Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

So I'm sitting, drinking a bottle of wine, waiting for the kiddies to have those "visions of sugarplums". waiting... and waiting...

Might as well let you in on what 'Santa' is consuming... 'cause it's a pretty nice repertoire. 

Started with one of my favorite cheap bottles. Woop Woop Shiraz from Australia. This nice inexpensive bottle can be found for $8-9. And it's great. Some serious framboise flavor jumping out, heavy vanillan notes. Just can't beat it for the price. It's my "go to" bottle, when funds are short.

We drank the bottle with a pre-Santa prep dinner of filet and sauteed asparagus that my wife prepared.. and prepared well... with a little lemon juice and olive oil... yum!

As the kids eyes grew heavy, and the winter blankets beckoned. I received my annual gift from the wife. A Christmas eve tradition, a DVD to watch while we wait for the coming Claus. This year's selection was "Wanted". Apparently based on the comic book of the same name... but I'd have to say so loosely based, that the only familiarity laid in the name alone, and perhaps some VERY loose plot derivations.

Finally, the kids are in bed and it's time to set up the tree and gifts. I break out a bottle of Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish 12 year scotch. A bottle I'd been holding onto for the last 4 years. I restrain myself from chugging this good stuff down, and break it out for special occasions. This Scotch is discontinued now, and the distillers have changed their brewing process to non-chill filtered whiskey which the distillers felt gave the whiskey a more authentic flavor. And that may be true. I just happen to prefer the Glenmorangie port wood finish that I grew to love. The bastardized version, if you will... but I love it, and I cherish my last bottle.

So with a glass of scotch in hand, the wind blowing outside, and the toys set and displayed under the tree... I bid you all a very merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

iphone, ipod, itouch

Just got this new ipod (itouch... iphone minus the phone) and the greatest thing about it (well, maybe not the greatest... really happy to have all my music on one compact portable player) is the "Wine Guide" app. 

clicking on the app I can get just about every bottle of wine with a brief explanation with current vintage, cost and rating from Wine Enthusiast... after choosing the vineyard and then the proper bottle. 

I believe the app actually comes from Wine Enthusiast, and have already spotted some notable missing bottles; Orin Swift The Prisoner is a prime example. Basically, anything Wine Enthusiast has not rated will be missing from the app. But there're still thousands of choices to look up. This is gonna make my job much easier. Whether talking to vendors, shopping at the State Store or talking to tables... it'll be a nice utensil to have.

On another note... tried a bottle of Michael and David Vineyards Petite Petit, blend of petite sirah and petit verdot. Was a little disappointing. I usually like these guys wines. Often big, powerhouse bottles... this one was a little lacking, too soft... not much there. Some cranberry on the nose led to a tarter taste in the glass as well. It's odd though, because I recalled liking this wine at the Pittsburgh Wine Festival when I tasted it in May. It didn't taste off or oxidized however, maybe my recollections from May had been obscured by the hundreds of other glasses of wine I'd tasted leading up the the Petite Petit. For the same price, I'd rather drink the Earthquake Petite Sirah from the same company.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holiday party wines

Made a trip to the liquor store Saturday, with daughter in-tow. I'm getting more and more impressed with our current PLCB chairman's (Patrick J. Stapleton III) selections, and the Shadyside store director's (Ron Dreshman) purchases. Some great Holiday gift giving ideas... and some equally great value wines for all those office parties your wife may end up dragging you to.

If you're not familiar with Pennsylvania liquor laws, then you're one lucky summabitch. In PA, we are limited in what we can buy, by what the state agrees to bring in. We are beholden to the state to make the correct purchasing decisions and offering choice wines, which so very often they fail in their ability to provide. However, it's getting better. While we may never see the vast selection that other states offer, at least PA seems to be making a concerted effort to keep up with the current wine trends.

In my shopping experience I came across a few gems I was familiar with, from offering in one of the many restaurant I purchased for. I thought, maybe, to share some of these picks with you.

The first one, that can regularly be found across the country, and is one I often buy in New Hampshire when on vacation up there, is Big Tattoo Red from 2 Brothers. Big Tattoo Red is a Cab/Syrah blend (50/50) from Chile. It's a nice, value friendly, bottle of wine that I enjoy cracking after a fewer bigger bodied and bigger priced bottles. It's easy drinking and reliable... and it's only $9.99. This wine isn't gonna knock your socks off, but I think for the price you may be fairly impressed with the quality. I like this wine as a gift for the Holidays as every bottle sold donates 50 cents to the Arlington, Virginia Hospice and a breast cancer research foundation in the name of Liliana S. Bartholomaus. Introduced in the Winter of 2002, sales from BIg Tattoo Wines has raised over $850,000 for charity. It's my feel good wine!

For a bigger body, huge extracted fruit, and just plain delicious bottle... I recommend the Earthquake Petite Sirah from Michael & David Vineyards in Lodi, California. This is a wine to give to the unsuspecting host/hostess at the office Christmas party. It's a closet wine that will "wow" the receiver. I cracked one of these at the last Halloween supper club I hosted and the bottle was the house favorite... gone within the first ten minutes of attendees arriving. Where most wine descriptors will halt at "blueberry" or "coffee" Earthquake takes these flavor profiles a step further with "Up front blueberry syrup, black cherry and coffee bean shake up the senses, finishing with warm cigar box cedar and vanillan flavors." At $18.99 you're getting every penny's worth!

For a more classically styled wine I noticed the Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits Store is now offering Catena Malbec from Argentina at $23.99 a bottle. This is one of the finest expressions of malbec I have encountered (for the price) from Argentina. Malbec is THE varietal of Argentina, though some equally fine malbecs are being produced in Cahors, France... and of course, malbec is one of the blending grapes in the wine capitol of the world Bordeaux (so obviously, you'll also find malbec in most meritage blends). It has a distinct plum-like flavor, and less distinct hint of anise which is helpful in rounding out the highly tannic cabernet of Bordeaux blends and filling out the softer merlot. Argentina has perfected this grape and produced some of the best 100% malbecs in the world. Quickly gaining in popularity, this is a nice gift as a substitute for a cab or merlot offering.

My favorite selection, however, and the one I ended up bringing to my wife's office party, was/is Rumball Sparkling Shiraz from Coonawarra Australia!

You're saying to yourself "What! Sparkling shiraz? I've never heard of such a thing." Or, possibly, you're more sophisticated palate than I've given you credit for is saying "Waitaminnit! I've had sparkling shiraz and it's always insipidly sweet... you can't really recommend such a disgusting mutation of this beautiful Australian varietal?"

I have tried dozens of Sparkling shiraz, and only one has ever made the cut for my lists and my home, and that is Rumball. Inky black, earthy and grapey, Rumball does a magnificent job in creating a varietally correct sparkling shiraz. At Casbah we put it on our brunch menu as a "Black Mimosa". the mixture of citrus and dark, spicy chocolatey shiraz gives your mimosas a whole new depth of flavor. You'll shock and delight your gift receiving friends with this choice bubbly. It goes great with meat! The gamier the better. Also, highly recommended with a nice stinky blue cheese! YUM!

Hope this helps with Holiday shopping! May you and yours have a very Happy Holiday! Cheers!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Stan The Wine Man (Part 2)

Onto the reds... the lifeblood of Stan's list.

When Stan first came calling 10 years ago at Cafe Allegro, he was smart enough to bring me, what has since turned into one of my top ten favorite wines... Gli Occhi Blu Di Sabrina Amarone. I was hooked! After that, every wine he tasted me on was a "must-have", though often a "can't-afford." I mean I can only sell so many $100 Italian wines, right?

Coming to Soba, I was careful with my picks. The light, fresh, lively flavor profiles in Soba's food, and the subtle crisp flavors of Umi, do not lend themselves to big, hearty, tannic wines. So with that in mind I chose the best of the best that I had been familiar with from past vintages: Palari Faro & Rosso Del Soprano, Poderi La Collina Labbra Di Giada, Cecilia Monte Incognito, and San Rustico Gli Occhi Blu Di Sabrina Amarone.

Start off with the Labbra di Giada (Italian for "lips of Giada": read for a somewhat accurate portrayal of how this wine got it's name). This is a dolcetto di dogliani (dolcetto=grape, dogliani=region in Piedmont). Typically a dry, tannic wine with medium fruit and acid levels, Stan's dolcetto, however is a fruit driven, deep purple colored, easily drinking glass that pairs well with food, but stands well on it's own for those guests looking for an Italian glass that's not to tongue-drying. Retails for $29.42, which makes it a reasonably priced bottle on any restaurant list (mark-up would be anything from $69-$88... I sell it at Soba for $60)

Next up for the staff was the Cecilia Monte Incognito. Incognito is actually a Barbaresco, 100% nebbiolo grape as you'd find in a Barolo, as well as Barbaresco. The high price needed to call this wine a Barbaresco for exporting, persuaded Stan to find an alternate form of marketing this wine... hence "Incognito", so he could sell a Barbaresco at a 1/2 way reasonable price. This is a dynamite Barbaresco at $41.39. Typical flavor profiles of mint, licorice, blackberry and black cherry are all here in this steal of a Barbaresco. I would imagine, a Barbaresco of this quality, if it had the proper DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata: Italy's bureau of wine quality and regulation) designation of Barbaresco, it would fetch a price of anywhere from $70-90 bottle.

The last two we tasted were Palari's Rosso del Soprano (named after the popular HBO series... jus' kiddin') and Faro. The Rosso del Soprano is the poor man's Faro ($42.95) with the same grape sourcing of up to 8 different varietals from Sicily... it's the stepping stone to it's big brother. Dry and dusty, tannic (but not overbearingly so) with some light brick tones and balanced fruit it's a fine bottle... but can not compare with... FARO! When tasting wines with so many different palates as my staff demonstrated, it was no surprise that votes on the "best red" were divided between the Faro and it's contender, San Rustico Amarone. Faro is for the pinot noir lovers in our midst. Gambero Rosso compares it with a "...Chambolle Musigny or a Vosne Romanee from the Burgundy heartlands." The comparison is not lost on any of our palates however. A gentle, feminine red consisting of Sicilian varietals dominated by nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio, with smaller quantities of nocera, cappuccio tignolino, cor’e palumba, acitana, galatena, calabrese and more. Never heard of any of these varietal? Don't be embarrassed, most are unfamiliar to me as well... the important thing to know is that this wine is a stunner. Don't believe me, well Gambero Rosso (again, the Wine Spectator of Italian wine) named the Faro "Wine of the Year". If you're looking for a wine experience that is subtle & complex, graceful, artistic and elegant, than look no further. But it'll cost you at $92.25. Well worth it, when you consider other Italian wines, without the "Wine of the Year" title can fetch upwards of $200-$300 and much higher.

Time to end our little discussion on Italian red wine with my favorite wine in Stan's portfolio: San Rustico Gli Occhi Blu Di Sabrina Amarone, from Veneto. Gli Occhi Blu di Sabrina is Italian for "the blue eyes of Sabrina", who was the winemaker's daughter. This wine is not only my favorite in Stan's portfolio, but one of my top ten favorite red wines, year after year. This is THE wine experience. Every time I've recommended this wine to a guest, I relish the pure ecstasy they find in the bottle and gratitude they afford me for the excellent recommendation. Given time, I prefer to decant this bottle, pour the first glass, and return again and again to the table to revel in their excitement at how much the wine has changed and gotten better and better with each passing hour. Typically amarone is made from corvina, rodinella and molinara grapes which have been "raisinated" in the sun to concentrate the grapes natural sugars before going to press. It leads to a very sweet, prune or raisin fruit flavor that I adore, but in Stan's amarone the balance is perfected to give a great extracted fruit flavor without overly sweetening the wine. Great balance, hearty fruit... just a beauty of a wine. Springer Wine Review rated this wine 100 points (for what that's worth to ya). At $84.82 you can't afford not to have a six pack delivered to your front door immediately! This will forever be a favorite of mine. I hope you get the chance to try this masterpiece as well.

Now these wines are not your everyday bargain wines, but for the quality I'd certainly recommend every one for special occasion dining. Each has tremendous aging potential. As a gift, it will be one remembered for a long time. You can always write to me, anytime, for my home address when you decide to ship these bad boys out to me... until then, I'll keep waiting for new restaurants to work in, so I can hold another Stan "the Wine Man" staff training session, and linger on that last glass of amarone...

To order these wines, you may have to go straight to "the man" if you can't find them in your local wine and spirits distributor. Address to follow:
Stan "The Wine Man"® Lalic
1201 Woodbourne Avenue
Pittsburgh PA 15226-2315
TELEPHONE: (412) 341-9463
FAX: (412) 343-8466
CELL: (412) 736-7017

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stan The Wine Man

Just had our first wine training at the new restaurant Soba, with the new staff. The topic of discussion; Italian Wines. The guest speaker; Stan "THE WINE MAN"® Lalic.

I've been a big fan of Stan's wines ever since I got into this crazy game. Every wine is distributed in the U.S. by Stan alone. Each wine is 90+ points, with a few reaching 100 points or tre bicchieri from Gambero Rosso (the Wine Spectator of Italian wines). As soon as I started at Soba I noticed a complete disregard for Italian wines on the list, and instantly called up Stan. Some of his whites were perfect for the Pan-Asian cuisine, and the reds are just too delicious to turn down. In a restaurant that serves cabernet with sushi (that's mostly due to customers preferences... not the recommendation I would make), I thought there was a definite need for a few dolcettos, barbarescos, and my favorite; amarone.

Stan brought us 10 bottles to taste with staff: Manni Nossing Kerner, Borgosan Danielle Pinot Grigio & Arbis Blanc, Volpe Passini Zuc di Volpe Pinot Bianco, Rosa Bosco Sauvignon Blanc, Palari Faro & Rosso Del Soprano, Poderi La Collina Labbra Di Giada, Cecilia Monte Incognito, and San Rustico Gli Occhi Blu Di Sabrina Amarone.

Now, before you get all frightened by the funny names in Italian, don't fret... I'm gonna walk you through this bottle by bottle, and demystify some of these labels for you.

Let's start with the whites. Manni Nossing is the winemaker of the first bottle from Alto Adige, which is in the northern part of Italy, right on the border with Austria. The cooler climate makes for great white wines like this crisp varietal, actually called "kerner". You're not going to find much kerner in the U.S. This particular one is priced at $27.97. Crisp apple, notes and a slight anise (that's anise... like licorice flavor, smart-ass) lingering in the fore palate. Nice quaffing wine and perfect with shellfish.

Next wine should be one you're familiar with, though have probably never tasted when it's done as well as Borgosan Danielle's product; pinot grigio. At $36.95, this pinot grigio had better be good, right? Well Borgosan Danielle's pinot grigio does not fail to impress. It's a heartier wine than the insipid dry white that has inundated the U.S. Forget everything you think you know about pinot grigio. This wine is full of sweet fruit, a hearty backbone from oak aging. It is a great food wine, pairing well with everything from strong fish to chicken... and I dare say it would be a great pairing with any pork dish, as long as the sauce was not too rich.

Borgosan Danielle also produces the Arbis Blanc which is a blend of tocai friulano, pinot bianco, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Mellow, yet full-bodied. Honey and butteriness you'd expect from a chard, but the sweetness of the tocai balances it out and gives it a nice round flavor. Heavy on the tongue and highly drinkable with some great minerality from the sauvignon blanc. $38.50. Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchierri (three glasses) Award. 95-100 Points... for what that's worth to you...

And... the staff's favorite... Volpe Passini Zuc di Volpe Pinot Bianco at $33.95. Springer Wine review says it far more eloquently than I could... and every word rings true for this beauty "gushes with white peach and ripe mango with hints of papaya and pineapple which coats the palate with fruit-filled creaminess from its partial barrel fermentation. All this is placed in a framework of highly structured and perfectly balanced acidity... dry, medium-bodied, rich and opulent and clearly designed to accompany food. This wine should be served just slightly chilled to experience its layered, creamy texture and complex, exotic fruit." This was a wine that I wasn't particularly interested in when Stan broke it out of the carrying case for me to sample. What could I really need a pinot bianco on this limited list for, anyhow... but once I tasted the intricate, incredibly well balanced finesse of this wine, I ordered her up for our list. When asked by Stan "If you were stuck on a dessert island with only one of the white wines, which would you pick?" Majority of the staff raised their hands for this beauty.

I stayed my hand for my favorite of the whites; Rosa Bosco Sauvignon Blanc. This is a powerhouse sauvignon blanc from Italy ("a sauvignon blanc from Italy... you must be crazy!"). Reminiscent of the Bordeaux whites. Built on the powerful sauvignon blanc foundation there is a creaminess you're not likely to find from any other sauvignon blanc purveyor. The highly acidic varietal finds a wonderful balance here between cotton candy, confectioner sugar and yeasty champagne dryness. I loved the many different layers of intricacy I found in this wine... with a lingering palate that touched the senses with faint brushes of vanilla. A far cry from the tart, grapefruity "sauv blancs" that tend to be the current craze. This baby goes for $47.38 . A more impressive "sauv blanc" I have yet to find (though I will say, Orin Swift's Velladora comes pretty damn close).


To order these wines, you may have to go straight to "the man" if you can't find them in your local wine and spirits distributor. Address to follow:

Stan "The Wine Man"® Lalic
1201 Woodbourne Avenue TELEPHONE: (412) 341-9463
Pittsburgh PA 15226-2315 FAX: (412) 343-8466
e-mail: CELL: (412) 736-7017

Friday, November 14, 2008


Okay, back to the original question; "Who is Sean D. Enright?" (and I think we've just scraped the surface of that query, enough so that you know what my credentials are) and "Why should we care about his wine picks?"

Second question can be summed up by the timeless phrase "practice makes perfect". My wife likes to say that we are "functioning alcoholics". She says this tongue-in-cheek of course, but I'd like to take the notion a step further... I like to refer to myself as a "professional drunkard!"

Let's put it this way... I drink EVERY day. I drink, perhaps a dozen different wines, liquors, beers, daily, as part of my job. I then judge whether I (or my staff) can sell this alcoholic (though I do love dabbling with non-alcoholic beverages as well... one of my favorite restaurant projects was compiling a non-alcoholic soda menu for my more sober patrons) beverage at the price that a restaurant mark-up would necessitate. I taste thousands of wines a year. And, while I don't have a rating system which major publishing market houses refer to for their critical reviews, I do have a very simple rating system, which is my customers and my staff's appreciation of my choices. Sometimes I fail their expectations, but more often than not (and my restaurant sales will reflect this) I "wow" and excite my guests with new interesting varietals and styles that they're not going to read about in the major trade mags.

I will not sit here and tell you that I'm a classically trained Sommellier or UC Davis Grad. I am a simple, humble servant to the god Bacchus. My goal is to keep the subject of wine light, lively and conversational. I will not sit here and tell you I know everything there is to know about wine, far from it. And fuck the guy who tells you he does know everything there is to know about wine. That douche-bag is straight-up lying to you. The world of wine is too vast. It takes an army of magazines, bloggers, wine store clerks, websites, TV personalities to help us choose which bottle would be the absolute BEST bottle to drink with this evenings dining selection tandoori barbecued shrimp.

I have a simple approach to wine tasting, buying and selling. If I (or you) like the wine... it's a good wine! I don't care what Karen MacNeil says. That's my mantra, and I stick by it "If you like the wine, it's a good wine." We all get introduced to different levels of wine quality the more we consume. Your tastes will evolve. But there is no wrong or right wine... hell, it's all just fermented grape juice. Sure it takes on a magical quality that transcends mere alcoholic beverage. But the more mystique we add to the simple act of drinking wine, the more enjoyment we deny ourselves.

The wine world is too full of ego, conceit, misdirection and marketing... I'm gonna give it to you straight. I'll be tasting wines, and passing my thoughts onto you. And you'll give me plenty of feedback, I hope. And we'll all share in the wonderful joy of wine together, without the constraints of rating systems, trade mags, marketing power brokers, and wine-snobs.

I want you to get comfortable, sit back, pour a glass, relax... and know that whatever it is you've got in your glass, if it makes you happy... well, that can't be all that bad, huh?

(side note: I certainly use a little levity when describing my persuasion toward the drink, but I want to note that alcoholism and substance abuse are no laughing matter. I've seen to many friends die from heroin, and I watched my grandmother struggle with alcohol until her untimely death. I don't take addiction lightly, and if you or someone you know suffers from addiction, the best thing you can do is confront the disease. Some support groups to help:,

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Who is this guy? (Part 3)

After years of designing and selling an award winning wine list at Casbah, and revving up our sales both at the bar and on the floor, the "powers that be" asked if I'd be adverse to the idea of moving to sister restaurant Soba/Umi. Soba is the Pan-Asian specialty restaurant of the BbRG, while Umi is, by far, the finest sushi bar/restaurant within a 300 mile radius. The argument has been made by regular and new guests alike, that Umi, with Executive Chef Mr. Shu, is one of the finest sushi restaurants in the country. I will leave that debate to the experts. Either way, I would say Umi is the finest restaurant, not only in BbRG, but in the city of Pittsburgh... and I've eaten at all of 'em.
After some personal contemplation, I decided I would give Soba/Umi a chance. I loved what I was doing at Casbah, but was also eager to learn a whole new cuisine.
Moving to Soba/Umi has required me to retrain my palate to find complimentary wine pairings for more brighter, crisper flavors from Asia, where my entire culinary experience up to this point had always been richer, heartier dishes inspired by French and Italian cuisine. I was anxious to test my ability, and learn new cooking styles and techniques from a part of the world that has it's own classic style of cooking that is completely outside the realm of anything I'd ever attempted, at home, before.
And here I stand today. Discovering new wines to compliment the lighter styles of cuisine I now have the pleasure of working with. At home cooking Thai, Japanese, Indian & Chinese cuisine. Discovering the wonderful worlds of soy, teryaki, ponzu, mirin, hoisin, tandoori... AND SAKE!

That's basically my background for reference... next I'll discuss exactly why my experience leads us to wine recommendations from yours truly... and then... we get to the good stuff!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Who is this guy? (part 2)

Eventually Jim moved on from Cafe Allegro, and, after a few shaky managerial transitions, I was asked to take over the position of bar manager, which included revitalizing our dying wine program. I brought my palate and a sincere dedication to my profession as I reinvigorated our wine and cocktail lists. Quickly, Cafe Allegro made a comeback - our list was once again recognized by Wine Spectator, and we started seeing our accomplishments honored by local press with numerous awards and high critical praise. Within a few years I took over as General Manager at Cafe Allegro.

During the last couple years leading up to the GM position, I had also been producing, promoting and performing in a small poetry/performance art/music showcase called yawp Carnival Poetica. We featured local poets and musicians and artists in a 4+ hour program which was tied to a small press 'zine that I and friend, fellow editor, Eric Bliman, were publishing. It was a huge success which explored the rich artistic diversity of Pittsburgh at the time. I mention this because I've always felt that wine was, in many ways, very similar to poetry & art. There is an intrinsic value to wine, where a great bottle can have both physical beauty which we are exposed to through our palate rather than through our ears or eyes, and our criticisms are based on our unique perspectives which will always be different from person to person.

After a seven years at Cafe Allegro, among some of the finest professional servers in the city of Pittsburgh, It was time to move on, and I was asked to join the staff at the Big Burrito Restaurant Group's (BbRG) Mediterranean Kitchen and Wine Bar: Casbah. I had always admired Casbah and when my friend Jennifer (then Catalina) called and told me there was a server position opening up, I jumped at the opportunity to work for BbRG. I saw the move as an opportunity to spread my wings and learn other restaurants management techniques. At Cafe Allegro, as a small family establishment, managers pretty much had to train themselves. I looked forward to having some official corporate training in restaurant management, and where better than the largest local restaurant chain; BbRG.

I worked briefly as a server (2 mos.) before being promoted to Wine Director. Casbah was one of the largest wine buyers in Pittsburgh, my inventory from Allegro to Casbah quadrupled. So I was really able to branch out and experiment with different wine & liquor product from around the world, with a focus on European varietals and styles. Under my direction, working hand-in-hand with our GM Jennifer (now Fisher), the Casbah bar and wine program took off. Recognition came from local press, as well as national tourism groups such as AOL Cityguide. Most notably as one of the Top Ten Wine Bars in Pittsburgh in an article by Elizabeth Downer for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette

We had a great run for 3 1/2 years, Casbah and I. Casbah was a unique restaurant that was extremely dedicated to it's wine program. The list was constantly changing, evolving, growing. And our customers responded ecstatically to the cool new varietals that I was bringing in. We tasted (tested) our staff monthly. The staff was excited and knowledgeable (a great combination for a wine bar... no doubt!).
My tastes started leaning to more obscure, off-the-wall styles. Sure, we had the chardonnays, cabernet sauvignons, merlots & pinot noirs that were the standards and absolutely essential, but we also turned our guests on to Douro style red wines, good roses (my own personal crusade), Bordeaux blends, Priorat blends (Rhone & Bordeaux mixes), Lagrein, and the aforementioned Lemberger which I brought with me to Casbah as well.
They were heady times, and our clientele appreciated the introduction to varietals and styles they'd never seen or tasted before.
(to be continued)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ciao, Cafe Allegro!

A brief interlude from the "who is this guy?" epic...

Saturday night saw my very last dinner at Cafe Allegro. It was a bittersweet celebration with close friends who I have worked alongside, or been dining partners of, in the past. All of whom had to get one last taste of the AMAZING grilled calamari, and other Allegro signature dishes.

The news about Allegro's closing came a mere two weeks ago, and the last night of service is scheduled for Nov. 1st. I grabbed the people I wanted so badly to share that last meal with; my wife; Heather, friends Colpo, Lexi, Nico, Joe Stile, Joanne & Lexi's boyfriend Lee . I wanted to share the moment with my favorite ex-Allegro sous chef Monique, but scheduling could not permit.

I made my bones at Cafe Allegro, started as a busser, moved to waiter - bartender - bar manager to General Manager over the course of seven years. It was a magical place for those of us who worked there. We were a tight knit family, who looked out for each other, played hard and shared in many sorrows. We were pirates at sea in the murky waters of the South Side of Pittsburgh. Like family, we often fought claws bared, and fangs exposed, but there isn't a single f**ker in that place that I didn't love with all my heart.

In my time there, I raised my son, started yawp magazine, helped open the Club Cafe, and started to learn everything I could about wine. It was with a very heavy heart that I ever left there, but always thought they'd weather the storms of a failing economy without me. 3 years later and the news broke.

So we made a reservation for 8 and after a quick martini at the bar - Grey Goose martini up, dry, dirty - were shown to table #51. The same table where years earlier I had waited on Norah Jones (before she was famous... and yes, she tipped horribly). For appetizers, of course, grilled calamari. The calamari is seasoned with a spice similar, yet completely different, than Old Bay, tossed in a salmoriglio (sp?) sauce (which basically consists of orange juice, olive oil, and fish stock) thrown on the grill whole brushing beautiful grill marks all over the squid body. After grilling they take the body off the grill and cut it into the nice calamari rings so familiar to the average calamari diner. They then toss the rings again in the sauce and then throw the whole plate under a salamander (sorta like a kitchen broiler). Garnished with a lemon and lime for squeezing over the nummy bites before digging in. There is no better calamari (and I may venture to say "food") in the world. I had two plates!

I had brought a bottle of Albert Bichot Chablis Grand Cru Moutonne from Burgundy, 1999!!! It was a great start, with a crisp apple acidity, and a mellowed caramel flavor that really shone through. I was worried it might have been spoilt, as it had only recently come into my possession, but it was perfect.

The discussion turned from Will Ferrell quotes to the set list for our upcoming performance, lounge band "Rich Mahogany and the Leather Bound Books"... Soon we were talking old Allegro experiences. Most of them related to some experience with a celebrity. Richard Gere's criticism of Johnny Cash's American Recording Cd's saying "It seems a little forced." the server responded "Like a gerbil, or like 'Runaway Bride?". The night Sinnead O'Conor poured another customer's scotch over Peter Gabriel's head as the couple broke up mid-tour in our restaurant. Matthew Broderick's down to earth kind, quality, and good humor.

And of course we mentioned the highlight of my serving career when the hostess, Allana, called me at home and told me to come down to the restaurant because 100 people from the local filming of '10th and Wolf' had just invaded the restaurant, and we had 3 servers on. I rushed down, on my day off, in jeans and a white button down shirt to try to maintain some form of control. We pulled it off, the actors were very forgiving, as we had been a dry spot out of the brewing storm that lashed at their trailers parked outside. But the highlight for me was the Chef, passing me a pork chop, and asking me to serve it to the first table on the "patio". I obligingly ran the food out to the table, placed it down, and who's looking up at me thanking me with a gigantic cigar hanging off his lower lip??? Dennis (fuckin') Hopper... and I, in a dirty white shirt, jeans and sneakers... the night ended with Giovanni Ribisi and Piper Parabou (sp?) just hanging out with me at the host stand trying all our different wines, scotches and ports.

Uproarious laughter ensued as all the stories unfolded

We followed the Bichot with a Louis Latour Puligny-Montrachet 2006 (also a chardonnay, also from Burgundy, France) which was certainly younger, but still had many similar flavor profiles, enough to carry us through our second course... I chose a favorite... the shrimp and lobster bisque.

Dinner progressed through a bottle of Clos Apalta 2003 from Chile (funnily enough from the same company that makes Grand Marnier... Casa Lapostelle... for anyone who loves the orange flavored liqueur as much as I do). The Clos Apalta showed great full fruit. It was aged perfectly, the tannins were wonderfully balanced, we drank this as a quaffing wine... needed no food. It was the perfect wine to drink here, as I had discovered the carmenere grape within these sacred culinary walls. I purchased the Clos Apalta originally, years before for the restaurant. About three months later Wine Spectator named it one of the top 3 wines of it's annual top 100 report. It was a crowning achievement for me. I love carmenere for the history. It was originally one of the Bordeaux blending grapes alongside cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petite verdot and malbec, but the phyloxera louse of the late 19th century completely wiped it out of Bordeaux. The grape was thought lost to the sands of time until a century later when DNA testing on a Chilean varietal, that was thought to be merlot, proved to be the missing carmenere grape. Apparently it was transplanted in Chile long before the phyloxera struck, and thrived in the phyloxera free wine growing regions of Chile. So cool!

For my entree I had a veal cutlets in a fig and red wine reduction that was out of this world. The reduction was gooey and rich. Very rustic dish, a reminder of where Cafe Allegro always shined, in hearty, rich provincial style flavors. With this dish I finally opened a bottle of 2000 Chateau Reignac which I had been saving for 2010, but, still having one bottle left, I decided to try it out tonight and see how this wine was aging. It was beautiful. Wet terroir murky flavors of Bordeaux were mingling beautifully... however a little more aging won't hurt that last bottle which I'll be holding onto for a precursor to my 1990 Chateau Lynch-Bages that I'll be drinking on my 40th in 2010.

The night ended with a glass of Fonseca port, an espresso, and Cafe Allegro's famous "Berry White"; a blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry tart covered with melted white chocolate. We got four and everyone shared.

Dinner was over, and sadly so were the memories. We paid our bill, said goodnight to all the staff... our friends... but couldn't linger on long goodbyes, as they still had customers to serve, and another week of strong business to contend with.

So I say it here, now... goodbye Cafe Allegro. I raise a glass to all the friends and family I have had the distinct pleasure of serving alongside over the years... the friendships which continue today, and continue tomorrow. There will never be a place that holds such a huge part of my heart and soul as that little spot on the Southside that shone like a beacon of culinary light.

To Marco, Paula, Joe, Antoinette, Gloria, Monique, Stevo, Colpo, Jim K, Vogt, Jay, Paco, Ziad, Dale, Will, DC, Chmill, Sam, Jamie, Chris, Aaron, DD, Freddie, Kevin, Scott Brady, Johnny Star, Josh Nicholas, Stiles, Dave, Lou & Mary Jean, Cedric, Marko, Dustin, DJ, Phyllis, Don Bistarkey, Lexi, DJR, Laurend, Mullet & Nik, The Hardy Boys, Allana, Shon Kelley, Eric, Rudi, A.C. and all the other Cafe Allegro all-stars... cheers! ...and God bless!

Article by Post-Gazette:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Who is this guy?

"Who the fuck is Sean D. Enright, and why the fuck should I give a shit about his stupid wine picks?"
Okay... that's a reasonable question to ask (though I'm not sure all of the explicit language was completely necessary).
Who and why?
Who am I, tied into why should you care, but also why am I writing a wine blog?
Let's start with "who is Sean D. Enright".
Well, I was born and raised in Norwell, Massachusetts. A short drive from Boston. I spent my youth along the colonial sea coast of the South Shore. I was schooled in the hills of Vermont and the rolling plains of Ohio. I've hiked the Himalayas, squatted in London, settled in (for) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I've toiled as a yacht club maintenance worker, late night gas station attendant, clothing store manager, Indian & Nepalese clothing importer, dive bar bouncer, beer & pizza delivery driver, cook, dishwasher, usher, newspaper photographer, small poetry 'zine editor, graphic designer and concert promoter... all leading up to my first Front Of House (FOH) restaurant position as a busboy at one of Pittsburgh's premiere French Riviera restaurant, Cafe Allegro at the ripe young age of 27. When I started at Cafe Allegro, I was the head bouncer at Dee's Cafe just down the street, and, also, working for three (count 'em 3) local newspapers as staff photographer; The Carnegie Signal Item, The Bridgeville Area News and The Cranberry Journal.
My son, Colwyn, had just been born, and a year later my girlfriend at the time actually agreed to marry her bouncer/busboy/photographer boyfriend. So I left Dee's and the newspapers (though the photography job, I'd be a liar to say the decision to leave there was purely my own to and started waiting tables at Cafe Allegro, while also bartending across the street at the Club Cafe.
At Cafe Allegro it was quickly realized by our then wine director, that while I was lacking wine knowledge, I had one of the most impressive palates he had encountered. I was also very adept at translating my interpretation of flavor profiles to guests who were themselves just discovering the wonders of wine. Jim Kwiecinski (sp?) was mentor in those early days, and he relished in my enthusiasms for wine. He trained me to have a deep appreciation for old world style, at a time when big, fruit forward, high alcohol wines were the current wine craze. Jim trained my palate to find the pleasures in the murky sea blown grapes of Bordeaux, like Coin Cache, crisp earthy sancerres from Loire Valley, and off-the-wall unique reds like the peppery carmenere of Chile and the unique Austrian originated Lemberger - best realized (in my humblest of opinions - but that is why you are still reading this blog - for my admitted humble opinion) in Jed Steele's Washington State Shooting Star Blue Franc.
During this period I also learned the subtle craft of martini and cocktail making from my drink mentor Don Bistarkey, and grew to have an advanced appreciation for bars and bartenders, wine stewards, beer & booze - and I hope to pass that appreciation along to you.
We'll discuss in this blog, not only wine related issues (though wine will be the basis of most discussions), but we'll also touch on other alcohol related subjects as well as foodie stuff I've picked up along the way, working for the top restaurants in Pittsburgh.
(to be continued)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

And so it begins...

Rick Tyler
September 23 at 9:37am
Have you ever considered starting a wine blog. I am getting into wine and consider myself a rung above novice, but have so much to learn. To provide some context, I graduated beyond looking at the Cabs and am exploring/enjoying Malbecs and Zinfandels. I have moved beyond pinot grigio and onto rieslings, sauvignon blancs and white burgundies. However, I still consider myself a novice in these wines. The burgundies, bordeaux, pinot noirs baffle me. I have enjoyed many bottles of each, but I'm still trying to get my dense head around them.If I may suggest, you should consider writing a blog that you can publish here on Facebook as to wines you would suggest one explores. I especially like finding the gem that is under $20. Anyone can buy a great bottle of wine for $50... right? Only a pro can find a gem for under $20. Any way, I know I could benefit from your experience and I am sure others in your network could too.So when is the first blog coming???? :)Take Care,Rick

Sean Dwyer Enright
September 24 at 12:50pm
You have picqued my interest. I get asked this all the time, but just haven't found the right forum from which spread the word. The cogs are turning. I'll keep you posted.

Rick Tyler
September 24 at 9:45pm
The right Forum is Facebook. This is the coolest social network site available. You can create your own group... WineAtopia... An Educated Enthusiast's Guide to Wine. We can do virtual wine tastings 2X a month. Think of it as Enright's take on Oprah's Book Club... except you are focused on something much more fun... wine. I'd join the group. Hell - I'll set it up. Just need your expertise for content. I can manage the content.

Sean Dwyer Enright
September 25 at 11:19pm
Omigod! Allright already, you win! Gonna make you my agent. Okay, I love it! I'm putting some ideas together in my head. Where do we go from here? Start a group or is there some kinda durn blog app that i need to get my hands on.