A Night at City Winery Chicago

I was excited to see another wine bar hit the Chicago wine scene.  I've been to City Winery for drinks and tastings, but never had the opportunity to have dinner. I'm kicking myself for not being on Twitter fast enough to learn that Prince was performing a late night show at City Winery a few weeks back.  That's an interesting perk of the space - City Winery has a solid performance space, making for a fun night out of dinner and a show.

City Winery is a large, airy two-story building with brick walls, wooden tables and a large wine storage room full of wine barrels- excellent design for the concept.  I sat and looked at the menu: full of small plate options like bacalao fritters (salt cod), duck tacos and daily crudo, my first choice. 

Raw Scallops and Stone Fruit

The daily crudo was comprised of thinly sliced scallops with stone fruit and tobiko- a very tasty dish with the velvety scallops enveloping the sweet peaches and salty fish eggs.  Round two brought the wild mushroom flatbread, which was good, aside from being  70% bread and little goat cheese.  Next, the seared scallops were very good- seared on the outside making them sweet with the pillowy inside. Solid dish.

There are some things on a menu that catch your eye and Street Corn was one of them.  I had visions of elote, Mexican Street Corn, with cheesy, buttery, spicy, salty, creamy, citrusy sweet corn.  I was disappointed to see that this particular Street Corn included simple sweet corn, with bell pepper and lime juice. If you are accustom to the street corn you may sample from Maxwell Street Market on Sundays, City Winery puts on their own modern twist.  

Since it is a wine bar, I decided to try their house wines.  On the whole, I was unimpressed.  For one, I thought that they were a bit pricey at $12 a glass, considering they bypassed overhead costs like bottling and middlemen.  Second, they did not have the quality for the price tag, as the Riesling and Pinot Noir I tasted just had no length or intensity.  I suggest you go with wines by the glass or bottle selections as there are plenty of great options like Domaine Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko, Littorai Pinot Noir and something special like the 1978 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (by the glass!) I was treated to.

Dessert was hard to choose from, as the selections looked so good.  I went with the cheesecake and it was tasty, but the consistency was odd, almost gelatin-like. 

On the whole, I think City Winery may want to refine their menu and either adjust their house glass prices or work on the quality.  

However, the space is amazing for groups, concerts or just hanging though and I would put it on 'must-do' list for Randolph Street.   Check it out.


   * my dinner was provided by City Winery Chicago

Maison Champy at Oceanique

Chef Mark Grosz, myself and Philippe Andre at Oceanique

Chef Mark Grosz, myself and Philippe Andre at Oceanique

I'm not sure if any of you have ventured up to Evanston, but if you're in the mood for an upscale adventure into French seafood, Oceanique is worth the trip.  This amazing restaurant has been operating since 1989 under Chef/Owner Mark Grosz and is a local institution, creating dishes from the best organic produce and seafood from sustainable eco-friendly sources.  The wine list might be even more impressive than the food, comprised of grower Champagne, white and red Burgundy (including a full page of Domaine Romanee-Conti!) and a very nice collection of Grands Crus Bordeaux dating back to 1961.  The program is run adeptly by Chef Mark's son, Wine Director Philippe Andre.  Not only has he compiled quite a collection, but has also made great relationships with many a producer.

Myself and Dimitri Bazas

Myself and Dimitri Bazas


This leads me to the wine dinner of which I was invited to meet Maison Champy winemaker, Dimitri Bazas.  Champy was established as a negociant (a wine merchant who purchases produce of smaller growers and winemakers) in 1720 with holdings in Morey St. Denis and Montrachet.  They were purchased by Maison Louis Jadot in 1990 but Pierre Meurgey purchased the name and final holdings (10%) of Champy.  They acquired more land and began to create Savigny, Corton-Charlemagne, Mazis-Chambertin, Pommard and others.  Dimitri came from Greece to Burgundy in 1991 and consulted for many wineries before settling at Champy in 2003.  He wishes for his wines to taste as the terrior does instead of to taste like "Champy".

Wild Maine Lobster & Day Boat Scallop

Wild Maine Lobster & Day Boat Scallop

Now onto the pairings.  First we tried 2005 Corton-Charlemagne (always 100% Chardonnay) which was full and powerful with oak spice and tropical fruit.  This was a wine everyone should experience at least once.  It paired with Wild Maine Lobster, Day Boat Scallop and English Peas.  A rich seafood is always great with this wine as they play off each other well, accentuating fruit, freshness and full flavor.  

Organic Spanish Turbot

Organic Spanish Turbot

Next we tried the 2006 Corton-Charlemagne, which was a totally different wine than the '05.  It had more fresh fruit and acidity, but less power.  They were like amazing fraternal twins- fantastic for their differences.  It was paired with Organic Spanish Turbot, Favas, Green Garlic and Saffron-Yuzu sauce.  The dish needed fruit and acidity and the Corton-Charlemagne was up for the task.

Wild Maine Skate

Wild Maine Skate

Moving onto red, we tried the 2007 Mazis-Chambertin, a very cool and racy wine with plenty notes of fresh berries and game.  The pairing was Wild Maine Skatefish with Asparagus.  I'm not crazy about Pinot Noir and asparagus, but the fish went well as it is mild with slight nuttiness.

Hudson Valley Duck Confit

Hudson Valley Duck Confit

I clearly loved the last wine- a 2009 Mazis-Chambertin.  It had grippy tannins, loud and ripe fruit, bold acidity, it was a complete wine.  But, it was quite young also- a pleasure to enjoy now, but one to cellar.  It was paired with Hudson Valley Duck Confit, Spaetzle, Belgian Endive and Kumquat.  The wine definitely stood up to the rich duck and the acidity and tannins stood hard against it.  Buy this wine if you have the opportunity.

Chef made an amazing Berry Sorbet with Creme de Cassis which left everyone satisfied.  I would do this again, but remember, Oceanique will be closed in July for renovation and will reopen with a brand new look, which I cannot wait to see.  Another 24 years to you Chef Mark and Philippe!

Maison Champy Lineup

Maison Champy Lineup

Franco Bernabei wines of Sartori di Verona at Spiaggia

Last week I had the pleasure to have dinner with Andrea Sartori of Sartori di Verona, and his winemaker, Franco Bernabei at one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Chicago, Spiaggia.  The marriage of a Tuscan winemaker with Veneto wines and this amazing Tony Mantuano restaurant was too big to miss!  

The Sartori family has been making wine for over 110 years, and started very small with just 37 acres as of 2002.  This quickly grew when they secured over 5000 acres from a partnership with Cantina Colognona di Colli of Soave and Valpolicella.  Later, the family secured the services of Franco Bernabei, a well known winemaker known all over "the boot" as a master,  Needless to say, I was anxious to try the food and wine.

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio

We started with the Ferdi Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir (under $15), both of which were light, acidic and dry, exactly how I enjoy my typical Pinots from the region.  This went well with our Foie Gras, a salty, fatty goose liver, typically served with a sweet fruity sauce (or wine) to counter the saltiness and fat content.  Excellent.

Next we moved onto the Valpolicella reds, starting with a Valpolicella, a light drinking wine blend normally comprised of Corvina and Rondinella varietals.  Quite good, light and fruity with a touch of minerality.  This was followed by Sartori Veronese "Regolo" ($20) 100% Corvina varietal.  This wine goes through an interesting process as it is cold soaked with the grape skins for 15-18 days.  This allows the juice to soak in color, flavor and tannins before fermentation begins.  Later in the year, the wine goes through the Veneto "ripasso" process of passing through the "lees" (fallen yeast) and grape skins of Amarone wine, which still contains much sugar, resulting in a secondary fermentation.  This adds body and complexity.  The wine is named for Regolo, the Patriarch of the Sartori famiglia.  The wine melded well with our mushroom risotto, as the earthiness and minerality mixed with the shrooms, creamy rice and pancetta.

Spiaggia Lamb Chop

Spiaggia Lamb Chop

We then leapt to the Amarone ($43), which is one of Italy's largest wines.  This one is made up Corvina, Rondinella and Oselta varietals which have been laid out on straw mats after harvest to raisinate.  This leaves behind concentrated fruit and sugar, more for the yeast to feast on and create more complexity, body and alcohol.  Always a great treat and fabulous with food, like the lamb chops we had.  Gamey flavors mixed with minerality, herbs, bitterness and fruity body.  A delicious combo.

Franco wanted us to try his Garganega, a white wine he described as having body and complexity, so much so that we could drink after any hearty red, such as an Amarone.  While I do not agree I want to end my night with this (or any) white, I do agree the complexity was there to fully enjoy.  The juice went through an interesting process, as the grapes were hand-picked and dried for over 30 days to reduce water and concentrate sugar and color, then they're cold soaked and macerated on the white skins.  Some of the wine is aged in used barrels and aged "sur lie", then aged 3 months in bottle for great stabilizing.  

A great way to end an amazing evening with amazing people like Franco, Andrea and the rest of the Sartori, Banfi and Spiaggia crew.  Thanks again!

Franco, Me, Lars and Andrea

Franco, Me, Lars and Andrea

2012 Francis Ford Coppola Director's Cut Sauvignon Blanc

Director's Cut Sauvignon Blanc

Director's Cut Sauvignon Blanc

Francis Ford Coppola has a new line of wines available, his "Director's Cut", a limited production, appellation-designated brand sourced from Sonoma fruit.  I recently received a sample of their Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($21).  The 2012 vintage in most parts of California was amazing, like many US growing regions, with even seasonal temperatures throughout.  I like my Sauvignon Blancs fermented and aged in stainless steel, as this help maintain mouth-puckering acidity, minerality and clean citrus fruit.  This Director's Cut has a decent amount of acidity with more tropical fruit like mango and pineapple which had a candied quality.  If you like a wine with sweeter fruit, then this would be your type, but not mine, though it is a well-made wine.  (WG 85)

The Director's Cut lineup also includes a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Meritage "Cinema", a blend of Zin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah.  If you're looking to adventure into Sonoma's appellations, try them all!

Wines from Greg Norman, Ernie Els and Luke Donald for Spring


Everyone knows spring is around the corner (even if it doesn't feel like it!) and one of the great things about that is golf.  Hitting the links on a warm sunny day with all the greenery and sand traps can be fun and relaxing, just like drinking a nice glass of wine.  Now combining those two, I have a nice selection of wines for you from three great golfers.

Most of the time I see wines with celebrity names on them usually means they slapped the name on the label and the celeb barely bothered to try the juice.  That is not the case here, as each golfer is personally involved with selecting grape varietals and vineyards- that says a lot about the product.

Greg Norman

Greg Norman

The first golfer is Greg Norman and "The Great White Shark" has appreciated wine since he started golfing in the 70s.  He brought that love back home to Australia and opened a winery in the early 90s and now makes wine in California and Argentina.  You can get a huge inexpensive lineup of varietals with his label including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Zinfandel, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.  I've tried a few of his Limestone Coast wines and they were all terrific, especially for the price ($12-19).

Ernie Els

Ernie Els

The next golfer is Ernie Els of South Africa.  He decided to settle down the efforts in Stellenbosch and has been producing rich reds since 2000.  He makes wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, plus his more affordable line, Big Easy,  The Big Easy wines come in white (Chenin Blanc) and red (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone varietals) are really amazing wines and taste more than their worth ($20).

Bill Terlato and Luke Donald

Bill Terlato and Luke Donald

And finally, we come to Luke Donald Collection wines from Napa Valley, a joint venture between the golfer and Terlato Wines International.  Luke is from England, but went to school at Northwestern where he met both his wife and Bill Terlato.  This connection led to a partnership which created small batch Chardonnay from Carneros and a claret from Stags Leap and Rutherford.  With less than 3000 cases total made per year, the wines are in high demand and rightfully so- you can expect to pay around $30-40 for these premium wines.

All in all, I had a blast tasting these wines and featuring them on my site.  I hope one day you get to enjoy them.  Hit the links this spring and make sure to let me know what you think!

Apothic Rosé at Graham Elliot Bistro


Just last week I had the chance to spend time with Apothic winemaker, Boyd Morrison, and other local writers & bloggers at GEB (Graham Elliot Bistro).  I was really excited, as it was my first time at GEB, and I'd heard some great things, but was also here to try the newly released Apothic Rosé.

Boyd & I at GEB

Boyd & I at GEB

Now Apothic is a wine which has taken Chicago by storm- I've seen it everywhere: in CostCo, Mariano's and everyone's kitchen!  The winery is based in Sonoma and owned by E. & J. Gallo Winery with a purpose of blending likeable, epic wines.  When I approached the bar, the GEB staff kindly poured me a glass of rosé and I was taken in by the sweet watermelon aroma.  When I took a sip, I noticed the syrupy weightiness of the wine, along with loads of sweet fruit.  This, like their white & red, was very likeable, especially for the price ($8-12).  For an old palate like mine, I found it too sweet, but I also immediately recognized they aren't trying to reach me as a demographic.  Boyd, formerly of Alexander Valley Vineyards, Jekel and Simi, informed me they'd been making a rosé for several years, but only for staff consumption.  And, just like their recent release of red, is a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  On to dinner.

Apothic Rosé

Apothic Rosé

First course I had the Caesar which was simple, uncut and lightly slathered with a very garlicky dressing with awesome anchovy flavor.  It was paired with the rosé, which is a popular pairing, though I prefer Sauvignon Blanc.  It even works with the creamy dressing, because the acidity cuts into the mayo and egg, and the green tart citrus & berry matches most vegetables.

Second course I had a lemon risotto which was tart and creamy, an awesome combo if done correctly (it was!).  It was paired with the Apothic White, a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling and Moscato.  The body and citrus was there for this pairing, and the two worked well.

Third course was totally amazing- a tender, juicy, slow cooked veal breast with lightly macerated cannellini beans and pancetta vinaigrette.  The beans crazily glued the entire dish together.  Apothic Red was the pairing, and though I think it was a bit sweet, the body and smooth tannins proved a match.

Dessert did not let down, as I had a mini banana split with salted pretzel and caramelized nuts at the bottom.  Save room for this or the gianduja stuffed beignets!

The Dreaming Tree

I was recently sent wine samples from The Dreaming Tree, a new wine collaboration between winemaker Steve Reeder and musician Dave Matthews.  Steve has been involved with wine and beer making his whole life, having worked for Kendall Jackson, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Chateau St. Jean and Simi.  Now, I'm normally weary of wines made with celebrities, as they can be cheesy and uninspiring, but these wines are worth more than a second glance.  Also, Dave also owns a winery in Virginia (Blenheim Winery), and actively participates with his wines.


I tried two of their wines: the first was the 2012 "Everyday".  It's a Central Coast Monterey County white blend of 42% Gewurztraminer, 33% Riesling, 14% Albariño, 11% Viognier.  Looking at the varietals, one might think it's sweet, but it is actually a dry wine with loads of sweet fruit flavor like cantelope and honeyed peaches, and great citrusy meyer lemon.  It paired well with my spicy Thai noodles.  It's a good wine to try, but wouldn't be my everyday white.  (WG 84)


Next I tried the 2010 "Crush".  It's a North Coast red blend of 78% Merlot, 13% Syrah, 6% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sirah, 1% Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Full of fresh concentrated berry fruit, plums, light tannins and easy drinking.  I thoroughly enjoyed this red and highly recommend it (WG 89).

Both wines are at a great price point ($15) and another great feature of these wines, especially for a Green guy like me, are the practices involved: sustainable farming, no pesticides, recycled paper labels, lightweight bottles, sustainably grown corks.  Take a chance: Don't drink the water and Crash into these wines!

Windy City Wine Guy on the Steve Harvey Show!

It's an exciting day for the Windy City Wine Guy - today is my big Steve Harvey Show appearance.


On the show, we discuss a series of topics and are drinking a Castle Rock Syrah wine. This value wine is a terrific way to get your palette used to red wine - and a nice alternative to Trader Joe's popular Two Buck Chuck.

In addition, here are some extra wine tips we recorded after the show  - enjoy.

And to Steve Harvey and his team, it was an incredible experience. Thank you for having me!

'08 Saladini Pilastri Pregio del Cont'e

Saladini Pilastri is a winery in the Le Marche region of central Italy, just off the coast of the Adriatic. Their Pregio del Cont'e is a blend of Aglianico & Montepulciano grape varietals. It's a good value buy which I've seen available online for around $10.

It is deep and dark in color and fruit flavor, along with crushed mineral and hints of balsalmic. The acidity and tannins are definitely there, making it a good food wine (my wife made meatballs and the combo was great). The alcohol is a bit out of balance (13.5%) but overall a good value. Enjoy!

Wine Guy at The Tasting Room

As many of you know, I am not just a wine writer, but a Sommelier and Wine Consultant.  I am happy to announce that recently I signed The Tasting Room as a client!  I'll be working on their wine and beverage menus, along with training the staff to offer you the best experience along with suggestions to fit your taste.

All the wines have been changed, and we're now offering eleven different Flight tastings along with over 35 wines by the glass.  This is a seasonal menu, meant to give you the best wines to fit with what looks to be an amazing Autumn!  We're also featuring small batch, craft and cult wines, some of which you'll have a hard time finding anywhere else.  The bottle list is currently under construction, though we do have some great wines like Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon and Kistler Chardonnay. 

Along with the bottle list, our beer, cocktail and liquor offerings are also in the process of change, and we plan on offering many local craft beers, artisanal cocktails and liquors/liqueurs.

Make sure to stop by to check out the list along with Chef Marc Kuckenbecker's nouveau-American cuisine and small plates.  It proves to be a great pairing!

Columbia Crest Wines at Urban Union

What's this? Another wine dinner, at another restaurant, with another winemaker and another winery- but not so fast!  Last Tuesday I dined with Juan Munoz Oca (check out the interview with Corey Nuffer of gozamos.com) of Columbia Crest Winery, Washington state's largest producer of everyday affordable wines and handcrafted small-lot wines.  They may produce a lot of wines, but there's definitely a lot of care that goes into it- only having three winemakers since they first opened over 25 years ago means they have a great thing going!  I've tasted many of their wines in the past but I was really looking forward to seeing them work with chef Michael Shrader's Urban Union wood burning oven/small plate cuisine.  Here's the pairings: 

  • 2010 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Columbia Valley Chardonnay ($12) with Oysters "Casino" style.  The wine is fermented and aged in 1-3 year old American and French oak barrels and hand-stirred (battonage) every week for six months to allow the lees (expired yeast) to mix complexity into the wine.  Over 20% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel and mixed in to exude natural varietal character.  The wine is very nice for the pricetag, creamy with ripe pear and caramel apple flavor.  Being topped with creamy parmesan and salty pancetta, the oysters matched well with the wine's weight and texture and allowed the fresh fruit to come through on the aftertaste.
  • 2010 Horse Heaven Hills 'Les Chevaux' Red ($15) with BBQ Pulled Pork Shoulder.  Produced in a region with excellent sun exposure, well draining soil and arid conditions allows the grapes to gain full ripeness and maturity.  The blend of velvety Merlot (80%), strong & tannic Cabernet Sauvignon (13%) and peppery Syrah (7%) worked great with the rich pork and lightly chile spiced sauce.  The spices mingled in the mouth while the dark fruit lasted.
  • 2010 Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) with Flank Steak au Poivre.  Another well made red with new world earthiness, smokey meatiness, plum, red peppercorn and mocha flavors.  This all obviously worked well with grilled steak topped with rich peppery sauce that was accompanied by a deliciously sweet roasted shallot.  Great combo.
  • 2010 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Columbia Valley Moscato ($12) with S'mores and Cheescake.  A very nice American Moscato with more tropical flavor, light effervescence and a hint of exotic spice.  The dark chocolate of the s'mores clashed with this a bit, but it held well with the full cheesecake.  A nice dessert wine, especially in 750ml size.

If I were you I'd make my way to Urban Union for some small dishes soon and be sure to stock up on Columbia Crest wine on your next trip to the wine shop- there's no shortage, but have it onhand as your everyday wine!

The New Volare Experience

Volare Restaurant has been a Chicago institution since it opened in Streeterville in 1997.  If you've been there before you've probably experienced great Italian food, Italian-American staples, along with good service in a packed dining room.  Well, recently the place shut down and received a major facelift.  They expanded with more space- a second dining area with it's own bar and a more modern look.  They kept the open kitchen where you can see chefs slinging your favorite dishes and managed to add more items like Neapolitan style pizza, charcuterie and additional hot & cold antipasti.  Don't worry- their famous Insalata di Mare (seafood salad) is still there!

I had the chance to check out the place last week with my wife and here's my take:

The host staff greeted us promptly and we were seated by GM Marco Micheli, an old colleague and a great guy.  I never can wait to look at the wine and drink menus, so I grabbed them and dove in.  The cocktail list is fun with some simplistic and fresh concoctions, some made with Italian bitters like Amaro and Campari.  The wine by the glass list is a bit below par and I'd like to see better selections, but the bottle list is full of great picks and value.Lobster Ravioli 

We put in a drink order along with a couple of starters: Vongole al Forno (baked clams) and Ravioli d'Aragosta (lobster ravioli).  The clams were good as ever, topped with bread crumbs a white wine sauce, while the ravioli were fresh and topped with a cream sauce, peas and mushrooms.  The pastas all looked great with quite a few of them made fresh in house, but we decided on the Filet Mignon medium rare for me and the Halibut for my wife. 

Filet MignonEven with all the movement, music and talking we were able to converse and hear eachother without any problem- great atmosphere.  There wasn't a spot unoccupied in either dining room, the outdoor patio or the bars, but the kitchen was working hard and getting everything out timely.  Our dishes arrived and we were ready.  Everything was fantastic- my filet was cooked perfectly and melted in my mouth like butter.  It came with bordelaise sauce and potatoHalibut croquettes which makes it seem very French, but the grilled fennel made me feel Italian again.  My wife's halibut was extremely fresh and tasty, placed over parsnip puree and sauteed spinach.  I'd get those dishes again.  And again.

Coconut CheesecakeWe did our best to save room for dessert and I already know the Tiramisu is top tier in this city, so we went a different direction- coconut cheesecake and baked chocolate pudding.  I will start off by saying to steer clear of the chocolate pudding.  It's extremely dry and no where near chocolatey enough.  But dessert was redeemed by coconut goodness- the cheesecake was everything I thought it would be, on top of a graham cracker crust.  Can't miss.

If you haven't had time to make it to Volare yet, I'll say where've you been?  If you haven't been to the new Volare, I'll say what are you waiting for?  Whatsamatta u!

Wine Riot Weekend


Wine Riot is here- the casual way to enjoy wine, learn about different wine regions and talk to wine experts.  All you have to do is join in the fun and come to the Great Hall at Union Station for one of three tastings: Opening Night Friday, June 1 ($60) from 7-11pm, Saturday June 2 ($50) from 1-5pm or 7-11pm.  Pick which time suits you but don't miss this amazing tasting.  There'll be munchies for $5 a pop (Robinson's No. 1 Ribs, Cabot Cheese, The Tamale Spaceship, Taza Chocolate), a DJ, photo booth and 250 wines from 95 wineries (Trimbach, Peachy Canyon, Domane Wachau, Caldora, etc.).  See you there!

Grab a Burger with Wine

I know National Burger Day has passed but summer has just begun.  People will be firing up the grill to throw on America's favorite bite all season long.  Everyone has a favorite beverage, and wine has continued to trend towards casual and I know it has all the attributes to pair alongside delicious meat on a roll. 

Tannins in red wine (you can feel them as they grip at your gums while you drink) come from the grape skins, as does the rich red color, and meshes with any type of burger.  They can cut into the fattiness of an 80/20 meat or soften the chew through a leaner blend.  The complexity of fruit and secondary flavors (toast, cinnamon, pepper, tobacco, etc.) will enhance the meat and other favorite add-ons like ketchup, fried egg, bacon, cheese, aioli and mushrooms just to name a few.  I can still picture Miles from Sideways chowing down on a burger and onion rings with his 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc.  You don't have to go out a buy a $2000 bottle to put in your plastic cup, but I've got some great wines for you to try with your favorite burgers:

  • 2010 d'Arenberg 'The Stump Jump' Shiraz ($10).  Peppery, fruity and mixed with cocoa- I couldn't ask for more out of a wine under $10.  The body will stand up to your grill and you might as well buy a case.
  • 2009 Maipe Malbec Reserve ($14).  I would love this varietal choice to go with most burgers and even a pulled pork sandwich.  The fruit, chocolate and espresso matches with grilling and BBQ.  Pick a rich cheddar and add some spicy peppers to go with this value choice.
  • 2008 La Maialina Chianti Classico ($16).  A Chianti with a burger?  An old world classic makes an amazing pairing.  Sangiovese grape is known for it's tannins and cherry flavor and La Maialina "The Little Pig" comes through with so much more.  Plus it's a bargain at the price.
  • 2009 Ridge Ponzo Vineyard Zinfandel ($27).  This grape always brings smoke and fruit which is perfect for a grilled meal.  Spice, licorice and pepper is the way to go along with a full body.
  • 2010 Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Franc ($27).  One of the varietals that Miles went with on his burger hunt (the other in the Cheval Blanc was Merlot) is a noble choice for the grill- tight tannins and dark fruit.

Now there are many other choices out there but that should get you started.  If you are on the hunt for a burger and want to relax while a chef makes it for you, try one of these favorite Chicago spots:

  • Burger Point (1900 S. State).  All natural meat from Rain Crow Ranch makes this a healthy and tasty spot.  The #1 is outstanding with pepperjack, bacon, roasted chiles and cage-free fried egg on pretzel.
  • Custom House (500 S. Dearborn). Burger with a top hat, getting all sophisticated- but outrageously delicious!  Short rib, sirloin & ground pork make up the blend and it's served on soft brioche with aged cheddar, onions, lettuce and tomato.
  • Kuma's Corner (2900 W. Belmont).  I love the variety- it could take all year to challenge the menu.  21 different burgers and all of them on pretzel.  I tried the YOB with smoked gouda, bacon, roasted red peppers and garlic mayo.  Yum.
  • Top Notch Beef Burgers (2116 W. 95th).  A family owned gem way on the southside which has been serving it up for decades.  Just like a 50's joint with cute service, onion rings and awesome milk shakes.
  • Portillo's (30+ locations).  A now-national powerhouse that started in the Chicago burbs makes THE best fast food burger you'll find.  Get the double cheeseburger with thick pickles and flame broil.
  • DMK Burger Bar (2934 N. Sheffield).  Grass-fed beef natural beef and insane Bison and Lamb burger with 6 different fry versions (I went for bleu cheese & bacon), mac n cheese and house-made sodas.

Chicago has so many other burger spots but these are just a few to wet the appetite.  Happy hunting and enjoy some wine with dem burgers!

Grilling & Wine for Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend is finally here- days to remember those who have served for our Freedom and celebrate the coming of summer with family, friends and grilling.  I recall going to the Forest Preserve to play softball and have a pop (when I was very young) or a beer and enjoy the smell of meat grilling over charcoal.  Now that times have changed a bit, and my palate as well, I like to try wine with these events also.  What are some good wines to try with grilling?  Let's get to it:

  • Gotta have a nice refreshing white wine for seafood or to cool off.  For that I'm calling for 2010 Ponzi Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley ($15).  A dry wine full of tropical fruit flavor to pair with grilled oysters, fish, shrimp or chicken, and weighty enough to stand up to marinades
  • Think Pink.  Rose is a great way to is a fine way to go towards beating the heat and the berry sweetness will quench your thirst and pair phenomenally with BBQ sauces. Try the Bastianich Rose ($13) made from 100% Refosco by the Bastianich Family and Chef Mario Batali.
  • Looking for that light summer red to pair with light meats like chicken and pork?  Most people would grab a great Pinot Noir like 2009 Au Bon Climat for under $20, but I like to try different things.  A Grenache has slight bit more weight but can be an amazing summer wine.  Try 2006 Fireblock Old Vine Grenache ($15) from Australia- you'll get great red fruit, twizzler (awesome), tingling spice and flavor length.
  • When we're talking lamb, beef and game with grill marks, it's time to pull out the big guns.  You'll want a red with boldness, body, spice and fruit.  This has Malbec written all over it and I'm grabbing a bottle of 2010 Achaval Ferrer ($18) from Mendoza.  Zinfandel is always a great choice in this part plus it hits with BBQ and ribs.  Four Vines and Ridge make amazing wines and even some blends using Zin and you'll love them all.  Not to be forgotten, Shiraz/Syrah has 'wow' factor with black peppercorn and deep rich fruit, so go for Kilikanoon 'Killerman's Run' Shiraz ($17).

Any direction you go you can't go wrong because you'll be spending time with those you love getting ready for a terrific season.  Enjoy!

Nueva Buena Vista by Jean-Charles Boisset

Jean-Charles BoissetRecently I had the pleasure of having lunch with Jean-Charles Boisset, President of Boisset Family Estates, at Carmichael's to discuss his future plans for recent purchase Buena Vista Winery.  Jean-Charles (JC) has been involved with wine his entire life and practically grew up in the vineyards.  The Boisset family is well known as winemakers and exporters, and owned property in Burgundy, the Rhone Valley and southern France before visiting California.  JC and his family really took to the west coast and loved the winemaking potential and history.  This lead to JC rooting himself and his family there and purchasing famous wineries & vineyards such as Raymond, DeLoach, Lyeth, and as of April 2011, Buena Vista.

When JC looks to purchase a winery it must meet certain criteria: able to create excellent wine and have rich history.  Buena Vista was the perfect fit as it is probably California's most historic winery.  It was started in 1856 by Hungarian immigrant Count Agoston Harazthy.  The Count was a pioneer and innovator- he started California's first commercial winery (Buena Vista), built the first wine caves, introduced over 300 grape varietals, created the first Traditional Method sparkling wines and introduced California wines to Europe, winning gold medals and accreditation.  Now the tradition can live on as JC carries the torch and makes Buena Vista fully organic (as he does with all of his wineries) and has changed to Gravity-Flow, one of the first in the area.

At our lunch I was able to taste a few wines which will be available at very reasonable prices (most at $20 or less) which makes them extreme value selections.  There will be four different lines:

  1. Sonoma.  A new vintage-style label is made to both impress and deliver with varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel.  I tasted the 2011 Chardonnay which carries a lighter weight, supple fruit and both butter and slight oak, and the 2010 Zinfandel which is an amazing bargain with dark jammy fruit, spice, toastiness and a puff of smoke.  I was also impressed by the 2008 "The Count" Founder's Red Wine, a blend (which I had to guess!) of Zinfandel, Syrah and Merlot.  I love blends and this one hits on all points: great fruit, a variety of secondary flavor like mocha and spices, and a lengthy finish.
  2. Carneros.  I love this region for the complex thin skinned fruit it can produce with the cool ocean breeze, and Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir are part of the line.  I tasted the 2009 Pinot Noir which has an elegant earthiness combined with tasty fruit.  Looking forward to the other varietals.
  3. Private Reserve.  This house label has been revived and involves fruit sourced from Sonoma's best vineyards.  A lineup of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel will be the best there is to offer.
  4. Vinicultural Society.  Small production wines to honor the ancient society begun by the Count in 1863.  Currently they boast wines named after Agoston's children.  Arpad's is a select Zinfandel, Otelia's is a select Pinot Noir and a vintage Sparkling Brut is also available.  ($32-45)

I definitely enjoyed tasting these wines and really like JC's jovial personality and style.  I think it translates to his personal life, business, decisions and relationships.  This French legend is already an American pioneer and star in the making.  I look forward to seeing his future ventures and tasting the wines!


Vacation in Sheboygan Falls & Kohler

Recently, my family and I felt the need for a small out of town break from Chicago, so I started looking for great spots to go closeby.  A small bit of research led me to Sheboygan Falls- a small town about an hour north of Milwaukee near the Lake Michigan coast.  I read nothing but very good things about this spot and we decided to go for it.

The ride up there was pleasant as usual as we passed farms, forest, Mars Cheese Castle and we stopped in Milwaukee for lunch.  The Milwaukee Public Market is a no brainer- they have local vendors who have everything from fresh seafood, sausages, artisan cheese and sandwiches, sushi and tacos.  And free parking!  After that we started on the last leg up to Sheboygan Falls.

We had reservations at The Rochester Inn, a cozy Bed & Breakfast near downtown and the rapids of the Sheboygan River.  The rooms are all uniquely designed and named- we stayed in The Charles Cole named for a pioneer merchant from 19th century Wisconsin.  Most of the rooms are bi-level and, though they're meant for romantic couples, accomodated our family perfectly.  The first floor has a couch, fridge and kitchen sink and the upstairs has a comfy bed and bathroom.  Both floors have flatscreen TVs with DVD.  Lily was able to to sleep in a Pack n' Play on the 1st floor while we had some wine and watched a movie.  Your morning starts off on the right foot with a room-service breakfast of fresh fruit, french toast and omelete.  A great place to stay!

Our first day we took a walk around downtown which was a short walk over the bridge and headed to River Park, which I highly recommend.  It's a great spot to walk, fish, BBQ, watch baseball or play on the swings and slides.  There's quite a few shops but they're closed on Sunday and some are closed Monday as well.  A couple of local places to eat are Falls Firehouse Pizza, The Other Place Pub (known for their Friday Fish Fry) and the Bread & Bean Eatery, known for making great homemade sandwiches and dishes- the Chi-Town Stir Fry is awesome.  We were also able to shop for some wine at Save Way Liquor- they have a decent selection and I purchased Santa Rita 120 Carmenere (a good under $10 red) and a mixed 12 pack of New Glarus beers, a must buy whenever you go to Wisconsin!

For dinner we headed to Sheboygan, which is right on the coast, and ate at the Duke of Devon which has an amazing outdoor patio, fish & chips and local beer selections.  The rest of the menu is comprised of English Pub fare like Bangers & Mash and Curry Chips.  This town is much larger and great for boating and fishing.

The following day after breakfast we headed to Kohler, a small town located just east of the Falls and home to Kohler Co.  There's a lot to do here: two golf courses (Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits), the Kohler Waters Spa, The American Club Resort, the Shops at Woodlake (all unique specialty shops, boutiques and restaurants) and Kohler itself which has a showroom and museum.  Driving, walking, shopping, eating- I recommend spending a day or two here!

This is a great trip anyone living in the Midwest can take with partners, friends and family.  Contact me if you have any questions and please comment if you've already made this trip.

Perfect Wine Deal & Gift Idea

Yesterday I was checking the deal site apps on my phone and immediately noticed an amazing wine deal on Living Social: $40 for $80 to spend on wine & gifts at Wine.com!  I nabbed that deal right away and it takes about 24 hours for it to become available.  I wanted to combine it with a Wine.com free shipping order but you can only use one promotion at a time, and half price is pretty good anyway. 

I started shopping right away and found four bottles that'll either make good gifts or home cellar additions: Stoller JV Pinot Noir, L'Ecole 41 Semillon, Ch. Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon and Argiano Non Confunditur (SuperTuscan blend).  The best thing was I only had to kick in an extra $4 for shipping/tax- that's 4 great bottles for $44!

Check it out and see what combo you can come up with- happy hunting!

Keefer's Restaurant Chicago 10th Anniversary

I was recently notified about one of Chicago's great restaurants, Keefer's, enjoying their 10th Anniversary. Named for brothers/partners Glen & Rich Keefer, the restaurant is located on the bottom floor of the Amalfi Hotel and is one of the great steakhouses of River North. To celebrate the anniversary, they'll be offering free valet, Sunday three-course prixe fix supper for $25, and $10 weekday lunch specials.

I was also invited to come and try out the menu & wine list, which turned out to be an overall good experience. I had been to Keefer's in the past, but had only been in the bar area. This time I went in the dining room, which had cozy seating, but seemed airy and almost too open- I think it had to do with the extremely high ceilings.  Our server came promptly and we started off with Dampierre Grand Cuvee Brut NV Champagne, a great wine to begin your meal with and an excellent choice to have by the glass on any wine list, especially for $14. We started off with a couple of appetizer recommendations from our excellent server which went very well with the Champagne: grilled calamari & Nantucket Bay scallops. The great thing about the calamari was that they were cooked perfectly and still had a fresh sea taste to them, along with the char. The scallops are a seasonal item, and were small, sweet and rich- look for them at the beginning of November through to year's end.

I really enjoyed perusing the Wine List- they have many interesting picks though they could be a bit more worldly, especially with Chardonnay (14 out of 15 selections from California). There is some redundancy with styles & prices for varietals as well, but overall I liked the selections for a steakhouse. I spotted what I wanted right away- the 2005 Woodward Canyon Estate Red Reserve. A great wine at without a high markup. I didn't even have to ask for a decanter before the server was on it. One more small problem is we found out Keefer's does not have temperature controlled storage for it's wines, which is disappointing for two reasons: red wines should be served around 65 degrees plus most of the selections should be stored properly.

For dinner I chose the lamb chops which were crusted in dijon, herbs and garlic, which added great flavor to a perfectly cooked medium rare. There was a sauce served underneath the chops which I did not recognize and didn't add much to the dish. With meat dishes you should order sides, which are large enough for two. I ordered the mushrooms (shitake & cremini) and Hogan's peas, which were fresh, sweet and creamy, though I would've preferred the bacon to be cooked fresh with a bit of soft fat- it came hard and overcooked. Overall, delicious, especially with the wine.

Dessert was an easy pick- apple tart a la mode & warm chocolate cake. If the other desserts are as good as these then you can't go wrong! They contrasted eachother with vanilla & cinnamon apple fruit flavor against dark full-on chocolate. Plus they make a perfect espresso.

Overall: impeccable service, high quality menu from Executive Chef John Hogan, a wine list with good picks and affordable prices, and dessert which'll make you want to go do it all again. I would!

Bachelorette Wine Tasting Events with WCWG

This post goes out to all the ladies: if you have a girlfriend who's planning a Bachelorette Party and wants to kick it off right, suggest a wine tasting hosted by the Windy City Wine Guy!  You can start the evening in a private venue tasting select wines paired with corresponding cheese and appetizers, all selected by a certified professional sommelier.  All wine and pairings will be explained in a social atmosphere, allowing you to enjoy eachother's company, exchange gifts and gain more knowledge on one of your favorite beverages. 

Every event is different and tailored to your needs.  You can try a variety of different wines based on country (US, Italy, New Zealand, etc.), region (Tuscany, Sonoma, Rhone, etc.), varietal (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Malbec, etc.), style (sparkling, red, dessert, etc.) and price (value, exceptional, collectible, etc.).  Tastings normally last from 1 1/2 to 3 hours in length and pricing can be as low as $20 per lady!

Contact me for pricing and availability for the special day- and as an added bonus ask me about getting a discount on a stretch limo from Exen Limousine!