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Memorial Day brings summer traditions

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Back in the 1960s of my youth, my maternal grandfather, George Simon, referred to Memorial Day as "Decoration Day." Over the weekend, he dutifully cleaned and "decorated" the graves of his parents and sister, Adele, in the Union Cemetery in Arnold.

I enjoyed helping plant the colorful geraniums, pansies and petunias in the loamy, damp earth. Meanwhile, my great-grandfather's, great-grandmother's and great aunt's names and dates on the granite markers made me wish I had met these long-passed relations of Belgian and Alsacian stock.

On Memorial Day itself, my grandfather, a World War I veteran with service in France, attended the Arnold parade in honor of fallen military comrades. A fun picnic and libations concluded the day.

The rituals marked summer's beginning, and, today, the traditions continue.

Fancy Bourbon Punch

For the picnic, start in style by serving refreshing Fancy Bourbon Punch. The recipe adapted from Los Angeles-based mixologist Matt Wallace certainly will please the crowd.

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Peels and juice of 3 lemons and 1orange
  • 1 quart of strong green tea, brewed and cooled
  • 750-milliliter bottle of Maker's Mark Straight Bourbon (8454; $25.99)
  • 1/4 bottle of Champagne or other sparkling wine
  • Grated nutmeg

Combine the granulated sugar and the lemon and orange peels in the bottom of a large pitcher. Muddle the ingredients until the sugar clumps together. Let the mixture sit for about 2 hours.

Add the juice from the lemons and orange to the green tea. Then, stir the tea and bourbon into the sugar mixture.

Just before serving, stir in the Champagne or sparkling wine. Serve in tall glasses with ice, and top off with freshly grated nutmeg.

Memorial Day picnics, of course, also mean grilling. With dogs and burgers, well-made craft beers provide a great choice.

Brewmaster Dale Katechis of Oskar Blues Brewery recently visited the Burgh as part of American Craft Beer Week. Between invigorating biking excursions on Western Pennsylvania's challenging trails, Katechis visited local watering holes to talk about his pioneering efforts to put high-quality, robust craft beers in cans. He maintains cans keep the beers fresher and make it easier to carry beers to picnics.

Try the tasty Dale's Pale Ale in the eye-catching red, white and blue can. This aromatic amber ale carries 6.5 percent alcohol and liberal hopping at 65 IBUs on the International Bitter Units scale. It finishes crisp and clean with ample malty richness, balanced by delightful hops-laden flavors.

With spicy grilled jumbo shrimp, try the delightful 2010 Anne Amie Vineyards, Cuvée A Müller-Thurgau, Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon (Luxury 20988; $13). Relying on estate vines averaging more than 30 years old, winegrower Jason Tosch risked waiting until late October to hand-harvest the grapes. The gamble ripened the Müller-Thurgau fruit fully in lingering sunshine, even as heavy autumn rains threatened.

After gently pressing whole grape clusters, winemaker Thomas Houseman fermented the juice at cold temperatures in stainless steel to preserve fruity aromas and flavors. The wine rested on the spent yeast for four months to pick up creamy, complex notes.

Enchanting melon, green apple and honeysuckle aromas unfold to exotic fruit flavors of limes, passion fruit and Granny Smith apples. Bright, vibrant acidity and refreshing mineral notes frame the delicately fruity, yet dry finish. Highly recommended .

When grilling salmon or marinated flank steaks, try the tasty 2007 Maison Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-les-Beaune, France (Luxury 32006; On sale: $15.99). The phrase "reasonably priced Burgundy" has become a virtual oxymoron with the weak US dollar and stiffening worldwide demand for authentic Burgs. But savvy buying by PLCB Chairman's Selection guru Steve Pollack unearthed this classy wine.

Even with fruit from the modest Chorey-les-Beaune appellation, Maison Drouhin's always reliable teams produced a delicious bottle. It provides a glimpse of why Burgundy's pinot noir-based reds make such terrific table wines.

Drouhin's impressive 53-year-old estate vines create naturally low yields of complex fruit. Careful sorting at the winery ensures that only flawless fruit goes into the tanks. Slow, temperature-controlled fermentation with native yeasts and aging in French oak barrels -- with only 10 percent new -- provide a restrained touch.

The resulting delicate, well-balanced terroir-driven wine offers pure fruit aromas with earthy nuances, delicious red-fruit flavors, vibrant acidity and refined tannins. Highly recommended .

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