Thursday, December 26, 2013

Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine

Wayne Thiebaud. Salad, Sandwiches and Dessert, 1960.
Wayne Thiebaud. Salad, Sandwiches and Dessert, 1960.

If in Chicago, make plans to visit the Art Institute of Chicago for "Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine," and interesting-sounding exhibit:
This exhibition brings together over 100 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the 18th through the 20th century, along with a selection of period cookbooks, menus, trade cards, and posters, to explore the art and culture of food and examine the many meanings and interpretations of eating in America.
Not sure that any one exhibit could actually capture the "many meanings and interpretations and eating in America.but I'm sure it's a lot of fun to explore. Then take an opportunity to eat one of the many great places to eat in the Chicago area. Through January 27th.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

10 Great Wines for $10 or Less Infographic

The holidays are really upon us and now is the time when affordable wine becomes most important, be it as a thoughtful host(ess) gift or because all of your money has gone to presents for others. This infographic has 10 wines that won't break the bank - the recommendations come from well-known sites such as Snooth and Reverse Wine Snob, so buy with confidence.

10 Great Wines for $10 or Less
Courtesy of:

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

International Wine of the Month Club

Clichéd but true, wine clubs are a gift that keep on giving. One of the better known and interesting is the International Wine of the Month Club.

Simple in plan, the monthly club consists of wine being sent to the recipient, with information and suggested pairings. The wines we received to sample were the Valle Secreto First Edition Valle de Cachapoal Syrah 2010 and the Lorenzo Costantini Borgo del Cedro Frascati Superiore 2012. Both wines were eminently drinkable and we were particularly surprised by the Chilean Syrah. Who knew a good Syrah could come from Chile?

International Wine of the Month Club

If you're happy with the selection, there are options to reorder. You can see current and past selections on the Club's website. If you want to expand your options, you can mix and match from the other monthly clubs available:
"In addition to our wine club, we have five other exclusive clubs including beer, cheese, flower, chocolate and cigar of the month clubs. But what really sets apart is that you can combine any or all six clubs any way into a single membership to create a highly personalized gift. You can even pick the frequency with which you want to ship them. Essentially, you can send whatever you want to send, whenever you want to send it."
We were very pleased with the wines we received and, as mentioned, surprised by how good the Chilean Syrah was. I, for one, would be happy to continue receiving ongoing shipments, tasting new wines from around the world.

Disclaimer: This wine was provided for review purposes.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

La Crema Wines - Snooth Tasting

Due to an unexpected family matter, we were unable to attend (even virtually) the Snooth virtual tasting of La Crema Wines last night. Shame to have missed out on the conversation and especially what others tasted. Probably my favorite thing about tasting with others (virtually or not) is the breadth of flavors, aromas, and other intangibles people discover in wine. Luckily, we had pre-tasted the wines with dinner in preparation for the event - here are our notes.

La Crema Wines - Snooth Tasting

Tasting Notes:
2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast: pretty pale yellow color; floral, citrus, and caramel aromas; white peach, yellow apple, and citrus flavors; on lees in 18% new French oak or stainless 4 months; 100% secondary malolactic fermentation; cork closure; 13.5% ABV; SRP $23

2012 Pinot Noir Monterey: deep garnet with light ruby edge in color; plum, earth, and cocoa aromas; cherry, rhubarb, mocha, and sassafras flavors; beautiful balance - cherry and vanilla notes on subtly tannic finish; aged 6 months in 94% French oak (26% new); cork closure; 13.9% ABV; SRP $23
More information can be found on the La Crema Wines website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Disclaimer: These wines were provided for review purposes.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Great American Wine Festival 2013

This year, the first annual Great American Wine Festival was held in Portland. Since it was the day after the Wine Tourism Conference, we extended our trip so that we could take part and we are sure glad we did.

The festival showcased wines from all over North America, including Virginia, Oklahoma, and Delaware in addition to more well-known regions in California, Washington, and Oregon. The reps poured wines from up to 200 wineries including wines and even grape varieties not available in the Portland market. Excepting one woman who was wearing WAY TOO MUCH perfume (seriously, how can one think that's in any way okay?) and a few pushy people, this was the most mellow and friendliest wine tasting I've ever been to. Those pouring the wines were happy and informative, people mingled and talked about the wines being tasted, areas or wineries that were a must-visit, and most people patiently waited their turn.

Video souvenir of the Great American Wine Festival

Probably the only negative we could think of was the lack of food - I'm sure the people pouring must have been starving. The organizers have already said this will be a change in future iterations, which will make this festival even better.

The Great American Wine Festival is brought to you by Zephyr Adventures, which runs wine adventures around the globe in places like Tuscany, Rioja, South Africa, and Argentina. Zephyr is also organizer of the annual Wine Tourism Conference and Wine Bloggers Conference.

Cornerstone Cellars 2010 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

While we drank plenty of great wines, the definite standout of not only this festival but also the whole week of amazing wines was the Cornerstone Cellars 2010 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. A gift from Craig of Cornerstone during the Great American Wine Festival to enjoy with our dinner, this is one for the ages. Love that we met this incredibly nice guy who is so generous with his time, his explanations, and his wine. This is truly what Cabernet is meant to be - deep dark purple in color with lighter edges makes it seems mysterious, while the black currant, blackberry, and mocha hint at the flavors to come. We drank this with a crazy dinner of flavors: hickory smoked chicken wings, mushroom ravioli, mushroom topped burger, and it just welcomed all of it under an umbrella of perfectly balanced finesse. While completely drinkable now, this has the structure to keep getting better and better in the bottle. Buy a case and hold, maybe enjoying a bottle a year to enjoy the progress. On second thought, make that two cases.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Experiencing Colorado Wine

Experiencing Colorado Wine: The Dry Red Wines (Littleton, CO: Apex Publications, 2013) by C.S. Vin (a pseudonym) was sent to us for review recently. We have a special interest in Colorado wines because we have been going to Breckenridge for Spring Break skiing for a few years now. But, to our chagrin, we've only tasted one Colorado wine while there (though we did get to taste a few more at the Great American Wine Festival).

Experiencing Colorado Wine: The Dry Red Wines

The book is a guide to dry red wines made only from vitis vinifera grapes - no wines made from hybrids or other fruits were included). Its purpose is to introduce the Colorado winemaking industry to a larger audience, suggest wine and food pairings, and promote the idea that what we taste has less to do with taste buds and sense of smell and more to do with our emotions.

The book is filled with interviews (with winegrowers, winemakers, chefs, and more), the author's experience at each winery, and his personal favorite from each winery. Pains are taken to reiterate that wine is personal, with each person bringing different experience to the tasting table. Location is important as well: tasting wine while a bear strolls up to the deck you are standing on will certainly taste differently then other times!

We were especially excited to read the sections that have to do with Creekside Cellars, as we have connected with winemaker Michelle Cleveland and are planning on visiting the winery this Spring, on our way to Breckenridge. This book has certainly whetted our appetite for that upcoming experience!

This title is Volume I of "The Premier Guide to Quality and Styles." Volume II, covering white, rosé, and sweet wines is scheduled for release in 2014.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Rusty Grape Winery, Washington

One of our post Wine Tourism Conference outings was to Rusty Grape Vineyard, so that we could visit our 5th state winery for our ongoing project to visit a winery in each of the 50 states. We chose this one because it was relatively close to both Portland and the home of Alina, who writes the wine blog One Girl…One Glass…An entire world of wine to explore… We had first met at this summer's Wine Bloggers Conference, so it was a great chance to see her again and Laima to meet her.

Turns out there are quite a few wineries not too far from Portland, so if you're visiting, make time to head up to the Vancouver area and taste some Washington wine.
"Welcome to Rusty Grape Vineyard, located [in] Clark County’s scenic hills just east of Battle Ground, Washington. Our passion and commitment to produce an exceptional wine is evident in our finished product. But, we enjoy a laid back approach to producing and enjoying wine with family and friends. Rusty Grape is open year-round. Join us for Wine Tasting, a Vineyard Tour, our Music & Art Events, our Wine Maker’s Dinner or Summer Movies On The Lawn."
As we drove up, we could see that grapes were being pressed, were then introduced by Alina to the owner/winemaker, then headed over to the tasting room. Even though it was a cool and wet day, the winery's tasting room is cozy and comfortable. 7 or so wines can be tasted for $5 (credited towards a purchase of $20 or more).  Order some pizza and enjoy as you taste through their wines. They have several outdoors areas to enjoy as well, weather permitting.

Video souvenir of our visit to Rusty Grape

More information can be found on the Rusty Grape website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

bread+bar, Benton Harbor, MI

This fall, after our visit to 12 Corner Vineyards, we decided to stop in and try a newish restaurant in Benton Harbor called bread+bar. It's the creation by the folks at bit of swiss, a well-known bread and pastry maker in the area. Casual with comfort food, we'd heard some good things about it, so we decided to give it a try.
"A comfortable, warm, casual spot on the riverfront, with unique food offerings and chef tailored wine pairings. Starting from scratch and crafting by hand, bread + bar by Bit of Swiss prepares healthy, fresh and flavorful meals. Dishes are paired with Bit of Swiss artisan breads that are made fresh daily for lunch and dinner. Craft cocktails are made fresh and micro beers are ice cold, poured through frosted taps."

Unfortunately, our path to the restaurant took us through what appeared a down-at-the heels area of Benton Harbor, lots of empty storefronts and vacant lots, so our initial thoughts were apprehensive. Our worries were for naught, however, as the restaurant sits across the street from the St Joseph River. There are minimal views, however, as the building, which appears to be a former post office (or similar), has a solid wall on the side facing the river.

The interior design is quite clever, with the kitchen and bar to the left upon entering, restrooms towards the back as well, with the remainder of the space relatively open for seating. It's funky and chic, but also inviting and cozy.

There's a full menu, but we'd suggest going the tasting route instead. Start by ordering the Meat and Cheese Plate (creminelli salami + serrano ham + spanish chorizo + old europe cheeses + marinated olives + grainy mustard + grilled bread), many, many good flavors. If the weather is cool, add some French Onion Soup, with buckets of cheese. Skip the large plates and go with sides, and try the Bacon Cheddar Biscuits with maple butter, Nana's Meatballs, and Brussels Sprouts with balsamic vinegar and bacon. While the wine menu unfortunately turns its back (for the most part) to local producers, there are plenty of decent wines by the glass for tasting.

bread+bar food

Don't forget to save room for dessert, especially if their decadent chocolate cake is available.

This is a nice addition to the other options for dining in the St Joseph area - come for the fun decor, tasty food and wine, and a menu with lots of options. Take a walk on the riverfront or drive over to the beach and jetty in St Joseph for a complete evening.

Find more information on the bread+bar website and on Facebook.

Bread + Bar on Urbanspoon

bread+bar on Foodio54

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Doña Paula Estate Wines

“Deliver the best that the Argentinean terroir can offer.”

Located in Ugarteche, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina, Doña Paula practices sustainable agriculture: no organic or synthesized fungicides and no pesticides. Sauvignon Blanc and the planting of Casavecchia, Ancellota, Riesling, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Touliba, and Aglianico, among other varieties show a willingness to take chances. These wines were part of a virtual tasting hosted by Snooth last month.

Tasting Notes:
Doña Paula Estate Chardonnay

2012 Estate Chardonnay

Golden straw color; tangerine, floral, and pear aromas; peach, lemon, and tropical fruit flavors; creamy mouthfeel into a luscious lemony finish; from vineyards in Finca Alluvia, Gualtallary at almost 4,430 ft in elevation; manual harvest, then grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks. 6 to 8 months of aging new French oak barriques; 14.1% ABV; twist-off closure; SRP $14.99.

Doña Paula Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Dark red with ruby edges; blackberry, tar, and vanilla aromas; black cherry, sweet wood, and subtle green olive flavors; bright berries mid-palate into a soft tannic finish; from vineyards with clay soils in Finca El Alto (in Ugarteche) at almost 3,445 ft in elevation; manual harvest, gentle destemming, cold maceration before fermentation; post-fermentation maceration, then malolactic fermentation in barriques; 12 months of aging in first, second, and third-use French oak barriques; 9,000 cases made; 14.1% ABV; cork closure; SRP $14.99.
Disclaimer: These wines were provided for review purposes.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Bent Brick, Portland, Oregon

While in Portland for the Wine Tourism Conference, we had the opportunity to visit The Bent Brick for a restaurant review. We were pretty excited about it, as the restaurant is serious about sourcing locally for both their food and wine. Definitely something we support wholeheartedly. The other thing was the innovative menu -- lots of familiar and unfamiliar items, paired together or prepared in unusual ways. Always a good sign.

The Bent Brick

The restaurant is located in a beautiful old brick building, with outdoor seating that sparkled with lights and was nicely landscaped, though unfortunately it was too cool to experience. Walking in, the room opens up, with a Jenga-type sculpture in the corner that could serve as a waiting area or a more private place to drink and chat. The bar and kitchen sit in a corner of the building, with the kitchen partially open behind the bar. The decor is comfortable and youthful, though more hearkening back to youth rather than being young. Whoever put the album covers on the walls behind the bar (and CD covers in the bathroom upstairs) must be similar to me in age, as many of the items were from my own musical youth. The music playing was also to my taste, with a good mix of classics and alternative, keeping it familiar and upbeat. Plenty of space between the tables meant that, even as the place filled up, it never got too loud, but there was always a healthy buzz.


Keeping it as local as possible with the wines, we enjoyed the NV Treveri Sparkling Pinot Gris (WA), 2011 Boedecker Rosé (OR), and 2012 Whoa Nelly Pinot Noir (OR), an urban winery right there in Portland. It is so great to see a restaurant wholeheartedly support nearby wineries, both in the restaurant and with their take-out option. You can bring your own empty bottle or borrow one from the restaurant ($1 deposit) to fill with any of their wines - a great benefit to having the wines on tap.


I felt brave and ordered the BBQ Sweetbreads (with bacon braised hazelnuts, treviso, and chippolini), because if anything can make something more palatable, it's barbecue sauce. This was definitely a good attempt, and I enjoyed it to a point, but ultimately the texture of the sweetbreads just didn't do it for me. If you've never had sweetbreads, I definitely recommend this as your first essay, if you're as unsure as I was. Laima opted for the Sauerkraut Pierogies (with lobster mushrooms, fingerling potatoes, and radish), nicely done, especially with the interesting accompaniments. Lots of contrasting textures and flavors.

The Bent Brick Food

Main Course:

I couldn't decide between The Hamburger Dog (with cheese, bent brick sauce, and relish) or the Buffalo Chicken Sausage (with carrots, celery, and blue cheese dressing), so I had both! Kind of strange that one comes on a bun and the other without, but there you have it. Either is worth ordering and, if you're like me, order some extra buffalo sauce with that option, which wasn't quite spicy enough for my taste. When Laima wavered about trying the Cocoa Braised Beef Cheeks (with sauerkraut, beets, and horseradish cream), our server (also the Bar Manager) told her that if Laima didn't like it, she'd eat it herself and bring something else for her to try. No worries there - while the cocoa didn't make much of an appearance, the beef was to her liking and beets are always good to include.

On the side we tried their Charred Brussels Sprouts, very tasty if you're a fan, and I definitely am. The other side, while very tasty, was so similar to the Bacon Braised Hazelnuts I had with the sweetbreads that I wished I had tried another item. Duck Fat JoJos with ranch sound really good, as do the Ham Potatoes Au Gratin.

The Bent Brick Desserts


You can't go wrong with either the Chocolate Pudding Cake with Salt and Straw malted buttermilk ice cream (from a local producer) or the Huckleberry Icebox Cake with hazelnut brittle. What you'll have to do without, however, is an espresso drink after dinner, as the restaurant unfortunately doesn't have that option. This is a minor negative in an otherwise outstanding finish to the meal.

The Bent Brick definitely has the feel of a local hangout - it's noisy (in a good way), offers an inventive and fun menu, mostly locally sourced, along with a good wine list, then wraps it up with great service and a cool atmosphere. This a great place to go with friends, for a romantic dinner or to impress someone without being snooty.

the bent brick on Urbanspoon

The Bent Brick on Foodio54

More information can be found on The Bent Brick website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Disclaimer: This meal was provided for review purposes.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wine Tourism Conference 2013

It's been several weeks since we were in Portland for the 2013 Wine Tourism Conference, giving us some time to reflect on how this compared to the Wine Bloggers Conference I attended during this past summer. This conference is geared towards the hospitality and tourism industry, but it's wine, so why not? :)

Wine Tourism Conference 2013

Travelling to Portland was appealing in a lot of ways, not least that we could visit an Oregon and a Washington winery, numbers 4 and 5 on our 50 states project to visit a winery in each state. Since I had made a lot of connections at WBC, it was interesting to see whether the same would hold true at WTC.

Turns out the conferences are quite different from each other, both in feel and in format. The Wine Tourism Conference felt a lot more static than the WBC, with a lot of listening rather than interaction (though the interaction was good when it happened). There seemed to be a lot more reliance on Powerpoint presentations at WTC, which made some of the time pass more slowly than others. A big part of this was that the material was geared towards the industry's business of attracting customers to wine areas, versus the idea of drinking and writing about wine.

Video Souvenir of the Wine Tourism Conference

Being in Portland had its benefits and its drawbacks. We had some outstanding meals at Genoa and The Bent Brick, which showcased the two ends of higher end dining in Portland - one a cerebral approach, the other lighter and more youthful feeling. The wines from the area were outstanding to a fault, with Portland urban wineries showing well when compared to their agricultural cousins. This was also one of the negatives of being on Portland - wine country is not that close; one would have to dedicate half a day or more to drive down, tour and taste, and then get back to the hotel. Not really feasible if one wanted to fully participate in the conference.

Post-conference, things got a little bit better - the dinner out at Willamette Valley Vineyards was truly outstanding, showing Oregon has the money and product to stand up to anywhere else in the world. The Great American Wine Conference was one of the most pleasant wine tastings I've ever been to, and it was great to taste wines from all over the United States in one place.

Video Souvenir of our visit to Willamette Valley Vineyards

Overall, I'd say it was a well-run conference, with lots of great information, but it didn't really fit what we were looking for. Not sure we'd sign up for another Wine Tourism Conference when the Blogger Conference suits us better.

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