep Time
4 30 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
10 minutes 20 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 30 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
10 minutes 20 minutes
  1. Slice cucumbers evenly (a mandoline works great for this,) then place in colander and sprinkle salt over them. Set aside. Combine remaining ingredients, then heat in saucepan while stirring. Remove from heat when sugar dissolves. Allow the brine to cool. (Place the saucepan in a larger pan with ice water to accelerate this.) Add the cucumber and onion to the brine, mix completely.
  2. Place the cucumber mixture into the chamber of a clean whipping siphon. Do not fill more than 2/3rds full. Close whipping siphon. Use one cartridge of nitrous oxide, following instructions that come with the whipping siphon. Shake the siphon and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  3. After 20 minutes, cover the nozzle of the siphon with a measuring cup or other container to prevent brine from being squirted on yourself or your kitchen. Depress handle to release the gas, then unscrew siphon top. The pickles are ready to serve.
Recipe Notes


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