Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Jackson, Michigan Wine Tasting

A few weeks ago, we picked up our kids from summer camp in Southeastern Michigan and took the opportunity to visit a few wineries near Jackson. All three wineries are members of the Pioneer Wine Trail.

Jackson Michigan Wine Tasting

Lone Oak Vineyard Estate is Southeast Michigan's oldest and largest commercial vineyard, with 12 European grape varieties on a 25 acre site, on the same latitude as the border of Southern France and Northern Spain.

Sandhill Crane Vineyards were our next stop - the winery, tasting room, and café is tucked in among their vineyards in eastern Jackson county. They are currently the only vineyard in SE Michigan to be verified under the Farm*A*Syst program for good environmental stewardship and also make several wines that benefit local nonprofit organizations.

Last but not least, was Chateau Aeronautique Winery - the theme of the Winery is the airpark lifestyle ~ flying, vintage airplanes, and living in a home with hangar on a grass runway surrounded by forests. Chateau Aeronautique Winery was founded on the ideals of creating fine wines from Michigan grapes and offering those wines for tasting in a beautiful, relaxing setting. They also offer the best wine tasting souvenir glasses we've seen to date - an actual full-sized glass!

Jackson, Michigan Wine Tasting Video

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

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bartlett’s Gourmet Grill and Tavern, Beverly Shores, Indiana

Bartlett’s Gourmet Grill and Tavern

We'd heard some good things about Bartlett’s Gourmet Grill and Tavern (located in Beverly Shores, Indiana),  so we took the opportunity to stop in on our way to Union Pier for a weekend. We headed out from downtown Chicago, across the Skyway Bridge, and then took the "scenic route" along Route 12, East Dunes Highway. Not really recommended, some pretty sketchy areas along that road. I'd suggest staying on the Interstate until Chesterton, then heading north on Route 49.

They have a fun shtick going, a cross between a roadhouse, a beachside shack, and a foodie haven. The interior is straight up Midwest grill, with a much more designed outdoor patio. We sat inside, but I would suggest heading outside if the weather allows, really a beautiful space.

With localish beer in hand (Sun King, Indianapolis and Bell's, Kalamazoo), I opted for the Grilled Vegetable Flatbread Panini, while Laima chose the wrap of the day (the ingredients escape me now). We decided to try both the regular and sweet potato fries, both of them decent. Overall good food.

We'll probably head back, maybe in conjunction with a trip to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Food was good, decent beer selection, the only cons were a sticky floor (always questionable) and a bathroom that had seen better days.

More information can be found on the Bartlett's website and Facebook.

Bartlett's Gourmet Grill on Urbanspoon

Bartlett’s Gourmet Grill & Tavern 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

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


When BuildASign.com approached me about working together, I was on the fence. While creating signs is loads of fun, I wasn't sure how to make it applicable to this blog.

BuildASign banner

Once on the site, playing with the banner maker turned out to be pretty fun, and it started giving me some ideas, good and bad. The good one (I think) was to create a background banner for making wine tasting videos, which would lend some consistency when viewed on the 50StatesOfWine YouTube Channel. One of the things about the channel is its creation of a singular look for different access points: the desktop looks similar to the mobile phone to the tablet. Using that thought process, why not extend it to  the videos themselves? The banner maker is simple, utilizing either pre-made templates or customizing your own. Add an image (jpeg, clip-art, etc), add text, shapes if desired, and presto, the design is done! Once you are happy with your design, you can add some extra features to your banner, such as grommets or hang tabs, which make it both easier to hang the banner as well as protect it from damage.

BuildASign bumper sticker

Once I had the banner done, I had a bit of money left on the credit that BuildASign.com had provided, so I hopped over to the bumper sticker maker. My image originally was from Instagram, so it was square in shape. Happily, the site has square bumper stickers, so I was in luck. I used the same exact design (consistency!), which made it go quickly. Quick preview, quick checkout and I was finished.

When I received the confirmation email, I had the option of sharing my design to Twitter, so I did, and received a discount on my next order. Very cool. Another nice surprise was that my order was expected to be delivered August 1st, but the box (for the banner) and the envelope (for the bumper stickers) were awaiting us when we got home yesterday afternoon. Love it when companies beat expectations.

Working with BuildASign.com was really easy even if, like me, you don't have a good idea of what you want initially. Playing around with the customizable templates made the ideas flow and I'm happy with how they turned out.

Disclaimer: A credit was provided for review purposes.

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

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Free Run Cellars, Berrien Springs, Michigan

"Our family has grown and vinified grapes for over 25 years. Our passion is evolving our family's legacy with a reverance to tradition, the desire to explore new ideas, and the 'Free Run' to find our own style of winemaking."
-- Matthew, Christian and Nicole Moersch
Free Run Cellars

We really enjoy visiting the wineries on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail -- close to our Michigan base of Union Pier, with wines whose qualities improve with every year, it's a great option for us. One winery we'd never visited was Free Run Cellars. While the winery is in Berrien Springs, they have a tasting room in Union Pier, almost close enough to walk from the cottage.

Matthew Moersh serves as winemaker and founding partner of Free Run Cellars (with his brother Christian) and also vinifies the grapes over at the Round Barn Winery (started by his father). His philosophy of winemaking is pretty simple: "Wine is made in the vineyard. My job is to make sure that our growers are taking the right steps to insure that the quality of fruit coming into the winery is the best that each season can produce. When that happens, my job is simple, let the quality of fruit speak for itself and don't screw it up." We recently had a chance to visit and came away impressed. Good wine along with an attractive tasting room and grounds make it a pleasant place to while away some time. Enjoy our video souvenir:

Free Run Cellars Video Souvenir

More information can be found on the Free Run Cellars website and on Facebook.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Le Bouchon Chicago

French restaurant Le Bouchon, helmed by Chef Jean-Claude Poilevey, has been celebrating bistro fare for 20 years in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. Chef Jean-Claude, who also owns La Sardine in Chicago, started working at age fourteen in restaurant kitchens in France. He then moved to London before heading to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to open the Playboy Club. A few years later it was on to Chicago, where, after several restaurants, he opened Le Bouchon, the quintessential French bistro, in June 1993. Jean-Claude’s son, Oliver Poilevey, recently joined the restaurant, and is expected to take the reins moving forward.

Le Bouchon


Not surprisingly, only French wine is available at Le Bouchon, served by the glass and bottle. (Monday nights all bottles are half price, so that’s a good time to try something that may have been out of your price range before.) We allowed Chef Jean-Claude and our waiter to choose wines for us and they did not disappoint, from the amazing sparkling Gamay Rosé to the house Chardonnay, to the Banyuls for dessert. Take a tip from us and let the waitstaff do the pairing – you won’t regret it.

Le Bouchon


For starters, the standout was Duck Liver Mousse (with fig jam and sourdough toast) from the Specials menu, incredible flavor combination between the mousse, the fig jam, and the sourdough toast, each element lifting the others to greater heights. The Tarte a l’Oignon (caramelized onions, Gruyère, bacon) is a crowd favorite and we concur – I’d love the bottom crust to be a bit crispier, but realize that’s difficult with the topping; the flavors were spot on. Laima had to try the Lyonnaise Salad (mixed greens, lardons, croutons, topped with a poached egg), mostly to enjoy the luscious lardons, though the poached egg added a wonderful creamy flavor and texture to the crisp greens.

Le Bouchon Starters

Main Course

We decided to push our comfort zone by ordering the Roasted Saddle of Rabbit (with duck-fat potatoes and swiss chard in lieu of a petite salade) from the Specials menu, and it was a real surprise. We expected it to be gamy, but the waiter assured us it would be somewhere between pork and chicken – it did have a neutral flavor, with a very soft consistency. The chard was a nice accompaniment, our suggested substitution. In a French bistro, one must try the Steak Grill Maitre d’Hôtel (grilled top-sirloin with garlic butter and pommes frites) which was tasty, though a bit tough to cut; the pommes frites were outstanding. Two sides accompanied our main courses; the Maïs de Maroc and the Cauliflower au Gratin, both scene-stealers. The Maïs de Maroc (Moroccan-Style corn, harissa, mint, Ras el Hamourt, and crème fraîche) was simply amazing, with crisp fresh corn in a curry-like sauce – a must-have. The cauliflower was perfectly cooked, with a very flavorful gratin.

Le Bouchon Main Course


A trio of desserts came out, along with the aforementioned Banyuls and a Calvados for good measure. The macarons, a classic French pastry filled with rich buttercream, displayed a light and crisp outside and a soft and chewy inside, in 3 flavors. The Marquise Au Chocolat, a dense chocolate mousse with espresso creme anglaise, was wonderfully decadent. The dessert we fought over most, though, was the apple tart, simply a stunning creation. For a light dessert, order the macarons, for a classic, the apple tart, or the chocolate mousse for its stunning richness.

Le Bouchon Dessert

20 years in the restaurant business in the same location does not happen by accident. Chef Jean-Claude has been successful by keeping it simple, controlling prices, and making every person feel welcome, whether a regular from the neighborhood or first-timer.

More information can be found on the Le Bouchon website and on Facebook.

Le Bouchon on Urbanspoon

Le Bouchon on Foodio54

Disclaimer: This meal was comped for review purposes -- all opinions are our 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, July 17, 2013

Albion, MI Wine Tasting

Not far from Jackson, Michigan, on the way to or from Detroit, is exit 127 on I-94 for Albion. If you can look past the Lion's Den Adult Superstore, you'll find two winery tasting rooms, along with one for a brewery.

Cherry Creek and Sleeping Bear Wineries

For over 100 years, four generations of Burtka’s have been making wines in this country. Cherry Creek, an environmentally conscious winery that sponsors many charities and uses several biodynamic principles, sources most grapes from other Michigan vineyards. Their oaked wines are aged in French, Michigan, and Great Lakes barrels and fermented with premium French yeasts. They also own Sleeping Bear Winery, Bad Bear Brewery, and Lynn Aleksandr premium wines.

We stopped by several weeks ago to try some of their wines -- we really enjoyed a Rosé from the Lynn Aleksandr line, and a few others. Definitely worth a stop if you are driving by.

Video for Cherry Creek and Sleeping Bear Wineries

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

NewAir AWC-270E 27 Bottle Compressor Wine Cooler

Are you familiar with the Wine At Right Temperature (WART) Campaign? WART is for those who believe that red wines at room temp are too warm and whites from the fridge too cold. Over the years, I've read plenty about the proper temperature to store wines (about 56 degrees Fahrenheit, with minimal disturbance also a key), but it wasn't until we received a wine cooler to try out that I realized how important temperature is to the ENJOYMENT of wine as well.

NewAir AWC-270E 27 Bottle Compressor Wine Cooler

When the wine cooler arrived for our product test, the AWC-270E 27 bottle compressor wine cooler from NewAir was, for the most part, ready to go. Unboxing, taking out packing materials inside the cooler, and adding the door handle was all it took for it to be ready. The compressor–based system cools down to 39° F, though we set it at the aforementioned 56° F. It can hold up to 27 bottles of wine – over 2 cases, though one of the 5 slide out chrome shelves needed to be removed to hold our magnum of Champagne (our only complaint). Insulated doors provide UV protection and preserve wine. We placed the wine cooler next to our dining room sideboard, for easy access -- it's nice not to have to go down to the "cellar" to get more wine. The NewAir AWC-270E has a black cabinet and stainless steel door, which goes just fine with the wooden furniture we have.

We don't usually have 27 bottles on hand (wishful thinking), but we came up with a system nonetheless: whites and Rosés on the top shelf or two, then reds, Champagne magnum on the bottom-most shelf, with Bordeauxs in the pull-out bin. We'll drink the Bordeauxs (a '66, '82, and '85) on a special occasion, so easy access is not a priority. 56° F seems the ideal temperature for the reds, though not cold enough for the whites or Rosés (for our taste) -- we could probably lower the temp, but it isn't important enough for the added energy costs.

We are really happy to have received this compressor wine cooler from NewAir for review -- it certainly opened our eyes to drinking at the right temperature. It's also nice to have such easy access to the wine from our table -- I could imagine buying a larger-capacity cooler to place in the basement as an actual wine cellar. With its simple good looks, efficient operation, and ease of use, this is definitely an item that should be on every wine-lovers list.

More information can be found on the NewAir website, via Facebook, Twitter, the NewAir blog, and YouTube

Disclaimer: This product was provided to us 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, July 11, 2013

America's Love of Wine Infographic

"Americans now make up the largest wine market in the world." I know we do our part, being one of the 11% that drink wine every day. Here's an infographic on America's love of wine and its rise in popularity in recent years:

Wine Infographic
Produced by SpareFoot. Copyright 2013.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hand of God Wines: A Chat with El Jefe

"Creating unforgettable moments"

Hand of God Wines

Tom Wark (of Fermentation Wine Blog fame) wrote an article called "Top 10 Things I learned at the Wine Bloggers Conference," and at number 8 he listed:
“#8. There are wines coming out of Argentina called “Hand of God” that are very important.”
Hand of God Wines is a collaboration between Jon Staenberg and Santiago Achával ("The Master of Malbec"), who met at Stanford Business School, went their separate ways, then reconnected and decided to partner on making truthful Argentinian wines. With an initial focus on Malbec and a blended red wine, Hand Of God Wines uses low-yielding fruit and minimal intervention to produce limited quantities (each of the Old Vine Malbec bottle are numbered) of wine that reflects the character, or terroir, of the site.

Two vineyards make up the fruit sourced for Hand of God Wines. Sobremesa Vineyard, established in 2007, is positioned 3,445 feet above sea level in the shadows of the tree-barren Andes range. The vineyard is planted with Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Sauvignon Blanc. Located in the Cruz de Piedra area of the Maipú region, Stolen Horse Vineyard was planted in 1922 with 8 acres (3.2 hectares) of Malbec, making these old vines over 90 years old. Its elevation is 2,887 ft.

Hand of God Wines currently has 2 red wines available for purchase: the 2010 Old Vine Malbec and the 2010 Fingerprint Series Red Wine (55% Malbec, 35% Syrah, 10% Petit Verdot). We recently ordered a bottle of each, so tasting notes are forthcoming. A white wine, the 2011 Fingerprint Series Único (35% Viognier, 35% Marsanne, 30% Roussanne) is set to be released this fall.

Jon and I connected via Social Media in the run-up to the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, BC. Somehow, our paths never crossed at the Conference, so, even though I was really looking forward to tasting his wines, it never happened. After the Conference, we continued our dialogue, trying to figure out how we could work together. A suggested email interview led to a decision to chat, which led to a live Google+ Hangout On-Air. It was my first and, as one can see, I have plenty of things to work on as a live interviewer. However, Jon picked up the ball and ran with it, and I think we ended up with a pretty good result. Watch it here or on our YouTube channel:

Hand of God Wines: A Chat with El Jefe video

To receive 20% off your first case order, sign up for the Sobremesa Circle Wine Club! It’s free to join and you’ll receive great benefits, such as exclusive invitations to Hand of God events and access to wines only offered to members. More information can be found on the Hand of God Wines website (where you can also buy the wine) and by following on Twitter.

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Murrieta's Well

About Murrieta's Well:
"Murrieta's Well was originally founded in 1883 with vineyard cuttings from Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux. During the same era, a gravity-flow winery was built into the hillside adjacent to the property’s artesian well, which was the famous location in the mid 19th century where villagers would gather with whom one considered Livermore's 'Robin Hood', Joaquin Murrieta (hence the name of the winery). In 1990, Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso realized a lifelong dream to revive the historic 92-acre estate. With a deeply rooted history, unsurpassed terroir and a rich winemaking heritage, Murrieta’s Well was reestablished."
Murrieta's Well

Kovas and I were happy to be invited to the virtual tasting for Murrieta's Well -- the sample wines, with their simple yet luxurious-looking labels, boded well. Owned by Louis Mel (who built the original winery), it was sold to the Wente Family in the 1930's. Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso teamed up in 1990 to found Murrieta's Well, highlighting the amazing terroir of these vineyards. With the vineyards established with cuttings from Chateaus d'Yquem and Margaux, we'll be visiting with garden shears!

Here are our tasting notes:

Murrieta's Well Meritage

2011 Meritage: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon; light straw color, muskmelon and grapefruit aromas, grassy apricot and vanilla flavors, tart acidity into a lemony finish. $28

Murrieta's Well The Whip

2012 The Whip: Primarily Chardonnay, with Semillon and 4 other supporting varietals; light golden straw color, grapefruit and melon aromas, honeydew melon flavor with a touch of citrus zing, this is well-balanced; at $19, good QPR.

Murrieta's Well The Spur

2011 The Spur: Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Malbec and Cab Franc for support; dark ruby in color, with earthy, black cherry, and vanilla scents, stewed plums and dark cherry moving into bright red fruit flavors, slight tannins on a luxurious finish. $25

Great wines, each and every one, truly unique. We really appreciated the twist-off closures on two of the wines, hope that more winemakers will follow this lead!

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Prairie State Winery Tasting Room, Genoa, IL

We had high hopes for this outing, one of the few Illinois wineries left within easy driving distance of home. From the website, it sounded like much of what we liked, people trying to make a go of it in the inhospitable North of Illinois.

Prairie State Winery Tasting Room

Perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it was the lack of communication from the winery, but we arrived in driving rain to what was essentially a tasting room. A very nice tasting room, but not a winery visit after all. The actual winery is housed in an industrial garage space behind the building that houses the tasting room. I tried to look through the windows, but not much to see -- I also didn't feel like I was welcome to look, much like we couldn't pry out where the winery's vineyards are. Apparently they are very difficult to find, even in this day of GPS. Hmmmm....

The wines Prairie State makes are sourced primarily from other Illinois vineyards (though a bit grows in their own mysterious site as well), with a variety of vinifera hybrids represented. The taste runs the gamut from ultra sweet whites and reds to drier options. Some were pretty good, with something for pretty much everyone.

If you're in the Rockford area, consider visiting the tasting room in Genoa -- it's a cute little town and the wines served here are decent as well. They do offer winery tours along with the tasting, but be sure to call ahead, as we were told both the 2nd and 3rd Saturdays of each month are the day of the tours, while the website says each Saturday.

Prairie State Winery Tasting Room Video

Music: "I Need to Know" by Sweet Danger. Enjoy the video!

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Geja's Cafe, Chicago

About 25 years ago, when I started drinking wine, one way I used to educate myself was a wine club called A Taste of California, a monthly shipment of a white and red with supporting explanation and food pairing suggestions. The man who started this wine club, John Davis, also owned (and owns) a fondue restaurant, Geja's Cafe. It was really neat to visit the restaurant on the occasion of their 48th Anniversary and to bring this story full circle from that simple beginning of my wine journey to today.

John Davis founded Geja's Café in 1965 on Wells Street in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood, moving to the present site when the neighborhood grew too rough (not that Lincoln Park was that much better in those days, hard to believe as it is). Often voted "Chicago's Most Romantic Restaurant," Geja’s has been the site of 132,750 first dates, 16,124 engagements and diners have enjoyed over 306 tons of cheese fondue and over 917,500 bottles of wine over its forty-eight year existence. Adding to the history are longtime employees, some with the restaurant for 30 years. Obviously they are doing something right!

Geja's Cafe

The first impression one gets on entering this lower-level restaurant is that is is very dark - while working our way back to the bar, we were hoping there were no steps (happily, there are not). While the eyes do adjust to the darkness, I wish they'd lighten up the restaurant just a tad, if only to make it easier to see the food and for photos.

Geja's features different types of wines or regions during the year - we were lucky to visit while Rosés from around the world were on the menu. I had my first sparkling Malbec Rosé (excellent!). Wine is definitely important to this restaurant's experience, with many available by the glass. Beyond the Rosés, we ended up trying several others with dinner, including a Torrontes, Riesling, and Zinfandel. Winemaker dinners are also an option, so check their calendar for those, they sound like a great time!

Geja's Cafe Food

Geja's makes dinner easy; their four-course Premiere Fondue Dinner includes a cheese fondue appetizer (one type of cheese, no choosing necessary), Geja's salad, assorted fresh vegetables and eight classic dipping sauces with the veggie oil fondue (or veggie broth, but...), followed by a flaming chocolate dessert fondue (with marshmallows to toast!). The most basic option features tofu and vegetables, with beef, chicken, shrimp, and lobster available as well. Tofu, being a neutral protein, is a lot of fun to try with all the dipping sauces, while Laima suggests the beef tenderloin (nothing wrong with the others, that was her favorite, along with the mushrooms). The simplicity of the menu allows one to relax and focus on the experience rather than worrying about which cheese might be the best option. (If I owned a restaurant there would be no menu, just a prix fixe menu with limited options, so this is right up my alley.)

It's difficult not to enjoy dinner at Geja's -- cooking your own food, sharing this communal meal, leads to conversation and laughs and more. While it doesn't seem like a lot of food, we ended up feeling very sated (hard to push the plate away, even with dessert forthcoming). One of the benefits of Geja's location is its proximity to Lincoln Park and the Lake Michigan lakefront path. Before dinner we walked through the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory (both still free), with digestion after aided by a walk over to North Avenue Beach. Such a great perk.

Geja's is celebrating its 48th anniversary with a series of special events the week of Sunday, June 30th through Thursday, July 4th, as well as offering its traditional anniversary discount (48% off all food bills this year) during the 5-day Anniversary Celebration. Geja’s will also host its fourth annual recipe contest and third annual poetry challenge. Prizes include dinners for 6 with premium wines. Nice.

Geja's Cafe IS romantic, from the restaurant ambiance to the shared meal. Date nights don't get much better than wine, cheese, chocolate, and a significant other.

Geja's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Geja's Cafe on Foodio54

More information can be found on the Geja's Cafe website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Disclaimer: This meal was comped for review purposes -- all opinions are our own.

Like 50 States Of Wine on Facebook
Follow 50 States Of Wine on Twitter