Monday, March 31, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Don't Forget Costco!

For those of you who are members - or have ever been in a Costco, the first thing that probably comes to mind are gallon sized mayonnaise jars, packs of 24 paper towel rolls, and blocks of cheese "the size of a car battery" (-George Costanza, Seinfeld). 

Well, next time you go in to your neighborhood Costco - don't forget to check the wine section.  I saw a special on CNBC that talked about the Costco wine program, and it was quite impressive.  They use their buying power to get good wineries to compete for their business, get the wine at a fantastic cost, and don't mark it up as much as other retailers.  Never a huge selection, but worth a look as they have a nice variety.  During my last trip, I found Charles & Charles Red, a wine I've reviewed before and at the time paid $15 at Whole Foods. I loved it and gave it an A+... the Costco price... LESS THAN $9!  I can't think of a better sub-$10 bottle of wine anywhere. No, you don't have to buy a case or more (though I may when I return) - just one bottle at a time...enjoy!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Argentinian Red - 2011 Catena Malbec

Sadly, the wine section in my local Costco section has been shrinking, or at least the section  that has the good stuff.  More stacked of $5-ish bottles and 4 gallon sized bottles of vodka have started taking over.  Oh well - what they have left is usually some pretty good stuff, and I needed a Malbec, so let's see how this one is...

Wine: 2011 Catena Malbec
Region: South Australia
Grape Varieties: Shiraz (Syrah)
Obtained from: Purchased at Costco
Price: $17.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: The wine is clear, dark purple in color with a pinkish rim.
Aroma: Dark fruit like black plum and blackberry, along with some spice and coffee.
Taste: Very ripe fruit, with a nice bit of acidity - great wine with food.

The Grade: I give this one a B+. A very tasty wine, one I'd recommend, and one I'd buy again. There are a lot of excellent Malbecs available - even at the Reserva level for a few bucks less than this one, that's why it gets a B+ instead of an A.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Buying Wine Online....Good or Bad Idea?

If I had to name my top weaknesses (this may end up being a month-long series!)  I would have to start off with caloric overindulgence.  That phrase is just more interesting way to say that I eat way more than I should. I have battled this most of my life, and have lost more often than I’ve won. I do try and stay healthy by exercising, eating good quality food, and visiting various medical professionals on a regular basis.  

Coming in second place on my weakness list is the fact that I really, really, (really) like to buy stuff.  With moving toward a second career and starting my own business I have had to find ways to control this desire… but I can’t deny the pleasure I get from being a consumer. This weakness is complicated by the fact that I hate to shop.  I don’t like to go to the mall, I may consider amputation of certain non-essential body parts before going into any Walmart ever again.  Christmas time? Forget it; you won’t see me inside any store except a grocery store from mid-November through mid-January.

How can one like to buy, but hate to shop? OK, so I am referring to my dislike for brick and mortar shopping… my preferred method to spend is on-line shopping.  My Christmas shopping is done in one or two days, with my buddy the UPS man dropping off the goods – good times and no stress.  The fact that our UPS guy knows us so well attests to the amount of on-line shopping we do.

For purchases of any significance I prefer to do my own research, compare features, read professional reviews are user comments, and look for the best deals. All this is a breeze when shopping online. In a brick and mortar store, you are sometimes relying on others to “sell” you something, convince you what you should get or provide the information for you to decide.  I earned much of my money throughout college selling shoes, and I know I had no desires other than to have a happy customer, but I didn’t work for a commission!  Even for a major purchase that I ultimately make in a store (like a recent Dishwasher purchase from Lowes), I go in having already researched and made some decisions.  In this case the store staff had some additional information and was able to demonstrate some things about the product that helped us decide, but I felt comfortable that with the extra research we ended up with the best choice for us.

What? Buying Dishwashers? Isn’t this supposed to be wine blog or what???  FOCUS!!! Well, yes it is a wine blog – and my real topic today is purchasing wine on-line. Is it a good idea or not? The answer to this, as to so many questions is… it depends.  Buying on-line has some definite advantages, but also some things to keep in mind when deciding where to spend you hard earned wine-buying dollars.

For me, the greatest advantage to on-line buying is the access to many more types of wines than sticking to my local wine shops.  I am on a quest to try new things in the world of wine on a very regular basis, so selection and variety is very important to me.

Also, online shopping is a way to look for a bargain.  For one of our go-to everyday wines, a Spanish Rioja, the last time I actually saw it on a shelf in Arizona was in a grocery store for almost $20.  Last year I purchased this wine twice online for less than $10 a bottle, and this year I just ordered some and it has skyrocketed to $11 a bottle.  The wine is great for $10 or $11 bucks, but for $20 it would be a pass.

OK, who can argue with the intrigue of shopping for wine while lounging in your pajamas? OK, maybe it’s just me. If I’m in search of a particular wine I can search for the sites that carry it, compare prices, and look for other wines that I may want to buy. Just like my Christmas shopping, I can shop on my schedule – and start browsing one day and actually purchase days later if I like.

While the shopping is convenient, if you are looking for a wine to go with tonight’s spaghetti dinner, online buying is not so convenient.  Depending on how much you are willing to drop for shipping, you will need to plan from a few days to a week or more for your wine needs.

Great selection, convenient shopping at your schedule, and delivered right to your door – what could possibly be better? I may never leave the house again! Shipping to your doorstep is a definite benefit, but also where you need to take a look at a couple of things when deciding whether or not buying wine on-line is the right move for you.

Important considerations for shipping wine:

  • Shipping laws.   Having become a wino while living in Arizona, I’m not familiar with the laws in other places, but I know they can be confusing and are ever changing.  The easiest thing to do is to check the shipping information on the website where you are shopping to see if they ship to your state.  Some states require special permits to ship directly to consumers, some don’t allow it at all.  Need more info about your state? One source of information I have used often is
  • Shipping costs. Ever hoisted a case of wine?  Heavy, right? Shipping costs can be a deal breaker and something you need to factor into the cost of your wine purchase. I tend to buy one or two cases, because there is usually an extra discount for cases, and also the per-bottle shipping cost usually works out much better than only buying a bottle or two.  Also, be on the lookout for free shipping deals, but don’t get stuck buying a lot of a wine you are not familiar with just for free shipping… there may be a reason that certain wines have free shipping. Unless you can find a much better value, like our Rioja for $10 instead of $20, it’s best to only buy stuff you can’t easily get locally unless you get a much better value.
  • Delivery.  Shipments of wine will require an adult signature, and not on the post-it note left on your door. Someone of drinking age will need to be home when the wine is delivered, and be able to sign in the presence of the delivery guy.  Nice notes with smiley faces won’t make any difference… believe me I’ve tried.
Weather is a consideration that is directly related to shipping, but important enough to get its own section.  High temperatures are a definite enemy to wine, but so are big, sudden shifts in temperature. So anytime the weather is much outside a 50 – 80 degree window, you should avoid shipping wine.  There are some shipping services that utilize temperature controlled vehicles all the way to delivery to your door, but these are rare.  We have one wine club that uses this method, and while nice it does add significantly to the shipping cost.  
Living in Arizona, weather is one of my biggest considerations on if and when to buy wine online. Each year, my wine shipping window is typically from October through May, with danger zones at the beginning and end of that window depending on the whims of nature. So, you will need to know your weather, and the weather of the spot from where the wine will be shipped, otherwise your beautiful bottles of wine may be adversely impacted – and that would be, well just sad!!!

Support the Little Guy
Wine shopping on-line is definitely an option to consider, but I believe a more important factor is to support local, family owned wine shops. If you are a wino, or have aspirations to become one, building a relationship with a local purveyor is a very important step.  If it wasn’t for my great experience in a family owned wine shop all those years ago, this website may be called ProjectManager4Life, and really, who would want to read that???

Smaller wine shops can offer you a greater level of personal service, (hopefully) a knowledge level you may not always find in the chain stores, and may have ways to get wines through distributors that they don’t regularly carry – but that may be of interest to you.  Imagine walking into a shop, and having the owner say – hey, did you like that Pinot last week? If so, I’ve got another wine in mind for you.  Congrats! You’re a regular… they’ll soon be calling your name when you walk through the door!

Where to Buy From
Who sells online? – lots and lots of places. When looking on-line for information on wines I come across many liquor stores that have added online ordering.  I have a few that I use, and there are many I haven’t tried. But here are a few examples, and whether or not they are Wino4Life tested. If you have any good or bad experiences with on-line wine stores – let us know about them in the comments below:
  • Any Wino4Life purchases: No.  This site has an incredible selection, and the most straightforward URL of the bunch.  Originally they were not able to ship to Arizona, so I’ve never tried them – but may someday.
  • Amazon. Any Wino4Life purchases: No. Wine delivered by a drone – I have to try that at least once in my lifetime. After getting over some hurdles regarding guess what… shipping to various States, Amazon now has wine.  If you like the convenience of buying a book, a TV, a blender, groceries, and your wine all at one spot – then Amazon may be for you. 
  • Ultimate Wine Shop. Any Wino4Life purchases: Twice a Year.  This is the spot where I’ve been able to find my everyday Rioja, plus they have an amazing selection. I typically order two cases from them, once in the Fall and once in Spring to last us through the long hot summer in Arizona. I have always had good luck with them, and they have very good prices that help offset some of the costs of shipping the wine all the way from Jersey.
  • WTSO. Any Wino4Life purchases: Once so far.  "Wine Til Sold Out."  Pretty simple concept, they offer one wine at a time until it is…wait for it…sold out!  Incredible discounts, usually wines that somebody has rated highly, and free shipping with an order around $100 (you may get 1 bottle or four bottles for that $100, depending on the wine and the deal).  I have made one order from here and was pleased enough to try it again someday.  They seem to have a pretty good variety, but if you’re not interested in a certain offer,
  • Winery. Any Wino4Life purchases: Occasionally.  Here I am not talking about wine clubs, but about other purchases directly from a winery website.  In the past, Arizona had a law that you could only get wine shipped from a winery if you physically visited the winery at some point and signed up to get wine. Then you could get wine shipped, many times if you want. I’m not even sure if this law is still on the books, but check the winery site and they will tell you if they can ship to your state, and what hoops you may need to jump through.  The laws are slowly becoming more reasonable, but you always need to check!
The Wrap Up
On-line wine buying is an option you should consider if you would find benefit in the convenience and the potential of a wider selection. I buy wine both on-line and from good old brick and mortar stores – and a good balance works best for me.  Even though I fully believe in supporting the family owned shops, at this point there just isn’t one convenient enough for me to frequent, so I often end up at Total Wine & More.  When the store isn’t too busy, I often find myself very much enjoying wandering the aisles in search of the familiar and the new (although seldom in my pajamas, as the store’s frequent request).  So all you can do is look at your wine buying needs, your options to fulfill those needs, and if on-line shopping may be something that works for you – even to just supplement your regular brick and mortar shopping.

After all, as long as we find wine we want, pay a reasonable price for it, and ultimately enjoy drinking and sharing our wine – those are the ultimate goals, regardless of how or where we buy it. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Got Leftovers? Wine that Is.

Much like the Yeti or the Chupacabra, I have heard tales told of those who may occasionally have leftover wine.  Just because I've never seen it, doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.  So just in case you come across the urban legend of leftover wine, remember the leftovers won't last forever (or very long) before they will start to deteriorate in aroma and flavor. 

In general, leftover wines will be OK for:
  • Up to 2 days: Lighter whites (like Sauvignon Blanc, Unoaked Chardonnay, or Riesling), reds (like Rioja or Pinot Noir), rosés, and sparkling wines.
  • Up to 4 days: Fuller whites (Oaked Chardonnay), reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah).
  • Up to 2 weeks: Lighter fortified wines. That's why fortified wines were invented - so they would last on ocean voyages, etc! (Fino Sherry, Vintage Ports)
  • Up to 2 months (maybe longer... wow!): Fuller fortified wines (Madeira, Tawny Port, Sweet Sherry)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Paso Robles Red Blend - 2009 Cirque du Vin - Peachy Canyon Winery

During a quick stop at Whole Foods to grab a couple of Ribeye steaks for a dinner of sous vide steaks with Bearnaise sauce, I decided to pick up a couple of everyday wines.  I saw this red blend and once I saw it was from Paso Robles, and was a very interesting blend of Bordeaux varietals plus Zinfandel and Petit Sirah, I decided to give it a try. It wasn't until I sat down to write this review that I noticed it was from Peachy Canyon Winery - makers of awesome Zinfandels that the wife and I had visited in Paso Robles many years ago.

Wine: 2009 Cirque du Vin - Peachy Canyon Winery
Region: Paso Robles, California
Grape Varieties:  Red Blend (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Zinfandel, 16% Petit Sirah, 16% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec)
Obtained from: Purchased at Whole Foods
Price: $19.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: The wine is clear, with a pink rim.
Aroma: Dark fruits like black cherry along with some vanilla and baking spices.
Taste: Delicious! Nicely balanced, lots of fruit with a nice long finish. Full bodied, nicely tannic but definitely ready to drink.

The Grade: I give this one an A+. Wow! This "kitchen sink" blend of so many varietals, even Zinfandel which isn't as common in blended wines, really works.  At under $20 this wine is a great value and one that I will buy again...soon.  Enjoy the circus of wine!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Flying on Over to the Aviary in Chicago for a Cocktail...or Two

On our first visit to Next Restaurant in Chicago for their menu "The Hunt," we inquired during our dinner about the Aviary cocktail bar next door - just curious to know how the spot was doing.  The Aviary was opened by Chef Grant Achatz along with Next in Chicago's meat packing district, and both spots are the Chef's vision of unique approaches to a restaurant and cocktail bar. At the end of our meal our server had secured us a table for some after dinner drinks.  It was very cool - a Chef's take on cocktails with gadgets, technique, great ingredients - just the things that go into making a great meal.

On our second visit to Next for the Bocuse d'Or menu, we dined with some friends and had told them to save room for some after dinner cocktails.  Unfortunately, after our dinner there was a significant wait for a table - so we punted on the idea.

For our most recent trip, we REALLY wanted to return to the Aviary so decided to buy tickets (yes, there are no reservations but you can buy tickets!). So after we imbibed in Next's Chicago Steakhouse (see my post about our dinner), we headed next door to the Aviary (the two are connected and share restrooms... not that you needed to know the latter part!).

We were led to a great table right in the middle of the bar, asked how we liked our dinner, and left to peruse the menu of cocktails, wine, beer, and small bites. There were so many intriguing choices on the menu it was truly difficult to select.  But we rose to the challenge with all the inner strength we could muster!

Wino4Life's Choice (Round #1)
For my first selection, I went with one of the Aviary's better know signature drinks. "In the Rocks" has your drink delivered to you inside of a large spherical ice cube.  The server places a contraption over the top of the glass with a rubber band that you pull back like a sling shot and let rip to break the ice cube and release the drink.  I actually recreated a version of this for one of Wino4Life Wife's birthday dinners, but have never had one at the aviary.  

The drink's content has changed a few times - and tonight was the Third Edition - flavored with absinthe, vermouth, and rye. The ice cube was setting on top of a tart cherry ice.  The first drink was strong but very delicious.  As the tart cherry ice continued to melt, the flavor profile of the drink transformed and mellowed. 

Wino4Life WIfe's Choice (Round #1)
The wife opted for the other of the Aviary's well known drinks.  For this drink Chef Achatz commissioned the design of this "porthole" drink infusions gizmo that allows you to clearly see all your ingredients.  As you pour out and enjoy some of your drink, the rest remains in the porthole to continue to infuse.  

Tonight's concoction was called "Insane in the Membrillo" and consisted of gin and oloroso sherry infused with quince, ginger, and almonds.   My wife doesn't like strong cocktails, so wasn't thrilled with my "In the Rocks," but absolutely loved this drink. The variety of flavors, and how the flavors intensified as it infused. 

Wino4Life's Choice (Round #2)
Well OK, just one more... this time I opted for the Glogg, a drink of orange, port ice, aquavit, and cognac.  Mixed in a glass... I think not!  This drink is created at your table using a hot infusion siphon (I've added one of these to my Christmas list).  A butane burner heats up the aquavit and cognac in the lower chamber. 

The liquid is forced up into the upper chamber where it is infused with the orange and port. Once all the liquid leaves the bottom chamber, the pressure is released and the infused liquid drains back into the bottom.  This drink also absolutely rocked - a wonderful warm beverage before braving a snowy Chicago night.  I would order either of these drinks again in a minute. 

Wino4Life WIfe's Choice (Round #2)
The wife decided that she'd had enough liquid refreshment for the day - so opted for a treat that every Aviary server we saw that night mentioned - a foie gras "Twix" bar.   

At one time not too long ago this would have been illegal in Chicago, but even for one-time contraband food stuffs - the wife seemed to enjoy it very much. 

We will definitely be back to the Aviary - and often. The menu typically changes along with the menus at Next Restaurant. There were many other choices on the night of our visit, including drink flights such as this one:
  • Infernal Imagery - barolo, maurin quina, and rhum
  • Dusty Loafer for Henry - angostura, kola, and tequila
  • Lambrucha - tea, ginger, lambic, and bourbon
Also, other creative drinks like the Italian Stallion with egg white, blood orange, aperitivo, and rye or the Five Food Groups with beer, coffee, peach, amaro, and whiskey.  If that's not enough, there is an exclusive by-invitation room called the Office, where there are more classic cocktails served.  I am hoping we make the invite list on our next visit! See you in August!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Eliminate that Damn Drip!

If you've poured a glass of wine or two in your time, you've also probably ended up with a drip of wine on the outside of the glass, on your arm, on someone else, on a white tablecloth... you get the picture. 

The cure you ask - just give the bottle a twist (a half turn will do) as you are ending the pour and lifting the bottle away from the glass.  It looks like your a pro, plus it should eliminate the drip! Good luck!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Italian Red - 2011 Giuseppe Cortese Langhe Nebbiolo

Langhe is an area in Piedmont Italy that is outside the Barolo and Barbaresco wine regions, but made with the same Nebbiolo grape as those wines. Sometimes a "close enough" region is a great way to find a good example of a wine at a bit of a lower price.

Wine: 2011 Giuseppe Cortese Langhe Nebbiolo
Region: Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
Grape Varieties: Nebbiolo
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $20.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Screw Top - no defects or issues.
Appearance: The wine is clear, light red in color and somewhat transparent.
Aroma: Sour cherries and something familiar that I could not quite put my finger on it. I cheated a bit and read some other tasting notes and found the answer - blood oranges.  It was a citrus aroma, but a very dark version. 
Taste: The light color does not make you think of a big and tannic wine, but this one is quite mouth puckering.

The Grade: I give this one a B.  There are some grapes that just aren't able to make an everyday level wine. Pinot Noir is one of those, and I believe Nebbiolo is another. I am a huge fan of Barolo and Barbaresco, but was not a huge fan of this wine. Not unpleasant in any way, just a bit too tannic and not possessing the complexity you should expect from a Piedmont Nebbiolo wine. On the plus side, the blood orange aroma was very unique.  If you want something a bit less expensive you can stay in the same Piedmont region and try a Dolcetto.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Old School in a New Way - Chicago Steakhouse Menu at Next Restaurant

Next Restaurant in Chicago is a very different concept from any restaurant that I've frequented.  As I've mentioned in my earlier posts about Next (The Hunt, and Bocuse d'Or) Next is a restaurant by Chef Grant Achatz, and features a set tasting menu that changes three times a year - each featuring a vastly different theme.  Want to get a reservation? Next is unique there as well... think of it like wanting to go to see a professional sports team -   instead of reservations you can purchase tickets.  Big fan? You can buy season tickets (which is what we did for 2014!).   

Can't make it to dinner?Just like if something comes up on a night you have tickets to see a hockey game (or some other sport if you find any of them watchable), you will need to find someone to buy those tickets to Next from you.  Why change the restaurant reservations model that is used by like a billion restaurants one the world? You may not believe it, but they did it for us! The goal was to keep food costs down, which would then translate into cheaper prices for us patrons.  If a restaurant like Next with a set menu has a reservation, they need to have the product and the staff available to fulfill that reservation. If there is a no-show, there is no revenue to offset those food and staff costs, so prices would have to factor in a certain amount of no-shows - so you would end up paying for those no-shows in the cost of your meal. No thanks!  Based on the success of this approach - Chef Achatz's first restaurant Alinea in Chicago has switched to the same ticket model. Oh, and that's not all - the Aviary cocktail bar next door to Next has also started selling tickets in lieu of reservations.  In fact, since getting into the Aviary on a Friday or Saturday night is tough and can mean a long wait, I purchased tickets for us to have a funky after dinner cocktail or two at the Aviary.

When you arrive at Next you are greeted and asked about your transportation.  A nice touch that I absolutely love about Next is that when you are done with your dinner, your car from valet or a taxi will be waiting for you without needing to ask.  The restaurant is in the meat packing district of Chicago - so not many people will be strolling to dinner at Next!

The inside of the restaurant is decorated in a very neutral manner - grays and black. Decorations are then added to support the theme of each menu. The look is very modern and does not distract you from the rightful focus of the evening - some good grub and drink.

Alright...let's dine!

First Course
Crudíte - Kale, Dill Pollen, Baby Fennel
Pairing: Martini

We started off very old school with a shaken vodka martini. My first martini made with a sweet vermouth, it also had a type of boutique bitters. The result, a very tasty drink to pair with food - but not like any martini I've ever had. The crudíte was also a nice old school touch. I don't know if the huge bowl of ice was a nod to the past or just a way to present the raw veggies in an artistic way. The veggies (heart of romaine lettuce, radicchio, cauliflower, carrot, radish, probably some others!)  were dressed with a non-creamy version of a ranch dressing. Tasted very nice and paired well with the Martini.

Second Course
Shrimp Cocktail - Fermented Tomato, Horseradish, Yellow Celery
Pairing: Martini

Can you get more old school than this dish? One oxymoronic jumbo shrimp with a delicious fermented tomato sauce. I would like to try a Bloody Mary made from this stuff - I know it would rock. Even with the acidity of the tomato, the martini was a nice neutral pairing.  I wish I would have shelled out the bucks for a double breasted pinstripe suit and a fedora... damn! 

Third Course
Surf Clam Siciliano - Saffron, Orange, Capellini
Surf and Turf - Grilled Mussels, Sweatbreads, Tart Cherries
Pairing: Martini

A first at any of the Next dinners we've enjoyed, choice!  For this appetizer course, we were given the choice of a clam, oyster, or a mussel dish. Drat! Only two of us and three choices. My guess was that the oyster would be a take on Oysters Rockefeller, which may have been interesting, but Wino4life wife and I were most intrigued by the clam and the mussel dish. 

I started with the mussel dish and the wife started with the clam dish. The mussel was tasty, but the sweetbread was the star for me. Nicely peppery, the martini's sweetness was a nice match. The clam dish was a surprise to me, as it was a cold dish. Cold and spaghetti to me harken more to a late night craving than a tasting menu.  It was not bad, but my least favorite dish at Next.  More to my dismay, after reading other reviews of Next Steakhouse menu - the oyster dish was identified as one of the highlights of the meal. Bummer!


Fourth Course
LeVasseur Salad - Frog's Legs, Watercress, Pine Nuts
Pairing: 2010 Chateau d'Epiré Savenniéres

Continuing our old school journey, the next stop was... table-side service! A very refreshing salad with bits of amazingly moist and tender frog legs.  Finally time for a different pairing, I am OK with a pairing crossing at most two courses, but for the cost of wine pairings for these dinners I do expect a bit more than a couple of wines and a cocktail.  This wine was a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. Just a hint of the lanolin/wet sweater aroma that is fairly standard in Chenin Blanc along with a bit of honeysuckle. The pairing was very nice with the lighter salad, and the slight sweetness of the frog's legs.

Fifth Course
Salmon Coulibiac - Duxelle, Fine Herbs, Brown Butter
Pairing: Chateau d'Epiré Savenniéres

Before our fifth course - a type of salmon roulade, our server showed us what the entire dish looked like.  A king salmon in pastry, adorned with old school sprigs of parsley and lemon slices - even the small touches are keeping with the old school tradition.  The roll included a mushroom risotto, making it a play on Beef Wellington, another very old school dish.  Again I would have preferred a different wine pairing, specifically a Pinot Noir - especially a burgundy. The Chenin Blanc was not a bad pairing, but the earthiness of the risotto and the richness of the salmon called for a bigger, bolder, pairing.

Sixth Course
Lobster Thermidor - Apple, Sherry, Thyme Foccacia
Pairing: 2006 Vincent Dancer Mersault Perriéres Premier Cru, Cote de Beaune

Lobster Thermidor is a dish I've long equated with decadence - a dish for the wealthy. Although this perception comes only from a Monty Python skit (Spam, Spam, Spam) - it always stuck with me.

Still, I have no idea what Lobster Thermidor is exactly, and after this dish I still don't. Described as a mashup of Lobster Thermidor and Lobster Bisque, it was incredibly good. The wine pairing of a white Burgundy verified that lobster and Chardonnay make a great pairing.  Serving a Pinot Noir with the last course as I recommended would have meant skipping from red wine to white wine, not typically done in tasting menus.  Swapping these two courses would still have worked, and made a fantastic dinner even more stellar.  The thyme infused fritters served as a side dish and referred to as "hush puppies" by our server were nothing short of sublime.

Seventh Course
Ribeye - 30 day dry aged with Onion Paysan, Brussel Sprouts, Two Jacket Potatoes
Pairing: 2009 The Fifth Cabernet Sauvignon

Seven courses in and our dinner suddenly and drastically transformed. We weren't prepared, we didn't foresee it. We've had many tasting menus in the US and in Spain, but none of our past experience prepared us for what happened next.  Luckily it wasn't a bad transformation, just one from a tasting menu to an all out family style dinner!  The food just kept coming, a beautifully cooked 30 day aged ribeye steak, an onion gratin made with all the flavors of french onion soup, a twice cooked potato with a welcome addition of bone marrow into the potato puree, brussels sprouts, and three sauces for the steak.  Normally I would consider it a crime to put anything but salt and pepper on such an excellent cut of meat - but the Next Steak Sauce was like a millionaire's A-1 sauce.  Now let's talk wine. My only criticism of Next has been the pairings for this meal... well they have scored a home run with the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon called only "The Fifth." This wine was fruity and nicely tannic, but not overly so for a fairly young wine.  Absolutely delicious. The wine is made by a former sommelier, who buys grapes from various unnamed sources in Napa Valley and keeps it a secret (pleads the fifth).  I have contacted them to see how I can get some more of this... I hope to do a full review of this wine in the future.

This tasting menu became an incredible steak dinner with an amazing Napa Cab. The only appearance of Steak for the night was done in style... thank you Next!!!

Eighth Course
Champagne Float
Pairing: NV Colin Extra Dry Premier Cru Champagne

I could easily have called it quits after the last course, but an intriguing dessert changed my mind. An extra dry Champagne "float" with a brioche ice cream to pair with the toasty/yeasty notes of the ice cream. A very dry champagne with ice cream made no sense to me from a pairing standpoint, but it was great!!!

Ninth Course
Norwegian Omelette - Hazelnut, Cigar, Malt
Baked Alaska - Flamed Tableside
Pairing: Coffee with Sasparilla, Cinnamon, Cassia; Black Currant Hot Drink with Sasparilla, Cinnamon, Cassia

Batting in the ninth position was a duo of desserts. Wino4life wife was served a Baked Alaska, flamed at the table. I was served a kind of a creme brûlée - but called a Norwegian omelette. Yeah - breakfast for dessert! Our drinks were a caffeine version (coffee), and a decaf version (some type of mulled black currant drink) spiked with a bit of scotch and some other flavors.  All components were very tasty - but I think I liked the Baked Alaska thing - mostly because it came with fire!

Tenth Course
Chocolate Mint a la Frango
Pairing: Coffee with Sasparilla, Cinnamon, Cassia; Black Currant Tea with Sasparilla, Cinnamon, Cassia
Minty Fresh - Not Mediciney!
We were more than full at this point, but our meal went into extra innings with one last course.  This dish was an ode to a great Chicago classic - Frango Mints from Marshall Field Department stores.  Like a really, really good Ande's Mint, this was a very nice finish to a great meal. 

As usual, our meal ended with souvenir menus. A nice extra touch was that the appetizer we each chose, and the desserts we were each served were factored in, so each of our menus was specific to our dinner. One last old school touch - a box of matches with the restaurant name on it. I'll save those for a cigar later.  

Next up (pun intended) - Modern Chinese menu that we will be experiencing in August.  Can't wait!!! And it may not even be snowing in Chicago!