Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bring on the Brews

Bring on the Brews

I've long been interested in beers, especially the ones which are brewed with more unusual ingredients. Over the last few weeks I've been watching the (now cancelled) show from the Discovery Channel, "Brew Masters." The show focuses on Sam Calagione, the founder and head of Dogfish Head Brewery, and his staff. Even as they brew their production beers, they are still searching for new, or old, or different. While beer is less dependent on terroir than wine, there seems to be an overlap in terms of quality ingredients, expression of taste, and desire to please similar to the craft wine world.

It got me thinking about how much we enjoy our local craft brews, both here in Illinois and in Michigan (with 3 Floyds nearby in Indiana, we'll be able to add that state soon as well). While we enjoy tasting the local wine (what little there is of it), we have an amazing wealth of brewing talent here in the Midwest, ripe for the tasting.

Une Annee Brewery Life After Death Black Saison Ale

This weekend, we tasted a bottle of Chicago-based Une Année Brewery's Life After Death Black Saison Ale - like a good wine, there was complexity of flavors, everchanging with temperature change and the food being consumed at the time.

We are definitely going to do a lot more exploring in terms of local (and not-so-local) beers - the world of craft beer is always changing. According to the Brewers Association, there were more than 2,500 breweries in the United States as of June 2013. That's a lot of beers to taste.

Bring on the Brews!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pairing Wines and Chocolate

For Valentine's Day, Laima got me a gift that was both traditional and clever - a wine and chocolate pairing kit from Ghirardelli Chocolate! Four types of chocolates were included, along with 2 suggested wines to pair with each chocolate. Overall, their suggestions were pretty good, but with such variation in how wines are made, some turned out better than others.

Rosé and Raspberry Dark Chocolate

Rosé and Raspberry Dark Chocolate: We went with a dry, sparkling Rosé, which gave a nice acidic counterpoint to the luscious Raspberry Dark Chocolate. I'm usually not a fan of fruit in chocolate, but this pairing made me rethink that stance. The other suggestion for this was Port, but I demurred, feeling that the sweetness of the Port and the raspberry filling would be cloying to my taste.

Pinot Noir and Dark Chocolate

Pinot Noir and 60% Cacao Dark Chocolate:  We went with a lighter-bodied Pinot for this pairing, which at first seemed a bit jarring,  but then grew on me. Next time I'd pair it with a heavier, more fruit forward Pinot, maybe from the Dundee Hills of Oregon. The other pairing option was Syrah - we had a heavy, earthy Syrah from Lodi that we enjoyed immensely with the dark chocolate.

Riesling and Caramel Milk Chocolate

Riesling and Caramel Milk Chocolate: Paired with the wrong Riesling, this would have been a sweet mess, in my opinion. We opted for a drier one, and were very happy with the results. Cream Sherry was another suggested pairing, but we don't have any in the house and didn't want to buy any for possibly a single tasting experience.

Zinfandel and Sea Salt Caramel Dark Chocolate

Zinfandel and Sea Salt Caramel Dark Chocolate: another lucky pairing, in that we had a deep, dark, earthy, fruit-driven Zin from Lodi to balance the salty sweetness and bite of the dark chocolate. We felt their suggestion of sparkling wine was a good pairing as well.

While you don't have to go out and buy the kit, this was a simple way to do our first Chocolate and wine pairings. The small sizes of the chocolates also kept us from gorging ourselves. While we didn't always agree with their suggestions completely, I think that has more to do with the specific wines we were pouring and not necessarily the suggested pairings themselves.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lodi Wine and Cheese Virtual Tasting

Lodi Wine and Cheese Virtual Tasting

We were so excited to find out we were going to participate in this virtual tasting, our first wine and food pairing virtual experience. Since Lodi has a long history of wine making and a bounty of cultures from around the world, the plan was to pay tribute to the old and new world influence in the region by showcasing two imported and two California cheeses at the virtual gathering. Curated by Lodi’s own Cindy Della Monica, Cheesemonger and owner of Cheese Centraldowntown, this promised to be an amazing evening. The tasting was co-hosted by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and talented Lodi winemaker, Jeremy Trettevik of Jeremy Wine Co - it's always great when the winemakers participate!

Wine and Cheese Pairings:
2012 Estate Crush Albariño (SRP $18) paired with Tetilla cheese from Central Lechera Gallega in Galicia, Spain - very mild cheese taste, nice firm rind with softer edge; cheese added a grassy flavor to existing citrus notes.

2011 Fields Family Wines Estate Syrah (SRP $22) paired with Old Amsterdam from Westerland in North Country, Holland - nice firm texture with slight crunch; nutty flavors great foil to black cherry and earthy notes. 

2011 Jeremy Wine Co. Costa Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel (SRP $28) paired with Midnight Moon from Cypress Grove Chevre in Acata, California - initial crunch leads into pleasant creaminess and buttery flavor, a counterpoint to strong smoky dark plum notes of the wine.

2010 Viñedos Aurora Petite Sirah paired with Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar from Fiscalini Farms in Modesto, California - tart and nutty flavors of this cheddar smooth the peppery notes and balance the dark fruit flavors of the wine.
    Really a fun virtual tasting - hope we'll see more of these food and wine pairings! We've participated in several virtual wine tastings with Lodi Wine and search out their wines when shopping. This is a wine region with a variety of quality tastes. If you're not drinking Lodi Wine yet, definitely search some out, you won't be disappointed.

    Disclaimer: These wines and cheese were provided as media samples.

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    Wednesday, February 19, 2014

    Haute Sausage Restaurant, Chicago

    Haute Sausage Storefront

    It started with a food truck and that was very, very good. Now, happily, you don't need to track that down to get at the tasty food. The menu is based on owner's Rich Levy's experience growing up in South Africa, in the Middle East, and the Midwest. Result: tasty sausage-based sandwiches.

    The newish Haute Sausage storefront is an awesome addition to the newly-formed foodie block on South Franklin. Kind of a non-descript interior, plaster animal heads are the only unusual design element. Seating for 24 or so means that you may have to take your orders to-go depending on day and time.

    Haute Sausage Food In-House

    What I've eaten so far:
    • El Puerco (special) - decent, hard to eat with the toppings falling off - would have liked more kick to the pickled veggies.
    • BBQ Boerewors - meh; nothing bad, just not great. Had the unfortunate luck to follow the Peppercorn (see below).
    • Peppercorn Steak - I died and went to heaven, easily the best sausage I've had in a long, long time, great flavors and textures. Bravo.
    • Sheboygan Brat - good take on the traditional brat.
    • Elmwood Pork - second favorite, nice strong flavors and enough cheese to hold everything inside the bun.
    • Yucca Fries - maybe my favorite fries ever, crisp and sweet with a lot of black pepper.
    • Cheddar Chips - okay, chips tasted a bit stale and were slightly singed around the edges; where the cheeses had melted onto a chip, pretty darn good.
    Haute Sausage Food To-Go Tray

    I love that sausages are sold as Shorties (half size) for more opportunities to taste across the menu. Yucca fries are an amazing side while Cheddar Chips need a bit of tweaking to reach their full potential - more cheese, please! Everything on the menu is good, with occasional specials and some unusual meats (bison, alligator) thrown in for good measure.

    Highly recommended!

    Haute Sausage on Urbanspoon

    Haute Sausage on Foodio54

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    Tuesday, February 18, 2014

    Hand of God Wines 2010 Fingerprint Series Red

    While we don't go overboard in celebrating Valentine's Day, we did use the occasion to open a special bottle: the 2010 Hand of God Fingerprint Series Red. After corresponding with Jon leading up to the Wine Bloggers Conference 2013, we somehow never ran into each other there, but connected again shortly afterwards. Here's the video interview we did as a Google+ Hangout:


    The Fingerprint Series Red comes from the Sobresama Vineyard, in Mendoza, Argentina. While it is Argentina, so the majority is Malbec (55% ), there is also Syrah (35%), and 10% Petit Verdot. Dark as sin, the edges glow ruby red. The nose is guarded, but there are earthy dark fruit notes that open up slowly. Medium-bodied, it showcases plum, blackberry, black pepper, and vanilla flavors, but there are plenty of underlying others to add complexity. This doesn't taste or feel like a wine that is 14.5% ABV, due to the nice balance. A smoke and cedar finish with a slight puckery mouthfeel show there are tannins left for aging. 

    We had this wine with grilled steaks (salt, black pepper, and coffee rub), asparagus, and potatoes au gratin. While easy to drink on its own, the wine shines paired with food. Asparagus, one of our favorite veggies but notoriously difficult to pair with wine, fazed the wine not at all. 

    Hand of God Wines 2010 Fingerprint Series Red

    The grapes come from a vineyard situated 3,600 feet above sea level. After fermentation, they are aged 20 months in 50% new French oak and 50% 2nd year seasoned oak. Ready to drink now but probably better cellared for at least a few more years. Only 1093 cases (750ml) and 300 magnums (1.5l) were produced. Cork closure, with an amazingly heavy bottle. $45 SRP.

    This wine was provided at a discount for review purposes.

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    Thursday, February 13, 2014

    Taste: A Life in Wine

    Taste: A Life in Wine

    Simply put, Anthony Terlato has been there and done that. Growing up in an Italian household where wine was always accompanied by food, Terlato went on to head up an empire that encompassed wine production, education, and distribution. In Taste: A Life in Wine, he writes about the wine industry through a personal lens, as he was there for many important moments in the U.S. wine industry in the 20th Century. From the time of 50 cent glasses of restaurant table wine to the current mass appeal of wine across borders, Terlato lived the wine life as it rose to prominence, and now not only distributes wine but also owns several wineries. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Terlato Wine Group, as they are a locally-based business here outside of Chicago. Maybe one day I'll get invited to their corporate headquarters, Tangley Oaks, for one of their famous wine and food tasting meals. One can only dream.

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    Wednesday, February 12, 2014

    Vertical and Vintages: Apex Mountain Wine Festival

    Vertical and Vintages: Apex Mountain Wine Festival

    I really enjoyed the wines of British Columbia when I visited there for the Wine Bloggers Conference last summer. Now I ran across this event that joins two of my passions together: wine tasting and skiing! The wineries from the Naramata Bench are pouring their wares at Apex Mountain Resort for the 2nd annual Vertical and Vintages Wine festival. Wish I could go.

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    Tuesday, February 11, 2014

    Mutt Lynch Winery

    "Bark Less, Wag More"

    Mutt Lynch Winery

    To test out the Underground Cellar system, we ordered some reds from Mutt Lynch Winery - disappointingly, we received 5 bottles of their 2009 Merlot and only one other, the Petite Sirah, but that's the way the system works. Oh well.

    Mutt Lynch Winery was born in 1995 combining the owners' mutual passion for wine and “all things dog.” They support local animal rescue organizations in their tireless efforts to save pets’ lives. Nationally, the winery supports North America’s largest pet adoption web service, Adopt-a-Pet.com, whose mission is simple – linking homeless pets with homes.

    Mutt Lynch Merlot Over and Play Dead 2009 Central Coast

    Merlot Over and Play Dead 2009 Central Coast
    Medium dark ruby red with light edges; earthy currant and green olive aromas; black cherry, caramel, coffee and smoke flavors; medium mouthfeel into a lightly tannic finish; 96% Merlot (4% ??); aged predominantly in used barrels; 13.5% ABV; 1,432 cases; twist-off closure; SRP $14.99.

    Mutt Lynch mbf Petite Sirah, Perotti Vineyard Dry Creek Valley—Sonoma County 2009
    mbf Petite Sirah, Perotti Vineyard Dry Creek Valley—Sonoma County 2009
    Dark, dark, dark; pepper, plum, earth aromas; blueberry, dark cherry, and tobacco flavors; medium mouthfeel, definitely silkier than the Merlot; tannic finish; open-top tank fermentation; aged in 100% French Oak barrels for 18 months; 14.4% ABV; 167 cases; cork closure; SRP $24.99.
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    Thursday, February 6, 2014

    Winter Whites - Summer Sippers from the Southern Hemisphere

    With Ski Patrol taking up my time, it's been a while since I've done a #winechat, but I couldn't resist when I received samples for the Winter Whites: Summer Sippers from the Southern Hemisphere. The funny thing is, while I'm enjoying red wines just fine, over the last bit of time I'm definitely leaning towards white wines, even, gasp, during winter.

    The three wines we were sent, from Brancott Estate, Jacob's Creek, and Graffigna (New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina respectively) were all pretty great sippers and super with food. The Sauv Blanc and Pinot Grigio were dynamite in their tartness and floral aromas, while the Chardonnay had a bit more heft and lusciousness to stand up to bigger foods. Nicely done, Southern Hemisphere, nicely done.

    Brancott Estate Flight Song Sauvignon Blanc 2013

    Brancott Estate Flight Song Sauvignon Blanc 2013:

    Immediate concern about the 20% less calories on the label. Not sure who their target audience is, but I don't know any wine drinkers that worry about that. That being said, I loved this wine:
    Very pale yellow color; honeysuckle and white pear aromas; yellow grapefruit and starfruit flavors, light bodied; zingy lemon finish; fermented in stainless steel; twist-off closure; 9% ABV; SRP $14.99.
    Jacob's Creek Reserve Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2012

    Jacob's Creek Reserve Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2012

    Grapes picked at night; juice batches fermented separately in barrel, some with natural yeasts and minimal intervention; pale straw color; lemon and acacia on the nose; tart peach, cream, vanilla, and citrus flavors; round mouthfeel into a luscious finish; 13% ABV; twist-off closure; SRP $12.

    Graffigna Centenario Pinot Grigio 2012

    Graffigna Centenario Pinot Grigio 2012

    Glowing light straw yellow in color (even in the evening it glowed); honeysuckle, lemon, and white peach aromas; hint of petrol, tangy lemon with stone fruits and some pear; medium-bodied with a round mouthfeel and a more luscious finish than expected; 100% stainless steel fermentation; no oak; 13.5% ABV; cork closure; SRP $12.99.

    I loved all three of these wines, really made with a deft hand and an allowance for the varietal characteristics to come through. Recommended.

    Disclosure: These wines were sent to me for review purposes.

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    Wednesday, February 5, 2014

    If You Love This Beer Then You Will Love This Wine Infographic

    VinePair partnered with Alphabet City Beer Co. to recommend great wines for people who love beer and created this simple infographic to display those recommendations.

    If You Love This Beer Then You Will Love This Wine
    Wines For Beer Drinkers by VinePair

    Not 100% sure about some of the counterparts, but Porter is one of my favorite style beers, and Syrah seems an intuitive suggestion. What do you think? Does your favorite wine line up with your favorite beer?

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    Tuesday, February 4, 2014

    The Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship

    "The Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship was founded in 2009 to provide well established “citizen bloggers” with a stipend so they can attend the wine bloggers conference, further their knowledge, their network, the wine blogging community and the wine industry as a whole."
    Wine Bloggers Conference 2014

    I was a recipient of a Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship last year and it was an amazing experience! I met so many people I'd only read before, was inspired to continue the blog, and traveled to a far off wine destination I didn't know existed and probably wouldn't have visited otherwise.

    The one negative was that I went alone while Laima stayed home with the kids. This year we really wanted to go together but, as last year, finances won't allow for us to fit into our budget. So we'll both be applying for the Scholarship and can only go if we both get funded.

    That's where you come in - DONATE to the fund and send a blogger to the Conference. Even if we don't end up being chosen, from my experience last year I know it's an amazing opportunity, but it only happens from generous donors. Donate what you can - in previous years Tom Wark (Fermentation) and Amy Gross (VineSleuth) each matched donations, which was a huge boon. Every little bit helps.

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