Been reading much lately? For some of us, this is one of life’s greatest pleasures and, if truth be told, it works pretty well as an escape, too. And either one of those goals is common in these challenging times. So here are a few books – no particular order – on the joys of food and cooking. Maybe there’s something that’ll work for you.
Books on Food and Drink Chicago – and elsewhere
The Road to Mexico, by Rick Stein. Celebrity chef Stein, author and TV chef, chronicles 100 step-by-step guides to creating simple yet sophisticated dishes inspired by his travels.
Taste Memories: Recipes for Life and Breakfast, by Ina Pinkney. In the absence of a mother or grandmother who liked to cook, the author decided to keep track of all the details when she got her recipes for both life and food. She opened her own restaurant, Ina’s, and happily served her customers for 23 years. Now you can get the benefit of her experiences and her recipes in her new book.
Sicilia: The Cooking of Casa Planeta, Elisia Menduni. Beautiful illustrations will have your mouth watering for a taste of these dozens of delectable recipes for everything from sardine pie, to lemon ice, to pasta with anchovies. Pair with one of this winery’s excellent choices, one of its handmade olive oils, and sip as you read the stories of the country’s people and places.
Recipe for a Delicious Life, by Zipora Einav. The author suggests how to discover your own perfect blend of food and music to stimulate your appetite for lasting health, harmony and joy. It offers a free interactive app, a music CD and more.
Some who have been able to work from home during this long-running pandemic may be saving enough money to be able to treat themselves to some luxurious wines they might never have considered. And I can’t think of a more luxurious treat than one of these 2018 Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir wines.
Dutton-Goldfield’s vineyards, many with intriguing names, promise excitement and quality that their elegant luxury wines always meet and surpass. As of 2018 they’re in their own new facility and now have complete control over every aspect of the production of their wines – and the 2018 harvest had no pandemic issues. In the new facility, the winemakers now get to select the best possible picking dates when they’re confident the acids and sugars are at their absolute optimum balance. We consumers are the winners in being able to choose from their selection of 2018 wines that showcase a fabulous combination of mouthwatering freshness and decadent richness. Prepare to be utterly delighted by any one of these. This post showcases just five of them for your special-occasion, friendsgiving, or self-indulgent consideration.
Devil’s Gulch Vineyard, 2018 Pinot Noir. Located in Marin County, this vineyard has put out a gorgeous Pinot that’s extraordinarily silky and velvety with “fruit and spice characters” that have a “wonderful combination of power and fineness,” a nose with “sweet wild berries in the forest, tinged with nutmeg and cinnamon.” Isn’t your mouth watering? You don’t need to wait until the holidays to indulge yourself with this 5-star beauty. Think pairings like rabbit, pork, lamb or quail (bacon-stuffed mushrooms, anyone?). Thank you, winemaker Dan Goldfield. Alc. 13.8% SRP ~$72.
Angel Camp Vineyard, 2018 Pinot Noir. Situated ini Anderson Valley, this beautiful 10-acre spot sits on a scenic knoll with a gravely slope that lets winemaker Dan Goldfield extract deep, plummy flavors and voluptuous tannins from the grapes. Consider the joy of “dusky blackberry and plum aromas complemented with savory beet and earthy notes. Christmas spices provide a lacy framework” for the harmonious balance of sweet black cherry, purple plum, dried flowers and sandalwood flavors. Enjoy it now or let it mellow. You’ll love it with warm potato salad, bacon quiche, poultry or pork and cheeses like Fontina or Havarti. Alc. 14.1% SRP ~$62.
Fox Den Vineyard, 2018 Pinot Noir. Perched atop a formerly-sea-bottom ridge, Fox Den sits on eight acres in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley and has a terroir that makes for low vigor vines, slow ripening, and beautifully floral and fruit driven wine. The long growing season of 2018 encouraged these vines to produce a satiny texture and a nose of red fruits with sweet raspberry and strawberry interlaced with baking spices. In the mouth you get a sweet-tart interplay that dances from Bing cherry to dried cranberry to alpine strawberry with a drift of cinnamon and nutmeg. Think pairings with duck confit, seared tuna, and pulled pork or sweetbreads. Creamy goat cheese, Kaseri or Bellwether’s triple crème San Andreas will sing with this wine. Alc. 13.8% SRP ~$68.
Enjoy with a special meal you’ve prepared. Or a few of the decadent cheeses mentioned. With friends on Zoom, or just by yourself.
Time to think about some spirits to uplift yours! Here are some news notes from three such companies: Rush Creek Distilling is a local distiller that’s just generally lifting spirits around town and for buyers online. Maker’s Mark is uplifting the spirits of sports/Chicago/Cubs fans and bourbon lovers across the land. and Bacardi is uplifting the spirits of women – and that spreads to everyone! Consider lifting yours with a few of these.
Rush Creek Distilling makes small batch releases of really nice vodka, gin and whiskey. The company is located in Harvard, Illinois, so it’s a kissing-cousin Chicago institution. The vodka and gin are both distilled from grain, so the flavor is unique. The American Gold and the Trophy whiskies are lovingly, slowly distilled. All the Rush Creek spirits are made using pure spring water and local grains. Plus, the distillery sounds like a beautiful and unique place to visit – artisan-designed and built to exemplify the spirit of craftsmanship. Book a tour and make a little vacation of it. They love to promote a spirit of adventure – even have an Adventurous Spirits Club you can join.
Recently Chicago welcomed Rob Samuels, grandson of the founder of the iconic bourbon Maker’s Mark, as he celebrated his company’s partnership with the Cubs. He met with media, Cubs people, club owners, and others as part of inaugurating the new Maker’s Mark Barrel Room, one of the private clubs for season ticket holders that’s opening in Wrigley Field this season. He highlighted key points in the history of Maker’s Mark, including how Bill Samuels, Sr. used to bake bread – and translated some of what he knew there into the beginnings of the famous bourbon. He also invites everyone to make a reservation at Star Hill Provisions, the on-Kentucky-campus full service restaurant and bar, with Chef Newman Miller offers authentic local cuisine with locally sourced ingredients – some coming from distillery employees’ own farms. There you can learn more about the deep and proud connection between horse racing and bourbon and about out how dramatically bourbon has increased in popularity in just the past decade.
Bacardi, one of the country’s premier spirits makers, kicked off its second annual Spirit Forward Women Empowerment Series April 1st in Chicago. Now they’re on the way to LA (April 23), then New York. Experts from hospitality, fitness, finance and entertainment will celebrate female leaders and entrepreneurs, especially the hospitality industry. Attendees will learn from panels, networking opportunities, hands-on workshops and more, designed for all genders, race, cultures and geographies. The theme this year is “originality,” and high-level industry speakers will address how it informs everything from the creative process to problem-solving bigger issues in the hospitality industry.
Editor’s note: As of January 2020, both locations of Warm Belly have closed. We already miss this place!
Christmas is not quite yet a dim memory, but you’ve got a whole new year ahead to get acquainted with a new kind of treat. If “dough” is your favorite cookie flavor, we’ve got great news. You’ll never have to be without your kind of cookies again now that Joe Dela Pena is gracing Chicago with two locations of his Warm Belly Bakery (1148 W. Monroe in West Loop, and 2472 N. Clark in Lincoln Park).
Cookie dough is where Joe, founder and owner of Warm Belly Bakery, started his dream. Despite his scientist-parents’ propensity to serve up very good chocolate chip cookies made from rolls of Nestlé Toll House Morsels’ dough, Joe the kid – and later the grownup – dreamed of eating cookies of all kinds that tasted as good as that dough. He began experimenting to find a cookie recipe that yielded cookies as close to the texture of cookie dough as possible without being mushy or raw-egg risky. And now Joe’s dream is already blossoming beyond his expectations. We met with him at his West Loop cookie café recently to talk about how it all got started.
Joe is the picture of a warm, caring guy. His kindness and self-deprecating humor shine out from his tall, substantial frame, which he describes laughingly as “Body by Cookies.” His West Loop space is a great place for a small, private meeting – cozy and inviting with tables and chairs, benches and walls full of art that’s custom-designed for Warm Belly, including a giant painting of the company’s cookie-belly logo.
Joe’s mom had taught him some Filipino baking techniques growing up, but his soul kept calling out for more, so he continued messing around in the kitchen. While still in college, Joe promised cookie rewards to investors as a way to drive funding for his 5K run for cancer – and was surprised when people contributed thousands of dollars. More than he bargained for, having to bake all those cookies – after he came home from work. He was amazed to find that people continued, after the race, giving more money for the cause just so they could get more cookies. It occurred to him then. Maybe there’s something going on here. A business hadn’t been on Joe’s radar, but…
Joe met his business partner at the gym where they both worked out. And the rest, as they say, is history. From locations in the trendy West Loop and recently a storefront in Lincoln Park, to a handy dandy food truck, vendor participation at Chicago Gourmet, and baking champion on Food Network, it looks like just the beginning. “We are where we are today from a combination of sweat and hard work and luck,” said Joe. The Warm Belly concept has become so popular that franchise companies are already after Joe to work with them. “We’re not there yet, though,” he said. “Things have got to be repeatedly successful and then proven to be replicable before we think about going there.” The new Lincoln Park location is a great start.
Joe’s heart was in his original profession of teaching English to high school kids. He remembers loving Shakespeare from an early age because of a book that printed Shakespeare’s English on one side and a modern English interpretation on the other. He said he learned pretty quickly how to interpret the language himself and as a result realized just how cool Shakespeare’s stories really were, even in modern times. His other passion was coaching kids in tennis. Many of his former students remember him fondly – we heard about him from one of his coachees Meredith, now a talented young physical therapist in Lincoln Park – one of the many who kept urging Joe to open a spot in Lincoln Park.
Now Joe’s humbly grateful to be mentioned in the same breath as some of Chicago’s finest chefs, and very happy that his new profession as Warm Belly cookie guru gives him lots of opportunities to interact with kids. Several schools near the West Loop location send a steady supply of young customers in for after-school treats, and parents become regular customers for birthday and other party orders. Joe makes sure when they come in the store, it’s more than cookies that keep them happy. The mantel over the fireplace – right under the Warm Belly custom-painted logo pic – is loaded with books for all ages to enjoy. “The array is always changing,” said Joe. “Occasionally a kid ends up walking out with one. Sometimes people bring in a new one.”
The office and kitchen for Warm Belly is next door in the rare-and-antique-car building owned by Joe’s business partner. Joe was kind enough to give us a look at his showroom-clean-and-organized storage and baking spaces and at the amazing array of flavorings, colors and add-ins that inspire him. Gives you a strong sense of how much imagination and care go into these cookies.
But nothing prepares you for the actual taste. On first sample, you may think, oh, these are pretty good. But then the magic sneaks up on you, and you find yourself irresistibly drawn to take another bite. And another. And if you’re not really careful, it’s shockingly easy to consume the entire quarter-pounder cookie at a sitting, particularly if you were hungry. We have had this issue with every flavor we’ve sampled. We leave it to you to make up your own WBB playlist of favorites. Uh, by the way, theydeliver these addictive cookies via several popular services. Use Postmates to get them from the Lincoln Park location.
The array of flavors grows and changes on a regular basis – from the S’Mores cookies that won him the Food Network competition and the dozens of other flavors that rotate in and out, to the several that are fixtures of the store (PB&J, Double Chocolate Chip, etc.). One of our favorites is the beautiful purple Ube cookie flavored with a bean-like plant that’s indigenous to the Philippines where Joe’s family is from. We love that it’s topped with a lovely swirl of not-too-sweet lavender frosting that coordinates beautifully with the purple dough. Num! Check out the whole Warm Belly menu here.
And by the way, we highly recommend you get at least your first batch in one of the WBB tins. The tin makes a perfect storage container – just the right amount of seal and breathability to properly preserve the slightly crunchy exteriors and cookie-dough-ish interiors of these giant treats. And of course, it’s infinitely refillable.
Not meant for those who like their cookies thin and crisp but, for anyone who loves cookie dough or soft, chewy cookies with a slight crunch on the outside, these are the bomb. Don’t say we didn’t warn you…
Follow Joe on Instagram @thejoedelapena and follow the cookies @warmbellybakery.
The term “kosher” when applied to wines has, in the past, made most of us think of very sweet, viscous wines such as one made by Manischewitz. But just as the sophistication of wine consumers everywhere is growing by leaps and bounds, so the makers of kosher wines have been finding new ways to create wines that hold their own in more sophisticated company. Case in point, The Royal Wine Corp. has a summer portfolio of quality rosés from around the world that taste delicious – and are also priced reasonably.
Since rosé isn’t meant to hang around for a long time, it’s a good idea to get to your wine store soon and plan to invite friends over to help you enjoy these crisp, all-shades-of-pink rosé wines, each with its own personality. Some god choices for the fall holidays from The Royal Wine Corp. portfolio include:
Shiloh Rosé. Colored bright raspberry red with a nose of apricot, yogurt, ripe strawberries, cherries, and cream. The Israeli wine is medium in body with notes of strawberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, and peach. Medium in acidity with a long finish, its soft and inviting tannins make it perfect to enjoy with food.
Herzog Lineage. This unique California rosé “has guts,” according to Geller, with medium acidity and a “long and bursting finish” of flavorful, ripe fruit. The medium-bodied wine would be a great companion to BBQ, oven-baked salmon in a rich sauce, or simply on its own as an aperitif – with or without some light snacks on the side. “Superb wine, grab it as it will go fast!”
Elvi Vina Encina Rosa. This light- to medium-bodied Spanish rosé is redolent of fresh ripe black cherries, papaya, forest berries, and rose petals. On the palate are enticing notes of cherries, papaya, guava, and peaches, with a lingering finish of dried cranberries. Medium-plus acidity is ever-present but not heavy or ponderous. “An impressive effort, especially considering the price,” Geller says.
Sainte-Béatrice Instant B. Very light on the palate and the nose, this Provincial rosé delivers nice acidity with notes of fresh berries and has a very pleasant light color. Geller notes that this entry-level wine shows Château Roubine’s ability to make quality rosé at every price point.
Château Roubine, Cru Classé (Côtes de Provence, France)
Vibrant and light-bodied with a pleasant soft smell of sweet meadow flowers. Light in tannin, then grows more complex as it opens up. Perfect for quaffing or with food.
Les Lauriers des Barons Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild, Rosé (Bordeaux, France). Completely dry with fresh acidity. Hints of white flowers and herbaceous aromas. Medium-bodied, notes of sweet lemon. Ideal with light, delicate white fish.
Always wondered what it would be like to ride in a helicopter. Had the vague idea – probably from watching too many shoot-’em-up big-city crime and spy movies – that it would be a wild ride. Loud. Choppy. Rough. Maybe thrilling – if I wasn’t too scared.
Guess what? When you ride with the right people, the only adjective you need is thrilling. Chicago Helicopter Experience, 2420 S. Halsted, (#CHEtours) is proud and pleased, as one of the only privately owned helicopter heliports in any major US city, to offer anyone the chance to see and feel what it’s like. And I gotta tell ya, it’s a cool way to celebrate just about any occasion, from a romantic night for two, a quick air transfer to or from O’Hare or Midway Airports – you surely know the horror of gridlock on our highways – to a party for a gang of friends or workmates.
The friendly folks at CHE are passionate about what they do. We felt especially comfortable as we were taken through the strictly enforced safety routines that cover every aspect of each trip – including weighing and assigning seats to every passenger to ensure a perfect balance for a smooth ride. But the #CHEcrew also offers a slew of ways to make your experience fun. You can invite friends and loved ones to enjoy each others’ company in the spacious reception area, complete with coffee and cookies and games – like both a regular-size and a jumbo-size Jenga game, checkers and more. And if you’ve brought a crowd or it’s just plain a busy night – the helicopters hold up to six at a time – everybody has time to interact while awaiting their turn. If you want alcohol, drink it before you come, unless you let #CHEtours organize a catered party that includes it.
It might actually be loud riding in a helicopter, but with #CHEtours, you won’t notice it. Every rider puts on his/her own pair of Bose headphones that cancel noise and sport voice-activated mics that make it easy to talk to the pilot or fellow passengers. The views from the helicopter are just spectacular. Catching the sun at different angles on the beautiful buildings and landmarks of downtown Chicago and all down the north shore to Wrigley Field (unless there’s a game on) is an unforgettable experience. Imagine looking down the Chicago River in a corridor between Chicago’s gorgeous skyscrapers. We found most everybody was so entranced with the experience that there wasn’t a lot of talking outside the pilot’s FAQs on various high points.
The company is on the move. CHE’s founder and CEO, Trevor Heffernan, says he founded the company after deciding he was sick of the traffic jams constantly gumming up his trips to visit relatives near Wisconsin. Read more about what he went through to get his CHE business going in this nice article in the Chicago Tribune. They’re offering lots of exciting options for folks who want to go play golf, say, on a course within a 30-minute helicopter trip but don’t want to waste time driving there and back. They’re planning to ferry people, too, to an upcoming Goo Goo Dolls concert and to the city’s hugely popular Lollapalooza event.
So if you’ve ever dreamed about riding a helicopter – whether to escape the crazy traffic or to get a fabulously unique view of your city – you can do it in Chicago. Prices start around $150 per person for the 15-minute tour to Wrigley and with many optional add-on packages. People, what a great way to give yourself and/or clients or loved ones a truly memorable experience.
Dark wood surroundings. Unique architectural touches. Multiple inviting private spaces. They’re all a big part of what goes on at Victory Tap, 1416 S. Michigan Ave., in Chicago’s South Loop., along a booming section of the street where new condos are going up at rapid clip. The ambiance is comfortable and classy, and the food is the star. Chef Joe Farina brings his years of experience in venerable Chicago Italian kitchens like Rosebud to this new incarnation of Italian-cum-fine dining establishment.
You start with a plate of mixed bread items, all of which are tempting enough to get you full before the main course arrives – crusty, chewy Italian bread, chunks of pizza and more with a plate of olive oil or fresh, cold butter, as you desire.
Joe’s Mama’s meatballs are a star item on the menu. Pronounced by my meatball aficionado companion as utterly divine. Big, fluffy spheres studded with bright fresh parsley, these gems come in Chef Joe Farina’s unique marinara sauce and are fit for Italian royalty. We started with an order of these meatballs and loved that they were served with a big scoop of olive-oil-enhanced, whipped ricotta cheese on the side. These tender, juicy meatballs in the succulent marinara sauce make a delicious and satisfying main course, even without a helping of one of Victory Tap’s housemade pastas, of which there are many varieties.
In fact, the meatballs are so good the restaurant has decided to take them on the road so you can buy them even closer to home. Our server Bobby shared his enthusiasm for Victory Tap, Chef Farina and the food and told us he is the one who will be marketing the meatballs to major retail outlets like Mariano’s and other private and chain establishments. Look for them soon nearby.
We also to tried the agnolotti pasta that won the first-ever-given People’s Choice award at the Chicago Bacon Fest 2018. Delicious hand-shaped pasta filled with ricotta and Parmesan and topped with a rich, sage-infused browned butter sauce and sprinkled with thick chunks of cooked bacon. Rich and delicious, even the leftovers reheated in the microwave next day.
The housemade pastas, from linguine and lasagna to shells, ravioli and cavatelli, let you mix with shrimp, sausage, clam sauce, creamy vodka sauce and more. Items on the extensive Italian-inspired menu can be paired with any of the restaurant’s carefully selected wines. Plus diners can choose from plenty of not-just-Italian dishes, including a generous selection of daily specials. On our visit, the almond-crusted sea bass daily special was a winner. Served perfectly broiled atop a bed of lightly steamed fresh spinach, it was bathed in a delicately tangy, citrus-perfumed lemon butter sauce that perfectly tied together the flavors of the fish, the spinach and the warm cherry tomato garnish. Oh, and they sell Armand’s pizza in thin crust and pan versions.
The desserts we tried were excellent. Ricotta cheesecake was light yet rich, quite different and less fat. Served with whipped cream and a beautifully cut fresh strawberry garnish in a rich graham cracker crust. Tiramisu had a thick layer of angelically light and creamy mascarpone with a perfect dusting of cocoa, all atop the coffee-enhanced cake.
The restaurant is known for its catering and for convenient packages for private dining/parties. Upstair are several beautiful, dark-wood spaces that feel like you could be in someone’s very elegant home. Great food, beautiful surroundings. A winning combination for sure. Restrooms are on the second floor, too, and there is an elevator located conveniently under the staircase, so no issues for partygoers or restaurant patrons who don’t want to deal with stairs.
This is a place where you can feel at home, appreciate the service and enjoy the food over and over. We’ll be back soon.
Have you heard about the new lady polar bear Talini at Lincoln Park Zoo? Yes, she has come to us from Detroit as part of the cooperative “preserve the species” mating programs many zoos participate in. Siku is the Zoo’s polaar guy that she’s destined to get to know.
And just for fun, the Park Place Cafe, located inside the zoo grounds in its own building (see it on this zoo map), has created two mouth-watering-sounding recipes to honor the snow theme.
TALINI Polar Bear Split – chocolate-dipped and sprinkle-covered frozen banana topped with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, caramel sauce, shredded coconut “snow,” whipped cream and a cherry. $9.95. NUM!
SIKU’s Meatball Sub – marinara covered meatballs, shredded parmesan, provoline cheese on crusty hoagie roll. $9.95
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
IEEM is an Italian organization that’s helping to improve knowledge and foster greater enjoyment of Italian wines by countries around the world. Their Simply Italian Great Wines Tour 2017 once again this year brought to Chicago many special wines chosen from a selection of Italy’s multitudinous wine regions. Trade and media attended guided tastings-cum-educational seminars on such wine regions as Moscato d’Asti, Prosecco, Sicily and more, each of which offered glimpses into a broad array of Italy’s offerings. Below are a few of the many lovely ones the #SimplyItalianTour showcased.
#SicilianWineArt has become huge business since the country established its Sicilia DOC designation. Two grape varieties – Grillo and Nero d’Avola – are grown exclusively in Sicily and are used to make a wide range of respectively white and red wines. Sicily has 100 days of harvesting every year when you count all the areas where grapes are grown. Colomba Bianca, Sicily’s biggest wine cooperative representing five different wineries, brought to Chicagosamples of some of its offerings.
Grillo Sicilia DOC Lavi 2016. Hand-harvested 100% Grillo grapes are turned via the Charmat method into a light straw yellow bubbly with intense, complex aromas like white flowers and orange blossoms with a citrus note. On the palate, taste nettle and sage, jasmine and melon. Minerally, crisp and fresh. Delicious with first courses of fish or vegetables and with white meats, tabouleh, mozzarella, anchovies and tomatoes.
Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC Vitese 2016. Hand-picked and put into small crates during late August/early September, the skins for this organically made wine are macerated at low temperatures for two days to extract the sweet tannins an delicate color. Intensely ruby red – beautifully purple-red – it offers fragrant fruity aromas of red berries (cherry, blackberry) that are also minerally (graphite) and spicy. The tannins and acidity are perfectly balanced within a wine of great structure, smoothness and intensity. Serve it as an aperitif or with mature cheeses, cold cuts and meats of all types. Welove this wine *****5 stars.
Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC Kore 2016. One of Colomba Bianca’s classic red wines, this 100% Nero d’Avola wine is ruby red with purple tinges and unmistakable aromas of prune, cherry and light spice. It’s soft and velvety on the palate with a pleasing structure and a distinct fruitiness that’s also elegant and refined. Serve with typical Sicilian dishes like spaghetti alla norma with eggplant and smoked ricotta. Even more complex and rewarding than the Vitese, these are both excellent choices for your best holiday occasions. *****5 stars.
Prosecco DOC wineries included Piera Matellozzo 1899, Masottina, Supmanti Valdo, Barollo, Astoria and more. Here are two standouts from among their samples:
Barollo Prosecco Millesimato Extra Dry Treviso DOC 2016. Gorgeous (we gave it 5 stars) wine made from 100% Glera grapes. This small-production (25-30,000 bottles) Prosecco is fragrant with notes of candied citron and acacia flowers, yellow apple, peach and crusty bread. On the palate it’s dry, soft and fresh with a elegant fruity aftertaste. Perfect as an aperitif or with risottos with vegetables and fish dishes. 11% alc. ~$19. *****5 stars.
La Marca Prosecco Sparkling DOC, imported by Gallo. Made with 100% Glera, this delicately golden straw yellow Prosecco brings fruity notes and a distinctive floral aroma along with a lively and persistent perlage of full-textured bubbles. The palate is fresh and clean with flavors of ripe lemon, green apple and grapefruit with an agreeable minerality. Well balanced with a light, crisp, refreshing finish. Serve chilled with starters and fish dishes. 11% alc. ****4 stars.
Other Italian wine regions came to introduce Chicago to their wines this year. Consorzio Vino Chianti presented guided tastings of wines from the seven subregions of Chianti – Montalbano, Rufina, Montespertoli, Aretini and others, plus Chianti Classico – all located in Tuscany between the great Italian cities of Firenze (Florence) and Siena. They explained how Chianti DOCG is now requiring bottles to be sealed with traceable labels – an important move to protect the integrity of fine wines from this region. The entire Chianti region has a new focus on quality rather than quantity as had been the case for many decades.A few memorable vintages from the tasting, all coming in at around 14% alcohol:
Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva 2013. 95% Sangiovese, 5% blend of three grapes indigenous to the region. A beautiful wine grown on rocky soils and made with traditional wine making processes, including fermenting in steel vats and maturing in big oak barrels for two years and in the bottle three months. Fine, delicate aromas due to late-growing Sangiovese. Perfectly balanced. *****5 stars.
Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG Riserva 2013. 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. A single-vineyard blend made from grapes grown in mixed soils with riverstones. Grown on old vines with at least 1 meter between the vines. *****5 stars. ~$13.
Chianti Montespertoli DOCG Riserva 2013. 100% Sangiovese. This is a single-vineyard wine that’s light and acidic – the result of planting Sangiovese grapes in a northern exposure. This results in greater structure yet the expression is very well-balanced. 14% alc. ~$25.
A third Italian group, Consorzio Vini Friuli Grave, this year brought to Chicago a selection of its DOC sparkling and still wines – “fresh and fun wines,.” Made from grapes grown in Friuli Venezia Giulia, a northeastern area of Italy that’s rich in tradition, colors, aromas and flavors, these wines tend to be lighter, with alcohol content ranging from around 11% to 13%. You’re sure to find something to please anyone within this portfolio. Here are a few they brought here to sample at #TheSparklingLife presentation:
Spumante Rose Extra Dry “Collevento 921” from Antonutti Vini dal 1921. This delightful sparkling wine belies the old reputation of spumante as overly sweet and syrupy. It’s made with 80% Merlot and 20% Refosco via the Charmat method. The color is bright pink with a bouquet of red berries (raspberry, currant and strawberry) and a light, fine lingering perlage. Its lovely character is due in part to the fact that the Merlot grape never gets overly ripe in the cool weather of this area. Excellent as an aperitif or with appetizers or fish platters (the Italians love their fish!). Priced between $8 and $15 depending on where you get it, it’s perfect for the holidays. 11% alc.
Friuland “Le Bastie” 2011 DOC Friuli Grave by Tenute Tomasella. This small-production (2500 bottles) wine made of 100% Friuli grapes has a creamy texture with great fruit taste. An intense golden-hued straw yellow color, its bouquet is refined yet intense and features a blend of spices and fruit with a hint of vanilla. It’s because they use a process called “friulano” which reduces oxidation in white wines that this wine actually ages well. Priced ~$23, we think it’s worth going into splurge mode. 13% alc.
Sauvignon “Braida Santa Cecilia” 2016 DOC Friuli Grave. Made with 100% Sauvignon A3 clone, this pale yellow white wine takes its name from the Italian meaning “clearing in the forest,” which describes the weather conditions in the northeastern area where they can grow this grape. Unlike the New Zealand Sauvignon blanc – which some Italians describe as smelling like a sweaty sock – the passionfruit, sage and yellow pepper nose of this wine compares more to a Sancerre. This wine is made by Kim Crawford’s husband, who excused himself from making the “Kim Crawford” type of Sauvignon to go renegade and make a new kind of Sauvignon. He calls his highly award-winning winery Pitars so as not to confuse people with the Crawford name. We give his version a solid 5 stars. 12.5% alc.