All posts by Jeanette Swwan

Jeanette is a single working woman who loves finding secretly fabulous eating spots in Chicago. She's happy to share her discoveries with FoodandDrinkChicago readers.

11 Beautiful Italian wines to warm your holidays

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IEEM #SimplyItalian Tour
IEEM #SimplyItalian Tour

IEEM is an Italian organization that’s helping to improve knowledge and foster greater enjoyment of Italian wines by countries around the world. Their  Simply Italian Great Wines Tour 2017 once again this year brought to Chicago many special wines chosen from a selection of Italy’s multitudinous wine regions. Trade and media attended guided tastings-cum-educational seminars on such wine regions as Moscato d’Asti, Prosecco, Sicily and more, each of which offered glimpses into a broad array of Italy’s offerings. Below are a few of the many lovely ones the #SimplyItalianTour showcased.

 
IEEM Nero d'Avola wines
IEEM Nero d’Avola wines

#SicilianWineArt has become huge business since the country established its Sicilia DOC designation. Two grape varieties – Grillo and Nero d’Avola – are grown exclusively in Sicily and are used to make a wide range of respectively white and red wines. Sicily has 100 days of harvesting every year when you count all the areas where grapes are grown. Colomba Bianca, Sicily’s biggest wine cooperative representing five different wineries, brought to Chicago samples of some of its offerings.

  • Grillo Sicilia DOC Lavi 2016. Hand-harvested 100% Grillo grapes are turned via the Charmat method into a light straw yellow bubbly with intense, complex aromas like white flowers and orange blossoms with a citrus note. On the palate, taste nettle and sage, jasmine and melon. Minerally, crisp and fresh. Delicious with first courses of fish or vegetables and with white meats, tabouleh, mozzarella, anchovies and tomatoes.
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  • Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC Vitese 2016. Hand-picked and put into small crates during late August/early September, the skins for this organically made wine are macerated at low temperatures for two days to extract the sweet tannins an delicate color. Intensely ruby red – beautifully purple-red – it offers fragrant fruity aromas of red berries (cherry, blackberry) that are also minerally (graphite) and spicy. The tannins and acidity are perfectly balanced within a wine of great structure, smoothness and intensity. Serve it as an aperitif or with mature cheeses, cold cuts and meats of all types. We love this wine *****5 stars.
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  • Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC Kore 2016. One of Colomba Bianca’s classic red wines, this 100% Nero d’Avola wine is ruby red with purple tinges and unmistakable aromas of prune, cherry and light spice. It’s soft and velvety on the palate with a pleasing structure and a distinct fruitiness that’s also elegant and refined. Serve with typical Sicilian dishes like spaghetti alla norma with eggplant and smoked ricotta. Even more complex and rewarding than the Vitese, these are both excellent choices for your best holiday occasions. *****5 stars.
IEEM Prosecco
IEEM Prosecco

Prosecco DOC wineries included Piera Matellozzo 1899, Masottina, Supmanti Valdo, Barollo, Astoria and more. Here are two standouts from among their samples:

  • Barollo Prosecco Millesimato Extra Dry Treviso DOC 2016. Gorgeous (we gave it 5 stars) wine made from 100% Glera grapes. This small-production (25-30,000 bottles) Prosecco is fragrant with notes of candied citron and acacia flowers, yellow apple, peach and crusty bread.  On the palate it’s dry, soft and fresh with a elegant fruity aftertaste. Perfect as an aperitif or with risottos with vegetables and fish dishes. 11% alc. ~$19. *****5 stars.
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  •  La Marca Prosecco Sparkling DOC, imported by Gallo. Made with 100% Glera, this delicately golden straw yellow Prosecco brings fruity notes and a distinctive floral aroma along with a lively and persistent perlage of full-textured bubbles. The palate is fresh and clean with flavors of ripe lemon, green apple and grapefruit with an agreeable minerality. Well balanced with a light, crisp, refreshing finish. Serve chilled with starters and fish dishes. 11% alc. ****4 stars.
 
Chianti Rufina
IEEM Chianti Rufina

Other Italian wine regions came to introduce Chicago to their wines this year. Consorzio Vino Chianti presented guided tastings of wines from the seven subregions of Chianti – Montalbano, Rufina, Montespertoli, Aretini and others, plus Chianti Classico – all located in Tuscany between the great Italian cities of Firenze (Florence) and Siena. They explained how Chianti DOCG is now requiring bottles to be sealed with traceable labels – an important move to protect the integrity of fine wines from this region. The entire Chianti region has a new focus on quality rather than quantity as had been the case for many decades. A few memorable vintages from the tasting, all coming in at around 14% alcohol:

 
  • Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva 2013. 95% Sangiovese, 5% blend of three grapes indigenous to the region. A beautiful wine grown on rocky soils and made with traditional wine making processes, including fermenting in steel vats and maturing in big oak barrels for two years and in the bottle three months. Fine, delicate aromas due to late-growing Sangiovese. Perfectly balanced. *****5 stars.
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  • Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG Riserva 2013. 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. A single-vineyard blend made from grapes grown in mixed soils with riverstones. Grown on old vines with at least 1 meter between the vines. *****5 stars. ~$13.
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  • Chianti Montespertoli DOCG Riserva 2013. 100% Sangiovese. This is a single-vineyard wine that’s light and acidic – the result of planting Sangiovese grapes in a northern exposure. This results in greater structure yet the expression is very well-balanced. 14% alc. ~$25.
 
IEEM Friuli Grave - The Sparkling Life
IEEM Friuli Grave – The Sparkling Life

A third Italian group, Consorzio Vini Friuli Grave, this year brought to Chicago a selection of its DOC sparkling and still wines – “fresh and fun wines,.” Made from grapes grown in Friuli Venezia Giulia, a northeastern area of Italy that’s rich in tradition, colors, aromas and flavors, these wines tend to be lighter, with alcohol content ranging from around 11% to 13%. You’re sure to find something to please anyone within this portfolio. Here are a few they brought here to sample at #TheSparklingLife presentation:

 
  • Spumante Rose Extra Dry “Collevento 921” from Antonutti Vini dal 1921. This delightful sparkling wine belies the old reputation of spumante as overly sweet and syrupy. It’s made with 80% Merlot and 20% Refosco via the Charmat method. The color is bright pink with a bouquet of red berries (raspberry, currant and strawberry) and a light, fine lingering perlage. Its lovely character is due in part to the fact that the Merlot grape never gets overly ripe in the cool weather of this area. Excellent as an aperitif or with appetizers or fish platters (the Italians love their fish!). Priced between $8 and $15 depending on where you get it, it’s perfect for the holidays. 11% alc.
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  • Friuland “Le Bastie” 2011 DOC Friuli Grave by Tenute Tomasella. This small-production (2500 bottles) wine made of 100% Friuli grapes has a creamy texture with great fruit taste. An intense golden-hued straw yellow color, its bouquet is refined yet intense and features a blend of spices and fruit with a hint of vanilla. It’s because they use a process called “friulano” which reduces oxidation in white wines that this wine actually ages well. Priced ~$23, we think it’s worth going into splurge mode. 13% alc.
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  • Sauvignon “Braida Santa Cecilia” 2016 DOC Friuli Grave. Made with 100% Sauvignon A3 clone, this pale yellow white wine takes its name from the Italian meaning “clearing in the forest,” which describes the weather conditions in the northeastern area where they can grow this grape. Unlike the New Zealand Sauvignon blanc – which some Italians describe as smelling like a sweaty sock – the passionfruit, sage and yellow pepper nose of this wine compares more to a Sancerre. This wine is made by Kim Crawford’s husband, who excused himself from making the “Kim Crawford” type of Sauvignon to go renegade and make a new kind of Sauvignon. He calls his highly award-winning winery Pitars so as not to confuse people with the Crawford name. We give his version a solid 5 stars. 12.5% alc.
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Gluten-free veggie-rich muffins now at Costco

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Garden Lites choclate veggie gluten-free muffin
Garden Lites choclate veggie gluten-free muffin

While we know how important they are to celiac disease and other sufferers, gluten-free baked goods have in the past mainly made us look elsewhere for treats. But we agreed to try a few samples from Garden Lites because they were also said to be rich in vegetables.

So glad we did. The chocolate zucchini edition tastes pretty rich as well as feeling almost as good in the mouth as a flour-based muffin might. A little less so for the Blueberry Oat version, but still very enjoyable. We ate

Nutrition in Blueberry Oat version
Nutrition in Blueberry Oat version

them straight out of the freezer – heating is recommended to bring out the best flavor – as mid-morning stave-off-starvation snacks. Both were definitely satisfying as regards both taste and to feeling virtuous about the nutrition. Vegetables are the first ingredients listed on all their versions (e.g., zucchini and carrots are first in the list for the chocolate one).

Garden Lites has just introduced these to Costco in the Midwest in boxes of 20. Keep them in the freezer. They’re individually wrapped so no worries about re-sealing the package after opening. Happy to recommend them as healthier satisfying snack alternatives.

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Father`s Day 2016 fun and good news about alcohol and diabetes

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English: Chicken wings being cooked slowly ove...
English: Chicken wings being cooked slowly over charcoal ashes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barbecue is always popular for summer celebrations, and many dads especially love going out for it – so they don’t have to prep, cook and clean up on the home grill. Here are two options for Chicago dads this Sunday:

Pinstripes, 435 E. Illinois, the indoor entertainment center, celebratesFather’s Day with a backyard BBQ Brunch. Give dad a break and come help him appreciate the carving station, fresh seafood, waffle bar, made-to-order omelets, dessert station with a chocolate fountain, and endless mimosas plus BBQ ribs, Italian sausage, pesto chicken, corn on the cob, and more. 9:30 to 3 pm. Adults $34, kids 6-12 $15, kids 5 & under eat free.

And then there’s Lone Star BBQ, 3350 N. Harlem, where the family can treat dad to a delicious lunch or dinner this Father’s Day all weekend. Lone Star BBQ Bar is Chicago’s newest full-service BBQ restaurant that smokes its meats over post oak wood, imported from Texas, without the use of gas or electricity. Choose from pulled pork, ribs, brisket and more smoked and sauced meats, plus crispy salads and cool desserts. Pretzel cake, anyone?

And how about a different kind of gift for dad this year? Check these out.

Can you believe it? A window-washing robot. Ecovacs Robotics makes the WINBOT W830 and says it cleans even nearly impossible-to-clean windows. All you do is place the microfiber cleaning pad on the machine, spritz the pad, switch it to “ON,” place it on the window and press start. Use it on vertical glass, framed or frame-less glass, frosted, filmed or colored glass, horizontal surfaces, and much more. Automatically avoids frames and other obstacles. $399.99 is a stiff price tag, but maybe if you have a lot of windows…

If  the dad on your gift list enjoys champagne, try surprising him with a pewter-embellished bottle of Spanish sparkling wine (cava). Heredad Reserva from Segura Viudas will make him feel special. And if he decides to share it with you or his pals on the golf course, race track, or by a campfire, he’s sure to enjoy the opening aromas that are lightly smoky with touches of biscuit, followed by hints of honey, fruit and flower petals. And to make him feel even more special, show him how the word “Heredad” translates into “Here, Dad!”

Coffee and tequila by Maestro Dobel
Coffee and tequila by Maestro Dobel

Do the dads in your life like tequila? Try making them a sumptuous cocktail (or two) using that favored spirit. Here’s a buzz-friendly recipe that sounds almost like dessert-and-coffee, compliments of Maestro Dobel Tequila:

Power Ballad
2 oz Maestro Dobel® Reposado Tequila
1 oz cold brew coffee
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Pinch of cocoa powder
3 dashes of fig bitters
Egg white

Method: Build all ingredients in tin, shake without ice, add ice, shake with ice, add 1 oz soda
water to glass, strain contents into tall collins glass without ice. Sprinkle cocoa powder, serve with salted macadamia nuts.

And while you’re buying him wines and spirits, you might want to give him the good news about alcohol and Type 2 diabetes risk. According to an article in Wine Spectator, moderate consumption of beer lowers your risk by 5%, the same of spirits lowers it by 9% and the same of wine lowers it by 20%. “According to U.S. health agencies, a “standard” drink contains 14 grams of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to a 12-ounce Budweiser, a 5-ounce glass of cool-climate Pinot Noir or a 2-ounce shot of whiskey. The scientists defined moderate consumption as 20 to 30 grams per day for beer and wine and 7 to 15 grams per day for spirits.”

So go enjoy a little, ‘cuz drinking more than moderate levels actually increases the diabetes peril.

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Come enjoy free art, food, drinks tonight

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Artist at work on Sierra Mist billboard
Artist Ruben Aguirre of Chicago adds his vision to a Sierra Mist® billboard created exclusively for Chicago on September 17, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Aguirre was the fourth artist to collaborate on the co-created billboard, which will be finalized by one additional Chicago artist and placed in 15 locations throughout the city.

You’re invited to attend a very cool, free closing party for the re-launch of Pepsico’s Sierra Mist brand.  Tonight, Friday, September 19, from 6 to 10 pm, at Open Secret Studios401 Racine Ave. , enjoy gorgeous lemon-lime-lit atmosphere, beautiful art, delicious food, and funky-cool music – and it’s all free.

Pepsico put on a preview party the other night with some of Chicago’s sports, art and culinary elite – including Charles Tillman, Graham Elliot and five local artists for the “Sierra Mist Exquisite Collaboration Billboard Project.”

During the preview, sports giant Charles Tillman shared his passion for the arts and his thoughts on the project. Graham Elliot prepared and served dishes inspired by the soda and by the billboard, while DJ Arkitek (from Studio Paris, theMID, UNDERGROUND, etc.) cranked the beats.

As part of EXPO Chicago, the Sierra Mist collaboration (#sierramistcollab) project features five Chicago artists (Samantha de Carlo, James Whitworth, Tony Bramble, Ruben Aguirre and Justus Roe), who each have added  their unique artistic expression to the same canvas during a five-day span.

The final product is a billboard you can preview at the party tonight – and that you’ll soon see throughout Chicago.  Chef Elliot will serve his inspired food and drinks. Check out this exclusive interview with Chef Graham Elliot about the #sierramistcollab.

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Have gin – and portable bar bag – will travel

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Are your friends always asking you to mix the cocktails at parties? Are you the one they call on for new and exciting cocktail ideas? Thanks to the House of Bombay, you’ve got a brand new taste in gin to play with.

Bombay Sapphire has been around fBombay Sapphire East and bagor 25 years as a superpremium London Dry Gin choice. But now comes Bombay Sapphire East, just being introduced in the U.S. It favors the flavors of Asia – infused with crisp Thai lemongrass and spicy Vietnamese Black Peppercorns. I made myself a Gin & Tonic with it the other day and was astonished at how exotic and refreshing it tasted.

And while you’re at it, here’s an idea on how to become a modern-day Paladin – have bar bag, will travel. If you’re in the market for a showy, classy set of bar tools you can transport as needed, check out the Barking Irons Bartending Bag ($495). It was inspired by Bombay Sapphire and features that trademark blue bottle color in the waxed lining.

Just for fun, try these classic cocktail recipes using this unusual new gin.

Gin & Tonic Reimagined

  • 1 ½ oz Bombay Sapphire East Gin
  • 3 oz Fevertree tonic
  • Lime wedge (or lemongrass, juniper, coriander, or cassia bark)

Method: Press lemongrass stem and lime wedge into base of an old-fashioned glass. Fill with ice and build. Garnish: Lime wedge, lemongrass stem

Sapphire Peppered Peach Tea Collins

  • 1 ½ oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin
  • ¾ oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
  • ½ oz. Simple Syrup
  • 1 ½ oz. Peach Iced Tea
  • Pinch of Black Pepper
  • Club Soda

Build with ice in a Collins/Highball glass. Top with club soda. Garnish with peach slice and lemon twist.

Bombay Negroni

  • 1 part Campari
  • 1 part Bombay Sapphire
  • 1 part MARTINI Gran Lusso

Stir the ingredients over ice. Strain into a lowball glass with a large chunk of ice. Garnish with an orange slices.

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