Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sparkle, Neely, Sparkle! Pouring Fun at Fermented Grapes, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Many people believe that New Yorkers lack a sense of community, that we’re constantly rushing to and fro, hither and yon, and as a result, we don’t get to know the people round us. Well, that may be true for some, but most people who work in New York live somewhere within city limits, in a section of one of the five boroughs, perhaps on a small block, or a busy high rise. They say hi to their neighbors with a wave of the hand, or a polite nod. Some even hug.

There was a whole lot of hugging happening recently at a gem of a wine and spirits shop on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Debbie Summer of Fermented Grapes asked us if we would pour some delicious sparkling wine, among other elixirs, for the neighborhood patrons that were willing to brave the cold last Saturday at one of Fermented Grapes’s well-attended tastings. We were happy to take on the challenge. In the lineup: a relatively unfamiliar sparkling Grüner Veltliner, Dolin White Vermouth, and Winter & Rothman Crème de Violette. The lovely Eudocia Rodzinak of Theo Chocolate was on hand to offer samples of some amazing organic, fair-trade delights.

We decided on pouring the sparkling Grüner first, as it was light and effervescent, like a frizzante, a perfect way to get this party started. Most patrons loved its light crisp fruit, the aroma of freshly peeled apples, and a finish that tasted of a lovely fruit salad. This sparkler’s name is Punkt Genau,which translates as “On the dot,” and it lived up to its name. For those who need to know, it is produced exclusively from Grüner Veltliner grapes grown in the heart of Austria’s Weinviertel. It can be served to celebrate any occasion, including something as simple as getting home from work. (We love sparkling wine, and don’t feel the need to drink it on special occasions. Have it with dinner!)

We then decided to pour the Winter & Rothman Crème de Violette, but wanted the patrons to try it mixed with the Grüner (we tried this the night before and were pleased with the results). A little crème de violette goes a long way—it tastes of old-school violet candies you still see at corner bodegas in the city. Most sippers were tickled by the combination (we weren’t sure if it was the exotic flavor of the violets, or the bubbles hitting their noses), and many felt like the combo produced a pleasant grape flavor, with a hint of violets. We’ll call this drink the “Violet Sparkler.”

Violet Sparkler
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

1/2–1 teaspoon crème de violette (your taste buds will let you know)
3 ounces sparkling Grüner Veltliner (Punkt Genau), or other sparkling wine

Add crème de violette, then chilled sparkling wine, to a champagne flute. Toast.

Paul talks shop with two delightful sisters, Emily and Melissa Elsen, who opened Four & Twenty Blackbirds, a bake shop in Park Slope/Gowanus.

We informed Debbie that we went a little crazy the night before with our friend Curt when we decided to top the Violet Sparkler with some resposado tequila, so she came back to the tasting station with a bottle of Corazón Reposado. For a spirit to mix well with crème de violette, it needs a strong character, so scotch, aged tequila, and gins with high juniper notes blend well—the violet flavor is chastened, but not lost). So we added about a half ounce to start and loved the results, and dubbed it “La Violeta.” If you really love the taste of 100% blue agave tequila, go ahead and add a bit more. It’ll be a great way to start a fiesta!

La Violeta
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

1/2–1 teaspoon crème de violette (your taste buds will let you know)
3 ouncessparkling Grüner Veltliner (Punkt Genau), or other sparkling wine
1/2—1 ounce resposado tequila

Add crème de violette, then chilled sparkling wine, to a champagne flute. Top with chilled reposado tequila. ¡Salud!

❤ ❤ ❤

We poured the Dolin White Vermouth next. Many of the guests at Fermented Grapes that night were confused by this vermouth—they had only heard of and tasted dry and sweet vermouths—so this one was a revelation. Imagine sweet vermouth made with white wine, not red. The herbs and spices used to fortify white vermouth play very well with tequila. As barkeep Phil Ward once exclaimed to us about mixing the two, “It’s a no-brainer.”

Luckily Debbie opened that bottle of Corazón Reposado, because after she sipped a little of the white vermouth (aka blanco or bianco vermouth), we topped her glass with some of the tequila. As she proclaimed, “This is my new favorite drink,” others took notice and extended their empty glasses out to us. We were more than happy to oblige them. One of our favorite cocktails, Cut Flowers, uses white vermouth and tequila, and it’s a terrific alternative to a margarita.

Steve, happy about tasting Theo Bread & Chocolate with Dow’s vintage 2004 Port. Thanks, Eudocia.

So after each patron sampled the wares, they looked to Eudocia and her ten samples of chocolate with eager smiles. If they had a little of their vermouth and tequila samples left, she encouraged them to taste it with the spicy chocolate that started with hints of orange, then finished with a chile bang. Of course we sampled most of the bits she had on hand, and our favorites were the dark chocolate with fennel seeds and figs, and the dark chocolate with french breadcrumb bits. (The slightly saltiness of the bread worked wonders on that bit of chocolate.) Also try the milk chocolate. It’s making a big comeback and Theo’s version is mouth-watering. And paired with Dow’s late bottled vintage 2004 Port, the smiles grew even wider. We had a splendid time meeting some of our neighbors, some newbies and some old friends.

When you’re in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and if you see us walking around, stop to say hello. We can exchange neighborhood faves, and point you in the direction of Fermented Grapes where you can give Debbie and her partner Jan McGill a visit. (If we’re cooking, say, a Turkey Tetrazzini or grilled lamb chops, they know exactly what’ll dance perfectly with it.) The entire staff (including Mathew, Donna, and Eileen who all got to taste that night) is incredibly helpful and knowledgeable, the store has the feel of a laid-back pouring room, and nobody leaves empty handed, including the patrons that night who never in a million years thought they would need a bottle of créme de violette and white vermouth for their home bars.

Steve, calm before the crowd at Fermented Grapes, 651 Vanderbilt Avenue (between St. Prospect Place and Park Place), Brooklyn NY 11238, (718) 230-3216.


  1. Man. What a fun stop by to the evening.

    You two are peerless when it comes to creating delicious drinks. Happy to be part of your tasting adventures!

  2. Thanks a million, Curt. We were so happy you guys stopped by for some fun sips. Cheers!


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