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!

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.

Father's Day with Wine

Father's Day is just around the corner and I'm sure everyone wants to do something special for Dad.  It's a day for families to thank the patriarch for all that he's done and for Dads to enjoy being surrounded by love.  Here's a few ways to show your appreciation:

  1. Sunday Grilling.  I love a good cookout- you can enjoy the weather, great company and relax by being surrounded by food.  It's also hard to beat the satisfaction (and taste!) you get from making a great meal.
  2. Take Dad Out.  There's so many great places in Chicagoland that Dad would love to eat at.  Prairie Fire in the West Loop will be having an omelete station, gourmet Bloody Marys and BBQ ribs.  Fleming's River North and Wheeling will be having a Father's Day Prix Fixe menu and Dad gets a $25 gift certificate to use on a future visit!  Prairie Grass in Northbrook has an amazing Father's Day buffet with NY strip, fried chicken, salmon and a crepe station.  Bistro One West in St. Charles has an amazing riverfront patio and a local menu featuring Wagyu beef hotdogs, smoked bacon BLTs, skirt steak salad and Meyer's farm burgers.  Try authentic Mexican for Dad at Guanajuato in Glencoe- Aztec spice rubbed chicken and a Spanish guitarist!
  3. Wine.  Get dad a bottle of wine for the occasion or his collection!  Great grilling wines make the perfect gift and I recommend Zinfandel like Martinelli Lolita Ranch ($70), Ridge Lytton Springs ($35), or Malbec like Catena Alta ($44) or Achaval Ferrer Mendoza ($25).

All of these are great suggestions that the whole family will enjoy.  Any way you go you can't lose!

Valentine's Day & Wine

For all you Romeos out there, Valentine's Day is coming up and I've got news for you- ladies love wine!  I'm sure you're saying, "Hey dude- I like wine too!", but for the upcoming holiday it's going to be very important to have the right wine.  Here's a few suggestions:

  • Nicolas Feuillate Rosé ($44.99).  You can't go wrong with bubbly, especially pink bubbly.  This will not only set the mood, it will also pair with mostly anything you'd like to put against it.  It's raspberry fullness and exotic spice depth will leave you asking for more.  Grab a bottle or two.
  • Huel Pinot Blanc "Cuvee Les Amours" ($12.49).  The name says it all and if you're in the mood for some white wine then you'll be in for a treat.  Pop it open with some oysters on the halfshell or any other fresh seafood.  Melon and pear fruitiness pop out at you in the nose and palate.
  • Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé ($11.29).  More pink for Valentine's Day?  You've got it!  And this Malbec will not disappoint.  Fresh, fruity, lively and fun.  If you're eating spicy food this will cool it off and enhance the flavors.
  • Valentin Bianchi Malbec ($17.99).  More Malbec, and this one is deep purple, bright, spicy and full bodied.  Fire up the grill for some beef or lamb you'll be in pure bliss with this choice.
  • Gaja Ca'Marcanda Promis ($39.99).  Love is all about trust and your date will be elated after you've come through on your promise to not mess up the wine choice!  This wine is full of violets, mint and italian oregano aroma to go with its juicy dark fruit.  Love this wine!
  • Terra Valentine Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($34.99).  For the fullest of lovers, this wine will leave you and your date in ecstasy.  The perfect dry wine to go with chocolate dessert.

Make sure to grab a bottle or two out of these selections and let me know how your Valentine's experience went!