Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lodi Wine: Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaults

Do you know what a fun project would be? Drinking a different wine from Lodi every day, for a year. The quality and variety of wines from this area in California is simply mind-blowing. A man can dream, right? Recently, I got to add to my Lodi experience by tasting samples of Cinsault wines from the famed Bechthold Vineyard, sipping and chatting with other aficionados through the Charles Communications Brandlive channel and Twitter, Really a great evening. We tasted wines from Michael David Winery, Turley Wines, Estate Crush, and Onesta Wines.

Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault

Originally planted in 1886 by Joseph Spenker, Bechthold Vineyard, the oldest continuously farmed vineyard in the Lodi AVA, consists of 25 acres of gnarled head trained vines. Originally thought to be Black Malvoisie and at times close to being ripped out, it was discovered the grapes were actually Cinsault, and a call was made to Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon, the original Rhone Ranger. The vineyard was being minimally farmed – just sprayed for sulfur, pruned, and weeded, with no irrigation, but the vines were in excellent shape. Grahm used the Cinsault in his Le Cigare Volant, a Châteauneuf-du-Pape inspired red wine blend. And the vineyard was saved. Now up to 17 wineries receive grapes from the vineyard, making rosé and red wines. While winemaking has a part in the variety of flavors coming out, there are certainly marked differences in the terroir across the 25 acres, some due to soil and much of it having to do with water availability. While the vineyard is dry-farmed while grapes hang on the vines, the plot is inundated at the end of each season, giving the vines a long drink before their winter dormancy.

Tasting Notes:
2013 Turley Wine  Cellars Cinsault: 100% whole cluster (no de-stemming of the fruit), Turley does not inoculate the fermentations, primary and malolactic are all native. Turley does not use any enzymes, and does not acidify the wine. Just grapes! Aged 5-7 years in French oak barrels; lovely very light ruby color, evincing pomegranate juice; cassis, cream soda, subtle herb and vanilla flavors; cassis, plum, strawberry and toast flavors; light but surprisingly round mouthfeel into an acidic finish; cork closure;  1000 cases produced; SRP $17. $17! This was a surprisingly fruity yet restrained wine, a classic feeling and tasting wine, sure to please most palates. 
2013 Ancient Vine Michael David Cinsault: Aged 12 months in neutral French oak; deep dark garnet color; earthy red fruit aromas; dark cherry, cassis, pomegranate, and dark plum flavors; 14.5% ABV; cork closure;  SRP $25. Beautiful acid on this wine, super smooth when tasted with food. 
2012 Estate Crush Cinsault: opaaue ruby in appearance; dusty dark plum, strawberry, and cassis aromas; dark cherry, rhubarb, strawberry and pomegranate flavors; cork closure; 100 cases produced;  SRP $26. 
2011 Onesta Cinsault: Saignée method, colad soaked, extended maceration; aged 9 months in neutral French oak; beautiful transparent ruby color; cassis, toast, rhubarb and bright red fruit aromas; stewed plum, rhubarb, and earthy red berry flavors; medium mouthfeel with a nice acid backbone; cork closure; 370 cases produced;   SRP $29.
This was an amazingly diverse and high-quality tasting. These wines are unlike any others, certainly few others have the history associated with this long-lived vineyard. Many of agreed that these would make ideal Thanksgiving wines, though of course I'd open one up at any time of the year.

Charles Communications Associates is an independent creative marketing firm that employs traditional public relations and new media strategies to assist companies, organizations and non-profits in the creation, development and marketing of interesting and compelling brands. Recognized as one of the most effective PR firms in the wine industry, we have an exceptional track record of promoting products in the gourmet, natural and organic food and beverage categories, from wine and tea to top shelf spirits and luxury goods. We consider ourselves fortunate to work with clients who share our philosophy of social responsibility in work and everyday life.

These wines were provided for tasting purposes - all opinions are my own.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel

Thursday, September 25, 2014

#WineStudio Session XVII Rinascimento Rising

#WineStudio Session XVII Rinascimento Rising

“Many of the wines I work with are farmed either organically or biodynamically and are naturally fermented using only native yeasts, but that doesn’t mean they are automatically good; the wines are good because of the blood, sweat and tears that are shed by the producers working with nature to make something great.”
~ Justin Gallen, owner Rinascimento Wine Company

Small business owner, wine importer, Italian-centric, family man and trusted wine friend of PROTOCOL wine studio, this month’s #WineStudio looked at Justin’s early experiences in the business, what it meant going out on his own, and how that changed and morphed as he made it work with a young family. what drove him to become independent. Justin is passionate about what he does, putting boots to the floor and receiver to the ear in search of wines (and wineries and winemakers) that meet his exacting paradigm. In love with Italian wines, Justin imports, what else, Italian wines through Rinascimento Wine Company - we were lucky enough to get samples and taste a few of his producers.

Wine Tasting Notes:

G.D. Vajra, Piemonte (non-certified organically grown grapes)

The estate of GD Vajra is situated in Vergne, the highest village in the Commune of Barolo. Its vineyards are planted with Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera at heights of 350-400 meters, which result in distinctive and aromatic wines. The Vajra family is a group of dedicated, passionate winegrowers, who are also grounded and sensitive to the human role in winemaking. Their philosophy remains faithful to the traditional and authentic wines of Piemonte, and in essence they regard themselves as the instruments that enable nature and the environment full self-expression through their wines.
Barolo Albe 2009: A blend of Nebbiolo grapes from three different vineyards at three different altitudes, dry-farmed sustainably; hand picked; aged in Slavonian oak barrels for approximately 36 months; dark ruby red color; dusty plum, resin, dark cherry, and vanilla aromas; smoke, dark plums, bright red fruit, and toast flavors; medium mouthfeel laced with bright acidity leading into a tannic finish; % ABV; cork closure; SRP $38. 
Barbera d'Alba DOC 2011: 100% Barbera; a blend of six di erent terroirs; dry-farmed sustainably; malolactic fermentation and aging in oak barrels and stainless steel tanks for approximately 12 months; pretty dark ruby red with lighter edges; very closed upon opening - poured through aerator twice, opened up quite a bit; earthy dark cherry, blackberry and spice aromas; black cherry, plum, cassis and licorice flavors; lighter mouthfeel with mild tannins and good acidity; 14.5% ABV; cork closure; SRP $23.
Musto Carmelitano, Basilicata (certified organically grown grapes)

Musto Carmelitano is a family winery run by Miss Elisabetta Musto Carmelitano, a passionate and reliable entrepreneur. With the help of all her family she has been able to invest in the quality of their wine. Aglianico del Vulture grapes are selected very carefully, hand-picked and grown by taking inspiration from the biological and organic agriculture. Musto Carmelitano winery is extremely careful with the transformation of the grape into wine so that all of its precious organoleptic traits are preserved. Grapes come from different vineyards: Pian del Moro (90 years old), Serra del Prete (45 years old) and Vernavà (25 years old). To accomplish this, they avoid all clarifying and filtering processes and do not allow any type of stabilization procedures. Musto Carmelitano wines are made with traditional methods, with great respect for the environment and protecting consumers interests.
Serra del Prete 2010 Aglianico del Vulture: original taste and smell straight up paint thinner, thought we had a corked bottle; after letting it sit, seemed to smell and taste better, so continued on; dark looking wine but actually bright ruby center with darker edges; dusty stewed prune, bright red berry, olive, and herb aromas; tart red fruit, earth, mushroom, and herb flavors; tannic finish; 14% ABV; cork closure; SRP $20. Paired with pepperoni pizza - nice complement to tomato sauce and melted cheese. Second pour also started with a strange smell, nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol, but improved in the glass. This is a wine I would definitely decant or aerate in the future.
Cirelli, Abruzzo (certified organically grown grapes)

"I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up in a well off family which allow me to spent a fantastic and dispassionate childhood and to study in the most prestigious schools in EU; My grandparents and my parents spent all their entire life on bettering the social, cultural, economical status of the family, cutting all the links with their origin: the soil. Once I got the graduation in BA I decided to invest my little money on a farm in Abruzzo, the so-called “green region of Europe”. Since 2003 I am therefore trying to reestablish a link between myself and the origin of my Family because I am more then convinced of the goodness of the values within the farming. In fact there is a phrase that I love (but I don’t remember the author): “the farmer is the closest man to God”. This is not to say that I feel close to God, but I would like my children to grow up with a better understanding of the moral values of the soil. That’s all." 
~ Francesco Cirelli
Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo 2013: certified organically grown grapes; skin contact for 10-12 hours; dark rosé color; cassis, subtle watermelon, and strawberry aromas; cranberry, tart red cherry, bit of saline and crabapple flavors; medium mouthfeel with plenty of acidity; tart red fruit finish; 12.5 % ABV; twist-off closure; SRP $18. This wine tasted and smelled differently at a variety of temperatures, opening up quite a bit from refrigerator cold to room temp.
PROTOCOL #WineStudio presents an online twitter-based educational program where we engage our brains and palates! It’s part instruction and wine tasting, with discussions on producers, grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food and wine matching and what all this means to us as wine drinkers.

These wines were provided for tasting purposes - all opinions are my own.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Whiskey River BBQ, Mt Prospect, IL

Whiskey River BBQ

Whiskey River is a throwback to the old roadhouses, full of old beer can collections, rock and roll photos, and every inch crammed with signs, guitars and maybe a taxidermied animal or two. Add an endless number of flat-screen TVs, and the updated roadhouse is complete.  Outdoor seating is available, with a view of the forest preserve across the street.

No booths at this restaurant, just plenty of tables, chairs, and bar stools (perhaps to allow for some late night dancing should it happen).  A second bar upstairs allows for more space and room for private parties (as was happening the evening we were there). Rock and country music comprise the playlist, maintaining the honky-tonk vibe.

Whiskey River BBQ

Plenty of variety on the food and drinks menus, though much of it leans towards bar and grill fare. Much of the typical fare has been tweaked, like the nachos, which include chili and coleslaw, along with a cheese sauce, very tasty update. Our other appetizer, Southwestern Egg Rolls, were tasty but a bit soft, could have used some crunch. We stayed away from what might be the world's saltiest popcorn, though I bet it would go down easily sitting at the bar with cold beers. On the drinks menu, mixed drinks lean towards the classic long island iced tea in a mason jar options, with draft beer, craft beer, craft sodas, and some wine rounding out the choices. 

Whiskey River BBQ

At a BBQ joint, you gotta try the barbecue, right? We decided to share the Combo Big Momma Sampler, 1/2 slab of ribs, 1/2 lb pulled pork, 1/4 lb brisket, with 3 sauces to try out: Carolina, Memphis, and Kansas City - we each had our favorite, though mixing them ended up being a fun part of the meal. The meat was all fall-off- the-bone tender, all tasty, with the brisket being my favorite that night. Sides included Cajun Green Beans (crisp but not particularly spicy), Alabama Slaw, Spicy Bacon Potato Salad (very good but again not very spicy), and Cornbread with whipped butter, which was flat out fantastic. I'm sure the rest of the menu is equally good, but I'd order this (or the larger Big Daddy Sampler, which also includes chicken) again in a heartbeat. We saved room for dessert, opting for the Brownie Sundae Bowl, very tasty, though I'd leave off the maraschino cherry and off nuts for those inclined. No espresso, but straight up coffee id available.

If you're in the mood for roadhouse ambiance, rock and country music, and tasty barbecue all wrapped up in one spot, then make Whiskey River BBQ your destination. Plenty of food and drink options and, if you're a sports fan, plenty of games on to keep you occupied.

Whiskey River BBQ and Honkytonk on Urbanspoon

This meal was comped for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pairing Guide: Wine and Fall Flavors [Infographic]

Fall is cider and football and beer, and classic fall flavors: pecan and pumpkin pies, caramel apples, and other classics. Here's an info graphic to get your taste buds salivating with anticipation. Will the pairings work? Only one way to find out - taste!

Wine and Fall Flavors
Infographic courtesy of Shari's Berries

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thirsty Thursday: Boneshaker Zinfandel 2012

"Imagine. Bumping down a cobblestone street on a wrought iron bicycle. Thump, thump…thump. Thrill seekers of the past called this kind of ride a Boneshaker. Your teeth rattled and your bones shook. You felt it. This is our BONESHAKER. A full bodied Zin."

Boneshaker Zinfandel 2012

When I was offered a sample of the Hahn Family Wines for review, it didn't take long to respond with a resounding yes! Lodi Zinfandel from a group known for their work with high quality, small, family owned, estate brands? Heck yeah.

I couldn't find much information on the winery itself - their website appears to be for a vintage bicycle shop, though further research shows that Cycles Gladiator actually produced the Boneshaker Zinfandel in an earlier incarnation. Interesting...

Tasting Notes:
Grapes from sustainably farmed vineyards; 88% Zinfandel, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in 70% new French oak, balance neutral; Deep ruby with lighter edges; smoke, smoke, and more smoke, on the nose and in the glass; cassis, red cherry, and vanilla aromas; dark plum, earth, mocha, and dark cherry flavors (almost cola-like); medium mouthfeel, decent acidity into a slightly tannic finish; drinking nicely now but might be better in a few years; tasted with beef ravioli, nice combination with the smokiness of the meat and wine; 15% ABV; 2500 cases produced; SRP $25.
BONUS!

Boneshaker Zinfandel 2012

The wine label is GLOW-IN-THE-DARK! How cool is that? I have no idea what useful function that brings, but it is an extra step that didn't need to be taken and makes the Boneshaker crew extra cool.

This wine was provided for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Craft Beverages Unlimited 2015


Craft Beverages Unlimited 2015

I've looked longingly at the Craft Beverages Expo on the West Coast, but time and expense have made it impossible to attend. Now there's a somewhat better opportunity - registration is officially open for the 2015 Craft Beverages Unlimited (CBU) conference and trade show, formerly Wineries Unlimited. Craft Beverages Unlimited will take place March 4-5, 2015 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center in Richmond, VA. Some highlights:

  • Dr. Bruce Zoecklein, Enology Professor Emeritus at Virginia Tech, will be joined by winemaker Clark Smith, whose “Postmodern Winemaking” was hailed as Wine and Spirits Magazine’s 2013 Book of the Year. These two experts will conduct a two-day forum on cutting-edge “Postmodern Winegrowing” for experienced grapegrowers and winemakers based in the eastern U.S.
  • Craft Beer & Brewing will develop beer education sessions and specialized tastings.
  • An on-site Spiegelau glassware beer tasting where attendees may take home the glassware set as a parting gift.
  • Bill Owens, founder and president of The American Distilling Institute, will be on hand to conduct a distilling workshop that includes an interactive field trip to a local distillery.

In the past, this was definitely geared towards the trade and not so much media or the consumer, so this is a definite maybe. I'll have to take a closer look at the event agenda and decide if a trip out to Virginia is worth adding to the budget.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wolf's Ridge Brewing, Columbus, OH

Wolf's Ridge Brewing, Columbus, OH

Wolf's Ridge Brewing is no ordinary gastropub. At first glance, it seems no different than others: storefront, gleaming kettles and tanks, bar, beer, food.  The difference in this restaurant is that almost every detail is elevated, curated to top effect almost. The room is long and narrow and gets loud, but none of that is a problem, the spacing is correct and you are of the crowd but not in the crowd - I ate by myself and felt totally at ease, not always the case when dining alone. The decor is unobtrusive yet works, casual yet refined, even down to the locally sourced soap in the bathroom. Am I gushing? I haven't even gotten to the food and beer yet.

Wolf's Ridge Brewing Food

Unless you're a regular (and maybe even then), a flight of beers is the simpler way to drink your way through some of a brewery's offerings and, theoretically, should go well with the food offered. Wolf Ridge's beers are definitely reflective of their Midwest locale and, while tasty on their own, do come more alive when washing down the scrumptious food. Garlic fries should be offered by everyone, though I suppose we'd get sick of them then - scratch that idea. These were mighty good, especially as a counterpoint to the burger (and the beers, bringing out different nuances with each one). The burger, oh the burger -- beef and lamb on brioche with lots of toppings, all of which I left off as they simply weren't necessary. Except for the fact that it's kind of tiny, this is easily one of the best burgers I have ever had, simply amazing. The meal was topped off with a very well-made cappuccino (hooray for restaurants that go this extra step!) and an incredibly decadent Chocolate Layer Cake (marshmallow, graham cracker ice cream, and pâte à choux tuile) - overall taste was very good, thought the marshmallow was unnecessary and the cake itself was a bit dense for my taste.

If you find yourself in Columbus (or if you live there), Wolf's Ridge Brewing is a must - they can accommodate small groups to large, have wine and other drinks if you're not a craft beer aficionado, and have very tasty food. 

Wolf's Ridge Brewing on Urbanspoon

Wolf's Ridge Brewing on Foodio54

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Becoming a Winemaker

Becoming a Winemaker

Two books, two very different approaches to becoming a winemaker. One celebrates love of a place, while the other celebrates the idea of a place, albeit at an emotional distance.

Ferenc Máté moved to Tuscany almost on a whim - it started in a rented farmhouse, segued into the creation of a family, then became a story of finding oneself in one's surroundings. Máté purchased a farmhouse, but, unfortunately, when the wine bug bit, there was no land and no hope for a vineyard. Searching high and low throughout Tuscany, Máté ended up purchasing one of the crown jewels of the Banfi Estate, Il Colombaio. Rebuilding the old friary, patching up terraces, planting olives and vines, becoming friends with Angelo Gaja, Máté immerses himself in his dream and the resulting wines reflection of place. This is a winemaking dream I can get behind - finding the perfect place and then making wines reflective of the terroir.

Ray Walker is removed from the romance of making wine. Living in California, he is bitten by the winemaking bug, but does not bother finding terroir or place there. His dream is to make wine from grapes in Burgundy. Where doesn't matter, the actual grapes don't matter, only the fact that he believes that the grapes of Burgundy are true reflections of their sites. He travels to France, making mistake after mistake in his search for grapes and a place to vinify them. Beyond belief, he not only finds grapes, but they are of the utmost quality from one of the finest vineyards, Chambertin. Walker approaches winemaking as a hands-off endeavor, with minimal intervention before they are fermented and poured into barrels. While the wines are successful, this is not my winemaking dream, where the wine is important, but where it is made is not important.

Two books, two very different approaches to becoming a winemaker. Both success stories, but one much closer to my heart. Awesome world that has a place for both approaches.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Brewery Visit: Penrose Brewing, Geneva, IL

Art, Science, and Belgian-Inspired Brewing

Penrose Brewing Taproom

Saturday, I suddenly realized I had a morning to myself - the rest of the fam was heading out to do their thing and that meant....an outing just for me. I emailed Penrose Brewing, to see if they had availability for their early bird tour at 11:00 and they did, oh yes. After getting some chores done, I headed out to Geneva, ready to taste and learn - I had heard nothing but good things about Penrose's beer and a brewery tour always is interesting, since no two are alike.

Turned out that, while some other folks had signed up, I was the only one who showed up, so Rob, one of the Taproom Bartenders pulled a tasting glass of Peppercorn Saison for me as we awaited the no-shows, then led me to the back of the building for the start of the tour. Since one of the founders, Eric, is an engineer originally, Penrose is set up in a linear fashion, following the steps of the brewing process, which was a nice scaffold for the tour as well. Penrose uses some local products, which is great, though I'm waiting to find a brewery that uses nothing but local. Ah dreams. The brewery does not feel empty, but there is room to expand, so Penrose has the opportunity to build some history in this location.  Rob was a gracious host, taking time to answer questions and obviously tailoring the tour to my level - easy to do when there's only one person, but I'm guessing he does it for all groups.

Penrose Brewing Brewery

After the tour, it was time to drink. It doesn't get any better than following the literal path of the beer as it is transformed from raw products to Belgian-inspired goodness, then tasting the result.  The day I visited, 8 beers were available on tap, and flights range from $2-3 per tasting portion, depending on beer. No food is served, unfortunately, but you can bring your own. The taproom is exploring the possibility of having prepared food available, but until then, bring your favorite and taste away. The beers were all high quality, with a wide range of tastes and textures. There are occasional taps that are taproom only, but the rest of the beers will become available shortly, as Penrose has started bottling its beer recently. Be on the lookout and enjoy.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Berghoff Taste of Oktoberfest

An invitation to the The Berghoff's media preview of their Taste of Oktoberfest menu was a no-brainer. I work nearby and stop in occasionally for lunch at this true Chicago classic. Why wouldn't I want the opportunity to preview Chicago's largest, longest-running Oktoberfest celebration - Berghoff Beer and good food, can't be beat.

Berghoff Taste of Oktoberfest

This year, Berghoff Executive Chef Mathew Reichel worked collaboratively with the Berghoff brewmaster to develop a full menu of authentic German festival fare expertly paired with a variety of brews, including:
  • Pretzel with Beer Cheese Sauce and Berghoff Germaniac Pale Ale: This lager packs a refreshing and aromatic punch that cuts through the richness of Berghoff’s signature beer cheese sauce.
  • Bratwurst and Berghoff Oktoberfest: Berghoff’s Oktoberfest brew is deeply malty, with a balanced hoppiness and caramel notes that perfectly compliment a classic grilled bratwurst.
  • Quinoa and Grilled Vegetable Salad and Berghoff Lager: The light sweetness of the lager compliments the char on the grilled vegetables and plays nicely with the composition of this summery salad.
  • Pork Stew (gluten-free) and Omission Pale Ale (a gluten-free beer): The full flavor and caramel malt color of Omission provides the perfect counterpoint to our rich and smoky pork stew.
  • Apple Strudel and Berghoff Shambler: As refreshing as a breeze and satisfying as a summer sunset, Shambler features a dry creamy texture with a hint of citrus and spice that compliments the sweetness of our beloved apple dessert.
The pairings were spot-on, definitely worth trying on your own at the Oktoberfest itself.
The 29th Annual Berghoff Oktoberfest runs September 10 – 12, 2014. Free daily admission from 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., at the John C. Kluczynski Federal Plaza. Berghoff’s Oktoberfest supports Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, which is dedicated to providing a solution for abused, neglected, and abandoned children in Chicago.

Celebrations continue inside The Berghoff Restaurant with special Oktoberfest events, including:
  • Month-long celebration inside The Berghoff Restaurant featuring specialty Oktoberfest lunch and dinner menus (September 4 – October 31)
  • Prost! Final Toast to Oktoberfest party (October 4)
The Berghoff on Urbanspoon

This tasting was provided for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sonoma Cider

Sonoma Cider

It was actually last fall that I realized that I was shortchanging myself by not looking at ciders. At the Wine Tourism Conference in Portland, Colorado Wines had included several ciders for tasting. While not all of them were to my taste, I realized that ciders had changed a lot from 15 or more years ago, probably the last time I had tried some.

A a cider renaissance seems to be taking root, with all-cider festivals celebrating the historic drink, which ranges across a diversity of flavors and styles, sparkling or still, sweet to bone dry. Chicago's first ever hard cider bar recently opened, featuring more than 100 different cider varieties: apple, peach, pear, and more. I'm a fan of choice and locality, so hopefully some of these ciders will celebrate where they come from as much as what they are made of.

I was therefore really excited to be offered some samples from Sonoma Cider, especially since they work with organic fruit. Anything organic immediately gets extra credit in my book. It all starts with fresh juice from tree ripened apples, no concentrates, ever. They hand select small, organic apples, because their research showed them that smaller organic apples simply yield bigger, more intense flavors. Who could argue with that?

I'm definitely no cider connoisseur - as I said, I haven't really had many in recent memory. This was an exciting way to get back into them, as the quality is apparent even before opening the bottle. Organic, check. Simple and tasteful labels, check.  Customized, embossed bottles, check. 

My Neophyte Tasting Notes:

The Hatchet (Apple) - nice simple cider, neither overly dry nor too sweet; slightly effervescent and tart finish; tasty with a plate of Alfredo pasta; 6% ABV; SRP $10/12 oz 4 pack.

The Anvil (Bourbon) - slightly more complex, with a flavor of smoked apples; rounder finish; good accompaniment to dry-rub ribs; 6% ABV; SRP $10/12 oz 4 pack.

The Pitchfork (Pear) - pear comes in on the nose and subtly on the finish; fun tasting this with a plate of cheese varieties; 6% ABV; SRP $10/12 oz 4 pack.

Cider samples provided by Trellis Growth Partners: "Trellis Growth Partners is the premier source for marketing strategy and communications for epicurean purveyors in the wine, spirits, and hospitality industries."

This cider was provided for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Treble-Maker Grill, Evanston, IL

Treble-Maker Grill

Evanston’s 27 Live, a music and event venue, has branched out into the dining business with a new restaurant. The Treble-Maker Grill is owned by John Tasiopoulos, while the kitchen is helmed by Charles Andersson (Green Dolphin, Butter, Sage Grille) and Joe Moore (Marigold). Their menu pays homage to rock legends such Kurt Cobain (the Nirvana Burger). The goal of the restaurant is to serve a seasonally-inspired menu using locally-sourced ingredients, hand-ground meats and house-made bread and pastas. They've been open a few weeks, serving lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and a brunch on Sundays.

It's a nice space, with an attention to small details, like the tin-ceiling-inspired stencils on the acoustic tiles. Seating includes booths, small tables, and stools at the bar. The bar anchors one end of the room, displaying guitars, bottles of booze, and a menu of cocktails, beer, and wine (small but well-thought-out list). Most of the pictures hung on the wall are of dead rock stars, many (most? all?) from the “Forever 27 Club,” a group of popular musicians who died at age 27. Oddly enough, the music selection wasn't very good when we visited, at least in my opinion - I would have expected better, something more inspired.

Drinks menu is small but decent - I had an IPA from local craft brewery Temperance, while Tazer opted for a Gosling's Ginger Beer (very good, you should try it). I had hoped to try the Grüner Veltliner from the wine list, but the waitress never asked if I wanted another drink - bummer. Really tasty focaccia bread was served with the drinks, a nice surprise.

Treble-Maker Grill Food

The menu makes it tough to choose, with so many things that sound good that you know you're missing out on something. Since we wanted to include dessert in our meal, we ordered only two starters. A definite must are the Battered Pickle Spears (Battered Kosher Spears, Fried to a Golden Brown with Ranch Dressing), crisp batter, crunchy pickles, these were outstanding. A maybe was the Poutine (Hand Cut Fries, Topped with Brown Gravy, Cheese Curds and Green Onion) - while the flavor was really good, the fries were not crisp (and made softer by the gravy), and the gravy itself looked like it had come out of a can. Tasty but not inspired. Two entrees were then forthcoming. The Sausage and Giardiniera Pizza (Sliced Sausage, Spicy Giardiniera, Peppers, and Mozzarella) was awesome, with plenty of spice from the giardiniera, minimal sauce, and a great thin crust. The Porterhouse Pork Chop (Grilled Pork Chop over Jalapeno Bacon Cornbread, Chimichurri Sauce, Charred Pineapple and Green Onions) was a visual delight and tasted awesome, though the meat itself was slightly tough from being overcooked. Perhaps some difficulty lining up the two entrees' cooking times? For dessert, a chocoholic like myself can be no happier than the Sympathy for the Devil (Slice of Devil’s Food Cake with Chocolate Frosting and Whipped Cream). Strangely enough, the waitress once again did not inquire if I was interested in another drink, coffee or otherwise.

Just off the busier city center, this is a relaxed restaurant that shows definite potential. Food is inventive and tasty, with a menu that makes for tough choices. Apart from some minor hiccups with the service, this is a great option for a meal that is casual but not ordinary.

Treble-Maker Grill on Urbanspoon

This meal was comped for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mercer Estates Winery

Mercer Estates Winery

I've enjoyed most Washington state wines I've tried, so it was fun to get samples from a producer and area that I wasn't familiar with, Mercer Estates. Five generations of the Mercer family have farmed the Horse Heaven Hills, home to 25% of Washington state's wine grapes. They now have 2,000 acres of vineyards that go into 3 tiers of wine, along with a micro label that is dedicated solely to charity (proceeds go to support people who have suffered from events connected to 9/11). Their wines are produced from premium grapes grown throughout the Horse Heaven Hills (primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Mourvedre, Malbec, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot and Grenache), Yakima Valley (primarily Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris) and the greater Columbia Valley. The Mercers have a strong focus on sustainability, with an emphasis on 5 areas: water management; soil and fertility management; integrated pest management; waste management; and research, community support and leadership.

Tasting Notes:

Mercer Estates Reserve Ode to Brothers 2011:
40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 20% Mourvèdre - Grenache and Mourvèdre from Mercer Estates Spice Cabinet Vineyard, Syrah from Champoux Vineyard; undergoes malolactic fermentation and 28 months of aging in French and American oak barrels; opaque purple color; a meaty and smoky wine that almost feels like you could chew it - great fruit balanced with tannins and acidity; SRP $42.
Mercer Canyons Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2012:
77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 1% Malbec,1% Petit Verdot; individual lots fermented in stainless steel tanks; aged in French and American oak barrels for 18 months; deep purple color; dark fruit, currant, and vanilla aromas; dark fruit, mocha, baking spices, and earth flavors; decent acidity and tannins mean this should drink well for at least a few more years; 13.9% ABV; twist-off closure; SRP $16.99.
Mercer Yakima Valley Pinot Gris 2013:
Grapes harvested in the early morning, pressed, then settled for 2 days prior to racking; cool fermented for 22 days; light straw in color; lemon, subtle tropical fruit, and white floral aromas; melon, starfruit, and Meyer lemon flavors; velvety mouthfeel with a bracing acidity making itself known throughout; 13.3% ABV; twist-off closure; SRP $13. A lovely wine that is as food friendly as they come - I drank this with a beef Alfredo pasta dish with sweet corn as well as spicy sausage pizza the next night.
These wines were provided for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter
Subscribe to the 50 States Of Wine YouTube channel