Monday, April 30, 2012

U.S. National Wine Competition

The Vineyard & Winery Management Group has announced the results for the inaugural U.S. National Wine Competition. An outstanding panel of judges, led by chief judge Gerald D. Boyd, tasted through over 1,100 wines on April 9 through 12 to choose the Sweepstakes Winners, Best of Class, Double Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners. The judges’ overwhelming favorite for Best of Show was a Cream Sherry from Rancho De Philo. Located in the Cucamonga Valley appellation, Rancho De Philo’s Cream Sherry is made in the traditional Spanish solera barrel aging process using Mission grapes, originally brought to California by Franciscan missionaries.

“Key to the success of a wine competition is the professional caliber of the judges,” said Boyd. “As Chief Judge of the U.S. National Wine Competition, I select experienced judges from the U.S. wine industry and related professions, who understand the wide range and diversity of wines available today to the U.S. wine consumer.”

Sweepstakes Winners came from a diversity of states, including Nebraska, New York, Washington and California. “The top awards given at the 2012 U.S. National Wine Competition are clear evidence that the quality of U.S. wines more than meets the demand of an increasingly sophisticated wine consumer,” stated Boyd.

The competition celebrates all domestic grape varieties unique to the 50 United States today (native, hybrid, and vinifera). It also represents the wide range of our wine growing regions, and ties in with the diversity of all our nation’s ethnic food and wine pairings.

A partnership with Bottlenotes®, the premier online community for wine enthusiasts, gives winners direct-to-consumer exposure. Bottlenotes has 250,000 registered users, more than 25,000 Twitter followers, and more than 65,000 Facebook fans.

For complete results please visit:

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Funny: The Beer Prayer

The Beer Prayer

Our lager,
Which art in barrels,
Hallowed be thy drink.

Thy will be drunk,
(I will be drunk)
At home as in the tavern.

Give us this day our foamy head,
And forgive us our spillages,
As we forgive those
Who spill against us.

And lead us not into incarceration,
But deliver us from hangovers.

For thine is the beer,
The bitter and the lager,
Forever and ever,

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Uncork Illinois Wine Tasting

Wine aficionados will have a unique opportunity to sample over 100 wines from more than 10 local wineries and taste locally-produced artisan foods at Downtown Oak Park's first wine festival, Uncork Illinois on Saturday, June 2nd from 1-9pm.

Admission is $15 at the gate and includes a free souvenir glass and 7 tastings (while supplies last). Additional tasting tickets may be purchased for $1.00. In addition to tastings, vineyards will sell wines by the glass or bottle, and offer pairing tips with favorite dishes from local restaurants.

All proceeds will benefit Wonder Works Children’s Museum, an Oak Park children’s museum that unleashes creativity and imagination in children through art, performance, building and more. Advanced tickets may be purchased at, as space is limited at the event.

Event participants can also enjoy live jazz selected by local premiere jazz station WDCB 90.9 FM, while shoppers over 21 years of age will have a chance to win a selection of featured wines.

Participating Wineries:
August Hill Winery
Fox Valley Winery
Illinois River Winery
Lynfred Winery
Waterman Winery
Cooper’s Hawk Winery
Pheasant Hollow Winery
Shawnee Winery
Glunz Family Winery
Acquaviva Winery

Participating Restaurants:
Mancini’s Pizza and Pasta
Sushi House
Sugar Fixe Patisserie
Khyber Pass
The Golden Lamb
Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Hutong Cafe
Luo’s Peking House
Lake Street Kitchen and Bar

Participating Local Food Producers:
Simply Appetizers
White Star
Linda's Country Cupboard
Majave Hot Sauce
Jimmy B's Super Salsa
Katherine Anne Confections

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday Tasting: Albero Bobal Rosé

Iranzo Fields
Albero Bobal Rosé, Spain
$5 Trader Joe’s

Made from 100% Certified Organic Spanish Bobal grapes. Iranzo Fields claims that some of the highest tested levels of the natural antioxidant Resveratrol can be found in the Bobal grape. A light-bodied, fruity yet slightly tart and very refreshing wine! Also a new varietal for me to add to my Wine Century Club list!

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Monday, April 23, 2012

A Year in Burgundy

Browse these delectable French wines today.

A Year in Burgundy: Experience the year in the film, in four season-sections: spring showers, drought, heat wave, hail and storms, harvest moons and the damp cold of winter. Each vintage is a time capsule, a bottled piece of history of a very specific year, with its particular weather pattern, its crises and its triumphs. It all goes in, whether you want it to or not, and 2011 was full of drama.

In the film, get to know a half-dozen wine-makers: they are artists, whose personalities shape the flavor and style of the wines they lovingly craft. There is joy, fear, anxiety, triumph, and laughter in their experiences. With the Morey-Coffinets, meet three generations of wine-makers, and little two-year-old Celeste, the first of the fourth generation. Lalou Bize-Leroy, the uncrowned Queen of Burgundy – now in her eighties, still involved in every detail of her winemaking, creator of some of the best-renowned and most famous wines on earth.

The film is currently in post-production. A 90-minute theatrical version will be available for viewing summer 2012. Currently planned screenings include McMinnville, Oregon, July 27 - 29, 2012, during the 26th Annual International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) and in London, UK, September 12, 2012, the World Premiere at BAFTA theater.

While we await the release, enjoy the trailer.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

PL8 Simply Asian Restaurant Review

Tucked away in a quiet corner of a Barrington retail development, PL8 Simply Asian  is well-worth seeking out. Creative and varied dishes for everyone from vegans to carnivores or seafood lovers, there is something for everyone on the menu. Handmade ginger ale to wine to beer to sake, quench your thirst with something new to you from their extensive drinks menu.

Laima and I headed over to PL8 for a Friday lunch, not knowing what to expect. On busy Northwest Highway, we pulled into The Foundry, a midsized retail development which was an oasis of calm. Tucked away in a corner, PL8 welcomes with an outdoor seating area, though it was too cold and windy for us to sit outside. An indirect entry means that the hostess greets you and, as you turn the corner, the restaurant opens up in front of you. With an open feeling, the restaurant is divided into three distinct sections: dining area, bar, dining area. The restrooms (very clean, a good quality indicator and key for me) are tucked away in the back.

I had to start with the Sake Sangria, because of the creative mix of wines—delicious and I felt like I could have drank it all day (luckily I didn’t as we still had the afternoon to go and no nap in sight). Laima opted for Adam Seger’s HUM inspired cocktail: sparkling sangria – hum liquer, yuzu luxe sour, vovetti prosecco, and fresh cut strawberries. While very tasty, it was ultimately just too sweet for us. To go with the meal, I opted for the sake flight, featuring a silk, green ridge and kimoto sake, each in a large tasting glass. I immediately loved the silk, with its flowery crisp flavor, and was fascinated by the change in each sake as it slowly warmed throughout the meal (the sake was served cold).

For starters I tried the veggie spring rolls, perfectly done and with a tasty dipping sauce. Laima was more adventurous, ordering (from the Specials menu) the Kobe Beef and Curry Turnovers – the pineapple hoisin sauce was a good foil for the turnovers. Ed, the Managing Partner at PL8, came out for a chat and, when he heard I had vegan tendencies, had Chris, the sushi chef, make us some Autumn Rolls, veggies and rice wrapped in soy paper – incredibly good. Chris outdid himself with his other creation, not named because it was a spur of the moment thing, with a tempura-inspired roll that included several types of mayo, seared fish, and was amazing, according to Laima. The wasabi was the smoothest, tastiest I have yet tried. While their sushi menu is quite extensive, I’d suggest asking that Chris make something special for you, especially if, like me, you can’t eat fish.

We totally over ordered the entrees and sides, but we wanted to taste a variety of items. Laima tried a signature PL8, the basil garlic chicken, which is heavy on the basil and quite tasty. For me it was the wide rice noodles, wok crisped with veggies and a nice gravy – very reminiscent of pad si ew, one of my Thai favorites. On the side: Sichuan string beans, asparagus with mushrooms, and wok tossed gailan. All three plates were very good. The gailan is especially interesting – a slightly tart Chinese broccoli, make sure you get a knife if you order this, as the pieces are large. One of my favorite flavors was the mushroom soaked in the wine sauce, such a great flavor. Sichuan string beans are always one of my go-tos, and these definitely did not disappoint.

While we pondered the advisability of eating even more, we knew we had to try the desserts, and asked for a sampler plate to once again see the range. A mochi (imported from Hawaii), chocolate and banana wonton, and a tapioca pudding arrived from the kitchen and were summarily dispatched (so quickly we forgot to take a photo!).

PL8 Simply Asian is a great place for a meal, whether a simple lunch or a special meal. The friendly service and broad menu make this a good choice for everyone. The variety of Asian influences mean that you can possibly not only get an old favorite, but be wowed by a creative take on the same. Make sure to put yourself in the capable hands of the sushi chef Chris, whether you’re a seafood lover or not. Don’t miss the unique desserts as a tasty finale. And definitely get the sake flight – you might surprise yourself!

Pl8 on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer: This meal was comped for me for review purposes, courtesy of PL8 Simply Asian. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the restaurant a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The ABC’s Of Wine Varietals: S

As you start drinking and learning about wine, it's good to, at some point, to start paying attention to the varietal and its general characteristics. This will help when you taste a winery's Cabernet Sauvignon and compare it to, say, its Zinfandel. Knowing the characteristic of a varietal will also help note differences between the grapes taste and body when compared across wineries, regions, or from a different country.

When looking for wine info, I often turn to the Wine Spectator, both for its broad reporting and its attention to basics. They have some introductory information on Varietal Characteristics, here are some starting with the letter S:

"SANGIOVESE (Red) [san-geeo-VEHS-eh] - Sangiovese is best known for providing the backbone for many superb Italian red wines from Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, as well as the so-called super-Tuscan blends. Sangiovese is distinctive for its supple texture and medium-to full-bodied spice, raspberry, cherry and anise flavors. When blended with a grape such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese gives the resulting wine a smoother texture and lightens up the tannins.

It is somewhat surprising that Sangiovese wasn't more popular in California given the strong role Italian immigrants have played in the state's winemaking heritage, but now the grape appears to have a bright future in the state, both as a stand-alone varietal wine and for use in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and maybe even Zinfandel. Expect sweeping stylistic changes as winemakers learn more about how the grape performs in different locales as well as how it marries with different grapes. Worth watching.

SAUVIGNON BLANC (White) [SO-vin-yon BLAHNK] - Another white with a notable aroma, this one "grassy" or "musky." The pure varietal is found mainly in the Loire, at Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, As part of a blend, the grape is all over Bordeaux, in Pessac-Léognan, Graves and the Médoc whites; it also shows up in Sauternes. New Zealand has had striking success with Sauvignon Blanc, producing its own perfumed, fruity style that spread across North America and then back to France.

In the United States, Robert Mondavi rescued the varietal in the 1970s by labeling it Fumé Blanc, and he and others have enjoyed success with it. The key to success seems to be in taming its overt varietal intensity, which at its extreme leads to pungent grassy, vegetal and herbaceous flavors. Many winemakers treat it like in a sort of poor man's Chardonnay, employing barrel fermentation, sur lie aging and malolactic fermentation. But its popularity comes as well from the fact that it is a prodigious producer and a highly profitable wine to make. It can be crisp and refreshing, matches well with foods, costs less to produce and grow than Chardonnay and sells for less. It also gets less respect from vintners than perhaps it should. Its popularity ebbs and flows, at times appearing to challenge Chardonnay and at other times appearing to be a cash-flow afterthought. But even at its best, it does not achieve the kind of richness, depth or complexity Chardonnay does and in the end that alone may be the defining difference.

Sauvignon Blanc grows well in a variety of appellations. It marries well with oak and Sémillon, and many vintners are adding a touch of Chardonnay for extra body. The wine drinks best in its youth, but sometimes will benefit from short-term cellaring. As a late-harvest wine, it's often fantastic, capable of yielding amazingly complex and richly flavored wines.

SÉMILLON (White) [SEM-ih-yon] - On its own or in a blend, this white can age. With Sauvignon Blanc, its traditional partner, this is the foundation of Sauternes and most of the great dry whites found in Graves and Pessac-Léognan; these are rich, honeyed wines. Sémillon is one of the grapes susceptible to Botrytis cinerea. Australia's Hunter Valley uses it solo to make a full-bodied white that used to be known as Hunger Riesling, Chablis or White Burgundy. In South Africa it used to be so prevalent that it was just called "wine grape," but it has declined drastically in importance there.

In the United States, Sémillon enjoys modest success as a varietal wine in California and Washington, but it continues to lose ground in acreage in California. It can make a wonderful late-harvest wine, and those wineries that focus on it can make well balanced wines with complex fig, pear, tobacco and honey notes. When blended into Sauvignon Blanc, it adds body, flavor and texture. When Sauvignon Blanc is added to Sémillon, the latter gains grassy herbal notes.

It can also be found blended with Chardonnay, more to fill out the volume of wine than to add anything to the package.

SYRAH or SHIRAZ (Red) [sih-RAH or shih-RAHZ] - Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie in France, Penfolds Grange in Australia—the epitome of Syrah is a majestic red that can age for half a century. The grape seems to grow well in a number of areas and is capable of rendering rich, complex and distinctive wines, with pronounced pepper, spice, black cherry, tar, leather and roasted nut flavors, a smooth, supple texture and smooth tannins. In southern France it finds its way into various blends, as in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Languedoc-Roussillon. Known as Shiraz in Australia, it was long used for bread-and-butter blends, but an increasing number of high-quality bottlings are being made, especially from old vines in the Barossa Valley.

In the United States, Syrah's rise in quality is most impressive. It appears to have the early-drinking appeal of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel and few of the eccentricities of Merlot, and may well prove far easier to grow and vinify than any other red wines aside from Cabernet."

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tuesday Tasting on a Wednesday: Cultivate Wines' Copa Cabana

Cultivate Wines
Copa Cabana Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere
3 Liters $34.99 (Media Sample)

Cultivate Wines is a company that promises and delivers on their goal of making good wines at decent prices, with some community giveback as well. The Copa Cabana is one of their box wines (along with Wonderlust Chardonnay). In my mind, box wines are the way to go, due to their lower environmental impact and theoretical more optimal storage. This dark red Cabernet Sauvignon is pretty lush for what one expects from a box wine, with some added Carmenere adding some peppery tartness for balance.

Disclaimer: This wine was sent to me for review purposes, courtesy of Cultivate Wines. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the wine a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tuesday Tasting: Cultivate Wines' Wonderlust

Cultivate Wines
Wonderlust Chardonnay
3 Liters $34.99 (Media Sample)

I like Cultivate Wines, they're a company making good wines at decent prices, with some community giveback as well. I also like the concept of box wines, due to their lower environmental impact and theoretical more optimal storage. Like their other wines, Cultivate Wines' Wonderlust, a Chilean-sourced Chardonnay, drinks more expensively than it costs. A lighter-bodied white, this is a wine that pleases with its fruit balanced by crisp acidity.

Disclaimer: This wine was sent to me for review purposes, courtesy of Cultivate Wines. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the wine a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

What One 97-Year Old Winemaker Is Up To (And It's A Lot)

Peter Mondavi recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of his family’s Charles Krug Winery, and received the Vintners Hall of Fame Award for his contributions to California wine. At 97+, Mr. Mondavi still cares deeply about making high quality, balanced Napa Valley wines at a very good price.

And he has more work to do! He’s working with his architects on remodeling Charles Krug’s 1872 Redwood Cellar, Napa Valley’s oldest winery building, which will soon house a new hospitality center. He speaks passionately and daily about getting that project completed.

Not only is Mr. Mondavi seriously invested in the remodeling project, he’s in training. Check out the video—he credits the serious twinkle in his blue eyes to a glass of red wine daily, and to this workout.

A bit of the interesting back-story on the winery: Charles Krug was a Prussian revolutionary who attempted to overthrow the German Parliament. Freed from prison, he eventually landed in Napa Valley and the revolutionary-turned-journalist founded the Valley’s first winery. That was in 1861, the year Lincoln was inaugurated and the Civil War began--Napa Valley, at the time, was essentially the Wild West. Peter Mondavi’s parents bought Charles Krug Winery in 1943. When he joined the family business soon thereafter, Peter revolutionized California wine by pioneering ground-breaking approaches still used by the wine industry today. Peter’s two sons run the business now and three Millennial members of the fourth Mondavi generation have recently joined Charles Krug, too.

Almost 70 years later, Peter Mondavi Sr. is not going to rest on his laurels. He’s got meetings with those architects to attend to!

(Article and video provided by the MacKenzie Agency.)

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wine Cycling: Bottles, bicycles and stinky cheese

Wine Cycling is a relatively new blog that combines many things I enjoy: bottles, bicycles, and stinky cheese (well, the stinky cheese I can pretty much do without). My little brother, who makes Europe his home, has begun writing about bottles he's enjoyed while cruising the byways of the EC. Whether preparing to tackle the route of the Tour of Flanders the day before the pros come through or enjoying a well-deserved beer after a long day in the saddle, check out his blog for some amusingly fine writing.For further edification, feel free to follow Wine Cycling on Twitter!

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wine Politics Book Review

Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink, by Tyler Colman,  grew out of Colman's PhD dissertation and it shows. Definitely an academic framework, but, to me, that adds the necessary structure to this edifying book. A history of the modern wine trade using France and Napa Valley as primary examples, this not only hits the big items that many of us know about events that have happened, but fleshes them out with behind the scenes intrigue, machinations, and odd alliances.

Colman's stated goal is to illuminate "how distributors, mobsters, environmentalists, regulators, and critics all have a hand in producing, selling, and delivering the glass of wine we will drink tonight." He achieves this by not being judgmental, though it must have been difficult when writing about the Drys, the Fred Franzias of the wine world, and mostly about the roadblocks distributors have thrown up to consumers' enjoyment of whatever wine they like. Definitely a recommended read.

About the Author: Tyler Colman teaches wine classes at New York University and the University of Chicago and is the the author of the website He contributed to the third edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine and his articles have appeared in Food & Wine and Wine & Spirits.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for review purposes, courtesy of the University of California Press. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the book a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday Tasting: Rock and Roll Wine

I love finding references to rock and roll with a wine element. The May 2013 Men’s Journal has a page on 6 celebrity wines, including Maynard James Keenan of Tool and Dave Matthews. They also posted some great tasting notes online:

The story: David Coverdale, the lead singer of Whitesnake, collaborates with Northern California winemaker Dennis De La Montanya.

The blind test: “Tart, with a hint of sweetness. This is well structured and tastes like its an expensive wine to make. It almost has an Italian feel and would go great with pasta and red sauce.”

The story: The band that brought you “Cherry Pie” teams with winemaker Kristian Story. The members taste the wine with Story and work with him to adjust the blend.

The blind test: “Bright cherry, almost black cherry cola — it’s a lip smacker. This would be a great takeout wine — maybe with pizza because it’s got that juiciness that would go well with tomatoes.”

The story: Jonathan Cain, the keyboardist for Journey, brought on winemakers Dennis De La Montanya and Daryl Groom but participates in winemaking.

The blind test: “Earthy, smells great, really balanced — which is a tricky thing for winemakers to do. This is not an inexpensive wine. I’d eat this with game meats like lamb.”

The story: Bruce Cohn, the Doobie Brothers manager, owns the Sonoma-based vineyard and winery.
The blind test: “Bright and drinkable with a leathery note — a backyard BBQ wine. It’s pretty juicy, but it shuts off pretty quick and almost has that synthetic fruity smell to it.”

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Natalie MacLean’s Wine Pairing App

Check out these wine with free shipping deals!

Easter has passed, but more holidays are on the way. A great opportunity to try out Natalie MacLean’s wine pairing app would be with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, maybe even my birthday (well, not my birthday, it’s already passed and not really a holiday, though it should be).

Natalie MacLean, of, is offering up a free wine app that will make pairing wines with your celebrations easier than ever. How about these matches for Mother’s Day Brunch?
  • Spanish omelette with Pinot Grigio
  • Spinach and bacon quiche with Sauvignon Blanc
  • Crepes Suzanne with Icewine
  • French toast and raspberries with Champagne
  • Smoked salmon and cream cheese on bagels with Pinot Noir
Let’s not forget the Father’s Day barbecue:
  • Seared Pepper Steak with Shiraz
  • Planked Salmon with Riesling
  • Flame-Broiled Hamburgers with Zinfandel
  • Grilled Chicken with Chardonnay
  • BBQ Pork Chops with Merlot
The app’s key features allow you to instantly access tasting notes, scores, prices, recipes and food pairings, search 150,000 wines at wine retailers across the country, track your purchases in your virtual cellar with just a few clicks, create a wine journal with your own wine notes and pictures in the app, and share your wines and pairings on Twitter and Facebook. The app is found at iTunes and also available for Android and BlackBerry. Those without a smartphone can access the same features on her website.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Sour Beers

While we were in Breckenridge last week, we were introduced to sour beers, which are as tart and interesting as they sound. Interestingly enough, Brettanomyces is used to make one of the beers - as many people know, "Brett" is a non-no when it comes to wine. While not to my taste, it was very cool to see that people continue to push the envelope. For more, head over to The Fermentary.

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Brix and Stone Gastropub Restaurant Review

On our Spring Break trip home from Breckenridge, we once again opted to stay in Lincoln, NE. It's about halfway home, has several hotels that have one or two bedrooms (important to a family of 6), and we had really enjoyed the university vibe when we visited on our way to go skiing.

We stayed at the Embassy Suites, which boasts an indoor pool (unfortunately not heated), a manager's evening reception (amazing, lots of food, drink, and energy), and a made-to-order breakfast along with the typical breakfast buffet. It's also centrally located, so easy to get on and off the Interstate. Besides the cold pool, the only other negative is that one must pay for parking, as the hotel does not have parking facilities.

I really wanted Chinese food, but oddly enough there is no Chinese restaurant within walking distance of the hotel, at least that we were aware of. On foot we headed for the Haymarket district, hoping to find something that would work for everyone, from our nearly 2 year old to this part-time vegan. Wandering around, we happened upon Brix and Stone Gastropub, which had an attractive outside seating area (marred by a huge banner announcing their Easter buffet).

Inside the decor was somewhat commonplace and avantgarde simultaneously. Soothing colors, neon, multiple television sets, a rear seating area and lots of art all added up to an interesting place to sit and look around. My one true criticism is that the paintings hanging behind each table are not securely affixed to the walls and we nearly knocked a few off the wall several times.

A really yummy sunflower bread started us off, quickly devoured. We opted to skip the appetizers and ordered entrees, quickly delivered. I had the Brocollini Pasta (cavatappi, brocollini, mushrooms, parmesan cream, parmesan), my wife the Whiskey Steak (grilled flat iron, whiskey sauce, green and red peppers, red onions, mushrooms, smashed baby red potatoes, stuffed poblano pepper), while our oldest son impulsively ordered the Chicken N' Waffle (house fried chicken, egg nog waffle, strawberry butter, maple syrup). The pasta was one of the best noodle dishes I've had in recent memory, the steak dinner was really good, and the only thing wrong with the fried chicken was that it had bones in it (this from an 11-year old).

A great surprise was that, even though they didn't have kids' menus, they offered quite a selection of items, really inexpensively priced. Our two sons enjoyed their macaroni and cheese (no elbow mac here!), while my daughter's pizza was one of the best I've ever had, bar none - pretty amazing for something off the children's menu!

Service was decent but definitely not great - our server was obviously quite new, while the table next to us had a plate dropped on and near them. The manager (owner?) was prompt in responding to the problem, which is a good sign. One thing I've never understood is why it's difficult to pay in some restaurants, especially when they can see you have multiple young children.

I was really surprised by the high quality of food, along with the inventiveness of the cooking. Definitely a place worth seeking out when visiting or eating out in Lincoln - just make sure you bring a child so you can sample the pizza!

Brix and Stone on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant Review

Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant and Cantina was opened by Alexandra Storm in 1981. Later that year she was joined by Dick Carleton and their partnership now operates the longest standing same owned restaurant in Breckenridge. The restaurant is built on four core values - Great Food - Superior Hospitality - Respect for the Individual - Connection with our Community. These core values drive their day to day decisions in a quest to offer the most enjoyable dining experience possible. The food is scratch prepared using the freshest ingredients possible. The incredibly talented team led by Tracey Roach and Matt Blake in the kitchen is passionate about what they do. The ownership hopes you will join them for what they hope will be a memorable experience - allow them to serve you the food they work so hard to prepare. Please give any feedback you may have after joining them. They want everyone to feel welcome at "our house." Mi Casa's festive atmosphere is always a fantastic place to bring the entire family. (From Mi Casa's website)

For our last night in Breckenridge, our family decided to go out to dinner. After some research, we ended up choosing Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant, partly for the location, partly for the menu, partly for the reviews.

To Start: House Margaritas, of course, quite good, with plenty of salt on the rim, or a straw if you wised to avoid the sodium. Some of the family partook of the Table Side Guacamole (ripe Haas avocados, onions, lime, spices, fresh tomatoes) - I passed as I don't like avocados, but the deep fried and spiced flour tortilla chips that accompanied it were outstanding.

Entrees: I ate the Veggie Burrito (roasted red pepper tortilla, achiote calabacitas, red bell peppers, anaheim and poblano chiles, black beans, rice, tomatillo salsa verde, jack and cheddar cheeses; I subtracted the guacamole and black olives), which was less tasty than it sounded, being somewhat underseasoned. I've noticed that items that inlcude squash are often underseasoned, so it wasn't a surprise. My wife and daughter split the Spinach and Mushroom Enchiladas (flour tortilla, chopped spinach, chipotle cream cheese, chiles and peppers, yucatan cream sauce, scallions, black beans, oaxacan rice) and they were outstanding, truly the highlight of the meal. They were on the spicy side, which made me happy, but my daughter was happy she had also ordered a child's cheese quesadilla to fall back on. The rest of the food ordered was typical Mexican fare, a child's bean and cheese burrito along with a chicken burrito, all pronounced good.

Ultimately, the food was pretty good and there was a lot of it! As mentioned before, the Spinach and Mushroom Enchiladas stole the show, primarily because they were seasoned the most. If Mi Casa added some more salt and a lot more spice to their other offerings, it would all be dynamite. Even so, if you find yourself in Breckenridge, this is a good option, especially if you have a variety of diets to consider, as we do. Ask if you can sit in the room overlooking The Dredge, which adds a gorgeous view to a good meal.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday Tasting: Nebraska Wines

Last week, on our spring break trip to Breckenridge, CO, we stopped in Lincoln, NE. While there, we went for a walk looking for an ice cream place that made their own ice cream daily, Ivanna Cone. Thus we stumbled upon the Haymarket district, which is the first urban warehouse district to undertake that highly successful economic revitalization program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It is a lively area of old warehouses, the train station, shops, restaurants and bars. One of the shops is From Nebraska Gift Shop, which, among other things, sells Nebraska wines. For $5 we tasted 6 wines:

Schilling Bridge Baco Noir (dry red)
Feather River Marechal Foch (semi-dry red)
Silver Hills Prairie Star (semi-dry white)
Glacial Hill Zephyr (semi-sweet white)
WunderRosa Winery - Bocelli's Gold (dry white) and Cottontail (semi-sweet dessert)

Of the six, unfortunately I only liked one, the Prairie Star form Silver Hills. None of the wines were terrible, but most of the other wines were just off to me, tasting dusty, some made from seemingly unripe grapes, and generally not being to my taste. Not sure if it was the way they were made or the way they were stored. In any case, it did give the opportunity to add several varietals to my Wine Century Club, as well as taste Nebraska wine! We'll be back again to give this state's wines another chance.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Spring Break: To Breck and Back

Last week was our kids' spring break, so we headed for Breckenridge, CO for a family ski trip. My in-laws own a condo there, so it was nice to have that as a base. After two days of driving, pretty much anything would have been 

On our way, we drove through Northwest Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska. We saw lots of signs for wineries, and realized how close so much of this is to our home. Our overnight was in Lincoln, NE, which has an area called the Haymarket, which is chock full of old warehouses converted into restaurants, bars and shops. Going towards Breck we tasted Nebraska wine (more in a later post) and on the way home had dinner at a great gastropub (review forthcoming).

Next year we hope to try Colorado wine, as there is a tasting room not too far from Breck - just need to find childcare for an hour or so...

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