You may have heard about the controversy over restaurant listings in Wine Spectator back in August 2008. Each year, the magazine issues awards for restaurants with great wine lists. If you’re a wino and like to drink when you travel, (and who among us doesn’t) it’s wonderful to check these places out. A wine critic decided to see what would happen if he created a phony restaurant with a less-than-stellar wine list. He launched a restaurant website and submitted the application — with the $250 entry fee — to the magazine. Even though the wine list contained a fair number of clunkers that Wine Spectator itself had ranked poorly, the non-existent restaurant still received the magazine’s award of excellence (it appeared in the August 2008 print issue, but is no longer on the magazine’s website). It turns out that of the nearly 4,500 restaurants that applied, only 319 didn’t get an award or good mention of some kind.
One might argue that the applicants are self-selecting in terms of quality, and many of them are known quantities already. But that seems an awfully high percentage, and it’s clear there was at least one problem with the result. The wine critic who devised the scam said that while his may be the first imaginary restaurant to win an award, it’s unlikely that it’s the first whose submission didn’t accurately reflect the restaurant. And the magazine collected over $1 million in application fees for what could be construed as advertising rather than an actual reflection of quality.
We don’t mean to badmouth wine magazines, and we appreciate that there’s a big difference between a contest like this one and a critic sitting down with a glass of wine doing a rating. Let’s face it, there are a lot of wines out there, and you can’t possibly try them all yourself, fun though that might be. But keep in mind that the magazine may have a definite point of view about what constitutes a good wine, and you may or may not agree. Our impression is that big-bodied wines get the big ratings. If you’ve tried some of a magazine’s low, middle, and high ratings and find you agree, then great. But if you don’t agree in general, the magazine’s not going to do anything for you except give you pretty pictures of places you may or may not visit.
So what’s a “wine enthusiast” (the person, not the magazine) to do? Why, turn to first vine, of course! We’ve tried to make our site as descriptive as possible, so you can tell the different characteristics of each wine. In coming editions of this e-mail newsletter, we’ll give you some idea of what each of those things is — aroma, sweet vs. dry, flavors, tannin, finish, etc, in small doses. We’ll be adding those to our website as well. So you can learn a bit and enjoy doing it, without spending a ton of money. Once you know the characteristics you like, it’s easy to buy good wine anywhere, but of course we know you’ll want to buy it from us 😉
Now, on to the recipe. These Cheese Crostini with White Wine Syrup are simple and really good. As the recipe suggests, you can use lots of different cheeses and serve them as an appetizer or use them as an accompaniment to a big salad and make a meal of it. Go ahead and use good leftover white wine if you have it, or try our Domaine la Croix des Marchands Gaillac Blanc Sec. You can serve it with the crostini too, or try our Domaine la Croix des Marchands Methode Gaillacoise sparkling wine — it’s light and refreshing, with just a hint of sweetness to complement the wine syrup. Serve this to guests and think of all the money you’ll save not going to an award-winning restaurant!
Cheese Crostini with White Wine Syrup
One and a half cups dry white wine
One-quarter cup honey (not dark honey, but lavender or orange blossom are fine)
Juice of half a lemon
3-4 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
Half a baguette, cut into 12 slices about an inch thick
8 ounces sharp ripened cheese such as bleu, gorgonzola, camembert, etc.
One-quarter cup chopped walnuts or hazelnuts, toasted if possible
A couple of handfuls of chopped arugula or watercress (optional).
Make the wine syrup: Combine the wine, honey, and lemon juice in a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer until the wine is syrupy, stirring occasionally. This will take about 20 minutes.
Make the crostini: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and put a cookie sheet or sheet pan in the oven while it’s preheating. Butter both sides of each bread slice and divide the cheese evenly on top of the slices. When the syrup is done, carefully take the baking sheet out of the oven and put the loaded bread slices on it. Put the sheet back in the oven and bake for about 5 minutes. The cheese should melt and the bread should look nicely toasted. Transfer the crostini to a serving platter and drizzle the wine syrup over them (as much as you like), then top with the walnuts. As a variation, you can also add some chopped arugula or watercress on top for a nice peppery contrast.