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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

12/28/10

Solemates – Ultimate Yacht Rental



In the mood to rent a yacht..? I have what may arguably be the most exclusive yacht charter...

Solemates

Newly launched from the prominent Lürssen Yacht yard in Bremen, Germany, this 200 foot superyacht is truly on the cutting edge of luxury and refinement. Penned by Espen Oeino with interior design from Glade Johnson, the rich and elegant interior has accommodations for 12 guests.

Spaces for elegant and casual dining and entertaining abound, and don’t miss the sundeck with alfresco dining and lounging areas wrapped around a Jacuzzi. In the evening this area can be converted to a nightclub atmosphere complete with lighting and sound systems.

As if this weren’t enough…

…each guest receives an iPad when boarding. You can control the lighting, blinds and entertainment systems in your cabin and throughout the vessel from the iPad. You can even use it to order a cocktail from the crew of 15..!

The Soulmate summers in the Mediterranean and winters in the Carribbean via the Luxury Yacht Group. A week aboard can be yours for the tidy sum of $600,000.

12/27/10

2012 Mercedes C-class Facelift


Due in U.S. showrooms this summer, the volume selling Mercedes-Benz C-class is getting its mid-cycle refresh.

The highlight of the update lies under the hood, with a new engine lineup. The entry-level model will become the C250, equipped with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine good for 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes claims a combined 24 mpg city/highway for this configuration. The top shelf C350 V6 has been upgraded from 268 hp to 302, along with a 5 percent gain in fuel efficiency. Greener and meaner..!

New tech tidbits include several driver assistance systems. These include Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Attention Assist and Park Assist. Sounds as if you really don’t have to do much to drive the darn thing anymore…

Visuals..?

The exterior mods are highlighted by a change to the headlamp design as well as grill and bumper restyles, not to mention a proliferation of LED lighting. In all honesty I prefer the previous look, feeling the new version to have less of a sporting feel. Please note this is a minor quibble. The interior alterations do come off well though, with updates to the dashboard and control surfaces.

It is nice to see Mercedes bringing the horsepower more in line with rivals from BMW, Audi and Cadillac. This should make for some interesting comparisons. While not a blockbuster revise, all-in-all a job well done…

12/23/10

CastaDiva Resort – New Lake Como Luxury


5-Star luxury on Lake Como.

‘nuff said, but I will give you some details anyway…

Located on the east side of Lake Como’s western branch, CastaDiva Resort opened early 2010. Comprised of nine villas, there are 75 guest rooms in total ranging from the 1,200 square foot suites to the 4,100 square foot Villa Norma. All residences are finished with high quality furnishings reflecting Old Italian style infused with a modern touch.

Amenities abound at CastaDiva, including a luxurious 13,000 square foot Spa facility featuring an indoor pool, Jacuzzi, Finnish and Mediterranean saunas, four couple’s suites and much more. Two restaurants and a bar, a floating pool, tennis courts, pillow menus, secretarial services and seven nearby golf courses round out the list.

The bottom line here is 5-star luxury, 5-star service and of course that 5-star Lake Como view. Not a bad way to spend a little getaway time..!

12/16/10

Vegas Goes Cosmopolitan


The latest in a string of plush new Vegas resorts is now open…

With its twin 50-story towers, The Cosmopolitan sits on just under 9 acres nestled between the recently opened CityCenter and the Bellagio. At a cost of $3.9 billion, the resort boasts 2,995 rooms, a 100,000 square foot casino and 36,000 square feet of luxury retailers. The requisite pampering Spa, three pools (one of which overlooks the strip), a fitness facility and 150,000 square feet of conference space are available as well.

The rooms are well done and comfortable in a contemporary urban-hip style, as the hotel seems to be targeting the younger set. Plasma televisions, Japanese soaking tubs, rain showers and custom in-room bars/kitchenettes are part of the package. Many of the rooms even have large terraces with views of the strip.

As per the new Vegas norm, the foodie contingent will be coddled at The Cosmopolitan. Chef José Andrés has his tapas bar Jaelo, as well as China Poblano – his fusion of Chinese and Mexican cuisines. Popular celeb hangout STK steakhouse from L.A., New York and Miami is here as well. Your drink is covered by five different bars and lounges, all topped off by the 62,000 square foot Marquee Nightclub which has a Grand Opening on New Year’s Eve with a show featuring Coldplay and Jay-Z.

One of my favorite features at the Cosmopolitan are the Casino Cabanas. Spread around the casino floor, these cabanas are a roped-off semi-private area complete with couches, televisions, bottle service and of course your own slot machines and gaming tables. Nice..!

With the swanky hipster feel, excellent service and generous room sizes, I’m sure you will enjoy your stay at The Cosmopolitan. Book a room and see what happens in Vegas..!

12/13/10

Godiva Chocolate-infused Vodka


Those of you that have a sweet tooth and the love of a good martini, turn away..! (This may be addicting!)

Unfortunately I fall in that group. Courtesy of the folks at Godiva Chocolatier I now have a new concern…in a good way, of course.

Godiva Chocolate-infused Vodka

There are certainly other brands of chocolate-infused vodka on the market, but the Belgian Chocolatier has been in the chocolate business since 1926, making them especially qualified to pull off such a feat. Distilled five times, this is a high quality spirit and sure to make the taste buds smile.

The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Start with a simple Godiva on the rocks with an orange twist, or maybe splash some in your holiday eggnog. Then of course you can do a nice chocolate martini or how about an espresso martini. I like the latter with 2 parts Godiva vodka, 1 part Baileys, splash of heavy cream and a pinch of espresso powder. Shake well and strain into a vodka glass and top with a shake of cocoa.

If this all wasn’t enough, Godiva even has Chocolate Raspberry Vodka..!

Happy Holidays indeed..!

12/11/10

1-Series M Coupe – BMW’s Latest Dynamo


BMW’s Motorsport Division brings us their newest creation. A high-zoot version of the 135 that has been thoroughly reworked by those evil speed-demon engineers from BMW M! And what a ride it looks to be…

The twin-turbo inline 6 cylinder engine has been massaged to 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. With a 7000 rpm redline, the motor scoots the car to 60 mph in a reported 4.7 seconds with a limited top speed of 155 mph. Power flows through a 6-speed manual transmission to the rear wheels.

Crossed drilled cast iron binders – 14.2 inches front and 13.8 rear – will halt the car with near violent efficiency. The wheels covering those brakes, also seen on the M3 with the Competition Package, are 19 x 9” in front and 19 x 10 at the rear. With wide fenders and M aero bits, the visual impact is one of menace – fitting for this car. There is no mistaking its sporting purpose.

The black interior is highlighted with alcantara throughout and contrasting Valencia Orange stitching and the M seating is both comfortable and supportive – the perfect environment to conduct serious driving.

Overall I love this car as it has been executed very well. The two gripes I have would be the lack of a dual-clutch transmission option and the missing hood power-bulge that other BMW M cars have. Regardless, this sporting 1-er will no doubt be a rousing success!

12/10/10

Post Ranch Inn – A Big Sur Beauty


Looking for that intimate, luxurious getaway to the beautiful California coast? I have just the place…

First opened in 1992 and with a recent expansion, this resort remains one of my favorite hideaways…perfect for that long weekend to relax and recharge.

Built on ranch property owned by several generations of the Post family, this luxurious resort features stunning organic architecture. The natural beauty of the land is represented in the design and materials of the resort itself. Accommodations consist of 39 guest rooms, each with a unique layout highlighting ocean or mountain views. Two private houses are available as well should you require larger quarters.

Amenities at the resort include a world class Spa with the usual menu of services, available either in room or at the Spa facilities. One unexpected service for the adventurous: a session with a Shaman to “help create physical, mental and emotional well-being.” Foodies are covered at the Inn as well. Helmed by Executive Chef Craig von Foerster, the gourmet Sierra Mar restaurant has won accolades from around the world for its epicurean delights.

Swimming facilities include three pools. Two are described as basking pools – essentially large hot-tubs - and the third is the more standard size “swimming” variety. Other activities at the resort include morning yoga sessions, meditation, guided hikes, stargazing with the supplied telescope and occasional cooking classes hosted by Chef Foerster.

A classic getaway, the Post Ranch Inn truly is a Big Sur Beauty! Relaxation guaranteed…

2012 Audi A6 Unwrapped


Audi’s next generation A6 has been officially unwrapped by the folks from Ingolstadt, Germany.

At first glance I see a fairly conservative makeover, drawing design cues from the recently redone big-brother A8 flagship. The front and rear fascias share a definite familial resemblance. Full LED headlamps, similar to those on the A8 will be an option, as well as a 20-inch wheel package.

Engine choices for the U.S. have yet to be announced, but I expect the main powerplant to be a supercharged 3.0-liter TFSI V6, with 295 hp and 325 lb-ft. A regular aspirated V6 rated at 201 hp may be available as well. Europe will have the option of three turbodiesels and an upcoming Hybrid powertrain. Will the Hybrid make it to the States? The folks at Audi are mum on this at the moment.

The interior is up to Audi’s usual high standards of design and technology with a choice of various wood veneer or metallic trims, ambient lighting, massaging seats and a top shelf audio system from Bang & Olufsen.

The target competition for the A6 will be the Mercedes E-class, BMW’s recently redone 5-series and Infinity’s M. How will it stack up to these rivals? Check back in a few months to find out…the A6 is due in U.S. showrooms mid-summer of 2011. If you appreciate understated yet sporty elegance, this may be the car for you…

12/9/10

12C Cabernet – Rutherford Dust Done Right


“Rutherford dust” – an often referred to terroir-driven characteristic of Cabernet Sauvignons produced in the Rutherford appellation of Napa Valley. This flavor profile is commonly described as an allspice-dusty-berry combination.

Now that you have that…

One of the boutique wine producers in this area is 12C, a small firm owned by John and Joyce Raudabaugh and named after the ideal wine storage temperature in degrees Celsius. Producing wines for a very short time, they have quickly garnered attention from in-the-know vinophiles by securing grapes from the famed Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III and employing the services of artisan Cabernet maker Mike Smith who has worked with Schrader and Maybach among others.

12C’s sophomore vintage, the 2008, displays what winemaker Smith refers to as “soaring aromas of dark red fruits, minerality and subtle barrel spice”. With a rich and velvety mouthfeel, Smith says the wine finishes with “red fruits, sandalwood spice and Belgium chocolate notes”.

With only 125 cases of the 2008 produced and the 2007 vintage long gone, you’d better buy what you can find. An excellent example of Rutherford Cabernet and highly recommended!

8/3/10

Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong – World’s Tallest Hotel


If you have an aversion to heights, you may want to cease reading at this point.

Opening in December of this year, luxury hotelier The Ritz-Carlton is opening the world’s tallest hotel. Located in the International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong, this soaring property has its first floor (hold on to your chairs…) on the 102nd floor of the building and runs up to floor 118..!

Yes, you read that correctly!

All that height guarantees a spectacular view of Victoria Harbor and the surrounding bustle that is Hong Kong, while maintaining a level of detachment from the insanity at street level.

The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong will offer 312 guest rooms along with Grand Harbor Suites and of course the top-shelf Ritz-Carlton Suite. Other features include a lobby lounge, tea lounge, six restaurants including Chinese and Italian cuisines, and topping it all off – pun intended – a rooftop alfresco bar!

If the altitude makes you nervous, you can relax in the ESPA, which according to the Ritz folks will “redefine the urban spa experience”. Over 9,000 square feet of space the facility includes 9 deluxe treatment rooms and three couples suites, all with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows.

This is sure to be a one-of-a-kind experience with a bird’s eye view.

7/27/10

No Holes with Blacksocks.com


OK gents…how many times have you put on a pair of socks in preparation for work or a night out on the town, only to look down and find a hole worn in the toe or heel? Then you toss them into the trash and replace with another pair. A couple weeks down the road the scenario repeats itself and before you know it, the sock drawer is getting a bit depleted.

Do you really want to run to the store to buy….socks?

Blacksocks.com has just the thing to remove that trip to the store from your life and add a little convenience…your very own Sockscription.

The premise is as follows – place your order for the type of socks you require and then select a delivery schedule of 3, 4 or 6 times per year. At the end of the year you are contacted as to whether you want to renew. You pay up front for the socks and all shipping is free of charge. Blacksocks.com also happens to carry undershirts and underwear that you can add to your subscription.

Convenience, a quality product and excellent customer service – what more can you ask for? Maybe it’s time for your very own Sockscription.

7/26/10

Audi A7 Official Reveal


In an answer to the Mercedes Benz CLS and BMW 5-Series GT, German automaker Audi has released official data and photos for the upcoming A7 5-door sportback.

In dealerships this fall (I’m told late September, subject to change), the A7 retains the sporting fastback look of the original show car version seen at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show. In walk-around the exterior design proportions are mostly successful. The interior is of course up to Audi’s luxurious and well-constructed high-bar standards.

A few powertrain options will be available, with the main unit to be the 295 hp supercharged V-6 seen in other Audi models. This should give sprightly performance with a 0 – 60 time in the mid 5 second range. Quattro all-wheel drive is present as well along with the available S-tronic dual-clutch transmission.

The A7 interior sports the latest version of Audi’s excellent MMI infotainment system along with an available Bang & Olufsen 15 speaker stereo to rock your world.

Audi has certainly been on a roll of late with each new release gaining momentum in the marketplace. Let’s see how the A7 measures up to the competition. Stay tuned…

Chocomize: Custom Chocolate Bars


Chocolate lovers look away…or risk being hooked! You can now create your own signature chocolate bar!

The good folks at Chocomize are giving you the ultimate power in candy bar creativity. You start with a selection of one of three Belgian chocolates: Dark, Milk or White. Then you dive in to a list of over 100 ingredients to paint your chocolate canvas. Categorized under Nuts and Seeds, Fruits, Herbs and Spices, Candy, Decorations and Other, there is a seemingly endless combination of flavor profiles. In fact, a calculator-toting individual at Chocomize apparently did the math and came up with over 30 billion possible combinations.

That’s “billion” with a “B”…

I hope you are hungry, as it will take a while to get through them all and find your favorite. Roasted pistachios, wasabi peas, sour cherries, cayenne pepper, basil, mini marshmallows…I’m just scratching the surface here. You can even cross the Crazy Border and try some beef jerky, Cheerios or potato chips in the bar!

Hmmm…

To top it all off, a portion of all proceeds from Chocomize will go to one of three charities. Certainly a nice gesture in these times.

What are you waiting for? Build your recipe and order up – then let me know if you find that magic combination…your chocolate nirvana.

7/23/10

Diamonds and Tweeters Oh My..!


We’re talking audio speakers today, which is where the “tweeter” comes into play. Webster informs us that a tweeter is…”a small, high-fidelity speaker for reproducing high-frequency sounds”. In a loudspeaker you will generally find a tweeter working in conjunction with a woofer, which handles the lower frequencies. This is an oversimplification of course but gives you a general idea…

When speakers are designed, every aspect of that speaker influences the final sound, and this includes the material from which the speakers are constructed of. The dome of a tweeter – think of it as the little curved part – can be made of many different materials. Fabrics such as silk, various metals… they all lend certain characteristics to the overall sound.

What does this have to do with a girl’s best friend..?

I am here to tell you that diamonds are in fact being used by some speaker manufacturers for the dome surface of their tweeters. The hard surface of the diamond-coated dome lends itself to lower distortion levels. If the speaker is engineered well, this can lead to a more precise representation of the signal sent to it from the CD, vinyl, mp3, etc…

For you real geeks out there, click here for a nice white-paper on the subject to melt your brain with.

Several manufacturers have taken to using diamond tweeters. A couple of the more accessible are B&W whom I talked about previously (pictured above), as well as Usher Audio. Follow the links for more information and then take a listen and see what you think.

Maybe diamonds are an ear’s best friend…

7/15/10

New BMW X3 Arrives!


The second generation of what will soon be the middle of BMW’s SAV (Sport Activity Vehicle) lineup, the X3, has made its official debut.

Slightly larger than the previous edition the X3 (factory code F25) will be available in two configurations... The entry-level X3 xDrive28i has a normally aspirated 3.0 liter inline 6 cylinder engine providing 240 horsepower and 230 lb-ft of torque. If you need more grunt, look to the X3 xDrive35i with its turbocharged and direct injected 3.0 liter six good for 300 horses and 300 lb-ft of torque. The bigger engine will get the X3 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, while the smaller engine will be about a second behind.

Other tech bits include the third generation of BMW’s fine xDrive all-wheel drive system as well as the latest version of iDrive navigation. The expected luxury touches are present as well, depending on how you choose to outfit your buggy.

Overall the exterior and interior design show better than the previous edition. The most noticeable improvement however, will be the overall ride and performance. The previous X3 was universally ridiculed for a ride that was “too harsh”. BMW engineers took this to heart and spent a great deal of effort getting a more compliant feel while still retaining that famous BMW handling.

To be built at an expansion of the BMW Spartanburg, South Carolina plant, the X3 will be in dealerships Q4 of this year.

3/15/10

T.T. Trunks for the Thirsty Traveler


Do you happen to miss your own bar when you travel? There is something to be said for having the ability to whip up your favorite concoction whenever the urge strikes.

T.T. Trunks of Paris has just what is needed to quench the thirst. Your very own traveling mini bar trunk!

Standard features include a built in refrigerator, automatic coffee machine and a champagne kit. There is storage space aplenty for your collection of mini-bottles, glasses and miscellaneous menus or magazines.

For the cigar aficionado, T.T. Trunks will modify your mini bar further by removing a drawer and adding a cigar humidor made from solid okoume wood.

You can also customize your traveling saloon with high quality leathers of cowhide, calfskin or the more exotic crocodile, ostrich or python. For the interior look to some alcantara or linen canvas. Various colors of thread can be used, as well as choices of metal finishings, embroideries, stampings or inserts. Your imagination is your only limitation.

3/9/10

What is the ICSWI..?


Let me start with a clue today… which is of course, in the form of another question.

Do you like bubbly?

Yes indeed, we are going to discuss champagne and sparkling wine today! Specifically the Independent Champagne and Sparkling Wine Invitational – thus the ICSWI acronym.

In the Champagne region of France alone, there are over 5,000 independent artisans growing and producing their own product. That’s a lot of finely crafted Champagne. And the conference will be covering the rest of the world as well. Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava, German Sekt and Californian sparkling wine will all be present and available for your sampling pleasure. Over 50 of America’s top sommeliers will be on hand to handle the pouring duties.

The conference is being held in New Orleans in mid-April. There will be a full slate of educational seminars with industry experts, mixology demonstrations, a winemaker dinner and a couple of rather festive parties sure to run late into the evening.

Tickets are available online. Order yours and get ready to enjoy that bubbly..!

3/1/10

2011 Porsche Cayenne Appears


Porsche’s polarizing Cayenne SUV is set to debut in second generation form. This revision is from the ground up and corrects what were many of the previous generation’s faults.

In realizing the Cayenne should have more of an on-road bias, the reduction in off-road mechanical bits has helped the engineers shave a few hundred pounds from the previous model. Less weight equals better performance and improved fuel efficiency. All this despite a slight increase in both length and width over the previous model.

Another point of dissatisfaction was the Cayenne’s design. Fortunately both the exterior and interior appear to have been greatly improved. The outside aesthetic reveals a sleeker SUV with more sporting intentions, befitting of a Porsche. The interior is vastly improved as well, with many design cues coming from the recently introduced Panamera sedan.

Being that we are talking about a Porsche, it’s time to chat about powerplants. There will be four engine options on the new edition. The “entry-level” Cayenne gets a 300-hp V6 which will get you to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds according to the manufacturer. The Cayenne S model ups the ante with a V8 producing 400-hp. The speed fiends among you will appreciate the Cayenne Turbo, a twin-turbocharged V8 good for 500 raging horsepower. The final option is for the greenies out there… a hybrid that touts a 333-hp supercharged V6 engine along with a 47-hp electric motor. Performance is said to be on par with the Cayenne S. Mileage figures for the model range have not been released as of this writing.

All-in-all I really like the work of the team at Zuffenhausen. You will see the new Cayenne in showrooms in July, with the exception being the hybrid which has an expected fall arrival.

2/26/10

Skype Your Samsung Television


Internet voice and video phone company Skype is joining forces with electronics giant Samsung as the convergence of computers/internet with home entertainment continues…

What does this all mean? How about making video calls from your television?

As for the specifics, Samsung’s new LED 7000 and 8000 series of LCD televisions will include the Skype software embedded in their Internet @ TV feature. Simply connect the TV to the Internet, connect a Freetalk TV Camera (from the Skype Shop) and you will be able to vid-call other Skype users for free and any standard land or cell line for a minimum charge.

The televisions, shipping now to other parts of the world, should be available in the United States by June of this year.

“Honey, the TV is ringing…!”

2/24/10

Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui


Koh Samui, an island off the east coast of Thailand in the Gulf of Siam, seems to have the perfect blend of easy accessibility and get-away-from-it-all vibe. A 45 minute flight from Bangkok followed by a 30 minute drive from the airport and you have arrived at one of my favorites:

Surrounded by coconut and mango trees you will feel you have arrived at your own luxurious secret hideaway. Built on a hillside rising up from its own private beach, the scenery and atmosphere at this resort is guaranteed to remove any of life’s burdens from your thought center.

Accommodations consist of 60 one-bedroom villas, each with al fresco living spaces and a private infinity pool overlooking the bay. If your require a larger accommodation, there are 14 one to five bedroom residence villas available as well.

Two stunning restaurants and a bar at the beach will handle any culinary whims you may have. And if for some reason you are just not relaxed enough, visit the spa for an outdoor treatment. Of course the requisite fitness facilities, tennis courts and resort pool are all available as well as nearby golf, scuba, hiking, elephant treks and more. Top it all off with that famed Four Seasons service and...

Sound good? I agree… Book that trip and prepare for the ultimate getaway relaxation.

Butch Bakery – Cupcakes for Men


The Jackhammer, the Beer Run, the B-52…

All are on the cupcake menu at Butch Bakery in New York.

In an answer to the question “What does a Wall Street securities attorney do when he loses his job to the recession?” Start a bakery, of course. Founder David Arrick put the idea together and business has very quickly gone through the roof. The company is currently expanding operations to meet the exponential increase in demand.

I like to think of it as ingenuity at its finest! One of those “only in America” stories that remind us of what can be accomplished. The idea of course stems from the pink frosting and sprinkles stereotype, thus creating a whole new market.

So, what exactly is a Beer Run cupcake? How about some chocolate beer cake with beer-infused buttercream topped with crushed pretzels. More of a rum and coke fan? Butch Bakery has you covered, with their version consisting of rum-soaked Madagascar vanilla cake filled with cola Bavarian cream. Nice..!

Of course the Connoisseur will sample a few and let you know the results. The taste buds can hardly wait..!

2/23/10

Superman Comic Earns $1 Million


Superman is now super expensive…

Well, at least the original.

By original I refer to a 1938 edition of Action Comics No. 1, the first comic book featuring the Man of Steel and showing him lifting a car on the cover.

10 cents…the cost of this comic book back in the day.

Action comics No.1 is widely considered the pinnacle of comic book collecting, and there are approximately 100 copies in existence. This particular example was in stellar shape, topping the quality level of another example that sold last year for $317,000.

Although not confirmed, the buyer is thought to be one John Dolmayan, drummer for the rock band System of a Down, and purchaser of last year’s copy. The auction was held by ComicConnect.com and co-owner Stephen Fishler.

That’s one super deal..!

Sine Qua Non – Ultimate Cult Wine?




“SQN” for the verbally challenged among us…

Cult wines are born when the right combination of high quality and small production creates huge consumer demand. The wines from Sine Qua Non and owner/winemaker Manfred Krankl fit that bill to a “T”.

SQN was born in 1994 when Manfred began producing wines for a restaurant that he was involved in. Two years later his production was up to 2,000 cases and the wine legend was off and running. Today Manfred specializes in Rhone reds – Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre – as well as blended whites using Roussanne, Viognier and Chardonnay. Various sweet wines have also been made throughout the years along with a Pinot Noir that ended production in 2005.

Current production hovers around 3,500 cases, of which the majority is distributed to mailing list members and a few select restaurants and wine shops. The waiting list is unfortunately rather long, fed by annual glowing reviews from the likes of Robert Parker and the folks at Wine Spectator. If you stumble across a bottle you are likely looking at a healthy sum for procurement.

Another interesting note regarding the SQN wines…each year the various vintages have unique labels and names, as Manfred feels they are distinct wines and deserve such. Fanciful monikers such as Poker Face, Papa, Just For The Love Of It and Atlantis Fe 203 1B have adorned Syrah bottlings over the years.

Sine Qua Non… roughly translated to “something that cannot be done without”. Truly the king of the cult wines…

2/20/10

Crack Pie – Latest Dessert Craze


Yes folks, it is truly called Crack Pie..!

And it is truly addicting. (thus the “crack” reference) Everyone from Martha Stewart to Anderson Cooper is raving about this dessert, not to mention dropping $44/per pie..!

Here’s the deal… Sold by Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City, Crack Pie is the brainchild of pastry chef Christina Tosi. It’s a clever redux on an old-school dessert known as Chess Pie. Chef Tosi’s treatment of the crust is what makes this a truly special tastebud overload.

Crack Pie has become so popular that the folks at Momofuku are now selling them online! Shipped via Fedex you can sample one in your very own home.

Or if you are the adventurous sort, the LA Times has published the recipe here. Let the pastry chef in you give it a try.

Enjoy!

Barbera…The New Hot Wine?


There is a growing cadre of Barbera fans among wine drinkers lately. To be honest, I am not exactly sure why. There was no movie made about it…no hit song…no international news story.

Regardless, let’s take a look at this wonderful Italian varietal…

The earliest record of Barbera dates back to documents in the 1200s. The Piedmont province in the Northwestern corner of Italy tends to be Barbera’s most famous home and is the regions most widely planted grape. In fact, depending on whom you believe, Barbera is currently the 2nd or 3rd most widely planted grape in all of Italy. Over the years Barbera vines have found their way to Australia, Argentina and California where fine examples can be found. The grape itself is relatively easy to grow with high yields and excellent soil adaptability.

And now a few notes on the wine itself. Generally you will find a medium-bodied wine with a deep ruby color, mild tannins and pronounced acidity. Hints of raspberry and blackberry tend to be present in the flavor profile along with vanilla and spice notes if the wine was oaked. Barberas made in older “neutral” wine barrels may display more cherry flavors and aromas.

As far as food pairings, I will point you to anything with tomato sauce (of course), grilled meats and vegetables and stews. The bottom line here is that Barbera is generally very food friendly and there isn’t too much out there you can’t pair it with.

Now it’s time to open a bottle and sample for yourself. Pick up a nice bottle o’ Barbera and let me know what you think. Need a recommendation to try? You know who to contact…

Lamborghini Preps New Supercar


At storied Italian automaker Lamborghini, work appears to be well underway for the replacement of their top-of-the-line Murciélago supercar. Spy shots from the folks at Carpix show a disguised test vehicle in cold weather testing with development apparently far along.

Early information points to a V12 with direct fuel injection producing in the neighborhood of 700 horsepower. Weight savings appears to be a priority as well, with the vehicle switching to an aluminum space frame from the current car’s steel. Also look for aluminum in the doors and roof as well as extensive carbon fiber throughout. A new all-wheel drive system will be present also, putting all that power to the ground.

Design cues will refer to the recent Reventón and Estoque vehicles, maintaining that distinctly Lambo flair. A good preview of the final look might be designer Mauro Lecchi’s Levo concept, pictured above.

As for what the new flagship from Lamborghini will be called, I am betting on a name from Lamborghini’s past… Jota.

2/2/10

A Few Notes on the 2010 Grammys

Let me just get this minor rant out of the way first. This years’ Grammy Awards continued the long-running trend of being primarily a popularity contest. Are Beyoncé and Taylor Swift producing the best music out there..? Really..? Every once in a while the voters get it right, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

As for the performances, most of them were pretty well done. It sure helps when you have the stage show and lighting as they did this year. A big bucks production…

The Black Eyed Peas were their usual infectious selves. Hard to keep the toe from tapping when you hear these guys. Lady Gaga along with Elton delivered pretty much what one expected…over the top entertainment with a bit of talent hidden beneath the insanity. As for Beyoncé, does anyone else notice that her performances feel very contrived? She comes off as a bad actress up on stage – the emotions aren’t real. The Zac Brown band – those boys can “sang”! Awesome harmonies… Bridge Over Troubled Water with Mary J. Blige and Andrea Bocelli – nicely done..!

As for my favorite performance of the night… Pink! A mesmerizing performance both visually and aurally. She clearly worked hard on the unique stage presentation, but the girl has actual soul and emotion in her voice – Beyoncé should take note.

Agree? Disagree? Send me your thoughts and let me know…

1/28/10

Comfort Food – Latest Dine Out Trend

It is a certainty that the restaurant business is susceptible to trends. Especially in this economy as many establishments struggle to keep patrons coming in their doors. One movement that has been established for a while that I can appreciate is the use of “local” ingredients on a menu. I feel it adds a sense of place to a restaurant, as well as being a good business practice.

Recently anther buzz has come to the fore, fueled by the weak economy…comfort food.

After all, public morale is rather low. Why not offer some solace in a familiar plate of gourmet mac ‘n cheese or a fancified meat loaf. The effect here is two-fold… the familiarity of the food provides comfort and the food itself can oftentimes be cheaper to prepare, allowing establishments to offer more enticing price points to customers in penny-pinching mode.

Many eateries simply appear to supplement their menu with an item or four that meet this criteria. Others go full bore and fill an entire menu and make it a selling point. One recently visited establishment really seemed to get the blend “just right”, as Goldilocks would say…

Nobhill Tavern

Another in the growing empire of celebrity chef Michael Mina’s restaurants, Nobhill Tavern hits all the marks. A warm and inviting atmosphere, engaging and efficient staff and a menu with the right mix of comfort and gourmet. You can steer your evening meal in whichever direction suits your fancy. No doubt you will end up completely satisfied.

So the next time you are in the Mecca of Las Vegas, give Nobhill Tavern a try for a touch of comfort… Highly recommended!

1/27/10

Detroit Auto Show Upcoming Models

With the NAIAS (North American International Auto Show) from Detroit now firmly in the rearview mirror, I wanted to reflect back on a few of the production car debuts from the event. After all, I like to make sure you are informed and up to date.

Let’s start with the new 2011 Audi A8 that I wrote about here. This car brims with the latest technology and should be an excellent drive. Of course the interior shows up to Audi’s standards as well and overall the car appears to be a winner. The question remains, how will this big sedan from the four rings do against rivals from BMW and Mercedes..?

For BMW the letter “s” was important…as in the new Z4 sDrive 3.5is. Think of this variant of BMWs diminutive roadster as an unofficial M (Motorsport) version of the car. Tweaks to the engine for more power, along with suspension upgrades and a sporty exterior package set this car apart from the run of the mill Z4. This should be one exhilarating drive.

Of course Mercedes-Benz wasn’t going to let everybody else steal the limelight and bowed with the E-class convertible. Based on the new E-class coupe, the convertible looks appropriately restrained in that Mercedes kind of way. This is a very nice car, but missing a dollop of passion.

Cadillac’s debut of the “concept” in name only XTS will replace both the STS and DTS models as the large offering in the automakers lineup. A striking interior, hybrid powertrain technology and the usual Cadillac design cues make this a car that could do very well upon arrival. It will take dead aim at the Mercedes S400 Hybrid and anything else out there in the full-size category.

Lastly, let’s climb the ladder a few rungs so that I can mention Bentley’s newest flagship, the Mulsanne. I will keep it simple and say that it is everything the top-of-the-line Bentley should be. Simply fantastic..!

1/26/10

Live Lobster? Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co.


If you have a hankering for some great Maine lobster and don’t have the time to fly to Maine, I have a solution for you…

Let the good folks at Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company bring that lobster to you!

Cundy’s Harbor, Maine’s oldest commercial lobstering community, is the source of the lobster for Hancocks. The lobster is harvested from Casco Bay and shipped to you the same day, via overnight delivery. Each lobster is sized at 1 ¼ pounds and the package includes all the handling and cooking instructions you might need.

If you don’t need a full live lobster, look to the 6 oz tails or maybe meat from the claw and knuckle.

With a family restaurant history dating back to 1946, the folks at Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company also offer several entrees, appetizers and soups to fulfill any noshing whims you may have. Lobster cakes, lobster rolls, bacon-wrapped scallops and lobster bisque can start your meal, followed by lobster pot pie, Lobster Newburg or a full Maine clambake. An impressive array of lobster dishes to choose from, and all of high quality.

Take a look at their site and see what you like… but you’d better not do it when you’re hungry or you will have one large shipment on its way..!

1/13/10

Who is Maurice Lacroix..?


In actuality the question should be “what is Maurice Lacroix?”

I can answer that in two words…

Swiss watch

With a history dating back to the 1961 opening of an assembly shop producing watches for third party brands, the company introduced the first Maurice Lacroix watch in 1975. International distribution ensued in the 80’s and growth has been steady ever since.

Maurice Lacroix (there is no individual with this name) has become known for their high quality movements, and deservedly so. These are first rate timepieces.

In terms of style, ML watches lean towards a somewhat retro look in their displays. There is also a lunar influence in many of the designs, as well as watches with moon phase indications. Some even bordering on a bit quirky…but if it fits your style…

Try the Starside collection for that celestial feel, or the Les Classique collection for understated elegance. Take a look and see what you like. It may be time for a Maurice Lacroix on your wrist..!

3D All the Buzz at CES

The annual madhouse in Las Vegas known as CES – Consumer Electronics Show – has now come and gone. In its wake it has left the 3D buzz.

Yes folks, coming to a television set, blu-ray player or video game near you is 3D.

Before you take a flying leap onto the 3D bandwagon, I want to give you a few notes on this topic…

As with all emerging consumer technologies, there are competing standards. Remember the Hi-def DVD format war a couple years back..? Eventually it was settled with Blu-ray the victor. The same issues are occurring with 3D, although standards are being ironed out much quicker including 3D format on Blu-ray discs, HDMI signal cable standards and more. However, some issues are still unsettled at the moment.

One such concern is the display itself. Some of them use “active shutter” glasses, which actually receive a signal from the television and work in conjunction with it to produce the 3D image. Then you have “passive glasses”, in which most of the 3D work is done by the television. Lastly there is a technology that requires no glasses whatsoever. Unfortunately this tech presently has the most limitations and lags behind the other two.

As far as 3D content..? Well, there isn’t much available at the moment. However, many of the 3D movies now in theaters will come to blu-ray this year and ESPN, DirecTV, Sony, Discovery Channel and others are throwing their hat into the ring with announcements of content and dedicated 3D channels on the way. Sporting events show great promise here.

The bottom line is that I highly recommend… patience! I know you “early adopters” out there can’t stand it, but the fact remains that 3D has a lot of rivers to cross at the moment. The sweet spot to get into the 3D parade, which will include some equipment upgrades from what you currently own, should be right around Q2 of 2011 and the year following.

After all… patience is a virtue. Right?

Masa – World’s Best Green Tea

Green tea – one of the current “buzz items” if you will, in wellness circles, is becoming quite popular.

Originating in China, but now associated with many Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, green tea is thought to aid heart health and hinder certain forms of cancer. As with all beverages, a following has formed…the green tea connoisseurs walk among us!

On that note, let’s see if we can find what may be the best green tea extant.

Look no further than the Royal Blue Tea Company in Japan. While they also make flower tea and blue tea, their green tea is our focus today. Specifically we are going to talk about their Masa Super Premium. Not only is this tea supposed to be quite good, it is also rare. Royal Blue began taking orders recently for a production run of all of 36 bottles. They will ship in March of this year.

Each 750-ml bottle comes in a wooden box wrapped in a ceremonial cloth. Put your order in now before they are all spoken for. And don’t forget to write that check for ¥210,000..!

1/12/10

Infinity’s All-New M For 2011

Infiniti’s competitor to BMW’s 5-series and Mercedes E-class among others is debuting now in its third generation form.

The 2011 Infiniti M will arrive in showrooms spring of this year in M37 and M56 guise. The M37 will use the same V6 motor that resides in the smaller G37 and should deliver 330 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. If you crave the extra kick in the pants, the M56 comes with a V8 boasting 420 hp and a torque rating of 417 lb-ft. Enough to get you where you are going a bit quicker than anticipated.

You Greenies out there will be covered as well. Infiniti will release a hybrid version of the car with the M35 moniker. Details are sketchy at present, but this fuel sipper looks to be available about a year after the standard models.

Tech? There will be plenty of that to go around with features like intelligent cruise control, lane departure and blind-spot warning systems, brake assist and more.

And now for the design. How does this car look? The eye really notices the deeper sculpting of the fenders as well as the lower hood. Much of the style applied here is done in reference to Infiniti’s recent Essence concept car that I wrote about here. In pictures it has a bit of a minimizing effect to the visual heft of the car itself. Overall I approve.

The new M should indeed be a worthy competitor to the mid-size Bavarian sedans. If you are in the market it will be worth a look. Final thoughts from the Connoisseur pending a drive…

1/11/10

The Perfect Cabernet - Dana 2007 Lotus Vineyard


Let’s aim high and start the year with a little perfection.

At least Robert Parker thinks so…

Arguably the world’s most famous and influential wine critic, Robert Parker has been tasting and rating wines for many years. Occasionally a wine garners that impressive perfect rating…the 100 point bottle.

Which brings us to Korean businessman Hi Sang Lee who purchased 30 acres of the notable Rutherford property from the Livingston family earlier this decade. His plan…produce a blockbuster Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Enlisting the services of star winemaker Philippe Melka and viticulturist Pete Richmond and building a world-class winery designed by renowned architect Howard Backen, the Dana Estates wines are serious stuff!

Three vineyard specific Cabernets are produced, the Helms, Hershey and Lotus bottling. The 2005 Helms was the first release (94 points – Parker) followed by the remaining vineyards in 2006. Now with the 2007 wines, all three have improved steadily with the Lotus vineyard reaching perfection per Parker’s palate.

As with many of the Napa Cult Cabernets, the Dana wines are limited production and priced to reflect their exclusivity and quality. However, if you have the opportunity to sample one of these Napa Valley gems, it will be an occasion to remember. Highly recommended..!