Category Archives: wine

Broken Barrel Bar – new chef-driven sports bar in Lincoln Park

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You’ve heard of Chicago beef sandwiches. You’ve heard about the Philly cheese steak. Now prepare yourself for the sandwich that combines the best of both and takes it all to a new level. It’s called The Broken Brisket Dip sandwich (more on this below), and the only place you can find it is at the Broken Barrel Bar, 2548 N. Southport. It’s just one of the resident chef’s innovative ideas for bringing good old every day bar food to new heights – and making gluten-free and vegetarian souls smile.

The Broken Barrel Bar is a brand new Lincoln Park spot that promises to become a favorite destination for those who love to eat, drink and watch sports. Owner Luke Johnson of Wine Not Hospitality said making people feel comfortable is what it’s all about. From the extra-large, well-padded U-shaped booths inside, to the stepped natural-wood booths and stadium seating in the outdoor space, the arrangements are perfect for big parties, yet relaxed for smaller groups and couples. Another thing Luke does to enhance the bar’s spacious yet cozy ambiance is partner with local artists to create whimsical wall art. The whole restaurant/bar is ideal for large groups – family, friends, or work pals – to hang out together. Game day, let’s-get-crazy day, or just relaxing time, you and your whole gang will feel welcome.

Broken Brisket sandwich - irresistible
Broken Brisket sandwich – irresistible

Broken Barrel Chef Bryant Anderson is all about presenting his unique take on smoked meats and pickled accompaniments that lift the barbecue bar a notch beyond the ordinary. That Broken Brisket Dip sandwich is stuffed to overflowing with perfectly tender chunks of pot roasted beef (not paper-thin slices) studded with tiny pepper slices in the house-made giardiniera and sitting atop of a generous layer of cheese melted onto both sides of a good-sized hunk of Italian-style bread. All of that is bathed lightly in the chef’s smoked meat juices and served with a side dish of same for dipping. And, oh, you’re going to wanna dip. I mean, I seldom eat beef – and almost never Chicago’s Italian style beef because that razor-thin-sliced meat’s too dry for my taste once it’s reheated in the sauce – and yet I nearly finished this big sandwich. And I made sure I took home the small chunk I had left, too. It was delicious even straight out of the refrigerator the next day.

Delictable, piquant lamb tacos - irresistible
Delictable, piquant lamb tacos – irresistible

Another standout sandwich is the Guajillo Lamb taco – guajillo-pepper-marinated hickory-smoked lamb shoulder chunks, served in warm corn tortillas and topped with house-made, sweetly pickled red onions and dollops of super creamy, just-sharp-enough goat cheese. Again, though I’m neither a lamb nor a taco aficionado, this sandwich was mouth-wateringly good. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I ate this whole thing, too.

Some of the sides are right up there, as well. The crinkle-cut sweet potato fries ($4) actually taste like and have the mouth-feel of real sweet potatoes; my companion could not stop eating them. The medium thin regular French fries ($5) are nicely browned and not greasy – and I AM a French fry aficionado. Chef says since Lincoln Park has a high percentage of vegetarians, they’ve chosen to honor that eating style by offering dishes like the Nachos, interlaced with roasted brussels sprout leaves, pickled onions, pickled radishes – all house-made – plus jalapeños and a jalapeño cheddar sauce on top of the sprinkled cheese. We had asked for the sauce on the side, but the dish would have come together better with it on top – and with even more of it, ‘cuz it was good!

Then there’s a selection of wings – gluten-free, by the way, because they are fried crispy but not breaded – that come with your choice of dry rub or several unique BBQ sauces: Buffalo, Garlic Buffalo, Honey Habanero, Chili Maple, Sticky Curry, Hell Raiser Hot, or their biggest prize winner, Bourbon BBQ. Try these with a side of Mac & Cheese with smoked cheddar and two toppings ($15), Fried Plantains, a Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin ($6 – could have used a bit more cheese intensity), or a side of nicely roasted Brussels Sprouts ($6).

Oh, yeah - whipped cream and deep-fried yeasty dough puffs!
Oh, yeah – whipped cream and deep-fried yeasty dough puffs!

The mini donut dessert was exceptional. Freshly made, hot-out-of-the-fryer donut puffs, placed in a pretty circle around a dish and interspersed with puffs of whipped cream, all drizzled with chocolate sauce and served with a dish of house-made triple berry sauce in the middle. Big enough for two and irresistible – even if you’ve already chowed down on your main dishes.

The wine list is a truly carefully curated selection that includes a couple of whites, a single Cabernet, a single Tempranillo, Malbec and so on. These are obviously well chosen to appeal to a range of discerning palates, and the ones we tasted were more than satisfactory. Wine glass prices range from $9 up. Well chosen, delicious wines. And for beer lovers of tappers, tall boys and bottles, you’ve got choices. And of course, there is a full bar and a nice selection of custom cocktails.

I suspect that if I lived in walking distance, this place would become a regular haunt. It’s so friendly and cozy, even with the dozens of TV screens that will keep you company even if you’re alone. And which, by the way the night we were there, we noticed they kept turned down until the Chicago Cubs (next year!) game came on. Go here and get your game on. Drink and eat. A nice example of the best in Food and Drink in Chicago.

P.S. They start serving weekend brunch on Saturday November 3! Check these options out:

  • SMOKED LAMB BENEDICT. Fresh baked biscuits, slow-smoked lamb shoulder, creamy hollandaise sauce, two over easy eggs, maple-sriracha drizzle & micro cilantro $14. OMG, that lamb from the tacos is FABulous.
  • HANGOVER BREAKFAST SANDWICH. Hickory brisket, fried egg, Merkts cheddar, arugula, chipotle mayo, crispy onions, toasted pretzel bun, choice of side $13. Oh, my. It’s lunchtime as I write and I think I need one of these right now.
  • CROISSANT FRENCH TOAST. Orange-buttermilk batter, homemade triple berry sauce, fresh croissant, whipped cream $12. Dessert for breakfast!!!
  • And what’s brunch without the booze?! Broken Barrel Bar will be pouring their house-blended BLOODY MARY, served with Hank’s Vodka and chef-pickled vegetables $9. Or try “WE’LL TAKE A BOTTLE”  – a bottle of bubbles with fresh orange juice $30.

 

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3 lovely bubblies from Gloria Ferrer

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Champagne makers and bubbly makers everywhere are really happy that many of us Americans have begun picking up on the French and European practice of drinking bubbles for every day pleasure instead of reserving those delightful champagnes and sparkling wines just for special occasions. Today we’re featuring three expressions from the caves of Gloria Ferrer priced in the $20-$30 range, any one of which will make you and your guests beam with pleasure as you pair the wine with some of your favorite foods.

Ferrer Sonoma Brut bubbly
Ferrer Sonoma Brut bubbly

Gloria Ferrer, for 600 years a world renowned maker of sparkling and still wines with a history of female leadership, makes multiple expressions of bubblies that combine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes in quite different proportions. Gloria Ferrer’s Sonoma Brut, for example, is made with 86.5% Pinot Noir and 13.5% Chardonnay. The finished wine shows off delicate pear and floral notes backed by toasty almond. On your tongue, you’ll find lively citrus, toast and apple flavors along with a persistent effervescence, a creamy mid-palate and a toasty finish. Pair this lovely bubbly with shellfish, crab, roast chicken or sushi. Seasoning affinities include lemongrass, fennel and white pepper. Serve with hard aged and triple-cream cheeses, maybe with some Meyer lemon compote to round out the cheese course. Alc 12.5% SRP $22.

Gloria Ferrer’s Blanc de Noirs is 91.6% Pinot Noir and 8.4% Chardonnay. It serves up bright strawberry and black cherry aromas with subtle vanilla highlights. Creamy cherry, lemon and cola flavors combined come with a lush palate, lively bubbles and a persistent finish. This wine is outstanding with crab, Thai cuisine, roast pork, quail, foie gras and with semi-sweet desserts. Seasoning affinities include star anise, plum sauce and tarragon. Try pairing it with your cheese course with a triple aged Gouda or other hard aged cheeses with persimmons and hazelnuts. Alc 12.5% SRP $22.

Perfect cheese wine - Ferrer Brut Rose
Perfect cheese wine – Ferrer Brut Rose

Gloria Ferrer’s Brut Rosé is an especially lovely rendition of bubbly. Made with 60% Pinot noir and 40% Chardonnay, it has bright strawberry and Ridge aromas followed by notes of crème brûlée, Meyer lemon and green apple. It feels like a creamy mousse and keeps giving you fruit all the way to the finish where you get a touch of mineral. Pair this lovely wine with anything spicy,  Asian inspired dishes, barbecue pork ribs or grilled seafood. This rosé is outstanding with many varieties of goat cheese served with olives and herbed nuts. Only 2000 cases produced. Alc 12.5% SRP $29. We really love this delicate and delicious bubbly!

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Champagne Maison Henriot glorious with pasta!

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Maison Champagne Henriot has been making beautiful champagnes for generations. The family is still running the winery and making the precious wines with the same care and attention they have always lavished on their creations. Recently the lovely Katie Parker, Regional Sales Director for Henriot Maison in central U.S., brought several expressions of this line of fine champagnes for wine dinner guests to try in combination with chef-paired pasta dishes specially created by the experts at Spiaggia, 980 N. Michigan. Truly a memorable way to enjoy these luscious champagnes and the creative genius of Spiaggia’s culinary team, Chefs Tony Mantuano and Joe Flamm, along with Rachel Lowe, one of only 5 female Master Sommeliers in the world, who manages the restaurant’s extensive wine collection.

Maison Henriot invited the chefs to taste the wines and invent pasta dishes that would showcase how perfectly the various expressions pair with the right pasta. The point is, said Maison Henriot rep Katie Parker, glorious champagnes don’t have to be relegated to only haute cuisine or special occasions. They are equally appropriate with simple, beautifully prepared dishes.

The chefs at Spiaggia, of course, don’t stint on their creativity when designing pasta dishes. Seeing that Spiaggia bills itself a “modern Italian” restaurant, it’s not surprising that some of these items were extraordinary in themselves – and truly magnificent with the paired champagne. A favorite was the Aglio e Olio Agnolotti, a magical creation from the Spiaggia kitchen that fairly dripped creamy richness, both from the filling in the hand-made pasta and the richly aromatic olive oil drizzle, paired with Henriot’s Brut Souverain. This champagne is a classic, elegant expression that’s a mix of 50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot noir and 5% Pinot Meunier. Aged a minimum of four years, it shows a nice minerality along with wonderfully lively with notes of white flowers and citrus on the nose. On the palate, brioche and white fruit notes lead to a clean and fresh finish. We so had to close our eyes on this combination!

The Brut Blanc de Blancs is non-vintage but is blended with up to 40% of reserve wine from other excellent years. The mix of 50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier is aged a minimum of four years and results in good minerality and fresh bouquet, yet shows full body and power on the palate. Notes of brioche intermingle with quince jelly and acacia honey along with a fresh and wonderfully long finish.

Other expressions include the Brut Rosé, Cuvee 38, and theirt wo vintage 2008 Millésimé champagnes, Brut and Rosé. Champagne Henriot Cellar Master Laurent Fresnet uses no oak in the house’s pure Chardonnay expressions, so if you’re of the no-oak-thank-you persuasion, you’ll find these champagnes highlight all the other wondrous qualities of the grapes. Maison Champagne Henriot continues to do justice to the long revered art of producing fine champagnes. Special occasion or simple pasta, you and your guests will feel rewarded no matter which expression you choose.

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Riedel wine glasses show size really does matter

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Maximillian Riedel
Maximillian Riedel

Maximillian Riedel, owner of Riedel Glassware in Austria, came to Chicago recently as part of his six-US-cities tour and staged an impressive demonstration of how the size – and shape – of your glass matter immensely to how your wine will taste.

We’ve all heard that wine glass characteristics are critical to gaining the maximum pleasure from each type of wine, but until you’ve actually experienced the difference, you might be skeptical. Attendees at West Loop’s City Winery were eager to see what this master of wineglass making would have to say.

Riedel spoke at length about the purpose of a wineglass, chief among which is to be “the loudspeaker for the wine.” Every group varietal has its own DNA, he said, and only the proper glass will showcase it to its best advantage. He also said Riedel is commissioned by wineries all around the world to create glasses for their particular grape varietal. They’ve fulfilled some heady assignments: Dom Perignon asked Riedel to create a single type of glass for all their wines. Joseph Krug asked for a glass other than a flute for his champagnes. The flute shape promotes the smell of yeast rather than fruit, and thus all champagnes tend to smell the same when served in a flute.

Riedel large wineglasses from 3 lines
Riedel large wineglasses from 3 lines

In regards to global warming, a critical question for winemakers these days, the wine glass makers said they have had to continue to enlarge their  glasses in order to manage the increased intensity of the fruit and the higher alcohol that warmer temperatures are promoting. He said even Norway is beginning to plant grape vines. “As to whether this is a good thing,” he said, “time will tell.”

His company responded when the spirits industry first begin to honor tequila, and then sake, and now the trend is toward brown spirits, mainly in crafted cocktails – honoring the drink with everything from the size of the ice cube to the weight and configuration of the glass. Riedel has created an entire new series of glasses specifically made for various types of spirits and mixed drinks.

Riedel defended the thinness of the company’s glasses by saying this contributes to keeping the beverage longer at the proper serving temperature. When you put a cool or cold liquid into a glass that’s at room temperature, the thicker the glass the more quickly the liquid begins to warm up.

Maximillian decanting onstage
Maximillian decanting onstage

Maximillian is tall, slender, aristocratic and, especially with his delightful Austrian accent, a compelling speaker. He commanded the attention of the audience from the moment he came onstage. He spoke about how his great grandfather invented the first Riedel glasses that changed the way wine makers felt about their beloved beverage. He spoke of how his grandfather, his father and he himself have honored the tradition by continually testing and crafting new and better shapes and configurations to improve the experience of drinking quality wine and other alcoholic beverages.

Riedel wineglass appreciation workshop
Riedel wineglass appreciation workshop

We certainly expected to notice a difference in this demo, but perhaps not as much as we actually did, especially on the white wine. He started the demonstration with wine poured into plastic cups – the type you usually get at outdoor events or crappy bars. Then he reminded everyone to remember that you experience wine in four different ways: 1. The texture. 2. The temperature. 3. The taste. And, 4. The aftertaste [which includes the finish, or how long the flavors stay on the palate ~BP} before instructing us to pour the white wine into the first three glasses to begin.

A few of the tasting tips this master of wineglass architecture shared with attendees:

  • Decant every bottle of wine, even champagne, and for Pinot Noir, it is a must. Aerating wine makes it absorb oxygen which helps it mature – and aging will always improve a wine. For mature wines (10-plus years), decant slowly to avoid sediment.
  • Swirl your wine gently in the glass to continue aerating as you enjoy. The new optic finish (read: ever-so-slightly rippled) inside the new Riedel Performance series increases the surface area inside the glass which further helps aerate the wine.
  • Do not rinse your glass with water between wines. Tap water has its own taste and aroma that can interfere.
  • To properly experience a wine’s aroma, place your nose into the glass and breathe in. On this first sniff you should notice the fruit in the wine, but keep your nose in the glass as you breathe out then in again. The second time you should notice more of the minerality.
  • Throw out your old traditional white wine tulip glasses (and your plastic). I noticed the greatest difference here. White wine in the small traditional-shape glass gave off very little aroma except alcohol. Virtually nothing at all in a plastic cup. Once you pour and swirl it in the much wider and more rounded bowl of the balloon-shaped Riedel Restaurant Oaked Chardonnay glass – designed in 1973 for Italian sommeliers (and in Europe, Riedel said, they use this glass for gin & tonics) – you get the full effect of all aromas: fruit, yeast and oak. He said you end up sort of sucking your wine out of this shape, so that it hits your tongue higher up, thus avoiding the tip of the tongue (see **tip below). But at least as impressive to me was the transformation of the texture, compared to drinking from the original glass. In the new glass the wine comes into its silky and creamy natural state. A real eye-opener.
  • White chocolate goes best with a quality Pinot Noir. He had us chew a piece of it, then sip the wine with the chocolate still melting in our mouths. Nice. [And how we love dark chocolate with Cabernet!]
  • Some of the words Riedel used to describe the way wines can taste/feel – good or bad: thin/heavy/viscose/jammy, rough/smooth/creamy/silky, salty/dry/green/bitter, heavy/light and so on. If you think about it, you’ve probably experienced all of those reactions to a wine at some point, but perhaps, like many of us, were not always quite able to name them. [The magic word for good wine is “balanced” so that no one of these qualities overpowers the others. ~BP]

In case you need additional expert testimony, Robert Parker, the famed wine critic, uses Riedel glassware for his taste testing. And most of Riedel’s business is from home eonophiles rather than restaurants. Only a guess – restaurants are businesses and the cost and relative fragility of these fine Riedel glasses may be a deterrent.

**Riedel said the tip of your tongue is an “acidity bumper” and that this is desirable when you want the acidity to counterbalance the fruit – which is why the unusually shaped Performance Pinot Noir glass is designed specifically to make the wine touch the tip of your tongue immediately. Works beautifully.

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Mason, newest star on the Chicago upscale chophouse scene

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There’s a new contender in town on the Chicago upscale chophouse restaurant scene. Mason, 613 N. Wells St., located at street level in the Found Hotel in River North, has put a lot of effort into getting it right, right from the start. Having just opened last Thursday, they’ve been conducting a massive introduction to the city by holding a series of invitation-only evenings for industry observers and others in the business this week.

The ambiance is first class: dark walls, handsome oil paintings, many subtly lit by individual accent lights, and a different type of beautiful lighting in each part of the room. Each table holds its own shaded lamp, too. Despite a few minor timing issues, the service was very successful. – friendly and helpful – on an evening when all tables were full.

Our server recommended a wine, Balancing Act, a Cabernet that opened up beautifully after decanting, and that turned out to be the perfect pairing with our meal. Even though we ordered some seafood appetizers, the dishes had enough power that the wine worked well.

The menu apears to contain a carefully orchestrated selection of at least one item among apps, soups, salads and entrees designed to appeal to lovers of almost any type of meat, poultry, seafood or vegetarian fare.

In terms of appetizers, you almost couldn’t beat the Spiced Shrimp with parsley and Filipino-Cajun spice ($22). The sauce – wonderfully subtly, spicy, complex, and very lightly thickened – bathed a generous helping of large, whole shrimp, heads on, that were perfectly cooked and absolutely delectable. A couple of slices of deeply grilled crustless but substantial white bread on the side made a perfect way to get every drop of that sauce.

The crabcake – single because it’s really big ($21) – came out nestled in a pool of lobster bouillon and covered in tiny, crispy shreds of sweet potato. My companion, who orders crab cakes everywhere she goes, would have liked the cake to have a bit more crab. The potato crispies were fun, if a tiny bit salty. The kale salad ($12) was exceptionally good. We loved the fact that they mixed different types of greens with the kale – the combination kept the kale from being overwhelming – and the salad was served with just the right amount of a delicious anchovy-mustard vinaigrette dressing.

Mason lamb chops
Mason lamb chops

The lamb chops ($48) were delicious and presented beautifully on the plate. The 25-ounce ribeye steak ($65) had a char on it that was, frankly, amazing, given we’d ordered it – and it was delivered perfectly as ordered – medium rare. The bordelaise sauce option we chose was rich, deep and red-winey. The serving of meat was quite generous, so we ended up taking home a good chunk.

Mason dessert menu
Mason dessert menu

Desserts were creative, from the Creme Brûlée with popcorn custard, peanut biscotti and Cracker Jack dust, to the Banana Toffee Pudding and the truly unique flavors of sorbet. The after-dinner drink menu was a nicely curated selection: two port wines, a Sauternes, and a few other tempting desert wines. Delicious and reasonably priced. Service was a bit slow at times, but in truth, it gave us time to enjoy and digest each course. In the end, our dinner was unusually relaxed.

Many hours of preparation and planning went into this new place. The lighting is exquisite, the dark walls comforting, the beautifully framed antique-style paintings, soothing. All of it together makes a perfect environment in this white tablecloth restaurant which, if the opening nights are any indication, is going to make a serious mark on the scene.

And in case you’re in the mood for more entertainment after dinner, the owners John Terzian and Brian Toll have also introduced the Chicago iteration of their cool LA karaoke bar called Blind Dragon in the basement of the Found Hotel (another location in Scottsdale). What an idea – after a marvelous dinner to continue your evening down the stairs with some Asian-inspired cocktails and some passionate singing!

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Celebrate the upcoming holidays with kosher rose wines

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Kosher rose wine - so lovely chilled
Kosher rose wine – so lovely chilled

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.

Check out all The Royal Wine Corp. wine collections.

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8 wines and spirits to make Dad – and you – smile

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Not everybody consumers alcoholic beverages, but those who do may enjoy receiving something unusual on special occasions. Below are ideas for 8 beverages to consider giving for Father’s Day. Of course, if you don’t have a dad or a father figure to celebrate with, you can always consider giving them to yourself. Your friends will enjoy sharing!
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Wines to consider

Luxurious Italian red wines. Brunello di Montalcino, in Tuscany, is the home of the some of the finest, most robust and complex red wines Italy has to offer, all made with 100% Sangiovese grapes. Almost any wine from here will make a meal special or an evening with a friend or two memorable. Be aware that the “Rosso” expressions of this wine are the younger versions. They are often extremely high quality yet generally cost a great deal less – up to 50% less – than the more mature wines. Here are a few we sampled at this year’s US visit by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello de Montalcino, held in the gracious spaces of The Drake Hotel:
Brunello di Montalcino - home of fabulous rich Tuscany reds. Credit: Wikipedia
Brunello di Montalcino – home of fabulous rich Tuscany reds. Credit: Wikipedia
  • Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino 2013. Made from clones of Sangiovese grapes grown on this 100% organic estate, this wine is generous and fruity as a result of a very dry, hot summer after a cold wet spring. Well balanced.  Alc. 14.5%. Affordable for a Brunello at ~$50.
  • Paradisone Colle Degli Angeli Brunello di Montalcino 2013. A family farm run by Concetta and her husband, who lovingly tended the soil, living solely on its produce and bartering eggs, goat’s milk and fruit in exchange for what they could not produce. This wine is fresh with high acidity, deep, rich color, dark berry flavors, a hint of lemon rind, and a beautiful balance. Alc. 15%.
  • Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2012. The vines this year were stressed with a very dry, cool spring followed by a huge heat wave in August, when there was no rain and no water reserves. But the winemakers really made hay with this harvest. This wine has great depth, while it’s fruity and floral and has a broad mid-palette.
  • One of the Rosso versions we really liked: Il Paradiso di Frassina Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2016 (organic). Only 8000 bottles produced, this is a younger version of the 2012 Riserva and the DOCG 2013. May be hard to find in the U.S. Only ~$20 rather than the $48 and $78 prices of the more mature versions.
Port wine. Cockburn’s has been a hallowed name in the business of making fine port wines for 200 years and counting. To celebrate this two-century history of innovative vineyard practices, they’re labeling their bottles with a commemorative seal so they look extra cool. Consider Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port, a rich, lush, fruit-forward deep red port with aromas of red cherry and hints of plum and strawberry. On the palate it’s lightly sweet, well-rounded with luscious red berry flavors. Pair it with nutty or chocolate desserts and with strong cheeses. Good for six weeks after opening. 20% alc. $18.
 
Spirits to consider
  • Tinkerman’s Gin is the new signature line of gins made by A. Smith Bowman Distillery. They’re already known for Whisky Magazine’s 2016 and 2017 World’s Best Bourbons, and now they’re introducing Tinkerman’s in three expressions: Citrus Supreme, Sweet Spice and Curiously Bright & Complex. The new expressions are the result of Master Distiller Brian Prewitt’s “tinkering” with combinations of juniper and various varieties of herbs, flowers, spices, fruits and vegetables. Each one brings a special touch to your cocktails and yet they’re smooth enough to drink on their own. 46% alc (92 proof). $29.99
  • Till Vodka came visiting Chicago this spring at the dark, almost speakeasy-styled cave of the city’s newest champagne and caviar restaurant, Marchesa. Till Vodka is born in the heartland – The Midwest we Chicagoans know and love. It’s that place where folks take hard work and craftsmanship seriously. Made with the finest local ingredients, Till is an exceptional vodka with a crisp taste and smooth finish, The distillers craft Till with one thing in mind: to make you proud of your heritage. Use their store locator to find Chicago retail locations (hint: it’s sold at many Binny’s stores). .
  • GEORGE REMUS® Bourbon introduced several expressions of its “King of the Bootleggers” bourbon at that same Marchesa event. Bourbon is a favorite of many guys, and this line of spirits is sure to have a type that will appeal to most any bourbon lover. Memorable rye-infused bourbons that dad – or you – may want to come back to again and again.
  • The Dark, made by Highland Park Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This delicious spirit matures in first-fill, sherry-seasoned European oak casks. The end result is a nicely balanced whisky loaded with flavors of dried fruits, cinnamon, toasted almonds, cedar wood, fruitcake and light peat smoke. Out in a limited release of only 4500 bottle in the US, look for it at your favorite retailer. SRP ~$300. @HighlandParkUS

    The Dark - just one of many to get for Dad - or treat yourself to
    The Dark – Scotch with a Viking Soul
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Victory Tap heats up South Loop food scene

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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.

Victory Tap bread plate
Victory Tap bread plate

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.

Perfezionare polpette - with ricotta side
Perfezionare polpette – with ricotta side

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.

Baconfest winner - agnolooti with sage and brown butter
Baconfest winner – agnolooti with sage and brown butter

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.

Almond-crusted sea bass
Almond-crusted sea bass

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.

Ricotta cheesecake
Ricotta cheesecake

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.

Handsome private dining/party spaces
Handsome private dining/party spaces

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.

Look for Joe's Mama's Meatballs in your grocer soon!
Look for Joe’s Mama’s Meatballs in your grocer soon!
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Polar-bear-inspired new menu items at LPZoo

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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
    Talini Polar Bear Split

    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 Meatball Sub
    Siku Meatball Sub

    SIKU’s Meatball Sub – marinara covered meatballs, shredded parmesan, provoline cheese on crusty hoagie roll. $9.95

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Malbec – Immigrant grape transforms its new homeland

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A glass of Malbec wine
A glass of Malbec wine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Malbec World Day, presented by Wines of Argentina on April 17, 2018, will celebrate not only the noble Malbec grape but also the spirit and growth of industry in Argentina.

Interestingly, Malbec is not indigenous to the Mendoza region of Argentina. In fact, Malbec was first labeled as Bordeaux – and you won’t be surprised to learn there are similarities in taste between the two. At first, they called it the Auxerrois grape because it came from the southwest of France, specifically the Cahors region. It only began to be called Malbec in the 1780s when a producer named Monsieur Malbeck began planting it. About a century later, the varietal migrated to Argentina and was planted in the Mendoza region where is flourished. Read more about the history of Malbec in Argentina in Nuvo Magazine.

Fast forward 20 years, today, Malbec is at the heart of Argentina’s wine growing culture and has, on the way, transformed the winemaking industry there.  One of the brands that’s perfect for toasting Malbec World Day is the Estate Malbec from Alta Vista.

Alta Vista owner Patrick d'Aulan in Chicago
Alta Vista owner Patrick d’Aulan in Chicago

Established in 1998, Alta Vista is a family-owned winery that focuses on the production of high altitude, site-specific wines. The French family’s winemaking knowledge and passion (read our interview with owner Patrick D’Aulan on appreciating wine) – enhanced and expanded during its ownership of the famous champagne house Piper-Heidsieck – provided the impetus to create a harmonious French-Argentine fusion. The team invested years of research that brought them to the top growing regions of Mendoza, areas best suited for the creation of terroir-expression wines.

The Alta Vista Estate Malbec 2016 ($19.99) has 100% estate grown Malbec grapes that come from the Luján de Cuyo and Uco Valley in Mendoza.  It is ruby colored with complex ripe, red fruit aromas and spicy nuances. On the palate, the wine is round, with soft tannins, balanced concentration and a long finish. Half the wine is aged for 12 months in 100% French oak barrels, followed by an additional 4 months aging in bottle. Enjoy this wine with grilled pork tenderloin, lamb or veal with fresh herbs. Perfect way to celebrate World Malbec Day together with friends and family!

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