Cochon555 in Chicago: 5 Chefs, 5 Heritage Pigs, 5 Winemakers

The good news: Cochon555 is back on Sunday, April 23. The better news: they're back at Morgan Manufacturing- one of my favorite event spaces. If you haven't been to either, then this is your perfect opportunity to see 5 Chicago chefs- Ricardo Jarquin of Travelle Kitchen, John Manion of El Che Bar, Nathan Sears of theWit, Tom Carlin of Publican Quality Meats, and Pete Coenen of Cherry Circle Room. Each has selected a Heritage pig to work with from local farms and they use the whole pig to create 5 different dishes- giving you 25 dishes to try!

All of this food is great, but what to wash it down with? Glad you asked, because not only are there normally a few bartenders battling in a Punch throwdown, but there'll also be 5 different winemakers serving The Scholium Project, Pax Mahle Wines, Kosta Browne, and Silver Oak

You can go General Admission from 5-8pm or VIP (highly recommended) from 4-8pm. There'll also be butchers onhand serving up prime cuts for purchase from more heritage pigs. So go get some pig, drink some wine, take pig home!

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!

September is Right for Wine in Chicago

The weather is cooling off, kids are going back to school, fall is just around the corner and this month is the right time for wine in the Windy City!  Two of my favorite fests, the Windy City Wine Festival and Chicago Gourmet, come around every year at this time and give us a chance to sample great wine along with food from local restaurants & chefs on the lakefront.  They are both different from eachother and definitely worth the experience.

The Windy City Wine Festival normally takes place in the first half of the month, this year on September 9 & 10, at Buckingham Fountain.  I went on Saturday afternoon (gates open at 3pm) and couldn't have asked for a better day- sunny and clear with a fresh lake breeze.  Tickets are $35 at the gate, $27 in advance, which gets you a souvenier cup, 10 drink sample tickets and the opportunity to purchase wine by the bottle at a discount.  The only hard thing was to figure out which wines to use the tickets on!  Some of the wines I tasted are A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir which is a great under $20 wine, Emilio Moro Malleolus Ribera del Duero is an amazing Tempranillo, Clos de los Siete which is one of my favorite red blends under $15, and Cline Cellars Cashmere which is a smartly priced GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend).  Some very good local wineries were onhand and pouring some interesting stuff.  Cooper's Hawk Winery had a very impressive Almond Sparkling wine made with Chardonnay and almond oil which reminded me of almond biscotti.  Lynfred Winery was pouring their Vin de City White & Red which are good value blends and Wollersheim Winery had a very nice Riesling and a decent Wisconsin Pinot Noir.  Pretty good food samples were for sale from Sullivan's Steakhouse, Markethouse, The Melting Pot and Caoba Mexican Bar & Grill.

Chicago Gourmet takes place in the latter half of the month, this year on September 23-25 in Millenium Park.  The weather was not as kind, as it was about 50 degrees, cloudy and rainy, which affected the grass surface making things very muddy.  That didn't stop everyone from having fun though as the wine was flowing and the aroma of small bites filled the air.  There was a great variety of beverages like illy coffee, Blue Moon beer, Lucid Absinthe, Pyrat Rum and Gosling's Stormy Ginger Beer.  Oh, and the wines- Cosentino Winery, Domaine Drouhin, Newton, Casa Lapostolle, Chalk Hill, Grgich Hills Estate, Heitz Wine Cellars, Northstar, Silver Oak, Livio Felluga and Laurent-Perrier, just to name a few.  Food was being served by many restaurants like Benny's Chop House, Frontera Grill, David Burke's Primehouse, Gibson's, Market, Texas de Brazil, Fulton's and the upcoming Filini Bar & Restaurant.  And not to be missed, amazing chefs like Tony Priolo (Piccolo Sogno), Dirk Flanigan (The Gage/Henri), Jimmy Bannos Sr.(Heaven on Seven/The Purple Pig), Graham Elliot, Rick Tramonto, Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat) and Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia) were onhand for cooking demos.  Another amazing experience!

Make sure to watch out for these events next year in September and I hope to see you there!

Underground Dinner Clubs


I'm not sure if you've ever heard of or been to an Underground Dinner Club (UDC) but if you get the chance, don't miss it!  In case you don't know what a UDC is, it's a series of dinner events run by a chef or chefs which operate out of their own or a client's home.  A select group of friends or acquaintances are invited and get on the mailing list, which grows over time as the original clients are allowed to invite their friends and their friends and so on.  The chefs feature their personal recipes and style along with local produce, and since seating is very limited, you get the best of what they have to offer.

My wife and I were invited and went to one last night.  One of the best things about these events is they are BYOB, so you can bring whatever tasty beverage you'd like.  I knew we were having gourmet burgers, so I brought a bottle of 2008 Shining Hill red blend made by Col Solare, which is made up of about two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon.  The weight and tannins would work well with the meat.  I heard the staff doesn't accept tips, so I brought an extra bottle for them to enjoy.

We arrived at the UDC party home and grabbed a seat at one of the three tables in the apartment's living room.  It was nice to talk with people we've never met and were really excited for the food that was about to come.  We started with a chopped salad made of spring peas, breakfast radish, farm eggs, pumpernickle croutons and buttermilk blue cheese.  It was very fresh and light, and the cheese was soft and creamy with a delicious saltiness.

When the burgers came, I was ready to devour!  The meat was made of sirloin, chuck and short rib, grilled and served on a Red Hen pretzel bun with spring onion remoulade, arugula, cherrywood bacon and Prairie Fruits Farm Angel Food Cheese.  The combination of the rich meat (that did melt in your mouth), the salty bacon, fresh ingredients and the melting creamy cheese was almost heavenly!  This is on my short list of best burgers ever.  There was even buttermilk beer-battered onion rings served with sriracha aioli for more artery busting action.  This was awesome and made better with my wine, which had bright acidity and tannins to fit with both the meat and fat content of the dish.  The dark fruit and length of the wine only helped matters more.

We were finished off with an oatmeal cookie and vanilla bean ice cream sandwich dessert which was just the right size to make sure I didn't need a stretcher to carry me out.  The experience couldn't have gone better and I can't wait 'til the next one.  Make sure to seek out an Underground Dinner in your area and let me know how you liked it!

Wine Enthusiast "Toast of the Town" Hits Chicago

Wine Enthusiast's Toast of the Town is on a five city tour across the country and will be stopping in Chicago on Friday, June 17th at the Field Museum!  Join with the rest of the city to enjoy 500 world class wines and gourmet dishes from Chicago's top restaurants.  Some of the wineries represented include Castello Banfi, Feudi di San Gregorio, Le Domaine de la Vougeraie, Hall Wines, Stag's Leap Winery, Schramsberg, Yalumba, Penfolds, Cloudy Bay and Casa Lapostolle, while the restaurants involved include Aria, The Purple Pig, Bistronomic, Chizakaya, The Florentine, Coco Pazzo, Sixteen and Rhapsody

Wine Enthusiast has been providing readers with valuable wine information and reviews for 23 years and Toast of the Town is on it's 11th tour.  Come out to one of Chicago's greatest venues to enjoy the food, drink and fun!  Click here to purchase your tickets today.

Windy City Wine Guy Offer on Gilt City

Wine tasting is fun and when you accompany it with knowledge, that's powerful.  For a limited time, I have an offer up on Gilt City Chicago where you'll have two options:

1. Attend one of three Wine & Cheese Tasting Tours I will be conducting at the Tasting Room on Randolph.  The tours are scheduled on three Thursdays next month- June 9, 16 or 23- your choice!  We'll be going through four different wines paired with four different cheeses from 7-9pm.  After that, you're welcome to stay at the Tasting Room and enjoy 50% off all glasspours!  Quite a deal at $35/person.

2. Purchase an In-Home Wine Tasting conducted by the Windy City Wine Guy.  I will be suggesting which wine to have at the event along with any food pairing recommendations for you to purchase.  Then you'll get wine knowledge for yourself and up to 13 additional guests- all in the comfort of your own home!  This is a 40% savings priced at $240.

Jump on this great opportunity- quantities limited!

Wine Tasting at Newly Renovated bulthaup Showroom

Hi Chicago! I'm hosting an event next week and you're invited! Details below. bulthaup is showing off its latest creation. You're invited, but you need to RSVP. Details below.


6:00 – 8:00 PM

bulthaup Chicago showroom: 165 West Chicago Avenue, Suite 200, Chicago, IL 60654

Space is limited to 20 guests.

Please RSVP no later than Tuesday, May 17 to (312) 787 9982 or chicago at

Earth Day Chicago

Earth Day is coming up on Friday, April 22nd and there will be many ways for Chicagoans to get involved.  Here's a list of places to go and specials to take advantage of:

  • Chen's Chinese & Sushi and Koi will be offering special Green Menu Items which include Vegetable Dumplings ($4.95), Edamame ($4.50) and Green Tea Ice Cream ($3.95).
  • Cityscape Bar has whipped up an Organic Drink Menu featuring an Organic Pear Fizz, Peak Organic Amber Ale and Momokawa Organic Ginjo Sake, each $5.
  • RIVA at Navy Pier will be offering an Organic Wine Menu featuring Candoni Merlot and Pinot Grigio, each $7/glass.
  • Uncommon Ground Devon will be hosting a Great Lake Brewing Co. Dinner on April 20 at 6pm, starting with passed appetizers followed by a 4 course meal featuring grilled asparagus, truffled devil egg with ham praline and green goddess dressing, spicy duck breast with baby artichokes and spinach & duck confit tortellini.  Great Lakes beers are included with the $55 price tag.
  • Uncommon Ground Clark will be hosting a Michigan Seedling Farms/Von Beaumont Wines 4 course meal on April 21 at 6pm featuring bluepoint oysters, gnocchi with black trumpet mushrooms, asparagus with goat cheese and Dietzler Farm steak with wild ramp smashed potatoes.  $40/person.
  • At Province, chefs Cleetus Friedman of City Provisions Delicatessen and Randy Zweiban of Province collaborate on a multi-course meal of seasonal, sustainable finger foods highlighting local farms paired with cocktails from Death’s Door Spirits.  A portion of the proceeds will benefit Chefs Collaborative, and Organic Valley will match all donations.  April 22 at 5:30pm.  $55/person.
  • All Big Bowl locations will be giving away a free Earth Matters Tote Bag.  Every time you use the bag to pick up Big Bowl food in the future, you will receive 50 cents off!
  • Prairie Fire West Loop and Prairie Grass Cafe Northbrook will be offering Earth Day Wild Things Dinner Specials which include sauteed ramps with ramp butter crostini ($15), crumb crusted wild striped bass over spring morels and River Valley mushroom ragout with Three Sisters Garden pea-shoot sauce and a petite salad ($31), grilled lamb skewers with wild watercress pesto, grilled spring onions, dandelion greens, croutons and warm local bacon vinaigrette ($26) and a Prairie Organic vodka martini with wild watercress pesto-stuffed olives ($10).
  • Elate River North will be offering $5 TreeTinis to benefit planting trees in areas of need.
  • All participating Starbucks will be offering free coffee or tea to customers who bring in reusable travel cups.
  • Foodlife on the Magnificent Mile will be giving away $5 gift certificates and seedling bookmarks to those who share their best tips on how to "Go Green".
  • The Hotel Palomar will host the Walk in The Park Benefit on April 22nd from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.  It's Kimpton Hotels interactive Earth Day fair benefitting The Trust for Public Land will showcase local Community Supported Agriculture farmers, green vendors and recycled "trash art" with food & drink from 312 Chicago, Atwood Cafe, Sable Kitchen & Bar and South Water Kitchen.

Grand Chefs Gala

One of the best charitable events for a foodie is the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Grand Chefs Gala.  Last week, we got a sneak peek into the big event at the Grand Chefs Gala Chef’s Social, which took place at one of the participating restaurants, Ria, a Michelin two star restaurant in the Elysian Hotel, which happens to be newly minted with the AAA Five Diamond award.  Participating chefs in attendance included Curtis Duffy of Avenues and Patrick Sheerin of The Signature Room, among others.  Many food groupies and philanthropic types mingled within the textured walls of the phenomenal restaurant, and nibbled on Jason McLeod’s creative, yet simple, fare.  Menu highlights included pheasant breast with savory granola and cauliflower puree, citrus jelly with almond crème, as well as broccoli with truffle mousse, broccoli puree and broccoli parsley salad.

The Gala itself will take place on Friday, January 28 at the Fairmont Chicago Hotel from 6-9pm.  It will consist of a lavish sit-down dinner prepared by Fairmont chef Brad Parsons, and includes a hosted cocktail and hors d’ouevres hour, live and silent auction, and postprandial dessert and mixology bar.  This year, they’ve even added an after party with the sounds of Libido Funk Circus from 9p-midnight to jazz things up for the younger (and legal) folks in attendance.

The Grand Chefs Gala displays the talents of some of Chicago’s most promising chefs, honors them with the peer-voted Jean Banchet awards presentation, and raises money for Cystic Fibrosis, an often debilitating disease that adversely affects the lungs and digestive systems of afflicted people.  Money goes toward research for a cure.  Purchase tickets here

Special thanks to guest writer J'nai Gaither for this article.  I hope you have a good time at the event and if you can't make it, you can still donate!

Michelin Stars Wheel into Chicago

Chicago is about to receive it's first ever Michelin Guide ratings and I'd be hard pressed to find anything more overdue.  This city has long been a culinary and eating mecca, not to mention having great spots for wine, beer and beverages.  The Michelin Guide has been around for about 100 years and highlights top restaurants and chefs.  Now that we've taken a bite into the coastal bias, let's get into our award winners:

3 star: Alinea, L2O

2 star: Avenues, Charlie Trotter's, Ria

1 star: Blackbird, BOKA, Bonsoirée, Crofton on Wells, Everest, Graham Elliot, Longman & Eagle, NAHA, NoMI, Schwa, Seasons, Sepia, Sixteen, Spiaggia, Takashi, Topolobampo, TRU, Vie

While the Michelin Guide has yet to be released, these results were made available through a Yelp poster leak which is currently under investigation.  In addition to the awards above, 46 other restaurants have received the Bib Gourmand Award, given to those establishments which offers good value (two courses plus a glass of wine or dessert for under $40, not including tax or gratuity).  Some of these include: Belly Shack, De Cero, Gilt Bar, Girl & The Goat, Hopleaf, La Creperie, Lula Café, Mado, Nightwood, The Purple Pig, Riccardo Trattoria and Taste of Peru, to name a few.

All of these establishments represent fine food, great beverage, excellent service and years of hard work which have become known and respected.  Congrats to our Michelin Stars and Bib Gourmand winners!


Beaujolais Nouveau 2010 Release

Upcoming this week is the release of the 2010 vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau.  It's the first wine released yearly from the Northern Hemisphere grape harvest.  The wine is always released on the 3rd Thursday of November at 12:01 am Central European Time (CET) which means it's available for Thursday parties and events! 

The wine is made from the Gamay varietal in the southern portion of Burgundy.  It is meant to be drunk young while it's fresh, lively and fruity, so they employ a rapid means of fermentation called carbonic maceration, which also eases the normally acidic nature of the grape.  I recently received a sample of 2010 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and was eager to taste and share the notes with you.  The wine is full of strawberry and ripe cherry along with cinnamon hints, a touch of minerality, smooth tannins and high acidity.  It's very light and not lengthy on the finish, but a good wine to share with friends and even try with your Thanksgiving turkey.  (84 WG)

If you're planning on going out to celebrate the release, here's a few local spots to try:

  • Vertigo Sky Lounge.  Hosting a "midnight" release party on Wednesday 10pm-1:30am to unveil 2010 Georges Duboeuf.  Reservations are required.
  • Whole Foods-Lincoln Park.  Join them for free samples in the wine department.  12pm-9pm.
  • Union League Club.  $50 in advance will get you: tastes of Beaujolais Nouveau and more French wine, food & spirits, souvenir photos, chance to win a trip for 2 to Paris, and a 2010 commemorative wine glass.  6pm-9pm.
  • Chicago French Market.  Come in for free samples of Beaujolais Nouveau.  4pm-7pm.
  • Bistrot Zinc.  Join them for a three-course meal and a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau for $29.95.  Reservations recommended.
  • Bistrot 110.  A $25 tasting of Beaujolais wine and seasonal samples.  6-8:30pm.  Reservations recommended.

Whether you are go out or stay in, I hope you enjoy some Beaujolais Nouveau friends and family!

Chicago Gourmet Breakdown

Chicago Gourmet 2010 has come and gone, leaving Chicago with the feeling of fulfillment on the culinary scene.  With big names like Rick Bayless, Jimmy Bannos, Dirk Flanigan, Stephanie Izard, Paul Kahan, Bill Kim, Art Smith, and the list goes on, we have alot to be proud of in our great city. 

I was given free passes to visit Chicago Gourmet, where chefs were giving demonstrations and food samples, and there was much wine to be tried as well.  Now while the wine was relatively very accessible, the food was not.  Every tent had extremely long lines to taste food samples and it seemed as though the chefs had a hard time keeping up with demand.  At last year's event, the tents were very accessible and I had time to get pictures and speak with chefs, all while spending minimal time in line waiting.  I think the main problem was that this year's event was oversold.  I'm very glad that I chose to attend on Saturday, as I heard that with Groupon sales, Sunday was a madhouse!

I decided to make the most of my time trying wine instead of food.  There were alot of very familiar names as far as wine labels are concerned, but there was also some great finds as well.  Some of the better ones I tried were Schweiger Cabernet Sauvignon, Cosentino Cigarzin, Argyle Nuthouse Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and Cusumano Nero d'Avola, just to name a few. 

For next year, I recommend visiting on Friday or Saturday, and early if possible.  You can get all of your sampling in and leave time to hit demonstrations as well.  Until then, enjoy culinary Chicago and have a glass of wine!

Italian Festival at Daley Plaza

In honor of Chicago's rich Italian American heritage, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans (JCCIA) is hosting Fiera Italiana from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., October 5 - 9 at Daley Plaza (50 W. Washington Ave.). This outdoor festival-style event brings food, drink, performing arts, entertainment, fashion and more in celebration of the culture of Italy. The festivities will be the kick off to the tradition that is the annual Columbus Day Parade on October 12.  This outdoor festival-style event brings food, drink, performing arts, entertainment, fashion and more in celebration of the culture of Italy. The festivities will be the kick off to the tradition that is the annual Columbus Day Parade on October 12.

On Thursday, October 7, yours truly will be hosting an Italian wine tasting in Daley Plaza.  We'll travel through Italy's rich history of wine along with many of their great indigenous varietals.  The tasting will be free to all participants and will begin at 1pm.  Hope to see you there!

Windy City Wine Festival, Naperville Wine Festival & Chicago Gourmet

Summer's end brings more opportunity to enjoy the rest of 2010 and all that Chicagoland has to offer.  Great weather, food and drink is what's on the menu for the next three weekends so get your fall outfits and taste buds ready!

Windy City Wine Festival (Sept. 10 & 11).  Over 300 different wines will be onhand to sample along with food, beer and music.  You will also love the new location- 500 S. Columbus at Buckingham Fountain!  Tickets available for $25 online or $35 at the door.

Naperville Wine Festival (Sept. 17 & 18).  If you live out in the burbs or just want to travel outside the city, this is the perfect venue for you located in the historic Naper Settlement.  Tickets are available for $25 online or $35 at the door.

Chicago Gourmet (Sept. 24-26).  Featuring the best of the best in Chicago's rich culinary scene along with amazing wine tasting.  A weekend full of demonstrations, seminars, food and beverage featuring great names like Rick Bayless, Cat Cora, Jose Garces, Stephanie Izard, Tony Mantuano, Marcus Samuelsson and many more.  It begins with a Hamburger Hop Friday Night Burger Competition (tickets available online for $75) hosted by Allen Bros. Steaks and Blue Moon.  It continues through the weekend with tickets available online starting at $150. 

Also available this month is Dine Around, where special prix-fixe menus will be available at some of Chicago's best restaurants like NoMI, Mercat a la Planxa, Piccolo Sogno and many more.  This gives you a chance to check out some Chicago restaurants you've been dying to try on a budget.  You can also earn yourself a free ticket to Chicago Gourmet by enjoying five different meals at participating Dine Around restaurants.  I can't think of a better way to get the most out of Chicago culinary!

Frietkoten Belgian Fries & Beer at Chicago French Market

Being a sommelier is not all wine- it includes all things beverage including spirits, liqueurs, coffe, tea and beer.  I love being able to delve into the other areas and my latest invite to Frietkoten (Flemmish for "Fry Shack") at the Chicago French Market offered me an excellent beer tasting.  They specialize in two things: beer and fries, both Belgian style.  Belgians have the longest known history of making fries, since 1680 as they had a habit of accompanying meals with fried sardines, but when their rivers were frozen, they substituted potatoes.  Their beers are world famous as they make over 8700 different and consume about 93 liters/year on average.

The concept behind Frietkoten sprouts from owner Jeroen Hasenbos and his life experience of Amsterdam Fry Shacks.  Family recipe includes hand cutting the fries, blanching and double frying them.  There are 20 different sauces available in both Mayo form like Truffle, Wasabi, Green Chile and Garlic, along with Ketchup form like Roasted Red Chile.  He also features over 20 Belgian and American "Belgian Style" beers (3 organic) both on tap and in bottle like Dupont's Avril Biere de Table, Urthel Saisonniere, De Koninck Pale Ale, Bosteel Tripel Karmeliet and Brasserie Lefebvre Blanche de Bruxelles.

Not much goes better with these crisp, full flavored fries and sauces than beer- try them out next time you stop The Chicago French Market (131 N. Clinton)!


Velika Gospa Croatian Fest at St. Jerome

Every August 15th I head to my old neighborhood, Bridgeport, to celebrate the Velika Gospa at St. Jerome Croatian.  This is a celebration of the Assumption of Mary, which is a national holiday in many Catholic and Orthodox countries.  It may not be a national holiday here but if you went down to the Armour Square neighborhood you would think it was! 

There are three church masses, a huge parade procession,Raznici marching bands, live music, fireworks and loads of Italian and Croatian food.  Over 100 lambs and pigs are spit-fire roasted the night before to prepare for the next day and served alongside Freddies pizza, beef, sausage and lemon ice, Raznici (Croatian grilled pork skewers), and Fritula (fried sweet dough).

There's also some good drinks like homemade lemonade, which you can get spiked with vodka, Heineken Light and Amstel Light, and some wine choices- my wife had a Sterling Chardonnay Vintner's Collection.  And for the first time there was some wine sampling by Midland Wine & Grape from Arlington Heights.  They had samples of some homemade wines and they sell wine barrels, grapes and grape juice to make wine.  Grapes like Barbera, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Sirah and Zinfandel along with white grape juice is available from select California vineyards in Lodi, Alexander Valley and the Sierra Foothills.  I tasted a Zin and really liked it- I'm gonna look into getting some juice from these guys!

It's always a great time at this event even if you're not Croatian.  Located in a great neighborhood, lots of families, good food and drink.  Make plans for next August 15- you won't regret it!

Partida Tequila & Mondavi Dinner at Blackbird

This past Tuesday evening I was fortunate enough to be invited to Blackbird Restaurant for a very interesting dinner featuring Partida Tequila and Folio wines from Michael Mondavi.  Now alot of people may be saying "Tequila with dinner?!", but the flavor profile of this beverage matches well with many foods and sauces, not just with salt, lime and margaritas.  If anything, this would prove to be an interesting experience.

Premium tequilas can be very smooth and have the flavor and aromas of citrus and tropical fruits, fresh flowers, herbs, vanilla, nuts, smoke, chocolate and spices, making them excellent food companions.  Partida is a new ultra premium brand which places emphasis on mixing tradition with technology.  Each of their blue agave plants are cultivated for 7-10 years until they are ripe and mature, then hand selected and slow baked in stainless steel autoclaves (pressure cookers).  They make a Blanco (unaged), Reposado (barrel aged under 12 months), Añejo (aged over 1 year in Jack Daniel's barrels) and Elegante, an Extra Añejo aged over 3 years and bottled in crystal. 

We got our chance to taste some good wine as soon as we walked in the door when I was handed a glass of 2009 Isabel Mondavi "Deep Rose" of Cabernet Sauvignon ($15).  The label is inspired by the wife of Michael Mondavi and the wine is her concept created by her son Rob.  The color is nothing short of amazing- translucent purple/red.  It is fruity, dry and delicious with watermelon and strawberry, balance and length.  A great way to kick off the night before starting dinner.

Blackbird's Chef Paul Kahan makes great food and also pairs his dishes very well with beverages.  We started with cured hiramasa (yellowtail amberjack), bread sauce, peaches and lime salt with 2008 Isabel Mondavi Sonoma Carneros Chardonnay ($20).  The Blanco pairs great with the fish and lime salt, with it's clean citrus and smooth balance.  The wine was great with the bread sauce and peaches as it was creamy and toasty with loads of tropical fruit.  A very good Chardonnay as the oak was apparent on the nose but amazingly not on the palate.

Next we moved onto smoked sweetbreads (thymus gland), blackberry soubise and summer truffles with 2006 Isabel Mondavi Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($30).  If you've never tried sweetbreads, I highly recommend you try them, especially here!  They were smokey, slightly crispy and very delicious, and the saltiness and blackberries meshed perfectly.  The light red berries and elegance of the Pinot fought the flavors, thought the wine's earthiness matched the truffle.  Only the smooth nature of the Reposado made it good with this dish, but the flavors didn't match up quite right.

It was then onto the main event with roasted lamb loin, charred polenta, sea beans and caramel paired with 2006 Mondavi "Emblem" Oso Vineyard Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($49) and 2006 Mondavi "M" Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($200).  The lamb, of course, was tender and terrific, with the Cabernets picking up the strength, char, tannin and fruit.  The Emblem is more elegant with dark fruit from Howell Mountain and oak and vanilla flavor, while the M has more power, length and structure with fruit from a former Opus One vineyard on Atlas Peak.  I like the Añejo as it's toasty, sweeter character went with the sauce, but still the power was a bit much for the dish.  Wine wins again.

Dessert was on the way and we were in for a treat as the Elegante was being poured.  This extra aged select tequila had alot going on and did match well with the honey parfait with passion fruit, rum and carmelized white chocolate.  A good way to sip through the rest of the experience.

To sum up, I think smooth, premium tequilas do match well with food, but I would pair blancos with light fresh seafood and spicy vegetables, while aged tequilas match well with desserts at the end of a meal, though I still like shooting them with salt and lime (for fun)!  Wine still wins in this battle but they each have there place, and I encourage everyone to find where you like them- let us know!

Valdo Prosecco Lunch at Terzo Piano

This past Tuesday I was introduced to the newest sparkling wine producer to hit the Chicago market- Valdo Spumanti.  Their wines were set to be paired with the cuisine at Tony Mantuano's Terzo Piano in the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.  This would be an all out effort to not only prove the versatility of Prosecco but also the versatility it can bring.

A little bit about Prosecco- it's famous for being crisp, light and fruity, along with being a great value sparkling wine.  It's made from the Glera varietal (formerly known as the Prosecco varietal) in northeast Italy, mostly from the hills surrounding Treviso.  Valdo has been making wine for over 80 years, was purchased by the Bolla family in the 1940s and has dedicated itself to making high quality sparkling wine from hand picked grapes along with single vineyard bottlings, which is rare for Prosecco.  The wines were brought to us by Dr. Pierluigi Bolla, proprietor of Valdo, and were to be paired with three courses prepared by Chef Meg Colleran.  On to the tasting!

We were initially greeted with Valdo Prosecco Brut DOC ($12) and it proved to be just as flavorful as it was aromatic.  Sweet golden apple, white peach, meyer lemon and lilies were coming out of the glass- it'll be hard to keep this wine off my patio this summer!

It was time to start the pairings as we were poured Valdo Cuvée di Boj Prosecco Brut DOCG ($16).  A single vineyard wine from the vaile dei buoi, it is aged for 5 months sur lie and 3 months in the bottle.  This wine is much drier with a longer finish and ripe pear and apple flavor.  The crisp acidity matched well with our tomato salad with cherries, almonds and 8yr Balsalmic vinegar.

The next course would be a big challenge- a rich dish of roasted Miller's skin-onChicken Leg w/ Cous Cous chicken leg with fennel seed, cous cous and Nichols Farm snap peas.  We were poured Valdo Cuvée del Fondatore Prosecco Brut DOCG ($20), another single vineyard Prosecco aged 12 months sur lie, 6 months in the bottle and blended with 10% six month barrel aged Chardonnay to add richness.  The wine was extremely complex and lengthy with tropical fruit, toasted nuts, baking spice and dry, crisp acidity making it drinkable with many rich fish, poultry or meat dishes.

Ricotta FrittersThe last course we tried turned out to be the best thing I ate all day- Ricotta Fritters with sweet corn ice cream, raspberries and plums.  The fritters were crisp and warm on the outside with a slightly sweet cheesy center- just an amazing dessert!  The sweetness and the fruit paired well with Valdo Nerello-Mascalese Brut Rosé ($12), a blend of Prosecco with the dark Sicilian Nerello-Mascalese varietal.  Just red berry fruit and floral harmony with this extreme value of a rosé sparkling wine.

These Prosecco wines were very impressive all the way around- point taken! 

Special thanks to Dr. Pierluigi Bolla, Chef Meg Calleran, Lindsey Johnson of Lush Light Productions for the invite and Marene Babula of Pasternak Wine Imports for being an awesome host.

Grab a Fork Tour with Tapeña Spanish Wines

It's time to carry on the enthusiasm of Spain's first ever World Cup with Tapeña Wines!  During their Grab a Fork! Tour, they'll be giving us a chance to taste their great spanish wines paired with tapas.  They've already finished a tour of Florida and are ready to join us in the Windy City.  Make sure to reserve a spot and become a fan of Tapeña by clicking here.  They'll be at:

They have a great line of wines which pair well with food, friends and good times: a Tempranillo, a Garnacha, a Verdejo and a Rosé (a blend of Garnacha, Monastrell and Shiraz).  Glass pours will be available at a discounted price and paired with each venue's tapas  Come out to enjoy the food & wine, prizes will be given out, and say hi to the Windy City Wine Guy.


Bastille Day Wine Tasting at Christofle

Make sure to come out this coming Wednesday evening to celebrate Bastille Day at Pavillon Christofle with yours truly, the Windy City Wine Guy!  Below is your invite:


 See you there!