Antinori embraces Cabernet Sauvignon for Italian wines

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The Antinori family believes in tradition – and innovation, too. They introduced the Cabernet grape to Italy, in a spot where many other grape varieties can’t grow, and began experimenting with blending Cabernet with Italian grapes. The resulting wines have been exceptional, and now they are spreading the word.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Alessia and Niccolo share their passion for Antinori wines

She’s tall and slender, full of energy, and passionate about her mission. She is Alessia, the youngest daughter in the Antinori vintner family – the winemaker who travels the world alone and with her father, Marchesi. The family is the 26th generation to grow wines in Italy and now in Napa Valley. Together they imbibe lessons from cultures on several continents, the better to enrich their own winemaking wisdom. Alessia and her two sisters work closely with their father to manage the three Antinori wine estates in Italy and in America.

Alessia’s shoulder length, softly wavy brown hair moves in time to her graceful arm movements as she nods to emphasize her words. She is introducing five of the Antinori wines to a group of 60 people in Chicago. The Antinori wines being introduced are all made with some percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, for that is the theme of the evening: The Antinori Family’s Fascination with Cabernet around the World. Each wine has a subtle complexity along with delicacy and elegance in its blending. Several of them (see list below) are extraordinarily subtle and refined on the palate, especially the only-made-in-exceptional-years 2011 Solaia Toscana, made from grapes grown in a small southwest-facing vineyard next to their Tignanello vineyard in the Chianti Classico area of Italy.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Only in exceptional years – Solaia Toscana

As Niccolo Maltinti, U.S. Commercial Director and Brand Ambassador, said about this Solaia, “This is not a Sophia-Loren-type wine. It’s one of the most elegant wines, but with a backbone. You want to spend time with it and discover it slowly.” He said the poor, rocky soil here, “makes Cabernet Sauvignon grapes speak with an Italian accent.”

Alessia speaks warmly about the commitment to quality and the passion with which her family has been making wines for 600 years. She says these family values are transmitted seamlessly from generation to generation. Since her great-grandmother was American, her family has always felt a pull towards the United States – so it only made sense when her father visited Napa Valley that he would fall in love. He promptly bought 500 acres, built himself a home (an American style home built by an Italian architect) and went to work creating their estate vineyards.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Coco Pazzo’s fabulous venison ravioli with black truffle and wine reduction

The Cabernet event, held in the Florentine Room of the J.W. Marriott Chicago, paired a number of Antinori wines with fabulous Italian food creations, among them osso bucco with saffron risotto, braised lamb lasagna, and from Coco Pazzo, handmade venison ravioli with black truffle and wine reduction.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Alessia’s – and my! – favorite il Bruciato

Alessia gives away her secret – the wine she drinks every day at home is their il Bruciato, a full-bodied red made of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 15% Syrah. It’s wonderfully red and deep and pairs perfectly with many types of foods. And I was pleased to learn that the wine I liked so much that evening – and had to go back for more of – turned out to be her favorite, il Bruciato.

Barry Devine, the wine manager at Fleming’s Steakhouse in Lincolnshire, said he already carries several Antinori estate wines. He considers “Guado al Tasso Il Bruciato, the second label of the winery, and the Tormaresca Neprica (a blend of Negroamaro, Primativo, and Cabernet Sauvignon) fine examples of elegant wines at great value.” He said another great wine and great value is their Villa Antinori Toscana (Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah blend). In addition to being “great values, these wines are good representatives of their respective areas,” Barry said, and generally score in the 90 point range in respected wine publications.

I asked Alessia a little about herself. She said realized when she was a teenager that she had a choice of where to go in life. Her father never forced her to go into the business, she said. But when she asked her father if she should go for art history or go to Milan to learn winemaking, he unhesitatingly said, “Go to Milan!” Though she knows she could have done something else, she loves the profession she has committed her life to.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Alessia, sharing her enthusiasm

When asked if it was unusual today for women to be winemakers, she said, “No, not today. But 20 years ago when I started, I was one of only two women in a class with 30 guys.“

She spoke of how being a family-owned winery makes a difference. I asked her to elaborate. “How our family succeeded – it takes humility, open-mindedness, culture, passion, and curiosity. With the family transmitting the culture and commitment from generation to generation, it assures a continuing sense of responsibility. Otherwise people change, and they don’t have the same commitment.” She spoke of how pleasant it is to be involved with nature. “It took 26 generations to build this company,” she said. “It can take only one moment to destroy it. Everything depends on how you behave, how you transmit the values and ideals to the future generations.“ These values are natural in a family-owned wine business, said Alessia, but they must be tended constantly. “When I speak at events like this, that’s how I show my passion.”

On promoting their wines: “My father was a pioneer in the 1970s in discovering new areas, and in Italy we went to other cities to bring our wines and to promote wine drinking in general.” About traveling alone to India and Asia she said, “It was very challenging. I learned about their traditions, culture – very similar to ours – their religious commitments, history, and ancient culture. Also, no one knew me; I could be myself as a person.”

What about here in the US? “I learned about the huge market potential of the U.S., and that everyone focuses on the main cities. In the 50s and 60s it was more about whiskey and beer in the US. There is a huge revolution here, enormous. In Napa Valley we learned a great deal about using Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.”

Alessia’s favorite everyday Antinori wine, il Bruciato, is available at Binny’s and sold in Eataly by the glass.

Antinori Cabernet wines:

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Cool tips n tricks for Halloween at home – plus a dozen Chicago Halloween parties

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Nadia G tells it like it is for Halloween parties
Nadia G tells it like it is for Halloween parties

Nadia G., the popular Food Network show host, was writing comedy at an early age, has moved up fast in the world of TV and happily offers her own take on how to “do” Halloween right. Following are her top party ideas and Halloween recipes that will make your party the hot spot Halloween favorite.

  1. Try decorating your buffet with genuine old stuff – like broken dolls you find at a thrift store. Headless,  armless, blackened eyes, whatever.
  2. Present your party spread on a bloodstained tablecloth! Get your hands on a white sheet and have some gruesome fun staining it with theatrical blood handprints and splatters!
  3. Lighting is everything, so replace your crummy lightbulbs with red ones, and light lots of black candles to create a spooky (and sexy) ambiance.
  4. Fill a surgical glove with water and freeze, use this creepy
    Nadia's "severed hand" looks great in a Witches Brew cocktail punch
    Nadia’s “severed hand” looks great in a Witches Brew cocktail punch – See recipe below

    “severed hand” to cool your punch bowl!

  5. Stay away from generic “scary” props like cheesy spiderwebs.
    Try: blood red roses, mice, pictures of Phil Spector… Use your imagination!
  6. Finished planning your party and playlist? Try making some  of Nadia’s coffin-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches for the buffet. And then check out all her other Spooky Recipes!

Find out more about celebrity chef Nadia G.

And here’s where to buy cool Halloween costumes.

Jack-o-lantern
Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BUT, if you’re just not in the mood to throw your own bash, here are a few tips for outside Halloween fun in Chicago:

  • From pub crawls to boat cruises or just regular Halloween parties at bars, check out EventBrite’s listing.
  • Consider the masks-mandatory (you can buy one at the door) upscale Halloween bash going on at the just-opened River North SHAY nightclub, 222 W. Ontario.
  • Bar Takito, 201 N. Morgan St. (at Lake) in the West Loop celebrates Halloween. Special $5 menu including $5 margaritas and food items will be available to any guest wearing a costume on Friday, October 31 and Saturday, November 1. Try their Sangre Del Toro (or “Blood of the Bull”) cocktail.
  • Newport Bar & Grill, 1344 W. Newport in Lakeview, hosts a Halloween costume party Friday October 31. A $500 cash prize for the “Best Group Costume” – $200 cash for “Best Individual Costume”. The bar will feature a live DJ all night long and offer $4 Craft Drafts, $4 Fireball shots, $5 Three Olive cocktails and $5 Bacardi bombs. An optional $20 package will be available from 9 p.m. – 12 a.m.
  • Masked Halloween wine tasting –  Taste eight different varietals and wine a prize for guessing the most correct. WineBar at Plum Market, Inside Plum Market Old Town, 1233 N. Wells St.
  • Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar, 626 N. State St., is putting on its traditional Halloween Wine Bash on Thursday, October 30, 7 to 9 pm. $25 gets you a selection of beer, wine and delicious Italian-with-the-Quartino-touch fare, along with music and (of course) a Halloween costume contest!
  • Bar on Buena, 910 W. Buena, EVIL TWIN DEVIL’S NIGHT EVIL COSTUME BASH on Thursday, October 30th (Devil’s Night!). 7pm – til ?? – a night of frightening flicks, macabre music, spooky spirits. Prizes for the most evil costumes include VIP Blackhawks tickets, BOB Gift Certificates, Beer Swag and more.
  • Chicago Q, 1160 N. Dearborn St., an upscale barbeque place with a gorgeous wood-paneled bar, gets in the Halloween spirit, this October 31 with the Spooky q Potion cocktail ($12 – Bourbon, Cinnamon Simple Syrup and Apple Cider served on the rocks with a gummy worm garnish).
  • Plymouth Restaurant & Bar, 327 S. Plymouth Court,  on Friday, October 31, serves up a complimentary buffet full of Swamp Dip and Cheesy Freddy Fingers. Wash it down with Blue Moon pints for $4.00 and Pama Pomegranate Martinis for $5.00, and The Scary Night drink special for $5.00. Costumes encouraged.

*Spooky Halloween cocktails include Witches Brew punch:

Witches Brew

  • 4 oz. Once Upon a Vine® Fairest Chardonnay
  • 2 oz. Pear nectar
  • 1 oz. Lime juice
  • .5 oz. Simple syrup
  • 3 Sprigs of thyme

Directions: Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker and strain into a chilled glass.

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Merano Wine Tour at Eataly attracts a crowd

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A group of Italian makers of fine wine came to show off their creations at the first-ever tour of the winners of the Merano, Italy Wine Festival competition. Held from 6 to 10 pm at Eataly Chicago last week, it turned out to be a very popular event.

Almost all the wines I tasted (I’m a red fan) were utterly beautiful – full, rich, deep flavors and long finishes.  (Where I give prices they come from my Vivino iPhone wine app, so may or may not reflect actual retail where you shop.) A few of my favorites were Cantina Tollo Riserva Cagiolo Montepulciano d’Abruzza 2009 (so delicious I wanted to sit down to dinner immediately with close friends and share intimate secrets, I found prices from $56 to $19 so shop around), Cantina Tollo Colle Secco Riserva 2009 (lighter but still deeply flavorful – drink alone or with food, $29?), Riserva Montigi Pinot Noir 2011 ($25), Terlaner Classico 2013 (good value if you can get it for $19), Vignetti di Spessa Friuli Colli Orientali Schioppettino 2011, and Serafini & Vidotto Phigaia After the Red 2009 ($23).

Italian appetizers included several creative takes on bruschetta including one with sauteed mushrooms, one with pepperoncini and a few others. A dish of fine olive oil sat ready for dipping thick slices of crusty, hearty multigrain bread. Tasters also lined up for a small buffet lined with crisp vegetables – endive leaves, peppers and so on – with a bagna cauda (anchovy) dip, plus meatballs and more, and a huge vat full of chunks of Parmiggiano Reggiano. All strikingly good-tasting.

Next year I hope will bring a larger space to accommodate the many enthusiastic attendees – with at least a few places for older and tired-feet-after-work folks to sit down. These wines were excellent and can only improve when tasters have room to move. I dream of the day when wine tastings will reliably give, here and there, a place to set something down. It’s a real trick balancing a plate, napkin, camera/phone, pen and wine-rating book while swirling and sipping!

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Good food in light-hearted surroundings

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Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen has two locations: 100 E. Walton St (at Michigan) and 55 E. Grand (at Wabash). Tried the Walton place with a friend today and was very pleased.  The music seemed a bit too loud when we got there, but the din of the other diners soon balanced that out (every table was busy all through a long lunch time). Yet because we were seated in a booth, we had enough privacy that we could still speak in reasonable tones.

Besides some very creative sandwiches, burgers, salads and pizzas (avocado!), one of their featured items is the Wok Out Bowl ($14 to $18). A pile of fresh veggies (kale, broccoli, carrot, mushrooms, onions) and a protein of your choice (e.g., shrimp, chicken, steak) are stir-fried ’til crisp/tender, topped with cashews, and served on either brown rice or lo mein noodles with your choice of sesame teriyaki or a spicy Thai sauce (we both liked the Spicy Thai best – it’s not especially hot).  You feel virtuous ‘cuz it’s full of vegetables, but satisfied ‘cuz it’s got the protein and the starch. And it’s good.

A couple of particularly attractive sandwiches – Craig’s Knuckle Sandwich ($23) of 100% Maine lobster with coleslaw and arugula and the Filet Mignon with Parmiggiano Reggiano. Our neighbors ordered the avocado pizza – it looked and they said it tasted fabulous. They also had deep-fried sweet potato chips with two sauces that looked quite appetizing.

We couldn’t resist splitting a slice of chocolate pecan pie – worth the calories. Wine list is short and simple. By the glass whites and reds (and sparklings) from $9 to $18 each. For the cost of a bottle, multiply by four.  Excellent service. Friendly, knowledgeable, helpful and attentive. Comfy, casual vibe with excellent food and service.

 

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New cheeses from grass-fed cows come to Chicago

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Many cheeses at the supermarket
Many cheeses at the supermarket (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grass-fed is the new mantra for healthier eating. You restaurant-goers and shoppers can find grass-fed meats, eggs and dairy in various locations around Chicago. Now you can also find a new brand: Grassfields is local and makes cheeses with raw organic milk from grass-fed cows raised to the highest animal welfare standards in the U.S. and Canada.

Look for the brand at some 20 stores and restaurants across the city, including Eataly, Bin 36, Longman & Eagle, West Town Bakery, Bangers & Lace, and the Dill Pickle Food Co-op. Grassfields’ nine varieties of cheese are made and aged on its 250-acre dairy farm, near Coopersville, MI.

Matt Reilly, Manager of Salumi and Formaggi at Eataly, says “Understanding what we eat is the only way to develop healthy relationship with our food. As a cheese monger, my goal is to know and build a direct trust relationship with both the producer and my customers. …I am happy to encourage my customers to bring [Grassfield cheeses] home to their families.”

Antonio RamÍrez, Cheese Director at Bin 36, says his customers agree: Grassfields’ cheeses are “unique and unexpected. “…Grass feeding produces added flavors and sweetness, makes the flavor more interesting, and keeps animals happy and healthy. Happy cows make happy cheese…”

For a full list of stores carrying Grassfields Cheese visit www.grassfieldscheese.com. For retail enquires, contact Luke Meerman on (616) 997-8251 or email grassfieldscheese@gmail.com.

About Animal Welfare Approved
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) standards, policies and procedures are available on the AWA website. AWA’s Online Directory of AWA farms, restaurants and products let you search by zip code, keywords, products and type of establishment. AWA has also launched AWA Food Labels Exposed, a free smartphone app guide to commonly used food claims and terms, available from the App Store or Google Play. A free printable version of Food Labels Exposed is also available for download atAnimalWelfareApproved.org.
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Go North to Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Michigan

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Ever been to Northern Michigan? I just went there for the first time recently, and I can tell you it’s beautiful country. It’s a delightful place to escape from Chicago’s intensity for a bit. Happily, there’s a cool resort – owned and operated by the Chippewa and Ottawa Indian tribes – near Traverse City that’s got everything you need for a real retreat. It’s called Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.

Three golf courses – all respectably difficult – grace the property. The outdoor pool has its own food service (in season). The fully equipped health club is huge – 100,000 square feet – and includes five beautifully maintained indoor tennis courts, two indoor pools and two hot tubs open early to late, a full fitness center with machines, weights and classes, and a childcare center called the Cub House.

Also, on premises you have three restaurants (read about Aerie here) and a whole little avenue of shopping pleasures. MudPie offers delightful gifts and fun fashions and accessories. Dylan’s Candy Bar has a host of sweet treats and fun little gifts for kids. Tumbleweeds carries toys and games for kids of all ages. Plus there’s an American Spoon shop with fabulously creative jams, sauces, and more.

Plus, you can always visit the Turtle Creek Casino down the road if you’re one who enjoys gambling. Plus you can visit nearby National Forests – Huron-Manistee, sample good food in Traverse City (Amical), visit lighthouses and wineries. You will not be bored.

By the way, this part of Michigan is about to receive millions of dollars for repair and resurfacing highways and byways. So if you’ve ever been in this area and run into some difficult traffic or roads, you should find smoother sailing soon.

Don’t take the highway up there. Rather take the scenic route up Route 31 (the trip is seven-ish hours) and stop in one or two of the little lakeside towns (starting from closest to Traverse City): Frankfort, Manistee, Ludington, Muskegon and Saugatuck are all charming places to get a meal or a drink. Crowded in the summer, but still fun to see even off-season.

It was my first time in Northern Michigan – and I’m hoping I’ll be back again soon.

 

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Lovely restaurant in Northern Michigan resort

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I love to feel welcome and elegant when I travel. The restaurant on the 16th floor of the tower at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa made me feel just that way on a recent visit. Called Aerie, it surely is – an airy delight. Graceful panels of ceiling-to-floor, white, lacy fabric separate the space informally. A wall of curvy booths offers cozy accommodations for small parties. The space was completely redone in 2007 by Simeone Deary Design Group of Chicago.

Walls of glass – 360 degrees around – let in the view of Lake Michigan bays and expansive Northern Michigan woodlands. And bathe patrons in the rays of the setting sun when the hour is right.

The evening we arrived for dinner it was still early, so the place was flooded with bright sunshine – too bright for comfort at many tables. Our host was gracious about letting us walk around to find a table with a little shade – and we were delighted to find a perfect spot.

We studied the menu over cocktails and asked for our server’s recommendations. As soon as we ordered, an amuse bouche arrived consisting of two tiny cups of rich lobster bisque drizzled with vanilla chorizo oil and fresh squeezed lime juice and topped with lime zest and micro greens. What a tempting way to introduce a new soup being added to the menu.

GT scallop appCheyenne, our server, had highly recommended the scallops, so we ordered the scallop appetizer. The julienned vegetables were crisp and delicious, the scallops tender and full of flavor. The sauce – well, we had to ask for bread so we could soak it all up.  She told us she was bringing us bread with the next course, but we couldn’t wait.

For main courses we had a fish and a steak entree, respectively. Nicely cooked – fish moist, steak done to order, my broccoli rabe, crisp – though my side mash and sauce were not favorites.

GT fish

GT steak

 

 

 

 

For dessert we studied the complex creations on offer and decided we just wanted some ice cream. Cheyenne consulted the chef and, eh, voilá, he kindly agreed to our request. Out came a delightful presentation of three different flavored scoops plus a small helping of pot de creme (each from one of the desserts on the menu) on a beautiful, crisply white four-section serving plate. We were thrilled – and loved the combination of flavors. We are hoping they’ll put this on their menu for future visits!

GT ice cream dessert

We were pleased with the wine recommendations and delighted with our experience. Cheyenne was attentive and friendly throughout. It was also fun to learn that one of the new Sous Chefs in the kitchen here, Nick Battista, worked with legendary Chef Charlie Trotter at his eponymous restaurant in Chicago before its untimely closing.

More about Chef de Cuisine William Matthews (Chef Bill) and stories about his culinary domain in another article.  Oh, and the wonderful spa, too.

When you next visit Traverse City for golf or gambling or whatever, treat yourself to a magnificent view and a good meal at Aerie in the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.  A pleasant 7 hours from Chicago via Route 31 up the coast – and much prettier than the highway. Don’t use Google Maps’ directions; call the Resort at 800.236.1577 for nicer alternatives.

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Eataly lets you taste your olive oil before you buy

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English: Olives in olive oil.
English: Olives in olive oil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Making olive oil is an intense labor of love in Italy. Some even call their olive oils their children. So how are we mere-mortal, non-olive-oil-making folks to know what to buy?

The selection at all-things-Italian Eataly, 43 E. Ohio is, as they say, humongous. Happily, Eataly has an on-site oliologist (olive oil expert) who knows her way around – and will gladly show you your way around, too. Which means, you get to have a private tasting before you buy. A few more quick tips from Gabriella Gentile, Guest Relations Supervisor and Olive Oil Specialist:

You don’t need to know anything special before you taste. The olio expert will ask about the profiles of oils you think you might like, and will then select a few for you to try.

Traditionally you are advised to chew a small slice of apple (Granny Smith is good) or small piece of bread between tastings, but you’d have to bring (or buy) your own in Eataly.

Optimum numbers for a single tasting are three oils and up to five. Italy’s Northern, Central, and Southern regions each have a distinct flavor profile. Tasting three to five oils should give you a good understanding of what region and type of oil you prefer.

Olive oil from Imperia in Liguria, Italy.
Olive oil from Imperia in Liguria, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before you go and get your tasting, it might be fun to read what Eataly’s NYC oliologist has to say about choosing olive oils in this interview on SeriousEats.com. He’s the guy who trained all six olio experts in our Chicago store. The point is olive oil, just like wine, is a reflection of its terroir (where it’s grown), which olives it’s composed of, and how those olives are harvested and processed. The many varieties come with widely different tastes and aromas.

Another way to choose is to look for brands that have won awards. Veronafiere, another organization dedicated to promoting all things Italian, also gives other countries a chance to compete in the world of olive oils. They just put out the winning names of the top 9 olive oils in the Southern Hemisphere and a few honorable mentions.

So you should be ready with this background to go forth and follow your nose to a great olive oil – for cooking, drizzling or dipping. Be ready to shell out some bucks; good olive oils are not cheap. But Ms. Gentile says everyone should be able to walk out of Eataly with a bottle they love in a price range they’re comfortable with.

 

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