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Audiophile Sound Systems, Home Theater, Computer Audio - Purchasing and Upgrades.

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Purchasing, Storage, Detailing, Aftermarket.

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Wine Tastings and Tours, Cellaring, Collecting, Purchases.

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Resorts, Hotels, Restaurants, Destinations.

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Design, Appliances, Knives, Entertaining.

Welcome to Connoisseur Corner - Luxe Consulting and Executive Services

Marty Feldmann, The Connoisseur, is the highly sought after consultant who assists businesses and individual clients with the acquisition of the finer things life has to offer. Whether you are planning a weekend getaway to wine country, selecting audio equipment to outfit your home, planning your dream vacation or purchasing your ultimate transportation, Marty is your personal connection to the good life…

Marty can be contacted at: 916.952.9529 Marty@ConnoisseurCorner.com

12/31/07

American Bubbles

So it’s called sparkling wine and not Champagne, but it still can be darn tasty..!

In honor of New Year’s Eve, we’ll do a quick blog on the bubbly. This year the focus is on a few of our favorite American producers of affordable, quality sparkling wines. All of these winemakers do consistent work across the board, year in and year out, so you know you will be getting an excellent product. The “affordable” reference indicates that bottles from these vintners can be had under $30.

(Sound of drum roll) And here now is our list:

Gloria Ferrer - Located in the Carneros region of California, this house is actually owned by a large Spanish company.

J Wine Company - This winery, in California’s Russian River valley, does some nice Pinot Noirs to go along with their bubbly. Probably a bit harder to find than the other producers.

Domaine Ste. Michelle - For this producer we go northwest to Washington. Very approachable sparkling wines at excellent prices.

Domaine Chandon - This French owned winery has been releasing sparkling wines in Napa since 1976.

Roederer Estate - North of San Francisco in the Anderson Valley, Louis Roederer’s winery crafts sparkling wines that are probably the most “French” in character of this list of producers.

12/28/07

Cookbooks: Mexican Food

I hate Taco Bell..! I think they have almost single-handedly ruined an entire generation’s viewpoint on what Mexican food truly is. Yeah, I know… Everyone has made that late night food binge run for 12 tacos and a beef burrito. I confess my guilt.

Fortunately for my taste buds, over the years in travels to Mexico as well as dining at some authentic Mexican restaurants, I have developed a great love and appreciation for true Mexican cuisine. It has that earthy, rustic quality that really gets the taste-buds working.

In researching Mexican cookbooks, one chef stands out as the most knowledgeable, most accessible out there: Rick Bayless.

From simple salsas to elaborate mole sauces, entrees, desserts and beverages, this guy knows his stuff..! You can tell he has a true passion for what he is doing by not only how he takes you through these recipes, but how he infuses the Mexican culture into the food. I have been cooking recipes from his books for several years now, with nothing but delicious results. Along with his shows on PBS, Rick has a pair of restaurants in Chicago, of which Frontera Grill just won Outstanding Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation 2007.

If you like to cook and if you love Mexican food, The Connoisseur recommends you go to www.rickbayless.com and take a look. Order a cookbook or try one of the recipes online and let me know your results. Your taste buds will thank you..!

12/26/07

The Future of Land Rover













The stalwart British company famous for off-road capable vehicles introduced one of their rare concept show vehicles for the Detroit Auto Show. The LRX concept is a three-door wagon that is shorter and lower than their current LR2. Designed to be more eco-friendly and appearing to have an on-road bias, the LRX will still maintain the Land Rover off-road capability.

While Land Rover is not saying if the LRX will be produced, we are betting that a version reasonably close to this concept vehicle will appear in the coming years. As far as the design direction for Land Rover, we like what we see. Traditional cues such as the clamshell hood and floating roof are still present, while generating a more urban and modern feel overall.

12/24/07

Airline Legroom

Tis’ the season… to travel, that is!

I do love the holidays, but using our airport system this time of year is not the reason why. We all have our horror stories – the crowds, the delays, the cancelled flights. Not a pretty picture.

This brings us to the subject of the day: airline legroom…

Which brings us to the question of the day: What is seat pitch..?

Seat pitch on a plane is the distance between rows of seats, measured from the same location on each row. For example, a measurement from the front cushion of the seat in front of you to the front cushion of the seat you are in. This is not technically a “legroom” measurement, but it can translate as such.

There is a handy little website called Skytrax that keeps tabs on seat pitch as well as reviews for the best airports, airlines, etc. Their seat pitch index details measurements for airlines all over the world. In the Americas, we see some of the best measurements coming from Jet Blue, American and WestJet. If legroom is important to you, I suggest you take a look, or it may end up being a long and uncomfortable flight.

And you know when those people in front of you lean their seat back with complete disregard for your comfort? Arrrgh! We’ll talk about that later...

A Cabernet by Any Other Name



A good friend of mine that enjoys wine but does not have an encyclopedic knowledge of the grape recently had an interesting problem. He was taking a business associate to a fine French restaurant and wanted to be sure and order a good French wine to enjoy. He knew that the associate was a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, but my friend wasn’t sure what the corresponding wine from France would be.

Unfortunately it is not as simple as reading the label. To make a long story short (future blogs will cover this in greater detail), the variety of grape used in a wine is not listed on a French wine label. The key is in the appellation or region where the grapes for the wine were grown. In France, wine laws require that traditional varieties are grown and used in each region so you need to know the corresponding grape varieties for each region.

So, which French region is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet blends..?

This would be the most direct association (there are other regions for Cab, not to mention other grapes in Bordeaux such as Merlot). So start with this nugget of information and let your restaurant wine sommelier or retail consultant guide you further.

As a side note, if you run into this same issue with Italian wines, ask for a Super Tuscan.

12/20/07

The Music Lover’s Home Theater Receiver

Many people I speak with regarding home theater gear express a concern over stereo music quality. Sure they watch the occasional epic cinema event, but more often like to relax with a nice CD playing and want it to sound gooooood…!

At that moment I point them north, to a Canadian company called NAD (originally New Acoustic Dimension). In business for some 35 years, NAD has always been dedicated to a more linear, understated design philosophy as well as innovative engineering in their power and amplification modules. This has resulted in a certain elegance in their sound as well as in the aesthetics and user friendliness of their products.

NAD has just released their latest line of receivers, the T785, T775 and T765. All three models include the latest “must have” features such as HDMI 1.3 switching and auto calibration and equalization from Audyssey. They even have clever modular construction, permitting upgradability by NAD for future technology changes.

Of course these products cost more than your garden variety, mass-produced, “see them in every store” receivers, but the Connoisseur believes them to be well worth that premium. As always, let your ears decide, but we give them a Connoisseur Recommended rating..!

12/19/07

The Great Vodka Mystery


Bulk retail chain Costco has sold branded goods under the Kirkland Signature label for quite some time. The quality of these items has generally been good, as I have sampled a few of them from time to time.

Many moons ago one of my neighbors (thanks Margie), knowing that I enjoy a vodka martini on occasion, mentioned that Costco had their own branded vodka and that it was supposed to be very good. Costco had a blurb in their September 2006 Costco Connection publication discussing this spirit.

Here is where the story gets interesting, as there seems to be a bit of secrecy attached to the origin of this vodka. I have heard several renditions from different friends, acquaintances or Costco employees. The most common tale is that this is actually Grey Goose vodka and simply relabeled. I find this highly unlikely, but… Other renditions are that it is made with an identical distillation process, or that it is made from the same wheat and water sources. Still others claim that it just tastes better.

If anybody out there can verify the actual source, please let me know. I will conduct a blind taste test with the Kirkland and Grey Goose in the near future and let you know the results…

12/18/07

2-17-2009 and Your Television

February 17, 2009 is the date that Congress has set for television stations to switch their broadcasts from the old analog to the new digital format. This change allows them to deliver more channels, higher quality video and audio, as well as full high definition television signals.

Now before you run away, screaming something about buying 7 new televisions, let me talk you down a bit…

If you currently receive your television signals from a cable, satellite or telephone company provider, then you have nothing to worry about. They will cover the electronic bases allowing you to view digital television on your older analog TV.

Rabbit ears..? Oh, you mean you receive your signals from an antenna. Well, this leaves you with one of three choices come that deadline in ’09.
  • Throw out the old television and purchase a set with a built-in digital tuner.
  • Keep the analog set and purchase a digital television converter box. These will probably retail around $50 and word has it the government may discount or rebate them.
  • Keep the analog set and subscribe to a cable, satellite or telco provider as mentioned above.
Are you still feeling a little panicky? Do you still have questions regarding this swirling cloud of technological mumbo-jumbo..? I have found a pair of websites for you to take a look at that should ease your fears:

http://www.dtvanswers.com/

http://www.dtv.gov/

12/17/07

Our Favorite in the South Pacific


Sun, sand, sea and seclusion…

For many, this would be a recipe for the ideal vacation. The Connoisseur happens to be a member of that group. This brings us to the South Pacific…

East of Bora Bora lies the volcanic island Le Taha’a, known as the Vanilla Island. On a tiny motu on it's coral reef lies Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa, a member of the Relais & Chateaux luxury hotel group. This stunning, remote resort will seduce you with its white sand beaches, waterfront spa and hyper-efficient service. In fact, they will customize your stay as you request, with possibly a personalized snorkeling tour or dining on a secluded beach – whatever your tropical island fantasy may be.

48 over water suites with spacious balconies and double bathtubs and 12 beach suites with their own private pool make up the guest quarters. Three restaurants, two bars and the above mentioned spa complete the facilities.

The rainy season runs November to April and the dry and warmer season is May to October. Pick your time, book your stay and prepare to be seduced by this tropical paradise..!

12/14/07

Holiday Martinis

Being that it is the holiday season, and in many locations there's a chill in the air, why not warm the festivities with a nice holiday martini? Here are a few of the Connoisseur’s favorite recipes…

Peppermint Patty

· 2 ounces vodka
· 1 ounce peppermint schnapps
· ½ ounce white crème de cacao

Combine in shaker with ice, stir gently and strain into a chilled martini glass.

Apple Pie Martini

· 1 ½ ounces vanilla vodka
· ½ ounce brandy
· ½ teaspoon dry vermouth
· Sliver of green apple
· 1 small chunk green apple

Add the liquid ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Rub the apple chunk inside a chilled martini glass. Strain mix into the glass and top with apple sliver.

Holiday Martini

· 1/3 cup cranberry juice
· ¼ cup cranberry liqueur
· ¼ cup grand marnier or cointreau
· 1 Tsp fresh lime juice

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass.

12/13/07

Golden Globe Nominees for 2007

Ah, the Hollywood awards season begins...

Just released today was the list of nominees by the HFPA (Hollywood Foreign Press Association) for their awards in television and film. The 65th annual awards ceremony will be held Sunday, January 13th. The Connoisseur considers the Golden Globes the most entertaining of the various awards shows as the attending glitterati tend to drink like fish and occasionally act in a rather un-buttoned down manner..!

Click here for the official list of nominees.

A few Connoisseur quick-picks for winners:

Best Motion Picture – Drama: No Country For Old Men

Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical: Charlie Wilson’s War

Best Actor – Drama: Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood

Best Actress – Drama: Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart

“And the winner is…”

12/12/07

Doctor that Pasta

Is everybody as short on time during the week as I am? From what I see the answer seems to be a resounding “yes”! With this in mind, have you noticed that America’s food producers continue to come out with the quick and easy meal solutions?

One of said “solutions” seems to be the fresh pasta section. Surely you’ve spotted the little refrigerated area in the grocery store with various “fresh” pastas and sauces. The Connoisseur admits to using some of these for that quick weeknight dinner fix. (Don’t tell anybody..!)

Although most of these pastas and sauces seem to be reasonably palatable (I’m being nice here), I tend to want to doctor them up a bit. Here are a couple of examples:

I will purchase some fettuccine, pesto sauce, can of chicken broth and a package of those pre-cooked chicken strips. Heat the pesto, chicken and desired amount of broth (1 to 2 cups) in a sauté pan. Cook the pasta, mix with the sauce and serve. I usually will roast some pignolias and toss a few on top.

Another possibility – procure the pasta of choice along with one of the “fresh” tomato sauces. Brown a package of Italian sausage, add some diced onion and cook briefly. Throw in a couple cloves of diced garlic and after about a minute add the tomato sauce and simmer. Cook the pasta, mix with the sauce and serve. A bit of fresh basil also works well here.

Take these ideas and add your own flavor to them. Perhaps try some red onion and corn in the pesto pasta or an Alfredo sauce and chicken instead of the tomato and sausage. The possibilities are endless, not to mention quick and easy for those weeknight meals..!

And don't forget to open that bottle of wine. It makes everything taste better!

12/11/07

Where’s my Santoku..?


The santoku is an all-purpose kitchen knife developed in Japan as an alternative to the standard chef’s knife. These have been gaining in popularity recently and can be seen used by several chefs on television.

Loosely translated as “three things” in reference to their multipurpose slicing, dicing and mincing abilities, santoku knives generally range from 5” to 7”. Originally designed for working with vegetables, fish and boneless meats… hey, did I mention these are multipurpose?

If you do serious work in the kitchen, the connoisseur recommends having both a 6-7” santoku and an 8” chef’s knife. Only with time and extensive use, will you develop a preference.

Some of our recommended santoku manufacturers are Shun, Wusthof and Misono. As always, if you have any questions feel free to comment or to email us at info@connoisseurcorner.com.

Happy slicing..!

…and dicing, and mincing..!

12/10/07

4 Doors and Stunning

The Connoisseur has noticed over the years that it seems difficult for automobile designers to pen a car with 4 doors that is truly beautiful. It almost seems that once you get beyond the first pair of doors you are out of luck in the looks department. Sure, some sedans are nice looking, sharp or have good road presence, but that true exquisite quality seems to elude them.

Finally a couple of inspirational designs have arrived and it’s my job to tell you about them!



The first is from a company that in the past has definitely not been synonymous with beautiful cars. Mercedes-Benz, famous for their staid, conservative design language took a page from Italian design a couple years back and came out with the CLS. A four door that was designed with a coupe philosophy, it is definitely the most striking sedan to come from this company in some time.



The second car is from a producer that you would expect to produce beauty… Maserati. Their Quattroporte saloon is magnificent, inside and out. This is a true head-turner..!

Both cars must be seen in person to be truly appreciated. Head to your local dealer or car show for a look-see and tell ‘em the Connoisseur sent ya…

12/9/07

Introducing the Clark Brothers

I’m not the biggest fan of all the reality shows out there, but I do keep an eye on them. It’s my constant search for the elusive gem – that diamond in the rough. Courtesy of Fox’s The Next Great American Band, I’ve found one…

The Clark Brothers

Spending years in the music business, you develop an eye for when something or someone is real and when it is contrived. These guys are the real deal folks..!

Coming from a large family with a spiritual background, Ashley, Austin and Adam Clark have great humility to go along with their heartfelt and intense musical talent. The performances and emotion are real. No faux-rock star persona here.

Where this gets difficult is in trying to describe to you their musical style. Sort of a heavy Appalachian folk rock… sort of. OK, I give up. Listen for yourself. Here is a link to You Tube and a listing of Clark Brothers clips. My personal favorite is their cover of Gimme Shelter by the Stones. Listen to a few of these and let me know what you think.

I promise that the Connoisseur will definitely add their first CD to the collection. Let’s just hope the record industry doesn’t ruin these guys…

12/8/07

Holiday Gifts for the Sweet Tooth


Well, it’s that time of year again… The holiday spirit is in the air and sweets are everywhere you look.

If you have the need to purchase a gift for the sweet tooth(s) in your life, let me guide you to a few of our favorites. All of these companies have excellent products and the equivalent customer service.

Let’s start with cookies. Our favorite is a company out of Ohio called Cheryl & Co. One would be hard pressed to come up with a cookie that they don’t make. All the basics are covered: chocolate chip, peanut butter, snickerdoodles, and oatmeal raisin. And then there is the more exotic fare such as caramel chocolate pecan and frosted key lime white chip.

Now on to the subject of brownies. After exhaustive research (man, am I full) we recommend Fairytale Brownies. Yeah, I know – goofy name. Well, trust me folks, the brownies are excellent and the varieties are astonishing.

I am going to finish this off with something a bit different: Gourmet caramel apples. A little company in Illinois called Mrs. Prindable’s happens to make these delicious treats. Triple chocolate caramel (shown above), dark chocolate cashew, milk chocolate toffee walnut, cookies and cream. The choices are amazing and quite tasty.

Give ‘em a call or order online. All three have nicely done web sites that save you the hassle of the holiday crowds. Oh... and don’t forget to order some for yourself..!

12/6/07

Grammy Awards Nominations


The annual Grammy awards, this year marks the 50th Anniversary, will air on February 10th. This morning the list of nominees has been released. CNN has a rundown of the major category nominees here.

Upon viewing the list, the Connoisseur notes that voters weren’t completely swayed by commercial success as has been the case in years past, which is a step in the right direction. I have had great issue with this before, as musicians deserving of recognition for their artistic merit have been snubbed due to a perceived lack of marketability or sales success.

Kanye West and Amy Winehouse lead the field with 8 and 6 nominations respectively. I expect both West and Winehouse to have multiple wins. One of the surprises this year (there is something every year) was Springsteen’s “Magic” not being nominated for album of the year despite widespread critical acclaim. He did collect 4 nominations in other categories.

Other artists garnering several nominations are Justin Timberlake, Foo Fighters, Rihanna, Paul McCartney, and Timbaland.

Make your predictions and get your popcorn ready. We will discuss the winners and losers come February 9th…

12/5/07

New BMW 8 Series




BMW has confirmed plans to build a four-door Gran Turismo based on their stunning CS concept. The car, originally noted as a “design study”, made its debut at the Shanghai auto show earlier this year. Officials at BMW have not commented on whether they will revive the 8-series moniker for this vehicle, but the Connoisseur believes it will happen.

Production timelines appear to point to 2010, and engines will probably be in the V-8 and V-10 range. The CS will likely be priced at the top of the BMW line, competing against the likes of the upcoming Porsche Panamera and Aston Martin Rapide.

Best Plasma TV for the Holidays


So let’s hope Santa (or Mrs. Santa) is in a generous mood and brings a Plasma Television for a present this year. Unfortunately I’m not sure how many of those will fit in the sleigh, but if you are in the market for a new Plasma TV, here is our current recommendation:

Why, you ask, oh inquisitive one..?

Pioneer has made significant picture quality advancements with this particular product line. The most noteworthy being the display of black levels. On plasma TVs, dark or black areas of a picture tend to have too much light, essentially removing image detail. The Kuros handle this much better and return the low level detail as the original film intends to show - something that is highly noticeable when you do a comparison.

Also of note is the reduction of motion blur, another issue that has hampered Plasma displays in the past. A quick way to check this would be by viewing a sporting event with fast motion such as a football or basketball game.

Keep in mind that this is also a product that fits in the “you get what you pay for” category, as they are not the most inexpensive plasmas on the market.

Note: The technology industry changes on what seems like a weekly basis, so check back for any updates in the future.

12/4/07

Winery Gems in Sierra Foothills

Napa this..! Sonoma that..! Man, they get all the attention.

It just so happens that there are some truly excellent wineries in California outside of that famous sphere of influence. Today we are talking about the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley – an hour or two drive east of Napa along Hwy 50. Zinfandel and other hearty varieties grow very well in this region, and wine aficionados are starting to notice. With a relaxed and rustic feel to the area, we think you would enjoy a weekend of grape exploration.

Here are a couple of boutique wineries that the Connoisseur highly recommends:

C.G. Di Arie - With the winery only in existence since 2000, Chaim Gur-Arieh is crafting some excellent Zinfandels and Syrahs and starting to branch out to lesser known varietals as well. All of the wines are of very good and consistent quality, our favorite of which is the Zinfandel “Southern Exposure”.

Young’s Vineyards - Famous for their packed release parties, Young’s began crafting wines in the early nineties and now produces over 6,000 cases annually. Their Zinfandel, Syrah, Sangiovese and Estate Cabernet are all of high quality, but our favorite is the Barbera. They have even begun producing their first white varietal, a Roussanne.

12/3/07

NY Restaurants – Some Favorites

One of a Connoisseur’s most enjoyable events surely has to be enjoying the artistry of great chefs and the experience of a great restaurant, and New York City certainly has its share.

I have compiled a list for you to sample – try them when you can and let me know the results. I think your taste buds will be pleasantly satisfied…

· Le Bernardin
· Per Se
· Nobu
· Daniel
· Jean Georges
· Gramercy Tavern
· Masa
· Bouley
· Peter Luger Steak House
· Del Posto
· Gordon Ramsay at The London

12/2/07

Hard Rock – Recycling Can Be Good

The music business can never be described as static. Careers come and go, musicians switch bands, record labels rise and fall… Nothing is truly set in stone.

I mention this today as I am talking about a couple of bands in the hard rock genre formed by members from other successful groups. This “recycling” of musicians can be a good thing!

The first band is Alter Bridge, formed by three members from Creed and the addition of vocalist Myles Kennedy. Their first album, One Day Remains, still felt very Creed-esque, but the newly released follow-up Blackbird shows the band to be developing a bit of their own style and the Connoisseur approves. Guitarist Mark Tremonti does some very impressive work here.

The next recycled band I’m going to mention today is Another Animal, formed by members of Godsmack, Dropbox and Ugly Kid Joe. Their self-titled debut album is very solid, with the single Broken Again garnering significant radio buzz.

For fans of the hard rock genre, both albums are worth a listen. Let us know if recycling works for you.

12/1/07

A Car Interior – The Inside Story

Ergonomics, Design, Fit and Finish, Quality of materials… Each is an important factor in the perceived excellence of the interior of a car, SUV or truck.

One can certainly make the argument that the most important aspect of a car to the owner can be the interior, and how it makes one feel. After all, that IS where you spend your time on the road. I know of very few people that lean out their window, staring at the car while driving down the road.

Providing you are like most vehicle owners on the road, you spend a great deal of time in the seat of a car. Doesn’t the average American drive 15,000 miles per year? My question is: what emotion does the interior of your car illicit when you sit behind the wheel. Is it cozy, warm, comfortable, calming, does it make you feel special..? Or is it dull, boring, monochromatic, and snooze inducing..?

In the search for the company with consistently superior automobile interiors, the connoisseur has experienced all of what the industry has to offer. There is currently a clear winner here, but the competition is learning and catching up fast. Mind you, I am omitting the ultra high-end makes such as Bentley, Maserati or Rolls-Royce. (I’ll talk about these later.)

And the Connoisseur recommended automotive interior is: Audi

They have been the industry standard for several years now and should be lauded for their work. Go have a seat in an A8, S5 or an R8 and you will see what I mean…