La Crema Wines, a star under the Jackson Family Wines banner, is bringing the pleasures of its Sonoma tasting room to several major U.S. cities with the La Crema Experiential Tour. Chicagoans can enjoy La Crema wines at Expo Chicago at Navy Pier this April 10-16 as they have been chosen as the only wines on offer to Expo patrons. Expo Chicago, going on this week, partners with the city’s most prestigious institutions to feature select aligned programming, including museum exhibitions, gallery openings, and more. And you can sip these lovely La Crema wines while you stroll around.
These delicious and luxurious wines have also been designated the only wine that will be featured at the 2023 Kentucky Derby. So if you’re planning to attend that prestigious event this year, you can look forward to partaking in a selection of wines that will greatly enhance your experience.
Consider joining the La Crema wine clubthat lets you access exclusive offers on their 38 types of wines. This collection covers everything from the every day wine for lunch or supper all the way to those elevated vintages that make special occasions even more remarkable. The depth and range of their offerings includes a few options sparkling – e.g., blanc de blancs – along with a wide selection of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Their newest wines include a Sauvignon blanc and a Rhone white blend.
La Crema Head Winemaker Craig McAllister speaks passionately about the company’s commitment to sustainable growing practices. He recently brought a selection of its wines to Smith and Wollensky in Chicago ahead of their exclusive engagement with Expo Chicago 2023. If you can make it this week, get your tickets at Expo Chicago. If you can’t, don’t fail to try some of La Crema’s wine selections, especially its flagship Chardonnay. Your mouth will thank you.
Did your Catholic family eat frozen fish sticks every Friday in Lent when you were a kid? It was the only exposure of any kind to fish that my siblings and I had. I remember fondly the crunchy coating and the non-taste of the little bit of “fish“ inside. The coating and the ketchup and the jarred tartar sauce made an okay dinner option for me.
Nowadays we know we’ve gotta be careful where we get our fish so we don’t over fish and strain our great oceans anymore than they already are. A company called Wild Planet has some really original ideas for using their sustainably fished products that they fish for using the pole and line fishing methods.
Herewith, a couple of Wild Planet recipes that won’t remotely remind you of frozen fish sticks.
2 (5oz) cans Wild Planet Skipjack Wild Tuna 1 Egg 2 tbsp Chipotle pepper paste 2 Green onions, finely chopped ½ cup Shredded sharp cheddar cheese ½ cup Panko breadcrumbs Salt and pepper to taste Vegetable or olive oil
Mix everything together and refrigerate for ~30 minutes to let the flavors develop. Using a measuring ½ cup, form cakes and gently round with your hands. Preheat the pan to medium heat, add oil and pan sear until each side is crispy golden brown. To serve – add some mayo to brioche bun, top with lettuce, tuna burger, avocado slices, and pickled onions.
Mackerel Lettuce Wraps
3 large butter lettuce leaves 1/2 cup raw beet, cut into matchsticks 1/3 cup grated Granny Smith apple 1 Tbsp lemon juice 1 tsp lemon zest 1 (4.4oz) can Wild Planet Wild Mackerel Fillets in EVOO, undrained 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley Freshly ground black pepper
Arrange lettuce leaves on a serving plate. In a bowl, mix together the beets, apple, lemon juice, lemon zest and the reserved olive oil from the can of mackerel. Divide the mixture atop the lettuce leaves and top with mackerel fillets.
Finish with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and freshly ground pepper.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk eggs and season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil from the anchovies can and sauté kale and broccoli slaw until beginning to soften, 3-5 minutes. Add tomatoes, sauté another minute. Add eggs to skillet and cook undisturbed for a minute or two. Top with anchovies, place in oven and cook 10-15 minutes or until eggs are fully set and frittata has puffed a bit. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly and serve.
Go forth and enjoy. You don’t need to confine yourself to Fridays or even to the Lenten season to get the most out of these and other excellent recipes.
Holidays around the world are almost universally celebrated with special food and drink. This year’s Christmas season arrives with lots of us having spent more time in the kitchen than usual these last few years. And, what with COVID still lurking about, maybe you’re still cooking more at home than you used to. Anyway, here are a couple of food items and some libations we discovered recently that could help raise your holiday spirits.
BAKON™, by Thrilling Foods, is a new meat substitute that actually chews and tastes like real bacon. It’s made with tofu that’s dry-salt-cured and smoked to produce very nearly the taste, texture, and mouthfeel of the real thing without the harm to animals and the environment. It even looks like bacon and, like bacon, produces fat in the skillet. Just handle it delicately and be sure to watch their video on how to cook Bakon so it’s done the way you like your bacon. If you could help the planet and enjoy “bakon” guilt-free, why not? Spaghetti carbonara, anyone? Or how about this Easy Breakfast Casserole? SRP ~$13 for 8-oz pkg of 8-10 thick strips.
Lot 40 Rye Canadian Whisky, by Northern Border Collection. Distilled in single batches in copper pots, it’s got smooth notes of oak and vanilla and toffee that make you feel like sitting down with a fireplace and some holiday music and maybe, if you are so inclined, a fine cigar. A refreshing and zesty mix. 43% alc. SRP ~$30-40. Prices vary so shop carefully.
Safe Catch Sustainable Seafood. Tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines – all fished for in sustainable ways and packaged in individual servings and in cans. A single-serve envelope in one of their many different flavors makes an easy, protein-rich lunch or snack. Delicious and so convenient – zip open the envelope, drain, and pour out on top of your plate of, maybe, potato-green bean salad. The tuna in cans is firm and solid and makes maybe the best tuna salad we’ve ever tasted – try this recipe from Culinary Hill. I’m imagining using the canned tuna as a nutritious, delicious sustainably sourced substitute in any casserole or other dish that uses cooked chicken. Oh, yeah, fish tacos, etc. All their products meet much stricter-than-required limits on mercury and are certified safe for pregnant people and children. Salt-free versions available. Sold at Mariano’s, Foxtrot and dozens more. SRP for Elite Tuna ~$22 for 6-pack of 5 oz cans. Check here for other pricing.
Besamim Artisanal Liqueur, by Sukkah Hill Spirits. Absolutely perfect for the holidays – or really any time. “… cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove with a silky, moderately sweet medium body and a gently warming frosted carrot cake and candied spiced nut finish,” says Beverage Tasting Institute. What’s not to love? Now, imagine this in your Santa mug full of egg nog… 37% alc. ~SRP $22+ for 375 ml.
Fireside Straight Bourbon Whiskey, by Mile High Spirits. Distilled in copper in downtown Denver and aged at least two years, this expression is one of a selection of bourbons at Mile High. This version, made with 70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% chocolate malted barley, radiates notes of dark caramel, roasted coffee and smokey brown sugar. Perfect for Old Fashioneds and not bad to sip on its own. It’s not sophisticated but does offer plenty in the its layers of flavor. In a nice nod to sustainability, Mile High says BYOB – bring your own (empty) bottle back to their tasting room and get a drink on the house. 40% alc. SRP ~$50.
Elevate, 6x Distilled Vodka (gluten free), also by Mile High Spirits, A local-corn distillate cut with Rocky Mountain spring water, this expression is smooth and versatile – in your Bloody Mary or any mixed drink. Smooth enough to drink on its own, too. Same deal with returning the bottle for a free drink. Nice move from the Denver area green people who adore their mountains and want to make sure they’re around for eons to come. 40% alc. SRP ~$20.
It’s critical to be able to trust the people who make your wines. Trust that they know exactly what to do when the weather does unpredictable nasty things, Drought is tough; fires are worse. Too much rain is rot. Hail is the worst as it can damage both the grapes and the vines. You want to trust that your winemakers know how to bring the beauty out of the grapes under their care no matter what the weather does. How to choose the right casks for aging their wines. How long is just the right length of time to let the wine mature.
Dutton-Goldfield is one of the good guys in that regard. You can feel confident trusting them when you’re looking for an above-average wine to complement your particular dish or impress your neighbors or cap off a special occasion. We are delighted to remark upon a few of their recent wines.
Dutton Ranch – Shop Block 2021 Pinot Blanc. Situated in the valley of Purrington Creek, a tributary of Green Valley Creek, this spot is where cold coastal air lingers through the mornings and nurtures grapes with fresh acidity and deep flavor. Inhale the super fresh white peach aromas while Bartlett pear, lily of the valley, and pink grapefruit zest round out the nose. The holidays are a great time to indulge yourself with this 5-star beauty. Great by itself but also think pairings like salads and seafood to quiches and pasta and almost any cheese. Thank you, winemaker Dan Goldfield. Alc. 13.3% SRP ~$33.
2020 Chileno Valley Vineyard Riesling. This perfect dry Riesling partner for seafood The mouth is creamy and zesty at the same time, with flavors of key lime pie, white grapefruit, kiwi, and pear. There’s a great energy to the wine, letting you know this will be a wine that will evolve for many years to come before it finishes with a kiss of ocean air and oyster shells. Try it with fresh sushi or sashimi, raw oysters with a mignonette sauce, clam chowder, and steamed mussels. Fresh young cheeses would make a great match, like burrata, ricotta, goat, and feta.. Alc. 12.9% SRP ~$40
2021 Rosé of Pinot Noir. An elegant and sophisticated wine. In the mouth, creaminess combines with the strawberry and citrus core. Stone fruit, melon, and candy apple notes add to the fruit party, with a touch of grapefruit peel giving the wine a zesty flair. The finish is lively and succulent, making your mouth water for the next sip. Try it as an aperitif or pair it with especially wonderful with a charcuterie board, fresh young cheeses, chicken salad, clams, and grilled halibut. Alc. 14.1% SRP ~$33
Single malt Scotch whisky is one of the biggest stars in Scotland’s firmament of distilled beverages, each one unique to the region in which it’s distilled. Recently CRAIGELLACHIE showcased in Chicago the newest addition to the line of expressions from its Speyside distillery. [craig-el’la-key, or here’s a fun video explaining how to pronounce CRAIGELLACHIE.]
The CRAIGELLACHIE 13 Years Old Armagnac Cask Finish expression – given special complexity by its marriage with the Armagnac cask – is being released as part of the brand’s Cask Collection. First matured in ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, it is then rested in Bas-Armagnac casks for just over a year, which is longer than the typical few months. This new expression, a beautiful clear golden liquid, starts with smoky, toasted marshmallow, baked apples and cinnamon on the nose, then heads towards a slightly floral, pineapple-y finish. Try it straight. Then with an eye-dropper of water. Excellent in cocktails.
And, boy, do the CRAIGELLACHIE Scotch whisky expressions go great with barbeque! The brand ambassador Paul O’Callaghan (in an utterly charming Irish accent) offered them up in special whisky-tasting glasses as perfect accompaniments to the irresistibly rich and spicy barbeque creations of the chefs at Chicago q, 1160 N. Dearborn St. Creations like melt-in-your-mouth Cheddar-Bacon Hush Puppies (the bacon smoked in house), Smoked Corn & Black Bean Salad, along with generous slabs of brisket, pulled pork and ribs served with Honey Butter Cornbread, Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, and house-made Mac ‘n’ Cheese. So worth the calories…
Others in the brand’s core portfolio include CRAIGELLACHIE 13 Years Old, 17 Years Old and 23 Years Old. These whiskies are known in some quarters as “the bad boys of Scotch whisky.” Kinda makes you feel like you’re sneaking into a Scottish speakeasy, right?
More about CRAIGELLACHIE Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Described as “old-fashioned” even in 1891 when production began, CRAIGELLACHIE stays true to the traditions of founders Peter Mackie and Alexander Edward. Worm tubs (see * note below) are used to cool the spirit, bestowing extra flavor and creating a distinctive muscular character to rival whisky twice its age.
So if you like a little muscle on your Scotch, go taste some of these expressions. Pick your favorite and take home a bottle for your next barbeque – or just to sip by the fireside. ‘Tis the season, after all.
* What is a worm tub?
A “Worm” is the old English term for serpent, the original name for the coiled copper tube used to turn spirit vapor back into liquid.
Only a handful of distilleries still use this old-fashioned method to condense their spirits. They are much more expensive to maintain than the more modern and efficient ‘shell and tube’ approach, but their long tubes provide less copper contact and thus bestow extra flavor with a distinctive, muscular (sulphuric) character.
Besides its beauty and historic value to Ireland, Slane Castle is known for two important things: being home to the distillery that makes its layered, balanced namesake Irish whiskey and for regularly bringing thousands of people together to enjoy soaring music concerts held on the Slane Castle grounds in Boyne Valley in County Meath, Ireland.
Slane Triple-Casked Irish Whiskey and music are fitting combination when you think about this: Making whiskey and creating music have a powerful common bond – they both seek a perfect balance. Each art/craft is constantly experimenting with components and layers to bring a harmonious new distillation/composition/performance into fruition.
And the good people at Slane know that an important Irish tradition it is to share your whiskey with others in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. They recently set up such an event at a charming Chicago speakeasy-type bar, Storyville, 712 N. Clark St., where the salty, deep-fried and other Cajun comfort foods served family-style are reminiscent of the best of New Orleans fare, and marry perfectly with Slane’s Triple-Casked Irish Whiskey and each of its components.
Representatives from Slane set up the intimate tasting experience and invited attendees to test their blending skills. Tastes of Slane Triple-Casked Irish Whiskey and of the distillations from each of the three barrels that make up the flagship brand’s flavor profile – which includes tasty notes of caramel, red fruits, baking spices, and toasted oat. The first distillation comes from a virgin oak cask – no other liquor aged in that one – American oak medium char milled wood. The second, called “Seasoned,” is from a lighter barrel like the type Jack Daniels is aged in. And the third taste is from a sherry cask. They all tasted delightful, but the combination – the “triple-casked” combo – was especially satisfying.
Savory beignets with crawfish sauce were perfect with the first sips of the whiskey itself, and then more sips of the three cask-fellows that make it up. Next sips were with a big plate of poutine fries covered in cheese and drizzled with sauce. More food followed – Cajun shrimp pasta, Muffeletta, Jambalaya… More whiskey sipping. And then: the blending contest. Attendees were challenged to be a blender and to approximate the taste of Slane flagship Irish whiskey. Using straws, tiny samples of each distillation were to be mixed until you got as close as you could to the original. (I was surprised and delighted to win the competition!)
You can find Slane in Chicago at Binny’s and many indie liquor stores. ~$25/750ml. For best sipping results: Create an intimate shared experience with friends/loved ones to enhance the pleasure. If you’re tasting by yourself, try lighting a baking spice candle…
P.S. In honor of the 40th anniversary of their first rock concert. the distillery has found the perfect balance for its new Slane “Special Edition” Irish Whiskey. In this expression you’ll find similarly complex flavors along with extra vanilla and a slightly higher ABV. Great in cocktails like Jitterbug and Irish coffee. But oh, it’s a sippin’ whiskey, too, for sure. ~$37/750ml. Availability is limited. Check with your favorite liquor dealer.
Courvoisier supports Black-and-minority-owned small business
Happy to recognize the community-building work of Courvoisier® Cognac, the Most Awarded Cognac House*. The company recently awarded Genesis Bencivenga Sr., a small business owner based in Chicago, with a $25K grant at the Courvoisier Entrepreneurship Awards.
Bencivenga (shown 3rd from left with the other Chicago prize finalists) is the co-founder of Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding, a family-run and locally-sourced company that offers a variety of flavors including original Southern-style banana, Hawaiian pineapple, and strawberry.
The Courvoisier Entrepreneurship Awards, originally hosted by Maison Courvoisier and the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, awarded four small business owners in the Atlanta metropolitan area with monetary grants. Now they’ve done it in Chicago, where the four finalists of the pitching competition each received grants ranging from $5,000 to the $25,000 grand prize.
The Entrepreneurship Awards are part of Courvoisier’s Foundation 1828 platform, a $1 million initiative to back Black-owned and minority small businesses throughout the U.S. Courvoisier will continue Foundation 1828’s mission by hosting future pitch competitions in additional metropolitan cities this year.
Cognac from Bacardi
D’USSE is a new brand of cognac from the folks at Bacardi, where they make some awfully nice rums. The new cognac comes in two expressions:
D’USSE V.S.O.P. Aged at least 4-1/2 years in French oak barrels (only 2 years is required to be designated cognac). The flavor is bold and full-bodied, but also smooth and round. Woody notes backed by touches of cinnamon and floral notes, spices, almond and cinnamon. The finish delivers notes of honey and dried fruits. It’s definitely an authentic Cognac and can make any ordinary brandy look pale by comparison. ~$50
D’USSE X.O. Uses the finest eau de vie and is aged at least ten years in French oak, yielding a highly complex blend. Sniff a fruity bouquet of succulent ripe blackberry, bright orange and dried apricot. On the palate taste hints of hazelnuts and nutmeg and then complex blends of apricot and orange with hints of wood and subtle warm spice. The X.O.’s unique bottle honors both classic and modern design and bears the Cross of Lorraine – a symbol of honor, courage and perseverance used by the French resistance during WWII. $230
Now, rye has risen again to its former levels of glory in the craft distilling revolution going on in the U.S. these days.
And Cali Distillery owners, experts at crafting many different spirits, have seen the future of whiskey and believe that rye is right up there near the top. Cali has developed a small stable of whiskey offerings, and Three Rivers Rye is the latest, meant as a tribute to the honored distilling process of this classic spirit.
Drink it straight (see next paragraph), or use this spirit to build a properly spicy Manhattan or a traditional Sazerac. Rye is a critical component in those and other mixed drinks, and Three Rivers Rye is definitely up to the challenge. Gives a richness and depth to these traditional go-to cocktails.
Best to drink savor Three Rivers slowly. Start with it neat for a few sips. Then add a single cube and let it begin to mellow the flavors together. Once that’s melted, enjoy again, or add another cube and continue sipping. Think about the history of the drink – and read all about it on Cali’s website – as you relax into the experience.
To be labeled Scotch whisky your creation must be made in Scotland and be part of a broad category that embraces a wide array of flavors – from the smoked-peat versions from Islay and the Glenlivets of Speyside, to the Highland malt whiskies like those from The Dalmore.
What makes a great Scotch whisky? Time, more than anything else, says Gregg Glass, Master Whisky Maker & Blender at Whyte & Mackay. He came to Chicago recently to introduce the latest expression from The Dalmore distillery: The Dalmore 14 – a beautiful whisky with cocoa, candied citrus, nutty, and slight cinnamon flavors. It’s a new expression of how the Mackenzie family continues to exercise its passion for creating old-school Highland malt spirits in styles and flavors even non-expert consumers can really appreciate.
The Dalmore was a pioneer in using age statements to differentiate Scotch whiskies from each other – a new way to indicate quality. Generally, the longer a whisky is aged, the more complex and rich its flavor can become. The Dalmore sources its barley from right around the distillery, far north and east of Highland. Gregg says he grew up 5 miles from the distillery, so it’s like home for him. He talks about how barley varieties and water can change the ultimate flavor of whiskies, but it’s how the combination is aged that makes all the difference.
To start with, the first stuff right off the still is pure spirit – theirs is clear in color with notes of citrus and cocoa and a staggering 68% alcohol content. You don’t want to drink this by itself. But it is the beginning of the journey to becoming a fine aged whisky. In fact, says Gregg, 60-80% of a whisky’s flavor comes from the type of casks used to age it and the time and conditions under which it matures.
Once they’ve distilled the pure spirit, they put it into bourbon casks that give touches of vanilla and honey. For The Dalmore 14, the next stop is hand-selected casks from Pedro Ximenez sherry. I can tell you for sure that the Old Fashioned cocktail they sampled for media, made with The Dalmore 12, was excellent – just a hint of sweetness, and the handsome chocolate truffle-on-a-pick that garnished it was a rich, creamy surprise. How did chocolate happen here?
The Distillery staff, Gregg said, receive from 60 to 600 items to assess each year from companies that want to pursue a partnership with them. Recently they found a company they quickly recognized shared The Dalmore philosophy of using the finest ingredients to make a superior product that’s then showcased with the finest packaging. And now they have a strong relationship with Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a Chicago company that makes extra-rich, creamy chocolate truffles – the dark chocolate and orange are remarkable and the pairing with the whisky is genius.
The chocolate makers went back and forth on which characteristics of the whisky they wanted to bring out in the truffles they include in The Dalmore 14 Collection. The only way for you to find out what they decided is to buy a bottle and a box and sit down with no agenda other than to taste and enjoy all that lusciousness blending together in your mouth.
And for a great place to pair your whisky with food, you can start by ordering your whisky at Momotaro in Chicago’s West Loop. Even if you didn’t already like Japanese cuisine, you’re likely to become a fan after eating here. Gregg’s team collaborated with the chefs at the restaurant to build the delicious Old Fashioned cocktail and to choose just the right dishes to go with the flight of Scotch whiskies. From the delicious sea-salted edamame, the salad of crisp baby greens with sparkling citrus dressing, and the generous cuts of very fresh sashimi, to the super-juicy grilled strip steak with crispy edges, they put on a feast worth indulging in. Altogether, some pairings are made in heaven. Enjoy.
The Dalmore 14 Pedro Jimenez Cask Aged Scotch whisky. ~$90.
Luxury wines are in a category outside the experience of the average person in America, and perhaps in most countries. Chicago did get a chance back in 2021 to taste a few of these elegant wines, thanks to Palm Bay importers. Winemaker Francesco Mazzei brought some of his Siepi winery’s Chianti Classico treasures here to Chicago. The vertical tasting, with vintages from 2005 through 2012, was a remarkable experience..And I started this blog post a long time ago and never finished. So even though Acadia (see below) is closed, these wonderful wines are still worth writing about.
All the Siepi vintages were made with Merlot and Sangiovese grapes, yet all were different. He said Merlot is bigger than Sangiovese and produces less acid, but growing in the Chianti region of Tuscany it acquires the character of Chianti. He talked about the season and the harvest for each of the Siepi vintages – fascinating stories of battling frost, drought, storms and global warming rising temperatures.
Francesco said Mazzei’s farming is 99% organic because conditions naturally permit that, and their bigger concern is using sustainable growing practices. “It is about trust,” he said, “and respecting nature. Wines are moody.” Time and oxygen change wines as they age and, in Siepi’s case, makes for wonderful results. He said in a way, it’s unfair to compare vintages to each other since that is not the way people traditionally enjoy wine.
He also pointed out the difference between an intellectual versus a physiological appreciation of wine. Perhaps saying, in effect, people are moody, too. How and where and under what circumstances you taste a wine can have a powerful effect on how you perceive it.
The venue for the tasting was the former two-Michelin-starred Acadia Restaurant, 1629 S. Wabash, now closed, in an out-of-the-way area of South Loop. I remember how remarkable the setting was: Flower boxes on stands marked the site of the restaurant (dinner-only service Tuesday through Sunday) on the otherwise-semi-empty street. Not promising, but once inside, you basked in the rich but sleek-and-simple decor. The cuisine, paired with three additional non-Siepi wines from Mazzei, was a delightful surprise. Sad to know this restaurant gem is no longer with us.
The green garlic/ramp soup was delicately flavorful, rich and creamy and served with flowers and flourish. Tasting the perfectly cooked farm egg yolk as it spilled over the truffled crispy potato basket was a distinct pleasure. The wines paired beautifully with the dishes, and the service was unobtrusively excellent.
Read more about all the Siepi vintages here. Read about the many other Mazzei wines here, some as affordable as $15 (e.g., Belguardo Rose 2015 – light and easy to drink).
Siepi 2011 – a difficult year with good rainfall but extreme heat and sun. Even the oak leaves were turning from green to brown in the summer. The fight they put up ended up producing a lovely wine.
Siepi 2012 – a challenging year with late frost and snow and a dry summer. Production overall was down by nearly 30%, but the quality is high with just a touch of sweetness. This is a good one to age if you have a cellar.