Up Your Prosecco Game in Time for the Holidays

If you’re anything like me, you’ve most likely enjoyed a good amount of Italy’s most popular sparkling wine, Prosecco. Also, like me, you may be a fan of those lively, fruit forward bubbles that suit most any occasion, as well as the affordable price tag! But how much do you really know about the stuff?

Most of us just grab a brand that we’ve either had before and enjoyed, or a moderately priced bottle that speaks to us in another way. I’m not beyond admitting I’m influenced by a well designed label! But beyond that, we don’t put very much thought into it until we start sipping it up. You may have experienced by that point that the taste and quality can vary quite a bit. Not all of these Italian sparklers are equal!

America has been obsessed with Prosecco in recent years. It is more affordable than champagne and it pairs easily with food. But all that consumer enthusiasm has resulted in a glut of lower quality sparkling wines that make it difficult to know what is actually decent.

The easiest way to differentiate meh from exceptional, is knowing about the quality levels marked on a bottle’s label. Entry-level Prosecco DOC, for instance, is the most common type but is often mass-produced, and is less regulated. Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G., on the other hand, is made from grapes in a more focused region and produced on a smaller scale, yielding a higher quality bubbly.

The region for the cultivation of Prosecco is the northern Italian town of Valdobbiadene, in the Veneto region of Italy. The hills between the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene area, however is the more focused region where Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. is produced. For 300 years, generations of family producers maintain the tradition of making some of the finest bottles out there. Prosecco grapes, also called “Glera”, do especially well in this cooler, rainy area, resulting in floral and fruit flavors of green apple, honeydew and pear.

Then there is the matter of differentiating between ‘Brut’, ‘Extra Dry’ and ‘Dry’ on the label – which can be (understandably!) confusing! These different levels express the amount of residual sugar left in the bottle, and can also be important when looking to pair a bottle with a specific dish.

‘Brut’ is the driest version of Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. Crisp and acidic, this is great with shellfish and fried foods. Then there is ‘Extra Dry’, which has slightly more residual sugar and a rounder, softer mouthfeel, but still maintains its high acidity. This pairs well with a variety of cheeses and cured meats. ‘Dry’ is the third level of sweetness and with its balance of bright citrus and fruit forward flavors, I’ve found it to be my favorite to have on its own. It is also lovely as a digestivo after a meal, with dessert.

While these wines are often associated more with summertime and consumed more frequently in the warmer months, I’m a fan of drinking it year round – and not just because I live in Los Angeles and can take my picnics al fresco in the winter months!

The higher quality Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G is especially nice for the holidays, as gifts or paired with richer, multi-course meals. All three bottles I’ve featured on this post are flexible enough to go with a variety of dishes, and would be great additions to your festive meals this winter.

The crisp and elegant ‘Brut’ Ca di Rajo would be perfect as a meal starter, the delicate and floral ‘Extra Dry’ Mas de Fer, Rive de Soligo, has the versatility to go with both sweet or savory dishes, and the Bacio della Luna DOCG Prosecco, also ‘Extra Dry’, would be ideal paired with something exotic and spicy to bring out the fresh stone fruit and floral notes.

Take your Prosecco game up a notch and seek out these elegant bottles that at a $15-$40 price range are STILL more affordable than that other bubbly you may be familiar with! Elevate any occasion (including a winter lakeside afternoon in Southern California!) with Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G.

Sponsored by Prosecco Superiore DOCG. As always, all opinions are my own!

BBaF Podcast Episode 47: Tobin Shea & LA’s Redbird Restaurant

Listen to Episode 47: Tobin Shea & LA’s Redbird Restaurant”

LA is one of the most exciting places for food & drink culture in the world right now, and has been underrated for years. I decided to shine a light on my chosen home and make this week’s Bit by a Fox Podcast episode local. I focused on a bartender, a drinks program, and a restaurant that has made an incredible impression on this city in recent years. Bartender, Tobin Shea, my guest for this week’s episode, has been making an impression on LA pretty much since he landed from rural Pennsylvania 20 years ago.

We talked about his journey from college bartender to the Los Angeles rock, club and cabaret scenes, and into the craft cocktail world he now helps to lead. Tobin now heads one of the most inventive bar programs in Los Angeles. As Bar Director of Redbird restaurant, an architectural gem in downtown LA owned by celebrated chef Neal Fraser and wife, Amy Knoll Fraser, Tobin has helped to create one of the most exciting cocktail menus in the city.

A cocktail collection of 31 different drinks, titled The Plain Truth About the Best Seeds, is inspired by the first growing season and harvest from their recently opened garden. And is designed to mimic the vintage Burpee Seeds catalog with beautiful illustrations to match the inventive and delicious cocktails.

The cocktail recipe this week is Tobin Shea’s lower alcohol cocktail from The Plain Truth About the Best Seeds cocktail menu at Redbird: Chrysanthemum. (second from left, yellow/clear-colored)

2 ½ oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
¼ oz. Bénédictine
¼ oz. Pernod Absinthe
2 dashes orange bitters

In a mixing glass add all ingredients and ice.  Stir until chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a lemon twist and enjoy.

All photos courtesy of Redbird.

Settle In With This Mezcal Sipper: The Winter Smoke

Winter is coming. The Winter Solstice technically occurs towards the end of next week, but I’m already there. Even though I live in Southern California now, I’m a baby person who can’t handle any sort of weather even bordering on inclement. The cold has started to creep in and I haven’t been able to shake it. I’m half White Walker now. There’s only one thing to do; Let’s make a stiff drink!

‘Tis the season to hunker down and cozy up to a warm fire and a smoky cocktail.

The Winter Smoke – with mezcal, Amaro Nonino and a touch of citrus – is everything you want in a spirit forward cocktail –  earthy, herbaceous, smoky and warming. The addition of Argentine Yerba Mate Tea helps to lend all of these flavors AND makes for a cocktail that is just a little…extra.

As resident Cocktail Recipe “Master of Mate”, I’m all about a little extra in my glass! Extra health benefits like powerful antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and vitamins B, C and zinc, among others. It has even been proven as a digestive aid and, most importantly, a liver protector! Good news for those of us who indulge in adult beverages on occasion.

In the middle of cold and flu season, I’m willing to sneak my vitamins in whenever and wherever I can get them! Luckily, Argentine Yerba Mate is a delicious cocktail ingredient that especially compliments the flavors in this cocktail.

So, next time the cold seeps into your neck of the woods, stave off those White Walkers, and warm up your proceedings with a little Winter Smoke. This time of year doesn’t sound so bad after all.

Winter Smoke – serves one, on the rocks
1 1/2 oz Mezcal
1 1/2 oz Argentine Yerba Mate Tea, cooled
3/4 oz Amaro Nonino
1/2 oz Agave Nectar
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
Garnish: Orange Peel

Add all ingredients to an ice-filled mixing glass and stir until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass with one or two large ice cubes. Express oils from orange twist and garnish.

You can find Argentine Yerba Mate brands in specialty tea stores and in select Whole Foods Markets across the U.S. You can also purchase Argentine Yerba Mate on Amazon.com

This post was sponsored by National Institute for Argentine Yerba Mate.All opinions, as usual, are my own!

BBaF Podcast Episode 46: Aberlour Single Malt Scotch with Callum O’Donnell

Listen to Episode 46: Aberlour Single Malt Scotch with Callum O’Donnell”

We are continuing our Scotch whisky streak with this week’s Bit by a Fox Podcast. I recently interviewed Scotsman, Callum O’Donnell, the brand new, fresh faced global brand ambassador for Aberlour, the beloved Single Malt Scotch produced in the heart of Speyside, and known for their sherry cask aging. We talked about his time in the Dominican Republic getting his brand ambassador legs, the small town of Aberlour’s magical Druid history, and the new Aberlour release, Casg Annamh. Be sure to listen for a surprise cameo from one of downtown LA’s great bartenders.

The cocktail recipe this week is one of Callum’s favorites, a scotch-based Whisky Sour.

Scotch Whisky Sour
2 oz Scotch Whisky
Juice from half a lemon
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Egg white
Angostura Bitters
Lemon twist for garnish

Add the whisky, lemon juice, simple and egg white to a shaker with one large ice cube and shake vigorously until chilled. Add more ice and shake some more. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass until the drink develops a foamy head. Add the aromatic bitters. Express the oils from the lemon twist and garnish.

Discover Pineau des Charentes – Three Ways

Pineau des Charentes is perhaps one of the best kept secrets of Cognac, France. In all likelihood, you have never heard of this incredibly versatile fortified wine produced in the Charentes region of France for over four centuries. But I have a feeling, once more people try it, they will be as obsessed as I am with it!

Pineau des Charentes is a unique type of fortified wine made by combining freshly pressed grape juice with Cognac eau de vie that was distilled at least one year before blending.

Legend has it that in the 16th century, a winemaker poured grape must (the unfermented juice, pulp and skin of the grapes) into a barrel that he thought was empty but instead had cognac still left in it. Not realizing his mistake, the barrel was aged and it wasn’t until years later that the delicious discovery was made! The result of this serendipitous combination is a sweet, spirited, fruit-forward wine with an alcohol content of about 17%.

For hundreds of years, winegrowers and cellar masters in France’s Cognac region have produced this spirited wine for their own consumption, and have passed down their techniques through generations. Up until fairly recently, however, it was rarely seen outside of France’s Charentes region. It has since become available through a handful of brands in the states, and is already making a splash in the cocktail world.

Pineau des Charentes is incredibly versatile and food-friendly; It is made from a variety of grapes with the same terroir as Cognac, and can be white, rose or red. It will also reflect different experiences depending on its age – Young, Old and Very Old. Flavor profiles range from fresh, bright fruits to honey, baked fruit and tobacco.

To highlight the range of flavors and versatility from three different variations of Pineau des Charentes, I created three different ways to consume this adaptable elixir…

I thought an aged Pineau Blanc  was the perfect choice for a pre-dinner aperitif; I used a 5-year old Pineau Rouge as a beautifully rich digestif, and a bright young Pineau Blanc as a fresh ingredient in a cocktail.

Réviseur Vieux Blanc, aged at least five years in French oak barrels, is perfect for a simple aperitif – on the rocks with just an orange twist. The age shows complexity on this golden sweet Pineau Blanc, with dried fruit, honey, nuts and savory notes coming through. The vibrant acidity balances out the sweet fruitiness to make for a delightful sipper all year round. This would also be an amazing cocktail base.

Pineau des Charentes is also an incredible after-dinner sipper. The Chateau de Beaulon 5 Year, a red Pineau, has the richness to be had on its own own, or paired with a rich dessert. Black cherries, dried apricots and honeysuckle and smoky tobacco will be reminiscent of young Port but even lighter on the palate.

For a fresh, vibrant iteration of Pineau des Charentes, I decided to use Domaine de la Margotterie Pineau Blanc Tradition, as a cocktail ingredient to elevate one of my favorite drinks. This youthful variation also has some mature aspects, such as honeyed fruit and toasty almonds. I loved this in a 50/50 martini, subbing out the dry vermouth for this sweet spirited wine. The Martini des Charentes is simplistic in terms of ingredients, but it has incredible depth of flavor. The dried fruits and acidity will bring out the botanicals in the gin to create a martini like you’ve never had before. And with a little lemon zest, this cocktail is next level.

Martini des Charentes

1.5 oz Gin
1.5 oz Pineau des Charentes – Pineau Blanc
garnish: lemon peel

Pour ingredients into a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass, express oils from lemon peel over glass and garnish.

Note: This post was sponsored by Pineau Academy. All bottles were supplied, however, all opinions, as always, are my own!

BBaF Podcast Episode 45: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society with Paul Skipworth

Listen to Episode 45: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society with Paul Skipworth”

We took a brief break from the Bit by a Fox podcast last week for Thanksgiving but we are back to talking about Scotch! The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is an international community of whisky lovers, where members have access to some of the finest rare and limited edition whiskies in the world.

My guest this week is Paul Skipworth, former CEO of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie, and now Chairman of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Based in Edinburgh, Paul was briefly in town last month to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the Society. I caught up with him right before the event at the British Consul General’s Residence in LA.

The cocktail recipe this week is one of my favorite ways to enjoy scotch when I’m not having it on its own – in a Whisky Highball.

The key to a quality made whisky highball is quality ice, a chilled highball glass and the proportions that work for you. I like 2 oz of whisky to 4-5 ounce of soda, and a lemon wedge. You can add mint or other garnishes as you would a gin and tonic. Listen to Paul Skipworth and drink it how you like it!

Whisky Highball
2 oz Scotch whisky
4-5 oz club soda
Lemon wedge

Add both the whisky and the soda to an an ice filled highball glass that has been well chilled, stir gently and garnish.

BBaF Podcast Episode 44: Scotch Whisky Master Blender: Dr. Rachel Barrie

Listen to Episode 44: Scotch Whisky Master Blender Dr. Rachel Barrie”

What does it take to be one of the greatest whisky blenders in the world? According to Dr. Rachel Barrie, Master Blender for historic single malt scotch brands BenRiach, The GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh, it takes a complex blend of traits, much like her creations.

She is part scientist, part soothsayer, composer, and artisan. Besides nosing and tasting thousands of casks every year, Rachel has to anticipate exactly how a whisky will age, if and when to blend, and how the wood she selects will affect the final product. Despite the many variables, she considers her role to be an artistic one. Her warm approach and affection for her precious creations has an almost maternal quality. And her passion for Scotch is infectious.

I caught up with Rachel while she was in Los Angeles celebrating the release of the much anticipated The GlenDronach 15 Year Old Revival.

The GlenDronach brand is one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, and is most noted for their sherry cask aging. Rachel and I sipped through this new release as well as two other expressions, while we discussed her journey over the last three decades to become Scotch Whisky’s First Lady.

This week’s recipe is Rachel’s favorite scotch-based cocktail…

Blood & Sand 
3/4 ounce Scotch
3/4 ounce Cherry heering
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
Garnish: orange peel

Shake all ingredients over ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish.

BBaF Podcast Episode 43: Aquavit with Malina Bickford

Listen to Episode 43: Aquavit with Malina Bickford”

Aquavit, aqua vitae…”Water of Life”. This Scandinavian spirit has been produced since the 15th century and yet, here in the states, we’re still getting to know it. Bartender, writer and brand manager for Åhus Akvavit, Malina Bickford is making it her mission to spread the good word about this centuries old spirit of the Nordics.

For this week’s Bit by a Fox Podcast, Malina takes us through a bit of the history and production of aquavit, we try Åhus Akvavit, a contemporary Swedish brand that is becoming a favorite among bartenders, and discuss Aquavit Week, a week-long celebration of the signature spirit of Scandinavia, now in its seventh year.

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Nov 4-10 isn’t just any ole week, it’s AQUAVIT WEEK! Bars + restaurants all over the world will be featuring the spirit of Scandinavia that is so near and dear to my heart. Wanna play with us here in Los Angeles? DM me or hit the website to participate or attend an event. Skål! 🥂

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We recorded this episode at Redbird restaurant in downtown Los Angeles – one of the biggest supporters of Aquavit Week in LA. Bar Director Tobin Shea has led an award-winning bar program that features a variety of aquavit brands and aquavit cocktails. Tobin also joins us later into the episode, shares the Åhus Akvavit cocktail featured on the menu for Aquavit Week, and helps to explain how he likes to incorporate aquavit into cocktails.

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Aquavit Week is on and poppin in LA! Stop by @redbirdla, order a flight and take a lil tour of some different styles from all over the world. Also say hi to @tobinshea because he’s the best. #aquavitweek #aquavit #akvavit #åhusakvavit

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The Trinity cocktail at Redbird features Åhus Akvavit and bright vegetal flavors. So good!

For this week’s featured cocktail, Malina shared with us a simplified version of Tobin’s aquavit gimlet.

Aquavit Gimlet
2 oz aquavit
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
garnish: lime wheel

Shake all ingredients over ice until well chilled, strain into a cocktail glass. garnish with a lime wheel.

Give Your Thanksgiving a Winter Punch!

Thanksgiving always has a way of sneaking up on me every year. I mean, I could say that about pretty much every holiday, but Thanksgiving is my FAVORITE. It makes zero sense. I should be Pinterest-ing recipes and tablescapes months in advance. WHY AM I NEVER PREPARED?

I’ve got my go-to dishes that I always make (boozy cranberry sauce, anyone?!), but for some reason I’m always scrambling at the last minute to figure out what to drink. I know, I know, even I struggle with this dilemna. Because this is NOT the time for crazy bespoke craft cocktails for all of your guests throughout the night. That’s why large format drinks and punches are a perfect idea for the most epic meal of the year.

Since you know it’s going to be an indulgent afternoon and evening of supping, why not make something that has a little good stuff sneaked in?! Like the antioxidant powerhouse that is Argentine Yerba Mate! Along with a multitude of vitamins like B and C and zinc and potassium, it also has that zip of caffeine similar to a cup of coffee that will surely counteract whatever food sleepies creep in by the end of the meal.

Did I mention that Argentine Yerba Mate is also a yummy addition to cocktails? Oh yeah, I have! Many times! Haha. I feel like a broken record, but it’s all true, guys. I’m a fan. It can add tannins, a touch of smoke, and a slight earthiness to a drink. And when paired in this winter punch with mulling spices, ginger beer, and dark rum, you may just want to make a gigantic batch of this, hole up for the winter and sip your way to spring!

I may not be as prepared for Thanksgiving as I’d like, but I DO know what I’ll be making an enormous punch bowl of in a few weeks – this Argentine Yerba Mate Winter Punch. Take that, Turkey Day!

Argentine Yerba Mate Winter Punch – serves 10-12
In a large punch bowl add the following ingredients:
1 750 ml bottle of Dark Rum
3 cups Argentine Yerba Mate Tea, cooled
1 cup Mulling Spiced Syrup*
1 cup lemon juice

Immediately before serving, add ginger beer and ice cubes. Garnish with sliced orange wheels, cinnamon sticks and star anise.

*Mulling Spiced Syrup
In a large saucepan, make a syrup by boiling 1 cup of water, 1 cup sugar and mulling spices for 10 minutes. Cool. Save extra for later.

You can find Argentine Yerba Mate brands in specialty tea stores and in select Whole Foods Markets across the U.S. You can also purchase Argentine Yerba Mate on Amazon.com

This post was sponsored by National Institute for Argentine Yerba Mate

BBaF Podcast Episode 42: Documenting Cocktail Culture with Gabi Porter

Listen to Episode 42: Documenting Cocktail Culture with Gabi Porter”

For this week’s Bit by a Fox Podcast, our guest is Gabi Porter, New York-based documentary photographer and barfly, whose work is featured in nearly every boozy publication the world over.

pic by Adam Aleksander

Gabi specializes in taking photos at bars and restaurants, and has made a name for herself as one of THE go-to cocktail photogs in the industry.

pic by Jessie Gibson

She recently had a gig in LA and we caught up while she was here, and I realized her story in this cocktail world had to be told on the Bit by a Fox Podcast. From creating headshots for NASA scientists, to documenting rock stars with a point and shoot, and then moving on to the stars of the cocktail world, Gabi has had an important perspective behind the lens, and is certainly not short on stories!

pic by Chris LaPutt

The pic that launched Gabi’s photography career – the legendary pic of Iggy Pop taken with a point and shoot camera.

Gabi’s favorite drinking buddy, Jason Littrell.

For this week’s cocktail recipe, Gabi chose the cachaça based stirred drink, Rabo de Galo. This shot, by Gabi, was taken at Frank’s Bar in São Paulo – named after Frank Sinatra who used to hang out there.

Rabo de Galo
2 oz Cachaça
3/4 oz Cynar
1/2 oz Amaro Montenegro
Garnish: orange twist

In an ice-filled mixing glass, add all ingredients and stir until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with one or two large ice cubes. Add a twist of orange and garnish.

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