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!

Super Bowl XLIV Wine/Beverage Picks

The big game is around the corner, and whether you're entertaining or bringing your favorite snacks and beverages to your friend's house, you'll want to put your best foot forward and pair up your eats with your drinks.  You can impress your friends and make them envious of your picks.  Besides Peyton and Drew, you'll be the talk of the party!  So let's get on to some colossal pairings:

Before we get into the wine, I always like to have some beer onhand.  It not only has that slight hoppy bitterness but is also a thirst quencher.  For this Sunday I like Lagunitas "The Censored" Rich Copper Ale.  It has everything you want in a beer and more.  A creamy, malty flavor, slightly bitter but smooth hops, a rich copper color, a touch of citrus, caramel and brown sugar.  You can find this for around $10.99/6 pack.  It's also great because it pairs well with most foods you'll enjoy, including spicy ones.  I love it with chili, wings and spicy chips.

Wine value picks with tough names are what's called for on Super Bowl Sunday.  You should have some white onhand, in case it's called for, and I couldn't think of a better one to have than 2008 Big Fire Pinot Gris ($12.99).  This grape has a great roundness to it and the wine packs the fruit in: grapefruit, tangerine and pears.  You can feel honey and smell flowers in the glass, giving you no problem when the spice from hot wings comes a-knockin'!

For the reds, we'll kick off with 2007 Torres Sangre de Toro (blood of the bull), a blend of Garnacha and Cariñena ($8.99).  It packs cherry and raspberry fruit flavor with cola and dried floral scents.  The medium body and soft tannins are a great blend to accompany your Super Bowl chili creation.  Next we aim to please our Pinot lovers with 2007 Three Saints Pinot Noir ($24.99).  Even if you're not a Saints fan, you will still enjoy the blackberries, raspberries and tea notes, along with the ripe acidity.  We can finish off the wine with two big, luscious examples.  First off, we have 2007 Tait "The Ball Buster" Shiraz, which has big dark fruit, vanilla, oak and smooth tannins ($17.99).  Also go for 2008 Owen Roe Abbot's Table ($22.99), a big blend of eight varietals, mostly Sangiovese and Zinfandel.  It's a big bite of rich red and dark fruit, and ready to take on your pizza and nachos.

The most important thing to take away from the pairings is what goes well with this cuisine.  You will be enjoying some spice, tomato based items (chili, pizza) and fried and greasier dishes.  You will need beverages that have a touch of sweetness to put out the fire, are fruity, a lower alcohol content (usually enflames spices) and that have a touch of spice themselves to mesh with the food.

I love making my own food (especially my World's Best Nachos), especially for big events.  I will have to include my wings and pizza recipes later, but in the meantime, I will give out some of my favorite vendors:

No matter what you pick, remember to drink responsibly, don't mix it with driving, and have a great time.  Any event that you get together with people you like is a sure to be a great time, so make sure it is positive from start to finish.  Have fun!

Birthday Wines

So it's that time of year again, when everyone you know sends best wishes for you chalking up another year of life, and you start getting ready for a new one.  It's your Birthday!  This is a time to reflect upon the life you've lived and to imagine the life you still have yet to live.  In that same frame of mind, it's also a time to reflect upon all that you have tried and still have yet to.  This applies to travel, food, wine, experiences, etc.  But now it's time to celebrate, so pick out your favorite meal and your favorite bottle(s) and share them with the people you love the most!  I put together a list of some of my personal favorite affordable wines, as well as one of my favorite meals and a special wine we shared out of my stash.

For some of my personal favorites, let's start with:

  • Rivetti La Spinetta "Ca' di Pian" Barbera d'Asti.  This wine has been produced by Giorgio Rivetti since 2001 and has been my favorite Barbera ever since.  His '03 vintage was outstanding, but any vintage will work from this excellently steady wine.  You can expect a deep ruby color, alot of great fruit like cherry, blueberry, raspberry, and currant, along with full body, smooth tannins, and balanced acidity.  Available around $24.

  • Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red.  I love a great blend and this one has it all: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Sangiovese, Carmenere and Petit Verdot.  This comes from one of my favorite wineries in Washington state, operating out of a restored WWII fire station.  Fresh red fruit, plum, tobacco, pepper, and cocoa are some of the sensory highlights.  Available around $18.

  • Bodega Colomé Estate Malbec.  This wine is made from 90+ year old vines grown at the highest altitude (for grapes) in the world.  A bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tannat are thrown into the mix, and this deep, dark wine is full of flavors like fig, blackberry, plum, mocha and exotic spices.  The long length leaves you wanting more.  Available around $26.

  • Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.  A small Oregon producer specializing in Pinot Noir and dabbling in award winning sparkling wines, Argyle makes a fine example of this varietal.  Gushing with red cherry, cranberry, cinnamon and fresh floral notes, you can't go wrong spending less than $23 on this wine.

  • Niepoort Redoma Tinto Douro.  This is the first dry wine made from renowned port producers made from port typical varietals like Tinta Amarela, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca.  Dark fruit and chocolate are surrounded by creamy layers, ripe tannins and fresh herbs.  Hard to believe how far Portuguese red wines have come and this great example is available for around $30.

  • Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc.  Coming from down below in New Zealand, this wine offers pink grapefruit, pineapple, lime, white pepper and fresh flowers.  The acidity and minerality will blow you away.  Perfect with goat cheese or oysters.  Available around $20.

  • Bodegas Viña Magaña Merlot.  This amazing Merlot comes straight out of northern Spain, and is nothing short of amazing.  Dark fruit, minerality, exotic spice, fresh flowers and grippy tannins are just a few notes you can expect out of it.  You can expect it to cellar well, if you can keep your hands off it that long!  Available around $45.

  • Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino.  This little known wine is made 1 hour outside of Naples, and is packed with serious tropical flavor.  Bananas, pineapple and mango mix with minerality and creaminess.  I can't believe you can get this for around $23.

I could go on and on, but I will leave you with those favorites and a bit from my Birthday dinner.  I was happy to go at my favorite activity, cooking, to make us a great dinner.  I took Italian sausage and roasted it over sliced bell peppers, onions and garlic which were tossed with balsalmic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper.  I then sauteed mushrooms, garlic and spinach with olive oil and red wine, and combined it with tomato sauce.  All this combined with al dente fettucine and grated parmesan made up one of my favorite dinners.  Add a bottle of 1997 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia and I had all I needed.  This SuperTuscan is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and is considered one of the finest wines in Italy and the world.  So much power, balance and length makes it hard to argue.  It is the total package with loads of fruit, espresso, cocoa, licorice and cedar box.  If it weren't priced at over $150 every release, I would be all over this wine on a daily basis!  Needless to say I had an awesome birthday and will be looking for more wines and experiences to fill my time ahead- cent'anni!

(image 1 courtesy of flickr)

Chicago Gourmet Food Festival 2009

Chicago GourmetChicago Gourmet is on the way- a food and wine festival taking place on September 26 & 27 in Millenium Park.  This is just its second annual occurrence, and it will be a celebration of our city's culinary culture and history, highlighted by Chicago's best chefs and restaurants.  Also, hundreds of wines, local sommeliers, and wine experts will be onhand for tastings and seminars.

Many Chicago personalities like Mayor Daley will be in attendance, along with Chicago's favorite chefs: Rick Bayless (winner of Top Chef Masters) of Frontera Grill, Jose Garces of Mercat a la Planxa, John Coletta of Quartino, Dirk Flanigan of The Gage, Marcus Samuelsson of C-House, Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno, Stephanie Izard (Top Chef winner) of The Drunken Goat, and lots of other local greats.

Awesome food is not the only think on the menu, as wines from Robert Mondavi, Mionetto (one of my favorite sparkling wine producers), and Gaja Wines presented by Gaia Gaja, will be there for tasting, along with famed importer and producer, Anthony Terlato of Terlato Wines International, and his amazing portfolio featured at the Festival's largest tent.

Tickets can be purchased beforehand for $150 for a single day, or $250 for the two day weekend.  There are also upgrades for those who don't mind spending extra, such as Grand Cru tastings for $175 featuring some of the finest wines in the world presented by Master Sommeliers.  Here is a little hint to avoid the ticket price, which may be worth your while: Chicago Dine Around.  Starting now through September 27, if you dine at five different restaurants using their special prix-fixe menu, and attach each receipt to the Chicago Gourmet Dine Around Passport (available at all participating restaurants), you will be eligible for a free one day pass to the Festival.

Make sure to plan ahead and get in on Chicago's greatest food and wine event!

Straight Facts: Mexican Coke

2179FG2G8XL._SL160_AA115_[1]During a visit to one of my new favorite Printer's Row eateries, Flaco's Tacos, I noticed they soldm[1] Mexican Coke.  Now, I have had it before, and know much about it.  But I am very sure that many of us in this country have no clue what the exact difference is.

The major difference between the Coke made in this country and in others, like Mexico, is high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS.  HFCS is a sugar substitute made completely of corn.  The glucose from corn is chemically modified, and becomes an inexpensive product with sugar sweetness and longer shelf-life.  Since real sugar is a bit more expensive to get a hold of, and corn is readily available in the US, many American products include this manmade product.  It is proven to be harder to digest, and relatable to health problems such as obesity, liver disease, and diabetes. 

Mexican Coke is made with real sugar, instead of HFCS, just like many European products.  My favorite such product is42002[1] San Pellegrino Aranciata.  They have distributed it here with HFCS, but is available with no sugar substitute at many specialty Italian shops, like Panozzo's in the South Loop. 

tt1000037[2]OK- time to get on my pulpit.  I am very glad that many people are becoming more health conscious, but I hope that everyone is willing to take a good look at the ingredients of everything you buy.  Do not take it for granted that the companies making these products are looking out for your best interest- they are run by corporations, whose main goal is $$$, not your health or safety.  These facts also do not reflect well upon our government.  It seems that other countries, like Mexico and the EU, are more concerned with the health of their people than with how much money corporations can save.  We are a part of the greatest country in the world.  It is very important that we remember that, and also realize that the people are still in control.  If we refuse to purchase these products, they will stop making them.  If we voice our displeasure with our elected officials enough, they will work for us.  For a bit more about this all Natural talk, check out this link.

Also, if you get a chance, check out Flaco's Tacos.  Not only can you order online and pick up your food in the blink of an eye, but they make fantastic, homemade Mexican.  Their grilled tilapia tacos are awesome, along with the carne asada.  And their homemade salsas are the best I've had, especially the green salsa.  Check it out if you're in the neighborhood, and let me know what you think!

Perfect Summer: Grill and Wine

2497722293_9daed51524[1]This is my favorite time of year.  The weather is warming up, the sun isn't hiding behind the clouds, the bright green of leaves and grass along with the multi-colored flowers, pools opening, and grills firing up.  All this helps me enjoy one of my favorite activities- sharing some grilled food and cool beverages, outside with friends and family.  Now it's time to share some grilling tips and beverage pairings to help you enjoy the weather!

Let's start with the grill.  There are a few different kinds you can try (propane, charcoal, woodburning), but I like propane.  It's cleaner energy, starts up and reaches a high temperature quickly, and has less cleanup. 

Now for the food.  It's important to remember the versatility of a grill.  You can put more than just meat on it- vegetables, fish, bread, cheese, and fruit.  You can plan your entire meal on a grill, from appetizers to dessert.  Start off with grilled bacon wrapped scallops or grilled baguette topped with seared tomatoes and goat cheese.  When grilling meat, fish, or poultry, remember to use marinades and rubs.  These should be applied at least 24 hours prior to cooking, so you give them time to mix with the meat and juices.  I like to use some sort of sweetness (honey, cocoa, sugar) mixed with a kick (peppers, garlic, peppercorns), along with spice (cinnamon, clove, coriander, etc.), herbs (thyme, rosemary, etc.), and a bit of alcohol (cognac, rum, bourbon, etc.).  These can combine to make excellent flavored marinades or rubs.  The addition of citrus (lemon, lime, orange, etc.) can help, but remember the acids can "cook", so you may want to add them later.  The addition of butter during grilling, or a butter rub down of vegetables and fruits adds excellent richness as well.  Try to experiment with all of these, along with making your own sauces.  It enhances your creativity and experience!

Now for some beverages.  There is not much that I love more on a hot day than an ice cold beer.  Make sure you grab your favorites.  They can start you off, or carry you through your meal.  I love a wheat ale for the heat.  They are crisp, refreshing, and have a touch of sweet and spice which can be perfect.  Try the Sam Adams Summer Ale, Anchor Summer Beer, or Goose Island Summertime. 

For wine refreshment, starting with a rosé may seem "girlie" to you, but they have a fruity dryness that makes them the perfect bev when the sun is beating down.  I like the 2007 Meinklang Prosa ($13.99), a semi-sparking Pinot Noir rosé from Austria, and 2007 Miguel Torres Santa Digna ($11.99) Cabernet Sauvignon rosé for it's strength, fruit, and ripe color. 

Whites match up well with seafood, and oaked, fuller bodied whites can easily pair with meat.  For freshness, try 2008 Groth Sauvignon Blanc ($15.99), a full, crisp, and creamy version.  Also, 2006 Argiolas Vermentino ($15.99) will give you the perfect compliment to your seafood travels.  For your oaked white, go to Spain for the 2007 Bodegas Muga Blanco ($14.99).  It gives you something different than Chardonnay, with full tropical fruit, coconut, and smokiness.  If this wine doesn't match with the grill, I'll give you your money back!

On to the reds.  I love to pick reds with meaty body, live fruit, spice, and grill flavors like chocolate, leather, tobacco, and char.  A malbec always fits perfectly, and I really enjoy 2008 Doña Paula ($13.99).  It's black pepper and mocha fits well with any meat and most sauces.  I have been getting into Portuguese dry reds, and my favorite value is 2004 Azamor Tinto ($15.99), a blend of 6 varietals, over half being syrah, touriga nacional, and merlot.  This wine brings a gamut of flavor, fruit, body, and spice.  It is hard to beat syrah/shiraz on the grill, so 2007 Qupe Syrah ($15.99) and 2006 Final Cut Montage Shiraz ($15.99) are great spicy red buys for your grill.  Also look for the 2006 Hitching Post Generation Red ($17.99), a spicy red blend with full body, black cherry, and tobacco.

If you move onto some grilled fruits for dessert, like plums, peaches, or pears, pair them up with a tawny port.  The caramel, toffee, and dried fruits will help you savor the sweet charred fruitiness at the end of your meal. 

I will be posting some personal recipes and pairings while I enjoy my summer.  Feel free to share some of yours as well!

(Image courtesy of flickr)

World's Best Nachos Paired with Wine and Beer

It was a leisurely Sunday night off of work, and I was very hungry after my

WSET Advanced


class.  I began to judge what I was in the mood for, and homemade nachos sounded great.  I have to explain: I have been making nachos at home for a long time, adding to the recipe every time.  They have come to be known as "Kitchen Sink" Nachos.  Then I started to think of what beverages I wanted to pair with them, and the plan was hatched.  Now let us get to the recipe.

Here is what you are going to need:

1/2 lb. ground beef, 1/2 lb. ground pork, 1/2 diced white onion, 4 cloves chopped garlic, chopped cilantro, 3 sliced serrano peppers, 1 diced tomato, 4 chopped scallions, 1 cup sliced black olives, 1/2 can refried black beans, 1 sliced avocado, 4 oz. cream cheese, 8 oz. package shredded mexican cheese, 2 oz. sour cream, 1 lime, your favorite salsa (I use

Old El Paso

), your favorite hot sauce (I use


), and your favorite tortilla chips (I love Chicago local

El Milagro


Next, take your onions, garlic, and 2 peppers, along with some olive oil, and pan sear them in a frying pan.  Then, throw in your beef and pork- you want to use pork because the meat gives the mixture much more flavor.  Season it with chili and cayenne powder, and finish off with half a squeezed lime and some of the cilantro.  Then drain the liquids from the pan.

Prep a baking pan with a layer of chips topped with refried beans, cream cheese, and half of your mexican cheese.  Then top it with the meat mixture and the rest of the cheese.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Farenheit, and throw in the nachos for 15 minutes.  Then top it with avocado, olives, tomato, scallions, olives, sour cream, salsa, the rest of the peppers and cilantro, more squeezed lime, and hot sauce.  Strap on the feedbag and eat!

Now for choosing a beverage.  Beer works great, but make sure you use a lager or ale.  They are light enough to be refreshing, and not overtake the chips.  I chose

Great Lakes Brewing Co.

Commodore Perry IPA

.  It has a medium weight, good bitterness, and a nice fruit-sweet finish.  Excellent for the nacho spice.  Wine is a great companion for this as well, but make sure you go with a weighty white.  Varietals with a touch of sweet fruit like riesling, pinot gris, or chenin blanc work well.  The 2007 Hogue Genesis Riesling was on sale, so I went for it.  The full lime citrus, honey, and vanilla also worked well with the nacho spice.  These beverages washed the nachos down perfectly- before you knew it, I was on the couch Al Bundy style getting ready for the season finale of HBO's

Big Love


These beverages work well with all mexican food.  Try out the recipe and post your comments!

Celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Style: Irish Cheese and Beer

cheesestout1This is the time of year to celebrate everything Irish, especially in Chicago.  I remember being in Dublin, Ireland, during St. Patrick's Day, and everyone wanted to know why I was there- "Why aren't you in Chicago?" they all said.  Chicago throws the one of the largest Paddy's Day party in the world.  Heck, we even dye the Chicago River green!  Well, one of the best ways we all know to celebrate this event is with some beer.  If we throw in some genuine Irish cheese, that would round out the party!

Lets start with the cheese.  Some of the best cheeses to go along with beer are Irish cheeses.  Here are three cheeses sure to please:

  1. Cahill's Irish Porter Cheddar.  This excellent cheddar, made by Marion Cahill, is made in Limerick.  The cheese is flavored with Irish porter and sealed with waxed truckle.  It is a beautifully marbled, full flavor cheese.

  2. Blarney Cheese.  This is a versatile semi-hard cow milk cheese with a lower fat content.  The flavors are mild and will pair well with many different beverages.

  3. Ardrahan Cheese.  This washed-rind, semi-soft, cow milk cheese is from southern Ireland.  Mary Burns has been making this cheese for over 15 years from her 120 pedigree Friesan Holstein cows.  It has an earthy, pungent, mushroom flavor.  Goes great with strong flavored beverages.

These cheeses should be accompanied by soft grain breads, crackers, and sausages.  They should be available at many outlets, and are also on menu at Intercontinental Chicago Eno Wine Room.  If you stop by, make sure to ask for me! 

There are quite a few Irish beers to try with them, but I recommend you try some US microbrews.  The quality level is much higher in comparison to the Irish beers available in your local shops and stores.  Try these beers out:

  1. Great Lakes Brewing Co. Eliot Ness Lager.  This lager has it all- hoppy bitterness, deep body, sweet carmel malt.  The flavors mix well with full cheeses and sausage.  Goes for around $8.50 per 6pack.

  2. North Coast Brewing Co. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.  This is a full body, creamy, rich stout.  It has malty chocolate, coffee, and smokey caramel.  It is a strong beer, and can stack up to any cheese or meat.  Goes for around $8 per 4pack.

  3. Great Lakes Brewing Co. Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.  An unbelievable thick and balanced porter.  The mocha, espresso, fruit sweetness, and smokiness come full flavored on the big body.  The lower abv is better for enjoyment.  An awesome beer available for around $8.50 per 6pack.

  4. Bell's Brewery Lager of the Lakes.  Another lager pick, in case you are looking to make black & tans.  The citrus and corn sweetness make this a refreshing and versatile beer.  It is available for around $9 per 6pack.

These beers are all quite complex and full of flavor.  I selected a porter, a stout, and two lagers.  In case you're wondering, there is not much difference between a porter or stout.  The name stout has been around a bit longer, and normally has a bit more roasted barley than a porter.  They are both dark and creamy, with light weight, and burnt, chocolatey, smokey characteristics.  These beer types mirror the classic Irish types, especially Guinness stout and Harp lager.  Hope these tips help, try to avoid green beer, and feel free to comment!

(photo 1 courtesy of flickr) (photo 2 courtesy of flickr)

Picking that Special Beverage: 1 Year Anniversary

There are many occasions which call for a special beverages: weddings, birthdays, baptisms, Superbowl, etc.  There are many preparations which can be made to help you select the perfect one.  Do some research, refer to past experiences, and consult with experts.  Pair the beverage with whatever food will be present.  And make sure you never give less than the occasion deserves.  Now onto my special occasion: 1st Wedding Anniversary!

My wife and I had a hectic weekend.  I was working every evening and doing a bit of studying for Level 3 Advanced WSET certification.  My wife was running her latest collaborative idea, Sleepover 2.0, which I attended after work at 3am to perform a Boone's Farm tasting!  All of that, accompanied with the daylight savings time change, led to a tiring weekend. 

We had long ago decided, starting on our wedding, that our beverage would be Dom Perignon champagne on each anniversary.  This is the luxury vintage champagne (1st of its kind) from the Moët et Chandon winery, which also owns another favorite of ours, Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley.  The wine itself is delicious, complex, and full bodied.  I was fortunate to pick a bottle of 1999 vintage up from a Binny's sale last year, and now all we needed was some food. 

We were seeking low maintenance local pickup cuisine to pair with our champagne.  We chose Lawrence's Fisheries.  This has been a seafood favorite serving for almost 60 years, since 1950.  They offer breaded and fried selections such as frog legs, perch, and jumbo shrimp, along with cold selections like cole slaw and peel and eat shrimp, and even some local desserts provided by Bake for Me.  I suggest you go for the perch, which comes in large breaded filets, and the shrimp, which never disappoints.  I do wish they made their own sauces, especially the tartar sauce, as I know they would do a better job than the outsourced offerings. 

All the food, along with our 1 year old wedding cake, went great with the wine.  The bubbly, bready, yeasty, fullness matched with both the fried breading and richness of our cake, while the zesty citrus and smokiness flowed well with the seafood.  I know most do not think of this type of cuisine for an anniversary, let alone for a beverage of this sort, but I highly recommend it.  My wife and I had a blast, and we are still wondering how to make our 2nd anniversary even more fun!

Wine & Food Evolution at The Tasting Room

img_1012It was a leisurely Friday evening out on the town for the Windy City Wine Guy and wife, and we were on our way to The Tasting Room on Randolph.  It is located on the corner of Randolph and Ogden, with free parking in a small lot and plenty of street parking in front.  Randolph Wine Cellars is connected to the two floor Tasting Room, offering retail small production wine, beer, and spirits.  After passing by the storefront, we headed in to begin a tasting adventure.

We decided to check out the second floor and were amazed at both the breathtaking views of downtown and the coziness.  Exposed brick walls, dim romantic lighting, and puffy leather couches littered the hardwood-floored open space.  We were presented with menus, and were given time to look and talk.  We perused the menu, which included cheeses, flatbreads, small plates, fondues, greens, and desserts (including gelato).  After a bit, we decided on a sparkling Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay) for my wife, Australian riesling for myself, and a Florentine flatbread.  Service was both prompt and unintrusive- we definitely did not feel rushed (other establishments- take note!).  We were also greeted by The Tasting Room Director, Nick Luedde, an old colleague of mine.  He is both a very knowledgeable sommelier and a charismatic host.  We shared a few laughs and then he left us to work the room.

Our flatbread came out, and was accompanied by a few friends: a caprese salad and a cheese plate, courtesy of Nick (all in the photo).  The flatbread had a crisp crust and was very tasty with Drunken Goat cheese, spinach, and carmelized onions.  The caprese salad was built in tower form, with fresh mozzarella stacked over sliced tomato (not as ripe as one would like) and basil.  A combo balsalmic vinegar/truffle oil emulsion was drizzled on the plate, and was absolutely delcious- its syrupy, sweet, truffled flavor led me to wipe the last bit of it from the plate with bread!  Their cheese plate (priced at $25 for five cheeses) was quite an ensemble.  It is presented on in-house, handcrafted cheese boards made from lacquered wooden wine cases (we had one from Chateau la Nerthe).  All five cheeses were delicious and accompanied by four types of artisan bread, roasted cashews, and dried cranberries.  We also tried an olive tapenade, roasted peppers, sundried tomatoes, and fresh green Sicilian olives.  It was a feast which needed only good conversation, time, and more wine!

We had some red next, my wife choosing a Portuguese Toriga Nacional based blend, while I went with my all time favorite Barbera, Rivetti's La Spinetta "Ca' di Pian".  The wine list is impressive, with over 100 wines available by the taste (2oz.), tasting flight (3x 2oz.), or the glass (6oz.), and a huge bottle list.  It is littered with many handcrafted, small batch wine favorites, offering great value for some killer wines.  Don't be afraid to ask your server or Nick for suggestions, because they know their product and won't steer you wrong.

There are also some great weekly and monthly deals to take advantage of.  Every Monday is half priced glass pours, while Tuesdays offer half priced bottles (originally priced under $99).  They also offer a $30 tasting every third Tuesday of the month, featuring 50 wines.  Also, look for their augmented menu, being released Monday, March 2nd.  It will include main course options like tupelo honey-sarsparilla soaked bone on pork loin, southwest seared ahi, air & water (pan seared duck breast and butter poached lobster tail), foie gras smothered grilled NY strip, piave brûléed jumbo sea scallops, grenache braised short rib sous-vide, mesquite kiawe smoked game hen, and pan seared monkfish, all priced between $20-32.  The small plates will spruce up a bit with miso rubbed bershire pork belly, ceviche, bacon wrapped and manchego stuffed dates, and NY strip bruschetta.  I can't wait!

Chef's Table at Nacional 27

There is a great new event revolving in Chicago, and it is called the Chef's Table.  The events allow you to meet local Chicago chefs in a group setting, and taste their creations at an affordable price.  This month, the tasting was being held at Nacional 27, highlighted by five different cocktails (created by mixologist Adam Seger), ceviche, and tapas.

We started with a drink called "The Chadwick", a pomegranate, ginger, chile mojito.  It had nice flavor and the hint of habanero spice was nice.  The drink could use more muddling to be a true mojito as the mint and lime was mostly still intact.  Plus I believe it had too many strong flavor components: mint, ginger, habanero, lime, and pomegranate. 

Next came the "Spice and Ice" along with the ceviche/tapas.  The drink is a mango, ginger, habanero daiquiri with a seven spice rim.  It had a very nice sweet and exotic spicy combo.  The ceviche was a mix of shrimp and scallop, ahi and watermelon, mojito hamachi, and rainbow coctel.  They all had nice acidity to combine with the seafood to "cook".  The tapas were smoked chicken empanadas, which had a light flakey crust and excellent flavor, along with lightly sweet organic agave lamb tacos, and cuban sweet potato/plantain croquetas, which were very soft, but a bit bland.

We then moved onto moved onto my favorite cocktail, the "rosemary fizz".  It was a combo of Indigo Luxe spanish gin, lime, sparkling wine, and a house made rosemary, meyer lemon, sauvignon blanc syrup.  The flavor profile was complex, but meshed well, with citrus, rosemary, great aromatics, and fizz. 

The "smokey corazon" came next as we were all passed passion fruit/pomegranate margaritas with a salt and pepper rim.  The drink had nice tropical flavor, and was later topped with a single village mezcal float.  This mezcal was made from smoked agave and gave the drink a potent punch- maybe a bit too strong was the consensus.

The last drink was a house made almond, lime, and clove liqueur.  It was sticky, sweet, and delicious.  Almost all of the dishes and drinks had spice accompanied by sweet, and might have been a bit too much combined.  The company was great, as I met many of Chicago's best bloggers and techies.  It was a great experience and you can count on the Windy City Wine Guy to attend more Chef's Table events.

Chinese New Year and Wine

chinesenwyrspot1Today is the beginning of the year 4707 on the Chinese calendar, also known as the year of the Ox.  The Chinese calendar is based upon lunar cycles, with each month starting on the day with the least daylight.  New Year celebration is a fifteen day event, with each year being named for an animal.  In honor of the celebration, the Windy City Wine Guy and wife decided to share Chinese delivery, paired with suitable wine.

Since we wanted something a little close to home, we ordered from Hong Kong Delight on Roosevelt and Canal.  We started with some Pot Stickers, and shared the Shrimp Lo Mein and Szechwan Chicken.  A great pairing with the meal was the 2005 Gustave Lorentz Pinot Gris Reserve.  It is dry and light, but with a touch of sweet richness.  Nice fruit flavor accompanies smokey nutmeg.  The rich sauces and spice meshed with the wine- we only wished we had bought two bottles! 

If you plan on eating Chinese, Thai, or Indian food, Alsatian wines seem to work the best, though there are exceptions, such as with beef dishes.  Alsatian wines have a subtle, slighty sweet richness about them which stands up to exotic spice and rich sauce.  For a time as special as Chinese New Year, I also recommend Chinese beer, like Tsingtao Lager.  The brewery was started just over 100 years ago by German settlers.  It has light malt flavor with a nutty aftertaste. 

It's always great to celebrate other cultures in our American melting pot, so enjoy the Year of the Ox!

Birthday at Spacca Napoli

night1Another birthday is coming up and my wife decided to help me indulge in my heritage with a trip to Spacca Napoli.  They make pizza in the traditional Napoletano style: wheat flour, thin crust, with fresh ingredients cooked in a wood burning oven.  We heard so much about it from friends and reviews, so we took a drive up to try it out.

Almost everyone loves pizza, but you can never truly appreciate it until you have the best, which is made in its 190px-traditional_pizza_from_napoli1home- Napoli.  Very good pizza is made elsewhere, but it's at its best in southern Italy.  On a visit there, I asked "Why?".  Many did mention the wheat, but all said it was the water.  Only natural spring water is used to make the dough.  I will always remember the pizza there, with every establishment making the most perfect crust, amazing sauce, and fresh ingredients.  The picture to the right is of a typical pizza made in Napoli.

Now on to Spacca Napoli.  My wife and I walked in and were seated promptly.  Our server was peppy and announced the specials before retrieving a Peroni for me and some Prosecco for my wife.  Our appetizers were then brought to us- a Bufala Mozzarella salad with ripe red tomatoes and very large leaves of delicious basil drizzled with olive oil, and an Insalata di Mare- calamari, shrimp, and cuttlefish with chopped celery.  The dish was a bit flavorless and not quite as fresh as others I've had.  Our server pressed us about four times for our pizza order (it seems as though they are coached to "turn and burn" the tables), and we finally gave it after ordering a bottle of Cantina del Taburno "Fedelis" Aglianico.  Aglianico is the special red grape of southern Italy.  It can create big bodied, fruity, earthy, long lived tannic wines.  This one was satisfactory with ripe dark plum and espresso flavor accompanied by slightly grippy tannins, but with a medium minus length and finish.  They give small drinking cups with all wine, and while I believe this is taverna style, I also think if you order a bottle you should be given proper stemware. 

oven1Our pizza came out VERY fast- I believe in less than five minutes!  This usually does not bode well, and did not in this case.  The crust was soft and tasty, but had more than a few burn marks, which affected the flavor.  The middle was still a bit rare.  I attribute this to two factors: 1) Pizza not left in long enough, away from the flame, and 2) the sauce.  Tomato sauce should be rich, thick, and deep red.  This was not the case, as it was thin and not very flavorful.  Also, the small amount of basil used was thrown together instead of lovingly place atop the pizza.  Plus, the mushrooms atop my wifes pizza were definitely not quality.  They seemed to be drowned button mushrooms, while I would have used fresh cremini as an ingredient.

On to dessert.  We shared a tiramisu, which had a fluffy sweet mascarpone top over slightly over marinated savoiardi biscuits.  Our bill was brought to us before we could order coffee, but we did anyway.  Overall, we felt Spacca Napoli tries to rush you in for some pizza, and back out.  The dough is quite good, but the making of the pizza along with the ingredients make it fall far short of Napoletano style.  I love the wine list which is almost totally comprised of southern Italian wines.  Whites include Fiano, Greco di Tufo, and Falanghina, while reds of Primitivo, Aglianico, Nero d'Avola, and white and red Lacryma Christi are offered.  If you are in the neighborhood, try it out, but remember there are better options in Chicago.

Park Grill- Drink, Eat, Skate!

parkgrillMillenium Park has held a special place in many people's hearts since the turn of the century.  I have been going there since the beginning to enjoy the views, study while in college, and relax while on work breaks as a waiter.  I remember when most made fun of just about everything in the park, saying how much was spent, the ugly architechture, etc.  But, millions have fallen in love with the entire 2.45 acres of parkland, seen how funny we look in "The Bean", been "spit" at by the Crown Fountain, attended free concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavillion, and skated for free at the McCormick-Tribune Ice Skating Rink.

There is also a restaurant, The Park Grill, which is a WCWG favorite.  I proposed to my wife on the ice just under two years ago, and we've shared dinner at "our" table numerous times.  Recently, we met up at the bar for appetizers.  The selection is very good- try the pork nachos, tempura shrimp, or crisp calamari.  We really love the Kobe beef burger- it is topped with gorgonzola cheese and comes with killer seasoned fries.

As far as the beverages go, they have a good selection.  Goose Island on tap is in house, along with one of my favorites, Anchor Steam, a San Francisco based brewery.  It has a rich amber color, hoppy yeasty scents, and a bit of citrus and nuttiness on the palate.  The wines are all low to mid range pleasers.  I moved to the Miner Family Viognier, which has fresh peach and apricot flavor, while my wife enjoyed the Babich Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.  She really liked the ripe citrus flavor.  The key to value is to get a "quartino": a 1/4 liter flask (almost 9 oz.), usually about $3 more than the glass pour (6 oz.), and a significantly better value.  The bottle list is comprised of common favorites like A to Z, Elena Walch, Craggy Range, Saintsbury, Guenoc, Luna, and Penfolds.  If you are looking to "bling it up", you may want to look elsewhere, as this list is more geared toward frugal satisfaction.

So make your way down to Millenium Park.  Work up an appetite exploring or skating, then move to the Park Grill for good food and beverage!

Christmas Dinner with the Windy City Wine Guy

img_08851The celebration of Christmas has always been a tradition in the Bottigliero household, so we were at it again this year.  We normally have a seafood extravaganza on the eve of Christmas, but this year it was postponed until after Santa Claus visited due to the Windy City Wine Guy's work schedule.  So with wife and family, it was time to open some wine etc. and dig in.  Now let us check out the menu.

My wife and I began prepping early while watching A Christmas Story- I cannot make it through the holiday without seeing Ralphie!  I believe it is an old Italian tradition to drink a bit while you cook, so I opened a great morning beer choice, Blue Moon Belgian Ale (my wife's favorite) and got to work:

  • Spinach Ricotta Lasagna.  I did this the easy way.  I created a cheese blend out of fresh ricotta, one egg, oregano, and spinach.  I boiled lasagna noodles and laid them flat in a baking dish, spread the cheese blend atop, created another layer by adding more noodles and spread more cheese.  The top was finished with more flat noodles, some organic tomato sauce, and shredded mozzarella.  Cover that with aluminum foil, pop it in a 350 degree preheated oven for an hour, and you are done!

  • Butter Garlic Shrimp.  I bought U16-U20 shrimp (16-20 shrimp count per pound), peeled them (used the shells to create a shellfish broth), placed them in a baking dish with a half stick of butter, chopped garlic, and beer.

  • Mussels in White Sauce.  I placed olive oil and chopped garlic in a frying pan.  Then I put in the mussels.  While they were opening, the sauce was created: shellfish stock, white wine, chopped leeks, chili flakes, salt and pepper.  Place the mussels in a bowl and pour the sauce atop.

My wife made an arugula and heirloom tomato salad along with Christmas cookies and we were set!  

While I was cooking, I opened a bottle of Domaine Wachau Riesling.  I love dry Austrian Rieslings for their stone minerality and lime essence, and this one performs every time.  Then, my brother Anthony came over with a couple of wines he selected (with a bit of WCWG guidance!).  An old favorite from my Thanksgiving pairings to start the toasting was the Domaine Chandon Riche, an Extra Dry sparkling wine with a bit of Muscat for added sweetness.  The sparkling and Riesling were great with the salad and seafood.  We eventually opened the 2007 Mollydooker "The Scooter" Merlot to go with the lasagna and the rest of the evening.  It was dark and fruity with soft tannins and a lengthy pleasant taste.  This lasted us through Wii activities and Monopoly, until I eventually had to have a bit of aged rum. 

A great evening with family, food, and beverage in the comfort of home.  Hope these pairings and recipes help with future endeavors!  Tell the WCWG all about it!

Bears NFL Football-Entertaining Tips For a Night In

gwgw2000-7a1There is not much else which the Windy City Wine Guy likes more than good football, my Bears, and tasty beverage.  I will normally open some beer (I love Peroni, Dogfish Head, and Sam Adams or Goose Island seasonals) and prep finger foods like nachos, pizza bread, buffalo chicken, or fish tacos.  Last night my wife and I were invited to a fellow sommelier's abode to drink, dine, and watch Bears Thursday night football.  The drink of choice was- wine!

We started with a refreshing Vinho Verde, a great choice tfor Pre-game.  It was fresh and crisp, with a floral bouquet and citrus flavor.  Appetizers of homemade hummus and peppered popcorn went well with Danieal Manning's game opening kickoff touchdown!  We then moved on to 2006 Woollaston Nelson Pinot Noir from New Zealand.  The progression of a white crisp wine to a light/medium bodied red sat well.  The light game quality and ripe red fruit was getting us ready for half-time dinner. 

I brought over the wine of the night, 2006 Vinedo de los Vientos Tannat from Uruguay.  Tannat is originally from southwest France and used to make Armagnac, full rosé, and blend for strength and tannin.  In Uruguay, it is their national grape, and the big tannins and body soften to make a smoother wine.  Our hosts made lamb shank, cous cous, and rapini which went great with the Tannat.  Some exotic spice, tea, and dark fresh fruit was the consensus profile of the wine and we overall deemed it a quality buy.

The important lesson to learn out of all of this: when serving multiple wines while entertaining, always start with lighter to heavier body, and normally white to red.  We progressed from a light crisp white, to a light + bodied red, to a fuller red.  We even finished up with some Pliska Brandy from Bulgaria with dessert.  There is a way to mix in the distilled spirits, but they should be at the end.

This was a different and more select pairing for a football game, but was thoroughly enjoyable and delicious.  It was a refreshing change which I periodically enjoy for sporting events- brought back memories of my Osso Bucco alla Milanese with Super Tuscans for Superbowl 37.  Make sure you challenge your palate and change up your routines, even while vegging out to your favorite teams.  Variety is the spice of life!

Special thanks to our gracious hosts, Israel and Bonnie.  Next time you will be guests of WCWG and wife!

Thanksgiving Holiday Wine Pairings

66843409_f9cad3907b1Thanksgiving is on the way, which means family, turkey, lots of side dishes, and pumpkin pie.  These are staples of our American holiday.  But where there is food, there is drink, and the Windy City Wine Guy is here to help you with your holiday pairings.

First thing to remember, a perfect pairing can be difficult because there are so many dish options at a Thanksgiving dinner.  Even a turkey can be difficult because the white meat is so different from the dark meat.  I always love a challenge, so I have selected some beverages which will be perfect pairings, and others which are more versatile.

Perfect pairings for the turkey:

2007 Ponzi Pinot Gris and white meat- this wine has great body, spice, and fruit.  Vanilla, clove, and almond accompany sweet golden apple and melon.  This was fermented and aged in stainless steel, but allowed to undergo a partial malolactic fermentation, giving a rich and creamy texture.  Perfect for lean white turkey meat.  I have seen this available at stores for under $15.

2005 Rivetti La Spinetta Barbera d'Asti "Ca' di Pian" and dark meat- the perfect match for fatty meats is a wine with crisp acidity and good tannic structure.  Ca' di Pian has both.  It also has lush cherry, plum, and gamey notes.  I love this Barbera.  It is available at most stores for under $20.

Now we can get into more versatile beverage options.

Elysian "Night Owl" Pumpkin Ale- there is a consensus that this Washington brewery makes the best pumpkin ale.  It has a great orange color to accompany pumpkin and spice- nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon.  The body is medium and creamy.  These flavors mix well with most Thanksgiving spreads.  This beer can be hard to find and is only available in 22 oz. bottles, so try Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, made by a Delaware brewpub.  A fuller style with the same flavor profile and widely available in Chicagoland.  Four-paks are $9.99.

Domaine Chandon Riche- this sparkling wine has all Champagne varietals (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay) plus some Muscat.  These varietals rend a full and well rounded wine and the Muscat adds a touch of richness.  Perfect and versatile, and under $20.

Red Burgundy varietals- Pinot Noir and Gamay.  These wines have red fruit flavor and crisp acidity which makes them versatile beverages at the dinner table.  2007 O'Reilly's Pinot Noir has some good body and spice-always my big value choice at under $18.  For Gamay, you have to buy Beaujolais, and Georges Deboeuf is the best.  2008 Deboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau is an easy drink under $12, while his Moulin-a-Vent has more tannin and spice from its oak aging for under $15.

2007 Seghesio Zinfandel- if you want more body and juicy fruit, go for the zin.  Structure, spice, ripe fruits, and oak flavors are all a part of this rich and festive wine.  It will handle any food this holiday can throw at it!  WCWG loves this wine for $20.

2006 Valter Barbero "Serena"- for the sweet wine fans.  Based on the brachetto varietal, this Italian semi-sparkling (frizzante) pink wine is refreshing with strawberry and raspberry flavors.  The fruitiness is the versatility.  Under $10.

These beverages are sure to give you and your family the perfect compliment to a traditional American holiday.  I wish you the best of holidays and look forward to your feedback.

(image courtesy of flickr)

Wine and Baseball in San Francisco

During my first trip to San Francisco, I could not resist visiting AT&T Park, home of the Giants.  I purchased tickets for September 7th, a Sunday afternoon game against the Pittsburg Pirates.  The ballpark was chosen as this year's best sports facility, and we saw why.

Everything a couple or group could possibly need to enjoy a ballgame were here.  Easy access by public transportation, phenomenal concessions, extra large jumbotron, televisions showing live football, and great views inside and out were so distracting, one might not even notice a game was going on! 

We actually thought that was happening at first because not only were the Giants looking lackluster and losing, but the park itself was devoid of atmosphere.  Then the place exploded as the Giants rode a hit parade, scoring 10 runs without a home run!  After that, we toured around the park, drooling at concessions like Gilroy's Garlic Fries, chowder bread bowls, fajitas, italian sausage, crabcakes, and Caribbean BBQ.  There are also Carls Jr. for burger fans as well.

Now for beverages.  There are many microbrews to be had highlighted by Anchor Steam (for $8.50!).  And there may be no crying in baseball, but there is wine-ing!  Local heavy producing wineries are on the menu like Kendall Jackson, Clos du Bois, Ravenswood, and Cellar No. 8.  They are served in plastic cups for about $7-8 per.  So go to the ballpark, get your beer on, get your dog on, and get your wine on!

A Napa Must Stop: Taylor's Automatic Refresher

Going from winery to winery in Napa can be a bit draining.  Travel, heat, and wine does make one a bit tired.  Refreshment is just what the doctor calls for, and there is none better than Taylor's Automatic Refresher.

My wife and I found out about this hotspot from Guy Fieri's Diners Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network.  We decided to dig into a wide array of what they had to offer.  We split an Ahi Burger, which came out medium rare on an egg bun topped with slaw.  Delicious.  We later split a Western Bacon Blue Ring Burger- a large beef patty topped with bacon, BBQ sauce, and an onion ring filled with blue cheese!  The garlic fries were thin and a bit soggy, but the beer batter onion rings are perfect.  You can wash all of this down with California's best shake or a wide array of local wines.  Buon Appetito!

Great Sandwich Shop in St. Helena: Guigni!

Looking for a bite after our Duckhorn tasting, we headed into downtown St. Helena.  The road is lined with small local shops and plenty of street parking.  We entered the W.J. Guigni (pronounced Gween-Yi) Grocery Co. and it was like walking into a time warp!  There were signs from WWII recruiting, Coca-Cola, etc. along with Jaw-Breakers, and antique soda machines.  The deli options were numerous- the sliced breads and rolls were so soft and fresh, local meat and cheese options, and ripe fresh produce- love the tomatoes, sprouts, and avocado (which was so soft it was spread on the bread in place of mayo!).  Bacon is a house favorite (and mine too) along with a house made concoction called "Guigni Juice"- a sandwich vinagrette made with oil and herbs.  You can even take a bottle home.  The place was lively as locals and tourists rushed the counter to place orders.  The helpful, youthful staff put together killer sandwiches while our mouths watered.  We went for some kettle chips and a refreshing Jones Cream Soda- now with the switch to pure cane sugar!  Mmmm- get your Guigni and Jones on!