Category Archives: wine

Bordeaux wines galore – and at RPM wine dinner

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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!)
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Toast the holidays with 7 lovely wines from Pasternak

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Toast the holidays with lovely wines!
Toast the holidays with lovely wines!

How do you pick wines you think you’ll like? Perhaps you read respected publications like Wine Spectator or the New York Times wine reviews. You might follow a few well-known wine bloggers or tweeters who do the searching for you.

Another way is to identify an importer that you trust. And it’s good, too, if that importer can also direct you to locations where you can buy the wines they import. And that’s exactly what Pasternak Importers do. First, they select a winery in a specific location. Then they do the taste-testing to make sure the vintage or the blend meets their quality standards. Imagine trying to pick out your own wines from thousands produced in a region, the dozens or even hundreds of wines produced by a particular winemaker! Even master sommeliers, who get paid to do this stuff, have to study diligently and practice for long periods of time before they can do their work of informed recommending.
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Pasternak deals in wines in the affordable category and all the way up to premium and even luxury wines – French, Italian, and more. You can search their portfolio by region, varietal or brand, and they have an extremely handy “Find Our Wines” widget that lets you locate multiple places you can find the wines you decide to try. Just put in your zip or city and state – country? – and click to see who carries what you’re looking for.
Nice red, rose brut and white Pasternak imports
Nice red, rose brut and white Pasternak imports

Recently Pasternak shared a few of their wines in several price categories for review purposes. A few notes about them below:

  • Valdo Oro Puro Prosecco superior DOCG. A light and elegant wine with a nice bubble (Charmat method) and just enough sweetness. SRP $21
  • Valdo Rose Brut, A lovely medium pink bubbly that’s perfect for company or just for fun. Called a “Best Buy” in Wine and Spirits 8/16 issue. SRP $16
  • Thomas George Estates Estate Chardonnay. Aromas of star fruit, lemon, banana and hazelnut characterize Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Subtle flavors of citrus zest and custard  express themselves among stronger notes of stone fruit. The finish lingers long with a nice fullness. SRP $30

    Pinot Noir, prosecco and Chardonnay from Pasternak
    Pinot Noir, prosecco and Chardonnay from Pasternak
  • Thomas George Estates Estate Pinot Noir. Wine Enthusiast says: “Raw earth and black tea combine for a classic take on the variety, high-toned in wild strawberry and red cherry. Tightly wound, it opens in the glass, staying light but with texture and body, a floral wine with just enough weight.” SRP $43
  • Marchesi Fumanelli Terso Veneto IGT. The blend of 50% Garganega, 50% Trebbiano Toscano makes a beautiful white wine. Intense, nutty, and toasty aromas on the nose. The palate is concentrated and powerful with lemony freshness and bready notes. A striking wine with flavors of acacia, lime blossoms and fresh apricots. Amazing acidity. SRP $40

  • Marchesi Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC. Brilliant ruby red color, with a pleasant aroma of dark cherry and mature forest fruit. Dry and velvety on the palate, with a hint of bitter almond. Enjoy the touch of sweet vanilla and the soft tannins. A well-structured wine with a soft, intense, long and persistent finish. A beautiful, rich and robust red to love with your Christmas tenderloin roast beef or your finest Hanukkah braised brisket and latkes. SRP $30

  • Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose. Strawberry and wild cherry fruit flavors, with a touch of richness on the mid palate. Dry, crisp acidity and a creamy texture and long finish. 90 points from Wine Enthusiast in 2015. SRP $22
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Alesssio Planeta brings treasured Sicilian wines to Chicago

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Alessio Planeta grows the grapes and makes the wines at Planeta Winery, and he came visiting Chicago recently to introduce them to industry professionals. Held at Naha Restaurant, 500 N. Clark, the event featured many of Alessio’s favorites paired beautifully with a three-course meal prepared by the superb culinary team at Naha.

The first course, an item from the regular menu, was organic carnaroli risotto with confit duck, Delicata squash, wood-grilled onions, and a delightful embellishment of crispy curly kale – we’d love to know how they get that crunch while keeping the gorgeous deep color of that green!
Second came a roast quail with a “hash” of Brussels sprouts, spaghetti squash and slab bacon, served with soft-cooked polenta and frosted Marquis grapes and sage. Dessert was a lovely composed dish of Italian blue cheese, shaved pear and pea shoot salad, macerated black figs and seeded ficelle (all their breads were excellent). Creative and delicious combinations.
Each course was paired with a different vintage of Planeta Santa Cecilia Nero d’Avola – 2011, 2007 and 2005 – all four-star quality. You could feel his love of his work when Alessio said, “Wine is the most honest labor of any product in the world.”
He also said that if your favorite wine vendor doesn’t carry any of these wines, you can get Binny’s or Eataly to bring them in for you. Below are some of the elegant and delicioius wines produced by Alessio Planeta and his team.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG 2014, a lovely dry red blend of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato grapes that are macerated 14 days on the skin. The resulting blend is fresh and smooth and goes well with fish. SRP ~$24
Dorilli Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG 2014, A limited production of a refined and elegant expression of the union of the noble Nero d’Avola with Frappato di Vittoria grapes. Lightly distinguished by maturation in wood. SRP ~$33
Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG 2007, produced with a combination of indigenous varieties Nero d’Avola and Frappato. A unique wine with flavours and aromas of cherry, strawberry and pomegranate due to the particular soil and climate in which the grapes are cultivated. SRP ~$24
Nocera Sicilia DOC 2015, 5-star, 100% Nocera, grapes that grow only in the northern part of Sicily. These vineyards are surrounded by the sea – in fact, sometimes appear to be floating above it. Here they grow in alluvial soils where warriors once fought their battles. No SRP – why?
 
Nero d’Avola Nocera Sicilia DOC 2014. easy to drink Aromas of floral, plum and chocolate that are typical of the Nero d’Avola grape. At first smell, the aroma seemed a bit off, but the wine was very drinkable. SRP ~$26
Noto Nero d’Avola DOC 2012.  At first smell, the aroma seemed a bit off, but soft tannins, high acidity make it good to drink now and good to age for several years to come.
Santa Cecilia Noto DOC 2011. 5 stars. 100% Nero d’Avola. This year 2011 was a good vintage all around in Sicily, Tlhis is Alessio’s favorite vintage.Blackcurrent flavor typical of this area. SRP ~$45 Alessio said he prefers higher acid to softer tannins.
Santa Cecilia Noto DOC 2010. 100% Nero d’Avola. Less warm, more rain in this area today, where it used to be very dry in the late 90s. A quintessential expression of Sicily’s noble Nero d’Avola grape.
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Wines of Portugal brings high-end to value wines to Chicago

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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:
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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
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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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Italian winemakers bring passion and wines to Chicago

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Map of Grandi Marchi regions
Map of Grandi Marchi regions

Joining together to co-market your wines in the U.S. and around the world – it’s the thing to do these days, especially in Italy, where the dozens of different growers/winemakers in every area of the country have for decades or even centuries been producing their own uniquely terroir-driven wines. In the case of Grandi Marchi – also known as Istituto del Vina Italiano di Qualita – nineteen different winemakers/wineries banded together and came to Chicago recently to promote their products to industry professionals and members of the media. Below are a few of our best-rated selections from the wines showcased by the Grandi Marchi consortium.

Iselis, Nasco di Cagliari DOC 2015, from Argiolas winery. Production: 51,000 bottles made of 100% Nasco grapes in Sardinia and aged 20% in French oak. Aroma of yellow blossoms and tropical fruits with light mossy notes. Mellow and expansive on the palate with a very long, pleasant finish. Nice texture; great with food. @ArgiolasWinery

Il Tascante Sicilia DOC 2012, from Tasca d’Almerita. Small production (6500 bottles) rich red, made with Nerello Mascalese grapes from the oldest vines of the estate. Aged 18 months in Slavonian oak and 16 months in bottle. This area of Sicily yields wines subdued in color with an extremely rich tannic structure and unique aromatic intensity. @TascaWine
Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2012, from Marchesi Antinori Winery in Tuscany. 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet, aged 60% in casks and 40% in oak barrels and 12 months in the bottle. 500,000 bottles. Antinori is famous for big, beautiful red wines and this one’s no exception. Winemaker notes: Intense ruby red in color. On the nose red currants and raspberries blended with aromas of cherries. Light oak notes fuse with spicy sensations, cinnamon and candied fruit. Well-balanced, with typical Sangiovese light and tonic acidity along with silky and vibrant tannins on the finish. Fruity and lightly oaky sensation lingers on the aftertaste. @AntinoriFamily
Cabreo Il Borgo Toscana IGT 2013, from Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute, another big name in the Italian wine industry. This wine, which is always made with 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet, is a stunner. Aged 16-18 months in French oak and 6 months in bottle. 50,000 bottles.
Other respected members of the Istituto, many of which also grow their own olive oils and feature guest accommodations, include: Alois Lageder, Biondi Santi Tenuta il Greppo, Ca’ del Bosco, Carpene Malvolti, Donnafugata, Gaja, Jermann, Lungarotti (www.poggioallevigne.it/ and www.3vaselle.it/), Masi Agricola, Mastroberardino, Michele Chiarlo. Pio Cesare, Rivera, Tenuta San Guido, and Umani Ronchi.
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7 wines under $20 for the 2016 holidays

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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.
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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.
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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

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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 http://www.jamcellars.com.
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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
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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!

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5 beverage ideas for fall

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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.
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“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 www.buenavistawinery.com.

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 www.chwinery.com. Must be a wine club member to purchase Collaboration.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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Chez Moi – a remarkable French restaurant in Chicago

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Country French with be-feathered crystal chandeliers
Country French with be-feathered crystal chandeliers

Okay, I have not tried every French restaurant in Chicago yet. But people have been asking me for years what’s my favorite restaurant in Chicago and, up ’til, now I’ve not been able to name a specific place. Have had many, many pleasant experiences, some exceptional (hello, Chef Lee Wolen and Boka). But last Saturday my friend and I were both overawed with the food, the ambiance and the service at Chez Moi, 2100 N. Halsted.

If this meal was indicative, Chef Dominique Tougne is doing an extraordinary job of bringing authentic French cuisine to our city. Friend and I both felt we might easily have been in a small bistro in or outside Paris, soaking in the candlelit warmth, the darkly dramatic artwork on the walls, and the feather-encrusted crystal-drop chandeliers. The dark-and-thick-crusted bread with butter was good – and hard not to eat more of. But we knew we were truly in the presence of French food artistry when we tasted the first dish – Black Truffle Quiche.

Quiche. Okay, you’re probably thinking heavy egg-cream concoction baked atop a heavy pastry crust with maybe some bacon and cheese in it. But that is decidedly not what you get from Chef Dominique. This dish is an ethereally light custard, kissed with seared foie gras and set snugly in a feather-light pastry crust that almost melts into and becomes part of the custard. Topped with a tiny nest of greens, and surrounded by a puddle of rich port wine reduction, this quiche will take you into a realm quite beyond the ordinary. And it was rich enough for us to share and feel content.

The Qualidou, said to be “either a larger appetizer or a smaller entree” size, combined half a confit quail, thinly sliced seared duck breast and foie gras, accompanied by thinly sliced sauteed mushrooms, all in a generous pool of concentrated wine sauce. With all these intense flavors, we had no trouble splitting this and feeling satisfied. And I love the fact that they give you a spoon with every dish that has a sauce. Let us respect – and savor – the sauce!!

When the onion tart appetizer arrived, we were surprised at its size – generous enough for 3 people. And, oh the pastry crust! Flaky and layered richly with butter, it made a fabulous base for a nice combination of onion, bacon and creme fraiche.

Our server explained that the Gateau Breton de Solidou is a shortbread cake. Well, who knew? This incredible dessert had tender crustiness and richness in equal measure. The butter flavor was extravagant. The sauce was heavenly, and the vanilla ice cream (house made) made the combination exquisite.  Could eat this for breakfast, lunch or dinner and need nothing else.

Chez Moi offers a small but obviously carefully curated list of beers, cocktails, liqueurs, and French wines. The by-the-bottle listings yielded several options under $50. We selected the French Malbec and, after it breathed for a few minutes, it made a nice pairing with our meal.

Chef offers a prix fixe menu selection all week, Sunday through Thursday – three courses include a salad, then your choice of entree (hanger steak, roast chicken, seared salmon or roasted vegetables) and tiramisu for dessert. Check out the rest of the menus here. We cannot wait to come back again. In fact, this place is tempting me to eat out much more often than I usually do. Exceptional experience. Will let you know if next visits measure up.

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GOING ON NOW – a la Carte Chicago

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You have until October 30 to take advantage of the deals during a la Carte Chicago, an 11-day food festival that celebrates contemporary French food. Participating restaurants, bakeries and more might be French or simply French-inspired – Shaw’s Crab House is in on it. The important thing is they’re all offering specials during the festival, including prix fixe menus. The fest also includes cooking workshops, tastings, cultural events, and activities for food lovers of all ages.

This is a great opportunity to get out and experience some of the many French-food-loving chefs and restaurants in Chicago. At a preview, guests tasted delicious tuna salad sandwiches on rich tasting French white buns from Chez Moi, 2100 N. Halsted – sandwiches that made us feel like heading over there ASAP. Ridiculously good chocolate hazelnut bars from Chef Martial Noguier at Bistronomic, 840 N. Wabash. Others include Cafe des Architectes, 20 E. Chestnut, Circle City Sweets from Indianapolis for heavens’ sake, and dozens more.

Also, consider attending the screening of “Kings of Pastry” at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. at 4:45 on Sunday, October 30. Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer will be there in person, and after the movie there’ll be a free tasting of specialties from the French Pastry School. Go here for the complete list and check out the sweepstakes for a trip to Lyon, France.
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Rabbit Hole bar and restaurant – a new Old Town hangout

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It’s officially open: The Rabbit Hole bar and restaurant, 1208 N. Wells St., right off Division St. in Old Town. It’s a small storefront with a roomy interior and a stage for live music. The walls, painted to make you feel like you’re following the White Rabbit down the hole in Alice in Wonderland, and the many craft and draft beers, whimsical cocktails and wines are an invitation for you to go ahead and fall in.
Hot Karaoke live band
Hot Karaoke live band

On opening night they had a live band for karaoke. Seriously. If you are a wannabe singer, singing with real musicians behind you and the words in front of you has to be – as the saying goes – the most fun you can have with your clothes on. And on top of that, they serve elevated bar food that includes sharable appetizers, hearty salads, “grabbers” (otherwise known as meat-heavy platters), and an assortment of sides. Chicken Wings come with your choice of house buffalo, shogun sweet chili, Chef Diablo’s habanero or pomegranate BBQ, served with tri-colored carrots, jicama, house made ranch or bleu cheese. Other items: marinated Steakhouse Minis, The 1951 Burger, Queen of Hearts salad, and Jabberwock Angus Sliders. Try starting with Candied Slab Bacon – thick cut, Applewood smoked slab bacon, grilled and glazed with maple syrup. rabbit-hole-chicken-wings

And what fun that they have games – like large-scale Pictionary – you can play with your friends any and every night of the week. The Rabbit Hole has set a goal to become the new favorite go-to spot for everyone in the ‘hood. It’s certainly off to a grand start.
Craft and draft beers include 24 beer taps and a host of canned and bottled brews. Cocktails by beverage director Carlos Guerra have memorable monikers like the smoky White Rabbit on a Dirty Mule with Mezcal, ginger beer, lime juice, Jägermeister, and grapefruit juice, or the delicate yet complex Tweedle Rum with rum, rye, coffee vermouth, coconut, Fernet Dogma and cinnamon, to name just two.

A sports-friendly bar, with ten large screen TVs, it also serves as a distinctive backdrop for the viewing of any game. Live Band Karaoke on Wednesday evenings beginning at 9pm.

Open 4pm to 2am weekdays and 11am to 2am Fridays & Sundays, and Saturday from 11 to 3am. Happy Hour 4 to 6 weekdays, and brunch on weekends. Visit therabbitholechicago.com or follow @rabbitholechi.
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