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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


The New York Auto Show

We love cars and we love New York, but with the auto show circuit coming to a close, the New York event didn’t seem to produce the buzz of other shows earlier in the season. Yet there were still some interesting vehicles that caught our eye.

A couple of manufacturers not known for attractive or sporting designs broke the mold and came up with a pair of worthwhile concept cars.

The first of these is Kia with its Koup concept. While the design breaks no new ground in the industry, it does point a better direction for Kia’s design language. Hints are of a production version in a little over a year.

The second company with a surprise infusion of style was Suzuki with its Kizashi 3 concept. This sedan also appears to be slated for production in the near future.

Hyundai’s upcoming Genesis Coupe debuted in production ready form with an eye-catching shape and the promise of excellent performance with over 300 horsepower. Due in the spring of ’09, we will drive this coupe and let you know if it is Connoisseur worthy as this company continues its up-market aspirations.

For pure design merits, we like the new Pontiac Solstice Coupe. Yeah, I know it’s a Pontiac, but take a look and see what you think. With a removable targa roof and 260 horsepower on tap, it looks to be a winner.

And finally, the Connoisseur’s favorite debut in the “Top of the Heap” category…the Saleen S5S Raptor.

Widely known for their Ford Mustang conversions, Saleen has come up with this mid-engine 650 horsepower monster that surely means business. It even runs on E85 Ethanol – fast and green! Look for the Raptor to hit the streets in two years at an approximate $185,000 price tag.


Sherry, Baby..!

Ah yes, a great hit for the Four Seasons.

Something tells me that Frankie and the boys weren’t singing about a fortified wine. That being the case let me give you a few details on the wonderful wine known as Sherry.

If you want to see where Sherry is made, you will need to go to the southwest of Spain, particularly in and around the town of Jerez. The origins date all the way back to 1100 BC when the Phoenicians introduced wine-making to the area. In the 1200s Sherry production increased significantly and a few hundred years later Europeans believed it to be the finest wine in the entire world.

Sherry trivia fact: Christopher Columbus even brought some along on his voyage to America..!

OK, what is that fortified wine phrase you read above? A wine qualifies as “fortified” when brandy is added to raise the alcohol content. Another famous fortified wine is Port; the difference between the two is when the brandy is added. For Port it is added during fermentation (adding to the sweetness) and for Sherry it is added after fermentation.

Another unique feature of Sherry production is that each year is blended with other years (vintages) in a specific manner known as the Solera System. I won’t get into details, but this blending helps maintain Sherry’s consistency from year to year.

There are five basic types of Sherry:

Manzanilla - A pale and dry variety (a type of Fino) produced in the specific location of Sanlucar de Barrameda.

Fino - the palest and driest of the varieties.

Amontillado - Made famous by E.A. Poe, a different production method yields a slightly darker and richer wine that Fino.

Oloroso - More aging and oxidation make for deeper color and more richness than Amontillado.

Cream - Can vary in color, but is a sweeter, more syrupy variety.

The last fun fact for the day, and certainly a necessary one, is what to drink this stuff from. Please refrain from guzzling from the bottle! Tradition dictates using a glass called a copita – a tulip shaped glass that can also be used for port and other aperitifs.

Now, anyone care to join me for a cask of Amontillado..?


Speaker Demo Tips

So Uncle Sam gave you a refund, and now you are thinking of treating yourself to a really smokin’ set of speakers for that stereo or home theater. (btw – the Connoisseur thinks this a great use of your funds!)

Rule #1 – Don’t go trundling off to Fred’s We Carry Everything Bargain Basement Chain Store to listen to speakers.

Why, you ask?

They normally don’t carry a wide variety of high quality manufacturers, the sales staff often times is barely old enough to drive a car let alone tell you anything of substance regarding their products, and the listening environment is generally akin to standing in the middle of a giant warehouse (not a good thing). Look on the net or in your phonebook and find some smaller, dedicated audio/video retailers and visit a few of them – they will generally carry a variety of brands and you want to expose your ears and brain to several options.

Rule #2 – Take it with you! Something to listen to, that is…

Go through your CD or vinyl collection and select 3 to 5 songs that you are familiar with – you want to know what you are listening to. Also be sure to have some variety, and cover all the genres of music that you listen to as well as varying instruments.

Rule #3 – Take your time. If you run out and listen to 10 different speakers at three different stores in a single day, your ears will become overwhelmed. Demo a few speakers today, maybe a few tomorrow, and narrow down your favorites. Then listen to them again another day and see if your thoughts remain the same.

Rule #4 – Take it with you again!

Once you are down to the finalists, ask for a home demo - if you can take them home to listen in your own environment and with your own equipment. Your listening room affects the sound quality to a huge degree and many of these specialty stores will be fine if you run a card and bring them back the next day.

During one of my speaker listening endeavors, I was down to two competing speakers from two different retailers, one of which was a clear favorite to both me and my wife. I managed to bring the competitors home over the same evening and lo and behold, in my room and with my equipment, the underdog speakers won the duel.

Good luck and happy listening!


Irish Coffee Anyone..?

With St. Patrick’s Day having recently come and gone, I was reminiscing about a particularly good Irish Coffee that I once had in San Francisco at the Buena Vista Café. (More on the Buena Vista in a moment…)

Coffee drinks are always good, but with the right mix of ingredients, they can be amazing. By ingredients here, I am not just talking about the stuff in the drink. You can also factor in little things like the weather – is it chilly outside – or the timing, such as finishing a great dinner with an Irish Coffee as a closer. Nice….

Now that you are getting a mental picture on this fine beverage, let’s talk a bit of history.

The credit for creation of the Irish Coffee goes to a gentleman by the name of Joe Sheridan, a bartender at Shannon International Airport in Ireland. Sometime in the late 40’s he apparently came up with this concoction to warm some weary travelers.

Legend has it that the Irish Coffee recipe migrated to America courtesy of travel writer Stanton Delaplane. In 1952 he is said to have shared the recipe with Jack Koeppler, a bartender at the above mentioned Buena Vista Café in San Francisco, where it can be enjoyed to this day!

And now for the really good part – the recipe for an Irish Coffee. It turns out that the International Bartenders Association has official guidelines for this drink, although of course there several variations. Here is the IBA’s recipe:

· 2 parts Irish Whiskey
· 4 parts hot coffee
· 1 ½ parts fresh cream
· 1 tsp brown sugar

Of course the Connoisseur recommends a good quality coffee and a good quality whiskey to ensure the proper Irish Coffee experience. And don’t forget to make sure it is a bit chilly outside!


What’s the Beef? Kobe vs. Wagyu

It’s now time for Cow Talk 101… A class that likely none of us signed up for in college.

Kobe beef has been in the fine food lexicon for a while, and now the latest buzz steak is the Wagyu. What are they and how do they compare?

All Kobe is Wagyu.

What..? Let me try to break this down for you…

Wagyu is a breed of cattle (actually a few related breeds) genetically predisposed to dense marbling and a high percentage of unsaturated fat, resulting in a supremely tender, flavorful and luxurious cut of meat. With its origins in Japan dating back to the 2nd century, Wagyu cattle developed it’s characteristics in large part due to the breeding and feeding techniques developed for the various climates and rugged terrain of that country. Wagyu cattle are now also raised in America as well as Australia.

Kobe beef is from Wagyu cattle, but these cattle originate solely from Kobe, Japan and meet the strict production guidelines from that prefecture (each region has differing procedures). These traditional practices can include a diet including beer and sake, as well as daily massages to relax the muscles. Some might say this sounds like a nice life, until the visit to the butcher..! This process provides Kobe beef with its own individual set of characteristics (flavor, texture) compared to other types of Wagyu.

So remember, all Kobe beef is from Wagyu cattle, but not all Wagyu beef is from Kobe.


Thoughts on a Drive: BMW M3

Now it’s time for the promised post-drive follow-up to our recent blog on BMW’s new M3.


Consider this a warning. Don’t fall prey to the siren’s call of that high-revving V-8 engine, or you will find yourself on the wrong side of a speeding ticket quicker than you can say “supercalifragilistic expeali-whoa-where’s the brake pedal?”

Yes, this is unquestionably an exhilarating ride. The engine is truly manic, and it feels as though there is more torque on hand than the specifications lead you to believe. Handling is certainly of the “on rails” variety, with tons of stick and exemplary body control. The brakes are plenty powerful and the steering – though somewhat maligned in the press – seemed spot on to us. Even the ergonomics for someone 6’6” were fine, with the interior offering plenty of room and adjustability.

The only mild gripe I can come up with is the lightness of the clutch. It just didn’t quite seem to fit the attitude of this car. No problem – just order the F1 style dual clutch transmission with the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters and be done with it.

To sum this all up, the new M3 looks better in person than in pictures, makes you feel like Michael Schumacher and behaves like…well… like a proper M-car should!

Connoisseur Corner recommended..!


Agave Nectar

Is this the fabled “nectar of the gods”?

As the name would imply, agave nectar or agave syrup is produced in Mexico from several varieties of the agave plant, including Blue Agave of tequila fame. The nectar is produced by extracting juice from the agave piña (core). The juice is then filtered and heated to form the sugars, ending up with a consistency a bit thinner than honey.

Agave nectar is essentially a sweetener that can be used as a substitute for sugar, honey or other items. Vegans often use it to replace honey and health conscious folks may use it due to a lower glycemic index than other sweeteners.

So why on earth is the Connoisseur talking about this sweet, syrupy, sticky stuff..?

Can you say “killer margaritas”?

Yes folks, it’s time to get down to the business at hand. Obviously there are a few hundred trillion margarita recipes out there, the greater majority of which are unfortunately awful. Try this basic recipe using agave nectar and see what you think. Feel free to tweak the proportions as your taste dictates.

· 6 parts tequila (we recommend a good quality silver)
· 4 parts fresh squeezed lime juice
· 1 part agave nectar

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously and pour into a glass over ice – we recommend no salt on the rim.

Nectar of the Gods, indeed…!

A couple of notes: the lighter colored nectar is preferable over the amber color for this drink. As for the limes, we favor the common Mexican lime – round, green and somewhat larger than a ping-pong ball. The other readily available lime is the Tahitian Persian lime, which is shaped like a small lemon. These are a bit more acidic than the Mexican limes, and may require a bit more nectar to offset the flavor difference.


Freezing Cheese

Yes, I am from Wisconsin, home of oft- freezing temps as well as some of the best cheese in the land. But believe it or not, that was not the inspiration for today’s subject.

Recently I have noticed the warehouse shopping stores are carrying large quantities of decent quality cheeses at good prices. Along with this, I have been asked the question:

“Can I freeze cheese?”

While this inquiry may sound a bit Dr. Seuss inspired, it is certainly valid. When buying a 14 pound block of parmesan (I exaggerate only slightly), you tend not to use it all in one sitting. So the answer to the question is yes

However there is a side effect…

Freezing cheese tends to change the texture, making it a bit crumbly. With that in mind, here are a few pointers:

If you are not freezing the cheese in its original packaging, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then put into a zip-top bag and squeeze the air out when sealing. It is best to use this cheese within two to three months of freezing.

A good way to beat the crumble problem is to grate the cheese before freezing. It will also defrost quicker this way.

When thawing cheese, do so in the refrigerator.

Brie, Ricotta and Mascarpone are not good candidates for the freezer – eat them up first!

This concludes today’s cheesy sermon.


Entry-Level Ferrari F149 to Debut in Paris?

“Plausible deniability…”

For months Ferrari personnel have denied rumors that a small, entry-level car was under development.

Despite their insistence, it appears as though this car will soon break cover, with the school of thought being a debut at the Paris Auto Show in October.

Can you say Dino?

Well, they might not use this storied name, but we wouldn’t bet against it. The project currently goes by F149 to Ferrari insiders.

This new Ferrari built car (the original Dino wasn’t actually badged a Ferrari) is slated to come in below the $190,000 sticker of the F430, their current least expensive model. We’re guessing in the $170,000 range.

And now for some juicy details…

The car will be powered by a new 4.3 liter V8 with direct gasoline injection (better fuel efficiency) mounted in a front engine configuration. You will also get a 2+2 seating configuration and…the really good part…

A folding steel hardtop!

This car should be a dandy! Stay tuned here for details as they come available and get that checkbook ready…


Auteur - the Zenith of Artisanal Pinot Noir

Zenith - Merriam-Webster defines it as the highest point or a culminating point.

Artisanal – Made by a skilled worker or artisan.

Pinot Noir – Known for being temperamental and difficult to grow, this grape varietal can yield tremendous wines that are also extremely food friendly. When discussing pinot noir, famed wine critic Robert Parker says: "When it's great, pinot noir produces the most complex, hedonistic, and remarkably thrilling red wine in the world..."

Throw these three definitions in a grape press and out comes…Auteur Pinot Noir.

Auteur owner and winemaker Kenneth Juhasz, after perfecting his craft with stints in Oregon, California and New Zealand, created his first two limited release pinots in 2003. Since that time the number of wines produced has increased and the quality has ratcheted up even further. The glowing reviews continue to roll in, and now it’s time for the Connoisseur to share. (No, that doesn’t mean you’re coming over to drink!)

Over the weekend I was able to meet Kenneth and try two of his new releases, the 2006 Sonoma Stage Pinot Noir (from California, of course) and the 2006 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir from Oregon.

All I can say is…WOW x 2! These are some voluptuous Pinot Noirs.

The wines are certainly unique from each other in character - the Sonoma Stage more mineral and earth focused and the Shea leaning a bit more toward the fruit - but the commonality lies in their depth of structure and amazing texture along with supple and well integrated tannins. Sure to become cult favorites in the coming years, these wines easily garner a Connoisseur Corner Recommended rating..!

Along with the Shea and Sonoma Stage pinots, Kenneth also has 2006 releases from Hyland Vineyard and Manchester Ridge as well as a pair of California Chardonnays, the Hyde Vineyard and Donum Vineyard. We’ve tasted the Hyde and it is excellent as well.

By the way, while I am on definitions – Auteur: an artist (as a musician or writer) whose style and practice are distinctive.


An Ocean of Sea Salt

In the category of popular and proliferating products, today we shall discuss sea salt.

Sea salt is everywhere you look these days – on television, in recipes, and even easy to find at your local grocery store. Don’t blink or it will end up in your pantry without you knowing how it got there!

As the name implies, sea salt is harvested from the sea and dried either by the sun or in kilns. It contains approximately 2% trace elements such as iron, magnesium or iodine. By comparison the table salt you’ve been using for most of your life is mined from land-based sources and refined to become 99.9% pure sodium chloride. However, anti-caking additives, sugar and iodine (for thyroid health) are generally added.

Is sea salt better for you than table salt as is often said? According to the Mayo Clinic, this is not the case, as the main issue with either salt is overuse in one’s diet.

Now let’s talk flavor. Does sea salt taste better? We think it does, although results can vary due to the many varieties of sea salt available. In general, the flavor is earthier and more subtle, with differing textures to the salts as well.

A good resource for information and product is online at Saltworks. Varieties are available from locations in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Pacific…the list goes on. Different flavors, textures, colors – get out there and try some gourmet sea salts and taste the difference it makes.


BMW M3: The Wait is Finally Over!

On Saturday, March 8th, BMW’s next generation M3 will magically appear at dealerships around the country.

It’s been a long and somewhat torturous wait for fans of the M, as the Germans slowly released information on this machine and the various spy photos trickled in. Finally in March of last year the official press release and photographs burst on the scene, kicking anticipation up yet another notch. This was followed later in the year by the appearance of the actual production car at the Frankfurt Auto Show.

The heart of this car is its hand built, 4.0-liter V8 producing 414 horsepower and with a stratospheric 8400 rpm redline. Truly an amazing engine! Of course all the usual BMW M bits accompany this motor – the strong brakes, tuned suspension, aggressive body kit (check that carbon fiber roof!) and a bevy of techno goodies make for one impressive package.

It’s also nice to see the return of a four door (E90) variant along with the coupe (E92). This sedan version is a definite response to competition from Audi’s RS4, Mercedes’ new C63 and the upcoming Lexus IS-F.

With pricing starting at $53,800 for the sedan and $56,500 for the coupe, these cars are comparable to anything else in their performance category. The question remains, will the M-cars still be the king of the performance hill, considering the high level of opposition out there?

The Connoisseur will take a first drive in the next few days and report back. Stay tuned…


Do You Have the (Pizza) Stones..?

Pizza stones, baking stones…If you occasionally bake pizzas or breads at home, this is a must have kitchen utensil.

A heavy, flat and unglazed piece of stone, ceramic or earthenware, these baking stones are used to distribute heat more evenly in an oven. Their porous nature allows them to absorb moisture, resulting in a crispier crust on pizzas or breads. They are also excellent for baking cookies, puff pastries and the like.

Pizza stones are easy to locate and reasonably priced. Our favorites are the round Pampered Chef version, or the rectangular model from Old Stone Oven. They both do a commendable job.

And now for the tips and tricks section of today’s blog:

Do not wash these stones with soap, as they are porous and will absorb whatever comes in contact with the surface. A scrape and a rinse with water is all that is needed and they will season in a similar manner to a cast-iron pan. Some experts do recommend a brush with olive oil afterward – we will leave that up to your discretion.

Preheat the stones in the oven – this is better for both the stone (they can occasionally crack) and the pizza or bread, as the heat is already built up on the surface.

A little cornmeal on the stone as well as the baking peel will help ease the movement of the pizza to and from the stone. Many people also use parchment paper and slide the pizza as needed.


From Here to the (Simaudio) Moon

The world of high-end audio and video is littered with dozens of companies that burst onto the scene with the latest and greatest gizmodifier, and then disappear almost overnight.

Lucky for us audiophile types, some companies are able to grow and thrive, while delivering quality products for our ears and eyes. One such company is Simaudio.

A Canadian company, Simaudio began producing products in 1980 and hasn’t looked back since. Their early claim to fame was excellent integrated amplifiers – a preamplifier and amplifier in a single chassis – such as the PW-3000 from the mid-80’s. From there the product line expanded into separate amplifiers, preamplifiers, CD players and now home theater electronics as well. In 1997 the reference-grade Moon line of products was introduced, taking performance up yet another notch.

There is quite a bit to like here – excellent sonics, superior build-quality and reliability, and an elegant design aesthetic. Even their customer service has a great reputation.

High end audio is a very personal journey, in that every individual has a different “ear”, or different perception of what they are listening to. That being said, quality with some manufacturers can be a constant, and Simaudio is one of the companies that the Connoisseur recommends. Every “ear” will appreciate what they do, and maybe you will find the component that you just can’t live without!

Go to the Moon and give ‘em a listen…