All posts by Barbara Payne, Editor

Writer/editor - food, wine, spirits, travel and fun, plus news about developments in biomedicine and about single working women

Gourmet pasta and rich red wine – classic comfort meal in minutes

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Doesn’t the idea of sitting down to a comforting pasta meal and a glass of deep red wine sound mouth-watering? What if you could do that – at home – in less than 5 minutes?

Well, as we all know, it only takes a minute to open a bottle of wine, and we have a recommendation for you if you love the structure and depth of a bold red wine – Ravage Cabernet Sauvignon. You’ll  taste dark, luscious berries rounded out with vanilla and mocha for a beautiful balance of flavors. Color is intense. Feeling could be described as romantic or assertive, depending on your frame of mind. Powerful complement to braised meats;  rich and striking on its own.  It made us feel like we were in an exotic country. You can buy it in dozens of retail locations in Chicago and elsewhere. And, not surprisingly, it goes beautifully with pasta dishes.

Imagine this: restaurant-quality cooked pasta in a tasty marinara sauce that you can just heat and serve. Yes, it is possible. We were pleased to sample Victoria Chef Collection Penne Marinara and found the pasta cooked to perfection (not mushy or overcooked).

The sauce was delicious, but a little sweet for our taste. They don’t add any sugar, but they do use apple juice concentrate. However, we were pleased to find that adding a tablespoon of ricotta cheese balanced that bit of extra sweetness to our satisfaction. Really surprising to taste this kind of quality from a jar. No refrigeration necessary until after the jar is opened. Victoria Chef Collection’s philosophy is Ingredients Come First™. Their recipes are based on the same ones their founding family brought with them from Italy to Brooklyn. Happily, the list of ingredients has nothing you wouldn’t put in your own pasta sauce. Check out VIctoria’s wide variety of authentic Italian sauces and delicacies.

 

 

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6 unique food, drink and product ideas

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It’s fun to experiment sometimes. Below are 6 unique interesting and unique product suggestions – one made with a hitherto mysterious ingredient from Greece, one a Chicago-based candle company that helps young mothers, a line of products all made with cocoa, a lightly sparkling drink sweetened with agave, an energy snack infused with with tea, and a super-thin cracker from Italy.  Try something new for your New Year adventure!

  1. Mastiha is a resin that drips off the bark of the mastiha tree that grows only in Chios, Greece. The Greeks have been harvesting it for thousands of years – since 600 B.C.E. It’s known to have anti-inflammatory properties and is now considered by many to be a super food – used as an ingredient in cosmetics, gum, oils, food, and liquors. It’s even sold in capsules and in powdered form to treat a vast number of conditions. The ELMA brand chios mastic gum comes either sweetened with sugar or sugar-free and contains natural gum mastic and mastic oils. It’s tasty and is said to freshen the breath. Some of the cosmetics made with mastiha include products from the Lira Mystiq line such as Mystiq Illuminating Cleanser and Mystiq Illuminating Polisher for your skin, each of which contains ingredients that are derived from the original mastiha.
  2. Bright Endeavors, based in Chicago, makes clean-burning soy candles that smell lovely and come with your Chicago city skyline imprinted on the cover. What’s more, all the proceeds go to their non-for-profit organization that provides job training for young mothers so they can support their children and participate fully in their communities. They’ve served more than 500 young women so far and show no signs of stopping. If you’re going to buy a candle for someone, this is a terrific opportunity to make your giving extend beyond just the gift itself. @Bright_Endeavors #Chicagocandle.
  3. THE COCOA EXCHANGE™ POD & BEAN makes cocoa-infused products of many types. Cocoa-infused barbeque sauce might be an acquired taste for some, but it certainly is a bold way to stand out from other options. Stone ground cocoa-infused mustard intrigues. Imagine Cheddar Ale cheese dip sparked with a tablespoon of that. Fascinating, eh? Consider some of the other unique sauces: Blackberry Chipotle, Korean Barbeque, Mexican Simmer, and more. It’s great how they have little graphic icons on each jar suggesting what foods the sauce goes well with. If you love cocoa and chocolate and are willing to open your mind, some of these products could be just what your taste buds have been looking for. Check out this amazing recipe for Bacon Ale Cheese Dip for a crowd. Check their website for more cool recipes.
  4. Sipp is a brand new soft drink created by founder Beth Wilson-Parentice when she got downsized out of corporate America. Sparkling and organic, Sipp comes in several unique and delicious flavors. A fabulous mixer with bubbly or all by itself if you’re skipping alcohol. Their website even offers Sipp-with-food pairing ideas that’ll jump start your imagination. At 88 calories per can (100 per bottle) and sweetened with agave, it’s not a low-calorie or sweetener-free option, but it is completely free of chemicals and artificial sweeteners – more and more a big selling point for health-conscious consumers. Check out the Ginger Blossom flavor – ginger, smooth vanilla and lime. Or the Zesty Orange – zesty blood orange, lime and jalapeno. Or Lemon Flower – zesty lemon, elderflower and a touch of aromatic tarragon. Don’t those sound exciting? Based on our sampling for review, that’s just what they are. Bottles (12 oz) and cans (10.5 oz) available at Target and other retailers as well as on Amazon.
  5. TeaSquares – Tea-infused Energy Snacks. A startup company here in Chicago makes these crispy light snacks that promise to provide low-cal nutrition along with a little shot of caffeine to perk you up and help you focus during the day. They’re made with puffed millet, crunchy almonds and fruits infused with tea. Enjoyably light and easy to carry around (except they could get crushed easily in a big, overfilled tote), they come in several nice fruit-combo flavors and are available online.

    Tuscanini packaging
    Tuscanini packaging
  6. Tuscanini Italian Parchment Crackers. Super thin and crispy, these hand-made crackers make a light, crunchy base for appetizers or cheese, and they go beautifully with soups or salads. They are made in Sardinia, Italy, and imported from there by Kayco. Try one of their tasty flavors: Olive Oil,  Rosemary with Olive Oil, or Oregano with Olive Oil. Lower calorie than bread spread with olive oil, but just as satisfying.
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Mago Grill & Cantina – delicious discovery in South Loop

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We were invited to visit here recently after we’d heard about Mago Grill & Cantina‘s fun and creative take on combining traditional Hanukkah dishes with a Mexican flair. The location was a surprise – the sophisticated and beautiful shopping complex called The Roosevelt Collection (off E. Roosevelt Rd., next to the Target store and near Clark St. in the South Loop). But the food surprised us even more – so very, very good.

The space at Mago is expansive. Almost a suburban type ambiance – spacious, modern, colorful. But the food is quite a few levels above what you usually find in a typical suburban establishment.  Perfect for savvy sophisticated millennials, yet totally family friendly. The tables are set far enough apart that you have real privacy for your conversations. Ideal for ladies who lunch and want to shop at a few upscale shops afterwards, or for baby boomers looking to enjoy an excellent meal and some good conversation. The space is open and welcoming enough that almost anyone will feel comfortable.

It was fun perusing the menu – both the Hanukkah specials and the regular items. We greatly enjoyed the homemade taco chips with three types of salsa – mild, medium and really hot (made with sesame seeds). Our server Ageo was most helpful explaining the menu and making suggestions. We tried a few things specifically at his recommendations and they were excellent.

For starters we tried, at our server’s recommendation, the empanadas. Excellent choice. A delicious crust with a great deal more character than most we’ve tasted before. The shrimp empanada was especially flavorful – tasted like shrimp of the highest quality roasted to perfection. Crispy turnovers served with frisee, queso cotija and crema Mexicana, in a choice of ground beef picadillo with chimichurri, chicken tinga with roasted tomato salsa, or tequila shrimp with habanero salsa. And you get to choose one each of two choices. Lovely!
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Mago Camarones en Chile
Mago Camarones en Chile

The Camarones en Chile was nicely roasted shrimp in a savory poblano pepper sauce, served with special chunky mashed potatoes and a huge pile of roasted poblano peppers, all bathed in a succulent brown sauce. Delicious.

Another shot of the beef rib with mole - num!
Another shot of the beef rib with mole – num!
 The short rib – a regular menu item – was dressed up for the Jewish holiday. Tender, richly browned and served with a rich, thick, dark mole sauce and a chunk of grated, seasoned plantain that was fried crisp and tasted amazingly good. As a side, the chef prepared potato latkes and added cilantro to honor Hanukkah and give them a Mexican touch. This dish smelled and tasted so good that my granddaughter came home from school and immediately consumed the leftovers.
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Mago coconut flan
Mago coconut flan

The flan of the week was coconut – incredibly thick and not too sweet and loaded with coconut, drizzled generously with rich caramel sauce and topped with a big beautiful pile of whip cream and a strawberry. It was served in a huge dish dusted with powdered sugar. No problem polishing off this gem all by myself.

This was one of our favorite recent restaurant meals  – and so surprising for a weekday lunch. Felt like a 4-star dinner. Mago Grill & Cantina is well worth a trip for its creative approach to blending cuisines and its commendable attention to the details of execution that take dishes several notches above the usual.
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Mago Grill & Cantina is located at 1010 S. Delano Court East. The place is a breeze to get to. CTA buses and trains are a short walk away. And if you drive, no need to fight downtown traffic hassles. Take Lake Shore Drive to Roosevelt or the Dan Ryan and pull right in. The shopping mall has ample underground parking – no need to stress on that score either. Go here. We will be back with friends very soon to try more dishes on the menu.
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Around the world in 3 wines – Niven Family Wine Estates

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Now’s the time to plan your celebrating and gifting, and here at FoodandDrinkChicago we’re happy to help by pointing out some delicious yet affordable special occasion wines. Happily, Niven Family Wine Estates recently introduced us to three of their wines – each with a completely different and unique character – that are perfect for holiday entertaining or gift giving. Sampling these wines is a bit like tasting around the world without leaving your California armchair. And by the way, check out the Niven Family Wines wine club. Several options for treating yourself or for giving a membership as a gift for wine-loving friends and family.
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Tangent Albarino
Tangent Albarino

Tangent Albariño 2015. The Spanish Albariño grape is the varietal typical of the Rias Baixas region in Galicia. Grown for this wine on the rolling slopes of Edna Valley California, the result here is a lovely, well-balanced white that is SIP™ (Sustainable in Practice) certified sustainably grown. The nearby ocean  ensures cool growing seasons with even climate. “Pure and vibrant with a slight salty characteristic, it starts with Mandarin orange and tangerine on the nose and goes on that way through the finish. A round mouthfeel is balanced by a slightly crisp acid structure.” Delicious as an aperitif and paired with most seafoods and especially with oysters and clams. 13.5% alc. SRP ~$17.

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Niven Zocker
Niven Zocker

Zocker Grüner Veltliner 2015. Zocker is a winery that reflects its name – Zocker being the Austrian word for gamble. It’s the latest endeavor of the Niven Family Wine Estates on their Zocker vineyard in Central Coast California where their veteran French winemaker Christian Roguenant makes unconventional wines exclusively from the white varietal grapes known as Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. This 2015 is rich and round with great acid structure, which some call steely, and with a definite minerality. Slightly earthy, it has a strong white pepper note with flavors of ripe melon and fruit cocktail. A lovely aperitif or a delicious  counterpoint to creamy cheeses or sauces. 13.5% alc. SRP ~$20.

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Niven True Myth
Niven True Myth

True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon 2014. Grown in Paso Robles, the grapes for this classic red fully reflect the region’s characteristic polished aromas – blackberry, cherry and vanilla – and make a rich, smooth yet approachable wine that can age for years in your cellar. Or drink it now and immerse yourself in the flavors of dark red fruits and black currants with hints of pepper, cocoa powder and caramelized oak. A bold wine that’s a worthy accompaniment to red meats and pairs well with smoky and grilled flavors. 14.5% alc. SRP ~$24.

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Sip, taste and save your fine wines with Coravin

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a Bocksbeutel style Bottle
a Bocksbeutel style Bottle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A joke goes around periodically in an email called something like “Household tips.” One of the bullet points in its list of ways you can  make your life easier, faster, smoother reads: “Store leftover wine in ice cube trays so you can chill your wine without diluting it.” The parenthetical response is always: “(Leftover wine?)” To many people, the phrase is a contradiction in terms if ever there was one.

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Yet for the true wine aficionado, the very essence of loving wine means you may want to savor a sip or a glass of some fine wine but not want to drink the whole bottle. Maybe you don’t have any friends over at that time – or maybe you just don’t want to share this particular bottle, although most winemakers say any wine tastes better when shared with friends. Hey, it’s your decision. And with Coravin’s Wine Preservation Opener, you can freely taste even the finest wines without pulling the cork – and know that your treasure will still be good days, weeks, months, even years from now just as if you’d never opened it.
Coravin screw cap sampler
Coravin screw cap sampler

The company’s been perfecting this system for corked wines for a long time. And recently they’ve introduced a unique specialized cap mechanism for tapping screwtop wines for just a taste or a glass. You use  Coravin’s specially designed tappable screw top with the system to preserve the freshness of the wine for up to three months. The system includes small canisters of their special gas that replaces the space in the bottle created by your sample so that oxygen – which ages wine rapidly and then deteriorates it – never gets inside the bottle.

Lots of wine experts swear by this device. It looks a bit intimidating to use, but the company website has a nice video showing you step-by-step how to use the Coravin system.  They also have a helpful list of FAQs. Now you can feel confident that you can purchase bottles of really nice wine and know you can keep them much longer after tasting than you’ve ever been able to. Brilliant invention for wine lovers everywhere. Get it online at Amazon or in stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, Williams Sonoma and others. Prices start at $199 and go up as you add supplies and accessories.
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Mariano’s makes it easy to help the hungry this holiday season

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Some children looking at a selection of Christ...
Some children looking at a selection of Christmas Cards during the 1910 holiday season. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We all want to help the hungry, especially during the holidays. But many of us don’t know an easy way to do it that won’t cut into our already-jammed schedules full of work and chores and holiday to-dos. But this season, your local Mariano’s is taking the pain out of donating.

Mariano’s is leading a community effort to donate One Million Pounds of food to the Northern Illinois Food Bank and the Greater Chicago Food Depository this December.

That One Million Pounds is equal to about 500 pallets of food –  enough to fill over 25 trailer trucks. YOU can make it happen this December in one of two ways – while you’re shopping for your own household:

  1. Donate non-perishable, non-expired food items at any Mariano’s location. Designated bins will be set up at each store for your contributions. Please, no cleaning supplies or health and beauty items.
  2. Or, even easier, just purchase food donation bags for $1, $5 or $10 at the checkout at all Mariano’s locations

Mariano’s will also be partnering with vendors and with local schools and business to increase donations.

“During this season of giving, we are grateful for Mariano.’s steadfast support in the fight against hunger,” said Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “Through the One Million Pounds program, Mariano’s is making it easy for shoppers and vendors to support the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Northern Illinois Food Bank in our daily work to provide nutritious food, and hope, for our neighbors in need.`

Donate any of the following items: canned proteins (tuna, chicken), peanut butter, canned beans, oatmeal, soup, canned tomatoes/pasta sauce, pasta, rice (brown preferred), dried beans/lentils and mac & cheese. Keep in mind  items must be non-perishable and, if at all possible, low-sodium.

“Together with Greater Chicago Food Depository, we serve more than 1.4 million men, women and children each year,” said Julie Yurko, president and CEO of Northern Illinois Food Bank. “Without partners like Mariano’s and the One Million Pounds program, we simply would not be able to do that and we are so grateful – especially during the holiday season.”

Additional details on the One Million Pounds initiative can be found on Mariano’s FacebookTwitter and website at www.marianos.com. Hashtag: #MarianosMillionPounds and #MyMarianos.

Mariano’s, owned by Roundy’s Supermarkets, Inc., is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Kroger Co.  (NYSE:KR).

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Whisky and 5 fun Chicago holiday events 2017

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We’re on the brink of the holiday season with Thanksgiving only 2 weeks away. The holidays rank high among the many good reasons to break out the fine spirits. And so, of course, now is a grand time to stock up on your preferred whisk(e)y – Scotch, bourbon, et al. – to enjoy in front of the fire or the candles or the television, or whatever strikes your mood that day.
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Some of our favorites include Japanese Hibiki Harmony, beautifully blended, light and layered with flavors from Beam Suntory ($80), Tullamore D.E.W., a delightful and smooth Irish whisky ($44), and Glenfiddich’s array of excellent Scotch whiskies which include, among many others, the Experimental Series with Project XX (twenty), India Pale Ale Cask, finished in ale barrels and great paired with ale – talk about a classy boilermaker! ($70), and its most recent star known as Glenfiddich Winter Storm, 21-year-old Scotch finished in ice wine casks – the heightened candied sweets and oak flavors of Glenfiddich complemented by mouth-watering tropical fruit notes and underlying wine notes ($240).

And see below an opportunity next week to pair some well-known Kentucky whiskey brands with some delicious meats. And then check out a few other fun holiday events coming up.
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Texas de Brazil Churrascaria gets into the spirit with delicious Kentucky Bourbon Dinners offered at their Chicago place at 210 E. Illinois, on Wednesday, November 15 – and at their Schaumburg location on Tuesday, November 14. The special four-bourbon, three-course dining events pair Jim Beam and other whiskey brands with the restaurant’s unique menu, begin at 6:30pm Cost $95 per person, inclusive.
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Guests at the Kentucky Bourbon Dinners will be welcomed with a Maker’s Mark Mango Mint Julep before being invited to experience the salad area which includes over 50 freshly-prepared salads, soups and side dishes to be paired with the Basil Hayden served neat.  The main course includes rodizio-style service of freshly-grilled cuts of meats carved tableside from skewers by costumed gauchos and paired with Knob Creek served neat. And for a truly sweet conclusion to the evening, the Jim Beam Vanilla will be paired with a slice of pecan pie a la mode. Tickets available here.
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Saturday, November 18, 9 to 11am, bring the kids for Breakfast with Santa at both Texas de Brazil locations. The events benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana (RMHC®-CNI).  In Chicago, the fundraiser coincides with the annual BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival in its location just steps from the famed boulevard. On the same morning, suburban supporters can dine at the Texas de Brazil at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Special Santa  breakfast menu, children’s entertainment and gifts, and a surprise visit from Santa. Tickets $35 for adults, $20 for children 3-12 years of age, and $3 for those under 3. All children must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets for either location: www.RonaldHouseChicago.org/breakfastwithsanta.
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TrEat Me Fest goodies
TrEat Me Fest goodies

TrEat Me Fest, offers new ways to eat and pamper yourself. Sunday, December 3 (two sessions 11 to 1pm or 1 to 3pm) produced by Social Power Hour is back for a one-day festival at Concord Fifty+Five. Prepare to relax and treat yourself with samples from companies that offer treats, eats, drinks and pampering services. The current vendors included for the ultimate TrEat Yourself are as follows: (more to be announced closer to the event date): Knife & Tine,Bai Drinks, Spiritual Center, Getaround, Your Father’s Toffee, barkTHINS, Essa Dora. $25 ticket gets you samples and two cocktails. Purchase tickets at Eventbrite.

Dovetail Brewery wood and leather crafts for sale
Dovetail Brewery wood and leather crafts for sale
Dovetail Brewery’s Second Annual Holiday Market, Saturday, December 16, 12 to 7pm. Check out craft artisans selling a variety of goods in Dovetail’s upstairs barrelhouse loft (1800 W. Belle Plaine at N. Ravenswood; 773-683-1414). Artisanal goods range from wood and leather to brown soap to original artwork. Shop until you drop, and then take a seat downstairs in the taproom and recharge with any of Dovetail’s highly praised beers including their Holiday Bock. The Holiday Bock is stronger than your typical lager, with a robust malt character, a darker hue and a slight candied-fruit sweetness. Enjoy snacks from the bar and from favorite Chicago food truck Bruges Brothers. In addition, Sausage König will be selling sausage baskets and currywurst.
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Folio Fine Wine Partners presents wines of the world

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Folio Fine Wine Partners, a group organized by Michael Mondavi Family Estates, represents an extensive collection of excellent wines from around the world. They brought some of their clients to Chicago recently to showcase a truly beautiful collection of vintages and blends. Plus they conducted a Master Class on one of their Spanish winemakers, Alejandro Fernández.  See **notes below.
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A bottle of Pesquera Tinto Crianza 1995, a win...
A bottle of Pesquera Tinto Crianza 1995, a wine from Ribera del Duero. Español: Botella de Pesquera Tinto Crianza 1995, vino con D.O. Ribera del Duero. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After learning about the many faces of Tempranillo during the Master Class, the Folio Fine Wine reps sampled selections from among a number of their clients (see their full portfolio here). A few wineries from their international portfolio clients are listed below:

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France
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South America
Susana Balbo wines from Mendoza – exquisite wines made with grapes like Torrontes, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and more. She creates magic in Mendoza.
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Italy
Donnafugata – Passionate makers of a range of wines made from grapes indigenous to Sicily such as Grillo and Nero d’Avola as well as blends using well-known international varieties.
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California
Emblem, Animo, Isabel Mondavi – from Napa Carneros, Hangtime, Oberon. Spellbound
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Spain
Palacios Remondo – superior wines from the Rioja Baja region of Italy in vineyards (550-650 meters above sea level) at the base of the Yergo Mountain (1100 m).
Vall Llach – Beautiful blends from Appellation DOQ Priorat.
Grupo Pesquera – the utterly lovely Tempranillo wines in Crianza, Reserva and Millenium from Alejandro Fernández. His wines are wonderful when released but can also age for many years.
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**Alejandro Fernández makes wine in central Spain using only the Tempranillo grape. And oh, what wines he makes! He’s from the old school – born in 1932 in the village of Pesquera de Duero, one of the places he still makes wine. He has been trusting his instincts since he learned the trade by working and watching. His instinct told him to keep replanting Tempranillo grapes near the banks and highlands of the Duero River in the early 1970s when everyone else was ripping out their vines to plant beetroot and cereal crops. And he’s never looked back.
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In 1982 he and his fellow winemaking pioneers co-founded the D.O. Ribera del Duero, and Alejandro moved into his modern winemaking facility that spring. He now cultivates his Tempranillo grapes across the four estates he owns. He and his four daughters produce in those bodegas many versions of naturally concentrated, elegant wines that are expressive in their crianza state and continue to mature and develop greatly with aging in the bottle.
Alejandro’s natural winemaking style includes some important techniques, including, among others:
  • Grapes receive a single pressing only with a pneumatic press (he sells secondary and tertiary pressed juice to distilleries).
  • Fermentation is done with indigenous yeasts; malolactic fermentation occurs in barrel.
  • To best preserve each wine’s aroma and flavor, none are subjected to cold stabilization, clarification or filtration, resulting in a bit of natural sediment in all bottles.
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Wines of Chile best-in-class awards 2017

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Cabernet Sauvignon grape cluster, shown by DNA...
Cabernet Sauvignon grape cluster, shown by DNA studies to be a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve ever wondered how to choose a good wine from South America,  this holiday season would be a great time to try one or more. And there’s a new group here to help. The 14th Annual Wines of Chile Awards (AWOCA), a program that  underscores the excellence of Chile’s world class quality, was held recently in Washington, D.C. in honor of the U.S. being one of Chile’s most important markets.

The Chilean wine industry has undergone a revolution in quality and innovation as more producers than ever are now involved. The unique geographic conditions in Chile provide ideal terroir and microclimates for making wines of many types. Meanwhile, governmental agencies like ProChile and Fundación Imagen are helping the wine industry flourish in Chile. Consider these AWOCA winners as you look for the best wines from Chile:

The winners of the 14th Annual Wines of Chile Awards are:

  • Best Sparkling: Viña Undurraga, Undurraga Rosé Royal N/V
  • Best Sauvignon Blanc: Viña Haras de Pirque, Albaclara Sauvignon Blanc 2017
  • Best Other White: Viña Casas del Bosque, Gran Reserva Late Harvest Riesling 2015
  • Best Chardonnay: Luis Felipe Edwards, Marea Valle de Leyda Chardonnay 2016
  • Best Pinot Noir: San Pedro, 1865 Selected Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016
  • Best Syrah; Best in Show: Viña Casas Del Bosque, Gran Reserva Syrah 2015
  • Best Carignan/Secano: Luis Felipe Edwards, LFE100 CIEN Carignan 2012
  • Best Carménère $25 and over: San José de Apalta, Carménère Blue Label 2015
  • Best Other Red: Viña Valdivieso, Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013
  • Best Red Blend: Viña Cousiño Macul, Lota 2011
  • Best Cabernet Sauvignon under $20: Viña Requingua, Puerto Viejo Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
  • Best Cabernet Sauvignon $20-$50: Viña Maipo, Protegido Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
  • Best Cabernet Sauvignon over $50; Best in Show: SANTA EMA, Catalina 2014

Wines of Chile is an organization committed to promoting the quality and image of Chilean wine throughout the world. It has offices in Santiago, London and New York, as well as representatives in Canada, Ireland and Denmark. Wines of Chile also works closely with ProChile to develop and offer promotional and educational programs in Asia, Latin America and Europe. Wines of Chile’s 86 member wineries belong to Vinos de Chile and represent 88 percent of Chile’s bottled wine exports. More information is available at www.winesofchile.org.

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Carnivale adds raw bar to its exotic food-drink-music mix

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Invited recently to experience Carnivale, we walked into the large venue at 702 W. Fulton St. in Chicago’s trendy and bustling West Loop. Immediately colorful lights inspired our vision and energetic Latin-fusion music warmed up our party parts. We got the definite feeling we were going to have a good time – and the goal of their staff members seems to be just that: do everything they can to make sure a good time is what you have.

What’s a party without music and live entertainment? At Carnivale scantily clad acrobatic artists perform at strategic locations around the dining area, including a long-blonde-haired mermaid waving her tail while suspended in a net above the tables and painted hard-body entertainers executing feats of skill or gyrating to the music.

The food and wine and cocktails are carefully curated. Our knowledgeable server, Jorge, who is also the restaurant’s sommelier, offered expert guidance in choosing dishes from the dinner menu and beverages that perfectly complemented them.

A new addition to Carnivale’s offerings is its extensive raw bar. Jorge recommended the raw-bar-for-two ($50) – a delightful collection of seafood goodies including poached shrimp, crab claw and half-lobster tail – cooked just right and served with several interesting sauce options in addition to fresh lemon. This dish – possibly one of the best values on the menu – was served dramatically in what looked like a professional toolbox that you open from the middle, the long way, to stepped sides. Nestled in the ice on the bottom were three dishes of Carnivale’s delicious and unique ceviches – generous for two to split. Hard to decide which we liked the best: shrimp,  blue crab, or mixto (shrimp, calamari, octopus and a delicious combination of slightly exotic touches like preserved lemon, sweet potato, cilantro and more).

After such a generous starter, it made sense to split Jorge’s next recommendations: the dry-aged prime ribeye ($49) and Hook’s cheddar potato gratin. Meat was nicely grilled and flavorful, though somewhat chewy, with a succulent wine reduction on the side. The potato gratin made a nice pairing. Good thing to split those, because the dessert Jorge suggested was irresistable – the Chocolate Dome ($9), made with white and dark chocolate mousse, strawberry sorbet and fresh strawberries. It was so visually appealing and so incredibly mouth-watering, most of it was gone before the photo got taken.

Since you can’t eat everything on the menu, when you visit Carnivale be sure to look around at other tables. See if you can spot a cotton candy dessert (complete with housemade caramel corn) or even one of their signature cotton candy cocktails. It’s just one more way to liven the party up. And don’t forget their Latin-inspired fusion brunch on weekends. And by the way, they have lots of space for private events – a great place for companies to put on a party or for you to put one on for friends and loved ones.

Whether you’re in the mood to party, or you want to get into the mood, Carnivale clearly stands ready to turn on party mode at all hours every day of the week. Contact them here for reservations or to find out more.

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