Zingarelli showcases fine Chianti Classico wines in Chicago

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If you’re old enough, or you watch enough 50s- & 60s-era movies, you may remember Chianti as the generally low-end wine that came in those straw-covered bottles we used to put candles in and let the wax drip down the sides. But over the last several decades, as has happened in other countries like Spain and Argentina, winemaking standards have changed dramatically in some of the vineyards in that region of Italy. In particular, Rocca delle Macìe by Famiglia Zingarelli is turning the Chianti Classico region into the home of some of the best Italian wines you’ll have the pleasure of trying.

Zingarelli team with guest (center)
Zingarelli team with guest (center)

Sergio Zingarelli, estate owner and two-time president of the Chianti Classico Consortium, brought a nice selection of these beauties to Chicago at The Walton Room by Rosebud Restaurants, 188 East Walton. The format was a vertical tasting of Rocca delle Macìe Riserva di Fizzano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. This historic cru is made from grapes grown in a single vineyard at the Zingarelli family’s Fizzano estate in Castellina in Chianti. The family purchased the Fizzano estate in 1984 and has long produced Riserva di Fizzano according to the strictest standards. Today, Riserva di Fizzano is bottled under the “Gran Selezione” DOCG, Chianti’s highest expression.

Sergio Zingarelli welcoming guests to The Walton Room
Sergio Zingarelli welcoming guests to The Walton Room

The presentation began with a group of six stellar vintages of Riserva di Fizzano: 1995, 1999, 2005, 2011, 2013, and the recently-released 2015. This formal, seated tasting was followed by a luncheon expertly paired with four additional wines from Rocca delle Macìe: Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva and two vintages of Sergio Zingarelli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione – a second example from the Gran Selezione category and the result of a careful, long-term replanting project at the family’s Le Macìe estate. The Walton Room chef’s choices to pair with these wines were perfect foils for some of the richest Italian red wines we’ve ever tried. I’d put the following reds in the upper realms near Super Tuscans and Barolos, so consider some of these when you want to impress your guests who like earthy, deep red wines with their feasts!

Zingarelli vertical tasting
Zingarelli vertical tasting

This vertical tasting of Rocca delle Macìe’s historicu cru wines was inspiring. The wines are made with grapes grown in the Fizzano estate vineyard, which extends across 35 hectares of sandy, pebbly soils that are perfect for intensifying the fragrances and elegance of Sangiovese. Some of our 5-star favorites among these delicious wines:

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Cooper’s Hawk alights in downtown Chicago

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Owner McEnery welcomes trade & press in the new downtown party room
Owner McEnery welcomes trade & press in the new downtown party room

Landing with a great rush of wings, Tim McEnery’s 41st Cooper’s Hawk Winery location has landed in the dramatic, three-story space that used to house Del Frisco’s Steakhouse. After turning down a restrictive contract for the first downtown Chicago location he wanted, and waiting nearly ten years for the right space and terms, McEnery knew when he heard Del Frisco’s was leaving, that the time was right at last. The design incorporates many of the high-end, dramatic features from the original steakhouse and makes a gorgeous venue for celebrations, happy hours, wine tastings, special dinners and private parties,

Cooper's Hawk introduces a new rich steak platter
Cooper’s Hawk introduces a new rich steak platter

At this new Flagship location, CH is doing a few things differently. CH executive chef Matt McMillin has introduced five new dishes to the traditional 110-item, scratch-made-seasonal-ingredients American fusion menu. The new menu items include several mains and a dessert. 1) Shrimp & Scallop Risotto – studded with sweet corn, asparagus, peas, and spinach, and accented with Parmesan and white truffle oil. 2) Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass stands proudly on its own with accompaniments of roasted maitake mushrooms and broccolini with soy lemon butter. 3) Gnocchi Carbonara features pancetta, chicken, sage, and peas in a garlic Parmesan cream sauce. 4) 25-oz prime bone-in ribeye, served with butternut squash and spinach gratin, blistered tomatoes and crispy potatoes (we would’ve liked the potatoes to be a bit crispier). 5) A dessert – Lemon Ice Wine Cheesecake – is an ethereally light dessert served in a toasted Graham cracker crust with macerated berries on top. Lovely. And the night we were there we got to try one of the brand’s go-to desserts: The Cooper’s Hawk Chocolate Cake – a killer dessert made with Valrhona chocolate, hazelnut ganache and vanilla ice cream and topped with a rosebud of whipped cream. SO good. Check out their other desserts here.

CH sommelier opens a bottle of bubbly with a sword
CH sommelier opens a bottle of bubbly with a sword

Besides the new menu items, the Oak St. Location will offer, as they do not in other places, selections of wines from around the world in addition to its own extensive selection. The beverage program is run by Master Sommelier Emily Wines (yes, that’s really her last name), who engages with guests and the brand’s nearly 400,000 Wine Club members to create unique experiences via education, immersive events, collaborative partnerships and curated lifestyle adventures.

Experienced CH General Manager Peter Ayoub comes to shepherd the new location after stints at Esquire Chicago and at the CH Palm Beach Gardens location in Florida.

If you’re a CH member, you’re probably planning your visit already. If you’ve never experienced the CH lifestyle or you just want to have some good food in a relaxed yet glamorous setting, hie thee to Oak St. and immerse thyself.

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Trattoria Gianni – authentic Italian on Halsted

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Trattoria Gianni arancini
Trattoria Gianni arancini

North Halsted Street in Chicago is well known for its excellent restaurants. One long-time spot is Trattoria Gianni, now celebrating 30 years tucked into its cozy space at 1711 and rubbing shoulders comfortably with some of the giant stars in that firmament such as the much-lauded Boka and Alinea.

We were able recently to sample some of Trattoria Gianni’s popular and enticing menu items. We could easily have made a meal with just the appetizers. My experienced restaurant aficionado friend said the tender Arancini Siciliani – deep-fried saffron risotto balls stuffed with Bolognese, peas and scamorza cheese – were excellent. Given her extensive travels around the world, that’s saying something. The rolled eggplant with herb-y goat cheese stuffing was very good, and the tomato sauce light and lovely. Very nice to know that all the pastas and the sauces are hand-made in house. The Rigatoni alla Nocerino, made with sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, olive oil, garlic, basil in a cream sauce, was outstanding.

Trattoria Gianni Salmon au Vini Bianco
Trattoria Gianni Salmon au Vini Bianco

All the other pasta dishes are obviously made with love, many presented with variations of the basic tomato sauce. The meatballs are classic – tender and juicy. The homemade pappardelle and tomato sauce, the seafood pasta (mussels, calamari, octopus, etc.) and several other pasta dishes made for pleasant eating. While the pumpkin ravioli was very nice, the crab-filled version hit an off note for us with the salt-heavy, canned crab in the filling. Pasta dishes range from about $16 to $20.

Trattoria Gianni roast seafood
Trattoria Gianni roast seafood

The restaurant offers whole wheat and gluten free pasta options, and you smaller eaters will be glad to know you can order half-orders of most pastas. Secondi Piatti (main course) options include duck, filet, chicken, pork, and seafood, all served with sides like vegetables, polenta or roasted potatoes, and all priced in the $23+ range.

All the care invested in these dishes, plus the comfortable surroundings, makes this a nice place to relax and indulge in some tasty Italian food and wines. When the weather is nice, remember you can enjoy your meal on the inviting patio, charmingly decorated with flowers and lights. During our visit, the owners were on site and carefully tending to their customers, and the overall service was friendly, efficient and warm. It felt just like what it was – an Italian family taking care of us.

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Unique spirits options to make your holidays shine

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Everyone who imbibes tends to have his/her own favorite spirit, whether they like it straight up, on the rocks, or mixed with some other beverage. There’s something satisfying about pouring a warming treat into a beautiful glass and toasting,  especially during the holidays. Here are a few suggestions to share either with companions around you or just to celebrate on your own.

Root Out Whisky. Yes, this whisky actually tastes like root beer! It’s surprisingly pleasant and easy to drink. Honestly, it’s so root-beer-y that at one point I was tempted to plop a big scoop of vanilla ice cream in the glass! A delicious and unique treat for any spirit lover. Root beer and vanilla flavors added to a 4-year-old Canadian blended whisky. SRP ~$26.

Alacran Tequila is a 100% Weber Blue agave tequila that tastes smooth and delicious on the rocks and or in a cocktail. Mix it with a flavored club soda or another favorite beverage for a simple-to-make cocktail with layered flavor. Alacran Tequila Blanco’s sleek, matte, soft-touch black bottle with the company’s logo makes a handsome, reusable bottle for your liquor cabinet. Priced at $42.00, it’s available nationally and online. Launched in the US in 2011, Alacran Tequila is sold at restaurants, hotels, bars, stores and online and is featured at celebrity and charity events around the world. Consider one of the Alacran products for the tequila fans on your list – black bottle, tequila reposado, tequila anejo, and more.

Four Roses single barrel whiskey
Four Roses single barrel whiskey

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey is a classic expression with a nose of dried spice, pear, cocoa, vanilla and maple syrup. Sounds luscious, right? It is, indeed. And on the palate look for ripe plum and cherries – robust, full-bodied and mellow with a smooth and delicate but long finish. Straight up. On the rocks. In mixed cocktails. Any way you imbibe it, this is nice stuff. Gold medals and 90+ points in competitions everywhere for the past 10 years. SRP ~$45.

Sazerac, makers of Caribou Crossing Single Barrel
Sazerac, makers of Caribou Crossing Single Barrel

Caribou Crossing Single Barrel Canadian Whisky, the world’s first single barrel Canadian whisky, received a Gold medal at the prestigious 2019 New York World Wine & Spirits Competition. Adhering closely to his exacting standards, world-renowned Master Blender Drew Mayville of Sazerac selects each barrel for its ability to contribute to the whisky’s rich and complex flavor. SRP ~$50. Silver medals were also awarded to Royal Canadian Whisky and High River Canadian Whisky. Full results are published on the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition (NYWSC) website, www.nywscomp.com.

Angel's Envy bourbon - Wine Enthusiast LOVES it!
Angel’s Envy bourbon – Wine Enthusiast LOVES it!

Angels Envy is an excellent cask-strength bourbon finished in a limited number of carefully selected port barrels. This extra step is becoming common for many vintners and distillers to give their products extra depth and complexity, and it works really well. Angels Envy ends up with a slightly different finish each year due to the painstaking selection of barrels. Look for notes on the nose of black tea, apple and honey, toasted oak, ripe banana and apricot, along with toffee, butterscotch, peach, toast and vanilla on the palate. If you can’t identify all these, don’t worry. Just close your eyes and let the complex aromas and flavors penetrate your senses slowly. A delicious way to toast, accompany foods, or finish a meal. It’s available at Binny’s, but check here for where else to find it. SRP ~$50. And while you’re at it, check out their Angel’s Envy Finished Rye – finished in rum barrels.

Freeland spirits gin and whiskey
Freeland spirits gin and whiskey

Freeland Spirits of Oregon is one of the only women-owned-and-operated distilleries, and it’s  an interesting place to visit if you’re in that state near Portland. They offer tours of their distillery, complete with a flight of mini-cocktails. See the equipment they use and learn how they craft their delicious gin and whiskey. Their gin is crafted in small batches using a unique blend of traditional heat distillation along with vacuum distillation, which allows them to use fresh, Pacific Northwest ingredients. Fresh herbal essences of rosemary, mint and crisp cucumber lift the nose. Grapefruit and lemon peel brighten the brisk juniper and bold spice. Pink peppercorn, coriander and star anise mingle with 10 additional dried botanicals in the copper pot still. The description is almost poetical, and the gin is very pleasant, even if you’re not ordinarily a fan of that spirit, some versions of which can be overpowering, especially if, like some of us, you have nightmarish memories of way-overindulging in it once when you were young and foolish. They are always experimenting with finishes, so give it a try. And you might just fall in love with the unique design of the cool bottles they use to send their spirits out into the world. SRP ~$45.

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New fusion spot, Izard wok kit, Hannukah benefit, drink by the fire

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This is the time we all love to get out and appreciate some of our fair city’s great culinary spots and/or the cool products their chefs produce. Here are a few ideas for your consideration.

Grand Trunk Road, 1417 W. Fullerton Ave., is a chic and modern Southeast Asian restaurant named for the ancient road that winds its way through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Husband and wife owners Chef Behzad Kahn and Basma Arain have invented a cuisine that combines flavors from all four countries to create a menu of dishes unique in Chicago. Dinner highlights range from King Crab Masala Curry with Coconut Milk, Ginger, Tomatoes & Mustard Seeds, Goat Biryani (Rice) with Saffron, Whole Spices, Yogurt & Tomatoes and Podina Lamb Chops with Mint, Yogurt and Chili Flakes. Weekend brunch features inventive dishes like the Aloo Tikki Benedict with Turmeric Hollandaise, Pickled Onion & Micro Watercress and a Lamb Burger topped with a Crispy Fried Egg and Mint Chutney take center stage.

Stephanie Izard, the creative genius behind the magic of Girl & the Goat, Little Goat Diner, Cabra and Duck Duck Goat restaurants. Now she’s teamed up with Made In cookware to bring back the “This Little Goat” kit after it sold out almost immediately after launch in July. Her limited edition collaboration includes recipes, cookware and ingredients that will help home chefs make their very own version of Chef Izard’s dishes. The Little Goat kit ($119) Includes:

  • This Little Goat went to Southeast Asia sauce
  • This Little Goat went to India spice
  • This Little Goat went to Morocco spice
  • 3 recipes from Chef Izard
  • Made In Blue Carbon Steel Wok
  • Carbon Steel Seasoning Wax Kit
Graystone Tavern specials
Graystone Tavern specials

The Graystone Tavern, 3441 N. Sheffield, is hosting a series of happy hours. “8 Crazy Nights” is Chicago’s first and only Hanukkah-themed pop-up bar that will benefit Jewish charities across Chicagoland. Open to the public, the pop-up bar features a winter wonderland of Hanukkah decorations, including over 8,000 blue and white lights and Hanukkah ball lanterns adorning the ceiling, Star of David and dreidel ornaments, lighted menorahs, Mensch on a Bench, a photo booth with Hanukkah props and more. “Happy Hour for a Cause” Schedule:

Perfect way to enjoy a beverage!
Perfect way to enjoy a beverage! Photo credit: Maurice Sahl, Unsplash

And if you’re into drinking/eating in front of a fireplace, TimeOut Chicago has compiled a listing of best bars and restaurants with fireplaces. Their selections range from downtown to Wicker Park to Lakeview and  Edgewater on the north, with a bunch in Logan Square. I didn’t see any on the south side, but thanks, TimeOut!

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