Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth


While visiting Duluth, I had to venture to the Northern Waters Smokehaus in Canal Park for one of their delicious sandwiches.  They're basically a small deli featuring smoked fish and house cured meat and pate, which you can take to go or grab a sammy.  

First visit I took Lily and we grabbed lunch for the whole family: got a Slamming Gordon for the kids which his smoked salmon pate on pita with cucumber & tomato, a Sitka Sushi for the wife which is Sockeye gravlax (dry cured) with wasabi mayo, ginger & veggies, and a Cajun Finn for myself- smoked Cajun spiced salmon with green onion cream cheese and peppers.

We sat on our patio and popped open some Ferrari Rose, a Metodo Classico dry sparkling wine from the Veneto made from Pinot Nero (60%) and Chardonnay (40%).  It was perfect with my sandwich: the acidity melded with the fat of the salmon and cream cheese, dry charred oak spice matched the smokiness of the fish, light berry flavor cooled the Cajun spice while bready toasty aroma went well with the ciabatta bun.

It's funny how something perceived as a classy or celebratory beverage can go so well with the casual encounter of a sandwich, so it just goes to show- don't pigeonhole a sparkling wine!

I stopped back to grab some smoked fish and pate to take home and it was outrageously delicious too.  The Smokehaus is a must-stop if you're in Duluth.

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!

Masciarelli Abruzzi Wine at Pane Caldo

Masciarelli WinesI recently had the pleasure of tasting Masciarelli wines paired with the Italian cuisine of Pane Caldo Restaurant and it was both a tasty and enlightening experience.  Pane Caldo has a longPane Caldo standing on East Walton Street in Chicago's Gold Coast.  It's a quaint but classy establishment with great northern Italian dishes and an amazing wine list.  I (fortunately) found parking in front and was directed to a private dining room a couple of doors down.  The space seemed perfect for private events with a large banquet table, open space, ample lighting, a restroom and coatroom.  I was greeted by Angela Acquaviva of Masciarelli and Betsy & Pete of Vintage Wine.  Let's get to the tasting!

We started off with an explanation of Azienda Agricola Masciarelli.  Gianni Masciarelli began a journey over 30 years ago to become a great winemaker in his home of Abruzzo.  He traveled through France to learn of advanced techniques which greatly influenced him and his wines.  When he returned home he was ready to take his family's vineyards and increase the quality level of their output.  He wanted to do this by putting indigenous varietals like Montepulciano and Trebbiano of Abruzzo on the world map.  Gianni did this by lowering production, adding a good mix of new French oak and aging.  Today Masciarelli has 13 vineyards throughout Abruzzo.  Unfortunately for most of America, the only wines we've seen from Abruzzo are extremely light reds of Montepulciano grapes and whites of Trebbiano (except for Orvieto DOC wines which can be much higher quality), until now.  The family dealt with the unfortunate recent passing of Gianni in 2008, and continues to produce great wines in his honor.

While we were learning about Masciarelli, we tasted through a 'vertical tasting' (a tasting consisting of multiple vintages (years or harvests) of the same wine) of Gianni's famed Villa Gemma Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  Vintages started with recent selections and went as far back as 1999.  The youngest were very full of fresh dark fruit, big gritty tannins and high acidity- both indications that the wine still needs aging.  The further we went back in vintage, the more wild gamey notes came through, along with herbal scents, with the tannins gradually softening.  This wine was truly amazing compared to other Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines I've tried- it's aged in both barrel and bottle for over 5 years!  Gianni started this label in 1984 and it is only produced in high quality years and will be available in wine shops for about $90.

It was then time to enjoy some cuisine with the wines and we started with Castello di SemivicoliCastello di Semivicoli Trebbiano Trebbiano d'Abruzzo paired with seafood in white wine and saffron.  This worked well as the fresh seafood and lively sauce mixed with the wine's young fruit and zippiness.  Next we went on to Marina Cvetic (a label named after Gianni's Serbo-Croatian wife who works with the winery) oak aged Trebbiano paired with Marina Cvetic Trebbianomushroom risotto.  I normally would recommend Pinot Noir, Barbera or Nebbiolo with this dish, but the rich Trebbiano was very unique.  It's weight and sour creaminess stood up to the risotto and the rich mushrooms.  For a final course we had filet mignon with a red wine sauce matched up with the Marina Cvetic Montepulciano which was an excellent pairing- the slight game and tannins that the grape brings with it wasMarina Cvetic Montepulciano excellent with the beef.  And there was more Villa Gemma left to tackle our chocolatey desserts.

In summation, it was a fantastic experience with varietals I've never known to produce truly great wines, at a fantastic restaurant with outstanding food, service and ambience.  I'll be visiting both in the future- salute!

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!

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!

Super Bowl Wine Pairings


Super Bowl XLV is approaching fast and everyone should have a good idea what food will be on the menu for the big game.  Beer is probably the beverage choice for over 70% of you,  but I'm calling an audible to put a twist in your gameplan.  Here's a few typical Super Bowl foods and some pairing ideas:

  • Pizza.  An extremely popular choice which needs a beverage that can stand up to sweet, tangy tomatoes, cheese and topping choices.  You're going to need a wine with decent body and acidity to play with the tomato, some tannin for any meat, spice and juicy red fruit to enhance the experience.  I love Sangiovese, like Avignonesi Rosso di Montepulciano ($15.99), or a Zinfandel like Foxglove ($12.99).
  • Buffalo Wings.  Food like this is synonymous with sports viewing.  You'll definitely need some body on the wine along with some sweetness to pair with the spiciness of the wings and saltiness of the blue cheese.  I like Riesling, like Dr. Heidemanns-Bergweiler QbA ($12.99), Pinot Gris like Seven Hills ($13.99) or a very fruity Australian red like Mitolo "Jester" Cabernet Sauvignon ($11.99).
  • Chili.  The crockpots will be working overtime this weekend and you're going to need a wine with body, meatiness, acidity and spiciness to stand up your recipe.  Syrah/Shiraz is perfect for this dish, and I'd go with Ben Glaetzer Heartland Shiraz ($13.99) or Four Vines Paso Robles Syrah ($13.99).
  • Burgers.  Many will be firing up the grill for some burger delight.  You'll need a beefy wine with some tannins, body and ripe fruit to help you take a bite out of that charred flavor.  I love Malbec for the task, especially Cueva de las Manos Malbec Reserve ($12.99).
  • Hot Dogs.  Another popular meat choice, this depends mostly upon how you'll be topping it.  For the typical Chicago-style, I like my German Riesling choice we used for the wings.  For a chili dog, go with the Syrah/Shiraz choices from the chili.

So for beer drinkers who want a little more than Pilsners, I suggest you try something different like Goose Island Pepe Nero, Two Brothers The Bitter End Pale Ale or Bell's Best Brown Ale

Whatever you do, I know you'll score but if you take any of these picks, they're guaranteed to be a touchdown!

New Year's Wine Resolutions

So we're just over three weeks into 2011 and though I'm sure everyone came into January with a New Year's Resolution or two, it's never too late to add another, especially if it involves wine!  Here are a few suggestions for you to try out:



  • Add more wine to your diet.  Wine consumption has many benefits.  It's been proven to be beneficial for your heart and overall health, reduce your chances to be afflicted by cancer and aid in weight control.  This, of course, should be done with moderation.  If you stay in the 1-2 glass range (6-12 oz.) then you will be in a beneficial zone, whereas if you exceed that amount on a regular basis, you could actually harm yourself in other ways: cirrhosis of the liver or other forms of cancer could result.  Add more red wine to your diet and you should live a healthier life.
  • Add to or start your collection.  A personal wine collection can aid you in a number of areas like entertaining, investment, wine knowledge, respect and a sort of coming to age.  Your friends will be impressed when they visit (and drink your wine!), your wine will grow in value and maturity, and you'll feel more full and accomplished.  If you haven't started your collection, splurge and pick out a collectable bottle to get started.  If you already have one, do the same!
  • Try new wines.  I meet so many people who only drink from France and California, Italy and Spain, Australian, etc.  It's great that you like those wines, but there's a whole world out there full of different varietals and styles.  Pick out a new varietal, country or growing region and check out something new.
  • Wine/Food Pairings.  Certain wines go best with certain foods.  Try to get into classic pairings like goat cheese with Sauvignon Blanc, caviar with Champagne, lamb with Bordeaux rouge, etc.  Then try new pairings like Thai with Gewurztraminer, grilled beef with Argentine Malbec or pizza with Zinfandel.  Try to see how they one enhances the other and help you enjoy the experience all the more.

These are just a few ways to incorporate wine more into your life and I'm sure there are many more.  Let all of know how you plan on doing it or if you decide to take any of the suggestions above!

Holiday Wine Picks

So the end of the year is near, meaning we have alot of celebrating to do.  Whether you're buying gifts (wine makes the perfect holiday gift), having friends and family over for Christmas dinner or you need some bubbly for New Year's, these wine picks should impress. 

Gift Wines

I tend to lean toward full bodied reds for gifts.  They tend to age longer, pair well with meat main dishes, and simply put, most Americans like red wine.  So here's a few to choose from, in various price ranges:

  • 2007 Cosentino Cigarzin ($16.99).  The name is very macho and so is the wine.  It's full of interesting flavors like rhubarb, pomegranate, cherry cream and the signature cigar box aroma.  This is one to warm up to and enjoy with a holiday meal or some chocolate.  Also, a great value I found at CostCo.
  • 2008 Langmeil "Valley Floor" Shiraz ($22.99).  This wine is deep and rich, loaded with plum, dark cherry and berry flavor along with vanilla and cocoa.  Plus the fact that it comes from Barossa and has a screwcap makes this wine hard to resist opening!
  • 2007 Tinto Pesquera ($32.99).  Great Tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero giving dark rich fruit, pencil lead, leather, minerality and nice acidic bite.  Will age gracefully.
  • 2007 Hall Cabernet Sauvignon ($39.99).  The all-American wine gift is a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and this bottle gives all that it should: full body, dark cherry, plum, coffee, licorice and a long finish.  This bottle should age gracefully and be a great part of the recipient's cellar.
  • 2007 Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval ($52.99).  A great blend of 45% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon from Yakima Valley in Washington.  Blackberry, cassis, flowers, spice and herbs are a part of the aroma and flavor profile.  The recipient will love you for this!
  • 2005 Giorgio Rivetti La Spinetta "Vigneto Gallina" Barbaresco ($79.99).  An awesome and present from northwest Italy.  This wine would be a great addition to any cellar and has lasting ability along with raspberry and plum, tar and truffle essence.

Food Wines

Here are two wines which match very well with most foods and are safe bets to pair with whatever dish you may run into.

The Bubbly

There is sure to be alot of celebrating and this calls for some sparkling wine.  Not only is it crisp and refreshing, but the foam, bubbles and fruity flavor will help you ring in the New Year in style.  I decided to leave out Champagne and only put in the value selections, but if you feel like it, grab a bottle of Duval-Leroy, Dom Perignon or any other Champagne.

  •  Gran Sarao Brut Cava ($9.99).  A great value with grannie smith apple, yeasty dough and lemon zest flavors.  They even added Chardonnay to the traditional blend of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo, giving it more body.
  • Huber "Hugo" Sparkling Rosé ($9.99).  An Austrian blend of Pinot Noir and Zweigelt, this wine will wow you with its strawberries, raspberries, rose petals and minerality.  And the pricetag is just right.
  • Mionetto Organic Prosecco D.O.C. ($12.99).  If you're trying to save money and stay green, this is the wine for you.  They even used recyclables to make the bottle and label!  Golden apples and elderflower along with crispness and fresh bubbles. 
  • Gustave Lorentz Cremant d'Alsace ($19.99).  A lively sparkling wine made up of mostly Pinot Blanc and loaded with brioche, apples, meyer lemon and a hint of nuttiness.
  • 2006 Argyle Brut ($19.99).  Blend of 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir.  Full of honeysuckle, melon, vanilla spiced pear, apple, biscuit, lemon meringue, well, you get the picture- a must buy!
  • L. Mawby Brut Cremant Classic ($21.99).  Straight from Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula, made of 100% Vignoles (hybrid varietal).  Excellent fruit flavor, crispness, yeast and toasted pine nuts.

Holiday Beer

Yes, beer drinkers should not be excluded from the celebration, and here's a few to keep you happy:

Happy Holidays, stay safe and let me know how you enjoyed the recommendations!

Thanksgiving Wines Edition 3

Another Thanksgiving full of stuffing, yams, pumpkin pie, turkey and football is almost upon us.  I talked about some great wines and varietals and how they go with your holiday dinner in my 2009 Thanksgiving pairings article, and those rules still apply.  If you're still looking for the perfect wines to match, I've got a few for you:

  • Santa Margherita Prosecco ($16).  Yes, they do make a normally overpriced Pinot Grigio, but their Prosecco is amazing and a deal at this pricepoint.  Apricots, pears, peach and a hint of white pepper will tickle your tongue.
  • 2007 Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris ($15).  A turkey dinner always needs some richness and this wine has it.  Loaded with sweet fruit nuances of peach, pear, melon and apple pie, a touch of minerality, a hint of spice and creaminess makes this the white wine buy of the holiday season.
  • 2007 Grgich Hills Chardonnay ($36).  A steadily amazing wine year after year, this biodynamic, full-bodied but bright white will match your turkey and alot of other dishes.  Ripe apple, mango, oaky vanilla, cinnamon, pineapple and wild honey are just a few of the nuances your senses will enjoy.
  • 2006 Dog Point Pinot Noir ($34).  Recently I've become a huge fan of New Zealand Pinot Noir, and this one keeps me coming back.  Excellent acidity, this wine is vibrant and full of earthiness, mushroom, ripe cherry and plum.
  • 2006 Château de Tiregand Pécharmant ($15).  A hard wine to find but well worth the adventure.  Hailing from Bergerac, this deal is made up of 45% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc.  It's silky smooth and complex, full of dark plum, coffee, blackberry, clove and vanilla.
  • 2007 Cosentino CigarZin ($15).  This is one of my favorite red picks for the holidays- a very festive wine with dark dried fruit and lively spice flavor.  Have to love the jamminess and cigarbox scents!
  • Terradora di Paolo Aglianico ($16).  A southern Italian classic which goes perfect with your holiday dinner.  Ripe raspberry, cherry, tobacco, licorice and more oak spice takes this wine a long way.
  • Dogfish Head Punkin Ale ($9.99/4 pack)  I'm always throwing a beer or two in and since I made a batch of pumpkin ale, I decided to recommend one of my favorites on the market.  The pumpkin flavor is subtle and it does have the spices and a hint of brown sugar on its full-bodied finish.

I hope you go with some of these selections and enjoy the day with your friends and family.  Also, have fun planning those post-Thanksgiving workouts and let me know how the pairings worked!



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.


Wine in Woodinville and Chateau Ste. Michelle


Before our WBC or Bust group was to set off east from Seattle to Walla Walla, we had a chance to break in the bus on a short trip to Woodinville, a former suburb of Seattle.  There are over 50 wineries in Woodinville and we were on our way to its most famous, Chateau Ste. Michelle, which has been around since the repeal of prohibition, when it was known as Pommerelle Wine Company.  Now it is nothing short of ginormous, with a large number of lines: Columbia Valley wines which bring out regional and varietal character, Indian Wells brings out new world nuances, Single Vineyard, Ethos Reserve with old world style, Artist series Meritage blend, Domaine Ste. Michelle sparkling wines, Eroica Riesling collaboration with German winemaker Ernst Loosen, Limited Release wines for club members and Col Solare, a red wine collaboration with Tuscan winemaker Marchese Piero Antinori.


We embarked on a tour of the winery led by Lynda Eller (Director of Communications) and winemaker Wendy Stuckey.  We went through the winery's long history and partnerships, and saw their large fermentation tanks and multiple storage barrels.  Later, we were treated to a wine tasting and food pairing conducted by John Sarich, winery Culinary Director.  We tasted four different Rieslings: 2007 & 2008 Eroica ($24), 2009 Columbia Valley Riesling ($9) and 2009 Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling ($15), Spiced Dishes & Rieslingpaired with three spicy samples: Indian Spiced Prawns & Tomato Chutney, Sesame Seared Halibut with Orange-Basil Thai Curry, and Currywurst.  I always love comparing different vineyards and vintages against eachother, as this is the best way to catch subtle and interesting differences.  Also, Rieslings pair very well with both exotic and inflamingDuck & Red Wine spice because of the grape's high acidity, citrus fruit profile and varying degree of sweetness.  We were then offered up Roasted Duck with Cherry Merlot Sauce, Sweet Potato Cake and Manchego Cheese paired with three reds: 2007 Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot ($22), 2006 Cold Creek Vineyard Merlot ($28) and 2006 Artist Series Meritage ($50), a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  Merlot and Meritage wines are a great pairing for rich duck dishes while Manchego, a rich sheep milk cheese, blends greatly with Merlot's silky tannins.  We finished off with 2005 Ethos Late Harvest Riesling ($35) with a lemon cookie and berries.  This fantastic dessert wine meshed well with the citrusy, butter cookie flavor.


Northwest Totem WinesAfterward, we met a slew of Woodinville winemakers at Willows Lodge: Northwest Totem Cellars, BetzBetz Family Family Winery, DeLille Cellars, DiStefano Winery, William Church Winery, Hollywood Hill Vineyards, Brian Carter Cellars, Novelty Hill/Januik Winery, Sparkman Cellars, Cuillin Hills Winery, Baer Winery, Des Voigne Cellars and Barrage Cellars.  There I met Bob Betz and his daughter Carmen, and tasted the best wine of the entire trip, 2008 Betz Family La Côte Patriarche Syrah ($55) from Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima.  An inky, black/dark purple color, with deeply spicey, floral, smokey aromas and deep dark fruit, black pepper and a touch of dried, cured meat on what seemed to be an endless palate.  This wine was so complex and lasting that I couldn't stop thinking about it!  I tasted so many good wines that it's hard to mention them all, but Hollywood Hill Vineyard Malbec, DeLille Cellars Grand Ciel and Northwest Totem Cellars Cabernet Franc were a few standouts.


The Barking FrogIt was a small walk to the other side of the lodge to The Barking Frog, where we were in for a killer lunch prepared by Chef Bobby Moore paired with more DeLille Cellars wines.  It kicked off with Grand Marnier Prawns and led to Seared Sea Scallops.  We finished with Dark Chocolate Coffee Ganache.  I would have been happy to call it a day after that perfect lunch on their outdoor patio, but we were in for more tastings and fun back in Seattle.  More on that in the next post!

GrubHub and WCWG Team-Up for Valentine's Day Food/Wine Pairings

Here's an opportunity to take advantage of the cold weather, recent snow and a loving holiday: I've teamed up with GrubHub to bring you some excellent delivery food for two people, wine pairing recommendations, with each choice priced around $100 or less!  You can avoid the drive, parking or valet, and tipping by staying in the comfort of your own home with your significant other.  Just choose one of the meals, run out to your local wine shop or order the recommendation online, light the fireplace and enjoy!  Three cities: Chicago, Boston and Washington D.C. are involved.  If you come from one of these three cities, click on your city and you're set.  If not, use some of the wines I've recommended with the different cuisines and you'll be set as well.  Happy Valentine's Day and enjoy the food and drink!

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)

BYOB at Honky Tonk BBQ

 After a long day of moving couches with my brother, we were up for a big meal.  I've been meaning to try Honky Tonk BBQ in Pilsen, and since I live closeby, we were on our way.  Being on 18th Street, there was ample parking, and their entrance is definitely an eye catcher- a single door ensconced in red and yellow paint, flames, and bright light.  I had a feeling we were in for a meaty experience!

We immediately walked in on their carryout area, and I started to salivate with the smell of spicy barbeque.  They have seating in three rooms: a dining room with local paintings, a bar area with booths and live music, and there are a couple of booths near the entrance. 

Another great feature is they are BYOB- but you better hurry because they have applied for their liquor license!  We brought some Bohemia lager, a Mexican beer with a slight malty, hoppy flavor, and a lightness to not overpower the barbeque.  Your waitress will bring an opener and icebucket as soon as you are ready to start cracking them open! 

Next we were onto the food.  We decided on the Sampler Platter: half slab of ribs, half BBQ chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket, a hot link, 2 corn muffins, cole slaw and baked beans.  We also wanted to start with something, so the waitress talked us into their chili mac- this was actually our favorite!  The chili was thick, flavorful and beefy, with beans, tomatoes, and even some deliciously smokey beef brisket mixed in.  It was topped off with mac & cheese- curly pastas coated with sharp and tangy cheese sauce.  We loved it.  Not soon after, our combo came out.  We were in for a big meaty treat as we could sample all that they had to offer.  We could pair them with three housemade sauces: a garlic sauce, a tangy sauce, and sweet sauce.  I like to mix the garlic and tangy together.  The chicken was moist, but the dark meat was undercooked.  This can be tricky, as white and dark meat are better at different temperatures.  The hot link was excellent- a smokey, spicy sausage with crisp skin and porky presence.  Both the pulled pork and beef brisket were slightly smokey, tender, and full of flavor.  The ribs were a bit disappointing, as they were really dry and clinging to the bones, but the dry rub was really nice- the perfect blend of spice and flavor, though I like to make my home rub with a touch of sweetness.  I really liked the taste of the baked beans, as they had pork rich flavor, and the touch of sweetness I was looking for.  Overall, I think their barbeque is quite good, and I would like to give their ribs another chance.

I really want to go out and check out their space on the weekend when it's rockin' out to some honky tonk.  It looks awful cozy and I'll bet it's a great time!  Also, I think I came to the right place, as one of my old friends left his mark- Guy Fieri.  I will be sure to look for Honky Tonk featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives- it's great to see so many Chicago joints on Guy's radar.  Make sure to grab your kids, bibs, and boots for a smokey BBQ time!

Holiday Event Planning at Your Service!

The holidays can be alot of fun, but they can also be stressful.  Picking out the right venue, caterers, beverages, pairings, etc. can make or break your event.  Fortunately, there is a solution: contact the Windy City Wine Guy!  Anything is possible, from finding the right spot for your corporate holiday party, to finding the right wines to pair with each catered selection, or even purchasing the right beverage for your baked ham dinner. 

Need a professional sommelier onhand for a wine tasting or to help entertain your guests?  I have over ten years combined experience as both a mixologist and sommelier, and have paired beverages with everything from caviar to cupcakes.  Santa Claus may be over three weeks away, but the Windy City Wine Guy can help anytime!

Contact me anytime:

Get Your Thanksgiving Picks Here

Thanksgiving Dinner

It's that time of year again.  Pumpkins are being turned into pie, turkeys are about to be defrosted, families are planning on being together, and everyone needs to get some holiday hooch.  But what are you supposed to pair with all of the dishes and the turkey?  No need to fear, your Windy City Wine Guy is on the case. 

Now, pairings for this holiday can be difficult, considering the wide array of flavors and dishes involved.  Not only are there savory choices such as mashed potatoes & gravy and stuffing, but there are also sweet dishes such as cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.  Then there's the turkey.  The crackling tasty skin, the moist and dense breast meat, and the salty, fattier dark meat.  All of this makes a perfect pairing almost impossible, but that's why you try multiple beverages!

Elk Cove Pinot Gris

2008 Elk Cove Pinot Gris

and white meat: I can't help it, but I love this varietal with poultry.  The nose is quite intense, with floral aromatics, and leads to a full on citrus party.  Heavy meyer lemon and grapefruit appear on the palate, along with rich honey and pineapple.  Fortunately, this wine can be found for around $15.

Argiolas Perdera

2007 Argiolas Perdera and dark meat: For dark meat poultry, you must have a wine with some body and a bit of spice, and this one has both.  Made mostly (90%) from the


varietal in Sardegna, this wine is packed with cherry goodness, black pepper, licorice, and bittersweet chocolate flavors.  The tannins are firm and supple.  Can be had for $14.  I also like

2007 La Posta Cocina Blend

, a mix of 60% Malbec, 20% Bonarda, and 20% Syrah.  It has weight, color, tannins, and spice, and a $14 pricetag.  Nice.

Pinot Noir can be an excellent wine to have with this holiday, as most are approachable, light and fruity, not without spicy components.  I love the 2007


 Bingo Cuvee ($19.99), not only for it's jammy fruit, but also for the earthy, mushroomy aroma.  Also, a great value Pinot Noir made by

King Estate

, their 2008 Acrobat, is light, fruity, spicy, and available for under $15.  A couple of alternative light reds are the 2007 Saladini Pilastri Rosso Piceno ($11.99), for red fruit, spiciness, and tobacco, and the 2008 Valle Reale "Vigne Nuove" Montelpulciano d'Abruzzo ($12.99).  This wine is made from grapes which face the hot sun on the Adriatic coast, grown from the cuttings of 40+ year old vines.  It is not only an easy drink, but also adds minerality and concentrated fruit.

Another varietal not to be missed is Chardonnay, as a weighty white wine can make it through the meal.  The Clara Benegas Chardonnay ($9.99) is another great value from

Michel Rolland

, as it combines rich pear, caramel apple, and mango, with a hint of vanilla.

For the big red lovers, I recommend a trip

down under

.  The 2005 Pretty Sally is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon and 37% Shiraz.  Full bodied and full of both dark fruit and spice: cumin, pepper, and baking spice.  Great value for $17.99.  I am also a fan of the 2006 Cimicky "Trumps" Shiraz ($18.99) for its dark flavor, smokiness, and excellent length.  Also, stay down under for your 

sweet tooth

, as I recommend

2008 Two Hands Brilliant Disguise Moscato

($14.99).  Great acidity accompanies honey sweetness and a slight sherbert flavor.  Kind of different from an Italian version, but really good.

No party would be complete without a sparkling wine, not to mention they are usually the most versatile beverage in your arsenal.  The

Graham Beck Brut

($14.99) is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from South Africa.  It's full, creamy, and reminds me of lemon meringue pie.

Frog's Hollow Double Pumpkin Ale

I also gotta have some beer, and pumpkin ale is on my list.  The

Hoppin' Frog Double Pumpkin Ale

out of Akron, Ohio, is festively full of flavor: cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and pumpkin pie blast in your mouth.  A great pumpkin beer.

If all of this isn't good enough, you can go back to my

'08 pairings

, or my




.  Either way, I hope you get the most out of these pairings, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!  Let me know how those worked out for you.