Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Leer Vineyards: Helping Wounded Veterans

Occasionally samples of wine come with a story that resonates or is so compelling that the wine almost becomes secondary. Leer Vineyards is in that position, having created a collection that transcends everyday drinking. The wine in their bottles of Heroic Red and Valiant White not only pay tribute to those who serve in our Armed Forces, but help them as well. A portion of the proceeds from each bottle sold benefits the Military Warriors Support Foundation's Homes4WoundedHeroes and Homes4GoldStars programs, which award mortgage-free homes to combat wounded heroes injured while in service to our country or to spouses of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Truly something to get behind.

Leer Vineyards: Helping Wounded Veterans

Tasting Notes:
Heroic Red: 58% Syrah, 29% Merlot, and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon; violet with ruby highlights; plum, raspberry, and tar aromas; dark fruit and pomegranate flavors into an herbal finish; plenty of acid runs down a medium body; cork closure; SRP $24.
Valiant White: Moscato grapes; golden straw color; honey, almond, stone fruit and floral aromas; honeyed almond, melon, and pear with a tropical finish; on the sweet side but acid brings it to near balance; luscious mouthfeel; twist off closure; SRP $22.

Leer Vineyards Heroic Red Wine Video

Wines provided for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Parducci - True Grit Reserve

Deep Roots ~ Legendary Wines

For 80 some odd years, Parducci (a family-run winery) has been making wines with a reputation for value, quality, and care for our local community. The Parducci commitment to sustainable winemaking practices translates to high standards for both vineyard cultivation and winery operations, including a farm-to-table garden program, wildlife habitat preservation, and a nationally recognized water conservation and reclamation program. The True Grit collection's name comes from a comment made by a visiting winemaker, noting that their Petite Sirah was the "John Wayne of Wines." Great story.

Parducci - Deep Grit Reserve

Tasting Notes:
True Grit Reserve Red Mendocino County 2012: Syrah, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah blend; ruby red color; bright red berry, cherry soda, and plum aromas; red plum, dark cherry, and toast flavors; nicely balanced; smooth mouthfeel into a slightly tannic finish; cork closure; SRP $30. Paired with a coffee crusted steak and potatoes au gratin, fantastic.
True Grit Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County 2013: deep dark purple with ruby edges; plum, earth and cherry aromas; dark cherry, black currant, oregano flavors with a spicy finish; super smooth mouthfeel, beautiful balance; cork closure; SRP $30. Paired with a pizza dinner, stood up wonderfully to pepperoni, Italian sausage and giardiniera.
True Grit Mendocino County Reserve Chardonnay 2013: beautiful golden yellow color; aromas of white flowers, Asian pear and lemon; subtle honeydew and muskmelon flavors lead into a nutty finish; medium, velvety body; cork closure; SRP $30.
True Grit Mendocino Reserve Petite Sirah 2013: deep opaque purple with ruby edges; dark fruit, toast and tar aromas; prune, tart red berry, earth and cassis flavors; smooth body, acid backbone, and a tannic finish make this a pleasure to drink now, but should improve with some cellar time; cork closure; SRP $30. Any bottle that comes with a tag that exhorts "Decant Me" is likely one I'm going to enjoy, and this was no exception.

Parducci Wine Cellars: The Wine Experience Video

Fantastic collection of wines that taste above their price - add in everything that goes on beyond the scenes in terms of sustainability and history, and these show their colors as palate-pleasing wines.

Wines provided for tasting purposes - all opinions are my own.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Home Run Inn Pizza, Lakeview, Chicago

Several weeks ago, we had the opportunity to visit the new Home Run Inn Pizza, located in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. Located near the Belmont Avenue CTA stop, there is also plenty of parking, so access is easy.

Home Run Inn Pizza, Lakeview, Chicago

We've been to our local Home Run Inn in Darien several times, and this new location is quite different in feeling, with a centrally located bar and exposed brick giving it a more urban feel. We really liked the decor, with fun artwork, slightly upscale furniture, and with plenty of TVs if you're there to watch the game with food. This restaurant definitely fits in to the Northside.

Menus are the same, for the most part, as at the other locations, though must-haves like the beer sampler were unavailable (they did have a good selection of local beers, so kudos for that). Again, a not very expansive by-the-glass wine list, but sufficient for this pizzeria sports bar.

Home Run Inn Pizza, Lakeview, Chicago

We started with wings (tasty, but a bit sweet and lacking heat) and a Harvest Salad, very tasty and worth ordering. I think my new favorite pizza is their The 1947 (sausage, caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms), flat out fantastic. We didn't have our kids with us, so on their behalf I tasted the HRI Mac N’ Cheese Skillet (fresh cavatelli pasta, served in a sauce of extra sharp cheddar, fontina, and parmesan, and topped with garlic bread crumbs), good but lacking in seasoning. Most kids would love it I bet. As with many restaurants, Home Run Inn has options for eaters with dietary restrictions, both vegetarian and gluten-free, so the whole gang can eat here happily.

Decidedly non-restricted are the desserts - we opted for the Ghirardelli Chocolate Bomb Cupcake (Ghirardelli chocolate cupcake with chocolate chips, topped with creamy mousse and chocolate fudge) and the Peach Cobbler (served in an individual cast iron pan, with a pie topping, raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream). Outstanding way to end the meal.


Home Run Inn Pizzerias play multiple duty, as a neighborhood joint, a sports bar, and a place to feed a big group. This location is more accessible and more rooted in its location than our earlier experience, and worth seeking out. Broad menu, good beer, a place to bring family and friends.

Home Run Inn Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Home Run Inn Pizza

Meal provided for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Carlucci Restaurant, Downers Grove, Illinois

A recent invitation to dine at Carlucci Restaurant was intriguing, as they had hired a new chef and created a new menu that was showcasing a new, lighter approach. It's been almost 3 years since I last reviewed Carlucci, a take-out meal while our kitchen was being remodeled, so I was interested to see how much things had changed.

Carlucci Restaurant, Downers Grove, Illinois

Visually, things looked no different - while Carlucci touts itself as a neighborhood joint, aesthetically it's definitely a cut above. Dark furniture, white tablecloths, subdued lighting lend it a luxurious air, though a variety of tchotchkes do make it seem a bit casual at the same time.

New menus: nearly 30 wines available by the glass mean there are some choices, some from Italy, but others ranging further afield. Truthfully, the updated food menu doesn't appear very different than before, though many of the earlier cream sauces are no longer available, replaced instead by broths and other lighter options. Arancini balls (Arancini d'Aragosta) have been updated with the addition of lobster, a positive change according to my son, who accompanied me. Figs and burrata along with greens (Carlucci Burrata) were quite tasty, but make sure to ask for your crostini to be toasted, far better with this dish than the untested bread that starts the meal (though that was amazing in its own right).

Carlucci Restaurant, Downers Grove, Illinois

Our entrees of Ravioli en Brodo and Radiatori were prime examples of the new menu - neither was a heavy dish in terms of sauce, both tasty, though I thought some additional seasoning could have been used. Servings are adequate, with both of us bringing home leftovers.

A cappucino and desserts are a must to end a meal here, fantastic and a welcome indulgence after the (relatively) healthier fare earlier.

Carlucci Restaurant, Downers Grove, Illinois

Ultimately, we had a good meal - good food and wine, outstanding dessert. Service was a bit spotty and clearly favored returning guests, not necessarily a bad thing, but something to note. Unless you had a favorite on the previous menu, you're unlikely to be disappointed by any of the changes. Truth be told, I wish they had more decadent options, especially among the pastas, but I understand that many people want lighter entrees, and the desserts more than made up for it.

(A side note: It appears to me that Carlucci has a mini-identity crisis, and solving it will improve its overall appeal. While the luxurious aspects are well-represented, the casual, neighborhood options are a bit jarring (the tchotchkes, prices above casual fare, even the painted dish for the radiatori pasta). These two opposing forces are not harmoniously presented and it would be better, in my opinion, that Carlucci choose a direction, either streamlining by removing the more casual elements or removing the higher prices and toning down the elegance of the design. Nitpicking to be sure, but a conflict I found that takes away from the entire experience.)

Carlucci Downers Grove Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Carlucci Restaurant

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

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