Monday, April 29, 2013

Wine Tip: Wine and Chocolate Pairing

I probably should have hit this topic in February for Valentine’s Day, but let’s just say I’m early for next Valentine’s Day! If you are looking for a wine to pair with a Chocolate Dessert it is probably time to break out some fortified dessert wines. 

The “fortified” part comes from the addition of alcohol to the wine. There are both dry and sweet fortified wines, so you want to make sure you get a dessert/sweet wine.  Your best bet will be a Port or a Madeira wine.  

Port wines come in ruby (more red, fruity and "younger" tasting) and Tawny (aged for a long time, so more brownish in color and more complex in flavor).  Madeira wines are also from Portugal, will be brown in color and will also come in different styles from dry to very sweet. Although Port and Madeira are both fortified wines, Madeira is made through a very different process than Port, so will end up with darker flavors and aromas such as carmel, raisin, fig, nutmeg and clove and cinammon. Look for Bual (will be medium sweet), or Malmsey (will be sweeter).  Madeira is my very favorite dessert wine - because it has those very interesting aromas and flavors.

If you are looking to try something different with a dark chocolate - either just the chocolate, or a dark chocolate cake that is more bitter than sweet - try with a pairing with a dry red wine. I think the combination of dark chocolate with a big Cabernet Sauvignon or a big Red Zinfandel is a great pairing - goes nicely with the bitterness of the chocolate.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Red Zinfandel - 2009 Chateau Potelle VGS Zinfandel

It had been too long since we imbibed in a bit of Famous Dave's BBQ, so we let Dave do the cooking - and we brought the goods home to enjoy with a Red Zinfandel from Chateau Potelle.   A little spendy for a week day treat - but we had just found out that a sufficient number of people had signed up for a Chateau Potelle event in September where we get to blend our own wine - so it was a mini-celebration!

 My Famous Dave's feast consisted of St. Louis style ribs and a hot link.

Wine: 2009 Chateau Potelle VGS Zinfandel
Region: Napa Valley
Grape Varieties: Zinfandel
Obtained from: Purchased from Chateau Potelle Wine Club
Price: $52.00 (Wine Club Price)
Wino4Life Category: Weekend Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear. Dark purple in color at the core with a water white rim.
Aroma: Nice and fruity with black cherry and raspberry aromas, along with some black pepper and other spices.
Taste: Still a bit tannic, could use some more aging time - but delicious and complex, and the fruit forward nature went well with the BBQ sauce.  Dave's "Devil's Spit" BBQ sauce was too spicy, and clashed with the alcohol level of the wine, but the same is true with most red wines I've tried with that hotter sauce (Devil's Spit it is great with beer though!)


The Grade: I give this one an A-. A great wine for a special occasion. The tannins were a bit harsh, but will likely mellow with age. There are definitely Zinfandels out there available at a better price, but Chateau Potelle is one of our overall favorite wineries, so they get special attention!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Planning Ahead for Wine Drinking - Ways to Help with the Morning After

Wine is fun. Wine is frolic. Parties and vacations are planned around wine. Elaborate meals are carefully planned to find those stellar food and wine pairings. People drink wine, discuss wine, buy wine, drink wine and study wine. Amongst all that fun is that small element of downside... the morning after. Hangovers make great movies, but can really spoil that next day.   
Uhhhhh.... Help Me!

While there is no way to completely avoid or totally cure any hangover - here are a few tips that should at least provide some relief.  Much like the time you spent planning a great party or great meal, or selecting a great wine or wines at your favorite restaurant - take a little time to plan for hangover prevention (and perhaps a bit of cure).  None of these tips will keep you from losing teeth or getting face tattoos - that is completely up to you and your Wolf Pack.
I Knew I Should Drink Any of that F'in Merlot!

Considerations to help avoid an epic hangover.

Drink Slowly.  Pace yourself and drink slowly - wine is meant to be savored and contemplated - not chugged.  Whether at a party or a wine dinner, take time to enjoy the wine and engage others in discussion about the wine and how it pairs with the food.
Not Wise to Skip the Sip and Savor Steps

Drink Water.  Dehydration is one of the factors that can make your morning after less than enjoyable. Try and down a glass of water per alcoholic drink to combat dehydration.

Sleepy Time.  Before retiring for the night - have another glass of water and pop a couple of your favorite pain relievers like Advil or Tylenol to help combat a hangover headache.
Please Save Me!

Know Thyself. As you experiment with various wines, you may notice impacts certain wines have on you - either when drinking or the morning after. Red and White wines contain sulfites that some have problems with (headaches, etc). Red wines have histamines which can give you a runny nose or other impacts (whites have some, but reds have more due to the skin contact during fermentation).  If you have reactions to certain types of wine, avoid those in quantity as you will likely pay the next day.  Reactions to sulfites and histamines aside, high alcohol, highly tannic reds will tend to impact you the most.

Trust the French. The cheese course of a meal (more common in France than in the US) is not only delicious, it is practical as well. Fatty foods like cheese will help slow the body's absorption of alcohol.  You need to eat the fatty foods before or during the drinking - although they may taste great the next day, fatty foods won't do anything to help once the hangover is in place.
Mmmm... Cheesy!

Careful with Mixing.  Be careful with not only throwing hard liquor into the mix, but switching to beer or even switching between white and red wines can have an impact - stick with one type of wine for the best results.
Hmmm...Oh Well, I Didn't Have Plans Tomorrow Anyway!

Drink Good Stuff. Less expensive wines can have a larger amount of additives that can impact how you feel the next day. Quality wine will typically be made with better quality grapes, with a better process (e.g. fewer stems, leaves, creatures in the fermentation process), and fewer additives.  Many years ago I made beer at home, with just the basic ingredients and nothing in the way of additives or preservatives - and I could tell a definite difference in the hangover department.

Be Careful with Dessert Wines.  Some of my biggest blunders have occurred late in the night when a great meal has been served, or a great party is winding down - and out comes the dessert wine.  Sweet, great tasting - not what your willpower, weakened by early indulging needs. Many dessert wines such as Port, Madeira, and Sherries are fortified, meaning that extra alcohol is added. Other dessert wines are made from late harvest grapes - meaning more sugar is present to be converted into alcohol during fermentation.  A whole night of carefully managing your hangover can be thrown out the window with a couple glasses of this delicious but dangerous stuff. 

Breakfast of Champions.  No matter what condition you wake up in the next day - breakfast  is always the most important meal of the day!  Eggs contain large amounts of cysteine, a substance that breaks down hangover-causing acetaldehyde in the liver. Bananas are a great source of potassium to replace any depleted during a night of imbibing. Also, continue with the hydration, either with water or fruit juices.  Be careful with coffee - although the caffeine may give you a boost, coffee is also a diuretic that will further dehydrate you.  The fructose in fruit juice will give you a boost as well, without the downside of coffee.
Incredible... Edible...

Hair of the Dog. Just say no to this one. Next time a dog bites you - eat some of its hair. Feel better? Didn't think so - and you probably won't with the last bit of Cabernet left in the bottom of a leftover bottle.
Uh... No Thanks!

Magic Pills.  I have never personally tried any of the magical hangover pills, but most are just vitamin supplements - and you will likely benefit more from the water you drink to take the pill than the pill itself.  Forget these, and follow the other pointers listed here for a more reliable, and cheaper, alternative.

Just remember - when you are out with your best buds - enjoy yourself, but keep in mind you may want to enjoy the next day as well. Otherwise - those day afters can get a little...strange!!

Want to test your knowledge of alcohol and impacts on your body? Try this quiz

Any other tips or tricks to share - please comment below.  Thanks!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Wine Tip of the Week - Buy in Moderation

One thing I can almost guarantee is that your taste and preferences in wine will continue to change - now and forever. The change will more likely be greater early on as you become a wino - but your taste will continue to evolve, and you will continue to try new and different wines that may become your next favorite.  When you do find something you enjoy drinking, be careful about buying cases of it - even if it's on sale!  It doesn't hurt to stock up - but keep in mind that if you tastes change, you may be left with way too much wine you don't really like anymore.
Yeah - Not so Tasty Anymore

Also, just because some publication gave a wine 90 points - it doesn't mean you will like it as well as the reviewer. Buy a bottle first to try before investing in a load of wine that you will be stuck trying to drink or pawn off on friends and family.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Petite Sirah - 2009 Chateau Potelle Petite Sirah VGS

I needed a wine big and fruity, but not overly tannic to stand up to some previously home-made then frozen Beef Bourguignon I made from none other than Julia Childs recipe.  Her recipe takes a bit longer and a bit more labor is involved than some other versions, but I've found it worth the effort - very tasty!  My choice was a Petite Sirah from Chateau Potelle in the Napa Valley.   Petite Sirah wines can definitely be big and tannic, but past vintages of this wine have not been overly tannic.

Wine: 2009 Chateau Potelle Petite Sirah VGS
Region: Napa Valley
Grape Varieties: Petite Sirah
Obtained from: Purchased from Chateau Potelle Wine Club
Price: $42.00
Wino4Life Category: Weekend Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear, dark purple at the core with a water white rim.
Aroma: Very nice dark fruit like black cherry and boysenberry with a touch of vanilla and oak.
Taste: Nicely fruity with nice levels of acidity (mouth watering feeling), plus some softer tannins (mouth drying feeling) as I was hoping.

The Grade: I give this one an A. This wine was a super companion to Julia's Beef Bourguignon, and would be a great complement to steaks, lamb and any read meat you threw on the grill. Nice fruity flavor, nicely balance.  A little bit on the expensive side, but a great weekend wine to go with a special weekend meal.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wino4Life Goes on the Road - It's Vacation Time!

A huge benefit of my pursuit of a second career is that it allows a much more flexible schedule than my first career as an IT Project Manager.  Being able to successfully schedule a vacation of substantial length that would also work with my wife's (also an IT person) work schedule was very difficult.  To make up for our last trip to Europe when I was only able to get away from work for a week and a half, we will be spending four awesome weeks on vacation this spring!

You can count on lots of posts from the road - as our vacations are always filled with lots of great food, wine, and fun.  This post gives a little preview of where will be going, and what we'll be hoping to experience in the world of food and wine. 

First Time in Paris, France
Not counting the Airport, we have never spent any time in Paris - quite a mecca of food and wine!  Now that the era of "Freedom Fries" has passed,  I'm searching for a beret that will fit my huge noggin and am very excited for our first Parisian experience. We are taking Air France, so we were able to add a stopover for a few nights in Paris and it did not impact the cost of our airfare. Also Air France has a "Premium Economy" section that does cost a bit more than coach - but has special seats and features that seem worth the extra money, without the business and first class second mortgage size fares.
Hope we Have a Sunset Close to This One!

We opted to stay at an Apartment so we would have access to a kitchen and could shop at local food shops, cook a meal, and pretend like we really live there!  We will also be in search of fantastic bistros as well, but will be foregoing any of the super fancy Paris restaurants.  After a bit of research we chose to stay in the Latin Quarter because of its proximity to many touristy spots, as well as street markets, and lots of spots to stock up on wine, cheese, meat, and other delicacies.  I believe my wife may be blogging about eating Foie Gras with every meal in Paris - can you have (way) too much of a good thing.
There will be Foie Gras!

So, stay tuned for some first timers posts about Paris - focusing on wine of course, food of course, and some of our travelers experiences worth mentioning.  Any suggestions about Paris from travel pros? Please provide below in the comments - and thanks in advance!

Barcelona, Spain - Great Spot for Some Grocery Shopping

Spain is a great country to visit - and Barcelona is a fun city with lots to do, see, eat and drink.  It is home to a walking street called "La Rambla" with interesting sights and even more interesting people. One of my favorite spots on La Rambla is the Boqueria Market.  It is a huge warehouse size building full of vendors selling every type of food imaginable - with an unbelievable amount of fresh seafood, Spanish hams and chorizos, Spanish cheese, produce,  - the best grocery store ever!
Spanish Ham! 
Seafood - Including Goose Barnacles in the Foreground

We will only be in Barcelona for a short two days - but we will be staying in an Apartment so we can actually buy some of the great stuff ant the Boqueria - and not just take pictures!

San Sebastian, Spain - Food Mecca

If you are a foodie and ever go to Spain - or are anywhere near Spain - I highly recommend adding San Sebastian to your list.  A combination of world class restaurants, classic and avant-garde tapas, a beautiful beach - what else do you need? In fact of the five Michelin Three Star restaurants in Spain, three are in the San Sebastian area.
Beachfront in San Sebastian 

 Tapas Crawling in the Parte Vieja (Old Part) of San Sebastian

Tapas Anyone? - San Sebastian

As often happens, our vacation planning is largely around the places we want to eat. On tap for San Sebastian are a bucket list lunch at Asador Etxebarri - a spot where all the cooking is  done on wood fired grills (they even offer grilled caviar!). This place consistently makes the list of top 50 restaurants in the world.

We also have a list of tapas bars to hit - but will also rely on the nearly fail safe method of looking for a happy crowd of locals. Here are the spots on our list for San Sebastian (all in the Parte Vieja area):

  • Fuego Negro
  • La Cuchara de San Telmo
  • La Cepa
  • Ganbara
  • Zeruko
  • Borda Berri
  • Haizea
  • Gandarias
This list should keep us busy at least for a night or two - please check back for pics and my words of praise about the great food San Sebastian has to offer.

Oviedo, Spain

Oviedo is in the capital city of the province of Asturias, Spain.  You may recall it was mentioned in Woody Allen's movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona. He is quite an icon in Oviedo, and you will even find a life size statue of Woody in town - just a bit creepy for me!

Asturias is Sidra country in Spain.  Sidra is a hard apple cider that requires a special, and highly skilled pourer. Sidra is literally poured from high overhead to a glass held down low. The impact of the pour quickly aerates and activates the natural carbonation. There is even a website dedicated to the proper pouring process: Sidra Asturias.
Do Not Attempt this at Home! 
Releasing the Flavor and Fizz of Sidra

Oviedo is home to Gascona - a boulevard dedicated to Sidra and full of Sidrerías - or Sidra Bars. 
Gascona - The Boulevard of Sidra!

One Sidrería we visited in the past that I loved and just have to go back to is Tierra Astur. OK, a little touristy as they do have a huge gift shop - but fantastic food, lots of wine and Sidra, and locals and tourists alike just having a great time.  Plus did I mention some type of deep fried dough that comes with most everything? Like a small version of fry bread - you just can't go wrong with good fried dough.
Tierra Astur - Oviedo Spain

We will be spending some additional time in Asturias near Cangas de Onis - so I will be sharing other great treasures we experience - perhaps even some awesome home cooking from local friends!

Haro, Spain

Our vacation adventures winds down with a stop in the Rioja region to visit one of our favorite wineries - Muga.  Winery experiences in Spain are not like most US venues where you taste a few wines and you are on your way.  Every winery we've visited in Spain, including Muga, provided a thorough tour of their winemaking process, some through their barrel-making process, and end up with sampling some of their wines.  We were lucky enough to be invited to stop by Muga for a second visit and an even better experience by the Muga family who were representing the winery at the Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Las Vegas last year.  I can't imagine what a fascinating and educational experience it will be - I cannot wait.
Muga Winery - Haro, Spain

Well - I better start packing and looking for the key to the wine cooler so as not to provide any temptation to our house-sitter!  Don't worry I leave a box or two of wine in the fridge - I'm not totally ungrateful!!!  Please check back for pictures and posts from the road. Any recommendations of things to do and see? Please comment below - and thanks!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Italian Red - 2009 Querciabella Chianti Classico

Chianti and pizza - you just can't go wrong with this combo. On a recent pilgrimage to the Mt. Olympus of Phoenix pizza - Pizzeria Bianco, we opted for a Chianti Classico to go with our incredible pizzas. If you find yourself in the Valley of the Sun with enough spare time to wait an hour or two for a table at this tiny pizzeria - it will be time well spent. They only have a few different variations available on the menu, but every type of pizza we had was killer.  

Wine: 2009 Querciabella Chianti Classico
Region: Chianti Classico, Tuscany Italy
Grape Varieties: Sangiovese

Obtained from: Purchased at Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, AZ
Price: $25 Retail, $50 at the Restaurant
Wino4Life Category: Weekend Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues. (Waiter took it away before I was able to include it in a photo).
Appearance: Wine is clear, dark red and slightly transparent in the core with a water white rim.
Aroma: Very nice cherry and mineral notes - very aromatic right after opening with no special aeration.
Taste: Nice ripe fruit, nicely balance with enough acidity to stand up against the tomato sauce and cheese of our awesome pizza.

The Grade: I give this one an A.  A very nice example of a Chianti Classico. I have had Chianti Classico Riservas that were a bit more expensive, but not as aromatic or tasty as this wine.  I don't believe my Total Wine & More store carries this one, but I will be looking out for how to get more of this one for any spaghetti or pizza night.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

One Night in Chicago - "The Hunt" Dinner at Next Restaurant and Drinks at the Aviary

My interest in wine has grown over the years as I taste and enjoy new wines and as I learn more about the vast number of wines across the world, and the process that transforms grapes into something to be experienced and savored.  More so than just learning and trying more wine, my love for wine has been accentuated by food and wine pairings I've been lucky enough to enjoy.  I've worked on my cooking skills over the years so my wife and I can enjoy food and wine pairings more often, but one of my favorite experiences is a well thought out and executed restaurant dinner with wine pairings.  

One of my bucket list restaurants that I have now checked off the list is Next Restaurant in Chicago. If you have not heard of Next Restaurant before - you should get familiar with it, and do whatever it takes to experience it. Next Restaurant is literally the "next" restaurant by Chef Grant Achatz.  The Chef's first restaurant is called Alinea (the word for the punctuation symbol for a new paragraph: ), also in Chicago.  I was lucky enough to go to Alinea for my Birthday last year - and it was the meal of a lifetime.

You may have heard Chef Achatz in the news back in 2007.  At the time Achatz had been named one of the best new chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine, received the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year award, and Alinea had been open since 2005. In an unimaginably devastating event for anyone, but especially a chef, Chef Achatz was diagnosed with stage IV tongue cancer.  Doctor's recommended removal of three-fourths of his tongue, but Chef Achatz instead opted for aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. After give grueling months of treatment, Chef Achatz was declared cancer free. 

Chef Achatz's memoir, written with his business partner Nick Kokonas is called Life, on the Line - a title cleverly combining the life of cooking in a restaurant "on the line", and the life threatening illness that he faced. A fantastic book that not only chronicles his bout with cancer, but delves into the creative process that brought about the fantastic Alinea restaurant as well as Next. One of the more memorable parts of the book was a young cook finding money to travel to internationally famous five star restaurants in Europe hoping to experience the best the restaurant world has to offer - but being thoroughly underwhelmed.  The chef then describes a chance meal at a local family restaurant during this trip to Europe, where he experienced one of the best meals he'd ever ate.  I loved the message from this story that good food is about great ingredients, great technique, and love of cooking - not pomp and circumstance.

Having had the meal of a lifetime at Alinea, and being thoroughly touched by the Life, on the Line memoir - I was energized to do whatever it took to get tickets to Next - yep that's right - tickets!  One of the goals of Next was to provide a more affordable dining experience, so it uses a tickets instead of reservations - sort of like a concert. 

Here is how it is explained on the Next Restaurant Website:
 "Unlike an a la carte restaurant with many walk-in customers and dozens of menu items, Next is creating a truly unique dining experience and doing so at an amazing price. By eliminating no-shows, requiring pre-payment, and varying the price by time and day we are able to create a predictable and steady flow of patrons allowing us to offer a great deal more than would otherwise be possible at these prices."

The other amazing aspect of the restaurant is that there is only one tasting menu offered, but the entire concept of the menu changes three times per year.  For the 2013 the menus will be:
  • January thru April - The Hunt
  • May thru August - Vegan
  • September thru December -  a Bocuse D'or Competition Menu
Our dinner at Next was incredible - impressive and did not disappoint in any way.  I am not going to go course by course and describe everything we had, but will instead share a bit about the things we enjoyed most - and some of the biggest surprises.  If you get the chance to enjoy the Hunt before the end of April I cannot recommend it enough.

The Hype we Watched Daily Before our Trip

Our Arrival

We had been to the Meat Packing District neighborhood of Chicago back in 2007 to have dinner at Moto restaurant.  At the time I believe Moto was about the only restaurant in the area - but now it includes iNG, a new restaurant from our friends at Moto, plus Next and the Aviary (the kicked up cocktail bar partner to Next).  Upon our arrival at Next (a little trouble finding as the signage is minimal, and we actually went to the Aviary first...oops!!!) we were a little early but a great table was available anyway. In a nice touch I hadn't seen before, the host asked how we arrived (by taxi), so they could have a taxi ready for us when we were done.  We checked our jackets and headed on in to a lively dining room where people were clearly having a good time. In contrast, when we visited Alinea it was a bit stuffier, so we had to work a bit to liven things up. Here at Next, the good times were already rolling, so we just joined in.

We were seated a great corner table that had a table runner made of some sort of animal skin, along with  a wax and feather sealed invitation to introduce us to the Hunt.

Our Welcome Invitation to The Hunt

Meat Your Next Course

One of my favorite things in the whole wide world is to visit a nice restaurant for a great meal served with a nicely paired beverage (adult whenever feasible).  When a restaurant delivers this with a sprinkle of humor as one of the ingredients, it is in my mind the best thing ever.  One of the early courses of our dinner was a selection of meats from hunted animals including rabbit paté, elk jerky, boar sausage, deer heart tartare, and a blood sausage - each served up on a cross section of an animal's horn, placed upon a section of a tree branch.  The name of the course was - Charcu-Tree - I love it!!!  The humor continued with the beverage pairing - instead of wine the course was paired with an Armagnac served in a miniature flask.

The Charcu-Tree and a Flask

What's Up Doc?

I know vegetables are good for me, and I do eat them as much as I can. However if you told me that a dish consisting only of a cellar aged carrot, onion, carrot greens and a carrot juice sauce, served on a plate with a vacant spot just calling out for a big 'ole New York Strip - was so incredibly flavorful and delicious I would never have believed it.  The intensity of flavor coaxed out of Bugs Bunny's favorite snack by burying them in saw dust to dry slightly and sweeten, and then roasting them - truly remarkable. 
Cellar Aged Carrots & Onions

This dish was served with a dry Tokaji (pronounced toe-kye) from Hungary, best know for very sweet dessert wine of the same name.  It was a 2010 Kiralyudvar Furmint Sec Tokaji - and went very nicely with the sweetness and intensity of the carrots.

2010 Kiralyudvar Furmint Sec Tokaji

Squab - Squab (any Two and a Half Men Fans - the Charlie Sheen era??)

The humor included in the design of The Hunt continued when the next course included candelabras brought to each table, and the dinnerware switched from rustic to elegant gold rimmed dishes.  This treatment was given to a course that featured basically an entire squab. The leg (food attached), breast, and head (beak attached) with breadcrumb adorned brain, plus the carcass of the bird served on a separate plate for us to share. A very elegant presentation for the course where you needed to get messiest - using your fingers to get to all of the delicious morsels.

Pressed Squab Leg, Breast, and Brain

The Rest of the Bird

The Aftermath - Nothing Goes to Waste!

The squab course was paired with the highlight of the wine pairing - a 2009 Pierre Damoy Gevrey-Chambertin Burgundy!  Delicious, fruity, and earthy it paired exquisitely with the squab.  Another awesome feature of this meal was that partial bottles were left at your table if you wanted to enjoy some more of the wine with your meal - in contrast to many dinners where you get just a few ounces in your glass. Needless to say, this bottle went back empty!

2009 Pierre Damoy Gevrey-Chambertin Burgundy

Since the candelabra was out - might as well take an elegant portrait of the wife!  The pose ended up looking a bit like a watch advertisement - but I still like it! 

Stylin' at Next - What Time is it By the Way??

Say What?
As we switched over to the dessert courses, the first was served on nothing by a half of a bone - looking just like bone marrow. It was however a not too sweet Creme Brûlée, and it was fantastic. This course was served with the sweet version of Tokaji - a 2005 Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos.

Marrow Brûlée

Inventive to the Last Drop
You know it is a good dinner when even the coffee is memorable.  This baby was served with steamed buttermilk. A first for me, and Starbucks should add this as an option immediately!!! 

Coffee with Steamed Buttermilk

The Night Keeps Going at the Aviary

One small downside of the Next concept, there is no facility for anything after dinner. You get the menu and you are done.  My wife had mentioned being interested to come back and visiting the Aviary - the Grant Achatz cocktail bar next door to Next.  Two minutes later our waiter appeared to tell us they had a table waiting for us at the Aviary - we were led through a side door that connects to the Aviary to a cozy spot for two.  The excellent service we experienced at Next continued at the Aviary as I had to ask the server for my jacket so I could get my reading glasses. Instead of bringing the jacket, my glasses were promptly brought to me. Not a big deal I guess, but the little things are the one that make the difference between a great dinner, and a fantastically awesome dinner.

The Aviary combines the creativeness of Next to cocktails. They even have a cocktail tasting menu designed as a nod to The Hunt menu.  There were tons of drinks available, but my wife and I both opted for a three course Prix Fixe cocktail menu.  The pictures from this part of the night were not very successful, but I did get a couple to come out.

First Course:

  • My Drink: Yuzu, with cardamom, mint, winter citrus, scotch. Nice and acidic, a great "starter".
  • My Wife's Drink: Pear Shrub, with apple cider vinegar, thyme, aquavit. Served in a small bottle inside a brown paper bag - awesome!

Second Course:

  • My Drink:  Infernal Imagery, with barolo, maurin quina, rhum. Delivered in a closed small wood chest, which held smoke that was flavoring the drink.  I felt very Pirate!
  • My Wife's Drink: Margarita, with cranberry ice cubes, cider, winter spice, tequila.

Infernal Imagery and Margarita

Third Course:

  • My Drink: Root Beer, with sassafras caramel, angostura, fernet, rum. Simply wonderful!
  • My Wife's Drink: Hot Chocolate, with malt, banana, cinnamon, bourbon. 

Root Beer and Hot Chocolate

Go Here!!!
Overall I loved everything about Next and the Aviary, and I know we will be going back. We may skip the upcoming Vegan menu (though I am intrigued how much I would enjoy a meat free dinner prepared by such expert hands), but I will be trying to get tickets for one of the upcoming menus for sure!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Wine Tip of the Week - Your Memory Lane Lined with Wine Corks

If you are like me, once you get into wine most special occasions and holidays are accompanied by a nice bottle of wine (or two).   The wine corks from these occasions can act as a clever memento.  We write the date and occasion on the corks we save, and keep them available for a quick trip down memory lane whenever needed! Ours are kept in a decorative bowl we use as a centerpiece, but there are also cages of various shapes that can be used to house your collection.

 After your container overflows, perhaps you can get into arts and crafts mode and create something with the spare corks - here's an idea to consider - looks comfy!!!

On a bit more serious note, we have used spare wine corks to make a Christmas garland - strung along with some Christmas color beads. It did look pretty cool on the tree!


Friday, April 5, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - White Blend - 2012 Dos Cabezas Wineworks Meskeoli

Yes Virginia, there are wines made in Arizona. In fact the quality of the Arizona wines and the number of good producers has led some area restaurants to feature a good percentage of Arizona wine on their wine lists. In fact one restaurant - FnB in Scottsdale features almost exclusively Arizona wines. Another restaurant - perhaps the most famous one in Phoenix - Pizzeria Bianco features quite a few Arizona wines on their list.  When going to Pizzeria Bianco you are guaranteed two things - amazing pizza and a wait, so after we met up with family visiting from California, we checked in and headed next door to Bar Bianco (hey at least they give you a place to wait in style!).  Since temps are already hovering around 90 degrees in the 'hood, the choice was a white - an intriguing "kitchen sink" blend of lots of varietals, in fact all the varietals the winery grows are represented. The largest percent in the blend is Picpoul Blanc, a Rhone varietal that I have only read about - but not before seen featured in a wine.

Wine: 2012 Dos Cabezas Wineworks Meskeoli
Region: Cochise County, Arizona
Grape Varieties: Picpoul Blanc (29%), Viognier (26%), Riesling (19%), Roussanne (13%), Albariño (5%), Muscat (4%), Malvasia (4%)
Obtained from: Purchased at Bar Bianco, Phoenix, AZ
Price: $28 Retail, $45 at the Restaurant
Wino4Life Category: Weekend Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Screw Top - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear, light yellow in color with a water white rim.
Aroma: Very powerful, and initially very floral - likely from the Viognier.  Also, nice notes of citrus and apples make themselves known after the initial hit of flowers subsides.
Taste: Super fresh and juicy, not at all a subtle wine.  A nice long finish that carries through the fresh fruit flavors with a good amount of sweetness.

The Grade: I give this one a B+. Definitely a tasty wine with more grape varieties than you can count on one hand. Great aromas, and a nice fruity finish. Although the finish was a bit too sweet for my personal preference, this wine would be a great pairing with spicy Thai or Mexican fare.  The only issue I have is the price (even considering retail) - a bit spendy for a fruit forward, slightly sweet white. Please support Arizona winemaking and give this one a try if you like the style and run across it, but for me there are some better priced options out there.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2005 Bordeaux Showdown - Left Bank vs. Right Bank

Bordeaux Map
This time of year is all about brackets and competition - so I'm joining in the competitive fun by having a showdown between two different wines from the Bordeaux region in France.  
The Bordeaux region is divided by the Gironde river into the Right Bank and Left Bank.  For the showdown, we have one wine from the Margaux region of the Left Bank going up against a wine from the St. Emillion region of the Right Bank. Left bank red wines are generally blends dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon blended with one or more of the following: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec. Right bank red wines are generally also blends, but with either Merlot or Cabernet Franc playing the lead role.  There are also examples of Bordeaux wines that may be 100% of a single grape variety - but those are more the exception than the rule.

Both of our Showdown wines are from the 2005 vintage, and I've had these tucked away aging since I bought them in 2010.  Back in 2010 I had read a lot about how the 2005 vintage was supposed to be outstanding, so although I don't buy much French wine I wanted to get a couple good examples and let them age a couple of years.  Although the wines could age and improve for many years, I'm hoping they are ready to go (and up for the competition) - so let's find out.

To help out with the showdown, the wines will be tested alone, plus with a variety of cheeses from around the globe, plus a wonderful salami (I love Whole Foods!). 

One Does not Live by Wine Alone!

Our Showdown goodie plate consists of:
  • Drunken Goat Cheese from Spain (right side of the picture).
  • Brillat-Savarin Cheese from France (bottom of the picture).
  • Stilton Blue Cheese from England (left side of the picture).
  • Caramelized Onion Cheese (top of the picture -this stuff is amazing, you must try it!).
  • Sopressata Salami (middle of picture).
Now... on with the Bordeaux Showdown! I chose to write it like two kicked up wine reviews, throwing in my notes on the food pairing.

Representing the Left Bank measuring 12 inches tall and 750 ml

Wine: 2005 Chateau La Tour de Mons
Region: Margaux, Left Bank Bordeaux
Grape Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon Based Blend
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $30.00 (price when released, currently $50 from Total Wine)
Wino4Life Category: Weekend Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear with a dark red center and a water white rim. No sign that it is aging based on the color.
Aroma: Very nice blackberry and spices. I decided not to do any additional aeration, and it didn't seem to need it.
Taste: Wow! Nicely balanced, silky tannins, and a nice long finish.  One of the best Bordeaux wines I've ever tried. It could likely age a while longer, but it may just lose some of the nice fruit flavors - the tannins don't need any time to mellow.
Food Pairing: Here is how the wine paired up with the Showdown goodie plate:
  • Drunken Goat Cheese from Spain.  Not a bad pairing, but the cheese was a bit too acidic so did not do any favors to the wine.
  • Brillat-Savarin Cheese from France.  I had read that this cheese, a triple cream that looks a lot like brie would be a good pairing with Bordeaux. However, it was more acidic than the drunken goad cheese so this was not a good pairing at all. It negatively impacted the wines taste - probably a better pair with a more acidic wine like a Pinot Noir/Burgundy.
  • Stilton Blue Cheese from England.  Now this was a nice pairing, the wine accentuated the flavor of the cheese, and the resulting aftertaste was long and very pleasant (if you like Blue Cheese which I do very much!)
  • Caramelized Onion Cheese.  A fantastic pairing! Absolutely delicious, the wine accentuated the sweetness of the caramelized onion very nicely.
  • Sopressata Salami. The salami was also a great pairing, with the wine accentuating the spices in the salami very nicely.
The Grade: I give this one an A. A very nice wine on its own, one that I think is worth the price you have to pay now of $50 a bottle (at Total Wine anyway).  It also shined with two of the cheeses and the salami, so would be a nice food friendly wine big enough to stand up to Beef and Lamb dishes.

Representing the Right Bank also measuring 12 inches tall and 750 ml

Wine: 2005 Chateau Les Gravières
Region: St. Emilion, Rigt Bank Bordeaux
Grape Varieties: Merlot - 100%. This wine turned out to be one of those Bordeaux exceptions that are 100% of a single grape variety.
Obtained from: Purchased at Ultimate Wine Shop
Price: $40.00
Wino4Life Category:  Weekend Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear with a dark red center and a water white rim. No sign that it is aging based on the color.
Aroma: Fairly reserved aromas with blackberry and dark chocolate.
Taste: A nice fruity wine, not very complex. Not very tannic, and not a very long finish.

Food Pairing: Here is how the wine paired up with the Showdown goodie plate:
  • Drunken Goat Cheese from Spain.  The wine did not negatively impact the taste of the cheese, but the acidity in the cheese made any flavor of the wine disappear.
  • Brillat-Savarin Cheese from France.  A truly bad pairing, the acidity overwhelmed the wine and made both taste overly tart and unpleasant.
  • Stilton Blue Cheese from England.  Again, the wine did not negatively impact the flavor of the cheese, but the wine's flavor disappeared. 
  • Caramelized Onion Cheese.  The sweetness of the caramelized onion was accentuated a bit, but nothing near the other wine.
  • Sopressata Salami. To round out a full sweep of sub-par food pairings, the salami tasted OK, but the pairing did not elevate the flavor of the salami, and the wine's taste was lost behind the spiciness of the salami.
The Grade: I give this one a C-. Without the food pairings I may have given this wine a bit of a higher grade (maybe a C+ at most), but for a $40 weekend wine it just was not very impressive. It did not having any real faults and was pleasant enough to drink alone, but for the same price you can find 2-3 other bottles of Merlot just as good for sitting back and sipping.

Crowning The Showdown Champion
Nice Trophy - Right?

The Bordeaux Contenders

Drum Roll Please! Well this should have been a closer match - and I was hoping it would be, but in a blow out victory - the last bottle standing for the Bordeaux Showdown is....

2005 Chateau La Tour de Mons

Congrats to the winner!!!!