Thursday, September 26, 2013

Octave Grill, Chesterton, Indiana

“Let us hope that the advent of a successful flying machine, now only dimly for[e]seen and nevertheless thought to be possible, will bring nothing but good into the world; that it shall abridge distance, make all parts of the globe accessible, bring men into closer relation with each other, advance civilization, and hasten the promised era in which there shall be nothing but peace and good-will among all men.”

-Octave Chanute from Progress In Flying Machines, 1894
Octave Grill, Chesterton, Indiana

After our visit to Anderson's Winery, we were chomping at the bit for a good lunch. Some research had led us to Octave Grill in Chesterton, Indiana, drawing us in with promise of grass-fed burgers and local beer. We got to Chesterton early, and enjoyed strolling around the quaint downtown and walking through their "european" market, where farmers, craftsmen, and more all had booths. It seemed crowded and festive, which bodes well for Chesterton's future.

Octave Grill is TINY. Not just small, the restaurant is a narrow and long rectangle, with seating for maybe 30 or so, a single bathroom, and the kitchen. That means it fills up fast, so get there when they open if you want to be guaranteed a table (probably not the ideal for large groups, either).

Local beers are a requirement in a joint like this, with a changing menu of draft and bottles beers. Decent selection, though all or most of the drafts were IPAs the day we visited, making us turn to bottles for our options.

Salads, sandwiches, burgers, and entrees are all available, but it's hard to turn down one of the burgers. The toppings are far-ranging, from over-easy egg, fried guacamole, habanero havarti, and more, served with your choice of fresh cut fries, tots, coleslaw or side house salad ( add $1 for sweet potato tots).

We started with the buffalo fries, fresh cut fries tossed in mild buffalo sauce and blue cheese crumbles drizzled with blue cheese sauce. The only complaint was that the fries were not crispy, perhaps less buffalo sauce or an additional round of frying would help. Otherwise, very tasty combo.

After our burgers, which we enjoyed half in the restaurant and took the other half to savor later, we tried the frozen key lime pie. As promised, the pie was frozen, which made it difficult to eat, but very refreshing.

Chesterton is not a destination for most people, I would guess, easily passed by on the Interstate or lakeside road. I know we've never turned out of our way. However, if you're not in a hurry and it's a nice weekend day, you could certainly do worse than strolling through the market and then enjoying some good grub at Octave Grill.

Get more info on the Octave Grill Facebook page.

Octave Grill on Urbanspoon

Octave Grill on Foodio54

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Anderson's Winery, Valparaiso, IN

Our first opportunity to visit an Indiana winery came this past weekend, on our way to Union Pier, MI for an early anniversary celebration. We decided to swing a bit out of our way and pay Anderson's Winery, in Valparaiso, a visit. Started in 1927, Anderson's has grown over the years to include a bakery, fudge factory, gift shop, beer and wine making supplies, and a greenhouse.

Anderson's Winery, Valparaiso, IN
"On the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan, just south of the largest sand dunes in the Midwest, lies a ridge formed thousands of years ago by the glaciers as they crept south during the three great Ice Ages that covered the mid-western area and created the Great Lakes. This ridge is called the Valparaiso Moraine. It is the highest point in northwest Indiana, and home to one of Indiana's best kept secrets, Anderson's Vineyard and Winery.
Unfortunately, this winery is not really our cup of tea. Best described as country kitsch, the store is chock full of rustic decor and has a somewhat dated feeling, definitely needs an update, in our opinion. The wines definitely need improving - we though they tasted like homemade wines our grandfathers might have made. This, of course, is highly subjective. While we were there, another couple tasted their wines and bought three bottles, and they've been in business for many years, so obviously, there is a market for their wares. On the positive side, the donuts were pretty good and I thought the outdoor picnic area looked like a good place to enjoy an alfresco lunch.

Anderson's Winery video

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Winechat: Rieslings Round 2

Last week's WineChat was Riesling Round 2. Austrian wine (the Salomon Undhof – Steiner Kögl Kremstal dac Reserve Riesling 2011) was featured, alongside a Riesling from Germany (Selbach Fish Label Riesling Mosel 2011) and Alsace (Domaine Ehrhart Riesling Vieilles Vignes 2011). The focus was exploring the impact the varying climates had on the wines that year. Alsace has 8,300 acres under Riesling vines, Germany, 55,000 acres, and Austria, 4,600 acres. The summer was rainy and cool, but by August, weather cleared up and an Indian summer allowed for ideal harvest conditions in Alsace. Austria experienced rain in Kremstal end of October, but grapes still healthy - a long, but rewarding harvest, grapes were picked when ready, not for weather.

Winechat: Rieslings Round 2

Wine Tasting Notes:
Selbach Riesling Mosel 2011: floral, apricot, and lemon nose; grass and lemon, flavors; acidic and tart finish. Traditional 1,000 liter oak barrels called "Fuder" still being used. SRP $14.99.

Salomon Undhof – Steiner Kögl Kremstal dac Reserve Riesling 2011: dusky flowers and citrus nose; muskmelon, honeyed stone fruit; mellow finish. Vines for this wine are 50 or more years old. 8th generation now entering family business. SRP $30

Domaine Ehrhart Riesling Vieilles Vignes 2011: citrus blossom and raisin aromas; strong citrus flavor, with mild melon and floral notes. Organic, 25 year old vines, wines rest on their lees for up to 6 months. SRP $16
Disclaimer: These wines were provided as media samples for review purposes.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Wines of Portugal Academy Chicago

The Wines of Portugal Academy Chicago / Academia do Vinho - Advanced Level sounded amazing when we received the invitation. Held at Morton's the Steakhouse - Wacker Place, this four-hour intensive was hosted and taught by Doug Frost, Master Sommelier and Master of Wine (one of three individuals in the world to simultaneously hold the 2 titles, and a funny guy to boot). The curriculum included an overview of the country with a focus on the core indigenous grapes that make this Iberian nation unique. The country was broken down by its regions (from Vinho Verde to the Douro, from Alentejo to the Peninsula de Setubal, and from Bairrada to Lisbon, among others) and we tasted close to 20 wines, from among Portugal’s over 250 different grapes.

WPTAcademy

The first flight of 8, to me, was somewhat disappointing -- I'm not overly familiar with Portuguese wines, but have tasted them on and off and loved the variety at the Grand Tasting earlier this year. The first 8 wines were too tannic and harsh, but then again, it was before 10:00 in the morning, not my usual wine tasting time. The second flight of 8 was much better, with 4 or 5 of the wines I would actually buy. All along, Doug kept us entertained and educated about the grapes and regions, telling many stories about his many experiences there.

Lunch followed the morning program and consisted of beef tenderloin served with some amazing potatoes with onions, green beans, a unique green salad with a variety of ingredients, and crab cakes for those who wanted some sea food. Ironically, the two wines at lunch were probably my favorites.

The day culminated with an optional examination, which challenged us to demonstrate our Portuguese wine knowledge. Those passing the exam received a certificate attesting to that achievement, with the top scorer in the class eligible to attend an all-expenses paid Portuguese wine trip to further bolster their knowledge of and passion for these amazing Iberian wines. Needless to say, Laima and I were not among the top scorers - this was a Level III exam and we are Level I Portuguese Wine experts (if that).

This was a great morning (excepting the exam), and I could see the value of other wine regions holding these sort of educational seminars.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Winechat: 2012 Finger Lakes Riesling Launch

We celebrated the 2012 Vintage Riesling Launch by participating in last Wednesday's #winechat -- we received five sample bottles of Finger Lakes Rieslings, from dry to dessert. Riesling is a grape that prefers a cool climate which helps it develop its strong acid backbone. The acid helps the wine maintain its complexity and balance. The Finger Lakes region is an area that has the potential for great Rieslings -- we've been tasting them over the last several years and they are always tasty, ranging from good to great. One of the great things about this region is that Riesling is vinified in so many different styles, from bone dry to dessert wine sweet, so finding one to your liking is not too difficult (and it's a pleasure to taste until you find your favorite!). With 850 acres of Riesling, 220,000 cases of Riesling are produced each year, with 2-3 styles from each producer on average. One of the great things about tasting them so early was a crisp subtle effervescence in most of the wines. This will dissipate with time, and many of the wines will develop the archetypal petrol scents and flavors of Riesling. Would be fun to have a case of each and taste test over time. :)

2012 Finger Lakes Riesling Launch

Tasting Notes:
Swedish Hill Winery 2012 Dry Riesling: floral and lemon aromas; melon, gooseberry, and citrus flavors; acidic finish. SRP $16.

Standing Stone Vineyards 2012 Old West Block Riesling: dried apricot and pear blossom aromas; green apple and stone fruit flavors; peppery finish. Fermented in stainless steel, 129 cases, SRP $18.99.

Red Newt Cellars 2012 Circle Riesling (Medium Sweet): pear blossom and green apple aromas; starfruit and honeyed apricots; effervescent finish. 6,000 cases, SRP $13.

Wagner Vineyards 2012 Riesling Select: tropical fruit aromas; honeyed almonds with citrus and pineapple flavors; near dessert wine sweetness. 1,450 cases, SRP $13.

Fulkerson Winery 2012 Riesling Iced Wine: musky almond aromas; lemon, caramel, and nutty flavors; beautiful balance. 127 cases, 375ml, SRP $29.99.
Disclaimer: These wines were provided as media samples for review purposes.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rhone Rangers Chicago Tasting

Last week we had a great week of tasting! It started on Wednesday with the Rhone Rangers Tasting at the City Winery on the west side of Chicago's Loop. The event was a walk-around tasting with over 100 wines from more than 20 winery members of the Rhone Rangers. Participating wineries include: Beckmen, Bonny Doon, Broken Earth, Cornerstone Cellars, Cypher Winery, Domaine Berrien, Epiphany, Fess Parker Winery, , Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Law Estate Winery, Mercer Estates, Michael-David Winery, Mira Winery, Pomar Junction, Quivira, Qupe, Refugio Ranch, Ridge Vineyards, Stage Left Cellars, Tablas Creek, Villa Creek, Vina Robles, Zaca Mesa and more.

Rhone Rangers Chicago Tasting

The hardest part of the event was finding parking; eventually we used the valet service and that worked out well. With so many wines to choose from, we knew we could not get to every producer, so we had to come up with a strategy. There were a couple of wineries I knew I didn't want to miss, like meeting Alex from Cornerstone Cellars and sipping Bonny Doon Vineyards. Beyond that, I hoped to search out any rosés available (I drink it year-round and it was a hot, sunny day, just perfect), along with some surprises.

Lots of good food, too many good wines, just a really good tasting overall. Standouts for me included the the 2009 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant Réserve (en bonbonne), everything from Law Estate Wines - outstanding ultra-premium Rhone style wines, and, one of my favorite rosés ever, the Corallina Rosé from Cornerstone Cellars. Thanks Rhone Rangers, for visiting Chicago!

Disclaimer: Our tickets to this event were complimentary to the trade.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Wine Infographic

It's not easy being a wine newbie (or an intermediate or even, I would guess, an expert). There's all that vocabulary (what the heck is tannin? Aroma? Terroir? Seiously?), then you need to hold a glass the glass correctly (after choosing the right glass!). This is just to get the wine into your mouth, which may or may not have been decanted, stored at the correct temperature and humidity, SERVED at the right temperature, and poured not too early or late in its bottle life. Whew.

Here's a handy dandy infographic that is really helpful to all wine beginners. Definitely something to share when you need a simple way to explain this not so simple hobby (job? obsession?).

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wine Blogging Wednesday 81: ???

Wine Blogging Wednesday

After Wine Blogging Wednesday #80: Dry Rosé, I was looking forward to participating in the planned posts. However, one month into the planned rebirth, it appears that it has stalled once again. Not sure what happened. Lenn Thompson (of the New York Cork Report) was slated to host this month's effort, but apparently that went by the wayside. It will be interesting to see what happens next -- will it wither away or will someone come up with a plan?

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cultivate Festival Chicago 2013

Saturday, Tazer and I headed to Lincoln Park in Chicago, to attend our first (but the city's third) Cultivate Festival. When we got there, things seemed somewhat chaotic, as the Chicago Green City Market was happening, along with the usual crowds headed for the Zoo and lakefront. We lucked into a great (free!) parking spot and hoofed it over to the festival grounds, stopping along the way for a peak at the animals and edible gardens at the Farm in the Zoo.

Cultivate Chicago is a creation of Chipotle, the now-ubiquitous Mexican fast-food chain. Even though service has been uneven at times, for the most part they do a pretty good job and definitely are a step above most others, especially for their philosophy on sourcing healthier and more local products. The one-day Cultivate Festival showcases cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs (we were too early for Graham Elliot, our only disappointment of the day), live music, local food artisans, regional beer and wines, a special Chipotle festival menu, and other activities emphasizing fresh and affordable food made with sustainable ingredients.

Cultivate Festival Chicago 2013

I'm not a fan of festivals in general, not really liking the crowds, often sunbaked grounds, and general herd mentality. This was one I wanted to check out because food choices are really important to our family and there were some interesting chefs on the schedule.

Upon entry to the festival, we were given a Cultivate passport to track participation in activities. There were six experiences around the festival, from organic farming to avocados to farm facts. Inexplicably, the only time we saw a line was for the Tabasco activity, which we couldn't figure out at all. Once we got four stamps, we took our program to the Info Tent and got a coupon for a free burrito, bowl, salad or order of tacos at any Chipotle.

The festival included such chef luminaries as Paul Kahan (Avec, Big Star, The Publican, and Publican Quality Meat); Curtis Duffy (Grace); Graham Elliot (Graham Elliot, Grahamwich, and Graham Elliot Bistro); Jonathon Sawyer (The Greenhouse Tavern and Noodlecat in Cleveland); and more. Demonstrations were held under tents, using mirrors and large video screens to enable everyone to see. Nicely done.

Cultivate Chicago included a Kids’ Zone dedicated to nutrition and agricultural education, with hot dogs, snacks, T-shirt and tile painting, free seeds for a salsa garden, and more. Tazer enjoyed the food, painted a shirt, but appeared, at 12 years old, a bit above it, though he was happy to get a free Kids' Meal coupon for one of his little brothers.

The Artisans’ Hall featured local vendors offering a wide selection of local artisan-crafted foods for sampling and purchase. Each vendor was hand-selected by Chipotle for their commitment to the local community and environment. It was tough to choose something, as there were so many good menu items -- we ended up trying the Bangers and Bacon sandwich from Spencer's Jolly Posh Foods, most satisfying.

Video of Cultivate Festival Chicago 2013

We didn't stay for it, but the musical lineup included Walk the Moon, Youngblood Hawke, Dale Earnhart Jr Jr, The Mowgli’s, and Bestfriends.

We got a taste of Chipotle’s newest concept, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, which currently has locations in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. I had to try the Rice Bowl (Jasmine rice with pork and chicken meatballs or organic tofu, charred green beans, green curry, and green papaya slaw) - the meatballs were delicious and the curry was really spicy, brave on their part! Tazer tried out their Gorditas (grilled flat bread with steak or braised pork, escabeche, sour cream, and queso fresco), opting for steak and no sour cream. Very tasty. Also available from Chipotle were Esquites (salad of charred corn, shredded cabbage, and crispy tortillas, tossed with roasted tomatillos, sourcream, pickled onions, and cotija cheese) and Tacos, neither of which we sampled. Hard to taste a lot of variety when serving sizes are so large!

On our way out, we stopped by the Tasting Hall, which featured 14 different brewers and vintners, including 5 Rabbit, M. Lawrence Winery, and more. Chipotle debuted the Cultivate Farmhouse Ale, created in partnership with 5 Rabbit Brewing Company, available only at the Festival. I didn't drink much, for one I had to drive home, but also because it had the feeling of a bar more than a tasting area. Not sure why. If it was my festival, I'd probably mix the Tasting and Artisan Halls up a bit, so one could more easily eat and drink together, rather than in separate areas.

We were really impressed with how well the festival was run, how much room there was to spread out (even though there were a lot of people, it never felt too crowded). The food was good and varied, the activities gave form to our wanderings, and it was just a good experience overall. Since we had such a great time, we're planning on bringing the rest of the family next year!

Disclaimer: Some of the food items mentioned were provided to me as media samples.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Digital Wine Communications Conference

Organized by Vrazon, the DWCC is the only international event dedicated to the convergence of wine and the web, providing a platform for the global wine community to address today’s online communications opportunities. The annual, three-day event is helping to build an international network of wine communicators, and also encourages the acquisition of skills and information and the exchange of expertise across national, language and professional boundaries.
Much like the artist formerly known as Prince (AFKAP), the former European Wine Bloggers Conference is now known as the Digital Wine Communications Conference (DWCC). I can see why a name change might be necessary, as we never really considered attending, mostly for financial reasons, though obviously we're not European bloggers either.

Digital Wine Communications Conference

Previous incarnations have been in Izmir, Turkey; Brescia, Italy; Vienna, Austria; Lisbon, Portugal; and Rioja, Spain, where it returns again in 2013. Any one of these would have been a great destination in its own right, without adding in the networking and educational activities.

So why are we writing about the DWCC? As in previous years, we don't have the finances to go. But, as with the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, BC, there is a small chance that we can snag a scholarship. Yes, there is a European Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship! We're thinking of applying and, of course, attending the conference if we get the funds. It would be a great trip for the travel, the wine, and another event to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary (also in October). The deadline for the scholarship application is September 15th, so we have a few days left to ponder and polish, but what's to lose?

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Eataly Chicago

“We cook what we sell,
and we sell what we cook”

Celebrity chef Mario Batali, restaurateur Joe Bastianich and company's second location, Eataly Chicago, is one of the most anticipated openings in recent memory. Slated to open this fall, the most recent date is mid-November, from what we hear. Eataly sources the highest quality ingredients from Italy and America, but beyond all the great artisan food, Eataly New York has seven restaurants, so that's a slew of dining options coming our way!

Eataly Chicago rendering
A rendering of the forthcoming Eataly Chicago via Curbed

La Scuola di Eataly is their in-house education program in the NY location, offering a variety of cooking school classes: Chef's Kitchen (demos), Chef's Table (regional dinners), Aperitivo (meet winemakers, brewmasters and sommeliers), Artisanal Product Spotlight, Food and Language (Italian lessons and recipes), and Eat-Ineraries (a guided tour of the market).

Add free Wi-Fi and it sounds like a location in which you could probably live comfortably.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wine Mosaic: Protecting Mediterranean Grapes

Even though (for some inexplicable reason) the Wine Century Club is not responding to our requests for membership, Laima and I love searching out and trying different varietals, the more the merrier. While it's not necessarily a bad thing for a winery in Michigan to grow Syrah grapes, we're more excited to see a Kerner or Lemberger or other more unusual varietal. With literally thousands of varietals to choose from, it's sad to discover that "20 major grape varieties account for 80% of the world’s wine production."

Wine Mosaic Logo

We were excited to discover that there are actually groups who have organized to save some of these more unusual grapes. A recent find was the Wine Mosaic, whose goal is the protection and promotion original Mediterranean grape varieties. The project is based around two fundamental ideas:
Production: highlight original varieties. Develop practical measures to ensure their preservation, and increase the production of quality wines made from these varieties.
Consumption: raise the awareness and consumption of wines made from original grape varieties.
A project worth applauding and promoting. Find more information on the Wine Mosaic website, on Facebook, and Twitter.

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