In the Mood: What to Drink While You Dine on Valentine’s Day

At Cinghiale-Enoteca, owner/sommelier Tony Foreman + his staff invite wine drinkers to sign the special bottles they’ve ordered. There are thousands displayed.

Step away from the Chardonnay. Put down the pinot noir. Think outside the bourbon. That is an order. Seriously, though, you’ve carefully thought through Valentine’s Day dinner, picking an amazing restaurant with the perfect menu for you and your date; don’t stop there. You can make the 14th extra special with an unforgettable beverage experience that is anything but everyday. Eric Arnold, a wine and spirits expert and author of First Big Crush: The Down and Dirty on Making Great Wine Down Under, a book about a novice’s winemaking experiences in New Zealand, shared his four must-try picks to sip this Saturday.

“The spirit that was once the afterthought downed by tired waitstaff and line cooks in Italian restaurants has suddenly become hip – and it was long overdue. Sort of a lighter, more nuanced version of herbal liqueurs such as Fernet-Branca, Amaro is slightly sweet but ever so alluring. Usually consumed after dinner, but certainly appropriate before the appetizers, Amaro never fails to bring a smile to a first-timer’s face.”

Vintage Champagne
“It’s perfectly normal if you’ve sipped a glass of Yellow Label Veuve, Moët, or Mumm and wondered what all the fuss is about. Vintage Champagne – all the grapes were picked in the same season, and a year is visible on the label – is an entirely different experience, especially if the bottle is upwards of a decade old. Vintage Champagne sometimes is a little lighter on the effervescence, but all those extra years of cellar aging make the wine richer in texture, fuller in flavor, and multidimensional in character. These are also the bubblies you can drink right through an entire meal, as these Champagnes tend to pair better with a wider range of foods.”

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Presenting the 80 Sips Challenge by Bottlenotes: Prix-Fixe Wining + Dining in NYC

Cheers to the 80 Sips Challenge in the Big Apple!

Eric Arnold, editor of The Daily Sip, a free, wine-centric e-newsletter from the folks at, is guest-blogging about the 80 Sips Challenge.

Restaurant Week is always a welcome time in New York dining: It’s a stretch during which just about anyone can get a taste of the sometimes-otherwise unaffordable. But what’s usually missing from the three-course lunches and dinners is an appreciation for wine pairing.

That changes starting Monday with the 80 Sips Challenge by For the next two weeks, several great NYC restaurants are offering pre-fixe lunches ($25ish) and dinners ($35ish) paired with wines from Brancott Estate in New Zealand, Conway Family Wines in California, and several red and white selections from France’s Roussillon region. The wine pairings cost extra, but these are all very wallet-friendly, high-quality wines that you’ll be able to find in your local wine shop, later on. And beyond enjoying the good food and wine, there’s some added incentive for dining out over the next couple weeks:

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Top Chef Contender Tiffany Derry Tells (Almost) All to The Daily Sip’s Eric Arnold

Chef Tiffany Derry wisely dodged Eric Arnold's questions about Angelo's mail-order bride.

Once more, OT’s usual commentators on the most recent edition of Top Chef – Caroline Potter and Ed Cotton — are both out of town – and Top Chef is a re-run. Fortunately, I was able to secure an anything-goes interview with former and current Top Chef-testant Tiffany Derry (who is also out of town but not away from a phone). If you don’t remember me, Eric Arnold, I’m the editor of The Daily Sip, a free, wine-centric e-newsletter; and you can usually find me waxing about the wines of New Zealand–and other booze-related topics – herehere, and here. As for Chef Tiffany Derry, when she’s not on your television screen or out of the country, she is the Executive Chef of the upcoming Private Social restaurant in Dallas [Ed. Note: We hope Private Social will be featured on OpenTable.]

We hear you’re out of the country. Where are you right now, and what’s the greatest thing you’ve eaten?

I am off enjoying some much-needed family time. I am a foie gras-head and it was done at Brennan’s Restaurant in Houston, Texas. They did this praline foie with French toast — and it was the perfect balance of sweet and savory.

Last week was pretty lopsided, and the front-of-the-house person always has a big bull’s eye on him or her. Did you think Padma was going to tell you to pack up and go, or were you confident you’d hang on?

I am never confident when I am on the bottom. Sometimes you hear things slightly different from what they actually said. I honestly did not feel like it should have been me. I brought back so many plates of food and had so many bad comments that it was very overwhelming. I did the best I could to not show all the drama that was going on in the back of the house.

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Top Chef Season 8 Episode 7: Now With The Daily Sip’s Eric Arnold for Extra Flavor

"Somebody get a sponge."

This week, OT’s usual commentators on the most recent edition of Top Chef — Caroline Potter and Ed Cotton — are both out of town. So I’ve been asked to step in and take over for the next two weeks. Normally, I’m the editor of The Daily Sip, a free, wine-centric e-newsletter; and you can usually find me waxing about the wines of New Zealand–and other booze-related topics–herehere, and here.

Each season of Top Chef, we’re expected to look forward to Restaurant Wars, when the remaining contestants are split into two groups that square off in a battle of pop-up restaurants. It’s also usually the episode in which an otherwise strong contestant is shown the door because he or she ran the front of the house like it’s the DMV.

Some Restaurant Wars battles have been better than others, and this one, unfortunately, belongs in the scrap heap. For starters, the contestants weren’t put under nearly as much pressure as in previous seasons: No shopping for flatware, dishware, curtains or scented candles — just cooking. While one could argue that this levels the playing field, it really didn’t last night because someone still had to run the front of the house and, potentially, sacrifice food quality. And truth be told, last night’s Top Chef proved beyond doubt that the contestants will make or break themselves in the kitchen all on their own, no matter the challenge. So why not just keep them all in the kitchen?

Nevertheless, therein lies Top Chef‘s strength as a series: It’s the little things, from sliced fingers to stolen fishes to drunken kisses, that evoke an emotional response from viewers one minute to the next. I had plenty last night, in fact. Here they are, in order from last night:

* Ah, the brief recap — and yes, what fond memories we have of Jamie finally being sent packing last week. Oh, snap: Tonight’s episode starts at Le Bernadin?! Oh man, what I’d have given to see her survive another week and return to the scene of her braised-celery crime. Oh well.

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