Category Archives: Chicago food and drink

Super-flavorful tomatoes grown all year here in Chicagoland

If you’re like us, you might consider really good tomatoes as comfort food – our kitchen is naked without a pile of flavorful tomatoes on the counter every day – and I mean, all winter long, too. Up until now, Campari, the bigger-than-cherry tomatoes available at Costco all year around, have been  fulfilling our tomato cravings. The problem with them, though, is they have to be shipped long distances – not good for the environment.

We are excited to have just discovered a Chicago-area business, MightyVine in Rochelle, Illinois (about 80 miles from Chicago), that’s going to do the job for us now. It has perfected a sustainable hydroponic (water-based) drip-irrigation growth system that produces fresh tomatoes all year long that are full of sweetness and real-tomato flavor. Plus, it uses only 10% of the water required for field grown plants. Their varieties – the medium-sized Roterno on-the-vine type and the Robinio cherry-on-the-vine type – are both really tasty. Slice the Roternos for sandwiches or bagels. Cut the super-sweet Robinios into wedges for salads or platters, or eat them alone with a sprinkle of salt. Either way, these little gems will make your tomato-hungry eyes, nose and mouth happy any time of year. And they keep fresh on your counter top for at least a couple of weeks.

These delightful local tomatoes are available at Chicago groceries including Jewel-Osco, Whole Foods Market and Treasure Island, and are used in more than 100 restaurants in the Chicago area, according to MightVine Chairman Jim Murphy as quoted in an article in the Chicago Tribune last year.
Poached cod studded with super-sweet MightyVine Robinios
Poached cod studded with super-sweet MightyVine Robinios

The MightVine Robinios cherry-size tomatoes are also excellent in cooked dishes – see photo of poached cod with onions, broccoli and tomatoes. The only issue we had was that the skins are relatively thick, and we sometimes had to pluck them out, especially when heated. But that’s a small price to pay to have sustainably grown, super-flavorful tomatoes all year that don’t have to come from far away. Thank you, MightVine!


2 new rums and a Chile liqueur

Havana Club hot cocktail with homemade ricotta cheese on cinnaman oat pancakes
Havana Club hot cocktail with homemade ricotta cheese on cinnaman oat pancakes

Rum is one of those drinks that can vary wildly in taste and smoothness. Some of the best are so smooth and delicious they can be enjoyed neat – like brandy/cognac, sipped as a post-prandial libation or nightcap. One of the leaders in the rum game is Captain Morgan, and they make a dozen different varieties from spiced (love it!) to regular to tropical flavored and super-premium. Below are a couple of rums and a unique chile liqueur we just learned about.

Oakheart spiced rum is deLISH as a nightcap
Oakheart spiced rum is deLISH as a nightcap

Oakheart Spiced Rum from Bacardi
 is delicately but richly spiced and tastes utterly lovely all by itself, even without ice. In a recent blind taste test, results indicated Oakheart won out over Capt. Morgan, but of course, you must judge for yourself. Oakheart is a clear winner for our nightcap needs around here.  Love the subtle layers of flavor and the gentle spicy warmth going down.

Uh, yeah. You can mix this with cola, but we think it’s a shame to drown all these flavors: “characteristics of oak barrel staves with the essence of bourbon or brandy, a hint of smoke from the charring process, background notes of dried fruit and heavy delivery of sweet creamy butterscotch. Notes of custard, maple and honey flavors [emphasis ours!] coat the tongue and [the drink] finishes with a touch of pepper.”

Havana Club Añejo Clasico Puerto Rican rum is a dark rum with oaky hints of vanilla and almond, along with fruity notes akin (think pineapple and apricot) with a robust and velvety finish. It’s really good in mixed drinks like the one in the recipe below. Perfect with a weekend brunch or a fireside session.

And on the 8th day...
And on the 8th day…

The 8th Day

  • 1 ½ parts HAVANA CLUB Añejo Clásico Puerto Rican Rum
  • 3 parts Chai tea
  • 1 ¾ parts coconut milk
  • 1 part simple syrup or 1 tbs white sugar

Method: Prepare Chai Tea. While the tea steeps, warm coconut milk over medium heat, do not boil. Combine ingredients in a high temperature resistant mixing glass, adding rum last and stir. Serve in an Irish Coffee Cup or preferred glass coffee cup, and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur for something different
Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur for something different

And then there’s the unique Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur from Puebla, Mexico. It’s good for after-dinner or aperitif, depending on your mood and your menu. This has been a favorite around here since we received the review sample. Thick and creamy, dark amber color, heat and peppery flavors make this a unique experience for your tongue and nose. Maker’s notes say: “Pleasantly sweet, followed by chile with moderate heat and slight acidity. Hints of spices, tamarind, plum, cacao, apple and almonds then subtle notes of fine herbs. A pleasantly lingering pungent taste on the finish.” Works for us!


Bordeaux wines galore – and at RPM wine dinner


Last week was a great time for Bordeaux in Chicago. Dozens of winemakers and representatives from dozens of appellations in the Bordeaux, France wine region converged in one of the ballrooms at the elegant historic Drake Hotel to introduce their mainly 2014 vintages to press, trade and the public. Visitors walked around tasting while, behind the tables, reps from members of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux gave out pour after pour of mostly red blends, plus a few whites and Sauternes for good measure. As you read my recommendations, keep in mind I’m partial to big, dry, complex reds.

A few of my favorites came from a region I hadn’t previously been very familiar with, Saint-Estephe, and included all four of the wineries present from there (check links for wine notes and prices): Château Ormes de Pez 2014, Château Cos Labory 2014, Château Phelan Segur 2014, and especially Château Lafon-Rochet 2014.

Others that I gave highest marks to were from among the Grand Crus de St. Emilion and included Château Beau-Séjour Bécot 2014, Château Canon-La-Gaffelière 2014, Château Grand Mayne 2014, and Château Villemaurine 2014. Really beautiful wines.

I was also impressed with some from the Pomerol appellation of Bordeaux. Check out Château Beauregard 2014, Château Clinet 2014 and Château La Cabanne 2014. Two notables from the Pessac-Leognan appellation were Chateau Olivier and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, each of which presented both a white and a red.

And later that evening, a fine wine dinner at RPM Steak House featured 5 lovely wines from the Pouillac appellation in Bordeaux – food and drink to set the imagination afire. Amuse bouches were tiny and flavorful, including oysters with mignonette. The appetizer course was a generous-sized disk of Hamachi, studded with caviar and surrounded by a warm, slightly sweet yuzu emulsion. First course was an outstanding Pepper-Crusted Tuna Belly – one piece of which was prepared confit (NUM!) and the other ahi-style, both served with a spoonful of sturdy mushroom Bearnaise. Utterly succulent and delicious and perfect with a Bordeaux blend, Les Tourelle de Longueville, Pauillac 2011.

Next came Prime Dry Aged Beef – two small pieces of beef aged 90 days and two aged for 9 days. Both were spectacular and were served with two vintages of Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron Pauillac, one from 1990 and one from 2009. Lovely, rich reds.

Then came, not one but two desserts, both outstanding. One, poached apricots served in a warm almond custard that was to die for (I am wild about anything custard), and then a Sticky Toffee Pudding with rum raisin ice cream, both served with Chateau de Suduiraut Sauternes, one from 2004 and the other from 1975. Beautiful, beautiful. Thank you, RPM and thank you, makers of Bordeaux wines par excellence. (And thanks to Elizabeth for some nice shots!)

Wines of Portugal brings high-end to value wines to Chicago

Wines of Portugal 2016 Chicago seminar
Wines of Portugal 2016 Chicago seminar

The Wines of Portugal group visited Chicago this year, inviting industry pros and media to a blind tasting held at the Intercontinental Hotel and led by Evan Goldstein, sommelier and wine educator par excellence.

A few notable selections (sorted by price, high to low) from the 2016 event include:
Roquevale Grande Reserva 2009, from Alentejo. Blend of Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Tinta and Caiada grapes. Deep garnet color, dusty aroma, complex and balanced, this can age some years. SRP ~$37
Cortes de Cima Tinto 2012. Garnet with red highlights, this wine has spicy, savory aromas with vanilla notes. Sweet, savory fruit flavors with an elegant palate. Complex taste with long finish. SRP ~$23
Quinta dos Murcas Assobio Red 2013, from Esporao winery. Dark purple, made from a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca grapes. this is a well-made and graceful wine –  and a terrific value at SRP ~$15.
Barao de Vilar Feuerheerds 2013. This lightly sweet dessert wine is a rich raisin color with upfront floral aromas and then notes of prune, vanilla, and milk chocolate.  Delicious and well, well worth the price at SRP ~$14.
Follies by Aveleda 2013 – Blend is a combination of native Touriga Nacional and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Winemaker notes: Deep ruby color with intense aromas of berry, oak and vanilla. A well-balanced body with supple tannins resulting in an elegant whole. Ideal with spicy meat dishes, wild mushroom risotto, or serve as an aperitif with cheeses and nuts. Lovely for any price, but a true value wine at SRP ~$8.

7 wines under $20 for the 2016 holidays

Recent tastings from wide-flung areas of the world have yielded a fresh list of possibilities for your holiday edification and enjoyment. Consider one of these under-$20 selections for your holiday celebrations.
California’s Little Black Dress label
We love it when wineries come up with fun names for their brands. Take, for example, the label  “Little Black Dress” (LBD). Stirs up visions of sexy intrigue or at least something elegant, doesn’t it? Recently sampled a couple of their reds and enjoyed them.
1. Diva Red. Winemaker notes: Decadent notes of dark plum, cocoa and caramel leading to a finish accented by hints of cinnamon and chocolate-dipped strawberries. We found it a pleasant medium-bodied red blend that sits comfortably on the palate, works pleasantly on the nose and goes nicely with food of many kinds. Well worth a try at SRP ~$8.
2. Little Black Dress Cabernet Sauvignon. Consider this value-priced rich red for your everyday wine. Winemaker notes:   Rich aromas of dark berries and toasted oak, a hint of vanilla spice and a lasting finish. Again, well worth trying at an SRP of ~$10.
Nero d’Avola elegance from Sicilia DOC
Speaking of “little black,” consider the Nero d’Avola grape –  indigenous to Sicily. For centuries Sicily has been a benchmark for the global wine market and this grape variety is an icon of Sicilian enology. Today a new generation of winemakers have lifted the “little black grape” to new heights of elegance and drinkability.
Saia - Nero d'Avola
Saia – Nero d’Avola

3. Nero d’Avola Feudo Maccari Saia 2011 Sicilia DOC. This Saia has lush, deep aromas and flavors of dark and sour red cherries, spearmint, spice and oak. Palate flavors are velvety, plush, and concentrated, balanced by fine acidity and ripe, sweet tannins, before a long finish. A superb match for full-flavored meats and game, especially stews and roasts. Saia, like all these wines, balances freshness with the ability to evolve over time. SRP ~$20

Naked Moon wine shines
Naked Moon wine shines

Lovely Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy
4. Luna Nuda (Naked Moon) Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT 2015. Born in the perfect-for-Pinot-Grigio clay soils atop the saw-tooth ridges, snow-capped peaks, and alpine meadows studded with glittering waterfalls in Alto Adige, this wine of straw-yellow with green lusters brings rich aromas of fruits like pears and apples. Well-balanced and structured, the taste is dry and smooth with a pleasing minerality. Perfect for pairing with lighter foods and fresh-water fish. At 12.5% alc., this is a sturdy white wine that makes a nice aperitif, too. SRP ~$15

JaM Cellars “breakfast” trio of wines
Butter, Toast and Jam sounds like a breakfast menu, but it’s actually the names of three different wines – one red and two whites – that come from JaM Cellars. These are a cut above your everyday house wines and guaranteed to make you and your guests feel special. Perfect to go with your Thanksgiving or other holiday meals. JaM Cellars wines are available nationwide and through the website at
5. 2015 Butter Chardonnay offers ripe, stone fruit and baked-lemon aromas and is cold fermented to rich creaminess, aged in a blend of oak giving this wine a lovely, long, vanilla finish. 14.89% Alc. by vol. SRP ~$15
6. 2014 JaM Cabernet Sauvignon has soft, dark berries and plums on the nose and palate, and is aged in new oak to smooth and round the wine, adding a touch of vanilla. 15.1% Alc. by vol. SRP ~$20
JaM Cellars - toasting with Toast
JaM Cellars – toasting with Toast

BONUS: Non-vintage (NV) Toast Sparkling, made with traditional méthode Champenoise techniques, offers juicy aromas of honeydew, white peach and orange blossom followed by tastes of tropical pineapple and honeydew combined with a light toastiness. It’s light at 12.5% Alc. and, okay, at $24.99 a little over the headline-promise of $20/bottle. But we didn’t count it in the original 7, so think of it as a bonus recommendation.

South African sparkling wine
Did you know that South Africa is among the many nations that are becoming producers of respectable wines these days? Had a chance recently to review a couple of sparklings from that region. One in particular seemed a worthy addition to a list of decent possibles for holiday meals – or any time you’re in the mood for some bubbles.
7. Boschendal Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut NV. This sparkling wine, made with Methode Cap Classique (South Africa’s version of the traditional Champagne method) is a clear golden color with a fine effervescence. Aromas of fresh lemon fruits along with a creamy flavor make it a pleasant, value-priced bubbly that’s more complex than many similarly priced Proseccos and will make an equally nice accompaniment to lighter foods and even desserts. SRP ~$11

Have fun with these!


Eat serious beef steaks this holiday

Snake River Farms Wagyu beef steaks - outstanding
Snake River Farms Wagyu beef steaks – outstanding. Photo used with permission of Snake River Farms

If you haven’t yet experienced the beauty of Wagyu beef, here’s a suggestion. Get some soon! Snake River Farms makes fabulous steaks out of this wonderfully marbled meat, and you don’t have to be a genius to cook them perfectly. It’s a somewhat pricey treat, but well worth it if your budget is up for it.

Try some SRF Wagyu steak with one of the fabulous wines we’ve been writing about lately here and here and here. We actually chose to try the review samples with a champagne tasting we put together at home and were thrilled with the rich flavor of the meat. We served them grilled on a charcoal fire – some plain and some with the tasty rub that came with the meat – both excellent.

Some of the country’s most renowned chefs like Thomas Keller, Wolfgang Puck and Michael Mina and lots of popular restaurants around the county use SRF Wagyu steaks. And now they’ve decided to offer their selection of meats  online. This season’s new offerings include a Curated Steak Box from James Beard Award winning Atlanta chef Hugh Acheson.

The Snake River Farms gift collection includes:

  • Hugh Acheson’s Curated Steak Box with 2-8oz American Wagyu filet mignon, 2-6oz American Wagyu ribeye filet, 1 Lodge skillet, 1 Mercer saucing spoon, 1 Bragard kitchen towel, Jacobsen’s Flake Finishing Salt and Hugh Acheson’s Steak Cooking Guide. $199
  • American Wagyu Steak Flight includes 2-6oz American Wagyu filet mignon, 2-6oz American Wagyu ribeye filets, 2-6oz American Wagyu sirloin filets, Espresso Brava Salt, Snake River Farms hat and a Cooking Guide. $169
  • American Wagyu Bone-In Steak Collection includes 2-12oz American Wagyu bone-in filet mignon, 2-20oz American Wagyu bone-in New York strips, 2-28oz American Wagyu New T-bones, Espresso Brava Sea Salt and a Cooking Guide.  $350

You won’t be sorry, people.



Cook book review: Churrasco

Churrasco cookbook - recipes for gaucho cooking
Churrasco cookbook – recipes for gaucho cooking

When you think of churrasco, what comes to mind is a vision of huge slabs of skewered meat dripping fat and juice. And the technique of grilling that produces those slabs is, indeed, the very definition of churrasco. In this new cookbook, called simply Churrasco by Evandro Caregnato, the culinary director of the Texas de Brazil restaurant chain. In it he tells you how he got started as a kid in Brazil and shares lots of stories about being a gaucho there and then his journey to Texas to join the cowboys as master churrasco chef and consultant to the then-new Texas de Brazil restaurant.

You will definitely learn all about how to cut, skewer and cook the way meat-loving Brazilians do to coax the most flavor out of every cut of meat with their special methods. And how they get maximum results out of so many different sections of the various animals, be it pork, beef, lamb or chicken. Recently experienced for the first time this meat-lover’s parade of grilled muscle and flesh at Fogo de Chao (review here).
In this book you may also be pleasantly surprised at the richness and variety of other dishes from Brazil. Imagine a book about grilled meats giving you a recipe for a Cold Savory Torte made of white bread layered with chicken, cheese, and tuna and seasoned with mustard, cornichons, carrots, smoked paprika, lemon and parsley. Mmm.
Think about this one: Spinach Cannelloni, made with homemade crepes and a filling of sauteed spinach and garlic mixed with heavy cream, parmesan and cream cheese. Oh, my! And you’ll find that Squash Ravioli is no longer strictly in the hands of Italy – this Brazilian version is served with a brandy-sage-cream sauce with shallots and porcini mushrooms. How about caramelized cinnamon-and-clove-scented squash served with a spoonful of sour cream? The recipe for beef-bone stock sounds great – like chicken soup with steak instead of chicken. Nutritious, comforting and a great way to use up bones after you’ve grilled some meat.
The recipes don’t stop there but include desserts, sides and potatoes. The book is an inspiration, meat lover or not. Nice gift for both aspiring and experienced cooks.

Cognac is hot – for sipping and mixing

The spirits fates can be fickle. Remember the great vodka wars – Ketel One, Grey Goose, later Tito’s, etc. – “What does your vodka say about you?” Nowadays Cognac is the new favorite cocktail base for many bartenders and consumers. Sophisticated palates appreciate sipping it to enjoy the many subtle layers of flavors to be found in various iterations of the spirit, including in the gradations of VS, VSOP and XO.
Cognac Rémy Martin
Cognac Rémy Martin

Rémy Martin Cognac, for example – a name well-known among aficionados – recently set up pop-up “experiences” in major cities in the U.S., Chicago included. Titled “La Maison Rémy Martin,” the pop-up included 80 minutes of workshops and masterclasses in which consumers met and interacted with some of the world’s preeminent progressive thinkers from music, fashion, cuisine and art – for example, French Kinetic Artist Vincent Leroy who was commissioned to create a piece and to design the box featured at La Maison Rémy Martin experience. All the while participants learned about the process of making Cognac and got to blend their own. Cool, eh?

Curious about the new popularity of this spirit, we asked Mixologist Dan Rook of South Water Kitchen in Chicago a few questions about the phenomenon:
How would you explain the cocktail sensation going on in the U.S. today? 
The cocktail Renaissance going on in this country lately has to do with the evolving tastes of the consumer. Nowadays people are much more informed about what they put into their bodies, even when it comes to cocktails. Many people now expect fresh juice in lieux of sour mix, all natural ingredients, and house-made custom recipes. It’s becoming the norm rather than the exception, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
What is it about Cognac that mixologists like and why is it becoming so attractive to cocktail lovers?
I think Cognac has always been attractive to cocktail lovers. Some of the best classic cocktails – Sidecar, Sazerac, and Vieux Carre’ – all call for Cognac. The more educated modern bartenders become about the history of the craft cocktail, the more often they’ll reach for a bottle of Cognac. Cognac is a form of brandy, and brandy has been a bedrock in cocktails for a long time.
Cognac is unique in that it is an appellation and can only be distilled in one specific place, using Ugni Blanc grapes from a handful of regions in France. That makes for a very specific flavor profile that can be mimicked, but not replicated. Of course, there is still some diversity within the variety of Cognacs, based on the terrior where the grapes are grown, how long it’s aged, etc. That exclusivity of region and production method is really what sets Cognac apart, providing bartenders with a unique flavor for their drinks that they cannot get anywhere else. One of my go-to premium mixing Cognac is D’USSÉ™ VSOP. It has a full-bodied, bold taste that’s versatile and adds a unique twist to classic drinks.
Are some generations more into this trend than others?
Younger generations today grew up with more options than ever before – particularly Millennials. Instant gratification is the norm now; everything is one Google search away. A side effect is that these tech-savvy consumers tend to be more aware of current options that help them make more-informed choices. As an example, we recently had an older woman come in for a Gimlet and specifically request Rose’s Lime juice – something we simply do not carry. I suggested she try it instead with fresh juice, and she was over the moon for it. For us as bartenders, it’s really about taking that first step with a guest without being pretentious.
Which cognac-based cocktail do you recommend for newbies to the spirit? Or does it matter – since expertly crafted cocktails sometimes mask the strength/sensations of the main spirit?
Rather than mask anything, expertly crafted cocktails should showcase the flavors of the main spirit in a balanced and appropriate way; that’s how I approach it. I think the perfect Cognac-based cocktail for a newbie would be the classic Sidecar. It’s very easy to make, very well balanced, and always seems to please. My go-to build for it is 2 oz D’USSÉ VSOP Cognac, 3/4 oz of fresh (always fresh) lemon juice, 3/4 oz of quality orange curacao, shaken, up, in a half sugar rimmed cocktail coupe.
Among classic cocktail recipes with Cognac, which are your 3 favorites:  
My favorites are The Sidecar, Sazerac and Vieux Carre’, all of which pair well with the unique flavor profile of D’USSÉ VSOP Cognac.
  • 2 oz of D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
  • 1 part triple sec
  • 3/4 oz of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz of quality orange curacao

SERVE: Shake and strain all ingredients into a sugar-rimmed coupe glass.  GARNISH: Lemon peel and a sugared rim. TIP: To create a unique take on the Sidecar, substitute the triple sec with ¾ part of Giffard Framboise to create the D’USSÉ™ Framboise Sidecar.

  • 1 ½ oz D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
  • ¼ oz Absinthe
  • Half a tea spoon demerara sugar
  • Three dashes Peychauds Bitters

SERVE: Rinse a chilled old-fashioned glass with the absinthe, add crushed ice and set it aside. Stir the remaining ingredients over ice and set aside. Discard the ice and any excess absinthe from the prepared glass, and strain the drink into the glass. GARNISH: Lemon Peel.

  • 1 part D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
  • 1 part rye whisky
  • 1 part NOILLY PRAT® Rouge Sweet Vermouth Dash Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Dash Angostura® Bitters
  • ½ part BENEDICTINE® Liqueur

SERVE: Combine all ingredients, stir and pour into a glass of choice. GARNISH: Lemon peel.


Interview with Frescobaldi owner, maker of luxury Italian wines

Lamberto Frescobaldi - noblesse oblige
Lamberto Frescobaldi – noblesse oblige

Tall, slender, and aristocratic in appearance, kind and gentle in demeanor, and full of wisdom about life in general and about the business and art of winemaking in particular, Lamberto Frescobaldi came to Chicago recently with a mission to introduce discerning wine lovers to his multiple collections of beautiful Tuscan wines. From Frescobaldi Toscana, Nippozano in Chianti Rufina territory and Castello Pomino hidden in Tuscany’s Sequoia woods – the latter two also with luxury lodgings on site – to Attems in Friuli and more, these estates produce luxury wines that have special appeal to gourmets and collectors around the world.

Lamberto – his father is the Marchese Frescobaldi – is dedicated to his work and deeply passionate about continually perfecting the art and craftsmanship of producing the highest quality wines. And he is, as well, a man who exemplifies the compassionate exercise of noblesse oblige. For example, his program to teach inmates of prisons in and around Florence the skills and professionalism needed to produce the superior oil from the olive trees growing on his family’s estates.

“Our goal is to give these prisoners the skills necessary to reintegrate themselves into the work force and society. Our hope is that this model grows beyond our Tuscan-based programs to become a best practice for penitentiary systems around the world.” He adds, “The evolution of the ‘Frescobaldi per il Sociale’ philanthropic efforts fills our hearts with pride and hope because it is a tangible sign that the public and private sectors can successfully work together for the common good.”

Signore Lamberto Frescobaldi embodies the style and grace of Italy’s noble men and women. As the 30th generation to operate the family winery business, he is pleased that his three children, 18, 22 and 24 are making their own choices about what to do. His eldest is studying wine and economics in Bordeaux, daughter 22 graduated in Italy and is now in Paris studying marketing. His younger son, 18, is in 12th grade and wants to study agriculture in England or U.S. He said when they were all young and he and Robert Mondavi began the first Italian-American joint-venture with the luxury wine brand Luce della Vite (reviews here and here), he was traveling like crazy, and the children told their mother they never wanted to do what he was doing because he was not home enough. “Then later, somehow,” he said, “things changed for them.”

Lamberto was deeply interested in agriculture from an early age, but his global education in wine began during the time he studied viticulture at U.S. Davis in California. He talks about one weekend when he decided to go to town and buy a bottle of his family’s wine to celebrate an academic achievement. At the store he introduced himself to the owner as a member of the Frescobaldi family. Duly impressed with the young man, the owner asked if he would come to work there. While he could only work weekends, Lamberto became the owner’s eager protégé, soon absorbing vast amounts of information about wines around the world. He said he also learned at that time that environmental awareness isn’t just up to winemakers; it’s also consumers who make a difference.

“Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth. Don’t drive to the store and buy a single bottle of wine – buy at least three on each trip.”

After training and a brief stint as a member of the Italian police force, he joined the family business in 1989 where he began by managing vineyard investments and helping expand the family’s Tuscan estates.

The company was small then, but it’s since grown significantly. It doesn’t buy juice or fruit or anything else. Rather the winemakers prefer to depend upon their own estates for everything. “We want to control our own vineyards. We buy the land, plant, we have the tractors and equipment. Yes, it looks like a big operation, but it’s divided into a number of estates.” The goal is the same for each estate: always to produce the finest possible wine that truly expresses the land from which it is born.

No easy task, certainly. “We went once to a tasting of 5 different Merlots from different countries, South Africa, Australia, Calif, Italy, and Chile. It was a blind tasting and each participant had to try to place each wine correctly on the map.” He said he was able to hit only 3 out of 5, while two people actually hit all five. “Overly talented or very lucky,” said Lamberto. “And this sends a message about how important it is to make wines that express their terroir unmistakably.”

“Today many wines have a lot of residual sugar from having been picked when they were overmature. While this may taste good, it doesn’t make you so excited.” He likened the statistics about wine consumers to a pie chart, like a pizza. “There’s a big portion of people who don’t really care too much about what they’re drinking. And a small slice of people who really want to go beyond – that’s who I am aiming to talk to.”

“We should try to teach everyone to concentrate just a few minutes on what you are eating and what you are drinking.”

“Some people can remember tastes. When you’re able to compare and decide if you like something or not is already a big accomplishment. Many people are scared to say if they like something. Sometimes I use as an example the idea that as you age, your taste in chocolate may change. You start to like dark chocolate more because your palate is becoming more developed – like working out in a gym.”

Lamberto spoke of the agriculture behind making wine and said that all vineyards benefit from significant day/night temperature differentials which are crucially important for the metabolism and development of aroma precursors in all the grape varieties.

Lovely crisp white Attems by Frescobaldi
Lovely crisp white Attems by Frescobaldi

As an example of a particular wine that was elevated by such differentials, his Attems Sauvignon Blanc 2015, served with appetizers at restaurant Piccolo Sogno, 464 N. Halsted, was beautifully fragrant and crisp. Winemaker tasting notes: Lovely impressions of sage and tomato leaf lead off on the nose, closely followed by notes of late-ripened peach, melon, and white plum. Rich fruit flavors heighten the palate and the wine has an alluring, superbly balanced finish. Between late August and September that year, the day/night differential was dramatic, ranging as wide as 14.5 C degrees (that’s 55+ F). It pairs beautifully with appetizers and light dishes.

Attems is also an example of how Frescobaldi honors the former owners of vineyards they purchase. Attems now uses Frescobaldi fruit to make its exceptional white wines, but this winery was owned by the Attems family for 500 years. The former owner remained a partner for several years after Frescobaldi purchased a major share. After his death, his daughter sold the final portion to Frescobaldi. “We want to honor the work that these owners did to develop the vineyard to a high level,” he said. He points out how critical it is to be good at managing land in order to try to transmit the spirit of that location through a bottle of wine.

“Although as much as I would like you to love all of the wines we make, it’s a fact that this is not ketchup or Coca Cola. We must be more strict with ourselves, as we want to communicate where we are.”

Another Frescobaldi white wine, Pomino Benefizio Riserva 2012 is a gloriously rich and fruity wine that’s part of Frescobaldi’s cru line. The 100% Chardonnay grapes grow on the sandy, stony, well-drained soil of land acquired years ago from a local church, and Frescobaldi still gives the church a portion of the finished wines and olive oils made there each year.

Tenuto Frescobaldi di Castiglioni 2014, is grown on the oldest land owned by Frescobaldi, located just south of Florence. Deliciously complex and an excellent accompaniment to Piccolo Sogno’s baked branzino with fingerling potatoes and roasted whole young carrots.

Mormoreto 2012, a blend of largely Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, with a touch of Petit Verdot, is exquisitely aromatic and elegantly structured. This wine presents an impenetrably intense ruby color and a complex nose: red fruits such as blackberry and raspberry meet the balanced floral notes of bergamot and the spiced ones of bitter cocoa, cocoa butter, roasted coffee bean, light vanilla, cloves, jasmine and grey tea.

In the mouth the wine is fresh, complex, persistent and balanced. The tannins blend well with the body resulting in a wine that is velvety to the palate. The acidic component is noteworthy and joins elegantly with the alcoholic content. Notes of mixed berries, black and raspberry, and a light liquorish note accompany a peaty whisky, tobacco and vanilla finish. SRP ~$80. Piccolo Sogno provided an ideal atmosphere to try these superb luxury wines on a warm early-autumn day on the patio. Excellent service in a comfortable country-Italian atmosphere. Bellisimo.

Brunello - Lamberto's dog awaits his master
Brunello – Lamberto’s dog awaits his master

It’s obvious Lamberto speaks with great pleasure and pride about his wines and his family. But he speaks, also, with wonder about his dog, a handsome Airedale mix named, aptly, Brunello.

“It is humbling,” he said, “to see that even when another member of my family offers to take him for a walk, Brunello takes no notice. He waits only for me.”



5 beverage ideas for fall


Every change of season is a good excuse to broaden your repertoire of wines and spirits. And, hey, it’s finally fall in Chicago (well, except for those 72-degree days). To warm yourself in cooler temps, consider these unique beverages to help you enjoy the glorious November weather: a fabulous red wine born of a partnersip, a cognac finished in bourbon casks, a plummy gin, a light prosecco (with punch recipe), and a ‘fiery’ red wine finished in whiskey barrels.

“Collaboration” ***** is an absolutely stunning red wine that we would happily drink with anything – from rich cheeses and hearty stews and roasts, to pork, sturdy fish like salmon and, well, just about anything. For serious red-wine lovers, it might even work as an aperitif with appetizers just because it’s so complex and rich and delicious. This wine is the remarkable result of a cooperative effort (thus, the name “Collaboration”)  between Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants and Buena Vista Winery. And the catch is, you can’t buy it in stores, and you can only buy it online if you are a member of the Cooper’s Hawk wine club.

Cooper's Hawk Collaboration - love it!
Cooper’s Hawk Collaboration – love it!

Here’s what the winemakers have to say about it: “A rich, deep wine loaded with aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cherry, plum and baking spices, it has firm and well-rounded tannins and an exceptionally long finish that can stand up to any beef dish. Beautiful to drink now, it’s expected to age well for another four to six years.”

Jean-Charles Boisset, who added Buena Vista to the Boisset Collection in 2011, says Collaboration “makes the wine world vibrate and brings a transcendental vision to people’s emotional style, taste, and senses… This wine is about power and a vortex of energy that has never been felt before.” We actually don’t think that’s too strong a statement. Visit

Cooper’s Hawk is a unique combination of restaurant, winery, Napa-style tasting room, and artisanal retail market with 24 locations throughout Illinois, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and Wisconsin more on the way next year. They partner with some of the best grape growers in the world to craft the highly praised Cooper’s Hawk wine collection. And they have a wine club that offers exclusive wines, events, and privileges. CEO/Founder Tim McEnery first opened the company in Orland Park, Illinois in 2005. Visit Must be a wine club member to purchase Collaboration.

Martell Blue Swift Cognac finished in bourbon barrels - Photo used with permission of Martell
Martell Blue Swift Cognac finished in bourbon barrels

Martell Cognac, the oldest of the great cognac houses, recently announced the launch of Martell Blue Swift, the first-ever Martell VSOP finished in Kentucky Bourbon casks and packaged in a beautiful bottle. Engraved on the bottle, Martell’s iconic swift emblem represents the legend behind the brand. This bird is famous for flying exceptionally long distances, crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice a year, and the story goes that Jean Martell was guided by the flight of a swift on his original journey from the island of Jersey to Charente. Martell was the first to ship its cognac barrels from France to the United States and now, more than 230 years later, they’re still doing it. This new and unique Eau de Vie de Vin is a product that is born “When Cognac meets Bourbon.” SRP ~$50.

TuB Hoppy Plum Gin
TuB Hoppy Plum Gin

TuB Gin‘s Hoppy Plum gin. This unique hoppy, fruity gin with plum spirits came out on November 1 as a limited 4-month release from Peach Street Distillers, the folks known for using crisp, local ingredients in their spirits. And this one is a really special spirit that starts out with their renowned citrus-forward gin and is then married with Palisada Plum Eau de Vie and macerated Colorado hops. The end result is a hoppy, softly spiced spirit so smooth you could even drink it straight. If you do, the flavor explodes in your mouth and the aroma opens your nose, and the whole experience warms you, lifts your spirits and sets your tongue a-tingle. A great surprise gift for the spirit lover who likes to expand horizons.

Astoria Prosecco
Astoria Prosecco

Astoria Prosecco DOC is a classic brand from Italy that comes in a cut-glass bottle that’s lovely enough you might even want to re-use it. Semi-dry with a crisp taste and generous bubbles, you’ll notice pear, apple and floral notes. It’s a light, easy-to-drink wine for a toast or to pair with appetizers or a light main dish or even with desserts. And if you’re still grilling – it’s not snowing yet, right? – whether it’s burgers, steak, chicken or fish, consider this flavorful punch from Astoria Wines. It combines their Prosecco DOC with lemonade and just a few other ingredients. It’ll let you and your guests hang onto the feeling of summer. SRP varies ~$8 to $12.

Lemonade Prosecco Punch

  • 4-6 cups prepared Lemonade
  • 1/3 cup citrus vodka (regular is fine, too)
  • 1 pint blackberries (or your favorite berry), frozen
  • 3 sprigs fresh mint
  • 1 750ml bottle Astoria Prosecco DOC, chilled

Stir lemonade and vodka in a gallon pitcher or punch bowl. Add berries and mint. Let the berries macerate for an hour or more. The longer it sits, the more the blackberries and mint infuse the flavor. Add the Prosecco, stir gently and serve over ice. Store leftovers tightly covered in refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Apothic Wines is one of the wineries and spirit makers who’ve embraced the exciting new technique of melding aging processes. Their new Apothic Inferno – recently released as a limited edition – is aged in barrels that originally contained a completely different product – whiskey. We enthusiastically endorsed this melding phenomenon originally with Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Shiraz and Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon (review here).

Crafted in California and put up in bottles emblazoned with a raging-flames-inferno label, each batch of Apothic Inferno undergoes a time-intensive, barrel-aging process. The barrels – cut, shaped, and bound by steel before being charred with flames – were first used to age whiskey for a few years prior to becoming the home of Apothic’s new red blend. Some palates may find the strong whiskey “soul” of the resulting red challenging; others may embrace it wholeheartedly.  If you’re one of the latter, order some soon as quantities are limited. In any case, try it with a hearty meat dish and some whole grain bread to stand up to the flavor. Check for it in your favorite restaurants in Chicago. SRP ~$16.